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Pokémon The End: Rekindled (Now Complete!)

Chapter 69


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
69 - Foreboding​

Sandpaw couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. The furret twitched nervously, glancing back over her shoulder. Scout kept at her side, ever vigilant. But the younger furret was growing tired. Along with Scratch and Claw, he’d been keeping watch at night, insisting his mother sleep. But the past few nights alone, away from their friends, had been difficult for Sandpaw.

Long grass spread out around them, tickling Sandpaw’s face as she stretched up to gaze back the way they’d come. The woods were behind them now. The mountain even further behind. She couldn’t even make out its peak above the canopy any more.

“Hmm.” Scout frowned at the map Faith had given them. “We should be nearing that ruin. Maybe we could camp out there?”

“Walls?” Sandpaw wound her paws together then flinched. Had she just heard someone walking behind them?

“Walls would keep the Darkness out,” said Scout. “We’d be hidden.”

‘It could also keep them in.’ Sandpaw didn’t voice her concerns. She tried to still her breathing so she could hear more clearly. The wind stirred the grass, making it sound like a whispering voice.

“I second Scout.” Claw folded his arms and stared back the way they’d come. “It would give us a good place to hide.”

Scratch rubbed his blades together but said nothing. His posture almost mimicked Sandpaw’s.

Scout placed a paw on his mother’s shoulder and steered her towards the walls in the distance. “Come on. Let’s go. Once we’re inside, we can have a good rest.”

“I’m not sure.” Sandpaw huddled closer to her son and glanced back. “Maybe we should keep walking. We’ll reach the Fairy Garden faster.”

“Yes, and collapse on the way.” Scout laughed and shook his head. “I know you’re tired, Ma. I heard you tossing and turning all night!”

Sandpaw gave him an apologetic look. “Did I keep you awake? I’m sorry.”

Scout shook his head again, but he didn’t say anything. His neck stiffened and he turned his head to look past Sandpaw. She instinctively followed his gaze and her breath froze in her throat.

The grass swayed against the wind as if something was forcing its way through it. Towards them. Low voices spoke over the wind. It had been voices after all… They’d come so far with no problems and now the Darkness was going to stop them right at the final leg of their journey?

Sandpaw’s heart galloped but her legs wouldn’t obey. She slowly sank, trembling, to the ground.

Scratch and Claw cut in front of them and raised their blades.

Scout slipped between them and adjusted his scarf. “Stay back, Mum. We’ve got this.” There was a little too much confidence in his voice.

A red head rose from the grass, and yellow eyes glinted behind a black mask. A thievul?

“Well, well,” he crooned. “Looks like someone’s walked right into our patch.”

Beside him a mabostiff raised his head and sniffed the air. His tiny eyes glinted at them beneath his heavy eyebrows. “Oh yeah. Huh.”

The thievul crept towards them, a smirk splitting his muzzle. “I wonder if they’ve got anything useful on them?”

The mabostiff moved away from him to come at Scout’s other side. He didn’t even flinch when the pawniard twins shifted to face either foe.

With a speed far exceeding his size, the mabostiff rushed at them. The thievul followed, each moving in towards either pawniard. The twins seemed to vanish into thin air and a yelp came from the mabostiff. The large dog froze and turned his head to sniff his flank. Claw landed behind him and flicked blood from his claws, then turned to face his target.

The thievul gracefully leapt aside, giving Claw a wide berth. The pawniard’s yellow eyes widened with surprise as he turned to watch the red fox land on Scout.

“Scout!” Sandpaw screamed.

The smaller furret rolled beneath the thievul and kicked out with his back legs. The lithe fox soared away from Scout and the pair rolled onto their fronts. The thievul bared his teeth as Scout rose to his feet, his fists balled at his sides.

But the mabostiff was more interested in Sandpaw than the pawniard circling him. “There’s another one there, boss.”

The thievul jerked his head towards the cowering furret and snorted. “We’ll deal with her last. Get rid of the pawniard.”

The mabostiff snarled and lunged, meeting Claw in mid-air. He stifled yelps as the pawniard’s claws sliced through his fur. The pair went rolling into the grass out of sight. The sound of metal striking rock rang out through the air, and Scratch rushed to Scout’s side, his eyes frantic.

“Go aide Claw!” Scout didn’t take his eyes off the thievul. “I’ve got this one.”

Scratch complied, vanishing into the grass. Then a yelp split the air.

“Rather confident, aren’t ya?” A low growl came from the thievul’s throat. “I was only interested in your satchel. Taking you out had better be worth the effort.”

White teeth flashed before Scout’s face and he raised his paws, falling back beneath the thievul. He kicked out again but the fox was prepared for it this time, raising his belly out of the way. His tail lashed as he fought for balance, straining against Scout’s paws as he tried to keep the fox’s teeth away from his throat. His mother’s cries were drowned by the fox’s snarls and hot, panting breaths. Claws dug into Scout’s chest as the thievul tried to force his paws apart. The furret clenched his jaw so tight it hurt.

Then the thievul yelped, falling sideways off Scout in a bundle of red and lavender fur. Yowls filled the air as fur went flying, mixing with the vulpine screams from the thievul. His teeth flashed red, lavender fur lodged between them. The green eyes of a liepard flashed with anger before vanishing amid another tumble of red fur.

The mabostiff forced his way past Scout, upending the furret as he rose panting to his feet. Blood soaked the mabostiff’s fur and one of his teeth was chipped away, but it didn’t stop him grabbing the liepard by its scruff and yanking it away from his friend.

The thievul staggered to his feet, panting heavily. His eyes met those of the liepard and he snorted. He opened his mouth to speak and the liepard’s claws flashed across his muzzle, turning his words into a pitiful yelp. The liepard twisted in the mabostiff’s jaws, wrenching his scruff free and fastening his claws in his throat. The large dog reeled backwards, snarling as bloody slobber trailed from his jowls.

“Retreat!” The thievul rallied his companion and took off through the grass, limping heavily on his right foreleg.

The mabostiff gave one final snarl at the liepard and gave chase after his friend, leaving the liepard panting and trembling.

Scout helped his mother to her feet but he didn’t take his eyes off the liepard. The lavender cat watched them both, but there was no hostility in his eyes.

“Where are your friends?” the liepard asked between breaths.

Sandpaw stiffened and gazed off into the grass. Scout left her, shouting for Scratch and Claw.

One of the pawniard staggered through the grass under the weight of his brother. It was Scratch, his eyes wet with tears.

“Oh no.” Sandpaw pressed her paw to her chest. “Is he…?”

Scratch lowered Claw to the ground and the wounded pawniard let out a low groan.

“That mabostiff…” Scratch took a trembling breath. “He hit him hard.”

“Reversal,” the liepard scoffed and sniffed at Scratch. “I wondered why he was letting your friend land so many hits.”

“Why did you help us?” Sandpaw asked, still trembling.

The liepard met her gaze. “Because you needed it.”

Sandpaw stuttered and wound her paws together. “But-”

“No buts. Let’s get your friend to safety.” The liepard nodded towards the ruin.

Scratch carefully lifted his brother in his arms and followed behind the liepard.

Scout placed a paw around his mother and fought to keep up with them. “What’s your name?”

The liepard glanced over his shoulder. “Prance.”

Scout laughed. “Funny name for an assassin.”

“Scout!” Sandpaw reprimanded.

“It was Pounce,” the liepard told him. “I changed it only a matter of days ago.” He stopped to look up at the towering ivy-covered wall.

“You changed it?” Sandpaw stopped behind him.

“It only seemed fitting. If I’ve stopped working for Hydreigon then a change of name would mark that decision.”

Sandpaw was speechless.

“You’ve left the Darkness?” Scout gasped, a huge grin on his face.

“Yes. I ran into some friends of yours.” Prance turned his head to meet her stare. “A meowstic… and a zorua.”

“Harlequin!” Scout and Sandpaw both exclaimed, the latter more quietly.

Prance nodded and returned to investigate the wall. “Harlequin spared me after I attacked your friends. What he said made me think… And I overheard them talking of a place called the Fairy Garden.”

“That’s where we’re headed,” said Scout.

“I know. That’s why I’ve been following you.”

Sandpaw stuttered over her words, drawing the liepard’s glance. “You’ve been… following us…?”

Humour shone in Prance’s eyes. “Be glad I was! Otherwise you might not have come out of that battle alive. No offence, young furret, but your battle skills are… well…” He inclined his head and chuckled.

Scout frowned, indignant. “Hey!”

“Don’t worry. I can teach you.” The liepard clawed at the ivy, peeling it away from a hole in the crumbling stone. “I think we can all fit? After you, pawniard.”

Scratch muttered a ‘thanks’ as he struggled to carry Claw through the hole. Prance sat aside, ushering Sandpaw and Scout ahead of him. Sandpaw hesitated for a moment as Scout went on ahead. The liepard had helped them, and something told her it wasn’t a ruse. That just like Harlequin, his change of heart was genuine. She felt she could trust him. She returned his smile as she ducked through the hole in the wall. Prance paused to check the ivy fell back over the hole behind him then stared up at the ruined building.

“Look at that!” Scout exclaimed. “It’s huge!”

Prance’s jaw went slack. “What was it?”

“Faith said it was an old abbey,” said Scout. “Come on, Mum. You wanted to see all the tapestries and stuff, right?”

Sandpaw nodded uncertainly and looked back at Prance. “Th-thank you. For saving us.”

Prance lowered his head in a bow. “Any time.” He met Sandpaw’s gaze. “I am just glad I’ve finally introduced myself to you. I’ve been rather nervous. I wasn’t sure you’d have accepted me so easily.”

“I’m glad, too.” Sandpaw gingerly placed a paw on his shoulder. “Please… join us on the rest of our journey.”

“Thank you.” Prance lowered his head again. “I have some healing berries. Let’s get your young friend seen to.”


The sun was warm on the Rocky Plains, chasing away the chill of the fading cold season. Cleo and Faith neatly folded their tent while the other pokemon enjoyed breakfast. The air had felt a lot less tense come the morning. Given how long it had taken them to get through the tunnels none of them had found much opportunity to chat. Harlequin seemed brighter, enjoying the presence of her friends compared to her silence the previous day. Cleo could only imagine the shock of discovering a friend you’d heard had been killed had been brought back to life. Harlequin now nattered to Enigma and Harbinger, the former reclining against a small tree.

The meowstic’s gaze wandered in the direction of the trees. Not far away in the east stood the skeletal remains of the Forest of Ashes. The bright day made the spindly branches stand out against the blue sky. It sent a chill down her spine. Thankfully the exit from the Howling Gorge had taken them away from it, meaning they no longer had to pass through it on their way to the Border Woods. She jerked her head away, back to her task at hand. Cleo’s discomfort hadn’t gone unnoticed by Faith. The mawile smiled as she handed over her corners of the tent so Cleo could tuck it away in her bag.

“I’ll get the poles.” The mawile turned to gather the collapsible rods lying beside the camp.

“It’s okay, Faith, I’ve got it.” Cleo fastened her bag and joined the mawile’s side. “You get some breakfast.”

“I can eat while we walk, it’s fine. I know you want to get away from here. Once we’ve packed up we can leave this place behind.”

“What’s wrong with this place?” Enigma asked around a mouth full of jerky. “Other than being a bit too close to the Shadow Lands? Seems pretty quiet to me.”

Spark frowned up at him, wanting to speak but finding herself unable to with her pouches full.

“Cleo and Spark used to live around here,” Harlequin told him.

Enigma caught the warning note in the zorua’s voice and nodded. “Ah.” He wiped his paws on his scarf and stood up. “Let’s get a move on then.”

Beside them, Mischief sat silently eating his breakfast. The whimsicott had barely said a word except for a morning greeting. He kept a wary eye on the banette, and Cleo couldn’t tell if it was distrust or if something else was bothering him. Whatever it was, he made no move to speed up his breakfast.

“You don’t need to rush,” Cleo told her companions. “Faith, feel free to grab something. I’ll finish up packing away the tent. Keeping busy keeps my mind off things anyway.”

Faith wiped her paws on her front. “Only if you’re sure, Cleo.”

“I’m sure. Please, help yourself.”

“Come and join us.” Enigma sat back down again and tapped the floor beside him.

Faith gladly complied, settling down beside the banette to help herself to the berries.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you.” Harbinger raised a hind paw to scratch the back of his head. “We need to discuss what we’re doing next anyway.”

“What do you mean?” asked Spark.

“We were sent to help you,” Harbinger explained.

“What? To kill Yveltal?”

Harbinger’s eyes widened, mirrored by Enigma. Spark covered her mouth with both paws and turned her head towards Harlequin. The dedenne mouthed an apology, but Harlequin wasn’t looking at her. The zorua had frozen mid-bite, her jerky clasped between both forepaws. She released it from her jaws and looked between each of her friends. Even Mischief had stopped eating, bracing himself as a sudden tension blanketed the group.

“Kill Yveltal?” Enigma spat. “No! We were meant to help you find the outlaws.” He paused, reading Harlequin’s face. “That is what you were doing, right? Why you’re heading north?”

“No.” Harlequin narrowed her eyes, mirroring Enigma. “Yveltal has been woken up and he needs to be stopped. I plan to assassinate him before he’s at full strength.”

“That’s not our fight, Harlequin,” Enigma warned. “We are meant to round up the outlaws and bring them to Xerneas, not rush back into the Shadow Lands into a fight we can’t win.”

“Can’t win? You’ve seen me fight loads of times, Enigma. You know I’m capable.”

“Yes! Against mortals!”

“Yveltal is mortal,” Harlequin gasped. “He can be defeated.”

“And he’s also capable of sucking the life out of living things!” Enigma dragged a paw down his face and groaned. “You’ve already rushed into one suicide mission, Harle. Why drag everyone into another?”

Harlequin bristled and pulled her ears back. Her canines shone between her lips and she opened her mouth to bite back, but Harbinger stopped her.

“I was there, Harlequin. And Mischief.” He nodded to the whimsicott, who nodded back as he licked berry juice off his paws. “We both know what happens when you rush into something without a plan.”

“I have a plan,” Harlequin told him.

Enigma waved a hand in exasperation. “Then please, tell the rest of us.”

Harlequin stuttered for a moment, her eyes growing distant. “It’s still… a little blurry around the edges.” At another groan from Enigma, she added quickly, “I can’t predict my opponent’s moves! But if I get close enough with my illusion I can poison him! I just need to find a way to sneak into the Shadow Lands.”

“So you don’t even know how you’re getting in?” Enigma growled.

He looked up at the rest of the group, catching Faith’s eye. The mawile had gone silent, her lips tight as she rummaged absently through the remaining apicot berries. Mischief had turned pale, and Spark had stopped eating, not even grooming the juices off her whiskers. Harlequin followed Enigma’s gaze, taking in her friends, her jaw slack.

“It doesn’t look like your friends have much faith in this endeavour either,” Enigma told her.

Cleo sucked in a breath as she gathered up the final tent support. “Out of all of us, Harlequin has the best odds of killing Yveltal.”

Enigma jerked his head towards her, but he said nothing.

“Harlequin can mask her appearance,” Cleo explained. “If she can get close enough to Yveltal to poison him then the battle is won.”

“Yeah, and who’s not gonna notice?” Enigma snarled. “All of Hydreigon’s soldiers would tear Harlequin to pieces before any of you even make it back out of the Shadow Lands!”

“It’s the best plan we’ve got,” said Harlequin.

Enigma cast her a sideways glare. “I don’t like it, Harle.”

“You don’t have to like it. I’m doing it.”

“So am I.” Mischief’s voice took them all by surprise. He finished grooming his paws clean and wiped them in the grass. “If this pokerus is good for anything it’ll be to kill Yveltal.”

Harlequin looked up at him with a start. “Mischief…”

“Harlequin won’t be alone,” Mischief finished.

“I never suggested such a thing!” Enigma scoffed. He took a breath to calm himself and closed his eyes briefly. “I just think we need to discuss this more. Otherwise it’ll be another suicide mission.”

Harbinger nodded once. “We know what happened to Flutterwick. We don’t need any more heartbreak. We can’t be careless this time, Harlequin.”

Harlequin let out a breath between her lips. “Okay. Then I’ll find my way into the Shadow Lands in disguise and you can all look for the outlaws. How does that sound?”

Faith gave a small yell. “That sounds like a terrible idea! You can’t go in there alone!”

“Then what do you expect me to do?!” Harlequin bared her teeth and her hackles rose. “Make your minds up!”

A heavy silence fell over them and Faith shook her head, rising to her feet.

Harlequin closed her eyes and her shoulders sank. “I’m sorry… I just… I’ve lost so many pokemon I care about because of this wretched war. I just want it to end.”

“We all do,” said Spark.

Harbinger stared at Harlequin until the zorua noticed and met his eyes. The absol let out a small sigh. “Then I’ll go with you.”

Harlequin’s sapphire eyes widened. “What?”

“I’ll go with you into the Shadow Lands,” Harbinger explained. “Enigma can take the others to look for the outlaws.”

“I’m going too,” said Mischief with some force. “You said we’d be part of your disguise last time, and you’ll need help. And if Cleo gives you that bracelet, I won’t hurt you if I lose control.”

Harlequin looked from each of them, catching Cleo’s stunned concern. The meowstic stared at Mischief, unable to find words. She couldn’t just let him waltz right into danger.

Enigma pushed himself up, watching Harbinger. “If you’re going in there without me, you’ll need your keystone.”

Harbinger snorted and slid the bracelet off his paw. “I only plan to mega evolve once anyway.”

“Wait.” Faith raised her paws. “This is all getting messy.”

“There’s no mess about it.” Enigma swapped his keystone with Harbinger and fastened it around his wrist. “We go to look for the outlaws, and Harlequin doesn’t go into the Shadow Lands alone.”

“I don’t like it,” said Faith.

“Neither do I.”

“No.” Cleo’s firm voice drew everyone’s attention. All the fur along Cleo’s spine stood on end and her tails resembled twin brushes. Her amber glare washed over the other pokemon, and even Enigma fell silent under it. “None of us are splitting up.”

Harlequin puffed air through her nose. “What, you want all of us to go into the Shadow Lands? Because I think you’ll find we’ll be hugely outnumbered either way. At least this way you can still get the outlaws on Xerneas’ side.”

“There’d be more of us than if you three went in alone!” Cleo countered.

Harlequin shuffled her feet and let out a frustrated growl. It was echoed by Enigma as he rolled his head back against the tree.

“We’re just going in circles,” he groaned.

Cleo sighed and combed a paw between her ears. “Let’s just head into the Borders. We can search for the outlaws first. Perhaps they’ll be able to help us.”

“They got out of the Shadow Lands, right?” Spark shrugged. “Maybe they’ll know a way in.”

Harlequin’s ears drooped and she gave a defeated sigh. “Fine.”

A heavy silence fell over them, thick and suffocating in the air. Cleo distracted herself by making sure their tent was neatly tucked away.

“So that settles it then?” Faith asked, drawing a glance from everyone else. “We’re looking for the outlaws?”

Harlequin was still bristling, but she forced her fur flat and gave a curt nod. “Yes.” Her voice was stiff, but she gave a half-smile. It wasn’t genuine. “We’ll look for the outlaws first.”

Harbinger sighed and shoved his berries away. “I’m done. Let’s get a move on.”

“Well I’m not!” Spark gasped. “And Cleo hasn’t eaten yet.”

Cleo shook her head at the dedenne. “I told you I’ll eat while we walk.”

“You can also eat while you wait.” Spark tugged a strip of dried fish out of its wrapper and held it up to Cleo. “Eat.”

Cleo gave a defeated sigh and took the fish.

Harbinger snorted through his nose and sat heavily back down. “If you could hurry it up? I don’t know about you but I want to get this crazy mission over and done with.”

Cleo cast a glance over her sullen companions. Harlequin wasn’t even looking at Enigma any more. Mischief sat behind her, rolling an apicot stone between his paws. Cleo let out a long breath through her nose and looked back down at Spark, catching the dedenne’s eye. “You can also eat while we walk. Let’s go. I want to put this place behind us.”

Spark stared at her half-eaten berry. “All right. But your fur might get sticky. This berry’s pretty ripe.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Cleo offered her arm to Spark.

The dedenne stuffed her berry in her cheek pouch, finding it much too large. It poked out between her teeth, oozing sticky juices over her chin and chest. Cleo rolled her eyes as the dedenne scrambled up her arm to perch on her shoulder, leaving a sticky trail in the process.

“If we head off now,” Cleo said with a glance at the sky, “We should reach the Border Woods-”

“By sundown,” said Harlequin.

Cleo gave the zorua an irritated glance and adjusted her bag.

“I know the way like the back of my paw,” Harlequin went on, meeting Cleo’s glare. “We’ll need to rest again if we want to avoid travelling through the woods in the dark. There’s good shelter about a quarter-day walk from the woodland edge.”

Enigma snorted and gave a nod towards Spark. “If someone hadn’t been so caught up with breakfast, we wouldn’t need to stop at all.”

Spark’s whiskers crackled, tickling Cleo’s ear. “Oi! A girl’s gotta eat, yanno!”

Enigma chuckled and pushed himself to his feet. “Well. We should make haste if we want to avoid a dangerous camp-out.”

Cleo nodded, her gaze wandering to Mischief. The whimsicott stood up and brushed dead grass and soil off his fur. He’d been very quiet since he’d come around from his faint the previous day, and his silence was really beginning to worry Cleo. He’d only spoken when he’d offered to go with Harlequin into the Shadow Lands. When he met Cleo’s gaze as he joined her side, Cleo’s spine stiffened. His eyes were cold, distant, as if he was somewhere else yet could still see her.

Cleo took in a breath and looked over her friends as they gathered around her. Faith was still eating a berry, dusting down her long skirt of fur as she joined them.

“If Harlequin thinks it will take us that long to reach the Shadow Lands then we need to move fast,” said Cleo. “I’d like to avoid another camp-out so close to the borders.”

“Seconded.” Enigma moved on ahead of her, folding his arms behind his head. “It’s a shame you can’t all warp like me.”

Spark huffed. “I’d much rather fly. It’s a shame Reshiram isn’t here this time to give us a lift.”

“Unwise,” said Harbinger. “A huge white dragon would stand out like a sore paw pad in the Shadow Lands.”

“And you won’t?” Spark looked down at the absol and he returned her look with a glare.

Cleo shook her head and turned to Mischief. He plodded along beside her, kicking a small pebble along over the rocky ground. It didn’t make much noise, since it was muffled by the grass. He appeared focused on it, but his eyes were still distant.

“Are you okay?” Cleo ventured quietly, her voice drowned out to the others as Faith tried to lighten the mood.

Mischief glanced at her. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine.”

He shrugged and dribbled the stone from one paw to the other. “I just want to get this over and done with.”

“We all do,” said Cleo. “If we find these outlaws, then maybe-”

“I want to go with Harlequin’s plan.” Mischief spoke loudly, startling Cleo and plunging the others into silence.

Harlequin raised her head, her sapphire eyes wide as she stared at the whimsicott.

Mischief clenched his fists and forced himself to raise his head, although he wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. “I want to be of use to you before I…” He closed his eyes and sighed. “I know this pokerus is taking over me. I can feel it. And I know you know. You must do, right? My outbursts are getting worse. Even now my head is spinning. So… if I can help you kill Yveltal then at least I’ll have been useful.”

Cleo blinked back tears. “Mischief-”

“No, hear me out.” He did meet her gaze then, then turned to the others. “Send me in. Harlequin doesn’t need to go. I’ll take out Yveltal, Hydreigon and anyone else. I’ll go down fighting if I have to.”

Harlequin stuttered, her jaw flapping uselessly.

The fur rose along Cleo’s neck. “No! Absolutely not!”

“You don’t have to come with me, Cleo,” Mischief told her. “Just release me and-”

“That’s not what I meant!” Cleo took in a long breath and clutched her bag strap. “If you go in there alone, you won’t come out alive. No matter how strong you are, Mischief, you’ll be outnumbered!”

“Does it matter?” With each word Mischief flashed his canines. It made Cleo take a hesitant step back. “At least I’ll be free of this curse! I won’t need to look for a cure that obviously doesn’t exist, or keep putting all of you at risk!”


“No!” Mischief waved a paw, silencing Cleo. “Let me in there! If I’m gonna be stuck with this thing I might as well use it for good! If Xerneas says this is my strength then maybe it’s what I’m meant to do?”

Cleo opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She looked to her friends, but none of them looked any better. Even Faith had nothing encouraging to say. Her violet eyes wandered to Enigma and Cleo knew at that moment they were all thinking the same thing. How could any of them tell Mischief now?

Enigma dodged her gaze and a grimace twisted his face. “Let’s put a pin in it for now. We’ll get to the Border Woods and see where things take us once we’re there.”

They all moved on, a heavy awkward air hanging over them. Harbinger’s usually light footsteps seemed heavy, and he made a conscious effort to keep his eyes forward and his head raised, ready to detect any threats.

Harlequin caught Mischief’s eye and something unvoiced passed between them. Cleo didn’t like it. It carried with it a strange air of foreboding. She forced herself to ignore it and pressed on to join Enigma and Faith at the front of the group. No… there was no telling Mischief now. She dreaded to think how he’d react if he found out Xerneas could have healed him and hadn’t.


News of the Outcasts breaching the borders had spread fast. Yurlik perched on the stone wall surrounding the Shadow Lands, listening to his flock as they relayed the story. A sense of dread filled the large honchkrow’s chest. He needed to relay this information to Hydreigon. With that thing present. A shudder shook Yurlik’s body, and his waning flock faded to silence as they watched him.

One murkrow inclined his head on one side. “You okay, boss?”

Yurlik raised his head sharply, twitching an eye towards the curious corvid. “Of course I am! Why wouldn’t I be?”

The murkrow exchanged confused glances, muttering quietly to themselves. Yurlik shook out his feathers and turned his back on them.

“I need to speak to Hydreigon. You lot return to your posts. Keep an eye on those Outcasts. If anything changes, tell me immediately.”

The murkrow rose into the air as a small black cloud before parting into three groups across the Border Woods. Yurlik was about to take off towards the castle when a coarse giggle drew his eye to the tall tree several feet away.

Ilana sat in the branches preening her wings while her scrawny murkrow swerved about in the sky nearby. A few smaller murkrow huddled around her, watching Yurlik with false expressions of reproach betrayed by their trembling, scrawny bodies. Ilana flashed a beady, red eye at him, glittering with humour.

“You could make yourself useful?” Yurlik snapped. “Rather than loitering around here? Don’t you know we have invaders?”

“Oh, I know.” Ilana raised her head and tucked her wings in neatly. “I overheard your boisterous birds.”

“Then get out there and intersect them!”

Ilana narrowed her eyes. “I don’t answer to you, Yurlik. I’m in charge of my own flock.” She nodded towards the murkrow as they formed a neat arrow formation and swooped down towards the deino below, agitating them and narrowly missing the dragons’ snapping jaws they swerved back towards the sky. “We’re training for battle. Something I suggest you do, since you can barely fly to the bordering trees without losing your breath.”

Yurlik snapped his beak in irritation. “How dare-”

“You know I’m right,” Ilana quipped. “How do you expect to survive this coming battle?”

“Better than you and your half-baked hatchlings!” Yurlik bit back. “Couldn’t you have waited until your new recruits had finished growing their adult feathers before you pilfered them from their nests?”

Yurlik didn’t wait for a reply. With one beat of his powerful wings he took off towards Hydreigon’s castle. He landed heavily on the top step, stumbling forwards until his beak struck the door. He gave a frustrated caw, beating the door with his wings. It opened and a krookodile cowered back from the raven’s flailing wings.

“Oi, oi! Hang on!” The large crocodile raised his arms to protect his face, leering at Yurlik over his claws.

The honchkrow tucked his wings in and glared at the soldier on duty. “I have business with Lord Hydreigon.” He shoved the krookodile aside and marched down the corridor, scattering a pair of rattata who had been sweeping the dusty tiles clean.

The krookodile trotted to keep up with Yurlik. “Somethin’ ruffled yer feathers?”

“Shut up.”

Yurlik had barely touched the door to the throne room when Hydreigon’s voice instructed him to enter. The large, black dragon sat in the middle of the room with a bored expression on his face. His head rested in the open jaws of one pincer while the other traced the pattern of the tiles on the floor. A pair of icy eyes watched Yurlik curiously from the far corner of the room. Yveltal’s very presence chilled the large, bare room, and Yurlik’s feathers fluffed out of their own volition.

“I have some… bad news, my lord.” Yurlik spread his wings in a bow, more out of desperation to hide his sudden trembling.

Hydreigon’s blazing eyes snapped up towards the honchkrow. “I hope I misheard you there, Yurlik.”

“I’m terribly sorry, my lord. But… my murkrow have come back with some worrying news. Two Outcasts have been spotted flying over the Border Woods. A riolu riding on an altaria-”

“An altaria?” It was Yveltal who’d spoken. He shifted in the corner, raising his head until he towered over Hydreigon.

“There are no altaria in Estellis,” said Hydreigon. “My father made sure of that.”

“I know, my lord,” Yurlik went on. “But they claim it was an altaria. A blue, avian pokemon with fluffy white feathers.”

Yurlik wasn’t completely sure, but he thought a look of fear flashed across Yveltal’s face.

“Are you certain they’re not mistaken?” Hydreigon asked. “Could it have been a drampa?”

“It’s hard to say.” Yurlik shrugged his shoulders. “But they all claim the same thing. Whatever it was, it put up a good fight before Ripwig joined it and chased my flock away.”

“Ripwing?” Hydreigon’s eyes narrowed and he pushed himself up. Purple flames flashed within his pincers and smoke billowed from his jaws. “Ripwing is involved?!”

Yurlik cowered back from the heat radiating from the large dragon. “I-it appears so, my lord.”

“So the Outcasts are teaming up with the outlaws?!” A low growl resounded in Hydreigon’s throat and he slumped back down onto the tiles, his flames fizzling out. His head flopped onto one of his pincers and he sighed. “I need to stop this before it even starts. Send out the noibat.”

Yveltal took a step forwards. “If I may-”

“Your time will come, Yveltal,” Hydreigon told him. “Once we know for certain, you can have at all the outlaws and Outcasts you want. But if an altaria is involved, I want it brought back here immediately so I can execute it myself.”

An unsettling hiss left Yveltal’s beak and he ducked back into the corner to preen his feathers. Or was he licking at wounds? It was too dark to be certain.

“Leave now, Yurlik,” Hydreigon growled.

Yurlik spread his wings in a bow and reversed from the throne room. The two rattata scattered from the door, blatantly pretending they hadn’t been spying. Yurlik angrily snapped his beak at one, causing him to squeak and bolt aside, hugging his tail to his chest. It cowered under Yurlik’s glare as he marched back towards the courtyard.

His feathers smoothed back out as the warmth from the corridor washed over him. The krookodile cast him a curious look as he left the castle, but Yurlik didn’t return it.

“Keep an eye on those rats,” he instructed, getting a nod from the giant reptile.

As Yurlik rose into the air his eye fell on the tumble of rocks near the foot of the Shadow Mountains. Yurlik swerved towards it and perched on a large boulder. He lowered his head to peer inside, seeing nothing but darkness.

“Rumble?!” His voice echoed off the wide cavern.

Hundreds of yellow eyes flicked open, fixing on the honchkrow. He met the large eyes of the noivern leader and they narrowed with suspicion.

“What is it, Yurlik?” Rumble asked. “It’s still daylight. This had better be good.”

“Lord Hydreigon wants you to find some Outcasts that have wandered into the Border Woods,” Yurlik explained. “He wants them bringing back to him alive.”

Rumble yawned and spread his large wings, disturbing the smaller noibat. “And what exactly are we looking for?”

“A riolu and an altaria.”

“Altaria?” Rumble spat. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Are you defying Lord Hydreigon’s orders, Rumble?”

The noivern tightened his wings and stiffened. “Of course not.”

“Then get out there and find them! And if you spot any more Outcasts-”

Yurlik’s sentence ended in a squawk as noibat exploded from the cave mouth, causing him to duck and raise his wings to shield his head. Their shrill cries filled the air, echoing off the mountains. Rumble cast Yurlik a playful grin before joining his swarm, leading them out across the Shadow Lands to the Border Woods.
Chapter 70


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
70 - Slippery Duo​


That’s how it felt.

The moment Cleo and her friends passed into the trees of the Border Woods, the air felt cold. It wasn’t for a lack of sunlight. The setting sun trailed its light through the canopy, brushing the woodland floor. The plants stretched their leaves towards them to soak up what was left of the precious light before they closed their blossoms for the night. Yet it still seemed awfully dark. An oppressive air seemed to press in on Cleo from all sides and she battled with the instinct to turn and run back the way they’d come.

Harlequin marched on ahead beside Harbinger with confidence, her ears pricked forwards and head high. Cleo and her friends had no choice but to follow. None of them were as familiar with the Border Woods as the former assassins and absol. Enigma followed behind them, keeping a lookout for any ambush from behind. Yet he still walked with his arms folded behind his head, radiating an air of nonchalance. Foliage crunched under their paws and they kept their eyes on the canopy and underbrush for any sign of an assault.

“I’m surprised they’ve not noticed us yet,” said Enigma. “They’re normally much more vigilant than this.”

“Keep your voice down,” Cleo hissed. “And be thankful for it.”

Enigma chuckled, causing his bell to jingle and set Cleo’s neck-fur on end. “I am. I don’t want another brush with death with the murkrow mob.”

“None of us want that,” said Harlequin with some venom.

Enigma glared at the back of the zorua’s head then sighed and turned his attention back to the trees. It was pretty clear he still wasn’t happy with Harlequin’s plan.

“Hopefully we’ll all avoid it if we’re careful,” said Cleo. “I want to get through with this without being attacked.”

“Easy enough to say,” said Spark. “This is their home. They know it like the backs of their claws.” The dedenne paused as she twitched her head back and forth. “What exactly are we gonna do when night falls?”

Cleo clenched her jaw. She’d not really given that much thought. Her default was to just set up her tent and take turns keeping watch, but the more she thought about it the less of a good idea that seemed. “I’m open to suggestions.”

“We usually just hide,” said Harlequin. “If you’re not a member of the Darkness, being nocturnal will just get you killed.”

Spark cast a mournful glance at the wiry undergrowth. “And where exactly would we hide? I mean, there could be assassins lurking anywhere.”

“Yes, there could be,” said Harlequin. “But I’d suggest an old burrow or a hollowed tree. Somewhere with a back exit so we can flee if we fall under attack. Even a thick bush would suffice.”

Cleo’s skin prickled as her fur rose along her spine and tails.

Spark shuddered on her shoulder and ducked into her ruff. “Staying awake seems like the safest bet.”

“We could always find the outlaws?” Harbinger suggested with a sideways glare at Harlequin. “Like we originally planned?”

Harlequin met his glare with one of her own but said nothing.

“Some of them even live inside buildings,” Harbinger went on. “And they’re well protected.”

“Doesn’t that make them stand out?” Faith asked.

“Yes, but a wall is better protection against a murkrow’s claws,” said Harbinger.

“That makes sense,” said Spark. “And I guess with the Wildfires gone they don’t exactly have to worry about it being burned down.”

“Dragons breathe fire you know,” said Cleo.

Spark swished her tail. “Let me live in my happy place for one moment?”

“So if not all outlaws live in buildings,” said Faith, “I imagine the others hide? Where did you live, Harlequin?”

“I grew up beneath a tree,” said the zorua.

“That sounds nice,” said Faith. “Some of the pokemon in the Fairy Garden like to live wild. Do you ever miss it?”

“Nope.” Harlequin didn’t look back but Cleo thought she saw a sombre look cross the zorua’s face. Harlequin picked up her pace, causing Harbinger to trot beside her.

Enigma shifted uneasily and he met Spark’s stare. The dedenne had turned fully to face him, her arms folded.

“Don’t look at me,” said the banette. “He never tells me anything.”

Harlequin faltered with one paw in the air. Her ears pulled back against her head. “Enigma?”

Enigma looked at her over Cleo’s shoulder, prompting her to continue.

Instead, Harlequin flicked her tongue over her nose and turned away from him. “Never mind.”

Enigma rolled his eyes and returned to scouting the canopy.

Silence fell over them as they pressed on through the rapidly darkening woodland. Cleo found her gaze wandering to what she could see of the sky through the branches. It had turned a deep blue, smeared by fluffy clouds that were dyed red around the lower edges. Cleo’s heart rate increased and she began searching out the foliage in preparation for them all to hide.

“How big are these woods?” Spark asked quietly.

“Huge.” It was Mischief who’d answered. He followed behind Cleo, keeping pace with Faith, his attention on the floor as he stepped carefully around the brittle plants and fallen twigs.

“It goes on for miles,” Harbinger explained, “before it finally ends at the Shadow Lands.”

“Wow,” said Spark. “So it could take us…” The dedenne counted on her claws and her brow furrowed with thought.

“If we keep going at this pace and don’t sleep…” Harbinger glanced up at the canopy. “We should be there after sunrise. If we sleep, then after sunset tomorrow.”

Spark’s shoulders sank. “Yikes.”

“Sunrise would be better,” said Harlequin. “Most of the Shadow Lands will be asleep by then, and the morning watch will still be dozy. Easier to sneak in.”

“Then our problem will be walking in the dark,” said Enigma. “Two of us have a glaring weakness to the Darkness.”

“And all of us are trained to fight it.” Harlequin cast him a glare over her shoulder. “We’ll be fine.”

Enigma exchanged a worried glance with Harbinger. “Anyone can be caught off-guard, Harle.”

“Enigma’s right,” said Faith. “We might be able to use fairy-type moves but we’re not indestructible.”

Harlequin shook her head and her canines glinted in the waning light. “Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”


Tinker had slept fitfully. Every small sound had woken him, filling him with dread. Each time he’d thought he’d woken to New City under attack, only to find himself in an unfamiliar, cold and damp nest room. When he’d seen Starshine dozing in a nest of straw, the riolu had rolled over and tried to summon sleep. But the musty, unfamiliar scents wafting off the coarse, stale hay had done little to placate him.

It was little surprise that when morning came he’d yawned throughout his breakfast. The outlaws had been cheerful enough to see him, but the grovyle and her Heretic companions had viewed him with suspicion. They knew his story. He’d given it two days before. They’d listened and nodded and not pressed for details, but Tinker could tell they had questions. Why come to the outlaws? Why not look to the Outcasts for help? Surely he had friends?

He didn’t know their story, though. They’d been quiet, but a few of them still sported scars that looked too fresh. The raichu wore three long scars on his shoulder and the lightning bolt on his tail had a piece taken out of it. The vigoroth wore the worst of them and even had a missing ear, while the grovyle sported a few ragged leaves on her arms and a scar from her left eye that trailed over the right side of her muzzle. They definitely had a story to tell. But was it the Darkness or had they got into scrapes with the Outcasts? Or something else entirely?

Tinker tore a chunk out of his jerky and stared blankly across the table. The silence was unbearable, and Starshine was absent yet again. He could hear the thuds from above ground. The altaria was training with Ripwing again. The salamence had taken a strong interest in Starshine and it set Tinker on edge.

“Not gonna eat that?”

Gemly’s gritty voice snatched Tinker back into the present. His jerky hung from his claws, only one bite taken out of it. Tinker realised all too suddenly that he’d been robbed of his appetite. With a sigh he dropped it back onto his plate and pushed it towards the staring sableye. Gemly tucked into the mix of jerky and stale bread with relish.

Mint grunted from further down the table. “Must be pretty weird suddenly finding yourself among those you long considered enemies, huh?”

Tinker narrowed his eyes at the grovyle. She sat between Tantrum and Razorclaw, the latter of who was slicing berries with his long claws to offer to the quiet minun. Tinker hadn’t heard the rodent speak at all the past two days. Tinker felt oddly drawn to him. He seemed as on edge and out of place as Tinker felt. All he knew about the rodent was his name - Spelon. The sandslash was the only one showing Spelon any care. The two other electric types - Thunder and Ray - sat on his other side in some debate Tinker didn’t care about, their breakfasts ignored.

When Tinker looked back at the grovyle he found her still staring at him with her head resting on one paw. The riolu closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “As much as it may surprise you, I didn’t know that any dark- or dragon-types had defected away from Hydreigon.”

“Yet you knew that some of your Outcasts had defected away from the Guild to form what you call ‘Heretics’?” She raised her free paw to form air quotes.

Tinker suppressed a low growl rising in his throat. “You defected to pander to the Darkness.”

“It’s called survival.”

“It’s called betrayal!” Tinker flashed a canine. “You Heretics sold out so many settlements to that dragon!”

Mint let out a single laugh. “I didn’t sell out a single one.”

Tinker forced his fur flat and sighed again. “Well… whatever the case, you still haven’t told me what you’re doing here with the outlaws.”

“Why should we?” A smile quirked the edge of Mint’s mouth, creasing the jagged scar over her muzzle. “Worried we’re trying to convert them back to Hydreigon?”

Tantrum raised his head from his plate and wiped his mouth on the back of his paw. “We’re not doin’-”

Mint shoved a sharp elbow into the vigoroth’s ribs, silencing his words into a squeak. “Stop it. I wanna see him squirm some more.”

“I like things that squirm!” Gemly looked between Tinker and Mint. “Like when you grab a caterpie by the head and it’s all squirmy.”

Tinker jerked his head towards the sableye. “That’s abhorrent! Why would you do something like that?”

Gemly’s eyes sparkled with innocence. “What? It’s not like I’m gonna hurt it! I just like the way their little legs wriggle.” He raised a paw and wiggled his long claws.

Tinker lowered his head into his paws to massage his temples. “I’m going to lose my sanity in this place.”

“You can always go back to the Outcasts,” said Mint. “Starshine’s safe with us.”

Tinker scoffed and frowned at the grovyle. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving him here until I know for certain he is safe.”

“Worried we’re gonna convert him too?”

Tantrum scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Stop teasin’ ‘im, Mint. It ain’t nice.” The vigoroth caught Tinker’s eye. “We ain’t gonna hurt ya li’l kid, riolu. None of us here want nothin’ to do with that Hydreigon.”

“Really?” Tinker’s brow furrowed. “Then why join the Heretics?”

“Believe it or not, Tinker, the Darkness don’t care for the ‘Eretics,” Tantrum went on. “It just means ya last a little while longer. Some are still blind to that and think they’re safe, but some of us learned the ‘ard way that ain’t true.”

His words were met with nods from his allies, while Spelon whimpered and wiped his large eyes on the back of his tiny paws. Razorclaw placed a comforting paw on the minun’s back, but it did little to placate the smaller pokemon.

Tinker made a thoughtful noise. It was no news to him the Heretics were a bunch of blind fools, but to find some that were actually aware of that had come as some surprise.

Mint cast Spelon a sideways glance and pushed herself from the table. She fixed her amber eyes on Tinker and nodded to the stairs. “Why don’t we go for a walk? I can explain more outside.”

Tinker looked back at the minun again who was huddled over in floods of silent tears. He gave Mint a nod of understanding and followed the grovyle up the stone stairs. The sunlight stung his eyes and he raised his paw to shield them as they stepped out of the ruin into the clearing.

Ripwing stood at the far side, explaining something to Starshine. The altaria nodded his small head as he clung onto the salamence’s every word. If Starshine noticed Tinker leave the ruin he didn’t show it, but Ripwing gave the riolu a wink of greeting which Tinker returned with a nod.

Mint steered Tinker by the elbow into the trees, and the cool shade enveloped him. They didn’t move too far away from the ruin, and Tinker could still see Ripwing and Starshine through the trees, their blue forms moving back and forth as Ripwing instructed Starshine on how to build up his speed.

“You wanna know why we joined Ripwing?” Mint asked, drawing Tinker’s eye. She leant against a tree with her arms folded, her expression stoic. “The same reason as you. We had nowhere else to go.”

Tinker folded his own arms and shifted his weight to one leg. “I’m going to assume it wasn’t because the Heretics didn’t want you?”

“We moved away from the Heretics years ago,” said Mint. “And we’ve been in contact with Ripwing for a long time. We’ve been working together to try and find a way to eradicate the Darkness, although I was a little unsure of the way things were going.” She scratched the base of her head leaf and looked away. Tinker thought he heard her breath shake and she started muttering incoherently to herself.

Tinker inclined his head on one side. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that last part.”

Mint shook her head as if dispelling a bad thought and snapped her attention back onto Tinker with such intensity he flinched. “We’re not in a good way, my friends and I. If you can’t tell, we ran into some scrapes on our way here and some of us don’t like to discuss what happened.”

“To be honest, I’d guessed you’d been in a fight. So have you brought me out into the open to explain why you’re here, or to tell me to stop prying?”

Mint bit her lip and looked away from him. “We lost Spelon’s brother in a weavile ambush at the start of the cold season. He’s taken it pretty bad.”

“I’m sorry.” Tinker actually meant it, even if it came out harsher than he’d intended. He shook his head at the glare Mint threw at him and raised a paw in defeat. “I won’t mention it again.” He turned to head back towards the ruin.

“That’s not why I brought you out here.”

Tinker looked back at the grovyle. She jerked her head towards a large thorn bush beside the tree and ducked into it. Tinker sighed and followed after her. He almost stumbled into a large burrow, situated under a tangle of roots. The entire structure was hidden away by the thorn bush that wound on over their heads, blocking out the light with its closely growing leaves. Mint stood in the burrow with her claws latched around the edge of a huge stone. Tinker’s gaze wandered over it as his mouth opened slightly. It was all too familiar… so much like New City.

Mint looked back at him over her shoulder, her muzzle creased with exertion. “A little help here? I’m not exactly a dragon.”

Tinker climbed into the burrow and joined Mint and together they pulled the stone aside. Tinker’s shoulders strained until he felt one pop, but he didn’t released the stone. He felt it budge as something clicked beyond it. With a sudden surprising ease, the heavy stone rolled through the ground silently, disturbing soil around its edges. Tinker stood rubbing his shoulder as he stared into the dark depths. A steep slope lead away from them with well-trodden footholds, leading down into the shadows deep underground. Dim torchlight flickered further on from a wooden torch that was in clear need of replacing. The similarities to New City were uncanny, albeit rather primitive in comparison. The stone was much easier to roll back into place, and it latched itself back into whatever hidden mechanism held it there.

“It leads under the ruin,” Mint explained as she lead Tinker down the slope. “You can get to it from inside, but this entrance is used by Ripwing.”

“Then why not take me the other way?” Tinker asked.

“Because I needed to explain about what happened to Rowap, and I didn’t want Spelon overhearing me.” She paused for a moment, muttering to herself again, but Tinker couldn’t see her face.

“Is he the only one you’ve lost?” Tinker could already guess the answer.


The riolu nodded stiffly. That had come as no surprise.

The tunnel ended at a bend and Mint reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out a heavy key. She unlocked the door and lead Tinker into a wide room. It was made of the same stone as the ruin, albeit very damp and with black mold growing up the walls, or what one could see of it. Most of the wall space was taken up by shelves containing folders, glass vials and bottles, and other bits and pieces Tinker could have had a field day with. Tables squatted against all three walls with lab equipment bubbling away. A pink substance was carried along tubes that dispensed it into small vials. Excitement and curiosity pulsed through Tinker as he took it all in, but only one thing stood in the way of him rushing to examine it all.

A morpeko stood at one of the tables collecting the vials and organising them in neat rows in a wooden rack. Her fur was dark and bristled out at all angles. She looked up as they entered, her face contorted and eyes flashing red. Tinker took a step back, his heart pounding, watching the electricity sputtering from the rodent’s cheek pouches.

“Go and get something to eat,” said Mint. “We’ll take over.”

The morpeko didn’t need telling twice. She went through a door in the far wall, slamming it behind her.

“And I thought Spark was scary when she was hungry,” Tinker said to himself. He turned his attention back on the lab equipment. He was certain he’d seen the pink stuff before. “What is this?”

“Pokerus.” Mint picked up one of the vials and turned it in the light.

“P-pokerus!” Tinker stuttered, freezing to the spot.

“This is what we’ve been cultivating,” Mint explained. “A mutated strain that pushes a pokemon’s strength beyond its normal limits. Our plan was to create an army and unleash it in the Shadow Lands. But… it was sadly flawed.”

“I’d say!” Tinker forced himself to approach Mint, and he took the vial from her claws. “One of my Guild warriors came across one of your experiments.”

“A whimsicott?”

Tinker met the grovyle’s eyes. “Yes.”

“I had nothing to do with him.” Mint retrieved the vial and set it back with the others in its wooden rack. “He was Rio’s experiment.”

Tinker folded his arms, but Mint was preoccupied with re-organising the vials. “I don’t know what this Rio is doing, but I’d be inclined to say that infecting pokemon with this… pokerus… essentially turning them into unstable weapons and unleashing them on the Shadow Lands is not the best idea someone has come up with. The repercussions, for one thing-”

“I already know all that!”

“So why is it all here?!” Tinker threw out his arms to indicate the room. “Are you planning on infecting more pokemon? Starshine?!”

“Of course we’re not!” Mint snapped.

Tinker’s jaw flapped wordlessly as he met the grovyle’s livid stare.

“We’re not turning anyone else into weapons.” She sighed and sank back against the table, dragging her paws down her face. “Do you think cleaning up Rio’s mess is easy? We’ve not found a single one of his experiments, yet so many were released into the Moorlands Forest. Even beyond it.” She let her paws fall weakly at her sides. “We’re trying to fix this before we offer it to other pokemon. We want to make it…” she waved a paw towards the equipment, “better.”

Tinker grunted. “I’d say you’re better off making a cure.”

“We’re looking into that, too.”

Tinker’s eyes widened. “Impressive. And how do you plan to test this cure?”

Mint said nothing, rubbing one paw up and down her arm.

Tinker looked her up and down and his brow furrowed. “You’ve infected yourself?”

“Like I said, I’m trying to fix things.”

“Wow.” Tinker stood back to take in the room again as if seeing it for the first time. “Are you making any progress?”

“It’s early days.” Mint turned back to re-organising the vials. “We’ve made no progress so far, but… we might have an idea.”

“Care to share it?”


Tinker’s eyes widened. “Poison? But… you’re a grass-type. Won’t that-?”

“Make me ill? Yes. But it would with anyone who didn’t resist poison.”

“You more-so, surely?”

Mint stopped what she was doing and leant forwards on the table. She dug her claws into the wood until her knuckles turned white. “I’ve stopped caring.”

A heavy silence fell over the room, save for the gurgling of the science equipment. Tinker thought he could see tears shimmering in her eyes. After a moment, Mint loosened her grip on the table with a sigh and reached out to retrieve one of the freshly filled vials.

“Rio’s plan was flawed, for sure,” she said. “But his biggest flaw was infecting Enigma.”

Tinker blinked a few times and took a step towards her. “Enigma?”

Mint nodded. “Stupid mistake. Foolish. He…” Mint swallowed and steadied herself on the table again. Her words faded off into yet more muttering and Tinker began to wonder if it was the pokerus taking effect. He braced himself for an outburst that didn’t come. Instead, he found himself musing over Mint’s words as she muttered incoherently to herself as she stiffly returned to her task.

Mint had told him that Spelon’s brother wasn’t their only casualty. She was trembling too much to continue her explanation, and her actions had turned methodical as she returned to organising and re-organising the vials. It dawned on Tinker what she’d been trying to say. Rio had infected Enigma, a notorious assassin. Rio’s biggest flaw.

Tinker closed his eyes briefly and moved closer to the grovyle until he was at her side. “Did Enigma kill him?”

Mint nodded stiffly but didn’t stop her obsessive organising. “Rio was an idiot. No…” She shook her head sharply and let her paws rest on the table. “I just… wish he’d listened to me. That I’d been able to convince him it was a mistake.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Mint. The Darkness can force any of us into rash decisions.” He took a breath, wondering if he should even breach the next question. “Was he your mate?”

Mint returned to the vials once more. Tears shone in her eyes and she paused to wipe them away. A few long, tense moments passed and Tinker thought she wasn’t going to answer. His gaze wandered to the door and he felt his feet move towards it, but Mint’s voice nuked his sudden awkwardness, thick and heavy with repressed sobs.

“A long time ago. Before he lost it.”

Tinker nodded and fidgeted on the spot. “I’m terribly sorry.”

Mint shrugged and swallowed audibly. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

Tinker had no response for that. As he searched his mind for one he couldn’t help letting his eye wander over the equipment again. It really was spectacular. The scientist in him itched to investigate it further.

A cure. A cure for this pokerus. His mind suddenly flickered to Cleo. To Mischief. The naive whimsicott who’d gone off to find a cure. Tinker knew Mischief feared hurting his friends… no, he feared hurting Cleo. Tinker’s heart clenched and he balled his fists at his sides.

“Let me help you?”

Mint stopped what she was doing and looked up at him. “You… want to help?” A scoff laced her words but amusement lit up in her amber eyes.

“That whimsicott… Mischief. He’s very important to a friend of mine.” Tinker met the grovyle’s warm gaze. “If we can save him it would mean a lot to me. So please… let me help you?”


Cleo yawned as she left the large bush. She rubbed a paw at the heavy rings forming under her eyes. She hadn’t slept a wink. Any time she’d felt herself drifting off a murkrow cawed in the distance, or the branches shifted overhead. Her fur had been on end most of the night and as she smoothed it back with a paw it stung. Spark didn’t look much better. Ordinarily the dedenne could sleep through an earthquake, but she’d been on edge alongside Cleo, her huge dish-like ears pricked and trained on the world outside.

Harbinger had slept at the entrance to the bush while Enigma kept watch. The banette had insisted, since he wouldn’t have slept anyway. Keeping invisible, he’d sat outside the bush. He’d even removed his bell, letting Faith look after it. Why Faith Cleo hadn’t asked. The mawile was already outside, sitting under a tree with Enigma sharing berries.

Harlequin lumbered from the bush behind her and shook out her shaggy coat. The zorua’s jaws opened in a wide yawn, showing two rows of sharp teeth.

“Mornin’,” Harlequin mumbled, raising a paw to rub her face. “Could use a drink.”

“We’re not far from the river.” Cleo looked behind her through the trees. She couldn’t see the river but she could hear it as it raced away from the Shadow Lands. “We could detour?”

Harlequin didn’t need telling twice. She turned and strolled past the bush towards the river. Enigma watched her for a moment then muttered an apology to Faith as he took off after his friend.

Cleo let out a sigh of relief. As much as Harlequin was familiar with the Border Woods she was a wanted fugitive now. If she put a foot wrong she’d be quickly outnumbered. Cleo went to join Faith, and Mischief stumbled out of the bush behind her. The whimsicott flopped forwards and landed face-first in the dirt.

“I’m so sorry!” Cleo gasped as she rushed to his side.

He stood up and adjusted his collar before wiping dust from his face. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not,” said Cleo. “I forgot. I…” She grit her teeth and stood up. “I don’t know why. There’s no excuse. I didn’t sleep.”

“Neither did I.” Mischief joined Faith and slumped down beside the mawile. He took an offered berry with a mutter of thanks.

“I don’t think many of us slept,” said Faith quietly. “I didn’t. It feels so strange being so close to the Shadow Lands.”

The mawile’s usual smile was absent, and her jaw was tense. Her violet eyes kept flitting back and forth as if she was expecting someone to jump out at her at any given moment. If Cleo didn’t know any better she’d think Faith was paranoid.

Cleo considered sitting down to join her friends but her legs wouldn’t obey. Her stomach felt iffy and she diverted her gaze from the berries. Spark leapt from her shoulder and helped herself to one.

“Do you think Harlequin’s okay?” Spark asked.

“Yes,” said Faith. “She’s with Enigma.”

“No, I mean…” Spark paused to swallow a mouthful of apicot, then tapped herself on the head.

Faith’s eyes widened. “That’s not very nice, Spark.”

“No, I…” Spark’s ears drooped and she looked away. “I guess not.”

“I can see where Spark’s coming from.” Cleo joined Faith’s side and idly took a piece of fish offered to her. She sank back against a tree and turned the fish in her paws. It left a salty residue on her pads. “Harlequin’s plan has promise but it feels… messy.”

Faith sat back on her paws and sighed. “I’ve had my doubts from the start. I still think we should find the outlaws first.”

“But if we do, Harlequin will just go off on her own,” said Spark. “I don’t like that.”

“He won’t be alone,” said Mischief bluntly.

Cleo was about to snap back at him but the foliage rustled and they all looked up as Harbinger pushed his way through a thick patch of bracken. He looked past them and froze with one paw in the air. “Where’s Harlequin?”

“Getting water,” said Cleo.

“Oh.” He looked past the bush towards the river then sat down. “I’ve scouted ahead. There are a lot of sentries based closer to the Shadow Lands. We’ll need to take a diversion through the swamp. But I doubt we’ll avoid detection.”

Cleo grimaced and Faith visibly flinched.

“It was inevitable we’d run into a fight,” said Cleo.

“Several fights if we’re not careful,” said Harbinger. “The deeper we go into these woods the higher the risk. I’ve not seen so many murkrow in a while.” He nodded back the way he’d come. “The trees are filled with them, many of which are performing aerial activities as if preparing for a battle. Not an uncommon sight, but Yurlik’s flocks are known for being lazy. I won’t be surprised if they spread out across the woods before too long.”

“So we should move?” Cleo stuffed her fish into her bag and kicked back from her tree.

“Move where?” Harlequin nosed through the bracken and gave Harbinger a friendly nod. Enigma trailed behind her with his paws tucked behind his head.

“Away from here,” said Harbinger. “Before the murkrow find us.”

Harlequin snorted and adjusted her bag. “The faster we move the faster we’re done.”

“Harbinger suggested we detour through the swamp,” said Cleo. “Do you know where that is?”

“Yes.” Harlequin sat down heavily and frowned. “And it’ll add an extra day onto our journey at least.” She looked up at the absol. “Why do you want to go that way?”

“Less sentries,” he said.

Harlequin muttered, but she gave a stiff nod.

“There may also be outlaws living near there,” Harbinger went on. When Harlequin opened her mouth to retort he cut her off with a shake of his head. “They know these woods better than any of us. They live here. They’ll know where the sentries tend to stick to.”

“He’s got a point, Harle,” said Enigma. “If we want to avoid any unnecessary fights we need to play it safe.”

Harlequin sighed and narrowed her eyes at Enigma. “I wasn’t going to say otherwise. I agree with you.” She rose to her feet and shook water off her whiskers. “A fight would only slow us down. If we’re finished eating, let’s go.”

Faith helped Cleo to clear up their provisions and they grouped together to follow Harlequin towards the swamp. Harbinger kept pace at her side, his head raised and alert. Cleo was on edge. Every shift of a leaf or sway of a branch drew her eye to the canopy. She could hear the murkrow in the distance, their caws growing more frequent and authoritative.

Harlequin took them off the path through a patch of thistles. They did little to disturb Harlequin but sharp leaves clung to her shaggy coat. Enigma took to the trees, avoiding the stinging plants. But Cleo’s hide was much less resilient. She flinched, stifling a yowl of protest as she forced her way through the tall, tormenting thistles. On the other side the ground began to grow boggy. Thick patches of moss spread out across the clearing, dusted with pine needles.

The moss sucked at their paws as they trudged over it, hugging the tree line. The pines cast long shadows across the mossy clearing, the bark oozing where pokemon - outlaws, possibly - had scratched them to get at the sap. The fresh scent filled the air, masking anything else. It set Cleo’s fur on end, and Harlequin who relied on her nose slowed a little, searching the shadows with large sapphire eyes. It seemed to take an eternity to reach the other side of the clearing. Harbinger stopped before the trees, his stiff tail raising into the air. His hackles rose, fur spiking along his spine.

Harlequin froze beside him, sniffing the air, her ears pricked. “Urgh, all I can smell is this wretched pine!”

“But someone’s definitely there,” said Harbinger. “Brace yourselves. We don’t know if they’re friend or foe.”

Psychic energy hummed in Cleo’s ears, and Spark’s whiskers crackled, sending static down Cleo’s shoulder. Mischief clenched his fists, and Faith tensed, her violet eyes trained on the trees.

A tall reptile crept out from the ferns, leaving a sticky substance clinging to the leaves. Her eyes were wide and she raised her paws which dripped with slime. A smaller snail-like pokemon joined her side, his expression twinning that of his friend.

“Don’t hurt us!” the goodra pleaded in a thick, gooey voice. “We’re not your enemy.”

“Then what are you doing lurking in the bushes, spying?” Harbinger demanded.

“Spying?” The sliggoo’s voice was high yet carried that same gooey consistency. “We were hiding! We were just breakfasting on pine sap when we heard someone coming.”

“But it was you,” the goodra finished. She fixed Harlequin with an imploring stare. “We know you don’t work for the Darkness anymore. So what are you doing back here?”

Harlequin narrowed her eyes. “Why would I tell you? I don’t know if we can trust you.”

Harbinger grunted at the goodra’s surprise. “We haven’t run into any trouble yet. But something about you doesn’t seem right.”

He lowered his horn towards the dragon and she stumbled back, raising her paws before her face. “Oh no please don’t hurt us!”

“We’re outlaws!” the sliggoo whimpered. “And… and we know you, Harlequin.”

Harlequin stiffened. “What?”

“We were goomy at the time,” Slip went on. “We lived in the swamp, when you were training with Alia.”

“Alia…” Harlequin gasped. She took a step forwards. “You were alive then? So you know what happened-”

Harbinger growled and took a step towards them, blocking Harlequin’s path. “Then where are the rest of you outlaws?”

“They don’t like us,” said the goodra. “Because… because we’re slimy.”

Harbinger didn’t back down. His red eyes remained locked on the quaking dragons. Cleo’s heart raced as she braced herself to unleash an attack. But the two dragons didn’t seem threatening anymore.

Faith stepped towards them and placed a paw on the absol’s shoulder. “I think we can trust them, Harbinger.”

The absol continued to stare at them as he reluctantly withdrew his horn. The goodra stood up, still huddled over, her eyes wide as she met Harbinger’s.

“I’m Faith.” The mawile held out a paw but the dragon didn’t take it. “What are your names?”

“Slip,” said the goodra as a glob of slime dribbled down her chin. “And this is Snails.”

The sliggoo raised his tail in a wave.

“All right.” Harlequin stood back, her expression softening slightly. “I believe you’re outlaws. But when I grew up here, goodra weren’t excluded from the swamp. You’d all help the pokemon there by allowing them to collect your slime. So what’s changed? Why would the outlaws shun you now?”

Slip gave a weak shrug and exchanged glances with Snails. “Because we leave slime everywhere.”

“It gives us away,” said Snails. “Every time they were tracked down, they’d blame us.”

Harlequin nodded. “I suppose I understand. Although that’s cold.”

Slip shrugged again.

“Would you be willing to help us?” Harlequin asked.

Harbinger gave her a warning glance and Enigma stepped forwards, his bell jingling. The sound sent a chill through the two dragons and they cowered back, their eyes snapping onto the banette.

“These aren’t our enemies,” said Cleo, joining Faith’s side. She looked up at Enigma who’s frown told her he didn’t trust the two dragons remotely. “Why would they be afraid of you if they were our enemies?”

“Because I don’t work for the Darkness anymore,” Enigma said flatly. “And they know it.”

Harlequin turned her head to look at Enigma. “All poison-types were excluded from the Shadow Lands, Enigma. They were wiped out.”

Enigma’s glare was still fixed on the dragons. “Goodra aren’t poison-types.”

Harlequin sighed and shook her head. “They were treated as such in the swamp village. Believe me, I know.” She turned back to the dragons. “Tell us. How guarded are the walls to the Shadow Lands right now?”

Slip’s eyes widened and Snails let out a gasp. “Very guarded!”

Harlequin made a thoughtful noise and glanced away. “Then we’ll need to find a way in without being seen. I suppose I’ll need to use my illusion after all. The question is…” She looked back at her friends. “What about you?”

“You’re going in?” Slip squeaked. “That’s madness!”

“They’ll kill you all!” Snails added. “And us too if they find out we helped you!”

“Not if we’re careful.” Harlequin turned towards them. “And you don’t have to come with me. You just have to tell me the way in.”

A look of uncertainty crossed the two dragons’ faces and Slip diverted her eyes, either in thought or anxiety, it was hard to say.

“Which area is guarded the least?” Harlequin asked. “Any idea?”

“We don’t get close enough,” said Slip. “But… we might know a way in which isn’t guarded. The problem is… you aren’t a water-type.” She looked up at Harlequin’s friends. “None of you are.”

“Yeah, I don’t mix well with water,” said Spark.

Harlequin raised her head and Cleo felt a chill run down her spine.

“There’s another way?” Harlequin asked. “Where?”

“The swamp.” Slip turned and motioned for them to follow. “I can show you, but I doubt you’ll like it.”

“Wait.” Harbinger trotted ahead of them and stood before the goodra, cutting off her path. “This all seems too easy. We’re not going with you until you tell us more details.”


“No, Harlequin.” Harbinger narrowed his eyes at the zorua. “We don’t know these pokemon.”

“But they said they know me,” said Harlequin. “If they lived in the same swamp as Alia-”

“It’s too easy. And the whole of Estellis knows who you are!”

“But they don’t know where I trained!”

Harbinger looked from Harlequin to the others, and his gaze rested on Enigma. The banette shifted uneasily, but the frown on his face said it all. He hadn’t known either.

Harbinger snorted and turned back to the two dragons. “Where is this place? Where does it lead?”

“There’s an old burrow,” Slip explained. “It was used by toxicroak, years ago, when the poison-types were planning a revolt.”

Harbinger looked to Harlequin again and her eyes widened. “I remember that… But it all went wrong. It happened after…” She trailed off and looked away from the absol.

Harbinger nodded at the dragons to continue.

“They managed to burrow all the way into the lake in the Shadow Lands,” Slip went on. “But they were caught, then…” The goodra screwed her eyes shut and sucked in a breath. “Then the Darkness turned on the swamp and finished us off.”

Faith covered her muzzle with her paws. “Goodness!”

“We can take you to it,” said Slip, looking up at them. “But we go no further.”

“Of course,” said Harlequin. “Please, lead the way.”

The two dragons pushed their way through the ferns, leaving stringy slime clinging to the fronds like an ariados’ web.

Harbinger stuck his paw out before Harlequin and the zorua raised an eyebrow at him.

“I still don’t trust them,” said Harbinger. “Something seems off.”

“Well I’m going with them,” said Harlequin. “If this works, Harbie…”

The absol sighed and retracted his paw. “Fine.” He stood back to let Harlequin duck through the ferns. “But I’m staying on my guard.”

Enigma joined the absol’s side. “So am I, big guy. Don’t worry.”

Harbinger leered at him then ducked through the ferns after Harlequin.

Enigma shrugged at the others. “You try to be supportive, you get a leer.”

Faith shook her head and followed the others, picking her way through the slimy trail. Enigma grimaced and made an audible ‘eugh’ before warping on ahead of it, leaving the others to push their way through. Cleo grimaced as it clung to her fur, and Spark’s nose crinkled with disgust.

“Glad I’m up here,” she said with a twitch of her whiskers.

Cleo gave a playful tut, but something glinted in the murky sunlight on her right. She turned her head towards the trees and faltered. The empty branches swayed as the wind shook them, rustling the pine needles. But she could have sworn there was something there, watching her. A pair of yellow eyes hovering beneath the branches.

“Are you okay?” Spark asked.

“I thought I saw…” Cleo shook her head and turned away, following after Mischief’s fluffy back. “I guess I’m just anxious. But let’s not let our guards down.”
Chapter 71


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
71 - Swampy Showdown​

The two dragons didn’t say anything else as they lead Cleo and her friends towards the swamp. Their sticky trails glistened in the low light, clinging to every plant they brushed against. Cleo had given up trying to wipe the slime off her fur. It matted together, spiking out in an untidy fashion. Not one of them had managed to avoid it. The vast amount the slimy dragons left made Cleo feel more certain about their claims that they’d been shunned by the outlaws and Darkness alike.

Cleo gave up trying to untangle an uncomfortable mat on her shoulder to take in her surroundings. The trees grew further apart in this part of the Border Woods. The familiar tall pines had given way to alder and oak. Toadstools sprouted around the roots of the trees, and bracket mushrooms clung to the bark filling the air with a musty scent that reminded Cleo of the cooling season. Ivy stretched out over the ground, covering the thick moss that cushioned the pokemons’ feet.

Thick patches of nettles grew up between the trees, so tall the pokemon had to shield their eyes as the prickly stems snapped back from the goodra. Once they were through, Cleo plucked a few dry nettle leaves and dead stems from her fur. She quickly checked Spark was okay, but the dedenne had ducked down into Cleo’s ruff to avoid a thorough stinging.

A stagnant smell carried towards them on the breeze and Cleo raised her paw to cover her nose. She wasn’t alone. Spark made an audible gag, and Faith and Mischief pressed on ahead with both paws over their muzzles.

“I guess we’re close to the swamp?” Cleo whispered to Spark.

The dedenne nodded her little head but said nothing, too preoccupied with holding her breath.

Thick mud sucked at Cleo’s paws and she yanked one back from a patch of soggy moss. Mud oozed out from where she’d been standing and clung to her fur, clogging between her toes. She suppressed a shudder and forced herself on, treading carefully to no avail. The goodra seemed to know the area like the back of her paw, but the mud didn’t bother her. She lead them on regardless, while her smaller companion slid over the surface without breaking it.

After what felt like an eternity of fighting through thick mud the clearing spread out into a dark bog. The water was thick with algae and pondweed, and tall bullrushes grew up around the edges. Weeping willows spread their branches like a curtain over the water at the far end of the bog, and cutting across it like a bridge was a fallen tree, rotting and slick with algae underneath. The top was blanketed with rough lichen, and what was left of its branches had fallen away into the swamp. At the far end of the fallen tree stood an island with one lone tree standing in its centre. Ancient and long since expired, its branches had rotten away to stumps. A door hung in its trunk on rusted hinges, revealing a hollow centre.

It took Cleo a moment to notice the other houses scattered about the swamp. High up in the trees were little wooden huts that weren’t a far cry from the ones she’d lived in as a hatchling. Odd tribal markings were painted across some, once vibrant but now faded away with time. Bridges joined the houses, linking them together in a web above their heads. Some of the bridges had rotted away and hung down like ladders, and many were missing wooden slats.

“You lived here?” Faith asked Harlequin.

The zorua shook her head. “I lived nearby, but I used to come here a lot.” She gave a mournful look towards the hollow tree. “It’s where I learned to use my poisons.”

Slip and Snails didn’t use the log bridge. Instead they waded through the swamp, moving across it towards the far side. Cleo could just make out the sound of running water. Was there a spring nearby? Or another river? She stood at the edge of the swamp and grimaced at the eggy smell fogging before her nose. Slimy water licked against the moss as ripples surged back from the two dragons. They really wanted them to walk through that?

She watched Slip as she waded on ahead, the water coming up to her hips. The mud and pond weed glided off her body to rest back in the stagnant water.

Faith climbed in after Harlequin who swam on ahead, keeping her muzzle well above the water’s surface. Mischief stood on the bank and tested the water with his toes. His face contorted in a grimace. “We have to walk through this?”

“You’d probably float.” Enigma stood in a tree above them, his expression calculating as he tried to find a way across the canopy.

“You’re taking the trees?” Spark gasped. “And leaving us to wade through this muck?”

“Of course!” When Enigma saw Mischief’s forlorn expression he sighed and raised his arms in defeat. “Fine. I’ll go through it too if it makes you feel any better.”

Spark folded her arms. “I should think so.”

Enigma dropped down into the water and cringed as it soaked through his fur. He muttered to himself as he forced his way on, and Harlequin looked back at him. The zorua laughed, then choked as water filled her mouth. Enigma couldn’t move for laughing. The pair got a disdainful eye-roll off Harbinger as he paddled on ahead of them.

Cleo joined Faith, flinching as the water came up to her chest.

“Careful!” Spark stood back as water splashed up to Cleo’s shoulder.

The meowstic shook her head and gave Spark a playful smile. “After scolding Enigma like that, the least you could do is get wet.”

“I don’t think so,” said Spark. “I’d drown!”

Much to Cleo’s surprise, Enigma hadn’t been wrong about Mischief. The whimsicott moved on ahead of them, stepping over the pond weed. It acted like a platform, sinking slightly so the water covered his feet.

The two dragons climbed out on the other side of the swamp, water cascading off their smooth hides. They waited patiently for the others to reach them. The first was Harbinger, his white fur dyed green with algae. He shook out his fur as Harlequin climbed up beside him. The zorua’s thick coat had carried everything with it, making her look swamp green. She shook herself violently, sending pond weed into the air and causing both Harbinger and Enigma to step back. The banette had stopped to strain the water from his mane and scarf.

Cleo felt uncomfortable with slime, algae and pond weed clinging to her fur. Spark hopped off her shoulder and stood back to let Cleo climb out. Faith offered a paw to help her which Cleo took gratefully.

“Whew!” Spark said cheerfully. “We made it!”

Dirty water rained down on her head and she squeaked, leaping back so she almost fell into the swamp. Enigma laughed, flicking his wet mane back behind him.

“That wasn’t nice, Enigma!” Harlequin scolded, but a playful smile adorned her muzzle.

Spark bristled, her whiskers crackling. “Why I aughta-!”

Cleo snatched her up and popped her back onto her shoulder. “Now isn’t the time.”


“No, Spark.”

The dedenne growled and sat down with a huff, drawing another chuckle from Enigma.

“Sorry,” he said, tucking his paws behind his head. “I couldn’t resist.”

Faith rolled her eyes and steered Enigma away from the seething rodent.

Harlequin turned to address Slip. “Where is this burrow?”

“Right here.” The goodra pulled aside a thick patch of wide-leafed ferns.

Beyond it was the source of the gurgling water. A spring burst out of a small mound of rocks, forming a stream that lead away from the swamp. It was much cleaner than the mucky water that still dripped freely from Cleo’s fur. The temptation to climb into it and wash was intense. But her eyes were drawn to the tree that Slip pointed at. Right at its base was a burrow that, at first glance, looked like any other buneary burrow. It looked too small for Harlequin to wriggle down, let alone Harbinger.

“That’s it?” Harlequin’s voice was thick with disappointment. She looked over her friends, and it was clear to Cleo she had reached the same conclusion.

“Toxicroak are pretty slim, Harlequin,” said Faith. “Maybe… maybe we need to go back? Think up another plan?”

“No.” Harlequin shook her head and turned back to the hole. “I can fit in there no problem.”

She stuck her head into the burrow as though to check her hopeful assumption was right. Her fur flattened around her face and shoulders, revealing just how small the zorua was beneath her deceptive coat. She pulled her head back out and nodded at her friends.

“Okay, so who else is going with you?” Enigma asked. “The only other one here small enough to fit in that burrow is Spark.”

“I’m not goin’ without Cleo,” said Spark.

Mischief crept from Cleo’s side to inspect the burrow. Cleo watched him, her heart in her throat.

Harlequin looked at each of her friends, then turned to the two dragons. “Is it narrow the entire way?”

Cleo’s heart froze at Harlequin’s words. She watched Mischief intensely, looking for some clue he was re-thinking his offer.

“We don’t know,” said Slip. “To be honest, none of us have been brave enough to explore it.”

Harlequin looked back at the tunnel and made a thoughtful noise. “Are you sure it goes all the way to the lake?”

Slip nodded and wound her gooey paws together. “Definitely. Unless it’s filled in over all this time. But as far as we know, Hydreigon doesn’t know about it.”

Faith looked up at the dragon. “But you said that the revolt failed?”

“Only because they got wind of it before we could launch it,” Slip explained. “The toxicroak never got to use the tunnel.”

“Well, it will pay off now,” said Harlequin. “I’m going.”

Harbinger stepped forwards, his eyes flashing. “Hang on! No one else can fit through there, Harlequin. You’re not seriously going alone?”

“I have to! No one else fits!”

“Please, Harlequin.” The pleading note in Harbinger’s voice made Harlequin’s eyes widen. “You can’t do this alone! You’ll be outnumbered. They’ll kill you!”

“I know what I’m doing.” Harlequin stamped a paw. “I’ve thought this through!”

“Like you thought the previous time through?”

Harlequin’s jaw dropped and tears glistened in her eyes. “That’s not fair, Harbie! My head wasn’t clear that time.”

Harbinger closed his eyes and sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He raised his head again and flashed a canine. “But going in there alone is suicide!”


“No, he’s right,” said Cleo. “You can’t go alone.”

“He won’t be.” Mischief stood up and moved beside Harlequin. He met Cleo’s pleading gaze, but words failed her. “I can fit through that hole too. I’ll go with him. He wont be alone.”

“No…” Cleo shook her head. Then a second time, more sharply, as her thoughts cleared. “We’re not splitting up. Let’s just… find another way.”

“But we’re so close!” Harlequin implored. “Please… I can do this.”

Cleo looked between Harlequin’s pleading stare and Mischief’s determined one. Behind her, Slip and Snails fidgeted with unease as they listened to the bickering pokemon. Cleo’s heart felt heavy, mirrored in the looks of her friends. Enigma leaned against a tree, rubbing his paw over his face. Harbinger continued to stare down at Harlequin, his fur flattening along his spine. With a resigned sigh, Cleo removed the bracelet from her wrist. The snap drew Mischief’s eye towards her, and she reached up to remove his collar.

“Okay,” she said finally. “I know you said you want to do this, Mischief. So go with Harlequin. Keep her safe.”

Mischief gave a single nod as he rubbed his bare neck. He joined Harlequin’s side, receiving an encouraging nod off the zorua.

“We’ll keep each other safe,” said Harlequin, a look of relief crossing her face. “The rest of you stay here and guard this burrow. Keep any of the Darkness away. And if we’re not back by sunset tomorrow-”

“Stop it, Harle.” Enigma pushed himself back from his tree and stood beside Harbinger. “You will be back.”

Harlequin fell silent and her ears drooped slightly. She met Enigma’s stoic stare and took a step back. Harbinger took another step towards her and lowered his head to her muzzle.

“Please… come back safe,” he muttered. “I won’t lose you again.”

“Harbie…” Harlequin swallowed thickly and nodded again. “Once this is over, everything can go back to the way it should be.”

Without another word, she turned and scrambled into the burrow. Mischief gave one last glance back at Cleo then wormed his way into the hole, his body shifting as it contorted to the right shape.

Spark shuddered on Cleo’s shoulder. “I’ll never get used to that.”

Cleo couldn’t respond. Her blood had turned to ice. Everyone stood in silence as they stared at the burrow’s yawning entrance. Harlequin’s plan was officially in action… and Cleo had never felt more helpless.


Ripwing stood back from Starshine to catch his breath. “Well done! I think we can call it a day here, kid.”

Starshine’s face lit up with a smile and he turned his head towards Tinker. “Did you see that, Dad?”

Tinker grunted and looked over the top of the folder that had occupied his interest for the afternoon. He hadn’t seen much, too busy with reading up on Mint’s pokerus research. But he’d not wanted to stay underground, leaving Starshine alone with Ripwing. He’d caught glimpses of the battle, and offered a word of praise whenever Starshine looked to him for encouragement.

The riolu nodded anyway and forced a smile. “Well done, Starshine.”

The altaria practically glowed with happiness.

“You’ve done well, Tinker.” Ripwing followed Starshine as the altaria returned to Tinker’s side. “I’d say he’s a natural.”

Tinker tried to hide the fur bristling along his spine. Somehow, hearing that from one of Hydreigon’s former aces didn’t settle well with him. “That’s good. Perhaps he can help us end this war after all?”

“He’d certainly make a good addition to our team,” said Ripwing.

Tinker’s jaw tightened and he met the salamence’s gaze. Ripwing’s expression was friendly, but there was still something that disagreed with Tinker.

Starshine, however, seemed to relish in the salamence’s presence. “I’d love to keep training! Can I, Dad? Please?”

“That’s up to Ripwing.” Tinker looked down at the notes again and leafed through them. “If he has the energy then I don’t see why not.”

Starshine looked up at the older dragon, and Ripwing closed his eyes as a rumble of laughter shook his body.

“Perhaps later?” he said. “Right now, I need a little rest.”

Starshine nodded and huddled down next to Tinker. His eye wandered to the folder in the riolu’s lap. “What’s that?”

Ripwing followed Starshine’s gaze and answered before Tinker could. “I see Mint has introduced you to our research?”

Tinker grunted a reply without looking up at Ripwing. “Yes. And as fascinating as it is, it does make one wonder what on earth you were all thinking?”

“It’s by no means perfect,” said Ripwing. “It wasn’t ready to be unleashed on Estellis.”

Tinker grunted again and looked up at the dragon. “So you had no say in the matter?”

“Rio released it without my permission,” Ripwing explained. “We’re working hard to try and… reverse the damage. It has slowed our progress considerably.”

“Well, I feel finding a cure should have been the priority before unleashing a biological weapon on the world.” Tinker leafed through the notes again. “There is little here on any means to counter this monstrosity.”

Ripwing grimaced. “It’s still early days-”

The air warped around them, drawing their gaze to the spot where Ripwing and Starshine had been training. Hazy shapes appeared from the warp, solidifying into a group of pokemon. A gardevoir stood among them, surrounded by four kirlia and a small number of pokemon Tinker didn’t recognise. But what sent a chill through Tinker wasn’t the presence of pokemon believed extinct. It was the huge white dragon that towered over them, its canine face oddly friendly as it flashed a toothy grin. A smaller creature popped up between the dragon’s feathery ears. It was like a pikachu, but its head flopped from side to side as a pair of eyes twinkled from ragged holes cut into its torso. Tinker’s scream was cut off into a choked gasp and he sank back against the wall as the folder slid from his paws.

“Greetings!” The dragon’s voice was like a clap of thunder.

All Tinker could do was blink up at him, but Starshine and Ripwing rose to their feet.

“Who are you?” Ripwing demanded. “Where did you come from?” He looked to the gardevoir and bared his teeth but it did little to hide the fear and surprise on his face.

The gardevoir folded her paws in front of her and lowered her head in a bow. “Sorry for the intrusion. But we were sent here post-haste.”

Tinker stuttered as he looked over the group. The stories Cleo and her friends had told came rushing back to him. The huge white dragon… the strange pokemon.

“My name is Hope,” the gardevoir went on. “And this dragon is Reshiram. We were sent here by Xerneas from the Fairy Garden to help you.”

“Help us?” Tinker scoffed, finding his confidence. He leapt to his feet and clenched his free fist. “Somehow it feels a little late for that.”

“Oh, it’s not late,” said Hope. “But your friends are about to walk into danger. And if we don’t do anything fast, they will lose their lives.”

Tinker choked on his own saliva. Starshine placed a fluffy wing around his shoulders.

“Our friends?” Starshine asked. “You mean Cleo and Faith?”

Hope nodded. “They’ve taken a route they shouldn’t have stepped on.”

“Stop speaking in riddles!” Tinker rasped as he tried to clear his throat. “You’re as bad as that mawile!”

Hope’s expression fell and she looked up at Reshiram.

The large dragon’s brow furrowed and he lowered his head slightly. “They have gone into the Shadow Lands to try and assassinate Yveltal.”

“What?” Tinker dropped the folder and its pages ruffled in the brief silence. “Yveltal? What preposterous-”

“It’s true, Tinker.” Ripwing caught the riolu’s eye. “Hydreigon has been trying to awaken that thing for years. So…” He turned his gaze onto the white dragon. “It’s finally happened?”

Reshiram nodded slowly. Worry pulled his lips tight. “Yes. It has. And if we don’t stop them, precious lives will be lost.”

“Then I guess we have no choice.” Ripwing turned towards the ruin. “I shall gather the others and we’ll go and stop them.”

“Wait.” Tinker stretched out a paw to stop Ripwing, searching for the right words. Instead his mouth flapped pointlessly as he looked from the salamence to the new pokemon.

“I understand you’re worried,” said Reshiram. “But you won’t be fighting alone. We’ll be with you.”

Tinker scoffed and shook his head, still unable to find the right words.

“And we have something that might help.” Hope looked up at the creature perched on Reshiram’s head. “NyukNyuk? If you don’t mind?”

The creature garbled something incoherent and vanished into thin air. It appeared again from Starshine’s shadow and held out a spectral paw. Tinker tried to pull Starshine back, but the altaria was fixated on the item glittering in the pokemon’s claws. Ripwing gathered around to investigate, his breath hot on Tinker’s shoulder. Two bangles dangled from NyukNyuk’s paw, each with a stone in them that were very similar to the ones Faith wore.

Starshine took them with a cheerful ‘thanks!’

NyukNyuk’s paw vanished under his garment then snaked out again clutching another pair of bangles which he offered to Ripwing. “Nyuk?”

“These are mega stones,” Faith explained.

Ripwing took his and turned them in his claws, examining them with the scrutiny of a scientist.

“I shall teach you how to use them quickly,” Hope went on. “You’ll be needing them if we are to rescue your friends.”

If Ripwing understood what she meant he showed no indication of it. He nodded at the gardevoir then vanished into the ruin with a swift grace rather beguiling of such a large creature.

“Not much of a talker, is he?” Reshiram chuckled.

“He is.” Tinker folded his arms and frowned up at the dragon. “But you’ve shown up unannounced at his dwelling and in such large numbers! What if the Darkness sees you?”

“You need not fear that,” said Hope, folding her paws before herself again. “As we arrived, the kirlia, Grace and I set up a barrier over this clearing.” She gestured to a tall pokemon stood behind her wearing a pointed hat.

The pokemon didn’t appear to notice. Her expression was one of pure concentration as if her senses were fixed intensely on her surroundings. Or beyond them.

“All of us here, including your ruin, are hidden from prying eyes,” Hope went on. “Any murkrow or other members of the Darkness that enter this area will feel repelled from it.”

Tinker’s eyes widened. “You can do that? But… they’re dark-types! Surely they-”

Hope closed her eyes and chuckled. “Oh, it works. Believe me.”

Now the initial tension had eased, Tinker looked over the other pokemon that had appeared in the clearing. They’d begun talking softly to each other. One looked like a flower, towering over the others, while another closely resembled an eevee. Two small fluffy pokemon with lolling tongues plodded around on little legs as they joined the pink canine’s side, and another creature shifted around the flower pokemon’s neck. A small, white thing trailing a garland of flowers behind it.

Tinker turned his attention back onto Hope. He wanted to ask her how many pokemon existed in that Fairy Garden that he’d never seen in Estellis. But he didn’t get the chance. Grace leaned over the gardevoir’s shoulder to whisper in her ear.

Hope’s spine stiffened and she nodded, turning back to Tinker. “Could you please hurry Ripwing? We need to move and fast.”


Cleo’s fur was still damp with swamp water. She stood hugging herself as she stared anxiously at the small burrow. Harlequin and Mischief had been gone a long time, and Cleo hoped desperately they were okay. Her paw felt bare without the bracelet and she absently rubbed at it, wondering if she’d done the right thing releasing Mischief.

To make matters worse, it was rapidly growing dark. Her gaze wandered to the sky visible through the wide canopy. It had turned a vivid red, smudged with black clouds. Cleo’s heart hammered as she became more and more aware of where they were. Stood in the Border Woods, close to the Shadow Lands, blanketed under the ominous red sky. A place of danger where dark- and dragon-type pokemon patrolled regularly; where other pokemon rarely left with their lives.

Slip and Snails followed her gaze to the canopy and the goodra wound her sticky paws together. Neither dragon had spoken since Harlequin and Mischief had vanished into the burrow, but they were growing more and more restless. It made Cleo’s mouth turn dry. Could they sense something she couldn’t?

“We need to move.”

Her words surprised herself as they left her mouth, seeming loud in the silent woods. She hugged herself tighter, looking over at the rest of her friends.

Enigma stood leaning back against one of the trees, and he looked from Cleo to the canopy. Looking for danger or a place to hide, Cleo couldn’t tell.

“Shame that hole isn’t bigger.” Spark nodded to the burrow. “Otherwise we could hide in there.”

“We could always go back to the swamp?” Faith offered. “That hollow tree would make a good hiding place.”

Cleo nodded, although she was reluctant to leave the burrow in case Harlequin and Mischief came back to find them all gone.

“I’ll wait here for them.” It was almost as if Enigma had read Cleo’s thoughts. He shrugged. “I can turn invisible, I’ll be fine. You lot go and hide somewhere.”

“We can’t leave you,” Faith gasped.

“I said I’ll be fine.”

Harbinger had begun pacing, his ruby eyes on the burrow. After a moment he shook his head and looked up at Cleo and Faith. “I’m with you. We can’t stay out here in the open. It’s too dangerous.”

Faith looked back at Slip who diverted her gaze. The mawile inclined her head on one side. “Could you lead us back to the swamp?”

Slip’s eyes widened and she looked back at the burrow. Cleo’s eye followed the dragon’s gaze and suddenly a glob of slime splattered across the tunnel entrance. Cleo’s heart leapt as she looked back at the goodra. Slip wiped a paw across her mouth then threw her head back, letting out a guttural howl. Snails copied, filling the air with a raucous noise.

Harbinger roared and leapt forwards, swinging his horn and sending a blade of air at the two dragons. They leapt aside and slipped into the swamp, vanishing beneath the murky surface. Harbinger stood on the bank, his flanks heaving. He jerked his head towards the canopy and narrowed his eyes.

Cleo didn’t hear it at first. But a shrill noise rose above the rustle of branches, growing louder and more insistent. Her fur fluffed out and she stepped back from the swamp, following Harbinger’s gaze. Wing beats exploded overhead, shaking the branches and joining the shrill screeching. Yellow eyes reflected the dim light from the setting sun. Small bat-like shapes flitted about above them, too fast to get a proper read on. They were joined by one much bigger shape, its long tail streaming out behind it. The screeching turned into a deep rumble that pressed on Cleo’s ears. Her friends flinched back, and Faith raised her paws to shield her ears.

“Noibat!” Harbinger spat, lowering himself to the ground.

Cleo felt her heart sink as she watched the larger bat-like creature swoop overhead, his yellow eyes on the clearing. His large ears vibrated, sending wave after wave of sound onto the cowering pokemon. Not again. Not another noivern. This time, not only were they without Mischief, they were in the dark. The dragons were in their element. And there were so many! There was no way they were coming out of this alive.

The noibat moved so quickly, their bodies blending with the shadows. Wherever Cleo looked, those bats were there. Yellow eyes shining with malice. Sharp teeth flashing in grinning jaws. There was nowhere to run. Spark left her shoulder, her whiskers crackling. But before she hit the ground a noibat swooped down and snatched the dedenne in his claws.

“I got a snack! I got a snack!” The noibat rose into the air, swinging Spark around by scruff. He tossed her into the air and caught her by the tail.

“Spark!” Cleo’s ears flew open but before she could ready an attack her ears were grabbed by sharp talons. Pain shocked through her head but she fixed her eyes on the swinging dedenne. “Put her down!”

The noibat were on them, surging down in a cloud of wings. Cleo’s captors tugged at her ears, dragging her feet from the ground. Blinding pain pulsed through her head as the noibat’s loud voices assaulted her. Claws raked her eyes and a loud scream left her throat, followed by a flash of pink energy. One of the noibat released her right ear with a screech, leaving her swinging by the other. The noibat struggled to hold her, its wings beating frantically as it kept Cleo above the ground. She lashed out with her arms and tails, her claws glinting red in the low light.

The canopy lit up with electricity as Spark finally composed herself. The noibat dropped her with a yelp, sending her falling to the ground among a number of stunned bat-like dragons. All Cleo could do was watch as the dedenne was snatched up by another noibat and whisked into the canopy.

Faith had taken her mega form and was preoccupied with fighting off several vicious bats. They were aiming for her horns in a bid to detain her, but many were snatched up and crushed instead. They’d managed to get the mawile alone, keeping her far from Harbinger who had also taken on his mega form. He grabbed bats from the air with his teeth, ragging them until they went limp. The absol moved much too quickly for the noibat to catch him. But for every bat he took down another two took their place. Soon the clearing was heaving with screeching noibat.

The noivern stood in the centre, reeling back from a flash of pink light. He swerved in the air, turning head over tail, then smashed back down onto his assailant. There was a sound like shattered glass as he struck the ground hard, pinning Enigma beneath him and breaking his mega form. Sound throbbed from the dragon’s ears, causing the banette to flinch back. Pink energy fizzled out on his claws as his face contorted into a grimace of pain.

The pulsing noise grew louder, filling the clearing and causing ripples to spread out across the surface of the swamp. Cleo screamed, desperate to fold her ears back over, but they were held open by wicked claws. Faith yelped, her paws flailing as the noibat raised her into the air by her twin horns, their ears vibrating as they added to the cacophony of noise. Harbinger crumpled, raising his paws to shield his ears. He lost control of his mega form just before he was hidden under a cloud of screeching noibat.

With Enigma firmly pinned under his claws, the noivern raised his head to look at the rest of the banette’s allies. “Made a stupid mistake, didn’t you?” A smile split the dragon’s maw, flashing his sharp canines. “Never trust a dragon, not even a rebel. Funny what they’ll do in exchange for their own lives, huh?”

Cleo’s heart turned to ice. She cast a wary glance back at the swamp. There was no sign of the slimy dragons. They were long gone.

“You’re not exactly the Outcasts we were told to look for,” the noivern purred, “but I think Lord Hydreigon will be pleased to have you lot finally in custody. Now, where’s that whimsicott?” He turned his head to look around the clearing, each movement causing a pulse of sound to vibrate through the air.

Nausea surged through Cleo in waves. She resisted the urge to look at the burrow, not wanting to give Mischief’s position away.

“After what he did to Boomer I wanted to pull him to pieces myself!” The noivern chuckled and licked his lips. “No one makes a fool of my swarm!”

The noibat broke into chittering laughter, so loud it made Cleo flinch. She hovered mere inches above the floor. But as she tried to summon another disarming voice to break free of her hold it was only met with pain. Her ears were ringing and her head swam as pain pulsed from her ears down into her spine. It made her feel sick.

Spark hung limp in her captor’s claws, her eyes closed, but she was still breathing. Cleo silently willed the dedenne to wake up and shock the swarm of bats. Anything to get free and escape.

“All right. We’ve had our fun. Let’s get ‘em back to Lord Hydreigon, then we can find that altaria.” The noivern fixed his wicked eyes on Cleo, grinning at the look of realisation in her eyes. “Friend of yours? Whatever. Haul ‘em back to the Shadow Lands, boys. And if any of ‘em struggle…” He laughed as he fastened his claws around Enigma’s throat, getting a sneer in return, “kill ‘em all!”


Sloooowly writing...
  1. custom/jfought-sword
  2. custom/jfought-blue
  3. deerling-summer
Catnip time! So a little story: I've actually read the entirety of The End's original version all the way back in 2015, having discovered it on the Serebii forums. And this is actually kind of an important fic to me: I was in a huge writing slump back then, and I was starting to think that maybe writing wasn't for me. And then I read this fic, and got really into it. You were pretty close to the end by that point I think, but not everything was on Serebii yet, so I binged everything there in like, a week, and then moved over to FFN once I found out it had more chapters and kept going. The original version managed to spark something in me, and it made me want to write again. So I kind of owe you a lot here, and when I found out it was getting a rewrite I knew I had to check it out at some point! I wanted to read this for Review Blitz, but I wasn't quite able to do everything I wanted for the event. So I'm really glad I get to chance to check out the rewrite for Catnip! Since it's been about eight years since I read the original, I've kind of forgotten a lot, but I remember the broad strokes of the story and the characters. I could go back to the original version to refresh myself... but that's not any fun :P. I think I'll take the opportunity to re-experience the story, and I'm interested to see what kind of changes you've made and how much I remember. I went ahead and read the first three chapters, so let's get going!

Thoughts on Chapters 1 to 3
  • Cleo and Spark are just how I remember them being. It's weird, especially since I don't think the opening is all that different from the original, but this feels just as much like a reunion with old characters as it does an introduction to them. They just feel... established here, like I'm just waiting for the moment when Spark comes up and shows why you should never underestimate her. Maybe it's intentional, maybe it's just me being weird, I dunno! I just know I enjoy these two, they're a great duo with natural chemistry and I can already feel that here.

  • It seems like I forgot quite a few things about Tinker! I didn't remember his glass eye until it was mentioned in particular, though a lot definitely came back to me as I read on. His relationship with Cleo is a bit more strained this time around, it seems. Their conflict feels believable here, and it does still feel like they have some care for each other, otherwise Tinker wouldn't be concerned about her refusing to take a third member. I wonder where you plan to go with their relationship this time around, since I remember Tinker gets to play an important role later on, and it looks like there's room for new developments here.

  • The weird vial Cleo found was ringing bells in my head, and then Harbinger showed up, and I think I remember this building up to a poisoned river subplot later, right? I'm more used to 'slightly less of a dick' Harbinger from later in the story, so I actually found myself surprised when he announced his intention to bring disaster to the pokémon of the mountain village. I don't remember what the vial is for though, I swear I remember it coming up for something. (was the twist that it's an antidote? i don't remember).

  • I'm actually surprised just how much of Mischief I forgot. Probably because later in the story his situation gets a lot more dire, if I remember correctly, so I kind of forgot just how much of a goofball he can be when the tone's a bit lighter, especially this early in the story. The way he talks is very scatterbrained and confused, and I like how Cleo and Spark's confusion with him is pretty much in line with ours. He brings a lot of life and levity to the group dynamics of our trio here: he's a fun character to have around. I remember what "The Clean Place" is and roughly what his relationship to it is, though a lot of specific details are escaping me.

  • She stood and flicked water off her paws before turning to address him. But she was cut off when he gasped.

    “Yikes!” he said. “You look older! What happened?!”
    My first thought was that Mischief made this comment because of the way cats look older when they get wet.

  • Minor note here, but one of the things I remember liking about this fic and what still seems to be true here is just how dangerous the wilds are. You don't usually use Mystery Dungeons in your settings, and with forests like these you don't need them! And that's already established well considering that both times they've been out in the forest so far, the party gets attacked. Traveling really does feel as dangerous as the characters treat it.

  • Mischief creates some waves with his fairy typing! Nowadays we take the type for granted, so I imagine new readers might not understand what's going on here and why Noivern was so confused. Though I also imagine there's only so much that can be done about that, and ultimately I find the battle still works just as well as it used to! I like how Cleo still manages to put up something of a fight here, showing her competence and why she'd believe she doesn't need a third companion. And then Mischief happens! I'm pretty sure where you currently are in the story is past the point where it's revealed, so I feel pretty safe in saying that I didn't remember how brutally effective Pokérus' was until just a little bit before it made Mischief go berserk. But now it's coming back to me, and I remember just how shocking this scene was the first time. It's such a swerve from how his character was just before and it works well as a hook into the next chapter and what will eventually be the plot as a whole.
I didn't notice any typos, so we're good on that front! A lot of things came back to me as read this, and if I'm right I think the events and pacing are mostly in line with the original so far, with the main deviation being Tinker. That being said, I don't actually remember what happens next! I'm pretty sure we'll be dealing with Harbinger and his pawniard lackeys soon (they have a battle with the party, right?), and it's related to the warning he gave in the first chapter, though I don't remember exactly how we get there. And I'm pretty sure Enigma shows up for the first time fairly soon. I had fun coming back to this fic, and while I don't really have the time or energy to binge fics like I used to back in 2015, I'd still like to read more in the future and become fully reacquainted with this story once again. So until next time!
Chapter 72


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Thank you so much for your review! I love all reviews, but it's so nice when someone who read the original is giving this re-write a go. I love hearing what readers think of the changes I've made while reminiscing about the original. It's a pretty important story to me given when I wrote it, and it moves me when people enjoy the story I've spun together.
I've actually read the entirety of The End's original version all the way back in 2015, having discovered it on the Serebii forums. And this is actually kind of an important fic to me: I was in a huge writing slump back then, and I was starting to think that maybe writing wasn't for me. And then I read this fic, and got really into it. You were pretty close to the end by that point I think, but not everything was on Serebii yet, so I binged everything there in like, a week, and then moved over to FFN once I found out it had more chapters and kept going. The original version managed to spark something in me, and it made me want to write again.
I am so moved to find out the original got you back into writing. That's such a compliment <3 I'm overjoyed you're wanting to re-read this and enjoying it the same way. I do find joy in re-reading an old story that's been mostly forgotten and re-living it again, so this is really nice to hear.
Minor note here, but one of the things I remember liking about this fic and what still seems to be true here is just how dangerous the wilds are. You don't usually use Mystery Dungeons in your settings, and with forests like these you don't need them! And that's already established well considering that both times they've been out in the forest so far, the party gets attacked. Traveling really does feel as dangerous as the characters treat it.
Thanks! The wilds are kinda treated like mystery dungeons in a way. Back when I first wrote this I couldn't find a way to incorporate such a surreal thing as mystery dungeons into writing. It's only from reading other PMD 'fics and writing parodies that I managed to find a way to do it. Even then, I prefer to keep it as a parody. But I've been musing over the idea of doing a more serious PMD 'fic in the future.
Mischief creates some waves with his fairy typing! Nowadays we take the type for granted, so I imagine new readers might not understand what's going on here and why Noivern was so confused. Though I also imagine there's only so much that can be done about that, and ultimately I find the battle still works just as well as it used to! I like how Cleo still manages to put up something of a fight here, showing her competence and why she'd believe she doesn't need a third companion. And then Mischief happens! I'm pretty sure where you currently are in the story is past the point where it's revealed, so I feel pretty safe in saying that I didn't remember how brutally effective Pokérus' was until just a little bit before it made Mischief go berserk. But now it's coming back to me, and I remember just how shocking this scene was the first time. It's such a swerve from how his character was just before and it works well as a hook into the next chapter and what will eventually be the plot as a whole.
I've had it called out about the fairy typing this time around, so I've had to make it clear to readers that this is a re-write of an old 'fic when the fairy-type was new. I understand it feels a bit odd almost ten years later XD Mischief's berserk-mode is still fun to write and I'm glad it still carries a shock-factor. If you continue, I hope you enjoy re-discovering the pokerus plot-line. I gave some of that arc an overhaul, particularly with Project-B.
I had fun coming back to this fic, and while I don't really have the time or energy to binge fics like I used to back in 2015, I'd still like to read more in the future and become fully reacquainted with this story once again. So until next time!
Thanks again for reading! I hope you enjoy this if you find the time to continue it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this re-write. I've added so much new content in while getting into the flow of re-writing rather than copying and tweaking. It's been so much fun =D

72 - The Price of Poison​

The narrow tunnel spread out into a wide cavern. Harlequin raced through it, her ears pricked for any sign of danger. The ground sloped gently downward, slick with water and algae. The tunnel had been unhindered, and in surprisingly good condition given no one had used it for years.

The air smelled stagnant, and was almost suffocating. Not unusual given the air could only flow one way. Mischief’s steps were silent behind her, but she could hear his heavy breathing joining hers as they fought their way through the tunnel. Soon they’d be at the lake and have to swim through it blindly, trusting that if they kept heading upwards they would eventually break the surface and emerge into the Shadow Lands.

The path grew suddenly steeper and Harlequin’s paw flew out from beneath her. A strangled yelp left her throat and she landed on her chest, sliding over the slick, slimy mud. Her paws scrabbled and she thought Mischief shouted for her, but she couldn’t hear him for the rushing of blood in her ears. Harlequin’s muzzle touched water and she stopped, her paws fastened around a hard rock. Her heart was racing. She stood up and shook out her coat, then sniffed the air. It was so dark she couldn’t see where the lake began, but it lapped at her paws. If it weren’t for that rock she’d have slid right into it.

Mischief came to a stop at her tail, panting heavily. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Harlequin spat mud into the lake and took a step back. Her heart was still racing and it was a battle to keep her voice steady. “We’ll need to swim from here.”


“Yeah. You can swim, right?”

Mischief’s light footsteps splashed through the wet mud behind her and he stopped once his fur brushed hers. Harlequin fought the urge to step aside or swat him away with her tail.

“I dunno,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever tried.”

Harlequin snorted and lowered her head to sniff the water. “Well, if anything, you’ll at least float.”

Mischief shifted uncertainly beside her, and she heard the water break as he dipped his paw into it. Harlequin’s mind swirled as she tried to think up a way through the lake. She hadn’t considered the possibility Mischief wouldn’t be able to traverse the water safely. Whimsicott weren’t heavy. But with all that fluff they carried it made sense they wouldn’t be adept swimmers. It would just slow them down.

Harlequin’s claws curled into the dirt as an idea surfaced in her mind. Not a solution she wanted, but it was the only one. She flicked out her tongue to lick her nose. “Hold onto me.”

She could feel Mischief’s eyes on her. Or was it her imagination? It made her pelt burn and her lip curled back from her canines involuntarily.

“I’ll carry you through her water,” the zorua explained. “You’re not exactly heavy.”

“If you’re sure…”

Harlequin wasn’t, but there was no other choice. Mud oozed between her toes as her claws dug into the wet earth. “It’s the safest way.”

Mischief’s paws splashed through the water as he joined her side. His paws fumbled to find her ruff, and Harlequin’s spine stiffened. As he secured his grip on her fur, the zorua’s hackles rose and she fought a growl as it rose in her throat. This was Mischief. He wasn’t going to hurt her.

She took a deep, steadying breath and waded through the cold water. It soaked through to her legs as it rose past her knees, and mud caked her paws. She felt Mischief tremble as he kept pace at her side. She stepped cautiously forwards, checking for the ground beneath her feet. When her paw touched nothing but water she nodded to Mischief.

“Okay… we’re going under,” she said. “Take a deep breath.”

She sucked in air, hearing Mischief do the same. Then she let herself drop, paddling her paws to propel them both through the water. They would be soon at the surface. The lake wasn’t that big, but it was dark, and definitely deep enough to drown in. There was no light breaking the surface. Was it night already?

She pushed herself upwards until her ears brushed cold, slimy earth. She stifled a curse, but bubbles leaked from her mouth as she tried to correct herself. Mischief was becoming oddly heavy. He clung to her side, fastening his arms around her neck. Harlequin’s paws churned through the water, propelling them both through the murky depths. Her ears brushed the slimy earth again and panic flooded through her chest. With Mischief hanging off her like a dead weight she was beginning to lose altitude.

No. No, she couldn’t panic. If she panicked, they’d both drown. Slow and steady would get them to safety. She slowed her churning paws and gradually lifted them both through the water. Beside her she could feel Mischief doing the same with his legs, struggling to find a rhythm that matched hers. But at least it was something. It took an edge off his suddenly unexpected weight and soon it felt like she wasn’t carrying him at all. The water began to lighten above her and excitement filled her chest. She picked up the pace, her lungs burning as they begged her for air. Her head began to feel foggy but she pressed herself on. The water pressure lifted and her nose broke the surface. She gasped, her paws splashing over the surface of the lake. They’d made it!

The moon shone high above her, casting milky ripples across the dark lake. Harlequin opened her mouth to address Mischief, then panic swept over her. Just beneath the surface she spotted his wispy fur billowing out behind him as he sank back towards the bottom. Kicking her paws, Harlequin dived beneath the lake again and surged after him. She opened her jaws wide and mucky water gushed inside her mouth. She fastened her teeth into his upper arm and yanked him back towards the surface.

The pair of them gasped for air and spewed water back into the lake. Harlequin felt a flood of relief that Mischief was okay, but what left her mouth was a searing remark as he choked up water beside her.

“Are you stupid?! Why did you let go?!”

Mischief was still gasping for air. He diverted his gaze and wiped a clump of soggy cotton from his eyes. “I lost my grip…”

“Moron.” Harlequin forced her head under his arm and dragged them both to the edge of the lake. “I told you to hold on.”

The lake was surrounded by thick bushes and drooping willow trees. Harlequin clambered out among thorny brambles and dragged the waterlogged Mischief out by his scruff. Once he was doubled over on dry land panting, Harlequin spat cotton tufts from her mouth. They clung to her tongue and she wiped it with a muddy paw.

“I guess you don’t float at all, huh?” She took a few steps away from him and shook out her soggy coat.

“I guess not.” Mischief pushed himself up onto his haunches and grabbed clumps of his fur, straining the water out onto the bank. He gave her a sideways glance. “Please don’t tell Cleo.”

“Hey, not being able to swim is nothing to be embarrassed about,” Harlequin scoffed as she glanced around at the trees for any sign of a threat. “That would be like me being embarrassed I can’t fly, or walk on two legs.”

Mischief let out a lone laugh. “I guess.” He stood up, water still dripping from his thick cotton-like pelt. “So… where are we?”

Harlequin stopped looking around and inclined her head on one side. She could hear voices in the distance. Not ones she was familiar with. Beyond the lake she could make out the backs of the assassins’ barracks. Beyond that stood the thorny spire of Hydreigon’s castle.

Being so close to the barracks filled Harlequin with a sense of dread. The trainees would be deep into their sparring sessions by now, so the area around the lake should be free from any immediate danger. The rest of the Shadow Lands, however… Harlequin clicked her tongue and joined Mischief’s side.

“I’m going to use my illusion to look like a weavile,” she told him. “I want you to act like I’ve taken you prisoner.”

“How would that work?” Mischief asked. “Weavile walk on two legs.”

“Leave the details to me. Just don’t do anything to surprise me or it’ll break my focus.”

“So I shouldn’t fight you?”

Harlequin frowned at him, but not out of irritation. She was impressed. He was really taking it seriously. “Don’t make it look like you’re coming with me willingly, but don’t make it look like I’m struggling to control you either. Otherwise other pokemon will rush over to help. You’re already infamous here, and members of the Darkness are going to want a piece of the action.”

Mischief nodded stiffly and stood back, watching as Harlequin cast her illusion. To her, she still looked like a zorua. But the surprise on Mischief’s face said it all.

“You’ll be our ticket into the castle,” Harlequin explained quietly. “Once we’re in there, I’ll rush to poison Hydreigon and Yveltal. I’ll need you to use your dazzling gleam if things turn nasty. Understood?”

Mischief nodded again and raised his head, his expression turning serious.

Harlequin fastened her jaws around his arm, firm but not breaking the skin, and lead him along beside her. Once they were out of the bushes he started putting up mock resistance, leaving Harlequin to jerk her head to drag him back to her side. To any pokemon watching, they saw a weavile struggling to apprehend a wanted criminal in its sharp, wicked claws.

Murkrow sat in the trees watching curiously, their caws spreading out across the Shadow Lands. A few assassins were sparring in the courtyard near the barracks, and they looked up when they spotted Harlequin. A purrloin gave a nod of approval and said something to his partner, but the others looked envious, their eyes burning into Harlequin’s illusory form. She fought the urge to move faster, instead keeping up her act of dragging Mischief towards the castle.

It stood ahead of them, tall and imposing. The deino herd spread out before it like an impenetrable barrier. They sniffed the air as Harlequin and Mischief approached, and a few broke away to investigate. Many missed the mark, stumbling over their own feet or each other. Fights broke out amongst the herd, and Harlequin deviated away from them to avoid getting caught up in their senseless brawl. A pair stumbled in front of her, rolling over each other. One had his teeth locked in his brother’s throat while the other dragged fresh, red welts along his assailant’s scaly hide with his claws. Mischief faltered as he watched with horror, stepping back to avoid being caught in it.

“Ignore them,” Harlequin hissed, tugging him away from the blind dragons.

Purple dragon fire erupted through the deino herd as the fight rippled through them, drawing more dragons into the fray. The flames lit up the dark sky with an indigo hue and seared the already torched and trampled ground. Harlequin picked her way around the edge of the herd, keeping a wary eye on the dragons. She barely noticed the commotion filling the sky until claws jabbed into her back and rammed her into the floor. Her illusion shattered and she struggled beneath the wicked talons of a honchkrow. Shadowy wings whipped around her amid a flurry of cotton spores.

Yurlik lowered his beak to her ear. “Well, well! Look who came back! And you brought the whimsicott!” He lowered his voice to a purr. “Shame it’s not under better circumstances, isn’t it?”

Harlequin tried to force the large bird off her but it only resulted in his claws winding into her neck. Panic pulsed through her and her eyes widened, her claws scrabbling at the earth. She gave a strangled scream and dark energy licked around her canines.

“I wouldn’t put up a fight if I were you, deviant.” Yurlik clicked his beak and motioned behind him. “If you do, I’ll tell them to pull your fluffy friend to pieces.”

Mischief was pinned beneath several murkrow. His fur was peppered with ice, and the culprit stood proudly over him. A weavile. One of the assassins she’d seen earlier. Had they really seen through her disguise?

No… she’d been so close. The castle was right there. Enigma’s face flashed through her mind and his words came back to her. ‘You will be back.’

‘I’m sorry…’ Tears stung Harlequin’s eyes. ‘I’ve failed…’ She shook her head and instead let out a snarl. She wasn’t going to give this foul bird the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

She twisted her head to snap her jaws into his leg, but small shapes on the horizon froze her and her heart plummeted into her gut. The commotion filling the air grew louder, pulsating against her eardrums. Noibat. Hundreds of noibat.

Yurlik raised his head and a chilling chuckle left his chest. “Sounds like Rumble and his swarm are back.” The honchkrow beat his wings and lifted Harlequin roughly off the ground. “I wonder if they found the rest of your friends? I mean… you wouldn’t be foolish enough to come back here alone, would you?”

Harlequin’s blood turned to ice. The small dragons were swiftly drawing closer, but she couldn’t see them. Yurlik had his claws fastened in her shoulders. Blood trickled down her legs and glistened on his sharp talons. Several murkrow carried Mischief beside her, but he wouldn’t look at her. Instead he obediently let them carry him. Harlequin wondered if he had a plan. Would he still attack knowing that the numbers were now against them? Could they actually get out of this?

Yurlik dropped before the castle door, landing heavily on top of Harlequin and knocking the wind out of her lungs. He was joined by several smaller thuds as noibat landed on the castle roof, their upside-down faces sneering at Harlequin. A few trainee assassins had joined the swarm, gathering around as they chatted amongst themselves, throwing leers at Harlequin and watching the rest of the noibat swarm arrive. Harlequin spotted the purrloin that had watched her earlier. She swallowed back a growl, not wanting to provoke Yurlik any further.

As Yurlik struck the door with his beak, Harlequin raised her head to follow the trainees’ gaze. Her heart sank. Standing a few feet away, at the bottom of the stairs, was a noivern. Enigma was pressed beneath his claws, while smaller noibat hovered around him clutching several captive pokemon. Faith, Harbinger, Spark. Harlequin’s eyes met Cleo’s. Bloodshot. Defeated.

Harlequin’s gasp came out as one small word. “No.”

She’d failed.

It was over.

Yurlik struck the door again. “Open the door, vermin!”

A black-furred rattata pulled the door open, still smoothing out his tail with a paw. “Yeesh, keep yer feathers on-” His eyes widened when he noticed the large gathering of triumphant noibat. “Wow. Guess this is Lord Hydreigon’s lucky day?” The rodent’s words sounded strained, as if they tasted bad in his mouth.

“Oh yes. Most certainly. Renegade.” Yurlik shoved him roughly aside, walking awkwardly as he dragged Harlequin behind him in one set of talons. He called back over his shoulder to the noibat swarm as they followed behind him. “If either of those former assassins make any efforts to fight back, kill every single one of those Outcasts!”

Harlequin stifled a moan and screwed her eyes shut. Everything hurt. She lay on her back, letting Yurlik drag her by the scruff towards Hydreigon’s throne room. He stopped and struck the door with his beak. When Harlequin saw that trident pattern of a hydreigon engraved in the door her heart hit her throat and beat against her rib cage.

This wasn’t it.

It couldn’t be over.


Hydreigon’s voice boomed from behind the closed doors. Yurlik tugged them open and tossed Harlequin across the floor. Her claws scraped against the tiles as she tried to push herself back from the hulking dragon. Behind him, wicked blue eyes flashed through the darkness. The noibat swarmed into the room, dropping their prisoners before the large dragon. Amongst them ran a few sneasel and scrafty, their red eyes filled with curiosity and excitement. The tiny noibat then flocked to the door, filling the room with the sound of beating wings and chattering as they swarmed into an impenetrable barrier, barricading the only exit.

Harlequin rolled onto her stomach. She lay sprawled before the massive Hydreigon, and Harbinger stirred beside her as he pushed himself onto his front. Blood matted the fur of his ruff, crimson against his snowy white fur. The Outcasts were still struggling to stand up, every one of them trembling. Hydreigon was imposing enough. But none of them were watching him. Standing behind him, his beak open in a wicked grin, stood Yveltal. He seemed bigger than when they’d last encountered him. Harlequin felt her confidence drain away through her paws and she found, much to her shame, she was also trembling.

Hydreigon’s red eyes burned into her fur, and he turned both pincers towards her. “Harlequin!” The dragon narrowed his eyes as he looked up at the rest of the room. “And Enigma?! I thought you were dead!”

The banette stood between Cleo and Faith, his eyes narrowed in a dangerous leer.

Hydreigon didn’t pay it any attention. He jerked his head towards Yurlik who gulped and stood back, spreading his wings in a bow.

“I guess I was mistaken, my lord?” the honchkrow stuttered.

Behind Hydreigon, Yveltal tutted. “Can’t even finish a job? I’d have made sure he was dead.”

Hydreigon puffed smoke from his nostrils, his glare not leaving Yurlik. “Well done, Rumble. You and your swarm have pulled through for me, bringing in these deviants and their vermin friends. You even brought in the whimsicott! After we’re done here, you can finish him off.”

Rumble looked down Mischief fastened in the talons of several murkrow. Rumble licked his lips as a look of delight filled his eyes.

Yurlik clicked his beak. “Actually, that was my-”

“As for you, Yurlik…” Hydreigon met the honchkrow’s eyes. “Get out of my sight.”

Yurlik closed his beak. He knew better than to argue with Hydreigon. “Very well, my lord.”

Harlequin ventured a glance back. Yurlik trembled by the door, glancing to the noibat huddled by the walls. A few young assassins stood amongst them, their eyes narrowed yet glittering with amusement.

“What about these trainees that snuck in?” Yurlik asked the dragon.

A low growl rose in Hydreigon’s throat like thunder. “They were nosey enough to follow you in here! They can stick around to see what happens to those who defy me!”

The trainee assassins pressed themselves up against the walls as looks of uncertainty crossed their faces. Several of them looked to the door as it closed behind Yurlik, trapping a couple of stray black feathers.

Hydreigon cast his gaze around the room as it slowly fell into silence. “Well, isn’t this interesting? Not only have you joined the Outcasts, you’ve picked up a filthy absol along the way.” He met Harbinger’s livid stare. “How did that work out for you, Harlequin? Have you been followed by nothing but misfortune?”

Harlequin’s legs trembled and she glanced to Harbinger as he struggled to his feet, favouring his front left paw. She opened her mouth to speak, but Hydreigon’s eyes flashed and he smashed one of his pincers onto Harbinger’s back. The absol yelped and crumpled back to the floor.

“Don’t you dare stand!” Hydreigon roared. “You won’t defy me, vermin! You’ll get to your feet when I tell you to!”

Harlequin’s heart hammered against her ribcage. Harbinger lay beside her, his face contorted in a grimace. He struggled to raise his head, keeping his eyes narrowed on Hydreigon.

The large dragon turned his attention back onto Harlequin. “I heard you were friends with an absol once. One that Yurlik was sent to kill, but it looks like that fat honchkrow has grown lazy over the years. He can’t even finish a simple job.” He flashed a glare towards Enigma, which the banette met head on with one of his own.

“So…” Yveltal inclined his head on one side as he smirked. “Are we going to kill them all right here? Because I’m hungry.”

“Not yet,” said Hydreigon. “I think I want to have a little fun first.”

The smirk left Yveltal’s face and his blue eyes turned icy, chilling the room. But if Hydreigon noticed he didn’t acknowledge it.

“I think I want to play a little bargaining game.” Hydreigon slowly looked over the members of the room. “These pokemon are clearly important to you, Harlequin. You were once one of my aces. Right at the top, behind Boomer. I know what you’re capable of. But somewhere along the way you deviated. Or perhaps you were always a deviant?” The dragon’s eyes shone dangerously and he exchanged glances with one of his pincers. “You know what happens to those who turn against me, Harlequin. So if these pokemon are more valuable to you than your own life, surely you’d be willing to make a little exchange?”

Harlequin’s fur heated up and she raised her head, meeting Hydreigon’s gaze. “If I give my life you’ll let them go?”

“Oh, no. It’s not as easy as that.” A grin split Hydreigon’s maw, chilling Harlequin to the bone. He glanced towards Harbinger. “I want you to kill that absol.”

“What?!” The exclamation had been involuntary, echoed by the Outcasts.

“What are you playing at?!” Enigma barked.

Hydreigon turned a pincer towards him and fired. A pulse of dark energy nailed Enigma in the chest and he fell back against the wall with a jingle and a grunt. Harlequin jerked her head to follow it, her ears pricked and eyes wide. Enigma sank down the wall, held up by his mane by a struggling noibat. Cleo and Faith struggled in their confines to help him, and the mawile screamed as her head was jerked back by a pair of noibat. Enigma raised his head, fixing Hydreigon in a crimson glare. But the dragon’s attention was back on Harlequin.

“I hate absol,” Hydreigon went on. “I can’t stand them. They’re filthy pokemon that leave nothing but disaster in their wake. So I can either kill all of you now, starting with that absol, and all of you can watch as each of your little friends is lead to the slaughter. Or… you, Harlequin, can kill that absol and perhaps then I’ll let all of you go?”

Harlequin’s mouth hung open. She was painfully aware of Harbinger shifting beside her as he checked the distance to the door.

“It’s hardly a fair trade?” Yveltal turned his cool gaze onto Hydreigon. “That vermin’s life isn’t worth a single hair on this zorua’s treacherous pelt!”

Hydreigon chuckled as he admired his pincer. “If he’s the last absol alive, then eradicating his species off the face of Estellis carries great value.”

“Enough to let all these pokemon go?” Yveltal spat. “Your priorities are warped. Barely fitting for a ruler.”

“Are you defying me, Yveltal?” Hydreigon raised his head, meeting the dark bird’s icy glare.

Yveltal stared back at him, the feathers rising along his spine. But he said nothing, instead turning his frosty gaze onto the rest of the room.

Hydreigon turned back to Harlequin. “So… what will it be? His life…” He gestured towards Harbinger with once pincer, then to the room with his other, “or everyone else’s?”

Harlequin glanced from Hydreigon to Harbinger. Voices filled the room as her friends shouted from the wall.

“Don’t do it, Harle!”

“It’s not worth it!”

“We’ll find another way!”

Hydreigon opened his jaws, letting out a long, booming roar. The pokemon cowered back against the wall and the noibat stirred, flocking to the high ceiling. Yveltal flinched, fixing one eye on the large dragon.

The room fell into silence, save for the frantic, panicked breathing of Hydreigon’s prisoners and the twitchy trainees. Harlequin met Harbinger’s eyes for a long moment, then turned her gaze onto her friends. Was there anything they could do? Any way they could all get out of there with their lives? Cleo watched Harlequin, her eyes glossy with tears. Faith trembled beside Enigma, her violet eyes pleading. Harlequin’s heart sank. She’d never seen the mawile looking so scared. So desperate. Enigma was still on the floor, his mane tangled in the claws of a noibat. Harlequin knew he could do something. He could warp away to freedom, but he was clearly too terrified to try. He wouldn’t meet her gaze, instead staring at the floor between his paws. Mischief was pinned by the door, separated from everyone else by Yurlik’s bedraggled murkrow. There was one pokemon Harlequin couldn’t see. She searched the noibat again, then she spotted her. Spark, hanging limp in a noibat’s talons. Harlequin’s heart picked up when the dedenne met her gaze. A look of understanding and determination crossed the rodent’s little face. A message that Harlequin hoped she’d understood, and that the Darkness had missed.

Harlequin turned back to Harbinger, and her ears pulled back against her head. If she did this right, Harbinger would only need to play dead. She just had to get close enough to him to tell him that. There was enough blood on his ruff that it would look convincing.

“Okay.” Her words sent a jolt of surprise through the absol. “If I kill him… you’ll let us go?”

Hydreigon’s eyes glittered with joy. “Sure. I’ll let you go.”

Harlequin nodded once and turned square to face Harbinger. He raised his head to look past her at her friends, then met her gaze. He nodded once and pushed himself to his feet. Harlequin’s heart sank. Was he willing to give his life for her and her friends? She fought back tears and pulled her lips back from her canines, tensing her limbs to lunge.

“No. Not like that,” Hydreigon scoffed. “I know your speciality, Harlequin.”

The zorua’s blood roared in her ears and she jerked her head towards Hydreigon.

“You have a nidoking horn,” he purred. “Another vermin I’ve striven to wipe off Estellis. Using that horn will be a fitting way to finish off this scum.” He fixed a smirk on the seething absol.

A lead weight dropped inside Harlequin’s chest. Poison? She would have to use poison? She swallowed around a lump in her throat and struggled to meet Harbinger’s eyes. If she missed, made it look convincing, would Harbinger take the hint and fake it? No… she couldn’t risk messing this up. She still had the antidote off Elsa. If she was quick, and if she didn’t cut too deep, she could rescue him.

Harbinger stared at her steadily, despite wobbling on his legs. Then he closed his eyes and lowered his head. He was really going to let her do this? He was already too weak from fighting. She had to get this right. Harlequin reached into her bag and pulled out her nidoking horn. The whole room was silent, and tension filled the air, thick with fear scent.

“Good.” Hydreigon raised his head. “Now toss your bag over here.”

Harlequin tried to mask the despair on her face. He’d guessed she had the anti-venom. She bit back a curse.

“Quickly!” Hydreigon barked.

Reluctantly Harlequin shed her bag, and it was snatched up by a sneasel. He skittered back to the wall between an axew and gabite, clutching it in his sharp claws.

Harlequin stifled a growl and turned to Harbinger. Now she couldn’t risk cutting him. There was little chance she’d get her bag back. She met his gaze, finding it steady and confident unlike his trembling legs. But his face said it all. He was ready.

Harlequin braced herself and leapt, aiming to skim him with the horn. Harbinger’s good leg gave way and he toppled sideways. She felt the horn catch in his fur and the absol let out a hiss of pain. Tears stung Harlequin’s eyes as she landed behind him. The soft thud as his body hit the floor sounded like thunder in Harlequin’s ears. She raised her head to look behind her. Harbinger lay on his side, his flanks rising softly as if he were asleep.

It didn’t work that fast. He was exhausted. Had she missed him? Please… She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth around the horn’s handle.

“Excellent! One less absol to worry about!” Hydreigon rumbled laughter and waved a dismissive pincer at Harbinger’s prone form. “Clear up this mess! Throw him in the lake, that should finish him off.”

A group of noibat flocked onto Harbinger, fastening their claws in his scruff. They raised him into the air and fluttered towards the door. Harlequin watched them, her jaw aching with tension.

“As for the rest of the prisoners,” Hydreigon went on, “take them outside and kill them. The deino could use some fresh meat.”

Harlequin’s heart lurched. She jerked her head to her friends. Cleo spat venom and her eyes flashed. No… the room flashed. The walls lit up with electricity which danced over the black bricks and tiles. Noibat screeched and hit the floor like pebbles. Then Spark dropped among them, her tiny body pulsing with static.

Hydreigon jerked his head towards them, spotting the little dedenne. A thunderous roar left his gaping jaws and he lunged towards Spark. The dedenne bolted, dashing between his snapping pincers. Harlequin snapped herself together and launched towards Hydreigon, turning the horn in her jaws. It plunged deep into his side, cutting off a dragon pulse into a splutter of purple fire. He threw his head back and howled, thrashing his huge body. Harlequin jumped aside, leaving the nidoking horn buried fast in his thick scales. He hit the floor with a thud and Harlequin just managed to avoid his flailing pincers.

Harlequin’s eyes didn’t leave Harbinger as the noibat carried him from a high window. The absol’s eyes were open, his mouth gaping as he gasped for breath. Harlequin sought out her bag, but the room was in chaos. Pokemon raced about, firing attacks, turning the floor slick with ice, blood and feathers.

Yveltal spread his wings, watching the chaos explode across the room. The Outcasts were rushing for the door, sending pink light flashing through the room. Mischief was on his feet, surrounded by fallen murkrow. His eyes landed on Yveltal and he threw out his paws, sending a flash of sparkling light over the heads of his friends and into Yveltal’s gaping beak. Red and black energy spluttered around his face, hitting the wall like harmless cinders.

Cleo reached the door, yanking it open. Another wave of pink light flashed over their heads as two kirlia teleported from the doorway into the room. They raised their arms as Yveltal spat out a crimson beam. It bounced off an invisible barrier, fizzling harmlessly into the air. Yveltal threw his head back in an infuriated screech, hopping up and down like a hatchling in a tantrum.

Harlequin rushed for the door, then slid on her belly between Rumble’s feet. The noivern let out a cry of alarm, then snapped his yaws at her tail. Harlequin left him with a mouth full of fur as she scrambled for the open door, hoping her friends wouldn’t be far behind her. She had no time to check. She had to reach the lake before the noibat.


Cleo lashed out with her claws, dragging red welts across Rumble’s muzzle. He reeled back from her, his ears vibrating as the room filled with a deep, deafening noise. He lashed out with his tail, sending Cleo’s feet out from beneath her. She dragged her paws over her ears, holding them flat against her head. She realised her eyes were closed and when she opened them she found herself face to face with the noivern’s gaping jaws and a torrent of purple flames.


Spark’s tiny body landed between Cleo and the noivern, right as dragon fire pulsed from his mouth. It smashed into Spark’s little body, engulfing her in flames.

“Spark!” Cleo screeched.

Cleo’s heart almost stopped as she stared at the spot her friend had landed, mere inches from her nose. The flames fizzled out, washing over the dedenne’s body like water. Spark looked down at her paws and blinked. Her confusion was reflected on Rumble’s face as he pulled his head back from her. Spark was completely unharmed.

Cleo stuttered as she pushed herself to her feet. It couldn’t be… Was Spark part fairy-type?

Spark’s large eyes locked back onto the noivern and she leapt up at his face, striking him on the nose with both forepaws. He keeled backwards and Spark twisted, landing a kick to his forehead. Rumble fell to the floor in the doorway and Spark landed on his nose with a glance back at Cleo.

“Get a move on!” she squeaked.

Cleo wasted no time. She leapt over the noivern’s prone form and bolted down the corridor after Faith and Enigma. The duo had cleared a path, leaving the stunned bodies of hatchling dragons, sneasel, scraggy and noibat in their wake. Mischief followed behind Cleo, firing another dazzling gleam into the room. Yveltal shrieked with rage, exploding from the door after them. The kirlia kept between the Outcasts and the dark bird, keeping up a barrier that repelled his deadly beam.

Cleo’s legs pumped against the floor, her heart racing faster than she could run. The door was just ahead of her, and Faith was about to reach it. Cleo caught up with the mawile as she threw the door open. Cleo keeled back as they were greeted by the roaring jaws of a white dragon. A few smaller dragons rolled back into the door from the force of his roar, almost tripping Cleo in the process. From his back, a gardevoir fired a dazzling gleam into the castle, driving Yveltal further back.

Reshiram pulled away, giving Cleo and the others enough space to run into the courtyard. The white dragon was accompanied by an altaria, salamence and flygon. They spewed their attacks onto the ground, scattering the deino and other members of the Darkness who had come out to defend the Shadow Lands.

The grounds were teeming with so many dragon-types that Cleo couldn’t identify them all. A herd of gabite lead by a garchomp rushed them from the left, while on the right was a pack of mighteyena trying to drag the flygon out of the air. The ground erupted around the large black canines as the flygon summoned a sand tomb, driving them back, away from the Outcasts.

“Grab Cleo!” Reshiram roared.

The salamence turned and dropped towards Cleo, grabbing her and Mischief in his talons. His wings were curved like a boomerang and he soared back into the air away from the castle. Spark clung to Cleo’s tail as the dragon tossed them onto his back. The garchomp landed right where Cleo had been standing and let out a roar of fury. He opened his jaws and sent a dragon pulse towards them. The salamence flipped away from it and it skimmed his tail, but he didn’t so much as flinch.

Cleo caught sight of Faith warring with a pack of gabite and fraxure. The pack was immense. A shadow flit back and forth along the floor and Cleo thought it was Enigma. But NyukNyuk emerged from beneath one of the dragons and his costume expanded as his spectral arms dragged dragon after dragon beneath his disguise. Screams of terror followed as whatever lay beneath NyukNyuk’s disguise battled with the dragons, spitting them back out one by one. They lay terrified on the floor, struggling back to their feet to flee the mimikyu. But it did little to help Faith. She swung at the dragons with her dual horns as flamethrowers streaked from their jaws, singing her yellow fur. Cleo’s heart sank as the mawile lost hold of her mega form.

Reshiram did a back-flip in the air and aimed his tail at the pack of dragons. Flames erupted from it, exploding across the pack and scattering them. Many lay prone on the scorched earth and Reshiram rose back into the air again with NyukNyuk shouting triumphantly from his head. The mimikyu expelled one last fraxure which plummeted to the floor in a stunned stupor. The flygon swooped down and scooped up Faith in his talons. The mawile gave him a grateful smile, but she looked absolutely exhausted.

Yet more dragons filled the air, blue and rugged. They were accompanied by some that looked like flying fruit, but the purple flames they spewed were as potent as the attacks of their brethren.

“We need to get out of here,” Cleo told the salamence. “There’s too many of them.”

“Dragon attacks are working just fine,” he said.

A loud screech split the air as an explosion of black feathers erupted into the air. Yveltal’s blue eyes flashed in his head and his beak gaped, spewing forth his crimson beam. The salamence’s face twisted with horror.

“Move!” Cleo yowled.

The salamence swerved to the side, narrowly dodging Yveltal’s attack. It struck one of the druddigon, freezing it in midair for a moment before it crashed to the ground and shattered into stone.

The salamence faltered for a heartbeat then barked a command to retreat. He soared towards the woods with the flygon on his tail.

The altaria, or what Cleo guessed was one, took the salamence’s place and faced Yveltal. Its fluffy feathers almost drowned out the small shape of a riolu sat astride its back. Tinker? Cleo blinked a few times to process it. A loud scream left the altaria, flooding the air with pink energy. Yveltal keeled back from it, losing altitude. A few noibat that had gathered around him grew disoriented and crashed to the floor.

Starshine let out another hyper voice, but Yveltal was prepared this time. Still, the large bird flinched. But after Starshine’s attack faded out the large bird lurched towards them. Tinker tugged on Starshine’s feathers and the altaria arced into the air, leading Yveltal up and away over the Shadow Lands. Crimson energy followed after the altaria, cleaving through the soaring dragons. Noibat dropped like stones onto the ground, scattering the deino and cuffing many soldiers over the head.

Reshiram bolted after the dark bird and grabbed his tail in his jaws. Yveltal let out a strangled screech as the white dragon swung him down from the sky and towards the ground. Yveltal landed hard on his back in a cloud of dust, scattering the deino herd.

“Pull out!” Reshiram barked.

The Outcasts and outlaws turned and fled across the Shadow Lands, back towards the Border Woods. They were trailed by the noibat and their noivern leader, who spewed out dragon pulses at the fleeing dragons. The noivern’s muzzle split in a grin and a deep pulsing noise tore through the air. The noibat swerved aside, their eyes widening. But some joined in, their ears amplifying their screeches.

“You have to be kidding…” Reshiram gasped.

“He won’t, right?” Spark asked from Cleo’s shoulder. “I mean, a boomburst with all his noibat right by him? It’s suicide!”

Yet the sound deepened, radiating through the air until Reshiram and the other fliers struggled to remain airborne. Cleo’s eyes widened and she dragged her ears down with both paws, bracing herself for the inevitable explosion.

Rumble opened his jaws wide and roared, his ears shuddering as the sound waves amplified, shaking the very air. Noibat and murkrow dropped from the sky like lead balls. The salamence swerved, careening towards the floor. Cleo clutched onto his neck, an involuntary scream flying from her jaws.

“Hope!” Reshiram barked.

The gardevoir had her arms raised. A huge, pink ball hovered above her, growing as the fairy-type concentrated. She hoisted it towards the dragons. Rumble let out a grunt of confusion, his eyes widening as the huge ball of energy slammed down on top of him. The noivern vanished beneath it, taking a few noibat with him. The sound cut out and the salamence jerked upright, his claws skimming the dusty floor. He was rocketed back up alongside Reshiram, but not before Cleo got a look at the chaos beneath them. Pokemon staggered across the courtyard, dizzied by the sudden boomburst. The few noibat and murkrow that remained in the sky hovered, spitting insults as Reshiram and the outlaws fled towards the wall.

They flew in close to each other and the world warped around them. In a heartbeat they were surrounded by trees with a squat, white building in the centre.

The salamence landed and his form changed to that of an ordinary salamence. He lowered himself so Cleo and Mischief could slip from his shoulders. Spark landed at Cleo’s feet and looked around at the clearing.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Our hideout,” said the salamence. “Don’t worry, they won’t find us here.”

Spark scoffed. “They will if those slimy dragons sell you out.”

Mischief looked up at her with a start and balled his fists. Cleo could almost feel the anger radiating off his body.

“They won’t find what they can’t see,” said Reshiram. “Hope made sure of that.”

NyukNyuk dropped from his head and saluted, chattering in his own tongue. Reshiram chortled laughter, but a look of seriousness returned to his face.

“You’re back?” A familiar, gooey voice came from the door to the ruin.

Cleo jerked her head towards it, but Mischief pushed past her pointing an accusing paw.

“You!” he snapped. “You tricked us! You said-”

Reshiram spread his wing, blocking Mischief off from the goodra and sliggoo. His usually warm expression was stern and silenced the whimsicott. “Don’t place blame on these two, Mischief.”

“But they tricked us!” Mischief narrowed his eyes at the two dragons and they flinched back from him. “We lost Harbinger because of them!”

“They sold us out,” said Spark. “They called the noibat swarm!”

Slip and Snails shifted uneasily and inched backwards into the ruin, leaving a slimy trail on the dirty stone.

“They might have made a wrong decision,” said Reshiram. “But your plan would never have worked, whether or not they made the mistake of summoning the Darkness onto you.” He lowered his wing, keeping himself between Mischief and the dragons. “These two have indeed done wrong, but so have you. It’s not their fault Harlequin was caught. You took matters into your own paws in a foolish attempt to battle a force much stronger than you. You are fortunate only one of you has lost their life today.”

Mischief’s expression fell and he stood back. Cleo clenched her jaw. She’d been staring death in the face. Reshiram wasn’t wrong. They could all have died. They were fortunate they got out of that scrape with their lives. But Harbinger… Cleo glanced back towards the Shadow Lands.

“You’re right, Reshiram,” said Faith. “We have all made foolish mistakes today.” She lowered her head. “I should have done more to convince them otherwise, rather than going ahead with their plan. I know this isn’t our fight. I am so sorry.”

“But… Harlequin did it, right?” Spark asked. “She killed Hydreigon.”

Cleo shook her head and turned to her friend. “We don’t know for certain if Hydreigon is dead.”

“But… she stabbed him with her nidoking horn,” said Spark.

“Yes, and he took her bag.” Cleo hissed through her teeth. “She might have had an antidote. We don’t know that.” She turned to seek Harlequin in the crowd. To get some reassurance.

Reshiram’s expression turned sombre and he looked up at the others. “Whether or not he is, Yveltal is still very much alive. There will be a huge battle very soon, and all of us here will be called into it. It doesn’t matter whether Hydreigon is alive or not, we’ll be facing Yveltal and the rest of the Darkness.”

Cleo’s blood turned to ice and she exchanged worried glances with her companions. But it wasn’t just Reshiram’s words that had chilled her. She couldn’t see Harlequin among her friends and allies.

“Harlequin?” she called, drawing the attention of everyone else. She raised her paws in a weak shrug. “Where is she? Has anyone seen her?”

Faith’s violet eyes widened and she joined Cleo in searching the crowd. “Harlequin?!”

“Seriously?” Tinker scoffed. Starshine stood beside him, his fluffy feathers returned to their normal size. “Did he just leave you all?”

“She went after Harbinger,” said Cleo. “She-”

“It’s not just Harlequin.” Faith wound her paws together, her eyes glossy with tears. “Enigma is gone, too.”

Cleo stuttered, looking over her friends hoping desperately that Faith was mistaken. But there was no sign of the banette amongst them. No hint of him lounging in the branches.

Faith closed her eyes as realisation dawned on her. “He went after Harlequin.”

Cleo bit back a curse and looked back at the trees. “He’s still in the Shadow Lands?!”

Reshiram looked up towards the Shadow Lands, his ear feathers drooping. The group fell into silence, and Cleo could hear her heart hammering in her ears. They weren’t all safe after all…

“I knew he’d do that. I should have stopped him,” said Faith, her voice choking. “I’m sorry.”

Reshiram shook his head and lowered his muzzle to the mawile. “It’s not your fault, Faith.” He looked back towards the Shadow Lands. “What shall we do? Should we go back there?”

“No. That would be foolish.” The salamence’s voice came out as a growl and he narrowed his eyes at Cleo and her friends. “The whole place is in an uproar after what these pokemon have just done.”

Cleo’s fur prickled with shame and she glanced aside, feeling Spark shuffle on her shoulder.

Hope raised her paws to placate the dragon. “Calm down, Ripwing.”

A jolt ran through Cleo like lightning. Ripwing?

“I agree their actions were foolish,” Hope went on. “But there’s no need to place blame. Especially when two of our friends are still in danger.”

“Well there’s nothing we can do now,” said Ripwing. “It’s not safe to go back there.”

“I’m with Ripwing,” said Tinker. He leant back against the ruin with his arms folded. “There’s no point going after those two foolish assassins. I say we leave them to their fate. Lesson learned.”

“That’s an awful thing to say!” Faith gasped. “They’re our allies!”

Tinker sighed and dragged a paw over his muzzle, muttering something Cleo didn’t catch.

Slip slunk out of the ruin, keeping her head low. “If they’ve gone to the lake, then we might be able to help them.” She glanced at Cleo.

Cleo’s heart picked up and she straightened. “Of course! The swamp!”

A look of realisation crossed her friends’ faces. They’d all forgotten in the panic.

Reshiram’s face crinkled with a confused frown. “What does the swamp have to do with anything?”

“The lake is joined to the swamp,” Cleo explained. “Harlequin and Mischief took a tunnel through it to get into the Shadow Lands.” She looked up at Mischief who was still eyeing the slippery dragons with caution. “Was the tunnel clear?”

The whimsicott nodded.

Cleo turned back to her friends. “If we go back to the swamp we might be able to help them.”

“You mean go back into the Shadow Lands through the lake?” Ripwing scoffed.

“No.” Faith stepped forwards, clasping her paws together. “If they made it to the lake, then they should hopefully have found the tunnel.”

Tinker rolled his eyes. “And be leading a mob into the Border Woods?”

“The Shadow Lands don’t know about this tunnel,” Faith went on. “That’s my understanding, at least.”

The goodra and sliggoo nodded.

“Okay.” Hope looked up at Reshiram. “I’ll take a small party to the tunnel. Those wounded should get their wounds taken care of.”

“Take us with you,” said Slip. “It’s our fault everyone was captured. We want to make it right.”

Ripwing frowned at the goodra. “But you’re no fighters.”

“No, but we blocked up the tunnel.” Slip grimaced then shook her head as she turned back to Hope. “If you touch it, it’ll poison you. We’ll clear it.”

The gardevoir nodded once. “Very well. Tell me how to get there and I’ll teleport us.”

“I’ll go too,” said Faith.

“No.” Hope placed a paw on the mawile’s blackened shoulder. “You’re wounded. Stay here and rest. I’ll take Tinker and Starshine.” She looked to the riolu who’s eyes widened with surprise. Hope nodded and gave him a warm smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll mask our presence, the Darkness won’t find us. We’ll make sure Harlequin and Enigma get back here safely.”
Chapter 73


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
For those of a sensitive disposition (if not, ignore if you don't want spoilers):
Contains themes that reference a history of abuse for the character in question.

73 - Confession​

The cold water was dyed an inky black by the night sky. It bit through Harlequin’s fur, shocking her bones. But she kept swimming, keeping her sights on Harbinger’s sinking body. Bubbles streamed from his mouth, and his paws trailed up as if reaching for some hidden perch. He could swim. She knew he could swim. Had he given up? Or had the poison got to him?

The sounds of chaos were muffled by the water above her. Dieno had chased her to the water’s edge, along with trainee assassins and a small number of murkrow. The more well-trained soldiers had been focused on the battle outside the castle. Only the dregs had chased after her, and the deino herd had thrown off the assassins, trampling many underfoot. It had been an easy escape. She’d followed the sneasel and hid in a bush as she watched them drop Harbinger into the lake. Then she’d dived in without a second thought.

She sank further, her paws brushing against Harbinger’s soft coat. His eyes opened for a moment and relief flooded through her. She opened her mouth without thinking and water rushed in, pushing out air into a torrent of bubbles. Harbinger flailed his paws, pushing himself up towards her. Harlequin fastened her teeth into his scruff and dragged him upwards. Her paws churned the water, and he paddled to aid her. But his movements were weak.

Harlequin’s chest burned, begging her for oxygen. Her vision turned murky but she refused to give up. She pushed herself towards the surface, dragging Harbinger beneath her. He was oddly heavy. A dead weight. She fought on, dragging his sodden body up and up until suddenly the weight felt less, and she paddled frantically to reach the mouth of the cave. Panic filled her mind as she realised she wasn’t sure where in the lake they were. Were they near the cave or not? It was too dark. She couldn’t see a thing, yet something seemed to be guiding her. Instinct, or Harbinger?

Then her paws brushed soil. Harbinger moved beneath her, nosing her aside as he dragged himself out of the water. They’d reached the shallows that formed the exit to the old underwater den. Luminous moss cast a dim, green light through the dark cavern, tinting Harbinger’s fur a sickly yellow. Water streamed off his long coat. It clung to his body, still matted with blood around his shoulders. The absol limped forwards a few paces then collapsed, spraying up muddy water around him. His body lurched as he coughed violently, vomiting water from his mouth. He pushed himself onto his front with laboured movements, bringing up all the water from his chest.

Harlequin became aware she was doing the same. Their coughs filled the empty cavern, echoing off the damp walls and tinkling deep into the tunnel. She plodded through the shallow water towards him, shaking droplets off her feet. It felt like most of the lake was in her fur and she paused to shake it free.

Harbinger made no such effort. He flopped forwards onto his forepaws, his flanks heaving as he fought for breath. Harlequin nosed along his sides, sniffing for the sickly scent of necrosis. There. She could smell it, radiating from his left shoulder. His skin felt hot against her nose and she fell back with a strangled sob.

“I’m so sorry, Harbie,” she choked. “I didn’t want to poison you. I tried! And… I don’t have the anti-venom. They took it!” Her voice was muffled by sobs, echoing in the cavern and distorting into what sounded like a distant bell. Her ear twitched towards it but she shrugged it off as she sat down heavily in the wet mud.

Harbinger leaned his head against her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t expect to leave there alive.”

“How can you say that?” Harlequin gasped. “It’s my fault! I don’t want you to die! If it weren’t for me… if I hadn’t made such a stupid decision-”

Harbinger flopped sideways and mud splattered over his fur.

“Harbie-!” Harlequin rose to her feet and stepped towards him, sniffing his fur.

He opened one eye, catching her gaze. “We all make mistakes.”

Harlequin slumped to her haunches and screwed her eyes shut. Her voice came out as a whisper. “I’ve made too many. And they’ve lead to this.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Harlequin.” Harbinger’s words were strained and he grimaced, curling his claws into the floor. Harlequin made to leap up again but he shook his head at her. “I’ve probably made more than you.”

Harlequin scoffed. “You didn’t work for the Darkness.”

“I still lashed out at everyone,” said Harbinger. “I forced disasters on entire villages. But my worst mistake was trying to kill you.”

Harlequin choked out a sob and her ears drooped. “And look what I’ve done!”

“It’s not your fault!” Harbinger closed his eyes and gasped. His sides heaved as he tried to catch his breath.

Harlequin was on her feet again, standing over him. “Stop talking. It’s tiring you out!”

“No.” Harbinger reached out a paw and placed it on Harlequin’s shoulder. She flinched back slightly but she didn’t want to shrug him away. “There’s something… I’ve been wanting to ask you.”

Harlequin met his eyes. “Go on.”

Harbinger tucked his paw back into his chest. “What happened… that night you didn’t come back for me?”

Harlequin’s eyes widened and she stared down at her feet. Her mind fogged with darkness. She’d never wanted to revisit that night.

“You seemed so scared,” Harbinger went on. “After Yurlik’s mob fell on me, he told me you’d joined Hydreigon. I thought everything about you had all been a ruse. But you hadn’t sold me out at all, had you?”

“Of course I hadn’t.”

“So why didn’t you come back for me?” Harbinger asked. “I need to know, Harlequin. It’s been haunting me for years.” Harlequin closed her eyes, pulling her ears back as Harbinger continued. “Why did you keep me waiting? Why did you keep delaying our escape from the Border Woods?”

Harlequin’s legs turned to jelly. She stared down at the ground for a moment, then sank into it as tears streamed from her eyes. Harbinger’s heavy paw landed on her shoulder and she felt him draw her towards him. Her eyes flew open and she pressed her paws into his ruff, pushing herself back. His gaze met hers, sad and wounded. At the fear in her eyes? She screwed them shut again and shifted closer to him, letting him loop his paw around her back. She nuzzled into his wet fur and he held her gently against his chest.

“I’m so sorry.” Her words wobbled, muffled by his fur.

His breath brushed her ears as he sighed. “That you can’t tell me?”

Harlequin clasped a blue paw into his muddy ruff. She swallowed audibly as her throat thickened with anxiety. Her mind clouded until she could barely see her own paw. Until she was no longer in the damp cavern but back in the Border Woods, in a small burrow beneath a tree, with the sinister grinning face of a zoroark looming over her.

“I didn’t have a good childhood,” she mumbled.

Harbinger said nothing, but she could feel his quick heartbeat against her paw. His nose brushed her ear as he nodded. Understanding, or a prompt for her to continue? Either way, she closed her eyes in a bid to block out the imagery.

“That’s why I was learning poisons,” she explained. “My father… he was cruel to me. He hated me. He thought everything about me was wrong. I wasn’t the child he wanted, so he’d hurt me.” She took in a long, trembling breath as the memories swirled through her head. “Every time I went back home, if our paths crossed he’d lash out at me. So… I’d go out at night while he was asleep, and hide away during the day.”

She gave Harbinger a moment to respond, but all that greeted her was his laboured breathing. Harlequin’s chest tightened and she forced herself on.

“I took poison lessons from a zangoose named Alia. She lived in the swamp. I’d been learning for a while, but she was reluctant to graduate me and give me the nidoking horn I wanted. Every night I’d sneak out to go to her lessons, but not because I wanted to work for her. It was all in an effort to get rid of my father. After I met you I became desperate. I wanted to get my revenge sorted quickly so we could get away, but I kept messing up in Alia’s exams and it slowed things down. Then that night… I went home to find my father awake and waiting for me.”

She trailed off, her voice choking and she buried her face in Harbinger’s fur. His claws curled protectively into her ruff and she felt his body shake.

“I was terrified,” Harlequin continued. “After that, I was desperate to get rid of him. So I planned to sneak into Alia’s home and steal the horn. But I had to tell you first that I’d be late. A huge mistake. I was seen. Not only meeting you but going into the swamp, too. After I’d poisoned my parents’ water supply I rushed back to the thicket but you were gone. Yurlik caught me and told me he’d killed you. It broke me.” She sobbed and tightened her grip on Harbinger’s fur. “I just… gave up. I ended up working for the Darkness. Then I found out that the swamp had been cleared out. I’d given their location away. All because I wanted to get rid of my father.”

Harbinger was silent for a long moment, but she could feel his breath against her ears. She didn’t want to look at him. The tears kept coming, mixing with the mud in his fur as her body shook with sobs.

“I don’t understand,” he said quietly. “Why would any parent treat their child like that? In what way were you ‘wrong’?”

Harlequin snorted a strangled, sarcastic laugh. “He never wanted a daughter. Let alone one with freak markings like me.”

Silence filled the cavern, broken only by Harbinger’s rasping breaths. Harlequin thought she heard a bell echo off the walls, but Harbinger didn’t seem to hear it. Perhaps it was her imagination, or another distorted echo.

Harbinger pulled her closer and pressed his nose between her ears. “You’re not a freak, Harlequin. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ about you.”

“I’ve lied too much, and hurt and killed too many pokemon, Harbie. That’s wrong.”

“But you’ve turned away from that now. Just like I have.” He paused to take a few short breaths. “Thank you… for telling me. At least I now know… you never betrayed me.”

“I’d never hurt you, Harbie.” Another sob escaped Harlequin’s throat and fresh tears leaked from her eyes. “That’s why this hurts me so much.”

“If it helps… Xerneas told me death isn’t the end.” His rough tongue brushed the fur between her ears and Harlequin buried her muzzle into his warm fur. “When the war is over, Harlequin… we’ll see each other again.”

Harlequin’s body shook with sobs and she wound her paw into his fur. “But I wanted us to fight together… to win alongside each other!”

Harbinger didn’t answer.

Harlequin huddled into his fur and after a moment she painfully realised his breathing had stilled. Tears streamed from her eyes, mixing with the mud caking her cheeks.

He was gone.

She had no idea how long she lay there huddling into his fur. She didn’t want to leave him. Different scenarios played through her mind. Her and Harbinger escaping together, finding their way in a world that refused to accept them. Avoiding Outcasts and fighting against the Darkness. Perhaps coming across the Fairy Garden, finally finding acceptance.

It wasn’t until her sobs finally ceased that she pushed herself away from him. His paw flopped into the mud, splattering his white coat. Something bounced off it with a clatter and rolled to a stop at her feet.

The anklet holding the keystone for his partner. Enigma.

Harlequin choked back another sob. Her two closest friends… It wasn’t just her who’d lost Harbinger. Why did she keep leading her friends into danger? Why did she keep costing those she cared about their lives?

Her fault. This was all her fault.

The lone sob finally left her as she stooped to pick up the anklet. She limped down the corridor, barely seeing it. All she could see was Harbinger. She’d never cared he was an absol. The day she’d met him, he’d been fleeing alone and terrified, exiled from his clan. He thought she’d run in fear from him like everybody else, but she hadn’t. Her acceptance had baffled him.

He’d had no name. It had been stripped away from him along with his clan. He’d been blamed for leaking their location. All he’d done was step outside, an act their leader had forbidden. For that, he’d been stripped of his identity.

‘They call me a harbinger. Does that count?’

‘Harbie? I like it!’

‘You do know what a harbinger is, right?’

‘Sure. They foreshadow things.’

‘Yes. And absol are believed to foreshadow disasters.’

‘Then prove them wrong! Take the name and become a harbinger of good things!’

She groaned and her paw slipped out from under her. She flopped to the floor, landing face-first in the mud. The anklet bounced away from her, rolling away down the tunnel into the shadows.

If she hadn’t let revenge get to her head, if she hadn’t gone out of the way to poison her father, if she’d just run like Harbinger wanted to, none of this would have happened. He’d still be alive. They’d be together.

A bell echoed down the tunnel, growing louder as it moved towards her with each light footstep. The jingling stopped a mere foot away from her nose. She opened her eyes to see Enigma standing over her. His expression was unreadable, cast in shadow. She blinked, unsure if he was actually there. But he didn’t fade away like some hallucination. The dim light from the luminous moss reflected off his crimson eyes and highlighted his smoky fur with a dull green.

All those times she’d thought she’d heard a bell… Harlequin swallowed around a lump in her throat. He’d been there, waiting for her. She could see it on his face now. He’d heard everything.

Her eyes stung as more tears formed in them. She pushed herself trembling to her feet.

“I know… you probably have questions…” Her ears drooped and she took in a breath to still her sobs. “You probably even hate me… But please, Enigma.” Her voice choked as she looked up to meet his eyes. “I really need you right now.”

He stared at her for a heartbeat then closed his eyes as he dropped to one knee to offer her a paw. “Of course.”

Fresh tears streamed from her eyes as she rushed into him, burying her face in his scarf. His familiar, spicy scent washed over her, filling her muffled senses. Enigma hesitated for a moment then fastened his arms around her, holding her against him.

“It’s my fault!” Harlequin sobbed into his shoulder. “It’s all my fault!”

He said nothing, instead brushing his claws through the fur of her neck. She felt her sobs lessen and she let her chin rest on his shoulder.

“Why?” she rasped. “Why couldn’t I save him?”

Silence greeted her, save for her sobs echoing off the wall. Tears soaked through Enigma’s scarf, his fur, as Harlequin grew more frantic. She buried her nose in his mane, wishing she could turn back time. If she could… If she could just go back…

“Believe me. I know how you feel, Harle.” Enigma’s voice wavered and he trailed his claws through her fur, staring off down the dark tunnel. “I’ve been there before.”


Yurlik nudged open the double doors and peered inside. The large form of Hydreigon lay in the middle of the room, sprawled out across the tiles. His breathing had levelled out, but his scales still dripped with fever. The trickle of candlelight that leaked in from the halls reflected on his red eyes as he fixed Yurlik in a scowl. Behind him stood Yveltal, his icy stare boring into Yurlik as the honchkrow cowered in the doorway.

Yurlik cleared his throat and strutted into the room. “You’re looking much better, my lord. That anti-venom appears to be working.”

Hydreigon’s lips pulled back from his teeth in a soundless sneer.

“I’ve brought Rumble, as requested.” Yurlik stood aside to let the noivern skulk into the room.

The slender dragon held his head low, but defiance flashed in his yellow eyes.

Hydreigon raised his head slightly, with visible effort. “So this is the one who cost me the battle?”

“I cost you nothing!” Rumble hissed. “Besides, I didn’t see that fat honchkrow helping out!” He flashed Yurlik a venomous look.

Yurlik shifted with unease and embarrassment. He became even more aware of Yveltal’s piercing stare.

“Silence!” Hydreigon’s voice reverberated off the walls, causing Rumble to cower back like a scolded whelp. “You were foolish enough to set off a boomburst in the thick of battle! Most of my troops were knocked down and debilitated because of you!” Hydreigon’s eyes narrowed in a glare. “And to make matters worse, you let those rebels escape with my prisoners!”

“They vanished into thin air!” Rumble gasped. “What was I to do? I don’t know where they’ve gone!”

“Really?” Hydreigon winced as he shifted his huge bulk so he was sitting upright. “My troops could have taken them down in the time it took them to gather themselves back together after your foolish move, Rumble.”

Rumble cowered under Hydreigon’s glare and ducked back towards the exit.

Yurlik turned to Hydreigon, a smirk playing at his beak. “What should we do with him?”

Hydreigon huffed thick black smoke from his nostrils. “Kill him.”

Rumble’s eyes widened and he looked from the dragon to Yurlik and back. “What? For that? I was trying-”

“Hang on.” Yveltal stepped beside Hydreigon, his head raised high. His cool gaze was calculating, and not without its chill. “I think I have a better idea, Hydreigon.”

Hydreigon jerked his head towards the large bird. “You address me as ‘lord’!”

Yvetal chuckled. “Really? I don’t think that’s a very fitting term right now, is it?”

“I beg your-”

Yveltal swiped a wing aside, knocking the weakened Hydreigon back onto his side. Purple flames flickered around Hydreigon’s teeth as his head bounced off the tile. Yveltal turned back to Rumble who stared, dumbfounded, at Hydreigon.

“I believe I have a more fitting punishment in mind.” Yveltal’s beak cracked in a smile. “This Rumble can rally together his troops and retrieve those escapees. He fails, then he dies.”

Rumble lowered his head. “Thank you! I… I’ll find them-”

“You have until sunrise tomorrow.”

Rumble jerked his head back up and his jaw went slack. “But… that’s just over a day-”

“Ample time. Now go.” Yveltal watched Rumble skitter from the room on all-fours then turned his gaze back on Hydreigon. “As for you… I think you’ve proved you aren’t fit to rule the Shadow Lands.”

Hydreigon’s lips pulled back from his canines and he struggled to raise his head. “How dare-”

Yveltal’s beak opened wide and he spewed out a crimson beam. It struck Hydreigon in the flank and the dragon threw his head back in a roar, his body contorting across the tiles. Grey stone spread across his hide, freezing his flailing body in a disfigured posture. His howl shook the walls as the stone spread up his throat. His red eyes landed on Yurlik, pleading with him, his wail deafening. Then silence.

Yurlik stared at his former leader, his cold stone eyes fixed on his and his jaws gaping in an agonised silent scream. The honchkrow trembled, every fibre of his being telling him to run, yet his feet were rooted to the spot.

Yveltal spread his wings as energy flowed through him, lighting up the black stripes along them with a pulsing crimson light. The red spots on his wings spread out, merging into each other until his entire underbelly was bright red, save for the white plumage around his neck.

Yurlik stuttered as he stared up at the large bird. Yveltal met his fearful stare with a smirk.

“As for you.” Yveltal’s voice was a purr, one that radiated threat. Yurlik cowered back from him, lowering his head as he spread his own wings in submission. “Stand back up, you foolish avian.”

Yurlik complied, stuttering, “Yes, my lord.”

“You… I want you scouring the Border Woods. Send out your birds, and the females if you must. I want those pokemon found and brought back here alive.” Yveltal tucked his wings back in at his sides as a frown spread across his beak. “Xerneas might have won that battle, but he will not win the war.”


Enigma winced as Faith rubbed sitrus juice into his shoulders. “Do you mind not being so rough?”

“I’m not,” said Faith. “But you’re full of muck from that lake. I’m trying to be thorough so these wounds don’t get infected.” She paused and a playful smile spread across her muzzle. “Are you sure that noivern and his swarm weren’t fighting over you?”

Enigma snorted and fiddled with the hem of his scarf. “I got caught by a weavile while I was chasing after…” His gaze wandered to the tunnel that lead off from the sitting area beneath the ruin.

Harlequin… As soon as they got back, escorted by the repentant goodra and her friend and a very bitter riolu, Harlequin had begged to be left alone until she was taken to one of the rooms. Enigma had followed out of habit, remaining invisible. But he’d not intruded. He couldn’t. Instead he’d returned to the main room where the pokemon were having their wounds treated. He’d hung back, but Faith had been on him as soon as she was done helping Cleo. Anger kept flaring inside his chest as he recalled Harlequin’s conversation with Harbinger, and he’d been forced to repress it.

After he’d followed Harlequin to the lake he’d waited, watching as Harbinger was lifted by a small number of murkrow and dropped right in the middle of it. Harlequin had left the bush she’d been hiding in and dived beneath the water. Enigma had wasted no time. He’d followed. He’d helped Harlequin lift Harbinger to safety, remaining invisible out of respect. He knew Harbinger wasn’t going to make it. He’d been around the absol enough to know he hadn’t faked that injury. Enigma had stood back, moving only when Harlequin’s story turned personal.

Yet he couldn’t leave her. He couldn’t. His loyalty to her denied him that. Instead, he’d remained and had heard the whole thing.

Faith followed his gaze to the tunnel, reading his silence as if it were an open book. “You should go and talk to her.”

Enigma spat air and tore his gaze from the tunnel. “I don’t think so, Faith.”

“She’s your friend! And she’s devastated right now!” Faith squeezed more sitrus pulp onto her paws and rubbed it into the banette’s back, eliciting a faint hiss. Faith mumbled an apology before continuing. “I know she said she wanted to be alone, but I don’t think that’s true. Or healthy for her at the moment. She should have her friend nearby.”

“She lied to me, Faith. For all those years I thought I knew her, she’s lied!”

Faith hesitated, her paws resting between Enigma’s shoulders. “I know. But-”

“I heard everything,” he went on. “I mean, I already knew. You know that. Xerneas corrected me, confirming the doubts I’d already had. I’d not wanted to admit it, but hearing it said by her? I know she’s hurting, but that doesn’t change the fact she let me believe a lie for years. Years, Faith!” He raised his paws then let them fall into his lap. “So many I’ve lost count.”

Faith closed her eyes and sighed. “She shouldn’t have lied to you. But she wanted to tell you the truth.”

“Did she now?”

“Yes. She told me herself.” Faith returned to tending his scratches. “Believe it or not, she really cares about you.”

“If she cared about me, she wouldn’t have lied!”

“That’s not true!” Faith sighed and shook her head. “She’s right. You really are stubborn.”

Enigma scoffed again and let his head fall onto his arms folded over his knees. “What else did she tell you about me?” It wasn’t a question. He hissed as Faith returned his scarf to its position over his back.

“She was scared of telling you the truth.” Faith reached past him for the damp cloth she’d set aside to clean her paws. “She was worried telling you might make everyone else in the Shadow Lands aware of it.”

Enigma looked over his shoulder at the mawile. “What? She thought I’d just blab and tell everyone else? I know what they do to the females there! Is she kidding?”

“Enigma, please!” Faith widened her violet eyes. “That’s not what she meant! A slip of the tongue is all it would take.”

Enigma gave an exasperated sigh and turned away, but Faith turned his head back towards her.

“Listen to me,” she said. “Those breeding pens sound like a nightmare! If I were in her position I’d be tempted to live a lie as well.”

Enigma sighed again and closed his eyes. “I get it. I do! But it just… it hurts!” He thumped the ground then stood up, smoothing out his scarf. “It’s almost as bad as her accusing me of visiting that evil place.”

Faith stared up at him. “I’m glad to hear you didn’t.”

“No. But the Shadow Lands believed I did. I’d use it as a ruse to shake other pokemon off my tail so I could go and visit Kera’s grave.” He looked back down at Faith, anger burning in his eyes. “You know who knew the truth? Harlequin!” He turned his back and dragged his claws through his mane with a groan.

Faith’s small, warm paw fastened gently on his shoulder and he turned back towards her, meeting her gentle gaze.

“I understand this is hard for you,” she said. “But you need to set this anger aside. Please talk to her about it, but do so in a way that won’t break her any further?”

Enigma closed his eyes and let out a flustered breath. “Fine.” He trailed his gaze over Faith, and brushed back a singed lock of fur from her face. “You’re looking a little battle-worn yourself. Let me help you out first?”

Faith shook her head. “No, I’m fine. Cleo already helped me. I don’t have many scratches, being a steel-type and all.”

“But you’re burnt…”

“I got caught in some flamethrowers, but I managed to dodge most of it. This is just surface damage.” She gave him a playful smile and pushed him gently away. “Stop stalling and go and see Harlequin.”

Enigma winced yet gave a stiff nod. He stepped back from Faith to turn towards the tunnel. “I’m not ready for this.”

“The longer you leave it, the harder it’ll get.” Faith folded the damp cloth neatly over her arm. “Just try not to get angry with her. It’s possible to talk this out without biting each other’s heads off.”

“Easier said than done,” Enigma scoffed.

“I have faith you can do it.” The mawile smiled at him. “And if you need anyone to talk to after, I’ll be here.”

Enigma’s shoulders fell in a heavy sigh and he turned to march down the corridor. The stone walls were dotted with rooms, many of which were open revealing their empty insides. Flames flickered on freshly fuelled torches, making Enigma’s shadow dance over the walls. It surprised Enigma how many rooms there were, and how many were vacant. Slip and Snails had been offered rooms from Ripwing, rather reluctantly Enigma felt, and had refused.

Enigma reached Harlequin’s room all too soon. The door was closed, uninviting. He could hear the zorua sniffling from within, and he clenched his jaw as his paw fell on the doorknob. His blood boiled with rage. He searched through his mind - not for the first time - to find any clue that Harlequin had actually avoided telling him she was male. But what did it matter? Even if she didn’t outright lie to him, the refusal to correct him all those years was blatantly inconsiderate.

He wanted answers.

He stared down at the door handle and decided not to try it. If it were locked it would only cement his decision not to face her. And he didn’t need to open the door anyway. So he released it and glided through the solid wood like mist.

The room was bare save for a bed of hay against the far wall. Lying upon it was Harlequin. A female zorua buried beneath a coat of shaggy black fur with blue markings. The torch was guttering, yet the faint light glinted off the tears streaking her face. She wasn’t crying anymore. Instead she appeared to be asleep, her breathing audible after crying for so long.

As he stared at her, so small and vulnerable, the story she’d told Harbinger came rushing back like a tidal wave, smothering his burning rage. He believed what she’d told the absol was true. For someone to be raised in an environment like that… perhaps she hadn’t wanted to tell Enigma, or anyone else, the truth out of fear. It certainly explained her jumpiness, especially when they’d first met. She’d bitten him at first, when he’d tried to touch her. An innocent gesture he’d thought nothing of. Then there was that incident when she was feverish… had that been a nightmare? Did her past still haunt her?

If that were the case, then she’d obviously want to take advantage of those around her believing her to be male and play along with it. If not only to avoid the breeding pens, then to avoid any unwanted advances. Enigma shook his head. Did she really have a reason to be scared of him? Did she honestly believe for a moment he’d hurt her?

Frightened faces of cowering pokemon filled Enigma’s mind. He could almost see his own leering over them as they tried to dodge his claws. His strength ebbed away and he sank back against the door with a loud jingle, lowering his head into his paws.

Of course… Of course she had reason to be afraid of him. He was a monster.


He hadn’t been aware he’d been breathing so heavily, and he forced himself to calm it. He looked over his paws at Harlequin. She’d raised her head, twisting it back towards him. Her blue eyes glistened in the torchlight as she blinked back the threat of fresh tears. Enigma met her wavering stare. So small, her eyes glossy.

“You’re scared of me.” He’d barely finished thinking of the words as they left his mouth.

Harlequin rolled over so she was facing him. “What?”

“You’re scared of me. That’s why you hid it from me, right?”

“Of course I’m not scared of you.”

“You must be!” Enigma dropped his paws and clenched them at his sides. He took a breath to calm his boiling rage. “You’ve seen what kind of life I’ve lived. The lives I’ve taken.”

“Enigma, I knew you before we were forced to do assassinations.” Harlequin’s voice cracked and she let her head fall back onto the hay. “Neither of us do that anymore. We’re the pokemon we were meant to be now.” She paused, opening one eye to watch him. “I’m not scared of you. Even when we were enemies I knew you’d never hurt me.”

Another memory ballooned in his mind. Harlequin frantically fighting him off as he tried to remove that collar. Enigma became aware his teeth were hurting as he spoke through a clenched jaw. “Another lie.”

Harlequin raised her head again, confusion clouding her face.

“Why do you keep lying to me?!” Enigma spat. “You’ve been jumpy around me since day one!”

“The heart and mind can have their own battles, Enigma.” Her voice wavered and she swallowed back a sob. “I’ve been jumpy around Faith as well, and she wouldn’t harm a leaf!”

Enigma fell back against the door again and dragged his paw down his face. “Then why did you let me believe it?”

Harlequin flinched and looked away from him, her jaw set. There. He’d turned her own question on her and she recognised it. A mock laugh left him almost unwillingly and Harlequin flinched, cowering into the hay slightly.

“Or did you believe telling me the truth would change things?” Enigma spat. “Were you scared I’d treat you the same way as your monster of a father?!”

Harlequin’s ears pulled back and she blinked tears free that splattered onto the hay. “Of course not!”

“Because I’m a monster, too!” Enigma threw his paw to one side. “Why not throw that icing on the cake?”

“Enigma, please!” Harlequin pushed herself up so she was sitting. “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore! Please… just stop… this isn’t you.” Her shoulders shook with sobs and she lowered her head as tears streamed down her muzzle.

“Well, I don’t know you anymore either.” Enigma kicked himself back from the door and turned his back on the zorua. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Enigma, no! Wait!” Harlequin was on her feet as Enigma dropped his density to slip through the door into the corridor. Harlequin’s voice cried out, muffled by the damp barrier. “Please! I can’t lose you too!”

Enigma fell back against the closed door, listening to Harlequin’s claws scrape over the wood. She howled with grief and slid down it to the floor. Enigma rolled his head back against it, seething at himself. Had he actually gone that far?

“What have I done?” He covered his face with his paws as he mentally kicked himself. He really was a monster. Tears streaked over his cheeks and he swiped them away with a paw. But it didn’t stop them flowing.

He pushed himself away from the door, making his way back down the corridor towards the exit. Harlequin’s frantic cries faded into the background, and he forced his head up, shaking it to clear the confusion away. He had one destination in mind. A place to clear his head. To someone who would listen. He barely even saw where he was going. Barely heard the voices mumble to silence as he marched through them. It wasn’t until a paw fixed around his that he finally stopped and looked back into Faith’s violet gaze.

“What happened?” Concern was written all over the mawile as she looked over him. She reached up with her free paw to brush his tears away but he raised an arm to stop her. “Are you okay? Is Harlequin-”

“I’m sorry, Faith.” Enigma turned his paw to mist and slipped it from her grasp. “I need some time to think.”

He felt Faith’s eyes on his back, joined by the probing stares of the other pokemon, as he left the sitting room and made his way back up out of the ruin. He stepped out into the crisp, dawn air invisible to the naked eye, and, with one last glance back at the ruin, turned to walk past the boundaries of Hope’s protective bubble.

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. custom/quilava-fobbie
Heya. It took me a bit longer than planned to come around, but I’m here to jump back into my reading goals for the year for The End: Rekindled. Since hey, you had a strong start thus far, and I recall not getting that far into the original back in the day, so might as well see how fast things get all-new for me.

Anyhow, without further ado…

Chapter 2

The dining hall was bustling as it always was first thing in the morning. Cleo slid through a group of nattering pokemon to join Spark at the table. The small dedenne was seated beside a snubbull who, despite being too involved in his breakfast, took the time to look up and smile warmly at the meowstic. Cleo returned his greeting, then flopped down beside Spark.

Some small tweaks I’d suggest there. Though I see that bailing out the Outcasts’ sorry hides on a regular basis has given Cleo and Spark a bit of a fandom.

“Great spread today!” said Spark just before taking a bite out of an oran berry.

Cleo couldn’t agree more. To look at it, one wouldn’t think the cold season was drawing in. It looked like the Guild had just had a fresh harvest.

Cleo: “To say nothing about us apparently having looming food shortages on the horizon like last chapter hinted at. Boy do I hope that Tinker kept those stockpiles topped up.”

She reached for a plate and grabbed a few slices of dried fish to add to it. Coupled with a savory root gravy, it went down a treat.

Oh, so there’s vanilla animals in this setting, too? I actually completely forgot about that, though I suppose that would explain how the Darkness is just collectively shrugging at the idea of wiping out all Pokémon outside of two specific typings and not worrying about little annoyances such as ecosystem collapses.

Spark wiped her whiskers and looked up at Cleo. “So what’s the plan for today?”

“I thought we’d finally head out,” said Cleo. “I think five days is a suitable enough rest.”

… Wait, it’s been five days since these two arrived at Tinker’s guild? I didn’t get that vibe at all from the opening and it might have been a detail worth at least hinting at such as having some passing mention of this not being the first breakfast that Cleo and Spark have had here at the guild.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get itchy feet.” Spark reached for another berry. “I’d better fill up though if we’re gonna be travelling a while.”

“It’s a two day walk to New City,” said Cleo. “You won’t be struggling. I’ll restock our supplies before we leave.”

Two days traveling overland, huh? It’s been long enough for me since looking at the v1 of this story to forget the details behind this journey actually wonder if that’s a straight shot or if they’re using party tricks as shortcuts such as cutting through Mystery Dungeons. Guess we’ll find out soon enough, though if this is overland, they must be deep in Outcast territory for New City to not be seriously worried about attack at this point in time.

“Fantastic!” Spark punctuated that by stuffing an entire cheri into her mouth.

It was little wonder the dedenne didn’t choke. Cleo stifled a laugh and tucked into her own breakfast.

I mean, considering how hamsters hork away at food IRL… yeah, I would be wholly unsurprised by Dedenne managing to squeeze quite a bit into their cheeks. Though it does make me wonder if there should’ve been a little blurb about what food is before Cleo and Spark at the moment a bit earlier. I mean, you don’t need to get full Brian Jacques about it, but these new foods getting mentioned paragraph by paragraph do feel almost like they’re popping into existence a bit.

[ ]

“Oh, I should let Tinker know we’re heading off, too,” said Cleo.

“Can’t,” said Spark. “He’s apparently already left.”

You probably want to consider dropping in a small paragraph of description there such that Cleo’s mood shifts and she starts to get more in the mood of “right, I should tell Tinker we’re leaving”, since the feel of these two lines of dialogue is a bit different from the earlier bit having a giggle over Spark pigging out.

Cleo let out a small sigh of relief. She hadn’t really spoken to him since they’d arrived. In fact, she’d actively tried to avoid him. The only other contact they’d had was small-talk over dinner two evenings prior, when they’d found themselves sitting next to each other. Things had seemed a little tense.

I mean, he only casually criticized you for giving quarter to child soldiers instead of just summarily killing them off and calling it a day. Probably not for the first time, either. So yeah, I don’t blame Cleo for not being particularly thrilled to hang out around Tinker given that she was very obviously off-put by Tinker’s standard of “necessary measures” for fighting the Darkness.

“Did he say where he was going?” Cleo ventured.

Spark shrugged her shoulders and swallowed her mouthful. “Nope. He didn’t speak to me. I heard it off JuneBerry.”

Wait, is the capitalization of “JuneBerry” supposed to be deliberate? Or is that meant to be one of “Juneberry” or “June Berry”?

Cleo didn’t know who JuneBerry was, but Spark’s answer didn’t exactly solve clear anything up. If Cleo was to guess, Tinker had probably headed back to New City. Cleo hadn’t heard any news about locals in trouble, and Tinker didn’t often venture outside. He just sent out his own Warriors while handling affairs from his desk.

Oh, so Tinker doesn’t even live at this guild normally, huh? I didn’t remember that detail from the v1 of this story (though it’s admittedly been years since I read the first few chapters), but that would explain a lot about Cleo’s quiet resentment towards Tinker’s attitudes towards how their war ought to be conducted. Since “brass vs. grunts” is a staple conflict of militaries in fiction precisely because it’s not particularly hard for the “brass” to be disconnected from the actual conditions on the ground or wind up reducing an ugly business into clean and sterile numbers.

Cleo wiped her paw across her mouth and scooped up her empty plate. “I’ll meet you back here after I’ve grabbed supplies, okay?”

Spark gave her a thumbs-up then returned to re-stocking her plate. Cleo had long since stopped questioning where Spark put it all. She left the dining hall, pausing only to place her plate on the shelf beside the door.

I wonder if Spark is also able to use that apparent black hole of a stomach of hers for other means. Though I suppose that’s one way for Spark to ensure that she’s always well-prepared for lean times.

The store room wasn’t far away. A wooden elevator box hung inside the wall, and she lowered herself using its creaky pulley system. The sides of the box scraped along the chute, occasionally snagging in place. It was somewhat unsettling, and a clear sign that the Guild Hall, despite appearances, was as hastily built as the rest of the town.

Cleo: “... Why on earth do we not just have a set of ramps considering how rickety and unstable this thing is?” o_o;
Spark: “Lack of resources? I mean, it’s a box and some rope and pulleys. Seems a bit easier to me to set up in a hurry than a bunch of ramps.”

It finally opened up into a dark room. She could already smell the ripe berries, guiding her nose towards the wooden boxes at the back of the room. Dim light flickered from torches high above her by the elevator, but yet more danced around amid the boxes, casting erratic shadows across the walls. A charmander poked his head up and staggered beneath the weight of an overflowing basket. He set it inside another pulley system, smaller than the elevator, then poked his head inside.

“Sending them up!”

IMO, the “of the room” there is a touch redundant since you mentioned the room shortly beforehand. That said, unless it’s a quirk of things being immediately after harvesting time, I’m honestly a little surprised that all these berries are being stored fresh. Since for a society that needs to be able to pack up and leave in a hurry and be able to ride out shortages from things like a bunch of Swablu casually flying in and torching a huge chunk of their fields, that they’d have more dried fruits and preserved food in general in storage. Better shelf life and all that jazz.

The dumbwaiter creaked, lifting the basket out of sight. The charmander returned to his task, gathering berries one by one and examining them, before deciding which ones to put into another basket for the kitchen. He looked up when Cleo made her way towards the supplies.

Pretty sure that ‘dumbwaiter’ is one word, unless if the two-word version of it is a quirk of British English that I’m not aware of.

“Oh hi!” he said. “Are you here for supplies?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Just stocking up for a two day journey.”

[ ]
“Going to New City, huh?” He smiled warmly and lowered what he was holding into the basket. “I can help you pick things out if you like?”

It might be a bit of personal bias in terms of authorial style, but I kinda wonder if it’d have made more sense to pull the description that you wedged in between the parts of Charmander’s dialogue into an earlier paragraph, since as it stands, things feel a bit “talking heads” at the moment.

Cleo eyed him curiously, assessing him. Her claws twitched at her sides and she bit her lip absently. [ ]

“No thanks,” she said. “I know what I’m looking for. I won’t disturb you.”
“It’s no problem, honest!” He straightened to look at her, and his eyes widened briefly. His face fell slightly, but he tried to mask it with a smile. “Oh. Right, I understand. Sure, help yourself.”

… Wait, what is Cleo after anyways? If it’s not a huge spoiler plot-wise, I kinda wonder if it’d have made sense to at least hint at it in a paragraph prior to the Charmander’s reaction, whether attached to the first paragraph, or in an added one later on.

Cleo nodded stiffly and clambered amid the boxes. Trusting others was always something she’d struggled with. Sure Somehow, she could put her life on the line for innocent pokemon, but would turn down help for a simple task like this… She shook her head at herself and began sorting through the varied selection of berries.

IMO, the “sure” doesn’t play as tightly into the “Cleo could do [X] naturally, but not [Y]” dynamic a bit well. There’s a few different options that would work nicely there, but I opted to suggest “Somehow” there.

Though there’s a story behind this, I can tell. Even if I find it a little surprising that someone with as big of an issue with trusting others wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with Tinker’s cynicism about their enemies.

Pokemon often used berries, not just for food but medicinal reasons too. Oran and sitrus berries were a frequent go-to, although both Cleo and Spark preferred oran to the bitter tang of sitrus. She made sure to stock up on enough oran berries to see them though more than two days. On top of that, she made sure to grab a couple of cheri berries for Spark. A personal favourite of the dedenne’s.

I’m honestly a bit surprised that Spark would be fond of Cheri Berries as a berry with anti-paralyzing effects… unless if she regularly uses those to troll her enemies post T-Wave by just dangling them just out of reach or something like that.

As well as a couple of pecha berries, and rawst perchance they needed them, Cleo also restocked her dried fish. Spark didn’t touch the stuff, but Cleo had been raised on it. It was packaged in brown paper, and slotted in nicely at the back of Cleo’s satchel, behind her map. That way, it wouldn’t turn the berries salty.

Cleo was raised on a fish-heavy diet, huh? Guess that’s one sign that she was most likely raised near a body of water of some sort. Filing that away for the future.

Satisfied, Cleo headed back towards the elevator.

The charmander gave her a friendly ‘bye!’ as she entered it. She returned it with a polite wave, and dragged herself back out of the storage room. [ ]

Spark was waiting by the dining hall door, and her long whiskers twitched in a happy smile. She bounded across the floor and scrambled up Cleo’s leg to her shoulder.

“So what didja get?” she asked.

Kinda wonder if it might have made sense to have Cleo reflect on their assignment from Tinker or something here. Since it feels like a handy way to tie in this resupply run into the broader situation going on in the background without too many additional words.

Cleo: “Have you just been sitting here waiting for me to get back with food?” o_ó;
Spark: “Yeah? And? Always important to give the supplies a good taste test before setting out!" ^^

“Now that would be telling,” Cleo teased as they left the Guild.

“Aw! Come on!”

Cleo: “Seriously, Spark. This stuff needs to last us two days. With the way you go through, if I let you start taking test bites, we’ll be lucky to make it last two hours.”

Spark: “Bah, you’re no fun.” >_>;

The sun beamed down on the little town, baking the dirt streets until they were almost too hot to walk on. The town was bustling with pokemon, most of them keeping close to the walls. Cleo followed the path through the buildings towards a small market. She quirked an eyebrow at it, then looked down at her bag.

I’m surprised that this is happening around harvest time, really. What on earth is the climate around this place like if it’s still getting toasty presumably sometime around fall? I’m actually not sure if it was mentioned in description last chapter, but it might’ve been something fun to keep track of, especially if the climate will be noticeably different in different parts of the world as Cleo and Spark get around.

She’d managed to amass some items during her last job that she’d successfully buried beneath all the berries, but unloading them off on the market before leaving might not be a bad idea. She didn’t use items in battle herself. Iron thorns were a simple means to peg her tent into the ground, as opposed to something to throw at her foes. She was clumsy with them, and had never mastered the art of throwing them straight.

… How on earth did Cleo manage that while by all means developing into a crack fighter? Since you’d think that if anything, a Psychic-type would have a bit of a leg up on item usage through telekinesis. .-.

Though meh, I’ll chalk it up to a character quirk, even if it’ll be interesting to see if there will come a time down the road where Cleo will be forced to have to use items in combat at some point.

She passed by a table that specialised in such items, but the seller was deep in debate with a skarmory. The metal bird had recently shed some feathers and was trying to get a good price for the material, which the graveller who owned the stall was desperate to underpay for.

>underpaying for natural blades that aren’t all that hard to sharpen

At that rate, Skarmory might want to consider just setting up a stand himself and selling or trading those feathers off directly assuming you’re taking off of Skarmory’s dex fluff of its feathers being used as blades in ye olden times. Since one would think that a natural knife for something like cutting fruit or fabric would always have takers.

Cleo decided to take her wares elsewhere, following the stalls around to another filled with battle items. Normal and water gems were the main focus, and to no surprise of Cleo’s, there wasn’t a psychic gem in sight. Typical. That was one item she might have actually considered.

Oh, so there’s Gen 5 gems floating around in this setting, huh? Forgot about that detail from the original version of this story, but it’s a nice touch given that those items were basically forgotten in the franchise after Gen 5.

“Can I help you?” The seller was a cinccino.

“Yes, actually.” Cleo fumbled through her bag for the small paw-full of iron thorns. “I was wondering if you were interested in these?”

- Cinccino cocks a brow -
Cinccino: “You realize those are worth about 2 Poké apiece, right?”

The cinccino gathered them up and examined them with intense scrutiny. “I think two gold coins would be enough?”

Oh, so “gold coins” are the analogue to Poké in this setting, huh? Though boy is Cleo getting ripped off something fierce if the exchange rate is 1:1 with canon Poké at the moment.

Cleo shrugged. “I’ll take-”

She staggered forwards as someone bashed into her, her words cutting off as she reached out to steady herself on the table. Two of the gems fell off to the floor, rolling away beneath the feet of a passing ursaring. She turned her head towards the sound of scampering feet, but whoever it was had slipped away unseen.

Cleo: “I… just got mugged, didn’t I?” >.<

“Little toe-rag,” Spark scoffed.

‘Toe-rag’, huh? Wonder who that could-?

- looks up at signature banner -

… The Banette? I mean, I didn’t remember there being one coming into play this early in the story originally, but that would be decently fitting with Spark’s putdown there.

Cleo muttered an apology to the cinccino and stooped to grab one of the gems. The other had been picked up by the ursaring. Cleo’s heart sank when she noted the crack in the surface of the water gem in her paws.

Ah yes, time for “you break it, you bought it”. Guess Cleo’s not getting those two gold coins after all.

The cinccino’s lips turned down in a sad frown. “I’m afraid I’ll have to charge you for that.”

Yeah, figured. But such is life while shopping since unless if you’re close friends with the merchant, somebody’s gotta front the cost for those losses.

“Will the thorns be enough?” Cleo asked.


The cinccino shook her head. “They’re three gold each.”

Yeah, I figured. Since those gems didn’t exactly look cheap there, and I didn’t recall them exactly being ultra-common back in Unova.

Cleo sighed and reached into her bag for her coin pouch, but her claws closed around something hard and round. She pulled it out and her eyes widened. A rock?

“What are you doing with a rock?” Spark asked.

Cleo’s heart sank even further and she dropped her paw, searching the crowd of busy pokemon. “I think whoever bumped me robbed me…”

Spark: “... Boy that must’ve been one smooth operator. The guy literally swapped out your purse without me even seeing it!”

Cleo: “That’s… not saying a whole lot when you’re 20 centimeters tall and were probably busy staring at the snack stand three stalls down.” >_>;

“We were robbed?!” Spark twisted on her shoulder and shook her fist at the air. “Get back here, you thief!”

Cleo: “Spark, did you even see where this thief went?”

Spark: “No, but it’s the thought that counts! We’re two of the best warriors for the Outcasts and this is the sort of thanks we get?!”

“It’s a little late now.” Cleo turned back to the cinccino. “I’m really sorry, I-”

The cinccino lifted her paws and shook her head. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s just one coin. I’ll keep the iron thorns, though.” She closed her eyes in a smile. “Just… catch that thief before he robs anyone else?”

Wow, Cinccino’s being more reasonable than I would’ve assumed from a merchant considering what Kecleon are like in the canon games. Though I suppose being locked into a losing war of extermination and being face-to-face with two of your reeds of hope of being able to turn things around will go a long ways for motivating you to cut some slack.

“Thank you so much.” Cleo turned from the table and dashed through the crowd.

It didn’t surprise her. Even amid the Outcasts there were dishonest pokemon. Yet another reason not to trust others so blindly. She cut hastily through the crowd, trying to spot anyone who looked remotely suspicious.

Spark tapped Cleo’s ear and pointed straight ahead. “Is that the thief?”

Cleo narrowed her eyes at the retreating fluffy back of a whimsicott. His running gait was almost as if he were in slow-motion, rising daintily into the air as the breeze carried him further along.

Ohai, Mischief. Though I kinda wonder if there should’ve been some sort of hint towards Mischief’s identity left behind from the mugging such that this feels less like a cold-reveal. Maybe something like discovering some stray fluff clinging to Cleo’s bag or footsteps or else seeing something like gem dust clinging to said fluff?

“Oi!” Spark shouted. “Stop right there, you thief!”

The whimsicott looked back at her, and his orange eyes widened. He turned and picked up his pace, galloping towards the edge of town.

Cue the theme music:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtkI_KyUbDk

Spark bailed off Cleo’s shoulder and took off after him, screeching at him to stop.

Cleo shook her head sharply and raced after him. Spark was alarmingly fast, outrunning Cleo and almost snapping at the whimsicott’s heels. He gave another glance back and let out a ‘yikes!’ before desperately trying to speed up. The wind was no longer in his favour, having dropped and leaving him to outrun the speedy dedenne alone.

Cue the Stun Spore in 3… 2…

Oh right, that doesn’t work on Electric-types anymore. Guess Mischief’s just gonna be in for a bad time. ^^;

Spark’s whiskers lit up with electricity and she fired a thunderbolt at the whimsicott. It staggered him, slowing him down enough for Cleo to come within striking distance.

The meowstic unfurled her ears, and a blast of purple light struck the thief. He yelped and stumbled forwards, but he didn’t hit the floor. Instead, Cleo lifted him in her psychic attack and turned the fluffy pokemon around to face her.

Cleo: “I believe that you have something of mine. So, are you going to hand it over nicely, or am I going to need to let Spark deep fry you?” >:|
Spark: “And trust me, I don’t need a lot of encouragement to get to work, buddy.”

She came to a stop beside Spark, panting to catch her breath. “You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”

The whimsicott touched a thumb-claw to his chest. “Are you talking to me?”

“Do you see any other thieves in bubbles?” Cleo scoffed.

I… wasn’t aware that Cleo had enveloped Mischief in some sort of telekinetic bubble. You probably want to explicitly mention that along with a general appearance in the part where you have her stop and lift Mischief off the ground.

The whimsicott turned his head left and right, straining to see behind him. Then he turned back to Cleo and shook his head. “Nope.”

Cleo and Spark exchanged glances. It had been a sarcastic and rhetorical question, and Cleo wasn’t sure if the whimsicott was returning the jest or being serious.

Cleo: “You seriously expect me to believe that you don’t remember anything of rooting through my bag and replacing my purse with a rock? Really?

Mischief: “... Yes? It’s not that unbelievable, is it?”

Spark: “... I really can’t tell whether or not he’s being serious or pulling our tails here, actually.”

She turned back to him and held out her paw. “Now. Give back what you stole from me, and I’ll let you go without any fuss.”

“Oh darn it!” His face fell and his arms flopped at his sides. “I can’t! I need it. At least… I think I do.”

Cleo: “How do you ‘think’ you need something you’re stealing? Have you been taking recreational substances of some sort?” o_ó;
Mischief: “I’d love to answer you on that one, but… yeah, mind’s kinda a blank right now.” ^^;

“What kind of answer is that?!” Spark squeaked, rising to her hind legs. “You can’t just go around stealing things because you need them!” She paused and her nose crinkled. “Especially if you aren’t even certain you need them!”

Spark: “... Well, I mean, I suppose you can, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just gonna sit here and take it!”

“Exactly,” said Cleo. “And replacing it with a rock? It’s not as if I didn’t notice you’d bumped into me.”

“I switcheroo’d!” he explained. “It’s all I know for pick-pocketing.”

I was going to object about Whimsicott Switcherooing, but apparently Cottonee can learn it as a breeding move. TIL. Wonder if that has any implications for Mischief’s parentage… or else I suppose if his story’s still being filled in in the present day, if that means he used an Imitation Herb.

Spark looked up at Cleo. “He’s rather honest for a thief.”

Cleo stared up at the levitating whimsicott. Spark wasn’t wrong. He was being oddly honest. Something didn’t smell right.

Cleo: “Can’t tell if this is some elaborate ruse or if he’s genuinely confused-”
Mischief: “... By the way, what town is this again?” ^^;
Cleo: “Okay, yeah. He’s genuinely confused.” -_-;

“Spark’s got a point,” she said. “Why would you explain yourself? Most criminals I pump for information are so unwilling to give it up that I have beat it out of them.”

The whimsicott paled. “That sounds rather unnecessarily violent.”


Says the ‘mon that’s going to brutally slaughter a Noivern in a couple chapters assuming things track the same general events in the v1.

Cleo and Spark both turned slack-jawed.

The whimsicott raised his paws in a shrug. “What can I say? You caught me.”

Spark: “You’re not taking this the least bit seriously, are you?” >_>;
Mischief: “Why? How seriously was I supposed to take it?” ^^;

“But…” Spark stuttered. “But you’re the bad guy!” She lowered her head into her paws and groaned. “What a cheesy line…”

“Hey, I’m not a bad guy!” said the whimsicott. “I’m just lost!”

Spark: “And you stole our stuff.” >:|
Mischief: “But you admit I’m lost, right?”

[ ]

“Then you’re in the same situation as all of us,” said Cleo. “Most pokemon these days are lost.”

“Are they?” He glanced back at the town and made a thoughtful noise, before returning to Cleo. “You two don’t look very lost. You seem to know where you’re going.”

It might make sense to slot in some reaction from some combination of Spark and/or Cleo, given that things up to this point have been getting a bit “talking heads”-y without a lot of description or internal thought process breaking up these bits of dialogue.

Cleo blinked a couple of times, then sighed. “I give up. You’re not making any sense. Just give back what you stole from me, and we’ll be on our way.”

Bold of you to assume that you’re getting rid of him so easily when he’s on the banner art, Cleo.

The whimsicott scratched his fluffy head. “Okay. I’ll give it back, but… can you please help me?”

[ ]
“That depends,” said Cleo. “You said you need that money pouch, so I’m going to hazard a guess you don’t have anything on you?”

Another spot that would likely benefit from some description of a reaction from Cleo and/or Spark here.

“Nope!” He shook his head sadly. “Just fluffy little me.”

And this part, I’m actually a bit curious if it’d work better pulling the “He shook his head sadly” forward before Mischief’s dialogue and maybe expanding it slightly.

He reached into his cottony down and pulled out Cleo’s brown money pouch. He tossed it towards her, sending it straight through the bubble and into her waiting paws. Immediately, Cleo dropped her psychic and the whimsicott dropped onto his bottom with a grunt.

On one level, I find it a little strange that we’re finding out such a detail about Cleo’s money pouch now and not sometime earlier on. At the same time, I’m not really sure when would an organic time to mention it earlier. Maybe while inventorying her items after receiving the berries from the Guild? Something to consider, at least.

He stood up and dusted down his behind. “So… are you going to help me?”

Cleo: “That depends on what you define as ‘help’, since if it’s ‘giving you my purse’, that’s going to be a hard ‘no’ there.”

“Sorry.” Cleo stuffed her pouch back into her bag and marched past him with Spark on her shoulder. “I don’t help strange pokemon, especially not if they’ve just robbed me. You don’t know who to trust in this day and age.”

“But you can trust me.” He trotted to keep up with her. “I just want you to keep me company for a while.”

Cleo + Spark:

“Company?” Cleo twirled on the spot to look back at him.

“Yes!” he said with a smile.

Spark: “... I’m sorry, did you hit your head or something earlier? Why on earth would you expect anyone to do that for someone who just tried to rob them?” >_>;
Mischief: “... Because I really need the help and I’m endearing?” ^^;

“I’m afraid I don’t do that either.” She turned and marched away, picking up pace to try and lose him.

“Why not?” he asked.

Cleo: “Because without getting into the fact that I already have trust issues with others, you tried to rob me?” >_>;
Mischief: “Well, we already sorted that out, so we’re all good now, aren’t we?” ^^

“Because you never know who’s going to turn around and stab you in the back.”

“Or steal from you,” Spark added. “Or ‘switcheroo’.”

Okay, yeah. Cleo’s been betrayed by someone who was supposed to be on her side from the Outcasts at some time in the past, I can already tell. Since between the way that she is mentioned as keeping others not named Spark at arm’s length and the way that she interacts with Tinker and presumably other higher-ups about being at odds with how they want her to operate in battle, it just all seems to be pointing towards that conclusion.

“Oh.” The whimsicott looked downcast. “But I gave it back, right?”

Cleo: “... Please don’t tell me that I’m going to need to explain the premise of a breach of trust to you and why that doesn’t come back just because the immediate problem is fixed.” >.<
Whisper: “I mean, you might as well, since I’m not really sure why you’re still so hung up when you’ve got your money back.”

“Sure,” said Cleo. “But you wouldn’t have needed to if you hadn’t stolen it in the first place.”

Well you have my full trust that I won’t do it again!” he said, rushing to keep up with them. “And I won’t stab you in the back either. My claws aren’t even that sharp!” When Cleo didn’t respond, he went on, “I’ll just follow you. You won’t even know I’m here! My name’s Mischief by the way. What’s yours?”


Cleo: “...”

Whisper: “I mean, if I give you trust, that oughta fix any breach in it, right?”

Cleo grit her teeth together, biting back the urge to retaliate. Spark sank down on her shoulder so far she couldn’t even make out the bump under her fur. If he was going to insist on following them, the best thing they could do would be to remain silent in the hopes he’d grow bored and go away?

- Cleo looks up at the story banner -
Cleo: “He’s… not going away anytime soon, is he?” >.<
Mischief: “Nope!” ^_^

The Outcast town was well behind them now and the sun was high in the sky, baking the ground and scorching the dry plants. Tough weeds and young trees rose around them, casting shadows that provided some temporary relief from the sun. The ground had grown much more hostile, hard and rocky with large, jagged crags that rose up around them, shoved out of place by trees and brambles that had exploded through once-small cracks. Tufts of grass sprouted along stretches of the rugged landscape, dotted by delicate wildflowers that struggled against thorny brambles.

… How on earth do these guys manage to successfully grow anything in this environment for food? ^^;

Unless this is “Pokémon Biomes”™ in action where the climate can radically change from one set of conditions to another in a small geographical space.

Spark poked her head out of Cleo’s fur and twisted to look behind them. “We’re still being followed…”

“I’m aware.” Cleo didn’t look back, not wanting to prompt conversation with their tag-a-long thief.

Cleo: “Look, I’m sure he’ll get bored eventually. Just ignore him and keep moving on, Spark.”

“Yes, but I’m getting hungry,” said Spark, “and I’d really like to stop soon for lunch.”

Cleo: “Spark, we’ve barely left town...”

Spark: “Yes, and? That doesn’t change that I’m hungry now...” ^^;

Cleo sighed and slowed to a stop beside a young berry tree. Its sparse branches were rapidly losing their leaves, and overripe berries lay scattered along the floor, many of them dried up from the heatwave. Cleo flopped against its trunk and began rummaging through her satchel.

Oh, I suppose that would explain the mention of the heat all this time. Though I wonder if this is a detail that should’ve been brought up in Chapter 1 in the background, since I actually don’t recall it ever being mentioned prior to this point that the heat was uncharacteristically strong for this time of year around the Guild and its grounds.

Spark dropped beside her, glaring at Mischief as he approached them.

“Is it lunch time already?” he asked with a friendly smile. “Time sure flies with company, doesn’t it?” He skipped over with the typical whimsicott gait and examined the canopy.

Spark: “Nobody said you were ‘company’, bub.” >:|

Cleo and Spark remained silent, cautiously tucking into their berries and deeply wishing the whimsicott would just leave them alone.

Have you two considered, like… you know, telling Mischief to go away? Since I’m honestly a little surprised that neither of you two have run out of patience and just done that by now.

He gave a little hop and drifted up towards the branches, scrambling around above their heads. A few yellow leaves drifted down, almost blanketing Spark. They were soon followed by a wrinkly oran berry that hadn’t decided to vacate its home yet. Within moments, Mischief was beside them again, clutching another overripe berry in his paw.

… Is that thing even edible in a condition like that?

“Argh!” Spark abandoned her lunch and leapt to her feet, sparking vehemently. “I can’t take it anymore! I’m gonna have to say something!”

This probably would have more effect if there was some more mention of Cleo and Spark trying to keep their composure and Spark more explicitly snapping / losing her patience, IMO. Since this kinda came out of nowhere without additional description to frame things.

Cleo watched Spark out of the corner of her eye. Mischief took a wary step back, more-so to avoid the electricity that was dancing over the dry ground.

“Why are you following us around like a growlithe pup?” Spark demanded. “What do you want?!”

Mischief glanced up at the sky then shrugged. “Company.”

Mischief: “Didn’t I already tell you back in town? Since I could’ve sworn that I already did.”

Spark placed her paws on her hips. “Seriously?!”

Mischief: “Yeah? That’s not too much to ask, is it?” ^^

Cleo: “... Maybe we need to spell things out a bit more explicitly, Mischief.” -_-;

[ ]

“I think what Spark is trying to say,” said Cleo slowly, “is that first you rob us, and then you follow us around claiming to be lonely. It doesn’t make any sense.”

[ ]
“Well…” Mischief scratched his fluffy head and leant back against the slender trunk of a young tree. “You see… thieving isn’t really my style. At least, I don’t think it is. I didn’t like it, anyway. It felt wrong, and you two are really unhappy about it so… I’m gonna guess it’s bad?”

These two bits feel like parts where it might make sense to drop in some extra description, especially in the first suggestion from Cleo’s end since I’d presume that she’d be trying to settle Spark’s sparks down a bit.

“Of course it’s bad!” Spark snapped. “A hatchling could’ve told you that much!”

Mischief just nodded and juggled his berry between both paws.

Spark: “You… really didn’t realize that? Just how hard did you hit your head earlier?”

Mischief: “No idea, really.” ^^;

Cleo inclined her head on one side. “So you’ve never stolen anything before today?”

Does Mischief even remember anything about his life from prior to today?

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean… you see, I don’t really know why I am, to be honest. I just woke up outside this morning. Around here, actually.” He waved a paw at their immediate surroundings. “I think… I’m lost. I dunno…”

Whelp, that answers that with a resounding “no”.

Cleo and Spark stared at him, dumbfounded. Something was very off about this whimsicott. A lot of pokemon slept outside (although it wasn’t recommended given the state of the world) but the more he said, the more strange he seemed.

Oh, so Pokémon in this setting are unfazed by getting rained or snowed on, huh? Though that makes me wonder if given how hunted Outcasts are if shelters formed out of burrows or dugouts are favored in some parts since they’d be easy to hide while hard to flush out for a large swath of Dragon and Dark-type Pokémon.

“Where are you from?” Cleo ventured.

“Oh that I know!” Mischief’s face lit up with a smile. “I’m from the Clean Place!”

>the """Clean Place"""

From what I remember of where this story winds up going, it’s at once right and at once really, really not.

Cleo and Spark blinked.

“The what?” Spark asked.

“The Clean Place!” he repeated. “They were really nice there! Those I remember, anyway. Although I only remember being surrounded by other pokemon, and called Mischief. Then I woke up here.” He waved at the ground again.


Spark: “Wait, can’t you remember anything about this place other than that it’s ‘clean’? And how on earth does that happen if it’s crowded with other Pokémon?” .-.
Cleo: “Maybe it was some sort of hospital?”

“You woke up here?” Cleo pointed at the floor between her feet. “This spot, right here?”

“Kind of.” Mischief extended his arm towards the surrounding rugged ground. “I woke up, then headed towards the town because there were pokemon there and I was hungry. Although this tree has berries.” He looked up at the branches above Cleo’s head then took a bite out of his oran berry, sending tangy juices over his chin.

inb4 there used to be a number of other berries that used to be there that are now in Mischief’s stomach. Since it just feels like it’d be really on brand with Mischief’s overall demeanor that he’s got going on right now.

“So where is this Clean Place?” Cleo asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’d never been outside. At least… I don’t think I did. I really can’t remember.”

A brief silence washed over them, broken only by Mischief slurping berry juices off his paws.

Cleo: “You’re really not making this easy for us, you know.”

Mischief: “Sorry, amnesia’s just kinda like that. But there’s bound to be a hint or two around here somewhere, right?”

Spark looked up at Cleo and said in a hushed whisper, “I think he’s had his memory wiped.

Oh, so that’s possible in this setting, huh? I… don’t think that I want to know just how frequently that gets used given how a whole host of Dragon-types are naturally advantaged at mounting aerial surveillance and hit-and-run raids.

Cleo shook her head. “He remembers too much for that.” She turned back to the whimsicott. “Mischief… your story doesn’t settle well with me. But I’m starting to think you’re telling the truth.”

Mischief: “So… I can stay with you?” ^^
Cleo: “... I’m not going to have a choice in this, am I?”

“Of course I am,” he said. “Why would I lie?” He then inclined his head on one side and his eyes became distant. “At least… I don’t think I’m lying.”

[ ]
“Your memories seem to have been tampered with. Can you remember any pokemon from this Clean Place?”

Would suggest adding a little bit of description here to show what sort of reaction from Cleo and what sort of mood / “face” she’s putting forward for dealing with Mischief here given that she’s presumably starting to come around on having him hang around, or at least for a time.

He shook his head. “Sorry. All their faces are blurry. But I remember they were nice to me! And excited, although I can’t remember why.”


Especially since IIRC, said “clean place” was a lab dabbling in mutagenic experiments.

[ ]

“This just cements my fears,” said Cleo. “Why would someone want to tamper with your memories?”

Another spot where IMO it probably makes sense to give at least a sentence or two of Cleo reacting or thinking internally here. Especially if she’s starting to have suspicions of what might have actually happened to Mischief.

Mischief finished licking his paws clean then gave another shrug. He then dropped to all fours and began examining the berries on the floor.

Spark sighed into her lunch and looked up at Cleo. “You’re thinking of helping him, aren’t you?”


Spark: “... Of course. I thought you were supposed to be the one with trust issues.” >_>;

“Not so much ‘helping’,” Cleo replied quietly as she watched Mischief sample one of the dried and rotten berries with some level of disgust. “But I think it would be a good idea to have him with us.”

Spark crinkled her nose in a frown. “Why?”

“So we know where he is,” said Cleo. “I have a funny feeling…” She scratched her head and sighed. “Mischief, if you really want company, then you can tag along with us for a while.”

She’s psychic. Literally.

Though it might have made sense to share a bit more of Cleo’s thought process to the readers, since while she ultimately makes this decision based off a gut feeling, it does feel like this is “told” a bit and a bit more vague than it would need to be. Like does she ultimately trust Mischief since he seems to have a degree of innocence to him? Because she feels sorry for him? Since presumably, there’s something that helps put her over the edge and it might have made sense to have that more firmly nailed down.

He stood up and beamed at them. “Really? You’re going to be my friends?”

Spark scoffed a little too loud.

“That’s stretching it a bit.”

Cleo gathered up her bag and lowered an arm for Spark to climb back onto her shoulder. The dedenne stuffed the rest of her oran into her cheek pouches before scampering up onto her usual perch. Cleo then turned back to Mischief.

Let’s just say ‘companion’ for now, okay?”

A bit of a stylistic / subjective nitpick, but I would suggest dividing this paragraph up into a few pieces since your in-between section between Cleo’s two parts of her dialogue is long enough to be its own standalone paragraph.

Mischief: “But that’s the same thing as a ‘friend’ though-” ^_^
Cleo: “Look, ‘companion’ has more distant connotations than ‘friend’, alright? So let’s start with you as a ‘companion’ and then work your way up to ‘friend’ later.” >_>;

“Okay, Companion For Now!” He bounced lightly on his feet. “So where are we going?”

[ ]
“Spark and I are on Guild Business,” said Cleo.

“Important Guild Business,” Spark said, puffing out her chest.

“You can follow us for a bit,” said Cleo, “but we’ll part ways when we reach the moors. Maybe you’ll regain your memories before then and can return home.”


Good luck with that one when he’s on the story banner art, girl.

Also, I realize that it’s probably getting a bit broken record-tier at this rate, though if Spark and Cleo are already starting to get ready to leave if not already starting to walk off, it might make sense to describe that a bit more explicitly to help the readers visualize what’s going on a bit better.

“That would be nice,” he said. “But if we’re going to be Companions For Now, I need to know your names. You know mine, I’m Mischief. You are Spark and…” He pointed from Spark then to Cleo.

Cleo grimaced. She hadn’t been planning on giving out their names. “It’s Cleo.” She moved past Mischief to follow the dirt track towards the moors. “If you’re going to tag along, then you’ll need to keep up. We’re on a tight schedule, and we won’t be slowing down for you.”

Mischief: “Pleasure to meet you, Cleo. So… we were heading off right about now?”
Cleo: “Yes.” >_>;

“You already know I’m quick on my feet!” he said as he skipped lightly after them. “I mean, you had trouble catching me before, right? Wow, I think this is gonna be fun!”

Cleo: “This is going to be a long trip to the moors, I can already tell.”

Spark tensed and swished her long tail. “I’m beginning to think Mischief is less his name and something the Clean Place called him for being a nuisance.”


Even if I kinda get the feeling that Spark is onto something there. Since since when has anyone unironically been called ‘Mischief’ for a name.

“Ooh look! There’s more berries over here!” Mischief skipped away from them to gather up some fallen berries from beneath a razz bush. Each one had clearly seen better days, and left a purple residue on his paws. “Would you like me to gather some for you?”

“No, no…” Spark’s nose crinkled with distaste. “We’re really fine.”

Oh hey, there’s a reaction image for this moment covering Spark and Mischief’s reactions to each other:


Cleo grimaced and lowered her head into her collar. If Tinker could see her now, the meowstic who refused to take on an extra companion, he’d roll onto his back laughing.

I mean, at least it’d beat a frustrated “Cleo, are you kidding me?!”? Since it wouldn’t exactly be hard to imagine a lot of types getting their offers of shacking an accomplished warrior up with trusted help shot down only for said accomplished warrior to choose to pal around with an amnesiac pickpocket. ^^;

Alright, so it’s clearly been a while, since I actually completely forgot most of the details that happened in the original version of this chapter, so as a result, much of the v2 experience was new for me. I presume that the primary point of this chapter was to introduce Mischief to the story and to the readers, and to its credit, it does it pretty well. He definitely makes an impression with his scatterbrained if outwardly-innocent demeanor, and acts as a nice counterweight to Cleo’s more grounded personality while giving a different flavor of comic relief than Spark does. I also liked the hints we're getting of Cleo’s background. I’m sure that it’ll wind up becoming a bigger deal later on in the story, but the little glimpses that we see already give some ideas for what it could entail and does a good job at making the readers want to know more about what’s going on. That said I kinda wonder if there should've also been a bit more of focus on Spark’s background as well given how she’s Cleo’s closest partner, but eh. This is a 70+ chapter story, you've got plenty of time to show her off and fill in the blanks a bit.

As for criticisms of this chapter, there are a few issues that I think hold things back a bit. Not enough to derail the enjoyment that I had with it, but still enough to be noticeable. There’s some small formatting and verb tense errors scattered about here and there. I tried to point out the ones I noticed as I went along, but it probably makes sense to give things a once-over at some point. I also thought that you had a couple paragraphs that felt like they were a bit overly long that might have worked better as a couple smaller ones, but that’s something that’s a tad on the subjective side for authorial taste.

On the more structural side, but I noticed that there seemed to be a running trend in this chapter of parts being light on description. Especially between moments of dialogue that otherwise basically become close to a transcript between characters that are just talking with each other. Little things like body language or reminders that the world in the background is still a thing help breathe life into things a bit more and can help give little hints or foreshadowing for events or reveals you want to bring up later on. At the same time, there were also a number of details regarding the surrounding world that either felt like they weren’t really mentioned, or else that they came up suddenly in a way that wasn’t really contextualized. For example, there’s a mention of there being a heatwave a little over halfway through the chapter, but it was never mentioned in Chapter 1, nor was it ever mentioned starting up in the five days that Cleo and Spark have been at the guild, so it make its sudden acknowledgement read a bit weird. When describing background details and the like, a general rule of thumb or the like is to try and establish details that are important enough for you to want the readers to know about as soon as possible, so that way you can lean on that later on in a given scene or chapter without having to use a lot of words on description all over again.

That said, I won’t blame you if you opt to leave those harder-to-resolve flaws stand as they are. After all, you’re close to the end of your rewrite, and sometimes the best thing you can do with the warts in one’s writing is just to acknowledge them and learn from them in the future. Though even if I found some areas for improvement, I had a good time with this chapter @DeliriousAbsol . It was nice to see the initial core gang come together all over again, and it was much better-written than what I remembered of the v1, and gotten me looking forward to seeing what comes next in this tale. ^^
Poison Part One


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Thanks for reading, Spiteful Murkrow! Your review brightened up a car journey. I love how you intersperse dialogue with the line-by-line section. It's delightfully amusing!

Thanks for the feedback. I have been trying to add more descriptions into the dialogue in edits and in my original novel which I'm currently working on. This has been super valuable to me! I hope as the story progresses you'll continue to enjoy this story. It took me a while to fall into a rhythm with it, and things do get quite a bit different further down the line!

Harlequin's back story expands over five chapters and runs parallel to Enigma's. So while there will be a lot of new content, particularly this first chapter, there will be familiar events as well from Harelquin's unique perspective. I also decided in the end to merge Harbinger's backstory Exile with this one. I hope you enjoy learning more about her. Again, please heed the content warning if you are of a sensitive disposition.

Contains a history of an abusive and violent past


Part 1​

The little absol ran.

Caws and wing beats exploded through the sky like thunder, drowning out the sound of his paws beating over the dew-soaked ground. The heavy orb hanging around his neck swung wildly, beating at his chest. Thorns snatched at his fur and nettles whipped across his face as he desperately tried to lose the murkrow. Yet his mind swarmed with images of the massacre he’d left behind. He could still hear the terrified cries, mixed with the curses and scorn that had been tossed his way.

‘You wretched harbinger!’

‘Get out of here, you filth!’

‘This is all your fault!’

‘You brought this disaster on us!’

Tears flooded his eyes, blurring his view as he raced through the shadowy trees. The red sky trailed through the canopy like blood. Red. Everything was red. Red eyes filled with scorn. Red eyes streaming from the sky like falling stars upon howling absol. Black feathers floating down onto a sticky, red ground.

The little absol ran.

The cries of fear and hate were far behind him now, but he still refused to look back. His lungs were fit to bursting, burning with exertion. He swerved to avoid a large rocky mound tangled with brambles, but his paw snagged under one of its trailing branches. Pain exploded through his leg as it was snatched out from under him, sending him tumbling down an unseen slope.

“Watch it!”

He landed in a heap as his chin skidded over the floor. When he opened his eyes, two blue paws stood right in front of his nose. He yelped and pushed himself backwards, sitting awkwardly. Two blue eyes blinked at him from a face of black fur. A large satchel swung at the pokemon’s side as they took a step towards him, causing the absol to push himself further back towards the slope.

“Are you all right?” The zorua’s voice was as ambiguous as their appearance. They inclined their head on one side, their brow furrowed with concern. “That was quite a fall!”

“Don’t come any closer!” The absol bared his teeth, and the zorua froze with one paw in the air.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Don’t you know what I am?” the absol scoffed. “Aren’t you afraid of me like everyone else?!”

“Of course I know what you are! You’re an absol!”

The absol lowered his face towards the zorua’s. “Then you’d be better off keeping your distance or I might curse you!”

The zorua stared at him for a moment, then their muzzle split into a restrained smile. But it didn’t stop the laughter snorting from their nose. “You have mud on your face!”

That was it then. The zorua doubled over in fits of laughter.

The absol blinked a few times as confusion fogged his mind. He raised a paw to swipe it across his muzzle and winced as his paw howled with pain. Great. He placed it delicately back onto the floor. He’d sprained it.

Finally the odd pokemon regained their composure and stood up again, adjusting their satchel. “My name’s Harlequin. What’s yours?”

The absol opened his mouth, about to give his name. Then he closed his eyes and turned his face away from the zorua. “I don’t… I don’t have one.”

“You must do! Everyone has a name.”

“I don’t.” He could feel the zorua’s gaze on him, questioning. “I had it taken away from me when I disgraced my clan. I’m nothing.”

Harlequin sat down neatly. “Then what am I supposed to call you?”

The absol turned his sneer back onto the zorua. “They call me a harbinger. Does that count?”

Harlequin seemed to process this, then a smile lit up their face. “Harbie! I like it!”

The absol stiffened, almost rendered speechless. “You do know what a harbinger is, right?”

“They foreshadow things.”

“Yes.” He hunched over so his snout was level with Harlequin’s. “And absol are accused of foreshadowing disasters.”

Harlequin shrugged. “Then prove them wrong. Become a harbinger of good things.”

The absol rolled his eyes and pushed himself to his feet, keeping his left paw off the ground. “You’re insane.” He limped past the zorua, desperate to put everything behind him and get out of the Border Woods. “Just leave me alone.”

Harlequin watched him with concern and nodded to his paw. “You can’t walk on that.”

The absol hissed through his teeth, “Watch me.”

“I saw you fall!” Harlequin exclaimed. “You need to rest it!”

The absol swung back towards them. “What do you know? You’re younger than I am!”

“I’m studying poisons.”

The nonchalance in Harlequin’s voice made the absol blink. Had he heard them right? If so, what did that have to do with anything?

Harlequin sniffed at the absol’s paw and he yanked it back. The zorua didn’t seem perturbed by his actions.

“They made me study basic medical stuff first,” Harlequin went on. “You can’t treat a poison if you don’t know what counters it. The same goes for physical injuries. One of my first lessons was on how to set a broken bone.”

“I’ve not broken it,” the absol scoffed.

“No, it’s a sprain,” said Harlequin. “You just need to rest it, and coat it with oran berries. There are some growing around my den.”

“I’m not staying here!” the absol snapped. “The longer I spend here talking to you puts me at a higher risk of that honchkrow and his mob finding me! I have a price on my head, Harlequin! Hydreigon doesn’t want absol in the Shadow Lands. I’m not welcome here, or anywhere for that matter! No one wants an absol! No one! And you’re foolish enough to even speak to me!”

The absol turned his tail and limped away as fast as he could, but Harlequin’s voice froze him to the spot.

“No. You’re the foolish one. You can’t tell when someone’s trying to be your friend.”

The absol’s fur bristled along his spine for a heartbeat and he turned his head back towards Harlequin. “Why would you want me as a friend?”

Harlequin sat down again and the absol thought their shoulders sank. “To be honest, Harbie, we could both use one.”

The absol snorted. “Then find someone else. Someone who’s not an absol.”

“Oh come on!” Harlequin exclaimed. “You’re an absol. So what? You’re not hurting anyone.”

“Not hurting anyone?” The absol let out a single laugh and turned his face away. “I just brought disaster on my own clan! All of them are dead now because of me!”

Harlequin didn’t say anything, but the absol could still feel their eyes on him. He needed to push this pokemon away. To make them realise just how huge a mistake it was to be around him.

“Absol are solitary by nature,” he said. “We were only forced together for survival. Clan life was hard at the best of times. Living in such close proximity prompted fights and fall-outs. And we aren’t cut out to live underground. We were forced out of the Shadow Lands once, so we took to using an old burrow. It was claustrophobic, and the promise of open ground above my head was too tempting! I got curious and breached the rules just to get some fresh air and see what the rest of the world looks like. ‘Just once,’ I said. ‘What harm could it do?’ Well, ‘just once’ was enough to be spotted by a measly murkrow who leapt at nothing to tell his boss!” He turned abruptly to face Harlequin. “So that’s the price of hanging around me! Still want to be my friend?!”

“Yes.” There was barely a pause between the absol’s story and Harlequin’s reply.

The absol blinked, trying to process what on earth was going on in the zorua’s head.

Harlequin took a step towards him. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Of course it was!” the absol spat. “I broke the rules, I was the one who was seen! I gave our location away!” He lowered his head as tears leaked from his closed eyes. “It’s my fault they’re all dead! Do you really want a friend like that? A walking curse who puts your life in danger?”

“My life’s in danger every day.”

The absol looked up through bleary eyes, meeting Harlequin’s tear-glossed gaze. The absol opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

Harlequin glanced away as they wiped a paw across their eyes. “You’re like everyone else. We all want to get away from the Shadow Lands. So it’s understandable you’d want to explore outside your den. So you and I, we’re not that different. We both want to get away from here, and we both don’t have any friends.”

The absol lowered his head and sighed. “You only spoke to me because I was running, didn’t you?”

“I spoke to you because you were scared and alone,” said Harlequin. “I knew you wouldn’t hurt me. The only pokemon who run through these woods are either chasing after someone or trying to get away. You looked desperate.”

“I am desperate.” The absol took a breath and licked his lips. “Let me guess. You want to come with me?”

“I already have a plan to leave these woods. But I don’t plan to leave for a couple of days. I need to finish my poison lessons first.” Harlequin nodded to the absol’s paw. “And you won’t be getting very far on that leg.”

The absol knew Harlequin was right. The pain in his paw was getting worse. It throbbed to the beat of his own frantic pulse.

He sighed again and shook his head. “Fine. I’ll take your advice and rest it. But as soon as it’s better, I’m off.”

Harlequin nodded and rose to their feet. “I’ll take you to my den. You’ll be safe there.”

Without another word, Harlequin lead the absol through the woods, keeping to the shadows and dense undergrowth. Their ears were erect and they paused to sniff the air and ground. But they moved along unhindered. Most of the murkrow were likely still gathered around the absol’s former home. He tried not to think about it, instead keeping his wits about him.

Harlequin’s markings were definitely unusual, but they helped the zorua to blend into the shadows. The absol’s white coat was a stark contrast, more equipped to the snowy caps of the Shadow Mountains. Amongst the undergrowth and damp earth of the woods he felt like he stood out like a sore paw pad.

Harlequin finally came to a stop beside a thorny bush that grew up against a large rock and knotted itself around the ivy of an ancient sycamore tree. The brambles looped up over a blackthorn, tugging the shrub’s thorny branches into its own. An oran tree stood beside it, its branches heavy with ripe berries. The absol turned his attention to the den as Harlequin ducked inside. He hesitated for a moment, still warring with his desire to run. Then he gave his head a sharp shake and followed. The thorns combed through his fur, snagging on matted knots. Harlequin’s scent clung to the branches and was thick in the air. It was dark inside the den. The leaves grew close together, blocking out the light and keeping the pokemon inside safe from prying eyes.

“This is where I come when I want to get away for a bit,” said Harlequin, gazing around at the spacious interior. “My own little den.”

“So you don’t live here?” the absol asked.

Harlequin shook their head. “No. I… still live with my parents.”

The absol thought he detected anxiety on Harlequin’s face, but it was fleeting. The zorua stood up and pawed at the floor, dragging out a few oran berries.

“Here, eat one of these,” they said. “I’ll put some pulp on your paw.”

“I can do it myself.” The absol took one of the berries and bit into it, letting the juice fall onto his wounded paw.

Harlequin sat back, a smirk on their face. “Fair enough. But you’re doing it wrong.”

The absol narrowed his eyes. He dropped the berry and began to lick his paw.

Harlequin rose to their feet and motioned to the bush. “I need to get to my lesson. You should be safe here, but I can check back afterwards if you like?”

“That’s up to you.” The absol looked up from his paw, meeting Harlequin’s sapphire gaze. “But I’d like it.”

Harlequin beamed. “Okay then. See you later, Harbie.” They turned and skipped from the bush, immediately lost from sight.

The absol stared at the wall of leaves for a moment. A sense of relief fell over him like a warm blanket. He lay down as exhaustion finally washed over him. The glass orb around his neck rolled over the leaves. He stared at it for a moment, wondering if he should just drop it. Moonlight glinted off the glass surface, highlighting the blue and white curl running through its middle. An heirloom.

‘Keep it,’ his father’s voice echoed in his mind. ‘You might need it one day.’

He placed his paw over it, fighting back tears. Whatever it was, he had no idea. But he couldn’t part with it. Even if he didn’t belong with the absol, perhaps… maybe… he might belong somewhere else. “Thank you, Harlequin.”


Harlequin sniffed at each of the strips of meat laid out before her. Alia had tainted each one with a different poison. Normally it would be undetected by an unsuspecting individual, but Harlequin’s sensitive nose picked up the sharp tang amid the salt and smoke. She was very aware of the zangoose’s eyes on her, watching carefully, increasing the pressure on Harlequin to get things right.

“This one is toxicroax,” she said with confidence.

Alia simply nodded and motioned to the next one.

Harlequin picked up the pungent aroma immediately and had to stifle a gag. “Skuntank.”

“Very good. Although I’d say that one was a little easy.” Alia chuckled and fiddled with the edge of her yellow apron.

Harlequin scooted over to the next slice of meat. It took a while to detect the strange, alien scent among the strong smokey smell. “Seviper?”

“Are you asking me, or telling me?” Alia asked.

“Telling.” Harlequin spoke with confidence, masking her anxiety. If she got this wrong, would Alia still test her tomorrow night?

The zorua looked up at Alia, wondering what was taking the zangoose so long to correct her. But Alia nodded, a smile adorning her greying muzzle.

“Very good,” she said again, looking over all seven pieces of meat. “You got all of them right. Even the toxtricity, which is a tricky one.”

“I didn’t think so,” said Harlequin, returning to the meat to give it another sniff. “It smells like bad meat to me.”

“Would you know it was toxic if you didn’t know it were tainted?” Alia asked.

Harlequin thought about this for a moment. The strange eggy notes of stagnant water could easily be mistaken for bad meat, so either way she’d avoid eating it. But to discard it carelessly could be a problem.

“I think I’d know,” she said, looking up at Alia and meeting her gentle gaze. “Now I know what it smells like. But before that, I’d probably have carelessly tossed it away.”

“And someone more able to eat bad meat without getting sick could have been poisoned.” Alia nodded slowly. “Although most who can are poison-types anyway! But you can’t be too careful.”

Harlequin sat down, keeping her gaze on Alia. “So… do you think I’m ready to graduate?”

Alia was silent for a moment, but her smile betrayed her, setting Harlequin’s racing heart at ease. “I think you are ready to be tested, yes. I can prepare something for tomorrow night.” The zangoose set about clearing away the tainted meat, ready to burn later. “If you pass, then I’ll give you that nidoking horn you desire.”

Harlequin let out a long breath. “Thank you. I can’t wait.”

Alia wagged a claw at her. “Patience! Haste can cause mistakes, remember that.”

“I’ve been studying with you for an entire season!” Harlequin laughed and shook her head. “I think I know my stuff.”

“I’ve been studying poisons since my youth, Harlequin, and even I can make mistakes. I’ll be setting the bar quite high.”

Harlequin bit her lip. Her gaze wandered to the nidoking horn lying on the table among Alia’s weapons and vials. All this knowledge about poisons wasn’t something she planned to hold onto. All she wanted was the nidoking venom. One target. Once he was dead, she’d never have to worry about poisons again. She’d be free. She could escape from the Border Woods without worrying he’d hunt her down and bring her back to that hovel he called a nest. The last time she’d barely made it out of the woods before he’d tracked her down by scent and dragged her kicking and screaming back to that burrow. Although she hadn’t been screaming for long. He’d made sure of that.

“Are you okay, dear?”

Alia’s voice dragged Harlequin out of her nightmares. Her claws were digging into the dry soil and she shifted her paws to ease them.

“Sorry.” Harlequin gave Alia an apologetic look. “I think I’m just tired. Did you ask me something?”

“I just asked if you were heading home now?” The zangoose wiped her paws on her apron. A habit Harlequin had grown used to. The poisons didn’t effect Alia, and none of the vials even leaked. “It will be dawn soon.”

Harlequin’s heart lurched. Dawn! She needed to get back to Harbinger and make sure he was okay. She leapt to her feet and grabbed her satchel.

“Thanks!” she called to Alia as she skipped towards the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow night! And I’ll make sure I study!”

Alia stood in the doorway of the hollowed ancient oak, waving at Harlequin as she trotted across the fallen tree that bridged the swamp. “Take care, Harlequin.”

The zorua bounded across the tree and dropped onto the dry shore. Dew clung to her paws, glistening in the moonlight. Large, disk-like eyes shone down at her from the trees as a pair of grafaiai watched her leave. Sentinels, keeping an eye open for the Darkness. The swamp had avoided persecution so far, hidden away in the heart of the Border Woods.

The poison-types would hide away at the first sign of danger. Thanks to the sentinels, they had an idea of the Darkness’ patterns. This allowed them to go about their day while avoiding detection, and should a threat appear they’d be alerted immediately. The swamp worked like clockwork. Alia would leave to get fresh water for the swamp denizens just before dawn, when the murkrow watch was tired and waiting for their replacements to take over so they could rest. The sentinels copied the murkrow’s shift pattern, swapping early so they were alert for the murkrow flock’s change-over. The other denizens worked on a rota, but they’d always leave at the same time to collect berries and meat from the food stores, while others would collect packages of supplies from the outlaws’ rattata ships.

Alia had been unsure at first about training Harlequin, but the zorua had quickly won her over. During her time training, Harlequin had caught wind of a rebellion brewing amongst the poison-types against the Darkness. A plan to assassinate Hydreigon. Harlequin couldn’t help wondering if Alia had taken more of a shine to what Harlequin was, utilising the illusion abilities of a zorua to aide the poison-types in their schemes. But Harlequin had no plans to stick around once she’d graduated.

She glance up at the canopy, sniffing the air for any sign of danger. The route she took was often free from prying eyes, but it didn’t mean she’d never encountered any. Thankfully this night was a safe one.

It didn’t take long to reach her den. A pair of red eyes peered out at her as she approached, glistening with suspicion. But once they spotted Harlequin, the suspicion faded and Harbinger retreated back into the thicket.

Harlequin nosed her way through the branches and crept in beside him. The absol retreated backwards into a nest he’d formed of dried leaves and curling bracken stems. The toes of his wounded paw rested gingerly on the floor in a posture that suggested he was likely to flee.

“Are you feeling any better?” Harlequin nodded to his leg.

Harbinger snorted and placed it square on the ground, wincing at the effort. “I’ll be better by morning.”

Harlequin didn’t think that was likely. Dawn was fast approaching. She cast an anxious glance at what little she could see of the sky then grabbed her bag strap in her jaws.

“I’ve got something for you.” She pulled out two strips of dried meat and dropped them at Harbinger’s feet.

The absol sniffed at them and pulled his head back, one eye narrowing.

“Is something wrong?” Harlequin asked.

“You said you were studying poisons.” Harbinger looked down at her. “Where did you get this?”

“I always keep rations!” Harlequin laughed and shook her head. “They’re not poisoned, Harbie. I don’t exactly carry poisons in my bag. I’ve not even graduated yet.”

Harbinger let out a quiet snort and lowered his head to nibble at the meat. After a few moments he devoured them like someone half-starved. Harlequin licked the salt off her muzzle, realising her appetite had returned. She’d not even noticed she’d lost it, but sniffing all the tainted meats had apparently taken it away. Hardly a bad thing, given what was on them. She decided to join Harbinger, pulling another piece of meat from her bag.

Once they’d both finished, Harbinger licked his lips and sighed. “That was needed.”

“I can tell!” Harlequin wiped her muzzle on her paw and looked up at him. “You look a little better now.”

Harbinger huffed and shrugged his shoulders. His gaze wandered to the walls of the bush. “It’ll be light soon.”

Harlequin nodded, following his gaze. “It’ll be safer then. The Darkness won’t be as active.”

“I was suggesting I get some sleep, actually.”

Harlequin chuckled as she looked back at him, eyes glistening. “I was suggesting we go out and play.”

“What?” Harbinger scoffed. “Like a pair of hatchlings? Be serious!”

“You don’t necessarily grow out of hatchling games,” Harlequin told him. “I’m five seasons old! I’m not a hatchling anymore.”

Harbinger blinked a few times and looked the zorua up and down. “I thought you were a hatchling. You’re so small!”

“Yeah, I am pretty small.” Harlequin traced a paw in the leaf litter. “How old are you?”

Harbinger shrugged again. “I’ve seen two cold seasons. That’s when I was born.”

Harlequin puzzled over this, then decided not to press the matter anymore. She nodded towards the exit. “Come on. Let’s play a while. It’ll take your mind off things.”

Harbinger lay down and tucked his feet under his chest. “I don’t think so.”

Harlequin wasn’t willing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Harbinger seemed less on-edge around her now. If she could help cheer him up further, then she was going to try.

She playfully pawed at his muzzle and he pulled his head away, narrowing his ruby eyes. But she thought she saw the hint of a smile on his muzzle. She nudged his shoulder with her nose and he fell sideways into the leaf litter. Harlequin fastened her jaws in his ruff and shook it, letting out a small growl.

Harbinger shoved her back with his good paw. “Cut it out!” There was laughter in his voice. “I’ve not played these games since I was a hatchling and I plan to keep it that way.”

Harlequin ignored him, rolling onto her side and grabbing his paw in both of hers. “Well I don’t have any brothers or sisters, so I never got to play them very often. Just when my mother was in a good enough mood to play with me.”

Harbinger met her gaze and sighed heavily. He pushed himself onto his front and stood up. “Fine.”

Harlequin leapt to her feet and shoved her head through the thicket. The sky was dyed a deep blue, lightening where the sun pushed its way slowly past the canopy. Murkrow cawed in the distance as they changed over, but they were too far away to be a problem. She pulled her head back and looked at Harbinger.

“The sun’s rising,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Without waiting for a reply, Harlequin slid from the bush with Harbinger on her tail. The absol glanced around nervously, his fur bristling along his spine. Once he was satisfied they were in no immediate danger, he turned to Harlequin and swatted her with a heavy paw.

She leapt back, but she caught the smile he gave her. Returning it with one of her own, she leapt at the absol and he galloped away behind the thicket.

Harlequin dashed after him, swatting at his tail. She missed several times as the absol ran in circles around the thicket.

He looked back at her, a grin on his face. “You’re not fast enough!”

Harlequin shoved her back legs against the floor and pounced. Her claws skimmed his tail and the absol doubled back, kicking up leaves and dirt. Harlequin yelped as he tackled her and the pair went rolling past the thicket and down a small incline. Harbinger landed on his back with an ‘oof!’ as the wind was knocked out of him.

Harlequin lay across his chest and pushed herself up, panting. She met Harbinger’s eyes and laughed. “I think I win.”

Harbinger grunted as he shoved the zorua off him. He pinned her on her back and grabbed her ear in his jaws. “I don’t think so.”

Harlequin laughed and kicked him in the stomach, and the absol fell back from her to sit at the foot of the slope. His flanks were heaving, but his eyes were bright and he certainly seemed a lot more cheerful.

“You’re right,” he said, catching his breath. “That was fun.”

Harlequin chuckled and folded her paws over her chest, staring up at the canopy. The early morning light trickled through, threatening daylight. Her heart lurched and she rolled over to stand up.

“I should get back home,” she said.

Harbinger’s shoulders sank slightly and he looked back at the thicket. “Why not stay with me?”

Harlequin stared at him. She really wanted to, but she knew if she didn’t her father would come looking for her. Then he’d find them both. She grit her teeth and looked away.

“I can’t,” she said. “My parents will wonder where I am.”

Harbinger raised an eyebrow. “But… if you’re running away anyway…?”

“I am. But I have a plan. I can’t just up and leave without seeing it through first.”

Harbinger nodded and plodded back to the thicket. “Fine. But don’t take forever about it. I can’t wait around for long, Harlequin.”

“I know.” She trotted after him, but something caught her eye. “Hey, what’s that?”

A large orb glittered at the foot of the mound. Harlequin nudged it with a paw, and the weak light glinted off a brass ring that seemed to hold it in place.

Harbinger joined her side and stooped to pick it up. A long, black thread trailed from it. “I must have dropped it.” His voice was muffled by the ornament.

“What is it?”

Harbinger sat back and, using a paw and his jaws, managed to tie the loose ends together. “It’s an heirloom.” He tugged the knot tight and looped it around his neck, letting the orb rest against his ruff. “I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s pretty.”

Harbinger grunted and turned to clamber back up the hill. Harlequin followed behind him. It was clear he was still disappointed at her news. He ducked into the thicket, letting the leaves fall back in place behind him.

“I promise, I’ll come with you in two nights!” Harlequin moved the leaves aside with a paw. “Maximum! I’ve got my exam tomorrow. I know I’ll ace it! And when I do, I can come with you.”

Harbinger looked back at her through the branches. “Why do you need to pass some poison test first?”

“I have my reasons,” she said. “It’ll be super useful, too. Trust me.”

Harbinger snorted but he said no more, vanishing beyond the shadows of the thicket.

“Sleep well.” Harlequin didn’t get a reply.

Her heart felt heavy as she trotted back towards her family’s burrow. She didn’t want to go back. She didn’t want to need a reason to go back. The burrow was nestled beneath the roots of a huge tree, hidden behind a curtain of lichen. Harlequin pushed her head inside and sniffed. The scent of her mother was strong, and she spotted the slender zoroark moving back and forth in the dark. Harlequin plodded inside, sniffing for her father. His scent was stagnant in the living area, growing stronger towards his nest room.

Her mother looked up as Harlequin entered, the red markings above her eyes raising slightly, but she said nothing. Just a small nod of acknowledgement. Harlequin nodded back as she trotted silently towards her own room. Her mother rarely spoke these days. Too scared of waking or angering her mate. Harlequin closed the door quietly behind her and grabbed the forked stick she kept beside it. She wedged the stick beneath the handle and clambered onto her nest.

Silence. One might call it blissful, but Harlequin knew it as the calm before the storm. She pulled her notes out of her bag and set down to study. Her notes seemed to suck her in as she read over the poisons and their effects.

Seviper venom attacks the nervous system, resulting in paralysis and pain, and eventual death. If ingested it can also cause stomach cramps. The most effective cure for reptile venom is milkwort root.

The slime of a toxicroak is a strong hallucinogenic. Victims will be afflicted with confusion, nausea, stomach cramps and, in high enough doses, death. A combination of lum and pecha berries is a good counter, but forcing the victim to be sick with herbs is most effective if caught early.

Amoongus spores are-

Grunts came from the next room and Harlequin felt her fur rise along her spine. She jerked her head towards the wall, following the heavy footsteps of her father. There was a brief silence before his gruff voice rumbled through her closed door.

“Is she back?” he growled at her mother.

Her mother’s soft voice was barely audible.

Harlequin heard the door handle shake and her eyes widened as she watched it, her heart in her mouth. Her ears pulled back as the forked stick wobbled and jerked, but it held true as it always did.

“Locked yourself in your room again, have ya?!” he roared.

Harlequin lowered herself into her nest, trying to focus on her reading but her mind was a swirling mire of anxious chaos. The handle rattled a few more times, then the large zoroark marched away, turning his anger on her mother.

Harlequin closed her eyes briefly, taking a long breath. Tears pricked her eyes, blurring her notes. She needed to block it all out. It wouldn’t be long before her father left the burrow. Then, once he was back at sundown and in his own nest, she could get to her exam and be done with this whole nightmare.


The absol stared at the wall of leaves, his heart racing. The cries of murkrow had long since faded, but they’d flown right over the thicket. Were they chasing something? Were they still looking for him?

His claws kneaded at the ground. Every part of him itched to get outside and flee. Get away from the Border Woods. He didn’t need to leave with Harlequin. The zorua was only slowing him down. Yet doing so felt wrong. Harlequin had shown him kindness. They’d not feared him. They’d not pushed him away or called him names. Were they actually a friend? Could he call them that?

The absol shook his head and backed into the bush, his mind swirling. Run… wait… run… it was like a tug-o-war in his head.

The sun had long since set, and there’d been no sign of Harlequin. What if they weren’t coming back?

No sooner had the thoughts entered his mind, the leaves rustled. The absol leapt to his feet, his hackles rising. But they flattened out as he met Harlequin’s soft, sapphire gaze.

“Oh good.” The zorua stepped through the bush and sighed, a smile adorning their face. “You’re still here.”

The absol sat down heavily. “I almost wasn’t.”

“I heard the murkrow.” Harlequin’s ears drooped and they looked back at the leaves. “I had to wait until they’d gone away. I couldn’t risk them seeing me.”

The absol narrowed his eyes. Was that for Harlequin’s sake, or for his? What did it matter? The murkrow were gone.

Harlequin looked back at him and then reached for their bag. “I brought you something to eat.”

The absol licked his lips as his stomach growled. Harlequin set a couple of strips of meat on the ground and he snapped them up ravenously, drawing a laugh from the zorua.

“I guess you were hungry?”

The absol nodded, licking salt from his muzzle. “Oran berries don’t really cut it for me.”

“I’m more partial to meat myself.” Harlequin stood and looked back at the bush with regret. “I need to get to my lesson.”

“Already?” The absol cringed at the sadness in his voice.

Harlequin’s face softened and they nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s my exam and when I pass we can leave. I promise.”

The absol held Harlequin’s gaze for a moment, reading them. All he saw was honesty and desperation. Desperation for what? Why was this exam so important to them? Finally he nodded, and Harlequin let out a sigh.

“Thank you.” The zorua turned towards the bush. “I’ll stop by to see you later.”

Without waiting for a reply, Harlequin crept from the bush and plodded away, their paws making little sound over the soft earth.

The absol sank back down into his makeshift nest, keeping his gaze on the wall of the bush. But tiredness and comfort from a full belly consumed him, and with a wide yawn he fell asleep.


“No, Harlequin.” Alia placed a large paw over the handle of the nidoking horn. “You aren’t ready for this.”

“But you said I was!” Harlequin whined, her eyes glistening with tears. “You said I was ready!”

“I believe I said you were ready to be tested,” Alia corrected. “And I’m sorry, Harlequin, but you failed.”

Harlequin clenched her teeth together, looking anywhere but at the zangoose.

“You got one wrong,” Alia told her. “Something so crucial could cost a life, even yours! I’m afraid I can’t pass you today.”

“But I need to pass!” Harlequin looked up at her, the desperation thick in her voice. “I have to! I… I…”

Alia pulled the heavy cloth back over the nidoking horn then stood back from the table, wiping her paws on her apron. “I don’t understand why this is so important to you. Rushing won’t benefit anyone.”

“It… it just is.” Harlequin lowered her head. “I’m ready! Believe me! I’ve studied hard, I just… it was a trick question!”

“It had to be,” said Alia. “That way, I know if you’re paying attention.”

“Then try me again! Ask me anything. I know this!”

“Okay.” Alia wound her apron around one paw, not taking her gaze off Harlequin. “How do you extract venom from a sleeping ekans?”

“Easy!” Harlequin raised her head. “You place the corked vial over its fang and press gently.”


Harlequin’s heart lurched and her jaw went slack. “What?”

Alia wagged a claw at her. “You never extract venom from a sleeping ekans! You could end up startling the poor thing and get bitten! You ask first and take it with their permission! That’s a crucial step.”

Harlequin’s mouth flapped wordlessly, her mind swirling.

“Honestly, Harlequin.” Alia tugged at her apron in both paws. “This lack of concentration could cost you!”

Harlequin shook her head so hard her ears flapped. This was ridiculous. What was with this zangoose and her trick questions?

“But I know my stuff!” Harlequin looked up at Alia again. “I know how to extract it. Of course I’d ask first! It’s common sense!”

“Where was that common sense when I asked the question, Harlequin?”

Harlequin’s shoulders sank and a low groan left her throat.

“I am very sorry.” Alia released her apron to smooth the cloth over the nidoking horn. “But I’m going to have to fail you today. I’ll test you again in another season.”

Harlequin’s head jerked up. “Another season?! But I can’t wait that long!”

“Really, what is the rush?”

Harlequin screwed her eyes shut and shook her head. “Forget it. If I’m not ready now, I’ll never be ready.” She turned to leave the hollow tree.

“Harlequin! Please…” Alia called after her. “Don’t give up so easily! This was your first test. I failed mine at least three times.”

Harlequin stopped in the doorway and turned one ear back to Alia. “I can’t afford to fail three times.”

The zorua didn’t wait for a reply. She plodded heavily along the fallen tree. What was she to do now? She couldn’t go back to Harbinger and tell him she’d failed. The absol was desperate to leave. He wouldn’t wait another season. No… she didn’t want to face him now. She didn’t need more disappointment. She had to come up with a plan… anything. If she went back to Alia the next night, maybe she could convince the zangoose to test her again?

No. It was hopeless. Harlequin knew Alia. She knew how stubborn the zangoose could be. How, when she decided on something, she stuck to it no matter what.

Harlequin blinked back tears, pausing to wipe them away with a paw. She reached the burrow on auto-pilot and her heart sank. She hadn’t wanted to go back so early, but at least her father would be asleep at this hour. She peered inside, sniffing, but she couldn’t smell a thing. Her nose was blocked from crying so much. Despite being the dead of night a torch guttered on the wall. The final remnants of the previous day. Had her parents forgotten to extinguish it? Thankfully it had been blocked from view by the lichen curtain.

Harlequin ducked inside, snuffling. Her heart raced when she spotted movement in the far corner of the room. A large shape moved in front of her, blocking her view of the trembling shadow. Harlequin jerked her head up to meet the burning blue eyes of her father.

“What time do you call this?!” he roared.

Harlequin skittered backwards in a bid to turn in the narrow tunnel, but his sharp claws fastened in her scruff. Harlequin yelped, her paws flailing in the air.

“Put me down!”

“I don’t think so.” Her father turned her so she was looking at him, hovering right in front of his face. She could smell the meat on his breath, and stale berries. His eyes glittered with malice in the failing light. “I’m done with your little escapades. You’re coming with me.”

Harlequin spotted her mother over his shoulder, cowering in a corner. Anger swirled in Harlequin’s mind. ‘Do something!’ She wanted to scream it, but she knew if she did it would only make things worse.

Harlequin flailed her legs helplessly as her father carried her to her room, keeping her claws away from his muzzle. He stopped in the doorway and motioned with a paw to draw Harlequin’s eye. Shattered wood lay scattered over the floor and brittle splinters poked out of her nest. Her heart sank as she realised what it was. The remains of her forked stick.

“You won’t be pulling that little stunt again,” her father purred. “But breaking it won’t be enough of a lesson, will it?” He yanked her head around so she was looking into his leering eyes. “I think it’s about time you learnt your place in this burrow.”


Leaves exploded through the thicket and the absol snapped awake, leaping to his feet. His lips curled in a fierce snarl, but quickly melted away. His ruby eyes scanned over a panting Harlequin. The zorua’s eyes were frantic, fixed on the world outside. Huge, wide, and lit up with the moonlight. Their fur was slick and wet, and the scent of the river filled the small den. But it didn’t mask the fear wafting off Harlequin’s coat.

The absol wanted to bite back a snark. When he’d woken it had been daylight and there’d been no sign of Harlequin. Even their scent in the den was stale. But all retorts died on his tongue as he realised just how terrified the zorua was.

“What’s wrong?” he ventured.

“We’re leaving.” Harlequin looked back at him, but it was as though they couldn’t see him. As if their gaze was fixed elsewhere. “At dawn.”

The absol stuttered for a moment as he tried to read the zorua. Harlequin moved back to the wall, but the absol took a step forwards to stop them.

“Did you pass your exam?” he asked.

Harlequin turned their head towards him but looked past him. “No… Yes… I…” They shook their head sharply, splattering the absol with water. “Dawn.”

He looked the zorua up and down. “Harlequin, is something wrong?”

Harlequin stuttered, not forming any words. The absol reached out a concerned paw, but Harlequin reeled back, baring their canines. The zorua’s hackles rose despite the water, and their tail curled under their belly. The absol took a step back, shaking his head.


Regret clouded the zorua’s face and they shook their head again. “Dawn!” Without another word, they leapt from the bush and raced away.

What was going on? What was wrong with Harlequin? The absol stared at the opening for a heartbeat, then stepped through it. He needed to make sure Harlequin was okay. He picked up the zorua’s trail and trotted along it, keeping his nose to the ground.

The sound of beating wings reached his ears and he froze, turning his head towards the trees. Piercing red eyes looked down at him. Lots of eyes. Wherever he looked above him, a murkrow sat watching him.

A large shadow descended to one of the stronger branches which bowed under the massive bird’s weight, and he tucked his wings in neatly despite his heavy breathing. Yurlik. The absol pulled his lips back from his teeth and let out a low growl. One that was too high to be threatening.

“Well, well.” Yurlik clicked his beak and his eyes glittered with triumph. “Looks like the little zorua was right! The fugitive was right here, all along.”

The absol’s eyes widened and he took a step back. No… he wasn’t hearing this. Harlequin wouldn’t have sold him out.

“Oh dear!” Yurlik wiped a wing feather across his forehead, still trying to catch his breath. “You seem surprised! Let me paint a picture for you.” The honchkrow leaned forwards, causing the bough to creak. “That zorua is a prized assassin. He works for Lord Hydreigon! And Harlequin has earned pride of place among his ranks for turning you over, you little curse.”

“Assassin?” The absol’s voice was barely a whisper.

His long claws curled into the soil and he felt his fur rise. It wasn’t true! He wouldn’t believe it! But it made so much sense. Why else would Harlequin be studying poisons?

“Yes. An assassin,” Yurlik crooned. “His job was to keep you here, to lure you into a false sense of security so I could come and finish you off.”

The absol had heard enough. He turned and raced away, back past the thicket.

“Kill him!” Yurlik bellowed.

The absol’s heart lurched into his throat. Wings exploded above him, showering him in black feathers. Claws raked at his pelt, digging into his flesh. He howled, leaping through the air to roll onto his back. His flailing paw struck a murkrow across the head, sending it soaring through the air. He rolled back onto his feet and fled, kicking up debris.

The murkrow soared after him, their bloodthirsty caws like thunder in the still, night air. Claws snatched at his pelt, raking red welts over his skin.

But he didn’t give up. He wouldn’t let them win. He wouldn’t let Harlequin win. Anger fuelled him, giving strength to his legs.

The little absol ran.


Dawn. It would soon be dawn.

Harlequin’s paws pounded over the earth as her breath came in heavy bursts. Her lungs were burning, not only from running. Her blood whooshed in her ears. All she could see in her mind were her father’s angry eyes. His malicious words ran on repeat. She could still feel his claws on her. Washing had done nothing to make her feel better. Mud and debris clung to her sweaty paw pads. Several times she skidded. The woods blurred around her as tears stung her eyes.

Finally she reached the swamp. Dawn tinted the sky with its early light, but the clearing was still dark. Willows hung like curtains at the back of the swamp, swaying in the breeze. The network of houses above her were barely visible with not a single candle to light them. The pokemon were mostly asleep, save for the grafaiai perched on the boughs high above her. Their eyes shone in the dim light as they looked back and forth, keeping an eye open for any threat. Murkrow cawed in the distance, setting Harlequin’s fur on end. But they were too far away to be of any problem.

Harlequin ducked among the bracken. She couldn’t risk being seen. She needed to keep her wits about her, to force back those awful memories no matter how fresh in her mind they were. She had one goal. Get into Alia’s home. Grab the horn. Get out. Go back to her father’s burrow and poison him.

Once that was done, she was free. Free to escape with Harbinger.


She closed her eyes for a moment. He’d looked so worried. But even being around him felt like a nightmare now. Those sharp claws, his teeth fastened around her ear. What she’d thought of fondly only hours ago now sent a chill through her. She took a deep breath and forced her eyes open, fixing them on the hollow tree.

The door opened and Alia ducked outside, looking up at the sentinels. One of the grafaiai nodded at her and the zangoose slipped from her home and headed for the edge of the swamp towards the river. She’d be a while gathering water. She needed enough for the entire swamp. Now was Harlequin’s chance.

She let her illusion wash over her, masking her appearance as one of a croagunk. An innocent hatchling wandering into Alia’s home wouldn’t seem out of place. The hatchlings adored her. Harlequin had shown up for her lessons to find a couple dozing in the corner on more than one occasion. Sometimes they’d wake up and insist on joining in.

Harlequin plodded carefully along the bridge, trying to mimic the wobbly gait of a croagunk. She didn’t look up at the sentinels. Doing so would put her at risk of giving her game away. Even in disguise she could look like someone up to no good.

She managed to make it to the ancient tree without issue. The door was open since, under the watchful eyes of the guards, Alia didn’t need to lock it. It would only slow her down if she had to rush back. Harlequin nosed her way inside, pushing the door open. The familiar scent of herbs and poisons washed over her. It was much stronger inside than it was around the swamp. Milkwort root hung from the ceiling to dry out, among various other plants and herbs. Alia had gathered some fresh vials of poison together which sat neatly on her table. The vibrant, toxic colours stood out against the wooden surface.

Harlequin’s attention went straight to the table against the right wall. The cloths were still in place, keeping Alia’s weapon collection covered. Harlequin knew exactly where the nidoking horn was. A long, lumpy bump beneath a pink cloth. Harlequin peeled it back, revealing the purple horn. Deep, blue tribal patters were painted along its surface. Once they would have been vibrant, but they’d faded away over time. Nidoking often shed their horns, but if correctly treated they’d contain enough poison to last at least fifteen years. Perhaps even more. It was a favourite among poison assassins for a reason. The venom was odourless. It couldn’t be detected on food or in water, and once the target realised it was usually too late. The only cure for it was an antivenom, the exact opposite to the nidoking’s venom. The venom of a nidoqueen.

A lot of care had been put into preserving the horn. It was mounted on a wooden hilt like a dagger, and a wide metal disk protected the otherwise exposed base while also keeping paws or jaws from touching any part of the horn. Alia had only recently acquired it. Harlequin wondered how much of the nidoking’s body had been covered in that tribal paint.

She shook it off and grabbed the horn by its wooden handle. A sense of power came over her. Of finality. A glimmer of hope that her nightmares would officially come to an end. But first, she needed the antivenom.

She looked over the vast shelves, feeling her heart pound in her throat. Where was it? She was running out of time.

Footsteps came from outside and Harlequin shook her head, abandoning the antidote. She didn’t need it. She was only going to use this thing once, then she was done.

She dashed towards the door, almost running straight into Alia. The zangoose yelled and stumbled back. Water sloshed from the buckets held in each paw. The zangoose blinked, looking over the croagunk stood before her. A small croagunk nervously clutching the nidoking horn.


The zorua leapt past her, racing over the fallen tree. Alia watched her go silently. Harlequin didn’t look back. She didn’t want to see the disappointment on the zangoose’s face.

The sentinels watched her, leaning forwards on the branches. One of them shouted something to Alia.

Harlequin picked up her pace, ducking under a blackthorn. The prickly branches snatched at her fur and she winced, the illusion falling away from her like water over a rock.

The voices faded away behind her, but Harlequin didn’t look back. They wouldn’t pursue her. They wouldn’t want to risk being seen.

Home. Poison. Father.

Harlequin kept that chant going in her head, if only to keep the horrid memories away. Anger burned within her. Anger and hatred. He’d gone too far this time. Too far.

Harlequin stopped at the burrow, sniffing the air. No one was up. She couldn’t even smell her mother. With a dry gulp, she ducked past the lichen curtain and crept into the room. Her eyes flitted towards every shadow. Her heart pounded in her ears. But she knew where her father was. Deep snores rumbled behind the door to her parents’ bedroom. She paused to listen for a moment, but there was no irregularity. They hadn’t heard her.

She sought out the water barrel nestled near the bedroom door. Her parents would use it first thing to drink and wash. Then her mother would go out to refill it. Harlequin reared onto her hind legs, placing both front paws on the rim. Then she stuck the horn into the water and stirred. A streak of purple clouded the surface, trailing after the horn, tracing patterns that rippled out silently across the water.

There. It was done. And they wouldn’t smell a thing.

Harlequin dropped down and turned to leave. She stopped at the exit and glanced back, a growl forming in her throat. But she repressed it. She hadn’t wanted to poison her mother, but getting rid of her father was the only way she was going to stop him chasing after her. Now she was free. Free to escape the Shadow Lands with Harbinger.

Her heart lurched. Harbinger.

She stuffed the nidoking horn into her bag and raced towards the thicket. It was only when she reached it she realised she couldn’t smell the absol.

“Harbie!” She stuck her head inside and her heart stopped. All that greeted her was an empty nest and his stale scent.

She backed out of the bush and something heavy struck the ground near her feet. A shiny, glass orb with a blue and white curl running up it. Both ends of the black thong lay limply around it. Harbinger’s heirloom… Harlequin grabbed it in her teeth and looked around. Where was he?

She sniffed the ground, picking up his trail. It was mixed with fear scent. Her heart hammered in her chest and she rushed to follow it. As she broke into a run, her legs gave way as something heavy landed across her back. She yelped, dropping the stone. Wicked claws curled into her scruff and she screamed.

“No! Let me go!”

She flailed her paws uselessly against the ground, as she twisted her head to snap at the wicked claws. How had he found her already?

“No. I don’t think so.” It wasn’t her father’s voice. A beak clicked near her ear as the voice continued. “I have other plans for you. Lord Hydreigon would love to have you working for him, my little poison prince.”

Harlequin’s breath froze in her throat and she turned her head to see the glinting red eyes of a honchkrow. Yurlik. General to Hydreigon’s murkrow army.

“Lord Hydreigon doesn’t want poison-types lurking in the Border Woods, Harlequin,” he crooned.

“What?” Harlequin’s voice came out as a gasp. “I’m no threat to you! Let me go!”

“No. I told you, Lord Hydreigon wants you.” Yurlik’s beak cracked in a grin. “A dark-type using poisons? Oh, that’s piqued his interest.”

“Please.” Harlequin’s entire body trembled. His claws were knotted in her scruff. His breath was too close to her ear, sending waves of anxiety along her spine. Her vision clouded with tears. “Just let me go…”

“What, so you can go looking for that absol friend of yours?”

Harlequin stiffened. How did he know about Harbinger?

“Thought so.” Yurlik chuckled. “Don’t bother. He’s long dead.”

Harlequin gasped out a sob. Her claws tightened around the orb’s black thong. No. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true! She turned to look at the honchkrow, but there was no hint on his face that he was lying. He laughed and rose up, spreading his massive wings.

“You might not want to look down,” he said. “A lot of my prisoners are a little scared of heights, and I’m not gonna catch you if you fall to your death.”

With one beat of his powerful wings, they were in the air. Harlequin groaned and tears fell from her eyes, glinting in the low light of dawn. The orb swung from her paw, its glassy surface reflecting the orange light of the rising sun. Harlequin caught it in her other paw and held it against her chest. A sob shook her body, drowned out by the wheezing efforts of the heavy honchkrow as he carried her towards the Shadow Lands.
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Poison Part Two


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

Part 2​

Harlequin had given up fighting. Yurlik’s strong wings whipped up the air around her ears, his wheezing breaths audible over the wind. The ground was dizzyingly far beneath them, and Harlequin couldn’t help fearing that, should Yurlik drop her, that would be the end. She turned her head in a desperate bid to look at anywhere else but the ground, and she caught sight of the towering thorns of Hydreigon’s castle. Yurlik wasn’t taking her towards it. He’d veered off the path, heading to the east of the Shadow Lands.

Beneath them, deino swarmed over the floor, congregating close to the castle. Harlequin had never seen so many dragons. The odd few passed through the Border Woods, and some even hid there, avoiding Hydreigon’s soldiers in a desperate bid to survive. Harlequin’s throat thickened and she fought back tears. What would become of her now? Knowing that she’d trained under rebels, would Hydreigon really recruit her into an assassin?

She twisted her head as much as Yurlik’s grip on her scruff would allow, scanning her wide eyes over the dark, dying land. Most of the ground was barren of plant life. Trampled under thousands of feet over hundreds of years. Far in the east she spotted a wide building cowering at the foot of the mountains. Tumbled rocks and mounds of earth lay around it where the wooden wall had shattered. Harlequin knew what that building was. She’d heard the stories. It was where Hydreigon kept most of the females so he could keep adding to his armies. The breeding pens. A chill ran through Harlequin. She could almost smell the stress and fear-scent radiating from the place. The same scent that clung to her own fur, despite how much she’d washed it. Bile rose in her throat but she struggled to take her eyes off the building. As far as she knew, Hydreigon didn’t have any zoroark in his armies. What if he decided he wanted them? What if she found herself in that place? She managed to screw her eyes shut as her breathing turned erratic. No… she’d rather die.

Yurlik tucked in his wings and swooped towards the ground. The wind stole Harlequin’s breath and she gasped, jerking her head around to the looming ground. For a fleeting moment she thought Yurlik’s strength had given out and he was dropping, sending them both into a tail-spin. Harlequin flailed, her claws falling short of Yurlik’s legs. His claws dug into her scruff and she tried to twist free and she yelped, fear pulsing through her veins. But he spread his wings out neatly, catching the air and kicking Harlequin towards the dry, packed earth. She skidded along it, and her back struck a dirty, yellowed wall.

Yurlik landed heavily beside her and placed one foot across her chest. His feathers were ruffled and he swore loudly near her ear. The giant bird composed himself by smoothing out his plumage then struck the door with his beak, and Harlequin realised with great relief that he’d not taken her to the breeding pens.

A gruff voice came from beyond the door, ranting and cursing. It opened, and the sneering face of a scrafty glared out at the massive honchkrow.

“Whaddya want?” he scoffed.

Yurlik straightened, puffing out his chest feathers with a false air of importance. “Is that any way to address your superiors, Jex?”

“Ya ain’t my superior.” Jex folded his arms. “I answer to Lord Hydreigon.”

“And I am his chief adviser.” Yurlik narrowed his eyes, challenging the scrafty, but the fighting-type didn’t back down. “I have a new recruit for you. I want you to train him well.”

Harlequin’s eyes widened and she looked from Yurlik to Jex. The scrafty’s anger had ebbed but his frown remained as he looked the zorua up and down. Yurlik wasn’t paying her any more attention, but his words had struck her. ‘Train him well’. Him… Her heart hammered. Was that the only reason he’d not taken her to the breeding pens?

She curled her claws into the dirt as her mind swirled, and she fought the urge to look in the direction of that rotten place. She didn’t want to give herself away if this honchkrow believed she was male.

“All right.” Jex shooed Yurlik back. “Could be interestin’. Never trained a zorua before.”

“He knows about poisons.” Yurlik didn’t relinquish Harlequin, instead narrowing his eyes at Jex. “Lord Hydreigon would value a poison user.”

“Poisons, eh?” Jex shifted his weight to one leg. “Not my forte, Yurlik. But I can give it a shot.”

“Make sure you do.” Yurlik lowered his beak to the scrafty’s face. “With a zorua’s stealth and trickery, such skills will aide us greatly in this war. I want you to guarantee to me he shall maintain that knowledge.” The honchkrow released Harlequin and stood back. “Get up and go with Jex.”

Harlequin struggled to her feet. Her scruff burned where his claws had dug in, and her coat felt riddled with filth. She joined the scrafty, watching him with fearful eyes. Jex held the door open for her and motioned with his head for her to step inside. He closed the door abruptly, and the sound of it slamming set her fur on end.

“Can’t be doin’ wi’ that obnoxious bird. What did he do, pluck ya from ya nest?”

Harlequin lowered her head and said nothing. Part of her was worried he’d hear her voice and realise Yurlik’s assumption was wrong.

The scrafty sighed and waved her along. “Come on. I’ll take ya to ya new room.”

Harlequin plodded along after him, each step slow as she ran through her options. She could go with this scrafty. She could try to live a lie, or prove herself worthy enough to avoid being tossed into the breeding pens. Or she could make a run for it, and die trying. She cast a nervous glance back to the door. A yellowed thing with wood-rot in one corner. Yet it seemed solid and permanent, promising demise on the other side. Demise. The kind that had fallen on Harbinger, bringing his short life to an abrupt end.

A lump formed in her throat and she reluctantly turned to follow Jex. The scrafty stood watching her, his foot twitching with impatience. He turned to lead her down the narrow corridor. It stunk of must, mildew and sweat.

“We’re a mixed bunch here,” the scrafty told her, seeking conversation. “But if poison’s ya speciality, ya’ll be addin’ some surprises to our trainin’ sessions!” He chuckled. “But perhaps don’t actually poison any of our trainees?”

Harlequin bit back a snort and glanced aside.

The room he opened for her was no better than the corridor. A pile of stale hay lay on a nest, begging the question of who had used it last, and when it had last been changed.

Jex leaned against the door frame. “Look. I understand yer scared, but ya here now. Ya might as well make the most of it.”

Harlequin’s shoulders slumped and she gave a stiff nod, refusing to look at the other pokemon. Her bag felt like a dead weight on her back, and she was painfully aware of the orb tucked away inside it. It was a feat she’d managed to avoid losing it during Yurlik’s flight.

“Trainin’ starts one hour after dawn.” Jex backed out of the room. “I’ll send someone in to get ya.”

The door closed, and Harlequin turned to look at it then. Another door. Another barrier to her freedom. The lump burst out of her throat in a strangled sob and she sank to the dusty floor. She fumbled a paw into her bag, scooping the pendant out of the small pocket she’d tucked it in. She hugged it to her chest and let out a small wail. Tears streamed from her eyes, mixing with the dirt clinging to her blue paws. Her shoulders shook as everything sank in. Harbinger was gone. It was her fault. If she’d not been so caught up with revenge, it wouldn’t have happened. If she’d just run… if they’d come up with a plan together to avoid her father… then they’d be together. Two friends escaping the Darkness and living lives as outlaws, finding their place in Estellis. The Outcasts wouldn’t have wanted them, but that didn’t matter. They’d be free.

A strange jingling sound tickled her ear fur and her sobbing ceased. Her ear’s twitched towards it. Then something struck the hay. It was definitely a bell. Her head jerked up and her eyes widened as she was greeted with the grinning face of a banette. He sat on the nest with his back against the wall as if he owned the room.

Harlequin pushed herself up but her legs gave way and she fell onto her side, gasping for breath. Her heart hammered as every fibre of her being screamed at her to run.

“Huh, interesting.” The banette’s crimson eyes sparkled. “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a single dark-type who’s afraid of me before.”

Harlequin’s fearful stare trailed over the banette’s grey body. A ghost-type. She might have had a type-advantage, but if he turned invisible… Her breathing turned into heavy, gasping pants and her tongue lolled out as she fought for breath. Her brain fogged as she tried and failed to push herself up on weak, trembling legs. Her paws did little more than scrabble feebly over the floor, leaving claw marks in the dirt.

“Oh come on.” The banette chuckled, the smile creasing the dark rings under his eyes, and he leaned forwards slightly. “You’ve got nothing to be scared of! Hey, with all the training I’ve endured today, one dark-pulse off you might put me in a coma!” He closed his eyes and chuckled at his own dark joke.

If he’d intended to make her feel any better, he’d failed miserably. But he didn’t seem to want to hurt her, at least. Nevertheless, she wasn’t about to let her guard down. Still panting, her head lolled onto her paws. But every muscle in her body was coiled to defend herself if she needed to.

“So what are you doing here?” The banette leaned back against the wall again and folded his paws behind his head. “I’m gonna assume you aren’t here willingly?”

“I…” Harlequin’s own voice surprised her and she glanced away from the banette, folding her paws protectively over the pendant. She forced herself to lower her tone slightly. If she was going to pull this stunt off she needed to be careful. “I was kidnapped.”

“Huh.” The banette’s crimson stare burned into Harlequin’s fur.

She tensed, twitching an ear towards him. He was impossible to read. “Why are you staring at me?”

The banette shook his head sharply, causing his fluffy ears to flap. “Sorry, I just…” He scratched his chin and his brow furrowed slightly. “You’re just young, that’s all. Eh, you’ll probably forget all about this in a few seasons.”

Seriously? The zorua stiffened and a frustrated breath stirred up the dust. “I doubt it. I’m no younger than you are.”

The banette raised an eyebrow. “How old are you?”

“Five seasons.”

The banette’s eyes widened. “You’re still younger than me.”

“Really?” Harlequin raised her head slightly.

“Yeah, add a year onto that, kid.”

Harlequin’s ears raised with amusement. Perhaps this ghost wasn’t too bad. He didn’t seem to want to antagonise her, anyway. She found the strength to push herself up until she was sitting awkwardly. Her paw brushed the pendant and she turned it, inclining her head as she pawed at the black thong. If she was going to keep it safe, she’d need to keep it on her. But the string kept falling from her paws as she tried to fumble it together. How had Harbinger managed to fasten the thing?

“So what am I meant to call you?” The banette shifted in the hay. “I’m assuming you have a name?”

Harlequin cast him a quick glance. “Tell me yours first.”


Harlequin looked up at him for a moment, keeping her head low. It was a fitting name for a banette. She turned back to her task and the string slipped from her claws again.

“Silly thing,” she muttered under her breath. Then, realising Enigma was still waiting for her to speak, she answered clearly, “It’s Harlequin.”

“Too long. I’m gonna call you Harle.”

Enigma suddenly manifested beside her and scooped up the pendant. A yell left Harlequin’s throat as she jerked her head up. The pendant soared across the room towards the nest. Enigma appeared above it in mid air and landed in the hay with a soft thud, snatching the pendant before it even had a chance to land.

It took a moment for Harlequin to fully process what had just happened. She watched Enigma turn the orb in his paws, curiosity shining in his eyes.

She shook herself and rose to her feet. “Give that back!”

Enigma didn’t give it back. He sat against the wall, watching the orb as it shone in the dim light. It hung limply from his sharp claws, rotating back and forth on its black thread. Harlequin’s hackles rose and her lips peeled back from her teeth. She wasn’t about to lose the only thing she had left of Harbinger. Enigma would give it back! He would!

Cold air whipped around her canines and she spat, sending a stream of black energy across the room. It struck the wall beside Enigma’s head and he jerked around towards it. Then his wide, crimson eyes settled on her.

A low growl rumbled in Harlequin’s throat. “I said give it back!”

Enigma sighed and he swiftly knotted the two ends together. “Calm down, Harle. I was only tying it for you.”

He tossed the pendant towards her and it landed with a solid thump at her feet. She blinked at the banette, struggling to find words. If he was rattled by her attack he didn’t show it. She quickly slipped the pendant around her neck with one paw before he could take it again and sank to the ground.

“Thanks, I guess…” she mumbled under her breath.

The hard pendant was comforting, nestling in her thick ruff.

“Tired, huh?” Enigma’s hidden bell jingled as he slipped from her nest. “Understandable. You’ve had a long day. I’ll let you get some sleep.”

Harlequin opened one eye, following Enigma with it as he strutted towards her door. “’A long day’.” She scoffed. “That’s an understatement.”

Enigma paused at the door to look back at the zorua.

Harlequin raised her head slightly, opening both eyes. “Why are you being nice to me?”

Enigma continued to stare at her, his muzzle creasing with confusion.

“I didn’t think the Darkness had any friends,” Harlequin went on. “And you of all pokemon… you’re not even a dark-type.”

“I dunno.” Enigma raised his paws in a shrug. “We’re not all monsters here. Get some sleep. I’ll see you later for training.”

He moved through the door as if it weren’t even solid. Harlequin couldn’t help but wonder if her words had bothered him. He did seem like a fish out of water in the Shadow Lands. Much like she was. Although, given time, she’d be able to blend in like any other zorua. She sucked in air through her teeth. There were no other zorua in the Shadow Lands. She was alone.

Her claws curled into the dirt and she turned her head towards the door. Part of her wanted the banette to come back. But he was still an assassin. He’d probably only come into the room to see the freak zorua. The heavy rings under his eyes suggested he didn’t sleep much, so he’d just been killing time. That was all. He wasn’t a friend.

She placed a paw on the pendant and rolled onto her side, curling around it. A sob shook her body and she huddled into herself, letting her tears take over. She didn’t know how long she lay like that, but she was pretty sure she didn’t sleep. Long after her muzzle had dried, sticky with salt, daylight streamed through the window. It washed over her, yet felt so cold.

She raised her head, sniffing at the air. Dragons. All she could smell were dragons. She pushed herself to her feet and ventured over to the window, pulling herself up with her forepaws. Dragon-types were moving in the distance, seeking out warm spots to bask in. Harlequin guessed they were making the most of the morning sun before they began their training.

She swallowed around a thick lump in her throat and looked back at the closed door. She didn’t want to be here. She wanted to get away. But if there were still pokemon awake during the day then she stood no chance. Pokemon didn’t just escape from the Shadow Lands. Harbinger was evidence of that.

Her heart ached and she turned from the window. Her paws landed on the bed of hay, stirring up dust and another scent. She sniffed, her thoughts clearing as she tried to work out what it was. Of course… the banette. Her nose had been so stuffed up from crying she hadn’t noticed his scent. The only thing to permeate her stuffy nose had been the heavy air filled with dust and mildew.

She dropped from the nest and followed the invisible scent trail to the door. Did she seek him out? He’d sought her out. And she really didn’t want to be alone.

She scrabbled at the door handle until it opened and stood in the doorway, her feet rooted to the spot. The narrow corridor was empty, and filled with closed doors. Snores came from beyond most of them, but the scent trail was still there, luring her out. She crept after it, finding it ended two doors down from her room. Was that it? Was he really that close?

She strained her ears, listening for movement beyond it. Paper rustled. Or was it hay? Whatever it was, it suggested he was still awake. She pawed at the handle, and it rattled a few times before she got it open. She nosed her way inside, spotting Enigma sitting on his nest. She avoided his gaze as she slipped through the door. She kicked it shut with a hind paw and sat down with her back against it.

She could feel the banette watching her. It made the air feel cold. The silence weighed down on her, causing her shoulders to hunch. Perhaps he didn’t want her there at all?

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Can’t sleep?”

Harlequin shook her head, still avoiding his gaze. “I guessed you’d be awake too, since, you know… your eyes.”

He rubbed beneath one of his eyes absently and shrugged. “I’m used to it.” He inclined his head on one side, the movement making his bell ring. But it wasn’t an inquisitive gesture. His frown gave that away. “How did you even find me? I didn’t tell you my room.”

Harlequin lowered her head more than it already was. “I used my nose.”

Enigma stared at her for a long, painful moment. Harlequin shifted her paws, scooting back into the door on her bottom. Perhaps she’d made a wrong move. He obviously didn’t want her there. Her heart hammered, urging her to get up and flee. She became aware of another scent in the room. Faint. Another pokemon. It wasn’t Jex.

“What do you want?” Enigma’s voice was hard and cold as ice.

A low whine left Harlequin’s throat and she huddled against the door. “I… well… you tried to help me earlier, and I threatened you. I wanted to apologise.” A lie. She took a deep breath to settle her nerves and turned to look at Enigma. “I feel trapped here. I… I don’t know what to do.”

Enigma blinked. He shifted in his nest and shrugged. “To be honest, Harle, there’s not much to do.” He lowered his voice. “I suppose you could try to escape, but you wouldn’t get very far.”

Harlequin’s fur rose around her neck. “And I suppose you’d stop me?”

He didn’t answer that. He glanced past her at the door, scratching behind his ear.

“Well, what do you do?” Harlequin forced herself off that topic. “What exactly happens here?”

“I train, like everyone else.” Enigma shrugged. “And I go for walks, hang out with Kera.”

“Kera?” Harlequin sniffed again, finding that other scent in the air.

“She’s a friend of mine. You’ll probably meet her later.”

“Huh.” Harlequin glanced at the door. “I guess she’s asleep?”

“Yeah, she’s not exactly an insomniac.”

His bell rang loudly and Harlequin jerked her head up to see him moving towards her. Her hackles rose and she stood, lifting a paw as she took a step back.

“So what are you going to do?” Enigma stopped only a stone’s throw away. Within grabbing distance. “Are you gonna flee, or stay here?”

Harlequin’s lips pulled back of their own accord. “Why do you want to know?”

Her mind swirled as she tried to calculate her escape route should he try to attack her. She’d made a mistake. She should never have sought him out. She became painfully aware of the wood of the door against her flank.

Enigma shrugged. “Hydreigon chose you because you use poison. So what, were you an outlaw or a dark-type just waiting to be noticed?”

She jerked her head up towards him, her eyes flashing with blue fire. “What does it matter to you what I do? You’re not even a dark-type!”

Enigma smirked at that and folded his paws behind his back.

“You’re just pretending!” Harlequin snapped.

Enigma chuckled, but it didn’t seem genuine. He shook his head slowly. “This coming from a zorua?”

Harlequin kept her head low and ears forwards. A growl trembled in her throat. She didn’t take her eyes off the banette. Every small movement he made set her on edge. If he had worked out she was an outlaw then she was going to defend herself, to the death if she had to.

But instead, he laughed, causing his bell to ring. “Wow, you get fired up fast!” He shook his head, still smiling. “I was only asking you a question.”

“You were probing,” Harlequin snarled.

Enigma raised his paws in a shrug. “And from that, I know you weren’t brought here willingly.” He laughed again.

Harlequin’s jaw went slack and she looked him up and down. “What are you laughing at?”

“I just didn’t think a zorua would be so easy to read.”

Harlequin spat air and sat down again. “I told you I was kidnapped!”

“Can’t be too safe with a zorua, Harle. I’m lead to believe you’re notorious liars.” He finished that with a boyish grin.

Harlequin bristled and swished her tail against the door.

“So,” said Enigma, drawing her gaze. “What do you want to do since you can’t sleep?”

“They’ll want me when night falls, won’t they?” Harlequin shrugged. “So I guess I should try to sleep at least.”

“We could take a walk? That might tire you out.”

“A walk?” Harlequin shook her head slowly. “You want to go for a walk with me after I snapped at you like that?”

“I don’t exactly take offence so easily, Harle. Believe me, you’re not the only one to take a snipe at me for being an oddity in this place.”

Harlequin looked away, her shoulders sagging as she let out a flustered breath. She had, hadn’t she? “You’re right… I’m sorry.”

“So are you coming?”

She looked up at him and pulled her ears back. His gaze was probing again, waiting for her to answer. She looked up at the window instead and rubbed her feet together.

“I don’t know,” she stuttered. “I-”

“All right.” Enigma moved closer to the door and Harlequin stood, her fur rising above her tail. “I’ll just get us something to eat then, while we-.”

He reached down towards her and her eyes widened. His claws glinted in the low light. She yelped, snapping her jaws shut around his paw. He yanked it back and she skittered away from him, her back arched. The salty tang of blood coated her tongue. She met the banette’s startled eyes across the room as he stood with his back against the wall, cradling his paw against his scarf.

Harlequin’s tail was tucked so tight against her body it pressed against her stomach. She gave a low whine and closed her eyes. “Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me!”

Enigma gave a humourless laugh. “Noted.”

“I… I should leave.” Harlequin dragged herself towards the door, her tail still held against her stomach. Enigma stepped aside to let her pass. “I’ve not… had a very good day.”

As she stood to reach for the handle with trembling paws, Enigma’s voice reached her. Much softer than it had been. “Hey.”

Harlequin twisted her neck to look back at him. His expression had softened, but she could smell the nervousness radiating off him in waves.

“Wait here,” he said. “I’ll get us some snacks.”

“Why?” Harlequin whimpered.

“Eating always calms me down,” he said. “And I get the feeling you could use the company.”

Company was the last thing Harlequin wanted right now. But she felt perhaps Enigma was right. She fell back from the door, landing on her haunches. She didn’t look at him as he left the room. All she could see in her mind were her father’s enraged eyes, and his wicked claws reaching for her.

Enigma wasn’t gone for long. He soon returned with a paper wrap, which he set between them and unrolled. Small, shrivelled berries rolled away from meat that smelled as if it had been salted to death. Harlequin nosed one of the sorry-looking berries and recoiled, her lip curling. It was as dry as the jerky.

“They’re from last year’s harvest.” Enigma tore into one of the jerky strips. “Help yourself.”

“No thanks.” Harlequin lay down, turning her head away from the pilfered rations. “I’m not hungry.”

Enigma sighed, but she could feel him watching her. It made her pelt itch. Harlequin wondered if she should have escaped while she had the chance, but the thought of going back to that musty room, alone… it didn’t settle with her at all.

“Do you play chess?”

Harlequin raised her head at the ghost’s question and met his crimson gaze. “Do I what?”

“I’ll take that as a no.” Enigma reached beneath his nest and pulled out a square board. Carved wooden figures tumbled over it. They were shaped to look like members of the nidoran family. “I can teach you if you like?”

Harlequin pawed one of the figures towards her and frowned down at it.

“Kera and I play,” Enigma went on. “It’s pretty fun, and a great way to pass the time.”

“Nidoran?” Harlequin looked up at Enigma.

“I think that’s a nidorino, actually.”

“I know that.” Harlequin set the figure aside and glanced over the rest of the ensemble. “I’m just confused.”

“The nidoran family is large.” Enigma began arranging the darker coloured figures on his side of the board. “They live with status among their clans. I’m guessing that’s where they got the inspiration from?”

Harlequin’s eyes widened, impressed. It was a rather brief explanation of the way nidoran lived, but Harlequin didn’t want to elaborate over the details. Part of her training with Alia had involved learning about the lives of the various poison-types. Nidoking were usually solitary, leaving the nidoqueen to look after the clan and only returning periodically to breed. Yet the ‘king’ of this game sat proudly next to his queen. Sure, they were a monogamous species, so it wasn’t entirely incorrect. But Harlequin couldn’t help but find the misleading detail cute.

“It’s not that,” Harlequin said as she gathered the pink pieces together. “Hydreigon wiped out the poison-types years ago. The nidoran family is believed to be extinct. So why would he allow you to have this?” She waved at the board, catching the nidoking and causing it to topple over.

Enigma gave her a fleeting glance as he set the final pieces in place. “I can’t say I’ve really thought about it. Do you want to play or not?”

Harlequin shuffled her paws until she was sitting upright and nodded. “Sure. It might help take my mind of things.”

She sat her figures in a way that mirrored Enigma’s lay-out. He sat patiently watching her until she was done, then leaned over to switch her king and queen around.

When he began his explanation of the rules, Harlequin found herself transfixed, trying to memorise everything. Every move she made gained a grunt of appreciation off the banette, and soon Harlequin found herself no longer bothered by his company, as if the misunderstanding earlier had never happened.

After a while, Enigma sat back, looking over the board with wide eyes. “Well… I think you might have beaten me.”

Harlequin raised her head. “Do you surrender?”

Enigma stared at the board for a moment longer, then laughed as he leaned back on his paws. Harlequin had managed to outnumber him with his own troops, backing his Nidoking into a corner. “Yes, I surrender. Wow, Harle. Anyone would think you’ve played before!”

Harlequin shook her head, a small smile on her muzzle. She leaned forwards to scoop her pieces back together and set them in their starting positions. She could feel Enigma watching her again and she paused as her fur rose at the base of her neck.

“What?” she asked.

“That stone.” Enigma nodded to the pendant resting against her ruff. “Where did you get it?”

Harlequin turned her attention back to the chess pieces. “It belonged to a friend. He said it was an heirloom.”

“So why do you have it?”

Harlequin stiffened and raised a paw, resting it on the stone’s glassy surface. “He was murdered.”

Enigma’s eyes darkened and he began setting up his own pieces. “Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.” He paused and cleared his throat. “I’m guessing he was an outlaw?”

Harlequin snorted air. “You could say that.” She paused to tuck the pendant into her thick fur, out of sight of the banette’s probing gaze. “He was an absol.”

Enigma jerked his head up so fiercely he knocked the board, sending all the pieces tumbling across it. Harlequin leapt back and stood with one paw raised. Her lips pulled back as she stared down at Enigma, but her fur flattened when she saw the fear in his eyes.

Enigma blinked and sat back on one paw, placing the other against his chest. “An absol?” He sounded breathless, as if the revelation had physically struck him.

Harlequin trailed her gaze over his body, searching for any sign as to why he’d be so bothered. She could feel her fur prickling again.

“Sorry.” Enigma leaned forwards to stand the pieces back on the board. “You just surprised me, that’s all.”

There it was. There was disgust in his voice.

Harlequin huffed through her nose. “So you hate them as well?” She sat down heavily. “A bit hypocritical of a ghost, isn’t it?”

“What?” Enigma looked up, narrowing his eyes at her. “I don’t hate them!”

“Really?” Harlequin narrowed her own eyes, a growl forming in her throat. “Ghost-types have their own reputation, you know. I wouldn’t be surprised if you helped to chase them away!”

“I had nothing to do with that!” Enigma snapped. “You’re forgetting I’m a trainee here. They don’t send us on missions!” He paused to take a calming breath. “I knew the absol had been discovered in the Border Woods recently, but I wasn’t involved.”

“You knew?” Harlequin gasped. “You knew and did nothing to help them?!”

Enigma glared at her, fire burning in his eyes. “This is not a productive discussion!”

He snatched up the chess board, scooping all the pieces into it, and shoved it back under the bed. He kept his back on Harlequin, but she could see his shoulders heaving as he tried to calm himself.

Harlequin felt her face heat up with shame. He hadn’t deserved that. Throwing such accusations… Harbinger would be ashamed of her. She had no reason to believe Enigma had anything to do with the demise of Harbinger’s clan. No… she knew he didn’t. Harbinger had told her he was the reason they were found.


Harlequin closed her eyes, blinking back tears. Her breath shook and she dug her claws into the floor to steady herself.

“We were meant to run away together.” Her voice wobbled, and she heard Enigma’s bell ring as he turn to face her. “His clan didn’t want him anymore. He snuck out… He was warned not to. That if he did, the Darkness would find them and kill them all. But he took that risk, and… well…” She took in a long, trembling breath and sank to the floor. “They stripped him of his name. Called him a harbinger and accused him of cursing them all.”

“But absol don’t bring curses.” There was doubt in Enigma’s voice.

Harlequin opened one eye, but Enigma wasn’t looking at her. “I know.” She fastened her paws around the glass orb, hugging it to her chest. “He was… the only good thing in my life… and the Darkness took him away.” Her voice bubbled into sobs and she curled herself around the pendant.

She was no longer aware of Enigma watching her. Sobs shook her body until she was exhausted, and dark dreams took over. She was wandering through the forest, feeling a shadow looming behind her. And just ahead was Harbinger. His white fur reflected the moonlight. She rushed after him, but her feet never brought her any closer.

When she opened her eyes again, her fur sticky with tears and mud, it was dark. For a heartbeat she thought she was in her parent’s burrow, but everything came back to her and a long groan left her chest. She peered around the room, but there was no sign of Enigma. Just a sheet of paper with jerky and berries laid neatly upon it.


The little absol jerked awake, his eyes flying open. His fur rose on end, making his small body resemble a pincurchin. But whatever the noise was that had disturbed him, it didn’t come again.

Just a dream. It was just a dream.

He stood, shaking dead leaves from his fur. Moonlight leaked through the bramble, highlighting the blood and dirt clinging to his coat. He winced, stretching a leg forwards. Those murkrow had cut deep, but not enough to stop him. He’d ran until he was close to collapse, but he’d lost the murkrow. They hadn’t flown far beyond the boundary of the woods. Their shrill caws had faded out as they left him to run, probably believing he’d die of his wounds.

Anger burned beneath his pelt. Harlequin. That zorua had sold him out. He couldn’t fathom why he’d believed that assassin was his friend. It had all been a ruse. Keep him busy until the murkrow arrived to kill him off. They’d already wiped out his clan. Now it was just him. The harbinger.

He raised a paw to step from the bramble. His paw was uncomfortable with dirt as it clogged around his pads and jammed between his claws. He shook it free and stepped outside, letting the cool night air wash over his sore body. The soft gurgle of the river reached his ears and he headed straight for it, stopping on the bank to drink deeply. Then he climbed in, treading carefully over the slick, wet rocks beneath its crystal surface. The cold water made his wounds sting, but it was only brief. Soon all the muck and blood was washed away. He waded deeper until he had to swim, pressing on until he reached the other side. Once back on dry land he shook out his white fur then looked back.

Darkness. The Border Woods stood tall and imposing on the horizon. He’d left it all behind.

A growl rose in his throat and he became aware he was clenching his jaw. He relaxed it and shook his head sharply. He had to get that zorua out of his head. He couldn’t let them torment him any further. As far as Harlequin was concerned, he was dead. They’d have no reason to pursue him.

But they’d tricked him. They’d fooled him. Called him a friend then stabbed him in the back.

Absol didn’t have friends. There was a reason they were solitary. Conflict rose too easily around absol. Either from their own bickering or the accusing claws of other pokemon. Despite efforts to make others aware that absol sensed disasters, not cause them, no pokemon believed it. They were driven out. Slandered. Attacked on sight. Murdered.


The absol’s canines glinted in the moonlight and he dug his claws into the soft ground. He’d make that zorua pay. But first he needed to make sure they believed he was dead. That way, the assassin wouldn’t ever see their own death coming.


Niana was a rather talkative scrafty. From the moment she’d collected Harlequin she hadn’t stopped nattering and fussing over the zorua. From comments that she was too small, needed to eat more, needed to brush her coat… it reminded Harlequin of a mother ducklett. The scrafty was everything her mother hadn’t been. Harlequin immediately liked her.

Niana hadn’t taken Harlequin to the training room. Instead, Harlequin was taken to a small room at the end of the long, narrow corridor of doors. Torches clung to the walls, their flames making the pair’s shadows dance across the walls. Books lay stuffed in one corner, neatly arranged by title, Harlequin noticed. A wad of yellowed paper stood beside it, and there was a sharp tang of ink in the air.

“This is my little classroom,” Niana explained as she motioned Harlequin to sit down. “This is where I bring the young hatchlings so they can learn to read ‘n’ write.”

Harlequin raised her head. “I can already read and write.”

“Then that’s one lesson we won’t need to work on.” Niana looked impressed. She eyed Harlequin up and down. “How old are ya?”

“Five seasons.”

“Really?” Niana’s eyes widened. “Jex was under the impression ya were younger’n that. Well, there may still be some things ya need to brush up on. Ya’ll need to take information down sometimes, so writin’ is a pretty crucial part of the job. So-” Her speech came to a halt as Harlequin reached into her bag and dragged out a tatty note pad before her. Its ragged cover curled and flopped open, revealing the zorua’s scrawled writing. Niana blinked down at it, stuttering slightly.

“These are my notes from my poison lessons,” Harlequin explained. She nudged the pad towards the scrafty. “If you think there’s anything else I need to learn, then by all means I’ll do it. But I don’t want to waste your time.”

The truth was, Harlequin didn’t want to be there at all. But as she watched Niana flick through her notes, part of her was hoping the scrafty would find something Harlequin needed to brush up on. The longer she spent with Niana meant less time spent around rowdy assassins.

After a long moment that felt like an eternity, Niana finally looked up to meet Harlequin’s worried gaze. A smile spread across the scrafty’s muzzle.

“This all looks fab,” she said. “Very interestin’! I was gonna get to this, but Jex told me ya work with poisons.”

Harlequin gave a non-committal grunt.

“I won’t ask how ya came about this skill, but that’s one of the reasons I brought ya here,” Niana went on. “There ain’t no other pokemon that knows squat about poisons. If ya can prove yerself with it, ya might fly up the ranks and one day become one of Lord Hydreigon’s aces!”

Harlequin wasn’t sure how she felt about that. But she decided to humour the scrafty. “You think I could be one of his aces?”

“Certainly! If ya prove yerself.” Niana flashed a grin. “So… let’s see if we can find a way to work it into ya trainin’.”

“Wait…” Harlequin flicked an ear. A bid to stop them folding back and betraying her sudden anxiety. “You want me to practice poisoning the other trainees?”

“No, of course not!” Niana gasped, hiding a laugh. “No, I’m just wonderin’ if there’s a way ya can use ‘em in combat. Or, failin’ that, sneakin’. Ya could poison food, for instance.”

Harlequin glanced aside. A cold dread flooded through her body. This wasn’t what she wanted. She’d only trained with Alia so she could get rid of her father. Now she was done. She didn’t want anything to do with poisons. Now she was about to train in them, using them to serve the dragon who’d murdered her friend?

“If ya don’t mind, Harlequin, could ya show me what else ya’ve got in that bag?”

Harlequin dug her claws into the dirt. She met Niana’s gaze for a moment, then let out a small sigh of defeat. She dragged her satchel off her back and nudged it towards the scrafty. Niana reached for it, excitement sparkling in her eyes.

“Careful.” Harlequin’s words froze her. “You don’t wanna cut yourself.”

Niana nodded and took the bag more carefully. She lifted the flap and let out a small gasp. “Is this what I think it is?”

She lifted the nidoking horn by its handle. Its purple surface shone in the torchlight, highlighting the blue tribal pattern.

“It’s a nidoking horn,” Harlequin confirmed. “Its venom is still potent.”

“I’m trustin’ ya have the cure?”


Niana jerked her head towards Harlequin. “No?”

Harlequin shrugged. “I didn’t need it. I was only planning to use it once.”

Niana stared at the zorua, a smirk tugging at her muzzle. “So ya’ve already assassinated someone?”

Harlequin glanced aside and licked her nose. “You could say that.”

Niana slapped herself on the knee and laughed. “Oh, ya cut out o’ the right cloth, all right! Looks like Yurlik knew what he were doin’ for once!”

Harlequin resisted the urge to bare her canines and willed her rising hackles to flatten. Niana wasn’t paying attention, though. She was still admiring the nidoking horn as she continued talking.

“That antidote is rare, too, huh? So the Outcasts won’t have access to it.” She paused for a heartbeat. “Yeah… we could work with this. Of course, ya can’t use the real thing when trainin’. We’ll find ya a branch or somethin’, so ya can practice fightin’ with a weapon. That’ll spice up trainin’ for sure! Make that lazy lot think twice and mix up their game a bit.”

‘If I use the horn instead, that’ll make them think twice.’ Harlequin bit back the urge to say it. But she felt if she did, Niana would just laugh it off.

The scrafty placed the horn gingerly on the ground and turned to examine Harlequin’s satchel. “Ya’ll need a place to keep it safe. I can do that, easy. But ya bag’ll need tweakin’. And cleanin’! Anythin’ ya put in here’ll likely just get contaminated.”

Harlequin looked down at her bag and swallowed. She hadn’t considered that. She’d just stuffed the horn in there without even thinking. A thousand scenarios played through her mind. If she’d managed to escape with Harbinger, and they’d stored food in her bag, the pair of them could have ended up dead… Or even just her while searching for him… or…

Niana clapped her paws together. “Right! I can fix ya bag up for ya. But in the meantime, let’s go and find a suitable weapon to replace that horn for now.”

Harlequin grunted and rose to her feet. Part of her wondered if Niana planned to steal that nidoking horn, but Harlequin didn’t really care if she did or not. She gave the horn a derisive look as she walked past it and followed Niana from the room.

They searched around the lake while Niana gathered a bucket of water. She didn’t want to wash the bag in the lake. Pokemon drank from it. So she was going to clean Harlequin’s bag in a dry, dusty area away from any food or water sources. Harlequin let Niana’s voice wash over her as she searched around the trees looking for a branch. She found a few but they were either too brittle, or too small.

On the other side of the lake, Harlequin came across a tree that had taken the worst of a storm. A large branch had broken away, lying half in the water. Its branches splayed out around it like claws clutching onto the bank. Harlequin made a thoughtful noise as she searched along it. One of those branches might work.

Niana joined her side, still clutching the bucket. Water sloshed over her feet and she cursed, setting it down beside her so she could beat her baggy hide dry.

“Found somethin’ good, eh?” Niana nodded to the branch and frowned. “Bit big.”

“I’m gonna chew one of the smaller ones off,” Harlequin told her, not hiding the scorn in her voice.

Niana chuckled and slapped the zorua on the shoulder. “Now, if-”

Harlequin leapt aside, canines bared as a snarl left her throat. Niana raised her paws and took a step back.

“Calm down, I was only jestin’.” She nodded to the branch, completely unruffled. “Ya can chew it off if ya want, but ya’ll get splinters in ya tongue. I’ll snap it off for ya.”

Harlequin relaxed a little, but her fur was still on end. She watched as Niana broke a small branch off the fallen bough with one swipe of her paw. She then sheared away the smaller twigs.

“There ya go.” She held the branch out to Harlequin. “How does that feel?”

Harlequin took it tentatively in her jaws. She stepped back and swung it, if only to humour the scrafty. It was about the same size as the nidoking horn, but given she’d only used it to taint a barrel of water she had no idea if it would make a good substitute.

As if Niana had read her mind, she said, “It weighs ‘bout the same.”

Harlequin glanced up at her then nodded, speaking around the branch. “It’ll do.”

Niana gave a nod in response and motioned Harlequin to follow her back towards the barracks. Harlequin complied, plodding heavily along behind the scrafty. Niana had fallen quiet, and Harlequin wasn’t sure if she’d picked up on her hesitation or if she’d finally ran out of things to say. Harlequin found herself wondering if she should start up a new conversation and was about to do so when Niana closed her classroom’s door behind her.


The zorua looked up at her, finding confusion in the scrafty’s eyes.

“Jex told me ya a boy, but-”

Harlequin’s fur ruffled and she took a step back until her tail brushed the door.

“He’s wrong, ain’t he?” Niana inclined her head on one side.

Harlequin’s heart hammered. How was she meant to answer that? She found herself spluttering and the branch fell from her jaws to land in the dust.

“Please don’t say anything!” Harlequin wheezed, keeping her voice low.

“Why?” Niana raised her paws in a shrug. “There are girls here. We ain’t like the soldiers who refuse to train ‘em. Ya ask me, girls are faster ‘n’ we make way better assassins.” She ended that with a wink.

Harlequin felt herself relax slightly but she shook her head. Her heart was still racing.

“What’s the problem?” Niana asked quietly.

Harlequin closed her eyes and took a long breath. “I’m the only zorua here.”

Niana said nothing, but she gave a small noise that suggested she understood.

Harlequin rubbed her forepaws together and avoided the scrafty’s stare. “We’re the only pokemon that can use illusion, and females are rare. If Hydreigon finds out I am one, he might want more zorua.”

“Ah.” Niana’s eyes widened but she said nothing else.

Harlequin’s breath trembled as a cold chill crawled down her spine. Was Niana actually considering that? Harlequin shuddered as her fur began to feel filthy again, as if it would never be clean. Even tearing it off wouldn’t be enough to clear it.

“I can’t do that.” She screwed her eyes shut and curled her tail beneath her. “Please don’t make me go there! I just can’t! I… I’d rather die!”

“Harlequin!” Niana dropped into a crouch before the zorua. “No one is forcing ya into the breedin’ pens! What’s the matter?”

Harlequin clamped her mouth shut. She breathed through her nose, trying to calm herself to no avail.

“Listen,” Niana went on. “Ya ain’t wrong. There ain’t any more female zorua here. If Lord Hydreigon knew ya were a girl, he’d see ya like a diamond on a rhydon’s back.”

Those weren’t the words Harlequin wanted to hear. Her tongue lolled out as she fought for breath, and her eyes widened so much the whites began to show. Niana’s expression softened as she blurred into two scrafty before Harlequin’s eyes.

“I’ll keep ya secret, okay?” The scrafty inclined her head on one side. “No one’s gotta know. Ya safe, okay?”

Her words seemed to echo as Harlequin sank to the side, her breaths rasping heavily. Niana dropped to all fours. She said something, but Harlequin didn’t hear it. Instead, she faded away to black.


When Harlequin came round, she was lying on her nest. Her room smelled strange, like fermented berries. A small plate of blue and orange mush lay beside her, next to a grimy glass of water. Her nose twitched. It wasn’t the plate she was smelling. It was much too close for that. Was it the nest?

She lifted a paw to wipe her eyes, but it came away sticky. The same colour mash was smeared across her paw. She sniffed it again and gave it a tentative lick. Oran and sitrus berries? She licked it clean and wiped her forehead, smearing away more of the stuff. She’d never seen berries used in such a way before. Had Niana done it? And if so, why?

It started to come back to her slowly. Her conversation with Niana. Then more rapidly. Harlequin’s heart began to race again. Niana knew. She knew. But… had she promised not to say anything?

Harlequin slid from the nest and her head spun. She leaned against the concrete slab and took in a few breaths as she tried to steady herself. She needed to find Niana. To make sure she definitely wouldn’t tell Hydreigon, or anyone else.

Harlequin raised an ear, stilling her breath as she listened for any movement. It was still dark outside, but faint light trickled through the window. She could still hear voices, but they were too far away. Were the young assassins still training? Perhaps she could look for Niana without drawing attention from them.

She trotted towards the door and scrabbled at the handle. She muttered under her breath until she managed to pull it down and drag the door open. As she slipped outside, a shadow fell over her and she froze, jerking her head to her left.

Enigma stood beside her looking as surprised as she was. His arms were folded behind his head and he didn’t lower them as he glanced to her room then back at her.

“Nice sleep?” he asked.

Harlequin cleared her throat and turned her head away. “I’m looking for Niana.”

“Well she wasn’t at training. Maybe she’s at the lake, or in her classroom.” He paused, watching her shuffle her feet on the floor. “I thought that was where you were, actually.”

“I… I got sick.” She took in a breath and turned away from him to head down the corridor. “I guess I’ll check her classroom.”

Enigma’s bell jingled in sync with his steps as he followed behind her. “It’s not contagious, is it?”

“Not unless fainting is an epidemic.”

“Huh. Didn’t think she pushed the hatchlings quite that hard.”

Harlequin bit back the urge to bark at him that she wasn’t a hatchling. She reached Niana’s classroom and strained an ear near the door. There was no sound coming from inside it. With a defeated sigh she turned towards the lake.

“Not in there then?” Enigma joined her side.

Harlequin let out a low growl which Enigma didn’t appear to hear. Or didn’t care. Would this ghost leave her alone? She didn’t want him overhearing her conversation with Niana. Then she suddenly remembered something. Her satchel! Didn’t Niana say she was going to clean it?

“I think I know where she might be.” Harlequin broke into a trot, leaving Enigma to follow behind at his own pace.

It didn’t take her long to pick up Niana’s scent. It was still fresh, and moved away from the lake to the side of the barracks. The ground was much more dry and barren. It looked like it had been trampled a fair bit, and the dust clung to Harlequin’s paws. Niana crouched near a large rock. A bucket stood beside her where the water pooled in a rough hole. Dust and grime marred the surface. Niana smoothed out Harlequin’s bag on the dry ground, her focus completely on her task.

Harlequin glanced back towards the lake and sniffed the air. No sign of the banette. She guessed he wasn’t as interested in her as she’d feared.

She turned back to the scrafty and crept to her side. “Niana?”

Niana looked up at Harlequin as if she’d expected her to be there. “Ya lookin’ better. Here, I’ve almost finished cleanin’ out ya bag. I wanna make some adjustments first, though. Make it a bit safer for ya.”

“Thanks.” Harlequin sat down and shuffled her paws on the floor. “About earlier-”

“Ya don’t need to apologise.” Niana shook the bag away from them, sending droplets back towards the pool of water. “I understand ya wanna avoid any… unpleasant situations.”

Harlequin’s ears drooped. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Niana’s warm gaze rested on the zorua. Harlequin felt herself relax, but her mouth turned dry. Had Niana figured out what was going on in Harlequin’s head? Whatever the case, Harlequin was relieved no more questions were asked. Niana’s attitude suggested she didn’t need to ask them.

“Do you think we can avoid Hydreigon finding out?” Harlequin kept her voice barely above a whisper.

“Yeah, if we’re careful,” said Niana. “I won’t tell anyone, anyway. But take a little advice, kid.” Niana smoothed out the bag, which lay inside-out on the floor. “If ya gonna work for us, ya need to make sure ya use Lord Hydreigon’s preferred title. Even while talkin’ to ya fellow trainees.” The scrafty turned her head towards Harlequin, meeting her wide sapphire eyes. “Ya don’t wanna make any mistakes, kid. Ya do, ya might find yerself in a worse place than the breedin’ pens.”

Harlequin’s fur prickled. She couldn’t think of anywhere worse. But she swallowed and nodded once.

“It’s not gonna be an easy secret to keep, especially as ya get older. So I suggest ya take extreme caution,” Niana went on. “Zorua are good at deceiving, right?”

“Oh yes.” Harlequin’s gaze wandered to the lake. A few pokemon sat around it, cleaning themselves off before bed. “We’re very good at fooling others.”

“Then use that to ya advantage.”

A brief silence fell over them. A calming silence. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from Harlequin’s back. Niana was going to keep her secret. Now she just had to make sure no one else found out.

“All right. I think it’s time for bed.” Niana stood and scooped up the bag, giving it another shake. “I think I’ve washed all the poison out.”

Harlequin rose to her feet. “Really, Niana, you don’t need to do this.”

“Nonsense. I wanna make sure ya kitted out.” The scrafty kicked dirt back into the hole, burying the tainted water. “You focus on ya trainin’. I’ll sort out ya gear. Capiche?”

Harlequin nodded and followed Niana back to the barracks with light footsteps. With Niana training her, perhaps things weren’t going to be so bad. And if she learnt how to assassinate properly, perhaps she could one day avenge Harbinger’s death.
Poison Part Three


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
Blood and references to self harm

Part 3​

Niana’s lessons weren’t exactly a cakewalk. Harlequin’s skills were pushed to the max. After her first couple of sessions she’d dragged herself to her nest and fallen asleep before her head hit the hay. She’d woken up with a stiff neck which Niana wasted no time fixing. The pain was only momentary, and Harlequin’s lesson had gone on as planned.

Niana kept her on her toes. She never told her what they’d be covering before the lesson started. Agility, sneaking, quizzing Harlequin on her poison notes… whatever it was, it was always mixed in with Hydreigon’s vision. At first, Harlequin had likened it to brainwashing. The members of the Darkness strongly believed what Hydreigon had planned was for the good of Estellis. But after a few days, Harlequin began to relate.

The Outcasts had pushed the dark-types away. Along with dragon- and ghost-types. Harbinger had been a prime example of that. He hadn’t been wanted anywhere. If he’d gone into Outcast territory, they’d have killed him on sight.

So when Harlequin heard Hydreigon’s weekly rally for the first time, she’d found herself listening intently.

“Centuries ago all dark- and dragon-types were driven to the Shadow Lands. Only recently has it begun to spread its reign across Estellis in a bid for freedom. But do the Outcasts want us to have that freedom?”

Harlequin’s fur bristled as the rest of the Darkness shouted a united ‘no’.

“Well, I can assure you we will get that freedom!” Hydreigon had barked. “I promise you, we will be free once more!”


That was all Harlequin had ever wanted. To be free. Free from her parents. From the Shadow Lands. From the Outcast’s persecution. To be free, living her own life away from her enemies. All she’d wanted was to find sanctuary.

Her claws curled into the dirt and she swallowed back a growl. Hydreigon couldn’t promise her that freedom. But if she had to fight for freedom, then she’d fight for it.

The rally had been early in the morning during Harlequin’s fourth day training with Niana. Her mind was a whirlwind of confusion. Her paws skidded over Niana’s classroom floor as she tried to clip the scrafty with her branch. She held the wood in her jaws so it was sticking out on her right. She dived towards Niana’s left, landing beyond the branch’s reach. Niana hadn’t even needed to guard herself.

Harlequin landed awkwardly and stifled a growl.

“Harlequin!” Niana lowered her arm and frowned at the zorua. “Ya really not on ya best game today.”

Harlequin closed her eyes and sighed. She spat the branch onto the floor. “I’m sorry. My mind is elsewhere.”

Niana spread her arms and looked around her. “Where?”

“The rally.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good. But ya need to focus.”

“I know.” Harlequin sighed again and turned to face Niana. “Do you really believe we’ll be free one day?”

Niana’s eyes widened and her shoulders relaxed. “Ah.”

Harlequin raised an ear. Was that doubt on the scrafty’s face?

Niana rubbed her mohawk and leaned back against the wall. “Harlequin, pokemon have been fightin’ for their freedom for centuries. The Shadow Lands is growin’, but we’re gonna need to keep fightin’ to avoid bein’ pushed back. The truth is, the Outcasts will never accept us no matter how strong we get. I sometimes ask myself are we the outcasts here? We were the ones driven out of their society, and now we’re fightin’ back. Whether we’ll win in our lifetime, well.” She shrugged. “That remains to be seen. Who knows? We might do. Then yeah, we’ll be free. The dark- and dragon-types will reign supreme, and any Outcasts left will be taken to Lord Hydreigon to decide what to do with.”

Harlequin grunted and glanced aside. “Well… how did the Outcasts get their names, then?”

“Lord Hydreigon called them such when he claimed authority and proclaimed himself ruler of Estellis. He drove all pokemon that weren’t dark- or dragon-type out of the Border Woods and promised to continue his rule over the rest of the world. Those pokemon were dubbed Outcasts, and they adopted that name.” Niana rubbed the back of her neck and frowned at Harlequin. “Really, I thought ya’d already know that.”

Harlequin lowered her head and avoided meeting Niana’s eyes. “My parents never really spoke to me.”

Niana stared at her for a moment longer. The scrafty’s eyes were warm and Harlequin felt herself relax. Somehow, she felt she could tell this pokemon anything. She opened her mouth then bit back her words, turning to look at the door.

Niana kicked herself back from the wall and reached behind the pile of books she’d been reading over with Harlequin. “Here. I thought ya might wanna see this.”

She held out Harlequin’s satchel. The zorua’s ears pricked and she reached for it with her jaws.

“Careful, kid,” Niana warned. “Ya weapon’s in here.”

Harlequin took it gingerly by the strap and lowered it to the floor. The closure was a simple strap of leather thread through a square ring of brass. She slipped it out with ease and lifted it. It was weighed down by the nidoking horn, which was fastened inside the strap in a thick pocket of leather. The point was tucked securely away, with only the handle left uncovered.

Harlequin looked up at Niana with surprise. “It’s perfect!”

“Ya’ve not seen the rest yet.” Niana took the bag and opened up the other pockets. There were three. One of them had little pockets inside, while the other two were wide and lined with waterproof coating. “These small pockets here can be used to store poison vials, once ya find some that is. I dunno how easy it’ll be to get them, since there ain’t no more poison-types nearby. The other two, I lined ‘em to stop any leaks gettin’ to ya supplies.”

Harlequin’s sapphire eyes glistened as she examined the satchel. “It’s great.” She pawed one of the pockets open, examining the stitching. “You really know how to make stuff, huh? I could never do that. I can barely hold a needle.”

“Eh.” Niana shrugged. “Needlework ain’t all that hard, but I suppose bein’ a quadruped ya paws ain’t that dexterous.”

Harlequin shook her head slowly.

“Let’s call it a day.” Niana took the satchel back. “Go back to ya room an’ read over ya notes. I wanna quiz you on ‘em tomorrow.”

Harlequin nodded and gathered up her notebook. She mumbled a ‘thanks’ around it and left the room. Battle cries and shouts of command were still coming from the training hall. The moon was starting to set, so they’d be drawing to a close soon. Harlequin kicked her door shut behind her and instinctively reached for something to wedge it shut. She shook herself, abandoning her fruitless search, and hopped onto her nest.

She hoped reading her notes would clear her mind from Hydreigon’s speech, but it still echoed around her head, blurring her focus.

‘Nidoking venom is odourless when used to taint food or water.’

Centuries ago, all dark- and dragon-types were driven to the Shadow Lands.

‘However, when injected into living tissue, it is incredibly notorious.’

Only recently has it started to spread its reign across Estellis in a bid for freedom.

‘A timely use of anti-venom is essential to save lives, but even then necrosis can still set in.’

But do the Outcasts want us to have that freedom?

Harlequin slammed her paw onto her notebook. “Urgh! This is hopeless!”

Light reflected off glass as the strange orb rolled from her ruff and across her notes. The blue and white swirl seemed to blink at her from within it. She placed a paw over the orb and felt her throat thicken.

Harbinger hadn’t had any freedom. Not from his clan, and not from the Darkness. If he’d survived and made his way out of the Border Woods, the Outcasts wouldn’t have treated him with any kindness, either. Not only was he a dark-type, he was an absol. One of the most hated species in Estellis. They had a worse reputation than ghost-types did.

Mumbled voices snapped her out of her thoughts and her ear pivoted towards the door. Enigma’s deep voice and another she didn’t recognise. She couldn’t work out what either of them were saying, but they drew gradually closer. Had training ended already?

Harlequin raised her head and pushed herself up until she was barely sitting. A ghost-type… Hydreigon had said nothing in his speech about ghost-types. Hadn’t he wiped them out years earlier? Harlequin had only heard stories from Alia about Hydreigon’s attack on the Shadow Mountains. All the ghost-types were believed to have been killed. Yet here Enigma was, training to work for him. Where did he stand in the dragon’s vision for Estellis? As the only ghost-type, was he an exception to the rule, or would he be persecuted by his own so-called allies?

“Well, I guess I’ll see you later?” Enigma’s voice was faint, almost as if he didn’t want anyone to hear him.

“Sure.” A female voice. Harlequin still couldn’t place it. “I’ll see ya before sunset.” Harlequin thought she heard a yawn.

A door closed.

Harlequin strained her ears, listening to the faint jingle of Enigma’s bell. She followed it with her head until she was staring at her own wall.

Why was she suddenly bothered by this? It was Enigma’s choice to work for Hydreigon. If he agreed with that dragon’s vision, then there was no reason to believe he’d be persecuted. Right?

Of course, if some other types claimed to agree with him, did that mean they were safe, too? Like the Heretics? How many Heretic settlements had been destroyed by the Darkness in a bid to ‘cleanse the land’?

Harlequin slipped from her nest, her feet moving her towards the door of their own accord. She stopped, staring at the spot beneath the door handle. What was she doing? Why did she care?

Harbinger flashed through her mind, his crimson eyes accusing. ‘You could have saved me…’

Harlequin clenched her jaw and grimaced. Enigma wasn’t in any danger. He wasn’t even her friend. She shook her head and moved back towards her nest. Her notebook still lay open upon it. She needed to study. Niana was going to test her, and if she failed… well, she doubted Niana would punish her for it. But she didn’t want to let the scrafty down.

She groaned and lowered her head, pushing her forehead against side of the cold concrete slab. Her mind was a mess. Would Niana still be awake to help her study?

Her eyes snapped open. Enigma would still be awake. She could ask him to help her. It might clear her doubts about him, too. Maybe she could learn why a ghost wanted to help the Darkness.

She grabbed her book in her jaws and plodded from her room. When she reached Enigma’s closed door she stared at it for a few heartbeats. What if he had actually gone to sleep and she woke him? Either way, how would he react to her request? She strained her ears, picking up a faint jingle. Yes, he was still awake. She took a long breath and reached for the handle, scrabbling until she got a hold on it. The door cracked open and she nosed her way inside.

Enigma’s crimson stare fixed on her from his nest. He sat back against the wall, his paw resting on a pile of books haphazardly stacked beside his nest. Well… Niana had said assassins needed to be able to read. And if he enjoyed it, then… maybe he wouldn’t mind helping her?

“Are you in or out?” Enigma asked, somewhat boredly. “Because you’re letting a draft in.”

Harlequin felt it was a redundant statement given the shabby blind fixed around his open window. But she stepped inside anyway and kicked the door closed behind her.

She set down her book and cleared her throat, avoiding his probing stare. “I… was wondering if you might… I dunno. Help me?”

He raised an eyebrow, his expression softening. “What with?”

“I need to study.” She placed a paw on her notes, drawing his attention to them. “Niana is gonna test me tomorrow, and I’m struggling to focus.”

Enigma pushed back from the wall and leaned forwards slightly. “What’s it on? Sneaking? ‘Cos I was pretty good at that.”


A look of realisation crossed Enigma’s face and he nodded. “Not something I’ve ever learned about, but… eh.” He raised his paws in a bored shrug. “Whatever. I’ve nothing else to do. I can give it a shot.”

Harlequin deflated with a long sigh and a smile split her muzzle. “Thank you.”

She grabbed her notes and settled at the side of the stone nest, dropping the book back to the floor. Enigma hadn’t moved. He leaned back against the wall with his paws tucked behind his head. He caught her staring and raised an eyebrow.

“You gonna come up here or what?” he asked.

Harlequin shifted her paws in the dust, her eyes flitting left and right. “I, erm… well…”

“We could be studying for a while,” he said. “And it’s comfier than sitting on the cold floor.”

Harlequin stuttered uselessly, looking from the floor to the nest. Realising she had no choice, she retrieved her notes and resigned herself to climbing up. Her legs felt like lead. Ordinarily she’d be able to make it in one small leap, but instead she dragged her heavy back legs onto the hay with all the grace of an exhausted rhyhorn.

Enigma took the notes from her before she flopped face first into the musty hay. It smelled just like the banette. Every nerve screamed at Harlequin to get back down, but Enigma didn’t seem to notice or care. He flicked through her dog-eared notes, skimming over the pages. Harlequin forced herself upright, sitting awkwardly. Her tail hung over the edge of the nest as if it had tried to escape and given up.

Finally, Harlequin forced herself to speak, feigning nonchalance. “So… what do you think?”

“Confusing.” Enigma flicked back to the front of the book. “You have neat paw-writing for a quadruped, though.”

Harlequin opened her jaws to thank him, but he looked up at her, freezing her words in her throat. Instead she swallowed audibly and glanced aside.

“What are you so awkward for?” he laughed. “Are we gonna study or not?”

“Y-yes.” Harlequin straightened, pulling her forepaws together. “If… if you ask me some questions, I’ll see if I can answer them.”

“All right.” Enigma looked back down at the notes, leafing through them again. His muzzle creased with confusion and one of his ears lowered.

Harlequin inclined her head on one side. “Erm…”

Enigma looked up at her, but the confusion didn’t fade from his face.

“If you just… I dunno…” Harlequin’s ears pulled back. She hadn’t considered this might be a problem. “I need to know what poisons do. Their effects, how to find them, the best use, antidotes. That kind of thing.”

“Antidotes?” Enigma raised a brow. “Don’t you just use pecha berries?”

Harlequin shook her head. “Nope.”

“Wow.” Enigma returned to the notebook. “Guess I could learn something, too. Okay, we’ll start at the beginning. What’s the best antidote for weedle venom?”

Harlequin spat air. “Come on. Now that one is pecha berries.”

“Hey, you’re the one who needs to know this.” He gave her a playful grin over the top of the book.

Harlequin felt her own grin form in return and she waved a paw. “Go on.”

Enigma glanced at the book. “How do you extract weedle venom?”

“That’s hard to do,” Harlequin explained. “It’s very easy to hurt a weedle, and they only inject it in very small doses. It’s best to ask them to inject it into something soft and extract it that way. It’s very complicated, and a week poison, so poison assassins tend to not use it.”

Enigma nodded.

Harlequin raised her head. “Being a weak poison, its effects are usually stomach cramps and nausea if ingested. If injected into the bloodstream, it can cause dizziness and migraines. But it is usually not fatal. It does have its uses, though, in keeping someone in bed rest for a day or two.”

Enigma looked up at her. “I didn’t ask.”

Harlequin flushed as a smile took over and she brushed a paw over the hay. “I know. I was just on a roll.”

Enigma stared at her for a moment longer, but he didn’t seem upset. If anything, he seemed impressed. He turned the page and quickly scanned it. “Toxtricity, eh? Okay, how would you extract that?”

“They secrete poison from their pores, which they can eject quite quickly. If asked, they care able to concentrate it into a vial.”

“And its effects?”

“It attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis and numbness and eventual death as the vital organs shut down.”

Enigma shuddered. “You deadpanned that! Made it sound a lot worse than when I read it.”

Harlequin glanced aside and cleared her throat. “Sorry.”

“Hey, don’t apologise.” Enigma waved her off with a paw. “We’re training as assassins here. We’re meant to leave our feelings at the door.” He focused on the notes again, but Harlequin felt her fur prickle at his previous words. She barely processed his next question. “How would you cure it?”

Harlequin blinked a few times as she searched her mind for the answer. She knew this one, but she was so wrapped up by his words. She was training to be an assassin… for the darkness… how had her training with outlaws resulted in this?


She turned her head back towards the banette. He watched her over the top of her notebook, but his expression had softened to concern.

She shook her head sharply. “Sorry. Erm… the cure for toxicroak poison is a mixture of herbs and pecha berries to induce vomiting and improve circulation.”

“That’s great, Harle.” Enigma sat back against the wall. “But I was quizzing you on toxtricity.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Harlequin flinched. “The treatment is the same, but with added cheri berries. Time is of the essence, since it can swiftly work its way through the system and cause permanent damage to the organs.”

Enigma frowned at her for a moment then lowered the book to his lap. “Are you all right? You spaced out there.”

“I’m fine, I’m just… I think I’m tired. That’s all.”

“You wanna call it a day?”

“No.” Harlequin shook her head. “Niana is quizzing me on this later. I need to make sure I know my stuff.”

Enigma didn’t look convinced. But at Harlequin’s serious expression he sighed. “All right. But if you’re tired you’re gonna make mistakes.”

“I’ll make sure I have a nap first. Don’t worry.” She forced a smile, getting one in return.

For the next couple of hours, they continued their study session. Harlequin’s head cleared and she found herself answering each one correctly. Much to her surprise, she’d remembered more than she’d thought, and Hydreigon’s speech faded from her mind.

After a while, Enigma suggested a break and he set the book aside. Harlequin felt a lot more at ease as she joined him on the floor for a quick game of Chess. It cleared her mind, but the topic remained on poisons. Enigma was unusually interested, or it was a ruse to keep her mind working over them. Harlequin surprised herself at what she’d remembered, and she even found herself talking about the swamp where she’d had her lessons.

A few hours before sunrise, Enigma suggested they go over things one last time. They returned to the hay, Harlequin leaping up much less clumsily this time. The banette wasn’t as intimidating as Harlequin had first thought. She found herself returning each of his smiles with her own, and before long they were both laughing their way through the session.

As they were drawing their recap to a close, Enigma’s door opened and the sleepy face of a weavile poked around it. Harlequin’s answer froze in her mouth as she met the other pokemon’s curious ruby stare.

“Oh. Kera.” Enigma lowered Harlequin’s notes. “This is Harlequin. Or Harle. I was just quizzing him ‘cos Niana’s testing him tomorrow.”

The weavile’s expression did not soften. Harlequin’s fur rose along her spine under Kera’s cold, accusing stare.

“A test, huh?” Kera stood aside, nudging the door closed behind her. The latch did not click shut. The weavile folded her arms. “Don’t envy ya that at all.”

There was no sympathy in her voice. Harlequin straightened and looked back at Enigma, but she kept one ear trained on the weavile. “I think I’ve studied enough. I should get some sleep. If I leave it too late, Niana will wonder where I am.”

Enigma idly leafed through the paper, but it was clear his mind was now on Kera. “Are you sure?”

Harlequin nodded and took the offered notebook. She mumbled around it a quick ‘thanks’ and hopped from the nest.

“Good luck with your test,” Enigma called after her.

Harlequin nosed her way out of the door and returned to her own nest room. She kicked her door closed and bounded up into her nest.

‘I was just quizzing him…’

Harlequin closed her eyes and sank into her hay. Well, at least Enigma believed she was male. But something in the weavile’s eyes bothered Harlequin. There had been an icy fire there. One that had chilled Harlequin to the bone. She could still see Kera’s glare when she closed her eyes.

‘We’re meant to leave our feelings at the door.’

Harlequin huffed, stirring the hay so it tickled her nose. She sneezed. She knew that look in Kera’s eyes. It had been jealousy.

Harlequin felt her heart quicken and her eyes flew open, staring blindly at the hay. She hadn’t used her illusion. She cursed at her own foolishness.

Jealousy… Had Kera worked out Harlequin’s secret? And if so… would she tell everyone?


Harlequin’s private training sessions soon came to an end. She wondered if she hadn’t aced Niana’s quiz then perhaps she wouldn’t be facing the training hall. The zorua stood in the doorway, her tail held low. Large feet stomped back and forth. Shadowy attacks, ice and fire lit up the dingy room and made the torches gutter. There was plenty of space to train. The number of trainees was lower than Harlequin had expected. But the room seemed full of bodies engaged in a chaos of unpredictability.

Niana stood behind Harlequin and nodded towards the room. “Go on. Let’s find somewhere ya can swing that stick.”

Harlequin adjusted her grip on the baton and crept into the room. Her illusion ballooned around her, giving her a more rugged appearance. She wasn’t sure how much it was needed, but illusion was exhausting and if she was going to fool the entire Shadow Lands into believing she was male then she needed to build up her illusion’s strength, too.

Pokemon moved around her, paying her little attention as they focused on their own battles. Many of them dwarfed her, especially the dragon-types. The smooth wood of her baton against her teeth seemed almost comforting. Niana had carved it to remove the splinters. A task she claimed to have done because she couldn’t sleep one night. Harlequin assumed that was a lie and the scrafty had just got tired of Harlequin complaining of splinters in her tongue.

Harlequin spotted Enigma and Kera training together in the middle of the room. A low growl formed in Harlequin’s throat. The weavile hadn’t proved to be a problem just yet, but Harlequin didn’t want to get too close to them perchance Kera decided to blow her cover. Harlequin moved towards the wall at the side of the room and found a spot a few feet away from a slightly built gabite. She turned so her back was to him and lowered her head, readying to launch herself at Niana. The zorua faltered, feeling eyes on her. She looked up and almost sank into the floor. Many of the trainees had stopped to gawk at the oddly coloured zorua.

“All right!” Niana raised her head and clapped her large paws together. “Yeah, we’ve got a new trainee! Back to ya trainin’ before I have ya’ll runnin’ laps!”

The other pokemon immediately complied, filling the room with a chaos of noise and motion. Harlequin’s heart was racing at a mile a minute. She gave herself a mental shake and tried to focus on the scrafty. Without warning, Harlequin rushed towards Niana, aiming to clip her shoulder with the baton. The scrafty side-stepped and swatted the stick aside with a paw. Harlequin raised an eyebrow at the larger pokemon. Had she forgotten what the baton was meant to be emulating?

Harlequin rushed her again, aiming for a leg this time. Niana pirouetted away, and Harlequin soared harmlessly past to skid on all-fours through the dust.

“Ya need to be faster!” Niana told her. “If ya too slow, yer enemies are just gonna get outta ya way!”

Harlequin snorted and lunged forwards, but the scrafty slipped aside once more.

The back and forth continued until Harlequin’s legs ached with the effort. No matter how much she tried, she didn’t get any faster. Soon she had to stop to catch her breath, panting heavily.

Niana opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off as her brother placed a heavy paw on her shoulder. He spoke quietly but Harlequin still heard him.

“Ya got that list?”

Niana’s eyes widened and she mumbled an apology. She glanced down at Harlequin as she made for the door. “Keep practisin’ ya speed, kid. I’ll be back in a mo.”

“What?” Harlequin’s ears pulled back and she took one step towards the retreating scrafty. “Wait!”

Niana didn’t wait. Harlequin stood in the noisy room, aware of the eyes on her once more. Had they been watching her this whole time? The other pokemon didn’t stop their training, filling the air with dust from their trampling feet and hot flaming breath. Harlequin turned her head towards the wall and tried to breathe slowly. Work on her speed. That’s what she needed to do. If she practised, she’d blend in.

She swung the baton a few times and lunged forwards, landing on one paw and spinning to rush back the way she’d come. Her eyes met those of the gabite as he swung his bladed arm towards his partner, a fraxure. Harlequin faltered and swallowed back a yelp of surprise. Her feet went from under her and she landed in the dust, dropping the baton.

Before she could stand, a yellow paw scooped it up. Harlequin looked up into Jex’s confused face as he pounded the baton against his open palm.

“We all start clumsy.” He returned the stick to her and then turned to address the room. He clapped his paws together, causing Harlequin’s ears to ring. “Right! Time to wrap it up!”

The room came to a stop, their shouts dimming to confused and worried mutterings. A few glances went to the windows where the moon still hung high in the sky.

“No trainin’ this mornin’,” Jex went on. “Barracks are a dump! I want it cleaned!”

Many of the pokemon descended into complaints, but they’d resigned themselves to this unexpected fate. It didn’t stop the more vocal ones expressing themselves however.

“I don’t care whatcha think!” Jex barked. “Go to Niana. She’ll assign ya’ll a task.” When the pokemon didn’t move, he clapped again. “Hop to it! Before sunrise!”

Harlequin looked over everyone, trying to spot Niana. The young scrafty was stood near the wall as a circle began to form around her, cutting Harlequin off. She spotted Enigma, still at Kera’s side, as he appeared at the edge of the crowd.

Harlequin crept to Enigma’s other side and spoke around her baton. “Cleaning duty?”

Enigma gave a stiff nod and tucked his arms behind his head.

“Every year.” Kera folded her arms and huffed. “I always thought it were a rookie job, but nope! Guess movin’ up the ranks don’t free ya from menial work, huh?”

Harlequin blinked at the weavile then looked over at the thinning crowd. Their voices drowned out Niana’s instructions, but she could still pick out the odd task being assigned to the other trainees.

Kera yawned loudly. “I’d much rather just go to bed!”

“Hopefully they won’t have us filling up the mess holes this time,” said Enigma.

Harlequin’s claws curled at that image.

Kera shot the banette a playful scowl. “I think that were the only time I ever envied ya lackin’ paws!” She rolled her eyes. “All ya had to do were hold the bucket.”

Enigma chuckled, causing his bell to ring.

The crowd soon thinned, forcing them face to face with Niana and her list of chores. Soon it was just Harlequin, Enigma and Kera. Niana looked over the trio then glanced at her list.

“You three.” The scrafty waved a paw at the wide room. “Trainin’ hall. This place could be used as a dragon’s dust bath. I want it cleaned before dusk.”

“What? Us three?” Kera pointed a claw at herself.

Niana frowned and folded her list. “Do ya see anyone else?” She motioned to the door. “Grab a broom an’ get sweepin’. Chop chop!”

Kera muttered under her breath and stomped her way past Harlequin.

The zorua exchanged a glance with Enigma but said nothing as they followed after the weavile. Harlequin left her baton by the door and moved out into the corridor. A few pokemon stood sweeping the halls, creating piles of dust and fur. Harlequin hadn’t been in the supply closet before. It was at the end of the barracks, indicated by Kera’s pink feathery tail poking from it. Enigma found a broom forced into his paw and Kera steered him back to the training hall, leaving Harlequin to pick her own tools.

The zorua looked over them and sighed. The cupboard was looking thin. She found a small brush and dustpan that even a quadruped might struggle to use. She grabbed it in her jaws and carried it back to the training hall.

Kera gestured to the wide room. “I’m gonna start at the other end. If ya start by the door, we can meet in the middle.” The instructions had been aimed at Enigma.

The banette nodded and the pair left Harlequin standing in the middle of the room. The zorua looked between the two, then at the huge room. It seemed a lot larger without any pokemon in it. She gave a heavy sigh and looked down at her chosen tools. She was no stranger to chores, but they’d been on a much smaller scale. She looked up at the two pokemon again, and decided Enigma was the less intimidating to help. She grabbed her brush and dustpan and joined him, sweeping up the small piles he created.

They soon fell into a rhythm as Harlequin found her helpful niche. The dust was thrown outside to blow away in the wind. With the three of them working so swiftly, hopefully they would be finished before dawn.

“They didn’t give us much of a heads up, did they?” Harlequin asked as she turfed dust from the window.

“They don’t,” said Kera, much to Harlequin’s surprise. “I quizzed Niana on that last year. She said they used to, but come chore day so many trainees would claim to be sick. So they decided to just drop it on us so no one could cry off.”

“Oh really?” Enigma flashed the weavile a boyish grin. “I suppose you wanted to do just that?”

“Of course!” Kera’s voice echoed around the room. “Rotten lot ruined it for the rest of us.”

Enigma chuckled, moving past Harlequin and creating another dust pile for her to scoop up.

“Let’s get this done quickly,” said Kera, moving across the room with her broom. “If we finish before sun-up we might have time for a game of Chess or somethin’.”

Somehow, Harlequin didn’t think that invitation extended to her. Not that she cared. “They don’t expect us to keep training?”

“Nope. They said that were it for the day.” Kera stood up straight, leaning on her broom with one paw on her hip. “Besides, it’s not like ya really ‘train’, is it?”

Harlequin looked up at the weavile, indignant. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, ya just leap around with a stick.” Kera swiftly swept up some dust into the standing dustpan beside her. “Assassins ain’t meant to use tools, yanno. We’re meant to fight.”

“I am fighting!” Harlequin barked. “Lord Hydreigon took me on as a poison user.” She silently congratulated herself for remembering to use the dragon’s preferred title. She didn’t need another reason for Kera to jab at her.

Kera laughed and her red eyes sparkled. “But ya ain’t a poison-type!”

“Exactly.” Harlequin sat down and puffed out her chest. “My targets will never see it coming.”

Kera’s attention had gone to the pendant nestled in Harlequin’s ruff shining in the torchlight. “And what exactly is that?” She waved a paw towards it. “’Cos I doubt that’s protocol, either.”

Harlequin glanced down at it and grunted. She stood to gather up the dustpan and move on, hoping that if she ignored Kera’s question then the topic would move off her and onto something more bearable.

“I don’t see a problem with this.” Enigma swept up a cloud of dust, causing Harlequin to sneeze. “I think it’s more interesting to see a pokemon use skills out of the ordinary. It breaks away from the mundane.”

Harlequin flashed him a grateful glance.

“Oh, really?” Kera’s broom clattered to the floor as she folded her arms. “Ya mean like we do? Is that it?”

Enigma blinked a few times. “That’s not what-”

“I get it, Enigma. Ya bored! Ya always bored.” Kera raised her paws in a shrug. “Sorry I ain’t more interestin’.”


The weavile ignored the warning note in his voice as she retrieved her broom. “The thing is, Enigma, we use the same attacks to get stronger! Jumpin’ around with a stick ain’t an attack, now, is it? So Harlequin ain’t gonna get stronger without using any attacks.”

“I’m still fighting,” Harlequin growled.

“Yeah, but it ain’t combat,” Kera went on. “Pokemon get stronger and even evolve through combat, like Enigma here. I know zorua evolve, right? But ya ain’t yet, and ya won’t if all ya gonna do is keep smackin’ your opponents with a stick!”

“I don’t want to evolve.”

“Well it’s gonna happen,” said Kera. “’Cos ya’ll be forced into combat sooner or later to build ya strength. So deal with it.”

No… Harlequin’s mouth went dry. Her father’s leering face filled her mind. A zoroark… she wouldn’t allow it. She couldn’t.

“Then…” Harlequin’s heart was racing. Her eyes flit around the room as she stumbled over her own thoughts. A solution dropped into her mind like a rock in a lake. “Then I’ll wear an everstone!”

Kera’s eyes lit up with malice. “An everstone? And how exactly are ya gonna carry it?”

“I’ll wear it.”

Kera raised her paws in a shrug. “Ya can’t. Ya can’t wear anythin’ that’ll be used against ya! Someone could grab it an’ strangle ya to death. Or it could get snagged and lost or worse, leave valuable evidence!” She wagged a claw at the seething zorua. “Assassins ain’t allowed to leave evidence.”

“Don’t lie to me!” Harlequin spat. She jerked her head towards Enigma and his eyes widened. “He wears a scarf, and carries a bell somewhere. So you can’t tell me assassins aren’t allowed to wear items.”

“Sorry, Harle.”

Harlequin met Enigma’s eyes and he gave a weak shrug.

“They’re made from ghost materials,” he explained. “I can manipulate them. Besides, even if they weren’t I could just phase through them and escape.”

“And leave evidence,” Kera added, not looking up from her sweeping.

Enigma shrugged again as Harlequin’s ears drooped. “I’m afraid I can’t help you. You’re best speaking to Niana.” He moved past her with his broom.

Harlequin stared down at her paws, her mind reeling. “Then… then that’s what I’ll do.”

“Oh just evolve!” Kera laughed. “It ain’t that bad! It only hurts for a little while, and I bet it’ll hurt a zoroark a lot less than it did Enigma.” She gave the banette a playful grin. “I remember ya screamin’ like a baby!” She burst out laughing and wiped a tear from her eye.

“Well at least I look cool now,” Enigma retorted playfully.

Harlequin stamped a paw, disturbing the dust pile at her feet. “But I don’t want to evolve! What part of that don’t you understand?!”

The other two stared at her, eyes wide.

Kera shook her head slowly. “Why not?”

“I just don’t, okay?!” Harlequin took a few deep breaths and stepped backwards, away from the other two pokemon. “I… I’m gonna go speak to Niana.”

She turned tail and skipped across the training hall.

“What about cleanin’?!” Kera called after her.

Harlequin didn’t stop. She raced from the room and down the corridor, whizzing past a purrloin who yowled and dropped her feather duster. Niana was in her room, sorting through her books. They stood in haphazard piles while the scrafty stood behind them, reading over a list. She looked up as Harlequin stepped gingerly around a teetering copy of The Benefits of Night Slash.

“Harlequin?” Niana looked the zorua up and down and concern clouded her eyes. She lowered her list. “Is somethin’ wrong?”

“I…” Harlequin licked her dry lips. “I don’t want to evolve. But… Kera says I can’t carry items.”

“That’s true.” Niana set her list down and sighed. “Harlequin, can we discuss this tomorrow? We’ve got a lot o’ work to do.”


Niana’s eyes widened at the zorua’s sudden boldness.

Harlequin stood firm, but her mind was still wheeling with chaos. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t evolve. The thought of seeing her father’s face whenever she saw her own reflection… that constant reminder… she just couldn’t. Tears pricked her eyes and she blinked them back.

“I can’t evolve, Niana. I don’t want to! Is there… is there any way I can carry an everstone?”

The scrafty sighed and rubbed a paw over her mohawk. An action Harlequin had grown used to seeing whenever Niana was asked a difficult question. It made Harlequin’s heart sink.

“I’m really sorry, Harlequin. But assassins are meant to get stronger and evolve. We don’t carry items. We don’t even carry a bag unless we’re on an intel mission. Yer an unusual case here. I’m still tryin’ to work out how to incorporate ya satchel into ya trainin’. To add an everstone to the mix? One day, ya gonna to have to take it off.” She nodded to the zorua’s neck.

Harlequin clenched her jaw. The smooth pendant felt heavy all of a sudden. “This isn’t an everstone.”

“Oh?” Niana scratched her chin. “Well… Harlequin, I’m just gonna suggest this as a temporary solution, all right? Ya can wear an everstone durin’ trainin’. But only for a short while. Perhaps ya’ll change yer mind about evolvin’ in the future. And who knows? Delayin’ ya evolution might awaken abilities in ya that zoroark don’t have access to. I’ve never trained one, so I dunno.”

A temporary solution… No, that wasn’t good enough.

“Where are they?” The words left Harlequin’s mouth no sooner had she thought them.

“Store closet with the elemental stones.” Niana retrieved her list. “We’ll grab one tomorrow an’ see if we can work with it.”

Harlequin nodded stiffly and turned from the room. It closed behind her on its heavy hinges. The corridor was still filled with working pokemon. They didn’t give Harlequin a second glance as she made her way past them. Some of them were sorting out the store closet, leaving boxes of items piled up outside. Harlequin slowed to a stop by the busy pokemon gave the boxes a quick look over.

A zigzagoon looked up at her, his long tongue hanging from his mouth. “Is somethin’ wrong?”

Harlequin shook her head and stood back. “No… I just… I was looking for something.”

“Wait ‘til we’re done. I don’t want ya makin’ a mess.” The raccoon pokemon returned to his work.

So Harlequin did. She returned to her room where she lay on her back on the floor. Tears stung her eyes and trailed over her cheeks. Niana’s words echoed around her head, and images of her father flashed through her mind. His leering face, bared teeth, wicked blue eyes. Her fur prickled and she rolled onto her side, curling into herself. She took a few deep breaths to clear those flashbacks away, focusing on her task. There had to be some way… some way she could wear an everstone without any problem.


Even if she had to swallow it whole.

The sun was leaking its lazy rays through her window by the time the sounds faded away from the corridor. Harlequin lay staring at the door, her plan finally formed in her mind. There was a way she could wear an everstone without losing it. She wouldn’t lose it if it were a part of her. She crept from the room, straining her ears, but the path to the store closet was clear. She quickly raided it, finding what she was looking for among the neatly stacked boxes and trays. She returned to her room with an everstone in her jaws, along with some tools she felt would be helpful in her task.

Little did she know how unbelievably difficult it would be.

Everything was a blur as she jabbed at a small sliver of everstone with an iron thorn, trying to force it into the open wound on her foreleg. The pain was unbearable, and the iron thorn slipped in her jaws as tears mixed with her own saliva.

She didn’t hear the door open. The iron thorn was yanked from between her teeth and she yelped.

“What are you doing?!” The voice was a hiss, and the smell of fear filled the room. Her own or Enigma’s, she didn’t know.

The banette blurred before her eyes. He grabbed her paw and she whipped it away from him, the pain making her howl.

“Get off me!” she roared.

He didn’t relent. He held her paw in place with a strength she never expected, almost pinning her to the floor. Her mind swirled with dreadful memories and she thrashed, desperate to get away from his assault. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but whatever it was it was agony. Pain screamed up her leg. All she could see was red. All she could smell was fear. Her teeth gnashed at his paws, falling short. Her hind paws scrabbled over the slick ground. Her claws tore up the earth.

“Stop it!” he barked, reaffirming his hold on her. “I have to get it out!”

“Put! Me! Down!” Dark energy flickered around her teeth and burned in her throat. She opened her jaws wide, meeting the banette’s frantic eyes. The fear she saw there froze her and the attack fizzled away.

“Do you want to bleed to death?!” His voice cracked with desperation.

Did he actually care?

Harlequin felt her anger ebb away as fear took over and she sank to the floor, leaving her limb in Enigma’s grip. Her energy leaked away from her like water and soon her wails turned into feeble whimpers. Whatever he was doing, she could barely feel it anymore. Her leg throbbed with its own pulse, radiating into her shoulder.

Eventually he dropped her and stood back. She pulled her leg into her, placing a paw over the hot wound. She cracked one eye open if only to check Enigma was still there. He stood beside her, staring down at the chipped everstone held in one paw. The other held the small sliver she’d broken off it. His expression was unreadable. She closed her eye again and tried to form words.

“Am I going to die?” It came out as a weak whisper.

Enigma was silent for a moment, then the stone thudded to the floor. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

He sought out the needle and thread and reclaimed Harlequin’s paw. She was too weak to argue. All she could manage was a whimper and the odd kick of her hind legs. She might have passed out for a while, because the next thing she knew, Enigma was wrapping her leg in a small sheet of coarse, black cloth.

The banette lifted her up effortlessly and set her down on her nest. He was so close she could smell him. A strange, almost spicy scent that dominated the fear in the room.

With what little strength she had left, she shoved him away with her good leg. “Get off me…”

Enigma released her but he didn’t step back from the nest. His crimson eyes met hers, burning with a confused mash of fear and rage. “What on earth were you trying to do?!”

Harlequin didn’t answer. Her gaze went to the mess on the floor, and he followed it. Blood spread out over the ground, and coated the tools she’d gathered. A look of realisation crossed Enigma’s face and he closed his eyes. Was that guilt she’d seen?

“I’ll get this cleaned up,” he said. “You rest.”

Harlequin watched him as he gathered up the splintered everstone and thorn. “Why are you helping me?”

Enigma didn’t look up. “Because I feel like you need a friend.”

Shock rippled through Harlequin’s body and she curled her paws into her chest. A friend… She swallowed audibly, then a strangled ‘hm-mm’ wobbled from her throat and she rolled over, turning her back on Enigma.

“I’ll get you some sitrus berries,” he said. “You should eat them before infection sets in.”

The door closed behind him. Harlequin looked back over her shoulder. Words died on her tongue. She didn’t know what to say. When he came back in with the berries and a mop, she was still non-the-wiser.

A friend… Her? He didn’t even know her. He probably thought she was just a stupid, reckless kid. She hugged her bandaged leg, noting it was wrapped in the same fabric as his scarf.

Enigma didn’t speak to her again as he cleaned the floor. Harlequin didn’t try, either. She couldn’t find the right words. So instead, she feigned sleep.


Harlequin woke to the sound of footsteps in the corridor. She rolled over in her nest and winced, stifling a yelp. Her leg was stiff and screamed at her. She stretched it out gingerly so she could examine it. Whatever she’d done was hidden beneath the thick, tight bindings of cloth. Blood marred her blue paw and matted the fur on her chest. The memories came back to her, blurry save from the events that followed.

Enigma had checked on her earlier that night. He’d been worried, yet she’d been less than kind. All she’d cared about was whether he’d told Niana how foolish she’d been. She could still hear the final words of their bickering.

“Go back to sleep, Harle. You’ve lost a lot of blood.” Then quietly, “I should know, I mopped it up.”

Harlequin had heard him, whether or not he’d intended it. Yet all she’d said was, “No one asked you to.”

She groaned and slid from the hay, landing on her good leg before her hindquarters caught up with her. She really needed to be kinder to him. He’d saved her, even though he didn’t need to. She’d always believed assassins were cold, heartless and ruthless. Enigma seemed a far cry from that.

The banette had left a bucket of water beside her nest, but the remains of the berries were gone. She could still feel their benefit, but hunger gnawed at her stomach. Her mouth was bone dry, too, and the bucket looked like it had seen cleaner days. She’d much rather drink from the lake, but she needed to clear the blood off herself first. She started with her paw, gingerly licking the blood away with the aide of water. Once all four paws were clean she chewed the mats from her fur. It wasn’t a fantastic job, but at least she wouldn’t be startling anyone on her way to the lake.

She grabbed the bucket in her jaws and scrabbled at the door, upsetting the water down herself. Once it was open she poked her head outside, then yanked it back in. Enigma marched past her, his bell jingling with every footstep. Harlequin brought up her illusion and followed after him, adopting an air of nonchalance.

She trotted after him, the bucket swinging from her jaws with her lurching limp. “Where are you going?”

“Lake.” He didn’t even look back at her.

Harlequin struggled to catch up with him, and almost tripped over the bucket. She hissed as pain exploded up her leg but masked it.

“Me too.” Her words were muffled by the bucket’s handle. “I need a drink.”

She saw Enigma’s fur prickle along his spine and his yellow tail swished to one side. Harlequin didn’t know much beyond canine and vulpine body language, but that was neither. Either way, she guessed it wasn’t a good sign, so she kept herself quiet and fell back, trotting behind him towards the lake.

The moon was setting, but it bathed the lake in a silvery light. Only a few pokemon had ventured out to enjoy a drink or to bathe. Enigma perched on the bank, cupping water in his paws. Harlequin sat down a few paces behind him to empty out the bucket, then she joined his side. The water was cool and refreshing, and she drank for quite a while until she was satisfied. She looked up, licking water off her whiskers, and noticed Enigma was gazing across the lake. He seemed to notice her staring and shook his ears as he stood back up.

“Is something wrong?” Harlequin asked.

Enigma grunted and raised an eyebrow at her.

“You seem off,” she explained.

“What makes you say that?” He looked up from her and Harlequin followed his gaze.

A small weavile was making her way back to the barracks. Kera, if Harlequin had got her scent right.

“Well, I don’t know you very well, but…” Harlequin cleared her throat and sat down heavily. “You’re not your usual playful self, that’d be obvious to anyone here, even me. And you’ve not even greeted Kera.”

“Was that her?” Enigma sighed and folded his paws behind his head as he walked back to the barracks. “I hadn’t noticed. I guess zorua have a better sense of smell than banette?”

“I suppose we do.” Harlequin picked up the bucket and trotted to catch up with him. “But I don’t believe for a second you hadn’t noticed.”

Much to her surprise, Enigma slowed his pace to match her limp. “Whatever. Friends argue.”

“Yeah, but you’re not just friends, are you?”

Enigma hissed and Harlequin froze, pulling her ears back. Harlequin looked up at him through wide eyes, cowering under the pressure of his glare.

“Keep your voice down!” He flashed his canines with each word. “Or you mouth shut! One or the other.”

He marched away from her, leaving her standing in the moonlight. She glanced around to see if anyone had overheard, the bucket swinging from her jaws, but there were no pokemon within earshot. She shook her head and sighed, limping back to the barracks. Maybe she’d been mistaken. Maybe he wasn’t as kind as she’d thought. Had he been told to look out for her by Jex or Niana and was just doing his duty? Was last night just pity, or fear he’d be scolded for not doing his job?

She tightened her jaws around the handle and limped down the corridor towards the storage closet. A soft, whimpering noise reached her ears and she slowed, pausing outside a door. Was it Enigma’s? No… it wasn’t his voice. She looked from his door to the one opposite. Lowering the bucket to the floor first, she pressed her ear against the cold wood. The sound was unmistakable. Someone was crying beyond it. Was it Kera?

Harlequin pulled away and stared at Enigma’s closed door. It was all beginning to make sense. Her heart ached and she retrieved the bucket, quickly returning it to the storage closet. Despite the tidying up the night before, the closet was already in disarray. She kicked it shut with a hind paw and hobbled back towards her room. Yet she found herself stopping outside Enigma’s door once more.

‘Why are you helping me?’

‘Because I feel like you need a friend.’

Silently cursing herself for what she was about to do, she scrabbled at the handle with her good paw and nudged the door open. Enigma’s familiar scent washed over her, and the blurred memories of the previous night crashed down on her like a tidal wave. He’d easily overpowered her weakened body despite her attempts to fight back. He could easily have hurt her, yet he’d used that strength to help her. Whatever his motives were, it was obvious he’d been terrified.

He’d told her she needed a friend. Had he actually meant that?

Enigma lay on his nest with one arm pressed against his face. He lowered it as she entered and fixed her with one crimson eye. “What do you want?”

His voice was laced with anger, sending a chill through Harlequin. She flinched back, almost reversing out of his room. But instead she blocked herself in by kicking the door closed behind her.

“You said yesterday I needed a friend.” She sat down heavily and shrugged. “But I think you’re the one who needs it more.”

Enigma lowered his paw to his chest and his expression softened. It suited him a lot more than that scowl, almost making him seem gentle. Harlequin felt a smile appear on her muzzle and she glanced aside, suddenly feeling twitchy.

“I don’t expect you to talk to me,” she blurted. “I mean, you can if you want. I don’t know what’s happened with you and Kera, but I do know what it’s like to lose someone.” Her throat thickened and she swallowed a sob, blinking back tears. “At least Kera’s still here and you know she’s okay.”

Enigma sank back into the hay and sighed. “I guess.”

“So… do you wanna play Chess? Or shall I just curl up in the corner and keep you company?”

“What makes you think I want company?” he growled.

Harlequin shuffled her paws on the ground. “Just a feeling.” She licked her nose and glanced aside. “I’ll leave if you want.”

“Eh, it’s fine.” Enigma sat up and brushed stray pieces of hay from his smoky fur. “I’ll get the Chess board.”

Neither of them spoke much that evening. Just the occasional Chess-related comment. Harlequin struggled to move her pieces, needing to balance on her hind legs to avoid stressing her wounded paw. Several times she managed to knock something over which Enigma corrected without complaint.

She didn’t try to engage him any further about Kera. Harlequin didn’t need to know what had happened between them. Somehow, she didn’t want to know. But Enigma had been right. She did need a friend, as did he. And from that night on, much to Harlequin’s surprise, the pair became almost inseparable.
Poison Part Four


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

Part 4​

Days rolled into weeks. The trees turned from green to shades of red and orange, leaving their branches sparse of leaves. Murkrow huddled up on their perches against the oncoming cold winds, while the dragon-types started to complain of the sudden temperature drop.

Harlequin sat outside the barracks, letting the cool wind whip through her fur. It was refreshing after a long training session, and she’d managed to find a quiet spot to sit in and recover her energy from holding her illusion for so long. She was growing frustrated. She enjoyed training with Enigma, but his position had taken a temporary change as Jex appointed him to watch over the new hatchling recruits. It was usually Niana’s job, but the female scrafty had suddenly been called out on an assassination mission with a large number of older graduates and those close to becoming full-time assassins. It had left Harlequin feeling rattled. Niana hadn’t even told her she was leaving, or anyone else other than Jex and her chosen troops. For some reason this bothered Harlequin a lot. She’d grown fond of Niana, and had found out the hard way when she poked her head into her classroom for a post-training chat. Not something she often did, but Enigma had been oddly tired that night and wanted to ‘take advantage of it’ and actually sleep for a change.

She later found out he’d already known all about it as he’d overheard Niana and her troop leaving earlier that morning. Harlequin had bit her tongue trying not to scold him about it. It wasn’t exactly his place to tell her. That had been up to Jex, and Enigma had been told to stay quiet while the scrafty sorted things out.

Harlequin traced her claws in the dirt and sighed. It was probably time to head back inside. She rose to her feet and trotted back into the barracks. Enigma’s voice came from the training hall. He’d apprehended a couple of bickering hatchlings that night. They’d turned on him with unsavoury words and he’d handled it incredibly well. Harlequin couldn’t help but feel a glow of pride for her friend. She caught a glimpse of him through the doors with Jex, still scolding the nikkit and purrloin. The pair stood with their heads held low and their ears back, their eyes wide with guilt and shame.

Harlequin sighed again and dragged herself back to her room. She didn’t like to sleep straight after training. She needed the chance to wind down and ‘be normal’ for a while. But with her only friend otherwise engaged, it looked to be a lonely and somewhat boring dawn.

She scrabbled at her door handle, managing to open it with very little effort and shoved her way inside. She was about to close it when Enigma’s bell echoed down the corridor. She turned sharply to look outside, her tail wagging behind her. Her tail froze when she saw his face. He looked exhausted, and dragged his paw through his dishevelled mane. The dark rings under his eyes were darker than usual, making him look much older than he was. When he spotted her he seemed to brighten a bit, and she stepped out of her room with a wide yawn.

“Get some sleep,” he said bluntly as he reached for his door.

“Later,” she said, joining his side. “I don’t like sleeping straight after-”

“Straight after training.” He opened his door for her and she trotted inside. “I know.”

Harlequin went straight to the spot beneath his nest and pawed out the chessboard. The little wooden nido-family tumbled over it and she dropped to her belly to scoop out the stragglers.

A door clicked opposite Enigma’s room and her ear swivelled towards it. Enigma was still in his doorway, staring back at Kera peering from around the edge of her door.

“Ya did well.” There was a crack to her voice, making her sound meek and small.

Enigma was silent for a moment before giving a terse, “Thank you.”

An awkward silence followed, weighing heavy on the room. Harlequin clenched her jaw as she gathered all the pieces together in a haphazard pile.

Enigma finally closed his door and sat down opposite her to set up his side of the board.

Harlequin inclined her head on one side, and ventured the question she’d wondered for a while. “What happened between you two?”

“Nothing you need to concern yourself about,” Enigma answered bluntly.

Harlequin set up her Queen beside the King. “Well… I hope you eventually manage to work things out.”

“It’s unlikely.” Enigma shrugged. “Kids are different to adults. Once you start taking things seriously here, you start to put your job first.”

Harlequin met his gaze and raised an eyebrow.

“We don’t have friends.” The emphasis he placed on that last word felt like a blade through her chest.

Harlequin diverted her gaze and accidentally upset the Nidoking with a paw. “Oh…”

Enigma watched her for a moment, then sighed. “Maybe this was a bad idea.” He shoved the Chess board back under his nest with a foot then clambered onto his bed. “You can leave if you want.”

Harlequin didn’t leave. But her feet itched, urging her towards the door. His words had burned her like fire, although that didn’t appear to have been his intention. It was clear he was hurting. A loud jingle made her ear twitch towards the nest. Enigma’s eyes were distant, as if he wasn’t seeing the object in his paws. He rolled a large silver bell back and forth which made the same familiar chime Harlequin had grown used to, albeit louder now it wasn’t hidden inside his body. Two ends of a ribbon flopped about it, coloured with two-tone blue stripes and swirls that resembled drawings of a honedge she’d seen once.

“It’s pretty,” Harlequin said without thinking.

Enigma jerked his head up towards her, and she sprang up onto the hay beside him.

“Where did you get it?” She nodded to the bell, turning his attention back to it.

Enigma was silent for a short moment, as if he had to really think about his answer. In the end, he shrugged, and said, “My father.”

“Oh.” Harlequin raised her ears in surprise. “So you weren’t raised in the Shadow Lands?”

Enigma’s eyes widened, but he masked his surprise with a shake of his head, still fixated on the bell.

“So then… where did you come from?” Harlequin deeply hoped he didn’t suddenly turn on her for asking too many questions.

Enigma took a long breath and Harlequin tensed, ready to bolt. But instead, he just said, “I can’t remember.”

Harlequin glanced at the wall and shuffled her feet in the hay. Somehow, she felt he was lying. If he remembered his father, then how couldn’t he remember where he’d come from? But she decided not to press the topic any further.

“I was raised in the Border Woods,” she said. “Yurlik snatched me and brought me here, but you know all that. I… I only had one friend, and he was taken from me. So… I suppose I get it.”

Enigma looked up at her and raised an eyebrow, prompting her to elaborate.

Harlequin shrugged her shoulders, avoiding his gaze. “The whole assassin thing. Why you can’t have friends and families. To lose someone, well… it hurts. You put them first, right? So if Lord Hydreigon needs us in top form, it makes sense. It protects us, and it protects the Shadow Lands.”

Enigma grunted and shrugged it off, staring down at his bell. Harlequin wondered if perhaps he was thinking about the family he’d lost.

She cleared her throat, trying to draw him back to her. “But we need to protect ourselves, too. Loneliness can drive someone mad. So if you don’t consider me a friend, then that’s fine. But it doesn’t mean we can’t keep each other sane, right?”

Much to her surprise and delight, Enigma chuckled. He closed his eyes briefly then looked up at her, flashing her a boyish grin. Something stirred in her gut that was wildly unwelcome and she swallowed it back down, diverting her eyes to the door.

“You’re a strange one, Harle.”

Harlequin gave him a half smile and met his gaze briefly. “Eh… I suppose.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer.” Enigma turned in his seat to face her and tossed his bell into the air.

Harlequin’s eyes locked onto the bell as it soared towards her. Without thinking, she snatched it from the air by the ribbon before it collided with her head. It hung from her jaws with a loud jingle, and she blinked at the banette grinning at her.

“Like you said.” He spread his paws. “We need to be in top form.”

Harlequin was speechless. She stared at him for a moment, and he clapped his paws then spread them again. She gave herself a mental shake and tossed the bell back towards him. He caught it with a flourish.

“All right.” Harlequin smiled at him, hoping she was imitating his playful grin. “Then I guess I’ll do my best to keep you sane.”


Enigma tossed the bell her way again and she snatched it from the air, tossing it back in one swift movement. Enigma caught it and sent it back her way. He sat back on his paws, denying her the option to throw it back.

“Okay. So Chess is out the window.” He glanced aside and bit his lip thoughtfully.

Harlequin was left holding the bell, unable to speak around the chunky ribbon. She inclined her head on one side, waiting for Enigma to finish that thought.

His crimson eyes met hers and she jumped slightly at the playful glint in them. A stark contrast to the moody air that had swamped him moments earlier.

“Okay, answer me this.” He leaned forwards on his knee. “Would you rather be a dragon’s dinner or Yurlik’s slave for a day?”

Harlequin blinked a few times and gave a muffled stutter.

“You can drop the bell to answer,” Enigma told her, his smile broadening.

Harlequin let the bell fall at her feet. “I asked ‘what kind of question is that’?”

“It’s a game,” Enigma said bluntly.

“Oh.” Harlequin rolled her eyes. “Then I suppose I’d rather be a dragon’s dinner.”

Enigma burst out laughing and fell back against the wall.

Harlequin chuckled and shook her head. “Okay, your turn.” She threw the bell back at him and he caught it eagerly. “Would you rather… sleep in the Wildfire’s den for a night or be buried alive?”

“Easy. Buried alive.” At Harlequin’s surprise he gestured to his body. “I could just climb back out.”

Harlequin spat air and flashed her canines in a grin. “Ghost tricks!”

She had the sudden urge to tackle him and bite his ear. The memory of tumbling playfully with Harbinger floated through her mind, their laughter filling the air. Her father’s face invaded the otherwise pleasant memory, fastening his teeth in her scruff, and she curled into herself, rooted to the spot. Her jaw stiffened and she didn’t see the bell flying her way until it glinted in front of her eyes. She ducked and let it land in the hay behind her.

She looked from it to Enigma’s raised eyebrow and opened her mouth to apologise.

He shrugged, stopping her before she could speak. “You don’t get out of it that easily, Harle. Would you rather be able to read the minds of others or move things with your own?”

Harlequin licked her lips and scooped the bell under one paw. Her thoughts were still reeling and she had to think over his question another two times before it stuck. “What, like a psychic-type?”

Enigma nodded and sat back against the wall. “But you only get the one power.”

Harlequin rolled her eyes. “Fine. I think I’d rather be able to read minds.”

“What, so you could invade my privacy?” Enigma chuckled, which sounded strange without his bell. “I’d rather pick things up with my mind and throw them.”

“Hey, you asked me.”

Harlequin tossed the bell back towards him, trying to think up another question. But the invasive thought had soured her mood, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Enigma. He traced his eyes over her, making her feel so exposed and vulnerable she curled her tail around herself.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Harlequin let out her words in one breath. “Yes, fine.”

Enigma stared at her for a moment then shook his head slowly. She hadn’t fooled him at all.

She closed her eyes, faking a yawn. “I’m just tired.”

Enigma juggled the silver bell between his paws, no longer looking at her. “You can go to sleep if you want.”

Harlequin watched him, still plagued with that awful thought. Her father had ruined a lot more for her than she’d initially expected. All she’d wanted was to have fun, playing games with a friend. Even if they’d evolved into silly hatchling games. She stared down at her paws, small and dainty. She clenched her jaw and stifled a groan. In her excitement to see Enigma, she’d forgotten to summon her illusion. If he’d noticed, he’d not said anything. But if word got out… she had to know how safe she’d be.

She jerked her head up to catch his eye, but he was totally absorbed with balancing the bell on two claws.

“Would you rather live in the breeding pens or fill up the mess holes by yourself?” The words had tumbled out of her mouth, and he stared at her, gob smacked.

Enigma glanced aside, scratching his cheek with one claw. “What kind of question is that?”

Harlequin shrugged. “It’s your game.”

The banette rolled his eyes and hid his bell so sneakily Harlequin never saw where it went. “Is there something wrong, Harle? ‘Cos you’ve gone really weird.”

Harlequin let her tail relax, trying to hide her discomfort as well as the late use of her illusion. “Well, I wouldn’t want either, so I thought it would be a hard question.”

“Nope.” Enigma sat back against the wall and folded his paws behind his head. Harlequin’s heart hammered as she braced herself for his answer. “I’d rather fill in those stinky mess holes.”

Coupled with the disgust twisting his face, there wasn’t a single hint he was lying.

Harlequin let out a long breath and turned to gaze at the gap in the window blind. The sun was rising, dying the sky pink. She could just make out the breeding pens at the far end, beyond the ruins of an old building that looked to have been the victim of a fire at one point. At least she knew she was safe. Enigma hated that place, too. Perhaps, if he found out her secret, he’d keep it?

She became uncomfortably aware of him staring at her and she turned her head towards him, pulling one ear back.

“Really can’t decide, huh?” Enigma toyed with a tangle in his mane. “’Cos in a life or death situation, you’d have to answer or die.”

Had he asked her something? Or was he quizzing her on the same thing? She hadn’t heard him ask a question, so assuming it was the latter Harlequin yawned and sank down onto her paws. “Then I’d die.”

Enigma laughed again, causing his bell to tinkle. “You really are an odd one.”

Exhaustion claimed Harlequin and she soon found herself drifting off to sleep, with just the soft jingle from Enigma breaking the silence. It cut through to her dreams, and for the first time in a long time, she was free from those haunting nightmares in the dark Border Woods.


Harlequin clambered out of the lake and shook her fur dry. It hadn’t taken her long to wash the mud from her fur. As inconvenient as it was, she couldn’t exactly hold it against the poor gible for misfiring her attack. The little dragon was probably not long out of her egg.

Harlequin shook herself again, if only to clear her head from the chaos of that evening’s training, and trotted back to the barracks. She was really looking forwards to winding down with Enigma for a couple of hours. Their time together had become the highlight of her day. She was beginning to enjoy training, especially when she was paired up with him. She daren’t think what might have happened to her if she’d never met him. Would Kera have been so volatile to her? And who would have found her when she was foolishly trying to force an everstone into her body?

Enigma hadn’t mentioned that since. Neither of them had. He’d been very patient with her while her leg had healed, and they’d only grown closer since.

She owed him a lot of thanks.

Most of the time they just played Chess, but it was often alongside chats about mundane things she would forget the next day. The pair would end up laughing and playfully jibing at each other, then Harlequin would go back to her room and sleep while trying not to fixate on Enigma’s endearing grin.

Her stomach fluttered and she stopped just in the entrance to the barracks. She took a few breaths to stifle the sensation before it bloomed into something worse and closed her eyes. She really needed to get that under control. With another deep breath she moved forwards, letting her paws carry her towards Enigma’s room. Voices reached her ears, two of them. She paused, flicking an ear up to identify the female one. Kera? No, it couldn’t be. They weren’t friends anymore, were they? But the voice was unmistakable.

They didn’t sound hostile, and the door was ajar so Enigma hadn’t shut Harlequin out. She nudged it open with her snout and two pairs of red eyes locked onto her. The room fell silent. She looked from Enigma to Kera, meeting the weavile’s hardening stare. Kera’s claws twitched and Harlequin lowered her head as she backed out of the room.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’ll come back later.”

“Wait.” Enigma’s voice froze her with one paw in the air. He turned back to Kera and waved towards the zorua. “You don’t mind Harlequin joining us do you? I promised him a game of Chess.”

Harlequin’s ears rose. ‘Him’? She let out a long sigh, yet the relief was mixed with something else. Regret? She shook her head sharply, then realised she’d not heard Kera’s response. She looked up at the weavile, but Kera diverted her gaze elsewhere. She hugged her arms around herself tightly, making her look tiny next to Enigma.

“It might make things easier, actually,” Kera muttered.

Enigma jerked his head, encouraging Harlequin to join them. She crept into the room on light paws, making sure her illusion was in place. There was so much tension in the air it was like moving through suffocating tar.

Kera looked down at Enigma who had his back to them as he dug the Chess pieces out from beneath the bed. Her breath trembled and she forced her arms to her sides. “I’ll go get us some snacks.”

Harlequin stood aside to let the weavile pass.

Enigma looked up at her and grinned, although it didn’t seem genuine. “Don’t get caught!”

“I won’t.” The humour in Kera’s voice sounded forced. “There’s hardly anyone here.”

Kera couldn’t have left the room faster if it were on fire. Harlequin sat down heavily and stared at the door, left ajar by the weavile.

“So.” She turned her head towards Enigma as he set up the Chess board. “You made up then?”

Enigma shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what’s going on, Harle.”

“I was gonna say,” Harlequin scoffed. She raised one paw, spreading her toes. “I could cut the tension in here with my claws.”

She flinched back as hostility flashed behind Enigma’s eyes and he opened his mouth to speak, but his words fizzled out as Kera slipped back into the room. The weavile dropped a pouch of rations between them and shuffled down beside Enigma. Harlequin’s attention went to the pouch and she sniffed it cautiously, just in case Kera had decided to take the opportunity to get rid of her.

The tension weighed heavily on them, and Enigma cleared his throat.

“I have an idea.” His voice sounded oddly high. He paused to scratch his arm and inched away from Kera. “Why don’t you two play each other, then I’ll play the winner?”

“All right.” Harlequin met Kera’s eyes and straightened her back. “I’m game if she is.”

Kera’s eyes narrowed and she shuffled on the floor until she was sitting more comfortably. “Sure. I’ll play you.”

Enigma looked between the two of them, the expression on his face telling that he was swiftly beginning to regret this suggestion.

Before the ghost could change his mind, Harlequin began to set up her side of the board. Kera wasn’t far behind, plonking each piece into its square as if the set-up was a race to see who moved first. Harlequin had never played Kera before, but the zorua always preferred to go second. First play revealed the opponent’s strategy. At least, that’s what she’d learnt from playing Enigma, and he didn’t always use the same strategy. If Kera had taught him how to play, then Harlequin already knew her opponent.

Kera finished her board set-up just before Harlequin, and sat back on her paws. “So… who gets first play?” A smirk tugged at the weavile’s lips.

Harlequin pulled one ear back but kept her expression stoic. “Be my guest.”

A look of uncertainty clouded Kera’s face, but it was fleeting. She leaned forwards and nudged one of her Nidoran ahead two squares. It was the one guarding her Nidorina Knight. So she was planning to unleash the Knights early?

Keeping her gaze locked on Kera’s, Harlequin nudged one of her own Nidoran forwards. One that could easily take the weavile’s Knight if she moved it out. Her next turn, she’d block it in with another Nidoran.

The weavile’s ear twitched as she glanced over the board, resigning herself to move the Nidoran guarding her second Knight. Seeing a need to change her tactics, Harlequin did the same again. It wasn’t clear to her what Kera’s tactic was yet, besides getting out two of her strongest pieces.

Kera sat back for a moment, and a mischievous glint shone in her eyes. “Nervous, are ya?”

Harlequin steadily met her stare. “I’m as calm as a medicham.”

Kera snorted, her icy breath misting in the air. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Each move Kera played was countered by Harlequin. On the odd occasion Kera did manage to claim one of her pieces it had been a deliberate bait by Harlequin. Harlequin had managed to work out that Kera was targeting her stronger pieces in a desperate bid to drastically weaken Harlequin’s forces, so she used it to her advantage, keeping her Nidoqueen back for later.

At first, it was pretty obvious to Harlequin that Kera was trying to impress Enigma by destroying the zorua he’d befriended while she’d been out of the picture. But when she’d realised Harlequin wasn’t so easy to push over, Kera had fallen quiet aside from muttering to herself whenever her moves cost her. Kera was meant to be a good player, yet she walked triumphantly into the zorua’s traps. Harlequin resisted setting up Kera’s pieces on her side of the board for most of the battle, slowly trickling them in when Kera thought she had finally won. The pair of them seemed to forget Enigma who sat watching on tenterhooks.

When Harlequin claimed Kera’s last Nidorino, the weavile’s lip curled in a sneer.

“Feelin’ smug, are ya?”

The Nidorino had been poised to charge into Harlequin’s Nidoqueen. She’d denied it that chance by assassinating it with a Nidorina Knight that had previously belonged to Kera.

Harlequin set her paws neatly together. “I feel like I’m winning.”

“Y’ain’t winnin’ nothin’!” Kera spat, spraying a few hail stones across the board. She leaned forwards on one knee, her eyes flashing with malice. “I know what ya want and y’ain’t gettin’ it.”

Harlequin’s tail bristled. “I don’t want anything.”

“Don’t lie to me! Ya might have everyone else fooled by lyin’ but y’ain’t fooled me.”

Harlequin’s muzzle curled in a smile. “Make your move, Kera.”

Kera pushed her last Nidorina forwards by its pointy hat, away from its position before her Nidoking. “This game’s still mine yet.” The little Nidorina was now positioned to intersect Harlequin’s Queen.

Harlequin stifled a triumphant laugh. The jealous jill was so wrapped up in claiming Harlequin’s strongest piece, she’d left her King wide open. Harlequin set Kera’s Nidorino down on her edge of the board, ready to charge into Kera’s Nidoking. The weavile’s eyes widened as she glanced over the different pieces.

“What?” Kera stuttered. “How?”

Enigma leaned forwards for a better look at the game. “Looks like he’s got you.”

Kera fired Enigma a venomous glare, then rounded back on Harlequin. “That’s cheatin’!”

“It’s playing by the rules,” said Harlequin. She flashed Kera a smirk and waved at the board. “How does it feel to have all your pieces turn their backs on you?”

It had been a low blow of a comment that Harlequin swiftly regretted.

Kera’s eyes blazed. She stuck her claws under the board and flipped it, sending the pieces raining down onto the floor. Harlequin lowered her head, bracing herself as several pieces struck her on the back of the neck. Kera rose to her feet and marched from the room, leaving a cold wind behind her.

Enigma blinked at the door, then exchanged a worried glance with Harlequin.

The zorua gave him an apologetic look and flicked a few melting hail stones from her fur. “Sorry. I probably shouldn’t have gloated.”

Enigma waved a paw and gathered the pieces back together. Harlequin leapt to help him, checking them over for any damage. Thankfully none of them were chipped or broken.

The board was soon back beneath the nest. Harlequin sat in the middle of the floor watching him place the pieces with it, feeling small.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Enigma looked over his shoulder at her and dusted his paws against his scarf. “It’s not your fault.” He sat back against the stone leg of the bed and sighed. “She’s… I dunno…”

“Lost it?” Harlequin offered.

She’d expected Enigma to laugh, but he didn’t. He just gave a stiff nod and stared past her at the door.

He probably hated her now.

Harlequin sighed and rose to her feet. “I should get some sleep.”

“Sleep well, Harle.”

Harlequin grunted a reply. She was right. He wanted her to leave.

When she leapt up onto her nest, sleep didn’t want to come. She just kept thinking about how sour she’d been with Kera. She hadn’t wanted the weavile to push her out of the picture. She didn’t want to lose the friend she’d made. But that didn’t warrant her behaving so badly. Would Kera seek revenge now? Would she blow Harlequin’s cover? She swallowed back a sob and pulled her ears flat against her skull. She didn’t dare think about that. Would Kera really be that vindictive?

But assassins weren’t like soldiers. They recruited females. Did it really matter if everyone knew?

Harlequin’s fur prickled and she clenched her jaw. Of course it mattered!

It was her own fault if word got out now. It was obvious Kera had known, and she’d pushed the weavile too far. And to make things worse, Enigma had seemed so upset.

Harlequin’s heart twisted and she curled into herself, fighting the urge to burst back into his room apologising. That wouldn’t help either of them.


Neither Harlequin or Enigma were in top form the next day. Harlequin’s eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t help wondering if the pair of them had matching dark rings. The banette was oddly distracted, and Harlequin’s attempts to hit him with her baton were clumsy at best.

She leapt past him, trying to hit him accurately. A sick thud caused Enigma to lurch forwards, and for a fleeting moment Harlequin thought she was responsible. But then a large rock struck the floor at her feet, almost tripping her.

“Sorry.” The snarky voice didn’t sound apologetic. “That rock kinda got away from me.”

Harlequin looked over her shoulder at a gabite strutting towards them with Kera in tow.

“Rock?” Enigma spat, lowering his paw from his sore head. “Rock throw isn’t one of your moves, Tannen, and you know it.”

“Really?” Tannen spread his arms. “You got a problem with me, ghost?”

Harlequin cut between them and tried to meet Enigma’s eyes. “Enigma, leave it.”

She spoke softly, but it did nothing to placate the seething banette. He brushed her aside, his claws combing her fur. She lowered her head, her hackles rising, but she stood aside obediently. Her skin burned where he’d touched and she resisted the desire to lick it away. Stopping the altercation forming was much more important.

“What’s your problem?” Enigma hissed.

“Seriously?” Tannen almost stood nose to nose with Enigma. “You’re tryin’a steal my partner, that’s what!”

Enigma shook his head slowly, but the gabite wasn’t finished.

“Kera’s told me she wants me ta step down! And why’s that? Because she wants ta resume trainin’ with you lowlife!”

Kera’s small form vanished into the crowd of distracted pokemon. A low growl rose in Harlequin’s throat. Was she too much of a coward to stop this? Harlequin turned her attention back on the bickering trainees, her heart racing. The gabite now had his bladed arm pressed into Enigma’s throat.

“How’s she meant to even train fightin’ you?! Always at an advantage?! I betcha can’t even fight properly, she just goes easy on ya!”

Enigma’s muzzle twisted into a frown that turned Harlequin’s blood to ice. He shoved Tannen’s blade aside with one paw. “You think I can’t fight?”

“Is that a challenge?” the dragon crooned.

Enigma melted into the ground just as Tannen brought his blade around towards his head. The gabite lost his balance, and a shrill yell exploded from him as Enigma’s claws raked up his spine. Tannen twirled towards him, bringing his arm around in an arc. Sand swirled around them, blocking them from view. The other pokemon had come to a stop, watching the chaos as the two trainees continued their battle amid the localised sandstorm.

A shout came from within it and the pair rolled out across the ground, raking at each other with tooth and claw in a feral display that drew gasps and shouts from the onlookers. Harlequin scurried backwards to the crowd, worried about being caught in it. It was only fleeting, however, as Enigma managed to slide out of Tannen’s grip and vanish back into the ground.

Harlequin saw the poison first, forming around Tannen’s wicked claws. He turned, rising to his feet as Enigma exploded back out of his shadow. Before Enigma could strike, Tannen rammed his right claw into the banette’s chest.

“No!” Harlequin barked.

Her words were echoed by Kera. The weavile stood in the crowd, dragging Jex behind her with one paw.

Enigma looked down at his chest, his paw coming away bloody. He looked up at Tannen jeering over him then the banette’s eyes rolled back and he sank to the floor. The voices muffled in Harlequin’s ears. All she could hear was her own blood rushing through her body. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as Harlequin rushed to his side, shouldering the dragon out of the way.

“Ya moron!” Jex dragged Tannen aside then turned on Kera. “Get some pecha berries, now! As for you, Tannen… ya comin’ wi’ me!”

Harlequin placed a paw on Enigma’s chest and let out a sigh as his heart pulsed beneath it. Kera was on her feet, turning towards the door.

“Milkwort root!” Harlequin shouted at her.

The weavile looked back, her eyes glossy with tears. “Wha’?”

“Milkwort root! Pecha berries won’t do anything,” Harlequin explained.


Harlequin seethed. Did this place know nothing? She wracked her brains. Where would she find milkwort root in the Shadow Lands? There were hardly any trees, and she wouldn’t be able to get into the Border Woods.


She nodded to Enigma. “Get him to his nest. I’ll sort out the medicine.” When Kera didn’t move, Harlequin flashed her canines. “Quick! I can’t lift him, I’m on four legs!”

It wasn’t Kera who lifted him. A young pangoro scooped up the banette and followed the stunned Kera from the room. Harlequin dashed past them, her paws skidding over the earth as she bolted from the barracks.


Her nose lead her to the lake, and she sniffed around in the grass until she found the precious herb. Its pink blooms were long expired, forming empty husks. She dug them up and rinsed the roots in the lake. A few poppy plants were growing nearby, their seed pods rattling in the wind. She made a mental note to come back for those later and dashed back to the barracks. She was already chewing the roots into a paste as she entered Enigma’s room.

Kera sat perched on the edge of the bed, her face wet with tears. A few pecha berries were cradled in her paws and she looked up at Harlequin, her nose crinkling at the scent radiating off the zorua.

Harlequin reared up onto her hind legs, placing one paw on the edge of Enigma’s nest. She could barely smell anything around the turmeric, but the poison was obvious. Purple goop marred his smoky fur. Tannen hadn’t gone easy on him at all. It was almost as if the gabite had intended to kill him.

Harlequin licked the turmeric paste onto one paw and slathered it over the wound.

“What is that?” Kera leapt to Harlequin’s side and grabbed her shoulder to pull her back. “Whaddya doin’?! Leave him alone!”

Harlequin tried to shrug her off and resisted a snarl. “It’s turmeric. It’ll draw the poison out.”

“Well I’ve never heard-”

“I know what I’m doing!” Harlequin shrugged her claws away and continued her work. “Do you want him to die or something?”

Kera swallowed back a sob and looked at the pecha berries nestled in the hay.

“Make yourself useful if you’re gonna stand there,” Harlequin growled. She spat out more turmeric onto her paw. “Pecha berries have some use to them. You could try and get him to drink it, just be careful he doesn’t choke.”

Kera fumbled into action and cut open one of the berries with trembling claws before clambering onto the nest. Harlequin was amazed at how easily she sat Enigma up against her. The banette mustn’t have weighed much. The pair continued their work in silence, and when Harlequin was satisfied she’d used enough turmeric to season an entire feast she fell back onto three legs.

The zorua frowned at her paw, now dyed a vibrant orange. “I probably shouldn’t rinse this off in the lake…”

It had been a spoken thought. She hadn’t expected Kera to respond. But the weavile gently set Enigma back down in the hay and slid to the floor. “I’ll getcha a bucket.”

Harlequin watched Kera leave, then looked back at Enigma. The whole room smelled like turmeric, masking his familiar scent. Harlequin’s heart ached and she sat down heavily. The banette’s breathing was laboured, and she really hoped the treatment would work. Milkwort root would have been much more efficient.

That Tannen… his attitude towards Enigma was abhorrent. Weren’t they fighting on the same side? Trying to free the dark- and dragon-types from persecution? Harlequin’s ears drooped. Enigma was neither… yet he was fighting for them. Why treat him like that? Somehow Harlequin didn’t think it was jealousy. It was just pure hatred.

The door clicked open as Kera returned, carrying two buckets. Water sloshed onto the floor as she kicked the door closed behind her. She set one of the buckets beside Harlequin and the other beside the nest, placing herself between it and Harlequin as if she didn’t trust the zorua to not poison her mate.


Harlequin bit her tongue and turned her focus on clearing her paw of turmeric and lingering venom. “Why is he even here?”

Kera looked up at her with a start. “What?”

“Enigma,” Harlequin went on. “He’s neither dragon- nor dark-type. So why is he here?”

“I dunno.” Kera hugged her arms around herself and glanced aside. “Lord Hydreigon wanted him. Rumours are he wants a ‘sneaky ghost’.”

Harlequin grunted. She shook her paw dry. “Then where’s he gonna stand when we win? One ghost-type amid a world filled with dragons and dark-types? Doesn’t that go against what Lord Hydreigon wants for us?”

Kera shifted uneasily, searching her mind for an answer.

“Lord Hydreigon won’t keep him around, will he?” Harlequin went on. “He’ll have served his purpose.”

“Don’t talk like that!” Kera snapped. She perched on the edge of the bed and wiped a paw across her eyes. “If he… if he proves his loyalty then…”

“But he doesn’t fit Lord Hydreigon’s vision.” Harlequin caught a glare off the weavile. She shrugged and let her shoulders slump. “I don’t want anything to happen to him, Kera.” Her tongue flicked over her nose and she glanced aside. “I’m as worried as you are.”

The pair of them sat in silence for a while, broken only by Enigma’s rasping. Harlequin let out a quiet sigh. His breathing was starting to clear.

“Ya fallin’ for him, ain’tcha?”

Harlequin looked up at Kera with a start. The weavile stared back at her, her left ear twitching. Harlequin wasn’t sure if it was anger, distrust, or something else glinting in her eyes.

Harlequin shifted her paws on the floor, diverting her gaze as she fought the urge to flee. Her heart was hammering, creating a strange flutter in her gut. Her tongue flicked over her nose again and one ear pulled back. “No.”


Harlequin’s lips curled back from her teeth but she still couldn’t meet the weavile’s stare.

“That’s what zorua do, right?” Kera went on. “Lie.”

“We don’t always lie!” Harlequin lowered her voice, conscious of disturbing Enigma. “No more than anyone else.”

“Ya lyin’ all the time! Ya even use illusion to make yerself look bigger.” Kera leaned forwards, keeping both paws in the hay beside her. “Why are ya pretendin’ to be male?”

Harlequin stood up and took a step backwards. “I don’t need to answer you.”

She met the weavile’s eyes, glinting with mischief. But there was no happiness on Kera’s face. Whatever it was, Harlequin couldn’t read it. Anger? Curiosity? There was only one fact Harlequin could pick up and that was that no matter how much she argued, Kera was never going to believe her.

Resigning herself to that fate, Harlequin let out a long breath and closed her eyes briefly. “Please don’t tell anyone.”

There was a small pause. Then, “Why?”

“Because…” Harlequin swallowed dryly. “Because I don’t want to be forced into the breeding pens.”

“Thought so.” Kera sat back on her paws and kicked her legs, but she wasn’t staring at Harlequin anymore. “They won’t force ya. Assassins don’t have families. We’re not allowed to lay eggs. We need to be in top form.”

“But… I’m the only zorua here.”

“The only zorua, yeah,” Kera grunted and gave a stiff nod. “And ya won’t evolve either.”

Harlequin dug her claws into the ground. Did she really have to evolve to remain an assassin? Was she just making things worse for herself?

“There are a couple o’ zoroark in the Thieve’s Guild, yanno,” Kera went on. “If ya’d rather defect there? They don’t really follow the rules Lord Hydreigon sets in place. They serve him in their own way.”

Well that was a little reassuring. But as tempting a suggestion that was, Harlequin shook her head. Her chest twinged at the thought and she glanced up at Enigma. Kera followed her glance and a frown twisted the weavile’s pretty face. Kera huffed and looked away from Harlequin. The zorua braced herself for more accusations, but none came.

“Why are ya so scared of evolvin’?” Kera asked. “It won’t hurt ya that much.”

“I’m not scared of it hurting me.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Harlequin looked up, meeting Kera’s stare. No longer filled with mischief. Just curiosity… and perhaps concern? So now she’d managed to drag the answer she’d wanted out of Harlequin her demeanour had altered, was that it? Harlequin let out a long, suffering sigh and sat back down. Memories were clouding mind at the weavile’s question, pushing her fur on end. She clenched her jaw, desperately trying to suppress them. But perhaps… perhaps telling someone would make her feel better? And doing so might get some understanding off the young weavile and help her see the importance of keeping Harlequin’s identity hidden? Maybe even reassure Kera that she wasn’t any threat to her or Enigma?

Before she knew it, words were tumbling from her mouth. She told Kera about her parents, her father, the fear she’d endured for the first year of her life. Of Harbinger, and how she’d wanted to get away from everything, only to be caught. Of the fear she lived every moment since she’d arrived in the barracks, worrying she’d be found out and forced into the breeding pens.

Kera listened, her ear twitching periodically. She twirled a piece of hay between her claws, and was silent a long while after Harlequin had finished.

The zorua sat still, trying to calm her erratic breaths. At some point she’d started to cry, and her face was sticky with tears.

“I see.” Kera’s voice was soft for a change and she nodded. “That’s hard.”

Harlequin rubbed her paws together and managed a small ‘hmm’.

“Don’t worry, Harlequin. I won’t tell anyone.” Kera looked up at her and forced a small smile. “I’m sorry I was so hard on ya.”

Harlequin tried to return her smile but it was probably more of a grimace. “Me too. I… shouldn’t have snapped.”

Kera gave a single laugh. “I deserved it.” She yawned and her head lolled forwards. “Well… we’ve got bigger things to worry about now.”

“Enigma will be fine.”

Kera fixed her with one eye. “Ya can’t keep it from him, yanno.”

Harlequin’s spine stiffened and she stared at the sleeping banette. She didn’t think he’d heard their conversation. She’d barely even thought about it. But the thought turned her blood cold.

Kera’s expression softened and she trailed a paw over Enigma’s arm. “It’s not my place to say anythin’. But trust me. He’d never hurt ya.” She paused and retracted her paw. “He’s not a monster. Sometimes… I wonder if he should even be here.”

Harlequin licked her lips and diverted her gaze. “Well… maybe you’re right. I…” She trailed off and traced a paw over the ground.

Kera yawned again and rubbed her eyes. “Yikes, what a day.”

“You’re exhausted.” Harlequin turned to her and raised her head, feigning confidence. “You should get some sleep.”

Kera looked up at her and toyed with her ear feathers. “I dunno… I don’t wanna leave him.”

“Like I said, he’ll be fine. If anything changes, I’ll wake you.”

Kera didn’t move. She looked back at Enigma and fresh tears shone in her eyes.

“I promise, Kera,” Harlequin pressed. “You need to sleep.”

Kera nodded stiffly and slid from the bed. On her way to the door she stopped and frowned at the zorua. “Ya better wake me if anythin’ changes.”

Harlequin did smile then. “You’ll be the first pokemon I wake. Trust me.”

Kera grunted and opened the door. But she gave Harlequin a small smile on her way out. “Thanks.”

Harlequin nodded, and watched Kera leave the room. The zorua sighed again, and rose to her feet to check on Enigma. After spilling herself to Kera she suddenly felt a lot lighter. Now someone else knew. Someone she might even grow close to. Someone she could confide in if things began to turn dark again.

She sniffed at the turmeric, reassured that it hadn’t soured. That meant she didn’t need to change it. Perhaps the poison wasn’t as bad as she’d first thought. Her gaze wandered up to Enigma’s face. He was still asleep, and one of his ears twitched, reminding her a little of Kera’s nervous habit. He certainly didn’t look like the rough and battle-scarred trainees, or behave like them. Perhaps Kera was right. He didn’t belong in the Shadow Lands.

Ya fallin’ for him, ain’tcha?

A jolt ran through Harlequin’s chest and she jerked her head back. Cold sweat clammed her paws and she dropped down from the nest, suddenly feeling breathless.


Hearing her own voice almost startled her.

Blue eyes flashed in her mind. Red claws fastened in her fur.

He’d never hurt ya. He’s not a monster.

Fear pulsed through her body and she dropped to the floor, curling herself into a tight ball. Yet she still trembled, fixing her gaze on the door.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said out loud. “I won’t let myself.”


Harlequin’s ears twitched at a shuffling sound behind her. She raised her head, ears pricking, to see Enigma rousing. The banette touched a paw to his chest and winced, only to then frown at his paw as he rubbed the orange mixture between his pads.

Harlequin pulled herself up next to him. “It’s turmeric.”

He jerked his head towards her, a look of surprise spreading across his face. It melted away as he turned his attention back to the medicine coating his chest.

“How are you feeling?” Harlequin failed to hide the worry in her voice, or the relief that Enigma had actually pulled through.

“Like I just got bowled over by a donphan,” Enigma croaked. He shuffled back in the hay, wincing as he pushed himself up against the wall.

“Don’t push yourself!” Harlequin whined. “That was a nasty injury, lie back down.”

Enigma settled himself against the wall, blatantly ignoring the zorua’s pleas. She snorted her frustration as another grimace twisted Enigma’s muzzle.

“What is that stuff?” he groaned. “It stinks.”

Harlequin’s nose twitched near his chest. “It smells fine. It’s a natural antidote. It should draw the poison out.” She sighed and shook her head, glancing to the window. “Ideally I’d have used milkwort root, since that’s a better counter to reptile venom, but I can’t get into the Border Woods without drawing suspicion.”

Enigma sniffed his paw again and wiped the lingering turmeric into the hay. “Really? I thought that’s what pecha berries are for.”

“A common misconception.” Harlequin raised her head. “They’re fine, sure, to help with the effects of poison. But they can’t neutralise most of them completely, especially stronger ones like Tannen’s. As a pokemon grows stronger, so does their poison, so you want something that will actually neutralise it.”

Enigma grunted and his eyes widened. “Well, you’re a guy who certainly knows his stuff.”

A jolt ran through Harlequin’s body and her ears pulled back slightly.

‘Ya can’t keep it from him, yanno.’

Her heart galloped and she opened her mouth slightly, her mind whirling as she tried to find the right words. Flashing white teeth and red claws tore through her confidence and all that came from her throat was a dry cough. She looked away from Enigma, her ears drooping.

“Well, I had a good teacher.” She kicked herself and dropped from his nest.

“Clearly. I’d never have guessed you could use this stuff in such a way.” Enigma rubbed more of the turmeric between his claws and gave a mock sigh. “I never did like the colour orange…”

Harlequin chuckled and shook her head. “Do you need anything?”

Enigma turned towards her quickly, the motion making him wobble in the hay. Harlequin braced herself, resisting the urge to leap on him and shove him back into his nest.

The banette rubbed at his head and closed his eyes. “How’s Kera?”

“Sleeping,” said Harlequin. “She wanted to stay up with you but I made her get some sleep.”

“And she listened?”

“I had to promise to wake her if anything changed.” Harlequin shrugged. “I know more about medicine than she does, and she could barely keep her eyes open.”

“Sounds about right.” Enigma pushed himself back from the wall, wincing with the effort. “I should let her know I’m okay.”

Harlequin leapt forwards and let out a high-pitched bark. Enigma froze, meeting her sapphire glare.

“You stay right there,” she warned. “I’ll wake Kera. I have to get some poppy seeds anyway.”

She turned her tail, feeling Enigma’s crimson eyes on her back.

“Poppy seeds?” he asked.

“For the pain.” Harlequin tugged the door open and slipped out into the corridor. She didn’t look back at him. She couldn’t.

A low growl formed in her throat, more at her own cowardice than Enigma’s stubbornness. Why couldn’t she say anything? Why did her father keep destroying her confidence? Why did he still exist in her mind?

She clawed at Kera’s door, the sound of grating wood drawing her back to reality. It clicked open and Kera’s small face peered at her.

“How is-”

“He’s awake,” Harlequin interrupted.

Kera wasted no time. She dashed past Harlequin in a cold breeze, vanishing beyond Enigma’s door. The zorua sat outside Kera’s room for a moment longer, trying to shake off the dark cloud that had descended on her.

Poppy seeds.

She dragged herself to the lake, each footstep heavy. She’d barely slept herself, dreading that if she did she’d miss any vital change in Enigma. Even when his breathing cleared and the risk of poison had passed she wouldn’t let herself.

The sun was setting by the time Harlequin reached the lake. She sought out the dried up poppies and severed a pod away from its stem. Carrying it gingerly back to the barracks she ran over what she knew of them in her mind, if only to keep her thoughts off her father.

Poppy seeds are good for pain, but one needs to be careful with the dose. Too many can make one woozy, and even cause euphoria.

Kera’s voice came from beyond Enigma’s door, followed by a chuckle from the banette. Harlequin stood outside it for a moment, then gave herself a mental shake. She didn’t need to worry about interrupting them. She was the one tending his injury, after all. She nosed her way inside, drawing the pair’s gaze. They fell into silence as she dropped the seed pod next to Enigma.

“There.” She stood back and gave Enigma a pointed stare. “Don’t take too many or you’ll be seeing stars for the next hour.”

Enigma silently complied, tipping a few seeds into his open paw. Satisfied, Harlequin nodded and turned her back.

“I’m gonna get some sleep,” she said. “If you need me you know where to find me.”

Harlequin left the quiet room and dragged herself to her nest. Part of her didn’t want to sleep. It wouldn’t be long before training started, and with her partner out of action who would she even train with? Maybe she could avoid it, claiming to be looking after Enigma?

She curled up on her nest, hiding her nose under her tail. Her mind was still whirling. Kera’s advice warring with her fears. Before she knew it, her anxieties melded together in a horrific nightmare.

Trees grew tall around her, their bare branches reaching into the sky like claws posed to strike. Small holes gaped wide in their trunks like screaming jaws. Harlequin’s feet pounded the wet earth, kicking up leaves and dirt. Ahead of her, a small white figure bounded through the bracken.


No matter how fast she ran, he always stayed well out of reach. She shouted for him, but he never turned his head.

Leaves crunched behind her, drawing ever closer. With her heart in her throat, Harlequin looked over her shoulder. A small grey shape leapt towards her, the chime of a bell ringing out with every step.


Harlequin’s paws skidded through the detritus and she turned so her side was facing the banette. He landed a foot away and looked past her. She followed his gaze to Harbinger as the small absol vanished into the shadows.

“Not going after him?” Enigma’s voice was soft, but Harlequin’s ear twitched at some hidden note.

She turned back to him and searched his face, raising one paw as she prepared to flee. He stared back at her, his crimson gaze hardening.

“What’s the matter, Harlequin?” The banette grinned and the image shattered like glass. Her father stood over her, his muzzle split in a jagged sneer. “Scared he’s gonna turn out like me?!” The zoroark spread his claws, lunging down towards her.

Harlequin gasped, leaping up in her nest. Her heart hammered, pulsing in her ears.

No… someone was knocking at her door.


She stared at the door as the handle rattled, her fur pricking. Her tail curled beneath her and she cowered back against the wall. The door opened towards her, and Jex frowned inside. His head fin was rigid, almost trembling. But his expression softened when it fell on the small, cowering zorua.

“Whatcha doin’ in ya nest, kid?” His voice was thick with exasperation.

“I’m sorry,” Harlequin blurted. “I was tired because… well… you know… Enigma…” She glanced at the wall. “I didn’t sleep… and, well, I thought… Someone has to…” She trailed off, not looking back at the scrafty.

After a moment, Jex sighed and rubbed his paw over his head fin. “I dunno, Harlequin. It’s a good job I’m good at jigsaw puzzles, ain’t it? But we’re down a lot o’ trainees right now, with Niana takin’ so many assassins out with her. We all need to train.”

Harlequin lowered her head and let her tail relax. “I know, but… I know medicine, and someone needs to keep an eye on Enigma.”

Jex watched her for a painfully long moment. She could almost see his mind working over her words. She braced herself for a tongue-lashing, but instead all she got was another sigh. And a look of resignation.

“Ya right, Harlequin. Sometimes assassins are sent out in pairs, or small groups. If we didn’t work together, we’d get nowhere fast, would we?” He chuckled and his eyes glinted with humour. “Ya teachin’ this old dog a new lesson, kid.”

Harlequin felt herself relax so much she almost sank back into her nest.

“Besides, ya look exhausted,” Jex went on. “If ya started trainin’ like that ya’d end up in ya own sick bed. Make sure ya lookin’ after yerself as well. I’ll see ya tomorrow at dawn. Without fail.” The scrafty turned from her room and closed the door behind him.

With a long sigh, Harlequin let herself sink into her hay. All she’d heard about assassins being cold-hearted, ruthless killers… Niana, Jex, Kera, Enigma… they all broke that mold. The rules were tough, the training was hard. But they were still pokemon with feelings and compassion.

Harlequin lay back down, keeping one ear open. She slipped in and out of sleep, in and out of that dark forest. Sweat soaked her paws, and her fur grew dishevelled as she tossed and turned, trying to fight off the nightmares. After a while, she gave up, dragging herself from her nest.

It was still dark, and the distant bark of voices from the training hall echoed through the barracks. How much time had passed? She shook her head, moving to the door. She needed a drink. Perhaps she should check on Enigma, too, and see if he needed anything.

She listened at his door, getting nothing but silence. It only took a couple of grabs at the handle before she got it to open. The banette still lay on his nest, his breathing steady. The smell of turmeric filled the room, drowning the lingering scent from Kera. No sharp tang of poison soured the air. With a quiet sigh Harlequin moved over to the nest, checking over the dressing. It was still intact, although a little smeared in places. It even clung to his scarf. Somehow, Harlequin felt Enigma wouldn’t be happy about that.

The dry poppy husk lay at the foot of the hay. She grabbed it, noticing the distinct change in weight. With a stifled groan, Harlequin cast a quick glance at Enigma. Foolish banette had taken too many. No wonder he was out cold. Muttering to herself, she left his room and made her way to the lake. The seed husk was tossed beside the poppies to await the next warm season when they’d bloom into new flowers. Since poison assassins learnt so much from nature they needed to respect it.

Harlequin then turned to the lake and lowered her muzzle to it. After a good long drink she sat down and began tugging the tangles out of her fur. The cold air felt good around her head, chasing the negative thoughts away. The moon was out, shining onto the glassy, still surface of the lake. Only a few fish moved beneath it. Barboach, lumineon and goldeen, mostly. Harlequin sat and watched them dance about in the water, their scales shimmering in the moonlight.

She didn’t know how long she spent there. By the time she stood up, dew clung to her black fur shimmering like stars. She shook out her pelt and occupied herself with nosing around the plants. Knowing what herbs grew nearby could save lives. She sniffed around, finding a huge clump of watermint growing along the water’s edge. Very little grew beneath the willow save for a bit of wilted thyme. The Shadow Lands weren’t as barren as she’d once believed, but they still held very few medicinal plants. She made a mental note to check again when the warming season started. Perhaps she’d be able to find some marigold.

She returned to the poppy husks with the intention to snip off another husk and give Enigma a scolding for taking too many. Voices reached her ears and she froze with her jaws open around a stem. Her ear twitched towards the bracken growing beside the lake. Enigma and Kera. So he was up. She thought about interrupting them to give them the poppy seeds then decided against it. After all they’d been through, it was good they were friends again.

Yes, it was good.

She shouldn’t tell herself otherwise.

She became aware of her claws curling into the ground and she shook the dirt away, scolding herself under her breath. She snipped the stem a little too roughly and carried it back towards the barracks. Her path took her past the pair and she cast them a glance. She froze, one paw raised. Their voices had fallen silent and they sat wrapped in a tight embrace. Harlequin’s skin crawled at the thought of such close contact and she broke out in a cold sweat. A groan formed in her throat and she suppressed it, tearing her eyes away from Enigma and Kera. She dragged herself back inside, her paws heavy. That was something she could never have, no matter what her heart said.

Harbinger’s playful ruby eyes shone in her mind as they tumbled together through the bracken. Her heart lurched at the memory of his jaws fastened around her ear. The once fond memory was rapidly replaced with swirling images of that dark forest. Harbinger’s small, white body bounced through it pursued by wicked murkrow, the scent of fear clouding the air.

Her fault. It was her fault.

The zoroark loomed through her thoughts, reaching out to her with wicked claws, blurring into the form of a banette. The tang of blood filled Harlequin’s mouth as she remembered fastening her jaws around Enigma’s paw. Fear pulsed through her chest and whooshed in her ears.

He’d never hurt ya. He’s not a monster.

The hurt and shocked look on Enigma’s face, filled with distrust. It wounded her like a blade. He’d never understand. Who would?

What’s the matter, Harlequin? Scared he’s gonna turn out like me?!

She didn’t make it as far as Enigma’s room. She slipped into her own without thought as her father’s malicious grin blinded her to anything else.

This time, there was nothing to barricade the door.

A sob choked the zorua and she sank onto the floor, the seed husk discarded. “You’ve ruined my life…”
Poison Part Five


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

Part 5​

Harlequin was jerked awake as a paw thundered against her door. Jex’s voice bellowed at her to ‘get up’ before moving on to the next door. Harlequin blinked away the fog of sleep and pushed herself up. Her shoulder hurt, and it took her a moment to realise she’d fallen asleep on the floor. Her face was crusted with tears and dust, and her paws were slick from bad dreams. She stood up on trembling legs, her ears twitching at Jex’s angry bellows over the drone of confused and groggy voices.

Daylight was still leaking through the window, stinging Harlequin’s tired eyes. Her mind swirled with confusion and she fumbled at her door until she got it open. Pokemon trudged past her and she yanked herself back into her room, suddenly conscious her illusion wasn’t up. Jex bellowed again, thumping at a door further down the corridor. With her illusion in place, Harlequin melted into the crowd.

They flowed straight into the training hall, where the questions grew even thicker. A few assassins were already there, sporting nasty wounds from missing eyes to severe burns. Harlequin mouthed a ‘whoa’ and began searching the the crowd until she spotted Enigma and Kera a few feet away. Perhaps they’d know what was going on?

Harlequin managed to catch Enigma’s eye as she drew closer to the pair. “What’s going on?” she asked.

He shrugged, mirrored by Kera. Anxiety was plain on the weavile’s face and her ear twitched as she looked over the rabble of sleep-deprived pokemon. Her gaze kept wandering to the wounded assassins.

Jex herded a complaining purrloin and nervous zigzagoon into the room then stomped into the centre of the crowd. “Silence!”

The trainees complied, their voices fading into a murmur before resigning themselves to impatiently listen to whatever the scrafty had to say.

“As ya might be aware,” Jex growled, “the patrol Niana took out has returned.”

All eyes went to the wounded pokemon again and the questions began to fly once more.

“I said silence!” Jex brought the pokemon back under control, his eyes blazing with anger. “The numbers have dropped yet again! We lost that battle. And why? Because y’all can’t pull ya soddin’ weight!”

Voices rose into a clamour and Jex’s mohawk stiffened. “Will ya be quiet!” He narrowed his eyes, waiting for the trainees to fall silent once more. “We lost a lot of good assassins in that fight. But we also lost Niana.”

“No!” Harlequin gasped.

Kera covered her mouth with both paws and almost sank to her tail. “Not Niana!”

Gasps and squeals echoed around the room, most notably from the younger trainees. Fur fluffed out, eyes glistened with tears, tails tucked between legs.

“Exactly!” Jex roared over the commotion. “And why? Because y’all are a buncha weaklings! Now we have to train extra hard, ya hear me?! Startin’ today y’all are gonna get in extra trainin’ sessions while I try to find replacements for those we lost! Lord Hydreigon is brayin’ for the blood o’ those scuzzy outlaws, and mark my words we’re gonna get it for him! Now get trainin’! I don’t want any of ya to stop until sunrise!” His eyes flashed as pokemon raised their voices in protest. “If I hear one complaint I’ll have ya runnin’ laps ‘round the barracks until ya drop!”

That threat closed mouths. The trainees retreated into themselves with a nod, then sought out their partners.

Harlequin swallowed back a sob and lowered her head, looking over at the wounded assassins. Niana… She felt her heart would break. Niana had been the first pokemon to show her genuine kindness. Tears pricked her eyes but she took in a long breath to stifle them.

Harlequin looked up at Enigma and opened her mouth but before she could speak Kera broke away from them to intersect Jex at the door. The banette rushed off to join his mate, leaving Harlequin sitting in the dust. She clenched her jaw as she watched him go, but curiosity got the better of her. Kera was worked up, tears glistening in her eyes. Harlequin strained her ears to pick out what they were saying, but over the roar of attacks and commands it was almost impossible.

Whatever Kera wanted, Jex was not relenting. Harlequin rose to her feet to join her friends, more to satisfy her curiosity than anything else.

“Train!” she heard Jex bark, his canines flashing in the sunlight. “Ya need it.” He turned to march off, oblivious to the glare burning into him from the weavile.

“She were like a mother to us hatchlings.” Kera huddled into herself and looked away from Enigma. “Yeah I know I ain’t a hatchling no more. Shut up.”

A look of wounded surprise flashed across Enigma’s face.

Harlequin joined his side, head low. “So… I guess we should train, huh?” She caught a glare off Kera but didn’t return it. “For Niana?”

Kera relaxed her shoulders but her fur was still bristling. She opened her mouth to speak but her words were cut off as Tannen tugged her aside with one arm.

“C’mon.” The dragon smirked at Enigma as he led Kera away. “We better get trainin’ before Jex skins us all alive.”

Enigma glared after Tannen, his yellow tail swishing dramatically.

Harlequin cleared her throat. “Enigma?”

The banette looked down at her and his expression softened as he sighed. He jerked his head for Harlequin to follow him and the pair got to training.

The both of them were exhausted and clumsy on their feet. Harlequin missed her mark several times, and Enigma managed to shadow sneak into the wrong battle. He apologise profusely but the disturbed hakamo-o refused to accept it. Enigma and Harlequin ended up moving their training to a different spot.

Jex was relentless with his orders. He marched around the room rallying those who were flagging and booting the tails of any who stumbled or tried to rest. Several trainees collapsed from exhaustion, the first being the youngest zigzagoon. All were sent to their nests with the order to run laps the following night to build up stamina.

By the time the sun rose, Harlequin was heavily panting. Her chest burned and her jaws ached from clutching her baton for hours. While stretching her jaw to ease it, she followed Enigma and the rest of the trainees to the lake for a good long drink.

Enigma sat beside Kera as she washed the dust off her fur. Enigma trailed his claws through his tangled mane in a fruitless attempt to remove the knots. Harlequin watched him for a moment, but the banette seemed oblivious to her. The rings under his eyes were darker than usual. If she were to guess, he’d be about to drop to sleep on the spot at any given moment.

“We should get some rest,” she said. “You know, if tomorrow night is gonna be anything like that.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Enigma released his mane and stretched his arms over his head. “You go ahead. I’ll catch up.”

“Go with Harlequin,” said Kera. “I need to be alone for a while.”

Harlequin blinked at the weavile. She stared out across the lake at the sunset. Were those tear trails in her fur?

“Are you kidding?” Enigma almost whispered. “I’m not leaving you alone like this.”

“Fine,” Kera sobbed.

Harlequin’s paws itched to get away, but she wasn’t sure whether or not she should leave them. Would it be rude? She did need rest, as did everyone. Especially if they were going to avenge Niana. With a small sigh, she turned her back and plodded back to her nest.

Her route took her past Niana’s classroom. She stopped to stare at the door. There, as it always was. Part of her wanted to open it to see Niana busily working away, teaching a hatchling how to write or building their agility. A lump formed in her throat. No. She wasn’t going in there. It would hurt too much to see it empty. Forgotten. Cold and abandoned.

Harlequin dragged herself away from it, carrying herself back to her room on sore, tired feet to await another night’s harsh training.

The zorua flopped onto her nest and tried to summon sleep. But all that filled her mind was a dark void and stomping feet. What had happened during that mission? What had caused a talented assassin like Niana her life? Who was it?

Anger boiled in Harlequin’s chest and she rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling. Sleep just wouldn’t come. Not while her mind was crawling over scenarios. Perhaps reading would help?

She was deep into her poison notes when a door opening brought her to a halt. She jerked her head towards it, her ears pricked. Which door was it? The soft tinkle of a bell followed and Harlequin turned her head towards it. Enigma? What was he doing up? Perhaps he couldn’t sleep either?

She dropped from her nest and opened the door, peering out into the hallway. She couldn’t see anyone, but her nose twitched at the Enigma’s scent.


The banette appeared out of thin air, his crimson eyes locked onto hers. Harlequin felt a lurch in her chest and she masked it with a yawn.

“I thought I heard your bell,” she said groggily. “Can’t you sleep?”

“When can I ever?” he joked, looking back towards the exit.

“Is something wrong?” Harlequin asked.

“I thought I heard Kera get up. I just want to make sure she’s okay.” He waved Harlequin off. “Go back to sleep.”

“I can’t,” she said. “I think your insomnia is catching.”

Enigma didn’t pay her any heed. He warped away down the corridor, leaving Harlequin standing in her doorway.

She let out a long breath through her nose and moved one hind paw to retreat back into her room. But she faltered. Something wasn’t right. Why would Kera get up during the day and go outside? A strange sense of dread spread through Harlequin’s chest and she found herself plodding after Enigma, keeping her nose trained on his scent.

She spotted Enigma a good sprint away from the barracks, engaged in some argument with Kera. The weavile seemed frantic, waving her paw towards the Border Woods. Harlequin broke into a gallop, hoping she wouldn’t lose them.

“-to know that braviary killed her?” Kera growled. “I have to go and fight it! I have to win!”

Enigma’s shoulders slumped. “Okay.”

Harlequin drew closer to them, slowing to a brisk walk.

“But you won’t be going alone,” Enigma told the weavile. “I’m coming too.”

“Really?” Kera’s eyes widened, fixed on Engima’s. “Ya gonna help me?”

“So am I.”

Harlequin stopped beside Enigma, drawing their combined stare.

She looked at each of them. “Three is better than two, right? We’d stand a much better chance.”

Kera laughed and rubbed at her eyes. “All right. But ya both better pull ya weight, cos I ain’t carryin’ ya.”

A smirk spread across Enigma’s face and a playful glint shone in his eyes. Harlequin felt her own mood lift seeing him perk up and she had to tense her tail just to stop it wagging.

Enigma folded his paws behind his head and nodded towards the borders. “One problem. How do we get out without drawing attention from the murkrow?”

“Easy,” Kera scoffed. “We just tell ‘em we’ve been sent out to kill the mercenary?”

“And they’ll believe us?”

“They should. He’s a huge problem.”

“I could talk to them,” said Harlequin. “Deceiving others is a zorua’s M.O.” She grinned at their surprise.

Enigma exchanged glances with Kera and the pair nodded.

“All right.” Kera folded her arms. “What’s ya plan?”

“I disguise myself as Jex,” Harlequin told them quietly. “I’ll say I’m taking you two out to assassinate the mercenary. They’ve gotta believe that, right?”

Enigma grunted and glanced at the wall. “Murkrow are a bunch of bird brains. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t work.” He shrugged and turned to lead them towards the exit. “I say we give it a shot.”

Most of the murkrow were away from the Shadow Lands. Those remaining were too engaged with tending their wounds and smoothing out their beaten feathers to notice the three trainees picking their way across the Shadow Lands.

A large bramble grew near the wall and Harlequin nodded towards it. They crept inside and Harlequin gave one last glance out through the branches.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna use my illusion now. I can hold it for a while, but make sure no one distracts me.”

She brought up her illusion, replacing her male appearance with that of Jex. Enigma and Kera recoiled from her, their red eyes widening with surprise.

“Convincing enough?” Harlequin asked in Jex’s voice.

Kera slapped her paws over her mouth to stifle a squeal of alarm, while Enigma seemed to pale under his grey fur.

“I’ll say!” he exclaimed.

Harlequin laughed and shook her head. “I guess neither of you have seen illusion in action before?” She spoke in her own voice, which seemed to unsettle the pair even further. “I’ve not seen any zorua here myself.”

“There aren’t many,” said Kera. “They don’t usually go for the assassin trade. They tend to stick around the thieves guild. More their thing I guess.”

Harlequin poked her head out of the bush. “This is our chance. If we fail, well…” She didn’t dare think what Jex would do to them if he found out she’d been disguising herself as him to go on some rogue mission.

She led them out of the bush and towards the wall. A large hole yawned at its base, letting the scent of the wood’s undergrowth waft through into the trampled grounds. A lone murkrow spotted them before Harlequin saw him. His loud law rang out, drawing the attention of his boss. Yurlik swooped clumsily towards them from his perch in a large tree a couple of hundred feet away. Many murkrow were gathered in the trees along the wall, all now fixated on the three assassins.

Yurlik dropped onto the stone wall and looked at each of them in turn with jerky avian movements. “What are you doing wandering the Shadow Lands at this hour?”

“What’s it look like?” Harlequin scoffed in Jex’s voice. “I’m takin’ these two out into the woods to deal with that mercenary, ain’t I!”

“On who’s orders?” Yurlik asked.

“Lord Hydreigon’s of course! He asked us to deal with that merc but my last troop failed, so I’m pickin’ up where they left off!”

Yurlik raised his head, staring down his long beak at the small group. “With just two? And only trainees, no less?”

“These two are advanced,” said Harlequin. “If they can deal with that merc, then I’m gonna graduate ‘em early! Besides, who’ll see a banette comin’? Might spell the end o’ that rebel group.”

A rattling laugh left the honchkrow’s throat. “Indeed! Well… I guess I’ll find out what the outcome is in due time.” He narrowed his eyes at Enigma. “Whether or not you make it back alive.” He stood back and motioned to his flock with a nod towards the woods.

Three cawing murkrow rose into the air and took off ahead of Harlequin. The zorua watched them go and crept out through the hole in the wall. Were they spies or a guide? She tried to keep her sights on them but they soon vanished over the canopy.

Harlequin followed them through the trees. After a short while she found herself cutting through her old haunts. Her heart began to hammer at the surreal air as she glanced at the familiar yet unsettling surroundings. Yet she managed to keep her illusion up despite the surprise as the haunting scents of the swamp wafted towards them on the breeze. She kept to the path as it lead away from the boggy area, moving downhill towards the river. The ground grew uneven as roots shoved their way through the soft ground. Kera scrambled over them with ease, moving on ahead of Harlequin. The zorua decided to trust the weavile’s direction. If she’d been planning to go alone, then she must have read up on where the camp would be. The murkrow hopped from branch to branch, chattering to each other in their own avian tongue. Their voices grew more urgent, and Harlequin flicked an ear back to try and catch it. Were they on to them? Had they seen through her illusion?

Suddenly one of the murkrow dropped down to cut before Kera and stretched out a wing. “You’re goin’ the wrong way.”

Kera’s claws twitched as doubt clouded her face. The scent of fear began to rise off Enigma despite his stoic demeanour.

Harlequin, keeping up her illusion, joined the weavile’s side. “Really? Have they moved?”

The murkrow tucked his wing neatly back at his side. “Didn’t Lord Hydreigon tell you?”

“No,” said Harlequin in Jex’s cool, calm voice. “I weren’t expectin’ us to lose that badly, so I weren’t really listenin’.”

Humour lit up in the murkrow’s eyes and he gave a single, raucous laugh. “Well, they’ve moved closer to the swamp. So your little group did a real number on ‘em if they don’t feel safe in their camp anymore. Need us to guide you?”

There was a hint of a threat in that question. One that told Harlequin he’d be following them anyway if she said ‘no’. So Harlequin nodded and motioned with Jex’s yellow paw for the murkrow to take the lead.

The small black bird took off back into the branches and hopped along, leading them towards the swamp.

The swamp.

Harlequin’s heart lurched at the thought that she might be facing off against familiar faces. Did Alia get away? If so, how would she react to seeing Harlequin working for the Darkness? The zorua shook it off. Old friends or not, Niana had been killed because of those outlaws. She wasn’t going to let that lie without a fight.

The trees gave way to thick patches of bracken. The ground sucked at Harlequin’s paws, dying her blue fur a mucky green. The scent of old, stagnant water almost choked her as it washed over them and she stopped, stifling a gag. Pond weed stretched out ahead of them, almost masking the swamp. But the old rotten tree was unmistakable. Its long, heavy branches bowed under their own weight, coated with moss and algae. The ends vanished into the swamp, stirring up ripples as the wind rattled its way through the branches.

The murkrow had come to a stop on the other side of the swamp. One of them nodded towards the clearing behind it while the other two preened their feathers. Harlequin got the message immediately, and she wasn’t alone. A cold wind stirred her fur, smattering her with frost. Kera bolted across the swamp, leaving a path of thick ice behind her. Harlequin wasted no time. She scrambled along it after the weavile, keeping up her Jex illusion. She could feel the eyes of the murkrow on her, but her illusion had them fooled. Her claws dug into the ice, stopping her from sliding across it and landing in the swamp.

Something stirred her fur. Something warm. She gasped, losing hold of her illusion and causing her to slide over the ice as the image of Jex melted away from her body. Enigma landed ahead of her with a jingle and took off after Kera. Harlequin kicked off the slick surface to land awkwardly in the bracken. Pain exploded through her wounded leg and she cursed quietly, rolling onto her side. She jerked her head up towards the murkrow. Had they noticed? Their beady eyes watched the assassins curiously, scanning the ground as if they were looking for her. Or looking for Jex.

Enigma and Kera had hidden from sight, but Harlequin could smell them faintly. The strong, bitter scent of medicinal herbs warred with it as it lay thickly over the clearing. Several pokemon, most of whom were dark- and dragon-types, sat chatting amongst themselves. A small sableye passed by her bracken carrying herbs to a drapion, and Harlequin swallowed thickly. He’d been one of the pokemon that had lived in the swamp. Would he recognise her? She’d never spoken to him directly before.

The large scorpion turned his attention onto two small, wounded pokemon. One of them was a grafaiai, his black fur matted with blood. Harlequin ducked further back into the bracken, her heart hammering. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t kill pokemon who had once been her friends. It was abhorrent. They’d helped her. They’d trusted her, even though she was a dark-type.

“Darkness spotted!” a loud voice thundered. “Get out of here! Now!”

The outlaws rose into a panic as a massive braviary swooped down from the canopy. How had Harlequin missed him? His wings stirred up fallen leaves as he crashed to the ground, his claws digging into the mud. Harlequin heard a bell as Enigma took off away from the eagle’s deadly talons.

The sableye and flygon helped to saddle the wounded pokemon onto the drapion’s back as their friends protected the massive scorpion from the assassins. But Kera’s full attention was on the braviary as she circled him like a cat stalking its prey. The braviary took to the air again to ready another attack as one of Enigma’s shadow balls dissipated harmlessly off his wing.

Harlequin’s heart hammered in her chest. Her jaws felt empty and a sinking realisation fell heavily on her as she realised she was without a weapon. How would she even fight this mercenary? Hot shadowy energy licked around her canines and she swallowed it back. A dull throb spread through her leg, reminding her that if she fought then she might evolve.

Enigma and Kera leapt back and forth slinging their attacks at the braviary in a confusing blur. Ice and ghostly fire lit up the canopy as the voices of the outlaws faded away into the woods.

Harlequin plodded through the bracken, searching the undergrowth for a weapon. Anything that might help. A fallen branch lay only a stone’s throw away and she leapt on it, tearing one of the smaller branches free. When she turned back towards the battle, the braviary was dropping from the sky onto Enigma. Her heart leapt into her throat, pushing up bile. But Enigma vanished into thin air, leaving the braviary to crash down onto the ground in a cloud of dust.

The zorua darted from her cover and lunged at the braviary, driving her weapon into his flank. He screeched, blasting her eardrums. His massive wing cuffed Harlequin over the head and she grunted as she was sent rolling across the clearing into the bracken.

She struggled back to her feet, shaking her head. Her ears were ringing, or was it Enigma’s bell? A loud shout drew her attention back to the battle as flames lit up the sky.


Enigma sat in the undergrowth, his eyes impossibly wide.

The braviary crashed into the clearing in an explosion of fire. As he took back to the canopy again, the dust and smoke cleared. Harlequin’s breath froze. Kera lay in the middle of the clearing, the ground smoldering around her like hot coals. Enigma warped into them to scoop up Kera’s limp body.

A war-cry split the air and Harlequin’s head jerked back up to the canopy. The braviary wasn’t done. He swerved back down towards Enigma, his talons radiating deadly dark energy.

“Enigma!” Harlequin screamed.

The image of a terrified absol filled her mind, desperate to flee a cloud of murkrow as Yurlik raked at his fur with sharp, blood-stained talons. Helpless. Innocent. Anger burned in Harlequin’s chest. No. She wasn’t losing Enigma, too.

Still watching the massive eagle, Harlequin rushed from her cover, her feet beating the hot ground. She kicked off, grabbing the braviary’s wing in her jaws. Blood coated her tongue as she yanked him away from Enigma, turning the mercenary on his head. The momentum of his own attack sent him crashing into the ground behind the banette with a sick crack and a strangled cry.

The clearing fell silent, save for the crackling of embers as they ate up the dried leaves. Harlequin panted as she turned to look at her friends. Enigma sat huddled over Kera’s body, his shoulders shaking. Harlequin’s chest tightened and she clenched her jaw shut. Kera’s glossy black fur had been burned away, leaving reddened charred skin.

Dread prickled Harlequin’s fur and she took a couple of steps towards Enigma. “Is she…?”

Enigma looked up at her, but what Harlequin saw in his eyes made her take a step back. The warm crimson pools she’d grown to know had iced over. It was almost as if he wasn’t seeing her, as if he was looking through her. She struggled to find any words to calm him.

A soft moan came from the mercenary, drawing Enigma’s eye. Harlequin’s heart flipped. If he was waking then they needed to go. There was nothing they could do now. As if he’d reached the same conclusion, Enigma lowered Kera to the ground. Harlequin took a step towards him keeping her eyes on the fallen braviary. As Enigma rose to his feet she opened her mouth to encourage him away, but Enigma turned towards the mercenary with a look that turned Harlequin’s blood to ice.

Harlequin watched him, his claws twitching at his sides. “Enigma?” Her voice shook and she fought the urge to lower her head and walk away. “We need to go.”

Had he even heard her? As he walked past Harlequin she moved slowly to Kera, sniffing the air around her. Her nose recoiled at the smell and she gave a silent, dry heave. There was nothing she could do. Kera was gone. They needed to move her somewhere safe and bury her. She raised her head to tell Enigma, but a loud screech split through the air and her paws left the floor. She spun towards it, bracing herself to run.

The braviary’s eyes were wild as his wings beat uselessly at the banette clinging to his side. Mania and anger were clear on Enigma’s face, his mouth twisted with a mix of rage and satisfaction. His ghostly paw had vanished beyond the braviary’s chest, and the large bird’s eyes rolled in his head as his flailing grew weaker. The cry cut off just as quickly and the braviary fell limp, his eyes wide and unseeing. Harlequin froze, her fur bristling. What on earth had Enigma done?

Enigma retracted his paw, now coated with the mercenary’s blood. Harlequin had to swallow back bile and took a step back, diverting her eyes elsewhere. But she couldn’t. Enigma’s whole demeanour had altered in a heartbeat, melting back into that of the banette she’d once known. He stared down at his own paw as if it had betrayed him.

“No…” He stuffed it into the braviary’s feathers, moving quickly over his chest as fear clouded his eyes. But all it served to do was leave a streak of sticky blood over the large bird’s creamy feathers. Enigma sank to the floor, his head lolling as if he was about to faint.

Harlequin crept towards him, her heart hammering. Every fibre of her being told her to run. “Enigma?”

He looked up at her as if seeing her for the first time. Harlequin faltered, scanning her sapphire eyes over his face. He looked past her at Kera’s body and a long groan left his throat. He thumped his own knee with his bloody paw, not just once but twice… three times.

“Enigma?” Harlequin lowered her head to catch his eye, and he looked up at her again. No. Not at her. At Kera.

Hungry flames danced around the weavile’s charred body, held back by the blackened earth.

“We should get her out of here.” Harlequin turned back to Enigma. “Bury her, then report back.”

Enigma grunted and shoved himself to his feet, staggering away from the braviary. Harlequin readied herself to catch him if he fell, but he found his footing and returned to his fallen mate. He scooped up Kera effortlessly and a sob shook his body. Harlequin wanted to rush over to him and bury her face into his mane, to tell him how sorry she was. But her feet wouldn’t obey. Instead, she stood there uselessly, trembling. Enigma trudged from the clearing, stumbling as he made his way through the bracken.

Harlequin followed behind him slowly, reluctant to leave him behind. But her mind was swirling. All she could see was a crazed banette doing something she couldn’t even fathom to that poor braviary. What was that? It wasn’t a pokemon attack, not one she knew anyway. She was pretty certain it wasn’t an attack at all. Pokemon had rules. They used skills they learnt and built up on in battle. Whatever Enigma had done was just plain murder. It was abhorrent.

It was everything an assassin should be.

And it was exactly what she’d done to her parents.

She realised she’d stumbled to a stop, lost in her own thoughts. She could no longer see Enigma, so she had to follow him by scent. She followed the trail down towards the river. Its soft gurgling blended out the sounds of claws scraping over earth. The banette crouched in the middle of a patch of wildflowers. Fluffy willowherb seeds clung to his smoky fur and wafted up into the air as he dug them away.

Harlequin moved in front of him to the opposite side of the hole and began digging, if only to keep her mind off the scene that kept playing through her mind. Enigma didn’t stop her. He never told her to go away. Between them, they dug a deep hole and once Enigma stood back, Harlequin stood back too. He retrieved Kera’s body and lowered her into it. When he began shovelling the earth back in that’s when he pushed Harlequin away. She stood aside, her fur bristling where he’d touched it. She groomed the mud away, sniffing for the braviary’s blood. Enigma had used his unmarred paw, leaving nothing but damp earth and willowherb on her fur. Feeling guilty for assuming such a thing, and still struggling to process what she’d seen, Harlequin sat back watching the banette. The rings under his eyes seemed darker than usual, and his crimson eyes were bloodshot. He looked like he’d collapse at any moment.

Once he’d finished burying Kera he turned to dig up a patch of wildflowers. Poppies, Harlequin noted. He planted them on top of Kera’s grave with surprising tenderness. A stark contrast to what Harlequin had just witnessed.

Tears pricked Harlequin’s eyes. She swallowed around the lump in her throat and returned to Enigma’s side on shaking legs. “I think you chose a good spot.” She took in a long, trembling breath to calm herself. “Soon the wildflowers will grow in and no one will know she’s here. Except you.” She looked up at Enigma but he didn’t take his eyes off the swaying poppies. “That’s what matters. If I knew where Harbinger was, then I…” She trailed off and blinked back tears.

Enigma moved away from her abruptly to crouch beside the river. He attacked his submerged paw with his claws, tinting the frothy water pink. The river carried it away from him, away from the Shadow Lands.

Once Enigma was done, he returned to Harlequin and stooped to dry his paw in the grass.

The branches above them swayed and a murkrow cleared his throat. “Where’s Jex?”

Harlequin jolted at the accusation in the murkrow’s voice and her ears drooped. She exchanged a glance with Enigma, but the banette couldn’t care less. His eyes were distant, staring past her towards the Shadow Lands.

The murkrow grunted his realisation and ruffled his feathers. “You two should get back to the barracks. Pride yourself in the fact you were able to defeat a mercenary your own mentor failed at, and hope that both Jex and Lord Hydreigon won’t hold your lies against you.”

The murkrow left the branch with a caw, leading the pair back to the Shadow Lands. Harlequin walked briskly in an effort to leave the scene behind, keeping the murkrow in her sight. Enigma trudged silently after them, save for his bell jingling with each step. He stared at his paw, combing his claws through his fur as if he was desperate to clear the memory away. Harlequin dropped her pace to walk at his side, trying to find the right words to comfort him. Her previous shock was fading, but that scene had burned itself into her mind. All she could see was his crazed expression as he took that mercenary’s life. So neither of them said a word as they returned to the barracks under the watchful eye of Yurlik’s spies.


Jex paced back and forth amid the circle of assassins. They’d all been woken up shortly after their training session had ended. As soon as Harlequin and Enigma had returned without Kera, and the murkrow had relayed Harlequin’s trickery, Jex had wasted no time in calling them into a meeting. The scrafty had been in the castle meeting with Hydreigon at the time and he’d been agitated already, but once he’d learnt the mercenary was defeated but at the cost of Kera’s life it had been difficult to say whether he was pleased with the news or furious.

Harlequin stood beside Enigma who’s mind was still elsewhere.

“You three went against my orders,” Jex growled. “I told ya’ll ya wouldn’t be able to handle that mercenary but ya went and did it anyway! And at what cost? Another promisin’ assassin’s life lost!”

Enigma flinched at those words and lowered his paw.

“Ya’ll lied! Ya pretended to be me just so ya could sneak out and take on a task well above ya abilities,” Jex went on. “But ya actually managed it! Ya proved me wrong, showin’ amazin’ skill! Illusion, and inflictin’ wounds on a target ya’d normally struggle against. I’ve got no choice but to graduate the both of ya! Well done. Ya’ll are full fledged assassins.”

Jex didn’t seem happy. He turned to address the rest of the trainees. Harlequin glanced up at Enigma. His shoulders had slumped and he gazed at the door.

“Now!” Jex barked. “This next part ain’t gonna be good news, I’m afraid. After discussin’ with Lord Hydreigon about Niana’s loss, we decided to make some changes. Losin’ Kera only adds to the severity of this situation. Too many pokemon here were close wi’ my sis, me included. Her loss caused pain and rash decisions. I got angry. I shouldn’t’ve taken it out on all o’ ya and I’m sorry.” He stood back and took a breath, brushing a paw over his mohawk. He screwed his eyes shut as he went on, “So it’s been decided that from today we will no longer be trainin’ female assassins.”

Harlequin’s blood went cold and she tried in vain to keep her pelt smooth. Her mind clouded and her legs turned weak.

“Just like the soldiers and the murkrow flock, we’ll be trainin’ males only.” Jex suddenly sounded like he was under water. “So all females will be immediately retired.”

Harlequin stumbled beside Enigma as she turned to take in all the horrified faces glaring at Jex.

“What?!” Vixen, a young nikkit, stood from the crowd, her eyes widening with alarm. “Are ya serious?!”

“Ya forcin’ us to leave?!” the purrloin asked.

“It ain’t my decision!” Jex countered. “This has been decreed by Lord Hydreigon! Ya’ll know where to go.”

“Yeah,” Vixen sneered. “The breadin’ pens.”

Harlequin felt sick. She took a few steps backwards, her mind reeling. All she could see was the leering face of her father, his mouth silently echoing Vixen’s words.

“But the numbers are so low already!” another female voice cried. “Think this over!”

“We have!” said Jex. “Cuttin’ out a risk matters more! Look at the damage losing Niana has done!”

Vixen raised her head. “But-”

“The decision is final!” Jex roared. “I want every female out by sunrise! Meetin’ over!”

The scrafty stormed from the room, and a few complaining pokemon followed after him, their voices fading into the corridors. Harlequin’s paws were glued to the spot. She couldn’t move. What was she to do? She couldn’t stay! If she were found out then… no, she didn’t dare think about what might happen. She closed her eyes, clenching her jaw tight.

Enigma’s bell jingled as he moved away from her and Harlequin raised her head to watch him go. He’d said nothing throughout all that. Of course, she knew why. She understood why. But she couldn’t help feeling like if all this had happened only a few hours earlier, he’d have had something to say. And Kera would still be with them. She could almost hear the weavile’s voice spitting her own venom at Jex’s decision with Enigma casually adding to it at her side.

Harlequin’s heart shattered. She’d lost him. Just like she’d lost Harbinger. The Enigma she knew was gone.

There was nothing for her here.

She’d have to leave. There was no way she was going to the breeding pens. What about the Thieves Guild? Would they take her on? Or would they receive the same instructions to banish all females too?

Harlequin dragged herself from the training room, pushing through a group of bickering trainees. Jex was trapped in the thick of them, his loud voice barking at them to ‘shut up and go’. Harlequin complied. She dragged herself to the end of the corridor, ducking into Niana’s classroom.

The room was just as she remembered it. Books stacked up against the walls, with the lingering scent of Niana in the air. Harlequin bit back a sob and fought the urge to back out and leave. She wasn’t going without her bag. If she was going to hold her own out there then she needed it. She went straight to the stack of books and reached behind them, dragging out her brown satchel. She smoothed the dust away with one paw and then lifted the flap. Her nidoking horn was still there, nestled securely in its protective pocket. Easy to grab without even lifting the flap.

She reached a hesitant paw into the main pocket, meeting the cool, smooth stone of Harbinger’s pendant. Her throat thickened and tears trailed from her eyes. It was all there. Niana had taken care of it. Now… Harlequin was on her own.

She tossed her bag over her shoulder and stepped back out into the corridor. The crowd of pokemon had thinned, and there was no sign of Jex. Harlequin raised her head, bracing herself to march through the remaining females and leave the barracks. To leave the Shadow Lands. Would any of them come with her? Could they get out of here unseen?

No… She’d need to use her illusion. She couldn’t escape with them all. It was much too risky.

“I’m gonna go to the Thieves Guild,” she heard Vixen announce. “I’m not spendin’ the rest of my life in some stinky stable.”

“Me neither,” said the purrloin. “I’ve got sticky paws. I could make it as a thief.”

Harlequin took in a trembling breath and pulled her male illusion over herself. Her paws carried her down the corridor, but her ear twitched at a soft snuffle. She turned her head towards it, and it took her a moment to realise she was stood outside Enigma’s door. Her heart sank into her gut.

The soft sound was inaudible to anyone else in the corridor, but to Harlequin it was unmistakable. Enigma was crying. And she was about to march out and leave him on his own. An outcast among the assassins. One ghost in a world that didn’t welcome him.

Harlequin took a deep breath and reached for the door. Would he come with her? Or would he want to stay here? And if he wanted to stay, would she stay with him?

In many ways, he was just like her. They’d both lost someone they cared about. And neither of them really belonged in the Shadow Lands. An unwanted ghost. A female. Perhaps… perhaps he would come with her?

She shoved his door open and slipped inside. Enigma lay on his nest, showing no sign he’d noticed her. One arm flopped over his face, and tears streaked over his smoky fur. Harlequin rushed to his side and pulled herself up onto her hind legs. Her paw brushed his shoulder and he lowered his arm to meet her gaze with one that was bloodshot. Beyond all that was the Enigma she knew. Broken, and looking a lot older than he was. But he was there. Without giving it a second thought, Harlequin leapt up onto his nest and let herself flop onto his chest.

His sobs began to calm. Confusion? She wasn’t sure. Her entire body trembled at the sudden close contact but she didn’t want to move. He needed someone, and she was going to be that someone. She told herself that over and over as she let she let her head rest on his shoulder.

She took a long, wavering breath. “I’m so sorry.”

He wrapped his arms around her and she froze, digging her claws into the hay. His breath stirred her fur as he buried his face into her neck. Tears soaked through to her skin and his sobs shook her body. His scent wreathed around her, comfortingly familiar. It chased away those dark memories, of both her father and the battle with the braviary. Somehow, she knew he’d never hurt her. She closed her eyes, willing herself to relax in his embrace.

Before long, Enigma’s tears stilled and his grip on her loosened, but one arm remained fastened over her shoulders. Harlequin remained there, wondering if she should move. Perhaps get him something to eat once he woke. She raised her head, feeling the weight of his arm across her back. He didn’t wake. He didn’t even stir. Tears left salty trails over his cheeks, and his mane was a matted mess behind him. Harlequin took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her mind was made up. She wasn’t going anywhere. He needed her more than she needed to escape. She’d made it this long hiding her identity. She could keep going if it was for him.

“Neither of us belong here, do we?” She lowered her nose to his as tears streaked over her own face. “I promise, Enigma… No matter what, I’ll never leave you, or abandon you.”

His grip on her tightened slightly, and she wondered if he’d heard her. More words struggled to force themselves from her throat, to tell him the truth about her, but they died on her tongue. Now wasn’t the time. She settled back on his chest as he gently pulled her back into him, and she buried her muzzle in his mane. Memories of Harbinger flashed through her mind, causing a dull ache in her chest. She’d failed him, and she hoped deeply she’d never fail to keep her promise again.


Cold wind whipped through the absol’s fur. Uncanny, given the state of the canyon. The rocks still glowed with embers, and smoke rose in choking gusts from the dessicated buildings. This wasn’t his work. This was the work of the Wildfires.

The howling had long since faded into the distance, leaving the absol curious as to what was left behind. He trotted through the canyon quickly to avoid burning his feet on the hot rocks. Wind howled through it, stirring up ash and embers and urging the weakening flames on. Wood popped and cracked, and a roof caved in beside him, spraying the absol with hot ash. He hissed and leapt aside, bounding along before the rest of the building came down. The absol stopped on a cool patch of moss, looking back at the building. Its foundations groaned ominously but its threat of giving up had come to a halt. Flanks heaving, the absol summoned his courage to keep exploring the ruined town.

Smoldering homes stood on his left, moving along the flat ground of the canyon. He peeked in through one of the blistering doors but the contents were blackened and wasted. The scent of hot flesh and metal reached his nose and he recoiled, deciding to leave that patch of houses well alone.

His travels carried him through the thick of the battle. Bodies littered the floor, most of them unrecognisable. Mawile and cufant, and the remains of what he thought might have been an aggron. A few rock types lay here and there, their charred bodies like boulders.

The absol stepped over something indescribable and cast a glance to his right. More houses were set in the steep slope of the canyon. Burned, smoldering, crumbling… wind whipped up ash and caused the wood to groan. There was nothing here, and it was too dangerous to remain among it. The absol hopped onto the steep slope, bounding over the hot stones towards the cool air above.

A soft sound reached his ears and he froze, turning his head towards one of the little houses. Smoke curled off the roof which threatened to cave in at any moment. He moved towards it, keeping his ears on that sound. Crying. That’s what it was. Was there actually a survivor in all this wreckage? If so, how? How had they avoided the Wildfires’ flames?

The absol crept around to the door, or lack of one, and peered into the building. Shelves lay at haphazard angles holding up a smoldering bookshelf. Singed papers littered the floor, and sitting in the middle of it were two very small pawniard. They huddled together, their metallic faces glistening with tears. Before them lay a molten pool of red and black which glistened in the dim light cast by the embers and the waning moon. One of the twins looked up with a start, his yellow eyes widening on the absol. He pulled his brother into his chest who whimpered when he spotted what had distressed his sibling.

“Don’t worry,” said the absol. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

He cast another glance around the room and his heart twisted. He’d brought many disasters on other pokemon, sometimes entire towns. Those pokemon were responsible for what was going on. They were the bane - the poison - on Estellis. Hydreigon, the Outcasts, the Heretics. They all contributed to the persecution of others, and sat in this room were two little hatchlings. Pawniard. Another pokemon persecuted just for existing. Cast aside because their bodies were made of blades. Unable to touch anything flesh for fear of hurting it. It was a surprise to find them living in a canyon with other pokemon, but steel-types were hard to hurt. Yet their situation near the top of the canyon was enough of an explanation to the absol. It was deliberate. They were living outside of the society they were growing up in.

He turned his eyes back on the molten metal. “That’s your mother, isn’t it?”

The trembling twins nodded, holding onto each other as if harm would befall them should they let go.

“How did you survive?” he asked them.

“She hid us.” The pawniard’s voice shook and he pushed himself from his reluctant brother’s arms. “We… we were…” He nodded towards the bookcase.

The absol nodded. “I see.”

“You’re an absol, aren’t you?” There was no accusation in the pawniard’s eyes, but his brother had begun rubbing his blades together, keeping a wary eye on the large, white feline.

The absol nodded. “I am. But I’m not responsible for this.”

“We know.” The bolder twin pulled his knees into his chest. “It was Howlinger.”

The absol grunted and stood for a moment, listening to the rafters groaning and the weakening rocks giving way in the canyon’s slope. Small pebbles clattered over its surface, striking the buildings as they passed. He turned from the house and motioned to the twins with his head. “Come on. You can’t stay here.”

The bolder one stood but not to follow. His blades glinted orange in the light of the embers and his brother cowered towards the wall.

“You want us to go with you?” There was accusation in the bolder twin’s voice this time.

The absol flashed a canine. “Absol can sense disasters, and if you don’t leave this house now you will soon be buried under it.”

That was enough for the bolder twin. He encouraged his brother to his feet but the timid twin held out his claws to the bisharp’s body.

“We can’t leave her!” he protested.

The absol’s fur bristled and he opened his mouth to argue, but the bolder pawniard spoke over him.

“We have to,” he explained. “She saved our lives. If we stay here, we’ll lose them. She wouldn’t want that. Okay?”

After a moment that felt like an eternity of groaning wood and clattering rocks the more nervous twin nodded and followed after his brother.

The absol led them up the cliff face, darting around tumbling pebbles. They were barely at the top when the rumble of collapsing wood and rock reached their ears. The twins looked back at the remains of their home, and the timid one let out a loud, echoing sob. His brother placed an arm around his shoulders, but tears shone in his glassy yellow eyes. The absol noticed they reflected the moonlight, like any other nocturnal pokemon’s.

“Come on,” he said softly. “We’re almost out.”

The absol led the twins up the slope and they gathered on the cool grass. The fire hadn’t reached the top of the canyon. The cool night air was a blessing and the dewy grass soothed the absol’s sore paws.

“Thank you.” It was the more nervous twin who’d spoken.

The absol nodded and sat down to lick his pads. The sound of grating metal screeched through the air not entirely dissimilar to a kriketune learning to serenade. Then it stopped as the pawniard melted into tears. The absol paused nursing his wounds to watch him, the fur rising at the base of his tail.

“Sorry,” said his brother. “We don’t know… where to go…”

The absol stared at them for a moment. Two young hatchlings, alone in the world. He had been like that once. He’d had no one to turn to, and the one pokemon who had offered to help him had betrayed him. The memory burned in his chest and he swallowed back a growl. There was no time for that now. There were more urgent matters at hand. He couldn’t leave the two little pokemon in good conscience. If he did, he’d be leaving them to die. He’d be as bad as the Darkness.

“You can stay with me,” he said, surprising himself.

The twins stared at him, stuttering.

“With you?” the bolder one asked.

The absol nodded and diverted his gaze to the moon.

“I don’t know.” The bolder twin began to rub his claws together, echoed by his sibling. “No one… no one wants us. We’d hurt you with our blades.”

“No you won’t.” The absol looked back at them. “Your blades are your weapons and your defence. You can learn to be careful with them.”

“We are careful,” the pawniard explained. “But we’re always told we’ll hurt others. And you aren’t a steel-type like mother.”

The absol flicked his tail. “I am a dark-type though. And I don’t work for the Darkness, do I?”

The twins exchanged confused glances.

“What I am trying to say,” the absol said slowly, “is that it doesn’t matter if I’m not a steel-type. Not all dark-types work for the Darkness, and not all pawniard are going to hurt those close to them.” He paused, watching the realisation spread across their little, identical faces. “So… will you join me? Because you are much too young to live by yourselves.”

The twins nodded slowly, and the bolder one lowered his head in a bow. “Thank you, sir.”

The absol nodded and rose to his feet. “Come on. Let’s get away from here.”

The twins fell in step beside him, casting one last glance back at the Iron Canyon they’d once called home.

“I’m Claw,” said the bolder twin. “And this is my brother, Scratch.”

“Scratch and Claw?” The absol nodded, watching Scratch drag his claws against each other. “Fitting names.”

“What’s yours?”

The absol stared at Claw for a moment. Of course, he’d been stripped of his name. The only one he’d been given had been assigned as a curse, then later twisted by that Harlequin in an attempt to make him believe the zorua was his friend.

The name that had taunted him as he’d fled through the Border Woods, and haunted him in his nightmares. The very name he’d tried to accept that in doing so had brought disaster on himself. The name that had followed him as he’d unleashed land slides and caused floods. The name that had been cried out by perishing Heretics and Outcasts alike. The very description of what he was.

He turned his gaze away from the pawniard, keeping his head low as he plodded over the cool grass. “It’s Harbinger.”
Chapter 74


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
74 - Tension​

The patch of wildflowers swayed in the breeze in a sea of blue and pink flowers. The sun had risen, casting warm rays through the canopy to soak the tranquil clearing. The gurgle of the river was audible over the distant cawing of murkrow. Their raucous cries broke the tranquillity, but Enigma was used to it. It had always been the case.

He stepped from the shadows of the trees, casting a glance up at the branches. He’d spotted a few murkrow on his way there, but they’d not noticed him. He’d remained invisible, fooling their prying eyes. He’d even silenced his bell, clutching it in one paw so the ringer didn’t alert them to his presence. He wasn’t in the mood to fight. He feared if he tried he’d succumb to his rage and lose control completely. But the canopy was bare, save for the expired blooms and fresh, green leaves.

Enigma moved over to the wildflowers, hugging his arms around himself. The poppy patch had grown considerably since he’d planted it, but the flowers were only just budding. Their heavy heads nodded in the breeze almost as if they were pleased to see him.

“It’s been a while,” he said quietly, glancing up at the river. “I’m sorry.”

Only silence greeted him, and he let out a bitter sigh. He swallowed back the tears that threatened to start again and forced his paws to his sides.

“You were right. About Harlequin, I mean. If only I’d listened to you, I wouldn’t be in this mess.” He shook his head. “I wish you were still here to laugh at me. To call me an idiot. It would make things a lot easier.” He watched the flowers for a moment, then took a long breath. “I miss you, Kera. They say time heals, but it really doesn’t. It just gets harder. And right now I miss you more than ever.”

His voice cracked and he dragged his claws through his mane in a bid to gather his thoughts. It gave him a moment to scout out the clearing again. The cawing was growing louder, closer, but it was still a fair way off. He hoped deeply the murkrow didn’t disturb him. He daren’t think of what they’d do if they discovered Kera’s grave. He shook the thought away and turned his attention back onto the swaying poppy buds.

“I know I’ve said it before, but I keep thinking about what I could have done differently. Was there any way we could have avoided that battle? I know I could have saved you. If I’d just been thinking I could have got you to safety, but no! And to make matters worse, I hid the only hope I found in the Shadow Lands from you! I cost you dearly, Kera. That could have changed everything. I could have opened your eyes to what the world is meant to be, but instead I let you down, and I’ve let Harlequin down too!” His words blurred together and he took a trembling breath to calm himself. “You needed me, and I failed you. And now Harlequin needs me, and I hurt her. I really hurt her.” He sank down to his knees as a sob weakened him, and placed a paw on the small mound. “She was there for me after I lost you. She held me up, even carried me sometimes. If it weren’t for her, I would have followed you. But now, when she needs me the most, I just lashed out at her and stormed off.” He clenched his teeth and struck himself in the knee with his fist. “I really hate myself. I keep trying to prove I’m not a monster, but then it rears its ugly head, pushing everyone away. I just… I feel so alone-!”

Loud cawing split the air and Enigma dropped his density. His bell fell away from him, rolling loudly through the grass behind him. He stifled a curse and his fur stood on end along his spine as he turned his head towards the sky. Five murkrow lumbered clumsily through it, their red eyes scouring the clearing. Several more murkrow hopped along the branches, making them sway and drop what few white petals remained among the fresh leaves. Had they seen him? Or heard his bell? Had he confused them? He daren’t move, or breathe. Their wicked red eyes scanned left and right, then with a loud caw the lead murkrow led the others away from the clearing.

Enigma let out a long breath and turned back to the wildflowers. His eyes widened as a sea of red spread out from the middle of the mound. One by one, the buds uncurled into velvety poppies, swaying gently in the breeze. Enigma rose to his feet, staring at the poppies wordlessly. As he took a step back, soft petals cushioned his feet.

Someone moved behind him and he turned abruptly, spotting Faith standing under the trees holding his bell in both paws. Small wildflowers spread out from around her, leading up to the mound.

Enigma closed his eyes briefly, but the anger that had been burning inside him had fizzled out. “Did you follow me?”

Faith shrugged and moved towards him. “Xerneas sent me.”

Enigma raised an eyebrow, but Faith just chuckled.

“It took the outlaws by surprise,” she said. “Wildflowers just started growing around my feet. It probably wouldn’t have seemed so strange if we hadn’t been underground at the time. I followed them and they led me here.” She nodded to the mound. “He made the poppies bloom for you as well.”

“You saw that, huh?”

Faith nodded again. “He also threw the murkrow into confusion.” She paused to glance up at him and she returned his bell, keeping hold of it for a heartbeat as he held it in one paw. “You’re not alone, Enigma.”

So she’d heard that? He grunted and toyed with his bell’s ribbon. “Sometimes it really feels it.” It vanished with a sleight of hand.

Faith’s warm paw slipped into his, and he laced his claws with hers.

“How much did you hear?” he asked without looking up.

“Not much. I arrived just before the murkrow did.” She looked back at the wildflowers. “Is this Kera?”

Enigma nodded.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Faith.

“She was a beautiful weavile.” Enigma let out a small sigh. “She’d turned her back on the Darkness. But vengeance took over. We never got the chance to escape together.”

Faith looked up at him. “So you’d turned your back on the Darkness so long ago?”

“I found a copy of Yveltal’s Fall in the old library. It sparked something in me.”

“Really?” Faith gasped.

“Yes. But anger and grief warped me. Whatever I felt, I always hated Hydreigon.” He paused to swallow back tears. “At least I got a second chance. Sadly, Kera won’t be in the Fairy Garden. I never even told her about the book.”

“You didn’t share it with her?”

Faith’s words made him flinch and he turned his head away. “I was worried how she’d take it. But I regret not taking that risk.”

“Well… Xerneas can reach pokemon in his own surprising ways. So you never know. Perhaps she will be there when the war is over?”

“She won’t,” said Enigma bluntly. “I asked.”

“Oh.” Faith’s shoulders sank slightly. “Well… at least you were brave enough to ask.”

“It took a lot. I was afraid of the answer.”

“I understand that.” Faith’s violet gaze wandered over the wildflowers. “I often worry about my mother. She was an evangelist like me, but one day she went out on mission and didn’t return. She had a very strong faith, which is where I get my name actually!”


Faith nodded and made a little ‘mhm!’ “She was very fond of Gleamgrove Abbey, which is near the Endless Woods. I hear it’s fallen into disrepair now, but I was fond of it myself. My mother actually helped to build it. Sometimes I wonder if she stayed there until her final days with the pokemon she loved, teaching generation after generation about Xerneas, knowing she’ll come back to the Fairy Garden once the war is over.”

“Then why are you worried about her?” Enigma asked.

“You’ve seen the state of Estellis, Enigma.” Faith’s voice took a sad turn. “Even those of strong faith can be beaten back when they see all the suffering and darkness in the world. That’s how the fall came about in the first place. Pokemon knew Xerneas yet they still turned their backs on him, choosing darkness over him. Even those who’s faith is strong can be tested and crumble. So… I get scared to ask if my mother will ever come back to the Fairy Garden, or if she fell away from Xerneas.”

They stood in silence for a moment as Enigma ran over her words. It was a side of Faith he’d never seen before, and was rather unexpected.

He gave the mawile’s paw a gentle squeeze, drawing her out of her thoughts. “I think you’re right about the abbey. She sounds like a strong, committed mawile. I think you’ll see her again.”

A huge smile spread across Faith’s muzzle. “Thank you, Enigma. I hope so.”

“It’s reassuring to know a pokemon as strong as you wrestles with these things.”

“Oh, Enigma… I’m still a pokemon. I still have doubts, and I get scared, sad and angry just like everyone else.”

Enigma raised an eyebrow at her. “I can’t imagine you getting angry.”

Faith chuckled. “It takes a lot of effort to keep it under control when someone pushes my buttons, believe me. Especially around Tinker.”

Enigma laughed and rubbed his jaw. “Actually, yes, I still sometimes feel that sucker punch you gave me.”

“That wasn’t anger, that was self defence!” There was a note of humour behind Faith’s words.

Enigma sighed and his smile dropped. “Well… I’m no stranger to anger.” He sighed again. “I think I have an apology to make to Harlequin.”

Faith looked up at him, her expression sombre. “I think so too.” She gave his paw a squeeze. “Are you ready to go back?”

Enigma gave one last glance back at Kera’s grave. The poppies waved gently in the breeze, and he swallowed around the lump forming in his throat.

“Yes. I’m ready,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Faith moved on first, leading Enigma by the paw. He kept pace at her side as they made their way back to the outlaws’ hideout.


Cleo could barely believe she’d slept in until noon. She sat between Mischief and Spark around the low coffee table, nibbling on an assortment of berries, dried fish and stale pastries. The conversation was sporadic at best. The outlaws were somewhat wary of the newcomers, particularly Enigma and Faith. The pair had returned just before Cleo had woken, and Enigma had excused himself, refusing the offer of lunch.

Tinker and Starshine sat opposite Cleo along with Mint and Tantrum. The grovyle seemed rather comfortable around Tinker, but the vigoroth kept close to Mint almost as if he were her bodyguard.

Reshiram was too large to come into the ruin, so he remained outside. Ripwing and the flygon, Vibrato, kept him company, and Cleo was pretty sure she’d seen a drapion with them when she’d gone outside for a breath of fresh air. There were other pokemon from the Fairy Garden as well, all of who preferred to be outside rather than underground. Cleo couldn’t bare to think about sleeping exposed in the dark of the Border Woods, even with Hope’s protective barrier in place.

Cleo had so many questions flooding her mind that she’d not even spoken to Spark about the sudden revelation the dedenne was part fairy-type. Spark had been pretty shaken up after the battle, along with everyone else, and they’d all received some pretty nasty wounds. Now things were cooling down the main question on everyone’s lips was what would happen now Hydreigon had been killed? Or was he still alive? Enigma had told them Harlequin had been given the anti-venom for the nidoking poison. The banette wouldn’t go into details about how Harlequin had come across it, given how rare it was. The topic seemed to dredge up some anxiety in the former assassin and he swiftly changed the topic to something else.

The previous day’s battle had gone so fast that the memories of it were hazy, distorted and frightening. It almost felt like a nightmare that was fading from their minds yet refusing to leave completely. Cleo kept picturing Hydreigon falling as Harlequin slammed her nidoking horn into his side. The memory of Yveltal taking over the battle and draining pokemon with his life-sucking beam took over most of the horrendous events. She couldn’t believe they’d all managed to avoid being claimed by it. The only ones who’d suffered were the Darkness, almost as if Yveltal couldn’t control his own attack properly, or just fired it blindly without a care for the consequences.

One fact remained from it all though. Whether Harlequin had successfully killed Hydreigon or not, Yveltal was still alive and would undoubtedly be looking for them.

“We’ve failed, haven’t we?” Cleo’s words drew the table to silence.

She could feel Faith’s gaze on her. Cleo looked around at the mawile. Faith’s expression was solemn, and her violet eyes lacked that cheerful sparkle that often graced them.

“We were foolish,” said Faith. “Hydreigon might be dead, we don’t know that yet. But if we’ve done anything at all, it’s to make things worse. Yveltal is a ruthless pokemon, and he’ll do anything to get revenge on us now.”

Cleo’s already waning appetite vanished and she pushed her plate away. Spark watched it with wide eyes and looked up at her friends.

“We’re fortunate Reshiram and Hope showed up,” said the dedenne. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have got out of there alive, huh?”

Faith nodded stiffly. “Xerneas is merciful, but he won’t be happy with us taking matters into our own paws.”

Tinker snorted, sending pastry crumbs across the table. Mint dusted herself down, muttering under her breath.

“You’ve always been one for rash decisions, Cleo,” said Tinker. “Yet this has surprised me. What were you thinking?”

Cleo felt Tinker’s reprimand had been a long time coming. He’d barely spoken a word to her since they’d arrived at the outlaws’ hideout. Cleo’s heart sank to her stomach and she found herself unable to look at the riolu.

Mint scowled at them as she finished dusting herself off. “You Outcasts have always been rash. Running into danger at the drop of a hat! You only make matters worse.”

Tinker snapped his head around towards her. “I beg your pardon?!”

“Oh come on!” Mint met the riolu’s seething stare. “How many times have you spoilt the soup?”

“We help pokemon in need!”

“Helping?” Mint scoffed. “What we do is ‘helping’! At least we’ve been trying to find a way to fight back rather than cowering out of sight trying to survive!”

“You call infecting pokemon with that volatile pokerus ‘helping’?” Tinker raised his claws to form air quotes. “Because I’d call that ‘evil’! You even infected Enigma with that thing!”

“Yes, and now he’s a ticking time-bomb of madness lurking somewhere in this hideout!”

“Stop!” Faith begged, leaning on the table. “We don’t need to argue about this! We’re all in the same battle, so can we-”

“Shut up, mawile!” Mint flashed her canines and pointed a claw at Faith. “You have no right to tell me what to do! I still hold you accountable for Rio’s death!”

Faith’s eyes widened. “What did I do? I didn’t kill Rio!”

“You released Enigma!” Mint snapped. “If you hadn’t, Rio would still be alive!”

Tinker tutted. “I always knew this mawile was trouble.”

“Hey!” Cleo snapped. She slapped her paw down between Faith and Tinker. “Leave her out of this! If Rio had kept hold of Enigma he’d be suffering for that pokerus even more!”

“And if she hadn’t, we might not have to worry about an assassin losing his mind and murdering us all!” Tinker barked.

“He’s on our side!”

Tinker narrowed his eyes and leaned forward in his seat. “You should know better than anyone that it doesn’t matter who’s side one of these nut cases is on! As soon as they snap they’ll attack anyone, Cleo!”

“Will you stop it?!” Mint dragged her claws over the leaf on her head. “It was Rio’s plan to infect Enigma, not mine! I tried to talk him out of it!”

“Fat good it did!” Tinker growled.

“Look, you know we’re trying to fix things,” Mint hissed. “My part in this project was to research it! Do you think I agree with Rio’s mistakes?”

“Wait!” Mischief stood up, slamming his paws on the table.

The squabbling pokemon turned to look at the whimsicott. His orange eyes were full of accusation and he pointed a claw at Mint.

Tinker scoffed under his breath. “Speaking of ticking time-bombs…”

“You created that pokerus?” Mischief half-growled.

Mint stared back at him silently, smoothing out her leaves. Tantrum shifted beside her, glancing towards the exit as if he was considering leaving but was reluctant to leave Mint alone with two seething pokemon at her throat.

“I didn’t.” Mint shrugged. “I was just part of the research team.”

“Well I have it!” Mischief jabbed a claw into his chest. “I’ve suffered because of this, and if Enigma has it too-”

“He doesn’t,” said Faith.

Mischief lowered his paws to the table, and Cleo stared at Faith aghast.

“Faith, why-”

Faith cut the meowstic off with a wave. “I had to say something, Cleo, before we pull each other apart!” She sighed and gave Mischief an apologetic look. “I’m sorry we kept it from you, Mischief. But Enigma said Xerneas cleared it away when he revived him.” She turned back to Mint who looked dumbfounded. “So you don’t need to worry about him.”

“Well there goes your little plan to get rid of him.” Tantrum nudged mint with his elbow and the grovyle fired him a toxic glare.

Faith looked like she was about to question the outlaws, but Mischief interrupted her.

“Xerneas healed him?” The whimsicott sounded wounded. “But… then why…” He trailed off, sinking to his bottom.

“We met Xerneas,” said Spark over her berry. “So why didn’t he heal Mischief?”

Faith was staring at the table. “’Your weakness will be your greatest strength’… I’ve been puzzling over this a lot, and I do think he means the pokerus.”

The plates clattered as Mischief slammed his paws on the table again. “But it’s not my greatest strength! It puts others in danger!” He rounded on Mint once more. “And you’re the reason I have it!”

Tantrum rose slightly, placing a paw on Mint’s shoulder, but the grovyle shrugged him off as she glared back at Mischief.

“Hey, don’t blame me!” she barked. “I didn’t cultivate the wretched thing! If you want to point blame at the pokemon that found it then speak to Ripwing!”

Mischief fell silent, but his shoulders heaved with repressed anger. A soft brush of scales on stone came from the doorway and they all turned to see Ripwing standing on the stairs looking back at them.

“What’s going on in here?” he asked. “I only came down for some lunch and you’re all at each other’s throats!”

Mischief didn’t take his eyes off the dragon as he slid into the room. The whimsicott’s fur was bristling and he flexed his blunt claws.

Cleo rose to her feet and dusted crumbs off her fur. “I think we need to talk, Ripwing.”

The salamence looked from Mischief to Mint and he nodded slowly. “I think I know what this is about…”

“Mischief is infected with pokerus,” said Cleo, getting another nod from the dragon. “And Mint says you’re the pokemon that discovered it.”

“That would be true.” Ripwing sighed and nodded to the corridor. “Mint, please show our guests to the lab. I’ll meet you there.”

The grovyle gave a disgruntled sigh and pushed herself from the seat. Tantrum rose to join her but she froze him with a look and he slumped back down in his seat beside Tinker. Mint motioned for Cleo and her friends to follow her. Spark leapt onto Cleo’s shoulder, still clutching her oran berry, and they followed Mint into the corridor.

The air was too tense for conversation, despite the questions swirling around Cleo’s mind. She was puzzled as to why Ripwing wasn’t coming with them, but her answer came sooner than she’d anticipated. Mint reached the end of the corridor, took a torch from beside the door and opened it, revealing a set of stairs leading down into the basement. The tunnel was so narrow it pushed them all single file. A pokemon much bigger than Cleo would struggle to fit down the stairs, if not be denied entirely.

“This used to be a shelter,” Mint explained. “The outlaws that built this building made it nigh impossible for any of Hydreigon’s larger soldiers to fit into, and smaller ones would be forced to trickle in, making them easier to pick off.”

“That’s a clever tactic!” said Faith.

“When Ripwing decided to sink the ruin to make the hideout more secure, he converted the shelter into a lab. It keeps our research safe.”

The way Mint spoke about it as if it were the most natural thing ever didn’t ease the dread nestling inside Cleo’s chest. The meowstic found her eyes flitting from shadow to shadow despite the narrow stairwell. As much as she’d been wanting to know more about the pokerus - for a sense of hope for Mischief - now it was looming over them it made her feel a little claustrophobic and jittery. It took a lot of self control to not turn her back and escape up the stairs.

Mint stopped at the bottom of the stairwell and pushed open a door. Much to Cleo’s surprise it wasn’t locked. A draft of damp, musty air swept over them as they stepped inside, and Cleo spotted a morpeko leaning against one of the tables, jotting something down in a folder. Complicated lab equipment spread out behind her, bubbling and gurgling, trailing over the tables that lay against all walls except one. The chunky rodent looked up as they entered and her eyes widened with surprise.

“This is Nanab,” Mint told Cleo and her friends. “Nanab, these are some Outcasts who’ve joined up with us.”

“Outcasts?” The morpeko raised an eyebrow. “More of ‘em?”

Mint huffed and flicked her head leaf back over her shoulder. “Getting a little crowded here, huh?”

“You’re tellin’ me.” Nanab returned to scrawling down her notes. “I hope Ripwing’s got enough food stores, otherwise I might have to eat one of ya.” The smirk she gave didn’t reassure Cleo she was kidding.

Mint moved over to the rodent and gave her a playful shove. “Go and get some breakfast before you turn homicidal on us. I’ll take over.”

“Great, thanks.” Nanab dropped the folder rather carelessly onto the table, causing the vials to rattle. As she passed the Outcasts she gave them another smirk. “Guess it’s your lucky day.”

Cleo stood aside as Nanab closed the door, and a chill washed over her fur.

Spark blinked a few times on her shoulder. “I’d say ‘a pokemon after my own heart’ but she’s a little weird.”

“Don’t worry.” Mint stood pouring over the morpeko’s notes. “She’s vegan.”

Mischief turned away from the door to walk further into the room, taking in the lab equipment. Pink liquid moved along it, concentrating itself into a tube that dripped into a waiting vial.

“So this is it?” he asked, failing to mask the anger in his voice. “This is pokerus?”

“Yep,” said Mint. “This is pokerus.”

Mischief turned his gaze on her, seething, but the grovyle didn’t appear to notice or care.

Cleo opened her mouth to speak, but the door in the opposite wall opened, revealing Ripwing. The salamence seemed to dwarf the room, yet he moved through it with care to avoid brushing against any of the lab equipment.

The dragon gave them an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I would have been here waiting for you, but I got caught up talking to Starshine.”

“There’s no need to apologise,” said Faith.

“Yeah,” said Spark. “We just met Nanab.”

Ripwing chuckled. “Then I guess I do need to apologise.” He motioned to the lab equipment with a paw. “This is where we culture pokerus. I must ask you to be careful around this, as I can’t guarantee you won’t be afflicted with it if you break anything.”

Cleo took a tentative step back, drawing a smirk off Mint.

“Don’t panic, kitty.” The slender reptile folded her arms as she leant against the table, Nanab’s folder abandoned behind her. “Most of the time we need to inject it.”

“Inject it?” Cleo parroted.

“That’s right.” Ripwing nodded as he turned carefully to face them. “This strain of pokerus struggles to pass itself on via contact. There’s a bigger chance it would just die away on your fur than have any effect, but I’d rather avoid any unnecessary suffering.”

Mischief scoffed and balled his paws. “Unnecessary suffering?”

Cleo stepped closer to him, raising a paw to place it on his shoulder but she was met with only resistance from the collar. It seemed to only ignite Mischief’s anger further.

“I’ve been inflicted with this!” Mischief pointed a claw at the equipment. “I’m too dangerous to even be around my friends! I took an innocent life! My friend died because of you!” He moved his fluffy fur to reveal the collar and its blinking blue lights. “I have to wear this so I don’t hurt anyone else!”

Cleo flinched at the look of remorse on Ripwing’s face. “I am really sorry to hear of this, Mischief. But please… before you go pointing claws, let me tell you the whole story?”

“Whole story?” It was Cleo’s turn to bristle now. “You created a monster parasite in this lab, and it’s out there! Hundreds of pokemon were released from that lab, and who knows how many else have been infected?”

Mint narrowed her eyes at Cleo. “That was Rio’s plan. And it was flawed.”

Faith shook her head sadly. “I guess the only reassurance we have right now is that it’s not contagious. When the host dies, the parasite will die with them.”

“So I have this until I’m dead?” Mischief growled. “If Xerneas didn’t heal me, then…” His shoulders sank and he looked away from them towards the door. Cleo just knew he was thinking about Enigma, and wondering why he’d been granted a cure while Mischief still had to suffer.

Ripwing sighed and picked up Nanab’s folder, rustling through the notes although he didn’t appear to be reading them. “I’m afraid I don’t exactly have much good news for you. This parasite is mutating further, and who knows if it will reach the stage where it’s contagious enough to sustain itself? All I can assure you is that we are monitoring it closely.”

“Why not just destroy it?” Cleo asked.

“Because if we do that, we could loose a valuable tool in this war,” Ripwing explained.

“A tool that drives a pokemon to madness?” Cleo gasped. “You sound as crazy as Rio! How does that help anyone? Even if it does help you wipe out the Darkness, you’ll then be left with a new problem! A hoard of crazed, unstoppable pokemon!”

Mischief visibly tensed, and Spark shifted to look from him to Cleo.

“Way to choose your words carefully,” Spark spoke into her ear.

Cleo closed her eyes and took a breath, but Mischief spoke before she could apologise. “No, Cleo’s right.”

All eyes went to Mischief. The whimsicott didn’t look up at any of them, instead staring at his paws.

“You’ve all seen what happens to me,” he went on. “And I know it’s getting worse. I’ve started feeling dizzy. It’s almost all the time. I’m just glad I didn’t lose it during that battle in the Shadow Lands. I mean, I didn’t let myself attack that much… but still. I’m a risk. And if this is gonna happen to other pokemon too, then soon all that will be left is us. You’ll all be wiped out by a crazy, mindless hoard.”

Tears pricked Cleo’s eyes and her throat thickened. She caught Faith’s soft gaze before the mawile turned it on Ripwing.

“Please tell me you’re also looking for a cure?” she asked him.

“That is actually our priority right now,” he said. “I’m aware of everything you’ve said. We all are. We had no idea how out of control this would become. When I sent the sample to Rio’s lab I’d expected him to continue on with my research, to build on it. I never expected him to go rogue.”

Cleo looked up with a start. “Wait… so you had no idea he was doing this?”

Ripwing shook his head. “None at all.”

“So Rio was acting against your orders?”

“He wasn’t acting against them per-se, as I never gave them. All I told him to do was to monitor it. I suggested he have a very select infection program and to make note of how the pokerus reacted with the host. Of course, the host had to be willing to be infected and know what risks could come with it, since we were working with a mutated version of the parasite.” Ripwing sighed and rubbed his muzzle with a paw. “If I could start from the beginning, it would paint a much clearer picture for you.”

Faith motioned to him with a paw. “Please… by all means, tell us.”

Mischief had fallen silent, but he gave a stiff nod.

“Thank you.” Ripwing settled on the floor. “It all started when I found an egg beneath a berry bush. I expected it to be an abandoned dragon-type pokemon, but instead it hatched into an oddish. I had my reservations towards keeping it at the time, since the poison-types were all wiped out years ago. But the little hatchling bonded to me, and I hadn’t the heart to leave it. Like any parent I trained him, and I was surprised at how fast he developed. His strength kept on going, well beyond what one would expect from an oddish. I don’t know how familiar you are with the species, but they are not known to be strong. But this one broke away from that stereotype with aplomb.

“I suspected something was amiss, so once he was old enough I sent him to our lab down in the Moorlands Forest. The one you encountered, where Rio worked as one of the lead scientists. We got reports back that the oddish was contaminated with pokerus, confirming my theory, but his powers kept on growing quite unlike the way pokerus would normally react. It would usually reach a certain stage and stop, then lose its contagion. Of course, the oddish was not contagious. Rio took a sample and said he wanted to grow it, and returned a vial to me. Apparently the oddish didn’t want to leave the lab. I am now of the understanding that this wasn’t the case and Rio kept him against his will.”

Mint nodded stiffly.

“After I received this news, it filled me with excitement. If we could use it, we could amass an army that could fight back against the Darkness. I went back to investigate the berry plant. I found the entire bush was contaminated with pokerus, and took some samples of my own. This is when I decided to start my own lab and work with Rio to try and cultivate a strain of this mutated pokerus that would spread. However, it was too dangerous to test it here in the Border Woods. Word would likely get back to Hydreigon about what we were doing and ruin our plans, so every mutation was sent back to Rio to test.

“We had many failures. Some didn’t work at all! But when one reacted badly to the host, driving it into a frenzy until it killed itself, that was when I began to question things. Something had gone wrong, and I had to fix it. We needed to move away from this madness, and perhaps start looking for a cure should things go even more wrong.

“We kept trying again, modifying it to resemble the original strain. One day, I got word from Rio that the pokerus was a success and I should keep making it. He assured me we’d soon have an army. I took him at his word and began to cultivate it, setting the cure aside until I heard otherwise. It wasn’t until Mint joined us that I learnt Rio had sugarcoated things. It was never my goal to have pokemon reduced to a state of complete and utter madness.”

He turned back to Mischief and shook his head sadly. “Believe me, Mischief. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am. But it was never my will to have any pokemon suffer.”

Mischief was silent for a long moment. The tension in the air made Cleo’s fur tingle, and her claws twitched at her sides.

Finally, Mischief looked up at Ripwing. “I believe you.”

Ripwing’s expression softened as relief spread through his tense body, and a long sigh left his mouth. “I am back to looking for a cure, but it is very early days. A few pokemon here have offered themselves up as test subjects to test the cures, myself included.”

“Wait.” Cleo stiffened. “You’ve infected yourself?”

“I have.”

Mint nodded and diverted her gaze.

Cleo looked between the two, aghast. “But… you’re at risk of losing control yourselves!”

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take,” said Mint. “I personally want to put right what Rio’s done.”

Her words didn’t placate Cleo. She turned back to Ripwing. “So… have you any idea how to cure it? Harlequin suggested poison.”

“Funnily enough, that’s exactly what we’re trying,” said Ripwing. “The drapion, Hemlock, was one of the first to offer himself to help. But the pokerus didn’t take. It died shortly after I infected him. That was what sparked the idea in my mind. However, it’s a tricky one. The poison of a drapion is very deadly, and even small doses cause sickness. So far, all we’ve been able to do is delay the pokerus developing further in the body.”

“So it delays the madness?” There was a lot of hope in Mischief’s voice. He straightened and took a step towards Ripwing. “It could help me control it?”

Ripwing clicked his tongue. “There’s a chance of that, but what you’ve told me is worrying, Mischief.”

Mischief’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”

“Rio erased your memories, didn’t he?”

Mischief fidgeted his paws together. “Yes. I don’t remember much at all prior to meeting Cleo.”

Mint scoffed. “He should have done that with Enigma too.”

Mischief tensed, jerking his head towards the grovyle.

“Mint, please!” Ripwing scolded.

Mint opened her mouth, but Ripwing silenced her with a swish of his tail.

“Please refrain from speaking if you’re not going to offer anything helpful,” he said. “I’m sorry, Mint, but you aren’t exactly gentle with your words.”

The grovyle rolled her eyes and began muttering under her breath. She pushed from the table and made for the door. Seeing the grovyle’s discomfort, Faith followed after her. As the door closed behind them, Cleo could hear Faith’s gentle voice asking Mint if she was okay, but it was soon drowned under Ripwing’s soft rumble.

“That’s probably for the best. She might seem stoic at first, but she’s actually not handling things well at all.” The salamence turned back to the whimsicott. “Mischief… from Rio’s notes, dizziness is a very late stage of the pokerus’ development. I’m sorry to have to inform you of this, but there isn’t much I can do with this cure.”

Cleo’s heart felt heavy. Spark softly nuzzled her cheek and placed a comforting paw on her ear but it did very little to reassure her. Nausea flowed up from Cleo’s stomach and she turned away so Mischief couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

“Let me try it,” Mischief begged. “You said it delays it, right? So if I can at least help in the battle with Yveltal then that’s what I want to do!”

Ripwing sighed. “Very well. But only take one drop! One drop a day, at the same time every day. Any more than that will be fatal to you.”

He rose up on his hind legs and pulled down a small vial. Thick purple liquid moved around in it. Mischief took it gratefully.

“You will experience stomach cramps,” Ripwing told him. “Mint, being a grass-type like you, reported that side effect.”

Cleo clenched her teeth and turned to face the dragon. “I don’t like this, Ripwing. Grass-types are weak to poison. Are you sure he’ll be okay?”

Ripwing grimaced slightly. “I can’t promise anything. Mint has been okay, but she’s only been taking it herself for a short while.”

“I want to try it.” Mischief met Cleo’s eyes. “Please… if this can help me stop being a risk to you, then…” He trailed off and closed his eyes.

Cleo nodded, but not without a sigh. “I understand. Please be careful, though?”

Mischief looked up at her and gave a nod of his own. Then he glanced at the door. “But if it’s going to cause me distress, I don’t want you to see me like that. Please release me, and I’ll go back to our room and take it there.”

Cleo didn’t like to leave him to suffer alone, but she bit back any comments. If he needed this, then she’d do whatever she could to support him. She quickly removed his collar and stood back, watching him leave the room.

Once the door had closed, she spoke to Ripwing without looking at him. “He’s not going to be okay, is he?”

“The poison shouldn’t harm him if he takes the right dose. It’s the pokerus that worries me more.” He looked down at Cleo. “How long has he had it?”

Cleo shook her head. “I’ve no idea. He had it when we found him back at the end of the cooling season.”

Ripwing flinched and let out a strained hiss. It made Cleo’s heart sink further. He didn’t need to say anything more to tell her Mischief’s outlook was worse than bleak.

Faith pushed the door open and slipped back inside. “Mint’s gone back upstairs.”

“Is she okay?” Cleo asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Faith. “But she didn’t confide in me. She just assured me she’s only trying to help put things right.”

Ripwing nodded solemnly. “She’s not handled Rio’s death well at all. I’d not met Mint before she arrived here, but going off what her friends have said, she seems to be a completely different pokemon now.”

“Are you sure that’s not a side effect of the pokerus?” Spark asked.

“No. She was like this before she offered herself as a test subject.” He gazed at the door. “I just hope we find a cure soon.”

“I just hope this one will help Mischief,” said Cleo. “He could really use some hope right now.”

Faith stiffened, her head turning towards the door. “Wait… you gave Mischief some of that poison?”

Ripwing looked down at the mawile, and Cleo tensed, sensing the worry in Faith’s voice.

Faith paled, looking at each of them in turn. “How much is he taking?”

“One drop a day.” Ripwing’s brow raised. “Is there a problem, Faith?”

Faith’s fur rose along her spine and she dashed towards the door. “It’ll kill him!”

Cleo almost leapt out of her fur. She dashed after Faith, straining to catch up with the mawile as she galloped up the stairs.

“What’s wrong?” Cleo gasped.

“Fairy-types are weak to poison!” Faith called without looking back.

Spark’s whiskers crackled in alarm. “They are?!”

“We need to stop him, now!” Faith panted.

Cleo shook her head sharply. “He’s gone to our room!”

“Then you go there right now! I’ll see if I can find any herbs to make him sick!”

Cleo’s heart lurched and she shoved past Faith so the mawile had to flatten herself against the wall. The rough, wet stone scraped Cleo’s fur away and rubbed her skin raw but she didn’t care. She needed to get to Mischief. Once free, she dashed up the stairs. “Spark, you go with Faith!”

She barely felt the dedenne leave her shoulder. Cleo’s lungs were fit to bursting as she reached the top of the stairs, but she didn’t stop running. She broke away from Spark and Faith to race down the corridor towards her room. Her heart was hammering against her ribs, and not just from the exertion. Over and over, the same words repeated in her head: ‘Please don’t be too late…
Chapter 75


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
75 - The Calm Before the Storm​

Cleo’s chest burned as she raced through the corridors towards the nest rooms. There was no sign of Mischief. A few pokemon poked their heads out of their rooms, voicing questions, but there was no time to answer. Ever faster, Faith overtook Cleo and reached her room first, joined by Spark. The door was shut but the mawile shoved it open and her gasping breaths froze in her throat. Cleo tripped, stumbling to Faith’s side. Part of her didn’t want to look in through the door, but the heart-wrenching wail made her push past Faith so she could enter the room.

Mischief lay curled up tight on the floor, his paws clasped over his stomach. The sharp tang of bile filled the air, and the vial of poison lay discarded near the far wall, its contents spilt over the dry dirt. Cleo dropped at his side and placed a paw on his shoulder. His fur was damp with sweat and she jerked her paw back from the scorching heat. Mischief’s body convulsed and he screamed, curling into a tight ball. Cleo looked up at Faith who was leaning against the door frame, a look of relief on her exhausted face.

“Thank goodness.” Faith turned from the door. “I don’t think he needs them now, but I’ll get some herbs.”

“Please get him some pecha berries?” The urgency in Cleo’s voice snapped Faith back to her. “I only have a couple.”

Faith nodded and vanished quickly into the corridor.

Spark looked from Cleo to the nest. “I’ll see if they have any clean hay too.”

As Spark left the room, Cleo glanced over at the hay. A sticky wet patch clung to it and she felt her shoulders sink with relief. At least he’d been sick. That meant most of the poison should be out of his system. She reached into her bag and pulled out a pecha berry. Its skin had wrinkled, and it had likely lost most of its healing properties, but it would have to do.

She set the berry aside and pulled Mischief up beside her. He let out a long whine and tried to wriggle away, but she held him firmly and stuffed the pecha berry into his paws.

“Eat this,” she told him, but he pushed the berry away. “Mischief, please! You shouldn’t have even taken that stuff!”

“Why?” He hugged himself and leaned forwards as his shoulders heaved. He bit back a groan and screwed his eyes shut. “I don’t… want to be a monster…”

Cleo lowered the berry into her lap and took a wavering breath. “You’re not a monster.”

Mischief hunched over his knees, breathing heavily. When Cleo offered the berry again he shook his head violently.

“Mischief, please!” Desperation lay thick in Cleo’s voice. “That poison could kill you, and… and…” Tears pricked her eyes and her ears drooped. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Mischief looked up at her then down at the berry. Reluctantly he took it and bit into it. Another convulsion took over his body and he sank to the floor, his wails echoing around the room. Cleo had to look away, pressing her paws over her ears. She screwed her eyes shut, desperate to block out Mischief’s distress. It was too much. Before long, she found herself lying foetal on the floor, whimpering as she hugged her tails around her body until she could bury her face into them. Tears streamed from her eyes and soaked into her thick fur.

Finally, the wailing stopped. Cleo lay there listening for it, just in case it started up again. But all she could hear was Mischief’s heavy breathing and the hum of power in her ears. She pushed herself up onto her elbow and craned her neck to look back at the whimsicott. His flanks heaved as he stared wide-eyed at the door, his fist shoved into his mouth. The berry was gone. A wave of relief washed over Cleo and she pushed herself up onto her knees.

The door clicked open and Faith strolled in carrying a small bowl of pecha berries in one paw. A bundle of hay was tucked under her other arm. Spark stood at her heel, her whiskers twitching with anxiety.

“I couldn’t find any herbs,” Faith said as she set the bowl beside Mischief. “How is he?”

“I don’t know.” Cleo settled herself against the wall. “I managed to get him to eat a pecha berry.”

“That’s good.” Faith encouraged Mischief to sit up and settled him against the wall beside Cleo. “Can you eat another one, Mischief?”

Mischief pushed the mawile away and she sat back with a wounded expression on her face. It was fleeting. She plucked a berry from the bowl and set it in Mischief’s paw. Then she turned to the hay.

“We’ll get this cleared up,” she explained. “You keep an eye on him, Cleo.”

Spark was already trying to remove the hay, balling up one corner of the nest. Faith started at the other end, as if humouring the little dedenne. The mawile’s calmness instilled a little hope in Cleo as she watched them work, and she silently tried to encourage Mischief to eat another berry. Faith and Spark had the hay bundled up in no time, and Faith stood back with it in both arms.

“I’ll be back soon to set up the clean hay,” she said. “Will you be okay?”

Cleo nodded. “We’ll be fine.” Her words sounded more confident than she felt.

Faith detected it but nodded anyway. “I won’t be long.” She turned to leave the room with Spark following behind her, clutching a tiny bundle that looked massive for the smaller pokemon.

Spark stopped in the doorway, almost tumbling under her burden. “Shall I get more berries?”

Cleo stared at her and raised an eyebrow.

“For him.” Spark nodded to Mischief. “Not me.”

Cleo glanced at Mischief who was staring down at the untouched pecha in his paws. “I think we’re okay.”

“I’ll get some anyway.” Spark followed after Faith who closed the door behind them.

The room felt a lot quieter now. And cold. Cleo wrapped her arms around her knees and let her head rest on them. A shiver shook her body which she tried to repress. The whole ordeal had left her shaken. Even after Ripwing explained the possible side-effects of the poison, she’d not expected that. She didn’t know what she’d expected, but seeing her friend in such distress would be haunting her nightmares for moons.


Her ears twitched and she turned her head on her knees to look at him. He was sat limply against the wall with one arm across his lap. The other flopped onto the floor, still clutching the pecha berry.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Cleo turned face down in her arms. “Don’t be sorry for wanting to cure yourself.”

Mischief let out a long sigh. “I just want this to go away.”

“It will.” Cleo sat up and shuffled against the wall. “When we get back to the Fairy Garden we’ll ask Xerneas to cure you.”

“Will I be sane when we go back, though?” He paused. “Will I have hurt anyone else?”

A twinge twisted inside Cleo’s chest and she stared at the opposite wall. She couldn’t answer that. Mischief had already killed one friend, and it had clearly destroyed him. A thick lump formed in her throat and she blinked back tears, hugging her knees to her chest.

“I keep asking myself why I still have it,” he went on.

A pool of flowers sprouted in the room, spreading out across the floor. Cleo raised her head to watch it, her heart hammering. But Mischief had his eyes closed as his head rolled back against the wall.

“I thought this pokerus was supposed to be my greatest strength and weakness,” said Mischief. “But it’s not. When Xerneas said that, he meant you. And Spark. And Faith. And Harlequin. All of you.”

The flowers radiated out like a rainbow as light pulsed above them, forming into the shape of an X. Cleo grabbed Mischief’s paw, trying to draw his attention, but he just returned it with a squeeze.

He took a long breath as he took his paw back. “I know I’m strong enough to protect you, but I’m also strong enough to hurt you. That’s the weakness. I’m so scared that something bad might happen to you, and even more scared that I might be that bad thing. Look what happened to Flutterwick. I was trying to protect him and Harlequin and the others by chasing off the murkrow, but they didn’t escape fast enough and I… I…” Tears welled from his eyes and he rubbed a paw across them.

Cleo blinked as the light intensified, and had to close her eyes.

A deep voice spoke close to her head. “You are right.”

When she looked up, Xerneas stood over them, his nose lowered to Mischief’s. The whimsicott stared back at the stag, blinking with confusion. Xerneas raised his head and stood back slightly, standing in the pool of colourful wildflowers.

“That is exactly what I meant.” A smile appeared on Xerneas’ muzzle. “Your love for your friends is what drives you to keep on fighting for what is right.”

“But-” Mischief swallowed audibly and shuffled against the wall so he was sitting straight. “But I killed Flutterwick.”

“Flutterwick is with me now.”

Mischief rolled his head back against the wall and covered his face with his paws. He gave a strange muffled wail that was both relief and distress. “He probably hates me.”

“That is not true.” Xerneas lowered his head to Mischief again. “Flutterwick understands you were not yourself at the time.”

“But he didn’t need to die at all. It was because of me. Because of this pokerus.” Mischief lowered his paws and sniffled. “Why didn’t you cure me like you did Enigma?”

“Because you don’t need it.”

Mischief blinked at Xerneas and stuttered. His expression darkened as he searched for the right words.

“Pokerus is a weapon,” Xerneas explained. “One that was cultivated to fight the Darkness. It has its flaws, just like any weapon is dangerous in the wrong paws, and it is dangerous when one is learning to control it.” He straightened, looking down at Mischief, but his smile never faded. “You were not infected by Rio, Mischief. You were born with pokerus. Your strain is unique. It destroyed the virus Rio tried to give you, which would otherwise have left you completely at its mercy. It is your destiny to use it to fight the Darkness.”

Mischief clenched his fists, mashing the pecha berry. “How can I use it to fight when it causes me to lose control and hurt my friends?!”

“Did you lose control when you fled the Shadow Lands?”

Mischief stuttered, and Cleo looked between him and Xerneas. Everything had been so chaotic during that battle that she hadn’t even noticed.

“No.” Mischief sounded mesmerised, and he glanced at Cleo as if asking her to confirm his answer.

Xerneas nodded once. “That is because you are learning to control it. You have identified its warnings and you are able to bring it under control.”

Mischief shook his head. “That was just one time… what if I lose control again?”

“You need to have a little more faith in yourself, Mischief.”


“No more ‘buts’.” Xerneas met Mischief’s wide eyes. “I have faith in you.” He lowered his head to Mischief again until their noses brushed. “Will you fight at my side in the coming battle and help me to turn the tide?”

Mischief was silent for a moment. Then he nodded as fresh tears formed in his eyes.

Xerneas stood back and looked from Mischief to Cleo and back. “Your love for your friends is your greatest strength, Mischief. As am I. Remember that.”

The majestic stag faded from the room, dazzling their eyes with light. Once he had left, the room felt brighter. Cleo felt Mischief take her paw and give it a squeeze, but he didn’t meet her eyes.

“That was… amazing.” Cleo blinked at the wildflowers.

Mischief gave a non-committal grunt but the darkness had faded from his face.

“So if you’re learning to control it,” Cleo said slowly, “perhaps you don’t need the collar anymore?”

Mischief retracted his paw and folded it onto his lap. He looked like he was about to say something, but the door opened a crack. Faith’s violet eye peered at them, then the door opened fully as she entered the room. She staggered with one foot over the wildflowers, almost falling back onto Spark. The dedenne leapt aside, pressing her back against the wall as she stared wide-eyed at the pool of flowers.

“Wow!” she gasped. “It’s like the Fairy Garden in here!”

Faith stared at Mischief and Cleo aghast. “Did Xerneas-?”

Cleo nodded, but Mischief was silent as he stared at the flowers.

Cleo pushed herself up and made for the fresh hay. “I’ll help you both to set up the nest.”

“I’d like to know what happened!” Faith’s eyes were sparkling.

“Yeah,” said Spark. “Did he heal Mischief’s pokerus?”

Mischief looked up at Spark and the expression on his face said it all. Cleo’s heart sank. The whimsicott still wasn’t happy with the situation. Part of her understood. Even if Flutterwick was alive in the Fairy Garden, knowing he was responsible for the little moth’s death was still a heavy burden on his heart. What Xerneas had told him was a lot to process, and he needed time to think over it all. Cleo’s ears drooped and she gathered an armful of hay.

Faith and Spark had both fallen silent, realisation clear on their faces. They worked in silence as they set up the nest, and Cleo wondered if she should tell them what Xerneas had said or leave it to Mischief if and when he was ready.


Soft white clouds scudded across the sky, letting the sun periodically peek between them. Its rays were warm on Enigma’s grey fur. He lay on his back on the roof of the ruin, listening to Reshiram’s deep rumble of laughter as the white dragon chatted with Ripwing and the other large pokemon.

Enigma had every intention to go straight to Harlequin when he returned with Faith, but once the ruin was in sight his feet grew heavy with every footstep. He’d parted from Faith to warp invisible onto the roof while he tried to gather his courage. Faith’s bewildered face had scanned over the clearing as she shouted for him, but he’d silenced his bell once more and slumped onto the roof. He couldn’t face Harlequin. Not yet. How would she react to him after he blew up at her like that? Enigma had scolded himself several times as he ignored Faith’s pleas as she tried to find him. The banette hadn’t moved from the roof, but he’d let himself become visible. Whether Faith knew where he was now, she hadn’t tried to follow him. He’d spied the mawile when she surfaced to see Reshiram and NyukNyuk, but she’d not even glanced up at the roof.

Perhaps he’d lost her trust too?

Enigma groaned and raised his paw to rub his eyes. The sun glinted off the two bracelets fastened around his wrist and he froze to stare at them. Two keystones. One to activate the absolite, the other for his own mega stone. The latter was much bulkier than the one he’d worn to assist Harbinger, but once he’d snapped it around his wrist without thinking it had shrunk as if it were made just for him. He’d picked it up when Harlequin had dropped it in the lake tunnels. The zorua had tripped, falling face down in the dirt and sending the bracelet bouncing into his foot. She’d been so devastated he wondered if she’d even been aware she was carrying it.


He had no idea whether Harlequin had feelings for Harbinger or not. All he knew was that when he was in her situation, she’d been there. She’d seen everything. Kera’s death. The way he’d murdered that braviary in blind fury. The way it had all broken him. His actions had clearly frightened her, yet she’d stuck by him. Perhaps she’d planned to leave when Hydreigon kicked all the females out of the barracks? She was a zorua. She could have used her illusion to slip out and leave the Shadow Lands behind. But instead, for some reason, she’d stayed. She’d stuck by him.

Neither of them had spoken about that night since. Enigma had never fully picked himself back up, but he’d put on a fake smile and got on with his training. He’d had every intention to spend the rest of his life in that prison. He’d deserved it. Now he’d been given a second chance. A new life.

And so had Harlequin.

He rubbed his paws over his face and groaned. Any time now, there was going to be a massive battle, and they were all needed. Was now really the time to be acting like a coward?

The old tiles crumbled as he pushed himself up, raining down into the clearing. Lichen clung to his fur and he dusted it off before warping through the roof into the ruin. He landed in the tunnel that lead to the nest rooms and he grunted. That had been a fortunate coincidence. The drone of voices echoed behind him from the sitting room, pointing him in the right direction. He followed the tunnel, torchlight making his shadow dance along the walls. Before long, he found himself standing outside Harlequin’s door.

He listened for a moment, but no sound came from within. He closed his eyes and took in a long breath to steady himself. Then he phased through the door.

Harlequin lay on her hay, her breathing steady. Sticky salt trails glistened on her cheeks in the guttering torchlight. Enigma took another breath then shifted suddenly, making his bell jingle. The zorua’s ear twitched and she cracked a sapphire eye open, fixing it on him. She stared at him for a moment, then shifted slightly.


“I’m sorry.” He glanced away from her and leaned back against the door. “About Harbinger… I…”

Fresh tears shone in the corners of Harlequin’s eyes and she closed them.

“I know you’re hurting,” Enigma went on. “I really shouldn’t have stormed off like that.”

“No.” Harlequin’s voice was husky and she licked her lips. “But it’s my fault you did.”

“How is it your fault?” Enigma failed to hide the exasperation in his voice and Harlequin flinched.

The zorua fidgeted her paws in the hay as she struggled to meet his eyes. “I should have told you everything much sooner.”

“I should have taken it better.” Enigma shrugged. “I mean, let’s face it, Harle. I’d kinda already figured it out before Xerneas confirmed it for me. But you’re right, you should have told me.” He rubbed a paw over his face and took in a breath. “Why didn’t you? I thought we were friends.”

Harlequin screwed her eyes shut as fresh tears broke free. She wound her small paw into the hay and her breaths shuddered with repressed sobs.

Enigma closed his eyes and clasped his paw over his mega stone. He rolled his head against the door to stare at the ceiling, trying to calm himself. Why did he fail so badly at this?

“I wanted to tell you.” Harlequin’s small voice broke through the silence. “Believe me, I really did! I thought about it a lot, Enigma. But I… I just couldn’t.” The final words blurred as a loud sob shook her and she sank face first into the hay.

Enigma kicked himself from the door and dropped at her side. His paw trembled as he held it over her back. What was he even meant to do?

He sighed and retracted his paw. “I’m not very good at this…”

Harlequin raised her head and blinked back tears as she met his eyes. She glanced from his face to his hesitant paw, then lurched from her nest into his shoulder. He fell sideways with a grunt as the air shot out of his lungs, and he rolled onto his back with the zorua sprawled over his chest. Harlequin buried her nose into his scarf with a sob and wound her paw into his mane.

Enigma hesitated for a heartbeat before letting his paw rest in her scruff. Harlequin tensed and he retracted his paw just as quickly.


“No, it’s fine,” Harlequin mumbled into his fur. “I… I need to get past it.”

Not really knowing what else to do with his paw he put it back and combed his claws through her fur in a bid to placate her. Harlequin didn’t relax but a sigh tickled his ear. Contentment or fear he couldn’t decide.

“Why didn’t you just leave?” he asked. “When they evicted all the females? You could have just gone. Put up your illusion and ran.”

“I thought about that,” she said. “It was either that or the Thieves Guild. But… well, I didn’t want to leave you on your own.” She paused to take in a trembling breath. “I thought you needed a friend.”

Enigma didn’t know how to take that. A friend wouldn’t have lied. He took a breath to steady himself and smoothed his claws through Harlequin’s coarse fur. “I really appreciate that, Harle. A lot. But given the circumstances it was a huge risk. What, did you just keep your illusion up the whole time?”

“Not around you.” Harlequin’s answer caused a jolt through Enigma. “I stopped using it around you years ago.”

Enigma cracked an eye open and stared at the small paw clutching his scarf. He took it gently in his claws, his own paw dwarfing hers. Harlequin curled her toes around his thumb claw, the bright blue contrasting with his dull grey. Why hadn’t he seen it before? The answer had been right in front of him.

“I wanted to tell you for so long,” she went on. “But I was so scared of what might happen to me if anyone else found out. And the longer I left it the harder it got…” She swallowed a sob as her words blurred again. “After what happened to Kera, I was scared I’d lost you. You just… changed. So much of you had broken away I felt I was struggling to hold what was left together. That if I said anything it would just…”

Enigma stared at the ceiling as Harlequin trailed off. It was like a hot blade had been shoved into his chest and twisted. “You were scared I’d hurt you?” His words were coated with venom and Harlequin tensed. He heard her breath freeze and she pulled her ears back.

“No.” Harlequin gulped and dug her claws into his paw pads. “I was scared I’d hurt you.”

Enigma scoffed and dropped her paw. “How would that have hurt me?!”

Harlequin whined and looped her forelegs tightly around his neck, burying her face into his mane. Sobs shook her small body and Enigma took a few breaths as he recited his own words in his head.

Harlequin voiced his own answer for him. “Because it has! Look at us!” Her voice trailed off in a long whine.

How could he be such an idiot? He held the quaking zorua to his chest as her hysterical wails echoed around the room.

“It’s my own fault!” she sobbed. “I let you believe a lie for too long! And… and I’m so sorry. I should never have done that. I know… I know that you’d never hurt me. But anytime anyone touches me it just… makes me remember everything!”

Enigma blinked at the ceiling. Even now he could still feel that young, frightened zorua’s jaws fastening around his paw. He closed his eyes and stifled a groan. It all made so much sense. Her fear of evolution and the drastic measures she went to in order to prevent it. How she’d jump if he so much as brushed her. The image of a frightened zorua cub cowering away from him with her tail tucked tightly between her legs burned into his mind until it was all he could see, and a hot anger blazed inside his chest.

“It’s probably for the best that you killed your father,” he said slowly, staring at the ceiling again. Harlequin tensed in his arms and her sobbing cut off into a sniffle. “Because if you hadn’t, then I would.”


“No one does that to their own kid.”

“Enigma, no.” Harlequin shifted slightly, pressing her nose against his jaw. “Don’t talk like that. What I did was wrong.”

“He deserved it.”

“Then so do we.”

Harlequin’s words sent a jolt through Enigma and the blind rage cleared enough for him to see the ceiling. He closed his eyes and sighed.

“I robbed him of redemption,” Harlequin went on. “He did terrible things, but so did we. And we got a second chance. He’ll never get that same chance now because of me.”

Enigma rubbed his paw pads over his face. “Since when did you become so humbling?”

He’d expected a laugh from the zorua but instead he just got silence. It made him feel hollow inside. But at least she wasn’t crying anymore. He kept one arm fastened over her shoulder while he rubbed his brow with his free paw.

“I’ve lost you, haven’t I?” Harlequin asked in a small, weak voice.

“What are you talking about?” Enigma groaned.

“After this… after we finish this battle. We’ll be parting ways, won’t we?”


“Because of what I’ve done to you. Lied to you.”

“Harle, think over your own words for a sec.” Enigma placed his paw over hers. “What you did was wrong, but I get it. And if you can forgive your father for all he did to you, then I should be able to forgive you for trying to protect yourself.”

A soft sniffle sounded near his ear.

“Harlequin, look at me.”

When she didn’t move, he released her paw to guide her face to his. The sadness and pain in her sapphire eyes shattered that hot blade in his chest like glass. Tears pricked his own eyes and he lowered her nose to his.

“Harle… I promise I’ll never leave you or abandon you. Okay?”

A small gasp came from the zorua and he felt a few tears land on his muzzle. “You heard me…”

He gave a small nod.

Harlequin flopped back onto him, rubbing her muzzle against his cheek. Her tears mixed with his and he held her against him, reluctant to let her go.

A soft whisper brushed his ear. “Thank you.”

He nuzzled her neck in response, his mind drifting back to that dark night. Harlequin’s presence had been like a ray of moonlight. She’d held true to her promise. She’d stuck by him. He’d even begun to think of her as a younger sibling who, at times, seemed more mature and forward thinking than the impulsive banette. She’d even saved his life on more than one occasion, delivering him a firm rebuttal afterwards. Something stirred within his gut as he realised he’d never actually told her how he felt.

“Thank you, too, Harle.” He felt a flick against his cheek as her ears pricked up. “For never giving up on me.”

Her tail thudded against his leg a few times and she nosed his cheek. “Of course.”
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Chapter 76


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
76 - A Call to Arms​

Yurlik landed heavily in the bough of an ancient elm. He spread his wings to steady himself as the branch creaked ominously beneath him. His breaths puffed from his gaping beak, misting in the cold night air, but pride filled his chest. He’d made it. He’d flown for fifteen minutes and only now needed to land to catch his breath.

A dry chuckle came from the branches above him and he jerked his head up to meet Ilana’s mocking grin. A few jeering murkrow gathered around her, chuckling under their breaths.

“You look proud of yourself,” Ilana crooned. “Almost like one of my girls after she managed to reach the highest twigs in our tree.”

“I’ve been flying for longer than you have!” Yurlik spat, ruffling his feathers. “Spread out, Ilana. We need to find these pokemon and fast.”

Ilana spread her wings and cast a glare at Yurlik. “Still worried he’s gonna turn you into a lawn ornament?” She beat her wings and rose effortlessly from the tree.

Yurlik rose up beneath her, whipping up the wind around him. “I think we’re still both at risk, now spread out!” He gasped a few times to catch his breath. “And take your females with you!”

He motioned to the small number of male murkrow and swerved away from Ilana across the canopy. A few jeers came from the female flock, but they were soon out of earshot. Yurlik muttered under his breath and stopped to land high up in a tree, hoping he was out of Ilana’s sight.

It had been little more than a day since those rebels and Outcasts had escaped the Shadow Lands. Little more than a day since Hydreigon was turned to stone. The large dragon still resided in his throne room, serving as a perch for Yveltal. The wicked bird’s icy blue gaze shone in Yurlik’s mind and he shuddered, puffing out his feathers against the sudden chill. Deep down he didn’t want to return to the Shadow Lands, but if he wanted to earn his place at Yveltal’s side, safe from his deadly breath, then he needed to find those pokemon and return with them.

Yurlik’s chest burned with exertion. For years his murkrow had done his work for him. Now he was feeling the toll. He spread his wings to take off again when a small movement caught his eye. Moonlight glinted off something sparkling on the woodland floor. A shadow moved among the bracken, plucking at the dry fronds. Yurlik narrowed his eyes and lowered his head, trying to bring the creature into focus. His birds moved around him, following his gaze.

One of them spoke close to his ear. “I think that’s a rebel, boss.”

Yurlik shot from the tree towards the shadow, his talons outstretched. The gleaming gem-like eyes of a sableye locked onto him. The pokemon let out a shrill cry and vanished in a puff of smoke. Yurlik’s claws caught dirt as he struck the ground like a boulder, knocking the wind from his lungs. His wings flailed, scattering black feathers. Murkrow spiralled around his head, their red eyes darting left and right as they tried to spot their quarry.

Yurlik sucked in a long breath and tucked in his wings, turning his head to spot the sableye. Seeing nothing, a loud tut left his beak.

“Spread out!” He waved a wing, scattering his birds. “Find that outlaw! Where there’s one there’ll be loads more! I want to find their hideout!”

The murkrow cawed their obedience and spread their thin numbers across the canopy.

Yurlik growled to himself as he strutted over the ground, peering into the undergrowth. A sableye? This far from the Shadow Mountains? He thought Hydreigon had wiped them out years ago. And the absol, too. Yet one had shown up with Harlequin in the Shadow Lands only the night before. How many stragglers had managed to get away? And if the ghosts and absol had made it, then what about the rest of the pokemon Hydreigon had deemed a threat and ‘wiped out’?

Cleo embraced the night air as she surfaced, alone, from the little ruin. Mischief had wanted space, refusing to join her, Spark and Faith for the evening meal. The outlaws had been quiet and conversation had been stilted, even with Faith’s cheerful demeanour and stories of the Fairy Garden. Tinker had seemed more tolerant, although he avoided encouraging Faith’s stories. He’d been outnumbered since Hope and her friends from the Fairy Garden had been sharing their own stories. To Cleo, Tinker had seemed humbled yet also rather frustrated. He kept himself to himself, speaking only with Starshine and Ripwing. He’d only spoken to Cleo to enquire how Mischief was. The word of his poisoning had got around the small hideout pretty quickly.

Cleo hugged her arms around herself and looked up at the night sky. Stars blinked down at her from beside a half-moon. She knew the barrier was there, shielding them from the prying eyes of the Darkness, but the distant call of murkrow still sent a shudder through her and she backed up into the cool stone wall. Reshiram’s deep voice rumbled from the other side of the ruin and she looked up to see his feathery back. The strange pokemon with the pointy hat stood with him, standing beside Hope while speaking in a low voice. Faith had introduced her as Grace, a hatterene. But Cleo couldn’t remember seeing such a pokemon in the Fairy Garden. Grace was quiet and reserved, remaining outside with Reshiram most of the time.

A small movement drew Cleo’s eye and she looked down at NyukNyuk peering at her from her feet.

“Good evening.” Cleo crouched to meet the little pokemon’s twinkling eyes.

NyukNyuk chattered at her in his own unusual tongue.

Cleo smiled despite not knowing what he’d said. “They’re still eating if you want to join them?”

“He won’t join them.” Grace’s cool voice cut off NyukNyuk before he could answer.

Cleo rose back up and craned her neck to meet Grace’s stare. The hatterene stood over her, her expression unreadable. Reshiram peered at them over the roof of the building. NyukNyuk’s litte chatter reached Cleo’s ears as Hope slowly moved towards them, a smile on her peaceful face.

“That’s nice of you to offer, Cleo.” The gardevoir motioned to the white dragon. “NyukNyuk told you he won’t leave Reshiram, as he is much too large to enter the hideout.”

Cleo nodded her understanding.

“Why are you outside?” Hope asked.

“I needed some air.” Cleo leaned back against the wall and hugged her arms around herself. “Xerneas said we’re about to enter a battle, and… well…” She found herself listening to the murkrow again. Dread bubbled up inside her.

Reshiram lumbered towards them, his large feet oddly quiet on the thick blanket of rotting leaves. “I understand, Cleo. Things are escalating at an alarming pace.”

“After so many years of living like this…” Cleo took in a long breath. “It feels rather out of the blue.”

The other pokemon were silent for a heartbeat.

“It feels the same to us, as well.” Grace turned to follow Cleo’s gaze into the canopy. “We always knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any less surprising.”

“Is it our fault?” Cleo asked, drawing their gazes. “Because we went into the Shadow Lands?”

“You angering Yveltal has nothing to do with it,” said Reshiram. “The battle was always on the horizon.”

“You made a mistake,” said Grace. “One that could have been avoided, but the battle is coming because Yveltal has awoken, not because you tried to take matters into your own paws.”

Despite the calm note in the hatterene’s voice Cleo still couldn’t help feeling like she was being scolded. She looked away from the taller pokemon and caught NyukNyuk’s beaming smile.

“I feel like we’ve pulled you all into this.” Cleo grimaced and clenched her fists. “I’m sorry.”

“Your apology was already accepted,” said Hope. “Try not to dwell in pity, Cleo, and focus on the task ahead.”

“Yes,” Grace added. “It was an unfortunate mistake, and you had the best of intentions for Estellis.”

“But what about Harbinger?” Cleo closed her eyes and sighed. “If we hadn’t gone in there-”

NyukNyuk brushed against Cleo’s leg as he huddled up to her, chirruping sadly. She looked from the mimikyu to Reshiram and Grace. The white dragon’s head feathers drooped and he lowered his head.

“You are right, Cleo,” he said softly. “It was an unfortunate loss. But we should be glad we are only one soldier down for this battle.”

“I fear it’s worse than that,” said Cleo. “It’s broken Harlequin. She’s not left her room since we returned. Enigma seems out of sorts as well. I mean, he lost his partner.” She gave a weak shrug. “I really don’t think we’re ready.”

Reshiram closed his eyes and sighed, turning his head away. Grace and Hope exchanged glances, then Grace caught Cleo’s eye.

“You’ll have to be,” the hatterene said bluntly. She grimaced and her expression softened. “If it helps, I don’t feel ready either.” She paused and exchanged a glance with Hope. “None of us do.”

Reshiram shook his head sadly. “I don’t want to alarm you, Cleo, but it’s happening soon. Xerneas will come to gather us all shortly, and we all need to be ready.”

Cleo’s mouth turned dry and she stared wordlessly at the white dragon.

Hope placed a warm paw on Cleo’s shoulder. “Get some rest. You’re going to need it.”

Cleo nodded and bade the group ‘good night’ as she turned back into the ruin. A few raucous cries came from the murkrow and she flinched, jerking her head towards the canopy. A few black shadows soared overhead, not even glancing down into the clearing. She silently thanked Xerneas the barrier was working and hurried underground.

Pokemon were still gathered in the sitting room when she entered. Mint gave her a stiff wave and returned to her conversation with Tantrum and Tinker. Starshine lay curled up on the floor, his soft snores drowned out by their hushed conversation. A few sounds came from the makeshift kitchen and, as Cleo passed it, she spotted Faith helping Razorclaw to clear up the dishes. Cleo could hear the sandslash’s rasping voice as he chatted with Faith, as at ease around her as most pokemon seemed to be.

Cleo poked her head into the small room and waved a paw. “I’m heading to bed, Faith.” Her voice wavered and she cleared her throat to hide it.

The mawile waved back at her. “Good night, Cleo! I’ll be joining you shortly myself, but I’ll avoid waking you.”

“Me too.” Spark was stood on the worktop beside a water bucket, clutching a tatty towel. She raised an eyebrow at the meowstic. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Cleo lied. “I’ll see you soon then?”

Spark nodded, but her expression told Cleo her lie hadn’t landed and she’d be quizzed on it later.

Cleo backed out of the kitchen and followed the corridor to the nest rooms. She nudged her door open and stepped inside, the scent of stale hay washing over her. Mischief’s orange eyes locked onto her from beside the wall. He’d barely moved, but the sitrus peels next to him told her he’d eaten at least.

“How are you feeling?” Cleo asked conversationally as she shrugged off her satchel.

Mischief grunted and rubbed his chest. “Better.” He watched as Cleo set her bag against the wall and moved to the nest. “What about the bracelet?”

Cleo turned her head towards him and her eyes fell on the collar still fastened around his neck. “You still want me to wear it after what Xerneas said?”

“Of course I do!” he spat.

Cleo flinched back and a look of regret crossed Mischief’s face. He took a breath and rubbed his face with both paws.

“I’m still sick, Cleo. I’m still a danger to you until I know for a fact I can control this.”

Cleo sighed quietly and reached for her bag to retrieve the bracelet. “I understand. But Xerneas did say you’ve already controlled it once.”

“Yes. Once.” Mischief looked away from her as if seeing her fasten the bracelet around her wrist caused him physical pain.

A tense silence fell over them, broken only by the snap of the bracelet. Cleo shoved her satchel back against the wall and lay on her back in the hay.

“I don’t want to fight, Cleo.”

She rolled her head in the hay to look at Mischief but he was staring away from her at the door.

“This war…” He took a long breath. “It scares me.”

Cleo closed her eyes briefly. “I think it scares all of us.”

“What if we lose?”

“We can’t.” Cleo stared up at the ceiling and let her arms fall at her sides. “Not with Xerneas fighting alongside us.”

Mischief nodded and shuffled back against the wall. “Once we win… do you think he’ll cure me?”

“I don’t know,” said Cleo. “You could ask him?”

Mischief nodded again and hugged his knees to his chest.

“You should get some sleep,” said Cleo. “You’ll need it. There’s enough hay here.”

“Ripwing said this virus struggles to pass itself on through contact.” He didn’t look at her, instead staring at his feet. “What if that’s all it is?”

“Huh?” Cleo pushed herself up on one elbow. “What are you talking about?”

“What if these feelings aren’t really mine?” Tears shone in his eyes but he still refused to look at her. “What if it’s just this pokerus trying to spread itself to you?”

Cleo’s ears drooped. “Oh, Mischief…” Her voice trailed off as she thought back to the events in the frozen cave. How delusional and fevered the whimsicott had been. But afterwards, when she’d fastened the collar on him, he’d definitely been lucid. She raised a paw to her ear where he’d brushed his claws along it and closed her eyes. “I don’t think that’s the case.”

“We don’t know-”

“Xerneas said the pokerus you were born with destroyed that evil parasite,” she told him. “It’s gone, Mischief.”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “Until I’m certain… then I don’t think I should be too close to you.” He paused to wipe a paw across his eyes. “I don’t want to hurt either of us.”

Cleo pushed herself up and began tugging a huge wad of hay free from the nest. She bundled it into her arms and carried it the few steps to Mischief’s side. His hunched form seemed so small and lost in that little room. All she wanted to do was drop the hay and throw her arms around him, to hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay. The resistance to her bracelet was all that stopped her from doing so. She set the hay beside him, drawing his eye.

“Okay, I understand.” Her voice cracked but she forced a sad smile. “Just… please don’t sleep on the floor.”

He placed a paw beside hers on the hay bundle. “Thank you.”

Cleo returned to her nest with a heavy feeling inside her chest and turned so her back was to Mischief. Tears stung her eyes and she let them flow, curling her tails around herself. She tried to still her breathing, feigning sleep. She didn’t want him to hear her cry. He was upset enough as it was.

Both Mischief and her conversation earlier that night vied for attention in her mind, swirling it into chaos. She desperately tried to clear it away, to think about nothing and get some much needed rest. For a while she thought she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. It was only when a dedenne made herself at home in her tails did Cleo realise she’d been dozing. She met Spark’s large eyes and curled herself around the tiny pokemon.

“Is something wrong?” Spark mumbled into her fur.

Mischief… the upcoming battle… Cleo didn’t know where to begin. Instead, she huddled the little dedenne, just grateful her friend was there, and succumbed to sleep once more.


A light knock at the door broke through the fog of sleep into Enigma’s mind. The banette stirred, growing aware of the weight pinning him to the ground. Warm breath stirred the fur around his ear in rhythm with soft snores. His fur was still sticky with tears and he shifted a paw from around Harlequin’s neck to wipe them away.

The zorua stirred, her ears pricking as the knock came again. As she raised her head her muzzle brushed against Enigma’s and a strangled gasp left her throat. She shifted her weight off him, wriggling from beneath his other arm while muttering an apology.

Enigma reclaimed his arm and pushed himself up, running a paw through his mane. His claws caught in tangles and he tugged them free with an erratic jingle.

Harlequin shuffled her paws on the floor and yawned. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

Enigma shrugged. “Eh.” He caught her eye and grinned. “At least you slept.”

“Yeah.” Harlequin cast him a nervous smile which faltered as the knocking sounded again further down the corridor. “Thanks.”

Enigma shrugged again and watched as Harlequin rose to her feet and plodded towards the door. “How are you feeling?”

The zorua paused and glanced back at him. “A little sore.”

Enigma playfully scoffed and rubbed at his chest. “I’m not that scrawny, Harle.”

Harlequin laughed and shook her head slowly. Her voice wavered as she said, “You know what I mean.” She watched her paw as she trailed it over the ground. “It’s still my fault Harbie is…”

“Harle.” Enigma pushed himself to his feet and joined the zorua’s side. “I didn’t know Harbinger for long, but I know him enough to understand he felt he needed to make things right with you. He wouldn’t have agreed to go into the Shadow Lands with you at all if he didn’t think he were doing just that.” He met Harlequin’s teary sapphire eyes. “You’ll see him again in the Fairy Garden once this war is done with.”

“I know. Thanks, Enigma.” Harlequin took in a wobbly breath and turned to the door. “Someone wants us. Let’s go.”

Enigma opened the door and let Harlequin out first. She kept her head low and her tail hung limp behind her. Seeing her like that felt like someone had turned a knife in Enigma’s chest. He tugged the door closed behind them and tucked his paws behind his head as he followed after the zorua.

There was no sign of whoever had knocked on the door, but he caught a glimpse of Cleo as she hurried down the corridor with Spark perched on her shoulder and a sullen Mischief in tow. Harlequin trotted to catch up with the meowstic, leaving Enigma to fall into step beside Mischief.

“Morning,” he said as cheerfully as he could.

Mischief cast him a sideways glance and muttered a greeting of his own. Taking the hint, Enigma fell back and trailed behind the group as they flowed into the sitting room.

Mint looked up from clearing the coffee table as they entered. “Everyone is meeting outside. You’d better hurry up.”

“Will you be joining us?” Spark asked the grovyle.

“Now you lot are finally up, yeah.” Mint left the stack of plates on the table and joined Enigma’s side. She looked the banette up and down and her eyes narrowed. “You look like you’ve never met a brush in your life.”

Enigma closed his eyes and moved on ahead of her. “If I combed my mane then I’d lose my charm.” He punctuated that with a chuckle and followed the group up into the clearing.


All the pokemon that inhabited that little ruin were gathered in the clearing, mixing with the pokemon from the Fairy Garden. It was still night, with very few clouds in the sky. It set Cleo’s fur on end and she quickly scanned the protected canopy for any sign of murkrow. Reshiram stood amid everyone as Hope encouraged the gathered pokemon to sit down. Cleo found Faith and settled between her and NyukNyuk. The little mimikyu chirruped as Enigma joined them.

“Hey, little ghost dude!” Enigma met NyukNyuk’s spectral fist with a fist-bump. “Great to see you again!”

The mimikyu chattered at him, getting a nod from the banette as he settled himself down next to him.

Harlequin sat on Faith’s other side, her sapphire eyes fixed on Reshiram. “So what’s all this about? It seems important.”

“Reshiram called us all outside.” Faith’s expression suggested she knew more than she was willing to let on. “I guess he’ll tell us soon enough.”

Tinker sat apart from them with Starshine, Ripwing and the other outlaws. The riolu had his head close to Ripwing’s as they spoke quietly, drowned out by Mint’s raucous conversation with Tantrum. Gemly the sableye sat sandwiched between Ripwing and Vibrato, looking rather rattled. The pokemon from the Fairy Garden were making sure everyone was up and accounted for. Slips and Snails kept their distance from the outlaws, their wary eyes fixed on Reshiram. Slip said something to Snails that was drowned out by the nattering voices that filled the clearing.

Reshiram nodded his large, canine head and cast a glance around the gathered pokemon. “I think we’re all here now. Then I suggest-” He clapped his paws for silence, which sounded like a clap of thunder in the small clearing. “There is a lot to discuss here, and I want to do so in an orderly fashion! If you could all listen?”

The pokemon brought their conversations to a close. Reshiram found himself trapped in a circle of stares that were either curious or hostile. Either way, he didn’t crumble.

“I think you all know by now that there is more going on than just a war started by a power-hungry dragon,” he said.

“Is that why you’re really ‘ere?” Tantrum scoffed. “To fight a war that’s been goin’ on for centuries?” Reshiram’s expression softened and he opened his mouth to speak but Tantrum cut him off. “‘Cos I ain’t never seen a dragon like you before an’ ya just drop in, sayin’ you’ll help us?” He waved a paw at Hope. “And with a member of an extinct species, n’all!”

“Oh, gardevoir are not extinct, Tantrum.” Hope placed a paw on Reshiram’s wing and smiled at the vigoroth. “Right now kirlia and gardevoir are both out there gathering pokemon for Xerneas’ army, much like we are with you.” She cast a glance at Harlequin. “Not only because we were sent here to rescue Harlequin and her friends.”

Harlequin shifted uncomfortably and gazed out through the trees.

Tantrum grunted and leaned forwards on his knees. “We’ve ‘eard a lot about this Xerneas but not a whole lot about what’s actually goin’ on!”

The rest of the gathered pokemon chimed in with agreement and nods of their own. Questions rose into the air in an incoherent chatter. Reshiram turned his head left and right, his eyes widening as he lost control of the rabble. He clapped his paws together again for silence then, when that failed, opened his jaws and roared.

The group fell silent in an instant, watching the large dragon warily. A few cautious glances were cast towards the canopy.

“There will be time for questions after,” Reshiram said softly. “But if you’ll let me explain, then-”

“I’ve had enough of this!” Tinker rose to his feet, drawing a surprised ‘eep!’ from Starshine. He met Reshiram’s blue eyes and balled his fists. “I came here looking for help! Starshine and I were exiled from our own home, so I came to seek help from the only pokemon who would understand! Yet you waltz in here ushering us to fight in a war that’s been going on since before I was even born! A war that left me, as a child, looking after a massive group of frightened pokemon! So why now?!”

Reshiram’s warm gaze fought against the icy air radiating off the seething riolu. “Because the time has finally come to end it, Tinker.”

Tinker stood breathing heavily, his livid gaze still locked on the dragon. Hope waved a paw to draw his attention, and Tinker bared a canine at the gardevoir.

“You see,” she said slowly, “everyone has forgotten the fairy-type ever existed. Yet three of them have been helping you this whole time. Faith, Mischief and Spark.”

“Spark?” Tinker jerked his head towards the dedenne.

Spark blinked a couple of times from Cleo’s shoulder and twitched her whiskers. “Oh yeah!” She dragged a paw down her face. “Oh man, so much has happened I clean forgot!”

Faith chuckled and placed a paw on Spark’s back. “So you finally figured it out?”

Spark looked up at the mawile. “You knew?!”

“I had my suspicions.” Faith smiled at the little dedenne. “But I could have been wrong.”

“Starshine as well,” Hope went on, meeting the altaria’s bright eyes. “Starshine’s mega evolution allows him to take on the fairy-type, granting him immunity to dragon-type attacks which would otherwise prove a problem. And his ability during mega evolution works much the same as mine, turning hyper voice into a fairy-type move. Yet most of you here had never even heard of mega evolution before we arrived. Much like the fairy-type, you have forgotten about it. Yet there are some of you here who, once you’ve fully evolved, will be able to mega evolve yourselves!”

Mint and Tantrum pointed at each other, then looked around at the rest of the group, their gazes lingering on Harlequin and Tinker.

“And in forgetting the fairy-type,” said Reshiram, “you’ve forgotten about the evil in this world. Right now, scouts for the Darkness are searching for us in these woods.” His gaze rested on Gemly who, despite his trembling, flashed the dragon a grin. “For now, our barrier will deter them but we must act fast. Yveltal has awoken, and we need to stop him.”

“Wait, that shadowy bird thing Faith told us about?!” Tantrum gasped.

Mint almost leapt to her feet. “It’s real?!”

“Yes, it is very real,” Reshiram told them. “But by using the fairy-type and mega evolution, our gifts from Xerneas, he is no threat to us. We can end this war.”

Ripwing gave a derisive snort. “What we saw him do to his own allies seemed like a threat.”

“You’ve seen it?” Mint turned to Ripwing, her eyes wide. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’ve been a little pre-occupied,” Ripwing hissed at her, nodding his head to Starshine.

Mint paled and sank back against the tree. “I don’t know about this. It’s all… too much…”

“We can do it.” The soft, deep voice drew everyone’s eye back to Reshiram. But it wasn’t the dragon who’d spoken.

Xerneas stepped from the trees, wildflowers springing up around his hooves. The pokemon fell silent as he entered the clearing, stopping beside his dragon friend.

Reshiram let out a long breath and lowered his head in a respectful bow. “Thank you, Xerneas. I felt like I was losing control of the situation a little there.”

“You were doing fine, Reshiram.” Xerneas nodded at him then turned to address the gathered pokemon. “I just felt I would like to address them myself.”

Tinker huddled back against the tree he’d been leaning against, stuttering, his eyes impossibly wide.

Xerneas met his stare and nodded once. A warm smile spread across his muzzle. “We finally meet. Thank you for looking after Starshine for me.”

Tinker’s jaw went slack and for a moment Cleo feared he might faint. Starshine raised his head, staring at Xerneas with a million questions bright in his eyes.

Cleo turned to Xerneas and dipped her head, drawing a smile from the majestic stag. “What do you mean, Xerneas? Did you bring Starshine to us?”

“I wanted to give the Outcasts a little light in this darkness.” Xerneas turned his head towards Starshine. “As Tinker believed, Starshine will certainly help in the coming battle.”

Tinker raised a paw to his head and leaned back against the tree. “I don’t believe it…” His voice was oddly weak, almost inaudible.

“But Starshine is just one of many fighting in this war.” Xerneas turned to address the rest of the pokemon. “By dawn, a large army will be amassing in the Border Woods. As you all know, Yveltal has awoken. His evil has been spreading across Estellis since the day he was banished from the Fairy Garden. Pokemon have been corrupted by his lies, and moved away from me, forgetting the fairy-type even exists. But you here are among the many who have come to see the light.

“By dusk tomorrow, the Darkness will be no more. Yveltal will fall. All of you gathered here have been chosen to lead the charge on the Shadow Lands, and I will personally be leading you all.”

Gasps exploded through the clearing, and Ripwing stood up beside Tinker. “Us lead the charge?! Wouldn’t it make more sense to use pokemon from the Fairy Garden? Most of us here aren’t even fairy-types!”

A warm smile radiated from Xerneas’ face, and humour shone in his eyes. “You don’t need to be a fairy-type to stand against Yveltal, Ripwing. You just have to believe in me.”

Ripwing let out a single laugh. “And belief will win this war?”

“Belief will give you strength,” said Xerneas.

Ripwing fell silent and settled back down. He diverted his gaze as he mulled over Xerneas’ words.

“How large is this army?” It was Mint who’d spoken, drawing everyone’s attention.

Xerneas turned to address her. “Much larger than Yveltal’s.”

This seemed to placate Mint. She nodded and folded her arms. “So we stand a chance?”

“My dear Mint, we would stand a chance if my army were only a fraction of Yveltal’s. He lost this war before it even started.” Xerneas turned his head to address the rest of the gathering. “Will you all fight alongside me?”

The clearing was silent for a moment as everyone exchanged glances. Cleo suddenly felt very uncertain. Was it really happening already?

“I will.” Starshine rose to his feet and spread his wings to steady himself.

“Starshine!” Tinker gasped.

“I want to help you,” Starshine told Xerneas. “It doesn’t matter if pokemon don’t like me because I’m a dragon. I will still help them fight against Yveltal.”

Tinker stood up beside his adopted son. “Well, it’s what we’ve been training for, isn’t it, Starshine? I’ll fight too.”

Mischief stood up next, drawing Cleo to her feet. More voices of agreement spread throughout the clearing as pokemon agreed to their part in the battle. Xerneas’ smile broadened as he took in his growing army. Their voices blurred together as they began discussing the upcoming fight among themselves.

Tinker broke away from the crowd, his movements becoming more shrewed as he approached Xerneas. “I have a question.”

Xerneas looked down at the riolu. “Ask.”

“Why now?” Tinker raised his paws in a weak shrug. “Pokemon have been suffering for so long. Why wait until now to fight this war?”

“My pokemon have been fighting alongside you for centuries,” said Xerneas. “Pokemon like Hope and Faith have been leaving the safety of the Fairy Garden to help you.”

“I understand that,” said Tinker. “But now you’ve decided to destroy Yveltal. Hydreigon has been harassing us for much longer.”

“Hydreigon has been at the mercy of Yveltal’s lies.” A small smile appeared on Xerneas’ muzzle. “I understand your frustration, Tinker. But time moves much differently in the Fairy Garden. What has been several lifetimes for you has been a drop in the bucket for me. But it has been desperately needed. So many pokemon fell away when Yveltal was exiled. They succumbed to his lies, and have been led astray.”

“Maybe so, but if he’d been destroyed to begin with then no one would have had to suffer through all this!”

“He was defeated, Tinker, but once his lies had infiltrated Estellis then they spread like a disease. He brought death and suffering with his betrayal and rejection. He led so many astray. Like I said, if I had ended the war sooner then so many would have been robbed of their chance at redemption. For it is only in the darkest of nights when the moon and the stars are at their brightest.”

He motioned to the sky and Tinker craned his neck back instinctively. Millions of stars spread like a blanket above the canopy beside a bright half-moon.

“The sun symbol you wear is indicative of the light you’ve been seeking,” Xerneas continued. “A direct contrast to what the Darkness represents. But you’ve been blinded to the plight of others. Take the Heretics. They wear a moon on their shoulders, again a splash of light in the darkness. But you rejected them a long time ago, accusing them of being blinded by the Darkness and serving Hydreigon, when only a small number of them actually partook in such things. Then there’s your friend Harlequin, who if it weren’t for meeting Cleo and stumbling across Gleamgrove Abbey would still be suffering now.”

Tinker followed Xerneas’ gaze to the small zorua happily chatting with Cleo, Spark, Faith and Enigma.

“You didn’t trust her,” Xerneas went on, “yet she fought to earn the trust of her Outcast allies. And there’s Enigma, too. Another former assassin who, like Harlequin, served Hydreigon closely for many years.” Xerneas turned his head to meet Tinker’s gaze. “If I had brought this war to an end earlier, Tinker, then those two would never have been saved. Two lives wasted among countless others.”

Tinker screwed his eyes shut and sucked in a sharp breath. “This isn’t easy for me, Xerneas-”

“You were betrayed by your friend,” Xerneas said softly. “And you have now seen that from the perspective of a father, as Starshine was rejected from New City.” He directed Tinker’s gaze to Starshine who stood talking to Reshiram and Ripwing. “You have seen the good in Starshine, and these outlaws too. Try to see the good in others who want to change.”

Tinker took in a long breath and relaxed his paws. “I’ll do my best.”

“You will have many chances to do so.” Xerneas smiled. “You will meet many more former members of the Darkness in this coming battle, and many will finally see the light during it, too.”
Chapter 77 New


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
77 - Dark to Light​

Something was very wrong. Yveltal had felt it as a wave of anxiety flowed through his body. He paced back and forth in the throne room, stopping occasionally to preen his wing feathers. The second he’d felt it, he’d sent his rattata attendants out into the Border Woods to bring Yurlik and Ilana back to the Shadow Lands. If the Fairy Garden was moving, then he needed to be prepared to meet them.

They would not win.

He would not let them win.

Faint caws reached his ears and he raised his head. Anger boiled in his chest and he poked a canine from his beak. “Finally.”

With a swipe of his wing he pushed open the door and marched out of the castle. The Shadow Lands were already gathering in the courtyard. Dragons and dark-types spread out across the sandy ground, pressed together as they tried to get close enough to hear what Yveltal had to say. Yet more were pouring from the barracks towards the edges of the large crowd. Dopey deino rushed back and forth, crashing into the rabble of pokemon that had intruded on their space. Shouts of protest and anger exploded from the various assassins, soldiers and thieves. Yurlik and Ilana landed with their flocks on the castle roof, perching precariously on the long thorns that jutted from the black marble.

Yveltal strutted down the steps, his claws clicking on the stone. The voices rumbled into silence as all eyes turned onto the large, black bird. Looks of fear and awe reflected back at him in the waning light. A few pokemon dropped to their knees in reverence.

Yveltal tucked in his wings and fluffed out his chest feathers. “I’ve called you all here because it would seem our enemy is planning to rise against us.”

Silence washed over the courtyard. The deino stopped their rampaging to sniff the air, disturbed by the sudden change in the atmosphere.

A krookodile stood near the front shifted a large foot over the dry earth. “What makes you say that?”

“They’re losing,” a liepard added.

Yveltal’s canines flashed in the moonlight. He opened his beak to speak, but Yurlik’s raucous voice cut him off.

“Forgive me, my lord.” The honchkrow paused to clear his throat, masking a flinch as Yveltal fixed an icy eye on him. “But we didn’t see anything in the Border Woods. Just the occasional outlaw.”

Ilana nodded. “They vanished before we could track them down. We have no idea where they’re hiding.”

“So you have no idea how many there are!” Yveltal growled.

“So… what makes you think they’re moving against us?” Yurlik raised a wing in a weak shrug. “If they were, surely we’d have seen them by now?”

Yveltal’s throat burned as darkness flooded up it. “Do you think I just pulled this delusion out of the air?! Do you think I’m merely paranoid?!” Dark energy leaked from between his teeth and Yurlik let out a flustered caw.

“No, my lord, I-”

“I can sense it, you useless bird!” Yveltal spat red and black flames.

The courtyard leapt into chaos as the deino rampaged back and forth. Yveltal opened his beak to ready his attack on Yurlik. The giant raven hopped back with a caw, almost losing his balance on his perch. Yveltal’s attack spluttered out as something warm and scaly crashed into his leg, almost upending him off the stairs. He jerked his head towards it, spewing red and black darkness. A large deino became trapped in it and all the colour drained from his body. His life force flowed through Yveltal, warming his wings. He spread them with a sigh and took a step back.

“There.” He took a long breath. “I feel much better.”

Everyone had fallen silent, save for one deino who rushed towards the steps. All eyes were fixed on the statue or the rampaging deino racing towards Yveltal. The small dragon crashed into the stony rump of his brother, cracking the stone and bringing his rampage to an abrupt stop.

“Ouch!” The deino staggered backwards, shaking his head. He raised a paw gingerly to his sore snout. “Who put that wall there?”

Yveltal ignored him, raising his head to address the quaking gathering. “I hope I’ve made my point?”

Silence greeted him as a few more pokemon dropped to their knees. Then more. Krookodile, krokorok, weavile, pangoro, druddigon, haxorus… It was like a wave washing over the crowd.

A small smirk quirked the edges of Yveltal’s beak, but it was fleeting. “Life in the Shadow Lands as you’ve known it is about to come to an abrupt end! If you want to continue your cushy lifestyle, I suggest you rally yourselves to face the oncoming army. Every second of training you’ve endured in your short lives will be put to the test! I want all of you to form into troops and spread out into the Border Woods! Greet our enemy and stop them before they reach the Shadow Lands!” Yveltal narrowed his eyes. “Have I made myself clear?”

A few nods and mutters of agreement came from the crowd. The krookodile who had addressed Yveltal earlier began motioning to the soldiers surrounding him and they peeled off from the group. Other higher ranking pokemon copied his stead but most remained standing before Yveltal, confusion and uncertainty on their faces.

Yveltal burned with anger and dark energy flickered between his teeth. “I said ‘have I made myself clear?’!”

The group scattered, breaking apart into assassins, soldiers and thieves. Even the deino rallied themselves as they took off towards the lake.

Yveltal marched through the throng and spread his wings. “We leave in an hour! I want you all ready, or you’ll be decorating the castle beside Hydreigon and that foolish deino. Now move!”

Unseen by Yveltal, Yurlik exchanged nervous glances with Ilana.

“Do you believe him?” Ilana voice wavered.

Yurlik snorted, masking his anxiety at managing to avoid being turned to stone. He had to force himself not to look at the frozen deino. “Do we have a choice?”

“We didn’t see a thing out there.” Ilana spread a wing towards the Border Woods. “Even if there was a battle, can we really win it? The Darkness’ army isn’t what it once was, is it?”

“Then let’s just hope he’s wrong.” Yurlik ruffled his feathers and hopped from his perch to the roof. “Gather your birds, Ilana. Before you join that hapless deino down there.”

Ilana huffed and turned from Yurlik. The two honchkrow cawed commands to their murkrow, rallying themselves for battle. A battle both of them hoped wouldn’t come.


Cleo stood outside the ruin with the rest of her new allies. Mischief remained in the entrance to the ruin, but she could feel his eyes on her as she moved further into the clearing. It was teeming with so many pokemon that Hope had to lead the psychic-types out to expand their protective barrier. The kirlia had brought more pokemon to them as the sun finished setting, although it was difficult to say which were from the Fairy Garden. Many of them had the ability to fly, from familiar pokemon like pidgeot, swanna and talonflame, to those less familiar. Cleo found herself gazing at a tall green bird called a xatu, one she’d only seen in old drawings. A small dog-like creature with green wings for ears marched back and forth with some level of authority, motioning the pokemon she was leading. ‘Shaymin’, Faith had called her.

Warm fur brushed against Cleo’s hip and she looked down at Harlequin. Enigma stood on the zorua’s other side, his arms folded behind his head as he watched the pokemon mingling together.

Harlequin’s sapphire eyes wandered over the clearing. “It’s really something, huh?”

“You’re telling me.” Spark shifted on Cleo’s shoulder. “It makes me feel like we stand a chance.”

Despite Xerneas’ words, Cleo couldn’t shake the doubt weighing heavily in her chest. The war was all she’d known. She’d grown up in it. It had destroyed her home. She’d seen so much suffering working for the Outcasts Guild. Could it really just end after one large battle? She wanted to tell Xerneas how worried she was, but after his talk he’d moved on to visit the other armies gathering nearby.

“I’m pretty scared, if I’m honest.” Harlequin shuffled her feet on the floor. “For so long I was fighting on the wrong side. Now… I’m fighting against what I used to stand for. I feel kind of unworthy.”

“You’re not alone there, Harle.” Enigma closed his eyes as he chuckled, but the nervous air hovering around him made it clear his words were sincere.

Cleo let out a long breath, feeling herself relax slightly. “I think we’re all scared.”

“Yeah.” Harlequin looked up at her and her tail wagged slowly. “Let’s just focus on the end of this battle.”

“All right!” Reshiram’s loud voice cut over the chaos of voices. Silence rippled out across the clearing as all eyes turned to the white dragon and the hatterene stood beside him. “We’re all here and more or less acquainted! Thank you for your assistance in this battle. Grace tells me that the Darkness is on its way towards the Border Woods. It is time for us to rise up against it!”

Cheers echoed across the clearing, and Cleo found her own voice rising with them.

“We’ll need to cover ground quickly!” Reshiram barked. “We have enough fliers here to carry those who can’t fly across the woods! Choose your wings!”

Pokemon broke away from their discussions to find a suitable flier, leaving a wide open space around Reshiram. ‘I think we’re all scared.’ Nobody else looked afraid. They all seemed ready to go. Harlequin gave Cleo a quick nod and followed Enigma towards Ripwing. Cleo barely noticed, her attention fixed on Reshiram as he returned to his discussion with Grace. Cleo’s paws moved towards the white dragon almost of their own accord.

“We need to find a flier, Cleo,” Spark hissed in her ear.

“I know,” Cleo replied. “I just want to quickly ask him something. I won’t be long.”

“But I had my eye on that big pidgeot.” Spark turned her head back towards the large bird. “Aww dang! Someone beat us already.”

Cleo muttered a half-hearted apology. Her heart was in her throat. She clasped the strap of her satchel to try and ground herself, to stop her mind from swirling. NyukNyuk hovered around Reshiram’s legs, chattering to Faith. The pair looked up as Cleo approached them.

Faith’s smile melted away at the worry on the meowstic’s face. She opened her mouth to speak, but Reshiram raised his head as he spotted Cleo.

“Why hello there!” A grin split his long muzzle. “I’d be honoured to fly you, Cleo. My back is big enough for you, NyukNyuk and Faith.”

“Oh thank goodness!” Spark sank with a sigh. Then she stood up again. “Wait… you mean me, too, right?”

Reshiram chuckled. “Of course!”

“Thank you, Reshiram.” Cleo’s tails twitched as she tried to summon the courage for her question. “That’s not… well… I actually wanted to talk to you.”

Reshiram’s smile melted at the seriousness in Cleo’s voice. He cast a glance to Grace who nodded and backed away.

“I’ll go and find my wings. Silver said he’d be happy to carry me.” She gave Cleo a friendly smile and moved silently away through the crowd.

Reshiram turned his warm eyes back onto Cleo. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just a… a little worried.” Cleo straightened and took a steadying breath. “This war has been going on for centuries. How can it just end in one night?”

Reshiram stared down at her as he mulled over her question. Cleo felt NyukNyuk’s little eyes on her as he shuffled beside Faith.

Spark shifted on Cleo’s shoulder and placed a paw on her cheek. “That’s been worryin’ me, too. I keep thinkin’ of when our homes were torched. That was years ago, and the Wildfires have done much more damage since, but Xerneas got rid of them, right?”

Cleo sighed, feeling a little lighter. “Yes. Yes, he did.”

“I can understand you’d be worried,” said Reshiram. “But Xerneas gave us his word we would win this battle, just like he gave you his word the Wildfires would be defeated. All wars have to end at some point.”

“Fear is natural.” Faith gave Cleo a small smile. “You’ve been through a lot, and seen some terrible things. And now you’re being asked to help end this war once and for all.” She folded her paws in front of her. “I admit I’m a little nervous myself! This is the biggest battle I’ll ever be in, and hopefully it will be the last.”

Cleo felt the weight lift from her shoulders and she smiled at her friends. “Thanks. It feels better knowing pokemon from the Fairy Garden feel the same.”

A deep chuckle rose from Reshiram’s throat. “Oh don’t you worry about that! I’m practically quaking! But rest assured that Xerneas has prepared each and every one of us for this battle. Yveltal will not win.”

NyukNyuk chattered at them. He folded his spectral arms and closed his eyes, drawing a giggle from Faith.

Reshiram wagged a claw at the little mimikyu. “That’s a fib and you know it! I can tell when you’re afraid, NyukNyuk. Your disguise gets all floppy.”

NyukNyuk’s torso rotated left and right as he shook his head in mock defiance.

Reshiram rolled his eyes and turned back to Cleo. “Like we were saying, fear is natural. But you’ll have all of us beside you during the battle, don’t you worry about that.”

“Yeah,” said Spark. “We’ll show the Darkness what for!”

“Thank you.” Despite the fog of doubt clearing from her mind, Cleo definitely still felt afraid. But being reminded her friends were with her made her feel a bit better. All of them. They’d all be there. Cleo’s claws brushed her bare wrist as she absently went to toy with the bracelet. Something twigged in her mind as she recalled Reshiram’s offer to fly her. “Reshiram? Will you have room for Mischief, too?”

She followed the dragon’s gaze back to the ruin. Mischief hadn’t moved from the opening, still gazing out at the gathered pokemon as he kept his distance. Cleo could make out the blue lights of his collar blinking from beneath his thick fur.

“Certainly!” Reshiram gave a small nod. “Whimsicott aren’t exactly heavy pokemon.”

“Great.” Cleo smiled up at the dragon and stepped back. “I’ll go and make sure he’s ready.”

As she turned from the white dragon, Spark spoke near her ear. “That worked out well! Kinda reassuring to know everyone else is scared, huh?”

“Yeah.” Cleo resisted the urge to hug her arms around herself. She straightened her back and marched towards Mischief. “And pretty soon we’ll all be flying into battle.”

“Good thing we’re good fighters then, eh?”

A smile spread across Cleo’s muzzle and she raised a paw to give Spark a friendly nudge.

Mischief looked up at Cleo when she reached the ruin. He pushed himself back from the stone wall and gave her a nod. “Have you found a flier?”

“Reshiram has offered to carry us.” Cleo stopped a short distance from him. “Are you ready?”

The whimsicott raised a paw to his collar and his eyes darkened. “Are you?”

Taking the hint, Cleo reached into her bag for the bracelet. Once it was snapped around her wrist Mischief let his paw drop to his side and relaxed. Cleo’s heart clenched but she shrugged off the oncoming sadness and raised her head.

“Come on,” she said. “Reshiram’s waiting.”

It wasn’t long before everyone had found a partner to fly with. Voices still filled the clearing as the various groups talked over their battle strategy. Cleo stood by Reshiram’s side with her allies. Her paws turned clammy with anxiety and her heart sounded in her ears, but there was no turning back now. She didn’t want to turn back. She’d fought in this war for years. She’d even given up hope they’d ever win. Now, there was hope. A light in the darkness. One that was spreading, shining through every single pokemon gathered in that small clearing.

“Are we ready?” Reshiram’s low voice spoke near her head.

Cleo turned to meet the dragon’s warm, blue eyes and nodded. “I’m ready.”

“Me too.” Spark hopped onto Reshiram’s nose and scampered down his neck.

The dragon laughed and lowered himself to the floor. “Then all of you climb on board!”

Cleo grabbed Reshiram’s feathers and hoisted herself onto his back. Mischief clambered up behind her and offered a paw to Faith. As Reshiram straightened, NyukNyuk appeared on his head. The little mimikyu slid down his neck to land in Cleo’s lap. His little eyes sparkled up at her and she returned his smile, hugging him into her as Reshiram moved through the clearing.

“Everyone, listen!” Reshiram barked. “Once you are all settled on board your fliers, or ready to be carried, we will move out! I’ll take the lead. Everyone fall behind me and brace yourselves for a battle like you’ve never fought before!”

Cheers exploded through the clearing. Cleo’s heart lurched as Reshiram turned on the spot and spread his wings. Her stomach flipped as he launched himself into the air. The canopy fell around them as the dragon rose above it. He stopped a few feet above the trees and Cleo finally caught her breath.

Flying pokemon swarmed behind him. Tinker riding astride Starshine. Ripwing with Mint, Enigma and Harlequin on his back. Vibrato with Gemly perched on his shoulders, dwarfed by Tantrum sat behind him. The flygon held Razorclaw in his claws, who looked less than comfortable with the situation. But among them were close to a hundred pokemon she didn’t recognise. And more of them would be joining them in the battle.

A glossy corviknight drew close to Reshiram’s side, his armour gleaming in the low light. A few small pokemon sat on his back, while Grace hung from his talons.

The hatterene met Reshiram’s gaze and nodded. “We’re all ready.”

Reshiram nodded in return and opened his jaws wide. A war cry sounded like thunder in the air, echoed by the pokemon around him. The white dragon’s tail ignited with a deep roar and he beat his wings, leading the army over the Border Woods.

Cleo hugged NyukNyuk into her stomach, her eyes wide as they fixed on the horizon. “Spark?”

The dedenne shifted on her shoulder to look at her. “Yeah?” Her voice wavered.

“You see it too?” Cleo stared at the sky ahead of them.

The sun had set, yet it was still a deep red, as if stained by blood. Black clouds smudged across it, blocking out the stars.

“Red and black.” Spark took in a trembling breath as she echoed Cleo’s frightening thoughts. “Just like Yveltal’s wings.”


A stream of fire flew from Reshiram’s mouth, meeting the ice thrown at them from the weavile. It fizzled into mist before washing over the weasel pokemon. They dropped from the trees like ripe fruit to vanish through the canopy, clearing a path for the other fliers to get through safely.

It hadn’t taken long for Xerneas’ army to meet the opposing forces of the Darkness. They’d been quick to leap into the trees to try and stop Reshiram and the others from reaching the Shadow Lands. Spark stood on Reshiram’s head with NyukNyuk, the pair of them fighting back against their aerial foes.

Murkrow zipped back and forth overhead, their abrasive cries echoing over the canopy as they relayed the battle to their leader. They kept out of harm’s way, swerving to avoid any attacks thrown at them. Cleo’s disarming voice couldn’t reach them so high up, and even Spark’s electricity fizzled out before it reached their wings. A streak of ice parted the flock and they cawed defiance, rising higher to avoid any further assault. Two large blue falcons drifted past Reshiram, their long tails streaming behind them. Articuno. Cleo had only heard of them in stories, and no one had claimed to have seen one in decades. They carried little white bears on their backs, creating icy clouds around them and the articuno, masking them from view.

Starshine’s fluffy white wings flickered in and out of Cleo’s peripheral vision as he soared alongside her. He let out a loud scream, blowing back a swarm of noibat as they exploded from the leaves. Most of them struck the ground hard, but a few swerved out of the way of his attack to claw at Tinker. The riolu yelped and clutched onto Starshine’s feathers as the altaria flipped upside down to take out the pesky bats. Cleo’s ears opened as she launched a disarming voice. The pink light exploded against the body of one of the bats, striking it in the back. It screeched as it lost control of its wings and plummeted to the ground.

Once upright, Tinker gave Cleo a nod. “Thanks.”

Cleo turned her attention back on the path head. Below them, paws thudded over the undergrowth. She could just make out the lithe forms of a pack of liepard, their green eyes flashing up at them as they gave chase. No doubt they were waiting for the army to land so they could pounce.

Spark had noticed the pursuers from her perch on Reshiram’s head. She looked up at her friends. “They’re givin’ a pretty good chase. Do we take ‘em out now?”

“We’ll deal with them when we land,” said Reshiram. “Right now we need to focus on reaching the Shadow Lands. Taking out Yveltal is our top priority.”

The Shadow Mountains loomed closer, like sentinels watching over the dark grounds at their base. Branches whipped Cleo’s face as Reshiram swerved aside to avoid a dragon pulse. The purple fire licked the budding leaves of the tree, scorching them into ash. The culprit appeared from the canopy. A noivern, his muzzle split in a wicked sneer. Another dragon pulse flickered out from his jaws, skimming Reshiram’s head feathers. Spark ducked, and the attack washed over NyukNyuk as he reared up behind her. The mimikyu’s spectral arms flashed out from beneath his disguise and tossed two shadow balls, one after the other. The first struck the noivern in the chest. As he keeled back from the impact the second struck him in the muzzle and he spiralled down towards the woodland floor.

“Thanks little one!” Reshiram cheered.

“Nyuk nyuk nyuk!” The mimikyu twirled, turning his back to Spark.

Reshiram swerved back on course. Beside them, attacks flashed back and forth as the Darkness tried to keep them at bay. The murkrow still remained high above them, relaying their movements back to their hidden leader. Yurlik, or Yveltal? Dread flooded Cleo’s body and she clutched tighter to Reshiram’s feathers.

“We’re almost there!” Reshiram told his passengers. “When you see the Shadow Lands, prepare to disembark! We’ll be continuing this battle on the ground.”

Cleo nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but a flash of blue caught her eye. The noivern exploded back through the trees, twirling in the air with his claws. NyukNyuk ducked the first swipe, but the noivern’s tail swung back towards him, whipping up a blade of air that struck him across the back. The tiny ghost went flying from Reshiram’s head, his panicked scream stunning Cleo’s ears.

“NyukNyuk!” Reshiram roared.

He turned to dart down towards the tiny ghost, but Cleo caught NyukNyuk in her psychic before he reached the topmost branches. Electricity lit up the sky as Spark stunned the noivern with a thunderbolt. The dragon roared, his limbs spasming and jerking as he dropped from the sky like a rock.

Cleo met Tinker’s gaze as he pulled up on Starshine.

“Are you all okay?” the riolu asked.

Cleo lifted NyukNyuk gently towards her. “We’re fine. I- Ahh!”

Talons scraped at her ears as the murkrow finally descended upon them. Tinker’s eyes widened and Starshine turned, opening his beak.

“Don’t!” Tinker barked, freezing the altaria. “You’ll hit Cleo, too!”

The murkrow swooped back and forth like tiny darts, their claws swiping at Cleo’s eyes. Faith’s horn swung over her head, plucking the birds from the air, but they fell on Cleo in full force. She raised her paws in a weak attempt to defend herself, straining to keep NyukNyuk safely in her psychic. Reshiram swerved in a bid to lose them, and Cleo almost lost her balance. Electricity dazzled her hampered vision and black feathers fell around her as the murkrow screeched in protest. Pain exploded through her head as a sharp beak clamped around her exposed ear. Her psychic spluttered out and NyukNyuk’s terrified scream almost deafened her.

Pink light lit up the sky and the murkrow fell back. Mischief leaned towards her, trying to catch her eye, but Cleo’s wide-eyed stare was on the falling mimikyu.

Starshine swooped down like a bullet, his claws outstretched, leaving tufts of fluffy feathers on the bare branches. His claws snagged NyukNyuk’s costume and locked in place, then the altaria swerved back up towards his allies. Tinker leaned over the dragon’s side and grabbed NyukNyuk around the waist. He hoisted him up into his lap and let out a long breath.

Cleo almost sank back against Mischief, but the resistance from her bracelet pushed her back. She looked over at Tinker who gave her a reassuring nod. NyukNyuk trembled in his lap, but his eyes sparkled with grateful humour. He raised a spectral paw to wave at Reshiram and chattered something in his native tongue.

Reshiram let out a breath that misted in the air. “Thank goodness. Thank you, Tinker.” He turned back towards the Shadow Lands. “Everyone, press on harder! They won’t make this easy for us!”

Cries of agreement spread out around them, and Cleo turned her attention back on their target. She raised a paw to her throbbing ear and it came away bloody. Fear pulsed through her body. She could still use her attacks, but it wouldn’t be easy.

“Here.” Faith leaned past Mischief and set a sitrus berry in Cleo’s lap. “It will help.”

Cleo thanked the mawile and tore into the berry, holding a chunk of it to her ear. Reshiram swerved towards the ground, flames streaming from his mouth. Liepard and poochyena scattered, desperate to avoid a thorough torching. Heat licked up around Cleo as Reshiram skimmed the flames. The cries of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the flames filled the air, causing fear-fuelled adrenaline to pulse through Cleo’s body.

Were they ready for this? Would any of Hydreigon’s followers be drawn away from the Darkness? Cleo swallowed around a thick lump in her throat and looked up as red eyes flashed from the eerie sky. A slender honchkrow zipped down towards them, a neat formation of murkrow streaming behind her. Their beaks gaped wide with war cries and their talons glinted in the firelight as they reached towards their prey.

Cleo didn’t think twice. Flinching at the pain in her ear she yelled and pink light pulsed towards them. Electricity joined her attack and, at a quick cry from the honchkrow, the murkrow parted. Ilana swerved over Cleo’s attack and darted down towards her. She closed her eyes, bracing herself for an assault that never came. A loud cry of pain came from behind her and she jerked her head towards Mischief. The whimsicott fought the murkrow free, blood streaming from his shoulder. Surprise shone in Ilana’s eyes as Mischief jerked her wing down and away from him. The honchkrow fell towards the floor, flailing as she fought to right herself. Cleo didn’t see if she managed it as she was soon a speck in the distance as Reshiram continued zooming towards the Shadow Lands.

Cleo met Mischief’s gaze and placed the remains of the sitrus berry near his lap. “Are you okay?”

He took the fruit gratefully and gave a stiff nod before gingerly applying it to his shoulder. The wound was already closing up.

Faith’s violet eyes looked up from behind him and Cleo thought she saw fear in them for a moment. “We’re here.”

Cleo turned back to look towards the Shadow Lands. Hydreigon’s castle loomed towards them, a towering mass of black stone and curving thorns. Even though she’d seen it only a couple of days before, it still sent a wave of anxiety through her. Just a building, sure, but one that radiated a lot of evil.

Pokemon swarmed beneath them, aiming their attacks at the flying army descending on the Shadow Lands. Flames spewed from gaping jaws in a blaze of purple, red and orange. Black energy pulsed up towards them from an army of poochyena and their alpha leader. Reshiram swerved to avoid a dark pulse, searching for a spot to land. His body jerked as his feet touched the dusty earth. Flames spewed from his mouth, scattering the pack of black, shaggy dogs. Reshiram extinguished the flames in his tail and turned to face the army of dragons rushing towards them. Druddigon led the fray, followed by a haxorus and his colony of fraxure and axew. Cleo didn’t have time to take them all in.

“I can’t get close enough. We continue this on the ground,” Reshiram told his passengers. “Quickly! To the castle! Join Xerneas, don’t let Yveltal get away! He’ll take this battle into the mountains if he can!” More flames cut off his words, blackening the earth before the oncoming dragons. He then turned back towards the barking mighteyena as he led his pack back towards them.

Cleo slid from Reshiram’s back, joined by Mischief and Faith. Spark landed on the ground ahead of her and the sky lit up with electricity. It danced over the dragons’ scales, slowing them for a heartbeat. It was enough time to allow Faith to switch into her mega form, the sound of shattered glass sounded above the roars and battle cries from their enemy.

Faith twirled into the fray, striking out with her dual horns. One caught a druddigon square under the chin and his head snapped back with a sickening crack. He crumpled to the floor, vanishing under the feet of his allies. Some stumbled in a bid to avoid him, finding themselves caught in Faith’s attack.

Cleo rushed in with a disarming voice, keeping her paws up and claws out. Fear thudded through her chest as the chaos of rampaging bodies and bloodthirsty cries spread out around her. Huge feet trampled the exhausted ground as the large dragons tried to avoid Faith’s swinging horns. Claws scraped at Cleo’s hide and she screamed, a disarming voice blinding the assailing pokemon before she could process what it was.

Shadows blocked out the weak light as Xerneas’ flying soldiers remained in the air, lashing out with beak and talon to deal with their aerial foes. Screeches and roars sounded like thunder above them, and the Shadow Lands lit up with pink fairy light, lightning and dragon fire, casting erratic, strobing shadows. Cleo kept her eyes on Faith, ducking attacks as she fought back with ones of her own through the pack of vicious dragons. She could just make out a gardevoir and her allies as they joined Faith, blowing back the larger Haxorus with a dazzling gleam. Cleo felt her heart lift as she saw the path clear for a moment. With renewed vigour, she picked up her pace, screaming her disarming voice at the larger scaly pokemon.

They had one goal. Get to the front of the battle and stop Yveltal. With Mischief behind her, Cleo fought her way through the melee of fangs and claws to meet Xerneas before Hydreigon’s castle.
Chapter 78 New


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
78 - The Race to Stop Yveltal​

Tinker spun in circles creating arcs of fire with his feet. Flames erupted off his targets, followed up by fast punches. Weavile and sneasel fell back from him, swiping icy paws across their wounds to cool them before leaping back to attack the riolu. Starshine swerved above them, flames gushing from his open beak as he kept the ice-types at bay. More altaria glided around him as they chased the Darkness across the Shadow Lands. Each of them wore its mega form like Starshine, but the younger altaria was looking tired.

Tinker snapped back to attention as icy claws raked across his muzzle. He spat blood then fired a sharp blazing kick at the weavile’s chest. The weavile fell back with a grunt, sending up a cloud of dust. His allies tripped over his fallen body as they rushed back into the duel, their ears and tails singed from Starshine’s flamethrower.

Around them, Xerneas’ army warred with the Darkness. A blur of bodies to Tinker. He’d lost sight of his friends after the weavile descended on him and the young altaria. All he could see now were the weavile, their wicked red eyes shining in the weak light. Despite his assault there were still too many of them standing. It only highlighted how lax he’d been about his own training.

Taking a deep breath, Tinker launched himself into the fray. His kicks and punches a blur as he lashed out at his foes, desperate to beat them back and rejoin his allies. Claws lashed out on his blind side, raking across his shoulder in a spray of blood. He hissed with pain and turned towards his attacker. His everstone arced before his nose, its severed string brushing his neck before the pendant bounced across the ground to be lost under stomping feet. The weavile’s sneer was wiped off his face as Tinker brought his fist around into his jaw. He twirled, raising his foot to follow up with a blaze kick. The weasel pokemon’s head snapped to the side before he hit the ground like a sack of berries.

A loud scream split the air and several weavile were blown back from Tinker. He hadn’t seen them creep up on his left. He looked up to thank Starshine but his words died in his mouth as a volley of icicles came crashing down on the altaria’s back. Starshine’s scream died in his throat as the deadly ice dragged him to the ground. His mega form shattered in a flash of light, and the young altaria lay on his front, his fluffy wings pinned at his sides. Blood welled around them as he strained to pull himself free.

“Dad!” His black eyes shone with desperation. “Help me! I’m stuck!”

Tinker raced to his side, his heart pounding. A large black foot barred his path and he skidded to a halt, his eyes moving up to meet the glinting smirk of a pangoro.

“So we meet again,” the panda pokemon crooned.

Tinker stuttered, his eyes widening. “T-Tumble?”

“Dad!” Starshine screamed.

The altaria’s beak gaped as he took in a breath to hit the pangoro with a hyper voice. Tumble twisted towards him and crossed both arms, bringing them down in a pincer into Starshine’s exposed throat. The altaria’s cry cut off into a splutter and he wheezed to try and catch his breath.

“Starshine!” Tinker yelped. He rushed towards the altaria, but Tumble cut him off as he turned back towards him, rubbing his large paws together.

“Now.” Tumble’s muzzle split in a sinister sneer. “Where were we?”

The wind picked up around them, slowing the pangoro’s steps. It grew in intensity, blowing the larger pokemon backwards. He stumbled over his feet before crashing to his bottom, scattering the weavile that were regrouping around Tinker. The riolu looked up to see who had leapt to his aide but his heart froze as he met two glinting red eyes. Talons spread, Yurlik swept down on him and knocked him onto his back, pinning him to the ground.

“Dad!” Starshine’s voice was a barely audible squeak.

Tinker grabbed Yurlik’s legs in a feeble attempt to shove the massive bird away.

The honchkrow leaned into his weight, making Tinker grunt under his mass of feathers. He jerked his head towards Tumble. “I’ll take it from here.” He then turned his glare on the weavile and sneasel. “Scram!”

The weasel pokemon turned tail, vanishing into the battle to find someone else to swarm.

Tumble rose to his feet and spat into the dirt. “I saw him first, Yurlik.”

“And I said I’ll finish it!” Yurlik dug his talons into Tinker’s flesh, eliciting a scream of pain that he seemed to purr at. “You deal with the altaria!”

Tumble thumped a fist into his open paw and turned on Starshine. He reached down and grabbed the altaria by his head feathers. Starshine’s beak gaped in a silent scream as his wings strained against the massive icicles.

“No!” Tinker reached a paw out towards the fallen dragon. “Starshine!”

“Don’t worry,” Yurlik crooned. “He won’t die before he’s seen you suffer. Bet you never thought you’d see me again, did you, runt?”

“Leave him alone!” Tinker barked. “He’s just a child!”

“A child fighting with you Outcast scum!” Yurlik turned Tinker’s face towards him with a wing. “Perhaps after he sees what we can do he’ll join the rest of the dragons in our fight for what’s right!”

“Never!” Starshine’s voice was little more than a husky squeak, but every word was clear. “I’ll never join you! You’re evil!”

“Oh, no, no.” Yurlik tutted and shook his head, turning to address the altaria. “To us, it is you Outcasts and outlaws who are evil. Did your ‘father’ here never tell you the truth?” With a quick glance at Tumble, Yurlik turned his attention back on Tinker. “Make sure he sees everything.”

Tinker flailed against the honchkrow, his eye widening as Yurlik’s beak glinted near his face.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” said Yurlik. “One would have thought you’d have evolved after all these years, but that pathetic display you put on shows you’re no better a fighter than you were back then!” He nodded towards the discarded everstone, its strap now trampled into the dust. “You don’t even need that thing, do you? You just wear it to cover up the real reason you won’t evolve.”

Tears stung Tinker’s eye and he dug his claws into Yurlik’s scaly legs. The giant honchkrow didn’t even flinch.

“Get off him!” Starshine cried. His voice cut off into another splutter as Tumble turned on him.


Yurlik clicked his beak in mock thought. “I think I know the reason, too. You can’t evolve because you’re depressed!” His eyes shone with malice. “I wonder who caused that?”

Tinker opened his mouth to shout back but all that left him was a howl as Yurlik leaned his weight onto his talons. His beak almost brushed Tinker’s nose.

“Now… I’m going to finish you off slowly, and I’ll relish every moment. And to start with, I think I’ll take your other eye. I rather enjoyed the last one.”

Tinker flinched back, screwing his eyes shut as Yurlik inched closer to his face. Tinker’s strength failed him as his struggles became weaker. Starshine’s whimpers broke his heart. He hoped dearly the altaria was refusing to watch.

A sick crunch sounded close to Tinker’s ear and Yurlik lurched sideways with a grunt. The air blazed with heat where he’d been standing, and with renewed strength Tinker shoved the bird off him. He leapt to his feet, twirling a blazing kick which connected with Yurlik’s head. The honchkrow fell away from him, his feathers bristling around his neck. Tinker glared back at him, raising his fists to his chest.

But Yurlik wasn’t watching him. His eyes glinted with hatred and his beak quivered with rage. “You!”

Tinker warily followed his gaze. Standing beside him was a blaziken, or at least it looked like one. His feathers were too upright on his head, and flames blazed around his wrists.

“You have too much pride, Yurlik. You should talk less.” The blaziken nodded at Tinker. “You all right, boy?”

That voice… Tinker stared open mouthed. It couldn’t be… after all those years?

Before he could ask, Yurlik screeched, his eyes blazing like hot coals. “You’re alive?! That’s impossible! I saw you die!” He spat a stream of incoherent caws and the murkrow rallied above him, zipping down towards them like deadly arrows.

Blue flames tore through the black cloud of birds and they screeched, their wings and tails aflame. They dropped like flies onto the battlefield, scattering pokemon who were desperate not to get caught in the blaze. A dark winged form swooped back and forth above them, spewing fire onto the remaining murkrow. As the last one fell, the dark shape swerved down towards Yurlik.

The honchkrow spluttered a caw and turned to flee, wings flapping as he strained to hoist his bulk into the air. Tumble cursed at the sight of the massive creature descending on them and bolted into the fray. Flames torched his retreating back, followed by a swing of the pokemon’s heavy, black tail. Tumble fell onto his face, tripping a bewear. The large bear fell on top of him, knocking the wind from his lungs.

Then the winged creature descended onto Yurlik, snatching his wings as he rose into the air. Yurlik screeched, his talons flailing helplessly as the pokemon swerved back towards the sky. He spun several times, gaining momentum, then released Yurlik, sending the winded honchkrow back down towards the earth. He landed hard on his head with a sick crack then lay motionless, his neck at an unnatural angle. Blood trickled from his gaping beak as his eyes grew dull, fixed unseeing on the red sky.

“Oi, altaria!”

Starshine raised his head weakly towards the black, draconic pokemon. Blue flames flickered around the dragon’s jaws as he flashed Starshine a toothy grin.

“Use protect!” he commanded.

Starshine closed his eyes and the air shimmered around him. Blue flames swept harmlessly over him, licking away at the ice. It hissed as it melted away, retreating from the eerie flames. Once free, Starshine struggled to his feet. His cloud-like wings were stained red but he stretched them, wincing at the effort.

Tinker rushed towards him and threw his arms around the dragon’s slender neck. “Are you okay?”

“No.” Starshine trembled in his embrace, letting his head rest on Tinker’s shoulder. “But I’m glad you are.”

Blue fire erupted around them, blowing back the Darkness as pokemon ventured too close. Tinker turned to their rescuers, leading Starshine towards them and towards safety. He wanted to make sure Starshine wasn’t too badly injured. Heat from the black pokemon’s blue flames made the air hazy, forcing the weavile to rethink their actions and fall back. He looked every bit like a charizard, except his scales were black and blue with blue flames. He stood with his back to the blaziken as they fought off weavile and small dragons in their efforts to avenge the fallen Yurlik.

The charizard cast Tinker a quick, toothy grin. “So this is your boy, eh? I thought I recognised that trademark kick.”

The blaziken kicked out at a gabite then nodded, giving Tinker a warm smile.

“This is your father?” Starshine gasped.

Tinker was too busy fussing over Starshine’s wounded wings. “Yes, he is.”

It felt weird to hear it said out loud. His father, Krayne, had been missing presumed dead for many years. Where had he been? Yurlik had said he’d watched him die? And that strange form he’d taken on… was that mega evolution?

The charizard roared, flames gushing from his mouth to engulf a swarm of noibat descending on them. Their shrill cries were deafening as they fought to escape it. A few dropped, smoldering, to the charizard’s feet.

The charizard wiped a paw across his muzzle. “They ain’t lettin’ up!”

“They won’t until it’s over.” Krayne turned to Tinker and offered a clawed paw. “Will you two join us in this battle, son?”

Tinker turned his worried glance from Krayne back onto Starshine.

The altaria raised his head, but his eyes betrayed his anxiety. “I’m okay. I can fight on the ground, like I used to.”

Tinker closed his eyes briefly and took a breath. “If you’re sure.”

“I am.” Starshine nodded and looked up at Krayne. “We’re with you… Grandpa.” A small smile quirked his beak.

Krayne rolled his eyes. “I don’t think I’ll get used to hearing that.” With a laugh, he steered Starshine alongside him and motioned to his son. “Then let’s go. This battle won’t-”

The ground lurched and the sky turned black. All eyes went to the sky where Yveltal swerved back and forth, darkness spewing from his beak. Soaring pokemon were frozen mid-flight, their feathers turning a dusky grey. They struck the ground hard, shattering, and sending pokemon fleeing across the Shadow Lands.

Tinker was knocked into Krayne as pokemon shoved past him, the Darkness and Outcasts blurring together as they fled Yveltal’s deadly beam. But it wasn’t trained on the ground. The draconic bird was focused entirely on his aerial opponents. Krayne thrust Starshine between himself and the charizard as a pidgeot crashed down where the altaria had been standing, crushing his passenger beneath the weight of his stony feathers. Tinker saw the life leave the large bird’s eyes and his heart clenched.

“We need to end this war.” Tinker’s heart was hammering but he turned to his father. “I don’t know where you’ve been, but use that power to defeat Yveltal.”

The charizard looked over his shoulder at him. “Right now, we need to make sure no more of our allies get caught in that beam. Can your kid fly?”

Starshine huddled his sore wings against his body and shook his head.

“Then stick with Krayne until we find someone who can use heal pulse.” The charizard turned his back and spread his massive wings. “I’ll be right nearby.”

Krayne placed a paw on Tinker’s back and moved him towards the crowd. Together once again, they fought their way through the Darkness, looking for pokemon in need.


Enigma raised his paws to shield himself against another dark pulse. It bounced harmlessly off the clear barrier surrounding him, and he dropped the barrier to fire off a dazzling gleam. It washed over the scrafty and scraggy surrounding him and Harlequin. Pink light pulsed from Harlequin’s jaws as she barked fiercely at the hoodlum pokemon. The numbers were dropping, but they were soon replaced by more members of the Darkness. Assassins fighting back against the two pokemon they’d trained against for years. Supposedly thinking they could use their knowledge against them, only to be surprised by the new skills Enigma and Harlequin had picked up.

The ground shuddered as grey stone struck it. More flying pokemon taken down by Yveltal’s deadly beam. Enigma turned his eyes towards the sky and tutted. The draconic bird’s evil blue eyes glinted in the low light, his jaws wide as a black and red beam swept over the heads of the warring pokemon. The Darkness and Xerneas’ army found themselves scattering to avoid falling bodies. But he wasn’t picky about his targets. Several dragons and murkrow had fallen victim to his ruthless assault.

“Don’t just stand there, Enigma!” Harlequin barked, snapping the banette back out of his momentary daze. Harlequin screamed another disarming voice at a scraggy that got too close, sending him rolling head over tail, his baggy skin dropping around his ankles. “We need to fight our way through if we’re going to stop him!”

Enigma shook his head sharply and turned a dazzling gleam on a group of pancham. The Darkness had closed in around Enigma and Harlequin, causing them to loose sight of Faith. She’d vanished into the crowd with Cleo and her friends, and there’d been no end to the onslaught thrown his way.

With the pancham down, Enigma flicked a will-o-wisp into the scrafty mob. His mega form made him a lot faster, and he grinned as several of the hoodlum pokemon were caught in it before they could attack. They swiped at their burns, dropping their guard and allowing Harlequin the time to attack back. A flurry of barks sent a pulse of pink light over them and they fell back, shouting profanities.

Enigma vanished through the ground and leapt up behind the mob’s replacement, raking one of the larger scrafty with his claws. A scream left the leader’s throat, silenced as Enigma followed up with a dazzling gleam. He spread his arms, blasting the mob with a flash of pink light. They crumpled at his feet, leaving enough space for Harlequin.

She leapt over their fallen bodies and rushed towards Enigma. “Come on! Before more of them join in!”

Enigma wasted no time, turning his back on the fallen pokemon to force his way through the battle. He rushed past a group of pangoro grappling with a pack of granbull. One of the bulldogs had his jaws locked around the arm of a pangoro as the large panda struggled to flail free. Enigma twirled towards them, sending wisps of fire towards the dark-types. They landed on target, searing three of the panda pokemon with fierce burns, leaving them vulnerable to the granbull.

A grin spread across Enigma’s face and he stifled a chuckle, turning back towards his goal. Join Faith and the others and bring an end to Yveltal. The sky lit up red as another beam streaked across it, curving its way over the Shadow Lands. As Enigma broke into a sprint the ground shook and a loud scream made him skid to a halt. He turned with one paw on the floor and his eyes widened as they met Harlequin’s frantic stare. She flailed beneath the stone body of a druddigon. Blood spread out from beneath it, marring the fallen bodies of scrafty pinned under its heavy, grey wings.


Enigma rushed to her side and shoved his shoulder into the massive statue. Harlequin’s hindquarters were pinned beneath its legs and she screamed as he strained to shove it aside. His shoulders burned with the effort and he clenched his teeth. Finally he felt it give.

“Move!” he gasped, straining to hold the statue free.

Harlequin grimaced as she dragged herself on her forepaws, her claws digging into the earth. Once Enigma saw her tail, dragging limply between her hind legs, he let the druddigon drop. Panting, eyes wide with fear, Harlequin let her head fall onto her forepaws.

Enigma dropped beside her and placed a paw on her back. “Are you okay?”

It was a pointless question. One look at her back legs and he knew she wasn’t okay. They splayed out behind her, blood spreading under her fur.

“I’m sorry.” Harlequin’s panting weakened as her eyes closed and Enigma felt a hot blade twist in his chest. “Go on without me.”

“Don’t be stupid!” Enigma snapped. His shoulders sank and his paws flopped into his lap. “I’m not leaving you.”

“You need to.” Harlequin took a rasping breath but she didn’t open her eyes. “Stop… Yveltal…”

When she said no more, Enigma grabbed the zorua in his arms and pulled her into him. She didn’t complain, or flinch. She felt so light and small. Memories of Kera blazed in his mind and he buried his muzzle into Harlequin’s warm fur. It couldn’t be happening again. It just couldn’t. “No…” He swallowed back a sob and felt Harlequin’s paw curl around his wrist. “You can’t leave me, Harle. Please!”

Harlequin’s cold nose nudged his jaw and he raised his head. She gazed up at him from slitted eyes and a lump rose in his throat. She held his gaze for a moment, and her claws curled into his arm as she lifted her face to his and softly licked his cheek. Enigma’s words blurred in his mouth and he touched his nose to hers, feeling her shallow, ragged breaths washing over his fur. Tears streamed from his eyes and he screwed them shut, blocking out the chaos of the battle unfolding around them. He didn’t care. He wasn’t going on without Harlequin. His body shook with sobs and he held Harlequin to his chest, burying his face in her fur. How could he have let this happen? Why did he rush on ahead and leave her behind?

She fell limp against his shoulder, bringing his sobs to a sudden halt. Hot anger bubbled in his chest, rising out as a long, desperate wail. It drowned out the roars and sneers filling his mind, mocking him. That lone, pathetic ghost who didn’t belong anywhere. A wannabe trying to be something he wasn’t. An assassin. A hero. What did it matter? He couldn’t even save a life. His parents, Kera, Harbinger, and now Harlequin…

Leering faces filled the darkness in his mind, moving around him with murderous intent. He sat among them, clutching Harlequin’s small body, her fur matted with his tears.

‘When the war is over, …we’ll see each other again.’

Those had been Harbinger’s words, but he heard them in Harlequin’s voice. Light sparked in the darkness of his mind, and he felt warmth brush his fur, shattering the darkness around him like glass. Enigma raised his head to meet Faith’s worried, violet eyes glistening between her two massive horns. Her shoulders heaved with the effort of battle, and Enigma looked around him at the bodies scattered on the ground. Liepard, poochyene, gabite… to name a few. The pokemon fighting around him were mostly from the Fairy Garden, keeping the Darkness at bay as they battled across the Shadow Lands. Enigma’s breathing began to level out as he realised what had happened, and his grip on Harlequin loosened. The Darkness had seen him in anguish and taken advantage of his weakened state, and Xerneas had stopped them. He’d sent Faith and her allies.

He’d not even known she was close by. Had she seen what had happened?

He shook his head. If it weren’t for Faith, if Xerneas hadn’t sent her, he’d be dead.

He wasn’t alone. He was never alone. Xerneas was with him. He had friends. He was accepted. He belonged with them.

A sob shook his chest, denying him of the thanks he wanted to offer the mawile.

Faith’s paw fastened around his shoulder and she dropped to a crouch beside him. “I’m so sorry.” Her other paw closed around his.

He gave it a squeeze and took a breath. “I couldn’t save her.”

Faith closed her eyes and lowered her head to his. She didn’t need to say anything.

Enigma gently placed Harlequin on the ground and staggered to his feet. Faith rose with him, taking his paw again as if she were worried he’d slip away into his dark thoughts once more. He cast a glare towards Yveltal, seemingly oblivious to the pain he was causing. Or relishing in it.

Enigma balled his free fist, his claws cutting into his pads, and turned to Faith. “We need to keep fighting.” He looked down at Harlequin’s small body, then cast a glance over the battlefield. There were fallen pokemon on both sides, and stone statues scattered over the ground, causing huge rifts amid those still battling. Anger fizzed up in his chest again. “Otherwise all this will be for nothing.”

“Enigma.” Faith drew his gaze. “Anger solves nothing.”

He felt the rage boil up into his throat and swallowed it down before he said something he’d regret. He closed his eyes and took a breath. Faith was right. Anger lead to thoughtless actions.

He gave Faith’s paw a squeeze and released it. “Let’s end this.”

Faith gave him a nod, and a small smile appeared on her muzzle. “Stay close. We’ll get through this.”

He returned her smile, although it felt weak. With one last glance back at Harlequin, Enigma swallowed the lump in his throat and joined Faith as they fought their way through the Darkness towards Yveltal.


The ground shuddered again and Cleo stumbled, flailing her arms as she tried to regain her footing. Spark yelped as she almost tumbled from Cleo’s shoulder. Mischief turned back, his eyes wide. He watched them for a moment and, satisfied they were both okay, pressed on through the tangle of warring pokemon. Ahead of her a ninetails gave chase after a group of fleeing shelgon, spraying ice from her jaws. White vulpix kept pace at her sides, their fur shimmering in the dim light. They were soon crowded out by large bodies wrestling with one another, and fire and darkness streaking through the air.

Yveltal swerved above them all, his wings pulsing with red energy. His wicked blue eyes scanned the crowd and for a heartbeat Cleo thought he’d looked right at her. Her breath froze in her throat and she tore her eyes away to follow after Mischief.

“There seems to be no end to this!” Electricity streamed from Spark and seared the back of a pangoro. His spine stiffened and he fell face-first to the floor. “I feel like it’s gonna go on forever!”

“It’ll end.” Cleo’s voice gave away her uncertainty. “It has to.”

She faltered as Mischief was blocked off from her by a garchomp. Gabite stood on either side, their sharp teeth shining red in the eerie light. Cleo uncurled her ears and screamed. Pink light pushed ahead of her, striking the larger land dragon in the chest. He flinched back from it, raising his claws to his chest. Then his eyes met Cleo’s and a sneer split his muzzle.

“Kill ‘em!”

One bark from the garchomp and the gabite flowed towards Cleo and Spark like a tide of claws and fangs. Purple fire spewed from their jaws. Cleo leapt aside, grimacing as hot flames licked over her tails. Spark bailed from her shoulder, vanishing from Cleo’s sight.

The meowstic landed on her feet and spun towards the dragons, unleashing another disarming voice. Teeth flashed near her face, and a look of regret filled the dragon’s eyes as her attack smacked him across the snout. Cleo followed it up with two swipes of her claws. His rough scales scoured her paw pads but she bit back a hiss, instead turning her attention on his allies.

Spark’s tiny body hung from the garchomp’s muzzle. He flailed at her with his claws, stumbling backwards as her tiny paws struck him repeatedly between the eyes. The dedenne was fast, leaping up onto his head as he brought his scythe towards her tail. He struck himself in the face and roared, swinging his head in a desperate bid to lose the little mouse.

“Gerroff me, ya tiny turd!” Orange flames flickered around the garchomp’s teeth and he raked his claws towards Spark, only to slash his own scalp as Spark took off down his back to vanish into Mischief’s fur. The garchomp turned with a roar and stuttered, stepping back from the whimsicott. “Wh-”

Mischief didn’t give him the chance to speak. He raised his paws and blasted the garchomp with his dazzling gleam. The large reptile rolled tail over head into his own troop. Cleo stood over a fallen gabite and beat her paws together, hissing as pain exploded along them. She gingerly licked her sore pads and turned back to Mischief. Her eye wandered past his shoulder as light flickered beyond him.

Hope stood with her arms raised, the traces of a moonblast lingering on her paws. A kommo-o lay fallen at her feet as she turned her eyes onto Yveltal.

Xerneas stood beside the gardevoir, surrounded by pokemon from the Fairy Garden. A deep bellow came from his throat as he threw his head back. Pink and purple energy pulsed from around him through the ground, and flowers spread out over the dusty earth, burying the bodies of hundreds of deino. Then he did it a second time. Then a third. The blanket of flowers reached Cleo’s paws, a blessing after stomping over the dry, unforgiving ground.

Mischief was already rushing towards him, with Spark shouting from his head. Cleo raced after him, her heart pulsing in her throat. Xerneas’ warm gaze fell on her as she reached his side, and she felt her anxiety ebb away.

“You are here.” There was no surprise in Xerneas’ voice. He turned his eyes back onto Yveltal. “Now to end this.”

The draconic bird had ceased his assault on the flying soldiers. His icy gaze was locked on Xerneas. His wings beat heavily in the air as he began his descent onto the thorns of Hydreigon’s castle. Noibat swarmed around him, their chattering voices filling the air.

“So you made it,” Yveltal sneered. He tucked his wings in at his sides and leaned forwards to meet Xerneas’ eyes. “Such a shame so many of your precious fairies have fallen to my loyal followers.” A smirk tugged his beak and he chuckled.

“Many more of yours have fallen, Yveltal,” said Xerneas. “And to your own efforts, as well.”

“Worthy sacrifices!”

Xerneas narrowed his eyes. “I doubt they felt the same.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Yveltal straightened, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “Their deaths were not in vain, unlike your paltry efforts.”

Xerneas’ antlers sparkled with light. He lowered his head and struck the ground with a hoof. “This ends today.” He cast his followers a quick glance. “All of you, with me!”

Cleo quickly snapped her bracelet away. She looked to Mischief and nodded. Rather than nod back he took her paw and gave it a squeeze. He released her just as quickly and moved in front of her, joining Xerneas’ side. The majestic stag smiled at him warmly then turned his eyes back on Yveltal.

Yveltal threw his wings out to the side and screeched, sending the noibat into a frenzy. “All of you, attack! Do not let them come any closer!”

The black bird rose from the castle, moving above the noibat swarm. The bats swooped down towards Xerneas’ army. Their ears shook, amplifying their chitters as they fell towards their targets.

Xerneas threw his head back as Hope raised a barrier. A flash lit up the sky, bouncing off the barrier and blinding the noibat. They swirled above Cleo and her friends, their pupils pinpricks in their amber eyes. Several of them crashed into each other before plummeting to the ground. Spark fell on them, giving them a nasty shock and paralysing their wings.

Mischief stepped out of the barrier, his head back as he watched Yveltal turning in the air. “He’s getting away.”

“Quickly.” Xerneas motioned with his head as he began to rush after Yveltal. “He is fleeing towards the mountains. We shall catch him at the foot and challenge him there.”

Cleo fell in at his side, her legs pumping to keep up. Mischief kept ahead of her, his orange eyes fixed on Yveltal. The black bird shouted commands to his followers, and pokemon abandoned their fights to try and stop Xerneas. Light parted the battle, and Cleo found herself leaping over fallen bodies as she strove to keep up with Xerneas.

Mischief pelted on ahead of them and raised his paws to unleash a dazzling gleam. It lit up the dark sky with pink starlight, falling just shy of Yveltal’s talons.

The dark bird turned his head back towards them and jeered. “Is that the best you can do?!” He trimmed his wings and swept over the barracks towards the mountains.

Xerneas motioned at Cleo and the others to follow him and sprang over the head of a fraxure. The dragon yelped with alarm and turned his head to follow the stag. A shadow ball bounced off his tusks, upsetting him and sending him face first into the dust. He grunted as Faith’s horn crashed down on his back, and the mawile landed neatly beside Cleo.

“Nice!” Enigma appeared beside her and tossed another shadow ball. “Incoming honchkrow!”

The shadow ball exploded off a murkrow. With a caw, she dropped from the sky to be trampled underfoot. Ilana faltered beside her for a heartbeat then cawed commands at her flock. They forked out from either side of her then moved in a pincer formation over the roof of the barracks towards Xerneas.

Cleo and Mischief both unleashed their attacks. Pink light throbbed in the air, mixed with black feathers. Sharp beaks glinted in the pink light, only to be wiped out as Xerneas threw his head back and unleased another blinding flash. Ilana and her murkrow swarmed dazed above them, oblivious to the army racing away from her. The honchkrow’s caws faded out behind them as they continued their pursuit of Yveltal.

At least, Cleo thought they were fading out.

A loud chattering rumble pressed on her ears and she realised all too late that the noibat were closing in on them. No longer dazed, the bats swooped down on them. Claws fastened around Cleo’s ears, yanking them open. She screamed, raising her paws to rake at her assailant’s feet. Faith turned back to her, swinging her horn towards the noibat. The rest of the swarm rose into a crescendo of screeches, their ears vibrating madly. Cleo yowled as pain exploded through her head. She raised her paws to block her ears.

A dazzling gleam lit up the sky, scattering the noibat swarm. Faith’s horn smacked into the little bat still fastened around Cleo’s left ear and he struck the wall of the barracks. White tufts of fur drifted from his claws as he slid to the ground.

Cleo gingerly pawed at her ear. Her claws came away sticky with blood. Faith placed a paw on her shoulder and said something, but Cleo didn’t hear it. All she could hear was whooshing and ringing. She blinked at Faith, and the mawile’s face fell as realisation settled on her. Cleo’s heart was in her throat. How could she fight if she couldn’t hear anything?

A black shape descended just beyond the barracks and the two pokemon turned towards it. Electricity streamed up towards Yveltal’s wings as Spark tried to stun the larger pokemon. Hope stood beside Xerneas, her arms raised as a huge pink sphere formed above her head. Yveltal swerved back, lashing with his tail, and sent Spark soaring back towards Cleo. Without thinking, the meowstic leapt forwards and spread her arms, catching Spark and landing hard on her back with a grunt. Spark wriggled in her arms and her mouth moved, but her black eyes were on Yveltal. Cleo craned her neck back as his massive tail struck Hope in the back. She staggered, releasing her control of the moonblast. The fairy energy came crashing down on her in an explosion of light. Once the dazzle spots had left Cleo’s eyes, she saw the gardevoir lying on her side behind Xerneas.

The large stag stood before her protectively, his antlers lowered. Cleo rolled onto her front and pushed herself up. She could just make out his words as the psychic hum returned to her ears.

“This is over, Yveltal.”

Yveltal chuckled and spread his wings. “Oh… yes, it most certainly is.”

The draconic bird opened his beak as Xerneas sprang towards him. A yowl left Cleo’s throat as she leapt to her feet, rushing towards them. Energy hummed painfully in her ears as she desperately tried to summon her disarming voice. Nothing. Mischief’s pink light splattered against Yveltal’s wings. The large bird screeched, turning his attack first on Mischief. The whimsicott rushed right towards the terrible beam, unleashing another dazzling gleam. Cleo’s screams were drowned out by Yveltal’s furious roar as Xerneas landed before Mischief. Yveltal’s blue eyes flashed madly from his black and red feathers.

Once his attack had faded out, Cleo stood gasping, paw outstretched. Spark perched on her shoulder, her jaw gaping. Enigma staggered to her side, his crimson eyes wide with fear.

“No…” Faith could barely breathe.

Mischief and Hope stood like statues at the foot of the mountain. And between them, springing to attack, stood Xerneas. Stone grey. While Yveltal towered triumphantly before them.
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Chapter 79 New


*Crazy Absol Noises*
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
  1. mawile
79 - The End?​

Pink sparkling light faded around Yveltal’s red and black wings. The large bird stood hunched over, panting. But his beak was split in a triumphant grin. Mischief stood with his arms spread between the statues of Hope and Xerneas, fear spreading over his face as he turned to look at the frozen stag.

Yveltal snorted and raised his head. “What’s the matter? Lost your confidence, maggot?!” He turned his icy stare on Xerneas’ stone form and laughed.

The sound sent a chill through Cleo.

“Not such a threat anymore?!” Yveltal crooned.

Cleo took a step back, pressing her paws into her chest. This couldn’t be happening. They couldn’t lose. Not to Yveltal. Could they?

The sounds of battle had faded into a faint rumble as those closest turned their attention onto Yveltal and his frozen victims. Looks of fear and awe blurred around Cleo until she could barely tell anyone apart. A group of liepard and smaller purrloin crouched low to the ground with their eyes fixed on Yveltal, taking a nervous step backwards. A few noibat faltered in the air, their screeching silenced. Warriors from the Fairy Garden stood still, their faces set with determination or melted with confusion. Cleo could almost hear Spark’s rapid heartbeat near her ear as the dedenne trembled from ear to tail.

Yveltal twisted towards the other pokemon and spread his wings. “Where is your leader now?!” he roared. “Let this be a reminder to you all that light will never triumph over darkness! Darkness will always win, and death will always be the end! Now, unless you want to join Xerneas in decorating my castle, I suggest you bow to me!”

Silence rippled out over the battlefield. Confusion flashed across thousands of faces, as did defiance. Many fighting for Yveltal took a cautious step away from the giant bird. Many also moved closer on trembling legs and dropped to their knees.

Humour lit up Yveltal’s eyes but he didn’t lower his wings. He raised his head to the hesitant pokemon and cocked it to one side. “I see some of you wish to join Xerneas. Very well.” He opened his beak wide and a torrent of red and black light washed over the battlefield.

Screams rose into the air as pokemon desperately tried to flee. The crowd mashed together, pushing and shoving. Wails of pain joined the screams as pokemon were crushed between larger bodies and trampled underfoot. Stone statues popped up amid the chaos, blocking pokemon from fleeing. Those desperate enough climbed over the stone bodies of their allies or enemies, and a couple upended them and were crushed beneath as they crashed to the ground.

Cleo’s heart raced as she looked from the crowd to Xerneas. Her instincts begged her to flee with the crowd but she was rooted to the spot, stood between a trembling Faith, and Enigma burning with rage. Both of them had lost control of their mega forms.

“We have to end this!” Enigma spat. “We can’t just let this happen!”

“How?” Spark waved a paw towards the two statues at Yveltal’s feet. “Xerneas is…”

“He said we’d win!” Tears shone in Enigma’s eyes. He clenched his fists so tight his entire body trembled. “We have to…” He closed his eyes as a tear trickled over his cheek.

Cleo relaxed her paw as she glanced over the chaos swirling around her. Stone statues stared past her, their faces twisted with terror as pokemon stumbled past them in desperation. Yveltal unleashed another attack, his eyes sparkling with mirth. His laughter rumbled like thunder in the air.

“But it all looks so…” Cleo swallowed around a lump in her throat. She didn’t want to admit it. “Hopeless.”

“It can’t be.” Faith’s voice sounded small. “There’s always hope.”

Spark shook her head slowly as she looked at the mawile. “Everyone’s dying, Faith.”

Enigma flinched at the dedenne’s words. Cleo’s heart twinged as she found herself looking for Harlequin, half expecting to find her frozen beside Xerneas. Even Mischief had vanished. All she could see were stone statues and frantic writhing bodies, attacks flashing across the battlefield as the confusion spread. She was jostled as pokemon swarmed past her fleeing, and she found herself shoved away from the battle along with her friends. Faith’s warm paw grasped Cleo’s arm in a bid to avoid being separated, but Cleo couldn’t take her eyes off the battle. Where were were Harlequin and Mischief? Had they both caught in that deadly beam? A sinking feeling spread through her chest, almost causing her legs to buckle beneath her.

“Death isn’t the end.” Faith raised her head and straightened. “Death cannot defeat life.”

“Look around us!” Spark waved her arms as if Faith hadn’t seen the desolation. “How can we win this?!”

Faith turned her violet gaze onto Spark. “We can’t.”

Spark’s paws dropped to her side as she stared aghast at the mawile. She’d not wanted to hear that. Like Cleo and Enigma, she’d wanted the opposite answer.

Enigma grunted and pushed himself between Cleo and Faith. Looping an arm around both, he steered them away from the chaos back around the side of the barracks. If Yveltal had seen them he showed no hint of it. His laughter echoed above them, his dark beam seeming to suck the lingering light out of the Shadow Lands. Cleo yelped as she moved past a hakamo-o statue, his face frozen with fear as he was caught running for his life.

Enigma lead them through the open door to the barracks. Cleo didn’t hesitate. It promised shelter from Yveltal’s destruction. Perhaps even a little space to think. The banette closed the door behind them, but it did little to block out the screams and laughter.

“Oh great.” Spark’s nose crinkled at the musty scent in the air. “A building. Now we’re just cornered like prey.”

“We’re safe for now.” Faith sighed. “Thanks, Enigma. This will give us time to-”

Enigma rounded on the mawile and his canines flashed. “Make sense, Faith!” He softened at the alarm on her face and took a breath to calm himself. “You’ve talked me away from the edge before. Now… talk us out of this. How do we win?”

Faith closed her eyes briefly. “We need to have faith in Xerneas.”

Enigma rolled his head back and sank against the closed door.

Cleo felt her own heart sink. She leaned against the wall and dragged a paw down her face. “Xerneas is stone, Faith. Yveltal got him.”

“That’s not faith.” The mawile’s face hardened and she looked from Cleo to Enigma. “Faith is believing what Xerneas said. That we’d win. That death will never defeat life. Yveltal might rule the world outside the Fairy Garden but his reign is finite. His reign is coming to an end. He will lose.”

Enigma trailed his claws through his mane and let out a flustered breath. “Well it doesn’t look like it.”

The small group fell silent, listening to the chaos outside. It seemed to echo around the empty corridor, shaking the very walls. Cleo closed her eyes, willing herself to wake up back in her warm nest. Wishing it were all a bad dream. That they were still in the Fairy Garden and they’d not left to find Tyrix yet. Tears stung her eyelids and she wiped a paw across her face.

“Every cold season,” Faith said, drawing everyone’s attention, “the world seems to die. The plants disappear, the trees lose their leaves, the water freezes. Many pokemon even go hungry, surviving on rations. It’s bleak, cold, and pokemon get sick. But when the warming season arrives, plants spring back up. Trees flower, then fruit. The rivers run. Food returns. Estellis gets warmer.

“Every day, the sun sets to be replaced by night. It’s dark, but even in that darkness there are lights in the sky. Clouds might try to block them out, but they’re still there, peeking through when they get the chance. Then night disappears and the sun rises again, filling the world with light and warmth.

“There is always hope. Life always bounces back. There’s light in the darkest of nights.” A small smile adorned Faith’s dainty muzzle. “We will get through this.”

Cleo watched her for a moment. Somehow, a little hope sparked in her chest. She exchanged a glance with Spark, who’s whiskers twitched in a smile.

Enigma leaned against the door with his arms folded, his muzzle twisted with uncertainty. “How can you be so sure?”

Faith’s smile broadened. “I believe with all my heart that Xerneas’ promise will hold true.”

Enigma looked past her down the corridor and let out a long breath. He pushed himself back from the door with a grunt. “Then what are we doing stood around here talking? Let’s get out there and fight.”

“Yeah!” Spark fist-pumped the air. “Let’s kick that bird’s feathery ass! We’ll make him wish he never woke up!”

“I’m beginning to wish that myself,” Enigma grumbled.

“Enigma…” Faith placed a paw on his shoulder, freezing him before he could open the door.

The banette looked up at her, his eyes glossy with tears. “Don’t leave my side, Faith. I don’t think I can hold myself together.”

Faith’s mouth opened but words didn’t form. She gave Enigma’s shoulder a squeeze and nodded.

Enigma’s confession had been barely a whisper, but Cleo had still heard it. His words had, in a way, resonated with her.

“I think we feel the same.” She pushed from the wall to join Enigma and Faith. “How about we all hold each other together?”

“Yeah.” Spark straightened and placed her paw on her hip. “I’ll be the glue.”

Enigma and Cleo both rolled their eyes while Faith laughed.

“You certainly know how to lighten the mood, Spark,” she said. “Now… are we ready?”

“Nope!” Spark shook her head, echoing everyone’s feelings. “But I’m gonna give that beast a thorough shocking anyway!”

“Then let’s kick his tail!” Enigma pulled the door open, but no sooner he did the ceiling shook with a sound like thunder.

Cleo jerked her head towards it, her heart in her throat. Before she could react, Enigma warped ahead of her and threw his arms out to the side, shoving her into Faith and through the doorway. The ceiling splintered as the jagged body of a corviknight crashed through it right where they had been standing, his glossy armour now a dusty stone. The doorway had vanished beneath the rubble and a cloud of dust washed over them. Cleo backed away from it spluttering, raising a paw to shield her muzzle. Spark sneezed from her shoulder.

Enigma coughed and spluttered as he waved his paw to dispel the dust. He turned towards Cleo and Faith, ushering them away from the destruction.

“You saved us,” Faith gasped. Her eyes sparkled with joy.

Enigma’s coughing came to an abrupt halt as he looked up at both Cleo and Faith. “I guess I did.” His voice sounded strained and he coughed again to clear it.

Cleo stared at the rubble, her heart pounding. They’d barely made it out alive. But the thought didn’t stick around for long, as her eyes were drawn to the destructive beam gliding through the sky above them. Mega altaria parted like a cloud in the wind, drawing a screech of rage from Yveltal. Among them flew a black charizard and Ripwing leading an army of dragons Cleo had never seen before. Their blue scales were surrounded with white, fluffy feathers. Not altaria, but something else. They flew with a slow grace, their old and wizened faces twisted with a ferocity that looked out of character. They fell into formation behind Ripwing and the one in the lead barked something to his allies. Ripwing zipped around Yveltal’s blind side, carrying Tinker and Starshine on his back. The two dragons roared, their voices merging together and rippling in the air. Their attack struck Yveltal across the head, cutting off his attack into a splutter of darkness.

The other dragons came in on Yveltal’s other side and followed up with their own roars, making the very air shake. Yveltal’s scream of pain was drowned out by the combined hyper voices. Cleo tugged her ears down and stood back, motioning to her friends.

“Quick! While he’s distracted!”

She wasn’t sure her friends heard her over the explosion of noise, but they rushed back towards the battle. Towards Xerneas’ stone statue and their fallen friends.

Cleo didn’t think twice. She opened up with a disarming voice, adding her own cries to the chaos. Dazzling gleams lit up the darkening sky as Enigma and Mischief joined in beside her. Cleo barely had time to process the whimsicott’s safety as she screamed another disarming voice. Spark left her shoulder, aiming a thunder bolt at Yveltal’s flailing body. Electricity coursed through his limbs, stiffening them and causing him to topple onto his side. The dragons parted, pulling back to catch their breaths as they recharged their attacks. Cleo didn’t see Spark land. Her voice cut off as she stared, wide-eyed, at Yveltal, his chest heaving with effort as he struggled to push himself up.

The dark bird’s eyes blazed and a canine flashed in his beak. “You think you’re all so clever?” With a groan he shoved himself back to his feet. Growls vibrated in the throats of the dragons and Yveltal shrieked over them. “You think you’re stronger than me?!”

Another deadly beam streaked from his jaws. The dragons swerved aside, but several of the bearded ones were caught in his attack. Alarm shone in their friendly eyes and they rained down from the sky.

“Move!” Enigma screamed.

Cleo and her friends scattered, stumbling as the ground shook under the weight of the falling dragons. Earth spewed up like a geyser, splattering Cleo’s fur and knocking her flat onto her face. She rolled quickly onto her back, fixing her frightened gaze on Yveltal. Not far from her, Enigma helped Faith to her feet, both of them watching the terrible bird.

Cleo felt Mischief shift beside her and she turned to look at him. His eyes were fixed on Yveltal with determination.

“You’re okay,” Cleo gasped.

Mischief flinched. “I’m a coward.”


“I ran.” Mischief swallowed. “When he turned Xerneas to stone, I ran.”

Cleo opened her mouth to console him, but words failed her. A coward… anyone would feel hopeless. She had.

A roar came from among the circling dragons as the black charizard crashed into Yveltal in a blaze of blue flames. The large bird lumbered over the fallen dragons, flailing his wings to right himself. Cleo and Mischief watched, their eyes wide, as the charizard doubled back for another assault, chased by Yveltal’s deadly beam.

“But I won’t run now,” Mischief went on. “I said I’d fight by his side, and I will!”

Before Cleo could respond, Mischief took off through the chaos. She stretched her paw out to stop him a heartbeat too late and her claws closed around air. More blue flames erupted across the sky, lighting up Mischief’s fluffy back before he vanished beyond the statues.

Cleo clenched her jaw. She wouldn’t run either. She needed to get back out there and fight. She stared back out at the chaos, looking for a way in.

Yveltal jerked his head towards the charizard as he readied a third attack. Blue flames spiralled around his body and he lunged towards Yveltal. A torrent of red and black deadly light flew towards the charizard, striking him in the chest as he tried to veer away. His black scales were drained of their colour, and he crashed to the ground at the foot of the mountain. Tinker shouted something from Ripwing’s back, fear plain on his face. The salamence raised him further into the air as he circled Yveltal.

The statues hid Xerneas from view, but Cleo could just make out his antlers over a dragon’s formerly fluffy tail. A flash of purple light told her Mischief was still stood beside Xerneas. The attack fell short of Yveltal and he laughed. It sent a chill through Cleo, freezing her to the ground.

“The whimsicott.” The humour left his eyes and his feathers rose along his neck. “The bane of my existence. The thorn in my side. I thought you’d given up?” He straightened, raising his wings as if they were claws poised to strike. “You might have been a problem for Hydreigon, but I’m going to snuff out that pathetic existence you call a life! Just like I did his! Just like I did to Xerneas!”

Yveltal opened his beak, but pink light smashed into his face, sending his attack spluttering harmlessly into the air. He snapped his head back towards Mischief and roared. Dark energy spewed from his beak towards the ground. Mischief leapt aside, diving behind one of the fallen dragons. Yveltal jerked his head towards him, his blue eyes flashing with hatred. Then he jerked back with a screech. He curled his head towards the ground, his wings flailing at his neck. Ripwing and his army circled like flies, cheering as the bird struggled, dark energy licking around his beak. Something hopped back and forth along his spine like a flea. No… someone. Spark scurried back and forth to dodge his wings, tugging at the bird’s feathers at the base of his skull and tossing them into the air. Electricity sparked where she’d been attacking and Yveltal’s spine stiffened. His wings jerked uncharacteristically, and Spark bailed from his head to land on the dragon hiding Mischief.

“I’ve always wanted to take down a bird of prey!” she said, placing her paws on her hips. “Much more satisfying than a bunch o’ mangy old murkrow!”

Cleo rushed to her friend’s side, keeping her eyes on Yveltal. His limbs still jerked, but he wasn’t out of action yet.

A sneer twisted his beak and he spoke in a hiss. “I always hated you fairy-types.”

Spark balled her fists. “Well we don’t think much of you, either.” She looked up at the dragons. “Smack him one, Ripwing!”

The salamence leapt to action, his voice rising into a crescendo of noise as it was joined by the altaria and gentle dragons. Starshine spread his mangled wings at his side as he perched between Ripwing’s shoulders, and he lowered his head to add his own voice. Yveltal screamed as the noise pressed down on him, hammering him into the earth.

Cleo’s heart was in her throat. Would they actually win this? She cast a glance around at the Shadow Lands. Statues stood everywhere. She couldn’t see another living pokemon. Just her and her friends, and the dragons in the sky.

Then, during a break in the assault of hyper voices, Yveltal leapt to his feet and snapped his head towards the dragons. His dark beam struck Ripwing in the chest, sending the dragon careening into the sky. With a cry, Starshine and Tinker tumbled from his back. The altaria flailed his wings helplessly, his tail streaming behind him. A flash surrounded the young dragon and white feathers fluffed out from his body. He landed hard on his back on Ripwing’s stone body. The wind was knocked out of him as Tinker landed on his chest, shattering the altaria’s mega form.

“Starshine!” Faith rushed towards the fallen altaria, but skidded to a halt as another dragon crashed to the ground, barring her path.

Tinker rolled from Starshine and crouched at his side, shaking him. “Son? Son!”

Starshine’s head lolled to one side. Tinker screwed his eyes shut as a low groan rose in his throat.

Licking his lips, Yveltal stood back up and stretched out his wings. “Ahh… that feels much better.”

Tinker jerked his head towards Yveltal, tears shining in his eye. “You’ll pay for this!”

“Really?” Yveltal turned to Tinker and fired. His attack struck the riolu head on as he rose to his feet, freezing him in place. Then Yveltal turned to the others left standing. “Now… the one who shocked me…”

Cleo took a step back, and Spark gulped. She bailed to Cleo’s shoulder and the pair of them stared up at Yveltal.

“What would be more fun?” Yveltal went on. “Perhaps I should save you until last, while you watch me kill each one of your pathetic friends?” He smirked. “I quite like spicy food.”

“You’ll have to get through me.” Mischief pushed himself up from behind the dragon statue and walked confidently towards Yveltal. He stopped at Xerneas’ side and clenched his fists, holding Yveltal’s stare. “I won’t let you hurt my friends.” His voice wavered despite the confidence on his face. “I’ll go down fighting!”

A look of uncertainty crossed Yveltal’s face and he looked from Mischief to Spark and back.

Mischief nodded once. “I know you’re scared of me. That’s why you attacked me when you did. You’re scared of what I can do.”

“I fear nothing!” Yveltal roared.

The remaining altaria and their allies hovered uncertainly, watching Mischief and Yveltal. Why weren’t they attacking while Yveltal was distracted? Cleo clenched her jaw. Should she do something?

Faith and Enigma stood behind Xerneas, their eyes fixed on Yveltal. Cleo crept closer to them, keeping one eye on the dark bird. He didn’t even look at her, his full attention on Mischief.

“You might think you’re being noble,” Yveltal told him, “but you’re just as mortal as the rest of them. Your life can be snuffed out just as easily. If you think you can take me on, you’re wrong. I’ll do to you exactly what I’ve done to your friends. Exactly what I’ve done to Hydreigon, and to Xerneas! You will not win!”

A look of defiance crossed Mischief’s face and he threw his paws aside. Sparkling light lit up the sky and struck Yveltal across the beak. He reeled backwards, wings flailing.

Right on cue, the altaria broke into song, their voices crashing down on Yveltal. He roared, throwing his head back. His deadly beam claimed several of them before he turned it onto Mischief. It struck the ground where Mischief had been standing.

Cleo had barely seen him move. He stood at Yveltal’s side and struck out with another dazzling gleam. Yveltal lunched towards him, his jaws snapping at the air. He spat fuzz from his beak and turned back and forth to search for Mischief. Cleo spotted him behind one of the dragon statues. Another dazzling gleam struck Yveltal across the wing, but it hadn’t been from Mischief. Enigma stood on Yveltal’s other side, drawing the dark bird’s eye.

A stream of dark energy streaked towards the banette and he warped safely to the roof of the barracks. While Yveltal was still working out where he’d gone, Faith leapt towards him and grabbed his tail in the jaws of her horn. Yveltal screeched, yanking his tail back and sending Faith stumbling away, leaving a trail of red and black feathers. Yveltal’s beak snapped close to her face but he pulled back as Mischief struck again. Yveltal whipped towards him, his mangled tail lashing through the air and parting the remaining altaria before they could attack. Cleo kicked off the ground and soared towards him and let loose a disarming voice. Her attack struck Yveltal in the chest where it did little more than make him flinch. He looked from Mischief to his friends and a smirk tugged at his muzzle. Yveltal opened his beak and fear lit up Mischief’s face.

Cleo’s amber eyes widened as Yveltal’s attack flew straight at her. Rooted with fear she raised her paws to her face, waiting for the attack to hit. A grunt reached her ears and she opened her eyes to see Mischief’s fuzzy back. Grey stone spread out around him like mold bloom.

“Mischief!” Her yowl sounded apart from her body. Her heart shattered in her chest and she placed a paw on his rapidly cooling shoulder.

“I won’t… let you hurt… my friends…” Mischief’s voice faded out as his body turned stiff and grey like a statue.

Tears stung Cleo’s eyes and she fixed a glare on Yveltal. A chuckle shook the dark bird’s body and he tucked his wings in at his sides.

“How moving,” he crooned. “Sacrificing himself just for you? I guess he had his own weakness after all.”

Cleo choked on a sob as she retracted her paw from Mischief. His once fluffy fur scoured her paw pads. A mumbled ‘no’ slipped from her trembling lips.

How could this be happening? She looked from Mischief to Xerneas and the world around her seemed to spin.

‘Will you fight at my side in the coming battle and help me to turn the tide?’

How were they meant to win now? Both Xerneas and Mischief were down. There were hardly any of Xerneas’ army left standing. Yveltal towered over the fallen stone bodies. Even the few remaining altaria hovering above him seemed confused, their gazes wandering from Xerneas to Mischief to Yveltal.

Cleo glanced up at the sky. Still dark. It was impossible to even tell what time it was.

‘By dusk tomorrow, the Darkness will be no more. Yveltal will fall.’

Her claws dug into her paw pads as a sob shook her shoulders. They were losing. How were they meant to win this? Tears streamed over her cheeks and she felt Faith take her paw. The mawile kept her violet eyes on Yveltal, bracing herself for his next attack.

“It looks bleak, doesn’t it, fairy?” he purred, inclining his head on one side. “All you’ve ever believed in… falling apart before your eyes. And you’ve served it so loyally, haven’t you?” He turned his smirk onto Enigma who was still perched atop the barracks. “Funny how even rogues like this murderous ghost have found their way into the Fairy Garden. I guess Xerneas is growing desperate if he’s scraping up slurry like you.”

“It doesn’t matter where I’m from,” Enigma scoffed. “I’ve turned my back on all that. And I’ve never served you.”

“Really?” Yveltal chuckled and raised his head. “Then why serve Hydreigon for so long? Or did you just not fit in anywhere else?”