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Pokémon Fledglings

Chapter 61b: Tooth and Claw, Part 2

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
x05zemb.png


"There!" Crom panted. "I can finally see it!"

The docks in the visitor's district resounded with the patter of feet against wood as Team Traveller bounded along, forcing their way past sailors along the way with yelps and irritated shouts. The group carried on until they caught the sight of a schooner sporting white sails with waterspout patterns, scrambling up a lowered gangplank as all eyes on the deck turned stunned to the newfound arrivals.

"Travellers above, they actually did it!" a Raichu exclaimed, a nearby Servine similarly staring dumbfounded.

"How on earth did you manage to get him here?"

"There they are, stop them!"

Before the pair's questions could be answered, the quiet was broken by a multicolored beam of light zipping overhead and sailing along into the wood of the Siglo Swellow's deck. Elty turned back, where the sight of an approaching mob of Pokémon in indigo scarves could be seen storming up the docks, lobbing an increasingly thick volley of attacks that pockmarked the merchant ship's hull and deck.

"Worry about that later!" the Growlithe shouted. "Let's just get moving already!"

After weaving out of the way of a flying rock, Beatrix buzzed loudly, and flitted onto the ship's rigging, looking down to bark out orders to her subordinates.

"Cut the moorings and get some cover up!" the Illumise cried. "We're getting out of here!"

With no time to spare, the moorings along the dock were summarily sliced by a Bayleef flicking razor-like leaves from the railing, prompting the ship's escorts to begin their work of whipping up currents in the water and air. The ship lurched ahead as Pokémon ran up to the railings, hastily following the lead of a Hitmontop in spreading barriers of light between their paws to deflect the hail of attacks coming from land.

"Return fire!" Vicente cried. "If we can't keep them off our tails here, we're as good as sunk!"

Team Traveller joined in as another wave of deckhands came up behind the barrier holders, spitting up and hurling attacks back at the docks as the ship plowed along. The sound of yelps evidenced that some of the attacks found their mark on some of the guards, while others sailed off into nearby ships and sailors on the docks. From his place aboard the deck, Pleo watched as a few of the ships began to list and smolder, only for a loud blast and shrieks to ring out nearby, his sight catching a Trumbeak keeling over and slumping to the deck from the aftereffects of a crackling thunderbolt. The young Lugia blanched and looked over at the felled Trumbeak, prompting Crom and Elty to try and snap him back to attention.

"Mewa, get it together!" the Growlithe snapped.

"Yeah!" Crom cried. "If we can't get out of the harbor, nothing we've done will have mattered-"

"Ojo!"

The three's ears perked up at the sound of an Unfezant's startled shout, prompting them to turn and see a large wave coming towards them from the middle of the harbor with swimming Pokémon in indigo scarves riding its crest. From her place at the tiller, Beatrix stared blankly a moment, before leaning hard on the tiller and steering the Siglo Swellow's bow square into the wave.

The water lifted the hull up, pitching the ship back wildly as the sound of crashing wood and screams rang out. Team Traveller's members dug their paws around the railing and rigging, holding on for dear life as the ship pitched further and further up, only for it to splash back down. Nida felt her head strike the deck as water cascaded over her, the rabbit getting up dazedly as the ship lurch underfoot after a crunch rang out by her ears. The Nidoran peered back and saw that the Siglo Swellow had grazed a pier, with the docks further behind now a mess of tangled and half-sunken ships, with the water between them and the harbor's entrance clear and open.

"Take us dead ahead!" Beatrix barked. "We've got a clear shot to the open sea!"

The escorts still able focused the water and wind into a strong current, powering them and the schooner along as the injured among them were dragged from the water groaning onto the deck. The crew braced themselves as Pokémon in indigo scarves began to mass on the wall hemming the harbor in from the sea, the sailors readying their Protects for another volley of incoming attacks. Unfortunately for the crew, their numbers had thinned, while the guards' had only increased, prompting more and more attacks to begin to slip through as the ship began to move between the harbor's walls at the entrance. The white, blinding light of a Hyper Beam came through, slamming into a Bayleef and a Nosepass and sending them slumping to the deck as a spray of bullet-like seeds sailed by and caught Nida with a yelp, knocking her to the ground with a daze and making Pleo squawk and dart back in fright.

"A-Aah!"

"Hang in there, Pleo!" Kiran cried. "We're almost free here-!"

"Ready the seafire and don't let that schooner get away!"

Pleo watched as the eyes of the nearby sailors shrunk to pins at the mention of seafire and looked up as a Magmar on an overlooking wall from above pushed over a large stone cauldron and breathed fire on it. Pleo saw embers drip down from the lid of the cauldron, the seabird watching as Crom and Elty's faces contorted into horrified grimaces. The Lugia looked up unervedly, and watched as a mass of burning fluid dumped out of the cauldron and fell for the deck before reflexively batting his wings out.

"L-Leave us alone!"

The young guardian desperately brought his wings together and flung forth a churning wind, only to notice that his feathers hadn't lit up in the process. Pleo squawked in horror and curled his head under his wings, screwing his eyes shut in fright. He heard a splash, along with frightened shouts and the sound of crackling flames...

"Agh!" a Seaking yelped. "Watch where you dump that stuff!"

"I can't get past it!" an Eelektrik cried. "There's too much seafire blocking the harbor entrance!"

The Lugia paused, realizing slowly that the shouts were coming from behind him and fading away. Pleo cracked his eyes open and looked back to see the walls of the harbor behind the Siglo Swellow, fire dancing on the sea's surface just behind them… along with the deckhands all around him staring at him with slack-jawed silence.

"You- You did it!" Vicente cried. "Your quick thinking saved this ship from becoming ash!"

"He really is our Protector!" a Golduck chimed in.

Pleo hopped back with a start, his words coming out with a flustered stammer. He hadn't done anything out of the ordinary at all there! Why was everyone making such a big deal out of it?

"H-Huh?!" Pleo exclaimed. "But my powers didn't come right there-!"

"It doesn't matter!" Crom cheered. "We were in trouble and you still came to our rescue!"

"Yeah!" Nida piped up. "You protected us, just like you were meant to!"

Pleo quieted a moment as a thought came to mind… could it be that a Protector didn't need its powers all the time to defend the Pokémon they cared for? The thought was interrupted by a stream of fire soaring overhead, prompting Beatrix to whirl back to her crewmates.

"There will be time to celebrate later!" she snapped. "Come on, while those guards are still busy bottled up in the harbor!"

The Siglo Swellow powered on against the waves, the attacks from behind coming less frequently and further and further off their mark as the ship sailed on for the horizon, the Pokémon settling down to tend to their wounded and the vessel's damage. Amidst it all, a strange joy filled the crew: as far as they were from home and the safety of its harbor, it somehow felt as if a part of it had come to them with the presence of their long-sought Protector.



Back deeper within Tidemill, dust continued to swirl around a stone building that had its roof freshly shorn off, which now lay dashed in pieces in the water of the canal. A few shattered timbers floated along with a few stray tiles as the canal water bubbled and the form of a Samurott staggered and pulled himself onto the street panting, flecked with fresh lacerations and bruises from his fall into the water with the building's rooftop.

"Urgh…"

Lyn heard an irritated hiss from behind, tensing his paws over the hilts of his blades as he looked back to see Nagant clambering out of the water beside him, with murderous hate burning in her beady eyes.

"Grr… you!" the Clawitzer seethed. "I don't know what you did back there, but you had something to do with it!"

"Yes, of course, because falling from a rooftop is just what I needed to help recover the Protector," Lyn spat back. "Did you hit your head on the way down?"

"No, but let me help you out with that!"

Nagant and Lyn lunged for each other, the Samurott dealing a swift slash at the shrimp's shelled body as she shot back with a spray of black orbs that burst against his chest. The pair tumbled back, seething as they righted themselves and prepared to tear into each other once again when the sound of bricks falling drew their attention to a nearby alleyway where a group of white-scarved Pokémon led by a aggravated Ledian came into view with a dazed Aggron caked in rubble and dust in its midst.

"Ugh, of course you would fall for a ruse like that," Kichiro grumbled.

"I don't want to hear it!" Hess snapped. "Let's get out of here before-!"

"Oh no you don't!" Nagant screeched. "You're not just getting away like that!"

The Clawitzer leveled her claw and summarily disgorged a watery pulse that launched Hess into a wall with a yelp, sending the white-scarved Pokémon around him scattering in a panic. She hopped over as Lyn frowned unimpressedly at the Aggron's ordeal, shaking his head while a Huntail swam up in the water from a Crobat being slung onto the back of a Wailmer.

"We need to get going," the Samurott murmured.

"Excuse me, Captain?" the Huntail asked.

Lyn motioned further down the street where a body of Pokémon in indigo were massing. From a distance, the lot could be seen beginning to make their way down the street canvassing the buildings for intruders.

"There's nothing to be gained from staying here while the Protector's gone, and we've got downed deckhands," the Commissioner barked. "We're better off taking this moment to retreat and try to pin down the Protector's trail before we start having to leave behind deckhands."

The Huntail hesitated a moment, wondering if the Protector was truly as gone as his superior presumed. A yelp caught the fish's attention, prompting him to cast a glance at Nagant fighting a visibly wide-eyed Aggron and then back at the approaching guards. They were in enemy territory, and it appeared the Imps wouldn't shy away from force to try and extract information… for the sake of the mission, it really was best to just cut and run while they could.

"Aye, Captain."

Lyn motioned to his nearby underlings to move out and slipped into the water as a loud thud rang out. There, back in the alleyway, Hess fell from a fresh indentation in the alley wall panting and dripping water, trying to scrabble away for dear life only to feel his neck get gripped by a forceful claw and be drug to face the business end of Nagant's large claw.

"A-Aah!"

"You should have stayed on your island cesspool while you had the chance, Aggron!" the Clawitzer seethed. "You're under arrest, and you're gonna tell me everything about what you kno-"

"Everyone!" a Samurott's voice bellowed. "We're moving out!"

Nagant slackened her grip, allowing Hess to fall to the ground and hide his head under his claws as she turned back. Much to her aggravation, she noticed her Samurott foe slinking off at the rear of a large group of Pokémon in blue sun scarves, prompting her to hiss in rage and jet off after him.

"Why you-!"

The Clawitzer hopped up onto a nearby crate and vaulted up into the air, training her large claw on Lyn as an orb of blue light began to form between its tips. Before the Aura Sphere could form, the Samurott abruptly dove, before lunging up with a seamitar drawn, uppercutting the shrimp and sending her flying back with a loud cry.

Nagant felt her head hit the stony cobbles of the street, tumbling back as she got up in a wheezing daze, noticing blue fluid dribble out onto the stones from a cracked segment of her armor. She wobbled on her tail briefly, chittering as she shakily leveled her claw off at Lyn's form in the distance...

"I- I don't know anything!" a rumbling voice yelped.

"Huh-?"

Nagant turned, only to feel a sudden blow on the side of her head from a rigid, steely tail and get launched face-first into the wall of a nearby shop. The Clawitzer went limp and flopped backwards into the street, her attacker standing a good distance away shivering with his eyes screwed shut and his tail curled in timidly against his body.

"That stupid bird and his friends ran off already!" Hess squealed. "I don't know anything, so don't-!"

"Captain, she's fainted!" Kichiro shouted. "Hurry up and run!"

Hess cracked his eyes open warily, seeing the prone form of the old shrimp laying groaning in the street ahead… along with the slack-jawed faces of a few of his lackeys poking out from various nooks and crannies of the alley he was in. The Aggron quickly forced a grin, and shifted his body into a noticeably over-triumphant pose.

"Er… all in my plan, of course!" the Steel-Type overhastily piped. "Time for a strategic retreat!"

The Aggron and his underlings quickly slipped off into the darkness of the alley as the indigo-scarved Pokémon neared Nagant's fainted body. From further down the canal, Lyn peered back over his shoulder at the scene, slowing a moment as he wondered whether the steely oaf might know something useful...

"… Nah," he harrumphed, before turning back and shaking his head. "It wouldn't be worth the trouble."

The Samurott hurried along, diving under the surface of the water. His lackeys who were able formed bubbles for their passengers and followed suit, while the filers dispersed into small groups and fanned out, their presence in the great city dissipating much like a dying wind at sea.



As quiet began to return to the canals of Tidemill Central, the interior of the courtroom in Tidemill West began to come alive with activity as it filled with Pokémon. There, in front of the doorway, a Fletchinder, Misdreavus, and Pikachu traded uneasy looks with one another, eyeing hallways expectantly only to time and time again find them empty of faces they'd expected to come in at any moment.

"Cardino? When are your assistants supposed to get back?" Rita pressed.

"They said they'd be right after me, pal," the Pikachu murmured. "But I haven't seen hide or hair of them or their friends."

Nico shook his head as the sound of footsteps prompted him to look up towards the podium. There, the Slowking judge presiding over the case had slowly begun to settle into his seat, playing with his gavel a moment before giving it a firm bat against the wood of his podium.

"… I'm afraid we can't wait for them any longer," the Fletchinder muttered. "We've got the evidence we need here, so we'll just have to interpret it ourselves."

"All rise, court is now in session."

Nico and his assistant hastily made their way over to their table, settling as Akin perused some documents spread out in front of him. At the end of the courtroom, the doors creaked open, revealing the form of Admiral Coil, bobbing along followed by guards, carrying an aloof and puzzled demeanor about him.

"If I may, but why exactly am I here, your Honor?" the Magnezone pressed. "I was just in the middle of spectating her highness' tournament."

"You know exactly why you're here!" a livid Cofagrigus seethed from the defendant's box. "You rusty piece of sh-!"

"Aherm! In the last session, we heard some… troubling allegations regarding you, Admiral," the Slowking answered. "That's why I've brought you here, so that you could help clear the air regarding them."

Coil's eyes quickly hardened into a scowl as the floating saucer crackled in indignation. The Magnezone cast a stern glance over at Nico's table, lingering for an unimpressed moment before turning back to the Slowking judge.

"Hrmph. Well I suppose it would only be natural that my rivals would be coming out of the woodwork as Her Majesty mulls a new Prime Minister for the realm," the Electric-Type scoffed. "Surely you're not wasting this court's time with unsubstantiated slander…?"

WHAM!

"That will be for the courts to decide!" Nico squawked, pulling his wings back from a forceful pound on his desk. "From evidence that we recovered in our case, we have a letter clearly tying you to active collusion with pirates!"

A spark crackled a moment over Coil's surface, as he shot a fierce glare across the room at the Fletchinder. Taken aback, Nico flinched a moment, prompting Coil to harrumph and let a spark of electricity crackle up the side of his body.

"… I don't have time for this farce," the Magnezone hissed. "If you value your practice, I would suggest you not try and drag me into whatever featherbrained scheme you have."

"Well, surely answering a few questions wouldn't be too much before sending you on your way, Admiral?" the judge insisted. Coil paused a moment, before giving a dismissive spin of his magnets.

"… Hrmph, let's just make this quick," the Magnezone harrumphed. "I'm missing my matches at the stadium."

"Witness, please tell this court about your relation to the letter the Defense presented before us seeking a partnership with the Strongjaw Gang."

Admiral Coil let out a buzzing sigh, before floating behind the witness' stand. The Electric-Type settled himself as Nico braced himself at his desk, the Magnezone witness giving a crackle to clear his voice.

"There's really not a whole lot to say about this matter. Any position with a political undercurrent has always had characters trying to get ahead by shifty means," the Admiral offered. "As such, it's hardly a surprise that a suspiciously-timed letter would be trotted out just days before Queen Aleria was due to decide on her next Prime Minister."

"Hold it!"

All eyes in the courtroom turned towards the Defense's corner of the courtroom. There, Nico stretched a wing out at the witness stand, giving its tips a forceful, accusing waggle.

"This letter has your signature on it!" the Fletchinder exclaimed, moving his wing down on the singed letter. "How do you expect the court to believe that another culprit could have made this?"

"I sign numerous documents on a daily basis as the head of the City Guard," Coil glowered. "Do you mean to tell me that it would be impossible for someone to trace it based off of that?"

"Objection! The rest of the writing on there wouldn't have had a source material to copy from!" Nico cried, "How do you explain that?"

"That's simple," Akin interjected. "I didn't notice it at first because of the signature, but the letter isn't written in his writing."

Gasps went about the room at the Serperior's revelation, while Nico began to flush pale under his feathers, his beak hanging agape.

"… It's… It's... not?"

"I believe the Prosecutor here would be a bit more likely to receive correspondence from me than the likes of a lowly hack attorney," Coil hissed. "Tell me, Serperior. Do you happen to have a sample handy?"

"Of course, Admiral," the serpent answered. "I was asking Admiral Coil for witness statements in the prior case, which I didn't include since I didn't feel it had decisive evidence. In the process he gave me a report of the raid's aftermath and signed off on it which I have right here…"

Akin craned his head down to an embroidered bag set on his table, nosing in to pull out a folded-up sheet of paper. The Serperior unfurled it, revealing it to be a paper lined with rows of messy runes…which much to the judge's astonishment was written in runes that looked completely different from the ones on Nico's letter with the exception of a signature at the bottom.

"Ah! It really is different!" the Slowking exclaimed.

"Some degree of variance in handwriting between samples is to be expected, but this much? That's surely a stretch to believe," Akin scoffed. "And hardly any basis for a case against Admiral Coil!"

Nico stiffened and went wide-eyed at the Serperior's argument. The Fletchinder tried to think of one rebuttal after another, only to come up with nothing but a blank, sinking feeling.

"… Agh."

The audience at once broke out into boos and jeers, prompting Nico and Rita to shrink back and hide behind their desk. From the witness stand, the Magnezone gave an angry harrumph, sparks dancing on his body.

"I hope you've learned a lesson from this, Fletchinder. If you're going around wildly accusing others of wrongdoing, you'd best have proof to back it up!" Coil snarled. "Perhaps a stint being disbarred from the court will set you straight! I'm sure you can use your bluffing for a more appropriate line of work like hustling cards in a tavern!"

"But all of the evidence was-!" Rita began, only to be cut off by a sharp hiss from the Magnezone on the stand.

"A waste of everyone's time! All you've done is string this court along and stall the real culprits from getting justice!"

Visible arcs of electricity crackled on Coil's magnets, before he slammed them down into the wood. A deafening crack rang out and the sizzle of charred wood filled the air, making the Defense and Prosecution alike jump back with a start. Even the Slowking judge from his podium went wide-eyed with alarm, timidly motioning for calm with his paws towards the irate Magnezone.

"E-Easy there, Admiral!" the judge stammered. "I think that we've heard everything that we need to here to conclude this trial..."

Nico looked around frantically for something, anything that he could use to keep the trial going until he could catch his slippery nemesis in a contradiction… only to notice smoke still curling up from the witness stand, and Coil's magnets still glowing with radiant heat.

"Hold it!"

The courtroom's attention quickly settled on the Fletchinder, who found himself filled with newfound vigor at a sudden realization… Admiral Coil touched things with those magnets! Then if that was the case, if he'd sent a letter, he'd have to have sealed it...

"Prosecutor Akin, do you still have that report from earlier?" Nico said. The Serperior flicked his tongue out puzzledly for a second, before raising a brow back skeptically.

"… Yes? Where are you going with this?"

"I'd just like to run a simple comparison…" the Fletchinder murmured.

The Prosecutor slithered over and deposited his letter on the desk where Nico compared it with the letter Cardino's assistants recovered. Although the writing seemed to be different, both of them had a curious pair of square-shaped impressions on them… along with the distinctive form of a small burn left on their envelopes where a spark had touched them.

"These two letters were handled in exactly the same way as each other!" he cried. "Meaning that it couldn't have been handled by anyone other than Admiral Coil!"

Nico's exclamation was at once met by the sounds of crackling electricity, as Coil sparked in a rage behind the witness' stand. The Magnezone pointed a magnet back accusingly, his voice coming out as a livid screech.

"Are you seriously trying to play this game again?! There's more than one Magnezone in this entire city!" Coil snapped. "We all seal our letters in roughly the same fashion since we don't have digits!"

"Hey wait a minute, Nico!" Rita exclaimed. "There's a mark on this decoder envelope as well!"

Nico peered back at the envelope that Cardino's assistants had found the decoder in and noticed that while faded, the seal of the envelope really had been singed much like the other two. The Fletchinder's eyes lit up as a realization dawned on him... this envelope that the decoder was kept in had to have been handled by Coil in the past!

"Admiral, would this look familiar by any chance?"

Nico held up and unfurled the colored grid of the decoder, prompting Coil to jolt up with a surprised buzz. The Magnezone bobbed disorientedly a moment, before giving back a seething, crackling hiss.

"All I see is an unmarked envelope with a paper full of gobbeldygook," he harrumphed. "I fail to see the point here."

Nico's beak flopped open at the Magnezone's bald-faced lie of a retort. Even so, he couldn't think of a way to prove that Coil used it at all…

"Erk… that's not enough for me to rest my case on," the Fire-Type mumbled to himself. "But it's related to Sibich, and from that reaction, to Coil as well…"

The Fletchinder looked down, when his eyes noticed that the envelope had something further wedged inside. Hadn't the Nidoran and her friends merely said they'd found the decoder in there?

"Huh? There's something else in here."

The attorney poked his beak in and rooted around, closing it around a thin, light object that he pulled out. It was a silvery-white plume, the mere sight of which made Coil and Sibich mutually gasp out of surprise.

"Hey wait a minute, that's one of Lugia's feathers!" Sibich exclaimed. The Magnezone behind the witness stand went wide-eyed, dissolving into a babbling stammer at the sight of the feather.

"I… I… don't see how this is relevant at all-" he began, only for a thump and a loud shout from the Defense's corner to cut him off.

"Objection! Your Honor, this is decisive evidence of Admiral Coil's involvement!"

"I don't follow, Defense," the judge murmured. "Please show this court some evidence as to how this ties the Admiral to your client."

Nico scrounged around his bag, pulling out a rolled up piece of paper and unfurling it to reveal a notice bearing a silhouette of a white bird with a long neck and blue plates plastered with runes.

"A… poster?" the Slowking asked.

"For the Silver Wing Cup: a tournament for the chance to have a private audience with the new Protector of Anyilla," the Fletchinder explained. "And the only Pokémon who had access to the Protector and could have sealed this envelope in such a fashion is none other than Admiral Coil!"

"Agh!"

Coil jolted upright in the air at Nico's exclamation, prompting the bird to continue on, sensing that at long last, he'd put his foe behind the witness stand on the ropes.

"That's decisive proof that you've been in league with the Shadow Brigade all along, and directly coordinating activities with Sibich for your own mutual benefit!" the Fire-Type exclaimed. "And you were seeking to continue your scheme with other pirates and other criminals here in Tidemill City after you couldn't continue using Sibich and his lackies as pawns anymore!"

"Lies and slander!" Coil insisted. "If I were really to stoop to such a business-"

"You'd discard us when it was convenient, and use us as tools to advance yourself higher into your queen's good graces," Sibich added. "Fine 'partnership' you had there."

"Nrghh…" the Magnezone groaned. "You can't be seriously suggesting-"

"You're this 'Coordinator' that has been the talk of the underworld!" Nico squawked. "And from the sound of it, you've been manipulating the wrong side of the law for your benefit for years!"

Sparks began to dance on the Electric-Type's body, the Admiral jerking his body erratically as his eyes darted back and forth and his breaths came out in harsh, seething hisses.

"That's- Nrgh… Graaaah!"

Coil lobbed a thick bolt of lightning at the Defense's table, dashing it to splinters. Nico and Rita leapt back with a startled cry, looking up as the Magnezone threw himself at the pair in a rage. A Persian and a Glalie hastily moved in to intercept, only for the steely Pokémon to summarily fell them with a pair of deafening thunderclaps. A wide-eyed Bastiodon lobbed a Stun Seed ahead, cracking with a loud bang against Coil's body, which made him list and drop limply to the ground, still sparking and glaring defiantly.

"Grr… that decoder is mine, and you have no idea what you're doing," the Magnezone hissed. "What I've done to help protect this Empire!"

"Working with pirates and criminals isn't protecting it at all!" Rita cried. "You were even willing to let them get away with egg theft if it meant keeping your scheme going!"

"Fool! As long as I was there, my connections to one pirate could keep the three others from ever wreaking havoc in the first place!" Coil shouted. "When those agents overstepped their bounds-"

"Spare us the lecture," Sibich spat. "I'll be looking forward to finding out what your so-called allies do to traitors in their midst."

"You have no right to protest, you miserable lump of sea bilge!" the Electric-Type roared. "You knew exactly what you were getting into-!"

"I've heard enough!" the Slowking snapped. "Bailiff! Please extract Admiral Coil from the premises!"

"You idiots! Who do you think has been keeping this Empire together?!" the Magnezone screeched. "Who do you think has allowed the Empire to keep up with those square-necks?! That airhead currently sitting on the throne?!"

WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

"Bailiff!"

A Jumpluff and Simipour falteringly came forward, dragging the saucer-like Pokémon out of the room with his metallic body creaking against the ground. The lot made it to the doorway as the wounded guards were spirited off by their fellows, leaving a dead, stunned silence to linger among the audience as Coil shouted from the doorway, training a piercing glare at Nico and Rita.

"Everything that happens to the Empire from here on is your fault! Everything!" he seethed.

The bailiffs slammed the door shut, leaving behind a silence thick enough to cut with a knife. The judge stammered, reaching for his gavel with a trembling paw as he tried to restore some sense of normalcy.

"Y-Your Honor," Akin muttered. "Can we just get this over with now? I could use a moment to reassess my strategies as a Prosecutor… and get a stiff drink."

"I… I think that it's time that we got to the sentencing-" the Slowking began, only to be interrupted by the shout of a Bellossom from the audience.

"For what?! To cover up some other crime?!"

"Yeah, what else are you hiding here?!" a Glaceon shouted.

One after the other, the Pokémon in the audience got up and stormed down into the center of the courtroom, mobbing the front of the judge's podium with angry shouts over the trial's revelations. The Slowking judge went wide-eyed, looking around at the sea of glowering faces before his eyes fell on an unobstructed door to the rear.

"C-Court is dismissed!" the judge yelped. "We'll reconvene sometime later! Much later!"

The Slowking turned and bolted, slamming the door behind him. Eager to similarly duck out of the way of the angry crowd, Akin slipped out of the front entrance as the remaining guards drug Sibich from the room, leaving Nico and his companions to watch blankly as the mob poured out of the courthouse bringing their vitriol out of an increasingly empty courtroom as a Manectric paced up with a satisfied trot.

"Nice work there, oseo," Luca said. "Our organization's been looking for years to get that Coordinator off our back, and here you managed to pull it off with a little sharp thinking!"

The Manectric's praise drew dubious stares between the Fletchinder and the Misdreavus, as Cardino paced up, raising a paw inquisitively to the black-scarved Manectric.

"I take it the kids are with you, then?" the Pikachu asked. "Their buddies were hanging out in the audience earlier and I haven't been able to find any of them since we left the stadium."

"Tch, beats me. I haven't seen either of them since you went out to fetch Coil," Luca retorted. "As far as I and the rest of my associates are concerned, our involvement ended as soon as he was exposed."

Luca turned, beginning to make his way for the door before pausing and turning back, his face having taken on a serious expression.

"By the way, you all might want to stay clear of the streets for awhile," he admonished. "Mob mentality's a fickle beast and it might take awhile for this thing to simmer down again."

The wolf slunk off, leaving the door to swing shut with a faint thud. The three Pokémon stood at the desk in the emptied courtroom, trading uneasy looks with one another.

"… Did we handle things the right way here…?" Rita murmured.

"… It's the truth," Nico answered. "It had to come out at some point."

"I dunno, pal," Cardino sighed. "I just hope things don't get to be too much of a mess from this…"



As the city's courthouse teemed with unrest, the harbor at the Visitor's District still smoldered with lingering seafire that continued to burn at the mouth of the harbor entrance. The docks were a mess with ships thrown haphazardly against each other, wounded Pokémon lying on the wharves being tended to by medics as other sailors set about cantankerously separating their crafts from each other.

Amidst all the chaos and destruction in the harbor, a large party of white-scarved Pokémon ran along the docks for a caravel with suspiciously ill-fitting white sails on it, running a hapless Nincada off into the water as they charged down the pier. The group was a sorry-looking bunch: frazzled, caked with dust, and dragging along fainted counterparts. The lot charged up the waiting caravel's gangplank, headed by an Aggron who appeared much as if he'd seen death himself.

The Pokémon fanned out, Hess beelining for the tiller before looking up at his crew, stomping his foot against the deck with panicked haste.

"Go, go, go!" the Steel-Type yelped. "We need to get out of this harbor and back out onto the sea!"

The ship rocked slightly under the Aggron's stomps, but failed to accomplish anything among his crew other than a collection of blank stares back. His Floatzel first mate grimaced, before raising a paw to point out to the water...

"Erm, Hess…"

The Aggron captain followed Rodion's paw with his gaze, where he at once noticed the sight of a still smoldering slick of seafire blocking the harbor's mouth. All around it, the water had been clogged with torn-up piers and half-sunk ships strewn wildly about, prompting Rodion to carry on uneasily.

"How exactly do you propose we do that?" the Floatzel asked.

Hess' jaw fell open at the sight of the trashed harbor. With all that junk floating in the water, his crew would be lucky to swim out of the harbor with their hides on their backs! This was nothing like the orderly harbor that they'd planned on sailing out of!

"Wh-What?!" he cried. "When did this happen?!"

"Those Tromban dweebs from earlier got chased out by the guards and tore up the harbor in the process," a Litten gulped.

A pall came over Hess and his raiding party as they realized that if the Siglo Swellow had already left, they'd surely managed to grab the Protector ahead of them… and leave them stranded in the one place where all the guards were sure to start looking for anyone who'd made a grab for the blasted bird!

"Wh-What do we do now?" Wilhelm stammered.

"Uhm… er…"

Hess looked around wildly, before noticing that the Litten from earlier was still wearing his normal golden scarf. By reflex, the Aggron raised his voice, blurting out the results of a desperate, flailing epiphany.

"We fly our original colors!" the Steel-Type ordered. "Quick, take those sails down!"

At once, the crew flew into a frenzy as the white sails pilfered from the Siglo Swellow were stripped down and thrown onto the deck as their golden sails were hastily hoisted up. As the old sails went back up, the deckhands hastily rifled through bags and chests for their original scarves, throwing them over their now-compromised disguises in a slapdash hurry. From beside the rear mast, Kichiro looked around with his mouth slackened, before turning to his captain with a glare.

"Is this really the best you could think of?!" the Ledian spat. "Just how dense do you think the guards will be?!"

"You there!" a hissing voice shouted.

"Meep!"

Hess peered down uneasily from the bridge of his ship, looking over to see a battered and scowling Decidueye along with a similarly roughed-up Herdier and Araquanid. The Grass-Type flitted up, settling on the railing and training a harsh glare at the Aggron captain.

"Have you seen any Pokémon from a ship with white sails and a waterspout pattern on it?" the owl demanded.

Hess stammered and fumbled with his words, watching out of the corner of his eyes as his underlings hastily crowded around the white sails they'd pulled down from the masts. The Steel-Type gulped, hoping to the Travellers above that the Imp wouldn't look too deeply before those sails could be dealt with.

"Uh… no? I mean, it's just us in our gold and silvers here," the Aggron insisted. "Those 'mons already took off ages ago."

"Blast!" Alba hissed. "You heard the 'mon, fan out and try to find stragglers to interrogate!"

The Decidueye growled and hopped off, the guard and his teammates charging off into the battered harbor. From the deck as the owl slipped off, the crew let out a collective sigh of relief, as Kichiro continued staring with his mouth wide open.

"Words… fail me," the Ledian uttered.

"… Wait, I just realized…" a Sealeo murmured. "If that guard didn't recognize our scarves, does that mean we're nobodies here?"

The Sealeo's question was answered by a loud groan from a Yanmega, followed by eye rolls from his Marowak and Manectric teammates. The dragonfly gave an annoyed beat of his wings and flitted up as his voice came out in an aggravated chitter.

"Did it really take you three days to figure that out?" Valatos snapped. "We put it together as soon as we were kicked off this boat!"

The crew traded looks with one another before turning their attention over to Hess. The Aggron captain grimaced a bit, before burying his face in an opened claw with a groaning sigh.

"Urgh… can we just be happy right now that we didn't get caught?"



As Hess and the Iron Fleet nursed their wounded pride on the Mistral Marauder, what precious little traffic making its way to and from past the harbor's seawall was limited to a few narrow passages under the water where teams of aquatic guards kept watch. Among their number were a Cloyster and Quagsire pair at one of the entrances, lazily bobbing with the current as they occasionally checked and let Pokémon through if they had indigo scarves on and turned all others away.

"A real fine mess those surface 'mons made of things," a Cloyster grunted. "Last I checked, even when I was drunk on duty, I didn't manage to make the water catch on fire!"

"You're preaching to the choir here," a Quagsire grumbled. "If it wasn't for 'mons like us, who knows how those lunkheads on the docks would manage- Huh?"

The Quagsire trailed off at the sight of approaching dark shapes in the water. At the front, the form of a Samurott came into view, tearing along straight for their position with a fierce scowl and showing no signs of stopping.

"Hey!" the Cloyster exclaimed. "You can't just go through here without-!"

Before the Cloyster could protest, he was cut off by a sharp slash, sending him slamming into the wall and tipped over with a groan. The Quagsire went wide-eyed and spat up a glob of mud back, only to be struck by an icy beam that froze him to the side of the wall. The Samurott swam past, followed by a small train of Pokémon swimming with white scarves and blue sun pattern, some carrying passengers who clung tight to them in bubbles of air, others slumped over limply on their carriers.

Lyn carried on a ways as the seafloor dropped away into the depths and faded from view, motioning with his paw to the surface where he saw the forms of fliers in the air making their way towards a waiting brigantine ahead. The Samurott sighed, before swimming up, digging his paws into a rope ladder slung over the side and making his way up just in time to overhear Ellsberg and Ketu's voices arguing over some matter he neither could make out nor cared to know about. Lyn reached the deck and shook himself dry, catching sight of the two trading glares as he made his way over and stomped the deck's timbers to announce his presence.

"So, did you get the bird?" Ketu asked.

The Samurott snorted and shook his head, shooting a disgusted look back in the direction of the harbor where black smoke curled over the skies above it.

"The Protector slipped away thanks to the interference of that shrimp and some pirate clod," Lyn harrumphed. "Have you noticed any ships passing by lately?"

Ellsberg and Ketu stared back incredulously at the Samurott. He'd lost the Protector again, and his main concern was if whether or not they'd been watching passing ships?

"… We're near a harbor," Ellsberg buzzed. "So wouldn't that be expected-?"

"Ships passing by lately, Ellsberg!" Lyn snapped. "As in within the last fifteen minutes!"

"Er… there was a schooner in the distance with white sails just a few minutes ago that was heading south around the time smoke started coming from the harbor," the moth offered. "I think that's it there, just over the horizon?"

Ellsberg raised a tarsal and pointed off southwards at a speck on the horizon. Reflexively, Lyn fished out his scope and focused it on the white object. There through the scope, he saw the battered form of a schooner with sails with a waterspout pattern, the deck filled with Pokémon being laid out for treatment, with the form of a white bird looking on uneasily… the same distinct, long-necked form of Tromba's Protector.

"Grr! It's that one!" the Samurott growled. "Lower the sails and give chase!"

At once the crew flew into a hurry, pulling up the anchor and letting the sails down and unfurl in the wind. As the deck hummed with activity, Ellsberg paused to take out his own scope and look out at the ship in the distance. He noticed that it seemed to be very much an unremarkable schooner… twin masts, a raised bridge, and a bow that seemed to have a rounded knob fitted over it… Wait a minute, a knob fitted over the bow? That could only mean...

"Lyn, that ship's got a bulbous bow!" Ellsberg cried. "That's the sort of hull pursuit boats have! There's no way that my Nektar Weide would be able to keep pace with it!"

"So we damage it and slow them down!" the Samurott retorted. "Is it really that difficult to think one step ahead, Ellsberg?"

"Sounds to me like you're skipping the 'risk analysis' step, Captain." Ketu chided, much to Lyn's spluttering irritation.

"Excuse me?!"

"At this range, any attacks we make will be a crapshoot," the Weavile explained. "If our salvo doesn't cripple that schooner, we'll have done nothing but squander our element of surprise. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack after we a clear opportunity presents itself?"

The Nektar Weide lurched forward as the sails took on wind, leaving Lyn to blink uneasily a moment. The Samurott glanced off in the distance, lowering his head pensively before shaking his head.

"Hrmph, I'll admit I hadn't considered that angle, but fair enough," he sighed. "Even if that schooner can outrun us, we should still be able to remain close enough to keep an eye on them. They will have stop eventually."

The otter grumbled and hurried off for the tiller at the stern, leaving Ketu and Ellsberg behind on the deck. The Weavile and Mothim traded looks with one another, the moth shooting his teammate a skeptical glance as he rested on a nearby length of rigging.

"Trying hard to get back into Lyn's good graces, huh?" Ellsberg asked.

"Hrmph, I was more worried about ensuring that we'd have better odds of getting that Lugia first," Ketu harrumphed.

"And whatever happened to letting Lyn do your dirty work for you?" the Mothim demanded.

"A little shrimp came along and stole the Protector out from under him last time," the Weavile retorted. "So I've decided to cut the middleman out."

Ellsberg flitted in place and mulled Ketu's words for a second. Although their original plan was to have Lyn kidnap that Lugia first, he had to admit it went less than ideal the last time… as had the two times before that. Not to mention Lyn did just return empty-pawed once again. As loath as he was to admit it, perhaps Ketu really did have a point about taking matters into their own hands...

"… I'm not fully sold on this," the Bug-Type hesitantly said. "But I'll have to admit that's a compelling argument."

"Just follow my lead and don't get in my way, Elmer," Ketu ordered. Ellsberg let out an annoyed buzz over his misnaming, prompting the Weavile to cross his arms and brush the matter away with an explanation.

"Besides, if we're lucky we might just have some help with our mission at our next port."

"… Come again?" the moth demanded. "Just how are we supposed to have help even deeper in Imperial territory?"

A sly, cat-like grin came over Ketu's face at Ellsberg's retort, prompting the Mothim to flit his wings impatiently. The Weavile fanned a set of claws out, picking disinterestedly at them as he began to speak back to his Bug-Type questioner.

"Judging from the direction they're going and the fact that they left in a hurry, there's a good chance they'll stop on Buyeom Island for reprovisioning," he explained. "Administrator Elilan has some hidden assets stationed there that I go back with a long way."

"… I'll wait and see what you have there," Ellsberg sighed. "But don't get cocky about this again."

"Hrmph. Just worry about keeping your glorified raft in one piece for now," Ketu retorted. "There'll be plenty of time to bring you up to speed."

The Mothim frowned a moment before flitting off with a harrumph, leaving Ketu to sidle up and rest against the railing. The Dark-Type looked ahead at the shrinking form of the Siglo Swellow in the distance, watching it intently as he tapped his claws against the wood of the railing. All this time, he'd been hanging back under the assumption that letting Lyn go through the trouble of grabbing that bird was the best way to completing his mission for Administrator Elilan… but after this whole episode, it was clear to him that if he wanted to get anything done he'd have to do it himself.

It was time to get into action and snatch up that Lugia on his own.



About twenty minutes later, the sight of Giotto Island had just started slipping over the horizon, leaving the battered hull of the Siglo Swellow to bob along in the water. The crew's ranks had thinned, as deckhands continued resting off wounds below deck as the remainder attempted to tend to the stricken vessel.

A few more intrepid souls had come back onto the deck in spite of their wounds, including Ander, who wobbled up from below deck with his blotched head sporting a fresh set of yellowed bandages. He made his way to the railing and leaned against it tiredly, before a chirp caught his ears and made him notice Pleo further down the deck. The Scyther froze, before hastily shifting away and hanging his head over the railing.

"Oh, you're back up already?" Dimitri asked. "I'd have thought that between the head wound and what happened yesterday in the arena that you'd be resting right now."

Ander looked down, watching the form of a battered and scuffed Kabutops scrabbling up along the hull onto the deck. Dimitri hoisted himself over the railing, finding his footing on the deck as he shook a few droplets of seawater off of his blades.

"Though then again, I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve underestimated a 'mon," he murmured. "Why, for a while back there, I didn't think we were even going to make it back to the ship!"

Dimitri waited expectantly for an answer, only to notice Ander's gaze fail to meet his. The Kabutops followed the Bug-Type's line of sight over to the form of a young Lugia pecking pensively at a gouge torn into the center mast as Nida and Crom waited alongside him.

"… Don't celebrate just yet, Dimitri. Now that we have that bird, both the Company and the Empire will be looking for us," Ander sighed. "To say nothing of what disaster may come upon us in the interim given the sort of creature he is…"

"Hey! Sorry to keep you waiting, Pleo!" a yipping voice cried, before being joined by a raspier counterpart.

"Yeah, it takes more than a blow like that to keep me down!"

The pair's glances shifted over to the forms of a young Growlithe and Cubone running up to the Lugia and his teammates followed by a Swellow, the white bird pulling the three and his fellow teammates into a tight embrace with his wings. The six pulled themselves apart, and Kiran and Crom began to trade tales with their freshly-reunited teammate about their journeys, with the mix of wistfulness and cheer that only friends long separated could muster as a smile crept up on Dimitri's face.

"We'll make it work out somehow," the Kabutops insisted. "I'm sure of it."

Ander stared wordlessly at the scene for a long moment. Every plume, every quill of the so-called Protector gave off an aura of imminent danger… and yet in spite of it, the bird seemed to be so wrapped up with an innocent, childish longing for companionship. The Scyther shook his head, wondering just how much the ancients had failed to document about the demons they warred with, before turning back warily to his Kabutops counterpart.

"What do we do now then?" Ander asked.

"Well, I know the kids were looking to head out to Pioppo Island in search of something that would help ensure your Protector's safe passage... " Dimitri answered. "But we can worry about that later. Let's worry about things like patching up the crew and ship for now and take our time thinking through how to get Pleo back to where he needs to be."

Ander grimaced at the idea of returning Pleo to Tromba, before casting a glance back at the bird. His powers were certainly not growing any weaker with age, and from what Scout had said about his escape from Rosequartz Town, it sounded as if he was already ready to wreak disaster upon the world...

So then why did he not wreak havoc while he could? Why would he let himself get attached to the Pokémon about him who would be the first to suffer from his terrible power? Could it be that his destructive desires were being held back somehow?

If so, then for the sake of what remained of the world… it was for the best to return him to where he felt comfortable. Even if it meant bringing that risk down upon their homes.

"… Right," Ander murmured. "Let's just get the rest that we can for now."

The two Pokémon slid off the railing and made their way towards the young Protector and his companions. There, as the Siglo Swellow sailed on under the midday sun, the crew and their new passengers let their worries slip by a moment to make the Guardian of the Seas feel at home in that little schooner on the sea.



Author's Notes:

- oseo - Venetian: "bird"
 
Trivia #9 (Episode 11)

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
Author’s Note: This trivia section was originally posted alongside Chapter 59 on Serebii after its thread received 40,000 views. Annotations and revised commentary not originally in this trivia section are noted in bolded text.

How did you come up with Giotto?


Giotto is one of the few cases in-story where the island's first sketches were defined by an abstract idea that it should serve as the seat of power to the Empire, along with a name, which was a corruption of "Johto". The island was eventually planned as having a Venetian theme thanks to a decision to style the capital on it after a mashup of Venice and Amsterdam, which seemed to fit since 'Giotto' still sounded like a plausibly Venetian-sounding name, and because of meta of Venice's history as a sea-based center of power. As for the Amsterdam portion of the hybridization, that influenced the description of the canal layouts and the presence of polders further afield of the city. During the run of the story, it was decided to debut Alola Form Pokémon on Giotto given its role as a major narrative checkpoint, which led to a decision to go ahead and hybridize the island at large thematically between Johto and Alola. For reasons obvious in the story, it was decided to make the island's name originate from its characteristics reminding its residents of a place in the Old World as opposed to being tightly connected to its past, as those of you who have read Casting Off may have discerned from a throwaway mention of the local Protector being Tapu Fini.

How did you come up with Tidemill City?

Tidemill City and its surroundings are the result of taking pre-modern Amsterdam's footprint of streets, canals, and dikes and plopping Venetian-styled architecture on top of it. Rather than a direct copy, the infrastructure has been adapted for Pokémon and pulls from historical features of even larger-scale cities from history such as Ancient Rome, which influenced the depiction of insulae-styled apartment blocks. In keeping with 'Giotto', the city pulls influences from Olivine City, which influenced the choice to make a lighthouse a portion of a prominent local landmark. As for the name, it is named after a type of mill used to grind flour and generate usable energy built by the sea exploiting wave energy, a relatively common feature of parts of the world with large numbers of dikes, which similarly influenced its beta name of "Watermill City".

How did you come up with Vecioferàle Arena?

Vecioferàle Arena was the product of splicing the Roman Colosseum together with some stadiums from the anime for design and layout, particularly the ones used for the regional conferences in the B/W season. The lighthouse attached to it was created fairly late into development, and added in order to better accentuate a Johto motif to the city.

How did you come up with the Visitor District?

The Visitor District was developed after a realization that Tidemill City felt a touch too open to outsiders for a world with pirates roaming around the seas. Fortunately for us, a reusable template for larger settlements had already been used in some capacity in Andaku in Kenobi, which led to the Visitor District being developed as a less crime-infested analogue akin to closed ports in history such as Dejima for Shogunate-era Japan. Although not a haunt for pirates, the Visitor District serves much the same purpose as Andaku, a place where strangers who are not fully trusted can be allowed in and dealt with while in theory remaining isolated from the rest of the island.

How did you come up with the Trouble Center?

The Trouble Center is an idea and terminology that was cribbed from Paper Mario: TTYD in order to expand on the premise of how requests for help outside of Mystery Dungeons would be dealt with in a PMD-esque setting. Those of you with good memories of the earlier parts of the story may recall that Nida mentioned that such requests were generally expected to be posted at establishments such as Juice Bars as opposed to the message boards of guilds, which given the density of a large city, seemed to be sufficient to support an entire business based around matching up Pokémon to take such odd jobs.

How did you come up with the Empire's legal system?

This is the somewhat lame part where we reveal that this episode had planning for Ace Attorney references for multiple years involving a scenario that would have Team Traveller caught up in uncovering a deep web of intrigue in the process of exonerating Eric, Sela, and Hanuna. Although the focus on courtroom antics was dialed back quite a bit for this episode, the fundamental Ace Attorney-style structure of "a judge handing down a sentence based upon presented evidence" (a.k.a. the system used in Japan until mid-2009) was retained since it both added an immediate contrast to the Company's more decree-based legal system where local rulers call the shots based off of outside feedback and the inherent needs of being able to process large volumes of prisoners at once lent themselves well to a system that in its original incarnation was explicitly stated to have been developed to an explosion in case load.

How did you come up with the characters in the legal system?

The characters in the Giotto legal system are fairly transparent references to characters from the Ace Attorney series. Cardino is based off of Detective Gumshoe and owes his name to an Italian pet name for 'Richard' much as Dick is in English, Pikachu being chosen due to its canonical status as a detective Pokémon. Although it should be fairly obvious by now, Nico is heavily based off of Phoenix Wright, his name being a riff off of his in-series pet name as 'Nick' and chosen to be a Fletchinder as a nod to phoenixes. Rita is based off of Maya Fey with her species chosen to be Misdreavus due to its morphological similarity to Maya's necklace and owes her name to 'Meg', a misnaming her inspiration character gets from a part of 1-4. While searching around for variants of the name, Virgil134 stumbled on 'Rita', and the rest was history. The Judge is based off of the Judge that presides over your cases in the first five games, with the choice of Slowking being chosen due to its simultaneous vibes as a wise but airheaded Pokémon. Akin is a fairly transparent take off of Winston Payne, down to the punny pain-based name which is a groaner pun off of 'aching'. Since Akin's inspirational character was a fairly straightforward example of a 'smug snake' archetype, his species was quickly settled on to be Serperior.

How did you come up with Eric, Sela, and Hanuna?

Eric, Sela, and Hanuna owe their origins to a group of characters created by @Umbramatic that he refers to as the 'Booster Trio'. They were incorporated into this story thanks to them being particularly memorable, and their original incarnations origins as a band of thieves making them feel like a suitable fit for a setting infested with pirates.

How did you come up with Nagant?

Nagant was developed later into the course of pre-planning Fledglings as a conscious foil to Lyn from the side of the Empire. Specifically, she was envisioned to be a Pokémon who was in thrall to the past in a much more direct fashion than her Samurott counterpart, with her driving motivation for pursuing Pleo being to restore a happier time in her life.

Nagant's species was decided fairly early on to be a Clawitzer, with her name being a nod to a line of firearms that saw service in early-20th century Russia, with the Mosin-Nagant rifle in particular being particularly influential, which also influenced her beta name 'Mosina'.

How did you come up with Nagant's crew?

At its core, Nagant's crew was envisioned as a hodgepodge of naval recruits, mercenaries, and press-ganged misfits that would reflect the Empire's scarcity of resources to throw at its naval fleet and give her a bit of a headache in the process. Her ship, after going through a number of chapters unnamed was ultimately dubbed the Vasilek, the Russian name for a cornflower, which is a symbol of nobility… and the name of a mobile artillery piece.

Jun owes his origin to a character premise suggested by Virgil134 of a very 'by-the-book' first mate that could serve as a foil to Nagant's relative laxity when it comes to rules and procedure (as evidenced by her precipitating multiple plot events by charging off on her own behind enemy lines). The decision to make the first mate a Beedrill came from the ability of many insects, including bees and wasps to see polarized light, which aids navigation by tracking the position of the sun even in conditions that would obscure its rays. The fact that he covered the skies as a complement to the waters that Nagant handles helped to reinforce that decision. Jun's name is a Korean name with the meaning of 'army', which seemed fitting given the martial nature of his character. During development 'Jeong' was also considered as a name for the character, but didn't make the cut since it didn't roll off the tongue quite as well.

Cabot owes his origins to a character concept thrown around by Virgil134, which entailed putting in a cheery, optimistic, yet naive character who joined the navy out of desire to go on adventure. He was named after John and Sebastian Cabot, both real life explorers who were born in Venice. Given Cabot's personality and his origins from Giotto, the name seemed like a fitting match. During his creation, Cabot went through multiple evolutions in concept, going through beta names that included Alenquer, Nehsi, and humorously enough for those who have read Casting Off, Galton.

Berecien owes his origins to a character from @Venia Silente' s Playfield, specifically the Rapidash running mate to Eltenios. The bond between the two originally was emphasized more beyond Elty and Berecien's current budding rivalry, with the original concept for Fledglings' incarnation of Berecien being of him as an Iron Fleet member who was pals with everyone's favorite Growlithe.

Niilo is another character who owes his origins to a concept created by Virgil134, specifically of a character to fill the role of a mercenary who's mostly just in it for the money. His name is a Finnish version of Nick or Nicholas which was chosen for two reasons: the first being for irony value as Nicholas means "victory for the people", a far cry from the very money-oriented motives that everyone's favorite Sandslash sellclaw has shown off. The second reason is a matter of playing to type, as Nick is the name of the actor who plays Lance Hunter, a cynical mercenary character from Agents of SHIELD, whose premise influenced Niilo's character. Although his species has been fairly constant, during his creation, other names for Niilo were considered, which included Lance and Keihäs.
 

Venia Silente

For your ills, I prescribe a cat.
Location
At the 0-divisor point of the Riemann AU Earth
Pronouns
Él/Su
Partners
  1. nidorino
  2. blaziken
  3. fearow
This is part of the review trade to rescue the silverware I need for Xmas— no, wait, Xmas and New Year's already over.

Well then, let's rescue RB2022!

(Also part of an effort to review Fledglings more regularly). I'm going to cover today some ground on Ch. 70, a scene of which I had to skip, and Ch. 71. Since those are not posted here as of yet, I' posting these review under a

SPOILER WARNING!

And a spoiler block to help. o3o.


The ever-living speak! The island
has now heard an official
proclamation, a threat of
IMPRISONMENT in the sinister voice
of the actual PROTECTOR CERNUM!


(hey, it was a horribad movie but I'll make every attempt to rescue Ian McDiarmid that I can.)

Pleo and company are led back to their accomodations—


Pleo: "Oh? So we are guests?"
Trizano: "Hmmm I mean you are friends..."
Pleo: "Then you have to entertain us and humor us!" ^_^
Nagant, three islands over: [furiously waving messaging flags]
Roteck: [to Trizano]: "...." <_<
Trizano: "....Uh, prisoners it is." v_v


—to their cells or at least huts to serve as cells. Along the way Trizano explains (and confirms) that it is possible to leave the Shadow Real, and that he does so somewhat on the regular, if with permission from Darth Valter.

Both things I feel will be highly relevant later since Darth Valter is the one special mon around here barring Cernum.

Along the way we get a few important pieces of history, learning that Blackmoon's inhabitants put the town under and moved themselves, as a measure to allow Cernum to exist around. Furthermore, when this happened Trizano was around!


Roteck: "Trizano here is 41 years old."
Crom: [gasp] "You're old!"
Trizano: "I'm not old! I'm only 41!"
Crom: "...But that does count as old for birds, right?"
Nida: "Uuuh does this mean you had your mild-life crisis yet or what?"
Trizano: "...."


(no cookies if you remember this one gag)

Roteck leads the team to their imprisonment garrison made of straw (yeah like that's going to contain Crom for long) and the team counters with the idea that they have to get outta there. Given this *is* known song and dance for the inhabitants already, they present the case of a Kangha mother that's sticking around.

It seems for now, the team will have to operate under the assumption that they'll remain trapped in the Shadow Realm forever, only if at least they can figure out how to break its rules.


Roteck: "Don't worry, 25 years from now you'll be quite past the Five Stages of Grief. In fact you two now have eternity to get things going, strating with a kiss."
Nida: o_o
Crom: o_o
Pleo: [raises wing] "Good sir and or madam wha—"
Crom: "Pleo NOT NOW!!!" >_>
Pleo: "...But! Awww who's gonna be nice to me now?"
Trizano: "I'm a bird!" ^_^
Pleo: "Oh! Please will you not leave us alone?"
Trizano: "I'm a hero of course I won't leave you alone."
Roteck: "He's not lying, you know. Since y'all be staying forever, he *will* be not leaving you alone." o3o
Trizano: ¬_¬
Crom: >_>
Nida: <_<
Pleo: v_v


Way to throw someone under the bus lol.

Yeah I mean, sure, so far no one is lying, but that's not exactly promising either.

With that, Rotech sends out some of the other inhabitants to get back to the forest and deal with the other teams. So that's how it went! It was the same *specific* team that is "neighbours".

And, speaking of those other teams... how about the other Aggron around? (that Roteck seems to know of, hint hint) Since I had to skip on that the last time.

At Hess's ship:

Chaos.jpg


I mean, we can't seriously expect *this* crew to manage well when there's ghosts kidnapping people around, yes?

Crew Litten: "Aaaaaaa I'm too cute and unevolved to die! Please let's get outta here!"
Crew Drednaw: "We do have some missing—"
Crew Litten: "They're dead! Dead and gone! Or worse, undead and gone! AaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"
[cats can get loud like that!]
Rodion: "Now everyone let's wait, we do have to fill our flasks,"
Everyone: "Yayyyyy!"
Rodion: "... and I don't mean the rum."
Everyone: "Awwww...."
Hess: "Riiight, so, do we have a volunteer?"
Everyone: "How about Kichiro?"
Kichiro: "I already went tho."
Everyone: "But you know where the water is!"
Kichiro: [puts up a map, with a "water here" sign marked]
Hess: "...Any actual volunteers?"

—long moment of silence as everyone ponders their mortality—

Honestly, I don't know what *anyone*, even Hess, was expecting here. It's not like anyone in this crew not named Kichiro is gonna step up to the challenge of the Shadow Realm and potential deadness, or undeadness, right?

...Right?


Alvise: [puffs chest up] "Grrrr. fine, we'll do it."
Valatos: "W-what????? That is NOT in the script!" <_<
Nori: "Come on! I can't take more overtime!" <_<
Alvise: [growling] "Quit yelping you two! We're supposed to be elite pirates! Not mere n00bs. And I'm a very best doggo!"
Everyone: "Yes you are!" ^_^
Luca from elsewhere: "Can I get more screentime yet?"
Alvise: "Bah, don't tell me you're getting too used to the easy screentime! I'm muscled perfection! Thunder given form! Now let's get moving!"
Alvise: [marches off]
Nori: "...W-what got him going?"
Valatos: " @Spiteful Murkrow ! @Virgil134 ! Casting dept? Anyone? Come on! This joke is NOT funny!" >_>

Well, it is to me o3o

Reading (and meta-writing!) for Hess and crew is always a fun piece and tends to be a highlight for most chapters where they show up. Even though, plot-wise, it's not like they're getting much advancement, to their chagrin :p

The important thing is we have volunteers, of sorts.

Hess: "You have your orders guys. Now, awaken, my elite pirates!"
Hess: [marches the two other off with the Crew Kricketot adding some background OST]
Kichiro: [waving a parchment] "...Guys? The map?"

—the trio are walked off to the beach —

[Alvise prowls off into the jungle]
Monster-Hunter-Rise-Zinogre.jpg


[Nori and Valatos look At Alvise, then back the ship]
Everyone: "Save us, our elite heroes!" [wave them off]
Crew Drednaw: "And our little Alfred too."
Kichiro: "Guys! The map!"

Eventually the team now led by best doggo finds their way to Kichiro's water. See? Always listen to your local Cleric. And the best part is, they also happen to find their path to Team Kiran who are scouting around for Team Pleo. *And* Team Pleo happens to find their way into the ghosts who were scaring everyone with the Fiend thing from earlier, *and* Kiran manages to secure the team getting in to where Pleo is?

This is sounding conveniently convenient.

Kiran: "This plan was 85% guaranteed to work!" ^_^

For once, I can't contest that. All that we'd be missing honestly was Kiran finding a means to leave some indicator they had been here specifically, for later. Plot-wise, it does tie things quite nicely as in this scene we get a number of things:

* we get some exposition on the mechanics that the ghosts use
* Kiran gets the team basically a guarantee that they'll be led to where Pleo is
* the ghosts did not cover Elty's nose, so now the team can probably find a path out by scent (which would allow Elty to reclaim his title of best doggo)
* even if not, Alvise (the currently best doggo around onscreen!) is trailing them and their path perception so far is unimpeded

Luca [waiving a paw]: "H-hello? Casting dept?"

So far... a win-win.

Alvise: "Let's go everyone! Time to save the plot!" [trails off]
Valatos: "Technically it was me with the plan AND the mood, says the script..." <_<
Alvise from ahead: "What's that? I'm a doggo, I can hear you over your you be BETTER catching up!"
Valatos: "Eeeep!"

Good boi.


Far from there, Hess' team was not the only one facing hardships about, this is also an issue that is hitting Nagant's crew on various fronts, and Cabot more personally.

I'm still all for him to switch sides, btw, and it's good that unlike in other times in the past he was at least able to half-assemble a very good argument in favor of both Pleo and the Empire instead of going in on it all cheeriness no preparation. But, Nagant is right as well to offer Cabot the option of just stepping aside, and it was quite considerate on Nagant's part I'm gonna say.

Nagant: [drops some money]
Cabot: [cheering] "Yay! My good ideas have earned me a better wage!" ^_^
Nagant: "Nooo!!!" >_>

And even further away... Back at Bluewhorl, things have taken a bit of a turn for the worse since, for whatever weird reason, Bunsen has not made himself breakfast yet.

Bunsen: "Me? Stop earning money? In this economy?"

I hope at least the Company is supporting the local economy business well, because they won't be eating healthy for much longer if that's the case considering the island has to support three extra ships.

Still, it does come with terms... apparently the Company is launching a Nazi Germany expatriation program for Bluewhorl's residents, something I certainly did not expecty.

"Besides, it's not so bad," the Aromatisse sneered. "Some city life would do a buck-toothed hick like you some good-"

The Fairy-Type was cut off by Marley lunging forward and driving a poison-slicked paw into her throat, promptly knocking her down and leaving her gagging and coughing for air.
But at least Marley has not lost her touch! Considering the opponent, it's a shame it did not go down faster.

Sicula has some papers to scatter off some plot Nidos of Marley across the various islands, eh? While I can see that halting Marley for now, I can say that if you drew enough of Inka for her character, that Roserade is going to bleed out in a nearby trench ohhhhh about three moons from now. That said, among the current Company group I'm liking Sicula the most, so let's maybe stretch that out for five or so moons for screentime. o3o


Also I left this nod off last time, but I did do notice it o3o

one filthy and covered in spilled, half-dried drinks, and the other occupied by a red-scarved group consisting of an Archen, Tropius, Nidorino, Marshtomp, and Vaporeon that had left tomes and papers strewn about while babbling amongst themselves about some 'green Dunsparce'.

(also lol @ lost chance with the green Dunsparce)

In general an entertaining chapter, what with seeing how finally some plans start to align and start to go right instead of wrong, eh? Various plans are now marching on, others are in nascent stage.

Elilan: "My plans are also coming up nicely despite everything, and soon I'll—"
Sophia: [emerges from Elilan's hair] "What about MY plans? I want to play!"
Elilan: "Uhm... y-yeah listen darling this is an important—"
Sophia: [paws on head] "Play time! That was the plan!"
Elilan: [shrugs] "Well, we *did* say all plans are going fine!" ^_^
[heads off to play with cute Zorua kitten]

Everyone is happy!
 

Sinderella

Angy Tumbleweed
Staff
Location
In Guzma's Closet
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. sylveon-shiny
  2. gothitelle
  3. froslass
  4. chandelure
  5. mimikyu
Hiiiiii Fobbie!!!!! Sorry for getting such a late start to our exchange; it's been far more a hectic month than I was anticipating. I read the prologue up to chapter 2, and will come back to hit chapter 3 hopefully before the end of Blitz!

Obligatory "Hi I've never played PMD in depth before so please bear with me if something flies over my head because I'm an idiot." :> Also I'm very sleppy so I will try to keep my thoughts and crit as coherent as possible but I can't say the same about the line-by-lines.

The prologue was very very cute and very very VERY intriguing. You write little kids very well. You really sold the eager naivety of Nida, sneaking out of her bed to go find some stars that her mother told her about. I could practically PICTURE her mom showing up to pick her up by the scruff of her neck to bring her ass back to the nest. Honestly, very The Lion King-esque. Or........Nidoran King-esque in this case.

I really liked the story that Nida's mom told, TOTALLY not a lot of foreshadowing happening there, no way no how right? I'm very interested to see if humans ever DO end up showing up in the story, but....probably not, this is PMD. It is a really interesting worldbuilding thing though that they're like things of a myth; I see that every now and then in PMD stories, so is that like a canon thing or is that just an aspect PMD writers really enjoy having? Either way, I fuck with it. I loved the whole concept of the gods giving Pokemon the magical power shit and giving humans the power to provide and protect and be trainers and yeah, only for that to just.....go to shit, because of course it does.

I DO know a thing or two about the feral Pokemon in the dungeons and I love the way THAT was incorporated into the story too (again, unsure if that's canon but either way STILL WRITTEN NICELY AND V NEAT). When I eventually realized that, like, the scarves Nida and her family and I guess all the other Pokemon at the guild wear indicate they're not feral, I was like OHHHHHHH I SEE. Cool little detail.

Chapter 1 indicates that some years have passed, and Nida DOES seem slightly older, but not too much. Responsible enough to watch her siblings, but still young enough to be whining about not getting better at things fast enough I feel you gurl I feel you. You still do a really good job of capturing the childlike essence she has; her excitement for things, her fright about the storm and INSISTING she's fine, the "hey I don't need you tell me what to do old man." Little nuances like that really do be coming through and showcasing she is still indeed babby and probably has a LOT of impending growth coming.

Also UH OH SOME SHIT JUST WENT DOWN. Idfk what the hell hatched from that egg but I'm getting a vibe that it's NOT GOOD. Monka fuking s, bro.

I should also note, I HEAVILY FUCKED with the imagery in this chapter, especially at the beginning. It gave me vibes of like, an old-timey fishing village, I could really vividly picture it in my mind. Good shit.

Chapter 2, we finally go into a dungeon to.....collect apples. I guess this is some sort of training exercise that n00bs do to get the hang of things. I think I like Kiran, he seems really chill, doesn't really condescend his little mentees but also isn't about to let them get into some dangerous shit. Also, Crom is giving me MAD himbo vibes, fucking protect him at all costs.

I spent the entire chapter waiting for the bad thing to happen and OF COURSE you waited right until the very end to leave my ass on a cliffhanger, you tease. The bullshit starts NOW.

Overall, this was a fun start to what I'm anticipating to be a VERY twisty story. Judging by the *checks notes* 60+ chapters you've got going, yep. I enjoyed the writing style generally; very easy for my tired eyes and brain to intake and understand, didn't linger in any places for too long, dialogue was pretty snappy. In some places it felt pretty.....on the nose, in a rather endearing cartoonish sense, if that makes sense? Like, normally I'd clock on-the-nose dialogue like "Nidorans like me always get--" but I think it actually works for this piece so far. There's a level of whimsy to it that makes it mesh well.

Most of my crit is down in the line-by-lines. I don't think I have anything major to touch on yet. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for exchanging with me!!

Line by Lines
The little creature silently crept up the snug tunnel little-by-little. Before long, she stepped out of its opening and onto a reed-woven mat outside that was dimly illuminated by the faint glow of moonlight. After a quick pause to stop and listen, she discovered her parents hadn’t heard her sneak out of bed or lose her footing. So far, so good…

Four legs, two ears, two protruding teeth at the end of her muzzle… No scratches or loose barbs from her clumsy trek up the tunnel that would give away her sneaking out of bed... From the light of the night sky above, she could verify that her fur was still a light blue. Yep, she had all the markings of a healthy, if still rather young, Nidoran.
She sneek.

Bolded parts where it got a little repetitive; it doesn't need to be mentioned twice that she's sneaking out.

between the stars, and the twists and bends of the Rainbow Road were the drifting ones
MARIO KART, HELLO??????

Then back to its center, at the Nidoran in the moon staring down at the world again.
Heh. Nidoran in the moon. So cute.

Except for the ever-so-small bump on the right of it.
POGGIES SHE FOUND ONE

"It's not healthy for a young kit like you to be up into the early morning! Rest will let you grow healthy and strong."

"But I was just headed out to see the Travelers-!", Nida protested.
God damn I could practically HEAR this exchange.

Also, the comma between the !" and Nida doesn't need to be there.

"I wanna hear the story about the humans, and why they don't live with Pokémon like us anymore," she replied.
OH?????????

"The Pokémon that lived without humans, the 'ferals' as you've probably heard them called, were free to continue to live on as they did in the past. Growing, breeding, and dying with the course of nature without interference from outsiders. In exchange, they gave up the right to interfere in the lives of Pokémon like us. It is why the predators among the ferals do not dare to consider you or your brothers and sisters as meals… or at least not ones that don't have a death wish."
OHHHHHHH LIKE THE FERALS IN THE DUNGEONS????? Word, bro. Word. Very cool.

"The gift of writing, to allow them to preserve what knowledge of the humans had not been lost.

"The gift of gummis, to free them from the hunger forcing their ranks against each other.

"The gift of timekeeping through the spirits of the departed gods, who remained in the night skies as the Travelers who you and I can see today.

"And lastly, the gift of pacting, through which a Pokémon could make cause with another and join their ranks. To bury past fears and resentments together and live the same life. Friend, foe, feral, it matters not. As long as there is one to ask and there is one to respond."
Interesting lore and worldbuilding!!! I think I know enough about PMD to know what this all ties into.

"The ones that did not die in the chaos they caused were allowed to come in by Arceus and our ancestors as a mercy. In return, they, and their children, would forever bear the mark of the star they created, so that no one would ever forget. They became the Pokémon that the others call the 'Marked'."
Oh they're DEFINITELY going to have to team up with some Marked when shit goes down, I'm betting my life savings on it

The Kecleon watched as his customer's countenance twisted into more and more of a scowl, sensing that he had perhaps gone a bit too far in his attempts to provide some good-natured banter. Calino deemed it best to drop the attempt at humor and revert to a more business-like tone as his scales reverted back to their normal green.
This was a case of headhopping, I think? I was getting the vibe this was being written from third person limited (on Nida) but we hopped to Calino's POV here.

"Nida, I know that you want to move on already. But I swear, I'm not doing this just to annoy you. You've got much more drive than I've normally seen in rookies… especially with what happened last year and all…"
WH---
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR

(who stopped watching her siblings after dark after the incident with her Pomeg plants),
WH--
WHAT INCIDENT WITH THE POMEG PLANTS

Crom and his family were ever-so-slightly strange creatures. Usually when one thought of dragon Pokémon, one thought of fighters or warriors, or the heavens forbid, pirates. Crom and his relatives on the other hand…

"Mom said that I could stay overnight at the guild hall once the evening loaves are done. A bakery's hard work, you know?"
Awwwww but we LOVE baker dragons!!!!

"Is that a hint that one day we're gonna have-?"
Crom you are AUDACIOUS oh my GOD

As the six little Nidoran continued jabbering, a larger male Nidoran slipped out from the burrow, mouthed something that seemed to be "They're your problem now," and quickly hopped away.

"-ome..." Nida sighed, as she resigned herself to what was going to be a very long and weary night.
Ugh love the parents who have two many fucking kids and have to leave the elder ones to watch them all /s

The chamber's separation from the storm was then broken by the creature's loud, feral screech.
MONKA FUCKING S

The speaker came into the room and revealed himself to be a Nidorino, leaning into his daughter's nest and giving her snout a soft nuzzle. "Oh come now, it's nothing worse than what your mami throws around, don't you think?" he chuckled.
Aww this was such a dad response, I love

"Probably all just a dispute among some sea ferals," he snorted before turning back to his child.
Riiiiiiiiiiight sea ferals, riiiiiiiiiight :copyka:

She passed Calino, who busied himself dumping out some ruined stock; all the while, he bewailed the damage it was going to do to his renovation fund.
HAHAHA SUCK ON IT

"It's just that, perhaps we should let a few other teams go into the dungeon first today," the Swellow offered.
On one hand, I get it playing safe, but also, oh noooooooo Nida's gonna mald

"Fine. We'll go, but on the first sign of something more dangerous than normal, we're calling for a lift out of there. Understood?"
*Narrator voice*
And that's when he knew he probably fucked up because foreshadowing is a BITCH

Another depicted a strange egg with various nondescript Pokémon gathered around it. Finally, the last panel pictured the egg being carried into the fog further up the mountain.
HMMMM WONDER WHAT THAT'S DEPICTING

Nida couldn't help but giggle at the idea of trying to clock someone with an apple; it was one of those silly, nonsensical ideas that couldn't help but take the edge off someone.
Repeated use of this phrase

They also, at Crom's request, tested Kiran's theory of apples as a substitute for Gravelerocks… on Kiran himself.
LEAVE YOUR TEACHER ALONE HE'S TRYING HIS BEST YOU RATS

The most unwelcome assailant quickly revealed itself to be a Krabby, fastened tight to Crom's left wing.
Those Krabby are malding after what happened last night aren't they

Only to be forced to abruptly sidestep a beam of bubbles that drenched the spot where she was standing with bubbles that burst with sticky glop that was scalding hot to the touch.
This sentence got kind of jumbled and repetitive.

Her search was interrupted by the sting of hot bursts and the sensation of something gummy and warm that stuck to the fur that sent her and the bag tumbling, coming to rest staring at a far wall in a daze.
Also a bit of a jumbled sentence that I struggled to follow.

"Rrgh… You! Bird! So you think that you can blow us around like the monster did last night? Well, you're sorely mis-!"
HELL YEAH I WAS RIGHT THEY ARE MALDING

He drew out one of the blue berries, tore away the peels with his talons, and after scraping the gummy mass off of Nida's flank, pressed the naked fruit against it, letting the juice seep into her skin as she winced. Oran Berries always stung when their juice seeped into wounds, both in their natural state, and after the rare cases they had been changed and made more potent by prolonged exposure to the Distortion. And the little berry that Kiran was squeezing against Nida's body was no exception.
I am a SLUT for oran berry lore, love it

"Hey, where'd that furball go?"

"Okay never mind, they seem well enough," Nida quickly decided, "Let's get going!"
RUN BITCH RUN

Then the floor gave way beneath her, and the Nidoran found herself tumbling head over heels through thin air.
*Narrator voice*
And that's when Kiran knew he DEFINITELY fucked up
 

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
  3. lucario
Well, decided to make my first foray into this longfic. Given how much I enjoyed Once a Thief, I imagine this one’ll be quite a fun read. I also read Casting Off some time back, and I liked that story a lot too. So I figured it’s about time I figured out the larger scale of the world in which that threeshot took place.

Obviously, given that this is a longfic, I won’t be reviewing the full thing; about the first 15 chapters or so.

So let’s get into it! I’ll mainly be jotting down things that stick out to me as I read.

—-

Prologue

So this starts off with quite a quiet and cosy image of peaceful nighttime. The Nidoran protagonist seems to be a sympathetic sort - a cute, innocent little thing that I already find myself wanting to root for. (Nidoran’s also a unique choice of protagonist - don’t think I’ve seen that around too often.)

Oh, there’s a Rainbow Road in this world? Probably wouldn’t be seeing karts being driven on it, though, nor would it be littered with bananas, coins, fake item boxes and the like.

Ah, parents: never liking the late hours their children stay up until.

Nida’s mother seems a bit of a stern sort. I do wonder if that’s more a sort of sternness out of parental love or if it’s a general trait of hers. The former, if I had to guess.

This lore about the world in which this takes place is quite interesting. Particularly fascinating to me and that’s undoubtedly going to play a part in the story later on is the Marked. Given that their ancestors were the ones that went to war with the gods, it’s a reality their descendants are going to have to grapple with. Do they carry the same hatred as their ancestors, or are some of them good people? Will we see discrimination against them, that might in turn cause jadedness and alienation towards society on their end?

That remains to be seen. All in all, this was a nice opener, seeing Nida as a kit and hearing about the lore of this world.

Chapter 1

Even now when she’s a bit more grown up, Nida still feels young and delicate. The scene with the Rhyhorn does help to emphasise this.

"Six," Nida corrected, scowling at the Kecleon.

Wow. A packed family. (It’s occurred to me we haven’t seen Nida’s dad yet - I wonder what he’s like?)

"Erk! Gods help me…

"Wait, Nida! Come on! Let's be reasonable here! That was just good-natured ribbing!" Calino called after the rapidly escaping Nidoran, flushing white in distress.

It captures the fluster of Calino well, this part, but I feel it would be better as one sentence rather than split by a line break.

Nida definitely fits the mould of a hero with grand aspirations that are suppressed by those who don’t think she’s ready for greater things. It’s familiar territory for heroes, but a cliché I don’t mind seeing.

You've got much more drive than I've normally seen in rookies… especially with what happened last year and all…"

"Let's… not talk about that, Kiran. It happened, and everything worked out in the end without anyone getting really hurt. Let's just leave it at that," Nida said with an involuntary shudder.

Hm? Did Nida pull off a heroic act a year ago? Good for her. But what exactly happened, I wonder?

She kicked at the dirt, not really sure what to say back to her team leader's concern, only to feel a feathery sensation moving up against her and seeing Kiran patting her head with his wing.

Careful there, Kiran. Don't wanna be poisoned, do you?

I’m also getting the feeling that Nida can be fairly cheeky when she wants to be, judging on both her interactions with Calino and Kiran. She has wits about her, this girl.

At first glance, I like Crom a lot. His chirpy personality is quite different from the menace Druddigon usually have.

"Yeah, you too," Nida sighed, before heading off towards the hills above the town.

A short time later, Nida returned to the area around her burrow, a hillside with a distinctive lack of buildings and tents. Most Pokémon in the area lived in nests or burrows; the lack of undergrowth, the sparser trees, and the reed mat placemarkers were the only major difference from the forests deeper in the island.

Nothing wrong with the dialogue, but I think a horizontal line would better establish a change in scene from Nida leaving Crom’s hut to returning to her burrow.

Oh dear. The chaos of having little siblings. I can’t say I envy Nida here one bit.

So Nida’s dad is a kind ‘mon, as opposed to her mother who’s a little more stern.

And then, the comparative stillness broke with a faint crack. And then a louder crack with the faint, wet sound of some viscous substance being pulled apart. The lights from the ceiling were just strong enough to produce a shadow of the rapidly hatching orb on the wall of the the chamber: a limb forcing its way out of one end, a snout and long neck from another. Soon, there was nothing left of the egg at all, but the form of a feathered creature rearing up, spreading its wings.

The chamber's separation from the storm was then broken by the creature's loud, feral screech.

Guess we have our first big plot point. Just who is this creature? Judging by what I’ve heard about Fledglings and the banner art, I think I know just who this hatchling is…

To be confirmed in an upcoming chapter, no doubt. And so to find that answer…we keep reading.

Chapter 2

Ah, so there’s an Ampharos Guildmaster? Not too different from Ampharos in Super - I wonder if this one’s as careless as him?

I get the feeling Scout making passing remarks might become a running gag.

Hilarious to think a dragon like Crom is scared of a little Spinarak. Then again, he still is a kid…

Having read Once a Thief, I found the debate about leaving food at the shrine an intriguing parallel that was made in that story, over whether there was actually a point to leaving food at them.

So the Mystery Dungeons seem to work similarly to how they do in the games, with multiple floors. The fog effect before entering is a difference, though; Once a Thief had a similar system if I recall, so…

Only to be forced to abruptly sidestep a beam of bubbles that drenched the spot where she was standing with bubbles that burst with sticky glop that was scalding hot to the touch.

Something about this line doesn’t quite read right to me. I think it could do with a bit of rewording.

Wow, Crom has quite a good sense of smell if he can pick out the scent of just one apple. Maybe that’s just natural of Druddigon?

Oh no, it’s a trap! And Nida looks to be all alone wherever she ends up. What will she come across in the trap she’s fallen into?

Chapter 3

So Nida’s all alone. I wonder what’ll happen down here without any prying eyes to watch?

The Protector definitely gives off a ‘kid with huge power’ vibe, and as a result, is a tad careless with it. But then again, that would be the case…

Aww, the Protector’s so cute! They’ve won me over already.

"You're gonna have a long story to explain once we get back," the voice snapped as Kiran let go of the badge.

That’s certainly one way to put it. That won’t be any simple reaction, that’s for sure.

Overly reverential? I was expecting disbelief more than anything, but hey, this is an appropriate reaction.

Also, it seems we have a name for our group: Team Traveler.

Yeah, I don’t envy Lugia at all here. That attention of the crowd is never a likeable thing.

I’m not gonna lie, the reaction of Scout isn’t out of place. Imagine being told that you have a Protector that’ll guard you from the pirates and the Company (terms that I recall in Casting Off), and then it turns out he has the mind of a toddler. Yeah, that would definitely be raining on the image built up by the island’s inhabitants.

That does bring up a conflicting matter, though; Lugia will have an image to live up to, and many will have immense expectations for him as the Protector of Tromba Island. That’s going to cause some friction in future, I think.

Chapter 4

Hatteras definitely has vibes not unlike Ampharos in PSMD. I kinda like that.

Oh boy, Lugia definitely has the potential to be a tantrum thrower. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that…

So Pleo’s the name of our little Lugia. That’s a cute name - I really like it!

A Hawlucha trainer? Heh, another similarity with Super.

What’s this Scyther’s deal, I wonder? If I had to guess, he’s by no means the only one with an enmity against Pleo.

muscled reptile

Hm. Don’t think I’ve heard Machoke been described in that way before.

Oh, Ander’s Marked. That explains it. (Still, going back to the point I raised in the prologue, there might be some nuance to the Marked. Is it really as clear cut as ‘they’re bad people?’)

The Company sounds an ominous sort. They’ll be a main antagonistic force throughout this story, if I had to guess.

If you're going to be like this, go back home and wait with your mate and that brat you allowed your curse to pass onto to die from this 'imminent doom'," the other added as the two lead the stammering Scyther out of hut and slammed the door behind them on a room that remained dead silent for what seemed an eternity.

Damn, that’s harsh, even for the paranoid ‘mon Ander is. The Marked definitely seem like a discriminated people. And by the sounds of what Hatteras later says, there is at least some sympathy for the Marked. We’ll see more of them in future, no doubt, and I’m intrigued to see where this could go.

Oh boy, lively siblings. No wonder Nida hates doing this.

"I poisoned the birdie? That's your spike!" a purple sibling retorted.

"Is not!"

"Is so!"

Would “Is too?” be a better fit for this? Just a thought. (Still love the sibling banter, though.)

Wow, these are helpful neighbours. A supportive bunch - by the sounds of it, Pleo’s in safe hands with them.

Marley’s sternness coming out in full force here. As any parent would.

I like how much of an innocent kid Pleo is, getting on the wrong track and instantly leaping to conclusions about Nida’s story. I’m liking him more and more.

Chapter 5

I’ve noticed that the theme about growing up’s cropped up a good few times now. Given the title of this fic is ‘Fledglings,’ I’d presume that’s one of the main themes of this story. Nida, Crom and Pleo all seem to be in the same boat on that front.

Never take your eye off the ball with trash talk. A common mistake of any combatant.

"Wait, everyone was looking at something? What was it?" a Zubat asked, before the noise of the returning din of battle drowned its voice out and grew indistinct as Team Traveler continued to move further away.



Heh. I like this acknowledgment of the Zubat’s blindness.

So it’s like the Makuhita Dojo of Rescue Team. Okay, cool. Seems to be a mix of Rescue Team and Super vibes (with a fair dose of originality too.)

Pleo’s a hungry boi. Another charming moment from him! He continues to win my heart over.

"I seem to remember that you said that you wouldn't give even the Protector a discount if he was a rookie!"



Nice callback to the first chapter! Also another showcase of Nida’s clever side.

"I want to get whatever Nida buys!" Pleo cheerily proclaimed to the Kecleon, waving his wings.

Ah! For once, Pleo’s jumping the gun helps out Nida. Good for him!



"Yeah, Calino, don't be such a tightwad!" Scout called from the water beside the dock.



Yes! Even Scout’s snark helps out here for once!

And Pleo’s Precious Factor just got bumped up more by the interactions during the training session. Seriously, it’s only been three chapters and I would already die for this birb. So cute~!

So Crom’s mom (hey, that rhymed!) is gonna be the sparring partner! Something tells me that despite being a baker, she’s not gonna be a slouch…

Chapter 6

Yeah, I wouldn’t be phased by a growling Nidoran either. Sorry, Nida, you’re cute as hell - but not fierce.

he attempted to rush back, and latched onto his mother's arm with his maw. The younger Druddigon quickly came to regret doing so, abruptly spitting out her arm.

"Owowow!" he groaned, it seemed biting down softer on his mother's jagged hide didn't make it hurt any less.

Ah, that infamous Rough Skin that Druddigon have. At least Gwenith forgot the Rocky Helmet that would truly make this insult to injury.

"Nida, just keep her busy a little longer! I'm almost done honing my claws!" Crom shouted out while poking his head from behind a partition.

Hm. I suppose you would have to do hiding tactics in order to prepare for buffs.

Ah. Embarrassing mothers - no shortage of them. Although it’s intriguing to see the difference between Gwenith and Marley in terms of the affection of the former and sternness of the latter.

Pleo becoming more of a precious birb by the minute.

"It tastes like the water at the Dojo!"

My heart. Seriously, I can’t take how cute and innocent Pleo is. I love him. Definitely my favourite character in the story so far.

And Pleo’s Precious Factor just heightened tenfold by his interactions with the kids in Hariti’s stead.

Although these Marked kids cowering from Pleo makes me realise that the kids suffer the same problems as their adult counterparts in discrimination. At least Pleo, what with all of his childish innocence, doesn’t see them as bad.

"But I don't hear anyone talking about eating Pokémon in town…"

"That's because Pokémon that live in town eat Gummis like the ones you've been eating for the past few days and aren't allowed to eat other Pokémon. Other Pokémon aren't allowed to eat them in return," Nida said as she hopped up a ledge, prompting Crom to mull a moment and interrupt.

"Doesn't the guild allow that 'scavenging' thing that Ander's involved with, thou-"

"Crom. Stop. Talking," Nida hissed, "This is already a confusing enough thing to explain!"

PMD writers can relate to this…

It wouldn't be terribly fair to expect ferals to leave us alone if we went around trying to force them to live in a way they weren't ready to, don't you think?"

Good for instilling those morals into him, Kiran.

Crom suddenly decided that he needed to be anywhere not directly in front of Marley, and hastily retreated behind Kiran with a shudder.

"Nida! Sh-She's doing it again!" he whined.

Okay, I know I said Pleo was the most precious thing in this story, but Crom definitely takes second place.

I had a feeling that Zigzagoon’s offering had a catch to it. As is the way with thieving ones like them…

Oh, that ship seems ominous. Pirates, if I had to guess.

"Pleo," Nida answered seriously. "Those are pirates."

As I predicted. Looks like we have a confrontation on our hands. But how will a few fledglings (that was intentional) stand up to a legion of pirates?

Chapter 7

Oh, Pleo’s getting brave to take on these pirates. Here’s hoping that decision won’t backfire catastrophically on him…given that the pirates are probably there for him.

Alas, their cuteness backfires on them. Team Traveler is wholesome as hell, but…that doesn’t translate to ferocity against enemies like pirates. Especially Pleo.

Intriguing how the pirates seem to speak with Polish and Finnish phrases, a bit like how the inhabitants of Tromba Island speak in mainly Spanish phrases. I like this linguistic difference between societies.

Oh, hello, an Aggron? As a lover of the ‘mon, I’m interested. They do make for quite menacing figures - no wonder they’re depicted as villains in most fanfics I’ve seen. (Once a Thief has an antagonistic Aggron in it as well.) And how fitting that Nida finds the likes of him annoying. After all, his type alone deprives her of her poisoning strategy.

Oh, Pleo’s hidden power is going to be unleashed! An Aeroblast, by the looks of it.

But just like that, he’s gone back to being the lovable, innocent birb that I love him for. Ouch, though, for him being disoriented and falling unconscious like that.

Chapter 8

Ah, the usual “I did that?” after waking up from unconsciousness. Not unfamiliar ground.

That Trapinch pirate’s being sentenced publicly in the square? That sounds ominous…

As I predicted. The pirates feel rather more sympathetic now. (One of them is a Growlithe, and I can’t help but notice that he’s named - Eltenios - and there’s a Growlithe in the banner art. Hmm…one to watch, I think.)

Boy, Hatteras is sure a jack of all trades. Guildmaster, Mayor, Judge - what’s next?

"And Grand Theft Pastry…"
"And Bubblecide..."

I had a good snicker at this. Hatteras definitely has a bit of an airheaded side to him.

Oh, but it seems he does have a charitable side as well, by the looks of things. Definitely not unlike Ampharos in Super.

And I was right about the Growlithe becoming a main part of the cast! Elty’s their name - I rather like it! Wonder how he’s going to mesh with the rest of the cast?

Chapter 9

"You should try to fly! Do a barrel roll!"

Nice reference! I do wonder how useful as a technique that would be for our resident birb to press Z or R twice, though. (Probably quite useful, actually.)

Elty doesn’t seem to hold much back. Then again, given he’s in this against his will, his crabby attitude is probably to be expected.

Which was quickly followed by Pleo beginning to wobble and then come tumbling down with a crash… on top of the little orange dog.

Belly flop! Maybe Pleo could incorporate that into his moveset. (Turns out Lugia can learn Body Slam, actually!)

"GET OFF OF ME!" the Growlithe bellowed.

I guess even a young Lugia like Pleo is still quite a heavyweight.

Oh who are we kidding? Pleo couldn't think of many things at that moment other that he desperately wanted to be anywhere but where that dreadful-sounding voice was coming from.

I feel that the first sentence could be omitted here.

"Besides, if you're conscious, you'll be able to work on getting a little less tubby!" Crom added.

This has been mentioned a few times now, to the point where I’m wondering if it’s part of Elty’s personality. Is he a Big Eater, I wonder? (I gotta admit that I rather like characters like that.)

Rather amusing seeing Crom’s haplessness with healing and Elty’s grumpy reactions to it.

I’m as surprised as everyone else that Pleo’s learning to fly this soon.

Oh, Melissa’s a Porygon? Interesting, interesting. But they can’t really fly?

Right, that’s what the ‘ahp-gredh’ was from a few chapters ago. An Up-Grade to evolve her.

Interesting way to depict TMs and HMs in this world. Still, that’s gotta be inconvenient, if only certain species can decipher their meaning.

"I'm afraid that as fast as Pleo has been progressing towards awakening his true power... That he might be running out of time," the Ampharos sighed, as he rubbed his brow with a free paw.

Oh no…What could this mean?

Okay, it’s more to do with if attackers invade again. Phew. Almost thought there was some kind of curse going on. Still, though, the ominous presence of the Company crops up once again.

Or at least that's what he thought for the few seconds before he fell to the ground with a dull thud, much as a stone thrown into the air does, flapping his wings fruitlessly.

"Oof!"

Aww, poor Pleo. A bit unceremonious for him. (On a slightly critical note, I feel the part ‘much as a stone thrown into the air does’ could be omitted or reworded.)

So Team Traveler’s going to move a step up in the world. A good sign of progress - albeit one marred by the race against time before the Company inevitably visit. I’ll bet any money that visit’s going to come sooner rather than later.

Chapter 10

I guess having your Protector be a constant presence would dumb down his glorious image. Especially if he’s just a kid like Pleo is.

Elty being dragged along to everything. Part of me wonders at what point will his attitude to the rest of the team begin to change. Probably not for another while yet.

So Nida still doesn’t think the highest of Calino, but at least she knows when to relent on her slyness in dealing with him. Good for her.

"Why, with the way you're growing up, you'll be big and as strong as your father in no time! Here, let me get some things for your adventure!"

Once again, that theme of growth crops up.

Heh. Guess that’s one way out of that predicament Nida had with her siblings.

Oh, Team Sawtooth make a return from their one appearance in the first chapter. Cool.

"Was that Scyther sketching us earlier?" Elty asked the other Pokémon in the group.

How can they sketch with big scythes? So the Marked kid has talent as an artist. Wonder how well that’ll be recognised, though, given the clear discrimination against the Marked?

Okay, a callback to what happened a year ago with Nida. Is it as simple as that, though? I would’ve thought it was something deeper.

Aww, poor Pleo. Little guy getting nervous over his first Dungeon dive.

And that little scene of Nida cuddling up against him is really cute. Lot of cute moments in this story, so far.

Chapter 11

Huh. Interesting how those food offerings can now be put to use. Although the logic spun over the Protector being benevolent is another way to explain things. Hey, at least innocent little Pleo won’t be greedy this way.

Aww, I really felt for Pleo during the entry into the Mystery Dungeon. Good thing he has such supportive allies in everyone else.

And still as clueless as ever over the badge communication. I love him so much~!

She had to admit, watching that curious fascination that Guild members often felt their first time in the Mystery Dungeon was cute, but…

Yes! There’s no other way to describe it! Pleo is sooo cute!

"If you're really the Protector, have your friends perform your secret ritual dance!" she cried.

Just like in HeartGold/SoulSilver? No Kimono Girls here, alas.

"Yes, you are," the Frillish hissed, her reddish-black aura thickening and re-emerging. "That bird's an imposter!"

Hm. Somehow I get this feeling this won’t be the last time Pleo’s called an imposter. At the very least, something along these lines.

"They're supposed to be best used inside Mystery Dungeons," Crom added. "If you try using them outside, the ones that do work aren't nearly as effective out there."

Ah, a way to balance them. Fair enough, given how broken orbs can be.

"I'll do it," Elty volunteered.

One of the first steps. He’ll be converted to them before long, just you wait and see…

Chapter 12

Hm, a change in POV to Hatteras and Osmund. This could be interesting.

Oh dear, the Company’s here. This won’t bode well at all…

Love the banter between Elty and Nida. Their personalities do offer good potential to bounce off each other.

Welp, this Mothim’s face-punchable material already. The first impressions of the Company, and it seems they’re as bad in the flesh as rumoured.

And excuses, excuses. That’s all I’m getting from Ellsberg here. Maybe some geopolitical mumbo jumbo (although expansion of the wider world is a note of intrigue. And that Dragonite mentioned - the leader of the Company, if I had to guess?) but I can’t not sympathise with this prick of a Mothim.

Oh no. The first hint about Pleo has been dropped.

Traps, eh? Always a pain to deal with. And now it looks like they’re going to be separated from Kiran and the others. At the very least, they’re still out of the way of the Company…

Couldn’t help but get a Monster House vibe from that ending. Do wonder if that’ll be what this is.

Chapter 13

That’s a foreboding chapter title. Here’s hoping our heroes can find their way out of this mess…

And as I predicted - more ferals are calling Pleo an imposter. Once again, though, I doubt that’s the last we’ll hear of that phrase being touted.

I like the use of the Slow Orb here. A nice callback to the previous chapter.

Hm, that was a rather mild Monster House. Normally they’re much worse than that.

So Pataki’s more than a bit obsequious towards Pleo. I love everyone else’s sheepishness towards this.

Aww, how noble of Nida and Crom to turn down Normal Rank for Pleo’s sake.

And back to Ellsberg; still as face-punchable as ever. Though we see a new character - Lyn. By the looks of it, just as antagonistic as his subordinate.

"What can I say? They need a champion," Lyn said as he made his way back to the bin of Substitutes. "One that they can use to help smooth over some lasting thorns in the Company's side. To soothe and charm those loose ends that helped to put an end to the old order all those years ago."

Ah, so Pleo would be more as a display piece with which to bring dissenters on side. Still…if they are after his power, I can imagine they’ll be very disappointed.

The Substitute dolls of Ampharos and Sceptile imply Lyn has an enmity against Hatteras and Osmund. So their obstinate resistance against the Company isn’t a new thing.

And it seems coercive tactics is going to be their play to get Tromba to hand over Pleo. This doesn’t bode well for the future…

Chapter 14

More sparring. At least Pleo’s flying a bit better, to the point where Nida’s riding him as a mount. (I get the feeling that might end up being a strategy they’re going to do in future as well.)

Elty’s still playing dirty tricks. That falling off was just deserts for him.

Oh, we’re coming back to Cassie’s picture. I was wondering when that would be resolved.

They said that if I went there and had them 'meet their makers,' I'd be doing the world a service!" Pleo chirped happily as he flew along the path and down the left fork.

Oh dear…About as bad as a kid learning a swear word.

Apricorns appear in this story too, and they appear to be just as terrifying as they were in Once a Thief.

Oh boy, this meeting with Ander’s going to hell in a handbasket…

Hmm…good logic on the front of keeping that confrontation secret. They do recognise that Ander means well, just that his family are naturally more paranoid.

I really feel for Pleo here at the end. Unintentional though it may be, he will be the reason that Tromba’s going to be visited again by the Company to get their hands on him. And that guilt complex he’s feeling right now may well be exploited by them as persuasion to turn himself in. I get the feeling this will be something the other team members are going to tell him otherwise about, but Pleo himself will still feel guilty over the whole thing.

Shadows are definitely being cast, and with the Company’s return to the island all but inevitable, there is a feeling of dread coming into play in this story, and the early innocence is beginning to fade out. Looks like Nida, Crom and Pleo are going to have to grow up sooner than intended.

Conclusion

This was really good! I loved the characters, especially Pleo - he completely stole my heart! Crom and Elty are definite runners-up, though, for my other favourite characters. The setting gives a nice homely feel to it, and there’s enough detail given about the outside world that I’d be curious to see the rest of it in time. The Company definitely gives off shady vibes, and I look forward to seeing the extent of their deplorability as villains.

I also like the little phrases of other languages that pop up at various intervals. I liked this in Casting Off and Once a Thief as well, and they were an intriguing idea to put into a fic.

Curious as to where the characters from Casting Off come into the story. I look forward to when they’re introduced, because I quite enjoyed them there.

Anyway, this was a fun read! I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partners
  1. pikachu-chibi
  2. lugia
  3. palkia
  4. lucario-shiny
  5. incineroar-starr
So, after a quick refresher, we left off with Team Traveller trying to make a getaway out of Magmapool with Zygarde's team in tow, after they gave Ketu, Ellsberg and Team Sentinel the slip back in the dungeon with that fake Zygarde gambit. Meanwhile Lyn got into a mess chasing Pleo (actually the Ditto, rip) and it looks like both the heroes and the Company need to get out sharpish before the Imperials gather their forces. Oh, and Ketu backstabbed the conartists because of course he did.

And they've got a pretty decent plan of escape, good ol' classic rooftop hopping. At least until they're spotted by the guards whoops. Gotta say, the diversity of Pokemon species on display is always interesting. I probably never would have thought to have a Minior as part of the aerial crew. It means that there's never any one tactic that'll work against their enemies.

Aaand we meet the conartists again, and they're coming with us! But Lyn still has David... Thaaaat's kind of a problem for them.

Pleo decides to take a stand, powers or no! And he manages to pull it off! Shredding the enemy sails was both clever and very reasonable for his power level, well done to him.

Looks like the navy has gotta be desperate if they're filling their ranks with criminals. Still interesting that Cardino of all mon is there. Possibly because if they really are that pressed for help, they need someone in a watchful role? Good to see Cabot's growing doubts. I knew we'd be getting that eventually, especially after all the time he spent with Pleo.

Nice to get some level-setting on the Company after all the moving parts to keep track of for the past few arcs. And now they know that Ketu is working against Lyn! Maybe there's some way they could take advantage of that info.

It felt like cutting to dinner after their escape was a pretty satisfying note to end on, so I'm a little surprised the chapter is still going!

The fact that the Trombans have only been away from home for two weeks is absolutely wild to me. It felt like they spent well over a week on Giotto alone! Add a few days on each of how many islands, not to mention all the travel time...

Ah shit, and now the Company's sending ships back to Tromba. They've got to know that Pleo isn't there, though... There's gotta be some blackmail in store for the Siglo Swellow the next time they cross paths with the Company.

Still, new allies, and a way forward! And we have a plan that isn't just running away from the Company/Empire! Nice to bring together a long list of separate threads and move the plot forward, and it'll be interesting to see how their meeting with Xerneas goes (hopefully better than it did for Kline...?)

Til next time~
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Well, that’s quite a bumper crop of reviews! Much more than we’re normally used to getting right before a new update. As such, if you don’t see a reply to yours today, don’t worry, it means that we’ll either be replying to it properly in the next story update here on TR in about a week, or else on another platform where the review has been crossposted.

@Venia Silente
This is part of the review trade to rescue the silverware I need for Xmas— no, wait, Xmas and New Year's already over.

Well then, let's rescue RB2022!

Well, better late than never, but it’s always a pleasure to get reviews from you.
:loltias:



The ever-living speak! The island
has now heard an official
proclamation, a threat of
IMPRISONMENT in the sinister voice
of the actual PROTECTOR CERNUM!


(hey, it was a horribad movie but I'll make every attempt to rescue Ian McDiarmid that I can.)

I’m now imagining the Imperial March playing in scenes whenever Valter arrives. Congratulations.

Pleo and company are led back to their accomodations—

Pleo: "Oh? So we are guests?"
Trizano: "Hmmm I mean you are friends..."
Pleo: "Then you have to entertain us and humor us!" ^_^
Nagant, three islands over: [furiously waving messaging flags]
Roteck: [to Trizano]: "...." <_<
Trizano: "....Uh, prisoners it is." v_v

Trizano: “But also guests! … Of a sort.” ^v^;

Both things I feel will be highly relevant later since Darth Valter is the one special mon around here barring Cernum.

Hold onto that thought, really.

Roteck leads the team to their imprisonment garrison made of straw (yeah like that's going to contain Crom for long) and the team counters with the idea that they have to get outta there. Given this *is* known song and dance for the inhabitants already, they present the case of a Kangha mother that's sticking around.

Yeah, it’s not explicitly stated, but it’s strongly implied that she’s the same one from Laurens’ crew in The Deepest Wounds.

It seems for now, the team will have to operate under the assumption that they'll remain trapped in the Shadow Realm forever, only if at least they can figure out how to break its rules.

Roteck: “For the record, don’t get any funny ideas like trying to annoy us into letting you go. You won’t like where you end up afterwards.” >:|

Roteck: "Don't worry, 25 years from now you'll be quite past the Five Stages of Grief. In fact you two now have eternity to get things going, strating with a kiss."
Nida: o_o
Crom: o_o
Pleo: [raises wing] "Good sir and or madam wha—"
Crom: "Pleo NOT NOW!!!" >_>
Pleo: "...But! Awww who's gonna be nice to me now?"
Trizano: "I'm a bird!" ^_^
Pleo: "Oh! Please will you not leave us alone?"
Trizano: "I'm a hero of course I won't leave you alone."
Roteck: "He's not lying, you know. Since y'all be staying forever, he *will* be not leaving you alone." o3o
Trizano: ¬_¬
Crom: >_>
Nida: <_<
Pleo: v_v

Crom: “... Actually, Nida. Are we sure that being stuck here for all eternity together is such a bad thing-?”
:happigon:

Nida: “Crom, we’re not just skipping out on the plot like this! We’re protagonists!” >.<

And, speaking of those other teams... how about the other Aggron around? (that Roteck seems to know of, hint hint) Since I had to skip on that the last time.

At Hess's ship:

Chaos.jpg

Yeah, sounds about right, really. :V

Crew Litten: "Aaaaaaa I'm too cute and unevolved to die! Please let's get outta here!"
Crew Drednaw: "We do have some missing—"
Crew Litten: "They're dead! Dead and gone! Or worse, undead and gone! AaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"
[cats can get loud like that!]
Rodion: "Now everyone let's wait, we do have to fill our flasks,"
Everyone: "Yayyyyy!"
Rodion: "... and I don't mean the rum."
Everyone: "Awwww...."
Hess: "Riiight, so, do we have a volunteer?"
Everyone: "How about Kichiro?"
Kichiro: "I already went tho."
Everyone: "But you know where the water is!"
Kichiro: [puts up a map, with a "water here" sign marked]
Hess: "...Any actual volunteers?"

—long moment of silence as everyone ponders their mortality—

Honestly, I don't know what *anyone*, even Hess, was expecting here. It's not like anyone in this crew not named Kichiro is gonna step up to the challenge of the Shadow Realm and potential deadness, or undeadness, right?

...Right?

I mean, fortunately for him, it was the perfect excuse to go ahead and “volunteer” someone unilaterally for the task. o<o

Alvise: [puffs chest up] "Grrrr. fine, we'll do it."
Valatos: "W-what????? That is NOT in the script!" <_<
Nori: "Come on! I can't take more overtime!" <_<
Alvise: [growling] "Quit yelping you two! We're supposed to be elite pirates! Not mere n00bs. And I'm a very best doggo!"
Everyone: "Yes you are!" ^_^
Luca from elsewhere: "Can I get more screentime yet?"
Alvise: "Bah, don't tell me you're getting too used to the easy screentime! I'm muscled perfection! Thunder given form! Now let's get moving!"
Alvise: [marches off]
Nori: "...W-what got him going?"
Valatos: " @Spiteful Murkrow ! @Virgil134 ! Casting dept? Anyone? Come on! This joke is NOT funny!" >_>

Well, it is to me o3o

I can neither confirm nor deny that this would more or less be Alvise’s version of events given a couple years down the road when it comes time to trade bar stories. Even if it’s obviously a bit embellished from reality.
:loltias:


Reading (and meta-writing!) for Hess and crew is always a fun piece and tends to be a highlight for most chapters where they show up. Even though, plot-wise, it's not like they're getting much advancement, to their chagrin :p

Oh, you’re gonna love the next couple of ongoing arcs offsite.

Eventually the team now led by best doggo finds their way to Kichiro's water. See? Always listen to your local Cleric. And the best part is, they also happen to find their path to Team Kiran who are scouting around for Team Pleo. *And* Team Pleo happens to find their way into the ghosts who were scaring everyone with the Fiend thing from earlier, *and* Kiran manages to secure the team getting in to where Pleo is?

This is sounding conveniently convenient.

It actually wasn’t a coincidence there since it was described in Kichiro’s scene that he could see Mystery Dungeon fog and thus near its entrance. Team Traveller also wound up going near the local Mystery Dungeon, so it was a matter of proximity putting the various groups on a collision course.

Kiran: "This plan was 85% guaranteed to work!" ^_^

Which considering Pokémon game probabilities is translation for “100% guaranteed to fail if you’re a player character”.
:fearfullaugh~1:


For once, I can't contest that. All that we'd be missing honestly was Kiran finding a means to leave some indicator they had been here specifically, for later. Plot-wise, it does tie things quite nicely as in this scene we get a number of things:

* we get some exposition on the mechanics that the ghosts use
* Kiran gets the team basically a guarantee that they'll be led to where Pleo is
* the ghosts did not cover Elty's nose, so now the team can probably find a path out by scent (which would allow Elty to reclaim his title of best doggo)
* even if not, Alvise (the currently best doggo around onscreen!) is trailing them and their path perception so far is unimpeded

Luca [waiving a paw]: "H-hello? Casting dept?"

Elty: “Oi! What am I, driftwood here?”
:eltyunamused:


Alvise: "Let's go everyone! Time to save the plot!" [trails off]
Valatos: "Technically it was me with the plan AND the mood, says the script..." <_<
Alvise from ahead: "What's that? I'm a doggo, I can hear you over your you be BETTER catching up!"
Valatos: "Eeeep!"

Good boi.

I can already see Valatos and Nori’s
:gardexhausted:
faces when Alvise gives a version of events that’s basically this in the future.

Far from there, Hess' team was not the only one facing hardships about, this is also an issue that is hitting Nagant's crew on various fronts, and Cabot more personally.

I'm still all for him to switch sides, btw, and it's good that unlike in other times in the past he was at least able to half-assemble a very good argument in favor of both Pleo and the Empire instead of going in on it all cheeriness no preparation. But, Nagant is right as well to offer Cabot the option of just stepping aside, and it was quite considerate on Nagant's part I'm gonna say.

Well, being Cheeriest Cranidos probably helps for getting your boss to resolve differences in ways that don’t involve getting Water Pulsed into next week. ^^;

Nagant: [drops some money]
Cabot: [cheering] "Yay! My good ideas have earned me a better wage!" ^_^
Nagant: "Nooo!!!" >_>

Probably a good thing that Niilo wasn’t present to see this, huh? o<o;

Elilan: "My plans are also coming up nicely despite everything, and soon I'll—"
Sophia: [emerges from Elilan's hair] "What about MY plans? I want to play!"
Elilan: "Uhm... y-yeah listen darling this is an important—"
Sophia: [paws on head] "Play time! That was the plan!"
Elilan: [shrugs] "Well, we *did* say all plans are going fine!" ^_^
[heads off to play with cute Zorua kitten]

Everyone is happy!

Valatos: “Excuse me? I didn’t agree to get my thunder stolen by Alvise here!”
:unimpressed:

Alvise: “Oh sod off, Valatos! It was a more accurate version of events than anything you’d have to say!”
:AlviseAngry:

@Sinderella
Hiiiiii Fobbie!!!!! Sorry for getting such a late start to our exchange; it's been far more a hectic month than I was anticipating. I read the prologue up to chapter 2, and will come back to hit chapter 3 hopefully before the end of Blitz!

Don’t feel too bad, since if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about Review Blitz it’s that it’s hard to get all of the goals that you set for yourself done since life happens over the course of a month.

Obligatory "Hi I've never played PMD in depth before so please bear with me if something flies over my head because I'm an idiot." :> Also I'm very sleppy so I will try to keep my thoughts and crit as coherent as possible but I can't say the same about the line-by-lines.

I don’t think that should be an issue, since this story was built to evoke canon PMD while being off in its own world, so beyond missing a mythology gag here or there, you should be pretty set since Fledglings and the other stories that share its setting are meant to be readable even if you’ve got zero experience with official PMD media.

The prologue was very very cute and very very VERY intriguing. You write little kids very well. You really sold the eager naivety of Nida, sneaking out of her bed to go find some stars that her mother told her about. I could practically PICTURE her mom showing up to pick her up by the scruff of her neck to bring her ass back to the nest. Honestly, very The Lion King-esque. Or........Nidoran King-esque in this case.

So… Nidoking-esque, even? :V

I really liked the story that Nida's mom told, TOTALLY not a lot of foreshadowing happening there, no way no how right? I'm very interested to see if humans ever DO end up showing up in the story, but....probably not, this is PMD. It is a really interesting worldbuilding thing though that they're like things of a myth; I see that every now and then in PMD stories, so is that like a canon thing or is that just an aspect PMD writers really enjoy having? Either way, I fuck with it. I loved the whole concept of the gods giving Pokemon the magical power shit and giving humans the power to provide and protect and be trainers and yeah, only for that to just.....go to shit, because of course it does.

Hilariously enough, the average PMD story, especially ones that intentionally vibe after a game-like setup has a lot of attention and narrative focus around humans. Just not necessarily in human bodies. As for the things of myth, that’s actually canon as of later games, even if ‘explicitly posthuman settings’ are one of those fanon PMD things that not everyone agrees upon. Something something blame Spike Chunsoft for having an abandoned laboratory of anthropogenic design with zero explanation for how it got there as an area in the first games.

As for how things shake out, you’ll have to read to go along, even if I’ll be upfront and say that Fledglings is one of the relatively uncommon PMD stories that doesn’t have a human protagonist.

I DO know a thing or two about the feral Pokemon in the dungeons and I love the way THAT was incorporated into the story too (again, unsure if that's canon but either way STILL WRITTEN NICELY AND V NEAT). When I eventually realized that, like, the scarves Nida and her family and I guess all the other Pokemon at the guild wear indicate they're not feral, I was like OHHHHHHH I SEE. Cool little detail.

“Feral” Pokémon as depicted in this story are actually significantly closer to how random encounters work in the games than a lot of other PMD stories with “ferals” since you can recruit them and banter with them. I’m not fully sure where the trope of “ferals having a hard sapience difference relative to civilized Pokémon” originates from in the fandom, but Fledglings is very firmly in the camp of “every Pokémon is sapient”.

Chapter 1 indicates that some years have passed, and Nida DOES seem slightly older, but not too much. Responsible enough to watch her siblings, but still young enough to be whining about not getting better at things fast enough I feel you gurl I feel you. You still do a really good job of capturing the childlike essence she has; her excitement for things, her fright about the storm and INSISTING she's fine, the "hey I don't need you tell me what to do old man." Little nuances like that really do be coming through and showcasing she is still indeed babby and probably has a LOT of impending growth coming.

Such is life when writing a coming of age story. But yeah, Nida was always meant to grow a bit over the course of the story’s journey. It was only fitting that she start out a bit towards the “basic, average kid” end of things at the start.

Also UH OH SOME SHIT JUST WENT DOWN. Idfk what the hell hatched from that egg but I'm getting a vibe that it's NOT GOOD. Monka fuking s, bro.

Well, there’s some villagers who would definitely agree with that take if they knew about what went down.
:copyka:


I should also note, I HEAVILY FUCKED with the imagery in this chapter, especially at the beginning. It gave me vibes of like, an old-timey fishing village, I could really vividly picture it in my mind. Good shit.

Glad to hear, since one of the things that @Virgil134 and I have always prided ourselves on is coming up with distinctive places in and around the Cradle and making them stick-out in terms of imagery. Glad to hear that that came through for you.

Chapter 2, we finally go into a dungeon to.....collect apples. I guess this is some sort of training exercise that n00bs do to get the hang of things. I think I like Kiran, he seems really chill, doesn't really condescend his little mentees but also isn't about to let them get into some dangerous shit. Also, Crom is giving me MAD himbo vibes, fucking protect him at all costs.

Sounds like the cast’s doing its job then, especially Crom since from the very beginning, he’s always been meant to be a real cutie of a Druddigon.
:happigon:


I spent the entire chapter waiting for the bad thing to happen and OF COURSE you waited right until the very end to leave my ass on a cliffhanger, you tease. The bullshit starts NOW.

Guess you’ll just have to come back in the future and see what happens, eh?
:trollzel:


Overall, this was a fun start to what I'm anticipating to be a VERY twisty story. Judging by the *checks notes* 60+ chapters you've got going, yep. I enjoyed the writing style generally; very easy for my tired eyes and brain to intake and understand, didn't linger in any places for too long, dialogue was pretty snappy. In some places it felt pretty.....on the nose, in a rather endearing cartoonish sense, if that makes sense? Like, normally I'd clock on-the-nose dialogue like "Nidorans like me always get--" but I think it actually works for this piece so far. There's a level of whimsy to it that makes it mesh well.

Yeah, that’s probably an artifact of the story deliberately aping a “Saturday Morning Cartoon with hungover censors” sort of vibe, as will be out in full force in today’s update. It’s a bit of a surprisingly rare vibe in the PMD fandom but glad to hear that things have been working for you even if it might normally not be quite your cuppa.

She sneek.

Bolded parts where it got a little repetitive; it doesn't need to be mentioned twice that she's sneaking out.

We went and touched that up by changing the second instance, since you had a bit of a point there.

God damn I could practically HEAR this exchange.

Also, the comma between the !" and Nida doesn't need to be there.

Nice catch. Went and axed that.

Interesting lore and worldbuilding!!! I think I know enough about PMD to know what this all ties into.

Most of this is particular to this setting, so I wouldn’t sweat it too hard.

Oh they're DEFINITELY going to have to team up with some Marked when shit goes down, I'm betting my life savings on it

Hold onto that thought, actually.

This was a case of headhopping, I think? I was getting the vibe this was being written from third person limited (on Nida) but we hopped to Calino's POV here.

We actually aim for third person omniscient perspective in this story, with more “POV-focused” sequences meaning to be instances of frame narration / the proverbial “camera” moving to focus on a specific character. We’ll put some thought into if there’s a way to tidy this part up a bit to make this specific switch a bit less jarring, though.

WH---
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR

Guess you’ll just have to keep reading to find out, huh? :V

WH--
WHAT INCIDENT WITH THE POMEG PLANTS

Okay, this one doesn’t get explained explicitly since it’s a funny noodle incident thing, but TL/DR rambunctious and hyper poison bunnies tend to be bad for their babysitter’s berry bushes, who knew?
:joltyshrug~1:


Awwwww but we LOVE baker dragons!!!!

:GuilEat:


Crom you are AUDACIOUS oh my GOD

I mean, it’s a handy trait to have for someone looking to heed the call of adventure. :V

Ugh love the parents who have two many fucking kids and have to leave the elder ones to watch them all /s

Nida: “Tell me about it.” -_-;

Aww this was such a dad response, I love

Yeah, Teja’s meant to be the more sober counterweight to Marley’s fire in the family. Glad to hear that the delivery was landing well for you.

Riiiiiiiiiiight sea ferals, riiiiiiiiiight :copyka:

To be fair, it was a decent guess even if it was horribly wrong? o<o

On one hand, I get it playing safe, but also, oh noooooooo Nida's gonna mald

I’d actually put more money on her looking more like:

sceams-internally-scrubs.gif


*Narrator voice*
And that's when he knew he probably fucked up because foreshadowing is a BITCH

Kiran: “Y-You’re saying this as if we live in a story.”
:fearfullaugh~1:

Nida: “Kiran, we do live in a story!” >_>;
Kiran: “... Oh. Right.” ·v·;

HMMMM WONDER WHAT THAT'S DEPICTING

Truly a mystery. /s

Repeated use of this phrase

We went and axed one of those to make it a bit less repetitive.

LEAVE YOUR TEACHER ALONE HE'S TRYING HIS BEST YOU RATS

But… funny schoolyard pranks.
:butwhy:


Those Krabby are malding after what happened last night aren't they

Maybe just a little. ^^;

This sentence got kind of jumbled and repetitive.

We went and rephrased this. Hopefully it’s a bit tidied up now.

Also a bit of a jumbled sentence that I struggled to follow.

Same here.

HELL YEAH I WAS RIGHT THEY ARE MALDING

What, you’re telling me that getting blown around by hurricane-force winds while trying to sleep isn’t your idea of a good time? ^^;

*Narrator voice*
And that's when Kiran knew he DEFINITELY fucked up

Kiran: “... Oh boy, Marley’s going to kill me for this.”
:uhhh:

Though thanks again for the reviews, everybody. They were entertaining reads as always and put more than a couple smiles on my face. Which I suppose is as good a note to head into the next chunk of the story with since this is the part where we’re starting to roll out “That One Special Chapter”™ surrounding Elty’s backstory that rubs up against the boundaries of what you can get away with in a K+ story and has Fledglings’ first explicitly depicted onscreen death in it.

Said special chapter was also kinda, uh… big. As in 25000+ words big, and as such the version rolled out here on Thousand Roads will be a 3-parter in the style of Turbulent Roadtrip. While @Virgil134 and I don’t expect it to faze too many readers, it’s quite a bit heavier in tone and has more onscreen blood than anything in the story up to this point, and than anything to come for a long while afterwards, so… yeah, be aware that it’s not a sunshine and rainbows story.

Though that’s enough prattling on my end. Let’s just jump into things with that first glimpse into how our (former) pirate pupper got his start:
 
Special Chapter: The Deepest Wounds, Part 1

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
eyK4cnw.png


It was said that in the days of humans, Pokémon lived divided into two camps: one that lived alongside humans as their partners and guardians, and one that lived amongst the ebb and flow of nature. Even after that era passed and Arceus himself cobbled together the Cradle, the rough dichotomy remained intact with the arrival of the Pact, dividing Pokémon who attempted to preserve the knowledge of humans in their settlements from those who chose to remain apart, which the town dwellers came to know as 'Ferals'.

The windswept plains of Nagrobek Island were no exception to the rule, as the wild, unplanted fringes were the domain of Pokémon that knew no banner and respected no rule beyond that which their own strength could secure. There, they carried on living as their forebears had for untold eons in the age of humans, waking and sleeping among the elements, and gathering and hunting as their strength allowed. In places of particularly treacherous nature, such Pokémon would sometimes set aside their differences, much as the Pokémon that dwelt inside the maze of barren trees that formed Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon did. There, deep within under the branches of the dead forest, an Arcanine kept a silent, dutiful watch over a moving set of Pecha bushes.

"I found one!"

A cheerful yip carried through the air, followed by the sight of a young Growlithe poking his head up from the bushes, pulling out a Pecha Berry and plodding along for the watching Arcanine waiting at the edge. The younger of the two Fire-Types set the fruit down, giving a playful wag of his tail before his elder as he beamed with pride.

"It was hidden under the leaves just like you said it would be, mama!" the Puppy Pokémon cheered. "Guess those other Pokémon didn't sniff it out that well."

Cheer filled every crease of the young dog's body, only for his happiness to go unrequited by the mother Arcanine. The larger dog shook her head, pawing at the ground as she nosed impatiently at a small pile of gathered berries.

"That's wonderful, dear. We've gathered enough for today," the larger Fire-Type answered. "Take it and let's get going back to the den."

"Eh? Already? But we came all the way here by one of the exits…" the Growlithe murmured, his tail's wag slowing somewhat. "I bet if we wanted to, we could just go on a little further and we could run in the fields outside!"

The mother Arcanine faltered a moment, her ears and head drooping as she went silent. The Fire-Type grimaced, as if struggling under the sudden weight of a large burden.

" Eltenios…"

"Aw, come on, I didn't ask you to teach me to hunt… just to run!" the Growlithe insisted. "Those predators you say are out there shouldn't be an issue as long as you're around! You're tougher and faster than any of them!"

"Eltenios! Now isn't the time!" the Arcanine snapped. Startled by his mother's snarl, the young Growlithe yelped and pulled his ears and tail in tight towards his body. He gave a low whine back as his mother looked away, shaking her head reluctantly.

"Just take what you can and let's go back," the Arcanine grunted. "It was already dangerous to be out this long right now."

The Arcanine took up a small mouthful of the Pecha Berries and began to pace off. Her child pawed uneasily at his own berry, before picking it up and carrying along after his mother, one question uncomfortably pressing up against his mind.

"Why… was it dangerous?"

"Over there!"

Elty ran ahead into his mother's hindlegs as she came to an abrupt stop. The Growlithe shook his head and peered ahead to see the form of a lanky, dark-scaled Marowak followed by an Abomasnow and a violet Zebstrika in lavender scarves sneering and laughing as they neared.

"When I was told I'd have to root around for a feral Arcanine that put a Rescue Team in the medic's ward, I was expecting it to actually be difficult," the Marowak jeered. "And here I don't even have to drag in some random mutt to take your place, Pact-breaker!"

A low growl came from the Arcanine's throat, her back arching as she flashed her teeth back at the three intruders, fiery hate burning in her eyes.

"I didn't break the Pact, so I'm giving you the same warning as I gave those earlier intruders," the Arcanine snarled. "Get out of my territory."

"Last time I checked the Company owns this island and we'll do what we damn well please on it," the Marowak spat. "This miserable stick pile you sleep in is no exception!"

"M-Mama?" Elty whined. "What's going on?"

"You and your mother are coming with us, kiddo," the Abomasnow growled.

"Yeah, we have uses for troublemakers like you," the shiny Zebstrika taunted.

The umber Marowak held out his bony club and slackened his grip, letting it slide down before latching on to its center. The lizard spun it around as blue, ghostly fire erupted at its ends, whirling it back and forth wildly before swinging it out to the side with a menacing glare.

"But enough talking," the Marowak sneered. "It's time for you mutts to go!"

"Over my dead body, it is!" the Arcanine snapped back.

The Fire-Type lunged for the Marowak at rapid speed, lowering her head in a blistering charge only to feel the air pass by her. The dog went wide-eyed with alarm as she looked back, watching the lizard reform from a shadowy haze with a malevolent sneer.

"Huh-?!"

"Ha! You ferals should really get out from under your rocks more often!" the Ghost-Type jeered. "Here! Have another learning experience!"

The Marowak sent his club flying in a spinning arc, clipping the Arcanine in her side and sending her tumbling to the ground with a yelp. Further away, her pup pulled his ears and tail in tight as he backed away with a frightened whimper, only to shriek as he suddenly felt a hand yank him up by the scruff of his neck, bringing him face to face with the Abomasnow.

"Gotcha, you lousy little-"

Before the Ice-Type could finish, the Growlithe in his hands spat out an ember into the creature's face, prompting him to drop the Puppy Pokémon to the ground with a yelp. There on the ground, Elty staggered back up to his feet as the Abomasnow rubbed his face, a swirl of frigid air swirling about him as his breath came out in a furious bellow.

"Alright that does- Ack!"

A hulking orange blur flew in, sending the Abomasnow tumbling back as Elty felt himself get yanked off the ground once again. The Growlithe cringed, feeling the air rush past him until he realized that he was being held in the mouth of a fuzzy, warm Pokémon, prompting him to crack his eyes open and see none other than...

"M-Mama?!"

"I'll explain later!" the Arcanine yipped. "Just stay with me!"

The mother Arcanine ran ahead as a stream of ghostly blue fire zipped overhead, tearing along past rows of leafless trees along a narrow dirt path as shouts rang out behind them. The dog bounded ahead where she came to an intersection, where a loud growl prompted her to see a Golem directly ahead, and an open path to her right. The Fire-Type turned on her heels, rushing right into a chamber lined with dead trees where her paws touched a patch of dirt with the shape of a footprint faintly etched in the dirt.

Click!

It took only a moment for the Arcanine to realize what had happened before ribbons of silk suddenly shot out from the ground and coated her legs. The Fire-Type lost her balance, pitching forward as her child went flying from her mouth towards the ground.

"Aah!"

Elty hit the floor of the dungeon and tumbled along the leaf-littered ground until he came to a panting, whining stop. From behind them, the sound of sneering laughter rang out, growing louder as its culprit drew ever nearer.

"What an idiot!" the Marowak jeered. "I knew that dumb feral would fall for it!"

The Growlithe picked himself up and looked on in horror as the lavender-scarved Pokémon pinned his mother down. The sound of loud blows and a pained cry rang out, only for a gout of fire to shoot out from the group that sent the Abomasnow stumbling back with a pained screech. The Arcanine wrestled herself free, wobbling to her feet as she looked over wide-eyed at her pup.

"Eltenios, run!" she cried. "Don't look back!"

Elty lowered his head and charged ahead as fast as his legs could carry him, his breaths coming out shallow and ragged as shouts and snarls rang out behind him.

"Agh! She burned me!" the Abomasnow cried

"Just pin her down and get her in that Apricorn!" the Marowak snapped.

"Hey!" the Golem shouted. "Her little runt's running off!"

Elty heard footsteps running after him, prompting him to start to turn his head back only to abruptly jerk it back into place. No, he could challenge his mother's instructions another time, but not here, not now. The Growlithe ran ahead for dear life as he heard the racing footsteps and shouts grow louder and louder, the young dog wildly flying around corners in an attempt to try and slow down his pursuer.

"H-Huh?!"

Elty came ahead to a chamber where to his left was a set of stairs going up into the roof of an earthen tunnel. Without thinking, the Growlithe charged up the stony steps, spotting light at the end as he ran up into a clearing with a stream and scruffy clumps of grass. He dashed along wildly, only for his feet to get caught on the steps. Elty yelped, pitching forward face first and tumbling onto the dungeon's earthen floor. The Fire-Type curled his body up and quivered, lying frozen on the ground, only to realize the sound of the pursuing footsteps had been replaced with that of the creaking and groaning of strained stone. A loud clatter rang out, followed by silence, and the sound of his own panting, haggard breaths. Little by little, the Puppy Pokémon uncurled himself, rising back onto his feet with an unsteady wobble.

"Mama? Are you alright?"

The Growlithe looked back at the direction of the stairs, and saw naught but a small patch of disturbed dirt in the clearing. Elty ran up and pawed at it, looking around desperately for any sign of his mother only to find nothing but the barren trees around him, along with warm tears bubbling in his eyes as a growing, awful realization began to settle on him.

"M-Mama?"



Elty's cries reverberated through the twisted woods, fading away on the winds out of the Mystery Dungeon long before they could reach the outside… or the stone complex overlooking it from seaside cliffs in the distance. There, in a thick-walled tower anchoring the complex's center, the sun shone through the windows of a chamber built high enough to peer over the horizon. The room was a far cry from the ebb and flow of the Distortion: a shaded space that looked over a collection of squat buildings ringed by a wall, and a fortified ring of even thicker stone walls that went up towards the cliffs’ edges built around a central keep to the west.

Inside the office, a Zoroark sat behind a neatly-hewn desk lined with papers on a high-backed chair with lavender cushions. Every now and then, he would move a quill back and forth between an inkwell and the papers—his daily reports to review as a Company Administrator. The walls of the surrounding room similarly had no expense spared in decoration, including a large tapestry bearing a map of Anyilla, flanked by a shelf with a number of rare orbs on display, along with four curious, differently colored spheres made from a strange material with white bottom halves separated from the rest by a black lining in the center. The room was silent barring the rustles of the Zoroark's pen, only for the sound of knocking and the door creaking to ring out, which prompted the Dark-Type to flick his ears and look up from his work.

"Elilan, do you have a moment?"

The jet-furred fox watched as the spider-legged form of a Trevenant in a lavender scarf with a three-layered square pattern scuttled in. Recognizing the figure to be none other than his Commander, the Zoroark tilted his head, before giving a surprised raise of his brow.

"Hrm? You're certainly up here earlier than I expected, Betulo," Elilan said. "I thought you said you'd be busier than normal today."

"I felt the circumstances merited changing up my plans a little," the Trevenant responded. "There was an urgent report for your desk."

Elilan shifted disinterestedly, before giving a shrug and leaning back in his chair.

"If it's the daily status report about the prison, you can just leave them in my mail slot," he answered. "I will review it later."

"It's the transcript of a message I decoded from Team Sentinel. They've sent back a report about Subject Red."

The Zoroark abruptly trailed off, shooting a curious stare at Betulo before reaching up and grabbing the envelope out of his claw. Elilan tore the letter open, his eyes moving back and forth along a sheet of paper, working his way down as a disappointed scowl settled over his face.

"Hrmph… they didn't need so many words to say that they barely missed capturing him again," Elilan harrumphed. "I know that I asked for regular updates, but this is ridiculous."

He gave a disgusted shake of his head and summarily crumpled up the paper, casting it to the corner of his desk and looking away. Betulo eyed the crinkled ball of a report, before he hesitantly spoke up.

"… Perhaps it would be better to have Sorge and his team let things simmer down for a while," the Trevenant offered. "Subject Red is no longer in Anyilla's waters, and the more they chase him, the further he flees and the harder it will be for them to extract him."

"You speak as if the Empire isn't also looking for Protectors. And Garanza and Linglan wouldn't exactly let the opportunity pass to have another Protector join them," Elilan scoffed. "If Subject Red were to attract attention out there, us hanging back would accomplish nothing but give someone else a head start at intercepting him. You know that the plans we have for the Cradle rely on Subject Red, so why take that risk?"

"Because Subject Blue and Doctor Nyxem's research are every bit as important to those plans," Betulo replied. "There comes a point where taking further action risks the things we already have. I know the way Inler has been managing this impasse with the Imperials has been less than ideal, but you can't expect Team Sentinel to constantly pursue Subject Red without drawing any attention to themselves."

The Trevenant shook his head, letting his branch-like arms crackle before he continued on with a stern gaze.

"If Sorge causes a diplomatic incident in the process, you can be sure Inler would notice and the other Administrators would find out about Subject Red and Blue's existence, along with Subject Blue's presence here in this facility."

"And what of it?" Elilan demanded. "The Board can find out all it wants, but once Subject Red is reunited with his counterpart, simple discovery won't do anything to change my new balance of power."

"Assuming Sorge recovered Subject Red and brought him back successfully before they found out, otherwise we'd have bigger issues to deal with than me not being able to sit aside you on the Board. Your peers would at the very least demand Subject Blue be transferred from containment here to Inler's control, and Nyxem's research at Torn Outpost would almost certainly be shut down," Betulo said. "Letting Sorge wait for the right time and place to move after Subject Red is a risk to what you've been working for, but the alternatives aren't any better. It's better to let the unpredictable be what it may and focus on things that are more immediately controllable for now... such as Torn Outpost's next shipment of laborers."

Elilan frowned silently, picking his claws a moment before turning his attention back to his Commander.

"I was under the impression that you were still on top of things for Torn Outpost's logistics," he said. "What exactly is the problem?"

"We're about fifty 'mons short for the next batch to be sent out there," Betulo answered. "I'd instructed some of the guards here to go into the interior to help make up the difference, but the ferals are getting more clever about avoiding them."

The Administrator frowned, giving a shake of his head back at the Trevenant.

"Really now, that's what's been giving you so much trouble?" the Zoroark asked. "You're severely overthinking this problem, Betulo…"

"How so? We've been lucky to get more than one or two Pokémon a day lately," Betulo insisted. "We're not getting the numbers we need short of setting one of the forests in the interior on fire."

Elilan tented his claws in response to Betulo's protest, his muzzle curling up in a small smile before replying back to his Commander.

"There's always some crew of disposables out there that slips up during a raid," the Zoroark answered. "Just bide your time and take the numbers you need from the next one."



Much as Elilan had predicted, one week later, there was indeed a hulk full of unfortunates ready for his disposal. The prison hulk's arrival to Nagrobek was a dreary affair, the vibrant Company-issued lavender sails of the ship doing little to brighten up the dingy, run-down shacks of Dulefield Town as the ship's masts poked over the town's hipped roofs.

The scene on and around the ship was little improved, as haggard, reeking Pokémon lay bound on the deck while others groaned from netting dangled over the side of the ship. The local guards were swift to work as soon as the vessel moored, unceremoniously dragging its miserable cargo along up the docks and for a path headed onto solid land.

Among the bound Pokémon were a Trapinch and Gible in cyan scarves, the pair snatched up by a Passimian as they eyed their surroundings in a panic. While the Fighting-Type brought them up the path, they saw line after line of shuttered, decaying huts, a few containing Pokémon who warily watched the accursed procession past their doors and windows. The lemur's course brought the two Ground-Types to a clearing, where they were dropped against the battered cobblestones amid a large crowd of their captured peers in what appeared to be a local square, with their lavender-scarved captors blocking off the entrances and trading sneers with one another.

"Wh-What are they gonna do to us?" the Trapinch gulped.

"I- I dunno, Pekka," the Gible replied. "Just try not to draw attention to yourself."

The murmuring was broken by the sound of a sharp rap of bone against wood, the gathered captives watching as a lithe, umber Marowak with a Second-Rank scarf clambered up a crate overlooking the square. The lizard stood up, batting his bone idly against his free hand as he peered down at the pirates with a malicious smirk.

"Good morning, you thieving scum," the Marowak sneered. "Welcome to hell."

The Marowak's words made the captive pirates widen their eyes and set their teeth on edge, a few visibly attempting to squirm away as the Ghost-Type hopped down and passed by. The Marowak looked around slowly, his face betraying an obvious satisfaction with his captives' palpable fear.

"I'll spare you all the introductions, since I think we all know what this place is and why you're here," the head guard said. "The only question will be whether you mind your place and make life easier for yourself or if you resist and force us to make life… uncomfortable for you. The Pit's always in need of new bodies to work its mines."

The Marowak raised his bone and rapped it against the ground, turning to the guards behind him with an impatient growl.

"Get them marched off and processed," he snapped. "The sooner these wastes of flesh get out of public view, the better."

Pyry and Pekka yelped as they felt a sudden shove from behind, pushing them forward along the ground, with similar cries and protests coming from behind them. In their panic, the trek from the square went by in a long, hazy blur, the dilapidated buildings of Dulefield Town melting into fields and hills until the pair found themselves getting marched through a gate in a tall, stone wall, ringing squat buildings built under the shadow of a central tower. The two carried on past a wall of glaring passers-by in lavender scarves, towards an entrance in an inner wall that took them to a courtyard where they continued into the entrance of a hulking stone building with small, barred windows into an open, dimly-lit hall. The pair were shoved to the ground, and lay panting as the hall filled with prisoners, the guards circling around them under the watchful gaze of a Scizor barking orders, waiting to swoop in and drag away one after the other to the different wings of the surrounding prison. Among the milling crowd of guards was the Passimian from earlier, who slowed down at the sight of Pyry and Pekka.

"You two," the Fighting-Type barked. "This way."

The lemur latched onto the pair, tearing off their scarves before roughly forcing white and black striped replacements on. The Passimian drug the two off, carrying along down a row of cells roughly hewn from stone where small, haggard groups of Pokémon peered out. The guard carried on to a rickety set of stairs leading up to a wooden catwalk up to a second level of cells, carrying on to a corner cell facing out to a set of narrow windows. The Passimian fished out a crude key and undid the lock, before unknotting the pair's bindings and unceremoniously dumping them onto the cell's stony floor and slamming the door behind them.

"Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, brats," the monkey spat. "You're going to be in here for a long, long time."

The Gible and Trapinch picked themselves off the ground, where the forms of a Gogoat and an Arcanine came into view, approaching with hardened scowls. His nerves long since depleted, Pekka bolted for a corner of the cell and lodged his head in the corner quivering, until he noticed the sound of slow, regulated breathing, looking up to see Pyry next to him closing his eyes, with a strange ease about him.

"H-How can you be so calm?!" the Trapinch hissed. "We're in Nagrobek! Our lives are over right now!"

"I- I mean, we're not alone…" the Gible murmured back. "My äippä's somewhere in here. If we can find her, at least she'll be there to watch our backs."

Pekka's jaw cracked open, as the Trapinch let out an irritated chitter and flailed his limbs indignantly. Pyry had always been adamant that his mother was none other than Beatrice the Swift, but what good was that supposed to do them now?!

"Pyry, she's dead! She tried to raid Vollezee and failed! If she didn't die there in the city, they almost certainly brought her here and made an example of her!"

"Th-That's not true! You heard the stories back on Orleigh! She was caught!" Pyry insisted. "And there's no way a 'mon as tough as her could have just been done in like that!"

Pekka scowled back at the Gible, only for his frustrations to begin to ebb as he saw the little land shark's face remain firm and insistent. Pyry really did believe from the bottom of his heart that his mother would come for him… in a hope that everyone else knew was already in vain.

"… Come on veikka, don't do this to yourself…"

"So soon? I thought you said we shouldn't expect the signal until the end of the week!"

The Trapinch trailed off as he and his partner looked at the back of the cell where the Gogoat looked up and shifted uncomfortably against the wall to their right. The pair blinked a moment before creeping closer, until they were able to see the Grass-Type moving his head and peering through a small hole, speaking in furtive whispers.

"That's what I heard, apparently the schedule has been bumped up a bit," the voice on the other end replied. "As far as I know, nothing else has changed, but you need to make sure this doesn't catch the others unawares."

"I'm just saying," the Gogoat grumbled. "A little notice would've been-"

The Gogoat suddenly stopped as his ears pricked to attention, prompting the Grass-Type to jump up and whirl around. The goat's startled look quickly hardened into a harsh glare, as the Pokémon lowered his head and pawed threateningly at the ground.

"And what do you think you're doing, you little twerps?" the Gogoat snarled.

Pyry and Pekka felt their blood run cold, and backed away timorously from the angered Gogoat. The Gible of the pair quivered, fumbling with his words as he tried to talk down his looming assailant.

"J-Just looking for a place to rest, that's all!" Pyry yelped. The Gible's protest was quickly joined in by his Trapinch partner, who tucked himself behind his teammate as best as his bulky head would allow.

"Y-Yeah, we'll get out of your, uh... leaves!"

The pair turned and bolted, the sound of running steps chasing after them as they made their way to the front of the cell. The two came to a skidding stop in front of the cell's bars and screwed their eyes shut in a panic only to feel a hot flash zip by and a low growl ring out.

"That's enough!"

Pyry and Pekka cracked their eyes open and peered behind them, where they saw the form of the Arcanine from earlier crouched between them and the Gogoat, her teeth bared as smoke curled from her muzzle.

"Your quarrel is with the Pokémon in lavender, not these pups," the Arcanine growled. "Act the part."

The Gogoat glared for a long, silent moment, before backing down and throwing his horns back with a snort as he slunk off for the back.

"They'd best not do anything to make me regret trusting them to keep their mouths shut, Sirmia," he spat.

Pyry and Pekka shivered as they watched the Gogoat slink off back for the wall and opted to keep their distance from the irritable buck, the last they heard of him being the sound of his hooves clopping over back to the far end of the cell.

"Sorry about that, some fresh meat got thrown into my cell," the Gogoat huffed. "Let's keep this a bit quieter…"

The Gible and Trapinch trudged along when they suddenly felt a warm nudge from behind, prompting them to freeze in panic when a low growl reached their ears.

"Don't mind Bill, he's just a little on-edge from being cooped up in here."

The pair blinked and looked up to see the Arcanine from earlier peer down at them, giving a firm, intent gaze down at them. The two shrank back timorously, Pyry and Pekka each attempting to slip behind the other until Pekka won out, leaving his land shark companion to stammer back to his questioner.

"H-Huh?"

"You seemed a bit disoriented," Sirmia replied. "I suppose confinement does that to Pokémon of your type as well."

"W-Well what are we supposed to do?!" Pekka exclaimed. "We just got dumped here and one of our cellmates just tried to jump us!"

"Take things one step at a time, and keep your focus on what lies beyond these walls," the Arcanine answered. "When the opportunity comes, you mustn't miss your chance to give chase after it."

Sirmia turned and took her leave, pacing over to their left where she sat and looked out through a barred window out towards a column of fog poking over the horizon. Pyry and Pekka blinked, watching as the Arcanine looked out longingly in the distance, before trading puzzled looks with one another.

"What do you think she did to get stuck here?" Pekka whispered. "She certainly doesn't feel like one of us."

"Beats me…" the Gible sighed. "But what was with that Gogoat from earlier?"

The two looked uneasily back towards the far end of the cell, where the Grass-Type was slipping away from the wall. The goat went and pawed impatiently at the ground with his hooves, acting as if his earlier encounter with them had never happened.

"And why was he so worked up about us hearing a little talk?" Pyry wondered.



In the sea southwest of Nagrobek, a small flotilla of ships carried on a northeastern course, flying sails of a constellation of colors, the lion's share being split between ships flying one of two patterns. At the front, a collection of three ships flying blue sails with white flames led the group, being followed closely by four ships flying dark red sails with silvery blades fanned out on them, the largest among them sidled up with the largest of the blue-sailed ships. There, on the deck of the blue-sailed flagship, the form of Pyroar garbed in blue and Bisharp in dark red pored over a sea chart spread out on a repurposed crate, the Dark-Type tapping his foot against the wood impatiently.

"I'm not fully sold on this, Amaro," the Bisharp muttered. "How exactly does splitting our forces help us here?"

"It's simple, Dirk. The prison complex is surrounded by sea cliffs from three sides with a naval garrison at the base. If we want to finish the job and put that place down for the count, we'll need to thin out the defenders," the Pyroar explained. "The fastest way to do that, is to cause a distraction big enough to draw ships and 'mons away from that prison. That should give you and the rest of the flotilla room to go to town on those walls as the prisoners break out, and me a nice chunk of loot for my trouble."

"I suppose I can see where you're coming from, but I'd like to remind you that we don't really have any room for overlooking details here," Dirk growled back. "This will be the most difficult raid any of us have had to do since Vollezee. We had more allies with us then, and you already know how well that turned out…"

"That would be the case if this battle was just about numbers," Amaro countered. "But you know as well as I do that we have another tool to help tip the scales…"

The Pyroar cast his gaze towards the water, where a set of red spikes sliced through the water as a lumbering blue form latched onto the hull. The figure clambered up, revealing itself to be a Feraligatr in a blue scarf adorned with white flames who saluted the two captains with a toothy grin, seawater still dribbling down his scales.

"Kapitein Amaro, I've just heard back from the moles," the Feraligatr said. "They say that everything's ready to go from inside the prison as soon as the flotilla blows the first hole into the prison walls."

"Excellent, Laurens. Go back to your ship for now and tell the crewmembers to get ready," the Pyroar ordered. "As soon as I give the signal, we sail out for Dulefield Town. Tonight, we celebrate our victory in their own taverns!"

"Aye! We'll all be looking forward to it!"

The Feraligatr darted to the edge of the railing and dove off into the water with an audible splash. Amaro and Dirk watched as Laurens slowly surfaced again, powering off towards a two-masted ship in the distance as the Bisharp narrowed his eyes skeptically.

"Hrmph, rising star or not, I still don't like this," Dirk harrumphed. "Out of all the 'mons in the Phlogiston Raiders you could've entrusted espionage to, you had to choose the one that hailed from a bunch of distorted sea rocks on Vollezee."

"Well, he was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, so you'd have to give the credit for this raid happening at all to him," Amaro retorted. "I'm sure that he'll have plenty of time to fill you in on the details when he's sitting as your peer around our table back in Orleigh."

The Pyroar's suggestion at once drew an annoyed hiss and frown back from his Bisharp ally, who jabbed a blade into the railing with an audible thunk.

"Amaro, I'm not opposed to putting control of the Council firmly under 'mons friendly to us in the old guard, but even you have to know I'm not just going to give you a free second vote for making decisions by having one of your own captains join!" Dirk chided.

"Well maybe this raid will help to persuade you otherwise!" Amaro chortled. "But we can hash out the details later, we've got a prison to destroy!"

Amaro shook his mane and began to prance off down the deck, only for a sharp hiss to reach him from behind.

"Can we really trust that information?" Dirk's voice said. The Pyroar paused, before craning his head back towards Dirk waiting behind him.

"Hrm?"

"From the Imps," the Bisharp insisted. "Of Captain Beatrice still being locked up in that sorry sea rock."

"It's worth a shot, isn't it?" Amaro asked. "With her back on the prowl, it'd put the fear of the gods back into those square-necked landlubbers!"

Dirk scowled back at the Pyroar, who brushed off the Dark-Type's misgivings with a shake of his mane and small, disarming smirk back that served to ease the Bisharp up slightly.

"But even if she isn't," Amaro answered. "I'd say that removing that little cesspit from existence would be a good way to settle the score… for us."



Author's Notes:

- mama - Polish: "mom"
- äippä - Finnish: "mom"
- Kapitein - Dutch: "Captain"
 
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slamdunkrai

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Hi! Here to review the Auld Lang Syne chapter for catnip, and also Blitz but editing this after the fact, this took me a bit longer than I had anticipated. More broad thoughts are in the line-by-line section but a brief overview of my thoughts:

- The plot of this was somewhat endearing; I had heard you describe Fledglings as being like a Sunday morning cartoon (or words to that effect) and this felt in line with that. Pretty light in tone in a way that I think generally works. I think there are some flaws in how it's structured (a lot of words are dedicated to Hess and the crew; I liked reading about him and thought his last scene was the strongest part of the story, but I do wish more happened in those words beyond him being told about the fireworks, briefly launching an assault anyway, and then getting scared off by the fireworks), but on the whole, the story this is trying to tell is neat.

- The characters seem fitting for that tone, though personally I found it hard to get invested in any of them except for Hess. I'll admit: this is probably because I haven't read the rest of the story. A lot of people show up in this, and they spend a lot of that time meeting people that are presumably already known to the reader; I can't really say I know anything about most of these characters except for the broad strokes of their personalities. I can say I am pretty sure I like Hess and Hatteras; I do love me a good oafish pirate and mayor who says things that feel unusually foreboding given the tone of the rest of this but in a way that works somehow (though wrt his speech, I do not think the reactions of the kids hooked me; I think there could have been more there beyond them just considering his words). The ending was kinda sweet, though.

- I'm afraid you're going to get a lot of this in the line-by-lines: for me, the prose was easily the weakest part of this, and I think it basically stopped me from getting invested. I don't know how much of this was stylistic choice that doesn't fit with my personal taste, how much of it is stuff that just didn't land, and how much of it was unintentional; nonetheless, I found reading this to be a little more arduous than you perhaps intended. For the whimsical, light-hearted, accessible tone this feels like it's trying to strike, there were a lot of moments where I found myself thinking this was quite overwrought — a lot of odd and needlessly complex descriptions or word choices when a single noun, pronoun or name would suffice; a good few sentences that felt as though they were stuffed to the brim and on the verge of collapsing structurally; some instances where I get lost in the narration for a paragraph or two, and am then told that a character has said or done something quickly and am surprised to learn that no time has passed at all. I tried to flag as many things as I could, got about halfway through this, realised I had spent a couple of hours on a fairly short piece already and figured I had probably gotten the point across in my comments, so they got a little sparser; just generally, I think this would very strongly benefit from more polish on a line-by-line level. For what it's worth, I think I've read about four chapters of Dragonspiral's Children and remember enjoying that a bit more, so do not take this as a putdown on your skills as a writer. Also, I am sure that you and your co-writers have grown as writers since this was published.

Thank you for writing this! Best of luck with your future endeavours. I will try to get a DC review done at some point, hopefully.

Their already tight room was even more cramped than usual that night as the customary gummis and greens jostled for space alongside an uncharacteristically large spread of berries and pastries. The spread having been carefully scrounged together in the days leading up to the Winter Solstice.
the first sentence already feels a little unwieldy (I think it's the amount of adjectives and adverbs you're using here -- lots of descriptors compressed into this to describe a spread, which doesn't feel like it would cramp a room if it was all contained on a table); the second sentence is just an extension of the first and does not read like a standalone thing
"Just what will your siblings think of that?" Marley countered in a scolding tone, only for her three elder children to chime in:

"Eh, it's okay," one of Nida's brothers nonchalantly answered.
feels like you're falling over yourself to not use "said" here (and throughout -- it's a stylistic choice I don't particularly enjoy, but is also something you seem committed to; I'll only try to flag the examples that scan as particularly off). "eh, it's okay" already reads as nonchalant, and "one of Nida's brothers answered" reads more smoothly. moreover, not sure about "only for her three elder children to chime in:" -- having two long dialogue tags for one three-word quote aside, is it only him chiming in or all three of them?

"Besides, Ms. Hariti said she'd give extra sweets to the Pokémon that sang at her door tonight!" a blue counterpart added.
this doesn't feel like a necessary epithet
Thump thump thump

Only for their racket to be cut off by the sharp thumping of a Nidorina's foot against the ground, followed up with a piercing glare.

"After dinner, then you can get candy," she gruffly interrupted. "And not a moment sooner!"
you describe an interruption and then say that she interrupted, which also isn't really an interruption? "can we go?"/"after dinner[...]" feels like a normal exchange

The Nidoran hastily inhaled the last few bits of food spread out before her, and grabbed the stick of her yellow star-shaped lantern with her teeth. As she turned from the table with the five-spoked papercraft
"five-spoked papercraft" feels like a very roundabout way of just calling it a lantern; I don't think you need to reinforce its appearance so much, nor do you need to keep finding increasingly verbose ways to do that

The stars and the moon had already started to poke out into the twilit sky, the mat being kept more illuminated than normal by some candles set out for the night.
second half of the sentence feels very unwieldy. "the mat being kept more illuminated than normal" is a lot of words to say something that doesn't really need to be said at all if you tell us there are candles by the mat

What harm was there in being a little silly with one's lantern?
very true. to make this a properly unforgettable night, I hope she burns down a house by accident

Kiran chirped, as he bent down to his spiky blue pupil.
you keep falling back on some variation of "spiky [colour] [noun]" or "[colour] ball of spikes" as an epithet which I think is a cute term of endearment when used sparingly but not necessary when used this often, and especially not when it feels like you are trying to not say Nida. I promise it doesn't matter if you keep using her name. that's what she's called! that's who she is!

he said with a low grunt, shoving his scope into one of the three waterproofed pouches he carried on him.
this feels like too much description for something that probably doesn't matter. I feel like I'm being very harsh here so I will give a compliment now: I like this guy

You do remember what happened during the last raid we did during a holiday with fireworks earlier this year, right?
this sentence feels a little too long to be believable dialogue. I admire your dedication to sticking as much information as you can into a sentence; it feels like the prose is suffering a bit for it at times, though

We had a bigger haul than normal that time!" that time!" the Aggron countered overhastily.
typo, also I'm not sure how overhasty this is when there's about two paragraphs of other stuff before it

The Fire-Type’s comment
unnecessary epithet

"If anyone wants to pick a bone with that, they can take it out of my stony hide!"
take it out on his hide? tell it to his hide? hess sir I don't want to see anyone take anything out of your hide

"Captain, it's 'Keiichiro!' Kichiro's the dweeb I used to mug for his lunch back in school!" the Ledian buzzed back annoyedly.
I got a little laugh out of this one. that being said I think "buzzed back annoyedly" would feel much more natural as "said, annoyed" or something

the metal lizard asked in a low voice
unnecessary epithet

"Uhm, well… I'm sorry, but I didn't set out lanterns because I didn't have any candy to give out this year!" he overhastily explained.
I would also struggle to describe this as hasty because, again, there is a whole paragraph of consternation before it

"Oh that's fine, the children accept orbs, too. I'm not sure how things work where you're from, but we Trombenses are very flexible about adapting traditions," the Nidorina cheerily countered, making a subtle nod of her horned head to lightly prod at the chameleon's belly.
I like how persistent she is here. endearing

"
Nanda?"
typo

"Your papi and siblings have been waiting."
generally I think the way you implement bilingual characters in this is believable but this feels somewhat clunky. do the siblings also not get neat terms of endearment?

the resident Teleporters were waiting alongside a pile of vaguely spherical objects wrapped in simple, rough paper
I don't know what this is supposed to be

"Aw, sh-"


"Feliz Año Nuevo!"
this is also kinda funny. careful, Hess, this network is for kids

Hess eyes lit up, and he did his best to summon a cheery, if still-nervous demeanor as he turned back to the gathered crew members
missing full stop

"Share some with us! We keep you from getting sunk at sea!"
unsure as to what this means. as opposed to getting sunk elsewhere?

Targets to plunder on land usually didn't go anywhere fast.
I have just realised that an aggron pirate who tries to swim is very funny

I'd say they used 50% more than last year!"
dying to know what the swellow's whole deal is. I'm guessing there's a reason he keeps alluding to percentages, specifically 50%. this would probably be explained in the rest of the fic

"Mija?" Teja's voice asked.
you could just say that Teja herself asked

Who knows, maybe this would even be the year that the Protector finally woke up and came down the hill!
maybe! I hope so! it would be good if that happened.
 
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Sinderella

Angy Tumbleweed
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In Guzma's Closet
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Hey Fobbie! Back to finish our exchange with a review of chapter 3!

Alright SO THEY FOUND LUGIA, THAT’S NEAT. Was definitely waiting for it to act all high and mighty and godlike, but……NO HES JUST A BABBY.

The whole sequence of Nida trying to talk to Lugia and get him to lay off her so she could get to her badge was so goddamn cute. You really wrote this “freshly hatched, doesn’t know what anything is” character very well, especially after juxtaposing the character with an intro that MIGHT have indicated he was capable of something much more mean and nasty. I like the direction it ended up going.

I started to wonder if Nida was going to have to resort to befriending Lugia to get him to like…..fly her home, but Crom and Kiran to the rescue! I’m actually glad they ended up finding her, and weren’t just standing in the same spot bumbling about what to do. Kiran’s probably more responsible than people give him credit for.

I did think their reactions to Lugia were a little muted, imo. I guess in some capacity, considering I have Crom HARD pegged as a himbo, his “whoa! Neat!” response is actually very much in character, but I think I wanted to see a little more “wait, what the FUCK?” But that’s more of a matter of personal preference that anything.

I also felt like Nida warmed up to Lugia a little too fast. She was scared of him, trying to get him away from her, and then suddenly she’s promising to play with him when they leave the dungeon. She strikes me as a tad more cautious than that, so if anything, I would think she’d be a little more flabbergasted that Kiran “recruited” him, or been a little more “guys this isn’t funny!” as Crom is gushing about how cool it is they found the protector. Yes, he IS a god, but he still flew at her all scary-like and bit her ear (even without malicious intent), so just a little more caution from her would maybe feel a little more in line with what I’m grasping of her character.

The ending line of “we’re doomed” also struck me as a little too…..harsh, I think? At least, for the situation at hand. I know there seemed to be a whole prophecy about Lugia’s arrival, but so far, nothing really gave me a gist that everyone was WAITING for their god to show up and save them, if that makes sense? Like when everyone met Lugia, there wasn’t a sense of “HOLY SHIT WE’RE SAVED” and more of a “Whoa, sick, those fucking pirates better watch out” so if anything, at the lack of display of Lugia’s abilities, I’d have expected more of a “well that’s fucking lame” response, and not a “welp we’re fucked” response, if that makes any sense at all.

Also just a few prose/grammar booboos i picked out.

Soon, the only sounds that remained were Nida's own screams piercing the silence.
I’d replace the bolded with “she” just because i think it would read better.

Kiran jumped up with a start from the voice, before he realized that it was just one of the teleporters at the guild. He didn't know whether it was their fault for being over-sensitive or if his badge was just finicky, but Kiran always seemed to be in the habit of accidentally messaging the teleporters at the guild.
Repetition of the bolded phrase can be rewritten.

"It's an entire island! Why there's the town, the fields, the beaches… Why there's one just down that path over there!"
Slight repetition here that can be reworded.

"Well, his plumage certainly looks colorful and masculine enough, Guildmaster Hatteras" Kiran answered the sheep in a cheery tone,
Dropped comma after “Hatteras”

"What can I say? It was quite a trip," Nida added, pulling her ears a bit back sheepishly, "The
After “sheepishly,” I think that was meant to be a period. If not, then the “the” wouldn’t be capitalized.

That’s all I have for now! Really liking where things are headed, now that the team has a bumbling god to train too. Thanks for exchanging with me, and I’ll see you around!!!
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
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@Arukona
Well, decided to make my first foray into this longfic. Given how much I enjoyed Once a Thief, I imagine this one’ll be quite a fun read. I also read Casting Off some time back, and I liked that story a lot too. So I figured it’s about time I figured out the larger scale of the world in which that threeshot took place.

Hey there, welcome! It’s always fun to see someone starting with Fledglings after reading Casting Off, so me and Fobbie will definitely look forward to seeing your impressions!

The Nidoran protagonist seems to be a sympathetic sort - a cute, innocent little thing that I already find myself wanting to root for. (Nidoran’s also a unique choice of protagonist - don’t think I’ve seen that around too often.)

Yeah, Nidoran are underrated for sure, especially as protagonists. They’re cute bunnies.

It captures the fluster of Calino well, this part, but I feel it would be better as one sentence rather than split by a line break.

Ah, thanks for pointing for this. We’ll go ahead and make a tweak here (same with a bunch of other small things you pointed out).

Ah, so there’s an Ampharos Guildmaster? Not too different from Ampharos in Super - I wonder if this one’s as careless as him?

Funnily enough, the first 7 chapters of Fledglings were already published before Super was even announced. Finding out the new PMD game had a similar character to one in our fic was a neat little surprise.

Wow, Crom has quite a good sense of smell if he can pick out the scent of just one apple. Maybe that’s just natural of Druddigon?

Lizards have a pretty good sense of smell in real life, so this moment was supposed to emulate that. In retrospect, it may have been a bit exaggerated, especially since there’s plenty of factors in a Mystery Dungeon that can muddle a scent, but it’s one of those things that’s been in the fic for so long that it’s best to just leave it be.

I’m not gonna lie, the reaction of Scout isn’t out of place. Imagine being told that you have a Protector that’ll guard you from the pirates and the Company (terms that I recall in Casting Off), and then it turns out he has the mind of a toddler. Yeah, that would definitely be raining on the image built up by the island’s inhabitants.

Yup. The islanders' expectations of Pleo were very different from reality. Myths and Legends aren’t always the best source to base your facts on.

Oh boy, Lugia definitely has the potential to be a tantrum thrower. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that…

Nah, Pleo is a cutie. Thankfully (especially for Tromba’s residents) he’s not one of those kids.

I’ve noticed that the theme about growing up’s cropped up a good few times now. Given the title of this fic is ‘Fledglings,’ I’d presume that’s one of the main themes of this story. Nida, Crom and Pleo all seem to be in the same boat on that front.

Correct! As you’ll continue reading, you’ll notice it’s a theme that applies to most main characters.

And Pleo’s Precious Factor just got bumped up more by the interactions during the training session. Seriously, it’s only been three chapters and I would already die for this birb. So cute~!

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Oh, hello, an Aggron? As a lover of the ‘mon, I’m interested. They do make for quite menacing figures - no wonder they’re depicted as villains in most fanfics I’ve seen. (Once a Thief has an antagonistic Aggron in it as well.)

Heh, I’m glad you like him. Hess is one of those comedic villains that will pop up multiple times throughout the story. As for Once a Thief, that Aggron is actually a homage to Hess. Fobbie enjoyed Hess so much that he decided to take the nuts and bolts of his character and use them in another setting for an antagonist on the other side of the law.

I guess even a young Lugia like Pleo is still quite a heavyweight.

Well, heavy is relative, since Growlithe are a lot smaller than humans after all.
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This was really good! I loved the characters, especially Pleo - he completely stole my heart! Crom and Elty are definite runners-up, though, for my other favourite characters. The setting gives a nice homely feel to it, and there’s enough detail given about the outside world that I’d be curious to see the rest of it in time. The Company definitely gives off shady vibes, and I look forward to seeing the extent of their deplorability as villains.

I also like the little phrases of other languages that pop up at various intervals. I liked this in Casting Off and Once a Thief as well, and they were an intriguing idea to put into a fic.

Curious as to where the characters from Casting Off come into the story. I look forward to when they’re introduced, because I quite enjoyed them there.

Anyway, this was a fun read! I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here!

Thank you so much for the kind words! Your review was a treat to read and it really made both mine and Fobbie’s day. ^^

As for the characters from Casting Off, it will be a little bit before they show up, but you will see them in the next batch of 15 chapters at least.

@slamdunkrai
The plot of this was somewhat endearing; I had heard you describe Fledglings as being like a Sunday morning cartoon (or words to that effect) and this felt in line with that. Pretty light in tone in a way that I think generally works. I think there are some flaws in how it's structured (a lot of words are dedicated to Hess and the crew; I liked reading about him and thought his last scene was the strongest part of the story, but I do wish more happened in those words beyond him being told

about the fireworks, briefly launching an assault anyway, and then getting scared off by the fireworks), but on the whole, the story this is trying to tell is neat.

Hello there. I’m glad to hear you found the plot endearing! This special was originally written for a writing contest on Serebii, with the prompt being about in-setting holidays. As such, the focus of this special was on worldbuilding and to show off what the Tromban New Year is like. A grand plot with lots of things happening isn’t required for that, which is why the plot of this special instead is a more lighthearted and slice-of-life-style story. Obviously that’s not gonna be everyone’s preference, but that can’t be helped.

The characters seem fitting for that tone, though personally I found it hard to get invested in any of them except for Hess. I'll admit: this is probably because I haven't read the rest of the story. A lot of people show up in this, and they spend a lot of that time meeting people that are presumably already known to the reader; I can't really say I know anything about most of these characters except for the broad strokes of their personalities. I can say I am pretty sure I like Hess and Hatteras; I do love me a good oafish pirate and mayor who says things that feel unusually foreboding given the tone of the rest of this but in a way that works somehow (though wrt his speech, I do not think the reactions of the kids hooked me; I think there could have been more there beyond them just considering his words). The ending was kinda sweet, though.

Ah, well it’s good you liked Hess and Hatteras at least. Those two tend to be pretty popular with readers. It’s a shame the other characters didn’t quite click with you, but it is what it is I suppose.

I'm afraid you're going to get a lot of this in the line-by-lines: for me, the prose was easily the weakest part of this, and I think it basically stopped me from getting invested. I don't know how much of this was stylistic choice that doesn't fit with my personal taste, how much of it is stuff that just didn't land, and how much of it was unintentional; nonetheless, I found reading this to be a little more arduous than you perhaps intended. For the whimsical, light-hearted, accessible tone this feels like it's trying to strike, there were a lot of moments where I found myself thinking this was quite overwrought — a lot of odd and needlessly complex descriptions or word choices when a single noun, pronoun or name would suffice; a good few sentences that felt as though they were stuffed to the brim and on the verge of collapsing structurally; some instances where I get lost in the narration for a paragraph or two, and am then told that a character has said or done something quickly and am surprised to learn that no time has passed at all. I tried to flag as many things as I could, got about halfway through this, realised I had spent a couple of hours on a fairly short piece already and figured I had probably gotten the point across in my comments, so they got a little sparser; just generally, I think this would very strongly benefit from more polish on a line-by-line level. For what it's worth, I think I've read about four chapters of Dragonspiral's Children and remember enjoying that a bit more, so do not take this as a putdown on your skills as a writer. Also, I am sure that you and your co-writers have grown as writers since this was published.

I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like the prose. Me and Fobbie will look over the line-by-lines and make edits based on them. We may not see eye to eye with everything though, so we probably won’t follow every suggestion.

Also, like it says on the first post, me and Fobbie are the only writers of Fledglings. There is no third person.

Thank you for writing this! Best of luck with your future endeavours. I will try to get a DC review done at some point, hopefully.

Thank you! Even if a review for Dragonspiral's Children isn’t very meaningful to me since it’s not a story that I’ve written, but I know that Fobbie will definitely appreciate it.

@Sinderella
Hey Fobbie!

Not quite! It’s me today. After all, as co-authors who mutually write Fledglings’ chapters together, it’s only natural for us to similarly each take point in replying to reviews like yours.

The whole sequence of Nida trying to talk to Lugia and get him to lay off her so she could get to her badge was so goddamn cute. You really wrote this “freshly hatched, doesn’t know what anything is” character very well, especially after juxtaposing the character with an intro that MIGHT have indicated he was capable of something much more mean and nasty. I like the direction it ended up going.

Well, I’m glad Lugia managed to steal your heart. He tends to have that effect on people. ^^

I also felt like Nida warmed up to Lugia a little too fast. She was scared of him, trying to get him away from her, and then suddenly she’s promising to play with him when they leave the dungeon. She strikes me as a tad more cautious than that, so if anything, I would think she’d be a little more flabbergasted that Kiran “recruited” him, or been a little more “guys this isn’t funny!” as Crom is gushing about how cool it is they found the protector. Yes, he IS a god, but he still flew at her all scary-like and bit her ear (even without malicious intent), so just a little more caution from her would maybe feel a little more in line with what I’m grasping of her character.

Hm, I think this is something we’re gonna have to agree to disagree on. Nida was frightened at first because she was approached by a large, unknown feral, and because of something™ that happened to her one year ago (which was hinted at in the first chapter). Once she knew this Pokémon was not only her island’s Protector, but also a baby, things became a lot less scary, especially because of her experience with her younger siblings.

The ending line of “we’re doomed” also struck me as a little too…..harsh, I think? At least, for the situation at hand. I know there seemed to be a whole prophecy about Lugia’s arrival, but so far, nothing really gave me a gist that everyone was WAITING for their god to show up and save them, if that makes sense? Like when everyone met Lugia, there wasn’t a sense of “HOLY SHIT WE’RE SAVED” and more of a “Whoa, sick, those fucking pirates better watch out” so if anything, at the lack of display of Lugia’s abilities, I’d have expected more of a “well that’s fucking lame” response, and not a “welp we’re fucked” response, if that makes any sense at all.

Oh, that thing about being them doomed is just Scout being his usual snarky self. The rest of the villagers definitely don’t think that, even if there’s some disappointment about their Protector being different than expected.

As for everyone else's initial reaction, the reason there wasn’t a sense of “We’re saved” is because Bluewhorl’s villagers aren’t in any immediate danger. Seeing their Protector is more a sign to them that tough times are about to change, hence the reaction being more muted than something like “Our savior is here!”.

Also just a few prose/grammar booboos i picked out.

Ah, appreciate you pointing those out. We’ll go back and make some edits.

That’s all I have for now! Really liking where things are headed, now that the team has a bumbling god to train too. Thanks for exchanging with me, and I’ll see you around!!!

Thanks for your review, it was fun to read! Whether it’s through another exchange or not, me and Fobbie will be sure to look forward to whenever you pick up Fledglings again!

It took a little longer than a week, but here we are with the second part of The Deepest Wounds:
 
Special Chapter: The Deepest Wounds, Part 2

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
zCRYgvN.png


Off under the column of fog, Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon churned and shifted with the Distortion within, its resident ferals navigating the ever-changing terrain as they attempted to carry on with their lives. Among them were the forms of two Foongus under a sky with trees dangling upside-down in the distance above, watching a noticeably scruffy and haggard Growlithe pass by tugging along a trio of visibly greenish, unripened Cheri Berries through the dirt. The young pup would occasionally drop one of the berries, forcing him to go back and attempt to drag it along.

"… Eh? Isn't that Growlithe a bit young to be gathering on his own?" one of the Foongus asked.

"Just leave him," the other Foongus grumbled. "We've got our own problems with those knot-necks in lavender prowling around and we can't be watching over every random kundel in the dungeon."

Elty watched as the Foongus pair slipped off, shaking his head and glaring determinedly as he brought his meager meal along for a gap among the dead trees filled with fog. He'd been lurching from day to day since the square-necked Pokémon took his mother, with little more than the scraps he'd been able to gather through half-remembered lessons from the departed Arcanine. All the while he'd desperately clung to a faint hope that she would come back, even if the Protector herself had to return from wherever the square-necks had taken her egg to make it happen.

The Growlithe proceeded forth, carefully pacing along with his meal into a haze that thickened to the point of being unable to see the nose on his face… before thinning out little by little to reveal the contours of a stony den wedged between tree roots.

"H-Huh?!"

Elty abruptly stopped with a start, dropping his berries out of surprise as he discovered the form of a lazing Pangoro occupying his expected refuge. The bear's black and white fur filled into view as the Growlithe made his way forward, fumbling with his words as the Pangoro got up, shooting a harsh glare over at the intruding pup.

"What do you want?" the Pangoro demanded. "I'm trying to sleep here."

"B-But this is my place to sleep," Elty stammered. "My mother found it and everything!"

"Yeah, well it's mine now."

The Growlithe spluttered as his face contorted in anger, the fire in his belly burning as he snorted out some stray Embers.

"You- You can't do that!" Elty cried. "It's mine! This place is-!"

The Fire-Type was cut off by a set of claws digging into the scruff of his neck and lifting him up, before sending him flying back into a tree trunk with a shriek. The Growlithe picked himself in a daze and watched as the Pangoro lunged for him, prompting him to curl up and screw his eyes shut before hearing a low growl, looking up to see the Dark-Type looming over him with a hateful glare.

"Take a hint, you stupid dog!" the bear snarled. "Get out of my territory before I shove you into the Distortion!"

Elty yelped and took off running back through the fog for dear life. The pup hurried through the thick mist the best his senses would allow him, picking up speed and bounding out as soon as he saw the shape of the tree trunks outside take form. The Growlithe stood there panting and looking around uneasily, when his eyes shrank to pins at the horrified realization that he felt lighter after coming out...

He'd left his Cheri Berries back in the den!

"My food!"

Elty paced back for the Distortion before stopping, realizing that the Pangoro would surely be waiting for him on the other end. The Puppy Pokémon pulled his ears and tail tight against his body, tears beginning to well up in his eyes.

"… Why is this happening to me...?"

The Growlithe slunk off and settled down on a pile of loose leaves, burying his head in them. Everything he did to try and fight to keep himself fed and alive seemed to fail, as if the Travellers themselves preferred he stopped existing. He curled up, sitting there and waiting for the winds of the Distortion to come and sweep him up… off to whatever dark place awaited him and his mother.



KLANK! KLANK! KLANK!

"Get up, scum! It's time to make yourself useful!"

Pyry and Pekka jolted at the sound of harsh clanging at the front of their cell, where the forms of a Passimian and a Vikavolt stood followed by a glaring Exploud with bound arms. The Passimian slipped a key into a lock built into the door and threw it open, hitting the wall with a loud crash as the the sound of other cells opening and indistinct shouting rang out in the background.

"W-What's going on?!" Pekka yelped.

"Hrmph… it seems it's our turn to crush rocks for them," Sirmia murmured, drawing a blank stare from her Gible cellmate.

"Crush… rocks?"

"You didn't think we were just going to let you sit in your cells and get fat off of our food, did you?" the Vikavolt sneered. "No, hurry up and help process the current batch of tin ore along with the rest of the scum!"

The Passimian threw a pair of hands into the cell and latched onto Pyry's fin and the back of Pekka's neck, dragging them for the door with a yelp. The two Ground-Types struggled and flailed with startled cries as they were drug through the doorway, where they saw the Exploud from the next cell over glowering behind the Vikavolt. For a brief moment, Pyry and Pekka saw their Gogoat cellmate trade a nod with the Exploud, blinking curiously before the Ground-Types were pinned to the ground by their captors. The Vikavolt gave a sharp buzz, readying a glob of silk between his mandibles, when a deafening blast suddenly rang out that made the Vikavolt jolt upright with a startled buzz.

"Huh?! What on earth was that?!"

The Exploud shifted, the guards unaware that his limbs were beginning to move suspiciously against his bindings, before he threw his head down and charged, bellowing out to the Gogoat inside.

"Now!"

Bill bit down on the Passimian's arm and yanked the lemur in with a shout as the Exploud pushed the Vikavolt in from behind and tumbled into the cell together. Sparks began to build around the wings of the Vikavolt, only for the stag beetle to be struck by a gout of fire from a wide-eyed Arcanine and then slammed headfirst into a wall by the Gogoat, sliding to the ground with a feeble groan. Pyry and Pekka gasped for air, watching as the Passimian was pinned to the ground by the Exploud, only to kick him free and make a frantic break for the cell door, slamming it shut and locking it as he panted haggardly.

"H-Hah! Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, scum!" the Passimian snapped. "Consider your tickets to The Pit booked after your little stunt-"

"Stay back! Back I tell you!"

"Eyaaargh!"

"They're ganging up on us! Sound the alarm!"

At the sound of panicked shouts behind him, all semblance of confidence quickly drained from the Passimian's face. The Fighting-Type looked back and saw beams and projectiles flying wildly around the hallway as Pokémon stormed out of freshly-opened cells and mobbed guards in lavender scarves one after the other.

"Wh-What the-?"

The Passimian looked around the prison hall in a panic, until he noticed a white-furred Ninetales in Company garb running in in a hurry. Instinctively, the Passimian raised a hand, waving to try and flag his cohort down.

"H-Hey!" the guard exclaimed. "What's going on he-"

The Passimian's eyes widened as the Ninetales' eyes flashed a brilliant violet and a cone of an alike-colored aura swirled from her forehead in visible rings. The Fighting-Type hastily attempted to fall back, only for rings to suddenly strike him and hurl him to the side headfirst against the bars. The Passimian slumped over with a weak groan, leaving the Ninetales to step atop the fallen Fighting-Type's body and peer intently through the bars at a slack-jawed Pyry and Pekka.

"Huh?!" Pyry exclaimed. "You just beat up your own buddy!"

"Hardly."

The Ninetales stooped down and snatched up the misshapen metal key from beside the unconscious Passimian and slid it into the cell door's lock. The Exploud pulled the door open, leaving the Ninetales to drag the Passimian and throw him beside the Vikavolt before filing out with its occupants. As the Exploud locked the cell door behind him, Pyry and Pekka stared incredulously at the Ninetales who drew an impatient growl from the Exploud.

"Took you long enough!" the Exploud grumbled. "Here I was getting antsy the signal was a false alarm!"

"Yeah, well I can't be bailing all of you out from your own dumb mistakes," the white Ninetales retorted.

"Explain yourselves," Sirmia demanded. "Who are you, and what is going on here?"

"We're members of the Phlogiston Raiders, and we've been waiting for two months to make our move here," the Gogoat explained.

The Arcanine tilted her head before noticing Pyry and Pekka staring off in the distance as pained shouts and screams rang out. Sirmia looked back, watching as lavender-scarved Pokémon were mobbed among the corridors, some being pushed into cells and locked up, others being pounced and set upon by angry prisoners, and still others fleeing in a mad dash for safety away from pursuing mobs. The three Pokémon stared incredulously for a moment, before slowly turning back to the Exploud as a satisfied smirk spread over his toothy mouth.

"Liking the handiwork, huh?" he said. Pekka and Pyry peered up at the Exploud and then back at the now-closed cell, wincing as the sounds of angry revenge being dealt out in the background filtered to their ears.

"Yeesh, I'll say," the Trapinch murmured.

"What about the Pokémon in the mine the guards keep talking about?" Bill insisted. "That 'Pit' they keep threatening Pokémon with."

"We weren't able to get anyone embedded into it since all the guards there are from the same group of mercenaries," the Exploud explained. "We'll do what we can to find it and free them once the reinforcements make it up here."

"Well, we don't have time to wait for that. Let's not waste the advantage we've got for now…" the white-furred Ninetales said, before turning her snout up and letting out a piercing howl that made Pyry and Pekka cringe and caught the attention of the newly-freed prisoners.

"Hey! We've got your ticket to freedom here!" the Ninetales shouted. "Just get out of the cell block before the guards can do anything!"

The Ice-Type's call was answered by a loud, roaring cheer from the prisoners in the hall as the crowd began to charge off down for its far end, prompting Sirmia to dash off after the group and Pyry and Pekka to hurry along after her. The hallway quickly thickened with bodies, the scent of freedom prying the convicts away from their cells and indulgences of revenge, sending the thronging mob of Pokémon charging down the hallways past one bend after the other for a pair of double doors with sunlight filtering through their cracks. As the mob neared, the doors abruptly flew open, revealing a Scizor in dark blue armor at the head of a smaller group of snarling Pokémon in lavender scarves.

"There they are! Crush those scum!" she cried. "We'll assist the other blocks after this one!"

The Scizor and her underlings filed into position, the guards at the front raising a wall of light barriers while their compatriots deeper within sent a volley of attacks down the hallway. The air filled with yelps and screams as the attacks found their marks, felling a number of prisoners at the front of the mob, only for others to charge ahead and take their place, careening square into the blockading guards. The front line quickly turned into a melee of blows and shouts, with Sirmia caught in the thick of it spitting up a column of fire onto an unfortunate Ferrothorn.

"Aaaaaaagh!"

The Grass-Type shrieked and writhed under the flames, before staggering over and slumping to the ground. Sirmia, satisfied with her belly-fire's work, shoved the spiked guard aside, giving a disgusted growl at the prone Ferrothorn.

"Don't get between me and my pup, you vile-!"

The Arcanine suddenly felt a wet burst catch her in her gut, launching her back and sending her tumbling into a wall. Sirmia staggered up dazedly, growling and seething when she felt her paws leave the ground, looking over in a panic to see a Slowbro with glowing eyes and his arms held out guiding her body into the air.

"Lights out, you miserable mutt!" the Psychic-Type snarled.

The Slowbro moved his arms, preparing to fling Sirmia into a wall, only to feel a pair of sharp pains on his legs. The guard winced and lost his focus, dropping Sirmia back on her feet as she darted back from the startled Slowbro.

"Agh! What the-?!"

The Psychic-Type's gaze darted down, where he noticed a pair of angry-looking critters hanging onto each of his legs: a Trapinch on his right ankle with his powerful jaws, and a Gible on the calf of his other leg.

"You little brats!" the Slowbro seethed. "Get off of me!"

The Slowbro thrashed wildly, flinging his Gible and Trapinch attackers to and fro in an effort to shake them loose. Pyry heard Pekka suddenly yelp and hit the ground with a thud, before feeling a forceful swat that knocked him loose and sent him tumbling to the ground. The Gible looked back and flinched after seeing the guard looming above him, only to let loose an agonized scream as Sirmia wrestled him to the ground with a fierce bite. Pyry and Pekka picked themselves up panting, watching as the Arcanine got off the unconscious Slowbro and spat up a wad of spittle. The time to celebrate the victory proved to be fleeting, as a deafening blast caught their ears and made the three jolt back.

BOOM!

All eyes turned back through the doorway and into yard, where a large cloud of dust and smoke rose from the wall ringing the complex. The Scizor stared wide-eyed with her jaw hanging limp as the gust cleared, revealing a gaping chasm blasted into the prison wall, with a fiery blur rushing away from it.

"Gah, there's a hole in the exterior walls!" the Bug-Type shouted. "Don't let the prisoners-!"

The Scizor ringleader was cut off by a fiery burst, launching her back with a stunned hiss. From the direction of the shattered wall, the form of the culprit, a Chandelure in a lavender scarf became apparent, prompting the Exploud to crack a broad grin as the guards stood in fixed shock.

"Now's the time to charge!" the Loud Noise Pokémon cried. "Don't let those square-necks bog you down!"

The Exploud charged ahead, the prisoners following in a mob descending on the still-stunned guards. The air grew thick with cries and traded blows as both guards and prisoners fell, but amidst the struggle, an ever-widening path onto the yard opened up, prompting the Chandelure to cry out to the Pokémon inside

"The exit's open!" he shouted. "Hurry up and take advantage of it while you can!"

The mob of prisoners charged ahead, some on the fringes straying off and getting bogged down fighting the remaining guards scattered ahead. From within the melee, Sirmia, Pyry, and Pekka ran ahead, dashing along the open yard for the hole in the wall with all the strength their legs could muster.

"What are we supposed to do after we get out?!" Pekka exclaimed.

"I don't know, veikka!" Pyry panted. "Worry about one thing at a time first!"



"Grr..."

From his office in the tower overlooking the cliffside prison, Elilan had watched the prison erupt into chaos, as trails of smoke and dust curled up from within the complex. The low boom of cannonfire rang out from the ship-packed sea below, with a set of four red-sailed ships among them catching Elilan's eye as they led the charge in an attempt to pin down the ships docked at the garrison. Other ships shot volleys of Apricorn grapeshot and lobbed bombs up the cliffside towards the walls of the prison. The Zoroark glared and dug his claws into the window frame to gouge a set of deep grooves with his claws, before instinctively whirling back at the sound of a Trevenant coming to a hurried halt behind him.

"Betulo!" the Zoroark Administrator exclaimed. "There's Apricorns flying past my office window! Give me a status report of what's going on out there!"

"The garrison and Dulefield Town have been attacked by pirates and a riot's just broken out in the prison," the Ghost-Type answered. "It started right when the raid did, so our current assumption is that the pirates and prisoners are coordinating their actions."

"What?! How on earth pirates manage to set up lines of communication from my prison?!" Elilan snapped. "Imperials shouldn’t have been able to manage this, let alone a bunch of unwashed raiders!"

Betulo opened his mouth to speak back, only for a deafening blast to rattle the office's windows. The pair peered out the window, where a cloud of dust and smoke was rising up from a chunk of the prison's exterior wall freshly reduced to rubble, with other plumes rising further away. Crashes and wooshes rang out, as further attacks continued pouring in from the ships in the sea below. Elilan grit his teeth and balled his paws up into fists, his voice coming out in a seething, dangerous growl.

"I don't have time for this…" he fumed. "Just make sure Subject Blue is secured and order your subordinates to fall back to defensible positions, I'll help even the odds a bit."

"Understood, Administrator."

Elilan breathed in and closed his eyes as a corona of magenta light surrounded his body, his eyes shooting open awash in the same hue, the aura about him pulsating for a lingering moment before bursting outwards in all directions.



"Hurry up, the exit's just ahead!"

Sirmia stomped impatiently from the edge of the hole in the prison wall, standing atop a mound of rubble and looking back at Pyry and Pekka as they ran along struggling to keep pace with their peers in their rush towards freedom. She watched as one prisoner after another passed the pair through the hole, prompting her to furrow her brow and wonder aloud to herself whether she ought to have just dragged them over herself.

"We're trying! My legs can't keep up with yours!" Pyry cried. The Gible's partner lurched along, his breaths coming in ragged pants as he called back to the Arcanine at the end.

"Just keep runni-!"

Pekka flinched as a flash of magenta light overtook the yard, prompting him and his partner to skid to a stop as dead-looking trees suddenly erupted from the ground, turning the open yard into a cramped series of paths and clearings amid piles of disturbed dirt.

"A-Ah!" Pyry yelped "The wall! Where'd it go?!"

"Feel around for it!" Pekka cried. "It's gotta be some sort of trick!"

The pair frantically felt out ahead of them, only for their limbs to find nothing but empty air. The newly formed woods behind them began to sound out with shouts as a few prisoners fell to the ground after guards caught up with them, prompting some of their peers to charge blindly away in the suddenly transformed courtyard. Pyry looked around wildly, trying to make sense of how the hole in the wall could have been hidden from them so suddenly, only to find himself puzzled time and time again.

"Wh-What's going on here?!"

The two jumped back as a sudden gout of fire tore through the air above them, rending a magenta-rimmed hole with a pile of rubble and the form of an impatient Arcanine staring down at them. Pekka went slack-jawed as he looked around at the dungeon-like surroundings and the ruined wall ahead, trying to make sense of how the sight he beheld could be possible.

"What the-?"

"Hurry and get over here!" Sirmia snapped.

Pyry and Pekka ran ahead for the hole ahead of them, jumping through as they faceplanted and came to a tumbling stop in the dusty rubble just outside the prison wall. The Trapinch and Gible stared flummoxed at the wall behind them, before turning back to see Sirmia scowling down at them.

"What happened to you?" the Arcanine demanded. "I stopped hearing you trying to get out after that flash of light repaired the wall!"

"I-I don't know! We just started seeing and hearing things!" Pyry stammered. "It was like it was all-"

A sudden glow of magenta light came from the hole in the wall, leaving behind what seemed to be unbroken bricks. Pyry stared ahead, running a claw over bricks that felt unnaturally smooth to touch.

"One big illusion…"

The Gible trailed off, only for the sound of crunching footsteps to ring out as the moles from earlier and a small party of escaped prisoners ran up to the wall, the Gogoat among them impatiently stamping his feet at Sirmia and her charges.

"Hey! What's the holdup here!" Bill demanded.

"Yeah, why are there no more Pokémon coming?!" a Poliwhirl in a prisoner scarf shouted.

"It's the prison!" Pekka cried. "Some Pokémon's making a bunch of illusions to throw off the others inside!"

"Over there!"

A sharp shout rang out as a bolt of electricity flew by and splintered a nearby tree branch, prompting the Poliwhirl and a number of prisoners to break off with a start for the undergrowth. The remaining Pokemon turned where they saw Electrode rolling over a nearby hilltop, signalling to a large mob following behind.

"I see escapees!" the Electric-Type cried. "Don't let them get away!"

"Let them figure it out on their own! We'll come back for them later and we've got ourselves to worry about right now!" the Ninetales shouted. "If we have to retreat and you can't make it to the ships in town, no one's helping you!"

The fox darted off for the wooded areas further inland, prompting Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia to follow suit as attacks flew along the wall. As the three ran ahead, Pyry and Pekka looked off in the distance, where they could hear distant booms and see smoke curling up from a far-off seaside town with a harbor hosting three haphazardly docked ships. The pair paused as they noticed the ships were flying blue sails with white flame patterns, realizing that the booms were coming from none other than a raid! All they had to do now was make it down to the shoreline and...

"Huh?! Where are you going?!"

Pyry's cry prompted Pekka to whirl his head and see his Arcanine guide starting to pace off in the background. The pair ran after her, prompting the Fire-Type to stop, and furrow her brow back sternly.

"The Mystery Dungeon," Sirmia answered. "I have a pup waiting for me back there."

"You can't go off there alone!" Pekka exclaimed. "You'll get picked off like that!"

"Yeah! And we've already needed your help to get by!" Pyry cried.

The pair's protests were cut off by an arc of electricity zipping by overhead, prompting the three to jump back out of surprise, and Sirmia to shake her head back at the young pirates.

"I'm sorry, but this is where our paths split," the Arcanine insisted. "I'm sure you and your friends can work something out."

"Maybe it doesn't have to," Pekka insisted. "Look."

The Trapinch pointed ahead with a nubby foreleg off at the foggy plume in the distance, following a winding trail that hugged a set of wooded coastal hills back to the village.

"It'll be safer going down there in numbers," Pekka insisted. "You can slip off back for your dungeon in the confusion!"

"Yeah, they can't be checking for Pokémon going inland all that carefully!" Pyry added.

Sirmia frowned before her ears perked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and her nostrils caught the whiff of Pokémon approaching from upwind. The Arcanine peered off at the looming column of fog in the distance, before shaking her head resignedly.

"Good enough. Hold on tight," she growled. "I can't turn back to rescue you like last time."

"Hold on ti-? Ack!"

The Gible's words were cut off with a yelp as he felt a nip at his back fin and was hoisted onto Sirmia's back, the dog repeating the process with his Trapinch partner. The pair latched onto the Arcanine's fur as she bounded ahead, sprinting off through fields down the bluff the prison sat on as she dashed off for the churning town in the distance.



Back in Dulefield, chaos reigned in the square where the prisoners had marshaled earlier. Smoke curled over the rooftops as Pokémon garbed in blue smashed storefronts and picked through their contents. Further inland, a group of guards who'd attempted a failed counterattack mounted a hasty retreat under withering fire, with a bellowing Feraligatr leading its charge.

"Hah! Not so tough when you don't have numbers on your side, are you?!" Laurens snarled. He spat up a torrent of water after the fleeing guards, only for the sound of darting footfalls to reach his ears, and prompt him to see none other than his Pyroar captain hurrying up with a satisfied grin.

"Good work, Laurens," Captain Amaro said. "Looks like that little dust-up you arranged is paying us dividends already."

"Hrmph. It's a shame that we're not doing this to their blasted sea-mud capital," Laurens growled. "I've got a score to settle with that place for what it did to my home."

"All in due time, Laurens."

The Pyroar cast his gaze past Laurens, where a red Oricorio, a Honedge, and a Durant were stripping some metal furnishings off of a storefront, when a barrel suddenly shifted and began to move away. The barrel moved along, red paws poking out from under them when the Oricorio suddenly bolted up to attention and pointed out the barrel to her fellows.

"Hey! This barrel's moving!" the bird cried.

The brigands set aside their plunder and bolted for the barrel as it abruptly dropped to the ground. The Honedge knocked it over with the flat of his blade, throwing out a wide-eyed Mienfoo in a lavender scarf. The Fighting-Type attempted to bolt away, only for the Durant to catch the Pokémon by his scarf and lift the hapless guard with his mandibles.

"Gih!"

"Dirty square-necked scum!" the Durant snarled. "You should've run when you had the chance!"

"No matter," the Honedge sneered. "When this is all over, we'll take you for a nice, long walk off a short plank."

The Mienfoo quivered at the threat, the Fighting-Type's face flushing pale as he curled up, his innards having grown sick with fear over the fate that would inevitably follow that long walk.

"N-Ngah…"

The Durant shoved the Mienfoo to the ground, prompting the other two pirates to swoop down on the Fighting-Type as blows and pained shrieks rang out. Amaro shook his head in distaste before letting out an irritated growl at the three that made them pause and glance up uneasily.

"Hrmph, focus less on settling your scores and more on the task at hand!" the Pyroar barked. "The further we can push out the guards actually resisting us, the more freedom we'll have to clean out the town."

"Fine by me," Laurens added. "More loot's a fair trade over watching some random square-necks cack themselves any day."

BLAM!

Amaro and Laurens whirled at the sound of the blast, looking back to see smoke curling up from the harbor as one of the pirate ships listed and began to capsize, allowing a corvette in lavender sails to pull in. The harbor's water suddenly went white with churning brine and waves as beams of various lights zipped around and the skies thickened with rapidly approaching shapes.

A cry went up from a street further behind them as a Simisear carrying a chest was felled by a slicing wind from the air, knocking the pirate to the ground and scattering the chest's spoils as a Luxio and Dragonair dropped their loot and fled in a panic. Over by the captured Mienfoo, the Durant looked up, only for a fiery burst from the air to catch him in the head and sprawl the ant out unconscious, leaving his fellows and the Mienfoo to scatter off in opposing directions as Laurens and Amaro noticed that the shapes in the air were sporting lavender scarves and that others could be seen prowling the streets in the distance.

"Over there!" a Graveler cried.

"Those must be the ringleaders!" an Absol shouted. "You heard Captain Lyn's orders, don't let them get away!"

Laurens went wide-eyed as from every direction, the surrounding alleys and lanes suddenly grew thick with Pokémon in lavender scarves. The massed Pokémon spat forth a salvo of beams and projectiles, sending the two scurrying to a stony Storage Shop's damaged entrance for cover.

"You know what? This was a bad idea!" the Feraligatr cried.

"Keep your nerves about you, Laurens!" Amaro snapped. "It'll take more than a single Company ship to make us turn tail from this town!"

The Pyroar slipped through the storefront as attacks poured through the windows and scattered seeds and berries all around them, before charging and breaking down a side door with a tackle. The pair dashed through into an outside alleyway, where they came face to face with a charging horde of Company Pokémon. Laurens grimaced and braced himself, only for his superior to build up light in his mouth, which he disgorged down the narrow lane, filling the air with pained screams and dust as a loud blast rang out.

Laurens blinked his eyes, struggling to keep the dust out when he saw that the alleyway was now strewn about with the weakly twitching forms of burnt and groaning Pokémon, with a pile of rubble where the side of a shop had been with an open square visible just beyond it.

"We've got an opening!" Amaro cried. "We'll regroup and see what we can do to force these new 'mons off-balance!"

The pair ran down the alleyway, over the rubble where the shop corner was as Laurens followed his superior into the square where a barricade of crates and debris had been set up to the left with a rag-tag group of pirates perched behind it braced for battle with an unseen foe.

"Here he comes!" a Carbink yipped. "Get the big one before he-!"

The Fairy-Type was suddenly cut off by a blue blur rushing in, getting flung headfirst into a wall and slumping over. The culprit was quickly revealed to be a Samurott with a drawn seamitar and a lavender scarf with a purple square overlapping a quartet of smaller ones, prompting a Lombre to rush in readying attack, only to be summarily cut down with an agonized scream by a fierce swing from the otter's blade.

A Beartic charged ahead with a fierce roar, readying a claw swipe, only for Lyn to spit a Water Pulse into his face and knock him to the ground. The otter reared up and bellowed, prompting other pirates to waver and their nerves to fail them as Lyn rushed forth. The brigands scattered madly out of the Water-Type's path, fleeing as fast as their legs could carry them as the Company Second-Rank quickly zeroed in on the Beartic as he staggered to his feet. The Ice-Type turned and saw the Samurott charging, his body freezing in place in stupefied terror.

Lyn raised his blade and prepared to bring it down onto the Beartic's stomach as the Ice-Type screwed his eyes shut and flinched, only for the sound of a roar and a sudden pulse of air to knock Lyn off-balance and slam him into a nearby wall. The Samurott grimaced, whirling back and looking across the square where a Pyroar stared him down amidst a trail of disturbed rubble.

"That's quite enough, you overgrown sea rat!" Amaro snarled. "It'll take more than that for me to let you end a good plundering!"

The Beartic pulled his head back and cracked his eyes open, panting as he saw Lyn clambering away from a visibly cracked wall. The polar bear folded his ears back, hastily scooping up the Carbink and Lombre as he rushed off just as the Samurott got back up, dusting himself off with a threatening growl.

"That's where you're wrong, you filthy pirate," Lyn spat. "You thought that you'd be able to have your way with one of our own islands and that no one else would come to stop you?!"

"Pah! You're just some random Second-Rank!" Laurens growled. "I've turned 'mons of your ilk into quivering messes before and you'll be no different!"

The Samurott glared, pulling his other seamitar free and spinning it about his knuckles, before stopping it with a firm grip on its hilt. The otter swung his blades out wide, giving a low, challenging snarl back at the Pyroar and his protogé.

"Then go ahead and try it, pirate scum!"

Lyn's taunt prompted Laurens to spew a torrent of steaming water at the Company Pokémon, catching him in his flank. Undeterred, he grimaced his teeth and swung out his seamitars for a lunging slash, only for a deafening burst of air to strike him in his face.

"Grah!"

Lyn recoiled, digging his feet into the ground as he stopped his momentum and sprang forward for Captain Amaro. The Pyroar hastily tried to sidestep his foe, only for the Samurott to catch him in the jaw with a retaliating uppercutting punch.

"Agh!"

The blow knocked the lion flat onto his back. At once, Lyn brought the blade in his other paw up for a swift slash, when a loud roar rang out from behind.

"Chew on this, you miserable otter!"

The Samurott suddenly felt a crushing, piercing pain sink down on his shoulder and bellowed out in pain. There, Laurens had bit down deep into his shoulder, sinking a set of fishhook-like teeth into Lyn's hide. The alligator pushed the otter down, readying a swipe of his claws for Lyn's neck when he suddenly saw the Samurott's free arm jut forward.

Splutch!

The Feraligatr went wide-eyed as he felt a searing pain in his side, screaming out muffledly as he thrashed about. The alligator felt a punch at his throat and his body suddenly launched backwards following another blow at his gut, sending him tumbling away into the middle of the square until he hit a crate in the barricade.

Laurens lay there for a moment, his tongue lolling with a tired pant that felt warm, sticky liquid oozing in his mouth from holes where fangs had been torn out. He staggered up to his feet and winced as he felt pain shoot through his side, prompting him to brush a claw up against it and pull it back to reveal it completely reddened with blood.

TheFeraligatr fought to keep his balance, only to suddenly feel a frigid blast at his left foot. Laurens' yellow eyes shrank to pins as he looked down and saw his foot frozen to the ground in a chunk of ice.

"A-Aah!"

Laurens looked back up and screamed out of fear at the sight of a charging Samurott. At this point Lyn's shoulder was studded with teeth and portions of his hide had been torn up and dribbled blood, yet, he still kept coming. The Feraligatr pirate tugged desperately at his trapped foot, watching in horror as Lyn raised a seamitar and barreled for him.

"Time to end you, pirate!"

The Samurott swung his seamitar for his foe's throat, when a gout of fire zipped by and a burning pain swallowed up his wrist. Lyn bellowed, dropping his blade before whirling and glaring at the Pyroar culprit as smoke curled from the ends of his mouth.

"Well played," Amaro spat. "Exactly the sorts of dirty tricks I'd expect from a Company peon like you."

"You're in no position to be moralizing me," Lyn growled. "Have at you!"

Lyn fished his blade back up and lunged at the Pyroar, only for the lion to build up light in his mouth. The Fire-Type lowered himself, spitting up a brilliant beam of light that swept up the otter with a pained cry and sent him pinwheeling to the ground. Amaro panted, watching satisfiedly as smoke curled up singed hairs on Lyn's body with one of his seamitars lying just beyond his grasp. Before the tired captain could relish in the outcome, he suddenly went wide-eyed as the Samurott abruptly threw out a paw and lobbed his remaining seamitar at him, the broad blade zipping through the air and slicing Amaro's foreleg.

"Gah!"

The lion roared in pain, looking down at his left foreleg to reveal a red streak forming along a long, straight slice. The Pyroar attempted to dart forward, only to wince as pain shot through his leg, prompting him to totter and struggle to keep himself upright.

Over at the ruined barricade, Laurens finally dislodged his stuck foot enough to limp forward, panting as a loud bellow filled the air. The Feraligatr cringed, looking up to see Lyn grab his dropped seamitar from the ground and run for Captain Amaro. The Pyroar hastily attempted to steel himself, when the Samurott suddenly lunged at the Pyroar with the tip of his blade trained square on his abdomen.



"This is it, we're here!"

Sirmia's course down the hill had taken her and her passengers through rolling fields of grass and crops into the outskirts of a ramshackle settlement of wooden huts by the sea. The place already had a forbidding air to it with its decrepit, decaying buildings, but the sight of blue and lavender scarved Pokémon fighting on the shore in the distance couldn't help but make the Arcanine splutter out of incredulity.

"This is where you're running to for safety?!" she cried.

"No! We've got to get through it for safety!" Pyry insisted. "If we can get to those ships out in the water, then we can escape!"

The pair continued bobbing up and down as Sirmia ran forward, shooting her head back with an incredulous scowl. The Arcanine wrenched her head back and shook it with a disbelieving snort, spitting up a few embers as she charged along muttering aloud.

"You sea-walkers truly are a szaleńczy lot, you know that?"

Pyry opened his mouth to protest, only to hear the sound of haggard panting and hurried footfalls. The Gible looked ahead and went wide-eyed at the sight of a Company Trumbeak with torn feathers and a Whirlipede hurrying along in a mad dash.

"F-Fall back!" the Trumbeak yelped. "We'll regroup on the fringes and try to re-enter the town!"

"When's that stupid garrison going to help us-! Ah!"

Sirmia skidded to a stop as the two Pokémon hastily braced themselves and assumed battle stances. The Trumbeak let out a low, somewhat overeager sounding growl, clearly intended to try and intimidate the interlopers ahead.

"What do you think you're doing-?! Eyaaaagh!"

The injured bird was cut off by a plume of fire that swallowed her up, leaving the hapless creature flailing and screaming before slumping over. The Whirlipede braced himself with a visible quiver, readying a Rollout, only for a fierce howl from Sirmia to fray the Bug-Type's nerves and send him fleeing blindly for an alley as the Arcanine charged ahead down the lane.

"Do you have any plans of how to get around here?" Sirmia demanded. "I doubt every one of those lavender knot-necks is going to be so easy to drive off!"

The Arcanine ran along as Pyry and Pekka scanned their surroundings. The sound of rapid footfalls from a street at the end of a nearby alleyway caught their attention, prompting them to see a group being led by a white Ninetales, Exploud, and a Gogoat.

"Ah! It's the moles from the prison!" Pyry cried. "If we stick with them, then we're sure to be-!"

Suddenly, the mood on the other street changed as the moles stopped and hastily tended themselves. The Exploud grimaced and dug his feet in, readying himself for a piercing shout that reflected in a sharp cry back to the other prisoners.

"Brace yourselves!" the Exploud shouted. "We've got-!"

The Exploud and Gogoat were suddenly swept up in an abrupt downburst of icy air, the pair struggling to get up as an icy layer built up over their bodies and pinned them to the ground. The form of a Weavile darted in, prompting the Chandelure to ready a gout of ghostly flames only to be cut off with a shriek by a fiery, bluish ray from a Noivern. The Ninetales snarled and disgorged a frigid wind at an approaching Sylveon, only to be knocked to the side by a Fire Punch from a Kommo-o. Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia watched as the Ninetales lay panting on the ground and struggled with all her might to get back on her feet, the Ice-Type's efforts being abruptly cut short by a glowing orb of moon-like light from the Sylveon that sent her limply toppling over. The two Ground-Types stared with slackened jaws as the sound of frightened shouts and fleeing footsteps reached their ears, before Sirmia wrenched them back and took off running away from the alleyway.

"Wh-What was that?!" Pyry squealed. "I thought there was a raid going on!"

"I- I don't know!" Pekka stammered. "Maybe they're some local Rescue Team that dug in to fight!"

"What sort of random hicks can do that?!"

"Get it together and give me some directions for where you want to go here!" Sirmia snapped. "Or else the two of you are coming to my den!"

Pyry and Pekka cringed a bit at the idea of being drug off to a feral den, before scanning their surroundings. Their eyes darted from one damaged lane to another, the local hip-roofed buildings sporting fresh scars from recent battle, when their eyes settled on a downhill lane that ended with a deep pool of blue, white froth revealing itself to be the foam of breaking waves in the distance.

"There!" Pekka cried. "That one should take us right to the harbor!"

Sirmia lowered her head and took off running down the lane, flying past the shadows of wood and stone buildings as she charged along with her passengers for the sea. The three Pokémon carried on, when they noticed the path ahead spilled out into an open space where trampling footprints had been left behind.

"Gah!"

"Huh?! What's-?!"

"Ack!"

The Arcanine ran ahead, where much to her alarm, she saw that she was now in an open square, with a roaring Samurott rushing along at the other end. Sirmia skidded to a stop, leaving Pyry and Pekka to tumble off with a yelp, picking themselves off the ground and looking up to see Lyn lunging for a wide-eyed Pyroar.

The three watched as the tip of his blade caught the sun's light, before sinking deep into the Pyroar's abdomen. A loud, agonized scream filled the air, followed by a horrid gurgling noise that made Pyry and Pekka screw their eyes shut out of fright.

The pair cracked their eyes open to see Lyn yanking his seamitar free, spewing a watery jet at his blade that came off with a bloody spray. Amaro tottered a moment, his eyes flickering before he toppled over onto his side, a growing pool of dark, crimson liquid forming underneath the fallen Pokémon's body in front of a horrified-looking Feraligatr in a blue scarf.

"K-Kapitein Amaro!"

Further behind in the alleyways, a host of Pokémon in blue scarves stared dumbly, their eyes widened and faces flushing ever paler out of fright as the scene before them sunk in.

"Th-They got the Captain!" a Pupitar cried.

"What do we do?!" a Bibarel whimpered.

"Retreat! Retreat!" a Crustle shouted. "Every 'mon for themselves!"

The blue-garbed Pokémon turned and scattered, the wounded Feraligatr stumbling back with a whine before bolting out of the square. Lyn sheathed his newly-cleaned blade and growled as he readied to spring forward, only to suddenly whirl his head back and prompt Pyry and Pekka to scream in fright.

"You! Don't think you can escape that easily!"

The Samurott spat up a pressurized orb of water, prompting the pair to dive for cover behind a crate. The two Ground-Types felt the crate splinter beside them, running off for an alleyway as another Water Pulse chased Sirmia off. Pyry and Pekka ran as fast as their legs could carry them, only realizing after running through a blind intersection that the attacks had ceased following them… and that the two of them were alone.

"Wh-Where's Sirmia?!"

"Forget about her right now!" Pekka insisted. "We need to make it to those ships!"

The Trapinch bolted ahead down the back alleys for the blue seas in the distance, prompting Pyry to dart after him in a hurried attempt to keep up. The duo charged on past ramshackle wooden huts towards a sunlit space, rushing out into an open street only to go wide-eyed at the sight of a lavender-scarved Lycanroc and Golbat that whirled their heads at their sudden appearances and lowered themselves into attack stances.

"Over there!" the orange-furred Lycanroc shouted. "Those two brats are trying to make a break for it!"

"Well let's see them shrug this off!" the Golbat snarled.

The bat sent forth a cutting gust of wind, prompting Pyry and Pekka to dive for cover in an alleyway behind them. The pair ran ahead, weaving amidst the mazelike alleys in a wild zig-zagging pattern between awnings and clumps of rubble as errant attacks zipped past them, the baying sounds of the pursuing Golbat and Lycanroc remaining stubbornly at their heels.

"Agh! We can't shake 'em!" Pyry whined.

Pekka noticed the soil underfoot felt sandy and loose, along with a slumping awning held up by a small row of upended barrels up ahead. At once, the Trapinch cut the Gible off, kicking his feet up widely as he nipped one of his teammate's claws and pulled it onto the edge of his thorax.

"Hold onto me tight and close your eyes, Pyry!" the Trapinch shouted.

"Huh? What's going-?"

Pekka suddenly sprang down and tore into the earth, dragging Pekka along as the sun faded away and the Gible was surrounded by dirt on all sides of his forward vision. The young land-shark screwed his eyes shut, an attempt to cry out of surprise cut off by a freshly dislodged clod of dirt as the Trapinch burrowed along until coming to a sudden stop.

Creeeeeeak

A wooden creak filled the air, followed by the sound of a loud crash that jolted dirt loose from the roof of Pekka's impromptu tunnel. The two heard their pursuers' shouts ring out along with the pounding of footsteps approaching at a sprint. The steps came heavier and heavier, prompting Pyry and Pekka to freeze and screw their eyes shut expecting to be torn out of the ground at any moment… only for the tremors to weaken, and the shouts to grow fainter and fainter until the two could hear naught but the sound of their own panting and racing heartbeats.

The pair warily paced backwards towards the mouth of Pekka's tunnel, discovering it to be dark until the Gible felt cloth against his paw. The land shark pushed the cloth up and warily poked his head out, discovering it to be the awning they'd seen earlier, the lot of it and the barrels covering the hole and trail Pekka had left behind. One after the other, the Ground-Types pulled themselves out, noticing fresh footprints left behind by the Lycanroc. Pyry panted for a moment as his eyes adjusted back to the sunlight, until he noticed a strange taste in his mouth and the feeling of mud on his tongue that prompted him to gag and suddenly spit its contents up.

"Pah! Pah! I got dirt in my mouth!"

"Oh boo hoo for you," Pekka grumbled. "I do all of this work digging that tunnel and- Huh?!"

The Trapinch cried out of alarm, realizing that the sea looked far more distant than he last remembered and that the rolling fields near the outskirts could be seen at the other end of his vision. The Ground-Type stammered, realizing that in their haste to flee, they'd run in the complete opposite direction of their escape route!

"Th-They chased us inland!" Pekka yelped. "We need to hurry up and get back before-!"

The Trapinch looked back at the sea, only for the rest of his exclamation to die in his mouth and his jaw to hang agape. There, out in the harbor was the form of a lone ship with blue sails, slipping out of the port in a hurry with Pokémon following it by air and sea, off for the deep blue beyond Nagrobek Island… and them.

"… they sail off…"

Pekka stared blankly, when he noticed the sound of struggling breaths coming beside him, seeing Pyry curling up in a ball. The Gible's face was riven with shock, his breaths coming one after the other hyperventilating as he appeared to slip deeper and deeper into despair.

"Wh-Why didn't äippä come and help?" Pyry whimpered. "She was supposed to be at the prison… She was- She was-"

WHAP!

Pyry yelped in pain and rubbed a claw up against the side of his maw he watched Pekka pull a leg away, chittering frustratedly back at the Gible.

"Get ahold of yourself, Pyry!" the Trapinch hissed. "Look, we'll just lie low in the Mystery Dungeon a little and try to find our way off! It's what we were told to do if we ever got stranded!"

"But-"

"Now, Pyry!"

The Gible gulped, running along after his partner as the two bolted for the open outskirts. Along the way, Pekka noticed a chain of hills lined with trees to the west, prompting the two to rush past tattered shacks until they reached fields of berries, cutting through them until the tree line was in their sights just across a slightly raised earthen path.

"There's two of the escapees!"

Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at the sound of a loud bellow behind them, dashing ahead only for a blast of icy air to slick the ground in front of them. One after the other, the Ground-Types stumbled and fell face-first onto the ground, lying there groaning a moment only to feel vines and hooves shoving them over and pinning them down, where a frantic look back over their shoulders revealed the forms of an Abomasnow and a shiny Zebstrika glaring down at them.

"A-Aah!"

"Hah! Nice going with your little escape attempt there, brats," the Abomasnow sneered.

"Yeah, with your friends retreating, you've got nowhere to run," Zebstrika growled.

Pyry and Pekka quailed, the world around them spinning as their limbs began to go numb and their heads light out of fear, the sound of ugly laughter and a pair of forceful squeezes against the ground snapping them back to their present circumstances.

"I'm sure the 'mons in The Pit will put you two clowns to good use," the Abomasnow jeered. "There's going to be a lot of examples that need to be made after today to get everything back in-"

The Abomasnow's jeers were cut off by a sudden burning wind blowing in a spray of fire that struck the Ice-Type and his partner, sending them tumbling back with pained cries. Pyry and Pekka lay on the ground and curled up, screwing their eyes shut when they heard the sound of panting and felt a warm, furry creature brush up against them, prompting them to crack their eyes open and see that their rescuer was none other than...

"S-Sirmia?!"

"You shouldn't have kept me waiting," the Arcanine murmured.

"Wh-What are you doing here?!" Pyry cried.

"Yeah, we thought you ditched us!" Pekka added.

Sirmia shook her head back, only to lower and crouch at the sound of a low growl from behind the two Ground-Types. The pair darted behind the Fire-Type, peering back to see Abomasnow and Zebstrika rising to their feet ready for battle when the Arcanine looked back over her shoulder and barked sharply.

"There's no time!" she insisted. "Run for the Mystery Dungeon and don't look back! I will rejoin you!"

"B-But what if you don't?!" Pekka insisted. "There's other guards lurking on the way over there!"

A pained look flashed over Sirmia’s face. She looked back at her approaching foes, hanging her head low as a string of hesitant words came out.

"… Then… I want you to take care of my child."

Sirmia's words sent a sudden chill down Pyry's scales. What… What did she mean by-

"Huh?!"

"He's still young and needs a defender," the Arcanine said. "I don't know if you two can do it alone, but you're the only hope he and I have right now."

A blank look came over the two, their minds turning back to sea tales they'd heard bandied about Rosequartz's taverns about the words spoken by Pokémon who knew they were about to die. Of the forlornness and acceptance they had of fate being sealed, with nothing left but to face it bravely.

"Sirmia, I-"

The sound of a bloodcurdling cry rang out as the Zebstrika ran forward, followed by the Abomasnow. Sirmia grit her teeth, before hastily turning her head back and shouting at her two passengers.

"Just go!"

Pyry and Pekka watched as Sirmia sprang ahead for the attacking guards, before they turned and bolted for a patch of undergrowth to the left. The pair ran along as the sound of shouts and blows rang out behind them, punctuated by the woosh of expelled fire as they clambered through bushes and shrubs up the steep hillside.

The two continued on, forcing their way past brambles and stones when they reached a path high up that continued on along the winding contours of seaside hills for a plume of fog in the distance. A loud shrieking yelp suddenly pierced the air, prompting the pair to jump up, and look back down the hill below.

"Sirmia?"

The duo looked and saw naught but the unmoving tops of trees from further below them. The pair waited tensely for any sound or movement of Sirmia coming up the hill after them, only for nothing to come but the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Pyry stared down blankly for what seemed like an eternity, his eyes beginning to run damp as he felt one faint hope after another ebb away. The Gible began to sniffle, when a nip at his tail turned his attention back, seeing a shaken-looking Pekka behind him.

"C-Come on," the Trapinch insisted waveringly. "We need to hurry up before they start tailing us."

The two shuffled on, picking up their speed on the path as they ran for the column of fog in the distance. All the while, scattered about the trampled dirt on the way over, little tears were left splattered amidst the dust, as the sound of hitching voices and sniffling came off the hillside path.



Author's Notes:

- kundel - Polish: "mutt"
- szaleńczy - Polish: "insane", with nuance closer to "stupid" or "foolish"
 
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Special Chapter: The Deepest Wounds, Part 3

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
FLudVlG.png


The winding path eventually led to a deep, foggy wood, marking the entrance into Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon. Pyry and Pekka made their way in, dutifully inching along the path into the Distortion. In it, they'd found the floors of the Mystery Dungeon to consist of thickly wooded spaces, with dense undergrowth making all but a few spindly paths and clearings impossible to traverse quickly. All the while, floor by floor, the two noted that the trees around them seemed to be shorn of leaves, flowers, and any sign of life at all... much as if they were making their way through a forest of skeletons.

"Blegh, this place gives me the creeps," Pyry muttered. "What's with all these dead trees? It looks just like that illusion back in the prison."

"Beats me," Pekka harrumphed. "Maybe there's something wrong with the soil, or the water, or…"

A faint wooshing noise filled the air, followed by the sound of the surrounding earth creaking. Pyry and Pekka's eyes shot open wide at the sound, recalling from tales they'd heard at sea that the floors of Mystery Dungeons were periodically swept clean by the Distortion by an all-consuming wind. Pekka looked around anxiously, every further second without hearing any sign of life seeming to confirm his suspicions that the wind was far from a good omen.

"Er, actually I think we got other things to worry about," the Trapinch gulped.

"Th-That doesn't sound good at all…" Pyry whined. "Weren't Pokémon that stuck around when the wind blew like that supposed to get hurt and hopelessly lost?"

"Let's- Let's just stay calm and take things one step at a time," the antlion insisted. "We can do this. We can find a way out…"

Pekka looked around, seeing nothing but boggy water and impassable walls around the clearing. After hearing the sound of shifting branches, his glance shifted to a small passage where a pathway split off for a large collection of dead-looking trees.

"Like there!" he cried. "Those groves are bound to have something!"

Pyry and Pekka darted ahead, hurrying down the passage to a small chamber covered by the branches of dead-looking trees overhead. The shaded space seemed to be bare of anything of note, with the exception of a clump of shriveled leaves, along with a curious orange lump that poked out from it.

"Huh?"

The two Ground-Types inched forward where they saw that the orange lump was the form of a Growlithe lying limply in the dirt. Pyry tilted his head and eyed the dog, noticing that its eyes were closed and that no sound or sign of movement came from its body.

"I think it's dead," Pekka grumbled. "Just leave it and let the Distortion take care of it."

"I mean, it doesn't really smell dead…"

Pyry waddled over to the Growlithe, eying the sprawled-out Fire-Type closely as he settled down by it. He reached a claw out and moved it towards the dog's hindquarters, only to catch the sight of its bushy tail and curiosity to get the better of him. The land shark tugged at it when the sound of a loud, high shriek rang out, prompting him to tumble back with a start as its very much alive owner jolted upright and wheeled around wide-eyed in a panic.

"Eyaaah! Idź stąd! Idź stąd!"

"E-Easy there! We- We don't want any trouble!" Pyry yelped. "We were just looking for a way out!"

"H-Huh-?"

Wooosh

The sound of the wind returned with renewed force as the three Pokémon felt the gust nip at their bodies and hear the surrounding trees groan and shudder from it. Pyry and Pekka watched as the color flushed out of the face of the newly-awakened feral, prompting their blood to chill and the Trapinch of the pair to look nervously about his surroundings

"Uh… veikka?" Pekka gulped. "We should really get out of here right now."

"I know that, alright!" Pyry snapped. "Do you see anywhere to-?!"

Elty began to shrink back with a frightened whine, only to pause and raise his ears. Pyry and Pekka trailed off as they noticed the dog raise his head and sniff at the air, before looking off down a passage amongst the stone-like trunks and take off running much to Pyry's alarm.

"Hey!" the Gible cried. "Wait up!"

The two Ground-Types chased after the Growlithe as they heard the wind come back once again. The whistling winds had transformed into a howling gale, as the pair found themselves having to shield their eyes to keep pressing forward. When the wind cleared, Pyry looked around in alarm to see that Elty had vanished, with naught but footprints left behind, prompting him and his teammate to follow them, where they saw the Growlithe clambering up the base of a set of stony stairs. Pekka's eyes widened, realizing that the feral must have sensed a way to escape, and here he was about to run off and leave the stairs to seal up and leave them behind!

"Wait!" the Trapinch pleaded. "Stop!"

Elty carried on a few more steps, before slowing and looking back down at the two scarved strangers. Pyry and Pekka watched as the Growlithe waited on them, the newfound ray of hope giving them the strength to dash for the stairs as the winds kicked up again. The pair tore up the steps alongside the feral Growlithe as the sound of rending trees rang out and the wind prompted them to lose their footing and stumble onto the next floor. A blast of wind came out, prompting the three to shrink back and close their eyes, as the sound of creaking and groaning stone gradually sealed it away with an audible click that left the three panting and gasping for air on the ground.

"That was way too close," Pekka wheezed.

"Yeah, thanks for waiting for us, feral," Pyry murmured. "You just saved our hides back there."

"You're welcome… I guess…"

Pyry and Pekka righted themselves and looked over at their Growlithe guide. The feral seemed to lack any joy in his escape, or for that matter fear from his encounter or their presence, or much of anything other than an oppressive sense of moroseness. The two pirates traded looks with one another, wondering what to make of this new stranger.

"Well isn't he the little pill?" Pekka harrumphed.

"Maybe something's up with him."

Pyry began to pace forward, leaving Elty to tense up a moment, only to drift back into his depressed, deflated mood after the land shark stopped and began to eye him curiously.

"What was going on with you anyways?" the Gible questioned. "You were just lying there earlier even though the Distortion was acting up!"

"… I wasn't really thinking about it," Elty answered. "It just didn't seem like there was any point."

"Um, not getting blown around to gods-knows-where by the Distortion?" Pekka demanded. "Sounds like a really good reason to me!"

"Yeah, you're a feral here!" Pyry added. "You oughta know this place like the back of your paw!"

"You're wrong! Mama was always there to help me along!" the Growlithe insisted. "To look out for me and help me find my way! Then- Then-"

Elty's voice hitched, his eyes dribbling tears as he began to dissolve into sobs in front of the pirate duo. Pyry and Pekka shrank back uneasily at their guide's sudden outburst, prompting the Trapinch to scuttle up and try to nose at the dog's shoulder to calm him.

"T-Take it easy there! It's alright!" Pekka insisted. "You're okay right now!"

Pyry watched as Pekka's attempt at comfort fell on deaf ears and the Puppy Pokémon continued to bawl. The Gible blinked incredulously a moment, his mind turning back to Sirmia at the wooded path. She said that she had a child… could this be…?

"Wait… this 'mama'…" Pyry began. "Would she be Sirmia?"

Elty sniffled a moment, only to blink and raise his head out of surprise. The Growlithe's face was a mess, stained with tears and matted fur, but in the midst of it all, a strange befuddlement had settled over his eyes, much as if the Gible had proclaimed that the sky was a vibrant scarlet.

"H-Huh? How do you know that name?" Elty stammered. "Pokémon like us never tell them to others we're not close to."

"I mean, we just spent most of the day in a cell with her," Pyry began "And-"

"You saw her?! Wh-Where is she?!" the Growlithe asked. "Please, you need to take me to her!"

"I… I… think that we need to sit and talk this through a moment…" Pekka said.

The Trapinch began to recount their tale, telling about how they had been members of a crew of pirates that had been ambushed by a Company ship at sea and then captured and transported to this island. As the Travellers above would've willed it, they had spent their time in captivity in the same cell as the young pup's mother, and had escaped from the prison with her. They then told of how they made it to town in the hopes of escaping, only to be forced to flee inland and forced to split off from Sirmia before making their way into the Mystery Dungeon...

"And that's how we got here," Pekka concluded.

"But… where is she now?" Elty pressed. "You said that she was with you, right?"

Pyry and Pekka stiffened up and grimaced at the Fire-Type's question. The Growlithe plodded over, nosing insistently as Pyry stammered, struggling over his words of how to share what they knew of his mother's fate...

"I… I mean she… Uh…"

"I hear them!" a whinnying voice cried. "They're on this floor!"

The three froze, the blood draining from their faces as they realized the voice to be none other than that of the violet Zebstrika. Further hammering in the realization was the brusque, rough sound of an Abomasnow's voice calling out after the Electric-Type.

"Come out, come out wherever you are!" the Ice-Type jeered. "The rest of the guards are gonna sweep this dungeon top to bottom anyway, so there's no point in hiding!"

"Who knows, maybe if you come out now you won't have to work as hard at The Pit with the rest of the scum!" the Zebstrika added.

Pekka grimaced, looking around anxiously before tugging frantically at his Gible partner's fin and pulling him back.

"We need to get out of here, now."

"Wait."

The two looked up and saw their feral guide looking back at them. Far from the panic they expected from the Puppy Pokémon, the Growlithe carried a peculiar sense of determination about him, as if he had been expecting this moment to come all along.

"Let me help you," Elty insisted.

"This really isn't a battle you want to pick, little guy," Pyry murmured.

"Yeah, we had to run off the last time we encountered them!" Pekka exclaimed. "You coming along isn't going to magically tip the scales in our favor!"

"I'm not planning on fighting them," the Puppy Pokémon insisted. "Just take that path over there and trust me on this."

Pyry and Pekka traded looks before following uneasily after the Growlithe. Elty led them down a path that ran along a rocky gully, before coming to a pool in a clearing hemmed by trees where the path split left and right. The dog faltered a moment, lowering his head to sniff at the ground when he headed off left, before his ears suddenly perked up and he turned back at the following Ground-Types.

"Go to your right and wait a moment," Elty instructed, prompting an incredulous scowl back from Pyry.

"Shouldn't we not be just sitting around here when there's those square-necks hunting for us?"

The Growlithe didn't answer back, taking a few steps forward before sitting a few paces from the left passageway's entrance. Pyry furrowed his brow confusedly and raised a claw after the Fire-Type, only to hear the sound of a low growl and feel his blood chill as he spotted the lavender-scarved forms of the Abomasnow and Zebstrika duo from earlier rounding the corner sporting fresh-looking scuffs and burns.

"There you are!" the Abomasnow growled. "Should've turned yourselves in when you had the-"

"Hey!"

The two guards blinked and peered down at the sound of a yipping growl. There before them was a scruffy Growlithe with no scarf about his neck, with his body crouched and his teeth bared in fierce hostility.

"This isn't your territory! It's mama's! And it's mine!" Elty snarled. "So go back to your stupid village and leave us alone!"

The Growlithe's snarl drew back dismissive scoffs, with the Zebstrika among the guards shooting an aside glance to his partner.

"Have we run into this yippy little ankle-biter before?" the Zebstrika grumbled.

The Abomasnow frowned, training an insistent stare on the Growlithe that deepened into a growing glare as he began to realize that the pup seemed familiar… and for good reason.

"Grr… we have," Ice-Type growled. "You're that little brat who spat fire in my face last week!"

"Well come closer and get some more, cepy!" Elty barked.

"Rrr! Come on, let's crush these twerps!" the Abomasnow shouted. "After what that lousy Arcanine earlier put us through, she could use a few extra cellmates anyways!"

The Ice-Type let out a deafening bellow before he and the Zebstrika charged forward. Pyry and Pekka turned and began to bolt off, only to look back and see Elty still sitting, unmoving in the face of the quickly-nearing Company underlings.

"H-Hey! What are you doing?!" Pyry cried.

"You can't just stand there like that!" Pekka added. "You'll-!"

"Yah!"

The Growlithe stood his ground until the guards were but a few paces from him, when he sprang back and bolted. The Abomasnow lunged ahead, swinging at the Puppy Pokémon only to feel his hand strike empty air and feel the ground shift underfoot.

Click!

"Hey, what the-?!"

BOOM!

In the blink of an eye, a deafening, fiery blast filled the clearing, strewing chunks of dirt and wood into the air. Pyry and Pekka shielded their eyes as dirt and dashed fragments of trees rained about them, cracking them open warily to look back and feel their jaws drop at the sight of the two guards strewn about fainted in the middle of a smoldering crater with the Growlithe walking up with a proud wag of his tail.

"Like I said. I wasn't going to fight them," Elty insisted. "I sniffed out that Blast Trap earlier and figured it would take care of those two."

"… Good dog," Pyry murmured. "I wouldn't have expected you to come up with that."

The Trapinch and Gible made their way over to the guards, where Pyry noticed a shredded bag by the Abomasnow's feet and an intact one around the Zebstrika's shoulder. The two wrenched the bag free, taking it for themselves as the Zebstrika let out a loud groan, prompting Pyry to deliver a stiff kick that shuffled the Thunderbolt Pokémon back off into unconsciousness. The pair craned down, collecting the contents of the Abomasnow's destroyed bag when they spotted the Growlithe coming up behind them, peering curiously.

"Where are you going after this?" Elty asked.

"Towards the sea," Pekka answered. "Laying low in the Dungeon obviously isn't going to work if those guards are searching it. So if we have any hope left of getting off this island, it's through there."

Elty paused a moment, before lowering his head and tail, giving a deflated shake of his head.

"I… I guess that's reasonable," the Puppy Pokémon murmured. "You're sea-walkers. That's your home and you don't have anyone waiting for you here…"

"What would you do if you didn't?" Pyry asked. The Gible's question prompted the young Growlithe to fold his ears back, as he hemmed and hawed over what to say back in response.

"I… I mean, I hadn't thought about that, and…"

"Don't force a decision, Pyry," Pekka murmured, before turning his attention back to Elty.

"Look, I don't really know what you want, but we certainly can't stay here and you're a lot more familiar with this island than us…" the Trapinch offered. "If there was anything that you could do to help us get to the sea…"

"I think I know how to get there. I mean, I never went there myself, but…"

Another groan came from the Zebstrika, followed by a second one from the Abomasnow. The three flinched, turning around as they watched the two guards beside them begin to shift and woozily start to right themselves in the charred crater.

"Agh… what happened?" the Zebstrika groaned.

"Ungh…" the Abomasnow wheezed. "Why does everything smell like smoke?"

"Come on," Pyry insisted. "Let's get going before they get up."

The three turned and rushed off, slipping off into the maze of dead wood as they left the site of the Blast Trap behind. All the while, Pyry and Pekka quietly watched after the young Growlithe, wondering what to do with the news about Sirmia when he was in such high spirits...



"Ah! I think that's it!"

The young Growlithe's course led him and his followers through a winding path through the Mystery Dungeon's levels, though by the late afternoon the three had made their way through the surrounding mist of the Distortion and onto a high bluff under the light of a westward-drifting sun. Before them, Pyry and Pekka looked down at rolling green hills that cascaded down to a gray-sanded beach, the two staring in disbelief at the deep blue of the ocean in the distance.

"Well, it's certainly one way of getting back to the sea," Pyry murmured. "I just dunno where we should go from here…"

The Gible trailed off as he heard Elty barking excitedly before bounding off into the grass ahead. Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at their guide's sudden departure, darting ahead, only for the Growlithe to suddenly come bounding back and run circles around the pair as they tried to keep their eyes up with the Puppy Pokémon.

"Oi! What are you doing?!" Pekka cried.

"Running around!" Elty yipped back. "The dungeon never has anywhere as open and free as this!"

Pyry and Pekka narrowed their eyes and traded dubious looks at one another, before turning back to their overly enthusiastic guide.

"Uh, yeah… we can see that…" Pyry grumbled.

The young land shark raised a claw to his brow and peered off towards the sea, scanning the shoreline until he saw a shock of gold. The Gible paused, squinting his eyes until he could make out that the gold color was coming from sails swaying in the wind, attached to a caravel that had been run aground on the beach next to what appeared to be signs of movement.

"Ah! There's a ship down there!" Pyry cried. "How fast do you think you can run down there?"

"Heh! Just you watch!"

Elty wagged his tail and bounded off ahead down the hill, tearing through the grass barking happily as Pyry watched blankly. Pekka gaped open-mawed at the hills and the rapidly-departing Fire-Type, before flailing with spluttering indignation.

"Pyry, why didn't you ask him to lead us?!" the Trapinch snapped.

"I… uh… thought he'd be slower?" the Gible answered, before raising his head to call after his departing guide. "Hey Growlithe, wait up!"

The two darted after the Puppy Pokémon, pushing their way through tall grass as fast as their stubby feet allowed. Fortunately, the Growlithe's course took him on a zig-zagging path as he stopped to romp and run around among the hills, allowing Pyry and Pekka to catch up near a path leading down a seaside bluff, when a shadowy ball suddenly zipped in and sliced through the air overhead, making the lot jump up in a panic.

"A-Aaah!"

"I see them!" a voice from behind cried. "We've got escapees dead ahead!"

Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, turned and watched as a Linoone, Monferno, and Butterfree in lavender scarves came over the ridge of the hill above. The Growlithe and his companions lowered their heads and ran as fast as their legs could carry them as the Linoone pursued them, the Monferno and Butterfree swinging around onto the beach below.

"Cut them off and don't let them slip past you!" the Monferno shouted.

"Hey wait a minute," the Butterfree said. "What's that ship- Agh!"

A hail of stones suddenly sailed through the air, slamming into the Butterfree and his teammates. The Bug-Type groaned, twitching from under a small pile of stones as the Linoone staggered up along with the Monferno and eased back into a battle stance.

"We've got incoming hosti- Eyaaah!"

The Linoone yelped as a red blur swooped in a buzz, a stiff punch knocking him to the ground. The ferret staggered up trying to regain his breath, only for another punch to hit him, and another, the Normal-Type looking up in a panic to see a Ledian zipping over him and trying to pin him to the ground.

"Get it away, get it away!"

The Linoone lowered his head and charged ahead in a panic, weaving around another punch from the harrying beetle. The Normal-Type tore ahead, making a break up the hillside when a steaming jet of water caught him from behind, sending him tumbling limply down as a Floatzel watched with a harrumph of approval. Keenly aware that he was now alone and outnumbered, the Monferno ringleader flew into a wide-eyed panic, backpedaling and looking wildly for any sign of nearby allies.

"A-Agh! Where's that backup?!" the Monferno whined. "We need-!"

The monkey froze and looked up as a hulking, steel-headed form of an Aggron charged in with his head held low, which slammed into the guard's face. The Fire-Type pinwheeled back, coughing as he tried to stagger back up, leaving the Steel-Type to bring a heavy slam of his arm against the Pokémon's back. The Monferno shrieked before slamming against the ground with a thud and lying there, leaving Pyry, Pekka, and Elty panting as they watched the Aggron motion back over towards the Floatzel and Ledian.

"Rodion, Kichiro. Bring these square-necks down to the beach and keep them tied down," Hess ordered. "We don't need them getting reinforcements."

"It's Keiichiro, and you didn't have to tell me," the Ledian answered. "I vote we ransom these sad sacks to make up for this fiasco of a raid."

"I doubt it would be worth our effort. The last time we tried to ransom square-necks, the Company didn't pay a single thaler and it was the local selyane who paid up," Rodion chided. "If it wasn't for the fact they did puppet shows back in their town that the kids liked, we'd probably have taken a net loss on that raid from the provisions we had to waste on them."

"It could still work!" Kichiro insisted, drawing a roll from the Floatzel's eyes.

"Tell me, who here in this dump is going to vouch for a bunch of imported thugs?" Rodion scoffed. "They'd eat more than we'd be able to get for them, and why should I have to deal with them if we press-ganged them?"

The Floatzel shook his head, before he raised a paw to his muzzle and whistled, bidding a small party of scruffy Pokémon in gold-and-silver scarves to arrive and help drag off the fallen guards. The three youngsters watched as the golden-scarved Pokémon set off back towards the ship, only to cringe as the air behind them filled with a low growl.

"You three," Hess growled. "You're coming with me."

Elty, Pyrym and Pekka shrank back, before pulling their heads in and follow the Aggron for the beach. There, they saw the gray sand teeming with Pokémon in golden scarves, setting to work haphazardly fitting planks against the hull of a caravel beached in shallow waters as a bucket of pitch was heated over a makeshift fire. The three guards from earlier were drug along to a stone outcropping where the Linoone and Butterfree were tied down to the rock, with a Purrloin and Jigglypuff working on binding up the remaining Monferno when his eyes suddenly shot open wide.

"Eyagh!" the Fire-Type cried. "Let go! Let-!"

The Monferno thrashed and knocked back the pirates with a spinning, burning somersault, only to run up the beach and Hess to slam his fist down on the monkey's head. The creature groaned and tottered, pitching facefirst into the sand as the Purrloin and Jigglypuff came back and drug off the fainted guard. As the Monferno was carried off, a small crowd of golden-scarved Pokémons drew near to form a rough circle around Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, with the Aggron captain at its head.

"Who are you three and what do you think you're doing leading those square-necks to my ship?"

Pyry and Pekka gulped and inched back from the glowering Aggron, the Growlithe with them shrinking back and trying in vain to hide behind the Ground-Type pair at the sight of the hulking creature's fangs. Pyry quailed, waving his claws desperately to try and persuade the surrounding pirates that he wasn't a threat.

"Y-You've got it all wrong! We're from the Devastating Drakes!" the Gible yelped. "These 'mons ambushed us!"

"Yeah! We were escaping from the prison!" Pekka insisted. "We're not with them at all!"

Hess' scowl eased and was replaced with a curious glance as murmuring went about the gathered pirates. The three youngsters peered around uneasily, only for the Floatzel from earlier to approach and look off at smoke curling over the hills in the distance.

"So some 'mons did manage to get out after all," Rodion murmured. "Were there any others with you?"

From his place behind Pyry and Pekka, Elty warily poked his head out and peeked at the Floatzel. The Fire-Type's ears were pinned firmly back, as he stammered back a response to the taller stranger.

"N-No? These were the only two sea-walkers I ran into," the Growlithe said. "And they said that the others they ran into were scattered when the lavender-scarved Pokémon sent reinforcements into the town by the sea."

A deathly quiet came over the gathering, as somber, glum looks settled over the golden-scarved Pokémon. The Ledian peered down at the sand of the beach, shaking his head with a low murmur.

"Then if they can't fly or swim their way off the island, they won't last that long on their own," Kichiro said.

"So… it's just us, then?" Pekka asked.

"Unless anyone else comes from down the hill in the next few minutes, it looks like it," Rodion grunted back. "We've already pushed our luck enough making these repairs. So if there's any reason for you to not come with us, you need to make a decision here and now."

The gathering cleared out as the golden-scarved Pokémon made their way back for the ship and returned to the process of repairing the damaged caravel. Pyry and Pekka began to follow along after the group, only to peer back and see the Growlithe looking down at the ground, shifting uncomfortably.

"Hey… little guy. Are you coming?" Pekka asked.

"I… I just don't know," Elty murmured. "I mean, I know I'm having trouble back in the dungeon, but if I leave, then…"

Pyry paused, his mouth hanging open as he struggled with how to explain things to the Fire-Type. Here, the Growlithe had been so convinced that his mother would return for him, that she'd be able to watch over him again… much the way he'd felt about his own mother. If he told the Puppy Pokémon about what he and Pekka had heard… how would he react to it?

Perhaps… it was best to not to deal with the full story just now. They'd made a promise to Sirmia before they separated… After all that had happened, maybe this was the time to bring that up.

"Hey… Growlithe. Uh, about what happened to your mother…" the Gible began. "Well, we don't know what exactly what went down, but we do know there's something she asked us to do."

"What's that?"

"She said that if she ever had trouble getting back to you, that she wanted us to look out for you until you could get on your feet," he explained.

"Obviously, we can't exactly pass as ferals like you," Pekka added. "So if you're having trouble, we're not going to do any better."

"So… I guess what we're saying is... if you wanted us to look out for you, the only way we could do it is if you came to the sea with us," Pyry said.

Elty looked up and stared blankly at the Gible. Sensing that he'd unloaded a bit more on the Growlithe than he was ready to deal with, Pyry stammered, waving his claws to try as he tried to reframe his words.

"I-It doesn't have to be for that long if you don't want it!" the land shark insisted. "I mean, if you really wanted to, you could go back after you were tougher and… uh… sleep in leaves, mark trees, and… what exactly do feral Growlithe do again?"

A crash rang out as a beam of light zipped by and kicked up a plume of sand on the beach. The three yelped and dove towards the sand, when a loud bellow rang out in the air.

"There! Down on the beach!"

The three looked up and watched as a mob of Pokémon in lavender scarves rounded the top of the hill and began hurling attacks down towards the beach. The pirates around the caravel grimaced, their captain darting to his ship's hull and pushing it along as he turned back to the three youngsters.

"Time to go!" Hess shouted. "Hurry it up or we're leaving you on the beach!"

The Aggron's cry prompted the pirates to rush towards the ship, wildly clambering aboard rope ladders and gangplanks as the ship was pushed out onto the water. Pyry and Pekka ran along, charging into the shallow water and latching onto a lowered gangplank and pulling themselves up towards the deck. The two reached the deck's wood and laid there as the gangplank began to get pulled up by the golden-scarved pirates when the sound of a sharp yip reached their ears from below.

"W-Wait!"

There, in the water was the form of the Growlithe. Elty lurched over to a nearby rock, where he peered up at the passing gangplank and leapt up, only to go wide-eyed as he felt his teeth and paws miss its tip

"Ow!"

Elty felt a sharp pain shoot through his forepaw, looking up to see Pekka clamping down and trying to pull him up with Pyry tugging at the Trapinch’s hindlegs. The ship lurched forward, prompting the three to pitch forward when they suddenly felt a Charmander latch onto them from behind, and drag them onto the deck.

The three lay there panting as shouts and attacks flew by, thinning out as the beach faded further and further in the distance. As calm began to return to the deck, the three picked themselves up, Pyry and Pekka breathing a passing thanks to the Charmander as Elty shook his forepaw and shot a dirty glare at his Trapinch companion.

"You bit me!"

"Well, yeah. But you're onboard," Pekka retorted. "Wasn't that what you wanted?"

The Growlithe looked around the caravel's deck, seeing the golden-scarved pirates settle down as a relief came across the ship. The puppy looked off at Nagrobek in the distance, before turning back to the Trapinch and Gible before him, a small smile coming over his muzzle.

"Yeah… Yeah, it was."



On the waters south-west of Nagrobek, the battered form of a solitary ship in tattered blue sails limped along in the water. There, a silent Feraligatr paced the unusually crowded deck, passing wounded Pokémon who were laid out for treatment and gloomy deckhands setting about making meager repairs to the damaged hull and torn-up sails. The Water-Type turned away, hanging his head as a Kangaskhan with an empty pouch came up from behind him, uneasily plodding forward and pawing at the reptile's arm.

"Captain Laurens?" the Kangaskhan murmured. "What do we do now?"

The Feraligatr said nothing, giving a glum shake of his head before continuing on with his plodding course down the deck. He propped himself up against the railing when he noticed the waters churning and looked up to see a carrack with dark red sails barreling towards his ship.

"Huh? That's Dirk's ship…"

An uncomfortable chill came over Laurens and the surrounding pirates as the ship and its escorts pulled up, the carrack barely bothering to slow as it pulled alongside when a small party of pirates on Dirk’s ship gathered and readied a gangplank for boarding.


WHAP!

Laurens flinched from the sound of the gangplank hitting the deck of his ship, as the form of a Bisharp stormed aboard. A few Pokémon in Dirk's path shrank out of the way as Laurens looked up, and saw the Dark-Type running up with a fierce kick.

Laurens gagged as he felt Dirk's clawed foot dig into his stomach and kick him off balance, sending him tumbling to the ground on his back. The Feraligatr coughed on a mouthful of spittle, his eyes shrinking to pins at the sight of a glinting blade lowered at his throat, with its livid owner glaring down at him.

"What the hell was that?!" Dirk seethed. "You said that you had 'mons in there that would distract the guards enough for us to have our way with that blasted sea rock!"

"Th-They did what they were supposed to, Captain Dirk!" Laurens insisted. "We were just caught off-guard by those square-necks and- AUGH!"

The Feraligatr howled in agony as he felt a searing pain run across his stomach, prompting him to clutch at it and feel a lukewarm, sticky fluid oozing down it. The Water-Type fought against his spinning head, trying to suppress a whimper as Dirk flicked a few drops of blood from his blade onto the alligator in disgust and stamped down on his tail.

"Just caught off-guard?! Half of the ships that were with me are rotting on the seafloor right now!" the Bisharp shouted. "Where is Captain Amaro?! I'm getting an answer for this even if I have to cut it out from him!"

Laurens grimaced, lowering his head and turning his gaze away from the Dark-Type. He struggled with his words, swallowing back a bitter lump to finally answer Dirk's question.

"He's… He's dead…"

The alligator felt Dirk's foot leave his tail and watched as the Bisharp backed away with a stunned stare. Laurens coughed and rolled over, uneasily pushing himself onto his knees as he tried to get back up to face the Bisharp.

"Th-They got him while we were onshore! We just need to fall back for now and regroup!" the Water-Type insisted. "I swear on my tail, we can avenge him-!"

"Save your breath, you miserable feral!"

Laurens abruptly froze at the sight of Dirk's right blade glinting and stopped just below his chin, the Feraligatr's breath dying in his mouth and his blood running cold at its sight. He felt his muscles quiver, their wounds and his mortal danger weighing on them as he looked up to see Dirk seethe in disgust.

"We were set up! Those Imps told us that Beatrice was on Nagrobek because they expected us to just sail in like this!" he hissed. "They probably didn't even have a scale to show that she was even there!"

The Feraligatr's eyes widened as he noticed Dirk's left blade jerk back, the Bisharp raising it up in the air for a downward slice as its owner narrowed his eyes at him.

"Something that your moles should've been able to tell!" Dirk growled. "And you never saw anything wrong with that!"

Laurens heard a woosh as the Bisharp's blade fell, prompting him to screw his eyes shut as his scarf tugged at his neck and the sound of ripping fabric reached his ears. The Feraligatr felt the point of Dirk's right blade leave his throat and fell onto his side limply, his eyes shooting wide as he gasped for air on the ground.

The alligator ran a claw for his neck, where in spite of his fears, his scales had remained unbroken, only to realize the scarf over them had been reduced to a frayed strip. Laurens pulled his tail in close to his body, looking up to see Dirk glaring down at him, the remainder of his scarf impaled on his blade.

"We've taken enough pointless risks for one day. Go do whatever you want with what's left of Amaro's crew," the Bisharp spat. "Mine's heading back for Rosequartz where we'll lay low and I'll need to break the news about Amaro to the others."

"Captain Dirk, I-I'm sure that I can-"

"Go and sail into a sandbar for all I care," the Dark-Type interjected. "I'm the Council member with most seniority now, and it'll be snowing in summer before I promote the 'mon who got Amaro killed to be my peer!"

Dirk stormed off for the gangplank, leaving Laurens to rise wobbily to his feet as he continued to pant, a few crewmembers gathering around uneasily. The Feraligatr looked over to the gangplank, where he saw Dirk throw the blue scrap of cloth into the sea, and lower his blade to point back at the Water-Type.

"One more thing," Dirk spat. "Get some new sails before you return back to Rosequartz."

"H-Huh? But the damage is nothing that we can't patch up-"

"They're Amaro's colors, for his Phlogiston Raiders," he interrupted, glaring back at the alligator. "And if I see you show your face in Rosequartz again with them, I'll gut you where you stand so that way Amaro can deal with you himself in the Spirit World!"

The Bisharp turned and made his way over the gangplank for his ship, leaving Laurens to backpedal and run off with his head held low and his tail pulled in towards his body as Dirk's carrack pushed off. The Feraligatr bolted for the stern, his earholes picking up the fading sounds of uneasy chatter behind him

"… Do you think that Captain Dirk would do the same to us if we kept our scarves?" a Beartic gulped.

"It won't matter to me, I'm finding another crew once we get back to port. After a disaster like this, the Phlogiston Raiders are through," a Crustle harrumphed. "But do let me know how that works out."

Laurens continued on until he reached the railing of the stern and leaned over it. He let his jaw slump onto the railing, staring blankly out at the sea. The sound of nearing footsteps caught his ears, prompting him to look back and see the Kangaskhan from earlier making her way over, an uneasy grimace settled over her face.

"Captain Laurens…" the Kangaskhan murmured. "Are you alright?"

A long silence followed as the Feraligatr and Kangaskhan stared at each other. Laurens lowered his head, shaking it before turning back towards the sea.

"I'm... fine," he muttered. "I just need some time alone to think."

The Kangaskhan shifted back uneasily, before turning and shuffling off. There, in his newfound solitude, Laurens trained misty eyes back at the fading form of Nagrobek Island, carrying on with his craft as lone tears dribbled into the sea as the sound of sobs floated over the churning waves.



Back in Elilan's office, the Zoroark Administrator sat at the front of his desk, idly picking at his claws as a tense silence filled the room. The Dark-Type waited a moment, the sound of the door opening and uncooperative bodies being drug along catching his ears and prompting him to turn and see a Ninetales, Exploud, and Chandelure bound before him with Betulo and a party of guards lead by an umber Marowak following along. The guards marched the prisoners in before unceremoniously throwing them to the ground, leaving Betulo to carry on over to the desk and glare down at the trio. Elilan pulled his claws back to his side, a smile spreading over his face as he sneered at his new captives.

"When I was told I'd be able to interrogate some of the pests who ruined my afternoon, I was expecting more than you three," the Zoroark scoffed. "I suppose I should give credit where it's due though. Your stunt's been more of a headache than any past episode pirates have managed to accomplish, so congratulations."

"Spare your breath, Zoroark," the Chandelure snarled. "You lucked out and you know it."

The pirate's hiss was met with silence, followed by the sound of a derisive laugh. The three Pokémon blinked, watching as the Zoroark Administrator shook his head, before shooting back a cruel grin.

"'Luck out'? You're more delusional than I thought you'd be! This is Nagrobek! The island's defenses have been reorganized entirely around keeping this prison operational!" Elilan sneered. "Did you seriously think that we hadn't come up with ways to counter little insurrections like these?"

"We've flushed out most of your friends from the other cell blocks," Betulo added. "The rest are bound to get hunted down in time from the wilderness."

The moles' eyes suddenly widened and their expressions developed a blank, stupefied look about them. Elilan paced up, smirking down at his captives as their expressions sank and grimaces spread over their faces.

"I'm obviously going to be busy figuring out how many examples need to be made from your lot today, though I can guarantee that you three will be among them," he said. "Do you have any words for me to pass along?"

The Zoroark took a moment to relish the brigands' helplessness, only to watch the three's eyes harden into fierce glares. Somehow, in spite of the direness of their situation, the three seemed as full of defiance as when they'd first entered the room.

"Go walk a plank," the Ninetales spat.

The Ice-Type's impudence was met by a sudden flash of red claws, sending her slumping limply to the ground with a yelp. The Exploud and Chandelure recoiled at the shout as Elilan drew his claws back, shooting a dirty glare at the fallen Ninetales before relaxing his features as a small smirk crept over the ends of his muzzle.

"Really now, was that all you could think of?" he sneered, before turning to the guards in the room.

"Get these wastes of air out of my sight, and tell the other guards to have them processed and sent out to Torn Outpost by sundown."

"Understood, Administrator," the Marowak answered, as he turned to the three prisoners. "As for you! Since you all like snooping around so much, time for you to see what The Pit is really like!"

The guards at once latched onto the three Pokémon, the Exploud and Chandelure struggling only to be stilled by a sudden weak, crackling arc of electricity from a Magneton among them. Elilan watched as the three were dragged away, drifting back for his seat as an Alakazam in dark blue cloth and mail armor walked past the departing group and cleared his throat.

"Administrator, the Officer who came to Dulefield Town's relief during the raid is here to see you."

A long silence followed from the other end of the room, Elilan folding his ears back as his gaze settled into a firm, unamused stare before Betulo finally shook his head with a sigh.

"Send him in."

The Alakazam nodded back and went up to open the doors to the chamber, where the form of a Samurott covered in lacerations and bruises walked in with a contented smile. Elilan scanned his scruffy guest, noticing a worse-for-wear Second-Rank scarf adorning the Water-Type's neck. The Zoroark frowned a moment and narrowed his eyes at the sight of the otter. Just what could this Second-Rank have done that his own guards wouldn't have been able to manage eventually?

"And just who might you be?" Elilan demanded.

"Officer Lyn, Administrator," the Samurott answered. "I received word of a pirate raid being plotted against this island by Orleigh's so-called Council."

The Water-Type fished through a tattered satchel, where he unfurled a blue scarf with white flames, its lower half stained a deep red color. Lyn twitched his whiskers and gave a gruff, proud grunt as he showed off his bloodied scrap.

"I doubt you'll have any more problems with that in the future," he said. "Especially with that Captain Amaro."

Betulo stared blankly for a moment at the sullied scarf. Did this lackey mean to insinuate that he slew Captain Amaro? Betulo fumbled with his words a moment, dumbfounded at the Second-Rank's surprise accomplishment, only for Elilan to interrupt with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.

"Hrmph, I'm sure it's something that we could've handled on our own," the Zoroark harrumphed. "Thank you for your concern, Officer."

Lyn blinked and tilted his head, the otter grumbling a little under his breath at his surprisingly unfriendly reception. Betulo joined his surperior by crossing his branch-like arms, narrowing his solitary ruddy eye with a visibly skeptical gaze at Lyn.

"How did you come across this intelligence, Officer Lyn?" the Trevenant Commander demanded. "It's a bit more than I would've expected from a member of your rank."

"I met a team of scouts while probing the waters near Giotto," the Samurott answered. "They came across some pirates who were a part of this conspiracy during their reconnaissance."

Elilan paused and raised a brow at Lyn's words. The Zoroark shifted quietly, shooting a wary, intent gaze at the Samurott in front of him.

"… Some scouts?"

As soon as the words left his mouth, the door at the other end of the office creaked open and footsteps rang out. Elilan watched as Betulo shifted back surprisedly, seeing the forms of a Kommo-o, a Weavile, a Sylveon, and a Noivern approaching. The Trevenant's eye lit up as he gave a small wave to the Weavile in the group and was answered by a nod back. His superior's demeanor took a sour turn, a deepening frown spreading over the Administrator's face as Lyn turned and gestured with a paw at the newcomers.

"Yes, Sorge and his team here. It was their intelligence that enabled me to come to your island's aid," the Second-Rank insisted. "They held up far better than I expected battling in town, so perhaps it's a sign that they're being underutilized in their current positions."

Elilan grit his teeth and furrowed his brow into an unamused scowl, shifting his attention towards the Kommo-o and his companions. Lyn blinked a moment at the Administrator's tangible displeasure, watching as the Zoroark growled and shook his head.

"… Perhaps," Elilan muttered. "Would you kindly give me a few moments alone with these scouts, Officer Lyn?"

Lyn gave a surprised look at the sudden request for his departure. Surely Administrators were supposed to spend more time going over reports of their despised enemies being laid low, were they not?

"Hrm? What's the matter?"

"I… want to get a chance to speak with them and learn how they came across their intelligence," Elilan insisted, drawing a puzzled frown back from the Samurott.

"… But I don't understand why I can't be present for tha-"

"Because these are sensitive matters, Officer!" the Zoroark snapped. "So listen to your superiors already!"

Lyn scowled and grumbled under his breath over his superior's blatant hostility. Keenly noting that the Samurott's body was tense and wound up, Betulo cleared his throat and attempted to dispel the unseemly cloud of hostility in the room.

"You have a crew back in town, do you not? Perhaps you should make sure they're feeling alright for now since you look a bit haggard yourself," the Trevenant offered. "I'm sure the Administrator can catch up with you later on when he needs to make a damage assessment."

"… Very well, some rest could do us good," Lyn replied. "And it would be nice to focus on something else while waiting for the rest of the Board to respond to my message."

The Samurott's words narrowed Elilan's eyes into glaring slits, prompting him to ball his claws up into clenched fists as he fought to keep his voice from betraying seething frustration lurking underneath.

"You what?"

"I notified the other members of the Board of the events here today," Lyn insisted. "With the mess in town and at the local garrison, it seemed like something to make them privy to sooner rather than later."

The Samurott shook his head, before stretching against his wounds and turning to the waiting Kommo-o behind him.

"But I will take my leave here, Sorge," the otter said. "Let me know if you need any further assistance from my crew."

"Gladly."

Lyn turned and began to make his way for the exit, leaving Elilan to train an increasingly harsh glare at the four 'scouts'. The Zoroark waited until the door closed, before springing up and storming over to the waiting Kommo-o and his team.

"Why are you all here?!" Elilan hissed. "You said your last lead steered you further away from Anyilla's waters!"

"It did, but as we attempted to track Subject Red, we found signs that he'd been trying to return to Anyilla," Sorge explained.

"While we were out there, we discovered that pirates from Orleigh's council were planning on raiding Nagrobek," the Weavile next to him added. "There wasn't enough time for us to send a message out, so we hailed a Company ship to get you reinforcements. Nothing wrong with that."

The duo's explanation was met with Elilan slamming a claw against his desk and leveling a piercing glare back at the party. At once the four Pokémon quieted down as a seething growl came out from under the Zoroark's breath.

"I assigned you first and foremost to focus on recovering Subject Red, not to abandon your mission because you felt a need to look out for my welfare!" he snapped. "In the future, you will leave me to deal with what happens on my island. Understood?"

The members of Team Sentinel quietly traded uneasy looks with each other, before Sorge turned back to his superior and responded in a reluctant voice.

"… Yes, Administrator."

"Good. I want you to reprovision and return to the mission I gave you by tomorrow," Elilan ordered. "The longer we wait, the harder it will be for you to find Subject Red's trail again."

"Yes, Administrator!"

One by one, the four Pokémon darted out of the room, leaving the armored Alakazam outside to shut the door after them. In his newfound solitude, the Zoroark Administrator flopped back into his seat and buried his face in a palm, growling under his breath as his Trevenant Commander scuttled up.

"Is something the matter, Elilan?" Betulo asked.

"This was a crisis that we could have handled on our own!" Elilan fumed. "And one that would've been able to give you the recognition you finally needed for me to make my case to the Board!"

Betulo paused in thought for a moment, before closing his eye with a low grunt. Elilan tilted his head puzzledly, opening his mouth to speak, only for his Commander to explain his seeming lack of concern.

"The actions of the lower ranks tend to get lost in the haze whenever large events like these happen," the Trevenant reassured. "That Samurott's just a Second-Rank, so what are the odds we'll ever hear from him again?"



The skies southwest of Nagrobek flushed a burnt orange as the sun began to slip over the horizon, bathing the deck of a battered caravel with golden sails with its waning light. There, on the port side of the deck, the form of a young Growlithe in front of a Gible and a Trapinch stared out excitedly at the sea, his tail wagging as he gestured out to a bobbing pink buoy in the water.

"What's that over there?"

"That's a beacon, one of the Crystal Beacons to be more specific," Pyry answered. "It helps let passing ships know where they're going and if there's anything they need to avoid in the water."

"Oh? And what about that stone on the rope down there?" Elty asked.

"That's the ship's anchor: it keeps the ship from moving around when its captain wants it to stop," the Gible explained.

"And those pieces of cloth above us?"

The Growlithe's yip drew an annoyed groan from Pekka, who reared up and waved his stubby forelegs irritatedly.

"Bah, give it a rest already! We've been at sea for less than half an hour!" the Trapinch hissed. "There'll be plenty of other times we can explain this stuff to you!"

"Aherm."

The three looked up and saw the forms of the Aggron captain and his first mate approaching with a trio of golden cloths dangling from Rodion's paw. Elty watched as the pair walked up, giving a curious tilt of his head at the cloths as he noticed that they were emblazoned with silver teardrop-like designs.

"Huh? What are those?"

"They're the scarves that Pokémon from our crew wear," the Floatzel explained. "If I remember right, you two are from the Devastating Drakes, right?"

"Er… yes? But why do we need new scarves?" Pekka asked.

"Well, we're a few deckclaws short from that last raid, and we need to start filling places where we can," Rodion answered.

"Right," Hess added. "So we're a bit open to recruits right now for the Iron Fleet."

The Aggron's explanation drew a frown from a Ledian sitting on the rigging of the mast overhead. The Bug-Type shook his head before a mischievous smirk began to spread over his face.

"You know," Kichiro sneered. "You can just be honest and say we'll press-gang them if they refu-"

The Ledian was cut off by a loud thwack from Hess batting his tail forcefully against the mast. Kichiro lost his balance, tumbling through the air with a yelp before hastily evening himself out just above the deck. The Bug-Type chittered angrily and shot a dirty glare at his captain who rolled his eyes in response, before the beetle flitted off and left Elty tilting his head puzzledly at the whole episode.

"What are 'recruits'?" the Growlithe asked. "And what's the 'Iron Fleet'?"

Hess' eyes lit up and his maw cracked open into a toothy grin at Elty's question. Pyry and Pekka traded curious looks with one another, as the metal lizard wagged his tail.

"The only crew in all of the Cradle with the means to fly silver and gold from its masts!" Hess cheered. "Not even Beatrice the Swift could do that back in her day!"

The Aggron beamed and puffed his stony chest out proudly, drawing an excited wag of the Elty's tail. Further behind, a Sableye looked up from untangling some knotted ropes with a puzzled tilt of his head.

"Isn't that just because the other crews say it makes them stand out too much- Gah!"

The Sableye was swiftly silenced by a swat from Rodion's paw and an icy glare, prompting the Ghost-Type to slink off with a grumble. Hess blinked, a sheepish grimace coming over his face as he turned back to his fledgling audience.

"So yeah, if you need a new crew to call home, you can't really do worse than us!" the Steel-Type insisted.

Pekka tilted his head and cracked his maw open slightly, lowering his head and giving it an unimpressed shake.

"I… was expecting a bit more from a recruiting speech ," the Trapinch murmured.

"Aherm. I would like to add that Hess as a captain does have some of the best fortune of any crew in Orleigh," Rodion offered.

"That's right! Ever since I got my lucky charm, I've always been able to get back to port safely!" Hess said. "So as long as you're with us, you'll never have to worry about not having a place to turn to!"

Pyry blinked and traded a dubious look with his partner over the Aggron's mention of a 'lucky charm'. Most crews usually tried to emphasize their accomplishments when trying to wow new recruits, not that they were always able to get away. And something about this crew's name felt vaguely familiar...

"The 'Iron Fleet'? Aren't they the guys who keep making lame excuses for whenever their raids go bad?" Pyry whispered. "Pretty sure I heard them say once that they couldn't get loot because of a single Skarmory."

"I thought they were the crew with the captain that bought and then abandoned a bunch of cannons because he kept getting trapped in their Apricorns," his Trapinch teammate whispered back.

"So… what do we need to do as 'recruits'?"

Pyry and Pekka looked ahead and watched as Elty stepped forward, sitting and staring up intently at the pirate captain and his first mate. Rodion took the chance to take a step forward himself, as he cleared his throat and began to speak up.

"Help keep this ship afloat and pitch in during our raids," the Floatzel answered. "In return, we'll split our shares of the loot, make sure there's always something to eat and drink, and that whenever we have to cut and run, we'll do our best to make sure we can get you out."

"Heh, I'm great at running!" Elty yipped. "I'll do it!"

"That's great! Though… what do you want us to call you for a name?" Hess asked. "I do need something to call you in case another Growlithe joins the crew."

Elty shifted shyly, seemingly wavering in his response a moment before replying back.

"Uh… well… my mama would always call me 'Eltenios'," the Growlithe answered. "I guess you can call me that."

The Puppy Pokémon's response drew a brow raise from the Aggron pirate. Pokémon in the Cradle's various islands and waters always seemed to have a penchant for coming up with the darndest names, but this name was almost as much of a mouthful as Kichiro's!

"Well that's certainly quite the long name," Hess murmured.

"'Eltenios' is fine," Rodion insisted. "But just out of curiosity... does it mean anything?"

"My mama always said it's a special word that Growlithe and Arcanine used from a long, long time ago," Elty explained. "And that it meant that I'd never, ever give up."

Hess smiled and knelt down to extend a claw and pet the head of the young Growlithe. Of all the Pokémon to pick up as a new recruit, he certainly could've done worse than choosing someone with fire in his belly like this pup!

"Well I think it suits you," he said. "So what about you two? What's your names? And you going to join with your friend?"

Pyry and Pekka traded hesitant looks with one another, before looking over at the Growlithe and how content he seemed to be here amongst Hess' company. Even if the Iron Fleet was far from their first pick, they could do worse for a crew to be on while watching out for Eltenios… right?

"I'm Pekka. And… I mean, he is going to need someone to show him the ropes…" the Trapinch murmured.

"Pyry, and we do have some experience…" the Gible added. The pudgy land shark peered down at the satchel slung over his arm, prompting him to sidle up to Elty and slip it onto the dog's shoulder, leaving the Growlithe to gawk back puzzledly.

"Huh?"

"It's for you," Pyry explained. "If you're going to be working with us, we've gotta do something to make sure you can pull your weight."

Yeah, with your feet, I'm sure that you can get stuff around in that bag faster than we ever could," Pekka said.

"Heh! Sounds like you're all settling in good enough!" Hess chortled. Sensing the time was appropriate, Rodion stepped forward and passed the golden cloths over to the three Pokémon, revealing them to be pre-tied scarves ready to be slipped on and worn.

"Welcome aboard, then," the Floatzel said with a smile. "Go ahead and put these on. I'll come by to give you your first assignments later."

Hess and Rodion turned and made their way down the deck, leaving their newly-inducted members to slip their scarves over their necks. Pyry and Pekka toyed with their new garments, attempting to adjust the knots to allow a better fit when the sound of excited yips prompted them to look over and see Elty bounding in circles on the deck. Pekka tilted his head skeptically a moment, before turning to his Gible partner.

"… Veikka, was this really a good idea?" the Trapinch murmured. "I mean, we basically drug a 'mon that's been living under a rock his whole life along with us out to sea. And how are we supposed to break the news about his mother?"

Pyry looked at the Growlithe, watching as the Fire-Type darted around with a fiery spark in his eyes. After a long pause, the Gible shook his head as a small smile crept up over his face.

"… We already came this far together, didn't we? I think we can work things out," he replied. "Give it a few weeks. We'll figure a way to tell him… For now, let's just let him have his moment and give him a chance to learn the ropes a bit."



Author's Notes:

- Idź stąd! - Polish: "Go away!"
- selyane (селяне) - Russian: "peasants", "hicks" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
 
Chapter 62: Paradigm Shift

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
c6CnblG.png


A palpable cloud of tension hung in the air over Canalhouse City after word of Pleo's capture reached the Company's capital on Vollezee. In the following hours, the guards were kept busy with sudden reassignments as the four operational ironclads of the Board gathered in the city's harbor, with buildings around the Directorate's Quarter being patrolled more rigorously than normal. At the center, the hulking central office of the Company had remained unnaturally quiet and subdued in activity in spite of its normal churn of Company employees. The most prominent exception to the unusual lull were the stern-faced guards who dutifully watched the entrances at the ground and at the above-ground aqueduct built to service aquatic guests. Ever since the arrival of the Administrators, they had proven to be less-than-accommodating to any would-be entrants into the complex other than its uneasy employees. Were one to slip past the guards down the aqueduct, they would be taken to a pool that wrapped along the northern edge of the building that allowed swimming Pokémon access to the higher levels of the head office, with a marbled passage splitting off into a passageway that snaked to the grand hall that served as the Board's main meeting chamber.

The hall to the chamber had been graced with paintings and sculptures depicting the past Directors of the Company and the firm's exploits, split between one half taken up by a pool and another by stone flooring. In the center sat a carved table where the Board's members met, lined with stone seats set for a time when the Company's reach was not constrained to a mere half of Anyilla. On either side, two of the seats had been occupied: two just below the waterline by Zorn along with Darzin cramped next to him in a far corner, Elilan and Farn sitting opposite respectively, and Inler sitting at the head facing back towards a pair of dark, wooden doors. There, the gathered Pokémon shifted restlessly under an insistent gaze from the Nidoking Director. Farn swished her tail back and forth, Elilan tapped a claw impatiently against the table, while Darzin restlessly shifted in his seat and Zorn sulked from the water on the other end. The quiet chorus of tense agitation continued a few moments longer, before Zorn raised his head and looked around at his peers blankly.

"… Is there anything else to consider?" Zorn murmured.

"What do you mean 'Is there anything else to consider?!'" Farn snapped. "The Empire caught the Protector and made him the centerpiece of a tournament! 'Consider' something to fix that!"

"Yes, I understand that the present situation is… dire, to say the least," Inler muttered. "That's why I've brought you all here so that we can respond to this crisis."

"Hmph, the solution seems simple enough," Zorn grumbled. "We launch a pre-emptive strike on Giotto and get that bird back before they can use him against us."

"Are you mad? Not every situation requires charging headfirst into danger!" Farn rebutted. "We still have our portion of the Knights' Ledger in the archives, do we not? It holds plenty of information about the true story behind the Great Calamity, and it would certainly cause an uproar among their denizens."

"May I remind you, Farn, that the Imps also have their own part of the Knights' Ledger?" Elilan countered. "If we leak secrets about them, they'd have every reason to respond in kind about the Company's involvement around that time."

The Zoroark stood up from his seat, giving a shake of his head before casting a piercing glance across the table back at the elderly Nidoking.

"No, the smart solution would be to handle this covertly, and send in a team of spies to extract the Lugia," Elilan said. "Last I heard, the Intelligence Division had a more than capable team currently stationed on Buyeom Island, Director."

Inler buried his face in his right claw, giving a quiet, exasperated groan through his digits. Like other members of the Company from his generation, the younger blood in the organization had always come off as more restless and reckless types. But Travellers above, was he really hearing this sort of talk from his own Administrators when the Company's fate was in the balance?!

"Are you three trying to save this Company, or destroy it?" the Nidoking growled. "Every one of those plans would potentially spell the end of this enterprise if it went wrong!"

The Poison-Type's protests were answered by an annoyed huff and pound of the table from the far left end, where Darzin narrowed his eyes back at the Nidoking.

"Well, it's not as if you're going to be listening to me anyways, but what do you propose then, Director?" Darzin demanded. "Last I checked, the outcome of this crisis could potentially hand control of all Anyilla to the Empire"

The Nidoking blanched and fell silent, looking down and pinching his brow between his claws. As unpalatable as the options were, inaction would merely guarantee the end of the Company and their attempts at life without the Crown. The Director agonized quietly a moment, only for the sound the sound of sharp squawking to ring out.

"Director Inler! Director Inler!"

Inler pulled his head up, and looked up as the door at the end of the room was thrown open, revealing the forms of a Oranguru and Pidgeot carrying letter-stuffed satchels. The Nidoking frowned and glared at the First-Ranks, wondering under his breath how on earth the guards had deigned to let the blasted creatures through in the first place.

"What do you want?" the Poison-Type snapped. "We're in the middle of something important right now!"

"It's from Commissioner Lyn! The Protector the Empire captured fled from them!" the Pidgeot cried. "The Commissioner's trailing him right now in Captain Ellsberg's ship on a southward path!"

"It's true! Our contacts in Tidemill can confirm that the Protector broke away and fled!" the Oranguru exclaimed. "He and his friends have sparked riots in the Imperial capital!"

Gasps and incredulous stares went about the gathered Pokémon in the room as Inler stood dumbfounded at the messengers' words. The Nidoking fumbled a moment with his words, before giving a low, impatient growl back at the two.

"Explain yourself. Now."

The Pidgeot spoke first, telling how Commissioner Lyn had followed the Protector to Giotto and sent his first mate to infiltrate the tournament held to publicly debut him before the Empire's masses. His efforts had been cut short by the intervention of a crew of Tromban smugglers, who had drawn the attention of the local guards and waiting pirates in a haphazard escape towards Buyeom that Lyn had detected during the Protector's retreat.

The Board blinked in astonishment, shocked at how the Empire managed to bungle their victory at the last moment. The Oranguru picked up where his counterpart had left off, relaying word from spies in Tidemill who told of unrest that had started up thanks to the Protector's perceived abandonment and Admiral Coil having been exposed for egg trafficking at much the same time. All the while, smirks and grins began to spread over the Board's faces, with Darzin being the sole exception as he stared with a stone-faced scowl at the Oranguru's recollection.

"So the vaunted defender of the Empire is the one to thrust it into chaos," Farn sneered. "I see the gods truly do smile with favor sometimes."

"Hah, I'll say!" Zorn added. "With Coil falling from grace like this, I'd like to see those Imps hold a marching band together after word got out about a Protector snubbing them!"

"With the Empire's claws full dealing with their little insurrection, it certainly leaves us in a more favorable position in dealing with them," Elilan mulled. "That said, even with this lucky break, I don't think we should just gloss over everything that has happened so far."

Inler turned his head and raised a brow puzzledly at the Zoroark. As fortunate as they had been right now, what was there to complicate the matter?

"What do you mean, Administrator Elilan?" Inler pressed.

"It's been more than clear that Commissioner Lyn has been struggling throughout this mission with keeping the Protector in his paws," Elilan explained. "Why, if you ask me, he's long overdue for a replacement."

"Elilan, why would you suggest that when he's actively tailing the Protector right now?" Darzin snorted. "Who on earth would even be able to fill his place on such short notice?"

"Simple. He'd be swapped out with a competent operative who would be able to make up for lost ground quickly," the Zoroark offered. "Someone like, say… Commander Betulo."

Inler's mood visibly soured as soon as Elilan mentioned 'Commander Betulo'. The Nidoking pounded the table and glared at the Zoroark while letting out a low, angry growl from the back of his throat.

"Now is not the time to be switching up the mission when things are finally going back on track," Inler harrumphed. "And if I recall correctly, I already made my feelings clear about the idea of nominating your own Commander as a candidate for the Board."

Elilan's ears folded back as a disgusted look settled over his face. The Dark-Type raised his voice to retort, his words dripping with obvious frustration.

"Director, surely you have to see that-"

"At this time, we are best off letting Commissioner Lyn continue his present mission and doing our part to deny the Guardian of the Seas a port to take refuge in," Inler finished.

"Right!" Zorn exclaimed. "Sounds reasonable to me."

"Hrmph, it does seem workable on paper," Farn answered. "But I'm going to need to hear some specifics first."

"It's simple. Farn, you will assign a Commissioner to maintain a presence at Tromba until further notice," the Nidoking instructed. "Give this Commissioner the barest minimum debriefing in order to intercept the Protector if needed."

"Hrmph. That should be simple enough," Farn grunted. Satisfied with the Luxray's answer, Inler turned his attention over to the left side of the table, his gaze settling on his Gyarados subordinate.

"Zorn, I want you to raise some crews to patrol the fringes of Linglan's waters," the Poison-Type continued. "We don't need any backdoors through which the Protector can sneak back undetected."

"Understood," the Gyarados answered. "You can count on me, Director!"

Inler paused a moment, his gaze drifting over to Elilan, before turning to Darzin, idly batting his claws as he mentally mulled his next words over.

"Darzin… you… distribute communications for this whole operation," the Nidoking muttered. "That should be a sufficiently productive application of your skills."

"That's hardly any different from the indignities you force on me regularly," the Dragonite snorted back, drawing a roll from Inler's eyes.

"Glad to hear, and with that, I think this meeting can be-"

"Hold it!"

All eyes around the table turned over to Elilan as he got up from his seat, putting his claws down on the table and staring insistently over at Inler.

"Director, you seem to be neglecting to give me an assignment," the Zoroark said. "I do have better things to do than sit and lounge around in the middle of a crisis, don't I?"

A long, pregnant silence followed the fox's response, Zorn and Farn shuffling awkwardly as Inler's face twisted into a frown and his eyes narrowed.

"The leads you were able to provide the Intelligence Division are more than sufficient as a contribution, Elilan," he replied. "That will be all. I want you all to tend to your duties effective immediately!"

One after the other, Farn, Zorn, and Darzin got up and began to drift out of the room into the hallway. Satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, Inler paced off to follow suit, only for the sound of hurried footsteps to follow as Elilan cut him off from behind.

"Inler, you know that I'm capable of assisting right now!" the Zoroark demanded. "What's with this deliberate attempt to pass me over?"

"Assignments are given out based on the amount of trust that I as the Company's Director can place in an individual," Inler retorted. "A Pokémon blatantly attempting to engage in self-advancement in a time of crisis simply doesn't merit the same level of trust as one who sits and evaluates the facts at hand first."

Inler's reply drew a low growl in response from Elilan, his eyes glaring daggers at the Nidoking Director. The Dark-Type gave a shake of his mane, before letting out a seething protest.

"Director, I gave my suggestion because I evaluated the facts at hand! And last I checked, knowing who to trust can make the difference between success and failure!" the Zoroark snapped. "Your asinine insistence on continuing to invest in Commissioner Lyn is charting a course for failure!"

"Would that be the failure of your aspirations to have a companion parroting your decisions on the Board?"

Inler's response prompted Elilan to ball up his claws, the Administrator all but failing in preventing an angry flash of his teeth from spreading over his muzzle as he attempted to swat away the accusation.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Director," the Zoroark spat. "And I'd rather not waste my time with this claptrap."

Inler gave a forceful sigh, before turning and glancing out a nearby window, looking out over the gabled roofs of Canalhouse City's sprawl. The Nidoking batted his tail back and forth idly, before answering in a nonchalant tone.

"I'm sure you don't. But I know you have your wife and daughter settled here in the city in accordance with the Settlement Protocol for a 'mon of your rank," Inler replied. "Given the… unfortunate circumstances that Pokémon under such protocols would find themselves in should their contacts within the Company be disgraced, I would encourage you to dispel your fantasies about Betulo and to make your peace with the fact that he simply will never sit together on the Board with you. End of story."

The Nidoking shook his head, curtly brushing past his Zoroark subordinate as he made his way towards the exit. The Director pushed the doors open, slamming them behind him with a loud thud, leaving Elilan to glare after him and glower under his breath.

"We shall see about that."

Elilan's seething failed to reach the Nidoking's ears, who carried along from the dark-wooded doors under a sunlit hallway. From down the hallway, the slamming of the door pricked Farn's ears, prompting her to look back and watch Inler slink off. The Luxray carried on, unaware all the while that further behind her, the form of a Dragonite in an Administrator's scarf slipped out from a side room and quietly followed after her tracks.



Earlier that day, the Siglo Swellow carried on its course from Tidemill City that morning, having sailed along overnight from dusk through the crack of dawn away from the Imperial island for calmer waters. As the sun's rays poked over the horizon, the deck still had a placid air about it as the bulk of the crew remained occupied in the mess hall; even those above deck finding themselves more concerned with breakfast than their jobs as deckhands as the ship drifted along. Among their number was Nida, who finished up the last of her gummis before basking under the morning light. Off further down the ship, she saw Crom and Pleo setting aside their plates before moving onto clay jugs of berry juice. Pleo's mood had been sunny since he'd been reunited with his teammates and gotten the King's Rock he'd received as a lucky charm on Tromba back, with Nida's ears picking up faint snatches of cheery, indistinct chatter from the young Lugia and the Druddigon before the splash of churning waves and passing ferals in the distance prompted her to look out at the sea wistfully.

"Is something the matter, Nida?"

The Nidoran blinked and perked her ears up, turning around just in time to see Kiran flapping to a stop on the deck behind her.

"I hope you're feeling alright," he said. "You went off on your own."

Nida paused a moment, before giving a nod back to the Swellow in reply.

"I'm fine, Kiran," she answered. "It's just that I needed a moment to catch up with everything."

"Oh?"

The Nidoran shifted a moment, casting a quiet glance over at Crom as he drank from his jug with Pleo further along the deck. It had only been a couple of weeks, but it was still sometimes hard for her to believe that she wasn't in a dream and that her teammates were once again alongside her.

"It's just nice for the whole team to be back together again…" she murmured. "We've all been through so much and there were moments where I honestly thought I'd never see Crom or Pleo again."

"The fates work themselves out in strange ways sometimes," Kiran answered. "Though was there something troubling you?"

Nida paused, before shaking her head, and casting a serious glance back up.

"No… but I sometimes wonder just whether or not it will last."

"Worry about things as they come," her Swellow captain reassured. "We're all here now and I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to get used to it again."

The Nidoran flicked her ears, pulling them back as a small smile spread over her muzzle.

"Nah, with us finally back together, I'm sure we won't need all that time," Nida insisted. "It would take an awful lot to spoil this moment."

Buuuuuuurp

The sound of a loud belch from behind made Nida and her teacher flinch, prompting them to whirl around and see Crom and Pleo perched on a pair of squat crates with their clay jugs, bowling over beside themselves with laughter. Nida furrowed her brow in disbelief, watching as Elty darted up with an amused chortle as Guardia followed after visibly puzzled by Pleo and Crom's demeanor.

"Hah, good one Crom!" Elty yipped.

"Oh! Oh! My turn now!" Pleo cried. At once, the young Protector craned his head down, tilting the bottle back as he lapped up juice within his beak before pushing it back upright and swallowing. The Lugia smacked his mouth and kicked his feet up and down, when his beak suddenly cracked open wide...

Buuuuuuuuuurp

The air filled once again with the sound of a loud belch, which was quickly followed by chortling cheers from Crom and Elty, while Guardia looked on with a baffled expression. From their spot by the railing, Kiran sighed, ruffling his feathers as Nida closed her eyes and stuck her tongue out with displeasure.

"Ew…"

"… We've all been through a lot lately and they are still young," Kiran offered. "Maybe it's better to let them have their fun."

BUUUUUUUUUUURP

The pair paused, before looking back to see Pleo staring dumbfounded at Crom as a beaming grin spread over his face. The young Lugia stammered, before beating his wings flusteredly and staring curiously down at Crom's bottle and then back up to him again.

"How did you do that?" Pleo demanded.

"Heh heh! You can't beat a sailor's kid that easily!" Crom teased, sticking a tongue out playfully. "You'll just have to practice a bit!"

Nida sighed and rolled her eyes at Crom's response, grumbling under her breath as she hopped over, Kiran walking along after her. The pair carried on, Pleo so wrapped up in his childish competition that he paid no heed to their approach.

"Aw… well, I guess I'll just have to do that…" Pleo murmured, before perking up with a forceful point of his wing. "Just you wait, Crom! I'll practice tons and beat you fair and square!"

"Yes, yes, Pleo that's grea- Wait, no, that's disgusting!" Nida snapped. "We don't need to hear you burping all the time! And por el amor de los dioses, Crom! Pleo's learned enough bad habits already while we were traveling out there!"

Crom pulled his wings back as his ruddy head seemed to flush a deeper shade of red, scratching behind his head with a flustered, sheepish stammer. From his side, Elty rolled his eyes, turning to the Nidoran with an annoyed scoff.

"Lighten up a bit, spike ball," Elty chided. "It's just a little fun."

"You hut-dwellers sure are a peculiar lot if this is what you do for entertainment…" Guardia sighed, only for a chittering voice to call out.

"Hoy!"

Crom lifted his head at the sound of footsteps and looked over his shoulder where he saw the forms of a Kabutops and Marked Scyther approaching. The Druddigon turned to face the pair, recognizing them to be...

"Oh! Dimitri! Ander!" Crom cried. "What are you doing here?"

"We were checking up on your father below deck," the Scyther answered.

As soon as the words left his mouth, Ander's reminder of Pladur's wounded state sucked the life out of the group as the lot fell silent. Crom hung his head as his wings began to droop in shame, realizing that while he'd been wiling away his time with Pleo and his teammates, he hadn't even bothered to go down and check up on his father since he woke up!

"I'd- I'd forgotten about that while I was having fun…" he murmured. "Is… he alright?"

"He's still a bit weak, but at least he's lucid now," Ander replied.

"I don't think you've got anything to worry about, Crom," Dimitri insisted. "If he's anything like you, I'm sure he'll be up and at 'em sooner rather than later."

The Scyther and Kabutops' reassurance failed to take root with the young Druddigon, as his head sank glumly. The dragon looked down, only to feel a pawing at his leg and see Nida looking up at him.

"And I'm sure your dad doesn't want you to be constantly feeling miserable while he's healing, Crom," the Nidoran offered.

Crom moved a claw to his mouth, the reassurance seemingly moving him somewhat, if unable to dispel a thick, tangible air of doubt about the young Druddigon.

"I guess…" the Dragon-Type murmured. "But what do we do now?"

"That's what I'd like to know, actually."

The sound of buzzing wings and following footsteps announced the arrival of the Siglo Swellow's Illumise captain from Ander and Dimitri's direction, her Hitmontop first mate following closely. Kiran tilted his head, wondering what would compel the two to seek them out together as the ship continued on its course away from Giotto.

"Oh? What brings you here, Beatrix?" the Swellow asked.

"A little crab mentioned earlier that you and the kids were trying to get to Pioppo Island," she answered.

The group blinked puzzledly, before their attention drifted slowly over towards Dimitri. Freshly put on the spot, the Kabutops hemmed and hawed, tapping his scythes together sheepishly.

"Heh, well they did need leads for trying to track you down," Dimitri said. "So I didn't see the harm in bringing it up."

"What's going on at that dump?" Beatrix demanded. "And why do you want to get there?"

Crom cast a blank gaze at Nida and his other teammates. Dimitri never did mention why they wanted him to bring them to that island anyways. Nida began to shift uncomfortably, clearing her throat as she tried to puzzle out a way to explain the matter to the Illumise captain.

"Er… well…" the Nidoran began, only to be interrupted by Guardia raising a claw and motioning for attention.

"Make yourselves comfortable," she said. "It'll take a while to recite all this lore…"

The Cubone began to recount of their meeting with Nerea, Nida and Elty chiming in to explain how the Company and the Empire had created a record of the events surrounding the Great Calamity that was so compromising to the two that the pair had moved heaven and earth to keep its volumes secret, with Pioppo being the site of of one of those volumes. All the while, Beatrix and Vicente listened quietly, with unmoving, skeptical faces as Nida ended their recap.

"So if we can just find that ledger, we should be able to force the Company and the Empire to back off and leave us and Pleo alone," the Nidoran explained. "It'd be just what we needed to be able to go home while keeping Bluewhorl safe!"

The little spike ball's insistence drew a sharp frown from the Hitmontop first mate, who tapped a foot impatiently against the wood of the ship's deck.

"… I'm not feeling terribly confident charting a trip to Pioppo over hearsay," Vicente grumbled.

"Oi, we know what we heard! And besides, what other options do we have right now?" Elty demanded. "Are you going to build your own navy to keep those Imps and square-necks at bay?"

A sharp buzz cut through the air as Beatrix shook her head and shot an unamused scowl back at the young Growlithe.

"Ideally we would have options that don't involve poking around an island where Pokémon are known to go missing and never be heard from again," she piped.

Team Traveller grimaced uneasily at the Illumise's response. Yes, it would be a dangerous mission, but doing nothing would be no solution at all for getting Pleo back home! She had to understand that…

Didn't she...?

"I'll think it over and see what we can do for logistics," Beatrix offered. "We'd need some downtime in Buyeom to reprovision and patch up a few parts of the ship anyways."

"Hrmph. Hopefully a downtime that's short and to the point," the Hitmontop first mate huffed.

"In the meantime, stay focused on pitching in with the crew," the captain instructed. "There should be some time for you to rest a bit when we're in port."

Beatrix and Vicente turned and drifted off down the deck, leaving Team Traveller to trade dubious looks with one another over how well they'd pleaded their case to the pair.

"I… don't think that they're going to take us there," Pleo murmured.

"I'm sure that they'll come around, pollito," Kiran reassured. "It's not a decision to be made lightly, but if it's really the only way, I'm sure that Beatrix and Vicente will recognize that."

"Besides, you've got better things to do than get your wings in a twist right now," Dimitri added. "With the mess we left Tidemill's harbor in, I'm sure it'll take some time for the Company and the Empire to catch up, and you'll have no shortage of ways to unwind in Buyeom."

"… What do you mean?" Guardia replied. "Isn't it just another island?"

"You're selling it more than a little short. Magmapool Town is famous for being built right next to a volcano that heats the place up," the Kabutops explained. "Why, there's a bunch of hot springs dotted across the island, then there's the black-sanded beaches, the fire shows…"

Dimitri's description brightened his teammates' eyes, Elty taking particular relish as he perked his ears up at the mention of 'fire shows' and darted around happily.

"Heh, I can get behind spending some time there!" he exclaimed. The Growlithe batted his tail back and forth eagerly, prompting Pleo to pause and mull, moving a wingtip over his beak.

"I mean, it does sound fun…" he mulled. "But… what does the island look like?"



After the Siglo Swellow put down anchor in port, Team Traveller quickly made their way down the gangplank and onto the docks of Magmapool Town. The settlement was built along rolling hills under the shadow of a tall black-rocked mountain, a tower of steam rising from its pinnacle in the distance, and a shroud of fog accumulated at its base. The town itself seemed to be a mishmash of features that at once felt similar to prior ports, yet combined in an alien fashion. The settlement was built by the sea along black-sanded beaches and a row of wharves and dry docks, the districts inland filled with cramped whitewashed buildings with arced, slate roofs filling the skyline. Between their gaps, thick, protecting walls of blackened stone poked through, a careful examination revealing that they formed vaguely concentric rings about the town's quarters. All the while, glints of light would catch Pleo's eye, drawing his attention to a window or a decoration perched on a rooftop, the young Lugia beating his wings excitedly.

"Oh! It looks kinda like Aisle Town!" Pleo exclaimed. "Except it's got a lot more shiny things in it like the windows in Tidemill's palace!"

"That would be glass, Pleo," Nida replied. "And... I'm not really sure if it feels like Aisle Town to me. The buildings are a lot drabber, there's walls like in Tidemill, and I didn't remember Kenobi Island looking this rocky when we were there."

"Heh, well they do call it 'Magmapool Town' for a reason," Elty explained. "Most of the rock you see here's lava that hardened into rock since the Cradle was put together!"

Guardia frowned skeptically at the Growlithe's explanation. An island that had grown since the Original One had placed it in the Cradle? What sort of nonsense was that? Even so, the terrain seemed homely, much like the crags of the mountains and the Mystery Dungeon back in Kenobi… if with a good chunk of it in oppressive black tones. The Cubone mused to herself, wondering if a few paintings scattered here and there would help make the stony island feel more agreeable, only to hear a squawk from behind. She turned around and saw Pat taking wing from the Siglo Swellow's deck, flying off towards the sea.

"Huh? Isn't that Kenhallow one of ours?" Guardia wondered. "Where is he off to in such a hurry?"

"Probably headed back to Tromba to pass on the news of our arrival," a voice behind them chittered.

The five youngsters turned back, a quick glance revealing that the speaker was none other than a Kabutops still dripping seawater off his plates… followed closely by a visibly soaked and unamused Swellow and Scyther.

"Eh? Dimitri?" Crom asked. "Where have you been?"

"I was passing on a message of my own here to send back to my rod," the Water-Type explained. "Turns out another one's passing through here right now!"

Dimitri's burble drew a deep frown from the Swellow behind him, who shook his head and beat his wings, spraying droplets of seawater onto the wharf underfoot.

"I still say the cannonball into the water was uncalled for," Kiran grumbled.

Dimitri looked at Kiran and Ander, and after noting their long faces, scratched the back of his head sheepishly with the flat of his left blade. The Scyther among the group let out a chittering sigh, awkwardly shifting his wings uncomfortably as he tried to extend them out to dry under the sun.

"Well, we should have a little time before we move along anyways," Ander said. "We might as well take a look around town and relax for a bit."

Team Traveller carried on along a tight street past a warren of crude, tile-roofed shacks with a surfeit of glass windows and decorations, coming to a stone gate underneath a slate-roofed pavilion. There, the lot discovered much to their pleasant surprise that the local guards appeared to be in the business of charging 'tolls' for entry into the rest of the town and its hot springs. Whether it was the visitors or the promise of coin in their pouches that was the real motivator for the guards' openness, a few Poké coins apiece proved sufficient to grant each of Team Traveller's members entry through the black-stone gate.

The party's passage through the gate brought them into a busy town perched at the top of a hill with plumes of steam and smoke rising up from various points. Opting to try and get a view from above, Team Traveller set up along a wide path lined with shops up a shallow incline, their progress taking them past a red-and-blue pavilion in front of a curved body of bubbling water that Pokémon were resting in, some background chatter revealing that it seemed to be a shrine dedicated in honor to a 'Volcanion', evidently the local Protector. A little ways along, the group passed a pair of large buildings spewing smoke from brick chimneys, one adorned with banners in the Empire's indigo and the other in the red-and-gold of the Merchantry. There in the street, a Kecleon and a Darmanitan were in a heated argument in front of a bewildered-looking black Hippowdon laden with heavy, oblong cargo. The objects of dispute were evidently 'dies' for pressing coins, with neither of the two agreeing who was entitled to take their share of the cargo first. Pleo blinked to himself a moment as he left, wondering to himself why the two were so insistent on going ahead of each other when he looked up and discovered that he and his peers were passing a long wall in front of a broad complex of short buildings with steam rising from behind them. The Lugia recognized the steam to be much like that from the pool surrounding the shrine, puzzling over what its purpose was, only to spot a small crowd of Pokemon gathered around a bulletin board up ahead pulling papers off of it.

Why this was a guild! But… if that was really what this place was, there was just one thing that he couldn't figure out.

"Huh? Why does this Guild have all these steam clouds coming up from it?" Pleo asked.

"Well, Magmapool Town is known for its hot springs," Kiran answered. "I guess the local guild decided they wanted one of their own for their members."

"Heh, well I'd certainly sign up for a guild like that!" Crom exclaimed, giving a playful bat of his tail at the thought of a hot spring waiting for him after a long day in the dungeon. His enthusiasm failed to be matched by all of his teammates, as his exclamation was met by a pouting frown from his Growlithe teammate.

"Meh, speak for yoursel-"

"Ack! Nae sure!" a bellowing voice cried.

The group flinched at the sound of a loud crack and deep rumble, whirling to see a trio of barrels rolling off the back of a cart drawn by a wide-eyed Bouffalant up the hill and tumbling straight for them. One after the other, the members of Team Traveller hastily bolted out of the way, leaving Pleo to stare frozen out of fright as the barrels raced towards him.

"Look out!"

A flash of gray came in as a fist flew forward and sent the barrel headed for Pleo flying into a wall where it dashed itself into a pile of splinters and water. A brilliant ray of blue dragonfire tore one of the barrels further behind in two, while the last was dispatched by a moon-like orb of pink light, leaving their contents to stream down the lane and dribble up against Pleo's feet. The Lugia stood there panting and stunned for a moment, looking up to see that his rescuers were a large, gray dragon with a head and tail lined with yellow scales, a large black and purple bat, and a pink creature with vulpine and feline features. The lot approached in red scarves, each sporting a white seven-pointed star as they inspected the mess left behind by their attacks. After the Bouffalant ran up and tried to take stock of his lost cargo, the Kommo-o of the group turned his attention to Pleo, craning his head down as he held a claw out for reassurance.

"Are you alright?" he asked. "Seems like whoever tied those barrels to that cart did a poor job at it."

"I-I think I'm alright…" Pleo stammered. The young Protector's companions hastily ran up, Nida and Crom tending to their shaken friend as Guardia turned warily to the three strangers with a puzzled tilt of her head.

"… Who are you?" the Cubone wondered.

"We're Team Sentinel," the Kommo-o answered. "I'm the team's leader, Sorge."

"My name is Zelle," the Sylveon added. "I take care of any threats before they get too close."

"And I'm Aldrich," the Noivern chimed in. "I cover the skies while Sorge and Zelle take the ground."

Team Traveller eased themselves, breathing thankful sighs at the intervention of the strong strangers. The group wondered to themselves as to what this Team Sentinel's history could be for its members to become so strong, as the Kommo-o of the group turned his attention over to Pleo.

"So who are you and your friends, little one?" Sorge pried. "I have to say, our team travels around different islands quite a bit, but I've never seen a Pokémon like you before."

A tense silence fell over the group, as Pleo fidgeted uneasily. These Pokémon had helped protect him from those barrels... but with powerful foes chasing after him at every turn, was it really safe to tell them anything about his true nature?

"Er... well I'm Pleo," he began. "And... I'm uh…"

"A Wingull!" Crom interjected. The young Druddigon's exclamation drew raised brows among the members of Team Sentinel, followed by dubious looks back at the strange bird before them. Kiran ruffled his feathers uneasily, realizing that his pupil's explanation surely hadn't sounded convincing… perhaps feigning ignorance would be more believable?

"Or at least we think so! We found him as a feral among a group of other Wingull," Kiran offered. "My student's probably just a bit overweight, really."

Sorge and his teammates looked at the Swellow, before their eyes drifted over to Ander in the back of the group and settled with a quiet, intent stare. The Scyther shifted uneasily, before the trio's expressions suddenly lighted up as Sorge shook his head to brush away the matter.

"Well, that would certainly make a lot of sense," the Kommo-o chuckled.

The Dragon-Type's reply drew quiet sighs of relief from the members of Team Traveller. Eager to find out a bit more about the inquisitive strangers, Dimitri piped up with a curious glance, hemming and hawing slightly as he tried to tease out more about their business at the guild.

"So… you're a Rescue Team, right?" the Kabutops wondered.

"That's right," the dragon answered. "Platinum ranked by the Anyilla Rescue and Exploration Networking Association and here to help in these troubled times."

Sorge's mention of 'Platinum ranked' at once made Kiran perk up, putting a newfound vigor in the bird that made his feathers bristle with excitement. The Flying-Type warbled, hopping over as he puffed his chest out with a beaming smile.

"Well, you're certainly giving my pupils a lot to strive for!" the Swellow chirped. "Who knows, maybe we could trade pointers sometime!"

"Hm? So you lead a Rescue Team as well?" Sorge asked. "Who are you?"

"It's Kiran, captain of Team Traveller and Silver-ranked by ARENA," the Flying-Type beamed. "The finest fledger of dungeoneers in all of Tromba!"

The Swellow held his head up and ruffled his plumage proudly as an unimpressed silence lingered over Team Sentinel. From behind Sorge, Zelle rolled her eyes before turning her head to Aldrich and bringing a feeler next to her mouth to whisper to the bat's sensitive ears with a barely-concealed smirk.

"Sounds like someone's presumptuous."

"Certainly seems like a case of 'student teaching the teacher' to me," Aldrich snickered.

Kiran's mood ebbed at the sight of Zelle and Aldrich's reactions, prompting Sorge to clear his throat and hastily force a grin, giving a disarming wave as he tried to brush the matter aside.

"I'll keep it in mind if we ever take on an apprentice, but I think we'll manage," Sorge replied. "We were just on our way to the dungeon for a mission, but it was a pleasure to meet you all."

The Kommo-o trudged off up the hill for the volcanic peak in the distance, followed closely by his Sylveon and Noivern teammates. As the trio started to slip out of view into the crowds, Crom peered after the red-scarved Pokémon, before shifting his glance back to a Nidoran waiting beside him.

"… Do you think we'll ever make our own team as good as theirs, Nida?" he asked.

Nida flicked her ears back flusteredly. All this time, she'd been wrapped up in getting Pleo home that she'd completely forgotten about her own plans with Crom to push their team forward! But how were they supposed to manage to get anywhere near as far as Team Sentinel when they'd barely just earned their Normal Ranking?

"I mean… it would take a lot of time, and practice… but maybe?" the Nidoran answered. "After all, never say never."

"Step right up and grow your battle prowess with just one quick session! After just a few moments at Alcon's Move Tutoring, you'll be well on your way to unlocking your full potential!"

Nida perked her ears up and looked off further up the path to see a crude stall set up with a Porygon flitting about eagerly. She tilted her head a moment, before having her memory turn back to their time in Braveshoal. Why, it was the very same Move Tutor they'd run into there!

The last time they'd met, Alcon had driven them off thanks to not having anything to trade for tutoring. But now, with a pouch full of money from Cardino's detective work in Tidemill… perhaps he'd have more of a reason to teach them after all!

"Actually… maybe there's something that can help us out right now."



As Team Traveller made their way over to peruse Alcon's wares, they were blissfully unaware of a brigantine flying white sails with a blue sun pattern pulling into Magmapool Town's port. Aboard it, the Pokémon were tense and wound up, casting wary glances about their surroundings. Above, the form of a small party of flying Pokémon led by a Crobat returned, the Poison-Type flitting down to a Samurott waiting at the bridge.

"That's it. That ship docked over there by the wharf on the far left," Kane said. "Should we move in for the attack, Captain?"

Lyn turned his head off to the left, fishing out his scope and pacing over to the railing. Sure enough, through his spyglass he could see the familiar waterspout-patterned sails of the Siglo Swellow, with its same Illumise captain and Hitmontop first mate distracted by some manner of ongoing debate. The lot of the crew seemed to be lethargic, perhaps taking one of Tromba's fabled midday rests that seemed to have little utility other than to provide excuses for their yearly tribute coming up short yet again. Hardly anything even his diminished crew couldn't handle… if only they were in friendlier waters.

A quick turn of the scope beyond the harbor revealed drydocks filled with ships flying indigo sails, with others prowling the waters and the piers speckled with Imperial underlings as one would expect from the largest settlement of the Empire outside of Tidemill. Lyn pulled the scope back with an irked grunt, with such an environment, there was only serious answer to Kane's question:

"… No. Our odds of succeeding would be slim to none," the Samurott answered.

The Crobat blanched a moment at his captain's reply. The Board back in Vollezee was counting on them to return back with this Guardian of the Seas. If attempting to wrestle him away from port here was out of the question, then...

"… What do we do then?"

"We sail in and dock," Lyn barked. "We're going to need to be patient about this mission."

The Samurott looked over to a Weavile hanging with a claw among the rigging, who shifted slightly and cupped his free claw to bid the sailors to bring the ship in. The Nektar Weide lurched forward, being pulled along by its sails while its escorts in the water and sky pushed it along to a free set of moorings on the right side of the harbor as the Commissioner stamped the deck for attention.

"All of you, stay on alert," Lyn snapped. "I'm not expecting us to stay here for too long, and as soon as that schooner leaves, we follow and ambush them outside of port."

The gathered sailors at once darted off, clearing the deck to ready the brigantine for mooring. As the Pokémon moved about tying down the ship, Lyn looked about the passing underlings, his sight settling on a Fearow and a Swanna making their way for a length of rope to help hoist the sails.

"You two. Set that rigging aside and go surveil the ship," he ordered. "If that glorified catboat so much as turns its rudder, I want to hear about it!"

"Aye, Captain!" the pair answered.

Lyn watched as the birds slipped off, prompting him to shake his head and clamber onto the railing. The Commissioner steadied himself, looking down at the harbor water below as the sound of Ellsberg's wingbeats came up from behind him, their rapid pace and his pants evidencing that he'd been in a hurry to catch up.

"Lyn? Just what am I supposed to do here?" the Mothim demanded. "You've only provided assignments for a pair of scouts!"

"You're watching the ship with Ketu and making sure that it can sail off at the drop of a pin," the Samurott harrumphed. "I'm going off to scout the seabed outside the harbor to search for places where our escorts can lie in wait to ambush that schooner."

"But-"

The otter leapt off, diving into the blue water below with a loud splash. Ellsberg peered over, watching bubbles and brine trail after Lyn's body before he surfaced and made his way back for the mouth of the harbor as Ellsberg alighted on the railing, scoffing bitterly.

"'You're watching the ship with Ketu and making sure that it can sail off at the drop of a pin'," the Mothim spat. "Travellers above, does he really think that I don't know my own ship?"

"Tch, beats me," a Weavile's voice answered. "But Lyn's finally gone, and we've got some business to get to for grabbing that Lugia."

Ellsberg turned around and frowned when he saw Ketu lazing against a nearby mast. The Mothim buzzed annoyedly, the Weavile's unwelcome voice drawing his attention as raptly as a warm lantern's light did at night.

"And just what would that involve?" Ellsberg demanded. "You haven't said as much of a thing about your plan ever since we left Tidemill!"

Ketu answered with a scoff and dismissive shake of his head, flashing out a set of claws and turning his attention from the Bug-Type as he picked at them disinterestedly with his other set.

"Like I told you earlier, I've got some old friends here in port," Ketu explained. "All I need to do is to touch base with them, and we'll lure the Protector out to someplace secluded where we can ambush him."

"And just who are these 'friends' and how do you know them?"

The Weavile paid the question no heed and continued to pick at his claws. Ellsberg glared impatiently, prompting Ketu to belatedly step away from the mast with a shrug.

"They're with the Company. Everything else is beyond your pay grade I'm afraid."

Ellsberg fumed at Ketu's flippant response, beating his wings agitatedly as he filled the air with seethes and angry moth noises.

"What sort of answer is that?!" Ellsberg snapped.

"One that's good enough," the Weavile retorted. "Just know that they're familiar with this town while those hicks aren't, and they've got a lot of experience in carting Pokémon off from places without drawing too much attention."

"Why should I agree to any of this?" the moth hissed. "We're supposed to work as a team and here you are throwing me aside to work with some random strangers!"

"Look, you want your promotion, and I've got my own things I want out of this mission," Ketu answered. "Just stay out of the way and let the professionals do their job, and we'll both get what we want."

The Mothim flapped his wings a moment, before setting aside his frustration for a moment as his curiosity got the better of him.

"Hrmph. And what do I do if I play along with your little scheme?" Ellsberg pressed.

"You cover for me with Lyn if he comes back and asks why I'm not around. If you keep Lyn from getting suspicious, I tell Administrator Elilan about all the hard work you totally did capturing the Protector when this all settles down," Ketu replied. "I don't mind if you become a Third-Rank easily or not, so fair deal, right?"

"What am I even supposed to tell him?!" the Mothim demanded. "We're waiting for those hicks to leave port and you shouldn't even have a reason to leave the ship!"

"Just tell him I went to the hot springs," the Weavile said with a shrug.

Ketu paused and waited on a reply, only to be met by the sound of Ellsberg fluttering his wings and a quiet, unimpressed stare.

"'Hot springs'? Really?" Ellsberg groaned. "Do you honestly expect him to believe that coming from an Ice-Type?"

"Yes?" Ketu scoffed. "It wouldn't be the first time that I've visited one. They may be a little too hot at first, but they're very soothing once you get used to-"

"Ugh, whatever! Just hurry it up!" the Bug-Type spat. "Not like you actually do any work with me anyways."

"Kinda hard to work with a doormat who doesn't stand his ground."

Ellsberg spluttered furiously and glared as Ketu slipped away, clambering down the gangplank for the docks. The nerve of that good-for-nothing furball! He could pull his weight just fine if Ketu just stopped belittling him and gave him all the information needed for the mission! The Mothim turned away, looking towards the sea with a harrumph as he tried to assuage his wounded pride. If Ketu wanted to take on all the risk of the operation on himself, then so be it. He was getting his promotion, so what was a little bit of extra spare time?



While the Siglo Swellow and the Nektar Weide sat in port at Magmapool Town, the Mistral Marauder continued to lurk at its spot in Tidemill City's harbor. Ever since Alba had overlooked them, the crew had collectively chosen to keep to themselves aboard the ship and wait for the harbor to re-open, opting not to endanger their run of good luck. With their claws idled, the pirates found themselves trying to scrounge together various distractions aboard the ship, some turning to cards, some to rest, and others to impromptu contests between each other, with the deck thick with spectators ringing the current attraction as a loud belch filled the air.

There, Alvise stood glaring down a smug-faced Charmeleon wiping the edge of his mouth, the Manectric making his way over to a sudsy jug set out on a crate in the middle. Alvise let a crackle of electricity dance among his fur, before seizing the jug by its neck and throwing his head back, letting the beer inside slide down his throat with glugging gulps as chatter floated around the gathered Pokémon.

"Ha! No way he's gonna pull this off!" the Charmeleon snickered, with a nearby Sealeo joining in with a jeer.

"I bet he can't even finish the bottle!"

Alvise narrowed his eyes at the jeers, letting the last drops of the jug's ale run down his throat before he let it drop to the deck with a clatter. The Manectric smacked his mouth, relishing the taste of beer on his tongue, before cracking his jaws open.

BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP

A chorus of cheers followed the wolf's massive belch, some of the pirates giddy that they'd put their money on the right 'mon, while others were simply impressed by Alvise's performance, including a starry-eyed Hoppip who compared it favorably to Hess' own burps. Even so, flecks of unhappiness stained the gathering, including the Charmeleon and Sealeo, who stared incredulously back at the proud Manectric.

"How the hell did you burp like that?!" the Charmeleon demanded. "You said you grew up as some rich city slicker!"

"Yeah! There's no way you should've been able to do that!" the Sealeo exclaimed. A smug grin crept up over Alvise's muzzle, as he turned up his nose with a tangible air of self-satisfiedness.

"Well, you learn something new every day, huh?" the Manectric retorted.

"Alright dorks, you lost your bets," Valatos smirked. "Now cough up the money."

"Yeah, time for us winners to benefit here!" Nori sneered.

A mixture of laughter and grumbling went around, as the Charmeleon and Sealeo begrudgingly passed over a few misshapen coins to Alvise and his companions, while other bettors traded their wins and losses in the background. All the while, Kichiro and Rodion watched from the railing, the Ledian burying his face into a fist with an audible groan.

"Ugh… now I remember why I hate long port stays," the Ledian grumbled

"They were the recruits you found, Kichiro," Rodion reminded. "Besides, it's not as if we've got anything else we can do right now. A pirate's just gotta let a good burp out sometimes."

Kichiro gave a disgusted scoff at the Floatzel's retort, his displeasure with the burping contest only deepening from having his name mangled yet again by a peer. While the Bug-Type fumed, the deck of the ship rocked with heavy footsteps as Hess lumbered over, stopping by the railing as he looked out over at the mouth of the harbor and the pile of charred wreckage that continued to clog the entrance

"Bah… what's taking those useless Imps so long?!" Hess complained. "That Protector's getting further away by the minute and we're still stuck here!"

"You know how these Imperial types are with their paper pushers," Rodion sighed. "It takes a while for anything to get done."

"Then they should just move out of the way and let me handle it already!" the Aggron captain snapped.

"And take a chance with the guards from earlier noticing you?" Kichiro retorted.

Hess grimaced at the Ledian's retort. No, going out and being recognized by the guards while the harbor was blocked off was about the last thing that he or the crew needed right now. At the same time, they couldn't just loaf around here! Every moment they waited meant that the Protector would become harder to track down...

"Er… well…"

"Just bide your time a bit, Captain," Rodion insisted. "This certainly isn't what any of us asked for, but we could do worse than having to wait a little in a peaceful port."

"They drove away the Protector!" a voice shouted. "It's their fault we've been abandoned!"

"To the palace! Make the crown answer for these injustices!"

The three pirates flinched and peered over the railing, where in the distance between the gaps of the buildings, they saw a large mob of Pokémon marching along a street. The rioting crowd had a livid, barely constrained air to it as the sound of smashing wood and glass faintly carried on the air and glimpses of posters and banners being torn down echoed across the streets. Kichiro flew back uneasily, giving a skeptical glance back at Rodion as the mob's cries filled the background.

"What was that about it being a peaceful port?" he demanded.

"I don't like the looks of this," Hess murmured. "The last time we saw a port this riled up was during the last turf war back in Rosequartz."

"Well, last I checked, common landlubbers didn't fight turf wars for much of anything," Rodion replied. "Whatever's going on out there, it doesn't involve us."

Hess uneasily looked out over the sea of buildings as the shouts began to ebb and fade away, with distant crashes and scattered plumes of smoke curling up further off in the distance. The Aggron turned away, as nagging doubts of his first mate's reassurance tugged at him, along with an uncomfortable realization that there was little they could do in their present circumstances.

"… Let's hope you're right," Hess said. "But I'd still rather get out of here sooner than later. We've already pushed our luck enough for a day."



At the gates of the Royal Citadel, the distant signs of tumult from the deck of the Mistral Marauder were all but inescapable. There, at the mouth of tightly shuttered gates, a throng of Pokémon of every conceivable stripe had gathered, baying out angry growls and shouts up to the walls of the fortified compound.

"We know the Protector abandoned us because of what Coil did!" a Glaceon shouted.

"No more secrets!" a Shiinotic snarled. "Tell us what other things you're hiding from us!"

The jeers and cries went on, the only thing separating their owners from the Royal Citadel being its stone walls and iron gates, along with a group of uneasy Pokémon in indigo and a number in sets of armor peering down from the top of the wall. Among them was Nagant, who looked out warily at the crowd, giving a dispirited shake of her head as the sound of an Archeops' angry hissing caught her ears and prompted her to see Chancellor Osborn in cloth and mail with a metal breastplate glaring down a wide-eyed Decidueye.

"You said that things were under control!" he spat. "This crowd's doubled in size in the last thirty minutes!"

"We've been trying!" Alba protested. "But they just keep coming!"

"Can you really blame them? We've all found out so much today…" Nagant muttered. The Clawitzer gazed at the crowd, looking out as a quiet, worn expression settled over her face.

"It only makes sense that not everyone would take it so well."

"Oh for crying out loud," Osborn snapped. "I'll handle this!"

The Archeops stomped over to the edge of the wall, alighting on a ledge with a faint rattle as he beat his wings and gave a sharp caw out over the crowd. The shouts and cries ebbed a moment, as the mob below looked up puzzledly at the Chancellor, who cleared his throat to speak.

"Attention loyal subjects of the Empire! Desist and return to your homes at once!" the bird proclaimed. "Your Majesty is keenly aware of the present crisis and her forces are doing their best to pursue the pirates who stole the Protector!"

"What sort of garbage is that?!" a Mandibuzz squawked. "The Protector blew seafire out into the harbor and away from the ship that took him!"

"Yeah! What sort of kidnapped Pokémon helps their kidnappers?!" a Klang yelled.

A hail of boos followed the Steel-Type's cry, as a Tamato Berry flew past Osborn's head, and an apple dashed against his wing. The Archeops dove for cover with a squawk as more missiles and attacks came for his position, an errant Gravelerock sailing along and catching an Emboar in the face.

"Augh!"

The guard staggered and lurched, almost tumbling headfirst over the edge only for a Herdier and Araquanid to hastily drag her back to safety. The three retreated from the ledge, their peers following likewise as the air grew thicker with flying objects and the crowd's shouts crested into a deafening roar.

"Chancellor, that didn't help!" Nagant hissed.

"Well, what was I supposed to do?!" Osborn huffed. "They weren't just going to clear out by themselves!"

PAM! PAM! PAM!

"Smash those gates open!" the Mandibuzz cried. "We'll get justice ourselves!"

The color flushed from the faces of the Pokémon gathered on the walls at the sound of the pounding below, realizing it to be blows upon the iron gates. The guards looked out at the trails of smoke curling up from spots of the city around them, before looking back and realizing that they'd be fortunate if such a fate was the only thing the mob wished for the citadel. As the urgency of the situation sank in, Osborn beat his wings impatiently and shot a glare over to Alba before barking out an order.

"This has gone on long enough!" the Archeops snapped. "Get your command together and clear out the gates!"

One after the other, the Decidueye and his subordinates took their position, Nagant similarly leveling a claw out for the crowd as she breathed in, hesitating with her aim as an Electivire ran up to Osborn and waved his arms wildly in protest.

"Ch-Chancellor! These are just commoners from the city!" the Electric-Type squeaked. "There'll be a full revolt if we attack them like that!"

PAM! PAM! PAM!

"They're already revolting" Osborn growled. "There's no sense in letting this insurrection fester any more!"

The gathered Pokémon prepared themselves, as they readied attacks to be lobbed out into the crowd below. Nagant similarly joined, water pooling at the tip of her large claw as she breathed in and closed one of her eyes to ready her aim.

"Stop!"

The Clawitzer's eye abruptly shot open as the water in her claws suddenly spilled inertly onto the bricks below. The shrimp and the other Pokémon looked up and went wide-eyed at the sight of none other than Queen Aleria flying in, landing on the ledge of the wall before them. At once, Osborn got up, running after the Altaria with his voice thick with panic.

"Your Majesty! Get away from that wall!" the Chancellor cried. "It's not safe-!"

"Everyone just listen to me a moment!"

With that, the Altaria spread her wings, letting out a loud warble that brought a minor lull to mob's unrest.

"You're my subjects!" the Altaria piped. "With everything that's been going on, I wanted to talk about what's been happening!"

"What's there to talk about?!" a Shiinotic hissed.

"Yeah! What we need is justice!" a Glaceon roared.

"I know that… and I'm sorry that I've failed you so."

The crowd abruptly grew quiet, the angered shouts and cries giving way to the quiet burble of confused murmuring. Aleria ruffled her cloud-like plumage uneasily, before speaking up over the gathered mob below.

"When daddy became king, he always told me that we were in a dangerous world," she began. "One where we'd have to worry about threats to the Empire and Pokémon like you who stuck with it in its hardest times..."

The Altaria queen trailed off, hanging her head in shame as her voice took on a mournful tone.

"I never considered that there could be something threatening the Empire from within like this," Aleria murmured. "Let alone someone from a family my own's trusted for generations, and here it's now driven away our greatest hope."

The Pokémon in front of the gates began to shift and mumble uncomfortably, with a few of their number looking up at the torn Altaria above. Aleria struggled with her words a moment, before shaking her head and craning her neck back up with earnest, pleading eyes.

"So please! As your Queen, let me do what I can to try and make things right!" she pleaded. "To bring back the Protector that should be watching over us right now!"

The mob below murmured quietly, a few Pokémon at the edge shuffling uneasily before drifting off. Others deeper within followed along, the crowd visibly thinning before the guards' eyes as they fell back with sighs of relief and an awed Nagant turned to the watching Altaria.

"… Your Majesty…" the Clawitzer said. "I… I think you might have just saved your realm."

"Hrmph, I would encourage you not to get too comfortable," Osborn chided, giving a ruffle that rattled the mail-laden segments of his armor. "Mobs are fickle beasts, and with the spirit of insurrection loose among them, I doubt we've heard the last of this."

"Then let's figure out what we can do, Osborn," Aleria cried. "I gave those Pokémon my word that I'd do something about this, and I don't want to be made a liar if I can help it!"

The Archeops frowned, casting a glance out at the still partly-crowded square below, before looking back slowly at the Altaria queen, letting out a sigh as he gave his feathers an uncomfortable ruffle.

"… Very well, I'll send word out for a meeting," he answered. "But we should make haste while we can."

Osborn turned and began to pace off, only to turn his head as he passed Nagant and stop with a stern glance.

"We will need your presence as well, Captain Nagant," the Archeops said. "Please follow along."

Nagant chittered flusteredly, the Clawitzer moving her little claw up to try and press for more details, only for Osborn to continue on, followed by Aleria. The shrimp stood there a moment, before hopping after them uneasily. The two surely wished for her to help give chase to the Protector, otherwise they would've never asked for her presence…

But just what could those two be planning with the situation as dire as it was?



After going up to Alcon and assuring him that they had the means to make his time worth the while, Team Traveller set about parting with their earnings from Cardino and booking a tutoring session for each of their younger members. The Porygon's tee-yems were a strange mishmash of numbers, though once Alcon walked them through, their decision-making was made a bit clearer. Nida took a fancy to Poison Jab, while Elty chose to learn the ghostly art of Will-O-Wisp for the promise of being able to burn foes as he wished. Crom waffled a bit in his choice, initially choosing to be tutored Bulldoze, only for a pointed reminder from Nida of its effects on the rest of the team to sway him to Power-Up Punch.

Other choices… seemed more impulsive than they needed to be. Guardia took a shine to Swords Dance, much to Elty's displeasure that the Cubone would now be able to bat him around harder. Pleo upon hearing Alcon discover his 'compatibility' with Thunderbolt was at once smitten with the idea of being able to churn up a 'glowy beam attack' that would form thunderclaps on command… only to be sorely disappointed along with his peers to discover that their moves, both mundane and exotic, had merely been implanted as a spark and not given them instant knowledge.

With a freshly lightened coin purse and the taste of mild disappointment in their mouths, Kiran opted to lift his charges' spirits by hurrying into their planned excursion about the town. Team Traveller went around, going from street to street where they noticed a small eatery built around a hot spring and heated black sands, giving the lot a chance to brush away their worries over a lunch of noodles and small buns with a sweet, ruddy filling before entering the springs. The party stayed a while in the heated water and sand, where they whiled away their time before leaving and retracing their steps back to the Siglo Swellow. As they exited the gate leading back to the harbor's docks, the group carried on in warm, high spirits from their refreshing detour.

"Well, at least something went right today," Crom piped. "Those hot springs were amazing!"

"I know! Maybe we should try and make one back in Bluewhorl when we get back!" Pleo chirped. The Lugia's cheerful warbling drew frowns and shifty glances from Elty and Guardia, neither seeming to think much of the young seabird's fondness of the water.

"… Eh, I was fine staying in the sand," Elty harrumphed. Pleo tilted his head puzzledly, wondering what possessed the dog to be so negative about the water, before noting his displeasure seemed to bleed over into Guardia.

"Hrmph, it would've been better if Alcon's lore actually taught us moves like he said they would," the Cubone grumbled.

"Well, even with tee-yems, you don't become a master at moves overnight," Kiran explained. "Give it some practice, and I'm sure that things will come together."

"I mean I suppose it did take a little before Pleo could fly after he got tutored by Melissa," Nida murmured. "It's just that for that price-"

"Seodulleo! You gotta see this!"

The Nidoran trailed off and looked up to see a Darumaka tugging along a Marill across the street. An air of ecstatic enthusiasm filtered off of the Darumaka, which was met with an impatient glare back from his hapless fellow-traveller.

"This better not be some sort of joke…" the Marill growled.

"No, I'm serious! There really is a Protector at the harbor!" the Darumaka exclaimed. "And humans too!"

The Fire-Type's words at once made Ander jolt up in alarm, looking around with wide-eyed anxiety. His teammates looked at the startled Scyther a moment, before looking off at the quickly-departing pair with puzzled frowns.

"… A Protector… and humans in the harbor?" Guardia asked.

"Pah," Elty snorted. "It's probably just some rumo-"

The Growlithe bit his tongue as the sound of footsteps and wingbeats reached his ears. Elty quickly glanced over and went wide-eyed at the sight of Pleo running along at the end of the street, flapping to try and to take off into the air after the Darumaka and Marill.

"Hey! Pleo!" the Growlithe yipped. "Wait up!"

The Lugia darted ahead for the docks, his companions hurriedly following after him until they came to the edge of a large, excited crowd in a square near the water's edge. Pleo stopped, craning his head to see a crude platform had been set up in the middle of the square, with a Riolu, Eevee, and Nuzleaf gathered proudly, Pleo tilting his head puzzledly as the Riolu of the lot gave an adoring wave to the surrounding Pokémon.

"… But… they look just like normal Pokémon…" the Lugia murmured.

As soon as the words left his mouth, the ground clattered with the sharp clop of blade-like hooves as a great, blue stag leapt up onto the platform from behind. The creature bowed his head, revealing a large rack of rainbow, tree-like antlers, before throwing them back in front of the wide-eyed audience with a forceful stomp of the ground. The crowd at once erupted into thrilled applause and cheers, the deer prancing around proudly as Pleo stared ahead wide-eyed. Evidently satisfied with the response, the Nuzleaf cracked a wide grin before darting up and moving a hand out to gesture to the mysterious Pokémon.

"Behold! The Voice of Life!" the Nuzleaf declared. "The rainbow stag that breathes life into the lifeless, Xerneas!"

The crowd roared in approval as the deer made himself at home on the makeshift stage, soaking in the adulation of the gathered Pokémon. From their places at the edge of the crowd, Team Traveller stared ahead puzzledly, noticing Ander shrinking back with a fearful look in his eyes.

"And here I thought it would just be a few relaxing hours in port…" the Scyther gulped, as Nida formed the name of the strange deer on her tongue.

"Xer… neas?"



Author's Notes:

- por el amor de los dioses - Spanish: "for gods' sake", lit. "for the love of the gods"
- Kenhallow (ケンホロウ) - Japanese: "Unfezant" (Official Romanization)
- Nae sure! (내 수레!) - Korean: "My cart!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- Seodulleo!(서둘러!) - Korean: "Hurry!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
 
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Negrek

komorebi
Staff
Hey, Murkrow! Here for your Blitz prize review. It’s strange… I feel like I’m far more up to date on Flegling’s various spin-offs and sister fics than I am on the main work itself.

Unfortunately I didn’t leave off at a great place last time, either, right at the end of one arc and the start of another. This review will cover chapters 31-33. I had to backread a bit to figure out context, but overall the events here are pretty familiar: Team Traveler fled an island just before their pursuers can apprehend them, move on to another, and are meanwhile trailed by more trouble as well as the people hoping to bring them home.

This time we’ll be moving on to Mengir, an island with some ancient and peculiar standing stones. Which I’m all here for, honestly! I love some mysterious ancient monuments, and finding out more about the Cradle’s history and the apocalypse that shaped it remains one of the most interesting aspects of this story to me. Whatever tidbits Team Traveler will encounter on this island, I’m looking forward to them!

I’m also curious to see how Guardia changes the team dynamic—at the moment she’s mostly been unintentionally causing problems, but it should be fun to see how her different perspective contributes to the way Team Traveler operates. As well as what her presence means for Elty! He’s already been trying to convince himself that the kids don’t need him to take care of them anymore, and I think that at some point he’s got to split off from the others for a bit (and discover that he isn’t as fond of the pirating life anymore, of course).

I was a little confused about what was going on with him and the badge in 31, and couldn’t find the part where it was set up through backreading… The idea was that he alone was supposed to get warped out, or they were all going to warp and then he’d run off on his own? In any case, with how shady he’d been acting, I was surprised at least Nida wasn’t suspicious about whether he’d had something to do with the Company goons warping into the dungeon with them. Elty’s largely absent in the fight that follows—how did he feel about his opportunity to return to the pirate life getting yanked away like that? I thought it was odd that there didn’t seem to be much discussion of what had happened there or what it meant, but that’s something that may have made more sense if I had a better memory for the setup.

One of the more interesting happenings in this section was Nida panicking when confronted by the skarmory. It’s always great to see characters who’ve really been impacted by the events of the story in ways that don’t simply evaporate after a few chapters have passed. And of course, she’s completely unwilling to admit she had any problem, so I imagine she’s setting herself up for an even worse time when the next skarmory the team encounters isn’t quite as friendly. I’m curious to see how Nida’s anxiety will play out long-term; I imagine she’ll ultimately need her teammates’ help to get over it.

In any case, it looks as though Team Traveler’s going to have an even worse time on this island than usual, if the Company already knows they’re here! It seems the noose is tightening and they won’t be able to keep up their narrow escapes much longer. Which is a good thing, I think; iirc in my previous review I mentioned that the story felt like it was wandering around a bit and I hoped for more forward motion. So shaking the status quo up a bit is good! A fair number of the events in these chapters did feel pretty familiar to me; the usual getting-situated-on-a-new-island stuff while various groups scheme in the background. At this point, I wonder if some of these familiar sections could be cut or reduced a bit. For example, it is nice to see some of the Company/Empire stuff, both for the tension that comes of knowing about trouble the characters are blissfully unaware of and for understanding the motivations of the different players arrayed against Team Traveler. However, I don’t know that we need to check on them quite as frequently as we do. There’s a point where Cradle politics and what the various factions are up to feel like a bit of a distraction from Team Traveler’s adventures, and I felt like the ratio of non-Traveler to Traveler content was a little high in this section.

In any case, it was fun to return to this story after so long away. My primary goal right now is much more to stay up to date on Once a Thief than any other story, but I’m always happy to pop over here now and again. Thanks for the read.
 

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
  3. lucario
So, back again for more Fledglings! I quite enjoyed this fic when I first read it during Review Blitz and now I can get around to reviewing it again as a reward for your efforts during Union’s Review Event. (Congrats for doing as well as you did, by the way! Then again, I figured you’d go far given how well you did during Review Blitz.)

And given how you nominated me twice to review, this’ll be an Extra Special Deluxe Review™! It’ll also double as a gift of reciprocity for all those reviews for Dual Wills you threw my way. (Around 20k words worth of reviews too! That’s certainly something, alright… )

Let’s get back to it, then! How will our resident baby Lugia steal my heart this time? Only one way to find out…

Chapter 15

An early rise, eh? Well, the early bird gets the Wurmple, as they say. (Though there’s two birds on this team, so that Wurmple’s gonna have to be shared.)

Exposure chests, huh? Are they a bit like those chests you’d take to Box Busters in the games?

I like the feel of the morning business of the town captured well. That said, regarding what’s said afterwards, particularly this line:

Why if Kiran didn't know better, he'd have guessed Pleo hadn't seen or heard anything at all on his way over to the Dojo!

I feel like it could be omitted and replaced with something along the lines of, “Kiran noticed the Lugia was off form, so he asked him…” Something more to do with the situation at hand.

Aww, Pleo’s sad and doubting himself. I'd like to send the precious birb many hugs.

But I do love the resolution where everyone assuages his fears! Something tells me his doubts are not going to go away immediately, though…

I do quite like the mentor vibe Kiran is to Pleo regarding flight, and giving flight metaphors to describe the current bad situation.

Why, maybe he'd even be able to lead Kiran around when that day eventually came along!

Now wouldn’t that be a sight to see? I almost want it to happen, seeing Pleo teach Kiran new tricks. The cute birb would have to grow up a bit, though, and that probably won’t happen for another while.

Now over to the Company. Let nefarious plotting ensue…

Lyn certainly seems a menacing figure. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, when confronting them comes to pass.

Secure the package and have it brought aboard my ship during re-provisioning,"

A package? Just what could that be? I was thinking he’d go in and get Pleo personally himself. But this seems to be a subterfuge operation that involves a package of some sort? Something very sus going on here…

Coercive measures are just the worst, aren’t they? Particularly when it’s a piece of work like Lyn demanding them like he is.

At least Osmund’s come along. These two have quite a rivalry, and not the friendly sort. I wonder what the history behind them is?

Feel free to let your subordinates take all the time they need," the Samurott taunted. [...] "I can wait."

Hm. Is the reason he’s saying this having to do with the package he’s wanting to pick up? Is he intending to buy time for that?

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that."

Oh no, they’re about to be cornered. Get your fighting game in gear, gang!

Or not. That was anticlimactic. But Pleo’s been kidnapped! Gotta get the precious birb back! But with them being with the Company, it’s going to be an uphill battle for them.

It’s great to see Mosca being so encouraging to Team Traveler. I can see Pleo’s had a good impact beyond merely his teammates.

"A third of the normal allotment, by sundown."

Wow. Be extortionate, why don’t you? That’s a perfect incitement for rebellion right there. Outright pouring gasoline on the tinder. Now what’ll be the spark to light the fire?

the Board might need to re-evaluate this town's little absentee arrangement with Administrator Darzin-"

Ah, there’s an intriguing name drop. Lyn’s superior, by the sounds of it. I wonder what kind of person they might be? Probably cruel and calculating like their subordinate, maybe even more so than him.

When he looked closer at the old Ampharos, he saw that the sheep's hide was coursing with small electric sparks that danced on its surface, far too close for his liking.

It’s occurred to me now that Lyn’s up against a Sceptile and an Ampharos, two ‘mons that have the type advantage against him. Maybe provoking them wouldn’t be the wise move, although is he counting on numbers to get him through this should a fight break out? Alternatively, the supposed outrage that would reverberate through the Company if one of their own was attacked in such a manner?

Rats, seems like Osmund and Hatteras aren’t looking deeply enough into his demeanour to realise his intentions. Well, Team Traveler’ll be on their way to set things right! Hopefully…

Oh? Elty’s choosing to help for a change. Another stepping stone on the path to being more amicable with our heroes.

But they still have to contend with searching in a crowd. Never a good place to look. But it won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack, at least.

Chapter 16

Huh, Nida and Crom found the perpetrators pretty quickly. Now how’s all of this going to play out…?

That brawl seemed to be in the favour of the Company ‘mons. But good on not just Elty and Kiran, but all of the townsfolk for the save! Looks like they really appreciate their Protector. How could they not, though? He’s so cute ~!

(And also, nice foreshadowing of the apple being used as a Gravelerock substitute last chapter to be used in this one. It set up nicely for this one.)

Interesting combo attack used by the Tauros and Electabuzz. Unique enough that it’s almost a shame that it’s just regular mooks using team attacks like this. And on innocent townsfolk too?

I absolutely love the turnaround that happens in the confrontation with Lyn, where when things seemed bleak, the rest of the townsfolk pull a Big Damn Heroes moment to save the day. Most of those faces we’ve been introduced to thus far, coming together to confront this good-for-nothing Rott. That’s a great moment thus far.

But of course Lyn has to have a back-up plan and get a second wind. He’s no slouch, that’s for sure. Didn’t earn that high position for nothing.

The job that some of us have been waiting years to finish thanks to that indecisive fat lump Darzin?"

Hmm…’Fat lump’? Is this an indicator that Darzin’s a Snorlax? That’s what I’m going with for the moment.

No. No. No. I’m sorry, Lyn, but you have no right to talk down to Pleo like that. This Rott’s going straight to the top of the list of Most Face-Punchable Pokémon in Fics for this chapter alone.

Quite a tight situation to manoeuvre with the threats of treason. But those are hard to shake off, and Hatteras would be putting his people in danger if he resisted. Sometimes, pragmatism takes precedent, and even if it does mean having to give up the precious birb… :sadwott:

Nida and Crom are certainly good at coming up with ideas on the spot. Pity on Elty for his selfishness, though. Good thing Bluewhorl has creative ways of punishment.

I must admit, the last part of this chapter has me a little confused. Mosca told Team Traveler to stop by the Guild’s warehouse, insisting they weren’t out of options yet. But after being turned away, they’re…going back to the harbour anyway? I’m a little puzzled about this apparent diversion for a supposed plan if Nida and Crom make their own plan to rescue Pleo from Lyn’s ship.

Maybe this’ll be cleared up next chapter. In which case, only one way to find out what happens next…

Chapter 17

Good explanation for why the teleporters can’t teleport the items. We gotta have them limiters for the sake of power scaling.

Durin Berries, eh? The rank smell, though…that could be the basis of a plan. Would be a bit of a shame if the ‘mons of the company got a whiff of that, wouldn’t it?

Oh, they’re going to use the stench as a cover. I thought they would use them as projectiles. That could still be a viable strategy, though…

The creature grumbled a little under his breath about it being a touch heavier than usual,

Rookie error on his part. Funny - that Krok’s hardly the first to make that mistake. At what point are we going to see a villain smell a Rattata instantly upon lifting up a heavier crate, looking inside, and pulling the hero’s ruse out from under them? Ah well. Idiot mooks of an enemy are nearly always a feature.

Next scene, as it turns out. Crom could do with a lesson in subtlety.

Oh no, they’re planning to leave? But that means Crom’s gonna be separated from Nida and Elty…And by the sounds of it, our seafarers are going to have one rough ride…

Poor Crom, being forcibly left behind like that. But how does that bode for the story? By the sounds of it, Nida and Elty are going to be separated from him for a while. What’s going to happen with him in the meantime?

That does seem a bit of an idealistic vision Nida has of getting Pleo and going back to Tromba and her family. But how will she pull that off? That’s the question of the hour, isn’t it?

Wow, those are some hare-brained plans Hatteras has. It is a long shot, but they could work…although the second plan would definitely land them in hot water with the Company. And would be completely unfeasible, now that the ship’s left.

Aww, it’s sad to see Crom like this. Would definitely give him hugs if not for his Rough Skin.

A pretty bleak picture being painted here, when even the hare-brained ideas begin to run dry.

"Nah, I'm doing this because you're my ticket to being promoted to an Administrator. Unlike some Pokémon, I don't let emotional sops get in the way of my tasks."

Gods above, another factor putting Lyn high up on the Most Face-Punchable Pokémon list. There was me thinking he actually had a backstory with him mentioning being validated in the eyes of his father. Does this guy have a redeemable bone in his body?

So they intend to use Pleo for their own ends, in the hope that he’ll magically solve all of their woes. They’ll be in for disappointment, that’s for sure…

"You like him, don't you?"

"Shut up!" Nida growled.

Elty’s onto something. It is looking like that, and I can imagine the two of them will begin to show affection for one another once the plot gets going. (Of course, they have to reunite first…)

Looks our two quadruped heroes have to do an MGS and play the stealth game for a while. But even if they do find Pleo, then where will they go from there? They’re in open ocean right now, and Pleo’s hardly a deft flier. Some holes in their plan that need patching up, no doubt.

Then again, Nida’s proven to be good at thinking on her feet. Guess we’ll see how things play out.

Chapter 18

I guess Nida’s come to that realisation that even if they do find Pleo right now, what are they gonna do with him? Given that they can hardly make an escape out on the ship like this…

Old habits die hard with Elty’s pilfering. Still, those items are bound to come in handy if it’s being mentioned here.

Do you want to try taking on one of those guards with a bag full of berries if we get caught?" Elty growled.

Well, hey, there was that suggestion I made earlier about using those smelly Durin Berries as projectiles. And they did use an apple as a projectile back at port. So…berries being used as projectiles aren’t out of the question, right?

Elty contentedly began to nibble at his prize Aspear Berry

Huh. I guess we’re seeing his greedy side when it comes to food. I don’t think we’ve seen too much of that until now.

"Ha! Your bench is looking thin tonight!" the Nuzleaf's voice gloated. "Weren't expecting me to run a Haymaker deck, were you?"

Sounds like quite the interesting card game they’re playing. What is it? This world’s equivalent of Yu-Gi-Oh? This world’s equivalent of Magic the Gathering? Little details like this enrich a world, I feel. I like this small addition.

Elty’s thievery made things look pretty bleak, but good thing incompetence comes a dime a dozen with enemy mooks like those guards.

It was then that Nida noticed a smell among the different odors that seemed just like the Samurott that had bullied the town earlier.

"Eh? Wait a minute… Lyn was here? And this scent's fresh!" Nida cried out.

Hm. I think maybe this part could’ve worded differently, one that doesn’t give away that the scent belongs to Lyn in the first paragraph. If it was along the lines of, “Nida noticed a different smell among the odors - one that smelled all too familiar…” That first line would be better if it were more vague, in my opinion.

"I'll kick it down, then!" Nida cried, as she hopped back and braced her feet to prepare to rush at the door.

What are you, Nida, a Hitmonlee? Not evolved enough to be learning Mega Kick, at any rate.

And we see the precious birb again! They’re mostly a team now! (Just need Crom and Kiran, and then Team Traveller would be a full unit again.)

"And now we're getting you off this rotten ship!"

Er. No, you aren’t. Not while the ship’s out at sea right now. Unless they’ve come near land? That would be lucky if it did happen.

Pleo’s still burdened with doubt…It’s heartbreaking to see our precious birb like this. I wanna hug him.

Wow, that rum actually came in handy for making Elty’s Fire attacks stronger? That’s ingenious, actually. Props from me for coming up with that.

The plan to fly away sounds doubtful, to be honest. We’ve seen Pleo’s flying not exactly be the best; can he really get not only himself, but Nida and Elty on his back too, back to Tromba? Then again, we’ve seen that sudden display of power from him back when Hess was threatening the town. Maybe his abilities will kick in when they need to happen? That might well be the deus ex machina needed to get our heroes out of this situation.

Chapter 19

Yikes, that’s a perilous place to end up in: right in the sleeping quarters. Here’s hoping this crew’s a bunch of deep sleepers.

Pity to see Pleo all worked up over the close call with the Ursaring. When scared, he becomes all the more sympathetic.

But his impulsiveness for his charm is worrisome. Evidently, Pleo didn’t receive any stealth lessons back on Tromba. He could really do with them now….

Good job orbs are overkill, right? And with Elty now setting the dorms on fire, that’s even more chaos to be had. I can’t help but feel, though, that this is going to backfire horribly for them later on…

And now they’re cornered again! Lyn is definitely proving to be a tough adversary. Much as I hate the guy, he is a clever one.

Good job Nida and Elty are persistent. Hopefully that persistence rubs off on Pleo, and shaves off the guilt he’s feeling right now.

Back to town, and it seems we have a bunch of glum faces. Pleo really did light up the place with his outright cute, innocent wholesomeness. No wonder they’re all feeling the sad right now.

And now I’m reminded of how fierce a mother Marley can be. Good to see her not giving up finding her little one - although Hatteras does have a point. What exactly can a bunch of landed ‘mons do in a 7.8/10 Too Much Water setting?

Huh, turns out praying for Pleo powers him up. Cool power, if a bit situational. Would it work while being far away from Tromba?

Seems it’s not too long lasting a power, though. As cool as it is, it’s one that can’t exactly be relied on all the time.

"Ah!" he chirped out of overjoyed triumph. "We're flying! We're flying!"

Ah, the wholesome overtures of the precious birb return. I love these moments of happiness from him - more of that, please!

The next thing that anyone could remember was a sudden, searing pain swallowing up their bodies, followed by the hazy feeling of their bodies getting thrown through the air and the stars in the sky turning into an indistinct, rapidly-passing blur as everything faded to black.

But they were out over open ocean, weren’t they? That can’t be good, being knocked out of the sky like that. Especially blacking out in mid-air like that…

Though judging by this next part of the story, are they going to wash up on a nearby island or something? Or has the story shifted to somewhere else?

the lot of them apparently sailors that had just straggled into port chattering lazily about a recent offshore sighting of a shifty-looking ship with golden sails and a mast torn off just above the base.

Hess’s ship, by the sounds of it. I wonder if he and his crew are going to come back at some point in the near future?

And I'll have you know that I used to have quite the following back among Giotto's culture scene thanks to having an eye for effects like those 'glorified ribbons'!" the violet cat hissed back.

Hang on a minute. I recognise the name Giotto. That was the name of Cabot’s home in Casting Off, wasn’t it? We’re getting closer to seeing him and his comrades in this story, I can feel it.

So by the sounds of it, our three heroes fell into the local Mystery Dungeon of this island.

Oh great, he was stuck with her in life still.

Well, better than being stuck with her in death. Life is temporary, whereas death is eternal. At least if Elty never warms up to Nida (press X to doubt), it’ll only be temporary in the realm that is this world.

[And it would not be long before the Distortion's reshaping winds claimed the floor they were all on.]

Quite the precarious situation our heroes have landed themselves in (that last part was intentional). With those winds encroaching themselves further upon our heroes’ territory, they’re going to have to engage in a race against time. But maybe that rescue team will pull through for them?

Chapter 20


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(I couldn’t not make a reference of some sort.)

Returning to Ellsberg, I see. And looks like he’s as much of a busybody as ever.

Lyn’s ship looks in rough shape. Good! I’d call it karma for daring to use Pleo for their own purposes. That’ll show them.

The Subway’s an interesting name. It would normally bring to mind trains like in Black and White, but it seems it’s an undersea passageway in this universe. And a connector to all the islands too! But presumably it’s a dangerous place, if the ‘mons continue to travel by ship. It’s an intriguing place - one that we might well explore at some point.

I’m not sure who I’d prefer to side with here between Lyn and Ellsberg in their confrontation - the Rott who detained Pleo and said mean things to him or the narcissistic power-hungry busybody moth. Both pieces of work, that’s for sure.

Oof, sounds like hell, having to drag Pleo like that, especially in a Mystery Dungeon of all places. And when they need to get out of here before the winds come…

It’s sad seeing Pleo this panicky. Then again, his nerves would be shot to pieces after all he’s been through. Poor kiddo…

Interesting mechanics around safe zones on Mystery Dungeon floors. That would be a hellish experience, getting caught up in the swirling madness of floor shifting.

"'If you're stuck here reading this, always look on the bright side of life'

What is this, Monty Python?

Darn it Elty, it was encouragement!

This would be better off all in italics as Nida’s thoughts, I think.

"Oi, don't forget skarby!" the Growlithe insisted. "Since we're stuck and out here anyways, we might as well see if something good turns up!"

Unable to shake off those old greedy ways as a pirate, I see. But who knows? His greed did help them out back on the ship. Maybe it could get them out of a tricky situation here?

Things looked pretty bleak there, but at least we have a rescue team to the, er, rescue. Can they help out our heroes?

I like how the linguistic differences in species names does cause some confusion here. It’s not just a little easter egg to throw in every now and again.

I see the old problem of incredulity that was in the early chapters about Pleo not being a powerful Protector is coming back for another round.

Boy, piling on the French here, aren’t we?

"Yeah, and we'll hash out the details of that reward on the way over!" Actor called out.

Or maybe it wouldn't...

"Eh?! Rew-?!"

Oh? Was a reward put up for Pleo in surrounding islands? Did word of Tromba’s Protector awakening spread to other islands? And did the Company possibly put out a reward for Pleo for other teams to claim if they captured him? That, or the Company’s not the only one who wants to get their hands on Pleo. Other islands might want a Protector of their own, and traffickers could net a tidy profit by getting him into their hands, amidst other things. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of danger in the world for Pleo, and now that the world’s opening up a bit more in the story, we’re seeing the beginning of the extent of the dangers of this world for our little Lugia.

Conclusion

These next few chapters were certainly a compelling read. Compared to the opening few chapters which detailed Tromba and the Cradle in an idyllic light with the only major incident being the pirates, this one certainly does raise the stakes a lot more. Especially now that Crom and Kiran are separated from Nida, Elty and Pleo, which I can’t say I saw coming. Given how tightly knit groups tend to be in fics, it was quite a surprise to find nearly half the team is separated from each other at this point. I’ve no doubt they’ll reunite in time, but for the next while, it seems Pleo, Nida and Elty are going to be without their birb mentor and baker dragon partner.

Things are beginning to feel a little less innocent in this world. Still very much feels like an innocent and idyllic setting, but the skies are that bit darker now. Now that we’ve seen the greed of the Company on display (and I get the feeling we’ve only scratched the surface on that front), we have a definite antagonistic force in this. And they’re going to hang over the head of this whole setting, no doubt. Just how much control do they have over this setting? Seems pretty airtight, all things considered, and it’s going to take a lot to shake off their control, if it ever comes to that.

This fic is beginning to pick up action-wise, and I look forward to what’s coming next. I noticed the Casting Off crowd aren’t here yet, but I get the feeling we’ll be seeing them soon enough. When they do appear, rest assured I will be squeeing in delight.

A good read! Keep it up!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Hey everybody, it took a bit longer than we’d hoped at -checks notes- … slightly over a month to bump this story, but @Virgil134 and I are back with a fresh update, and a fresh batch of review responses.

@Negrek
Hey, Murkrow! Here for your Blitz prize review. It’s strange… I feel like I’m far more up to date on Flegling’s various spin-offs and sister fics than I am on the main work itself.

Oh, so you’re up to date with Casting Off, huh? Since admittedly that’s the only other official writing in the Cradle’s setting… for now anyways. ^^

Though while this is a prize review that I specifically earned, I figured it would be remiss of me to not to remind to include Virgil in the loop, since he’s half of the equation that makes Fledglings and the other stories in this setting possible, so it only seemed appropriate to make sure he got some attribution.

This time we’ll be moving on to Mengir, an island with some ancient and peculiar standing stones. Which I’m all here for, honestly! I love some mysterious ancient monuments, and finding out more about the Cradle’s history and the apocalypse that shaped it remains one of the most interesting aspects of this story to me. Whatever tidbits Team Traveler will encounter on this island, I’m looking forward to them!

And we’ll be looking forward to seeing your reaction! It’s a bit of a balancing act at times deciding how much and how fast to show things off in a story with a large scope, but there will definitely be some juicy reveals coming down the pipe in the future.

I’m also curious to see how Guardia changes the team dynamic—at the moment she’s mostly been unintentionally causing problems, but it should be fun to see how her different perspective contributes to the way Team Traveler operates. As well as what her presence means for Elty! He’s already been trying to convince himself that the kids don’t need him to take care of them anymore, and I think that at some point he’s got to split off from the others for a bit (and discover that he isn’t as fond of the pirating life anymore, of course).

Such is life when your teammates have to learn to teammate in their own ways. Though hold onto those thoughts about Elty’s character evolution. I can’t speak for how quickly that journey will take, but you’re onto something there.

I was a little confused about what was going on with him and the badge in 31, and couldn’t find the part where it was set up through backreading… The idea was that he alone was supposed to get warped out, or they were all going to warp and then he’d run off on his own? In any case, with how shady he’d been acting, I was surprised at least Nida wasn’t suspicious about whether he’d had something to do with the Company goons warping into the dungeon with them. Elty’s largely absent in the fight that follows—how did he feel about his opportunity to return to the pirate life getting yanked away like that? I thought it was odd that there didn’t seem to be much discussion of what had happened there or what it meant, but that’s something that may have made more sense if I had a better memory for the setup.

It’s nothing so complex from Elty’s part. He was planning on baiting Team Traveller to go to someplace where the Iron Fleet was, coerce them into giving back his bag, and then from there move on with his life.

Or that was the plan anyways. Can’t speak for if it’d have gone to plan or not considering some things that go down later in the story.

One of the more interesting happenings in this section was Nida panicking when confronted by the skarmory. It’s always great to see characters who’ve really been impacted by the events of the story in ways that don’t simply evaporate after a few chapters have passed. And of course, she’s completely unwilling to admit she had any problem, so I imagine she’s setting herself up for an even worse time when the next skarmory the team encounters isn’t quite as friendly. I’m curious to see how Nida’s anxiety will play out long-term; I imagine she’ll ultimately need her teammates’ help to get over it.

dsmGaKWMeHXe9QuJtq_ys30PNfTGnMsRuHuo_MUzGCg.jpg


Though you’re correct that that’s not the last that you’ve seen of that Skarmory there.

In any case, it looks as though Team Traveler’s going to have an even worse time on this island than usual, if the Company already knows they’re here! It seems the noose is tightening and they won’t be able to keep up their narrow escapes much longer. Which is a good thing, I think; iirc in my previous review I mentioned that the story felt like it was wandering around a bit and I hoped for more forward motion. So shaking the status quo up a bit is good! A fair number of the events in these chapters did feel pretty familiar to me; the usual getting-situated-on-a-new-island stuff while various groups scheme in the background. At this point, I wonder if some of these familiar sections could be cut or reduced a bit. For example, it is nice to see some of the Company/Empire stuff, both for the tension that comes of knowing about trouble the characters are blissfully unaware of and for understanding the motivations of the different players arrayed against Team Traveler. However, I don’t know that we need to check on them quite as frequently as we do. There’s a point where Cradle politics and what the various factions are up to feel like a bit of a distraction from Team Traveler’s adventures, and I felt like the ratio of non-Traveler to Traveler content was a little high in this section.

re: story wandering around a bit: Yeah, that’s a bit of a known weakness of the second quarter of the story or so. While Virgil and I probably would’ve condensed some parts of it a bit more were we writing things from scratch in the present day (which for obvious reasons related to your essay about rewrites, we won’t be), we like to think that we ultimately made things worth it. Since there’s a good number of characters that pop up in this chunk of the story that tends to attract the bulk of the criticism which become relevant again in its second half.

As for the bit about politics… it’s a bit unfortunate to hear it didn’t quite stick the landing with you, but again. We’ll have to take things for what they are here. Something that I will say is that there is very, very little in this story that is truly superfluous. So keep the things that you come across in your readings in mind.

In any case, it was fun to return to this story after so long away. My primary goal right now is much more to stay up to date on Once a Thief than any other story, but I’m always happy to pop over here now and again. Thanks for the read.

Well, hopefully we’ll see you here in this story sometime soon as well, since Once a Thief is a solo venture of mine that’s not related to Fledglings beyond some shared worldbuilding mechanics. Though thanks for the review. It was very thoughtful, and we appreciate your honesty in pointing out the parts that you enjoyed and the ones that you didn’t feel quite work.

@Arukona
So, back again for more Fledglings! I quite enjoyed this fic when I first read it during Review Blitz and now I can get around to reviewing it again as a reward for your efforts during Union’s Review Event. (Congrats for doing as well as you did, by the way! Then again, I figured you’d go far given how well you did during Review Blitz.)

And given how you nominated me twice to review, this’ll be an Extra Special Deluxe Review™! It’ll also double as a gift of reciprocity for all those reviews for Dual Wills you threw my way. (Around 20k words worth of reviews too! That’s certainly something, alright… )

And thanks for the prompt turnaround as a prize reviewer! Though don’t forget to give Virgil a shout out, since he’s half the equation behind this story, and it wouldn’t be as fun of a ride for the readers without his input and efforts.

Let’s get back to it, then! How will our resident baby Lugia steal my heart this time? Only one way to find out…

I mean, having a face that you just can’t say ‘no’ to helps. ^^

Chapter 15

An early rise, eh? Well, the early bird gets the Wurmple, as they say. (Though there’s two birds on this team, so that Wurmple’s gonna have to be shared.)

Ah yes, the Explorers AU where Team Tasty has a surprise baby Lugia member on it.

Exposure chests, huh? Are they a bit like those chests you’d take to Box Busters in the games?

They’re exactly that, yes. As you might recall from Casting Off since you read it prior to Fledglings, but there are proper box busters in this setting too for ones that won’t open nicely upon recovery.

I like the feel of the morning business of the town captured well. That said, regarding what’s said afterwards, particularly this line:

I feel like it could be omitted and replaced with something along the lines of, “Kiran noticed the Lugia was off form, so he asked him…” Something more to do with the situation at hand.

We played around with this a bit to try and make it a bit more related to the situation at hand.

Aww, Pleo’s sad and doubting himself. I'd like to send the precious birb many hugs.

There’s a number of times where you’ll likely find yourself wanting to do that to him, really.

But I do love the resolution where everyone assuages his fears! Something tells me his doubts are not going to go away immediately, though…

Wouldn’t be much of a story if they did, now would it? ^^;

I do quite like the mentor vibe Kiran is to Pleo regarding flight, and giving flight metaphors to describe the current bad situation.

I mean, Kiran is a bird, so it only felt natural that as the team mentor, that he put his bird-ness to use with his pupil that’s a lot like himself.

Now wouldn’t that be a sight to see? I almost want it to happen, seeing Pleo teach Kiran new tricks. The cute birb would have to grow up a bit, though, and that probably won’t happen for another while.

I mean, this story does have 94 numbered chapters and counting. All I can say is, don’t rule it out too quickly.

Lyn certainly seems a menacing figure. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, when confronting them comes to pass.

That obvious, huh? o<o

A package? Just what could that be? I was thinking he’d go in and get Pleo personally himself. But this seems to be a subterfuge operation that involves a package of some sort? Something very sus going on here…

I mean, everyone with something to hide’s gotta disguise their intentions somehow, so…

Coercive measures are just the worst, aren’t they? Particularly when it’s a piece of work like Lyn demanding them like he is.

Osmund: “Yeah, no kidding.” >_>;

At least Osmund’s come along. These two have quite a rivalry, and not the friendly sort. I wonder what the history behind them is?

Hold onto that thought, really.

Hm. Is the reason he’s saying this having to do with the package he’s wanting to pick up? Is he intending to buy time for that?

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfzhLEGgS0k


Oh no, they’re about to be cornered. Get your fighting game in gear, gang!

Nida: “Nrgh… right after this nap.”

Or not. That was anticlimactic. But Pleo’s been kidnapped! Gotta get the precious birb back! But with them being with the Company, it’s going to be an uphill battle for them.

Elty: “Understatement of the century there.”
:eltyscared:


It’s great to see Mosca being so encouraging to Team Traveler. I can see Pleo’s had a good impact beyond merely his teammates.

I mean, he’s more or less an epitome of a VIP for the island’s Pokémon, so…

Wow. Be extortionate, why don’t you? That’s a perfect incitement for rebellion right there. Outright pouring gasoline on the tinder. Now what’ll be the spark to light the fire?

If you picked up on some details mentioned in passing in some earlier chapters, while not necessarily the smartest thing to do, there’s definitely a motive behind the raw deal that Lyn and his superiors are attempting to give Tromba here.

Ah, there’s an intriguing name drop. Lyn’s superior, by the sounds of it. I wonder what kind of person they might be? Probably cruel and calculating like their subordinate, maybe even more so than him.

dsmGaKWMeHXe9QuJtq_ys30PNfTGnMsRuHuo_MUzGCg.jpg


Though don’t worry, you’ll get to meet Darzin not too long in the future from where you’re at.

It’s occurred to me now that Lyn’s up against a Sceptile and an Ampharos, two ‘mons that have the type advantage against him. Maybe provoking them wouldn’t be the wise move, although is he counting on numbers to get him through this should a fight break out? Alternatively, the supposed outrage that would reverberate through the Company if one of their own was attacked in such a manner?

Lyn: “You see, you’d think that, but I have reserves.”
:unamusedwott~1:


Rats, seems like Osmund and Hatteras aren’t looking deeply enough into his demeanour to realise his intentions. Well, Team Traveler’ll be on their way to set things right! Hopefully…

In a matter of speaking, yes.

Oh? Elty’s choosing to help for a change. Another stepping stone on the path to being more amicable with our heroes.

But they still have to contend with searching in a crowd. Never a good place to look. But it won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack, at least.

At least it’s a very big needle that stands out to an extent?
:joltyshrug~1:


Chapter 16

Huh, Nida and Crom found the perpetrators pretty quickly. Now how’s all of this going to play out…?

I mean, yeah. Helps that the needle they needed to find was relatively large and bulky. :V

That brawl seemed to be in the favour of the Company ‘mons. But good on not just Elty and Kiran, but all of the townsfolk for the save! Looks like they really appreciate their Protector. How could they not, though? He’s so cute ~!

Ander:
tomoko-kuroki-wata-mote.gif


(And also, nice foreshadowing of the apple being used as a Gravelerock substitute last chapter to be used in this one. It set up nicely for this one.)

Yeah, we just knew that that had to come back as a brick joke at least once after using it.
:loltias:


Interesting combo attack used by the Tauros and Electabuzz. Unique enough that it’s almost a shame that it’s just regular mooks using team attacks like this. And on innocent townsfolk too?

Well, it’s not just them that uses it, but it’s meant to show that these Pokémon aren’t to be trifled with since they’re a bit more trained and experienced at fighting than the average local here in Bluewhorl Town.

I absolutely love the turnaround that happens in the confrontation with Lyn, where when things seemed bleak, the rest of the townsfolk pull a Big Damn Heroes moment to save the day. Most of those faces we’ve been introduced to thus far, coming together to confront this good-for-nothing Rott. That’s a great moment thus far.

Lyn: “Again, you seem to be forgetting. I have reserves.
:unamusedwott~1:


But of course Lyn has to have a back-up plan and get a second wind. He’s no slouch, that’s for sure. Didn’t earn that high position for nothing.

Well, he certainly didn’t. Even if he definitely has an appetite for risk that doesn’t endear him to everybody even on his own side.

No. No. No. I’m sorry, Lyn, but you have no right to talk down to Pleo like that. This Rott’s going straight to the top of the list of Most Face-Punchable Pokémon in Fics for this chapter alone.

I mean, yeah. Lyn can be a bit of a jerk like that. Will be fun to see if this take of yours holds up after That One Special™ later in the story.

Quite a tight situation to manoeuvre with the threats of treason. But those are hard to shake off, and Hatteras would be putting his people in danger if he resisted. Sometimes, pragmatism takes precedent, and even if it does mean having to give up the precious birb… :sadwott:

Hatteras:
latest


Nida and Crom are certainly good at coming up with ideas on the spot. Pity on Elty for his selfishness, though. Good thing Bluewhorl has creative ways of punishment.

I mean, he is someone who’s been a pirate for up until the last 2-ish weeks. It takes a while for an old (or at least relative to his teammates) sea dog to learn new tricks.

I must admit, the last part of this chapter has me a little confused. Mosca told Team Traveler to stop by the Guild’s warehouse, insisting they weren’t out of options yet. But after being turned away, they’re…going back to the harbour anyway? I’m a little puzzled about this apparent diversion for a supposed plan if Nida and Crom make their own plan to rescue Pleo from Lyn’s ship.

Maybe this’ll be cleared up next chapter. In which case, only one way to find out what happens next…

We tweaked Mosca’s dialogue a bit to make things a bit less contradictory here. She was meant to specifically address this at Kiran, who is indeed present for the meeting.

Chapter 17

Good explanation for why the teleporters can’t teleport the items. We gotta have them limiters for the sake of power scaling.

Yeah, it would suck a lot of tension out of the room if getting Pleo was just a matter of Pataki pulling a “hi/bye” to get him out of the ship. Not to mention it’d open the door for similar gamebreaking antics to be done by basically anyone. Thus teleportation, and Psychic-type abilities writ large, are a bit on the nerfed end of the scale relative to some depictions floating around in the fandom.

Durin Berries, eh? The rank smell, though…that could be the basis of a plan. Would be a bit of a shame if the ‘mons of the company got a whiff of that, wouldn’t it?

And now you understand why Tromba conveniently has these around whenever it’s time to pay tribute. Just because they have to cough up crops to Company goons doesn’t mean that they’re going to let them have a good time while doing it. >:V

Rookie error on his part. Funny - that Krok’s hardly the first to make that mistake. At what point are we going to see a villain smell a Rattata instantly upon lifting up a heavier crate, looking inside, and pulling the hero’s ruse out from under them? Ah well. Idiot mooks of an enemy are nearly always a feature.

To be fair, how badly do you think he really wanted to open the crate up and get a whiff of dozens of reeking berries all at once? o<o;

Next scene, as it turns out. Crom could do with a lesson in subtlety.

Such is life when you can’t hold your tongue at the moment of truth.

Oh no, they’re planning to leave? But that means Crom’s gonna be separated from Nida and Elty…And by the sounds of it, our seafarers are going to have one rough ride…

Elty: “Yay me…”
:eltyscared:


Poor Crom, being forcibly left behind like that. But how does that bode for the story? By the sounds of it, Nida and Elty are going to be separated from him for a while. What’s going to happen with him in the meantime?

You’re actually a couple chapters from finding out. Though in the original planning of the story, this was just it for Crom until close to the end of the story. Fortunately, those plans were changed, so this won’t be the last you’ve seen of him for a long while.

That does seem a bit of an idealistic vision Nida has of getting Pleo and going back to Tromba and her family. But how will she pull that off? That’s the question of the hour, isn’t it?

More like of the fic at large, really. Even if a few complications get in the way.

Wow, those are some hare-brained plans Hatteras has. It is a long shot, but they could work…although the second plan would definitely land them in hot water with the Company. And would be completely unfeasible, now that the ship’s left.

Such is life when Hatteras turned out to unintentionally be Super!Ampharos before Super!Ampharos. He comes up with some screwloose plans, but there’s some gold in there.

Aww, it’s sad to see Crom like this. Would definitely give him hugs if not for his Rough Skin.

You could always hug him anyways! Just keep a light touch and it wouldn’t hurt. After all, if he hurt just to give a passing pat, it’d be a bit hard for Nida to give him an affectionate nuzzle.

A pretty bleak picture being painted here, when even the hare-brained ideas begin to run dry.

Yeah, this is definitely one of the bigger
:sadwott~2:
moments in the story. Glad to hear that it had its intended impact there.

Gods above, another factor putting Lyn high up on the Most Face-Punchable Pokémon list. There was me thinking he actually had a backstory with him mentioning being validated in the eyes of his father. Does this guy have a redeemable bone in his body?

Depends on how much credit you give to past actions, really.

So they intend to use Pleo for their own ends, in the hope that he’ll magically solve all of their woes. They’ll be in for disappointment, that’s for sure…

That depends on what woes they hope to solve with Pleo, really. Since there’s definitely some that would be potentially realistic to solve with a Legendary at beck and call… if you can control it.

Elty’s onto something. It is looking like that, and I can imagine the two of them will begin to show affection for one another once the plot gets going. (Of course, they have to reunite first…)

That obvious, huh?
:blepgia:


Looks our two quadruped heroes have to do an MGS and play the stealth game for a while. But even if they do find Pleo, then where will they go from there? They’re in open ocean right now, and Pleo’s hardly a deft flier. Some holes in their plan that need patching up, no doubt.

Then again, Nida’s proven to be good at thinking on her feet. Guess we’ll see how things play out.

Nida: “Probably. Maybe. I hope.”
:grohno~1:

Elty: “... Boy are you making it tempting to just go back to the crate right now.”
:eltyunamused:


Chapter 18

I guess Nida’s come to that realisation that even if they do find Pleo right now, what are they gonna do with him? Given that they can hardly make an escape out on the ship like this…

Their answer is something along the lines of this:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD4r8ufspg0


As for how viable it is… that’s another story.

Old habits die hard with Elty’s pilfering. Still, those items are bound to come in handy if it’s being mentioned here.

Elty: “I prefer ‘skills’, really. A set of sticky paws never steered me wrong!”
:bleplithe:


Well, hey, there was that suggestion I made earlier about using those smelly Durin Berries as projectiles. And they did use an apple as a projectile back at port. So…berries being used as projectiles aren’t out of the question, right?

Well, not in this chapter. But you’ve definitely given us some food for thought for events down the pipe.
:loltias:


Huh. I guess we’re seeing his greedy side when it comes to food. I don’t think we’ve seen too much of that until now.

It wasn’t fully planned, but this actually fit very well with Elty as a character considering what was settled on for his backstory further down the pipe.

Sounds like quite the interesting card game they’re playing. What is it? This world’s equivalent of Yu-Gi-Oh? This world’s equivalent of Magic the Gathering? Little details like this enrich a world, I feel. I like this small addition.

Bland-name Pokémon TCG. Which would be their setting’s equivalent to obake kurata.

Elty’s thievery made things look pretty bleak, but good thing incompetence comes a dime a dozen with enemy mooks like those guards.

The late hour and their lack of motivation probably helped. Him trying to do this during daylight hours probably wouldn’t have ended anywhere near as well.

Hm. I think maybe this part could’ve worded differently, one that doesn’t give away that the scent belongs to Lyn in the first paragraph. If it was along the lines of, “Nida noticed a different smell among the odors - one that smelled all too familiar…” That first line would be better if it were more vague, in my opinion.

We went back and tweaked this a bit.

And we see the precious birb again! They’re mostly a team now! (Just need Crom and Kiran, and then Team Traveller would be a full unit again.)

Mostly. Even if the process of them reuniting is going to take a while from where you’re at.

Er. No, you aren’t. Not while the ship’s out at sea right now. Unless they’ve come near land? That would be lucky if it did happen.

Fortunately for them, they actually are reasonably close to land at the moment.

Pleo’s still burdened with doubt…It’s heartbreaking to see our precious birb like this. I wanna hug him.

I don’t have an exploitable image for this, so have a petting gif instead:

:PETTHEBIRDIE:


Wow, that rum actually came in handy for making Elty’s Fire attacks stronger? That’s ingenious, actually. Props from me for coming up with that.

If there was any boost at all, it was psychological in nature. The remark about Elty’s belly fire was not meant to be taken literally there.

The plan to fly away sounds doubtful, to be honest. We’ve seen Pleo’s flying not exactly be the best; can he really get not only himself, but Nida and Elty on his back too, back to Tromba? Then again, we’ve seen that sudden display of power from him back when Hess was threatening the town. Maybe his abilities will kick in when they need to happen? That might well be the deus ex machina needed to get our heroes out of this situation.

That transparent where things are going, huh? :V

Chapter 19

Yikes, that’s a perilous place to end up in: right in the sleeping quarters. Here’s hoping this crew’s a bunch of deep sleepers.

Team Traveller:
5f0.gif


Pity to see Pleo all worked up over the close call with the Ursaring. When scared, he becomes all the more sympathetic.

I mean, it helps that he’s mentally like 6 right now. Though glad to hear that he was hitting his intended emotional notes.

But his impulsiveness for his charm is worrisome. Evidently, Pleo didn’t receive any stealth lessons back on Tromba. He could really do with them now….

Such are things when your life effectively began three weeks ago.

Good job orbs are overkill, right? And with Elty now setting the dorms on fire, that’s even more chaos to be had. I can’t help but feel, though, that this is going to backfire horribly for them later on…

I mean, it also helped that they were in an enclosed space with a bunch of Pokémon crammed up against each other. Since things get really chaotic really fast when you panic a crowd and herd mentality takes over.

And now they’re cornered again! Lyn is definitely proving to be a tough adversary. Much as I hate the guy, he is a clever one.

Nida: “Yeah. We… should’ve planned this out a bit more.”
:FearfulMeowth:


Good job Nida and Elty are persistent. Hopefully that persistence rubs off on Pleo, and shaves off the guilt he’s feeling right now.

I mean, it’d be a short story if it didn’t, so…

Back to town, and it seems we have a bunch of glum faces. Pleo really did light up the place with his outright cute, innocent wholesomeness. No wonder they’re all feeling the sad right now.

I mean, they only had their Protector of folklore who was supposed to be there for them snatched away in broad daylight. It certainly doesn’t help the local morale.

And now I’m reminded of how fierce a mother Marley can be. Good to see her not giving up finding her little one - although Hatteras does have a point. What exactly can a bunch of landed ‘mons do in a 7.8/10 Too Much Water setting?

giphy.gif


Huh, turns out praying for Pleo powers him up. Cool power, if a bit situational. Would it work while being far away from Tromba?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, even if it’ll take a bit before the implications behind how Pleo’s powers work become more clearly laid out in the story.

Seems it’s not too long lasting a power, though. As cool as it is, it’s one that can’t exactly be relied on all the time.

Not least of all because it’d short-circuit the plot. Though this is how the fic attempts to square the discrepancy between what Legendary Pokémon can do mechanically in the games and what they can do in cutscenes like that one from B1W1 where N’s Tao just casually vaporizes all the water in one of his castle’s chambers.

Ah, the wholesome overtures of the precious birb return. I love these moments of happiness from him - more of that, please!

Nida: “Not that I don’t want that myself, but we kinda have a ship to get off first, don’t we?” ^^;

But they were out over open ocean, weren’t they? That can’t be good, being knocked out of the sky like that. Especially blacking out in mid-air like that…

Though judging by this next part of the story, are they going to wash up on a nearby island or something? Or has the story shifted to somewhere else?

Well, it’s not quite “washing up”, but…

Hess’s ship, by the sounds of it. I wonder if he and his crew are going to come back at some point in the near future?

:blobyes:


Hang on a minute. I recognise the name Giotto. That was the name of Cabot’s home in Casting Off, wasn’t it? We’re getting closer to seeing him and his comrades in this story, I can feel it.

Correct on both counts, actually.

So by the sounds of it, our three heroes fell into the local Mystery Dungeon of this island.

I mean, some of that was cartoon physics in action, but yeah. They had a bit of a lucky break with the landing there.

Well, better than being stuck with her in death. Life is temporary, whereas death is eternal. At least if Elty never warms up to Nida (press X to doubt), it’ll only be temporary in the realm that is this world.

Elty: “Oh great, now I’m thinking about being stuck with her in the afterlife. Didn’t need to consider that, really.”
:eltywtf:


[And it would not be long before the Distortion's reshaping winds claimed the floor they were all on.]

Quite the precarious situation our heroes have landed themselves in (that last part was intentional). With those winds encroaching themselves further upon our heroes’ territory, they’re going to have to engage in a race against time. But maybe that rescue team will pull through for them?

Hold onto that thought there.

Chapter 20

830.gif


(I couldn’t not make a reference of some sort.)

I mean, that’s part of the reason why the name was chosen, so… o<o

Returning to Ellsberg, I see. And looks like he’s as much of a busybody as ever.

Lyn’s ship looks in rough shape. Good! I’d call it karma for daring to use Pleo for their own purposes. That’ll show them.

bender-laughing.gif


Unfortunately for Team Traveller, it’ll take more than that to put Lyn out of commission there.

The Subway’s an interesting name. It would normally bring to mind trains like in Black and White, but it seems it’s an undersea passageway in this universe. And a connector to all the islands too! But presumably it’s a dangerous place, if the ‘mons continue to travel by ship. It’s an intriguing place - one that we might well explore at some point.

More that it’s unreliable for mass transport and slow since you can’t necessarily travel in relatively straight paths, but it does have some utility in this setting.

I’m not sure who I’d prefer to side with here between Lyn and Ellsberg in their confrontation - the Rott who detained Pleo and said mean things to him or the narcissistic power-hungry busybody moth. Both pieces of work, that’s for sure.

Will be interesting to see how your opinions about these two evolve as the story continues, really.

Oof, sounds like hell, having to drag Pleo like that, especially in a Mystery Dungeon of all places. And when they need to get out of here before the winds come…

It’s sad seeing Pleo this panicky. Then again, his nerves would be shot to pieces after all he’s been through. Poor kiddo…

… He gets better? ^^;

Interesting mechanics around safe zones on Mystery Dungeon floors. That would be a hellish experience, getting caught up in the swirling madness of floor shifting.

Yeah, you might find this a bit familiar since this isn’t the only fic that I’m a writer for that has mechanics like these. But it felt like a logical extension to those parts of Mystery Dungeons in the canon games where you get fixed checkpoints or the like. Plus with the story making the assumption that the average Dungeon encounter is just as sapient as the residents of civilization, they needed places to ride out the occasional floor reset.

What is this, Monty Python?

I mean, at least there wasn’t an ‘always look on the bright side of death’ thrown in? ^^;

Unable to shake off those old greedy ways as a pirate, I see. But who knows? His greed did help them out back on the ship. Maybe it could get them out of a tricky situation here?

Elty: “Again, they’re skills.”
:eltywtf:


Things looked pretty bleak there, but at least we have a rescue team to the, er, rescue. Can they help out our heroes?

They’d be a pretty lousy Rescue Team if they couldn’t, so…
:wellyousee:


I like how the linguistic differences in species names does cause some confusion here. It’s not just a little easter egg to throw in every now and again.

Yeah, there are a healthy number of variant localization names in this franchise, and this story makes a point of trying to put them to good use.

I see the old problem of incredulity that was in the early chapters about Pleo not being a powerful Protector is coming back for another round.

I mean, they could have worse problems, just saying.
:gardeshrug~1:


Boy, piling on the French here, aren’t we?

Can’t vouch for whether or not it got piled on a little too heavy, but yeah. Every island attempts to utilize its local lingo to some extent. It’s a bit more noticeable for ones where the localization names are different, since one of the quirks of Pokémon with stronger local accents is that their reflexive names align with their island’s local language. Thus, Elty will get called ‘Caninos’ fairly frequently here on Boisocéan, while in other parts of the Cradle, you might expect to hear him get called the likes of ‘Gardie’ or ‘Fukano’.

Oh? Was a reward put up for Pleo in surrounding islands? Did word of Tromba’s Protector awakening spread to other islands? And did the Company possibly put out a reward for Pleo for other teams to claim if they captured him? That, or the Company’s not the only one who wants to get their hands on Pleo. Other islands might want a Protector of their own, and traffickers could net a tidy profit by getting him into their hands, amidst other things. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of danger in the world for Pleo, and now that the world’s opening up a bit more in the story, we’re seeing the beginning of the extent of the dangers of this world for our little Lugia.

Nah, more the expected few hundred Poké you get for rescuing teams in over their heads in-game. Even if it’s a bit jarring to hear about after getting plucked from a Dungeon beaten-down and just over getting poisoned. o<o

Conclusion

These next few chapters were certainly a compelling read. Compared to the opening few chapters which detailed Tromba and the Cradle in an idyllic light with the only major incident being the pirates, this one certainly does raise the stakes a lot more. Especially now that Crom and Kiran are separated from Nida, Elty and Pleo, which I can’t say I saw coming. Given how tightly knit groups tend to be in fics, it was quite a surprise to find nearly half the team is separated from each other at this point. I’ve no doubt they’ll reunite in time, but for the next while, it seems Pleo, Nida and Elty are going to be without their birb mentor and baker dragon partner.

Well, you’d be right. What the reunion for the team looks like, I leave for you to find out with further readings.

Things are beginning to feel a little less innocent in this world. Still very much feels like an innocent and idyllic setting, but the skies are that bit darker now. Now that we’ve seen the greed of the Company on display (and I get the feeling we’ve only scratched the surface on that front), we have a definite antagonistic force in this. And they’re going to hang over the head of this whole setting, no doubt. Just how much control do they have over this setting? Seems pretty airtight, all things considered, and it’s going to take a lot to shake off their control, if it ever comes to that.

I mean, two major influences on this story thematically are ATLA and Digimon Tamers. As such, it aims for a similar mix of childish innocence and… not-innocence as those series do. Make what you will of that.

Though as for those questions, the next couple of arcs will probably help you fill those in a bit.

This fic is beginning to pick up action-wise, and I look forward to what’s coming next. I noticed the Casting Off crowd aren’t here yet, but I get the feeling we’ll be seeing them soon enough. When they do appear, rest assured I will be squeeing in delight.

A good read! Keep it up!

And we’ll be looking forward to your reactions! Though as you might have recalled, Virgil mentioned that the Casting Off cast would pop up within the next block of 15 chapters from his response to your last review. In other words, they’ll show up for the first time in this story somewhere within the next 10 chapters.

Thanks again for the review, and we’ll be looking forward to the next time you cross paths with this old sea yarn. ^^

Though thanks for your patience, everybody! We’ve kept you waiting long enough as it stands for the next chapter, so all the more reason to just get right into things, hm?
 
Chapter 63: Chasing Leads

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
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Excited cheers rolled off the dockyards of Magmapool Town like waves on the beach, their source being a crowd rallied around a blue stag with rainbow antlers. Xerneas looked around proudly at the large gathering of Pokemon, every now and then settling his gaze on one particular creature or another, drawing enraptured attention from the lucky Pokemon. The deer's attention fell on Crom briefly, leaving the young Druddigon to stare up into the Protector's gray eyes. They made contact for only a short moment, but even so, the young Druddigon couldn’t help but feel a flash of awe come over him.

"Wow!" Crom exclaimed. "He really does look like those paintings we saw on Mengir!"

Pleo looked at the blue deer, watching mesmerized as the stag peered out over the crowd with his head held high. Could this 'Xerneas' really be…

"From Mengir…?"

The Lugia's thoughts drifted back towards the green island and its stony spires, reluctantly returning to the time they discovered the Beautifly's nest… and from what he remembered, those carvings really did look like this stranger before him. The tree-like antlers, the tapered legs and graceful gait… why, if this 'Xerneas' been around at the time, they could've sidestepped the Company's trap just by drawing pictures of him!

But… how could he be standing right here all the way on the other side of Anyilla? Pleo beat his wings with a squawking start: if Xerneas could just get home for a moment… maybe he'd be able to make the ferals there settle down! Maybe he could even rally them into helping to keep the Company in line!

"Wait! Wait!" the young seabird cried. "But if you're Mengir's Protector, why are you here? Everyone misses you back there!"

The Riolu and Eevee on the stage shifted uncomfortably at the question, before giving an expectant look over to their Nuzleaf teammate. The Grass-Type hemmed and hawed, only for Xerneas to step forward and clear his throat in reply.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't know what you're talking about," the deer answered. "I've only known the islands that I've seen since my friends found my egg and took me along with them."

"That's right! It was Charlie and Marilyn who found him!" the Nuzleaf piped. "Perhaps it was none other than the Voice of Life's presence that called them back to this world!"

"But they look just like normal Pokémon!" a Marill complained, drawing a shake of the Riolu in response.

"That's because we were transformed into Pokémon!"

Puzzled murmurs floated among the crowd at the Fighting-Type's exclamation. It did seem a little overly convenient that a human would just turn into a Pokémon… but hadn't the old tales been riddled with similar stories in the past? Sensing the crowd's unease, the Eevee stepped up, eager to nip the crowd's growing doubts in the bud.

"Charlie's right! Even though we've already been started to be called back to this world, it still has a curse around it that keeps us from assuming our true forms!" the Normal-Type insisted. "Xerneas took note of how we were trapped in these bodies and offered to help us break this curse!"

"But to do that, we're on a journey to try and restore the world to the way it was," the Nuzleaf said. "A grand adventure where the Voice of Life will beat back the decay and bring about an age of new gods and humans to help make things right…"

Nida thought back to the tales mami would tell her when she was younger, how once the gods began awakening, the humans would begin to return as the world was restored to what it once was. Could it be that some humans would come alongside the Legendaries as they returned? The Nidoran's idle wonderings were disrupted by a stiff clearing of the Nuzleaf's throat.

"Buuut… we need a little help with that," the Grass-Type said. "So what do you say? How about giving a little help to his lordship and us in our quest?"

The Nuzleaf fished out a drawstring bag, and with a flourish set it down on the stage before Xerneas' feet. The crowd peered curiously, before a Darumaka came up and deposited a small pawful of copper coins, followed by a Magmortar, and even a flopping Goldeen that had hopped out of the water for the momentous occasion, as the crowd surged forward depositing coins enthusiastically. From his spot on the docks, Crom watched as the bag quickly filled with coins, the Druddigon giving a curious tug at his team leader's feathers.

"Kiran, do we give something too?" the dragon asked. "I mean, this is a Protector…"

The Swellow paused and moved a wing to his chin, mulling the matter over before casting a glance at the bag and then back at Xerneas and his companions.

"Well… I don't suppose that it would hurt-"

"No!"

The crowd fell silent and turned around to the sight of a Marked Scyther shrinking back, holding out the tip of his blades defensively with a shaking stammer.

"G-Go away and leave us be!" Ander cried. "You've already taken enough as is!"

Xerneas and his teammates cringed at the outburst, as the crowd's silenced shock gave way to angry grumbles and shouts.

"Ib dagchyeo! No one asked you for your opinion, blotch-head!" a Whimsicott hissed.

"Yeah!" the Magmortar spat. "If you want attention so badly, why don't you bring your ugly mug to the front for some judgement!"

A few Pokémon began to advance on Ander, prompting Nida and Crom to hastily run in, waving their arms for attention.

"H-Hold on a minute! It was just an outburst!" Nida exclaimed. "He's not doing anything wrong!"

"Yeah! Just let him get to know the Protector a bit more!" Crom insisted. "I'm sure that he'll see that Xerneas is a nice-"

The young Druddigon was cut off by the sound of a panicked buzz, and turned to see Ander running away in a mad dash, flitting his wings to add a hasty spring to his step.

"Huh?! Ander, wait!"

Crom, Nida, and their teammates quickly ran after the fleeing Scyther, following him down winding alleyways lined with cramped shops and shacks until they caught up with him under the shade of a black stone wall. The group slowed their gait, as the Growlithe among them shook his head with a disgusted snort.

"What on earth was that?!" Elty snapped. "We were supposed to try and lay low before pulling out of port, not cause a giant scene!"

"I- I- How can you be so calm around that thing?!" Ander yelled. "You know nothing about its intentions or what it's capable of beyond a few paintings back at Mengir!"

Guardia shot a disgusted frown, before pausing and blinking puzzledly at the Scyther's exclamation. A few paintings on Mengir? Like the ones they'd gone to the Beautifly's nest to try and get references of? But, when they had gone to that place…

"Wait. The majū from that island said that their god was stolen as an egg," Guardia murmured. "Didn't Xerneas' companions say that they found him as an egg?"

"They… did," Kiran murmured.

A silence fell over the other members of Team Traveller. If this was truly Xerneas and the Company had stolen his egg, then how on earth did the Nuzleaf and his friends come across it…? The three didn’t look all that old, so had the Company lost it sometime recently?

The group retraced their steps, making their way through the alleys and back into the square at the docks, where they watched as Pokémon drifted away.

"Hrmph, fine damper that bug put on things," a Darumaka grumbled.

"Well, the Protector said he'd go further into town to ask for more support with his human friends," a Marill offered. "Maybe we can still spot them today!"

Team Traveller blinked at the mention of 'go further into town', prompting them to look up and off into the square. There in the center, the makeshift platform that Xerneas had pranced upon was being dismantled by some local shopkeepers, with no sign of the deer or the humans with him to be found nearby.

"Ack! They're gone!" Pleo cried.

"They couldn't have gotten that far so quickly, could they?" Dimitri said. "If we look around town, I'm sure we'll find them again."

"Hrm… right," Kiran murmured. The Swellow looked around and thought to himself. The team would certainly cover more ground if they went their separate ways in search of Xerneas… but with both Lyn and Nagant on their tails, surely it was safest to remain in groups. There were eight 'mons between the lot of them right now, so then…

"Let's split into two teams to cover more ground," he offered. "We'll both search different halves of town and meet up back at the Siglo Swellow."

Nida folded her ears back and shifted uneasily, casting a sidelong glance at Crom. If they were splitting up again, there was one condition that she simply had to put her foot down about.

"Well if we're splitting up, I'm going with Crom," Nida piped. "We've been separated for long enough to just split up now."

"Oh! I wanna stay with Nida too, Kiran!" Pleo exclaimed.

Ander shifted uneasily as Nida's forming group brushed by and his gaze to fell on Pleo. The Scyther paused and squirmed a moment at the thought of searching for one Legendary alongside another, prompting him to quietly backpedal towards Kirans side.

"Er… I'll go with you, Kiran."

"Huh? But someone's gotta look after the kids!" the Swellow insisted. "It would be wise to give them a stronger partner to lean on if they got into trouble…"

"I'll handle that, Kiran," Dimitri offered. "If I could do it before underwater, doing it on land can't be that much harder."

The Kabutops made his way over to Nida's team, leaving Elty to trade a look with Guardia as the two realized they hadn't yet been sorted into a team, and that Nida's had twice as many as Kiran's.

"Looks like it's you and me on Kiran's team, bonehead."

"Hrmph, move your legs and not your mouth, Gardie," Guardia growled back.

"That should be good enough," Kiran said. "Let's get going. We'll take the east side, you start on the west."

The group traded nods with each other, Nida and her companions veering west off towards a set of lowland neighborhoods, Pleo looking behind as Kiran and his teammates went east for the town's main hilltop. As Kiran's group melted into the crowds of Magmapool Town, the young Protector couldn't help but wonder why in the middle of Xerneas' grand mission he'd never bothered to go back home to where he was most needed.



Back on the Nektar Weide, the sun shined down on the docked ship, as Pokémon set about moving provisions onto the ship. Amidst the quiet drift of footsteps and chatter, Ellsberg sat behind a crude table on the ship's bridge, moving a charcoal nub as he drabbled out a letter updating the Board about their present circumstances after pulling into Buyeom… only to find himself at a loss again and again as to how to justify continuing Lyn's single-vessel mission.

Given the situation that the Protector was in, it was only logical that the Board would want to expand the mission beyond just entrusting Lyn to recover the Protector… and yet his and Ketu's mission would only be harder and harder to complete as soon as other crews entered the mix. The moth sighed, moving the nub back down to the paper and sliding it, only for the sound of a loud chorus of blathering and chattering from the piers to prompt him to jerk it awry and see a messy scrawl under his tarsal.

"Grr! Is it really so hard for Imperial peasants to keep quiet for a moment?!" Ellsberg hissed.

The Mothim slid a stone onto the paper and left his nub beside it before flitting up to the railing. There, he could see a crowd of Pokémon from further down the docks disperse along the waterfront, its cohorts milling out into the piers as various Pokémon returned to their work. The Bug-Type looked down the docks and noticed a lack of taverns and eateries by the water, dashing his initial assumptions of the crowd coming in from a lunch break. He twitched his antennae puzzledly, wondering what could have compelled the locals to be so excited earlier, before the words of a passing Whimsicott and Spinda filtered up from down below.

"Aww, things were just getting good!" the Whimsicott complained. "Why'd the show have to end so quickly?"

"Eh, don't worry about it," the Spinda reassured. "We got to meet a Protector and actual humans! Even some party pooper like that Srak can't ruin an experience like that."

Ellsberg shifted and felt his grip on the railing slacken, prompting him to hastily beat his wings to keep his balance. Surely he had misheard something, had that Spinda really claimed he'd seen…

"… A Protector and… humans?!"

Ellsberg blinked and fluttered in place wordlessly. Could the two Pokémon have been referring to Lugia? His companions passing themselves off as humans would be… unexpected given their behavior in past ports, but just what alternatives could there be? It wasn't as if there could be a second Protector here, or real living, breathing humans…

Or considering all the strange things that had happened so far on Lyn's journey, could such a fantastical possibility be the truth?

"Hah! That prize card's mine!"

The Mothim's train of thought was jarred by the sound of a throaty cheer from back on deck, prompting him to notice a Krokorok and Grumpig playing cards on a pair of overturned buckets from the corner of his vision. The Bug-Type left the railing, and stormed over huffing, flitting up to the two before letting out a sharp, annoyed buzz.

"Hey! What do you two think you're doing?!"

The pair looked up in surprise, before giving a shrug of their shoulders and turning away to fix their attention back to their card game.

"What's it look like?" the Grumpig scoffed. "We're taking a break."

"You were ordered to do an afternoon swab of the deck!" Ellsberg yelled.

"Yeah? Well the Captain isn't here right now and neither's his real first mate," the Krokorok retorted. "Last I checked they were the one who made us swab the deck and not you."

"Get back to work, you lazy oafs!"

Ellsberg's shout drew fierce glares from the truant sailors, prompting the Grumpig of the pair to hop over and stomp his feet against the deck's wood, leaning in with a belligerent scowl.

"Yeah? Well what are you going to do about it, Elmer?" the Psychic-Type demanded.

The Mothim seethed and readied a gust of silvery dust and scales in his wings, only to notice that the sailors all around him were shooting hostile glares. He shrank back uneasily, as smirks began spreading on a few of the sailors' faces, and jeering laughs came from others. Ellsberg flit his wings in place, quietly fluttering and looking down at the planks as a voice kept repeating in his head.

"Kinda hard to work with a doormat who doesn't stand his ground."

The Bug-Type's attention drifted a moment as he remembered Ketu's jeering words, before the sound of a mocking snort from the Grumpig reached his ears, who now shot a sneering grin down at the silenced moth.

"Hah, I thought so!" Hooke jeered. "You really can't do anything without someone to hide behind-!"

With that, the pig was launched back by a sudden Silver Wind, sending him pinwheeling into a mast with a startled squeal. With a hateful glare, Ellsberg dove and pursued after the Grumpig, only for the sound of running footsteps and a low snarl to draw his attention to Ken lunging from the side.

"You lousy little turd! Let's see you deal with this!" the Krokorok roared.

The Ground-Type leapt at the Mothim with his jaws opened wide, only for Ellsberg to fly up and leave his foe snapping at air. Ken yelped in surprise, looking up to see Ellsberg hovering over him before summarily flinging forth an overpowering buzz that churned the air up into a shockwave, sweeping up the crocodile with a pained scream and sending him sprawled out limply onto the deck. The moth hissed angrily, glaring daggers at the fallen reptile, only to notice a hexagonal glint of light from the corner of his eye and see Hooke readying a Power Gem with livid rage.

"I'll send you crawling back to your hideous bag of a mother, you lousy paper-pusher!"

The Power Gem shot out and struck Ellsberg, drawing a pained cry as he flopped out of the sky and to the deck with a crash. The Grumpig, satisfied with his work, bounded in readying a second blow to finish off the accursed paper-pusher, only to see the Mothim's eyes abruptly light up with a violet sheen and see him thrust his arm out.

Creeeeak

"Hey, what the-?!"

A thud rang out as a nearby crate suddenly fell on the Grumpig's head, knocking him to the deck with a loud crash. The nearby sailors stood stunned, watching Hooke's legs weakly twitch from under the crate as a lingering silence hung in the air, broken only by the churn of the waves and the haggard pants of a Mothim pulling himself back up to his feet.

"Don't just stand there!" Ellsberg snapped. "Get back to work!"

The defiant, mocking attitude of the sailors quickly dissipated as the lot quickly hurried back to work, whether real or concocted on the spot so as to avoid trouble. Ellsberg tiredly flew over to a seat where he fetched a small Oran Berry and tore into it. As the lumps of fruit flesh slid down his throat, he thought back to his last encounter with the pesky Grumpig and Krokorok, how he'd felt so alone and overwhelmed without knowing he'd had allies behind him. Why, after taking a stand, the others fell in line quicker than those lippy flunkies from Tromba did in his last visit! As loath as he was to admit it, perhaps heeding Ketu's words here had paid its dividends…

The Mothim's musings were interrupted by the sound of water splashing and wet splatters hitting the deck, prompting him to look over and see Lyn pulling himself up a batch of netting that had been dangled over the side. The Samurott shook some seawater off his pelt, before noticing Ken and Hooke sprawled out on the deck with splintered wood lying around, casting a frowning glance at the pair before turning his attention over to Ellsberg and his perch.

"Apologies about the deck," the Mothim sighed. "Those two you assigned to clean it won't be able to finish their tasks for a while."

As soon as Ellsberg finished speaking, the sound of movements and groans rang out, which made the two look over and see Hooke uneasily groping to try and regain his footing with his head still lodged inside the crate.

"Ungh… lousy bug! This isn't ov-"

A low, dangerous growl filled the air, followed by the clack of chitinous blades being unsheathed. At once, the fight seemed to drain out of the winded Grumpig as a shiver went down his spine at the realization that he was far from alone, and had angered the worst possible member of the crew.

"v-ver- Ergh…"

Hooke slumped back over and relapsed into unconsciousness, leaving Lyn to sheathe his blades and size up the deck's condition with an annoyed shake of his head. Barring the seawater he'd tracked in, there was not a drop of water on the deck even though he'd ordered the two to swab it even before pulling into port. To top it off, its timbers now were flecked with fresh dents and scuffs from battle, prompting him to look over at Ellsberg and note that he appeared to be slightly battered.

"Hrmph, I can see that. I'll deal with these two later, but where's Ketu?" the Samurott demanded. "I would've expected him to not let things get so out of hand."

"He said that he needed a moment to go to the hot springs and left me to handle his duties," Ellsberg replied. "Not that I needed it."

Lyn pinched his brow as he looked down towards the deck underfoot with an irritated groan. While it was hardly unexpected for his first mate to slip off for a moment of amusement onshore, he had hoped that after he'd ordered Ketu to enter the tournament in Tidemill, that the Weavile would've kept his newfound sense of gravity towards the mission longer than their arrival at the next port.

"I can't imagine what would compel an Ice-Type to take a dip in warm water, but whatever," Lyn muttered. "As long as that schooner's been under watch and we've been ready to sail, everything that's needed has been accomplished. Besides, I've found some sites that could be useful for our ends-"

"Hoy!"

The pair turned and looked further down the deck, where they saw Maurier fluttering in and coming to a stop before them. The Fearow quickly gave a salute with a wing, before piping up.

"Captain, during surveillance we overheard the locals talking about a party with a blue deer collecting money from the Pokémon in town," the Flying-Type reported. "The locals say the strange stag is a Protector called 'Xerneas' and that a pair of humans are among his companions!"

Lyn blinked a moment, before turning his muzzle down into a frown and twitching his whiskers dubiously at Maurier's assertion. As improbable as their current mission had been, what were the odds that a second Protector would reveal itself now, let alone with multiple humans to boot? The Samurott turned, beginning to pace off for his cabin as he gave a dismissive wave back to the Fearow.

"… That sounds improbable to say the least. We already know of one Protector here," Lyn harrumphed. "If he wouldn't want to attract attention to himself, why would another Protector want to do so?"

"To be fair, I did hear some locals talking about a Protector and humans earlier," Ellsberg piped. "Even if it sounds hard to believe, doesn't it make sense to get to the bottom of what's going on, Lyn? These are strange times, and it wouldn't do any good to dismiss things out-of-hand."

Lyn stopped in his tracks, looking over at the form of the Siglo Swellow docked at the other end of the harbor, before looking back at the stone walls around Magmapool Town. He paused a moment, until he turned back and cast an expectant glance at Ellsberg.

"… Keep an eye on that schooner and update me if anything happens to it," the Samurott ordered. "I'll go in and investigate a bit to see what's going on."

Lyn shuffled off, making his way down the gangplank and slipping out into the bustle onshore. Back on deck, Ellsberg watched as Lyn disappeared into the crowd, before the moth made his way back to his table where he picked up his stone paperweight and took the charcoal nub back into his tarsi. He beat his digits against the nub a moment, before looking over and seeing Ken and Hooke still sprawled out on deck. The Mothim paused, before shuffling and grabbing a clipboard, attaching his letter to it and fluttering down, settling down atop the crate still attached to Hooke's head. There, Ellsberg rested, giving a beat of his wings and turning his attention back to his letter as a satisfied smile crept over his face.

"Now, where was I…?"



Back in the corridors of Aleria's palace, the queen and her Archeops Chancellor made their way stone-faced down a hallway lined with portraits lit by sunlight poking in from windows in the ceiling. All the while, their passage was followed by a series of thumps against the ground as Nagant followed from behind, coming to a stop in front of the doors leading to the royal chamber. The Clawitzer watched as Osborn moved a claw to a pull latch, twitching her barbels uncomfortably as the Chancellor pulled the door back.

"Your Highness," she protested. "A matter this important to the Empire is just going to be handled between the three of us?"

"No," Aleria answered. "Osborn sent for some others to come along, I know Walpole and Thalez will definitely be present as they're both potential Prime Ministers…"

Osborn's mouth curled down into a frown at the mention of 'Thalez', prompting him to shake his head and mutter under his breath.

"We can wait on them inside," the Archeops grumbled. "We'll start by going over what we know-"

The Chancellor pulled the door open, letting Aleria and Nagant through where they discovered a Venusaur, Lucario, and Haxorus with red armbands in place of scarves, waiting inside impatiently much to their surprise. The Venusaur scowled, tapping a foot irritably against the ground.

"All due respect, Your Highness, but where have you been?" the Grass-Type demanded. "I was scheduled for an audience three hours ago!"

The Venusaur's frustration made Aleria shuffle uneasily for the throne, as both Osborn and Nagant followed after and trained unamused glares back at the armband-wearing party.

"… Have you really not bothered to look out a window at all for the last three hours?" Nagant scoffed.

A harsh crack split the air as the Venusaur shot out a whip-like vine and slammed the ground, baring his teeth as an indignant scowl settled over his eyes.

"Well of course! Why do you think I asked for an audience in the first place?! The word is that Her Highness' Empire has been abandoned by an awakened Protector!" the Venusaur huffed. "As the Ambassador of Garanza, your ally, I need something to pass back to the Bureau about what's going on here-!"

"And over here, we've got the best digs in all of Anyilla! Her Majesty's throne room!"

The lot turned at the sound of the door creaking open at the end of the chamber, where a Rotom zipped in followed by a team consisting of a Gallade, a Blastoise and a Goodra. The interrupting strangers stared blankly for a moment, as Thalez pointed ahead at the throne, before blinking and looking back and forth uneasily.

"Uh… did we walk in on something important?" the Rotom asked.

Nagant hissed, twitching her barbels irritably as she pointed with her large claw at the three strangers in the room. Weren't these contestants from the tournament earlier…?

"Why are they here?!"

"We were supposed to have our audience with the Protector for winning the tournament," the Goodra growled.

"Yeah, but that's obviously not happening," the Blastoise harrumphed. "So we were promised to get an audience with the Queen instead."

The turtle's comment drew an irritated squawk from the Archeops Chancellor, as he glared and extended out a claw at the Water-Type.

"That's a privilege for Her Majesty to bestow!" Osborn snapped. "Not some random performer!"

"But Osborn, I told Thalez to bring them here!" Aleria insisted, much to the Archeops' spluttering dismay.

"Your Majesty, this is a moment of Imperial crisis!" he cried. "We don't have time for such nonsense right now!"

The bird's squawks of protest prompted the Gallade to fold his arms over each other, before giving a harrumphing shake of his head.

"Yeah, yeah, we get the point. I was saying it was a bad deal myself, coming from the 'mons who drove away our prize," the Gallade grumbled. "Especially since we couldn't even get a private audience! Come on guys, let's get out of here."

One after the other, the members of Team Surveyor drifted out the door, leaving the room to fall back into an awkward silence. The Venusaur raised a brow, before shaking his head and shooting a scowl back at Osborn.

"… I see that you obviously have a lot going on," the Ambassador harrumphed. "But as for that explanation-"

"It can wait another time," the Archeops interrupted. "Please leave Her Highness' quarters at once."

"But you can't just-"

"Guards!"

At the Chancellor's shout, a small band of Pokémon in indigo scarves and cerulean cloth and mail hurried over, ringing the three Pokémon. The Venusaur spluttered in protest, as the guards brusquely shoved him and his two bodyguards off with an audible rattle for the door from behind, prompting the Venusaur to wheel his head back and shout back for Aleria's throne.

"Gah! This insult will not be the end of things!" he fumed. "This conduct towards a diplomat coming from an ally will be reported to the Bureau!"

WHAM!

Aleria watched wordlessly and moved a wing over her face after the guards slammed the chamber door behind them. With everything that had happened over the past day, having to sort out a diplomatic incident with one of the Empire's only allies was about the last thing she needed to think about. But despite that, strained alliances would mean precious little if the crisis that the fleeing Protector had thrown the Empire into wasn't resolved! But…

"… Where do we even start?" Aleria murmured.

"This would be easier were we not missing a major figure from the court," Osborn sighed. "To say less of the chaos that any inquiry into how far Coil's conspiracy extended will inevitably dredge up…"

"I knew that the Admiralty had a mole since that escort mission to Buyeom two years ago, but I never imagined that the mole would be someone as esteemed as Admiral Coil…" Nagant muttered. "What is going to happen to him anyways?"

"He's been implicated in treason against Her Highness' realm and will be rewarded as a traitor deserves," the Archeops harrumphed. "I doubt the Cradle will pine for his absence much."

"Really, I'm surprised that Her Highness didn't decide to make more of a show out of it!" Thalez crackled.

Aleria hung her head, her wings and feelers drooping and serving to quickly silence the Archeops and Rotom. Evidently, even with everything that had happened, she still couldn't fully reconcile how the guardian of her family had been undermining her realm all this time…

"But then what can we do?" Aleria asked. "Coil was always so reliable for taking daring missions such as these."

"We don't have the time to dwell on that, Your Highness," Nagant insisted. "The same Company crew that was searching for the Protector in the first place was there at the tournament and attempted to snatch the Protector during those ruffians' escape."

Thalez threw out his arms and let a blue jolt of electricity escape his body, his eyes widened in stunned surprised.

"Bzzt?! There was a team of Company spies in the tournament?!" the Rotom crackled. "Who?!"

"I believe they called themselves 'Team Blue Sun'," Nagant replied. "They went around in white scarves with a blue sun design, and I saw Commissioner Lyn in the same attire when I fought him."

"I'll pass word onto the other islands about their pattern, and of those kidnappers as well," Osborn said. "But for now, focus on what you can do to get the Protector back. Whatever you need, whatever means it takes, Her Majesty and I will support it wholeheartedly if it means returning with the Protector."

"Da, Chancellor," Nagant remarked, giving an impatient twitch of her barbels. "But just how are we supposed to accomplish that?"

Creeeeeak

"Uh… hi?"

The Queen and her audience turned to the throne room's entrance and saw Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo warily peeking past the door. The Cranidos in their ranks gave an uneasy wave, before a Kecleon sporting a red cravat walked in, prompting the three to follow as he made his way to Aleria and gave a humble bow.

"Apologies for my tardiness, Your Highness," Walpole said. "It took me a while to track down your tutors in the midst of the unrest outside the Citadel."

"Hrmph, I suppose there's nothing that can be done about that," Osborn said. "Though I wish things could have moved along quicker. Those three tutors may hold the key for the Empire to recover the Protector, so the sooner they can help us piece things together the better."

Nagant blinked and clicked her claws out of surprise. Cabot and his friends had a history of proving full of surprises, but surely being 'key' to recovering a Protector was aggressively overselling things…

"… I'm not sure if I follow, Chancellor," Nagant said. "How are a few of my subordinates supposed help us recover the Protector?"

"Because, they spent the most time with him," the Archeops answered. "As such, they'd be the most likely to know where he would've sought to flee to."

Osborn turned and stared insistently at the three sailors, prompting them to fidget and squirm uncomfortably a moment before Niilo leaned over towards his companions.

"Uh… are we getting paid more for this?" the Sandslash whispered. "Since I honestly don't know what sort of lead that bird could've given us."

Berecien shot a sharp frown at his sellclaw teammate's preoccupation with pay at a time like this. Even so, as crudely as he'd gotten his point across, there wasn't much he could say against it.

"Admittedly, Niilo is in the right here… for once," the Ponyta sighed. "The Protector was homesick for much of the time we were together, but he didn't really say anything about what his and those Trombans' original plans were."

"Maybe… he went back to his home."

All eyes settled on Cabot, making the Cranidos shift uneasily a moment as the Queen craned her head down, giving a puzzled tilt.

"Huh? What do you mean, Cranidos?" Aleria asked.

"Well, Pleo did seem to talk a bit about Tromba and how he missed it," Cabot murmured. "Wouldn't it make sense that once he had the chance, that he'd try and go back to it?"

The Altaria paused, raising a cloudy wing up to her beak in thought. Of course! If both kings and peasants were prone to feel attachment to their hatching spots, wouldn't a Protector feel similar impulses as well?

"It does seem to make sense," the Queen mulled. "So then… we should be trying to find him on the ways that he'd take back to Tromba."

"Sounds like this is where you would come in, Captain Nagant," Osborn added. "You'll be the tip of the spear for the interception mission."

Nagant raised her voice in protest, tripping up over one word after another. 'Interception mission'?! Meaning she was supposed to try and beat the Protector back to Tromba without a single hint about his course?!

"H-How am I supposed to search every possible route those buyany could have taken on my own?!" she demanded.

"You're not."

The gathered Pokémon looked up at the sound of wind rushing through the doors and watched as a Salamence flew in, coming to a trotting stop and brimming with determined confidence. Osborn gave a passing glance at the dragon, before ruffling his plumage and turning his attention back to the Clawitzer Captain.

"Ah yes, I forgot to mention. Given the sensitive nature of this mission, I requested Commodore Valan to help you cover ground," Osborn explained. "That way searching will not be a matter of choosing one direction or another."

The Salamence drew near beside Nagant, batting his wings and kicking up a small gust in the Clawitzer's face as he addressed the waiting Queen and Chancellor.

"Hmph, with how long we've known each other, I certainly wasn't expecting Coil of all Pokémon to be working against Her Majesty, but I think that I should manage just fine with Captain Nugget here," the dragon said. "I may be of younger stock than her, but I'm sure that she'll find that I've learned a few tricks since climbing the ladder that will be useful to her as a subordinate."

Nagant bristled her barbels and hardened her gaze into a harsh glare back at the Salamence. She'd heard that Commodore Valan could be hard to work with, but Travellers above, the last time she'd been treated this disrespectfully, she'd promptly laid into the offender with a Water Pulse! Alas, the dragon was her superior, and before Her Highness, all that could be done for now was to sit and bear with the arrogant whelp's behavior.

"I'm… sure they'll be something to see, yes," she growled.

"Then we have no time to lose! From what I've heard, the Company's already searching for him in our waters!" Valan cried. "Let's hit the seas now and start pursuing those smugglers to get our Protector back!"

Osborn motioned with a wing for a stop at the Salamence's reply, before raising his voice to address the Commodore.

"That's something that you and Captain Nagant will need to coordinate between the two of you," he insisted. "Her new vessel hasn't been fully provisioned yet."

The Commodore frowned back a moment, leaving Nagant to grumble under her breath, only to catch herself and twitch her barbels as she realized something strange with Chancellor Osborn's order.

"… My new vessel?"

"Well, I'm sure you're aware that Admiral Coil had his own ship in the navy," Walpole began, only for Thalez to cut in with a buzz.

"He's not going to be using it again anytime soon, so…"



Nida and her companions carried on into the flatlands of Magmapool Town, hugging the contours of the town's black walls. The four fruitlessly flagged down one Pokémon after another for any sign of Xerneas, only to find that while word had filtered out, none of the Pokémon had seen the blue deer yet. After a failed attempt questioning a Magcargo guard, the four trudged along, rounding the corner as they made their way into a market lined with noisy stalls. Nida and Crom led the way, carrying on deeper where they noted one stall riddled with colorful glassware set out for display, and then another further along by a tailor's shop, and yet another that had been set up near a busy-sounding tavern.

"Strange that there'd be so many Pokémon selling glass all in one place," Nida said. "Aren't they worried at all about a drunk accidentally breaking their stuff?"

"Well, maybe they're all together here because it's safer," Crom suggested. "And with all the Fire-Types around, there'd bound to be more glassblowers anyways."

"Ahem."

Nida and Crom blinked and looked to the side where they saw a stern-faced Furret scowling at them, gesturing over at their Lugia teammate over by a display of mirrors of various sizes. There, Pleo was poking his tongue out and making faces in them, giggling amusedly at their distorted appearances. The pair gave sheepish smiles back to the Furret, watching as Dimitri quietly sidled over to Pleo to tap his shoulder, prompting him to turn and hurry back to the rest of the group.

"Oh? Aren't you also going to look at the glass?" Pleo asked. "I thought that all markets basically did the same thing as each other, but this one feels a bit different!"

"I mean, wouldn't that be expected?" Nida replied. "Not every island is the same, so why should every market be?"

"I suppose… but why are they different in the first place?" the Lugia wondered. "Aren't markets places you get things like food and drinks from? Or scarves from a tailor? They had that back in Bluewhorl…"

"Well, yes…" the Nidoran began. "But different markets usually have different things they specialize in. For instance back home around el Año Nuevo, the market in town sells…"

Nida trailed off as the sound of sharp sniffs pricked her ears, prompting her to look up. There, Crom had stopped, sniffing at the air and moving his claw over his brow, seemingly searching for something.

"Eh?" Dimitri asked. "Did you notice something, Crom?"

The Druddigon failed to reply, who instead wandered off towards a corner shop with a yellow awning and windows of colored decorative glass on its second level. Nida hopped along, clambering up Crom's back sniffing at the air above, where the familiar scent of baked flour reached her nostrils.

"That's bread!" Nida cried. "And it smells fresh too!"

The pair continued on, Pleo and Dimitri following them out to the corner shop where they found a bakery built into a small shopfront. There behind a counter, a Delphox churned up fire along a wooden wand, throwing it at the base of an oven that smelled of bread, with the displays lined with loaves and a small assortment of donuts. The group glanced over the shop's wares, Crom's attention drifting from one clump of baked goods to another, until his eyes settled on a small platter of loaves shaped after its proprietor's head in the corner.

"Oh! They make bread shaped like Pokémon just like my mom does!" the Druddigon exclaimed.

Crom trailed off, staring down at the Delphox-shaped loaves as his expression dimmed and his wings drooped, a wistful look coming over his eyes.

"Something the matter, Crom?" Dimitri asked.

"It's just… it's been a while since I last saw her," he murmured. "Do you think we're worrying everyone back home by being away for this long?"

"But isn't that why we're going to Pioppo?" Pleo insisted. "To get that book thing so that way we can see everyone again and let them know we're all okay?"

"Yeah, it can't possibly take us long to get back," Nida added. "Anyilla may be big, but Beatrix didn't make it feel like it was that big. We'll be sharing bread from your mom's bakery before you know it!"

Crom lifted his head, his eyes brightening as he gave a small wag of his tail back.

"I… I guess when you put it that way…"

"Just take in the town while you can," the Nidoran reassured. "The sooner we find Xerneas and find out what's going on with him, the sooner we can go to Pioppo to get that ledger and go ho-"

Nida abruptly trailed off as she spotted a Vaporeon walking by in the background in a red scarf with a white pattern depicting an opened book with a horizontally divided circle on it. She turned her head and followed, recognizing the design to be familiar… but from where?

"Nida? What's the matter?" Crom asked.

"Yeah," Dimitri added. "You're awfully quiet all of a sudden."

"It's that Vaporeon's scarf…" Nida answered back. "I've seen it somewhere before, but I can't place it."

The Vaporeon carried on, flicking his ears uncomfortably at the sound of chatter before looking back and noticing Team Traveller staring. The Water-Type shifted a moment, before shaking his head and approaching the party, raising a paw curiously.

"Hé daar, have any of you seen a group of Pokémon in red scarves like mine?" the Vaporeon asked. "I'm supposed to meet up with a group of teammates around here."

Nida, Crom, Pleo, and Dimitri traded puzzled looks with one another. Pokémon in red scarves like his? Although the design looked vaguely familiar to Nida, she'd never seen this Vaporeon before in their life! It wouldn't be as if she'd run into his teammates before… would it?

"We haven't, sorry," Dimitri answered. The Kabutops' answer drew a disappointed sigh back from the Water-Type, who grumbled under his breath with a shake of his head.

"When I said I'd stay behind to help with some unfinished field work, I didn't expect the others to be gone for this long," the Vaporeon muttered. "Why, I wound up studying a strange Pokémon that was completely unrelated while I was waiting on them!"

"A strange Pokémon?" Pleo asked. "What was so strange about it?"

"It wouldn't have happened to be a blue deer, would it?" Nida pressed, prompting the Vaporeon to raise an ear puzzledly back in response.

"Blue deer? No, it was a small, green snake of some sort. I found him traveling with a Gliscor, a Talonflame, and a Sneasel," he explained. "At first when I saw him, I thought he was some variation of Dunsparce, but none of the field notes I had seemed to match up. I was actually thinking of going back to the fringes further west to try and find him again since that's where I last ran into them, but…"

The Vaporeon trailed off, as he spotted Pleo sticking his beak under a wing to preen at his feather. The Water-Type's eyes lit up and his tail wagged excitedly a moment, before turning back curiously to the Nidoran.

"Though since you're here… perhaps I should introduce myself! The name's Opdahl and I go around helping to document Pokémon and the way they live. That's why I couldn't help but notice your friend," the Vaporeon said. "I think I might have seen a Pokémon like him in a book before and I was wondering if he'd let me ask a few questions."

Nida shifted uncomfortably, thinking back to the earlier encounter with Team Sentinel. She already felt uneasy when they questioned the team about Pleo earlier, and with him already being revealed in Tidemill, in all likelihood someone on this island had already heard of him… and the more he was talked about, the more likely it was that such a Pokémon would discover that none other than the same Protector was in their midst! With Nagant and Lyn both after them, it was perhaps for the best to err on the side of silence, including to this stranger.

"We're a bit busy right now," Nida piped back. "Maybe another time?"

"Aw… I suppose it can't be helped," Opdahl murmured. "Good luck with your errand, though!"

The Vaporeon turned and carried on down the lane, quickly slipping from view as a cart drawn by a Meganium passed by, prompting Nida and her companions to hastily move along and breathe a sigh of relief once the stranger departed.

"… Where do we go now?" Pleo questioned. "That Pokémon didn't know the first thing about where Xerneas went!"

"I dunno, he did seem insistent it was a 'strange' Pokémon," Crom insisted. "Could the two really be unrelated to each other?"

"There's only one way to find out," Dimitri replied. "Let's stop by the fringes and see if we can find that Pokémon. We haven't found any sign of Xerneas so far, and maybe by doing this we'll find him along the way."

"Alright, but let's try and hurry it up," Nida said.

"Huh?" Pleo asked. "But why would we need to hurry?"

"I'm worried that the Pokémon here are finding out more about us than we'd like."

A quiet silence fell over the group as Nida's words sank in with an uncomfortable realization. If the way things had gone on Tidemill was anything to go by, time really wasn't on their side. The youngsters of the group looked around anxiously, set on edge by the thought, prompting Dimitri to nod his head with a sigh.

"Right, then let's make the most of the time we have."

The group set off, making their way towards the fringes. That was right, they still had time to work with before Beatrix would be ready to sail on. So then, for now at least, it made sense to make the most of the temporary calm and try to get to the bottom of this strange Pokémon lurking around, and see if he could help at all with their hunt for Xerneas.



While Pleo and his friends made their way towards Magmapool's fringes, Kiran and his teammates spent the bulk of their time searching around the town's central hilltop. There, the four scoured the streets and alleys for any sign of Xerneas and his companions, though failed to encounter anything they hadn't already seen in their prior visit…

Fwoooosh!

… with the marked exception of a troupe of an Infernape, a Monferno, and a Chimchar who gave an impromptu show of their firebreathing prowess in front of a small row of Juice Bars near the hill's summit. The monkeys' performance drew impressed cheers from a small crowd of observing Pokémon, with Elty among their number wagging his tail excitedly at the show from beside Kiran as Guardia and Ander stared at him puzzledly from behind.

"Heh, looks like backtracking to this part of town was totally worth it!" Elty exclaimed.

"How so?" Guardia asked. "Aren't you already a fire-breather?"

"Well, there's something to be said about the form…" Kiran murmured, before turning his attention back to his Growlithe pupil. "Though surely you've already seen your share of islands before, haven't you? You've never seen anything like this before?"

"Well yeah, but the places I saw were usually on fire and had attacks zipping around," Elty answered. "Kinda hard to catch a show that way."

The Growlithe's reply made Kiran frown and furrow his brow distastefully, Ander giving a roll of his eyes at Elty's… most particular reasons for having not been able to see the islands he'd been to in the past.

"I suppose we certainly can't argue that point," Ander grumbled. Kiran ruffled his feathers nonplussedly, prompting him to shake his head as he reminded himself of just how far his new charge had come.

"Thankfully you've since come to your senses and decided to leave your life of crime behind to enjoy a more respectful life…" the Swellow sighed.

"Eh? What makes you say I did?"

A pregnant silence fell over the group as Guardia, Ander, and Kiran stared at their Growlithe companion. Aware of the overly keen attention placed on him, Elty shuffled his paws before raising his voice to speak up.

"I mean, I am on Community Service right now," the Puppy Pokémon insisted. "I didn't choose to leave the Iron Fleet to be with you guys."

"Weren't you the one who tricked the Bossgodora though?" Guardia retorted. "If you really wanted to be a sea-walker again, why would you go through all that trouble?"

The Growlithe blinked and paused a moment, pulling his ears back and fidgeting as his voice came out in a flustered hem and haw.

"Er… I… uh… well…"

Elty shrank back uneasily, taking a few faltering steps backwards along with the crowd. Ever since Tidemill, he had decided that he wanted to be there for Team Traveller to get that ledger to hold back the Company and Empire… but hadn't thought of what would come afterwards. He'd just assumed that things would fade out and that with their future secured, there wouldn't be much for him other than to drift back to his old role out at sea. The freedom of a pirate's life still tugged at him, so why did he now have doubts about seizing it when his temporary companions wouldn't be caught up in the process?

Elty zoned out a moment, only to notice a blue shape in the crowd down the street behind them. The Growlithe paused and felt his blood run cold as he noticed the shape was a Samurott checking around the nearby buildings, with the exact same features of none other than…

"A-Aah! Psiakrew! That's Lyn!" he yelped. Guardia, Kiran, and Ander froze at the Growlithe's cry, whirling around to see Lyn perk his head up, before hurriedly huddling together and speaking in low voices.

"Wh-Why's he here?!" Guardia demanded.

"Quick!" Kiran whispered. "Find some cover!"

The four hurried along, brushing past passing Pokémon who grumbled and complained about their erratic flight. Ander looked behind him and spotted Lyn turning his attention towards the Pokemon they brushed aside and pick up his pace. The Scyther hastily pushed his teammates along into an alleyway where the lot broke into an open sprint, weaving between doorstops and clutter as they charged down the lane.

"Where are we supposed to go?!" Ander cried. "If Lyn spots us, we don't have anywhere we could turn to hide!"

Kiran bobbed his head over the eaves of the surrounding rooftops, only for the guild complex to catch his eye in the distance. Realizing that their safety lied in numbers, the Flying-Type's eyes lit up, as he cried out to his teammates.

"Oh yes we do! Come on!"

The Swellow led the way, leading his teammates in a mad dash through the gates of the guild where they came upon a wide courtyard surrounded by covered hallways built in the shadow of a wide, short pagoda. The four looked around, spotting teams milling about when they caught the sight of a Kommo-o's head crest at the far left end, where they saw Team Sentinel waving off a Dhelmise that drifted off in high spirits. The lot exhaled in relief, hurrying over to Sorge and his teammates as they waved for attention.

"Oh thank goodness, it's you again!" Kiran said. From their places, Team Sentinel traded looks with one another, before Sorge stepped forward with a puzzled raise of his brow.

"Hm? Team Traveller, right? Or at least half of you," the Kommo-o murmured. "Is something the matter?"

"There's an emergency here in the town!" the Swellow squawked. "You must inform the rest of the guild about it at once!"

"An emergency?" Aldrich pressed. "What's going on?"

"There's a Samurott going around town stirring up trouble!" Elty yipped.

"What is he?" Sorge demanded. "An outlaw? A pirate?"

"He's a Company spy! He's right in the middle of the street just down the hill!" Ander exclaimed, pointing off for the gates with a scythe.

The Scyther waited to hear some response, only to be met with silence. The Bug-Type turned back, seeing the three members of Team Sentinel shifting idly with increasingly skeptical frowns settling over their faces, seemingly unconvinced about the notion of there really being a spy just around the corner.

"Uh… are you sure? It'd have to be a pretty bad spy if any Rescue Team could just recognize him," Zelle replied.

"We've seen him before," Guardia insisted. "He's caused trouble for us no matter where he's been!"

The Cubone was answered with a clattering rattle as Sorge batted his scaly tail back and forth, who looked down at the young Ground-Type with a small, reassuring smile.

"Look, if that 'mon's really a spy, he's not going to be causing any trouble here in town," the Kommo-o said. "Or at least nothing that would catch anyone's eye."

"Huh? What makes you so sure?" Ander wondered.

"Well, this is the most fortified settlement in the Empire after Tidemill City," the dragon explained. "Would you want to cause a scene here in broad daylight when you can set up an ambush right outside of town?"

Kiran and his teammates fell silent and traded looks with one another. Lyn was a reckless 'mon, but after everything that they'd been through in Tidemill… would he really want to push his luck again so soon?

"Well… no…" Elty admitted.

"Then you've got nothing to worry about while you're in here," Aldrich insisted.

"We'll pass things on to the guards and try to make sure that Samurott doesn't slip off," Sorge added. "In the interim, just keep your distance and don't stir up any trouble."

"I… suppose that's fair enough," Guardia murmured. "Though with him prowling around, what'll happen to that Protector and those humans we saw earlier?"

The Cubone's words visibly made Team Sentinel's members shift as they fell silent. Sorge and Aldrich paced forward, as Zelle shot a piercing look forward at the group.

"… Protector and humans?" Zelle asked.

The four fell quiet as Ander shifted uneasily, tapping his scythes together before finally speaking up in response.

"Xerneas came into town and seemed to be making a show of himself with a pair of Pokémon who claimed to be transformed humans…" he murmured. "These three wanted to seek them out, but we haven't had any luck so far."

A noticeable, awkward hesitance fell over Team Sentinel after the Scyther's response, Aldrich giving a bat of his tail before offering up a reply.

"Well, I don't know about any such Pokémon passing by here…" he began. "But if they're looking for attention, maybe try the plaza near the southern gate. It's a popular gathering spot around these parts."

The four breathed a sigh of relief, their spirits lifting as the threat of Lyn pursuing them ebbed away. Now that they'd finally found a lead for Xerneas, they could at least ensure they weren't wandering around town mindlessly searching the wrong places.

"Thank you," Kiran replied. "We'll be sure to check."

Kiran and his teammates shuffled off, Team Sentinel giving a friendly wave as the four slipped off into the crowd. After losing sight of the blue-scarved team, the three's demeanor instantly took a more serious turn, their cheerful smiles being replaced with suspicious scowls.

"Sorge, I wasn't aware we had company around these parts," Aldrich said. "But if it's really a Samurott, I doubt that could be a coincidence…"

The Kommo-o paused for a moment, giving a shake of his head before casting a dangerous look out down the street where Kiran and the others had headed off.

"We can check it out later," the Dragon-Type answered. "First, let's see what's going on with this 'Protector' and these 'humans' those four found."



From the fifth floor of the Company's Head Office in Vollezee, Farn sat at a desk with a view of a square outside the window, anchored by a fountain built around a Manaphy statue. Inside, the clicking of a set of metal balls on wire served to bring a small sliver of her home environs to her office in the capital. The Luxray moved her paw over a sheet of paper, leaving black runes behind on it with a charcoal writing pad before setting it aside, dipping a paw into a pad of black ink, and stamping the bottom.

She drew her paw back, wiping it clean as she slid a candle under a small basin of wax. The Electric-Type set about folding up the letter, and slid it into an envelope as the door creaked and a Togedemaru entered warily, prompting Farn to look up for a moment, before turning back the basin and its now molten wax. The Luxray poured a small glob onto the cover of the envelope, taking a metal seal and stamping a set of Administrator's Squares overlaid by a thunderbolt into it, before sliding it across her desk to the waiting Togedemaru.

"Have this sent over to Parcel Processing and have it sent to Commissioner Marsden's post in Mossaisle," Farn ordered. "It's top priority."

"Yes, Administrator," the Togedemaru answered.

The notary hurried down the hall, passing the letter onto a blue Meowstic, who went down the stairwell and gave it to a Garbodor in an office below. The letter continued bouncing along from paw to paw under the note that it was for "Commissioner Marsden, top priority" carrying along to Skiploom, a Lilligant, until it finally reached a Purugly in the office's underlevels where a space dimly lit by basement windows had been set aside as a mail room. The Normal-Type unceremoniously threw the letter through a mail slot in a ratty door, before a rumbling of the creature's stomach prompted her to get up and drift out of the room for a meal.

On the other side of the mail slot, the letter sat on the floor of a cramped room, where a large shadow with a pair of antennae and small wings fell over it. A Dragonite's claw scooped it up, its owner returning with the letter to a desk fashioned from a beaten crate, where he brought it up to the glow of a moss lantern and peered down at Farn's seal.

"Hrmph, let's see what we're dealing with here."

Darzin lifted the letter up, carefully breathing an ember of fire onto the wax before wedging a claw under one end. He carefully peeled it up, emptying out its contents to see a letter crammed with freshly inked runes. The Dragonite's eyes bobbed back and forth, reading the paper's lines, before reaching the end with a harsh scowl.

With Commissioner Marsden as Farn's chosen emissary to Tromba, there was little hope of simply exploiting mistakes or ineptitude to snatch Lugia out from under him to trade with the Empire. All that remained would be to somehow transfer the assignment onto a more controllable Commissioner, and to do it somehow without making the Board all the wiser. Darzin looked over the letter again trying to piece together how he would even begin to make a forgery, only to pause and realize its author had made a serious oversight. Unlike the envelope, the letterhead merely sported the design of Administrators' Squares without the thunderbolt marking of Farn's personal letterhead, prompting a devious smirk to spread over his face.

"Tch, she's getting too lazy at writing these."

The Administrator set the letter onto his desk, grabbing a sheet of matching paper and a charcoal nub along with a trio of paper files from a dingy cupboard in the back. Darzin slid a sheet of paper over it, carefully tracing runes over while dutifully omitting the ones addressing Commissioner Marsden and replacing the names of the Board members Marsden was to relay news to with his own. Eventually, the Dragonite reached the end of the letter while transcribing, leaving him to carefully paint in a cover of Farn's footprint and leave his forgery out to dry as he turned his attention to the files.

"Hrm… who to pick?"

Darzin fanned out the files, revealing them to be personnel files for a Breloom, an Aegislash, and a Charizard,… along with some evidence of past indiscretions that could suitably blackmail them.

On the left was Commissioner Konrad, who'd had developed a taste for Lansat syrup after poking about Andaku closer than he should've some years ago. The Dragonite mulled the Breloom over, realizing his weakness against Flying-Types would bring certain failure to any attempt to stop the Protector in Tromba… but in spite of his taste for contraband, the Breloom had always been a staunch partisan for the Company, and with him developing his addiction on Farn's island of all places, was it really safe to assume that Konrad wouldn't just approach her about attempted blackmail?

Darzin frowned, and shook his head, before turning his attention to the center file, for Commissioner Seax. As one of the few Marked Commissioners within the Company, the Aegislash had… obvious handicaps to her ability to remain calm and collected were the Protector to appear, and with the 'mon engaged in taking bribes from smugglers, she wouldn't have the luxury of a potentially forgiving member of the Board to turn to. But then again… as both a Steel and a Ghost-Type with years of experience in battle, would it be safe to assume that fear would get the best of Seax to the point where she would lose to a fledgling Lugia?

Even with the Protector having spurts of strength every now and then, it felt like far too much of a gamble. Darzin harrumphed, before turning his attention to the last file, for Commissioner Bunsen, who from what he'd gathered from the harbormaster's latest batch of records, should've pulled into port just past noon. Like Seax, he was a fellow Marked, and had been flouting Company law by quietly violating the Settlement Protocol that employees of a Third-Rank and higher were to adhere to. In his earlier years, Bunsen had apparently accumulated scattered notes from his superiors of being particularly yellow-bellied. Although his belly was now a shade of cream and he'd since grown stronger, if he was still the ingratiating tail-kisser he'd remembered him to be towards Administrators at past Company gatherings, just how much resistance could be expected from him towards one of his much-feared "demons"?

"Commissioner Bunsen. He's the one for this mission."

Darzin moved his charcoal nub, carefully piecing together Bunsen's name through copying pieces of other runes done in Farn's handwriting before folding the letter up and slipping it back into the envelope. The Dragonite carefully reheated the wax seal and pressed it shut, before breathing out a small burst of fire that swallowed up the original letter and reduced it to ash. Satisfied with his work, Darzin threw the tampered letter into his satchel before lumbering up for the door. The Administrator made his way up the corridors of the office, passing a few guards who shot dismissive scowls before he reached a balcony on the third floor, where he leapt up and took to the air headed west.

Darzin's flight took him over gabled rooftops of tall, spindly houses, crammed canal-streets where swimming Pokémon and crude watercraft jostled for space, and over a square where a sprawling market had been set out. The Dragonite continued for the sea, where a complex of docks filled with ships bearing lavender sails came into view. Darzin carried on, glancing from one pier to the next until his eyes caught the sight of a Charizard resting near a galleon, glaring over at an agitated looking Ursaring and Frogadier as they accosted an unmoved Munna.

"Two weeks. Two weeks!" the Ursaring fumed. "Do you know how much scum those lousy bugs made us scrape off while we were waiting on you lousy paper pushers to bail us out?!"

"Where's Commissioner Lyn?" the Frogadier huffed. "We're going back to our posts and making sure that he hears about this!"

The Munna rolled her eyes before looking down at a paper on a clipboard held aloft in the air. The creature's eyes darted back and forth as she scanned it, before turning back to the pair.

"Uh… according to this, you two were both taken off the roster after you got caught as 'combat losses'. So… yeah, good luck with that," the Munna said, as the Company grunts' jaws flopped open in shock.

"What?!"

The pair flew into a storm of protest, loudly whining to the Munna as Bunsen tapped a nearby crate with his claws, shaking his head with an unimpressed snort

"Pah, what a bunch of ingrates!" the Charizard growled. "Next time I'll let that Lyn handle his own diplomatic missions!"

"Commissioner Bunsen!"

The Fire-Type heard the woosh of an approaching flier, prompting him to turn his gaze up just in time to see a Dragonite in an Administrator's scarf swoop down and come to a stop before him. The Charizard jumped back a moment, taken aback at the drake's sudden appearance.

"Darzi- Er… Administrator Darzin?" Bunsen asked. "What's the occasion?"

"I have a mission for you," the Dragonite answered. "Top priority."

"… Wait, Administrator Darzin still hands out missions?" a nearby Roserade asked. "I thought he lost that when he- Agh!"

The Grass-Type was cut off by Darzin sidestepping and shoving her aside with his hip, sending the Roserade pitching off the dock and into the harbor's water. The Dragonite glared back at the bubbling patch of water with a low growl, before turning back to Bunsen with a stern scowl.

"Administrator Farn asked me to forward it to you," he harrumphed. "We'll discuss the details someplace quieter."

A flash of unease came across Bunsen's face, before the Charizard shook his head and warily replied to his Dragonite superior.

"Alright…? I suppose that I've got a moment or two."

Darzin marched along, leading Bunsen past the harbor's teeming piers and stacks of barrels and crates until he reached a warehouse with an office door left ajar. The Dragonite clambered up, pulling the door open to let Bunsen in before following his guest inside. The pair made their way to opposite sides of a cluttered table in the center, which Darzin cleared and set a pair of stump-seats around, opting to sit nearer to the door. On the other end, Bunsen looked about anxiously and pulled his wings in tight, appearing unnaturally cagey from the summons. The Charizard, realizing that Darzin was watching him intently, hastily threw his wings out and shook his head before growling back with hastily-summoned impatience and irritation.

"I was under the impression that I was getting time for some shore leave," the Fire-Type huffed. "So what's this about me suddenly getting a mission out of the blue?"

"Something's come up," Darzin answered. "Administrator Farn's summons will explain."

Bunsen warily reached out for the letter, peeling away the seal with a claw and pulling out a sheet of paper. The Charizard's eyes darted back and forth as he skimmed the letter, apparently an order to set sail for Tromba to lie in wait for a crew of pirates. Immediately, the Commissioner's tail fire danced with visible irritation, as he threw the letter back onto the table with a sharp glare.

"Hrmph. I don't see anything here that can't be handled by another Commissioner," Bunsen growled. "And I specifically scheduled to have shore leave after that run out to Boisocéan."

"Well, the Company needs you," Darzin said. "I'd encourage you to do your duty and put that leave on hold."

WHAM!

Bunsen slammed his claws against the table and shot up from his seat, craning his head across the table with his teeth bared in a fierce snarl.

"Listen, buddy! I've got plans here!" the Charizard roared. "And if you think I'm letting some fat newt that sits around the Records Department all day mess them up, you've got another thing coming!"

"Oh? And just what plans would those be, Commissioner Bunsen?"

As soon as Darzin's words left his mouth, Bunsen abruptly bit his tongue, his bellicose attitude quickly melting away into wide-eyed stammering.

"I- Uh… you know, just some time at the local taverns, a chance to sunbathe… some time to recuperate?"

"With your family, I presume," the Dragonite finished. Bunsen visibly cringed, tripping over his tongue as he hastily spluttered out a denial.

"I- I don't know what you're talking about!" the Charizard insisted. "I've only had a few shore flings so far in my life! Nothing to get me settled down!"

Darzin fell silent, giving no response other than a small raise of his brow followed by a disbelieving snort.

"Shore flings, you say?"

The Dragonite reached into his satchel and unceremoniously threw out Bunsen paper file, spilling out a small collection of letters including a few with colorful drawings of a pair of Charizard alongside three Charmander. Darzin watched as the color drained from Bunsen's face, a small smirk creeping over the Administrator's face.

"I was beginning to wonder why you kept getting mail from youngsters," Darzin said. "Turns out that having a mate and three children out on Gestirn Island leaves a bit of a paper trail, especially when you don't teach them to be careful about their correspondence."

Bunsen grimaced as a frightened, bewildered look came over his face, prompting Darzin to lean in with a smug, knowing sneer.

"I believe that the Settlement Protocol dictates that all employees of the Company above Second-Rank are to house their families here on Vollezee," the Dragonite reminded. "Would you care to recount to me what the consequences for violating that would be?"

Darzin was answered by a cutting gust of wind, sending him tumbling to the floor with a pained howl. The Dragon-Type growled, moving a claw over a ruddy scrape on his shoulder as he looked up and saw Bunsen readying a gout of fire in his maw over the now-unguarded table.

"Why you-!"

The Dragonite sprang up, raking the Charizard with a ferocious swipe of his claws that sent him into a pratfall and sent his fire up into the ceiling with a pained yelp. Darzin looked up quickly to see that the fire had singed the timbers above and put out the embers with a hasty gust, when a loud roar alerted him to Bunsen lunging for him. The Administrator hastily weaved out of the way, before giving an uppercut crackling with sparks to the Charizard that sent him flying headfirst into the wall. Bunsen lay there stunned a moment, groaning as he tried to regain his bearings when he heard a low snarl above him, before feeling pointed claws dig into his neck and yank his head up.

"E-Eyaaah!"

The Charizard watched as Darzin's livid face filled his vision and screwed his eyes shut trembling in anticipation of the coming blow, only to feel the grip on his neck slacken and collapse onto the ground. Bunsen shot his eyes open, panting and gasping for air when he raised his head up at the sound of the door being thrown open, looking up to see Darzin at the doorway with the file firmly in his claws.

"I was hoping we could come to an understanding and I could help bend the rules for you a little," the Dragonite snarled. "But since you insist on being uncooperative like this, I have no other choice but to stick to protocol."

The Dragon-Type began to step through the door, putting a claw on the pull latch to slam it after him when a pleading whine came from behind him.

"W-Wait! Please! Me and my mate were barely getting by when I joined the Company because almost nobody would give us work!" Bunsen cried. "And then after I got promoted to Second-Rank we evolved, so we had to rework our food budget- a-and the kids came along, and-"

"Tell it to someone who cares!" Darzin bellowed. The Dragonite paused a moment, before looking back to see Bunsen scrambling behind him, propping his body up on his foreclaws and knees.

"I-I'll do whatever you want! Just don't tell anyone about my mate and the kids!" Bunsen begged. "They'd be ruined if I lost my position!"

The Charizard hung his head, grovelling and pleading in weak, incoherent tones as Darzin peered down. After a moment's pause the Administrator stepped away from the door, closing it as his eyes hardened into a serious glare.

"Then get up for your debriefing," the Dragonite snapped. "And don't try my patience any further."

Bunsen hastily threw himself up, pulling in his wings tight against his body and craning his head downwards, the creature doing all within his power to make himself appear small and unthreatening to the stockier dragon who held his livelihood in his claws.

"I- I can do that! I'm a great listener!" Bunsen insisted. "Even when I was still a First-Rank!"

Darzin threw the files back into his bag and rolled his eyes, walking up to the Fire-Type and leaning in with a bellicose snarl.

"Wonderful. In that case I'll give you the basics and let you read over the details," Darzin harrumphed. "There was a serious disturbance in Tromba just under three weeks ago while collecting tribute, serious enough for the Board to re-evaluate the present state of affairs on the island."

"B-But then why am I the only Commissioner being sent out there?" Bunsen asked.

"Because, the Board has decided to keep things limited to a tit for tat for now. You will be with two smaller ships to apprehend a local smuggling crew that's turned to piracy on their return to port," the Dragonite explained. "While you're there, you will also arrest a few troublemakers and serve some resettlement notices to set an example to the locals. The Captain of the Guards is among those who are set to be detained, so you will be responsible for restaffing the garrison as needed to ensure the local leader becomes a bit more… compliant in his duties."

"I… I guess I can do that?" Bunsen murmured. "I'd need some time to get everything together before sailing out, but-"

"Tonight. You have until tonight to leave port," the Dragon-Type interrupted. "This is a time-sensitive operation and Administrator Farn will not be pleased to be kept waiting. Are we clear?"

Bunsen eagerly nodded his head back, a bit much so for Darzin's liking. But, as distasteful as it was, blatantly sucking up was far from a bad thing in these circumstances, and a sign that this Commissioner would be suitably controllable for his scheme to interfere with the Board's plans.

"Good," Darzin harrumphed. "Neither of us has an interest in letting what happened in here become known. I would strongly suggest you forward all reports to me first if you intend to keep things that way."

"Huh? But isn't this Administrator Farn's mission-" Bunsen began, only to be cut off by the sound of a loud stomp and snort.

"Administrator Farn isn't the one who knows about your private affairs," Darzin interrupted. "It'd be better to keep it that way, wouldn't it?"

"R-Right!" the Charizard stammered. "No sense dragging anyone else in!"

Bunsen forced a nervous laugh out, hoping to play into the Administrator's graces, only for the Dragonite's scowl to prove as unyielding as ever. The Dragon-Type harrumphed with an unimpressed frown, before turning his body for the door.

"That's about all from me, since I have a meeting off-island to make in a few hours," Darzin said. "Though there was one last thing I wanted to say before I left."

"What was tha-?"

Before he could finish, Bunsen was abruptly cut off by Darzin wheeling on his heels, sending a beam of fiery, bluish light square at his face.

"A-AAH!"

The Charizard jerked his head down, screwing his eyes shut and quivering as he felt the Dragon Pulse woosh overhead. The Fire-Type quailed a moment, expecting another blow, only to look up uneasily at the sound of departing footsteps and see Darzin at the doorway, baring his fangs threateningly.

"Try and pretend to be imposing when you're on Tromba," he sneered. "Knowing the islanders, you'll need it."

Darzin slammed the door behind him, leaving Bunsen alone in the room panting. The Charizard drooped his wings with a sigh, grumbling bitterly over how his visit to his mate and children had been snatched away by a fat newt that spent the bulk of his day shuffling papers. Even so, it was one mission, so a delay couldn't be that bad could it? It was just a matter of setting sail to Tromba and putting his foot down for a week or two…

On the island of unruly peasants that had driven Darzin out…

With only his crew and a pair of brigantines for support…

"Ulp… why me?"



True to Sorge's prediction, Xerneas and his companions had drifted over to the plaza in the shadow of the southern gate. There, they had once again put on a performance in front of the townsfolk, drawing a large crowd of eager Pokémon and less attentive guards from the wall above, that the lot plied with tales of a grand journey to save the Cradle. Unbeknownst to the blue deer, on the other side of the plaza, Team Sentinel looked on from the front of a small shop styled after a purple Meowth's head. Sorge tapped his claws idly as he watched Xerneas' antlers pop in and out from among the top of the crowd, while the shop's proprietor added a pair of Slumber Orbs onto a counter riddled with seeds and wands.

"And finally, two Slumber Orbs," the Meowth said. "Heading back into the Mystery Dungeon already?"

"No, not today," Sorge answered. "Just getting a few items out of storage for a mission tomorrow morning."

The Kommo-o put the items in a bag and slung it over his shoulder and began to drift off for the gathering with his companions. As they neared, they came upon a thick throng of Pokémon of every size and shape, crowded around a makeshift platform as Xerneas pranced around, with a number of guards in indigo scarves watching from the sidelines, their presence catching Aldrich's eye and making him pause skeptically.

"So what's the best way to go about this?" the Noivern asked. "We obviously can't do anything directly in front of an Imperial garrison."

"We'll scout for now and make our move once we're certain what we're dealing with and there's fewer prying eyes around," Sorge insisted, when a voice abruptly spoke up from behind.

"And what move would that be?"

Team Sentinel's members stiffened up, bracing for battle, only to realize that the voice felt strangely familiar. The three turned around, where behind them was a Weavile smiling from under the awning of a shuttered shopfront, whom they all recognized as…

"Ketu!"

At once, the three crowded around the Dark-Type, the world around them melting away as their eyes lit up at the sight of their unexpected company. Sorge stepped forward, pulling Ketu's claw in for a shake as he gave a playful sway of his tail before speaking up.

"Heh, it's been a while!" Sorge chortled. "Still getting your work done, I hope?"

"Don't I always?" Ketu answered with a smirk.

Further behind, Aldrich gave a bemused shake of his head. In all the years since Ketu had transferred off their team, it seemed that he hadn't lost his spark for taking his tasks on at his own, lackadaisical pace.

"Pretty sure that's a 'no', just saying," the Noivern snickered.

"So what are you doing here?" Zelle asked. "Last I was aware of, Lyn didn't have any reason to be this deep in Imperial waters."

"His current mission led us to make a call in port. That's actually why I'm here," Ketu explained. "I could use some help with the mission Administrator Elilan gave me."

"We'll be more than happy to help," Sorge replied. "But let's go someplace quieter where we can talk more openly."

The Dragon-Type looked off over his shoulder, where he noticed a shaded alley and bade his fellows to come after. One after the other, the Kommo-o and his companions made their way down, stopping by the awning of a shuttered shop where Aldrich looked around and listened closely for any following Pokémon. After a moment's pause that convinced the bat they were alone, he turned back satisfied to Ketu, giving an impatient beat of his wings.

"So what do you need help with exactly?" Aldrich said.

"Yeah, what sort of mission could Lyn have in Imperial waters?" Zelle piped.

"Four weeks ago, Lugia woke up, the Protector of Tromba Island. The Board activated their contingency plan for such an event and as expected, assigned Lyn to nab and deliver it to them," Ketu explained. "Obviously, the Administrator doesn't want anything like that happening without getting his claws on it first. Which is where I need your help."

"'Lugia'? We didn't do a mythological study for our cover like you did," the Sylveon scoffed. "What sort of Protector are we talking about?"

"A bird with silvery white feathers and blue plates on its back and head," the Weavile answered. "Looks kinda like a spawn of something between a Swanna and a Wingull if you didn't know any better."

Sorge's eyes widened at Ketu's description. A silvery white bird that looked like a cross between a Swanna and a Wingull? That sounded exactly like Pleo from that Team Traveller they ran into back at the guild!

"Come again?! We encountered a group of 'mons with a bird just like that a few hours ago!" Sorge exclaimed, taking Ketu aback with a surprised blink.

"… Well that's… unexpected… I suppose it really is a small world," the Weavile murmured, before giving a shake of head. "Whatever's going on, let's not waste any time. I was gonna ask you for help ambushing those kids so we could capture that Lugia, but if you've already encountered them then that should make things a bit easier."

"Hold on, Ketu," Aldrich insisted. "We might have found another Protector stomping around this island. That's why we were headed over to that crowd in the first place."

"Yeah, and that Team Traveller was looking for it as well," Zelle added.

Ketu gave a puzzled tilt of his head at his teammates' replies and thought of who Aldrich and Zelle could be referring to. He knew that the Protector of Vollezee had vanished years ago, but nothing had come of her beyond sporadic sightings. The Weavile's mind turned to his previous assignment for Administrator Elilan… It seemed like a daft coincidence but could the Protector be…

"… Subject Red?" Ketu asked. "But after all those years with his trail gone cold, why would he draw attention to himself like this now?"

"It's not him, Ketu," Sorge answered.

Ketu raised a brow, since aside from that Lugia, the only Protectors in Anyilla that were awake could be counted on one claw. If the Protector his friends ran into wasn't any of them…

"Eh? Then who are you all talking about-"

"And that's just some of the stuff this Protector can do, folks!" a Nuzleaf's voice interrupted. "The Voice of Life! The Rainbow Stag who brings new beginnings! Xerneas!"

A rousing cheer came from the end of the alleyway, prompting Ketu to poke his head out as Team Sentinel followed along. Sorge pointed off with a claw at the stage, where the crowd grew excited and animated over something the Weavile failed to see from his shorter height.

Ketu frowned as he attempted to stand on his toes, only to find his line of sight still thwarted by the crowd. The Weavile gave an irritated grumble, before clambering up Sorge's shoulder and peering out into the crowd, discovering much to his surprise, the form of a blue stag with rainbow horns strutting around at the center of the crowd.

"… What…"

"We were honestly a bit surprised ourselves," the Kommo-o explained. "To top it off, two of the Pokémon with him claim to be humans transformed into Pokémon."

The Weavile dropped back down to the ground, exiting the alleyway as Sorge and his teammates followed along carefully. Ketu paced forward, hopping atop a barrel near the edge of the crowd, where he stood on the tips of his toes just in time to catch a glimpse of a Nuzleaf bowing with a flourish in front of the surrounding Pokémon.

"And with just a little bit of help, your newfound Protector will be able to carry on with his journey!" the Nuzleaf cheered. "To help restore the world-that-was and hasten the return of the humans!"

On cue, an Eevee on the stage bounded up with a drawstring bag, and set it out at the front of the stage. Ketu folded an ear back puzzledly as he watched Pokémon from the crowd leave money in the bag. The Weavile paused, wondering to himself why Xerneas seemed to be more insistent on demanding a tribute of Bezants and Poké as opposed to the bows, prayers, and other nonsense Pokémon who put stock in Protectors made a big deal over. The Dark-Type raised a claw over his brow, watching Xerneas lower his head to address a young Sunkern before pulling it back up, which gave Ketu a clear look at the deer's face, where the sight of a gray eye with a rounded pupil caught his attention. He hesitated briefly, only for his mouth to curl downwards with a disgusted frown.

"Hrmph, you're wasting your time," Ketu harrumphed. "I can't say anything about those 'humans', but if this 'Protector' is anything to go by, they're a pair of frauds."

"Huh?" Aldrich said. "What makes you so sure?"

"Aside from how unlikely it would be that Xerneas would reappear like this after its egg fell off the face of the earth in the Great Calamity, based on what we've seen, Protectors don't mature fast enough in that amount of time to already be fully grown," the Weavile explained. "Besides, Xerneas has blue eyes with cross-shaped pupils, not gray ones that look like a Deerling's."

Team Sentinel paused a moment, blinking before looking off at the blue deer and his companions in the distance. Now Ketu mentioned it, Xerneas' eyes did look a bit strange compared to the rest of his body. Sorge looked on, before turning back down to Ketu slowly with a puzzled raise of his brow.

"… Then what are we dealing with here?" Sorge asked.

"… I'm not sure, but I think I might have an idea," Ketu answered. "Either way, this changes the plans I had. Especially if those kids are also looking for this fake Xerneas."

"How do you suggest we approach this then?" Zelle pressed.

"We need a little pre-planning," Ketu replied. "Come on, I've got a place back at the ship, we'll talk on the way back."

The Weavile set off, slipping off from the crowd as Sorge and his companions followed along, pacing along the stone and dirt lanes for the harbor by the blue sea in the distance.



Author's Notes:

- Ib dagchyeo! (입 닥쳐!) - Korean: "Shut up!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- Srak (스라크) - Korean: "Scyther" (Official Romanization)
- Hé daar - Dutch: "Hey there"
- Bossgodora (ボスゴドラ) - Japanese: "Aggron" (Official Romanization)
 
Chapter 64: Coming Up Short

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
JyDDJAh.png


An hour after Nagant's audience with Queen Aleria, the sun shone down on Tidemill's naval harbor as the hubbub of working dockhands and passing Wingull carried on the air, with much of the activity coming from around a freshly-drained drydock. Behind the site's icy flash locks, a large four-masted ship lined with metal plates on its hull and 'Lichtkanone' painted on the side had been rested on a set of wooden supports as Pokémon in the pit scampered around examining the hull for defects and barking out for supplies and repairs. On the ship's deck, the sound of dull thumps rang out as the Clawitzer bounded around with barely-constrained excitement followed behind by Jun, giving disbelieving stares at the ship's nooks and crannies.

"Four masts, cast-iron cladding from stern to bow…" she murmured to herself. "Jun, tell me I'm not dreaming here."

"You're not, Captain."

The Beedrill's answer was met by an enthusiastic squeal, the wizened old shrimp waving her claws happily before peering back up to her first mate.

"I've waited so long for this day!" Nagant burbled. "Oh, what's the first thing to do to break it in? Maybe I'll take her around the island! Or to Haipheh! Or-"

"Pffft! She's like a giant hatchling over this thing!"

Nagant stiffened up at the sound of Niilo's voice behind her, screwing her eyes shut out of embarrassment and cursing under her breath that she'd brought Niilo and his companions along from the throne room. The Clawitzer whirled around to see the Sandslash guffawing as Cabot and Berecien tried and failed to stifle laughs of their own. She stared mortified a moment, before the three Pokémon realized their supervisor was glaring at them, prompting them to quickly swallow their laughter after being put on the spot.

"Oh! Er…" Berecien stammered. "Uh… Captain Nagant! We were just wondering what our current assignments were!"

"I was… just about to pass these tee-yem vouchers onto you," Nagant said. "You'd best use them to hone your skills before we leave port. I won't accept failure again next time we encounter the Protector."

"Oh, thanks Captain!" Cabot cheered. "It's been a while since we last learned-"

"Honing your skills involves leaving this ship," she huffed. "Immediately."

"Huh?! But I was just saying tha-!"

"Now, Cabot."

The Cranidos gulped and hastily grabbed the paper slips, before shuffling off with his companions for the gangplank and off the ship's deck. Nagant scowled after the three, watching as the lot slipped off for a set of stairs back up to the piers before she let out an annoyed sigh, leaving Jun to awkwardly clear his throat for attention.

"Is there anything else we still need to tend to, Captain?" the Beedrill asked.

"Well, the ship still needs its inspection," Nagant mulled. "And I believe we're about fifty heads short before we can leave port."

"Oh? That surely shouldn't be an issue," the Bug-Type replied. "Couldn't we just draw from the former crew of the Lichtkanone?"

The Clawitzer paused a moment at her first mate's question, before shaking her head back in reply.

"I have neither the time nor the patience to sift through the background of Coil's crew to filter the good eggs from bad," she harrumphed. "I need recruits that I can be confident dealing with."

Jun shifted uneasily, twitching his antennae as he gave a buzzing grimace back in reply.

"… I can understand your hesitation Captain, but… I don't think there's enough graduating cadets right now to even fill half of those slots, and I doubt there's too many Rescue Teams that would volunteer for a sudden mission to retrieve the Protector given the rumors swirling around right now," the wasp sighed. "If we're going to leave port anytime soon, it's inevitable that you'll need to accept at least some less-than-sterling recruits."

"Pah! So scrounge some taverns for sellclaws and raid one of the local jails or something!" Nagant insisted. "As long as I know what I'm getting, I can keep some malcontents in line just fine."

"That's… a fair enough point," Jun admitted. "Though what will you be doing during all of this?"

"I'll be trying to piece together what that blasted rabbit and her companions were up to before they fled with the Protector," Nagant chittered. "It's no coincidence that they conveniently stole Lugia away while Coil was being apprehended, and I want to know who helped those Trombans with their plot."

"Right. Then I suppose that I will-"

Woosh

"Huh?! What was-?!"

A loud wham suddenly rang out as the wood of the deck creaked and groaned, leaving Nagant to jolt upright with a start. The shrimp reflexively readied her large claw, when the Clawitzer heard a low growl from behind, turning to none other than Darzin in an ill-fitting indigo scarf with claw marks on its hem, and a fierce glare over his eyes.

"Captain Nagant?" the Dragon-Type demanded. "We need to have a talk…"

Nagant and Jun traded uneasy looks with each other, noting the sails were blocking the piers from view and that the Dragonite had failed to draw the attention of any potential onlookers on his way in. Nagant wavered a moment, before hopping up slowly, giving a small twitch of her barbels as she reluctantly spoke in reply.

"About what, Administrator Darzin?"

"About you keeping me in the dark about your mission!" the Dragonite fumed. "I spent the last few hours working my tail off to throw together a trap in case the Protector returned to Tromba, thanks to hearing that you'd captured the Protector a full four days ago and lost him again!"

Nagant hissed, bristling at Darzin's suggestion as she dug in and piped up to defend herself.

"I was following an evolving situation to the best of my ability!" the Clawitzer snapped. "Excuse me for not having the time to keep constant correspondence!"

"Sounds more like you're trying to shut me out!" Darzin yelled. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't expose you to the Board the moment I return to Vollezee!"

Jun fidgeted, flitting back and casting a wary glance up at the edges of the drydock above. After a moment's pause, he leaned back in, giving a sharp buzz to draw his superior's attention.

"Ah… Captain, your contact is getting fairly agitated," the Beedrill whispered. "We should try and tamp things down before someone overhears-"

The Bug-Type's insistence was silenced by the back of Nagant's small claw. After a moment of uneasy silence, Jun backed down, leaving Nagant to continue on with a gruff harrumph.

"Because, as we agreed in our partnership, I have need of your aid, Administrator Darzin," the Clawitzer retorted, before moving her large claw about the surrounding ship.

"As you can see, I've been given powerful new tools to capture the Protector," she explained. "But I don't have a lead for where to use them. That's something you would be able to contribute."

Nagant's insistence was met by a fierce glare, leaving Darzin to stare at the Clawitzer wordlessly. After a moment's pause, the Dragonite shook his head with a snort, speaking up in a low, grumbing tone.

"Lyn's messenger said he'd tracked the Protector to Buyeom," he answered. "I don't know whether or not that information is still accurate, but it's what was presented to the Board earlier today."

"Hrmph. I think that I can work with that."

"Glad to hear," Darzin growled. "I'll be taking my leave, and don't give me reason to think you're trying to operate outside of our agreement, Nagant."

"Hmph, really now! If you're so dissatisfied with our progress, you ought to stay and contribute!" Jun buzzed. "You even have the scarf!"

"Pah," the Dragonite spat. "Just stay out of my way-"

"You there!"

Nagant, Jun, and Darzin whirled as the sound of heavy footfalls hit the gangplank, prompting the three to freeze as an Avalugg in a twin-leaved scarf stormed up and jabbed a foot at Darzin's belly.

"This ship's closed off for cleaning!" the Avalugg snapped. "The only 'mons of your rank that are supposed to be here are cleaners to swab the deck!"

Behind the Ice-Type, a small train of Pokémon in single-leaved scarves began to file aboard. Darzin blanched, stammering blankly as he hastily tried to offer up an explanation back to the Avalugg.

"I- Er… Uh…"

"Arrived a little earlier than his peers, that's all," Jun finished. "Isn't that right?"

"Huh?! What are you-?!"

Nagant's face mandibles curled up into a smug smirk, the Clawitzer hopping along with Jun towards the gangplank before calling back towards the hapless Dragonite.

"Well, we have other matters to tend to," she said, barely stifling a snicker through her mandibles. "But good luck with the deck, sailor!"

Darzin glared and bared his fangs, only for a sharp jab at his stomach to prompt him to look down at the Avalugg, leaving him to begrudgingly grab a bucket and mop as he slipped out of view while Nagant and her first mate reached the gangplank.

"Was there anything you needed me to tend to while you were out, Captain?"

"Just get this ship readied and crewed," Nagant ordered. "I'll be back once I've found out more about what really happened with the Protector."

The Clawitzer set off, slipping down the wooden gangplank for the bottom of the drydock. Jun followed his superior's course as she made her way up the stairs for the piers, the Beedrill giving a small beat of his wings as he set off. All the while, a thought kept stubbornly lingering in his mind…

What exactly could Nagant piece together about the Protector's abductors that they didn't already know?



After their encounter with Team Sentinel, Elty, Guardia, Kiran, and Ander drifted southwards down Magmapool Town's central hill in search of the square in front of the town's gate. Time and again, Kiran would pop up to sight the gate in the distance and wait for the others to catch up… only for them to turn down a dead end or wind up following an alley down the completely wrong direction. The process continued on past crowded shacks and shopfronts, with the latest attempt seeming to accomplish little other than going in a large loop much to Elty's frustration.

"Bah… we've been chasing our tail for over an hour now!" the Growlithe fumed. "How are we having this much trouble?!"

"I mean, I haven't had much luck spotting a path to the plaza with all those walls and buildings and Ander's not as strong as a flyer himself," Kiran sighed. "Perhaps we should've talked with Alcon to see if he could've tutored you how to fly…"

Guardia grumbled and rolled her eyes at her teammates' arguing. Whatever it was that fueled the fire in Elty's belly, it evidently generated more than its fair share of hot air. The Cubone directed her attention to the nearby alleyways in search of a path to the square, only to notice Ander's steps behind her came faltering and erratically. Guardia paused and turned back to see Ander slinking from end to end of the lane, casting timid glances around at his surroundings. She raised a brow for a moment, before frowning, realizing that his demeanor must surely be from the prospect of encountering one of his 'demons'.

"Hrmph. Isn't it a bit much to be worried so much about the gods?" Guardia huffed. "If this 'Voice of Life' really wanted to smite you he could've easily done so already."

"B-But you don't understand!" Ander protested. "That's no 'Voice of Life' and you have no idea what that thing is or what it's capable of!"

"It's a Protector who watches over the world and other Pokémon. Besides, were there not humans traveling with him?" the Cubone retorted. "If the gods didn't care about this world or making it better, why would they want to bring them back?"

"Eh? But they looked just like-"

The Scyther's insistence was cut off by the tak of a bone striking the ground, followed by a forceful harrumph as Guardia shot an impatient scowl back up at the Bug-Type.

"Really, I think that you're the one who doesn't have an idea of what that Protector's like," the bone lizard insisted. "The last time we saw him he was just collecting some of your hut baubles, not hurting anyone."

Ander paused, turning his head away uneasily without a reply as Kiran and Elty began to backtrack for him and Guardia. The Scyther brooded, evidently at a loss of what else he could say, when he looked up and saw a few Pokémon pass them from a side street. There, off in the distance, Ander noticed the Pokémon were peeling off a curious crowd from among stands and shopfronts further ahead.

"Huh? There's so many Pokémon here," he said to himself. "It's all as if they just came from-"

The Bug-Type abruptly trailed off as he noticed that the Pokémon had come from a square in the shadow of a gate… which appeared exactly like the plaza Team Sentinel described back at the guild. Ander hesitated a moment, only for his teammates to continue on for the square and the Scyther to grudgingly follow, where they saw Xerneas hopping off a makeshift platform, his companions waving off a few straggling Pokémon.

"Ah! Talk about a stroke of good luck!" Kiran chirped. "He even seems to be a bit less busy than normal!"

"Then what are we waiting for?" Guardia chimed in. "Hayaku ikō yo! Let's have an audience with him!"

The Cubone and her companions hurried over for the podium where Xerneas and his teammates preoccupied themselves, chattering about something to do with their 'take' from the crowd. The four continued engrossed in their conversation even as Kiran and the others neared, prompting the Swellow to give a chirp to draw their attention.

"Excuse me, would you happen to have a moment?"

Hm? It's a bit late," the Nuzleaf began. "But if you're here for another donation, we'd be happy to-"

The Grass-Type trailed off at the sight of a blotch-headed Scyther among the new arrivals, prompting him and his companions to sharply frown and their demeanors to take on an irritable tone.

"Oh, it's you again," the Nuzleaf grumbled. "Haven't you caused enough trouble already for us?"

"Er… well, we won't cause any trouble now!" Elty insisted. "We can let that be water under the bridge, right?"

"I'll be the judge of that, and I certainly don't need any Marked around me from what I've seen of them," Xerneas harrumphed.

"Perhaps you could reconsider if we told you why we came?" Guardia offered.

"Try me."

Kiran paused, craning his head to peer around his surroundings. After finding that the remaining Pokémon in the square appeared to be out of earshot, the Swellow breathed in and stretched out a wing before whispering over to the deer and his companions.

"We actually know of a Protector who's been separated from his home himself," Kiran said. "And we'd like to know if you'd be interested in joining forces with us."

Xerneas and his companions paused a moment, trading blank looks with each other, before bowling over and dissolving into peals of derisive laughter.

"Oh yeah. Sure you've got a Protector traveling with you!" the Riolu of the group jeered.

"But we do!" Guardia cried. "He's a white bird who's in need of tutoring in the ways of the gods!"

"And where is this Protector then?" his Eevee teammate demanded.

Kiran and the others grimaced, realizing that by splitting up the team, Pleo and the rest were off on their own in a different part of Magmapool and highly unlikely to make it here in time to persuade Xerneas. It was hard to believe that these four could be moved without seeing so much as a feather of their own Protector, but… perhaps they could be convinced to hear them out?

"Er… well we separated from him in order to look for you and cover more ground in town," Kiran murmured. "But he was one of the Pokémon who asked you a question at your last appearance! And we have a ship where we could arrange a meeting!"

"Listen, we're busy with our own journey," Xerneas harrumphed. "So if you're not going to help it, move along and stop wasting our time with stories about your pretend Protector!"

"But-" Guardia began, only to be cut off by an impatient stomp against the ground.

"Begone!"

The Cubone went wide-eyed at the sight of Xerneas lowering his antlers menacingly at her, prompting her to bolt back with a yelp and reflexively shelter behind a nearby leg. Guardia peered up and noticed the green chitin of Ander's exoskeleton, the Scyther standing transfixed in terrified shock at the glaring blue deer and his companions. Kiran and Elty grimaced, trading wary looks with each other before the Swellow hesitantly spoke up, sensing that for now, they'd plead their case as best as they could and there was nothing else they could do.

"… If you change your mind, our ship is at the third dock to the right of the harbor's lighthouse."

The four inched away, before hurrying out of the square briskly. As the lot made their way into the surrounding streets, they slackened their pace, letting out a quartet of sighs.

"Well splitting into two groups sure turned out to be a great idea," Elty grumbled.

"At least we found them," Kiran insisted. "Two groups have 100% greater odds of success than one!"

The Swellow's reassurance failed to lift the mood, leaving his teammates in deflated silence. As he shifted his wings uncomfortably, Ander paused and noticed Guardia looking back blankly in the direction of the square.

"Is something the matter?" the Scyther asked. "You seem a bit adrift."

Guardia looked up uneasily, before shaking her head and casting her gaze downwards with disappointment visibly poking through the holes in her helmet.

"I… was just expecting something different from that Protector…"

Elty and Kiran shuffled quietly as a palpable cloud of disappointment settled over the group. The Growlithe of the lot folded his ears back, giving a mutter under his breath about the unfairness of their current predicament before turning back to his teammates.

"So what do we do now?" Elty asked.

"Go back to the ship and let everyone know what we found, I suppose," Kiran replied. "Even if we can't count on Xerneas to help us, we do have an ambush we need to warn them about."

"Right…" Ander murmured. "It would be a good place to start… And I… I suppose we could try again with Pleo tomorrow…"

The four carried on, trudging back for the ship in low spirits. All the while, the lot couldn't help but wonder if there was something that they could've done differently, and whether or not Pleo and his companions were feeling similarly disheartened by a search that was bound to have been even less fruitful…



After their encounter with Opdahl, Pleo and his friends continued going further into Magmapool Town towards the fringes. There, the town's shacks began to space out further and further, the group's outward drift occasionally interrupted by a stop to ask a local Pokémon for further directions. As the town's buildings thinned out, the four came to a fork in the road between an empty street to their left and a few shops to their right, leaving Pleo to turn his head uneasily between the two.

"Which way do we go now?" the Lugia asked.

"Well, if I remember those directions we got correctly, we can take either direction to get to the fringes, so it's really a matter of preference," Dimitri explained. "What do you all say? Do you kids prefer to go left or right?"

"I say we go to the left," Nida offered. "It looks like the most quiet route, and wouldn't a Protector logically want its resting place to be calmer and quieter?"

"But Nida, the right side looks nicer!" Crom exclaimed. "If all these paths go to the fringes, wouldn't we have time to stop and enjoy the scenery a bit?"

Pleo paused indecisively before turning back, hoping that either Nida or Crom would've been swayed, only to find them both staring off insistently in their chosen directions. From behind, Dimitri blinked wordlessly at the youngsters' impasse, before giving an exasperated shake of his head.

"… You two aren't making this any easier…" the Kabutops sighed.

"Hey, you!"

Team Traveller turned around and saw a Sneasel in a yellow scarf adorned with a black hexagonal outline waiting behind them, sizing the four up before her gaze settled on Pleo with a curious stare.

"You're Team Traveller, aren't ya?"

Pleo and his companions blinked at the sight of the Sneasel. They hadn't run into her in town earlier… or on any other island for that matter, so… why did she know about them?

"Yes? And you are?" Nida demanded.

"The name's Alice," the Sneasel offered. "I'm here to take you to the 'mon you've been looking for."

"Wait… you are?" Pleo asked.

"Yup. He's been expecting you and waiting at a cottage on the outskirts we've been renting a room at!" Alice replied. "Just follow me!"

The four paused, Crom casting a wary eye at the creature as her red ear feather bobbed with a passing breeze. Why, she was of the same sort of Pokemon as that horrid Weavile from the tournament! With all the luck they'd been having, who was to say that she wasn't in league with him somehow? Alice waited expectantly, before shifting awkwardly a moment and brushing at the back of her head.

"Look, we're no longer staying at the fringes anyway and you're not gonna find that Xerneas there either," the Sneasel insisted. "So are you going to follow me or not?"

Team Traveller blanched after realizing that the stranger knew of their search for Xerneas, only for Alice to turn on her heels and saunter. The four hesitated, trading uneasy looks with one another, before Dimitri broke the tense silence with a sigh.

"… I guess we should go after her," the Kabutops said.

"Yeah, come on," Crom suggested. "Let's see where she's heading off to."

The Druddigon and his teammates followed along, trailing after the jet-furred cat down winding paths until they reached a simple wooden cottage with two floors at the end of a lane. The four watched as Alice pulled aside a sliding door at the house's front, before heading in and darting up a flight of stairs to knock at a door to the right in a hallway. The Sneasel tapped her foot impatiently for a moment, before the door opened up with a creak and she slipped inside. One after the other, Crom and his companions followed her in, coming to a dingy room where Alice settled beside a waiting Gliscor and Talonflame.

"Is that them, Alice?" the Gliscor asked.

"Yup, that 'Team Traveller' Kline told us about," the Sneasel replied. "And here you and Calidus were doubting I could find 'em easily!"

"Well, you've certainly got the timing right," the Talonflame said. "Percy and I were about to go out and look for you!"

"Good thing Kline's still as omniscient as ever," the Gliscor murmured, before turning to Team Traveller. "Anyway, welcome to our room. I'm Pierce, though most of my friends tend to call me Percy, and I'm the leader of our team here."

Pleo blinked at the Gliscor's welcome, though noticed that there was neither hide nor hair to be seen of a fourth Pokémon. Then, where was this…

"Kline?"

"That would be me," a squeaky voice piped. "And you know it's not omniscience, Pierce."

Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri tilted their heads and squinted as they noticed movement towards the back of the room, where a strange green Pokémon hopped forward balanced on his tail. The creature bore a single eye, with a red, hexagonal marking on his belly, Team Traveller's eyes widening as they realized that this must've been none other than the Pokémon Opdahl encountered. The serpent narrowed his eye, peering up sternly at the young Lugia in front of him.

"I've simply been keeping an eye on Pleo," he said.

"Huh?! Hold on a minute!" Nida cried. "How do you know his name?"

"Or anything about us, for that matter," Dimitri demanded. "We've never seen a 'mon like you before."

"I wouldn't have expected you to," the green serpent scoffed. "My name is Kline, or if you're one to insist on formalities: Zygarde, the Keeper of Balance."

The four frowned, trading dubious looks with one another. This squeaky little serpent before them looked like a wingless Dunsparce! What did he mean by his insistence that he was…

"The Keeper of Balance?" Crom asked. "Like some sort of Protector?"

"I am a Protector, you impudent skink!" Kline snapped back.

Crom uneasily shifted back and put a claw to his mouth flusteredly at the Zygarde's response. Pleo stared in awe, his eyes lighting up before giving an excited beat of his wings. If this little snake was like him, then…

"Wait! But that's great!" the Lugia cried. "If you're a Protector, then you can help me with-"

"No."

Pleo raised a wing and opened his beak to continue, only for his words to abruptly die in his mouth. Team Traveller stood there a moment in stunned silence, trying to process their abrupt rejection, when Nida fanned her pins out, the Nidoran being filled with a sudden, indignant vigor.

"Eh?! What sort of response is that?!" Nida snapped. "If you're really a Protector, why wouldn't you want to help out another one?!"

"Because I have a mission of my own that I've been working towards," Kline retorted. "I don't know what Nerea sees in your friend, but based off what I've seen of him and the rest of you lot so far, I simply don't think he'd be able to help."

The Zygarde harrumphed and hardened his eye into an unimpressed scowl, leaving Team Traveller to stare back at the strange creature with stunned silence. Percy, sensing that his friend's explanation had been more than a little uncharitable, cleared his throat as he tried to rephrase things on behalf of him.

"I think what Kline was trying to say was… well," the Gliscor began. "He's worried you'd have trouble on the mission we've been trying to carry out."

"Huh? Why not? We've been doing great as a team, and I've even started figuring out how to use my powers!" Pleo insisted.

"How'd that work out for that Ribombee and Flygon innkeeper you met back in Orleigh?" Kline asked.

Nida and Pleo blanched, the pair's minds abruptly shifting back to their chaotic escape from Rosequartz Town… and of a wounded Rasp fleeing in fright while carrying his unconscious father. Pleo fell silent, lowering his head in a low mood as Kline shook his head with an unimpressed harrumph.

"Really, if it was just a matter of throwing aside a couple bugs on accident, perhaps I'd be less hesitant," the Zygarde scoffed. "But after the mess you left on Giotto, excuse me for being skeptical about joining forces."

"What? How could we have done anything wrong there?" Dimitri demanded. "We were being chased by a city of guards, a Company Commissioner, and a pirate crew!"

"You seem to be forgetting the part where you disgraced Admiral Coil on your way out and threw the city into turmoil," Kline huffed.

One by one, Team Traveller's faces broke out into excited smiles at Kline's response. Why, if Admiral Coil was disgraced, then that meant that Nico and Rita had won their case! They managed to prove against all odds that he was the Coordinator that had been plaguing Tidemill City!

… But, if they'd managed to take down an awful Pokémon like that, why was Kline treating this like something bad?

"Wait, but that's a good thing!" Crom insisted. "If the Empire's chasing after Pleo, why is it bad for us if they have a few problems?"

"Because, you've made both them and the Company more dangerous to challenge!" the serpent snapped.

"How… so?" Pleo asked.

"Well, a weakened Empire can't keep the Company in check as much as it would normally," Percy murmured. "It wouldn't be an issue if you'd moved in on the Company right away, but… you obviously didn't do that."

"Not that the four of you and a single ship would have great odds of pulling that off," Alice chimed in. "Why, if the Royal Navy's focused on trouble at home, that's basically an invitation for Company ships to poke around the Empire's waters as much as they want!"

"Yeah, and haven't you ever heard about a 'mon being most dangerous when it's cornered?" Calidus added. "With angry 'mons pounding at the Queen's gates, those Imperials will be willing to do anything and everything to try and get you back."

Team Traveller's expressions sank at the explanation. Here they'd been worrying about convincing Beatrix to take them to Pioppo, but now with the revelation that weakening one foe had just strengthened the other… what were they to do?!

"W-Well what about Xerneas? Maybe we can work with him to help fix this!" Crom insisted.

"That blue deer that's been prancing around the town begging for money? From what I've seen of him, you'd be better off going alone," Kline harrumphed. "I was sorely disappointed by what I found after following him into these waters."

"Seriously?" Nida demanded. "Just what sort of mission do you have where you can't work with any Protector on an island with two of them?"

"Getting a close friend of mine out of captivity from the Company," he spat. "I already took a big risk just coming here, and I can't exactly free my friend with a glorified beggar or someone who actively tilted the balance of power in their favor!"

Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri fell silent, the four shrinking back and casting guilty glances low towards the ground.

"I'm… sorry, I had no idea that you were going through something like that," Nida murmured.

"I suppose it can't be helped," the Zygarde sighed. "But that's why I can't afford to just pair up with anyone who comes to me, Protector or not."

"But… is that really all you're going to tell them, Kline? Just that you don't want to work with them?" Alice asked. "I mean, I went out of my way to find them, and they did come all the way out to see you."

"… I'd also like to pass on a warning to them," he said, prompting Pleo to raise his head uneasily.

"Huh?"

"Be careful when using your powers. There's more dangerous Pokémon out there beyond that Samurott pursuing you, and a few are on this very island," the Zygarde said. "If you are careless about bringing out your powers, you could very well deliver yourself into their claws."

Team Traveller fell silent at Kline's warning and wondered to themselves who could be lurking nearby that would be more of a danger to them than Lyn. Everyone else they'd fought in their journey seemed to not fit with Kline's warning for one reason or another. Nagant seemed about as strong as Lyn, but at least she felt like a Pokémon that could be reasoned with. And Hess… well, there were any number of reasons why it would be absurd for Kline to be referring to him, but…

If it wasn't one of those two lurking in wait for them, then who was it?

"I have nothing else to say. Just try not to cause any more problems during the rest of your journey," Kline finished. "Good luck with your travels home."

The four shifted uneasily before they shuffled out of the room one after the other, making their way back into the hallway and down the stairs for the cottage's exit. Nida and her teammates paced away from the building, continuing on a ways until it had slipped from their view, where Nida shook her head with a growl and forcefully thumped one of her hindlegs against the ground.

"Blugh, this was all a giant waste of time!" the Nidoran snapped. "What should we even do now?"

"I guess let's go back to the ship?" Crom suggested. "We should tell everyone about what happened, right?"

The Nidoran and Druddigon paused a moment, before carrying on with a sigh, leaving Dimitri to shake his head and follow, only to notice Pleo lagging behind, his head and wings drooped low and completely bereft of energy. The Kabutops paused, turning back uneasily to the seabird as he called off to him.

"Are you alright, Pleo?" Dimitri asked. "You're looking a bit down."

The Lugia craned his head up, his eyes distraught as his beak moved and his tongue lolled about trying and failing to sound out words.

"It's just…"

Pleo struggled a moment, before lowering his head back down and pulling his wings in, turning his glance aside.

"Nothing. It's nothing," he murmured. "I'm… fine, really."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah…"

Dimitri stood silent, knowing full well that Pleo's answer felt less than honest. Even so, it was evident that he was in no mood to try and give a full explanation, leaving the Kabutops to sigh and opt to humor him for now.

"Well, if you say so. Just try not to let what Kline said bother you too much?" Dimitri reassured. "I know you've been trying hard and you’ve never done anything wrong on purpose."

The young Lugia hesitated for a moment, before giving a small smile back in reply.

"Thanks, Dimitri. Let’s go back and get some rest."

Dimitri waited, letting Pleo carry on ahead of him before following from behind. The pair carried on in the shadow of their friends as they made their way back for the Siglo Swellow, hoping that with a good night’s rest, the world would feel less big and intimidating again.



Back on the Nektar Weide, Ellsberg flitted above the deck, passing a freshly-completed letter onto a Gligar, who nodded before catching a gust of sea wind and taking off for the horizon. The Mothim fluttered back down towards the ground, watching contently as a groaning and tottering Ken and Hooke were drug off below deck for the brig by a Heracross and a Graveler. The lot carried on, passing by the gangplank just in time for Ketu to come up and turn his head incredulously as Ken and Hooke were marched away.

"… What exactly did I miss here?" the Weavile asked.

"Nothing of note," Ellsberg said. "Those two gave me some lip earlier, and I made sure they learned a lesson from it."

Ketu folded his arms over, narrowing his eyes back at the moth with a scoff.

"Oh, so you finally developed the backbone to stand up to a couple of idiots," he remarked. "What do you want, a medal?"

Ellsberg buzzed back in annoyance, his eyes hardening into a fierce glare as he beat his wings agitatedly.

"Well, what did you wind up doing then?!" the Mothim spat. "I don't see the Protector anywhere with you!"

"This is certainly smaller than what I was expecting…"

Ellsberg looked over to the gangplank where a Kommo-o walked up onto the deck, followed by a Sylveon and a Noivern. The Mothim flitted in place, scanning the three strangers in their red scarves and rescue badges, before shooting a puzzled frown over to Ketu.

"I presume these are your friends you mentioned earlier?" Ellsberg asked. "Are they actually going to do anything useful? Or just stand and loaf on my ship like you do?"

The Mothim tilted his head back in confusion, only for the sound of heavy footsteps from below deck to ring out as a sharp bellow carried through the air.

"Ellsberg!" Lyn barked. "How's that update coming alo-!"

The Samurott trailed off at the sight of Sorge and his companions, leaving the otter to blink out of surprise and the scowl on his face to ease as a warm smile began to spread over his muzzle.

"Sorge? What are you doing here?!" Lyn exclaimed. "I haven't seen you since the Director's 50th birthday!"

"Working a present assignment," the Kommo-o grunted back. "I heard the same could be said about you."

Ellsberg blinked and stared blankly at Team Sentinel. Lyn knew these Pokémon too? Did anyone bother debriefing him about anything anymore?! The moth spluttered to try and speak up, only to be cut off by Ketu walking up to the red-scarved party, turning to Lyn with a proud smile.

"I found them while taking some time off in town," the Weavile explained. "It was certainly a nice surprise to run into my old friends."

"We were in town following the lead of a strange Pokémon," Zelle said. "It's a blue deer who claims to be-"

"Xerneas, the Voice of Life," Lyn finished, drawing surprised stares back from Ketu and his friends.

"You… were also tracking him?" Aldrich asked.

"More like initially investigating. One of my scouts informed me of strange talk among the locals about an alleged 'Protector with humans', but I wasn't able to spot them myself and didn't want to go too far inland on a sudden mission," the Samurott explained. "Since you've seen this 'Xerneas' for yourself, perhaps we could take a moment to touch base about-"

The Water-Type was cut off by the sound of his first mate abruptly clearing his throat, prompting him to turn and frown at the Weavile. Sensing his captain's displeasure, Ketu brushed his head feathers back with a claw, before speaking up in a friendly, disarming tone.

"If I may, Captain, but if we all know about Xerneas, talking over details can wait a while," Ketu said. "I wanted to give Sorge and the others a tour around the ship. Elmer's brigantine here is a bit different from the Argent Aviso after all."

The Samurott blinked a moment, before casting a glance over at Team Sentinel who pawed at the ground before sheepishly speaking up.

"It's been a long day, Lyn," Sorge said. "Surely it couldn't hurt to unwind a bit before catching up with each other?"

"It would be nice to have a moment to stretch our wings," Aldrich added.

"Yeah, Ketu said that Elmer over there would help make it go faster seeing as it's his ship," Zelle insisted. The Sylveon extended a ribbon out, pointing off at Ellsberg much to Lyn's puzzlement as he twitched his whiskers.

"Hm? I wouldn't have expected him to be so eager to do that himself," the Samurott mulled. "But I suppose there's no harm in waiting a little."

"We'll try to keep this quick then," Ketu nodded back. "Come on, Elmer."

Sorge and his companions set off, making their way down the deck with Ketu and Ellsberg following. The Weavile made his way past the door's frame and paced along, only to hear Ellsberg's wingbeats grow fainter and fainter. Ketu paused, turning back to see Ellsberg waiting near the entrance with a piercing glare.

"Hey! Hurry it up, fuzz brain!" Ketu snapped. "This is an important meeting here!"

"If it's such an important meeting, you can at least be bothered to get my name right," Ellsberg huffed. "And don't think I'm showing up to others if I have to put up with this insult!"

"What?"

"It's 'Ellsberg'," the Mothim growled. "Not 'Elmer', not 'fuzz brain', or whatever inane name is on the tip of your tongue. Ellsberg. Got it?"

A moment of silence followed the moth's barb, Ketu staring back silently before a small smile crept over the ends of his mouth.

"Well that's certainly a different attitude," the Weavile teased. "How's that new spine of yours working out?"

Ellsberg glared and buzzed angrily at Ketu's reply, turning to leave in disgust only for the Weavile's voice to reach his ears from behind.

"But fine, I'll play along assuming you do your part and follow my orders," he continued. "I'm the one with the operational knowledge, and if we're going to actually swipe that bird, we don't have time to wait on you to reinvent the wheel. Capiche?"

"… Fine," Ellsberg sighed. "Let's just hurry up and rejoin your friends to figure out our plan of attack."

The pair carried on below deck, where the sun's rays faded and was replaced by the dim glow of lanternlight. Ketu carried along down the hallway, pausing when he heard a repeated tapping, pressing on to see that it was none other than Zelle pawing impatiently against the wooden floor in front of her teammates.

"Where have you two been?" the Sylveon demanded. "We were right ahead of you!"

"I just needed a moment to run some details by Ellsberg before we talked things through," Ketu explained. "That's all."

Team Sentinel blinked out of confusion at the Weavile's reply, realizing that the way Ketu addressed the Mothim had changed. Zelle gave a shake of her feelers, before prodding curiously at her Weavile companion.

"Wait, but wasn't his name Elmer?" the Sylveon asked. "That's how you introduced him."

"Nah, just misspoke a bit," Ketu insisted. "You know how it is with 'mons with long names."

Ellsberg grumbled under his breath about how his name was perfectly long enough, leaving Sorge and Zelle to trade puzzled looks with one another while an unimpressed frown settled over Aldrich's face. Ketu brushed the matter off, leading the group off down the hallway, where Ellsberg pulled the group aside into an empty room lit up by a lantern hung from the rafters. One after the other, Sorge and his companions entered and eased themselves, leaving the Kommo-o to rattle his scales and clear his throat to speak.

"Well, I can't say that I know you, but if Administrator Elilan trusts you, then I'm sure that we can work together quite nicely," the Dragon-Type said, thrusting out a claw. "I'm Sorge, and this is Zelle and Aldrich. You can say that we go a ways back with Ketu."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Ellsberg replied, shaking Sorge's claw before flitting back puzzledly. "Though, what exactly happened out there with you and that Lugia?"

"Before we ran into Ketu, we encountered him outside our guild as a member of an inexperienced-looking Rescue Team called 'Team Traveller'," Aldrich explained. "We noticed he was a strange Pokémon from the looks, but there was a Marked with him who seemed perfectly calm, so we figured it was probably just some sort of subspecies from elsewhere in the Cradle."

"A… Marked?" Ellsberg murmured. "That would certainly be a change from the team we've been tracking…"

"It's a Scyther that was at the tournament in Giotto," Ketu explained. "Seems like he was with the schooner that chased the Protector from Tromba and got him out of Tidemill."

"We don't really know the details of what's been going on between Lyn and Team Traveller, but we ran into about half their team in a panic later on saying they spotted him in town," Sorge added, prompting Ketu to give a grumbling shake of his head.

"Tch, of course a 'mon that always charges in swinging would be sloppy like that."

"At least his mistake worked out for us. If it wasn't for us running into them again, they'd probably have tried to cut and run from port by now," Zelle replied. "We simply explained that the conditions here in Magmapool are such that the only way Lyn could get at them would be through an ambush outside of town, and it calmed the lot right down."

"They were also searching around for that Xerneas beforehand, and they almost certainly kept at it after we parted ways," Aldrich said. "It's quite fortunate, really. Thanks to that, you've got the best opportunity you could hope for for grabbing that Lugia."

Ellsberg twitched his antennae, flitting up to the Noivern's face with a puzzled frown. How was one Protector looking for another supposed to help them at all?

"How on earth do you figure that?" Ellsberg demanded. "Wouldn't two Protectors be harder to deal with than one?"

"Because, that Xerneas is a phony. Last I checked from the lore I've read, Xerneas, and Protectors in general didn't have gray Deerling eyes," Ketu chimed in. "However, I wouldn't put it past a Ditto impersonating one."

"Huh? But how would a Ditto even find one to impersonate?" the Mothim asked.

"He wouldn't. No Protector on record that's ever awakened has grown as large as him yet, and I'm sure if we got a chance to look closer, we'd probably notice more things wrong with that 'Protector' prancing around," Sorge answered. "If anything, he and his buddies probably tried to cobble together that disguise from a bunch of drawings and the like and fill in the rest with other Pokémon they saw, hence the eyes."

"It would certainly explain a lot about his actions as well," Zelle added. "Since when would a Protector ever be so obsessive about collecting money from random peasants?"

"So, all we need to do is twist those con artists' arms a bit," Ketu smirked. "They keep up their act long enough to lure that Lugia to us, and then we pounce."

Ellsberg fluttered with a pondering silence, before giving a muttering nod of his head. He certainly hadn't expected much from Ketu's friends on such short notice, but even he had to concede that this idea might be onto something.

"That's… actually not half bad," the Mothim admitted. "But you're missing one thing. How do we get to 'Xerneas' and his friends without drawing attention from the townsfolk?"

"Leave that to me. I'll find out where their resting place is by listening in on them. All you have to do for now is wait until tonight when the town is less active," Aldrich insisted, as a malevolent grin came over his face.

"After all, those townsfolk have to be awake to come to anyone's aid."

"Hm, that does seem like a fairly solid plan…" Ellsberg mulled.

"Good. In that case we should go see Lyn now," Sorge said. "I want to know what he found out about this fake Xerneas and see what we can do to keep him out of the loop."

The Kommo-o and his companions took his leave, shuffling along for the hall as Ketu and Ellsberg stayed behind in the dim chamber. As the three's footsteps fell away, the room returned to silence barring the occasional creak of the ship and churn of waves outside, leaving Ketu to cross his arms and shoot an insistent look over at his Mothim partner.

"Now do you see why I said we had better odds on this island?" he said.

"I admit it sounds better than going along with Lyn's course of action here…" Ellsberg murmured. "But there's one thing I still don't understand."

Ketu tilted his head, giving Ellsberg a puzzled, yet curious look before the Mothim continued.

"Why are you doing this anyway? Simply sticking close to Lyn as he gets promoted would make it much easier for you to become a Third-Rank than doing all of this," the Bug-Type said. "He never seemed to mistreat you or take you for granted. What did Administrator Elilan promise you that you'd pass all that up? A seat on the Board?"

The Weavile frowned back at the moth's question, giving an irritable shake of his head as his eyes hardened into a sharp glare.

"Really? That's who you think I am?" Ketu scoffed. "Some cliché rank-chaser who only cares about getting promoted?"

The Dark-Type gave a disgusted scoff before making his way for the door. Ketu pushed it open only to pause a moment before turning over his shoulder with a pointed scowl.

"But to answer your question, no. I wouldn't be interested in becoming an Administrator even if they asked," he retorted. "I'm fine topping out as a Commander. Having to deal with a whole island is more of a headache than I'd care to put up with."

"Then why are you doing this?"

Ketu and Ellsberg stared at each other silently, the Mothim waiting insistently for an answer only for the Weavile to remain stone-faced. Ellsberg fidgeted impatiently, preparing to speak when a small smirk crept over Ketu's face as followed by a singular reply.

"… Wouldn't you like to know?" the Weavile answered.

The Dark-Type slunk off, leaving Ellsberg alone in the room to huff annoyedly. Why the furball couldn't be bothered to answer such an honest question, he'd never know. But that was hardly his problem, and after their mission was complete, it would be unlikely they'd ever cross paths with each other again. Brushing the matter aside, Ellsberg set off, opting to prepare for the mission ahead of him tonight. No matter what Ketu's real motivations were, that was his promotion on the line, and it was nigh time to seize it.



As the sun carried on its westerly course over Tidemill's skies, the wreckage in the harbor of the Visitors' District cleared away little by little until a passage reopened through its gates. One by one, the entrance grew thick with ships and groups of swimmers queueing up for departing inspections at the wall, forming a snaking line in the water that included a golden-sailed caravel where a Ledian and a Floatzel watched as their ship bobbed slowly along, the beetle giving a disgusted hiss and click of his mandibles.

"Ugh, can those Imps take any longer checking these ships?" Kichiro grumbled. "It's like they're all doing this for the first time!"

Rodion shook his head, giving a bemused chuckle in response as he prodded at his friend's shoulder with a teasing jab.

"Sounds like you've been taking after Hess a bit while we've been waiting in port," the Floatzel snarked.

"Oi, what's that supposed to mean?!" Kichiro buzzed back. "I'm nothing like-!"

WHUMP!

Kichiro flitted up and Rodion latched onto the railing as they felt the ship's deck slightly lurch underfoot. The pair turned to their right, where further down, Hess was stomping the deck impatiently, leaning out over the railing and cupping a claw with a loud bellow.

"Hurry it up, you lousy peons!" Hess roared. "Some of us have places to get to!"

The Ledian stared wordlessly at the Aggron's fuming, before looking up and seeing Rodion looking at him with a smarmy, knowing smile that prompted him to look away and turn his head up.

"… That doesn't count," Kichiro huffed. "Purely coincidence."

Hess stepped away from the railing with a low grumble, lumbering along the deck before he looked up and noted Rodion and Kichiro before him, prompting him to tilt his head in surprise.

"Huh? You two are still here?" the Aggron asked. "I thought there was work to be done taking us out of port."

"Well, there's only so much that can be done while we're inching forward like this…" Rodion sighed.

The Floatzel motioned around the deck, where from a passing glance, Valatos, Alvise, and Nori could be seen gathered around a crate playing a game of cards, with little sign of any actual work being done on the deck. A quick glance at the rigging and surrounding waters revealed the escorts to be little better: a Noibat and a Chingling perched among the netting poking up at the clouds above, with a few of the crew's swimmers in the water busying themselves with a splash fight, leaving Kichiro to shake his head with an irritated mutter.

"Blugh… we're never leaving this island, are we?" the Ledian grumbled.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Hess retorted. "As long as I've got my lucky charm, this ship's bound to make it back home in one piece!"

Kichiro shot a sour frown at the Aggron, who rolled his eyes before walking off to fish through a chest under the shade and fetch a clay flask. The Ledian watched as Hess stood up and took a swig from the flask before plodding back, leaving the Bug-type to turn to Rodion with an unamused stare.

"Am I supposed to seriously be soothed by that lousy rock around his neck?" he muttered.

"Eh, whatever helps him keep his confidence," Rodion answered. "Keeping morale up in battle counts for more than you think."

"Next!"

The sound of a Slaking's cry made Hess sputter and spit up his current mouthful of rum, prompting him to turn and note that the line ahead had emptied out and other ships were beginning to pass them. The Aggron hastily called out to his underlings, snapping the escorts back to attention as they pushed the Mistral Marauder ahead to the front of the line in a hurry, while faint curses and growls rang out from the freshly-delayed crews behind them. The caravel eased its pace, slowing as it approached a small wooden platform built along the harbor's wall, where a Venomoth kept watch and a Slaking lazily leafed through a clipboard with a crude checklist attached.

"Do you have any cargo to declare?" the Slaking asked.

"Nothing that we didn't already submit while in line," Rodion replied.

"Any 'mons that have come down with an illness?"

"You're supposed to ask that when we pull into port!" Kichiro snapped. "And do we look sick right now?"

"Well you lot certainly smell the part…" the Slaking muttered to himself, before tapping his checklist idly. "And… any tea by chance? Me and the other guards have been getting a bit thirsty up here."

A loud thump filled the air as Hess stomped the deck, glaring up at the Slaking above over the sloth's sudden craving for tea.

"Look bub, we've been waiting in line for two hours!" the Aggron growled. "We're not getting turned around because you decided that you were thirsty!"

"Come on, Bruno. Just hurry up and get this over with," the Venomoth on the platform groaned. "Would you really want tea from that nasty-looking caravel? Why if I didn't know any better, I'd say it was a pirate ship!"

A collective grimace settled over the crew at the Venomoth's words, Hess and his underlings watching breathlessly as the Slaking looked at the ship sternly. After a pause for what felt like an eternity, the Normal-Type turned back to his checklist, before summarily marking a few points on the top paper and turning his attention back down to the Aggron captain.

"Well, I don't see anything out of the ordinary," the Slaking said. "You're all free to go."

The crew of the Mistral Marauder breathed a collective sigh of relief, at once hurrying to their stations to help ease the ship through the passage past the walls. From his place, Kichiro flitted over to the ship's railing, when the sound of churning water and loud complaining carried along the air.

"And I was saying that if we'd been waiting to ambush them in the harbor instead of chasing them through the canals, the Protector wouldn't have slipped away from Captain Nugget," a Tentacruel's burbling voice scoffed.

"Snova? Seriously, give it a rest Cyanea!" a Sharpedo's voice shot back. "It's not as if we'd get another chance to redo everything to prove your point!"

The Ledian froze, realizing that the voices sounded like ones he had heard back during the chase through the canals… and not for a good reason either.

"… Wasn't 'Captain Nugget' that Clawitzer we ran into?" the beetle gulped.

Hess, Rodion, and Kichiro peered over the railing where they caught sight of none other than Cyanea and Katyusha swimming by. The Tentacruel and Sharpedo carried on, before noti