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Pokémon The End: Rekindled (Now Complete!)

Chapter 56


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
56 - A Blazing Battle​

Ilana perched in the branches of a large sycamore, her flock gathered around her. They’d been reduced significantly by that whimsicott. It had been a battle they’d never win. He’d turned psychotic, tearing her murkrow to ribbons. Ilana hadn’t seen much of the world outside the breeding pens, but she would never have expected a whimsicott to behave like that. They were too stocky, their claws too blunt. Yet he’d made short work of her girls.

The remaining murkrow huddled around her and spread out over the sycamore’s ancient branches. Her numbers had been close to a hundred. Now she had about forty murkrow left in her army. They were dropping drastically. She’d fled from the mountain, taking refuge in the low stretch of rocky hills known as Onix Tail Peaks. She needed to come up with a new plan of action. The whimsicott was too much of a risk. Reclaiming him couldn’t be done by her flock alone. She needed more power. She’d hoped the weavile they’d seen the night before would pass this way. She could ask them to assist her. With their ice-type moves, they could freeze that little grass-type and he’d be easy pickings. Plus, if they got too close, it would be their lives not her murkrow.

The sound of a bell made her raise her head. One of her murkrow cawed and Ilana turned her head to the left. Pushing his way through the ferns was the unmistakable form of a banette. Each step jingled as if he didn’t care who heard him. His mane was dishevelled with twigs and leaves jutting out of the tangled mess. His scarf was covered in burrs and thorns. He muttered to himself and Ilana strained her ears.

Something about scientists?

No, she can’t have heard that right.

She watched him for a moment, motioning for her flock to be silent. It was coming back to her now. Hadn’t she made a deal with Yurlik? Apprehend the stray assassin and he’d let her have more murkrow from the pens. Sure, the whimsicott was a priority target. But if she returned with Enigma, she’d release more murkrow. She could increase her flock’s strength and go and retrieve that whimsicott and earn Hydreigon’s respect.

Enigma was just one ghost. None of the moves in his arsenal could seriously harm a murkrow. It was forty against one. He didn’t stand a chance. A smirk tugged her beak and she straightened, ruffling her feathers to prepare for flight.

She raised her head and barked deep husky caws. Enigma fixed wide eyes on the sycamore as the flock rose from its branches. He took a step back and shadow energy radiated from his paw. He launched a shadow ball into the cloud of murkrow, which parted like water. Ilana barked again and the flock swooped in, surrounding the banette.

Enigma shouted and raked through the birds with his claws. It gave him enough time to slip into the shadows, leaving Ilana’s murkrow flapping in a confused cloud. Enigma leapt up behind them, beside the sycamore. One of the murkrow turned towards him. Her caw died in her throat as Enigma snatched her from the air and slammed her into the trunk of the tree.

Ilana let out a caw of distress, then quickly barked at her flock to move out of reach.

Enigma narrowed his crimson eyes. “Yurlik must be pretty desperate if he’s recruited girls into his flock.”

“We are not part of his flock!” Ilana shrieked. She turned her head left and right, speaking in husky caws that were alien to Enigma. “Girls! Scissor formation!”

The murkrow spread out and swooped back towards Enigma like a pincer with Ilana in the lead. The banette fired one shadow ball after the other, striking three of the birds head on. Ilana swerved to dodge the fourth and lashed out with her talons. Enigma melted into the floor as she plunged, so Ilana’s claws tore up the turf. She cursed loudly and jerked her head to listen for his bell.

Ilana turned in the air, trying to spot the elusive ghost. He was putting up a better fight than she’d expected.

A dry chuckle drew her eye to the canopy. Enigma perched on a narrow branch which creaked under his weight.

“I have to hand it to you,” he said, folding his arms behind his head. “You’re nothing like Yurlik. I mean, that fat honchkrow just sits on his butt and lets his flock do all the work. It’s kinda refreshing that you actually fight your own battles.”

Ilana tutted and narrowed a glare. “Don’t think you can charm your way out of this, ghost.”

Enigma widened his eyes, feigning innocence. “I’m not trying to charm my way out of anything!”

One of the murkrow had moved up towards the tree. Ilana flicked her wing feathers. “Then get down here and fight!”

The murkrow had caught Ilana’s signal. She beat her wings together, whipping up a blade of air. The branch holding Enigma snapped from the tree. The banette gasped as his yell of surprise was strangled by the sudden fall. Ilana shot towards him, buffeting him in the ribs with her wings. Enigma landed with a grunt and a jingle against the sycamore’s knotted roots.

The honchkow cawed her instructions and the murkrow descended on him in a cloud of beating wings and shredding claws. Ilana paced around them, nodding with approval. It hadn’t been as easy as she’d have liked, but the battle had definitely gone in her favour. She opened her beak to call her murkrow back and froze.

Was that a laugh?

Dark claws tore through the cloud of murkrow in a spray of blood. Ilana let out a yell and leapt back, watching in horror as her murkrow fell one by one in a bloody heap. Enigma stood, flicking blood from his claws. The remaining murkrow fluttered around him with uncertainty and Ilana called them back. Most obeyed, but the ones that hesitated found themselves at Enigma’s mercy. He plucked from from the air and she yelped, her eyes wide with fear.

The banette’s face was twisted in a sinister grin. His eyes flashed with malice and he laughed as he raised the panicking murkrow by the neck.

Ilana rushed forwards, bringing her wings together. The blade struck Enigma in the chest, knocking him off his feet. The murkrow fluttered into the air in a disoriented, erratic pattern before she found her perch on a slender sapling. Ilana fastened her talons around Enigma’s throat, pinning him to the ground. She beat his head with her wings, desperate to wipe that grin off his wicked face. Yet he laughed, fixing her with one crimson eye. Blood filled the other but he didn’t appear to notice, or care.

Pain seared Ilana’s leg and she screeched, flapping away from him. Warm blood trickled over her scales and her leg hung limp beneath her. Enigma pushed himself to his feet, looking from Ilana to the uncertain murkrow hovering, waiting for instructions.

Then his eye rolled back in his head, and the banette slumped face-first to the floor.

A confused caw left Ilana’s throat. It was echoed by the murkrow as they landed around the banette. Ilana landed awkwardly, dragging her sore leg behind her. She spread her wings, moving her flock away from what she assumed was a trap. She nudged Enigma with her beak but he didn’t stir. Was this really happening? Only moments before he was acting as if her attacks were doing nothing to him.

She pressed her head against his back and was greeted by the soft beat of his heart. He was still alive. That should please Hydreigon. She just had to get him back first.

Ilana snorted and turned away from the banette. She glanced over the murkrow massacre, her heart breaking. Her eye fell on the murkrow lying limp at the base of the sycamore. Ilana dragged herself towards her and a soft, keening sound left her throat. She nudged the broken bird with her beak, getting no response. Ilana keened again and lowered her head. All of the fallen murkrow had died serving their duty. She would not forget them.


She turned towards the remaining murkrow.

“We should get him back before he wakes up,” said the smaller bird.

Ilana nodded and hobbled over to the banette. “I’ll carry him. The rest of you, keep watch in case he wakes up.”

The honchkrow fastened her claws around his neck and lifted him effortlessly into the air. Her bad leg hung limp beside him. They needed to make haste. She dread to think what he’d do to her if he woke before they reached the Shadow Lands.


Reshiram had insisted he didn’t need to sleep. The sun had set, plunging the land into darkness. The land beneath them seemed to vanish into some hidden void. Even the stars above them didn’t make Cleo feel any less unsettled. They travelled in silence, broken only by the steady roar from Reshiram’s tail flames. After a short while, he shut them out and slowed, his heavy wings oddly silent.

Cleo couldn’t help but fear the dragon needed rest. He’d had very little sleep and hadn’t long returned from his last journey to the mainland. He’d flown even further out, leaving the coast behind them. Despite the dangers of flying at night, it would make it easier to spot the Wildfire’s trail.

“You should all get some sleep.” Reshiram’s soft voice made Cleo almost leap out of her skin.

Spark sat up with a start in her lap and rubbed her groggy eyes. “Wha-?”

“You all need your rest,” Reshiram told them. “It won’t be long now before we encounter the Wildfires.”

“We won’t sleep,” said Faith. “Not while you’re pushing yourself ragged to help us.”

“I’m fine, Faith. Besides, it’s not my battle. It isn’t yours, either. Tyrix here, he needs his energy, and you need to be able to support him. Get some rest.”

“Well I don’t need telling twice,” said Tyrix. “I’m just scared I might fall off.”

“Don’t worry, friend,” said Reshiram. “I won’t let you.”

“Neither will I,” said Cleo. “If I notice you starting to fall, I’ll steady you with my psychic.”

Tyrix nodded and turned forwards, lowering his head to his chest. He kept a tight grip on Reshiram’s feathers, but before long Cleo saw it loosen. Despite that, he didn’t topple. But if she was going to keep an eye on him, that meant she couldn’t sleep herself. Soft snores came from her lap and she glanced down at Spark, once again asleep huddled in Reshiram’s warm, white feathers. Things seemed peaceful. A calm before the terrible storm they were flying right into.

Not for the first time, Cleo thought she spotted a flicker of orange on the horizon. Her heart leapt but it had vanished before she could pinpoint it. She’d dismissed it as her imagination before, but now she was fearing it was the work of the Wildfires. Deep in her imagination she could picture those wicked dogs spewing their flamethrowers into the sky, torching everything around them until it was black and lifeless. Flames almost as deadly as Yveltal’s life-draining beam. Petrified, ashen forests laid in the wake of Howlinger and his Wildfires. And amid them…

Cleo shook her head sharply before the horrid thoughts could form, focusing her attention on the world ahead. Stars dotted the sky, swirling into a thick streak above them. She’d seen the stars many times before, but from this height there was something magical about them. For a fleeting moment, she felt at ease.

At ease, under the stars, lying on her back in the swaying grass. Beside her was Mischief, nattering to Spark. She couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“I can see something.”

Snow splattered her face and she shook her ears, bringing herself back to the present. The odd taste in her mouth suggested she’d managed to drift off to sleep. Tyrix raised his head in front of her.

“Did you say something?” he grunted.

“Yes,” said Reshiram. “I can see fire, right there ahead of us.”

Cleo’s heart lurched. She looked past the typhlosion and her eyes widened. A flash of orange, stretching across the blackness miles ahead of them. It looked so tiny, yet she knew it would be devastating.

“It could take us a while to reach it,” said Reshiram. “I can’t go at full speed since my tail will be a beacon in this dark. But I’ll go as fast as I can. Hopefully we’ll catch them on the run.”

On the run…

Cleo licked her lips. On the run or not, the Wildfires would be a force to be reckoned with. She knew it wasn’t her fight, yet it still terrified her. If it went wrong, if Tyrix failed, then all of them may find themselves at the mercy of Howlinger’s deadly flames.

Everything felt alien to Cleo. They drew closer to the flames swiftly, yet the sun dyed the sky pink long before they could see the blaze. Smoke curled up from beyond a thick cluster of trees. They stood far ahead of them, beyond a trail that still glowed red with cinders. Scattered about the snow were trees that once towered proudly over the landscape but were now burnt black. Their branches still smoldered, raining down cinders and brittle bark that marred the once white snow. They led a devastating trail towards the cluster of trees, scattered with the bodies of fallen soldiers. Hills rose in lumpy points, the snow rapidly melting to reveal the bushes and thickets buried beneath. The hungry flames fought with the fear of their weakness and the desire to eat up the green plants they were forcing to surrender.

Then Cleo heard the screams. Faith tensed behind her, unconsciously digging her claws into Cleo’s hide. Spark’s whiskers crackled as the dedenne trembled in her lap, fluffing up Cleo’s fur with static. Cleo kept her yellow eyes on the inferno eating its way through the trees. Black shadows flit back and forth beyond them, moving further away from the oncoming dragon. The pack hadn’t seen them. They were trained on the fleeing pokemon, giving chase across the hills.

Tyrix cast a glance back at his new friends. “Don’t you worry. I’ll deal with Howlinger and his mutts. You lot hide somewhere safe with Reshiram.”

Safe? Cleo looked back up at the rapidly growing fire. The snow wasn’t a barrier for it. The flames melted it away then grabbed at everything they could. It was unnatural. Where was ‘safe’?

“What are you talkin’ about?” Spark crackled, setting Cleo’s fur even more on end. “We can’t just sit back and let you deal with this alone!”

Cleo’s heart leapt, forcing bile into her throat. “Spark, we can’t fight Howlinger…”

“We’ve been trained for this, Cleo,” Spark told her. “He’s a dark-type, right? We’ve got moves to deal with him now. And if worst comes to worse…” Spark puffed out her chest. “I can zap him.”

Tyrix’s muzzle creased with irritation and confusion.

“Spark, no.” Faith placed a paw on Cleo’s shoulder to look down at the dedenne. “We were told to find a fire-type. If we go in there, we won’t come out. I can’t stand up to Howlinger’s flames, and Cleo can’t stand up to his dark-type moves.” Faith looked up at the typhlosion. “This is Tyrix’s job. One he’s clearly honoured to perform.”

A toothy smile spread across Tyrix’s muzzle. “Aye, that I am. I should have given Howlinger a good hidin’ years ago. Now I’m gonna make him pay for all he’s done.” Tyrix clapped his paws together. “When you see Xerneas, please thank him for giving me this honour.”

Faith smiled, her violet eyes welling with tears. “I think he’ll want you to thank him yourself.”

Cleo swallowed back a sob. “Please come out of this alive.”

Tyrix said nothing as he turned his eyes back on the inferno. The sound of wood popping echoed like thunder. Those frantic cries had faded. A blood-curdling howl split the air and the lithe, dark shapes of the Wildfires took off over the snowy landscape.

Reshiram’s tail flared as he took off towards them. Flames spouted from Howlinger’s muzzle as he fired a flamethrower into the air. They hadn’t heard their pursuers, too enthralled in the thrill of their massacre. The burnt remains of a village flashed through the dancing flames and Cleo diverted her eyes. Just one glance had brought back the Sparkling Forest as fire ate its way through the little wooden tree-houses.

Howlinger howled again and the pack picked up their pace. Cleo saw with a jolt that this wasn’t some post-massacre frenzy. A manectric tore through a clump of bracken, scattering snow. Electricity leapt from his body, lighting up the ground with a blinding intensity. It didn’t slow the Wildfires. The manectric turned and fled, racing on ahead of the pack towards the woods. Howlinger barked something to his pack and tore after the electric wolf. The houndour forked off to the left and right, spraying flames behind them. They trailed a circle of fire through the trees, denying their prey the chance to back-track. Flames soon spread up the trees, burning away the canopy.

“Drop me here.” Tyrix tapped Reshiram on the shoulder. “I’ll go in. You stay outside.”

Reshiram nodded and turned towards the ground. He landed silently on all-fours and lowered himself for his passenger to dismount. Tyrix slipped from his back and landed with a soft thud.

Cleo opened her mouth to ask him if he would be okay, but she bit it back. Now wasn’t the time for doubt. She was certain this was the pokemon Xerneas had tasked them with to find. Instead, she said, “Thank you, Tyrix.”

The typhlosion smiled up at her. “Don’t have to thank me. I’m just doin’ my duty in this war. Now stay out of sight.”

Cleo remained on Reshiram’s back, watching as the typhlosion approached the burning woods.

“Take care, my friend,” said Reshiram as Tyrix walked straight through the wall of fire.


Heat rushed into Tyrix’s body as he walked through the flames into the woods. The houndour had rushed on ahead, their howls still echoing their pursuit of the manectric. Electricity arced through the canopy, lighting up the dense woodland. Tyrix strolled towards it through the blistering heat. Any other pokemon would have found it devastating, but it warmed through to the typhlosion’s old, tired bones.

Flames spewed through the trees, licking up the wet bark until they found their hold on the branches. Wood popped and cracked, deafening over the barks and howls of the houndour pack. Tyrix spotted them circling back through a clearing. It had once been a village, long since abandoned. The old buildings still stood, their rooftops sagging under the weight of melting snow. Flames danced in the gaping windows where the fire had managed to find a way into the damp, decaying wood.

The manectric was cornered beside one of the little houses, glaring up at the sneering houndoom with defiance. The smaller dogs surrounded the electric wolf, forcing him back until his rump brushed the flames. The manectric sucked in a hiss, then Howlinger barked his command. The houndour pack was on the manectric in an instant. A wave of snarling teeth and slashing claws.


The houndoom looked up, ears pricked. His crimson eyes met Tyrix’s glare and a look of surprise crossed the canine’s features. It soon vanished as his lips curled back in a snarl. “You?”

Tyrix’s shout had come a second too late. The manectric’s yelps were swiftly silenced.

Tyrix gazed helplessly at the ravenous houndour then looked back to Howlinger. “Well. Don’t you look proud of yourself.” He waved a paw at the merciless dogs. “What is this? Does this make you feel big?”

“What? Purging the world of the weak?” Howlinger barked out laughter, which was echoed by the rest of his pack. “Oh, I know I’m stronger than them. Burning their homes to the ground proves it to them, not me.”

“And what about this?” Tyrix narrowed his eyes and nodded to the manectric, now abandoned by the dogs as they turned their attention on him. “Mindless murder?”

“One less rebel for Lord Hydreigon to worry about,” Howlinger spat.

Tyrix bared his canines as his spine stiffened. This houndoom was despicable. There wasn’t a single good bone in his body.

Howlinger met his challenge with a snarl of his own, raising his head and tail high. “What are you planning to do about it? Since you must have followed me for a reason. Is it a fight you want?” Howlinger barked a single laugh and looked Tyrix up and down. “Because let’s face it, Tyrix, you’ve seen better days.”

“Oh, I’m more than enough for you, Howlinger.” Tyrix spoke calmly, silencing Howlinger’s laugh before it could form.

The houndour, however, hadn’t got the message. Their laughter echoed through the blazing clearing, their eyes flashing like embers. They stalked around the flames into position, flanking their leader, their tongues lolling from the heat. Hunger flared in their eyes, primal and sinister.

Tyrix took a step to the side towards one of the burning tree-houses, feigning fear. The houndour lapped it up, but the look on Howlinger’s face said he wasn’t convinced. He watched the typlosion with suspicion.

“Come on then, mutt,” Tyrix scoffed. “Or are you too afraid to fight your old father?”

Howlinger snorted flames from his nostrils. “Father? Don’t make me laugh! You’re nothing. Look at you, all sickly. Killing you would be mercy. I should just leave you to suffer here in these flames.”

“Like you did to the pokemon of that village?” The tree-house crumbled, sending burning wood and cinders into a bramble. It welcomed the flames like a lost child, crackling as they licked over its slender, thorny branches. “You’re forgetting one thing, Howlinger.” Tyrix stepped through the blaze and flames leapt to life on his back. They drew in the fire like a magnet. Yelps leapt around the houndour as they began to pace, uncertainly. “Fire gives me strength.”

Howlinger bared his canines and lowered his head to the ground. He snarled at his pack until they copied him, pawing at the warm slushy earth with uncertainty. Howlinger barked twice and the pack forked off to the left and right. Their teeth flashed orange in the flames and dark energy formed around their jaws.

Tyrix met the wide stare of a smaller houndour and it faltered. It leapt back from Tyrix and opened its jaws wide, spewing a flamethrower right at the typhlosion. Tyrix spread his arms, welcoming it. His flames erupted on his back and he threw his head back and roared.

“Don’t use fire, you idiot!” Howlinger screamed. He rushed the smaller dog and grabbed it by the scruff.

The rest of the pack faltered, hovering around Tyrix’s back and flanks. Heat pulsed out from him sweeping across the clearing. The houndour yelped, falling back, their eyes screwed shut. Howlinger winced, releasing his hold on his terrified underling. Wave after wave of heat left the typhlosion’s body, intensifying the fire that swept through the trees. As he lowered his arms, the heat-waves stopped and he cast a glance around the clearing.

Houndour lay gasping, their dry tongues hanging from their gaping mouths. A few had escaped with minimal injuries, standing with their sides to the typlosion, their eyes warily watching his every movement. Howlinger turned, panting, his eyes wide as they took in the blaze. The ground was black under their feet, but fire towered around them like a wall. They were all penned in. Wood popped and snapped in the silence, fuelling the intense heat that baked the clearing dry.

Howlinger gasped a couple of times then looked at his remaining pack. “Well don’t just stand there! Kill him!”

The houndour whimpered as they paced back and forth in a bid to keep their paws off the hot, black ground.

“Kill him!” Howlinger roared, sending a stream of flames at the tails of those closest.

The houndour leapt to action, circling away and behind Tyrix. The typhlosion watched them and tutted.

“Can’t fight your own battles?” he scoffed at Howlinger.

Tyrix swung an arm as one of the smaller dogs leapt at him. Fist met jaw with a sick crack and the houndour flew back with a yelp. Tyrix didn’t see where it landed. He immediately turned to block a bite from another dog, hitting it to the ground. He brought his foot down on its neck and turned his back to Howlinger. The typhlosion launched a flamethrower at an oncoming pair of houndour, scattering them like frightened hatchlings.

Tyrix’s flames cut off with a yell as teeth met in his shoulder. Another set fastened in his arm and he twisted, dislodging the small dog from his back. Howlinger’s wicked eyes burned up at him. A snarl, muffled from Tyrix’s arm, swept over the typhlosion’s body. Rather than yank his arm free, Tyrix brought his free fist down onto the houndoom’s large, curved horn. He yelped but didn’t relinquish his grip. Tyrix raised his paw to strike again as a houndoom flew at him from behind. It grabbed his wrist in its jaws, tearing into his flesh. Two more landed on his shoulders while another tried to grab his leg. Tyrix roared, his flames erupting along his back and knocking the two houndour to the floor. He let loose another heatwave and Howlinger fell back with a yelp. The houndour dropped from his arm to land crumpled on a splintered branch.

Tyrix shook blood from his arm and took a few deep breaths. Howlinger clambered to his feet and stood, head lowered, meeting Tyrix’s eyes. Tyrix stifled a cough and forced his back flames to re-ignite. The slender canine stalked along the wall of flames, his body a shadow against the bright blazing light. His eyes reflected the fire like hot coals. The two pokemon circled one another around the clearing, both panting from the heat. Howlinger’s fur was singed and patchy, revealing raw skin. One of his paws trailed blood over the floor. Tyrix’s chest complained, pushing smoke up from his lungs which joined the smoke rising from the clearing.

Howlinger leapt, his jaws gaping wide. Tyrix ducked, catching him with an eruption from his back flames. The dog yelped, landing awkwardly on the floor. He staggered to his feet and leapt again. Tyrix was caught off guard as the dog locked his jaws around his shoulder. The typhlosion roared, grabbing the houndoom’s horns with both paws. He twisted, trying to dislodge the canine but Howlinger kept his hold, locking his jaw. With a roar, Tyrix raked his claws along Howlinger’s flanks, scraping his raw flesh. The dog howled, releasing his hold and falling back, spitting bloody saliva. It hung from his jowls as his lips pulled back from his teeth, readying another attack.

“Not had enough yet, huh?” Tyrix’s voice cracked and he staggered, masking it with a side-step.

“You clearly have,” Howlinger growled.

He leapt again, but Tyrix was ready this time. He caught the dog by his jaws, forcing them open. He raised the whimpering houndoom off the ground and spun, launching him into the crumbling building. He landed beside the manectric in a tangled heap. With a sound like thunder, rubble rained down around him, pelting his body with hot, smoldering splinters. Flames licked across the shattered roof of the house, spraying embers down onto the houndoom. Howlinger’s legs shook as he struggled to his feet. He flashed a glare towards Tyrix.

He spat blood onto the floor, not taking his eyes off the typhlosion. “You’re not gonna win this one, ‘father’.”

A loud snap came from the rafters. Howlinger jerked his head up towards it, and his eyes widened. A large beam broke free, crashing down towards him. A yelp followed as it struck Howlinger across the back. He crumpled beneath its weight, his body twisting unnaturally.

Tyrix marched over to him, his breaths heavy and smoking. Howlinger’s eyes were wide and fearful. His forepaws flailed to drag himself free. His back end was hidden under the splintered wood, but Tyrix could just see his feet poking free. Howlinger whined and turned his head towards them. Then he jerked his head back around to the typlosion.

“Help me!” he gasped.

“How many times have you heard that cry?” Tyrix shook his head slowly.

Howlinger gasped again, a wordless breath. His eyes glazed as blood pooled from his mouth.

“You’ve been fighting on the wrong side of this war,” Tyrix told him. “But I suppose I could show you the mercy you’ve denied others.”

He met the dog’s terrified eyes, but Howlinger said no more.

Tyrix brought his paw down onto Howlinger’s head. The dog fell limp, his sightless eyes staring into the blazing clearing. Tyrix stooped to close them and stood back. Such a waste.

He’d done it. He’d defeated the Wildfires. They were no longer a threat to Estellis. The typlosion’s face twisted in a grimace as a cough shook his body. Thick black smoke billowed from his lungs. He dropped to his knees as all energy left his body. Yet as he fell to the floor, a large smile spread across his muzzle.

He’d done it.
Chapter 57


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
57 - Message on the Wing​

Enigma groaned. Spots danced before his eyes and he screwed them shut again. Wind whipped through his fur, tearing at his mane. He stretched his feet, expecting to feel the ground but all they met was air. He snapped his eyes open again, sucking in a sharp breath. Deadly talons fastened around his chest, burning through his fur with searing dark energy. He scrabbled at them with his claws but they only tightened, digging into his flesh.

“I’d stop struggling if I were you,” Ilana crooned. “Unless you want me to turn you over to Lord Hydreigon inside-out?”

Murkrow soared around him, cawing raucous laughter. Enigma scowled at them and turned his glare onto the Shadow Lands. The towering thorns of Hydreigon’s castle drew closer and closer. But Ilana had no interest in landing there. She tucked in her wings and swooped towards the stone wall surrounding the Shadow Lands. She gave a series of loud caws, echoed by the rest of her flock. Enigma recognised it as the murkrows’ victory cry. It had resounded through the Shadow Lands many times.

Yurlik looked up from his perch in the old tree, his wicked red eyes fixing on the scrawny form of Ilana. She landed beyond the wall, slamming Enigma into the floor. Using her wings for balance, she pinned him down with her one good leg. The other was tucked beneath her, hovering near the banette’s eyes, its claws glinting in the dim light of dawn.

Yurlik dropped down from his perch and fluffed out his feathers against the cold. His head moved with jerky avian movements from Enigma to Ilana and back. “What is this?”

“One detained rebel as requested.” Ilana clicked her beak and narrowed her eyes. “I think Lord Hydreigon would want to see him?”

“And what about Harlequin?” Yurlik scoffed.

“You didn’t ask for Harlequin.” Ilana dug her talons into Enigma, drawing out a hiss. “Now, perhaps you can spare some more murkrow from the breeding pens to flesh out my flock?”

“I shall do no such thing,” Yurlik barked. “You had what we could spare. It’s no fault of mine if you lose any.”

“You told me if I brought back Enigma I could have more girls for my flock.” Ilana narrowed her eyes. “I followed through on my side of the deal. Now give them to me.”

Yurlik stared back silently, his beak quivering.

“Lord Hydreigon wants that whimsicott,” Ilana told him. “You must know how strong it is. I’ve been so close! I’ve had that fuzzball in my talons!” She raised her head. “I need more power if we’re to win.”

“Fine,” Yurlik spat, but he didn’t meet her eyes. His feathers ruffled in what Enigma could only assume was embarrassment.

“Thank you.” Ilana’s words were laced with sarcasm. “Now. Do you want to take him to the castle or shall I?”

“Oh no!” Yurlik spread his wings as he strutted closer to Ilana. “Females never have an audience with Lord Hydreigon. I shall take it from here. You go and finish your job!”

The large honchkrow swept Ilana aside with his wing and snatched up Enigma in his shadowy talons. Enigma grunted and lashed out with his claws, scraping Yurlik’s belly. Yurlik squawked and swerved into the air, swinging Enigma forwards until red welts rose up from around his wicked claws. The banette howled, and Yurlik’s eyes glittered with malice.

As Enigma swung back, hanging limply, Yurlik spoke near his ear. “You dare do that again, I’ll pluck out your eyes.”

Enigma gave an audible sigh. He had no choice. He’d have to hope Yurlik let his guard down and escape then. The honckrow swooped towards the castle and slammed Enigma into the stone stairs with en explosion of his bell. Enigma breathed in damp rock as Yurlik rapped his beak on the castle door. Enigma barely heard the voice of the weavile on duty. Yurlik swept him aside before he could speak, but Enigma met the weavile’s eye as he was dragged across the tiles. The weasel pokemon watched, speechless.

Enigma’s heart raced as the world blurred around him. He could hear Hydreigon’s deep voice speaking with some other visitor. Before he knew it, the dragon was bellowing at Yurlik to enter the room. The second the door opened, Enigma was thrown unceremoniously before the hulking dragon. Released from Yurlik’s talons. But he froze as terror gripped his body. Hydreigon’s crimson stare burned into him, along with the cold fire of a pair of icy blue eyes hovering at Hydreigon’s shoulder. Enigma stared at the towering bird. Rivers of red trailed like blood along its glossy feathers, yet its face was oddly draconic. Enigma’s heart pounded and he groped at the floor, forcing himself to stand. His head jerked back as claws snagged in his mane, and he growled over his shoulder at the honchkrow.

“Enigma?” Hydreigon purred with an air of delight. “So you caught the renegade, Yurlik?”

“Indeed I did,” said Yurlik.

“Oh come off it,” Enigma spat. “It was that female honchkrow, you fat-” His words cut off as a large wing struck him across the mouth.

Hydreigon leaned his head on one pincer as he looked from Yurlik to Enigma. “You’ve been raising some questions, Enigma. I thought I sent you out to get information.”

Enigma wiped bloody spittle on the back of his paw. “Yes, you did.”

“What did you find out?” Hydreigon asked. “What was so important that you turned tail and failed to report back to me?”

“Why do you expect me to tell you?” Enimga’s heart was galloping but he forced a smirk.

“Because if you don’t…” Hydreigon turned his free pincer as if examining it for spots. “I’ll be forced to kill you.”

The large bird beside him chuckled, drawing Enigma’s gaze. Its blue eyes glittered and canines flashed in its grinning beak. Hydreigon shot it a sideways glance and returned to Enigma.

“So?” the black dragon pressed. “Answer my question.”

“All right.” Enigma raised his arms in mock defeat. “The outlaws hate you. So do the Outcasts.” He narrowed his eyes. “And so do I.”

Hydreigon’s eyes flashed and he raised his head, but Enigma wasn’t finished.

“I always have!” he went on. “Do you really think I’d want to work for someone who murdered my parents? For someone deranged enough to murder his own father?”

Hydreigon pulled his lips back in a snarl. “Watch your tongue, banette. It might cost you your life.”

“Then take it.”

Enigma met the large dragon’s eyes, but he didn’t move. Instead he stared at Enigma with uncertainty. Enigma didn’t know where the confidence was suddenly coming from, but everything he’d held back all those years was pouring out of him like a waterfall. It had taken Hydreigon by surprise, and rather than exploding with anger the dragon just looked pathetic and confused.

Enigma let out a single laugh. “What’s the problem, ‘boss’?” he spat. “Lost so many aces you need to keep your claws in this one?”

Hydreigon practically shook.

“Even Harlequin has seen sense,” Enigma went on. “All you have left now, Hydreigon, are a pack of dogs.”

Hydreigon raised his head and a low growl shook the room. “What did you call me?”

It had been a slip of the tongue, but Enigma didn’t waver despite the voices screaming at him to turn and run. Instead he raised his head and looked the dragon in the eye. “Hydreigon.”

“You address me as ‘lord’, you insolent wretch!” Hydreigon hissed.

A smirk tugged at Enigma’s lips.

“Address me as ‘lord’!” Hydreigon roared, raising his twin pincers.

Hydreigon’s flanks were heaving. He glared down at Enigma who met his eyes with defiance. After a long moment, the large dragon reached behind him and shoved a book at Enigma’s feet. The banette looked down at it and his heart flipped. ‘Yveltal’s Fall’. The large bird beside Hydreigon shifted uncomfortably, as if he’d much rather leave the room but was too morbidly interested in the dispute between Hydreigon and Enigma to bother.

“This was found in your room,” said Hydriegon. “Can you explain that?”

“I was bored.” Enigma looked back up at him. “So I raided the library. You know, before you burned it down in a tantrum.”

Hydriegon flinched but remained oddly calm. “You hid it. You knew this was being looked for so it could be destroyed, didn’t you?”

Enigma said nothing, yet every fibre of his being screamed at him to run.

“So you hate me.” Hydriegon shrugged. “Well, even the outlaws hate you. No one trusts a ghost. So answer me this, banette. Who do you work for?”

Enigma looked down at the book. A large X adorned its cover, fashioned after the horns of a stag. It was all true. Faith, Harlequin… Xerneas. Everything he’d tried to hold on to as a child, the very hope he’d lost when Kera was taken from him, had all been true. He looked back up at the two dragons.

The answer tumbled from his mouth without a second thought. “Xerneas.”

A loud roar exploded from Hydreigon. He swung one of his pincers, striking Enigma in the ribs. Pain exploded through his body as he tumbled across the tiles. Hydreigon raised his head back and opened his jaws. Black energy swirled in his gaping throat, but the large bird cut in front of him and swept him back with a wing.

“You’ve done enough.” Those blue eyes were as cold as permafrost as they locked onto Enigma. “Let me deal with this.”

Hydreigon shoved him aside and raised a pincer to his neck. “Back off, Yveltal! You work for me!”

Enigma looked up with a start. Yveltal?

The black bird stared down at Hydreigon from the corner of his eye. A canine poked from his beak but he said nothing. Just smoothed out his feathers and watched the large dragon through narrowed eyes.

“How dare you mention that name in this castle!” Hydreigon growled at Enigma.

Enigma coughed as he rolled onto his front. Something stabbed inside his chest as he tried to breath, forcing him to cough again. Blood splattered the floor.

Hydreigon curled back into himself and waved a pincer at the banette. “Get this mess out of my sight.”

Yurlik spread his wings in a bow. “Yes, my lord.”

The honchkrow’s talons cut into Enigma’s neck as he yanked him back across the room. All the banette could do was groan.

“And make sure you kill him outside the Shadow Lands!” Hydreigon roared. “I don’t want any more of his blood poisoning my kingdom.”

Yurlik dragged Enigma roughly from the castle, trapping him with his shadowy claws. Enigma didn’t fight. It hurt to move. To breathe. To speak. When Yurlik finally dropped down beside the river just beyond the wall, Enigma opened his eyes to meet the honchkrow’s large, grinning beak.

“And here I thought Yveltal was going to deny me this delight,” he crooned. “Looks like it’s just you and me, ghost. I’ll make you suffer for all those times you spoke back to me. All those times you called me ‘fat’.”

Enigma opened his mouth to speak back one last time, but all that came out was another painful cough.

“Oh, this is too perfect!” Yurlik laughed. He nipped Engima in the side, eliciting a yell of pain. “Come on! Talk back to me again!” Another nip at his face. “Let’s drag this out!”

Enigma let his head roll back in the snow. Yurlik grabbed his mane in his talons and forced Enigma to look him in the face.

“I’m going to take my time with this,” Yurlik purred. “And I’m going to enjoy every last moment. Hmm…” Yurlik looked him up and down, his feathers fluffing with delight. He released Enigma’s mane and placed his claws across his chest, pinning Enigma beneath him. “I think I’ll start with your eyes.”

A single laugh forced Enigma to cough again, but he held it back. Yurlik’s talons glinted in the low light as they curled into his flesh. No longer shrouded in shadow as he pulled back his head to strike. Enigma dropped his density and slipped from Yurlik’s claws, leaving him clutching nothing but a few tufts of smoky black fur. The honchkrow spat dirt from his beak and roared as he watched Enigma roll into the river, vanishing beneath the rapids. Yurlik stomped on the bloody snow where Enigma had been lying, his loud caws splitting the dawn air.

Enigma spread his arms, letting the river carry him away. Away, as it fled the Shadow Lands. Bubbles rose from his mouth as his vision dulled, yet despite all that a smile spread across his face. As darkness cascaded through Enigma’s mind, and the pain in his chest dulled, he was grateful for the river. It would allow him to die away from that awful place.


When Tyrix opened his eyes, the fire was still raging. It surrounded him in a circle, kept back by a barrier of colourful flowers. They bloomed out from beneath Tyrix, cushioning his body. He was no longer aching. That fog that had filled his chest for years had faded, allowing him to breathe clearly.

He looked away from the flames, rolling onto his front. His eyes fell on a set of golden hooves which lead up to four slender legs. He met the gentle smile of a tall, magnificent stag. His antlers radiated light which surrounded them both like a bubble.

“Xerneas?” Tyrix gasped.

The stag nodded once. “You did well, Tyrix.”

Tyrix laughed as he pushed himself to his feet. He still felt tired. He sat back on his haunches and wiped a claw across his eyes. It felt good to laugh. No, it felt great. There was no tickle, no cough, no black smoke gushing from his mouth.

“I only did what needed to be done.” He looked back up at Xerneas. “Thank you for choosing me.”

The smile never left Xerneas’ face. He lowered his head, offering his antlers to Tyrix.

“Come on.” Xerneas rose again with Tyrix across his back. “Let’s go home.”


The howls had stopped.

Cleo stood with her paws spread, staring into the blazing woodland. They’d stopped. Why? Had Tyrix won? Or had the Wildfires defeated him and fled.

“He’s not come out,” said Spark quietly.

“We should never have left him,” said Cleo. “He was sick. Too sick. He couldn’t-”

“He must have,” said Faith. “Xerneas chose him to defeat the Wildfires, Cleo. He must have won.”

Those howls had chilled her. Rooted her to the spot. As soon as the battle broke out, she’d turned and run. Faith and Reshiram had run after her, shouting at her to come back. Even Spark had remained with them. Yet Cleo had fled.

Now she was staring into a wall of fire for the second time in her life, wishing she’d been able to do more. Wishing she’d been able to help.

“Why did I do that?” she groaned. “Why did I just leave him?”

“You were scared,” said Faith. “But it wasn’t our battle, Cleo. It was between him and the Wildfires. We would have been roasted alive if we’d gone in there to help him.”

Cleo balled her paws into fists and closed her eyes. “I need to know. I need to know he’s okay.”

The howls had stopped. There were no Wildfires in there now.

She opened her eyes again and raised her head. “I’m going in.”

Faith grabbed her paw. “Wait, Cleo. We need to to put out the fire first.” She looked up at Reshiram. “Can we do it? Is there any water nearby?”

“You don’t need water,” said Reshiram. “I’ll just beat the flame back into the woods. If they’ve got nothing to burn then it’ll put them out.”

Spark waved a paw. “I was gonna suggest all this snow, but all right. We’ll go with your plan.”

“Are we sure we want to put out the fire?” Reshiram asked. “Tyrix did say the Wildfires can’t run through flames. If they’re still in there-”

“They aren’t,” said Cleo. “The sounds of battle are over. I think… I think it’s fine to go in there now.”

Reshiram nodded once and stood aside.

Spark hopped up onto Cleo’s shoulder and they all moved back, giving Reshiram space. The white dragon rose into the air, beating at the fire with his wings. The orange flames flickered in defiance as they were forced back on themselves. Skeletal, black trees emerged from the flames, their branches reaching into the air as if frozen in a silent scream. Cleo’s heart leapt at the sight. It was all too familiar.

Reshiram called down to them and they joined him. He remained in the air, blowing back the flames. Cleo rushed off into the woods, leaving Faith to follow behind.

“It’s pretty frightening,” said Spark. “I mean, if he did fail, then the Wildfires-”

“Don’t,” said Cleo. “Don’t speak like that. He has to have won.”

“But he didn’t come out,” said Spark. “Something must have happened to him.”

Cleo willed Spark to be quiet. The dedenne got the message but she didn’t settle. She bailed from Cleo’s shoulder, scampering on ahead across the ashen floor.

“Wait!” Cleo picked up her pace.

The floor was still warm. The flames still roared ahead of them. The wind from Reshiram’s wings buffeted Cleo’s ears and shook the branches of the trees. They swayed overhead like claws grasping for cool air, creaking and groaning in the deafening silence. It was almost impossible to find a path in this barren, torched wilderness. Cleo kept her eyes on Spark’s orange body as she bounded over the hot ash, her huge ears facing forwards. Cleo fought to keep up, her chest burning with the effort.

“Please be okay!” she gasped.


The wind left Cleo’s lungs as she was beaten to the floor. She yowled as pain bloomed up her leg.


Faith was at her side in an instant. Spark had doubled back and stood by Cleo’s head, her large eyes going from her leg to her face. Cleo raised her head, squinting. A massive, blackened branch lay across her left leg, pinning her to the ground. Suddenly the pain felt a lot worse. She groaned as her head rolled back into the ashen soil.

Reshiram circled above them, his blue eyes wide. “I am so sorry!”

“It’s not your fault, Reshiram!” Faith called to him. She turned back to Cleo and placed a paw on her shoulder. “Please bare with me. I’m going to lift it from you.”

A flash. Faith stood over her in her mega form.

“No,” Cleo groaned. “Don’t.”

“I have to,” said Faith. “We need to get you out.”


Cleo yowled as Faith lifted the branch free in both her horns. A loud crash came from behind them where she’d tossed it. Cleo sobbed and let her paw fall across her face. It was as if her leg had a pulse of its own.

Faith scooped Cleo up in her arms and called up to Reshiram. There was no space for the dragon to land. Faith carried her back to where they’d been waiting, and Cleo turned her head back towards the trees, searching for any sign of Tyrix. Reshiram stood waiting, his canine face soft with worry. He pressed himself to the ground to let his friends climb onto his back, Faith still holding Cleo. She sat sideways, resting in the mawile’s arms. As they circled back over the blackened woods, Cleo looked down into it. The fire was gone, just a few smoldering red branches and the groan and pop of dying wood. Black bodies littered the ground, and Cleo found herself looking down into the scene of the battle. Houndour lay scattered across the ground, but there was no sign of Tyrix. Just a large patch of colourful flowers that filled the entire clearing, a rainbow against a field of black and ash.

All of them were silent as they looked down at the wildflowers. Faith tightened her paw on Cleo’s shoulder, her violet eyes glittering with excitement. Tyrix wasn’t there, and it was pretty clear why. But it was Cleo who spoke for them all, feeling suddenly lighter.



The forest was dark as the zorua raced through it, her frantic breaths loud and heavy. Branches snapped behind her, under pursuing feet. She turned and bolted into a thicket, cowering against the leaf litter. Her blue eyes stared out at the darkness as heavy footsteps drew closer to her.


A looming shadow appeared outside, pausing as it sniffed the air. Red eyes flashed with moonlight as the zoroark turned its head towards the thicket. White teeth spread across a narrow muzzle.

“Found you!”

Then he pounced.

Harlequin yelped, jerking awake. Her flanks heaved as she tried to calm her racing heart. The leaves she’d been lying on lay scattered around her paws. Moonlight leaked through the broad leaves of the bush, lighting up Flutterwick’s orange wings. He lay curled up in a tight ball, his soft snores the only sound in the forest.

Harlequin sat up and took in a deep breath. Her heart was still racing. She sniffed the air, catching Mischief’s sweet scent. The whimsicott sat just outside the tent, his white fluffy back to her. Her paws crunched in the snow and he twitched, glancing back at her. His face was sullen, almost grey in the dim light.

“How long have you been keeping watch?” she asked quietly.

The whimsicott shrugged.

Harlequin glanced up at the sky. If she were to guess, it wasn’t long until dawn. “I’ll take over. You get some sleep.”

Mischief rose to his feet, dusting snow from his fur. His movements were stiff and sluggish. He shook out his paws and stepped past her, barely making a noise over the thick snow. Harlequin watched him for a moment then took his spot where the snow had been cleared away.


She looked back at him over her shoulder. He was still standing by the bush, trailing a paw over one of the broad leaves. “Yeah?”

He was silent for a moment. His shoulders rose as he took a deep breath. “Have… have you ever been in love?”

Something jolted in Harlequin’s chest and her mouth went dry. She looked away with a start and stared down at her paws. A lone stalk of grass poked up from the snow in front of them.

“Why are you asking me?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” Mischief shuffled his paws. “I guess I was just wanting some advice.”

Harlequin licked her lips. “Is this about Cleo?”

When Mischief didn’t answer, Harlequin looked back to check if he was still there. He’d turned his attention to a different leaf, plucking it free from its branch.

“It’s not as if no one’s noticed,” she said. “I’m not exactly rehearsed in such things, yet it’s as clear as day to me. Just tell her.” She paused and closed her eyes briefly, looking back at the moon. “You’ll just regret it if you don’t.”

Mischief sighed and let the leaf drift to the floor. “But I left her.”

“You let those birds take you so we could escape,” Harlequin corrected. “That was a noble thing to do.”

“No. I let them take me because I’m a risk to you all. But… but I still miss her.”

“Then find her,” Harlequin told him. “You don’t need to help me, Mischief. Just go and look for her.”

“You don’t think I’m too dangerous?”

Harlequin opened her mouth to answer but no words came out. Mischief waited silently. He turned to meet Harlequin’s sapphire gaze, but Harlequin still couldn’t find the words to answer him.

“I thought so.” He turned his back and ducked into the bush.

Harlequin placed one paw forwards to follow him. Words still wouldn’t form. Instead, she spat a curse and turned her back to the bush, sitting heavily back on the bare grass. What business did she have giving him advice about that?

‘You’ll just regret it if you don’t.’

Those words seemed to be echoed by a ringing bell and jovial laughter, dragging her back to the musty barracks. Her gaze fell on the moon again and she let out a long sigh. She closed her eyes and tried to bring herself back to the present. Back to the woods with its crisp winter air. Paws crunched over the snow and she jerked her head up, ears trained on the bracken only a few feet away. The fronds parted as a huge white feline stepped through them, his huge paws carrying him over the thick snow with barely a sound. Two pawniard flanked him on either side, their sharp little feet sinking through the snow’s crust, denying them any stealth. The absol’s ruby eyes met Harlequin’s and her heart froze. Her fur prickled along her spine and she tensed, bracing herself for an assault.

“Harbie?” she gasped.

Harbinger snorted, his breath misting in front of his face. “You still call me that?”

Harlequin stuttered as her gaze trailed over his snowy white body. “It’s really you?”

He took a step towards her and she rose to her feet, her hackles rising. Mischief’s words of warning were still fresh in her mind.

“Relax. I’m not here to fight.” Harbinger sat down only a stone’s throw from her. “I’m here to talk.”

The pawniard hadn’t joined him. They remained by the bracken, their huge disk-like eyes reflecting the moon as they watched her. Their blades cast pinpricks of light, deadly sharp. Harbinger might have been avoiding a fight, but they were ready to leap into action in a heartbeat.

Harlequin looked up at the absol. “Well I don’t want a fight either.” Her tongue flicked out over her nose and she glanced aside. “I’ve actually been looking for you.”

He gave a dry laugh. “Likewise. I guess it’s fortunate our paths crossed then.” He paused and she could feel his eyes burning into her. “I ran into a friend of yours.” He spat those words as if they tasted too vile to keep in his mouth.

Harlequin glanced up at him. There was no kindness in his eyes. His fur bristled along his spine and his claws left deep rivets in the snow.

“Enigma?” She knew full well who he was referring to, but she voiced it anyway. “Did he-?”

“What? Spare my life?” Harbinger flashed his canines as he gave a mock laugh. “I’m right here, aren’t I?” He shook his head and glanced back at his companions. “I don’t know how much of what he told me was true. I wouldn’t trust that ghost as far as I could throw him. But he said you believed I was dead.”

Harlequin licked her nose again and looked down at her paws. “Yes. I…” She cleared her throat. “It was Yurlik, Hydreigon’s honchkrow. He told me you’d been killed by his murkrow.”

“Really?” Harbinger’s eyes widened. “That’s the same bird who told me you’d joined Hydreigon’s ranks.”

Harlequin looked away from him. “Not willingly.”

“Perhaps not, but you still worked for him.” A low growl rumbled behind his words. “Anyone who works for that monster is my enemy.”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“He destroyed my pack,” Harbinger growled. “I was exiled because of him.”

“Well I don’t work for him anymore.” Harlequin tried to relax her jaw. She’d begun to bare her teeth and Harbinger had rose to his feet, ready to spring. “I know what you went through. But I thought I’d lost everything.” She forced herself to meet his eyes. “I thought I’d be fighting for my life alone when I left those woods. Then I met you…”

“And you made me wait.”

“I had to.”

“Why?” When she didn’t answer, he raised his voice. “You knew I was trying to escape, Harlequin. So why?”

Harlequin closed her eyes. The zoroark’s grin flashed through her mind and she shook her head to dispel it.

Harbinger sighed. “I tried to kill you.”

Harlequin opened her eyes again and stared at the snow, the nightmare in her mind replaced by the mangled carcass of a nidoking. “I know.”

“You know?”

“I didn’t know it was you at the time.” She trailed patterns through the snow with her paw, circling the grass stalk. “But it was pretty clear I was the target. You used my trademark poison.”

“And you’re not angry with me?”

“Angry?” Harlequin looked up at him, eyes wide. “I’m just glad you’re alive.”

Harbinger snorted and averted his gaze. “Then you’re a fool.”

Harlequin shrugged and returned to her doodle. They sat in silence for a while, broken only by the pawniard fidgeting their blades together.

“I’m sorry.”

Harbinger’s words sent a jolt of surprise through the zorua. But he wasn’t watching her.

“I know it’s not enough to apologise,” he said. “I did try to take your life.”

“It’s okay.” Tears stung Harlequin’s eyes. “I forgive you.”

Harbinger screwed his eyes shut and his canines flashed in his dark muzzle. “It wasn’t just you. I’ve taken hundreds of lives.”

Harlequin shook the snow from her paw and turned so she was facing him. She opened her mouth to speak, but he went on.

“I’ve been living up to my name, bringing disasters. I’ve caused landslides, fires, poisoned rivers… many have died because of me.”

“Then stop.”

The absol met Harlequin’s gaze, a look of bewilderment on his face.

“You don’t need to do this, Harbie,” she said. “Absol don’t bring disasters. I know that. You need to show the rest of the world that. Be a harbinger of good things, like I told you.”

Harbinger said nothing. He gazed off into space, plunging them into silence. The image of a frightened absol filled Harlequin’s mind, desperately fleeing through the Border Woods. Harlequin had grown curious and intersected him. Just like her, he’d wanted to escape. But she’d made him wait.

She’d just needed more time.

From deep in the bush, Flutterwick mumbled in his sleep. Harbinger jerked his head towards it, as did Harlequin. But no further sound came.

“So you’ve finally left the Shadow Lands?” Harbinger asked, fixing his red eyes on her.

“Yes.” She looked back up at him, meeting his gaze. “I’m never going back.”

“How can I be sure you mean that?”

“Because I’ve seen things from the other side of the table,” she said. “I’ve seen how the Outcasts struggle. I’ve seen how this world can be. But everything is a mess, and it’s all because of him.”

Harbinger grunted. “How this world can be?”

Harlequin jolted, suddenly aware of the weight around her neck. She removed the mega stone and mumbled around it. “Here.” She tossed it towards Harbinger and it landed in the snow at his feet. “It’s yours.”

“You had this?” Harbinger picked it up by its thong with one paw.

“Yes. I found it in the den where I hid you.” Harlequin shuffled a paw. “I kept it. I hope you don’t mind.”

Harbinger lifted it around his neck and the pendant rested against his thick fur. “Thank you for looking after it. I thought I’d lost it forever.”

“I found out what it is, as well. It’s a mega stone.”

Harbinger raised his head with surprise. “Who told you that?”

“A pokemon called Xerneas,” Harlequin explained. “He rules over the Fairy Garden.”

“Fairy Garden? That sounds like a tale told to hatchlings.” Harbinger nudged the mega stone with a paw. “From what I was told, another part is needed to activate this stone. But no one knows what it is. I always thought it was fantasy.”

“I’ve seen it in action, it’s real.”

Harbinger looked up at her again. He didn’t look like he believed her, yet wanted to hear more.

“I was told to return it to you,” Harlequin explained. “Xerneas said to send you to him and he can show you how to use it.”

“All right.” There was uncertainty in Harbinger’s voice. “And how exactly do I find this Fairy Garden?”

“I found it through the Endless Woods. Apparently pokemon can find it if they are seeking sanctuary.”

Harbinger’s eyes widened. “The Endless Woods? That’s where I lost your trail.”

“You were tracking me?” Harlequin gasped.

Harbinger grunted and glanced aside. “Well… I’d better not keep him waiting.” He looked back at her and bowed his head. “Thank you for taking good care of this for me. And for returning it.”

Harlequin’s throat thickened and she blinked back tears. “Go and find Xerneas.” She caught Harbinger’s eye and forced a smile. “And don’t cause anymore disasters.”

Harbinger’s face lit up briefly and he turned, bounding through the snow to rejoin his friends. The two pawniard gave one glance back at Harlequin before following after their friend.

Harlequin felt a weight lift from her shoulders and she gazed out at the snow-covered landscape. Now she’d finally returned the mega stone to Harbinger she couldn’t help feeling a little bit lost. Yet she also felt free. Free to help Mischief find a cure for pokerus. Where would that take them? They could travel all over Estellis before they found something.

Clods of snow rained down from the canopy on her left and she jerked her head towards it. A single loud caw broke the silence, followed by another. It wasn’t a roll-call. It was a message. One that was alien to her ears. A flutter of feathers reverberated in the air as one of the murkrow landed lightly on a bush. He spoke again, but not in murkrow code. Harlequin strained her ears but she couldn’t hear what was being said. Whatever it was, it could speak danger for her and her friends. They were still looking for Mischief, after all. She rose to her feet and padded into the shadows, sticking close to the bracken as she tried to get in earshot.

A sneasel sat in the snow beside a weavile. The latter had been sleeping and blinked groggily at the murkrow. Harlequin’s heart leapt at the thought she and her friends had been sleeping so close to the assassins.

“-what I heard, anyway,” said the murkrow.

“Lord Hydreigon sentenced him to death?” the sneasel gasped. He looked around at his partner. “So he’s gone?”

“Yup. Lord Hydreigon gave him what for,” said the murkrow. “Yurlik finished him off. Watched him drown.”

“Wow! Although to be honest, we should’ve saw it comin’,” said the sneasel.

“Yeah. He weren’t exactly one of us,” said the weavile.

“You’re tellin’ me,” said the murkrow. “Yurlik told us to spread the message to you all. You can cut off the chase and return to the Shadow Lands for your next orders.”

The small black bird took off back into the trees and cawed. Another echoed further out over the canopy. Harlequin’s pulse quickened. She was frozen to the spot, dread flooding her veins.

“Guess we should head back then, huh?” The weavile pushed himself to his feet and beat snow off his fur. “If Enigma’s dead then I guess there’s no reward for us, huh?”

Enigma? Dead?

Harlequin’s ears drooped. She limped from the bush, her head swirling. Her mouth gaped with wordless screams as she staggered back towards her friends. She couldn’t believe it. No, she refused to believe it. Enigma couldn’t be gone. Her chest felt hollow, as though someone had reached through her ribs and torn out her heart. She sank to the snow and rolled her head back, letting out a mournful, agonised wail.


Tears gushed from her eyes as she choked out a loud sob.

Claws flashed in the moonlight and Harlequin turned around to face the two assassins sweeping at her amid a cloud of black wings.

“Leave me alone!”

A flash of pink and purple light shot from her mouth, blowing the assassins tail over ears across the snow. The weavile stood and shook his ears, then cast a glance at his prone companion and the two murkrow lying beside him. The weavile looked back up at Harlequin, then over her shoulder. With a yelp he turned and ran.

Harlequin barely saw Harbinger leap over her. He took off after the weavile with his two pawniard twins. She sank into the snow, her tears mixing with the ice crusting her paws. Mischief and Flutterwick appeared at either side of her, the mothim shaking her with his tiny claws. The both of them were saying something, but she didn’t hear it. She stared out at the bleak snow through blurry eyes, loud sobs wracking her exhausted body.

Gone… he was gone…
Path of Revenge Part 1


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile

Path of Revenge

Part 1​

Flutterwick returned from the the river, clutching a large leaf in his paws. Water sloshed over the side of it as his body shook from the chill. By the time he’d set it down before Harlequin there was very little water left in it, but she didn’t say anything. She gratefully lapped it up, keeping one eye on the mothim. He gazed back out at the river and began to beat his wings in a bid to warm himself up, but it only stirred the snow, wafting it into the air around his friends.

Everyone had been very silent since Harlequin had relayed her news. Harbinger and the pawniard had returned with blood flecking their hides. None of them had said what they’d done to the weavile, but it was pretty clear to Harlequin.

The absol sat several feet away grooming his fur. Scratch and Claw curled up together beside him, their metallic bodies reflecting the early morning sun. Mischief kept his distance, but he’d received a look off Harbinger that confirmed to Harlequin what he’d told her was true. It was clear Mischief didn’t trust the absol, but he kept it to himself.

Harlequin wiped a paw across her face. Her cheeks were crusted with dried tears and her eyes stung. She dragged herself to her feet and plodded to the river, wading into its cold embrace. She sucked in a sharp breath as the icy current bit through her fur. It was bracing, dragging her out of her thoughts and back to reality.

Enigma was gone.

She choked back a sob, not wanting to succumb to tears again. She could feel the watchful stares of her companions. Someone rose to their feet; Harbinger, she guessed. Harlequin plunged her face into the water then dragged it out again with a gasp, shaking water from her fur. She quickly abandoned the river and shook out her pelt, sending a cold shower over the frozen ground.

‘Thanks for sharing, Harle!’

The voice had been in her head, but she froze anyway.

Everything was so quiet.

She looked up at the canopy and a lump welled in her throat. Part of her expected to find Enigma there, lounging on a branch. The empty bough only filled her with a burning anger, and not for the first time. It warred with the grief in her chest, forcing the threat of tears yet again. She steadied herself with a long, shuddering breath and returned to her friends. No one said a word. Someone would have to break the silence sooner or later. It was agonising.

Harlequin picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She didn’t need to check the contents.

“I’m going to the Shadow Lands.” Her words sounded like thunder, jolting her companions to attention.

Harbinger stiffened, his fur bristling along his spine. “Why?”

Harlequin looked up at him, her expression stoic. “Why? To kill Hydreigon, that’s why!”

Her friends were silent, but their faces spoke clear words. Each one of them looked aghast. Flutterwick looked petrified.

“Are you crazy?” Harbinger spat. “That’s suicide!”

“Maybe it is.” Harlequin turned fully to face him. “But someone needs to do it, before anyone else loses their lives!”

“Pokemon have been dying in this war for years, Harlequin!”

“Yes, and it needs to stop!”

Harbinger narrowed his eyes. “It took Enigma losing his life to make you realise that?”

Harlequin’s jaw went slack. She snapped it shut again as tears forced their way from her eyes. Harbinger glanced away from her and muttered an apology.

“I realised it a long time ago,” said Harlequin dully. “I’ve just acted too late.”

“You can’t go on your own.” Mischief’s voice took her by surprise.

The whimsicott sat with his back to a tree, juggling a snowball between his paws. He wasn’t looking at her. “We should go back to Cleo and ask her for help. Ask the Guild. You can’t do it yourself.”

“You really think the Outcasts are gonna care about Enigma?” Harlequin growled.

“You don’t need to mention him.”

Harlequin let out a silent laugh and rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think if the Outcasts felt they could do anything they would have done it by now?”

Mischief stared at her for a long, silent moment. “I don’t know. I don’t remember much before meeting Cleo.”

Guilt bit at Harlequin and she shook her head, glancing away. “Well this is something I need to do myself.”

“A revenge path?” Harbinger spat. “That’s insane. You’ll only end up getting yourself killed!”

Harlequin rounded on him. “At least I’ll have died trying!”

The twins had woken up and stared at her from their make-shift nest. Harbinger’s ruby eyes narrowed as he sought for a counter-argument.

Harlequin’s shoulders slumped as she sighed. “It’s the least I can do. I have… a lot to make up for.”

“So you’re gonna throw your life away?” Harbinger’s voice softened. “Harlequin, you’re one small zorua declaring war on Hydreigon’s massive army-”

“It’s smaller than you think.”

“It’s still an army. You’re one. One pokemon can’t make a difference.” Harbinger lowered his head to catch her gaze. “So I’m going with you.”

Harlequin gasped and jerked her head up. “What?”

Harbinger met her gaze. “It’s the least I can do after all I’ve done to you.”

“But Harbie, you can’t!” Harlequin’s voice cracked and fresh tears pricked her eyes. She placed one paw forwards towards him and quickly retracted it. “You need to go to the Fairy Garden!” She nodded at his mega stone. “Xerneas told me to send you to him!”

Harbinger snorted and flashed a canine. “I’m not about to let you walk to your death!”

“I’ll go with him.” Mischief stood, dusting snow off his fur.

Harbinger looked from the whimsicott to Harlequin. His fur levelled out along his spine and he grunted. “Then that makes three of us.”

“Five.” Scratch and Claw stood beside Harbinger. The absol nodded at them.

Harlequin looked at each of them in turn then shook her head sharply. She spun to face Mischief. “I thought you didn’t want to fight.”

“I don’t.” He joined her side but his expression was cold. “But if I’m going to fight anyone, it should be Hydreigon.”

Harlequin stared past him at Flutterwick. The mothim trembled at the base of a tree, his orange eyes impossibly wide. Harlequin looked back at Harbinger and her ears drooped.

“Someone needs to take Flutterwick to the Fairy Garden,” she said. “He can’t possibly go by himself. It’s freezing!”

Harbinger stared pointedly at the mothim. The pawniard twitched at his side. Scratch, or Claw - Harlequin could never remember - looked up at the absol, oozing confidence.

“I’ll take-”

“No.” Flutterwick cut him off.

All eyes went to the mothim. He rubbed his paws together, flinching under the combined power of their gaze.

“I-I’ll go too,” he said. “I c-can fight the Darkness.”

Harlequin’s heart swelled. She shook her head slowly. “No. I said we’d find you a home.”

“Home can wait.” Flutterwick twitched and glanced away from her. “I kn-know what it’s like to lose someone close. I couldn’t help the combee. I just… hid.” He screwed his eyes shut, trembling. “I hid! But this time, I… I won’t hide. I’ll fight with you!”

Harlequin’s throat tightened and she blinked back tears. “Flutterwick…”

“So what’s your plan?” Harbinger asked.

Harlequin turned back to him and sat down heavily. Her shoulders slumped. “I… don’t have one.”

Harbinger huffed a laugh. “You always did strike me as impulsive.”

Harlequin flicked her tongue over her teeth, her eyes growing misty. “We head to the Border Woods,” she said quietly, “and look for a way into the Shadow Lands from there.”

“The Border Woods is packed with murkrow and outlaws,” Harbinger reminded her. “We won’t exactly get through unseen.”

“I’ll take on the form of a weavile,” she said. “I’ll act like I’m taking you all there for questioning. They’re already looking for Mischief.” She glanced at the whimsicott. “He can aide our disguise.”

“And you really think they’ll let you bring me into the Shadow Lands?” Harbinger scoffed. “My kind were driven out of there once. Hydreigon won’t look kindly on you bringing me into his domain.”

“I’ll say you have information on the Outcasts,” she said. “That you’ve been following Cleo and the others and know where they’re hiding.”

A smirk tugged at Harbinger’s muzzle. “Sly. I like it. Now… how long can you hold your illusion?”

“As long as I can focus,” said Harlequin. “I’ve had a lot of practice. I’ll use it before we enter the Border Woods. We just need to get there without drawing attention to ourselves.”

Anxiety flooded through Harlequin’s chest. She glanced over at her friends, a party of six. It would have worked a lot better with smaller numbers. She couldn’t help but fear something was going to go terribly wrong. She tried to shake it off, forcing herself to look confident to mask it.

“Let’s go.” She rose to her feet and cast Harbinger a sideways glance. “Before I change my mind about you joining me.”


The journey to the Shadow Lands was long. They remained by the river, hugging the shadows. The wild rapids raced past them, tracing a downhill path through the mountains and carrying Harlequin’s confidence with them. As each day passed by, she began to question herself. Several times her paws faltered, drawing the concerned gazes of her friends. But she masked it with a rest, sharing her thin rations before seeking out a den for the night.

The snow kept most of Hydreigon’s armies at bay. The cold season had always been a lull in the ongoing war as very few pokemon could brave it for long. It also made things very silent. The snow absorbed sound, muffling their paw steps and making their voices sound close. They ducked in and out of it, returning to the shelter of the trees whenever Mischief showed visible signs of discomfort. He’d protest, eager not to slow them down, but it never lasted long. Flutterwick barely uttered a word of complaint, huddled against Harbinger’s thick white coat.

The forest was dark, blocking out most of the weak daylight. Above the canopy the sky was grey, threatening to release another blanket of snow. Harlequin lead them away from the river for shelter should the clouds break. She picked out a path that had once been well-trodden but had been left to the mercy of the forest. Nettles grew in thick patches and pine needles lay wherever there was space, creating a soft blanket. The trees hugged close together, blocking out the biting wind.

Flutterwick relaxed as the trembles left his body, but his wide orange eyes remained ever alert, his antennae twitching at the slightest sound. None of them said a word. All ears were pricked. Every slight movement drew scrutiny from the wary travellers.

Harlequin lost track of time as they pressed on through the dark forest. She was about to suggest rest when voices reached her ears, bringing all of them to a sudden stop. They froze, ears trained on the trees to their left.

“-can’t believe he’s actually found the thing.”

“I know. And it’s just… living in the Shadow Lands. Did you see what mess it made?”

“I know. Lord Hydreigon’s forces are already small. What’s he thinkin’, letting that monster eat us all?”

Harlequin’s blood turned cold, forcing her fur to stand on end. Monster? What monster? She inched closer to the trees, catching a questioning glance off Harbinger. She lowered her head, mouthing him to stay put, and crept towards the edge of the path.

“He won’t. I hope.” The speaker was a weavile, talking to another identical to him. His twin was picking his teeth with a small bone.

A scrafty sat among them in the small clearing, wiping his paws on his saggy skin. Several holes were punctured into his mohawk which whistled as the wind whipped through the clearing. He hugged himself, casting a glance at the trees. The assassins were gathered around a small pile of berries and dried meat, with a few water skins dribbling their contents on the floor.

“What did he say it were called?” the scrafty rubbed his chilled arms. “Yveltal or somethin’?”

Harlequin’s heart flipped and she stifled a gasp. She couldn’t have heard that right.

“Aye, that’s what he said.” The weavile flicked the bone into the trees and settled back against a stump. “It might not be long before we’re fed to that bird, either. Don’t wanna go back, I’ll be honest.”

“Neither do I,” said the other weavile. “Let’s just focus on findin’ Harlequin, eh? Perhaps then he’ll spare us and we won’t be turned to stone.”

Harlequin shuffled backwards onto the path. The looks on her friends’ faces told her they’d heard every word. Harbinger looked confused, while Mischief oozed anger. His paws twitched at his sides and he looked from Harlequin to the clearing.

Harlequin herded them to the other side of the path, pushing through the trees towards the riverbank. The gurgle of water cut through the silence, drowning out the voices of the assassins.

“Did he say that?” Mischief asked quietly. “Hydreigon’s woken Yveltal?”

Harlequin nodded and sat down heavily. “We’re too late.”

“What on earth is Yveltal?” Harbinger scoffed.

“Death.” Harlequin met his wide, ruby eyes. “He was banished from the Fairy Garden for bringing death into the world.”

The absol dug his claws into the soft earth and glanced at the floor. “This is all… very confusing.”

Flutterwick gulped and wound his paws into Harbinger’s scruff. “Does that mean… we’re all gonna… gonna die?”

“No,” said Harlequin. “Xerneas has defeated Yveltal once before. He’ll do it again.”

“Then why doesn’t he act now?” Harbinger spat. He waved a paw towards the Shadow Lands, almost sending Flutterwick to the floor. “That thing is in there, just waiting to wipe us all out?”

“It’s not as easy as that,” said Harlequin.

“Then what’s the problem? If he’s done it once before?”

Harlequin’s ears drooped. “To be honest, I don’t know the answer.”

Harbinger fell silent, his ruff bristling. He looked away from Harlequin, muttering under his breath.

“Yveltal has awoken…” Mischief swallowed and balled his paws into fists. “We’re not meant to be afraid.”

“Well I’m terrified,” said Harlequin. “This changes things.”

“Changes them how?” Harbinger asked.

“If Yveltal is in the Shadow Lands, then if we go in we won’t make it back out.” She looked up at him. “I’ll be going in alone.”

Harbinger recoiled, raising a paw. “You’re not serious?”

“I’m deathly serious. We have less a chance of success if we all go in. And if I’m acting as an assassin who’s captured you, then you’ll be taken off me and thrown to Yveltal! I’m not going to risk that!”

Harbinger huffed through his nose but didn’t say anything else.

Harlequin glanced at each of her friends and sighed. “We should keep going. We need to get away from those assassins.”

She stood and walked on, but Harbinger remained where he was. When she realised, she looked back at the absol. He was sitting among a tangle of roots, staring back at the cluster of trees that hid the assassins.


He twitched at her voice and motioned for her to come back. Once she’d joined his side, he spoke in a low voice.

“We need to do something about those assassins.”

“We need to leave them,” she protested.

“They’re looking for you,” he said. “Once they have your trail you won’t see or hear them coming. We need to act now.”

Harlequin shook her head. “If we do that, then they’ll be denied the chance to change. I was offered that chance. They should be too.” When Harbinger didn’t look convinced, she added, “They already fear Yveltal.”

“They want to capture you to appease it,” he said.

Doubt clouded Harlequin’s mind. She looked back at the trees and sighed.

“If you want your plan to succeed,” Harbinger explained, “you need to remove the obstacles.”

“I don’t know-”

“I’ll do it,” said Harbinger. “I can knock down a few branches and crush them.”

“That sounds too messy.” Harlequin didn’t meet his eye. Guilt gnawed at her chest as the words tumbled from her mouth. “I’ll do it. You create a distraction, lure them from the clearing.”

“What do you plan to do?” Harbinger’s question was answered as Harlequin rummaged through her bag. “Oh. I see.” He turned to the pawniard and carefully removed Flutterwick from his back. “You two are with me.”

The twins nodded and followed Harbinger into the trees.

Flutterwick and Mischief stood beside Harlequin like chalk and cheese. Flutterwick flinched at every sound, while Mischief glared down the path Harbinger had taken.

“You look after Flutterwick,” Harlequin told the whimsicott. Her voice was muffled around the vial clutched carefully in her teeth.

Mischief nodded once, not taking his eyes off the trees. He barely noticed the mothim move closer to him, drawing confidence from the whimsicott.

Harlequin crept back towards the clearing. The three assassins were still talking, although the conversation had changed to gossip. She only caught a snatch of it when a loud snap came from the opposite side of the clearing.

The weavile closest to it stiffened and all three turned their heads towards it.

“What was that?” the scrafty asked.

Before the other two could offer an answer, the bracken swayed dramatically. Small footsteps crunched over dry pine needles. Claws scraped against bark. A flash of steel caught the weak light.

The scrafty leapt to his feet. “Someone’s there!”

The two weavile flexed their claws.

One of them said, “I’ll go see who it is.”

“We’ll all go.” The scrafty brushed back his head fin and turned with a flourish. “No sense in one of us walking to our death, huh?”

“I can take whoever that is,” said the second weavile. “Probably some mangy outlaw lookin’ for a place to hide.”

The three assassins left the clearing, their voices fading into the forest.

Harlequin took a deep breath and crept into the clearing. Their rations lay in a bundle on a piece of cloth. She popped the cork out of the small vial and edged closer to the rations. She faltered as footsteps raced through the trees just outside the clearing. She heard the weavile shouting to each other, and hoped deeply they didn’t spot Enigma.


Harlequin clenched her jaw around the vial and took a careful breath. She was already making mistakes. She silently berated herself and emptied the venipede poison onto the assassins’ food. It was odourless, and mingled with the juices of the berries. Her heart ached. But Harbinger’s reasoning made sense. If the assassins found their trail they’d track them, and they’d be forced to fight. Either way, there’d be a losing side, and she couldn’t afford to be on that side.

She quickly backtracked and replaced the vial in her bag, setting it in a small pocket. She exchanged it for a bite of pecha, just as a precaution. Mischief and Flutterwick had taken to the shadows of a bramble. She picked up their scent and she joined them. The mothim huddled beside Mischief, his antennae twitching at the faint sound of footsteps. A loud crash shook the forest and the branches swayed dramatically above them, raining down snow and pine needles. Not long after, Harbinger returned with the twins. He motioned for them to follow him. They walked briskly through the forest, away from the clearing. There was no sign of the assassins.

After a long while, Harlequin ventured to ask, “How did you distract them?”

“I felled a tree,” he answered between breaths. “It crashed down well away from us. They won’t find anyone there and by then we’ll be long gone.” He cast her a sideways glance. “Did you poison their food?”

Harlequin nodded. She tried to ignore the gnawing guilt in her stomach, instead focusing on her plan. To avenge Enigma and be rid of Hydreigon. After that, no one else need die.


Harlequin dashed through the dark forest, her paws kicking up dried leaves. He was just ahead of her. Moonlight reflected off his smoky grey fur just before he vanished into the shadows. The faint tinkle of a bell encouraged her on, always just out of reach.


Crimson eyes glanced back at her and she heard a chuckle. “Come on, Harle. Keep up!”

Her muscles pumped until her legs ached, but he always remained several steps ahead of her, moving in and out of the shadows. She kept her ears trained on his bell, desperate not to lose him in that dark forest. The shadows were growing, and the sky was turning a deep red, black clouds streaking across it to block out the weak moonlight.

Harlequin’s heart flipped. No, not now. She silently urged her feet to move faster, her sapphire eyes focused on the banette. Behind her, a branch snapped.


She didn’t want to look back, but her head turned anyway. Blue eyes rose from the shadows, surrounded by a shaggy mane. Canines glinted in the starlight and wicked claws flexed, itching to rake through her fur.

A scream left her throat and she bolted, streaking after Enigma. The soft tinkling of his bell faded as he moved swiftly away, his encouraging voice dying with it. Heavy paws crunched over the dry leaves, as threatening as the heavy panting from the zoroark. His shadow fell over her and long, red claws swiped down at her scruff.


She twisted, snapping her jaws, falling short. She was lifted into the air and tossed through the trees. A scream left her throat and the dark forest faded into a shroud of leaves.


She jerked her head up with a gasp. Her nose bumped against warm fur and she yanked her head back, meeting a pair of confused orange eyes. Mischief brushed his snout with a paw, blinking at her. Harlequin stuttered, looking for words. Failing that, she shuffled her paws in her nest and glanced away, her gaze wandering over the thick wall of broad leaves that surrounded them.

“Are you all right?” Mischief ventured, keeping his voice quiet.

Her paws were slick with sweat, with bits of rotten debris clinging to her pads. The nest she’d made was scattered around her and clung to her shaggy fur. Her heart was still racing and her head swirled with the aftermath of her nightmare. She shook it sharply, avoiding Mischief’s probing gaze.

“I’m fine.” Harlequin pushed herself to her feet. “Is it my watch?”

“No, I’ve not been awake long,” said the whimsicott. “I heard you moving and wanted to check you were okay.”

Harlequin huffed, taking in the rest of their makeshift den. Weak moonlight trickled through the gaps in the leaves, illuminating Harbinger’s white fur. His flanks rose and fell steadily to the rhythm of sleep. Flutterwick curled up beside him, his soft snores creating an odd sense of peace. There was no sign of the twins, and it took her a moment to remember they’d opted to sleep in the bracken to avoid hurting her or her friends on their sharp blades. So she’d not woken anyone. She let out a small sigh of relief.

She turned back to Mischief. “I can take over.”

“It’s fine, really. Get some sleep.”

“No, I won’t get back to sleep after that nightmare.” She met Mischief’s eyes briefly and moved past him. “I’ll take a double shift. It might clear my head.”

“Nightmare? Is that the horrible things you see when you sleep?”

Harlequin faltered by the small opening with one paw raised. She glanced back at the whimsicott, now sat against the bush’s spindly trunk. “You have nightmares?”

Mischief raised his paws in a weak shrug. “Horrible ones. Often about murkrow, or that I can’t find Cleo.” His eyes wandered to the wall of leaves.

Harlequin grunted. She’d been hoping his nightmares might have been more illuminating to his life before pokerus. She pushed her way through the leaves and sat down on the bare ground. The trees grew close together in this part of the woods, preventing the snow from covering the fragile undergrowth. The cold night air caused dew to form around her blue paws and she raised one to lick it away.

Rustling came from the bush and she looked up as Mischief sat down beside her. Harlequin bit back a sigh, instead licking her paw dry.

“I don’t like nightmares either,” Mischief said softly. When Harlequin didn’t respond, he added, “I was having one before Harbinger woke me.”

“Get used to it,” said Harlequin. “I can’t recall a night I’ve not had one.”

“So they’re normal?” Mischief dragged up a small plant and scraped soil off the roots. “I don’t remember having any at all before I met Cleo.”

“Some pokemon have them more often than others,” Harlequin explained.

“Sometimes… I see myself hurting her.” His voice choked.

Harlequin glanced at him, but he was fixated on replanting the sapling he’d dug up. “I know you won’t hurt her. And so does Cleo.”

“Neither of you know that,” he mumbled, then gave her a quick glance. “She’s okay, isn’t she?”

Harlequin was silent for a moment, watching the whimsicott scoop loose soil around the little plant. “Cleo’s strong, Mischief. She’ll be fine.”

“I hope so.” Mischief took a trembling breath. “What are your nightmares about?”

Anger bubbled inside Harlequin’s chest but it was quelled as she met the whimsicott’s innocent gaze. Moonlight glinted off his watery eyes and he wiped a paw across his tear-streaked face.

“Someone from my past.” Harlequin shook her head sharply and stared off into the shadows. “I don’t like talking about it.”

“It might help.”

Harlequin clenched her jaw and hissed through her teeth. “Drop it.”

Mischief closed his mouth and looked away from her. A tear dropped from his face to land beside the lop-sided sapling. Harlequin swallowed back bile. The nightmarish zoroark flashed through her mind, wearing a grin of sharp, wicked teeth. She sighed, closing her eyes in a bid to block it out.

“Why do you want to know?” she asked.

“Because… I want to believe I’m normal…”

“Nightmares are normal, Mischief.”

The whimsicott’s breath trembled again, and he dug his claws into the earth. “Is it normal… to dream you’ve killed your friends?”

Harlequin had no answer for that. She gazed off into the trees, her heart aching.

“I want to be normal,” said Mischief. “I want… to find a cure for this pokerus.”

“So do I.”

She felt the whimsicott’s eyes on her.

“Well… I did.” Harlequin took in a breath. “Enigma… he had it too.”

Mischief’s orange gaze widened. “He did?”

Harlequin nodded once. “I told Cleo there might be a way to be rid of pokerus. There’s no known cure, but we might be able to poison the parasite.”

Mischief almost leapt to his feet. Harlequin hissed at him to be quiet and he sat back down lightly.

“You have poisons,” he said quickly. “Will… will one of them work?”

Harlequin’s heart hammered in her chest and she glanced from her bag to Mischief. “I don’t know.”

“But you said-”

“I said it might be possible,” Harlequin spoke through her teeth. “While it might kill the parasite, it could kill the host too. It’s too risky to just test it without any evidence first.”

Mischief slumped, his smile melting into a frown. He tugged up another plant, his eyes turning distant. “So… now Enigma’s gone, you don’t want to help anymore. Is that it?”

Harlequin’s hackles rose and she swung her head around to face him as her lips pulled back from her canines. “What?!” she hissed.

Mischief didn’t flinch. He stared back at her, unwavering.

“How could you say that?” she whispered through her teeth.

Mischief shrugged. “It just seems that way to me. You say there might be an answer, then refuse to try it.”

Those words stabbed through Harlequin like a hot blade. She shook her head and looked away from him.

“You’re a grass-type,” she told him, exasperated. “Poison is your weakness. It could kill you!”

Mischief closed his eyes and his shoulders sank in a sigh.

Harlequin blinked back tears. If she hadn’t known any better, she’d had thought the naive whimsicott had been stabbing at her out of anger.

“Does it matter?” he asked. “I mean, either way, my friends would be safe, right?”

Harlequin watched him for a moment, stuttering over her words. Was he being serious? He didn’t look up from the stem he wound idly around his paw. She thought of Cleo miles away, worrying about his safety. It was an awful feeling. Countless times Harlequin had scolded Enigma for fighting as if he didn’t care about his life. And now…

A hollow void opened up in Harlequin’s stomach and she began to feel sick.

“Do you think that would make Cleo happy?” Her voice wavered and she cleared her throat. “Because I can tell you for certainty, Mischief. It wouldn’t.”

Mischief swiped a paw across his eyes. He didn’t make any noise, but Harlequin saw his shoulders tremble.

She flicked her tongue over her nose, removing a salty tear. It took a lot of effort to keep her voice steady. “Let me think about it more. There might be something.”

Her words didn’t placate Mischief much, but he nodded anyway. He rose to his feet, dusting soil off his fur. “I’m sorry, Harlequin.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“I just… I want to get better.” He took in a long breath. “At least I might be able to sleep better now.”

“That makes one of us.” Harlequin looked away, keeping her ears trained on her surroundings. Shadows loomed ahead of her, screaming threat. It looked oddly like the forest from her nightmares. Dark, desolate, unwelcoming. It made her feel very small and alone. Part of her wanted to ask Mischief to stay. She closed her eyes and let out a small sigh. “Good night, Mischief.”
Path of Revenge Part 2


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Path of Revenge

Part 2​

Soon the mountain forests gave way to flatlands with very little shelter. Harlequin stood on a rocky outcrop, gazing out over it. In the distance stood the Border Woods, a dark smudge stretching along the horizon. The sky above it was an inky blue as the sun rose behind them. Harbinger joined her side with Flutterwick riding on his back. The mothim trembled slightly as the cold breeze ruffled his wings and stirred Harbinger’s long coat.

“Once, this meadow was filled with stantler and sawsbuck,” the absol said. “I never saw it, but it pains me to see it this empty.”

Memories of the little village by the lake filled Harlequin’s mind. Once bustling, the bodies of its inhabitants strewn around it.

Harlequin took in a long breath. “Hydriegon has a lot to answer for.”

Mischief shuffled beside her. The pawniard were almost silent as they emerged from the trees behind them.

“There are no villages over here, are there?” Mischief asked.

Harlequin shook her head. “Pokemon have fled south. There are no settlements in the north except outlaw camps.”

“As far as I know, there are few of them now too,” said Harbinger. “Hydriegon has been ruthless in trying to wipe them out.”

“Why don’t they join the Outcasts?” Mischief asked.

The innocence in his voice rubbed Harlequin the wrong way. She flashed her canines in a brief snarl. “Because the Outcasts don’t want them. They’re dark- and dragon-types.”

Mischief flinched and gave a small nod. He didn’t say anything else, falling into step as Harlequin lead them onto the vast white flatlands.

The snow was deep and untrodden. Harlequin bounded through it, her stomach sinking into the icy embrace. Harbinger strolled beside her with ease, his large feet keeping him above the surface. The pawniard cut trenches through the snow, not even flinching at its cold. Mischief followed behind one of them, almost hidden on either side by huge walls of snow. The white fluffy fur that covered his back and head masked him from prying eyes above. Harlequin was aware she didn’t enjoy such luxury. Her black and blue fur would be spotted in an instant. Then there was the trail they were leaving.

Harlequin glanced up at the grey sky. Another threat of snow loomed over them, barring any threat from the murkrow flock. Harlequin clenched her jaw. Part of her wanted to see them, to face them in battle. She knew there was no chance Yurlik would be among them, but she began to long for it. Images flashed through her mind of the honchkrow finishing off a battle-tired Enigma, and rage burned hot in her chest.

‘Let him come!’ her voice hissed in her mind, relishing the thought of ramming her nidoking through the honchkrow’s chest. ‘I’ll kill him myself!’

After what felt like an eternity, they reached a fallen tree. It lay against a large mound, its branches trailing down into the snow like claws. Harlequin leapt onto it, clambering up to its peak and peered out at the buried meadow. Wind whipped against her fur, now slick against her body with snow melt. She shook out her pelt, fluffing it up against the cold.

It had been hard to see where she was going, but the Border Woods was much closer. Soon, she’d be putting her plan into action. Her heart hammered at the thought. Was she ready?

Mischief stood amid the tree’s tangled roots, rubbing his paws briskly. Harlequin gave him a sympathetic nod and looked back at the woods.

“Once we reach them, we’ll be sheltered again,” she told him. “It’s always been colder in the north, but at one point the Border Woods was filled with grass-types.”

“And poison-types,” Harbinger reminded her.

Mischief’s spine stiffened and he looked up at Harlequin. “Do you think one of them might know how to help me?”

Harlequin shook her head sadly and leapt back down into the snow. She raised her head from it and spluttered, shaking her head to clear her ears.

“No,” she said. “The poison-types were wiped out back when I was a hatchling.”

“Why?” Mischief scoffed, following in her trail.

“Because Hydreigon was scared they’d retaliate and poison him.” She glanced back at him, a smirk playing at her lips. “Then he recruited me.”

Harbinger snorted mist. “You might as well be a poison-type as far as everyone else is concerned.”

Harlequin gave a dry laugh and shook her head.

They pressed on in silence, keeping their thoughts on the warmth of the woods ahead of them. The sky was turning darker, increasing its threat of snow. A few stray flakes drifted down as the sky struggled to drop its load on the weary travellers.

Flutterwick let out a small exclamation and leapt from Harbinger’s back into the air. He hovered above them, drawing the eyes of his friends. He soon dropped back onto the absol and pointed a claw towards the woods.

“I can see something,” he whispered.

Harlequin craned her neck over the snow to see what had caught the mothim’s eye.

Harbinger narrowed his eyes and grunted. “Someone’s moving towards us.”

Harlequin still couldn’t see anything. She rose onto her back legs until her head reached Harbinger’s shoulder. Mischief remained beside her, while the pawniard moved closer to Harbinger.

Snow rose up towards them as if someone was shoving it aside, carving a way through. It was impossible to see behind, but the way they were moving suggested it wasn’t a small pokemon. Every now and then, Harlequin thought she saw a flash of silver.

“Well it’s not weavile,” she said. “We should go around so we avoid running into them.”

“Could it be the Darkness?” Mischief asked.

Harlequin nodded, and Harbinger exchanged glances with her.

“I’ve no idea who,” she said. “Assassins are small. I’ve not met many of the soldiers, but most of them loathe the cold.”

“Like what?” Mischief hugged his arms around himself.

Harlequin bit back her frustration and cut through the snow at an angle to the oncoming patrol. “Shiftry, cacturne, tyranitar, krookodile… they’re all weak to the cold. As are most of the dragon-types.”

Harbinger fell in step beside her, pausing to look back at the rising snow. Scratch and Claw stood on his other side, straining to see over the piled-up snow. Flutterwick watched with widening eyes and nudged Harbinger to move faster. The absol nodded to Harlequin and dropped into the trench behind her.

“We need to remain hidden,” he said. “Keep down.”

Flutterwick pressed himself to Harbinger’s back and tucked in his wings, but his antennae twitched with agitation.

The twins took over, forcing their bodies through the snow, creating a path for their friends. Harlequin followed close behind them with Mischief sandwiched between her and Harbinger. Her ears were trained on the soldiers. She could hear them now, cleaving a path through the snow. Her heart pounded and her breath formed thick clouds of mist before her face, which rose into the air. She watched it fearfully and tried to calm her breathing, keeping her head low.

“They’ve moved!” Flutterwick squeaked.

Harlequin froze, her ears swivelling. He wasn’t wrong. The scraping sounds had grown louder and Harlequin could make out rhythmic grunts. She could hear faint voices behind it, not clear enough to work out what they were saying.

Scratch and Claw had frozen, glancing back at them for instruction. Harbinger nodded to their left and the twins swerved dramatically away from their path. Were they heading away from the Border Woods? Harlequin resisted the urge to raise her head. She just had to hope they were still on the right path.

“They’re coming this way.” Flutterwick spoke in a quiet whimper. “I think… I think they know we’re here.”

Harlequin swore under her breath. She looked back at her friends. “We might have to fight.”

Harbinger was silent, but the light of battle flared in his eyes. Flutterwick trembled on his head, rearing up to peer over the snow.

“Can you see them?” Harbinger asked the mothim.

Flutterwick flapped his wings, rising gently into the air. After a heartbeat he landed again and nodded.

“Grass-types,” he said. “They’re being lead by… by some… silver dragon.”

“Silver dragon?” Harlequin flicked her tongue over her lips as her mind wandered back to the Shadow Lands. Had she ever seen a silver dragon?

“I think it’s a dragon,” said Flutterwick. “I’ve never seen one. But it’s using fire to melt the snow, and shovelling it with… with its head.”

Mischief rubbed his arms and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I thought dragons were weak to the cold?”

“Not all of them,” said Harlequin. “It sounds like it might be a duraludon.”

“Is that bad?” Mischief asked.

Harlequin grunted and motioned for them to move on. “Let’s just hope they’re outlaws.”

As much as she hoped that was true, it felt very unlikely. Whoever it was knew they were there and were trying to cut them off. If they kept weaving, they might move past each other and the soldiers would lose their trail.

They continued in silence, keeping their ears pricked. The only sound came from the twins as they whisked their blades over the snow, shovelling it up on either side of the trench. The grunting from the oncoming soldiers grew louder. Harlequin braced herself. It seemed very likely they’d soon encounter them, that there was no escape.

She stopped, almost tripping Harbinger. The absol gave her an exasperated look and turned his head towards the rhythmic grunting.

“We don’t have a choice,” Harlequin told him quietly.

The snow parted just before her, cutting between her and the pawniard twins. A large silver head rose up, snow tumbling off the dragon’s shiny hide. Steam whistled from a large opening above its head as a pair of yellow eyes fixed on Harlequin. Orange patches of rust marred its joints. The plates that formed its armour creaked as they slid over each other with each small movement.

Four cacturne and a shiftry crowded behind it, straining to see what had brought their companion to a stop. Their eyes widened when they fell on Harlequin, then turned fearful as they met the ruby gaze of the absol towering over her.

“Well, well.” The duraludon’s voice echoed as if its body were hollow. “Your senses were right, Galtar. We aren’t alone on this plane.”

The shiftry grunted in reply. His leaves rustled as he became restless, his gaze not leaving that of Harbinger.

“I didn’t expect to find a renegade, though.” The duraludon chuckled, an odd creaking noise that set Harlequin’s fur on end. “Lord Hydreigon will be so happy to see you, little assassin.”

Harlequin bared her canines. A fleeting thought crossed her mind that letting this group take her to the Shadow Lands would be an easy way in. But what about her friends?

No. She wasn’t about to let that happen.

She opened her mouth and yelled. A feeble cry that served only to make the soldiers laugh. Her heart sank and her ears drooped as she stared into their amused faces.

The duraludon gave a creaking laugh. “What was that? Was that meant to frighten me?!”

Harlequin stepped back into Harbinger’s leg. So she’d still not mastered ‘disarming voice’? She shook off her embarrassment and drew her nidoking horn from her bag, just as the duraludon swung his head towards her. Another whistle forewarned an attack. She leapt between his feet, feeling searing heat as flames exploded out from the opening at the nape of his neck. Harlequin had her attention on the grass types. She swiped her nidoking horn across the legs of one of the cacturne, drawing a loud scream. He fell back, stumbling into one of his companions.

Harlequin ducked to avoid a prickly arm as it was swung her way. It was joined by the shiftry, keeping his distance. He brought his leaf fans together, sending a blade of air at her. It struck Harlequin in the side and she flew backwards, her mouth gaping open. Her nidoking horn landed beside her, point first in the snow. She braced herself for the cacturne to leap at her, but the two grass-types were caught in a flurry of green sparkling air. A dull drone joined it, beating against Harlequin’s eardrums. She clenched her teeth as she pushed herself to her feet.

Flutterwick drifted down in front of her, watching the dazed grass-types as they struggled to remain standing.

“Thanks,” Harlequin told the mothim.

Flutterwick nodded and, after reassuring himself that Harlequin was okay, took to the air again. Another bug buzz washed over the two grass-types, and they sank into the snow. Harlequin grabbed her weapon and ran to finish them off, then faltered, her paws skidding over the slick ground. No… if she did that, they’d be robbed of any chance at finding their way to the Fairy Garden.

“Get out of here if you aren’t going to fight!”

That was Harbinger’s voice. Harlequin ran over to where he was engaged with the duraludon. White fuzz surrounded his jaws like frothy spit. His fur stood on end making him look twice his size. His red glare was locked on the duraludon’s, a blatant challenge.

Before Harlequin could reach him, the massive dragon stumbled as the ground beneath him lurched. One of the pawniard exploded from beneath the dragon’s feet. As the duraludon stumbled backwards, the second pawniard swept his feet from beneath him. The first leapt at the dragon, ramming his head blade into his plated chest. Harlequin scrambled backwards then turned to bolt away from the massive pokemon as he crashed to the ground. Snow erupted around him, clouding the air and smattering the other pokemon. Harlequin skidded to a halt, turning back to assist her friends.

The duraludon lay in the snow, steam rising from his head. He rolled away from the twins and pushed himself clumsily back to his feet. The opening above his head whistled again and he swung his head in an arc, blasting a flamethrower over the gathered pokemon. Flutterwick arced into the air from where he’d been battling the cacturne, narrowly dodging the blazing flames. Shrieks came from the two remaining cacturne as they found themselves trapped in the blaze. Harlequin raced across the snow back towards Harbinger, followed by the duraludon’s flames. Heat seared her tail. She clenched her teeth against the pain and ducked into the snow, bracing herself against the intense heat. Once it had passed, she blinked her eyes open, checking for her friends. There was no sign of Mischief, or the twins.

Harlequin’s heart hammered and she exchanged glances with Harbinger. He didn’t look worried. His furious glare remained locked on the duraludon as the shiftry rushed up behind the massive dragon, raising his leafy fans to assist his sergent. Harbinger jerked his head forwards, sending a night slash at the dragon. The duraludon stumbled backwards as the snow beneath his feet exploded. One of the twins leapt from the snow once more, upending the dragon as Harbinger’s night slash struck it in the chest. Knocked off balance, it landed in the snow again with a mighty crash and a shrill scream split the air, cut short. A flash of black metal shot across its body. The other pawniard landed beside his brother, his blades glinting with blood.

Harlequin stood beside Harbinger, her eyes not leaving the duraludon. After a long moment, she let out a breath.

He was down.

She plodded quietly over to him and sniffed his body. Spiky leaves jutted out from beneath him. The shiftry hadn’t managed to get out of the way in time. The sharp tang of metal and blood made her nose crinkle. It pooled around the dragon, dying the snow pink and soaking the shiftry’s leaves. She couldn’t see where the twins had cut him. His armour plating was undisturbed. The two pawniard would have made deadly assassins had they been recruited to the wrong side of the war. That thought unsettled Harlequin more than she expected.

She glanced back at the grass-types. The cacturne that Flutterwick had taken out was still down. The other two cacturne lay in a crumpled heap, their green bodies seared black from their companion’s friendly fire.

Harbinger limped over to her, favouring his right fore paw. He spat fluffy seeds from his mouth. “Is everyone okay?”

Harlequin glanced over her friends. Flutterwick nodded, hugging his paws around his little body. The twins didn’t look even slightly scathed. Their quick movements had got them to safety before the flamethrower swept over them. There was still no sign of Mischief.

Harlequin raised her head. “Where’s Mischief?”

The snow at the side of the trench shifted and the whimsicott poked out his fluffy head. Harbinger grunted, his breath misting in the air. Mischief shook snow from his horns and clambered out, sucking in air at the stinging cold. Harlequin’s heart sank and she bit back a retort. The fur around his neck was mangled where he’d been picked up and tossed aside.

‘Get out of here if you aren’t going to fight!’

Harlequin said nothing. Hiding was the better option whether he was fighting or not. If he’d been caught in that flamethrower it might have been his last battle.

She turned her attention to Harbinger, sniffing at his left paw.

He jerked it back and tutted at her. “Worry about your own wounds.”

“My tail is fine,” she told him. “You need to put some sitrus on your pads. They’re blistered.”

“His flames skimmed me, that’s all.” Harbinger forced his paw into the snow and flinched. “The cold will help. Let’s get a move on before any more soldiers show up.”

Harlequin watched his tail as he limped after Scratch and Claw. Flutterwick returned to the absol’s back, glancing back at Harlequin. She shook her head and fell in step behind Harbinger, with Mischief following behind her.

“I was useless, wasn’t I?” Mischief asked.

Harlequin kept her answer to herself. Harbinger’s words had done enough damage. Perhaps it had been better for him to hide in that battle, but if he was going to help them defeat Hydreigon she hoped he’d put his strength to good use. If he could get past his fear of hurting his friends, with his powerful dazzling gleam he might turn the tide of battle in their favour.


The Border Woods enveloped them on either side. Snow sat in frozen mounds above the canopy, trickling down into sharp crystal points. The branches swayed in the breeze, rattling the icicles like a tinkling bell, yet the snow remained where it was. Harlequin’s ears twitched at each little chime, her gaze flying to the canopy. Yet she knew she wouldn’t find Enigma there. A gnawing feeling spread through her chest, and anger burned, pulsing through her veins like magma. She stifled a low growl and tried to tune her hearing away from the jingling icicles and onto any possible threat.

She knew murkrow would be roosting somewhere. There was often a flock of them congregating in the woods, watching out for any outlaws. Countless outlaws would be watching them, too. They’d survived for more than a decade in the Border Woods, hiding out of sight. Harlequin didn’t know how. When she was young, her family had lived in a burrow beneath a tree. They’d gone undetected for years. She found herself wondering if their bodies had ever been found.

She shook the thought away and raised her head towards the canopy. Harbinger stopped beside her, his ruby gaze laser focused on the trees ahead of them. She followed it and raised her tail for silence. It was a habit, yet Mischief and the others understood. Either that, or they had also spotted the small crow crouched in the branches of a larch. The murkrow turned its head away from them to preen its wing.

Harbinger motioned them to move off the path. They crept into the undergrowth silently, keeping their heads low. Harlequin moved on through the bracken with Mischief and Flutterwick at her side. After a couple of steps she realised Harbinger hadn’t followed.

The absol was creeping towards the larch, his belly almost brushing the ground. His calculating gaze was locked on the small murkrow, blazing with murder. Harlequin opened her mouth to speak, but her words died on her tongue as Harbinger jerked his horn towards the tree. A blade of air shot out, slicing through the murkrow’s branch. The bird dropped suddenly, its flailing wings clipped by the broken bough as it twisted under the murkrow’s weight. A strangled caw rose into the air, fading out into a gasp.

Harlequin raised her head to see above the bracken. Harbinger joined her side, still watching where the bird had fallen.

“That’s one less to worry about,” he whispered.

Harlequin moved past him, her heart hammering. What if its cry had alerted the others? She stopped with one paw raised and her sapphire eyes widened. The murkrow lay at an awkward angle amid the branches of a hawthorn. A long thorn poked from its chest, seeping blood over the leaves. Its eyes were wide, unseeing, yet it was still breathing. Blood bubbled around its beak.

She couldn’t leave it like that.

She took a step towards it, and teeth met in her scruff. Her heart shot into her throat and she turned sharply, raking her claws through snowy fur. Harbinger leapt back, the whites of his eyes showing. Bracken crunched under his paws. Harlequin’s heart was racing and it took her every effort to try and still her breath. Harbinger jerked his head to his shoulder where three scratches bled into his fur. He licked them gingerly as Harlequin moved past him, the murkrow forgotten.

“Sorry,” she muttered. “Just… don’t grab me like that.”

“Noted,” he scoffed. He gave one glance back at the murkrow and overtook her. “We need to move before his friends find him.”

Harlequin paused, warring with the urge to go back and give the bird a faster more merciful death. “Why did you do that?”

Harbinger motioned for her to keep up. “In case he spotted us and alerted the rest of his flock.”

“But he hadn’t-”

Harbinger leapt before her and blocked her path. He met her gaze with one that was both cold and unsettling. “Why do you care? They couldn’t care less what they do to you!” He paused and flashed a canine. “They didn’t care when they murdered Enigma!”

Fire blazed in Harlequin’s chest and she raised her head to meet his stare. A thousand words forced themselves forwards, but not one of them managed to work its way out.

“Do you want to kill Hydreigon or not?” he asked quietly. “Because once you’re past those walls, you’re gonna need to take a lot more soldiers down before you reach him. This is a war, Harlequin, so get past your guilt of ‘pointless deaths’!” He snorted. “It’s never stopped you before.”

Harlequin’s heart hit her stomach and her jaw went slack.

The absol turned, plodding through the woods on large, silent paws. The twins fell in step behind him, one casting a yellow gaze back at the zorua. Flutterwick began to follow him and hesitated, his paws twitching as he looked back at Harlequin.

Harlequin exchanged glances with Mischief, but his expression was unreadable. Out of all of them she’d expected him to have something to say, but he moved past her to join Flutterwick. The pair followed Harbinger, leaving Harlequin to plod miserably behind.

What had gotten into her? She relished the thought of hurting Yurlik and Hydreigon. They were the ones who’d murdered her closest friend. The murkrow weren’t responsible for Enigma. Were they?

She shook it off and caught up with her friends. Harbinger said nothing when she joined his side. He moved expertly through the undergrowth as if he knew the Border Woods like the back of his own paw. Harlequin found herself wondering how often he’d returned to the woods after his exile.

After a few moments, a sound reached her ears. She froze a heartbeat after Harbinger and the pair raised their heads towards the canopy. More murkrow stood scattered through the branches, their heads twitching as they scanned the trees and woodland floor. Harlequin ducked behind the ferns, her fur blending in with the dark undergrowth. Harbinger crouched and moved backwards until he was nestled under a tangle of brambles. Beside him, Scratch and Claw ducked behind a mound of rotting fallen leaves. Mischief and Flutterwick were already well camouflaged for the woods. They crouched beside Harlequin, keeping their watchful gaze on the canopy.

Harlequin braced herself for Harbinger to perform another murderous stunt, but the absol didn’t move. He stared out of the brambles with a mix of anger and frustration. There were just too many murkrow. Taking out one or two would alert the whole flock. They’d need to work their way around and hope they went unseen.

Harlequin glanced back at Harbinger and nodded at him to follow her. She lead them quietly through the ferns until they entered a patch of frost-scorched nettles and willow herb. The plants towered over her, swallowing her up in their stinging embrace. She narrowed her eyes and pushed her way through them, trying to disturb them as little as possible. She heard Harbinger slip in behind her, his large body shifting the nettles. Harlequin held her breath, straining her ears, but the murkrow didn’t rouse. In fact, they were oddly silent…


Harbinger cursed under his breath.

Harlequin froze, glancing back at the absol. He raised his paw, yanking a splinter from his pads with his teeth.

The canopy flew into chaos as wings beat the air like thunder. The murkrow flew at the nettles, their beaks wide with avian war cries. Harlequin threw herself to the left, dodging sharp beaks as they lunged into the undergrowth. She turned, raising her paws to beat at the backs of two that flew too low. She dropped her weight onto one of them, snapping his wings.

Flutterwick had taken to the air, his wings whipping up green sparkles. A dull drone drowned out the cawing as the birds were blown back with a bug buzz. They quickly reformed, turning their rage on the mothim.

Harbinger was buried under murkrow. Scratch and Claw fought beside him, dragging the birds off their friend with their sharp claws. The absol swung his head, slashing at the murkrow with his horn. He kicked out with his back legs, winding one unfortunate enough to be behind his tail.

Harlequin fought to reach her friends as she slashed out at another pair of murkrow. The flock wasn’t massive, but their numbers and speed were swiftly overwhelming them. She tried to reach for her nidoking horn, but a murkrow fastened its claws around her satchel’s strap and pulled, lifting the zorua into the air. She yelled, lashing out with her hind legs.

Mischief leapt from the nettles and looked up at her. Hesitation clouded his orange eyes and he raised his paws, his jaw set.

Another dull drone tore through the air, but it wasn’t Flutterwick. The murkrow let out a unified caw of surprise, their assault faltering. A heartbeat later, the drone was enough to cause Harlequin to flatten her ears.

A long, serpentine shape swerved through the branches, its dragonfly wings whipping up the air. It careened backwards, blasting the murkrow with a bug buzz of its own. The flock parted, but several murkrow fell to the ground, their wings fastened over their heads.

The flygon opened its mouth, spewing out purple flames at a pair of murkrow that had cornered Flutterwick. The mothim looked up with surprise and bolted blindly for the trees.

A small black shape shifted on the dragon’s shoulders, waving a shadowy limb. Its jewel-like eyes flashed in the dim light. “Get out of here!”

Harlequin stared up at the sableye, her mouth opening wordlessly.

Harbinger joined her side and nudged her. “Come on!”

“Go on, we’ve got this!” the sableye roared. “You don’t wanna get caught in this!”

The flygon said something in a vibrating voice that didn’t register in Harlequin’s head and rapidly beat its wings.

Harlequin turned and fled after Flutterwick, Harbinger hot on her heels. The very trees seemed to shake as the flygon whipped up a wicked attack. Harlequin’s paws skidded over the slick, rotting leaves. Once they were beyond the trees, the drone of the dragon’s wings drowned out all caws.

They didn’t hang around to find out what happened next.
Path of Revenge Part 3


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Path of Revenge

Part 3​

The raucous cries of murkrow sounded in the distance as Yurlik’s flock engaged the outlaws. Harlequin tried to tune them out, silently thanking the flygon and sableye for helping them. Part of her wished she’d stayed to help, ignoring his command for her to flee. Her paws ached from running, and Harbinger limped along ahead of her, his blistered paw leaving bloody smears on the soft woodland floor.

“We should stop.” Harlequin’s words came out as a gasp, drawing a concerned look from the absol.

“Do you need a rest?” he asked.

“I think we all need a rest.” Harlequin looked up at the surrounding trees. ‘But where?

The trees grew closer together at the heart of the woods, making it harder for low growing plants to survive. Only hardy ferns grew around the tangle of trees, refusing to be strangled out of existence. Their broad leaves provided good cover for walking, but they wouldn’t hide her and her friends for very long. They’d be spotted by aerial eyes in no time.

“Perhaps there’ll be an old burrow,” Harlequin suggested. “We’ll spread out and have a look. Meet back here in a few minutes.”

She didn’t wait for a reply. She left Harbinger and her friends and crept through the ferns. The musty smell of rotting debris filled her nose, spotted with murkrow droppings. Perhaps this location wasn’t the best? She crept over the leaves and lowered her head to the trees, searching for old burrows. Memories swirled in her mind, bringing with it the scents of warm earth and cured meats as her mother sat by the fire. Fear swelled in her chest and she raised her head, searching for a nearby bramble.

A trickle of snow cascaded from the branches above and Harlequin jerked her head towards them, dark energy swirling around her teeth. Flutterwick perched lightly on a branch, spreading his wings to steady himself as he peered inside an old pikipek nest. Deciding it was much too small, he leapt from the branch to a nearby tree. Harlequin took a breath to calm her racing heart and plodded on through the undergrowth.

After a few minutes she gave up, returning to the meeting spot. Harbinger was already there, sitting beside Mischief. The ferns across the path parted, letting Scratch and Claw trot silently through. The pawniard twins’ light movements always astounded Harlequin, given their dense metallic exoskeleton.

“Any joy?” Harlequin asked.

Flutterwick descended onto Harbinger’s back, his tiny body trembling from the cold. Harbinger glanced up at him then turned his gaze back onto Harlequin.

“No burrows,” he said. “But Mischief found a bramble thicket.”

“A thicket?” Harlequin gasped. “In this area?”

Mischief shrugged, and nodded behind him back where the twins had emerged. “It’s back that way, near a stream.”

Harlequin silently scolded herself. The stream. She should know the Border Woods better than that. Her anxiety was getting to her. She nodded to Mischief, letting him lead the way back to the stream. It was more than a few minutes’ travel, and she wondered how Mischief had managed to cover ground so quickly. He lead them off the beaten path past a fallen tree. It lay at an awkward angle, held up by the sturdy branches of an ancient oak. Harlequin heard the gurgling of water as the stream wound its way around scattered rocks. The bramble thicket lay in the shelter of a willow which dipped its long branches in the gentle water. Thin layers of ice clung to the banks, chipped away by the current.

Above them, the sky showed through the canopy. It had grown dark faster than Harlequin had expected. Stars scattered through the clear sky. The lack of clouds plunged the temperature to freezing. Harlequin inspected the thicket, nosing aside a frozen branch. Tiny icicles clung to the thorns, pricking her fur with their chilling bite.

“It’s empty inside,” she said, pulling her head back out. “There’s plenty of room. We should be good to rest here.”

“I’ll keep first watch,” said Harbinger.

Harlequin nodded, knowing that arguing would get her nowhere. She reached into her bag for a sitrus berry and rolled it towards the absol.

“For your paw,” she answered his confused glance.

Without waiting for a reply, Harlequin tugged the branches aside to let Mischief and Flutterwick enter ahead of her. The pawniard waited outside with Harbinger. She knew they’d find somewhere to shelter.

The distant caws still echoed on the breeze, more spaced out. The battle must have ended. Harlequin’s ears twitched, trying to locate the murkrow. She reluctantly lay down on the damp earth against the prickly branches, barring the cold air with her body.

“Do you think that flygon is okay?” Mischief asked.

Harlequin looked up at him. “Yeah. I think so.”

“I hope so.” Mischief huddled into himself, curled up with Flutterwick.

“He seemed pretty strong,” said the mothim. “And they didn’t want our help, did they?”

“No.” Harlequin lowered her head onto her paws. “They didn’t.”

“I hope we see them again.” Mischief yawned and huddled into Flutterwick’s wings.

Harlequin watched them, feeling the cold bite through her fur. She resisted the urge to join them, instead turning her sapphire gaze on the gap between the brambles.

“Do you think we’ll be here for much longer?” Mischief mumbled.

Harlequin sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I hope not. Hopefully… we’ll reach the wall tomorrow.”

Fear stabbed at her chest and she cast a glance back at her friends. She still felt there were too many of them. That showing up in such a large number increased the risk. If it were just her, she’d be able to sneak in undetected. Her friends didn’t possess such a luxury. And the larger number meant there was a bigger chance of them being spotted before they reached the wall. They’d been seen once already. Any surviving murkrow would be raising the alarm.

She clenched her jaw, and silently hoped they’d be able to spend the night unseen. This was her mission, and she’d dragged her friends into it.

Sleep came in snatches, swirling with darkness and the glistening fangs of that pursuing zoroark. Harlequin forced herself awake, trying to shake off the nightmare. When it refused to let her sleep in peace, she gave up and forced herself from the thicket.

Harbinger looked at her with surprise. “Already?”

Harlequin grunted. “I can’t sleep. I’ll take over.”

Harbinger returned her grunt with one of his own and looked out at the stream. Harlequin glanced at him, opening her mouth to ask why he wasn’t going to his nest.

“I’m sorry.” His words took her by surprise.

“What for?”

“For what I said earlier.” His shoulders rose with a sigh. “I lashed out. You don’t work for the Darkness anymore. So why would you be okay with ‘pointless deaths’?”

Harlequin gave a dry laugh and glanced away. “I wonder that myself. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of drawing my weapon to poison others.” She paused and licked her lips. “I poisoned one of those cacturne without even thinking.”

“That attitude might help you with Hydreigon.”

Harlequin looked away from him. She really hoped so.

“You’ve given me a second chance,” he said. “I shouldn’t be holding it against you for wanting to spare a murkrow.”

“That’s different.” She looked back at him, her sapphire gaze softening. “You were my friend.”

“I still tried to kill you,” he grunted. “I… I’ve killed so many pokemon with the amount of disasters I’ve caused. Thinking about it, that doesn’t make me any better than the rest of your enemies, does it?”

Harlequin’s ears drooped. “Then stop doing it.”

“Easier said than done. It’s like you drawing your nidoking horn.” He gazed off across the stream. “Old habits are hard to break.”

Harlequin stared up at him silently. After a while, Harbinger sighed and rose to his feet.

“Perhaps I should get some rest.” He nodded to her and turned to the thicket. “Good night, Harlequin.”

“Good night.” She watched him vanish into the nest then turned to look out across the stream.

Loneliness washed over her and she sank to her stomach, letting her head rest on her paws. Closer to the ground, she’d be harder to spot.

Moonlight shimmered on the stream’s surface, making it look like liquid silver. She followed it upstream with her eyes, where it curved to vanish behind a knotted sycamore. All rivers ran away from the Shadow Lands. If they followed it, they might reach the wall before long.

A harsh caw resounded several feet away and Harlequin turned her head sharply towards it. Sitting in a tree to her right was a lone murkrow. It didn’t appear to have seen her. If she kept low and quiet…

A few yards away, another murkrow cried. Then another. Harlequin’s stomach lurched and she sat up again. The murkrow didn’t move. Its attention was also on the river, almost as if it were fishing. The cries were just a roll-call. As reassuring as that should have been, her heart was still pounding. She turned slowly and silently to face the thicket, her mind swirling as she looked back at the murkrow. If it noticed her… if it noticed all of them…

It was too dangerous. Her markings helped her blend into the shadows, but Harbinger’s white coat would stand out like a sore paw pad in these woods. Stabbing pain seared her chest and she clenched her jaws. She wasn’t about to lose anyone else. This was her mission. She couldn’t let them get mixed in with it any more than they already were.

She looked back at the thicket and lowered her head. “I’m so sorry.” Her words came out as a breath.

On silent paws, she trotted upstream, leaving her friends in the safety of the thorns. She kept her ears trained on the bird, flinching at every little sound. It still hadn’t noticed her. Good. Now she just needed to lure it away from her friends.

It wasn’t until the thicket was well out of view that Harlequin finally stopped. She looked back the way she’d come. No sign of the murkrow. She opened her mouth and fired a dark pulse into the trees, shattering one of the boughs. It crashed down in front of her with a sound like thunder. She leapt back to dodge the spindly branches as they whipped at the air, tearing through the bracken.

Then silence.

It was a fleeting heartbeat yet seemed to drag on for an eternity. Caws split the air, spreading through the woods like a shock-wave. Red eyes flashed in the moonlight as the murkrow flock stirred in the branches. There were so many.

Harlequin took a step back, swinging her head around as the very leaves seemed to animate. Her heart froze as her jaw went slack. So many eyes locked onto her and the cawing intensified. The murkrow swooped from the trees towards her. Harlequin bolted, her feet pounding over the earth as she followed the river towards the Shadow Lands. Her breath came in heavy bursts and her vision tunnelled. Claws raked at her fur and she shook them off, straining to stay ahead of the swarming birds, leading them away from her friends.

Her heart sank as more murkrow swarmed from the trees ahead of her like a black cloud. The zorua’s eye went to the river and she took a deep breath before throwing herself to its mercy. Cold water swept over her head as she plunged beneath the current. It tore at her fur, straining to wash her back downstream, but she hadn’t given up. Her paws churned the water, forcing herself upstream. Above her, the muffled caws of enraged murkrow filled the air. Claws splashed at the water, falling short of Harlequin’s ears. Triumph swelled in her chest. Her paws sought purchase on the rocks to push herself off, fighting the current. Her right paw slipped on algae and she fell, her mouth gaping open in a yell. Bubbles swarmed from her jaws as her mouth filled with water. The river forced her back, turning her upside down. For a fleeting moment, Harlequin couldn’t remember which way was up.

The murkrow flock’s caws turned to cries of triumph, fading as the river tossed Harlequin downstream. She sought her way back to the surface, her chest screaming for air. Her paws met rock and her heart lurched. She couldn’t see anything in the blackness. How had things gone so horribly wrong? Her energy waned as she fought the current, straining to find her way back to the surface. The water tossed her around again and her head struck the rocky riverbank. Spots danced before her eyes, flooding her with nausea. Her paws scrabbled at the rocky surface until her claws found the tangled roots of some sturdy plant. She dragged herself towards what she hoped was the surface. Her chest was burning. Finally her head broke through the current and she gasped, sucking in air. Her fur was plastered to her body, her ears drooping with the weight of silt and water.

Raucous caws sounded far away, echoing in the water swirling in her ears. She shook her head to clear it and claws glinted at the corner of her eyes. Harlequin yelled, spraying pink light against the murkrow’s talons. It shrieked with confusion and faltered. It wasn’t alone! Harlequin took a breath to ready another disarming voice, but her cry died on her throat as claws fastened around her ear. Green sparkles swept through the air on a violent breeze, causing the bird to release her and sending the flock into confusion. Flutterwick flew into the cloud of black feathers, whipping up the air with his wings. Another bug buzz engulfed the murkrow, tearing at them as they dropped like flies.

“Flutterwick!” Harlequin gasped.

She turned her head to see further downstream, but her head was spinning. She tried to drag herself onto the river bank, coughing up silty water. The mothim doubled back towards her and fastened his claws into her ruff. His wings strained as he dragged the waterlogged zorua from the river. She collapsed on the bank and heaved, vomiting up most of the river. The mothim darted from her, whipping up another bug buzz. The sound thumped in her ears, sounding muffled with water. She shook her head again, but it only made her more sick. Her head throbbed where the rock had struck it.

She pushed herself to her feet, swaying. Flutterwick danced around the birds, green dust sparkling against their black wings. He was so fast the murkrow couldn’t catch him. A crescent of wind slammed into one of the birds, knocking it from the air. Harbinger leapt through the bushes, his eyes flashing with rage. He said something to Harlequin that didn’t register. Blades flashed before her eyes as the pawniard twins leapt from the bushes, cleaving through a murkrow in a shower of crimson.

Harlequin’s heart pounded. This was her fault. This was all her fault.

Flutterwick arced into the air, a murkrow on his tail. Harlequin reached for her bag, drawing her nidoking horn. She threw herself towards the murkrow, falling short. Flutterwick whipped up the air. Buzzing thrummed in Harlequin’s ears and she yelped as the bug buzz swept over her. She fell beside the murkrow, who rose to his feet in a daze. Harlequin turned her head, jabbing the nidoking horn into his flank. The murkrow screeched, rounding on her. Harlequin jumped back to her feet and slammed the murkrow aside with a heavy paw.

She leapt around the fallen bodies, casting a glance back to Flutterwick. He was free of the murkrow and had swerved away to intersect another. Harlequin’s gaze fell on Mischief, huddling in the bushes. Spots danced before her eyes again, blurring the whimsicott. She tried to shake it off, stirring up yet more nausea. But she couldn’t rest. More murkrow swept from the trees, snatching at her fur with their claws. She turned, snarling. Her weapon slashed the stomachs of two birds which fell away with screeches of terror.

The horn’s presence didn’t cause the flock to falter. If anything it made them swarm on her more heavily. Claws and beaks tore at her fur. Fear pulsed through Harlequin’s body and she swung her head left and right, slashing with the nidoking horn. Harbinger reared up above her, roaring as he beat the birds aside with his paws. Buzzing echoed in Harlequin’s head and she cried out, dropping the nidoking horn. She wasn’t going to lose. She wouldn’t let harm fall on her friends.

The Darkness would not win.

Her yell turned into a roar of desperation. Pink flurries flew from her mouth, knocking back two of the murkrow.

Her sapphire eyes widened and she shouted again, sending another disarming voice into the flock. It parted as more birds fell, sending the murkrow into confusion. Caws echoed through the flock, and the birds increased their attack. Swooping in then backing out as Harlequin turned her head towards them.

Mischief stepped from the bushes several feet away, catching her eye. Harlequin hadn’t the time to say anything to him. She leapt from the cloud of birds, her body screaming with pain, and yelled once more. The disarming voice washed over the flock and struck Harbinger, sending him reeling back. He stumbled over the fallen murkrow, giving the birds all the window they needed. They were on him like fleas. Scratch and Claw had no choice but to look on hopelessly, knowing their attacks would only hurt their friend.

Harlequin sought out her weapon and ducked to grab it. No sooner had she lowered her head, pink light flooded the woods. She looked up as five murkrow fell to the woodland floor. The flock hesitated as several turned to locate the new threat. One fell victim to Harbinger’s claws.

Mischief stepped forwards, his paws raised as he glared up at the murkrow. “Leave my friends alone.”

The birds cried out, parting as half of them swept towards Mischief. The whimsicott threw his arms wide, sending another dazzling gleam into the flock. Every one of the birds dropped at his feet. He turned his orange gaze onto the rest.

Flutterwick faltered above him, looking between the fallen birds and those left flying. His eyes lit up and he swept into the flock with another bug buzz.

The murkrow didn’t know who to focus on. As a result they split apart, each with its own target. Their cawing intensified as confusion spread through the now much smaller flock. Harlequin fought back with renewed vigour, desperate to get rid of the birds before Mischief succumbed to the pokerus. She sheathed her horn in favour of using disarming voice. Much to her delight, the next attack came on command, blowing back another murkrow.

The canopy lit up with another dazzling gleam, claiming two more birds. Seeing they were now on the losing side, the remaining murkrow doubled back, cawing with rage as they vanished into the canopy. Mischief shot past Harlequin after them, his paws raised.

“Go!” he shouted back at them. “I’ll finish them off!”

Flutterwick twirled in the air to follow him. “You’re not fighting alone!”

“Flutterwick, no!” Harlequin cried, freezing the mothim to the spot.

The zorua stood panting, her fur clinging to her body with blood and water. “Come on. We need to go.”

Flutterwick looked back at her with confusion, torn between following her and helping his friend.

Harbinger’s lip curled back from his canines. He left Scratch and Claw and plodded towards her, his ruff red with blood. A long scratch curved over his muzzle, closing his right eye.

“What were you thinking?” he snarled.

Harlequin opened her mouth to reply.

“You could have been killed!” Harbinger roared. “And you just left us?! Why, Harlequin?”

“Harbie, we have to go!”

“Not until you answer me!” Harbinger’s ruff bristled. Harlequin’s world shrank down until all she could see was his livid ruby glare. “What were you-”

A screech cut Harbinger off and he flew sideways with a grunt. Mischief sat on his shoulder, his face twisted with mania as he tore at Harbinger’s scruff. The absol roared, turning onto his back to dislodge the whimsicott. Mischief clambered onto his chest, his stubby paws beating at Harbinger’s face.

“Mischief, no!” Harlequin screamed.

Scratch and Claw joined her side, looking on hopelessly. Harlequin roared, throwing herself at Mischief. She tackled the whimsicott to the floor, pinning his shoulders with her paws. She struggled for balance as another wave of dizziness washed over her. His feet struck her stomach and she grunted, falling off him. He clambered onto her chest, his orange eyes blazing with malice. Malice that echoed that of her nightmares. The zoroark’s grinning face filled her mind. Bile rose in her throat as fear paralysed her, her sapphire eyes meeting his.

Harbinger’s white paw struck Mischief across one his his horns, sending him sideways. The absol pinned him with Flutterwick, the latter begging Mischief to come to his senses.

Harlequin pushed herself to her feet, shaking off her fear. Mischief’s enraged screams echoed over the canopy, drowning out the disoriented murkrow. Harlequin’s heart lurched. What was she meant to do?

A dazzling gleam lit up the woods, sending Harbinger and Flutterwick flying backwards. Harbinger’s large body landed on the mothim, and a loud scream pierced the sky. Harbinger rolled off him, turning to check over the fallen moth. Flutterwick struggled to his feet, one wing hanging limp at his side. His orange eyes widened as Mischief flew straight at him. Before anyone could react, Mischief had Flutterwick pinned. His claws tore at Flutterwick’s delicate wings and thrashed across his head.

With a cry, Harlequin tackled Mischief, wrapping her paws around his neck. The pair of them rolled over the tangled roots, each of them vying for control. His paw connected with her muzzle, then swiped across her ears, but Harlequin did not relent. She never fought back. All she wanted to do was get him away from Flutterwick. The zorua landed on her back at the base of a tree and fear pulsed through her body. She forced Mischief from her and sat across him, pinning him with both paws. The whimsicott’s eyes were closed, his body limp.

Harlequin swallowed a lump in her throat and pushed herself off Mischief. Her head was spinning. She swallowed a few more times, growing aware of the sudden silence. She didn’t want to look up, but she forced herself to locate Harbinger. He stood over Flutterwick with the pawniard, nudging the mothim with his nose.

“Is he-?” Harlequin’s voice cracked.

Harbinger nodded once.

Grief washed over Harlequin and she opened her jaws wide in a silent wail. This was all her fault. Tears streaked from her eyes and she sat down heavily. The woods turned on their side as she sank to the floor, darkness spreading across her vision as exhaustion swept her away.


Harlequin sat beside Harbinger and the pawniard. The ground was uneven where they’d buried Flutterwick. Mischief was still unconscious, but they had to move. It wouldn’t be long before another flock of murkrow came to finish off the job.

Harlequin and her friends had worked in silence, but she could feel the anger radiating off Harbinger. It had been a pointless death. One they could have avoided if she hadn’t tried to lure the murkrow away. If she’d just woken him he could have dealt with it stealthily. Instead she’d woken the entire woodland.

“He was too young.” Harlequin blinked tears from her eyes.

Harbinger looked up at her, his expression oddly soft.

“I promised I’d find him a home,” Harlequin went on. She shook her head slowly. “I… I should have just sent him to the Fairy Garden.”

“He helped us,” Harbinger told her. “Without him, we might not have made it out of that battle with the duraludon. And you would have been drowned by those murkrow.” He said the last part softly, but the anger was plain in his voice.

Harlequin licked her lips and lowered her head. “I still shouldn’t have dragged him into all this.”

The bushes stirred as Mischief crept from them, and a wave of relief washed over Harlequin. It was followed quickly by grief. Mischief looked over each of them, worry creeping across his features.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked, his voice cracking.

Harlequin closed her eyes and took a steadying breath.

“Where’s Flutterwick?” Fear revealed itself in Mischief’s voice.

“He’s gone,” Harbinger told him.


“He was killed in battle.” The absol lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

Harlequin bit her lip. She could read it on Mischief’s face. He suspected the worst.

“By a murkrow?” Mischief asked, his eyes darkening.

Harbinger said nothing. Harlequin knew what he was thinking. Should they tell him? His friends had already kept things from him. Was it really fare to let him believe a lie? The truth would only come out sooner or later.

“It was me, wasn’t it?” he asked. The silence had answered his question for him.

“Yes,” said Harbinger.

Mischief’s shoulders slumped and tears flooded his eyes. His mouth opened wordlessly.

“You lost control,” Harbinger told him. “It was an unfortunate accident.”

“No… It was me.” Mischief’s voice cracked and he sank to the floor. “I killed him…”

Harlequin rose to her feet and plodded over to him. “Mischief, it wasn’t your fault.”

“No!” Mischief waved a paw, making Harlequin stop a foot away from him. “It was my fault! I shouldn’t have joined the battle!”

“If you hadn’t helped us, we’d all be dead,” said Harbinger. “You turned the tide in our favour.”

“And cost Flutterwick his life!” Mischief buried his head in his paws. “I hate this! I… I’m a monster.”

“You’re not a monster,” Harlequin told him.

Mischief’s shoulders shook in a silent sob.

“It was a pointless battle,” Harlequin said quietly. “One that could have been avoided. If it’s anyone’s fault, Mischief, it’s mine.”

He looked up at her, wiping tears from his eyes.

“I shouldn’t have tried to lure the murkrow away from you.” She shook her head as tears streaked over her muzzle. “I was… I was trying to protect you all.” She screwed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not the one who killed him.” Mischief rose to his feet. “This wretched pokerus might have won us that battle, but at what cost?” He kicked out at a stone, sending it bouncing over knotted roots. “If I hadn’t lost control then he’d still be alive.”

Guilt gnawed Harlequin’s gut. It wasn’t Mischief’s fault, but there would be no convincing him of that. Grief and the desire for revenge had clouded Harlequin’s judgement. If she’d been thinking clearly, they could have come up with a better plan together. Because of that, Flutterwick had lost his life. Harlequin closed her eyes, wishing more than anything that she could turn back time.

That she could save Flutterwick.

That she could save Enigma.

Harlequin’s shoulders sank as she sighed. It was over. There was nothing left they could do. “Let’s go.”

She turned to follow the river downstream.

Harbinger rose to his feet, watching her. “Where are you going?”

She looked back at him, meeting his ruby eyes. Blood still matted his fur. The scratch on his muzzle had dried, and his eye had opened slightly. Mischief stood a few feet away, his shoulders hunched. Scratch and Claw looked exhausted. None of them were fit to fight any further.

“We need a new plan,” she said. “I’m going to ask Cleo for help. Perhaps… perhaps we can get help from the Outcasts?”

“The Outcasts?” Harbinger scoffed.

“It’s a long shot.” Harlequin’s shoulders slumped. “But… Cleo’s my friend. With her, with Faith…”

Harbinger plodded over to her, his voice flat. “Go and ask them. But I won’t be going with you.”

Harlequin jerked her head up. Her eyes widened and she stuttered for a moment. “What?”

“The Outcasts won’t want me,” he explained. “I’m going to go to the Fairy Garden. All of this,” he gestured to the woods with his tail, “has made me realise we can’t do it alone. We’ve never been able to fight back against Hydreigon! You’re right, Harlequin. We need more help than this if we’re to finally rid Estellis of the Darkness. I’ve been given this Mega Stone, so I’m going to find Xerneas and learn how to use it. Perhaps then we’ll stand more of a chance?”

Harlequin’s throat thickened. Tears stung her eyes, but she nodded. “Then let’s go. We’ll stay together until we leave these woods.”

They walked in silence, keeping their heads low. The bodies of murkrow littered the river bank. The birds still hadn’t regrouped, making the Border Woods feel eerily silent. Once the trees began to thin out, the sun had risen high above them. But it did little to alleviate the heavy darkness that hung over Harlequin and her friends. Mischief’s expression was unreadable, and the loss of Flutterwick hung heavily over them. She kept expecting to see him riding on Harbinger’s back. The absol’s feet were heavy yet silent over the snowy ground. They kept to the river, following it downstream until the Border Woods were far enough behind them they could no longer hear the murkrow flock’s calls.

“Harlequin?” Harbinger’s voice sliced through the silence, drawing the zorua’s attention.

She looked up at him and her ears drooped. He stared over his shoulder away from the river.

“Take Scratch and Claw.” He looked back at her then. “I’ll go alone to the Fairy Garden.”

Harlequin looked up at him with a start, but Harbinger didn’t meet her gaze. The two pawniard clung to his side, their protests garbling together.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be, but I know they’ll look after you,” he said, bringing the twins’ arguing to a stop. “They’ve looked after me for years. Once I’ve learnt how to use this Mega Stone I’ll come and find you.”

Harlequin nodded stiffly, meeting Claw’s stoic gaze. His brother still huddled near Harbinger, his eyes clouding with uncertainty.

Harlequin didn’t know what else to say, so instead she just blurted, “Thank you.”

Part of her wanted to go with Harbinger, but she couldn’t turn away from her mission.

Harbinger lowered his head to Harlequin close enough for her to feel his breath on her face. “Safe travels, Harlequin. I’ll see you soon.”

Harlequin swallowed around a lump in her throat. “Take care, Harbie.”

He nodded and turned to race across the snow, leaving the twins behind him. They moved to Harlequin’s side and Scratch rubbed his claws together, the sound muffled by the snow. Mischief rubbed his paws over his arms as he shivered beside Harlequin.

“Aren’t you going with Harbinger?” Harlequin asked him.

“No.” Mischief looked away from her. “I’ll stay with you as far as the Moorland’s Forest. Then I’m going to find a cure.”

Harlequin’s throat thickened. “I’ll help you.”

“No.” The harshness of his word made Harlequin freeze.

She shook it off and turned fully to face him. “You don’t need to go alone, Mischief. I know about poisons. Together we can-”

“Harlequin, stop.” Mischief’s voice wavered as he continued, “I’m too dangerous.” He balled his paws into tight fists. “I can’t risk hurting anyone else.”


“You find Cleo.” He met her gaze for a moment. “And keep her safe.”

Harlequin nodded, feeling a stab of pain in her chest. “I promise.”

Mischief returned her nod and trudged on through the snow.

Harlequin’s heart was heavy as she fell in step beside him. Everything had gone horribly wrong. Her mind ran over the events again, wishing she’d done things differently. If she had, perhaps they’d have won?

As she continued on with her friends in silence, snow began to fall once more. It felt oddly tranquil. Like a calm before a storm. Harlequin didn’t look back, but she knew she’d be returning to the Border Woods soon. Next time, she’d make sure she made it past the wall and into the Shadow Lands. No more pointless deaths. Hydreigon would fall.
Chapter 58


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile

Part 5 - Bringing the Light

58 - A Heartbreaking Reunion​

“Dad! Dad! Dad!”

Starshine raced out of the training room, his talons skidding over the floor. His wings flailed as he picked up speed, rising clumsily into the air. A furret and marshtomp raced behind him with cries of “Uncle Tinker!”. They turned the corner without slowing, and Scout stumbled, bouncing off the wall. Then, adjusting his scarf, he rushed to catch up with his friends.

Two guards were walking the opposite way. A growlithe and a pikachu. They started slightly as the three youngsters careened towards them, and the pikachu raised his paws.

“Boys! Boys! Slow down!”

Starshine flopped down in front of him and fixed him with sparkling black eyes. “Hi! Have you seen my Dad?”

Scout and Tad stopped behind him, and the marshtomp doubled over to catch his breath, almost losing his bandanna.

“We’ve got some news for him,” said Scout breathlessly.

“News, eh?” The growlithe sniffed the air. “From the training room?”

“Well, that’s where we heard it, yeah,” said Scout.

The pikachu shook his head. “You know you shouldn’t be running around in these tunnels. You could hurt yourselves.” He leaned forwards, cheeks sparkling playfully. “Or someone else.”

“Sorry,” said Starshine. “It’s pretty important.”

“Aye.” Tad tightened his bandanna around his head. “We wanna tell Uncle Tink th’news afore anyone else does.”

Scout puffed out his chest and added in a mock accent, “Right enough.”

Tad nudged the furret with his elbow, and Scout snorted laughter.

The pikachu straightened and shook his head. “Sorry, kids. We’ve not seen him.”

“You could check his office?” the growlithe suggested. “Or the hospital ward? He’s been spending a lot of time there.”

“Prob’ly chattin’ up Cleo,” Tad muttered to Scout.

The furret poked out his tongue with disgust, drawing a chuckle from Starshine.

The growlithe rolled his eyes.

“If he’s not there,” said the pikachu, stepping past the children, “then I’ve no clue. But he’s here in New City. I’ve not heard otherwise.”

“Thanks!” Starshine chirruped, flapping his wings as he readied to rocket down the corridor.

“And no running!” the guards called after them.

“Okay!” the boys called back as they took off around the corner.

“Well, Melody seems to think you’re recovering okay.” Tinker leaned forwards in his chair, eyeing Cleo’s bandaged leg. “Even if you’re being a nuisance at not keeping it elevated.”

Cleo swatted Tinker’s paw away. “Then if she thinks I’m recovering does it really matter? I’m more comfortable this way.”

“You don’t want it to heal crooked now, do you?” Tinker sighed and sat back, resigning to keeping his paws to himself. “Honestly, Cleo. What on earth did you think you were doing, rushing headlong into a fire?”

Cleo narrowed her eyes at the riolu. “You’ve been asking me that since I returned.”

Spark peered up at him from the foot of the bed. “And she’s not exaggerating.”

A dull creak came from the wall as the wooden elevator descended. Faith’s slender form appeared in the hole in the wall clutching a plate of berries in both paws. She huddled to one side as three more pokemon crowded around her. Tad had hold of the rope in both paws, expertly bringing the elevator to a stop.

He stepped out first and bowed with a flourish. “M’lady.”

“Thank you.” Faith smiled at him. “Now you- ah!”

Starshine scampered past her with a quick apology, his eyes on Tinker. The other two boys took off after him, cries of ‘Dad!’ and ‘Uncle Tinker!’ filling the medical ward.

Tinker’s eyes widened and he grunted as Starshine hopped up onto his lap. “What on earth has got into you three?”

The swablu placed his wings on Tinker’s shoulders and reared up until his beak was almost touching the riolu’s nose. “We have urgent news!”

“Aye!” said Tad. “Super important!”

“What news, exactly?” Tinker bundled Starshine back onto the floor.

“That depends,” said Scout. “Has it reached you yet? ‘Cos that would kinda suck the fun out of it.”

“Good grief, it’s like dealing with the Riddler.” Tinker sighed and dragged his paw down his face. “Would you please just tell me?”

Starshine hopped up and down around Tinker’s feet, his eyes sparkling. “Three dark-type pokemon just turned themselves in at the cells! We overheard some guards talking about it!”

“An’ we rushed reet over here t’tell ye,” said Tad with a proud nod.

“Dark pokemon?” Tinker’s eyes widened. “Are you serious? They just… turned themselves in?”

“Hah! How was that for fast news?!” Scout thumped Tad in the shoulder. “I told ya he wouldn’t have heard it yet.”

“Nah, ye were’th’ worry-wurmple,” said Tad.

Scout, seemingly not hearing him, thumped the air with a cheer. “Team Heroes delivers another mission!”

“I would hardly call delivering me a message I would undoubtedly have got later today a mission,” said Tinker. “But very well. Now, did they say who these pokemon are by chance?”

“Aye, that they did,” said Tad. “An important one-”

“Some assassin named Harlequin!” Starshine butted in, gaining a ‘hey!’ off Tad.

Cleo sat up in her bed. “Harlequin?”

“And a pair of pawniard!”

Tad frowned down at the swablu. “I was gettin’ t’that.”

“Well I heard it first!” Starshine argued.

“Did not!”


“Boys!” Tinker barked, bringing the pair to silence. “So,” he continued more calmly. “It’s Harlequin and a pair of pawniard?”

“What a surprise!” Faith set the plate of berries down beside Cleo’s bed which was immediately set upon by Spark and Scout. “I wonder if she’s okay?”

“Probably not if she’s come back here.” Spark reached for an oran berry.

“Whatever the case may be,” said Tinker, “it sounds as if he’s mixing with dark-types again.” He rounded on Cleo. “I told you it was a bad idea to remove that collar.”

“She helped us!” said Cleo.

“So you say,” said Tinker. “Yet here he is once more, locked in a cell with two more vermin.”

“Vermin?!” Cleo exclaimed.

Faith placed a placating paw on the meowstic’s shoulder. “She’s come back here for a reason. It would be a good idea to hear her out.” She looked back at the children. “Did anyone say why she’s back here?”

“Aye, sure enough.” Tad nudged his bandanna up from his eye. “She said she wants t’speak wi’ Cleo.”

Tinker’s eyes shot to Cleo, and she returned his look with a hard stare. Without breaking eye contact, she carefully lifted her leg over the edge of the bed.

Tinker leapt to his feet. “You’re not going in your condition, surely?”

“It’s been more than a moon, Tinker,” Cleo spoke through gritted teeth. “I think I can handle a little walk to the cells.”

“It’s not a ‘little walk’!” Tinker exclaimed. “A ‘little walk’ would be to the dining hall and back! It will take us much longer to travel to the cells and back, and in those tunnels-”

“Tinker.” Cleo cut him off, meeting his eyes again. “I’m going.”

“Tinker’s right, Cleo.” Faith moved around the bed to join her friend. “It’s too soon. Your leg is still fragile.”

Cleo sighed. “Not you, too, Faith?”

“Exercise is good for it, don’t get me wrong,” said Faith. “But you don’t want to stress it too much.”

Cleo met the mawile’s violet gaze. “Harlequin says she wants to see me. It could be important.”

Faith stared at her for a moment longer then nodded. “Okay. Take a crutch. We’ll go together.”

Cleo accepted the crutch Faith handed to her and let her weight rest on it. She looked up at Tinker and nodded. “You’re coming too.”

Spark looked up from the plate of berries, her cheeks bulging. “Wha’ ab’t me?”

Cleo rolled her eyes at the dedenne now adjusting her cheek pouches. “If I left you behind I’d never hear the last of it.”

“Darn straight ya wouldn’t.” Spark leapt onto Cleo’s shoulder. She turned back to Scout. “Save me some!”

Scout didn’t look up from the berries. “Not promising anything.”

Tinker gave an exasperated wave of the paw and headed for the elevator. “Cleo, you get in first. As for you three.” He narrowed a glare at the children. “Don’t follow us. I don’t want you getting into any danger.”

“Aww, come on!” Scout spoke around a mouthful of sitrus. “We’re Team Heroes! Danger runs away from us, not the other way around!”

Faith chuckled as she stepped in beside Cleo. “I’m sure you’ll make great heroes.”

“Aww, shucks!” Tad blushed and put a flipper around Scout’s shoulders, pulling the furret into him. Scout choked, spluttering sitrus seeds across the room. “Thanks, m’lady!”

“Are you all right, Scout?” Tinker asked the furret.

Scout, still coughing, nodded as he picked another berry off the plate.

Tinker rolled his eyes. “Starshine, if Scout faints call for Melody.”

The swablu saluted and vanished from sight as the elevator rattled up to the next floor.


Tinker popped the iron grate open and dropped into the corridor of the cells. A combusken waited patiently as Tinker offered a paw to help Cleo down, steadying her as she shifted her weight to her crutch. The journey hadn’t been easy. The snow melt had softened the floor of the tunnel so much her crutch sank into it.

“You were right! It was a trek!” Spark leapt from her shoulder and landed beside the riolu.

Cleo shook her head at the dedenne. “What are you talking about? You rode the entire way on my shoulder.”

“And you did well!” Spark quipped.

Faith chuckled as she set the grate back in place. The mawile dusted down her yellow skirt, smattered with mud. “Are you sure the tunnels will be okay?” she asked Tinker.

The riolu finished his hushed conversation with the combusken but he didn’t even look at Faith. He moved on, leading the way towards the cells. “The tunnels will be fine. We’ve only had one problem and it was swiftly dealt with. It shouldn’t be long before it’s reinforced and can be used again.”

“Did it collapse?” Cleo asked.

“Yes, but like I said.” He looked back at her with narrowed eyes. “It was dealt with.”

Spark leapt back onto Cleo’s shoulder and caught her eye. “I think that means it was filled in.”

If Tinker heard Spark he didn’t show it. He reached for his keys and unlocked the door to the lone high-security cell. Three pairs of eyes peered out at them as they entered. A shrill, ear-piercing screech split the air as one of the pawniard rubbed his blades together.

Tinker glared at him, which only made the sound worse. “I suggest you cut that out right now before you give me a headache.”

The pawniard’s yellow eyes widened and he froze, holding his claws to his chest. His twin gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder as he met the riolu’s glare.

Harlequin scowled at the riolu, but her face softened as Cleo entered with her friends.

“Cleo!” The zorua rose to her feet and trotted to the bars, her tail wagging slowly. “I was hoping I’d see you! You got my message?”

“Just that you wanted to see me.” Cleo shifted her weight to the crutch. “What are you doing here?”

Harlequin looked the meowstic up and down and raised an eyebrow. “What on earth happened to you?”

Tinker cut before Cleo and waved a paw for silence. “I’ll be asking the questions, Harlequin. Not you.” He folded his arms and stared down at her. “Now… turning yourself in. Why would you do that?”

“I didn’t come here to speak to you.” Harlequin nodded to Cleo peering over his shoulder. “I want to speak to Cleo.”

“You’ll speak to me first,” Tinker told her. He held out a paw, revealing a sun-shaped Guild badge. “The combusken on duty gave me this. He said he’d confiscated it off you. Care to tell me how you got it?”

“Mischief gave it to me.” Harlequin looked up, meeting his eyes. “He said it would get me into New City. That you use them as a key.”

Tinker’s eyes flashed with rage and the fur along his spine bristled. He clenched his paw over the badge so tight Cleo feared it might puncture his pads. “I made a grave mistake trusting that whimsicott with a Guild badge! He’s just handing it over to dark-types? And telling them of New City?!”

Cleo’s pads were slick with sweat. She looked from Harlequin to Tinker, trying to calm her suddenly racing heart.

“Harlequin is our friend, Tinker,” said Faith. “Mischief knows that.”

Tinker rounded on her, flashing his canines. “Whether or not you believe you’re friends with this pokemon is irrelevant! We have our rules here, Faith. Remember - you’re only here because you can use that new fairy-type. I’m still oblivious to your true motives, going around spouting nonsense while acting all friendly. Put another paw wrong and you’ll be joining your ‘friend’ behind bars!”

Cleo’s jaw went slack, mirroring Harlequin perfectly. Faith stared back at Tinker, her mouth opening wordlessly.

Spark leapt up onto Faith’s shoulder and placed a tiny paw on the side of her horn. “Ignore him.” She narrowed her black eyes at Tinker. “He’s just a grumpy bottom.”

Tinker huffed air from between his lips and tossed the badge onto the desk. He turned back to Harlequin but Cleo shoved him aside with her crutch, drawing an enraged glance.

“Leave it,” Cleo told him. “You’ve said enough. Let me deal with her.”

Tinker rubbed the bridge of his nose and waved a paw for Cleo to continue.

Cleo turned back to Harlequin, casting a quick glance over the pawniard. They’d moved to the back of the cell, the bolder one patiently listening while his twin shifted uneasily beside him.

“So why did you come to the cells of all places?” Cleo asked the zorua.

Harlequin snorted. “You think they’d just let me in?” She shrugged and seemed to force her expression to soften. “Coming back to the cells was the best way to get your attention without risking my life.” She paused to lick her lips and lowered her head. “I need your help.”

“You need our help?!” Tinker scoffed.

A sizzle of electricity suggested Spark had silenced him.

“Help with what?” Cleo asked cautiously.

“Assassinating Hydreigon.”

A loud co-joined gasp flew around the room and Cleo almost toppled over. She clutched onto her crutch, steadying herself against the cumbersome cast.

“Assassinate Hydreigon?” Cleo stuttered. “How on earth do you plan to do that?”

“I don’t know,” Harlequin said bluntly. “I’ve been travelling back and forth, stalking around the Border Woods to find a way past the wall. It’s too heavily guarded, and my attempts have been met with failure. But it needs doing and fast.” Harlequin paused again as she glanced past Cleo to Faith. “He’s woken Yveltal.”

“What?!” Faith pressed a paw to her chest as her breaths came in quick, short bursts.

Cold fear swept through Cleo’s body. She suddenly felt very small and weak, as if the very world was pressing down on her.

“I overheard a group of assassins talking about it,” Harlequin explained. “If that’s true, then Estellis is in grave danger.”

“But Yveltal’s dead, right?” Spark asked.

“He was left in a cocoon state,” Faith reminded her. “Oh, I don’t know how Hydreigon has managed to awaken him, but if this is true… We might not need to stop Hydreigon ourselves. Yveltal will use him until he’s served his purpose.” Faith rubbed her paws over her face and leaned back against the desk. “Oh I dread to think what’s going to happen to Estellis now.”

Harlequin’s ears drooped. “I know.”

Tinker tutted. “Not you as well. How far has this nonsense spread?” He shook his head and fixed his red eyes on Harlequin. “What were you doing back in the Border Woods? Little close to home, isn’t it?”

Harlequin bared her teeth. “I told you, I was looking for a way into the Shadow Lands to assassinate Hydreigon!”

“A likely story.”

“He’s done a lot of damage to this world,” Harlequin went on. “It needs to stop! He’s even killed pokemon I care about.” She blinked back tears and her chest heaved with repressed sobs. “The Darkness wiped out an entire village without who’s help I wouldn’t be here right now! And… and…” she choked back a sob, “he’s even killed Enigma.”

A loud yell came from Faith as she staggered back into the desk, rattling its contents. Her paws were clasped over her muzzle, her violet eyes wet with tears. “Enigma’s dead?!”

Harlequin lowered her head, her eyes closed as her shoulders shook. Tears flooded over her cheeks and dripped to the dusty floor.

“Good riddance,” Tinker muttered.

Harlequin looked up snarling, her white teeth bared in her black muzzle.

Cleo cut before her and narrowed a glare at the riolu. “Tinker…”

Tinker met her eyes and shrugged. “It’s one less assassin to worry about.”

“Hydreigon killed him because he rebelled!” Harlequin snapped. “You already didn’t have to worry about him! He’d turned his back on the Darkness just like I have!”

“And I’m meant to just take your word?” Tinker asked, trying to see Harlequin over Cleo’s shoulder.

Cleo pushed him back with her crutch and met his gaze again. “I want you out. Now.”

“I have you know, Cleo, I am in charge here.”

“I don’t care, you’re making things difficult.” Cleo lowered her crutch and pointed a claw at the door. “Leave. I’ll fill you in later.”

Tinker shook his head, muttering to himself as he opened the door. He froze as Spark cleared her throat.

The dedenne, now perched on the desk, held out both her paws. “Keys?”

Tinker tossed the keys onto the desk and marched from the room, slamming the door behind him. Spark flinched as the very walls seemed to shake.

“Yikes.” She looked up at Cleo. “Talk about sensing the mood, huh?”

Cleo turned back to Harlequin. Tears still streamed from eyes that blazed with blue flames. “Are you okay?”

Harlequin met her gaze and took a long breath. “No. Not really.”

“Were you there?” Cleo asked.

“No.” Harlequin shook her head. “I overheard… argh, I wanted it to just be a lie! Enigma and I… our paths cross a lot. But I’ve not seen him in weeks.” She screwed her eyes shut. “That’s why I went to the Border Woods! I wanted revenge. But… it all went really wrong.”

“Tell me about it.” The bolder pawniard shook out one of his claws, not looking up at Cleo. “We’ve brought enough disasters. But that one takes the cake.”

“You don’t need to rub it in,” Harlequin growled over her shoulder.

“I wasn’t. Accidents happen.”

Harlequin shook her head and turned back to Cleo. “Those two are Scratch and Claw. They’re friends with Harbinger.”

“You found Harbinger?” Faith asked as she wiped her paws over her eyes.

“Yes. I returned his mega stone. He went to find the Fairy Garden after that disaster of a mission. He left Scratch and Claw with me so I didn’t have to travel alone. I don’t even know if he’s made it, I’ve heard nothing.” Harlequin clenched her jaw and groaned. “I’ve been going back and forth for days trying to figure something out! I was torn between whether I should even ask you guys for help after what happened. But this is all I’ve got - a sneaky plan and to stab Hydreigon with my nidoking horn!”

Spark curled her lip. “That’s your plan?”

“It’s not perfect,” Harlequin hissed. “But it gets rid of the problem at its source!”

“How do you get in?” Cleo asked. “It’s not as if Hydreigon doesn’t know you.”


“Can you mask your scent?” Cleo asked.

“And what about the fairy-type?” Faith added.

Harlequin shook out her pelt and roared, rising to her feet. “I don’t know! I…” She sat down heavily. “I’m confused and angry. I was hoping you might help me come up with a better idea.”

“We need a good long sit-down to discuss it,” said Faith.

“Yeah, cos it sounds really risky,” said Spark. “Just waltzing in there like ‘Hey Hydreigon, got a minute? Let me stick this horn in your side.’”

Harlequin snorted but her lips curled up in a smile. “Well, when you put it like that.”

“Then lets order some berries and have a nice, long chat,” Spark suggested.

With the tension gone, Cleo suddenly remembered the badge. She reached onto the desk and retrieved it, turning back to Harlequin as she rolled it in her paws.

“You said Mischief gave you his badge?” she asked.

Harlequin met her gaze.

“Where is he now?” Cleo tried to hide the desperation in her voice. “Is he okay?”

The light left Harlequin’s eyes and she lowered her head. “No. He’s not okay.”

Cleo’s heart sank. “What happened to him? Where is he?”

“After we left the Border Woods he went off to find a cure for pokerus,” Harlequin explained. “He wanted to look for it on his own, so I told him of a mushroom that grows in high altitudes that might eradicate the parasite. I’m guessing he went into the mountains.”

“Wait.” Cleo raised a paw and closed her eyes for a heartbeat. “He went with you? Into the Border Woods?”

“Yeah.” Harlequin flicked her tongue over her nose and lowered her head. “That’s… well… where things went wrong.”

Cleo stared at her, silently urging her on.

“I tried to create a distraction,” Harlequin said quickly, desperation flaring in her eyes. “It wasn’t Mischief’s fault, it was mine!”

“Harlequin,” Cleo said quietly, her heart racing. She raised a paw to placate the zorua. “What happened?”

Harlequin looked away from her and her ears drooped, her eyes filling with tears once more. Her voice cracked with grief. “He killed a friend.”
Chapter 59


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
59 - A New Plan​

Cleo stared dumbfounded at Harlequin, her mind swirling in a desperate search for words. But none came. The cells fell into silence, broken only by the scraping of metal from the nervous pawniard.

Harlequin wouldn’t meet Cleo’s gaze, her sapphire eyes fixed on the damp wall. Her confession lay heavy in the air. Mischief had killed someone. Someone he clearly cared about.

“Oh yeesh.” Spark’s voice sounded loudly from the desk. “That must have broken him.”

“Yeah.” Harlequin lowered her head and dug her claws into the floor. “I tried to stop him… but there was nothing I could do. It all… ended so quickly.”

“Who was it?” Faith asked.

“A little mothim called Flutterwick.” Harlequin closed her eyes and shook her head as if the memory alone still pained her. “He must have evolved early. He was barely an adult.”

Faith’s shoulders sank. “Oh dear…”

“Mischief doesn’t trust himself anymore. No matter what I said, he thinks he’s too dangerous to be around. He hates himself.”

“He hates himself?” Faith gasped.

A lump swelled in Cleo’s throat. She didn’t know what to say.

“But he’s got such a good heart,” said Faith.

“I know he does. But he doesn’t see that. All he sees is that pokerus.” Harlequin scraped her claws across the floor. “Hydreigon really does have a lot to answer for.”

Cleo nodded stiffly, but Faith cut her off before she could speak. “This isn’t Hydreigon’s fault, I’m afraid. He didn’t cultivate the pokerus.”

“No,” said Harlequin. “But it’s because of him that those lab pokemon were messing with it in the first place.”

“You’re both right,” said Cleo, catching Faith’s eye. “If Hydreigon wasn’t pushing different species to extinction then Rio wouldn’t have been infecting pokemon with that pokerus. Then Mischief could be living a normal life. It’s a domino effect, with Hydreigon at the source.”

Faith nodded stiffly as though she was struggling to see Cleo’s point. “Our bigger worry right now though is Yveltal.” She sucked in air through her teeth and wound her paws together. “I think we may need to head back to the Fairy Garden and speak to Xerneas.”

“That would take too long,” said Harlequin. “We need to act now, before he leaves the Shadow Lands.”

“What makes you think he’s in the Shadow Lands?” Cleo asked.

“He must be,” said Harlequin. “Wouldn’t he be too weak after waking from that cocoon? Xerneas did defeat him after all.”

“The only one who knows the answer to that is Xerneas,” said Faith. “But I can see your point.”

“We need to come up with a plan.” Harlequin paced closer to the bars then paused, her gaze trailing up them. “Argh, it’s too hard to talk like this.”

“Hang on.” Cleo hobbled around to the desk and picked up the keys.

Spark watched her as Cleo turned back to the cells and began to unlock the door. “You’re lettin’ her out?”


“Tinker ain’t gonna be too happy with that, yanno,” said Spark.

“I don’t really care.” Cleo tossed the keys back onto the desk and pulled the heavy door open with her psychic.

Harlequin cautiously stepped out into the room, her sapphire gaze locked on the closed door. “I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“I can handle Tinker,” said Cleo.

“Yeah, I mean you’ve got the type advantage,” Spark quipped.

Faith chuckled and sat down beside Cleo. Harlequin joined them and glanced back at the cells. Scratch and Claw were still huddled at the back, watching them intently.

“Are you going to join us?” Faith tapped the floor beside her.

The bolder one made a thoughtful noise but looked up at the door, while his brother shifted with unease. “We’re okay here.”

“Nonsense! Come on.” Faith waved at them, but the twins refused to budge.

“Don’t press it.” Harlequin caught Faith’s violet eye and spoke in a low voice. “They’re worried they’ll hurt us if they get too close.”


“Yeah. Pawniard and bisharp were shunned because their bodies are covered in blades,” Harlequin explained. “Even Hydreigon didn’t want them around.”

“What nonsense.” Faith pushed herself to her feet and strolled into the cells.

“Faith!” Harlequin hissed.

But the mawile ignored her. She lowered herself to a crouch before Scratch and Claw, beaming at them. The two pawniard inched away, but Faith held out a paw.

“It’s okay,” she told them. “You can’t hurt me. I’m a steel-type like you.”

The pair stared at her, stunned.

“Now which one is which?” Faith asked, turning to the nervous one. “Are you Scratch? Or Claw?”

The twitchy pawniard stuttered, avoiding her gaze.

“He’s Scratch,” said his brother. “I’m Claw.”

“I’m Faith.” She placed a paw gently on each of their heads and they flinched back, but Scratch’s wide eyes softened. “See? You’re not hurting me.”

Scratch welled up with tears and he tried to dry them on his wrist. “It’s warm…” He moved into Faith, burying his face in her shoulder.

Claw fidgeted, pulling back slightly. After a moment’s hesitation he swiped his arm across his eyes and joined his brother in Faith’s embrace.

Harlequin watched her with her jaw gaping. “She really does have a way with others doesn’t she?”

“Yep,” said Spark. “That’s our Faith.”

Faith chuckled, fastening an arm around each of the pawniard. “Now… would you like to join us?”

The twins nodded and stuck close to the mawile as she led them out of the cells. They sat down on either side of her, keeping their distance from the other pokemon they must have perceived as vulnerable.

Cleo smiled at them and sat back, adjusting her bandaged leg before her so she was comfortable.

“So,” said Harlequin, her eyes growing distant. “Um… like I said, the only idea I have so far is to enter the Shadow Lands and poison Hydreigon.” She looked up at her friends. “But, as Scratch and Claw can tell you, my last attempt didn’t go so well.”

“What was it that went wrong exactly?” Cleo asked. “Perhaps we can work out a plan from there.”

“I panicked,” said Harlequin. “I was keeping watch and spotted a murkrow. I wanted to lure it away from my friends, but there turned out to be way more of them than I’d expected.”

“They’re probably all sheltering in the woods from this snow,” said Spark.

“Were they the same ones who took Mischief?” Cleo asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Harlequin. “I’m pretty sure the ones who attacked me were male, so they’re Yurlik’s flock. Mischief dealt with them pretty well until…” She trailed off and shook her head. “Yeah.”

“Okay, well it’s only natural to be afraid,” said Cleo. “Perhaps next time we don’t camp in the woods?”

“They’re huge!” said Harlequin. “It will take a couple of days to get through them. We won’t have any choice.”

“What about Reshiram?” Spark offered.

Faith’s eyes widened and she looked up at Spark.

“Spark,” said Cleo, “please think about that for a moment?”

Spark’s gaze drifted to the door as her mind worked. A thoughtful noise left her nose and, after a while, Cleo turned back to Harlequin.

“You said you were going to use your illusion?” Cleo inclined her head on one side. “How would that work?”

“My original plan was to disguise myself as a weavile,” Harlequin explained. “That way I could get everyone else in. Mischief is wanted, so the guards would assume I’d taken him captive.”

“That might have backfired terribly,” said Faith. “What if they’d taken him off you and killed him?”

Harlequin flinched and her lips pulled back from her teeth. “I was acting on impulse! I… I…” She drifted off and looked away.

“You wanted revenge,” Claw told her.

Harlequin nodded stiffly.

Faith sighed and sat back on her paws. “Revenge is rarely never messy.”

Harlequin looked back at her, her sapphire eyes wide.

“Revenge is acting in the heat of the moment,” Faith went on. “It’s a direct path to regret.”

“Tell me about it,” Harlequin hissed.

“Oh! I get it.” Spark nodded and looked back down at Cleo. “Reshiram would stand out like a sore paw pad, huh?”

Cleo rolled her eyes and smiled up at the dedenne. “Precisely.”

Harlequin looked at each of her friends in turn. “As would you.” She sighed and shook her head. “Perhaps this is something only I can do?”

“Don’t be hasty, Harlequin,” said Cleo. “You shouldn’t go in there alone.”

“Yeah, what if you need back-up?” said Spark.

“We’d go too,” said Claw, drawing everyone’s gaze. “Harbinger left us with Harlequin to protect him after all.”

Harlequin swished her tail as she averted her gaze, but said nothing.

“We should all go,” said Cleo. “If we can find a way to sneak inside and get into the castle unseen…”

Spark nodded. “Yeah, there’s gotta be a weakness somewhere. A crack in the wall, or an old burrow or something?”

“Perhaps there is.” Harlequin looked up again. “Then we should head back to the Border Woods.”

Faith looked from Harlequin to Cleo as the meowstic added, “But didn’t you search the wall?”

“Like I said, I wasn’t thinking straight,” said Harlequin. “And there are sentries everywhere, some of who could sniff right through my illusion if I got too close. My intentions had been to walk straight into the Shadow Lands in disguise. But as for a weak point… the outlaws might know something. I mean, they’ve escaped the Shadow Lands after all.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” said Cleo.

Faith gave a long, heavy sigh and rubbed her paws over her face. “I don’t know about this…”

Cleo placed a paw on the mawile’s shoulder. “You don’t have to come, Faith. You can stay here and help out in New City.”

Faith’s jerked her head towards her. “I’m not going to let you go alone! I left the Fairy Garden to help you!”

“So we’re all going?” asked Harlequin.

Cleo and Spark nodded, as did Scratch and Claw.

Faith clenched her jaw and took a deep breath through her nose. “Yes. But if it looks like things are going to turn messy…”

“We’ll leave.” Harlequin’s blue eyes welled up. “I’m not about to lose someone else to carelessness.”

“So let’s go over the plan.” Cleo leaned forwards slightly. “We’ll seek out the outlaws to find a way into the Shadow Lands, then sneak into the castle unseen-”

“Yes,” said Harlequin. “I’ll take on the form of a deino if need be. They flock outside the castle, so we may need to lure them away.”

“Aren’t they blind?” Cleo asked. “Surely we can sneak past them?”

“They are, but they have good noses,” Harlequin explained. “But they’re as dumb as dishwater. They’re easy to fool.”

“So when we’re in the castle, what then?” Faith asked.

“I’ll find a way to poison Hydreigon,” said Harlequin. “I’d love to stab him with my nidoking horn, but that could be too risky. I’ll find his food source and poison that. Hopefully that will also get rid of Yveltal, too.”

Faith bit her lip but said nothing.

“It sounds like it would do more than kill those two,” said Spark. “We might end up killing off a load of his soldiers.”

“An unfortunate price,” said Harlequin. “But if we can get rid of Hydreigon and Yveltal, we’ll end this war.”

“And with dark-types on our side as well!” Spark’s eyes sparkled as she looked down at Harlequin and the twins. “Who’da thunk it, eh?”

Faith closed her eyes and chuckled.

“Then it’s a plan.” Cleo struggled to her feet, and Faith rose to steady her. “First thing’s first, though. I need to be rid of this cast. Can we wait a while?”

Harlequin nodded stiffly. “How long will that be?”

“Hopefully soon if I can convince Melody I can walk without it.” Cleo clenched her teeth. “It’s got to be easier than with it, surely.”

“Then we’ll go back in the cell.” Harlequin nodded for the twins to follow her. “I’d hate to get you into trouble. Tinker might not let you leave New City at all if he discovers you let me out.”

Cleo closed the cell door behind Harlequin and locked it. She met the zorua’s sapphire gaze. “Don’t worry. If things go smoothly, you won’t be in there for long at all.”


Cleo gathered her bag from beside her bed and slung it over her shoulder. Spark watched her over an oran berry, chewing slowly.

“Where are you off to?” the dedenne asked.

“I’m going to see Tinker,” Cleo told her. “I have to ask him something.”

“Really?” Spark took another bite of her berry. “Good luck!”

“You don’t want to come?” Cleo asked with a smirk.

“Not a chance! I’m not getting caught in the midst of a blazing row! He’s all yours, sister.”

Cleo shook her head slowly. Tinker had been waiting in the corridor outside the cell, so it hadn’t surprised Cleo that he’d overheard some of their conversation. Not enough to string the pieces together, but enough to work out that she’d let Harlequin out of her cell.

“Well, if I need you I’ll send for back-up,” Cleo joked.

“What are you gonna see him about, anyway?” Spark asked.

“I’m going out into the mountains tomorrow,” Cleo told her. “I want to find Mischief and bring him back here.”

Spark almost choked on her berry. She spluttered to clear her throat. “Mischief? The mountains?!”

“That’s what I said.”

Spark looked her up and down, her expression turning indignant. “But your cast isn’t even off yet, and you’re goin’ hiking?!”

“Time is of the essence, Spark. We need to find him, and by the time Melody has released me he could have moved on goodness knows where.”

“He might not even be there, Cleo. Harlequin said he left her ages ago!”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Cleo adjusted her bag strap under her thick ruff, making sure her badge was visible. “But if there’s even a glimmer of a chance then I’m looking for him.”

“Then send out a search party!”

“What, and have him locked in a cell?” Cleo spat, her neck bristling. She took a breath and smoothed out her fur. “No, it has to be me. Besides, I have a plan.”

Spark snorted and returned to her berry. “All right. Well, rather you than me. Tinker ain’t exactly impressed with you right now, so I can only guess how he’s gonna react to this.”

“Spark’s right, Cleo.” Faith’s voice startled Cleo and she turned around to see the mawile folding a towel just beside the elevator. A basket lay at her feet filled with fresh laundry. “Mischief did hand his badge over to Harlequin.”

“Only because he knew he could trust her.” Cleo grabbed her crutch from the foot of the bed then hobbled to the elevator. “I’ll let you both know how things go once I get back.”

“If you get back,” mocked Spark.

Cleo rolled her eyes at her and climbed into the wooden elevator. She steadied her crutch against the wall and pulled on the cord. The little box rattled up to the next floor and she stepped out into the corridor. She almost stumbled back into it as Scout raced past her with Starshine in tow. Tad grabbed her by the arm before she toppled onto her bottom.

“Whoa there, ma’am.” He chuckled. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

The other two hatchlings had stopped and were watching her with an air of regret.

“You shouldn’t be running,” she chided. Then she nodded down the corridor. “Have you come from Tinker’s office.”

“Yeah,” said Starshine. “He won’t play. He sent us to the market.”

Scout folded his paws behind his back. “We’re on an errand!”

“Sent us for some pastries, aye.” Tad nudged his bandanna up from his eye. “Though I think he jus’ wants t’keep us busy.”

“Okay, well I’m off to see him now.” She nodded at the boys. “See you later.”

Scout saluted and took off with Starshine in flopping behind him.

“And no running!” she cried after them.

Starshine rose clumsily into the air. “I’m not, I’m flying!”

Cleo shook her head and laughed, turning her back to follow the corridor to Tinker’s office. It wound a few times before she found herself standing in front of Tinker’s closed door. A sense of foreboding washed over her, but she forced herself to give it a sharp knock then push it open. The riolu was sat at his desk scrawling something with a quill and ink. He had to look up and turn his head fully to see her with his good eye, then he looked back at his work, muttering under his breath.

“What do you want?” he asked as she closed the door behind her. “I’m busy.”

“I need to ask a favour.” Cleo forced her voice to sound confident.

“And what might that be?” he asked. “Do you want a room in New City for Harlequin now, too? Perhaps we should set one up for Hydreigon while we’re at it?”

“Cut that out, Tinker,” she snapped, drawing a glare from the riolu. She reached into her bag and hobbled over to him, dropping the detainment collar and bangle onto his desk with a clatter. “I need you do modify this.”

Tinker picked up the collar and his muzzle creased. “Modify it? Whatever for?”

“I’m going to look for Mischief,” she told him. “I want to use it on him, but without it stopping his attacks.”

“Mischief?” Tinker turned to fix her with a scowl. “What good will that do?”

“The collar works both ways,” Cleo explained. “I found that out the hard way. Harlequin couldn’t touch me, sure. But I also couldn’t attack her. If you can tweak it so that Mischief can still use his attacks, but he can’t actually hurt me, then I might be able to convince him to help us again.”

Tinker scratched his nose as he turned the collar in one paw. “It wasn’t meant to be used like that, Cleo. This was meant to be a mobile cell, in a way, allowing you to take a dangerous pokemon with you without them posing a risk to others.”

“I see that, but can you tweak it?”

“Why on earth do you want Mischief to help you?” Tinker scoffed. “He’s already proved he can’t be trusted.”

“You’re wrong,” said Cleo. “He’s proved he can indeed be trusted.”

“He handed a New City badge over to an assassin!”

“He handed a New City badge over to a pokemon who now fights on our side!” Cleo shook her head. “I can’t deny it was a risky move, but Harlequin isn’t our enemy, Tinker. You need to look away from her past to who she is now, and understand that Mischief didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong.”

“Okay, but look at it this way, Cleo.” Tinker sat back in his seat. “Say you are right. We know Harlequin’s past. We know where she’s come from. Perhaps, if she proves her loyalty, she could be trusted. But Mischief is a blank slate. We don’t know anything about him!”

“We know he’s loyal.” Cleo waved a paw at the air. “He turned himself over to a flock of murkrow to save our lives! I thought he was dead, but he’s not, Tinker! He’s out there. He’s my friend, and he’s sick.” She paused, swallowing back tears. “He needs help.”

Tinker closed his eyes and sighed. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.” He set the collar down on his desk and opened his drawer, pulling out a small screwdriver. “But if he’s the friend you believe he is, do you really think you can convince him to fight?” The look in his eye told her he’d overheard more than he was letting on.

Cleo gave a stiff nod towards the collar. “If there’s any way I can convince him, then it’s with this.”

Tinker let out a long, flustered breath and began working on the collar. Cleo turned to leave his office, but his voice froze her paw above the handle.

“You do know, Cleo, that one day that pokerus will take him over completely?”

“Not if I can help it.”

“You might not be able to.”

Cleo’s heart weighed heavily in her chest, pushing a lump of lead into her throat. Thinking about that fact wasn’t something she wanted to do. She took in a trembling breath and blinked back tears. “Then… then I’ll do anything in my power to help him. I’m not giving up on the belief that there’s something.” She swallowed loudly. “If not, then I can be there for him. I can show him he’s not alone.”

She tugged the door open before a sob betrayed her. As she closed the door behind her she caught a glimpse of Tinker sitting motionless with the collar clasped in both paws, his muzzle crinkled in thought.
Chapter 60


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
60 - Wisps on the Wind​

“There!” Melody rinsed her paws in a basin of water. “All changed! Hopefully that new cast will be a little less clunky.”

Cleo flexed her leg, clenching her jaw at the stiffness. The new bandage was definitely less clunky. It was firm, as it needed to be, but only took up the lower part of her leg beneath the knee. That’s where the break had been. Thankfully the rest of her leg had only been bruised.

“Thanks, Melody,” said Cleo.

The audino nodded and towelled off her paws. “You should be able to walk a bit better now. Doing so will help your recovery, but take it easy for a week or so.”

Cleo grit her teeth. “That won’t really be possible. I need to head out.”

Melody’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “Head out? Cleo, you can’t work on that leg.”

“It’s urgent.” Cleo pushed herself from the bed, stepping gingerly on her leg to test it. Much to her delight it held her weight. “I won’t be gone long. Hopefully no more than two days.”

“Cleo… if you push yourself too much you’ll end up spending many more weeks in this ward.”

“I won’t,” Cleo told her. “I’ll take it easy. I won’t do anything silly.” When Melody didn’t back down, Cleo added, “This is too urgent. Believe me, if I felt I had the time to rest I would. But this really can’t wait.”

Melody let out a flustered breath. “Fine. But don’t go alone. And take your crutch.”

Cleo blinked, holding back the urge to tell her that she certainly was planning on going alone and had no intention of taking her crutch.

“I’m warning you,” Melody continued. “I know what you’re like. And if you experience any pain, rest and eat some sitrus berries. Do not push yourself.”

Cleo obediently reached for her crutch as Melody turned her back on her to carry the basin away, all the while muttering about stubborn guild warriors. Cleo had expected her to put up more of a fight, but she guessed Melody was used to her advice falling on deaf ears. The Darkness was an ever present threat, leaving little room for recovery. Now that Yveltal had awoken, the need for readiness was more pressing than ever.

Cleo made her way to the elevator, making the effort to use her leg. She kept the crutch under one arm and clambered into the elevator, wincing at the ache in her bones. She needed to find Tinker and get the collar back, then find Spark and Faith to let them know where she was going. Two days had passed since she’d asked Tinker to fix that collar. That was two days more than she’d wanted to waste lying around. She desperately hoped Mischief would still be in the mountains.

Her first stop was Tinker’s office. She hobbled to a stop before his closed door and stared up at it. She’d not seen him since she’d dropped the collar off. He’d been hovering around the hospital ward every day since she’d returned, fussing over her constantly. But the past two days she’d not seen so much as a whisker. The door itself carried an air of foreboding, and Cleo swallowed loudly as she raised a paw to knock. Tinker wouldn’t be the slightest bit happy she was going out with a wounded leg.

“Come in.” His voice sounded oddly light.

Cleo pushed the door open, spotting the riolu sitting with his back to his desk. Tinker and Sandpaw looked up as she entered, and both of them lit up instantly.

“Ahh, Cleo!” said Skipper. “Ye lookin’ a wee bit better now ye outta yon lumpy cast, aye?”

Sandpaw gave her a small smile. “You are looking well.”

“Thanks,” said Cleo. “How are the boys?”

“Prob’ly stuffin’ their faces in th’dinin’ hall,” said Skipper. Then with a grin at Sandpaw he added, “Whatever keeps th’wee nyaffs outta trouble, aye?”

“At least they’re happy.” Sandpaw shuffled her feet on the floor and glanced away from him.

Cleo raised an eyebrow. Something was clearly on the furret’s mind, but Cleo shook it off. She had more pressing matters to attend to.

She turned to Tinker and cleared her throat. “I’m here about that collar.”

“Of course.” Tinker swivelled his chair around and reached into his desk drawer. “I’ve made the modifications you requested. It should work just fine.”

Cleo took it from him and tucked it away in her bag.

Tinker eyed her leg. “So when do you plan to leave? In a week?”


Tinker’s jaw dropped. “Now? But your leg-”

“Is just fine.” Cleo met his gaze. “I can’t waste anymore time, Tinker. I need to find Mischief before we lose his trail.”

Tinker gave a derisive snort. “You can’t expect to go clambering over a mountain in your condition!”

Cleo opened her mouth to retort.

“Tink’s right, ye ken,” said Skipper. “All them rocks ‘n’ streams. Ye’ll be slippin’ ‘bout like a magikarp climin’ a waterfall, sure enough.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Cleo. “I’ll go slow, and I won’t push myself.”

Tinker waved her off and turned back to his friends. “Very well. If you’re not back in a week I’ll send out a search party to drag home whatever’s left of you.”

Cleo grunted and narrowed her eyes. “Two days.”


“I’ll be back in two days.” Cleo adjusted her bag over her shoulder. “If I’m not, have Spark and Faith come looking for me. Let them bring Harlequin, too. She has a good nose.”

Tinker rolled his eyes. “Cleo-”

“I didn’t come here to argue,” Cleo told him. “I’ll see you when I get back.”

She turned to leave, but Tinker’s voice stopped her. “I hope you do find Mischief, Cleo.”

“Thanks,” she said, unable to hide her surprise.

“I only hope that collar doesn’t hurt his already fragile self-esteem.”

Cleo bit her lip. Whether or not that had been a jab at her intentions, the riolu made a very good point. She took in a long breath. “I won’t know unless I try. All I know is he won’t come with me if he thinks he’ll hurt someone.”

“I’m aware of that.” Tinker looked up at her, catching her eye. “Just be careful. Please.”

She nodded once and left the room, closing the door behind her. Her heart ached and she leaned her back against the door. Her paw went to her bag, fastening over the lump where the collar sat. Was she doing the right thing?


The mountains were as quiet as Cleo remembered them. Cold air whipped at her fur as she scrambled over the uneven terrain. She could still hear Spark’s protests as she followed Cleo through the tunnels of New City with Faith. Both had understood why she couldn’t bring them along, but they’d been worried for her. Their worries had eased when they saw how much easier Cleo was walking. They’d agreed to come looking for her if she wasn’t back within two days. Cleo didn’t plan for that to happen.

Two days.

The sun was already high above her, threatening to set on the other side of the mountains.

Her leg was beginning to ache with a dull throb as she pressed on at a steady pace. She knew she’d need to rest soon, but doing so would cost her valuable time. She inspected every crevice and burrow she passed, and paused to scan the outcrops below her. The emptiness of the mountains made her feel hollow inside.

Harlequin had told her that Mischief had headed towards the mountains, but that had been a while ago now. What if he’d moved on? Cleo clenched her teeth at the thought, resisting the urge to turn back and form another plan. The fact they’d not seen or heard from him meant he most likely hadn’t found that mushroom he was searching for. There was every possibility he was still nearby, and she wasn’t about to quit on him.

To give her leg a break, she pushed herself closer to the level ground, carved through by the river. Its roar pounded her ears as it rushed down the mountain slope. The ground was still devoid of grass, the trees standing skeletal beside the river. The leaves had been reduced to mush after the snowfall, and the mud sucked at Cleo’s paws as she trudged along it.

The sight of the river made her heart ache. Finding the poisoned river had been her first real outing with Mischief as part of their team. It had been a wake-up-slap none of them had expected. Loneliness stabbed at Cleo’s chest and she half-expected Spark to say something from her shoulder. The silence made her heart ache even more.

After a short while, trudging through the muck became tiresome. Cleo turned her back on the river and clambered higher up the slope. Perhaps from a better vantage point she might be able to pinpoint the whimsicott.

The mountain caps were still thick with snow, rising up to vanish beyond heavy white clouds. Cleo raised her paw to shield her eyes as she squinted out across the landscape. The stony terrain rose and fell, vanishing into the dense forest below. Gentle snow drifted lazily down towards the rocks, reluctant to let go of the cold season. Cleo looked past it then faltered.

No. That wasn’t snow.

She squinted at it, watching the white specks drift and bob along the wind. Seeds? But it was much too early for seeds.

Her heart lurched. They weren’t seeds! She lowered her paw, pushing herself towards them. Half-running, half-sliding on her tail, Cleo scrambled towards the fluffy tufts, following their trail back towards a mound of rocks. Snow lay piled up against them, its surface crusted with ice. A narrow cave mouth yawned from beneath the outcrop. Large icicles hung down from it like vicious teeth, dripping melt onto the slick, icy ground. Fluffy white tufts clung to the icicles and the rough surface of the rock like frothy saliva.

Cleo recoiled from it slightly, her gaze trailing over the opening. It was much too small for her with all that jagged ice. She squinted into it and stifled a gasp. A fluffy shape lay curled up in the middle of the cave, his sides rising and falling with shallow rapid breaths.

“Mischief?” she hissed.

When he didn’t respond, Cleo stood back, her heart hammering. Something was very wrong. Why would he be curled up in a frozen place like this? Was he injured? He certainly wasn’t conscious. She had to get in, but the huge icy teeth barred her way. Above them lay a heavy layer of snow, slowly melting away in the sun. It trickled down the icicles to pool on the frozen ground. Cleo tested it with her feet, feeling them slip over black ice. It was going to be a challenge to get inside that cave. If she used her psychic to destroy the icicles, the snow would tumble down on her and block Mischief in until it melted away in the thick of the hot season.

Cleo searched around her until she spotted a pile of rubble. She searched through it for a jagged stone that would allow her to slowly chip away at the ice. Her paws found a chunk of slate and she returned to the cave mouth to face its frozen grin.

“Right,” she muttered to it, raising her makeshift chisel.

Slowly she scraped away at the ice, letting the shavings fall to the floor at her feet. Her other paw held the ice to stop it from moving and disturbing the snow. It burned her pads with a fierce intensity and she yanked her paw back several times, sticking it into her mouth to warm it up. She glanced in at Mischief but if he heard her he didn’t stir. Bile rose in Cleo’s throat and she worked fiercely at the ice, dragging the slate up and down it.

The sun had begun to set by the time she was done, dying the sky an inky blue. Psychic hummed in her ears as it held the icicle in place, which was now worn thin at its base. She dropped the slate to hold the weakened icicle in both paws, using her psychic to gradually move it aside. She set it on the snowy ground and released her powers, feeling exhausted from exerting so much of them. She blew on her paws to warm them and turned back to the cave entrance. The opening was still small, but with the icicle shifted she could duck inside and drag herself through on all-fours. Once inside, she scooted over to Mischief, placing her paws on his shoulder.

“Mischief?” She gave him a gentle shake. “Mischief, are you…?” She trailed off, lifting a paw from his shoulder. His fur felt cold and damp, and dew clung to his body.

The wind blew through the cave and Cleo fluffed up her fur and huddled into herself. How long had he been in here? Cold and alone… a grass-type hiding in a frozen cave… Cleo’s heart began to race and she rummaged through her bag, dragging out her old blue tent. She pulled it over the two of them and huddled into his body, hoping it would be enough to warm him up. The familiar scent of pollen reached her nose and she buried her face into his chest with a sob.

She didn’t know how much time passed. The mountains were deathly silent, and the dark of night soon blanketed the mountain. Cleo refused to let herself sleep, keeping her senses trained on Mischief. His body began to warm and his breathing became less frantic.

Feeling a little more relieved, Cleo climbed from the sheet to reach for her bag, rummaging through it for berries. He’d need some when he woke up. She’d pulled a sitrus free when a mumble came from the sheet. She looked back, her heart in her throat. Mischief raised a paw to rub his eyes and fixed one on her. He blinked a few times as though he wasn’t convinced she was there. He pushed himself up, letting the sheet fall to his lap.


Cleo let out a long sigh and felt her fur flatten. “Mischief… thank goodness, I-”

She was cut off as the whimsicott threw his arms around her, pulling her into his chest. She dropped the berry and returned his embrace, burying her face into his shoulder.

“Please tell me you’re really here.” His body shook with sobs.

“I’m here.”

“Because I don’t want it to be another dream,” he went on. “Please…”

“Mischief.” Her voice came out as a breath. A dream? She tried to pull back to meet his gaze but his grip wouldn’t relent. “I’m here. Really.”

He sighed and loosened his hold, nuzzling her neck. “Thank goodness.”

Cleo trailed a paw over his back, trying to break the daze she now found herself in. “Now… are you going to tell me what you’re doing in this cave?” She tried to pull back but he kept her close.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” he murmured.

Cleo swallowed back tears. “Why on earth would you think that?”

He shifted slightly and Cleo’s mind went to the berry lying a paw’s reach away, but he didn’t let her go. His muzzle brushed hers and she froze, catching her breath.

“I’ve missed you.” His breath tickled her fur and he brushed a paw over her ear.

Cleo’s mouth went dry. She fastened her paws in his fluffy collar. “I’ve missed you too.” She swallowed to try and silence the sob that threatened to betray her. She opened her mouth to add that she was glad he was okay, but her words were robbed as his lips brushed hers.

Cleo’s mind swirled, floundering over words. All that came out was a muffled ‘whu?’ as Mischief touched his nose to hers. His warm breath bathed her muzzle.

“I’m so happy you’re here.” He trailed his claws through her fur near her ear.

Giving up on words, Cleo leaned into him, and he met her kiss. His warmth leaked through her fur, chasing away the biting cold from the breeze. She brushed her paw over one of his horns and yanked it back with with a yell. It was like touching hot iron. She pulled back from him, but his paws flailed as he tried to pull her back. She met his gaze, misted and confused.

“No!” he whined. “Don’t leave me!”

“I’m not going anywhere!” Cleo dragged her paws over her face, trying to clear her head. “You’re burning up. Get back under the sheet.”

Mischief flopped to the ground but his bleary gaze never left her. It was as if he was worried she’d vanish at any moment. Cleo reached into her bag and rummaged around for another sitrus berry.

“You’re sick.” She placed the berry near his outstretched paw. “Eat this.”

He grabbed her paw before she could retract it from the berry. She met his eyes, keeping her expression stoic.

“Why are you pushing me away?” he asked.

Cleo’s ears drooped and she retracted her paw. “Please eat that berry. I need you to get better.”

With a resigned sigh, Mischief pushed himself up and began tearing the peel off the sitrus. He swayed so violently Cleo braced herself to catch him in case he fainted. But he steadied himself and tore a chunk out of the berry with his claws.

“You don’t feel the same way I do,” he said. “Do you?”

Cleo hugged her knees to her chest and glanced back at the cave mouth. Moonlight glinted off the icicles. She didn’t know how much of what Mischief was saying was just a result of the fever.

“We’ll talk in the morning,” she said. “After you’ve slept and the berries have done their work.”


Frantic wing-beats stirred the air, drawing Yurlik out of his evening drowse. His red gaze wandered up to the sky, resting on the cloud of noibat and murkrow flocking over the wall. Several of them clutched freshly caught fish. Yurlik grunted, forcing himself into the air to intersect them. He landed, panting, in a tree closer to the wall as the birds with empty claws landed in it.

The slender branch above him bowed under the weight of another honchkrow, and her wicked eyes narrowed as an amused laugh left her throat.

“Ilana,” Yurlik scoffed. “I see you’re back with nothing.”

“Nothing?” Ilana nodded to the murkrow still making their way across the Shadow Lands towards the food stores. “My flock did a much better job than yours.”

“They wouldn’t need to run this pointless errand in the first place if you hadn’t raided the breeding pens of valuable stock,” Yurlik scoffed.

Ilana’s amusement died and she ruffled her feathers. “I think you’re just ashamed that we’ve proved we are worth much more than just eggs and meat?”

Yurlik opened his beak to retort but a large shadow looming across the courtyard drew their gaze. Yveltal strutted towards the wall, his icy gaze fixed on the returning pokemon. The deino scattered from beneath his feet, barely phasing Yveltal. Yurlik felt his feathers bristle and he failed to stifle a low growl. They’d have more food available if the giant draconic bird didn’t keep turning it to stone.

“Good evening.” Yurlik forced the words out of a stiff beak.

Yveltal glanced up at him then returned to watching the murkrow and noibat as they vanished over the roof of the castle. “That’s a rather paltry flock you’ve got there.”

Yurlik scoffed and opened his beak, but it was Ilana who spoke. “I think you’ll find they’re my flock.”

Yveltal turned his gaze on her. A glint of humour sparkled in his eyes. “Rather weak fliers.”

“They’re improving,” said Ilana. “You should have seen them a season ago. They could barely fly from the ground into the branches of this tree.”

“Then with a bit more progress perhaps you’ll be able to actually claim a bit more land for your ruler?” Yveltal cracked his jaws in a grin. He turned his gaze from a ruffled Ilana to Yurlik, causing a chill to spread throughout the honchkrow’s body. “And where are your murkrow? If this female’s flock have nothing to do with you?”

Yurlik hugged his wings tight to his body. “Out on patrol in the Border Woods.”

“You don’t leave any on guard here?”

“I don’t have the murkrow to spare.” Yurlik felt as if every word needed plucking from deep in his throat.

Yveltal cocked his head on one side. “Really?”

“Really,” Yurlik confessed. What he didn’t want to add was that most of what remained of his flock had carpeted part of the Border Woods weeks earlier. ‘That whimsicott has a lot to answer for…’

Yveltal spat air and glanced around at the Shadow Lands. His expression turned sour as his icy stare landed on the deino herd. “Hydreigon’s armies truly are pathetic. How long have you been trying to retrieve that little whimsicott?”

Yurlik’s feathers rose and his eyes flashed with rage. “I beg your pardon?! I have you know-” His words died as Yveltal’s livid eyes met his, and he swallowed audibly. “It’s giving us a lot of bother. You should see it! I-”

“Oh, I shall see it.” Yveltal raised his head, almost stretching up as high as Yurlik’s branch.

Ilana quivered above him, rustling what remained of the decaying leaves. Her wings parted slightly as she braced herself to flee. ‘Don’t you dare,’ Yurlik thought, willing his voice to echo in her head.

Yveltal looked between the two honchkrow. A grin split his beak again and he let out a dry laugh. “You’d better watch your tongue, Yurlik. If Hydreigon’s armies weren’t already so pathetic I’d be turning you into a fat lawn ornament to join your leader’s zweilos.”

Yurlik gulped and shifted his weight, causing the branch to sway.

Yveltal laughed again and shook his head. “Pathetic, all of you. I should show you how it’s done.”

“You have no idea, Yveltal,” Yurlik told him. “That whimsicott is… something is very wrong with it. No single pokemon should possess such power!”

“Power?!” Yveltal spread his wings. The blood-red stripes stretching across them seemed to flash. “I have more power than that little runt could dream of!”

Yurlik’s beak flapped wordlessly. His heart was pounding so fast it echoed around his ears. Every fibre of his being was screaming at him to flee.

Yveltal tucked his wings back in and bared his canines. “Perhaps I should go out there and retrieve the little pest myself?”

The honchkrow were silent for a moment, trapped in Yveltal’s cold stare. The large bird took a step back, but Ilana’s voice froze him.

“I had it in my grip,” she said.

Yurlik stifled a curse and looked away from her.

“Don’t underestimate it,” Ilana told Yveltal. “I’m almost certain when it struck out at us it was holding back. If the damage it’s done to Yurlik’s flock is anything to go by-”

“You untrained little hatchlings.” Yvetal looked up at them again, his eyes blazing with icy fire. “Your warning hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. But if I come back here with that monstrosity, you’ll both be decorating Hydreigon’s castle.” He paused and cracked a smirk. “So perhaps consider what pose you’d like to be frozen in?”

Yveltal beat his wings and shot into the air. Yurlik braced himself against the sudden flurry of wind. When he looked up, Yveltal had vanished. Yurlik touched his primaries to his chest and let out a long, audible breath. He exchanged glances with a cowed Ilana, her entire body trembling.

“Couldn’t keep your beak shut, could you?” Yurlik snapped.

Ilana raised her head and narrowed her eyes at him. “What, and you’re happy with him thinking you’re so pathetic?”

Yurlik spread his wings and beat them, rising off the tree. “You’d better hope he doesn’t find that whimsicott, Ilana, or we’re both in for it.”
Chapter 61


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
61 - Moving On​

Spark paced back and forth in the doorway. Faith was still curled up in her nest, her soft snores breaking the silence. Spark’s nest was cold. She’d barely slept a wink, her mind whirling over every worst-case-scenario. It had only been one night since Cleo had left to look for Mischief. One night. As far as Spark was concerned, that was one night too long. Sure, Cleo had reassured her she’d only be two days, but that was two days Spark and Faith could have been watching her back. Two days they could have kept a look-out for the Darkness. Now Yveltal had awoken things could become a lot worse than they already were. No, it was inevitable.

A yawn froze Spark to the spot and her whiskers crackled. Faith plodded towards her, rubbing her eyes with a paw. Spark calmed, letting her long black tail go limp across the floor.

“Good morning.” Faith’s smile melted as she looked the dedenne up and down. “You look very on edge. Is something wrong?” When Spark didn’t answer, Faith added, “You’ve been chattering to yourself.”

“Sorry,” said Spark. “Did I wake you?”

“No. I just woke to hear you muttering.” Faith tucked her paws behind her back and forced a smile. “Shall we get some breakfast? That always cheers you up.”

“No.” Spark kicked at the floor. “I’m not hungry.”

Faith’s violet eyes widened and she stood up straight. Her expression softened. “Oh, Spark… You’re really worried about Cleo, aren’t you?”

Spark threw her arms up in exasperation. “We’re never apart! What if some murkrow flock mobs her? She’s still not recovered, Faith! And she’s out there, hobbling all over the mountains?! We could be helping her!”

Faith sighed and rubbed the base of her horn. “I know it must be hard for you. You two have been inseparable since you were hatchlings. You’re like sisters.”

Spark nodded and leaned against the doorway. “Yup. But what can I do? She told us to wait here.”

She exchanged glances with Faith and a smile spread across the mawile’s face.

“Do you want to go looking for her?” Faith asked.

“Finally!” Spark pushed herself from the wall and turned from the room. “I thought you’d never suggest it!”

Faith caught up with the dedenne. “All you had to do was ask, Spark.”

“I needed a clear conscience!” Spark looked up at her, widening her eyes. “I needed to know my worrying wasn’t for nothing!”

Faith shook her head and averted her gaze. “So how do you suggest we find her? She could be anywhere by now.”

“She said she was going to the mountains,” said Spark. “But they are pretty big. So I suggest we use Harlequin’s nose.”

Faith nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. But how do we get her? Tinker won’t be too happy if we just break her out, and I don’t wish to push his ire any further.”

“Leave Tinker to me.” Spark marched on ahead of her. “I know how to make him listen to reason.”

Faith trotted to catch up with her. “I hope you’ll be using a painless method!”

“That depends on how stubborn he is.”

They found Tinker in the dining hall. Spark had assumed he’d be up early, but she hadn’t expected to find him in the middle of what looked to be a meeting. He sat between Sandpaw and Skipper. Starshine and Scout sat opposite him with a shrewed Tad. The young marshtomp cowered under his mother’s scolding glare. The other two hatchlings kept a watchful eye on her while they silently ate their berries.

Tinker looked up as Faith and Spark entered the room, his eyes widening in surprise. “You’re up early!”

“I could say the same for you.” Spark hopped up onto the table and grabbed a plate.

“Oh no! It’s Spark!” Scout snatched several pancakes off the large serving plate. “Quick! Grab your breakfast before it’s all gone!”

Sandpaw’s shoulders bristled and she flashed her canines. “Scout! Don’t be rude!”

The younger furret sank back in his seat, a small smirk quivering on his lips as he held back a snicker.

Sandpaw looked at Spark, then Faith as the mawile sat down beside her. “I am so sorry about him. I have no idea where he gets it from.”

Lily grunted and nodded to Tad. “Thissun.”

Spark waved a paw at him. “Nah. It’s fine! He kinda has a point.” She grabbed a lone pancake and two oran berries and sat down with Starshine.

The little swablu beamed at her. “I heard Cleo’s out. Do you think she’ll have found her friend yet?”

Spark lowered her berry from her mouth and exchanged glances with Faith. “That’s… kinda why we’re here.”

“What?” Tinker frowned at the dedenne. “Don’t tell me you want to send out a search party? Cleo specifically said she’d be out for two days.”

“And if not, then we were to worry, yeah.” Spark nodded. “But she’s wounded, Tinker. I wanna go and find her.”

“Well I’m not stopping you. You’re a Guild Warrior. One I currently have no task for.” Tinker folded his arms. “So why did this warrant disturbing my meeting?”

“Yeah, about that.” Spark spoke around a mouthful of pancake. “You’re in the dining hall. Anyone could just waltz in. I mean, we just did.”

Tinker rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Spark. If you want something, get to the point.”

“We want Harlequin.” Spark took a huge bite of an oran berry.

Tinker’s eyes flashed and he looked from the dedenne to Faith and back. “Harlequin is a prisoner.”

“Come on, Tinker,” said Faith softly. “Harlequin has proved enough times she can be trusted.”

“I don’t trust dark-types.”

“Well let’s recap,” said Faith. “Harlequin gave the antidote to Meredith. She protected Scout from those murkrow.”

“Yeah, she was awesome!” said Scout.

“And she’s come back here wanting to defeat Hydreigon,” Faith added. “I think she’s proved you can trust her.”

“Yeah, come on, Tink,” said Skipper. “Give ‘em a wee break. Type don’t matter. Ye should ken that more’n anyone, sure enough.”

The marshtomp’s gaze rested on Starshine, and Tinker followed it.

The little swablu shifted with unease and looked up at each of them. “Why are you staring at me?”

Tinker sighed and lowered his face into his paws. “Fine. Take Harlequin. I’ve got too much to deal with right now, anyway. With all this snow melt the tunnels are caving in.”

Spark almost choked on her pancake. “What?!”

“Don’t worry yourselves,” Tinker hissed.

“Don’t worry?!” Spark gasped. “Tinker, that’s not something you should just be all casual about! What if some assassin finds a way in?”

“It’s happened before! The excavation team is already on it.”

Spark held the riolu’s livid stare. “Which tunnels?”

“The tunnel to the cells is fine, if that’s your concern.” Tinker placed his paws on the table and stood up. “I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.”

“Wait.” Sandpaw grabbed his arm and Tinker’s expression softened as he looked down at her. “I… I want to go with them.”

Tinker’s ears drooped slightly. “You… want to go with them?”

“Yes.” Sandpaw looked over at Scout who’s cheeks were bulging. “Now Scout is old enough I’d like to try and find the Fairy Garden, with Faith’s help.”

Tinker clenched his jaw. “This again?! Sandpaw-”

“Please!” The furret tightened her grip, forcing herself to meet Tinker’s blazing glare.

Tinker stared at her for a moment longer. Then he sighed, closing his eyes. “I was hoping you’d stay…”

“You already know that wasn’t my plan, Tinker. I always planned to find the Fairy Garden.” She lifted a paw to turn his face towards hers. “Why don’t you come with us? Everyone here? We could all go.”

Tinker shook his head and stood back from her. “I’m not leading everyone here across Estellis to look for some fabled magical garden.”

“Then I’m sorry.” Sandpaw blinked back tears. “I’m going. Perhaps one day… I’ll see you there?”

Tinker waved a paw and turned his back, heading for the door. All eyes watched him, leaving the dining hall in silence.

Spark blinked at the door, struggling to find the right words. The occasional sob from Sandpaw broke the silence. Faith placed an arm around her, trying to comfort the shaken furret.

Starshine lifted his head to look at Scout. “You’re leaving?”

Scout shifted in his seat. “Yeah…”

“But what ‘bout Team Heroes?” Tad asked. “Y’can’t go!”

Sandpaw’s sobs grew heavier and she sank in her seat, covering her face with her paws.

“I have to,” said Scout. “My Ma needs me.”

“That’s reet she does,” said Lily. “After that nyaff Tink got ‘er all upset n’all.” She paused and caught Scout’s eye, forcing a smile. “Ye go’n’ look after ye Ma, hon. Ye’ll see Tad’n’Starshine again, sure enough!”

Skipper cleared his throat and pushed his chair back from the table. “Speakin’ o’ Tink, I’d better… go check on ‘im.”

Lily nodded, her eyes narrowed. “Ye do that. ‘Cos if I go after ‘im ‘e’ll be gettin’ a reet skelpin’.” She turned her soft gaze onto Sandpaw. “Are ye all reet, dear?”

“Yes.” Sandpaw wiped at her eyes. “I’m fine. We… we should get ready. Come on, Scout.”

Scout didn’t move. He looked between his two friends, who stared back at him with wide eyes.

Starshine shuffled towards him, his eyes glossy with unshed tears. “You’re really leaving?” He looked to Sandpaw.

Sandpaw looked as if her heart would break into a million pieces. She nodded stiffly.

Faith leaned across the table to Spark. “You go and get Harlequin. I’m going to help Sandpaw. I’ll meet you at the mountain exit.”

Spark nodded and scampered across the table, leaving her pancake half-finished.


Cleo jerked awake from a deep, dreamless sleep as two paws clasped her shoulder, shaking her violently. Psychic energy hummed in her ears as she sat bolt upright, turning on her assailant. She met a pair of wide, orange eyes. Mischief fell back from her onto his bottom, his shoulders sinking with relief. It was followed by a loud whine as he broke into sobs, sinking sideways against the cold, damp wall.

Cleo shut off her psychic and pushed herself to her knees. “Mischief-?”

“What do you think you’re doing?!” he snapped. His eyes turned livid and he flashed his canines. “I thought you were dead!”

Cleo opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find the right words.

Mischief dragged his paws over his face, letting out a flustered breath. “I thought I…” He shook his head. “I can’t…”

“Are you still sick?”

As Mischief met her gaze, Cleo realised that had been a poor choice of words.

She cleared her throat and tried again. “You had a fever when I found you. The cold had got to you.”

He kept one eye on her as he gathered up the blue cloth. It was strewn in the middle of the cave as if he’d thrown it off in his panic. Cleo guessed that was exactly what had happened. Rather than cover himself again he folded the sheet into a rough square with stiff, forced movements.

“You shouldn’t be near me,” he said bluntly. “I’m not safe.”

Well that was a complete change to his attitude the night before. Cleo cast a glance at the cave mouth. Faint light leaked through as the sun rose on the other side of the mountain. When she turned back to Mischief he’d abandoned the blue sheet beside her in a shoddy bundle. Cleo picked it up and tucked it into her bag.

“Harlequin told us everything,” she said. “I’m really sorry, Mischief. It must have been such a shock to you.”

“He’s lucky I didn’t kill him too.”

Cleo looked up at him. “Who?”

“Harlequin.” Mischief rubbed his face and let out another sigh, shaken with repressed sobs. “Where is he?”

“In the cells with Scratch and Claw.”

Mischief hugged his knees to his chest, avoiding her gaze. “How long have you been here?”

“Only since last night.” Cleo pulled her bag back onto her shoulder. “I should be asking you the same question.”

Mischief snorted and turned his head towards the back of the cavern.

“Do you really not remember me finding you?” Cleo asked slowly.

Mischief shook his head. “All I remember is waking up thinking I’d killed you.”

Cleo’s heart clenched and she closed her eyes. Why hadn’t it been obvious to her he wouldn’t remember anything? He’d been so delirious. She should have been more careful.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be.” Mischief rubbed his face again as more sobs took over his body. “I’m the monster, not you.”

Cleo leaned forwards on her knees. “You’re not a monster.”

“I am a monster, Cleo!” He looked up at her, his eyes wide. “I killed Flutterwick! I told them to run, but none of them did and I killed him!” He took a few breaths and sank down against the wall until he was lying on his side. “What must he have thought of me? I was meant to be his friend!”

The cavern echoed with his sobs. Cleo closed her eyes, fighting back her own tears.

“You’re all better off without me,” he said. “That’s why I came in here to die.”

Cleo sank back onto her tails, her heart heavy. All she could do was listen to Mischief’s erratic breathing as his sobs lessened into ragged breaths. Silent tears streaked over her cheeks to soak through her ruff. Her paws ached and she became aware she was digging her claws into the hard soil. She wiped her paw on her satchel and took a steadying breath.

“Mischief, please let us help you.” Her voice shook despite her attempts to still it.

“How?” His voice was muffled and he wiped a paw over his nose. “There’s no cure, Cleo. Nothing. It didn’t work. And… and I’m getting worse.” He took in a trembling breath. “I keep… going dizzy… and then I don’t remember anything.”

“Are you sure that wasn’t just the fever?”

“No. It wasn’t. It’s all the time! Since Spark asked me if there’s any foreshadowing to my outbursts I’ve been paying more attention. And there is. I get dizzy. But now it’s almost all the time.”

Cleo felt sick to her stomach. She swallowed back bile. “How couldn’t you know that?”

She met his bloodshot stare and immediately regretted her words. His answer stung her. “Because I don’t know what ‘normal’ feels like.”

Cleo licked her dry lips and glanced aside. “You can’t give up hope, Mischief. There has to be a cure.”

“If there is, I’ll still remember everything I’ve done. I’ll know I’ve killed other pokemon.”

“But it’s not you!” Cleo turned to meet his eyes again. “I know you, Mischief. And I want to help you. You’re my friend.”

His eyes softened with warmth and he held her gaze for a moment. “That’s what frightens me.” Tears trickled over his fur to mix in the dusty floor and he closed his eyes. “Please. Just go.”

Cleo dug her claws into her knee. “No.”

He looked up at her again with a look of defiance.

“I’m not leaving you,” she said. “I can’t bare the thought of being away from you again.”

“And I can’t bare the thought of hurting you.”

Cleo held his gaze. “You won’t”

She reached into her bag and her heart flipped as her paw found the detainment collar. For a brief moment she warred over offering it. She still didn’t know how he’d react, and given his current frame of mind he could either take it really well or really badly.

With a sigh, Cleo set the collar on the floor with a soft clatter. Mischief’s eyes immediately went to it, and he pushed himself up onto his elbow.

“What’s this?” He looked up at her, his expression hard and unreadable. “Harlequin’s prison collar?”

“I’ve had Tinker modify it,” Cleo explained, forcing herself to speak slowly and confidently. Her heart was racing. “You’ll be able to use all your attacks, but you won’t be able to touch me.” She paused to give him a moment, and he looked back down at the collar. “You’ll be able to travel with us again safely.”

He placed a paw on the collar gingerly. “And what about everyone else?”

“I’ll deal with that problem. If anything happens, I can get you away to a safe distance.”

Mischief pushed himself up, lifting the collar in both paws. He turned it thoughtfully, his eyes turning distant and hazy.

“Don’t think of it as a prison,” Cleo went on. “You’ll be able to fight against the Darkness again, safely. And we can also help you to look for a cure at the same time.” She paused, then added, “It will be a lot less lonely this way.”

Mischief said nothing as he examined the collar. His mind seemed to be elsewhere. For a moment, Cleo began to fear the fever had taken over him again.

When he did speak, it took her by surprise. “You know, I had really given up.”

Cleo raised her head. “’Had’?” She watched Mischief brush his paw over the collar’s metallic surface.

“Yes.” He took in a ragged breath. “But if there’s still hope out there, then I want to hang onto it.”

“Does that mean you’ll join us again?” Cleo couldn’t hide the hope in her voice.

Mischief gave a small nod. “If you can guarantee this collar will work, then yes.”

A smile played at Cleo’s lips and she leaned towards him to take the collar. She snapped it open, and Mischief flinched at the sudden sound amplified by the hollow cave. She looked from him to the collar. Once it was on him, that was it. So long as she wore the bracelet, she wouldn’t be able to touch him. Her paws brushed the soft, creamy fur around his shoulders and he raised a paw to her arm, stopping a hair’s breadth away. Cleo froze, meeting his warm gaze. Her heart leapt in her chest as the previous night came rushing back to her like a tidal wave. Even if he didn’t remember it, she did. She wanted to know if he’d meant it.

The frantic worry had vanished from his face and instead he looked… sorry. Yet there was a tenderness behind his eyes that stirred something deep within Cleo, and she struggled to bring herself to fasten the collar. But she needed to stifle it. Doing otherwise would only make this much harder than it already was.

His paw brushed against her fur as he reached up to stroke her face. His arm trembled as he softly combed his claws through the fur around the base of her ear. Cleo’s heart lurched into a gallop and she closed her eyes, fighting the urge to lean into his paw.

“I’m sorry.” His breath tickled her muzzle. “But I know I won’t be able to touch you again when this collar is on. And… I really wanted to.”

Cleo bit her lip against fresh tears as her stomach tied itself in knots. She leaned into him, pressing the ends of the collar together. The snap echoed around the cavern with an unsettling air of finality that reminded Cleo of a slamming door.
Chapter 62


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
62 - Stalker​

Moonlight glinted off the icicles, and shimmering water trickled from them, pooling onto the floor with soft drips. Cleo gazed out through the cave entrance at the stars speckled across the sky. Everything was silent, as expected in the mountains. The only other sound came from Mischief’s steady breathing as he slept deep in the cave. He’d fallen asleep shortly after Cleo had fixed the collar on him. The poor whimsicott was still exhausted from his fever, and his endless panic hadn’t helped matters. The collar had been like a tranquiliser, sedating him as he realised he couldn’t hurt her so long as she wore the accompanying bracelet.

Cleo idly turned the bracelet around her wrist. She hadn’t known Mischief long, but in that short space of time the naive whimsicott she’d encountered in the market had swiftly fallen into a pit of self-loathing. It made her heart ache. There was nothing but goodness in him. What those scientists had done was nothing short of a cruel torture.

Cleo sighed and sat back on her paws. There had to be a cure out there somewhere. There just had to be. But even if there was, it wouldn’t bring back the life he’d taken. He’d always know that his friend had died at his paws. Cleo feared Mischief would never forgive himself for that.

Cleo’s ears pricked at the faint patter of tumbling rocks. She froze, barely breathing, as she strained her ears against the following silence. It had been brief, but there was no mistaking it. There was no wind outside to disturb the plants enough to send pebbles trickling down the slope. Someone was outside. Cleo’s heart hammered as she waited for something… anything else to give her any indication as to whether it was just a natural slide. But nothing else came. Just a haunting, heavy silence.

Every muscle in her body tensed, ready to spring. Was it deliberate? Was someone trying to lure her outside? The cave suddenly felt a lot smaller, as if the walls were pressing in on her. She stared out between the icicles, deadly spikes that made the cave mouth resemble a gaping, hungry maw. They didn’t need to lure her out. If one of the Darkness had found her, she and Mischief would be well and truly trapped.

Cleo rose to her feet, and a dull ache throbbed through her leg. She bit back a curse. She’d forgotten about that. Neither her or Mischief were in any fit state to fight. Her paws itched to flee and hide. She crept silently towards the sleeping whimsicott and dropped down to crouch by his ear.

“Mischief!” Her voice was barely a whisper, but it was thick with urgency. “Mischief!”

The whimsicott’s eyes fluttered open and he fixed her with a bleary stare. “Huh?”

His mind seemed to clear as he took in her fidgeting posture. Cleo glanced back at the cave mouth, her ears straining for the faintest sound.

Mischief pushed himself up on one arm. “Is something wrong?”

“I think someone’s outside,” she hissed. “We have to leave.”

“Really?” He pushed himself up, following her gaze. “I can’t hear anything.”

Cleo hushed him and staggered to her feet. Mischief stared down at her leg and his expression turned questioning, but he didn’t voice it. Cleo crept to the cave mouth and peered outside, searching the deep shadows. Even though she couldn’t see anything, she’d fought enough dark-types to know they could blend into the shadows flawlessly. Her entire mouth went dry and her fur pricked on end. Instinctively she reached for Mischief’s paw only to be met with the resistance from the collar. When she looked back at him a brief sadness crossed his face, soon replaced by relief. At least it was working.

Cleo motioned at him to stay quiet and lead him out of the cave. She turned her head in all directions, her ears swivelling. If someone had been trying to lure them out then they’d be lurking somewhere. Her mind screamed at her to run, but she forced herself to keep a slow and steady, quiet pace. If anything, it was to control her limping. If any lurking assassin saw that, she’d be considered easy prey.

Cleo stuck to the path, trying to find a way down the mountain. Her first instinct was to get to lower ground. The Moorlands were filled with places to hide, not to mention hidden ways into New City. If they managed to find one, any enemy pokemon would be baffled when they lost their trail.

The silence of the mountains felt unnatural. Not even a breeze stirred her fur, as if the wind itself was too scared to move. Her breath seemed deafening and she tried to still it as she crept along the path. She had to check a couple of times to make sure Mischief hadn’t fallen behind. His light footwork didn’t disturb the rocks and created no noise. He kept low down and close to her, not even glancing back.

Soon (although it didn’t feel soon enough) Cleo picked up the gurgle from the river as it smashed its way down the mountain. Her heart soared. That meant they were very close to the cave where they’d found the seviper remains. They were very close to New City. She lifted her head to pinpoint it, fighting the urge to break into a run. She motioned Mischief towards the river and they crept up the rocky slope towards it. As they neared the top, Cleo’s foot slipped over loose scree and opened her mouth in a yell. She grabbed a stiff plant and her feet scrambled for a foot hold, her tails swishing as she fought to right herself. She felt resistance from her bracelet as Mischief reached out a paw to grab her. She met his anxious gaze briefly as her paws found their place on the slope. Her yellow eyes were wide as she watched the rocks tumble to the path below. Each clack of stone on stone sounded like thunder. She bit her lip as the faint echo of her yell faded out, and she exchanged a worried glance with Mischief. She dragged herself up beside him and made to move on, but Mischief stood staring back down the slope.

She turned her head back down to the shadows below. Two green eyes reflected the moonlight, framed by the lithe feline body of a liepard.

“Well, well,” a velvety voice purred. “Look at that, pretty kitty. You gave yourself away.”

The slender leopard leapt up the slope, each footstep calculated. Not so much as a pebble tumbled away beneath his paws. He landed in front of her and turned sideways as he stalked silently over the rough ground. There was no mistaking it. This was the pokemon that had been hunting them. That small rock tumble was no accident. He knew they were in that cave, and he’d been trying to lure them out.

“Can you fight?” Cleo whispered to Mischief.

The whimsicott didn’t answer. He balled his fists at his sides, his orange glare fixed on the liepard.

“So you’re not running?” The liepard’s ears pulled back flat against his skull. “Because it’s clear to me that neither of you can put up much of a fight.” He looked Cleo up and down and his lip curled in a sneer. “Are you really going to make this so easy for me?”

The liepard lunged, his claws splayed. Cleo felt his hot breath on her face. She yelled, sending a flash of pink light into the larger cat. He flew back from her, landing with a grunt against the rocks. He scrambled back to his feet and shook out his pelt. The fur bristled around his neck and he lowered his head in a snarl.

“What was that?” he scoffed. “Psychic-type moves aren’t meant to hurt me!”

“It wasn’t a psychic-type move.” Cleo straightened, finding her confidence. “And it’s not just me who can use them, either. My friend can, too.”

Mischief shifted beside her, doubt clouding his eyes.

The liepard looked at each in turn and snorted. “Then I’ll just have to kill the both of you, won’t I?”

He lowered his head and crept towards them, pulling his lips back in a snarl. The low rumble made Cleo’s bones tremble and she took a hesitant step back. She braced herself to strike out with another disarming voice, but the large cat leapt again, turning to strike her side. His claws raked her shoulder and she turned to meet his attack. Her ears flew open, sending out another flurry of pink light. But it fell short, only skimming his tail.

The liepard doubled back, lunging at her. Cleo raised her paws and narrowed her eyes, bracing herself for impact. But Mischief stood in front of her and met the cat’s claws. The liepard’s teeth gnashed near his face, causing Mischief to pull his head back. But he held the large cat’s paws against his shoulders, slowly pushing the bigger pokemon back.

The liepard panted with effort, which morphed into a single laugh. “The rumours were right. You really are no joke.” He pulled his head back and lunged forwards, causing Mischief to stagger and break his hold. Before the liepard’s teeth could lock around his throat a flash of silver streaked past them, and the large cat yowled, falling back. His heavy paw smashed Mischief around the head as he twisted to face his assailant. But whatever it was vanished up the slope of the mountain.

Blood trickled from the liepard’s shoulder, marring his purple and cream fur. He hissed, turning his livid emerald glare back on Cleo and Mischief. The whimsicott’s breathing was heavy as he barred the assassin’s way. Deep scratches turned Mischief’s shoulders red, and blood trailed down his face from around his left horn.

The liepard lowered himself to a crouch, his sharp teeth glistening in the moonlight. A small black shape landed in front of him, causing him to reel back with surprise.

“Leave them!”

The liepard snorted with disgust and took a step back. “Harlequin?”

Cleo echoed the liepard’s surprise.

The zorua stepped out of the shadows and raised her head to meet the liepard’s gaze. “Another assassin sent out on the hunt? Isn’t Hydreigon tired of this yet?”

The liepard opened his mouth to retort but then glanced at the red gash on his shoulder, as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes widened and his gaze drifted back up the mountain slope where it rested on the pawniard twins. Their sharp blades glinted in the moonlight as they stood in clear view. The liepard’s legs trembled and he stagged back as his breathing turned erratic.

“Oh no. No!” He collapsed to the floor and screwed his eyes shut. “No, please! I don’t want to die!”

Cleo’s heart leapt and she raised a paw to her chest. The way the liepard was whimpering unsettled her. Harlequin stood over him, staring down at his terrified face, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“You don’t want to die?” There was little emotion in Harlequin’s voice. “Yet you were more than willing to kill these two?”

“I was only doing what I was asked!” The liepard looked up at her then. “You would do the same!”

“You’re wrong,” said Harlequin. “I don’t bow to Hydreigon anymore.”

The liepard stuttered for a moment. “Then… you really have gone rogue?”

Harlequin snorted. “I’d call it ‘seeing sense’.”

The liepard snorted between gasps. “Yet you’re just going to let me die?” His lip pulled back from a canine in a feeble sneer. “How the tables have turned.”

Harlequin stared down at him as his head lolled to the side. His mouth gaped open as he gasped for breath, his ribs rising and falling frantically.

“You’re just like I was,” said Harlequin. “I can see it now. Terrified you’ll be killed for putting one paw out of line. That’s how Hydreigon controls us. Through fear.”

The liepard fixed one livid eye on her.

Harlequin wasn’t shaken. She shrugged her shoulders. “You know you don’t have to go back?”

“Not go back?” The liepard struggled to raise his head. “Become a rogue, like you?! You heard what they did to Enigma!” He smirked as Harlequin flinched, her fur bristling down her spine. The liepard nodded. “Yeah, you heard about that? Well… I’m not about to waltz right into that trap.”

Harlequin bared her teeth in a snarl. “At least Enigma died fighting the right battle!”

The sound of metal on rocks alerted them to the pawniard twins. They crept down the mountain, bracing themselves to leap to Harlequin’s aide. Their watchful gaze never left the liepard.

The liepard laughed weakly and flopped onto his side. “I was sent to find you, Harlequin. Those Outcasts are friends of yours.” He nodded towards Cleo and Mischief. “I was only tracking them to find you.”

Harlequin’s sapphire eyes narrowed into slits. Then she let out a sigh and relaxed. “Yet all you’re doing is talking to me?”

The liepard gave her a quizzical glance. “You expect me to fight? You poisoned me!”

“Did I?” A smirk spread across Harlequin’s muzzle and she raised her paw to examine her claws. “I don’t remember that.”

The liepard’s green eyes widened and he raised his head to look at her. His ears pricked forward towards the zorua, but Harlequin’s playful smirk never faltered.

“You really believe I poison all my enemies?” She chuckled and lowered her paw, inclining her head on one side as she met the liepard’s confused stare. “Your reaction is purely psychological.”

“But… you hit me.” He looked at his shoulder, soaked with blood.

“I didn’t hit you.” Harlequin nodded to the pawniard. “They did.”

The liepard rose to his feet, his spine bristling. He shook his fur and bared his teeth at Harlequin. “You little-”

Harlequin met his glare with a calm stare.

The liepard let out a long breath but he didn’t smooth his fur. “You really didn’t poison me?”

Harlequin shook her head. “If I had, you’d be dead by now. Then you’d have no choice whether or not to return to Hydreigon.”

Confusion filled the liepard’s emerald eyes. He looked up at Cleo, sending a chill down her spine. But it was only a brief glance as he returned to Harlequin.

“You can be free,” Harlequin told him. “You don’t need to live in fear of Hydreigon. Sure, on this side you’ll need to flee from the murkrow’s watchful eyes, but you won’t need to kill anymore. Or you can fight on the right side of the war.”

“The right side…” The liepard seemed to taste the words, his expression growing distant. Then he snorted. “What is the right side of a war, anyway?”

“The side I’m fighting on,” said Harlequin bluntly.

The liepard stood back and shook his head, half-turning away. Then he looked back. “You really didn’t poison me?”

Harlequin flashed him a smile. “No. You’ll be fine.”

With a grunt, the liepard turned and bounded down the side of the mountain.

Harlequin watched him go then turned to Cleo. “Well that was a close shave.”

“You spared him?” Cleo stared at the shadows where the liepard had vanished.

“Yes.” Harlequin sat down heavily and was soon joined by Scratch and Claw. “I’ve learned any pokemon can change if given the chance. I wasn’t about to rob him of that.”

Mischief looked down at her and she gave him a warm smile. The whimsicott was trembling and he rubbed at his bloodied shoulder. Cleo shook herself and reached into her bag for an oran berry.

“Thanks for the help there, Harlequin,” said Cleo. “As you can see, neither of us are in top form.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Forgive my ignorance, but what are you doing here?” Cleo asked. “I thought you were in the cells.”

“I was. But Spark and Faith wanted our help to find you.” Harlequin sat down heavily and looked them both up and down. She frowned at Mischief’s injuries. “Looks like I was just in time.”

“You definitely were. But you took a big risk.” Cleo tugged part of the peel away from the fruit. “If that assassin hadn’t believed you’d poisoned him, things might have turned very ugly.”

“It was worth it, though,” said Harlequin.

“I’m not denying that. I just hope he takes on board what you said.” Cleo trailed off as she turned towards Mischief. She’d almost forgotten about the collar.

“He already has.” Harlequin took the oran berry from Cleo and reared up onto her hind legs to help Mischief rub it into the scratches. “I showed him mercy, then look what happened.” Her voice was muffled by oran pulp. “He spared our lives and went his own way. Who knows? Maybe that path will lead him to the Fairy Garden.”

A hiss came from Mischief, followed by a mumbled apology from Harlequin.

Cleo glanced back down the rocky slope. Two green eyes looked up at her, then vanished as the liepard slunk away into the shadows once more.


The path widened out onto flat ground. Scattered rocks lay haphazardly about the base of the mountain, covered in melting snow. The soft clink of the pawniard twins’ feet soon faded away as the group reached the grass. A large bramble bush sprawled out between stiff, spindly plants that had struggled to survive the cold season. A few young trees cast their shadows over it, their delicate branches filled with evergreen spines. A small shape sat outside the bush and rose to its feet as Cleo and her friends drew closer. Cleo recognised Faith’s violet eyes as they reflected the moonlight, and the mawile trotted silently towards her.

The twins left Cleo to rush to Faith’s side. She beamed down at them and placed a paw on each of their shoulders. Then she looked up at Cleo and Mischief again.

“You’re both okay!” she whispered as she took Cleo’s paws. Her claws brushed the bracelet and she looked from it to Cleo, raising an eyebrow. She glanced down at Harlequin, but Cleo shook her head sharply. A look of realisation crossed the mawile’s face and her gaze wandered to Mischief. She opened her mouth to speak.

“I’ll explain later,” said Cleo before Faith could ask. “First, I want you to tell me what you’re doing here?”

“We got worried!” Spark poked her head out of the bramble.

Cleo’s shoulders sank in a sigh. “I told you to leave it two days.”

“That was two days too long.” Spark yawned. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Harlequin snorted but she chose not to say anything about their close encounter with the liepard. The zorua stood up and shook out her pelt. “I’m gonna find somewhere to sleep.” She narrowed her eyes at Cleo and Mischief. “I suggest you two do the same.”

“We’ll keep watch,” said Claw.

Cleo looked back at the twins. Faith was smiling at them warmly.

“Thank you,” said the mawile. “But I feel like the bramble isn’t big enough for all of us. It’s already a little crowded.”

“A little crowded?” Cleo asked.

The branches shifted as the slender form of a furret emerged. Sandpaw stood, brushing leaves off her sandy fur. Cleo raised an eyebrow at the furret.

“I thought I heard voices,” said Sandpaw. She smiled at Cleo. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Huh. It’s good to see you, too.” Cleo turned to Faith. “Have you got Tinker in there as well?”

Sandpaw chuckled. “It’s just me and Scout.”

“And Spark,” came the dedenne’s voice.

Sandpaw laughed again. “Scout and I are going to find the Fairy Garden.”

“That’s great!” Cleo beamed at her, then her expression melted into a frown as she rummaged in her bag for her tent. “How did Tinker take that news?”

“Not very well, unfortunately.” Sandpaw rubbed her paws together as she watched Cleo and Faith set aside the poles for the tent. “Can I help you at all?”

Cleo guessed the furret wanted to keep her mind off Tinker. She nodded and motioned her over. Mischief crouched at her other side, listening intently as Cleo explained how to put the poles together.

“Where did you get this?” Mischief asked. “What happened to the old tent?”

“We got it off a group of travelling Outcasts,” Cleo explained while threading a pole through the tent.

“It’s really something,” said Sandpaw. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s certainly more convenient than the old tent,” said Faith. “That one always needed a tree or something else to hold it up.”

Mischief said nothing, busying himself by shoving the tent pegs into the stony ground. Faith gave them an extra whack with her horn, and the tent was up in no time.

Cleo turned to the whimsicott and pulled the tent door open. “You get some rest.”

Mischief didn’t complain. He crept into the tent and Cleo released the door behind him. Her gaze wandered over her friends, resting on the pawniard twins. As exhaustion swarmed over her, she felt incredibly grateful for their offer to keep watch. She feared if she tried she wouldn’t be able to stay awake.

Cleo looked up at Sandpaw. “Do you want to use the tent?”

Sandpaw shook her head. “I’m fine in the bramble with Scout. You take the tent, Cleo. You look positively exhausted.”

“If you’re sure,” said Cleo. She gave the furret a small smile. “Thanks for your help.”

“Anytime. It’s the least I can do.” Sandpaw gave her a small bow and returned to the bramble.

A grumble came from the prickly bush that suggested Sandpaw had disturbed her sleeping son. Spark tumbled out and slumped over to the tent with a wide yawn.

“Luxury over the wilds?” Faith joked.

“Any day.” Spark slipped into the tent.

Faith made to return to the bush but Harlequin cut her off. “You take the tent, Faith. I’ll hunker down with Sandpaw and Scout.”

“That’s kind of you, Harlequin,” said Faith. “But you don’t need to do that. I’m fine.”

“Nah. I actually prefer sleeping rough.” Harlequin nodded to the tent. “Go on. I’ll take over Scratch and Claw later, too.”

Harlequin’s cool blue gaze fixed on Cleo. Faith looked between the two and, sensing Harlequin wanted to speak to Cleo alone, she retreated into the tent with a polite ‘thank you’.

Cleo met the zorua’s sapphire gaze. “What is it?”

Harlequin nodded to the bracelet. “Are you gonna explain what you’re doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t think I’ve not noticed!” Harlequin scoffed under her breath. “You’ve detained Mischief. I know how that thing works. Do you really think it’s such a good idea?”

Cleo turned the bracelet around her wrist self-consciously. “I had Tinker modify it.” When Harlequin didn’t look convinced, Cleo went on. “He can still use his attacks. It just means he can’t leave my side, and there’s no risk of him hurting me.”

“And he’s okay with that?” Harlequin asked through clenched teeth.

“It was the only way I could convince him to join us again.” Cleo’s shoulders sank and she leaned back against a spindly tree, scattering water droplets from its branches. “I don’t want to do it, Harlequin. But…”

“He’s worse, isn’t he?”

Harlequin’s voice was barely a whisper. Cleo met her gaze and Harlequin glanced aside, shifting uneasily.

“He deteriorated when we were travelling,” said Harlequin. “He couldn’t let go of what he’d done. I have to admit I was getting very worried.” She paused.

Cleo closed her eyes, her chest tightening.

“To be honest, Cleo, I thought putting that collar on him might have been the last straw,” Harlequin added.

“I was worried it would be as well,” Cleo muttered.

“I’m assuming he didn’t find that mushroom? Or it didn’t work?”

Cleo shook her head stiffly. Had he even mentioned it? She couldn’t remember, and she daren’t ask.

Harlequin trailed a paw over the ground. “I’m glad you found him. Just… don’t do anything too drastic.”

“I won’t. Trust me, I’ve thought this through.”

“I know.” Harlequin looked up at her. “You always do.”

The zorua stood up and plodded towards the bramble.

“Thank you, Harlequin.”

Harlequin stopped and looked back at her. “What for?”

“For looking out for Mischief,” said Cleo.

Harlequin blinked at her.

“You told me where he was,” Cleo went on. “I know you’d have brought him back to us if he hadn’t been so…”

Harlequin closed her eyes and nodded. “There was nothing I could do. But I knew if anyone could help him, it would be you.”

Cleo blinked back tears and wiped her paw across her face.

“Good night, Cleo,” Harlequin said softly.

Cleo nodded at her. “Good night.”
Chapter 63


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
63 - A Shocking Evolution​


The door to Tinker's office flew open, bouncing off the wall behind it. Tinker almost fell back off his chair as he spun it around to face the gasping marshtomp. Tad stood doubled over in the doorway as papers cascaded around it. His heavy breathing filled the office, and his bandanna hung lopsided over one eye.

"Whatever is the matter?" Tinker asked.

"It's Starshine!" Tad gasped out. "He's evolvin'! But somethin' ain't right."

Tinker blinked with surprise, his mind still processing the first part of Tad's explanation. Then the severity of it hit him. He leapt from his chair and rushed past the marshtomp.

"Where is he?" he demanded.

"Th'trainin' hall," Tad explained as he trotted to keep up with the riolu. "I'm worried, Uncle Tinker. He keeps screamin' like 'e's in pain or somethin'."

"What's he doing evolving already?" Tinker asked half to himself. "He's much too young!"

"That'n might be my fault." Tad brushed his bandanna back from his eye as Tinker glanced at him. "We wanted t'join Scout 'n' 'elp 'im 'n' 'is ma find th'Fairy Garden! So… we decided t'train 'arder."

Tinker let out a flustered breath and picked up his pace, his legs pumping over the well-trodden earth. The crowd in the market parted as he hared through it, muttering a quick apology as he almost bowled over a servine and her hatchlings. Tad had to sprint to keep up with him, adding his own apologies as he hopped around one of the little snivy. Tinker could already hear the wails before he rounded the corner towards the training hall.

Pokemon were gathered outside it, Guild Warriors and denizens alike. Tinker's heart sank as he could already separate them into two groups - the fearful and the enraged.

A combusken fixed his eyes on Tinker and spat embers. "So it's finally happened, has it?!"

"It was inevitable!" a female togedemaru added. "He was letting the wretched thing train!"

Tinker pushed through them, shoving the combusken aside. The screams had stopped, having been drowned out by the rabble of voices. The training hall was empty, save for a lone altaria lying on the floor. His black eyes were wide, and his flanks heaved as he gasped for breath.

Tinker's heart lurched and he took a step back. He thought he'd prepared himself for it, but the shock took him by surprise. Starshine's fearful gaze found his.

"Dad?" The altaria's voice shook with fear and exhaustion. "I don't… feel too well…"

Tinker held the dragon's trusting gaze for a moment. It was still Starshine, there was no doubting that. And despite his sudden change in size he was still a hatchling. He still needed Tinker, now more than ever. Despite his racing heart Tinker felt himself relax and he dropped down at the altaria's side. He placed a trembling paw on the dragon's fluffy wing and trailed it along it's length as if searching for a broken bone.

"Where does it hurt?" he asked.

"Everywhere," Starshine whimpered. "I ache all over."

Tinker let out a lone laugh. "That's because you've evolved." He met the altaria's eyes. "Your body has just gone through a dramatic change. You look nothing like that little round bird anymore."

"Huh?" Starshine raised his head, his long neck curving as he looked down at his body. His gaze fell on the long ribbon-like feathers that formed his tail, and his beak fell open as he searched for words.

"Och, Starshine!" Tad's voice made Tinker's body jerk, and he lunged forward as Tad's heavy flipper struck him on the back. The marshtomp sank down beside him with a long sigh. "Was that all? I mean, I know it's a reet shock 'n' all, but th'ain't no reason t'scream like that! Ye 'ad me thinkin' ye was dyin' or somethin'!" He laughed and shook his head, drawing a small smile from the altaria. "'Ad me scared 'alf t'death ye did!"

Tinker shook his head and gave the marshtomp an exasperated look. "It might not have caused you much grief, Tad, but you didn't have to grow a new neck." He turned back to Starshine and cleared his throat. "Can you stand?"

"I think so." Starshine pushed himself to his feet. His long wings flailed as he stumbled, his head swaying in a bid to remain upright.

Tinker wound his arm around the altaria's shoulders and steadied him to his side. "I think we should get you to bed. Your body needs rest."

"Aye!" Tad nodded, his eyes glinting with amusement. "Ye wobblin' 'bout all over th'shop like th'berry souffle me ma makes!"

Tinker shooed Tad aside and lead Starshine towards the door, but the altaria stiffened.

Starshine's gaze was fixed on the doorway. "Why is everybody staring at me?"

The crowd had grown as the word had flooded through New City, each member vying for a spot to gawk at the altaria. Mixed expressions of fear, anger and disgust leaked into the room, making the air feel cold despite the number of bodies. Starshine cowered under Tinker's arm, his wide eyes flashing over each glaring pokemon.

"You've got some explaining to do, Tinker," said a ninetails.

The togedemaru's cheeks sparked. "Yeah! We told you we didn't want it here, but you kept it anyway!"

Starshine's beak gaped. "Huh?"

"Sure, we might have tolerated it when it were a swablu," the togedemaru went on. "But look it at it now!"

"You let it train!" another voice added. "Now look what's happened! It will-"

Voices rose from the crowd as more pokemon added their complaints, fuelled by the anger of their companions. The words seemed to blend together with too many to voices to pick out, making Tinker's head spin. He felt his fur prickle along his spine, and his paws turned slick.

"Alreet, back it up!" Tad raised his flippers and shooed his way through the crowd, trying to clear a path. "I know th'lad's got nice, pretty feathers 'n'all, but ye can stare 'n' oggle at 'im later!"

Many voices lowered to mutters as Tinker lead Starshine through the path. Pokemon stepped aside, their glares burning into the retreating pair. Tinker felt relieved as they left the thick of the crowd and turned towards the market.

"This is outrageous!"

Tinker stiffened and looked back automatically. A luxray stared back at him, her amber eyes burning. A shinx cowered behind her, peering over her lashing tail.

"We said we didn't want that thing here!" she went on. "We knew this would happen! That it would evolve." She nodded at Starshine.

"That's what happens when you train," Tinker told her.

"Then you shouldn't have let it train!" the combusken warrior spoke up. He narrowed his eyes. "Have you even told that beast it would evolve into a dragon?"

Starshine's spine stiffened and he jerked his head towards Tinker.

The combusken snorted. "I thought as much."

Other voices rose up from the crowd.


"A dragon in New City!"

"…thing should be exiled!"

"It's not coming near my kids anymore."

Tears welled in Starshine's eyes and he broke away from Tinker, bolting from the jeering crowd towards the market.

"Starshine!" Tinker raced after him with Tad hot on his tail.

Yells and screams came from the market as the altaria skittered through it, his wings flailing as he tried to take tight turns through the crowd. Pokemon leapt aside, whisking children out of the way. Pastries and berries tumbled from market stalls as pokemon crashed into them in a bid to get out of the dragon's way. Tinker and Tad skipped around startled pokemon, shouting Starshine's name as they rushed to catch up. The altaria's blue and white feathers vanished into the tunnel to the nest rooms, blocked out as pokemon crowded to watch the young dragon flee.

Tinker shoved his way through the crowd, ignoring demands for an explanation. Their voices faded away as Tinker pressed on through the tunnel. Curious eyes peered at him from the safety of their nests. Tinker came to a fork in the tunnels, and soft snuffles drew him down the right one. He stopped two doors down at Starshine's familiar room and leaned against the doorway. Starshine lay huddled up in his nest, his body shaking with sobs.

Tinker let out a long breath and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. Despite knowing it would happen, nothing could have prepared him for this day. It had come much, much too soon. He stepped into the room, opening his mouth to speak.

"You knew, didn't you?" Starshine didn't look up from his nest.

Tinker sighed and sank down beside him on the hay. "Yes."

Starshine watched him through bloodshot eyes, his beak buried under his wing. "Then why didn't you tell me?"

Tinker crossed then uncrossed his arms, his mind searching for an answer. With another sigh he sank back against the wall and rubbed his forehead. "Truthfully? I… I was scared."

"Scared." Starshine spat the word and raised his head to glare at Tinker. "You were scared of me."

Tinker met the altaria's livid gaze.

"You're just like them!" Starshine jerked his head towards the door, and Tinker felt his heart shatter. "You think I'm a monster! A beast! That I should be exiled!"

"No, I don't." Tinker was startled at how calm his voice sounded.

Starshine stared back at him and tutted. "You're lying." He snorted and ruffled his feathers. "I saw you hesitate when you entered the training hall!" Fresh tears filled the altaria's eyes. "You're scared of me. You're scared I'm going to join Hydreigon and kill you all."

Tinker rolled his head back against the wall and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. "Starshine-"

"Just leave." Starshine lowered his head back onto his nest and tucked it under his wing. "I don't want you here."

Tinker shifted on the hay, considering whether to leave Starshine to seethe on his own or stay with him. His mind whirred as he tried to find something to say that would placate his adopted child. But as he listened to the muffled sobs from beneath the altaria's wings he realised dusting over the truth wasn't the right move anymore. Perhaps it never had been.

Tinker sat back against the wall again. "I'm not scared of you, Starshine. I don't think for a minute you're going to join Hydreigon." He paused and looked up at the door. "If I had ever thought that was a possibility, I wouldn't have kept you."

"Then why did you keep it from me?"

"Because…" Tinker swallowed back bile and stared down at his paws. "Because… the irrational side of me was worried I might be wrong."

Starshine raised his head, his eyes burning holes into the side of Tinker's face.

"When I was your age," Tinker went on, "I had a friend." He sighed, waiting to see if Starshine would tell him to leave again. But instead, the altaria's silence told him to continue. "He was a pancham. I was friends with him and his sister. They were called Rough and Tumble, and we grew up together in an Outcast town north of here. We were training to be Guild Warriors. Since my father is one of the founders of the Outcasts Guild, I was recruited in while I was still in my egg! But Rough and Tumble were excitable and very keen to join. We'd go on all kinds of imaginary adventures where we'd beat down dragons and defeat Hydriegon himself."

"Like me with Tad and Scout," said Starshine.

Tinker looked at him then, and a smile played at his lips as he met warmth in the altaria's eyes. "Yes. Much like you three. We'd often get told off for running through the corridors. Although this is before New City was formed. It was much in its younger stages then, and my father had to go off frequently to help build it, leaving me with Grey.

"The three of us were inseparable. Rough was the louder of us, always coming up with silly scenarios for us to play out. His sister was a bit quieter, but still quite boisterous. When we got older we'd train together to get stronger, and it would often devolve into an argument between the two siblings that I'd have to break up. I was quite close with Tumble and I think Rough was a tad jealous. Sometimes I wonder if that was what sparked the whole thing off."

Tinker sighed and rubbed a paw over his muzzle. It had been a long time since he'd relived the scenario. He could already feel his pads turning clammy.

Starshine nudged him with his beak. "So what happened?"

Tinker took a long breath to steady himself. A cold chill had fallen over him as he forced himself to revisit such a dark memory. "During one of our training sessions, Rough evolved." He twirled his everstone pendant in one paw and sat back against the wall. "We don't have any pancham here, so you won't have met any. But they evolve into a much larger form that is both fighting- and dark-type. Tumble and I were very happy for him, but Rough became a lot more rambunctious and his snarky comments seemed to carry too much weight compared to the playful jibes he'd thrown our way as hatchlings.

"One dark day our little town found itself under attack. One of Yurlik's scouting patrols had found us, and he'd brought a mob of murkrow along, backed by weavile and an army of soldiers lead by a massive krookodile. With a large number of the guild out helping to build New City we didn't have enough warriors to protect the town. We were soon overwhelmed. It was my first taste of a proper battle, and I stuck by Rough and Tumble. As a krokorok fell at my paws I felt that we might actually stand a chance. Tumble was putting up a good fight of her own. Then a murkrow flock fell on her. I tried to fend them off, but their wings beat me back. I shouted to Rough for help, and he rushed to our side. As he reached for the murkrow I cheered him on, fending one of the birds off myself. But it wasn't the murkrow he was reaching for. He picked up his sister and slammed her into the floor. I dropped at her side and looked up at him, asking him what he was doing. The next thing I know he was on me, slamming his fists into my head.

"I flailed at him until he finally backed off. Everything was silent. For a second, I thought I'd gone deaf. I hadn't heard Yurlik call his army off. The murkrow had retreated to the rooftops, and I couldn't see any of the other dark-types. Then the massive honchkrow loomed over me. I still remember his words. 'You trusted blindly. Perhaps this will help you to see a little clearer.' Then…"

Tinker placed a paw over his glass eye, his words trailing off. He lowered his paw and sighed, fiddling with his everstone. "They left me for dead. I don't remember what happened next. The only thing I remember was waking up in a hospital ward, with a gauze over my eye and a thorn in my heart. Despite the nurse telling me to stop, all I could do was cry. I've always remembered Yurlik's words since. I never understood what had turned my friend against me. Perhaps he was never my friend to begin with? A seed sown by the Darkness? I've often wondered if he was the one who lead the army to us. But… I suppose I'll never know."

Starshine was silent, his gaze flashing back and forth as he let Tinker's story sink in. Tinker's heart was racing. The only other person he'd told that to was Grey. Even Skipper didn't know. Tinker wound his claws into the hay, trying to bring himself back to the present.

"So…" Starshine finally broke the silence, drawing Tinker's attention back onto him. "Do you think I'll do the same? Turn on you all like Rough did?" There was a harsh edge to his words as his eyes glazed over with sadness and anger once more.

Tinker met his eyes and shook his head. "No. Because you are nothing like Rough. The friendship you have with Tad and Scout is genuine. Even a fool like me can see that."

Starshine looked unconvinced. His blue feathers bristled at the base of his neck.

Tinker pushed himself back from the wall so he could turn to face Starshine properly. "What Yurlik told me has stuck with me ever since. I don't ever trust blindly. What that honchkrow doesn't realise is that when he robbed me of my eye, I became able to see much more clearly. Nobody is perfect, and I am far from that myself. But I know that you, Starshine, are a good pokemon." Starshine's gaze softened and Tinker melted back against the wall as the tension left his shoulders. "I just wish others would see that too."

Starshine's eyes shone with tears. "Does Tad hate me now, too?"

"Of course he doesn't," Tinker said softly. "He was worried sick about you!" A chuckle escaped his chest. "I've never seen him move so fast!"

A smile cracked Starshine's beak.

Tinker placed a paw on his shoulder. "Others will see it in time. They just need to learn to accept you, and see you for the good pokemon you are."

"They will. I'll prove it to them." Starshine raised his head and met Tinker's eyes. "I want to train, and fight the Darkness alongside them."

"That's what I was hoping," said Tinker. "I won't deny that. When I found you, I thought that perhaps if we had a dragon-type on our side we could exploit the Darkness' greatest weakness - itself." He paused and ran his paw over the back of his head. "Then Faith told me that altaria can mega-evolve into a form that is part fairy-type."

Starshine leaned towards him, his eyes sparkling. "Wait, I can change form like Faith?!"

"Apparently." Tinker rolled his eyes. "I admit I'm not that fond of Faith, but if she comes back here I can ask her about it in more detail. Perhaps she could show you how to do it?"

"I'd like that." Starshine settled back into his nest and tucked his wings in neatly at his sides. "The fairy-type can't be hurt by dragons. I could really help you all."

Tinker smiled at him and pushed himself up from his nest. "You'll be an asset, Starshine."

Starshine watched him. "They'd like me then, right?"

"You might need to prove your loyalty to some," Tinker told him. "But given time, I'm sure the pokemon here will love you." He paused and placed a paw on Starshine's head. "Now get some rest, son. You've been through a lot today."

He turned from the room and slipped into the corridor. Skipper and Tad stood a few feet away, the former gazing towards the market. Angry voices echoed down the tunnel, setting Tinker's fur on end.

Skipper glanced at him. "Take it 'e's evolved then, aye?"

"Yes, he has," Tinker said as he joined his side.

"But 'e ain't takin' it too well, is 'e?" asked Tad.

"No." Tinker sucked in a breath through his teeth, his gaze wandering towards the market. "And neither is New City."


The sun was high above them as Cleo lead her friends across the moors. Mischief walked so silently at her side it was easy to forget he was there. Scout followed behind, quietly chatting with Scratch and Claw. The pawniard twins had opened up a little to the friendly furret and seemed a lot more at ease than they had been at first. Faith stuck by them, smiling as she listened to the three youngsters chatter on. Sandpaw walked beside Cleo and Harlequin, casting the occasional glance back at her son. Every small sound set the furret on edge, and her eyes often flicked towards the branches of the trees that framed the edge of the Moorlands Forest.

After all her time travelling, even Cleo struggled to differentiate the sound of the breeze rustling the trees from that of a murkrow hopping along it. She'd learnt to remain on edge for the sake of survival. But she'd never encountered anyone as twitchy as Sandpaw. She hoped she'd be okay travelling to the Fairy Garden. They would be parting ways very soon, as Cleo continued north towards the Border Woods. Her mouth turned dry, a sour taste curling her tongue. The Border Woods… never had she ever assumed she'd end up there, let alone by choice. What dangers awaited them at the end of the journey were unfathomable.

Her gaze wandered to the horizon. It would be hours before the sun set, yet she half-expected the sky to be painted red.


Harlequin's voice startled Cleo and she jerked her head down towards the zorua. Warm, blue eyes gazed up at her.

"A little." Cleo bit her tongue and grimaced. "Okay, a lot."

"Good." Harlequin carefully stepped around a wiry plant, its leaves barely brushing her fur. "I'd be worried if you weren't."

Cleo adjusted her bag over her shoulder. "I've walked these moors many times in my life, and I've been further north than most warriors. Yet the journey has never carried such an air of foreboding."

She felt Harlequin's cool gaze on her fur.

"That's because Yveltal hadn't woken then," came Faith's gentle voice.

Cleo glanced back at the mawile. "No. Never once had I thought I'd be fighting a pokemon stronger than Hydreigon."

"He's a flying-type, right?" Spark asked from her shoulder. "You ask me, he just needs a right good shocking."

Faith burst out laughing so hard she doubled over. "Oh Spark. You do add colour to the darkest of situations."

Even Mischief cracked a smile, his glance lingering on the little dedenne.

Spark puffed out her chest. "Just doing what I do best."

"Besides eating, you mean?" Scout jibed.

Spark looked back at the furret, silencing Sandpaw's fury at her son with a jibe of her own. "You're one to talk! Who took all the cheri berries this morning?"

"You," said Scout truthfully.

Spark sank into Cleo's ruff and muttered under her breath, turning her back on the youngster.

Sandpaw chuckled and shook her head. "You two. You walked right into that one, Spark."

As they reached the tree-line, Cleo stopped and stared up at it. The canopy was bare, letting the early warming season sun kiss the cold ground.

Mischief stared into the forest, a distant look in his eyes. "It feels so long ago we were last here."

"You ain't kiddin'," said Spark.

"A lot has happened since then," said Cleo. Part of her expected to hear the distant howls of the tyranitar. A chill ran down her spine as she remembered that awful laboratory and she shuddered.

Sandpaw shifted beside her, rubbing her paws together. Cleo cast her an apologetic glance and cleared her throat.

Faith placed a paw on the furret's shoulder. "You'll be fine."

"But it's so far away," said Sandpaw.

"You'll be there in no time." Faith gave her a warm smile. "Just keep following the forest path, and you'll reach the glen. From there, head towards Gleamgrove Abbey. Then-"

"The Endless Woods." Sandpaw met the mawile's violet gaze. "I know. We can do it."

Faith nodded and retracted her paw.

"I can't believe we're parting ways already," said Sandpaw. "It feels so soon."

"You can always go back," Cleo told her.

Sandpaw shook her head. "No. We're going to the Fairy Garden." She turned her attention to the forest path and straightened, forcing an air of confidence. "Follow the path to the glen, then head to Gleamgrove Abbey. From there, head to the Endless Woods and we'll find the Fairy Garden."

Faith nodded, her smile widening.

"Don't worry, Mum." Scout joined her side and waved a sheet of parchment at her. "Faith drew us a map. We'll find it."

For a fleeting moment Sandpaw looked uncertain, but she forced a nod. "Yes, we will."

"Take Scratch and Claw." Harlequin's words made the pawniard jump.

"What?" Scratch rubbed his claws together with an ear-piercing screech.

"You want us to go with them?" Claw looked from Sandpaw to Harlequin. "But Harbinger told us to stay with you."

"Yes, and you've been a huge help," said Harlequin. "Don't worry about me. Harbie will be at the Fairy Garden by now. You should go back to him, and there's safety in numbers."

The twins still looked uncertain, their yellow eyes widening as they looked back at the furret and her son.

"Yeah!" said Scout. "We can all look after my Mum!" He moved to stand between Scratch and Claw and waved a fist at the canopy. "Any bad guys who try to stop us will be sent running back to the Shadow Lands with their tails between their legs."

Scratch seemed to pale at Scout's enthusiasm, while Claw let out a little chuckle.

"Sure," said Claw. "We'll send them running."

Scout rolled his eyes but the smile never left his face. "I might have to teach you a thing or two if you're both gonna join Team Heroes."

Fear crossed Sandpaw's face and her fur rose along her spine. She gave a nervous glance into the forest, her gaze scanning the canopy perchance Scout's threat had reached a lurking murkrow.

"I know they'll look after you," Harlequin told Sandpaw. "They've looked after me for more than a moon. They're strong, kind pokemon." She looked back at the twins. "I trust them with my life."

Sandpaw seemed to relax and she folded her paws in front of her. She looked to the twins and closed her eyes in a smile. "If you really don't mind. I'd be glad to have you with us."

"We'll have so much fun!" said Scout, placing a paw on Scratch's shoulder.

The twins closed their eyes in matching smiles.

"All right," said Claw, turning back to Harlequin. "I guess we'll see you in the Fairy Garden."

Harlequin nodded, her eyes misting. "Yeah. We will."

Faith broke away from Cleo to embrace the twins one at a time. "Do take care. We'll miss you."

The pawniard stood back and Scratch wiped his eyes on his arm.

"We will," he said.

"Look after each other," said Scratch.

"We will," said Cleo. "Thanks for everything."

The twins joined Sandpaw as Scout took the lead, and the small group headed into the forest.

Harlequin took a step forwards. "Say hi to Harbie for me!"

The twins looked back and Claw raised his arm in a wave. The group vanished beyond the bracken, leaving Cleo feeling a little empty.

"Sweet kids," said Spark. She sank into Cleo's ruff with a sigh. "I'm gonna miss that little furret."

Cleo turned from the forest and Faith fell into step beside her. "I'll miss them too. But I have faith they'll reach the Fairy Garden."

"They will with Scratch and Claw at their side," said Mischief.

"Seconded. I feel much better sending them with Scratch and Claw," said Harlequin. "They're strong fighters, and I think Sandpaw will feel better having them along."

"It was a good idea to suggest," said Faith.

"I'd been thinking about it all night," said Harlequin. "I wasn't sure how they'd react to the idea." She took in a long breath and picked up her pace. "Now we just need to focus on our next step."

A lead weight weighed down in Cleo's chest. She'd seen how the two pawniard could fight. Part of her regretted letting them go. She gave a glance back at the forest, but Sandpaw and her companions were long out of sight. She turned and pressed on, listening to her friends talk. She tried to ground herself as she focused on the horizon, and the inevitable fight against the Darkness that lay beyond it.

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. custom/quilava-fobbie
Heya, popping in to knock off another review from my hitlist, which this year was a goal of trying to review everyone I could who had either:

A: Given me a review in 2022.
B: Given me a review sometime before 2022 that I just never reciprocated for whatever reason.

Which in your particular case has been a while, since I recall you leaving reviews for Fledglings at least two years ago, while I had yet to review anything that you had written.

So let’s fix that, starting with what AFAIK is your flagship fic as a writer:

Chapter 1

Barely a sound rose from the shadows cast by the trees as the setting sun stretched its dwindling rays through the canopy of the winding woods. Just the soft sound of crunching leaves and brittle twigs came as Cleo trudged through the undergrowth, keeping her wits about her as any sensible meowstic should. Every confident step was soft and calculated to avoid drawing attention from the woods’ inhabitants, which were few and far between.

Missing a small word there and small typo. Otherwise this is a lot more vivid of description than I remembered The End having back in the day.

A disgruntled groan came from the long fur around her shoulders, followed by the tiny head of a dedenne. “I’d give my whiskers for a berry.”

“Not far now,” Cleo told her companion. “We’ll be at the Guild before sundown.”
“My poor stomach thinks you might be wrong.”

[ ]
“Your poor stomach will just have to trust me.”

IMO either one or both of the gaps between Cleo’s “not far now” line of dialogue would make sense to have some manner of description dropped in, whether that’s body language or internal thoughts. Since this is the first we’re seeing of your characters at all, and it’d both help to visualize them better and give a bit more insight as to what their personalities might be like.

Cleo was no stranger to the Winding Woods, but as the sun rapidly disappeared over the horizon, it was beginning to look less and less familiar. Not to mention her night vision wasn’t exactly her strong suit. As night drew closer, dangers increased. Assassins or soldiers of the Darkness could be lurking anywhere in the shadows. She tapped her satchel, briefly considering drawing her map and deciding against it. There was no sense in risking a distraction, putting both her and Spark in danger. They just had to keep following the path, or what she could see of it beneath its thick coating of rusty, fallen leaves.

Spark: “Wait, ‘The Darkness’? That’s seriously a faction name?”

Cleo: “Yes? They had that name in the original version of this story, and I’m pretty sure it fits considering the common typing of their grunts. Would you prefer if we went with ‘The Evil’? Since that’d fit if we jumped localizations to-”
Spark: “Alright! Alright! We’ll stick with ‘The Darkness’! Sheesh!”

“Oh! Oh!” Spark covered her mouth with both paws, alarmed at the volume of her own voice.

The pair turned their heads left and right, ears swivelling back and forth. Silence.

Cleo: “Spark, could you have said that any louder?” >_>;
Spark: “Actually, yes. Since the text said I was alarmed at-”
Cleo: “Not the point right now!” >.<

Spark settled back into Cleo’s fur and pointed, keeping her voice no more than a hoarse whisper. “I can see daylight!”

A trickle of light leaked through the trees ahead of them, marking the end of the path and their trek through the woods. Spark wriggled with barely contained glee.

Spark: “Hah! Bout time we got out of those dreary woods!” ^^;

The leaves rustled above them, and Cleo turned her eyes to the canopy, her relief cut short. She felt Spark sink back into her fur, and the dedenne let out a small groan. Branches bucked and swayed as three lithe figures scrambled across them, crimson eyes trained on the two Guild Warriors below.

“That’s great, Spark,” Cleo said, fighting a half-smile. “But your excitement seems to have attracted some unwanted guests.”

Weavile #1: “Tch, not like you were making it hard to find you! Speak a little louder next time, why don’t ya?”
Cleo: “Ugh. I told you, Spark…” >_>;

“Well, well, well.” One of the three weavile crouched in the branches above them and grinned down. “I spy… with my little eye… two sitting duckletts.”

I spy with my little eye three very dead cat-weasels, since otherwise this story’s not going to make it past Chapter 1.

“Outcasts, too, by the looks of things.” Another fixed his eyes on the sun-shaped badge pinned to Cleo’s satchel strap. “Pretty bold of you to be out in the woods during sunset, eh, kitty?”

Weavile #2: “You do realize that we’re nocturnal, right?”
Spark: “You do realize that I have a type advantage over you, right?”

Cleo released her bag strap to ball her paws into fists. It wasn’t unusual for assassins to poke jibes at their targets. But things could turn very nasty in the blink of an eye. Psychic energy hummed in her ears. An impulse.

Someone must’ve cheaped out on hiring these guys, since this feels like a liability to have among assassins versus the cold professional types that hit you before you can see ‘em coming.

“What do you say, boys?” said the smallest of the trio. “Make it quick, or have some fun?”

“I dunno,” said the first. “It’s been a bit of a slow day.”

Cleo: “Spark, just drop ‘em with Parabolic Charge already. We don’t have all day to listen to them blather like this.”

Cleo bared a canine. There wasn’t a whole lot she could do to weavile at this range. She felt Spark shift on her shoulder and the dedenne’s fur puffed out.

“You three have picked a bad day to start with us.” Spark shook her tiny fist. “I’ll have you know I’m hungry! And I’m not very nice when I’m hungry. So get down here so I can kick your feathery butts all the way back to the Shadow Lands!”

Oh, so that’s where the Darkness comes from in this setting, huh? Noted for the future, though it might have merited saying that a bit more explicitly in narration who these Weavile are affiliated with / the significance of the Shadow Lands in passing.

The first weavile blinked his large eyes in mock bewilderment. “Hear that, boys? The tiny little rat thinks she can kick our feathery butts!”

He rolled his head back and laughed, joined by the other two.

Dedenne: “I. Have. A. Type advantage!

Weavile #3: “Oh yeah, we’re really quaking in fear here. You two look like you’d lose to some dweeb fresh out of a Day Care!”

One of them smacked his knee repeatedly. “Big words from such a tiny rodent!” he wheezed.

Whelp, that guy’s gonna die in short order.

“What did you just call me?” Spark dived off Cleo’s shoulder and rose up to her full five-inches of height. “Are you making fun of my size?!”

See the above, since one of the first rules of Pokémon is that pintsized powerhouses are deceptively common in most settings.

This only served to make the weavile laugh even harder. The boss pointed a sharp claw vaguely in her direction. His eyes streamed with tears and he had to grip the branch with his other paw before he fell clean from it.

“Please!” he squeaked. “You’re slaying me!”

No, no. That will come in about five seconds.

Not the wisest of words. Cleo took a step back, not from the weavile, but because Spark was beginning to radiate static. Cleo knew what was coming next.


A blinding flash lit up the trees, wiping the smirks clean off the weavile troop’s faces. One by one, the weasel pokemon flopped from the canopy to land in a sprawl in the undergrowth. Their bodies sparked and jerked as electricity danced across their limbs.

Spark placed her paws on her hips and tapped her tiny foot. “Who’s laughing now?”

Weavile #1: “... Ow.” X_X
Spark: “Psst, Cleo. Save some of that popcorn for me!”

Cleo rejoined her friend’s side and shook her head slowly. “Couldn’t you have gone a little easier on them?”

Spark: “Cleo, they were assassins.

Cleo: “Incompetent assassins, so this kinda feels a bit harsh.”

Spark quirked an eyebrow at her. “This coming from the meowstic who just laid waste to an army of jangmo-o?”

Cleo shrugged her shoulders. “They had it coming.”

Spark: “Oh, so when it’s a bunch of ugly and toothy scalies it’s okay but not when it’s other cats?” :|
Cleo: “Yes? And?”

“So did these,” said Spark. “Funny though. Hydreigon’s goons can be mouthy, but they usually just attack us. These guys were all bark and no bite.

Cleo: “Well, yeah. That’s why I said that this felt like this felt like this was a bit harsh.”

Spark: “Meh. Better for us that we dropped them now than letting them go to get competent at their jobs.”

Cleo rubbed the fur between her ears. Spark had a point. The dedenne had a short fuse, but Cleo had expected more of a challenge from the weavile. Her eyes trailed back up to the branches and squinted into the shadows.

I mean, Weavile literally have no level floor for evolution as long as they have a Razor Claw to work with, so those three could’ve been Level 5 Weavile. Probably decent odds that they were to boot given how they were cocky and careless in ways that pros in their line of work wouldn’t be.

“Let’s see what they’ve got on them, then, eh?” Spark rubbed her paws together. “Keep an eye open in case there’s more.” She promptly vanished inside the head weavile’s bag.

Cleo stood beside the bag, watching Spark’s tail swish back and forth while keeping her ears trained on their surroundings. It was likely there was no further threat, given no one came to the weaviles’ aide, but one didn’t take risks when the sun was setting.

Oh well that’s not ominous at all there.

“Dang it!” came Spark’s muffled voice. “No berries.”

“Is there any gold?” Cleo ventured.

“Oh, there’s loads of that.”

Cleo: “... Wait, there is? From the way those three operated as assassins, I’d have thought they were hired with a bottle of gin and some pocket change?”

Spark kicked out with her back feet, sending small gold coins rolling across the leaves. Cleo gathered them up and dumped them into her bag.

“And… and this.” Spark waddled from the satchel struggling beneath the weight of a glass vial. “Dunno what it is. Do we take it?”

I kinda wonder if more attention to the vial ought to have been given to things before Spark’s line of dialogue, since I would assume Cleo would’ve been able to see Spark take it out and immediately notice “hey, that’s weird” instead of embedding it in an after the fact fashion like this.

Cleo took it in one paw and turned it in the light. It was filled with florescent pink liquid. “What is it? Pecha juice?”

Spark: “Cleo, since when does Pecha juice glow like that?” .-.
Cleo: “Okay, so it’s not Pecha juice, then.”

Spark grimaced and twitched her whiskers. “Looks a little too… toxic… to be pecha juice.”

… Wait, how does Spark know that thing is toxic just from seeing it anyways? Since there was no cue at all that the fluid inside was poisonous or volatile. Like it kinda feels like something is missing here for Spark to reach this conclusion such as seeing a couple drops spill and react to something, or the cap to the vial visibly show signs of being eaten away by the fluid or the like.

“That might just be the bad lighting.” Cleo popped it into her bag and stood up. “Maybe Tinker will have some idea.”

“Yeah, he knows all kindsa weird stuff.”

Spark: “... So wait, what do we do about those guys who tried to kill us anyways?”
Cleo: “Wait, are they even alive right now? It was kinda hard to tell from the description after you fried them.” ^^;

With Spark back on her shoulder, Cleo headed towards the light ahead of them before it faded with the setting sun. The woods were rapidly growing darker, stretching shadows far back away from them.

Spark: “Cleo, was it really a smart idea to just walk off and leave three attempted assassins in the woods like that?” .-.
Cleo: “What, did you expect us to carry the three of them? Let the sunset take care of ‘em. Besides, if we run into them again, they won’t exactly be hard to deal with a second time.”

When they finally stepped out onto cool, damp grass, the dwindling light was almost blinding after the darkness of the woods. Cleo had to narrow her eyes to get a good sense of her surroundings. The stretch of grass ended at a low, stone wall. What it had once been, Cleo had no idea, but it stretched away to either side, vanishing over the hills. It was possible to walk around, but vaulting it was much quicker.

Cleo: “Wow, those three really were incompetent assassins to try and knock us off this close to home. Whoever contracted them really didn’t get their money’s worth.”

Just beyond that was a sprawl of wooden buildings. Not permanent dwellings, but those thrown up in haste by pokemon who were often on the move. They would stay here for a season or two, maybe even more if things stayed quiet. Some of the dwellings weren’t exactly buildings, however. Instead, they were wooden carts with taupe over the tops to keep the rain out. Cleo had seen them many times. They were dragged by strong pokemon, and were designed so those that inhabited them could make a quick getaway.

Not every pokemon had warmed to the idea. Too many had been seen being blown away in storms, or dragged away by the Darkness. At least wooden shacks stayed where they were, were easy enough to throw up and tear down if need be, and would even last long enough to be returned to should such times arise.

Would suggest dividing up this paragraph in two, since there’s a lot going on all in this one paragraph idea-wise.


Cleo lifted her head as a meinfoo rushed towards her. He sported the same sun-shaped badge she wore on her satchel’s strap, indicating he was a member of the Outcasts Guild.

“I’ve not seen you before,” he said. “Where have you come from? What business do you have?”

“We’re travelling warriors.” Cleo motioned to her badge. “We’re hoping to stop by the Guild overnight before we continue our way south.”

Cleo: “Well, for one, we’d like to file a complaint about the level of security you’re running around here given that you have assassins from the Darkness just casually camping in the woods just outside.”

“We?” The meinfoo looked past her, standing on tiptoes to see back towards the woods.

“Yes, ‘we’.” Spark poked her head out of Cleo’s ruff, drawing a surprised ‘oh!’ from the guard. “And we’re both very hungry, so if you wouldn’t mind?”

Spark: “Cleo, this guy isn’t going to be a pain and demand to see proof of identity or something, is he?”

The meinfoo nodded and stood aside. “Of course. The Guild Hall is just that way, in the centre of town. You can’t miss it.”

“Much appreciated!” Spark promptly vanished back inside Cleo’s ruff.

>dat quality security


I can’t tell if those woods are supposed to be a good distance from this encampment or them being infiltrated by hostiles is so regular that it’s a “meh, it’s Tuesday” reaction for this Outcasts Guild here.

Cleo nodded her thanks to the guard, but as she headed away, something nagged in her mind. “Ah!”

He turned to face her.

“There are three weavile in the woods,” she explained. “They’re only stunned. You might want to apprehend them, find out what they’re doing here.”

Cleo: “See, I had a way of dealing with that all along, Spark.”

The meinfoo sighed and ran a paw down his muzzle. “It was only a matter of time.” He straightened, returning to his professional air. “Thank you. We’ll get on that right away.”

Can’t tell if the meinfoo is underreacting here given the potential consequences of getting their guild site ratted out or if this happens regularly enough that he’s just:


About things at this point.

Cleo nodded again and trotted through the town, searching out the familiar banner that marked the Guild. The white flag with its sun emblem waved above the rooftops, a beacon to all who were searching for the Guild for help or work.

inb4 it turns out they’re secretly evil or something like that. Since war stories in general get very gray versus gray in morality very quickly.

“Whew!” Spark declared as they entered the door. “Well, I don’t know about you, Cleo, but I’m heading straight to that dinner hall.”

I see Spark has his priorities together. :V

Cleo absently rubbed her belly. Their rations had run out the previous night, and she was beginning to resonate with her friend’s large appetite.

I might join you.”

As they followed the Guild occupants down the corridor towards the sweet smells emanating from the kitchen, the small crowd parted and a riolu trotted towards them. Tinker, the Outcast Guild’s current leader.

Wait, this entire place is lead by a Riolu? Definitely wasn’t expecting a base morph to be calling the shots, though I suppose in canon PMD games that evolution is a bit weird since it doesn’t inherently happen by levelup like in most other continuities.

“Cleo!” he said as a smile split his muzzle. “I was actually growing worried. You were We expected you to be here two days ago.”

Cleo: “Yeah, we kiiiiinda had some dragon problems that bogged us down along the way.” >_>;

“We got caught up.” Cleo paused as the riolu stopped before her. “We actually need to talk to you.”

So how badly would Tinker have freaked out about the account of the Jangmo-o encounter anyways?

“Now?” Spark sprawled forwards on Cleo’s shoulder. “Can’t we do this after supper? I’m starting to feel faint.”

Tinker: “Spark, one of the guards reported that you found assassins in the woods. On what planet would it be a good idea to wait on talking about things?” >_>;

Cleo rolled her eyes. “Please excuse her. Food has been a little scarce.”

“Well, dinner is about to start, so feel free-,” said Tinker.

Well, never mind then.

Spark didn’t even wait for the sentence to end. She darted from Cleo’s shoulder and zipped through the crowd, with nothing more than a quick ‘thanks!’ before she vanished amid the masses.

Getting some Super!Slurpuff vibes there.

Tinker rubbed the back of his head as he watched after her.

Food scarcity is becoming a growing problem with the cold season closing in. There’s not much left out there for travelling pokemon, as most of it has been harvested before the frost comes.” He turned back to Cleo and met her eyes. “Be sure to take some supplies with you before you leave.”

… Wait, if it’s a growing problem, then wouldn’t Tinker logically start rationing food himself? Or is it meant to be “we’ve heard it’s a growing problem with other Outcast Guilds, even if it hasn’t affected us yet and we haven’t needed to break out rationing… for now”? Since it feels like Tinker’s statement at face value is a little disconnected from how we see the Outcast Guild operating.

“I was planning on stocking up.” Cleo kept pace with him as they followed the other pokemon towards the kitchen. “Are you sure you have enough stocks to spare here?”

“We have plenty. It was a good year for the orchard, not to mention the wild fruit and roots growing in the woods. With fewer pokemon living nearby, we didn’t have much competition.

Ah yes, totally a normal thing and not a sign of something super ominous and potentially existentially threatening to the Guild there.

When they arrived at the dinner hall, Tinker kept moving past it. Cleo faltered in the doorway, and gave a glance inside. Spark was perched on the table, piling up a plate twice her size with a variety of delights.

… How on earth does she manage to eat all of that? .-.

Are Did you want to stop here first?” Tinker asked with a hint of impatience. “I’m afraid I can’t discuss your previous mission in there. There are a lot of… local refugees who’ve joined us here. And I fear discussing Talking openly about such matters might upset them.”

Cleo: “Spark, why are you just saying that loud enough for us to hear from the door?!” >.<

Cleo’s ears drooped slightly. She couldn’t deny she was hungry. But… She nodded her understanding and turned from the dining hall. “I can eat later.”

The truth was, the sooner she relayed her mission, the less sooner it would be stop hovering over her like a dark fog. And the sooner less it’d lower the chances of Tinker hovering around her like a flea, disrupting her relaxing meal.

She followed him through the winding corridor to the end, where one small room sat. The door was ajar, but he still needed to give it a shoulder barge to get it open. The wooden door tore over a wad of discarded paperwork before finally catching on the tattered edge of a cardboard box.

Wait, they have fleas in this setting? Though I gave a couple recommendations for rephrasing and paragraph splitting here.

His desk was in an equal state of disarray (or ‘organised chaos’ as he’d call it), and he had to clear a stool of yet more paper for Cleo to sit down.

Narrator: “It was just disarray.”

“Tell me,” he said. “How did things go in Windflower?”

Probably terrible, but let’s hear things from Cleo’s own words.

Cleo let out a sigh. “That small town is fine for now. We chased off the jangmo-o.”

“Chased off?”

Tinker: “As in… they can come back to Windflower?”

“A couple were apprehended there,” she explained. “But their Guild is small, you know that. Most of those dragons got away. Although not unscathed.”

“You let them get away?!”


Cleo: “Because they’re Jangmo-o and in all likelihood disproportionately a bunch of scared kids who don’t know what they’re getting into? Also, do recall that Windflower doesn’t have much in the way of ‘monpower.” >_>;

“I was busy helping someone who got hit by a dragon rage,” Cleo explained. “They had no available medic, and they needed help!”

Cleo: “Also, that.”

Tinker leant on his paw and tapped his claws on the table top. “The fact those dragons got away unsettles me, Cleo.”

Tinker: “You do realize that they’re just going to go back to their superiors, report their findings of the terrain and positions around Windflower, and that that’s just going to motivate the Darkness to send a stronger force next time, right?”

Cleo: “Oh yeah, and like killing off their expeditionary force of runts that keel over from a slight Fairy Wind wouldn’t have done the same.” >_>;
Tinker: “It’d have established deterrence! And at least the next one would be going in blind!”

“Then maybe it’s about time Windflower packed up and moved on. They’re too close to the Shadow Lands as it is.”

Tinker: “Cleo, are you even listening to yourself right now?!”

Tinker rubbed his muzzle and groaned. “That’s not an option I want to enforce on them. You were meant to kill-”

“My job is to look after pokemon who are threatened by the Darkness,” said Cleo. “I wasn’t going to let someone die by giving chase after a bunch of kids!

Oh, so I was right about the ‘scared kids’ angle. Even, if I’m not convinced that the “bunch of kids” is fully unrelated to why Cleo didn’t want to give chase.

[ ]

“I appreciate that, Cleo,” said Tinker. “But someone else could have done it. Those dragons are a threat.”

[ ]
“Those dragons are hatchlings.”

“Hydreigon trains hatchlings!”

And there’s the gray on gray morality I was expecting from a war story. Especially since “hatchlings get away and rat out your positions in detail” isn’t exactly a free action. Though I suppose that’s part of the reason why Cleo is recommending that Windflower pick up sticks.

I also just realized that this exchange probably could stand to have some description thrown in at parts to show off more of Cleo and Tinker’s expressions / mood bleeding through, since I would imagine that the two are getting kinda agitated with each other at this point, but it’s not really described.

“Yes, in the Shadow Lands!” Cleo snapped. “He doesn’t send a group of kids off to terrorise a village!” She sighed and dragged her claws through the fur between her ears.

At least having two jangmo-o in custody will hopefully give them much needed information. Whatever they can provide, anyway. At least they’re not terrorising them anymore.”

Wait, but isn’t Cleo’s statement contradictory since her earlier statement very explicitly describes the Jangmo-o who attacked Windflower and were ultimately repulsed as children? And the very next part of her dialogue refers to the Jangmo-o as terrorizing Windflower, so…

“If they come back, Cleo-”

“Then they have two of their own as ransom. I’m sure that will terrify those children more than being chased across the town by a pawful of Guild Warriors.”

Tinker: “And when they send in their parents who will be boiling with rage hotter than a thousand suns?” >.<
Cleo: “Th-They’ll be motivated to negotiate on behalf of their children’s welfare?”

“Ransom indeed.” Tinker lowered his paw to look at her. “I hardly think Hydreigon will care. If he demands that village be wiped out, then it will be wiped out. Just like your home.”

I mean, yeah. The very fact that Tinker went “no, you shouldn’t have given them quarter” over a group of child soldiers without batting an eye seemed to indicate that there were really, really steep consequences for losing a fight to the Darkness. And that as harsh as it is, his argument doesn’t come from nowhere.

A chill ran down Cleo’s spine and her fur stood on end along it, but she just stared back at the riolu silently. His right eye stared past her, and enough vehemence flared in her to probe him as to how he lost it in the first place. But she swiftly swallowed it down, and the look of surprise and regret that washed over his face made it a lot easier to do so.

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “That was unprofessional of me.”

Cleo just nodded at that and looked away.

Cleo: “Tinker, I know what the risks are. You don’t need to remind me.”

“What you did was noble, but you sometimes have to decide if sacrifices need to be made,” said Tinker. “In a war, it often comes to that.

Bruh, this is literally how you wind up making wars endemic and without proper ends. Like you can’t attempt to cut out the middleman and negotiate with enemy individual units if the rank and file are deathly afraid that you’ll turn them into a set of boots the moment you’re in a position of strength over them.
“Most pokemon wouldn’t call it a war anymore, Tinker. They’d say it’s just the norm. A group of tiny dragons trying to burn down a food storage? They’re just hooligan kids trying to get away with something while claiming they have the authority because ‘their king said so’. Hydreigon hasn’t sent an army onto us in seasons.

Which is going to change in the course of like 5 chapters, I can tell.

“That’s because we’re losing.”

Cleo fell silent. She rubbed her paw over her face and sank in her seat. Losing… hadn’t they already lost? The Outcasts, scattered across Estellis, struggling to survive in a world where dragon- and dark-type pokemon reigned, ruled over by a horrid pokemon who wanted nothing more than to wipe out every other type completely. No. It was no longer a war. Now it was just survival.

Hydreigon was bullied by Fairies as a kid or something, wasn’t he? Though this sounds like a fantastic way to engineer a biosphere collapse if there aren’t generic animals that live alongside pokémon in Estellis.

“Outcasts are being picked off day by day, you know that,” said Tinker. “Driven across Estellis while Hydreigon spreads his rule further and further south. I fear you’ve become hardened to this world, Cleo.”

He let out a small sigh and his voice softened. “What happened to the meowstic who’d run blindly into an army of Hydreigon’s soldiers just to take out their leader for the sake of a bounty?”

Wait, isn’t Cleo’s issue more that she’s gone soft from Tinker’s perspective? Like his gripe is that she’s increasingly unwilling to do dirty work that’s needed for the sake of their own survival? I’m not sure if I’d call that growing “hardened” there.

“For one thing, mobs like that are now few and far between,” said Cleo. “I mean, the last assignment you gave me was to take out a group of hatchlings. One blast of my psychic and the lot of them crumpled like flies.”

Cleo: “Really, if anything, we should be more concerned about how Hydreigon sees it fit to leave it to child soldiers to deal with us now. Like what the hell are we supposed to do if he sends his proper armies after us again?” ._.

“Yet, they still got away.”

“No, those warriors there let them escape. They seemed to have no idea how to handle an event like this! They panicked! That’s how that warrior got hurt in the first place. My job was to take those dragons down and protect other pokemon. I did my job.”

Tinker: “Which you did not complete since those dragons lived to fight another day-” >_>;
Cleo: “Look, did the job say ‘kill the dragons’, Tinker? No, it said ‘take them down’. I fulfilled my obligations to the letter!” >.<

“Your job was to protect Windflower.” Tinker leant against his desk. “And now you’re placing blame.”

“I did my job, Tinker. Those jangmo-o now have a lot to think about.


Cleo: “The hell is that supposed to mean?!”

Tinker: “Cleo, assuming that Hydreigon just kept sending the same Jangmo-o back over and over again after being allowed to limp off, those Jangmo-o are one day going to come back to Windflower as Hakamo-o.
- Tinker shakes his head -
Tinker: “And if by some miracle Windflower still manages to hold them off then, if you keep letting them get away, they’ll eventually come back to Windflower as Kommo-o. And it's somehow still standing, that will be the end of Windflower.”
- Tinker scowls across the table -
Tinker: “So please tell me with a straight face how not nipping things in the bud and preventing worse problems in the future is ‘protecting Windflower’, Cleo.”

Tinker pinched the bridge of his muzzle in two claws. “I’m beginning to think you and Spark may need to consider taking on an extra team member.”

Cleo trapped him in an amber glare. “This again? Tinker…”

Considering Tinker’s established mindset, that’s a terrible omen for what this new teammate’s going to be like.

“Don’t get me wrong, Spark’s a great ally.” Tinker picked up a small note on his desk and read it. “I’m going to guess she was the one who took out those three weavile in the woods?”

Cleo’s eyes widened. “You heard about that already? That’s why I-”

Tinker: “Cleo, I’m the Guildmaster here. Do you think I just hole up in my office all day?”

Cleo: “Well, no. I’m just surprised that word made it up the chain so quickly.”

“Yes.” Tinker wagged the small note at her. “Word gets back to me quite quickly. Anyway, at least consider expanding your team? There are some recent Graduate Warriors who might have actually-”

“What?” She bared a canine. “Picked up my slack and gone after those jangmo-o?”

“To put it bluntly, yes.”

Cleo: “Ooookay, I’m just going to turn and leave right now.” >_>;

“Well I’m not interested,” said Cleo. “Spark and I work just fine together. She watches my back and covers me against dark-types, especially when I can’t get to them. She watches me, and I watch her. We don’t need another team-mate.

Yeah, too bad. You’re getting one anyway, Cleo. Even if from what I remember of the v1 of this story, it’s not right here and now.

“And what was Spark doing while you tended to the wounded?”

“Covering me.”

Tinker: “Really, Cleo?” >:|
Cleo: “Yes, really. Where are you going with this?”


Tinker sat back in his seat and folded the little note. [ ]

I don’t doubt the pair of you work like a well-oiled machine. I’ve seen you do good work in the past. But everyone needs some extra help every now and then,” he insisted. “If you take on one of our trainees, it might do you the world of good. An extra pair of paws, and you might learn something.”

I would recommend hacking this paragraph up and dropping in an extension in the bit where Tinker sits down to focus on mood or internal thoughts or something like that.

Cleo bit her lip and glanced away. “I don’t think so, Tinker.”

Tinker made a thoughtful noise. “Because you fear you’ll need to carry them?

Cleo: “I mean, you explicitly stated earlier that your definition of an ‘asset’ to our team was someone who’d go full ‘rip and tear’ on a bunch of child soldiers, but even before that…”

“Exactly. They’d just be a burden.” She wanted to add ‘just like that group of so-called Guild Warriors who quaked just because a group of hatchlings bared their fangs’ but thought better of it. There was no sense in vexing Tinker any further.

This feels like an anecdote that should’ve been alluded to earlier, since the other Guild Warriors putting up a shameful display in Windflower is kinda coming out of left field right now as a detail. Like you’d think that Spark or Cleo would have more commentary on it earlier.

Especially if Cleo heard one of the GWs who had gotten weak in the knees during the fight turn around and make similar arguments to Tinker about what should’ve been done with those Jangmo-o that fled/got caught, since… uh… she doesn’t strike me as the type to have taken that well.

“Well, as far as fighting goes, you two do just great.” Tinker opened a drawer and pulled out a small, brown pouch. “Either way, you defended Windflower, so you still get paid.

[ ]

As for the weavile, there was actually a bounty on their heads,” the Riolu continued. “Turns out they’ve been terrorising some of the locals who’ve migrated here. With them out of the picture, the Winding Woods are safe for now.”

Another section where I’d recommend breaking things up and expanding with more description.

Cleo: “Tinker, how does your guild manage to fail to keep its own nearby woods safe?!” >.<
Tinker: “By having our paws full with other headaches? Also, in case you haven’t noticed, those weren’t exactly small woods!” >_>;

Cleo took the pouch gratefully and stuffed it into her satchel.

“I don’t imagine you got any information off the weavile?” Tinker asked. “Any reason as to why they were lurking around in those empty woods?”

Cleo: “Tinker, Spark literally fried them all with a Parabolic Charge and then we moved on.”
Tinker: “Explain the gold.”
- Cue the sound of jingling from Cleo’s satchel -
Cleo: “Fine, we looted them and then moved on. But the point was that they were out cold the entire time!” >_>;

“No, unfortunately.” Cleo rummaged in her satchel. “They weren’t in any state to talk. They did have this on them, however.”

She handed the little vial to the riolu and he leant forwards to take it. He turned it in the light, and Cleo noticed even in better lighting the pink liquid was still oddly fluorescent.

“Any idea what it is?” she asked.

“Not a clue.”

Cleo: “Oh, you’re a real help right now.” -_-;

“It’s not pecha juice, right?”

Tinker: “Cleo, does that look like any Pecha juice you’ve seen before in your life?”

Cleo: “Look, I’m just making sure, okay?”

“No, I don’t think so. Unless they mixed it with something else.”

Tinker popped it on his desk and inclined his head as he stared at it.

I shall have to run some tests on it. Part of me fears it might be poison.”

Tinker: “Because, you know. Sickly fluorescent glow and all that. Doesn’t look like something you’d want going into your body.”

Cleo’s mouth went dry. She only knew of one pokemon in Hydreigon’s army who used poisons, but that didn’t mean others wouldn’t be inclined to give it a try. Was that why the weavile were lurking around the woods? Were they planning on poisoning the pokemon here?

I mean, it would explain why they operated in such a small team. Even if it doesn’t explain their lack of competence to stop and gloat about how screwed their enemies were.

Suddenly she wasn’t quite so hungry.

Tinker looked up at her suddenly and he trailed his eye over her. “You look positively exhausted. Will you be wanting a room for the night?”

Cleo nodded slowly. “Maybe a few nights. I think, after all that travelling, Spark and I would appreciate staying still for a little while.”

Cleo: “... You’re not going to take this as an opportunity to try and foist a teammate on me and Spark, are you?”
Tinker: “Well, if you were interested, there’s an up-and-coming talent named ‘George’ who’s got a way of dealing with dragons-”
Cleo: “Oh my gods, Tinker. Stop.” >.<

“Very well. Then where will you be off to?”

“New City,” she said. “I don’t have plans to go anywhere else, so we might as well head back home. Unless you have other plans?”

Wait, the Outcasts have proper cities and not just nomadic encampments? Makes me wonder how dug-in that place is.

“A rest sounds like a good idea to me. Maybe it’ll help you put things into perspective.” Tinker picked up the vial again, no longer looking at Cleo.

Very well. She could tell when she wasn’t welcome.

That is a terrible omen for what on earth conditions in ‘New City’ are like given that Tinker’s assuming they’ll disabuse Cleo of her optimism / presumed naivete. .-.

She pushed herself from her seat and turned to leave his office.

“Oh, Cleo?”

She froze in the doorway, and flicked both her tails sharply.

If anything happens to Windflower…” His voice was laced with warning.

Narrator: “Windflower is boned beyond belief, it’s just not apparent yet.”

She turned her head back towards him. “I shouldn’t even have been needed. They have a slaking there who could pick up two of those runts in one paw. If the Guild there can’t handle a group of kids, then we have a bigger problems than what I do with the dragons I defeat.”

She slipped from the room and yanked the door closed. But it didn’t slam. Instead it jammed over a mound of crumpled paper.

Would recommend a slight rephrasing there in Cleo’s rebuttal to emphasize the “don’t pin this one on me, Tinker”-ness a bit more.

Cleo lay on her back on a pile of clean hay. The room had only had one nest, so she’d split it in two for her and Spark. The dedenne lay sprawled out atop it, giving off snores that far exceeded her size.

Cleo: “Seriously, Spark. How on earth do you manage this?” @.@

Cleo couldn’t sleep. She pulled out her map, clutching a red pen in one paw. It was a paw-sketched representation of Estellis, dotted with her own paw print writing. The north was mostly marred with red crosses, former territories that had been overrun by the Darkness. Areas that had seen much war and claimed many lives. They were places that were no longer inhabited by the Outcasts, nor inhabited by the Darkness. Just destroyed, and no longer safe for her or any other Outcast to visit or travel through. The further south they went, the fewer red crosses they’d find.

What on earth did the Darkness do while conquering those places? Spray nerve agents? Since you’d think that even if the places were literally torched to the ground that the land would still accommodate new plant growth after a few years.

The entire northern part of the map was shaded black, stretching down over a third of the western areas. This was the Shadow Lands. A rapidly growing area that was ruled over by Hydreigon, as he stretched his claws across Estellis. It was inhabited only by dragon and dark-type pokemon, and for anyone else to enter it meant death. Death at the claws of his murkrow flock and weavile fleets, or to be incinerated by flames and dragonfire.

I can tell that this guy would’ve had a field day with Tera Shards. Though no breaks for Dragon Egg Group Pokémon that don’t carry one of those two typings, huh? Guess the guy really wants a world cast in his typed image.

The rest of the western area, and a huge portion of the south was shaded purple. Heretic territory. Those who revered the Darkness and wished to appease Hydreigon, although that had only meant they’d been used before now. Used, then destroyed. Yet the Heretics tried to find new ways to appease him. Cleo didn’t understand it. Desperation to survive, or did they really believe themselves inferior and want to be servants to the horrid dragon?

Oh, that’s not an ominous sign that the Outcasts do incredibly messed-up things to them at all there. Since all sorts of things have been justified to stamp out ‘heresy’ IRL, and with the right mindset and framing, it is as bitter and charged a term as ‘traitor’ or ‘collaborator’, just with additional religious undertones.

Though my money is firmly on camp “Desperation”. The parable of people feeding each other to a crocodile to save themselves has some depressing resonance in reality, and it’s not all that unbelievable to assume that there’d be entire factions that just go “nope nope nope” and opt to throw others under the bus to live another day.
The rest of the map showed areas still safe for the Outcasts. A small patch of scattered towns and villages, some of which she’d not seen yet to mark them on her map. Her eye fell to a spot just a two day walk from where they were. A huge moorland, trimmed on one side by a forest while the other side was dominated by a mountain that curled around the moors before it stretched away towards the north.

New City.

It wasn’t marked on her map. Even breathing its name outside was a risk. The Darkness didn’t know about it, nor did the Heretics. It was only known to the Guild and those who inhabited it. Only those trusted would be taken there, and those who lived there weren’t allowed to leave without reason. Not that most of them even wanted to. The pokemon were happy to live there, in safety. Unseen, hidden beneath the surface.

inb4 it’s Ba Sing Se all over again. Since this just screams “something is up with this place and it doesn’t live up to its reputation as this wonderful haven where all is well”.

She sighed and folded away her map, tucking it away in her bag. She let her arm flop over her face as she stared at the ceiling.

What were those weavile doing in the woods? And why just the three of them? They’d been causing problems, apparently. Had they really been planning to poison this small town?

I mean, that’s a gross understatement if those three were legitimately assassins. Since strong incompetence can still do a ton of damage to weaker opponents unable to resist.

Just three of them alone wouldn’t have stood a chance against the Guild and all its forces. They must have known that. So it was either a sneak attack, or they were waiting for reinforcements. Or this town wasn’t their target at all?

Ding ding ding. Especially since IIRC, the contents of that vial were some sort of mutagen.

No, it couldn’t be the latter. Pokemon were terrorized everywhere, the Outcasts just fought back to try and remain safe for as long as they could.

But if the little town was being targeted, it may then very soon it might become nothing more than yet another red cross on her map.

Gave some suggestions for rephrasing a few parts to hammer things home a bit harder from Cleo’s perspective.

Harbinger trotted along the rocky outcrop of the Silent Mountains, keeping impeccable balance. His snowy white paws moved one in front of the other, the back ones falling in the footprints of his forepaws making nary a sound. Behind him, the two pawniard twins took more wary steps, jogging to keep up with the absol’s quick pace.

‘Harbinger’ is at once one of those names that is so on the nose and so perfect for an Absol. Kudos on that there.

He’d seen it. About a mile back he’d caught a glimpse of a village ahead of them, formed of stone buildings nestled around a lake. They hadn’t been there two years before, so they were definitely recent. It had been hard to gauge how many pokemon lived there, but going off the number of houses alone, he guessed around fifty.

Fifty what? Pokemon hadn’t lived in the Silent Mountains in years. Not that it mattered what faction they fell under. All pokemon were the same. All hated and feared absol.

Wow, can’t even catch a break with the Darkness by virtue of those premonition powers, huh? Though I guess even among Dark-types, Absol stereotypes are a thing.

He paused just behind a rocky mound, lowering his head to see past the spray of dried branches poking from it. There it was. The village. Clean, white stone reflecting the moonlight. The lake glistened with stars, rippling and disturbing them as the breeze washed over it.

A couple of pokemon hovered around the lake, gathering water into clay jars. A zangoose and a linoone. In the doorway of one of the houses stood a zigzagoon on its hind legs, steadying itself with its paw. Clearly trying to imitate its parent.

It certainly looked peaceful enough. Well… it was time to introduce himself.


Harbinger crept from beneath the rock, catching the twigs with his bony tail. The rustle was enough to cause the zangoose’s ears to twitch. He looked up from the lake and met Harbinger’s crimson eyes. The zangoose stiffened, his fur flaring along his bushy tail.

Harbinger paused on the edge of the outcrop, his front paw raised. He was looking right down at the zangoose. Unafraid, unlike the feral-looking pokemon beneath him. The linoone had spotted him and let out a wail. She dropped the clay jar, shattering it over the rocks and spraying water everywhere. She dashed back to her house, scooping her curious child into her forearms before slamming the door behind her.

“Wail” is more “crying with tears”, you probably want something more like “shriek” there if it’s more “scream”-y.

Harbinger: “... Dammit.” >.<

The zangoose flashed his canines. “Get out of here, you omen!”

Zangoose: “You harbinger, even!”
Harbinger: “This is going to happen a lot, isn’t it?” -_-;

Harbinger sighed inwardly. It was always the same.

He raised his head high. “I’m only here to warn you of a disaster.”

Whelp, that’s a pre-emptive
for this village.

“Yeah, and you probably brought it yourself!” The zangoose flexed his claws, and the moonlight glinted off them. “I’m not afraid, absol. I’ll carve you up right here.”

It was always the same.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Harbinger turned to duck back beneath the mountain shrub.

Harbinger: “Not like you were doing your sympathy with the audience wonders anyways.” >_>;

Something sharp struck his heel. He stifled a yelp, skittering along the outcrop. The tell-tail clatter of stone told him the zangoose had thrown something. Harbinger didn’t glance back until he was on the other side of the shrub. The zangoose still glared after him, poised to leap into action if Harbinger retaliated.

He had every intention to retaliate. But not in the way the zangoose expected.


That doesn’t sound like a good omen there.

Harbinger pushed himself along the outcrop, nudging Scratch and Claw ahead of him. The ground widened out just ahead of them, before moving into a gentle incline further up the mountain. Harbinger sat down and stretched out his back leg to examine his paw. No blood, just a muddy scuff where the rock had struck him.

“So what are we going to do?” It was Claw who’d spoken.

Scratch stood beside his twin, rubbing his pointed limbs together. The sound it gave off was akin to a metal kricketune who hadn’t quite mastered the art of serenading just yet.

I actually don’t remember these two from the v1. Or this scene with Harbinger for the matter. Wonder how long the twins will hang around since there’s no Pawniard or Bisharp in the banner art.

Harbinger lowered his leg to sit better and looked at each of the pawniard in turn. Patient, waiting. The dim light reflected off their metal hides, yet they still managed to blend to the shadows. The pokemon in that village probably hadn’t even noticed them.

Harbinger glanced back at the way they’d come. Those pokemon around the lake. He’d told them disaster was coming. He was going to make sure it did.


Harbinger, uwotm8.

“Look around you,” he told the pawniard. “What do you see?”

“Mountains,” said Claw. “But what does an avalanche have to do with those pokemon in the valley?”

“I’m not going to start an avalanche,” said Harbinger. “What else is here?”

He’s going to do the equivalent of shooting off a flare in full view of one of Hydreigon’s armies, isn’t he?

Claw tipped his head back in thought, and Scratch twitched as he looked at his brother expectantly.

“Rivers,” Scratch finally said, trailing one of his claws over his arm. “And the lake.”

A smile split Harbinger’s muzzle. “You remember those pokemon we saw in the valley?


Feeling pretty good about that ‘shooting off a flare equivalent’ prediction right about now.

Claw nodded, and Scratch stopped his fussing, waiting for instruction.

“Good.” Harbinger stood, stepping gingerly on his bruised foot. “You know what to do.”

I’m not sure where this is going, but I can already tell that it’s going to get really [uhhh] really fast.

The twins saluted and turned, zipping along the mountain slope towards the other side.

Harbinger gave another glance back towards the village. He couldn’t see it anymore. The pokemon there would either flee, or stick around to see if he brought any threat.

A harbinger of disaster. That’s all they saw him as. Just like everyone else. If they were going to accuse him of disaster, then he’d make sure they received it.

Harbinger, this is why nobody likes you, just saying.

Another smirk tugged at his lips, and he followed after the pawniard twins, bounding nimbly over the precarious rocks.


Totally a promising sign for that little Outcast/Heretic village there and the lifespans of the 50-ish locals that call it home.

Well, that’s certainly different from the first chapter that I remember of the original The End. I remember back in the day that I had read a few chapters of it back on Serebii and struggled to get into it thanks to the prose structure. Going back to rewrite it was absolutely the right call, since I honestly got pretty engrossed with this first chapter at some points of my readthrough.

Okay, first and foremost are that the first chapter in general is a good hook that gets audience interested with the premise of the MC looking for a haven from a world where she and her companions are struggling for survival. And you leave the chapter off with a hint of an impending self-induced disaster on Harbinger’s part that is probably going to delete that village of 50 Pokémon that just went out of their way to nuke their audience sympathy off of the map. Could do worse for a note to encourage readers “hey, come back and check out my second chapter”.

Cleo and Spark are a fun character duo to watch, and their personalities act as a nice relief to the world they live in that’s falling apart. At the same time, more hardbitten characters like Tinker help establish the stakes of the world and while not necessarily as sympathetic as the main protags, help establish that there will be consequences for failure and misjudgements. Ones that could come in the twinkling of an eye with disastrous effects.

I haven’t fully pegged what the overall vibe of the story is gunning for, even if the initial atmosphere kinda gave off an “edgier YA novel” sort of feeling, that said I have to give you kudos for a pretty ballsy use of gray and gray morality off the bat. Like we go from an introduction where some cocky would-be assassins get their just desserts in a fashion that’s almost comedic relief in execution to a moment where Cleo and Tinker are having a discussion about the ethics of killing off enemy child soldiers to the last ‘mon standing. And yet, somehow, it just all works and doesn’t feel edgy or overly grim… or at least not yet. We’ll see how that holds up in later chapters, but even if the tenor is a darker shade than what one of my own projects that attempts to go for, I’m honestly impressed that you’ve managed to pull off a tightrope of lighter and darker elements thus far.

As for criticisms, the full writeup has everything, but in terms of issues, one recurring flaw that I saw was that some paragraphs felt idea-dense enough that they probably merited chopping up into at least two smaller paragraphs. I mean, granted some of that is subjective style as an author, but for certain moments where you need to sell little pauses of time between actions, sometimes something as simple as one or two sentences describing a small action or things that’s being perceived can go a long way to selling the vibe.

The primary structural issue that I see from this first chapter is that you could stand to have a bit more description at points. As such sometimes, it’s a bit hard to get a feel for details such as what the “mood” of characters are at different points. This is especially noticeable at a few points where a few bits of info / anecdotes such as Cleo being unimpressed with Windflower’s Guild Warriors being in spite of their on-paper abilities get brought up out of the blue in a way that makes it feel like it wasn’t contextualized enough. Like in that particular example, if Cleo was ready to get snippy with Tinker about how shameful the Guild Warriors’ display was up against a bunch of Jangmo-o, it feels like something that would’ve logically been hinted towards in passing in her banter with Spark earlier, or at the very least, come up when she starts getting agitated at Tinker for him getting testy about her not being more cutthroat with dealing with said Jangmo-o since from her perspective she and Spark are literally the reason why the raid on Windflower wasn’t a settlement-wrecking disaster.

Dunno whether or not you’ll be going back to patch in further revisions to your earlier chapters at a later date, but it’s something to keep in mind. If not for them, then for your future writings. That said, I genuinely feel that you’ve come a long way as a writer since your initial v1 of this story. Perhaps it’s an artifact of me having seen the original so long ago, but this one feels a lot more put-together and familiar but different to the one that I remembered reading. I dunno if I’ll have the chance to read more of this story in RB4, but I’ll definitely keep an eye on it in the future @DeliriousAbsol .

Hope the feedback helped, and good luck with Review Blitz. ^^
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Chapter 64


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
@Spiteful Murkrow Thank you so much for your review! It really brightened up a car journey! I laughed out loud at the banter you added between the conversations XD

I'm so glad you're seeing an improvement in my writing. As I've been going over the original The End there are points where I think "Man I can do better than this now!" and end up re-structuring entire chapters or dialogue. The old dialog often feels stiff and stilted at points, so I'm glad this re-write lands better with you. I've fleshed out the plot a lot, too, which I hope is enjoyable for those who read the old story as well as new readers.

Your advice was super helpful! I'll definitely take it on board for future writings. I'm also considering overhauling Chapter One as it took me a while to get into a rhythm of re-writing, so there are some parts that could do with ironing out. I do often think about re-writing a second time in a few years but I'm not sure on that just yet. It's been a blast to re-visit this story, applying all I've learned over the years. I think I'm getting carried away by considering re-writing it again already! XD

If you do continue, I hope you enjoy it! Thanks again!

64 - An Encounter in the Dark​

Faith was woken from a light slumber. She propped herself up on one elbow and rubbed her eyes as she gazed blearily at the curtain of the tent. Soft sobbing came from outside, barely audible over the breeze rustling the fabric walls. But the sobbing was unmistakable. That’s what had disturbed her sleep.

Faith cast her gaze over her sleeping companions. Cleo lay curled up beside her, with Spark snuggled in her twin tails. Mischief lay near the door, a small cotton ball that rose and fell with his steady breathing.

Faith pushed herself up and crept silently across the tent. The cool night air washed over her as she stepped out onto the moors. Harlequin lay curled up on the grass and the sobbing lessened as the zorua flicked her ears back towards Faith.

“It’s just me.” The mawile sat down beside her and placed a paw on Harlequin’s back. The zorua tensed for a heartbeat but relaxed as Faith ran her paw over her coarse, shaggy coat.

“Did I wake you?” Harlequin mumbled into her paws.

“I hadn’t been asleep long.”

Faith looked up at the dark sky. The half moon was visible between the clouds, a smattering of stars surrounding it. As far as she could tell, not much time had passed at all since she swapped shifts with Harlequin.

Faith turned her attention back to the zorua. “Is something the matter?”

Harlequin didn’t look up at her, but Faith could make out the tears glinting on her fur and shimmering in her sapphire eyes.

“Is it Enigma?” Faith’s words were soft, but Harlequin flinched at them. It was all the answer the mawile needed.

Faith edged closer to Harlequin and let her paw rest between the zorua’s shoulders.

Fresh tears streamed from Harlequin’s eyes and she took in a long, ragged breath. “I was just thinking about him.” Her voice wavered with each word. “That’s all.”

Faith nodded and gazed at the starlit sky. She could still picture Enigma stood at the top of Stonehaven, staring into the square, his gaze fixed on Harlequin’s small form.

“I never saw you both together,” said Faith. “But I could tell you were close friends.”

Harlequin’s body shuddered and she curled into herself, flicking her tail over her nose. A strange sound left her throat which Faith took to be a ‘hmm’.

“If you like, you can talk to me about it?” Faith offered. “It might help. But there’s no pressure.”

Harlequin shifted, but made no efforts to speak. Faith let her gaze wander over the moors. The grass stretched away from them into the distance where it was swallowed up by deep shadows. Large, wiry trees jutted up from the earth, splintering large rocks that rose up around their trunks into jagged mounds. It looked lonely and empty, emphasised further by Harlequin’s soft sobs.

“I miss him.” Harlequin’s voice drew Faith’s eye. “He was… my only friend.”

Faith trailed her paw along Harlequin’s back. “I know it’s not the same… but you have friends here too. We’re here for you.”

Harlequin swiped her paw over her nose and glanced up at the mawile. “Thank you.”

Faith nodded stiffly and let her gaze wander over the landscape again. Her words had felt a little hollow. Of course it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t as if any of them could just replace Enigma. Harlequin had been friends with him for a long time. Faith, Cleo, Spark, Mischief… none of them could just magically make the pain go away.

“He was always scared of dying.”

Faith looked back down at Harlequin again. Her sobbing had eased, but tears still flowed over her cheeks.

“How must he have felt,” Harlequin went on, “knowing that it was coming?”

Faith had nothing to say. Her claws idly brushed through Harlequin’s fur as she listened to the former assassin continue.

“It seems ironic really.” Harlequin gave a single, bitter laugh. “Pokemon all across Estellis were terrified he’d come for them. But in the end he was mortal like everyone else.” She closed her eyes. “He took way too many risks… I was always terrified this would happen.”

She buried her nose in her paws as her entire body shook with sobs. Faith had no words. She shook her head slowly and let her paw come to a rest on the zorua’s back.

“I knew him before he got his monstrous reputation,” Harlequin went on, her voice muffled with sobs. “I saw him change. He was never like that, but he just lost it. He became careless, and ruthless. But behind that sadistic mask was a pokemon in so much pain.”

Faith closed her eyes. She’d guessed as much. ‘I’m no hero’… What had he gone through to get into such a state?

“He used intimidation as a defence, and it worked.” Harlequin paused to take a breath. “He’d just take lives, sometimes without even being ordered to. Sometimes it would mess up Hydreigon’s plans. I often wondered if he did it just to get on Hydreigon’s nerves. If I challenged Enigma on it, he’d just laugh it off.” Harlequin trailed a paw over the grass, leaving small grooves in the soil with her claws. “Over time, pokemon became so scared of him they’d run at the mere sound of his bell. To be honest, I think even Hydreigon was scared of him. He was quick to make Enigma into one of his aces.”

Faith rubbed her arm absently and stared off into the distance. “What exactly happened to him? For him to turn like that?”

Harlequin looked away from her. “He lost his mate.”

Faith stared down at the zorua. Harlequin’s ears drooped and she took in a long breath. For a moment, Faith thought she was going to say something else, but she simply sighed.

“I’m sorry.” Faith closed her eyes as a wave of sadness washed over her. There was nothing else she could say.

“It broke him,” Harlequin told her. “A part of him died with her that day. It was an awful battle we should never have run into. He couldn’t save her, and he never forgave himself for it. He never said, but it was obvious. After that, he just spiralled until it felt like I’d lost him.” She shook her head and let her chin fall onto her paws. “I could never bring him back from it.” Tears flowed from her eyes again and she huddled into herself. “I’d hear him at night crying. He wouldn’t stop blaming himself.”

“But it wasn’t his fault.”

“I know. I was there.”

Faith hugged her knees to her chest. She felt helpless. All she could do was listen to Harlequin sobbing beside her.

“I miss him so much,” the zorua choked.

“I know.” Faith let her paw rest on Harlequin’s back again. “I’m so sorry.”

“I never got the chance to tell him the truth.”

Faith inclined her head on one side. “That you’re female?”

“Yeah.” Harlequin nodded. “The whole Shadow Lands believe I’m male. They have to. I know what happens to the girls there, and I won’t let it happen to me.” She took in a few gasps to steady her sobs. “Kera knew the truth. She’d guessed, and I couldn’t hide it from her. But Enigma wouldn’t believe her.” She laughed and shook her head. “She really mocked him for that.”

Faith’s eyes lit up with amusement. “Why wouldn’t he believe her?”

Harlequin shook her head and let it fall onto her paws again. “I don’t know. He was stubborn.” She closed her eyes as tears threatened her again. “But I wanted him to know. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it. I was too scared everyone else would find out, and as each day went past it just got harder and harder. So I told myself I’d tell him when the war was over.” A howl left her throat and she buried her nose into her paws. “When the war is over!”

Faith huddled into Harlequin’s side and leaned her head against hers. The moonlight shimmered and Faith blinked back tears from her eyes. She became aware of movement behind them and she looked back to see Cleo and Spark peering at them from the tent. Cleo pointed to herself then to Harlequin.

Faith mouthed a ‘thank you’ to Cleo and gave Harlequin’s shoulder a gentle shake. “Come on. Cleo is offering to take over your shift.”

Harlequin sniffed and raised her head. “I… think I’ll be okay. I just…”

“No.” Faith shook her head and rose to her feet. “Get some rest.”

Harlequin gave a reluctant nod and dragged herself trembling to her feet. Cleo gave her a sympathetic look as Harlequin nosed past her into the tent. The zorua sank into a heap in the spot where Cleo had been lying. Spark hopped onto the zorua’s paws, drawing a look of surprise. Spark twitched her whiskers at her and huddled against Harlequin’s ruff. The zorua sighed and let her head rest on her paws. Faith settled down beside her and caught Mischief’s eye.

The whimsicott stared at them for a moment then curled up into a cotton ball once more.

Faith closed her eyes as a lone tear leaked over her cheek. Harlequin, Spark, Cleo, Mischief… all pokemon who’s lives had been torn apart by war. Everyone she’d met so far had suffered in some way. Was there anyone who hadn’t?

A lump rose in her throat and she tried to swallow it back. She wiped her paw over her damp cheeks and curled up into Harlequin’s warm fur. This awful war needed to end.


The small wooden houses and market stalls slowly came into view as Cleo and her friends drew closer to the town. The morning dew soaked through their paws as they marched over the grass, chatting amongst themselves. Harlequin seemed a bit happier after a good night’s sleep, although the distant look in her eye suggested her cheery demeanour was a facade.

Spark sat on Cleo’s shoulder, munching on a dry oran berry. Their supplies were running low, and Cleo cast a hopeful eye up at the berry trees that dotted the outskirts of the town. As expected, they were bare save for the odd decaying berry that lay on the ground.

Grass gave way to bare earth, which the grass was slowly encroaching over. The soil was mushy, saturated with snow melt and dew. Silence enveloped the town, bringing the group’s voices to a halt. Cleo had half-expected to hear the bustle of busy pokemon and shouts from the markets, but the town was barren. The wooden houses were beaten by the cold season, their walls splintered. Doors hung open on rusted hinges that creaked as the breeze blew against them. The tables around the market stalls were covered in blankets of decaying leaves, filling the air with the musty scent of the forest.

“Argh.” Spark sank down on Cleo’s shoulder. “Just as I feared. Empty.”

Cleo gave a non-committal grunt and pushed her way through the town.

“This is where we met.” Mischief pointed towards one of the market stalls. “You were standing over there. And I slipped a rock into your bag to steal your coin pouch, hoping you wouldn’t notice.”

A small smile spread across Cleo’s muzzle. “Stealth wasn’t exactly your strong suit.”

“One of my first memories.” Mischief rubbed his paws together as he looked around at the barren town. “Now it’s like this. What… what’s happened?”

“It’s not been attacked if that’s what you’re wondering,” said Harlequin. “There’d be clear signs of that. So let’s be glad it’s not met the same fate as that little village I took you too.”

Mischief grimaced and closed his eyes briefly. “But this place was once filled with pokemon.” He glanced back at the market stalls they’d passed. “I was expecting it to be no different.”

“It’s easy done.” Cleo adjusted her bag as she stepped over a splintered wooden beam. “But these towns never last long. They’re built in a hurry, pokemon flock to them for safety, then they move on.”

“So this is normal?” Faith’s voice was distant as she looked over the decaying down. “It’s so heartbreaking. Nothing like Stonehaven at all.”

“The further north you go the more you’ll see of this,” Cleo explained. “Unless nature has taken them back.”

Spark looked back at the mawile. “The general idea is you keep heading south. Far, far away from the Shadow Lands.”

Faith’s small nod indicated she’d understood the dedenne’s hint. Pokemon fled south in search of New City.

“I’m actually wondering if there’ll even be any Outcast towns further north,” Spark continued. “Like… are there any of us even left up there?”

“I doubt it,” said Cleo. “I’m gonna guess Windflower is abandoned by now.”

“Windflower?” Faith asked.

“A small town Spark and I helped during the cooling season,” Cleo explained. “We drove off some jangmo-o. That town was prone to attacks from the Darkness. I doubt it’ll still be there now.”

“How far north was it?” Harlequin asked.

“Three days from here,” said Cleo.

“Then it’s unlikely.” Harlequin’s words carried little emotion. “I’m gonna guess it fell under attack again no sooner had you left it.”

Cleo’s mouth went dry. She tried not to think about it, forcing her mind back to their task. The sky was growing dark as stormy clouds drifted before the sun. She froze, her gaze wandering to the sky. The air felt humid as if a storm was about to break.

“That looks nasty,” said Spark.

“We need to find shelter,” said Cleo, urging her friends on. “Head to the woods and we’ll set up our tent.”

“Quickly,” said Spark. “My whiskers are tingling.”

Cleo trotted over the wet earth. Mud clung to her feet, each step creating a sucking sound. It was hard enough to walk on despite her cast, making her leg ache and forcing her to hobble more than she already was doing. The oncoming darkness made each step sound oddly loud. Her fur prickled with anxiety and her eyes flitted left and right towards each shadow. Something felt very wrong. Very amiss.

A large shadow moved ahead of them, drawing the meowstic’s frantic eye. Icy blue eyes peered at them from between two small houses. A cold fear washed over Cleo and she took a step back, her tails brushing against Faith’s legs. The mawile tensed, her violet gaze fixed on the shadow.

“Cleo…” Spark’s voice wavered. Static electricity tickled Cleo’s whiskers.

“Well, well, well.” A velvety voice oozed as the large shadow slipped out from between the buildings. “After all the trouble you’ve put us through, I’ve found you.”

A massive black bird stood before them, its feathers streaked with red. Sharp canines glistened in its beak in what Cleo guessed was meant to be a smirk. But its identity was unmistakable. It was a lot bigger than she’d expected, roughly the same height as Reshiram. Its long, feathered tail snaked behind it over the ground. Two massive arms were tucked in at its sides, but long fingers curled back along them feigning the appearance of a bird’s wings. Its icy gaze locked onto the five travellers, framed beneath a pair of curving black horns.

Spark’s cheeks crackled, making static dance over Cleo’s fur. “Yveltal.”

The large bird chuckled, and his eyes flashed with cold fire. “So you know me? That makes things a bit simpler.”

Cleo’s mouth was dry. Words struggled to form in her throat. Every limb felt heavy and unable to move. Her gaze was locked on Yveltal as he strutted towards them, stalking around them like a predator taunting his prey. It made her heart gallop, every fibre of her being screaming at her to flee.

“Now, tell me,” Yveltal said slowly. “How do five little pokemon give Hydreigon such a hard time? What’s so special about you five?” He paused besides Faith and snorted at her mega stone. “I see we have some primordial ooze from the Fairy Garden?”

Faith balled her paws into fists. Her eyes blazed with rage, watching Yveltal’s every movement.

“And the famous whimsicott!” Yveltal went on, meeting Mischief’s fearful eyes. “The one with the power to take down a dragon! Rumours or fact? Because right now it looks like you couldn’t even tickle a cutiefly.” The large bird turned his icy gaze onto Harlequin. “And a renegade. Oh, how Hydreigon would like to have a word with you.” Yveltal clicked his tongue as he raised his head. “But I’m afraid he won’t get the chance.”

Harlequin’s eyes never left Yveltal as she slipped her nidoking horn from her bag. The massive bird strutted before them, stretching his long arms.

“You see, the funny thing about hibernation is it makes one so very, very hungry.” His eyes flashed as he turned them back onto the Outcasts. “I guess I’ll just have to owe Hydreigon an apology that his delivery got a little… lost in the mail.”

The familiar sound of shattered glass exploded behind Cleo. Warmth washed over her as the energy of Faith’s mega evolution radiated out over them. Faith stepped forwards, stretching an arm in front of Cleo.

“I don’t think so, Yveltal.” The mawile met the massive bird’s steely glare. “You lost this fight a long time ago. You have no power over us.”

“Oh don’t I?” Yveltal’s beak twitch with amusement. “Because the fear radiating off your friends says otherwise.”

“Screw that!” Spark leapt from Cleo’s shoulder, dodging the meowstic’s groping paw. She landed beside Faith and rose up to her full height. “I ain’t scared! I’ll fight you!”

Yveltal laughed and inclined his head on one side. “You? Fight me? Don’t make me laugh, runt!”

“Runt?!” Electricity danced over Spark’s little body. “Why I aughta…”

“Spark,” Cleo warned, her voice wavering.

“You should be scared,” Yveltal went on. “Don’t large birds eat little mice?”

“Yeah, what of it?” Spark narrowed her eyes. “I’ve taken down hundreds of murkrow! And I’m not scared of an overgrown snake like you!” She cast a sideways glance at Faith. “’Primordial ooze’ indeed.”

Yveltal lowered his head to her level and crooned, “Allow me to demonstrate why a tiny rodent should indeed be scared of a snake.”

Spark’s whiskers crackled as she prepared to meet his challenge, sending static washing over her friends.

Cleo’s heart was in her throat. She watched as Yveltal raised his head, his eyes blazing with fury. He hadn’t expected them to stand up to him. Darkness leaked from his beak and he opened it wide, sending out a beam of red and black energy.

Faith threw up her arms, and the air around them flashed. The beam broke away at an angle, clipping the overhanging branches of a tree. The bark turned a ghastly grey, and the leaves crumbled away like ash.

“Faith!” Cleo gasped.

Spark looked up at Faith with a start, her large eyes impossibly wide.

The mawile lowered her arms, her shoulders heaving with exertion.

Yveltal looked back at her and tutted. “I always hated you fairies.” He pulled his head back and his jaws gaped as he readied another attack.

Harlequin rushed from Faith’s side, her weapon poised to strike. Yveltal jerked his head towards her and lashed out with a wing, catching her across the ears. Harlequin yelped, releasing her weapon, and landed in a crumpled heap in a doorway. Cleo watched her helplessly. The meowstic’s body just wouldn’t obey her silent pleas to fight. Her paws turned clammy, and her gaze locked back onto Yveltal. It took every ounce of self control not to turn and flee.

The large bird hissed, craning his long neck to examine his wing. He shook it a few times as he turned his livid gaze onto the rest of the group.

“You are becoming a real thorn in my side!”

Before he could act, Spark’s whiskers discharged electricity. It arced towards Yveltal. The black bird leapt aside, knocking into an old house. The walls shook, causing the weakened roof to cave in. Spark’s attack landed in the dirt, fizzling into nothing. The dedenne muttered under her breath, her cheeks crackling as she charged another attack.

Yveltal roared and swung his head around towards Mischief, his beak gaping as another attack flowed from his jaws. Mischief spread his paws, meeting Yveltal’s attack with a dazzling gleam. An explosion split the air, dazzling their eyes and blowing Yveltal off his feet. His tail flailed in the air as he rolled backwards, splintering the decaying house. Shards of wood rained off his body as he pushed himself to his feet. His black and red feathers were marred with dirt, and he spat muddy water onto the ground.

The wicked bird’s gaze met Mischief’s. The whimsicott was no longer showing any fear. He stood before Cleo, his paws clenched at his sides. With a derisive snort, Yveltal spread his wings and rose into the air.

“This isn’t over!” he roared.

With a flourish, Yveltal vanished into the inky night.

Faith sighed, letting her mega form melt away. A weak groan escaped her lips and her legs gave way. Cleo rushed to catch her, steadying the mawile against her side.

Harlequin limped over to them, her nidoking horn back in her jaws. She looked up at Faith, her gaze questioning.

“I can’t believe Yveltal just showed up like that,” said Spark. “It feels like… just unreal, yanno?”

Mischief rubbed his arm, his eyes fixed on the sky. “He ran away…”

“He’s weak,” Faith told them.

Spark hopped round to face her, and exchanged glances with Harlequin. “What?”

“He’s not got his full strength back.” Faith took a few breaths and shook her head. “I wouldn’t… have been able to hold him off on my own.”

“You saved our hides.” Cleo looked up at the grey branches. The boughs groaned as they struggled to hold on to the petrified wood. “We’d be stone by now if it weren’t for you.”

“I heard Xerneas.”

Cleo’s eyes widened, mirrored by her companions.

“You heard him?” Spark asked. “How?”

“Telepathy.” Faith took another breath, securing her arm around Cleo’s shoulders. “He told me to protect you. That we could drive Yveltal off.”

Cleo opened her mouth to reply, but a huge screech split the sky like thunder. Yveltal crashed to the ground, his wings tearing at the air. His beak snapped at a fuzzy mound beneath his feet. Mischief’s muffled cries jerked Cleo to her senses. The whimsicott was pinned in Yveltal’s talons, his other foot digging into the ground beside Mischief’s head. Tufts of creamy fur fluttered into the air and clung in bloody clumps to Yveltal’s beak.

Cleo screamed, her voice joining those of her friends as they rushed towards Yveltal. “Get off him!”

Her ears flew open, releasing pink light. It struck Yveltal in the side and he howled, swinging his head around to snap at her. Electricity bounced over his wings, causing his body to shudder and stiffen. His wings flailed helplessly as Spark leapt across his back, electricity streaming from her tiny form.

Red and black energy spluttered from Yveltal’s beak, evaporating harmlessly in the air. Cleo opened her mouth again as more pink light struck Yveltal in the jaws. He teetered backwards and Spark bailed from his head to land at Cleo’s feet, her whiskers crackling and her challenging glare locked on the massive bird. Yveltal screamed, his eyes flashing with icy fire. He spread his wings and rose into the air, turning his tail as he glided over the rooftops into the woods.

Cleo stood panting, her heart in her mouth. Mischief lay sprawled on his front, blood coating his furry back. Harlequin nosed at his head, her nidoking horn abandoned at her feet. It had been the zorua who’d landed the final blow. Cleo gave herself a mental shake and dropped to her knees at Mischief’s side.

Spark hopped to Mischief’s head and shook his arm. “Dude… get up…” Her voice trembled and she exchanged a worried glance with Cleo.

Thunder rumbled overhead, and a few cold drops of rain splashed over Cleo’s ears. Tears pricked her eyes and she reached out a paw to her fallen friend, but she met only resistance. For a heartbeat she resented the bracelet and yanked it to her chest, fumbling with the lock to release it.

“Is he…?” Faith sat in the dirt behind them, her voice still weak.

“He’s breathing,” said Harlequin with a glance at the sky. “But we need to get him out of here.”

Lightning flashed overhead, making the surrounding trees look like tall skeletons. Cleo’s gaze went to the woods, searching for Yveltal’s shadowy form. Another rumble of thunder rolled overhead, setting her fur on end.

Cleo stood up on trembling legs. The rain fell heavier, soaking through her fur. She hugged her arms around herself and looked around at the empty ghost town. Swallowing back bile she asked, “Where?”

Spark caught her eye and Cleo followed her gaze towards a towering wooden building a short walk away. The former Guild headquarters, now devoid of it’s flag, seemed to silently offer them safety. Its door was still in place, but the roof had caved in at some point over the cold season. However, its ground floor might still be safe and dry.

“It’s better than nothing,” said Harlequin. “Let’s get him inside before the storm worsens.”

Not wanting to risk lifting him manually, Cleo engulfed Mischief in her psychic and lifted him carefully into the air. Harlequin offered a shoulder to Faith and they made their way into the abandoned Guild building.

Another peal of thunder shook the air as they reached shelter. Once the door was closed behind them it muffled the storm. The soft patter of rain made the building feel hollow, but much to Cleo’s delight, the ceiling was still in place. Each footstep echoed off the empty walls, but it felt welcoming.

Spark bounded along ahead of them, stopping outside the old dining hall. She pointed with a claw and motioned them inside. The smell of stale cooking greeted them, ingrained in the wooden walls. The large table was still situated in the middle of the room, the chairs left in a haphazard fashion around it. When the Outcasts had moved, they’d seen no point in tidying up after themselves. All that had been cleared away was the old food, taken as provisions for the journey.

Harlequin set to work shifting some of the chairs to make space for them in the corner of the room. Faith leant against the wall, watching helplessly. Cleo set Mischief down carefully and stood back.

“I’m going to see if I can find anything,” she said. “Food, medicine… they might have left something.”

“The food would be pretty stale and rotten by now,” said Spark.

Cleo shrugged. “It’s worth a look at least.” She shrugged off her bag and offered it to Faith. “There are some oran berries left. Please use them on Mischief.”

“Save them,” said Harlequin, catching Cleo’s eye. “I have some I can spare.”

“Thank you.”

Harlequin seemed taken aback by the genuine note in Cleo’s words. The zorua shifted, her gaze wandering to the walls. Then she shrugged off her own bag and rummaged through it.

Faith sat down beside her with some effort. She gathered together the wrinkled berries as Harlequin dropped them onto the dusty floor.

“Are you sure they’re okay?” Spark asked, sniffing one.

“They’re fine,” said Harlequin. “They wouldn’t taste very good, but their healing properties are still present.”

Spark poked her tongue out and stood back, leaving Harlequin to her work.

Cleo watched as Harlequin pawed at Mischief’s creamy fluff. “How bad is it?”

Harlequin didn’t look up. “The scratches are deep, but thankfully not too serious. I think he’s fainted from the shock.” She cast Cleo a sideways glance. “Go and explore. It’ll take your mind off things.”

“I’ll come with you.” Spark hopped up onto Cleo’s shoulder before she could object. “I’m not much use here anyway. I don’t know anything about treating wounds.”

“That’s not true,” said Cleo. “You’ve helped me before.”

“With your direction.” Spark folded her arms. “I’m coming with you and that’s final.”

Faith’s smile returned to her muzzle as she watched the dedenne. “We’ll be fine. You two go and have a look around. I’ll stay with Harlequin.”

With one last glance at Mischief, Cleo left the old dining hall. Her heart ached and she bit back a sob.

“Hey.” Spark’s tail brushed against her cheek. “He’ll be okay.”

Cleo shook her head. “It’s my fault.”

“Eh?” Spark’s muzzle creased with confusion.

“I couldn’t protect him.” Cleo hugged her arms around herself and swished her tails with frustration. “I couldn’t help anyone!”

Spark pulled her head back, her nose twitching with confusion. “What are you talking about-?”

“I was too darn scared!” Cleo flashed her canines with each word and sank back against the wall, her strength leaving her. “I was too scared to fight!”

“We were all scared,” Spark told her. “I mean, come on! None of us expected to run into Yveltal!”

“But you could fight,” said Cleo. “You fought well! So did Harlequin, and Faith, and Mischief! But me?” She kicked her paw at the floor. “I just stood there. Useless.”

“When Yveltal attacked Mischief, you fought,” Spark reminded her.

“Only because-”

“Because you were defending him.” Spark placed a paw on Cleo’s ear and the meowstic saw a smile form on her friend’s little face. “Your strength comes from protecting those you care about. As soon as one of us was in trouble, you rushed to help. That’s strong if you ask me.”

Cleo gave a dry laugh. “I’m not as strong as you.”

“We’re strong in different ways,” said Spark. “If Yveltal had tried to steal my dinner I’d have made sure he regretted it.” The dedenne’s stomach growled and her cheeks flushed. “Speaking of which, let’s see if we can find something to eat in this place.”

Cleo laughed again and pushed herself back from the wall. “All right. But I’m not promising we’ll find anything.”


Flygon connoisseur
  1. flygon
  2. swampert
  3. ho-oh
  4. crobat
  5. orbeetle
  6. joltik
  7. salandit
Takin a read of chapters 1 & 2, since I'd actually had it in the back of my mind to read this for some time.

The first chapter starts pretty tame, and subverts the usual PMD tropes. Instead of a character waking up with amnesia and trying to figure out whats going on, we have two established characters. Cleo, who seems cautious and slow to trust, but apparently has a good heart. We learn second hand that she was sent to protect a village from some rowdy dragon-types.

It seems they were just young kids though, and she opted instead to save a guard instead of keep chasing them. I'm guessing she has a sense of care and compassion, particularly about saving lives vs what some might deem necessary, as Tinker does.

Our duo also picked up a mysterious pink vial, which I am guessing will absolutely be relevnat later.

We also get introduced to what the central conflict, which seems to be an evil Hydreigon with a superiority complex about Dragon and Dark types. Honestly I kind of love it, I've always loved the idea of typings and seeing how that plays into culture.

The other big part of this chapter is this character Harbinger. I'll admit, when I first started his little section, I immediately though this would be tragic Absol figure like in past PMD games or other aspects of the fandom/anime.

That's clearly not the case lol, this jerk face seems very content to be exactly as awful as people think he is. I have to say though, I'm pretty interested to see who he is and what you're going to do with his character.

The second character introduces Mischief. Whimsiscott is not a common pokemon at all, and definitely one of those ones I forget about a lot. It's really great to see some much less common pokemon be used! A Meowstic, Dedenne and Whimsiscott are a great set.

At first I was a little worried I might not like Mischief but he's just. A completely clueless ball of fluff. And honestly really charming. I think is obvliviousness is well shown and used here. He seems to have had his memory wiped, which would definitely explain his oddball behaviour and mannerisms.

He basically has no proper sense of self or right or wrong, and is ready to tag along with anyone who gives him the time of day. Even so, he seems sweet and a good bean. I have to say, the one part that made me particularly curious was why Cleo allowed him to come. She seems to have her reasons, but hasn't quite shared them, or perhaps isn't quite sure herself why she feels compelled to bring him.

I have to say, so far I have no real crit! I found the prose and characters to be strong and engaging and I definitely hope to be able to continue reading this. I appreciate the different direction and vibes you have chosen for this. It kind of maybe gives me a whimsical feel, even with the darkness of this Hydreigon ruler and his cruetly.

I've never read Redwall but I wonder if this is similar? Also Narnia and a touch of Ga'Hoole vibes. I really enjoy the fantastical mixed with a kind of 'grounded' feel and touches of humor too. Can't wait to see what other adventures and hijinks this crew is gonna get up to. I have a strong feeling Cleo won't make good on her promsied to ditch Mischief once they reach the moors....

Also Mischief and Harbinger are both unusual names compared to Cleo or Spark. I wonder if there's some significance....

Definitely gonna keep reading and see where this goes!
Chapter 65


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Thank you so much for your review! I'm glad you enjoyed the opening chapters =D If you like Pokemon typings playing into culture then I think you'll enjoy what this story has to offer. There's a lot of that. I'm glad you picked up on the Narnia vibes as that's what I was going for! I can't remember if I mentioned this early on, but Redwall and Narnia are pretty big influences. If you do continue I hope you enjoy the rest of the story =D

65 - A Clean Slate​

Yveltal landed heavily amid the trees. Branches snapped under his weight and jabbed into his wings, turning his gait clumsy. He cursed and flailed his wings, tearing limbs from the trees with his claws. A loud bellow left his throat, shaking the Border Woods and sending murkrow from the branches in a flurry of frightened wings and caws.

Yveltal seethed, clenching his beak so tight his jaw ached. He’d lost. Those small, pathetic pokemon had beaten him. He hadn’t expected them to have Xerneas’ power working through them. That wretched fairy-type… it was the bane of his existence. After all the time that had passed, he’d expected it to have faded from Estellis, but no. It was still there, thwarting him on every corner. And to make things worse, his powers had failed him.

Yveltal swore again. He was weak. He was still not at his full strength. First, he needed to get his strength back and then he would try again. He’d destroy those whelps before they returned to the Fairy Garden. They’d spend the rest of eternity as stone.

The draconic bird raised his head, scanning the Border Woods. If he was going to get his strength back, first he needed to feed. But he couldn’t keep pilfering his own troops. He needed followers, and he also needed pokemon to fear him. Hydreigon didn’t seem to fear him at all. Instead he oozed authority and strength, treating Yveltal as nothing more than his puppet. Yveltal clicked his beak together and bristled. He’d give that dragon a reason to fear him, but at the present time he needed him alive. He was Yveltal’s key into the rest of the pokemon in the Shadow Lands.

Yveltal smoothed out his feathers and straightened, casting a glance over the woods. His ears pricked as quiet voices were carried towards him on the wind. Two small pokemon made their way along the path, dragging a large box behind them on wheels. Rattata. Dark-furred, their long whiskers twitching with humour. A laugh rose in Yveltal’s throat and he stepped out in front of them, letting his weight fall on his left wing. He staggered, tumbling onto the dirt.

Fear sparked in the rodents’ eyes, but it was swiftly replaced with concern. One of them abandoned his box, muttering an apology as the other struggled to keep hold of it. The rattata dropped beside Yveltal and scanned him with his eyes.

“Are you all right?” the rattata asked.

“No,” Yveltal gasped. “I’m so hungry.”

“Yeah, there ain’t much food about at the moment.” The rattata grimaced. “And you’re pretty big.”

Yveltal fixed the rodent with a cool blue eye. “Do you… have anything to eat in that box?”

The rattata exchanged glances and a look of regret passed over the second one’s face. He looked at Yveltal and struggled under the weight of his box.

“Just a bit,” he explained. “But we’ve got more back at the ship. Why don’t you come back with us?”

The first one, still crouched at Yveltal’s side, asked, “Can you walk?”

A idea sparked in Yveltal’s mind and he fought a grin. A ship full of rattata… that was a lot more strength than he’d get from just two.

“I think so.” He groaned, shoving himself onto all-fours.

The rattata stood back, his nose twitching as he gazed up at the larger pokemon. “I’ve not seen a pokemon like you before. What’s your name?”


The two rats exchanged glances again.

“That’s pretty difficult to remember,” the second one said as he scratched behind his year.

Yveltal stood aside to let the two rodents lead him, the first one returning to help his companion with the box. They were sprightly pokemon, cheerily leading him along to a ship full of potential energy. Yveltal would drain the ship dry, perhaps keeping one or two rattata alive to add to his troops. That should spark some fear within the Darkness. Fear that would lead to followers. He stifled a chuckle as he crawled along behind the two unsuspecting pokemon.

“Oh,” he said with a shake of his head. “I think you’ll remember my name just fine.”


Cleo had expected to find nothing in the abandoned Guild Headquarters. As soon as she’d entered the store room she’d spotted a box huddled at the back in a dry corner. It hadn’t held much, just three wrapped packets of dried fish and a strip of very tough jerky. The fish had its salty, fishy smell but was drier and tougher than one might have liked. Her finds had satisfied her and Harlequin who had gratefully added the jerky to her supplies, while Faith and Spark shared what was left of the berries. They were going to need to find food soon, and the further north they headed the less likely that was going to be.

They’d rationed the meat and berries between them over supper and breakfast. Harlequin had refused the fish, insisting she used her own supplies of meat jerky since she wasn’t fussy about her meat choice. The berries were in the shortest supply, shared between Spark and Faith. Spark hadn’t protested about her small meals, much to Faith’s and Harlequin’s surprise. Cleo knew Spark well enough that the dedenne only protested when food was in abundance, but she was pretty good at rationing herself when the time called for it. What Spark didn’t eat went into her cheek pouches for later.

Weak sunlight trickled through the windows, marking the dawn. Cleo and Faith had been awake for a while, talking softly. Cleo occupied herself by removing her bandage. Her leg had felt a lot better, although it still ached occasionally. Faith helped her cleave open the cast and Cleo felt a huge sense of relief as the air soaked through her fur. It would be a lot easier to move without it.

Cleo’s tails moved as Spark roused and stretched her little body from between them. “Mornin’ already?” The dedenne yawned and popped a small berry from her pouches to nibble on.

“Yep.” Faith smiled down at her. “Good morning, Spark.”

Spark glanced over at Mischief. “How is he?”

“We’re not sure,” said Cleo. “But his wounds look clean.”

The whimsicott was deep in sleep. He’d roused briefly over night, complained about his shoulder, and drifted off again. Harlequin had used what few oran berries she’d had left, licking the juices into Mischief’s wounds. Cleo’s heart had sank when Harlequin had told her this, and she knew both she and the zorua were fearing the same thing - if they were to be injured in battle again, they had no medicinal berries to help them. Harlequin lay curled up beside Mischief, her nose buried beneath her tail. But Cleo could tell she was awake, her ears flicking towards Cleo and her friends whenever one of them spoke.

As for Mischief, his wounds were rapidly healing. They’d already closed up, and looked a lot better than they had a matter of hours ago.

Cleo tucked the remaining packets of dried fish back into her bag, lamenting the lack of berries for her friends. Spark, having finished her paltry breakfast, silently washed her whiskers.

“What are we going to do about berries?” Cleo asked.

Spark glanced up at her but said nothing. The dedenne was as stumped as Cleo was.

“We’ll find some,” said Faith. “Don’t worry.”

“Where?” Cleo asked. “It’s well past the harvest.”

“Some berries grow during the cold season,” Faith explained, sitting back on her paws. “Xerneas always provides, making sure fruit grows year round. The orchards in the Fairy Garden always have something growing on them whatever the season, and it was the same at Gleamgrove Abbey.” She smiled at the relief forming in Cleo’s eyes. “Have a little faith.”

Faith’s words lifted Cleo’s spirits a little, but even if such trees were growing nearby surely passing pokemon would have harvested what few berries grew in the snow. Spark, however, seemed a little brighter from Faith’s reassurance.

Cleo wiped the salt from her paws and pushed herself up. “Then I’m going to see if I can find any.”

“Where?” Spark asked, craning her neck to watch Cleo.

“The woods just at the edge of town.” Cleo met her small friend’s gaze. “Don’t worry, I won’t go far.”

“I’ll go with you.” Faith stood up and dusted down her skirt of fur. “You shouldn’t go alone.”

“What about me?” Spark protested.

“You stay here with Harlequin,” Cleo told her. “Both of you keep an eye on Mischief.”

Harlequin raised her head, her sapphire eyes wide.

“But what about Yveltal?” Spark asked. “He could still be out there.”

“Yes, he could be,” said Cleo. “But we need berries and we can’t leave Mischief here alone.”

Spark’s ears drooped and her tail fell limp behind her. She exchanged a worried glance with Harlequin.

“She’s right,” Harlequin told the dedenne. “The Darkness are looking for Mischief. But if you’re worried, go. I can stay with him.”

“No.” Cleo cut Spark off before she could speak, and Harlequin pulled her ears back. “Two are better than one.”

Faith tucked her arms behind her back and leaned forwards slightly. “We’ll be fine, Spark. But if we’re not back in an hour, come and look for us.”

Spark sighed and threw her arms up in a weak surrender. “Fine. Edge of the woods. I know where they are.” She frowned at her friends. “And I also know Yveltal went that way.”

“With any luck he’ll be long gone,” said Cleo.

“Why?” Harlequin scoffed. “He knows we’re here.”

Doubt clouded Cleo’s mind and her fur bristled along her spine.

“He also knows we beat him,” Faith explained. “But we should still remain vigilant. Come on, Cleo. We’ll go and search the woods, then come right back with whatever we find.”

“Hopefully we’ll find something,” Cleo muttered as she followed Faith from the room.

“Make sure you come back!” Spark called after them. “’Cos if you don’t, I’ll be mad at you!”

Faith chuckled and cast a glance back at the dedenne. “Oh, we must indeed fear the wrath of Spark.”

“Darn straight,” Spark declared, sitting heavily back down.

The town was as deathly quiet as Cleo remembered it. The sky was a dull grey, turning a creamy yellow where the sun poked through. The threat of another storm lay heavy on the air, turning Cleo’s fur clammy. Her paws were soon caked with wet mud as she trudged along the path towards the wood. Even Faith’s skirt was flecked with mud, but it seemed to give the mawile less trouble. The pair remained vigilant, keeping their eyes on the sky and the canopy ahead for any sign of Yveltal. But there was no sign of the large bird.

Even the woods were quiet, with not a murkrow in sight. It unsettled Cleo. When they’d been in Stonehaven, even during their journey towards it, Hydreigon’s forces had been following them. Now, there was nothing. The only enemy besides Yveltal they’d encountered was the liepard in the mountains. Where was everyone?

Cleo gave herself a mental shake. As eerie as it was, if there was no one watching them then she should be relieved. But it was just too eerie. Too unnatural.

Faith had broken away from Cleo, following a trail through the trees. It took a while for Cleo to notice the small flowers spreading over the muddy earth. The warming season really was upon them. It filled Cleo with a little hope and she followed after Faith, checking the branches of the trees above them. Small buds were forming on all of them, tipped with pink and white. Flower buds gave the promise of fruit later in the year, but that didn’t help them now.

Faith waved an arm, drawing Cleo’s attention. The mawile stood beneath a slender tree, its branches devoid of leaves. But what made Cleo’s heart skip a beat were the yellow fruit clinging to it in abundance.

The meowstic trotted towards Faith, not taking her eyes off the tree.

“Apicot berries,” Faith told her as she turned her gaze back to the fruit. “See? This is a winter fruit tree.”

Faith reached up into the lower branches and plucked a couple free. “A lot of pokemon don’t like them. They’re pretty dry and sour, and aren’t use for medicine. But with a bit of honey they are just divine.”

“Unfortunately we don’t have any honey,” Cleo explained. “But we can’t afford to be picky. Let’s gather as much as we can find!”

Cleo reached up to help Faith harvest the apicot berries. She had to stretch to reach them from the lowest branches despite the sheer number of fruit weighing them down. Faith clambered into the tree, lowering the branch for Cleo to reach while Faith plucked the ones above them into her large horn.

When Cleo’s bag was almost fit to bursting, Faith dropped down beside her and dusted down her fur. She pointed a claw to another nearby tree. “I noticed while I was up there. That cheri tree is in bloom.”

Cleo followed her claw to another slender tree a few feet away. Pink blossoms exploded over its branches in a delicate yet dazzling array. “Spark would be happy to see that.”

“We should take some blossoms back with us,” said Faith. “They’re edible, and would help to take the edge off the sourness of the apicot berries.”

Cleo raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten flowers before.”

“Oh they’re delicious,” said Faith. “We use cheri blossoms in sweets back home when they’re in season.”

Cleo didn’t need telling twice. She trotted to the tree and reached up to snap one of the slender branches free.

“They don’t last long,” Faith explained. “So don’t take too many.”

Cleo had been about to break another twig free. She glanced back at Faith then at the small twig. The flowers were very delicate. Already a few petals had fallen free onto the wet ground. Dew clung to the branch and turned the flowers slightly translucent. Cleo hadn’t considered how they might transport them.

As they made their way back to the Guild, Cleo felt a lot lighter. They were greeted by voices as they stepped back inside. Mischief had woken and sat stiffly against the wall, rubbing his shoulder. Harlequin sat scolding him then brightened when she spotted Cleo and Faith.

“Yay! You’re back!” Spark’s eyes almost bugged from their sockets when they fell on Cleo’s bag. “How many berries did you find?!”

“Plenty of apicots,” Faith explained. “Xerneas lead us to them. He always provides.”

Cleo looked up at Faith. “He left the flower trail…”

Faith nodded. “He’s always watching over us.” She turned to Mischief. “How are you feeling?”

Cleo had been about to ask the whimsicott the same thing. He rubbed his shoulder again, but was stopped by Harlequin’s firm paw.

“Sore,” he answered. His voice trembled and Cleo realised he was shaking. “But Harlequin told me the scratches are healing.”

“They will be sore if you keep rubbing them!” Harlequin snapped.

Cleo placed the cheri branch beside Spark and knelt in front of Mischief. “Do you think you can travel today?”

He winced and nodded. “I think so.” Cleo opened her mouth to speak, but he went on, “Why did he attack me like that?”

Cleo closed her mouth again. Her mind was blank. She had no answer to that.

“Anger,” said Faith.

All eyes went to the mawile and she shrugged.

“Yveltal is a jealous, angry pokemon,” she said. “You have the power to take down a dragon and he hates that.”

Mischief screwed his eyes shut and dug his claws into the ground. “I just want to be left alone. I want to go back to the Fairy Garden.”

Cleo’s heart ached. She had no words to placate the whimsicott. Instead she reached into her bag and placed an apicot beside him. He looked at it and sighed.

“Eat that. Get your strength back,” she told him. “You’re going to need it if we’re going to find a cure. And soon, we’ll be back in the Fairy Garden.”

“Yeah,” said Harlequin. “We’re gonna kill Yveltal, remember?”

Mischief picked up the apicot and turned it in his paws. “I can’t believe how strong he is.”

Faith sucked in a breath and glanced aside. “He’s not at full strength either.”

“Then we need to be quick,” said Harlequin, rising to her feet. “Eat up and let’s be going.”

Mischief complied, biting into the apicot. His eyes lit up and he paused to lick his lips. “What is this?”

“An apicot berry,” Cleo answered, but Mischief was barely listening, too intent on devouring the berry.

Spark looked up at him from the cheri branch and licked a petal off her nose. “Are they really that good?”

Cleo retrieved the branch quickly and rifled through her bag for a place to put it.

“Hey!” Spark protested.

“Don’t eat them all at once, Spark,” Cleo told her. “Faith suggested they go well with the apicots.”

Spark licked nectar off her paws. “I haven’t had them in years! My Mum used to decorate cheri pies with them in spring. They’re so good! Please can I have another?”

Cleo rolled her eyes and plucked a small sprig of flowers from the branch. Spark took them gratefully and plucked one off with her teeth. Faith chuckled beside her.

Harlequin paced back and forth and glanced at them, muttering under her breath. Cleo took the hint and ushered Mischief to his feet.

Together, they stepped out into the town. The sun had risen above them, drying up the storm clouds. A few stray drops of rain peppered their fur and splashed onto the already sodden ground. As they reached the low stone wall that separated the old town from the woods, Cleo quickly checked her map, following the path towards the Border Woods.

It was a straightforward route, but to get to it they had to cross the Howling Gorge. Beyond that, they would be drawing close to the former Sparkling Forest, the Forest of Ashes. Cleo felt a twinge in her chest and she tucked the map away in her bag. Spark shifted on her shoulder, and Cleo knew the dedenne felt the same.

Their old home, where everything for them had begun, setting them on the path towards aiding the Outcasts and fighting back against the Darkness.

Cleo took a deep breath, and vaulted the low stone wall.


The sound of gurgling water trickling over rocks pierced the fog of sleep. Cold. Freezing cold. All he could see was blackness.

Then a small burst of light formed in it like a star, bursting outward and chasing the darkness away, chasing it into all unseen corners until a blinding light filled his vision. A dazzling spray of rainbow colours burst across his eyes and he flinched back, raising a paw. He blinked a few times until the light cleared, forming the shape of a large, magnificent stag. His antlers pulsed with light as he pressed his nose into the fallen pokemon’s chest. The stag pulled his head back and smiled warmly, taking a step back. Small flowers sprouted around him and popped up from the tired, frozen earth wherever the stag’s hooves fell.

Alarm pulsed through the fallen pokemon’s veins. He recognised that pokemon. He’d seen him in a book. Xerneas.

He must have said the name out loud, because the stag’s smile widened.

“Welcome back, Enigma.”

Enigma sat up, water cascading from his sodden fur and splashing over the snowy banks. He placed a paw on his chest and looked down at himself. No ache. No pain. No dizziness. Not so much as a blemish from his brush with Hydreigon showed on his smoky grey fur.

“You…” Enigma shook his head in disbelief and looked up at Xerneas. “You saved me?”

Xerneas gave a small nod.

“But why?” Enigma asked, his voice thick. “Why did you save me? I don’t deserve it. I’m a monster. I’ve murdered countless pokemon, and-”

Xerneas moved closer to Enigma and a familiar jingling tickled the ghost’s ears. The stag set something in Enigma’s paws and he blinked down at the shiny metal surface. His bell. It shimmered in the light, cleaner than he’d ever seen it.

Xerneas stood back, a warm smile on his muzzle. “And you said you work for me.”

Enigma blinked at Xerneas, his words dying in his throat.

“You meant it,” Xerneas went on. “With all your heart, you meant it.”

“But…” Enigma’s words choked. “All those horrible things…”

Xerneas met his eyes. “Do you regret them?”

“Yes.” Enigma’s throat tightened and he nodded. “Yes. I do. I really do.”

The passion in Enigma’s voice took him by surprise, but the warmth radiating from Xerneas’ smile was calm and reassuring. It seemed to tell him that Xerneas had known Enigma’s answer long before even he did, and that his question had been for Enigma’s benefit. That he’d needed to hear himself confess it in order to let go of his past and forgive himself.

Enigma wound his claws into the grass. “I want to move past it and make things right… But how?”

“The answer is simple,” said Xerneas. “All you have to do is follow me.”

Enigma gazed up at him, speechless. It was really that simple? He could be forgiven for everything, just like that?

Xerneas turned sideways, not taking his eyes off Enigma, silently and patiently encouraging him. The banette pushed himself to his feet with surprising, renewed strength. A trail of colourful flowers marked their path along the river as they walked together, side by side, towards the Fairy Garden.

Enigma turned the mega stone around in his claws as he stared out at the Howling Gorge. He shifted his shoulders against the rough bark of the tree, bringing himself back to the present. He’d relived it countless times, and he could never quite believe it. That someone like him would be given a second chance.

And there was no way he was going to throw that chance away.

It had taken him a while before he realised that not only had Xerneas healed his wounds and broken ribs, he’d also cleared away the pokerus. Enigma had asked him about a cure, and Xerneas had told him he needn’t worry about such things. It was as if Enigma’s slate had been wiped completely clean.

A clean slate. A new start.

Enigma fastened his mega stone back into the brooch on his scarf and looked over his shoulder at the expanse of trees behind him. The dark of night was fast encroaching upon them, the setting sun dying the sky beyond the Howling Gorge a deep red. Black clouds scudded along it, marking the location of the Shadow Lands.

“Could you sit still for five minutes?” Harbinger’s voice growled from below.

Enigma looked down from his branch, meeting the absol’s ruby gaze. “Sorry. I’ve never liked waiting around. It makes me restless.”

“Well if you keep moving like that you’ll blow our cover. You’re jingling like a chimecho parade.” Harbinger turned his gaze back onto the gorge. His own mega stone swung freely in his ruff. It was the very same one Harlequin had kept hold of all those years. Around the absol’s right ankle was his key stone, the partner to Enigma’s. When Xerneas had paired them together, they’d both been a little unimpressed. But they’d soon discovered they worked well together.

Enigma chuckled at the thought. Harlequin would be very surprised indeed.

The banette followed Harbinger’s gaze towards the village squatting in the gorge. Holes were carved into the sandstone rocks, almost hidden by the evergreen trees that had been beaten sideways due to the high winds. The village was barely visible to the untrained eye. The houses looked like a natural formation inside the towering cliffs, marked only by the wooden doors that kept out the worst of the sandstorms that raced through the gorge. The village was ghostly silent as the pokemon slept in their nests.

The wind whipped up, beating against the trees and stirring Enigma’s fur. But it was a far cry to the gale that blew through the gorge. It howled as it tore through it with the ferocity of a wild animal, giving the gorge its name. The trees creaked and groaned, and the small burrow-like houses vanished beyond the sandstorm.

“How much longer do we have to wait here?” Enigma asked.

“Until Harlequin and his friends arrive,” Harbinger told him.

Enigma rolled his eyes. “ETA?”

“We don’t know,” Harbinger growled, shaking his white fur from his eyes. “They’ll get here when they get here. Just be patient.” The absol’s canines glinted in the low light. “And stay quiet.”

“Fine, fine.” Enigma yawned and tucked his arms behind his head as he shuffled back against the tree. “I might try and get in a little nap.”

“Good idea. Sleep means quiet.” Harbinger paused. “I’ll wake you when they get here.”
Chapter 66


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Chapter 66 - Into the Howling Winds​

The meeting hall was filled to bursting with angry pokemon. Voices fought to be heard above the din, fists raised to catch Tinker’s eye. The riolu’s head was beginning to throb, but he stood at the front beside Grey to face the hostile throng.

“This is an outrage!”

“We want it out of here!”

“My son said that dragon attacked him!”

Tinker shook his head and raised his paws for silence, not for the first time. It failed. More voices pressed on him, and canines flashed across the hall.

“I’ve already told you!” Tinker barked to be heard above the mob. “I can assure you Starshine is not dangerous!”

“Assure us, he says!”

“Are you calling my son a liar?!”

Tinker clenched his jaw and rubbed his temples with both paws. A low groan escaped his mouth. This was hopeless.

“He’s conspiring against us!” a female screeched. “He brought a dragon here to kill us all off!”

“He’s a Heretic! You saw that furret he brought here too!”

Tinker’s fur rose along his spine and he fought back a growl. They were accusing him of being a Heretic now? He raised his head to stare helplessly out at the crowd. A heavy paw fell on his shoulder and he looked up into Grey’s wizened eyes.

The alakazam nodded to the side of the room and Tinker followed him, casting a glance back at the angry crowd of pokemon. They watched him go, sneering and throwing jeers. He heard several call him a coward.

Grey closed the door behind them, muffling the hostile voices. The much smaller break room felt like a prison, the only way out to cut through the hostile hall. Grey turned to Tinker with a sympathetic shake of the head. “It’s no use, Tinker. You should go.”

“Go?” Tinker felt his fur prickle and his lips pulled back in a snarl. “I can’t just go! I’m the Guild Leader here, I-”

Grey raised his paws for silence. “This won’t fade away without action, Tinker. Go. Take Starshine. I’ll send message when things have cooled down.”

Tinker smoothed out his fur and unclenched his fists. He was exhausted, as if he’d been in a vicious battle. His head hurt, and his paws were slick with sweat. He stared at the closed door with defeat and his ears drooped.

“Where?” His words came out in a defeated tone. “Where do we go, Grey?”

“The Fairy Garden?”

Grey’s suggestion set Tinker’s fur on end and he bared his canines at the alakazam.

Grey raised his paws in a shrug. “That’s where Mocha and Scout went. You’d already have friends there.”

“You expect me to look for a place that doesn’t exist?!” Tinker spat.

“Oh, it exists.”

Tinker’s eyes widened and he stared at Grey, dumbfounded.

“My hearing might not be what it used to,” Grey went on, “but the thoughts of others are as loud as ever. Cleo, Spark, Mischief, Faith, even Harlequin… they all believe truly what they claim to have experienced.”

“I won’t believe it. If this Xerneas exists and is as powerful as Faith and Cleo claim, then why is Hydreigon still terrorising us all?!” Tinker shook his head and he clutched the table to stop from shaking. “If it wasn’t for Hydreigon, my father would…”

Grey placed a warm paw on Tinker’s shoulder. “Well, there is another option, although you may like it less.”

Tinker bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. “Live wild?”

“Okay, so there are two options.” Grey chuckled and tried to catch Tinker’s eye. “You need to set aside your prejudice, Tinker.”

Tinker scoffed and shrugged Grey’s paw away. He opened his mouth but Grey cut him off.

“No, listen to me. The fact is, Tinker, that Starshine is no longer welcome here. And right now that poor child needs your help.”

“You’ve always trusted Starshine.” Tinker looked back up at Grey. “Why?”

“I’ve had no reason not to,” Grey explained. “He’s only a child after all. And as innocent as he might seem, he has a strong desire to protect New City.”

Tinker sighed and sank back against the table. “Then why can’t they see that?”

“They’ve known no different,” said Grey. “All they know is fear.” His face softened with a smile. “You were like that yourself before you found that egg, Tinker. Give them time.”

Tinker felt his face flush and he looked away.

“Pokemon here come from many backgrounds,” Grey went on. “But few have seen dark- or dragon-types as anything other than forces of the Darkness. They are seen as evil, and very few are willing to look past that to the pokemon underneath.”

“Like Cleo,” said Tinker, recalling Harlequin. He took a breath, but didn’t continue. He didn’t know what else to say. It would only make him sound like a hypocrite.

“Yes, like Cleo,” said Grey. He moved to stand beside Tinker, perching on the table’s edge. “I had a friend once, long before I came to New City. Long before it was officially founded! Your father knew him too.” He caught Tinker’s eye. “He was a malamar.”

“A malamar?” Tinker’s eyes widened. “Aren’t they part dark-type?”

“Yes, they were.”


Grey gave him a sad smile but didn’t elaborate.

Tinker shook his head, trying to fight back his frustration. “But I thought you hated the Darkness!”

“I do, but malamar were not part of it. They were wiped out by Hydreigon around the time all psychic-types were.” Grey’s expression turned distant. “This malamar, Rygard, was a very good friend of mine, and he gave his life to save mine. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you right now.”

Tinker’s throat thickened. “I can’t imagine life without you, Grey.”

Grey nodded his head and placed a paw on Tinker’s back. “Not every dark-type is going to turn against you, Tinker. Dark-types don’t make up the Darkness, it’s what drives them.”

“What drives them?” Tinker parroted.

“It’s quite a simple force, Tinker. The very same thing that forced all of us to live underground.”

Tinker looked up at the wizened alakazam, pressing him to continue.

“Do you know what I see when I look inside their minds?” When Tinker didn’t answer, Grey answered for him. “Fear.”

Tinker blinked and opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn’t find the words.

“Fear is what drives them,” Grey went on. “Fear of losing their lives. They are forced to comply to Hydriegon’s law because if they don’t he will kill them. But not every pokemon reacts the same way. Many dark- and dragon-types have left Hydreigon to live as exiles, avoiding detection from the Darkness in the Border Woods, much like we do here in New City.”

Tinker traced a claw over the grain of the table, feeling Grey’s eyes on him.

“Take Starshine to them,” said the alakazam. “The Outcasts won’t welcome you, but they might.”

Tinker jerked his head up to him, his eyes blazing. “Take him to the Border Woods?!” He wanted to add ‘are you insane?!’ but as he flashed his canines grey’s warm smile fizzled away his anger.

“That’s where Cleo is headed,” he said. “And Faith, too. Perhaps they can help you?”

Tinker felt his fur bristle at the mawile’s name, but he took a deep breath to settle it back in place. Perhaps Grey was right. There was no place among the Outcasts for Starshine. Having a dragon-type among them was too much for them to accept. They were perceiving it like a weakness in a stone wall. An easy breach. His only option was to take Starshine and leave.

If anyone could help them, it would be Faith. She’d already told him that Starshine could mega-evolve. If the altaria could learn to fight and channel the fairy-type and join them in battle against the Darkness, perhaps then the Outcasts would accept him?

“How?” Tinker’s voice came out husky and he dug his claws into the table. “How do I get him out of here?”

“The same way you get from one settlement to the next,” said Grey. “Use your transporter to get as far as Windflower.”

Tinker scoffed and jerked his head away. “I can’t do that! It’s still a prototype! What if something went wrong?” He looked up at Grey, meeting his twinkling grey eyes. “You know I only allow myself to use it, Grey. I’m not putting his life at risk. Besides…” He sighed and dragged his claws through his fur. “There’s no saying Windflower is still standing. The leader there was instructed to destroy all my equipment and research if the town fell under attack.”

“Then I’ll take you.”

Tinker jerked his head up to him.

The alakazam nodded once. “I can’t take you as far as Windflower. But I can get you as far as I can.”

“You’ll do that for us?”

“I’ll do anything. I told your father I’d look after you. That extends to your child as well.”

Tinker gave a curt nod and pushed back from the table, blinking back tears. “All right. I’ll take Starshine and find these exiles.”

Grey nodded in return and followed Tinker out of the break room. The din from the meeting hall hammered on Tinker as he stepped back behind the podium.

“I will take Starshine out of New City!”

His roar cut over the chaos, bringing a momentary silence that was almost deafening. Then the chaos rose to a clamour. Cheers joined the accusations and jeers were thrown once again in Tinker’s direction.

Grey placed his paw on Tinker’s shoulder and the hall warped around them. The voices plunged into silence as Tinker found himself standing beside Grey in the nest tunnels.

Stomping footsteps thundered towards them and the riolu twisted to the side as three hatchlings raced past, their fur dripping wet and leaving small puddles in their wake. Tad skidded around the corner, wiping water from his mouth.

“Li’l punks! Ye just wait until I get me-” He stumbled to a halt when he spotted Tinker and Grey. “Uncle Tinker!” He inclined his head on one side, looking between the riolu and alakazam. “Och, ye dinnae be lookin’ so good. Oh boy.” He shook his head and grimaced. “Then ye ain’t gonna like what I’m about t’show ye, sure enough.”

Tinker’s heart felt like lead. He sucked in a breath, casting a glance back in the direction the soggy hatchlings had fled. “Show me.”

Tad lead the pair down the corridor. Ordinarily Starshine’s room would have blended into the rest, but it stood out like a sore paw pad. Graffiti marred the wall around the door exclaiming various expletives and slurs. Above the door, smeared in red paint, were the words ‘go home, filth!’

Tinker clenched his teeth together and blinked back tears from his eyes. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t forced Starshine to be accepted into New City… no. He shook his head and shoved that idea aside. If he hadn’t, Starshine would never have had a chance at life.

Starshine lay huddled in his nest with Tad at his side. The marshtomp spoke softly to him, trying to drag the sobbing altaria out of his misery.

Tinker flopped against the doorway and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Starshine?”

The altaria raised his head. His bloodshot eyes widened when he spotted Grey standing behind Tinker.

“We’re going to take a little trip,” said Tinker.

“A trip?” Starshine’s voice cracked.

Tad, beside him, paled and looked between his friend and uncle.

“Yes. We’re going to join Cleo,” Tinker explained. “To help her.”

“But… I’m not ready,” said Starshine.

“Aye, Tinker, ‘e’s still a kid!” Tad placed a paw on his chest. “We’re both still kids!”

Tinker licked his dry lips as he looked up at the graffiti around the door. He turned back to Starshine and let out a flustered breath. “The truth is, Starshine, neither of us are welcome here any more.”

“No.” Starshine sobbed and shook his head. “They hate me.”

“So we’re going to join friends,” Tinker went on. “Cleo, Spark, Faith…”

Starshine took in a shuddering breath. “If I help them fight the Darkness… will the pokemon here accept me?”

Tinker had no answer to that. He met Starshine’s eyes, which were pleading for an answer. Tinker took in a breath and shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Starshine closed his eyes and his long neck drooped.

“But we’re going to help them fight,” Tinker told him. “If they don’t accept you, that’s their problem. But you have friends. Tad, Scout, Cleo-”

“My Dad,” said Tad. “And Mum.”

“And me,” said Grey.

Starshine seemed to brighten. He raised his head and forced a smile.

“Let’s go, Son,” said Tinker.

Tad pushed himself up from the nest. “I’m comin’ too, aye?”

Tinker shook his head. “No. I need you here in New City.”

“But…” Tad stammered, looking back at Starshine. “But ‘e’s my friend!”

“And that’s why I need you here,” said Tinker. “You can help the pokemon in New City to see Starshine for who he is. To see him the way you do.”

“But Tinker, I…” Tad’s shoulders slumped. “Fine, I’ll do what ye ask.”

“Thank you, Tad,” said Starshine. “For being my friend.” His smile melted away into tears. “I’m sorry I’ve put you through all this.”

“Stop it!” Tad swiped a flipper across his eyes. “Ye ain’t done nothin’!” He sniffled. “If ye see Scout, say ‘hi’ for me, aye?”

“Of course.” Starshine pushed himself to his feet. “Please say goodbye to Uncle Skipper and Aunt Lily for me?”

As Tinker watched the exchange between the two hatchlings a lump rose in his throat. Not only had Starshine and Tad lost their close friend Scout, they were now losing each other. His heart went out to Tad. How would the other pokemon treat him knowing he was friends with an altaria? And what about Skipper and Lily who’d helped to raise Starshine? What would happen in Tinker’s absence?

“Please look after Tad and his family.” Tinker spoke quietly so only Grey could hear.

The alakazam gave a single nod.

Starshine joined Tinker’s side and the riolu tapped Grey on the arm. The room warped around them, and Starshine turned his head to look back at Tad.

“Goodbye!” Starshine called.

Tad’s words faded away as he called back to them, waving from beside Starshine’s empty nest. The last think Tinker saw was the marshtomp’s tearful face surrounded by the hateful slurs painted on Starshine’s doorway. It opened a pit of dread in his stomach, and he hoped deeply that Grey and the marshtomp family would be okay in his absence.


The ground was covered with smooth rocks. Wiry plants poked up between them, new leaves glistening on their stems as they rejoiced in the end to the cold season. The early sun warmed the ground, but it did little to dry the water off the stones. It pooled across the uneven ground, freezing Cleo’s paws as she splashed through it. Just ahead of them she could make out the jagged edge of the Howling Gorge. Beyond that, silhouetted against the noon sky, were slender trees, their bare branches stretching towards the sky. Burned. Brittle. Empty of life. Cleo tried her best not to look at them. Just being here so close to it all left an unsettled feeling in her stomach, one that had been haunting her since they’d stepped paw on the Rocky Plains the previous evening. Memories cascaded through her mind and she had to shake her head to dispel them. Spark never complained. She was as familiar with such memories as Cleo was. Memories of a small espurr and tiny dedenne racing for their lives, desperate to find help as murkrow assaulted them. Two tiny pokemon, orphaned and homeless thanks to the awful persecution from the Darkness. Memories of howling fires, howls that had been silenced just at the start of the cold season. Yet the memories still shocked fear into Cleo’s heart.

During her work for the Outcasts she’d done her best to avoid stepping paw back on the Rocky Plains. She’d never come back to the Howling Gorge. Tinker had understood. If work ever called for it, he sent other parties to the gorge.

Spark placed a tender paw on Cleo’s cheek and she caught a sympathetic look from her small companion.

“It’ll be okay,” said Spark. “We’ll get through this together, okay?”

Cleo swallowed a lump in her throat and raised a paw to ruffle the dedenne’s ears.

Faith caught up to them, having been following behind in conversation with Harlequin and Mischief. The presence of her friends reassured Cleo further and she focused her thoughts on what lay beyond the Howling Gorge. What lay beyond the Forest of Ashes. She hoped deeply their journey wouldn’t take them through the skeletal wreck of her former home.

A deep howl sounded in the distance, forcing Cleo’s fur on end. Her eyes widened and her spine stiffened. For a fleeting moment, dark shadows raced through her mind, spewing flames.

“The Howling Gorge.” Harlequin stepped up to her side, her voice dragging Cleo back out of her memories. “Also known as the Valley of Hurricanes.”

Cleo’s fur levelled out and she glanced down at the zorua. “Yes.” Cleo took in a breath to calm her suddenly racing heart. The Wildfires were gone. “But you never get used to that sound.”

“Not unless you live down there.” Harlequin motioned with her snout. “Come on. We need to find a way across.”

Spark turned her head to look back the way they’d come. Cleo knew she was checking for Yveltal, but they’d not seen him since he’d fled. Three days they’d been travelling since his attack, and none of them wanted to stop for fear the dark bird would appear once more to get his revenge.

The closer they drew to the gorge, the louder the howling became. The racing winds stopped as soon as they started, gusting through the gorge and whipping up sand from the sandstone walls. Cleo resisted the temptation to look down, but Faith and Mischief both cast a cautious glance down the sheer drop to the ground below.

“Wow,” Faith gasped. “It’s one gigantic wind trap! That’s why the winds are so strong here. They’re channelled through a narrow pass.”

“Yep. That’s why we definitely don’t want to go down there,” said Spark.

Harlequin smirked up at the dedenne. “Scared you’ll blow away?”

Spark’s whiskers crackled, fluffing up Cleo’s fur. The meowstic let out a soft hiss, pawing at her ruff to smooth it again.

Spark was unfazed, glaring down at the zorua. “It’s strong enough to blow any of us away, not just me yanno!”

Harlequin laughed and returned to looking for a way across.

“There used to be a bridge,” said Cleo. “That’s how Spark and I crossed it years ago.”

“I know, I’ve used it before myself,” said Harlequin. “But the last time I crossed here was a couple of years back, and it was in disrepair back then. I’d dread to think what state it’s in now.”

“Don’t say that!” said Spark.

“Failing that, we can always detour,” said Harlequin. “But it’ll add another five days onto our journey at least.”

Cleo clenched her jaw. She wasn’t sure she could handle another five days. She just wanted to get this job over with. Her eye wandered to the gorge and she jerked her head around before the steep drop sent her dizzy.

“Are you okay?” Mischief’s soft voice dragged Cleo out of her thoughts.

She looked up at the whimsicott, meeting his warm orange eyes. “I’m fine,” she lied. “I just don’t like coming back here.”

A look of confusion crossed Mischief’s face and he glanced back at the gorge. Cleo realised with a heavy heart he hadn’t been present when she’d told Faith and Harlequin about how both she and Spark had lost their home.

“We used to live here, Spark and I,” Cleo told him. “Across the gorge, in the forest. The Darkness destroyed it.”

Mischief’s eyes widened as he followed her nod towards the blackened trees in the distance. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

Cleo shook her head and said no more, focusing on trying to find the bridge.

Harlequin was a few strides ahead of them. A low groan left the zorua’s throat and she sat down heavily. Cleo trotted to join her and she spotted the tattered remains of the old bridge. The ropes had frayed and trailed limp down their side of the steep sandstone cliffs.

Spark mimicked Harlequin’s groan and sank to her bottom in Cleo’s fur. “Great! Now how are we meant to get across?”

Harlequin stood with both paws on the edge of the cliff, peering down into the gorge. “The ropes go almost all the way to the bottom.”

“We could shimmy down them?” Faith offered, joining Harlequin’s side.

Harlequin glanced at the mawile. “That’s easy enough for all of you, but not me.” She indicated her forepaws. “I was going to suggest we pull them back up and…” She trailed off, looking up at Cleo.

“My psychic won’t reach the other side,” Cleo told her bluntly.

She looked across the gorge at the supports for the old bridge. The rope had broken clean away from them. Without the bridge they’d need a pokemon that could fly, or take the detour Harlequin had suggested.

“If we did go down there,” said Faith, “how would we get back up? Are there any paths to the surface?”

“Pokemon used to travel though the gorge all the time,” said Harlequin. “But I couldn’t tell you where the tunnels are. We’d have to search for them, and there’s no saying which ones will just take us into the gorge. It’s not safe down there unless you’re a ground- or steel-type.”

Faith made a thoughtful noise, her expression calculating. “We might not have much choice.”

“Like Harlequin said, we could go around,” said Mischief. “A few extra days-”

“-is too long,” Harlequin interrupted. “Faith’s right. Short of finding the tunnels, which could take days, we might have to go down into the gorge.”

The wind picked up again, snatching the rope with it. It trailed along the side of the gorge, and the pokemon pulled back to avoid being snatched up with it.

Spark clutched hold of Cleo’s fur in both tiny fists. Her voice went up an octave as her body shook. “Are we sure we want to go down there?”

The wind dropped again, plunging the gorge into silence. Harlequin returned to the edge and squinted as she looked up and down it.

“There are rumours,” she said, “that the old pokemon that lived here left a network of burrows. They’re easy to see from the walls, but the exits are hard to find.”

Spark lowered her voice to Cleo’s ear, “Sounds familiar, huh?”

“I can already see some burrows,” said Harlequin. “The walls are pocked with them.”

“So there would be shelter when the wind picks up?” Cleo joined Harlequin’s side, but kept her distance from the very edge.

The zorua nodded. “If we’re quick, we might make it. I suggest if we go down, we run straight for a burrow.”

Cleo sucked in a breath through her teeth and clenched her fists. “I still don’t know, I- Mischief?”

The whimsicott had grabbed the rope in both paws and swung himself over the edge. He met Cleo’s bewildered eyes and shrugged. “We need to get down there, and there’s no other way, right? So I’ll go first.”

“You moron!” Spark squeaked. “You’re chained to Cleo! She’ll have to go with you!”

Mischief blinked at the dedenne. “At least if I go first, if I fall I won’t be dragging Cleo down with me.”

“No,” said Spark with a level of hostility. “You’ll just be hanging by your neck!”

Faith placed a paw on Spark’s back. “Mischief’s right, Spark. We need to get down there. You and Cleo follow him and run to safety.”

“But what about Harlequin?” Cleo asked. “We still haven’t-”

The wind picked up again, whipping tufts from Mischief’s back. He scrambled back over the lip of the gorge just as the wind howled its way through it. His wide eyes went towards the white tufts of fur as they were tossed through the air away from him.

Cleo let out a long breath as the wind dropped and nodded to Mischief. “Go. Quick. I’ll be right behind you.”

Cleo didn’t know where her sudden boldness had come from. She grabbed hold of the rope and threw herself over the edge after Mischief. She steadied herself against the wall with her feet, finding irregular foot-holds. Digging her claws into the rope she lowered herself down, one paw after the next. The rough sandstone scuffed her paws and left a sandy residue on her white fur. The rope chafed her paw-pads and she grit her teeth as she dropped lower and lower into the gorge. The rope gave an unsettling creak and Cleo jerked her head up to meet Faith’s violet gaze several feet above her. Harlequin crouched beside her, watching Cleo and Mischief with wide, sapphire eyes.

“Wait until we’re at the bottom!” Cleo called to them. “In case it doesn’t hold!”

Faith nodded and said something to Harlequin that Cleo couldn’t hear. Cleo turned her attention back to the rope, watching where she was putting her paws.

“This is bonkers,” said Spark from her shoulder. “There has to be another bridge somewhere.”

“Not necessarily.” Cleo’s voice was strained from effort and concentration. “What pokemon would come and go over the gorge in this day and age?”

“The Darkness?” Spark offered.

Cleo wanted to point out that since the Darkness consisted of a lot of murkrow and dragons that flying would be an easier option. But before she could voice her thoughts she made the terrible mistake of looking down to see how much further she had to go. The ground spun before her eyes and Mischief doubled and tripled. Cleo jerked her head back up, her breath coming in erratic bursts. Spark said something, but her voice was distorted and Cleo couldn’t make it out. She became aware of more voices and the wind rustling her fur.

“Cleo!” Spark’s voice penetrated Cleo’s dizzying fear. “Pull yourself together! Please!”

The world slowed its nauseating spin. Cleo could hear someone breathing heavily in her ear. As the wall came back into focus, she became aware it was her own breaths she could hear. She stared at the sandstone wall, trying to will her heart to stop racing.

“I think I’m okay.” Cleo’s voice wobbled.

Spark nodded. “Good. You had me worried sick there! Don’t look down, okay?”

Cleo rolled her eyes and a small smile appeared on her muzzle. Silently scolding herself, she took a steadying breath and nodded, kicking off from the wall to lower herself to the ground. Trees, mountains… those she could handle. But a sheer drop to her death was a whole other story. She kept her eyes on the wall, forcing herself into a rhythm as she kicked her way towards the ground. Towards safety. She could hear Mischief shuffling down behind her. He’d been waiting, watching them since he couldn’t move any further without Cleo. She heard his feet hit the floor and relief washed over Cleo as she realised they weren’t far from the steady, reliable ground.

As the rope ran out, Cleo released it and landed heavily beside Mischief. Spark tumbled from her shoulder with a yell and landed on her bottom beside Cleo’s feet. Spark grimaced and shook her head, pushing herself back up. Her paw rubbed the base of her tail and she looked up at Cleo.

“Give a girl some warning next time!” Spark craned her neck back to look up the dizzyingly high slope. “Looks like Harlequin’s on her way down.”

The rope swayed dramatically as it was fastened around Harlequin’s waist. The zorua had hold of the rope in her jaws while her paws kicked off the sandstone. Cleo could see fear glistening in Harlequin’s sapphire eyes as the zorua forced herself to not look down. Faith watched with concern before climbing onto the rope to follow Harlequin. She shouted something to Cleo and waved a paw before beginning to descend the rope. The mawile kept close to the zorua, ready to offer a paw if Harlequin lost her grip.

Cleo watched helplessly as the wind rustled her ears. They had to be quick. She felt so helpless. None of her psychic abilities worked on dark-types so there was no way she could help Harlequin down. The wind picked up, whipping Cleo’s ruff. Faith waved again, her voice drowned out by the wind. Fear lurched in Cleo’s chest. She knew what the mawile was trying to say. Cleo, Spark and Mischief had meant to run to the tunnels, and here they were watching their friends!

“Guys, hurry!” Cleo yowled, her eyes scanning the gorge for somewhere to hide. She looked back up at Harlequin. “You don’t have long!”

Fear lit up in Harlequin’s eyes and her jaw tightened around the rope. Faith secured herself in place with her horn and shouted back to Cleo to run.

A deep howl joined the wind, bushing out Cleo’s fur until her tails doubled in size. Her eyes fell on the arched body of a tree and she swung her paw towards it.

“Mischief! Grab that tree!”

Mischief was already ahead of her. He clambered up the slender trunk and latched onto a low branch with both paws, his eyes wide as Cleo rushed to his side. She dug her claws into the bark of the tree and felt Spark lunge into her side and scramble up into her ruff. Cleo pulled herself up towards Mischief and hugged the branch tightly. The wind tore through the frightened pokemon, its wail deafening. Branches shook frantically, whipping at Cleo’s body as if it was desperate to be rid of her. Cleo forced her ears shut and clenched her teeth. Sand pelted her face, stinging her eyes until she was forced to close them.

A sharp pain tugged at her ruff and she heard a shrill scream. The pain was brief and she scream faded out into the howling winds. Cleo snapped her head up. Her ears whipped forwards and her eyes widened as the tiny body of a dedenne was tossed away with the wind.

“Spark!” she yowled.

The wind died down as quickly as it had risen, but Cleo didn’t release the tree. Her eyes streamed from the sand and fear. Her heart hammered in her chest. She couldn’t see Spark.

Mischief dropped from the tree, his gaze fixed on the distance.

Faith landed heavily beside Harlequin and the pair rushed to join Cleo’s side.

“What is it?” Faith helped Cleo down from the tree, but Cleo’s words were lodged in her throat.

“It’s Spark,” Mischief told the mawile. “The wind took her away.”

Cleo’s entire body was trembling. Her eyes released tears and she shook her head, pulling herself away from Faith. “I’m going to look for her.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find her,” said Harlequin. “I’ll sniff her out! We-”

“No!” Cleo bared her teeth at the zorua who flinched back at the hostility in the meowstic’s voice. “You lot find somewhere to hide! I’m not losing anyone else!”

Harlequin’s ears pricked and she raised a paw, opening her mouth to retort. But Faith placed a placating paw on her shoulder.

“Cleo, we’ll help you,” said Faith. “There’s a lot of hiding spots along these walls. If the wind picks up, we’ll hide.”

Cleo’s fur flattened out and she sighed. “Okay.” She paused and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m just so…”

“It’s fine.” Harlequin inched closer to her. “You’re worried about Spark, I get it. But we’re just trying to help.”

Cleo nodded stiffly. “I know.”

Faith joined her side and inclined her head to catch Cleo’s eye. “I’m sure Spark will be fine. She’s pretty hardy. She’s probably looking for us already.”

Cleo nodded again, feeling her spirits rise slightly. She kept pace with Faith and Mischief, remaining vigilant. Harlequin took the lead, sniffing at the air and occasionally sneezing up sand. For every burrow in the wall they passed they paused to call Spark’s name, peering inside. Those they couldn’t reach they yelled up at. Soon the gorge was echoing with their voices, and the threat of wind rose again, driving them to shelter until it eased and they could continue their search. With each step Cleo felt her heart sink. Her shoulder felt oddly bare and quiet, and there was no sign of Spark anywhere. Where was she?

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam
Route 123
  1. mightyena
  2. psyduck
Hi Del! I left this fic off a LONG time ago, and since Review Blitz is going on, I figure that now would be a perfect time to play catch up! Well, as much as I can--I'm still 40 chapters behind ^_^; I'll pick up where I left off!

Chapter 25

Can't blame Tinker for wanting to keep the Swablu. And giving it a name! Starshine! That's precious. It really shows that he IS attached to it.

Starshine let out a chirrup of surprise and sent a berry rolling from the desk to the floor amid Tinker’s ‘organised chaos’.
Organised chaos is a real thing! I can't find anything when my stuff is neat, tidy, and put away!

“It’s a baby. If we raise it with our morals, and it makes friends amongst us, and maybe even joins our ranks in this war… then that could give us a very strong edge.”
Hmm... I see Tinker's logic in trying to reason with Lily, but ending with his hope that he thinks Starshine will eventually fight in their war for them makes him come across as more utilitarian.

"Ye ken the dragon-type is weak against itseln."
Should that be "itself"? Or is that her dialect?

Tinker bit his lip and looked away. Those words had hit him hard. She was right, but part of him didn’t want to admit it.
Hmm, does Tinker pride himself on controlling his emotions, and always putting logic over feelings?

“Whew!” Skipper slid down the door onto his bottom. “Seriously, sis! I thought ye were gonna bite ‘is ‘ead off!”

Lily looked Tinker up and down. “I was thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
Oh my gosh XD

Just out of curiosity: is there any particular reason that Lily and Skipper have only reached their Marshtomp stage, and haven't evolved all the way to Swampert? Especially if there's a war going on, it seems like it would make sense for them to have as much fighting power as they can. Of course, bigger Pokemon would probably need more food and take more resources on a daily basis. It just seems odd to me.

Lily chuckled. “Cannae talk yet, aye? No worries! I reckon ye know more of what we’re talkin’ ‘bout than you let on, aye?”

Starshine closed his eyes and let out a playful twitter.
Woops! Looks like Tinker was wrong in thinking that he could say whatever he wanted in front of Starshine with no repercussions.

Hope of making friends… Tinker smiled and sat back on his paws as he watched the little swablu flop around the room. Tinker was actually starting to feel there might be hope of a little more than that on the horizon.
Makes me wonder if he's thinking of Starshine really becoming a member of their community and sort of like family, or if Tinker is considering Starshine's fighting capabilities as an Altaria.

Bowls were filled with fresh berries which interspersed the plates of steaming berry flat-cakes, vats of vegetable and root soup, pancakes, nut roasts, and root gravy. And that didn’t even cover it all!
Back at it again with the Redwall vibes! This food description sounds like something Brian Jacques would write about.

Faith looked up at Spark and raised a paw in a half-hearted shrug. “It must be a huge shock to her. I mean… to accept that what you’ve been believing all your life is a huge lie? Working for something so evil… I can’t say what’s going on in her head right now. But like I said, if she didn’t want to be here, she wouldn’t have found this place.”
Harlequin's story reminds me of another that I've read before, but I can't place the name of it right now. Have you read The Chronicles of Narnia? I'm thinking of Aravis in The Horse and His Boy meeting Narnians for the first time in her life and seeing how happy they all are after her punishing life.

“I mean you are both from opposite sides in this war.”
Should be a comma after "mean."

The problem was, Mischief enjoyed fighting. Cleo saw it on his face. Cheerful, naive. Those tests Tinker ran on him were still clear in Cleo’s mind. Fighting was fun to Mischief like it was to many pokemon. She thought back to the story about Yveltal’s Fall. Fighting existed in the Fairy Garden. It hadn’t been meant for war. It hadn’t been meant to cause pain.
The first comma should be ommitted.

This paragraph is interesting, because I hadn't the impression that Mischief had enjoyed fighting (though, admittedly, it has been a long time since I've read this); I thought he only enjoyed it as much as others, and it would cause him to go insane and turn homicidal. Is he just choosing to abstain from any future fighting because he doesn't want to run the risk of killing them?

He shifted slightly, turning his arm so he could wind his claws through hers.
Woah, Mischief is making a move!

Cleo tore here eyes from the ceiling.
Should be "her."

Cleo’s breaths came in heavy bursts as that image of a blazing fire filled her mind again. Howling flames spreading across a forest filled with meowstic and dedenne, amongst other pokemon. An entire forest swiftly overrun by a pack of vicious houndour lead by a wicked houndoom. Hundreds of innocent pokemon, wiped out in one day.
I like this paragraph; it paints a powerful image of how traumatized Cleo is and how badly she wants things to be better.

“This world’s a mess, isn’t it?”
Not just yours, Harlequin! Ours certainly is one, too.

There was certainly a lot packed into this chapter: Starshine will grow up with Tad (and presumably the other baby Pokemon in New City), Tinker will be Starshine's surrogate dad, Mischief is going to stay in the Fairy Garden, and Cleo, Spark and Harlequin get an audience with Xerneas in the morning! This chapter was largely transitionary, but I like how you explored MIschief's feelings with his total remorse in being a Pokemon with uncontrollable Pokerus-induced rage and his decision to not fight in the war. I really can't blame the poor guy--it goes to show that people/Pokemon in this case are so much more than what you can get out of them. Mischief would probably be their most useful fighter, but he shouldn't be "used"--he should be treated like a whole person, and his decision to stay out of the fight, if it runs the danger of him hurting or killing his allies, is to be respected. You've definitely set us up for an exciting next chapter--meeting with Xerneas! I imagine it'll be more exposition-heavy.

The only thing I'm unclear about his Mischief and Cleo's relationship. Are you intending them to only be friends? That's what I've read so far, but I usually take holding hands with fingers intwined to be a romantic gesture, so I was caught off-guard by the two of them doing so.

Chapter 26

“If you’re not gonna eat that then can I?”
Missing a comma between "that" and "then."

Was there more behind her unhappiness at the thought of leaving him behind than she had actually realised?
I thought it was pretty clear in the previous chapter that they had a friendship, at the least. Or when you say "fond of him," do you mean that she has romantic feelings for him, and not just platonic ones? Holding hands/paws usually seems pretty intimate for people who are only in a platonic relationship (though I've done it with some of my friends before, I feel like it's not often seen in fiction).

It didn’t take long to reach the library. Xerneas stood outside the main doors waiting for them with both Hope and Mischief at his side. As they approached, Faith came to a stop and bowed deeply. Cleo and Spark bowed automatically, and Cleo was taken by surprise a second time that morning as Harlequin dropped into a low bow beside her. When they all stood, Xerneas smiled down at them.
For something as monumentous as an audience with Xerneas, I would've expected a bit more of a reaction from Cleo. She bows, but does she feel wonder? Awe? Intimidation? Small? I think a bit more feeling would help give this scene more of an impact--otherwise, it's a bit bland of a transition.

“You defeated that… thing called Yvel, right?”
Until I read this, I didn't think that the first two syllables of "Yveltal" were pronounced the same as "evil" ^_^;

Cleo wanted to ask why there was a dojo in the back of a library, but decided not to question it.
Libraries can be combined with a surprising number of things! I would LOVE to have a dojo combined with a library.

Most likely the shed scales from a reptilian pokemon who had then donated them to create a heavy-duty covering for the punching bags.
This sentence feels like an oddly-heavy exposition in this paragraph. Scaled punching bags are cool, but I think you could either do without the sentence or have a character comment on/explain them.

“I’m also a little confused on this,” said Cleo. “Why is Harlequin training with us?”

“Because Xerneas instructed it,” said Hope.
Lol that sounds like such an older sibling answer. "Because Dad said so." XD

Ah, poor Mischief! I didn't think he'd be able to take out Reshiram unless he was in his Pokerus-induced rage. Poor guy! No wonder he immediately ran away; he must have felt absolutely awful. Reshiram definitely should have had him practice on the punching bags, though. He probably thought Mischief wouldn't be able to hurt him at all--so I take it that nobody in the Fairy Garden knows about the Pokerus experiments, do they?

Ah, what a cliffhanger! I think things will turn out fine, since Reshiram is only knocked out, and I imagine that he can get back on his feet relatively easily. I just hope that poor Mischief doesn't try to run away to another place and wind up lost or trapped again.

This chapter was short, like the previous one, but definitely had more action. I think your prose can be a bit heavy-handed at times, like where I pointed out before. It's super neat that you have thorough worldbuilding with every detail figured out, but I sometimes think that you can leave some of the details out of your writing. I know this chapter was posted long ago lol but in case it still reflects your current writing style, it might be something to keep in mind.

Chapter 27

The end of Part Two! Oooh I can't wait to see what's in store!

“When he attacked Enigma he was manic! But this time… this time it’s like he didn’t want to attack in the first place, and doing so was devastating!”
Well yeah, Harlequin, attacking an enemy is different from attacking someone who has been housing you, feeding you, protecting you, and training you!

I just realized that there are three characters named Faith, Hope, and Joy! I hope there are characters named "Peace" and "Love," too!

“Why are you dragging me along?!” Harlequin barked, although they didn’t put up any resistance.

“He’s your friend, right?” asked Faith.

“He’s not my friend!”
"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!"

Glad to see that Reshiram isn't at all disturbed by Mischief knocking him out. I wonder if he isn't questioning why a whimsicott is much stronger than he should be, though.

Random question: is there a reason why all characters have individual names, but Xerneas and Reshiram are referred to as their species name? Is it because there's only one of each of them?

“You’ve made friends here. And like we were told earlier, just like Harlequin if you weren’t meant to be here you wouldn’t have found it.”
The grammar in the second sentence feels off. I think you need a comma after "Harlequin"?

Wow, they sure left the Fairy Garden quickly! It's not a bad thing, I was just surprised at how sudden it was, especially since Mischief had kept saying that he was going to stay there.

Smart move of them to not let Harlequin go. Even though she was welcomed into the Fairy Garden, given a task by Xerneas, and seemed to be trusted, I don't think they should just let go of her past actions so lightly, in case she returns to that way of life.

... OR in case Enigma happens to be watching them! Amazing that he found the exact place where Hope teleported them to. Is there something special about that spot, and is why Enigma was waiting for them there?

Looks like Xerneas's army is going forward! It reminds me of the fellowship in The Fellowship of the Ring when they are tasked by Elrond to destroy the One Ring. Their task isn't that big (yet), and it seems like they're taking small steps for the time being. But it will be neat to see where they go! I have a feeling that Enigma won't be with Hydreigon's forces much longer, and I wonder where that'll take him in his interactions with Cleo's gang. I also hope that Starshine develops well, but I'm most curious about the scientists who experimented on Mischief and what we'll see of them. Looking forward to the next part! At least I'm highly unlikely to catch up to you before you finish this XD

Chapter 28

Wooo onto a new part! And new part means new art! Love these depictions of Enigma and Harlequin you have here: they both look distraught, and while Engima looks confused and uncertain, Harlequin looks hurt and angry. I expect we'll be exploring these characters a bit more soon!

This'll probably be the last chapter I review for this chunk, but hopefully more to come soon!

Ordinarily he’d had avoided inspecting this location.
I think this should just be "he," not "he'd."

Echo… he couldn’t let that stuck-up noivern win. Rumble would find this cocoon first, and claim his rightful position as leader of the noibat swarm.
I find it really interesting that, even though these characters are all part of the Darkness and all work for Hydreigon, they're still at odds with each other. It reminds me of the orcs and Uruk-hai in the Lord of the Rings, where they'll stab each other in the back any moment they can get. It shows that evil is truly self-serving and is primarily motivated by fear, not loyalty or love.

One lone noibat took one last look at the painting and fled back towards the south, ready to relay the news to Echo.
Oooh, we got a spy/double-crosser in our midst!

Instead she’d assisted Harlequin, who had struggled against their invisible prison while shouting and screaming.
Ah, I'd forgotten that Harlequin nonstop screams when she's confined by the bracelet. Definitely a surefire way to get them all spotted--no wonder Enigma found them right away.

An overwhelming feeling of despair grasped at him and he found himself sinking to the floor.
Aw, this sounds like he's having the onset of a panic attack :( Poor Enigma probably has chronic anxiety and doesn't even realize it.

If whoever was behind those doors turned out to be hostile, he was in no fit state to put up a fight.
Kinda odd that he feels in no fit state to put up a fight but still thinks he can slaughter Cleo's crew, capture Faith, and drag her back with him to Hydreigon.

Friends and loved ones were a weakness. For someone with his reputation, they could be used against him. They were forbidden among Hydreigon’s armies.
This is common logic, sure--but Enigma, you've got to realize that your total lack of friends and loved ones is what's causing you such deep anxiety and despair. Having friends and family is what gives you enough strength to keep going through life!

“I don’t need anyone!”

“Keep telling yourself that.” Harlequin’s ears drooped. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t still be hanging around here. You’d have killed me and left already.”
Harlequin's got a good point! If Enigma kills her, then he'll be totally left alone--and no one can give him the love he needs to not be in anxiety and a panicked state of mind anymore.

“Well, I’ve suddenly remembered,” grunted Enigma.
Haha, convenient.

Harlequin shook their head. “I’ve seen it myself.”
Harlequin has been there and seen it, sure, but has she experienced any of the peace and joy that she saw? Those are two very different things.

He murdered his father and enacted a mass slaughter throughout his territory, wiping out everyone who knew.
Patricide is definitely a hallmark of particularly scummy villains--and I'd say it usually doesn't end well. It causes the people under you to fear you more, certainly, but nobody will truly love you, and only serve you out of fear. I bet that it would have served the son's best iterest to have waited for his father to naturally pass away (if Hydreigon die of old age). But that also says something about the father! If his son willingly killed him, then I'm sure that Hydreigon wasn't a good parent, and his son had no true love for him, evidently.

"So he took me in and killed both of my parents right in front of me.”
Wow... no wonder Enigma has trauma and anxiety.

Enigma laughed bitterly. “If life with the Outcasts involves sitting in a damp cell for the rest of my life, then I’m sticking to leaping through trees.”

“So you’re remaining an assassin?”

“It’s all I know.”
Leaping through trees, yes, but also suffering severe panic attacks and living with chronic anxiety with nobody to love you or befriend you hardly sounds like a way to live your life, Enigma!

Sleep wasn’t something that came naturally to him, but he was so exhausted it wasn’t long until he was whisked off into a deep slumber.
Ugh, I know that feel. Sleep doesn't come naturally to me anymore, either, and it's so hard.

I liked this chapter. It's quiet, but we get a good look into Enigma's life and why he is the way that he is. No wonder the poor guy has panic attacks and suffers so much--watching the murder of your parents is something that would haunt anyone, especially if he never had anyone else to accompany him in his life. He must have been living for so long without love, care, friendship, and family, and that's not how we're supposed to live. We're made for community! Convincing himself that it's better for him to live at all just so his parents wouldn't have made their sacrifice in vain will only get him so far. Poor guy! I'm sure we're going to have a much deeper look into his struggles in this part of the story.

Thanks again for this! I'm definitely intrigued as we look more closely at what those who have been living under Hydreigon's rule have REALLY been going through during their lives.


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Thanks so much for the review, Starlight! I'm so pleased you picked this up again. I know it can be overwhelming when you've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm almost done writing this, as well. I'm on one of the closing chapters.

I'll answer some of your questions without being spoilery.

Should that be "itself"? Or is that her dialect?
This is the swampert dialect. 'itseln' will come up a fair bit. I think it's one of my own creations, rather than being Scottish. But I did base their dialect off the Scottish one, so you'll see the odd word like 'skelpin' and 'wee nyaff' occastionally!
Just out of curiosity: is there any particular reason that Lily and Skipper have only reached their Marshtomp stage, and haven't evolved all the way to Swampert? Especially if there's a war going on, it seems like it would make sense for them to have as much fighting power as they can.
When I first introduced Skipper, I can't remember if ORAS had been released at that stage. He was meant to be a minor character and ended up being a good friend of Tinker. Skipper's main job is to look after New City underground. He's not really a combat pokemon. Lily looks after the children, again not leaving New City. So neither of them has had much chance to evolve further. Skipper might take that chance, given the opportunity.
Harlequin's story reminds me of another that I've read before, but I can't place the name of it right now. Have you read The Chronicles of Narnia?
I've read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I didn't read it until part way through re-writing this story, however, so similarities will be a coincidence unless I'd actually paid more attention to the movie than I recall doing! There are some deliberate similarities later on, though, as the book inspired me during the re-write.
Aw, this sounds like he's having the onset of a panic attack :( Poor Enigma probably has chronic anxiety and doesn't even realize it.
Just a reminder about that tree - Grey had created an illusion around it that shows a pokemon's greatest fear to deter them from getting too close. Cleo and Spark see the Wildfires torching the place. We don't know yet what Harlequin sees, and as for Enigma...

Also, just an interesting nod. Notice how Faith didn't respond to the illusion?
Amazing that he found the exact place where Hope teleported them to. Is there something special about that spot, and is why Enigma was waiting for them there?
Enigma had gone back to the Moorlands Forest to confront Rio, but he's injured so he'd stopped for a breather. He just happened to be nearby where Hope teleported Cleo and co to. Happy accident? ;)

Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy following on with this story =D There's absolutely no rush or pressure to catch up! God bless =D

Chapter 67


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Yes... part five gets TWO banners.


67 - Caught in a Sandstorm​

The sodden earth sucked at Tinker’s feet as he trudged past derelict buildings. It hadn’t been long since Grey had dropped them near the old town. The alakazam hadn’t wanted to send them any further north for fear of appearing before lurking soldiers or assassins. Tinker thought it had been a risk appearing in the open at all, but they hadn’t been left with much of an option. New City was in an uproar, and Tinker’s desperation to get Starshine out had left him with no time to even prepare. Tinker was without his bag. They had no supplies.

The riolu lead Starshine towards the old Guild headquarters at the heart of the old, rundown town. Starshine followed silently, his head turning left and right as he peered into the shadows between the buildings. His head was low and his footwork delicate. He’d never been outside in the open. He’d spent his entire short life in New City, surrounded by pokemon and walls of earth. Every gust of wind, every stir of a leaf, every drip of water, set the altaria on edge.

Eager to ease the altaria’s nerves, Tinker cast a sympathetic glance back at Starshine and gave a small chuckle. “This town is quieter than I remember it.”

Starshine jerked his head towards him and his black eyes widened. “You used to live here?”

“Sort of,” said Tinker. “I’ve moved from town to town quite a bit. I was here helping out when it first set up. It clearly didn’t last very long. It was probably only inhabited for a season.” His gaze travelled up the decaying wooden wall of a house. His heart sank and his voice came out more wistful than he’d intended as he added, “I hoped it might be around for longer than that.”

He motioned for Starshine to follow him up the stairs into the old Guild hall. The altaria’s claws scraped over the wood and echoed inside the hollow, empty building. Tinker closed the door behind them and sniffed at the air. There was a familiar smell and it took him a moment to realise what it was.

“Cleo was here.” He sniffed again. “Recently, too.”

“Cleo?” Starshine copied him, craning his neck. “I can’t smell anything.”

“My nose is pretty sensitive.” Tinker moved through the hall, and Starshine’s steps echoed behind him. “She was definitely here. I doubt she still is, but…”

His voice trailed off as he followed the meowstic’s scent into the old dining hall. It was empty. His heart sank and he took a step back, turning towards his old office. Part of him had hoped she was still here. They could have travelled together. It would have made the journey a lot more bearable, and safer to boot.

“What are we here for?” Starshine asked.

“I’m hoping to find some supplies,” Tinker explained. “In our rush to leave I didn’t prepare.”

“Oh.” Starshine lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Tinker told him. “So don’t apologise. I like to leave emergency supplies in my office in each Guild. There will be something here.”

He shoved open the door to his office, losing his footing as it glided open over the empty floor. Tinker steadied himself against the door handle, his eyes wide. His desk stood against the wall as he remembered it, but the room was devoid of any papers or boxes. He muttered under his breath and pulled himself upright.

“They could have warned me they were moving on,” he whispered, going straight to his desk.

Starshine stood over his shoulder, watching helplessly as Tinker dragged open the desk drawers. Each one was empty. With a bitter sigh, he went to the room marked ‘keep out’. The only thing in that room was his transporter machine, useless without the key to activate it. He absently fastened a paw around his bare wrist. He’d left it back in New City.

He sighed again and moved from the room, motioning to Starshine to come with him.

The altaria plodded behind him, casting a glance back at the empty office. “Can’t you find anything?”

“No. They’ve obviously taken it.” Tinker dragged a paw over his ears and shook his head. “We’ll have to hunt for food while we travel. We’re bound to find something on the way, but it’s a long walk.”

“Walk?” Starshine rushed to his side and met his eyes. “It’ll be faster if we fly.”

“Unlike you, I don’t have wings, Starshine.”

“I’m not saying that, Dad. I can carry you.”

Tinker stopped with one paw on the front door. His gaze wandered up and down Starshine’s slender body. The altaria was only just the same height as him.

“Carry me?” he spluttered. “Starshine, you’re not big enough. I’m an adult, I’m full grown and a lot heavier than you are.” He waved a paw at the altaria. “You’ve still got… I don’t know… about another year of growing to do!”

“At least let me try,” Starshine pleaded. “I want to be helpful! I’ve not had much practice flying, but I know I can do it. My wings are bigger now.” He spread his fluffy wings to each side.

Tinker closed his eyes and sighed.

“Please!” Starshine begged. His black eyes glistened with tears. “It’s my fault we’re even here-!”

“Starshine, it’s not your-”

“Please, Dad!” Starshine’s face hardened as his tears broke free to trail over his blue feathers. “I want to be useful. Please let me help. We’ll get there much faster if I fly.”

Tinker stared at the altaria for a moment. If they flew it would definitely cut their travel time by a lot. But they’d also be vulnerable to aerial warriors. However, risks were everywhere. It might actually be in their better interests to fly.

Tinker sighed again and gave a single nod. “Okay. We can fly.”

Starshine’s face lit up and he tucked in his wings. “Great! I-”

“But!” Tinker raised a claw. “If you show any sign of struggling, we stop. Understood?”

Starshine nodded briskly. “Of course!”

Together they stepped back out onto the muddy street. Tinker craned his neck to search the rooftops and sky. The clouds had thinned and turned a fluffy white, letting blue sky show through. There wasn’t a murkrow in sight, but how long would that last? Would they flock up towards them in a violent cloud of beaks and talons? He looked back at Starshine, taking in his blue feathers and fluffy white wings. He hadn’t realised before how well camouflaged an altaria was in the sky. A small glimmer of hope filled his chest. Hope that they might make it to the Border Woods undetected. That was, if the weather didn’t turn on them. He looked up at the sky again as Starshine strode past him.

“Okay. I’m ready.” Starshine looked at him, his neck lowered for Tinker to climb on.

The riolu pulled himself up onto Starshine’s slender back. The altaria grunted as his legs buckled slightly.

“Starshine-” Tinker made to climb back down, but Starshine stopped him with a look.

“I’m fine.” The altaria spread his wings and beat them a couple of times. “I’ve just not carried anyone before. Hold on, okay?”

Starshine didn’t give Tinker much of a chance to hold on to anything. The young dragon sprinted forwards, beating his wings hard. Tinker fastened his arms around his neck, his heart lurching as he felt Starshine’s muscles pumping in his shoulders. Slowly, Starshine rose into the air with jerky motions that sent Tinker’s heart into his throat. He glanced down at the buildings shrinking below them, and he jerked his head up again, clutching onto Starshine for dear life. A wail left his throat against his will and Starshine gave him a reassuring glance.

“Watch where you’re going!” Tinker barked.

Starshine complied, fixing his attention on the woods ahead of them as he continued to rise into the air. The trees spread out beneath them, green clouds against a sea of brown. Starshine’s wing beats slowed as he hit a thermal, and he spread his wings to glide over it. The smoothness calmed Tinker slightly and he relaxed his hold on Starshine’s neck.

The altaria glanced back at him. “Are you okay?”

“Eyes forward!” Tinker clutched at the dragon’s neck again.

Starshine chuckled but obediently faced forwards. “You’ve gone pale.”

“I’m fine.” Tinker forced himself to relax again and straightened, gazing out a the world ahead of them. “You seem okay so far?”

Starshine nodded. “Now we’re in the air, you’re not that heavy at all.”

“Well then, it seems like a good plan.” A small smile spread across Tinker’s muzzle and he brushed a paw over Starshine’s feathers. “If we can keep it up like this, perhaps it won’t be such a treacherous journey after all?”


Another gust of wind swept Spark off her feet and sent her rolling tail over head into the air. She reached out and snatched onto a twig, hanging there as her tail billowed out behind her like a flag. A krokorok doubled over in fits of giggles a few feet away. Spark’s whiskers crackled and she forced out a growl against the wind. She was never going to win this battle at this rate. Her long-range attacks couldn’t touch him, and she could barely get close enough to use her fairy-type move with the wind. And what was worse, Cleo would be worried sick.

“Oh, you slay me!” The krokorok slapped his paw on his knee and stood up straight as the wind died down. “I haven’t had this much fun in a fight in a long time! You’re so tiny it’s hilarious!”

“Why I aughta…” Spark stood tall on the tree’s bowed branches and narrowed her eyes. “If it weren’t for this wind, I’d give you a fight you’ll never forget!”

The krokorok’s jaws parted in a toothy grin. “Big words from a little mouse, eh?”

Spark growled and electricity danced off her stifled whiskers. She swiped a paw across them to remove the residual mud from the crocodile’s mud-slap greeting. The wind had done a good job of clearing most of it away.

“Shame I’m a ground-type.” The krokorok lifted his arms in a shrug. “’Cos I reckon you could pack quite a punch with that electricity of yours.”

Huh. Spark twitched her nose. She hadn’t expected a compliment. It took her off guard and she scanned the giant crocodile with her eyes, finding a crescent moon tattooed to his shoulder. A heretic? A dark-type?

She didn’t have much time to process it as the wind picked up again. She dug her claws into the bark and stood against it, pulling her ears back before they filled with sand. The krokorok watched her with amusement, a chuckle shaking his shoulders.

“Why, you-!” Spark’s words were cut off as the wind lifted her from the tree and sent her further into the gorge.

Her back struck warm fur and two paws clasped around her middle. Wind beat her ears and she screwed her eyes shut against the sharp sand. It was only fleeting. When she opened her eyes again she looked up into the upside-down face of a grinning banette.

Spark blinked a few times and shook her ears out. “Enigma? Y-you’re alive?!”

Enigma laughed, his bell chiming with the motion, and looked up. His expression turned serious. “We have bigger things to be worrying about right now, short stuff.”

Spark’s retort died into a mumble on her tongue. The krokorok’s jovial grin had melted away into rage and he marched towards them on heavy feet. Enigma lifted Spark to his shoulder and flexed his claws.

The krokorok bared his teeth in a snarl. “Rumour had it you were dead!”

Enigma shrugged. “I was.”

The krokorok cursed and spat onto the floor. “Hydreigon’s goof-ball soldiers can’t even finish a job, huh?” He dug his claws into the ground and raised his paws into fists. “Guess I’ll have to kill you myself!”

Enigma sighed. “I really didn’t want to have to do this today.”

He flicked his claws and a flurry of pink and purple light struck the krokorok in the jaws. It exploded into sparkles as the ground erupted beneath his feet. Dirt mixed with the dazzling gleam, and the giant crocodile grunted as he rolled head over tail into the crooked tree. Leaves rained down around him where he lay in a daze.

Enigma dusted dirt from his scarf, oblivious to the stunned dedenne on his shoulder. Spark blinked at the defeated krokorok. One hit. Dazzling gleam. Her eye wandered to the brooch affixed to Enigma’s scarf.

“Cut it a bit fine there, didn’t you?” said Enigma.

“I had to. The wind is picking up again.” An absol stood on an outcrop half way up the steep wall to their right. He hopped down the rocky tumble with surprising agility despite the large satchel bouncing off his flank. He landed beside Enigma and nodded to the bowed tree. “Grab onto that. And once the wind has passed, we’ll head straight for Cleo. Fast.”

Enigma rushed straight for the tree. Spark bailed from his shoulder and grabbed onto a twig, but the banette plucked her from it and fastened his claws around her middle.

“Erm… do you mind?” The dedenne flashed her sharp teeth at him.

Enigma chuckled and braced himself against the tree as the wind picked up. “Do you want to blow away again?”

The wind’s mournful howls almost drowned out his voice. The three of them clutched onto the tree’s branches, lowering their heads against the wind and the sandstone debris. It passed in an instant, and Enigma pushed himself back from the tree, still clutching Spark in one paw.

“How’s it looking, Harbinger?” he asked the absol.

The absol raised his head and his expression turned distant. “We don’t have much time before the next gust. We need to hurry. The fight is turning nasty.”

“Wait, hold up!” Spark raised her paws. “What fight?”

“No time to explain. You’ll have to wait and see.” Enigma loosened his grip on Spark. “I need to ask you to trust us.”

“Trust you?” Spark blinked as Enigma pressed a claw to her mouth.

“There’s a nasty fight brewing, and your friends need us.” Humour shone in Enigma’s eyes. Spark pushed his claw away and opened her mouth to speak. “Now, take a deep breath.”

Spark’s question died on her tongue as the banette flicked her away from him. He vanished and Spark’s shock morphed into fury as snatched her from behind, only to flick her away again. Enigma warped ahead of her once more and braced himself to catch her.

“What are you doing!” she screeched as she landed in his paws.

“I’m terribly sorry, but we need to be quick and I can’t warp you with me.” Enigma tossed her ahead of him again and she roared.

“Once we reach Cleo I’m gonna shock you so hard!”

The banette chuckled as he caught her against his chest. “Okay, we’ll do it the hard way.” He tucked her into his scarf on his shoulder and she crackled, setting the fur around his ear on end.

“Don’t think I was kidding,” she warned.

“I don’t.” He broke into a sprint, glancing back at the absol as he raced to keep up with them. He cast Spark a fleeting sympathetic glance. Enigma smoothed out his fur with a paw. “But I’m afraid it’ll have to wait until the battle is over.”


Cleo clung to the fallen tree, struggling to see through the sandstorm that clouded her vision. She blinked to try and dislodge the sand from her eyelashes then flinched back, screwing her eyes shut. Beside her, Mischief clung onto a branch that swayed in the wind. Tufts of white fur travelled along with the sandstorm, some still lingering as the wind petered out. As the wind dropped, the blurred figures of the Heretics stood in the storm. A small army of sandslash, krokorok and fraxure. And looming over them towered a haxorus. Every one of them was stood in the same spots they had been before the wind picked up. Every time. It had been that way since the battle started.

But the numbered were smaller. Two of the sandslash and three of the krokorok had been knocked out, and Cleo could no longer see their fallen bodies through the storm. A sandslash had whipped up the sandstorm just after the battle started, and it had made getting any hits in nigh impossible. Unfortunately for the dragons the sandstorm had only hindered them, but they were clearly used to it, using it to their advantage despite the stinging sand.

Faith stood just a few feet away from Cleo in her mega form. One of her horns was fastened around the jagged stump of the fallen tree. She released it to spin her horns into the group of Heretics, aiming for the haxorus. He raised his arms to block her attack, his claws digging into the earth as he was shoved backwards. It gave enough of an opening for two of the fraxure to burrow into the ground.

Cleo shouted a warning to Faith, but it was too late. The ground exploded beneath her as the fraxure erupted in a geyser of earth. Faith was knocked off her feet, rolling backwards into the fallen tree. The branches swayed with the impact, clearing the sand enough for Cleo to make out her opponents. She wasted no time, and alongside Mischief they fired their own attacks at the Heretics. Pink sparkling light lit up the gorge, missing the sandslash by a whisker. But two more of the fraxure were sent toppling over their tails and the haxorus hissed as Mischief’s dazzling gleam struck him across the tusks.

Then the wind picked up again.

Cleo hugged the branch and braced herself as the sand beat against her ears. The wind was so unpredictable. She clenched her jaws, silently wishing the wind would just give them a break. They could no longer see their enemies. But could they see her and her friends?

As the wind lessened off, a flash of pink lit up the sand, suggesting Harlequin was still in the battle. Cleo let out a sigh of relief. She’d lost track of the zorua when the storm started. Harlequin’s disarming voice hit home, and a grunt came from deep in the sandstorm. The storm lessened as the wind dropped, revealing the Heretics crouching close to the ground, their claws digging into the dry earth as the wind washed over them. A look of confusion crossed the haxorus’ face as he turned his head towards a dazed sandslash lying flat on his spiky back.

Cleo’s heart lurched. The sandstorm had stopped!

The haxorus muttered something that Cleo didn’t hear. Then the large wingless dragon rose to his feet and purple flames licked around his tusks.

Mischief cut in front of Cleo, causing her to press further into the tree’s branches. “Get back!”

He leapt in front of her and spread his arms, taking the attack head on. It washed harmlessly over him, and the towering dragon’s eyes widened with alarm. Mischief flicked his paws, sending a dazzling gleam straight into the haxorus’ face. He toppled backwards as pink light exploded around his feet. Two krokorok fled from behind him before he struck the ground with an almighty crash. Sand whipped up around his body, and a small black shape landed on his chest for a heartbeat before kicking off to launch a tackle into one of the krokorok’s back.

The haxorus wasn’t down. He pushed himself to his feet, his eyes blazing with rage. Dragon fire licked around his tusks and he opened his jaws wide, aiming a torrent of flames at Harlequin’s tail.

Cleo’s heart lurched and she shouted a warning. Harlequin’s ears flicked towards her. The dragon’s attack spluttered as another dazzling gleam struck him in the head. It washed past him to strike one of the fraxure and wiped out a krokorok before it could bring its fists down on Harlequin’s back.

Cleo looked to Mischief who looked as confused as she was. She followed his gaze to their right. Wispy flames glided through the air to singe the haxorus’ left shoulder. He yelped and fixed a glare on the direction they’d come from. More flames flew past him to strike the remaining fraxure, krokorok and sandslash. Hisses and yelps filled the air as the pokemon tried to soothe their burns.

A large white shape dropped from above them, grabbing one of the confused sandslash and shaking it by the scruff. Cleo’s eyes widened.

“An absol?!” the haxorus gasped.

Cleo’s voice echoed his surprise. But something was different about this one. A pair of large, white wings rose from his ruff.

Cleo barely had time to process it as a flash of electricity lit up the gorge. It struck the haxorus as he rose from his feet, freezing his tall body. He slumped to the floor as sparks danced along his scales, his limbs jerking erratically. His assailant landed beside Cleo and beamed up at her, whiskers still crackling with static.

“Miss me?” asked Spark.

A weight lifted off Cleo’s chest and she beamed at the dedenne. “I’m so glad you’re okay. But let’s save the celebration for after we’ve defeated these Heretics?”

Spark nodded and kicked off again, landing a play rough on one of the remaining fraxure. The tide of battle had turned. The Heretics were too distracted by their burns to put up much of a fight. The krokorok were retreating with the absol on their tails, while the sandslash burrowed into the ground to get away from a flurry of shadow balls that rained down on them from the sky. Faith had found her feet, twirling into the haxorus with another play rough of her own. The massive dragon didn’t fight back, his arms raised to defend himself as he tried to find their invisible assailant.

The wind picked up again and the haxorus crouched down, digging his claws into the floor. He barked a command to the remaining fraxure, the only pokemon left to aide him.

Cleo crouched down herself, hooking her claws into the hard earth. As the wind grew stronger she fired a disarming voice at the dragon, hitting him square in the muzzle. He keeled back, holding himself in place with his hind claws.

“Do what they do!” Cleo yowled to her friends. “Crouch low, dig your claws in and fight back!”

Her friends complied, except Spark who leapt to Cleo’s shoulder and held fast to her fur. As the wind howled over them, whipping their fur, those who could fire ranged attacks struck back at the remaining dragons. Pink light and electricity lit up the gorge. Cleo clenched her teeth as her pelt tingled with Spark’s static.

As the wind dropped, another pokemon landed amongst them with a jingle that set Cleo’s heart racing. The bell drew the haxorus’ eye and his lips curled in a sneer. A new pokemon stood beside Faith, but if it weren’t for the bell Cleo would barely have recognised him. Yellow zipper markings curled over his smoky fur, but the grin on his face was wildly familiar. He raised his huge purple claws, and a dazzling gleam blasted across the gorge, sweeping over the remaining dragons.

The fraxure blew away from him, rolling over their tails into the wall. The haxorus joined them as another attack from Mischief struck home. The haxorus landed hard on his bottom with a yelp. He fired a glare at the banette, then his eyes widened as a loud screech split the air.

Cleo’s fur rose along her spine as Mischief launched forwards, almost tugging her off her feet. The whimsicott’s legs flew out from beneath him and he landed hard on his back. Spark left her shoulder to join Harlequin, who stood dumbfounded a few feet away with a branch in her mouth. The fraxure she’d been grappling with had turned to watch the whimsicott, his jaw slack as a fearful look crossed his face.

Cleo’s heart raced as Mischief flailed at the end of his tether. Then he turned on her, rushing towards her with his paws raised. Despite knowing he couldn’t harm her Cleo still screwed her eyes shut and raised her paws to protect her face. She felt the impact as the whimsicott bounced away from the invisible forcefield and struck the ground with a sick thud.

Seeing the whimsicott was no immediate threat, the haxorus turned his attention back onto the remaining Outcasts. Still nursing their burns the fraxure launched flamethrowers at their opponents, leaving Cleo and Mischief to their own struggles.

Faith leapt aside to dodge the torrent of flames while Enigma threw himself into the fray. He countered it with a shadow ball then followed it up with a dazzling gleam. It made short work of the fraxure, sending him rolling to his leader’s feet. The absol landed before him and dropped another stunned fraxure. His ruby eyes met the tall dragon’s and a visible chill ran down his spine.

The haxorus looked over his fallen comrades and tutted.

“Get out of here! It ain’t worth it.” With one last venomous look at the Outcasts and their unexpected allies he turned and rushed away into the gorge. Only one fraxure followed him as if his legs couldn’t work fast enough to escape the absol chasing after them.

Faith stood with her shoulders heaving, watching him go, not ready to drop her mega form yet. Enigma joined her side with his paws folded behind his head, not taking his eyes off the retreating dragons.

“We thought you could use some help,” he told her, returning to his normal form.

“It was appreciated. Thank you.” The mawile looked up at him with her eyes sparkling. She opened her mouth to speak, but a torrent of black energy skimmed Enigma’s shoulder and the pair twisted to meet Harlequin’s livid glare.

“You idiot!” Harlequin screamed, making Enigma flinch back. “I thought you were dead!”

Enigma brushed his shoulder where Harlequin’s dark pulse had skimmed it. “I was. But Xerneas revived me.”

Harlequin’s body shook with sobs and her lip curled back from her canines. “Why did you go back there?!” she spat. “Why did you return to the Shadow Lands?!”

“I didn’t exactly go by choice,” Enigma told her. “I was looking for a cure for that pokerus and ran into some murkrow.”

“Pokerus?” Cleo looked up at the banette. Mischief still flailed against the bracelet but he was growing weaker.

Spark, who had chosen to perch in the fallen tree safely out of harm’s way, watched him with a grimace. “Eesh, he’s gonna hurt himself on that thing.”

She fired a jolt of electricity at the whimsicott, causing his body to lock up. He fell motionless to the floor, fixing Spark in a stunned stare.

Faith gave the dedenne a reprimanding look. “Was that really necessary?”

“I couldn’t stand to see him like that.” Spark waved a dismissive paw. “Give him a cheri berry, he’ll be fine!”

Faith shook her head and returned to Enigma, who was still staring at Mischief. “You have pokerus… but you were able to fight?”

“Yep. Xerneas cleared it away.” Enigma met Faith’s violet eyes and shrugged. “Means my hunt is at an end.”

“Wait, what?” Cleo and Harlequin both gasped.

Cleo moved as close to Enigma as she could without dragging Mischief over the rough ground. “You said Xerneas cleared it?” At Enigma’s nod, she added, “But Mischief…”

“He met Xerneas,” Spark continued as Cleo trailed off into confused silence. “So why does he still have it?”

Enigma raised his paws in a shrug. “I can’t answer that one.”

“’Your weaknesses will become your greatest strengths’…” Faith stared at the wall, her eyes distant. “He didn’t mean the pokerus did he?”

“It’s coming.” The absol plodded towards them, shaking sand from his fur. His wings had vanished, making him look a lot smaller. A soft whine spread over the gorge. “Come on. We’ll use the tunnels.”

Cleo swiftly trapped Mischief’s unconscious body in a bubble and followed the absol into the tunnels. The walls were pocketed with large holes, but Harbinger lead them into one with an air of confidence, as if he were familiar with them.

Once they were all inside, Cleo caught the absol’s eye. “It’s Harbinger, right?”

He nodded once. When Cleo opened her mouth to speak again, he cut her off. “Xerneas told us your names, so you don’t need to introduce yourselves. I heard a lot about you from Harlequin anyway.”

Cleo nodded, bristling slightly at the absol’s rudeness. “Do you know these tunnels?”

“I’ve been here a few times.” Harbinger shrugged. “It’s been a while though. We need to be quick. It won’t be long before those Heretics come back with friends and track us down.” He frowned at Mischief. “How long does this usually take?”

“It varies, but I can carry him.” Cleo frowned down at Spark. “Not to mention Spark paralysed him when we don’t have any cheri berries.”

Spark folded her paws behind her back and trailed a foot on the floor. “I panicked!”

Harbinger snorted and rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry. We have some.”

Enigma chuckled, causing his bell to jingle. “We’ll probably go through them pretty fast with this rogue ball of lightning on our team.”

Spark’s whiskers crackled. “Ball?!”

“Spark…” Cleo warned.

The howling wind came to a stop, plunging the tunnels into silence. Harbinger glanced over Cleo’s shoulder at the gorge then nodded to the tunnel behind him. “Shall we walk, or rest a moment longer?”

“It would be easier if Mischief could walk,” said Faith.

“I can carry him, it’s fine,” said Cleo.

“But you fought as hard as the rest of us,” said Faith. “Are you sure you’re not too tired?”

Cleo was feeling pretty worn out, but she wasn’t about to admit it. She shrugged and motioned for Harbinger to lead the way.

The absol nodded and turned to plod along the tunnels, his large feet oddly quiet. Spark walked at the absol’s side, flooding the darkening tunnels with light. Enigma walked behind Harbinger, just in front of Mischief’s bobbing body. The banette’s bell echoed around the tunnels, setting Cleo’s fur on end. Part of her hadn’t quite accepted the former assassin’s loyalty just yet. It felt oddly alien. Harlequin followed at Cleo’s tail, her sapphire eyes fixed on Enigma and Harbinger. When the zorua spoke it broke through the silence, slightly startling Cleo.

“Did you see Scratch and Claw?” Harlequin asked.

Harbinger glanced back at her briefly but didn’t say anything.

“I sent them to the Fairy Garden,” Harlequin went on. “They were accompanying a couple of friends.”

Enigma looked over his shoulder at Harlequin, his crimson gaze resting on her for a while.

“I did wonder where they were,” said Harbinger. “I was going to ask.” He paused for a moment. It was impossible to tell whether or not he was upset at Harlequin’s news. “They probably arrived after we left. I wouldn’t worry about them. They might be young, but they are strong and fast, capable pokemon. Your friends would have been safe with them.”

Harbinger led them round a bend then stopped suddenly. A quiet mutter came from him and he took a step back, almost stepping on Enigma’s paws. It was a dead end. Lumpy, sandy soil blocked their way with a small gap at the top.

“I thought you knew the way,” said Enigma.

“I do,” Harbinger scoffed, barely stifling a growl. “It’s caved in.”

“I could try and get us through?” Faith offered from behind Harlequin.

“No.” Harbinger took a step back and motioned for them to turn around. “It will only cave in more, and we’d risk getting trapped in this tunnel or worse.” His words made the air feel colder than it was. “There are other ways out, we just need to keep moving.”

Cleo pressed herself against the wall to let Harbinger past. Spark leapt onto the absol’s back and yawned loudly. If Harbinger minded he didn’t show it.

Cleo turned to follow after them silently. Doubt clouded her mind. Would they be able to find their way out of the tunnel before the Heretics came back to look for them? As they moved on, the tunnels seemed to grow darker, narrower and colder, and Mischief showed no sign of rousing. Faith placed a reassuring paw on Cleo’s shoulder. The meowstic met the mawile’s friendly, encouraging gaze, and picked up her pace. There must be a way up to the surface, and they were going to find it.


Hydreigon wasn’t happy. His bellows echoed around the throne room, sending the retreating tails of several rattata scampering through the door before it closed behind the impact of a dark pulse. Either well timed, or ill aimed, Yveltal didn’t care. The tension in the air was almost as delicious as the meal he’d indulged in on the raticate’s narrow boat.

The large dragon turned his blazing eyes onto Yveltal. “You brought outlaws into the Shadow Lands?!”

Yveltal’s expression turned icy, but Hydreigon didn’t flinch back from it. “I brought back loyal followers.”

“They’re outlaws!” Hydreigon spat. “They were exiled for a reason, Yveltal, and you brought them right back into my kingdom!”

‘My kingdom’? Feathers rose at the base of Yveltal’s neck. He raised his head, keeping Hydreigon locked in his glare. “They swore loyalty to me. Do you want more power in your army or not?”

A low growl rose in Hydreigon’s throat, and dark energy leaked out from between his teeth. “More power means nothing when your army’s loyalties are divided!”

A smirk tugged at Yveltal’s beak. “There’s nothing divided about it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hydreigon growled. “Those rodents never wanted to work for me! That’s why they were exiled! They were meant to be wiped out years ago!”

“And if they were, your entire domain would have crumbled.” Yveltal forced his feathers flat. “They’ve been providing food for your paltry army, since raiding your breeding pens would have cost you many valuable eggs.”

“And they’ve also been feeding the outlaws,” Hydreigon hissed. “Divided loyalties!” The large dragon tried to calm himself, but flames still licked around his canines. “I want them out of my kingdom, Yveltal! Drain them of their life if you have to!”

Anger burned under Yveltal’s feathers but he kept his voice calm. “Give them a chance. You need more power in your forces if you’re going to win this war, Hydreigon.”

The dark dragon flashed Yveltal a wicked glare. “What did you call me? You address me as ‘lord’!”

“My apologies.” Yveltal raised his head and fixed his icy gaze on Hydreigon’s burning eyes. “I shall see to it that those rattata are dealt with accordingly… my lord.”

Hydreigon grunted, keeping his eyes on Yveltal as he strolled towards the door. Once he was outside the throne room the door clicked shut behind him. His feathers rose along his back and he spat dark energy at the trident emblem carved upon the double doors.

He hissed quietly, his voice barely a whisper. “You incompetent ruler! You should be the one bowing to me!” He turned his back on the door and marched towards the courtyard. He had no intention of dismissing those rattata. Not yet. Hydreigon had done enough damage to the Shadow Lands as it was. Without followers then there was no kingdom. He cast a glance back at the closed door to the throne room and shoved his shoulder out into the midday air. “Mark my words, we’ll see who the true ruler of this kingdom is soon enough, Hydriegon. Your fall from the throne is on the horizon.”
Chapter 68


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
68 - The Border Woods​

The sun was setting too quickly for Tinker’s liking. The world below them was becoming rapidly darker, making it impossible to search for Cleo and her friends. The Border Woods stretched out ahead of them, its spindly trees dark against a nightmarish red backdrop. The woods loomed ever closer with each beat of Starshine’s strong wings. Tinker wasn’t familiar with the Border Woods, but he’d heard enough about them. They were huge, the largest woodlands in Estellis, stretching for miles in all directions. They even sported their own habitats, covering swamps, dipping down into valleys, stretching over the mountains. The woods even had its own waterfall. Tinker would have loved to explore them and meet the various pokemon that called the woods home, but those days were long gone. A sense of dread filled Tinker’s chest. He’d desperately hoped to join Cleo before heading into the Border Woods, but there’d been no sign of her. His eye wandered to the dark smudge of the Forest of Ashes, now far behind them. Starshine was a fast flier. Tinker couldn’t believe how much ground they’d covered in almost two days.

Tinker turned his eye back to the altaria. Starshine’s beak was open, puffing clouds of mist into the cool evening air.

“You can land now, son,” Tinker told him. “Let’s get some rest.”

“But we aren’t there yet,” Starshine protested between gasps.

“But you’re clearly exhausted,” said Tinker. “Please? Let’s find somewhere to land.”

“We’re nearly there! I’m fine, Dad, trust me.”

Tinker’s heart sank and he retracted his paw from the altaria’s head, winding it back into his fluffy feathers. Starshine had been reluctant to rest the entire journey, only stopping once the previous night. But since then he’d outright refused to land, and the both of them were very hungry. Tinker feared Starshine would soon collapse from exhaustion, sending the pair of them plummeting to their deaths, but he daren’t voice his concerns. Instead, Tinker resigned to keeping a watchful eye on Starshine for any sign of weakness.

The riolu turned his sights back onto the woods. He could make out the branches in the canopy, their bare, spindly black twigs stretching out over the red sky. He could almost hear the murderous caws of murkrow, see them bouncing around the branches. Red eyes flashing in the dark shadows that spread through the trees. A chill ran down Tinker’s spine and he tightened his claws around Starshine’s feathers.

The altaria curved his neck back to look at him. “Are you okay, Dad?”

Tinker met Starshine’s warm gaze. He gave himself a mental shake, dismissing those horrific thoughts, and licked his dry lips. “I’m fine. Just…” Tinker cleared his throat and tried to suppress the fearful tremor that crept through his body. “I’ve not been this far north before.”

Starshine nodded and looked back the way he was going. “We’re almost there. I’ll look for somewhere to land.”

‘Somewhere to land’… Tinker clenched his jaw. Where? Once they were in the Border Woods, nowhere was safe. Even searching for a group of outlaws was a risk. Tinker doubted he and Starshine would be met with joyous fanfare. As he looked over the woods again it seemed almost as barren as the Moorlands Forest. As the woods spread out below them, Tinker probed the canopy for any sign of threat.

“Don’t just land anywhere,” Tinker whispered to Starshine. “Look for somewhere quiet and safe.”

Tinker almost berated himself for such a comment. Where was quiet and safe in the Border Woods for a pair of Outcasts? But Starshine nodded his obedience and joined Tinker in his search. The altaria’s blue and white feathers reflected the winter moonlight, shimmering like the ripples on a lake. Tinker cast a glance at the moon, hoping desperately Starshine wasn’t visible from the ground. His hopes were short-lived as a loud, raucous caw struck his eardrums.

Tinker’s spine stiffened and he turned his good eye onto the canopy. He met the red eyes of a murkrow as it shot like a dart towards them. It wasn’t alone. More caws erupted through the branches and the oily birds flew like daggers towards them.

Tinker tugged at Starshine’s feathers, trying to steer him away from the birds. “Starshine! Double back!”

But instead of turning away, Starshine opened his beak wide and screamed. Shockwaves radiated through the flock, blasting them back down towards the canopy in a rain of feathers. Tinker blinked a few times as he watched the murkrow flutter below them, cawing in confusion. Hyper voice? Since when had Starshine learned that?

Tinker didn’t have much time to process it. The murkrows’ cries were being answered throughout the woods as more joined them from Tinker’s right.

“Starshine, it’s no use,” Tinker told him. “There’s too many. We have to go back.”

“No. We’re so close!”

Starshine screeched again, blasting back the murkrow. But they were prepared this time. Several broke through, only to be beaten by Starshine’s fluffy wings. Tinker jerked his head back as the air stirred above him and he yelled as talons lashed at his ears. He swiped back with his claws, skimming the murkrow’s feathers.

“Hold on!” Starshine cried.

The altaria swerved up and away from the birds, raising his claws into the air. For a heartbeat Tinker was upside down, his arms fastened around Starshine’s slender neck. Starshine opened his beak wide and screamed, blasting the murkrows’ backs with shockwaves that sent them careening back down towards the canopy.

More exploded up through the branches. The same ones? Tinker wasn’t sure. But they were relentless, their beaks and claws glinting in the moonlight. Starshine gasped a few times and opened his beak again, but his attack was cut short as a loud roar rent the air like thunder.

Branches ruptured in a shower of splinters as a huge, blue dragon lurched towards them. Its jaws parted as another roar left its throat, catching several murkrow in another shockwave. So a salamence had joined them now?! Tinker flew into a panic, yanking at Starshine’s feathers. The little altaria swerved away from the salamance, his beak open as he readied another attack.

The salamence arced into the air then brought his tail back down onto the murkrow. Their bodies crumpled beneath his heavy tail and Tinker flinched as they smashed back through the bare canopy. A stream of dragon fire followed, chasing the remaining murkrow back down to the woodland floor. The more reluctant birds threw sneers in the dragon’s direction before vanishing after their defeated flockmates.

The salamance hovered over the canopy, watching them go. Then he glanced at Starshine and Tinker. “They’ll be back, and they’ll bring more of them. You don’t want to hang around. Come on.”

He turned away and Starshine made to follow him.

Tinker jerked at his feathers and hissed in his ear, “What are you doing?”

“He helped us,” Starshine said innocently.

“It could be a trap! Let’s double back and find Cleo. We can come back here with them, with more of us.”

The salamence had stopped, turning his head to stare at them. “Do you have a death-wish? I told you they’d be back.”

Tinker met the dragon’s gaze. “How can we trust you? You’re a dragon.”

Amusement shone in the salamance’s eyes. “And your altaria friend isn’t?”

Starshine glanced back at Tinker and visibly sighed. Tinker silently berated himself and shook his head.

“I saved your lives didn’t I?” the salamence went on. “It’s up to you if you decide to trust me or not.”

The dragon turned away, gliding over the trees. Starshine took off after him, and Tinker seethed under his fur. He leaned forwards to speak quietly to the altaria.

“I’m sorry, Starshine.”

“It’s fine.” Starshine’s voice was heavy and he didn’t look back at Tinker. “I know you trust me. You wouldn’t be with me if you didn’t.”

“You’re right.” Tinker grit his teeth together and shook his head. “But this…”

“I think we can trust him.” Starshine tucked in his wings as he followed the salamence down through the trees towards a clearing. “We’re looking for outlaws, right? And he did help us.”

Tinker nodded stiffly, turning his eye onto the clearing. A low building squatted in the middle of it. It had been white at some point in its life, but had yellowed with age. The windows were quite low to the ground and devoid of any glass. Tinker’s heart lurched as he spotted the pokemon gathered around it. A drapion lay sprawled in the leaf litter, tugging at some stiff plant with his pincers. Beside him lay a flygon sheltered under the roots of a tree that had been pushed from the ground, held in place by what roots still lay beneath the surface. The insect-like dragon’s huge glassy eyes widened when it spotted Starshine. It nudged a shadowy form huddled into its side and when it turned its head two gems glinted instead of eyes. A sableye? Tinker had only heard of those.

The salamence landed on top of the building, leaving space for Starshine to land. The altaria hit the floor with both legs and stumbled, sending Tinker tumbling into the leaf litter. The sableye burst out laughing, a strange cackling noise that made Tinker’s fur stand on end as he stood to dust the leaves off himself.

“Nice landing!” the sableye crooned.

The flygon beside him said something Tinker couldn’t make out. His voice was an odd buzzing drone, and whatever it was only caused the sableye to roll onto his back in fits of laughter.

“Cut it out, Gemly!” the salamence barked, subduing the sableye’s laughing fit into stifled giggles. The salamence then turned to Tinker and Starshine. “Do excuse him. He has an odd sense of humour.”

Tinker’s fur did not smooth out. He cast his good eye over the group of pokemon, feeling their stares burning into him.

Starshine shifted next to him, his expression a stark contrast to Tinker’s fearful distrust. “Is this all of you?”

“It depends what you mean by ‘all of us’,” said the salamence.

“We came here looking for outlaws,” Starshine said quietly. “That’s what you are, right?”

Tinker shushed the altaria harshly, his eyes narrowing. When Starshine gave him a dejected glance, Tinker added, “Don’t tell them too much. We don’t know if we can trust them yet.”

“Oh, you can trust us.” The salamence slid from the roof to lie down beside the flygon and tucked his thick tail over his paws. “If you came here looking for outlaws, you found us. Or, should I say, we found you?”

Tinker looked from the Salamence to the other pokemon and back. “And this is all of you?”

The salamence quirked a brow but said nothing.

“I thought there’d be loads of you,” Tinker went on. “When Harlequin told us there were outlaws…”

“Oh, there were loads of us,” said the salamence. “But we’ve been hunted down like vermin for years.”

“We’re scattered throughout the woods.” The raspy voice came from the drapion. He lay chewing on the stem of a wiry plant that, given Tinker’s nerves, at first glance looked like the bone of some unfortunate pokemon.

“So.” The salamence’s voice drew the riolu’s gaze. “Why are Outcasts looking for us?”

“You’ve never accepted us before,” scoffed the sableye.

The salamence shushed him with such force flames licked around the dragon’s lips.

Tinker clenched his fists. He’d come all this way not knowing what to expect, and now the presence of this large dragon and his accomplices set Tinker’s nerves ablaze. But he and Starshine didn’t have much choice. They’d not found Cleo on their journey, and they desperately needed help. Who else could they turn to?

The riolu sighed and closed his eyes briefly. “The Outcasts have exiled Starshine.” He gave the altaria a sideways glance and the salamence followed it.

“Starshine?” The salamence raised his head as his gaze wandered up and down Starshine’s small body. “And what was an altaria doing among the Outcasts anyway? I thought you all abhorred dragons?”

“Starshine wasn’t always an altaria,” Tinker explained. “I found him… as an egg.”

The outlaws were silent, but their intense stares were enough to tell Tinker they wanted to know more. Tinker was silent for a moment, his mind a swirling mess. What did he tell them? The salamence had saved both their lives, and the other pokemon weren’t showing any malice. Perhaps Grey was right? Perhaps he could trust them… as had as it was.

The riolu took in another breath and decided to tell them everything. How he’d found Starshine’s egg, his thoughts about how a dragon-type could help the Outcasts and his warring with whether or not to hatch it, and how once the swablu had hatched he just couldn’t give him up. He told them about the joy Starshine had brought him, as well as the difficulties integrating him into the Guild. How Skipper had done so while Tinker was away, mixing Starshine in with the other kids. How everything seemed to be going okay up until Starshine’s sudden evolution. How everything had collapsed, resulting in the difficult decision to remove them both from the Guild and find help elsewhere.

Once he’d finished, the outlaws were silent. Tinker could feel Starshine’s warm gaze on him. The altaria’s feathery wing fell across his shoulders as Starshine huddled into his side. Tinker became aware he’d been weeping and he wiped his paw across his eyes, diverting his gaze as embarrassment flooded through his veins.

“So you adopted a dragon,” the salamence said slowly, “and the leader of the Outcasts Guild couldn’t handle it and sent you away?”

“Not quite.” Tinker turned back to him. “I’m the leader of the Outcasts Guild. Well…” He stuttered and diverted his gaze again. “I was.”

The salamence raised his head with surprise. “A riolu?”

Tinker raised a paw in a shrug. “I was standing in for my father.”

“All right. Well, your story checks out.” He exchanged a glance with the sableye. “I’m okay for you both to stay with us,” said the salamence.

Gemly shrugged. “Yeah, all right.”

Beside him the flygon buzzed, and Tinker caught a quick nod off the drapion who was still pre-occupied with gnawing at the plant.

The salamence fixed his gaze back on Tinker. “But we only know the name of your son.”

“My name’s Tinker.”

A smile spread across the salamence’s blunt muzzle. “Tinker. Well, this here is Gemly, Vibrato and Hemlock.” He nodded at the sableye, flygon and drapion in turn. “And I’m Ripwing.”

A chill shot down Tinker’s spine and he took a step back, his eyes widening. “Ripwing?!” He spat the name, tugging Starshine back with him.

The salamence’s eyes narrowed and smoke billowed from his nostrils. But he stifled it by drawing in a long breath. “Quick to leap to conclusions just like any other judgemental Outcast?”

“Judgemental?! You’re one of Hydreigon’s aces!” Tinker barked.

“Keep your voice down!” Gemly hissed, his jewel-like eyes wandering over the canopy.

“I was one of his aces,” said Ripwing. “A long time ago. You see, you and I aren’t much different, riolu.” He met Tinker’s seething glare. “We’ve both seen the toxic side of our so-called allegiances and turned our backs on them.”

“I have not turned my back on the Outcasts!” Tinker spat.

“No? So you’ve left your Guild without a leader to escape with your adopted son?” Ripwing narrowed his eyes into a dangerous glare. “Or did you come all the way out here to abandon him with us?”

“What?” Tinker gasped.

All eyes were on Tinker. Cold and icy stares, while Starshine watched him warily.

Tinker dug his claws into his paw pads and met Ripwing’s glare with one of his own. “I would never abandon Starshine.”

Ripwing was silent for a long, tense moment. His cold stare bore into Tinker as if he was waiting for him to say something else. Something he hoped Tinker would say, but Tinker had no idea what that was. Then, just as Tinker was about to give up and take Starshine out of the clearing, the dragon let out a lone laugh. His muzzle split into a smile and he leant his head on one large paw.

“Then you are an outlaw,” he said.

Tinker’s spine stiffened and he felt his ears droop. “What?”

“Outlaws are formed up of pokemon who have each others’ backs,” Ripwing explained. “We’re an odd mixed bunch. We’re not just dark- and dragon-types who’ve turned our backs on the Darkness. Anyone who doesn’t fit in with the Outcasts is welcome among us. We don’t give up on each other. And unlike you, we are not quick to cast judgement.”

Tinker’s shoulders slumped and his ears drooped. All the anger that had flooded his chest ebbed away at the dragon’s words. Ripwing had leapt to their aide, and he’d had no reason to.

Tinker closed his eyes and relaxed his paws. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I… we need you. Please…”

“I’m not going to turn you away.” Ripwing’s voice was oddly soft.

Tinker looked up at the dragon, surprised to find his eyes were warm and welcoming. The riolu placed his paw on Starshine’s shoulder and let out a long breath.

Gemly chuckled, his entire body shaking erratically, and Tinker thought he saw him wink. “Welcome to the party, kid.”

“So… you’ll help us?” Tinker asked.

“Of course,” said Ripwing.

Starshine pulled away from Tinker to approach the large dragon. “Thank you.”

Ripwing gave the young altaria a warm smile.

Tinker straightened and caught Ripwing’s eye. “Please forgive me for jumping to conclusions.”

Ripwing snorted smoke. “You wouldn’t be the first one, don’t worry.”

“So… where do you live?” Starshine turned his head towards the yellowed building. “In there?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Ripwing answered.

Tinker tensed as footsteps reached his ears. Someone moved beyond the building and a gruff voice spoke from beyond the wall.

“What’s going on out there?” A vigoroth poked his head from the gaping window.

Tinker stiffened when he spotted the crescent moon tattooed to the vigoroth’s shoulder. The sloth pokemon looked equally surprised when his gaze fell on the sun-shaped badge pinned to Tinker’s bag.

“Outcasts?!” the vigoroth spat.

Tinker looked at Ripwing for an explanation but the salamence was smiling at him as if he was stifling a laugh.

“Like I said,” the dragon spoke slowly, “you wouldn’t be the first.”

“Our little family just keeps gettin’ bigger, eh?” Gemly laughed again, joined by the buzzing drone from his flygon companion.

The vigoroth’s head vanished back beyond the opening. “Hey, Mint! You’re not gonna believe this!” His voice faded as he vanished into the building.

“They arrived at the start of the cold season.” Ripwing pushed himself to his feet and nodded towards the building. “Let me show you into our home. Are you okay going under ground?”

Tinker’s eyes widened and he exchanged a surprised glance with Starshine. Then Tinker nodded stiffly and stood back to let Ripwing past. Ripwing tucked in his wings and slid through the window with the ease of someone who had done so countless times. Tinker followed with a little hesitation, encouraged by Starshine. As they entered the house there was no sign of the vigoroth. Instead Tinker was faced with a stone staircase leading down into the dark, damp earth. It resembled a ruin more than a house. The walls inside had crumbled away, revealing empty rooms.

“It’s been sunk,” said Ripwing. “Vibrato is pretty good at creating sinkholes. It swallowed the whole building, allowing us to shelter underground.”

Tinker blinked with surprise, casting another glance around the ruined building. Starshine ducked past him to follow the salamence into the huge tunnel. Tinker followed behind him, struggling to see much further than his paw. His lack of depth perception sent him stumbling into Starshine’s tail, eliciting a squawk of surprise from the altaria. Then there was the sound of a door opening and light stung the riolu’s eyes.

Ripwing stood aside to reveal a huge chamber with a low ceiling. Shadows danced across the walls, cast from torches nailed to them. A few pokemon sat on wooden logs and they looked at Tinker and Starshine with surprise. All except the vigoroth who muttered something quietly to a pretty grovyle.

“It’s not much.” Ripwing looked around at the wide chamber. “But it’s home.


“These tunnels are a real maze!” Spark’s voice wasn’t especially loud but it echoed around the tunnels, setting Cleo’s fur on end. The dedenne noticed and sank down into Harbinger’s fur.

Spark had taken to riding on Harbinger’s back, much to the absol’s chagrin. The dedenne’s constant yawns and slow, plodding gait had aggravated him and in the end he’d offered to carry her so they could get out of the tunnels faster. Electricity still gleamed off her fur, lighting the way ahead.

“We must have taken like, what?” Spark counted on her claws. “Four wrong turns?”

“Three.” Enigma walked behind Harbinger with his paws tucked behind his head. “It’s little wonder the Heretics haven’t caught up with us with all your complaining.”

Spark snorted. “Excuse me for not handling the dark very well.”

“Good grief, Enigma,” Harbinger scoffed. “It’s little wonder she wants to shock you.”

Enigma chuckled, causing his bell to jingle. He cast Harlequin a sideways glance, but the zorua said nothing, avoiding his gaze.

Cleo tightened her jaw and cast a wary glance over her shoulder. “I’m afraid I have to agree with Enigma on this one.”

Spark turned her head, fixing Cleo with wide, stunned eyes. But Spark’s surprise was broken as a wide yawn took over.

“You’re clearly tired,” Cleo went on. “Why don’t you sleep for a little while? By the time you wake up we might be out of these tunnels.”

“I can’t do that.” Spark was interrupted by another yawn, muffling her words. Then she added, “If I do that, my flash will go out.”

“I have great night vision,” said Harbinger. “As do both Harlequin and Enigma. We’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, but Cleo and Mischief don’t,” said Spark.

Mischief had come to while they traversed the tunnels, and he walked silently behind Cleo. If he had anything to add to Spark’s comment he didn’t voice it.

“I’m good in the dark too,” said Faith. “If you need a nap, Spark, we’ll be fine.”

Spark shook her little head and turned to face forwards, winding her paws in Harbinger’s thick ruff. “I’ll just stay quiet and do my job as a torch.”

Cleo closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. Spark was clearly upset, and not just at her or Enigma’s comment. As long as they were in these tunnels, they would be easy to ambush. They were wide enough to let two average-sized pokemon to pass by each other, but it would be a tight squeeze to fight if it came to that. Not to mention her leg was starting to ache. If they encountered a fight she hoped it wouldn’t hinder her movements at all.

Silence fell over them, broken only by the grating of Enigma’s bell. Cleo was surprised to find he could move without it making much noise. Her gaze trailed over the banette, and she found herself wondering once again why he’d been healed of pokerus yet Mischief had not. None of them had told the whimsicott yet. She feared he’d take it very badly, but she didn’t want to keep yet another secret from him. The thought tore her up inside. How was she meant to break this to him?

Harbinger stopped suddenly and Cleo almost walked right into his tail. His head was raised, his crimson gaze locked on a spot beyond Spark’s light.

Enigma stopped a couple of steps ahead of the absol and looked back with his eyebrow raised. “What?”

“I can hear something.” Harbinger’s voice was low enough not to echo.

Harlequin raised her head and pricked her ears forwards and gave a small nod. “Footsteps.”

The rest of them strained to hear it, but all Cleo could hear was her pulse in her ears. She suddenly felt cold and her fur fluffed out around her shoulders. Was it the Heretics? Had they found them?

The footsteps grew louder, slowing as a shadow bounced through Spark’s light. Harbinger’s fur bristled but not a sound came from the absol. Enigma stepped to the side, melting into the shadows.

A small pokemon emerged from the darkness of the tunnel, his red eyes reflecting Spark’s light. A larvitar. He had one paw fixed over his satchel strap while the other was relaxed at his side, but his movements were stiff and wary. His gaze wandered over the group of pokemon, widening as he took in Harbinger and Harlequin. Cleo couldn’t see the crescent moon Heretic tattoo, but he clearly wasn’t an Outcast either.

The larvitar took a step back and opened his mouth to speak.

Harbinger’s fur lay flat and his shoulders relaxed, almost upending Spark. “He’s not a Heretic. Let’s go.”

“Wait.” The larvitar’s voice took Harbinger by surprise and he jerked his head towards him. But the small rock-type wasn’t watching him. His gaze washed over Cleo, Mischief and Faith before landing on Harlequin. “What are you doing with these Outcasts?”

There was a warning note in his voice that didn’t go ignored by the zorua. Harlequin raised her head, meeting his stare with one of her own. “We’re friends.”

“So it’s true?” The larvitar’s eyes widened and his other paw relaxed at his side. “You’ve left the Darkness?”


The larvitar sighed and adjusted his bag. He moved to the side to walk past them. “Then you don’t want to keep going that way. There’s a price on your head.”

As he moved past Cleo she placed a paw on his shoulder. “Excuse me?”

He jerked his head towards her and shrugged her paw away.

Cleo retracted her paw to her own bag strap. “Do you know the way out? We’re… a little lost.”

Harlequin hissed through her teeth but Cleo ignored it. She was desperate and something told her she could trust the small rock-type.

He turned his head to nod back the way he’d come. “Keep going that way. You’re almost out. But be careful.” He gave another glance to Harlequin. “It’s close to the Shadow Lands. I’d go back the way you’ve come if I were you.”

Cleo thanked him and he shuffled past her, plodding away into the dark tunnels. Harlequin’s sapphire glare glistened from beside Harbinger, then the zorua turned away and walked stiffly beside him. Mischief and Faith stood aside to let the larvitar past. As he reached Faith he stiffened and let out a squeal, spinning to face the wall. A chuckle came from the shadows and Enigma emerged a few feet away to join Harlequin.

Cleo heard Faith apologise profusely but the larvitar merely snorted and picked up pace, trotting away from them.

Harbinger glanced at Enigma and shook his head. “You moron.”

Faith sighed and fell in step behind Cleo. “There was no need for that, Enigma.”

Enigma turned so he was walking backwards with his paws tucked behind his head. “You love it really.” With a wink he turned to walk ahead of Harbinger.

Faith shook her head, rolling her eyes.

“What did you do?” Spark asked. “You didn’t hurt him?”

“What? No!” Enigma feigned indignant. “I just tapped him on the shoulder.”

“You’re such a child!” Harlequin scoffed, but a playful glint shone in her eyes.

Enigma shrugged. “What’s the point in being a ghost-type if I can’t prank anyone?”

The air felt a lot lighter now they knew they were reaching the end of the tunnels. They walked on with a renewed spring in their step. It wasn’t long before Cleo could smell the fresh, dewy air. The larvitar hadn’t lied. They were soon stepping out onto the Rocky Plains.

Cleo gave the wide, stony landscape a wary glance. Her friends milled around her, silently looking for a place to set up camp. Mischief was still silent, standing two feet away as he kept a look out for danger. Cleo had deeply hoped to have the Rocky Plains behind them before nightfall. Spark tapped her leg and she looked down into the dedenne’s starlit black eyes.

“I hate it here too,” she said quietly with a wary glance at the sky. “But we’ve got this. We’re not alone this time.” She nodded at her friends who were inspecting a low bramble bush.

Mischief met Cleo’s gaze, questioning. But it was only brief as he turned his attention back to the sky. Beyond him, Faith was scolding Enigma for something that the banette found greatly amusing.

Cleo felt her heart lighten and she nodded. “You’re right, Spark.”

Spark beamed up at her, but there was still a hint of resignation on her face. “Let’s set up camp and we can be out of here when the sun rises.”


Sleep wouldn’t come for Enigma, despite how much he willed it. He found himself lying back on the stony ground, staring up at the deep blue dome of the tent. A few feet away, Harlequin snuffled, deep in some private dream. Cleo tossed and turned restlessly beside Mischief, occasionally disturbing Spark who was trying to sleep in the meowstic’s thick, warm tails. Harbinger had decided to sleep outside, not wanting to be confined to the tent, not that there was much room. He wasn’t the one keeping watch though. That was Faith. Enigma had heard her take over from Cleo and Mischief a while back.

With a defeated sigh, Enigma pushed himself up and warped from the tent. He appeared beside Faith with a jingle, drawing the mawile’s warm violet gaze.

“I thought Harlequin was taking the next watch?” Faith asked quietly with a quick glance at the stars.

“I can’t sleep.” Enigma settled down beside her and leant back on his paws. “I thought I’d keep you company.”

Faith closed her eyes in a smile. “That’s appreciated.” She turned her gaze back to the sky. “I was lost in my own thoughts.”

Enigma gave a questioning grunt, and Faith shrugged.

“I just can’t get my head around why Xerneas would cure you of your pokerus but leave Mischief to suffer with it.” She sighed and shook her head. “There must be a reason but it baffles me.”

Enigma followed her gaze to the sky. “You’ve not told him yet either.”

“I don’t know how.”

“You’ll need to tell him sooner or later,” said Enigma. “The longer you leave it, the harder it will be for him to accept it.” He paused and dug his claws into the stony soil. “He’ll only wonder why you left him to believe something else for so long.”

“He’s not been mislead, Enigma. Xerneas told him his weakness is his greatest strength. At least… I think he meant the pokerus.” Faith shook her head and looked up at Enigma, meeting his gaze. A confused frown creased the mawile’s dainty face. “Wait… You weren’t talking about Mischief then, were you?”

Enigma sighed and ran a paw through his mane. Faith looked over her shoulder into the tent, but Enigma didn’t follow her gaze. He felt her probing stare and shifted uneasily, turning his head to look at the distant trees of the Border Woods.

“You know?” Faith asked softly.

“Of course I know.”

Faith was silent for a moment, but he heard her sigh. “If she tells you on her own, Enigma, please don’t get angry with her?”

Enigma said nothing, but his single shrug seemed to placate the mawile. Silence fell over them, heavy and thick. It pressed down on Enigma and he desperately searched for something - anything - else to move away from the unwanted discussion. He could feel Faith’s gaze on him as he stared out at the distant trees, as if she was also searching for a way to break the sudden tension. A few snuffles came from the tent and he thought he heard Spark mutter something in her sleep.

“I’m glad you managed to find the Fairy Garden.” Faith’s voice took Enigma by surprise.

He looked around at her, meeting her warm gaze. “Well, you had a play in that.” He paused and cleared his throat. “You reminded me of the pokemon I wanted to be. Long before I gave myself over to the Darkness.”

“I don’t believe anyone is beyond saving. Everyone deserves a second chance.” Faith smiled at him. “But Xerneas sees deeper than any of us ever can.”

Enigma grunted and he widened his eyes in mock surprise. “Even psychic-types?”

Faith chuckled. “Even psychic-types.”

Soft footsteps drew their attention back to the tent. Harlequin stood in the entrance, her sapphire eyes reflecting the moonlight.

“Sorry, did we wake you?” Faith whispered.

Harlequin shook her head. “No. I just can’t sleep.” She paused and diverted her gaze to the spot beyond the two pokemon. “I can take over if you want?”

“If you’re sure?” Faith’s question was met with a nod from the zorua. The mawile stood up and dusted dirt from her long yellow fur. “Okay, thank you Harlequin.”

Faith smiled down at Enigma for a heartbeat. The banette found himself pulled into her chest as she threw her arms around his neck.

“Please, Enigma,” she mumbled into his mane. “Remember what I asked.”

Enigma nodded as he gingerly returned the smaller pokemon’s embrace with one arm. “Sleep well, Faith.”

Once Faith released him she trotted into the tent, and Harlequin stood aside to let her pass.

“Good night,” Harlequin whispered, then she plodded to the spot warmed by the mawile. The zorua still avoided Enigma’s gaze, shifting her paws on the ground. “You don’t need to sit up with me.”

Enigma shrugged. “I can’t sleep either.”

An awkward silence fell over them. Harlequin no longer trailed her claws along the floor. She sat gazing out at the shadows, barely seeing them. Hundreds of questions swirled around in Enigma’s mind, warring for priority as they tried to squeeze their way to the front. But they were silenced when Harlequin finally spoke, her low whisper oddly loud in the heavy silence, as if she was voicing Enigma’s own thoughts.

“Why did you let me believe it?”

Enigma jerked his head towards her, but she still gazed off into the trees.

“I really thought you were dead. I went back to the Shadow Lands for revenge. I was going to kill Hydreigon, but… things went wrong. One of my friends died because I wasn’t thinking straight.” She paused, her voice thick as she swallowed back tears. “That wasn’t your fault, it was mine. But… why didn’t you send me a message and let me know you were okay?”

The zorua’s shoulders shook with silent sobs, and starlight glinted off heavy tears as they dripped from her whiskers. Had he heard her right? She’d actually gone back to the Shadow Lands on some suicide mission to slay Hydreigon? Enigma forced his fur flat and turned his attention to the floor.

“I’m sorry, Harle.” Enigma prized a loose rock out of the earth with his claws. “I didn’t know you even knew anything had happened to me. It was the Darkness who killed me and you didn’t work for them anymore.”

“I overheard it from a group of assassins.”

Enigma brushed dirt off the pebble, smoothing it under his paw pads. “If I’d known then of course I’d have found a way to tell you I was okay.” He paused and looked over at Harlequin. “You really went back to the Shadow Lands to kill Hydreigon?”

Harlequin nodded stiffly and wiped her face with a paw.

Enigma sighed and placed the stone back on the ground. “You idiot.”

Harlequin looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “What would you have done if it were me who’d been killed?”

A strange yet familiar feeling bubbled in Enigma’s chest and he did his best to stifle it. He diverted his gaze to the trees and took in a long breath. “I’d have done the same.”

Harlequin’s ears drooped and she turned her head to look at him. Tears still shone in her eyes, nuking any confidence Enigma had managed to muster. He sighed and stood up, casting the zorua a fleeting glance.

“I’m gonna try and get some sleep,” he said as he turned back to the tent.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Harlequin blubbered, wiping her face with alternating paws. “I really am.”

Enigma clenched and unclenched his fists. As much as he wanted some space he couldn’t leave her like that. He sighed again and shook his head. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Harlequin.”

The zorua looked up at his use of her full name. Her tears had stopped flowing so freely and she sniffed a few times. “Like I said.” She took in a wobbly breath. “I’m just glad you’re okay.” She looked away from him and bit her lip. “I’m sorry I’ve been so awkward since you joined us. I just… I was struggling to process things.”

He sat down heavily beside her and reached out a paw to loop his arm around her shoulders. No… it didn’t feel right. Harlequin had noticed his hesitation and a wary look crossed her face. He fur was starting to rise under his hovering paw. With a sigh, he retracted his arm to let it fall into his lap.

“It’s fine,” he said stiffly. “I get it. I’d probably have done the same.”

“No, you’d have made an inappropriate joke. Like you always do.” She laughed at that, but the tone told him it wasn’t genuine. “You don’t have to placate me, Enigma. I know you’ve not seen me as a friend the same way I have you.”

Enigma rubbed his paws over his face and leaned forwards on his knees. He knew what she was referring to. His voice echoed through his head with memories of that battle in the grasslands.

‘You’re delusional. Whatever made you think we were friends?’

He lowered his paws slightly to peer over his claws at the distant shadows. “I’m sorry, Harle. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Harlequin’s fur brushed his arm as she shifted beside him.

“I thought you’d betrayed me, so I was angry.” Enigma dropped his paws into his lap. “I suppose I was just trying to protect myself.”

Harlequin’s sapphire gaze fixed on him. “What do you mean?”

“There wasn’t much keeping me in the Shadow Lands.” Enigma diverted his gaze away from her. “Just… I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere else after I killed that mercenary. If it weren’t for you, I’d have died the same night Kera did.”

“Because I stopped the braviary?”

Enigma closed his eyes and shrugged. That wasn’t what he’d meant at all, but if the braviary’s attack had hit home there was no guarantee he’d have survived it.

If he’d even seen it coming, would he have moved? Probably not. Enigma idly rubbed his arm, suddenly feeling cold. During his old life in the Shadow Lands, Harlequin had saved his life on more than one occasion just by being there. His thoughts had been a lonely place full of self loathing. Although now he’d moved away from the Darkness, that had mostly gone. Mostly. It didn’t mean that nagging voice of self hatred didn’t pipe up every now and then.

“Thank you for talking to me.” Harlequin’s voice was husky from crying, but there was a new light in her eyes.

Enigma met her gaze with a smile and shrugged. “Any time.”

Harlequin returned his smile and nodded to the tent. “You can go to bed now if you want.”

“Nah.” Enigma closed his eyes and shrugged as he leant back on his paws. “I think I’ll keep you company for a while.”

Harlequin chuckled and gave him a playful glance. “Lonely?”

“No.” He flashed her a grin. “Just bored.”
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