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

    Join now!

Pokémon Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Quenched Torch

21 - Alone Together New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
21 - Alone Together

As the first light of morning brushed against his scaly hide, Rye stirred in bed, his body filling with ebbs of energy as his Grass-type nature began to photosynthesize the warm light. Despite the comforting feeling, he couldn't bring himself to fully enjoy it, as he was too occupied by one detail in particular.

He had been woken up a while ago by Beck, who had gotten up to shuffle to the door, sitting down to stare at the sky blankly. If Rye understood correctly, he had been like that ever since, his breath shaky and melancholy clear in his form.

If the week and a half of discrimination and stressful dungeon-diving he had seen was anything to go off of, Rye knew that Beck could take a good deal of punishment, both physical and mental, so he wasn't entirely sure what had driven him to this state. As such, the longer Beck watched the sky, the more unsettled Rye became.

'Maybe I should ask him?'

Rye winced at the thought. He knew trying to talk to him now probably wasn't the best idea, but Beck was his friend. If he had to know...

-o-​

'This is home.'

I stared up at the sky, watching the endless expanse as the stars glided through the sky, slowly being drowned out by the first light of morning.

'Hah. Those damn stars...'

Averting my gaze from the sky, I instead pulled my scalchop off my chest and took a long, loath-tinted look at it. Just... here I was feeling normal about growing a damn melee weapon out of Mew-knows-where. What would human me have thought about all the shit that seemed normal now? What was what I had left even like?

'...it doesn't matter.'

When I had first gotten a good look at those stars and recognized that this world might not be so alien, there had been some room for denial. So what if the constellations were the same? It very well could have been a coincidence or some alternate universe thing. With what Arden had told us last night about this 'Unova' place, though, I couldn't deny it anymore.

'This is home. There's no 'real world' waiting for me. Just... the world that hates me for existing.'

Gritting my teeth, I slammed my scalchop into the ground, leaving a sizable dent in the dirt floor. I had woken up maybe an hour ago to that revelation, and finding myself unable to take my mind off it, I had sat down here to try to process it. I wasn't sad about this, surprisingly: why grieve for family I didn't know in the first place? What did irk me, though, was the thought that whoever that family might have been, any chance of returning to them had passed centuries ago.

'Humans have been gone for centuries, right? Unless I was some sort of thirtieth-generation survivalist living away from anyone's sight, would that mean I'd have to have lived before those centuries? If that's the case, then...'

"Beck? What's the matter?"

I jumped and quickly clutched my scalchop, turning to find Rye groggily standing behind me, clearly concerned. With a heavy sigh, I shook my head, sloppily setting my scalchop back onto my chest. This didn't quite satisfy the Treecko, who took a seat next to me.

"Come on, w-we're friends, right? You can talk to me. Uh, what's going on?" he asked. I hesitated for a bit, eventually just pointing back into our quarters towards our hastily closed bag and the map still hanging out. A minute passed before Rye nodded in understanding.

"What Mr. Arden was saying... it... I know what it's like to lose someone, trust me. But, um... S-Sinni talked to me about how it's never good to dwell on the past, and..."

He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts as I kept my gaze on him. Eventually, his shoulders dropped as he sighed.

"L-look, I don't think I could ever entirely understand what's going on with you, and I'm sorry for trying to compare myself to you... just... you can talk to me if anything's on your mind. I'm here for you, alright?" he said.

"...yeh," I eventually replied. Giving me a weak smile, Rye relaxed in place as we quietly continued watching the sunrise. As the sun chased the last of the night away, the clanging of the wake-up bell began to sound in the distance. With that, Rye pushed himself off the floor.

"How's breakfast sound?" he asked. I agreed, so once I got to my feet (easier said than done with only a single functioning stubby arm), we made our way down the path as Pokémon began to file out of their quarters. Approaching the mess hall, I began to hear loud crashes coming from inside, earning a confused scrunch of my face. As we got closer, Raticate suddenly clambered out of the hall, clearly roughed up and panting to himself. After a quick minute of catching his breath, he scrambled back in.

"Alright, you little..." he growled before jumping back into the kitchen through the window.

"Fleeh! Fleeech!" a loud voice screeched ferociously before some kind of bird burst through the mess hall's roof. As I watched in disbelief, it spewed a couple fireballs into the building before Raticate jumped out propelled by a Quick Attack, slamming into it and sending both careening back down into the building. With this, another series of crashes and loud swears from Raticate began to ring out from the kitchen. As the crowd of onlookers grew behind us, I listened as the noises made way to hard blows and squelches, the thing's cries soon turning into pained gurgles as the commotion died down. Once the gurgling finally stopped, a minute passed before Raticate, covered in debris and what seemed to be blood, leaned out the door covered in dust and what seemed to be blood to give the Pokémon gathered a drippy, red-colored smile.

"Sorry 'bout that! One of them feral Fletchinders Team Joules brought yesterday broke out. Hey, it's a head start at dinner, right?" he piped. As the Pokémon around us chuckled and began filing in, Rye silently led me into the forming line by the paw as I shuddered, horrified at what had apparently just occurred. A couple minutes passed before we found ourselves looking at a still bloody Raticate looking quite proud of himself as he prepared a couple trays, seemingly ignoring the feathers, rubble, and fluids scattered all over the disarrayed kitchen.

"Hey, how you... er, what's the matter?" he asked as he took notice of us. Gulping, I shuffled back a bit. Giving me a confused look, Raticate began to add to his question before stopping short and taking a quick look down at himself. His face fell.

"...oh. I, uh... sorry, I..." he trailed off, his eyes wide as he looked back up at me. Choosing not to pursue the topic any further, he cleared his throat and quietly handed us our food, giving me a remorseful look as we hurried to an open table. My appetite having left me, I pushed my tray aside as Rye joined me, giving me a quick pitied glance before digging in. Blinking hard, I stared off to start considering my position again.

'Right, where was I? Uh... yeah. If there's nothing left I can realistically go back to, then... I've got Rye at least willing to help. I mean, surely there's something I can do to make things better if the interview with that Noctowl was anything to go off of...'

Eventually, I just bit my lip and nodded to myself. There wasn't any revelation or show-stopping decision behind it, just an vague bout of determination. To do what? Who knows.

With that in mind, I pushed the image of a bloody Raticate out of my mind and reached for a berry. From there, it was back to usual, save for the several Fighting-types hauling rubble out of the kitchen. Of course, with the usual came my simple human mind betraying me.

'Alright, we've got... what is this, soup? That's new, I'll just... hm? There's no spoon...'

"Rye? Sh-shpehn?" I tried. All I got in response was a confused look from Rye as he finished his own assorted berries.

"Um, what?" he asked.

"Shpehn?" I inquired again.

"What's a spehn?" he asked. Realizing this wasn't going anywhere, I tried drawing it out on the table with my paw. While my crude sketch was recognizable as a spoon, it didn't do much for my case.

"Oh, you mean a spoon. Uh... w-why would you need one? You aren't a Psychic, are you?" he asked.

"...sha," I waved him off. Rye started to ask another question, though gave up before anything got out. I thought I heard him mutter something about humans being weird under his breath as he picked up his bowl of the soup and started slurping it down. After a quick glance at my broken arm, I figured I'd go without the soup. I mean, unless I was about to lap it up like a Lillipup, then I supposed I could go without it.

'Either way, I blame this world's culture. Just... what happened?'

A few more minutes passed before we finished our food and turned our trays in to a still-bloodied Raticate.

"So what do you think we should do today? Maybe we could see if Ms. Audino's not busy? Uh, if she is, we could always work on your writing," Rye suggested as we made for the door. "Ooh, maybe we could head down to the river and try to train you some more! I mean, if Mr. Bert's not doing it, then-"

He was abruptly cut off when a blur of gray sped out in front of us. As it stopped just in the doorway, we both recoiled as the form of a Weavile made itself clear.

"Heya, squirts," Mustie said, watching us warily as we frantically looked for an exit. Seeing this, he raised his horrifyingly long claws up into the air in a gesture of peace, which only served to intimidate us more for some reason.

"Hey, hey, we ain't gonna hurt you, not in here. We just wanna talk, alright? Cool your shit," he said. At this point, his Persian partner... er, Gold, I think, caught up with him, sitting down next to Mustie.

"L-leave us alone," Rye said.

"Alright, I know we've-" Mustie began.

"We don't-" Rye interrupted.

"Just-"

"Go away!"

"Listen to me, you little fff...!"

Mustie took a deep breath as he swallowed back his clear anger and forced a smile.

"Now, then. I know we didn't get off to a very good start, so, ya know, Persian and I wanted to talk to you head on," he began.

"Why aren't you using your names?" Rye asked suspiciously. Mustie pursed his lips in poorly concealed frustration.

"Hello? Public decency, anyone?" he said before straightening up. "Alright, Persian? You said you wanted to do it, so..."

Gold cleared his throat.

"We, uh, wanted to apologize, yeah? For what happened back at the river?" he said. "Uh, both parties made their mistakes, but we admit our own, and we'd like to try and make up. Whaddaya say?"

Rye narrowed his eyes as the two watched.

"What are you really doing?" he asked. Mustie's fake smile faltered.

"What?" he asked.

"I know you, you wouldn't just apologize," Rye responded.

"Excuse me? What do you take us as?" Gold interjected as Rye shifted in place.

"B-bullies, mostly," he managed. In response, Mustie's facade shattered as he just barely stopped himself from lashing out, gritting his teeth in suppressed frustration.

"Don't even try to pull that fuckin' term on us. We've heard it too many damn times to count. Just... we wanna get off on a fresh start, what's so hard to accept there?" he growled. Rye stepped forward, now visibly upset.

"I don't want anything to do with you! Y-you told me to give it up back when I first joined, and-"

"Oh, what, you're gonna push us away over a damn joke? Yeah, okay, sure," Mustie said.

"I came all the way from Mt. Twist, and you just told me I was too young, that I was a wimp, th-that I didn't have what it took!" Rye snapped back. Mustie raised an eyebrow.

"All the way from Mt. Twist? Heh. You sure like goin' on about your oh-so-mysterious past, don'tcha?" he said. Rye stumbled back.

"Wh-what?" he choked out.

"Can't blame a 'mon for being curious, can ya?" Gold said. At this point, I stepped forward as Rye stared at the two, horrified.

"Shnagh!" I warned them, only to be met with a chuckle from Mustie.

"Yeah, Oshawott brings up a good point. We at least know where it came from, but not you, Treecko! Might we ask why you came all the way from Twist?" he asked. Rye's eye twitched as he clenched his fists.

"G-go away," he said.

"Come on, Treecko, give us the scoop! Surely if you're keeping it from us, it's gotta be juicy!" Gold said with an ugly smile as the two started approaching Rye. They almost immediately jumped back as Rye let out a yell and swung at them with a faintly glowing tail. After a minute of shocked silence, they regained their composure.

"Oh, you wanna fight? Alright, then, ice on grass, let's see how that ends for you!" Mustie boasted. I gritted my teeth and brandished my scalchop at the two Pokémon. Mustie scowled in response as he grabbed my shoulder, unsheathing his claws as I reared back my good arm to strike at him.

"Ohohoho, you wanna get fucked, too? Alright, you little..."

He trailed off as he took notice of something behind us. Looking back, I saw most of the Pokémon in the mess hall silently watching us in horrified anticipation, more notably Cinccino and several others giving us a warning glare from the table at the hall's end. After a minute of this, Mustie sighed and pushed me away, stopping to shoot us a distasteful look.

"Don't think we've forgotten about the crap you pulled back on the Serperior. You better watch yourselves, you little shits. Come back when you're done sucking off Quilava," he snapped before the two pushed past us to storm back into the rows of tables. As I stood at a loss, the silence behind us quickly melted back into lively conversation. After a minute, Rye gave a shaky breath and quietly continued walking.

"R-Rye?" I said, hurrying to catch up with him.

"Not now, Beck," he said, his voice dripping with venom. I hesitated for a minute as he seethed beside me. If this really was Unova and everything else I knew was gone, then I knew I wasn't content with my only friend being like this. But I wasn't sure if I really could help him here...

'...I can try, I guess.'

"Rye... sh-h-her feh yeh," I said in earnest. Rye stopped, blinking a few times before giving a weak smile.

"Thanks," he said quietly. With that, we continued up the path, a visit to Ms. Audino in mind.

-o-​

As dusk began to settle over the Guild, I sat and watched as the Water-type training grounds rang with the sounds of battle. While I wasn't particularly excited for two more hours of inhuman noises, I took solace in the idea that it wouldn't last for too long.

When Rye and I had visited Ms. Audino earlier in the day, she had told me that my arm was healing at a healthy rate and that I should be able to use it in a few days. So, you know, that was nice.

What was less nice, though, was the odd look I got from the nurse as we left the sick bay. While no words were exchanged, her knowledge of my condition quickly came to mind. Even if she did just dismiss it as the delusions of a madmon, it still wasn't very pleasant to think about, especially when what I had lost was already on my mind. If anything, it just served as another reminder...

'No, Beck, don't go off on this again. Focus on what's in front of you.'

Shaking my head a bit, I went back to watching the sparring match in the small Water-type arena. Trying to take mental notes as I observed, I followed Bert as he weaved through his Floatzel opponent's legs, avoiding a Pursuit as he spun around, exhaling hard.

"Bad move. You could've used your tails there to swing at me," he said hurriedly before swinging a hard Aqua Tail into the Floatzel's knees, sending him falling to the ground. Before the Floatzel could get back to his feet, Bert swung at him again, stopping just short of his head. The two froze, waiting for a minute before Bert climbed off him, dusting himself off as the Floatzel got to his feet.

"I reckon you're too used to standing in one place and trying to use techniques. You've gotta learn to move more in battle. We'll be working on that next time, yeah?" he asked. The Floatzel gave a gruff grunt as he walked away, making sure to give me a suspicious look as he walked by. With that, I hopped off the short wall surrounding the arena and waddled over to Bert.

"Hey, kid. What's the matter?" he asked as I approached. I gave him a confused look.

"Wha?" I asked.

"I noticed you were lookin' a bit blue while I was sparring. Er, figuratively since, y'know. Seeing as I'm teaching you, I reckon you can talk to me about it. It's fine if you don't wanna," he said. I hesitated as he started washing away the debris around him. Bert was a nice Pokémon, but I wasn't about to tell him about my past. If what happened with Rye was any indication, I figured it wouldn't end well.

'Then again, I do need to talk to someone. Maybe just a few details; not the whole story? Alright, um... how do I say it again? Surely I've heard someone use a word I could use here...'

"...l-lahss," I managed out after a minute. Bert snapped his head up to look at me.

"Loss? Hm, did you lose something important?" he asked. I shook my head no.

"Did you lose someone?"

Biting my lip, I nodded, making sure to tap my head to try and indicate I didn't remember them. Thankfully, this was enough for Bert, who took a seat on the arena's siding.

"Yeah, I feel you. I knew this beautiful Dragonair back when I was fighting in the war. She and her family were here from down south to try and flee Tyranitar's rule, and we got to know each other real well," he reminisced. "I mean, I never had to see her die, but after I joined ol' Brine's cabal about twenty years back, she hopped a Lapras for the Sun Continent and I've never seen her since. I doubt she'll ever be coming back, so I just sorta... moved on, I guess. I tried to make myself a new life, make new friends, and tried to not dwell on her. Not sure how well you can do that living with fifty Wingulls, but eh, what're you gonna do."

He sat there for a while, staring at the floor as he reveled in the memories. Eventually, he smiled sadly to himself before standing.

"Alrighty, let's get to business, we don't have much light left. I think you'll be happy to hear we won't be going to my place again," he said. I cocked my head, intrigued.

"While I won't be able to train you to the fullest extent with your arm like that and since I don't have another gummi, I figured we could still somewhat work on techniques. You still remember Water Gun, right?" he asked.

"Yeh, sah," I said.

"Well, with a bit of practice, you can make it more than just... you know, that," he explained. To demonstrate, he closed his eyes to focus a bit, then shot off a Water Gun at the floor, though it didn't quite seem like the standard technique I'd come to know. Rather, it seemed more focused and high-pressure, and once he stopped, the stone had a sizable mark to show where it had been hit.

"You see this? With enough practice, even the biggest Grassie will be cowering in fear. What do you think?" Bert asked.

I grinned manically as the Wartortle looked back up at me.

'When do we begin?'
 
22 - Technical Difficulties New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
22 - Technical Difficulties

My grin plastered onto my face, I eagerly nodded, prompting Bert to shoot me a grin before stretching his neck. After a few cracks sounded, he tapped his front paws together, apparently trying to figure out how to explain the topic at hand.

"Hm, let's see here... okay, fire a Water Gun," he instructed. I obliged, shooting a jet of water into the air and getting a hum from Bert.

"You've gotten better at that, I've gotta say. Looks more well-rounded than the one you shot off at the river, good to see you've been improvin'. Now then, you clearly understand how your tide works, so I think you shouldn't have too much trouble here," he mused. As pride swelled within me, he continued.

"Now, then, have you been trying to experiment any with your tide?" Nodding, I grabbed my scalchop and waved it in the air as Bert watched, giving me a nod of his own.

"Razor Shell, I'm guessing? Not bad, not bad. Well, then, it looks like I won't have to explain too much about redirecting energy. So, uh, get another Water Gun ready. Don't fire it off quite yet," he instructed. Doing as he asked, I instinctively welled up some energy up through my chest.

"You got it? Alright, try to focus it into a point."

I tried to squeeze the energy in my throat, trying to mold it to as fine a point as I could. As I worked, however, I started to meet some resistance. Growling under my breath, I pushed harder.

'Wait, fu-'

Before I could stop myself, the energy discharged throughout my body, leaving a familiar intense burning in its place. My vision tinged with red, I tried to scream, only for a weak wheeze to escape my lips. I fell to the ground, unable to breathe as my neck throbbed with that red-hot pain. As I writhed on the ground, fearing I was about to black out, I felt something get hurriedly pushed into my mouth. Instinctively biting down on it, I felt whatever it was send juice dribbling down my throat, easing the pain and allowing me to gasp for air.

"...come on, kid, breathe!" I heard a faint voice yell. As my vision cleared and my breathing steadied, I found the taste of Oran in my mouth and Bert kneeling over me, panic clear on his face.

"...sh-sha," I croaked. Bert let out a loud sigh of relief, sitting down as I tested moving my arms.

"I'm sorry, kid, I... I shouldn't have pushed you. You obviously aren't quite ready for what I've got in mind, and I... ugh, discharging is never fun, lemme tell you," he said regretfully.

'Not ready? I... I can do it... just...'

I tried to peel myself off the ground, only for a shoot of pain to force me back down. Realizing my limits, I slumped back down in defeat as Bert kept watching me with shame in his face. Powerless to do anything else, I just stared up at the darkening sky above as I waited for the burning to subside.

'I can...'

-o-​

"Uh, Beck? Where you going?" Rye asked.

"Rivah," I said, not breaking my stride as he followed me out the door and into the rain outside. It had been a day since my disastrous training session with Bert, but I hadn't been able to take my mind off it. Even though I had tried to tune it out with trying to improve my speaking, the thought still weighed down on me. Water Gun was an okay move, but definitely not optimal in the long run, so I was determined to try to get the high-pressure variant Bert had shown me right. However, it seemed Rye had noticed my woes if the looks he'd been giving me during our speech session were anything to go off of.

I mean, I can't blame him. Seeing Bert haul me home in a big heap of sad isn't something I'd easily forget.

As I tromped along the muddy road in the direction of the training grounds, and by extension the river, Rye walked next to me, watching me concernedly.

"I know what happened with Mr. Bert isn't sitting well, but I, uh... this isn't... y-your arm's not healed, Beck. You'll hurt yourself," he warned.

"Rye, sheehh," I said, raising my paws reassuringly. Rye stared at me for a minute before sighing dejectedly and turning to go back to our quarters.

"Alright, I won't stop you. Go ahead and... y-yeah. If you need me, I'll be on a walk, I guess," he said as he headed back up the road. With that settled, I continued on my way. As you'd expect with a rainstorm, not many Pokémon were out and about, though almost all of the ones I did see were Water-types. Why this was wasn't lost on me, as the rain seemed to give me a small hit of energy with each drop. It felt good, rejuvenating me for the training to come.

...could I call that training? It seemed more like meditating in my mind, honestly.

Once I reached the river, I took a deep breath and jumped in, swimming down to the riverbed. Sitting against a decently-sized rock, I began to focus on the river currents around me, putting my mind at ease. With nothing distracting me but the pleasant underwater environment, I willed some energy up through my body, trying to focus it as Bert had instructed. I wasn't sure how long it'd take, but I knew I'd figure it out. I mean, just getting this into a point couldn't be that hard, right?

-o-​

"I really don't think I'll ever understand you. Why go out now?" the Treecko asked.

"Why not? It's rain, 'mon, it's, like, perfect weather for tag!" his friend responded. The Treecko gave a dubious look.

"Maybe if I were Water, yeah," he said. The Totodile rolled his eyes.

"Oh, come on, Rye, you're a Grassie! If anything, you shouldn't even be fazed by this!" he piped, swinging his arms up to grandiosely gesture towards the sky. The Treecko hesitated for a minute. Soon enough, he chuckled a bit and shrugged, stepping out into the rain.

"Alright, fine. You win. Don't say I didn't warn you, Dill," he said. The Totodile gave a victorious laugh as he started to flee, the Treecko tailing him and-

Rye blinked, snapping out of his stupor as he stood just beyond the Guild's gate, rain pouring down on him. Mud sloshing between his toes, he couldn't help but reminisce on simpler times. While yes, he had found a friend behind Beck's feral nature, he wasn't entirely sure how or if it would hold up.

'I mean, he's human. Who knows how they treated their friends. And, uh, if the stories about humans becoming Pokémon are true, then... I... I don't think I'm ready for that.'

His woes were not helped by Beck's insistence to better himself, should it be through training with Bert or whatever he was doing at the river as of now. Either way, it was beginning to worry the Treecko, as he had seen firsthand what happened when Beck decided he wanted to see something through. While Rye had talked with him about this briefly, he was unsure if this would continue or not. Only time would tell, he supposed.

Before he could ponder this further, out of the corner of his eye Rye noticed Cinccino leaning out of her kiosk to give a concerned glance.

"What's wrong? Are you alright?" she asked. Hurriedly nodding, Rye pulled his feet out of the mud and continued on his way, ignoring numerous whispers from the teams filing around him. As he turned the corner towards Impetus Town, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree, causing him to flinch violently and scramble for cover. As he did, though, his memories chose this moment to continue playing out.

"AIEEE!" Dill shrieked, clearing the twenty feet to a nearby abandoned hut in a matter of seconds. As Rye shook off the shock of the thunderclap, he found himself sporting a rather large smug smile as he caught up with his friend.

"What's wrong? This is perfect weather for tag, isn't it?" he asked, gesturing to the sky. The Totodile shrunk back, his eyes darting as he watched the dark clouds.

"Th-that was before the thunder started! Like, really, y-you can't expect me to not be nervous when lightning-" he stammered.

"Nervous? You jumped five feet into the air!" Rye said. Dill grew hot with embarrassment.

"I-I did not!" he retorted. As Rye smirked and opened his mouth to argue otherwise, he noted Dill's terror beginning to subside and a scheming glint appearing in his eyes as he watched rainwater leak in from the ceiling and soak into the earthen floor.

"Okay, here, I'll just..."

The Totodile scooped up a large glob of mud from the ground and rubbed it all over Rye's chest, immediately wiping the smirk off the Treecko's face. Choosing to ignore his loud protesting, Dill stuck a single mud-coated hand up and bowed his head.


"Oh, mighty Groudon, give us protection... or something!" he said in an exaggerated deep voice before looking back up to his unimpressed friend. "There, that probably counts as Ground-typing, now you're immune to the lightning!"

Rye responded with his own glob of mud to Dill's face. Waving his arms around blindly, Dill wasted no time in retaliating. The two spent a good while in this mud war, laughing as they tossed whatever they could scrape up at each other. Soon enough, the two Pokémon silently agreed on a ceasefire, looking over their filthy selves.


"Oh, mon, Ma's gonna kill me once she sees me like this," Dill said.

"Hey, don't worry, it's not like Sinni's gonna come out and-" Rye began.

Before he could finish, a shadow appeared over the hut's opening. Snapping his head up, Rye met eyes with exactly what he had feared: a Croconaw, her face morphing from suspicion to horror at the sight of the two. Dill stared up at Sinni for a second before immediately clambering out of the small building. Rye wasted no time in following as Sinni swiped to grab him and gave chase as the two filthy Pokémon scrambled away, laughing all the while as she roared in frustration.


"I swear, once I tell Ma, she's gonna-"

"Rye?! Rye!" a voice called out.

Gasping slightly as he was pulled out of the flashback, Rye looked around to find May running up to him, her eyes wide.

"What are you doing out here? Are you trying to get washed out?" she demanded. Still in mild delirium, Rye just stared back, his breath still shaky as he struggled to put together a response.

"I... j-y-you..." he began. May's face fell in recognition, and as Rye continued to gather his thoughts, she gently wrapped a leaf around his wrist and led him along. Soon enough, the two stumbled through the door of Team Apex's base, and as May shook the water out of her fur, a lone apprentice ran over to check up the two.

"Ma'am! You alright? What were you out there for?" the Ralts asked once she found the two were alright.

"It's nothing, I was just going out for Treecko here," she explained. Hearing this, Arden appeared over the balcony on the second floor, looking quite confused.

"Rye? It's pouring out there, what..." he began. May shot him a glare.

"He's having an episode. Lay off," she said. As Arden bit his tongue and shrunk back, May led Rye to a large fireplace, where they sat in silence as they dried off. Eventually, Rye, who had returned to coherence for the most part, turned to look at the Leafeon.

"I, uh... w-wasn't expecting you here," the Treecko said. May snorted to herself.

"Yeah, we took the day off," she said before turning her head towards the balcony and raising her voice. "Y'know, because a certain somebody couldn't be bothered to go out over a little rain!"

"Would you go outside if it were raining fire, May?" Arden's agitated voice yelled in response. As May rolled her eyes, she looked back to Rye, her gaze softening.

"What happened, Rye? You know it wasn't y-" she asked. Rye quickly interrupted.

"I know, I know! It's not that, it's just..." He shifted uncomfortably as he stared into the fire. Soon, though, he inhaled sharply.

"It's Beck, ma'am. He's... I'm worried about him. He's been acting weird," Rye said.

"How so?" May asked interestedly.

"Well, um... h-he's been charging into things without thinking them over, and, uh, something happened last night when he was training with Mr. Bert. He said Beck discharged through his neck while trying to use a technique or something," he explained. May nodded.

"Mmm. I've dealt with that before, just be glad he's Water-type. Arden's discharged more time than I can count, and Fire-types really don't discharge well. He says it's like getting burned alive from the inside. Just barely-" she explained before pausing. "Sorry, I'm rambling. Go on."

Rye sighed.

"H-he's just been focusing on that all day. He's at the river right now; I don't know what to do. Like, w-what if he stays like this? What if it gets worse and he gets someone hurt again?" he asked. May took a minute to consider this.

"...I'd just talk with him, you know? Start out nasty to take out his ego, then try to talk some sense into him," she reasoned. Rye flinched.

"W-what? W-what do you mean 'nasty?' I can't just..." he said. May sighed a bit.

"Trust me, kid, just speak your mind. It should do the trick," she reasoned.

"H-how do you know?" Rye asked.

"When your parents are thieves, you learn how to get what you want. I mean, I haven't seen those bastards in ten years, so I think it'll work out for you," May explained. "Besides, Ardie and ol' Fuss and Feathers don't tend to bother me, so I figure it'll work on Beck."

Rye took a minute to consider this.

"A-alright, I'll try if I get the chance, I guess..." he eventually said. The two watched the fire for a minute before May smiled humorously to herself.

"What?" Rye asked, noticing this.

"Nothing, just... it strikes me as funny that you're having this kind of trouble with a feral, of all things. I mean, a month ago, you'd have been worrying about one of them getting in here and stealing the food, and now here we are. Just... it's a little odd," she said. Rye paled a bit.

"Um... y-yeah, it is." he said.

"Actually, that reminds me," May said. "How's that chart we gave you? You know, the Unown-script?"

"W-we haven't really gotten the chance to sit down and really look it over. Why?" Rye asked. May's muzzle scrunched up a bit.

"Ardie's been a bit antsy about that for some reason. He says he's probably just overreacting, but he's been talking to himself a lot. I've heard a bit about Beck and how he's feral, but that's about it. You have any idea what might be up?" she asked.

"Er, no, ma'am," Rye said, fidgeting his fingers. He knew he had to move on to another topic quick before he accidentally revealed too much.

'Alright, just think, Rye. Uh... something like...'

"D-do you have anything I could eat?" he blurted out.

'Damn it, not like that!'

May blinked at this sudden turn, though after a bit, she nodded, hoisting herself up walking over to a small hole with a ladder sticking out.

"Ralts, could you get some jerky from down there real quick?" she called down into it. She was only met with shuffling and frustrated groans from the hole.

"I can't, Snom's trying to eat the gummis again!" Ralts' voice called up. May clenched her teeth.

"I swear with that kid, just because he's about to evolve doesn't mean..." she muttered under her breath as she jumped into the basement. As Rye watched on, loud yelps and sounds of struggle started sounding from the hole.

"Hold still, you little-"

"No! My foo-it gummy!"

"Augh! What'd I tell you about using Powder Snow?!"

Rye didn't lift a finger, though. This was but another day in the life for the common apprentice. He almost missed it sometimes, but in the end, he was glad to be free of the other apprentices' shenanigans.

All he hoped was that he wouldn't end up preferring those, too.

-o-​

'Come on, just work with me! Don't... agh! Stupid...!'

Frustrated, I put my paws on my head, allowing the energy I had summoned up to flow back into my core. I'd been at this for maybe twenty minutes now, but I hadn't made any progress in my efforts. Every time I'd tried to will this stuff into a focused point, I'd met resistance and had to try again. I knew not to push it past that point, but I was starting to consider it for lack of a better option.

As I calmed down, I tried again, preparing a Water Gun and trying to mold it as gently as I could.

'Alright, I've got a good feeling about this one. Just give it a good nudge or two, it's like willing a sand castle together with your mind. Easy... no, no, just... FFFF-'

I cursed loudly, releasing much of my air supply in the process. As I watched the bubbles rise, I let out a groan and started flapping my tail to get more air. As I breached the surface, I went to sit by the riverbank to rest from my training. Rain still falling around me, I took the moment to just sit there. I clearly wasn't making much progress here, maybe I should just throw in the towel?

...no, that couldn't be the case. Maybe I just needed to loosen up more? Maybe another twenty minutes in the drink would help?

I turned to face the river, taking a breath to jump in. I hesitated, though, as a seed of doubt began to whisper in my mind. I knew deep down that this was pointless, but surely...

"Shaaagh!" I yelled, stamping my foot in frustration. After a minute, I hung my head and started on the path back to the Guild proper. I knew I wasn't reasonably going to make my Water Gun any better anytime soon at this rate, but I had already spent this time working on it. Maybe I'd just try tomorrow?

'Ugh, just take the L, Beck. Just try again in a week or two once your arm heals and you get better, I guess.'

I tried to reassure myself of this as I walked along, keeping this up even as I plopped down in my bed, dripping wet and shivering slightly. Seeing as Rye hadn't come back, I resigned myself to staring at the ceiling.

'Yeah, just... what am I doing wrong? Am I just not good enough, or...? Ugh, who knows.'

-o-​

The rain was beginning to let up as Rye stepped outside, his belly full and his mood slightly improved. May quickly followed, watching as he stepped out onto the muddy road.

"You sure you're gonna be alright?" she asked.

"Y-yes, ma'am. I think I can manage, but... er, what exactly do I do once I see Beck?" Rye questioned.

"Like I said, be nasty and-" May began.

"I know, I know, b-but what if he keeps it up and gets us into trouble? Last time it happened it didn't go too well, and, er, I don't really know any ranged moves if it comes down to it," Rye said.

"Hm... have you learned your egg move yet?" May asked, sitting down next to the Treecko.

"No, ma'am, I don't think I have one," Rye said. May gave him a dubious look, but chose not to pursue the topic as he continued.

"W-what I really wanna know is how to help him out for the time being. Mr. Bert said he was trying to focus a Water Gun, how do you avoid discharging when you're doing that?" he asked. The Leafeon pondered a bit before turning her head back to the team base.

"Oi! Arden!" she called. The Quilava in question leaned out the second-story window, raising an eyebrow.

"What do you do to not discharge when you try and customize a technique?" May asked. Arden flinched slightly, though thought about it for a bit.

"...I'm not sure how Grass cores works, Rye, but if you're trying to shape it into something it won't naturally try to do, I'd just keep in mind that you aren't entirely dominant over it. Your core is a powerful thing, it's arguably what makes you a Pokémon. You have to coexist with it, you know? Try to guide it instead of command it," he explained. Content with this, May nodded.

"Yeah, sounds about right. Take it from the guy who almost died trying to make fire swords," May said. As Arden's curses over this remark were drowned out by the flames bursting from his back, she gave Rye a smile.

"Just keep what I said in mind, yeah? Stay safe," she said before heading back inside. With that, Rye started on his way back home, his head held high all the way to the team quarters. As he entered, Beck sat up with a start, his glum expression faltering slightly as he saw him.

"Rye..." he started.

"I think I know how to help you out, Beck," Rye said, a smile on his face.

-o-​

'Guide it, not command it? What does that even mean?'

I wasn't quite sure what Rye was on about, but as I stood in the street outside of our base with him watching, I figured I might as well give it a try. I mean, I was happy for any option presented at this point, so why not?

Trying to keep Rye's advice in mind and letting the thin drizzle the rainstorm had become blow over me, I brought some energy up as per usual, trying to not 'command' it. Naturally, I ended up with that all-too-familiar feeling of resistance, so I tried again.

'How do I 'guide' this?'

Taking a moment to consider, I closed my eyes to try a more diplomatic approach, attempting to imagine how I wanted the energy to manifest as it flowed. I tried to imagine my tide as not just a part of my body, but something equal to me, something fighting as one alongside me. It could end me and I could end it; it was the brawn and I was the brain. Working in unison with it, I could-

I snapped open my eyes, not feeling any resistance for once. Rather, the draw of Water-energy had settled within my throat, focused to a point and ready to fire.

'Wait. What? Alright, something's gonna happen and mess it all up, right?'

Silently praying, I released it. A thin jet of water shot out of my mouth, sending me stumbling back a few inches and leaving a small but deep indentation in the mud. I stared at it in disbelief until I felt something clap me on the back.

"You did it!" Rye exclaimed, beaming as I continued to gape.

As the realization that I'd succeeded finally clicked, this quickly turned into a massive grin, which gave way to loud, victorious cackling as I pumped my paws into the air. We stayed there for a while, hooting and hollering to whoever was in earshot. As we celebrated, I couldn't help but feel optimistic looking forwards. I mean, as long as I kept things good with Rye, then...

I cracked another wide grin.

'Things are looking up, I'd say.'

-o-​

"Sire, this is Xatu. Can you hear me?"

As a soft wind whistled over the barren plateau atop the Phoenix League's underground headquarters, Xatu sent a focused and powerful wave of telepathy. He waited patiently for a minute, and when he received no affirmative, he tried again.

"This is Xatu. Subject Blue has been identified as an Oshawott working within the Adventurers' Societies. Awaiting further instruction. Do you read me, sire?" he said, sending off the message with another telepathic wave. Still no reply. Clicking his beak in frustration, Xatu turned to return inside, where one of his fellow executives was waiting.

"Well?" the Archeops asked.

"No response. The leader is still busy, it seems," Xatu said flatly. Archeops ruffled his feathers.

"Why do we even need his permission? He'd approve anyways, surely he wouldn't mind if we went ahead and started the-"

He grunted as his beak was psychically clenched shut. Xatu, barely skipping a beat, sent a harsh glare his way.

"Operation Kindle cannot be started as such. You know what is at stake here, Archeops. We have waited for this for twenty-five years, surely another week or so is not an issue?" he said icily. Archeops let out a series of muffled noises, prompting no discernible reaction from Xatu but causing him to release his beak. As Archeops gasped and put a hand to make sure nothing was damaged, Xatu turned to look over the hall.

"The leader will be most displeased to hear of this. If the world is to be started anew, we cannot have such disregard towards his authority going around and-"

Xatu suddenly stopped. As his crests rose, Archeops cocked his head.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"...there is a presence among us. They listen," Xatu whispered urgently. Archeops, realizing what was about to happen, backed away and watched as Xatu turned his head to stare at a seemingly empty section of wall. With a powerful jerk of his head, the atmosphere of the room shifted dramatically, causing Archeops to suddenly feel as if something was wrestling for control over the room. A deep, urgent feeling of unease welled up in the executive as he stumbled back from the still Xatu. Just as he couldn't bear it anymore, the presence suddenly disappeared. Feeling this, Xatu straightened and turned to face him.

"You are to inform Executive Claydol of this immediately. Such a breach in our psychic protection cannot be overseen," he commanded. Archeops hurriedly nodded and flew into the main hall, quickly disappearing behind a corner.

Now alone, Xatu turned to stare out the entrance and into the sky, emotionlessly pondering what this could mean. How much had it heard this time? How much did it already know? Was it in contact with the human?

Such questions incited a blink from Xatu as he turned to head into the hall, quietly muttering a defiant message to the intruder, assuming it could still hear him.

"You will not stand in the way of what is to come. You are still weak from the Ruin, and your power here is meager at best. Do not think this changes anything; despite the difficulty you have brought upon us, you cannot hide what is happening from your human forever."
 
23 - An Educational Evening New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
23 - An Educational Evening

"Seh! Sehr!" I called, bounding towards the river. As usual, the sun was just starting to dip down, casting an ever-dimming gold light on the area as I ran through the training grounds. Waving my good arm eagerly, I pushed past a pair of departing Pokémon to find Bert in the small Water-type arena, facing the river and preparing to dive in.

"Shah!" I called. Bert flinched, nearly falling into the river as he staggered in place. Once he regained his balance, he turned to face me, surprise clear on his face.

"Kid, hey... uh, I was just about to head on home, didn't think you were comin' after... uh, last night," he said, dropping his gaze shamefully. "Er, what brings you here?"

Giving a knowing smile, I started to concentrate within myself, letting the familiar sensation of energy in my gut flow up. Trying my hardest to repeat my success from earlier, I once more tried to imagine myself in equal union with my tide rather than above it, setting a course for the wave accordingly. Much to my relief, it complied to what I wanted, so I shot at the floor. The shallow mark it left was all it took to gobsmack Bert, though his astonishment quickly gave way to a dry but hearty laugh from the Wartortle.

"Well, I'll be damned! How'd you manage to figure it out? Took me weeks to get past discharge my first time!" he piped.

"Eh, Rye," I said. Bert cocked his head.

"Ain't he a Grass-type...? Ah, what in distortion. I'm proud of you, kid. From here, you should be able to branch off and get more techniques down. I, uh, managed to figure out Hydro Pump and Water Pulse by getting this down early on, and with enough practice with what I learned from it, I managed to make substitutes for Surf and Aqua Jet. I think you'll be able to get those down without too much issue; just bear with me from here, alright?" he requested.

'...Water Pulse, Surf, and Aqua Jet? Wow, that's... wait, I thought Pokémon could only know four moves at a time? I, uh... was that just a misconception or have things just really changed that much?'

Seeming to interpret my thoughtfulness as wonder, Bert continued.

"Er, what do you reckon we take tonight off so you can rest?" Bert offered. My grin faltered a bit.

"W-wha? Nah," I quickly declined. I had already come all the way out here, leaving without learning something just seemed... wrong to me. Bert raised an eyebrow, which looked rather strange from a Pokémon without any hair to speak of.

"No, kid, I insist. You've earned it," he said. I shook my head, prompting him to pause and think.

"Hm... I don't have anything planned, so... eh, what if we just sat down and talked?" he said as he took a seat at the arena's side, offering me a seat beside him. Figuring I wouldn't be able to sway him, I accepted and joined him as he ran his paw through his fluffy tail, sharing in an awkward silence between us. Soon enough, he looked up at me.

"I've, eh, been meaning to ask you about this. I know you're an impressed feral and all, but there's been something nagging at me. Like, you're smarter than most of them, I get it, but... um, from what I've heard, most of them shouldn't pick up this quickly on... y'know, speech, techniques, so on. Actually, it's a miracle you can even understand me, so I've been told," he said. "So... is there, like, some kinda weird plant you ate where you came from that made you like this? Were your parents like you and just passed it on?"

As I warily shrugged, Bert paused his tail-fidgeting, narrowing his eyes as something apparently clicked in his mind. After a minute, he snorted to himself and muttered something under his breath.

"Wha?" I asked.

"Eh, it's just some stupid idea I had about how you got like this," he said, prompting me to lean forward. Noticing my interest, he lightly bit his lip. "Uh... you've heard of humans by now, right?" he asked.

'...I don't like where this is going.'

Discreetly gulping, I nodded, prompting him to continue.

"How about the stories of Pokémon that used to be human?" he asked.

'Nononono, don't say it, please don't... wait, what? There's... more?'

I shook my head.

"Hm, well... uh, the stories say that sometimes when things start going bad, a Pokémon'll turn up claiming to have been a human. Like, er, let's say a Legend's gone out of commission or some disaster starts affecting things globally. A Legend would throw a human in as a Pokémon and send them to stop it, you know, sort everything out. Uh, apparently a good few of the greats of history were part of this: you know, Grandmaster Louie, Lee the Lightbringer, Sai of Nibira City, those kinds of Pokémon. Personally, I think it's a bunch of shit, but... uh, just now the idea that you were one came up. You know, thought it might explain how you're this intelligent, how they found you in that dungeon, and... er..." he said, trying harder and harder to suppress a smile as he spoke. He paused for a moment before bursting into laughter.

"I'm sorry, j-just... me mentoring that kinda Pokémon, just... hah, wow! Pretentious, am I right? Honestly, my ego...!"

As Bert rocked back on his shell wheezing, I allowed this information to sink in.

'There's... others like me...'

A minute passed before Bert regained his composure, by which point I had decided that maybe skipping out was a good idea after all. I didn't want to stick around and accidentally validate his theory, so I quickly bade him well and turned tail to head back, soon meeting Rye back at the grounds' entrance.

"You're back a little late, uh, what was up?" he asked, getting to his feet to start back up the road. I tried to answer, though I found myself not quite sure how to communicate my question. I mean, it seemed straightforward on paper: are there other Pokémon that were human? Then again, there was a good bit more I wanted to know about this. You know, who they are, where they are, what they did, whether I could meet them or not, so on. Only while we were settling down for dinner did I decide to give it a shot.

"Rye?" I asked. The Treecko looked up from his bowl of Fletchinder soup.

"Hm?" he asked, his mouth full.

"Uh... m-ma... hoo-mens?" I whispered, gesturing to myself. When I was met with confusion from Rye, I dipped my paw into my bowl of soup (wasn't gonna eat it, anyways) and drew a small row of stick figures, an arrow pointing between one of them and myself. As I started to add on to the other figures, Rye seemed to recognize what I was going for.

"Uh... other humans like you? Is that what you're asking about?" he whispered. I nodded, prompting Rye to look around warily before continuing.

"I, uh, didn't think you wouldn't know about them... uh, yeah, there have been others," he said. When I kept waiting, he shifted and continued.

"Um... the only way I really know how to explain it is how Mom used to tell it..." he said, his face becoming tinted with red as he hesitated. Eventually he looked over his shoulder to check if anyone was watching. "Let me see if I can remember... uh, as the world fell into chaos and humans fled the... their homelands from what they saw as the end times, the desperate Legends began to scour their realms for something to save their dying world. Soon enough, they looked to the p-place between worlds, where they took a human soul and sent it to... uh, awaken in Pokémon flesh. Throughout the thousand years following, six humans rose to save this world from chaos... and... I'm sorry, I can't... uh, a-and guide it to a brighter future. Uh, it's been a thou- er, hundred years since the Haxorus Kiba fell in battle and left the world without a human to guide it, and we... watch still for..."

Rye stopped to shake his head, his face burning with embarrassment but a small smile on it nevertheless.

"Sorry, just... th-that's how she told it, honest!" he said, a laugh breaking through his words. We shared a laugh as he hung his head, casting another quick glance around. After a bit, he stood from his seat.

"I think I've had my fill, you wanna head back?" he asked. I quickly agreed, so we quickly got in line to turn in our bowls. With nothing much else to do, I let myself space out and think.

'So there've been six like me before, and all of them ended up saving the world. So if that's the case...

just what have I gotten caught up in?'

-o-​

"Alright, Quilava, 'ere's your Fletchinder breast. Tell your little demons to eat it all tonight; once the Fire energy seeps out, it tastes like crap, lemme tell you," Raticate said, holding out a small sack. Gratefully accepting it, Arden gestured to his waiting teammates to follow. Clutching the sack in his mouth and hoisting it over his shoulder, he dropped to all fours and led May and Pike out the door, stopping to shudder as the humid evening air hit him.

"I'd really like to talk to whoever came up with air humidity and ask them what the fuck they were thinking," he said as May rolled her eyes.

"If you want to wait it out, by all means, go ahead. We can stay away and let the kids raid the basement again," she said. Arden sighed, unwilling to argue with the Leafeon, and started out into the night. As he did, a sudden quiet squawk came from Pike, which was quickly followed by a couple of Pokémon shuffling past. A quick look up revealed them to be Rye and Beck, the latter of which seemed to have been in deep thought, though he now looked back towards the trio.

"Sah-reh," he said apologetically as Rye gave a nod of greeting to May. As the two quickly walked off, Pike growled to himself.

"I swear with that damn thing..." he grumbled as they started towards the Guild's entrance. May gave a sarcastic dry laugh.

"There he goes, just when we were about to be home free of this for the whole day! You owe me 100 Poké, Arden!" she said. Arden didn't interject as usual, only watching as the two waddled around a corner. In the meantime, Pike clicked his beak.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, look at me being worried. Just... it's too good to be true. A feral that knows to not rip ya throat out? Bouffalant shit, something's gonna turn up, I promise," he said.

"Come on, Pike. He saved our asses back on the Serperior. Besides, if Rye hasn't, y'know, died yet, then-" May started.

"Oh, we woulda survived that! We've been through worse!" Pike rebutted. As May opened her mouth to respond, she stopped walking, noticing Arden's silence and his mouth now moving quietly. Giving a quiet sigh, she turned to face a confused Pike.

"Could you take the food to the apprentices, Pike? Arden and I have to talk," she said. The Swellow's face scrunched up, though he soon nodded.

"If ya say so," he said, taking the sack from Arden and clutching it in his talons. As he prepared to fly off, he shot his two teammates a sly smirk.

"If this is some kinda confession, then-" he began.

"Pike," May warned. With a chuckle, Pike spread his wings and flew off towards the team base. With him gone, Arden and May continued along the path.

"Look, May, I told you, it's nothing," Arden said flatly.

"Ardie, come on, if it's nothing, you wouldn't be worrying about it," May responded.

"Worrying? I'm not-"

"You're talking to yourself. I mean, they just asked about Unown-script, right? Why're you so worked up about this?"

As they turned onto the road to their base, Arden hesitated as he scoured his mind for something to say.

It seemed Arcanine's concerns were contagious, as Arden now couldn't help but worry that he was right in his theory of Beck's true nature. The circumstances of his discovery, his general intelligence for a feral, the team's sudden interest in human writing... it seemed too much of a coincidence. Then again, he was most likely just jumping to conclusions. After all, most of the time coincidences were coincidences, nothing more to them. For now, he figured he would just try to stave off May's concerns so he could put this behind him.

"...I don't know, I... I guess it's just we taught Rye too well, y'know? He's already moving on to deciphering human script; he'll be on our level before we can do anything to slow him down. I mean, I don't know, that's my guess," he lied.

May shot him a look in response, clearly not buying this excuse. Seeing this, Arden gritted his teeth, knowing full well the implications of the Look. Before he could defend his case, they stopped at the team base's door, where Pike was waiting with an envelope in his talons and mindful of the dozen apprentices behind him cheering and tearing at the hunks of meat the three had brought home.

"Arden. Ralts was diggin' through the mail pile and found a letter for ya," he said, plopping it into Arden's paws. Happy for an excuse to escape the conversation, he tore it open and squinted at the letter within, soon giving an audible groan.

"It's a summons from Audino," he said. "Says the team leader's gotta go, so whoop-de-fuckin-doo, I guess."

As he heel-turned to return to the Guild proper, Pike gave May a nudge.

"Well, May, he's cheatin' on ya with Audino. Ain't that something?" he asked just loud enough for Arden to hear.

"Pike, I swear by Xerneas...!" the agitated Quilava yelled back.

-o-​

As Rye tucked our bag away, I sat on my bed, idly rubbing my scalchop as I stared off, unsure of what really to do now. In the past few days, I had been given a fair bit of insight of this world I now lived in, and to be frank, I was just left with more questions than I had before. I mean, I was still working on accepting the idea that my family was long dead and that I was living in the ruins of my old homeland, and suddenly I was being told that I was probably tied up in something that meant the end of the world (er, again, I guess) if I failed?

I mean, that voice did imply that I was here to do something big, but... wow.

'Thanks for keeping everything so vague, Mr. Voice, sir. Real glad you withheld all this from me.'

As I stuck my scalchop back on my chest and started idly pacing the floor, Rye cleared his throat.

"Hey, uh, unless you want to practice that new move tomorrow, we could start looking over that Unown chart Ms. May gave us. You know, try to use it to teach you how to actually write. What do you think?" he asked. Snapping out of my anxious state for a minute, I turned to look at him. After a moment of consideration, I answered.

"Yeah," I said. Content with this, Rye resigned himself to sitting by the window, alternating his gaze between the cloudy sky and Mizu's Iron Thorn on display. Returning to my pacing, I stared at the floor, still ridden with stress over what I now knew.

'Nothing's come up, maybe I'm just unique? Maybe I was just sent here on accident? That'd explain the whole feral thing, I guess. But... just... agh! Mr. Voice, just talk to me! Tell me... I don't know, what I'm here for! Maybe what I'm supposed to be fighting against? Damn it, even just why I was thrown here like this! Anything!'

My silent pleas were only met with silence.

'...please...'

-o-​

As the last of the day's visitors ambled out the waiting room's door, Audino gave a smile, turning to retreat into her room up the ladder in the lobby. Closing the door behind her, she plopped down on her bed. Being the head nurse for a Guild of over two hundred Pokémon was no easy feat, she could say that for certain, though she kept to it nevertheless. After all, in the event that the meager pay and beaming smiles weren't enough, then she at least had other methods of dealing with the job.

Pulling an exquisitely-crafted glass bottle filled with liquid out from under her cot, she popped the cork out and poured herself a glass. The distinctive smell of fermented Razz juice met her nostrils as she put the bottle back away As she made to sip from the glass, a sharp rapping sounded from downstairs. Sighing, she put the glass aside and peeked out the door into the lobby below, where...

Audino gave a light groan.

"Good evening, Arden," she said, disgruntlement seeping through her usual cheerful voice. Arden had been in and out of this infirmary countless times throughout fifteen out of the twenty years Audino had been in this position, and she had learned to expect the worst when dealing with Team Apex. She never thought she would have to memorize the specific anatomy of Leafeons and the Cyndaquil line, but alas, they found ways time and time again for her to refer back to those charts. Pushing back the unpleasant memory of having to quite literally push the young Cyndaquil's guts back into place, she climbed down to meet Arden.

"You said you wanted me?" Arden asked. Remembering the summons she had sent out, Audino nodded.

"I thought I sent that out when you returned from Bewilder Forest? Five days ago, if I recall?" she asked.

"Probably got lost in all the other mail. You know how it is with elite teams," Arden said, beginning to sniff the air. Audino nodded and went behind her desk, opening a drawer and pulling a solitary file out.

"Seeing as you were responsible for him at the time, I'll be giving you Beck's medical file from his stay here," she said as she walked up to Arden, who was now looking up the ladder to her room, still sniffing loudly.

"Is that booze I smell or-" he started. Audino quickly shoved the file into his paws, forcing a smile as she lightly cleared her throat. Giving her a wary glance, Arden opened the file and began to read over it, muttering as he read aloud.

"Alright, blah blah, payment will be calculated from resources spent. Stay was a week, diagnosis was poisoning, trauma to the chest and head, traces of water in lungs, and..."

He squinted.

"Split mind? What does it mean 'split mind?'" he asked, confused. Audino nodded sadly.

"Beck did appear to be suffering from a rather severe case. He exhibited evidence of delusions while he was under my care, though that could have been attributed to the poisoning," she explained. Arden looked up, his confusion now morphing into uncertainty.

"D-delusions? Did you ask him about them?" he asked. Audino sighed.

"I have seen many split-minds like him, the best thing to do is not encourage it by asking about it. I tried to ask Rye about it a few days on once the poisoning would have lost its grip on his mind, though-" she tried to explain.

Arden raised a paw to cut her off.

"What kind of delusions, Audino?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, what?" she asked, confused.

"What kind of delusions?" he replied urgently, giving her a wide-eyed stare filled with untold dread.

Audino pursed her lips.
 
24 - Out and About New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
24 - Out and About

"Fascinating..." Arcanine whispered, staring thoughtfully at the yellowed pages before him.

As lantern-light from the ceiling shone off the hundreds of trinkets along the walls of his office, the Guildmaster delicately closed the fragile book and nudged it back into the safe from where it had come, nodding respectfully as he closed the container. Glancing up from his small study area, he considered what he had just read: a classical Galarian play, perhaps 17th-century in the human calendar if the faded and somewhat tattered opening pages were to be believed, detailing a young human prince and his Litleo seeking revenge against his uncle, who had killed the prince's father for the throne. Alas, he could not determine how the tale ended, as a decent portion of the work's fifth act was missing or indecipherable when Team Apex had found the safe. Disappointing, yes, but this left just that little more incentive to explore the world left behind, he supposed. Perhaps with enough digging, the account of that fencing match could be found...

Adding yet another entry to his list of items yet to be added to his collection, Arcanine got to his paws and started for his living quarters. One of his assistants would arrive with his dinner shortly, so he decided that it would be best to wind down from his research for a while before they arrived. As he considered curling up by his brazer, he paused to glance at the human skeleton hanging from its stand by his quarters' entrance. Bleached from years of sitting in the sun, it persistently cast a ghastly grin at him as it seemingly judged him with its empty eye sockets. Arcanine had long since grown used to this, as was evident by a small humored smirk appearing on his muzzle. There was a scene in the work he had just read involving a human skull, he recalled. He couldn't resist.

Casting a quick look at the entrance hall to check if it was still empty, he stared into the skeleton's eyes, his face becoming etched with mock sullenness.

"Alas... poor Yorick," he recited softly, looking over to an imaginary partner. "I knew him, Klu-"

"SIR!" a voice yelled from the entrance.

Arcanine jumped and stumbled back as he whipped his head around to meet the source of the voice: Arden sprinting into his office, his eyes wide and flames periodically spurting from his back. As the Quilava tried to slow himself down, he slipped on the polished wooden floor and ran headlong into one of the columns of artifacts along the walls. The pile wobbled haphazardly before the top of it gave way, spilling several of its priceless contents onto the floor with a crash. Arcanine glared at him as he sat up, looking around himself in a daze.

"I, uh... s-sorry, sir," he muttered.

"You had best have a good reason for this, Arden," Arcanine said coldly as he walked over to begin the cleanup. Getting to his back paws, Arden handed him a rusted, long-deactivated Pokéball, joining in picking the mess off the floor. As Arden hastily looked over some yellowed plastic machine for damage, Arcanine looked up at him, his annoyance still clear.

"Why come to my office unannounced in such a hurry? And at such an hour?" he asked as he picked another old Pokéball off the floor. Arden clenched his teeth as he balanced the lightly dented machine onto the top of the stack.

"It's... it's the Oshawott, Guildmaster," he said. Arcanine's expression quickly shifted as he paused, choosing to drop the Pokéball from his jaws.

"Go on," he said.

"I talked with Audino about his stay, and the medical report said he..."

Arden stopped as if still trying to fully process what he had heard.

"...it said he believed he was human," he said, pausing to think for a bit. "Erm, besides that, there was what you noticed before and, uh, they asked us about human writing at one point. They're too early on to really worry about that, it... sir?"

Arden looked up to his Guildmaster, who had sat down in place and begun staring at the floor, now ignorant of the items strewn about on it. As the Quilava watched, Arcanine's face shifted from muted shock to uncertainty to something between fear and wonder in the matter of a few seconds, soon releasing a dry, humorless chuckle as he nodded to himself. With this, he turned to address Arden.

"Dark times lie ahead, Arden, for both Beck and the world. Your help has ensured that this Guild can now brace itself for these times, whatever they may be, though I ask that you remain wary. The last thing I want is for you or any of your fellow explorers to become casualties in whatever is coming. However, I still ask that no one hear of this. A mass panic would not aid in this scenario. Do you understand, Arden?" he asked. Arden shakily nodded, prompting a grateful but pained smile from the golden dog.

"Thank you. You are dismissed," he said. Arden looked at the mess still on the floor.

"I, uh-" he began.

"You are dismissed," Arcanine insisted, narrowing his eyes. Gulping hard, Arden nodded.

"F-forever forward," he managed before slowly leaving Arcanine to ponder among his strewn-about treasures. Climbing up the ladder out of the dug-out cavern, Arden started back towards his team base, staring off as he did so.

"Humans are only known to awaken in times of great peril for this world..."

"Dark times lie ahead..."

"Arden?! Arden, can you hear me?!"

Arden shuddered as he was struck with the memory, stopping his slow stride to let it wash over him. As he listened, May's panicked voice screamed for him over the roar of some collapsing city square, the trampling of troops charging out of their cover to face their foe, and dying yells all around him as he reached for the Eevee through the chaos...

Flash. The wounded, terrified Guildmaster Walrein sending his dying gaze towards the horizon as his Guild burned around him, his surviving apprentices trying futilely to save him.

Flash. The bloodcurdling battle cry of Tyranitar's armies charging forth to subjugate some poor town, the meager local Resistance forces standing their ground to defend against them.

Flash. The cold, soulless stare of Kyurem's yellow eyes into his very soul as freezing gusts blew around him, May at his side bracing for what they half-believed would be their final fight together.

Flash. A figure desperately pulling at his arm, trying to free him from whatever was holding him in place as screams and howling wind rang around him, rubble littering the cracked road he was sprawled upon.



'That damn dream.'

His memories of disaster and suffering past mounting on him, he crumpled to the ground, now uncaring of the mud caking the road. Having helped win the war against Tyranitar, Arden knew full well what the world could throw at some-mon like him, but... what was it about to throw at Beck, then?

As the Quilava trembled lightly, he could only think of a single word to escape his lips.

"Fuck."

-o-​

My name is Beck.

Sitting across from me, Rye squinted at the page full of the repeated phrase I had scrawled in footprint characters, a quizzical look on his face. With the help of the chart we had been given, I'd spent the last half-hour trying to translating the aforementioned phrase into the language Rye called Gray-tongue. Unfortunately for me, it seemed that Unovan didn't translate as elegantly as I had hoped.

"Uh... mine name are creek? I... okay. You used the wrong symbol for 'my.' It should be the two-toed Flyer footprint, not three-toed. And, uh, that's the plural for 'is,' you should just write the outline instead of filling it out," he explained. Looking down at the chart in paw and the hundreds of strange characters and words it displayed, I pouted. I had done what it said, right?

"Wha...?" I asked quietly as Rye kept reading the botched line confusedly.

"Alright, um, creek. What is... oh, you tried to write Beck here, didn't you? Y-you write your kind's name instead of your personal name," he said as he turned the page and took my pen. "For me, I'd write 'my name is Treecko,' right? So I'd write my footprint here to show that."

My confusion over this alien language only grew as Rye scribbled down what seemed to be the grammatically correct phrase, only with a typical Treecko footprint at the end rather than my name. If I was having this much trouble just writing an introduction, then I honestly wasn't very excited for what laid ahead. Besides, I wasn't even sure I'd remember all this by the end of the day. As if knowing this, Rye handed the pen back to me.

"Alright, j-just write another page of it, I guess. If it isn't in your head by then, write another page," he instructed. I slumped back in place, letting out a groan.

'How does whatever sent me expect me to do anything significant if I can't even wrap my head around writing my name?'

I still hadn't quite managed to fully comprehend what I had learned last night. I mean, things had been pretty straightforward the past few days, save for the Voice, the thieves and... uh, whatever Xatu was; nothing so far had really indicated that I was caught up in some kind of world-ending event. Having that suddenly told to me when I was just accepting that I was living in the ruins of my old homeland... well, yeah.

"Wh-what's wrong? Is it too hard for you? Uh, you don't have to if it's that bad," Rye said. I looked up to meet his gaze. I knew I had to talk to someone about it, but I couldn't talk worth a damn. If only...

'Wait. I'm holding a pen. I can just...'

Trying to focus and form my incoherent inner monologue into words, I started scrawling down a brief message in Unovan, praying I wouldn't butcher what I wanted to say. After several minutes of hard concentration and staving off Rye's steadily growing concern, I stopped to look over what I had written. It was sloppy, sure, but I could gather some meaning from it.

Can't be a hero. Not good enough.

Satisfied with this, I handed it to Rye, who quickly understood what I was trying to do and took to the chart. A couple minutes of translation passed before he mouthed 'not good enough' to himself and stopped to consider.

"Beck, you... i-it's okay if you aren't satisfied with yourself. I... uh, I talked with Ms. May and Shroomish about this and they told me to be mean about this, but... agh... remember what I told you back in Arid Riverbed? All I want is for you to, uh, try not to charge into things, a-and don't worry if you can't. Promise me you'll work on that?" he asked.

I blinked as I recalled our confrontation in the dungeon.

'...I promised. I... damn it...'

As I hung my head in shame, Rye crawled over to put a hand on my shoulder.

"Hey, don't worry, I-I'm sure you can do it..." he said, sounding a bit unsure of himself but still hopeful. "So, uh, the whole hero thing... m-maybe you aren't really supposed to save the world? Like, nothing's really happened, right? Maybe things are changing! I mean, there's a few Pokémon like Mr. Arden and Ms. May who weren't human and saved the world, so... y-you know?"

I looked up at the Treecko, considering his words. Soon enough, I gave a nod, cracking a small smile. As I looked back down to the paper in front of me, I instinctively grabbed for the pen on the floor with my broken arm. Meeting only minor pain, I found myself testing the arm instead of doing the assignment, my smile only growing as I did so. I knew full well what this meant: It was only a couple more days before I would have to stop relaxing and return to spelunking through dangerous supernatural areas that posed a very serious risk of killing me horribly.

I could hardly wait.

-o-​

The sun slowly sinking out of sight through the window, I tried to stay composed as Ms. Audino at last unwrapped the cast from my arm. Three days had passed since that first writing lesson, and it seemed I didn't have to wear that damn thing anymore. I mean, sure, having a broken bone did mean ample time for tackling new words, writing, and non-physical moves, but I was just happy to be back in commission.

I didn't quite take into account the stench that came with peeling the thing off, though. If I recalled correctly, it was bad enough with human skin, but with fur... ugh. Scrunching my nostrils closed, I experimentally picked up Ms. Audino's nearby clipboard before she took it from my paw and scribbled down something.

"You should be able to safely return to work, though I advise a berry or two every day to get it fully healed," she said.

"Sh... shan kyeh," I said earnestly. Ignoring Rye's bemused look at this particular butchering, Ms. Audino gave me a happy nod before grabbing a rag to wipe the ick off.

"Say, Beck, did you tell anyone in Team Apex anything... er, personal recently?" she asked as she started gently scrubbing through the lightly yellowed fur.

"Wha?" I asked. Ms. Audino raised an eyebrow.

"Arden came a few days back to pay for your stay here. Once he read your diagnosis, he ran off like he had just seen a ghost. Do you have any idea why that might have been?" she asked.

Shooting Rye an unsure look, I shook my head, prompting Ms. Audino to hum and continue her cleaning in silence. Upon her finishing, she sent us on our way, sending me a look tinted with suspicion as we left. As we started back, I gave my arm a few pokes to ensure it wasn't about to betray me again, looking up at Rye once I was sure it was fine.

"Wha nah?" I asked.

"Huh? Oh, uh, I-I'm not sure, it's way too late for any jobs. I think some of the others like gathering at the amphitheater this time of day, maybe we could see what they're up to?" he suggested. Indeed, there did seem to be raucous singing coming from up the road, so I supposed it wouldn't hurt to at least check it out.

As we approached, we found at least a dozen Pokémon sitting at the bottom seats, some holding instruments and playing a hearty tune. As we watched, a Gliscor noticed us and waved us down, a grin on his face.

"Hey, isn't that the Gliscor from the training grounds?" Rye whispered. As I shrugged, Gliscor insistently kept gesturing to us, catching the attention of a few of the other Pokémon in attendance. Their gazes now on us, I swallowed and led Rye down into the amphitheater, inciting a small cheer from the Pokémon as we took a seat. I idly bobbed my head to the music for a minute before the song finished and Gliscor took a stringed instrument from one of the others, offering it to Rye.

"Here, Treecko, you play something!" he said. Rye hurriedly shook his head.

"I, uh, don't know any songs," he said.

"Huh. Well, then, Gumshoos, you want-" Gliscor began.

"Hey, hey, wait!" a voice called from the other side of the ring. I looked over to the source of the interjection, only to find... ugh, a Weavile and a Persian.

"Agh..." I quietly groaned as Mustie leaned forward to address the others.

"Give it to Oshawott! Let's see what happens when you give a feral a banjo, eh?" he suggested, shooting us a nasty smirk as Gold laughed beside him. As Gliscor murmured humoredly, I found the instrument being plopped into my paws. Glaring at Team Assail, I was only met with the two waiting expectantly, sneers on their faces.

'Okay. If that's what you want...'

As Rye shrunk back in his seat, averting his eyes from me and the others, I examined the instrument I had been given. As Mustie had said, it did seem to be a banjo, seemingly held together with some sort of natural adhesive and its edges well-worn from use. Positioning it so my paws could reach, I gave it an experimental strum. The sound held a twinge of familiarity to it; maybe I had played banjo as a human? Who knows.

With this in mind, I started slowly plucking away at the strings. It was by no means great, but it was at least recognizable as a song. As the other Pokémon listened on, Rye peeked out from his cowering to look at me in bewilderment. Glancing over to Mustie and Gold, I happily noted their smirks had melted off their faces, only to be replace with ill-hidden shock. It was my turn to shoot them a grin as I kept plucking away, mentally singing along as I did.

'Yankee doodle, keep it up; Yankee doodle dandy...'

As I slowly strummed out the last few notes, the dozen Pokémon around us applauded as Gliscor took the banjo, awe clear on his face as he looked to Rye.

"Didn't think he'd manage that! Keep up whatever you're doin' to educate him, yeah?" he piped.

Choosing to ignore that last part, I looked around at the others as they talked, resting my gaze on Team Assail, who stopped their whispering to glare at me. I rebutted by sticking my tongue out at them, which only seemed to aggravate them more. Satisfied with this, I sat back as Rye sighed with relief, his tense figure relaxing as the banjo was passed along. As Mustie and Gold excused themselves, I found myself joining in the cheering crowd, not feeling like a feral among civilized Pokémon but a regular participant, feeling somewhat accepted as I swayed to the music's rhythm, night falling over us.

A good half-hour passed before the small crowd dispersed, so Rye and I started back for our quarters to get things sorted before dinner, our spirits high. As we approached, an object in the torchlight caught my eye: a letter in the mail slot. I pulled it out to hand to Rye, who quickly tore it open to read it over. His bright face slowly became one of confusion as he read it aloud.

"It's from Ms. Cinccino. Uh, a file detailing Be- uh, your stay at the infirmary over two weeks ago has been... l-lost? What... uh, this is just a notice, no action is needed... huh, did you take it when we visited Ms. Audino?" he asked.

"Wha? N-nah," I replied.

"Huh... I guess she just left it somewhere? Or, uh, maybe someone stole it. Y-yeah, to figure out which berries to drug," Rye suggested. I chuckled as the Treecko folded the letter up and headed inside. A minute passed before he emerged and we started for the mess hall, a little off-put but still in a good mood. As I shook off the heebie-jeebies, I couldn't help but wonder about this a bit.

'Maybe someone did steal it, I don't know. Maybe... nah. I mean, who'd want to steal something like that? There wouldn't be much anyone would want on there, right?

...right?'
 
25 - A Pleasant, Uneventful Trip New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
25 - A Pleasant, Uneventful Trip

"Right, then, that is everyone, I suppose. Greetings, all."

Xatu's voice rang through the small room as the seven other Pokémon in attendance silently watched him. A hundred and fifty feet below the Vertress Plateau, the executives of the Phoenix League had gathered for their monthly meeting, discussion of statistics and strategy in mind. Standing over them at the head of the table, Xatu paused to listen to their quiet feedback. Waves of distaste and annoyance met him, with one voice bemoaning this as another one of his wastes of time. Unfazed, he continued.

"Seeing as the Director is still absent, I shall be taking his place once again. I would like to discuss our actions over the coming weeks. We have seen a steady rise in interest in our cause over the past moons, as is evident by our membership rising from a hundred twenty to a hundred thirty, and with the assurance that Subject Blue survived the transfer, this rise is-"

A quiet groan sounded from the Gengar at the table, cutting Xatu off. He gave a quiet sigh, though he nodded to let his fellow executive speak.

"How are you so sure about that? It looked to me like we lost the human. What groundbreaking discovery did you make that shows they made it through?" Gengar asked.

"As I have told you before, I encountered them while on a rendezvous in Arid Riverbed. The feral's thought pattern was far too orderly and complex to-" Xatu began.

"Yeah, a feral got taught enough to start thinking straight. Has to be a human, right?" Gengar butted in. "Face it, the human's dead, no one gives two shits about what you have to say otherwise, and you're gonna get demoted to distortion and back for what happened in Bassa Village."

Xatu's face twitched as he stared Gengar down, the small stack of papers before him beginning to levitate.

"I assure you, I am correct in my assumptions. Simply allow me to finish," he said coldly. "You say nobody believes my words, but Executive Archeops has-"

"You've convinced him, now convince the rest of us," Gengar challenged.

A cry of agreement came from five of the six other executives as Archeops shrank into his seat, sending a look around to quietly plead for his reputation. The paper on top of the stack before Xatu began to crumple into a tight ball as he stared daggers into Gengar, who defiantly returned the stare knowing that Xatu was forbidden to even scratch him here. A minute passed before the tightness that had arisen in the air passed, signifying Xatu's return to calm. A piece of paper shot out from within the stack and hovered in the air for the other executives to see as he continued.

"Three days ago, our brothers in Impetus Town reported an anomaly in the local Guild's bureaucracy. They were able to discreetly secure this file from their infirmary and send it here," he explained as the executives squinted to read the messy handwriting. "This file pertains to a feral Oshawott who entered after having been discovered in a mystery dungeon over three weeks ago, and the diagnosis tab claims it appeared to be suffering from a form of schizophrenia, split mind for the uneducated. The additional notes here specify this resulted from apparent delusions of having been human."

Xatu remained still as he felt the executives' emotions shift from doubt to alarm and understanding. All but one, of course.

"So?" Gengar asked, his voice noticeably more hushed.

"The timeline matches up, Executive Gengar. One moon ago, Subject Blue was lost in retrieval. One week later, the documented case began when the Oshawott was brought in. As such, it is most likely that Subject Blue is currently this Oshawott and is serving within Arcanine's Guild," Xatu replied. A murmur arose from the executives as Gengar tried to form a rebuttal.

"I... b-but... y-you can't do anything by yourself. The boss is still away, so any decision's gotta be unanimous between all of us unless he comes back," he eventually said, his eyes darting around to make sure no judgment was being inflicted.

Nodding, Xatu closed his eyes and began to focus. He had always hated reaching for another while within the base, though he could not risk the contents of this meeting escaping this room. This would have to do. Picturing the Director's psychic signature, he prepared to push a message through to him.

"Sire, this is Xatu. Can you hear me?" he asked aloud. A powerful wave of psychic energy escaped his figure. A moment of silence passed as he waited, pondering if he was too far underground. As his frustration began to climb once more, a sudden ping caught his attention. An abstract emotion from the Director.

Affirmative.

Xatu's eyes snapped open, the psychic connection now confirmed as open. The Director could not respond with words from such a distance, so simple emotion had been agreed upon. It was limited, but it worked.

"At last. You only choose now to respond, sire? I have been reaching for you for a week," Xatu demanded, much to the surprise of the other executives. Gengar chose this moment to sit back in his seat, not daring to look Xatu in the eyes as his usual grin turned upside down.

Shame. Apology.

Xatu clicked his beak before continuing.

"Subject Blue has been found to survive as an Oshawott in Impetus Town. What are your orders, sir?" he asked. A moment passed before he received the next wave.

Affirmative. Determination. Determination. Determination.

As the link abruptly closed, Xatu took a moment to consider what he had just heard. Three strikes of determination... he had been awaiting that coded order for twenty-five years. Twenty-five long years of hard work, struggle, and fruitless hope... finally about to pay off. The Phoenix League knew where the required elements were, and it would only take a matter of weeks to retrieve them if all went well. The issue would be getting the human... an issue that would be decided on later, he decided. The world would finally be made right again. Considering this, Xatu felt... was that a spark of joy he felt?

As the executives watched him, the Garchomp seated at the table adjusted her fins to lean forward.

"Well? What'd he say?" she asked. Xatu blinked before looking up to address the others, repeating the coded message the Director had given him.

"Commence Operation Kindle," he said.

-o-​

'So, we meet again, bigass board.'

With my arm healed at last, Rye and I had agreed to return to work today. Now standing before the imposing bulletin boards, I took a bit to look up at Rye climbing up along the wooden structure, pausing every so often to check one of the notices. It still seemed so surreal in retrospect, honestly: just being able to say "oh, yeah, I'm an Oshawott, my best friend's a talking Treecko, and he's climbing on the board right now looking for a summons to... uh, whatever mystery dungeons are" with a hundred percent honesty was just so absurd, and yet I never paused to think about it. I guess I'd just gone numb to the insanity by this point.

While I considered this, Rye tore a notice off of the board and tossed it down, snapping me out of my thought as I grabbed for the fluttering paper. Holding it in my paws, I could make out the rune for 'E' at the top of the page but nothing much more, though Rye quickly climbed down from above to provide translation.

"It's an E-tier through Scoria Cave, ten miles north of here. Uh, I figured it'd be a nice change of pace from Bassa Village," he said before reading over it some more. "It says it wants us to go in and find a Joy Seed they left on floor three. S-sounds easy enough..."

As he reached the bottom, his face fell.

"W-wait, what? Requested by Team Luster? Wh... why would a team need us to...? Uh, it wants us to meet them at the inn in town once we finish..."

Sighing, he folded the paper up to put in our bag, nervously muttering to himself as he checked the canteen in our bag to see if we had enough water for the trip. Reassured of this, he led me out of the Guild proper and towards Impetus Town.

"We'll need a light for this, we don't have anyone who knows Flash. Uh, Mr. Kecleon sells them, so we're heading there," he said. I nodded, following him as we weaved past a family of Raichu and Pichu. Before long, I found myself looking up at two Kecleons, one green and one purple, who looked down at Rye with friendly smiles.

"Why, good morning, Treecko! Wonderful day, wouldn't you say?" the green one asked. "Might we interest you in a green gummi? It's normally a thousand Poké, but we'll give it to you for eight hundred! What do you think?"

Rye paused to consider for a second before shaking his head.

"N-no thanks, sir, we just need a Luminous Orb, we're going to a cave dungeon," he replied. The purple Kecleon gave a hearty chuckle.

"Why, you've come to the right-"

He paused as his gaze fell on me. As his smile faltered a bit, he cleared his throat.

"Er, might I ask that Oshawott wait elsewhere? The park's just over there, if you wouldn't mind," he said nervously. We both gaped at the shopkeeper as he waited.

"...w-what?" Rye eventually demanded. "No, he isn't going to hurt anyone! He's-"

"We don't doubt that, but we would much rather not be seen with such a Pokémon on our premises. We apologize, but..." Kecleon said.

"No! J-just because he can't talk means you won't serve us? Th-that's Bouffalant crap!" Rye retorted. Kecleon's lips tightened, his purple scales darkening a bit.

"Treecko, please watch your tongue, and again, would you please send your partner elsewhere?" he requested, a hint of authority in his voice.

I let out a cry of protest and slapped my paw against the booth, leaving the Kecleons unfazed. As Rye started to add on to this, an indistinct complaint rang out from behind. Looking back, I found perhaps five Pokémon waiting in line impatiently for us to finish. Clenching my teeth, I sighed, realizing trying to drag this out was pointless. Making a quiet defeated cry, I raised my paws and backed out of line, much to Rye's horror.

"W-what? No, you can't-" he began.

"Nah, sh-shehh," I said as I shuffled away from the shop, where the Kecleons blinked after me, apparently a bit surprised at my willingness. They quickly got over this and returned to their usual cheerful gait to serve a disquieted Rye as I took a seat across the street and shot a quick glare at the staring Pokémon in line.

I stayed seated by that wall for a good few minutes before Rye came to help me up, a glassy blue orb in hand. He opened his mouth to say something, though the words seemed to catch in his throat.

"...w-we'll show them," he eventually said, his voice almost too quiet to hear. With that in mind, we started on the road north, dreading both the literal and metaphorical path ahead but still optimistic for the change in pace that lied in the waiting dungeon.

-o-​

"Rye?"

The Treecko flinched as we stood there, facing the mouth of the cave. A three hours walk had led us here, and we had stopped for a minute to examine the entrance. Tucked in between two hills in the ever-hilly expanse that seemed to make up central Gray Proper, the small unassuming opening led into inky darkness despite the sun shining down on it. The usual warning sign loomed over us as I gave Rye a nudge, trying to reassure him it'd be alright, only to be met with a nervous groan.

"I-it's not the ferals in there, the sign says there aren't many, it's just... I-I don't like caves. Grass-types like me need sunlight, and, er, yeah," he explained, gesturing towards the dark cave. He hesitated for another minute before putting on an about face.

"Alright, let's go," he said. With that, we headed in, a wave of humid air hitting us as that familiar pang of gut-deep dread hit me once more.

-o-​

Scoria Cave

B1F


"Activate," I heard Rye whisper through the darkness. A soft glow came from the orb in his hands, which quickly grew bright enough to illuminate the entire room.

"Alright, it didn't go off... whew," he sighed in relief, grasping the glowing orb tight as we started into the cave.

Compared to dungeons past, I noticed that this one seemed rather peaceful, only throwing a Roggenrola at us every now and then. Given our respective typings, we didn't have much trouble at all with the ferals here, leaving plenty of time to take in the surroundings. While yes, those long halls having ceilings now definitely made me claustrophobic, I couldn't help but be impressed by the small crystal formations and stalagmites hanging from the ceilings of the larger caves... or would those be stalactites? I guess I never learned the difference between those as a human.

On that note, I couldn't help but wonder about this place. I didn't remember very many details about what Unova was like, but I was decently sure there wasn't a cave system like this anywhere in this particular area. That begged the question of whether it had naturally formed in however long it had been or if this whole place had been somehow been artificially created. In either case, how exactly did it get this big this fast?

...maybe it was the mystery dungeon itself that did it?

Pushing back that mildly unsettling idea, I followed Rye as he stumbled into a small cave, where a square hole in the floor waited for us, containing a set of rough stone stairs.

"Huh, alright. So far, so good," he observed as we started down.

-o-​

Scoria Cave

B2F


"Hey, you wanna hold the orb? I'm starting to feel a bit sick and I don't wanna drop this," Rye requested. I cocked my head.

"Wha? R... er, why?" I asked.

"Well... l-like I said at the entrance, I don't do well out of sunlight, and, uh, if I drop this while it's still glowing, then it'll sorta... er, explode and kill us," he said, giving a quick shudder.

Deciding that was a fair point, I quickly took the orb into my paws, gulping nervously as I held it tight. Now free of the apparent explosive, Rye walked in silence for a minute as we cautiously progressed into an adjacent hallway. As we entered a spacious cavern and paused to listen for any noises, he let out a quiet cough.

"Hey, uh, can I ask you something? Y'know, about... uh, humans?" he asked.

"Yeah, wha?" I replied, making sure to keep our light held safely. I was only met with silence as Rye thought for a bit.

"...uh, I... sorry, it's just... you know, there's so much I wanna ask, and now we've got nothing better to do, but..."

He sighed.

"I don't know, I guess it's just I'm not sure what's a stupid question or not. Like, I don't want to ask if humans actually did build a golden city under Vale Keep to wait out the Ruin or if they actually did visit the moon in giant flaming towers and plant a flower, you know?" he reasoned. I blinked.

'Visit the moon in giant flaming towers? Well... now that I think about it, I do remember the concept...'

I gave a small humored smile, which Rye apparently saw as he paled.

"W-wait, you... those are actually true?" he sputtered.

"Ehh..." I said, gesturing to indicate it was, at least partially.

"Wh-which one? Th-the golden city or the moon thing?" he asked urgently.

"Yeah, m-mehn," I clarified. Rye immediately launched into a barrage of questions about this.

"H-how'd they do it? Did the towers have, like, Fire-types inside shooting fire? Were they some kind of giant machine running on that gas stuff? How'd the humans breathe, is there air up there? Did they have to worry about accidentally running into the sky? How did a flower survive on-"

"R-Rye," I butted in, shaking my head to say I didn't know. The Treecko seemed disappointed, though he still considered my words with wonder as we continued.

"Wow... and here I thought Dill was crazy for believing in this stuff..." he mused. He didn't have very long to think it over, as a Diglett suddenly burst from the floor before us. Hammering it back in with a series of Pounds, he gestured me on. As we left the Diglett wedged into the floor, a thought seemed to occur to Rye.

"Hey, if you can remember that, then... were you around when the Ruin happened?" he asked.

"Uh..." I started, scouring my memory. As per usual, nothing was concrete and the best I could muster was foggy ideas and concepts. Given that I knew next to nothing about this Ruin, I wasn't quite sure I could draw much from those.

I shrugged.

"Huh... do you at least know what happened?" Rye asked. I shook my head, earning another look of disappointment from Rye.

"Hm... no one knows for sure. I was hoping you'd-" he started.

He was cut off as we stopped short of a staircase. The orb nearly slipped out of my paws, causing me to panic for a bit as Rye hopped down without hesitation.

"The seed they want should be on this floor! Let's hurry, I really don't wanna spend much longer here!" he yelled from the stairs.

-o-​

Scoria Cave

B3F


I suppose I learned a good few things on this little trip. You know, Luminous Orbs are basically grenades, my memory was still an unreliable piece of crap, moonmen, the sort. On this floor, though, three things stood out.

Firstly, when Rye wanted to leave, he committed to leaving as quickly as possible.

"Come on, come on. Please be in here... aghh!" he growled as we headed into yet another dull cave. He quickly dropped to all fours and trotted towards the hallway at the other end of the cave, stopping to wait as I hurriedly waddled after him with the light in my paws.

The thing about item retrieval missions was that you had to scour the specified floor for the item in question, and while that was all fine and good normally, Rye didn't like that it applied down here one bit. Looking at him in the light, I noted that the tips of his tail were beginning to take on a faint yellow tint from an hour without sunlight, so I couldn't blame the Treecko for his ever-sluggish gait. As he panted in the stale cave air, I focused the light into the next room, only for my eyes to light up.

"Rye, sha!" I called. In the corner of the room sat a typical-looking seed, which we quickly flocked to. As Rye gingerly bent down to examine it, a faint sound came from the adjacent hallway: a quiet chittering, followed by rhythmic clicks.

'...oh, sweet Zekrom.'

My paws shaking, I pointed the light up towards the hall, finding an indistinct blue and purple shape hanging from the ceiling. Rye staggered back as my breathing grew fast and shaky, flashbacks to Quinite Woods coursing through my head as the shape and I stared each other down. A minute passed where I dared not move a muscle, though that didn't stop the thing's wings from twitching before a loud, horrible screech pierced my ears.

The second lesson I learned: be wary in caves. Zubats hear all and see all.

Panic overtook me as the Zubat flew towards us, saliva dripping from its mouth as it kept screeching its lungs out. As I stumbled back, instinct took over and did the only thing it could think of at the moment.

I threw the Luminous Orb at the Zubat as hard as I could.

Upon hitting the floor, the orb briefly cracked before it violently exploded in a blinding flash of light. Rye tackled me down as a billowing cloud of dust hit us and a deafening crash rang out as the ceiling above the orb apparently gave way, hopefully crushing the Zubat underneath. I winced as a shard of broken orb struck me in the back, a cascade of clinks signifying the rest of them hitting the walls. We stayed huddled on the floor for a minute until the cave-in stopped, only for our coughs to replace it.

"Beck? I... I can't see..." Rye croaked. Hacking dirt out of my mouth and reaching for my new wound, I opened my eyes, only to be met with pitch darkness. Listening for Rye's coughs, I felt around until my paw met his scaly hide, though he immediately lurched back and just barely missed me with a Pound.

"Agh! Rye!" I yelled.

"Sorry!" he replied as the faint glow of his tail subsided.

'Wait. Faint glow?'

Alright, I could use this... what would produce the most light in this situation... ah!

"Rye, lehr!" I ordered, thrusting my arm out like so many trainers before. Of course, Rye didn't see this, though it still felt damn cool.

"Huh?" he asked.

"Leer!" I repeated.

"Y-you want me to Leer?"

"Yeah!"

"I, uh... oh, I see..."

A red glow began to shine from Rye's eyes, allowing me to see a dim view of our surroundings. It didn't provide much in terms of light, but it was definitely better than nothing. With this faint illumination, I finally got a good look at the damage I had caused. At least half of the room had fallen in, though thankfully it seemed the seed had made it through, albeit dirtied. Brushing it off, Rye peered at it with his dimly glowing eyes.

"...hah, th-this is a Joy Seed! We found it, let's-" he began.

A faint noise not unlike stone scraping against stone in the distance interrupted, causing Rye's Leer-light to go out as he gasped in abject horror.

"...nonono... th-the dungeon!" he choked out.

Lesson three: mystery dungeons apparently don't take too kindly to being blown up.

As the scraping grew louder, Rye hurriedly conjured up another Leer and tore open our bag, frantically digging for our badges. By the time Rye shoved a badge into my paws, holding out the seed, I could make out the walls beginning to shift, bursting in clouds of dust and beginning to visibly move as the scraping became a roar. I didn't hesitate to tap my badge to the seed, clenching my eyes shut as the bright light of teleportation enveloped me, lifting my feet off the ground as it took me out of the rapidly shifting dungeon.

-o-​

I was thrown onto the ground as the light around me vanished. I squinted my eyes open just in time to see the sudden flash of light that announced Rye's joining me on the grass, panting as he turned onto his back to face the sun. I dared not move for a minute, my still-stinging eyes and the orb shard in my back protesting as I relished in sweet fresh air. After a while, Rye sat up, wincing as his fingers ran along his own orb wounds.

"Y-you didn't need to do that, Beck," he groaned through gritted teeth. I didn't reply, choosing instead to stare at the sky above.

'The thing was coming straight at me, you can't say that wasn't justified...'

Clenching his teeth, Rye sighed after a minute.

"Beck? Uh, th-thanks," he added on. "If you hadn't come up with that Leer thing... w-well..."

I looked to him and gave a little smile as he pushed himself off the ground, already rejuvenated by the sunlight.

"Y-yeh wagh," I said. Rye grinned and nodded as he rubbed the blood off his wound, choosing not to pull the shard out as he waited for me to get up.

"Heh, and here we thought we were gonna get an easy dive for once, huh?" he mused as I hoisted myself up.

Huh, yeah. Funny how that turned out.
 
26 - Visions New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
26 - Visions

"Alright, just hold still, this'll hurt," Rye warned.

"Rye, neh," I pleaded one last time. I couldn't add to this, as my pleas came out as yelps of pain as Rye started pulling the shard of orb out of my back. We had decided we could go without patching ourselves up, though quickly found that was optimistic at best. Thankfully, we had found an Oran tree along the road, and less so, Rye had determined that now that we had something to help heal, it was a good time to get the orb-stuff out of ourselves. As I had learned back at Amber Meadow, Rye couldn't exactly be trusted with healing, though with two and a half hours to go, I didn't have much choice in the matter.

'Still, though, does he have to wiggle- agh! Like that...!'

With a final loud noise of protest from me, Rye held up a glassy blue shard, his fingers covered in my blood as he held a juice-soaked cloth against the wound. As I winced from the juice doing its work, Rye gritted his teeth.

"Ugh, alright. My turn, I guess," he said. Handing me a clean cloth as he lied down on his belly, he gave me a last pleading look.

"Please never make an orb go off again," he requested. I gave him a quick look as I examined the damage: three blue shards embedded between his scales where he had been hit by the orb's detonation. Guilt coursed through me as I recalled that Rye had seemingly taken the brunt of the blast, receiving most of the fragments in the process. I couldn't tear my eyes away with the thought that Rye was right, that this was my fault, that I had been a damn coward and nearly gotten us killed.

"...Rye, am... am sahry," I eventually said. Rye looked up at me.

"Hm?" he asked. Hanging my head in shame, I pointed at his wounds.

"Oh, i-it's okay, just don't do it again," he said, giving a reassuring nod. Though this didn't help ease my woes very much, I swallowed them back for the time being and took a quick look at the cloth in my paws, realizing my nubs for fingers weren't optimal for this kind of work. I briefly considered trying to pick them out with my scalchop before biting my lip.

"Sahry," I said in advance before getting a shard between my paws and starting to tug.

"Ow- aagh! Beck, stop pulling it so h- ah!" Rye protested. As his protests became more and more colorful, I decidedly turned my frustration back towards Impetus Town. I didn't know who this Team Whatstheirname was, but regardless of if all this was my fault, they had a bit of explaining to do.

-o-​

No one stopped to gawk at us as we headed back into Impetus Town. Explorers getting hurt on the job was a common sight, it seemed, and a couple novices like us weren't really cause for alarm. Apart from the occasional odd look from the village kids at the blood we hadn't washed off, we didn't really draw much attention as Rye asked around for directions to the town's inn.

As we started away from the town square, I couldn't help but notice the gradual change in architecture. Buildings gradually shifted from small log cabins to proper wood-and-stone structures and homes became larger as we headed further from the square. When I pointed this out to Rye with a questioning gesture, he gave a little shrug.

"Uh, the town started as a frontier outpost. I guess as the wanderers moved on and more Pokémon decided to stay, they started making their houses more like that? I dunno, I don't really know that kind of stuff," he said.

Soon enough, we found ourselves in front of a large building just at the edge of the town. Indistinct conversation, a sickly sweet smell, and a single staggering Pokémon came from through the doors as we hesitated, unsure if this was a good idea. Soon enough, I swallowed back my nervousness and headed into the inn, clutching Rye's hand as to not lose him.

The first thing I noticed was that unlike what I had expected from my first impression, there were mostly explorers like us in the building. All around us, Pokémon sat at round tables, drinks in paws and laughing heartily as they conversed, the few drunk-looking odd-mons off to the side reeking of that sweet smell. Swallowing, I picked out one of the Pokémon from the nearby bar and tapped its back.

"Sehr?" I asked. The Meowth looked back to me, then scrambled up onto the bar in alarm.

"Son of a... uhm, Mr. Ludicolo! Another feral got in!" he yelled before Rye pushed me aside and raised his hands.

"Nonono, h-he's with me! We're just looking for Team Luster," he hurriedly explained.

The Meowth confusedly stared at the two of us for a minute before slowly nodding and pointing to a nearby table. Sighing in relief, Rye dragged me over to meet the three Pokémon seated there. Apparently engaged in some kind of drinking contest, they watched as a Raboot seated there released a loud hacking cough, white-hot embers escaping his lips. Sighing as he regained his composure, he set down the bottle he was holding, inciting a loud cheer from the others seated. Only then did the Zangoose apparently challenging him seem to notice us, leaning down to face Rye.

"Wh-whaddaya want?" he slurred, his breath smelling somewhere between Pecha and poison.

"Uh... w-we're here about the job?" Rye squeaked, inching back as to not provoke him. Zangoose stared at us for a minute before letting out a loud chuckle, looking up to his teammates.

"It's okeh, fellas, they've got the seed... thing," he said groggily. In response, the Raboot stood and hobbled over to examine us. After a minute, his eyes flashed with recognition.

"Hey, aren'tcha the... the team from the news board? W-with the feral?" he asked. Clenching my teeth in shame, I joined Rye in nodding. Raboot eyed me nervously as he swayed in place.

"It isn't gon bite, is it?" he asked. Rye shook his head, prompting Raboot to slowly reach a paw out and begin lightly rubbing the top of my head, much to my initial bewilderment. After a bit of wary watching, the rubbing became thorough scratching behind my ears as I tried to shrink back.

"Well, hiya, lil' guy," he said, his drunken voice raised an octave. I tried to swat him away, letting out an uncomfortable whine.

"Wha? Er, am I-" he asked confusedly.

"Hey, come on, d-didn't you hear 'bout the thing with the banjo last night? It's not stupid, don't pet it, dick," Zangoose interrupted between hiccups. Thankfully, that was enough to get Raboot to quit, allowing a seated Nidorino to clear his throat.

"Er, sorry 'bout him. So, uh, yeah, we're Team Luster. You got the seed, right?" he asked. Rye gave a quick nod and dug the Joy Seed out of our filthy bag, dropping it into Nidorino's paws with a hint of spite. Flipping it in his paws a few times, Nidorino nodded and gestured to Raboot, who dug a small sack out of their bag.

"Aighty, here you go. A thousand Poké," he said, handing the sack to Rye. The Treecko just stared in response.

"That's only two hundred for us..." he observed. The three Pokémon gave him a bemused glance.

"Yeah, I mean, Scoria Cave's basically hatchling's first cave dungeon, easy jobs pay less," Nidorino said.

"Well, why didn't you go in yourself?" Rye demanded. Nidorino narrowed his eyes.

"Look, kid, we're on a schedule, we aren't about to put actual missions on hold going to waste an hour in rookie territory just to grab a seed like Quilava and friends," he rebutted, his drunken partners giving noises of agreement. With a cry of protest, I turned to show my wound from the orb. Nidorino's expression became quizzical.

"Hold up, none of the ferals there could do that, what-" Nidorino started.

"The dungeon nearly took us," Rye interrupted. The three only grew more confused.

"Huh? T-that was an E-level job, how'd Scoria Cave of all dungeons nearly get you?" Nidorino asked. Rye paused for a second.

"We, uh... threw our light at a feral and blew it up," he admitted. As Team Luster quickly erupted into questions and reprimands, my guilt mounted as Rye shifted in place. Before long, I quickly raised a paw.

"Was meh," I said, clenching my teeth. I was met with a brief moment of silence from the three, tolerating their stunned stares until Zangoose butted in.

"You hear that, Raboot? It can talk, told ya he ain't dumb!" he declared before turning his attention to Rye. "Er, w-why'd ya teach him that? Was, uh, your pops in the war?" he asked.

"Er, no. I didn't tell him to do it, he just-" Rye started. He jumped back as Zangoose suddenly let out a loud wheezing laugh, pointing his razor-sharp claws towards me.

"Remind me not to mess with this 'mon, yeah? I mean, wow, t-took a few years in the trenches for normal Pokémon to figure that trick out, and here w-"

He stopped as he winced, putting a paw to his groin. Pushing Raboot aside, he hurriedly waddled to the entrance as we watched in concern. Nidorino waved a paw dismissively.

"He had a few too many Pecha ciders," he said. "Anyways, I guess that's everything. Er, you know, thanks for the job, don't blow up orbs in the future, et cetera. We'll be keeping a look out for you, Team...?"

"Er, Reach," Rye said. Nidorino flashed a toothy smile.

"Well, then, Team Reach. Thanks again," he said. Still looking a bit bummed out, Rye tucked the small sack of coins into our bag as I waved, quickly following my friend out of the stuffy inn. As I paused for a moment to let the mild headache I had gotten subside, Zangoose pushed past us, looking quite refreshed as he headed back inside. Shuddering, I ran to catch up as we started back to the Guild, watching the ground to make sure I wasn't about to step in Zangoose's... you know, fluids.

...yeah, I forgot to mention that. See, bathrooms apparently weren't a thing here. It was apparently just normal for Pokémon to just find a wall or something outside and... yeah. Sure, I guess Pokémon didn't think the same way as humans, but... eugh.

'Might have to see if I can do anything about that in the future.'

Upon reaching Cinccino's kiosk, Rye pushed her the job's notice and a hefty portion of the coins we'd been given. After a quick exchange, he joined me past the gate, a grin on his face.

"Well, that's it, our first... n-normal job... that we uh, finished normally!" he piped. The Treecko's enthusiasm was infectious, and I quickly found myself joining in his celebration. As he held up a hand to say something, I instinctively slapped his palm in a high-five. He stumbled back, his face becoming one of alarm and confusion before something clicked.

"Uh, human thing?" he asked. Embarrassed, I nodded. Rye's grin returned to his face as he cleared his throat.

"Anyways, uh, it's still about mid-afternoon, you reckon we should take another job?" he asked. I involuntarily grimaced.

"Wha?" I yelped disbelievingly, only for Rye to laugh quietly.

"I-I'm kidding, don't worry. Let's head back and crash until dinner," he suggested. Finding this agreeable, I gave a cry, so we started back to our quarters to finally catch a break from the day's cave-ins and wine stench.

-o-​



Wait, what? Where am I? Is this another dream?

"...executive, how... operation...?"

I jumped as an unfamiliar voice came from below me. Looking down, I noted two things: for one, my body appeared to be missing, and two, a pair of figures stood talking below me. At least, I could tell they were talking. All I could make out were a few mumbles with words occasionally seeping through and the image seemed dark and fuzzy to me, the figures appearing gray blurs that occasionally flickered in and out of existence. Curious as to this new dream, I leaned in.

"Located... temple... Sun Continent," one of the figures droned. I paused.

That voice, I know it... hello? Who are you?

The figure didn't seem to notice me as it continued its indiscernible talking. As I tried to examine my surroundings, I felt a surge of energy course around me. With this, everything seemed to clear up a bit, allowing me to see the figures a little more clearly. Glancing at them, I could make them out as an Archeops and a... a Xatu?

Wait, is this...?

"Executive Archeops, your cooperation is imperative. You are the executive whom I most trust to leave with my duties," Xatu said.

Okay, yeah, that voice didn't lie. This was the same one I'd met back in Arid Riverbed, it seemed. Not sure of what to make of this, I kept watching as the Archeops before me sighed.

"Look, I'm aware want to get this in motion, but it hasn't even been half a day since the operation was ordered, you can't just go to the Sun Continent now. Take some time to plan out the strike, let our mons there find the right mercenaries for the job," he said. Tension began to grip the air around me as Xatu stared Archeops down.

"I assure you, it is for the best. Have you forgotten what happened last time we chose to idle about?" he asked.

"No, no. Just... for the good of the League, please be patient. You know what the Director said, right? Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment," Archeops said, his voice shaky as he warily watched Xatu. "Y-you know what happened last time you said you let them take over."

Xatu kept staring for a minute. As the tension suddenly passed, he hung his head.

"I will never forget," he said coldly.

A sympathetic-looking Archeops tried to put his wing on Xatu's side, but it quickly froze in place as what seemed like psychic power gripped it. While Archeops yelped and struggled to pull his wing free, Xatu looked back up at him.

"Fine, then. I shall wait another few days, I suppose. The orb will not be going anywhere," he said, tossing Archeops' wing aside and sending him stumbling back. Before he could say anything more, he froze in place. Without skipping a beat, he slowly turned his head until he was looking directly into me.

A pang of terror shot through me as he stared through me impassively. Narrowing his eyes, he jerked his head to the side. Everything around me immediately shattered, for lack of a better term, as I was violently thrown back. Screaming, I began trying to grab something, anything that could save me as I uncontrollably spiraled through the abyss...

"Shaah!" I yelled, jumping out of my bed and waking Rye up as I hit the earthen floor. The room around me was dark as could be, giving away that it was still night out. Taking a moment to catch my breath as I laid on the floor, I looked down just to make sure this wasn't still a dream. Sure enough, my familiar furry body was there to greet me rather than empty space.

'Alright, I'm awake, but... sweet Darkrai, what was that?'

I'd never had any sort of dream like that before, and frankly, I was more afraid of what might have caused it than the dream itself. Had something hit my head during that cave-in? Had the dungeon messed with my head somehow? Had the fumes in the inn gotten to me? Was this the Voice again trying to tell me something? If so, what did Xatu have to do with my being here? And just what were they talking about? Operation? Mercenaries? Orb? Never forgetting? What even...?

"Beck, are you okay?"

Flinching, I rolled over to find Rye standing over me looking particularly concerned at my spooked state. I nodded, still trembling slightly as he knelt down to face me.

"It's okay, i-it was just a bad dream," he tried to reassure me. As I sat up, I opened my mouth to try and explain myself, though the series of cries I produced didn't do a very good job at that. I sulked for a bit before an idea came to mind and I got to my feet. As Rye looked on, I took the notebook out of our bag and started trying to draw my dream. Crudely sketching the two Pokémon I had seen, I watched as Rye came over and glanced at the paper.

"A Xatu? Uh, w-we met one at Bassa Town, right?" he asked. I didn't answer as I kept adding to the sketch, filling in the blanks I couldn't quite visualize with Unown-script and elaborate little pictures trying to spell them out. Predictably, these didn't quite seem to get across to Rye.

"Uh, I can't... Beck, I can't understand what this means," he said, stopping me as he squinted at my hieroglyphics, looking just as confused as I was. We both sat there considering for a minute as the quiet lull of the night backed our thoughts.

"Y-you worried it could be a vision?" Rye eventually asked. I hesitated for a minute.

"Yeah," I said. Another moment of silence hung in the air.

"I... I think we should stop by the library. Uh, maybe we could find out what it meant?" Rye suggested.

"Huh? Lah-beh...?" I asked. From what I had heard, I could assume Impetus Town was on the small side when compared with the other settlements scattered around this continent; I wouldn't have guessed it'd have a library.

"Er, yeah, just down Field Road. I-I can read for you if you want, though we can always stop by Mr. Alakazam if-" he said.

"Y-yeah, lah-beh," I butted in. With that decided, Rye got to his feet, only to come face-to-face with the moon peeking through the window. Biting his lip, he shuffled back to his bed.

"We'll go in the morning. Uh, tell me if you have any more weird dreams, alright?" he requested.

"Yeah. Uh, g'nah," I said. With his own "good night," Rye curled up in bed, leaving me to stare at the backs of my eyelids. I really didn't want to see if this last dream was going to be the start of a pattern, so even though my body had gotten over the adrenaline rush my sudden awakening had caused and now begged to go back to sleep, I steadfastly refused, deciding that I'd stay up till morning if it meant no more of whatever that dream had been.

I lasted maybe ten minutes before I was out like a light again.

-o-​

"Flame-resistant my ass," Arden muttered.

May cracked a small smile as the two stood over the charred remains of the Quilava's hammock, the quip being a welcome change from the last ten minutes. She had woken up to find Arden on the floor, flames erupting from his back and his hammock, and everything since then had been a blur of panic for the Leafeon. As with the rest of the Pokémon in Team Apex's base, the last thing she wanted was for the base to go up in flames again, though the relatively small fire had been dealt with quickly. Upon reassuring Pike and the concerned apprentices that everything was under control, they had chosen to stay up a little longer to assess the damage. Now with a moment to think straight, May looked to Arden.

"You need to go see Alakazam, this-" she began.

"It's not the nightmare. This... it was different," Arden said. "I don't know, it was like I was watching in on someone and..."

May cocked her head.

"Watching in...?" she pondered. Briefly entertaining the idea that this could have been a vision, she gave a nod.

"I'll take your word for it, I'm gonna go back to bed. You can sleep by me if you want," she said. Arden sheepishly scratched the back of his head as he brushed the ruined hammock to the side. The Kecleons weren't too reliable when it came to specialty items, he'd have to look around for a new one that actually worked as advertised.

'Damn shame, that thing was comfy.'

Tearing his attention from the pile of smoking remains, Arden laid down next to May, getting as much of his body on her Wooloo-wool cushion as possible. May shot him an amused glare, snuggling up against his body to get as much of the warmth radiating from it as possible. Before long, she fell asleep, leaving Arden alone to ponder what he had seen.

'Alrighty. Who was that in the dream? What were they on about? Why the fuck was I shown all this?



I don't want any part in this. If you're listening, we've suffered enough. If any of my friends, or Arceus forbid, May gets hurt in this, then... we've beaten the shit out of a Legend before. We can do it again, you bastards.'

That cold thought was the last that coursed through the Quilava's mind before he drifted off, the only sign that anything had gone awry being the smell of singed rope lingering in the air.
 
27 - Knowledge is Power New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
27 - Knowledge is Power

"Little Pidove, sing this song! Doo-dah, doo-dah..."

As Rye led me along the dirt streets of Impetus Town, that faint song rang out from a flock of Tranquill flying above us. I arched my head to watch them fly by as we headed along the now-familiar town square, which was bustling and lively as usual. As Rye had suggested during my early awakening, we had decided to put work aside for the moment and were now heading to the town library, which Rye claimed was the biggest for a hundred miles around. I still wasn't entirely sure what such a big library was doing in a town like this, but I'd decided I'd take it.

The problem was I wasn't entirely sure what I was supposed to be finding.

What was I supposed to be looking for? Just visions seemed too vague, and invading Pokémon's privacy through means of dreaming seemed too specific. Besides, there was a slight issue in that I still couldn't read worth shit. I mean, Rye had volunteered to read for me, but still.

While considering the possibility of audiobooks still existing, I bumped into Rye as he stopped short, gazing at a building off to the side of the road. Pointing to it, he gave a small nod.

"There it is: Impetus Town Public Libary," he announced. I bit back a chuckle.

"L-leh-bahri?" I asked, giving a humored smirk. Rye gave me a confused sideways glance.

"Er, yeah, the liba-"

He froze up as his sentence became a guttural croak.

"L-library, I meant library!" he exclaimed, holding his hands up as he turned to face me. I gave him a playful nudge before he sighed.

"Y-you're rubbing off on me, I guess. Y'know, since that's how you pronounce... uh, give us another couple weeks and I'll be going around yelling 'treh treh' in everyone's faces, huh?" he said before freezing up. "S-sorry, that was..."

Coughing quietly, he continued towards the library as I took a minute to soak it in.

By human standards, it was pretty unimpressive, mostly coming across as a larger version of the other buildings in town, though there were elements of grandeur to it. Large pillars held up the facade in imitation of classical architecture, and the windows on the building were plated with glass, something I had surprisingly not come across in my time here. Walking in, I noticed Rye and what looked to be the librarian arguing at the front desk.

"Please? I promise I'll keep an eye on him!" Rye requested.

"Hah, you humor me. Why even ask? A library is the last place any civilized Pokémon would want a feral," the Lampent behind the desk demanded emotionlessly.

"Urgh... i-isn't there anything I can do that'll allow him in?" Rye asked. The Lampent's flame shrank slightly as she considered. A few seconds passed before it returned to normal.

"Keep it on a leash and don't let it touch anything," she said. I stumbled back.

"Wha?!" I demanded.

"You may send it outside if that's not to your liking," Lampent said, her voice still flat. Rye gritted his teeth before nodding.

"Good. If I see that it is loose, you'll both be expelled from the premises. Understand?" Lampent asked.

"Y-yes, ma'am," Rye managed out, sending me a pleading look before I could protest. Faced with no other options, I sulked as Rye reluctantly pulled a length of rope out of our bag.

'And here I thought getting spoonfed would be the worst hit to my dignity here...'

-o-​

"Alright, uh, this looks promising," Rye mused as he walked up with a small leatherbound book. Fidgeting with the uncomfortable rope around my neck, I leaned in to see as Rye opened it to a random page. We'd been at this for maybe an hour at this point, and despite the stacks of discarded books and scrolls around us, we hadn't been able to find anything of note. I was getting tired of this, but surely Rye knew what he was doing. If not, then...

"Okay, it says something about a Gardevoir, maybe... uh, floating in the dreamscape, Gardevoir gave him a long, gentle stroke along his... oh... augh, s-sweet Zygarde!"

Rye hurriedly slammed the book shut and put it on the floor.

"D-definitely not..." he said, violently shivering as he got to his feet and walked back into the shelves to find another book. I barely contained a groan as I rubbed at my leash again. I wanted to get up and try to find something on my own that wasn't either useless or... that, but as per the agreement with the librarian, Rye had tied the leash to one of the shelves. I couldn't untie it, no thanks to my paws, and chances were nothing was going to suddenly break and free me. If only I had something to cut this with...

My paw suddenly met my scalchop. My face fell.

'...well, I'm an idiot.'

-o-​

"Wasn't able to find anything on dreams, but I found this neat book on Water-types," Rye said as he rounded a corner, a book in hand. "It's got a few pages on Oshawotts, thought you might-"

He froze up as he came to where the two were studying. Rather than Beck waiting for him, a cut rope sat limp on the floor.

"...Grimer slime!" he swore to himself, dropping the book and hurriedly tiptoeing past the rope as he desperately listened for wherever Beck might be. The last thing he wanted from this trip was to anger the librarian, and if she found out that Beck had run off on him...

As he stuck his head down one of the aisles, he felt a cold presence suddenly appear behind him.

"Are you looking for something, Treecko?"

Flinching, Rye spun around to find Lampent behind him, her arm wrapped around a bundle of scrolls as she gave a suspicious glance. Rye gulped and shook his head, though Lampent's gaze didn't break.

"Where is your Oshawott?" she questioned.

"Uh, back at... o-over where we were studying. S-still tied up, ma'am," he croaked. Lampent watched him for another minute before giving a hum and floating towards a shelf, phasing through it and leaving Rye to give a shaky sigh of relief. He was alright for now, but still...

'Don't Lampent, like, eat your soul and use it to fuel their fire?'

With that intrusive thought now weighing on him, Rye let out a quiet groan as he continued on.

"Agh... Beck, where are you..."

-o-​

I paused for what must have been the tenth time, sticking my ears up to listen for the librarian. Hearing nothing that might have meant her approaching, I continued tiptoeing along. Each time I paused, a bit of doubt coursed through my head, questioning just why I had decided to go through with this. Even if I did find a useful book, I wouldn't be able to read it... ugh. I honestly don't know what I was thinking back there.

It was too late now, I reckoned. Had to find something now that I was here.

Running a paw along the rough wood shelves, I squinted at the still-unfamiliar symbols the books inside them showed. Only recognizing a few letters from my lessons with Rye, I let out a quiet groan, cursing my own recklessness for this.

'...this was stupid. I'm gonna head back.'

I looked over my shoulder to check if anyone was watching, then turned to head back to where I had started. Unfortunately, I apparently learned nothing from Arid Riverbed about navigating mazes, seeing as I found myself lost within only a couple of turns.

...yeah, I know, I can't really compare things to mystery dungeons willy-nilly, but this library felt like it was designed by whatever made the things. To dungeons' credit, though, they at least had landmarks; the only one I could think of here was whatever Dewey decimal system they had here, and I wasn't about to have any luck with that. Facing what must have been the fifth split in the aisles, I couldn't help but wonder just how I had gotten lost in here. I mean, the place wasn't even that big...

No, no, I couldn't think about that just yet. Unless this place really was a mystery dungeon, I'd have to find Rye eventually, right? Maybe if I took a left? Hoping my gut wouldn't fail me here, I peeked around the corner, only to find myself staring into the lobby and... oh.

Right into Guildmaster Arcanine's eyes.

'Sweet fuck.'

As the color under my face's fur drained, the Guildmaster set down a large bag around his shoulder as he gave me a warm smile.

"Ah, Oshawott! Pleasure seeing you here," he said, approaching me as I cowered in place. "I did not take you for the reading type, are you... what is wrong? I won't bite, you know."

Popping open an eye, I looked up to meet Arcanine's gaze. Seeing no indication that he was about to lash out, I inched out of my flimsy hiding spot, earning a satisfied smile from him as he took a short look around.

"Say, where is Treecko?" he asked.

"Uh... d-dah nah," I managed. His eyes briefly widening with surprise at my speaking, he nodded.

"It may take some time, but he will find his way here. Lampent are Ghost-types, they favor the chaotic layouts this library boasts. You may stay with me until he turns up," he said before his brow furrowed. "Thinking about it, Lampent never did allow ferals in here. What-"

A voice behind me let out a loud, angry screech, interrupting Arcanine. I jumped, spinning around to find Lampent looming behind me, her flame large with anger. Before I could do anything, she began to swat at me, pushing me back from the bookshelves as I cried out and tried to feebly defend myself.

"No! No! Get away! Get out or-" she yelled. Her pushing suddenly stopped as she seemed to notice Arcanine, who watched the scene with ill-hidden horror. She shrank back and gave a quick bow.

"Oh, G-Guildmaster. I wasn't expecting you to personally show up," she said quietly. Arcanine grimaced.

"Leave the Oshawott be," he commanded. Lampent's flame shrunk a bit.

"I... what? You know I can't do that, if it damages anything, then-"

"Need I remind you how much of this library's collection is from my own? What is damaged, I can and shall replace," Arcanine said. As I watched, Lampent sputtered to form a response.

"But... I... i-it's feral, I can't let it-"

"Feral or not, he is one of my own, and I expect respect towards him. Yes?" Arcanine demanded, sending a steely glare towards the Ghost-type. With a quiet eep, Lampent hurriedly nodded, and with a last spiteful look towards me, she picked up the large bag Arcanine had been carrying and phased through a nearby wall. Pushing myself off the floor, I gave the Guildmaster a bewildered look, uncertain as to why he had stood up for me like that. Seeing this, he gave a quiet sigh.

"Some Pokémon... I understand your woes, young... Beck, was it? Being a shiny in centuries past was not a pleasant experience, I can tell you," he mused before raising his head to sniff the air. "Ah, that must be Treecko now."

Sure enough, footsteps sounded from one of the aisles, which soon revealed themselves to belong to Rye as he hurried out then screeched to a halt as he caught sight of Arcanine and I.

"M-Mr. Arcanine?! Y-you...? Wh-what're you doing here?" he stammered.

"I was stopping by for my usual contribution to this library. Normally, I would have gotten Cinccino to do it, though I supposed I needed some fresh air. And you?" Arcanine inquired, taking a seat. Rye hesitated, looking to me for advice. Now getting over the shock of the moment, I stopped to consider. I wasn't about to spout why we were here, was I? I mean, most of the Pokémon I'd met really didn't fancy me, so if I were to tell them "oh, I'm decently sure I had some kind of vision in my sleep because I'm actually a human," I'd never be able to show my face again, I don't think.

...then again, Arcanine seemed like a nice guy. He didn't have to stand up for me, but here he was treating me as equal. That was something I'd learned to not take for granted these days. Besides, he was a centuries-old Guildmaster, right? Maybe he could give us some info?

After a bit, I gave a nod. Rye clenched his teeth.

"W-what do you want me to tell him, though?" he asked. I reached up towards my head, prompting Rye to gulp hard and turn back to the waiting Guildmaster.

"Uh... B-Beck had a weird dream last night and we wanted to see if it meant anything," he said. Arcanine leaned in, clearly intrigued.

"What sort of dream?" he asked.

"I-I couldn't really get anything from his dra- e-explanation, but he saw a Pokémon we met about a week ago, a-a Xatu," Rye explained.

"A... Xatu?" Arcanine asked, his brow furrowing.

"Y-you know him? ...er, sir?" Rye asked. Arcanine paused for a minute.

"...I have met many Xatu in my lifetime. I cannot say I know for certain," he said, taking a moment to contemplate. "I do believe that if what I fear is true, then Beck here may have received a vision."

"Er... w-we know that, sir, but we wanted to know why it..." Rye squeaked. Arcanine hummed.

"In times of distress, it is not uncommon for some powerful force to send out a vision to an unassuming Pokémon. It could be if the sender is endangered, anticipating some coming event, or wishing the recipient to do their bidding. It is most often Legends that resort to this, so the Pokémon they choose to send these to are rather few in numbers. Most often, it is one they have met and found worthy, those in possession of some corresponding artifact..."

He paused to give a knowing smile.

"...or somebody they have summoned for some important task," he finished. I instinctively took a couple steps back as he continued.

"Of course, this is all mere folklore I have picked up over centuries. You should not trust such words, especially from a senile old dog such as I," he finished, getting to his paws as he started for the door. As we stared at him, he stopped to look at us over his shoulder.

"If you do wish to, however, I will be in my quarters. You are welcome to speak with me at any time," he said with a warm smile. "Continue with the good work, and if you experience any more of these dreams, do tell me. I expect great things from the both of you. Good day."

With that, he headed out into the street, where a small crowd of gawking passersby whispered among each other. It looked like Arcanine was right about not usually coming here if how they ogled at the Guildmaster was anything to go off of. Taking in what he had told me, I turned to ask Rye what we would do now that we had some kind of answer, only to find him still staring out the door.

"H-he... Mr. Arcanine said he..." he managed, his eyes wide as saucers. Deciding to give him a moment, I started considering what Arcanine had said. That really was a vision? A Legend had sent it? Had it made me like this? Could I get some answers if I had another vision? Did Arcanine really have my back here? Did he know I was human? What would that mean for my future?

"A-alright, uh, y-you wanna keep looking for books?" Rye asked, interrupting my thoughts. I shot him a look, prompting his shoulders to sag. "Oh, uh, okay, let's go back, I guess."

Heading out of the library into the dispersing crowd, I kept staring off thoughtfully, bumping into passing Pokémon as I absentmindedly followed Rye back towards the Guild. As I did so, two feelings made themselves quite apparent in my gut, feelings that would end up following me long after we tore a notice off the board and set out for the day's mission.

Mild confidence and powerful, persistent dread.

-o-​

As the sun dipped down that evening, I found I still hadn't quite snapped out of it, even as sat waiting for Bert to finish with his training. A thankfully uneventful surveying mission in a tame dungeon hadn't done much to ease my worries, and it apparently showed. I had decided that I'd be able to fit in a training session with Bert tonight, though even with the thought of learning how to better use this body, I couldn't shake the air of terror that hung around me as I kept recounting what Guildmaster Arcanine had told me.

If there was a Legend actively sending me visions, then was I really here for a reason? I had managed to ease myself with the idea that my being here was some sort of mistake, but now that this was a factor, that notion was starting to become flimsy. It looked like I wasn't entirely subtle about it, either, as when Bert's sparring partner left and I hopped off the Water-type arena's side, he shot me a quizzical look.

"You alright, kid?" he asked.

"Huh? Er, yeah," I lied. Bert cocked his head.

"If you wanna talk about it, you know, don't worry about it. I don't have anywhere else useful to be," he said. I gave a simple nod in response. Thankfully, after a minute of silence he decided to leave it at that, putting on his best instructor face as he faced me.

"Alright, I've noticed a good improvement right off the bat here: you bothered to show up tonight," he said. I gritted my teeth and looked away shamefully, prompting the Wartortle to soften his demeanor. "Sorry, sorry, that was a bad joke. You know, your arm healed, so..."

An awkward silence hung for a minute before he continued.

"So! I decided that now that your arm's better, I'll let you decide what to focus on today. Just give me one noise if you wanna try special attacks, two for melee, three for ranged," he explained. I considered for a second.

"...sha, sha," I decided. Bert's eyes lit up as he began to speak.

"Right, so when I got here, you mentioned you learned Razor Shell, right? I was hoping we could focus on that. What got you to try and learn it?" he inquired. Shuddering at the memory, I grabbed my paw and made a 'crack' sound as I bent it back. Bert winced before continuing.

"A-alright, that's good. You assessed the situation at paw and thought outside the box to try and solve it. Good on you. Now, I can't learn Razor Shell, damn my puny Wartortle self, but I can guess how it works. You just direct some energy into that shell of yours and hack away, right? It'll do more damage and tends to be more precise, or so I've heard. 'Course, trying to pump energy into inanimate objects is a bit tough without a bit of training, so... uh, you did discharge, didn't you?"

I nodded. Biting his lip, Bert walked up to me and plucked my scalchop off my chest. As I instinctively panicked and tried to grab for it, he examined it.

"A fully grown 'wott scalchop... you never really get the chance to hold one o' these, what with Oshawott being so hard to come by around these parts," he observed before handing it back into my grabbing paws. "Try and pull off a Razor Shell here."

Gripping my scalchop tightly as if to avoid any more unannounced borrowings, I started drawing energy from my tide and into the weapon. As expected, I starting meeting resistance like last time, so with what I had learned from improving my Water Gun, I worked with it for a while until I felt the energy start flowing again. Grinning, I swung the scalchop with a loud cry. In the dimming light of the evening, I could make out a faint blue glow to the shell as it sliced through the air, though it was long gone by the time I held it up to see. Bert gave a quiet hum, then got down on his belly.

"Good, now try to do it on my shell," he instructed, tucking his head and limbs in. I stared at him.

"Wh-wha?!" I asked. Bert peeked his head out to look at me.

"I've been through worse. It'll heal, now hit me. It's the best way to figure how much work you'll need without cutting my arm off, y'know?" he reasoned.

"Sh... egh..." I managed, still not wanting to do this. When Bert didn't budge, I swallowed hard, gave a quiet apology, and swung. A crunch sounded as the hit landed, and when I opened my eyes, I found the Wartortle now examining a decently deep gash that was now in his shell. My eyes widened as he ran a finger along the scratch.

"S-sehr, am sahry..." I tried to apologize.

"I told you, kid, don't worry about it. Give it a week and no one'll notice the scratch," he dismissed before feeling at the gash again. "That was good for a beginner. Normally, I'd try to wait for the full moon so your tide would come easier, but, y'know, we missed it, so for now you'll have to just make do trying to improve the technique the old-fashioned way."

"Er... y-yesseh," I said, still a bit shaken.

"Alright, now try and get a feel for that thing, alright? I feel like you could've done better with that strike," he instructed. I nodded, and as Bert watched, I started striking the air before me once again.

We kept this up for a good while until the last light of dusk dipped below the trees, after which Bert let me go. As I started walking away, he sent a look after me.

"Kid?" he called. "Er... whatever's going on, I'm sure you can beat it. You're smarter than even some civilized 'mon I know, so just... er, keep at it, I believe in you, alright?"

"...tank yeh," I called back. Bert gave a simple smile in response, watching me before jumping into the river, leaving me to walk off to meet Rye.

-o-​

I awoke groggily as the clanging of the wake-up bell hit my ears. I groaned, trying to reach for them with my stubby arms. Being an Oshawott, I had noticed my hearing had taken a leap since I'd woken up in this body, though whether this was a blessing or a curse, I wasn't quite sure. I quickly realized that going back to sleep wasn't an option and sat up, stretching as Rye stood up across from me.

"Morning. How'd you sleep?" he asked.

"Y-yah," I affirmed. Rye did a quick double take as he stopped basking in the sunlight for a bit.

"Really? No visions or anything?" he asked. I blinked.

"Uh... n-neh," I said. Rye hummed a bit.

"...well, th-that should be a good sign, right? Maybe, uh, you aren't caught up in anything after all," he suggested. Giving a small grin at the suggestion, I nodded the conversation off and collected my scalchop from beside me. I wasn't quite sure how these vision things worked, but maybe Rye had a point? Maybe since another vision hadn't hit, the first one could have just been Scoria Cave messing with my head. The idea that I had no sort of monumental responsibility here had some merit to it again.

The more I thought this over, the more the stress and despair of the past week seemed to melt off my back. I could be home free here!

'I mean, then again, there's what the Voice told you. That has to mean something, right?



I guess I can worry about that later. Anyways!'

I merrily followed Rye out the door, shooting some poor novice team an intentionally horrid grin that made them stagger back in fear.

"...y-you seem in a good mood today," Rye observed as we stood in the breakfast line.

"Hm? Ah, yeah," I said. Rye cocked his head, but before he could ask why, we found ourselves in front of Raticate's window. Taking a quick look around, the cook leaned in towards us.

"Heya. Just a heads up, Nidorino came and told me that Persian over there put Oren powder on your usual seats. It won't kill ya, but it itches like nobody's business. I'd steer clear till I can get that cleaned up," he hurriedly whispered, blowing his rancid breath into our faces.

"Urgh, please- wait, you mean, like, the Persian from Team Assail?" Rye asked between gags. Raticate hurriedly shushed him while looking back up behind us, nodding once he seemed to find the coast was clear. Rye bit his lip in ill-contained anger as Raticate prepared our trays, though I leaned in to address him.

"T-tanks," I said quietly. Raticate shot me a smile as he worked.

"Don't mention it, kid. I've got you two," he whispered, winking as he handed us our food. As we headed to our seats, we took a closer look to find that indeed, a fine bluish powder was visible on the stumps. Looking back, I noticed, of course, Mustie's head craning up over the crowd to watch us. Narrowing my eyes, I blew a Razz at him as we moved a couple seats over. The Weavile's face scrunched up with anger as he started arguing with someone below him.

Watching the scene for a minute, I soon turned my attention to my food. Sniffing at the ambiguous meat, my mouth immediately began to water. Experimentally popping a chunk in my mouth, I quickly resorted to attacking the rest of the meat as Rye watched on.

"Uh... it's Basculin, y-you want mine?" Rye asked. I happily accepted, chowing down on the morsel as Rye poked at his berries. I didn't know how I'd managed to miss fish in the time I'd been here, but... sweet Arceus. I didn't even remember liking fish as a human, but as an Oshawott, it was like the ambrosia of the heavens to me now. I was probably addicted right then and there, and I didn't care. As I ate, something nagged at me from deep within.

'What the fuck? You're human, this is no way to act.'

I slowed down for a bit before shrugging it off and continuing to eat. Sure, I was a human in mind, but something had decided to make me an Oshawott, and despite my memory loss and feral state, I was okay with that choice. Bit by bit, I was coming to terms with my situation. Even if only a bit, this world was beginning to become more accepting of me. Things were getting better, and I wanted it to stay that way. Despite the cryptic words of the Voice, I was content.

I felt like today was gonna be a good day.
 
28 - Straitside Getaway New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
28 - Straitside Getaway

Arden could only wish he was having a good day.

As May followed him out of the mess hall, a weight hung on the Quilava's shoulders that was most definitely not the sack of food he was lugging along. It'd been over a week since he'd found out about Beck's true nature, and the uncertainty of what this entailed still lingered like a bad odor. He had always been confident that he had things under control and that if anything were to go wrong, Team Apex would be able to drop everything and stamp it out before it escalated. However, with Beck now outed as human, he knew this wouldn't be an option now. What was wrong was unknown to him, and he guessed only Team Reach would know for sure.

So now the future was both unclear and quite possibly in the paws of Team Reach. Neither of those sounded particularly enticing, but both of them at once?

'Well, that's that. We're all fucked. Isn't that-'

"Arden?" May asked, watching the Quilava concernedly. Arden jumped and spun his head to meet May's gaze.

"You're doing it again. You're whispering to yourself," she said. Arden let out something between a sigh and a growl, though chose not to argue with the Leafeon. So what if he was talking to himself? That was a perfectly reasonable thing to do in times of stress, he figured, and May should know as well as any that that was the case for him.

Then again, she didn't know anything about what might be wrong. His oath of secrecy to Guildmaster Arcanine still held firm, and despite the recent developments and the vision he'd had that had nearly burned down the base, he had chosen to not break it. Maybe if he-

"Arden...!"

Before he could pull himself out of his stupor, Arden suddenly found himself on the ground with the food he had been carrying scattered in front of him. The Espurr he had tripped over sent a glare as it dusted itself off, not helping Arden's embarrassment as May stared in shock. As the Espurr continued on its way, Arden pushed himself up and started picking up the dirtied food.

"Arden, what even-" May began.

"It's Basculin, May. No one at base eats it anyways," Arden said. May shot him a patented Look, shutting him up as she continued.

"You know what I mean, Arden. Now tell me, what is going on?" she demanded. Arden opened his mouth to retort, though as he looked into May's eyes, he hesitated. Past the anger, there was pleading and concern that begged him to say something, anything. After a moment of hesitation, he sighed.

"I-I can't tell. The old dog's got me under oath," he said between clenched teeth. May's face softened as she considered his words. After a minute, she silently nodded. She knew that Arcanine's word was not to be challenged, so any sort of confession would be risky for both of them. Besides, she had at least gotten confirmation that something was up. She was at least happy with that.

As Arden picked the last of the Basculin off the ground, a pair of familiar voices met his ears. He looked behind him, his face souring as he saw the source.

'Of fucking course.'

"I-I still can't believe those two tried to do that! We aren't doing anything to them, why'd they pull that?" Rye complained as he and Beck skimmed over the boards. Beck gave a quick snort.

"Eh, shee-dyets," the Oshawott tried to enunciate before scrunching his face up and sticking out a paw. "A-sheh-sheeh. Shyeegh," he said in a rough exaggeration of Mustie's annoying voice. As the two shared a laugh, May stifled her own chortle.

"Well, he's not far off. That is pretty damn close to Mustie," she joked. Arden gave no reply, only watching the two as they looked up at the board before them. Shuddering, he tore his gaze from the two and continued on his way.

Watching him go, May gave the two novices one last glance before hurrying to follow Arden. She had known him for fifteen years, and she hadn't seen him act like this since... she wasn't even sure. She hated to see her friend like this, and she knew the only way she could start to help was if she found out what was weighing him down. Already, she thought she was beginning to gather what that might be. However, she couldn't quite wrap her head around one crucial detail in her observations thus far.

'What does Beck have to do with anything...?'

-o-​

"Rye! Hehr!" I said, tugging on one of the notices hanging in front of me. A large rune was circled at the top, signaling a D-level mission that Rye quickly started reading the details of.

"Uh, D-level rescue mission to Basculin Strait. It says a Zigzagoon went missing about a day ago and that they're probably between floors two and five by now," he read. "Hrm... r-rescue missions are tough. I-I've heard Pokémon that don't go in prepared end up getting knocked out and taken pretty quickly... you sure you wanna go for this one? There's no guarantee we'll find that Zigzagoon."

"Yeah," I said. I mean, with that mindset, no one else was going to go, right? Rye considered for a minute before tearing the notice off the board, tucking it away as he gulped. We wasted no time in starting for the Guild's gate, though I stopped short as I noticed a few familiar faces off to the side: Team Luster idly leaning against the news board talking away.

"Hey!" I called, waving at them. Nidorino and Zangoose quickly looked up, flashing grins as they caught sight of us.

"Well, well, it's the bombermon!" Nidorino said. "You got the memo at breakfast, right?"

"Bombermon...? Er, y-yessir, thanks for that," Rye said as we walked up to the team.

"Hey, don't mention it. Oren powder sucks dong, we wouldn't want you two getting it all over you; call it compensation for the cave. So what're you two up to today?" Nidorino asked.

"Beck wants to go over to Basculin Strait for a rescue mission. I don't-" Rye started.

"Basculin Strait? That's, like, fifty miles, bit risky to pull a rescue there. You need any help getting there?" Nidorino asked. Rye bit his lip.

"N-no sir, we're good," he hurriedly reassured him. As Nidorino gave him a dubious look, a seemingly confused Raboot cleared his throat.

"Have we met?" he asked. Zangoose quickly gave him a hard rap on the side.

"Come on, it's only been two days, you dingus. Were you really that drunk, mon?" he reprimanded Raboot before squatting down to face us. "Sorry 'bout anything we might've said back there, Raboot never took in his cider well, you know?"

As Raboot sent him a death glare, Zangoose shot us another grin.

"I think we'll get along fine," he said, giving us a hard pat on our sides before getting back up. As we rubbed where Zangoose had patted us, Nidorino continued.

"You sure you don't want a lift to the Strait? Really, on foot you'll only get there tomorrow. If this is rescue work you're talking about, then I wouldn't wait," he said. Rye hesitated for a minute before pursing his lips and nodding.

"S-sorry to bother you about it," he squeaked. Nidorino gave a dismissive wave as he smirked.

"Lucky for you, Zangoose here knows a Rapidash," he said.

-o-​

Indeed, it seemed Team Luster did know a Rapidash. He'd agreed to put an hour aside to carry us over to the dungeon, though he wouldn't be able to stick around to bring us back. While we'd have to make the return trip on foot, I wasn't complaining, I'd decided. As long as we could get over there quick, I was content with whatever.

Poor, naive me.

"Y'alright back there?" the Rapidash. Over the roaring of the wind blowing past and through my wrenched-shut eyes, I couldn't respond, as I feared any attempt would somehow end with my becoming a grease spot on the ground below. Rye, meanwhile, just held on as tight as he could. He had long since given up trying to make Rapidash slow down, so now he let out light moans as our steed's flaming mane roared over us, just barely drowning out his thundering hooves.

Taking our continued clinging on as a sign we were alright, the Rapidash continued barreling down the dirt route, the pine forest around it streaking past in a blur of green. The air around me seemed to grow saltier every minute as we got closer to the coast, a small detail that helped to calm me a bit. Something about this new feeling in the air just felt right to me, something that I could likely attribute to my Water-typing.

Needless to say, I was becoming decently excited to see how I would fare in this new dungeon. I tried to grin to myself, though this didn't last long as I felt something fly into my now-open mouth, which I quickly spit out as it twitched.

'Agh! Wh-what was that? A Cutiefly? Yvetal's wings, did I just kill someone? Or... or was that a feral? Are there feral Bug-types? If regular Spinarak bites are as bad as they are, what are feral ones like?

...well, that's an unpleasant thought.'


Trying to push that out of my head, I tried to focus on Rapidash's rambling. He hadn't stopped talking since Team Luster had taken us to his... house? Stable? I don't know how to describe where he lived, but the point is, he hadn't shut up for the twenty minutes he must have been galloping for.

"...the road to our left that we just passed leads to Littora Village! Nice little town of maybe thirty Pokémon, used to be bigger before the Strait dungeon swallowed up the harbor! Speakin' of which, we should be coming up on the entrance in a bit, so get your things in order!"

My ears pricked up at the announcement as I felt Rapidash begin to slow. As he soon grinded to a halt, I dropped off his back and hugged the dirt. I had never thought feeling the dirt beneath my feet would be such a delight (if you don't count the flight to Bassa Village), so I was really just happy to be off. As Rye stumbled off Rapidash's back, he fell to his knees and vomited out his breakfast, then looked over to me as he trembled.

"L-let's just have Cap'n Brine fly us next time," he managed out. Wiping the ick off his snout, he pushed himself up and looked towards the foreboding sight ahead. Past the warning sign that marked the dungeon, the pine trees that framed the road became less and less dense until nothing remained but rocky crags that whistled eerily as salty wind blew between them. Despite my unease at this, I was still optimistic about the mission, so I turned to Rapidash to give a "tanks."

"Not a problem. I'll be headin' back now, got places to be. Good luck out there!" he said before starting to gallop the other way. As the light of his fiery mane became dimmer through the dust cloud, I turned my attention to Rye. A brief worried glance later, he swallowed hard.

"Alright, let's do it. Should be easy, looks like there's mostly Rock and Water-types in there. But, uh... w-what if we don't find Zigzagoon?" he asked. I hesitated for a bit.

"Rye, is ah-keh," I said, offering a confident smile. Rye blinked once or twice before he nodded and tried to put on an about face.

"Alright, then. Let's go."

Grasping my scalchop confidently, I led Rye down the path ahead. For the first time, I didn't flinch as the air around me became cold and menacing.

Even as doubt over what I had decided nagged at me, I was still steadfast in that today was going to be good.

-o-​

Basculin Strait

3F


A large wave splashed up to the right of us, drenching us in seawater once more. As I spit a mouthful of water out, I made sure my scalchop was still on my chest and kept close to an ever-cautious Rye. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this dungeon by now, especially once I had found that it opened straight towards the ocean. While the idea of being near the sea had initially excited some deep instinct within me, something about the waters that sat below us didn't feel right. I mean, that's a given for mystery dungeons, but navy-blue water that never stopped storming just isn't normal by any definition, and the neverending gusts really didn't help. And... was that a shipwreck out on the horizon?

Okay, then.

Slinking into a hallway to escape the salty mist, we started calling out for Zigzagoon, again hoping that just maybe he'd be in this room. As to be expected by this point, no Zigzagoon showed up, only a pissed-off Corsola. As it fired a Water Gun at me, I tried to hack at it with my scalchop, using Razor Shell as Bert had taught me. While water against water was by no means an effective combo, it still cut one of the corals on its back off, stunning it long enough for Rye to finish off with a Mega Drain. Leaving its unconscious body lying there, we quickly found ourselves at a dead end, the only thing of interest being the floor's stairs leading up between two crags. Giving a quiet groan, Rye sat down on the stairs and rubbed salt from his eyes as I quickly joined him.

"Well, this sucks," I heard him say over the wind. I tried to give him a look of half remorse, half annoyance, though he noticed and groaned. "I-it's freezing, you try being cold-blooded in this weather!" he reasoned. I couldn't quite find a retort to that.

'I... didn't even consider that.'

Biting my tongue, I huddled up against him to try and warm him. After a minute of silence, he sighed.

"H-how long've we been at this?" he asked.

"Uh, ah-weh an haah," I said. Rye's expression became quizzical.

"Hm?" he asked.

"Ah-wer an a haff," I tried again, only confusing Rye further.

"What's an hour?" he asked. I paused for a moment, then made a dismissive noise as I mentally jotted down another casualty of whatever this Ruin was. I knew Rye would ask me about this later, but for now, he looked up the staircase above us.

"When we find Zigzagoon, I think I'm just gonna curl up in a fireplace somewhere," he muttered as he got up and led me up the stairs.

-o-​

Basculin Strait

4F


If I could say one good thing about Arid Riverbed, it was that the crappy weather at least didn't stick around. We could have stayed in this dungeon for a week and I wouldn't have been surprised if the wind never stopped. While on one hand, having saltwater blown in my face felt strangely nice, the fact that Rye stayed huddled up against me the entire floor just made me feel bad. Even the fact that we hadn't run into any ferals hadn't been enough to lift our spirits as we scoured the floor for Zigzagoon. As we trudged along what felt like the hundredth identical pathway, Rye tried to stretch his arms as he walked beside me, accidentally hitting me in the head.

"Sorry, j-just... I think I'll go numb if I just stay still, y'know?" he said. I nodded, reaching for my aching head as we entered a large valley. Squinting through the mist, I caught sight of a stream splitting the valley in two, roaring as it flowed violently towards the sea.

'Alright, water's nothing I can't handle.'

As we approached the offending rapids, I experimentally stuck a foot in, biting my lip as I felt how cold it was. I knew Rye wouldn't be able to swim across, but at this temperature, I probably wouldn't be able to lead him across without shock or something kicking in. Maybe if I...?

No, that wouldn't work.

But what if...

"Rye?" I said meekly, squatting down. "Shal-dehs."

Rye didn't seem to understand, so I stepped into the water, wading through the rough currents to the other side and back, then squatted back down. Now seeing where I was going with this, he swallowed hard and climbed on, sitting on my shoulders as I heaved him up.

Now, one of the issues of being an Oshawott comes in here. If I recall correctly, the average Treecko clocks in at about ten pounds. Yet here I was, struggling to even keep one on my shoulders as I headed into the stream. The bag around his shoulders might have added a bit of weight, but that was five pounds tops.

How pathetic is that?

Anyways, it seemed my idea was going decently well, as Rye wasn't washed with the brunt of the cold rapids. Panting as I carried the nervous Treecko along, I kept reassuring myself of my progress.

'See, Beck? You're halfway there. If you haven't faceplanted in the water by this point, then-'

"SIIIIIIIIIAAH!"

I winced violently, trying to cry out over the unbearable screech. My ears immediately felt like they had exploded several times over, leaving nothing but throbbing pain and a loud ringing. Trying to reach for them, I staggered in place as I felt a warm sensation flowing out of them. Pulling my paw back, I found it covered in red.

'Well, isn't that great?'

My head throbbing, I tried to gain my bearings. I was still standing in the middle of the stream, blood occasionally dripping from my ears into the rapids below. I had somehow managed to plant my feet into the rocks below, and the weight off my shoulders had ensured my staying upright in...

Wait.

Weight off my shoulders?



"Rye!" I yelled. I could barely hear myself over the ringing in my ears, but I still spun around looking for my friend. Instead, I found a large froglike Pokémon watching me from the shore, fury in its eyes as the lumps on its head vibrated. It seemed we'd stepped into the Seismitoad's territory, and if that attack was anything to go off of, it didn't forgive easily.

Seeing I wasn't fleeing, the Seismitoad breathed in to prepare another attack. I quickly dipped my head under the water as it let out another screech, causing faintly glowing waves to escape from its mouth and wash over the surface as they moved erratically. Supersonic, I guessed. Upon realizing I hadn't been hit, the Seismitoad jumped into the stream, conjuring a glob of mud up from the bottom and hurling it at my head. I tried to jump out of the way of the Mud Shot, but that only ended with me losing my footing and getting overwhelmed by the currents.

As I struggled to get back up, the Seismitoad caught up with my flailing self, ready to finish me off. Miffed at the unfair playing field, I tried to grab hold of the smooth stones on the bottom of the stream, though that ended predictably. With the Seismitoad now looming over me, I desperately grabbed one of the rocks and threw it as hard as I could into its face. The frog monster staggered back, a bruise quickly forming on its cheek as I started trying to swim for shore. When it gave a loud angry croak and ran up again, I hit it again in its forehead, taking the brief pause that resulted to grab at the shore and pull myself up. Pushing myself to my feet, I gave a confident smirk. We were on fair ground now. Staring the Seismitoad in the eyes, I grabbed for my scalchop...

'...uh, scalchop. Come on, scalchop. Where are you... no. Oh, no.'

My face fell as I looked back at the stream. My scalchop must have come off in the river! I had to go back in and... no, it was probably way down the stream by now. But I couldn't lose it, I just... I couldn't!

As the realization weighed down on me like a Snorlax on melatonin, I stumbled back, the Seismitoad now approaching me once again as it prepared to strike...

...and then a rock struck the thing in the chest.

Snapping my head to the side, my eyes lit up. Though he was bruised, shivering, and looked close to passing out, Rye stood defiantly as he shakily got into stance. Seemingly upset at its murder time being interrupted, the Seismitoad wasted no time in firing another Mud Shot at Rye, who weaved past it and swung the bag into its gut. The Seismitoad responded by spraying a purple liquid straight at Rye, who still seemed to be disoriented from having his ears blown out. I quickly and instinctively pushed Rye out of the way, taking the brunt of the Acid attack in the process. As the weak but still painful liquid ate at my skin, I let out a loud yell of pain. Seeing this, Rye's face began to contort with raw anger, his eyes taking on an indigo glow as he glared at the Seismitoad.

"Leave us alone!" he roared, releasing a massive plume of purple-blue flames from his mouth. I watched in awe as the strangely beautiful fire dissipated, now only remaining on the screeching Seismitoad. Giving a final enraged croak, it scrambled into the river and swam off, leaving us alone on the side of the river. As the purple glow disappeared from Rye's eyes and he returned to calm, we stood there at a loss for a moment.

Had Rye just used Dragon Breath?

In his stupor, he tried to say something, but I couldn't hear him over the ringing in my ears.

"Wh-wha?" I yelled.

Rye let out a questioning blur of noise in return. We quickly realized that our bleeding ears weren't about to be of much help, so we stopped trying to talk and took a moment to think. We had both gone half-deaf, we were cold, wounded and tired, I had lost my scalchop, and we still hadn't found-

"Uh..." someone said from the path behind us. Spinning around, I breathed a loud sigh of relief as a Zigzagoon stood there, his face etched with shock over what he had apparently just seen. The filthy Pokémon tried to ask a question, though stopped short as he saw the streaks of red running down from our ears.

"Er... ARE YOU RES-CUE?" he loudly enunciated.

"Y-yeah," I said. A wide, relieved smile crossed Zigzagoon's dirty face as he continued.

"HEARD THE SEIS-MI-TOAD. SAW WHAT HAPP-ENED," he yelled. As I winced from his loud voice starting the painful throbbing in my ears again, Rye snapped out of his daze and started digging for our badges.

"R-Rye, neh," I hurriedly said, gesturing to my empty chest and the stream. As I hobbled over to the bank to try to dive for my lost scalchop, Rye put a hand on my back and tried to reassure me of something. Although I couldn't make out anything, I understood his sentiments with some thought. My weapon was probably in the sea by now, and with my current state, I probably wasn't in any state to go looking for it. After a minute of hesitation, I gave a final forlorn look towards the stream, sighed, and took my badge from Rye. Tapping Zigzagoon with it, that familiar bright light and rush of air lifted me off the ground, finally ending our lovely little beach getaway.

-o-​

"COME ON, WE GOT TO GO THIS WAY," Zigzagoon enunciated loudly as we limped down the road away from Basculin Strait.

"Whar go?" I asked. Zigzagoon turned to give me an odd look.

"Wh- uh, WHY ARE YOU TAL-KING LIKE THAT?" he asked. I narrowed my eyes, so Zigzagoon gulped and continued, clearly not wanting to test the mons he'd just watched fight off a Seismitoad.

"LITT-OR-A TOWN. GON-NA GET HELP," he yelled. Confused, I pointed at the dried blood running down from my ears, but his grin didn't falter as he hopped back and forth to the sides, leaving a zigzag trail in the dust as his tail dragged behind him. I was confused, how could busted eardrums be just... healed?

This place just kept getting weirder and weirder.

As we kept walking, I felt for where my scalchop was supposed to be. Taking a long look back over my shoulder towards the dungeon, I tried to think of what I'd do without my trusty little weapon. I had grown so dependent on it, and I had just learned how to use it in techniques. Now I just felt defenseless and vulnerable, despite the confident buzzwords I tried to push in my mind. Maybe it was instinct, but even though I was pretty sure I'd grow another one soon, I just didn't feel complete anymore.

'I... you just said you'll have a new one in a couple weeks. Don't dwell on it.'

Trying to reassure myself of this over the ringing in my ears, I dragged my tail after Rye and Zigzagoon, the promise of help sounding better than ever.

-o-​

As promised, when we dragged ourselves into Littora Village that afternoon, we had been immediately swarmed by the locals, who after getting the brunt of what had happened from Rye, had tried to care for us as best as a small fishing town could. While we weren't entirely healed, the miracle of Oran berries had ensured we could at least hear now. Zigzagoon's aforementioned ma had volunteered to keep us for the night, so as dusk started to fall, we carried straw in from outside to make makeshift beds in the larger of her house's two rooms. Watching us as we adjusted ourselves, Zigzagoon stayed huddled up against his ma, eyeing her nervously as she gave us a warm smile.

"That's all I can really do for the time being. If y'all need anything, just give me a holler, alright?" the Linoone said.

"Y-yes, ma'am. Thank you so much for-" Rye started.

"No, no, no, it's nothing! You saved my boy, it's the least I can do!" she assured us. "You two get comfy. Ziggy and I will be in the other room; we need to have a little... ahem, talk."

As Zigzagoon gulped hard, Linoone put out the torch and led him into the other room, from which indistinct angry yelling immediately started to ring. Groaning at the noise, I took a look towards Rye, who had taken to staring at the ceiling thoughtfully.

"Rye? Yeh ah-keh?" I asked.

"Huh? Oh, y-yeah, uh..." Rye answered. He kept staring up for a minute before turning to look towards me.

"What happened back there with the Seismitoad? It was like... everything went red for a minute; one second you were on the ground and the next the Seismitoad was on fire. D-did you see what happened?" he asked.

"Yeah, uh... d-deh... dah-gehn beth," I said. Rye's eyes widened as he sat up.

"Wait, did you say... I-I used Dragon Breath?! Wh-what? How? I-I shouldn't know how to... m-maybe that's my egg move? Gran-Gran was a Salamence, s-so... I..."

Rye put his hands on his head, muttering to himself as he tried to process this new development. After a minute of silence only broken by Linoone and Zigzagoon arguing in the other room, he laid back down, sighing.

"I-I'll have to go to Ms. May and ask for help with this. I don't wanna lose control again," he said. I nodded my approval, resting my head on the straw as Rye curled up.

"Well... uh, g'night, I guess," he said.

"Naht," I replied.

Soon enough, Rye fell asleep and the background argument began to quiet down, leaving me with ample atmosphere to think. Sure, we had mostly gotten our asses handed to us today and I'd lost my scalchop, but we'd managed to save Zigzagoon and Rye had learned a new move.

All in all, I'd say this day was worth it.

Finding some contentedness in this, I closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep...



Chaos.

Pure, absolute chaos.

That was all I could describe what I was now seeing. Before me, a massive, elaborate stone structure rose into the sky, smoke billowing out of its windows as fires raged around it. Around me, Pokémon screamed and ran as the roar of battle raged around me, dozens of other Pokémon mercilessly slicing and firing at each other as my body pushed itself off the ground, moving against my will as it glared into the chamber ahead. Looking down, I found my body had been replaced with what appeared to be a Froslass's wounded form, blue vapor escaping from its many cuts instead of blood. Before I could question what was going on, my body raced into the burning structure. Inside, several more Pokémon were gathered around an altar of some kind, their forms only being lit up by the flames around me.

"You have desecrated the Dialgite Temple. I give you one final chance. Leave now or you shall pay for your crimes against time," my body commanded in a cold, feminine tone. Without so much as a twitch, the Pokémon in the center turned its head, the firelight revealing its face...

...oh, sweet Arceus. No. Nononono!

"I advise you follow your own advice, ghost," Xatu dryly commanded. My body's eyes narrowed, wincing as I felt unfamiliar energy flow through me. As it tried to fire off an attack at Xatu, the bird jerked his head to the side, causing the pillars I was standing between to give way. Before my body could get out of the way, pain coursed through it as a chunk of rubble pinned it down, a massive cloud of dust billowing as the temple's facade collapsed.

As it settled, I saw Xatu psychically tear the altar from its place, pulling something out from inside. As he dropped the ruined altar onto the mosaic floor, he paused to stare at the thing he had just produced: a large, diamond-like sphere. An aura seemed to emanate from the artifact, making me feel uneasy at its apparent power. Xatu didn't seem to care, however, as he carefully placed it in a bag he was carrying and turned to leave. As he and the Pokémon flanking him passed, my broken body tried once more to stop him.

"You can't... you know not what you do!" it said weakly. Xatu paused to look down at me.

"Your efforts in defending this temple today have earned you my respect, Froslass, but what this orb represents means far more than you could possibly comprehend. Within this, salvation lies for this world. We can begin our quest to grasp the old order man once wrought with this artifact. For the good of everyone in this world, do not try to stand in our way any further," he rasped. My body paused.

"...you wish to see the world man built?" it said, venom dripping from its voice. "So be it."

A powerful connection formed between my body and Xatu, followed by a massive slew of information. I tried to focus on it out of curiosity, only to be met with horrible images: war, prejudice, crime, Pokémon abuse, the exploitation of nature, a blinding light shining from atop Mount Coronet...

I didn't dare watch any more. Before long, the wave finished, and my exhausted body looked into Xatu's eyes. However, instead of horror or remorse, there was only rage.

"You... dare?! You do not think I know of their sins?!" he seethed. "You think me so much of a fool that I would ignore this? You believe what I have seen is not worse than this?!"

A large, sharp piece of rubble rose behind Xatu, floating over him as he leaned down, his face twitching with contained rage. My body sat up in a final act of defiance against the Psychic.

"You cannot fathom the evils they committed. Returning that evil would not-"

"I cannot?" Xatu spat. "You have no idea."

With that, he plunged the rock into my head. Hot, splitting pain seared through my skull as everything became dark...

"AAAGH!" I screamed, violently flailing as I snapped awake. Rye immediately shot out of bed, running over to tend to me.

"Beck! Beck, it's okay! You're okay! I-it was a nightmare, okay? You're okay!" he said.

As my hyperventilating slowed, I managed to get a grip back on reality. The waning moon was still climbing up the sky, and several townsfolk looked to be leaning out of their houses to see what the ruckus was about, Linoone and Zigzagoon included. In the meager light, I stared at Rye for a moment, then just broke down. Surprised at this, Rye reluctantly pulled me into an embrace, trying to comfort me through quiet words of support I couldn't quite make out. As I buried my face into his shoulder, several things made themselves clear in my head.

I had just watched someone die.

I had probably just been the sole surviving witness to some horrible crime.

I now had undeniable proof that this Phoenix group was out for blood.

I now knew that I couldn't run away from the facts. Something big was up, and I had been chosen to fix it.



Shit.
 
29 - Uncertainty New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
29 - Uncertainty

I'd just like to get this off my chest real quick. Despite my excitement of being near the sea on the trip here, I don't think I'd be touching Basculin Strait with a fifty-foot-long pole for a good long while. I'd had too much cold seawater splashed on me, encountered one too many Seismitoads, and rivers in these places? I had only encountered dungeon rivers twice, and both experiences had seen me almost dying. My general consensus was that they could die in a hole. In short, I didn't want anything to do with this place for a long, long time.

Well, actually... it's complicated.

On one hand, the place had that damn dungeon. On another, it was one of the nicer places I'd seen in my time here. The pleasant ocean smell mixed with pine aroma, the noticeable lack of ferals outside the dungeon, the sleepy but friendly little town of Littora, and the brilliant sunrises over the beach helped add to my uncertainty of how to remember this place.

Unfortunately, that bit about the sunrise was only reserved to a quick look out the window before Ms. Linoone gave me a light rap on the side, scolding me for moving. As the light of dawn crept through the windows, she took the grounded mix of Oran and obscure herbs she held in her paws and pushed it down my ears with her long claws, massaging it in vigorously as I whined uncomfortably.

"Now, Oshawott, you need this if you want your ears to heal. You're lucky you came here when you did, any later and you would have needed a lot more than berries to fix you up," she said.

"Halp," I croaked out in response, sending a pleading look to a seated Rye as he rubbed his earlobes, having already gone through this procedure. The Treecko mouthed an apology as he shrunk back, leaving me to this cruel beast's torture. Soon enough, Ms. Linoone took her claw out of my ear and wiped her paws, giving me a friendly smile.

"Well, now, I reckon that oughta do it. You should be able to go back to your guild without too much hassle now. Just don't stick anything down your ears or listen to anything too loud and you'll be right as rain by sunset!" she piped. Unsuccessfully reaching for my aching ears, I begrudgingly forced a thanks out as she packed up the berry-based medicine by her side.

"Now, then, I'll just be getting these back to Roselia. Ziggy will be outside gathering firewood if y'all need anything," she called back as she headed out the door. Now that we seemed to be alone, Rye took a glance around and bit his lip.

"So, Beck. Uh... about that nightmare you had?" he asked.

I clenched my teeth. Since I'd waken up from what definitely seemed to be a vision, I had refused to go back to sleep, giving me plenty of time to try to explain what had happened to Rye. It had taken a lot of broken words, drawing, and warding off the curious Linoone family to get it across to him, but all I had managed to communicate was that a temple had been attacked, Xatu was there, something had been stolen, and that someone had been killed. With that little info, Rye couldn't provide much help, but he had at least gotten the gist of my present worries.

"D-did the temple look familiar? Did anyone say where you were? Maybe we can figure this out easier if we know a bit more about where this was," he pondered.

I sat there for a minute, trying to scour my memory for anything I might have seen or heard. Any visual landmarks wouldn't help, since the ones that weren't shrouded in smoke were unfamiliar to me. Maybe someone said something that... wait!

"You have desecrated the Dialgite Temple."

"D-Dal-gah!" I blurted out. Rye's eyes widened.

"Dialga?!" he gasped.

"Dialga...?" a third voice squeaked from the door. We immediately spun around, recoiling as we found someone observing us: Zigzagoon, his face becoming panicked as he shrunk back behind the doorframe. Rye immediately scrambled to his feet and led me outside, where Zigzagoon seemed to realize running wouldn't be an option and gave a forced innocent chuckle.

"H-how much did you hear?!" Rye choked out.

"I-Iunno! The dream, ah reckon?" Zigzagoon said as his eyes darted between the two of us.

"Why were you listening in on us?"

"What? Ma went out, so I just... y'know, you can't blame a 'mon for being curious!"

Rye put his hands on his head as he groaned to himself.

"J-just don't tell anyone, please!" the Treecko said. Zigzagoon hurriedly nodded, looking us in the eye. I was still quite wary of him, though I let myself relax a bit, allowing Zigzagoon to step aside, his eyes wide as he shrunk back into his house. Before long, cloth fell over the window, only arousing further suspicion from the both of us.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Rye demanded.

"Lemme think 'bout this!" Zigzagoon's voice yelled out. Exchanging worried glances at this breach, Rye and I watched the window expectantly for a minute before I felt my stomach growl. Hearing this, Rye looked at me concernedly.

"Er, how's some food sound? I think there's a few apples left in the bag, we can figure this out over those," he said.

"Yea," I agreed. Swallowing back our collective anxiety, we headed back in, at least happy to drown our sorrows in mildly rancid apple juice.

-o-​

As the old saying claimed, a simple life was a happy life. Zigzagoon couldn't have agreed less.

If he could describe his life in three distinct terms, he would have likely picked boring, boring, and boring; an open contrast to his fellow townsfolk. Zigzagoon's friends and family seemed content with the status quo that now slowly rotted away the very foundations of the dying town, claiming his lust for something greater was nothing more than a phase and that he would grow out of it soon enough.

Of course, his running away to try to clear the nearby mystery dungeon hadn't helped change their minds, though it had brought about an unintended side effect.

The two odd explorers that had answered the plea for help from Zigzagoon's mother had been the most interesting thing to drop into this little backwater in a good couple of years. Many were a little perplexed at first once they discovered Oshawott's apparent feral nature, though Zigzagoon's retelling of what had happened had settled their uncertainty over this.

However, despite the fact they'd saved his life, Zigzagoon wasn't entirely at ease with these two outsiders. Although he had never been outside of this general area, he was decently sure waking up half the town with nightmares and discussing visions of a temple of Dialga was by no means normal.

As he laid curled on his scratchy straw bed, he heard Treecko and Oshawott walk in, the former talking idly as they collected something from their bag before leaving. After listening for a bit to make sure they weren't coming back, Zigzagoon quietly tiptoed off his bed and zigzagged his way to the covered window to take a quick peek out. The two now sat on an old pine stump just outside, munching away at a couple of apples. As a couple of the village kids took notice of their feasting, Zigzagoon slunk back and sat against the wall, still contemplating hard.

If these two weren't collectively insane, then... perhaps this could spell opportunity?

As he considered this, his mother walked in, having returned from her errand. As she got settled, she quickly took notice of her son's state.

"Sweetie? Why aren't you getting wood? You feeling alright?" she asked. Said sweetie blinked, hesitating for a minute.

"I'm fine, ma," he soon said. He decided would need to wait for the right moment for this to work, but if this strange team from up north was as in need of help as he thought...

Maverick couldn't help but give a rare hopeful smile to himself. Wherever work had taken his pa, he hoped whatever he was going to do would make him proud.

-o-​

Littora Town was... nice. I don't know, I couldn't really think of any other way to put it. The town was mostly just a group of shacks haphazardly scattered around a small dirt plaza that opened directly into the sea, though the docks the shore boasted were empty and overgrown. Looking at how the water became unnaturally darker as it got further out, I could guess why.

Despite that glaring issue, the Pokémon bustling around the tiny town more or less went about their day without complaint. All of them seemed to be contributing to the town's survival somehow, should it be farming, gathering wood, or caring for the young, and yet they hadn't hesitated to put that on hold to help us out yesterday. I couldn't help but get a fuzzy feeling inside just thinking about it, a welcome change from the ever-lingering stress of losing my scalchop and last night's vision.

As Ms. Linoone gave us a wave on her way back home, I took another look around, a bit sad that we'd have to leave once we got our things in order. As I took another breath of the sweet seaside air for good measure, I made to eat the no doubt mushy apple in my paws, though a small cough sounded out before I could. Looking behind me, I found a pair of young Mudkips eyeing the two of us.

"C-could one of you spare an apple?" one squeaked. I bit my lip, looking at the pitiful-looking Pokémon. Their undeveloped ribs showed through their skin, and as I stared into their pleading eyes, pity coursed through me. Before I could reply, though, Rye handed his apple over to the pair. Their eyes lit up as one of them took it in its mouth, giving a quick thanks through it before they ran into the town, disappearing behind one of the houses. I cast a glance at the now appleless Rye, who gave a smile after the Mudkips despite the rumbling of his stomach. After grabbing for my missing scalchop to cut it in half, I sullenly offered my apple to Rye. Gratefully accepting it, Rye stared off into the ramshackle town.

"I can't stand seeing places like this. Towns that would've been really nice if mystery dungeons didn't exist... I-I don't know, I don't think I can really talk. Twistfoot was pretty bad, but even it had pretty fertile soil. Dill and I always wanted to help these places out somehow. I dunno," he mused before suddenly turning to look at me. "Uh, did mystery dungeons exist when you were human?"

"Uh... neh," I said. Rye's expression became unreadable as he looked towards the dungeon-infested waters, quietly whispering to himself as I kept thinking. Try as I might, I couldn't seem to recall anything about the places.

'Well, I mean, unless Castelia during rush hour counts. Ha... what's Castelia? What's rush hour?'

Thankful I wasn't able to blurt whatever that was out, I silently watched Rye eat. Before long, he shifted on the stump we were sitting on.

"So, uh... what's the plan for Zigzagoon?" he asked.

"Hrm..." I pondered. After a bit, I straightened up. "Neh."

"Wh-what? You said nothing? B-but what if he tells someone?" Rye asked. I responded by pointing towards my head, moving my arm in a twirling motion. I figured that if he tattled, no one in their right mind would buy it. Rye gave a small nod of understanding before continuing.

"Alright, uhm... y-you saw a temple for Dialga in your nightmare, and Xatu stole something from it?" he asked. I nodded, getting a long, light sigh from him.

"Uh... I... I think we should ask Mr. Arcanine about this; I don't think I'm gonna be any help here. If there's anyone who'd know what got taken, it'd be him," he soon concluded. My ears pricked up.

"Ah, yeah!" I agreed. Our encounter with the Guildmaster two days ago had gone pretty well, so another talk with him would be best, I thought. With that decided, I sat back as Rye kept eating his apple.

Despite the assurance of help, however, I couldn't find peace as I stared up at the sky. Every time I zoned out, I'd remember the billowing smoke and the screams around me as the temple in front of me burned. I'd see the cold, furious gaze of that damn Xatu as he prepared for the killing blow. I'd have to wonder if this really was the situation I'd been thrown into or the start of something worse.

All I could do was hope otherwise at this point, I guess.

-o-​

The midmorning sun beamed down on us as we stared down the road out of Littora Town. What looked to be the entire town had gathered to see us off, watching us as Rye clutched our bag close. The fifty-mile walk ahead looked intimidating without a Rapidash, to say the least, but we figured we could manage. As I stretched my poor, poor legs in anticipation of what was to come, Ms. Linoone stepped out of the crowd to hand us our reward of a bag of Poké, solemnly bowing her head as we accepted it.

"Don't worry, we don't really need this much money 'round here. I could never thank you enough for savin' my lil angel. W-with his pa still out o' town, I don't know what we'd do without him," she choked out. Her little angel blushed furiously, though watched us intently all the same. Noticing this, Rye pursed his lips.

"I-it's no problem, ma'am, thank you for helping us out," he said. "Uh, d-did Zigzagoon tell you anything this morning?"

"Oh, how you gave your food to the Mudkip brothers? Of course, that was mighty sweet o' you! Poor Swampert needs all the help she can get, y'know," Ms. Linoone said. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we smiled and waved to the small cheering procession. As we started to walk away, something nagged at me.

'What Rye was talking about, with these towns suffering... I can't just let them wallow like this, not after everything they did. But I can't do anything, can I?

...wait.'


"Rye, wait," I blurted out before tearing into our bag. As Rye watched curiously, I fished something out and ran back over to the town, setting the small trinket down. As I stepped away, the crowd seemed to collectively recoil in shock. A minute passed before the silence was broken by a Sewaddle up front.

"Th-that's an explorer's badge! Why're you leaving it here?" it yelled. I gestured over to the water, where the mystery dungeon there brewed ominously. I tapped it to myself and made a "vwehh" sound, shooting my paw up.

"Wait, that's the kind that warps you out of dungeons? Why are you leavin' it here?" a Roselia yelled. I gestured over to Zigzagoon, who stared at me gobsmacked as I waited for a response. Eventually, Ms. Linoone stepped up again.

"You're not gonna give us a choice, are you, hon?" she asked. I shook my head, prompting her to give another bow of her head as she laid her paw on the badge.

"We're in your debt, you two. You've saved a lot o' lives here, w-we can't..."

She shrunk back, sniffling as Zigzagoon nodded to himself, muttering something quietly. As I gave a final wave, the still stunned crowd watched me catch up to Rye, who stood there with his arms crossed.

"The Guild's really not gonna like that," he said as we started down the road. I shrugged, pointing to my empty belly and making a whoosh as I pushed my arms out, imitating the stream where I'd lost my scalchop. Rye watched this display worriedly, though didn't turn around to take my badge back.

As we kept going, I noticed Rye taking a glance back with a poorly-hidden smile on his face, which put my worries about this decision at ease. Despite the uncertainty lying ahead, I was happy I'd made a positive difference. With my badge, Littora Town wouldn't have to fear the mystery dungeon at their doorstep anymore. They'd be able to go in without having to worry of dying, instead focusing on gathering the resources I reasoned were probably inside, traversing the rough waters, or whatever else the risk of death inside was stopping them from doing. With that gift, Littora Town would survive.

Through all the shit we'd been through in this little adventure, I couldn't help but feel happy knowing that.

-o-​

"You what?"

I squirmed in place as Cinccino stared down at us from her booth, her jaw agape. We'd been fearing this since we'd left Littora Town yesterday, though we'd thankfully had enough time to prepare for this confrontation.

"B-Beck was carrying the bag when the Seismitoad showed up, it hit him in the side, and he fell in and lost his, uh, sh-shell and badge there," Rye explained. I made a noise of confirmation, pointing to the bruised welt on my side that the Seismitoad had definitely given me.

"A-alright, Beck, I've got a big enough rock. Here we go, s-sorry about this."

Definitely.

As Cinccino glanced at our injuries and where my scalchop should have been, she let out a light sigh before giving us a smile.

"Very well, then, I'll see if I can get you a new one. If we have any left, I'll have it mailed to you tomorrow. Just pin it to your bag in the future, alright?" she said.

"Yeh, mahm," I said, putting maybe just a bit too much fake innocence in my voice there. She thankfully didn't seem to notice, so she pushed us our share of the mission's reward and waved us off.

Clutching our bag of Poké, I felt a rush of relieved accomplishment as we stepped through the Guild's gates, a sentiment that looked to be shared by a newly excited Rye, and after we had shrunk out of Cinccino's gaze, he let out a victorious hoot, turning to face me as he raised his hand in the air. I gave an unsure look for a bit, though my ears pricked up in understanding before I gave him a high-five. As we finished our little celebration, we turned our attention back to the Slaking in the room: it was late in the afternoon, we'd been walking the entire day, and we were exhausted.

"What do you say we rest at base till supper and go to Mr. Arcanine afterwards?" Rye proposed.

"Yeah, ah-keh," I agreed. With that decided, we dragged our aching feet back towards our quarters, hoping for the start of a short but nice break.

...yeah, I wish.
-o-​

"Urgh, Basculin again," Rye grimaced as he examined the food on our trays. "At least Mr. Raticate put fruit. And, uh, you like Basculin, right?"

"Wha? Oh, y-yeah," I said, casting my gaze down as we took our seats. As Rye started picking berries out of his food, I absentmindedly poked at my own. Sticking a bit of Basculin into my mouth, I rolled it around on my tongue. It was good, but not as much as a couple days ago. I was sure Raticate hadn't messed it up tonight, so I attributed it to a loss of appetite from my persistent crummy mood.

As I kept staring into my food, a sudden murmur rang through the hall. Craning my head up, I noticed a couple of Magnetons floating through the hall's door, looking around at the Pokémon inside before they began to speak.

"Imperative: Please remain seated. Statement: An official announcement from the Societies is to be given shortly," one of them droned in a quick monotone voice. I cocked my head in confusion, though it seemed this had been enough to concern just about everyone in the hall, Rye included.

"Th-the Mags? They don't come here unless..." he pondered as the Magnetons gestured to someone outside. As I kept watching curiously, Officer Magnezone floated in, followed quickly by a quite concerned-looking Guildmaster Arcanine. At the sight of the Guildmaster, the Pokémon around me erupted into questions, all yelling over the uproar his arrival had incited. I'd never seen Arcanine in here, and by the looks of it, neither had anyone else.

"Quiet," Arcanine demanded. As the crowd settled down, he cleared his throat, Officer Magnezone flanking him as he began to speak.

"I would like to thank the Impetus Town Police for granting me their protection tonight, for this is an urgent situation. This is not an easy announcement to give, though by order of the Societies, I bring you these news," he said. "This announcement comes from Froslass's Guild in Ebbull City. As you likely know, Ebbull City is sacred to many, for it is the closest habitable area to the Coronet peaks, and the Dialgite Temple is the center of this significance," he said, pausing for a moment. "It is with the heaviest of hearts that I announce the Temple has been attacked."

He paused as just about every Pokémon in the hall stood up as one, loudly clamoring questions as Magnezone yelled for quiet. As the noise simmered down once more, Arcanine continued.

"An undisclosed sacred artifact was taken from the temple, and many were killed in the attack, tragically including my old friend Guildmaster Froslass," he said, his voice becoming quieter as he said this. "We do not know who committed this crime, but the perpetrator appears to have been a Psychic-type. Authorities were able to lock onto their psychic signature before they teleported away, and it appears their base of operations is here in Gray Proper."

Another round of loud questioning assaulted my ears before he continued.

"Although we are an exploratory Guild, all of you are encouraged to stay watchful, for whoever did this is still at large. Most events, including the annual Guild painting, are to be postponed as to allow for better focus on this crisis. Anyone with information about the perpetrator is to contact the Impetus Town Police, as unannounced entry into my quarters is now prohibited until further notice. To anyone here of Dialgite faith, I give my deepest condolences. I wish you all the best in whatever is to come of this. Forever forward," he finished. A few Pokémon yelled back the motto. A few halfheartedly said it back. Most remained in stunned silence.

As the Magnetons escorted Arcanine out the door, Rye and I scrambled to our feet, our food forgotten. As we bolted out into the night, Officer Magnezone floated out in front of us.

"Interrogative: What are you doing?" he demanded.

"W-we need to talk to Mr. Arcanine!" Rye gasped, trying to push past him. Magnezone's red eye glowed slightly as he pushed the Treecko back.

"Statement: Due to the existing threat, the Guildmaster is not to be interacted with without proper clearance as to ensure his safety. Imperative: Please step away," he said. As Rye shrunk back, I tried to follow, only for Magnezone to put a magnet-arm in my way.

"Insistence: I do not want to harm you, Oshawott. Please do not attempt to follow the Guildmaster," he said. I looked past the officer, watching Arcanine's golden shape disappear into his quarters as the Magnetons watched. Seeing this, I sighed in defeat, stepping back as the glow of Magnezone's eye softened.

"Statement: Thank you for cooperating. Continue with your good work, your work in Bassa Village has not been forgotten. Good day," he said.

"Sh-sha," I said dryly as the sheriff turned and left to meet the Magnetons up the hill. I stood at a loss as I stared after him. Whatever had happened had apparently been significant enough for me to even hear about from continents away, and I wasn't even allowed to talk to my best chance at answers? I was at a loss at this point, I didn't know what to do. I had no idea what was happening, what I was supposed to go about doing, and-

I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"B-Beck... I don't know exactly what's going on, and I know I'm not gonna be much help, but... I'll be here. N-no matter what ends up happening, I-I'll try to stick around to the end," Rye said shakily. I looked up at him.

"Reh-leh?" I said. Rye gave a nervous grin.

"T-till the fat Slowking sings," he said. I thought about this for a bit before giving him a weak smile.

"T-tanks," I said.

Rye swallowed hard, but kept his hand resting on my shoulder as I stole a final look towards Arcanine's quarters. Even if the Guildmaster wasn't an option, Rye's gesture even in the face of whatever was coming was touching. I knew he would much rather not act on his promise, but he had anyways. That alone was just enough to egg me on. While I was uncertain about whatever was coming, I at least had someone willing to follow me through the jaws of death.

As the stars shone down on the two of us, I found resolve through the stress and fear weighing me down. For a bit, I wholeheartedly believed that I would avenge that Froslass when the time came.

I didn't know how I, a mere Oshawott currently lacking a scalchop, would be able to act on that, but I'd hopefully be able to figure it out.
 
30 - Class in Session New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
30 - Class in Session

"...interrogative: You say this Xatu was responsible for the attack?" the Magnemite before us asked dubiously.

"Y-yes, sir," Rye stammered. The Magnemite stared at us with its unblinking eye before looking back down to write as we stood there, minding the occasional Magneton floating past. After Arcanine's announcement last night, we'd figured that the best course of action would be to do what we could to help, so with the Guildmaster unavailable, we'd gone to the small police station in town to report what we knew. I watched eagerly as the Magnemite scribbled down our info on a piece of parchment with a pen stuck onto one of its magnets. I had been confused as to how it was doing this with no fingers, though a closer look showed it was wrapped in some sort of metal which I guessed was magnetic, thus sticking to the oversized magnets it called its arms. As the Magnemite finished writing, it looked back up at us.

"Statement: This could be quite useful, though I must ask about the source of this information," it said. Rye and I froze and gave a collective gulp. Surely we weren't about to tell it that-

"Uh, m-my friend here had a vision in his sleep," Rye said.

Damn it.

Magnemite paused for a second, blinking once or twice.

"Interrogative: You mean a dream?" it eventually asked.

"N-no, it, er..." Rye trailed off. Magnemite made a buzzing noise I guessed was its equivalent to a sigh.

"Inquisitive: Your source of this info was a dream?" it demanded. Rye made a weak squeak, prompting Magnemite to let out a monotone groan. We watched helplessly as it dropped its pen and brushed aside the parchment our scoop was on, then levitated up to look at the line behind us.

"Instruction: Next!" it yelled over our heads.

"Wait, please, h-hear us out!" Rye pleaded.

"ZZT! Imperative: Leave," Magnemite demanded, its magnets beginning to spark with annoyance. Yelping at this, Rye stumbled out of line, and as the few Pokémon in the station with us watched curiously, we hurried out onto the town streets. As we panted and looked back at the dingy little police station, I sighed.

"Shaagh," I groaned disappointedly. Rye bit his lip as he led me back towards town square.

"Yeah, I guess I forgot to account for the dream thing. Guess the Mags won't be much help," he mused. "So what now?"

"Uh... d-dunneh, wait?" I suggested.

"What? B-but... ugh, I guess. But what if something goes wrong?" he asked.

"Is okeh," I reassured him. Rye considered before giving a shaky nod.

"S-so you think waiting's a good idea. How long do you think it'll take, though? A moon?" he asked.

"Dunneh," I replied. Rye gave another nod before perking up a bit.

"Hey, uh, that reminds me. It's been a moon since we met today," he said.

"Wha?" I asked.

"I-I found you on the 15th of Rayquaza's Moon, and now it's the 15th of Kyogre's," Rye explained, giving a little grin to himself. "It's weird. Feels like it's been longer, y'know? You learned to speak and... uh, be a Pokémon, and I managed to heal a bit. A lot's changed, who knows where we'll be in another moon."

As Rye pondered, I took to trying to make sense of this calendar.

'Rayquaza's Moon? Kyogre's? What... oh, forget it.'

Pushing this thought back, I followed Rye into the town square, where Pokémon still quickly shuffled past going about their routines, though they seemed quieter and more cautious than usual. I could only guess that the news of the attack on the Dialgite Temple had been broken here, and the idea of the perpetrator being in these lands had clearly gotten the town worried.

Minding the wary Raichu family as we passed, we started on the road towards the Guild's gate, only for Rye to stop short as he noticed someone stumbling along the square.

"Mr. Arden?" he asked. The Quilava turned his head to face us, making me instinctively recoil. When I'd last met him in the mess hall, nothing screamed off about him, though as he turned and looked us over with his bloodshot eyes and messy fur, I wasn't quite sure what to make of his presence.

"Ah, you two. Been looking for you, actually," he said tiredly.

"Mr. Arden... y-you look... uh..." Rye said hesitantly.

"Like shit? Gee, thanks, you don't look too hot either, kid," Arden rebutted, pointing to the scrapes and bruises still lingering on Rye's body. "Anyways, I've been meaning to... eugh, to ask you something," he continued between a yawn.

"D-do you need a favor, sir? We can-" Rye started.

"No, no. I, uh, wanted to invite you two over to our base. You know, train, have a laugh, the usual," Arden said. Rye cocked his head.

"Huh? Why?" he asked. Arden blinked hard.

"Er, well... you're a rookie team, and you used to be under our care, y'know? Uh, we heard about what happened in the desert and Scoria Cave, and I wanted to see if we couldn't help y'all out," he said. I gave him a dubious look, though after Rye considered for a moment, he looked back up at the Quilava.

"A-alright. I did need to see Ms. May anyways," he said. Arden's expression brightened as he gestured us on.

"Wait, we're going right now?" Rye asked.

"Yeah, not like we have anything better to do. The Guild painting got rescheduled, no thanks to... uh, you know, and there's nothing on the schedule for today," Arden said. "Come on, it'll be better than going headfirst into generic forest dungeon number fifty-four to escort some random 'mon you've never met. Trust me, I know."

Sighing and nodding, Rye ran up to walk alongside Arden. Left with no other choice, I hurriedly waddled up to join him. Glancing over, I couldn't help but keep worrying about Arden's state. Even walking on all fours, he was stumbling a bit, something Rye noticed as we left the town proper.

"M-Mr. Arden? You okay?" he asked concernedly.

"Yeah, kid, just... haven't gotten much sleep the past couple nights," Arden responded before narrowing his eyes. "Can't for the life of me tell why," he added, just a hint of spiteful sarcasm in his voice. Rye pursed his lips before leaning in towards me.

"I think something's wrong. Mr. Arden isn't usually this... er, generous," he whispered.

"Heard that. Up yours," Arden snapped back.

As we nervously followed the Quilava up an unassuming road, we passed several large buildings, many of which had a number of Pokémon filing in and out. Seeing as a good few of them were evolved, I could assume this was a sort of area for stronger teams. Before long, we turned towards one of them and walked into the two-story building.

As soon as we passed through the door, I saw several Pokémon panickedly drop whatever they were doing and scramble to their feet to face Arden.

"S-sir! Uh, w-we were just-" a Ralts began.

"Save it, kid. Where's May at?" Arden asked. As if on cue, May leaned her head into the room.

"Hey, you got the medicine from Audino, right?" she asked.

"May, I told you, I don't need her Ekans oil. Besides, she was busy, though I did run into these two in town. They said they wanted some tips," Arden said, nudging the two of us towards the Leafeon.

"Er, hey," I said awkwardly. May gave Arden a concerned look.

"Ardie, you... we have jobs to attend to..." she sighed before looking towards us once more. After a minute, she nodded.

"Alright, Rye can come with me, you take Beck," she said, gesturing Rye over. Arden bit his lip, but didn't complain as May led my friend out back. Now alone with the Quilava, I looked up at him as he thought for a bit.

"They're probably gonna be using the yard, so how's the front sound?" he offered.

"Er, a-ah-keh," I said nervously. Arden promptly gave a clearly forced grin and clapped his paws, making me flinch.

"Alright, lemme just..." he muttered as he headed down into a sawed-out square hole in the floor. With not much else to do, I followed him in. The basement was as I had expected: cramped, a little damp, and filled to the brim with seemingly random stuff. As Arden hunched down to search through a section of shelves, I took a minute to look through the nearest section, where the shelf was haphazardly stacked with various orbs. While Rye had mentioned that there was a way to tell seeds apart, these literally all looked the same. I wasn't sure how anyone could tell these apart, though as I gave one an experimental poke, I felt a small jolt of energy shoot through me, followed by a very brief migraine.

'This is a Petrify Orb. ...wait, what? Did the orb just do that?'

Well, that explained that, I guess.

Now curious, I started poking at the other orbs on the shelf.

'Radar, Totter, Decoy... damn, what do half of these even do? Scanner, Slumber, Escape... huh?'

I paused over one of the orbs. I hadn't received any sort of jolt from it. No info, no migraine, nothing. However, putting my paw back on it, I could still feel some sort of power coursing through it, so surely it wasn't useless.

...come to think of it, that power felt familiar somehow...

"HEY! No!" Arden yelled, snatching the orb away from the shelf. "We do not touch the dud orb!"

"Wh-what?" I asked. Arden held the strange orb gingerly in his paws.

"This thing is special in that it doesn't do shit. Believe me, we tried. We respect it for trying its best, so we do not fucking touch the dud orb," he said, putting the orb on a higher shelf so I couldn't reach it.

"Er, sorry," I said. Arden sighed and picked up a small sack, stumbling over to the ladder out.

As he pulled me up out of the basement, a familiar Swellow walked in popping some strange food into his beak. He cast a quick glance towards me and continued on his way before seizing up, choking on whatever was in his mouth. As Pike coughed violently, Arden's eyes widened as he swore under his breath, quickly dropped his sack, and ran over to attend to him. A few presses to the chest later, Pike spit a glob of ick onto the floor, panting as Arden propped him up.

"You good?" the Quilava asked.

"Y-yeah, but-" Pike began.

"So can we agree not to eat roasted Kricketot in the living room now?" Arden asked half-seriously. Pike didn't answer, as he only sent me a glare.

"What's it doing in here?" he asked, pointing a wing at me. Arden gave an annoyed sigh as he walked over to put a paw on my head.

"He's here for training, he's not going to get in your way," he said matter-of-factly, as if he had already had this conversation. Pike's eye twitched.

"Okay, just... no. I admit, we'd prolly have been washed out at the river without him, but that does not mean I'm 'bout to roost with it, hold talons, and sing Kumbaya! I ain't letting it get anywhere near our shit so it can just-"

"Pike, just... ugh, it's been a moon since he turned up, if he hasn't eaten Rye's face by now, we'll be fine," Arden groaned. "I'll make sure he doesn't shit on the floor, alright?"

Pike considered for a moment before begrudgingly nodding. In response, Arden picked up the discarded sack and headed for the door. Watching him go, Pike leaned towards me.

"What I said back at Brine's still stands. Rest one claw on any of my friends, and... shouldn't need to explain. After all, you're smart enough to understand, ain'tcha?" he growled quietly.

Now, I'd learned and grown a decent bit since he'd made that threat. Rather than shrink back in fear as I had those weeks ago, I gulped back my fear at this renewed threat and stood my ground, looking him in the eye. We continued this staredown for a few seconds until Arden called for me from outside. Giving Pike one last look, I started for the door, sticking my tongue out at him as I looked back. He responded with an audible growl as I stepped into the sunlight.

My mood sufficiently soured, I followed Arden, hoping that whatever advice he was going to give me would be worth it.

-o-​

The sun shone down brightly as it climbed into the sky, rejuvenating Rye and May as they took a moment to bask. Stretching her legs as she sighed contentedly, May turned to look Rye in the eye. Happily noting that the Treecko now looked back rather than averting his gaze as he had once done, she looked towards the vibrantly green yard. While not large by any means, it was enough for at least a recreational battle between the apprentices: a perfect place for one-on-one training.

"Nice day out," she commented.

"Y-yeah," Rye said quietly. After quietly sitting for a minute, May stepped out onto the grass, watching as Rye hurried to follow.

"Right, so have you learned any techniques since we last talked?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am, at Basculin Strait," Rye said.

"Ah, which one?" May inquired.

"Er... D-Dragon Breath."

May's brow furrowed as she gave Rye a confused look.

"You said...?" she asked. Rye nodded, shifting in place as May gave him a doubtful look.

"Hm... do one for me here, let me see if it's not some other technique," she instructed, stepping back to give Rye some space. Rather than give a demonstration, Rye shook his head.

"I-I can't, ma'am. I don't know how I did it the first time, and I... I kinda lost control when I did it. I really don't want that to happen again," he said. May gave a hum.

"Well, er... Dragon-type energy's usually controlled by emotion. Were you upset when you used it?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. We were fighting a Seismitoad, Beck took a hit for me, and I just... yeah," Rye said.

"That's it, then. I... uh, guess that really was Dragon Breath. Weird for a Treecko to know it, but I guess..." May concluded before walking to the center of the yard. "What you wanna do is learn to control it. Let's start with actually doing it, alright?"

"Y-yes, ma'am," Rye said nervously. As he stepped onto the grass to face May, his foot suddenly slipped, causing him to fall to the ground. As he pulled his face out of the grass, he felt something unwrap from around his leg, which revealed itself as a vine. Knowing there was only one Pokémon here who was able to do this, he sent a glare at May, who watched him expectantly.

"Wh-what was that for?" he demanded.

"Just to get you in the mood," May said. "Now try and let a Dragon Breath out."

"I-I told you, I can't!" Rye said.

"Come on, picture the power of Regidrago itself flowing through you!" May encouraged him.

"Who?" he asked. May gave him a deadpan look before seemingly coming up with an idea.

"Alright, just try to think of something that pisses you off! Y'know, someone who bullied you as a hatchling... oh, maybe your parents or-"

Rye's face twitched. Suddenly, May's words were cut off as a plume of indigo flames erupted from the Treecko's mouth. As they cleared, the Treecko's thoughts cleared just in time for him to behold the grass smoking before him while May watched him, seemingly impressed.

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean it!" Rye pleaded, only for May to give him a beaming smile.

"Sorry? That was damn impressive! All you have to do now is learn to do it at will!" she piped. Rye stood there for a moment before giving hanging his head.

"Hey, what's wrong? Did I-" May started before freezing up. Her eyes widened with realization before she hurriedly walked up to console Rye.

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up your folks. I thought about what makes me mad, I thought my parents, and..." she said softly. Rye looked up at her.

"I-it's okay. Just... I-I don't think mine ever forgave me for what happened with Dill. They always said they had my back afterwards, but... I-I..." he choked out. May put a paw on his shoulder.

"It's okay. We're here for you. Me, Arden, Pike, heck, I'm sure even Beck's doing his part," she reassured him. Rye kept his gaze on the ground for a moment before sighing.

"Y-you wanna talk about it? Uh, y-your parents?" Rye asked. May's look became stern, though this quickly melted away as she thought for a while.

"...I had nothing before I found Arden. I had always thought they loved me for who I was, but... surprise, surprise, at any given time, I was either their blank slate to imprint on or just playing second banana. I knew my life wouldn't turn out well, but... you know I just rolled with it, thought I'd grow out of it. Then Arden happened," she reminisced. "We fixed him up, had a couple misadventures once he could get on his feet, but he kept drilling at me, you know? Tried to talk some sense into me, get it through my skull that I was my own Pokémon. Wasn't long after he left for the next town over that I took his word for it, told my folks to fuck off forever, and followed him. 'Course, they beat the everliving shit out of me for it, so Ardie carried me till he found some help. Lo and behold, it was from Walrein's Guild, so they took us in and... well, y'know."

Rye nodded, looking down as he considered May's story. After a moment of silence, she took a look at Rye.

"How 'bout yours?" she asked quietly.

"Well, uh... th-they were basically just... uh, Sceptiles. You know, calm, protective, really liked... uh, g-gardening, I guess. Nothing off about them, I think. They always drilled me on being careful around the mountain, but..."

May waited as he tried to regain his composure. Before long, he started talking again.

"After what happened, I don't think they really knew what to do next. Th-then once Sinni told me off and everyone sorta stopped talking to me, they said they had my back, but... I always got the feeling they never really forgave me. They didn't really stop me once I started shutting myself in, and... I-I don't think I'll ever know what they did when I ran off. I... yeah."

May gave Rye a long sympathetic look as he stared into space.

"Rye, I... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-" she began.

"It's okay, really," he said, giving a weak smile. "Besides, I'm in the right mindset for Dragon Breath now, might as well try to use that, huh?"

May's ears pricked up, though she stepped back as Rye concentrated, soon releasing another jet of blue flames. Despite the negativity that was required for novices to pull this technique off, Rye couldn't help but note something lingering within him. Closure? Hope? Resolve? He wasn't sure, but he was happy to know he was improving in more than one way here.

As he slowly began to understand the strange technique, he couldn't help but wonder how Beck was doing. If May had managed to teach him this much, then Rye was quite excited to see how Beck would do under Arden's watch.

-o-​

A familiar plume of purple-blue flames shot up from behind the base as I watched Arden dig through the sack he had brought out. As I watched the flames dissipate, I heard May's voice give out q praise as Rye gave a small whoop. Arden looked up briefly to listen to the commotion.

"Hm. You've really left an impact on the kid, haven't you?" he asked.

"Huh?" I asked. Arden gave a yawn, then blinked tiredly as he continued.

"W-well, he wouldn't even talk to us outside of training a month back. It's, uh, nice to see he's getting better," he said.

"Yeah," I said. An awkward silence hung in the air as we stood there, though Arden chose to break it by picking up his sack again, talking as he dug through it.

"So, kid, let me make this clear real quick. Uh, you're an explorer now, and exploration is a tough job. If you're anything like us, you're gonna run into some fucked-up shit eventually," he said, pausing to look me dead in the eye. "My guess is once that shit rears its head, you won't be able to run. You're gonna have to stand your ground, face it head on, and fight like there's only one chair left in musical chairs and the music's about to stop."

"Wh-wha?" I asked. Arden didn't elaborate on this strange analogy, but rather pulled a handful of colorful fragments out of the sack. Swearing under his breath, he poured the sack's contents onto the ground, only producing more of the technicolor dust. He let out a loud groan.

"For fuck's sake, Snom!" he yelled. His back beginning to flame from agitation, he muttered to himself for a minute before looking up at me.

"Right, so gummis are out of the question. It's fine, we don't need them, just... okay," he sighed, getting up and stepping back. "Maybe we can work on your techniques? What do you know?"

"Uh... sh-sha," I tried to remind him as I pointed at my throat. His face fell.

"Right, that... okay, okay! Uh, we can still work with this! Um... try to relax. Feel the sun burning down on you and take a deep breath. A good flow of oxygen is crucial for your ember to... wait."

Looking down at his paws, he sighed.

"Arden, you retard," he muttered. "Okay, er, I don't think I can really help with techniques, either. Uh, y'know, fire and water, they don't mix," he said, starting to stand up straight as I watched him, unsure of what to think. "Er, fire's wild and uncontrollable. There isn't much that can contain an open flame, and it'll consume you if you aren't careful. Water, on the other hand, it respects the boundaries it sets, it flows in a predictable manner, if handled correctly it'll bring its wielder life, and you aren't listening to a thing I'm saying, are you?" he lectured. I gave an insistent nod to affirm my attention, though as the Quilava stood back up straight, his brow furrowed.

"...er, forgot where I was going with that. Look, the point is our types are too different, and the most I know about Water-typing is from the wet boys I've talked to. I can't really help you out here," he said flatly. As he turned around to contemplate, I gaped. This was the Pokémon that had saved the world? I wasn't about to say he hadn't done squat, but I was certainly starting to have some doubts.

As Arden thought, his eyes started to droop shut, though they quickly snapped open.

"Hey, kid, you alright with attacking me?" he asked.

"What?" I asked.

"It's the easiest option I've got here. Use everything you know on me and I'll see if I can figure out something from there, alright?"

A million and one objections raced through my head, though I settled on one and pointed to where my scalchop would have been. Arden cocked his head.

"Oh, your shell... uh, j-just show me what you can do without it, yeah?" he requested. Shooting him a flat look, I sighed and fired off a Water Gun towards his chest. The next few minutes saw me using every little trick I had learned over the past month against the Quilava, from simple Tackles to high-pressure Water Guns, though despite flinching several times, Arden remained standing upright on his hind legs. By the time I paused to take a break, he was visibly swaying in place, though he didn't seem to acknowledge this as he stared at me.

"That's it? You've had a moon, and this is all you can pull off? Okay, shit, uh..."

He suddenly perked up as he grabbed for a rock on the ground.

"Hah, alright, j-just throw this at my head as hard as you can! Any adventurer worth their salt can knock someone out with a Gravelerock!" he insisted as he shoved the rock into my paws, his voice ridden with what almost sounded like desperation.

"S-sehr?" I asked concernedly.

"Throw the rock, please!" Arden insisted.

"Sir!"

"I said throw the damn rock!"

With no other choice, I bit my tongue and chucked the rock towards Arden. Despite the force I'd put into it, it simply bounced off his head, only leaving a little welt as it fell to the ground. He stayed there for a minute, frozen in place until he put his arms down, sighing.

"What am I doing?" he groaned. "I can't do this. I... I'm sorry, kid. I... I can't do a damn thing about this shit..."

His previous bravado extinguished, Arden dragged his paws back into the base, quietly talking to himself all the while. Unsure of what to make of this, I followed until he collapsed against the wall of the living room. May and Rye had already come back inside, and whatever pleasant conversation they were likely having had gone to the wind as they gaped at Arden's pitiful state.

"Wh-what happened?" May asked. Arden didn't answer, only turning his head away as the Leafeon sighed, heading to some other room.

"Ardie, look. I don't know what's going on with you, but you've gotta understand. Whatever's got you down, you shouldn't let it drag you deeper," she said from inside.

"Great, we've reached the part where everyone starts talking like fortune cookies," Arden groaned as May walked back in, a cup between her jaws.

"At least get some sleep, you haven't slept in three days," she said between her teeth.

"I'm fine, just... ugh..." Arden said. Sighing, May set the cup down in front of him.

"Alright, at least drink this, water should make you feel better," she said. As Rye and I watched, Arden gratefully nodded and took the cup, downing it quickly. As he put it down, his expression became one of confusion.

"Why does it taste... ugh. C-can't believe I fell for that again," he muttered before slumping against the wall. With his last ounce of energy, Arden stuck a middle digit up before falling sideways onto the floor.

"M-Mr. Arden!" Rye yelped.

"He's fine, just a ground-up Sleep seed is all. Cresselia knows he needs it," May said.

"I-is he alright? What's wrong with him?" Rye asked. May clenched her teeth.

"I... I don't know. He's been stressing out over something the past two weeks, and all I know is that it's Guild business. We're all getting worried," she explained. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about it, would you?"

"Huh? N-no, ma'am, this is the first I've heard of it," Rye said. May hummed, then gave the sleeping Arden a forlorn look.

"Alright, then. Sorry for all the trouble, you can go if you want. Pike and I'll lug him to his bed," she said.

"A-are you sure?" Rye asked.

"Yeah, just go on. You two can come back if you need advice in the future, we're pretty good at it when he's not being an ass," May replied.

With that, she turned and left the room, calling out for Pike. Giving Arden one last concerned look, Rye made for the exit, an action which I gratefully followed.

-o-​

"So... I'm guessing the lesson with Mr. Arden didn't go well?" Rye asked.

"Ugh, neh," I said. Our walk home had been graced with silence, and it had taken a good while of sitting on our beds for us to really process what exactly had happened back at Team Apex's base. However, it seemed Rye had a lot more to say than I did.

"Well, uh, Ms. May helped me out with Dragon Breath, so I can kinda control it now. Not perfectly, but you know," he said.

"Ah," I said. I was a bit bummed; here I had the opportunity to get training from an apparent world-saver, and all he had done was make me throw a rock at him while his partner, of all Pokémon, gave out the good stuff. What kind of Tauros-shit was this?

"S-so you wanna take a job today? Maybe a quick dive'll help get your mind off it," Rye offered.

"Eugh, yeah," I groaned. My lack of enthusiasm seemed to get across to Rye, though as he opened his mouth to try and cheer me up, a sharp rapping sounded at the door. Looking over, I found a Noctowl carrying a bag of mail.

"I've got mail for, uh, Team Reach?" he said.

"Yeah, that's us," Rye said. "Hey, aren't you that same Noctowl that interviewed us?"

"Yep. Nice seeing you," Noctowl said, handing a couple of letters before abruptly flying off, leaving Rye to read off them.

"Alright, uh, this one's yours, Beck. I guess that's your new badge," he said, shaking it experimentally. As I took it, he read off the other one.

"Okay, this one's for me, from..."

He froze.

"...f-from Sinni?" he said. I looked up at him as he stared at the envelope.

"Heheh, Rye..." I said, unsuccessfully suppressing a smile as I raised my eyebrows. The Treecko blushed furiously.

"Beck! I told you, it's not like that!" he protested, holding the letter away from me. As he made to rip it open out of my view, a loud flapping sounded from the doorway as Noctowl came back into view.

"Hey, hey, forgot to mention. Cinccino wants you in her office as soon as possible," he said. Rye snapped his head up.

"Why?" he asked.

"Don't know. She just said team business," he explained before flying off again. Rye dropped his letter as we stared at the now empty door. After a minute, he hung his head.

"W-well, let's... yeah..." he said. I stayed frozen in place as Rye headed out the door.

'Did she find out about the badge? Crap, what do I do?'

As I started internally panicking, I managed to unfreeze myself and run after Rye. The brief walk to Cinccino's small office was one of horror and regret on my end, and as Rye knocked on the desk, I sucked in a breath and held it as if it would be my last. A looming silhouette appeared in the window...

"Ah, hello, you two!" Cincinno piped jovially. I pried my eyes open.

'Wait, we're not dead yet?'

As we stood at a loss, the receptionist beamed at us. I gave Rye a light nudge, prompting him to speak.

"A-are we in trouble, ma'am?" he asked.

"No, far from it," Cinccino said. "A Pokémon from out of town just came up asking for Guild membership, and they asked to join your team specifically!"

Our worries quickly melted away as we stepped back, surprised.

"Wh-wha?" I asked.

"He's gotten everything approved, he just needs your approval now. He's waiting in the mess hall," she said. The two of us took a moment to let this info sink in.

"W-we, uh... th-thank you," Rye said. As we turned to hurry towards the mess hall, Cinccino crossed her arms, her expression souring.

"Wait a moment," she instructed. We stopped and looked towards her, confused.

"You two do realize that team badges keep pinging even when lost, right?"

The color drained from my face as Cinccino watched us, though she sighed to break the tension.

"Despite the loss of Guild property in Littora Village, I will admit that in that act, you showed what this Guild stands for: selflessness and hospitality. The Guild commends you for that," she said begrudgingly before narrowing her eyes. "Never do that again, if you wouldn't mind."

I nodded before hurrying off, dragging Rye along with me as he let out a quick relieved chuckle.

"A-alright... w-well, that was an experience," he said.

"Yeah, sorry," I said.

"No, it's fine. Come on, let's go to the mess hall!" Rye piped. As he raced towards the building, I quickly waddled after him, though I only caught up by the time he was standing at the door.

"Okay, moment of truth, huh? Our first recruit... here's hoping he's nice, huh?" he said. I nodded, so the two of us nervously stepped into the building. Given that it was about noon, the building was entirely empty and in disarray from breakfast. Only two other Pokémon currently occupied the building, the first being Raticate as he cleaned, sniffing at the garbage as usual. The second was seated at one of the tables, and as he looked up at us, he revealed himself to be... wait, that couldn't be right.

Surely not...

"Z-Zigzagoon?" Rye asked.

Zigzagoon shifted in his seat, forcing a smile.

"Hi," he said.
 
31 - Maverick New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
31 - Maverick

Silence hung over the mess hall as we and Zigzagoon exchanged stares, seemingly waiting for each other to speak up. A moment passed before Rye eventually broke the silence.

"Wh-why are you here?" he asked. Zigzagoon cocked his head a bit.

"Uh, the Cinccino back there didn't tell you? I've done some thinkin' since you left, and I've decided I want in on your team," he said. Rye and I gave each other a quick look.

"Alright, but... uh, why?" Rye asked.

"What? I dunno, I heard y'all talkin' about that whole temple thing, and I figured that I'd try to help," Zigzagoon tried to explain. We gave him a long stare as we thought about this for a minute. Soon enough, Zigzagoon dropped his forced grin, resting his head on the dirty table with a quiet sigh.

"Aight, I get it. You don't have to say yes, but... y'know, ah'd appreciate it. I don't wanna just stay in Littora Town my whole life, especially since Pa's never home to spice it up, you know?" he said, pausing to look up at us. "Uh, I know the basics of adventurin', you know. My pa taught me the nitty-gritty, and..."

He stopped as he saw we were still considering. After a bit, his expression wilted before he hopped off the seat, slowly zigzagging his way to the door.

"Sorry to bother ya," he said quietly, his voice breaking a bit.

"Wait," I said. His ears sticking up, Zigzagoon looked back, a small hopeful grin crossing his face. Seeing this, Rye leaned in towards me.

"You really want him on the team? I mean, he isn't really what I'd call trust... er, t-trustworthy," he whispered.

"Ehh. Giff shance," I said, shrugging. Rye thought about this for a second before nodding and looking back towards Zigzagoon, who watched our whispering curiously.

"Can you understand him, or...?" he asked. Rye chose to ignore this as he laced his fingers together tightly, nervously kicking his legs as he thought.

"Uh... how can... oh, what do you think you can do for the team?" he asked. Zigzagoon gave him a bemused look.

"Well, I mean, I managed to survive in the dungeon for a day before y'all showed up," he said. Rye opened his mouth to rebut, though the words caught in his throat.

"G-good point," he said after a bit, nodding to himself before leaning back in. "What do you think?" he asked me.

'Huh, well. He did last in that dungeon pretty well. He could contribute a lot, and we honestly need all the help we can get...'

"Yeah, sha," I said. Rye gave a quiet hum.

"Alright, you're the human here, if you think it's a good idea..." he whispered. With that, he craned his head to meet Zigzagoon's gaze.

"Okay, w-welcome aboard, I guess," the Treecko said. Zigzagoon's eyes lit up, and he quickly took to cheering and jumping in place as we watched.

"You won't regret this, I promise!" he insisted, picking a small bag off the floor. As he eagerly zigzagged towards the door, we gave each other an uncertain look and followed.

"So, uh, we never got your name," Rye said as we stepped into the sunlight. Zigzagoon opened his mouth to answer before he suddenly raised a finger.

"Oh, uh, your ma called you Ziggy, right?" he asked. Zigzagoon immediately stopped in his tracks and cringed, groaning to himself.

"No! No, that's just a stupid nickname she always uses! I've told her to quit calling me that who knows how many times, and every time I hear it I wanna claw my ears off!" he protested. We stared in silence, put off by his sudden outburst as he panted, soon calming down and... what would the term be? Er, unfloofing.

"Sorry. That happens," he said.

"S-sorry. What do you want us to call you, then?" Rye asked. Zigzagoon eyed us for a bit before clearing his throat.

"The name's Maverick. Friends call me Mavy," he said. "You?"

"Oh, I-I'm Rye," Rye said.

"Am Beck," I said, sticking my paw out for a handshake. Zigzagoon didn't accept it, only giving my outstretched paw a quizzical look as we walked. As I let my arm down, Rye straightened up.

"...s-so, uh, welcome, Mavy!" he said nervously, getting a blush from Zigzagoon.

"Come on, we just met, y'all ain't allowed to use that name just yet," he said, giving a cheeky grin. As I cracked a smile in response, we started up the path, Mavy eagerly hopping alongside us. As we turned onto the main road, he perked up.

"Oh, uh, never got to thank y'all for pullin' me outta that dungeon," he said. "Y'know, that Seismitoad was guardin' the stairs, the dungeon probably woulda gotten me if y'all hadn't showed up. Uh, thanks for that."

"R-really, it's not a problem. I mean, it's our job, so," Rye said. Mavy gave a grin.

"Heh, and now I'm in on it, I guess. I'm likin' this place so far; I'm excited to, you know, do some crimes or whatever!" he said. I gave him a confused look.

"Wha? Craims?" I asked. Mavy blinked.

"Oh, uh... sorry, I guess I've got you mixed up with feral-herders," he said. "Or do y'all call 'em cow-mon up here?"

"The cow-mon are down south, we, uh, don't have them up here," Rye said.

As Mavy gave an "ah" of understanding, we found ourselves in front of our modest base. While we had gotten used to the place, we found that Mavy took a moment to stare at it like it was made of gold. Approaching it, I couldn't help but notice him taking curious looks at seemingly normal things, such as the mail slot and the neighboring bases. As we walked in, Rye quickly picked up his letter from Sinni and stuffed it away before gesturing around.

"So, uh, this is our base. Make yourself comfy, I guess, we probably won't be going out for a job today, so... y'know, we can get you some hay for a bed later," he said.

"Thanks," Mavy said absentmindedly as he took a long look around. After a couple minutes of this, I became a bit concerned.

"Sha?" I asked. Mavy flinched, though didn't break his gaze.

"Sorry, just... been a weird week. Still a lil' weird actually being here, y'know?" he said, his eyes finally resting on the splintery table on the wall, where the Iron Thorn Team Creosote had given us still sat, the dried blood and juice caking it now joined by a fine layer of dust.

"What is...?" Mavy asked concernedly.

"Er... long story," Rye answered. Casting another nervous look at the spike, Mavy set down the little bag he had been carrying and sat down, his eager face becoming more serious as he looked at us.

"Uh... can I ask you somethin'?" he asked.

"Sure, what?" Rye asked. Mavy hesitated for a moment, apparently trying to figure out what exactly to say.

"So... uh, back in Littora Town, remember how y'all were talking about the thing with the dream and the temple and-" he said, trailing off as I cringed, raising my paws in an effort to shut him up. As the Zigzagoon watched me confusedly, I relaxed, hanging my head.

"Sorry," I said, gesturing for him to continue.

"...uh, anyways. How exactly did you... like, predict that? I mean, that place is real far away, but you were talking 'bout it the night it happened. How'd you do that?" he asked. Rye gulped hard.

"H-how did you know about what happened?" he asked.

"Everyone was tellin' me about it on my way into town. So... er, you wanna give me the short version or...?" Mavy asked.

"No, I... I'm sorry, we... uh, we don't think we're quite ready to say," Rye said. Mavy's face scrunched up in suspicion as he gave us a look, though he eventually gave a disappointed nod.

"A-alright. I guess if you don't trust me..." he said, quickly eyeing us. When we didn't budge, he sat down on the ground, giving a gloomy sigh. As I watched him sulk, Rye cleared his throat quietly and led me outside. Once we were out of Mavy's sight, he put his hands on his head.

"What do we do? W-we aren't gonna tell him, are we?" he asked. I gritted my teeth.

'Just... agh! how could've I been so stupid? If I hadn't just blurted that out...'

With this in mind, I leaned against the base to think.

By the looks of it, Mavy was here to stay. He'd apparently gone through all the paperwork already, it wasn't like we could just turn him away at this point. Even if we could handle the bureaucratic nightmare that sending him away would cause, there was always the risk that he'd decide to tell everyone what he knew before he left. That was a risk I was sure neither I nor Rye wanted to take.

Well, there was all that and... ugh, I just didn't have the heart to send him off. He had looked so excited to just be out of his town, I couldn't just turn him away.

But if he stayed, then that'd mean he'd find out eventually one way or another. If we didn't tell him, then he could just snoop in on enough conversations to piece things together. He'd done it before, he could do it again. If we did tell him, though... I don't know, I wasn't ready to make a decision at this point. I would need more time around the Zigzagoon to see if he was trustworthy.

"Less wait," I said. Rye looked up, soon nodding a bit.

"Alright, yeah, that sounds li-uh, good," he said. With that decided, we headed back inside, warding off the Rockruff-eyes Mavy gave us as I sat down on my bed. Briefly looking at the bag where he'd hidden his letter, Rye shook his head and sat down across from me, looking over his shoulder at Mavy before leaning towards me.

"Let's try and get some writing down before dinner, alright?" he whispered.

"Yeah," I replied. As Rye dug for our trusty notebook, I heard a despondent sigh from Mavy as he curled up in place, watching us as we started the lesson. Watching as Rye scribbled down some basics to instruct me on, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the Zigzagoon. I didn't know what to do to make him feel better, though, so for now I regretfully tried to pretend he wasn't there.

"I gave up Ma's Oran stew for y'all," he muttered under his breath.

…crap. I couldn't really counter that one, could I?

-o-​

We were silent as we headed back to the mess hall for dinner. As Rye and I shuffled along, Mavy dragged his paws to follow, his head hanging. He'd been like this since he'd confronted us, and by the looks of it, he hadn't gotten any better. He hadn't said much other than idle "mhms" and "aights", and at this point both of us were really concerned. Was keeping secrets from the Zigzagoon going to do more harm than good here?

Rye and I didn't know, but all we could do at this point was hope for the best.

As we stepped into the dinner line, I gave the air a quick sniff. By the smell of it, I guessed Raticate had run out of Basculin. Shame, I was actually pretty excited for-

A loud yelp rang out from behind us. Spinning around, I found a small group of Pokémon passing, one of which was currently splayed out on the ground, apparently having tripped over Mavy. It looked up to give the Zigzagoon a glare, and... ugh. Of course it was Mustie. As if this day couldn't get any worse.

"Shit, my leg. My mon, I tripped over your damn tail, don't stick it out in the road like..." he said as his Persian partner helped him up. His annoyance quickly melted off his face as he noticed us standing just behind him. A bit of looking back and forth between us later, his face grew into an ugly grin as he chortled.

"Oh-ho-ho, Garbador nuggets! Gold, you seein' this? Wimp and his pet got someone to join 'em!" he laughed in his high-pitched voice. Mavy took a step back as Rye clenched his teeth.

"J-just ignore them, they're always like this," he said to Mavy, turning his back. Despite this, the two continued.

"You know, if you have any second thoughts, you can always join our team!" Mustie said.

"Eh, if his first choice of teams was these two, then let's not," Gold added. Mavy sighed quietly.

"I ain't in the mood. Go and dick with someone else," he said. Mustie cocked his head before he continued.

"Hah, we've got a sassy one here!" he said, pausing for a minute. "Actually, what's that accent? You wild? No, no, that's a small-town drawl."

Mavy averted his gaze as Gold chuckled.

"Lemme guess, you were the best explorer in your shitty lil' village and you thought you'd become something here with the big guys. Never heard that one before," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Besides, if you think you're gonna get anywhere with Wimpy and Oshawott here, you've got something coming."

"Alright, look, we don't want any trouble with y'all, so kindly-" Mavy started.

"Ooh, small-town manners! I'm terrified!" Mustie cried in mock fear before rolling his eyes. "Face it, kid, if you're gonna stick with these little shits, you might as well just go on home. Surely whatever your mommy had you doin' was more useful than whatever you'll be doing here."

"I... y-you..." Mavy sputtered, his calm demeanor faltering. As he struggled to come up with a response, I stepped forward, my eye twitching ever so slightly.

"Feck ahf!" I demanded. The two Pokémon's faces fell as their heads snapped to look at me. After a few seconds of silence, Mustie's face returned to its signature sneer.

"Ooh, Oshawott has a poopy-mouth! Where'd he learn that one, from Quilava?" he said in a baby-voice. Looking back at an agape Mavy to briefly gesture him behind me, I shrugged.

"Neh, ah-rehd knah it," I slurred out. Mustie narrowed his eyes.

"You already knew it, eh? Well, for one, I'd assume you'd be better at, you know, basic speech after a moon, and secondly, where even...?" he asked. Gold chose this moment to crane his head up to look at Rye.

"Maybe he learned it before that dungeon got him! You think maybe Treecko up and stole someone else's old partner?" he piped. "Who knows! What do you think, Treecko?"

"I-" Rye started.

"Yeah, you might be onto something there! Hey! We found your Oshawott, whoever wants it! Dungeon ate him, but he should still be fine!" Mustie hooted loudly. As the Pokémon around us looked over annoyedly, I shook a fist at Team Assail.

"Sha, shaaah! Yeh shehh-shaah tah!" I tried to yell, only for the two to bust out laughing.

"Why you so fucked up, Oshawott?" Gold managed out as he laughed. I ground my teeth, my anger mounting. Who did these asses think they were? I wanted to tell them that they needed to just screw off, that they were pathetic for picking on us of all Pokémon, that... that...

'Argh! If only I could just speak my mind for a minute here!'

Before I could figure out some way to snap back at Mustie and Gold, a trio of Pokémon pushed past the line to glare at the two.

"Leave 'em alone, dickheads," Nidorino said. Team Luster gave varying reactions as I stared wide-eyed at them. Mustie crossed his arms.

"Well, what's this? Never thought Team Luster as a feral-lovin' bunch," he said. Sighing, Nidorino opened his mouth to speak before Zangoose stepped up.

"Frankly, ferals can still go die in a hole, but you know, the three of us have had enough experience with them to come to a decision. Oshawott ain't one of them," Zangoose replied. A few murmurs of agreement came from behind him as Mustie and Gold stumbled back.

"Wh... what? They do one job for your lazy asses, and you're convinced these little shits are hot shit?" Gold demanded.

"I mean, it's not hard to be hotter than Team Asslick, that's what I say," the voice of May suddenly butted in. Looking over my shoulder, I found her and a disgruntled Pike standing behind us, to which Mustie scoffed.

"Where's your mate, Leafeon?" he sneered. May narrowed her eyes.

"He's resting from his little visit to your mom last night. And we aren't mates, Quilava wouldn't want to do her like that," she rebutted.

"Real mature there," Mustie growled.

"He's your new dad, Weavile," May said, cracking a smirk.

"Yeah, yeah, eat shit and die," Mustie grumbled before she continued.

"As I was about to say, do everyone here a favor and shut it. I get these two... oh, er, th-three aren't the most orthodox of teams, but it's been a moon. Yes, Treecko's a little quiet, and yes, Oshawott lived in a dungeon. That's that, but really, it doesn't matter. We're all getting used to it, and with that out of the way we can all agree they have potential. In short, we're frankly tired of hearing your crap, so if you would kindly put a scarf in it, that'd be great," she said before looking up at Pike. "What do you think, Swellow?"

Pike sat there for a minute, alternating his gaze between me, Mustie, and May. Eventually, he gave a heavy sigh.

"Yeah, agreed," he mumbled. May gave Mustie and Gold a smug look as they stood there at a loss. A minute passed before they both sent the three of us a glare.

"You better watch yourselves," Mustie snapped before the two stormed off. As the Pokémon around returned to waiting in line, Nidorino walked over to face us.

"Those two, am I right? Seems like there's always one of those teams in every Guild," he said.

"Y... wh... w-why'd you stand up for us like that?" Rye asked.

"Well, I mean, we can't have our fellow minions getting pushed around, am I right?" Zangoose asked. Raboot gave a quiet nod from behind as Nidorino scratched the back of his head.

"Yeah, that, and well... we'll be heading out to scale Mount Twist tomorrow, so you know, just a little parting favor," he said. As Rye gave an awkward nod, I watched Team Assail disappear behind a corner, which prompted May to walk up from behind to examine a still-quiet Mavy.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Huh? Oh, er, n-name's Zigzagoon. Just joined this morning," Mavy replied. May gave him a light grin.

"Well, welcome aboard, kid," she said. As Mavy weakly smiled in response, I coughed quietly.

"T-tanks," I said. As May and Nidorino gave their respective smiles and nods and turned to leave, Rye shifted in place.

"Uh, did... Ms. May, d-did you really mean what you said?" he asked. May paused to look back.

"Not really. Ardie has standards, you know," she replied, giving a quick wink. As Pike shot me a wary look, the two headed to the end of the line, leaving us to shuffle along as it started moving. Before long, we found ourselves at our usual spot, only now Mavy sat next to me as he poked at his food. As we ate, he blinked hard and bent down to dig through his little bag.

"Hey, uh, I just... thanks for sticking out for me back there," he said as he searched.

"Hm? Oh, i-it's fine. We're teammates, right? We look out for each other," Rye said. Mavy didn't reply for a bit, only speaking once he sat back up, placing down colorful lumps one at a time.

"I brought gummis," he said. We paused to look at him as he ran a paw through them, soon grabbing an orange one. Rye cocked his head.

"Y-you're a Normal-type, that's for Fighting-types," he said worriedly. Mavy smirked.

"I know," he said. "Pa and I just got bored o' the white ones and decided to try these out, you know?"

"But that's..." Rye trailed off.

"I know, I know. Just a bit of weird bondin' we did back then," Mavy said. I watched him as he started psyching himself up to pop the thing in his mouth, eventually giving a shrug.

"Hey, Rye. Dare yeh," I said, grabbing a green gummi out of the pile. Rye gave me a brief bewildered look, though put on an about face as I grinned at him.

"Alright, you're on. Maybe if I throw up, you, uh... you get first pickings on tomorrow's job?" he offered.

"Yeah," I agreed. As Rye picked a blue one out, Mavy thrust his paw out, still clutching the gummi.

"Here's to... uh... my pa, here's to making him proud! And to cooperation!" he declared, shifting his gaze to us. Rye held his own gummi out, giving Mavy a reassuring smile.

"We'll tell you eventually, I hope," he said.

"Yeh!" I said, holding out my paw. With that, we popped the gummis into our mouths in unison.

It only took fifteen seconds for Rye to end up hunched over gagging. While he did this, I leaned on the table and tried my hardest to keep my composure. The taste of what I'd imagine lawn shavings and Herdier shit to taste like assaulted my tongue as tears instinctively formed in my eyes. Forcing the horrid thing down my throat, I took notice of Mavy on the floor, much in the same state as us. However, through his scrunched-up face, a nostalgic smile graced his muzzle. I couldn't help but give my own little grin at the sight, mulling over what I'd seen from him to distract myself from the practical bioweapon in my mouth.

'Maybe having Mavy on board won't be so bad. It'll be... ahem, interesting, sure, but really, what else is new?'

My thoughts were cut short as I heard Rye finally puke his gummi out. Slumping onto the table, he gave a weak laugh, one all three of us shared as the Pokémon at the tables around us stared at our splayed-out forms in horror.
 
32 - Highway Robbery New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
32 - Highway Robbery

"Aight, first real dungeon dive. Hoo, mon," Mavy said quietly to himself as he zigzagged after us. Squinting in the morning sunlight, Rye and I looked back towards him.

"You nervous?" Rye asked. Mavy snorted.

"Course not. Pa drilled me on the basics, I'd say I'm ready. Besides, I'm four, I'm basically an adult. So long as Ben here picks out a decent one, I'll be fine," he said. I gave him a look over my shoulder.

"Is Beck," I said.

"Right, yeah, my bad," Mavy replied. As we tiredly hobbled towards the boards, I couldn't help but feel nervous about the day to come. Going into a dungeon without my scalchop was an intimidating prospect at best, and my performance against Arden yesterday didn't exactly reassure me.

'You've had a moon and this is all you can pull off, he said. Yeah, thanks for the motivation, sir.

...I'm probably gonna die.'


With this in mind, I clenched my teeth as Mavy jumped in place impatiently.

"Come on, they're probably gonna run out if we don't hurry!" he demanded. Rye shot him a confused look.

"Huh? What do you mean 'run out?'" he asked.

"I mean, there's only so many jobs on listing, right?" Mavy asked. Rye stared at him as if he had just proclaimed the earth was a cube.

"...I, uh, I don't think that's, er, gonna be a-an issue," he soon said.

"What do you..." Mavy began before we turned the corner, bringing the boards' plaza into sight. Seeing the hundreds of jobs tacked onto the mission board alone, Mavy stumbled back a bit.

"Oh," he simply said. As he took a moment to look around at the apparently alien sights, Rye and I stepped up to the boards as per usual.

"Well, I lost that bet last night, so, uh, y-you pick, I guess. Tear one off and I'll read it for you," the Treecko said. At a loss, I stared at the papers fluttering in the light breeze. Without a bit of training to make up for my lost weapon, I wasn't exactly confident in tackling any of these.

'Well, Beck, which pile of crap looks the most appetizing?'

I made ready to pull one of the notices off at random, though I was suddenly pushed aside by a passing Pokemon.

"Agh! Hey!" I demanded angrily. The offending Delcatty stopped to look over her shoulder.

"Sorry. I was just leaving. Certain someone couldn't be bothered to do community service, so yeah, ain't that nice," she said. As she huffed and tromped off, an idea popped up in my head.

'Wait, if I can choose what we're doing today...'

"Hey!" I called after her. "I, eh, shaa-waa..."

As Delcatty watched me confusedly, I let out a quiet cry of frustration while Rye stepped up beside me.

"What are you... uh, you want to do this, or...?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. Rye nodded and looked up at Delcatty prompting her to straighten up.

"Okay, uhm... we need someone to go and help Alakazam out with a shipment coming in. It means orbs for him and the Kecleons, and by extension the Guild, so this is important, to say the least," she said.

"Mr. Alakazam? Okay, but wh-what about our job today?" Rye asked, gesturing to the board.

"I'm one of the Guildmaster's assistants, he'll understand," Delcatty replied. As Rye hung his head in thought, Mavy finally caught up to us.

"Uh, what's goin' on here?" he asked. Rye looked up at me, prompting a silent agreement between us.

"We were just about to go and help Mr. Alakazam out," he said. Delcatty's face brightened.

"Great! I will straighten things out with Cinccino while you head on over," she said before heading off. As Rye and I started up the road, Mavy looked back towards the boards before zigzagging after us, confused.

"What about the dive?" he asked.

"We aren't going on one today," Rye said. Mavy blinked, then hung his head.

"Aw... I was really lookin' forward to that, though," he sighed. Rye gave him a sympathetic look.

"D-don't worry, we'll go on one tomorrow. It's just..." he said.

"Nah, it's fine. If it's what Bill picked, then I won't complain," Mavy said. Rye's reassuring smile shrunk a bit.

"I-it's Beck," he corrected.

"Yeah, sorry," Mavy said as the three of us headed out the Guild's gates. "So who exactly is this Alakazam?"

"Um... well, he makes the Guild its badges and orbs, basically. He has a shop up by the river on Riverside Road where he sells them and, uh, does psychic... th-things. S-sorry, don't know how to describe it," Rye explained.

As we walked through town, I took a look around, noticing a lot of the gloom from the previous day had passed, though a few paranoid glances were now cast our way as we passed. Nothing out of the ordinary, of course, though I got the feeling that the feral thing wasn't entirely to blame.

I have no clue what they thought we had to do with what had been happening, but anyways.

Before long, we stopped in front of a dingy shop out by the river. Its exterior was well-worn, probably from the humidity coming from the water behind it, and all of its windows were draped shut, giving off a very potent 'haunted abandoned building' vibe.

"Er... sha?" I asked uncertainly, gesturing to the more appealing buildings down the street.

"Yeah, this is it, just by Cramorant's fish shop," Rye said. Gulping down my uncertainty, I followed the Treecko into the building, Mavy following close behind.

As soon as I pushed past the cloth over the entrance, I was hit with a sickeningly strong smell that almost immediately overwhelmed my senses, leaving Mavy and I coughing violently as Rye held his breath, waiting nervously. As I managed to regain my composure, I took a look around. Paired with the stench of incense that hung in the air, the various cloths and charms hanging from the ceiling and walls made the place indistinguishable from what I would have expected from a human psychic's place, the only difference being the orbs, odd items, and other such merchandise arranged neatly on the rows of tables around us.

As I fought off dizziness from the incense, a curtain at the back of the room suddenly flew open.

"My apologies, I was expecting a knock," a deep, flowy voice said from inside. "I sense new presences. Please excuse the incense, for it is to clear the mind. After all..."

As we watched, a tall Pokemon hobbled out of the room, looking over us with not even a twitch in his face.

"...the mind flows best when it is at peace," Alakazam said. Rye finally let out his held breath and opened his mouth to speak, though Alakazam held up a hand to stop him.

"You are Team Reach. You come to act as the incoming shipment's escorts," he said. Mavy gave a dubious look.

"Okay, how're you doin' that? He didn't even get to speak, how'd you know that... d-did that Delcatty get here before us?" he asked. Alakazam gave him a humored look.

"You come from Littora Village. A town where knowledge is little, if I remember correctly. I understand your confusion, Zigzagoon. See, your minds speak for you, and as a psychic, I have the means to listen," he explained. Mavy shuddered.

"O-okay, now that's just creepy. You readin' my mind?" he asked.

"If you wish to put it that way," Alakazam said before blinking. "Now, then. Just under a week ago, a shipment of blank orbs disappeared whilst on route from Pelipper's port. Given recent events, I have no doubt it will happen again. I request that you escort the replacement shipment as to make sure it too does not fall into the wrong paws," he explained.

"Y-yes, sir, we can do that," Rye said. Alakazam nodded.

"Very good. I shall teleport you to the meeting spot once you are ready," he said.

"Wait, really?" Rye asked. "Uh, th-thanks."

Alakazam gave another nod, prompting Mavy to woozily step outside for fresh air. As Rye and I followed, I cast a paranoid look in Alakazam's direction. I didn't know exactly why, but I didn't quite feel safe around him.

Maybe it was because he could just read minds on a whim? Maybe it was because I'd seen what psychics could do from Xatu? Maybe it was just the vibe that twenty dreamcatchers hanging from the ceiling gave off?

'I mean, either way, I don't-'

"Is something the matter, Oshawott?" Alakazam suddenly asked.

'Right. Mind-reading.'

As I nervously looked over to Alakazam, he cocked his head.

"I cannot understand that which courses through your mind, but I can gather some. You are uneasy, fearful even. You need not worry, I do not pose a threat. I should not, at least," he said reassuringly.

"I, uh... sh-sha," I said quietly, backing towards the curtain over the exit. Alakazam kept watching for a bit before giving a light sigh and hunching over one of the shelves. Taking this as a signal to go, I hurried out of the shop, where Rye looked to be doing a last-minute checkup through our bag, biting his lip as Mavy laid limply against the wall.

"I'm gonna smell like that incense stuff for the rest of the day, ain't I?" he complained.

"I-it's not that bad," Rye muttered.

"Ooh, look at Mr. Scaly here, not havin' to worry 'bout shit gettin' stuck up in his fur," Mavy said, looking over at me as I sat down next to him. "We're in this together, right, Bailey? Couple of us fuzzy 'mons up against the world."

I gave an absentminded nod as I warily watched the front door, only really stopping to consider one part of his statement.

'Bailey? Really? That's not even a one-syllable name...'

-o-​

Teleportation sucks.

That's... really about it. When Alakazam came out to teleport us, I had been pretty eager to see what instant transportation was like. Given the metric assload of walking we'd done over the past month, I couldn't help but wonder why this wasn't more commonplace.

Once he started the process of actually teleporting, I quickly understood.

The best way I can describe it would be how our badges teleported us, though less smooth. Rather than getting picked up off my feet and gracefully lifted until I met solid ground, it was more like I was blown into the air and tossed around until I found myself back on the floor, my body feeling beaten and drained. As the three of us moaned and started peeling ourselves off the grass, Alakazam looked down at our sorry states.

"Apologies. Teleportation is a fickle thing with more than two Pokemon," he said.

"Yeah, thanks for the warning," Mavy groaned as I stumbled to my feet and took a look around. Around me, an orderly array of small buildings stood as the occasional Wingull flew above us to attend to the many boats out by the water.

'...wait, I know this. This is-'

"Oi-oi!" a familiar voice called from above. Rye and I spun around just in time to see a Pelipper land just next to Alakazam bearing a hearty grin on his bill.

"Noice seein' ya 'round, Alakazam!" Cap'n Brine said enthusiastically.

"As with you, captain," Alakazam replied flatly. "I trust that the orbs have arrived safely?"

"Hoho, straight tah the point as always, eh? Oi've got 'em up in- hrm?" he paused, suddenly noticing us. Giving a chortle, he hopped over to us.

"Treecko, Oshawott! 'Ow ye been?" he beamed.

"C-Cap'n...? Uh, we've been g-good," Rye said as we both gave grins through our disorientation.

"Ah, you know each other. Very good, introductions are not needed, then. Team Reach is here to escort the orbs to Impetus Town. If you would bring them to the shipment and send them off-" Alakazam said, suddenly stopping. "You do not plan on letting them leave anytime soon, it seems."

"Well, course not! Ya tele-wot's-it leaves a Pokemon drained, ya see, can't 'ave me lads on the road loike that!" Brine said. Alakazam stood there for a minute before nodding.

"Please, take your time," he said. As he closed his eyes, Mavy stumbled forwards.

"You're just gonna leave us? Why can't ya just... I dunno, teleport the orbs?" he asked. Alakazam snapped his eyes open to give him a sigh.

"Would you like me to teleport you again?" he asked.

"Well, uh..." Mavy said.

"Would you like me to teleport you alongside five hundred objects that I will need to focus on other than you?" Alakazam asked.

"...fair," Mavy sighed. With that, Cap'n Brine gave a hearty grin, gesturing us along as he hopped up the path.

"Well, come on, then! Oi've got plenty o' spare Basculin ya lads can chow on!" he said. My mouth watering, I dragged Rye to follow, though I stopped as I noticed Alakazam lingering to give me a long stare, his brow furrowed.

"Hm," he simply said before closing his eyes and disappearing in a flash of light. Unnerved, I stared at where Alakazam had been for a minute before Rye nudged me.

"You okay?" he asked concernedly.

"Y-yeah," I said, starting back up the path after the others as Cap'n Brine kept beaming.

"Why don't ya lot tell me wot ye've been up to, eh? Maybe tell me 'ow ye got this one on board? Oi mean, a Zigzagoon, moighty odd choice," he said as we approached one of the beefier buildings in the port. Mavy huffed.

"Not all Normal-types," he muttered as we headed inside.

-o-​

"Roight, then, 'ere she is! Foive 'undred blank orbs!" Cap'n Brine boomed, gesturing into a small house. Inside, a wooden Bouffalant-drawn cart sat with several boxes stacked atop it. As Rye gave an impressed hum, I looked towards him, confused.

"B-blaan aahbs?" I asked. Rye gave me a confused look, though Mavy seemed more perceptive of my confusion.

"Blank orbs, I think he said. Y'know, ah'm with Bruno, what the berry's a blank orb?" he asked. Brine chortled in response.

"Well, orbs gotta come from somewhere, ya know? 'Less yer 'bouta pull one outta dungeon, then they're all loike that 'fore someone pumps some power in!" he explained. As he lead us over to the cart, I couldn't help but be reminded of something from just the previous day.

"This orb is special in that it doesn't do shit. We do not fucking touch the dud orb."

As Arden's agitated voice bounced around my head, I stopped to look up at the cart.

'If blank orbs like these are so common, then what was so important about that one?'

Checking to see if Cap'n Brine was watching, I made my way up onto the cart and onto one of the boxes with some difficulty. Once at the top, I opened up the lid just a crack. Seeing the pristine orbs glisten in the light, I gave one an experimental poke...

...nothing. No sense of something coursing through them, just nothing. But the one back at Team Apex's place had felt so... I don't know, charged? How could that have been?

'Alright. Next on the what-the-fuck mysteries list: the dud orb. Oh, joy.'

Hopping down from the cart, I waddled over to join Rye and Mavy, who both gave me a sideways glance as Cap'n Brine debriefed us.

"If all goes well an' Bouffalant keeps his pace, ye lads should be back in Impetus boi midday. Yer job's gon be to walk along with him till then, right?" he asked.

"Y-yes, sir," Rye said. Brine nodded, giving a grin.

"That should be it, then! Smooth sailin' out thar, and come visit again some toime!" he said before hopping out the door and flying off. With that, the Bouffalant gave a rumble and began walking, dragging the cart behind him as we ran to catch up. With the sun shining down on us as we left Brine's port, Mavy looked over at Rye as he zigzagged along.

"How long's the walk?" he asked.

"Shouldn't be any more than two miles. It's really hilly on the way, so, y'know, be ready for that," Rye said, clutching his stomach. "Urgh, that Basculin's really gonna make this tough..."

Mavy bit his lip, but continued on regardless.

"I'll take your word for it. I mean, you and Bartholomew survived, right? I should be able to make it, too," he said. A bit of silence hung into the air before Rye suddenly stifled a loud laugh.

"B-Barthol- th-that doesn't even sound like Beck! You're messing with us, aren't you?" he asked. Mavy gave a sly grin.

"Maybe," he said innocently.

Rye looked at me, his expression reading "what are we gonna do with this guy?" as we started up the first of many hills on the path home.

The next twenty minutes went by uneventfully, mostly consisting of the three of us making small talk and banter and taking turns trying to climb onto the moving cart until Bouffalant told us to knock it off. We must have been halfway back to Impetus Town before we noticed the first discrepancy: a dark shape speeding into the nearby trees. Bouffalant came to a halt, watching the forest warily as we collectively gulped. After a minute of nothing, we started to move on, though Mavy quickly jumped in front of us.

"Beck, you come with. Rye, act natural," he whispered before he scurried over to the trees, his ears up. I quickly waddled after the Zigzagoon, coming to a stop just at the treeline.

"Aight, now act like you're takin' a piss," he said.

"Er, what?" I asked.

"Just trust me on this," he said. Giving him a look, I nodded and walked up to a tree, trying to act the part as Mavy started browsing the trees. As he found an apparently suitable one, one of the spikes of his tail fur began glowing. As I watched, Mavy swung his tail forward, shooting the Pin Missile into the tree's trunk.

"What yeh-" I asked.

"Shh. Don't move," he whispered before putting his ear to the long pin. After a minute of listening, he gritted his teeth.

"Ergh... okay, I guess it was nothing. Ya done, Oshawott? Cool, let's head back," he said loudly before scampering back towards the cart. As I caught up to him, he ran up to Rye and waved me over.

"Whatever that was, pretty sure it wasn't a wild. Act cool and get ready for a scuffle," he explained. Rye gulped loudly, though nodded and huddled close to me as we gestured Bouffalant on.

"Wh-where'd you learn to do that?" Rye asked as we started moving again.

"From Pa. When you live in a place like home, you gotta know that stuff," Mavy said. Rye nodded and stayed silent, perhaps out of fear of being distracted when the inevitable happened.

Not even a minute went by before a loud screech came from the woods behind, followed by the flapping of wings. Before Bouffalant could even come to a halt, a blur of red and green landed on the dirt road in front of us, looking up at us as we hurriedly got ready for battle.

"By order of the Phoenix League, you've got till I count to ten to surrender your cargo," the Hawlucha ordered. Bouffalant huffed.

"Now, let's be civilized here," he rumbled.

"It is for a righteous cause, rest assured. Ten!" the Hawlucha began counting. "Nine!"

"B-back off!" Rye shakily demanded. Hawlucha gave a humorless laugh.

"Or what, scrawny? Seven!" he said. I narrowed my eyes. Surely this guy wasn't serious? He was outnumbered three to one! Even if I didn't have my trusty weapon, we could take him on, I was sure.

"Six! Five!"

"Rye! Magh!" I said to the other two, gesturing forward as I made ready to fight.

"W-wait, Beck!" Rye called.

"Shaaah!" I yelled in a pitiful battle cry, charging forward to meet Hawlucha. As the bird stumbled back in initial bewilderment, I fired a high-pressure Water Gun into his face. As he sputtered, I tried to knock him off his feet with a tackle, only for him to soar up into the air. Getting a faceful of dirt, I tried to push myself up, only for Hawlucha to strike me hard in the gut. Before I could recover from that, I heard my opponent fly up into the air before diving down and-

-o-​

Beck barely had time to let out a cry before Hawlucha struck him in the back of the head, causing the Oshawott to immediately go limp. Rye quickly began to run up to aid him, though Hawlucha rested a talon on Beck's head.

"You're gonna cooperate or else your buddy gets it, alright?" he demanded. Rye froze, alternating his gaze between Hawlucha and Beck before hanging his head. Though the glare Mavy gave could have burned through solid steel, he also backed off.

"Good. Now, you're gonna drag this cart over to... uh..." Hawlucha trailed off, looking down at Beck. A bit of staring and thinking later, his intimidating demeanor shattered as he stumbled back.

"Oh, sweet Arceus... th-this is... I... fuck, fuck! Fuck!" he swore, hurriedly scampering away from Beck and turning to fly away.

Realizing what seemed to be happening, Rye ran forward to pursue him, his eyes glowing indigo as he fired off a Dragon Breath. The flames grazed Hawlucha, though the damage was enough to singe his wings and send him back to the ground. The now flightless Hawlucha cried out and tried to crawl away, only for several spines to land around him and stop him in his tracks. Mavy's Pin Missile caused enough hesitation for Rye to catch up with the bird and slam his tail into his back. Hawlucha briefly tried to push himself up before fainting onto the road.

Panting, Rye quickly turned to tend to Beck. Digging an Oran out from their bag, he stuffed it into the Oshawott's mouth as Mavy shot the two a glare.

"Why'd he do that? We had him!" he protested.

"He's just like that, I guess," Rye said, moving Beck's jaw to chew and swallow the berry.

"S-so you're not even gonna try to make him, you know, not do that?" Mavy demanded. Rye growled slightly.

"I've tried, believe me," he simply said. Before Mavy could say anything else, Beck stirred before moaning and opening his eyes.

"Wha...?" he asked.

"It's alright, we beat him. We're okay," Rye reassured him. As Beck sat up, he looked over at Hawlucha's unconscious body. A bit of contemplation later, he sighed, wobbly getting to his feet.

"Agh, am sahry," he said.

"I-it's fine, Beck," Rye reassured him. As Mavy muttered under his breath in clear disagreement, Beck and Rye hoisted Hawlucha up and dragged him over to Bouffalant, who stared at them in ill-hidden awe.

"W-would you mind if we put him on the cart? Er, and let Oshawott sit on it, too?" Rye asked. Bouffalant blinked.

"Sure, uh, go ahead," he said.

Before long, Beck had clambered up onto the cart and laid against Hawlucha's tied-up body as the cart rolled down the road again. With a moment of reprieve, Team Reach took to idle thought.

Rye did not know what to think. He was relieved that they had escaped this encounter relatively unscathed, yet he felt quite bad for Beck. His headstrong nature could be useful in the future, especially contrasting Rye's own meekness. However, he knew he could not ignore the signs. He had to help his friend.

Mavy was decently pissed off. He had joined a team he had observed was rather competent in the field, and yet only now was he finding out that his new teammate's head was likely stuck up someplace undesirable. He was almost certain that this would only carry on, but he could only hope that this would not be the case, especially since he had nowhere else to go but home. Either way, he had to find out what his deal was.

As for Beck, he now sat staring off at the sky, settling on a single topic to mull over.

'Beck, you fucking idiot...'
 
33 - A Finger Pointed New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
33 - A Finger Pointed

Word spread quickly of what had happened on the road from the harbor. The minute we had dragged the cart of orbs and our asses back into Impetus Town, a crowd had formed around us that lingered even as we finished the job with Alakazam. Even now as we sat in the police station, a number of heads craned to peek through the door in the lobby, leaning to get even a hint of what was happening. For better or for worse, Rye, Mavy, and I could hear everything, and as we waited outside a hastily assembled interrogation room, we winced as we heard Officer Magnezone slam a magnet onto the table.

"ZZT! Insistence: What was your motive for the robbery?" he demanded.

"The fuck you talkin' about?" Hawlucha's voice inquired.

CRACKLE!

As Hawlucha's pained yelps and the smell of ozone hit me, I stared at the floor, still moping over what had happened back on the road. I couldn't quite settle on a singular explanation for why I'd put on such a piss-poor showing, and I'd been mulling over the possibilities for a good couple hours now.

'I'd have done better if I had my scalchop. At the very least, I wouldn't have just gotten knocked out like that.

Well, then again, I could've taken him if I weren't so dependent on that thing. I wasn't good enough with special attacks and paid the price. Clearly I need to train more.

In that case, why didn't Rye help me? He and Mavy just stood there, we could've taken that Hawlucha if they'd just gone ahead when I said so!

No, this was my fault. I shouldn't have charged in like that. I should've waited for Rye's command and not gotten high off my fumes again... damn it, how many times have I promised to try and work on that? I just wish I could talk to Rye about this!

Agh... Beck, you massive sha-ing idiot!'


As I gritted my teeth, Rye shot me a concerned look.

"Beck... you're fine, really," he said. When I didn't budge, he squirmed in his seat.

"I-I get it, really. Uh, Dill used to be that way, y'know? Whenever something didn't work out, he'd act like this. Wh-what you've gotta do is just... a-accept it and m-move on... I-I'm sorry, I shouldn''t..."

As Rye gave a weak sigh, Mavy cleared his throat.

"Is there something I'm missing here, or..." he asked, through he shrunk back as Rye and I sent glares his way. A quiet moment passed before the peace was interrupted by another loud, indiscernable demand from Officer Magnezone. I looked at the shut door curiously before hopping off my seat and tiptoeing towards it.

"Wh-what're you doing?" Rye asked, looking up from his sulking.

"Shh," I shushed, putting my ear to the door. Though Rye's look screamed at me to stop, he soon got up and joined me in my snooping. Before long, Mavy pushed his face between us, so we all listened in as Magnezone continued his interrogation.

"Statement: Let's start at the beginning. You are part of the Phoenix League, and-" he said. Hawlucha scoffed.

"What?! I already told you, I'm not with them, I'm just travelling from Westgrove-on-Sea, I'm just tryin' to make end's meet!" he said. Rye's face scrunched up as Magnezone gave a buzz of annoyance.

"Statement: I have already been debriefed by Team Reach on the situation. Do not lie to me."

"W-wait, but-" the bird stammered, though a quick crackle from Officer Magnezone's magnets shut him up.

"Interrogative: Why did you attack Alakazam's shipments?" he asked.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Hawlucha muttered. This was quickly followed by a loud zap as Magnezone apparently fired off another bolt. I winced as the bird screeched in pain, though soon he seemed to relent.

"Aagh! Agh! W-we needed supplies! I was resupplying!" he yelled, causing the crackling to stop.

"Inquiry: 'We' as in the Phoenixes?" he asked. Hawlucha gave a weak groan of affirmation. Rye and I exchanged a quick glance as the officer's voice continued.

"Interrogative: Where are you based?" he asked. Hawlucha remained silent, prompting another bolt from Magnezone, which only lasted a few seconds this time before the outlaw apparently gave up.

"Agh! B-baah! Bassa! Bassa!" he yelled. Rye gave a wide-eyed stare, stumbling back a bit and nearly tripping over my tail.

"Ba-sha?" I asked. Rye gave me a quick glance, though I wasn't quite sure if this was because of this sudden revelation or how I'd said that.

'Honestly, probably a decent bit of the second one. Why'd I have to end up cute?'

"Statement: I see. Interrogative: We have received a tip implying that the Phoenix League may have been responsible for the attack in Ebbull City. Does this have any truth to it?" Magnezone asked.

"N-no," Hawlucha groaned before yelping suddenly. "Okay, yes! Yes!"

There was a long pause.

"...interrogative: what was the motive?" Magnezone asked.

"Don't know," Hawlucha said. A quick crackle of electricity later, he was spilling info again. "It's higher-level knowledge! I promise, I don't know why they did it!"

"Inquiry: Do you know what was stolen?" Magnezone asked.

"The fuck do you think I am? I just work under their roof, don't know anything the executives got coursing through their skulls," Hawlucha rebutted quietly. Magnezone made an electronic hum before a shuffling sound met my ears.

"Statement: Very well. Thank you for your cooperation. I shall leave you for now," he said. "Imperative: Magneton, please return him to his cell."

Realizing that Magnezone could only be heading out to meet us, I scrambled away from the door and back towards my seat. Unfortunately for me, both Rye and Mavy seemed to have had the same idea, so with a loud yelp, I ended up tripping over the two and tumbling to the ground with them. When Magnezone pushed open the door, he found us sprawled on the floor trying to untangle ourselves, by no means looking as inconspicuous as I'd wanted. As I gave him an innocuous smile, he gave us an unimpressed stare.

"Disdain: I know what you're thinking. Just because you've been to Bassa Village does not mean I will allow you to go and solve this. I will contact Sheriff Feraligatr about this, you are to-"

"W-wait," Rye interrupted, pushing Mavy off his head. "Remember when I said he, y'know, tried to run away when he got a look at Beck? D-did you, uh, ask him about that?"

Magnezone contemplated for a minute before turning back towards the interrogation room, where a Magneton was leading a visibly drained Hawlucha away, though a loud tone from the officer stopped them in their tracks.

"Interrogative: Mr. Hawlucha, I was told you displayed reluctance to attack Apprentice Oshawott here. Might I ask why?" he asked. Hawlucha hesitated.

"...I, uh, don't know," he said. Magnezone's magnets sparked loudly, causing Hawlucha to jump back. "Ah! I don't, really! They just said we weren't supposed to attack the feral Oshawott with the Treecko partner!"

Magnezone cocked his head (or rather, tilted sideways entirely) as my stomach churned. A minute passed before the officer nodded.

"Statement: I see. Carry on," he said. With a hard nudge, the Magneton led Hawlucha around a corner, leaving Magnezone to shut the door and turn towards us. After a minute of eyeing us, he began speaking in his monotone voice.

"Statement: We will look into this. Continue as normal, and do not get involved, this is not your business. Imperative: You may go," he said. Rye bit his lip and nodded, uttering a quiet thanks before gesturing me on. As the three of us filed out of the station, curious onlookers swarmed us, shouting questions that we tried to ignore. Thankfully, they had the sense to leave us alone by the time we entered town square, leaving us alone to process what we'd just heard.

'So they're doing... that. Why? Do they know I'm human? Do they want to recruit me or something? What possible use could I have for them?

Agh, this hurts my head...'


A few minutes of silence passed before Rye took a look down at the sack of Poké Alakazam had given us for our services.

"So, uh, w-we did that. Team Reach?" he offered, holding up a palm. Cracking a quick smile, I quickly gave a high-five as Mavy looked on confusedly.

"This some sorta team ritual I don't understand?" he asked.

"Bit hard to explain," Rye said as we started back towards the street. Before we got far, Mavy hopped in front of us, and after a bit of hesitation, he sighed.

"Aight. So... what in distortion were they talkin' 'bout back there?" he demanded. Rye's face fell.

"Er... I-I know, all that sounded really weird, but-" he began.

"Weird? Oh, sure, apparently some mob just so happens to have y'all on some list, no biggie!" Mavy said, forcing a sarcastic grin. Rye let out a quiet exasperated groan.

"W-we'll tell you what's going on when we feel like... y-you know," he said.

"I don't know, actually, so just tell me something! Gimme a hint, a nudge in the right direction, I dunno! I just want some answers here! Do you not trust me here?" Mavy protested.

"Y-yes, we do! It's just... you've only been here a day, w-we're not ready to tell you, alright?!" Rye rebutted. A good few heads craned in our direction, causing Rye to shudder a bit as Mavy argued back.

"Yeah, but I'm still a teammate! Like, really, you're willin' to share your crap with your... th-the feral here over me?" he asked. My gaze darkened as Rye gritted his teeth.

"D-don't bring Beck into this," Rye stammered, inching towards me.

"Look, my point is, why can't I be trusted here?" Mavy asked. Rye hesitated a bit before putting his hands on his head.

"I... you... agh, I can't..." he tried.

"Hm?" Mavy asked.

"Just leave me alone!" Rye yelled, his eyes suddenly turning indigo. As Mavy yelped and scrambled back in panic, the Treecko's face fell. His eyes returning to normal, he stumbled a bit, staring bug-eyed at the frightened Mavy for a minute.

"I-I'm sorry... I..." he choked out before turning and raggedly running up the road.

"Rye!" I called. The Treecko didn't look back, only continuing to run until he disappeared behind a building. I ran to follow him, though I didn't get far before I stopped to take a look back at the still-shaken Mavy as he stood with his tail to a building wall. Biting my lip, I waddled back over to him.

"Am sorry," I said. The Zigzagoon didn't look up at me, only huffing.

"Yeah, aight," he mumbled. As I waited for him to pull himself out of his rut, he sent me a light glare. "What, you want food or-"

He suddenly blinked hard, his gaze softening.

"Right, you can... I-I get it, I guess. Like, I reckon I wouldn't trust myself in that position, but... ugh, I need a bit," he said, curling up against the wall.

"Maagh?" I tried to say. Mavy gave me a quick flat look.

"Please skedaddle. Treecko asks, I'll be here," he said. I watched him for a minute before giving a nod and running up the street, not stopping till I ran through the door to our base. Once I did skid to a halt, however, I was presented with a noticeable lack of Rye in the building.

"Shaht," I muttered to myself before heading back out to look around for my friend. Scanning the mostly empty area, I couldn't find any sign of him, so I hurriedly waddled the way I'd come. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I let out a despondent sigh and slumped against a tree outside the Guild's gate. Sure, I figured he'd be back eventually, but just the idea of Rye being that upset...

'Agh, why'd we even let Mavy on the team? He's been more trouble than he's worth...'

My frustration suddenly ground to a halt as the tree above rustled, sprinkling leaves onto the ground around me. Looking up in confusion, I found Rye perched on a high-up branch, rocking in place and whispering to himself as he stared off.

"R-Rye?" I asked. The Treecko gave a sharp gasp as he flinched, looking down to find me staring up at him.

"Oh... B-Beck. S-sorry I... you know," he said, his voice hoarse. We sat there quietly for a minute before he spoke up again. "I-I think we should talk. C-could you sit here with me?"

I gave a quiet cough, gesturing to the tree's very much non-climbable trunk. Rye looked down confusedly for a minute before blinking.

"R-right. I forget other Pokemon can't do that," he said, slumping against the trunk above me. "I just... I don't know what to do. Like, I promised I'd stick by you till the end, but... I-I don't think I'm ready to take on whoever's behind all this. I-I'm just a Treecko, and a pretty bad one at that. I mean, everyone says we're supposed to be calm and collected all the time, but I... I just... can't. I... I don't know..."

"Hey, hey, Rye," I tried to say reassuringly, though Rye didn't seem to be finished.

"I-I'm not ready for this. I just wanted to make a team, not do... this. I don't know, I guess there's just too much going on? Like, teaching you to talk and write, all this with these Phoenix 'mons, Mavy, just... I-I just feel like I'm just going with the flow and the waterfall's coming up. A-and I feel like when I go over, something really bad's gonna happen, and... i-it'll be my fault," he said.

"Rye, is ah-keh," I tried.

"No, it's not! What if we fail? What if I screw up and we get totaled in some dungeon along the way? What if... wh-what if I get you killed, Beck?" he asked. "I... I can't go through that again..."

As I watched him, the Treecko buried his face into his legs, sniffling as he started rocking in place again. He kept softly crying for a good minute before giving a shaky sigh.

"I-I'm sorry, that's just been on my chest for a while," he said quietly.

"Rye, I..." I trailed off as he started climbing down off the branch. As he dropped down, he took a seat, wiped off his snout, and looked me in the eye with his own bloodshot pair.

"D-do you wanna be the team leader?" he asked abruptly.

"Huh? Wh-wha?" I asked.

"I'm clearly not good enough. I-I think the team would be better off in your paws," Rye reasoned. I raised my paws in response, shaking my head.

"Rye, nah. Yeh're ff... f-fah-ai... f-fiine. Yeh're fine," I managed out.

"You really think so? It's just that you-" Rye started.

"Yeh're fine," I repeated, putting a paw on his shoulder reassuringly. I was no therapist, so that was about it in terms of what I could do for him. Thankfully, it seemed to be enough, as Rye let out a sniffle before trying for a smile. Grinning back, I offered to help him up, though once he was on his feet, he quickly pulled me into a hug, much to my initial confusion.

"Th-thanks," he choked out. I hesitated for a second, then wrapped my stubby arms around him.

"Can you help me out? You know, with being... b-better?" he asked, not breaking the embrace.

"Yeah, Rye. Yeah," I replied. He had been there for me when I'd melted down over my ferality what seemed like months ago, so I figured the least I could do was try to repay the favor. For now, though, I just held my friend, trying my best to comfort him. We just stayed there for a while.

Before long, we let each other go and quietly started back for our quarters, not daring to break the atmosphere of the moment until we were sitting on our straw beds. Shifting in his seat, Rye chose this moment to finally break the silence as he cleared his throat.

"S-so what do you wanna do about... y'know, Bassa Village?" he asked. "I-I'd guess we should just go, but... you know, the Guild probably won't let us and we're probably not ready. What do you think?"

I thought for a good while before sighing.

"Danno," I said. Rye pursed his lips as he looked down to the floor.

"I guess I'll think about it, then," he said. I nodded, leading to another bout of silence that Rye once again interrupted as he suddenly looked around.

"Er, where's Mavy? Is he alright?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, gesturing outside.

"Okay, uh... t-tell me if you see him," he requested. I nodded, so he sat back as I started peering out the window. A few minutes of this passed before my ears stood up to the sound of ripping parchment, which a quick look revealed to be Rye tearing open an envelope. Recognizing it as the letter he'd gotten from Sinni the day prior, I watched as he started reading and gave a quiet snort.

"Wha?" I asked. Rye gave me a look.

"Just an inside joke between us. Nothing about... you know," he said. I narrowed my eyes in mock suspicion before turning back to the window. Finally given a moment to just sit and think, I considered the day's events.

That conversation we'd had had given me a bit of a wake-up call. I'd had my ass handed to me on the road, and clearly I needed to work on some things; not just so I could put on a better showing next time, but because Rye was counting on me. He was the reason I'd even managed over the past month, and by the looks of it, the same was true the other way. I couldn't just wait for solutions, we'd have to work that out together.

Of course, before I did that, I felt I had a sorely-needed lesson to attend.

-o-​

The river roared as its water barreled towards me, threatening to overtake me. Yelping, I jumped out of the way, narrowly avoiding getting washed off my feet. Humming at the failure of his Surf attack, Bert leaped at me, retreating into his shell and beginning to spin rapidly. Not wanting to be on that attack's receiving end, I managed to knock him off course with a high-pressure Water Gun. Bert's shell tumbled until it ended up on its back, lying still as I ran to strike my teacher in his vulnerable position. A good Tackle, and-

My body immediately felt like it'd just run straight into a brick wall. Blinking the fog out of my vision, I found I wasn't far off as I slid down the transparent barrier before him like some kind of cartoon. As Bert's Protect dissipated, he quickly rocked himself back onto his feet and swung his tail down at me as I tried to scramble to my feet.

"Ah!" I cried out before the Aqua Tail stopped short of my head. Bert stayed there for a second before relaxing.

"I know, that was cheap, but that's a good lesson. Bait and switch. One of the oldest tricks in the book, you need to keep an eye out for that one," he said as he reached to help me up.

"Aghh," I moaned as I managed to gain my balance. Bert smirked.

"Hey, don't worry, kid, you're doing better. You might've gotten me if I hadn't thrown up that Protect," he reassured me. I sighed and nodded, waddling to the side to take a seat. After pushing the excess water back into the river, Bert sat down next to me, glancing at my empty chest.

"So I heard about what happened over in Basculin Strait," he said.

"Ah, yeah," I said glumly. Bert tapped his digits on the stone before sighing.

"Don't let it get you down, kiddo. Every defeat's just a lesson for another time," he said. I gave him a quick sideways glance.

'Yeah, you're telling me.'

Apparently catching this, Bert smirked.

"Too corny? Well, there's always a positive. I hear the Guildmaster's got a good few knives holed up in his collection. Maybe if we ask real politely, I can get ya one of those to use till the 'chop grows back. Imagine, an Oshawott running at you with a knife," he mused. "Terrifying."

I chuckled at the image, though Bert's grin faltered a bit.

"Yeah... speaking of the Guildmaster. Does he come across as... I dunno, eccentric to you at all?" he asked.

"Wha?" I replied.

"I don't know, something about the ol' dog's just a bit weird. You know, his weird collections, him never stepping out of that little burrow in the ground, the damn statue of himself he's got in the Guild. Don't know if that's just all Guildmasters, but I was just a-wonderin'," he said. I thought it over for a bit.

"Eh," I said, shrugging. Sure, Arcanine was a bit on the odd side, but he was a good guy, I'd say. Bert nodded a bit.

"Hm. I guess it's just I'm just used to bein' able to talk to my boss. Might even be a bit homesick for Pelipper and company. I mean, this is better than sharing everything with fifty Wingulls for sure, but y'know? Goin' from knowing everyone to only havin' you and a couple others to talk to is... yeah. Guess I have all the 'feral-lover' comments to thank for that," he reasoned. My eyes widened.

"Oh... s-sehr, am sorry," I said. Bert let out a light, bitter sigh.

"It's alright. Give it a couple weeks," he said before noticing the stars starting to show up and abruptly getting to his feet. "Whoop, look at the time! Guess I should be sendin' you off! So, er, remember to work on those ranged moves and watchin' your opponent."

"Wha? Er, t-tanks," I said, getting up and walking off.

"Good luck out there, kid," Bert called after me. I waved back at him before heading outside, the telltale splash of Bert diving into the river ringing out behind me. At the training grounds' entrance, Rye sat waiting as usual, joining me as we walked up the path towards the Guild.

"Mavy's waiting at the mess hall. We've talked, but I-I don't think we've made much progress," the Treecko said. I gave a nod, waiting for him to address the Slaking in the room. As the torchlight of the team quarters came into view, Rye leaned in close.

"It's up to you if you wanna go to Bassa. Y-you know, make the call and we'll get ready," he whispered. I bit my lip, dread blossoming in my gut. While yes, I knew that this was probably the best chance for any answers, there were a good few issues I had with facing these Phoenixes so soon; namely, one starting with an X.

From what I'd seen, the guys on top of the Phoenix League probably wouldn't hesitate to rip my spine out if I tried to fight them. I probably wouldn't have to face anyone too powerful, but in the end, I just wasn't ready for this.

But this would probably be the only chance I'd get to figure out what I was doing here, maybe even stop these Pokemon...

"I-I danno," I said. Rye thought for a bit.

"L-let's sleep on it and, uh, I'll tell you if I come up with anything, alright?" he offered.

"Yeah, ah-keh. Tanks," I said. Rye gave a quick nod as we stepped into the dinner line. Despite his reassurance, I could still see just a bit of worry in Rye's face, and I was almost certain as to what was nagging at him.

'I've got maybe 12 hours to decide if I really want to do this.

Ugh... it's fine, it's fine. I mean, surely a night's enough time to come to a decision here.'


-o-​

"D-don't worry, I haven't decided yet either," Rye reassured me as I dragged my feet along.

Without any decision to go off of, we'd decided to just go into town and buy more berries, bringing Mavy along as a sign of good will. Up until now, though, he was mostly silent, only sending a flat glance towards Rye every once in a while. Now, however, he inched towards me as we walked.

"You doin' alright? You've been draggin' yer tail since we woke up, didn't know ferals could feel like that," he commented. Though miffed by his comment, I lifted my tail off the ground and tried for positivity.

"Yeah," I lied. Mavy gave a concerned look.

"C'mon, if Treecko starts goin' off again, I don't want ya to be in a mood. I'm a teammate, you can-"

"Am fine," I insisted. Mavy let out a light sigh.

"Aight, then," he said, offering one last sympathetic look towards me before leaving me to focus on trying to keep my tail out of the dust.

'Great, now that he's pointed my tail out, I'm gonna be self-aware about the thing for who knows how long. Why don't you tell me to breathe manually while you're at it? Or, I don't know, remind me of my nose in my vision or-'

"Wh-what...?" Rye gasped, skidding to a halt as we walked into the town square. Craning my head, I was confused to find a couple of Magnetons guarding the road leading to the station and questioning passersby. Exchanging glances, Rye and I approached the two, one of which quickly noticed us.

"Instruction: Please note that none are allowed near the stat... Exclamation: Ah, Team Reach," it droned.

"What's going on?" Rye asked the Magneton, who gave an electronic sigh.

"Clarification: Prisoner Hawlucha escaped his cell last night. No sign of him. We believe he was broken out by an outside force," it explained. The three of us stood there for a minute to soak this in.

"Uh... w-we'll keep an eye out, then. Thank you, sir," Rye said, leading us away in an awkward silence. Starting back on the road, the two of us met eyes. Giving a slight nod, I made a silent agreement with the Treecko. Stepping in front of the Kecleons' shop to pick out from their selection of berries, I tried to come to terms with what we'd decided.

'We're really doing this. Tomorrow, we'll be out looking for these Phoenix guys. I might finally get some answers.

'

"Really, Beck, are you alright? What's goin' on with ya today?" Mavy asked. Looking over my shoulder at the now quite concerned Zigzagoon, I eventually just shrugged.

"Shtuff," I said flatly.

-o-​

All was quiet in the Phoenix League's headquarters. The celebrations over the recent victory in Ebbull City had winded down, and life had returned to normal within the underground complex. The gatherers had gone to fetch much-needed supplies, the advocates had gone to spread the League's noble cause, the grunts stood guard as the executives squabbled over what their next course of action should be, and the teams on cleaning duty lamented their drunken states as they cleaned the mess.

However, through the air of normalcy, most could point out a notable difference: the absence of Executive Xatu.

Indeed, Xatu now sat alone among the steel skeletons and shattered monuments that made up the remains of Vertress. Where there had once been the shining capital of the nation of Unova, there now sat an expanse of overgrown ruins that only served as a bitter reminder of what had been.

For Xatu, it was the perfect spot to get away and meditate. However, today was not the day for that: the Director had requested to talk with him.

Disappointment.

Xatu blinked at the abstract emotion meeting him from afar, though did not break his stillness as he sent his response.

"I am sorry, sire, but you know as well as I do what had to be done. Had I not led the charge, the mercenaries would likely failed in retrieving the orb. I cannot control whether they track my teleportation," he reasoned. "I sense that is not your primary concern for contacting me, however."

Irritation.

"Hmph. Are the fatalities truly of such concern? Sire, I am aware you are unhappy, but do remember that the next target is not as heavily inhabited. Haven Isle is a sparsely populated territory to begin with, there will be little need for bloodshed," Xatu said. There was a brief pause as the Director seemed to consider his words.

...confidence. Determination.

Xatu gave a solemn nod.

"Very good. I shall be on my way once I attend to some business. Good day to you, my friend," he said.

Farewell.

As Xatu felt his psychic link with the Director fizzle out, he took a moment to look around at the ruined monument he stood within before closing his eyes. He knew what awaited him back at base.

Time-sight was a strange thing. While peering into the past he'd already experienced was no problem for him, gazing into the future was a bit more complicated. The further ahead in time he gazed, the more possibilities would branch off. It was near impossible to accurately predict even a day into the future, but right now, most possibilities showed a certain Pokemon standing before Xatu. If this was what he was to do...

With a quick teleport, Xatu opened his eyes to look down at his visitor: a Hawlucha. Lightly probing the Pokemon's mind, he stared down at him in growing disdain.

"Speak," he soon commanded. Hawlucha gulped.

"W-well, sir, er..." he began.

"What happened?" Xatu demanded, earning an 'eep!' from Hawlucha.

"Uh, w-well, I was out on a resupply mission, sir. F-for the Imperium Desert base. Er, while I was intercepting a supply cart, see, I ran into some Society 'mons. Like, the big, burly types. Uh, a Sceptile and an Aggron, I think. I put up a real good fight, but they got me down. They got me to tell about the Desert base, but I mean, nothing much else!" Hawlucha fibbed. A wave of smugness struck a very unimpressed Xatu, who simply stared at the bird. Sighing, he made a quick flap of his wing, remaining stone-faced as he felt ebbs of energy leave him.

"I would like to ask another question. Just how dense do you think me to be?" he demanded softly. Hawlucha's demeanor crumbled.

"Wh-what?" he asked. As Xatu kept watching, his face twitching, Hawlucha started panting and clutching at his chest.

"You dare lie before me? You dare put this entire League at risk? You dare strike...?!" Xatu asked.

"S-sir, please..." Hawlucha gasped, falling onto the floor.

"It is because of filth like you that this world is in decline. Our cause has no place for you," Xatu growled.

"D-don't... I can't... p..." Hawlucha choked out. A moment passed before he went limp on the floor and stopped breathing. Xatu stared down at the limp figure impassively. The heart was such an easy organ to manipulate; a simple flick of the wing and cardiac arrest would set in. Not that Hawlucha deserved it so quick, Xatu figured as he looked up.

"Remove the body from my office," he commanded. As the guards outside hesitantly walked in and morbidly regarded Hawlucha's corpse, Xatu simply walked out the door.

Outside in the main hall, a group of gathered Pokemon, a couple of executives among them, watched him in mute shock. Of course, Xatu had no time for this, the mercenaries in Haven Isle were waiting.

"Linoone. My bag," he sharply requested. The Linoone in the room hurriedly nodded and deposited the bag he'd been given at Xatu's feet. Picking it up, he looked over the gathered one last time.

"I shall return in a couple of days' time. Good day to you all," he said before closing his eyes and teleporting away. As the light cleared, the Linoone gave a shaky sigh.

"Don't let him get to you, guy. He's just an ass is all," Executive Gengar reassured him, patting the shaken Linoone.

"Y-yeah, figured," he agreed. He'd already gotten on Xatu's nerves well over two weeks ago, and all he had needed to do was fetch the executives. Now seeing the corpse being dragged out of the executive's office... he'd come close here, he knew it. He couldn't imagine dying at Xatu's talons, though. Not with his son waiting for him back home...

No, he couldn't focus on this now. He had work to attend to.

"Aight, T-Team Horizon. Patrol duty, let's roll," he said. A select few in the conversing crowd began to move into formation, and as they started to march towards the exit, Executive Gengar tore their gaze from them, casting a final look at where Xatu had been.

"What the fuck did the boss see in you?" he muttered before phasing into the shadows on the floor.
 
34 - The Division Bell New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
34 - The Division Bell

"We're goin' to where now?" Mavy asked as we walked away from our quarters, the noon sun beating down on us.

"Uh, w-we're gonna try and get a job in Arid Riverbed. Something we need to do," Rye shakily explained. Mavy gave an incredulous look towards the Treecko as he hopped beside us.

"Y'all ain't subtle 'bout this, you know. I ain't the sharpest, but I can read a map. Pretty sure the cop had good reason to tell us not to do this," he said. Rye and I exchanged a quick glance.

"I-it's important," Rye eventually said. Mavy gave a quiet scoff, inching towards me as we rounded the corner.

"How do ya put up with this 'mon?" he asked me. I just made a little cry I hoped he'd interpret as an answer, turning my attention to the boards ahead.

Our bag restocked and a basic game plan in mind, we were prepared to go ahead and try and hop a ride to Bassa Village. Rye had pointed out that we couldn't just drop everything and go, the Guild would most definitely notice. It'd happened before, why wouldn't it happen again? As such, he'd eventually proposed just taking a job in the general area and hoping for the best.

As the three of us reached the job board, Rye took to climbing up onto it to scour for appropriate jobs.

"Okay, uh, we've got collecting Cacturne quills in Arid Riverbed, a lost bag of Soft Sand in Fulgurite Oasis, a Z-"

He froze, pausing over one of the notices. As I watched him worriedly, Mavy cocked his head.

"What?" he asked.

"I-it's..." Rye said.

"Lemme see," Mavy requested. After a long moment of hesitation, Rye silently tore the notice off and let it flutter down to us. Looking down, I found a crude drawing of a Zangoose looking back up at me from in between the Fletchling-scratch as Mavy peeked over to read.

'...please don't tell me it's that Zangoose.'

"Request from Team Luster. We lost our partner Zangoose on Mt. Twist Path. We need someone to resupply and help us get him out. Please come ASAP. Reward pending," Mavy read, looking up worriedly once he was finished.

"A Zangoose... wasn't he one o' the 'mons that stood up for us a couple days back?" he asked. Biting my lip, I gave a nod, causing Mavy to try and fold up the notice with his forepaws.

"Wh-what're you doing?" Rye asked.

"We're goin' to save Zangoose, ain't we?" Mavy asked. Rye and I exchanged a glance before the Treecko sighed.

"We... w-we can't," he said quietly. Mavy was quiet for a minute, only staring at Rye in a mix of horror and quiet anger.

"Why not?" he soon demanded. Rye gritted his teeth before climbing down from the board.

"This... i-it's more... it's more important," he squeaked. Mavy's face twitched, the Zigzagoon looking ready to explode.

"Why the fuck would whatever this is be more important than...?! We are talking about someone who's probably about to die! Are you seriously about to leave this Pokémon to fuckin' die?!" he lashed out.

"W-wait, I... I-I don't-" Rye managed.

"No. No! Beck, you can't seriously agree with this shit, can you?" he demanded. I stumbled back, at a loss here.

I'd only talked to Zangoose a few times, but I didn't want to just leave him like this. We could always just reschedule and head to Bassa Village after we went and saved him, right?

But then again, the Phoenixes had broken Hawlucha out, so chances were they knew we were coming. What if we did delay and arrived to find the place abandoned? Sure, we'd save Zangoose, but all that trouble we'd gone through yesterday would be for nothing. Just...

"Shah," I whined quietly, my paws trembling lightly as Rye walked over to one of the Pokémon nearby.

"Si- er, ma'am! We need-" he began, only for the Pokémon to wince as she saw who was talking.

"Oh, er... we're busy, I'm sorry," she said, sending me a paranoid look before speedwalking away, leaving Rye to continue confronting a very annoyed Mavy.

"M-maybe if we ask someone else?"

"No, look, just tell me what's that important! It ain't that hard!"

"I-I can't..."

"No, I ain't havin' this shit! I'm sick of you bein' a dick, now tell me or I'm done!"

"No! J-just..."

"Just what, Treecko? Just what?"

"FECK! I GAH!"

Both heads turned to me as I glared at them, too stressed to really think over what I'd just pulled out of my ass. If it was what was needed to stop the arguing, though...

"I go. Teh Ba-sha," I panted. Both of my partners stared for a moment before Rye spoke up.

"You mean, like, you go to Bassa Village, we don't?" Rye asked. I nodded, causing Rye to hang his head, his face ridden with a hint of fear as Mavy thought my proposal over.

"There's three of us, though," he said.

"Nah. See-nee," I pointed out. While Mavy cocked his head in confusion, Rye's eyes widened.

"Oh, yeah, Sinni! She can... uh..." he trailed off. "...d-does this mean I have to go to..."

"Oh... Rye, I-" I started, though Rye shook his head and tried to put on an about face.

"No, i-it's okay. I'll... I'll go to Mt. Twist," he declared. I stared at the Treecko for a bit before my face broke into a grin. As I gave him a congratulatory pat on the arm, Mavy gritted his teeth.

"I have to go with Treecko, then?" he asked. Both of us turned to look at the Zigzagoon.

"Wh-what's wrong with me?" Rye asked.

"Y'know, I'd just rather have Beck as my buddy here," Mavy said.

"Why?" Rye pondered. Mavy scoffed.

"Oh, gee, I don't know! Maybe when you nearly Dragon Breath'd my face off, he was the only one who bothered to come and check on me," he vented. "And, might I remind you, he's the damn feral in the group! Apparently, the feral gives more of a shit than the leader! I dunno, that just seems-"

"Shtap!" I half-yelled. As Mavy sighed and zipped it, Rye straightened up.

"O-okay. So Beck goes to Bassa Village and gets Sinni's help, and... ugh, Mavy and I go to M-Mt. Twist," he summarized. "Is that alright with you two?"

"Yeah," I said. Mavy hesitated for a moment before groaning lightly.

"Aight," he said. With a decision reached, Rye grimly nodded, gesturing us to follow him back into town. Shooting Mavy an apologetic look, I followed as the Treecko looked over his shoulder at me.

"C-could I see our Poké, Beck? We're gonna need an extra bag, I think," he said.

-o-​

Hunched over a shiny new bag, I counted up the berries and seeds Rye had lent me one last time. After making sure my notebook was tucked safely in one of the pockets, I gave a satisfied nod.

"Am rehdy," I said, turning to my teammates as they waited on their straw beds. Lacing his fingers, Rye quietly nodded, so the three of us walked out of our quarters. Taking a look back, I sighed.

"Eh..." I tried.

"Yeah. Um... I guess this is goodbye. F-for now," Rye said. I gave a nod, and after a minute of awkward silence, I adjusted the strap around my neck and cleared my throat.

"Um, Rye, Maaf... shaah," I said. Rye cracked a smile.

"You too," he said, slowly turning to walk away.

"Don't die on me, aight?" Mavy requested before going to follow. With a few looks back, the two walked up the road and eventually disappeared around the corner. I took a moment to just stand there, watching that corner as if watching for them to come back. Soon enough, I gave a sharp exhale to try and psych myself up, hopping in place a bit.

'Right. I'm on my own now. Here we go, I guess.'

With that, I started waddling my way out of the Guild proper, making a turn north on the main road.

Over the next half-hour, I lugged my bag along, not quite used to not having anyone to talk to to distract from the grueling, hilly hike. I'd been this way enough times to encourage myself to keep on, though, and before long, the glint of a lake in the distance came into view. Picking up my pace at the sight of the water, I ran over the plan in my head once more.

In our deliberation, Rye had brought up the problem of transportation. While he'd said he and Mavy could rent out a Flyer to carry them, I'd probably have a harder time finding a ride without getting anyone suspicious. My solution to the problem of getting from here to Bassa Village... well, clearly I'm not a very creative Oshawott.

"Oo's that? Wot're ye... ho-hoi, Oshawott!" Cap'n Brine's voice chimed from above. As I finally plopped down in front of the entrance to his port, the Pelipper fluttered down to greet me.

"Hey," I simply panted, to which Brine gave a chortle.

"Sorry oi didn't recognoize ye there, wot with ye bein' alone! Wot can oi do for ya?" he asked.

"Er, Ba-sha. Fah... fah-lie tah Ba-sha," I tried. Brine's hearty grin faltered a bit.

"Anothah floight to Bassa Village?" he asked.

"Yeah," I reaffirmed. Brine looked down at the dirt path for a moment before clicking his bill.

"Roight. Erm... maybe. Couple terms, though," he said, gesturing me on. As I peeled myself off the ground and made to follow him through the busy port, he cleared his massive, disgusting throat. "First, ye gotta make sure oi don't sprain me leg again. Second, oi'll need anothah favor. See, me roight-hand-mon Piku went an' dropped a Mystic Water in the lake there, an ol' heirloom real 'mportant to her. She wants someone to go in an' get it fer her. Should be roight 'bout there," he explained.

I couldn't help but groan as he gestured to the lake. I'd forgotten about the favor thing Rye had to do last time. If it was what I had to do, though...

"Yeh, sir," I sighed. As Cap'n Brine watched, I dropped my bag to the side, sucked in a breath, and dove in.

Before long, I began to regret my decision. I was used to currents and the flow of rivers, not whatever this was. The stillness of the lake's water just felt wrong to my riverphile Oshawott instincts, and as I swam deeper, I started running into floating mystery substance that a quick look revealed to be algae and just general bleaugh. Seeing this starting to get all over my otherwise white arm, I gave a quite frustrated whine as I realized just why no one else had taken up this job.

'This lake only exists because of some sort of dam upstream, right? Can I be the first to ask what the actual fuck were they thinking?'

Gritting my teeth, I started hurriedly scanning the lake's floor for anything that looked shiny. To spare the details of desperately combing the rocky bottom for who knows how long, I eventually breached the lake's surface gasping for fresh air, a Mystic Water in my paw and enough slimy plant matter covering me that I'd probably pass for a Tangrowth. Clawing my way back to shore, I pulled myself onto one of the docks, only getting a moment's rest before Cap'n Brine fluttered down to greet me.

"Shaugh," I complained, holding up the grimy pendant I'd done all that for. Taking it with a foot, Brine offered an apologetic smile.

"Sorry 'bout that. Oi'll be takin' ye to Bassa, then!" he piped, though as I managed a victorious smirk, he quickly seemed to reconsider as he examined my filth-covered self.

"Erm, roight after we get ye get cleaned up. Not puttin' that in me bill," he quickly added.

-o-​

'Staraptor and Son Flyer Rental. Guild members get 50% discount. Will fly to Vale Keep, Westgrove-on-Sea, Cape Duct, Ridgend Town, Twistfoot Town...'

Rye swallowed hard as he read the sign, standing at the large shop's entrance. As he stood there biting his tongue, he jumped as Mavy cleared his throat impatiently.

"S-sorry," Rye muttered, stepping through the door. As it turned out, the shop's large size was to accommodate a modest courtyard within its walls, seemingly built to allow Flying-types to fly out easier. Looking around for a bit, Rye spied a Staravia, who he guessed was the son in the shop's title. However, as he approached and made to talk to him, he hesitated.

He didn't want to do this. He really didn't. It'd been over a year now since he'd laid eyes on Twistfoot Town, and for good reason, he figured. It wasn't too late to call it quits and get another team to help Zangoose. Surely Mavy wouldn't judge if he understood where he was coming from...

'No. Remember what Sinni said. You can't keep running. Easier said than done, but... eugh, here goes.'

"S-sir?" Rye asked. The Staravia turned his head.

"Ah, hey. Welcome to Staraptor and Son. What do you need?" he asked.

"Uh... f-flight for two to... ugh, t-to Twistfoot Town, please," Rye forced out, wincing as he did so. The Staravia nodded and hopped away, leaving Mavy to give Rye a look. He didn't quite understand what had the Treecko so worked up here, but he decided to save it as Staravia returned.

"Weather's looking good there, apparently, so we can do that. Who'd you like to fly you today?" he asked. "If you want speed, I'd recommend Pidgeot, he can fly you over there before noontime even passes."

Mavy gulped hard as Staravia continued talking.

"If you want a more leisurely flight, our Altaria just came back. She flies slow, so it'll be around dusk when you get there. It's the most comfortable option, though, so there's that. For efficiency, there's Bravia-" he said.

"Th-the slow one's good. It's mah first time flyin', I'd rather not die." Mavy hurriedly said.

"Right. Flight with Altaria from Impetus Town to Twistfoot Town, should come down to 2,000 Poké. I'll go sort things out with the old bird, and I'll circle on back to you," Staravia nodded before fluttering up to a window in the wall. As Mavy gave a quick sigh of relief, Rye shot his own look at the Zigzagoon.

"A-an Altaria? Like, I guess, but... really?" he asked dubiously. Mavy rebutted with a soft glare.

"You didn't consider not flyin' fast enough to break yer neck the first time you flew?" he asked.

"I thought we were in a hurry," Rye reasoned.

"I survived a whole day in a dungeon, I'll go ahead and guess he'll be able to last," Mavy shrugged. Rye sighed, but chose not to pursue this any further. If he had learned anything over the past couple days, it was that screaming at a brick wall was a more productive use of time than arguing with this Pokémon.

As the two stood there silently giving each other the cold shoulder, Staravia flew back in, followed by what could only be described as a large cloud with a bird head, who gave a simple wave with her massive wing. At the sight of the Altaria, Rye gave his own wave, then fished for the money pouch as Mavy gaped at the unfamiliar creature.

"Alright, so if that's a hundred, then... o-okay," he muttered, giving a handful of dull coins to Staravia who, upon quickly counting them, gave a satisfied nod.

"Cool. Thank you for flying with Staraptor and Son, keep in mind we're not responsible for any incident that may occur, and enjoy your flight," he said, leaving Rye and Mavy to start clambering onto Altaria's back. While Rye had to admit that her back did feel quite nice once he got onto it, he couldn't help but feel discontent about this.

'We're wasting precious time by flying like this. Just... this just feels wrong.'

Mavy, on the other hand, seemed to heartily disagree as he collapsed onto the mass of cloudlike feathers, giving a content groan.

"Shit, 'mon, it's like... bed but better. If I'd known these kinda Flyers exist..." he sighed, rolling onto his back and getting cozy, much to Rye's distaste. As he inched away from the Zigzagoon, Altaria looked over her shoulder at them.

"You lot ready?" she asked. Rye hesitated one last time, looking back at the door. Soon enough, though, he sighed and nodded, prompting Altaria to hop over to the center of the courtyard and spread her mighty wings.

With a hard flap, Rye found himself tightly hugging the dragon-bird's back as she began to ascend. Tearing his eyes from his current position, the Treecko caught sight of Mavy holding on for dear life but still stealing a look over their steed's side, watching Impetus Town below as it drew farther and farther away. By the time Rye felt safe enough to sit up, the town and the nearby Guild seemed to be nothing more than patches of gridwork shrinking in the horizon as Mavy stared in wonder.

"Dayum," he simply whispered.

"Yeah. That first flight's something you never really forget," Rye said. Mavy gave an absentminded nod, and as the two regarded the view in silence, Altaria finished spiraling upward and started east towards the lands of Gray Orient. As she steadied, Mavy turned to look at Rye, though for once not in a glare.

"When'd you first fly? What was that like?" he asked earnestly. Rye looked over at him, but found no hostility in his demeanor, just curiosity.

"Um... I-I think when Mr. Arden took me and a couple other of the apprentices to Dragons Cap. I, uh, didn't get to actually go to the dungeon, but... yeah, seeing the place was really nice, I guess," he said.

"Who's Mr. Arden?" Mavy asked. Rye did a quick double take to stare at the confused Zigzagoon.

"Wh-what? How do you not know who...?" he asked.

"Small town, I guess. Don't hear that much from outside," Mavy reasoned.

"Oh. W-well, he's a Quilava, and... uh, did you hear about the war? Well, uh, he and Ms. May helped end it by beating Tyranitar, and, uh..." Rye explained, trailing off as Mavy's face scrunched up in hard consideration.

"Wait, wait. You know that Cyndaquil?" he asked. "Then that means... that Leafeon and the Swellow... oh, damn."

Mavy put a paw on his head, apparently a bit overwhelmed by all this. Offering a smile, Rye left him to think. While he was happy to be getting through to Mavy, even if only a bit, there was still the issue he was now flying towards.

Taking one last look back at the now barely-visible Impetus Town, Rye turned his gaze towards the ocean ahead. Biting his lip hard, he let himself relax in Altaria's fluffy feathers, knowing full well what was to come.

'I've only got till mid-afternoon to prepare. Then... I'll be back.

...I'm not ready for this...'


-o-​

I'm sure flying's a pretty nice experience. You know, seeing the world from above, feeling the wind in your fur, et cetera. It's a bit of a shame my first experience was in Cap'n Brine's throat, what with all that ethereal sensation being replaced with moist air and the overwhelming stench of fish. Alas, it seems history repeats, so here I was again. I mean, I'm not complaining, but flying with Cap'n Brine was certainly... unique, let's say.

Having given up on asking Brine to stop humming an hour ago, I sat against the keratin of his bill with nothing to do but listen to the shanty he was singing. I'd had Rye to talk to last time, but here I was just bored. Sure, I had the Cap'n, but he apparently wasn't very good company with a Pokémon in his mouth. Thankfully, though, he could manage enough to snap me out of my stupor with a loud exclamation.

"We cahmin' ahp on Baa!" he piped. While I didn't quite catch what he'd tried to say there, I hopefully peeked out of his bill. Sure enough, there was now an anomaly in the rolling desert dunes we'd been flying over for an hour now: the rapidly growing Bassa Village.

As Brine began to circle around the village's gate, I noticed a large figure running out the gate, stopping to watch us as we came in for a landing. Thankfully, Brine made a soft touchdown on the sand this time around, allowing me to heave my way out of his bill without issue. After lying on the soft, hot ground for a minute, I looked up to see ahead of me. Sure enough, under the cobbled-together gate welcoming me to Bassa Village, a familiar Feraligatr stared us down as she crossed her arms, looking quite intimidating as she gave a heavy sigh.

"Magnezone told me what happened. You know you're not supposed to be here, right?" Sinni asked. I gulped hard. I hadn't thought about her knowing about that, what was I supposed to do here?

'Maybe I could just crawl back into Brine's bill and have him fly me to the next continent over before she arrests me?'

Thankfully, however, my fears appeared to be unfounded as her face broke into her signature crocodile smile.

"But you know, sometimes the law can kiss one," she said as she walked over to pick up and squeeze my gross, slobbery self in a tight hug. "Nice to see you, little fella!"

"Agh, Sh-sheeni!" I choked out. Being a seven-foot monster practically made of muscle, Sinni thankfully stopped with the greeting before she could break any ribs, though she still stuck me onto her shoulder as she walked into Bassa Village, gesturing Cap'n Brine to follow. Now face-to-face, she rolled an eye back to look at me.

"Where's Rye? Did he come?" she asked.

"Nah, uh... T-Tshee... T-sha. Tshwegh," I tried before hanging my head and giving a groan. It seemed my butchering of the Unov- er, Graytongue language was enough for Sinni to get the message, though, as she stopped in her tracks.

"He's at Twist?" she asked, her voice softer.

"Yeah," I replied. Sinni took a minute to let that sink in.

"But he... he can't... eugh. I guess. If he managed to get himself to go, then, you know, that's definitely progress," she reasoned, continuing her stride into her house. Nothing had changed from when we'd been here last, so as Sinni squatted down to let me hop onto the floor, I took a moment to take it in.

'Has it really only been two weeks? Feels like it's been, like, six months.'

"Alright, so I'll be at the station till sundown gettin' ready for tomorrow. You wanna stay here or come with?" Sinni said. I paused my looking around to gape at her.

"What? Mah-ro?" I asked.

"Yeah, you weren't actually expecting to kick down those assholes' door today, were you? There's a whole process we gotta go through before that," Sinni said. Seeing me hang my head, she let out a sigh. "Sorry, that's bureaucracy for you, kid. I'm not sure why you'd wanna get into a scuffle now, though. Like, come on, I read the report."

I thought this over for a bit before sighing.

"Yeah, okeh," I said, nodding as I set my bag down to the side. Sinni gave a smirk.

"That's the spirit. So how about coming to the station with me?" she offered. I responded with a shrug and a nod, prompting the officer to pick me up once more and head outside.

"Make yourself comfortable, Captain. We'll be a while," she called back to Cap'n Brine as he rested on the roof.

"Ah, thank ye, officer," he said gratefully, quickly flying off the roof and through Sinni's door. Adjusting myself as to not fall off her shoulder, I looked ahead as she lumbered on.

"So I see you managed to add a bit to your vocabulary?" she asked.

"Huh? Oh, yeah," I nodded sheepishly.

"Alright, should mean there shouldn't be a problem with 'mons at the station," Sinni said. Seeing my worried expression, she offered a grin. "Don't worry, I'm just messing with you. I'd stick with Nick if I were you, but they all should be good. You know, except Betty. That bitch."

With that comforting observation, I held on, nervous but hopeful for the days to come as she trudged towards the ramshackle police station.

'Is that a station, though? It looks more like some kind of Ferris wheel on its side... right, the whole human town thing. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I remember something like this...

Well, Beck, welcome to... uh, Nimbasa Town, I guess.'


-o-​

"S-so what you're trying to say is that that stash of thieves' treasure's still under the mountain?" the Treecko asked dubiously. Sitting across from him, his Totodile friend gave a wide-mawed grin.

"Where else could it be? No one ever said they found it! Come on, think about it! We could be rich! Every Guild in Gray Orient'll be scrambling for a bit of it! We'd be heroes!" he piped. Rye stopped to think about it for a moment.

"...I mean, I guess. But, like, do I have to go in alone?" he asked. Dill snorted.

"Yeah, you're the designated dungeon-diver!" he reasoned. Rye gave a light sigh.

"I mean, I don't know," he said.

"Come on, what are you, a scaredy-Skitty?" Dill asked. Rye narrowed his eyes.

"I mean, I-I'd assume, uh, you're the scaredy-Skitty. I mean, why else would you be trying so hard to get me to go?"

Dill tried to form a response, but ultimately found none before their thoughts were interrupted.


"Rye! Dill! Dinner's up!" Sceptile called down.

"We're coming!" Rye called before looking back. "I'll give you fifty Poké if you go in and scout beforehand."

Dill considered the offer for a moment before giving a crocodile grin.


"Deal!" he said.

"A-alright, weekly meeting adjourned, then. Team Horizon!" Rye declared.

"Team Horizon!" Dill replied before the two hurriedly climbed the rope ladder hanging from the hatch and-

"Treecko?" Mavy called, nudging Rye into consciousness. The Treecko stirred in Altaria's cozy feathers as he tried to regain his bearings.

"Wh... uh, wh-what?" he asked, groggily sitting up before getting a good look around. The sun was setting in the distance, though it was blocked by monolithic mountains towering into the sky around them. Looking ahead, Rye found a rooftop landing zone, complete with a nice view of the town below as its lights began to glow in the nighttime.

Mavy took another awestruck look around the mountainside community, as he had never seen anything like this, but as he looked to Rye for his thoughts, he found him shivering in place, his face becoming pale as he stared at the tallest and closest of the mountains. After a few minutes of this, he swallowed the lump in his throat and stepped off Altaria, his Zigzagoon partner following confusedly as he continued to fearfully stare up at the dormant volcano ahead.

For better or for worse, Rye was home.
 
35 - Twin Flames Burning New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
35 - Twin Flames Burning

Cold mountain air brushed past Rye and Mavy as they walked down the empty dirt roads of Twistfoot Town. The sun had set by this point, so lanterns now lit the path ahead, the stone houses around them, and the rest of the small town as it seemed to loom above the rooftops, following the slope up the foot of Mount Twist. As Mavy kept looking around at what was already all too familiar to Rye, the Treecko pulled out the job's notice, peering at the bottom print. Team Luster had wanted to meet in the square, it seemed, so going off memory alone, he led his Zigzagoon partner towards the main road.

As they turned onto the road, the two stopped as an unexpected anomaly came into earshot: music. Rye's eyes lit up a bit as fond memories came rushing back.

"You hearin' that?" Mavy asked.

"Y-yeah. I guess they're doing the Festival early this year," Rye nodded. Being the uncultured rodent he was, Mavy looked at him in confusion.

"The wut-now?" he asked. Rye gestured him on, leading him up towards the main square.

"It's the Festival of Groudon. It... uh, I-I don't know how to explain it, just..." he said.

"How do you know that? Didja stop by here at some point?" Mavy asked. Rye hesitated a bit.

"N-no, I, uh... I-I lived here," he admitted quietly. Mavy gave a quick noise of understanding, glad to finally be getting somewhere with his team leader. With this in mind, the two stopped as lights ahead came into view. On the path and square ahead, it seemed all two hundred of the town's Pokémon were gathered in some sort of celebration. Their excited chattering, festive tunes, and the crackling of a large bonfire all met Rye's earlobes as he let Mavy watch.

"Th-they should be in there... uh, d-do you mind if we try and find another way around? I don't-" he began.

"Ah, come on, let's go!" Mavy urged him.

"Eugh... a-alright... oh, I-I need to do something, meet me at the fire," Rye said before walking into the square. As Mavy strayed off to investigate one of the festival's many food vendors, Rye perked up as he spied a familiar Marowak at the square's edge handing out painted, full-face bone masks. He'd always been so friendly in festivals past, surely he wouldn't call him out...

"Mr. Ma- er, sir? I'd like a mask, please," Rye said. The Marowak looked up, creases of a smile showing through the eyeholes of his skull.

"Of course, which..." he trailed off, his hidden smile seeming to melt away as he stared into Rye's eyes. "...Treecko? Is that you?" he asked quietly after a bit.

Rye gave him a pleading look. After a bit of hesitation, Marowak grimly nodded and silently pushed him one of the festive masks, much to his relief.

"Th-thank you," Rye hurriedly whispered as he tied the mask to his head. He knew it probably wouldn't do much good, seeing as the rest of his body was visible here, but he figured hiding his face would at least lower the risk of anyone recognizing him.

With the vibrant symbol of Groudon now obscuring his face, he gave the rather gloomy-looking Marowak a quick nod and headed for a seat near the bonfire, where he sat until he was joined Mavy not long after. Rye couldn't help but smirk as he noted the beads around his neck, the meat on a stick he was gnawing on, and the Bidoof next to him he was eyeing. One of them was enjoying themselves, at least.

"Hey, girl. Uh, I like yer tail," the Zigzagoon said. The Bidoof he was flirting with shot him a look of revulsion, causing him to wince to himself. "W-wait, tail? No, I didn't mean to say-" he said hurriedly as she hobbled away. Sighing to himself, Mavy turned to look at Rye before jumping back in panic.

"Waagh! Wh... what're you doing wearing that creepy mask?" he asked.

"It's not creepy. I-it's traditional," Rye said. Shuddering, Mavy picked up his fallen morsel as he looked into the fire.

"Yeah, it's alright because tradition, got it. What's this thing about anyways?" he asked.

"Uh... so you know how Mount Twist, uh, erupts, right?" Rye asked, immediately regretting it as Mavy gave him a flat look. As he struggled to come back from that acute observation, he noticed the crowd starting to part. "Eugh, w-well, uh, just watch."

As the two watched, an Excadrill marched through the parted crowd, carrying a platter stacked with food.

'The juiciest cut of meat, the ripest berries, the richest loaf of bread... that's how Mom always explained it, anyways.'

As the Excadrill reached the fire, he raised the platter above his iron-coated head.

"I dedicate this offering to the lord of the mountain, Groudon! May he spare this fine town another year!" he declared before tossing the platter into the bonfire. A loud cheer erupted from the crowd as Rye cast a look up at the smoke from the burning food, then at Mt. Twist as it loomed.

"Ah don't get it," Mavy said.

"Neither do I," Rye admitted.

"Well, I mean, if it works..." Mavy started.

"I-I don't believe it does," Rye said. Mavy gave him a sideways glance.

"Why not?" he asked. Rye paused for a minute, grimacing from behind his mask.

"I-I don't wanna talk about it," he said bitterly. Mavy gave him a long look, though Rye couldn't help but point out something other than disdain in his gaze. Sympathy, maybe? He couldn't tell.

As Mavy turned his gaze back to the fire, Rye took a quick look around, then froze as he caught a glance of what they'd come here for: Nidorino and Raboot watching the fire from a nearby building. Hurrying to his feet, he practically dragged Mavy along as he tried to protest through the food in his muzzle.

"H-hey! Mr. Nidorino, it's us, we're here for the job!" Rye said, lifting his mask to reveal his face. Team Luster's glum faces lit up as they caught sight of the two.

"Treecko? Zigzagoon? Well, shit, small world! Must've sent that call to thirty Guilds, what're the odds?" Nidorino piped before hanging his head sullenly. "Yeah, so... uh, we were in the Path dungeon and a bunch of ferals jumped us on the third floor. Zangoose just told us to go on ahead and that he'd hold them off. Last we saw, he was running towards the stairs, so... y'know, we're hoping he's okay in there."

Rye and Mavy both nodded.

"Aight, so when we headin' out?" Mavy asked.

"Dawn tomorrow. As much as we hate to wait, you know how those first couple floors are at night. Here, come have a seat for now, we'll be able to get things sorted out later," Raboot offered.

Giving a quick sigh of relief, Rye slipped his mask back on and took a seat next to the pair, watching as the festival continued. Looking over at Mavy as he kept gnawing at his morsel, he gave a sigh.

'I kinda wish Beck were here, I feel like he'd have fun here. Mavy's alright and all, but yeah.

I wonder how Beck's doing, anyways?'


-o-​

"Snork?" Sinni snored as she pried open her eyes. Blinking fog out of her vision, she sat up and briefly checked out the window, seeing the sun beginning to crest over the concrete rubble next door. She gave a grin to herself.

"Right on schedule. Fuck yeah," she said as she hopped to her feet, shaking the house as she landed.

Tromping over to the living area, she caught sight of Beck curled up on the floor as he laid there sleeping. Sinni watched him for a bit before chuckling a bit and continuing with her morning routine. They'd been up for a while last night, and she didn't have the heart to wake him up just yet, not looking like that. She'd give him a bit.

As she slipped on her police sash, though, she stopped as she heard a peculiar noise coming from behind. Looking back, she found that Beck had started to toss and turn in his sleep, his breath picking up as he did so.

"Sh-sha... shaah..." he muttered, clearly in distress. Sinni hurried over and nudged him with a massive finger to wake him up, though he only continued to cry out in his sleep. Now concerned, Sinni nudged him again, though nothing changed.

"Shit, uh... kid. Kid? Come on, wake up. Wake up, dammit... Beck!"

-o-​

Oh, no. No, nonono...

As I found myself in the passenger seat of an unfamiliar body, it surveyed the several very old-looking buildings around it, clicking its claws idly as it did so. A Scizor, I guessed. A quick look around revealed it to be treading quietly alongside several other Pokémon around me as they walked through the ruins, all following a stillfaced Xatu as he looked over what looked to have been the largest building. Through the greenery covering the building's facade, I could make out an emblem carved into it: a shield emblazoned with a letter P.

"This thing better be in here, else I'll just..." my body warned, snapping its wicked pincers in warning. An unfazed Xatu nodded.

"It will be in here. Make haste, I do not doubt the adventurer teams will be far behind," he instructed. As I looked on, my body followed the group, pausing only long enough to look up at the well-worn engraving above the door.

Welcome to Team Plasma, Pinwheel Forest Division? What... what is this place? What's Team Plasma?

After a few minutes of walking through the decrepit facility's remains, Xatu held up a wing, stopping before some sort of door. As my body peered at it, a sudden crash rang out from far behind, followed by several voices. My body swore to itself.

"It's a Society team! Come on, we gotta move!" it urged. Xatu sighed before suddenly stopping, turning his head to stare directly at me.

Crap. Uh... h-hi?

After staring into my body's eyes for a moment, he ground his beak, though the sound of the incoming adventurers seemed to compel him to ignore me, psychically rip the door off its hinges, and lead us inside.

Inside what I guessed used to be a warehouse of some sort, there seemed to be nothing but rubble, though Xatu seemed confident as he shut his eyes and concentrated. After a minute, though, he opened his eyes and stared forward, clearly confused.

"What? That cannot be," he muttered.

"What happened?" someone asked from behind me. Xatu looked up, his crests raised.

"The orb is not here," he said, just a bit of disbelief in his voice.

Wait, what?

My body's eye twitched.

"WHAT?! You led us all the way out here for...?!" it screamed.

"Scizor, now's not a good time!" a Conkeldurr pointed out besides me as the sounds of approaching adventurers grew ever louder. Hearing this, my body's pincers twitched in rage as it faced Xatu.

"I fucking told you it was a myth! There's no such thing as a Lustrous Orb, and now we... we... g-graAAAGH!"

With an enraged cry, it quickly lunged forward, intending to snip Xatu's head straight off. The bird simply sighed before teleporting away, causing my body to sail through where he'd been and tumble to the ground. As it propped itself up, it looked up to find what looked like five adventurer teams barging into the room.

"You're under arrest! Put your paws in the air!" a Meowth demanded, his Shinx partner sparking in an attempt at intimidation. My body and its teammates stared at the dozen Pokémon facing us before it sighed.

"If we're going down, we sure as distortion aren't making it easy for you," it said, raising a pincer and charging.

As the others around me followed suit, I watched as my body tried to hack away and fire off techniques at its adversaries, though it wasn't long before I felt an attack land, sending my body to the ground as it doubled over in pain. It only had enough time to get a look at the Litleo pinning it down before getting a faceful of red-hot flames.

My body and I both screamed in unison for a second before the lack of air sent the two of us spiraling into unconsciousness. The oxygen around me only fed the flames as I felt armor begin to melt...

I woke up with a start, gasping for air as I sat up reaching for my previously burning face. As I managed to slow down my breathing and get a grip on reality, I became aware of Sinni picking me up and holding me in front of her, shaking me worriedly.

"Beck! Beck, come on back to me!" she yelled as her voice faded in.

"Sh-sha..." I weakly whined. Sinni let out a loud sigh of relief and pulled me into another uncomfortably tight embrace.

"Okay, you're okay... you had me worried there, don't do that," she demanded. As I tried to push myself away from her, I considered what I'd just seen.

'They didn't get the L... uh, the thing. They failed.

You've got a chance here, Beck... ha...'


-o-​

As the brilliant colors of the sunrise began to rise over the mountains to the west, Rye and Mavy followed Team Luster out of their inn. Around them, the peaceful mountain town had quieted down, though rather than the snow-shoveling and idling about that morning usually saw, most Pokémon in the square were working to clean up the mess from the previous night's festival. Scraps of food, discarded masks and beads, and ash from the bonfire all laid strewn about as the group tiptoed past them and towards the path to Mount Twist.

As the pile of charcoal that had been the bonfire smoldered in the center of the square, Rye couldn't help but stare at it. Just the visual of such a thing was enough to make him feel sick; it looked far too much like... like...

"Rye! Rye, we have to go!"

"Wh-what? Mom? What's happening?"

"It's the mountain! It's erupting, we need to go!"

"...oh... n-no, no... this can't be real... no, NO, NO!"

"Rye! No, Rye, come back!"

"DILL! DILL!"

With a violent shiver, he tore his eyes away from the pile, tailing Nidorino as he shifted the bag on his back. They had already resupplied and planned out their course of action the previous night, so all that was left to do was to take the short hike up to Twist Path.

"So how long'll it be before we get there, again?" Mavy asked after a few minutes walk.

"Shouldn't be no more than half a mile. We'll have to do a bit of climbing before we hit the dungeon, so try to keep up," Raboot said. Mavy peered into the distance, giving a confused look.

"Er, but the entrance's just up ahead, ain't it?" he pointed out. The group looked at the warning sign looming over a large, dark opening in the side of the mountain, though Nidorino waved it off.

"That's the Cave dungeon, the Path is the one we want," he said, gesturing Rye and Mavy along a fork in the road, up which a jagged path snaked up the mountain. Mavy shot the foreboding cave a look before heading to follow Nidorino and Raboot.

As he walked along, he couldn't help but grit his teeth at the rocks under his paws. He was used to pine needles and sticks, not dust and pointy pebbles. Annoyed, he looked back to see what Rye thought of this, though suddenly stopped. Nidorino and Raboot were quick to look back to see what was the matter.

"...where's Treecko?" Nidorino asked. The trio quickly started looking around, finding no sign of him, so they quickly started backtracking down the path. After a minute, they caught sight of Rye still standing before the cave entrance. Concerned, Mavy zigzagged over to see what was the matter.

"Treecko?" he asked.

"He's still in there... h-he's still in there..." Rye mumbled under his breath, tears running down his face as he cast a thousand-yard stare towards the cave.

As Nidorino and Raboot watched concernedly, Mavy bit his lip and gave him a hard nudge. Though Rye winced, blinked hard, and quit muttering, he didn't break his gaze as Raboot gently took him by the hand and led him along. Mavy was not sure what to think at this point, but looking at Rye as he shuddered and sniffled to himself, he decided now was not the time to pursue answers here.

The small party continued quietly for the next ten minutes or so until they stopped, seeing the gravel road dissolving into dirt as it passed into the dungeon ahead. With the telltale sign looming large over them, Nidorino sighed.

"Right. Zangoose should hopefully be somewhere on the fifth floor. You two ready?" he asked. With nods from Rye and Mavy, the group ventured in.

"Okay, Maverick, first official dungeon dive. Stay cool," Mavy mumbled to himself. As a still-shaken Rye felt the air chill around him, he bit his tongue and tried to give himself his own bout of motivation.

'…

What would Beck say about now? Uh, probably something like... Rye, shaah. You're fine. It's okay.

Okay, that's a dumb question, there's not a lot to pick from there. Just... this isn't the cave, Rye. The mountain's not gonna erupt. You're gonna be alright...'


-o-​

Mount Twist Path

2F


"BYAAARR!"

A massive feral Beartic loomed over the group as it guarded the cold, rocky path, its claws unsheathed and its eyes screaming murder. Rye and Mavy stumbled back in fear, though Raboot simply responded to the Beartic's challenge by attacking it with a Flame Charge, setting the beast on fire. As it thrashed and roared in an attempt to put it out, Raboot kicked it in the back of the legs, sending it to the ground in front of Nidorino, who finished the job with a Poison Sting straight between its eyes. With a crunch and a steady flow of blood from the wound, the Beartic went limp, much to Rye's horror.

"D... did you just...?" he asked.

"It's a dungeon feral. No one's gonna miss it. Er, no offense," Raboot shrugged, simply walking around the Beartic's body.

His stomach churning, Rye stumbled on after them. As the shock of what he'd seen wore off, he gulped with his dry throat and grabbed for the canteen in his bag. He hadn't ever been allowed this far up the mountain, and he most definitely was not used to the thinner air. Taking a short swig, he took a quick peek inside. By the looks of it, there'd be enough for him to-

"Could I have a sip?" Mavy asked. Rye deadpanned a bit, though popped the canteen open again and handed it to his partner. Mavy's quadruped stature made it more difficult than he'd have liked, though he eventually found himself greedily lapping up what water he could.

"Whew, thanks. This place does a number on ya, huh? And this is just floor two..." he observed once he'd had his fill.

"Y-yeah," Rye halfheartedly agreed, dismayed at how much water had been used up by now.

"It'd sure be nice if we had Beck, you know? Could just vomit in here and we'd be set. Or does it not work like that?" Mavy asked. Rye didn't bother answering, only sending him a Look as Nidorino put a paw in the air, signaling that there were stairs ahead.

'Okay, nice. We're already half done. See, Rye? This isn't so bad.'

"Treecko? Um, could I talk to you 'bout... y'know, stuff?" Mavy asked.

'...oh, no.'

-o-​

"Right, so before we begin, I'd like to say something real fast. You all remember Oshawott from yesterday, I presume. I'm happy to announce he'll be assisting us in today's operation," Sinni piped.

As I stood before the entirety of Bassa Village's police force, I gave a sheepish wave as the whopping six policemon gave Sinni a confused look.

"Er, Sinni, ma'am. Why're you bringing... y'know, a little Oshawott along?" a Herdier asked.

"Well, see, Nick-" Sinni began.

"And it's a feral, right? I mean, I wouldn't have picked it for this," a Miltank asked from the corner. Sinni forced a smile as she pulled me close.

"Betty, I will strangle you," she mumbled quietly before clearing her throat. "Oshawott here wanted to go, so he is going to be my wingmon. I expect you all to respect him as such, and if he tells me you've crossed him, there'll be consequences. Water ration-related, might I add."

That threat seemed to be enough to shut the Miltank up, so Sinni nodded and turned to the crudely-sketched plan behind her.

"The plan of attack will be pretty straightforward: we head in through the front door here and fan out. If you see anyone, grab 'em. If they fight back, kick their teeth in," she instructed. "Now, the building they chose incorporates an old human structure, so it goes without saying the place is fragile. No unneeded attacks. Got it?"

A murmur of understanding arose from the few Pokémon in the room, earning a confident crocodile smile from Sinni.

"Let's ride, then. Arkus, go ahead and look over the perimeter, we'll meet you there," she instructed, sticking me on her shoulder as per usual. As the Flygon nodded and ran outside, Sinni led all in the room but the Miltank into the morning sun. As she marched through the tiny little town, I leaned over to look her in the eye.

"Tanks," I said, gesturing back at the station and getting a snort Sinni.

"Not a problem. After all, she who controls the water controls the town. Shit gets done 'round here," she said.

"Yeah... er, mah shall?" I asked, pointing to my empty chest.

"Hm? Ah, the scalchop. Sorry, I don't exactly have any spares lying around, you'll just have to make do. Maybe you could bash some heads in with a rock instead," Sinni shrugged, stopping as she peered up at a shape in the sky. Before long, it revealed itself as the Flygon, who didn't bother landing as he beat his massive wings.

"Perimeter is secure, ma'am. We can go ahead as planned," he said. With that in mind, I held on as Sinni confidently tromped the rest of the way before stopping before a half-buried structure. We were a fair ways out of town at this point, and the decrepit building we were now looking at was almost entirely hidden by sand. I wasn't sure what it was; some kind of mall, maybe?

I didn't have time to contemplate this, though, as Sinni set me down and counted down on her fingers to the others. As she reached zero, we all barged in, all but me with attacks at the ready.

"Bassa Village Police!" Sinni roared. Her announcement was met with nothing but silence, much to my initial confusion. Where was the resistance? From what I'd seen, I'd expected at least some action.

Peering around and finding that we were indeed alone in the room, Sinni looked over her shoulder at the others.

"Split off in pairs. Retreat and regroup if any hostiles are too much for you. Arkus, you keep an eye from above. Beck, you stay with me," Sinni instructed, throwing them all unlit torches from her bag.

As the others around me warily went off in different directions, I tailed the Feraligatr as she lit her own torch and walked deeper into the building's interior. The room before us had a good few holes in the ceiling, meaning sand had half-filled the place, though that didn't stop Sinni from scanning the decrepit booths lining the walls. She paused at one of the windows, narrowing her eyes before jumping in. Finding no one, she moved on to continue systematically checking every booth she came across.

"Shaa," I complained after what must have been the fifteenth check.

"I know, I know. Boring shit. Well, get used to it, because dammit if this place isn't massive," Sinni growled. As she stomped along, I hurriedly followed as she muttered.

"What'd they even need all this shit for? Really, what could possibly require this much fuckin'-"

"A shahp?" I said. Sinni almost immediately chuckled at the notion.

"Well, that's certainly a guess. Like, really, why all this for a shop? You could fit a hundred big-city markets in here and still have room. Like, come on, what would they sell in here, Wailord carcasses?" she asked. I shrugged, looking out over the massive, sand-filled ruin and briefly wondering just how this thing was still standing. If it'd taken this long to clear a single room of this place...

Yeah, this was definitely going to take a while.

-o-​

Mount Twist Path

3F


"Ever since yesterday, I've noticed you've kinda been in a mood, right? With what you told me back in town and how you sorta broke back there, well..."

Mavy hesitated as he and Rye followed Team Luster through the rough stone trench the dungeon boasted, snow crunching beneath their feet.

"...I reckon I've got an idea of why. But, er, could ya fill me in?" he requested. Rye shot him a harsh glare, though relaxed a bit as Mavy bit his lip, not looking confrontational as he had feared. "Aight, I know, I know. I'm just curious is all," he said.

Rye simply kept walking as he thought the request over. At first, his better judgment resoundingly rejected. It'd been painful enough explaining it to Beck, why repeat it with this Pokémon, especially at the place it had happened? However, as he thought about it more, he began to consider. He'd grown a good bit, and he felt somewhat more able to regale what had happened. Besides, he'd already blurted out enough for Mavy to get an idea of what had happened. There was no point in hiding it...

"...i-it was my friend," he finally said. Mavy whipped his head to the side, his ears sticking up in anticipation as Rye slowed down to put distance between them and Team Luster.

"It was, like, three years ago..." he began quietly, gritting his teeth as the memories rose up like vomit...

"HELP! Help, I can't... he's... H-HELP!"

"I heard something over here, lemme... oh, sweet fuck. May! May, there's a kid under here! Yeah, under the tree, help me get it off him!"

"...alright, he's out, Arden. It's okay, you're alright now. We're gonna get you back home, alright? Pike, take him back to-"

"N-NO! H-HE'S STILL IN THERE! HE... H-HE'S STILL...!"

"..."

"May, stay with him! Pike, look for anyone else! I'm heading in!"

"...it's okay, Treecko. You're okay. He's gonna be okay."

"H-he's still in there... he's still in there..."

"...I don't know. I-I wanted to go in, I wanted to scream, I wanted to curse myself to distortion and back, but... a-all I could do was just cry and stay with Ms. May... th-then Mr. Arden warped back with Dill..."

Rye barely held back a sob as the horrid image flashed past his mind's eye.

"Th-the look he was giving me... I-I don't know if he was angry, if he was disappointed, if he was trying to, like, comfort me, I don't know! And... I-I just held him there like that as he died. I..."

He couldn't continue any further. As he trudged along in silence, Mavy hung his head, his eyes wide.

"Zekrom's wings. So that's why... and here I just thought you were just bein' uptight for the heck of it..." he mused. Rye didn't even bother responding to that as he blinked back tears, though made himself straighten up.

"Th-that's really why I wanted to make this team. I can't let that happen to anyone else. A-and... well, Dill always wanted that. I-I just... it's the least I can do after... that," he choked out. Mavy nodded, contemplating these words for a minute.

"I... I just don't wanna be a nobody, honestly. Like, I don't know mah grandpaw's name, and... well, you live in Littora Town, you get forgotten. I really just don't want that, and, well, explorin' just felt like something I could try out to not just be a blink in history, and with Pa still off for work... yeah," he said. Rye looked over at Mavy, surprised at his opening up.

"Uh... h-how's that going?" he asked. Mavy sighed.

"Well, the past couple days have been pretty shit, but other than that," he observed. Rye's eyes widened.

"O-oh... I'm sorry," he said.

"It's fine. Tell ya what, let's start off fresh, aight? Get the shit out of our systems and see if we can't try to do it again," Mavy suggested. Rye cocked his head.

"H-huh?" he asked, wiping off his snout.

"Here, I'll start," Mavy said, clearing his throat. "Yer ma's a Dedenne and ya pa smells like Orens!"

Rye winced, confused at the sudden insult.

"Wh-what?" he asked softly.

"Now you insult me back. We go back n' forth till we feel better," Mavy explained. Now understanding, Rye gulped hard. He was never one to insult someone, but...

"Uh. Y-your... your face is, er... that muzzle, i-it looks like you ran into a wall," he tried.

"Hm. Decent. Better than anything else ya say, I think. Like, w-w-w-why y-y-y-ya gotta t-t-t-talk like this all the time?" Mavy rebutted. Rye narrowed his eyes.

"Well, at least I do something. You've barely done anything since you got here."

"I'm at least better at interactin' with other Pokémon than the feral."

"E-every time you do talk, it's to be, like, entitled or something!"

"It's somethin' other than 'ooh, look at poor, sad lil me,' ya know?"

"Y-you... asshole!"

"Oh, you want an asshole? Saw a nice hole in the wall back at the inn you could use!"

"G-go to distortion!"

"Prick!"

"Dickhead!"

"Eat Garbodor nuggets!"

"F-fuck you!"

As Team Luster looked back concernedly, Rye and Mavy panted, glaring into each other's eyes as they quit yelling at each other. Before long, the two seemed to relax.

"Y-yeah, that got a lot off my chest. S-sorry," Rye said.

"Same here. Here's hopin' we won't have to do that again, eh, Rye?" Mavy asked. Rye let himself smile as the two hurried on ahead, finding their clients giving them a long, horrified look.

"...are you two okay?" Nidorino eventually asked.

"Peachy," Mavy said as he and Rye walked ahead of them. As they walked, however, sounds of claws scraping against stone started to erratically echo along the path. Raboot groaned.

"Great, you screamed too loud and a feral heard. Here, let us take care of this one," he said as he and Nidorino stepped in front of the two and assumed stances. As the feral came into view, however, their stances faltered as their confident expressions morphed into absolute horror.

"ZAAH!" the feral screeched, unsheathing its wicked claws in challenge. Rye gasped; he knew that voice...

"Z-Zangoose..." Nidorino choked out.

-o-​

"Hwah!" I cried out, swinging my tail into the ground and kicking up a cloud of sand. From across the spacious room I was in, Sinni shot me a look, having had to deal with this for half an hour at this point.

"I'm sure you'll get it eventually," she said, annoyance clear in her voice as she tried to fan away the sand blowing in her face.

Bored with just poking through this empty ruin for so long, I'd taken to trying to hone my techniques in preparation for a fight I was starting to doubt would come by this point. With the apparent delicateness of this place in mind, I'd ruled out Water Gun, so I hadn't been quite sure what to practice.

Then I remembered my sparring with Bert a couple days back. He'd taken me out with an Aqua Tail in that round...

'Shouldn't be too hard. Just pump energy into your tail and hit someone with it. Simple.'

As it turned out, it wasn't that simple. Bert had the privilege of a glorious fluffy tail with plenty of mass to pump energy into. I, meanwhile, had a pathetic little Bibarel tail that I'd probably just annoy someone with by using as a weapon. As such, my attempts at an Aqua Tail just felt like a glorified slap as I swung at the floor with it.

'I mean, not that it'd be entirely useless. Maybe I could call it something like Aqua Slap? Yeah, sure, Aqua Slap it is.'

Happy to have made at least some progress, I waddled after Sinni as she continued on, clicking her tongue out of boredom. As she tromped down the nearest hall, however, my ears pricked up. Hurrying towards the wall, I listened for a bit, my eyes going wide.

"Sheeni!" I called. Sinni tromped over, though stopped and put her earlobe to the wall as she apparently caught on to what I'd heard: voices on the other side.

"Huh. Well, shit, kid. How'd you manage that?" she asked, impressed. I gave a quick wiggle of my ears before coursing some energy into my tail. It didn't seem like there were any supports I would break, so I uttered a quick prayer as I gave the wall a few hard Aqua Slaps, soon knocking a hole through the fragile material. Sinni and I quickly jumped through, following the source of the voices as they grew louder and louder.

Before long, I jumped into the room they were loudest, my tail ebbing with energy as I glared my opponents down. That attempt at intimidation didn't last long, however, as I got a good look at what I was dealing with.

At least two dozen Pokémon stared back at me, most of them carrying something in their paws or mouths. They quickly dropped their load as they prepared to attack, moving into formation to reveal the worst part of it all: standing under a banner of a bird emerging from flames, Xatu looked up to stare straight into me. As Sinni ran in to flank me, he gave a simple blink.

"Sh-sheeni! Rahn!" I pleaded with her as she leered at the bird.

'I've seen what this guy can do, I'm not letting her die like that!'

Ignoring me, she clenched her fists, causing the Phoenixes before us to begin charging attacks as I started trying to tug at her massive fist.

"Nah! Nah! Sheeni!" I cried out.

"Stand down," Xatu suddenly demanded. Every head in the room turned to give him a bewildered look.

"P-pardon?" a Linoone asked.

"I said stand down," Xatu insisted. The Linoone stared at Xatu for a minute.

"S-sir, we ain't about to let-" he started.

"You and Team Horizon were brought here under my jurisdiction. Do not go against me, Linoone," Xatu said. The Linoone gulped and nodded, motioning to the others to stand down as I watched on, dumbstruck. With the threat of attack now gone, Sinni stepped forwards.

"I know who you are, bastard. You're under arrest," she said boldly, handing me her torch. Xatu blinked.

"Officer, do wait. I only wish to have normal conversation. Might you allow me to speak with the Oshawott?" he asked. Sinni looked at me for a second before scoffing and continuing forwards.

"I read the report. You aren't getting anywhere near- ah!" she suddenly exclaimed, her arm held in place as she reached out to grab Xatu's wing. As I watched anxiously, he sighed.

"I simply wish for conversation," he said insistently, pushing Sinni back towards the door. Dusting herself off, she sighed.

"Fine, alright then. Give me your manifesto. Don't try anything, only way out's behind us," she said. Xatu gave a quick nod before looking directly at me.

"I must apologize. We are all somewhat on edge, given the failure at retrieval yesterday and the evacuation here," he said.

"Failure at retrieval?" Sinni asked.

"The... ahb?" I added. Xatu gave a nod.

"Yes, the Lustrous Orb. Likely long in the paws of looters by now. Truly a shame," he said quietly. As I looked on confusedly, Sinni's eye twitched.

"The Lustrous... what?!" she demanded.

Xatu ignored her, choosing instead to keep staring as he held a wing out to his side, gesturing to the room around him.

"Look around you. What do you see? A husk, a shadow, a mere curiosity for brave souls such as yours, perhaps. Of course, it was not always like this. A mere fifteen hundred years ago, this land was open, rolling plains; a perfect fertile plain for man to stake his claim. Ten million once lived in this valley, but now it is worthless desert. Why so? Dear child, have you heard of the Ruin?" he asked.

"Wh-wha?" I asked. When Xatu kept expectantly watching me, I shuddered. "Y-yeah."

Xatu continued to stare at me as the air became tense around us.

"The earth went to war with herself. Continents and oceans tore each other asunder, violent storms ripped cities to shreds, and the fabric of reality itself strained to its limit. Both man and Pokémon fell to their knees, but alas, it was Pokémon that took the mantle. We of the Phoenix League believe that was a mistake of unimaginable proportions. Consider, child. Why must it always be humans taking Pokémon form to set things right? Why is the world, even now, such a chaotic ruin? Why does society stagnate such? Simply put, Pokémon were not meant to rule this world. We wish to see that changed, you see. All I wish from this encounter today is simply that you consider my words. We have no qualm with you, young Oshawott, so please, think over our morals after today. Should you see our cause is just, we will be waiting with open arms," he said.

A moment of silence hung in the air.

"...what the FUCK are you talking about?!" Sinni demanded. "Humans? The Ruin? And are you trying to recruit...? No, I'm not doing this shit! You're coming with us, you looney!"

As she approached Xatu once again, he gave a light sigh, then jerked his head to the side. Before I could do anything, the ground below Sinni cracked, hissing as air escaped from the new opening, then gave way, sending the Feraligatr screaming down a dark hole.

"No!" I yelled, running over to the growing hole in the floor. As I looked inside, Xatu gestured to Linoone, who quickly started running.

"Team Horizon, let's move! Meet with the Psychics at the fork!" he barked, leading the Phoenixes out of the room as Xatu disappeared. I turned to follow, but skidded to a halt as a pained groan echoed out from the hole.

"Seeni?" I asked.

"Beck? Y-you still there?" Sinni's voice called up. I ran over to the edge of the hole, looking down to find her pushing herself up, though she quickly fell back down with a loud hiss of pain.

"Shit! My leg, I think I... agh... wh-what is this place? I don't remember this place having any tunnels like this..." she observed, looking back and forth.

As I pondered this, the ceiling above began to loudly creak, sending bits of debris tumbling onto me. Realizing what this mean, I looked around a bit for some means of escape. Finding none, I instinctively dove into the hole just as the ceiling above me gave, sending sand and debris crashing down onto where I had been. Thankfully, I managed to land on Sinni's belly, her pure muscle saving her from any more broken bones. I stayed there for a bit as everything around me shook, a muffled cacophony of crumbling rock ringing from above.

Soon, the trembling finally let up, so I stood up to check my things. Seeing my bag had been spared, I tried to hand Sinni one of my pulverized berries. With a light chuckle, she stuck what she could in her mouth as we took a look at our surroundings.

As the torch on the ground burned out, it illuminated the concrete tunnel as it seemed to stretch forever in both directions, though there didn't seem to be any signs of an exit. When our torch finally fizzled out, Sinni sighed.

"Shit. What're we gonna do now?" she asked. A few minutes of trying to think a way out of this later, I felt a light rumbling around me.

"S-Seeni?" I whined, hugging the Feraligatr close as I braced for another collapse. However, instead of that, something burst from the ceiling and flew to the floor, the sunlight now shining in illuminating its form as Sinni let out a relieved chuckle.

"Arkus, thank Landorus!" she praised.

"Ma'am? That you? I saw the place collapse and thought I'd dig in to check it out. What happened?" the Flygon asked.

"Phoenixes. That Xatu bastard knocked the floor out from under me, I think I broke my leg real bad on the way down. Can you get us outta here?" Sinni replied. Arkus gave a nod, then flew up and started digging another hole, only this seemed larger in size. Sinni cringed as she tried to sit up, but managed a grin all the same.

"Well, kid... we're alive, that's something," she said.

"Y-yeah," I coughed. As we sat and watched Arkus drill through the earth above, I blinked, my mind traveling to a detail of what I'd just heard from Xatu.

'The Lustrous Orb... what... what's a Lustrous Orb?'
 
36 - Loose Ends New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
36 - Loose Ends

Mount Twist Path

3F


There appeared to be nothing in Zangoose's eyes as he stared down the party and snarled in warning; only pure animalistic rage. With his fur matted and blood from a fight with some other feral dripping from his mouth, Rye and Mavy could only stare in horror. They knew full well what would happen should one stray off the dungeon path or linger on a floor at the wrong time, but they had hoped they'd never have to see it for themselves, especially not to someone like Zangoose. Yet here he now stood, ready to tear them to ribbons.

Of course, there were none more horrified within the group than Nidorino and Raboot, whose professional demeanors had long since fleeted as they stared at their former friend.

"Z-Zangoose! Come on, it's us! S-snap out of it, 'mon!" Raboot tried to reason. As Zangoose only seemed to get more upset, Rye stumbled back in fear as Mavy tried to step up.

"We gotta tranquilize it! Gimme a Sleep Seed!" he demanded. Team Luster only ignored him as their pleading continued.

"Zangoose, please! R-remember, w-we-" Nidorino began.

"Zyaah!" Zangoose screeched, charging towards the group. Before anyone could do anything, he sliced at Nidorino's face and kicked him on his side. Raboot staggered back in shock, though that only opened up the opportunity for Zangoose to dash behind him and strike him hard with a Pursuit. As Raboot fell to the ground and tried to stagger away from the growling feral, the bleeding Nidorino looked up again, tears in his eyes.

"Sh-Shiloh, please..." he pleaded. Before Zangoose could go for the kill, though, several sharp spines suddenly whizzed through the air and lodged themselves into his body, causing him to screech in pain.

His Pin Missile a success in turning Zangoose's attention, Mavy gestured to Rye, who shakily held a seed from Team Luster's bag. As Zangoose gave a furious, animalistic cry, Rye threw the seed as hard as he could, managing to land it in his open mouth.

The two young Pokémon scrambled away as Zangoose immediately made to skewer them in response, managing to nick Mavy's ear before his swings started to become more sluggish. As he fell to the ground, his eyes drooping, Zangoose gave one last snarl before going still. With the Sleep Seed having done its work, Rye bent over to check on his partner.

"M-Mavy, your ear..." he said, seeing blood oozing from the wound.

"Screw mah ear, we gotta tie him up so he don't eat us when he wakes up. You gotta rope in that bag?" Mavy responded.

Rye gritted his teeth, though nodded as he snaked a length of rope out of his bag. As he tried to ignore Mavy's demands of "come on, wrap 'er round, now crisscross, applesauce" and tied Zangoose's limbs behind his back, Team Luster could only regain their bearings and stare forlorn at the sight. As Rye tugged at the rope to make sure it was secure, he turned to face them, giving a grim look as he cleared his throat.

"W-we're good now, I think. What do we do n-"

Raboot's fist suddenly slammed into Rye's cheek, cutting him off and sending him staggering back. Too shocked to at the sudden act to truly comprehend what had just happened, he shakedly held a hand up to the welt as Nidorino held back the furious Raboot.

"We could have saved him! W-we could've gotten outta here and this wouldn't have happened! But no, you just had to take your sweet-ass time in getting here, and... and..." Raboot yelled as angry tears stained his fur. With an anguished cry, he fired an Ember, narrowly missing Rye before collapsing into Nidorino's forepaws. "Sh-Shiloh... fuck..." he choked out.

As Raboot's rage devolved into quiet weeping, Nidorino looked up at Rye and Mavy as they looked on, their backs against the dungeon's wall. After a long, unreadable look, he hung his head grimly, silently took a team badge out of his bag, and tapped it against Zangoose's head, warping him and Raboot away.

As adrenaline left Rye's veins and gave way to dull throbbing in his cheek, he and Mavy just stared blankly at where their clients had been for a while, the shock of what they'd just experienced weighing down on them.

"...R-Rye, I... I didn't think that..." Mavy tried, though ultimately just kept quiet.

It was not until the distant bark of an approaching feral echoed down the hall that Rye shakily took their badges out, rubbing his swelling cheek. With a final look at the signs of their brief battle, he handed Mavy a badge and grabbed a hold of Zangoose's slumbering body. A couple of quick taps later, the three were gone, leaving only the quiet whistling of the wind past the mountainside and a curious feral sniffing at the disturbance left behind.

-o-​

Shiloh's eyes shot open as the loud clang of an iron door jolted him awake. At once, he could tell something was off; everything smelled and looked wrong. His fur standing on end, he clambered to his feet, snarling threateningly as he looked up at his apparent captors. He could sense it, they were not from the dungeon. They were encroaching upon it, but the real concern here was what they were going to do. Hurt him, steal his hard-earned food, take the watering hole, maybe? This couldn't stand, he had to stop them!

Was he even in his territory anymore, though? Most everything around him seemed wrong... but those intruders... something nagged at Shiloh's chaotic, animalistic thoughts as he glared them down. There was just a twinge of familiarity to the outsiders... never mind that, though, there was a clear threat to his survival present. He couldn't afford to let his guard down now.

Shiloh prowled over to his prison's corner on all fours, continuing to growl at his captors as he took a sitting position, drool dripping from his snarling maw. Watching his former friend, Raboot averted his gaze before quietly walking off.

"Ch-Church, wait..." Nidorino stammered, turning to try and reason with Raboot, though was only met with indifference as he walked off. Nidorino hung his head, and with nothing else to do, looked over at Rye and Mavy as they stared into the cage.

"It... it wasn't you two's fault. The dungeon would've shifted anyways. Y-you..." he tried to reassure them, though hung his head before he could continue.

"...so what now?" Mavy asked.

"We take him back, have him signed off as lost in action, then... th-the Guild decides what comes next," Nidorino explained, clenching his teeth as he stood there for another minute. Before long, he sighed, took a sack of coins from his bag to dump into Rye's hands, and turned to leave. As he did so, Rye reached out to stop him, though stopped himself short of touching his poisonous spines.

"...er, Mr. Nidorino? D-didn't you see how he was looking at you? M-maybe we can still-" he started.

"You can't reverse this. No one's ever really gone back from dungeon madness," Nidorino said coldly.

"I-I know, but what about Beck?" Rye asked. Nidorino gave a quick confused look.

"Who?" he asked. Rye bit his tongue.

"Er, Oshawott. I-I don't know, he's a feral, m-maybe he can talk some sense into him?" he suggested. Nidorino considered this for a moment, looking up at Shiloh.

"I don't know, kid. Try if you want, I doubt it'll do much," he sighed. "Anyways... I'm sorry about what Churchill did back there. He isn't usually like that, I..."

Rye ran a finger along his swollen cheek. The berry and ice pack he'd been given had helped, but he suspected it'd be a while before it went back down. Despite this, he hung his head.

"I-it's okay, I understand, I guess. Uh, L-losing someone here, y'know?" he said. Nidorino stared at the Treecko for a moment, some sort of understanding in his face before he simply turned around.

"We'll be sticking around to sort everything out. You can go whenever you want," he said.

As he trudged out the door, Mavy glanced up at Rye.

"Why's Beck gotta talk to him? Just do whatcha did to him," he said. Rye shifted in place, scratching at a itch on his wrist.

"It's not that simple," he said, to which Mavy sighed and gave a light eye roll.

"Yep, figured," he said before stopping and biting his lip. "Sorry, it's just that the ear's flarin' up. Don't mind me."

Rye gave an absentminded nod as he rubbed at his itching arm and watched Shiloh for a bit longer, though he and Mavy soon silently headed for the door, leaving the Zangoose be.

The two walked out of the modest police station and headed for the inn across the square as the cloudy sky above sprinkled snow down onto the teammates. Watching amusedly as snowflakes began to catch in Mavy's jagged fur, Rye hurried into the inn, looking back to make sure no one had recognized him.

"O-okay, uh... I guess we just wait for the weather to clear up, then we head home," he said. Shaking snow out of his fur, Mavy sighed.

"Yeah..." he said, melancholy weighing his voice down. Rye shot him a sympathetic look as they headed down the hall.

"H-hey, didn't you hear Mr. Nidorino? It's not our fault," he tried to reassure him.

"Iunno, just... ugh..." Mavy groaned. "It sucks, though. Like, just throw the dungeons out and I'd wanna settle down here. It's like that back home, sure, but at least y'all kept the place afloat," he said as he zigzagged into their room and hopped onto the bed. Rye looked through the window at the clouds now obscuring Mt. Twist's peak, giving a grim nod as he took a seat and kept itching at his arm.

"Yeah. Th-that'd be nice," he said.

-o-​

The last couple hours had been nothing but a confusing blur of panic for all of us. Immediately after Sinni and I had been fished out of that tunnel, we'd been rushed back to the station, the perfect place to watch the chaos of the ruin's destruction unfold. As the town's only doctor had looked us over, we were bombarded with questions as to just what we'd done in there while the village outside descended into panic.

Now that it seemed that the worst was behind us, I just took a moment to breathe easy as Sinni hobbled out of the station on sturdy iron crutches, shooting a glare behind us as the Miltank crossed her arms and watched us go. While I'd apparently just gotten banged up in my fall, Sinni had required a bone resetting, a hefty cast around her hulking leg, and a recommendation of rest.

It seemed she wasn't about to take all that sitting down, though.

"Fuckin' Betty, I swear. 'Ooh, why're you asking about Oshawott? Does it weally matter?' And right in front of you, like, come on," she said as she clumsily weaved past the village's still-confused residents.

"Ergh, yeah. 'Shaawaaa, sheeh,'" I tried to say in the Miltank's voice. Sinni gave a loud snort.

"Eeyep, that's Betty, alright," she said as her house came into view. Atop it, Cap'n Brine stood there staring at the distant plume of dust as it slowly dissipated, though he broke his gaze as he saw us approach. Once he caught sight of Sinni's crutches and cast, I swear I could feel an aura of just pure "what-the-fuck" wash over me as the Feraligatr leaned on her crutches and innocently waved.

"Wot even...?" he asked.

"Phoenix shit," Sinni clarified, hobbling into her house and probably leaving Brine even more confused. She stood there for a minute just looking over the room before she made her way to her bed, carefully set herself down, and let out a massive sigh as I sat down next to her.

"Welp. This is gonna be a treat to explain," she groaned. "We're dealing with wandereyes who got high out of their minds on X-eye seeds and believe in fucking... Palkia, they all got away, and I ate shit trying to catch 'em."

As Sinni ran her hand down her maw, I bit my lip.

"Er..." I awkwardly began.

"I ate so much shit, Beck," she said. A moment of silence hung in the air until Sinni tried to sit up.

"So... er, anyways, thanks for coming with. You know, you were kinda the one who found them in there, and something tells me I'd have a lot more than a busted leg if you weren't with me," she said. Looking over at her, I offered a little smile.

"N-nah praahb," I tried. With a little snort, Sinni continued.

"I'm guessing you're done here. No Phoenixes, no reason to stay, huh?" she asked, looking down at me with a soft gaze. Fidgeting with my tail as I sat, I hung my head a bit.

"Yeah," I said. Sinni cleared her throat.

"Well, Betty probably won't let me forget it if she sees me out for the rest of today. Could you do me a favor and stick around for a bit longer, make it a bit more bearable?" she asked. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this request seeing as Rye and Mavy were probably back by now. I didn't want to keep them waiting, but... eh.

"Yeah, s-sure," I said. Call it selfish, but I felt like I could use some inconsequential chill time to help everything I'd seen today sink in. In response, Sinni cracked her crocodile grin as she shifted in place, giving a light groan as her leg smarted.

"Grab a couple calciums from the crate over in the living room if you don't mind," she requested. Watching as I nodded and headed in, she cocked her head. "Hm, while we were talking last night, I didn't bring up... alright, allow me to enlighten you of the tale of Rye and the very unfortunately placed Trubbish."

"The wha?" I called back as I made my way across the one-room house. Sinni chuckled to herself, her face becoming ever so slightly somber at the memories.

"Well, see, it was just after the harvest, and the Sceptiles had invited us over for a nice celebration dinner. What they didn't know, though, was that a little Trubbish got into their stockpile..." she began.

We didn't stay there long, but it was a welcome change. Tales were told, laughs were shared, and a couple bottles of bitter calcium were gleefully forced down. With the energy boost the supplements had provided coursing through me, I'd eagerly tried to show Sinni the progress I'd made in the weeks since she'd given me those combat pointers.

"Alright, not bad form, good stance, decent grip. Looks like that'd leave a real good mark if you still had your... er, shell," she observed.

Putting the rock I'd used as a substitute down, I took a moment to reflect on my lost weapon. While I was already starting to feel something growing in... where was my scalchop growing from, anyways? That disconcerting thought aside, I still just felt wrong somehow without the thing. Watching as I started noticeably pouting, Sinni cleared her throat.

"Sorry if that's still a sensitive topic," she said. "Uh, you wanna move on?"

"Y-yeah," I quickly said.

"Right then. You got any other moves?" Sinni asked. With a nod, I packed some energy into my tail, then tried to jump up to swing it in a circle. Unfortunately, it seemed I'd grossly underestimated the Aqua Slap's range, as evidenced by the thud of a table and the loud crash of what sounded like pottery from behind me.

"...shaht. S-seeni?" I squeaked, trying to keep my cool as I shrank back. I don't know if I can quite describe the sheer terror of being glared daggers into by a seven-foot combat-trained monster while stumbling over the pieces of her ruined pot. As her maw clenched, said monster's face softened as she let out a deep sigh.

"You break shit like an amateur. Watch and learn," she said. Before I could quite process what she meant, she grabbed a small pot from beside her bed and tossed it into the air as best she could, then swung her massive tail to smash it to what I could only assume was dust. As I cowered in place, she looked over the fragments scattered about the floor.

"Bitch," she declared, giving a satisfied smirk. As I managed out a laugh of relief, Cap'n Brine looked in from through the window.

"Ye alroight in thar?" he asked.

"Yeah, we're all fine," Sinni piped.

"...aye. Well, try an' finish up, dayloight be wastin'," Brine said, fluttering back up to the roof. Watching the window, Sinni nodded.

"Right. I guess you've gotta head out now," she observed.

"Yeah," I nodded.

"Mmm. Well... just tell Rye to write back to me, alright? You know, since he didn't come, might as well make up," Sinni requested before shifting in her bed. "Really, though, I've... said a lot of things to him I regret, and..."

Sinni paused for a minute, clenching her jaws as she seemed to go over the memories.

"Wha yeh seh?" I asked.

"...I'd really rather not talk about it," Sinni said. "Think 'go explain to his grave, I'm sure he'll understand' or 'I'll bite your face off if you ever come back to this house...'"

She paused.

"...point is, I've got a lot I wanna tell him. Just... don't forget, yeah?" she requested, straightening up.

"Yeh, ma'am," I said.

"Thanks. Uhm... guess I'll see you when I see you. Knock 'em dead, kid," Sinni said, flashing one last crocodile grin my way. With a wave goodbye, I headed outside, taking a look back before calling out for Cap'n Brine.

As I climbed back into the Pelipper's foul bill and held on as he took off, I stole a final look back towards Bassa Village, namely the new gaping hole in the sand about half a mile out.

'I get the feeling that thing means we're gonna be back soon. Till then, there's a lot to unwrap here. The whatever Orb? That whole monologue from Xatu? Whatever that tunnel was? Where does it lead? If Bassa Village really is Nimbasa Town, then... anyways. I got some explanation as to why I'm here, but now there's just more that needs explaining...'

As I thought about it more and more, I ended up slumping against the wall of Brine's bill, my head throbbing.

"Urgh, shaht," I groaned.

"Oi, watcha tahngue ahn thar!" Brine demanded.

"Sorry," I quickly apologized, settling in for yet another long flight.

-o-​

"Aight, you got e'rything?" Mavy asked.

"Yeah, uh, everything's packed, I think," Rye said. With the midday sun peeking through the clouds in the window, the Treecko slung his bag over his shoulder and gestured Mavy on. With Team Luster having to stay overnight to get things sorted out, Rye and Mavy had agreed to just head back home, as Beck was likely already waiting.

The two's moods had been quite down from their failure to save Zangoose in time, though Rye had managed to keep his hopes up with the thought Beck could be able to help. All he wished was that they'd been a little faster in their efforts...

Managing to put his regrets over Zangoose aside for a minute, Rye decided that this mission had been a success in some regards. He'd managed to face his past head-on, he'd started getting on Mavy's good side, and no one had seen... him...

"W-wait!" he suddenly yelped, turning to run back to their inn room. He'd forgotten that mask! He couldn't risk anyone seeing his face!

As he scrambled into the room and bent down to retrieve the painted bone mask, he suddenly hesitated. Rye stared the mask in its eyeholes for a minute before his tail twitched. Without a word, he turned to leave, leaving the mask on the floor. Hanging his head, he trudged ahead of Mavy towards the inn's lobby.

"What was that about?" Mavy asked. Rye gulped, choosing not to answer as he stepped outside, pausing to take in the sights.

"Y-you remember the way to the Flyer pad, right?" he asked.

"Um, yeah, it was just up that way," Mavy said, leading the Treecko along. As they walked, Rye hung his head, gritting his teeth as passing Pokémon double taked and stared at him with wide eyes.

"I-is that...?"

"The fu...?"

"Th-that's the Sceptiles' kid..."

Keeping his gaze glued to the road, Rye trudged after the zigzagging Mavy, who looked around curiously at the shocked townsfolk.

"Ah'm guessin' those're...?" he asked. Rye gave a grim nod, trying not to look at anyone. He knew full well what the Pokémon of Twistfoot Town thought of him, and he didn't want to risk a confrontation, especially if it ended up leading him back to his parents. Perhaps he could come back and make amends at some future date, but for now, just letting everyone know he had stopped by was good enough for him.

Ignoring the shocked stares of the townsfolk, Rye and Mavy climbed back up onto the rooftop landing pad as Altaria flew out of the building below, allowing the two to clamber onto her pillowy back.

Rye clung on as she began to take off, though stole a final look back at Mt. Twist as it loomed over the town, not breaking that gaze until it and the town disappeared behind cloud cover.

With a sigh, he scratched at a bothersome itch on his back. He wasn't sure why he was itching so much today, maybe-

"Ah! Wh-what in distortion? Stop!" Mavy cried, pointing at where Rye was scratching. Retracting his hand, he found what was the matter: a white scaly film sticking to his fingers. Frantically looking around as bits of it floated down into Altaria's feathers, he groaned.

"No! Wh-why'd I have to start shedding now?" he protested.

"Sheddin'?" But ya don't have fur, do you?" Mavy asked.

"N-no, no, I outgrew my skin. Now it's coming off," Rye explained, peeling a little strip of dead skin off his back as an example. Letting it flutter away in the wind, Rye slumped down in defeat.

"N-now it's gonna stick in her feathers and I've gotta take a day off to let it finish... ugh," he groaned.

"Mm. Talk 'bout poor timin', huh?" Mavy observed, flicking one of the pieces of skin out of Altaria's feathers. Rye snorted.

"Yeah, a-at least it's better than that time I ate... uh..."

Rye tensed up, quietly swearing to himself as Mavy looked up.

"Hmm?" he asked.

"Nothing," Rye said hurriedly.

"That time you ate what, Rye?" Mavy insisted.

"N-nothing!" Rye said, his face hot as Mavy chuckled.

"Come on, now, we got till dusk, might as well just spill the gummis now," he reasoned as Rye buried his face into Altaria's feathers, cursing himself for letting that of all things slip. Altaria rolled her eyes at the two, shifting her gaze ahead as she set her course back towards Gray Proper.

-o-​

"Tell yer bunch oi said ahoy, alroight?" Cap'n Brine requested.

"Yessir," I said, giving as good a salute I could with my little arm. The Pelipper gave a hearty grin as we stood just outside Impetus Town. With our mercifully uneventful flight bringing us home just before dusk, Brine been nice enough to just drop me off and spare me the nighttime walk. As the town started to light up behind me, we stood there quietly for a second before Brine hopped in place.

"Ya need any more flyin', joss come'n tolk tah me. Make sure ye make better arrangments fah me than the roof, hm?" he asked.

"Yeah," I promised. With that, Brine gave a quick grin and salute and flew off into the darkening sky, leaving me to head into town.

The streets were mostly empty save for the businesses still open for the Guild, so my walk back went without incident. Waving at Cinccino as I passed her booth, I took a brief look around. With dinner fast approaching, the Guild was bustling with activity as Pokémon went about their evenings, passing by without giving me much thought. While I was glad to be left alone, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. Anyone who might have known about my absence probably assumed I was in Twistfoot Town with the others, so no one knew what I'd done yesterday.

'I mean, not yet, at least. I'm gonna guess Sinni and friends won't keep all that secret for very long.'

With that in mind, I stopped at our team's base and gave the doorframe a gentle knock. When no one answered, I took a peek inside. By the looks of it, Rye and Mavy hadn't come back yet, as evidenced by the unlit lantern and the general cleanliness of the place (we'd have to talk with Mavy about that, it seemed). A bit bummed but still counting my quick return as a win of some sort, I plopped down on my bed and resigned myself to staring at the ceiling and twiddling my webbed toes as I waited for my teammates to return.

It was probably half an hour until I suddenly picked up familiar voices approaching the base. My ears pricking up, I sat up just in time to see Rye and Mavy chatting as they walked in.

'...wait, Rye and Mavy are talking? They're not ready to kill each other? And why does Rye look so pale?'

I barely had time to consider any of this before Rye spotted me, his face cracking into a grin.

"Beck! Hey!" he piped as he and Mavy ran over to meet me.

"Hey! Er... Rye?" I said, pointing to his unusual-looking skin. Rye exchanged a quick look with Mavy, then put on a mock grim face.

"Yeah, uh, I-I caught something while we were in town. Mavy says it's just, uh, l-leprosy," he said as he scratched at his forearm, then suddenly peeled a strip of scaly film off.

"Ah!" I yelped, scrambling back in shock. Rye let the strip of skin flutter to the ground and slumped guiltily as Mavy burst out laughing behind him.

"I'm sorry, i-it's not leprosy, just my skin shedding. Mavy wanted me to do that," he apologized.

"Worth it!" Mavy wheezed. As we waited for him to calm down, Rye cleared his throat.

"So, uh... I was thinking we could go into town for dinner tonight? W-we have money and, er, I wanna wait till I finish shedding. Maybe we can, y'know, catch up while we're doing that, is that alright?" he asked. I cocked my head curiously. Did restaurants still exist?

"Er, sure. Wehr?" I asked.

"Okay, er, I think there's a place run by a Tropius near town square, we can try that," Rye answered, dropping his bag to the side and leading us out of the base. As we headed into the now brightly-lit Impetus Town, Rye straightened up, splitting a strip of dead skin in the process.

"So, we've got a lot to talk about," he said. "Y-you wanna start?"

"Meh?" I asked.

"If anything, we'll just end up readin' it later. Might could figure out what's happenin' now if ya tell, y'know?" Mavy reasoned. With the two now watching expectantly, I bit my lip, quietly asking to anyone listening to forgive me for the butchering of language that was to come.

"Er, I go tah Brehh. Cap Brehh. I, eh, f-feh... f-fly tah Ba-sha..."

-o-​

As I felt the moon beginning to tug ever so slightly at my core, the three of us sat around a table with no one but the Tropius running the open-air restaurant to bother us as we pigged out. Even if it was quite odd eating something other than Raticate's cooking, I was enjoying myself a good bit. It felt nice to just kick back with the squad and splurge for once, especially now that we could pick our meals. After a month of just predetermined mess hall meals, I'd forgotten how nice that was. As I listened to Rye tell of what he'd been up to, though, our attention was drawn to Mavy as he loudly smacked on his Pidove meat.

"...what?" he asked as he noticed our staring. Rye scratched at his shedding skin as he cleared his throat.

"C-could you please quit... uh, smacking like that?" he asked. Mavy snorted.

"Pfft. You city slickers and yer manners," he chuckled as he went back to eating, though thankfully refrained from his unappealing slurping. With quiet finally achieved, Rye turned back to me and continued with his tale. I hadn't had much luck in telling what had happened on my end, but despite the confusion, Rye and Mavy had been satisfied enough to regale me with their own retellings.

"So, anyways, once we came to terms, we just started... er, screaming at each other," he recounted, scraping his finger along the bottom of his bowl of stew. My mouth full of Magikarp, I cocked my head.

"Wha?" I asked, accidentally spewing bits of fish onto the table as Mavy looked up from his plate and put his forepaws on the table.

"Yep, we basically just roasted the livin' daylights outta each other and tried to start fresh from there. May have gone a bit far, but looks like it's worked out so far," he explained.

"Y-yeah, then... uh... then we found Zangoose," Rye said quietly. I looked up from my dish, my eyes undoubtedly lighting up.

"Rehly?" I asked, though shrunk back as I noticed Rye's grim expression.

"Th-the dungeon took him. He got driven feral," he said. A long silence hung over the table as the information sank in.

"Wha?" I quietly asked after a minute, my eyes wide. Rye let out a sigh.

"They get back tomorrow with him. I-I was hoping you might be able to talk some sense into him. Like, we won't be going anywhere while I'm shedding, and, uh, maybe you can understand him, who knows?" he suggested.

I considered this for a bit. I hadn't really stopped to consider if I could understand ferals, especially when every feral I'd encountered thus far had only really given me one thing to work with: get the fuck off my property or I'll skewer you between the eyes. With that limited range, I hadn't been able to tell. Maybe in a controlled environment, I could...?

"...I t-try," I promised. Rye gave a thankful nod as he sat back and kept scratching at his arms. We sat there in grim silence for a minute until the Tropius serving us came tromping back, carrying a small dish in his mouth that he placed in front of Rye.

"Uh... what's this?" the confused Treecko asked.

"Complementary poffins for your hatchday!" the Tropius piped. "It's an old recipe from Sun Minor, hard to come by 'round these parts! Enjoy!"

As the Tropius lumbered off, Rye tried to choke out a protest, then gave Mavy a flat look.

"What? It's free food!" the Zigzagoon reasoned.

"But... Mavy, it's not even my hatchday!" Rye said. Mavy smiled deviously.

"He don't know that," he grinned, "I mean, if you ain't gonna eat 'em, ah'll gladly-"

"W-wait!" Rye said, holding the dish away from Mavy's grabbing paws. "It's just... y-you heard him, it's rare."

"Well, it ain't every day you get dessert, right? Ya only got so long, you gotta live sometimes. Lemme have a couple," Mavy said. Rye seemed to relent, placing the platter down for the Zigzagoon to grab at.

"Y-yeah, huh. I never really noticed dessert's kinda... er, not common, I guess. Haven't had it since... I don't know, really," he mused. As I reached for one of the curious pastries, something from my talk with Sinni that morning came to mind. Looking up at Rye, I smirked to myself.

"Seence Trah-beh?" I asked.

"Huh?" Rye asked, popping a poffin into his mouth. I waited quietly for a minute as he savored the treat, then suddenly and violently blew it out as he gave me a look of abject horror, his eyes bulging out of his head.

"Y-you... she... h-how much did she tell you?!" he cried out.

"E-enaff," I replied, trying my damnedest to keep a straight face. As Rye seemed to implode in on himself, Mavy put his forepaws back up on the table, looking at me interestedly.

"Ohohooo! Tell ya what exactly, Beck?" he asked. Rye started to form a plea for me to stop, but suddenly stopped before straightening up.

"Uh, w-well, i-if we're gonna share, uh, st-stories, then I could tell about the thing you ate in Amber- I mean, Arid Riverbed!" he managed. I gave him a confused look before the memory suddenly popped up: me stupidly eating that apple out of desperation and poisoning myself. While that went down in my mind's eye, it was my turn to recoil in panic.

"Wh-wha?! Rye, nah!" I pleaded as Mavy looked over in my direction, seemingly quite interested in that unfortunate incident as Rye watched me die inside.

"C-come on... uh, B-Blubby! I think Mavy'd really like to hear about that!" he added on.

I tried to form a response to this, but alas, I could find none. After a bit of silence, I chose to just stick my tongue out at Rye, who grinned and sat back in his seat as we looked each other in the eyes, making a silent agreement to keep quiet about any food-related incidents. With that decided, we started picking off the poffin platter, Mavy snorting as we did so.

"Cowards, both o' y'all," he declared as he joined us.
 
37 - A Strange Game New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
37 - A Strange Game

You ever hear that old saying, ignorance is bliss? Well, to be honest, I never quite got it before as far as I can remember. Well, now as I looked around at the townsfolk as we strolled through Impetus Town, I was getting a pretty good idea of what exactly it meant.

It seemed that the news of our escapades hadn't yet escaped, as the Pokémon around us didn't seem to give us a second thought as we weaved past them on our way to the police station. With the shock of that attack on the temple having apparently passed, they looked lively as ever as they went about their days, should it be talking, playing, shopping, what have you. They had no idea of what we'd started to uncover here... honestly, I envied them. I really did.

Anyways, the police station.

Team Luster had come back early in the morning, Zangoose tied up and in tow as they dragged his snarling, snapping self to the station. Apparently it was standard procedure to hole up any ferals like this in a jail cell until the Guild decided what to do with them, so with a quick summons, we were on our way. As we stopped in front of the humble little police station, we all gave each other a glance.

"So what's the plan here?" Mavy asked Rye. The Treecko was looking worse for wear as several large patches of pale dead skin clung to his body, earning many a bewildered look from the few Pokémon on the street as he scratched at the patch on his chest.

"I don't know. Uh, I-I guess Beck just goes in and sees if he can figure... y'know, something out?" he suggested. Mavy and I both turned to give him a flat look.

"Sham-tin?" I asked dubiously.

"Ya really didn't think this through, didja?" Mavy asked. Rye's eye twitched.

"No, I-I mean like... l-let's just go," he said, leading us into the station. As we walked in, the Magnemite at the front desk took a quick look up, then gave an electronic groan.

"Disdain: You again. Interrogative: What do you need?" it buzzed. It seemed it hadn't forgotten about the time we'd come in with my dream as evidence. Nevertheless, we straightened up and looked it in its single eye.

"We're here for Team... uh, Luster, right? Yeah, Team Luster, their feral 'mon," Mavy said. Magnemite gave us a Look.

"Statement: That is not permitted. Only the affected's teammates may accompany him," it droned.

"Th-they asked for us," Rye hurriedly added.

"Bzzt! Sarcasm: I'm sure they did. I'm sure they'll back that up," the Magnemite said flatly before turning to float through the door behind it. After we waited for a minute, the unpleasant receptionist floated back in and silently gestured us on, giving us a disgruntled sideways look as we ventured into the station's guts.

Waiting in the hallway for us was Team Luster and Officer Magnezone, who all watched as we quietly filed in. Raboot gave a quick sharp look before looking down at the floor, though Nidorino quickly stood up to address us, hanging his head as he started.

"Treecko said you could help. I'm not sure if whatever you're gonna do will work, but... dammit, I don't know. I don't care if you can't bring him back entirely. Just... try and do something," he said. While it was jarring seeing a Pokémon nearly twice my size pleading like this, I managed to ignore this and nodded.

"Y-yessir," I said before turning to Officer Magnezone for instructions.

"Statement: Zangoose is thankfully a feral of the mad variant, meaning he cannot articulate easily in combat. A born feral such as you would likely best anyone in this situation, but remember that the risk is still here. Instruction: Keep in mind I will be watching. I do not know what exactly you will be attempting, but I do not doubt it is dangerous. You are to tell me should the situation spiral out of your control. Interrogative: Are you ready to begin?" he asked.

Looking back at Rye and Mavy for any sort of help, I soon gave the officer a quick nod. With that, Magnezone opened the door behind him and led me inside.

As I took in the jail cell before me, Zangoose looked up at us and immediately began growling threateningly. With his matted fur, bared teeth, and wild, soulless eyes, he was far from the friendly Pokémon I'd known him as. I'd been dreading seeing him like this already, but as Magnezone floated towards the cell to let me in, the realization that I had a lot more shit on my plate to worry about set in. Swallowing hard, I started inching towards the cell, watching Zangoose's wicked claws in particular as he stared me down.

"Zahh!" he barked in warning. I paused, waiting for him to calm down as to not get shish kebabed. As I waited, I began to seriously reconsider this whole idea.

'He's probably too far gone for you to make any difference. Just turn back now and save yourself the mutilation.

...but everyone's expecting you to at least try and do this. Rye, Mavy, Nidorino... agh! This isn't gonna end well.'


Quietly praying Ms. Audino would take pity and not charge us for the care I'd undoubtedly be needing, I kept up my approach as Officer Magnezone opened up the cell door a crack to let me in. As I heard the door clink shut behind me, I stopped and bit my lip, watching Zangoose as he stood up and took a defensive stance.

"Zeaaah!" he snarled. After quickly checking to make sure Magnezone was still there, I tried to mull over the threat in my head.

'Think, Beck. Surely you can get something out of that. Really, that can't be it, all he conveyed was asserting dominance over... his territory... uh, what? Did I really just...?

Um. O-okay, then. We might be onto something. If basic pokkology still checks out nowadays, all I've gotta do is take that dominance away.'


"Zaaagh!" Zangoose screeched, quite unhappy I wasn't backing off as he unsheathed his claws.

"Shaah!" I responded, loudly slapping my tail against the iron bars behind me. Though startled by the noise, Zangoose quickly charged me, though I was able to scramble aside before he could slice me open. The cell's bars rang again as he ran headfirst into them, though this didn't seem to be enough to perturb him as he regained his bearings and swung at me. As claws raked against my chest, I yelped and fired off a Water Gun in the feral's face, the high-pressure technique sending him sputtering to the floor. Before he could get up to strike me again, I gave a hard Aqua Slap to his head, debilitating him just long enough for me to jump onto his head.

"SHAAAH!" I screeched into Zangoose's ear, spittle flying from my mouth as I stamped my webbed feet. Zangoose tried to struggle for a bit, but quickly slumped down in defeat, finally submitting his title of the cell's superior Pokémon.

"Zah..." he groaned as I watched, my ears sticking up.

'Okay, I think that means he's given up. He's acknowledged you as... uh, the alpha, I guess. Now strike him down and assert... whoa, okay, getting a bit into it there.

Really, though, what do I do now? Just talk to him? I mean, I'm not entirely sure what I'm saying myself, but it's my best option here.'


"Er, Shan-gahs. Shaah," I tried. Zangoose only glared up at me, so I bit my lip and tried again. I'm not a hundred percent certain what I told him over the next minute or two, but it seemed I was making progress as the feral's tense figure started to relax. Just as I was about to finish up my spiel of animalistic noise, Zangoose suddenly stood up, throwing me off his head and onto the stone floor.

I winced and braced for a nasty slashing, but was surprised when none came. Tentatively looking up at Zangoose, I found him standing over me passively, staring down at me as he pointed to the door.

"Zah?" he asked quietly. I blinked, the shock of what I'd just managed to do beginning to set in.

"Y-yeah," I said, though quickly coughed to myself. "Er, shaa," I corrected. At my confirmation, Zangoose ambled over to the bars as I hurriedly scurried out of the cell, Magnezone looking on in what I could assume was awe as he held open the door for me.

"...summons: Nidorino, please enter," he soon called. The room's door cracked open as Nidorino hesitantly entered, the others gathered behind him to watch as he stopped in front of Zangoose's cell.

"Sh-Shiloh?" he asked quietly. Zangoose didn't seem to recognize the name, but he still looked down at his former teammate with some sort of respect, maybe even recognition before retracting his claws and bowing his head in submission. Nidorino just stared at him for a moment before turning his gaze towards me.

"Am sorry," I said. I hadn't been able to bring him back after all...

"Don't be. You got somewhere with him, at least. Even if we can't bring him back entirely... all in all, he's still Shiloh. That's good enough," Nidorino reasoned before looking back at the door, where Raboot stared at a loss at this turn of events. "How'd you get Oshawott like this, Treecko? Just... er, give us a tip or two," Nidorino said.

Rye blinked hard at the sudden request, his tail twitching as he tried to think.

"Uh... I-I tried to teach him to say his name first, then tried to branch out. I-it's hard to explain," he said. Nidorino nodded.

"Right, start with names... I think that's everything, then. You can just go, we need a while," he said. "Thanks for... well, everything, you guys."

I gave a quick nod. The three of us stood there for a moment before silently turning to make our exit, leaving Raboot to stare into the room dumbfounded as Nidorino started talking to Zangoose.

We didn't dare say a word till we were well on our way back to the Guild, at which point Rye gave me a worried look.

"So, uh... wh-when you were beating Zangoose up... uh..." he said timidly.

"Yeah. Remind me never to piss ya off," Mavy added. I sighed, giving a little shrug to acknowledge that yeah, I'd probably gotten a bit too into it there as we headed back through the Guild's gates.

I mean, if it worked, then...

-o-​

Setting down my charcoal pen, I looked over the paper I'd scrawled on, giving a satisfied nod at what I'd produced. With Rye's shedding preventing us from doing any work today, we'd decided to just sit down and have a writing lesson. With a disinterested Mavy having quickly excused himself to go on a walk around town, I didn't have much else to do than write down the same phrase over and over.

The team of Pokémon from the Guild walked into the dungeon.

The team of Pokémon from the Guild walked into the dungeon.

The team of Pokémon from the Guild walked into the dungeon.


Rinse, repeat, and resist the urge to hit my head against the wall. Riveting. I mean, I could somewhat read the phrase now, but still.

Once I handed the paper over, Rye skimmed over it, looking distant as he did so.

"Alright, that's good. Y-you're getting the hang of it," he said absentmindedly, scratching at his peeling skin. He kept at it for a bit before he seemed to notice my concerned look.

"Yeh okeh?" I asked. Not looking up from his contemplation, Rye grimaced a bit.

"I-I... I don't know, it's just that, uh..." he began. Met with just silence after that, I put aside my pen. I'd promised to help him, I wasn't just gonna sit around and write down more first-grade crap without at least trying.

"Wha happehd?" I asked. Seemingly realizing he wasn't getting out of this one, Rye bit his lip.

"Well, uh... it's everything that happened with Zangoose. And, er, wh-while I was in Twistfoot, I could've gone and talked to someone I knew. But... I-I didn't. Like, do you think I should've done that? I didn't even see Mom or Dad, and... I-I ran away, they probably... I don't know. Should I worry about this?" he asked. I thought over his words for a bit. I was by no means a therapist, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

"Eh... is prah-gres," I said.

"What?" Rye asked.

"Nah wahry. T-tak shloah," I added. Rye only seemed to wilt further.

"I-I know, I know. It's just that I should've at least tried to talk to someone, you know?" he asked.

"Rye, is okeh," I reassured him.

"B-but I... uh, do you hear that?" Rye asked. Sticking an ear up, I looked outside, where a loud flapping of wings courtesy of a landing Noctowl sounded.

"Hey, urgent message here," he hurriedly said as he hopped inside, clutching a small slip of parchment. "Immediate summons for Oshawott of Team Reach. The Guildmaster wants to see you."

I froze, staring at Noctowl for a bit before managing to regain my composure and choking a question out.

"Wh-why?" I asked.

"Don't ask me. He just said he wanted to talk with you in private. Not sure how he plans on managing that, but what in distortion do I know?" Noctowl shrugged, dropping the summons at my feet before hopping out the door and flying off. Picking up the little slip and looking over the Torchic-scratch scrawled onto it, I exchanged a worried glance with Rye.

"W-well... I-I guess you should answer that. If Mr. Arcanine wants to see you, then... uh, yeah," the Treecko managed. "I-I'll watch for Mavy, you can just go. I'll... erm, see you later."

Gulping at the tone in his voice, I nodded and waddled out of our quarters, starting the short walk to the top of the hill. Had Arcanine found out about my trip to Bassa Village? Was I about to get kicked out of the Guild or something? I frankly didn't know, but as I approached the little shack housing the Guildmaster's quarters, I figured all I could do was hope for the best. Clutching the summons tight, I stopped in front of the door, where a pair of Bisharps stood guard, apparently having replaced the Magnetons that had been here before.

"None shall pass," one of them said.

"I-" I began.

"None shall pass. Guildmaster Arcanine is not accepting any visitors. Make your leave," the Bisharp repeated. I sighed, holding up my summons. The two guards quickly plucked it out of my paws, looking over it for a minute before nodding.

"Go ahead," they stated, stepping aside to let me head inside.

I felt an odd rush of nostalgia as I climbed down the ladder into Arcanine's quarters with some difficulty. The last time I'd been here was well over a month ago, the day Rye and I formed the team, if I recall correctly. Glancing up at the paintings of the Guild over the years as I headed down the hallway, I gritted my teeth, hoping I'd be shown mercy.

Entering the circular main room, I stopped, finding that Arcanine was nowhere to be seen. Sighing, I started pacing as I waited, taking a long look at the stuff piled up along the walls. Now that I knew of this world's true nature, the artifacts here seemed to shine in a new light. The Pokeballs and machines, the tools and knickknacks, the signs and paintings, the skeleton grinning down at me... I don't know, just looking at the Guildmaster's weird collection now was just kinda morbid, to say the least.

As I examined the artifacts, I stopped over a particularly enticing sight: a long row of rusted knives. I cocked my head as I remembered what Bert had told me during our last session.

'Maybe if we ask real politely, I can get ya one of those to use till the 'chop grows back. Imagine, an Oshawott running at you with a knife.'

I couldn't suppress my smile as I ran a paw across a couple of them. After a good bit of scanning, I carefully picked one of them up. Looking at the little joint at the bottom, I curiously opened up the butterfly knife and examined the rusted blade. It was still decently sharp, it could do some damage...

Giving the knife a couple experimental jerks to open and close it, I soon started swinging the weapon arounf. As the blade whistled through the air for the first time in who knows how long, I let myself momentarily forget my woes. Even if this wasn't my old scalchop, it still felt good swinging such a weapon around like old times. A hefty grin on my face, I gave a few hard stabs into the air, though it seemed I wasn't quite used to the weight of the thing, as the last one sent it flying out of my paws and clattering onto the floor. Gritting my teeth, I bent down to gingerly pick it up.

"Please do be careful. That is very old and very delicate."

"Ah!" I yelped, spinning around to find Arcanine watching me, his face somewhere between amusement and disgruntlement. With a shudder, I picked the butterfly knife up and put it back where I'd found it, then guiltily turned to face Arcanine as he approached.

"Sh-sha?" I asked.

"Yes, I am sure you are wondering why I've called you here," Arcanine said, pulling a small wooden box out of a stack of artifacts. Carrying it over in his mouth, he set it down and continued. "You needn't worry. I only wish for pleasant conversation. First, though, I would like to ask you a question."

As the massive golden dog put a paw on the box, I gulped, fearing the undoubtedly important contents it might hold. Extending a claw and sticking it between the box's two halves, Arcanine opened it up, revealing said contents as... a big checkerboard? And wood pieces for... huh?

Confused, I looked up at Arcanine, who offered a warm smile.

"Would you care for a friendly game of chess?" he asked.

Unsure of where exactly the Guildmaster was going with this, I gave a reluctant nod and sat down across from him. Seeing the five-foot mountain of a canine struggle to pull the small pieces out with his unwieldy paws, I leaned over to try and help out. As I tried to remember whether the Rapidash or the weird smiling guy went next to the castle, Arcanine watched me curiously.

"The bishop goes there, young one," he pointed out before lying down on the floor. "I have not played in many years, so do bear with me here. Now, white goes first, if I recall," he said, delicately pushing a pawn forwards with a claw.

"Uh... sir? Wha?" I asked. The Guildmaster looked up, his deep eyes regarding me as I instinctively straightened up.

"I am told you have been through much over the past moon. From experience, I can tell you that playing a game with no life on the line always helps," he explained, nodding towards me. "Your move."

After a bit of hesitation, I gave a light shrug and moved a pawn forward, getting another grin from Arcanine.

"Chess, you see, is a human game, both literally and in nature. There seems to be too much hard contemplation towards a hollow goal for many Pokémon to show interest. I have come close to convincing some, but I suppose the core of the game is simply too far gone to make very much sense to most. I myself have difficulty understanding, I must admit. Kings, queens, bishops; roles I suppose only a human could fully understand."

Nodding at his little lesson, I started trying to ask what the smiley guy did again before suddenly freezing in place, looking up at Arcanine like he'd just caught me with a paw in the cookie jar.

"Curious that you accepted my challenge so easily, I must say," he said knowingly. I swallowed hard.

"Uh..." I said.

"Yes, I am aware of your... condition. Rest assured, your secret is safe with me, young Beck," Arcanine reassured me. "Now, then, did you mean to move there?"

"S-sir-" I began.

"Need not worry. We will get to that, but since we cannot talk without much effort, I would like to get to know you on the checkerboard before we do. You can tell much about a Pokémon just through how they play," Arcanine said. I hesitated for a bit before biting my lip and going along with the game, gesturing to the smiley-guy to begin properly.

So, I'll admit. I kinda suck at chess. Even if I got the feeling Arcanine was going easy on me, he had wiped the floor with most of my little guys within fifteen minutes or so. While the game was honestly kinda fun in a way, that was eclipsed by the mild panic I felt looking over the trap the Guildmaster had put my king in as he accidentally knocked over another piece of his with his massive paw.

"Oh, dear, not again... I apologize again, it seems this was not quite designed with my stature in mind," he chuckled, eyeing my king as he tried to prop his castle guy back up. "Ahem, check. You may prolong this for a few turns if you please. There is no shame in moving your king away," he said, gesturing to my poor king as the white queen just stood there menacingly. Gritting my teeth, I looked around for some sort of escape from this.

'Crap, he killed my smiley-guys. They'd have been useful here. Uh... oh, wait!'

Cracking a confident grin, I picked up a lonely, unassuming Rapidash from amidst the chaos in the board's center and knocked Arcanine's queen over. The dog stared at his downed champion for a second before nodding to himself.

"Interesting. Interesting, indeed," he said as I picked the piece up and put it aside. Looking back at him to watch his next move, I found him sitting up instead. "See, this is what fascinates me so about humankind: its ingenuity. You simply cannot get this from peering over old artifacts all day, it is wondrous to experience it firsthand," he mused before nonchalantly looking back down and grabbing his remaining castle guy in his mouth, putting it just across from my king. I frantically reached out to move it out of the way, but quickly found that wouldn't be an option, no thanks to the smiley-guys prowling at the board's other end.

"Alas, it seems that has not quite carried over for you. Checkmate," Arcanine said. We were both silent for a moment before the golden dog hung his head a bit. "I apologize. Comedy was never my strong spot."

Giving the Guildmaster a sideways Look, I sighed and started cleaning up the mess. As I did so, Arcanine sat up, his expression becoming more serious.

"Now, then, with that out of the way, I would like to talk to you about your... ahem, recent incursion," he said. I gritted my teeth, quietly swearing to myself as he continued. "I have read the first reports from the Societies and Bassa Village, and... I want you to tell me what happened. I need a firsthand account to decide what action to take next. Can you do that, young one?"

"Uh... sha," I reminded him. Arcanine simply chuckled to himself, got up, and headed over to what I guessed was his living space in the other room. Nudging back a piece of parchment and a charcoal pen, he watched me expectantly.

"Er... c-cannah wreh," I said.

"Not in Graytongue, I know," Arcanine said. I stared at the paper confused for a minute before suddenly perking up, grabbing the pen, and scrawling out something.

Can you read this?

Peering down at the Unovan, Arcanine grinned.

"Why, yes, I can. I have had a while to practice, I can read most western languages fluently, and my Kantonese is choppy but passable. It is a shame my biology does not allow for speaking them, though," he said. "Now, might I ask why you went to Bassa?"

Looking up to meet his curious gaze, I sighed and started scouring my mind for words as I wrote.

Got attacked. Guy gave info then escaped. Wanted answers.

"I see. Did anything of note happen between your arrival and the raid?" Arcanine asked. I hesitated, remembering the vision I'd seen. I'd talked to the Guildmaster about this before, though, so I felt like I could trust him with that sort of thing.

Dream. They were looking for orb. Didn't find.

Arcanine's brow furrowed as he read over this.

"Orb... I presume this was the Lustrous Orb that Officer Feraligatr mentioned. Worrisome, I must say," he said.

"Wha?" I asked, though Arcanine continued without explaining.

"Might you describe what you saw in the raid?" he requested. Giving a light groan of frustration, I complied.

Found guys. Bird was there with a bunch of others. Gave a monologue and collapsed the floor.

"Bird? What- ah, Xatu. I see... I am told you and Feraligatr found a previously unknown structure under the floor. Might you describe it?" Arcanine requested.

"Uh... y-yeah," I said, looking back down at the paper.

Really long dark concrete tunnel.

Arcanine looked down at the floor, contemplating my vague description.

"Interesting, indeed," he said. "A subway tunnel, perhaps, or some sort of shelter. And undiscovered in such an environment as the Imperium Desert..."

The dog gazed down thoughtfully for a moment before nodding.

"I suppose this calls for an exploration, then," he said.

"Wha?" I asked.

"The idea is that I will send a select few teams to the site to scout out the area and bring back anything of interest," Arcanine explained.

"Why?" I questioned.

"Well, you see, desert environments are ideal places for preserving artifacts. In these troubled times, anything of use could help turn the tides. Imagine, young one. We could find where the Caverns of Being are, or Entralink, perhaps. Why, there is always the chance Reshiram and Zekrom themselves could be resting there! It is too good of an opportunity to pass up," Arcanine explained. I considered the prospect before giving a little nod of understanding, getting a satisfied smile from the Guildmaster, though this quickly faltered.

"That reminds me. I am curious: once this is over and you have completed whatever task you were ordained with, what do you plan on doing next?" he asked. I cocked my head in confusion.

"Er..." I began before remembering the parchment below.

Keep the team going, I guess, I jotted down. Arcanine hummed to himself.

"You... do not wish to return home? You wish to remain an Oshawott? Do you not have friends and family waiting?" he asked. I hesitated for a moment before replying.

Is going back even possible?

"Well, perhaps with favor with a Legend such as Dialga or the Entree forest if the legends are true. That is all I know of on this continent," Arcanine said.

I stared into space for a bit to let this information sink in. I could go back? I could see whoever I'd left behind again? Maybe... but... my human self died. I knew that much for certain. I wasn't sure if I could just walk in and say hi after literally dying. Besides, I couldn't just leave Rye like that, he'd be absolutely crushed.

'I... I don't want to think about this just yet. I'm just gonna move on real quick.'

Hiding my discomfort at the hard-hitting revelation, I hurriedly jotted down another question for Arcanine.

Have you met any other humans?

Arcanine considered this for a moment before shaking his head.

"Yes. No. It... it is complicated. I believe I spoke to Lee's partner before the Darkness receded from the Dark Isles, but I have not met any human-turned Pokémon. There are some... shall I say interesting Pokémon that have raised some alarms over the years, but that is unimportant," he said. "I did, however, meet a few humans when they still occupied these lands."

"Wha? Watta feck?" I asked under my breath, though quickly shrunk back as Arcanine gave me a steely look for my language. "...er, r-rehly?"

"Yes, quite long ago. Most tried to catch me for my Shine, but there was one who... stood out, shall I say. I would prefer not to talk about that day," Arcanine mused.

I stared at him for a moment, shocked at just how old he apparently was. He remembered actual humans? Just... damn.

You're that old? Is that why you like humans so much?

"Oh, no, no. There are many far older than I, some who remember the glory days of man as if they were yesterday. I suppose I am just the one who could not let go," Arcanine chuckled. "No, I look up to your race because of what they have done for this world. Without their guidance, we would all be savage beasts like the ferals you are bunched with. Even in their absence, what humanity did still holds firm. Everything you see around you, from this town to the very concept of writing, is from what they taught us. If we have gone further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

I smirked a bit at the quote as he continued.

"You should not be ashamed to be human, child. This Guild will support you in your team's quest," he reassured me. "Should you begin to think of returning home, however... by all means, come talk to me. I will be right here."

"Y-yessir," I said. Arcanine gave a smile.

"Thank you for your time, young Beck. You are dismissed, I must begin arranging the exploration. Forever forward," he said.

"Uh... f-fah... fehvvah..." I tried.

"I will take that," Arcanine nodded, turning to retreat back into his living room. With that, I turned to leave, not entirely sure what to make of the visit. While I'd been reassured that the Guild had my back, the possibility of dropping everything and going back once all this was over had been presented. For the time being, I'd soundly reject that proposal, but it was still at least worth noting.

As I waddled back towards our base, my mind couldn't help but wander towards all this, still contemplating as I sat down on my straw bed. I only really snapped out of it once I noticed Rye sitting there and watching concernedly.

"Uh, wh-what happened? How'd it go?" he asked, to which I simply shrugged. Honestly, I didn't really have anything else to give.

All I knew for certain was that the next few days were going to be interesting, to say the least.

-o-​

Clanga-clanga-clang!

As the telltale ringing of the wakeup bell jolted me awake, I let out a light moan. I stared at the ceiling for a minute until I heard Rye get to his feet, at which point I sighed and sat up, blinking fog out of my eyes. Across from me, Rye scratched at the last remaining patches of dead skin on his body as Mavy got to his paws, messily shaking straw out of his fur. With our usual waking routines out of the way, we all exchanged glances.

"Morning," Rye said groggily.

"Ugh," Mavy groaned.

"Sheaugh," I agreed. Pleasantries given, we all headed outside and made our ways towards the mess hall for breakfast, passing by the wakeup team of Bronzong and Farfetch'd. As we passed by the boards, we noticed the steady flow of Pokémon disrupting as they seemed to suddenly stop, murmur something among each other, and head down the path towards the amphitheater.

"Uh... d-do you think that's...?" Rye asked, glancing over to me. It'd been a couple days since I'd visited Arcanine, and my checking the outlaw board every chance I got had caught the attention of both Rye and Mavy. With what I'd told them back at Tropius' restaurant, Rye had every right to be nervous as he ran over to a nearby Espurr.

"H-hey! Sir!" he called. The Espurr gave him a flat look.

"I'm a girl," she said. Rye stopped briefly, swearing to himself before continuing.

"S-sorry. Uh, what's going on?" he asked. The Espurr unnervingly stared into him for a couple seconds.

"Emergency assembly. That's all I know," she said before hurrying off to join a waiting Fennekin down the path. We hesitated for a bit, though with a worried look and a gesture to follow, Rye led us towards the Guild's amphitheater.

The three of us waited among the sea of nervously chattering Pokémon for a minute, looking around anxiously until a clamor arose around us, signifying Arcanine's arrival. Flanked by two Bisharp, he took his usual spot and regarded us all, his face still as he waited for his apprentices to calm down. Once some degree of silence had been reached, he cleared his throat.

"Thank you all for attending. I apologize for calling you here on such short notice, but this is in regards to an ongoing crisis that I suspect may be of great consequence," he began. "Firstly, I must commend our very own Team Reach for collecting much of what I am about to tell you. Three days ago, the group responsible for the attack on the Dialgite Temple attempted another theft. While they were unable to retrieve the object in question, said object is still worrisome enough to warrant this announcement."

Arcanine paused for effect, taking a deep sigh.

"It seems they were attempting to steal the Lustrous Orb. Our friends in Ebbull City have confirmed that this is not random chance, as the artifact taken from the Dialgite Temple was, in fact, the Adamant Orb. We do not know what this entails, but what matters now is that they were unsuccessful in this attempt," he said. "The organization in question is known as the Phoenix League. The whereabouts of the thief Xatu and the League's current leader, known only as the Director, are unknown at this moment, but I still ask that you keep a lookout. Known members of the League are now on the outlaw board for anyone who wishes to help. That is all I wish to say. Forever forward."

As Arcanine turned to walk away, the crowd began to murmur among itself, confused.

"Phoenixes? He doesn't mean that Phoenix League, does he?"

"They... what?"

"The fuck is an Adamant Orb?"

"Hey, hey, sorry. Just let me past here."

The source of that last voice made itself clear as it clumsily climbed up onto the Guildmaster's stone podium, turning to look over the crowd. Making sure he wasn't about to fall off, Arden cleared his throat loudly to get the congregation's attention.

"Right. So, seeing as the dog didn't explain jack about those orb things, I'm just gonna do it for him. Basically, back when the world was created, we had Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina. For whatever reason, once they were finished doing their thing, the three stooges of spacetime decided to stick some of their power into weird orbs, and the end result was the... fuck, I forget. Uh, the Adamant, Lustrous, and Grizzly Orbs," he explained before May's head stuck out of the crowd to whisper to him. "...what? Griseous? The fuck kind of word is... you know what, fuck it. Point is, the things are powerful, and if they happen to get all three of them, we may or may not be fucked."

The quiet crowd exchanged worried glances for a bit until a paw raised.

"How do you know so much about this?" its voice asked. Arden rolled his eyes.

"Be glad your old man didn't sit you down and drill you on this kinda shit fifty times over," he said. "So, that's really about it. Just... I don't know, go about your lives, citizens."

As the Pokémon around us began to clamor worriedly once more, Arden shot a suspicious glance in our direction before hopping off the podium and out of sight. Biting my lip, I followed Rye and Mavy out of the amphitheater, hoping some breakfast would help all that set in.

As we walked, I couldn't help but notice several more eyes than usual fixed on us, their owners whispering to each other as they walked past. As I quickly noted, their gazes seemed to be more of intrigue than suspicion, a welcome change from the usual as we headed into the mess hall.

"Ah, Team Reach! I... am honestly not sure what to tell you," Raticate said as we waited for our food. "Uh, I dunno, good job out there, I reckon. Keep it up, buckos."

"Thanks," I said, accepting the three trays and heading on over to our usual spot. Upon taking our seats, the three of us sat there in a long, awkward silence.

"...so. We ain't just dealin' with Dialga here, I gather?" Mavy eventually asked. Rye shuddered, giving an "mhm" as the Zigzagoon tapped his claws on the table.

"Aight, so apocalypse orbs, the weird cult mob... y'know, this'd be a real nice time to clue me in on ev'rything, y'know?" he suggested. After Rye only sighed, he raised his forepaws. "I kid, I kid."

After another minute of silence, I cleared my throat.

"So, er... fehd?" I suggested. Rye and Mavy quickly agreed, so we took to stuffing our faceholes. I had no way of knowing what was coming up, but I figured all I could do now was just get ready for whatever Arcanine had in store for us.

-o-​

"Come on, that was a nice, informative speech. The Grizzly Orb thing wasn't that egregious," May reassured her friend.

"It's not that. Come on, can I not be stressed about... you know, that?" Arden groaned. Giving a simple sigh in response, May turned to talk to Pike, finally leaving the Quilava alone with some time to think.

Peering above the heads in the mess hall to look at Team Reach, Arden bit his lip. He'd been dreading this announcement for days now, no thanks to the vision he'd been hit with the night of the attack. Now that his superior had confirmed his fears, he was at a loss of what to do.

He felt he had understated just how fucked they all were if all three of the Orbs fell into the wrong hands. How, exactly? The last thing he wanted was to find out. But... what if Team Apex failed to stop this from happening? No, what if Team Reach failed?

'Alright, Arden. Buddy. All you gotta do is walk up to the Oshawott, stand up real straight, and tell him that you... you're... fucking damn it!'

Sparks escaping from the vents on his back, Arden let out a shaky sigh as he turned back to his teammates. Even if his conscience whispered to just give Oshawott and friends a chance, he still feared their failure. But he couldn't do a thing about it... he couldn't do this for much longer.

He wanted this all to end. He wanted things to go back to normal. He didn't want to hide behind the wall anymore.

At that moment, Arden almost wanted to go home.
 
38 - Call to Arms New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
38 - Call to Arms

"Yeah, from what I've been told, they did get all that for sure. Magnezone and Bassa Village police said so themselves. Why you asking?" Bert asked. Pike took a quick look around the mess hall behind him, making sure no unwanted ears were listening in.

"...just makin' sure," he eventually muttered. Bert snorted, crossing his arms.

"What, you don't trust ol' Arcanine himself?" he asked. Pike instinctively puffed up his feathers, giving a little squawk of shock.

"C-course I do! Just... j-just don't... ya know, Reach's a rookie team, only 'bout a moon old. Bit hard to believe they pulled all that off, ya know?" he reasoned. Bert hummed.

"True, true, but hey, if they can get to a mad feral, then-"

"Wait, wait, wait. They did what?" Pike demanded.

"You didn't hear about Team Luster?" Bert asked. Pike didn't answer, only choosing to look back at the crowd behind him as the Wartortle continued. "Anyways, er, mightcha remind me what you told me your group was up to after a moon?" he asked. Pike considered for a minute.

"...cuttin' off the Serperior bridgehead," he sighed. "Ya got me there. Sorry to bother ya."

As Pike turned to hop back towards his teammates, Bert sat there for a moment before giving a little chuckle to himself and kicking back in his seat. While the rest of the Guild's staff clearly hadn't told him everything, he felt he'd heard enough. With his fellow trainers getting up to turn in their platters, Bert craned his head to look over the mass of Pokémon.

"Knew you guys were something special from the moment you saved my tail on the Serperior. Good job, kid," he said under his breath. With that, he got up and made for the exit, pride in both his teaching and his student bubbling up within him.

Pike, meanwhile, was far from proud.

"Damn fool, honestly. The fuck was he even thinkin', takin' up a feral like that?" he muttered under his breath.

Even as he quietly judged Bert for his decisions, Pike was not entirely sure what to make of this situation. As he turned his platter in, he looked to the floor contemplatively. Something was wrong here, he knew it. This sort of thing did not just happen, especially given the circumstances. How could a team go from the quiet apprentice and a dungeon feral to this in only a moon? This type of success story just didn't happen outside of children's tales, and Team Reach was most certainly not the Radiant Squad searching for sweets.

Unless... what if the Oshawott...?

No. No, that was impossible. Pike had heard more than enough to know what former humans were like, and there was no way in distortion that a dungeon feral, of all things, could be one. He simply could not associate a noble explorer, much less a human with... that, not after everything he'd been through.

There was simply no way.

Grinding his beak and stroking a feather over his Sharpbeak pendant, Pike followed his teammates out the door, then spread his wings to fly back to their base. As he circled the building, something caught his attention: the smashed remains of the team's mailbox. The Swellow's eye twitched.

"Bagon, ya little shit! I'm gonna-" he cawed as he landed, only for something among the wreckage to cut him off. Curiously brushing aside the debris, his feathers stood on end at what he found.

"Oh, sh..." he whispered.

The item in question appeared to be a scroll with a red rod at its center and adorned with the Guildmaster's pawprint. These distinctive features could only mean one thing: Team Apex had been sent an official call to action.

...Pike figured he could scold Bagon for his destructive roof-diving later.

-o-​

"Uh, what do we do now? Should we just wait for something to happen?" Rye asked.

"Well, unless Scruffy here's got any ideas, then sounds like a plan," Mavy said, zigzagging after us as we strolled out of the mess hall. Giving a little sigh in response, I gestured the two along. Before we did anything else, I wanted to check something first.

With a couple of right turns, the boards came into view, so I bounded over to the news board first and foremost. Amidst the sea of parchment, I found several familiar sketches, the most noticeable ones showing the hole in the ruined complex, what seemed to be the Scizor from my vision (albeit with noticeably warped facial armor), and... uh, me and Sinni. At least, I think it was supposed to be, though it looked like the artist must have decided to take a few creative liberties. I couldn't help but huff a bit as the laid-back Dewott in the drawing smirked back at me. I guess hearing about a little Oshawott helping in that raid might have been just a bit too out there, but this was... wait, were my ears really that big?

With a grimace, I left Rye and Mavy to read as I waddled over to the outlaw board. The posters were hard to see and partially covered up by the other tacked-on posters, but they were there. Crude sketches of Xatu, a Gengar, the Linoone I'd seen, and several other Phoenixes stared down at me as I looked them over. The only outlier seemed to only have text, one I guessed was reserved for their leader; the Director, I think Arcanine had called him.

Having caught up to me, Rye took a moment to gaze up at the posters, giving a little sigh at their arrangement.

"G-guess whoever hung them didn't know," he reasoned.

"Lazy ass is what I... think..." Mavy said.

"Well, uh, at least someone could catch these 'mons now, right? Th-that'd be nice," Rye said. After regarding the posters for a bit, he cleared his throat. "Uh, let's head back, get ready for the job today."

"Yeah," I agreed. We turned to leave, but I quickly noticed Mavy still lingering. I looked back curiously just in time to see him tear his eyes away from one of the posters, a grim expression on his face. As we walked, he looked up at me.

"Beck, uh... didja happen to see, er, a Linoone while you were out in the desert?" he asked.

"Er, yeah," I said. A second passed before the implications of the question hit me and I looked down at Mavy, my eyes wide.

"...that don't mean nothing. I-I mean, it ain't like Pa's the only Linoone around, right? Chances are he's still down south cuttin' lumber," the Zigzagoon nodded.

Giving him a long look, I just smiled and nodded. I could only hope he was right, because... yeah.

We didn't get long to think this over, though, because as we approached our base, Rye suddenly stopped short. It seemed we had mail in the mail slot, and as Rye walked over and fished it out, I cocked my head. I hadn't seen a scroll be used for mail before. I tried to ask Rye about this, but he only stared bug-eyed at the scroll like it was made of gold leaf.

"Th-this... I... oh, Jirachi..." he choked out, hurriedly tearing the seal off and unfurling it.

"What's the matter?" Mavy asked.

"Th-this is a call to action from Mr. Arcanine!" Rye exclaimed, excitedly jittering for a bit before calming down enough to read the scroll's contents. "Uh, okay, okay... t-to Team Reach. After much consideration, we have decided that your abilities as apprentices on this Guild are desirable for, uh, a-an upcoming mission. You are to be deployed to the as-of-yet unexplored ruin uncovered in the Imperium Desert three days ago to investigate whatever is inside. Other teams joining you will be Teams, uh, Stonewall, Ruby, Frontier, A-Apex and Joules. You have two days to prepare."

We all looked up at each other for a minute, quiet as the news sunk in.

"...so nah wha?" I asked.

"Well... i-it says we have two days. Uh, I think we should train one day and stock up the next. I-I mean, we might have to fight, I don't know. Even if the other teams have our backs, it's best to be ready," Rye responded.

"What we doin', then? A dungeon dive?" Mavy asked. Rye gave him a quizzical look.

"Uh, we can do one-on-one or just go to the training grounds," he said. Mavy's eyes seemed to light up as his ears pricked.

"We got a place for training? Guess I know where ah'll be the rest o' the day!" he said before turning to zigzag off, only to stop in his tracks. "Right. Uh, where they at?"

"Let's... uh, figure out what we need to work on first, alright?" Rye offered. Mavy rolled his eyes.

"Come on, now. Beck, buddy, don't you wanna go and-" he began.

"Nah, am weth Rye," I said, inching towards the Treecko. Mavy opened his mouth to argue, but he soon just hung his head, unwilling to argue with the democratic process. With that, I followed the two into our base, a skip in my step as we started getting ready. An exploration overseen by the Guild? I doubted the Phoenixes would try and poke in on that, and that was just fine by me. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

We had those couple of days to get out of the way first, of course.

-o-​

"You gon drown me, kid?"

With a smirk, Mavy jumped out of the way of a Water Gun and just missed me with a barrage of Pin Missiles.

"That almost got me there, maybe try har-!"

I gritted my teeth as an Aqua Slap missed its mark, only to get a Sand Attack into my face.

"That all you got? Disappointed, I gotta s- ah!"

I delivered a hard Tackle that took the Zigzagoon to the ground for a minute, but not for long.

"Rye's right there, buddy, you can call quits whenever-"

"Shat ahp!" I yelled as Mavy kept gleefully zigzagging around me. Though I couldn't see too well through the dirt in my eyes, I wasn't about to let the Zigzagoon get out of this sparring match unscathed. My eyes clenched shut, I started spinning around as I fired off a long jet of water. I figured that if anything, I'd hit Mavy in his running around if I was lucky. Sure enough, I quickly heard him sputter as my attack landed, so I pried open my eyes and ran to take advantage of the brief opening. As I tackled him and hit him in the face with a couple of Aqua Slaps, he threw up his forepaws in defeat.

"Aight, I give!" he said. With that, I stopped and rolled off of him, allowing the Zigzagoon to hop over to a nearby tree stump where Rye sat and watched worriedly.

While sure, this training was a bit rough around the edges, it was the best we had for the given situation. Rye had insisted we pinpoint aspects to work on before going to the training grounds, so upon securing a sufficient clearing in the woods and a few berries, we'd ended up here. It was all fine and good, I guess, but I just wished we could've done this a few days later.

Feeling at my belly, my paw met the little hard spot that had started growing there that morning. I guessed this new scalchop would be big enough to use to some degree in a couple of days, and being so close but so far from having my handy little weapon back was irritating, to say the least.

I gave a little sigh and begrudgingly pushed this qualm back again as I sat down on the sidelines, grabbing a berry to soothe the wounds from that brief fight. As I felt tangy purple juice dribble down my chin, I exchanged a glance with Rye. He'd promised to fight the winner, but now he wasn't looking so sure of himself there. Before long, I pushed myself up, feeling at least good enough to fight. Rye quickly followed, shakily getting into stance as we faced each other on the field.

"Whatever happens... er, I-I'm sorry," he said. I didn't answer, only giving a reassuring nod as Mavy called for the match to begin.

I immediately got hit in the side with a Quick Attack, to which I responded by quickly bounding away as I clutched my smarting ribs. I knew I was at a disadvantage here, seeing as Rye was a Grass-type, but I knew he wasn't particularly good at ranged combat. I figured if I could just keep my distance, I'd have a better chance at winning here.

Watching me as I rubbed at my side, Rye bit his lip before running to meet me, getting a Water Gun to the gut. This just slowed him down, though, and as he got within range, our glowing tails clashed in two separate attacks before I scurried to the other side of the field, shooting another jet of water at Rye for good measure. Appearing to realize what I was doing, the Treecko stopped for a moment to send me a light glare.

"Come on, th-that's not fair!" he protested.

"Shaa," I shrugged before bounding at him to get in a couple quick strikes. Panicking for a second, Rye shakily inhaled, his eyes beginning to glow as he instinctively got into stance. I gave a little battle cry as I made to Tackle Rye, but a sudden hot pain in my side sent me to the ground.

"Ah! Agh!" I yelped as I hosed off my side, which was now covered in a blanket of short purple flames. Although the flames didn't go out very easily and the area felt numb, it didn't feel like there was that much damage, so I pushed myself back up to continue the fight, a confident smile on my face. Instead of a fight, though, I only found Rye staring in horror at what his Dragon Breath had done. After a second's hesitation, he hung his head.

"I-I forfeit," he said. Mavy and I stared at the Treecko as he sulked over to the sidelines and plopped down on the sideline stump. I stared at his pitiful state for a moment, feeling at my tingling side all the while before I waddled over to join him.

"I'm sorry," Rye muttered as I sat down. I gave a little sigh.

"Rye, is okeh," I said.

"B-but I lost control again and hurt you. I-" Rye began.

"Is fine, rehly," I tried. Rye didn't seem reassured, so I just sat there for a minute, rubbing at my tingling thigh until Mavy scoffed from the ground below.

"Why you gotta get all moody over this, of all things? It's a battle, yer supposed to hurt the 'mon," he said as he fidgeted with the underbrush.

"It's not like that! I-it's-" Rye interjected.

"Rye, yeh fine. Nah mah sorry, yeah?" I said. The Treecko looked at me, confusion shining through his frustration.

"Wh-what do you mean no ma- uh, more sorry? You mean I should just...?" he asked. I gave a cry of affirmation, balling up a paw and punching my palm. In response, Rye just groaned.

"No, it... you don't get it! I can't... n-never mind," he sighed. As he crumpled in place, I kept rubbing at the pins-and-needles feeling in my thigh, letting out a sigh as I realized it wasn't going away.

"Rye? Sheh-ree?" I asked. Snapping back, Rye hurriedly nodded and fished a Cheri out of our little stockpile, his tail drooping but his face becoming determined as he tossed it over and stood to address us.

"A-alright, I'm gonna head to the training grounds if you two wanna come. So Mavy, you need to work on, uh, not focusing on just talking. Beck, I-I think you can polish some things out. I... uh, I need to find a Dragon that can help me," he summarized. Mavy seemed ever so slightly disgruntled at his recommendation, but still smirked as he pushed himself up.

"How 'bout this? Last one there has to shave his fur off. Or, er, we can paint Rye's face if he loses," he said. As I spit out the Cheri's pit, I exchanged a look with Rye, the both of us giving each other a smirk as I felt feeling return to my side.

"Y-you're on. Okay, Team Reach! Split off!" Rye commanded, prompting the three of us to bolt off in separate directions. As Rye climbed up into the trees to jump along the branches and Mavy kept zigzagging through the shrubbery in the Guild's general direction, I gave a little smile. Did all Pokémon do stuff like that? Did each species have its own little quirk when it came to dramatic forest running?

'If so, then who am I to object?' I figured as I emerged from the woods and dove into the river below without hesitation. The training grounds were just downstream, so why not? Taking a minute to let the river's cool water flow over my wounds, I soon turned downstream and began beating my tail, already wondering how Mavy was going to try and wriggle out of his own consequences.

-o-​

As the sun began to climb down from its peak in the sky, my tail streaked through the air as I spun around, striking at an imaginary foe in a graceful display as Bert sat and watched on. The Wartortle gave a little shrug as I turned to face him.

"Well, it's no Aqua Tail, but y'know, it's a start," he said. My face fell.

"Wha?" I asked.

"The energy needed for a good Aqua Tail... it's too much for a Pokémon at your level. You won't be using it for... well, let's just say you'll probably be a Dewott when you can realistically use it in a fight. Closest new technique I can think of is Water Pulse, and that takes effort. Maybe just work on improving what you've got," Bert reasoned. I disappointedly hung my head, prompting the Wartortle to rock up off his shell and walk over to me.

"Eh, don't sweat it, kid. It never benefited anyone rushing in on things. Besides, you're doing just fine as is, you just need a bit more work around the edges, you know?" he asked.

"Er, wahk?" I asked.

"Reflexes, endurance, all that. I mean, look at... ahem, the thing coming up. Uncharted territory's rough, you're gonna wanna focus on endurance and the like more than combat, I think," he reasoned. When I didn't stop sulking, he sighed. "Don't get the wrong idea, it's not that you're bad, far from it. Just know that feral or not, I... well, you've done good. I'm proud of you."

I thought this over silently for a moment, the sounds of battle behind me backing my consideration. Before long, I sighed and nodded. Bert gave a toothy grin in response.

"Alright! Got nothing booked for the rest of the day, so let's try some good ol' physical training, yeah? Hop in the river and hold your breath for as long as you can, see if you can't push it," he instructed.

"Yeh, mah-steh," I said. Bert blinked hard, taken by surprise.

"Master? Well, I... please, just Bert. No need for formality," he chuckled, holding up his hands. I cleared my throat a bit, scratching my chest fur awkwardly.

"Er, yessir, Baht," I corrected myself. As Bert gave a satisfied smile at this, we both jumped into the river.

For the next couple hours, I did my best to push myself to my limits. I'd spent an hour and a half holding my breath and envying Bert's apparent gills, then what felt like two hours more of situps, heavy lifting, and running around the grounds. I managed to catch a glimpse of my teammates during my jog, noting Rye respectfully talking to the Goodra manning the Dragon-type grounds and Mavy practicing as a Stoutland watched. Unfortunately, I could only manage in a quick wave before continuing on. It was grueling, but at this point, I felt like I could take more. As my short little legs ached, I shakily raised a paw to show my continued cooperation, to which Bert hummed.

"Still not out for the count, eh? Well, then... uh, swim to town limits and back as fast as you can, then try and beat your time. We'll keep on going till you tire out. Sound alright?" he instructed.

"Yessir," I said, wading into the water as the Wartortle watched, waiting for me to head in neck-deep.

"On my mark... go!" he barked. I quickly submerged myself and shot through the cool water like a torpedo, sticking my eyes just above water to keep track of my progress. Despite the aching from all the previous working out, I felt soothed enough by the water to keep swimming through the clear river, the now-setting sun casting a tranquil glow on the water around me. Passing the last of Impetus Town's little riverfront shops after maybe five minutes, I turned around to head back. I'd made decent time, but there was definitely room for improvement. Not that I could do much improving afterwards, that is.

As I swam past the town's waterfront, I passed under a rather large rock jutting out over the water. The thing made me nervous; what if it suddenly gave and fell on top of me? I only worried about this for a second, as I quickly passed the menacing crag. As I emerged from under it, though, a sudden anomaly caught my eye. Sparing a quick look up, I slowed down to a halt. Sitting down on the rock's edge was Arden, looking worse for wear as he stared down at the bubbling river. It seemed he was oblivious to my presence, so I clung on to the river's bank and kept hidden, curious as to what exactly he was doing.

The Quilava stared down at the river absentmindedly, seemingly taking in the scenery for a minute before sighing.

"Hey, guys. It's... uh, it's been a while, huh?" he asked the flowing water. After waiting for a bit, he continued. "So... things are looking pretty fucked on my end. I get you'd tell me to just do what I have to do to fix things, Mom, but... I don't know."

A moment of silence passed before Arden cleared his throat and continued.

"Um... I-I hear we'll be heading over to, uh, the desert to try and see if we can fix things. Remember that place? Heh, we always wanted to go as a family, and... we came close. You know, the tickets, Otto? That'd have been... y-you know. Then, well, everything went to shit, and... now I..."

A quiet sniffle sounded out.

"I-I honestly don't know how long I can keep this up. I... I miss you guys..."

Arden hung his head, clenching his eyes shut as he silently sat there. It wasn't too long, though, before quiet footfalls joined the ambiance, inciting a sigh from Arden.

"May, I've told you not to follow me when-" he started.

"I was curious, is all. A trip to the rock doesn't usually spell out sunshine and daisies," the Leafeon said as she walked up to the edge of the rock, watching Arden for a minute before sitting down beside him as I kept watching.

"Welp, you caught me here again. Great, now what do you want from me?" the Quilava eventually asked. May bit her lip as she watched the water flow below.

"I'm worried about you, Ardie. You're clearly not fine. Please, just... talk to me," she said bluntly. When Arden only looked away from her in response, she sighed. "I get it's Guild business, but you know, no one's out here but us. The dog won't care."

A minute of silence passed.

"...it's this whole thing going on. Arcanine thinks there's a human involved, and... well, clearly some shit's going down if that's the case," Arden said. I nervously shrank into the water as May's eyes widened.

"A... human?" she asked. Arden gave her a grim look, not answering as she considered. "Is it... uh, do you know who it is?"

Arden hesitated for a bit.

"Don't know," he soon said. May gave a nod, thankfully choosing not to pursue this any further.

"Alright, but... what about the whole thing with Rye's team and the nightmare?" she asked.

"Who said anything about Rye's team?" Arden defended. May only gave a sigh.

"Really, now," she said. As Arden kept silently watching the water. she inched closer to him. "So, um... what are you doing here, exactly?" she asked. A moment of silence hung in the air.

"Visiting with the family," Arden said bluntly. May was quiet for a minute.

"...oh. Arden, I... we're here for you, you know that. I know, I could never know how it feels, but... Pike and I, we have your back," May said.

"Yeah, alright, but what if..." Arden started before trailing off. As I listened, he groaned lightly. "You're right. I'm sorry."

Something about his tone of voice told me that this wasn't going to be the end of whatever was going on with him, and judging by what I could see, May wasn't entirely convinced, either. Despite this, Arden didn't seem to be sulking anymore, so she resigned herself to watching the sun as it sunk ever lower behind the treeline, filling the sky with brilliant oranges and pinks.

"Nice sunset," Arden eventually said.

"Yeah. Brings back memories," May replied. Arden spared the Leafeon a small smile, looking over at her.

"Yeah? Like what?" he asked.

"Well, sky looked an awful lot like this the day you came sputtering about wanting to be... ahem, friends," May shrugged.

"What do you mean, sputt-" Arden started before tensing up. "May, come on. You weren't any better, you know."

May gave a smirk.

"Guhh, May, been wanting to talk to you," she said, mocking Arden's voice.

"Oh, nice, guhh, same here," Arden rebutted.

"So, uh, we've known each other for two months now, and, guh-"

"Wow, th-th-that's convenient, I wanted to say the same thing. So, guhh, anyways, you wanna maybe go and, uhhhh-"

"Alright, alright, enough. Any more and I'll jump in and drown myself," May suddenly butted in. The two shared a laugh as I stared up at them, unsure of what exactly I'd swam in on.

"So, what about you? Any memories coming up?" the Leafeon asked. Arden sat back, resting his forepaws on the ground behind him.

"The day we met, I guess. You know, that whole day of powering through being capped off with a nice sunset," he said offhandedly. May gave a loud snort to herself.

"Oh, sure, powering through. Yeah, the blood red there really gets all that powering through across," she remarked, pointing to a hue of red in the sky. Arden rolled his eyes.

"Come on, you know I have my ways," he said.

"Ah, yes, because that involves half your ribs broken, an arm and a leg broken..." May started.

"May-"

"...trauma to the head, internal bleeding, and let's not forget screaming and panicking like Darkrai just kicked your door down and violated you."

"Come on, have an open mind."

"You were so bloodied you couldn't even open your eyes at first. You'd have been dead within the hour if I hadn't heard your pathetic little cries."

"You can't say that for certain. The big guy could've found me and healed me up, you know?"

"...I'm still in disbelief you've even lasted this long, Ardie," May said. Smirk still on his face, Arden put an arm around the Leafeon.

"Same goes for you, Mayday," he said. The two watched the sun for another bit before Arden's ears stuck up. "You still remember our song, right?"

May didn't answer, and as she waited, Arden sighed.

"I... I will be king," he sang. "And you, you will be queen..."

A few seconds of silence hung in the air before May responded.

"And nothing will drive them away... we can be heroes, just for one day..." she sang.

"We can be us... just for one day," Arden finished. The two of them grinning ear to ear, they kept sitting in silence together as I turned my gaze back down to the river, my head still half-submerged.

That was... something. While there was a good bit to consider there, the first my brain commented on was how low the sun was getting. It was still above the treeline when I'd... I'd... oh. Oh, no. I'd forgotten I was being timed!

Quietly panicking to myself, I silently submerged myself and shot away from the rock, leaving the two to sit. I furiously beat my tail as hard as I could until I burst from the water and clambered onto solid stone as Bert jumped back in surprise at my sudden appearance.

"Ah! Kid! What took you?" he asked, running over to meet me as I got to my feet.

"Aagh," I said.

"What, did Alakazam send another house into the river?" he half-joked.

"...yeah. Hass in rivah," I said. Bert blinked a couple times.

"Oh," he said before craning his head up towards the river. "Uh, can... I see it?"

"...no," I soon said. Bert opened his mouth to say more, but ultimately just shook his head increduously.

"Right, anyways. Daylight's burned out, can't really do much more. You can just head on back, I guess. Getcha some sleep, alright? You'll need it," he said.

"Yessir, tank you," I said.

Bert gave a grin and a nod, so I turned to drag myself back to base as he jumped into the river. By the looks of it, both Rye and Mavy had finished up, so with no one to wait for, I decided to go ahead and excuse myself. With what I'd heard on the rock fresh in my mind, I stiffly headed through the grounds' gates to hopefully figure things out over some dinner.

Wearily dragging my tail through the Guild's campus, I soon headed into our quarters, waving at Rye and Mavy before collapsing onto my bed. Rye gave me a quick look of concern before scratching at the back of his head, seemingly at one of the last bits of unshedded skin.

"Uh. w-we were about to head out for dinner. We can bring some back if... uh, you're busy," Rye said, watching me as I rolled onto my back.

"Nah, no. Am fine," I said. Despite my claims, I just took a minute to lie there before hauling myself up, prompting the three of us to start towards the mess hall.

"So, uh, what'd you two do? I tried to work on my Dragon Breath with Master Goodra. I-I don't know if I made any progress, though," Rye said.

"Mr. Stoutland was aight, I guess. Couldn't really follow along, he had a weird accent, but ah can do this now," Mavy said before turning and trying to make Lillipup-eyes at me. I stared at him for a minute before awkwardly looking away. The Zigzagoon's odd look faltered.

"What, that didn't work? That was supposed to be a Babydoll-Eyes. Did I not put enough juice in it?" he muttered to himself as Rye craned his head to look at me.

"How about you?" he asked.

"Uh... trening. Shweemin. Saw Sh-Shahden," I said. Rye cocked his head.

"You saw Mr. Arden? But he doesn't ever go to the training grounds... wh-what was he doing?" he asked.

"Tahkin. Dahno," I shrugged.

"Huh," Rye said before straightening up. "W-well, I guess we'll just be stocking up tomorrow, I think we've got enough Poké. Uh, I guess we'll talk about what we need over dinner."

As we entered the mess hall and got into line, I stared off to try and think, but Rye suddenly jerked his head to look at Mavy.

"Oh, uh, Mavy? Remember the dare?" he asked, barely suppressing a humored smile. Mavy looked up confusedly for a minute before the fur on his back suddenly stood on end.

"Uh..." he said, panic in his voice.

"Y-you were last to the grounds. You gotta shave," Rye said. Mavy's face fell as he tried to come up with a rebuttal. Before long, though, he cleared his throat.

"I never said nothin' 'bout shaving. Ah said we'd paint your face if you lost," he said matter-of-factually. Rye and I exchanged a look.

This was going to take a while, it seemed.
 
39 - Long Way Aways New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
39 - Long Way Aways

"Why, good morning, Treecko!" Kecleon piped from his store window. "What might I do for you today?"

As the sun peeked out over Impetus Town, the three of us stood in front of the Kecleons' humble shop. With our schedule going along swimmingly so far, we'd decided to go ahead with today being a shopping day. While we probably wouldn't be needing anything in terms of dungeon materials, our list was still long regardless. First things first, though, we needed food. Aside from our noticeable lack of regular food, I'd noticed that a couple of our berries were starting to grow all moldy, so replacing them was of priority.

As for what I'd heard Arden and May discussing yesterday... well, I honestly didn't have it in me to really worry about it for long. I mean, sure, Arden knew there was a human involved in all this, but he hadn't mentioned me, had he? Honestly, I was just getting used to all this, so at this point, I'd just brushed most of my concerns from that conversation aside.

If I was causing the Quilava that much stress, though...

'Hrm. Might have to look into that in the future.'

As Rye told the green shopkeeper of our needs, his purple partner gave me a sideways glance, his scales taking on a bit of a paler hue as he shifted in place uncomfortably. I gritted my teeth, knowing where this was probably going; I hadn't forgotten when I'd been politely shooed away by the two that one time. However, after a minute, Purple just nervously pursed his lips and averted his gaze, staying at the counter as Green headed into the back. I blinked once or twice as I watched him stand there.

'Huh... well, that's an improvement.'

Before long, Green emerged from the back and handed Rye a sack that a quick look showed to be full of various berries and foodstuffs.

"That'll be 900 Poké. Remember if you need to put all this anywhere, there's always the Durants next door," the shopkeeper said, pointing to a tall dirt mound next foor teeming with metallic-looking insects crawling in and out. "Their tunnels go down a hundred feet, they're the safest storage business this part of Gray Proper, and their services are free for everyone on the Guild!"

As the nearest of the Durants gave a bit too perfectly timed wave at the clearly premeditated pitch, Rye cleared his throat.

"Uh, w-we'll check them out some time. Thank you," he said, pushing a few coins onto the counter. With that, we filed out of the line and headed back to town square as Rye looked over the berries we'd bought.

"Okay, alright. Uh, we have, like, three thousand Poké, I guess we can grab rope, supplies for c-camping, and, uh, scissors," he said. Mavy and I gave him a confused look.

"Wha?" I asked.

"W-well, Mavy's still gotta shave, right?" Rye said. Mavy bit back what sounded like a swear, but managed to keep his cool.

"Ain't gotta do nothing. You wouldn't want poor little me goin' buck naked on your lil' expedition; I mean, Pa always... uh..."

The Zigzagoon faltered as he zigzagged along, his face becoming distant for a moment before he quietly cleared his throat.

"So, uh, where we goin', then?" he asked.

"There's a bunch of merchants at the bend on Stonecutter Road. Impetus Town's a Guild town, so I think we'll find what we need. Th-they might not be, uh, used to you, Beck, so j-just stay close, alright?" Rye said. I nodded, waddling along as we headed through town square and onto an unassuming street.

Before long, the road took a sudden forty-five degree turn to the left, where I found myself surrounded by colorful awnings lining the street and the shopkeepers under them selling their wares. I inched towards Rye as the vendors shouted their usual marketer rhetoric.

"Used scarves and bows! Pecha, defense, choice ribbons! They're in good condition, get 'em while you can!"

"Sugar dates! Sugar dates and figs!"

"Hey, kid, you see these? These're Escape Orb shards used by the explorer Ursaring when he scaled Mount Inverse! You- wait, I'll give you a good price!"

"Exotic meats here! We got frost Vulpix, we got Heracross, we got Osha- wait, crap, th-there's- uh, these can't be found here in Gray Proper, get a taste before they're gone!"

"Tents, charcoal, anchor devices! All you need to camp safely sold here!"

Nice to see the concept of pushy salesmen hadn't changed.

As Mavy wandered off to examine the Thievul selling scarves, Rye lead me to the Watchog advertising camping supplies.

"Sir? We, uh, need a tent, do you have any for deserts?" he asked. The Watchog gave something between a scoff and a chuckle.

"Do I? Well, little Grassie, you got a good few options here. See, there's this one, keeps out the cold at night. Gets mighty cold out there, always useful for coldbloods like you. Then there's this one, it provides extra protection against the burrowing ferals out there..."

I quickly got bored of the vendor's spiel on what type of tent was best suited for the season and began to restlessly look around. Being a relatively small town, it seemed Impetus Town didn't boast too big of a market, as only fifteen or so vendors were gathered here. Despite this, I couldn't help but stray off to see the sights. I don't know, I was curious. What would a Pokémon market be selling aside from... uh, weird meat?

As the Watchog turned to dig from his pile of tents, Rye gave me a quick worried look as I approached one of the makeshift shops, where a Buneary sat quietly over random trinkets strewn on the ground. It ears stuck up curiously as I approached and looked at some of the stuff on sale, cocking my head. Most of it looked to be used and of not much interest, with only a couple things of much note. Before long, though, I stopped and hunched over to examine a particular item: a banjo, by the looks of it.

'Huh. I remember how to play this, don't I? Yeah, that time at the amphitheater...'

Though crude and well-worn, an experimental strum of its strings gave a promising sound. As Buneary took notice of my interest, I gave a little smirk.

"Hah mash?" I asked the shopkeeper.

Before long, Rye walked up with a satchel and a length of rope around his arm, only to find me three hundred Poké lighter and proudly lugging my purchase along. The Treecko stared for a bit before giving a little smile.

"Y-you want me to carry it for you?" he offered.

"Yeah, thanks," I said. As Rye took the banjo off my paws to hold under his other arm, he double-checked the rest of his load and waved me along to leave the little market. Mavy quickly caught up to us with a bundle of cloth haphazardly resting upon his head, and as it threatened to fall off from his zigzag walking, he gave Rye's cargo an odd look.

"What's all that?" he asked.

"Uh, a-a tent, some rope, an orb frame, and this... uh, instrument Beck got," Rye said. Mavy blinked confusedly.

"Why the instrument?" he asked. Rye shrugged, prompting the Zigzagoon to narrow his eyes.

"There ain't some kinda festival comin' up, is there? If not, then that's a buncha cash down the well. Like, I at least tried to buy us some team bandannas, but y'know... you're alright with that?" he asked.

"I-it's alright," Rye said, giving me a reassuring glance. Mavy just rolled his eyes in response.

"Both o' y'all are crazy," he said. With that observation, we headed back into the Guild proper, waving at Cinccino for a bit before a shrill voice caught my attention.

"Hey! Hey, you guys!"

Turning around, I found a Nidoran at Cinccino's window waving a paw at me as her Seedot friend watched us curiously... hey, wait.

'Hey, it's the Nidoran we helped out! Uh, when was that? Our... first mission? Damn, it's been a while.'

"Oh, hey!" Rye called as he ran over to the two. Seeing us running up, Cinccino smiled.

"You know Team Reach? Well, good, always nice to know someone in the Guild!" she piped. As Nidoran grinned in response, I stepped forward.

"Wha dahing hah?" I asked.

"Huh?" Nidoran asked as Seedot inched back nervously.

"H-he asked what you two're doing here, I think," Rye clarified. Nidoran nodded before nudging Seedot, who jumped a bit before clearing his throat, a sound akin to wood clacking against wood.

"Well, uh, you left an impression on her, by the looks of it. We've always wanted to hold our own and make it in the Guild, and, uh, she decided if a dungeon feral can do it, then anyone can," he said.

"Yep! We just finished the paperwork, and now we're a team on this Guild! We're Team Hemlock!" Nidoran declared. Rye and I gave a grin in response.

"W-well, uh, congratulations!" he said.

"Yeah, cah-greh-sha-shawah... y-yeah!" I added. As Mavy gave us a look, clearly confused, Nidoran beamed.

"Uh, we're gonna set out on our first mission tomorrow, and after that we're gonna try and evolve! How about you, what're you up to?" she asked, pointing at Rye's load. The Treecko hesitated for a second before the both of us looked over to Cinccino, who forced a smile as she ever so subtly shook her head. Understanding, Rye looked back to Nidoran and Seedot.

"Uh, we're about to survey up the, uh, Moder River. W-wild ferals, you know?" he said. Cinccino gave a quiet sigh of relief as Nidoran nodded.

"Oh, that's... cool! Uh, maybe we can talk about it later, we've gotta finish our housing stuff!" she said. With that, she grabbed her new team badge in her mouth and started dragging Seedot along by his Pecha scarf. "See you around, Team Reach!" she added.

"Yeah, see you, uh, Team Hemlock," Rye called before the two disappeared behind the Guild's team bases. Now that we were alone, Cinccino gave us a quick look before waving us off and turning to the next team in line. With that gesture, the three of us reluctantly moved along. While I wasn't too informed on what would be going on with the two, I was happy to have inspired them. Confidence bubbling up, I waddled after Rye and Mavy as they walked into our base and set our haul down. After a quick check from Rye, he turned to address us.

"So, uh... y-yeah! I think we're ready! Uh, make any preparations you need to, we've got all day. Uh... y-yeah!" he said. "Team Reach?"

"Teem Reesh!" I responded.

"Yeah, Team Reach," Mavy parroted.

With an encouraging grin, Rye nodded before turning to tuck our purchases away. Having nothing better to do, I grabbed for my new banjo, and as both Rye and Mavy gave curious glances, positioned it over my little form. Now, it was by no means ideal for my two-foot, stubby-armed body, but eh. I figured could improvise.

Twang!

"Ah get the feelin' I'm gonna come to hate that noise," Mavy said.

-o-​

The blissful darkness of sleep began to part as I became aware of a sour smell filling my nostrils. Stirring as consciousness hit me like a truck, I opened my eyes in time to see Rye rubbing at his head as a Guild Pokémon stuck a cloth in Mavy's muzzle, waking him almost immediately. Seeing us all awake, the Delcatty nodded to herself and put away the Chesto powder-covered cloth.

"Gather your things and report to the amphitheater as soon as possible. The rest of the expedition will be waiting. Stay quiet and don't disturb anyone," she whispered before quickly walking out to move on to the next team on her list.

The sky outside was still dark, suggesting that it was early morning, and an eerie silence hung around us as the Chesto set in. After a minute, Rye got to his feet and quietly picked up one of our bags, looking around for any missed item as I uncomfortably tugged at my new bandanna. Mavy had insisted we wear them since he'd already paid for them, so it seemed we were stuck wearing these dirty things for the trip. Rubbing at his own, Rye looked around for a second before adjusting our bag on his shoulder and giving a gesture.

Minding the banjo now awkwardly sticking out, he led Mavy and I outside on tiptoes, careful to not disturb our neighbors, whoever they might be. With no torches lighting the roads, an unsettling aura followed us as we cautiously made our way through the Guild, only relaxing as the dimly lit amphitheater came into view.

Among the other teams gathered there, it seemed there were only two with more cargo than one bag, one of which was Team Apex; the other three I could assume were not quite elite level. Regardless of their level, it seemed most of them now regarded us with general confusion as I sheepishly waved and took a seat next to Rye. As we got a look from Arden and a proud grin from May, the team next to us gave us a sideways glance and began gossiping.

"You owe me twenty Poké. Wasn't a typo," a Luxio said. As her Emolga partner grumbled and dug for payment, the Electabuzz in the trio rolled his eyes.

"I tell you, Arcanine's gone senile. I mean, come on. It's enough they're only a moon old, but really, who in their right mind slates someone like a Zigzagoon for an expedition?" he whispered a bit too audibly. Mavy growled a bit as his fur bristled.

"Not all Normal-types, asshole," he called over, inciting a flinch from the Electabuzz. As he grimaced at his laughing partners, a new trio of Pokémon entered the amphitheater, followed by Delcatty and a couple of other officials. As the gathering fell to a hush, she took Arcanine's usual place and unfurled a map before beginning to address us.

"Thank you all for coming. As you all know, we are about to set out for the Imperium Desert. This will be a relatively minor expedition, meaning the Guildmaster will not be coming with us. As expedition leader, I'll lay out the plan real quick before we depart," she said quietly before gesturing to the map, which showed a drawn line snaking between Impetus Town and Bassa Village. "Now, due to our numbers and the location of the find, we probably won't be able to arrange any flights, so we will have to make the journey on foot."

I heard a few protests from the Pokémon around me before Delcatty continued.

"We will hike along the Divide trail until we meet our contacts in the Imperium Desert tomorrow afternoon, then they'll take us to the site in time to set up camp. Any questions?" she asked. When no grievances were shared, she nodded as the Hitmonchan flanking her rolled up the map. "Right, then, we're off. Forever forward," she said.

"Forever forward," came the hushed reply. Rye adjusted our bag on his shoulder before the three of us stood up to join our fellow guildmates as they made a final check of their supplies. With a wave of Delcatty's tail, we started down the road, the amphitheater's lights going out behind us as we left. As our caravan of twenty passed through the Guild's gates, I took a quick look back before the group turned on the road north.

"You nervous, Beck?" Rye asked. I looked over at the Treecko, giving a small sigh.

"Yeah. Yeh?" I asked.

"You know it," Rye said, smirking a bit as his tail twitched. "Uh, you good so far, Mavy?"

"Boy, we just started walkin'. I'd make sure you'd know if ah weren't good," Mavy said. Biting his lip, Rye nodded as chatter began to rise ahead of us. Now that it seemed there was distance between us and the Guild, the Pokémon in our caravan had started lighting torches and exchanging conversation as they walked. Apparently figuring he might as well add to it, Mavy started talking with Rye about girls past as I looked up at the stars, deciding I couldn't add much to the conversation. I just idly walked as the quarter-moon in the sky pleasantly tugged at my gut for a moment before I noticed Team Apex slowing down to walk opposite us.

"Hey, Rye, buddy! Landed an expedition, congrats!" May piped as Arden and Pike gave halfhearted agreements.

"Y-yeah! Uh, it's still really weird being here, y'know?" Rye said. May grinned and looked over at her Quilava... er, friend. Damn, this was gonna be awkward, wasn't it?

"What do you say, Ardie?" she asked. Arden snorted to himself.

"Really, now? Team scarves? What are you, hatchlings?" he asked. My face fell a little as Pike gave him a look.

"Don't mind him, kid, he's just salty is all. We tried 'em once and his vents burned his off," he told Rye. Arden responded with an annoyed spark from his back.

"Oh, ha ha. Let's all make fun of the guy with the disability, yeah," he said before shifting his gaze to me. "We'll be up front all day if you need anything, I guess. We got nothing better to do," he added, grinning at me. Pike only scoffed and flew into the air, leaving May to give Arden a quick smile before looking back at us.

"Yeah, you... uh, Zigzagoon?" she asked. Mavy snapped out of a daze as he fumbled for words, looking quite intimidated as he gave Arden a long look.

"Y-yeah, uh, Missus Leafeon?" he asked.

"You shouldn't run so fast this early on. Gotta preserve energy for what's coming, the sun hasn't even risen yet," May said. Mavy blinked before giving what I guessed was the quadruped equivalent to a shrug.

"Ah'll be fine. Whole life's been nothin' but a load o' work, I've done worse," he said.

-o-​

"Sweet fuck... h-how do y'all do this every day again?"

"Shaagh," I groaned and tromped along as an exhausted Mavy panted, tied to my back to rest. Our caravan had been doing nothing but walking the whole day, and it had been quite the hassle when the Zigzagoon had given out. No one wanted to carry the talkative ball of fuzz anymore, so naturally it had been deemed best that we get the rope so I could carry him along. Normally, I'd have no qualms, but in this case...

"Ryyye..." I whined.

"I can't carry him, I've got the pack," Rye sighed, his tone begging me to put a sock in it. I mean, sure, I was starting to act like a little shit here, but I felt justified. I wasn't about to carry a thirty-pound pile of itchy fur and thick-accented complaining for an hour straight and take it without whining a bit.

We'd long since left the forests of the Serperior river valley, leaving only rolling hills and nothing to stop the afternoon sun from glaring down on us. We must've been at least halfway there, and despite the issues weighing down on my back, spirits seemed to be high. Merry conversation had been ringing from ahead the whole day, and the few times we'd managed to chat with Team Apex had been pleasant enough. What I'd appreciate now, though, was-

"We're stopping at this valley here. We've got enough sunlight left to look for firewood, let's not waste it out here," Delcatty called back.

...nice.

I immediately fell over onto the dirt path, my little legs screaming at me as Mavy squirmed on my back.

"Agh, Beck! At least untie me here!" he protested. Rolling onto my side, I instinctively reached for my scalchop before stopping myself. It wasn't fully grown by any stretch, but it was definitely big and sharp enough to use by now. I didn't think cutting the rope we'd bought was really a good idea, so I just laid there as Rye ran over to get the Zigzagoon off me. As I felt him peel off my back, I sat up to look over at everyone as they hurried about to set up camp.

"So, Rye? You willin' to use any of those weird plant powers to grow us some wood?" Mavy asked. Rye sighed.

"Th-that's not how it works," he said. "Uh, I'll try and get the tent set up, then we'll figure things out from there."

We all agreed, so I pushed myself up to follow my teammates into the roadside valley Delcatty had pointed out. Settling on a spot off to the side, Rye dug the mass of canvas and rods out of our pack, and as he got more and more parts out, the confusion on his face grew. Mavy and I were equally lost on how to set the tent up, so we only watched as Rye fruitlessly tried to put random metal rods together. Before we could agree to just sleep on the ground, a voice cut in.

"That's not how it goes, kid. The long ones are supposed to have their ends together like this," Arden said, walking over and bending down to help us out with the mishmash of pieces.

"Mr. Arden? Uh, wh-what're you doing?" Rye asked.

"May wanted me to help out, I guess," the Quilava shrugged as he worked on the tent's frame.

"Oh... er, thanks!" Rye said, watching him intently as he worked.

"Yeah, no prob. I'd get some sort of bed, too, sleeping on the ground isn't gets body heat down. I... damn it, tents are paw-friendly my ass! …urgh, just put it together like I was trying to do," he said, gesturing to the vaguely tent-shaped frame. "You need me, I'll be waiting for when they need a firestarter. Yeah, May and I'll be right here if you..."

Arden paused as he forced a horrid smile.

"...if you wanna talk, Oshawott," he managed out through gritted teeth. Rye winced, confused by his former boss's behavior.

"Uh... wh-why Beck?" he asked.

"Who- oh, Beck. Right, that's his name. Uh, curious about what the impressed feral's gotta say, you know? Not every day you get to get a few words in with 'em," Arden reasoned before hurrying off before Rye could say anything else. The three of us exchanged glances, sufficiently put off as we started going at the tent again. Especially given what I'd seen a couple days back, I wasn't sure what to make of this. Was the guy okay? What had I done to him? Was my presence as a human really that unbearable to him?

As Rye muttered to himself in approval as he put the tent together, I could only hope I'd manage to find out some time.

-o-​

The fire crackled before me as we all sat in the center of our campsite, contented with our legs not being jelly and the promise of food being front and center. While we waited for dinner, my teammates and I had decided to sit around the fire with the others. Of course, with that came some unwanted attention in the form of my apparent talents. As I finished plucking away what must have been my fifth crude song on my banjo, excited chatter and hoots came from the Pokémon watching.

"Make him do another one, Treecko!" the Gligar in the crowd shouted. Rye shifted in his seat as I groaned, slumping in place. Mavy, who we'd found quite helpful for having a spine, had left a few minutes prior to find himself some food, so we were basically defenseless here.

'Just... alright, here's Wonderwall, I guess.'

Before I could start another crude tune, a large fireball suddenly rose in the distance, followed by a loud boom. As I stumbled back, bright flames lit up the horizon, continuing for a good minute before a couple of horrible screeches met my ears, followed by silence. After a bit, Arden emerged from the grasses, dragging the bodies of two Furrets behind him. After he spit the fur out of his mouth, he offered the twenty-odd gathered Pokémon a hefty grin.

"Got dinner. Gonna work on these guys for a bit, then we can stuff our faces," he proclaimed. "Here, Oshawott, let me see that shell of yours."

I instinctively put a protective paw over my scalchop. I'd just regrown the thing, I wasn't about to risk losing it again. But... well, I mean, the worst that could happen was him dropping it. After all, what was he gonna do, shave the Furrets for easier roasting or something?

Sighing, I tossed my weapon over to Arden. He looked over it for a second, nodded, and then, without hesitation, stabbed the damn thing into one of the carcass' flesh and just started carving away.

I watched in horror as he used my dear, now-bloody scalchop to... actually, yeah, I think I'll just spare the details. All I'll say is that by the end of it, there was a pile of gore off to the side, a good few cuts of meat roasting over the fire, and a decently shaken Oshawott watching it all.

"Come on, 'mon, Oshawott was right there. Not the best time to clean a feral," the Luxio in the group pointed out as Arden spun the spits, sniffing at the meat.

"His doohickey was the closest sharp thing, had to cut these somehow. What, you think feral meat still makes him uncomfortable?" the Quilava rebutted.

"Come on, say you're sorry," May chided him. Arden kept cooking the meat for a minute before sighing.

"I'm sorry, Oshawott," he said.

"Eugh," I replied. Arden gave a gesture and a nod to the others as I grimaced at my disgusting scalchop on the ground. Before long, I grabbed a long stick from around the fire and pushed the shell among the hot coals, hoping fire would kill whatever infection was undoubtedly covering it now. I could hose it off later, I guessed.

While I pondered over that, Arden suddenly looked back towards the tall grass, keeping a wide-eyed gaze fixed on it before the scent of burning meat snapped him back. As he slid blackened Furret loins off the spit, he gave the grass another quick glance.

"Did anyone go out there while I was out?" he asked.

"Yeah. Uh, Zigzagoon and Roggenrola," May said. Arden blinked hard.

"Weird," he muttered before sniffing at the meat in his paw before holding it above his head. "So anyone want first dibs? I'm not Raticate by any stretch, but I'm sure May and Pike here can attest to my abilities!"

"It's decent enough," Pike said.

"See? Whole lotta practice goes into preparing meat, you see. Need to figure out all the right ways to cut, roast, the whole... uh..."

Arden trailed off as the grass to the side rustled before parting, revealing Mavy dragging a limp Sentret in his mouth. As we all watched, he got a look at the cooked Furret meat, sighed to himself annoyedly, and started tearing away at the Sentret's corpse.

"...what?" he asked once he noticed our stares, blood dripping down his maw.

"Small-towners, 'mon," Arden muttered, leaving the Zigzagoon to eat as he passed his overcooked meat out around the fire. Pulling my scalchop out of the hot coals, I hit it with a quick burst of water to cool it off. As it sizzled, Rye cleared his throat next to me.

"Uh, you want some? I'm not really a meat Pokémon," he said.

"Yeah, sure," I said, taking the piece of food he offered. "Maagh?"

"Ah'm good," Mavy said through a mouthful of flesh. Shrugging and averting my eyes from his grotesque meal, I sat back and took a bite out of mine as I watched sparks fly up towards the stars above. Despite everything, I had a good feeling about tomorrow.

'...wow, this stuff is chewy, huh?'

-o-​

Bassa Village had never thought it'd see the day the Societies would descend on their little town.

The human town they had settled over had long since been sand-blown and looted beyond any sort of value, and what little remained was of brief interest, then there had been nothing for a good couple of centuries. The temples of the north were of far more interest to the Societies, so the Pokémon of Bassa had concluded they were content to act as just a little landmark town and nothing more.

Then the sheriff and an explorer from down south had returned from a raid telling of an undiscovered ruin only a mile or two out.

Now where there had been desert and a relatively uninteresting structure was a sprawl of tents and eager explorers from across the continent running about to finalize their preparations. Although the sheriff's leg injury prevented her from overseeing the encampment, everything was going smoothly thus far. Looking over the team he'd handpicked for this endeavor, Guildmaster Haxorus nodded to himself. It seemed everything would be ready for his Guild's descent on schedule, so long as any other bureaucratic hassles did not arise. He had worked long and hard to convince the other explorers to hold off until his team had had their turn inside the ruin, and now he gave a satisfied smirk as he prepared to address his team.

Before he could, however, something caught his eye: a cloud of dust on the horizon growing bigger by the second. Haxorus narrowed his eyes as the newcomers revealed themselves as a pack of Mudsdale, carrying what must have been twenty Pokémon. The Guildmaster ground his tusks as several familiar faces revealed themselves through the dust: Delcatty, Quilava, Luxio...

Arcanine's Guild had arrived, by the looks of it. As if the day wasn't already frustrating enough.

"What are you doing here?" Haxorus rumbled. Taking notice of him, Delcatty grimaced a bit before straightening up.

"Just the same as you, I suppose. Vale Keep gave us first calling on the place, so we're here to act on that," she said. Haxorus huffed to himself.

"I believe we have first calling, not you," he said.

"On what grounds?" Delcatty asked.

"One of my explorers laid claim the day the ruin was revealed. You can set up your camp for your turn once we-" Haxorus began.

"And one of our explorers found the place. Arcanine talked with the 'mons on top, we've got-"

"Distortion with the dog! I've already come all the way from Ironside City, I am not just letting you take what is already ours!" Haxorus roared, quite miffed at being interrupted. As several explorers behind her cowered in fear of the imposing dragon, Delcatty sighed and put her bag on the sand, pulling out a slip of paper. Haxorus's demeanor faltered a bit; where had she gotten actual paper?

"I was afraid of that. This form officially recognizes this site as discovered by our Guild, and we thusly have first rights to it," she said. Haxorus eyed the form suspiciously for a moment, frustration growing as he did so. As his claws twitched, his tusks glowed with Dragon-type energy for a bit before he sighed.

"Fine, then," he simply spat. Gesturing to his dive team, he stomped back to his Guild's campsite. Of course it would be the dog again, he couldn't help but think. As he passed by Arcanine's chosen teams, he met eyes with what looked to be a rookie team, their Treecko leader shivering as he watched. Haxorus regarded the team for a second before huffing and tromping away.

"Now, then," Delcatty said. "We'll be setting up here, then we'll go in before sunset. You'll be responsible for your own care; if you don't show up in time then we'll leave you. Understood?"

"Yeah," Beck's voice joined in the chorus of affirmation.

Still nervous from the quick encounter with the rival Guildmaster, he hurried after the others as they flocked to a sufficient empty space. As Rye shivered and Mavy zigzagged along eagerly, the three members of Team Reach stopped to pull out their tent, looking over the pieces before them as the others set up camp around them.

Taking a moment to look at the somewhat excavated ruined building and the gaping hole in it, Beck bit his lip before turning to help Rye out. He figured he could worry about whatever was inside and whether it could provide some sort of help later, right now the issue lied in remembering Arden's assembly instructions.

He just hoped that would stay the biggest problem this trip had to offer.
 
40 - A Game Long Called New

Sudmensch

Bug Catcher
Location
Mississippi
Pronouns
he/him
40 - A Game Long Called

A deathly silence hung within the ancient tunnel below, one that was only broken as a dull thud sounded out from inside. Our rope went taut, and as the Hitmonchan in the group gave our end a tug to test the knot, we all stared down at the rope leading into the dark hole. As silence hung over the group, I took a moment to look around.

It was hard to believe it'd only been a week since I was last here, but alas, here I was. Where there'd just been rubble and sand when that Flygon had airlifted Sinni and I out, there was an excavated wreck of a ruin, no signs of a scuffle anywhere to be seen. Now as we stood in the eerily calm aftermath of my little misadventure, I hugged the rope and prepared to drop, having enough knowledge of what was down there to confidently go in first.

I shimmied down the rope as Rye quickly crawled in after me, climbing along the ceiling and down the curved wall with his weird Treecko fingers to join me at the tunnel's floor. The two of us took a long look at the round brick tunnel as the others slid down, whispering to each other in awe. The Flying-types on the surface, Pike among them, looked down at us before hopping away, clearly content to stay out of the underground as Arden knelt down to examine the floor.

"Look, these are rails. This was a subway, a subway tunnel," Arden whispered to May as she lifted herself and Mavy down with vines. As he pulled his thick, leather-bound Book of Horrors out of his bag to scribble notes down inside, Delcatty eased her way down the rope, taking a couple looks back and forth before turning to address the expeditionary squad now cramped into the tunnel.

"Teams Ruby and Frontier, you head that way with Hitmonchan. I'll accompany Teams Apex, Joules, and Reach. Return here and call up to the 'mons on the surface if you finish before us," she said.

As our group gave a quiet murmur of agreement and dispersed, we walked away from the comforting sunset light and into the murky darkness ahead. As the darkness became thicker around us, Rye shivered at the lack of sunshine, then pulled an odd-looking metal thing and an orb from our bag. Before he could hold it out, he suddenly perked up and handed to me.

"Here, y-you can light it! Uh, just hold it up and say 'activate.' T-try it!" he said. I looked at him, then at the orb in my paws. Chewing my tongue, I gave it a shot.

"Sh-shak-ta-feh," I tried. Nothing happened, so I kept trying. "Shak-teh-fit. Shagh-da-fah. Shack-teh-fay."

"Come on, kid, this is just sad to watch. Just light it for him, 'mon," Arden quietly told Rye.

"Shak-teh-faah!" I yelled one last time. The orb continued to remain dormant in my paws, so Rye just quietly took it from me, looking quite guilty as someone snickered behind us.

"S-sorry," he whispered before holding the orb up. "Activate!"

The Luminous Orb lit up in the Treecko's hands, and as he turned to shine it in towards the others, he placed it in the metal frame I'd seen.

"Uh, so it won't blow up," he explained to me as Delcatty started leading us onward, holding what now looked very much like a lantern. Our footsteps echoed through the vast tunnel as we walked, looking around for any change in the scenery. After a few minutes, though, something painted on the brick wall caught my eye.

"Hey! Sha!" I called, pointing at the faded text. Arden took the lantern from Rye and peered up at it, leafing open his book as we all gathered around.

"Gazette Square station and Gear Terminal, that way. I think we're on the right track," he said before long. "Good call, Oshawott."

As we all murmured in excitement, he chuckled to himself. "Right track, heh."

"Wait, did... d-did you just read that?" Rye asked. Arden shrugged.

"Got translation in the book of horrors here," he reasoned. "Besides, you spend long enough looking over human shit, you start to get a feel for it."

"Over wut now?" Mavy butted in.

"Okay, shit was a poor choice of words. You know, stuff humans made, all that," he said.

"What's a hoo-mon?" Mavy asked. Every head in our party turned to look at the Zigzagoon, who stumbled back and quickly tried to justify himself. "O-okay, sorry I ain't as edu-ma-cated as y'all, but small town, y'know?"

Arden stared for a minute before exchanging a look with May.

"Right, so humans. They... uh, see, at some point they all decided they didn't like shitting in the grass and getting eaten alive, so they took a rock and hurled it at the nearest Pokémon. From there, they basically just took over the world. Those ruins up there, this tunnel here, basically the whole town to the west, that was them," he explained.

"They... why aren't they around, then?" Mavy asked.

"Fuck if I know. Probably pissed off one too many Legends," he said.

"Why would they do that?" Mavy inquired. Arden hesitated for a bit before he scoffed and continued.

"All they wanted to do in the end was stick it to each other. I mean, yeah, they were pretty smart and all. Look around you. But it was driven by... how do I explain? Er, I can sum up their whole shtick by saying they went 'oh yeah? Well, I win infinity plus one' over and over till they flew too close to the sun and fucked everything up. I say fff..."

He stopped himself and took a quick glance over at me.

"Uh... they weren't all bad, you know, but... ugh, y-you get it," he finished.

Mavy gave him a confused look, but apparently deciding he wasn't about to get anywhere with this, he kept zigzagging along silently as I gave the Quilava a look of disdain. I didn't know too much about my formerly fellow featherless bipeds but... wow.

'I know you've got a lot going on right now, but you're not even gonna give us a chance? Okay. As representative of all humanity as far as I know, I dub thee an asshole.'

As an awkward silence hung in the stale air, Rye looked up at the Quilava.

"S-so, uh, humans flew to the sun, too?" he asked.

"What? No, that was just an expression," Arden said.

"A... I don't get it," Rye said. Arden looked around for some sort of way to get out of the explanation to come.

"It's some old human story, i-it's boring," he said hurriedly. Rye kept watching him expectantly for a bit before he sighed. "Okay, so a really long time ago, there was this human Daedalus and his kid Icarus..."

Rounded tunnel, brick walls, a slight curve every now and then, the occasional collapsed bit of ceiling. That was pretty much all I saw over the course of the next half hour or so as we kept walking through the tunnel. Even given the history of the place, it was boring, so it wasn't long before the professional attitude in the air diminished. At present, Mavy was clicking his tongue idly as he zigzagged, Rye was several rounds deep into a game of fire-water-grass with Arden, and I was trying to kick a pebble along with my little feet. Easier said than done, it seemed. Losing another pebble to my apparent inability to kick very well, I sighed and squinted into the distance, biting my lip as I noted it seemed to stretch on forever.

"Fire-water-grass... heh, grass!" Rye said in front of me. Arden rolled his eyes.

"Alright, fine. Best out of eleven, then," he said.

The two pumped their fists again before Arden swore under his breath again, apparently having lost again.

"Fuck, thirteen, then," he said.

I sighed as the two went at it again.

"G-got water, I... uh, wh-what is that?" Rye asked. Arden looked down at the odd sign he'd given and smirked to himself.

"A gun," he said.

"A... what?" Rye asked.

"Gun beats everything," Arden added. Rye stumbled back, his face going a bit pale in the Luminous Orb's light.

"Wh-what? You can't do that!" he cried. "Wh-what even is a gun?!"

"I expect my reward to be paid out in doubloons," Arden said boldly, ignoring a glare from May. Before Rye could object any further, a dull thunk sounded out as he kicked something in the way. Looking down at the offending object, the Treecko yelped and stumbled back at the sight, landing in my paws as Arden looked at the sight with wide eyes, his swindling forgotten.

"Sweet fuck," he whispered.

Rye had kicked what looked to be a bone, human by the looks of it. And it wasn't the only one; before us laid hundreds of bones from dozens of skeletons. Some simply laid there, some clawed at the concrete walls, and one laid next to what seemed to be the remains of a Pokémon. We could only stare in horror for a moment before someone stepped forward to break the grim silence.

"This... d-don't touch them. Just keep going," Delcatty said shakily.

Silence hanging over our party for the first time in a while, we all nodded and continued on. As even Mavy stayed quiet to grimly regard the bones, I just stared at the skulls' faces frozen in time as I passed, my face as still as theirs. Why did I care? I didn't know any of these people, how could I? Something about this was just horrifying to me, though. My fellow humans dead in such a manner... I couldn't shake the guttural feeling this gave me. And what if I did know someone here? The skeleton half-buried in the floor frozen with its jaw hanging open, that could have been my brother for all I knew. What if my family really had been among the dead here? Just... this was too much for me.

As we slowly progressed, more and more skeletons revealed themselves, and as we moved further I found myself shaking involuntarily, my breath picking up as the bodies' hollow eye sockets seemed to stare into me. I probably would've started crying there had a hand not rested on my shoulder to pull me back to reality.

"Beck? I-it's alright, I-I'm here," Rye whispered. Flinching violently at his touch, I looked at him like I'd just awoken from a nightmare, then with another look around at the skeletons- no, the people around me, I huddled up next to him as we continued.

"Wh-wha hah-peh?" I eventually mustered up the courage to ask. Since it seemed Arden was occupied with looking at the dead, May looked back at me.

"It looks like they hunkered down in here, could've been the Ruin or something after, but... s-something happened by the looks of it," she said.

"Sam-thin? Wha?" I asked. My question was answered not very long afterwards as a sudden dead end ahead became visible in the orb-light. As the light shone onto it, a feral Cubone wearing one of the human skulls strewn about hissed at us before scampering up the large mass of concrete, rock, and twisted steel. Getting closer to it, I noted the thing appeared to have collapsed from the ceiling, and after a quick look between the blockage and the skeletons everywhere, I shuddered in morbid understanding as Delcatty peered up into the ceiling hole.

"That Cubone there had to have gone somewhere, and I doubt we're getting past this anytime soon. Come on," she said.

Rye, Mavy, and I all exchanged looks before heading over to the pile of rock. Rye was quick to stick to the side and climb up, stopping at the lowest ledge to pull the two of us up. This continued for a few minutes until we pulled ourselves up to collapse onto the dirt. It seemed the lack of sunlight was starting to affect Rye, though he pushed himself up to face the others, who'd managed to crawl out before us. With all of us up, we turned to examine the dark space we'd found ourselves in. Arden pursed his lips before sending a plume of fire up from the vents on his head, partially illuminating the cavernous space.

Around the gaping hole we'd just climbed out of, a vast expanse of dirt stretched out in all directions, only stopping as seats interrupted it and sloped up to the ruined walls. The superstructure encircling us seemed to be shut tight, though I could somewhat see the darkness through their long-closed windows. An eerie silence hung in the air and debris littered the area, but through it all, I recognized what this place must have been. This... how even...?

A groan rang out from behind me.

"No, no! This... this is a damn stadium! How're we supposed to find jack in a stadium? Great, the Guildmaster's gonna hang our tail ends on his mantel now..." Electrivire said. Delcatty gritted her teeth a bit, hanging her head.

"But it said it led to some sort of station... of course, it was blocked. We can't have been too far off, though," she muttered to herself before looking over at us. "Get your things ready, we'll be splitting off into individual teams once we can get into this place's guts."

As Team Joules mumbled unenthusiastically and started pulling equipment out, May and Arden took a long look around at their dimly lit surroundings.

"Damn... you think Pike would've come if he knew it would be this spacious?" May asked. Arden blinked as if coming out of a daze.

"Huh? Oh, uh, yeah, probably," he said. The two took another glance around before setting their bag down to dig through, though they stopped as the three of us approached.

"D-do you know where we are, sir?" Rye asked. Arden paused for a few seconds before looking around again.

"Can't be sure, but judging by the location? Somewhere in Nimbasa City, I'm sure," he said. "Clearly it was pretty well-built, look at that roof cover. Must be ten feet of sand on top of the thing and it hasn't given in fuck knows how long."

"Hagh... h-how?" I asked.

"They probably battled Pokémon in here. Humans had to build things real sturdy to account for them," May shrugged. "So, you three doing alright so far?"

"Yeah, I... ugh, j-just need a bit," Rye said, taking a seat on the dirt. It looked like the effort of getting us all up here had drained him, and shining the lantern at the yellowing tips of his tail, I got the feeling he wasn't going to get better anytime soon. May seemed to take notice of this, so he pawed some sort of necklace off from around her neck, gesturing Rye to pick it up. Looking down at the pendant, an odd-looking rock, the Treecko hesitantly picked it up only to abruptly yelp and drop it. After shuddering a bit, he looked over himself, seemingly feeling better.

"Wh... what was that?" he asked.

"Sun Stone. Thing's packed with enough solar energy to evolve some Pokémon, it's good to have down here. Just try to let us know if you need another hit, alright?" May asked.

"Er, yes, ma'am. Thank you," Rye said. The Leafeon smiled and started for the end of the stadium's barren field, though stopped abruptly to look back. "You coming, Arden?"

The Quilava just stood there, repeatedly shifting his gaze between me and the hole behind us for a bit before straightening up.

"Just gimme a minute, alright?" he asked. May hesitated briefly before nodding, leaving the three of us alone with Arden. I instinctively backed away from him as he hung his head, looking somewhat reserved for once despite the flames erupting from his head and back. An awkward silence hung in the air for a moment before Mavy cleared his throat.

"So... uh, heard around that you were... well, that Cyndaquil. Y'know, from the war," he said. Arden snorted to himself.

"Yeah, that'd be me, I guess," he said. Mavy hesitated for a bit.

"...Pa told me stories 'bout y'all. I... er..."

"Stories, huh? Did he tell you about when the Resistance decided not to tell anyone that Tyranitar had dug up Kyurem?" Arden asked.

"Uh, no," Mavy said.

"Yep, figured. I'll catch you up later, we got things to do," he said, waving us along as May and Team Joules started on their way. As he walked alongside us on all fours, he looked over at me.

"So, kid. Uh... I'm sorry you had to see that back there. It's never pleasant finding a gravesite," he said solemnly. A chill ran down my spine at the reminder, and I gritted my teeth as we kept walking. Before long, Arden inched towards me.

"So, uh, Oshawott. Beck. Em... sure you've noticed I've been a bit worked up over the last moon. Well, see, the thing is... I..."

He paused, walking along silently for a bit before clearing his throat.

"I-I haven't been trying hard enough. Uh, just talk to me if you want any sort of help. I mean, you've gotten caught up in all this, so maybe I could try to help? I know, I'm Fire and you're Water, but I've got experience in this sort of field," he said. I raised an eyebrow, but gave a little smile nonetheless.

"Yessir, thanks," I said. I was glad to see the Quilava at least trying to open up after what I'd heard back at the river, but something still miffed me. Maybe it was the comments about humans, maybe it was just his overall attitude, I wasn't sure. As Arden gave a weak smirk, we suddenly stopped in our tracks. A concrete wall with a gate embedded into it loomed before us, and with no apparent way to get past this without scaling the wall, we took a moment to look over our surroundings.

Welcome to Big Stadium, home of the Nimbasa Bolts, the faded text on it read. I felt a little shiver go down my spine as we gathered around the old gate. A simple padlock hung from it, though a quick vine-yank from May disintegrated the rusted device and left the doors opening before us. Their hinges creaked for the first time in what must've been centuries as we gazed into the blackness, waiting for someone to speak up.

"Split off into teams. Try your best to make a record for the surveyors and ping us on your badges if you need assistance or find anything noteworthy. Report back here once you're through, I'll be waiting," Delcatty instructed.

Our party murmured among itself as it prepared to split off, the individual teams psyching themselves up in their own respective ways. Mavy hopped in place and quite audibly instructed himself to fuck something up, Luxio popped her neck before lighting up her fur, Arden repeatedly punched himself in the temples... wait, what was that last one?

'Well, I mean, whatever you've gotta do.'

"Alright, s-so, uh, all you gotta know is you tap your badge three times to ping everyone else," Rye instructed us. "N-not really practical, like, you have to get them out of the bag before... uh..."

His hand met the dirty bandanna around his neck.

"...huh. Uh, j-just pin them to your... uhm, things, I guess," he said, bending down to retrieve our badges from the bag.

"Toldja they'd be useful," Mavy sneered. Rye just gave an annoyed twitch of his tail as he stuck the badges on, occasionally looking over at the other teams. Team Joules was the first to venture forth, Luxio's glow briefly lighting up the darkness beyond the door before they vanished. Team Apex was quick to follow, with the two taking a last look around before slinking in. As Delcatty watched us, Rye gripped his lantern tight, uttered what I could only assume was a prayer, and led us into the inky darkness.

-o-​

The still, dry air hung around us as we continued to walk around the stadium's perimeter, our footsteps being the only sound echoing through the massive steel-and-concrete structure. Occasionally, we'd come across a mound of desert sand having poured in from outside, though they were of little interest to us as Rye muttered directions to himself.

"D-did we take a left, or...? No, no, we've been going straight the whole time, haven't we?" he pondered. Mavy rolled his eyes.

"You're doin' great, Rye," he muttered, peering into what looked to have been a concession stand. I just sighed as the two looked idly around. We'd been at this for fifteen minutes now, and nothing of note had come up. I'd come in wanting to find something, but all I had gotten from this was kinda depressed at the sorry state of what must've been a real sight to see back in the day. That combined with the skeletons back in the tunnel... yeah, I wasn't in the best of moods.

As we climbed over a fallen girder only to find the usual, being a couple more doors and some more sand, Mavy took a look at what the lantern illuminated.

"Did the hoo-mons make this, too?" he asked curiously as we leaned into one of the doors.

"Yeah," I groaned.

"What... kinda Pokémon were they? Like, ah'm seein metal a lot, were they Steel-types?" Mavy pondered. Rye and I exchanged a look.

"They, uh... weren't Pokémon," the Treecko eventually said. Mavy gave him a confused look.

"Scuse me? That don't make sense, what were they if they weren't Pokémon?" he asked.

"Uh... j-just humans, I guess. Like a Hitmonchan or Slaking but without a core," Rye tried.

"No core? How in distortion's that work?" Mavy demanded. Rye gave a frustrated sigh.

"Okay, I don't know how it worked, but... th-they were smart, I guess. Come on, th-the proof's right here!" he gestured around.

"Methinks yer just makin' this up. Like, really now, this is some real backasswards shit you're pushin' here," Mavy said.

"I-I know it sounds weird, but... did you say b-back... it's, uh, assbackwards," Rye said.

"Naw, I know what I said," Mavy said before looking back at me. "Can ya say backasswards, Beck?"

Rye grimaced. "M-Mavy, no-"

"Back-ash-wahds," I sighed. Mavy let out something between a laugh and a whoop as we moved along from the empty rooms, though it seemed Rye wasn't amused.

I just groaned and kept waddling as the two bickered on, though as the lantern swung in Rye's hand, something started nagging at me other than my depressive mood, something that felt like a full moon pulling at my core. Blinking confusedly, I looked up at an inconspicuous-looking wall, only... no, that wasn't a wall. What were those weird rectangles?

Looking around, it seemed we'd come across one of the larger doors to the stands, and just across from it was the aforementioned pair of rusted rectangles; doors, by the looks of it. They didn't have any handles, though, they looked more like... elevators? Whatever they were, a gut feeling itched at me to investigate.

"Ah don't reckon he'll care how I talk to him."

"He does!"

"How ya want me to talk to him, then?"

"I-I don't know, like you'd talk to your brother?"

"Ah, yeah, haven't told you 'bout that, eh? Yep, feral came right outta the Strait and snagged his egg. Lil' hard to talk with the 'mon, y'know?"

"Oh. I... I'm sorry."

"Eh, I hatched a week after. Don't really care."

"Well, that-"

"Hey," I butted in. The two stopped and looked as I headed over, tapping on the rusted metal door. Surely this had to lead somewhere? All we had to do was get this open. Unfortunately, it seemed it wasn't about to be that easy as I gave the door a hard tug.

"You think something's in here?" Rye asked me.

"Sign me the fuck up, sure sounds better than walkin' like this some more," Mavy said, stepping back and charging at the doors. With a dull ring, his Headbutt slammed into the rusted meral, though all it left was a sizable dent. He staggered in place a bit, but Pokémon were thankfully more resilient than that, so the Zigzagoon shook off what I was seriously concerned was a concussion there and scurried off, maybe to find something better to brute-force the door open with. With nothing better to do, Rye and I kept standing there, taking a look around at our surroundings.

"So... wh-what do you think of this place? You know, being a human?" Rye asked.

"Ugh," I responded. Rye gave a little nod.

"We don't have to talk about it if you don't wanna," he said, taking a seat on a piece of rubble. Giving the rusted doors an experimental tap with my scalchop, I sighed and sat down to take it all in. Listening in, I could hear ferals scurrying along and another one of our teams shouting at each other in the distance, but nothing more. Looking over my shoulder, I gazed at... a mural? I couldn't tell, it had mostly fallen off the wall. I could make some out, though: text, a backdrop, the faces of this stadium's long-dead players, the Unovan flag proudly waving behind them...



"Rye?" I asked.

"Hm? Yeah?" Rye asked. I opened my mouth to ask him something, but I couldn't seem to scrounge up whatever it was; not just because I couldn't have asked given the language barrier, but because... what would I have asked him?

'Why does the place itself feel like it died? Do you feel just alone in here, too? Have you ever looked at an old picture and realized everyone in it is dead?'

I couldn't figure out how to describe this feeling, and the more I tried to rationalize it, the worse I felt. Rye wouldn't understand, no one could. Why was I only feeling this way now? I just-

"Ey!" Mavy's voice suddenly called from behind the doors. I flinched violently as Rye looked up in shock and confusion. "Found some kinda hole in the wall, y'all might could fit through."

Metallic scurrying started ringing from behind the wall, so Rye and I quickly pushed ourselves off the ground to chase after it. It wasn't long before the lantern's light shone on Mavy popping out of a vent in the wall, shaking a cloud of dust off himself as he grinned proudly.

"Just get on in there. Stay away from them sharp things on the sides there, they hurt like git out if they cutcha," he instructed before heading back in. Rye just stared at the small opening, his breath picking up.

"I-I can't, i-it's too small," he said.

"Come on, now, you can fit," Mavy said.

"I-I know, it's just... agh, I don't know, I-I can't," Rye groaned. Mavy stuck his head back out to complain, though his face suddenly fell before he could share his grievances.

"...this is 'bout Totodile, innit?" he asked. Rye hesitated for a while before shivering and nodding. Both of us just stared, unsure of what to do until I stepped forward.

"Maghee, camahn. Rye, shtay," I said. Mavy blinked, halting for a second to figure out whatever I'd said before giving an "ah, aight" and looping back into the vent. Biting my lip, I looked over at the anxious Rye, putting a comforting paw on his side and taking the lantern from him. After positioning it to shine into the vent, I sighed and dropped to the floor to crawl in.

Immediately regretting keeping my scalchop on my belly as it uncomfortably scraped against the metal of the vent, I crawled after Mavy through the tight space. With a sharp ninety-degree turn, my light was cut off, leaving me blind as I soon shimmied out into a larger room. I rolled onto my back to breathe in the stale air, though stopped as Mavy exclaimed.

"Whoa, careful. That's a long fall, wanna hold off on 'wott puree," he said worriedly. I gulped at this observation and started feeling around, only getting confusion from Mavy. "What, you blind now? Can't ya see?"

"Nah," I replied bluntly. "Is dahk."

A bit of awkward silence hung in the pitch blackness.

"Oh," Mavy said. "Guess you can't see in the dark? Or is that a Ziggy-only deal... aight, fine, hold up an' lemme try something. I swear if ya laugh..."

A moment passed before a dim, pink light suddenly cut through the darkness. Turning my head, I found the source: Mavy making the most exaggerated Lillipup-eyes I could've imagined, said eyes glowing pink to top it off. I stared for a moment before I just busted out laughing at the ridiculous sight, much to the Zigzagoon's annoyance.

"Oh, shut it. You try a Baby-Doll Eyes and not look stupid," he muttered.

Regardless of what Mavy thought, I needed that little lift of spirits. Managing to compose myself, I caught my breath and took a look around. It seemed we'd found ourselves in the elevator's shaft, sitting on some sort of maintenance platform overlooking a twenty-foot drop, at the bottom of which laid what little remained of the cab.

"What in distortion is this?" Mavy whispered, peering down the shaft as he tried expressing his confusion through his Lillipup-eyes.

"Nah, Maghee! Wehr dehr?" I urged.

"Wut? Where there?" Mavy asked.

"Dahr!" I tried again.

"Ah, door, right," he said, turning his ridiculous gaze towards the set of doors. Cautiously making my way over, I shimmied onto the little ledge underneath them and gave them a knock, to which the sound of footfalls quickly responded.

"Beck?" Rye's voice asked.

"Hey. Uh... shaagh," I said, tapping on the door again.

"Alright, uh... g-got any ideas?" Rye asked.

"Ahrb?" I suggested. There was a Luminous Orb in the lantern, and the things could explode, right?

"Arb? Wh... o-orb, you mean the lantern?" Rye asked. I knocked on the door again and made a boom sound to get my idea across, though I was quickly met with vehement rejection.

"No. Nononono, th-that's a bad idea. We need a light, and, uh, if we blow it up we're gonna get buried," Rye said. I nodded to myself, tapping against the rusted metal as I tried to think of another plan.

'Maybe I could try and saw through with my scalchop? ...no, what do you think this is, Bugs Bunnelby? You can't just saw through steel. Uh, I could have Mavy headbutt it a couple more times? No, who knows how much that'd do to him... I could try and Water Gun it? Ugh, it's not powerful enough, you couldn't... or... could you?'

My ears stuck up as I remembered my lessons with Bert, specifically his introducing me to altering my Water Gun. He'd left a dent in stone with one... it was worth a shot.

I took a breath and let energy flow up into a point in my throat, then let loose, trying my best to not launch myself back and down the shaft behind me. As Mavy watched, I inched away from the initial point, seeing I'd left a hole. Giving a mental thanks to whatever dictated the metal's rusting, I kept cutting, soon making a rough square I hoped Rye would fit through. After a few minutes, I exhaustedly made my way back to the platform, plopping down as I panted.

"...R-Rye, pahnd," I managed out.

"P-Pound..." he parroted. A minute's hesitation passed before a loud clang rang out and the cut section disintegrated, raining down into the shaft as light poured in. Before long, Rye squirmed his way through the opening with bag and lantern in hand, first catching sight of us then the long drop below him.

"Ah! Okay, okay, uh..." he muttered. Putting his hands on the wall, he made his way out of my rough opening and crawled along the wall towards us, carefully setting himself down before checking up on us. "Y-you two alright?"

"Wahter," I croaked. As Rye nodded and quickly dug for our canteen, Mavy took another look down the shaft.

"Y'all got the rope, right?" he asked.

"Yeah, I-I'll get to it once Beck's done here," Rye said, gesturing to me as I chugged down our water greedily. As I set the now-empty canteen down and let out a relieved gasp to catch my breath, Mavy gave a grimace.

"Water-types," he muttered.

A few minutes went by before Rye unceremoniously threw a length of rope down to the bottom, tugging at the knot he'd tide to hold it before gesturing us on. Mavy and I hugged the rope and let ourselves slide down as the Treecko climbed down the wall after us, and as I adjusted our bag at the bottom, I got a good look around. Apart from the piles of sand framing the scenery, I immediately noticed a few things: first, we looked to be in a subterranean level judging by the pillars I was seeing. They said the stadium was buried in sand, though, so technically... yeah, anyways.

Second, I couldn't help but note the numerous piles of rusted metal strewn about in an orderly grid, some of which had managed to hold together an eerily familiar shape. I couldn't be sure, but I was decently sure I was looking at an array of... cars?

Indeed, as Rye and Mavy warily looked over what I guessed was the stadium's car park, I could pick out a good few mounds of metal that my mind insisted were the remains of ancient automobiles. I just stared blankly at the sight.

'...talk about random. Why're we even down here in the first place?'

I frankly had no clue why my gut had led me here, though I could still feel something tugging at my core and seemingly trying to lead me further in. I couldn't shake the feeling that something or someone was trying to show me the way here, so resigning myself to the waste of time we were surely about to embark on, I waved for Rye and Mavy to follow me. We all looked around at the strange sight as Rye shined the light around at the rusted husks.

"Wut're these?" Mavy asked.

"I-I don't know. Whatever they are, they're old," Rye shrugged. Mavy snorted.

"No shit, Detective Pikachu. Gotta say, ah'm impressed the things held together. Fuck knows how old they are," he said.

"Don't know. At least a thousand years, I think," Rye said. Mavy hummed to himself as he got a good look at the remains of a minivan.

"Well, dayum! Pa always said you could preserve something like a body real well out here in the desert, but... whew! Wonder how much longer they'll hold?" he pondered, giving the van an experimental smack with his tail. A horrid chorus of creaks and groans sounded out as the car promptly collapsed in on itself, leaving a cloud of dust, metal shavings, and a spooked Mavy staring at the artifact he'd just destroyed. "...right, so new plan, don't touch the things."

"Yeah, gaht it," I muttered. Rye gave a frustrated sigh before straightening up, gesturing the lantern in his hand towards the massive room's interior.

"Uh, raccoons like Sentrets and Zigzagoons can see in the dark, right? C-could you split off and look for things? It'd make things a lot quicker," he requested. Mavy furrowed his brow before nodding and zigzagging off into the dark, leaving Rye and I to start checking the ancient cars for anything of note.

I couldn't help but notice a routine forming over the next little while: we peeked into a car, found that most of its contents had either disintegrated or become useless crap over the centuries, and moved on, occasionally getting startled by Mavy's skittering in the distance. Sedans, sports cars, vans, and even what looked like a humvee were scoured, only producing more of the same. After a while, though, something changed.

'Oh. Another plastic bottle down here. Joy. How does plastic even last that long? Uh, anyways, lookit. Another van... huh, the tugging's stronger. Maybe...?'

"H-hey, there's writing on this one. Uh, can you make it out, Beck?" Rye asked, pointing to the side of the rather well-preserved van. I nodded, peering up at it.

Juniper Enterprises, it read. I gave a curious hum as we climbed in, shining the lantern around to investigate this discovery. It seemed about the same as any of the other vans we'd pilfered through in the past little while, save for a couple anomalies on the side.

"Hey... a-are these, like, compartments?" Rye asked. As he got up close, his eyes widened as he found one of them still closed tight. "Hm, maybe-"

"Wait, wait," I said, pushing past Rye to put a paw on one of the little doors. With that, the tugging in my gut ceased, and my ears sticking up in response seemed to get it across to Rye that we'd found something.

"Y-you think something's in there? Let's open it!" he said before excitedly pulling at the little door, though the thing didn't budge. He bit his lip, muttering a bit before suddenly perking up.

"Here, let me just-" he said, fumbling around his neck at his bandanna. As his fingers met his badge, he gave it three quick taps and whispered something into it, causing it to let out a quick hum. "Okay, uh, now we just wait."

Despite our excitement at the apparent discovery, we seemed to be in agreement as to how to pass the time: slumping against the sides of the van, quietly waiting before the scraping of claws suddenly met our ears.

"Hey, what was that all 'bout? Ah was just pokin' 'round and suddenly I just got this... iunno, headache message thing and got pointed here. D'y'all find something?" Mavy asked as he came in.

"Yeah, I think it's something good," Rye smiled, glancing over at me. Mavy gave a proud grin as he curled up next to Rye.

"Well, ah'm takin' a third of the proceeds, then. I was a participant on the team, don't gimme that 'you weren't there' spiel," he said. "And, y'know, the hole in the wall that got us here. Now whaddaya saaaay?"

We both sighed.

"Th-thanks, Mavy," Rye mumbled.

"Yeah, tanks," I said.

-o-​

May winced as a sudden mild headache shot through her skull, followed by a few easily digestible bits of info. A ping had just gone out from one of the teams in the stadium with them. The Leafeon blinked as she mulled over the brief message.

Team Reach here. Something found, locked. Down metal doors and inside big automatron. Need help retrieving.

May gave a quick relieved sigh, giving a smile to herself as she hopped up from her fruitless studying. Bounding out from the old stands she'd been exploring, she went out into the stadium's ancient seats to retrieve her partner. As expected, Arden had not moved since he'd elected to take a breather and survey the area, and his vacant gaze remained cast at the long-dead field as May trotted down the steps to meet him. Looking down at the charcoal sketch of the stadium he'd drawn in his notebook, she gave the Quilava a quick nudge.

"Ping went out. Rye's team found-" she began.

"I heard it," Arden said. May waited for him to budge for a moment before pursing her lips.

"Need more time to take it in?" she asked.

"Nah, think I'm done," Arden said, pushing himself up to lead the way. "So lockpicking. Shouldn't be too big of an issue for you, huh? Just... the kid said the thing was inside a what now?"

"An automatron, he said," May relayed. Arden smirked to himself.

"Ah, yes. The dreaded automatron. I've told him it's 'automobile' fuck knows how many times," he mused as he and May headed down the stairs back into the stadium's insides.

"I mean, you could've just said car," the Leafeon shrugged.

"Y-yeah, but it just sounds weird. You know, car. Caaaar. I don't know, it just sounds unprofessional," Arden reasoned.

"Carriage, maybe," May suggested.

"Oh, feeling posh today, are we? What are ya, a bloody Darkie?" Arden said, adopting an exaggerated accent.

"You know if anyone actually from the Dark Isles heard that, they would've given you a black eye by now."

"Well, oi'd wallop their arses first an' chase 'em oll the way back tah Spitfireshire, 'ave a pint whole oi'm at it!"

"Oh, Xerneas, that doesn't even sound Darkie anymore. Sounds like you're from a different planet entirely."

"Bollocks."

"Alright, that's enough."

The two continued their banter for a little while before the badge's ping finally led them to the aforementioned set of metal doors, where Team Joules was already waiting for the pair. Arden briefly took note of the hole already cut in the doors before concluding that it was a bit too Treecko-sized for his liking.

"Alright, Electabuzz, help me pry this thing open. On my mark," he commanded. As Luxio and May watched, their partners grabbed a hold of the door and began to pull hard, slowly parting the rusted doors to reveal the elevator shaft and the rope Team Reach had left dangling inside. Arden bent down and momentarily peered down at the long foreboding drop before gesturing grandiosely to the others.

"Anyone volunteer to go into the spooky butthole of death first?" he asked.

-o-​

As the quiet muttering of the others backed us, the ancient lock clicked up a storm, clearly not content to cooperate with May as she kept trying to pick it with a vine. Rye and I exchanged a glance as she quietly muttered undesirables to herself, though a sudden clunk rang out, spelling out her success. Rye, Mavy, and I quickly ran over to throw open the mystery door as possibilities raced through my head. Maybe the missing Lustrous Orb was in here? Maybe some recording telling me why I was here? Maybe even some sort of feral translator? My eyes sparkling, I bunched in between my partners' heads to behold the compartment's contents: a sack full of...



Paper?

Oh, for-

"Wait, l-look. There's lines on this... i-it's a picture of some kind!" Rye observed, pushing Mavy and I aside so May and Arden could get a look. The two studied what they could for a moment before nodding to themselves.

"We're taking this back to Delcatty. This could be something after all," Arden decided, opening his pack to delicately slide the ancient bag in. Gently closing it, he waved us on and started for the rope, though Luxio and Electabuzz just stood there to watch us go.

"Don't know about you, but we're staying to explore. Are you seeing all this? Too much to not look into," Luxio yelled after us.

"Alright, go ahead and do whatever," Arden called back, arriving at our rope. Gripping it between his paws, he began shimmying up, glaring at Rye as he started climbing up the wall. Seemingly determined not to get beat to the top by the Treecko, he picked up the pace, frantically climbing as Mavy, May, and I looked on.

"He always like this?" Mavy asked as Arden frustratedly swore, having lost the impromptu race.

"Zigzagoon, you have no idea," May said.

-o-​

"...oh, Arceus. Tyson, come look at this," Delcatty said. The Hitmonchan hobbled over, yawning as morning light pilfered into their tent.

"What've you got?" he asked, looking down at the fragmented paper delicately spread out on the table before them.

"I just finished translating the find. It's a map for sure," Delcatty said. Tyson's eyes narrowed as he skimmed over the human Fletchling-scratch.

"...what's it showing, then?" he asked. Delcatty hesitated.

"You won't believe me," she said.

"Bite me," Tyson responded. Delcatty stood there, reading her notes one last time as if to confirm her own words before giving a disbelieving chuckle.

"I'm pretty sure we just found a map through the Caves of Being."
 
Top Bottom