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zion of arcadia

too much of my own quietness is with me
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
I wonder how much of your medical knowledge you intentionally curtailed for the sake of Yuna’s ignorance. I always enjoy that sort of meta-decision, it’s a fun give-and-take between real life expertise and remaining in-character.

She did a hasty about-face.

"Goodbye." The gardevoir flickered blue, then vanished in a flash of light. Behind Yuna, Rafique sighed.

A little nitpicky, but why would she turn away if she was just going to teleport. Although it did make me wonder if Arianna is perhaps hiding something.

Oh, is Radiance heteronormative while Aeon isn’t? That’s interesting if so. As an aside, I went and looked back to refresh my memory on the kingdom names and couldn’t find the faerie kingdom one. Just the academy, Horizon. I eventually figured it out, but it was a tad confusing.

Nikki might as well have the words I’M GAY tattooed on her forehead in bold letters at this point.

Vega is still really cool. I remember that very clearly from when I read these chapters a few months back. I can usually tell when an author has fun with a character and Vegna seems like a blast to write as well as write about.

Yuna's jaw hung open. "And the school was okay hiring someone like that?" How could nobody bat an eye?

"Her Eminence expressed her support for Vegna… and that sealed it," Chiaki said.

This reminds me a little of Snape from HP, only with less overt child abuse. At least, so far. lol.

We learned some major info about Chiaki here. I imagine the Radiant Beacon will only become more important down the line. Especially since control of information from the public was a major aspect of SwSh. Also, Polaris seems like a powerful megacorp. If I know anything about FF, it’s that megacorps are of the bad. (In real life as well.) I still like the way information is doled out over the course of these chapters at a steady pace. Stops it from feeling overwhelming.

Ooh, I wonder how Yuna’s family is connected to Sakaki. That seems important.

Anddddd Shimmer and Yuna are working together. Interesting. (If I’m remembering correctly, this was planned by Vortex, but that could be from a future chapter.) This whole court concept gives me minor Phoenix Wright vibes. Another slow table setting chapter. We're probably starting to reach the point where we'd want the plot to move along a bit more.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, I've put it off putting things together long enough, time to get in a review on the latest Path of Valor chapter:

Chapter 23

The aftermath of the fight with Baptiste was surprisingly quiet for Yuna. After over a week with Reshiram's presence focused on her in some capacity, he was now occupied with getting Rayquaza up to speed on Team Bastion's… situation? Journey? Quest?

Honestly, Yuna wasn't sure what to call it at this point.

Yuna: "'Series of unfortunate events'?" >_>;
Cecil: "Oh come on, it hasn't been that bad, has it?"

While the Sages chatted, Razim and her teammates also had something to take up their attention: the kidnapped Aquardans. A few of the pokémon that were sealed in the poison cocoons stumbled into Turtankhamun's room, prompting Razim to take Nikki and Chiaki with him to look for others.

Oh so they are alive after all... sort of. Or at least as alive as one can be in de facto purgatory

Which left Yuna alone with her thoughts. Namely how out of her league she was. Seifer had been there to deal with Runerigus. His Dynaforce did the brunt of the work. Things were not so straightforward this time. Even with Reshiram to back her up, Yuna knew she lucked out. If the Needle was guarded better or Baptiste paid a bit more attention to his surroundings, then there was no way she would've gotten away with pulling it out.

And, sure, maybe her teammates were able to hold their own long enough for Yuna to turn the tide. But would they really be lucky enough to get away with that a second time? What if the next daemon they found was smarter? More cunning? Just because Yuna had another Sage didn't mean she was any stronger.

Gonna be interesting to see what rabbits you pull out of your hat there, since that train of thought would logically lend itself to boning up your skills for battle. Which is admittedly something you've said you want to avoid in this story, or at least avoid doing in non-puzzle fashion.
:blepcat:


The dreepy looked at her arms. The longer the stared, the clearer she could make out black splotches in the middle of her ectoplasm. They were like ink from a fountain pen dripping onto a blank sheet of paper.

It happened again. Yuna shook her arms out. The splotches remained. I grabbed the Needle with black shadows, just like I did with Runerigus. And she had no idea why. The only conclusion Yuna drew was that the shadows flared when she got upset. Did that mean that, on top of everything else, she'd have to keep her temper in check? While Reshiram and Rayquaza blabbered away in her head?

It's gonna be lit when Yuna turns out to be secretly Giratina all along at this rate. :V

Yuna: "... Also why am I hearing Sinatra music in my head for some reason?"

"Hey, Princess." Nikki stood in the doorway, hands in her jacket pockets. "Everyone's gathered on the ice bridge. It looks like it fixed itself after it got blown up." She paused. "Because, y'know, I guess that's still a thing here."

"Right." Yuna looked back at the sarcophagus. Its shattered golden fragments remained suspended in midair. The pyramid must have, too. Yuna decided it was best not to think about the tomb or its associated curses any further. She waved at Reshiram and Rayquaza. "Okay, back in you go. We're leaving."

"Ah, jolly good." Rayquaza clapped his tiny hands. "Let us, as the kids say, be 'roomies,' Reshiram!"

Yuna cringed. "Please never say that again." She touched the Soul Dew. Two beams of light shot out and swallowed both dragons up.

"Egad! It's quite spacious in here," Rayquaza chirped. "I feel like I'm drifting on a cloud. Or doing the backstroke through the stratosphere."

Try as she might, Yuna could not envision Rayquaza's swimming as anything more than his body undulating like an oversized pool toy waved around by an excited hatchling. Sighing, she floated after Nikki. But the toxtricity's pace was far too fast for her. "Hey, wait up!" Yuna cried.

Oh, I remember you teasing this part. I can already hear the doofy-earnest dialogue from Gallian there already.
:loltias:


"Relax." Chiaki pushed off the silver wall he was leaning on. "Tempting as it was to give you a taste of your own medicine, I offered to walk you out."

"My own medicine?" Yuna raised a brow. The realization hit her a moment later. "Oh." Her gills sagged. "I, uh—"

"… tch. I hope you're not about to apologize." Chiaki walked forward, disconnecting his prosthetic as he went. "The only reason we're here is for the Needle. You assessed the situation and did what you had to do to complete the mission." The Tactical Toucher folded back into a disc. "If I were in your place, I'd have done the same thing."

Is that supposed to make me feel better? Yuna looked down at the ceiling.

Chiaki: "Hrmph, it's more of an observation, really."
Yuna: "So in other words, it wasn't." >_>;

"Saving Etherium is what's important," Chiaki continued. He attached the Hooker and shot it into the upside-down stairs. He repelled down to the next floor. "You recognized that, in the moment, Nikki and I were dead weight, then reacted appropriately. Even if it personally ticks me off, I respect it."

Again, Yuna wasn't sure what to make of that. Her decision couldn't be good and bad. She was tempted to throw Reshiram under the omnibus and claim it was his idea, but she couldn't bring herself to say it.

Nikki: "That sure is a roundabout way of saying 'I oughta be pissed at you, but it worked out', Twiggy."
Chiaki: "Hrmph, there's a thing called 'nuance'. You should learn it sometime, Nikki."

Yuna floated down to the next floor. The shriveled remnants of Baptiste's cocoons lay scattered on the silver bricks. They reminded Yuna of off-color raisins. And now she was hungry. "What about Nikki?" she asked. "Is she mad, too?"

Nikki: "... Why on earth would you be hungry from that?"
:TailsEww:

Yuna: "Because it's been god-knows-how long since we entered the Qliphoth and we haven't eaten proper food since then?"

Chiaki shrugged. "She said that you 'having Crotch Fuzz and Space Noodle rummaging around your head' is punishment enough."

The Soul Dew flickered. Rayquaza's black head popped out. "Space Noodle? Poppycock! I am far more nutritious than a single piece of uncooked pasta."

Yuna grabbed his head and squished it back into her pendant. "Not the point!" she growled.

-snerk-

Yuna had no rebuttal, so she opted to change the subject as the two headed for the next floor. "How's Professor Cid?"

"Physically he's back to normal." Chiaki recalled his hook and stepped over the remains of a turtonator statue. "But he hasn't said a thing to anyone. Just quietly floated after the others." He jammed his good hand into his jean jacket pocket. "I don't blame him. Devolution sounds like a freaking nightmare."

"I wonder what would've happened if the beam hit you," Reshiram added.

That was not something Yuna wanted to think about, either. "Well, uh, maybe Dr. Rafique should see Cid when we get home?"

Cecil: "Wouldn't it have done nothing though? I'm pretty sure in the games that Devolution Orbs don't have any effect on base morphs-"
Yuna: "Reshiram, I just said I didn't want to think about it!" >.<

"Please." Chiaki shrugged dismissively. "He needs a shrink."

Yuna blinked. "A what?"

"A therapist." Chiaki glanced back at her. "Y'know, someone you talk through all your mental baggage with?" "

Yeah, I know." Yuna wrung her arms. I could use one of those, quite frankly.

"There is no shame in admitting one's vulnerabilities, Princess," Rayquaza declared.

Assuming the plot will give you enough downtime to see one, that is. Though considering how everything's been piling on Yuna thus far, I'm honestly somewhat surprised that she hasn't been fraying more obviously yet.

Can I just go home first? Yuna whined. The moment that thought finished, however, her eyes widened.

"Oh, crap, the trial!" She zipped toward Chiaki. "How long have we been in the Qliphoth for?"

"You're asking me? How would I know?" Chiaki narrowed his eyes at her.

"I— uh—"

He was right. There was no way of telling time here. Which meant Yuna couldn't afford to dawdle any longer. "I have to get back to Radiance."

Nikki: "I'm sorry, why are you in such a rush again?"
Yuna: "Because I have to go and defend a 'mon accused of murder and his only defense without me is a rookie public defender and Shimmer against Inquisitor Vegna?" >_>;
Nikki: "... Wait, this is a case Vegna's on? Why bother in that case? The guy's a dead 'mon walking even if he gets acquitted."

Chiaki raised both arms. "You won't hear any objections from me. I'm not interested in any touchy-feely goodbyes with Razim. Or being a part of any heartfelt reunion crap." He tapped his right foot against the ceiling. "It'll just devolve into a sanguine hugfest with the 'mons we rescued draping themselves over us and ugly crying like no tomorrow."

Yuna winced. She could have actually done with something heartwarming like that. However, she knew the trial was more important. I guess I'll… daydream about what I missed here on the train ride back to school.

Nikki: "Just saying, considering what you're up against, you could just blow it off and get your sappy ending here-"
Yuna: "Nikki! I'm not blowing off a 'mon facing a death sentence!" >.<
Nikki: "Hey, I was trying to take your side there! Just saying, unless you can pull one hell of a Buneary out your hat, he's gonna die no matter what." >_>;

Chiaki was kneeling down and tracing one of the silver bricks with his good hand. "But do you think opening a portal here will actually spit us out somewhere safe? Because if we're going to pop out hundreds of meters in the air, then I'll take my chances with the ice bridge."

Yuna gulped. That wasn't something she had considered.

"Perhaps because you can hover and your friends can't?" Reshiram piped up.

"Fear not. If thou art indeed airborne upon your return, I can lower thine friends to safety," Rayquaza proclaimed.

Yuna: "Rayquaza does know that outside the Qliphoth that you two are going to have that whole hologram thing going on again, right?"
Gallian: "What is this 'hologram' thou speakest of?"
- Yuna stares -
Cecil: "That... would be a 'no', Princess." -_-;

Yuna rubbed her brow, groaning. She was so sick of this. She wanted sleep. Badly. And she wasn't going to get it any time soon. "Look, Chiaki, can you just, um, get Nikki and Cid? Rayquaza says he can take care of things if we don't pop out on the ground."

Cecil: "Because of all the horrors we just witnessed in this dead world?"
Yuna: "... I mean, I was thinking more because I have to show up at a trial after not sleeping a wink all night assuming we didn't miss it entirely. But yeah, that's not gonna help either." >_>;

Chiaki stook up and squinted at Yuna. He scrutinized the dreepy for several seconds, before tucking his head down. "… fine. Whatever gets us home quicker, I guess."

He jammed his good hand in his pocket again and headed for the next set of upside-down stairs. Sighing, Yuna flopped on the ceiling.

If the trial had started, she sincerely hoped Kain was having a better time than her.

Narrator: "He wasn't having a better time than her."

As Shimmer expected, Vegna brought in multiple witnesses at once. There was a togedemaru with an oversized hat made of mismatched fabric who stood on the white table itself. On his right stood a bulky rhyhorn with a large gray harness draped over her back. And to his left was a passimian in a sharp, charcoal gray blazer with a matching dress shirt and top hat. Passimian leaned against the handle of a closed umbrella.

"The witnesses will give their names and occupations for the record," Vegna instructed, gesturing to the witness stand.

Rhyhorn nodded slowly. "Adler's the name, pulling omnibuses is my game. Ain't no one in the Coachmon's Guild who's tougher than me!"

Shimmer: "... Somehow I'd always assumed that omnibuses in this setting were motorized."
- Kain raises a brow -
Kain: "With all due respect, how on earth did you manage that when you're the Crown Prince? Queen Isola didn't strike me as the type to sequester her child."
Shimmer: "W-Well how was I to know that we'd still be using Pokémon-drawn transport in a setting with PVs?!"
:shimmersweatdrop:


Togedemaru flinched from Adler's surprisingly deep voice. "Right. Erm, hello. My name is Horace. I'm a… seamster at a tailor's shop in Venish. If you've got wears and tears, we're always happy to help." He stuck out his spikes, revealing various sewing equipment fixed to them.

Shimmer fought off the urge to roll his eyes. These people were here to testify, not advertise their services.

Horace: "Au contraire. This is the most public exposure any of us will get in a lifetime! We're making the most of it!" ^^
Shimmer: "How is this not an action in contempt of court right now?" >_>;

Passimian looked away from them. "This is a waste of time. I'm a busy 'mon and I have work to do."

The ruby eyes in Vegna's shoulder gauntlets glowed. "No one cares. Your name and occupation."

"… fine." Passimian still didn't make eye contact. "Passimian Batroc, of the Bernard clan. I'm a commercial real estate broker for Bernard and Associates, naturally." He tapped his umbrella against the floor. "Let's get this over with. What do you need to know?"

Ah, so we get to see more detailed names in this setting. Though I wonder if 'Bernard' is a patronym or if it's the name of the first recorded member of this guy's family.

Vegna snapped his fingers. Talonflame again hopped off his shoulder and lifted some papers with his beak. "To confirm, Miss Adler, you were the coachmon for Fledglings Omnibus 2015 on the night of the incident, correct?"

"Yessir. I've covered 2015's route for the last three years." Adler squared up her stance, adjusting her harness. "Not a single missed day of work in that time."

I actually pulled up the Serebii thread to check the timestamps, and assuming this is a meta nod to what I think it is, that's quite the cheeky reference there. :V

"No extraneous information," the dusknoir growled. "Now then…" He flicked his right hand and a city map appeared on the screen. Building areas were drawn in lime green, with crisscrossing gray lines representing main roads and curving black lines denoting backroads. There were six blue lines — three horizontal and three vertical — denoting canals running through that area of Venish.

"This is part of your omnibus' route, yes?" Vegna snapped his fingers and a red line traced its way across part of the center of the screen before curving off toward backroads heading toward the upper left.

Adler squinted and leaned forward. "I think so."

Ah, so Venish is a transparent nod to Venice. It cracks me up a bit that in meanwhile on my end, the plot's also dealing with a Venice-themed place and it's making nods to-

Mm, nah. Won't say more on that front. It'll have more of an impact as you see it unfold for yourself.

"Well, I picked him up at the Beeraskewda Pub, so it must've been 20:10 if I was running on time." The rhyhorn smirked. "And I always run on time."

"And the accused, Mr. Benedict?" Vegna gestured to the slurpuff next to the defense's bench. Shimmer glanced at his uncle, who stared at the floor and fidgeted with his prison jumpsuit.

"Oh, he was already onboard by then." Adler tapped a foreleg against the witness stand. "I think he got on at Bonna Seraph Plaza… which would've been at 19:55."

Ah yes, more namedrops from GL.

Kain leaned over his bench. "You think or you know?"

"Objection!" Vegna shook his head. "Don't try to unnerve the good rhyhorn over such a miniscule detail, dragon. The accused already disclosed to Stoutland Yard he boarded at Bonna Seraph during questioning at the gaol."

Kain leaned back. "… ah, sorry. Continue."

The jurors exchanged hushed whispers. Shimmer shot an annoyed look at Kain. "What are you doing? Don't interrupt Vegna like that. It'll make us look bad."

"I can interject when I want to press a statement further," Kain shot back. Shimmer glowered at the witness stand. "And it would do you good to keep a neutral expression, Your Grace," the flygon added, prompting Shimmer to stiffen.

Kain: "(Need I remind you that if we can't find something to work with, it's your uncle's head on the line?)" >_>;
Shimmer: "(That doesn't mean you have to find the something like this!)" >.<

However, before Vegna could resume, Batroc cleared his throat. "How much longer are you going to waste everyone's time with such frivolous questions? That large oaf didn't even witness the moment of the crime. It was all me and Horace over here." He jerked his head toward the togedemaru to his right.

Sighing, Vegna crossed his arms. "Very well, witness. When did you board the omnibus?"

"At 20:30. Horace and I boarded from the Porter Lane stop."

"Yessir." Horace nodded, nearly tumbling off the witness stand in the process.

Kain held up the meteorology report from earlier. "We know there was a cold front moving through Venish. Why didn't you two sit inside the cabin?"

Horace's quills drooped. "Well, we wanted to but—"

Batroc raised his umbrella and rapped it against the witness stand. "The door wouldn't budge. I bet that selfish blowhard locked it so he could have the cabin all to himself." He pointed the umbrella accusingly at Benedict.

:sceptical:


Okay, my sus-o-meter just registered there, since this Batroc guy is one of two admitted direct witnesses and he's giving off some... vibes at the moment.

Kain shook his head. "But as we just heard Ms. Adler testify, the victim and the accused were already inside the cabin."

"Then that just means he blocked the door so he could kill that magmar," Batroc huffed.

Shimmer leaned forward. "That sounds like conjecture. Can you prove our client was the one who blocked the door?"

Batroc nearly lost his grip on his umbrella. "I— well, no, I guess not."

... Or he could just be a bystander jumping to conclusions. Even if I doubt the plot is going to let Shimmer off this easy given that the AA vibes are going strong here.

A loud slam echoed through the chamber. There was a scorch mark underneath Vegna's smoldering right fist. "How impudent of me to damage the inquisitor's bench in such a manner," he muttered. "Please forgive my outburst."

Mellath rested his hands on his desk. "Sir Vegna, what's the meaning of this?"

"This is but smoke and mirrors by the defense," Vegna exclaimed, straightening up. "Who sealed the door and the motive for doing so are irrelevant. The fact remains that the cabin door could not be opened, forcing the witnesses to sit on the roof."

Horace's cheeks sparked. "Yeah! Don't try and, y'know, smoke and mirrors us."

Shimmer: "... Wait a minute, so if these two weren't even in the cabin when Mortimer died, what on earth did they actually witness then?!" >_>; Kain: "... That might be worth me bringing up in the cross-examination, actually."

Shimmer frowned. He thought it was worth pursuing, but Kain's attention was back on his collection of papers. "Psst," Shimmer whispered. "What do you think about the way they were acting? It sounded like they were trying really hard to make Benedict out to be the killer."

"Yeah." Kain nodded. "Seems like Passimian is leading Togedemaru along. I'm making a note of it." He scribbled something on a sheet of paper.

So it's not just my sus-o-meter registering right now.

"Let's continue, witnesses." Vegna crossed his arms again. "So, you went to sit on the roof. What happened after that?"

"Well, things were awfully quiet for a while." Horace poked his nubby arms together. "But then we heard shouting from the cabin!"

"Indeed." Batroc lifted his free hand. "The two 'mons inside were arguing with one another." He lowered his hand and lifted his umbrella to show the tip. "That's when Slurpuff pulled out a knife and stabbed Magmar right in the gut. Just like this!" He jabbed the witness stand with the umbrella tip.

Horace nodded, shuddering. "Then there was a loud shriek. Slurpuff threw the cabin door open and ran off. Magmar tried to follow him, but he collapsed in the doorway."

"Meanwhile, I contacted the proper authorities." Batroc puffed out his chest.

Shimmer: "... They're completely missing the bit explaining how they actually got back into the cabin in their testimony, just saying."
Kain: "Hmm... I suppose it would make sense to press for more details. That is how these trials tend to work..."

"Hold it!"

Brow furrowed, Kain stared down Batroc and Horace. "If things did play out as you two said, why didn't either of you make any attempt to stop the accused from escaping?"

Both witnesses' expressions blanched. "… like I said, I was calling the cops," Batroc huffed.

"Slurpuff is way bigger than me. I didn't want to get squished!" Horace squeaked, shivering.

Shimmer: "... I suppose we could go that route too."
Kain: "I mean, I guess we would've just wrung out a couple lines or two about how they saw things through the door window and threw it open. Might as well cut to the chase."

"But surely you could have told Ms. Adler to try and stop him." Kain gestured to the rhyhorn. "If she's as fast and tough as she says, catching a slurpuff wouldn't be an issue. Isn't that right, witness?"

"Darn skippy!" Adler nodded vigorously.

Kain pointed a claw at the witness stand. "Well, Ms. Adler, did these two tell you to stop the omnibus?"

Adler frowned. "Y'know, now that you mention it… they didn't. Though it's hard for me to hear much when I'm pulling it. Lotta squeaking and creaking going on. You really gotta shout to get my attention."

... Oh yeah, that isn't suspicious of those two at all.

Shimmer's heartrate picked up. "Doesn't anyone find that fishy?" He looked around the room. Whenever there was danger, he was always taught to seek immediate help. Surely, these two had similar instincts.

"… hmph. You're grasping, dragon." Vegna pointed an index finger at Kain. "Mr. Batroc contacted Stoutland Yard and Mr. Horace's voice would not carry enough for Ms. Adler to hear him." He shook his head. "If you're looking to make a splash, might I suggest trying for a higher dive?"

"Objection!" Kain slammed his hands on his desk. "That's not the only thing that doesn't add up about this testimony, Sir Vegna."

"Oh?" Vegna tilted his cloaked head and rested it against his fist. "Explain, dragon."

Shimmer: "Inquisitor Vegna, don't you find it suspicious at all that neither of those two were able to call for help loud enough to attract Ms. Adler's atten-"
Vegna: "I said 'Explain, dragon'. That does not involve you, Clown Prince."

Vegna nodded. "Correct. Where are you going with this?"

"Where I'm going… is here!" Kain double tapped the top right corner of the screen. The map disappeared, revealing two folder icons. One was labeled "Inquisition" and the other "Defense." Kain tapped the latter and two photos appeared side by side. The one on the left showed a small, cobblestone street wedged between brick buildings that were five or six stories. Shimmer spotted small, square windows and laundry lines crisscrossing the top floors of the buildings.

"This is Fanucchi Street during daytime." Kain pointed to the image, but Shimmer was focused on the other photo. Or, rather, the lack of anything discernable outside of vague outlines.

"Notice there are no streetlights or torch lamps in these pictures," Kain continued. "The defense took this photo two days ago… along with this one, showing the same area at nighttime, close to the time of the incident." He stopped hovering to gesture to the right photo. "I don't know about anyone else here, but I'm having a hard time making anything out in this."

Vegna slammed his right hand on the desk. Talonflame fluttered up to his shoulder. "Are you implying… that it was too dark for the witnesses to have seen anything?" the dusknoir said.

Shimmer: "... Not that that isn't a clever observation, but we're sure the omnibus didn't have interior lighting, right?"
Kain: "Uh..."
- Kain hurriedly flips back to Chapter 15 -
Kain: "Nope, no interior lighting described!"
Shimmer: "... Wasn't there a glass pane in the ceiling that was observable from the rooftop seating though?"
Kain: "... I-It would've been too dark to see through it?"
:uhhh:


"That's exactly what I'm implying!" Kain put his hands on his hips and stared all three witnesses down.

Mellath's brow furrowed. "But, Counsellor, the victim was a magmar. Their bodies are known to glow due to their internal flames."

Shimmer wouldn't let that stand. "Objection!" He propped himself up against the defense's bench. "Please recall Inquisitor Vegna's opening statement, Your Magistry. He specifically described the victim as a 'sickly' individual." Shimmer dropped back onto all fours. "Ergo, it's entirely possible he wasn't glowing like a healthy magmar would!"

Those two do realize that if a single witness brings up Mortimer glowing at any time in the past week prior to his murder, that their entire angle of attack is toast, right?

"Well, witnesses?" Mellath furrow his brow. "Can you explain this inconsistency."

"I, er—" Batroc tugged at his shirt collar. "That is—"

"I don't think they can, Your Magistry." Kain crossed his arms. "Because it's hard to explain something that's completely fabricated!"

The murmurs grew louder. Herdier put his forepaws on his desk. "Oi, say something, ya blokes!"

Beside him, Glaceon straightened out the sides of her dress. "I find the tall one's stammering quite… unclean. Perhaps his mouth could do with a thorough scrubbing." She held up her left forepaw, revealing a sudsy sponge.

"Now wait just a second!" Batroc brandished his umbrella and shook it at the jury bench. "Are you threatening me? I am a man of stature! Of the Bernard clan! My family will not stand for such actions!" He pivoted right and pointed at Vegna. "You there! I demand to be excused! I've already given far too much time to the court."

... Yeah, the sus-o-meter is off the charts right now. Though wouldn't that be a 'mon of stature? :V

"Objection!"

A metallic clang echoed through the courtroom. Shimmer whinnied in surprise, tail puffing up. Horace extended his quills and discharged tiny electric sparks. One hit Batroc's shoulder, prompting the passimian to conk Horace with his umbrella's handle. "S-Sorry, sir!" Horace squeaked, catching his hat and trying to reposition it on his head.

Mellath slowly blinked. "Sir Vegna?"

Vegna's right fist had left a huge dent in the inquisitor's bench. Slowly, silently, he raised it up. Shadows twirled around it, weaving themselves into a tattered book with a faded, eight-pointed star etched into the cover. The pages flipped themselves until Vegna placed his left index finger down on the book.

"The 'mon who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind."

More silence followed. Shimmer looked at Vegna, then Kain, then Vegna again. Was that… a jab at Kain's dragon-typing?

Mellath rubbed sweat off his brow. "Err, I'm sorry, Sir Vegna, but do you have an actual objection?"

Vegna shut the book and tucked it under his arm. "I do. But first… I must extend my congratulations to the dragon attorney and Clown Prince."

Shimmer's nostrils flared. "Excuse me?"

With a flick of his left wrist, Vegna sent Talonflame flying away. He returned a few seconds later clutching a black rose in his right foot. Vegna took the rose and held it out toward Kain. "I commend you both for taking such bold steps toward the comedy industry."

Oh boy, it's this part again. Time for the obligatory AA-style twist, since I knew that things were going too smoothly for Kain and Shimmer there.

Shimmer: "B-But we weren't trying to be funny."
:fearfullaugh:

Kain: "I really do not like where this is going right now." ._.

"Very well." Vegna's gauntlets sparked. The rose caught fire and faded away in flickering black embers. "The defense is arguing the scene was too dark for the witnesses to have accurately seen the incident. Their bravado seems to have broken through these two… simpletons."

"Simpleton?" Batroc smacked his umbrella against the witness stand. "How dare you!" Vegna ignored him, pointing toward Kain.

"But no amount of bluster on the defense's part can change the facts. And the facts are as such: the omnibus has light fixtures inside of it."

Kain stiffened. "… huh?"

... Ouch.

Kain: "Wh-What?! N-No it didn't! I literally flipped back eight chapters to check the description of the omnibus! We didn't see any light fixtures in there! It literally wasn't mentioned in the description!"
- Shimmer pauses and thinks, before faceplanting onto the counter -
Shimmer: "Augh! Of course we didn't see it! We were too busy focused on the flooring and seats!" >_<

Vegna switched the book to his left arm and raised his right hand. He got rid of the map on the screen next to Kain and brought up pictures of the omnibus interior. The carpet had a tape outline on it, and the wall on the other side of the photo had two glass cases with white candles sitting inside of them.

"Ah! Y-Yes, yes!" Horace nodded vigorously. Pins and needles tumbled off his quills. "I remember. Those candles were definitely lit… and showed Slurpuff stabbing Magmar!"

"Quite right!" Batroc regained some of his composure. "How dare you try and play such mind games, you poison-tongued dragon!"

Vegna slammed his right fist on the bench again. "Thus, rather than casting doubt upon this testimony, I contend the defense has instead furthered the inquisition's claims. The accused stabbed the victim and these two witnesses saw the entire thing from the upper deck!" His eye glowed deep crimson. "If these witnesses were inside the carriage, they surely would've paid closer attention to the light fixtures!"

- Kain shrivels up and looks about ready to die inside -
Kain: "B-But it literally wasn't in the omnibus description when we were there... A-And we noticed the ceiling glass!"
:uhhh:

Shimmer: "Okay, I should really be going into a tirade about you missing this right now, but... did you really miss it? Since I was there too and we saw the walls and noted their color and everything. How on earth would we have seen them but not this?" ._.
Vegna: "Hrmph, I believe that's an answer you two will have to deliver to the court, Clown Prince."

"L… light fixtures." Kain tapped his claws together and looked down in shame. "I, uh, might've forgotten about those."

"As did the Clown Prince, judging by the aghast look upon his face." The mouth on Vegna's stomach curved into a grotesque smile. "Thus, I congratulate you both." He flicked his left hand and the black rose from before rematerialized in a gout of shadowfire. "Cheers to your burgeoning circus careers."

A mixture of murmurs and laughter rose up throughout the courtroom.

Kain: "U-Ulp... I guess we really did overlook them."
:uhhh:

Shimmer:


"I can't believe it!" Scyther slammed an arm down. "I almost let myself get suckered in by His Grace!" He sat back and shook his head. "But at the end of the day, he's still a moneybag, just like Slurpuff. These damned moneybags… they're all in it together!" Scyther raised his blades high. "Milord, I don't need to hear another word! Death to the moneybags!"

Kain's wings unfurled. "Wait, don't!"

Scyther pressed a button on his station, increasing the size of the right flame on the massive scale behind the judge's bench. The scale tipped slightly to the right.

Well this trial's going swimmingly.

Gothorita pulled a piece of paper out of her typewriter. "… I've heard enough as well. This dragon is a charlatan. One can only hope this Crown Prince is merely a zoroark's illusion." She pressed a button of her own. The scale tipped to the right once again.

"Oi, laddies!" Herdier leaned over, frowning. "I'm the foremon, here. We're supposed to act as a unit." He sat back in his seat, harrumphing. "But I agree with 'em. I don't need to hear anything else."

A third button press. A third tilting of the scale to the right. The crowd's murmurs grew. Kain's eyes darted about in a panic. Shimmer's heart was racing. How had things blown up in their faces so quickly? Three jurors were voting to con—

"… indeed." Glaceon lifted her sponge-covered paw. "This is quite a filthy defense. It could do with some vigorous scrubbing." She pressed her own guilty verdict button, tilting the scale right once more. "Let us clean this courtroom of its filth."

I mean, you only have a public defender from a social outgroup who just looked like he was pantsing his defense. I don't really understand why you're so shocked the jury pool's taking such a hard turn against you, Shimmer.

Vegna: "I look forward to seeing you take up that comedy career after this debacle, dragon."
Kain:


This doesn't make any sense! Shimmer's ears rang. They were dogpiling on Benedict. And off of such shoddy testimony. Vegna couldn't have swayed them that much. Was there mind control going on? Yes, that had to be it!

"O-Objection!" Shimmer meekly propped his forehooves up on the defense's bench. "M… motive!" He blurted it out without thinking, but now that it was out there, the pieces started to fall into place for him. "You all are rushing to condemn the accused… but he doesn't even have a good motive for killing the victim! The two are complete and total strangers!"

"… aha ha."

This kid's really not helping his case there.

Kain: -facepalms-
Shimmer: "I-Inquisitor Vegna? Why are you laughing right now?" ._.

"All the Clown Prince is missing is some red lipstick." Vegna chuckled from his stomach-mouth. "And perhaps a cream pie or two." He slammed his right fist down on the table once again. "But ask and you shall receive, boy. Perhaps this will sway our two holdouts."

The dusknoir lifted his hand and pointed at the screen. "Accused! Your occupation?"

"Bwuh?" Benedict looked up. His jumpsuit was littered with sweat stains. "O-Oh. I work at the First Bank of Isola."

"You arrange for personal loans, correct?" Vegna said.

"Y-Yessir."

"Ha! I knew it!" Scyther pointed a blade at Benedict. "A banker! The worst of all moneyb—"

"Juror Three will be silent," Vegna commanded. His left hand erupted in shadowfire. "Or else he will find himself in the corner of the Twilight Realm where one's mouth is repeatedly scorched by hellfire."

Scyther went stiff as a board. Vegna returned his attention to the screen, where he produced a photograph of a book. There was a list of names with numbers and percentages beside them. Some of them had red stamps beside them reading "Overdue."

I'm surprised the Scyther hasn't requested to be excused from the jury pool yet with how much Vegna's bullying him. :V

"The inquisition presents the accused's personal ledger to the court," Vegna exclaimed. "I would like the Clown Prince to read the fifth name on the list, along with the accompanying values."

Shimmer squinted. His eyes found the fifth name and his heart sank. He opened his mouth and nothing came out. Shimmer swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and shakily said, "Magmar Mortimer. One thousand radians. Thirty-five percent. Overdue."

Vegna pointed to Benedict. "It would appear… these two are not strangers after all. Rather, Mortimer had taken a personal loan out from Benedict. One with an exorbitant interest rate that no commoner could ever pay off."

He slammed his palm against the table. "I submit that the victim was killed because he failed to repay his debts to the accused! With Mortimer deceased, Benedict's bank branch would seize possession of all his remaining assets… which would include his technique for brick firing that made him such an asset to the Venish Bricklayers Guild!"

"No!" Shimmer looked despondently at Benedict. "That's not true! It can't be!"

Just saying, this is the stage where you point out that you'd get the 'mon's kneecaps broken instead of outright killing him considering how well this trial's been going.

Vegna looked up to the jury bench. "What say you, Jurors Five and Six?"

Meowth scratched the side of his head. "Honestly? Those loans sound shady enough as it is. That much money is nothing to scoff at. I can see why this would've happened." He shook his head. "It's hard to believe. Mr. Benedict gave so much money to support our local grade school district." He pushed the guilty button on his console, tilting the scale even further to the right.

"I thank you for your wisdom." Vegna bowed to Meowth.

Shimmer:


Kain's cry made Shimmer jump. The flygon leaned over so much he practically tumbled over the defense bench.

"Wait! Please wait, Juror Six!"

"… hmph. There is nothing worth waiting over." Vegna smacked his desk with his palm. "Accept your defeat, dragon."

"No!" Kain leaned forward more, wings buzzing to keep him upright. "We can't end the trial here. There are… there are still too many inconsistencies!"

Vegna slowly straightened up. "Elaborate."

Well, I'll give Kain one thing, he definitely takes after the AA standard of going down swinging no matter how bad things look.

"You presented the accused's ledger." Kain pointed to the screen. "I'll admit his business choices are far from noble, but this customer list deserves greater scrutiny. The defense asserts its right to examine the ledger in its entirety."

"… bah, fine." Vegna rolled his eye. "Is that it?"

"No." Kain leaned back. "I'll admit there may be light fixtures in the omnibus, but can you prove they were on the night of the crime? Did Stoutland Yard take pictures of the entire carriage before taking custody of it?"

Vegna was silent, until he muttered, "They did not."

Kain: "S-So I wasn't going crazy about not seeing light fixtures in there."
:fearfullaugh:

Shimmer: "This would've been nice if you could've brought this up five jurors ago!" >_>;

"Fledglings Omnibus always replaces the candles when I finish my last route of the night," Adler piped up.

"Then the defense also demands the omnibus be brought up from the vault for inspection!" Kain declared. "If there's dried wax in the holders, then we'll know the candles were used that night."

Shimmer remained speechless. He had sorely underestimated Kain's resolve. Shimmer expected the flygon to roll over like a dying feral, but he was standing tall despite all the pressure Vegna put on the defense. And, judging from Mellath's contemplative expression, Kain might've bought Benedict another chance.

"The court accepts the defense's requests." Mellath raised his gavel. "We will adjourn for a thirty-minute recess. Bailiffs, please bring the omnibus and ledger up from the evidence vault."

That's a very, very tenuous chance there unless if you can get jurors to reverse their verdicts. Though that's par for the course of AA, I'd suppose.

Sighing, Shimmer's shoulders sagged. "I… can't believe that worked."

Kain fanned himself with the sides of his vest. "Well, Benedict told me to bring up the candles as a way to get the omnibus up here for inspection. I'm glad he thought of it."

Shimmer blinked slowly. "Wait, Uncle Benedict told that to you?"

"Yeah. Didn't he tell you, too?"

The ponyta turned to his right, but Benedict's bisharp guard had already escorted him out of the courtroom. His left ear folded against his head.

What did Shimmer's uncle know… and why didn't the slurpuff want to tell him?

:uhhh:


I mean, I wasn't seeing Benedict taking after 2-4 as a potential direction for this trial. But now that possibility's suddenly on my radar.

And made it to the end. Things got surprisingly tense at the end for a chapter that's a wrapup scene in the Qliphoth and a courtroom scene, but I suppose that's a testament to your skill at writing these things, @Ambyssin .

Kudos, and I'll be looking forward to your next installment, since I honestly am not sure where this trial is going to wind up going based off those last few paragraphs.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
Hi Amby, this is one of your prize reviews. In this review I'm covering 6-11 and will primarily focus on characterization of the leading trio thus far and plot/technical thoughts. I plan to cover worldbuilding and thoughts on the supporting cast overall in a later review, when I've caught up. Hopefully I don't forget.

To start, let's talk about the main character, Yuna. The chapters thus far make it pretty clear that she’s a pretty booksmart pokemon - the revelation that she’s made into an advanced law course making that pretty clear. But at the same time it’s clear that she’s physically pretty weak. While it’s not the first time I’ve seen a protagonist like this, it is uncommon enough that it’s a breath of fresh air. I imagine she's going to have to get stronger as the plot progresses, but for the time being it's kind of nice to see a main character that relies on others. My only concern is how long it might take for that change to come about. I have no issues currently, but I'll revisit my feelings when I get fully caught up.

Next, Nikki. I don't have a lot to say about her yet, but I do think she's a fun character to play off of the other two team members. It's also kind of nice to be able to get a perspective from someone that at least appears to be a commoner Pokemon. But there's also still quite a bit we don't know about Nikki yet. Sure there's been some hints here and there, like the fact that she's being sponsored to be able to be at the school, but overall her history is still a mystery.

Chiaki's personality is hard for me to put a finger on. Similar to Nikki, there's a lot we don't know about him yet. But there's been some implications here and there that he's been through some shit. He feels more down to earth compared to other students we've encountered thus far. I think part of that stems from his lot in life. He's certainly not royalty or anything of the sort, but his family *is* wealthy enough to hire a personal bodyguard.

On a note related to Chiaki, I think you've done a good job with his disability. Writing disability can be one of those things people easily fuck up. But I feel like you so far have managed to strike the balance between addressing it and how it affects him without making it an angst thing or the entirety of his character. [I feel like I might have briefly touched on this while reading GL, but it's good to see it here too]

Hm… any other characters I should talk about? Oh, Shimmer, probably. So far, Shimmer has come across as stereotypical snobbish royalty. But… I get the feeling there’s a bit more to him than meets the eye. And while he’s not one of the main trio, I figure we’ll be getting to know more about him in the near future. The plotline with his “uncle” will make sure of that. He’s definitely on my radar as a side character likely to get significant character growth.

Let’s talk pros and cons of the plot and pacing thus far. First off, I’m happy to say that it always feels like something is happening. Thus far, I haven’t noticed any scenes that felt extraneous, and every scene feels like it has some sort of purpose. A part of me wishes that we had gotten to the mystery dungeon stuff sooner, since it feels like the driving force of the overarching plot. But at the same time, I’m not really sure how it could have been pushed forward without sacrificing other important things. And the prologue helps alleviate some of that feeling. So in the end I think it can be chalked up as a quirk of the genre.

As for the plot as a whole, there's a lot of juicy mysteries that have been set up and I'm looking forward to seeing them play out.


To close off, general thoughts on each chapter:

6

  • Im glad that we immediately get resolution to the cliffhanger from chapter 5. And due to the nature of what happened, I think it's a good thing we saw the whole scene instead of just having it summarized.
  • Man, Siefer is a bit of an ass when it comes to religion, ain't he. Cant remember how much it came up elsewhere, but between that and some of the other stereotyping going on, that's… not a good look for the kingdom.
  • -not sure I buy the "Im a whimsicott" claim but we'll see how that goes.
  • [A cursory glance suggested it wasn't one of Dimitri's assistants. Yet, much like all the Aeons Noctum knew, Garchomp had only a single accessory: a black scarf wrapped around her left shoulder. And there was no notched fin, either.]
    • Little strange on the order of information here. The fact that there is no notched fin is brought up after we’re told that the garchomp is female just through pronoun usage. Unless there’s supposed to be some other significance here. If there is, it went right over my head.
7

  • The way the entire opening scene for this chapter is handled screams “someone knows their way around a doctor’s office” to me. Which, I mean, obviously makes sense.
  • The sexuality gag got a good laugh out of me. I could nitpick and say Baraz’s response felt a tad on the nose but it does serve a purpose and gives us a little more insight into the views of the Aeon kingdom.
  • Running the newspaper must pay well if it gives Chiaki’s family enough to hire a bodyguard. That, or there’s something else at play here.
  • NGL I really enjoy seeing Vegna refuse to give Shimmer special treatment. Bring him down to size. Vegna might be shaping up to be a favorite of mine.
8

  • On the opposite end, I really like seeing Shimmer acknowledge that Yuna had to be pretty smart and skilled to get into the law class (unless there’s more factors at play here, but based on what I’ve seen thus far I doubt there is.)
9

  • NGL I find both Vortex and Demerzel shady, just in different ways. But neither of them feel like big bad material. Vortex feels more… self centered and self serving, while Demerzel feels more like he’s unintentionally shady, though if he is a bad guy, he feels more like a lackey for a bigger bad.
  • Interesting how Yuna has a reaction just to hearing the word Qliphoth.
10

  • Got a kick out of the flirting or whatever that was supposed to be between Vegna and Griffon
  • I absolutely love the vibe of the mystery dungeon here. It really gets across the eerie and unnatural vibe.
11

  • Didn’t have much in particular to say about this chapter. Lot of small, interesting things. But this chapter definitely feels like the big shift of the fic as the A plot kicks off in earnest. How it will unfold, I guess I’ll find out in my next review.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
Figured I'd post my thoughts in public for once! Especially now PoV is eligible for Review Tag

Chapter 23

"Ah, jolly good." Rayquaza clapped his tiny hands. "Let us, as the kids say, be 'roomies,' Reshiram!"

Sounds like Reshiram, Noctum, and Nikki are gonna have another 'mon to contend with for being my favorite :p

"Saving Etherium is what's important," Chiaki continued. He attached the Hooker and shot it into the upside-down stairs. He repelled down to the next floor. "You recognized that, in the moment, Nikki and I were dead weight, then reacted appropriately. Even if it personally ticks me off, I respect it."

Well, sounds like what Yuna did won't affect her friendship with the rest of the team too much... probably.

Rayquaza's black head popped out. "Space Noodle? Poppycock! I am far more nutritious than a single piece of uncooked pasta."

Yuna grabbed his head and squished it back into her pendant.

This is a pretty fun visual image heh

"I wonder what would've happened if the beam hit you," Reshiram added.

Would be funny if it just doesn't do anything to Yuna.

"To confirm, Miss Adler, you were the coachmon for Fledglings Omnibus 2015 on the night of the incident, correct?"

Don't you think I don't see that reference there 👀

"Objection!" Vegna shook his head. "Don't try to unnerve the good rhyhorn over such a miniscule detail, dragon.

I'm just imagining Vegna petting the Rhyhorn while say this lol

"Psst," Shimmer whispered. "What do you think about the way they were acting? It sounded like they were trying really hard to make Benedict out to be the killer."

"Yeah." Kain nodded. "Seems like Passimian is leading Togedemaru along. I'm making a note of it."

Glad I'm not the only one who thinks the Passimian is sus as hell.

"If things did play out as you two said, why didn't either of you make any attempt to stop the accused from escaping?"

Huh, this seemed kinda odd to me. In real life you're usually encouraged not to go after criminals directly and just let the police handle things, but I'm guessing in Etherium it's the exact opposite?

"All the Clown Prince is missing is some red lipstick." Vegna chuckled from his stomach-mouth. "And perhaps a cream pie or two."

Vegna is a savage, damn.

"Juror Three will be silent," Vegna commanded. His left hand erupted in shadowfire. "Or else he will find himself in the corner of the Twilight Realm where one's mouth is repeatedly scorched by hellfire."

Though one can wonder how he hasn't been arrested himself yet.

But yeah, I had fun with this chapter! Will be fun to see how Yuna will save the trial next chapter. Too bad we didn't see more of Noctum and the others though. I'm also still really curious to see those space pirates, even if they probably won't appear next chapter.
 
Chapter 24: Disorder in the Court

Ambyssin

Winter is coming™
Location
Etherium
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. silvally-dragon
  2. necrozma-ultra
Chapter 24: Disorder in the Court

The conversation with Rayquaza had Yuna prepared to pop out from the Qliphoth in midair. She was therefore caught off guard when she floated into a spacious, square room with brown, oaken walls draped by maroon tapestries with silver justice scales stitched into them. A bust of Queen Calliope sat on either side of a large, brown door, while the right wall had a line of rapidash busts. Likely Shimmer's mother and the reigning monarchs that came before her.

"Huh?" Nikki stepped to Yuna's right. "This ain't no museum, that's for sure." She looked over her shoulder. "Yo, Twiggy! Where the hell are we?"

Chiaki approached one of the tapestries. Sand grains littered the black carpet behind him. "Pretty sure we're at the Crowne Court."

Yuna's gills stiffened. "Y… you're kidding."

"What good fortune!" Rayquaza cheered. "Is that not what thou desired all along?"

I mean… I
guess it's a good thing. Except Yuna didn't know where in the courthouse she was. And she had her teammates with her. Along with Cid, who floated there silently with a faraway look in his eyes.

"Wait." Yuna turned to Chiaki. "I don't think you guys should stay here. What if we're in a spot that's not open to the public?"

At that, the oak doors swung open with loud creeks. Shimmer stood in the doorway. His eyes went wide, then abruptly narrowed. "You!" The ponyta stomped toward her in a huff. "Where have you been? We're getting clobbered in there! Vegna has our backs against the wall. My uncle's about to get shipped off to Citadark and you… you…"

Shimmer glanced at Nikki, then Chiaki, and then Cid. "Actually, no. Forget it. If you were skipping out for some pointless Crowne Cup thing, then I don't want to hear about it."

"Wow, someone's cranky," Reshiram observed. "Maybe he needs a nice bottle of warm milk?"

Yuna was too busy parsing through Shimmer's rant to pay Reshiram any mind. "I'm sorry… did you say Vegna? Like, our professor?"

"Yes!" Shimmer stomped a forehoof down. "He's the inquisitor in this trial." He turned up his snout. "Which you would've known if you'd shown up for the start like you were supposed to."

What was Yuna supposed to say to that?

"Well, I'd advocate honesty, but I'm confident that route will you get you jabbed with the business end of that guy's horn," Reshiram responded.

"And this is the heir to the kingdom we art currently in?" Rayquaza sighed. "Perhaps chivalry died during my long slumber."

"We still have a chance at pulling this off, though."

Kain hovered toward the group, clearing this throat. He landed behind Shimmer. "I managed to convince the judge to bring the omnibus up from the vault to be reinspected… along with Benedict's ledger that he uses for personal business."

Yuna had no idea what that meant. "Um, sorry, but is there a quick way to bring me up to speed?"

"Please." Shimmer snorted and swished his mane over his shoulder. "You missed the train as it left the station. Don't think you can get on now."

Nikki stepped toward Shimmer. Looming over him, she cracked her knuckles, "Says who?"

"Says me." Shimmer met her gaze with his own.

"Oh, of course. My bad." Nikki's words dripped with sarcasm. "I forgot you're calling the shots here and not, y'know, the guy whose literal job it is to do this." She pointed to Kain. "So, keep your trap shut or I'll stuff it with that frilly mane of yours. Capiche?"

Yuna's jaw slackened. Why was Nikki going to bat so hard for her? Especially when she didn't have the toxtricity's back against Baptiste.

"My guess? It's more about getting under Shimmer's skin than helping you out," Reshiram said.

Her gills drooped. Did it ever occur to you I might not have wanted an answer to that?

Silence followed, though she had a strong mental image of Reshiram wilting like a dying tree. Yuna shook her head and floated over to Kain. "How long until you need to go back in?"

Kain turned to the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. "Twenty-seven minutes."

"Think you can catch me up in that time?"

Kain nodded. "I believe so."

Yuna rubbed her arms together. "Then let's do it."

She might not have been there for the start, but she kept the place safe enough for the trial to proceed. And now, Yuna could see it through to the finish line.

… if only the preceding battle hadn't left her so exhausted.

XxX​

Noctum was so, so sick of pulling himself off cold, metal floors after blacking out.

… no, that wasn't quite right. He hadn't blacked out this time. Noctum vividly remembered tumbling through a black and purple abyss. Crystalline diamonds and cubes sailed past him.

And the eyes. Dear God, the eyes! Noctum thought he was seeing things, but they were there. Eyes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Boring holes into him.

But as quick as the abyss swallowed him up, it spat him out. Though he was dizzy, the charizard slowly gained a sense of his surroundings… and had to throw a black-scaled arm over his face.

Bright… too bright!

"This is getting to be re-god-damn-diculous!"

Well, I guess Valkyrie survived the trip. Noctum pivoted to his right, but didn't take his arm away from his eyes. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sure, aside from wanting to hurl you into that neon sign across from us," Valkyrie responded.

Noctum decided not to make eye contact. Instead, he turned around and slowly lifted his arm. There was, indeed, a giant neon sign bolted onto a bigger building. It was easily taller than the servant's quarters and bathed the black metal rooftop they stood on in a mix of white and pink light. The sign depicted a glass bottle shaped like a dragonite skull sitting on a gray table. A comfey floated on either side of it.

Eau d'Eternatus, by Shannel.
Live your best eternity. Be your best smelf.


"Why would a city of dead people need to advertise perfume?"

Seifer hobbled over to Noctum's side. Not-Zapdos was draped over his back. He was breathing, but Noctum wasn't sure if that was something to celebrate.

Valkyrie snorted from across the rooftop. "You ever smell a corpse, pony-boy? Even a garbodor's stench is more appealing."

Seifer squinted. "Why would you know that?"

"I think we have more pressing things to worry about." Noctum scratched the back of his head. "Like, y'know, figuring out where we are."

"Pretty sure we're still in Eterna City." Valkyrie tilted her head up. "Same eerie black and purple sky. Same sinister crystals latched onto the buildings like joltik on a moss patch." She stomped across the roof, stepping over metal pipes. "Not sure what's up with the flying omnibuses, though."

Seifer raised a brow. "Flying… omnibuses?"

Valkyrie waved him off. She stepped back from the rooftop's edge. "Feh, it's not important. What is important is finding a way back down. Anyone see a fire escape or something?"

But at that moment, darkness fell over the rooftop. Noctum glanced toward the advertisement to find it had turned off, replaced by a purple outline of World Ender's sigil. Orchestral music blared up around him. "Yipe!" His tail flame sparked. Noctum barely stopped himself from jumping.

"And now, please stand by for a broadcast from Archbishop Paradox!"

The moment the soothing, feminine voice stopped, a video feed appeared of a dimly lit office desk. Piercing, blue eyes lit up, separated by a thin, blue stripe.

"Hello again, lovely Qliphoth denizens."

Noctum couldn't help but shuffle back nervously when Deoxys' head fully entered the picture. The three orange spikes on his head had an otherworldly glow about them.

"I know it's been some time since my last broadcast, and I do apologize for that." Paradox shook his head. "Unfortunately, business has kept me away from you, the wonderful civilians of Eterna City and beyond."

Four tentacles unfurled as Paradox leaned further forward. "So, to make up for it, I thought I would provide you all with a sport of entertainment. Isn't that grand?" His right two tentacles twisted around themselves, stitching together until there was an orange and blue arm. Noctum's gut squirmed.

No, wait, was it really his gut… or the crystal stuck inside it? He glanced down at saw the crystal pulsating with purple light. The charizard gulped.

Paradox clenched his newly formed fist. "This entertainment will, of course, remind you all of the pathetic planet that has kept our dear Eternatus imprisoned." He sat back in his chair and pushed it to the side of the video feed. "I want you all to watch. Watch and be amazed…"

The camera slowly zoomed in toward a glowing screen behind Paradox's desk. The picture came into focus, revealing a room with high ceilings and white podiums stationed parallel to one another. A large omnibus sat in the middle of the room.

Though it confused Noctum, he put the pieces together the moment he saw a small dreepy floating toward one of the podiums, behind a flygon and ponyta.

"Is that… the Crowne Court?" Seifer's brows raised. "How are they seeing this? What's going on here?"

"You really think either of us would know?" Valkyrie huffed, crossing her arms. "It could be doctored. That alien sure sounded like he was spewing propaganda."

Noctum tapped his claws together. "But… how would he know about Yuna and Shimmer."

"It's not just them. I see that grovyle and toxtricity walking into the gallery." Seifer pointed his broken horn toward the screen.

"What?" Valkyrie crouched into a fighting stance. She narrowed her eyes. "Son of a— it is him!"

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… the so-called justice system of the terrestrials!"

XxX​

When Kain said the omnibus would be brought in for inspection, Yuna figured it couldn't fit into the courtroom proper. And yet there it was. Completely blocking the trio's ability to see the inquisitor's bench. Not that it mattered. Yuna didn't want to see Vegna glaring at her from across from the courtroom.

She took her place next to Shimmer, who hadn't wiped the irritated look off his face since Nikki had told him off earlier. "For both our sakes, keep your mouth shut," he hissed.

"Wow, I think I'm starting to see why the jury might not have been enamored with the defense," Reshiram deadpanned.

The clang of gavel against bench brought Yuna and Shimmer to attention. Mellath sat down at his bench. "Court will reconvene." He looked to his left. "Sir Vegna, I trust this is the correct omnibus in front of us?"

"Unless you think the bailiffs located an entirely different omnibus and brought it here within the span of thirty minutes, then yes."

Though Yuna couldn't see Vegna, the irritation in his voice was plain as day.

"And the accused's ledger?" Mellath asked.

A shriek echoed through the courtroom. Talonflame descended toward Kain, gripping a book in his talons. He dropped it, almost striking Kain's head in the process.

"… delivered to the defense, as requested," Vegna growled. Talonflame disappeared behind the omnibus. "And it would seem these aren't the only new items to enter the court."

A rumbling chuckle echoed from Vegna's side of the room. "Nice of you to join us, exchange student. I hope your little excursion was worth it."

Yuna swallowed hard. There was no way Vegna could've known what she did… could he?

"Well, he is a ghost-type. Perhaps he followed you under the cover of night?" Reshiram theorized.

"How devious! It is most uncouth to spy on a lady in such a manner," Rayquaza growled. "Let me take a crack at him, Princess. I'll show that rapscallion what's what!"

How about you keep your comments to yourself instead?
Yuna's headache was back. God, how she wanted to sleep. To let the cool fabric of a nice, soft pillow envelope her triangular head.

A gavel knock brought Yuna back to attention. "Counsellor, please inspect the interior of the omnibus," Mellath instructed. "His Grace can peruse the accused's ledger."

Kain nodded. "Understood." He gestured for Yuna to follow as he hovered toward the omnibus. The pink stains along the staircase were much more apparent in the bright courtroom than the dark evidence vault. As were the bloodstains on the carpet when Kain swung the door open.

"There are the light fixtures." Kain flew inside, being careful to avoid stepping on the ground and disturbing the tape outline.

Yuna had trouble seeing past his fast-moving wings. "Well, what do you see?"

"There's… no wax in these containers, Your Magistry!" Kain announced.

A thump came from the other side of the omnibus. "What?" Vegna growled.

"Sounds to me like that's not what Vegna expected," Reshiram said. "Maybe he forgot what he'd seen if he inspected the omnibus for himself?"

Yuna found that incredibly hard to believe. Dour as he was, Vegna seemed as sharp as a druddigon's claws. She managed to squeeze herself against the omnibus' wooden wall. Sure enough, the glass light containers were completely empty.

"I guess there weren't any candles on the night of the crime, then," Yuna concluded. Kain had his chin resting on his hand as he stared down one of the glass containers.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Shadows pooled by the back of the carriage and Vegna's cloaked head popped up. Yuna squeaked and drifted close to the carriage door. "Y-You could've announced you were going to do that."

"Please excuse my lack of manners," Vegna said, eyeing the same container as Kain. "Impossible. There were candles in these containers. I'm sure of it."

"Perhaps thine deduction was accurate, Sir Reshiram." Rayquaza's hearty laugh echoed in Yuna's head. While Vegna scrutinized the glass containers further, however, Yuna found herself scanning the rest of the carriage. With how dark the vault was, she couldn't appreciate the carriage's glass ceiling. But under the bright glow of the chandelier lights, Yuna could clear see red splotches along the edge of the glass.

Yuna rubbed her eyes. Maybe it was a trick? No, the splotches were still there. Paint, perhaps?

"I'm afraid… that it's exactly what you think it is," Reshiram squeaked.

At that, Yuna couldn't stop herself from pointing up and blurting out, "Blood!"

"Huh?" Kain looked where Yuna pointed. "Ah, a bloodstain! How did we miss that?"

Vegna looked up. "… no. It can't be."

Yuna swore she saw a glint in his eye. Electricity? She looked at her Soul Dew, like she was expecting Reshiram to jump in. She got nothing, however.

"Quick, Yuna, check the roof again." Kain pointed up. "Maybe we missed something else in the vault."

The dreepy nodded. She floated up and effortlessly passed through the roof. Sure enough, there were a few small red speckles on the back wooden bench. "I think this is blood, too."

"What?" Scyther almost fell over leaning against the juror's bench. "You're kidding me!"

"No, I see it." Glaceon elbowed Scyther out of her way and squinted. "Yes, there are definitely some unsanitary spots in need of a thorough scrubbing."

Meowth's beard frazzled. "Then does this mean we've been lied to?"

Vegna took his head out of the omnibus and silently floated back to his desk. Talonflame ruffled his feathers. Yuna was going to ask Kain about these new findings when a loud, protracted sigh came from the corner of the room.

"So, that was your game." Benedict looked at the witness stand. "I get it now."

Shimmer looked up from the ledger with a raised eyebrow.

"Is there something you wish to tell the court, accused?" Mellath asked.

"Of course." Benedict hopped off his stool. Bisharp tightened his grip on Benedict's chains, but the slurpuff merely lumbered toward the witness stand. "I believe I'm being set up. How else would you explain any of this?"

"That you're the killer!" Batroc pointed his umbrella tip at Benedict. "Stay away from me!"

Benedict shook his head. "Hardly. After all, my story has always been that I fell asleep within the carriage, only to be awoken by a loud thump." The slurpuff hopped once to imitate getting startled. "Then, overwhelmed by the sight of the victim, I screamed and fled the omnibus."

"But if that's really the case, why didn't you contact the authorities?" Gothorita asked, looking over the stack of papers she'd produced from her constant typing.

"Because I was acting on instinct. Utterly terrified!" Benedict shuddered. "After all, someone on that omnibus was out for blood. I figured the attacker would jump through the ceiling and go after me next!"

"Hogwash!" Batroc slammed his umbrella on the witness stand. "And just who do you claim this mysterious attacker is, hmm?"

Yuna had a good idea what Benedict's response would be, but Shimmer surprisingly beat his uncle to the punch by shouting, "You, Passimian!"

"What?" Batroc stumbled back. His top hat fell off, revealing his pale green head. "Th-this is absurd! He's the one who had bloodied gloves on his person!" He swung his umbrella blindly at Benedict, who managed to duck under it.

"Of course I got blood on my gloves," Benedict said, shuddering. "I pushed Magmar's unconscious body aside while I was panicking." He stroked his chin in thought. "If I had stabbed him, I could've easily pulled my hands away before any blood dribbled up from the wound."

"P… poppycock!" Batroc struggled to find his words. "Enough baseless accusations! I'm nothing but a bystander!"

"I disagree!" Shimmer telekinetically waved Benedict's ledger around. "I have evidence that says otherwise, witness."

Kain zipped out of the omnibus. Yuna glanced across the room to find Vegna with his back turned to the whole affair. Why had he suddenly gone silent?

"It's true!" Kain gasped. "Your Magistry, Mr. Passimian Batroc is listed on page seventeen of the ledger. He took out a twenty-five hundred radians loan from the accused… then a subsequent one thousand radians loan a month later. Both of them are overdue!"

"Nngh!" Batroc looked away from Benedict, digging his fingers into the witness stand. "I… I was this close to paying them off! So I had a string of busts at the races. What of it? A 'mon of my standing is allowed to enjoy some betting now and again."

Yuna frowned. He needed thousands of radians… to bet on sporting events?

"That's something this kingdom allows?"
Reshiram added. "Seems a bit… shady, if you ask me."

Adler narrowed her eyes at Batroc. "Did you sully my omnibus and try to pass it off onto that bloke?" She pointed at Benedict with her horn.

"I did no such thing!" Batroc barked. He grabbed a squealing Horace and lifted him up. "Back me up here, Togedemaru. I'm innocent in this!"

"I— y-yeah!" Horace squirmed in Batroc's grasp.

"Is that so?" Benedict tilted his head. "Or, perhaps, did you convince this little guy to assist you?" He smiled warmly at the passimian, but something about his grin unnerved Yuna. "Because if our good Crown Prince will turn to page nineteen in that ledger, he'll find a five hundred radians loan for little Togedemaru. A loan due to mature in two weeks."

Horace went stiff as a board in Batroc's hands. "No, please! You can't call in my debts. My boss at the shop has been sick. We haven't had as many customers. I'm not as good at attracting clients as he is! I… I've gotta feed my baby sister, sir!"

Benedict turned his smile on Horace. "I'm afraid that's irrelevant, lad." He swiveled to face the jury. "If Mr. Reaper is going to use Magmar's unpaid debts to try and pin this on me, why are we not scrutinizing these fellows' debts as well? After all, it would be quite convenient for them if I were to be put in prison."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Herdier called.

"That ledger is a personal ledger." Benedict sighed. "As in… loans I approved on my own time, without using the First Bank of Isola's proper channels. If I go away for any reason, all the unpaid debts will be wiped clean."

A chorus of murmurs emerged from the gallery. Yuna wasn't sure what to make of it. Monetary loans weren't a thing back in Aeon, only material ones. The idea of people needing to borrow money — and that some people were doing so without any oversight or regulation — didn't sit well with her.

"But if it's legal here, there's nothing to really do about it," Reshiram whispered. "Moreover, he does have a point. This is a rather… violent method to try and erase a debt. But desperation can drive people to do crazy things."

"My client raises a good point." Kain crossed his arms and nodded. "Not only that, but if we're scrutinizing the accused over his ledger, then the murder weapon must be scrutinized as well!" The flygon pointed to the screen in the center of the juror's bench. "In his opening statement, Inquisitor Vegna used the 'B' embroidered on the murder weapon's handle to connect it to my client. But it could just as easily stand for 'Batroc' or 'Bernard!'"

He pointed an accusatory talon at Batroc. "I contend these two witnesses conspired to frame my client… and are the real culprits in this case! Mr. Batroc stabbed the victim, then shoved him through the open window! Then he got Mr. Horace to lie on his behalf!"

"No!" Batroc dropped Horace to the table and swatted his patchwork hat off his head. "Th… this is a farce! Everything I've said is the truth! He's the one lying, damn it! Why would I even carry a knife? I'm a fighting-type!" The passimian raised his fists and boxed the air. "If I had to take someone out, I'd use some good old fisticuffs!"

"That would be counterintuitive!" Kain picked up the folder containing Mortimer's autopsy. "Any decent coroner can tell when someone receives blows from a fighting-type move, so doing so would've made it much easier to nail you as the culprit!"

"B-But— but but but!" Horace shivered. "Why would we hurt Magmar? He was in debt… just like us!"

The more the argument went on, the more uneasy it made Yuna. Especially with Vegna's continued silence. Had he actually made a mistake… and was now leaving his witnesses out to dry?

"Didn't Kain tell us Benedict suggested he try to get the omnibus examined in court?" Reshiram asked. "Yeah, we weren't here for the start of things, but I feel like somehow Benedict might've known what was going to happen if the omnibus got brought here."

Because he knew he was innocent?


Reshiram's humming sounded doubtful. "I don't like his tone. It isn't the relief I'd expect from someone in his situation. It's more like… conceit."

Yuna looked down at her Soul Dew, then back at the witness stand. If he was acting conceited, then…

Could it be? Is this… all a set up?

A thunderclap echoed throughout the courtroom, followed by a splintering crack. Squealing, Yuna whirled around to find Vegna having broken clean through the inquisition's bench. Blue energy tingled around his fist, fading within seconds.

"… how uncivil of me to disrespect the inquisitor's bench in such a manner. I beg the court's forgiveness," he monotonously exclaimed. "I was curious to see exactly what twists and turns this farce would take. But enough is enough. I will not allow this trial to morph into some hideous feral tugged to and fro by chains of falsified evidence."

Yuna gulped and squeezed the Soul Dew. Reshiram isn't the only one, then…

"Falsified evidence?" Mellath's eyes widened. "Elaborate posthaste!"

"While the witnesses squabbled with the accused, I perused Stoutland Yard's crime scene report." Vegna held up a manilla envelope. "There are no mentions of blood splatter on the glass ceiling or rooftop benches." He smacked the envelope on his broken desk. "At some point between its transport to the vault and now, someone tampered with this omnibus! The inquisition is certain of this!

"I trust Stoutland Yard's report. There is foul play afoot here." Vegna fixed his crimson eye on Benedict. "Someone seeks to tip the scales in the accused's favor."

"Objection!" Shimmer's eyes darted back and forth between Benedict and Kain. "Y… you missed your opportunity to bring up that report. How can we know it's authentic?"

"The Clown Prince will be silent while the adults are talking," Vegna growled. Shimmer's ears folded. Yuna saw uncertainty all over his face. It started when Benedict began talking and hadn't gone away.

"What if he realizes it, too?"

Reshiram's question rang in Yuna's mind like the cathedral bells back home.

"Wah ha ha!"

Benedict's chains rubbed together as he mockingly applauded in Vegna's direction. "As expected, Mr. Reaper, you intend to go down fighting until the very end. But it matters not." He smiled as he looked straight at Kain and Shimmer. "Tell him why, my good barrister."

Kain stared blankly, then hastily cleared his throat. "Well, uh, unless Inquisitor Vegna can prove when the bloodstains appeared, then it's impossible to say for certain whether the victim was stabbed in the carriage or on the roof and shoved down."

"Wonderful! Outstanding!" Benedict showered Kain in applause and foot-stomping. "Do remember that since the incident, I've been in a holding cell awaiting trial." He turned to Vegna. "You say I tampered with the evidence? When would I have had the chance to do that, Mr. Reaper?"

The slurpuff's expression darkened. "Because the only way that wild theory of yours works is if a member of Stoutland Yard tampered with the omnibus at my direction."

He descended into more laughter as he slapped his palm against the witness stand. "Are you, an inquisitor for the Ministry of Justice, about to float there and accuse the very organization you partner with to maintain law and order of corruption? Do you think that's a wise move for your career?"

Benedict leaned over, flashing a grin. "How many inspectors will choose to work with you after learning of this, hmm? You'll be chased out of the courtroom for the second time! Wah ha ha ha! Ho ho ho! Hee hee hee!"

Yuna couldn't take anymore of this. Her gut was practically twisting around itself. Everything Shimmer's uncle said unnerved her. Heck, Shimmer probably knew something was up and refused to say anything. Was Benedict really worth that much to the ponyta?

"I… agree with Prof— err, Sir Vegna, Your Magistry!" she declared, shakily holding up her arm.

At once, she felt the entire courtroom's attention fall on her. Yuna saw Kain's bewildered expression, as well as Shimmer's furious one. The confident grin on Benedict's face melted away and a snarl twisted itself onto his puffy features.

"Come again?" Mellath leaned over and squinted.

Yuna trembled. Part of her wanted to walk that statement back, but a warmth pushed those sentiments away. Reshiram, perhaps?

Swallowing hard, she responded, "Mr. Kain, Prince Shimmer, and I inspected the omnibus together in the evidence vault yesterday. I didn't see any bloodstains on the roof." She curled her arms up. "I… believe Sir Vegna's theory. I think someone tampered with this!"

"She's lying!"

Shimmer's shrill voice made Yuna flinch. His horn flickered like a dying candle. "I w-want her outburst stricken from the record. She wasn't even here for the start of the trial!"

"Silence, Shimmer." Benedict held up a hand. "Know your place. This is an adult matter."

The ponyta's jaw slackened. Benedict turned his scornful expression on Yuna. All that warmth the dreepy had vanished in an instant.

"You have a lot of nerve, wyrm." Benedict's voice was even chillier than before. "We welcome you into this kingdom as a guest. Give you access to the pinnacle of education. And in return… you would spit on our generosity by accusing a fellow noble of evidence tampering? Ungrateful bitch! I ought to have you removed and deported to that ashtray you call a home!" He puffed his cheeks out. Yuna swore his face turned red.

Mellath banged his gavel several times. "Accused! Mind your words, or you'll be held in contempt!"

Benedict rolled his eyes. "Your Magistry, we both know her claim is meaningless. Because it remains impossible to prove when the blood appeared on the ceiling."

Sighing, Mellath nodded. "I concur."

"What?!" Scyther's wings buzzed in irritation. "Then what the hell happens now? Did we just get bamboozled?"

The oranguru turned to his left. "Sir Vegna?"

"Yes, milord?"

"Whether there was tampering or not — and what parties may have been involved — the blame rests with you." Mellath's brow furrowed. "It has and always will be the responsibility of the case's inquisitor to oversee and verify Stoutland Yard's investigation. Clearly, there has been a grave oversight error. Even if you were only handed this case recently, that is no excuse for allowing this to transpire."

Vegna slowly nodded. "I understand, milord."

"When the trial concludes, I want you in my chambers immediately," Mellath continued. "And you can bet High Inquisitor Justine will launch an inquiry when she hears of this."

Vegna extended his right arm and bowed. "I look forward to it, milord."

"Now then." Mellath turned to Kain. "Before I issue my ruling, do you have any final remarks, Counsellor?"

Kain jumped in surprise. "I, uh—" He tapped his claws together. Yuna silently begged him to say something— anything to back her up.

"Your Magistry?" Kain lifted the right side of his blue vest. "I understand that, as a public defender, I must accept the assignments given to me by the Ministry of Justice and serve my client to the best of their wishes. And I want to sincerely trust that Benedict is innocent in the matter."

The flygon slowly pulled his vest off. "However, I also believe what Princess Yuna is saying. I do not wish to be associated with a client who might be involved in evidence tampering." Kain folded his vest over his right arm. "If the Ministry opts for a retrial, I must request a new defender be assigned to Mr. Benedict."

"Wah ha ha ha!" Benedict mockingly applauded. "So, in the end, the other cold-blooded sap gets cold feet and turns tail." He feigned wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "And here I was, ready to reward your handsomely for your work. Oh well. My savings will sleep soundly tonight."

Mellath banged his gavel once more. "Enough!" He tucked his head. "While I admire your candor, Counsellor, the point is moot. As loathe as I am to take this decision away from the jury, the circumstances are such that the accused will receive a bench verdict."

"Unbelievable!" Scyther slammed his arms on the jury bench. "That moneybags pulled the wool over ours eyes. What'd I tell ya? Never trust a moneybags! They're all conspiring to kick us while we're down!"

More gavel strikes sounded. "Order!" Mellath cleared his throat. "Due to inquisitorial negligence, I have no choice but to dismiss the charges against the accused… with prejudice. Mr. Benedict, you are free to go."

Yuna blinked, unsure of what exactly that meant. Had that been in a part of the textbook she hadn't read? "Kain?" She looked to the flygon. "What's he saying?"

Kain looked down, wings folding against his back. "Legally speaking, it's as if he was never charged with the crime to begin with."

You're kidding! Yuna's gut squirmed once again.

With one more strike of his gavel, Mellath declared, "Crowne Court is adjourned!"

Before any conversations could emerge from the gallery, shadows flared up from the inquisitor's bench.

"Slurpuff Benedict."

Vegna's voice sent a chill down Yuna's back. She saw his red eye glowing under his hood.

"In my time away from the court, I have heard whispers from my colleagues," the dusknoir growled. "Of individuals influencing the outcomes of trials to suit their needs. Bribed jurors, falsified testimonies, and evidence tampering… the list goes on."

Smirking, Benedict quirked a brow. "Is that another accusation? How delightful!" He rubbed his hands together. "Keep them coming, Mr. Reaper, and perhaps I'll take you to civil court for defamation. I'm sure attorneys would be tripping over themselves to represent me there."

Yuna didn't think it was possible, but Vegna's expression grew even darker.

"Do not, for one second, think this is over."

"Oh-ho, yes. That stupid 'curse' of yours." Benedict's grin only grew as the bisharp guard undid his cuffs.

"Take care, Mr. Reaper. I so look forward to our next session together! Wah ha ha ha ha!"

As Shimmer ran over to the slurpuff, Yuna flopped onto the omnibus bench, at a complete loss for words.

What had she just witnessed?
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, finally got around to putting together my next Path of Valor review:

Chapter 24

The conversation with Rayquaza had Yuna prepared to pop out from the Qliphoth in midair. She was therefore caught off guard when she floated into a spacious, square room with brown, oaken walls draped by maroon tapestries with silver justice scales stitched into them. A bust of Queen Calliope sat on either side of a large, brown door, while the right wall had a line of rapidash busts. Likely Shimmer's mother and the reigning monarchs that came before her.

"Huh?" Nikki stepped to Yuna's right. "This ain't no museum, that's for sure." She looked over her shoulder. "Yo, Twiggy! Where the hell are we?"

Chiaki approached one of the tapestries. Sand grains littered the black carpet behind him. "Pretty sure we're at the Crowne Court."

- Beat moment -
Yuna: "Er... we did arrive in the lobby, right? We didn't just pop into the middle of an ongoing trial, did we?"
Chiaki: "If we did, I'm sure we'll be hearing about it right about now."

Yuna's gills stiffened. "Y… you're kidding."

"What good fortune!" Rayquaza cheered. "Is that not what thou desired all along?"

Yuna: "Not like this!" >.<
Nikki: "Just saying, you were the one who passed up on sticking around Aquardah for that sappy moment with Razim and the others you initially wanted."

"Wait." Yuna turned to Chiaki. "I don't think you guys should stay here. What if we're in a spot that's not open to the public?"

At that, the oak doors swung open with loud creeks. Shimmer stood in the doorway. His eyes went wide, then abruptly narrowed. "You!" The ponyta stomped toward her in a huff. "Where have you been? We're getting clobbered in there! Vegna has our backs against the wall. My uncle's about to get shipped off to Citadark and you… you…"

Cecil: "Well on the plus side, we now know we wound up someplace that's supposed to be open to the public."
Yuna: "Reshiram, not helping!" >.<

Shimmer glanced at Nikki, then Chiaki, and then Cid. "Actually, no. Forget it. If you were skipping out for some pointless Crowne Cup thing, then I don't want to hear about it."

"Wow, someone's cranky," Reshiram observed. "Maybe he needs a nice bottle of warm milk?"

Huh. I wonder if Reshiram's (alleged) teachings is where Noctum got his thing for warm milk from? Or is that just a happy coinkydink between the two?

Yuna was too busy parsing through Shimmer's rant to pay Reshiram any mind. "I'm sorry… did you say Vegna? Like, our professor?"

"Yes!" Shimmer stomped a forehoof down. "He's the inquisitor in this trial." He turned up his snout. "Which you would've known if you'd shown up for the start like you were supposed to."

What was Yuna supposed to say to that?

"Well, I'd advocate honesty, but I'm confident that route will you get you jabbed with the business end of that guy's horn," Reshiram responded.

Yuna: "Reshiram, if you don't have anything practical to recommend, you can just not say anything, you know!" >_>;

"And this is the heir to the kingdom we art currently in?" Rayquaza sighed. "Perhaps chivalry died during my long slumber."

Well, yeah. Among other things.

Kain hovered toward the group, clearing this throat. He landed behind Shimmer. "I managed to convince the judge to bring the omnibus up from the vault to be reinspected… along with Benedict's ledger that he uses for personal business."

Yuna had no idea what that meant. "Um, sorry, but is there a quick way to bring me up to speed?"

"Please." Shimmer snorted and swished his mane over his shoulder. "You missed the train as it left the station. Don't think you can get on now."

Nikki stepped toward Shimmer. Looming over him, she cracked her knuckles, "Says who?"

"Says me." Shimmer met her gaze with his own.

Yuna: "Need I remind you that you blew off study sessions at night to go watch The Weakest Link? I don't think you're in any position to be turning down help here!" >_>;
Shimmer: "You see, that'd mean a lot more if it wasn't coming from someone who just flatly missed everything from the trial thus far." >:|

"Oh, of course. My bad." Nikki's words dripped with sarcasm. "I forgot you're calling the shots here and not, y'know, the guy whose literal job it is to do this." She pointed to Kain. "So, keep your trap shut or I'll stuff it with that frilly mane of yours. Capiche?"

Yuna's jaw slackened. Why was Nikki going to bat so hard for her? Especially when she didn't have the toxtricity's back against Baptiste.

"My guess? It's more about getting under Shimmer's skin than helping you out," Reshiram said.

I mean, that does sound very Nikki there. :V

Her gills drooped. Did it ever occur to you I might not have wanted an answer to that?

Silence followed, though she had a strong mental image of Reshiram wilting like a dying tree. Yuna shook her head and floated over to Kain. "How long until you need to go back in?"

Ouch. Poor Cecil there, though I suppose having a big mouth tends to get you into moments like these.

Kain turned to the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. "Twenty-seven minutes."

"Think you can catch me up in that time?"

Kain nodded. "I believe so."

Yuna rubbed her arms together. "Then let's do it."

Narrator: "She's not gonna do it."

She might not have been there for the start, but she kept the place safe enough for the trial to proceed. And now, Yuna could see it through to the finish line.

… if only the preceding battle hadn't left her so exhausted.

Oh hey, it actually agrees with me. :V

Noctum was so, so sick of pulling himself off cold, metal floors after blacking out.

… no, that wasn't quite right. He hadn't blacked out this time. Noctum vividly remembered tumbling through a black and purple abyss. Crystalline diamonds and cubes sailed past him.

And the eyes. Dear God, the eyes! Noctum thought he was seeing things, but they were there. Eyes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Boring holes into him.

But as quick as the abyss swallowed him up, it spat him out. Though he was dizzy, the charizard slowly gained a sense of his surroundings… and had to throw a black-scaled arm over his face.

Bright… too bright!

Noctum: "Blergh... I could really use an airsick bag right about now. Or whatever the equivalent is for this. A portalsick bag?" 🤢

"This is getting to be re-god-damn-diculous!"

Well, I guess Valkyrie survived the trip. Noctum pivoted to his right, but didn't take his arm away from his eyes. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sure, aside from wanting to hurl you into that neon sign across from us," Valkyrie responded.

Noctum: "H-Hurl me into a sign?! B-But how is this my-?!" O_O;

Noctum decided not to make eye contact. Instead, he turned around and slowly lifted his arm. There was, indeed, a giant neon sign bolted onto a bigger building. It was easily taller than the servant's quarters and bathed the black metal rooftop they stood on in a mix of white and pink light. The sign depicted a glass bottle shaped like a dragonite skull sitting on a gray table. A comfey floated on either side of it.

Eau d'Eternatus, by Shannel.
Live your best eternity. Be your best smelf.

Waaaait a minute, I just realized, but where is Fenrir in all of this? Since he got sucked into the same portal as everyone else I just realized that his name literally doesn't show up in a text search for this chapter. Also:

>dat groaner of an ad
You really are shameless about your puns, you know that? >:V

"Why would a city of dead people need to advertise perfume?"

I mean, corpses don't exactly smell good, just saying.

Valkyrie snorted from across the rooftop. "You ever smell a corpse, pony-boy? Even a garbodor's stench is more appealing."

... I actually completely forgot that you teased this, but... yeah.
:charhaha:


Seifer squinted. "Why would you know that?"

I mean her boss is only a transparent Giovanni homage, so... yeah, I would be wholly unsurprised if Val's seen a corpse or two. Including a few of her own making.

- Beat moment -
Valkyrie: "You do realize that there's literally thousands of years' worth of literature documenting what happens after a Pokémon dies, right?"
Seifer: "Yes, but that doesn't explain why you're able to make this comparison!"
Valkyrie: "... It's not all that uncommon to come across a dead feral? I mean, biologically they're also Pokémon, so..."

"I think we have more pressing things to worry about." Noctum scratched the back of his head. "Like, y'know, figuring out where we are."

"Pretty sure we're still in Eterna City." Valkyrie tilted her head up. "Same eerie black and purple sky. Same sinister crystals latched onto the buildings like joltik on a moss patch." She stomped across the roof, stepping over metal pipes. "Not sure what's up with the flying omnibuses, though."

Seifer raised a brow. "Flying… omnibuses?"



Shouldn't their point of comparison logically be something other than omnibuses given that the last chapter just established that the average omnibus in Etherium is non-motorized? Or are those flying buses being towed by fliers?

Valkyrie waved him off. She stepped back from the rooftop's edge. "Feh, it's not important. What is important is finding a way back down. Anyone see a fire escape or something?"

But at that moment, darkness fell over the rooftop. Noctum glanced toward the advertisement to find it had turned off, replaced by a purple outline of World Ender's sigil. Orchestral music blared up around him. "Yipe!" His tail flame sparked. Noctum barely stopped himself from jumping.

Seifer: "... Wait, why would that be a problem when you can fly again?"
Valkyrie: "Because this is a no-fly zone?" >_>;
Seifer: "... Right, that was a thing. I'd kinda forgotten it in between all the insanity we'd been through."

"Hello again, lovely Qliphoth denizens."

Noctum couldn't help but shuffle back nervously when Deoxys' head fully entered the picture. The three orange spikes on his head had an otherworldly glow about them.

"I know it's been some time since my last broadcast, and I do apologize for that." Paradox shook his head. "Unfortunately, business has kept me away from you, the wonderful civilians of Eterna City and beyond."

Four tentacles unfurled as Paradox leaned further forward. "So, to make up for it, I thought I would provide you all with a sport of entertainment. Isn't that grand?" His right two tentacles twisted around themselves, stitching together until there was an orange and blue arm. Noctum's gut squirmed.

Noctum: "I-I really don't like where this is going." ._.
Valkyrie: "Look, Noctum, if you're going to lose your lunch, please do it away from our hiding spot."

No, wait, was it really his gut… or the crystal stuck inside it? He glanced down at saw the crystal pulsating with purple light. The charizard gulped.

Noctum: "Uh-oh." ._.

Paradox clenched his newly formed fist. "This entertainment will, of course, remind you all of the pathetic planet that has kept our dear Eternatus imprisoned." He sat back in his chair and pushed it to the side of the video feed. "I want you all to watch. Watch and be amazed…"

The camera slowly zoomed in toward a glowing screen behind Paradox's desk. The picture came into focus, revealing a room with high ceilings and white podiums stationed parallel to one another. A large omnibus sat in the middle of the room.

Though it confused Noctum, he put the pieces together the moment he saw a small dreepy floating toward one of the podiums, behind a flygon and ponyta.

Noctum: "Wait, what in the-? How are they getting PV reception here?" .-.

Noctum tapped his claws together. "But… how would he know about Yuna and Shimmer?"

"It's not just them. I see that grovyle and toxtricity walking into the gallery." Seifer pointed his broken horn toward the screen.

"What?" Valkyrie crouched into a fighting stance. She narrowed her eyes. "Son of a— it is him!"

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… the so-called justice system of the terrestrials!"

Minor punctuation error there since Noctum is asking himself a question. Also:



When Kain said the omnibus would be brought in for inspection, Yuna figured it couldn't fit into the courtroom proper. And yet there it was. Completely blocking the trio's ability to see the inquisitor's bench. Not that it mattered. Yuna didn't want to see Vegna glaring at her from across from the courtroom.

Shimmer: "You realize that if he wants you to see his expression so much, that he can just phase through the omnibus, right?"
Yuna: "... Isn't that something that'd get him found in contempt of court?"
Shimmer: "You see, I thought that with the way he kept bullying the Scyther juror, but that Judge seems to let him get away with everything short of murder!" >_>;
Nikki: "... I wouldn't be so sure about that 'short of'. This is the Grim Reaper himself we're talking about here."

She took her place next to Shimmer, who hadn't wiped the irritated look off his face since Nikki had told him off earlier. "For both our sakes, keep your mouth shut," he hissed.

"Wow, I think I'm starting to see why the jury might not have been enamored with the defense," Reshiram deadpanned.

That obvious, huh? :V

"… delivered to the defense, as requested," Vegna growled. Talonflame disappeared behind the omnibus. "And it would seem these aren't the only new items to enter the court."

A rumbling chuckle echoed from Vegna's side of the room. "Nice of you to join us, exchange student. I hope your little excursion was worth it." Yuna swallowed hard.

There was no way Vegna could've known what she did… could he?

Yuna: "How did he-?!" O_O;;
Vegna: "You're aware that I could hear the Clown Prince snapping at you, right?"
Yuna: "... I guess it's true that nothing gets past this guy." 😓

"Well, he is a ghost-type. Perhaps he followed you under the cover of night?" Reshiram theorized.

"How devious! It is most uncouth to spy on a lady in such a manner," Rayquaza growled. "Let me take a crack at him, Princess. I'll show that rapscallion what's what!"

Oh yeah, that'd definitely be a way to make the nightly news. And out the whole Qliphoth situation to the whole world, but still.
:loltias:


A gavel knock brought Yuna back to attention. "Counsellor, please inspect the interior of the omnibus," Mellath instructed. "His Grace can peruse the accused's ledger."

Kain nodded. "Understood." He gestured for Yuna to follow as he hovered toward the omnibus. The pink stains along the staircase were much more apparent in the bright courtroom than the dark evidence vault. As were the bloodstains on the carpet when Kain swung the door open.

"There are the light fixtures." Kain flew inside, being careful to avoid stepping on the ground and disturbing the tape outline.

Yuna had trouble seeing past his fast-moving wings. "Well, what do you see?"

"There's… no wax in these containers, Your Magistry!" Kain announced.

A thump came from the other side of the omnibus. "What?" Vegna growled.

Vegna: "I call hax." >·|
Kain: "I mean, I can see them missing as clear as day here, so..."
Shimmer: "Hah! Open and shut case! It was too dark for anyone to see inside!" >:)
Nikki: "... I think you're jumping the gun a bit there, horseface."

"What is the meaning of this?"

Shadows pooled by the back of the carriage and Vegna's cloaked head popped up. Yuna squeaked and drifted close to the carriage door. "Y-You could've announced you were going to do that."

Oh hey, I called it. :V

"Please excuse my lack of manners," Vegna said, eyeing the same container as Kain. "Impossible. There were candles in these containers. I'm sure of it."
Kain:

Shimmer: "That... feels more than a little unprofessional."
Kain: "Sorry, just had to get that one off my chest."

"Perhaps thine deduction was accurate, Sir Reshiram." Rayquaza's hearty laugh echoed in Yuna's head. While Vegna scrutinized the glass containers further, however, Yuna found herself scanning the rest of the carriage. With how dark the vault was, she couldn't appreciate the carriage's glass ceiling. But under the bright glow of the chandelier lights, Yuna could clear see red splotches along the edge of the glass.

Yuna rubbed her eyes. Maybe it was a trick? No, the splotches were still there. Paint, perhaps?

"I'm afraid… that it's exactly what you think it is," Reshiram squeaked. At that, Yuna couldn't stop herself from pointing up and blurting out, "Blood!"

"Huh?" Kain looked where Yuna pointed. "Ah, a bloodstain! How did we miss that?"

Chiaki: "Yeesh. Guy must've been bleeding buckets for it to wind up on the ceiling."
Nikki: "Wonder what's so special about it being on the edge of it though."

Yuna swore she saw a glint in his eye. Electricity? She looked at her Soul Dew, like she was expecting Reshiram to jump in. She got nothing, however.

"Quick, Yuna, check the roof again." Kain pointed up. "Maybe we missed something else in the vault."

The dreepy nodded. She floated up and effortlessly passed through the roof. Sure enough, there were a few small red speckles on the back wooden bench. "I think this is blood, too."

Ooookay, those two witnesses from earlier are making the sus-o-meter go off the charts right now.

Vegna took his head out of the omnibus and silently floated back to his desk. Talonflame ruffled his feathers. Yuna was going to ask Kain about these new findings when a loud, protracted sigh came from the corner of the room.

"So, that was your game." Benedict looked at the witness stand. "I get it now."

Shimmer looked up from the ledger with a raised eyebrow.

"Is there something you wish to tell the court, accused?" Mellath asked.

"Of course." Benedict hopped off his stool. Bisharp tightened his grip on Benedict's chains, but the slurpuff merely lumbered toward the witness stand. "I believe I'm being set up. How else would you explain any of this?"

... Can't tell if this is earnest or if we're getting baited and switched since I saw that ending line to Ch. 23 and I'm not wholly convinced that Benedict getting acquitted would be a good end.

Shimmer: "... Uncle, with all due respect, but that was obvious as of last chapter." >_>;

"That you're the killer!" Batroc pointed his umbrella tip at Benedict. "Stay away from me!"

Benedict shook his head. "Hardly. After all, my story has always been that I fell asleep within the carriage, only to be awoken by a loud thump." The slurpuff hopped once to imitate getting startled. "Then, overwhelmed by the sight of the victim, I screamed and fled the omnibus."

"But if that's really the case, why didn't you contact the authorities?" Gothorita asked, looking over the stack of papers she'd produced from her constant typing.

"Because I was acting on instinct. Utterly terrified!" Benedict shuddered. "After all, someone on that omnibus was out for blood. I figured the attacker would jump through the ceiling and go after me next!"

:sceptical:


I mean, on one level, this is a very AA turn. On another, I just can't get it out of my mind that Benedict told Kain to check the light fixtures. He knew that there wouldn't be wax in them

"P… poppycock!" Batroc struggled to find his words. "Enough baseless accusations! I'm nothing but a bystander!"

"I disagree!" Shimmer telekinetically waved Benedict's ledger around. "I have evidence that says otherwise, witness."

Kain zipped out of the omnibus. Yuna glanced across the room to find Vegna with his back turned to the whole affair. Why had he suddenly gone silent?

"It's true!" Kain gasped. "Your Magistry, Mr. Passimian Batroc is listed on page seventeen of the ledger. He took out a twenty-five hundred radians loan from the accused… then a subsequent one thousand radians loan a month later. Both of them are overdue!"

Waaaaaait a minute, but isn't that motive to murder Benedict given that if he's gone, the loan would be wiped? And how would Batroc just happen to know who else took out a loan in order to set him up?

"Nngh!" Batroc looked away from Benedict, digging his fingers into the witness stand. "I… I was this close to paying them off! So I had a string of busts at the races. What of it? A 'mon of my standing is allowed to enjoy some betting now and again."

Yuna frowned. He needed thousands of radians… to bet on sporting events?

"That's something this kingdom allows?" Reshiram added. "Seems a bit… shady, if you ask me."

I take it that once upon a time, there was no legalized gambling in Etherium?

"Is that so?" Benedict tilted his head. "Or, perhaps, did you convince this little guy to assist you?" He smiled warmly at the passimian, but something about his grin unnerved Yuna. "Because if our good Crown Prince will turn to page nineteen in that ledger, he'll find a five hundred radians loan for little Togedemaru. A loan due to mature in two weeks."

Horace went stiff as a board in Batroc's hands. "No, please! You can't call in my debts. My boss at the shop has been sick. We haven't had as many customers. I'm not as good at attracting clients as he is! I… I've gotta feed my baby sister, sir!"

:uhhh:


Okay, I am getting real strong 2-4 vibes right now.
[*][1:43 AM]

"What's that supposed to mean?" Herdier called.

"That ledger is a personal ledger." Benedict sighed. "As in… loans I approved on my own time, without using the First Bank of Isola's proper channels. If I go away for any reason, all the unpaid debts will be wiped clean."

A chorus of murmurs emerged from the gallery. Yuna wasn't sure what to make of it. Monetary loans weren't a thing back in Aeon, only material ones. The idea of people needing to borrow money — and that some people were doing so without any oversight or regulation — didn't sit well with her.

"But if it's legal here, there's nothing to really do about it," Reshiram whispered. "Moreover, he does have a point. This is a rather… violent method to try and erase a debt. But desperation can drive people to do crazy things."

How on earth is loan sharking not a prosecutable crime in Radiance? .-.

"My client raises a good point." Kain crossed his arms and nodded. "Not only that, but if we're scrutinizing the accused over his ledger, then the murder weapon must be scrutinized as well!" The flygon pointed to the screen in the center of the juror's bench. "In his opening statement, Inquisitor Vegna used the 'B' embroidered on the murder weapon's handle to connect it to my client. But it could just as easily stand for 'Batroc' or 'Bernard!'"

He pointed an accusatory talon at Batroc. "I contend these two witnesses conspired to frame my client… and are the real culprits in this case! Mr. Batroc stabbed the victim, then shoved him through the open window! Then he got Mr. Horace to lie on his behalf!"

"No!" Batroc dropped Horace to the table and swatted his patchwork hat off his head. "Th… this is a farce! Everything I've said is the truth! He's the one lying, damn it! Why would I even carry a knife? I'm a fighting-type!" The passimian raised his fists and boxed the air. "If I had to take someone out, I'd use some good old fisticuffs!"

"That would be counterintuitive!" Kain picked up the folder containing Mortimer's autopsy. "Any decent coroner can tell when someone receives blows from a fighting-type move, so doing so would've made it much easier to nail you as the culprit!"

Yuna: "... Wait a minute, Kain. Do we have fingerprinting in this setting? Since wouldn't we be able to tell who the 'B' is referring to based off of whose prints we find on the weapon?"
Shimmer: "Assuming they weren't wiped off. I mean, I wouldn't rule out a scheming rotter like that having thought of that."
:shimmersweatdrop:

Yuna: "I... guess, but something about this just feels... off."

"B-But— but but but!" Horace shivered. "Why would we hurt Magmar? He was in debt… just like us!"

The more the argument went on, the more uneasy it made Yuna. Especially with Vegna's continued silence. Had he actually made a mistake… and was now leaving his witnesses out to dry?

"Didn't Kain tell us Benedict suggested he try to get the omnibus examined in court?" Reshiram asked. "Yeah, we weren't here for the start of things, but I feel like somehow Benedict might've known what was going to happen if the omnibus got brought here."

Because he knew he was innocent? Reshiram's humming sounded doubtful.

"I don't like his tone. It isn't the relief I'd expect from someone in his situation. It's more like… conceit."

Yeah, I'm calling it now from Cecil coming down on "Camp Sus" with regard to Benedict. This case is going the 2-4 route.

"… how uncivil of me to disrespect the inquisitor's bench in such a manner. I beg the court's forgiveness," he monotonously exclaimed. "I was curious to see exactly what twists and turns this farce would take. But enough is enough. I will not allow this trial to morph into some hideous feral tugged to and fro by chains of falsified evidence."

Yuna gulped and squeezed the Soul Dew. Reshiram isn't the only one, then…

"Falsified evidence?" Mellath's eyes widened. "Elaborate posthaste!"

"While the witnesses squabbled with the accused, I perused Stoutland Yard's crime scene report." Vegna held up a manilla envelope. "There are no mentions of blood splatter on the glass ceiling or rooftop benches." He smacked the envelope on his broken desk. "At some point between its transport to the vault and now, someone tampered with this omnibus! The inquisition is certain of this!

Team Defense:
:uhhh:


"Objection!" Shimmer's eyes darted back and forth between Benedict and Kain. "Y… you missed your opportunity to bring up that report. How can we know it's authentic?"

"The Clown Prince will be silent while the adults are talking," Vegna growled. Shimmer's ears folded. Yuna saw uncertainty all over his face. It started when Benedict began talking and hadn't gone away.

"What if he realizes it, too?"

Reshiram's question rang in Yuna's mind like the cathedral bells back home.

... Alright, now I'm curious if Kain is also being blackmailed into playing ball like in 2-4 or if he's being kept in the dark.

Benedict's chains rubbed together as he mockingly applauded in Vegna's direction. "As expected, Mr. Reaper, you intend to go down fighting until the very end. But it matters not." He smiled as he looked straight at Kain and Shimmer. "Tell him why, my good barrister."

Kain stared blankly, then hastily cleared his throat. "Well, uh, unless Inquisitor Vegna can prove when the bloodstains appeared, then it's impossible to say for certain whether the victim was stabbed in the carriage or on the roof and shoved down."

"Wonderful! Outstanding!" Benedict showered Kain in applause and foot-stomping. "Do remember that since the incident, I've been in a holding cell awaiting trial." He turned to Vegna. "You say I tampered with the evidence? When would I have had the chance to do that, Mr. Reaper?"

The slurpuff's expression darkened. "Because the only way that wild theory of yours works is if a member of Stoutland Yard tampered with the omnibus at my direction."

He descended into more laughter as he slapped his palm against the witness stand. "Are you, an inquisitor for the Ministry of Justice, about to float there and accuse the very organization you partner with to maintain law and order of corruption? Do you think that's a wise move for your career?"

Benedict leaned over, flashing a grin. "How many inspectors will choose to work with you after learning of this, hmm? You'll be chased out of the courtroom for the second time! Wah ha ha ha! Ho ho ho! Hee hee hee!"

Ah yes, the Damon Gant routine. Totally the mark of someone innocent.

Nikki: "... Hey princess, not to rain on your parade, but your client stinks."
Chiaki: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure he just openly taunted Inquisitor Vegna there."
Yuna: "Uh... Shimmer, this wouldn't happen to be some sort of peculiar legal tradition in your land, would it?" ._.; Shimmer:
:uhhh:

Yuna: "... Yeah, didn't think so either."

"I… agree with Prof— err, Sir Vegna, Your Magistry!" she declared, shakily holding up her arm.

At once, she felt the entire courtroom's attention fall on her. Yuna saw Kain's bewildered expression, as well as Shimmer's furious one. The confident grin on Benedict's face melted away and a snarl twisted itself onto his puffy features.

"Come again?" Mellath leaned over and squinted.

Yuna trembled. Part of her wanted to walk that statement back, but a warmth pushed those sentiments away. Reshiram, perhaps?

Swallowing hard, she responded, "Mr. Kain, Prince Shimmer, and I inspected the omnibus together in the evidence vault yesterday. I didn't see any bloodstains on the roof." She curled her arms up. "I… believe Sir Vegna's theory. I think someone tampered with this!"

"She's lying!"

Shimmer's shrill voice made Yuna flinch. His horn flickered like a dying candle. "I w-want her outburst stricken from the record. She wasn't even here for the start of the trial!"

Whelp, guess that answers that question. Benedict really is worth that much to Shimmer given that he's just blatantly ignoring the trial going full 2-4 and being in denial about his Uncle.

"Silence, Shimmer." Benedict held up a hand. "Know your place. This is an adult matter."

The ponyta's jaw slackened. Benedict turned his scornful expression on Yuna. All that warmth the dreepy had vanished in an instant.

"You have a lot of nerve, wyrm." Benedict's voice was even chillier than before. "We welcome you into this kingdom as a guest. Give you access to the pinnacle of education. And in return… you would spit on our generosity by accusing a fellow noble of evidence tampering? Ungrateful bitch! I ought to have you removed and deported to that ashtray you call a home!" He puffed his cheeks out. Yuna swore his face turned red.

Mellath banged his gavel several times. "Accused! Mind your words, or you'll be held in contempt!"

Nikki: "Aaaaand there goes the last lingering thread of his sympathy to the audience."
Chiaki: "I dunno, I don't think the jurors would be too fazed about trash-talking a dragon-"
Nikki: "The audience of readers, Twiggy." >_>;

"Whether there was tampering or not — and what parties may have been involved — the blame rests with you." Mellath's brow furrowed. "It has and always will be the responsibility of the case's inquisitor to oversee and verify Stoutland Yard's investigation. Clearly, there has been a grave oversight error. Even if you were only handed this case recently, that is no excuse for allowing this to transpire."

Vegna slowly nodded. "I understand, milord."

"When the trial concludes, I want you in my chambers immediately," Mellath continued. "And you can bet High Inquisitor Justine will launch an inquiry when she hears of this."

Vegna extended his right arm and bowed. "I look forward to it, milord."

"Now then." Mellath turned to Kain. "Before I issue my ruling, do you have any final remarks, Counsellor?"

Kain jumped in surprise. "I, uh—" He tapped his claws together. Yuna silently begged him to say something— anything to back her up.

I mean, even if Kain doesn't have a loved one being held hostage by an assassin right now, Yuna does realize that she's hoping that he incinerates his fledgling career here, right?

"Your Magistry?" Kain lifted the right side of his blue vest. "I understand that, as a public defender, I must accept the assignments given to me by the Ministry of Justice and serve my client to the best of their wishes. And I want to sincerely trust that Benedict is innocent in the matter."

The flygon slowly pulled his vest off. "However, I also believe what Princess Yuna is saying. I do not wish to be associated with a client who might be involved in evidence tampering." Kain folded his vest over his right arm. "If the Ministry opts for a retrial, I must request a new defender be assigned to Mr. Benedict."

"Wah ha ha ha!" Benedict mockingly applauded. "So, in the end, the other cold-blooded sap gets cold feet and turns tail." He feigned wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "And here I was, ready to reward your handsomely for your work. Oh well. My savings will sleep soundly tonight."

Okay, that confirms that at least Kain didn't have to make the same choice Phoenix Wright did when faced with clients like this.

Yuna: "I'm sorry, but did nobody just hear him say that? How is that not an admission of guilt there?"
Benedict:
Yuna: "... Right." -_-;

Mellath banged his gavel once more. "Enough!" He tucked his head. "While I admire your candor, Counsellor, the point is moot. As loathe as I am to take this decision away from the jury, the circumstances are such that the accused will receive a bench verdict."

"Unbelievable!" Scyther slammed his arms on the jury bench. "That moneybags pulled the wool over ours eyes. What'd I tell ya? Never trust a moneybags! They're all conspiring to kick us while we're down!"

More gavel strikes sounded. "Order!" Mellath cleared his throat. "Due to inquisitorial negligence, I have no choice but to dismiss the charges against the accused… with prejudice. Mr. Benedict, you are free to go."

Yuna blinked, unsure of what exactly that meant. Had that been in a part of the textbook she hadn't read? "Kain?" She looked to the flygon. "What's he saying?"

Kain looked down, wings folding against his back. "Legally speaking, it's as if he was never charged with the crime to begin with."

:uhhh:


Suddenly I'm a lot less bothered by Vegna's defendants having a tendency to turn up dead.

Before any conversations could emerge from the gallery, shadows flared up from the inquisitor's bench.

"Slurpuff Benedict."

Vegna's voice sent a chill down Yuna's back. She saw his red eye glowing under his hood.

"In my time away from the court, I have heard whispers from my colleagues," the dusknoir growled. "Of individuals influencing the outcomes of trials to suit their needs. Bribed jurors, falsified testimonies, and evidence tampering… the list goes on."

Smirking, Benedict quirked a brow. "Is that another accusation? How delightful!" He rubbed his hands together. "Keep them coming, Mr. Reaper, and perhaps I'll take you to civil court for defamation. I'm sure attorneys would be tripping over themselves to represent me there."

Yuna didn't think it was possible, but Vegna's expression grew even darker.

"Do not, for one second, think this is over."

Nikki: "Whelp, that guy's a goner. Hope you aren't too attached to him, horseface."
Shimmer: "Th-That's nonsense! Just an urban legend!" O_O;;

"Oh-ho, yes. That stupid 'curse' of yours." Benedict's grin only grew as the bisharp guard undid his cuffs.

"Take care, Mr. Reaper. I so look forward to our next session together! Wah ha ha ha ha!"

As Shimmer ran over to the slurpuff, Yuna flopped onto the omnibus bench, at a complete loss for words.

What had she just witnessed?

A perversion of justice, oh and an upper-class twit revealing he has one hell of a death wish.

And made it to the end @Ambyssin . Kudos. I kinda suspected things might head in a direction like this after the very end of Chapter 23, but you still faked me out for a moment and it was still surprising to see it play out. Guess we'll get a crash course in seeing how well status lets you cheat the reaper in Etherium, since I don't believe for a minute that Vegna is just gonna let that go.

Great work as always ^^
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Here are chapter 1 overall thoughts:

I feel like the opening scene establishes a lot of stuff in a natural way. For example:

- The birds are a bit uppity and don't like dragons
- The Needles are really important for some reason, and the bad guys want them
- The queen's advisor ostensibly has premonitions (maybe they only came true because he coordinated with the eeeevil dragons?)
- Dragons are behind the bad stuff maybe, but I'm not confident that's actually the case or if it's Shiva's prejudice that makes her think that. Obviously, if the bad guys aren't dragons, it could still be in their best interests to pit the two kingdoms against each other.

We also learn more or less what Yuna's deal is. A bit rough being in that situation, though perhaps not as bad as being crushed beneath a rock wall. I feel invested in her because of her relatability.

Chapter 1 line edits

Here are chapter 2 overall thoughts:

Somehow, Yuna got into 2 fights on her first day in the academy.

I think Yuna is characterized well. Her reactions make it clear that she is nervous and generally reluctant to be here. I also don't blame her—it's abundantly obvious what the other students think of her, and even if her attendance at the academy is meant to signify the peace between the 2 kingdoms, the fact that she is constantly being guarded sort of betrays the anxiety beneath that gesture.

At the same time, she is perhaps more courageous than she seems. She intercepted 2 attacks and saved Cid.

This chapter also introduced us to a lot of characters who will be important later, like the ponyta, Cid, and maybe Baraz, Noctum, Arianna, and the comic relief duo. And I suppose we have a hook for the third chapter too—what is this mysterious Crowne Cup? And in the longer term, what were Xermous' ominous words about?

You seem to establish the characters well? I feel like I know basically what all of them are like—even Yuna's father, who hasn't appeared yet.

I also want to compliment you on the comedy—the Crimson Zephyr and the conversation between Yuna and Noctum were actually pretty amusing? In a way that made sense in prose? I just don't see that often.

At any rate, cool story, I kind of want to keep reading to see how things go for Yuna.

Chapter 2 line edits
DM me with any questions.

edit: I think the links should work now?
 
Last edited:

SparklingEspeon

Insquisitabilitatilating
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Review of chapters 20 – 24

Looks like, for the third time in a row, I’m back to review Path of Valor earlier than I expected to :unquag:

Looks like the fiveish chapters I’ve read through can mainly be segmented into three pieces: the rest of the sand kingdom mission, and the bodyguards inside Eternatus, and the trial with shimmer. For the purposes of keeping this organized, I’ll cover those in three different segments.

Sand Kingdom Mission

>The Hooker

>Tactical Toucher

This mechanic has a Thing for names with very specific connotations, doesn’t he

I’ll say again that this mission seems to suffer from being sandwiched in between the trial a bit—I feel like we see it on the back end by cutting it off short so Yuna can get back to the trial. Overall, though, I think this part was serviceable. I wouldn’t say that there’s much remarkable about it, but it works for what it wants to be and pulls it off pretty well. Interested to see what else is done for Needle Missions in the future—this felt like that one level early on in a game that I don’t like too much because the game is still in beginner mode and not willing to go truly wild yet. Though for where it is and what stage of the plot it seems to be at (near the beginning, I assume, since we’re setting up a lot of Big Stuff that is gonna take a while to cover I think), I’d say it worked well enough.

I’ll admit that Jean Pierre Has An Overly Complicated Name ~~do I sense some origami king influence there?~~ did strike me as a little too video gamey for my tastes. I know your writing draws from goofier influences/Don’t Think Too Hard About It, so I normally just go with the flow there, but here I felt like we were veering kind of far into Super Mario RPG Boss territory. E.G. Mario spends a level of the game going through a terrorized place to free it, and then fights an eccentric boss that chews the scenery but didn’t really have any buildup before this? In fairness, you did give his death ripple effects and integrate him into the world—we learn that his “exorcism” (which I assume means he’s dead) puts Yuna’s mission on Evil Qiphloth King’s radar, and also that he had a hand in that terrible smelf pun and deserved to die tbh. Though in the future I think it would be neat to see the “bosses” of each area more integrated into the story pre-death. It would make it feel less like “let’s go to a new area and beat up this crazy nutcase, rinse and repeat”.

Inside Eternatus

I’ll be upfront about this plot piece—It’s simultaneously the least interesting piece of the plot to me, and the one where I worry the scope may balloon a bit out of control. In concept it’s a cool idea—kind of reminds me of Valerian And the City of 1000 Planets—but I feel like there was already a lot to cover here between Horizon’s politics and whatever missions Yuna’s secretly going on, and now we’re adding a whole range of alien worlds, a dictator, three different pieces of the resistance including the phantom from the beginning, and so on.

I can already see the threads that make all this relevant to the main plot, so I trust that you’ll tie it in effectively. I just think for now, there’s a *lot* out there, possibly the most out of all the plotlines, and I don’t have an emotional connection to it like I do the other two. I couldn’t say what the story looks like from here on out, but in my opinion, it’d be prudent to prioritize developing that connection immediately so that it doesn’t become the third wheel plot no-one cares about. Which, again, I can already begin to see.

Don’t think I didn’t catch the Sticky/Boss Kitty references :)

I did appreciate ~~AU Shane~~ Cyril’s slideshow, though—felt like a “Finally, the *true* premise”, reveal, which was super hype. Since Cyril/Fenrir is clearly Chiaki’s mechanic, I’d assume this means he isn’t truly a spirit and can leave the realm if he wishes?

I think I do like the characters in this plotline, and I’m happy to see a light shone on The Help ~~even though Baraz seems to be sitting in the corner waiting for some pagetime~~, rather than then being characters who just… bodyguard. Interested to see where that goes from here.

Trial

At first, I didn’t really care for the trial, though 90% of it is my dislike of the Ace Attorney style, which is ruined for me because all I can see is how it blatantly breaks actual court rules and intricacies.

Looking past that, though, I did appreciate how twisty and turny it was as a narrative. It was very good at making me take a side and think that it wasn’t fair for Benedict to be prosecuted in what was *obviously* a kangaroo court, then having the counter-evidence brought in and being psyched that Shimmer/Kain weren’t just going to get steamrolled by this crazy professor and his nasty jury. And then going ‘Y’know, something doesn’t ring quite right with this’ when Benedict starts pulling out his ledgers and talking about ‘oh, wouldn’t it be such a SHAME if these common laypeople were relieved of those debts’ even though they’re dirt poor. And then immediately after Reshiram points out that ‘hey, Benedict is basically having a villain moment right now’, and then at the end we learn that Benedict WAS all-but-confirmed guilty, Yuna’s on his bad side, and now he’s going scot free. Pretty crazy!! Also asserts Vegna equals Snape IMO. I suspect most people aren’t going to have the gripes that I do re: court procedure, so taken on its own terms this receives a 9.5/10 for me with execution.

The only thing that didn’t really ring true for me was when Shimmer makes his defense that Batroc and Horace couldn’t have had the light to witness a murder because the Magmar murdered was sick and MIGHT have not been glowing enough for anyone to see what was happening properly. Just like Vegna can’t prove the blood on the knife is from this specific murder, Shimmer/Kain can’t prove that this magmar wasn’t glowing properly. I feel this could be fixed by tying it to something more objective—maybe magmar wouldn’t produce enough light to view everything clearly, or this magmar was clearly stated beforehand to not be glowing properly because of his sickness. Otherwise, I can see Shimmer making a defense like this because he’s not prepared for something this high-stakes, but then I can’t see why Vegna doesn’t immediately prey on it.

I’ll be interested to see how this affects Shimmer going forward—I feel like he got knocked down a peg with this, even if he didn’t show/realize it. Maybe this will convince him to finally start the journey towards not being a sorry excuse for a Malfoy Reject. And I suspect this is going to affect the treaty between the Aeons and Horizon Kingdom in a bad way…

Hmm I think that’s about it for this segment. I notice I’ve written a fair amount more crit for this review than I have for previous ones—that’s not because I don’t like where the story’s going, but rather because I think it’s in a weird position currently where you’ve thrown a lot at the audience, but haven’t given them much to make of it yet. All I can really do at this point is talk about mechanics and speculate on where it might go. If the Curse of Earliness does not strike me again, I should be back with another catchup review in about tenish chapters! I suspect by then there’ll be a lot more to gnaw :wigglyhappy:

~SparklingEspeon

Listening to: Requiem, Dear Evan Hanson
 

zion of arcadia

too much of my own quietness is with me
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
Trying a slightly different format. I’ll divvy these up by chapter on ffnet but keep them together here so I’m less likely to spam post.

Chapter 8

Yuma was sorely tempted to make a snide remark about how Shimmer’s ancestors forced the Aeons into mountainous and volcanic wastelands.

Did I somehow miss this before? Or forget about it? That’s interesting. Reminds me a lot of the Celtic Britons vs Roman/Anglo-Saxon Britons divide.

The case with Shimmer’s uncle could go in a couple different directions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out his uncle did do something wrong in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps not quite what he was originally charged with, but that could force Yuna (or even Shimmer) to make a pretty major decision if so. I like the potential this thread has, curious to see how it plays out.

Interesting that in this chapter, Yuna feels alienated from her main group. While Shimmer, despite his behavior earlier, is pretty friendly and showers her with his excesses. Could definitely see Yuna being tempted toward the dark side.

Chapter 9

I like the implication that Fraud can bypass their technology. And how flustered Vortex gets when it fails him. It feels like this story isn’t necessarily going to be anti-technology, but it could take the stance that forging connections with cultures that find value--perhaps, technology adjacent?--in self-sufficiency just as useful. Or, perhaps, technology to unite rather than divide.

We get more of a look into Vortex’s politics as well (and Demerzel). It brings up resource accumulation and environmentalism. A nice way of tying in that concept as a whole from SwSh into the story.

I was pulled out a bit by Vortex telling Demerzel to stay in his lane. Idk it felt off since it’s basically a meme phrase at this point. Vortex has a lot of pomp and circumstance but he was having a pretty serious conversation with Demerzel prior to that point.

Aw, Noctum carried Yuna while she was sleeping. That’s so cute. Also like that we see more of Yuna’s reliance on sleep seeds. By sleeping through the train ride, she essentially slept through what could’ve been a fun visage to experience firsthand. Says a lot about her character and her flaws.

The corviknight telling the others to shut their pie holes had some major ‘how do you do fellow kids’ energy. Gave me a good chuckle.

And more world building regarding the Darkest Day. The implication seems to be a link between whatever events were recorded and mystery dungeons? Huh.

Whoa, a lot happened in the back end of this chapter. Xeromus returns with a healthy dose of fanaticism and fatalism. We learn Chiaki has a prosthetic arm. And Yuna’s reaction to the phrase Qliphoth (the almanac is very helpful, thank you) was reminiscent of her reaction to Starlene’s song earlier.

The word Natus kept throwing me off because I kept associating it with natu the pokemon, but it occurred to me it might be related to Final Fantasy. And it does seem like there’s a connection--and a connection to the technology thread we’ve seen so far--although idk how pertinent it’ll be in the long run.

Chapter 10

Y’know, it occurred to me while reading this chapter that we haven’t heard anything about humans. I wonder if they’re just not part of the story, or whether they’ve been forgotten about. Given there’s a deoxys on the cover, one of my ‘off the walls’ theories is that the lore for deoxys here will be some combination of a human and dynaforce energy to create a phantom. Kind of like how the legendary birds changed. It’d also be a neat bit of reversal of the mega stone lore, where instead of pokemon being transformed it's the human instead.

Creative mystery dungeon interpretations are always appreciated. GL had a neat take on them too iirc. You do a great job evoking a sense of alienation and otherness. It does a good job of mixing the natural (trees, sand) with a sense of artifice (mechanical geometry, rgb lights). I also liked the subtle reflected imagery of the branches coming over them like a dome, and the metal dome Vortex was in the previous chapter.

Chiaki has a rose on his clothes? Reference to Rose from the game, maybe? Might be a clue, although to what I dunno. It’s also interesting that Chiaki mentions Hollow’s Eve, implying it’s a costume. This alludes to clothes as a form of performance rather than practical wear.

A Secret Sword crescent raced past Runa, rippling her ectoplasm and sending her torso retreating back into her head.

Haha, I loved this. Clever use of biology.

Shouts from behind her. The space above her warping around the Phantoms as they prepared another strike. All the while, the rift held up.

Oh my. That was almost poetic. Nice. I might’ve included something happening below her--the sand below shifting, mayhaps--to complete the pattern. Feels like it’s hanging otherwise.

I wonder if the Phantoms will have a Soylent Green type of reveal, or if they mostly exist as something to battle without raising ethical concerns. (Although it seems pokemon eat other pokemon here? So might not matter, lol.) Hmmst’ve.

The pivot to Noctum’s perspective was nice in that we saw just how loyal Noctum is (dangerously so, even--that boy needs to recognize when his own health comes first) as well as learned more about the case. But it kind of took a lot of the tension built up by the previous section with how comedic the tone was overall. Maybe intentional though, dunno.

Xeromus considers himself an ally, hmm… I wonder if he knows Bahamut somehow. And his mind controlling Nikki hearkens as far back as the prologue, when our bird friends were taken over. I expect Nikki to break free somehow, though, and I’m curious to see the ramifications of the intrusion on her mind. That’s a major violation.

I really enjoyed these past couple chapters. They ramped up the tension and the plot in a major way. They also got me way more interested in Chiaki, when before he was probably my least favorite character of the primary trio. Nice work!

Edit: I just realized I haven't been posting poems for these reviews. Let's correct that.

We, the Fairies, blithe and antic,
Of dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us.

Stolen sweets are always sweeter,
Stolen kisses much completer,
Stolen looks are nice in chapels,
Stolen, stolen, be your apples.

When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then's the time for orchard-robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling,
Were it not for stealing, stealing.[/ISPOILER]
 
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Chapter 25: I Want Off This Crazy Train New

Ambyssin

Winter is coming™
Location
Etherium
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. silvally-dragon
  2. necrozma-ultra
Chapter 25: I Want Off This Crazy Train

I don't want to stay here anymore. Please let me come home.

Love,
Yuna


Yiazmat set the paper down atop a small stack. All letters with similarly negative things to say about her daughter's experience at Horizon Academy. The dragapult sank into a stone chair. "You're sure these are the genuine ones?"

She looked across the stone table, where a nidoking stood bracing his right hand against its edge.

"I'm confident," he replied. "The ones you received are forgeries. Expertly crafted."

Yiazmat bit her lower lip. Of course, she had some suspicions about the letters she received. This was Yuna's first time away from home. The lack of homesickness struck Yiazmat as off, but she took it as a sign of Yuna's burgeoning dragon spirit.

Digging her claws into the chair's arms, she growled, "Why?"

Nidoking brushed dust off his black blazer. "I can't speak to motive."

Yiazmat's wispy tail twitched in irritation. "Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful you brought this to my attention. But I'm unsure what to do with this information. If this is Isola's doing, we can't tip her off that we know what she's doing."

"My intel suggests the order isn't coming from her," Nidoking said. "It seems more like your daughter's being set up to fail."

Flames smoldered in Yiazmat's horns. "Elaborate."

"The class Yunavresca is in participates in a competition called the Crowne Cup." Nidoking paced across the tiny, stone bunker. He stared at one of its empty, gray walls. "One of my subordinates believes her team was changed at the eleventh hour. She was partnered with my son, for starters."

Yiazmat leaned back, partly phasing into her chair. "Chiaki, correct? His name came up in one of the forgeries." She scowled. "I'm still surprised you neglected to mention he attends Horizon."

Nidoking's shoulders slouched. "He's… still not talking to me."

"Young adults are rather rebellious," Yiazmat mused. She stroked a horn with her claws. "I still remember the look on my parents' faces when I rebuked the marriage they arranged and eloped with Calcifer." A mischievous grin spread across her mouth. "That goodra would've been a spineless king, literally and figuratively. I think the present results speak for themselves."

"I wish it was that simple." Nidoking sighed. "But Chiaki's been so distant since I remarried." He shook his head. "I had nothing to do with him attending Horizon. He pulled funds from Ami's life insurance and enrolled himself."

"I see." Yiazmat bowed her head. "I imagine it's quite stressful for you."

"In a manner of speaking. Bahamut must be testing my resolve." Nidoking turned away from Yiazmat. "I apologize for the tangent."

"It's fine." Yiazmat flicked her right arm. "Ultimately, I'm glad you brought this all to my attention. At this point, however, it's best I sit on this information." Normally, she wasn't one for the cautious approach. But this involved her eldest daughter. Yiazmat wasn't about to take chances.

"Fair enough." Nidoking nodded. He glanced back at Yiazmat, a glint in his eye. "But if you do decide to act, know that one of my best assassins is stationed at the school. If you want someone snuffed out, we'll make it look like an accident."

Yiazmat's tail lazily drifted back and forth. "Let us pray it doesn't come to that."

"Understood." Nidoking stepped back from the wall. "I should be returning to Radiance. There's a big criminal trial that should be ending soon. The Beacon needs to cover the outcome."

Nidoking turned back around and straightened out his blazer. The golden R sewn over his breast pocket glimmered under the bunker's candlelight. He bobbed his head. "Give my best to Calcifer."

"I will. Travel safe."

Yiazmat pressed down on her chair's right arm. There was a click, then the back wall fell away to reveal a damp, moss-covered underground passage. Nidoking ducked into it and vanished into the shadows.

XxX​

Yuna was beyond ready for the day to end. Any enthusiasm she had over securing the Needle and helping Aquardah melted away with the end of the trial. Benedict's chilling laugh echoed through her head even as the gallery erupted into a flurry of conversations and reporters scrambling to get to the exits.

The sight of Shimmer prancing happily around his uncle made Yuna's ectoplasm boil. He knew something was off and deliberately ignored it!

"It is quite troubling." Rayquaza hummed in thought. "But thou should hold thine head high. Thou stuck up for thine beliefs."

"I wonder if he really is happy with this outcome, though,"
Reshiram muttered.

"What dost thou mean?"

"Well, after that display from his so-called uncle, maybe Shimmer feels… intimidated,"
Reshiram elaborated. "He might just be playing along because he's afraid Benedict will say something to his mother."

Yuna strongly doubted it. Shimmer was the Crown Prince. He should've had more sway with Queen Isola than some slurpuff banker.

Whatever. The dreepy picked herself up off the omnibus bench. All she wanted was to fall asleep in Noctum's warm, black-scaled arms. He had promised to wait in the defense lobby for her before she left for the Crowne Court.

Yuna headed for the exit. There were gallery pokémon staring at her. Yuna hastily looked down, fearing they agreed with Benedict. To her surprise, however, there was a smattering of applause. It was quiet, sure, and it stopped the moment Yuna looked up. But it was there.

It didn't do anything to lift her spirits, however. Yuna headed through the oak door into the defense lobby. Kain was leaning out a rectangular window between two of the rapidash busts. A grimmsnarl guard rubbed his back. Yuna flinched upon hearing retching noises. She wasn't the only one unsettled, clearly.

"Princess! Are you alright?"

Yuna turned around. Instead of Noctum's nervous smile, she found Baraz's bulky frame waddling toward her. His slender upper half flopped up and down as he went.

"I'm okay," she replied. "Um, where's Noctum? I thought he was meeting me here."

Baraz's ensuing frown made Yuna's gills pulsate. Something had happened. It was written all over his face.

"I'm… not sure." The dracozolt rubbed the back of his feathery head. "I went to bed early yesterday. He wasn't in our room when I woke up."

Yuna curled her arms up. The dark spots in her arms spread a bit. Great. What else can go wrong today?

"Dost thou not fancy this, erm, strange creature?"
Rayquaza asked.

Huh? No, I like him. Baraz helped rear me, after all, Yuna hastily responded. It's just… Noctum's my best friend. And I could really use his comfort right now.

"Your classmates told me what happened." Baraz closed the remaining distance and put his tiny hands on Yuna's shoulders. The Soul Dew's glow reflected on his midsection. "I'm sorry you had to see that. But I'm proud of you for sticking up for yourself. And I'm sure your parents would say the same thing if they were here."

The compliment rang hollow for Yuna. Still, she politely nodded her thanks.

"Tough break there, Princess."

Yuna glanced left and saw Nikki leaning against the wall. Against one of the tapestries. Probably intentional, if Yuna had to guess.

"That was a load of trubbish." Nikki looked ready to hock a loogy onto the floor when Chiaki put his hook on her shoulder and shook his head. She rolled her eyes.

"It's over. Nothing anyone can do." The grovyle crossed his arms. "Maybe the public will protest the results, but I doubt it. I bet the news will focus more on Yuna and Kain trying to get Benedict found guilty at the last second."

Yuna stiffened. That hadn't occurred to her. "Th… they'd really do that?"

Chiaki nodded.

"But that's not even accurate!"

Chiaki shrugged. "If it gets the news networks more views and ad money, they won't care."

"Take it with a grain of salt," Reshiram cautioned. "His dad owns an unpopular newspaper, right?"

… yeah.


"I agree with Twiggy." Nikki strummed one of her chest gills. "It's like Shredder always said: 'Radiance has two justice systems. One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.'" She threw her arms up behind her head. "If we didn't have class to return to, I'd suggest hitting a pub because you need a freaking drink." Nikki nudged her head in Yuna's direction.

"I, uh—" Yuna drifted closer to Baraz. "Maybe some hot tea?"

Nikki could barely hold back her laughter.

Baraz nudged Yuna's forehead. "In this context, I think she means something hard."

Yuna cringed. "Yeah, I'll pass."

Kain finally rejoined the group, looking considerably paler.

"How'd your breakfast taste the second time?" Nikki said, smirking.

"Let's not focus on that." Kain rubbed his stomach and belched into his right hand. "Ooogh."

"How are we even going to get out of here without getting dogged by press?" Cid wondered, hovering by a second, open wooden door that led to a spiral staircase.

"A back exit, of course." Chiaki pushed off the wall and strolled toward Cid, hands in his jean jacket pockets. "Buildings like these need fire escapes. And I saw one on the main floor." He paused by the orbeetle. "If you float in front of Kain and Yuna, your bulbous head might let them sneak around without the press catching them."

Nikki dismissively flicked her right hand. "… feh. I bet they'll be too busy fawning over Pillow Princess."

Yuna blinked. "Is… is that what you're calling Shimmer?"

"Duh." Nikki smirked. "Though I gotta give the Reaper credit, 'Clown Prince' is a hell of an appropriate nickname for him."

Sighing, Yuna shook her head. "Let's just head for the back exit."

XxX​

Chiaki's gambit paid off. With permission from the gossifleur guarding the fire escape, the group proceeded out the steel door and onto a grass field stretching down the hill the Crowne Court sat atop. There wasn't a soul around.

"Great!" Baraz's tail thumped against the grass. "If we hustle, we can make the next train to Horizon Gardens." He pointed right, then took a position on Yuna's right. Cid floated in front of him, while Nikki and Chiaki took positions behind the dracozolt. With the monmade wall in place, they proceeded toward the front of the building.

They made it about fifty meters before shouts drew their attention.

"Back away from the Crown Prince!" "No solicitations allowed!" "Stand down or you're under arrest!"

Nikki whistled. "Huh. Maybe there are protestors."

But when a rasping wheeze echoed from around the corner, Yuna hastily dismissed that idea. "We've gotta go… now!"

Everyone but Kain got the message and quickened their pace. The flygon took to the air. "Wait, I don't get it. What's the problem?"

"Do you not see how the ether seeks to divide us?"

Sure enough, the front of the building came into view. Shimmer and Benedict stood on the stone steps, flanked by guards. Reporters and gallery members stood in clusters on the circular roadway, giving a clear view of Xeromus pacing at the bottom of the stairs.

"The haves carve their own paths. Bask in their manufactured happiness." Xeromus pointed to Shimmer and Benedict. "But what of everyone else?" He turned back to the crowd. "The ether leaves them to scrap and squabble over what little the haves leave for them. They dangle false hope over your heads like a carrot on a stick… and snatch it away when you get too close for their liking!"

"What an uncouth individual. He speaks in riddles," Rayquaza observed.

"And we shouldn't stick around for it," Yuna whispered, before realizing she said that aloud. The rest of the group had stopped to observe the scene, however. "Guys?"

Baraz fidgeted with his tiny claws. "Shimmer is the Crown Prince. Is it really safe to ignore this?"

"He's got plenty of people around him." Nikki hiked her leather jacket up and turned around. "I'm with Princess. Let's scram."

"Even a worthless nobody like me can see the sinful tactics you employ." Xeromus pointed accusingly at Benedict. "You control the ether… so you control justice as well." He thrashed his head back and forth. "Life is not about control. It is about freedom and love!"

The longer Yuna stared at Xeromus, the clearer she was able to notice a specter drifting around him. It was a dark lavender, with a head that looked vaguely like some sort of broad-chinned dog. She looked at the others. "Hey, do you guys see—"

"What? The freak acting like a freak?" Nikki shrugged. "It's pretty obvious."

"Is he a beggar?" Kain shuffled back nervously. "I know some of them are a bit unhinged, but accosting the Crown Prince like that is beyond foolish."

"Natus' love rises above this perverse justice." Xeromus addressed the crowd once more. "Equality. Eternity. That is what real love looks like. Love that sees past the ether!"

"What are you ingrates doing?" Shimmer looked at the guards surrounding him as she shuffled back toward the Crown Court's entrance. "Get him! He's trespassing o-or something."

"Relax, Shimmer." Benedict put a hand on the ponyta's shoulder. "We can handle a drunken beggar." The slurpuff took a step forward. "Your delusional fantasies mean nothing, mutt. I got to where I am in life through hard work and perseverance. People like you are content to wallow in their helplessness.

"That's all there is to it." Benedict put his hands on his hips and smirked.

Xeromus coughed loud enough to make Yuna think he'd somehow hack up a lung. "I don't expect… my words to sway anyone. I'm but a lowly omen." He looked up. "But if anyone wishes to see what real love looks like… meet me in Hebrides' main plaza in three days' time."

The guards sprang into action, but Xeromus was faster. Shadows swallowed up his body and evaporated into the air. Seconds later, frosty air and lightning bolts showered the area where he was standing.

Yuna sighed in relief. He left without escalating things. Thank God.

Groaning, Nikki stretched out her back. "Well, I think that's enough entertainment for one day. Let's get a move on before those saps come to their sens—"

"Look out!"

A lady's shriek drew the group's attention back to the front entrance, where a large chunk of stone from the building's overhanging arch dislodged. Shimmer reared up on his hind legs in shock and shot a pink beam toward the rubble, shouting, "Move, Uncle!"

Several guards launched lightning bolts while an arcanine dove for Benedict. It was all in vain, however. The large white stone crushed a screaming Benedict.

"Uncle Benedict!"

Shimmer's horn sparked as he failed to move the rubble with his telekinesis. Arcanine slammed into it. The bisharp guard assigned to Benedict during the trial let loose a flurry of punches from his metal hands.

While screams and shouts racked the crowd, a familiar screech drew Yuna's attention above the wreckage. It was there she found Talonflame circling over the broken arch, squawking loudly as he flapped his wings.

No. It… it can't be.

There was a whistle. Talonflame flew toward a balcony on the building's right brick tower. Mellath leaned against the balcony's railing and stared at the scene below him. And a familiar dusknoir floated beside him. Vegna stretched out his right arm to offer Talonflame a landing spot.

For a brief second, he caught Yuna's gaze. Blue sparks danced underneath his black hood. Then, with a flutter of his cape, he turned and floated back through the balcony's open door.

Yuna looked to Nikki, trembling. "Did you see—"

The toxtricity crossed her arms. "Looks like the Grim Reaper struck again. Can't say the bastard didn't deserve it, though."

With her vision flickering, Yuna darted to Baraz and buried her head where the dracozolt's upper and lower halves met.

"I have to go home. T… take me home!"

XxX​

Noctum fell back on his rear. His jaw hung open. It couldn't be real. This was all staged!

"Aha ha ha ha! Wow, what a performance!"

The feed showing two blissey loading a tarp-covered stretcher into a white, metal box cut out and returned to showing Paradox seated at his desk.

"I don't know about you, Eternians, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time." Paradox leaned forward. His tentacles twisted into hands for him to rest his head against. "Still, it's so tragic, isn't it? While our benefactor remains trapped, the people inhabiting His prison are themselves imprisoned. Segregated into lots from birth."

Noctum's scales crawled. Paradox sounded eerily like the mutt that showed up at the end. The same one that had apparently cold-cocked him back in Herbrides. His hands balled into fists at the memory.

"They're not free. Real freedom is the love that Eternatus offers us." Paradox's arms unraveled. He stood up from his chair. "His love conquers injustice. His freedom is littered with an eternity's worth of choices."

His right tentacles twisted into an arm once again. Paradox snapped his fingers. The purple fragments of a rift appeared on the left side of the screen. "Ah, and right on cue, it appears our guest of honor has arrived."

The rift opened, revealing two of the mechanical Eternatus Troopers carrying none other than the very same slurpuff that Noctum had just seen crushed to death on the video feed.

"Unhand me, you vermin! Do you have any idea who I— oomph!"

The Troopers dropped Benedict at the foot of Paradox's desk. He took one look at the deoxys and screamed. Though Benedict tried to bolt, a pink outline surrounded him. Paradox levitated the struggling slurpuff into the air.

"Do not worry, friend. Eternatus loves you in spite of your sinful perversions of justice," he declared. "And you can return His love… through eternal servitude!"

Paradox pried Benedict's mouth open with two of his tentacles and plunged the other two down his throat. "Grrk!" Benedict's eyes widened in terror. Purple energy coursed through the tentacles and swallowed the slurpuff's body up.

"What the hell?!" Valkyrie stumbled back and, like Noctum, ended up on her rear. The two watched as Benedict's body dissolved away in black and purple smoke, leaving an unown-B floating there with panic stricken across its eye.

"My friends, we grow ever closer to freeing Eternatus from His prison." Paradox grabbed the unown and dangled it in front of the camera while tears bubbled in its eye. "If you would like to join us in the closing weeks of our campaign, please visit your local Paradigm Recruitment Office to pick up an application.

"Praise Eternatus!"
Paradox proclaimed. "Nos vera Natus!"

The video feed cut out, returning the perfume advertisement. Seifer's sprinted away from Noctum and threw up. Not-Zapdos dropped off his back. His orange wings twitched.

"Nngh… what…" His eyelids opened. The beady yellow eyes darted around before settling on Seifer. "Commander!"

Noctum scooted back. "Ah, he's awake!" He looked at Valkyrie. "Should we do something?"

The garchomp held up an arm. "He seems lucid. And, uh, I guess Seifer was right about this being one of his guardsmon."

Seifer coughed a few times before wearily turning around. "Quetzal? It's— you're Quetzal, right?"

"Yessir." Quetzal tried to get up, but looked in dismay at his long legs and stubby, orange wings. "Why?" he whispered. "Why do I still look like this?"

Valkyrie quirked a brow. "You mean you're not normally an orange bird?"

Quetzal shook his head. "I'm a zapdos! I'm meant to take to the skies." He flopped his tiny wings about. "I can't do anything in this state."

"What happened to you?" Seifer hobbled toward Quetzal.

Before the orange zapdos could respond, however, bright searchlights shined on everyone in the group. Noctum threw an arm up but couldn't make anything out in all the light. The mechanized voices that followed, however, gave him a pretty good idea of what they were dealing with.

"Halt, miscreants! You cannot loiter on a rooftop without an approved rooftop loitering permit!"

"Present your permit or surrender yourselves for age-appropriate punishment. It is Archbishop-approved fun for the whole family!"

It had to be two Eternatus Troopers. Squinting, Noctum made out the silhouettes of their rounded glass domes and saucer-like bodies. They each hovered in the air with three mechanical legs trailing off their bodies.

Valkyrie got to her feet. "I've got your permit right here."

Noctum's tail flame sparked. "Hey, wait, maybe we should—"

She opened her mouth wide and sent a blue bolt at the Trooper on the right. It easily flew out of the way. The searchlights disappeared revealing that, unlike the previous Troopers Noctum had seen, these ones had spring-loaded arms that ended in what appeared to be small, purple dragon skulls.

"Did you see that?" the Trooper that dodged Valkyrie's attack asked its colleague.

"I did! The garchomp responded with violence." The other Trooper raised its arms. Blue energy swirled in its skull-like hands. "Lethal force is now authorized. How delightful!"

Seifer whirled on Valkyrie. "You idi— aah!"

Ice chunks peppered the keldeo's rump. He hopped forward, face scrunched up in pain.

Quetzal squinted. "Wait, was that Freeze-Dry? What the heck are those things?"

"Eternatus Gunners," one of the guards cheerfully responded. "Ones with authorization to smack some sense into your behinds." Its hands glowed blue and, within seconds, the air was filled with Freeze-Dry chunks.

Noctum took to the skies to dodge, but a yellow rock smacked him in the face, interrupting his ascent. A second rock struck the Malice Crystal in his gut, sending him tumbling back, limbs flailing. It hurt so much! Was he hit with a Rock Blast?

"Fly, you idiot!"

A blaring horn followed Valkyrie's cry. Noctum opened his eyes in time to see glaring headlights. He spread his wings. A single powerful flap propelled him back from a flying vehicle resembling a carriage without a roof. Its machoke passenger slowed down and shook his fist at Noctum.

"This ain't a skydiving spot, asshole!" he shouted, then flipped Noctum the bird as he flew off.

"Oh-ho! The lizard is flying without an authorized flying license!"

Noctum looked up to see one of the Gunners training its skull-hands on him. Yellow rocks were forming in the blaster barrels. "Another citation to add to your list. Now, eat your minerals. They're good for you!"

The charizard instead looked right and noticed a small glowing arrow attached to a building's fire escape. With a strained grunt, he ripped the metal sign off. Noctum swung it around right as the yellow rocks were going to make contact. He knocked the Rock Blast back at the Gunner.

"Guh… gah!"

Its glass dome cracked from the blows. "How dare you! Attacking a loyal Trooper and engaging in property damage? Forget force. I'll assimilate you on the spot, liz—"

A giant glowing spoon struck the Gunner's glass dome, shattering it. Its mechanical body exploded in a purple blaze. The unown-J inside the saucer careened through the air until it disappeared in a burst of red light.

Noctum was in such disbelief, he almost dropped out of the sky before remembering to keep flapping his wings. Valkyrie poked her head over the edge of the roof.

"You gonna hover there gawking? We don't have all day, dweeb."

Another horn followed, but this one sounded distinctly more… musical. Noctum flew up to the roof and found the scrapped remnants of the other Gunner's body plastered against the side of a taller building to his left. More striking was the large hovering vehicle in the middle. It was built like a large charjabug.

"Now, now. No need to thank me, Charizard. All in a day's work."

Noctum glanced at the charjabug— no, the charjabus' roof. His eyes widened.

It's that weird, black-purple cat guy from Cyril's presentation! But was he called again?

"Mewtwo if you want to be technical." He crossed one leg over another, a toothy grin on his face. "But you can call me Gene. Freedom fighter. Bot basher." The mewtwo pivoted to show the Malice Crystal wedged into his right shoulder. "And evidently not the only guy in the Qliphoth with a crystal stuck in him anymore."

A white-furred paw stuck out the driver's side window and smacked the side of the charjabus. "Talk shop later. You really think these guys are going to thank you when your recklessness put 'em on the roof to begin with?"

Valkyrie stepped to Noctum's side in time to see Fenrir stick his head out of the window. At least, Noctum figured it was Fenrir because of the pink bandana peppered with white hearts. Something was clearly wrong, however.

Fenrir brushed matted, white hair out of his white-furred face. "All that time putting on makeup and fixing up my hair for you to spoil it in a matter of minutes!" Black pupils narrowed at Gene from against yellow sclera.

"The hell happened to you?" Valkyrie asked.

Sirens wailed. Multicolored lights flashed in the distance.

"Later, later! Get in the bus." Fenrir growled. The white hair fell over his face again. God, it looked so fluffy. Noctum wanted to hug it.

"Yeah!" Gene lay on the roof, stretching out his legs. "It's time for us to make like bananas and split!"

Noctum glanced at Valkyrie, who shrugged and ran to the charjabus' other side. The charizard followed her. They took seats on blue, metal chairs opposite one another. Seifer and Quetzal were several seats behind them, looking equally bewildered.

"Kssht! Attention, customers. This is your captain speaking," Gene proclaimed, appearing in the middle of the charjabus' interior in streams of distorted red and purple energy. "Please fasten your seatbelts and hang onto your lunch. Stolen Charjabus, Inc. is not responsible for any bloody snouts, broken bones, deaths, or dismemberments sustained during our flight."

Seifer's horn stub sparked. "Wait, what?! Let me go! I want off this crazy train!"

The sirens grew even louder and the emergency lights brighter. "Halt! You are in violation of the law! Surrender peacefully or face assimilation! We promise it will be fun and not seconds of excruciating agony! We have cookies!"

Gene's crystal surrounded his body in a purple aura. He pointed an index finger forward. A rift opened ahead of the charjabus. "Punch it, Chewie!"

The charjabus sped forward. Noctum dug his claws into the seat to keep from tumbling back into Quetzal. Seifer screamed in fright as the psychedelic colors of a Qliphoth rift enveloped the charjabus.

XxX​

CDL-205: Eterna City, Planet Axiom
The crown jewel of Planet Axiom, centerpiece and capital of the Eterna Empire. Oh, yeah, don't buy into any of that 'Qliphoth Network' crap. Paradox fancies himself as more than the face of Eternatism. Anyway, like other Axiom locales, this one was ripped straight from its origin planet. Same place Boss Kitty was made, actually: Earth. The archbishop knew from the name alone he wanted it as part of the capital. I hear the humans turned the crater the Troopers left behind into a tourist spot. Typical.

Over the centuries, Eterna City's been built up from its modest, foliage-obsessed beginnings to a sprawling metropolis bathed in neon. Paradox's main office is located in Paradox Tower, which was made from the remnants of a… Galactic Building, whatever the hell that is.

Other highlights include three separate baccer arenas, two pokébase stadiums, headquarters for several corporations including Flapple, Inc., and at least three dozen nightclubs. Not that there's much difference between day and night here. The sky will always be purple and black.
 

zion of arcadia

too much of my own quietness is with me
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
Chapter 11: The Hanged Man

Yuna braced for a painful electrical shock, but instead heard Nikki's garbled wails. She poked an eye open. Seifer stood in front of her protectively. Nikki lay a couple of meters away, water dripping from her jacket.

"You all right?" Seifer asked without looking back.

"Yes." At best, a half-truth. Physically she was fine. Mentally not so much. Her ectoplasm quivered. And she was struggling to understand why this was happening.

Before Nikki had the chance to stand up, Chiaki swooped in with a surprising burst of speed. Rather than using any specific attack, he kicked her in the side and sent her tumbling across the floor. "You can't take all of us, you idiot!" he growled. "Whatever that freak did to your head… fight it."

Was that it, then? Had Xeromus brainwashed her? If so, Chiaki was probably the last person Nikki wanted to hear anything from. "Maybe if we knock her out, it'll free her from Xeromus' control?" Yuna offered.

"We'll need at least a few more solid hits, then," Seifer said, horn sparking. "Aqua Jet was the only way I could get to you fast enough to stop her, but that hardly does much damage."

"Err, right." Yuna saw Nikki get to her feet. She imagined getting kicked in the ribs would leave someone dazed, yet something about the toxtricity's movements seemed… off.

Nikki abruptly jerked to her left. "You hit me!" Her voice was heavily distorted. She jerked right. "You hit me!"

"You attacked first, numbskull," Chiaki said. The look on his face suggested he shared Yuna's concern.

"You hit me! You hit me!" Nikki hunched over, panting and slobbering like a wound-up feral manectric. Her mohawk glowed a sickly purple. She rose into the air on a pillar of purple ooze, then dropped to the ground.

"Fly, Princess!" Seifer cried, horn projecting a blue shield around himself. Chiaki also summoned a Protect. The Sludge Wave pushed both of them back while Yuna safely floated over it. Cid had managed to recover from his initial blow and get over the attack, but his hovering was erratic. The Boomburst must've done a number on him.

"Grraaah!"

To the group's horror, Nikki slammed her hands on the ground. Another Boomburst shockwave rippled out. With their Protects fizzling out, there was nothing Chiaki and Seifer could do to shield themselves. Thinking quickly, Yuna darted toward Seifer with Quick Attack speed to back her up. She absorbed some of the blow, but there was still enough lingering force to upend Seifer.

Chiaki didn't fare much better, getting flung airborne and flailing his limbs around. Yuna used another Quick Attack burst to close the gap. She tried to get her arms around his chest, but she was too small. Chiaki slipped past her and fell toward the ground— which was technically still the ceiling. God, that was confusing.

However, rather than trying to stick the landing, Chiaki's fake arm whirred to life. His hook shot out toward Nikki with a long metal chain. Nikki flopped down on her stomach. Chiaki's eyes widened when, despite Nikki's dodge, the Hooker grabbed onto the air above her.

It was enough to slow Chiaki's fall and let him land safely. Chiaki tugged his right arm briefly and encountered heavy resistance. On top of that, the floor above them rumbled like a distant thundercloud.

"What the hell?" Chiaki and Yuna looked up to see the serpent insignia shifting from blue to red.

"Chiaki! Princess!" Cid called, his spots glowing. "There's something inside the floor. I think it's a ghost-type!"

Grunting from the strain, the grovyle tugged on the Hooker. A brown, translucent arm materialized above Nikki, with four of its fingers connected to her back spikes.

"Ngaaargh!"

The floor rumbled again. Yuna watched it fracture around the serpent. Some of the segments dropped down, dangling by clusters of brown shadows.

"You found me?" The segment with the serpent's head twitched in midair. "You found me! You found m— aargh!"

Scalding water blasted the face piece. Seifer stepped to Yuna's side once again. "Professor, can you use Dynascan again? I've never seen anything like this!"

"There's no need." Cid's spots glowed brighter. "I thought I recognized that serpent crest. That's a runerigus!"

Seifer briefly looked at Cid like he was babbling nonsense. Yuna would have, too, were she not watching Runerigus' stone segments. Were they getting closer?

Oh no! Yuna darted toward the outside of the ceiling. "Chiaki, run! It's trying to crush you!"

A gust of wind appeared around Chiaki. Aerial Ace, from what Yuna could tell. But used to dash far to his left instead of attack.

"They're a distant cousin to cofagrigus, but they were declared extinct not long after the Darkest Day," Cid explained.

"Does that look extinct to you?" Seifer shouted after hopping right. One of Runerigus' pieces smashed into the ceiling, leaving a spiderweb crack in the multicolored glass.

"You avoided me? You avoided me!" Runerigus shrieked. It dragged its stone segment across the ground, scratching up the stained-glass ceiling. Seifer wasn't fast enough this time, and was sent rolling over toward Yuna.

"I don't think the floor can take much more of this." Chiaki opened his mouth, but Runerigus raised its midsection right before Bullet Seeds would've pelted it.

"Technically, we're on the ceiling." Cid laughed nervously.

"Not helping!" Chiaki shot the Hooker and latched into Runerigus' midsection. The giant ghost hollered. It tried to pull up toward the ceiling, but the Hooker's chain abruptly caught ablaze. Runerigus' garbled screams echoed around the cathedral. Yuna's gills shriveled and she wobbled in midair, messing up her attempt at helping Seifer up.

Runerigus hastily detached his hand from Nikki's back. She crumpled into a ball on her side. Chiaki yanked the Hooker out of Runerigus. "Seifer, I need some help—"

"Stop insulting me! Stop insulting me!" Runerigus bellowed.

"Ngargh!"

Yuna turned around from Seifer. Runerigus had Chiaki in its grasp. His fake arm's grappling hook flopped about as Runerigus hefted the grovyle up, then hurled him into the ground. Chiaki's screams only lasted a second. Cracked glass spread out around him.

"No! Chiaki!" Yuna's immediate thought was the impact shattered his spine and killed him. Relief flooded her when Chiaki shakily raised his real arm, only to have it drop by his side.

"You got beat by me! You got beat by me!" Runerigus giggled excitedly as it continued repeating the phrase. Yuna gulped. If Chiaki was still alive, why wasn't it going for the killing blow? And what about Nikki? She was out cold, too.

"Princess! Commander! By my estimations, our floor can't withstand another blow of that magnitude." From the perimeter, Cid pointed to where Chiaki lay. Sure enough, the cracks in the glass were spreading toward the ones Runerigus had made earlier.

"Professor, you have to distract that thing now!" Seifer barked. Water coalesced around the tip of his horn.

"What about me?" Yuna asked.

"Stay by my side."

"But I can help! Just tell me what to do."

"I already did." The keldeo didn't budge from the ceiling's perimeter. "You're my charge. You're not leaving my side." The ball of water around his horn grew even bigger. Any further protests Yuna had disappeared as she swallowed hard.

"Hurry up, Professor!" Seifer cried.

"R-Right!" Cid nervously hovered forward. "Excuse me! Mr. Runerigus, sir? Before you turn me into a pile of mush, might I ask you a question?"

Runerigus lowered its headpiece toward Cid. "You're insulting me?" it growled.

"No, not at all. J-Just, as a historian, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity." Cid forced a fake laugh. "I'd be remiss if I didn't try to learn as much about you as possible."

"You're insulting me!" Runerigus raised its headpiece. Cid screamed and threw up a pink shield to try and protect himself.

"Ready!"

From beside Yuna, Seifer unleashed a gigantic water tunnel. It was easily two— no, three times bigger than him! Yuna flopped to the ground and dragged herself away, afraid of somehow getting swept up in it.

Fortunately, the only one taking the blow was Runerigus. The massive splashes drowned out its cries. But it didn't stop there. Rather than evaporating away, the water condensed into gray, puffy clouds. Before Yuna knew it, rain pelted her from above.

"What just happened?"

"Dynageyser," Seifer replied, hunching over to catch his breath. The rain washed the dust and debris from his medals and uniform.

Oh, so it was more of that Dynaforce stuff she heard mention of. "But wait… won't the rain weaken the floor even more?"

Seifer jolted upright, his cheeks flushing. He must not have thought about that. Fortunately, the clouds cleared away, taking the rain with them. In their stead, Runerigus' segments dangled from the floor. The serpent head disappeared.

"I… I think that did him in." Cid sighed in relief. "I'll hover down and get the oth—"

A loud creak sounded. Then another. And then a third. Yuna looked up. The bits of ectoplasm keeping Runerigus bound to the floor were giving way. It was going to fall… and crush Chiaki, Cid, and Nikki. Or shatter the floor and send them reeling through the Qliphoth!

All of this was her fault. Xeromus was drawn to her presence. Her pendant sent the group into the Qliphoth. And all she could do during the battle was stand by while everyone else fought on her behalf.

Why did she have to be so weak? Why couldn't she keep anyone safe? Even if they made it back to Herbrides, how could she face the other students? Her family? Her kingdom?

I just… want to make a difference for once!


Another burning feeling took over Yuna's head. Yuna hunched over and thrust her arms toward her teammates, as if she was trying to grab hold of them despite being separated by a good distance. Two shadowy clouds formed next to her. They extended toward Yuna's teammates until they'd taken the shape of a pair of black, ectoplasmic wings.

Just when it looked like Runerigus would fall on top of her teammates, the wings wrapped themselves around Chiaki, Cid, and Nikki. They held the trio between six red spikes. Without even thinking, Yuna brought her hands up. The wings mimicked Yuna's gesture, hurling everyone but Seifer to the other side of the ceiling's perimeter.

"What in blazes—" Seifer reared on his hind legs, whinnying in surprise as he fell on his back.

The burning subsided. Yuna brought her hands down to her sides, staring in awe while the wings evaporated in shadowy trails. She looked down at her hands, wondering how she had even summoned them in the first place. Where had those been when Xeromus confronted them at the Herbrides Lines? They could've avoided all of this!

Runerigus then crashed into the ceiling, shattering the glass. A distorted purple shockwave rippled out from the glass shards. The entire room flipped itself all around Yuna. It was so startling, she wound up dropping out of the air and onto the floor. The actual floor. Cold, gray, and made of rough stone that stung as it brushed her ectoplasm.

"Oogh." Yuna sat up. A wave of vertigo crashed over her, forcing her to lie back down. She waited a few seconds for the room to stop spinning. When it did, Yuna found the stained-glass ceiling was perfectly intact above her.

That got her to sit up. She definitely didn't imagine all of that. Did beating Runerigus make the cathedral turn back to normal? Oh, it didn't matter. The dreepy was exhausted. "Guys?" Yuna floated into the air. "Everyone okay?"

"My ribs," Seifer wheezed to her left. The keldeo was draped over the back of a stone bench like a living dish towel. Nikki and Chiaki lay side by side several meters behind Yuna, with Cid floating above them. His massive head vibrated. Perhaps that was how orbeetle showed they were nervous?

"Princess?" Cid tapped his fingers together nervously. "You… you rescued us, didn't you?"

Yuna thought back to the wings she summoned. Wrapping up her teammates and wedging them between those red spikes. She'd never seen wings like those on any dragon— heck, on any flying pokémon. "I guess I did?" Yuna looked at her hands again. She flicked one forward. No wing appeared.

"I saw it." Wincing, Seifer gingerly slid off the bench. "You thrust your arms forward and summoned giant ghost wings." He took a cautious step back. "What was that? Some sort of dark Aeon magic? It wasn't any attack I've ever seen."

Yuna flicked her left hand. Again, no wing appeared. "I don't know."

Seifer narrowed his eyes. "You don't know… or you won't say?"

"I don't know." Yuna resisted the urge to flinch. "I was just thinking about how all of this was my fault… and I got mad at myself. I envisioned grabbed onto everyone… and then the wings appeared." The dreepy turned her hands back and forth.

"I see." Seifer shook out his disheveled hair. "This is the second time you've claimed some strange phenomenon happened because you got angry. If you ask me, I think you're hiding something."

Yuna was about to retort when a loud groan sounded behind her. She turned around and, to her horror, saw Runerigus lying in front of the cathedral pulpit. Its stone segments quivered.

"… you… beat me?" The head segment turned to Yuna. "You traitor. You cannot stop us." Runerigus tried to drag itself forward, but couldn't manage. "You will pay. Nos vera Natus! Nos… vera… Natus!"

The head piece went limp. Runerigus' body shrank down, releasing black steam that coalesced above it. Briefly, a black, crystalline mask resembling a dragon skull formed in the middle of the shadows. It instantly shattered and the fragments dissolved away.

"Hey, look at that." Cid hovered toward Yuna. "Runerigus turned into a cofagrigus."

Seifer's eyes widened. "Wait a second." He walked toward Cofagrigus, wincing with every step. "This is the man that fiend Xeromus threw into the distortion when he attacked me a few nights ago. Sergeant Rune." The keldeo was in too much pain to properly kneel down and examine him. "Professor, can you sense any energy from him?"

"Mmm. It's faint, but there's a spark," Cid replied.

"That's good." Seifer bit his lip. "Though it's horrifying how much the distortion warped him."

Is it really that simple? Yuna clasped her pendant. Before fading away, Runerigus chanted that phrase Cid brought up back at the Herbrides lines. And, of course, Xeromus kept referring to Natus. It was probably connected to this Qliphoth place, then. Perhaps Natus was the Qliphoth's ruler? Or maybe its deity… like Bahamut was for her people?

"Right. Well, just because Rune is safe doesn't mean we're out of trouble," Seifer said, face scrunched up. "Those two students are clearly hurt, but I lost my supplies when we got flung into the mystery dungeon." He glanced at Rune. "We need a way out. With three unconscious and my injuries, we're as vulnerable as a beached magikarp."

Cid raised his right hand. "Hold that thought." His spots glowed pink. "I'm sensing a strong aura behind that lectern." His brow furrowed. Cid floated toward the pulpit.

"Professor, wait. It could be a trap." Yuna was torn between following the orbeetle and staying by Seifer. She tensed up, fearful Cid was about to trigger something bad.

"Hmm." Cid pressed a hand to the stone wall and knocked on it. "It's hollow. I think this wall is fake." He backed away. A pink glow surrounded the stone. Cid effortlessly removed the wall. It dropped onto the carpeted floor without making a sound.

"Oh my!" The orbeetle backed away, shielding his eyes from a brilliant white and orange light. "Commander, are you seeing this?"

Yuna looked to Seifer for some indication he knew what Cid was talking about. His jaw hung open. "It can't be. That's… the Herbrides Needle?"

"Needle?" Yuna failed to see the likeness. Then again, all she saw was bright light. Light that was… getting closer?

No, wait. She was floating toward it. But why? She wasn't telling her body to move! What was the meaning of this? And why was her pendant glowing again?

"Princess, what are you doing?" Seifer called. "Don't go near the Needle! It's not meant to be touched!"

Cid looked ready to try and block her. Without thinking, Yuna charged forward with Quick Attack. She planted both her hands on the red gemstone sitting atop the metal rod. When she did, a column of blue fire surrounded her and swallowed her up with the Needle.

XxX​

"Mmm. Soft."

She uncurled her large, deep blue wings and let their spectral membranes brush against the dew-covered grass. Above her was a blue, sunny sky. She'd never seen anything like it before. It was nothing like the twisted projections within the Qliphoth. And that meant… she must've made it.

She escaped. She was free.

A laugh escaped trembling lips. The endless patrols. The imprisoning of rebellious spirits. It was all behind her.
Finally.

Except… what planet had she even ended up on? She tried lifting her head, but pain jolted down to the golden tip of her crescent tail.

… right. A Malice Cannon had struck her while she fled through deep space. She had gotten a portal open, but that was all she remembered before blacking out.

"Guess I had a rough landing." She mustered the strength to turn her head. An impact crater sat several meters to her right. Chunks of dirt and mud lay scattered around kicked up grass. She must've crashed there and rolled to a stop where she currently lay. No wonder her wings and tail were so sore.

"Oh gosh! Oh golly! Oh goodness!"

"Huh?" Despite the pain, her psychic sense kicked up at an unfamiliar, nasally male voice. Her eyes glowed pink, but she lacked the power to open her third eye. She sensed… a fiery aura. One mixed with dragon. She tried sitting up again to no avail.

The temperature around her spiked, then a reshiram landed just in the periphery of her vision. This one looked quite nervous. Tapping his claws together and shifting from one foot to another. He had an awful case of bed head. A far cry from the usual luscious locks she'd seen on other reshiram. Had he just woken up?

"Are you okay, Miss… um…" Reshiram tilted his head. Nervous or not, his soft, blue eyes glistened more than any other reshiram's eyes she'd ever looked at. Probably a result of not spending eternity in the Qliphoth. "Actually, this is kind of awkward. What even are you?"

What kind of question was that? Oh, right. Matriarch told her about this. The outsiders would not have anything to compare her to.

Should she give her name, then?

"Oh no." Reshiram knelt down. The pendant around his neck bristled against his tangled fur. Its eight-pointed star glistened under the sunlight. "You didn't lose your memories, did you?"

He stood back up and lightly bonked his temples with his wings. "Cecil, you nitwit! Look at the size of that crater! Did all of Bahamut's instructions go completely in one ear frill and out the other? Assess the scene, get the injured immediate aide,
then ask the questions." He smacked his face harder. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

"Lunala," she finally whispered.
This guy's a real piece of work. I hope everyone on this planet isn't like him. His nerves are going to fry my ESP at this rate.

Reshiram froze mid-face smack. "Lunala?" He rubbed his snout with a claw. "Not ringing any bells. But I can discuss that with Bahamut and the others when we get back."

"Get back?" Lunala's red eyes glowed. "I'm not about to run off with a stranger."

"No, no, you misunderstand." Reshiram waved his wings in front of his face. "My friends and I saw you fall from outer space. I'm a fast flier, so I went ahead to scout and see if I could find you." He extended his right wing toward her. "You seem hurt. There are people at home who can heal you. And then we can talk… if you like, of course."

Nervous energy or not, it was awfully kind of Reshiram. No one in the Qliphoth would offer such generosity if she ended up lost and injured in some unknown segment. But could she trust him? Tensing, Lunala tried to probe Reshiram's mind. However, a pins and needles sensation overtook her own head and forced her to retreat.

If she refused, she'd be stuck by herself in some field on an unknown planet. What did she have to lose?

Her life, perhaps. But at this point, death was preferable to the Qliphoth.

"Okay." Lunala shakily reached her right wing to Reshiram's. "And, um, thank you."

Reshiram smiled. His tail lit up bright orange. "It's my pleasure."


XxX​

Groaning, Yuna rolled around the crystalline floor of the small, circular room that held the now-missing Needle. What was that vision? Nothing about it made sense… except for Saint Reshiram, of course. And yet, he looked nothing like his depictions in the scriptures. So unscrupulous. And he had a name? Cecil?

"Well, to be fair, that was the name I had when I was a commoner. Y'know, before I took over the whole Sage of Truth gig from my teacher."

Oh, okay. That made perfect sense.

… wait, no it didn't! Why was the reshiram's voice from the dream in her head?!

Yuna abruptly sat up and looked around. The room was full of black crystals. They were absorbing the light from the cathedral, giving the place a warped and jagged appearance. She tucked her head down to see her pendant glowing.

"Huh. You're a dreepy? What are you doing with a Soul Dew? No, scratch that. Why am I even in a Soul Dew?!"

Yuna's pendant glowed. Orange and white streams of light funneled out and coalesced into Saint Reshiram himself. The very same fuzz-covered dragon she laid eyes on in the dream.

Well, not quite. He was much smaller. And kind of see-through?

Yuna blinked once. Twice. She smacked her cheek.

Nope, she wasn't dreaming anymore. Which meant…

"You're… you're Saint Reshiram." The dreepy shakily pointed to him. "It's really you! The scriptures are true after all."

"Saint?" Reshiram cocked his head. "Nobody mentioned anything about that to me." His brow furrowed. He was ready to add something else, but purple light above his head caught his attention. "Err, hold that thought. What is—"

Yuna looked up. A rift much like the previous ones she traversed the Qliphoth with sat above her. Only this one had warm sunlight filtering in through it. Could that be a way back home?

"Is… is that a… Qliphoth Rift?" Reshiram's fur frazzled. His tail engine crackled. He fanned his face with a wing. "Oh me… deep breaths. Oh my… not working. Oh dear… gonna scream." Reshiram took a deep breath.

"Waaaaaah!"

He flew around the small room in a frenzied, zig-zagging panic. Yuna watched dumbstruck. All of the stories had depicted Saint Reshiram as a stern individual, committed to honesty no matter the situation. This guy, however, made her look like the most confident dragon in the world. What was the deal? Was he some sort of fake? Was this all the Qliphoth's doing?

"Hey! Hey!" Yuna floated into the air. Reshiram managed to screech to a halt before crashing into her. "Can you stop freaking out for a minute and tell me what the heck is going on here?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Reshiram pointed to the rift. "My seal is broken and there's a Qliphoth Rift right above us. Our plan must've failed… which means the Qliphoth is going to eat away the planet! We're all hosed!" He paused and looked down at his belly. "Okay, well you're hosed. I'm already dead… but I'm not looking to wind up a daemon!"

Reshiram turned away and went back to hyperventilating. Yuna was reduced to wordlessly opening and closing her mouth. She thought this Qliphoth business was a lot to take in. But pokémon getting transformed into extinct species? A Luminous Sage appearing in front of her and freaking about some kind of impending doomsday? And, to top it all off, said Sage being nothing like the scriptures Yuna followed her whole life?

She couldn't deal with this. It was time to put her nonexistent foot down. "That's enough!" The dreepy floated up to Reshiram, head still pounding. "I know you're worried, but I've had a miserable day. I just want to go home."

"Home?" Reshiram blinked. "To Bahamut?"

Yuna stiffened. That was not the response she expected. "Didn't he perish when he lost his light to World Ender?"

"World Ender?" Reshiram scratched his chin. "Can't say I'm familiar. But who else could you have gotten that Soul Dew from?" He tapped a claw to Yuna's pendant.

"Hey!" Yuna reflexively covered the pendant with her hands. "This is a family heirloom."

"No, that's a Soul Dew." Reshiram fiddled with one of his wispy hair strands. "I would know. All us Sages had 'em. Also, y'know, Sage of Truth and all."

And now the dreepy had another issue to add to the plate. "Okay, well, whatever this is… we need to table this discussion." Yuna crossed her arms. "I have colleagues who are hurt outside. We have to get back home. Y'know, to Etherium."

Reshiram pointed up to the rift. "Qliphoth Rifts wouldn't last this long if they were going between segments. That should get you back to the outside world. I'd stake my honor on it." He looked around. "I mean, honor's kind of all I have. Y'know, being dead and all." He shrugged and laughed nervously.

Yuna dragged her hands across her face. Reshiram's sense of humor was— okay, no, she couldn't sugarcoat it. It sucked. And it was unbecoming for a Sage to act this casual.

"Well, can you, like, make yourself disappear until I can gather the others?" she pleaded.

"Okay, fine. But we are going to talk all this over, right? Because, y'know, not to point claws or anything, but if you're the one who broke my seal you might've just screwed over the whole planet."

Yuna glared at Reshiram. He raised his wings innocently. "Hey, I'm just being honest."

"Be honest somewhere else… please."

Reshiram nodded. His body shrank down into a glob of red and white light. It funneled back into Yuna's pendant. Her shoulders sagged.

Something told her it was going to take more than the fancy medicine in Dr. Rafique's clinic to bounce back from this.

XxX​

The blow to Noctum's head was definitely getting to him. He was finding it harder to stay standing. When Vegna went to question a hitmonchan guard, Noctum sat down and braced himself on either side with his arms.

"So, a cloaked figure made a mad dash toward the distortion and you lot made no attempt to stop them?" Vegna's eye crackled with red sparks, as did the rubies in his skull gauntlets.

"They were just too fast, sir." Hitmonchan rubbed his hands together nervously.

"And did you happen to miss the hostage they were holding?" Vegna growled. Hitmonchan nodded and looked down at his lavender shirt. Vegna brought his right hand to his side. Shadows coiled around it. "Then it would seem I've no choice but to send you to the Twilight Realm. Such incompetence cannot be allowed to remain standing."

Hitmonchan's eyes widened. "W-Wait! P-Please, sir, I didn't mean to do anything wrong."

Vegna raised his hand as if he was going to strike, then lowered it. "Hmph. T'was a jest you ignoramus." On the dusknoir's shoulder, Talonflame's eyes glinted with amusement. "But I will see to it that you suffer a write-up. And possibly a salary reduction." He turned away from Hitmonchan, who slumped down onto his knees with a dazed look in his eyes.

Noctum winced. He almost felt sorry for the guy. But if he was feeling better, he might've been even more upset than Vegna. Yuna was still missing and this questioning hadn't brought him any closer to finding her.

The charizard was ready to suggest giving up when the ground rumbled. A few meters away, Shimmer whinnied in surprise. "An earthquake? Here?"

"Yo, V! The distortion!" Griffon pointed a metallic wing toward the black, static twister in the distance. Beams of light poked through the dark clouds. Then a pillar of light erupted from the ground, swallowing the distortion up.

"Whoa!" Noctum threw an arm over his face. The bright light only intensified the pounding in his head. Now he was really wishing he'd heeded Vegna's words and stayed back.

"Is anyone out there? We need some help over here!"

Noctum's tail flame grew. He knew that voice. It was Yuna's! The charizard rubbed his eyes, praying this wasn't some sort of hallucination. "Princess, are you there?" Noctum called, voice cracking.

"Oh, brother. Are you blind?" Shimmer rolled his eyes. "She's floating at the head of the group, waving her arms around."

Noctum was too overjoyed to be bothered by Shimmer's snide response. Though dizzy, he stumbled forward. "Princess!"

Yuna zoomed toward him. She flew straight into his belly, wrapping her arms around his utility belt. "Noctum! Thank God. I thought… I thought I'd never see you again."

The charizard's tail flame turned a vibrant blue. He wrapped his black-scaled arms around her and cradled her tight. "It's okay, Princess. I'm here now." Noctum leaned over to brush his snout against her head. "I'm here."

XxX

~Il Paradigma, Canto XII: Nidhogg~
Incapable of thinking for itself, this parasitic daemon preys on the insecurity of vulnerable spirits. But such emotions dictate the actions it takes when it has a host, leading to rampant, but clumsy, hostility.

The first half of this chapter was very shounen, haha. And the back half had some major reveals. :o

Thoughts on the fight scenes: I liked them. Especially the fight against Nikki. There was a lot of emotional tension as we watched them grapple with subduing her while Nikki also grappled with confusion from the mind control. The little glossary on Runerigas was super interesting. I almost wish it had taken control of a character we knew better--such as Nikki--so we could get an idea of her insecurities. I liked the idea of Sergeant Rune hating the idea of being disrespected, though. It fits his military station.

The fight maybe ran a little long overall, but capping it off with some character development helped it feel worthwhile.

And we see a new attack? The vision implies it has something to do with Lunala. Maybe Yuna is a descendent. Or reincarnated. Hmm, curious and curiouser.

The vision also seems to imply some sort of multiverse. Well, that makes sense, especially given how much gen 7 emphasized alternate dimensions. And isn't Eternatus from outer space or something? *double checks* Oh, wow. Interesting. On a thematic level I'm uncertain how all this is going to end up connecting, but it's certainly neat from a lore perspective.

And I'm glad Yuna got a confidence boost. Even if it might end up causing more trouble in the long run, judging by Seifer's reaction.

A Soul Dew? That's from the Latios Movie, isn't it? Oooh, I wonder if soul dews and ether are connected somehow. Radiance powering their technology with sleeping legendaries could potentially be very sad.

I'm not sure what to think of Cecil just yet. He comes across as a joke character, but also very important to the plot. The dissonance is a bit jarring. I am super intrigued to learn more about what he to say, though.

Yuna and Noctum reuniting was so cute. I d'awwwed. Although it might've been more effective if they'd been separated for longer.

Things I'm most interested about in the next chapter: how Nikki responds to these events, and what Cecil has to say. New information keeps coming at a steady pace and it makes theorizing about plot twists a lot of fun. That's probably one of the greatest strengths of the story so far.
 

IFBench

Rescue Team Member
Location
Pokemon Paradise
Partners
  1. custom/chikorita-saltriv
  2. custom/bench-gen
  3. charmander
Finally here to conclude this review exchange! I'm so sorry I forgot about this!

The bit where Noctum talked about the "wonders" in the dining hall was cute.

Huh, guess they don't have microphones in the Aeon Kingdom.

The Crowne Minister died in an "accident"...something is definitely going on behind the scenes here.

Opening up with her debut hit, 'Path of Valor,' it's the one and only Radiant Diva herself.
Heh. Nice title drop.

Ooooooh, oh boy. Something is definitely wrong here, something just lunged for Yuna in the middle of a crowd.

Oh boy, what a way to end the chapter! The Type:Null appears again, and someone's been presumably killed. Wonder what this Dynaforce stuff is, though I'm certain it's related to Eternaus.

Onto chapter 4!

Oh boy, looks like a conspiracy is going on. A fake energy crisis, covered-up deaths, and censored correspondence.

I'd question why tournaments like this are still ongoing despite the present crisis, but given the current world, I can believe it.

Nice to see a Zarude in this fic! Being a doctor is really fitting for one!

So that serpent dehydrated Yuna...huh. Very interesting.

Oh boy, this is going to be one interesting team.

Something tells me this strategy isn't going to work out.

I'm very intrigued by Professor Vegna. Wonder exactly what he does to earn that title.

And the chapter ends with Team Bastion's strategy going into effect. Great cliffhanger!

The description overall in these chapters was really great! You're really good with that!

And other than that, overall, these chapters were very good in general, from the dialogue, to the characters, to the events unfolding! Great job!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, put it off for long enough, but finally got my most recent Path of Valor review together:

Chapter 25

I don't want to stay here anymore. Please let me come home.

Love,
Yuna


Yiazmat set the paper down atop a small stack. All letters with similarly negative things to say about her daughter's experience at Horizon Academy. The dragapult sank into a stone chair. "You're sure these are the genuine ones?"

She looked across the stone table, where a nidoking stood bracing his right hand against its edge.

"I'm confident," he replied. "The ones you received are forgeries. Expertly crafted."

Oh hey, it's Sakaki time. Though this is certainly going to bode well for Yiazmat's willingness to sign that treaty with Radiance.

Yiazmat bit her lower lip. Of course, she had some suspicions about the letters she received. This was Yuna's first time away from home. The lack of homesickness struck Yiazmat as off, but she took it as a sign of Yuna's burgeoning dragon spirit.

I see Vortex's cheerfully infectious front came back to bite him with his little mail project. After all, the most potent lies are the ones that worm in parts of the truth and corrupt them instead of creating wholesale fabrications.

Digging her claws into the chair's arms, she growled, "Why?"

Nidoking brushed dust off his black blazer. "I can't speak to motive."

Really playing up the Gio parallels there. Considering the Rainbow Rocket subplot from USUM, it would not exactly surprise me if this Nidoking was just flatly some incarnation of Sakaki/Giovanni that somehow blundered here.

Yiazmat's wispy tail twitched in irritation. "Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful you brought this to my attention. But I'm unsure what to do with this information. If this is Isola's doing, we can't tip her off that we know what she's doing."

"My intel suggests the order isn't coming from her," Nidoking said. "It seems more like your daughter's being set up to fail."

Flames smoldered in Yiazmat's horns. "Elaborate."

Yiazmat: "Why would that happen when there's a diplomatic treaty on the line?" >_>;
Sakaki: "Someone doesn't want it to succeed, obviously."

"The class Yunavresca is in participates in a competition called the Crowne Cup." Nidoking paced across the tiny, stone bunker. He stared at one of its empty, gray walls. "One of my subordinates believes her team was changed at the eleventh hour. She was partnered with my son, for starters."

Yiazmat leaned back, partly phasing into her chair. "Chiaki, correct? His name came up in one of the forgeries." She scowled. "I'm still surprised you neglected to mention he attends Horizon."

Nidoking's shoulders slouched. "He's… still not talking to me."

Nice to see hard confirmation that this is Sakaki we're dealing with here.

"Young adults are rather rebellious," Yiazmat mused. She stroked a horn with her claws. "I still remember the look on my parents' faces when I rebuked the marriage they arranged and eloped with Calcifer." A mischievous grin spread across her mouth. "That goodra would've been a spineless king, literally and figuratively. I think the present results speak for themselves."

Oh? So the Aeon Kingdom is matrilineal in that case? Or were there special circumstances that let Yiazmat get away with this? Also, the bit underlined IMO sounds funnier with the order reversed to be "figuratively and literally"

"I wish it was that simple." Nidoking sighed. "But Chiaki's been so distant since I remarried." He shook his head. "I had nothing to do with him attending Horizon. He pulled funds from Ami's life insurance and enrolled himself."

"I see." Yiazmat bowed her head. "I imagine it's quite stressful for you."

"In a manner of speaking. Bahamut must be testing my resolve." Nidoking turned away from Yiazmat. "I apologize for the tangent."

Wait, who now? Since I don't recall there ever being mention of an 'Ami' in the past. Part of me is a bit biased and feels that you should've given some more hints as to who that was in the leadup to this chapter since it sounds like she was Sakaki's significant other, but eh. Stylistic choices, I guess.

Though I didn't realize that there were non-dragons who still heeded the call of Bahamut, let alone ones in Radiance. That'll certainly be something to keep an eye on.

"It's fine." Yiazmat flicked her right arm. "Ultimately, I'm glad you brought this all to my attention. At this point, however, it's best I sit on this information." Normally, she wasn't one for the cautious approach. But this involved her eldest daughter. Yiazmat wasn't about to take chances.

"Fair enough." Nidoking nodded. He glanced back at Yiazmat, a glint in his eye. "But if you do decide to act, know that one of my best assassins is stationed at the school. If you want someone snuffed out, we'll make it look like an accident."

Yiazmat's tail lazily drifted back and forth. "Let us pray it doesn't come to that."

:uhhh:


So that's how Valkyrie knew what a corpse smelled like. Also, Yiazmat, you're scaring me right now.

"Understood." Nidoking stepped back from the wall. "I should be returning to Radiance. There's a big criminal trial that should be ending soon. The Beacon needs to cover the outcome."

Nidoking turned back around and straightened out his blazer. The golden R sewn over his breast pocket glimmered under the bunker's candlelight. He bobbed his head. "Give my best to Calcifer."

I'm calling it now, some way, some how, this guy is just straight-up Giovanni. I refuse to believe that there just happens to be a "Nidoking Sakaki" floating around out there who is aping this many mannerisms of the guy and somehow someone different.

Yuna was beyond ready for the day to end. Any enthusiasm she had over securing the Needle and helping Aquardah melted away with the end of the trial. Benedict's chilling laugh echoed through her head even as the gallery erupted into a flurry of conversations and reporters scrambling to get to the exits.

The sight of Shimmer prancing happily around his uncle made Yuna's ectoplasm boil. He knew something was off and deliberately ignored it!

Shimmer: "Innocent! Innocent! 💯 innocent!"
:shimmerhappy:

Yuna: "For crying out loud, Shimmer! The charges were dismissed because of a technicality! He was obviously guilty as sin!" >.<
Shimmer: "What's that? I can't hear you over my Uncle's innocence." :^)

"It is quite troubling." Rayquaza hummed in thought. "But thou should hold thine head high. Thou stuck up for thine beliefs."

"I wonder if he really is happy with this outcome, though," Reshiram muttered.

"What dost thou mean?"

"Well, after that display from his so-called uncle, maybe Shimmer feels… intimidated," Reshiram elaborated. "He might just be playing along because he's afraid Benedict will say something to his mother."

Yuna: "Are you two even looking at the same Shimmer that I am right now?" >_>;

Yuna strongly doubted it. Shimmer was the Crown Prince. He should've had more sway with Queen Isola than some slurpuff banker.

Whatever. The dreepy picked herself up off the omnibus bench. All she wanted was to fall asleep in Noctum's warm, black-scaled arms. He had promised to wait in the defense lobby for her before she left for the Crowne Court.

Yuna headed for the exit. There were gallery pokémon staring at her. Yuna hastily looked down, fearing they agreed with Benedict. To her surprise, however, there was a smattering of applause. It was quiet, sure, and it stopped the moment Yuna looked up. But it was there.

It didn't do anything to lift her spirits, however. Yuna headed through the oak door into the defense lobby. Kain was leaning out a rectangular window between two of the rapidash busts. A grimmsnarl guard rubbed his back. Yuna flinched upon hearing retching noises. She wasn't the only one unsettled, clearly.

Yuna:
:TailsEww:


"Princess! Are you alright?"

Yuna turned around. Instead of Noctum's nervous smile, she found Baraz's bulky frame waddling toward her. His slender upper half flopped up and down as he went.

"I'm okay," she replied. "Um, where's Noctum? I thought he was meeting me here."

Yuna: "... Also, where have you been, Baraz? You haven't properly showed up in this story since..."
- Yuna peeks back - Yuna: "Chapter 18?! Has it really been that long?" O_O;
Baraz: "Apologies, I've been a bit busy lately, Princess. Noctum's been a bit hard to find lately and it's been keeping me occupied."

"I'm okay," she replied. "Um, where's Noctum? I thought he was meeting me here."

Baraz's ensuing frown made Yuna's gills pulsate. Something had happened. It was written all over his face.

"I'm… not sure." The dracozolt rubbed the back of his feathery head. "I went to bed early yesterday. He wasn't in our room when I woke up."

Oh hey, I called it. :V

Yuna curled her arms up. The dark spots in her arms spread a bit. Great. What else can go wrong today?

Now that's tempting fate if I ever heard it.

"Dost thou not fancy this, erm, strange creature?" Rayquaza asked.

Huh? No, I like him. Baraz helped rear me, after all, Yuna hastily responded. It's just… Noctum's my best friend. And I could really use his comfort right now.

Waaaaait a minute. Have Galar fossils only been kicking around Etherium for some period of time after when Cecil and Gallian kicked the bucket?

"Your classmates told me what happened." Baraz closed the remaining distance and put his tiny hands on Yuna's shoulders. The Soul Dew's glow reflected on his midsection. "I'm sorry you had to see that. But I'm proud of you for sticking up for yourself. And I'm sure your parents would say the same thing if they were here."

The compliment rang hollow for Yuna. Still, she politely nodded her thanks.

"Tough break there, Princess."

Yuna glanced left and saw Nikki leaning against the wall. Against one of the tapestries. Probably intentional, if Yuna had to guess.

Yuna: "Nikki, would it really have killed you to let me have my moment of reassurance there?" >.<
Nikki: "I'm sorry. Did you want me to just pretend there was a happy ending after all to everything? I mean, I know the truth hurts sometimes, but sheesh." >_>;

"That was a load of trubbish." Nikki looked ready to hock a loogy onto the floor when Chiaki put his hook on her shoulder and shook his head. She rolled her eyes.

"It's over. Nothing anyone can do." The grovyle crossed his arms. "Maybe the public will protest the results, but I doubt it. I bet the news will focus more on Yuna and Kain trying to get Benedict found guilty at the last second."

Yuna stiffened. That hadn't occurred to her. "Th… they'd really do that?"

Chiaki nodded.

"But that's not even accurate!"

That's just life poking powerful figures in the eye. Though the bleaker take would be to have everyone just know what really happened, the local news and powers that be pretend it didn't, and nothing happens afterwards. Whole buncha stories of that ilk over the last 5 years that played out in real life.

Chiaki shrugged. "If it gets the news networks more views and ad money, they won't care."

"Take it with a grain of salt," Reshiram cautioned. "His dad owns an unpopular newspaper, right?"

… yeah.

"I agree with Twiggy." Nikki strummed one of her chest gills. "It's like Shredder always said: 'Radiance has two justice systems. One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.'" She threw her arms up behind her head. "If we didn't have class to return to, I'd suggest hitting a pub because you need a freaking drink." Nikki nudged her head in Yuna's direction.

To be fair, I wouldn't want to put money on Benedict having been able to pull that off without ties to the royal family. That feels more like a justice system for the connected and one for everyone else. But that's just me nitpicking.

"I, uh—" Yuna drifted closer to Baraz. "Maybe some hot tea?"

Nikki could barely hold back her laughter.

Baraz nudged Yuna's forehead. "In this context, I think she means something hard."

Yuna cringed. "Yeah, I'll pass."

Nikki: "Wait, have you seriously never had alcohol before? Aren't you supposed to be a hoity-toity type who'd chug champagne, or-?"
Yuna: "Nikki, we're in high school!" >_>;
Chiaki: "To be fair, we are in a British-themed setting. There's nothing legally stopping you from going out and getting sloshed if you're a suitably old senior, and for two years before that, you can get some drinks with a meal as long as you've got an adult watching over you.[/I]"
Yuna: "Look, I don't want alcohol, alright? So can we talk about something else for a drink?" >.<

Kain finally rejoined the group, looking considerably paler.

"How'd your breakfast taste the second time?" Nikki said, smirking.

"Let's not focus on that." Kain rubbed his stomach and belched into his right hand. "Ooogh."

Can't tell if that's stress affecting Kain or something significantly more sinister given that Benedict can apparently act with impunity and he's kinda a loose end.

"A back exit, of course." Chiaki pushed off the wall and strolled toward Cid, hands in his jean jacket pockets. "Buildings like these need fire escapes. And I saw one on the main floor." He paused by the orbeetle. "If you float in front of Kain and Yuna, your bulbous head might let them sneak around without the press catching them."

Nikki dismissively flicked her right hand. "… feh. I bet they'll be too busy fawning over Pillow Princess."

Yuna blinked. "Is… is that what you're calling Shimmer?"

"Duh." Nikki smirked. "Though I gotta give the Reaper credit, 'Clown Prince' is a hell of an appropriate nickname for him."

Sighing, Yuna shook her head. "Let's just head for the back exit."

>Pillow Princess
Lol, harsh. And alliterative, too.

Chiaki's gambit paid off. With permission from the gossifleur guarding the fire escape, the group proceeded out the steel door and onto a grass field stretching down the hill the Crowne Court sat atop. There wasn't a soul around.

"Great!" Baraz's tail thumped against the grass. "If we hustle, we can make the next train to Horizon Gardens." He pointed right, then took a position on Yuna's right. Cid floated in front of him, while Nikki and Chiaki took positions behind the dracozolt. With the monmade wall in place, they proceeded toward the front of the building.

They made it about fifty meters before shouts drew their attention.

"Back away from the Crown Prince!" "No solicitations allowed!" "Stand down or you're under arrest!"

Nikki whistled. "Huh. Maybe there are protestors."

Chiaki: "Mrph, I'm not getting my hopes up."

But when a rasping wheeze echoed from around the corner, Yuna hastily dismissed that idea. "We've gotta go… now!"

Everyone but Kain got the message and quickened their pace. The flygon took to the air. "Wait, I don't get it. What's the problem?"

"Do you not see how the ether seeks to divide us?"

Sure enough, the front of the building came into view. Shimmer and Benedict stood on the stone steps, flanked by guards. Reporters and gallery members stood in clusters on the circular roadway, giving a clear view of Xeromus pacing at the bottom of the stairs.

All:
:uhhh:

Xeromus: "Hrmph. So we meet again."

"The haves carve their own paths. Bask in their manufactured happiness." Xeromus pointed to Shimmer and Benedict. "But what of everyone else?" He turned back to the crowd. "The ether leaves them to scrap and squabble over what little the haves leave for them. They dangle false hope over your heads like a carrot on a stick… and snatch it away when you get too close for their liking!"

"What an uncouth individual. He speaks in riddles," Rayquaza observed.

"And we shouldn't stick around for it," Yuna whispered, before realizing she said that aloud. The rest of the group had stopped to observe the scene, however. "Guys?"

Baraz fidgeted with his tiny claws. "Shimmer is the Crown Prince. Is it really safe to ignore this?"

"He's got plenty of people around him." Nikki hiked her leather jacket up and turned around. "I'm with Princess. Let's scram."

Yuna: "Nikki, you do realize that that guy yeeted us into the Qliphoth once before, right?" >_>;
Nikki: "So? Him doing the same to Pillow Princess sounds like a net win in my book."

"Even a worthless nobody like me can see the sinful tactics you employ." Xeromus pointed accusingly at Benedict. "You control the ether… so you control justice as well." He thrashed his head back and forth. "Life is not about control. It is about freedom and love!"

The longer Yuna stared at Xeromus, the clearer she was able to notice a specter drifting around him. It was a dark lavender, with a head that looked vaguely like some sort of broad-chinned dog. She looked at the others. "Hey, do you guys see—"

"What? The freak acting like a freak?" Nikki shrugged. "It's pretty obvious."

Can't tell what that's supposed to be, but guess we'll find out pretty quick.

"Is he a beggar?" Kain shuffled back nervously. "I know some of them are a bit unhinged, but accosting the Crown Prince like that is beyond foolish."

"Natus' love rises above this perverse justice." Xeromus addressed the crowd once more. "Equality. Eternity. That is what real love looks like. Love that sees past the ether!"

"What are you ingrates doing?" Shimmer looked at the guards surrounding him as she shuffled back toward the Crown Court's entrance. "Get him! He's trespassing o-or something."

"Relax, Shimmer." Benedict put a hand on the ponyta's shoulder. "We can handle a drunken beggar." The slurpuff took a step forward. "Your delusional fantasies mean nothing, mutt. I got to where I am in life through hard work and perseverance. People like you are content to wallow in their helplessness.



"That's all there is to it." Benedict put his hands on his hips and smirked.

Xeromus coughed loud enough to make Yuna think he'd somehow hack up a lung. "I don't expect… my words to sway anyone. I'm but a lowly omen." He looked up. "But if anyone wishes to see what real love looks like… meet me in Hebrides' main plaza in three days' time."

The guards sprang into action, but Xeromus was faster. Shadows swallowed up his body and evaporated into the air. Seconds later, frosty air and lightning bolts showered the area where he was standing.

Yuna sighed in relief. He left without escalating things. Thank God.

Aw. I was rooting for him to yeet those two to the Qliphoth. Though that bit about Hebrides' main plaza sounds really ominous there.

Groaning, Nikki stretched out her back. "Well, I think that's enough entertainment for one day. Let's get a move on before those saps come to their sens—"

"Look out!"

A lady's shriek drew the group's attention back to the front entrance, where a large chunk of stone from the building's overhanging arch dislodged. Shimmer reared up on his hind legs in shock and shot a pink beam toward the rubble, shouting, "Move, Uncle!"

Several guards launched lightning bolts while an arcanine dove for Benedict. It was all in vain, however. The large white stone crushed a screaming Benedict.

"Uncle Benedict!"
Nikki:

Yuna: "Nikki!" >.<
Nikki: "What? We were all thinking it!"

Shimmer's horn sparked as he failed to move the rubble with his telekinesis. Arcanine slammed into it. The bisharp guard assigned to Benedict during the trial let loose a flurry of punches from his metal hands.

While screams and shouts racked the crowd, a familiar screech drew Yuna's attention above the wreckage. It was there she found Talonflame circling over the broken arch, squawking loudly as he flapped his wings.

No. It… it can't be.

There was a whistle. Talonflame flew toward a balcony on the building's right brick tower. Mellath leaned against the balcony's railing and stared at the scene below him. And a familiar dusknoir floated beside him. Vegna stretched out his right arm to offer Talonflame a landing spot.

Well, that's certainly a rather direct way of being the Grim Reaper. I certainly wasn't expecting Mellath to also be in on it, though.

For a brief second, he caught Yuna's gaze. Blue sparks danced underneath his black hood. Then, with a flutter of his cape, he turned and floated back through the balcony's open door.

Yuna looked to Nikki, trembling. "Did you see—"

The toxtricity crossed her arms. "Looks like the Grim Reaper struck again. Can't say the bastard didn't deserve it, though."

With her vision flickering, Yuna darted to Baraz and buried her head where the dracozolt's upper and lower halves met.

"I have to go home. T… take me home!"

Nikki: "... Yeesh, wasn't expecting you to get that torn up over a blighter like him."
Chiaki: "Nikki, I think that's a sign some broader issues are coming to a head with her." >_>;

Noctum fell back on his rear. His jaw hung open. It couldn't be real. This was all staged!

"Aha ha ha ha! Wow, what a performance!"

The feed showing two blissey loading a tarp-covered stretcher into a white, metal box cut out and returned to showing Paradox seated at his desk.

"I don't know about you, Eternians, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time." Paradox leaned forward. His tentacles twisted into hands for him to rest his head against. "Still, it's so tragic, isn't it? While our benefactor remains trapped, the people inhabiting His prison are themselves imprisoned. Segregated into lots from birth."

Noctum: "... Why does this feel like it's about to tee up some sort of 'all are equal in death' comment?" o_o;
Valkyrie: "Because we're in a city full of undead people and its leader just talked about unequal 'lots from birth'? It's a pretty solid guess." :?

Noctum's scales crawled. Paradox sounded eerily like the mutt that showed up at the end. The same one that had apparently cold-cocked him back in Herbrides. His hands balled into fists at the memory.

"They're not free. Real freedom is the love that Eternatus offers us." Paradox's arms unraveled. He stood up from his chair. "His love conquers injustice. His freedom is littered with an eternity's worth of choices."

Valkyrie: "Choices that don't matter." >.<;
Noctum: "Yeah, this really feels like it's teeing up an 'all are equal in death' comment." O_O;

His right tentacles twisted into an arm once again. Paradox snapped his fingers. The purple fragments of a rift appeared on the left side of the screen. "Ah, and right on cue, it appears our guest of honor has arrived."

The rift opened, revealing two of the mechanical Eternatus Troopers carrying none other than the very same slurpuff that Noctum had just seen crushed to death on the video feed.

"Unhand me, you vermin! Do you have any idea who I— oomph!"

Seifer: "Well this is certainly going places."
- Noctum gapes slack-jawed -
Noctum: "H-How in the-?! But we just saw-!"

The Troopers dropped Benedict at the foot of Paradox's desk. He took one look at the deoxys and screamed. Though Benedict tried to bolt, a pink outline surrounded him. Paradox levitated the struggling slurpuff into the air.

"Do not worry, friend. Eternatus loves you in spite of your sinful perversions of justice," he declared. "And you can return His love… through eternal servitude!"

Paradox pried Benedict's mouth open with two of his tentacles and plunged the other two down his throat. "Grrk!" Benedict's eyes widened in terror. Purple energy coursed through the tentacles and swallowed the slurpuff's body up.

"What the hell?!" Valkyrie stumbled back and, like Noctum, ended up on her rear. The two watched as Benedict's body dissolved away in black and purple smoke, leaving an unown-B floating there with panic stricken across its eye.

Valkyrie: "Well that was... horrifying." o_o;
Noctum: "I mean, on the plus side, that Paradox 'mon hasn't made that comment about being equal in death yet."
:fearfullaugh:


"My friends, we grow ever closer to freeing Eternatus from His prison." Paradox grabbed the unown and dangled it in front of the camera while tears bubbled in its eye. "If you would like to join us in the closing weeks of our campaign, please visit your local Paradigm Recruitment Office to pick up an application."

"Praise Eternatus!" Paradox proclaimed. "Nos vera Natus!"

The video feed cut out, returning the perfume advertisement. Seifer's sprinted away from Noctum and threw up. Not-Zapdos dropped off his back. His orange wings twitched.

Valkyrie: "Thank goodness that's over."
:blazisweat:

Noctum: "Valkyrie, I think we should be more concerned about Not-Zapdos suddenly moving." .-.

"Nngh… what…" His eyelids opened. The beady yellow eyes darted around before settling on Seifer. "Commander!"

Noctum scooted back. "Ah, he's awake!" He looked at Valkyrie. "Should we do something?"

The garchomp held up an arm. "He seems lucid. And, uh, I guess Seifer was right about this being one of his guardsmon."

Seifer coughed a few times before wearily turning around. "Quetzal? It's— you're Quetzal, right?"

"Yessir." Quetzal tried to get up, but looked in dismay at his long legs and stubby, orange wings. "Why?" he whispered. "Why do I still look like this?"

Still am more of a Ramuh fan, but you can't admit the name's not fitting for a bird.

Noctum: "That's a good question. Though then I remembered that I have an evil crystal spearing me in my gut right now, so welcome to the party, I guess." >_>;

Valkyrie quirked a brow. "You mean you're not normally an orange bird?"

Quetzal shook his head. "I'm a zapdos! I'm meant to take to the skies." He flopped his tiny wings about. "I can't do anything in this state."

To be fair, he's still a Zapdos... of sorts.

"What happened to you?" Seifer hobbled toward Quetzal.

Before the orange zapdos could respond, however, bright searchlights shined on everyone in the group. Noctum threw an arm up but couldn't make anything out in all the light. The mechanized voices that followed, however, gave him a pretty good idea of what they were dealing with.

"Halt, miscreants! You cannot loiter on a rooftop without an approved rooftop loitering permit!"

Noctum: "Wait, they have permits for that here?" .-.
Valkyrie: "Oh for crying out loud, that's what you're worried about, Noctum?" >_>;

"Present your permit or surrender yourselves for age-appropriate punishment. It is Archbishop-approved fun for the whole family!"

It had to be two Eternatus Troopers. Squinting, Noctum made out the silhouettes of their rounded glass domes and saucer-like bodies. They each hovered in the air with three mechanical legs trailing off their bodies.

Valkyrie got to her feet. "I've got your permit right here."

Noctum's tail flame sparked. "Hey, wait, maybe we should—"

She opened her mouth wide and sent a blue bolt at the Trooper on the right. It easily flew out of the way. The searchlights disappeared revealing that, unlike the previous Troopers Noctum had seen, these ones had spring-loaded arms that ended in what appeared to be small, purple dragon skulls.

"Did you see that?" the Trooper that dodged Valkyrie's attack asked its colleague.

"I did! The garchomp responded with violence." The other Trooper raised its arms. Blue energy swirled in its skull-like hands. "Lethal force is now authorized. How delightful!"

Oh, it's this part again. Guess that's a downside of likely being a hired killer as a day job. Everything looks like a nail to get hammered to you.
:loltias:


Seifer whirled on Valkyrie. "You idi— aah!"

Ice chunks peppered the keldeo's rump. He hopped forward, face scrunched up in pain.

Quetzal squinted. "Wait, was that Freeze-Dry? What the heck are those things?"

"Eternatus Gunners," one of the guards cheerfully responded. "Ones with authorization to smack some sense into your behinds." Its hands glowed blue and, within seconds, the air was filled with Freeze-Dry chunks.

Seifer: "... Why do I get the sense that these guys take joy out of humiliating their victims?" >_>;
Valkyrie: "Hey, I'm not exactly looking forward to getting peppered by ice here either!" >.<

Noctum took to the skies to dodge, but a yellow rock smacked him in the face, interrupting his ascent. A second rock struck the Malice Crystal in his gut, sending him tumbling back, limbs flailing. It hurt so much! Was he hit with a Rock Blast?

"Fly, you idiot!"

A blaring horn followed Valkyrie's cry. Noctum opened his eyes in time to see glaring headlights. He spread his wings. A single powerful flap propelled him back from a flying vehicle resembling a carriage without a roof. Its machoke passenger slowed down and shook his fist at Noctum.

"This ain't a skydiving spot, asshole!" he shouted, then flipped Noctum the bird as he flew off.

Oh hey, they have Coruscant-spec flying cars here. A bit of a missed opportunity to not make it a yellow flying cab to do a The Fifth Element reference, since that's what I thought this was originally.
:loltias:


"Oh-ho! The lizard is flying without an authorized flying license!"

Noctum looked up to see one of the Gunners training its skull-hands on him. Yellow rocks were forming in the blaster barrels. "Another citation to add to your list. Now, eat your minerals. They're good for you!"

Noctum: "NothankyouIdontwantthem!" O.O;

The charizard instead looked right and noticed a small glowing arrow attached to a building's fire escape. With a strained grunt, he ripped the metal sign off. Noctum swung it around right as the yellow rocks were going to make contact. He knocked the Rock Blast back at the Gunner.

"Guh… gah!"

Its glass dome cracked from the blows. "How dare you! Attacking a loyal Trooper and engaging in property damage? Forget force. I'll assimilate you on the spot, liz—"

A giant glowing spoon struck the Gunner's glass dome, shattering it. Its mechanical body exploded in a purple blaze. The unown-J inside the saucer careened through the air until it disappeared in a burst of red light.

Valkyrie: "So signage beats Trooper. Good to know."

Noctum was in such disbelief, he almost dropped out of the sky before remembering to keep flapping his wings. Valkyrie poked her head over the edge of the roof.

"You gonna hover there gawking? We don't have all day, dweeb."

Another horn followed, but this one sounded distinctly more… musical. Noctum flew up to the roof and found the scrapped remnants of the other Gunner's body plastered against the side of a taller building to his left. More striking was the large hovering vehicle in the middle. It was built like a large charjabug.

"Now, now. No need to thank me, Charizard. All in a day's work."

Noctum glanced at the charjabug— no, the charjabus' roof. His eyes widened.

It's that weird, black-purple cat guy from Cyril's presentation! But was he called again?

Noctum: "Oh right, Boss Ki-!"
Gene: "Finish that sentence and I'll throw you from the bus." >:|
Noctum: "I... uh... kinda need more time to remember!" O_O;

"Mewtwo if you want to be technical." He crossed one leg over another, a toothy grin on his face. "But you can call me Gene. Freedom fighter. Bot basher." The mewtwo pivoted to show the Malice Crystal wedged into his right shoulder. "And evidently not the only guy in the Qliphoth with a crystal stuck in him anymore."

A white-furred paw stuck out the driver's side window and smacked the side of the charjabus. "Talk shop later. You really think these guys are going to thank you when your recklessness put 'em on the roof to begin with?"

Valkyrie stepped to Noctum's side in time to see Fenrir stick his head out of the window. At least, Noctum figured it was Fenrir because of the pink bandana peppered with white hearts. Something was clearly wrong, however.

Fenrir brushed matted, white hair out of his white-furred face. "All that time putting on makeup and fixing up my hair for you to spoil it in a matter of minutes!" Black pupils narrowed at Gene from against yellow sclera.

Wait, so was Fenrir a Hisuiroark all along or is this another of his illusions?

"The hell happened to you?" Valkyrie asked.

Sirens wailed. Multicolored lights flashed in the distance.

"Later, later! Get in the bus." Fenrir growled. The white hair fell over his face again. God, it looked so fluffy. Noctum wanted to hug it.

- Noctum reaches for Fenrir's fur -
Fenrir: "Can you do that sometime when we're not a wrong turn away from horrific death?" >_>;

"Yeah!" Gene lay on the roof, stretching out his legs. "It's time for us to make like bananas and split!"

Ow. That was physically painful to read.
:lulpix:


Noctum glanced at Valkyrie, who shrugged and ran to the charjabus' other side. The charizard followed her. They took seats on blue, metal chairs opposite one another. Seifer and Quetzal were several seats behind them, looking equally bewildered.

"Kssht! Attention, customers. This is your captain speaking," Gene proclaimed, appearing in the middle of the charjabus' interior in streams of distorted red and purple energy. "Please fasten your seatbelts and hang onto your lunch. Stolen Charjabus, Inc. is not responsible for any bloody snouts, broken bones, deaths, or dismemberments sustained during our flight."

Seifer's horn stub sparked. "Wait, what?! Let me go! I want off this crazy train!"

The sirens grew even louder and the emergency lights brighter. "Halt! You are in violation of the law! Surrender peacefully or face assimilation! We promise it will be fun and not seconds of excruciating agony! We have cookies!"

Gene's crystal surrounded his body in a purple aura. He pointed an index finger forward. A rift opened ahead of the charjabus. "Punch it, Chewie!"

Aaaaand there's the title drop. Though it's nice to see this part in the flesh again as well.
:loltias:


The charjabus sped forward. Noctum dug his claws into the seat to keep from tumbling back into Quetzal. Seifer screamed in fright as the psychedelic colors of a Qliphoth rift enveloped the charjabus.

And next time on Path of Valor:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePypW6n1egQ


Noctum: "Oi, we don't know that!" >_>;
Valkyrie: "To be fair, considering how this place is laid out, feels like as solid a bet as any."
Fenrir: "I sure hope that isn't really going to be our background music when we get out of this thing. What a racket!" >.<
Seifer: "AAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
:AAAAAA:

Fenrir: "Gah! Nevermind, the Sawano music isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things!"

CDL-205: Eterna City, Planet Axiom
The crown jewel of Planet Axiom, centerpiece and capital of the Eterna Empire. Oh, yeah, don't buy into any of that 'Qliphoth Network' crap. Paradox fancies himself as more than the face of Eternatism. Anyway, like other Axiom locales, this one was ripped straight from its origin planet. Same place Boss Kitty was made, actually: Earth. The archbishop knew from the name alone he wanted it as part of the capital. I hear the humans turned the crater the Troopers left behind into a tourist spot. Typical.

Over the centuries, Eterna City's been built up from its modest, foliage-obsessed beginnings to a sprawling metropolis bathed in neon. Paradox's main office is located in Paradox Tower, which was made from the remnants of a… Galactic Building, whatever the hell that is.

Other highlights include three separate baccer arenas, two pokébase stadiums, headquarters for several corporations including Flapple, Inc., and at least three dozen nightclubs. Not that there's much difference between day and night here. The sky will always be purple and black

Yeah, I’m feeling really good about predicting that Sakaki is exactly what the name says on the tin. Though it makes me wonder if it was just Eterna City that was affected since Etherium has a Citadark Isle

And made it to the end @Ambyssin . Kudos on the chapter, though I'm admittedly curious as to what things are going to look like when the two branches of the plot wind up colliding back into each other. Either way, I'm totally onboard for riding this crazy train until it crashes into its eventual destination.
 
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Chapter 26: To Boldly Go in Circles New

Ambyssin

Winter is coming™
Location
Etherium
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. silvally-dragon
  2. necrozma-ultra
Chapter 26: To Boldly Go in Circles

Noctum kept his eyes squeezed shut. The charjabus' rattling was enough for him. He was nauseous all over again. He didn't need another wall of eyes staring at him from the rift or Eternatus' innards or whatever he was supposed to call this.

He thought about Yuna. Noctum promised he'd be there for her after the trial. A promise fate chose to break. Baraz picked up the slack, fortunately, but he saw how shaken she was in the video. And there was nothing he could do, because some crazy psychic cat was dragging him off to God knows where.

The rumbling came to a stop. Noctum opened an eye. Rainbow light rippled in the distance out Valkyrie's window. Massive rocks— no, asteroids floated all around them. Pulsating with distorted energy. Noctum's stomach gurgled. Was the crystal reacting to the asteroids?

"Space." Gene thrust his arms apart. His tone was quiet, yet mischievous. "The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Stolen Charjabus. Its continuing mission? To hide from the long arm of the law while the rebellion plots its next m—"

"Will you shut up?" Valkyrie got to her feet and brandished her claws at Gene. "I ought to remove your head from your shoulders. Where the hell have you taken us?"

"The Bergammula Asteroid Belt," Fenrir responded, paws firmly gripping the steering wheel. "See, those asteroids emit a powerful EMP."

"EMP?" Noctum tilted his head.

"Pulsations of electromagnetic energy." Fenrir waved his right arm about. Noctum got the sense his answer was deliberately vague. "Any Eternatus Troopers that try and go here get their circuits fried." He pushed his white, red-tipped mane out of his face. "It's the perfect place for anyone who's crossed the archbishop to lay low."

Seifer's brow furrowed. "So, it's a gathering spot for lawless types?"

"Yeah, sure." Scowling, Gene flopped into the seat next to Noctum. "My spiel sounded way cooler, though."

Noctum looked the mewtwo over. This was the guy at the top of Paradox's hit list? He sounded more like someone Yuna's little brothers and sisters would fawn over. Well, aside from the Malice Crystal jammed into his shoulder. How could Gene even move his right arm like that?

"Hey, Zardy, my eyes are up here." Gene flicked the brim of Noctum's snout. He covered his nostrils and looked away.

"I want a better explanation," Valkyrie growled, still standing. "Why did you bring us here? We're trying to get home, not more lost."

"You are home," Fenrir responded. Valkyrie was about to stomp up to him, when he held up an arm. "Lemme land first. Then we can talk."

Noctum mouthed "Land?" before looking where Fenrir pointed. There were dozens of metal platforms bolted to flattened asteroids, most connected by metal bridges. Behind all the asteroids was a massive glass dome with a big, white zoroark perched atop it, holding a burger in one paw and a bottle of soda in another.

Valkyrie's shoulders sagged. "This outpost… you wouldn't happen to be its owner, would you?"

Fenrir smirked. "What gave that away?"

She slouched into her seat. "Just land the damn charjabus."

The white-furred zoroark steered the bus past several landing platforms. Noctum turned in his seat to look out a window. There were people walking across the glass bridges, but he didn't recognize some of the species.

"What's with these two-legged folks who only have fur on their heads?" The charizard saw a guy and a girl leaning against a metal signpost. Both had sunglasses and purple jumpsuits on. The metal rods beside them that looked like blastoise cannons threw Noctum off.

"You mean the humans?" Gene chuckled. "Right, right. Your planet must not have any." He pet Noctum's right shoulder. "Relax, you'll get used to them."

"Are you sure?" Noctum frowned. "It looks like they hunted a blastoise for its cannons."

"Pfbt." Gene sputtered. "No, no." He held his hands up. "Those are blasters. They probably bought 'em from Cyril. Y'know, to defend themselves?"

Noctum stared blankly.

"Well, not every human that gets schlurped up by Eternatus chooses to turn into a pokémon." Gene shrugged. "I'd say most don't. For the ones that oppose the archbishop, Cyril makes sure they have something to work with."

"I see," was all Noctum could manage. The explanation left him with more questions than answers. And here he thought his headache was finally fading.

The charjabus buckled. As it landed on a black platform, hydraulics hissed loudly. The engine's whirrs died down. Fenrir pivoted in his seat.

"Nothing motivates you to build weapons quite like losing your ability to use your own attacks." Though Fenrir's mane obscured his face, the fatigue in his voice couldn't be clearer.

Valkyrie looked as if she finally put missing pieces together. Standing up, she quickly collected herself. "Hold on. Why does this clown keep calling you Cyril?" She stepped in front of Fenrir. "You're Fenrir. That ninetales thing is, like, your cover or something. Has to be."

A bitter laugh shook the zoroark's mane. "Boy, I wish." He shuffled past Valkyrie. "But it's the opposite. I am Cyril. Fenrir is a codename I use for my rebellion work." He paused. "And the jobs I take in Scale City, I s'pose."

Scale City? Noctum had never heard of such a place. Before he could ask, though, Cyril hopped off the charjabus, Valkyrie followed. Noctum stumbled out behind her.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she growled. "And why do you look like someone bleached your fur?"

"This is what I usually look like," Cyril responded. He trudged forward, posture slouched. It was a stark contrast to the swagger he displayed as a ninetales. "When I go to Scale City, I use fur dye and hair products to pass as a normal zoroark." Cyril held up his right arm, which had an oval disc with a blinking red light on it. "And for Eterna City, I've got my Morph-O-Tron. Lets me go back to the good old days." He sighed. "Or some facsimile thereof."

Noctum was torn between watching Cyril and examining his surroundings. The aurora looked nice in the charjabus, but now Noctum saw several of them. All converging toward a white sphere surrounded by sparkling stars. It was hauntingly beautiful, though he failed to understand how or why this was all inside Eternatus.

"I don't understand," Seifer asked from the back of the group. He was helping Quetzal, who still seemed a bit out of it. "Are you a ninetales, a zoroark, or some lovechild of the two?"

"I'm—" There was a brief crimson flicker in Cyril's lone visible eye. "I'm just another casualty of Malice. Like so many others."

Cyril lazily lifted his right arm and pointed ahead. There, two seismitoad walked past. Only their bulbous, wart-covered arms were instead red, armored pincers, like Noctum would find on a crawdaunt. And behind them was a tympole with an arrokuda's backside instead of its proper tail.

"I was a happy ice ninetales, living on Planet Blizzak." Cyril trudged toward a glass bridge leading to another asteroid. "Then Eternatus showed up and absorbed it. The old archbishop — the one in charge before Paradox — wanted to funnel our snowy weather to other parts of the Qliphoth. I tried to fight against her with the other ice-types in our city."

Noctum raised a brow. Her?

Valkyrie huffed. "Lemme guess: it went poorly?"

"When I woke up, I was the only one left." Cyril's yellow eye brought a shiver to Noctum's spine. "And this was what I looked like. Couldn't use a single attack… or do those fancy illusions I'd later learn zoroark are known for." He looked at his white-furred arms. "I was stuck like this."

Gene yawned loudly. "Yeah, this pity party ain't my thing. Besides, we got a message that Gilbert's causing a ruckus inside." He floated into the air, saluting the group. "You have fun with Mr. Sunshine, here." Gene flew off toward the outpost's front entrance a couple of asteroids away. A moving walkway headed into the glass dome, which reflected the stars and auroras to hide whatever lay inside.

Silence fell over the group. Noctum shuffled toward Cyril. "I'm, um, sorry you had to deal with… all of that." It was the best he could come up with.

"Yeah, you and me both." Cyril continued forward. They reached an asteroid with several fueling stations planted into the landing pad. Large gray canisters each held three long hoses. A few were attached to circular and rectangular ships.

"At least I found a new purpose for myself." Cyril didn't sound too happy about it, however. "If I didn't have my tinkering to keep me grounded, I'd erode in an instant."

Noctum's tail flame shrank. He was conflicted between pressing further and staying quiet.

Valkyrie made the decision for him. "Erode? You're not a pot of soil."

Cyril looked at Valkyrie. There was newfound fatigue in his yellow, beady eye. "Here in the Qliphoth, you either find something to anchor your soul… or you lose yourself."

"Tch. Don't get poetic on me." The garchomp jabbed Cyril's shoulder.

"What you guys call 'Phantoms'… are the eroded souls of people who've lost themselves trying to live in the Qliphoth."

Cyril turned away and headed for another glass bridge, leaving Valkyrie to stare blankly at his messy hair as it fluttered despite the lack of wind.

"H-Hang on!" Seifer almost tripped trotting after Cyril. "Are you saying the Phantoms I've fought my entire career—"

"— were once people like you and me? Yeah." Cyril kept walking. "The archbishop and his predecessor sold this realm on the promise of infinite possibilities. You could do anything. Be anyone. Go anywhere." He shook his head. "For example… if you got tired of being a charizard, you could just… use Eterna energy to turn into a different pokémon." Cyril pointed at Noctum, smirking.

"Th… that's absurd," he sputtered.

"Not for Eternatus. A being that defies nature itself," Cyril countered. "'An eternity where the only limits are your imagination.' That's how they phrase it. Sounds sweet on the surface, right?"

The white zoroark hopped off the bridge onto the largest asteroid in the nearby field. The moving walkway was directly to the group's left. Cyril beckoned them toward it and stepped on. Noctum was hesitant, but swallowed his fear as the walkway carried the others toward a spiral-shaped metal door.

"But it's a damn lie. There are some things no amount of Eterna energy can change," Cyril continued, expression darkening. "If you were a dunce in your old life, you don't get to magically turn book smart. If you were a selfish asshole, you'll still be a selfish asshole unless you choose to wipe your memories clean.

"And some people… they can't handle the truth. That they're stuck here. That the choices they make don't really matter."

Valkyrie crossed her arms. "So, what? They go mad?"

Cyril nodded. "They go so mad, their bodies and souls wither away until there's nothing left but empty shells with varying degrees of Malice." With a wince, Cyril plucked a few of his white hairs and dropped them. They fell into the vast expanse below the moving walkway. "Thus, Phantoms are born."

A chill ran down Noctum's spine. He struggled thinking how long he'd be able to last in this place. How long had it even been since he ended up in Eterna City? What was going on back at Horizon? Was Yuna okay?

"Hang on." Valkyrie cautiously moved toward Cyril. "But I've met you plenty of times in Radiance. How can you show up there if you're part of this hellhole?"

"I stash a Malice Crystal in my mane," Cyril responded. Valkyrie wasn't convinced, but he held up a paw. "Enough. If I shove any more down your throats, I bet Charizard will keel over again."

Noctum winced at the verbal jab. However, Cyril had a point. Noctum's head was spinning. It was a lot to try and make sense of. Even Cyril's change and demeanor didn't sit well with Noctum.

The spiral door opened and the moving walkway deposited them in a lobby. Despite the glass dome hanging high above them, Noctum couldn't see back out into the asteroid belt. Instead, there were moving staircases all around the circular platform, leading to gray tunnels heading deeper into the facility.

"Middle path will take you to the Rebel Grill." Cyril jerked his head toward the opposite side of the lobby. "Gene took off there. Hopefully he got Gilbert's cronies to settle down so you guys can grab a bite."

"What, so that's it?" Valkyrie stomped her right foot down. "You just drop an information bomb like that and then ditch us?"

Cyril slouched over. "I've got work to do." He narrowed his yellow eye. "Besides, I'm not ditching all of you. I need you two." He pointed to Noctum and Seifer.

The keldeo shuffed back. "What's that supposed to mean? Haven't I suffered enough already?"

"It means… you two are going to help me clean up the mess you made."

XxX​

Nikki had her leather jacket halfway off by the time she walked into her room. With some halfhearted flicks of her right arm, she flung it onto her unmade bed. The toxtricity dropped to her knees and felt around the space under her bed until her fingers grazed hard plastic. Nikki pulled a milkcrate out. She grabbed one of the brown bottles sitting inside, then slid the crate back under the bed.

She had expected to nod off during the trial, but what she saw was so stupid it kept her awake. Even a stiff like Vegna couldn't get that rich asswipe found guilty. No doubt, if it had been someone from Blightsmuth — hell, from any lousy neighborhood — they would've wound up in Citadark for sure.

At least the Reaper got the last laugh.

Nikki found no joy in that thought, however. Seeing reports on the news was one thing. But even after the creepy stuff in Aquardah, watching a swirlix get crushed to death with her own eyes left an awful taste in her mouth. One she needed to wash out. The couple of bars in Horizon Gardens were too rich for her blood. So, she was stuck with warm beer.

She loosened the cap with her teeth and spat it on the floor. Taking a swig, Nikki found the beer wasn't stale. So, at least she had that going.

The toxtricity set the bottle on the floor and grabbed her acoustic guitar. At times like these, she needed to strum out some blues cords. Nothing fancy. Just enough to get her mind off everything.

Another swig from the bottle. Nikki plucked a guitar string. Then another. Her left hand glided along the guitar shaft. Between strums, she thumped the guitar base like a drum. Nikki opened her mouth and sang softly.

"The chill ain't gone.
The chill is here to stay."


XxX​

"The chill ain't gone.
It just won't go away."


Chiaki staggered into his room, eyes firmly focused on the desk across from him. His legs shook. Cold sweat had left his shirt drenched. The grovyle struggled beside his bed until he got both his jean jacket and t-shirt off. They dropped to the floor as he staggered over to the desk. He shook his right arm out. The Hooker detached with a series of clicks and fell to the floor with a metallic clang.

The pain was back. Why now? It had been so long. He rubbed the air by his stump. The air where his right forearm was supposed to be. Chiaki gritted his teeth. More sweat ran down the back of his neck.

He grabbed an orange pill bottle and twisted the cap off with his mouth. Chiaki stuck his tongue in and lapped up one of the white, circular pills. He dry-swallowed it, almost gagging in the process. The grovyle set the bottle down and sat at the desk.

There was a small mirror sitting beside his lamp. He grabbed it with his left arm. A stand the same size as the mirror swung out. Chiaki pitched the mirror like a tent, then switched the lamp on. He stuck his right arm stump between the mirror and stand.

Slowly, Chiaki took deep breaths. He stared at the mirror; watched the reflection of his left arm. The grovyle curled his claws when he breathed in, then relaxed them when he breathed out.

In. Out. Curl. Uncurl. Again. And again. And again.

Images crept into his mind's eye. Blood staining his groin and legs. Pained screams from a wide-open mouth. Purple and black footsteps moving away. And those two damned sentences:

"Leave him. He's just dead weight."

A shuddering breath. Chiaki curled his claws tight.

In. Out. Trick the mind. Trick the mind.

Bit by bit, the pain faded. Chiaki allowed himself to slouch in his chair. He tucked his head down and squeezed his eyes shut.

"I'll show them." He turned his head and cracked an eye open. A bulletin board hung over his dresser, filled with newspaper clippings and lines of strings connecting them to a single photo of Starlene surrounded by circles drawn with a thick red marker. Chiaki slowly turned back to his desk and tore open an envelope. A small note fell out, alongside a ticket.

Try not to embarrass me when you show up. And remember: you owe me for this.
~Kyoko


Chiaki took the ticket and held it up to his lamp. It had a small drawing of Starlene on it.

"I'll figure out what she's hiding. Then you'll see I'm not dead weight."

XxX​

"Life's done us wrong, baby.
But I'll make it pay someday."


Yuna wanted to cry. To sob into her pillow. No tears came, however. She stared at her white pillowcase, gripped by an emptiness she hadn't been faced with in years.

She knew Rayquaza and Reshiram were standing beside her bed. Yuna imagined they were both ready to say something to her. They'd attempt to lift her spirits and they'd fail. She was confident in it.

Nagging thoughts ate away at her mind the entire train ride back. Did Vegna kill Benedict… or was it actually Xeromus? Because Yuna wasn't buying that it was a freak accident. Someone did something.

Why was Xeromus even there at the end of the trial? He wanted the distortion to swallow up the Crowne Court, but Team Bastion had put a stop to that.

Try as she might, Yuna couldn't shake the feeling Xeromus set her up. He wanted her in the Qliphoth. What if… he somehow knew she'd never make it back in time for the trial? What if her initial absence was the key to things spiraling out of control? After all, the end result was Xeromus standing in front of dozens of reporters and rambling about Eternatus. And then a chunk of the courthouse killed the corrupt noble who might've rigged his trial.

Was that his goal? To get himself more attention? Had Yuna ended up playing into his nonexistent hand?

She kept going back to what Xeromus told her yesterday: "The choices you make don't matter."

Yuna dug her arms into her pillow and screamed. The pillow muffled her, of course. But in the absence of any tears, this would have to do."

"Yuna…"

A fluffy wing draped over her. Yuna turned and swatted Reshiram's claws. "Don't touch me!"

Frowning, Reshiram yanked his left wing back. "We're worried about you."

"You're worried about me?" Yuna's voice cracked. She didn't care. "If you were really worried about me, you would've made sure this stupid thing never bound to me in the first place!" She smacked the Soul Dew with her right arm. Shadows bubbled in her ectoplasm, but she ignored them.

"I—"

"No." Yuna held her black-spotted arm up. "Shut up and listen. Because there's nothing you can say to help me in this situation." Her arms dropped against her blanket. "You two are Sages. You spent your lifetimes working for the greater good. Of course you can handle this stuff!

"But me? Look at me!" Yuna floated up and thrust her arms out. "I'm a tiny, underdeveloped dreepy. I spent over a decade cooped up in bed or not allowed outside my own house because of how sick I was." Her arms and tail shriveled. "And when I finally started to make a life for myself and get some friends… I get dragged off to this place where people look at me like I'm a plate of grimy food!

"And if that wasn't enough, now I have to try and be some sort of hero and save the planet from Eternatus' reawakening? Are you kidding me?!"

Yuna dropped back onto her pillow and screamed into it. "It's too much! I can't take it! I… I'm not meant for this!"

Silence followed. Then scales brushed against bedsheets. "Dost thou feel better?"

Maybe a little, Yuna silently acknowledged. She turned her head to meet Rayquaza's tiny red eyes.

"I am, perhaps, stepping on Sir Reshiram's toes, but the truth is that… just because I am a sage doesn't mean I'm magically equipped to handle every problem thrown at me." Rayquaza leaned over and gently lifted Yuna's head with the end of his black tail. "Most days I had to patrol the stratosphere I was downright terrified. 'What if an actual emergency happened? Can I really keep people safe?'"

He shook his head. "To say nothing of the Darkest Day. Thou makes it sound like we sealed Eternatus effortlessly. But we had to sacrifice our very lives! I was mortified! And hesitant, to boot." Rayquaza looked at Reshiram. "It's only because I had the other Sages for support that I was able to go through with it."

Rayquaza backed away. "I do not blame thou for thine frustrations. It is not easy to put others before thineself. That is why we Sages had such long apprenticeships to begin with. Such thinking takes time to cultivate." He crossed his arms and nodded. "But thou aren't alone in this endeavor."

Reshiram vigorously nodded. "Right. And the more Sages you rescue, the more support you'll get." He offered a reassuring smile, but frowned when Rayqauza turned a stoic expression on him. Reshiram shuffled back, looking at his feet.

"We can't force you to go on with this," Rayquaza said. "But now that you've seen what Eternatus does to people, thou must ask thineself if thou could live with not taking action."

Yuna looked down guiltily. As bad as things were, the thought of her life becoming remotely like Razim's terrified her even more. "It's just," she rubbed her arms together, "I wish things didn't have to move so quickly. It's practically suffocating."

"Then thou shalt take the time to recuperate." Rayquaza bobbed his head, pleased with his own suggestion. "When thou feelst ready to venture forth, we will be there to assist you."

He jabbed Reshiram's thigh with his tail. The white dragon stood at attention. "Absolutely!" he chirped.

Yuna looked down. It still didn't sit right with her, but Rayquaza's offer was better than nothing.

"I… guess." She hardened her expression. "But if this is going to continue, we need to set ground rules."

Reshiram raised a brow. "Ground rules?"

"Yes." Yuna glared at Reshiram. "You need to stop butting in all the time. It's bad enough hearing you two in my head, but if I don't get some personal space, I'm going to lose it for sure." She took a deep breath. "A girl… needs her 'me time.' So, you have to figure out a way to stay out of my head. Understand?"

"I, uh— yeah, that's fair." Reshiram blushed and poked his claws together.

"Good." Yuna flopped onto her back. "Now, make yourselves scarce before someone comes knocking."

XxX​

Slithering around a room that wasn't his, Artemis couldn't shake his guilt.

At first, he figured Seifer got the memo and left with his tail between his legs like he should've. But then he heard whispers about an Aeon charizard taking pity on the keldeo… and both of them getting involved in some sort of altercation.

The milotic tried brushing it off. However, as the day went by with no sign of either of them, he got worried. Eventually, he went to the charizard's room and found it completely empty. The window looked as though someone had jumped through it.

Artemis wanted to believe this was some weird coincidence. But if there was one thing he took away from his parents, it was their firm belief that karma worked in mysterious ways. If he hadn't gone off on Seifer, would the keldeo be safe? And was something bad going to happen to him as a result? The sentiment ate away at him.

"Damn it, what happened?" Artemis hissed. The room was so uninspired, there was nothing to go off. Black stone floor. Plain brick walls. Bedsheets tossed on the floor with a pillow, likely for Seifer to use. Some belongings stashed in cloth bags under each bed. There wasn't anything else.

Artemis was ready to leave and throw back some whiskey shots at his room when a flat voice caught his attention. The milotic turned toward the window, then dove for the floor.

It was Vortex and that gardevoir assistant whose name escaped Artemis. He prayed they hadn't seen him.

"So, clearly, we have to rearrange the schedule," Vortex said. "If there's going to be a civil demonstration in Herbrides, I don't want our students anywhere near it. Get Minister Vincenzo on the phone. We'll do his leg in Venish instead."

"And what of the students? How will we tell them?" Gardevoir asked.

"Not a word until Vincenzo okays everything," Vortex replied. "Then, obviously, we inform His Grace of the change first. Then we'll tell the others. With any luck, the abrupt change will prove even more fatal for Team Bastion and they'll be eliminated from the Cup. And a huge weight will be lifted off our collective shoulders."

Artemis narrowed his eyes. Team Bastion… was the one with the Aeon Princess, wasn't it? And the toxtricity who'd sometimes smuggle him pastries from the dining hall. They seemed like decent people. So why was Vortex trying to rig things against them?

"Very well, sir. Anything else?" Gardevoir said.

"No. I hear Tesla needs you at Citadark. We both know you shouldn't keep him waiting."

"Understood."

Staying on his belly, Artemis wormed his way toward the bedroom door. That slimy bastard! He always knew Vortex was a jackass, but the thought of him dicking over his own students like that made Artemis sick.

He was going to have to tell someone.

Perhaps it's time to pay Toxtricity a visit again.

XxX​

In case you're interested, Nikki is spoofing the lyrics to B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone."
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
  3. custom/roserade-adam
I shall be the first to grace chapter 26 with a review :3

"What's that supposed to mean?" she growled. "And why do you look like someone bleached your fur?"

"This is what I usually look like," Cyril responded.

I wonder how this exchange in the new pov chapter would've gone if Hisuian Zoroark hadn't been revealed less than two months ago

"And some people… they can't handle the truth. That they're stuck here. That the choices they make don't really matter."

Valkyrie crossed her arms. "So, what? They go mad?"

Cyril nodded. "They go so mad, their bodies and souls wither away until there's nothing left but empty shells with varying degrees of Malice." With a wince, Cyril plucked a few of his white hairs and dropped them. They fell into the vast expanse below the moving walkway. "Thus, Phantoms are born."

Talk about living in purgatory. Everything about this realm sounds like the last place anyone wants to be in. A stagnant unchanging world that only knows to rot. It's no wonder most people run mad when trapped in there.

Slowly, Chiaki took deep breaths. He stared at the mirror; watched the reflection of his left arm. The grovyle curled his claws when he breathed in, then relaxed them when he breathed out.

In. Out. Curl. Uncurl. Again. And again. And again.

Images crept into his mind's eye. Blood staining his groin and legs. Pained screams from a wide-open mouth. Purple and black footsteps moving away. And those two damned sentences:

"Leave him. He's just dead weight."

A shuddering breath. Chiaki curled his claws tight.

In. Out. Trick the mind. Trick the mind.

Bit by bit, the pain faded. Chiaki allowed himself to slouch in his chair. He tucked his head down and squeezed his eyes shut.

It's not every day you see a phenomenon like phantom pain in amputees get shown in a fic. Though that serves as a reminder of your profession. I think you're probably the right guy to get feedback on when it comes to injuries and medical stuff for fic worldbuilding.

That aside though, there's some juicy bit of Chiaki backstory tease here also. Looking forward to seeing it elaborated upon in future chapters.

Reshiram vigorously nodded. "Right. And the more Sages you rescue, the more support you'll get." He offered a reassuring smile, but frowned when Rayqauza turned a stoic expression on him. Reshiram shuffled back, looking at his feet.

"We can't force you to go on with this," Rayquaza said. "But now that you've seen what Eternatus does to people, thou must ask thineself if thou could live with not taking action."

I always find this particular dilemma interesting in stories. That is of knowing something is wrong and needs something be done about it, but whether you yourself should take up that burden or opt for inaction. I may try to explore it in my writing sometime.

That's all I have on this chapter for now. It works as a decent closing chapter to the previous arc and opens with a juicy hook for the upcoming one. I can't wait to see what will transpire from Artemis tipping Nikki about Vortex's dodgy scheme.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, a new day on holiday break, a new review for Path of Valor, since you kinda left me and the rest of the audience in huge suspense last time.

Chapter 26

Noctum kept his eyes squeezed shut. The charjabus' rattling was enough for him. He was nauseous all over again. He didn't need another wall of eyes staring at him from the rift or Eternatus' innards or whatever he was supposed to call this.

He thought about Yuna. Noctum promised he'd be there for her after the trial. A promise fate chose to break. Baraz picked up the slack, fortunately, but he saw how shaken she was in the video. And there was nothing he could do, because some crazy psychic cat was dragging him off to God knows where.

Noctum: "O-Oog..." 🤢
Valkyrie: "... I don't suppose there's airsick bags on these things? Otherwise there's decent odds this ride's gonna reek really really fast."
Fenrir: "Just stick your head out the window like a normal 'mon!"

The rumbling came to a stop. Noctum opened an eye. Rainbow light rippled in the distance out Valkyrie's window. Massive rocks— no, asteroids floated all around them. Pulsating with distorted energy. Noctum's stomach gurgled. Was the crystal reacting to the asteroids?

"Space." Gene thrust his arms apart. His tone was quiet, yet mischievous. "The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Stolen Charjabus. Its continuing mission? To hide from the long arm of the law while the rebellion plots its next m—"

"Will you shut up?" Valkyrie got to her feet and brandished her claws at Gene. "I ought to remove your head from your shoulders. Where the hell have you taken us?"

"The Bergammula Asteroid Belt," Fenrir responded, paws firmly gripping the steering wheel. "See, those asteroids emit a powerful EMP."

Seifer: "... Wait a minute, how on earth has this thing not decompressed and left us to suffocate?" ._.;
Valkyrie: "Better question, how is this thing still operational if we're flying past things that are emitting strong EMPs? That sounds like a fast way to kill the navigation systems." >.<

"EMP?" Noctum tilted his head.

"Pulsations of electromagnetic energy." Fenrir waved his right arm about. Noctum got the sense his answer was deliberately vague. "Any Eternatus Troopers that try and go here get their circuits fried." He pushed his white, red-tipped mane out of his face. "It's the perfect place for anyone who's crossed the archbishop to lay low."

Seifer's brow furrowed. "So, it's a gathering spot for lawless types?"

"Yeah, sure." Scowling, Gene flopped into the seat next to Noctum. "My spiel sounded way cooler, though."

Valkyrie: "Again. Unless transports in Eterna City happen to be inherent Faraday Cages, those same pulses could very well fry this bus." >_>;
Noctum: "... Guess we're about to find out how well-built these things are."
:fearfullaugh:


Noctum looked the mewtwo over. This was the guy at the top of Paradox's hit list? He sounded more like someone Yuna's little brothers and sisters would fawn over. Well, aside from the Malice Crystal jammed into his shoulder. How could Gene even move his right arm like that?

Gene: "... Psychic powers. Yeah, let's go with that."
Noctum: "Psychic powers shouldn't be able to allow you to get past a crystal being present where your shoulder joint should be." ._.;

Hey, Zardy, my eyes are up here." Gene flicked the brim of Noctum's snout. He covered his nostrils and looked away.

Noctum: "Wow, rude." >///<

"I want a better explanation," Valkyrie growled, still standing. "Why did you bring us here? We're trying to get home, not more lost."

"You are home," Fenrir responded. Valkyrie was about to stomp up to him, when he held up an arm. "Lemme land first. Then we can talk."

Noctum mouthed "Land?" before looking where Fenrir pointed. There were dozens of metal platforms bolted to flattened asteroids, most connected by metal bridges. Behind all the asteroids was a massive glass dome with a big, white zoroark perched atop it, holding a burger in one paw and a bottle of soda in another.

Can't tell whether Fenrir is yanking Val's chain right now, or if Val is the Tidus of this story as someone who's somehow able to move about the living who would ultimately boil away into some equivalent to pyreflies if Eternatus were ever meaningfully defeated.

Valkyrie: "Fenrir, home as in Etherium." >_>;
Fenrir: "Hey now, beggars can't be choosers. This'll do for now."

Valkyrie's shoulders sagged. "This outpost… you wouldn't happen to be its owner, would you?"

Fenrir smirked. "What gave that away?"

She slouched into her seat. "Just land the damn charjabus."

Oh. I suppose that definition of "we're home" also works too.

The white-furred zoroark steered the bus past several landing platforms. Noctum turned in his seat to look out a window. There were people walking across the glass bridges, but he didn't recognize some of the species.

"What's with these two-legged folks who only have fur on their heads?" The charizard saw a guy and a girl leaning against a metal signpost. Both had sunglasses and purple jumpsuits on. The metal rods beside them that looked like blastoise cannons threw Noctum off.

"You mean the humans?" Gene chuckled. "Right, right. Your planet must not have any." He pet Noctum's right shoulder. "Relax, you'll get used to them."

👀

I must say I certainly wasn't expecting that, especially with how separated humans and Pokémon were in your last story. Though I suppose it makes sense if Eterna City came from a blown-up mainline world.

"Are you sure?" Noctum frowned. "It looks like they hunted a blastoise for its cannons."

"Pfbt." Gene sputtered. "No, no." He held his hands up. "Those are blasters. They probably bought 'em from Cyril. Y'know, to defend themselves?"

Noctum stared blankly.

So, what's the battle scaling for those puppies anyways? :V

Gene: "You know. Bang bang. Pew pew. Uses Pokémon attacks in a can and hurts like hell to get hit by one of them?"
Noctum: "Uh... no. Not at all." ._.;

"Well, not every human that gets schlurped up by Eternatus chooses to turn into a pokémon." Gene shrugged. "I'd say most don't. For the ones that oppose the archbishop, Cyril makes sure they have something to work with."

"I see," was all Noctum could manage. The explanation left him with more questions than answers. And here he thought his headache was finally fading.

I have so many questions right now. But that little throwaway blurb is really making me feel really good about my prediction about Sakaki from last chapter.

The charjabus buckled. As it landed on a black platform, hydraulics hissed loudly. The engine's whirrs died down. Fenrir pivoted in his seat.

"Nothing motivates you to build weapons quite like losing your ability to use your own attacks." Though Fenrir's mane obscured his face, the fatigue in his voice couldn't be clearer.

Valkyrie looked as if she finally put missing pieces together. Standing up, she quickly collected herself. "Hold on. Why does this clown keep calling you Cyril?" She stepped in front of Fenrir. "You're Fenrir. That ninetales thing is, like, your cover or something. Has to be."

A bitter laugh shook the zoroark's mane. "Boy, I wish." He shuffled past Valkyrie. "But it's the opposite. I am Cyril. Fenrir is a codename I use for my rebellion work." He paused. "And the jobs I take in Scale City, I s'pose."

Oh, so we finally get an answer to the whole "Cyril" versus "Fenrir" thing.

Scale City? Noctum had never heard of such a place. Before he could ask, though, Cyril hopped off the charjabus, Valkyrie followed. Noctum stumbled out behind her.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she growled. "And why do you look like someone bleached your fur?"

"This is what I usually look like," Cyril responded. He trudged forward, posture slouched. It was a stark contrast to the swagger he displayed as a ninetales. "When I go to Scale City, I use fur dye and hair products to pass as a normal zoroark." Cyril held up his right arm, which had an oval disc with a blinking red light on it. "And for Eterna City, I've got my Morph-O-Tron. Lets me go back to the good old days." He sighed. "Or some facsimile thereof."

Wait wait wait. So lemme get this straight here. So Cyril in life(?) has gone from Alolatales to Hisuiroark to Fake Unovaroark? Am I reading that right?

Noctum was torn between watching Cyril and examining his surroundings. The aurora looked nice in the charjabus, but now Noctum saw several of them. All converging toward a white sphere surrounded by sparkling stars. It was hauntingly beautiful, though he failed to understand how or why this was all inside Eternatus.

"I don't understand," Seifer asked from the back of the group. He was helping Quetzal, who still seemed a bit out of it. "Are you a ninetales, a zoroark, or some lovechild of the two?"

"I'm—" There was a brief crimson flicker in Cyril's lone visible eye. "I'm just another casualty of Malice. Like so many others."

Quetzal: "That... didn't answer the question." >v>
Noctum: "I think the implication is that he's gotten mutated, Not-Zapdos." .-.

Cyril lazily lifted his right arm and pointed ahead. There, two seismitoad walked past. Only their bulbous, wart-covered arms were instead red, armored pincers, like Noctum would find on a crawdaunt. And behind them was a tympole with an arrokuda's backside instead of its proper tail.

Ah, so this is why you commissioned that one Rapitales drawing. We're getting into fusions in this story.

"I was a happy ice ninetales, living on Planet Blizzak." Cyril trudged toward a glass bridge leading to another asteroid. "Then Eternatus showed up and absorbed it. The old archbishop — the one in charge before Paradox — wanted to funnel our snowy weather to other parts of the Qliphoth. I tried to fight against her with the other ice-types in our city."

Noctum raised a brow. Her?

Valkyrie huffed. "Lemme guess: it went poorly?"

"When I woke up, I was the only one left." Cyril's yellow eye brought a shiver to Noctum's spine. "And this was what I looked like. Couldn't use a single attack… or do those fancy illusions I'd later learn zoroark are known for." He looked at his white-furred arms. "I was stuck like this."

Wow. So my chronology was right after all. Didn't know that Malice could cause flat-out jumps but I suppose I should be less surprised given some of the past effects it's exhibited. (Maybe, you've said elsewhere this happened as a result of the last Archbishop.)

Though what's the story for why you opted for "Blizzak" as the planet name?

Gene yawned loudly. "Yeah, this pity party ain't my thing. Besides, we got a message that Gilbert's causing a ruckus inside." He floated into the air, saluting the group. "You have fun with Mr. Sunshine, here." Gene flew off toward the outpost's front entrance a couple of asteroids away. A moving walkway headed into the glass dome, which reflected the stars and auroras to hide whatever lay inside.

Noctum: "Well that wasn't remotely polite." 😐
Valkyrie: "Fenrir- Er... Cyril, I guess. What on earth is the story of how you got stuck with him?" >_>;
Cyril: "Lemme get to it after my 'sob story' as he put it."

Silence fell over the group. Noctum shuffled toward Cyril. "I'm, um, sorry you had to deal with… all of that." It was the best he could come up with.

"Yeah, you and me both." Cyril continued forward. They reached an asteroid with several fueling stations planted into the landing pad. Large gray canisters each held three long hoses. A few were attached to circular and rectangular ships.

"At least I found a new purpose for myself." Cyril didn't sound too happy about it, however. "If I didn't have my tinkering to keep me grounded, I'd erode in an instant."

Narrator: "He's totally getting cut off from his ability to tinker at some point later on in the story."

Noctum's tail flame shrank. He was conflicted between pressing further and staying quiet.

Valkyrie made the decision for him. "Erode? You're not a pot of soil."

Cyril looked at Valkyrie. There was newfound fatigue in his yellow, beady eye. "Here in the Qliphoth, you either find something to anchor your soul… or you lose yourself."

"Tch. Don't get poetic on me." The garchomp jabbed Cyril's shoulder.

"What you guys call 'Phantoms'… are the eroded souls of people who've lost themselves trying to live in the Qliphoth."

:uhhh:


Okay. That has some... implications about what happened to Bahamut to turn him into Phantom Despair.

"H-Hang on!" Seifer almost tripped trotting after Cyril. "Are you saying the Phantoms I've fought my entire career—"

"— were once people like you and me? Yeah." Cyril kept walking. "The archbishop and his predecessor sold this realm on the promise of infinite possibilities. You could do anything. Be anyone. Go anywhere." He shook his head. "For example… if you got tired of being a charizard, you could just… use Eterna energy to turn into a different pokémon." Cyril pointed at Noctum, smirking.

"Th… that's absurd," he sputtered.

"Not for Eternatus. A being that defies nature itself," Cyril countered. "'An eternity where the only limits are your imagination.' That's how they phrase it. Sounds sweet on the surface, right?"

I mean, it's a place named after a realm of evil and spiritual impurity from Kabbalah. I'd literally rather trust a sales pitch like that from a place called "Naraka" since at least eventually you'd reincarnate your way out of it if it's as it says on the tin.

"But it's a damn lie. There are some things no amount of Eterna energy can change," Cyril continued, expression darkening. "If you were a dunce in your old life, you don't get to magically turn book smart. If you were a selfish asshole, you'll still be a selfish asshole unless you choose to wipe your memories clean.

"And some people… they can't handle the truth. That they're stuck here. That the choices they make don't really matter."

Valkyrie crossed her arms. "So, what? They go mad?"

Cyril nodded. "They go so mad, their bodies and souls wither away until there's nothing left but empty shells with varying degrees of Malice." With a wince, Cyril plucked a few of his white hairs and dropped them. They fell into the vast expanse below the moving walkway. "Thus, Phantoms are born."

Oh, so this place literally makes new qlippot out of the unfortunates who get stuck here given the semantic meaning of "Qliphoth" is "shells" or "husks".

"Hang on." Valkyrie cautiously moved toward Cyril. "But I've met you plenty of times in Radiance. How can you show up there if you're part of this hellhole?"

"I stash a Malice Crystal in my mane," Cyril responded. Valkyrie wasn't convinced, but he held up a paw. "Enough. If I shove any more down your throats, I bet Charizard will keel over again."

Cyril: "Also, why is this so shocking to you given how much this story pulls from Final Fantasy when dead people mingling and interacting with living ones was literally a huge part of FF10?"
Noctum: "Wait, are we supposed to know that?" .-.
Valkyrie: "No, otherwise why would we be written as being surprised in the text right now?" >_>;

"What, so that's it?" Valkyrie stomped her right foot down. "You just drop an information bomb like that and then ditch us?"

Cyril slouched over. "I've got work to do." He narrowed his yellow eye. "Besides, I'm not ditching all of you. I need you two." He pointed to Noctum and Seifer.

The keldeo shuffed back. "What's that supposed to mean? Haven't I suffered enough already?"

"It means… you two are going to help me clean up the mess you made."

Noctum: "I... don't like where this is going." ._.
Seifer: "Look, if you're trying to get us to help you, we'll get more done by willing cooperation." >.<;
Cyril: "Yeah, it's called 'you cooperate, or I drag you kicking and screaming into helping'." >:|

Nikki had her leather jacket halfway off by the time she walked into her room. With some halfhearted flicks of her right arm, she flung it onto her unmade bed. The toxtricity dropped to her knees and felt around the space under her bed until her fingers grazed hard plastic. Nikki pulled a milkcrate out. She grabbed one of the brown bottles sitting inside, then slid the crate back under the bed.

She had expected to nod off during the trial, but what she saw was so stupid it kept her awake. Even a stiff like Vegna couldn't get that rich asswipe found guilty. No doubt, if it had been someone from Blightsmuth — hell, from any lousy neighborhood — they would've wound up in Citadark for sure.

At least the Reaper got the last laugh.

Nikki: "... All's well that ends well? Hooray for extrajudicial killings, I guess?"

Nikki found no joy in that thought, however. Seeing reports on the news was one thing. But even after the creepy stuff in Aquardah, watching a swirlix get crushed to death with her own eyes left an awful taste in her mouth. One she needed to wash out. The couple of bars in Horizon Gardens were too rich for her blood. So, she was stuck with warm beer.

Considering what the Swirlix in question was like, I'm a little shocked she didn't go full "ding dong the wicked witch is dead" afterwards. :V

She loosened the cap with her teeth and spat it on the floor. Taking a swig, Nikki found the beer wasn't stale. So, at least she had that going.

The toxtricity set the bottle on the floor and grabbed her acoustic guitar. At times like these, she needed to strum out some blues cords. Nothing fancy. Just enough to get her mind off everything.

Oh, so she does have a preferred genre outside metal.

Another swig from the bottle. Nikki plucked a guitar string. Then another. Her left hand glided along the guitar shaft. Between strums, she thumped the guitar base like a drum. Nikki opened her mouth and sang softly.

"The chill ain't gone.
The chill is here to stay."

Wait, is this a legit song? If so, you might want to consider linking the song in question to the lyric text there, since I know you're doing that now.

"The chill ain't gone.
It just won't go away."

Chiaki staggered into his room, eyes firmly focused on the desk across from him. His legs shook. Cold sweat had left his shirt drenched. The grovyle struggled beside his bed until he got both his jean jacket and t-shirt off. They dropped to the floor as he staggered over to the desk. He shook his right arm out. The Hooker detached with a series of clicks and fell to the floor with a metallic clang.

The pain was back. Why now? It had been so long. He rubbed the air by his stump. The air where his right forearm was supposed to be. Chiaki gritted his teeth. More sweat ran down the back of his neck.

Wait a minute, phantom limb syndrome occurs in people who have just been flatly born without limbs? I mean on one level, I suppose nerve endings are nerve endings... or was Chiaki lying about how he became an einhänder when he mentioned that to Yuna? ... Also, how is a gecko sweating this profusely (or for all at that matter) when he's a reptile? :V

Chiaki: "... Also, why am I getting the weirdest feeling someone else is listening in on this same song?"

He grabbed an orange pill bottle and twisted the cap off with his mouth. Chiaki stuck his tongue in and lapped up one of the white, circular pills. He dry-swallowed it, almost gagging in the process. The grovyle set the bottle down and sat at the desk.

... Hope those aren't opiate-based painkillers there.
:fearfullaugh:


There was a small mirror sitting beside his lamp. He grabbed it with his left arm. A stand the same size as the mirror swung out. Chiaki pitched the mirror like a tent, then switched the lamp on. He stuck his right arm stump between the mirror and stand.

Slowly, Chiaki took deep breaths. He stared at the mirror; watched the reflection of his left arm. The grovyle curled his claws when he breathed in, then relaxed them when he breathed out.

In. Out. Curl. Uncurl. Again. And again. And again.

Somehow I doubt this is the first time he's done this mirror routine. Though I wonder if this is informed at all by something you've come across as a medical student.

Images crept into his mind's eye. Blood staining his groin and legs. Pained screams from a wide-open mouth. Purple and black footsteps moving away. And those two damned sentences:

"Leave him. He's just dead weight."

A shuddering breath. Chiaki curled his claws tight.

In. Out. Trick the mind. Trick the mind.

Bit by bit, the pain faded. Chiaki allowed himself to slouch in his chair. He tucked his head down and squeezed his eyes shut.

... I can't tell whether he really did lie to Yuna about how he lost his arm after all or if that's a separate occasion where he got mauled he's flashing back to.

"I'll show them." He turned his head and cracked an eye open. A bulletin board hung over his dresser, filled with newspaper clippings and lines of strings connecting them to a single photo of Starlene surrounded by circles drawn with a thick red marker. Chiaki slowly turned back to his desk and tore open an envelope. A small note fell out, alongside a ticket.

Try not to embarrass me when you show up. And remember: you owe me for this.
~Kyoko

Chiaki took the ticket and held it up to his lamp. It had a small drawing of Starlene on it.

"I'll figure out what she's hiding. Then you'll see I'm not dead weight."

For a second I thought that that was an implication that Sakaki left him behind in that state?. Also, I knew that Starlene was dodgy from past chatter, but this entire bit is a major
:uhhh:
regarding her.
[*][1:05 AM]

"Life's done us wrong, baby.
But I'll make it pay someday."

Yuna wanted to cry. To sob into her pillow. No tears came, however. She stared at her white pillowcase, gripped by an emptiness she hadn't been faced with in years.

... Wait, would tears even have come anyways given that she's a ghost? :V

She knew Rayquaza and Reshiram were standing beside her bed. Yuna imagined they were both ready to say something to her. They'd attempt to lift her spirits and they'd fail. She was confident in it.

Nagging thoughts ate away at her mind the entire train ride back. Did Vegna kill Benedict… or was it actually Xeromus? Because Yuna wasn't buying that it was a freak accident. Someone did something.



Why was Xeromus even there at the end of the trial? He wanted the distortion to swallow up the Crowne Court, but Team Bastion had put a stop to that.

Try as she might, Yuna couldn't shake the feeling Xeromus set her up. He wanted her in the Qliphoth. What if… he somehow knew she'd never make it back in time for the trial? What if her initial absence was the key to things spiraling out of control? After all, the end result was Xeromus standing in front of dozens of reporters and rambling about Eternatus. And then a chunk of the courthouse killed the corrupt noble who might've rigged his trial.

Was that his goal? To get himself more attention? Had Yuna ended up playing into his nonexistent hand?

I mean, given that Paradox just happened to know how to tune into the TVs at the right time, that's not that bad of a guess on her part. I'm genuinely curious myself since this 'omen' sure has a knack for showing up for otherwise inexplicable events.

She kept going back to what Xeromus told her yesterday: "The choices you make don't matter."

Yuna dug her arms into her pillow and screamed. The pillow muffled her, of course. But in the absence of any tears, this would have to do."

"Yuna…"

A fluffy wing draped over her. Yuna turned and swatted Reshiram's claws. "Don't touch me!"

Got some lingering punctuation there to tidy up. Though I see that Yuna's mental state is going places. And not good ones, either.

Frowning, Reshiram yanked his left wing back. "We're worried about you."

"You're worried about me?" Yuna's voice cracked. She didn't care. "If you were really worried about me, you would've made sure this stupid thing never bound to me in the first place!" She smacked the Soul Dew with her right arm. Shadows bubbled in her ectoplasm, but she ignored them.

"I—"

"No." Yuna held her black-spotted arm up. "Shut up and listen. Because there's nothing you can say to help me in this situation." Her arms dropped against her blanket. "You two are Sages. You spent your lifetimes working for the greater good. Of course you can handle this stuff!

Cecil: "Uh... Yuna, not that you're not clearly very frustrated and overwhelmed, but you do realize that Gallian and I are literally pale shadows of who we used to be, right?" ._.;

"But me? Look at me!" Yuna floated up and thrust her arms out. "I'm a tiny, underdeveloped dreepy. I spent over a decade cooped up in bed or not allowed outside my own house because of how sick I was." Her arms and tail shriveled. "And when I finally started to make a life for myself and get some friends… I get dragged off to this place where people look at me like I'm a plate of grimy food!

"And if that wasn't enough, now I have to try and be some sort of hero and save the planet from Eternatus' reawakening? Are you kidding me?!"

Yuna dropped back onto her pillow and screamed into it. "It's too much! I can't take it! I… I'm not meant for this!"

Uh... yeah, Yiazmat and Calcifer not yeeting some friendly faces from Aeon along with their baby girl was kinda a yuge oversight on their part given that they had to have known that Yuna would likely face this sort of treatment from her peers. I mean, Noctum was a nice start but his batting average for actually being around Yuna has been pretty terrible so far.

Silence followed. Then scales brushed against bedsheets. "Dost thou feel better?"

Maybe a little, Yuna silently acknowledged. She turned her head to meet Rayquaza's tiny red eyes.

Wait, are they really tiny considering how they looked absolutely huge in the SSBB Subspace Emissary cutscene? Or is Gallian in fun-sized mode right now?

"I am, perhaps, stepping on Sir Reshiram's toes, but the truth is that… just because I am a sage doesn't mean I'm magically equipped to handle every problem thrown at me." Rayquaza leaned over and gently lifted Yuna's head with the end of his black tail. "Most days I had to patrol the stratosphere I was downright terrified. 'What if an actual emergency happened? Can I really keep people safe?'"

He shook his head. "To say nothing of the Darkest Day. Thou makes it sound like we sealed Eternatus effortlessly. But we had to sacrifice our very lives! I was mortified! And hesitant, to boot." Rayquaza looked at Reshiram. "It's only because I had the other Sages for support that I was able to go through with it."

Unless if Gallian misusing fancy words is deliberate, you probably want something other than "mortified" there, since unless there's an archaic definition that I'm not aware of from sanity-checking against a couple dictionaries, that's a term for embarrassment there.

Rayquaza backed away. "I do not blame thou for thine frustrations. It is not easy to put others before thineself. That is why we Sages had such long apprenticeships to begin with. Such thinking takes time to cultivate." He crossed his arms and nodded. "But thou aren't alone in this endeavor."

Reshiram vigorously nodded. "Right. And the more Sages you rescue, the more support you'll get." He offered a reassuring smile, but frowned when Rayqauza turned a stoic expression on him. Reshiram shuffled back, looking at his feet.

Cecil: "I mean, sure, you'll be pushing the world towards the edge faster. But it was going there anyways and you'll at least have more friends for it?"
:fearfullaugh:

Yuna: "... I could've really done without the reminder of what'll happen when we pull all the needles, Reshiram." >_>;

"We can't force you to go on with this," Rayquaza said. "But now that you've seen what Eternatus does to people, thou must ask thineself if thou could live with not taking action."

Yuna looked down guiltily. As bad as things were, the thought of her life becoming remotely like Razim's terrified her even more. "It's just," she rubbed her arms together, "I wish things didn't have to move so quickly. It's practically suffocating."

"Then thou shalt take the time to recuperate." Rayquaza bobbed his head, pleased with his own suggestion. "When thou feelst ready to venture forth, we will be there to assist you."



I'll believe Yuna will get a break from the when I see it, since you've just been keeping her under the pressure cooker almost constantly in this story so far. And Xeromus kinda just implied that there's some significantly plot-important events coming up in... -checks notes- three days.

Yuna looked down. It still didn't sit right with her, but Rayquaza's offer was better than nothing.

"I… guess." She hardened her expression. "But if this is going to continue, we need to set ground rules."

Reshiram raised a brow. "Ground rules?"

"Yes." Yuna glared at Reshiram. "You need to stop butting in all the time. It's bad enough hearing you two in my head, but if I don't get some personal space, I'm going to lose it for sure." She took a deep breath. "A girl… needs her 'me time.' So, you have to figure out a way to stay out of my head. Understand?"

"I, uh— yeah, that's fair." Reshiram blushed and poked his claws together.

"Good." Yuna flopped onto her back. "Now, make yourselves scarce before someone comes knocking."

I look forward to seeing the holographic mini dragon sages just chilling out in the hallway in future chapters.
:loltias:


Slithering around a room that wasn't his, Artemis couldn't shake his guilt.

At first, he figured Seifer got the memo and left with his tail between his legs like he should've. But then he heard whispers about an Aeon charizard taking pity on the keldeo… and both of them getting involved in some sort of altercation.

The milotic tried brushing it off. However, as the day went by with no sign of either of them, he got worried. Eventually, he went to the charizard's room and found it completely empty. The window looked as though someone had jumped through it.

Oh, so Artie is coming back into the plot. I was starting to wonder.

Artemis wanted to believe this was some weird coincidence. But if there was one thing he took away from his parents, it was their firm belief that karma worked in mysterious ways. If he hadn't gone off on Seifer, would the keldeo be safe? And was something bad going to happen to him as a result? The sentiment ate away at him.

"Damn it, what happened?" Artemis hissed. The room was so uninspired, there was nothing to go off. Black stone floor. Plain brick walls. Bedsheets tossed on the floor with a pillow, likely for Seifer to use. Some belongings stashed in cloth bags under each bed. There wasn't anything else.

Artie: "Yeesh, when I'm finding a place meager, you know that it's a real dive."

Artemis was ready to leave and throw back some whiskey shots at his room when a flat voice caught his attention. The milotic turned toward the window, then dove for the floor.

It was Vortex and that gardevoir assistant whose name escaped Artemis. He prayed they hadn't seen him.

"So, clearly, we have to rearrange the schedule," Vortex said. "If there's going to be a civil demonstration in Herbrides, I don't want our students anywhere near it. Get Minister Vincenzo on the phone. We'll do his leg in Venish instead."

Wait a minute, is that demonstration Xeromus' doing? Or does it happen to overlap and he's exploiting it?

"And what of the students? How will we tell them?" Gardevoir asked.

"Not a word until Vincenzo okays everything," Vortex replied. "Then, obviously, we inform His Grace of the change first. Then we'll tell the others. With any luck, the abrupt change will prove even more fatal for Team Bastion and they'll be eliminated from the Cup. And a huge weight will be lifted off our collective shoulders."

Wow. Ice cold there. Also, I like that they're doing this in the servants' quarters instead of say... anywhere where there realistically wouldn't be like a dozen Pokémon in a hundred-meter radius trying to doze off.

Artemis narrowed his eyes. Team Bastion… was the one with the Aeon Princess, wasn't it? And the toxtricity who'd sometimes smuggle him pastries from the dining hall. They seemed like decent people. So why was Vortex trying to rig things against them? "

Very well, sir. Anything else?" Gardevoir said.

"No. I hear Tesla needs you at Citadark. We both know you shouldn't keep him waiting."

"Understood."

Artie: "W-Wha-? C-Citadark? How on earth did the topic of conversation go to-?" ._.;

Staying on his belly, Artemis wormed his way toward the bedroom door. That slimy bastard! He always knew Vortex was a jackass, but the thought of him dicking over his own students like that made Artemis sick.

He was going to have to tell someone.

Perhaps it's time to pay Toxtricity a visit again.

Oh, this won't have any repercussions once Vortex puts two and two together at all.

In case you're interested, Nikki is spoofing the lyrics to B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone."

Ah, so that's what the lyrics are from. Probably could've stood to have a song link there, but it's still a neat beat of trivia. And good show there @Ambyssin . I'm always impressed at how much in the way of implication and subtle details you manage to cram into these shorter chapters. Since there was a lot to unpack from this chapter.

I'm... admittedly not sure where you're going to take things next, since things are kinda in an uneasy lull right now, and as much as Yuna really needs a proverbial vacation right now. I'm not convinced she's going to get it given that the plot's kinda on a tight schedule. But I guess I'll just have to wait a couple weeks to find out.

Kudos, and looking forward to your next update in due time.
 
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