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Pokémon Fledglings

Chapter 65: False Moves

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
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In the chambers that served as the Siglo Swellow's sleeping quarters, day and night knew the same darkness, disturbed only by the faint bluish light of glow-moss gathered in glass jars hung from the rafters. From the sleeping room that lay closest to the stern, the sounds of the ship gently creaking and rocking rang out, mixed with muffled footsteps and chatter from sailors wrapping up their last shifts of work for the day, a sign that the night was still young enough that the deckhands hadn't retired for rest.

A tired sigh cut through the air, revealing the lone occupant of the room to be a haggard Fraxure lying on his side with a stomach bandaged with dirty, ruddy linens. Pladur cast a glance over at a plate set with a small portion of gummis and Nomel Berries that had still gone untouched, his appetite having shriveled with the lack of company to partake it with.

Perhaps it wouldn't have made much of a difference anyways… At every turn since he'd remembered waking up, the hapless Fraxure had found himself plagued by stubborn memories of his defeat in the arena. Time and time again, he heard the Weavile's sneering voice, felt the chill of his icy wind, and the slashing pain of his claws as he sat helplessly in bed. The Dragon-Type stirred restlessly, groping his red claws under his bedding where they latched onto a smooth stone, which he brought up to his tusks and began to rub along their edges much as he had numerous times earlier that day, sharpening it little by little in a futile attempt to bring some reassurance, when a sharp pain shot through his abdomen.

"Agh!"

Pladur winced and his grip slackened, letting the stone drop against the wood of the ship with a loud clatter. The dragon grimaced and whined before flopping back down into the straw, laying there attempting to catch his breath, and feeling all the more alone and impotent than he had before.

"… Dad?"

The Fraxure turned his head at the sound of a familiar voice from the door, where the ruddy crest of a young Druddigon caught the light of the room's lanterns. Pladur's expression eased, a small smile settling over his mouth as he carefully propped his body up, sitting upright to address his child the best his injured frame would allow.

"Ah… hola, mijo," the Fraxure said. "Did you eat well at dinner tonight?"

"I… wasn't that hungry earlier, and I wanted to check up on how you were doing," Crom answered, drawing an uneasy tilt of his father's head in reply.

"I… er… uh… think I'm doing fine?" Pladur insisted. "A few aches, but nothing your papí can't handle with a little rest!"

The Fraxure forced a toothy smile over his face, giving a weak wag of his tail hoping to cheer Crom up, only for his forced smile to melt away as his son drooped his head.

"… Did something happen while you were out today?" he asked.

"Well…"

The Druddigon started off explaining how they'd encountered Xerneas at the docks interacting with a local crowd, only for the deer to vanish on them after Ander had made a scene. He continued on, telling how the team had split up to find him, and of what Kiran had told him about how the encounter with Xerneas had gone and of his plans to try and meet up tomorrow alongside Pleo to salvage their initial impressions.

On top of that disappointment, he and Nida had gone off with Dimitri and Pleo into the fringes where by a stroke of fate they'd encountered another Protector who proclaimed himself to be 'Zygarde: the Keeper of Balance'. He didn't know what to think of the green serpent, but whatever the truth of the matter was, they had gotten little from their meeting with the snake other than a pointed berating that left Pleo in a poor mood for most of the day. At that portion of the Crom's tale, Pladur blinked in astonishment, as he quickly raised his voice to inquire further on the topic.

"Two Protectors? Natrix and Philips told me about the venado, but the other one sure sounds strange… Perhaps they're related?" Pladur mulled. "Why, if there's really two other Protectors here and you could get them to work together, we'd be able to turn things around with those Company rotters in no time!"

"But they rejected us! They didn't think that we were worth helping!" Crom protested. "If we're really that insignificant, how are we supposed to manage to get Pleo home?"

"I… mean, hasn't that been what we've all been doing all this time?" the Fraxure reassured. "It can't be that much harder-"

"Also the guards are going to discover who we are eventually," the Druddigon added. "And to top it all off, Lyn's waiting to ambush us outside of town!"

Pladur's eyes widened and his body went rigid at Crom's words, the Fraxure's confident demeanor fading as he stammered back for a clarification.

"Wh-What was that last part?"

"Lyn was looking for us in town earlier," the Druddigon said. "A Rescue Team we ran into pointed out that there's too many guards here for him to attack us directly, so he's most likely waiting to attack us right as we sail out."

Pladur's face flushed pale at his child's explanation and wobbled as he began to feel faint. He knew that the Siglo Swellow would need to hurry to beat the news of their escape with the Protector from Tidemill, and he'd heard from the other sailors who'd come to see him earlier in the day that Lyn was also in port plotting against them, but this was far worse than anything he'd imagined! H-How was he supposed to deal with the guards, let alone stand up to Lyn or his horrid first mate in this state?! And if Captain Beatrix leaned on him for hitting hard, what were the others supposed to do?!

"I… I just don't know what we can do anymore," Crom muttered.

The Fraxure wavered a moment, before noticing his son's glum and defeated expression. The dragon gulped, forcing back his worries as he put on a brave face and rested a claw on his child's shoulder.

"… We're all looking out for each other, aren't we?" Pladur asked. "No matter what happens, we'll all be together for it and do our best to try and work something out."

Crom fell silent, raising his head and peering intently back into his father's red eyes. As faltering and uncertain as it was, the Fraxure smiled back, hopeful that somehow, the Travellers above would help turn the tide… only for Pladur's moment of serenity to abruptly go ajar as he pulled his arm back and cringed in pain from his stomach.

"Ngh!"

"Dad!"

Pladur slouched over, gasping for air before peering up and shaking his head back to his son.

"It's alright! It's alright! I… I just need some time to rest," the Fraxure reassured. "You should do the same, mijo. You've got a big day ahead of you finding that 'Xerneas' again-"

"Actually, I wanted to stay here tonight," Crom insisted, prompting Pladur to trail off and blink in surprise.

"… Huh?"

"You said that we're all looking out for each other, right?" the Druddigon began. "Well, that includes you, and I think that you need it a bit more than Nida does right now."

Pladur paused, before a warm smile crept over his face, the dragon breathing a quiet thanks for his son's presence.

"… Alright, but be warned that we'll have to share a space," the Fraxure replied. "And I am a little smaller than you…"

"I wouldn't want it any other way."

Crom shuffled over, stretching his arms and wings with a yawn before he laid down on the straw. Crom arced his body, curling up beside his father as he shifted his wings to find a comfortable resting experience until he settled down, letting the sound of distant chatter and waves carry on as his eyelids drooped and the Dragon-Types drifted off into slumber.



As Crom and his father dozed off below the deck, the rhythms of life in Magmapool Town similarly ebbed as Pokémon went to sleep, what little life in the town remaining being kept up by more nocturnal locals who carried on amidst the thinned lanternlight. Among the remaining lanterns were a set of paper lanterns hung from poles leading up to a spacious villa built overlooking the sea at the edge of town, where Xerneas and his companions had gathered at the front. The Nuzleaf among them put his hands on the frame of a sliding door, pulling it aside to reveal a chamber lit up by candles, occupied by wooden furniture and silken cushions that ringed a table with a bottle of champagne in an icy bucket set out for them. The Eevee and Riolu's eyes lit up, prompting them to dash in excitedly and marvel at the furnishings as their teammates followed.

"This place is amazing!" the Eevee yipped. "I can't believe we've got it all to ourselves!"

"It sure is nice that the Duke let us stay here for free for the night," the Riolu added. "I don't think we've ever stayed somewhere like this before!"

"But of course! Only the best for the Voice of Life and his entourage!" Xerneas exclaimed, prompting the Nuzleaf to blink before giving a dismissive scoff.

"Ha, ha, very funny," the Grass-Type said. "You're not gonna keep up that form all night, are you David?"

"… What do you think?"

Xerneas snickered as his body and horns suddenly began to flare with a pinkish light, the deer's body collapsing in on itself into a smaller and smaller blob. The light dissipated, revealing the beady-eyed form of a Ditto, who gave a proud bow back to his Nuzleaf partner.

"Would I really be the type to pass up having a bed big enough to roll around in?" David asked.

"Heh! Let's jump around in it!" the Riolu exclaimed. "Even if they make us pay for it afterwards, we'd have the money to buy a new one!"

"Pah, you're so boring, Charlie!" the Eevee giggled. "I say let's sleep on all the coins we collected instead! Just like a Garchomp on a treasure pile!"

The Nuzleaf of the group smiled, giving the drawstring bag on his shoulder a satisfying, clinking shake before pacing over to the table and grabbing the champagne bottle by its neck just above a label reading 'Moët du Boisocéan'. He popped the cork, pouring out portions for himself and his teammates into a quartet of glazed cups with twine holders wrapped around them. One by one, the four each took their cups up from the table in high spirits, as the Grass-Type held his cup out for a toast.

"To Buyeom!" the Nuzleaf cheered. "And all the gullible idiots who made this night possible!"

The four dissolved into laughter, clinking their cups together before they gulped down their helpings of champagne. As the drink warmed her body, Marilyn swished her tail satisfiedly, turning to her teammates with a curious tilt of her head.

"So… what do we do when we wake up?" the Eevee wondered. "We've played this 'Voice of Life' thing up quite a bit already."

"We get out while the going is good and move onto the next place," her Nuzleaf teammate responded. "We might need to do something a bit lower key once the locals figured out that this Xerneas was a fake, but we've made enough to get us by for a while."

"Pah! You're leaving money on the table, Albert!" David scoffed. "Let's at least visit the Rescue Guild first! The Pokémon in those places are all a bunch of gullible losers who think they're gonna save the world."

"Are you sure about that?"

The four at once jumped up with a start at the sound of an unknown voice, whirling around as they realized it was coming from the front door to the villa. There, the lot saw the form of a Weavile leaning against the wall, picking at his claws in seeming disinterest of the four's visible alarm.

"W-Who are you?!" Charlie yelped. "And how did you even get in here?!"

"Through a window upstairs. Really, most Pokémon are so careless by leaving those open," Ketu answered, stepping away from the wall with a sneering grin. "Anyway, I'm just someone who couldn't help but overhear that you wanted to meet up with teams from the guild. So how about I give you a private meeting with the best of the best?"

The Weavile threw his claws onto the frame of the front door and slid it open, prompting Team Sentinel to storm in with Ellsberg following on their heels. The four came to a stop in the room, glaring daggers at the wide-eyed tricksters as they shrank back uneasily.

"Uh… er… hi? We're the Voice of Life's entourage," the Nuzleaf began. "This Ditto here's… well, he's a friend we chanced to run into and-"

"Save it!" Sorge snapped. "Do you really think that we're dense enough that we can't see an obvious scam when it's right in front of us?!"

"That's right! You've got a lot to answer for to this town over this game you've been pulling!" Aldrich snarled.

"So… are you going to come quietly?" Zelle growled. "Or do we need to get forceful to bring you in?"

"Albert, Charlie, Marilyn!" David shouted. "Time to go!"

The Ditto transformed into an Eevee and zipped ahead, his teammates each bolting for the windows and side exits of the villa. From the corner of his eye, David caught sight of Sorge knocking Albert over, pinning him down with a startled cry, as the Ditto dashed madly for the opened window in his new Eevee form. The changeling heard Marilyn, and then Charlie scream out of fright, prompting him to desperately scrabble up a shelf by the window and leap for it, only for a cutting gust to knock him down to the ground. David's form melted back to his normal pink lump, leaving him fidgeting on the floor in a daze as he saw his bag lying aside on the ground, making a desperate grab as Ketu scooped it up and Ellsberg cut him off, holding the Ditto aloft with a telekinetic lift of his tarsi.

"Hrmph, I was expecting more resistance from Pokémon impersonating a Protector," the Mothim scoffed.

Ketu fumbled with his claws through David's bag, throwing out one useless bauble after the next onto the floor. The Weavile felt his claws brush up against something soft and light, prompting him to fish out a brilliant red-and white feather with a green bottom. The Dark-Type paused, giving a raise of his brow as he inspected the feather closely, only to notice that there were uneven patches of white showing all along the feather's quill much like the edge of a stain on a cloth, prompting him to shoot a mocking gaze at David and his companions.

"Hah! Considering the quality of their work, that's not that surprising," Ketu snickered. "Seriously, you four had trouble choosing which disguise to pick?"

The Weavile flicked away the feather and threw David's bag aside, before he and his teammates helped themselves to Albert's drawstring bag of coins and hemmed in David and his companions. Charlie and Marilyn quivered, their voices coming out in low, frightened whimpers as they tried to hide behind their Nuzleaf teammate. In a panic, the Ditto of the group hastily waved his nubby hands, hoping to prevent whatever designs Team Sentinel had for him and his companions.

"L-Look! This is all just a big misunderstanding!" David stammered. "What do you want? A cut of our take?"

"Pah! Do you think we're interested in your dirty money?" Aldrich spat. "Your act is through!"

"Just think of all those poor, innocent Pokémon that you swindled!" Zelle exclaimed as she moved a feeler to her forehead with a swooning motion. The Fairy-Type threw her head back dramatically before flicking her feeler aside and letting her face harden into a cruel sneer. "And what they'll do to you when they find out they've been deceived like this!"

The Sylveon's jeer brought a cringing pause from David and his team, followed by a cold shudder. Pokémon that engaged in confidence tricks already had a tendency to be suffered poorly when discovered by their marks over simple things like shell games and fake fur growth tonics. If their imaginations were anything to go by, what the townsfolk would do over discovering they were taken in by false gods would be far, far worse. The four were called back to the situation at hand when Ketu cleared his throat and spoke up with a predatory smirk.

"That said… if you were willing to do us a little favor, we might be willing to change our minds," he said.

"A… favor?" Marilyn asked.

"W-What would that be?" Albert stammered.

"There's another group of criminals on this island who have been going around pretending they have a Protector among them just like you have," Sorge replied. "We need you to lure them out for us."

The Kommo-o's answer made the four blink and trade hesitant looks with each other. Who among all the Pokémon they'd met so far could possibly be attempting their same gambit? Unless…

"You mean… that group with the Marked Scyther…?" Charlie asked.

"Sounds like you've already met them," Ketu harrumphed. "Now, out with it. What do you know about them?"

"I mean… we didn't think much of them since it didn't seem like they were putting on that good of an act," the Riolu explained. "But we saw them near the docks this afternoon after they asked why David wasn't in Mengir, and they wound up following us around town and invited us to visit their ship they came in on."

"And you accepted?" Aldrich pressed, drawing an uneasy squirm back from the Eevee of the group.

"Well… no," Marilyn answered. "But it was an open invitation so-"

"It's good enough for what we need," the Noivern finished. "You're going down to their ship first thing tomorrow, and you'll tell them to meet you someplace outside of town. Once they agree to that, we'll take over things."

"They're far more dangerous than they let on, so I doubt you'd want to get your claws involved in the matter anyways," Sorge said. "If everything goes to plan, we'll repay you by giving back your belongings and a chance to get out of town before the guards find out."

"S-Sounds fair to me!" David exclaimed. "What do you all say?"

Albert, Charlie, and Marilyn hastily chimed in with forced, overeager agreement, breathing sighs of relief as Team Sentinel seemed to back off afterwards. Albert dusted himself off, warily raising his voice to ask what they were to do next, when Zelle raised a feeler to interrupt him.

"Good! Now, there's just one other part of the favor we need you to do," the Sylveon added.

"W-What do you mean?" the Nuzleaf demanded. "You just gave us an open and shut task here!"

"That's because it's a second task," Zelle answered. "Your leader's a shapeshifter, and there's a Company ship chasing after those other scammers."

The Fairy-Type neared with a relaxed trot, curling her feeler around Albert's chin and pulling his head up to face her.

"He's gonna take the identity of the 'Legendary' with them, and trick those Company 'mons into capturing him while we get the real one," Zelle said, giving the Nuzleaf a wink. "'Kay?"

The Sylveon drew her feeler back, leaving the Nuzleaf and his companions to splutter stunned at this sudden surprise demand forced upon them, before they managed to squeak out their protests.

"N-Now hold on a minute!" Albert stammered. "That wasn't part of the deal!"

"Yeah, David's the backbone of our team!" Marilyn cried. "How are we supposed to do anything without him?!"

Charlie paused, quietly closing his eyes and fanning out the feelers on his head, before turning nervously to his Ditto teammate.

"I… I really don't like what I'm sensing from their auras, David," the Riolu gulped. "What if this is some sort of trap?"

"Tch, do you honestly think that we don't have a way of helping him escape?" Ketu scoffed. "Just do as you're instructed and everything will work out fine… unless you prefer the alternative…"

"No! No! That's fine! I just need to hang tight and you'll spring me!" David insisted. "I can deal with that!"

Zelle smiled, walking up to David and circling him with a predatory gaze. The Ditto followed her movements back and forth, before she suddenly gave a sharp jab with a feeler that made him shrink back uneasily.

"But I'm warning you…" she sneered. "We can't afford any complications from you wanting to play games with us. If you do, things will not end well for you. Are we clear?"

"Perfectly," the Ditto gulped.

"Excellent! Then let's go over this in plan in detail," Zelle said. "We wouldn't want your big day tomorrow running into a hitch, now would we?"

Zelle and Aldrich neared, starting to spell out the indistinct beginnings of the plan for the next day from just outside of Ellsberg's range of hearing. The Mothim watched the pair as their new recruits overeagerly nodded back, before noticing Sorge and Ketu drifting off for the villa's entrance remarking disgustedly over the fraudsters' 'human' impersonations, and deciding to follow along from behind.

"Ketu, shouldn't we be pressing them to do something now?" Ellsberg insisted. "Our scarf patterns are wanted back in Tidemill and it takes at most a day for word to travel from there to Buyeom."

Ketu furrowed his brow at the Mothim's question, before frowning and shaking his head back.

"Look, I'm all for getting results quickly, but there's just some things you can't rush, Ellsberg." Ketu said. "If those bums ask Team Traveller in the dead of night to meet them outside of town, they're bound to suspect something's amiss."

"But then what are we supposed to do?" the moth buzzed. "We're already on borrowed time in this town and getting the Protector means precious little if we're mobbed the moment we set foot back into Magmapool!"

"My team and I will do something about it," Sorge offered. "The Pokémon that carry in messages usually pass over the gate at the harbor on their way in, so we'll see if we can intercept those notices, or at least slip in some disinfo to buy you some time."

Ellsberg paused, flitting in place quietly. Sorge and his team clearly weren't amateurs, but this plan felt… improvised to him, to say the least. Though, with the sort of situation they were dealing with, it surely wasn't realistic to expect carefully planned contingencies either.

"If you're sure about this…" he murmured.

"The alternatives aren't any less risky. As long as we all do what's needed tomorrow, we should be able to get that Protector en route to Administrator Elilan, and Lyn out of port with his bogey," Sorge reassured. "Just set up that ambush with Ketu and don't let that Lugia get away."

"Wait… just me and Ketu?!"

"I can already tell it's going to be a long night," Ketu sighed, as a tired smile spread over his mouth. "Come on, Ellsberg. We've got only one shot at this, so we better talk through some battle strategies after briefing those scammers."

The Weavile began to pace off back for Zelle and Aldrich, turning back for the Mothim as his smile hardened into a devious smirk.

"After all, there's not going to be any consolation prizes tomorrow," he said. "So let's make sure we get this right."



The next morning, Team Traveller woke up on the Siglo Swellow as the Sun Chaser's traveller crossed the sky. With Pladur still injured, the duty of preparing breakfast for the Siglo Swellow's crew fell to Crom after their leftovers were depleted and Natrix and Philip's attempts the day before had been found to be roundly inadequate by the crew. The Druddigon's initial anxieties of his task ebbed after his teammates eagerly volunteered to lend helping paws, leaving him to teach his friends on the job how to prepare gummi mix and keep the galley just clean and free enough to ready the crew's portions.

The youngsters' efforts carried on with a few mishaps and false starts, along with an occasional swat by Guardia at Elty to thwart his attempts at stealing food before it even left the galley. In the end, after what felt like an eternity of work, the group managed to put out a passable meal for their hungry audience in the mess hall. Team Traveller sat and ate before hastily tidying the galley and dining area. Upon finishing, the lot shuffled up above the deck, where they could smell the salty air, and the sound of Pokémon at work in the harbor reached their ears as they stretched their limbs from their hard work.

"Those Gummis were great, Crom!" Pleo chirped. "I didn't know you knew so much about cooking!"

"Well… it’s just because my dad taught me," the Druddigon answered, rubbing the back of his head bashfully. "And if I was bad at cooking, I don't think mom would want me helping back in the shop."

"You all certainly did a great job helping him as well," Kiran added. "It takes a lot to learn on the fly like that."

"Eh, I was perfectly content with those provisions the other day," Guardia said. "But your fellows seemed to appreciate the difference."

Nida flicked her ears uncomfortably, her attention drifting out towards the collection of unassuming buildings among the black stone walls back on shore. She heard a buzzing shout come from behind, seeing Ander and Dimitri arriving with a wave as she mulled a moment before turning back to her companions.

"So… how are we gonna do this?" Nida asked. "It was a huge pain in the butt to just find Xerneas yesterday, and I don't know what we'd do if he still refuses to help us…"

"Well we'd better figure out something fast," Elty grumbled. "Those guards are eventually going to figure out that we're from the same crew that trashed Tidemill's harbor on the way out, and I doubt they'll just let us loaf around port after that."

The others on the team hemmed and hawed, evidently all short on ideas of what other options they had that could be used to sway Xerneas' opinion. After a moment of awkward silence, the group heard the sound of nearing footsteps, turning to see Natrix and Philips approaching and waving for attention.

"Oi! Kiran!" Natrix cried.

"Hrm?"

"There's a Nuzleaf at the docks who says he's been looking for you," the Servine said.

"Yeah, you two apparently ran into each other yesterday?" Philips murmured. "He says he wanted to talk a moment."

A… Nuzleaf they'd met yesterday? Why that must've been the Nuzleaf that was with Xerneas! Sensing opportunity in the air, Kiran gave a ruffle of his feathers followed by a thankful bow, as he beat his wings to start making his way off the ship.

"Thanks for the tip," the Swellow said. "We'll be right over."

The Flying-Type flitted off, settling down in front of the gangplank where his teammates hurried over to rejoin him. There, they made their way down to the pier, where the Nuzleaf was waiting for them at the bottom, shifting uneasily.

"Well, I certainly didn't expect you to just come over after what I heard yesterday," Dimitri remarked. "What's going on and what did you want from us?"

"I… think we kinda got off on the wrong foot earlier. The name's Albert, and I wanted to apologize for yesterday, we were a bit ruder than we ought to have been," the Nuzleaf said. "We've… been going through a lot lately, and Xerneas felt that it was for the best to meet up with you anyways in spite of our misgivings."

A stunned silence fell over Team Traveller, as each member traded disbelieving stares with each other. Guardia stood mystified for a moment, tripping over her tongue before spluttering back incredulously at the Grass-Type.

"Huh?!" she exclaimed. "But you completely blew us off yesterday!"

"What made you suddenly change your mind?" Kiran pressed. "You didn't sound like you believed us at all yesterday."

Albert paused, moving his left hand over his right arm and giving an uneasy rub. The Nuzleaf looked away a moment, before giving a shake of his head and answering in a low tone.

"We just had to be careful and make sure we weren't being deceived," Albert insisted. "You see, our own journey hasn't been going as smoothly as we let on."

"What do you mean?" Nida asked, lifting an ear curiously.

"Well, after we came into Anyilla, we passed through Mengir and Xerneas wound up catching the attention of the Company there," the Nuzleaf explained. "They've been chasing after us ever since, and one of their ships is even in town with its Samurott captain looking for us."

The Nidoran and her companions jumped back with a start at the Grass-Type's answer. A Company Samurott? But that could only mean that…

"E-Eh?! Lyn's chasing you too?!" Pleo cried.

Albert glumly nodded back, lowering his head-leaf apologetically as he continued on.

"I see you know him as well, Protector. But that's why Xerneas wanted to meet you," the Grass-Type said. "That Samurott's set up an ambush in the waters outside town, and we wanted to work with you to see what could be done to get past it. The fate of the world depends on it!"

"Well, I mean, we're right here," Elty replied. "Just have Xerneas come over and-"

"No!"

Team Traveller jolted up with a start at Albert's outburst as his eyes widened and his body tensed up. The Grass-Type looked around anxiously at his surroundings, before breathing in deeply and leaning in towards the team.

"There's too many eyes that could be watching us here," he insisted. "We'll meet you at noon in the midpoint of the Mystery Dungeon. Time is of the essence, so don't come late."

"Right, we'll be sure to do that," Kiran answered. "Good luck?"

"… Yeah, you too."

With that, the Nuzleaf turned and hurried off down the pier, leaving Team Traveller to trade glances with each other.

"… Is this really a good idea?" Ander asked. "Being all alone with that thing in a dungeon?"

"Ander, we don't have any other options," Nida said. "And if Xerneas is in as much trouble as that, we shouldn't assume that he can remain here for too long."

Kiran paused, looking down the pier where Albert had departed, before up at the veil of fog near the base of the volcano in the distance. After a moment's silence, the bird shook his head and beat his wings, speaking up in a low voice.

"… Let's go back to the ship and pack up our stuff," he said. "We're pressed for time, and this might be the only chance we have to deal with Xerneas before we're forced to leave."



Shortly after Albert left, Team Traveller set about preparing for their trip into Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon. They quickly threw together their remaining items from their stints in Sormus and Tidemill, only to discover they were a bit short, prompting a quick visit to the local Kecleon Shop for some healing berries, and the all-important Escape Orb to get back out without the help of the local guild. The team carried on, leaving the black-walled city and following a course inland, where the vegetation thinned and gave way to rocky landscapes of red and black stone, punctuated by an occasional column of steam or ashy smoke. The party followed their winding path all the way up to the shadow of a tall peak trailing clouds above where thick fog swirled out the entrance to a yawning cave. In spite of the fog, an uncomfortably hot wind came out from the cave's mouth, with a pungent, sulfurous odor that made Nida wrinkle her nose in displeasure.

"I'm not sure if I'm really liking this volcano," the Nidoran murmured. "Is it even safe to go in there?"

"Looks perfectly fine to me!" Elty yipped. "If every Mystery Dungeon we were in was hot and toasty like this, I'd be right at home taking missions inside!"

Elty's teammates groaned and rolled their eyes at the Growlithe's comment, clearly lacking the same enthusiasm for their scorched surroundings. Dimitri shook his head before looking off ahead into the fog in front of him, casting glances around the other parts of the volcano before reluctantly turning back to his peers.

"Well, I don't see tuman anywhere else on this volcano," the Kabutops sighed. "Given that there's is eight of us, how do we want to handle going in?"

"I say we stick together," Guardia replied. "There's strength in numbers and we know that Lyn is waiting for us to slip up."

"Eh? But don't we need to get to the midpoint as fast as possible?" Crom asked. "If we take too long, the guards might catch on to Captain Beatrix!"

The Cubone and Druddigon's conflicting suggestions drew hems and haws from their teammates, each struggling to decide between the two options. If Pleo were caught off-guard by Lyn without enough strength to defend him, their mission to find the Knights' Ledger would be as good as lost… and yet, the same would be true if they couldn't get off Buyeom in the first place thanks to the Empire! The group agonized over the two unpalatable choices, until Kiran cleared his throat and raised a wing in suggestion.

"Why don't we split off into our same groups from yesterday? We can each cover half of the floor, and regroup back in the middle to report what we found," Kiran said. "That way we can find the stairs quicker, while we'd also be able to get to each other soon enough if either of our groups wound up in over their heads."

"I suppose I could see the advantages of that…" Ander mulled.

The group debated with one another, quickly settling around the consensus that Kiran's plan represented the best hedge against both sets of risks. All the while, Pleo drifted away from the group, shifting uneasily as a nagging doubt kept creeping back into his mind:

After all the trouble they'd had with Xerneas yesterday, why did it feel like his change of heart had been too sudden? To persuade a Pokémon that had laughed them off just by waiting a night on the Siglo Swellow felt unusually easy… only for a sharp rap of Guardia's club against the ground to make him raise his head back to attention.

"Hrm, I guess that works for me," the Cubone grunted. "The sooner we can get to Xerneas, the sooner we can get the lore we need and work with him to get past that ambush!"

Guardia slung her club over her shoulder, sauntering over towards Kiran, Elty, and Ander, leaving Pleo to ponder before shaking his head and opting to brush the matter off. As Kiran and his teammates gathered, the Swellow ruffled his feathers, before giving a cheery wave of his wing.

"Alright, we'll see you all inside," Kiran replied.

The Swellow paced ahead, Elty, Guardia, and Ander latching onto each other as they marched into the swirling fog, leaving Pleo to stare afterwards. The young Lugia felt a prod at his leg, looking down to see Nida peering up at him with a curious look on her face.

"Are you ready, Pleo?"

The Lugia paused, gazing uneasily into the fog before turning his head back, giving his tail a reassuring shake.

"Yeah," the young Protector answered back. "I think so."

Pleo watched as Nida clambered atop Crom's crest, before grabbing hold of the Druddigon's tail with his wings as Crom latched onto Dimitri's shoulder. One by one, the four made their way into the fog, the blue skies above fading away as they stepped into the Distortion's haze, and on towards the help they'd so desperately needed in their mission.



In the Company's headquarters on Vollezee, the thick aura of tension had dissipated as workers and guards went back to their business and the passing streets were filled with their normal crowds of hawkers and passerbys. From the top level, a Nidoking peered down at the scene below from a covered hallway, his hide nicked with fresh scuffs from a recent sparring session as he passed down the hall, which wrapped around the perimeter of a rooftop garden planted with trees and Berry plants. The Poison-Type's course took him to one of the roof's corners, where an enclosed office had been built, leaving him to walk up and push the door open where he was promptly greeted by a wooden desk with a large stack of paperwork waiting for him.

"… Of course," he sighed.

Inler shook his head with an annoyed grumble, sitting on a padded ottoman as he pawed through the papers, including an already-opened letter from Ellsberg outlining the Nektar Weide's latest update from infiltrating Buyeom. His thoughts turned back to unwelcome memories of the meeting from the prior day and the confrontation with Elilan. The Nidoking's mouth curled down sourly for a moment, prompting him to push the papers he had taken back into the pile and his eyes to drift off into the garden towards its flora when the sound of his office's doors creaking open pricked his ears.

"Opa, we zijn er!"

The Director peered over, seeing the form of a female Nidoran bounding in, followed by two males. The trio hopped up to the front of the desk expectantly as Inler shuffled up from his seat and gave a pleased wag of his tail at the youngsters' presence.

"Ahh, I wasn't expecting you all to come here," the Nidoking smiled back. "But no 'dyado'? I would've thought your parents would've finally gotten around to teaching you a bit of Mengirski by now."

The Nidoran trio shifted awkwardly a moment, and folded back their ears as they pawed at the ground uneasily. One of the purple Nidoran gave a soft kick at a chink in the floor, before hemming and hawing out a reply.

"I mean… they say that we should talk more like the Pokémon around us," he said. "And they don't really speak it other than when they used to talk with you."

A disappointed frown crept over Inler's face, prompting him to look away and shake his head bitterly at his grandson's explanation.

"Hrmph, so nothing's changed. As usual," he grumbled. "I'm surprised they even let you come here."

"I mean, we're in the Academy now, so we're able to do more of what we want," the female Nidoran declared proudly. "But… did you ever try to fix things after that fight with them, opa?"

"Tsk. I don't see how that's really possible when they can't be bothered to respond to any letters I send them, but there's no sense in worrying about it right now," Inler answered. "What about you? How have you been doing at the Academy?"

The Nidoking's question drew a reaction much like suddenly splattering the suds of a BubbleBeam atop the Nidoran, the lot's moods souring as their eyes hardened into annoyed glares. One of the purple Nidoran grumbled under his breath alongside his sister, while the other stomped the floor and spoke up to voice their shared complaints.

"Professor Gerhard made me look like an idiot in front of the whole class!" he fumed. "I came into the room slightly late and he then asked me a bunch of questions that weren't even related to what we were supposed to study the night before!"

Inler blinked a moment at his grandson's outburst, before sighing and craning down to pat the back of the youngster's head.

"I know that must not have been fun, but you have to understand that Professor Gerhard's job is to help raise Pokémon like you to be tough enough to take over the Company when you're older," the Nidoking explained. "If he never makes things a little hard on you, how will you handle tough moments in your life?"

"Hrmph, then why aren't we allowed to work together to give that Professor Gerhard a good Poison Jab without getting expelled?" the female Nidoran harrumphed. "The 'mons who graduated from the Academy never let a single 'mon humiliate them like Gerhard does! So why does he get to hide behind some lame rank he probably tail-kissed to get anyways?"

The suggestion prompted Inler to furrow his brow and throw a claw over his face in dismay, letting it set there a moment before he breathed out and slowly brought it back to his side.

"… Let's change the subject a bit. I don't think now's the time to explain why there's ranks in the Company," he sighed. "Was there anything you wanted to ask me?"

"Well… how did your day go, opa?" one of the purple Nidoran asked. "You seemed a bit frustrated when we came in earlier."

Inler paused a moment, before folding back his ears with a low grumble.

"I've… had to deal with a lot more lately than I'd would've liked," the Nidoking said. "Lots of sudden changes coming up, and not all of my subordinates seem to be handling things the way they need to be."

"Oh…? Well, I know that we're still going through the Academy and all… but is there anything we can do to help?" his other grandson wondered.

The spike ball's insistence drew a puzzled tilt of Inler's head, before he shook his head back 'no'.

"Don't get too ahead of yourself. Part of running the Company is knowing knowing what problem needs to be dealt with first," the elderly Nidoking replied. "If that weren't the case, the Company wouldn't be what it is today, and there probably wouldn't be an Academy for you to attend."

"Wait," one of the male Nidoran began. "That's a bad thing-? Ow!"

The purple spike ball was cut off by a stomp on his toes by his sister, prompting the pair to trade glares with each other as their brother shifted uneasily.

"I… guess," he murmured. "But is there really nothing we can do?"

Inler paused, swishing his tail back and forth until a small smile crept over his mouth, the Nidoking feeling a sense of contentment that had eluded him for much of the past few weeks.

"Just stay here awhile and put a smile on your old dyado's face," he replied. "It's taking a while, but everything's finally starting to work out the way that we need it to."



The Mistral Marauder's flight from Giotto had taken it on a wild, zigzagging path to and fro in the open sea, the pursuing ships peeling off one by one as the caravel skimmed a current here, swept past a sandbar there, until their foes had been sufficiently bogged down for Hess and his crew to lose sight of them the following day. Once the dust had settled, the Aggron captain found him and his ship adrift in the open sea in choppy waters sporting fresh pockmarks from their escape from Tidemill and its vessels. Out there, he peered through his scope with nary a sea rock around or anything else to orient him beyond a wave of dark, tall clouds poking over the horizon to the west that drew a worried stare from his first mate.

"Any luck, Captain?" Rodion asked. "I'm not liking the look of those clouds on the horizon."

Hess lowered his scope and fidgeted, hemming and hawing at the Floatzel's words. The standard operating procedure in a storm was to try and find a safe port or breakwater to put down anchor and wait it out, but…

"Uhm… well…"

"You know, you can just say that we're lost!" Kichiro snapped.

Woosh!

The three pirates squinted and shielded their faces as a stormy gust kicked up and whistled past. The sails rippled from the gust, joined by startled yelps from several crewmembers, along with the sound of a piercing scream that cut above everything else. Hess and his companions braced themselves, whirling around to see the racket was coming from a flailing Wilhelm being blown out to sea.

"Aaaaah! Help! Help! It's carrying me overboard!" the Hoppip shouted, his cries fading as the winds carried him off for the horizon, leaving Hess to throw a claw over his face with a low grumble.

"Again?" the Aggron groaned. "Kichiro, go after him and bring him back."

"… Do I really have to?" the Ledian grumbled. "This is the fourth time this has happened already!"

"You're the one in charge of bringing him up to speed with the rest of the fliers," Rodion snapped. "You're getting him back."

Kichiro gave a fuming buzz, before hopping up and taking wing, flying off after the fast-disappearing Hoppip. As the beetle departed, Hess raised his scope again, scanning the horizon when he noted a patch of foam in the distance to his left. The Steel-Type's eyes lit up, hopeful that he'd finally found some sign of land nearby… only to discover the bream was coming from a gyre of seaweed, prompting him to pound the railing in frustration.

"Bah! I don't get it!" the Aggron fumed. "There's no beacons, no land, not even a clump of sea rocks in sight! How am I supposed to work with this?"

The pirate captain let out a disgusted huff, when the sound of buzzing wingbeats prompted him to look over his shoulder. There, flying up was an audibly displeased Kichiro, with Wilhelm held firmly in his arms breathing a sigh of relief. The Ledian settled down, before letting the Grass-Type flit up, who circled happily around his rescuer.

"Thank you, Keiichiro!" the Hoppip cheered. "You're a lifesaver!"

"Yeah, yeah, just get it together already!" Kichiro hissed. "If I have to fly after you again, I'm tying you to the mast with a rope!"

"Eh? But if it wasn't for the wind, I'd be able to stick around fine!" Wilhelm insisted. "Why I would've even been able to see those reefs from the ship if I could make it to the crow's nest without getting blown away!"

Kichiro grumbled under his breath as Hess shook his head with an unamused sigh at Wilhelm's perpetual struggles to stay grounded, only for the two to notice Rodion pausing and tilting his head curiously at the Hoppip.

"Those reefs?"

Wilhelm nodded back insistently, prompting Rodion to go over towards the stern and paw through a chest left near an entrance below deck, where he fished out a rolled up sheet of parchment. Hess and Kichiro gave the Floatzel a curious look as he cast a quick glance back out to sea and walked over to a crude table and spread out the parchment, revealing it to be a large map of Anyilla. The two walked over as Rodion set down several small stones at the edges, and picked up a small jar of needles fashioned from Iron Thorns. One after the other, Rodion pinned the barbs to various patches of water on the map, before stepping back and turning to his onlooking companions.

"Well, it's not much to work with, but if that's really what Wilhelm saw, I think that based on the direction of the potok we're on, that we're in one of these places," the Floatzel said.

"And how do we actually get back to land based off of that?" Kichiro demanded. "We didn't reprovision in Tidemill the whole time we were in port, and if this voyage takes too long, we'll be eating our own scarves to get by!"

Hess paused and glanced over the map, agonizing over which of the pins could possibly be their own, before noting that one of them seemed to be near a labeled current that carried on past a small island, as did the pin immediately above it, and the one above that. The Aggron paused and pawed at the parchment, realizing that all of the pins seemed to be within spitting distance of one sea current or another, and that so long as one went along with their course, they were bound to pass by some manner of anchorable land…

"Looks like we just need to find the current near here and follow it. No matter what spot on the map we're on right now, as long as we follow it, we'll find someplace to take shelter," Hess said, prompting Kichiro to let out an annoyed hiss and click his elytra.

"Are we seriously just sailing blindly until we hit something? One of those currents goes directly into the Dead Zone!" the Ledian cried. "What are we supposed to do if that's the current we find?"

"All of the more dangerous routes have unsettled islands on the way we can stop at first," the Aggron retorted. "And if you have such a problem with it, do you have any alternatives?"

Hess and Rodion cast intent, impatient stares, joined in by a curious Wilhelm as Kichiro opened his mandibles to speak… only to hang wordlessly and look down at the deck as he found himself struggling to think of any other alternatives that were less asinine he could offer.

"… Katte ni shiro," Kichiro groaned, before looking back up. "But for the record this still isn't a good solution!"

Hess rolled his eyes at the Ledian's retort, before lumbering up to the bridge and giving a stomp of the deck that drew the attention of the various deckclaws lazing about on deck.

"Take us to the west!" Hess bellowed. "It's going to be a stormy voyage and the sooner we find land, the better!"

At once, the pirate crew swung into action, the escorts whipping up currents to guide the ship as their counterparts on deck tugged the sails to catch the new tailwind. Hess hurried back to the stern, leaning hard against the tiller and sending the ship off westward, sailing off for the horizon as the black clouds rolled in from ahead.



Beyond the fog of Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon, Team Traveller had methodically worked their way up one floor after another of the Distortion's maze, splitting into two groups and rejoining at the stairs before moving onto the next. The floors were composed of reddish-black stone, wedged in between craggy walls and pools of molten rock that made the air above them waver from the heat. On their current floor, Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri carried along a passageway snaking between two patches of lava as a sheet of magma flowed overhead in the far distance, leaving the young Protector to pant from the air's oppressive temperature.

"Agh… it's so hot in here!" Pleo complained. "I thought that the island just made things warm and comfortable like the springs!"

"It's coming from the lava around us," Nida explained. "If you stay towards the middle, the air will already feel a bit cooler."

"You shouldn't be getting too close to that anyways," Dimitri said. "Touch it, and you're bound to get a nasty burn for your trouble."

"Huh? But how hot could it be?" Pleo asked. "Didn't we see Elty running across it just a bit earlier?"

"I mean, he is a Fire-Type," Crom offered. "Though I thought he said something earlier about not wanting to stand still in i-"

The Druddigon's answer was cut off by an audible thump and sharp tremor that shook the quartet and forced them to fight to maintain their balance. The four looked around when Pleo chanced to catch a glassy glint, spotting a blue orb with swirling bubbles inside roll down an incline and hit a patch of lava, where it wavered a moment before sprouting black along its surface, catching fire and melting. The Lugia grimaced, mentally substituting himself for the former Cleanse Orb and shuddering a moment at the imagined outcome.

"… Meep."

"Thankfully whatever sorcery leads to these 'upside-down' floors in Mystery Dungeons is keeping the lava overhead stuck up there," Dimitri murmured. "If it started falling down on us, I think the local medics would have their work cut out for them patching us up."

"Let's… think about more positive things," Crom muttered. "Though… that Cleanse Orb… Where exactly did that come from?"

The young dragon crept along, carefully keeping his distance from the lava as he clambered up a small outcropping. After cresting it, he saw a wooden stick lying out in an opening, with a glassy knob swirling with yellowish balls of light at one end.

"Ah! A Confuse Wand!" he cried. "We could always use another one of those!"

Crom shuffled off, going over and craning down to scoop up the wand as his teammates followed along into the opening. As the others neared, Nida suddenly paused and tensed up as an uneasy realization dawned on her.

"… We hadn't felt a thump like that on any of the earlier floors," Nida said. "Then, what could've caused-?"

"RAAAAAAGH!"

A stream of fire suddenly zipped in and swept up Crom from the left, sending the Druddigon tumbling back with a pained yelp. Trails of smoke curled up from the left as a Turtonator and Heatmor stared each other down with a snarl, before noticing a wide-eyed Team Traveller staring at them.

"Nice going, babo," the Heatmor growled. "You led a bunch of hut-dwellers straight to my den!"

"Your den?!" the Turtonator spat. "After I smack you and those meddling knot-necks aside, I'll be resting in my den!"

The two ferals crouched and sprang in with fierce bellows, leaving Crom to flinch as the Heatmor beelined for him, readying a gout of fire, only for a hail of rocks to abruptly cut her off. Crom hastily bolted away from the anteater, looking up in a panic and seeing Dimitri running for him.

"Hang in there Crom, I'm comi- Augh!"

A stream of fire zipped by, settling on the Dimitri's exoskeleton and leaving a patch charred. The Turtonator culprit let a little trail of smoke wisp up from the ends of his snout, giving a taunting jeer back at the interloping Kabutops.

"Hah! Try that on for size, crab!"

The Turtonator charged after the stricken Water-Type as Nida and Pleo ran in, hastily taking positions alongside Crom when a low growl cut through the air. The three grimaced, looking over to see the Heatmor righting herself and glaring at them.

"You!" the Heatmor snarled. "Time to teach you to keep your snouts out from where they don't belong!"

"W-We'll just see about that!" Crom piped. The Druddigon steeled himself and ran forward, pulling an arm back for a punch and throwing it forward, only for it to land with an inert thud as the Heatmor brushed it aside.

"H-Huh?!"

"Get out of my face, you little pest!"

Crom went wide-eyed realizing that he was face-to-face with his foe, as Nida and Pleo frantically ran after him readying a Poison Sting and a Weather Ball. The Dragon-Type desperately swung with his claws for the Heatmor's belly, only for the creature to spit up a spray of fireballs, one finding its mark on his chest, leaving him to yelp in pain as another fireball pegged Nida in the face, and a third found its mark on the joint of Pleo's right wing.

"That's right!" the anteater snorted. "By time I'm through with you, you'll all- gah!"

The Heatmor's jeer was cut off by Pleo sending forth a swirling gust of wind that swept the anteater up, sending her tumbling head over heels for a rocky wall where the Fire-Type crashed against it with a yelp. From the other end, Pleo called out to his teammates as he flapped his wings, flying for the stunned anteater.

"Quick!" the Lugia squawked. "Before she gets back up!"

Crom lunged, raking his claws over the Heatmor's exposed belly as Nida quickly dashed in, poisonous drops building up along her right forepaw, before forcefully running it into the Fire-Type's flank with a sharp jab. The Heatmor bellowed in pain as Nida dashed away, leaving the anteater to stagger from the wall weakly in a feeble attempt to give chase, only for her feet to wobble and then abruptly lose their footing.

"N-Nrgk…"

The Heatmor slumped over and tumbled against the stony floor with a limp thud, the air cut by sharp pants from a winded Nida and Crom when a pained cry rang out. There, behind them, Dimitri shoved the Turtonator back with a watery tackle, toppling the tortoise onto the back of his shell unconscious. The pair paused a moment, before watching Pleo shuffle over for Dimitri. Nida started to follow along after him, when she looked down and widened her eyes out of excitement after poison dribbling down her right forepaw, the one part of her attempts to learn Poison Jab that had eluded her again and again the day before.

"I… I did it! I finally got my tutored move together!" she cried. "Ha! Just wait until Elty hears about how I learned my move when it actually mattered!"

Crom and Pleo looked over at their Nidoran friend as she threw her head back proudly, before turning back to each other with dubious frowns.

"Was it really so bad that Elty learned his move before her?" Pleo murmured.

"Just let her have her moment," Crom insisted, only for a pained wince to prick his ears as Dimitri stumbled forward with an exhausted sigh.

"Gah… I wasn't expecting a Fire-Type to give me so much trouble," the Kabutops grumbled. "Are you all doing alright? I could use a Rawst Berry right about now."

"I think we're fine-" Nida began, only to notice Crom had brought his left wing close against his body, where she spotted a ruddy burn near its carpal joint.

"… Er… right. The berries."

The Nidoran rifled through the team bag, quickly fishing out a pawful of berries that were promptly divided up, the fruits peeled and pressed against their wounds before consuming the remaining pulp. As Dimitri tore at the pulpy remains of his Rawst Berry, he peered over and noticed Pleo looking down and pecking uneasily at a barely-touched wedge of an Oran Berry.

"Eh? Something the matter, Pleo?" Dimitri asked. "I don't know of too many Pokemon who would pass up an Oran Berry after being scuffed."

The Lugia craned his head up, shifting his wings uneasily a moment as he began to speak up hesitantly.

"No. I'm fine, it's just…"

Pleo trailed off, seemingly overcome with indecision over whether to continue or stay silent. Dimitri tilted his head puzzledly, waiting as the bird began to hem and haw under his breath, when he suddenly shook his head and piped up.

"I'm not really feeling good about this," the young Protector said. "What if we're making a big mistake by coming here?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" Crom asked.

"It's just that things seemed so bad yesterday after we found out that Lyn was waiting for us just outside the harbor, and both Xerneas and Kline rejected us afterwards," Pleo began. "But then this morning Xerneas suddenly changed his mind and wants to meet up with us to help fight Lyn, when Kiran said he laughed him off just yesterday…"

"I mean… it wouldn't be unexpected that Xerneas would be trying to figure out if it's safe to move on," Nida replied. "And sometimes things just unexpectedly change for the better."

"I know, but… Kline said Xerneas only seemed to care about money and that there are Pokémon on this island more dangerous than Lyn," he murmured. "What if Xerneas is helping those Pokemon for money, and we're walking into a trap right now…?"

Nida, Crom, and Dimitri shifted uncomfortably at Pleo's question. A Legendary working with the Company?! It was unimaginable! No Protector would willfully reduce itself to a mere tool like that!

Though on the other hand… Kline had warned them there were other dangerous Pokémon they had to be wary of, and Xerneas' sudden change of heart did seem suspiciously well-timed. After all the unexpected twists and turns of their current journey, was there really any possibility that was safe to dismiss out of hand…?

"Oi!"

The four turned off towards the lava where they saw the form of a pudgy Growlithe darting ahead, dashing over the lava patch for the clearing. Elty stepped up onto the stony earth, giving his feet a shaking pat against the ground before giving a sharp wag of his tail.

"We found the stairs! It looks like the midpoint is only a few floors ahead!" he yipped. "Meet us over at the end of the corridor at the second left from here and we'll head up!"

The Growlithe turned and left much the way he came, leaving Pleo and his companions to look amongst themselves. With everything they'd realized, could they really just carry on deeper into the dungeon? But… if they didn't…

"… What do we do now?" Pleo asked.

"… We press on, and keep our eyes open," Dimitri said. "We'll never get anything if we don't take risks, but after everything you've brought up, it can't hurt to be careful."

The rest of the team mulled a moment before nodding back in agreement, only for the sound of shifting bodies to reach their ears. The group froze and looked back, seeing that the Turtonator and Heatmor from earlier had begun to stir, groping clumsily against the ground.

"Oww… my head…" the Heatmor groaned.

"Urgh… why are you still here?" the Turtonator demanded. "I thought those knot-necks kicked you around!"

"Er… if we're being careful, I say we get out of here before those two fully wake up," Crom offered.

"Agreed," Nida piped. "Come on, let's get going."

The Nidoran hurried off in Elty's direction, followed by Crom, Pleo, and Dimitri as the four took a more circuitous path away from the burning lava. All the while, a lingering unease clung about them, each of the lot wondering whether Xerneas really did have some manner of unpleasant surprise for them…

And if he did, what was it?



Author's Notes:

- venado - Spanish (Latin American): "deer"
- tuman (туман) - Russian: "fog" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Opa, we zijn er! - Dutch: "Grandpa, we're here!"
- dyado (дядо) - Bulgarian: "grandfather" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- Mengirski (Менгирски) - Bulgarian: "Mengirese" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- potok (поток) - Russian: "current" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Katte ni shiro (勝手にしろ) - Japanese: "Whatever", "Have it your way" (Hepburn Romanization)
- babo (바보) - Korean: "idiot" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
 
Chapter 66: Uphill Battle

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
A47NLyv.png


Mornings in Magmapool's harbor were always busy and raucous endeavors, as Pokémon on the lanes shuffled between shops and eateries on their way to their labor at the docks, and sailors from off-island unloaded their cargo before drifting off to intermingle with the locals over glasses of stiff rice wine. Further inland from the din and buzz of the docks, Team Sentinel kept watch over the gate between the harbor and the town from a built-up bluff just beyond the walls overlooking the surrounding streets, watching the entrance and its skies overhead keenly as Zelle impatiently flicked her feelers.

"For such an urgent message, that messenger sure is taking his time," she scoffed.

"It's the same Empire that takes three days to send a letter across its own waters," Aldrich remarked. "Would you really expect their message to not get bogged down for some asinine reason?"

"Hmph, it doesn't matter," Sorge insisted. "Regardless of how long it takes, our best hope of buying time for this mission depends on intercepting that message before anyone sees it."

"Right," the Noivern began. "You two remember what to do after I fly into him?"

"We'll come over and you and Sorge pretend to help him," Zelle answered. "While he's distracted, I'll take the letter from his bag."

"Good, sounds like we're all on the same page," the Kommo-o said. "But first let's make sure everything goes as expected and then act accordingly."

Sorge's gaze drifted back to the crowds at the gate, watching different shapes and colors of Pokémon pass by when he noticed an orange, feathery Pokémon among their number. He squinted his eyes and took a closer look, revealing a Talonflame's head crest bobbing along the street, with the forms of a Sneasel and a Gliscor hurrying along. The Dragon-Type paused and raised a brow skeptically. If he hadn't known any better, he'd have said that those three were… No that was impossible, they'd lost their trail years ago!

The Kommo-o shook his head, about to brush the matter off when the Gliscor faltered a moment and the bag on his shoulder suddenly slipped and shook, with a brief glimpse of a rounded green head passing through the opening of a frontal pouch that made the dragon's eyes shoot wide open.

"Th-That's Subject Red!" Sorge exclaimed.

Zelle and Aldrich turned over in stunned surprise and peered down at the street. The pair followed Sorge's claw up to the departing entourage, prompting the two to turn to each other with disbelieving stares. Aldrich swiftly flew up to the rooftops, slipping along the opposite side of the eaves as he caught up with the passing party where he turned his ears and heard a familiar, squeaky voice.

"Just hurry up!" Kline piped. "Once we're outside of town I can change Forme without attracting too much attention!"

"You're sure the delay for that Tamato Berry was needed, though?" Calidus asked. "It didn't sound like we had much time to work with."

"Yes," the Zygarde replied "We're better safe than sorry."

Aldrich slackened his jaw in astonishment, waiting for the sound of Kline and his companions to fade away before he flew back for Sorge and Zelle.

"I don't know how, but that's definitely him!"

"I assume we're going after him then?" Zelle asked. "I don't know how many more times he will just cross courses with us like this."

"What about that messenger?" Aldrich insisted. "If we don't intercept him, there's nothing stopping those guards from being tipped off about Lyn's ship."

Sorge paused and brought a claw to his chin in thought. On the one hand, not intercepting the messenger would likely mean that Ketu would have to fight his way back to Lyn's ship after capturing that Lugia. But on the other hand… they had managed dicier escapes before by working together, and if it would mean being able to finally bring Kline to Administrator Elilan on top of Pleo…

"Leave him. Capturing Subject Red is more important than stalling those guards, and this is the best opportunity we've had in ages," the Kommo-o said. "If Ketu was here, I'm sure he would agree that the benefits of chasing after him outweigh the risks."

Aldrich looked off at the gate to the harbor for a moment, pausing uneasily before looking back in the direction Kline and his companions had gone off to.

"… Alright, but let's be careful," the Noivern murmured. "That flight out of port is going to be bumpy after this all sorts itself out."

The three quietly left the bluff, following Percy's team into the street. There, they paced along after the Gliscor and his companions through the town's winding alleys, off in a path that curled ever-closer to the dungeon's fog in the distance.



"Oh! I think I see it!"

Pleo's voice carried on as he and his teammates emerged from the fog into a broad chamber made of red-lit stone. Crom looked around the room as he passed, noticing that the chamber was a flat space ringed with cliffs, and a steep trench that bubbled with ruddy magma at the bottom. Why, aside from the rock carved into a stone statue of a plump-faced Meowth standing over a slotted box and a path leading up to a fog-shrouded passage up ahead, nothing about the place felt hospitable enough to indicate that…

"This is the midpoint?" Crom asked. "But it doesn't look like a safe resting place at all!"

"Speak for yourself," Elty piped. "There's a big open area, a Storage Rock, some lava surrounding us to help keep things toasty… what more could you want?"

Nida furrowed her brow at the Growlithe's comment, casting a dubious glance off at the lava surrounding them. She watched as the magma bubbled and sulfurous mist came off its surface, prompting her to fold her ears back with an uncomfortable wince.

"A place where you can't accidentally burn yourself, that's what!" the Nidoran snapped.

"… You'll have to bring it up with Xerneas," Kiran sighed. "Though I don't see any sign of him here right now."

The group looked around their surroundings and noticed that other than the Storage Rock, there was nothing to obscure Xerneas from view. Even the aforementioned rock would at least leave his antlers visible… so then where was he?

"Maybe he hasn't come yet?" Dimitri mused. "It couldn't hurt to sit and wait a little here."

"Oh, there's no need for that."

Team Traveller tensed up as their blood ran cold at the ominously familiar voice of a Weavile coming from the Storage Rock. The group turned their attention back, just in time for Ketu and Ellsberg to pop out from behind the rock, leaving Crom recoiling and stumbling back with a stunned stammer.

"Y-You!"

"That's right!" the Weavile sneered. "Aren't you happy to see me again?"

"Really, I would've expected a rescue team to have a better sense of their surroundings," Ellsberg huffed. "Here I was worried that such a feeble attempt at hiding would give us away too quickly!"

"B-But we were supposed to meet Xerneas!" Pleo squawked.

"Mengir's Protector? Can't say I've seen him around these parts," Ketu retorted with a disinterested shrug. "I mean there's that Ditto going around town pretending to be him, but with those gray Deerling eyes there's no way anyone would be dumb enough to fall for that, am I right?"

Nida's pupils dialated at the Weavile's reply. Was he saying that the blue deer they'd met wasn't Xerneas?!

"Wh-What-"

"Are you really that dense? There is no Xerneas!" Ketu snapped. "Just a bunch of con artists we used to lure you here!"

A stupefied shock settled over Team Traveller's members as they realized that Pleo's admonitions had been right all along. All this time, everything that Albert had told them had all been a lie to bring them to this trap! Their attention was drawn back by a loud buzz, as Ellsberg flitted forward with a sharp scoff.

"Since we're in the middle of a Mystery Dungeon and there's no easy way for you to escape, I would suggest you hand over the Protector to us peacefully," the moth snapped. "If not, we'll just have to step in and take him ourselves."

Team Traveller's members grimaced and backpedaled uneasily for the entrance. With how strong Ketu had been at the tournament, they were ill-equipped to handle him with an ally. But they couldn't just surrender and give up Pleo! The lot stammered, trying to dig their feet in as the Mothim and Weavile encroached, only for Kiran to suddenly pause, and glumly shake his head.

"I… suppose we need to know when we're beat," the Swellow sighed, prompting Pleo to turn to him wild-eyed with a frightened stammer.

"H-Huh?!" Pleo squawked. "Kiran?!"

"Just… please… give us a moment to say our goodbyes to each other," Kiran pleaded. Ketu quietly raised a brow in reply, as Ellsberg beat his wings impatiently with an irritated buzz.

"Are you daft? We don't have time for this nonsense!" the Mothim spat. "Hurry up and turn over the Protector now-!"

"Nah, let them have their moment, Ellsberg," Ketu interrupted, before his voice took on a mocking sneer. "After all, it would be awfully rude to take away their precious friend without even letting them say goodbye."

Ellsberg trailed off, blinking incredulously at his Weavile partner. The Bug-Type began to protest, only to quiet down upon remembering Ketu's lecture back on the ship about their needed roles for the mission, deciding to trust him for now and go along. Back on Team Traveller's end, the group gathered around Kiran, the lot shooting piercing stares at the Swellow.

"Kiran, have you gone mad?" Dimitri hissed.

"We can't just let them walk away with Pleo!" Ander buzzed.

"I'm aware of that," Kiran replied. "But I'm not sure what we can do other than to hug Pleo, bid him farewell, and hope for the best…"

The Swellow extended his wings over Pleo, pulling him in as the young Lugia's eyes began to water. Pleo screwed his eyes shut as Kiran lowered his head, only for the seabird to feel something cold brush against his wings, prompting him to look down and widen his eyes out of surprise after seeing that Kiran had pushed the glowing form of an Escape Orb into his wings.

"Give him a nice and tight one," the Swellow instructed, turning back to the others. "It'll be the last chance any of us get for this."

Kiran carefully backed away, leaving his fellows to spot the Escape Orb in Pleo's wings and stare at it wordlessly trying to suppress their surprise. After a moment's pause, Nida stepped up, nearing and rubbing her muzzle against the orb and Pleo's plumage. As the two continued embracing each other, Ketu raised a brow and peered over skeptically at the pair.

"You know, I was actually kinda impressed by how you managed to get out of Tidemill earlier," Ketu mused. "Breaking your Lugia friend out of that stadium and getting him back to your ship while fending off those Imps and Lyn certainly ain't easy."

Nida paused, bristling at Ketu's remark, only to opt to ignore it and let Pleo trade places with Crom. The Druddigon made his way over, spreading his arms in an embrace around Pleo as Ketu gave a casual shrug in the background.

"But when you think about it, you kids only did all of that because you were afraid to fight me in that arena," the Weavile said. "Makes that whole escape from Tidemill seem kinda pathetic, huh?"

Crom lingered a moment as an indignant glare settled over his face, before letting Pleo go and backing away. As soon as the Druddigon stepped back, Ketu suddenly paced forward, fanning his claws out with a malevolent smirk.

"Why it's almost as pathetic as pretending to say goodbye to your teammate in order to rub up an Escape Orb."

The members of Team Traveller went into a wide-eyed panic, prompting the others to hastily dash for Pleo as he ran for them to hastily rub the orb against their appendages. In his haste, Pleo stretched his wings out to hold out the orb, only for an icy shard to zip in and wrench it out of his grasp, sending it spinning along the ground.

"Gwark! The orb!"

Kiran took wing and flew after the Escape Orb, only for it to suddenly take on a purplish glow and be flung off towards the lava, a quick glance back revealing that Ellsberg had cast it aside with Psychic. The orb struck the surface of the lava, failing to shatter as it deformed and the light within abruptly dissipated, the sphere melting into a lump of glassy slag much to Team Traveller's horror. The sound of a sharp buzz pricked their ears, leading them to turn back to see Ellsberg glaring daggers at them as Ketu clapped slowly.

"Did you really think you could trick us that easily?!" Ellsberg snapped.

"I know you hicks have dealt with some incompetent opponents in the past, but you're really gonna have to try harder than that to get the better of us," Ketu scoffed.

"Grr! There's eight of us and only two of you!" Guardia growled. "Do you really think you can beat us all, Manyula?!"

The Weavile paused for a short moment, his expression remaining firmly unmoved before a cruel smirk spread over his mouth.

"No, I know I can," Ketu sneered. "Ready, Ellsberg?"

Ketu inhaled deeply as purple dust began to dance on Ellsberg's wingtips, the Mothim shaking forth a toxic cloud of powder that the Weavile spewed a heavy torrent of wind and snow into, forming a purplish, poisonous Blizzard that barreled for a wide-eyed Team Traveller. Nida cringed beside Pleo as Crom dove in front of them and arched protectively, the rabbit screwing her eyes shut and holding her breath as the attack bore down on them with an overpowering woosh.

The frigid wind gave way to the room's familiar heat, mixed with pained cries and deep coughs from her teammates, with Crom's curiously absent. Slowly, the Nidoran cracked her eyes open, where much to her horror, she saw her Druddigon protector still guarding her and a now hollow-faced Pleo, the Dragon-Type's body caked head-to-toe in a layer of ice.

"A-Aah! Crom!"

Nida looked around and saw a little ways off to her left that Guardia was similarly crusted over with ice, while to her right she saw Kiran and Ander staggering and shivering, the sight of Elty gagging nearby indicating that the lot must've fallen to the effects of Ellsberg's poison. Dimitri alone showed no signs of being frozen or poisoned, but even he was panting and visibly winded from his blow as he tried to brush away some poisoned snow, Nida folding her ears back with sinking spirits as a mocking sneer cut through the air.

"Not a bad opening if I say so myself," Ketu said. "But I think it's time we actually got this fight started!"

Nida braced herself, watching as the Weavile sprang for Kiran. The Swellow went wide-eyed out of alarm, hastily taking wing and trying to weave out of the way, only for Ketu to shift his balance in midair and catch him in his back with an icy punch, sending him plummeting to earth with a pained squawked before sprawling out limply. Nida stood fixed in dumb terror, only for the sound of footsteps and a coughing gag to prick her ears.

"Spike ball! Give a 'mon some help here!" Elty wheezed.

The Nidoran looked over as the Growlithe gagged and wobbled his way over to her with patches of fur that had been stained purple from the poisonous onslaught. Nida dug her paws into her bag, bringing out a Pecha berry in a panicked hurry. The rabbit hastily peeled the Pecha Berry and squeezed its juice onto Elty's fur to try and neutralize the poison, all but stuffing the leftover pulp in his mouth when she noticed Ander in the background attempting to sluggishly fly at Ellsberg with a heavy swing, only for the Mothim to dodge it with a sharp buzz.

"Back off, blotch-head!"

Ellsberg flitted back and cast a cutting gust of wind at Ander, the attack finding its mark on the Scyther's thorax followed by the sound of the crack of damaged chitin and a shrieking hiss of pain. Nida, Elty, and Pleo looked on, watching stunned as Ander staggered limply and toppled to the ground, the Mothim carrying on from his foe as if he'd just brushed aside a stray leaf.

"Here! Have a little extra!" Ketu's voice jeered.

The trio turned their heads and saw Ketu lob a hail of icy flechettes at them, only for Dimitri to shove them aside and shepherd them away closer to the edge of the platform and the midpoint's entrance. The four looked around, realizing that they were the sole members of their team in any condition to continue fighting, with Ketu and Ellsberg quickly closing in on their positions.

"Gah! We need to bog those two down fast! We won't stand a chance if they have free reign to throw us around as they please!" Dimitri yelped. "Nida! Pleo! You take the Mothim, Elty and I will hold off that Weavile!"

"Got it!" Nida shouted. The Nidoran took off running with Pleo following behind, beelining for Ellsberg when the moth agitatedly beat his wings.

"Take this, you brats!"

Ellsberg sent forth a slicing gust of wind that Nida and Pleo hastily dove away from. The Air Slash threw up pebbles and dust, making Pleo cringe, only to crack his eyes open and jolt upright with a panicked squawk at the sight of Ellsberg lunging for the two of them.

"N-Nida! What do we do?!" Pleo cried.

"Let's take a page from that fight with the Heatmor!" the Nidoran shouted. "Blow him back!"

Pleo darted ahead, beating his wings out and bringing them together to shoot forth a whirling wind that swept up the Mothim with a startled buzz.

"Grah!"

Nida watched as Ellsberg got blown back and struggled to stay airborne. Sensing an open opportunity to attack, the Nidoran dashed forward as poison began to dribble along her forearms. She leapt up at Ellsberg as he finally stopped himself, throwing her right arm back for a Poison Jab to the Mothim's head, only to feel her body abruptly jolt and stop in midair, and see Ellsberg looking at her with an outstretched arm and his eyes lit up in a violet sheen.

"Hmph, that's quite enough. Away you go!"

Nida's body lurched sideways, the little spike ball going wide-eyed as she was tossed through the air by Ellsberg's Psychic. She tumbled head over heels as she felt the heat of the lava at the edge rapidly approaching under her, leaving her to flinch and screw her eyes shut.

"Nida!"

The Nidoran felt her body strike something feathery, prompting her to throw her paws out and cling on for dear life. She cracked her eyes open to see Pleo's back below her, as the young Protector banked hard from the chamber wall back for the center of the platform. Elty caught their attention with a pained yelp, the two looking down to see him being launched back by Ketu from a rake of his claws. The Weavile began to give chase after the Growlithe, his pursuit stopped only by a timely swing of Dimitri's left scythe. Reflexively, Pleo swooped down, coming to a stop by the fallen Growlithe as he and his teammate helped the dazed Puppy Pokémon to his feet.

"Wh-What do we do?!" Pleo cried. "We can barely land an attack on those two!"

"Agh… let's do what we should've done from the start!" Elty yipped. "If we can't get an attack in, let's use some items to soften them up first!"

The sound of a startled hiss cut the air as Nida looked over to see Dimitri swinging wildly at Ketu, only for the Weavile to bob and weave, and force his attacker back after giving a slash at his arm. Nida watched as Dimitri retreated in a panic, realizing that Ketu was preoccupied with little beyond the foe immediately before him. At once the Nidoran's mind turned to the Confuse Wand from a few floors back, prompting her to reflexively put a paw in her bag and feel it safely at the bottom of the satchel when her eyes lit up.

"Way ahead of you!" Nida piped. "Keep that Mothim distracted and cover me!"

She fished the wand out and took off running, bounding for Ketu and Dimitri. As she closed the gap from Ketu's flank, Nida readied the wand for a swing. The Weavile's ears suddenly flicked up from the sound of pattering footsteps, prompting him to jump back and turn to the Nidoran with a sneer.

"You'll have to do better than that!"

Nida reflexively brought her Confuse Wand up into the air, only for a shard of ice to zip in and strike her paw. Elty looked on stunned, watching as the Nidoran yelped and lost her grasp on the wand, the stick flying back and landing on the ground some distance behind her with an inert thump, leaving him to splutter in incredulous exasperation.

"Chyba żartujesz?!" Elty cried. "Would it have killed you to swing a bit faster?!"

The Growlithe bolted for the dropped wand, diving for it with his mouth, only to see the wand jerk away and feel his jaws clamp down on empty air. The Fire-Type's eyes widened as he followed the wand sailing through the air, zipping up to Ellsberg who took it into his tarsi with a sneer.

"I'll be taking that, mutt."

The Mothim swung the wand, aiming its tip at Dimitri's position. The crack of shattering glass rang out as a hail of yellowish spheres enveloped the Kabutops with a startled cry. Dimitri staggered back and Ketu gave a Brick Break square at his abdomen, sending him toppling over flat onto his belly with a feeble groan.

"Nrgh…"

"Dimitri!" Pleo cried.

Pleo, Nida, and Elty hastily ran over to their stricken friend as he laid in a stunned daze. One after the other, the three desperately struggled against the Kabutops' weight, fighting against gravity to try and drag their bulky teammate back onto his feet to keep fighting.

"C-Come on! Get up!" the Lugia pleaded. "We need you- Agh!"

Pleo squawked and was knocked to the ground by a sharp pain as Dimitri reflexively cut him with a slash of his scythes. The young Protector panted, looking up with wide eyes as Dimitri staggered in confusion, before shaking his head out of an alarmed realization that he'd mixed up his targets, only for a derisive laughter to ring out.

"Hahahaha! I knew Lyn was easy to trick, but this is what he's been having trouble with?" Ketu sneered. "What a joke!"

"Hrmph. Enough games, Ketu," Ellsberg grumbled. "Let's wrap this up and get going!"

"Eh, fine," the Weavile replied. "Wouldn't want this to get stale anyway."

The Dark-Type breathed in deeply as frigid air began to swirl around his mouth, prompting Team Traveller to stare horrified before they turned and started bolting in a panic, bracing themselves for Ketu's Blizzard when a loud howl pierced the air.

"That's enough!"

The Weavile's budding attack was cut off by a green, dog-like Pokémon suddenly lunging in and tackling him to the ground. The strange dog cracked open a maw lined with sharp fangs, throwing it at Ketu's neck as the Weavile hastily threw his claws up to try and fight the strange creature's jaws. Up in the air, Ellsberg stared stunned as his teammate thrashed about on the ground below, recoiling in shock at the strange intruder.

"W-What on earth-?!"

"Here, try this for an ambush!" a piercing voice cried.

The Mothim looked right as a fiery missile plowed into him and knocked him out of the sky with a yelp. As the flames died back, Team Traveller looked up to see the form of a familiar Talonflame. Further back at the chamber's entrance, a Gliscor and a Sneasel hurried in, Nida's jaw dropping as she remembered them to be none other than…

"P-Percy?! Alice?!"

"What are they doing here, spike ball?!" Elty yipped. "You said they wrote us off!"

"Kline changed his mind after he saw you guys walking straight towards trouble," Percy answered. "Alice, help them go and heal their teammates! I'll help Calidus with the Mothim!"

"Got it!" the Sneasel piped.

Alice pulled Team Traveller's members aside, dropping a small pile of Sitrus and Lum Berries at their feet. As the lot stared flummoxed, the Sneasel bounded off for Kiran's sprawled-out body, fishing out a Reviver Seed and slipping it into the bird's mouth as she turned back and called out to them.

"Don't worry about perfection and just focus on hurrying it up!" Alice exclaimed. "We need all the help we can get with those two!"

The others hastily fanned out for their fallen comrades, Nida beelining for Crom where she quickly peeled away the rind of the Lum Berry and pressed it against the dragon's joints. The juices bubbled against the ice, melting it away until Crom could move his body little by little, brushing off large chunks of ice off his scales with a spluttering cough and sharp sneeze.

"Achoo! Nida?" he groaned. "What's going on?"

"We got a second wind," she explained. "Come on, we need your help!"

Nida quickly divided a Sitrus Berry between the two, each snatching their halves up and scarfing them down as they ran ahead. The two darted along the stone ground, passing Dimitri and Pleo healing themselves as Alice finished defrosting Guardia while Elty hurried himself rousing Ander. Crom and Nida noticed a fiery trail overhead, looking up to see Calidus arcing towards Ellsberg who flung a cutting gust at the Talonflame that missed its mark.

"It'll take more than that for you to put out this fire, bug!"

The falcon dove at Ellsberg at rapid speed as the Mothim cried out in alarm, wildly swinging his Confuse Wand while the bird bore down on him. The crack of the wand's next layer sounded as a hail of yellowish orbs overtook Calidus, leaving him to lose his balance and crash to earth with a daze. After cringing a moment, Ellsberg cracked his eyes open to see his foe staggering down on the ground below, regaining enough confidence to flit up with a haughty taunt.

"Hah! Your fighting's as bad as your wordplay!" Ellsberg jeered.

"You should worry more about your attention span!"

Ellsberg buzzed with a start and hastily flew back as a heavy tackle sent him pinwheeling in the air, making him lose his grip on his Confuse Wand as it sailed into the lava and caught fire. The moth steadied himself, turning and seeing the Gliscor culprit bearing down on him with his claws spread wide for another tackle.

"Get away from me!"

The Mothim beat his wings, sending out a slashing wind that sailed into Percy and forced him back with a pained cry. The Gliscor stalled, just barely pulling himself upright to swoop up from the ground where he wobbily returned to the air and looked back to see a cut at one of his wing membranes dribbling yellowish liquid, grimacing in pain as a mocking buzz filled the air.

"Really now, that's all it takes to impair your gliding?" Ellsberg sneered. "My first mate's a mere Gligar and even he wouldn't let himself get shut down so easily!"

Percy grit his teeth, diving forward as icy residue began to cake his fangs. The Gliscor swooped and lunged for the Mothim, only to be left snapping at air as Ellsberg fluttered overhead and had his eyes turn aglow with purple light.

"Glion! Wait for me!"

Ellsberg's antennae jolted upright as he turned around, just in time for Guardia to lunge up and headbutt him in the chin. The Bug-Type yelped and plummeted to the ground, picking himself up with an angry seethe, only for Percy to pounce on him with a diving tackle from above, knocking Ellsberg's head against the ground with a loud smack and leaving his wings to droop limply, their owner fainted against the ground. Percy pulled his body back up, returning to the air as Guardia slung her bone over her shoulder.

"Not bad," the Cubone said. "You took the wind right out of him with that Acrobat!"

"The same to you," the Gliscor replied. "If it wasn't for your save there, that Mothim would’ve done a number on me."

After tottering about, Calidus gave a beat of his wings to steady himself and looked around to see Ellsberg sprawled out unconscious. Satisfied with the outcome, the Talonflame ruffled his feathers and turned to face Percy and Guardia.

"Well that's one down," Calidus remarked. "But what about Ketu?"

"Augh!"

The three looked over just in time to see Kline getting thrown back and tumbling to a stop along the ground near them. The Zygarde laid on the stone and tried to get up dazedly, as Ketu shook feeling back into a bitten right arm while snarling back at his attacker.

"Well now, I see you're as much of a pain in the аss as ever, Kline," the Weavile spat. "And here I thought you wouldn't dare to show your face to a 'mon you couldn't handle on your own."

Kline got to his feet and shook himself, before lowering his body into a crouch and letting out a low growl from the back of his throat.

"I can handle you fine," the dog-like Pokémon snapped. "And I'm not the one who's alone right now."

Ketu looked around, realizing that Ellsberg was sprawled out on the ground between the groups Team Traveller and their new allies had divided into, with the lot of them shooting harsh, newly invigorated glares at him. The Weavile set his teeth on edge and scowled back as his freshly disadvantaged circumstances settled in on him. Sensing that their foe had met his match, a smug smirk settled over Guardia's face, as she gave a rap of her club against an open palm.

"You should know when you're beat, Manyula," she jeered. "Or do you still 'know' that you can beat us all right now?"

Ketu flashed his teeth and brushed his claw up against his bag. The Dark-Type gave a brief glance at it before he looked back up to Team Traveller and their allies with a low growl.

"Alright, this nonsense has gone on for long enough," he hissed. "Time to end this!"

The Weavile dug into his bag and brought out a cream-colored orb in a flash. Alice reflexively formed a blackish aura on her body that she pooled into a ball in her left claw. The Sneasel hurled the sphere at Ketu's arm as he hoisted the Slumber Orb to dash against the ground, where it burst and spread shadowy, chain-like tendrils onto the Weavile. Ketu's eyes widened as he tried to tighten his claws around the Slumber Orb, only for the aura to push it away from his palm and let it drop to the ground, where a sudden gust of wind from Calidus blew it into the lava. The Weavile stared a moment at the burning orb and down at the lingering haze on his claws from the Embargo, before baring his teeth and locking eyes with Alice in a fierce glare.

"Grr, of course you of all Pokémon would resort to a trick like that," Ketu snarled.

"Well you should've known it would take more than an orb to best us!" Alice scoffed. "Are you really so short on ideas that you'd reuse tactics you know we stopped falling for?"

The Weavile growled and ignored the Sneasel's comment, before blowing out an Icy Wind at the gathered Pokémon that made them recoil and struggle to keep their footing. Team Traveller and their newfound allies fought with stiff, frigid joints against the wind, uneasily staggering forward as it let up when Percy noticed Ketu was bolting towards him. The Gliscor braced himself, only to realize from a few furtive glances from the Weavile that he was attempting to glimpse behind him. Why he must be trying to come to the aid of his downed teammate!

"Calidus!" Percy cried. "Don't let him get to that moth!"

"On it!"

The Talonflame dove at Ketu with a swift, burning tackle, only for the Dark-Type to slip past him by jumping to the left much to the falcon's dismay. Kline growled and hastily sprang forward, spitting up a column of fiery, bluish light at Ketu that prompted him to somersault backwards into a crouching stop right as the Dragon Pulse slammed into the ground and threw up a large cloud of dust. The Weavile scanned his surroundings intently, when the Zygarde burst through the cloud with a paw raised for a forceful swing. Ketu jumped forward, knocking the dog aside with an ice-slicked punch, before carrying on for Percy's position. Ketu made his way forward a few paces when a sharp, hissing cry from his side rang out, turning to see Ander closing the gap with a low flight along the ground.

"Here!" the Scyther shouted. "Let me cut you down to size!"

Ander swung a scythe at him, forcing Ketu to leap to the side and blow an Icy Wind at the Bug-Type's eyes. As Ander screeched and recoiled from his impaired vision, a woosh from behind prompted Ketu to brace his legs and spring up just as Percy sailed below him. The Weavile balled his right claw into a fist and threw it back as it slicked over with ice, before bringing it down with the momentum of his body against Percy's back. The Gliscor tumbled to a crashing stop against the ground, Ketu resuming his course for Ellsberg when a Bonemerang swooped in. He summarily leaned back along his heels, sliding under the errant missile before lobbing a timely Ice Shard up to knock it off-course, leaving Guardia to give chase to her errant club. The Dark-Type finally came upon Ellsberg, bending down when a sharp pain suddenly shot across his back.

"Grah!"

Ketu stumbled, pitching forward towards the ground in front of Ellsberg's body. The Weavile caught himself on the ground with his claws and threw himself back up with a glare at his attacker, where he saw a young, livid Druddigon growling at him. Ketu frowned a moment, only for his expression to ease and a taunting smirk to settle over his face.

"Crom, right? I see you've learned well from your, dad," he sneered. "Figure that if he can't take a little scratch, you'd better play it safe and not fight me head on, huh?"

Crom set his teeth on edge at the Weavile's taunt, his yellow eyes burning with hate as he flashed his claws with a fierce roar from his young throat.

"Cállate!"

The Druddigon lunged forward with a swipe of his claws, only for Ketu to spring away and hurl back a large shard of ice that found its mark square on the Dragon-Type's throat.

"A-Aah!"

Crom toppled forward, gagging and gasping for air on the ground much to Nida's horror as she watched her friend writhe in pain.

"Crom!"

Nida dashed up, pawing frantically at Crom as the Druddigon woozily staggered back to his feet. Ahead of them, Ketu hastily scooped up Ellsberg and slung him across his back, before dashing side to side quickly enough for his form to blur and then tear off with newfound speed for the midpoint's exit. Percy cried out in alarm and dug through his bag for a Slow Orb that he threw at the ground after the fleeing Weavile, showering him with a spray of whitish silk that clung to his body and slowed his gait back to its normal pace. With the Dark-Type's speed slowed enough to track him, Team Traveller and their allies quickly ran up to try and stop his progress. Elty snarled and spat up an Ember at Ketu, only for him to dash and jump out of the way. An Ice Shard from Alice followed which briefly made him stumble, only for him to regain his footing just in time to sidestep an Air Slash from Kiran as it zipped by. The Weavile looked back to call out a taunt mid-run, when his jeer was summarily cut off by a glowing ball sailing up and striking the back of his left heel.

"Agh!"

Ketu tripped, falling face first onto the ground as Ellsberg's prone body tumbled off the Weavile. Pleo's eyes lit up in excitement, as he watched Ketu slowly rise back to his knees, showing what at long last seemed to be a sign their attacks were having an effect on him.

"I got him! I got him!" the Lugia cried.

"Good work, Pleo!" Kiran chirped. "If we all attack him before he starts running again, we'll be able to finish this!"

"I don't think so, Kiran!"

Team Traveller and their allies recoiled and looked back towards the entrance of the midpoint, where they saw much to their surprise Aldrich flying in. The air around the Noivern's ears churned, before a shockwave shot out from them towards the group. The sound of a deafening burst came over the team, forcing them to flinch and shield their ears. Kiran looked around in a daze as his ears rang, when he watched Sorge and Zelle run in, beelining for Ketu and Ellsberg. Much to everyone's stunned shock, the two stooped down, Sorge passing a Sitrus Berry on to Ketu while Zelle pressed a Reviver Seed up against the end of Ellsberg's tube-like mouth, as Kiran stammered trying to make sense of the scene.

"T-Team Sentinel?!" the Swellow squawked. "W-What are you doing?!"

"Hrmph. Even for a Silver Rank, I wouldn't have expected you to be this slow to piece things together," Sorge scoffed.

At once, Pleo stammered and shrank back frightenedly. These were Rescue Team members, so why were they helping Pokémon from the Company?!

"E-Eh?! But aren't you good guys?!"

Kline shook his head, motioning with a foreleg at Ketu and the members of Team Sentinel with him. The Zygarde kept his pupil-less eyes trained on the four, his body arced to spring forward at a moment's notice.

"I told you there were Pokémon on this island more dangerous than that Samurott," Kline growled. "They're the ones I warned you about!"

Team Traveller's eyes widened and their jaws slackened, as a hacking cough revealed that Ellsberg had taken back to the air thanks to Zelle's efforts. Her work done, the Sylveon paced up beside Sorge, shooting a taunting smirk over at the Zygarde ahead of her.

"Really Kline, I didn't expect you would drop by on our little base of operations after all these years," she sneered. "Is it because you're jealous we're giving attention to another Protector now? Don't worry, you'll always be our favorite little tool."

"Shut up!" Kline roared.

The Zygarde charged forward, before forcefully slamming his paws down onto the ground. The earth underfoot rended following a string of green lights that snaked for Team Sentinel, prompting Ellsberg and Aldrich to hastily fly up as Ketu jumped onto the Noivern's back. The ground under Sorge and Zelle suddenly erupted with pillars of greenish light that shattered the earth, knocking Sorge off his feet and sending Zelle flying backwards with a yelp as rubble flew wildly around a fresh cloud of dust. Sensing an opportunity to press their advantage, Team Traveller and their allies hastily darted ahead readying attacks of their own, only for Aldrich to suddenly emerge with Ketu out from the dust cloud, prompting Percy to call out in alarm.

"Snel! Get behind us!" the Gliscor cried.

The Noivern and Weavile threw forth and intermingled Boomburst and Blizzard, while Percy, Calidus, and Alice hastily formed a wall of Protects that stopped the snowy shockwave in its place. Further ahead, Zelle picked herself up, growling angrily back at the offending Zygarde.

"You stupid little tool!" she seethed. "Here! Lemme show you what happens to worms who drag me down in the dirt!"

The Sylveon batted her feelers around, throwing a Moonblast at Kline's dog-like form that passed by as he weaved around the glowing orb. The Zygarde jumped up and spewed a torrent of violet sludge back at his attacker, forcing her back with a pained yelp. The Legendary lunged forward to press his advantage, only for Ellsberg to fly up and use Bug Buzz to shove Kline to the ground.

"Nrgh!"

Kline hastily righted himself, bracing his body as he called up a hail of rocks from the surrounding ground to throw at his attackers, when a loud roar suddenly cut through the air.

"Enough!" Sorge exclaimed.

The Kommo-o charged towards Kline with surprising speed while his claws trailed flecks of dragonfire. The Dragon-Type closed the distance and swiped right claw across Kline with a lateral slash, knocking the Zygarde back with a yelp. Kline's body hit the ground limply, green light enveloping him as little orbs of light shot away from his body through the fog, shrinking his body down into an amorphous mass until all that remained was the now-unconscious form of the tiny serpent that Team Traveller had encountered the day before.

"A-Aah! Kline!" Nida yelled.

"Gih! Percy!" Alice cried. "This isn't looking good!"

Pleo cringed, diving for cover behind the Storage Rock as more attacks from Team Sentinel flew by, his friends' cries piercing the air as the world seemed to pass by slowly. The Lugia lay there panting when above the din of battle, he could swear he heard Nida wish they were back on the ship away from their fiendish attackers. Pleo peered over, only to see her shouting at Guardia to dodge an incoming Air Slash, leaving him staring off puzzledly. He then heard Percy long for a time when Kline could live comfortably with him back home when at the same time he saw the Gliscor overhead locked in combat with Sorge. Pleo rose his head, as he then noticed the voices of the sailors wondering how they could hold their own after the Company would inevitably follow them home, realizing that all the voices he was hearing were from Pokémon counting on and wishing for his safe return.

The young Protector got up, beating his wings together determinedly as he felt newfound vigor from the wishing voices as light suddenly erupted along his plates, bathing the chamber in a silvery glow that caught everyone's attention. Team Traveller's members stood stunned as they watched Pleo's powers gather to him, Ketu's eyes hardening as he grit his teeth and called out to the Noivern carrying him.

"Aldrich!" he shouted. "Get a bead on that bird and light him up!"

"On it!"

Aldrich quickly spewed forth a Dragon Pulse, striking Pleo and making him stagger back. The Lugia lurched, stepping forward panting as the light on his body flickered, only for Ketu to throw in a spray of black orbs that struck him in his breast and knocked him off his feet. At once, the light on his body vanished and Pleo flopped onto the ground, sprawling out limply in front of his horrified teammates.

"N-Ngh…"

"Th-They can just stop him from using his powers like that?!" Guardia yelped.

"What? Did you really think we would just stand here and take it?" Ketu sneered. "We're not gonna let ourselves get blown away like Lyn did!"

"Wh-What do we do now?!" Crom stammered.

Percy grimaced, backpedaling nervously when he noticed from the corner of his eye that their battle with Team Sentinel had left the path Ketu attempted to flee along completely unguarded. At once, the Gliscor spat a violet glob back at their attackers as a distraction, before calling off to the others behind him.

"This way! We'll retreat to the next floor!" he exclaimed. "We'll have a better chance at shaking them off if we have more space to work with!"

"But if we just run through the fog, we'll end up on different places when we come out the other side!" Nida cried.

"We don't have another choice right now, Nida!" Kiran squawked. "Just tail it!"

The group ran in a mad dash towards the exit as Calidus whipped up a stiff Tailwind with his wings behind the group that pushed them along. Team Sentinel readied a hail of attacks after their foes, only for Alice to dig into her bag and throw a blue orb with sparks flickering under its surface back at them, which made Aldrich's eyes widen with a start.

"Gah!" the Noivern hissed. "Annoying little pests!"

The bat hastily beat his wings and whipped up a gust of wind, knocking the Petrify Orb aside into the lava-filled trench. Team Traveller and Kline's party reached the fog, darting in haphazardly with Crom and Percy at the end carrying Pleo. The two hurried along, Crom crying out at the sight of Sorge charging after them into the fog, his yellow claws swiping only to barely miss and the mist to thicken around them as they ran ahead.

"Keep running!" Percy cried.

The lot continued running ahead, frantically throwing out wings and paws to hold onto who they could as they jerked to and fro to stay on the path underfoot. As the fog thickened and Nida's whiskers began to fade from view, she felt her paw slip off of Kiran's tail, leaving her to stop and grope ahead out of the fog and into a chamber lined with ruddy walls of stone, where she noticed that only Crom, Percy, Elty, and the twin Protectors remained with her.

"A-Aah!" Nida yelped. "The path shifted before we got out!"

"Let's- Let's just calm down a moment and get patched up," Crom stammered. "Team Sentinel hasn't made their way through yet!"

Nida and Percy rooted through their bags in a hurry, producing a pair of Reviver Seeds that the two each administered to their respective Legendaries. As Nida placed her seed in Pleo's mouth, she moved his beak up and down, making the Lugia stir and spit out a Plain Seed as he struggled to his feet.

"Ngh… Nida?" he groaned. "Did… we make it?"

"Al-Almost," the Nidoran answered. "Just hang in there a little longer."

Behind her, Nida heard Kline being roused, watching as the serpent eased himself up onto the end of his tail, only to suddenly go wide-eyed and look around in alarm.

"Huh?! Pierce?!" Kline asked. "Where are the others?!"

"We lost them in the fog when we moved out of the midpoint," the Gliscor answered. "Team Sentinel followed us through, so we need to get going before they find us."

"But my plan to shake off Team Sentinel can't work if we have to leave anyone behind!" he exclaimed.

"Well, you're the only one of us who can sense them," Percy insisted. "Are you able to find any of them on this floor?"

Kline paused before hopping ahead and seemingly entering a trance for a moment. Pleo and Nida traded looks with each other, the Lugia pacing up to give a tug at the motionless serpent, only for Percy to stop him as Kline pivoted on his tail to turn back and face the team.

"They're all gathered near a patch of lava," the Zygarde replied. "I wish that I had more to work with, but I barely had time to scout out this area at all."

"Then let's start by looking for those!" Pleo cried. "If we keep track of which ones we visited already, we'd find them quickly, right?"

The team nodded, hastily treating their wounds with a pawful of Oran Berries as Kline hopped into the front pouch of Percy's bag, before the group darted along the dungeon floor, running from one narrow passageway to the next, not even bothering to pick up any items along the way. The group's flight led them to a room with a lava patch at its far edge, where a quick scan revealed their teammates to be neither there nor on the other side of the lava. The six looked to their left, quickly finding and beelining for another passageway to continue their search, only to come to a skidding stop at the sight of a scarfless Salazzle walking out of it. The Poison-Type recoiled with a start, dropping to all fours and hissing threateningly at the unwelcome intruders…

"You hut-dwellers have got some nerve to just barge in here like-!"

… only for the group to just push the feral aside and keep running, prompting the lizard to get up in spluttering surprise before snarling and giving chase.

"Hey! Get back here and fi-!"

Team Traveller looked back just as the Salazzle was abruptly cut off by a beam of dragonfire, flinging her aside into the wall where she toppled and slumped to the floor. The three caught a fleeting glimpse of Ketu and Aldrich hurrying in, when a turn of the corridor cut all but the sound of the pair's voices from their senses.

"Gah! Some feral got in the way!" the Noivern fumed.

"Never mind that! They went down that way!" Ketu exclaimed.

The six tore along the pathway as landing wingbeats rang out behind them, the group ducking down one blind corner after another while they heard the sound of rushing footsteps pursuing them. Every so often, a bluish flash or freezing wind would appear behind them, followed by the hiss and crash of dragonfire and ice sailing off into a stony wall, the last proving to be close enough to send a hail of pebbles forward that struck Elty's rump and prompted him to shoot a panicked glance over to Percy.

"Gah! You'd better have a plan for if we get on a long straightaway!" the Growlithe yipped. "There's nowhere to hide here!"

"Focus on one thing at a time!" Percy cried. "Just stay ahead of them for now!"

The Gliscor turned his attention back forward and came to an abrupt stop in front of a stony wall, where the path forked to the left and the right. The lot quickly looked down both pathways, noting that each curved around a bend and seemed to be lit up by reddish light in the distance, with no indication as to which of the two was the surer route of escape.

"Wh-Which way do we go?" Pleo stammered.

"I can see light at either end, so both lead to a patch of lava," Elty panted. "But what's it matter if those two know exactly where to turn?!"

Nida's ears flared at the sound of Aldrich landing and lowering his wings to the ground along with approaching footsteps, realizing that their time was short. She turned, looking frantically to her left and right, only for her gaze to settle on Pleo and Percy, and for a faint spark to flicker over her mind.

"Percy, can you still glide?" the Nidoran asked.

"I… think that the Oran Berry helped enough for me to," he answered. "Why?"

"Follow my lead, then! This way, Pleo!"

Nida darted along, hurrying him down the left corridor as the others quickly followed suit. The Nidoran carried on until the sight of the sharp turn in the stony path, wheeling around and crying out to the Lugia following her.

"Pleo! Jump!"

Pleo leapt into the air, his eyes widening as Nida jumped up at him. The Nidoran landed on his back, tugging at his feathers for dear life which made Pleo jerk back and fly backwards befuddledly as Nida called down to him

"Keep going, Pleo!"

Elty stopped and looked up, staring confusedly only to feel a sharp yank at the back of his neck. The Puppy Pokémon yelped with a start, as he felt his body get lifted off the ground, looking up to see Percy latched onto him and gliding in the air, following after Pleo and Nida for the rightward path as Crom vaulted into the air and joined them with an open-winged glide. The lot settled at the other end, hurrying around a bend when Ketu and Aldrich's footsteps sounded out behind them.

"I see footsteps!" Ketu cried. "This way!"

The group held their breaths, listening tensely as Ketu and Aldrich's movements grew louder, only to fade along with their voices. Realizing that their feint had worked, Nida, Pleo, Crom, and Elty exhaled in relief, grateful that they'd bought a moment's respite from their pursuers.

"That was close," Pleo sighed.

"Yeah, quick thinking there, Nida," Percy added.

"Was the lift by my scruff really needed, though?" Elty grumbled. The Growlithe gave an uncomfortable shake of his pelt, when the front of Percy's bag shifted as Kline jolted upright and poked his head out.

"The others are just up ahead!" he exclaimed.

Elty and his companions dashed ahead into a chamber with a pair of entrances from their left and right, with a pool of magma at the other end. There at the center were the missing members of their teams, getting up from a hurried healing as Dimitri noticed Pleo's group run in, raising a scythe up to point at them.

"Ah! There they are!" Dimitri cried.

"Took ya long enough!" Alice added. "We were getting worried about you!"

"Ketu and Aldrich found us and were chasing us around!" Pleo squawked. "We need to hurry up and get out of here!"

"How?" Guardia asked. "Those yajū broke our Escape Orb earlier!"

"We've got one of our own, but we can't get going just yet," Percy answered. "We'll need to stay in the dungeon for a little longer in order to cover our tracks."

"Huh? How are we supposed to do that?" Ander demanded.

The Gliscor opened his mouth to answer, only for a sharp buzz to ring out and a slashing gust of wind to send him pitching forward with a cry.

"Over there!" Ellsberg's voice shouted. "They've gathered by that pool of lava!"

The group cringed and whirled their heads to the left, where the forms of Sorge, Zelle, and Ellsberg hurried into the chamber. Zelle and Ellsberg fanned out to the sides of the Kommo-o in the center, who called out to his Sylveon teammate.

"Zelle!" Sorge bellowed "Take out their forward guard!"

On cue, the Fairy-Type cupped her feelers, forming a orb of pinkish-white light that she threw at Team Traveller and their allies, forcing them to dive for cover. Dimitri hastily tried to scuttle away from the front, only for the Moonblast to strike him with a yelp, leaving Zelle to smile cruelly as the Kabutops staggered and struggled to regain his footing.

"Hah! This is all too easy!"

Guardia growled and pulled her arm back and lobbed her bone in a twirling arc at Zelle, prompting the Fairy-Type to side-step the incoming missile. The Sylveon smirked and flared her feelers out as she readied a blast of pinkish light, when the Bonemerang abruptly returned and clipped her in the back of her head on the way back to its thrower. The budding Moonblast disappeared as Zelle winced and rubbed at her head, leaving Guardia to jeer triumphantly at the Sylveon.

"You should pay more attention to your surroundings!" the Cubone taunted.

"I could say the same to you!"

Guardia's blood ran cold at the sound of Sorge roaring from further ahead, prompting her to look slightly to her left and see him charging with a fist slicked over in ice. The Cubone flinched, throwing her club and free claw in front of her face to shield herself, when the sound of a deep buzz followed by a pained screech rang out. Guardia cracked her eyes open, watching as Sorge pulled his fist back to strike at a Scyther slumped over at his feet, only for Percy to swoop in with a flying tackle, and Calidus with a Brave Bird that drew the Kommo-o away from Ander's groaning form on the ground. Realizing that Ander had taken the Dragon-Type's wrath in her stead, the bone lizard darted up worried about the mantis' condition, tugging frantically at his shoulders.

"C-Come on, Strike!" she insisted. "Get up!"

Ander woozily struggled to raise his body back up, only for the sound of running footfalls from the left to announce Aldrich and Ketu's presence, making Elty jump back with a yelping start.

"Gah!" Elty cried. "Now would be a good time for that plan of yours!"

"Get into that corridor behind us!" Percy shouted. "Just run and don't look back!"

Team Traveller's members hurried along as Percy and Alice darted into the corridor with Kline, Dimitri grabbing Ander with the flats of his scythes and throwing the mantis onto his feet, hurrying the stricken Scyther along slumped on his shoulder for support. Calidus threw up a Protect from behind the group as Team Sentinel sent a barrage of attacks at them, the others falling back one after the other down the narrow corridor. The barrier faded, prompting the Talonflame to spit a fiery spray back for cover, before forming another Protect, the incoming attacks from Tean Sentinel coming thicker and quicker between each subsequent alternation. Team Sentinel continued pushing further and further into the corridor, before Percy suddenly turned from the head of the line back towards Team Traveller.

"Alright! This is it!" the Gliscor exclaimed. "We need you to slow them down a bit!"

"Let's hit 'em with everything we've got!" Calidus cried. The Talonflame swooped down, blue streaks trailing after his body as he dove for Zelle, only for the Sylveon to form a shadowy orb between her feelers as he closed in. Calidus steepened his dive and pulled up low against the ground in an attempt to dodge, only to be knocked onto the ground by the orb finding its mark on his back from above.

"Hrmph! Do you honestly think I'm that predictable?" she scoffed.

Zelle readied another Shadow Ball to lob at the stricken falcon, turning her eyes away from the rest of the fleeing party. Sensing an opportunity at paw, Nida dashed up, driving her paw hard into the Sylveon's chest with a Poison Jab.

"Argh!"

The Nidoran hastily retreated to her teammates as Zelle stumbled back, hugging the ground in tense anticipation of a parting shot from the Sylveon, except it never came. Nida noticed her friends staring off at Zelle as Calidus hurried away to regroup further back, prompting her to look over her shoulder and see Zelle easing herself back up with purple fluid staining a spot on her pelt. The Nidoran blinked for a moment as Sorge came rushing in, stooping down beside his teammate with the green form of a Lum Berry, when the Nidoran's eyes lit up in realization…

"Wait, that's it!" the Poison-Type exclaimed. "Whenever they're healing themselves, they're not able to focus on chasing us!"

Elty looked ahead, noticing that Sorge had left his left flank unguarded. The Growlithe let out a low growl and dashed along for the preoccupied dragon, as flecks of bluish fire began to dance at the back of his throat.

"Try this on for size!"

Elty spat up a Will-O-Wisp at the Kommo-o as he turned and looked up, the filaments of fire settling on his flank and leaving behind ruddy burns that made the Dragon-Type wince and clutch at his burnt side. As expected, Sorge reflexively dug through his bag for a fresh Lum Berry instead of giving chase, allowing Team Traveller to continue their retreat unimpeded. From behind Sorge and Zelle, Ketu looked past their shoulders, scowling irritatedly as he realized that their foes were inflicting one ailment after another to buy time and slip further and further out of their grasp.

"Enough with your cheap tricks, brats!" he snarled. "Let's see how you deal with being iced!"

The Weavile leapfrogged his teammates, readying a Blizzard that he sent careening down the corridor. Elty and his teammate flinched, screwing their eyes shut as the icy torrent of snow bore down on them, only to feel little beyond a deep chill. Warily, Nida cracked her eyes open, where she saw Calidus holding up a flickering barrier of light with his wings, with a layer of ice caking up at the other end.

"Calidus!"

"We've finished what we needed to!" the Talonflame cried. "Just hurry up and get to Percy!"

Nida and her friends turned and ran into a dead-end chamber hemmed by rocky walls on every end as Calidus' barrier faded and the layer of ice fell to the ground with a crunch. From behind, they saw Calidus and Alice hurry them along as Sorge let out a bellowing roar, charging after them down the corridor. Up ahead, Percy gathered a few of Team Traveller's members around them, passing a black orb with a light emanating from it around which caught Aldrich's attention.

"They're trying to teleport out!" the Noivern exclaimed. "Pick off who you can!"

Ketu threw a shard of ice after Kiran, nicking his tail feathers as he hastily rolled out of the way. After seeing that the group clustered together ahead, Sorge dug his claws through his bag, fishing out a Petrify Orb, when a black sphere struck him and enveloped his limbs with the telltale slick, inky aura of an Embargo. The sound of a jeering cry revealed the culprit to be Alice, who pulled an eyelid down at the group and stuck her tongue out, only to hastily turn as Team Sentinel and their Mothim ally's tempers flared and their attention settled on the impudent Sneasel.

Zelle opened the salvo by lobbing a Moonblast after Alice, missing her arm by mere hairs as she jerked it away, the Dark-Type quickly entering a roll to dodge an incoming Bug Buzz flying overhead. Alice hastily threw her body back up onto her feet, resuming her sprint only for a Flamethrower from Aldrich to sail in and strike her in the back.

"A-Agh!"

Alice pitched forward and tumbled along the ground as items spilled from her bag. Sorge growled and raised his claws to pounce on the fallen Sneasel, only for Calidus to swoop in and spit a spray of fire at his face, grabbing Alice's arms with his talons and flying for Percy just in time for the Gliscor to hand his Escape Orb to the Talonflame for a hasty rub before taking it back into his claws. Pleo breathed in, watching as Team Sentinel stomped along for them, only to notice that among the items Alice had dropped was the form of a small green serpent with a red spot on its back and belly lying facedown and wriggling weakly.

"W-Wait!" Pleo squawked. "We dropped Kline!"

Team Traveller's members whirled around looking back in horror to see the serpent's form on the ground jerking up and slowly trying to squirm over. In the midst of their gazing, Pleo chanced to see Percy had already lifted the orb into the air, readying it for a throw to the ground.

"No! Don't-!"

The Gliscor threw the orb down, enveloping the group in a large flash of light as Team Sentinel threw a hail of attacks at them, kicking up a spray of stone fragments. Sorge and his teammates paced forward as the rubble settled, only for the Kommo-o's eyes to come across the form of the green serpent on the ground ahead.

"Subject Red's right there!" he cried.

The serpent turned back in a jerky, erratic motion, before starting to slither away in a hurry as Ketu snarled and readied an Ice Shard in his claws.

"Oh no you don't!"

Ketu flicked the shard forward, striking the back of the snake's head which sent him pinwheeling to a stop on the ground, lying motionless as the Weavile gave a satisfied smirk.

"Hah! Not so tough when you can't just run away from your problems, now are you, Kline?" he sneered. "Ellsberg, you've still got that Apricorn with you?"

"Ah! Right!" the Mothim answered.

Ellsberg fluttered over to the fallen serpent and fished through a satchel, pulling out a thick bundle of cloth. He carefully peeled the layers back with his tarsi, revealing a smooth, white surface. The moth slammed the Apricorn down on the green creature's body as a brilliant flash of light shined and engulfed the serpent's form. The light abruptly shrank into an arcing ray that was pulled into the Apricorn's surface as quickly as it came, leaving nothing behind but the Apricorn in Ellsberg's tarsi, which he dutifully returned to the bag as Team Sentinel traded approving nods.

"Hrmph, looks like our mission is finally over," Aldrich said.

"About time," Zelle remarked. "This chase has been such a drag."

"Huh?" Ellsberg asked. "But the Guardian of the Seas still escaped!"

"It doesn't matter," Ketu rebutted. "We've gotten something much more important out of it, and we even have what we need to get Lyn out of our fur after this."

Ellsberg flitted back with a confused buzz, giving a puzzled tilt of his head back at the Weavile.

"I don't follow," he said. "How on earth is the Protector the Board's searching for not the most important thing here?"

"Because, you don't work for the entire Board right now," Ketu explained. "Administrator Elilan specifically told us to keep an eye out for other Legendaries while we were out, and Subject Red is the main one he's looking for. With him finally at his disposal, the Administrator will be in a position to go back for that Lugia whenever he pleases."

Ellsberg remained in the air, staring at the Weavile with a flabbergasted silence when Sorge broke the quiet with a grunting shake of his head.

"You can bring your friend up to speed later, Ketu," the Kommo-o insisted. "We had to cut short that interception of Tidemill's messenger after spotting Subject Red, so you'll need to get out of port in a hurry.

Ketu blinked at the news, before giving a sighing shake of his head.

"Right," the Weavile piped. "Then let's hurry up and get out of this dump."

Ketu and his allies quickly gathered around, the Weavile fetching a black orb much like the one Percy had used to escape from his bag. The lot passed the Escape Orb around, before it returned back to Ketu, who dashed it against the ground with a crash. A brilliant flash of light erupted, and in the twinkling of an eye, the five vanished from the dungeon, leaving behind only silent volcanic stone around them.



Outside of Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon, a matching flash of light appeared at the mouth of the dungeon's entrance, where Team Sentinel and Ellsberg materialized amidst the glow. Sorge quickly scanned his surroundings, before motioning to the others, prompting the five to quickly hurry along the path back for Magmapool. Unbeknownst to the group, from a set of bushes overlooking the path, a faint rustling rang out as Pleo timidly poked his head out and watched Ketu and his allies slip off, before pulling it back in and waddling over to his friends in a shaded clearing, where his companions all stood dead-eyed and at a loss of what to do next.

"Th-This is awful!" Crom cried. "They caught Kline!"

"The Company with Zygarde?" Ander shuddered. "How could this have become any more of a disaster?"

"I wouldn't be too worried about it," Alice insisted. "Things aren't as bad as they look."

"H-Huh?! How can you say that?!" Pleo squawked. "The Company stole your friend! And now they're gonna try to keep him away from everyone!"

"For crying out loud, I'm right here!"

Team Traveller's members jumped back at the sound of a sharp voice in front of them, looking down in time to see a translucent, serpentine shape appear, before filling in with color to reveal none other than Kline. Pleo beat his wings with a start, stammering blankly as he turned back and forth from the Zygarde in front of him and the direction of the path Team Sentinel took.

"A-Ah!" Pleo cried. "But you were- and we just saw-"

"A little bait and switch," Percy explained. "Like we said, we had a plan to outsmart them."

"You mean I had a plan," Kline huffed. "I'm the one who came up with it."

Percy hemmed and hawed awkwardly, before giving a sheepish scratch at the back of his head at his squishy companion's protests. All the while, Team Traveller's members stared confusedly at the Zygarde, before trading uneasy glances.

"But… how?" Dimitri demanded. "And who did they just capture?"

"Hmph, we can worry about details like that when we get to your ship,"Kline scoffed back. "Time is of the essence, after all."

Team Traveller's members nodded back in affirmation to the serpent, only to pause and suddenly blink, with Crom warily speaking up to ensure his ears hadn't deceived him.

"Wait, you want to come with us to the Siglo Swellow?" the Druddigon asked.

"Well you wanted to team up, didn't you?" Kline piped. "Besides, that Samurott is not gonna wait in port once Ketu returns to him, and after what just happened I suppose you could use some answers."

A small, tired smile spread over Crom's face, along with his teammates. After how much of an ordeal the ambush had been, it was heartening to hear that something good had come out of it…

"Thank you, Protector… we appreciate that," Kiran said. "In that case, let's head back to the ship."

"Don't let your guard down so quickly. You're not in the clear just yet," Kline warned, drawing puzzled stares back from the Swellow and his companions.

"Eh? Why not?" Guardia demanded. "We just saw those yajū leave and you said Lyn would leave town as well!"

"Because a messenger was en route to inform the local guards about what happened in Tidemill," the serpent answered. "If they haven't already started looking for you, it would be a matter of hours at the most before they did."

The lot blanched at Kline's reply. They didn't know how the Zygarde would be privy to such a thing, but with his track record of seeming to know things inexplicably… discounting his warning surely wasn't a good idea.

"What are we supposed to do then?" Crom asked.

"We'll make our way towards your ship," Kline offered. "We'll try to avoid drawing attention as long as we can, and if the guards notice us, you'll fight our way to the ship."

"Wait, you're not helping us fight any guards?!" Elty yipped. "Why would you do that when you just helped us fight off Team Sentinel back in the Dungeon?!"

"Because if I change my Forme, Team Sentinel and that Mothim will know I tricked them if they're still in Magmapool," the Zygarde harrumphed. "Besides, I've seen enough to know that you're talented at picking your fights and running from stronger foes, Eltenios."

Elty flattened his ears and frowned back sourly at the serpent For a 'mon that could get his name right without an introduction and keep Team Sentinel on their toes, it sure felt like he was quick to come up with excuses for not doing anything…

"Yeah, because trying to outwit a bunch of Imps on their own turf after what we just went through is really such a good idea…" the Growlithe grumbled.

"… Actually," Nida began. "I think Kline might be onto something, Elty."

Quiet fell over the group, as the gathered Pokémon stared at Nida. The Nidoran looked around uneasily, before shaking her head and stamping her feet adamantly.

"We made it out of Tidemill by sticking together, didn't we? And we just did it again with that fight with the Company," she offered. "If we all just work as a team, who's to say we can't get through a town back to the ship?"

The Nidoran's teammates traded glances with each other, before their eyes began to firm in determination. Crom murmured back in agreement, then Kiran and Guardia, the process continuing until even Ander seemed to be confident enough about the idea to want to try it. From the side, Percy stepped forward and cleared his throat to speak.

"I think that settles it, then. And Kline aside, the rest of us will be helping you," he replied. "That said, we should probably start moving fast. The longer we wait, the greater the odds the guards will try to board your ship before we get there."

The Gliscor set off, carefully exiting out onto the path and looking both ways before the others followed along one by one. Once everyone had made their way back onto the path, the group carried on, trekking off down the volcano's slope towards Magmapool's black walls off in the distance.



Back at Magmapool's harbor, the hubbub of dock workers shuffling cargo up and down the wharves filtered up to a low hill wedged between the water and the walls overlooking the harbor. There, Albert, David, Charlie, and Marilyn looked around agitatedly at the mouth of a shaded alley, the four turning to leave when the Riolu suddenly closed his eyes and flared out his feelers. The others looked at their teammate and then up as a woosh rang out, revealing the form of a Noivern circling before coming to a stop in the lane outside. The bat pulled his wings in towards his body and turned his head behind him where the rest of Team Sentinel and Ellsberg caught up with him and made their way together for the alleyway at a casual gait that struck Albert as wholly unbecoming of how late they were.

"Where have you been?" the Nuzleaf demanded. "We were supposed to begin your stupid operation half an hour ago!"

The Grass-Type's outburst was answered by a low growl from Sorge and his teammates, along with a flash of his claws. At once, the Nuzleaf and his companions quieted, backpedaling and shrinking away while Ellsberg flitted forward with an unimpressed scoff.

"Hrmph. We were held up a bit in the Mystery Dungeon," the Mothim shot back. "But we're here now, and you still have your other half of the bargain to fulfill."

"It's showtime. And do try to get the eyes right this time, David," Ketu sneered. "I can't really help you if you fail your mission here."

The Ditto mumbled under his breath, before his body began to warp and expand with a whitish glow, stretching out into a long-necked figure with wings and a tail. His body's surface began to turn white under the light as feathers sprouted and blue plates spread along his back. The changeling closed his eyes as the last patches of pink faded away in favor of white plumes, before opening his eyes and revealing red pupils and white sclera that blinked uneasily before hardening into an impatient scowl.

"Is that good enough for you?" David demanded.

"That's not for me to decide, but for Lyn," Ketu chided. "Don’t forget that."

David beat his newly formed wings, and after a few awkward moments to find his footing, took to the air with Ellsberg following suit. Sorge watched as the pair slipped off for the harbor and shrank into hazy dots, prompting him to turn to his Noivern teammate.

"Aldrich. Listen in on them and keep us updated," Sorge ordered.

"Got it."

The bat took wing, flying up onto the slate roof of the warehouse beside the alley and trained his ears, dutifully moving them after the newly formed 'Lugia' and his escort. Back on the ground, Sorge raised a scope and peered off at the Nektar Weide's sails just in time to see David pass overhead, along with a sudden icy ray that shot up and narrowly missed his wings. The transformed Ditto recoiled, as Sorge followed the ray down to the form of a Samurott hastily barking out orders to Pokémon on deck, with shapes taking to the air as Aldrich peered over to pass on his findings.

"Sounds like Lyn's fallen for it," the Noivern remarked. "Let's hope Ellsberg pulls this through."

Sorge trained his attention back on David, where every now and then the form of a flying Pokémon would cut in between as the Ditto wheeled wildly across the sky in between incoming attacks. After seeing the numbers of the escorts grow, Ellsberg abruptly shot ahead, cutting David off and forcing him to change course and turn sharply for the ship, where a jet of water struck him from below and sent him pinwheeling to the deck.

The Kommo-o lost sight of David as Lyn pounced on the spot where he fell and sailors crowded around. Amidst the confusion a Toxicroak ran up with a thick cloth bag, while Lyn carefully wrapped a cloth around one of his paws before reaching into the satchel. Sorge watched as Lyn's paw came back out with a red object that slipped from view as he brought it against David's unseen body and spawned a whitish flash of light. There was a moment's pause, before Lyn's face turned up in a victorious sneer, as he held the form of a Red Apricorn aloft, his mouth running off with what looked to be triumphant movements, ones which Sorge puzzled to match words to before Aldrich dropped down with an unimpressed harrumph.

"Hrmph, someone's taking his time to gloat," the bat scoffed. "But I don't think you needed me to say anything about that."

"Good," Ketu said. "It means our job here is done then."

Charlie and Marilyn traded looks with each other, pawing uneasily at Albert for attention. The Nuzleaf hemmed and hawed a moment, before warily stepping forward towards Team Sentinel's members.

"So… I assume this is where you'll be giving us our stuff back and we both pretend we never ran into each other?" Albert began. The Nuzleaf waited for a response, only to be met with wordless stares, as Zelle's mouth quietly curled up with a cruel smirk.

"Now why would we do anything crazy like that?" the Sylveon sneered.

"H-Huh?! Hey what the-?! We had a deal!" Albert cried. "We carried out our end of the bargain, so it's time for you- AAGH!"

The Grass-Type's protests were cut off by a gust of sparkling, pinkish wind from Zelle, knocking Albert flat on his back against the ground. Marilyn and Charlie cringed, before scurrying over and hastily trying to tug at their fallen companion as he woozily righted himself, freezing as Ketu stepped forward and flashed one of his claws.

"You should save your strength while you can," the Weavile jeered. "Sorge already handed over your stuff to the guards and tipped them off about you, so you'll probably need it if you don't want a one-way trip to the Wastes."

The three's hearts sank as horrified expressions sprouted over their faces. One after the other, the fraudsters cried out in spluttering protest, only for Team Sentinel to begin filing off, with Ketu lingering at the mouth of the alleyway.

"Anyway, we've got places to be," the Dark-Type said. "Send us a letter sometime if you manage to give those Imps the slip!"

The four hurried along, the sound of the con artists yelling after them fading away as the group ducked down one winding alley after the next. The tang of salt air and noise of bobbing waves grew more noticeable amidst the sound of work on the docks as Team Sentinel darted out onto the main lane that connected the wharves. The surrounding chatter abruptly died down as shouts and tromping footsteps rang out, the wharves' liveliness coming to a halt as Pokémon turned and watched a large group of guards beelining for a white-sailed brigantine at the other end much to Ketu's irritation.

"Great," he grumbled. "Looks like the guards are onto Lyn."

"Hmph, no matter," Sorge replied. "We'll just get you back and-"

"Halt!"

The Kommo-o and his companions turned around at sound of a sharp bark from behind, coming face to face with a Torkoal and Smeargle in indigo scarves. The two guards paused a moment, their gruff scowls melting away for more cheerful expressions as the Smeargle gave a friendly wave at the familiar faces from the rescue guild.

"Oh, Team Sentinel!" the Painter Pokémon cried. "Your timing couldn't be better! That Weavile with you-"

Before he could finish, the Smeargle was cut off by a rake from Sorge's claws, flinging him into the hull of a ship before dropping into the water with a splash. The Torkoal stammered out of shock, hastily readying a gout of fire, only Ketu to interrupt him with a Night Slash that sent him reeling back, followed by a Dragon Pulse from Aldrich that launched the turtle up into the air before striking the ground on his shell where his limbs splayed out limply. Zelle looked over the fainted Torkoal as the din of battle roared in the background, leaving her to shake her head with a sigh.

"So much for our cover…" Zelle murmured. "I'll miss those hot springs."

A series of deafening blasts rang out, prompting the four to turn and see attacks flying to and from the docks near the Nektar Weide as sailors and workers on the docks quickly dove for cover in nearby buildings and aboard moored ships. Ketu quickly scanned his surroundings, training his attention to the nearby ships where he saw that the one berthed next to the Nektar Weide had its sailors watching warily from the deck, with their gangplank lowered and unguarded.

"Come on, I think we've got a way in."

Ketu motioned to his fellows and dashed along, running down the wharves for the pier just before the Nektar Weide as attacks flew in a thick hail around the brigantine, punctuated by shouts and pained screams. The Weavile made a hard right and turned to run down the pier, getting about halfway to the gangplank when a stream of fire suddenly zipped overhead and forced him to duck.

"Jeogi!" a yipping voice cried. "Don't let them get away!"

The lot looked back along the pier where they saw a Ninetales leading the charge at the head of a mob of indigo-scarved Pokémon. Sorge and Aldrich hastily threw up Protects as an increasingly fierce rain of attacks dashed against them, prompting Ketu to breathe out an icy huff of breath and shoot an annoyed glare at the approaching guards.

"Ugh, seriously?"

He inhaled deeply and breathed out a Blizzard along the dock, slicking it with snow and ice just as the Ninetales and his fellows set foot onto it. The fox struggled with his footing and pratfell, which tripped up a Gothorita, and then a Torracat, leading to a cacophony of guards slipping off their feet while others tumbled clear off into the water. Ketu watched as the mob's determined assault dissolved into a dazed mess of guards tripping over each other and shouting in confusion, while others groaned of heavier counterparts that had fallen on them, leaving him to roll his eyes and turn back to his peers.

"Come on, this way!"

Ketu ran up the gangplank, leading the rest of his teammates up onto the ship's deck. At the top, a Machamp from the merchant crew noticed their approach and turned to intercept the lot with a harsh growl.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing on our-?!"

The Fighting-Type was swiftly answered by a Moonblast from Zelle that knocked him across the deck, prompting the other sailors on the ship to recoil in shock. Ketu ran ahead and sliced a length of rigging with his claws and let a rope swing down, which he held out to his teammates.

"Sorge!"

The Kommo-o grabbed the rope as Ketu clung onto his shoulder, while Aldrich lowered his body to let Zelle clamber on his back. Sorge leapt off the deck, swinging across the gap to the Nektar Weide while Aldrich followed from the air. The four landed on the deck just behind Lyn, prompting him to look back and at once notice his previously-absent first mate.

"Where have you been?!" Lyn demanded. "We just caught the Guardian of the Seas here-"

The lot ducked as a fiery plume zipped past them, the ship rocking as blows landed against the hull with newfound ferocity. A loud crack rang out, prompting Lyn to peer over and see that a Stone Edge had punched a hole into the hull just above the waterline of the Nektar Weide, with the streets and lanes around the dock growing thick with newly arriving guards. Sorge forcefully jostled his scales against each other with a loud clang, sending a violet-tinged shockwave over the railing at the guards, before bellowing over his shoulder to the Samurott captain.

"We'll explain later!" Sorge replied. "Just get us out of here before we get sunk!"

Lyn shook his head, and tightened his paws around his seamitars. While being chased out of port yet again by the Empire was hardly something his pride as a captain needed, it was hard to see what else would be needed for completing the mission. Satisfied, the otter turned towards his embattled underlings, shouting out fiercely above the roar of battle

"You heard him!" Lyn yelled. "Get this ship moving and take us back for Vollezee! Our mission in Imperial waters is done!"

At once, the crew raised the sails, sliced the moorings, and dragged the anchor up while the escorts dashed ahead of the stern and towed the ship away from the pier. Once the craft reached the middle of the harbor, the escorts swung around and whipped up waves and gales in the air and water behind them, pushing the brigantine out for the open sea as Team Sentinel led the charge throwing attacks from the railing to cover their retreat. The ship slipped further and further from view, the confusion around the docks ebbing just as the forms of a Nuzleaf, a Riolu, and an Eevee darted out from a nearby alleyway, staring blankly at the departing ship.

"Th-They used us!" Marilyn cried.

"I knew this was a bad idea… I just knew it…" Charlie murmured.

"Hey! It's those three! They're also on the list!"

The trio turned and saw a sopping Ninetales motioning towards them, as a Clefable and a Weezing headed over. Albert stood dumb with fright for a moment, before hastily shaking his head and turning to his companions.

"Gih! Worry about that later!" the Nuzleaf yelped. "We need to shake these guys!"

The Grass-Type sprang back just as a Flamethrower flew in, before tearing off in the opposite direction, Marilyn and Charlie following on his heels with startled yelps. The three made a desperate dash into the winding alleys of the port as the guards chased after them, shouting and attacking all the while.



Further up the hill, Team Traveller and their new companions carried along down Magmapool's hilltops, making their way back through the settlement past Pokémon and carts in the tight and winding lanes for the black stone gate. All the while, the lot kept a keen eye on their surroundings, drifting down back alleys at the sight of guards until eventually the gate to the harbor came into view ahead of them.

"That's it over there," Nida said. "Just a little more and we'll be able to make it to the harbor."

"Hrmph, just stay on your guard and don't get presumptuous," Kline piped from inside Percy's bag. "We're not at your ship yet, Nida."

The Nidoran quieted and continued on pensively with her companions, casting an occasional glance at the surrounding streets for any sign of trouble. The gate at the bottom of the hill began to come into view, where Nida noticed that there seemed to be more guards than usual passing through it for the docks. She faltered a moment, wondering what could've drawn the guards together when a gruff growl pricked her ears from behind.

"Hey you!"

The group froze and uneasily turned around to see a Magcargo and Escavalier in indigo scarves hurrying up behind them with harsh scowls. Team Traveller backed away uneasily, as the Magcargo came up and leveled a piercing glare over at Pleo.

"We noticed you going through town with that bird earlier," he barked. "We've got some questions for you about him, and you're going to answer them."

The gathered Pokémon tensed up, as a sinking suspicion of what the questions would be about came upon them. Even so, for now, it was perhaps for the best to just play along…

"Er… sure? What is it?" Elty asked.

"Well first off, your buddy there looks just like a wanted 'mon from the capital," the Escavalier said. "And you're sharing his colors."

"So, why don't you come along peacefully," the Magcargo added. "And we'll get an explanation over what's going on, hm?"

The lot grimaced and traded nervous glances with each other, pausing tensely before Kiran warily paced forward, clearing his throat to speak.

"Er… well, we would like to tell you, but it's a busy day and we've got a lot going on and-"

Kiran abruptly cut his words short and brought his wings together with a slicing wind that swept the Magcargo off his underside and sent him tumbling into a nearby market stall with a crash. The Escavalier stared stunned at the sight of her companion being thrown aside as yelps and faint trails of smoke from cloth and wood the snail had managed to set alight drifted up, before turning back to Team Traveller and their allies with readied lances and a hissing glare.

"Hey! Why you-!"

Before the Bug-Type could finish, Percy abruptly rammed into the Escavalier with an Acrobatics, launching the guard into a storefront with a loud crash. Team Traveller and their companions turned to run, only to spot the Magcargo inching up with an audible seethe and readying a gout of fire. With a swift motion, Elty darted up and kicked up dirt from the lane into the snail's face, prompting the Magcargo to snort up a hacking puff of smoke and cringe with tightly-shut eyes.

"Ack! Nae nun! I can't see!"

"Time to go, everyone!" Kiran cried.

The group fled, rushing past the blinded Magcargo and stunned onlookers as he blinked away the dirt and the Escavalier got up, flicking away some broken glass stuck to her lances with an angry hiss as she gave chase.

"Hey! Get back here!"

The Bug-Type's words carried down the lane as Pleo and his companions kept running ahead, ducking down alleys and intersections. All the while, the sound of pursuing footsteps and shouting voices rang out and grew ever louder and more numerous as more and more guards gave chase to them, reducing the town's peaceful day into a fleeting memory.



Author's Notes:

- Manyula (マニューラ) - Japanese: "Weavile" (Official Romanization)
- Glion (グライオン) - Japanese: "Gliscor" (Official Romanization)
- Acrobat (アクロバット) - Japanese: "Acrobatics" (Official Romanization)
- Snel! - Dutch: "Quick!"
- Strike (ストライク) - Japanese: "Scyther" (Official Romanization)
- Jeogi! (저기!) - Korean: "Over there!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- Nae nun! (내눈!) - Korean: "My eyes!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
 
Chapter 67: Loose Ends

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
Chapter_67_header.png


Team Traveller and their companions dashed amid Magmapool's narrow streets, winding around one corner after the other. In their haste, they brushed past bystanders with yelps and shouts as sharp cries rang out from behind. A quick look over Pleo's shoulder revealed their source to be none other than the guards who had given them chase earlier, except there were now many more than the Escavalier that had started everything. The Lugia turned to his Swellow mentor, giving a panicked squawk as a gout of fire zipped overhead.

"H-How much further is it?!" he cried.

"The gate's just up ahead!" Kiran insisted. "If we can get in before the other guards catch up then-!"

Kiran looked down the hill towards the gate in the stone walls, where much to his horror the clear path to it vanished before his eyes as Pokémon in indigo scarves suddenly swarmed it and took defensive positions.

"Agh! New plan!" Nida yelped. "We find some other way over those walls!"

"With what?!" Elty demanded. "If we can't shake these guys off, how are we supposed to have any hope of making it back to the docks?!"

The Growlithe's question was cut off by a Flamethrower suddenly flying by, prompting the lot to dive out of the way as it carried on and set a nearby shopfront alight. Percy looked around hastily, where he chanced to notice an alleyway partially blocked by a tall stack of crates.

"I have an idea!" Percy cried. "Come on, this way!"

The Gliscor hastily led the group down the alley, where they found the stack of battered and disused crates to be covered with a cloth tarp and slightly ajar from the wall. Team Traveller and their allies hastily ducked into the corner one by one, while Kiran pulled the end of the cloth over to provide cover. The lot quickly hunkered to the ground as the patter of footsteps ran past, holding their breaths as they saw the Escavalier from earlier rush in and look at her surroundings in confusion.

"Search the buildings around here!" the Bug-Type barked. "They couldn't have gotten far!"

The guards began to fan out one by one along the alleyway, their voices growing more distant when the loud crack of a wooden door being kicked in suddenly split the air. The cloth shifted as more guards entered the alley to join the search and the sound of another door further down being forced open rang out, along with shouts to check the rooms inside. Team Traveller and their companions lay there panting, trading anxious looks with one another as they realized that their refuge was on borrowed time.

"Please tell me there's more to your idea than just sitting here and waiting to get caught," Elty whispered to Percy.

"Of course there is."

The Gliscor pointed up at a gap between the crates where the sky and nearby rooflines were visible. Further down the hill's slope, Team Traveller could see a larger than normal shop with a black-slated rooftop, with its edge noticeably closer to the wall than the other buildings in the distance.

"There's enough of us that can fly and carry you for a short distance," the scorpion explained. "If we can just get to that roof without getting spotted, we'll be able to get into the air and over the wall just fine."

Percy's words were quickly joined by the sound of another door splintering, making the lot flinch and hold their breaths as the din of the searching guards faded away. Calidus ruffled his feathers, giving an uneasy peek off at the alleyway through the gaps in the crates.

"I'm not liking our odds hanging around this alley..." the Talonflame murmured. "Is there any other way we can get up there without being spotted, Kline?"

The Zygarde paused, before closing his eye in focus and slipping into a trance-like state. After a moment of unmoving silence, the serpent snapped back to attention, before turning to the gathered Pokémon

"There's a stairwell to the side of this building we can use to get onto the roof here," Kline piped. "Once we get up there, we just need to make our way over carefully, and we should be in the clear.

Guardia blanched at the thought of being high up and off the ground again, leaving her to squirm uncomfortably. The lizard raised her head in protest, only to hear guards' voices nearby, leaving her to gulp and shake her head reluctantly.

"A-Alright…" the Cubone stammered. "Just be careful, okay?"

The lot pulled the cloth back and quickly darted around the corner, where they came upon a rickety stairwell thrown together with stray timbers. One by one, the lot hurried up it until they reached a third floor, where they inched along an awning and onto a roof that had a clear, bobbing path down the hill to the shop near the wall. Guardia and the others watched as the guards passed below none the wiser and breathed a sigh of relief, stepping forward when a sharp squawk cut through the air.

"Oi! They're up here!"

Team Traveller froze and felt their blood chill, looking up to see a Honchkrow followed by a Braviary and Minior approaching from the left. At once, the Escavalier and the guards below looked up, and threw a hail of attacks that forced the group to dash ahead madly for the shop near the wall as one tiled roof after another was torn asunder behind them.

"Gah! Looks like we should've hurried it up a bit!" Dimitri cried.

"Forget about that!" Alice shouted. "Everyone just hold on tight to someone who can get off the ground! There's no going back once we leave that rooftop!"

The gathered Pokémon hastily began latching onto their fliers, Calidus taking up Alice on his back as he grabbed Dimitri's shoulders while Percy did the same with Crom. In their wake, Ander took flight while Nida and Elty jumped onto Pleo's back, Kiran taking the opportunity to throw Guardia onto his, leaving the bone lizard to screw her eyes shut and cling tightly as the edge approached.

Nida held her breath as Pleo barrelled over the wall amidst barking shouts. The Lugia hastily dove, pulling up in a street where he came to a tumbling stop and his teammates made similarly tumultuous landings, the lot getting back onto their feet with haggard pants as they looked about their surroundings.

"Stop it right there!"

A sharp caw pierced the air as the lot looked up to see the Honchkrow, Braviary, and Minior from earlier swooping down at them. The Honchkrow leader and Minior rushed in, separating Team Traveller from their accompanying allies as the Braviary tore for Percy. The Gliscor lunged to the side as the Braviary barrelled past, latching onto his right wing with icy fangs. The eagle cried out in pain and gave a forceful jab with his beak back at the scorpion's face, only for Calidus to cut his retaliation short with a burning tackle that struck and sprawled out the Braviary with a feeble groan. The Minior turned away from Team Traveller at the sound of his ally being overpowered, just in time for an Icy Wind from Alice to slick him over with ice and leave him to drop to the ground frozen.

The Sneasel's moment of satisfaction was abruptly cut short by a piercing shriek ringing out, as a quick glance over revealed that the Honchkrow had pinned Nida to the ground. The Nidoran desperately thrashed and flicked her spikes out, frantically trying to force the bird off of her when Elty somersaulted into the Honchkrow with a Flame Wheel to drive him off. The Dark-Type forced the Puppy Pokémon back with a jabbing thrust of his beak when a cutting gust suddenly swept up the Honchkrow and sent him flying headfirst into an awning. A loud thud rang out as the Honchkrow cawed dazedly, followed by a sharp creaking noise before the awning abruptly collapsed, taking the wall of the wooden shack behind it along to the ground with a loud crash. Elty stood stunned for a moment, looking back to see Kiran drawing his wings back, as an impressed smirk spread over his muzzle.

"You know, for someone who complains about pirates so much, you're not half bad at raising hell yourself, Kiran!" Elty piped.

"That's not a compliment!" the Swellow snapped back.

"I dunno," Alice chuckled. "I personally thought it wasn't half bad-"

"Down there! That's where they landed!"

The group looked up to see a Plusle and Minun in indigo at the top of the wall, as others like them were quickly gathering. A bolt of electricity struck the ground nearby, followed by a rock, and a jet of water, prompting Ander to buzz in alarm and flit back.

"Argue it out later before they catch up with us!" the Scyther cried.

Team Traveller and their allies tore along the lane, popping out into a street where they slipped past crowds of passerbys going down one turn after the other. The party continued ahead until they chanced to spot the waterfront and a mob of guards in the distance, prompting them to hastily change course down a side street, Pleo looking back and noticing that much to his surprise the guards were running and shouting… towards a commotion away from them.

"H-Huh?!" Pleo squawked. "What are those guards-"

Pleo's train of thought was interrupted by a cry from ahead and him running into Crom's shoulder. There in front of him, his friends tumbled to a stop and backed away from a group knocked groaning onto the ground. As the lot nursed parts of their bodies, they noticed that ahead of them was a startled party consisting of Albert alongside the Riolu and Eevee from the day before. At once, Crom flashed his claws, shooting a livid glare back at the three ruffians with a fierce roar.

"You!"

"Wh-What's going on now-?" Albert stammered, only for the Druddigon to cut him off with an indignant snarl.

"You set us up to be ambushed by that awful Weavile!"

"I-It's not what you think, we swear!" Charlie yelped.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't turn you canallas into pincushions for my barbs right now!" Nida seethed.

Before Albert could answer, a stream of fire summarily flew in and struck the ground in front of them. The gathered Pokémon dove away, watching as a Ninetales followed by a Clefable, a Weezing, and a Torracat in indigo scarves dashed in, beelining for the Nuzleaf and his companions only to look up in confusion at Team Traveller and the others.

"Dodaeche?!" the Torracat cried. "Those 'mons weren't with you earlier-!"

Dimitri zipped ahead with a watery tackle, cutting the Fire-Type off with a sharp yelp. At once, the other guards promptly flung forward attacks as the side street dissolved into chaos. Nida bounded ahead, only to stop after hearing Crom yelp and get flung through the air as the Clefable of the lot dashed for him. The Nidoran quickly shot a poisonous needle out of her pelt at the Fairy-Type's heel, prompting the Clefable to stumble and give enough time for Guardia to run into the guard with a swat of her club. The bone lizard watched the Fairy-Type recoil and sprang back with a taunting jeer, only to get seized by her tail as the Clefable yanked her into the air. Seeing a nearby crate, Nida bounded up and leapt at the guard's head, throwing an arm back as she forced poison through its pores and brought it down with a sharp jab against the back of the guard's head. The Clefable cried out while Nida dropped back to her feet, panting as the Fairy-Type staggered and flopped over face-first onto the ground.

The Nidoran watched as the surroundings turned a hazy white and she felt a strange warmness envelop her body, the shouts and cries around her fading into an indistinct murmur. The Poison-Type stumbled forward in a daze, wondering if the Clefable had done something to her, when she suddenly felt her body get yanked off the ground and the warmth inside her fade as she found herself staring face-to-face with Crom.

"Nida! Nida!" the Druddigon cried. "Snap out of it, we've won!"

Nida blinked, looking around to see the other three guards sprawled out on the street as her teammates looked around tensely. At the mouth of a nearby intersection, Ander gave a sharp buzz and motioned impatiently with a scythe.

"Hurry it up!" the mantis shouted. "The ship's this way!"

Team Traveller and their allies ran, following Ander's lead with Albert's group quickly joining them, the lot popping out of the side street and onto the main strip beside the harbor. After seeing a large group of guards off to the left distracted with something at sea, the party looked to their right where they spotted the Siglo Swellow's sails poking above the surrounding ships. With their refuge in sight, the lot bolted down the street and past the harbor's lighthouse until they reached the ship's pier. Instinctively, they bounded down the wharf, where at the end Beatrix and Vicente stared down a skeptical party of guards consisting of a female Pyroar, a Medicham, and a Komala.

"And we're supposed to believe that your ship isn't the one we're looking for why?" the Medicham demanded.

"Er… because there was more than one crew flying these colors in Tidemill?" Beatrix answered. "I seem to remember there was some confusion regarding a few of our crewmembers and another team that entered into a local tournament."

The Medicham narrowed his eyes with a sharp frown and folded his arms together, letting out an unimpressed harrumph at the Illumise's answer.

"Sure there was."

"Now hold on a minute, Gildong," the Pyroar insisted. "The report did mention about something about different groups having similar colors-"

"Shut your yap and move it!" a Cubone's voice piped.

The lioness turned just in time for a whirling bone to strike her in the face, sending her reeling back with a yowl before tripping and pitching off the pier with a splash. The Medicham turned to engage his attackers, only to be struck by Calidus using Brave Bird, sending him stumbling back and tripping over the Komala into the water. Beatrix and Vicente stared stunned, before looking over to see the Talonflame flying in place in front of them, with Ander and Kiran at the head of Team Traveller running along from behind with a small mob of strangers.

"Beatrix, get us out of here!" the Swellow cried.

"Now hold on a minute!" Vicente protested. "You can't just drag total strangers on board and expect us to push off without an explan-!"

The Hitmontop was interrupted mid-sentence by the sound of splashing water along with gagging coughs, prompting him to look down and see that the guards had surfaced above the water, freshly soaked and upset by their sudden trip into the sea.

"Agh! I got seawater in my eyes!" the Komala yelped.

"Okay, never mind that," the Pyroar hacked. "This ship's definitely the one!"

A shout further down the docks prompted Vicente to look off past Team Traveller and their new acquaintances, where he saw the forms of a growing number of guards running towards their pier, leaving him to flush pale and bolt for the gangplank.

"An explanation that can be given later!" the Hitmontop hastily added. "Captain!"

"Raise the anchor and lower the sails!" Beatrix buzzed.

The deckhands wasted no time in lowering the sails and dragging the anchor aboard as Team Traveller and the others ran up the gangplank. A few slicing winds from the air escorts cut the moorings as their counterparts in the water churned up a current drawing the schooner into the middle of the harbor. Team Traveller took their place among the crew, when a hail of beams and projectiles flew from the docks, prompting them to drop against the deck as they sailed overhead.

"Would it kill anyone for us to leave peacefully for once?!" Guardia cried.

"Meh, I've seen worse," Elty scoffed. "And besides, it's not like they're going to be able to keep us in range from all the way back there-"

"A-Aah! They're launching ships after us!" a Dwebble exclaimed.

The lot looked up in horror to see indigo-sailed ships giving chase from a naval yard at the far end of the harbor. A loud blast rang out as colored blurs zipped through the air, a Bayleef, a Golduck, and a few other unfortunates suddenly being swallowed up in flashes of light that made the crew scatter in a panic. The ship quickly devolved into pandemonium as Beatrix flitted to and fro trying to salvage her subordinates' morale while Team Traveller ducked behind crates and stairwells, peeking over wide-eyed as cold shivers went down their backs.

"A-Aah! H-How are we supposed to get out of this?!" Nida cried.

Pleo curled behind a barrel and cringed as shouts and cannonfire rang out around him. Through the din he heard a Qwilfish's voice wonder if this would be their last voyage, then a Sliggoo's despair that his mate and children would be all alone after this, and Natrix and Philips long to go back to peaceful days with normal merchant cargoes. It was the same sorts of voices he'd heard back in the dungeon... the ones he could've helped if only his powers had been there for him...

No! Even if he could still be defeated when trying to use his powers, they'd never be able to escape if he just cowered here! The Lugia raised his head up and darted over to the railing, summoning every bit of his strength and will to hop onto it amidst the booming of distant cannonfire and hiss of incoming attacks to look out at the chasing ships with newfound determination.

"Stop firing at us!" he yelled.

"Pl-Pleo! What are you doing?!" Crom shouted. "Get down from there!"

Pleo spread his wings out as light sprouted along his wings, the Pokémon on the ship turning and staring awed as the Protector's body glowed and washed the deck in silvery light. Kline poked his head out of Percy's bag, staring quietly as Ander backpedaled with a frightened squeak. The Scyther looked out over the deck where he noticed in horror that there in the path of Pleo's wings was Magmapool's harbor, and all the buildings behind it.

"Wait! Pleo!" Ander screamed. "You mustn't-!"

"Let us go!"

The Lugia brought his wings together as an overpowering gale shot forward, prompting Ander to flinch and screw his eyes shut. The wind howled and the ship violently lurched forward until all that Ander could sense was the gentle bobbing of the waves and the sound of surprised chatter. The Scyther warily cracked his eyes open, seeing much to his surprise that the harbor was unscathed, with the damage from Pleo's gale clustered around where the Empire's ships had been chasing after them. The proud vessels were now stranded like upended toys among the piers of the naval yard he'd seen earlier, their sails torn to ribbons as a few of their masts visibly listed. The mantis stared at the sight, before approaching Pleo with stammering incredulity.

"H-Huh?" Ander stammered. "But you- You were-"

"… I aimed up a bit. I was worried that my power would hurt the Pokémon in the harbor," Pleo murmured. "Did… Did I make a mistake?"

Kline hopped forward, sizing up the young Lugia with a stern gaze. After a noticeable pause, he shifted his attention to the damaged ships in the distance, letting his vision linger before turning back to Pleo and closing his eye.

"… No. You did good."

Kline hopped off as the rest of the crew helped keep the ship on its course away from Buyeom, while Philips and Natrix hastily went around collecting and splitting the Apricorns on deck to free the trapped Pokémon within. A sense of calm returned over the Pokémon aboard the schooner, as sighs and cheers of relief rose up from around the deck, the white-scarved deckhands gathering around in awe of their silver-feathered deliverer. Off on the side, Albert, Charlie, and Marilyn huddled to themselves, the festive atmosphere passing them over entirely as Marilyn turned her eyes out to sea sadly.

"David …"

Charlie quietly stared down at the deck as he folded back his ears. He turned to his Nuzleaf companion, looking up as droplets started welling up at the corners of his eyes

"Wh-What do we do now, Albert?" he asked. "We can't just leave David behind like that, can we?"

The Nuzleaf grimaced before hanging his head wordlessly. Albert stayed there a moment as he saw the young Lugia from before pointing him out to an Illumise before slipping away, leaving him to trudge off to the railing and look down at the water. No matter how he tried, he couldn't find the heart to tell his younger peers that David had most likely met his end all thanks to that double-crossing Weavile and his horrid friends. Albert felt his emotions well up in his throat, when the sound of footsteps and low growling pricked his ears from behind.

"Hola," a buzzing voice called out. "It's Albert, isn't it?"

The Nuzleaf turned back just in time to see Charlie and Marilyn bolt beside him wide-eyed, hiding behind his body to the best of their ability. Directly ahead of them was the ship's Illumise captain with none other than Team Traveller and their new companions glaring at them, along with irritated-looking sailors as far as the eye could see.

"We need to have a talk…" Beatrix hissed.



At the same time in Tidemill City, the docks in the naval yard hummed with activity as cargo was hoisted aboard a large four-masted ship lined with metal plates and Pokémon in freshly-creased indigo scarves clambered up gangplanks along the side. The deck quickly filled with a motley mix of Pokémon of different shapes and sizes, the bulk appearing confused and unfamiliar with their surroundings as a few more seasoned faces watched from the side, including the forms of a Cranidos, a Ponyta, and a Sandslash looking on and eyeing the crowd of newcomers.

"Heh, this sure brings back memories," Niilo said. "Makes you think back to when we first joined Captain Nugget's crew, huh?"

"We sure have come a long way in two years…" Berecien murmured. "If only things weren't as dire as they are right now."

"Well hey, at least we got a fancy new ship now!" the Sandslash insisted. "I'd like to see the face of any pirate or square-neck who comes across us now!"

"What do you think of the new recruits though?" Cabot asked. "I didn't think there'd be this many."

"Well, this ship is a lot bigger than the Vasilek," Berecien replied. "So obviously we need a lot more Pokémon to crew it properly."

Cabot raised a claw to his mouth, realizing that an ironclad would be a bit of a tall order to keep sailing with just a few extra deckclaws. How Nagant managed to find so many recruits on short notice, he'd never know, let alone ones all so different from each other. There was a purple Oricorio fanning out her feathers near the mast, a Gigalith grumbling about the assignment having too much water, a Scorbunny thumping his feet impatiently against the ground… Why it was like seeing an entire city block here on deck! The Cranidos' attention drifted over to an uneasy-looking Pikachu in a brown hat, along with a Jangmo-o and Sneasel pointing and snickering from behind. Cabot raised a brow curiously, wondering if perhaps the Pikachu was some manner of court attendant, only for a dismissive snort to cut through the air.

"Not that I'd expect a whole lot from our current crop of press-ganged dranie," Berecien scoffed. "I'm not putting money on them giving up their criminal habits."

"But not all former criminals are bad, right?" Cabot said. "Just look at Tegu and Melli."

"They also chose to join the navy and went through Basic Training like the rest of us," the Ponyta retorted. "Why, most of the Pokémon down there look as if they were plucked straight from a jail cell!"

Cabot tilted his head and mulled quietly how surely Berecien couldn't be right about most of the new recruits being former criminals... only to see the Jangmo-o and the Sneasel pulling their eyelids down behind the Pikachu's back. He noticed on closer examination that the two did seem rather unkept, and that a good number of the other Pokémon in the gathering seemed to carry a vaguely thuggish air about them. The Cranidos fell silent, wondering to himself if perhaps Berecien's comments weren't as far from the mark as he thought, when he chanced to notice a Scraggy, Grotle, and Combusken shifting uncomfortably in a far corner, his jaw dropping as he noticed familiar comet-like blotches on their heads.

"Wha-?! We fought that Scraggy and his buddies before!"

Berecien and Niilo gave Cabot confused looks, before turning their gaze over to the three Pokémon. They noticed the Marked trio seemed to be busy talking among themselves and noticeably high strung, casting furtive, anxious glances at their surroundings all the while.

"Eh? Those three blotch-heads?" Niilo asked.

"Yeah!" Cabot insisted. "During our first mission! You even evolved while fighting them!"

"... I did?" the Sandslash murmured, before giving a dismissive swipe of his claws.

"Meh. They must have been pretty terrible if I can't even remember 'em."

"But they were the first pirates we fought together as a team!" Cabot cried. "From that awful Shadow Brigade! The crew that attacked my hometown a few days ago!"

"Hrmph, so you still think that padding the crew with more thieves and scoundrels was a good idea, Cabot?" Berecien snorted.

The Cranidos caught himself, looking back out at the gathered group of recruits as he hemmed and hawed uneasily.

"Well… I…"

"Eh, don't worry about those stupid blotch-heads, Cabot," Niilo said, as he slung an arm around the Cranidos' shoulder. "They'll probably run off scared once they see the Protector anyway."

Cabot uneasily looked down at the deck, dragging his left foot back and forth across the timbers. While Niilo had a point that the three couldn't be that threatening... something just didn't sit right with him knowing he'd be working with 'mons that were probably smashing up shops in his hometown just a few days ago.

"I mean, I guess…" the Cranidos murmured. "But-"

"Let's just focus on doing our job and getting the Protector back!" the Sandslash insisted. "Why, with the new moves we learned, that Team Traveller won't stand a chance!"

Cabot shifted his glance over at sea as his mind drifted off to how his next encounter with Team Traveller would be like. He had tried his best to make Pleo feel comfortable around them and felt like he befriended him... so how could he just attack him like none of it ever happened? Was it really okay to force him to go back to Giotto like that?

FWISH!

Niilo and Cabot looked up in time to see Nagant at the bridge of the ship shooting up a watery pulse that burst in midair. The two hastily shuffled away as Berecien looked up curiously, only to summarily be drenched by falling torrents of water along with much of the gathered recruits.

"Alright you salty wags, shut your yaps and listen up!" Nagant barked. A chorus of stifled groans and complaints rumbled around the gathering, including from Berecien as he shook off some water with a disgusted stomp of his hooves

"Blegh," he groaned. "I certainly didn't miss this..."

"This is your captain speaking, Captain Nagant of the Uragan," the Clawitzer said.

"Eh?" a Jangmo-o protested. "But the name on the side says 'Lichtkanone'-"

"It's the Uragan now!" she hissed.

Nagant leveled her large claw out and trained it over the gathered Pokémon, the lot falling silent with widened eyes as the shrimp continued on with a sharp hiss.

"And like with my own name, do be sure to get it right."

"Tch, with a welcome like that, I'm thinking she doesn't even want us here," a Oricorio harrumphed. "So what's the point of us even being here on this blasted- AAH!"

The bird summarily dove and hit the deck as a jet of water zipped past her head, leaving the hapless creature to cower against the timbers as Nagant trained a harsh glare at the rest of the group.

"As I'm sure you're all aware, most of you weren't picked because you were the best, the brightest, or even had a lick of training to work with," the Clawitzer barked. "I needed Pokémon who could shut up and help crew this ship on short notice, and you all fit the bill."

All through the gathering, none dared challenge the shrimp's unflattering assessment. Further off at the fringes, a few braver voices murmured to themselves in hushed tones, including Niilo who couldn't help but wince at Nagant's brutal honesty.

"Yeesh, harsh there," he whispered.

"Two days ago, the newfound Protector of the realm was abducted by a pirate crew from Tromba Island," Nagant continued. "Her Majesty has appointed me and Commodore Valan to take point in searching for potential hideaways they could have taken back to Tromba. We will start by searching near Buyeom Island, while Commodore Valan's fleet will search near Gestirn."

All around the gathering of recruits, Pokémon whispered uneasily and traded nervous looks at the idea of taking the same mission as a Commodore. If the crown thought things were serious enough to send such a high-ranked 'mon out, just what were they getting into? Before the crew's misgivings could fully flower, the deck thumped with the sound of Nagant batting her firing claw against the railing.

"The Company and even other pirates are also pursuing the same Protector," the she continued. "It should go without saying that if they manage to recover him before us, it will in all likelihood prove to be the end of the Empire and the peace it is able to give to your home islands."

Cabot gulped at Nagant's words. He had been so sure when they'd pulled into Tidemill that things were finally looking up for the Empire, but now things had managed to get even worse after Pleo left and it came out that Admiral Coil of all 'mons had been undermining them all along. After all their efforts to find Pleo for the Empire, they had ended with the stakes higher and in a poorer position than when they first heard of him! The gravity of the situation seemed to filter down on the rest of the crew as well, as all throughout the ship, there was a deathly silence, broken only by the chittering of its new captain.

"These are turbulent times, and the sooner we put an end to them, the sooner I can discharge you louts so you can go back to your own sorry lives," Nagant snapped. "Until then, you'll follow my orders, and not impede this mission in any way. If you do..."

She leveled her claw at a barrel near the railing and fired a watery pulse that knocked it clear into the air with a loud crack. The gathered Pokémon watched wide-eyed as the barrel came apart in mid-air, showering a rain of wooden chunks into the water with a splash, when the sound of irritated mandibles clicking drew their attention back to the ship's captain.

"I'll throw you overboard myself and let you swim your way back to shore," the Clawitzer hissed. "Are we clear?"

A chorus of overhasty 'ayes' and nods came up from the gathering, prompting Nagant to harrumph in satisfaction, and turn back to a waiting Beedrill.

"Wonderful. Jun, give these greenhorns their assignments," she ordered. "As for the rest of you, get us moving! I wanted this ship out of port five minutes ago!"

At once, the deck burst into activity, the new recruits hastily darting up to Jun for assignments as the more veteran members of the crew tended to the rigging. From their place on the railing, Cabot and his friends looked at each other, before the Cranidos lowered his head with a sigh.

"I guess that's our cue..."

The three shuffled away from the railing and made their way for a rope to tug at it with their fellow sailors, unfurling a great, indigo sail on one of the masts that billowed in the wind and pushed the ship forward along with the help of the Uragan's escorts. All the while, Cabot labored among his fellows, his mind drifting off with the waves as a nagging doubt lingered in his mind…

Was… he really doing the right thing here?



Back on the Siglo Swellow, roughly half an hour had passed since Beatrix and her subordinates'... most forceful persuasion convinced Albert, Marilyn, and Charlie to recount their experiences. Much as everyone had suspected, they were con artists, constantly on the move from one island to the next after bilking a pawful of coins from hapless marks.

During a recent trip to Haipheh Island, they had heard rumors of a Protector stirring somewhere in Anyilla, which after chancing to stumble on an old tome of folklore of the Old Gods in a junk shop and recalling those tales from the street, had planted the seed in David's mind to impersonate a Protector with the rest as his companions. After playing around with a few possibilities, the Ditto settled on impersonating Xerneas, and had apparently played his role convincingly enough for the lot to amass a small fortune. As for why they didn't have a single coin to their name, it had predictably been whiled away in gambling and high living, much to the palpable disgust of the gathered sailors.

After the locals of Haipheh Island began to ask more questions than they were ready to answer, they set off for less unsettled shores in Buyeom to work their con again. Once they arrived, things had gone well enough for them to take in even the Duke to the point where he granted them a king's lodging… only for Team Sentinel to ambush them as they enjoyed the fruits of their scheme. The spies twisted their arms into aiding them under pain of exposure, forcing Albert to lure Team Traveller to the Mystery Dungeon while David was tasked to deceive Lyn by impersonating Pleo. The four did their part, when Team Sentinel summarily betrayed them and left them to the guards, which in turn led to the mad dash out of town that everyone present was all too familiar with.

"And that about sums it up…" Albert finished.

"Th-That's awful!" Crom cried. "How could you just go around pretending to be a Protector to trick Pokémon into giving you money?!"

"Yeah, and the whole 'throw us under the ship to save your hides' moment was a nice touch," Elty growled. "Real classy there."

"I-It's not like we had any better options there!" Charlie protested. "There's only so many ways 'mons like us can get by!"

"A-And that Weavile was going to expose us!" Marilyn added. "We wouldn't be here talking with you if we didn't go along!"

"Hrmph, I'm not exactly moved right now," Guardia spat. "If we were back in my colony, I'd be dragging you off to be judged by the dead myself!"

The Cubone's retort drew growls and similarly-unfriendly mutters from the gathered sailors, prompting Albert and his companions to blanch. The Nuzleaf shook his head, before piping back adamantly at the detractors all around them.

"Look, at least our racket made Pokémon happy," he insisted. "We went in, put on a good show, and then moved along after giving them a pick-me-up! What's wrong with that?"

"Because all that did was set them up for greater disappointment!" Kline huffed. "After everything that's happened between you and David, are you seriously going to argue that your trickery was worth it?"

The three con artists cringed and cast heavy glances towards the deck of the wood. Evidently, even with the unpredictability of a life of crime, the loss of David had cut deeply for the trio. From the side, Dimitri shook his head, passing his gaze over to Kline when his mind suddenly turned back to his earlier escape from the Mystery Dungeon.

"Speaking of tricks…" Dimitri murmured. "Kline, how exactly did you manage to outsmart Team Sentinel?"

"... I suppose I did promise an explanation," the Zygarde said.

Kline turned his head towards the main-mast, where a translucent figure against the beam materialized and suddenly filled in with color, revealing the form of a green serpent clinging fast to it. The Pokémon on deck jumped back with a start, Pleo looking wildly at the two serpents before squawking in astonishment.

"H-Huh?! You just copied yourself!" the Lugia cried.

"Not quite. What you're seeing at that mast is one of my Cells, which I sent onboard after we met yesterday," Kline explained. "They're extensions of my body, just like how your wing is of yours. I can see and hear through them, but I can also turn them invisible at will."

"… Is that how you knew so much about us?" Nida asked.

"Correct. My Cells are scattered across many islands," Kline answered. "Since I can move them around even when I'm not nearby, I use them to gather information about what's happening in the Cradle."

"And… they also allow you to shapeshift?" Kiran wondered. "When I first saw you in the dungeon, you looked like a dog."

"When enough of them gather to me, yes. In my current Forme I only have the power to turn invisible, but I can call my Cells to me to assume more powerful Formes in which I can fight," the serpent replied. "The Forme you saw me in earlier was made up of about a tenth of my Cells, while the one that other Pokémon typically expect me to look like is composed of around half of them. It's… not exactly an easy process to disguise, which is why I didn't change Forme on our way back to the ship."

"Eh? But how was that enough to trick Team Sentinel?" Nida insisted. "Even if it looks a little similar, that Cell still looks clearly different from you!"

"Even after adding a little splotch of red dye to it?" Kline pressed. "It sure seemed to work well on you and your friends."

Nida blinked and squinted at the hollow-eyed Cell. It did look flatter than Kline, but the skin and general shape still looked very similar to him… with the right lighting, it really would be easy to mistake the Cell for him if it had the same red markings!

"So that's how you did it…" the Nidoran murmured. "But… there's still something I don't get about this whole battle…"

"Huh?" Pleo said. "What is that?"

"That Weavile... Ketu I think his name was. The way he was talking about Lyn doesn't seem right," Nida mused. "Isn't he Lyn's First Mate? Why would he want a Ditto to trick him in the first place? I'd figured something was strange about the way he was badmouthing him, but it just doesn't add up for me..."

"Well, Ketu used to be part of Team Sentinel, but they all still work for Administrator Elilan," Percy replied. "I'm guessing that Lyn and his crew aren't on the same page as him, so Ketu was probably letting his true feelings come through a bit."

Uneasy murmurs floated among the gathered sailors at the mention of 'Elilan' as the lot wondered aloud what he would have to do with Lyn's pursuit, while Elty visibly tensed up and folded his ears back as if a threatening presence had just approached him. His teammates traded confused stares, with a quick glance at Kiran revealing he was just as out of the loop as they were. The name seemed to mean something to everyone else, so who was...

"Administrator... Elilan?" Pleo asked.

"He's a Zoroark and a member of the Board, which is a group of five Pokémon that rule the Company," Beatrix chimed in. "Their leader is called the Director and stationed in the Company's capital, while the others are Administrators and rule over the Company's different islands. Darzin for example used to be the Administrator for our island."

"That's right, Elilan is similarly responsible for running an island called Nagrobek," Kline explained. "I’ve been able to keep some tabs on that island, if only at a high level. Though, I'm sure Eltenios could fill in the blanks. Given his speech, I'd assume he was born there."

The Zygarde turned on his tail and stared expectantly at Elty, waiting on him to continue. Much to his surprise, the Growlithe flinched, backpedaling with a low whine much as if he'd been confronted by bared fangs from an angry Tyranitar.

"I… I... don't want to talk about this."

Kline tilted his head and narrowed his eye at Elty's surprising reluctance to speak up. Surely he of all Pokémon would have an opinion of how his home island was being run. The Dragon-Type shook his head, opting not to press the matter as he turned away with a huff.

"Hmph, suit yourself. I suppose I'll just go with what I do know then," the Zygarde said. "It's the site of a large prison complex Elilan runs for the Company where half of me is being held captive, the 'friend' I had been telling you about earlier. As Pierce explained, Team Sentinel are his agents and they have been hunting me for years to try and finish things off."

Elty blanched at the Zygarde's words as Kiran recoiled with a startled squawk, staring wide-eyed down at the petite Legendary before beating his wings and frantically pressing for more information.

"So this Administrator has some room or something that's filled with your Cells?!" Kiran exclaimed. "If so, why did you just give him yet another one?"

"It's not like that. My other half, Micky, looks like me but has a set of blue markings," Kline replied. "We both share the same abilities, call on the same Cells, assume the same Formes… Everything that I am able to do, he can as well."

The crew broke out in horrified gasps at Kline's answer. All this time, the Company already had a Protector they were bossing around?!

"H-He has control over a second Zygarde?!" Ander stammered, beating his wings out of alarm from the rear of Team Traveller.

"No, not a second Zygarde. We're both Zygarde," Kline corrected sternly. "Two complementing halves of the same being."

"... But if each of you can assume tough forms on your own, why does Elilan need both of you, then?" Dimitri asked warily.

"Because it's possible for me and Micky to fuse alongside all my Cells into a Forme powerful enough to overwhelm most other Protectors," Kline answered, giving a shake of his head. "Elilan knows that and wants to use that power to become Director and finish off the Empire. Considering how he's still keeping Team Sentinel searching for me after all this time, I can't imagine he'd just accept coming up short again after things got so close for the first time in years."

Ander buzzed with a frightened start, as a stunned silence fell over the crew. Crom fumbled with his words, before spluttering out a nervous reply to the serpent.

"But- But then why haven't we heard anything of it?" Crom asked. "You said that you've been chased around for years, but we're only finding out about this now!"

"Because, the Company won't do anything as long as they don't also capture me."

"That's nonsense! The Company has a Pokémon that can tear the earth to shreds!" Ander yelled. "Why wouldn't they try to force him to go along with their war with the Empire?"

"For one, Elilan and his underlings haven't figured out a way to do that… or at least I hope that's still the case," Kline said. "But even if they had, aside from them, there's only one other Pokémon in the Company aware of me: Director Inler."

Pleo blinked and tilted his head puzzledly. Wasn't it mentioned earlier that the Director was the leader of the Company? If Inler was the Director and he knew they had Micky all along, why wasn't he making a big deal out of it?

"I… don't understand. Why would he and Elilan not want to share that with their friends?" the Lugia asked. "After Nagant brought me to Tidemill, they threw a big party and everything!"

"Because the Company doesn't want to risk their enemies discovering that they can get a Protector of their own that's just as powerful as the one they have," Kline answered. "The moment Micky is discovered for whatever reason, the Empire, if not all the Cradle will also be looking for me."

"Then why did Team Sentinel work against Lyn as well?" Guardia protested. "Percy said he wasn't on the same page as Elilan, but Lyn's just as much a part of the Company as he is, so why wouldn't they be working together?"

"I would imagine good old-fashioned internal politics would help explain things there," Calidus mused. "Elilan is looking for any advantage he can get before attempting his takeover, and whoever brings in Pleo would be on the shortlist to become a new Administrator."

"… Is that why Ketu is Lyn's first mate? To sabotage him?" Nida asked. "But if Inler is calling the shots and wanted Lyn to search for him, why wouldn't he also choose his first mate?"

"Well, last I was aware, Company 'mons high enough to boss others around picked their own second-in-commands," the Talonflame replied. "Knowing Elilan, he probably pulled some strings to get Ketu to butter Lyn up with a first impression so he could get close and steal away anything that Lyn tried to bring before the Board. From there, it'd just be a matter of Elilan having Pleo be given over to a loyal 'mon to present to the Board so he can get promoted into their ranks. "

"Which would be his own right-hand 'mon, something Elilan's pushed the rest of the Board for for some time now," Kline added. "If that happened, he would have decent odds of succeeding with his plot even if he never captured me."

Kiran frowned and furrowed his brow briefly. He had heard that Darzin had fallen afoul of the Director after Tromba's revolt, so why was he so much more tolerating of one of his subordinates actively scheming against him?

"But if this Inler knows about Kline and Elilan trying to stack the Board in his favor, he has to know that Elilan's planning an overthrow," Kiran murmured. "Why wouldn't he be stepping in to stop Elilan openly and just take Micky for himself? Could having others find out really be that dangerous compared to being overthrown?"

"It makes a bit more sense when you try and see things from his perspective," Calidus began. "After all, Inler wants to keep things under wraps to reduce the odds of anything coming out about the Company's greatest strength, especially when he knows he can't fully trust all of the members of his Board."

"That's why he also sent Lyn after Pleo," Alice added. "Remember how Kline was saying that the Company didn't want the Empire to know that they had Micky until they also had Kline? If they caught Pleo, they could say they have him right away without having to worry about the Empire finding another Lugia."

"Essentially, short of announcing to the world that he's looking for either of you two, Inler has two options," Percy said. "He can either stay the course with Lyn and have him search for Pleo again once his 'Lugia' is discovered to be a fake, or he can try and get another 'mon to fill his position to lead the search for you without drawing too much outside attention."

Elty blinked and lifted an ear puzzledly at the Gliscor's reply. Everything seemed to make some sense from Inler's perspective, but….

"What about Elilan?" he pressed. "If he's picking a fight with Inler's own chosen lackies, where is he supposed to go from here?"

"Once he discovers Kline tricked Team Sentinel with one of his Cells, he'll probably just send Ketu or the rest of them back again," Alice answered. "Either after us, or you all depending on what he feels he has the best odds with."

The Pokémon on the deck once again fell silent at the Sneasel's words. They knew their odds confronting the Company were long, but they never realized things were this precarious. If Elilan managed to take hold of Kline and discovered some way of bending the Zygarde to his will, would it even be possible to beat him? And what would become of their island... let alone the rest of Anyilla...?

"What are we supposed to do then?" Pleo murmured.

"Well, Nerea told you to head to Pioppo for a volume of the Knights' Ledger, did she not?" Kline asked. "I'd suggest continuing on with that and preparing to confront the Empire and the Company. From there, it would be a matter of drawing the two together and then forcing them to choose between our freedom or their destruction."

"Eh? How do you know about that?" Guardia pressed. "Did the others tell you about that yesterday?"

"I saw you while you were with Nerea," the serpent responded. "And besides, I should hope I'd know about that plan since I was the one who suggested it to her in the first place!"

Team Traveller blinked in surprise at the Zygarde's reply. Nerea's suggestion back at Braveshoal… was his idea?

"You… did?" Pleo asked.

"I mean I remember Nerea mentioning she heard about the Knights' Ledger from another Protector…" Nida said. "But that was you, Kline?"

"Yes, it was," he answered. "After I was forced to run from Team Sentinel, I used my Cells in the hopes of finding information I could use to take down Elilan and free Micky."

"When that got us to Pioppo, we found out about the Ledger and tried partnering up with other Protectors," Alice chimed in.

"Nerea was one of them, but things obviously fell through, as did every other partnership I'd attempted to make," Kline muttered. "The entire reason why I returned to Anyilla was that at first I'd thought that Cernun had finally grown a spine and come out of hiding to help me fight the Company."

The Zygarde's expression took on a sour tone, as he pivoted on his tail towards Albert and his companions and he narrowed his eye into a harsh glare.

"Not that those hopes went anywhere, mind you," he growled.

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?!" Albert protested. "We've never seen you before-!"

"Hold on- 'Cernun'?" Ander asked.

"The real Xerneas," Kline said. "He's the Protector who has been hiding on Pioppo with a fragment of the Knights' Ledger."

"What?!"

The deck at once broke into an uproar of competing questions from the gathered Pokémon. Xerneas truly was awakened after all? But then why had they never heard of his presence before? Was he in danger too? Kline hastily piped up, simmering the shouts and chatter down to a low burble as he continued on.

"Cernun is another Protector I tried to team up with. Since he and the Pokémon with him preferred to stay hidden with their part of the Knights' Ledger, that obviously didn't happen," Kline explained. "It was the first partnership that fell through, and it's something that still bothers me to this day. There were some philosophical differences between us and after they insisted I had to hide with them as well, things… didn't end on the best of terms, to say the least."

"But things don't have to be that way if we just work together!" Pleo exclaimed. The gathered Pokémon stared surprisedly at the young Lugia as he paced forth, beating his wings for emphasis in front of the green serpent.

"I get that you had some bad experiences with other Protectors... but I'm not them. I know you were upset I accidently made things harder for you, but I do want to help you," he said. "We already told Nerea we would fight the Company, so of course I'd help you free Micky and take down Elilan!"

Nida and Crom chimed in with affirming cheers as Elty shrank away quietly. The other members of Team Traveller watched as Kline stood silent and unmoving for a moment, the whole of the Siglo Swellow waiting for his eventual response. After what seemed like an eternity, the serpent looked away, and gave a small shake of his head.

"Perhaps I'll come to regret this with what happened on Giotto and having to rescue you from Team Sentinel..." Kline murmured. "But at the same time, you have come along further with your powers than I initially thought. You used them quite well when we escaped Magmapool's harbor…"

The Zygarde let out a small chuckle, looking up at the Lugia with a small smile.

"With how eager you've been this whole time, I suppose that's my cue to take the help that I can get," he said. "Count me in."

Team Traveller's faces lit up at once at Kline's reply, prompting Pleo to beat his wings excitedly. After everything that had happened, they'd finally managed to find a helping Protector after all!

"That's wonderful!" he chirped. "I know that you won't to regret this!"

"So what do we do now?" Nida asked. "Even with your help, I don't think we're ready to get into another big fight so soon."

"Well, the Ledger Nerea told you of is still out there, so getting that would be your first step," Kline said. "On our end, we'll be lying low for a while, and rejoin you after you've found that volume."

"Huh?! But why aren't you coming with us?" Pleo asked. "We just teamed up and everything!"

"I can't imagine Cernun or his friends would be happy to see me again after the way we parted last time," the Zygarde replied. "Considering their tendencies, there isn't any possible way that I'd be a benefit to you going there."

"But if we work together, we'd be more likely to get the Ledger!" Pleo insisted. "And we can clear up whatever it is that you've got going on between you and Cernun, and-"

"I… don't think that we should push our luck, Pleo," Calidus interrupted. "After what happened last time, if we show up there, you'd be lucky if you just had to leave empty-handed."

"But isn't Pioppo infested with ghosts that drag away Pokémon?" Nida asked. "Can't you tell us a little more?"

"... All I can say is, be careful," Kline remarked. "And be aware that not everything is as it seems there."

"Hrmph, I don't understand why you can't just give a straight answer," Elty grumbled.

"Because it wouldn't make a difference," the Zygarde answered. "When I went to Pioppo, I spent weeks having my Cells comb the island to try and find out everything I could, and all it did was get me into awkward situations that made things worse."

"So you might as well try a different tack from us this time around," Percy said. "Besides, it might not make sense to stick too close until we've gotten a bit more prep work done."

"What… do you mean?" Crom asked.

"Well, think of it this way," the Gliscor began. "Even if it wasn't for Kline's history on Pioppo, if anyone's been following us from Buyeom, there's no way to know how strong they’d be. If we split up and the worst came to pass, at least they wouldn't be able to get all of us in one fell swoop."

Team Traveller's members caught themselves at the Gliscor's reply. With three separate crews that they knew of just pursuing them, it was hard to admit that Kline didn't have a point about either of them not needing more things to worry about in their journeys than they already had.

"I'm sorry if that wasn't what you'd hoped to hear," Kline sighed. "But for now it really is the best way. After you retrieve the Ledger, we can meet in the waters near Tromba and plan out our next move around friendlier territory."

"… Me parece justo, though what will you do?" Kiran asked. "Haven't you drawn too much attention to yourself back at Buyeom?"

"Hardly, or at least not anything that a suitable cover can't fix," Alice replied. "And I see three Pokémon who can help us with that right here."

The Sneasel lifted up her claw and pointed off at Albert and his companions. After a moment looking around, the three noticed that everyone else was staring at them and abruptly went wide-eyed, realizing that the Sneasel was saying her helpers were none other than...

"Wait, you mean us?!" Charlie yelped.

"Alice!" Kline snapped. "What is the meaning of this?!"

"Well, we do need a way to avoid drawing suspicion if you get spotted by accident," the Sneasel said. "And what better way than if we're seen hanging around a bunch of scammers known for faking Legendaries?"

"… I really don't like where this is going," Marilyn muttered.

"And why should we play along with this idea?" Albert demanded. "We've got our own problems to sort out here, and having to work for you pro bono doesn't need to be one of them!"

"Because if we're going off to Pioppo of all places, everyone on this ship is going to need to pitch in. If you're going to insist on staying aboard here, I'll find a use for you on my ship instead of letting you loaf around and eat from my ship's provisions," Beatrix harrumphed. "Last I checked the heads needed a good cleaning this morning and we weren't able to take care of it thanks to fleeing port in a hurry."

The three con artists blanched, scooting up against the railing. Albert was the first to regain his composure, his startled response quickly giving way to a fiery indignation as he fumed back at the firefly.

"You're going to press-gang us?! What sort of underhanded pirate crap is that?!" the Nuzleaf protested. "You're supposed to be a merchant crew!"

"Yes, and you're a bunch of criminals that according to the law, we ought to tie up below deck and hand off to the guards at the next port," Vicente retorted. "So unless you really want to press the point of everyone getting what they deserve, I suggest that you consider your options carefully."

The trio traded glances between an unimpressed Kline and the Siglo Swellow's glaring crew members. After a moment's hesitation, their glances grudgingly turned back to the Zygarde and his companions as Albert rubbed up uncomfortably against his left shoulder.

"I… guess we can pitch in with the snake for a while," the Nuzleaf murmured.

"Blugh, I still don't think this is necessary," Kline insisted. "But I suppose with that out of the way, we should focus on our mission and get-"

"Wait!"

The Zygarde paused at the sound of a squawking cry, prompting him to look over and see Pleo beating his wings. The Lugia fumbled with his words a moment, newly flustered from the sudden attention before he began pawing at the deck with his feet shyly.

"It's almost time for dinner and we didn't really have proper lunch…" Pleo murmured. "So maybe you guys wanna stay to eat?"

"That won't be necessary, I've already eaten," Kline answered, only for loud groans from his teammates to swiftly follow.

"Kline, not all of us eat sunlight, you know!" Alice grumbled.

"We'd be honored to stay, really," Percy answered. Kline rolled his eye and looked away, begrudgingly speaking up in reply.

"… If we must..."

Pleo's demeanor brightened at the Zygarde's reply as sailors began to drift off under the deck eagerly speculating about their coming dinner. After a rumble of their stomachs, his teammates followed suit, with Pleo trailing happily chirping to himself. After a moment's pause, Percy set off, giving a shrugging smile back to Kline as he grudgingly followed along, reasoning that after all they'd been through today surely a little time to rest couldn't hurt...



BOOM!

Out at sea, the Mistral Marauder bobbed wildly amid churning waves and black skies torn by gale winds and peals of thunder. At the bridge, Rodion held onto the railing and trained his eyes off into the distance through a crude scope as Hess wrestled with the tiller, desperately trying to steady the ship in the choppy waters. Rodion looked far and wide, only for the sight of land to prove ever elusive, when a sharp buzz prompted him to look away and over at a soaked and fuming Ledian behind him on the deck.

"Do you see anything yet?!" Kichiro cried.

"Nyet!" Rodion shouted. "But we should be getting close!"

The Floatzel's answer drew a chorus of dismayed cries in the background, revealing the ragged band that was the ship's crew amidst the Mistral Marauder's ordeal. Their ranks had clearly seen their better days, with the lot sopping and visibly anxious, their time divided equally between fighting to keep the ship afloat and staying upright on their feet. A few of their number had been struggling with the latter half, including Wilhelm who squealed frightenedly as a thunderclap broke from his place firmly tied to the foremast and a sickly-looking Sandile who groaned of a stomachache.

The only members of the crew who seemed to be in high spirits were the sea escorts, who in the words of a nearby Seadra seemed to find the storm "a whole lot of nothing". The sentiment failed to find traction on the deck as one after the other, the gathered Pokémon spoke up in protest, with a Yanmega cutting above the crowd with a sharp buzz.

"Hey! Where's that island already?!" Valatos snapped. "We'll get broken apart if we keep this up!"

"We're working on it!" Hess yelled. "Just do your job and stay out of my scales, alright-?!"

The ship abruptly lurched and jolted as a loud thump rang out. Kichiro hastily latched onto the railing beside Rodion as the ship's movement sent much of the gathered brigands tumbling to the deck with a yelp and Hess away from the tiller. The Ledian lowered his antennae and frowned a moment, only to notice that the ship was no longer moving. The Bug-Type stared out at the churning sea apprehensively as a flash of lightning lit up the water, revealing that the waves below were moving past the ship in spite of not pushing it forward, prompting him to turn back and pipe up with a buzz.

"I think we hit something!"

Rodion hastily leaned over, looking down at the waters where Kichiro pointed. The Floatzel climbed down a line of rope ladder dangling over the edge, where he noticed the hull was still intact, but the waves that broke against its bottom churned up flecks of sand. He hastily clambered back up, proclaiming his diagnosis to the gathered Pokémon.

"Looks like a sandbar!" Rodion announced. "We'll have to push her free!"

Hess set his teeth on edge at his first mate's announcement, as he buried his face in a dripping claw with a frustrated groan.

"Oh drown me… Why does this have to happen now?"

The escorts began making their way for the starboard side of the ship where it had run aground, as Hess clambered up to the stern and jumped off. The Aggron hit the sea head-first, coming up snorting water out his nostrils as he swam against the waves until he felt his feet brush against the sandbar. Hess staggered, uneasily trudging forward amidst knee-deep water around the rear of the ship for the other side of the stern, where he looked up at Rodion who threw down a wooden bucket on a rope that was used to scoop away sand for moments such as these.

Hess dug a pair of footholds into the sand and pushed against the hull, the air thickening with cries from ahead as the sea escorts tried to wash away enough of the sand to free the ship and tug it free with tow cables. The Aggron paced ahead step by step, digging his feet in periodically to clear away some more sand and make sure he didn't slip amidst the waves battering his armored body. A deafening crack sounded overhead with a flash of light, leaving the Steel-Type to stand stunned a moment. Hess wavered, fishing up his bucket to toss away another clod of sand, when he chanced to look off and see a vaguely bump-like shape lit up in the distance. He paused, watching as another flash of lighting rang out, revealing the contours of rolling hills in the distance, making his eyes light up in realization.

"Huh? Hold on a minute, that's land!"

The Aggron suddenly felt the stern slip from his claws, prompting him to pratfall as a wave struck him in the face. Hess got up spluttering and hacking in disgust, rubbing away seawater from his eyes when he noticed his beloved ship had drifted free from the sandbar… and out to sea without him.

"Hey! Wait for me!"

The Steel-Type hastily dove into the water, churning up the water around him into a wave that he rode back for his ship's stern. The Surf broke, depositing him a short ways behind as its remains pushed the Mistral Marauder ahead, leaving him to fight with the churning seawater to catch up. The Aggron plowed ahead, occasionally taking a faceful of water from an errant wave before finally reaching a spread of netting lowered over the side where he clambered aboard and shook some water off his body with a grumble as Kichiro neared with an annoyed buzz.

"Captain, why were you just standing there?!" the Ledian hissed. "We were about to sail off without you!"

"Because I spotted land!" Hess cried. "Past that sandbar to the south!"

Hess pointed off the port side of the ship, leaving Rodion to raise a brow skeptically. The Floatzel raised his scope and peered off in his superior's indicated direction, where a peal of thunder broke out, revealing the darkened form of rolling hills and high treetops in the distance that made the crew's members gasp and murmur. Rodion lowered his spyglass stunned, staring off in disbelief before turning back to the rest of the crew.

"I see it too," the Water-Type said. "From the lack of lights, it must be one of those unsettled islands we were looking for."

"Uh… isn't that island a little big?" Alvise murmured. "I mean, I saw it all the way from here without a scope, so are we sure that's the right one?"

"Pah! Of course it is!" Hess insisted. "There's no lights coming from it, so there's no settlement, what else could it be?"

The crew murmured uneasily at the Aggron's insistence. This patch of sea didn't look all too familiar right now, but there was no way to be certain in this storm. Who was to say that the island wasn't home to one of the settlements they had raided in the past? Or that the Pokémon there had heard about what happened in Tidemill? Why, their choice to sail into this apparent safe harbor could prove to be walking straight into a Pyroar's den!

"… I'm not buying it," Kichiro grumbled. "Something feels wrong about it. Do we really know what we're sailing into?"

"Who cares if we don't know what's on it?!" Nori fumed back. "I'd like to not get sunk here!"

Rodion paused uneasily, before looking up at Hess with a sigh.

"It's your call, Captain," the Floatzel said. "I'm fairly sure that we should be fine sailing in, but admittedly there's not a lot I can work with in these conditions."

Hess looked back out at the island, studying it carefully amidst the intermittent light. Now that he saw it more, it did look larger than he'd remembered. The Aggron gulped, as even in the best of times, attempting to occupy a town with a single crew was a recipe for disaster. And even if there wasn't a town, who was to say there wouldn't be some other hazard? Perhaps some manner of dangerous ferals lived there such as another colony of those drowned bone lizards, or they really had sailed the Dead Zone, where Pokémon who visited it were never heard from again, or-

HLORF!

"Hey, watch where you do that!!" a Seadra's voice cried. "You almost hit me!"

Hess' train of thought was interrupted by the sickly sounds of wet retching, prompting him to look over and see the Sandile raising her head up from vomiting over the side of the railing. The Aggron grimaced in disgust, before shaking his head with a frown and turning back to the gathered Pokémon with newfound insistence.

"We don't have many other alternatives right now," the pirate captain grunted. "Let's just hurry up and get out of here!"

The crew uneasily answered in affirmation, before returning to their posts as Hess made his way back to the tiller, turning the ship through the churning waves for the darkened island off in the distance.



As the sun slipped further and further over the horizon and the blue skies began to flush a burnt orange, the Siglo Swellow's mess hall burbled with activity as its occupants began to finish up their meals. All around the room, sailors had gathered about crates repurposed as tables, sharing food and drink as their chatter periodically drifted towards a central table. There, Pleo and Kline sat together as surrounding sailors plied them with questions, with Kiran and Dimitri keeping watch. Albert and his companions sat quietly looking on from one corner, with the younger members of Team Traveller occupying the other, chattering with Percy and his companions at their shared table.

"So wait, you guys are a Rescue Team as well then?" Nida asked.

"That's right. We had to change our official name several times to avoid drawing attention, but I still think of us as Team Zephyr, the name I came up with for our team before all of this," Percy answered. "Originally I started working at a Rescue Guild in Canalhouse City because of my dad. His team used to be kind of a big deal around there."

"Do you miss your family back home?" Crom added. "I mean... it sounds like you haven't seen them in while."

Percy fell silent and cast his gaze towards the table for a moment as a pall seemed to settle over his mood. After a moment of unease, he gave a sad sigh, before looking back at the Druddigon with a small smile.

"Well... yes. It's been one of the hardest parts of staying undetected," the Gliscor said. "But I personally think it's been worth it. It's helped keep Kline out of the Company's claws, and once this is all over, I'm sure I'll be able to see them again and things will go back to normal."

"If you say so," Crom murmured. "That sounds... rough."

The Druddigon shifted uncomfortably, as thoughts of his mother and brother at the bakery back home filtered back into his mind. It had only been a little over two weeks, and yet he'd already begun to miss them with everything that had happened. To be separated from them for years like Percy…?

"It certainly isn't an adventure I ever expected to be part of when Percy first recruited me from that dungeon in Vollezee," Calidus mused. "But, we've grown real close as a team and looking back, I don't have any regrets about joining him."

Nida blinked and gave a puzzled tilt of her head. Calidus was from a dungeon? But then, did that mean…?

"Huh? You used to be a feral, Calidus?" Nida asked.

"Hrmph, I’ve never quite liked that term, but for lack of a better word, yes," the Talonflame replied. "I was part of a flock that ran its course from the center of Linglan all the way to Orleigh and we were in the middle of our winter migration. Percy impressed me a bit with his fighting skills back in the day and I wanted to learn more about them, it was a bit disorienting at first… but I can't say that I haven't seen new things because of it."

Guardia gave a pair of light taps with her club against the crate-table, letting out a small chuckle and smile in reply.

"You and me both... But what is it like constantly moving around like that without hut-dwellers?" the Cubone pressed. "Would you mind sharing a bit of your lore with me?"

Calidus tilted his head curiously before deciding to humor the bone lizard, beginning to retell his days as a wee Fletchling moving north and south with the seasons as part of a feral flock. As the falcon continued his tale and told about how the flock defended each other and searched for food, Nida moved a paw and poked at her cup of berry juice, turning curiously towards Percy as she wondered to herself how a 'mon from the Company's capital would turn out to be Kline's closest friend.

"So how was life in Vollezee like anyway, Percy?" Nida said. "I can't think of a single good experience we've had with the Company before, so I can only imagine what it'd be like in their capital city…"

"It was actually pretty nice. My dad told me that Canalhouse changed quite a bit after the Great Calamity because of all the expansions, but nobody I knew seemed to complain about it," Percy answered. "I had heard a lot of the ferals had it rough after the Company emptied out the island's main Mystery Dungeon and turned it into a training facility, but the island still had several smaller Mystery Dungeons, so guild members like me still had plenty of business to go around."

"Eh? You were never bullied by the guards?" Crom asked. "Or had to give your stuff to them as 'tribute payments'?"

"I mean, there were taxes, of course…" Percy mulled. "But it never struck me as anything strange, and we always seemed to handle it fine."

Nida blinked surprisedly at the Gliscor's reply. In all of Tromba, one would be hard-pressed to hear anyone say anything nice about the Company's dealings, and here Percy was making life in the Company's heart sound halfway normal! Could things really be that much better than she expected? Or did Percy just have the fortune to not see the Company's more negative side until fate turned against him?

"All in all, things were pretty good," Percy continued. "But of course everything changed when Team Sentinel attacked and sent us on the run with Kline..."

The Gliscor trailed off and looked back towards Kline's table, where he saw the gathered sailors chuckling bemusedly. There in the middle was Kline turning away huffily from Pleo as the Lugia stared at him with wide, pleading eyes, bobbing and craning his head to match the serpent's annoyed attempts to turn away.

"Please?" Pleo insisted.

"No!" Kline snapped back.

"Can't you at least try it though?" Natrix insisted.

"Yeah, don't be such a buzzkill!" Philips piped.

"It's not even possible!" the Zygarde cried.

"But you won't know for sure until you try!" Pleo protested.

"For the last time, no!"

The Pokémon at Percy's table looked blinked out of confusion as Pleo waddled past the gathered sailors at the central table towards their direction. All the while, the Lugia held his head low drooping with visible disappointment, which made Crom blink and give a raise of his brow.

"Huh? What's wrong, Pleo?" the Druddigon asked.

"Kline won't show me how to become invisible!" Pleo pouted. "I asked really nicely over and over, but every time he just cuts me off!"

Alice looked off at Kline at his table, before turning back towards Pleo with a mischievous smirk. Pleo tilted his head puzzledly, before the Sneasel gave a wave of her claw and spoke up.

"Oh, that's what you're after?" she asked. "That's easy! You just gotta ask him in the right way."

"Huh? What do I need to do differently?" Pleo said.

"Well…"

Alice stood up and leaned in, whispering into Pleo's earholes. The young Protector listened intently, nodding along before his eyes lit up and he turned back with a smiling chirp.

"Oh! Thanks! I'll try that!" he cheered.

Pleo hurried off, returning back to his table in the center in heightened spirits. All the while, Nida and her peers around the table shot puzzled glances at Alice as all of them wondered...

"… What exactly did you tell him?" the Nidoran asked.

"Trade secret," Alice grinned. "I've gotta keep some of the things I picked up as a 'mon of fortune to myself."

Elty's ears perked up at Alice's reply, prompting him to give a cheery wag of his tail and curiously press the Sneasel's comment further.

"''Mon of fortune'? You mean, you used to work on a crew?" the Growlithe asked.

"That's right!" Alice beamed. "The fastest and slickest claws from the Boltstrike Bandits you'd ever meet!"

"Boltstrike Bandits, huh? I... think I heard of them before. They ply the waters out around Garanza and Linglan, don't they? Though how did you end up here?" Elty wondered. "I never heard of that crew getting broken up, so does that mean that you got captured? Or did you have a falling out with your crew?"

"Tch, who do you take me for? I left on good terms with Captain Dart since somebody's gotta make sure those shore dweebs don't misuse Kline!" Alice piped. "Really, with how uptight the team was before I joined, it's a miracle Percy and Calidus didn't die of boredom before I came along!"

Percy and Calidus rolled their eyes at their teammate's description, as she cracked a beaming smile and proudly crossed her arms.

"I'm the one who gives it all the color!"

The Sneasel's boast drew groans from the Pokémon gathered around the table, with the very visible exception of Elty playfully wagging his tail. So she'd managed to leave her crew and stay on good terms? He hadn't really thought about it before, but if she got along well enough with her captain, there wasn't really any reason why things couldn't be the same for him and Hess… or for that matter...

"Heh, not bad!" the Growlithe chuckled. "Maybe I should ask you for a few tips to do the same with my team."

Nida folded her ears back and narrowed her eyes into a sour scowl. Of all the inane things to grab Elty's fancy, why'd it have to be this?

"No. Just… No."

The lot's attention abruptly turned to the center as the sound of high giggles and protests rang out. There, the gathered sailors stood staring befuddled at Pleo as he used his wingtips to tickle the red spot on Kline's belly.

"Hahaha! Wh-What are you doing?!" Kline yelped.

"Trying to get you to teach me how to become invisible!" Pleo cried.

"But I- Pfff! Told you already- Hee hee!"

The serpent squirmed on his back and giggled from Pleo's tickling, before slumping over limply. The Lugia blinked and craned his head down worriedly when Kline suddenly jumped back up onto his tail, giving a sharp scold back at Pleo that made him jump back in surprise.

"What was that for?! I can't teach you how to become invisible because it's physically impossible!" the Zygarde snapped. "Why would you tickle me like that anyways?!"

"H-Huh?! But Alice said that if I did that, you'd tell me!" Pleo protested. "And you sounded like you were having fun!"

Kline blinked, before looking up at Alice with a sharp glare. The Sneasel answered with a smirk and a shrug, prompting the Zygarde to hiss and hop up and down huffily. Kline continued fuming for a few moments… only to trail off and fall quiet. The Dragon-Type closed his eye shut as he zoned out from his surroundings, hopping off for the hallway as the gathered Pokémon stared puzzledly at him and Percy shifted off his seat with a worried tilt of his head.

"… Kline? Is alles goed?"

The Gliscor and the others followed Kline out of the mess hall and through the ship's corridors up to an entrance above deck. There, the rest caught up as Kline paused and stared off at the sky in the distance, prompting them to look up and see tall, dark clouds billowing off in the horizon.

"… I think that that's our cue to get moving," Kline said. "We won't be going anywhere fast on our own if we get caught up in that storm."

"Aw, can't we at least stay for dessert?" Alice asked.

"Only if you feel like drowning at sea," the Zygarde retorted, prompting Alice to roll her eyes.

"Bah, first I miss out on Buyeom's hot springs and now this," she pouted. Crom tilted his head a moment at the Sneasel's mention of the hot springs, as Percy gave a scratch at his cheek.

"I swear you're the only Ice-Type out there who likes hot springs, Alice..." the Gliscor sighed.

"Hey, it's not my fault they're all so unadventurous!" she huffed. "Hot springs are nice and comfortable once you get used to the water!"

The gathered Pokémon raised their brows at Alice's protest, as Calidus ruffled his feathers and looked off towards the entrance below deck.

"I suppose we should get Albert and his buddies together," the Talonflame said. "We wouldn't want them to be left behind."

"Oh thank the gods," a squeaking voice grumbled. "Those lousy wastes of flesh you drug aboard are finally going-"

Team Traveller turned to see none other than Scout overseeing them from the rigging just as Albert, Charlie, and Marilyn came above deck. The Nuzleaf and his companions stared up unamusedly at the Sentret, who bit his tongue before clearing his throat to reply.

"Er… going off on a grand adventure," the Sentret hastily finished. "Carry on!"

"Huh? How'd you all get up here so quickly?" Nida asked.

"Did you really think we were just going to sit around after seeing you all head up?" Marilyn harrumphed.

"Yeah, and I felt something was off about you," Charlie added. "I wasn't just going to sit and wait to find out why!"

"Ugh, whatever," Kline groaned. "Just hurry up and gather together."

The Zygarde hopped into Percy's bag, letting a fleeting glimpse of a red cushion inside pass as the Gliscor lowered himself for Albert and Charlie to clamber onto his back. Further away, Calidus did the same for Alice and Marilyn, as the pair made their way to the edge of the deck and looked out to sea. Pleo waddled up to Team Zephyr and their fellow-travellers as the sailors gathered on the deck behind them to say goodbye. The Lugia slowed as he neared, craning his head down to Kline at the mouth of Percy's bag with a curious tilt.

"Where are you all going to go?" Pleo asked.

"The Subway," the Zygarde answered. "We'll spend some time there to shake the attention we drew to ourselves back on Buyeom, and cross paths again when you've gotten the Ledger."

"Well okay... but is there really nothing I can do to convince you to stay and come with us to Pioppo?" Pleo murmured.

"Unfortunately not. Though there was one last thing that I wanted to say…" Kline began, prompting Pleo to raise his head puzzledly.

"Huh?"

"Good luck, Pleo," the serpent said. "We'll all be rooting for you."

The Lugia paused a moment, staring at Kline with surprised blinks before a small smile crept over the ends of his beak.

"… Thank you," Pleo replied. "And we'll be doing the same for you too!"

Calidus beat his wings and whipped up a Tailwind as Kline hunkered deeper into Percy's bag and the Gliscor hopped up to ride the current off into the air. Marilyn and Alice hastily clambered aboard Calidus' back as he leapt up and took wing, taking flight before Team Zephyr called out farewells and the sailors on deck waved after them. Pleo looked on, watching the lot fade off into the distance as the sun set over the horizon. All the while, the Siglo Swellow carried on for the west, towards what he and his friends hoped would be the beginnings of an end to their ordeal.



Sunsets in Tromba were generally sleepy affairs, consisting of townsfolk tired from a long day's work drifting out to shop on their way back to their abodes as the sky flushed orange with the waning hours of daylight. This time, there seemed to be an unusual spark of good cheer in the air with the word of Captain Beatrix recovering the Protector and the rest of Team Traveller, some of the townsfolk waving off the departing form of an Unfezant messenger flying out to sea above.

Over at Gwenith's bakery, the rays of hope that had spread over the rest of the town were noticeably absent, as Gwenith exited the front of her shop visibly exhausted and with a palpable sense of dread. The Druddigon busied herself half-heartedly brushing some dust away from the entrance when she felt a tug at her tail, and looked back to see Cenn looking up anxiously at her.

"Mom? Is… Is dad gonna be alright?"

Gwenith grimaced and shifted her gaze off to her shop's entrance, before giving a shake of her head and looking back down at her child with a tired smile.

"… He's a strong Pokémon, dear," the older Druddigon reassured. "I'm sure that he'll recover by the time he comes back to see you again."

"But… you sounded really worried about him when the letter came. And you spent all morning writing that one back instead of tending the shop…" Cenn murmured. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong?"

Gwenith paused wordlessly, before craning a claw down and patting the top of her son's crest.

"… You shouldn't worry too much about that right now," she said. "Go on and check up on Mildrew's batch of apples for tomorrow, I'll need it for the pies I'm setting out."

Cenn shuffled uneasily, before heading off down the path in the direction of Mildrew's orchard in the hills. Gwenith watched her child leave, before sighing and shaking her head as she shuffled back through the bakery's entrance. The Dragon-Type drifted in, when her ears picked up the sound of someone loudly eating, prompting her to look over at the counter and catch Pyry's jaws tearing a chunk out of a half-eaten loaf. The land shark looked over and went wide-eyed, the Gabite hastily throwing the loaf behind him on the floor as he raised his voice in squeaking protest.

"Th-They were stale and weren't going to sell anyways!" Pyry yelped "I swear-!"

"Blugh… I don't want to hear it," Gwenith grumbled. "Just get back to kneading dough!"

The Gabite flinched in anticipation of a summary smack, only to crack his eyes open and blink warily. He paused for a moment, unsure what to make of his supervisor's lack of physical aggression before opting not to test his luck and hastily scoop up his loaf and slink off for the back. With the main room freshly emptied, Gwenith shuffled behind the counter and slumped over it, holding her face in a claw when the sound of footsteps entering rang out.

"Have you been holding up alright?" a bleating voice asked. "You look more worn out than usual after you start your evening shift."

The Druddigon looked up and saw Hatteras approaching, prompting her to stand back up and shoot back an unamused glare.

"How do you expect me to be holding up?" Gwenith demanded. "I find out that Pladur's in bedrest after getting his stomach cut open and he and Crom are on the other side of the Cradle being chased around by Company goons! And now there's pirates and the Empire on top of it all!"

The baker's indignation lingered a moment, before she hung her head glumly and began to look away from the wizened sheep across the counter.

"It… just makes me feel so helpless…"

Hatteras folded his ears back, giving a pat on her shoulder with his paw as he spoke in a soft, reassuring tone.

"Gwenith... We all knew there were risks like this to be had," the Ampharos said. "And it sounds like Pladur and Crom are holding up fine-"

The Electric-Type was at once answered with a sharp snarl, prompting him to jerk his arm back as Gwenith growled and bared her fangs across the counter. Hatteras hemmed and hawed a bit, attempting to walk back his word choice in favor of something that would brush fewer of the fraught Druddigon's nerves.

"Er… as fine as the circumstances would allow," the elderly sheep corrected. "Crom did tell you of how he helped Pleo to escape the Imperial capital, didn't he? Even if they sometimes get overwhelmed, that doesn't make Pladur or Crom sound very 'helpless' to me."

Gwenith paused, before warily easing her body. She knew her son and mate weren't helpless, but given everything that had already happened and how far they still had to travel to get back home, why was that supposed to be comforting?

"But how can you be so sure? They're all the way in Imperial waters and here we are alone back on Tromba!" the Dragon-Type cried. "How can you be so sure that something else won't go wrong?"

"I just trust them," he answered. "And whoever's been watching over them all this time."

"… I suppose there's not much else we can do," Gwenith murmured.

"Well, to be fair on them, the worst of their journey is surely over," Hatteras reassured. "Why, all that's left is to simply sail back to Bluewhorl with the Protector, and-"

BOOM!

A deafening blast rang out as both the baker and her elderly patron jumped up. Hatteras looking around wildly in confusion, as Gwenith rushed out from behind her counter for the storefront.

"Huh?! Qué fue eso?!"

The pair hastily exited the bakery, scanning their surroundings when they caught a wisp of smoke from offshore, looking off to see the forms of three ships in lavender sails entering the harbor. Hatteras stared with a startled grimace as the color began to flush from Gwenith's face.

"Hatteras, what's going on?" she asked. "Do you think they've found out about the Protector coming home?"

"I'm… not sure," the Ampharos said to himself. "Just stay behind and batten down the hatches. I don't have a good feeling about this."

Hatteras ran off, carrying down the lanes for the harbor. As he neared, he began to see Pokémon hastily shuttering their shops and huts, as others ran up the lane the opposite direction with yelps and cries. Eventually, he made it to the edge of the town's seaside square, where he found himself walking on a few pallid guards hastily ducking behind crates and market stalls as the Company ships slowed beside the docks.

"What's the meaning of-?"

The Ampharos flinched as a hot woosh of air buzzed by his face and an orange blur hit the ground before him. The sheep blanched as a low growl cut through the air, looking ahead to see the form was of a teal-winged drake rising to his feet with bared fangs, adorned with the scarf of a Company Commissioner about his long neck and the tell-tale blotch of a Marked on his head.

"Where is the 'Hatteras' in charge of this dump?" the Charizard demanded.

The Ampharos mayor gulped and braced himself, steadying his gait with a sway of his tail as he looked back at the fuming drake.

"That… would be me," he answered. "What is the meaning of this?"

Hatteras looked off in the distance, where he noticed the forms of lavender-clad Pokémon hastily disembarking. A low growl and a puff of hot, fiery breath drew his attention back to the Charizard before him, who leaned in with bared teeth and a harsh glare.

"I'm Commissioner Bunsen," the Fire-Type snarled. "The Board's been getting word of all your little games and I'm here to put an end to them."



Author's Notes:

- Dodaeche?! (도대체-?!) - Korean: Intensifier analogous to "the hell" or "on earth". Vulgar. (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- dranie - Polish: "scoundrels", lit. "villains"
- Me parece justo - Spanish: "Fair enough", lit. "Seems fair to me"
- Nyet! (Нет!) - Russian: "No!" (BGN/PCGN Romanization.)
- Is alles goed? - Dutch: "Is everything alright?"
- Qué fue eso?! - Spanish: "What was that?!"
 
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Trivia #10 (The Deepest Wounds + Episode 12)

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
Author’s Note: This trivia section was originally posted alongside Chapter 65 on Serebii after its thread received 50,000 views. Annotations and revised commentary not originally in this trivia section are noted in bolded text.

How did you come up with the Queen and her Chancellor?


Aleria was developed around the idea of making a young and well-meaning, but ultimately clueless and out-of-touch leader to helm a crown that had obviously seen its better days, which led to her current depiction. In keeping with a naming theme for all of Anyilla's reigning monarchs (except Alexander, but he wasn't exactly ever intended to become a ruling king in-story), Aleria's name was consciously chosen as one meaning 'eagle', with her species chosen due to carrying both regal and goofy qualities. Aleria's species was settled fairly early on in development, with 'Alegria' being a name that was at one time considered for her.

Osborn was developed later as a counterweight to Aleria, serving as the 'adult in the room' who keeps her grounded as an advisor, though still lacks vision and is just as out of touch with the Empire’s subjects. Archeops was ultimately chosen as Osborn's species due to being a fellow bird for Aleria to confide in, and for the colorful and regal appearance of Archeops’ plumes. Osborn's role underwent a great deal of evolution in early decision-making, with potential species that were considered at one point or another including Toucannon, Chatot, Serperior, Sigilyph, and Braviary, with one name that didn't make the cut being 'Fairfield', owing its same roots as 'Osborn' to prominent paleontologists who studied velociraptors.

How did you come up with the three Prime Minister candidates?

Of the three contenders to be Aleria’s Prime Minister, Coil is the oldest conceptually, with the ever-so-creative working name “Shady Prime Minister Candidate”. From the get-go, Coil conceptually was intended to be a law enforcement figure who dabbled in crime much in the vein of Jonathan Wild from early-1700s London. Coil’s species was chosen as a deliberate irony since Magnezone is a recurring species of police officers in mainline PMD, with his name being a bit less inspired than most as it is merely the Japanese name for Magnemite, which happened to roll off the tongue smoothly as a name.

Walpole as a character was developed shortly after Coil, who was envisioned as being a figure that could act as an ‘inside man’ on behalf of the in-setting incarnation of PMD’s omnipresent Kecleon shopkeeper cartel. Walpole was developed as a neutral if amoral figure, who isn’t afraid to bend the law if it advances his or the Merchantry’s interests. Walpole owes much of his character inspiration, including his name from Robert Walpole, who is largely seen to be the first Prime Minister in British history and received his position from climbing the ranks of power in the midst of a politically sensitive economic crisis.

Thalez is the most recent creation of the three candidates, and is essentially an expanded reference to Mettaton from Undertale that exists as a comedic foil to the other candidates to show off Aleria’s more questionable parts of her decision-making process. The decision to make Thalez a Rotom came from how it possesses objects as host bodies, which seemed to gel well with his source of inspiration. As for his name, it owes its origins to a more fancy and Rotom-esque reading of “Thales”, the name of a researcher of electricity from Ancient Greece who is the first known member of his field.

How did you come up with the Saéta Family?

The Saéta Family was developed as an outfit of mobsters that was part of Alvise's backstory and then later used to interact with Team Traveller during the course of their investigation of Admiral Coil after it was realized they could be worked into becoming a crucial information source fairly easily. As you might have been able to tell, they draw inspiration from archetypical mafia depictions with a dash of Team Rocket for their scarf design. The mafia vibes in turn influenced their naming as a "Family", if with the title going to the name of its current head as opposed to a familial surname as is more common in real life.

Saéta was envisioned as an elder, if still cutthroat figure that could play the role of a disappointed father to Alvise and his poor life choices, and was designed to be someone that would be approachable, yet thoroughly unheroic at the same time. In light of a father role, Saéta’s species was decided from the get-go to be a Manectric, though his name, Venetian for "thunderbolt", underwent a few evolutions during development. The alternatives that were considered were Saetta, the Italian analogue to Saéta and part of the Italian localization name for Amp Plains, 'Pianure Saetta' (which ultimately inspired his current name choice), and Sita (which was dropped due to sounding a touch too feminine).

Luca came later in development and was envisioned as a bullying older brother to Alvise who would constantly overshadow him, and follow closer in his father’s footsteps in maintaining the family “business”. His name owes its origins due to a Venetian reading of ‘Luke’ and it sounding similar to 'Sal Deluca', a character of a mobster-themed map from Call of Duty Zombies. When thinking of a name for Luca, a number of alternatives were thrown around, including Marco, Magno, and Valerio, the last of which was reused as a throwaway name for the Zebstrika that pulled the cart Luca used to abduct Alvise and his pals in Chapter 59.

How did you come up with Sirmia?

Sirmia was developed to fill the role of Elty’s mother after it was decided that The Deepest Wounds would focus on Nagrobek, which served as a particularly opportune time for incorporating the story of how Elty became a pirate. Sirmia, like Elty, owes her name to a splice of Esperanto verbs, specifically the past (ŝirmis) and present (ŝirmas) forms of ‘to protect’ or ‘to shield’ with an omitted ‘s’ at the end, indicating her intended role as someone who would always try and protect her loved ones in both the past and the present.

How did you come up with Captain Amaro?

Amaro conceptually was developed in the process of creating The Deepest Wounds, and was envisioned as a more noble and star-crossed colleague of Dirk from the era when the much fabled in-story Captain Beatrice plied the seas, and someone who could give some context behind Dirk’s vicious and cynical temperament. He was chosen as a Pyroar to play to off of cultural tropes surrounding lions to make him fierce figure with an air of nobility. At one point in development it was considered to make him a Krookodile in order to give him parallelism to Laurens, which was ultimately decided against on the grounds it would make the two feel too samey.

Amaro owes his name origins to the fabled Spanish pirate Amaro Pargo, who was known for passing portions of his loot onto the poor, and mainly attacked Dutch and British ships, both of which seemed fitting for a more idealistic pirate who would go toe to toe with the Company. Other names that were left on the cutting floor include Brenton, Aaden, and Bren.

How did you come up with Laurens?

Laurens was originally developed as a former feral from Vollezee and a no-name has-been who retired from piracy after being scared out of the business and deciding to get out while he could, who was later revisited for The Deepest Wounds and adapted into a one-time rising star who quite dramatically fell from grace and never recovered when the Special Chapter was being planned out. Much like Amaro, Laurens owes his name to a pirate of historical note, specifically the Dutch captain Laurens de Graaf.

How did you come up with Buyeom?

Buyeom was designed to be a fire-themed island that would occupy roughly the same role that Kenobi did to the Company in terms of a strategically important island with a mid-sized settlement on it. While batting around different ideas, Lavaridge Town came to mind, which ultimately influenced the decision to make Buyeom a volcanic island characterized by hot springs. Buyeom’s name similarly carries influence from Lavaridge, with the name being a Korean reading of the component words of the Japanese name. The nature of the island helped inform the decision of making the island’s Protector, Volcanion, which you may have noticed in the passing description of the local shrine.

How did you come up with Magmapool Town?

Magmapool Town was built around the idea of being a town that filled a niche akin to Mossaisle Town for the Empire, though making a consciously different choice in how to attempt to defend it, which led to the town being designed to have particularly strong walls financed by high levies on the local population. Due to being on a fire-themed island, the town was also developed into a glassblowing and smithing center, which is why the local buildings feature glass more prominently than even Tidemill City did, with the presence of hot springs leading to the name Magmapool fairly early on in development. In keeping with the Korean motifs, the local buildings commonly feature some high-level details of traditional Korean architecture such as slate roofs and sliding doors.

What has changed with Fledglings’ concept since you started writing?

First and foremost, the scope. Fledglings originally was structured around the equivalent of a three-season TV show, which after quickly realizing it would wind up collapsing under its own weight was cut back to the events roughly corresponding with the first and most developed third of the initial concept. The sequence of events in this story was also a bit different, with some locations such as Otvaga appearing much later in the original draft than they did in the final work, and a couple locations since being inserted into the sequence of events. As explained in a prior answer regarding the Siglo Swellow, a number of characters that were originally intended to have minor or one-off roles wound up becoming more recurring and plot-important characters. All of the special episode chapters were not planned during the original draft, and the concept only came into being after Auld Lang Syne was entered into the third issue of the FanFiction Quarterly on Serebii.

What was originally gonna happen in both this episode and the previous one?

The episode on Giotto originally was structured entirely around the Ace Attorney homage subplot, with no tournament at all factoring in the mix. The grunt work of amateur attorneying was originally to be done by Nida, Guardia, and Elty who would be tapped to become amateur attorneys overnight, but through some sleuthing and careful deduction, arrive at much the same place as what happened in the final product. Pleo's breakout was originally set to occur at the courtroom, with him and the team breaking out after he was called to testify. These plans were reworked into the tournament structure to address some meta regarding the team's strength by giving them an experience dump and due to repeated troubles making Team Traveller’s newfound attorney positions feel logical, which led to the premise being retooled into becoming detective’s assistants.

The concept of the current episode set on Buyeom was created around 3 years ago, with there originally being a plot on an ice-themed island in which Team Traveller would face off against a feral Froslass as the main antagonist that caught them off-guard thanks to being reminded of Hariti. In this original concept the Company would also not appear during the episode. The plot was ultimately replaced with the current incarnation of episode 12 due to overlapping too much with Mengir’s arc in terms of a “blundering into a dangerous feral” dynamic, and it feeling too much like filler. The original arc’s relevance to the plot beyond some worldbuilding regarding the nature of the world would have been that it taught Team Traveller a lesson that two Pokémon of the same species can be very different, but since it was a lesson the team logically ought to have already known, it was decided to scrap the plot in the end.
 
Chapter 68: Finding Your Feet

Spiteful Murkrow

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


An oppressive aura lingered around Bluewhorl Town's harbor as the shadow of tall, lavender-sailed masts loomed over the seafront from three ships anchored in port. All along the ships, growling and glaring Pokémon in Company scarves disembarked and shuffled off as islanders warily poked their heads out from behind corners and windows, the sides between the two parties occupied by a growling Charizard and a wizened Ampharos staring each other down as the air crackled with unseen tension. Hatteras inhaled deeply, before hardening his eyes in determination and speaking up towards the scowling Commissioner in front of him.

"… I'm not sure what you're talking about," the sheep insisted. "We haven't been playing any games, so I don't really know why you're here right now."

"Hrmph, take your complaints up with the Board!" Bunsen scoffed. "They already knew that you've been giving safe harbor to smuggling crews, but to go and do the same for one that's turned to piracy? There's just some lines that can't be crossed and left unanswered!"

The Charizard batted his tail against the ground, spreading his wings as he craned his head forward with a low, guttural growl.

"To fix that, me and my subordinates will be staying here to capture those pirates in case Commissioner Lyn fails to do so and they return here," the Fire-Type snarled. "During our stay, we'll be taking over the day-to-day affairs of this hamlet and make some changes to ensure the Board that moments like these don't happen again."

"Hatteras!"

Bunsen and Hatteras looked up to see the form of a Sceptile running in with panting breaths.

"What's going on?" Osmund asked. "Lyn's back here already?!"

Osmund caught the sight of fire from the corner of his eyes and hastily entered a skidding stop, looking up to see a Marked Charizard staring back at him. The Sceptile blinked confusedly for a moment, only for Bunsen to shoot back a harsh glare and snort up a small spray of embers.

"And one of the first orders of business for me and my subordinates will be to hand down consequences for the Pokémon who have been abetting that criminality," the Commissioner said. "Effective immediately, you will be under house arrest in your domicile, and the Sceptile here will be detained in your local jail."

The Charizard's order at once drew scattered gasps as onlooking Pokémon cringed away from their windows and corners. Back in the front and center of things Hatteras' jaw dropped for a moment, before the sheep stomped a foot with a sharp bleat as sparks crackled along his hide.

"Look, 'Bunsen', was it? I don't know what sort of lies the Board has been feeding you, but our island hasn't been abiding any pirates," the Ampharos snapped. "The Siglo Swellow is a legitimate merchant ship, and the only reason Lyn is even chasing after it is because our Protector is aboard it!"

At once, Bunsen visibly blanched and uneasily shrank back. Their 'Protector'? As in whatever demon they worshipped on this rock?! The Charizard tried to stammer out a response but kept tripping over his own words, which failed to go unnoticed by the nearby townsfolk.

"Hah, not so tough now, are ya, blotch-head?!" a Mightyena sneered.

"Yeah, as if a Marked like you would really dare to show your ugly mug in front of a Protector!" a Machoke spat.

Bunsen flinched as one Pokémon after the other joined in with jeers and taunts, advancing with newfound courage, the Charizard turning pale at the thought of having to face one of the mythical demons in the flesh.

Did Darzin know about this when he sent him out here?! He hadn't even gotten a chance to get armor allocated for him or his Second-Ranks before Darzin forced him to set sail, even though it should've been standard issue for them and squad leaders for a pacifying mission such as this! W-Why would the Administrator send him off to face an awful monster like that so underequipped?!

Bunsen looked about and noticed his subordinates were also starting to grow uneasy from the encroaching mob, when a snide voice resounded in his head…

"Try and pretend to be imposing when you're on Tromba. Knowing the islanders, you'll need it."

The Commissioner stopped, digging his claws into the wood of the pier as hot, frustrated breaths left his snout. These- These lousy hicks were playing games with him like Darzin had warned! Trying to make him slink off with his tail between his legs over a bunch of empty words! He was supposed to believe that one of the demons woke up on this lousy rock just a month ago?! It would have been more likely that a snowstorm blew into Sormus since then! With renewed fire in his belly, Bunsen hardened his eyes as a sneering yip from the Mightyena reached his earholes.

"If our Protector was here, he'd blow- AAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

The hyena was swallowed up by a sudden Flamethrower, wheeling and thrashing about screaming much to the villagers' shock. The Dark-Type staggered as the flames subsided, before flopping over with a coat full of burnt-smelling fur and little sign of life beyond a weak twitch of his legs. The Machoke next to him paled and backpedaled into a wall as the townsfolk's defiance rapidly bled away and shouts went up from the ships. Hatteras and Osmund went wide-eyed as they saw cannons being wheeled up to the front and startled cries broke out among the gathered villagers, when a fierce roar cut through the air.

"Do you really think that you're going to scare me off with a bunch of dirty tricks just because I'm a Marked?!" Bunsen bellowed. "Who do you take me for?!"

The flame on the Charizard's tail turned a whitish blue as he wheeled with bared fangs at Hatteras, all but forcing the Ampharos back with a withering glare and livid breaths that blew out singing embers.

"I'm not giving another warning," the Commissioner snarled. "Do as you're ordered now or else things are going to get uncomfortably hot and charred around here!"

Hatteras grit his teeth as the townsfolk in the background split into a mix of 'mons hastily retreating and others who stammeringly assumed combative stances to defend their town. The Company underlings further up the docks began to approach massed and ready for battle when the air was pierced by a sharp cry.

"Wait!"

For a fleeting moment, the Pokémon near the ships and from the town paused and looked over at Osmund as he motioned for a stop. The remaining villagers eased themselves, trading uneasy murmurs as the Sceptile approached Bunsen with a deflated shake of his head.

"… I know when it's time to fold 'em," he muttered. "You say that it's the Board's orders that this needs to happen. Then fine."

At once, multiple voices in the crowd broke out in protest, pleading with Osmund not to yield and turn himself over. The Sceptile grit his teeth and turned around, shouting back over the villagers' cries.

"Listen! If we couldn't handle Lyn getting the drop on us with his galleon, what hope do we have against three ships?!"

An uncomfortable silence fell over the townsfolk, as one after the other, the gathered Pokémon looked away grudgingly as Osmund hung his head glumly.

"… This is the best that can be done for now," he muttered. "So let's just do what we can with it."

"Save your breath," Bunsen snapped. "Sicula, get this gecko in a cell! And march that Mightyena and Machoke from earlier with him!"

The Machoke at the wall yelped and turned to flee, only for an Energy Ball to zip in and strike the back of his head. The Fighting-Type pitched forward and collapsed face-first onto the ground as a Roserade pointed at the fallen Pokémon, prompting a band of underlings to pounce, swiftly binding him and the Mightyena up before unceremoniously dragging them off. A Scrafty and Bronzong turned to Osmund and wrenched the Sceptile's arms behind his back, binding them before the Roserade joined them and shoved him off in the same path for the jail. All around the square, the villagers stood in stunned silence, shrinking away quailing as Bunsen turned to Hatteras with a sharp huff.

"It's your turn, Hatteras," the Charizard snarled. "Just follow your orders and return to whatever hovel you pretend to run this place from. Perhaps the Company will still have a use for your present role once this is all over."

The Ampharos said nothing for a moment, before grudgingly shuffling off as a Dugtrio and a Lickilicky flanked him, leaving the sheep to turn back with a harsh glare.

"Don't think that this is just going to smooth over just by throwing a few 'mons in a cell," Hatteras said.

"I'll be the judge of that, sheep," Bunsen growled back. "Now off to your shack!"

The Dugtrio and Lickilicky carried on, brusquely pushing the Ampharos along up the path for the Guild Hall as Bunsen turned out to the lingering crowd with a stomp and bellowing roar.

"And the rest of you! I'll be serving resettlement notices during my stay on your miserable rock!" Bunsen snapped. "If you don't want to find you and your families on the receiving end of one, I'd suggest you all be good subjects and stay out of my way!"

The Charizard breathed in and spewed a plume of fire into the air over the crowd, prompting them to break and scatter much as if they were a swarm of startled Durant. As the square cleared out, an uneasy quiet settled in, leaving Bunsen to give a shake of his head before turning back to his underlings.

"… Start moving in," the Fire-Type harrumphed. "If we're going to be staying here a while in this town, we might as well make it ours."

The Commissioner was met with a chorus of affirmations as the lavender-garbed Pokémon marched into the town, fanning out down its lanes and paths. Satisfied with his work, Bunsen turned back and beat his wings with a flying hop onto the stern of his ship, his claws shaking as he sat down against the deck breathing out a heavy sigh of relief.



Out in the waters between Boisocéan and Otvaga, the deck of the Nektar Weide rumbled as sailors brought up wooden casks and rolled them out under the glow of the stars and moon, dispensing clear drinks into cups and mugs for the gathered crew. The air had a festive atmosphere to it, laughter and joking filtering about freely as a Samurott stood over the bridge raising a clay flask of jenever up for the crew to see.

"A toast! To the Company, and to an Anyilla reunited under its banner!"

The gathered Pokémon broke out in cheers as a few of the more restless sailors started drinking their helpings of jenever. Lyn looked around, noting the high spirits that had seemed absent from his crew for so long, and cracked a grin at the edges of his mouth.

"It's been a far longer mission than I'd have liked, but with the Protector finally in our grasp I think it's about time we all set our eyes on our higher goals," he remarked. "Drink up! You've earned it!"

Lyn pulled the flask to his mouth and drank deeply as another cheer broke out among the crew and others returned to their drinks, their captain sauntering down to mingle with his underlings. Further by the rigging, Team Sentinel busied themselves chattering with some curious sailors as Ketu and Ellsberg looked back at Lyn from the starboard railing of the central deck with sharp frowns, the Mothim of the pair giving an irritated flick of his wings and an unimpressed scoff.

"Hmph, look at him hogging all the credit!" Ellsberg spat. "If it wasn't for me he wouldn't even have known that Lugia had awakened!"

"Let him run his mouth off, he'll be knocked down a peg soon enough," Ketu said, giving a dismissive wave of his claw. "Shame I won't be able to see his face when he opens that nut in front of the Board, I was kinda looking forward to that stupid expression of his…"

Ellsberg extended his proboscis into his drink and sipped as he began to wonder, what would the Board do with Lyn for presenting a Ditto before them? Would they boot him from the mission for his failure? No, that seemed far too tame of a punishment to expect. If they assume he attempted to trick them, that would surely lead to some manner of demotion… perhaps even a public cashiering! Why, if Lyn was still even in the Company after everything, perhaps he'd be in a position to turn the tables and see how Lyn would like being his subordinate for a change! The Bug-Type began to smile as one possibility after another played through his mind when Ketu dangled his claw out in front of him, waving a clay cup slightly.

"Here, you can have it," the Weavile offered.

The Mothim gave an askew glance, looking down at Ketu's cup half-expecting the Weavile to throw it in his face as a joke. After a moment's wait and noticing Ketu giving him an impatient look, the moth tilted his head puzzledly.

"Huh? You don't like jenever?" he wondered.

"Nope, I don't drink alcohol," Ketu answered.

"… Even when you had to present yourself as a sailor?" Ellsberg asked. "I can't remember the last time one has said something like that."

"Tch, from what I've seen, Pokémon who drink alcohol tend to get drunk and lose control of themselves," the Weavile replied. "I'd like to keep my mind clear, so I don't need that to happen to me."

Ellsberg blinked at Ketu's reply, giving a curious flick of his antennae. There were few Pokémon in the Company who'd say 'no' to a cup of jenever after work, much less fellow Second-Ranks who both had lower-ranked peers to entertain and superiors to schmooze to. The Mothim briefly wondered to himself why Ketu felt this way, before opting not to press the matter and taking the cup from his claw.

"Besides, it seems like you're a fan of jenever," Ketu said. "After everything that's happened I don't mind giving you a little extra on top of your share of those con artists' money."

Ellsberg flitted back in surprise, nearly spilling his drinks onto the deck. He buzzed sharply and turned his head to the Weavile incredulously, giving a pressing stare back.

"Wait, their money?" the moth asked. "What are you going on about?"

"What, you didn't think we were just going to throw it into the sea, did you?" Ketu replied. "I think we deserve a bonus after all of this, and it's not like those punks were going to do anything useful with it."

The Weavile shook his head, before leaning with his back against the railing and giving a small grin back.

"And hey, you pulled your own weight in the end," Ketu insisted. "Sounds like a good reason to share in the reward, don't you think?"

The Mothim shot a flummoxed look at the Dark-Type. Throughout the entire mission, Ketu had been passively neutral towards him at best, and openly threw insults and demeaning nicknames at him at worst. Telling him they had captured the Protector of Conntow earlier was already a bit of a surprise, but to go on and actually be nice for once was… unexpected, to say the least.

"So… what are you going to do now this is all over?" Ellsberg asked. "You never did give me a straight answer earlier."

Ketu blinked a moment at the Mothim's question, wondering why he still remembered his question from yesterday after everything that had happened since then. The Weavile closed his eyes, before giving a shrug of his shoulders and curling his mouth into a small smile.

"Eh, I guess it can't hurt to tell you," Ketu said. "Tell me, do you know who Betulo is?"

"I… think he's Administrator Elilan's Commander?" Ellsberg answered. "I've heard of him a few times, but never really talked with him at length."

"That's him," the Weavile affirmed. "As Administrator Elilan mentioned, he had a different candidate in mind than Lyn to replace Darzin on the Board, and that candidate is none other than Betulo."

"But… how does that involve you?" the Bug-Type wondered.

"Because I'll be Betulo's Commander. The two of us go back a long way, and I wouldn't have gotten to where I am if it wasn't for him," he explained. "Unlike my current position with Lyn, I'll actually enjoy being Betulo's right hand 'mon."

Ellsberg gave a puzzled twitch of his feelers. Why would Ketu care about what Betulo wound up doing as long as he got to be a Commander? Just what was this history that they shared with each other?

"So you're telling me that you're doing all of this just to help a friend get promoted?" the Mothim questioned.

"Well, it's one of the main reasons at least," Ketu replied. "The other being that it'll help pave the way for some changes the Company desperately needs."

"… What sorts of changes?"

The Weavile shrugged back as he gave Ellsberg a teasing smirk.

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

Ellsberg's curious expression swiftly gave way to a sharp frown as his eyes hardened into an increasingly annoyed glare. After all they'd been through, he was still going to put him through this sort of nonsense?

"Really, Ketu?"

A pointed silence followed, before Ketu snickered and began to burst out in open laughter.

"Nah, I'm just messing with you," the Weavile teased. "Come on, it's a party, lighten up a bit!"

"I'd rather that you answered my question," Ellsberg harrumphed. "What exactly would helping Betulo become an Administrator change that's so important?"

Ketu's smile muted a bit as he thought to himself, crossing his arms as he returned to leaning against the railing.

"… Tell me Ellsberg, are you happy with the current state of the world?" the Weavile asked. "How we go about our lives in this pond and wait for things to get better, while most of the planet is a barren wasteland?"

Ellsberg fell silent and stared back at Ketu with his antennae ajar. Of all the possible replies Ketu could have given, an unusual question like that was probably the last thing he'd have expected.

"I mean… I don't think anyone is. But you of all 'mons should know the legends of how all that is set to change when the new gods wake up and the humans return," the Mothim murmured. "Isn't the point of trying to secure a Protector to make sure that we're best positioned for when those times come?"

"And how much of those legends do you really believe?" Ketu questioned. "The same legends that say these 'gods' awaken fully matured and accustomed to their own powers?"

Ellsberg paused, realizing that that part of the legends had underdelivered to say the least. The mighty Guardian of the Seas was but a mere fledgling, and from what he heard the Protector of Vollezee was little different when she was first spotted. But even so, there never really seemed to be a reason to question the rest… and where was Ketu even going with this?

"I… admit you have a point there. But that doesn't mean the rest of the legends aren't true," he insisted. "Even while young, Protectors aren't helpless and do have the power to change things. That's why we're searching these Pokémon out to get them on our side in the first place!"

"And what makes you sure that power alone is sufficient?" Ketu pressed. "Wouldn't you say that that power needs direction?"

"Well…"

"Really, if you think about it long enough, I suspect you'd come to about the same conclusion as me," the Weavile remarked. "This world isn't going to magically be restored into something humans can return to simply because a bunch of Pokémon with fancy powers wake up. That's only going to happen if the right 'mons are put in a position to do something about it and are willing to use the proper tools to do what's necessary to help bring that world along."

Ketuturned out to sea, looking at the waves as the wind blew the feathers on his head back in short bobs.

"Getting Betulo a seat on the Board alongside Administrator Elilan will be one step closer to that," he added. "That's why I'm going through all of this."

"I'm… not sure I fully understand."

"Hmph, I suppose it doesn't matter," Ketu said as he closed his eyes. "Just know that the Company will go through some big changes once this all settles out, and the help you've given so far will put you in a very good position to benefit from them."

Ellsberg scratched his head and puzzled over Ketu's comments. It was to be expected that the return of the Protectors would shake things up, but what sort of changes was he talking about? Was Administrator Elilan planning something specifically around their return? The Mothim grew lost in his own thoughts, only to notice Lyn approaching and swiftly snapped back to attention, as Ketu softly spoke up.

"Oh boy, here we go…"

Ketu forced a smile before turning to Lyn, giving a playful wave of his left claw without so much as a hint of his prior demeanor.

"Heya, Captain."

"I see that you're in festive spirits, Ketu," Lyn said. "And Ellsberg too for that matter. I don't believe I've ever seen the two of you smiling together like this on our mission."

Ketu paused as he and Ellsberg traded surprised looks. Did it really seem they were getting along that much better? The Weavile shrugged his shoulders, opting to play into his superior's perceptions.

"Eh, I guess there's a first time for everything," Ketu replied.

"So what exactly are we doing now, Lyn?" Ellsberg pressed. "You've gotten everything you've wanted, so what's next?"

Lyn let out a low grumble and shook his head back, hardening his muzzle into a scolding frown.

"You're getting a bit premature, Ellsberg. After I present the Protector before the Board, then we can talk about the future more in depth," he said. "Not that I really blame you with how that promotion I was set to give you kept getting yanked away so many times."

Ellsberg fluttered back with a start at the Samurott's reply. Even after all his berating and bullying… he still remembered the promise he made to him? The moth stared wordlessly, unsure what to make of the newfound revelation when the sound of approaching footsteps announced the arrival of Sorge and his fellows from Team Sentinel.

"Congratulations Lyn," Sorge cheered. "It's not every day that we see a Commissioner rise through the ranks, let alone from bringing a Protector under the Company's fold."

"Well, these are unprecedented times, Sorge," Lyn answered confidently. "It's only logical that someone would have to rise to the occasion… even if things didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped."

"Surely you're not going to split hairs over things taking a little longer than planned, Lyn?" the Kommo-o asked. "This is a Protector we're talking about after all!"

"I was referring more to your cover that we broke leaving Buyeom," the Samurott said. "Didn't you mention Intelligence had you three working under your present covers for over four years now?"

"It's no matter," Sorge insisted. "If all goes well, we won't be needing them soon enough. When it means the Company having a Protector at its disposal, such inconveniences are worth it."

"I'm glad to hear. With this Protector in the Company's grasp, it's nigh time to look forward to the future… and the personal touches to leave on it."

Lyn gave a parting wave of his paw and carried on the deck to chat with his Crobat and Huntail escort leads further off, leaving Ellsberg to flutter in place and stare afterwards. 'Personal touches'? What concern was that to Lyn when all this time he'd simply been fixated on getting promoted to the Board?

"… Do you suppose he meant anything by that?" Ellsberg asked.

"Eh, it's probably just him getting all worked up over that promotion he thinks he's getting," Ketu said. "I wouldn't worry about it if I were you."

"Right…"

The Mothim gave a swirl of his gifted cup as the festivities continued on in the background, looking about wondering if perhaps they were dismissing Lyn a bit too quickly. Ellsberg shrugged, opting to turn his attention back to his drinks as the Nektar Weide carried on its northeast course, sailing along with the waves for Vollezee.



With the passage of the Sun Chaser's Traveller over the horizon, the first rays of sunshine began to fall down on the Siglo Swellow as it continued its course west. On deck, a skeleton crew manned the ship, a few yawning sailors trading places with fresher faces from further below deck. Over at a set of stairs leading to the ship's underlevels, the quiet thumping of footsteps against wood sounded out, stopping and starting awkwardly as tired pants carried through the air, followed by a Druddigon's voice and Crom's head poking out into the sunlight.

"Take it easy, dad…"

Crom shuffled his way up the stairs with Pladur leaning on his shoulder, the bandaged Fraxure stumbling up onto the deck with his child's help. After a moment's pause for Pladur to catch his breath, the pair shuffled along the ship's timbers in slow, cautious steps over to the railing as Pladur rested his shoulders against it and his son shot a beaming grin at him.

"See? Told you I could get you onto the deck!" Crom cheered.

"Heh, you did well mijo," Pladur chortled. "It's nice to finally be back on my feet again."

The Fraxure looked out at the surrounding sea as the waves rolled quietly around the ship, muffled chatter from the sea escorts filtering up with the ocean's sounds. The dragon paused a moment, before hanging his head with a disappointed sigh.

"I still wish I could've been there to see that other Protector," he murmured. "The rest of the crew sounded amazed just to be in his presence together with Lugia."

Crom pawed at his father's shoulder with a claw that tugged his attention back at him, giving a reassuring smile.

"Dad, it's okay, you needed the rest," the Druddigon insisted. "And I'm sure you'll get a chance to meet Kline again after you've fully recovered!"

Pladur blinked as a small smile began to spread over his face, his mind returning to ease as his attention drifted out back to the sea and the passing waves.

"I suppose there's a silver lining to everything that happened," he said. "Normally I'm too busy working just to take in the air like this."

"Well, I heard Beatrix say we were getting close to Pioppo," Crom mused. "So maybe you'll get lucky and see the island off in the distance!"

Pladur stiffened up, bristling uncomfortably much as if the ship's Audino medic had summarily tugged at his bandages. The Fraxure set his teeth on edge before turning to Crom worriedly.

"Are- Are you sure there's no other way, mijo?" Pladur stammered. "If you're not feeling well about going to the island, there's no shame in staying with your papi at the ship…"

"That's where the Knights' Ledger is though," Crom insisted. "Where else are we supposed to go to get it?"

"But the island's haunted!" the Fraxure cried. "Aren't you scared at all?"

Crom blanched a bit as his mind drifted back to Nida's description of Pioppo. Going to an island full of ghosts that snatched Pokémon away was… admittedly a pretty scary thought. But the Knights' Ledger was their only way to stop the Company, so they had to go there and get it! And more importantly…

"I mean… yes. But I won't be alone!" the Druddigon exclaimed. "I'll be there with Nida! And Pleo and Kiran too! And all the friends we've made! If we all look out for each other, I'm sure it'll work out well!"

Pladur shrank back hemming and hawing, only to be answered by Crom patting his shoulder reassuringly. The Fraxure wavered a moment, shifting his glance away uneasily.

"I-I mean… if you're really sure…"

"Don't worry dad, I'll be fine," the Druddigon insisted. "I'm not afraid of some ghosts!"

Pladur grimaced at the idea of Crom skulking off on Pioppo. Hadn't he already been through enough danger in this voyage? Why was he so insistent on getting anywhere near the blasted rock when all he'd ever heard of it were tales of terrifying wraiths and sailors who had vanished without a trace?

Then again… this Knights' Ledger didn't sound like anything to sneeze at… and his child had come this far. He had made it through skulking about Andaku okay… and then the Iron Fleet's subsequent ambush of their ship… Why, even the chase out of Giotto and that horrid Weavile's ambush on Buyeom had worked out! With his son's growth and the island's Protector watching over him, surely it couldn't hurt to give them some benefit of the doubt…

"Alright…" Pladur replied. "Just… please be careful out there…"

"Oh! Crom! You're up early too?"

Crom and Pladur turned around, spotting Pleo waddling up behind them. The Lugia blinked a moment, before turning his attention towards Pladur, giving a curious tilt of his head as he scanned the tusked Pokémon from head to toe.

"Who's the other Pokémon with you?" Pleo asked.

"That's my dad!" Crom cheered. "He's the one I told you about back in Bluewhorl!"

Pleo paced forward, eyeing Pladur curiously as he bobbed to and fro around Dragon-Type. Pladur reflexively shied away and screwed his eyes shut, made uneasy by the Protector's insistent probing, only to feel a soft, downy sensation. The Fraxure opened his eyes and saw Pleo embracing him with his wings, before pulling them back and beating them with a happy chirp.

"Well I'm happy to meet you!" the Lugia cheered. "I'm Pleo and Crom always made you sound so fun when he talked about you!"

Pladur blinked, before pawing at the back of his head with a sheepish smile, unsure what to say back.

"Ahehe… well, it's nice to meet you too, Protector…"

The Fraxure couldn't help but think the whole moment to be a touch absurd. This was Lugia, a god of the seas who could make it as calm or tempestuous as his will desired, and here he was running around and hugging common Pokémon like him! Though… even with all his powers, perhaps it had been a bit silly of him to think such a little 'mon wouldn't be a pollito at heart. The Dragon-Type trailed off, only to see Pleo still staring at him and craning his neck forward curiously.

"So… you normally sail with the ship too, right?" the Lugia asked.

"That's right, I'm the head cook for the ship! I make sure that everyone has something to eat during mealtimes," Pladur answered, prompting Pleo to give an excited squawk in realization.

"Oh! So you make bread like Gwenith!"

"Well, I make more than just bread…" the Fraxure said. "It's my job to make sure everyone gets a rounded meal onboard. After all, I don't think there's any 'mon who wouldn't get sick of bread if it was the only thing he ever had to eat."

"Huh… I guess dinner would be a bit boring with only one type of food…" Pleo murmured. "Though… that actually reminded me about something else I was wondering about…"

"Hm? What was it?" Pladur asked.

"What do you do to burp so well?" he pressed. "Crom said he learned from you, so that means you can teach me too, right?"

Pladur stared back puzzledly at Pleo's question and turned to his son for answers. Crom sheepishly pawed at the back of his head, giving a flustered grin back.

"Ehehe… it's a bit of a long story, but we might be having a competition with each other?" the Druddigon said.

Pladur shifted uneasily and fumbled for words. Of all the things he could've expected a god to ask from him… tips on how to get better at an uncouth sailors' game he occasionally did with his son certainly wasn't one of them. What would everyone back home even think of it?

"Uh… I mean is that really something that I should be teaching-?"

"Oi! Stop loafing around down there! I see land!"

Crom, Pleo, and Pladur looked up and spotted Scout leaning over the edge of the crow's nest, having taken quite naturally to his newfound role as a secondary lookout. Crom brushed off the Sentret's scolds and raised his claw over his brow to look when he heard his teammates' voices behind him, turning to see the other members of Team Traveller hurrying towards a growing gathering behind Beatrix as she looked out to see an island marked by rolling, tree-lined hills through a spyglass. The Illumise fluttered along with her ship carefully, when she slowed to a stop and pulled the spyglass back, before addressing the gathered sailors.

"That's Pioppo, alright," she remarked. "The description matches up with what I can see through my scope."

Worried murmurs filtered around the crew as Natrix and Philips shifted uncomfortably at the front. The Raichu of the duo flicked his ears back, before raising his voice in protest.

"Uh… considering this is the island with ghosts that snatch Pokémon away and do gods-knows-what to them, should we really anchor right next to it?"

"I mean, the alternative is swimming over to that island," Natrix muttered. "If we really have to go down there, what else are we supposed to do?"

The sailors began to offer up competing solutions, some opting to bravely press on, while others protested to keep their distance. All the while, Dimitri looked off, noticing a patch of water along the coastline where the waves kept breaking into foamy white spray, prompting him to blink before turning towards Beatrix with a wave of his scythes.

"Wait, Beatrix!" Dimitri cried. "What do those waves keep hitting over there?"

Beatrix raised a brow, moving a tarsal over her eyes as she looked at Pioppo's coast and noticed a spit of land jutting out. The Bug-Type reached into a satchel over her shoulder, raising a scope over her eyes and giving a surprised buzz after noticing a small cove behind the spit, before giving the scope off to Vicente who looked through before setting it aside with a disbelieving murmur.

"A hurricane hole?" the Hitmontop asked. "I mean, we could certainly do worse for places to anchor…"

"I don't think we'll find much better, and it'd give us some cover to hide behind if someone's been tracking us," Beatrix said, prompting Vicente to turn to the gathered sailors with an impatient tap of his foot.

"You heard her! Everyone at your stations!" he barked. "Take us hard to port!"

The crew answered back with a rousing 'aye' and returned to their stations as the escorts whipped up currents while Beatrix flitted to the ship's tiller. With a forceful lean against the shaft, the Siglo Swellow lurched to the west, sailing off for the hurricane hole in the distance.



As the Siglo Swellow neared the hurricane hole, the Iron Fleet had found shelter from the prior night's storm at a white beach where they ran their ship aground for repairs and disembarked to probe their surroundings. The air rang thick with the sounds of footsteps crunching sand while Hess and Rodion wandered ahead of the throng of golden-scarved underlings surveying the coastline. Uneasy murmurs filtered around the gathered pirates as a few stared off warily at the thick forest ahead of them, before turning their attention back to their captain.

"Captain, where are we?" a Vileplume demanded.

"Yeah, this definitely looks bigger than one of those unsettled islands!" Alvise complained.

"Oh for crying out loud, do you expect me to have a map for every stray rock where there isn't a single civilized soul living on it?!" Hess snapped.

"… Are we sure about this, Captain? When we were pulling in, I could've sworn I saw some sort of ruins further along the beach near the eastern side," a Staravia murmured. "What if we're not as alone as we think we are?"

The gathered pirates whispered nervously at the idea of being on the same island as another organized group of Pokémon, especially if they didn't know they could overpower them in a fight if needed. A forceful slam and quaking of the sand underfoot cut through the chatter, as the crew turned towards their captain just as he let out an impatient growl.

"Enough!" Hess bellowed. "For crying out loud, haven't you all heard of 'any port in a storm' before?!"

"But we pulled onto a beach!" Wilhelm exclaimed, prompting Hess to throw a claw over his face and pinch his brow.

"My point is, we got to a safe place when we needed to, and if we were in any real danger, those 'ruins' or whatever it was would've given us trouble right away!" the Aggron insisted. "So whatever's out there, it's not anything that we can't deal with!"

A wave of groans went up at the Steel-Type's insistence. With all the implausible incidents that they'd dealt with over the past month, was Hess seriously trying to soothe them by dismissing things as 'probably nothing'?

"Oh yeah, that's real assuring," Kichiro grumbled.

"How on earth did you air-breathers talk us into this?" a Seadra fumed. "The water was just fine last night!"

"Oi! Less talk and more work!" Hess barked. "We've got a ship that needs to be patched up and resupplied, and you all sitting around isn't helping!"

The Aggron's cry drew a sharp growl and prompted Nori to stamp his foot irritably with an accusing swing of his club.

"And the ruins?" the Marowak snapped. "It would be nice to know that we're not busting our tails off just waiting to be pounced on, you know!"

Hess flinched at the sight of Nori's bone being leveled at him, backpedaling by reflex. He stared wide-eyed at the Marowak for a second only to realize… the blasted bone lizard had brought up something that could help get rid of him once and for all! With newfound confidence, Hess' eyes hardened back into a scowl as he gave an impatient slap of his tail against the sand.

"Well, since you're so curious about it, you can be a part of the team to go check it out and see if there's anything worth taking from there!" Hess spat, making Nori recoil and go wide-eyed.

"N-Nanda?!" the Marowak stammered. "I didn't sign up for-!"

"That'll be all!" Hess announced. "You can report to Rodion for your assignments!"

At Hess' cue, Rodion marched out and hopped atop a driftwood log on the beach sand. The Mistral Marauder's crew began to crowd around the Floatzel as he began to bark out instructions, splitting the crew into three groups. Some like Valatos and his buddies were tasked to follow Kichiro to go scout the ruins the Staravia spotted, while others like a Vileplume and a Charmeleon were spun off to go west and forage, as the rest were instructed to set up an encampment and help repair the ship. Hess watched as the crowd began to thin and gave an approving grunt, making his way back for the ship as Rodion suddenly stepped away from the log and darted up to tap at his captain's shoulder.

"Hess, I think that we're still missing something," the Floatzel said.

"Eh? How so?" Hess asked. "There should be food right near the beach, there's 'mons assigned to the ship, and those ruins are getting checked up on. What are we still missing?"

"Well, what are you planning to drink once we push off?" Rodion answered. "We're nearly out of water, and rum too for that matter. A 'mon can go a few days without food if need be, but if you try to do the same with water, you'd be quite literally left with a skeleton crew."

Hess bit his tongue and grimaced. Even with the world as diminished as it was in present times, it was a fool's errand to try and sail without a voyage's supply of water. And with no rum, it meant that if the crew got into a mutinous mood before dying of thirst, there'd be nothing to calm them down with. He paused and shook his head, racking his mind for potential solutions to the crew's current predicament.

"I mean, we could always assign some scouts from the team that's checking the rui-"

The Aggron looked back for the Pokémon tasked to go to the ruins, only to trail off and go wide-eyed after noting they were rapidly slipping from view down the beach and well out of earshot.

"… Oh… Er…"

Hess hemmed and hawed, looking off at the forest uneasily as he began to wonder how he or Rodion would be able to find water on their own without grinding repairs to a halt. The sound of a passing buzz caught his ears, prompting him to turn back and spot Kichiro and Wilhelm heading after the departing group, which made the Aggron's eyes light up as he let out a sigh of relief.

"Oi, Kichiro! Come over here!" he ordered.

Kichiro tilted his head skeptically, before flitting up with Wilhelm in tow. The Hoppip drifted to and fro with a happy cheer, while Kichiro let out a sharp, annoyed buzz.

"Captain, it's Keiichiro!" the Ledian piped. "And aren't I supposed to lead the group checking out the ruins?"

"Change of plans, we're running low on water," Hess replied. "We need you to go inland and look for any water sources."

Kichiro hopped back with a start, lowering his antennae and curling his mouth into a sour frown as he shot back with an irritated hiss.

"And why do I of all Pokémon have to scout inside that dense forest when we don't even know this island is safe?!" he demanded.

"Because you're the best aerial scout on the crew, and picking anyone else isn't going to produce better results when this could mean the difference between us dying of thirst on the way home or not," Rodion retorted.

Kichiro began to splutter in protest, only for Rodion to roll his eyes and opt to bypass him entirely by turning to Wilhelm and stooping down to meet his eyes.

"Wilhelm, go and let the others headed towards the ruins know that Kichiro's been reassigned to another task," the Floatzel said. "It shouldn't be too hard to check up on it and loot anything useful there."

"Aye captain- Er… Aye first mate!" the Hoppip cheered. Satisfied with the Rodion's order, Wilhelm took off, making his way east down the beach bobbing and babbling to himself as Kichiro stared open-mouthed while Hess looked down at him with an impatient glare.

"Well? What are you waiting for?" the Aggron demanded. "Go and find us that water!"

"Ugh… fine."

The Ledian hissed and fumed under his breath before spreading his elytra and taking to the air. Hess and Rodion watched as the Bug-Type zipped along for the forest and slipped out of view, leaving the two to trade looks before Hess turned his head with a low grunt.

"Come on, we should go and help get that ship together."

The Aggron and Floatzel turned and shuffled back for the Mistral Marauder, as the bushes near the treeline quietly shifted. There, a purplish cloud settled and billowed as yellow eyes appeared and glared out at the departing pirates. The figure drifted back and ebbed away, slinking off into the undergrowth as the forest returned to its eerie calm.



In the waters north of Buyeom, the hulking form of a four-masted ship with metal cladding plowed along through the waves. At the bow, Nagant looked ahead intently, watching as a steep reddish peak poked over the horizon with hazy black stone structures near its base. As the craft neared, the Clawitzer began to make out the colors of the ships in port in the distance, prompting her to take out a scope and look ahead. She peered through skeptically, panning to her left towards the harbor's naval yard, only to freeze and lower it with a stunned gape.

"Chto za chert…?"

As the Uragan entered the mouth of the harbor, the cause of Nagant's shock became apparent. All throughout the naval yard, the ships had their hulls pressed up against one another in a jumble, while a few had their masts tilting at precarious angles. The crew of the Uragan looked up from their work, watching the sight of 'mons in indigo squabbling with one another on the ships and docks about how to go about repairing the damage. All the while, the lot stared blankly along with their captain, as Jun sidled up with an incredulous stare before giving a shake of his head.

"I certainly wasn't expecting home to look like this when I came back…" the Beedrill sighed. "It looks like the Protector came through here, though I suppose the question now is whether he's still on the island or not."

"Hmph, either way, it looks like we've got no time to lose," Nagant huffed. "Get the ship tied down, I'll go talk to the local Duke about what's going on here right away!"

Jun buzzed in agreement and saluted before turning back for the deck, leaving Nagant to pivot on her tail for the water. The Clawitzer sprang up and leapt down, diving into the harbor's water as she plowed along for the battered docks. All along the way, she noticed from the corner of her eye Pokémon looking up from their work cleaning debris and repairing ships to stare in awe at the ironclad behind her, sentiments that would've filled the wizened shrimp with pride had the circumstances been less dire. Nagant veered hard to her right, where she saw a less-damaged dock next to two ships that had been shoved up against each other, prompting her to zip along for it and hop onto the wood, letting the seawater drip off of her as a Braixen in an indigo scarf at its end noticed her and approached.

"Buyeom-do-e osin geol hwan-yeonghabnida. It's a shame that we could not receive you under better circumstances,” the Braixen said. “You must be Admiral Coil's assistant. Do you know when your superior will be out-?"

The fox bit her tongue as Nagant hissed loudly and glared daggers back. The Braixen hemmed and hawed audibly, before stammering out a hasty correction.

"Uh… right, Coil has been relieved of duty… permanently," the Fire-Type gulped. "Uhm… I don't suppose I could speak to your superior-?"

"I'm in charge of this mission here per direct orders of the crown, you dunce!" Nagant barked. The Clawitzer pivoted on her tail and gestured about the stricken naval yard around her, before turning back to the Braixen with an overpowering scowl.

"And what on earth happened here?!" the shrimp snapped. "It looks like a hurricane just blew through!"

"Uh… well, you see… we found the ship that took the Protector docked here in port yesterday," the Braixen began. "The guards tried to stop it, but-"

"You let them get away?!"

The Braixen squeaked, backing away slowly from the fuming shrimp. After working up the nerve to stand her ground, the messenger piped back with stammering exasperation.

"W-Well what were we supposed to do?!" the fox complained. "All of the ships that were to chase after them were damaged when those pirates forced the Protector to attack us!"

"I've heard enough. Bring me to the Duke and the Governor at once!" Nagant spat. "Those pirates are still out there and I'm not getting any closer to recovering the Protector from them wasting time on this nonsense!"

The Fire-Type hesitated, peering down at Nagant's scarf for a long moment, and then looking up at her scowling face before uneasily rubbing at the back of her head.

"I… can try to see if he can squeeze in a quick meeting," she answered. "But Duke Seok normally isn't the type to make impromptu meetings with just any naval captain…"

"Nobody said these were normal circumstances," Nagant harrumphed. "Now let's go already!"

The Braixen shuffled uneasily, before heading inland as Nagant hopped after her impatiently. The pair carried on, making their way amid the twisting lanes for the harbor's black stone gate and the form of a slate-roofed palace in the distance, overlooking Magmapool from the lower reaches of the volcano.



The air over the Siglo Swellow's hurricane hole was crisp and clear as days after storms typically were, the quiet bobbing of the waves being broken by the sound of marine Pokémon in the ship's white scarves travelling in convoys between the ship and a ramshackle encampment sprouting on the beach. There, sailors stacked crates and drove stray wood into the sand as tattered sails were hung over them, forming a growing collection of tents and lean-tos. All the while, the sounds of construction mingled with uneasy murmurs about what lay beyond the treeline deeper in the island's forest… and grumbling complaints of how the few Pokémon tasked to care for the ship mysteriously had their numbers doubled thanks to sailors abruptly developing 'stomachaches'.

Among the convoy's members, Team Traveller rode for the shoreline on the backs of Dimitri and a Mantine from the crew, who took them towards the western fringe of the encampment, while Pleo and Kiran kept pace from the air. After disembarking and getting their feet wet in the surf, the Mantine turned and set off back for the ship, leaving Team Traveller to look around their surroundings.

"Well, I wasn't expecting it to take eleven days, but we're finally here," Dimitri said. "Welcome to Pioppo."

Pleo craned his head along the beach cautiously, pacing forward with slow, hesitant steps. To his left was a long stretch of white sand, and ahead the sight of an overgrown forest thick enough to blot the sun out in darkened shade. The Lugia shrank back, feeling as if the island itself was trying to drive away curious Pokémon, but this was Pioppo and it was supposed to be where Cernun and the Knights' Ledger would be…

"But… how do we find Cernun?" Pleo asked. "Kline said he'd be here, but I don't see any town and everything looks the same with all these trees!"

Kiran looked over at the encampment, where he watched as Vicente went to and fro inspecting the rising structures. The Swellow began to hop along to ask the Hitmontop if he'd already assigned scouts, only to see him get pulled aside by Natrix and Philips, prompting him to pause before turning back to his teammates.

"Beatrix and Vicente were going to start sending out Pokémon to look around. Perhaps we could take a look around the forest ourselves?" Kiran suggested. "If we split into two teams again, we'd improve our odds of finding Cernun, or at least help give the others more information to work with."

The younger members of the team reflexively shrank back with hems and haws as Elty rolled his eyes and curled his muzzle down into a sour frown.

"… Really, Kiran?" the Growlithe scoffed. "Because splitting up to find Xerneas really worked out for us on Buyeom."

"Esto es diferente! That Xerneas was a fake and we were being misled!" the Swellow insisted, giving an emphatic bat of his wings. "We have a better idea of what we're dealing with right now and don't need to convince him that we have a Protector of our own, so our odds of success are bound to be at least 100% better!"

Crom and Nida shifted uncomfortably at Kiran's suggestion. Splitting up… here of all places?

"I dunno… in school sometimes we'd hear of scary stories from the time of humans," Nida murmured. "In them, whenever people split up, they always seemed to wind up meeting horrible fates."

"Yeah, and if it kept happening over and over again in those stories, wouldn't there have been a reason for that?" Crom added. "Maybe the humans wanted to warn us against splitting up in scary-seeming situations!"

The Druddigon trailed off, bringing his wings in warily against his body as his eyes shifted uneasily off to his side… to the darkened forest at the edge of the sand.

"Ones kinda like this…"

Kiran sidled up beside the unsettled dragon, giving a confident puff of his chest feathers and a reassuring wave of his wing.

"You're forgetting that those stories always had people meet those fates when they would go off alone. Four Pokémon is larger than most rescue teams!" he exclaimed. "If we truly run into any trouble, there will be more than enough of us to pull through."

"… I don't know, Ohsubame," Guardia said. "Even if it's not exactly the same, it does feel like we're brushing aside this lore a bit quickly."

"I can understand the hesitation, but part of being a Rescue Team is knowing when it's appropriate to take risks," Kiran insisted. "It's only a matter of time before the Company realizes they've been tricked, so isn't it better to try and find Cernun as soon as we can?"

"While that's a fair point, I… just really don't feel good about this idea, Kiran," Ander replied.

Kiran paused and moved a wing up to his beak in thought. He looked impatiently off at the forest for a moment, before back reluctantly at the younger members of the team. The Swellow noticed the youngsters seemed hesitant, making him uneasy about the idea of forcing them into uncomfortable circumstances. Kiran lingered a moment, pausing noticeably before speaking up to his companions with a soft chirp.

"Why don't we split up based off where we're comfortable searching?" he suggested. "I'll lead a team inland, and anyone who feels less comfortable can search the coastline with Ander."

The gathered Pokémon hesitated at the Swellow's suggestion, trading uneasy looks with one another. Crom inched back, turning his eyes towards Ander as his thoughts turned to the haunted forest ahead. The Druddigon began to drift towards the Scyther, before thinking back to the encouragement he gave his father in the morning. If he'd really come so far, surely there wasn't any reason to shy away like this. With newfound reassurance, Crom shook his head, and stepped up towards his Swellow teacher.

"I'll join you, Kiran," Crom said. "If that Knight's Ledger is really that important, then I'll do whatever I can to help."

"Count me in as well," Nida added. "You're going to need a good set of ears, and I'm sure that I can pick up anything that sounds suspicious through all those bushes."

"Tch, nieważne. I'm sticking to the coast," Elty retorted. Nida blinked a moment, raising an ear puzzledly back at the Growlithe.

"Eh? Since when did you like being around water?" she asked.

"I'm sure I'll manage," he scoffed. "It may be wet, but at least I can see what's going on in front of me."

The Nidoran frowned, before shaking the bag on her shoulders loose and nudging it over to her canine teammate.

"Well you're going to need something to help you in a pinch, and this bag is sized for you and has your smell all over it," she said. "I figured that you'd find it useful. Just don't slack off, alright?"

"Hrmph, I appreciate the bag, but worry less about me and more about keeping your barbs together," Elty retorted. The Growlithe bent down and slipped the satchel back over his front shoulder as Dimitri looked off at the forest in the distance, before slowly turning away back towards the sea with a shake of his head.

"I wouldn't but mind exploring new land myself, but I am more useful to the team near water, so…" Dimitri mused, as the group's attention shifted to Guardia and Pleo who had both yet to make a decision.

Guardia shuffled her feet uneasily, casting uncomfortable glances between the water and the forest. If these spirits were approachable, it would be a prime opportunity to learn from this island's dead. But with what Laurens had described of them, it almost made being around the sea's dampness seem comforting! The Cubone looked down at the sand and struggled between the choices, only for Pleo to step ahead towards Kiran and raise his head with a cheery squawk.

"I'll come too!" the Lugia offered. "If it's really dangerous in the forest, you'll need a Protector watching over you!"

"I… suppose that means I should stay near the coast then. Since that way our teams are equal in size," Guardia said. "Just be careful out there, alright?"

Kiran and his charges nodded back, before the two teams drifted into their chosen groups and began to pace off for their respective directions. After a few steps towards the forest, Kiran turned back, giving a cheerful wave back at Dimitri and his teammates.

"Good luck everyone," the Swellow said. "Let's meet up again soon and share what we've all found."

The two squads carried on their respective paths, slipping out of sight of each other as the encampment and the Siglo Swellow in the distance faded from view, and their attention gravitated ahead searching high or low for any sign of the hidden Xerneas.



Author's Notes:

- Chto za chert (Что за черт) - Russian: "What the hell", "What the deuce" (BGN/PCGN Romanization.)
- Buyeom-do-e osin geol hwan-yeonghabnida (부염도에 오신 걸 환영합니다) - Korean: "Welcome to Buyeom Island" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- (¡)Esto es diferente! - Spanish: "This is different!"
 

tomatorade

The great speckled bird
Location
A town at the bottom of the ocean
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. quilava
  2. buizel
This is an alternate timeline where I'm reviewing Fledglings instead of Once a Thief. I'm also evil in this universe, but that doesn't change much except my haircut. Happy catnip!

It felt wrong to just do the prologue, so I've managed to review up to chappie 2 before getting sleepy. Here we go!

A small paragraph about prose


Ah, the origin of the style. It’s interesting to go from Once A Thief to this. I think the prose has definitely improved, in both density and efficiency but I would be hard pressed to make certain comparisons between fics. In terms of prose complains, I don't have too many considering this is sixty-something chapters in the past. Still, there are a number of ellipses sprinkled here and there that aren’t pulling their weight and could probably just be replaced by commas or periods or em-dashes and do the same job. Some descriptions were less purposeful, too. Nida taking stock of her own body, for instance, seemed strange and not entirely necessary.

The prose is still solid, for the record. And I should probably not go too in depth, so I'll continue on to the content.

Bedtime stories


What a super cute intro. Some combination of the subject and your writing style makes it feel very nostalgic. Not sepia-toned, but like an old memory of watching Spongebob and eating cereal before school. A time before responsibility when all my problems revolved around my mom putting me to bed too early.

I do wonder about the speck breaking off of the moon. It's probably nothing, a nice setpiece and some symbolism, but knowing the writing, maybe we'll be searching a crater for a fallen meteorite lol.

Did I mention how cute this was? I love the mother-daughter relationship here. Nida is definitely a true child, demanding the same story over and over until her mother goes mad. Luckily, her mom is also a true mom, going so far as to illustrate that same story. I will say it's strange Nida doesn't seem to know the end of the story despite having it read to her multiple times.

I should've mentioned it in prose, but I think my main criticism of this prologue is how blatant a lot of the exposition was. This is my bias speaking, but the mythos being told is so obviously a setup for the history of this world that it breaks me out of the nostalgia a little bit. It's helped by how efficient it is, to be fair. There's not a lot of dead space or action between the mother's storytelling which helps keep things going along.

It's also helped by me liking the history, which I maybe should've mentioned earlier lol. As a sidenote before getting into it: is this the same world as Once a Thief? Or does the author just have very specific tastes in worlds? I shouldn't turn this review into just comparisons between the other fic, but there's a focus in picking up after the fall of humanity that interests me. Also a bit of a Windwaker, world-flooding thing going on.

Besides that, some other details caught me eyeballs. We get the lore origin (lorigin) of the scarves. And that kinda adds to the nostalgia for me, considering I'm already somewhat versed in their use. For some (maybe) new stuff: pacting. I don't know if I'm just stupid and forgot, but Pacting is something I don’t explicitly remember from Once a Thief. It’s an interesting sort of policy that seems presented in a naive light, here. I read parts of this fic a long time ago, for the record, and I remember it being fairly upbeat, so maybe the sentiment fits. Still, the idea that pokemon can come together no matter their past feels like it will take a lot more work when the story gets going. The marked are also interesting. A minority group that have been designated forever--villains and seem to be inevitably caught in a cycle of poverty, if only spiritually. The idea that them and their children being permanantly designated outcasts as a 'mercy' is a big yikes lol. Maybe I don't like the gods either if that's their deal. I do love how the bedtime story is structured partially around how wrong they were to oppoe the gods, history is determined by the victors, truly.

Anyway, this great, worldbuilding mythos being turned into a children’s story feels very true to life and speaks wonderfully to the current state of the world before we even enter it. Having characters talk about your current world as a distant impression is a weird sort of shadenfreude and reminds me that nothing lasts forever. :)

Great setup for next chapter btw. You follow our dreams, Nida.

One


Damn, Nida works hard, already following her dreams, working at the guild, babysitting. And only after one timeskip. That kinda progress usually takes me two or three.

You've got a pretty immediate sense of community going on here. I remember us spending a fair bit of time homebound, so I expected returning to this that the settling in would be slower, but I'm sold and walking there beside Nida pretty immediately. I think it's through some combination of throwing the audience in during the middle of the character's day rather than starting with them waking up, plus the careful interaction between most character elements important to Nida's life.

But it's very cozy and quaint. Gives me slice-of-life vibes first off, though I know it won't stay that way. Very chill first chapter. I’m just sitting back and meeting all these friends. There are a lot of little worldbuilding details, but never a point where something urgent forces it’s way to the forefront.

Said this before. But all the characters are very cute and obviously young. In doing this I'll lie about making too many comparisons to other work, but there’s a very stark difference in content between this happy, everyday scene, and the stark poverty of Once a Thief. Yet there an underlying vibe that similar, I think. It’s very pokemon for lack of a better term, this tone you've managed to nail even through extreme contrast. A focus on friendship and community, an opening up of the greater world and promise of adventure. idk. We chillin'.

Besides that, There’s really good integration of character and world, here. Everyone has jobs and responsibilities, relationships beyond parents/siblings that crop up naturally as we explore. Calino getting snarked by the other shopkeep, for example, or Nida passing through the guild area and talking with Kiran and eavesdropping on the other members arguing. There's great repertoire and sense of history between everyone.

Then comes the cutaway. I forgot about this, lol. It's quite short though, so there you go. And a good thing. Considering the approaching adventure elements, it's good to introduce some plot stuff early to kick things up a bit.

And then there's the big, spooky storm coming in to remind us of our frailty in the face of nature. It's interesting that that's connected to the rebirth of a god.

Dungeon time

The storm really highlights how ramshackle the town is. Like, it's fairly poor, almost seeming like a newly-settled nomad village. Very classic fantasy vibes. Nida isn't a blacksmith's son, but she comes from small-town nowhere to do great things (I assume. Maybe she invent the atomic bomb instead, idk).

Ah, a shrine. I think that distance from the past makes a difference here. Everyone seems to recognise that leaving food is more symbolic, but there are no arguments around that. Gods are important, here, but also definitely gone.

Alright, here we go. Little beach cave parrallel for the first dungeon huh.

Ooh some weird surreal stuff in the dungeon. Like seeing the previous floor through the next floor’s ceiling. And how it distorts the lower floors to bring the beach up into the mountains. Always a fan of leaning into the spacial distortion inherent in the dungeons.

Before we even enter the dungeon, the ferals interested me, but here even moreso. There's a focus on the separation of different groups from the Prologue mythos, so that could be why I'm fixating on them until I get to meet one of the Marked and get to psychoanalyse them, instead. Mostly, I wonder what a feral's life is like. They can speak, so do they get educated?

Returning to the seperation, I expect the relationship between all these groups—the ferals, civils (normies lol), and Marked to be more strained and fraught than first implied. Not, like in an edgy political way necessarily, but… it’s strange to watch a guild team do training excercises in what is ostensibly someone’s home and not really think twice about it besides some stray judgements. They are children, to be fair, and I feel like this is more a result of the worldbuilding than an intentional plot point at the moment, but like with most details, I will be watching.

Also calling the pool krabby-infested. They're living creatures, guys. Talk about insensitive smh.

Characters

I left characters till last because I'm evil, like previously stated. Haha >:)

Nida

Cute lil hardworkin' country rabbit. I was a little worried at first, but as the chapters went on she picked up enough detail to interest me. She's certainly ambitious, which is inherently likeable. It's nice to see a character chasing her dreams, even if she's getting a little sidetracked. Like, six kids to babysit? I could barely handle one. There's an interesting tidbit Kiran brings up about an incident, but beyond that I'm not expecting much grand backstory reveal for a child. I'm happy to cheer her on from my little corner.

Kiran

I can tell you like swellow. Very based. But he's a nerd so that cancels it out somewhat.

Great foil, though. Not necessarily in a frustrating way, but he's the perfect balance to Nida's more reckless, youthful energy while still managing to slip into the calmer, jauntier tone. He's not antagonistic, really.

He gives me overeager camp counsellor vibes, is what I'm saying.

Crom

Don't have much to say about him. I like a domestic dragon doing chill things like baking. He's like Peeta or whatever his name is from the Hunger Games. I'm awaiting the chapter where he uses his baking skills to camoflouge himself. Covers himself and flour and lies down on the beach or something idk.

Other than that, I don't have much else to say about him. He's a slightly more restrained version of Nida, I guess? Though I've only known him for a chapter so I cannot make many judgements.

Random thoughts

A rainbow road, huh? Any Kart racing going on in space?

More classic poke-head buildings. I love that you keep those.

Broke Calino. Gives me vibes, though I'm not sure if I like them or not. Still, if a child can manage to swindle him, I can understand why he's not swimming in cash.

The Company couldn't have named themselves worse, huh.? I can already tell what they're about and I'm nervous.

Froslass is an interesting choice for daycare worker. Timeouts are a lot scarier when you're frozen in a block of ice.

Not sure I like italicising Mami and Papi. They’re easy enough to understand the english context of, so italicising draws unnecessary attention, I think.

Ampharos is also based.

Liddle nido riding on her dragon :)

Some nice medicinal use of berries. I’m lazy so I usually skip that and have my characters just eat it, but it’s good to see some writers put in a little more effort lol. It’s a nice detail.

Spanish is more chill than german, I think. This isn’t a value judgement, I just thought I would mention that.

Good fic. Now that catnip has sucked me in, I will be reading more... after I finish reviewing the other fics I've been putting off.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
@tomatorade
A small paragraph about prose

Ah, the origin of the style. It’s interesting to go from Once A Thief to this. I think the prose has definitely improved, in both density and efficiency but I would be hard pressed to make certain comparisons between fics. In terms of prose complains, I don't have too many considering this is sixty-something chapters in the past. Still, there are a number of ellipses sprinkled here and there that aren’t pulling their weight and could probably just be replaced by commas or periods or em-dashes and do the same job. Some descriptions were less purposeful, too. Nida taking stock of her own body, for instance, seemed strange and not entirely necessary.

The prose is still solid, for the record. And I should probably not go too in depth, so I'll continue on to the content.

I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say as saying that Fledglings’ style of prose is the origin of Once a Thief’s, since they are fundamentally written around different narrative perspectives, but I suppose that I did have a few more years of experience with writing under my belt compared to when I wrote my share of Fledglings’ early chapters along with @Virgil134 . I do wonder if your opinion about the prose will change a bit if and when you get into later chapters, though.

Bedtime stories

What a super cute intro. Some combination of the subject and your writing style makes it feel very nostalgic. Not sepia-toned, but like an old memory of watching Spongebob and eating cereal before school. A time before responsibility when all my problems revolved around my mom putting me to bed too early.

Glad to hear you enjoyed it. The Prologue aimed for that sort of “storytime for a young child” sort of vibe given the protagonist it focuses on, so glad to hear it left an impression.

I do wonder about the speck breaking off of the moon. It's probably nothing, a nice setpiece and some symbolism, but knowing the writing, maybe we'll be searching a crater for a fallen meteorite lol.

>It's probably nothing

:sceptical~1:


Let’s just say that there are few details in this story that are truly superfluous.

Did I mention how cute this was? I love the mother-daughter relationship here. Nida is definitely a true child, demanding the same story over and over until her mother goes mad. Luckily, her mom is also a true mom, going so far as to illustrate that same story. I will say it's strange Nida doesn't seem to know the end of the story despite having it read to her multiple times.

I should've mentioned it in prose, but I think my main criticism of this prologue is how blatant a lot of the exposition was. This is my bias speaking, but the mythos being told is so obviously a setup for the history of this world that it breaks me out of the nostalgia a little bit. It's helped by how efficient it is, to be fair. There's not a lot of dead space or action between the mother's storytelling which helps keep things going along.

A bit unfortunate to hear that the meta took you out of things a bit, but I’m glad to hear that at least on balance you liked the bedtime story / background history of the setting.

It's also helped by me liking the history, which I maybe should've mentioned earlier lol. As a sidenote before getting into it: is this the same world as Once a Thief? Or does the author just have very specific tastes in worlds? I shouldn't turn this review into just comparisons between the other fic, but there's a focus in picking up after the fall of humanity that interests me. Also a bit of a Windwaker, world-flooding thing going on.

Nope. Beyond the occasional homage here or there between the two, Fledglings and Once a Thief are just flatly in different settings from each other. One being a joint effort while the other is a solo endeavor also helps with differentiation a bit. You’ll likely notice the difference if glimpsing at the nitty-gritty of each world as it’s described, since they have some discernible mechanical differences by virtue of one story originating before PSMD launched and one originating after PMD DX launched.

Besides that, some other details caught me eyeballs. We get the lore origin (lorigin) of the scarves. And that kinda adds to the nostalgia for me, considering I'm already somewhat versed in their use. For some (maybe) new stuff: pacting. I don't know if I'm just stupid and forgot, but Pacting is something I don’t explicitly remember from Once a Thief. It’s an interesting sort of policy that seems presented in a naive light, here. I read parts of this fic a long time ago, for the record, and I remember it being fairly upbeat, so maybe the sentiment fits. Still, the idea that pokemon can come together no matter their past feels like it will take a lot more work when the story gets going. The marked are also interesting. A minority group that have been designated forever--villains and seem to be inevitably caught in a cycle of poverty, if only spiritually. The idea that them and their children being permanantly designated outcasts as a 'mercy' is a big yikes lol. Maybe I don't like the gods either if that's their deal. I do love how the bedtime story is structured partially around how wrong they were to oppoe the gods, history is determined by the victors, truly.

Hold onto those thoughts, really. Since while Fledglings generally has an upbeat atmosphere that aims to vibe after Saturday Morning Cartoons, it does delve into “gray areas” fairly regularly. Glad to hear that you’re already picking up on it.

Anyway, this great, worldbuilding mythos being turned into a children’s story feels very true to life and speaks wonderfully to the current state of the world before we even enter it. Having characters talk about your current world as a distant impression is a weird sort of shadenfreude and reminds me that nothing lasts forever. :)

Great setup for next chapter btw. You follow our dreams, Nida.

And boy does she ever. :V

One

Damn, Nida works hard, already following her dreams, working at the guild, babysitting. And only after one timeskip. That kinda progress usually takes me two or three.

Such is life when you hit the fast-forward button by about 5-7 years in one go.

You've got a pretty immediate sense of community going on here. I remember us spending a fair bit of time homebound, so I expected returning to this that the settling in would be slower, but I'm sold and walking there beside Nida pretty immediately. I think it's through some combination of throwing the audience in during the middle of the character's day rather than starting with them waking up, plus the careful interaction between most character elements important to Nida's life.

But it's very cozy and quaint. Gives me slice-of-life vibes first off, though I know it won't stay that way. Very chill first chapter. I’m just sitting back and meeting all these friends. There are a lot of little worldbuilding details, but never a point where something urgent forces it’s way to the forefront.

Yeah, Bluewhorl Town very deliberately aims for that sort of “cozy town where everybody knows each other” vibe. Glad to hear that it came through for you.

Said this before. But all the characters are very cute and obviously young. In doing this I'll lie about making too many comparisons to other work, but there’s a very stark difference in content between this happy, everyday scene, and the stark poverty of Once a Thief. Yet there an underlying vibe that similar, I think. It’s very pokemon for lack of a better term, this tone you've managed to nail even through extreme contrast. A focus on friendship and community, an opening up of the greater world and promise of adventure. idk. We chillin'.

Such is life when the stories aim for fundamentally different tones and vibes. At the time that Fledglings started up, it was actually a relative rarity for PMD stories in terms of having that happy, upbeat tone. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying it, though.

Besides that, There’s really good integration of character and world, here. Everyone has jobs and responsibilities, relationships beyond parents/siblings that crop up naturally as we explore. Calino getting snarked by the other shopkeep, for example, or Nida passing through the guild area and talking with Kiran and eavesdropping on the other members arguing. There's great repertoire and sense of history between everyone.

:shucks~2:


I mean, one of the things I’ve generally heard Fledglings get complimented about is its characterization. Sounds like it won you over there.

Then comes the cutaway. I forgot about this, lol. It's quite short though, so there you go. And a good thing. Considering the approaching adventure elements, it's good to introduce some plot stuff early to kick things up a bit.

And then there's the big, spooky storm coming in to remind us of our frailty in the face of nature. It's interesting that that's connected to the rebirth of a god.

Makes you wonder who that god is, huh? Or else I suppose you can just look at the banner.

Dungeon time

The storm really highlights how ramshackle the town is. Like, it's fairly poor, almost seeming like a newly-settled nomad village. Very classic fantasy vibes. Nida isn't a blacksmith's son, but she comes from small-town nowhere to do great things (I assume. Maybe she invent the atomic bomb instead, idk).

The banner will probably give you a couple ideas there, even if she’s a bit less destructively-minded.

Ah, a shrine. I think that distance from the past makes a difference here. Everyone seems to recognise that leaving food is more symbolic, but there are no arguments around that. Gods are important, here, but also definitely gone.

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Alright, here we go. Little beach cave parrallel for the first dungeon huh.

Ooh some weird surreal stuff in the dungeon. Like seeing the previous floor through the next floor’s ceiling. And how it distorts the lower floors to bring the beach up into the mountains. Always a fan of leaning into the spacial distortion inherent in the dungeons.

Yeah, Fledglings aims to try and make its Mystery Dungeons feel surreal and clearly “unnatural”. Glad to hear that the vibe came through for you.

Before we even enter the dungeon, the ferals interested me, but here even moreso. There's a focus on the separation of different groups from the Prologue mythos, so that could be why I'm fixating on them until I get to meet one of the Marked and get to psychoanalyse them, instead. Mostly, I wonder what a feral's life is like. They can speak, so do they get educated?

They’re basically sapient wild encounters from the games, so that’s generally what their lifestyles are like.

Returning to the seperation, I expect the relationship between all these groups—the ferals, civils (normies lol), and Marked to be more strained and fraught than first implied. Not, like in an edgy political way necessarily, but… it’s strange to watch a guild team do training excercises in what is ostensibly someone’s home and not really think twice about it besides some stray judgements. They are children, to be fair, and I feel like this is more a result of the worldbuilding than an intentional plot point at the moment, but like with most details, I will be watching.

And we’ll be looking forward to hearing your commentary, since the dynamic between Civilized and Feral Pokémon in Fledglings is something that gets explored at multiple points in the story.

Also calling the pool krabby-infested. They're living creatures, guys. Talk about insensitive smh.

I mean, are they wrong, though?
:joltyshrug~1:


Nida

Cute lil hardworkin' country rabbit. I was a little worried at first, but as the chapters went on she picked up enough detail to interest me. She's certainly ambitious, which is inherently likeable. It's nice to see a character chasing her dreams, even if she's getting a little sidetracked. Like, six kids to babysit? I could barely handle one. There's an interesting tidbit Kiran brings up about an incident, but beyond that I'm not expecting much grand backstory reveal for a child. I'm happy to cheer her on from my little corner.

I mean, she’s a cute lil’ bunny. What’s not to like? o<o

Crom

Don't have much to say about him. I like a domestic dragon doing chill things like baking. He's like Peeta or whatever his name is from the Hunger Games. I'm awaiting the chapter where he uses his baking skills to camoflouge himself. Covers himself and flour and lies down on the beach or something idk.

Other than that, I don't have much else to say about him. He's a slightly more restrained version of Nida, I guess? Though I've only known him for a chapter so I cannot make many judgements.

Never read Hunger Games, though do keep an eye on Crom, since he’ll be around in the story for the long haul.

Random thoughts

A rainbow road, huh? Any Kart racing going on in space?

Not quite, but it’s a deliberate reference to that, yes.

More classic poke-head buildings. I love that you keep those.

It wouldn’t be a PMD story without ‘em. :V

Broke Calino. Gives me vibes, though I'm not sure if I like them or not. Still, if a child can manage to swindle him, I can understand why he's not swimming in cash.

Technically, his bigger problem is that he’s got property repairs to make. But it probably doesn’t help his bottom line, no.

The Company couldn't have named themselves worse, huh.? I can already tell what they're about and I'm nervous.

What are you talking about? They’re totally an innocuous for-profit enterprise! /s

Froslass is an interesting choice for daycare worker. Timeouts are a lot scarier when you're frozen in a block of ice.

Yeah, there’s a bit of a backstory to that one, but that’s a story for another day since you’ll get to see her up close and personal in a couple chapters.

Not sure I like italicising Mami and Papi. They’re easy enough to understand the english context of, so italicising draws unnecessary attention, I think.

That’s a point where we’ll have to agree to disagree thanks to established precedent, alas. That’s done as a deliberate stylistic feature to mark foreign-language words and phrases and make them stand out since some of them are less immediately obvious than the ones you noticed up to Chapter 2. Also, after close to 100 numbered chapters, it’s a bit more hassle than either me or @Virgil134 would consider it worthy to hunt every foreign word and phrase down to reformat them. :S

Ampharos is also based.

No kidding. I’m sure you’ll love him once you get to see him a bit more. ^^

Liddle nido riding on her dragon :)

Yeah, there’s plenty of cute little moments like that in this story. Gotta get started bright and early when there’s 1.1 million words and counting in the story’s full run. :V

Some nice medicinal use of berries. I’m lazy so I usually skip that and have my characters just eat it, but it’s good to see some writers put in a little more effort lol. It’s a nice detail.

I’ll admit that that depiction drew influence from the way healing berries were handled in Knightfall’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Overthrown, but it always made sense to me. Potions in mainline games are topically applied, and it seemed logical to me that the active ingredients of the games’ healing berries would similarly be a bit more effective when applied to the actual wounds they’re treating.

Granted, there are still some cases where the characters just snarf them down anyways, but those are treated as suboptimal “pinch healing” circumstances.

Spanish is more chill than german, I think. This isn’t a value judgement, I just thought I would mention that.

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Even if it’ll be a good while before you see German in this story from where you’re at.

Good fic. Now that catnip has sucked me in, I will be reading more... after I finish reviewing the other fics I've been putting off.

And it was a good review to read, too. Thanks for your feedback, and we’ll be looking forward to hearing from you more in the future. ^^

And thanks for your patience, everybody. It took a little longer than planned, but @Virgil134 and I are back with a fresh chapter today.
 
Chapter 69: Ghost of a Chance

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
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The forests Kichiro made his way through were maze-like spaces filled with tall, overlapping treetops that served to crowd out the sun from its understory. Closer to the entrance of the island's Mystery Dungeon, the shelter of the trees above helped to preserve a thin layer of mist that radiated out from its Distortion, clinging low to the ground in a milky haze. There, Kichiro flitted to and fro among the trunks, searching high and low for any sign of water, only to find nothing but the occasional sight and sound of passing ferals in the brush and a parting glimpses of dungeon fog in the distance.

"Bah, of course I'm the one looking for water in this creepy forest," he complained. "Why is there never anyone else competent enough to do these stupid jobs?!"

The Ledian flitted in place a moment before catching a glimpse of rays of light to his left. Kichiro bobbed his antennae curiously and flew after the light towards a small clearing where short grasses grew in a long strip. He eagerly darted ahead, zipping clear across the strip only to spot nothing but grasses and shrubs at the end. The Bug-Type buzzed puzzledly, looking to his left and his right to discover that while the earth had stones scattered about much as a riverbed would, there wasn't a drop of water to be seen!

"Ugh, how is this supposed to be easier for me anyway?!" Kichiro fumed. "I can't even search from the sky with all these dense trees- Huh?"

He trailed off when he heard a trickling sound, looking around when he realized that the sound was continuing on and coming from closer to the ground.

"Wait, that sounds like water."

Kichiro pressed on, flying low to the ground as he followed the sound, which took him towards a gully obscured by ferns and bushes where in the shade of the trees was the sight of a slow-moving stream cascading down a set of short rapids. He stared out of surprise, before letting out a sigh of relief in realization that the hard part of his task was finally over.

"Yatto" the Ledian said. "All that's left is to find where this stream goes and then the others can-"

Tchh-shh…

Kichiro froze at the sound of rustling coming from behind him. Instinctively, the Bug-Type flew back, calling out in surprise to the bushes.

"Huh? Who's there?"

He was answered by a long, deathly silence, broken only by the quiet flow of the stream nearby. Kichiro frowned and let out an annoyed chitter as he raised his fists, surmising the rustling must've been from some feral stalking him.

"Whoever you are, I know you're out there!" the Ledian buzzed. "So show your ugly mug already!"

"You… shall… join… us…" a ghastly voice answered.

Kichiro blinked at the strange voice from the bushes, feeling a slight sense of unease as he lowered his fists out of surprise and wondered who… or what he was dealing with here.

"… What?"

The bushes suddenly rended as a billowing column of purple haze came out, followed by two others from further behind that settled into wispy forms with glowing yellow eyes. With growling moans, the spectres extended pairs of shadowy claws, leaving Kichiro to recoil with a buzzing start.

"W-What the hell?!"

The ghosts churned and lurched forward as they raised their claws and yellowish points of light formed in their palms. The wraith at the head of the group let out a guttural snarl, as the light in its claws gathered into orbs that began to dance around in its grasp.

"Join us… in the Spirit World!"

The hazy figures abruptly flung a spray of yellowish orbs, prompting Kichiro to hastily fly to the side in a panic as the orbs sailed off and burst with sparking pops among the trees. The Ledian looked back at the ghosts, going wide-eyed as they rushed at him.

"Oh screw this!" he squeaked. "The others can find their own damn water! I'm out of here!"

Kichiro zipped up as the wraiths descended upon him, flying upward for dear life when he spotted a pocket of sunlight directly ahead. Instinctively, Kichiro flew for it, going past the treetops and out into the open sky as a pair of claws poked out beneath him, and then a second, and a third. The Ledian flew higher and higher in a panic, only to hear the ghostly moaning grow fainter, prompting him to look back towards the treetops and notice that the claws were groping around blindly behind him.

"H-Hah! You missed, you stupid clods!"

Kichiro swiftly took his leave, flying back for the beach and the relative safety of the Mistral Marauder. All the while, the claws ebbed and stilled, sinking back below the treetops in a purple haze as the forest settled down into an uneasy quiet.



On the white beaches of Pioppo, the faint crunching of feet trodding on sand rang out as Dimitri led Ander, Elty, and Guardia along the contours of the island in their search for any sign of Cernun. Thus far, they had turned up little beyond driftwood and worn-down stones, as Elty and Dimitri busied themselves with idle chatter.

"You know even for a Water-Type I'm surprised you didn't go into the forest, Dimitri," the Growlithe said. "Aren't you the one always going on about exploring on land?"

"I mean, you were searching along the coast and if you spotted something out in the water, who else could help you?" Dimitri replied. "It's all part of working as a team."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, when you work on a team, sometimes you need to set aside what you want to do right here and now for the sake of helping everyone move forward," the Kabutops explained. "If I left you all in a position where you could get stuck because of skills I had, I wouldn't be doing my job as a teammate, now would I?"

Guardia smiled, taking heart that even in such an alien upbringing under the waves with nomadic sea Pokémon, evidently the same wisdom her dead passed on had found its way to a 'mon like Dimitri. The Cubone's expression eased as a nagging question entered her mind, leaving her to slow her pace before turning to her teammates.

"… Wait, but if that's the case, why didn't Gardie go inland with the others?" Guardia pressed.

"Hrm? What brings that up?" Ander asked.

"Well, it's just what Dimitri was saying earlier," she said. "A Gardie is supposed to be good at tracking things by scent and the others were going inland… so why didn't he go with them?"

Elty stood blinking a moment, before shaking his head back and continuing along the beach with a sharp harrumph.

"I just know bad news when I smell it," the Growlithe insisted. "We were warned about how dangerous that forest was, and there's no point to taking obviously stupid risks like splitting off into small groups before going in."

"But the others wouldn't be taking such a big risk if you were there in the forest!" Guardia exclaimed. "A 'mon can't see as well with all the plants while the dirt doesn't constantly get wet or blown around like the sand does here on the beach. In that case, you'd quite literally be able to smell things out better there than here."

"Yeah, well I didn't think of that when we were splitting up. I'm sure I'll survive somehow," Elty scoffed back. Guardia's face fell as a sharp frown formed from beneath her bony helmet, prompting her to fold her arms over each other and growl back at the impudent pup.

"Hrmph, with this attitude you're giving I'd almost think you didn't go in because the island reminded you of your 'Nagrobek'."

Elty paused and lowered his ears, turning back slowly with eyes that betrayed a deep sense of unease.

"… What makes you say that?" he asked.

"Well, when Kline brought up Nagrobek, you recoiled from it as if he brushed up against a wound on your body," Guardia began. "You always struck me as a bit too hard-headed to get scared off by a little ghost story, and you're clearly used to using your senses to get around dungeons and territories unclaimed by hut dwellers. So why else would you be acting like this unless if Nagrobek is like this island?"

Elty hardened his eyes as his mood turned sour and testy, leaving him to shift his gaze away as he grumbled under his breath.

"Of course a bone-head like you would be such a little pain…" the Growlithe muttered, before turning back with a sharp glare.

"Look, what Laurens told us wasn't just 'a little ghost story', okay?" he insisted. "And Nagrobek's not relevant to our present circumstances at all! The trees in the forest back there don't even have leaves on their branches!"

"So why'd you react as if you'd just gotten your tail stomped when Elilan was brought up, huh?" Guardia demanded.

The Growlithe folded his ears back and grit his teeth, shooting a harsh glare back at Guardia as Ander eyed him skeptically and began to murmur aloud.

"You did act a bit strange when it was brought up. Almost as if you had some sort of bad experience there with the Company," Ander said. "Are you sure there's nothing else you're not telling us here…? I just don't see why you'd get so defensive over idle musings about the forest otherwise. After all, it's not as if you used to be some manner of feral-"

The Scyther's musings were quickly cut short by a sharp snarl as Elty crouched and bared his teeth back at the others. Guardia recoiled, surprised at her teammate's sudden temper as his words came out in hot and angry breaths.

"Look bub, I came with you all to help look for Cernun! Not to be asked about my life story!" Elty snapped. "I already told you all why I didn't want to go in, so how about we do what we came here for or else I'll call it a day and go back to rest at the ship!"

Guardia, Ander, and Dimitri stood in stunned silence, as Elty snorted and carried along fuming down the beach. Guardia watched as Dimitri began to pace after, only to stop and decide to give the Growlithe his berth, prompting her to look back at Ander as his words lingered in her mind.

"… I'd never thought about it before Strike, but maybe you're onto something," the Cubone murmured. "The way that he gets through dungeons and always seems to know how to deal with things in the wilderness isn't the same as the way that Nida or Crom do it…"

"It's not that implausible, really," Ander replied. "Pokémon like you who leave the wilds aren't that uncommon."

"Don't get too ahead of yourself. I'm merely taking part of an excursion on behalf of my colony," Guardia corrected. "But… I wonder what on earth could've happened to him there."

Ander paused, visible conflicted whether to speak up with thoughts of his own when Dimitri turned back with a raised scythe and gave a sighing shake of his head.

"… Some things aren't meant to be known right away. Just let him be for now," the Kabutops insisted. "If it's something he feels we need to know, I'm sure he'll tell us sometime later."

Guardia shuffled her shoulders uneasily at the crab's reply. Gardie was hiding something from them again. Considering the last thing he hid from them, wasn't it at all proper to try and get to the bottom of the matter? But… this thing felt… different.

"I mean, I guess…"

The Cubone looked after the departing Growlithe, her mind turning back to the night he had walked in on her pining for her father. Could it be that under his impudent and mischievous exterior that he was nursing a similar wound? The Ground-Type drifted in her thoughts only to see the dog abruptly freeze and his tail raise tensely, prompting her to motion to her teammates and quickly catch up.

"Gardie, what are you doing?" she pressed. "You suddenly froze for no reaso-!"

"Why do I have to look for food on land?" a barking voice complained. "I have flippers for crying out loud!"

"Give it a rest already, Pieter. You're handling carrying around that basket just fine, and it's not like you actually have to pick anything anyway."

The four Pokémon stiffened up at the sound of the other voices, Ander drawing his blades near him warily.

"Wait," the Scyther said. "Are those other-?"

Ander's question was answered by the sight of a Charmeleon, a Sealeo, a Noibat, and a Chingling in golden scarves rounding the corner. The four pirates caught sight of the Growlithe and the other Pokémon before them, and dropped their fruits into the sand with a startled jump much as if they'd seen a ghost.

"Huh?! Eltenios?! What are you doing here?!" the Charmeleon cried. Elty's eyes widened and he pinned his ears tightly to the sides of his head, his tongue lolling over itself in hesitant stammers.

"I… er…"

"Hmph, I could say the same to you pirates!" Guardia snapped. "What are you doing here?!"

"Well I thought I was wasting my time being on land," the Sealeo snarled. "But it looks like it was worth it after all."

"Yeah, you twerps have a lot of nerve showing your faces on our island!" the Noibat added. "We got here first!"

"I say let's drag 'em in front of the Captain!" the Chingling cried. "I'll bet Eltenios would be all for it after all the stuff they put him through!"

Elty blanched as he spotted Ander, Dimitri, and Guardia assuming fighting stances from the corner of his eye. He looked back at the pirates as they reciprocated and stared past him with low growls.

"I… That's really not-" the Growlithe began, only to be cut off by a bellow from the pirate Charmeleon.

"Let's do it! I'm sure the Captain would like some payback for what happened in Tidemill-!"

"I'd like to see you try!" Dimitri hissed.

The Kabutops dashed ahead, wreathing his body with water as he zipped into the Charmeleon with an Aqua Jet. The lizard tumbled back with a yelp, Ander dashing after with raised scythes to pin the pirate down before he could recover, only for a squeaking screech to cut through the air.

"I don't think so, bug!"

Ander was cut off by a Chingling jumping in and abruptly knocking him back with an unseen shove at his thorax. The Scyther buzzed with a start, spreading his wings to steady himself when the Noibat swooped in with a Wing Attack, making Ander pratfall into the sand. The Bug-Type shook his head and threw himself back onto his feet, lunging forward with a flying jump and bringing his scythes together in a cross-shaped slash that launched the Chingling into a driftwood log, where he bounced off and rolled along the ground groaning incoherently.

Elty froze and went blank as the din of battle thickened from Team Traveller and the pirates diving at each other. He'd always wanted to go back to his old crew… but having to hurt the 'mons who got him through Sormus, Giotto, and Buyeom… He wasn't going to sign on for that! The Growlithe racked his mind for what to do and who to join, when a Sealeo's annoyed bellow cut through the air and shook him back to attention.

"Argh! Could we seriously not have done this in the water?!"

Elty looked over to see Pieter flopping awkwardly after his teammates on the sand, forcing his flippers back and forth into a rocking gallop. From the side, Guardia darted along minding her distance, sweeping her bone out to the side as she began a whirling dance, only to lose her balance and pitch face-first into the beach coughing up mouthfuls of sand.

"Pah! Pah! That didn't happen last time I tried!" she whined.

"Here, take this while you're at it, you little sneak!" Pieter barked.

The Sealeo cracked his mouth open as ice and rainbow light began to build within, aiming square for the toppled Cubone when a burning blur dashed in and struck the side of his head with a cartwheeling tackle.

"Eyagh!"

The seal flopped over, coughing up a few inert, icy lumps as he lay on the sand hacking. The Water-Type got up and looked around bewilderedly, before seeing Elty looking up at him, making him beat his flippers indignantly.

"Eltenios?! Wat doe je nou?!" the Sealeo fumed. "You completely missed the lizard and hit me, you stupid mutt!"

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you throw her around," Elty replied. "Chasing them off is one thing, but I'm not just going to sit back and let them get hurt!"

"The hell you will!" the seal bellowed. "You'll be seeing stars by the time I'm through with you for that little stun- Ow!"

Pieter recoiled as a whirling bone zipped in and struck him from the side, before the club sailed back as its Cubone owner who braced herself for its return. The Sealeo pivoted with an angry bark and turned his attention to the bone lizard in the distance, prompting Elty to lunge in with opened jaws and be rewarded for his efforts by a spray of salty water to his face.

"Aagh!"

Elty felt his body shoot up, before falling and hitting the sand headfirst. The Growlithe let out a pained whine and lay there as the world around him spun, catching fleeting glimpses of Ander reeling from visibly rippling waves of air coming from the Noibat's ears, and Dimitri flailing at a smoke cloud. The Fire-Type struggled up to his feet, gagging up drops of the Sealeo's water when a startled scream rang out over the beach.

"A-Aaaah!"

Elty's fur raised and he looked back to see Guardia frantically darting around on the beach… chased around by the flopping form of the Sealeo spitting up streams of water during his awkward pursuit, with Guardia's club left a good distance behind him.

"Seriously, bonehead?!" he fumed. "You're supposed to be the strong one on land!"

The Growlithe began to run after, only for Pieter to spit up a Brine at him and force him to roll out of the way as it splattered over the sand. Elty blanched as the seal turned back to pursue his Cubone foe, realizing that if he took another square hit like that from Pieter, he'd be sunk! The Fire-Type quickly shuffled his bag over his shoulders, nosing through it until he felt smooth glass, pulling out the silky white form of a Slow Orb as he looked up and noticed a patch of cragged beach rocks between the positions of the golden-scarved pirates.

"… This is it," he said. "Let's hope it's worth it."

Elty threw the orb with his mouth towards the rocks where the sphere disintegrated into an explosion of glassy shards and silken strands that shot out and latched onto the nearby pirates. In the middle of his stride, Pieter went wide-eyed as a glob of silk pinned his right flipper to his body, making the Sealeo faceplant into the beach and cough up a mouthful of sand.

"H-Hey what the-?!" the pirate yelped.

With her newfound respite, Guardia dashed past her Sealeo attacker for her bone, leaving Pieter to flop and vainly try to keep chase when he felt a bite at his neck blubber. The seal yelped and thrashed in the sand, turning his head to see none other than Elty latched onto him.

"Agh! Get off of me, you lousy furball!"

The Sealeo rolled onto his side, pinning Elty with a yelp. Pieter slammed the side of his head against the beach again and again, until he felt Elty's jaws slack and look down to see him lying dazed in the sand. The Growlithe cringed and curled his body as Pieter readied a watery spray, when he heard a cry from his side and looked just in time to see Guardia jump at the pirate with her club raised, bringing its knob down on his brow with a harsh thwack.

"Nnghk!"

Guardia fell onto her back in the sand and hastily scrambled to her feet, looking up as the Sealeo staggered and tottered off to the side, before slumping over snout-first into the sand. Elty lay panting and wide-eyed, looking up as Guardia neared and lowered a claw to help right her stunned ally.

"N-Nice save there," Elty wheezed.

"Th-Thanks. Same to you."

The two turned their heads at the sound of a pained screech, watching as the Noibat was swatted out of the sky by a clumsy swing of Ander's scythes and left lying limp in the sand. In the smoke cloud, a loud cry rang out as Alfred was ejected from it and tumbled onto his belly. The Charmeleon stumbled to his feet, pawing at a fresh scrape left on his belly when he looked around and paled at the sight of his fellow pirates strewn about unconscious.

"Oh screw this!" he whined. "I'm letting the others deal with you!"

Alfred turned and ran, prompting Guardia to spring up and send her bone into a spinning throw, zipping along for the fleeing lizard when it struck the back of his head. The Charmeleon yelped, pitching snout-first into the sand and leaving the rest of his body sprawled out limply. Guardia watched warily as the Charmeleon's tail flame dimmed into a tired ebb and threw a claw up as her bone returned to her grasp.

The four hastily regrouped to each other and looked at the pirates, only to see them lying still with no sign of life but the faint rising and falling of their chests. Guardia sighed out of relief, before shaking her head and stamping her feet in irritation.

"Grah! How did they even get here?!" the Cubone fumed. "Have they been following us?!"

"I… don't know. We didn't see them around Buyeom and they were just as surprised to run into us," Dimitri murmured. "If anything, it looked more like they were more worried about finding food."

"I mean… even so, what are the odds that they'd just run into us like that?" Ander mused.

Elty folded his ears back and inched away as a troubling realization dawned on him. Back on Orleigh during his night back with the crew, he'd told them all about what he'd been through, including that the team had been on a journey towards Pioppo! Could… could it be that the Iron Fleet had come all the way out here because of him not keeping his yap shut?

"Alfred? Pieter? What's with that racket that we heard?"

Elty grimaced at the sound of a voice from beyond the bushes, realizing it was none other than the Vileplume from the crew… Minhwa, if he remembered right. The Growlithe looked back at the felled pirates, dreading another fight with more of their fellows after they found their friends sprawled out. He gulped and froze blankly when a sharp hiss reached his ears, prompting him to see Dimitri hurrying away and motioning impatiently for the others to follow.

"Time to go, everyone!" Dimitri said.

"How?" Guardia demanded. "We'll leave footprints everywhere on this beach!"

The Kabutops cast a glance out to sea, watching the waves come in as a ray of inspiration struck him and he motioned for his teammates to follow.

"I can think of a way around that. Come on!"

Dimitri stooped down and slid into the water, letting Elty and Guardia latch onto him as Ander took wing behind him. The Kabutops jetted forward, circling about and approaching the beach once more as the waters churned behind him and the felled pirates began to stir and woozily raised themselves up.

"Argh… everything… spinning…" Pieter winced.

"Ngah… where'd those lousy twerps go?" Alfred groaned. "We can't just let this go unansw-!"

The Charmeleon was cut off by a large wave bearing down and promptly knocking him and his fellow pirates further along the beach, melting away any footprints all the while. Back in the water, Dimitri tore away for the deeper waters, leaving Elty to sigh and shake his head as the beach faded further and further behind him.

"A-AAAAAAAH!"

Elty's ears jolted up at the sound of a Charmeleon's screams in the distance, Alfred's screams. The Growlithe's blood ran cold at the cries as they suddenly faded, leaving him to fold his ears and turn uneasily to his teammates.

"… What was that?"

Elty, Ander, and Guardia looked back, the Cubone of the trio putting a claw over her brow to peer off at the beach as her teeth clenched into a tense grimace. Back there, there was nothing to be seen but white sands and the occasional dark rock, with neither hide nor hair of any of the pirates to be seen.

"They're… gone," she said.

"But that was Alfred screaming!" Elty cried. "How could he just be 'gone'?!"

"Maybe… it was the ghosts," Guardia murmured.

A chill went down the spines of the three. Could… could the ghosts Laurens was talking about really have taken those pirates? Then, if they had waited just a little longer, what would have become of them? The trio's pallid unease was broken by an impatient scoff from their swimmer underneath, who slowed his pace to raise his head from the water.

"We were just there. If there were really ghosts, we'd have noticed something," Dimitri insisted. "Let's just focus on getting out of here before their buddies catch up!"

The others looked back uneasily at the beach, before shaking their heads and letting Dimitri carry on his course. Whatever had happened to the pirates, it wasn't worth risking discovery by the others that were just around the bend. And it wasn't as if it would take a ghost to make a pirate scream like that… Perhaps one of the others with Minwha used Wake-Up Slap in Alfred's face… or he rolled his tail into a puddle, for that matter.

Elty, Guardia, and Ander let the matter drift from their minds as Dimitri moved along, not knowing that all the while, a violet presence with yellow, glowing eyes billowed from the treeline of the beach. The cloud-like being shifted as others followed behind, drifting along the forest up the beach, following the course of the Kabutops and his companions in the distance.



Meanwhile, Nida and her companions made their way past trees and bushes in the darkened forest that coated Pioppo's interior. Crom and Pleo led the way, pacing forward as Pleo would occasionally stop to examine a flower or peculiarly shaped rock while Nida and Kiran followed closely from the back. Every now and then, Nida would rear up to sniff the air and scout her surroundings, time and time again seeing nothing but a seemingly endless expanse of trees and undergrowth all about her.

"It's so dense here… you'd never know it was morning from how dark it is right now," the Nidoran murmured. "Why, if it got any thicker, I'd half-expect these trees to fuse into solid walls!"

"Eh, that's overstating things a bit, as if there'd ever be a forest that dense. But even so, it seems like Crom's taking it fine. Pleo too, for that matter," Kiran replied. "I'm surprised at how far the pollito has come along since you left Tromba. He's handling being at the front of the group as if he studied alongside you all this time."

"Well, he kinda had to with everything that we've been through," Nida said. "Though it's nice to have things sorta back to normal again… I don't think I'm quite ready to be a team captain yet."

"Hm? You shouldn't sell yourself short, Nida. I think you've been doing quite well."

The Nidoran slowed her pace and perked her ears up at the Swellow's reply, turning back with a surprised tilt of her head.

"You… do?"

"Of course! You took the initiative to try and get Pleo back from Lyn's ship, and all this time it's you who's helped lead the group one step ahead from the Company," Kiran chirped. "That would be a tall ask for any Pokémon, let alone one who's just made Normal Rank like you."

Nida paused and blinked incredulously a moment, her loss of words being filled by a ruffling of Kiran's feathers as the bird shook his head and continued on.

"Really, you've come a long way from the little spike ball I saw back on Tromba. Both in how you battle and in how you handle exploring dungeons," he insisted. "I'm sure that if you keep at it, you'll have a great career as a rescuer ahead of you."

Nida stood as her mouth curled up into a wider and wider grin, beaming from her captain's compliment. So they had been growing stronger from this ordeal. Why, after having to go through everything with the Company and the Empire chasing after them, going back to prowling dungeons seemed like a cinch! The Poison-Type daydreamed for a moment, watching her ranks fly past in her mind when a sharp squawk from ahead caught her and Kiran's attention.

"Huh? There's something up here in the bushes!" Pleo cried.

The two looked ahead and spotted Pleo looking curiously at a pink tuft in the bushes. His teammates drew near, unsure what to make of the strange object when Pleo moved his beak down and gave it an exploratory nip.

"Agh!"

Pleo's eyes shot wide as the tuft abruptly yanked out of his mouth and a pink Deerling sprang out of the bushes. The feral Grass-Type pulled her tail in close to her body, before shooting a sharp glare at Pleo and letting out a furious snort.

"What is your problem, you stupid bird?!" the Deerling snapped. "Do you think it's funny to just go up and yank a 'mon's tail like that?!"

"Sorry! Sorry!" Pleo insisted. "I didn't know that was your-"

"Non voglio starti a sentire!" the Grass-Type snarled back. "Take this!"

The Deerling lunged forward with a jumping tackle, prompting Pleo to fly back with a startled yelp and bolt for his teammates. The Deerling growled and gave chase, only for Crom to rush in and ball a claw up into a fist.

"Knock it off!"

He pulled his arm back and threw it forward against the Deerling's jaw, sending her flopping to the ground with a pained yelp. Crom exhaled, feeling his blood course through his veins much as it would after a good bout of training when he looked down and chanced to see a few stray orange flecks dissipate around his knuckles. The dragon's eyes widened in surprise, giving way to triumphant realization that he'd clocked the Deerling with none other than…

"Hey, wait a minute. That was Power-Up Punch!" Crom exclaimed. "I finally did it! I finally used it right!"

"That's amazing, Crom!" Nida cheered. "I knew it wouldn't take you long!"

The Druddigon turned and beamed back at his teammates, giving a satisfied wag of his tail when he heard shifting behind him as the Deerling got up groaning, before recoiling and shrinking back wide-eyed.

"G-Gah! You stupid hut freaks from the dungeon are only tough because you never fight by yourselves!" the Deerling stammered. "W-Why don't you try fighting without someone to hide behind, huh?!"

The Grass-Type wheeled and gave a pair of stiff kicks with her hooves, catching Crom in his stomach and sending him stumbling back wincing in pain. The Dragon-Type looked down and rubbed at his injured stomach, before looking up and spotting the Deerling's tail slipping past a set of nearby bushes.

"Ow! Hey! Get back here!" the Druddigon growled.

The four gave chase, catching glimpses of the fleeing Deerling in between the bushes as they tried to keep pace, only to suddenly lose sight of the Grass-Type entirely and come to a skidding stop. The group looked around, but saw nothing but bushes and trees about them, with their hearing and smell similarly failing to catch any trace of the Deerling.

"Do you see where she went?" Crom panted.

"I thought you saw her!" Nida cried. Kiran frowned, puffing his feathers out as he took to the air to try and spot some clue from above, only to find things similarly fruitless.

"Pah, I can't see anything with all these trees- huh?"

Kiran trailed off as he saw a chunk of wood poking over a nearby patch of bushes. The Flying-Type moved ahead warily with his teammates, going wide eyed as they discovered they were shingles to a crude hut constructed from unpainted wooden planks.

"Wait, a shack?!" the Swellow squawked.

"Eh? But I thought there was no town on this island!" Pleo exclaimed. "Why's there a building at all?"

Nida, Crom, and Kiran had no answer to the Lugia's question. The group began to creep towards the building, carefully avoiding disturbing the ground and branches around them to avoid giving away their approach. While it was on the rougher side, from the lack of rotted timbers or missing shingles the hut hadn't been sitting abandoned… or at least not for long.

"It's not going to win many awards for construction, but it looks like someone's been keeping it up," Nida said. "So I don't think it's from when Blackmoon was still around…"

Pleo eyed the shack and shrank away uneasily. Laurens had said that shortly before he ran into the ghosts, his crew had found signs that Pokémon other than ferals had been living nearby, so was it really safe to be around this suspicious hut…?

"… What if it's haunted and a trap made by the ghosts?" he asked.

"But wouldn't it look all creepy if that was the case?" Crom countered. "I mean, this looks a little rough around the edges, but it doesn't look haunted…"

Nida paused and flared her ears. Something about all this seemed strangely familiar. She turned her thoughts back to when she, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia were on Orleigh and met up with a Feraligatr that had been to Pioppo before. One who had mentioned coming across huts with fresh bedding laid out. Could this be one of them?

“I… think Crom’s onto something, Pleo,” she said. “Remember those huts that Laurens told us about? He said they were signs that Pokémon were out here who were managing to avoid the ghosts.”

Kiran paced warily along the shack's side, rounding the corner to see a rickety door built in the center. A cursory glance revealed neither a keyhole nor a padlock attached to it, which prompted him to turn to his charges with a quiet murmur.

"The door doesn't have a lock," he said. "Let's go take a look inside."

Kiran pushed the door open and proceeded in, followed closely behind by his pupils. There inside, they discovered the interior of the shack consisted of a single room with flooring made of rough wooden boards and a crude table and stools set out in its center. To the left, there were a few chests tucked in a corner, along with a tattered map of Anyilla and a map of an island, presumably Pioppo tacked onto the wall. To the right was a firepit filled with cinders, which Crom neared and sniffed at warily, tensing up as he noticed the lingering smell of smoke about it.

"Well, someone was definitely here recently," the Druddigon said. "But who? And why?"

Nida paced around, curiously eyeing the hut's furnishings when she suddenly felt her toe brush against a hard, flat object on the ground. The Nidoran looked down and saw a Skarmory feather at her feet, prompting her to cringe and flatten her ears as uncomfortable memories of being slashed and jabbed at by cruel, steely talons returned to the fore of her mind. She inched away, trying to blot out the unwanted reminder when she noticed a small stack of objects including the familiar glossy black glass of an Escape Orb piled in a corner. Nida paused and thought of how strange this all was, only to flare her ears out of sudden realization.

"That Deerling earlier thought that we came from the Dungeon," she piped. "Maybe there's some sort of town built in there?"

"A town in a dungeon?" Crom asked. "But who would build such a thing?"

"A town full of Pokémon with something to hide. I’m just not sure if it’s only from those ghosts we keep hearing stories about…" Kiran murmured, prompting Pleo to shift uneasily and tuck his head close to his body.

"Are… Are we sure that it's okay to be here?" he gulped. "When Laurens said that he came here, he said that the crew with him ran into places that looked like Pokémon lived there just before the ghosts attacked…"

"But we've only seen this one shack and haven't heard anything at all," Crom insisted, shaking his head back insistently. "Maybe those ghosts that everyone talks about only come out at night or something like that."

"I'm not sure… but regardless, it seems like the local Mystery Dungeon seems like the best place to look next," Kiran mused.

Nida flicked her ears and perked up to attention as her paws went for her bag.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “I just remembered, I made a map of all of this. If we figure out which of those shacks this one is, maybe we’d be able to find our way to that Mystery Dungeon faster.”

Kiran gave a surprised tilt of his head at his pupil’s remarks.

“You certainly had quite an adventure before we finally caught up with you,” Kiran remarked. “Though let’s wait on looking over that map for now. We should go tell everyone what we already found and reprovision before we go off looking for a way in."

"… Right," Nida said. "We wouldn't want them to think we've gone missing."

The Nidoran paced ahead for the door as Crom, Kiran, and Pleo followed along. After exiting the hut, the four looked back at it for a moment, before plodding along retracing their steps through the broken foliage as the forest returned to its prior silence.



As Team Traveller made their way back to their encampment, the Iron Fleet's scouting party came upon a beachside field riddled with ruins much as the Staravia had described. There, charred planks and stumps littered the ground along with broken-down walls of stone that outlined shacks that had long been destroyed by fire. The pirates set about rooting through the destroyed settlement, Valatos, Alvise, and Nori examining the low-walled remains of a stone house where they pawed at an ash pile next to a burnt chair, shooting disgusted glares as they turned up nothing of value much as everyone else had since their arrival.

"Pah, what a dump!" Valatos hissed. "There's nothing but rubble and ash here!"

"How does the Captain even expect us to loot anything from this place?" Alvise grumbled.

"Well there's nobody here, meaning it's safe at least," Nori sighed. "Though what do you suppose this place even was?"

"Probably some sort of abandoned encampment or the like," Valatos replied. "We're not the only pirates who had to find shelter from a storm at some point, so maybe another crew had the same idea and torched the place to cover their tracks."

"Aren't there just a few too many ruins for that?" Alvise asked. "I mean, if I didn't know any better, I'd say we were in the middle of a destroyed town… like Blackmoon Village or something like that."

The three paused as a cold chill ran down their back. Being in the Blackmoon Village? The place that was supposed to have been destroyed by the Empire so mercilessly that its inhabitants lingered on as vengeful spirits that dragged off anyone who dared tread on Pioppo? The thought alone was enough to make a 'mon shudder!

But… if that was the case, wouldn't they have found bones, shells, or any evidence at all that 'mons died here? Why, if it wasn't for the foundation of a building or a piece of broken glass here or there, they would've thought they were just in a burnt-up patch of forest! And they hadn't seen any sign of there being ghosts since they came… so who was to say that Valatos' earlier musings weren't right?

"It doesn't matter," Nori grunted. "Let's just focus on getting the stuff we need and-"

"Ow! Hey watch it!"

The Marowak and his companions turned to see a Wimpod and Litten staring each other down, the bug of the pair heatedly hissing at the offending cat over trodding on him. The argument went back and forth with the two accomplishing little more than to blow hot air over who was at fault, much to Valatos' groaning dismay.

"How did we ever get stuck on a crew full of dweebs like these in the first place?" the Yanmega grumbled.

"I seem to recall this was your idea instead of trying to hold out for a better crew," Alvise chided. "And when's Kichiro supposed to show up? He's supposed to be helping us out here!"

"Huh? But he's not coming out here."

The three blinked out of surprise and turned to see Wilhelm floating by and settling down on a nearby rock, spinning his leaves happily. Valatos cracked his mandibles incredulously, before piping back to the Hoppip with a sharp buzz.

"What are you going on about?" the Bug-Type demanded. "The Captain told him he was supposed to lead our group!"

"Well, when I was coming up he told Keiichiro that he needed him to find water for the ship instead and that we should work on our own…" Wilhelm murmured, before jumping up into the air and giving a wave of his limbs.

"But that shouldn't be a problem, right?" the Hoppip cheered. "We're all one big team, so let's do our best for the crew and find those supplies!"

Wilhelm carried along, drifting with a passing breeze while humming to himself as Alvise, Valatos, and Nori stared after him slack-jawed. The Marowak among them shook his head, gritting his teeth as he gave a seething stomp of his foot against the dirt.

"Pah, I don't believe this!" Nori fumed. "What sort of incompetent captain just leaves a group without anyone in charge?!"

A disgusted approximation of a frown settled over Valatos' mandibles as Alvise continued staring blankly, only for his muzzle to curl up into a grin and his eyes to harden into a sneering gaze.

"Really now? Are you sure there's no one in charge here?" Alvise asked.

"Huh? But Keiichiro was supposed to be here and now he isn't," Nori rebutted. "Who else is supposed to be in charge?"

"Well, I can think of three 'mons from a crew that's more experienced than this one," the Manectric explained. "Do they really have a reason to work with these biflóne as equals right now?"

Valatos and Nori blinked a moment, before similarly turning their faces up into malevolent sneers. Even being stuck on the Iron Fleet wouldn't be as bad if it meant having 'mons to push around, and these dweebs around them would fit the bill just nicely!

"Hah! I like the way you think, Alvise," Valatos piped up. "Come on, let's go show these dorks who's boss!"

The three carried on among the charred ruins, their eyes turning to a rocky outcropping poking over the surroundings where Alvise clambered up, followed by Valatos to his right and Nori to his left. After taking a moment to survey the working pirates, Valatos let out a sharp buzz to break through the chatter.

"Hey everyone!" he exclaimed. "Come around and listen close, something important's come up!"

One after the other, the members of the Iron Fleet in the ruins looked up, before crowding in front of the stone and trading puzzled glances with each other, peering up curiously at the Yanmega and his companions.

"Eh? Aren't those the new guys?" a Litten asked.

"What's going on?" a Cherrim wondered. "Did they find something?"

"Look," Alvise said. "I think we can all agree this place is a dump and no one likes we got assigned to check it out, right?"

The Manectric was answered by nods and a chorus of agreeing murmurs from the gathered pirates, the budding agreement punctuated by Wilhelm piping up excitedly.

"I don't mind!" the Hoppip cheered. "It's exciting to check out!"

"… Right," Alvise said, narrowed his eyes into an unamused stare. "Well since everyone else hates it and we're stuck without a leader, the three of us are willing to do you a favor by having us be in charge of this little mission."

At once, the mood of the other pirates soured as disgruntled protests flew up one after the other. A Pawniard and Voltorb made their way to the front, the Sharp Blade Pokémon waving his arms threateningly as his partner let sparks dance on his spherical body.

"Why should we listen to you for that?" the Pawniard demanded.

"Yeah! The Captain didn't give you any special position!" the Voltorb protested. "You're no different from the rest of us!"

The Voltorb was summarily answered by a swat from Nori's bone that knocked him into the Pawniard's belly, knocking him onto his back with a yelp. Alvise leapt off the rock, stepping forward into the crowd as he shot a harsh glare at his peers.

"Because, we're elite pirates and we've got the experience to back it up," Alvise growled. "If Hess, Rodion, and Kichiro aren't going to be here to push you around, we're the logical candidates!"

"'Elite' my butt!" a Staravia squawked. "You all lost us the tournament and have barely been on this crew for two weeks!"

Alvise turned and kicked a spray of dirt and ash with his hind legs into the bird's face, leaving her to splutter and cough. The Manectric let a weak jolt of electricity arc off his body and run through the Staravia's plumes, leaving her limbs to freeze and send their owner plummeting face-first onto the ground as Alvise sneered down and turned his attention to the others.

"We're stronger than any of you and have done more in two weeks than the lot of you have done in however long you've been loafing around on this crew!" he snapped. "If you've got such a problem with it, why don't you do something about it, huh?"

Alvise arched his back and let sparks crackle along his pelt as Valatos and Nori sidled up and entered similarly aggressive stances. The pirates fell silent and shrank away timidly, leaving Nori and his companions to flash predatory smirks.

"Heh heh heh! Looks like we're making our way up that ladder nice and quick!" Nori sneered.

"Well now, since we're all in agreement, let's have you get to work," Valatos said. "To start with-"

"Mwee hee hee! Foolish bug, there's no need to be so worried about who's in charge…"

"Huh?!" Alvise exclaimed. "Who's there?!"

The wolf whirled around in time to see a huge, purplish cloud drift out of the tree line, the entire assembly flushing pale as it rose into a towering column and suddenly sprouted a pair of glowing yellow eyes and wispy claws that stretched ahead menacingly.

"I'll take things over from here…" the ghost said. "Starting with your souls!"

Alvise's audience quickly lost their nerve as the pirates bolted and ran, a few stopping to drag the Staravia off along with them. All the while, the air filled with frightened yowls and squeals.

"A-AAAAAAAAH!"

"Monster! Monster!"

The Manectric and his companions stood frozen in terror while the haze-like wraith approached. As it drew near, Alvise hastily threw up some sparks along his fur while Valatos sharply beat his wings and Nori tightened his grip on his bone.

"A-As if!" Nori stammered. "We're tough 'mons!"

"Y-Yeah! We'll kick your ghostly butt into the sea!" Alvise retorted.

Nori lobbed his club into a spinning Bonemerang, with Alvise and Valatos following up with Thunderbolt and Air Slash. The attacks zipped into the haze, only for the three to watch horrified as their efforts passed through without any discernible effect. Nori stood slack-jawed, staring blankly as his bone flew back out of the haze and landed inertly at his side, leaving him to quiver at the sight of the large ghost and squeal out of fear.

"Y-Yeeeek!"

"Wh-What do we do here?!" Alvise whined.

"G-Gih! Where's the rest of you stupid clods?!" Valatos demanded. "Help back us up here-!"

The Yanmega and his companions turned around and went wide-eyed, seeing that all that remained of their teammates was a line of trampled sand up the beach in the distance.

"Th-They ditched us!" Nori cried.

"R-Run for it!" Alvise yelped. "Don't look back!"

Alvise and Valatos tore along with loud screams, Nori grabbing at his bone and stumbling as he ran after the two for the beach. The giant wraith gave chase for a short distance, before slowing to a stop and falling back, allowing the pirates to slip off into the distance and their cries to grow muddled as snickering came from a cluster of bushes behind the ghost, along with murmuring voices.

"Shouldn't we keep going after them? We do need to make some examples here."

"And be stuck with those jerks for all eternity? Golly, no!"

"Mwee hee hee! Well I'm not complaining about this outcome! Let's move on and see if we can teach any of their buddies a lesson!"

The cloudy wraith spread out over the ground, receding back into the bushes as a slight breeze kicked up. As the last tendrils of the ghost faded away, the ruins returned to their normal, dead, quiet, with naught but the whistling of the winds disturbing the silence.



About half an hour after Nagant had arrived in Magmapool Town, the Braixen led her into the Duke's palace overlooking the town. The estate had been built out of ruddy wood with black slate tiling around a courtyard laid out with decorative stonework, with steam curling up from a small hot spring on the site. The Fire-Type led the visiting Clawitzer down a series of winding hallways illuminated by opaque, vaguely paper-colored windows to a double door where a Typhlosion and a Cradily in cerulean cloth and mail kept watch.

After a hasty explanation from the Braixen in her native tongue, the guards opened the doors and escorted the pair in, where they came upon a wide room held up by lacquered columns with a raised throne at the back of the room. Nagant surmised that this must have been an audience chamber, though the sound of loud snarfing and the sight of heavyset Rhyperior on the throne gobbling down pastries from a silken table set out before the throne seemed to indicate it was being put to… alternative uses at the moment, much to the visible dismay of a tired-faced Lycanroc with light brown and white fur standing nearby.

"Duke Seok! I bring Captain Nagant of the Uragan!" the Braixen announced. "She says she's here with urgent news from the crown!"

The Rhyperior looked up from his food with an unimpressed snort, before putting aside a half-eaten macaron and lazily turning his gaze over to the still-waiting shrimp.

"And what exactly would this 'urgent news' be, Nugget?" Seok demanded. "Can't you see I'm busy here?"

"It's Nagant, Your Grace. And there should be a 'Captain' in there," the Clawitzer grumbled. "And… what exactly were you busy with right now? I don't see much else on the table beyond your pastries."

The Rhyperior let out an affected scoff, hardening his eyes before turning away. Hoping to wrangle her superior's attention back, the Lycanroc Governor swiftly darted up, pawing insistently at Duke Seok's arm.

"Your Grace, if it's really a matter from the Crown, perhaps it would be for the best to hear her out," she insisted. "The commotion yesterday was caused partly by a communique from Her Highness, after all…"

Seok grumbled annoyedly, shifting his body in his seat as he leaned forward and rolled his claws against the table impatiently.

"Very well, I will generously take time from my matters to hear out your petty concerns," the Rhyperior said.

Nagant's mandibles cracked wide as her eyes narrowed in disgust. Who did this fat oaf think he was?! The Clawitzer quickly shook her head, opting to swallow her pride and try to press the Rhyperior's attention while she could.

"As I'm sure you've heard by now, Her Majesty has been putting the fullest efforts of the Crown into finding the pirates who stole away the realm's new Protector," Nagant began. "While I was tracking them, their course led me to your island only to find out they already left! They could very well be headed outside our waters and that's why I need your help to determine which route they took as quickly as possible!"

"Pah! Pirates?" Seok scoffed. "Do you not see that I have more important things to handle, Nugget?"

"Your Grace, this is a Protector we're talking about here!" the Clawitzer snapped. "What could possibly be-?!"

"First I hear one of my island's best Rescue Teams turns out to be a bunch of Company spies, and then I learn that I have been tricked by a bunch of andang with a fake Protector!" the Rhyperior fumed.

Nagant blinked slowly at Seok's outburst. She had to admit, Company agents disguising themselves as a Rescue Team on an Imperial island and a Pokémon pretending to be a Protector certainly weren't everyday matters that could be brushed under the rug… But that didn't change anything about the situation at hand! Even with everything going on, it would be cold comfort to bring spies and a false Protector to account if it meant putting the entire Empire at risk! Whether by ruffians seizing him or the commoners turning against the crown in their impatience for a sign of divine forgiveness, the realm was in peril and the Duke was just brushing it off as another inconvenience!

The Clawitzer shook her head, raising her voice with newfound adamance as she tried once again to explain the seriousness of the situation to the noble.

"But that doesn't change that there's a real Protector-!" she insisted, only to be cut off by a clattering thud.

"I will not be made a fool by square-necks and common scoundrels!" the Rhyperior roared, pounding a claw against the table over and over. "I must see to it that they are answered!"

"Except we don't have time for this nonsense!"

An audible gasp came from the other Pokémon in the room as the Duke rose from his chair with an offended harrumph. Undeterred, Nagant continued on, hoping that the severity of the situation would reach through to the corpulent Rock-Type.

"Tidemill was thrown into an uproar when the Protector was carried off. If he is not found soon, there's nothing to prevent such uproars from spreading across the realm!" Nagant exclaimed. "They could be halfway into Company waters right now and as such, it's critical that I follow after those pirates as quickly as possible!"

"Well how am I supposed to help with that?" Seok demanded. "Nobody here knows where those blasted pirates sailed off to, and I don't exactly have any seaworthy ships to offer right now thanks to the Crown wanting me to capture those pirates in the first place! Go look around port yourself if you need a lead!"

Nagant fell silent and let her large claw hang limply. He- He wasn't giving her any help?! The Lycanroc Governor closed her eyes and shook her head and let out a grudging sigh.

"… I'm afraid that he does have a point, Captain," she added. "As urgent as the matter with the Protector is, we do have our paws full and aiding your quest means precious little if Magmapool's black walls go undefended."

Nagant glared daggers back across the table fighting with every ounce of her willpower to not summarily fire off a Water Pulse at the pair on the other end. The shrimp let out a sharp sigh, fighting with her mouthparts to present a flat, stern expression as she forced out a grudging reply.

"That's… completely understandable…" she muttered. "I suppose it can't be helped."

"Then I shall bid you farewell, Nugget. And do shut the door on the way out," Seok instructed.

The Clawitzer turned on her tail and hopped off slowly, laying a claw on the doors as she passed their threshold before she slammed them shut behind her and let out a seething hiss that filled the hallway. The guards inched away warily as Nagant continued on and rounded the corner, grumbling with barely-hidden contempt on how such a useless fat lump could have just left her out to dry like that. Duke Seok knew as well as she did that Lugia had been here, but instead of so much as pointing a claw after his direction for her to follow, she was once again without a lead as to how they were heading back to Tromba! She leveled her claw at a nearby vase and fired off an orb of water in frustration that dashed it against a wall with a crash. Nagant pulled her claw back with a disgusted huff before hopping off, eager to take her leave from the blasted palace.



"I can hear the others up ahead!"

Nida followed Crom's voice and brushed past a final barrier of bushes back to the sunlit white sands of Pioppo's beaches. The Nidoran waited for Kiran and Pleo to follow her out of the forest, when her ears pricked at the sound of murmuring to their right. The four turned their attention down the beach, where the incomplete encampment they remembered seeing when they'd left had turned into a half-circle of tents and lean-tos fashioned from spent sailcloth and wood built around a firepit. The party breathed a grateful sigh that they'd have a place to rest for a bit, setting off for the tents when they caught sight of Elty, Guardia, Dimitri, and Ander talking with a large group of sailors crowded around them.

"Hey! You guys won't believe what we found in the forest!" Nida cried.

"I… think we could say the same, Nida," Elty murmured.

"Huh?"

The Nidoran tilted her head, noticing that Elty and his group all had surprisingly grave expressions on their faces. Guardia pulled her bone in close to her, giving an uneasy tap of it against her claws as she looked warily over her shoulder.

"We ran into Gardie's old pirate buddies further down the beach," the Cubone explained.

Kiran and his charges went wide-eyed at the revelation, the Swellow hopping back with a flapping start as he spluttered back incredulously.

"W-Wait, what?!"

"We encountered four of them foraging for berries when they threatened to bring us in front of their captain," Ander replied. "We knocked them out, but didn't have time to figure out more about how they got here since we overheard more of their buddies coming."

Nida, Pleo, Crom, and Kiran dropped their jaws at the Scyther's words. The last time they saw that lousy band of pirates was when they escaped Giotto, so how could they have known to come here?!

"B-But we shook them off in Tidemill!" Pleo squawked. "Why are they here right now?!"

"We're not fully sure, actually. We first thought they followed us here, but the pirates we ran into were just as surprised to see us," Dimitri replied, leaving Crom to blink curiously at him.

"Huh? But how else could they be here?" the Druddigon asked.

"That's… a good question."

An uncomfortable silence settled over the group at the Kabutops' musings. Right now, they were all alone on an island with killer ghosts on the one hand, and a marauding band of pirates on the other. Did the Iron Fleet know about this place? If so, who was to say that they weren't in the process of walking into a giant trap?

Uneasy murmurs floated up around the surrounding sailors, as a few more fainthearted 'mons from their number began to suggest that perhaps it was a sign to get going while they could. Vicente stepped forward from amidst the crowd, shaking his head as he shot a serious glance over at Team Traveller's members.

"Look, regardless of how they got here, the question is what we should do about it," the Hitmontop said. "I get that your mission here is important, but those pirates likely know we're here now, and after their ambush between Kenobi and Mengir, I'm not too eager to get into another fight with them."

"Well, maybe we won't need to be here for that long," Kiran offered, drawing a puzzled frown back from Vicente.

"What do you mean?"

"Out in the woods, we ran into a feral who said there were scarf-wearers living in the Mystery Dungeon," the Swellow explained.

"That's right, and just after that, we found a shack that had been recently lived in with maps of the island on the wall," Crom added. "If those Pokémon are really in there, we'd be able to find the dungeon through those maps and ask them where Cernun is!"

“And with the one we’ve already got,” Nida added.

Nida fished through her bag and pulled out the scribbled map from deep inside it. It was definitely on the loose and rough side, but the markers for where the ruined town was on the eastern side of the island and the red crossmarks that had been on Laurens’ map were still there. Nida noticed that one of them was much further south than the others and held her paw on it.

“I think that we might have seen that shack there,” she said. “If so, then there’s probably an entrance into the Mystery Dungeon not far away.”

The three’s musings seemed to inspire a bit more confidence in the gathered crew, the budding whispers of turning tail silenced by the idea of having a leg up on finding out where this island's hidden Protector was. All the while, Guardia tensely prodded her bone against the sand, looking back uneasily at the forest in the distance.

"I suppose going into the Mystery Dungeon could work, but… how do we get back out afterwards?" the Cubone asked. "We didn't get a chance to get another Escape Orb before we left Buyeom."

"I'll have Kelly handle that," Vicente replied.

The Hitmontop whistled, beckoning an Elgyem to approach from the crowd and give a bow. Team Traveller's members sized up the Psychic-Type puzzledly, as Vicente gave a determined glance back.

"Kelly may not work the Rescue Team circuit regularly, but she knows enough about teleporting to get a group out from a Mystery Dungeon," the Hitmontop reassured.

"Just give me your badges a moment," the Elgyem instructed. "Treat it like you would a mission back at home."

The younger members of Team Traveller undid their badges, before making their way up one by one to the Psychic-Type, who held the metal baubles aloft and focused, doing likewise with Ander, Dimitri, and Kiran's badges. The eight turned their gaze to the treeline after receiving their badges back, having their attention called back by Vicente's voice calling out to them.

"Good luck out there," he said. "If you run into any trouble, call out to Kelly for help as soon as you can."

"We will," Kiran insisted. "And we'll pass on what we find in case we need others to help us."

The Swellow and his teammates waved before heading off, slipping off under the cover of the forests as they pressed on, letting the beach's sand fade away behind the undergrowth and tree trunks around them as they retraced their course to the abandoned shack. The group followed their steps, making their way up gullies and over hills when Pleo began to slow down, wondering aloud to himself.

"How are we gonna explore the dungeon?" the Lugia asked. "We don't know anything about it or how it's laid out… Would it make sense to split into groups again the same way we did on Buyeom?"

"It would help us cover ground more quickly," Kiran mulled. "Even just staying in two groups again would already make our search go faster."

"It… doesn't… matter…"

Team Traveller froze and felt their blood chill at the sound of the spectral voice filtering through the trees. The lot tensed up, Dimitri reflexively throwing his scythes at his ready as he eyed his surroundings tensely.

"Who's there?!" Dimitri demanded.

"The only place you will explore…" the ghostly voice answered. "Is the Spirit World!"

The trees in front of the group lurched and rended as looming figures burst forth, seemingly made of purplish haze pockmarked with glowing yellow eyes. Dimitri and his companions stood fixed in terrified panic as they watched the misty figures near and extend disembodied claws towards them.

"B-Bogowie, are these the ghosts Laurens talked about?!" Elty gulped

"I don't know, but they're going down!" Guardia growled.

The Cubone planted her feet firmly and hurled her bone at one of the spectral figures with a whirling Bonemerang, followed quickly by a salvo from her teammates that included a Weather Ball from Pleo, a Scald from Dimitri, and an Ember from Elty. One after the other their attacks zipped through, accomplishing little other than to part the haze temporarily or make the ghosts lurch away for a moment. Ander backpedaled, holding his blades out defensively, before finding his nerves and lunging for one of the figures. The Bug-Type sprang up, bringing one of his scythes down with a mighty swing that made the ghost's eyes widen, before flickering and vanishing, leaving the mantis swinging at little other than purplish smoke.

"I-It's not doing anything!" Ander stammered.

The ghost suddenly circled back, knocking Ander down as a set of eyes focused on him. The Scyther screeched and thrashed, only for his cries to trail off as he grew woozy and seemingly lapsed out of consciousness to Nida's horror.

"Ander!"

The Nidoran dashed forward, followed by Kiran and Dimitri ahead of their teammates as they tried to rush to Ander's aid, only for the ghost to latch onto the fallen Bug-Type while the other wraiths rushed in with outstretched claws. One of the ghosts lunged for Nida and tried to grab her, prompting her to fan her barbs out and force the spectre to recoil. Further aside, Dimitri stumbled back from a shadowy orb that struck him in the face, leaving him to hastily regain his bearings to see a ghost charging him and promptly use Aqua Jet to get out of the ghost's path. From above, Kiran was forced back by a spray of yellowish orbs as his teammates threw attacks for cover, making the wraiths recoil with hisses, moving aside to reveal nothing but empty dirt where they'd last seen Ander. Team Traveller froze, their blood draining from their faces as their Swellow leader broke out into a panicked squawk.

"F-Fall back! Fall back!"

The lot tore along, running back along their forest path in a hasty retreat. Crom ran behind Nida, desperately forcing his way forward over rocks and undergrowth when the sound of a squawking scream reached his earholes from behind.

"H-Help!"

The two turned back, Pleo's screams making the rest of the team ahead freeze and whirl where they saw him getting pinned to the ground by pairs of claws, sparks arcing among his feathers before fading inertly as one of the hazy figures gave a piercing look that seemed to freeze him in place and others began to circle around him. Without thinking, Nida reversed course, bounding for the stricken Protector as her Druddigon companion followed behind her.

"Pleo! Hang in there!" Nida shouted.

"We're coming to help!" Crom cried.

Kiran, Dimitri, Elty, and Guardia hastily attempted to come to their companions' aid, when the trees beside them suddenly rustled and were brushed aside by a pair of wraiths rushing out into the path ahead of them.

"And where do you think you're going?!"

The ghosts curled down, spewing a hail of yellowish orbs at the four as their vision ran muddy and the world about them spun in a daze. Guardia and Elty thrashed, throwing attacks around wildly as they heard Kiran and Dimitri shout, along with the sound of Nida and Crom screaming. A shadowy ball struck the Cubone and the Growlithe, knocking the two to the ground panting and cringing, expecting the wraiths to settle over them next.

"Nida! Nida! Where are you?!"

Elty rose to his feet woozily, his vision stabilizing enough to see Guardia propping herself up on her bone, and Kiran and Dimitri calling out into the upended forest ahead. The four looked around for any sign of their companions, or the ghosts that had attacked them, only to be answered by the sound of silence, broken by a low whine from Elty's throat and the faint pattering of droplets of water against the ground beside Kiran.



Author's Notes:

- Yatto (やっと)… - Japanese: "Finally…" (Hepburn Romanization)
- Wat doe je nou?! - Dutch: "What are you doing?!" lit. "What do you now?!"
- Non voglio starti a sentire! - Italian: "I don't want to hear it!"
- biflóne - Venetian: "nerds"
- andang (악당) - Korean: "villain(s)" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
 
Chapter 70: Seeing is Believing

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
EIn6yIT.png


At the Siglo Swellow's beach encampment, Vicente made his way up and down the lines of tents as the sailors began to wrap up their construction work. The Hitmontop looked around as some of the Pokémon started to drift into the shade of the shelters, when buzzing wingbeats sounded out from behind, prompting him to turn and see Beatrix approaching him.

"Vicente! How is that encampment coming along?" the Illumise pressed.

"See for yourself, Captain."

Vicente motioned around him at the fan-like layout of the encampment. While spartan, the tents and lean-tos provided sufficient shelter for a base camp, with the fire pit already stocked and a chunk of worn sail repurposed for a flag hanging from a driftwood pole. A small smile formed at the ends of the first mate's mouth, as he proudly turned back to his superior.

"Ideally we won't need it for too long," he said. "But it should provide a better base to work with than the Siglo Swellow's hull."

"Hrm, not bad at all," Beatrix remarked. "I'll need to start dividing up the crew for scouting parties. The sooner we find Cernun and the Knights' Ledger, the sooner we can sail off from this rock-"

"Vicente!"

The pair looked up at the sound of a sharp squawk as the sailors around them began murmuring uneasily upon seeing the haggard forms of Kiran, Dimitri, Elty, and Guardia hurrying in, visibly distraught. Beatrix grimaced as the sailors gathered around them, prompting Vicente to hurry up to the four.

"Kiran? What are you doing here?" the Hitmontop asked. "I thought you left for the Mystery Dungeon!"

"Th-The ghosts!" Kiran cried. "They ambushed us and took Ander along with Pleo and half my pupils!"

The eyes of the surrounding sailors widened as a few recoiled with audible gasps. Among them was Natrix, who had flushed pale and backpedaled a few paces at the Swellow's words.

"Y-You mean there really are ghosts out there?!" the Servine squeaked.

"Yes!" Guardia insisted. "All of the lore that Laurens told us is true!"

"They were a bunch of big, purple and cloudy monsters!" Elty yipped. "We tried to fight back, but our attacks just passed right through them!"

Beatrix and Vicente grimaced, turning an insistent gaze over to an Elgyem in the group of gathered sailors.

"Kelly, where are they?" Beatrix insisted. "Even if they aren't in the dungeon, you should still be able to sense their badges, shouldn't you?"

The Elgyem floated in place and closed her eyes deep in focus, waiting quietly for a few moments before starting to shift and abruptly snapping back to attention in alarm.

"I-I can't feel anything around them," she stammered. "Their badges must have been taken off."

A palpable sense of panic settled on the gathered sailors, as a few started to shrink back from the direction of the treelines, while others retreated to the perceived safety of their lean-tos. With his eyes firmly trained on the Siglo Swellow, Philips hastily scooped up a bag at his feet and threw it onto his shoulders as he called out to his peers.

"Oh drown this, let's get out of here before they find us!" the Raichu exclaimed.

"All of you, just calm down a moment!" Beatrix snapped. "We're not going anywhere without our Protector!"

The sailors froze, trading nervous looks with one another as the flightier members of their ranks warily slunk back out in front of Vicente and Beatrix, casting apprehensive glances inland all the while.

"B-But what are we supposed to do?" a Sliggoo demanded. "We don't have any idea of where the Protector could've been taken!"

"Yeah, and if those things took the Protector, what hope do we have?" a Dwebble asked.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the group as no one seemed to have an answer to the Dwebble's question. Elty, Guardia, and even Kiran shifted uncomfortably, unsure what they could even offer with how impotent they'd proven to be against the ghosts earlier. Dimitri brushed his scythes together uneasily, when his mind turned back to the shack that Kiran had described seeing in the morning, along with his passing encounter with a local feral…

"I mean… we found out there's supposed to be Pokémon like us living in the Mystery Dungeon. If we can find them, maybe we can see if they can help us at all since they've clearly been getting by even with these ghosts," Dimitri said. "We've still got our items and Kelly knows how to find us, so we can try to retreat if we run into trouble. If nothing else, it'll make sure that if anyone else gets taken, it'll just be us."

The crowd began to murmur, seemingly satisfied by the Kabutops' plan, only for Natrix and Philips to suddenly pause and grimace as an uncomfortable realization came over them.

"… What do we tell Pladur about this?" Philips asked.

"Yeah, if he hears that his niño is on his way to the Spirit World, he'd probably keel over from shock in his state!" Natrix cried.

"Let's… keep things quiet for now until we find out more," Beatrix instructed. "Everything that you all have heard on this beach stays on this beach until I say otherwise."

The Illumise turned to Kiran and his teammates with an uneasy pause. She opened her mouth to speak to the four Pokémon, struggling to find the right words before shaking her head with a sigh.

"… If you haven't returned by nightfall, I'll gather the crew and try to figure what we can do."

"Right," Kiran answered. "We'll do our best out there."

The Swellow and his companions hastily bade their farewells, heading off back into the forest as the gathered deckhands watched the group melt out of view, quietly hoping and praying that somehow their Protector and the Travellers above could help turn these dire circumstances around.



In the grand hall leading up to the Board's meeting chamber at the Company's headquarters in Vollezee, the sound of tapping footsteps rang out as Lyn made his way towards a pair of double-doors at the end. The Samurott's pelt had been freshly cleaned and scrubbed of its normal salty tang, his lavender scarf newly fastened, and his gait carrying an impatient stiffness to it as he made his way to what would surely be the beginning of his career as an Administrator. Along the way, a party consisting of a Cryogonal, an Empoleon, and an Espeon in dark blue armor chattered amongst themselves before the doorway, leaving Lyn to growl and thrust a seamitar forward.

"Out of my way!"

Lyn shoved the Cryogonal to the ground with the flat of his blade, the Empoleon and Espeon hastily darting aside from the Samurott's path. The otter returned his seamitar to his scabbard as the three guards quickly reassumed their posts, leaving him to push the doors open and reveal the long stone table from which the Company Board convened, with Inler already waiting at its head with the full gathering of Administrators present.

"Welcome, Commissioner," the Nidoking said. "We've been expecting you."

"Hrmph, you certainly look confident this time around," Darzin growled. "That's… unexpected, to say the least."

"I should hope so, Darzin," Lyn retorted. "At long last, I have completed my mission."

The Samurott fished through his satchel and proudly raised a Red Apricorn before the gathered Pokémon. Elilan shifted in his seat and gave a skeptical raise of his brow at the sight, prompting him to rest his right arm against the back of his left paw and move his right claws up to his chin with a piercing scowl.

"Well, that's certainly bold of you to say that to our faces," the Zoroark scoffed. "What's going to be your excuse for disappointing us this time?"

"Oh come on, Elilan. He's here and he's even got an Apricorn with him!" Zorn chortled. "Have him open it and let's see the Protector for ourselves!"

"Gladly," Lyn replied. "I bring you Lugia, the Guardian of the Seas!"

The Commissioner took out a decorated clay cup and fit the Apricorn into its curvature at the floor before the table. He took up his right seamitar, training the tip on the nut's surface, before slicing the top off with a flick of his paw. Inler and the gathered Administrators watched as a jagged beam of light shot out and began materializing on the floor before them into the frightened form of a Ditto, who blinked his beady eyes and looked around warily, noticing the members of the Board staring down at him.

"Er… hi?" David said.

Lyn's jaw dropped from shock as he let his seamitar fall to the floor with a clatter. From the other end of the table, Inler, Farn, Zorn, and Elilan at once let out fierce, livid growls. Darzin was the sole exception among their number who stared in befuddled shock, before he too joined the others and let out a sharp snarl as Elilan shot a piercing glare back at the Samurott.

"Tsk. Why am I not surprised, Lyn?" the Zoroark scoffed. "Every time I think it's impossible for you to sink any lower, you always manage to prove me wrong."

A loud slam rang out from the end of the table, Lyn's blood chilling as he saw Inler had stood up and pressed his claws onto the stone, his horn lowered threateningly as his mouth cracked open to reveal a mouthful of fangs.

"Commissioner! What is the meaning of this?!"

Lyn recoiled from Inler's roar and stammered nervously. How could this be?! He had captured Lugia as clear as day in front of the entire crew on Buyeom right before they were chased out of port! There wasn't any time that the Apricorn could've been switched before they left!

"I- I can explain-"

"Oh, I think it's perfectly clear, Lyn," Elilan interrupted. "You've been getting desperate and thought you could get away with misleading us thinking that you'd finally completed your mission with this subpar imitation!"

"B-But I captured the Guardian with this very Apricorn in Magmapool Town! I shot him out of the sky myself!" Lyn insisted. "There's no way that this Ditto could've been in there unless-"

The whole thing had been a ruse of course, precisely to engineer this embarrassment! Lyn set his teeth on edge, realizing that whoever had put him in this circumstance could only have done so with this Ditto's willing cooperation. With his blood boiling, Lyn scooped up his dropped seamitar, leveling its tip in front of David's startled eyes with a forceful swing.

"A-AAH!"

"You! If you feel like leaving this room alive, you'll tell me who you work for and who put you up to this right now!" the Samurott bellowed. The Ditto shrank back, staring at the tip of the blade shaking like a leaf as he struggled to answer.

"I- I- A-Aah…"

"Really Lyn, that's supposed to convince us?" Elilan sneered. "The Ditto will obviously say whatever he feels will save his own gummy hide at the moment, so why am I supposed to believe a word from his mouth?"

Lyn froze and blanched at the Zoroark's retort, backing away with a grimacing silence. As loath as he was to admit it, drawing his blade on the Ditto had poisoned the well on anything he had to say right here. The Ditto did have a role in all of this, he just knew it! And yet, even if the Ditto blurted out the truth now, it meant little as he would've just as easily proclaimed himself to be the King of Conntow if he felt it'd save himself! The Samurott hung his head, unsure what he could do to defend his name now that it looked like he'd been the one to put the blob up to this deception as the Ditto got up and began to wave for attention.

"H-Hey!" David insisted. "If you all let me go, I'll-!"

The Ditto was abruptly cut off by the large yellowish orb of a Focus Blast that flung him back and splattered him against the wall. Elilan brought a raised claw back to his side as Inler pinched his brow and shook his head with a low grumble. At the other end of the room the doors flew open and the sound of running footsteps rang out, prompting the gathered Administrators to turn and see a Cryogonal, an Empoleon, and an Espeon rushing in as Elilan pointed a claw off at David.

"Scrape him off and wring out what he knows before sending him on an expedited transfer for Nagrobek!" he snarled.

"I have no objections," Inler harrumphed. "Guards! See to it that Administrator Elilan's request is fulfilled!"

The guards swooped upon David, prying the groaning blob from the wall and hastening out the chamber with a loud slam of the doors behind them. The Zoroark in the room turned and growled, shooting a fierce glare back at the ashen Samurott.

"I see that the apple truly doesn't fall far from the tree," Elilan snapped. "Really, when your father undermined the Company under the leadership of the prior Board, at least he didn't have the gall to do it to their faces!"

The Zoroark shook his head disgustedly before leaning back into his chair, the faint outlines of a smirk beginning to spread over his mouth.

"And I see no reason why a wretch like you shouldn't meet the same fate," he sneered. "I motion to strip his rank and expel this sorry excuse of a Commissioner!"

Lyn grimaced and felt his blood run cold as droplets began to form at the corners of his eyes. He had stuck things out ever since the fateful day when his father ruined everything, going through the Academy even when Sevan had thrown in the towel for sellswording and he'd been tempted to do much the same when illness claimed his mother. He'd earned his place here through years of hard work! A-And it was all going to be erased over a dirty trick he was in the dark about?!

"Y-You can't do that! I've served the Company faithfully for years!" Lyn cried. "All of you should know that I'd never stoop to such a harebrained-!"

"Stop talking, Lyn!"

Lyn bit his tongue and looked over surprised at Farn, who was staring at him with piercing, golden eyes. The Administrator had never been one to take lightly, but as a 'mon who he'd looked up to since being a Second-Rank, the harsh tone all but sucked the life out of the Samurott's face.

"A-Administrator Farn?"

"Even if your version of events is right and you were sabotaged, you're not helping your own case," she chided. "What argument do you even have right now? This is the third time we've heard from you that you've had the Protector only for you to turn up empty-pawed! What sort of track record is that to stand on?!"

The Luxray let a few stray sparks fly among her fur out of annoyance, shaking her head as she turned away.

"I know that you obviously place some importance on succeeding at what your father failed at, but this is a company," she snapped. "We can't advance Pokémon in our ranks over the sentiments of a subordinate that for all we know just isn't cut out for duties above his rank. You of all Pokémon should know that."

Lyn stared ahead blankly, the surroundings around him turning fuzzy and faint as he felt his world slipping away from him and his seamitar to slip out of his paw. A loud splash rang out as Zorn slapped the water of his pool with his tail, the Gyarados giving an unimpressed snort as he chimed in.

"Hrmph. Save your time, Farn," Zorn scoffed, before turning to Lyn.

"If you ask me, it looks pretty obvious you thought you could pull a fast one on us and take a seat at the table!" he snarled. "You're through, Lyn! And you'll be lucky to pick berries for a living by the time we're done with-"

"No."

The four Administrators turned and stared in surprise at the Nidoking at the head of the table. Zorn stuttered at a loss of words for a moment, realizing that after everything the Director still had an objection?

"… Director?!"

"While Commissioner Lyn's results are… disappointing to say the least and he certainly would have motive to want to deceive us, there just isn't any evidence to prove that was his intent," Inler explained.

"Director, you can't be serious. Do you think that Ditto got himself captured in an Apricorn for his own amusement?" Elilan demanded. "Of course Lyn tried to deceive us!"

"Hrmph, for someone who wants to one day lead the Company, you sure jump to conclusions quickly, Elilan. We know that Lyn compromised his cover in Giotto, so who's to say that the Imperials didn't get the idea to try and deceive him?" Inler rebutted. "A wasted trip would mean they would have the freedom to hunt for the Protector at their leisure as we waste our time trying to salvage this mission!"

The Nidoking shook his head, before letting out a sharp harrumph.

"Due to inconclusive evidence, and with the stakes so high, our best course of action is simply to stay the course, and get this mission back on track so the Imperials don't have such an opportunity," he continued.

Lyn paced back and he stared blankly at the Nidoking who now held his fate in his paws. From the left side of the table, Elilan shot up out of his seat, fuming and seething back at the Poison-Type.

"Hold it right there! That decision isn't yours alone to make, Inler!" the Zoroark spat. "We're a Board and make decisions based on votes! Especially if they are determining the fate of this Company and of Anyilla!"

"I do not need a reminder of how basic proceedings in my own Company work, Elilan," Inler growled back. "And especially not from a whelp like you!"

The Administrator and Director traded sharp glares with each other for a moment, before the elderly Nidoking turned to the rest of his subordinates with a low grumble.

"But very well, let's settle this," he said. "There's four votes between us, so let's put them up and see where things fall."

"Four votes?" Darzin fumed. "I'm here too, you know! So that makes fi-"

"Shut up!"

The Dragonite flinched, shrinking back and pulling his antennae close to his head as he opted to not press the matter any further. With the loose end in their ranks tied down, Inler turned to the other three Administrators as he began to speak.

"I've already made my case and my own vote should be clear," the Nidoking said. "The rest is up to you three."

"Hmph, it should go without saying that my vote is 'no'. Lyn's tenure on this mission has just been one exercise in incompetence after another," Elilan scoffed. "The fact that a simple extraction mission led to the Lugia ending up in the Empire's claws and being lost to a bunch of Tromban peasants ought to speak for itself as to why he should be pulled from this mission."

"I second that motion. I remember having to intervene multiple times during Lyn's first mission as a Third-Rank to recover documentation from the Merchantry due to him acting like a reckless loose cannon," Zorn glowered. "I hoped that the extra experience since then would've dulled those tendencies, but not only are they still around, I had to effectively do his mission for him on my island! You're telling me that I now have to overlook a blatant attempt to deceive me? I'm sorry, Director, but I can't stand for this."

Lyn grit his teeth, as the gathered Pokémon trained their attention onto Farn. The Luxray stared with a lengthy silence at the Samurott, prompting him to drift back to memories of his father's fall from grace and hang his head in despair and wait for what would surely be the final vote needed to seal his fate…

"I vote in favor of retaining Commissioner Lyn on this mission."

Lyn sprang up in surprise as the Administrators in the room stared stunned at Farn. From his place across the table, Elilan spluttered in shock, hardening his eyes into an incredulous scowl at his Luxray colleague.

"Farn?! What do you mean you vote 'in favor'?!" he exclaimed.

"Because as frustrating as Lyn's recent run of failures has been, him deceiving us just doesn't align with his record of service as a Commissioner," she explained. "Beyond that, there's just too many alternative explanations for what could have caused the incident with the Ditto to definitively lay blame at Lyn's feet."

The Luxray shook her head, before continuing on with audible conviction before her peers.

"If the record said something different, I wouldn't be taking this position. But reorganizing the mission at this stage would only cause more chaos and you know it, Elilan," the Electric-Type continued. "So for now, it is better to look past the coincidences, as frustrating as they may be, and to trust that things will revert to their mean."

"And as Director, my vote counts for two in the event of a tie," Inler reminded. "So as it stands, Commissioner Lyn remains tasked to retrieve Lugia."

Lyn exhaled out of relief, picking up his seamitar from the floor and sheathing it as his paws continued to waver. In the background, Elilan buried his face in an open paw growling under his breath, as Inler turned and stared stone-faced back at Lyn.

"Be mindful that results matter in the Company, Commissioner. We've been exceedingly patient with you so far with your attempts to bring the Guardian of the Seas before us, but this is your final chance," the Nidoking said. "Even if it's far from what I want, the Board does have another candidate who can pursue him should you appear before us empty-pawed again."

Lyn shifted uncomfortably and quietly gulped at the Director's ultimatum. The terms were as stark as they'd ever been, but at least there was no confusion over what needed to be done…

"Understood… Director."

The Board's members got up and began to depart, Lyn staying behind to calm his nerves as Inler and his subordinates started filing out. After hearing his superiors' footsteps begin to fade away, the Samurott shuffled off, hesitantly making his way for the doorway at the other end. The Commissioner made it to the last few paces before the doors, when he saw Farn stop and wait for her peers to leave, before turning back with a forceful scowl.

"I don't normally make decisions like the one I did back there, Lyn," she said. "Don't make me regret it."

The Luxray hardened her eyes as stray sparks danced through her mane, leaving the Samurott to pause, before nodding back.

"I don't intend to."

Lyn carried on past the doors and away from the chamber, passing the Cryogonal and Espeon remaining outside keeping watch and making it to the end of the hallway at a three-way intersection where he headed left and hung his head. He had seen Lugia fly around the harbor with his own eyes, so how could all of that have just been a ruse from the Empire?! They hadn't even known he was in their waters until Giotto!

… They couldn't have, unless there was someone on his crew who worked with them. Lyn's teeth clenched as his eyes hardened into a glare, storming along angrily as his mind grew ever-consumed by one desire:

To find the spy who had set him up and to make him pay.



"Ander, wake up!"

Ander shifted as a chirping voice reached his ears, feeling his joints ache while his eyes opened to a hazy dimness. He let out a weak groan, shuffling his limbs against a stony surface as he heard other voices nearby. The Scyther brushed up against something soft and looked up, only to see a Lugia's face staring down at him. At once, Ander sprang back wide-eyed and let out a frightened shriek.

"Aah! G-Get away from me!"

"H-Huh?! Ander it's just me!" Pleo insisted.

"Wh-Wha-?"

The Scyther lowered his blades, spotting Crom and Nida stirring in the background and realizing it was merely Pleo who'd given him a start as he looked about his surroundings. The last thing he remembered was getting pinned down and succumbing to a sudden drowsiness after staring into the yellow eyes of an attacking ghost. Whatever had happened to them since then, they had been taken to this darkened chamber with stone flooring and walls, where a glance to his right revealed an exit into a hallway that was blocked with iron bars and a padlock as Crom and Nida shambled to their feet.

"Ow… why can't I feel my badge?" Crom murmured. "And where are we?"

"That's what we'd like to know!" a Charmeleon's voice piped.

Ander and his companions looked behind them to discover the wall to the right of the cell was an open grate of iron bars, where on the other end were a haggard-looking Charmeleon, Sealeo, Chingling, and Noibat. The four blinked in confusion at the strangers, and as their eyes adjusted to the light, they noticed the Pokémon's' scarves were an uncomfortably familiar gold pattern with a spiked, silver teardrop on them.

"Wait, you're from the Iron Fleet!" Nida cried.

"And you're one of those Tromban dweebs, so what's your point?" the Noibat demanded.

"Did… you get taken by the ghosts as well?" Pleo wondered.

"Hmph, it wouldn't have happened if Eltenios hadn't turned traitor," the Sealeo growled. "The only reason why we're here and your stupid friends aren't is because they got lucky!"

"Right… 'luck'. I suppose we shouldn't have dismissed those screams so quickly," Ander said. "But I don't really understand what's going on here. The ghosts said that they'd be taking us to the Spirit World. This feels… surprisingly like our own."

"Pah, who cares!" the Charmeleon growled. "The Captain wants that bird, so we're gonna capture him!"

"Huh? But aren't you all locked up as well?" Crom asked.

Alfred trailed off, holding his mouth open with a blank, flustered stare. The Charmeleon hemmed and hawed a little before shaking his head and summoning his prior adamance.

"Er… we'll capture him after we get out of here!" the Fire-Type insisted.

"And how do you plan on doing that without tipping off those ghosts or whoever is holding us captive?" Ander pressed.

"Uh… er… look, we'll think of something, alright!" Alfred snapped. "And when we do, we're knocking you into next week and taking you all back with us to the ship!"

"Yeah! So you better start saying your prayers, twerps!" the Chingling added.

Nida folded her ears back and narrowed her eyes unamusedly. Evidently even utter defeat was not enough to make some of Hess' underlings know when they were beat.

"I'm sure we'll manage somehow…" she grumbled.

"Basta! Would you all keep it down in there?" a rumbling voice growled.

Team Traveller turned their heads towards the hallway at the sound of tramping footsteps, where they saw a group of Pokémon approaching with an Aggron at its head. The lot of them sported blue scarves bearing a white design that seemed to be a pair of intertwining antlers, and curiously enough all had eyes with cross-shaped pupils.

"You're already on thin ice as it is," the Aggron snapped. "I'd suggest you not do anything to push your luck."

From the pirates' cell, the four Pokémon blinked and stared at the Aggron in the group. The Noibat raised a brow, scrutinizing the stranger as he couldn't help but think he was…

"… Captain Hess?" the Noibat asked.

"Oh for crying out loud! How do you mix him up with that Aggron?" the Sealeo snapped. "He looks way younger than the Captain and he's got those freaky eyes!"

"Hrmph. I've certainly been hearing that name a lot today, but no," the Aggron said. "The name's Roteck, and I'm here to bring you all to your date with eternity."

At the Aggron's words, the pirates went wide-eyed and dove into the far corner, quailing in front of the cross-pupiled strangers while the Chingling squealed out of fright.

"Y-Yeeek!"

"'E-Eternity?' W-Wait! Please!" Alfred squeaked. "Don't kill us! We didn't steal anything yet!"

"Not you. You'll be dealt with later," Roteck growled, before turning to his subordinates and pointing over at Nida, Crom, Pleo, and Ander.

"Those four," he instructed. "Bring them before Duke Valter at once."

Team Traveller blanched out of surprise, Nida staring up with an uneasy grimace at the Steel-Type as his underlings began to undo the padlock on the cell door. Who exactly was this Aggron? What was he planning on doing to them? And…

"Who is Duke Valter- Hey!"

The Aggron and his accompanying underlings stepped in and unceremoniously dragged the four out, marching them down a short hallway full of empty cells before reaching a set of rickety wooden stairs. The lot pressed on, passing a crude lobby with tables and chairs formed from battered crates and barrels when Nida and her companions exited it and looked around, surprised to find themselves in the middle of a street lined with simple huts and tents with small patches of fog off in the distance.

"Ah!" Pleo cried. "There's an entire town here!"

"Yeah, yeah, we get that a lot," Roteck harrumphed. "Now keep moving."

The Steel-Type and his fellow guards forced Pleo and his companions forward, taking them down a street lined with shops and stalls, including one staffed by a Kecleon and a Yamask who had tried to style it after its scaly proprietor through a coat of red and green paint and eyes on the awning. Nida noticed that curiously, all of the shops seemed to trade pieces of paper back and forth, with their owners referring to them as the likes of "two rations of wood" or "three rations of gummi mix", while the shoppers looked up at them with cross-shaped eyes much as their captors.

Nida wondered to herself what the significance of the eyes could be, when further down the path, they came across berry bushes being tended to in cramped plots sandwiched between shacks along the banks of two intersecting streams. The Nidoran squinted off at it to try and catch a better view, before they crossed a rope bridge over the nearer of the two streams. As she passed over, Nida noted that unlike the stream further off in the distance, this one seemed to drop immediately from the ground and into the water, almost like a gouge in the earth.

"Do try and make a decent first impression," Roteck grunted. "The Duke and the others are waiting for you just ahead."

Nida, Pleo, Crom, and Ander looked up to see a pavillion formed from stone pillars with a ring placed atop it and vines growing along the structure's surface. The lot marched in where a small crowd had gathered around a Dusknoir, with a curious number of its ranks composed of Ghost-Types who traded wary looks at the four and among each other. Crom looked around, noting that for whatever reason, the Dusknoir seemed to lack a cross-shaped pupil unlike the other Pokémon. Whatever was behind it, it didn't seem to make him come off as any friendlier, leaving Crom to wonder to himself what the Pokémon had in mind for them given the Aggron's mention of 'eternity', when the Dusknoir floated up and addressed the Aggron and his charges.

"Ahh… so they've finally awoken," the Ghost-Type said. "My name is Valter, and I'm the leader of this town."

The Dusknoir approached Nida and her companions, who inched away from the Ghost-Type uneasily. Unswayed by his guests' discomfort, Valter shook his head, giving a quiet harrumph before continuing on.

"Make yourselves comfortable, not that you would be going anywhere fast," he remarked. "I had a few questions for you, as did our patron…"

"Your patron?" Crom gulped.

Team Traveller turned at the sound of clattering hooves from their left as a blue deer paced into the pavillion's shade. Ander at once recoiled with a startled yelp as the youngsters with him stared mesmerized. The creature's shape was the spitting image of David, except his shoulders came up to about Crom's snout, his antlers were a pale blue, and most curiously of all, his eyes bore the same cross-shape as the other villagers in town. The deer pranced around, throwing his antlers back proudly with a beaming smile before his audience.

"That's me!" he cheered. "Cernun, the Voice of Life!"

Nida and Crom looked at the creature with a loss for words, their silence broken by Pleo who excitedly squawked and darted up waving his wings before the Xerneas.

"Wait, it's the real you!" Pleo exclaimed. "We've been looking for you all over the island!"

The gathered Pokémon traded surprise glances and murmurs at Pleo's outburst, a few wondering aloud if he somehow had met Cernun before. All the while, Valter eyed Pleo warily and moved over, giving a probing stare down.

"And just how do you know of our Lord Cernun, little one?" Valter demanded.

"I don't think it matters too much, Valter," Cernun chuckled. "He seems nice enough and I'm always looking for more acolytes. Darkwood Square needs all the helping hands it can get."

"This is great!" Pleo chirped. "It's just what we need to take on the Company and go back to Tromba-"

"Hold on, nobody said anything about you being able to leave."

Pleo's words died in his mouth as he and his teammates looked over at Valter. The Dusknoir's red eye had hardened into a pointed scowl, prompting Nida to uneasily shuffle her feet and speak up.

"What… do you mean?" the Nidoran asked.

"Well, the outside world's full of Pokémon that want to take me away and harm this town," Cernun explained. "So the safest way to keep that from happening is to make sure that as few Pokémon as possible come here."

"As you can see, many of the inhabitants here are Ghost-Types," Valter elaborated. "Because of that, we are able to combine our powers to trick any outsiders into believing this island is haunted to leave us alone."

Crom and his teammates jolted up at the Dusknoir's response. Did he mean to say that those ghosts that had attacked them were really Pokémon that they'd seen here around the village?! But… they captured them and brought them here, and at the same time they wanted other Pokémon to leave them alone? How did any of that make sense?!

"But… if you didn't want us here, why won't you let us leave?" Crom asked.

"Because, you're not alone, and your friends will surely abandon this island thinking they are in mortal danger," Valter replied. "In order to maintain the ruse, those who we take are kept here on the island as part of our numbers."

"H-Huh?! But we need to go back home!" Pleo cried. "Everyone's counting on us!"

Valter harrumphed and narrowed his eye as he curtly responded to the young Protector, peering down with a scolding shake of his head.

"Hrmph, well I'm sure that being in the Voice of Life's presence and receiving his blessings will surely be an adequate recourse-"

"V-Voice of Life?! That's no Voice of Life, that's a demon!"

Cernun recoiled at the sound of a piercing cry, jerking back as Ander sprang up and flashed his scythes defensively with widened eyes.

"The Voice of Life is the collective will of nature that keeps life on this planet going on!" the Scyther insisted. "How is being stuck with this monster that perverts life supposed to be any comfort?!"

Nida, Crom, and Pleo bit their tongues as the surrounding Pokémon began to glare and glower over Ander's words for what felt like a silent eternity, the his rant evidently a grave insult to the Xerneas before them. Wisps of shadow danced around Valter's fists for a fleeting moment, before they dissipated with a sharp harrumph.

"I've heard enough for now. Whatever plans you came here with, they're not happening. There will be plenty of time for you to get accustomed to your new roles here, whether you choose to resist it or not," the Dusknoir snapped. "Roteck! Get these disgraceful wretches out of my-"

"Un attimo!"

A silvery blur cut in from above, coming to a stop in front of Team Traveller and revealing the form of a Skarmory. Nida flushed pale at the sight, stammering until she noticed the bird was also sporting eyes with cross-shaped pupils, and wearing an off-white scarf with a blue square she remembered seeing on Mengir…

Wait a minute! This Skarmory was-!

"Trizano?!" Nida cried.

"Hear them out for a moment, Duke Valter," the Skarmory insisted. "After all, it's not every day that Lord Cernun is graced with the presence of a fellow Protector."

Cernun raised his tail and flared his ears out of surprise, the fawn's eyes widening as he darted up to the intervening Skarmory with an incredulous stare.

"A fellow Protector?"

"That's right, the white one among them is the Protector of Tromba!" the Steel-Type insisted. "Surely it would be worth listening to what he has to say, wouldn't it?"

"What makes you so certain about this, Trizano?" Valter asked, shooting a dubious frown back.

"The Valiant Knight Skarmory never forgets a face," Trizano answered. "And I distinctly remember this one as none other than the Protector that I encountered in my last visit to Mengir."

Valter raised his voice to object, only for the Xerneas behind him to near and nudge at his shoulder. The Dusknoir blinked puzzledly, turning back to see Cernun looking insistently at him.

"Let them speak, Valter," Cernun insisted. "I want to hear what's going on."

Valter paused, before grudgingly drifting out of the way and allowing Pleo to pace forward uneasily. The Lugia ruffled his feathers awkwardly, before clearing his throat to speak up.

"Well… we were being chased around by the Company and we met Nerea around Braveshoal, and she said this island is supposed to have a 'Knights' Ledger' that would make the Company and the Empire leave us alone," Pleo explained. "And then when we ran into Kline, he said that you'd be here, Cernun, and that you'd be able to help us!"

The Xerneas paused with an uncomfortable expression, before shying away and shaking his head.

"I… think you may have been mislead," Cernun murmured.

"Huh? What do you mean 'mislead'?" Nida demanded. "You're here, aren't you? So why wouldn't the Knights' Ledger be?"

"All things that come here must remain hidden in order to preserve Lord Cernun's safety," Valter retorted. "Including that ledger. Not that I'd expect that impudent snake to have told you of that."

"Wait, why? And what's wrong with Kline?" Crom pressed. "He was helpful to us when we ran into each other!"

"Hmph, we can hardly say the same."

The Dusknoir floated up slightly and pointed back towards the bridge Pleo and the others had crossed earlier. The Lugia and his companions looked back at it blankly, before Pleo gave a puzzled tilt of his head back to Valter.

"That stream we crossed?" Pleo asked. "What did Kline do to it?"

"The ground used to be flat there, that's what!" Valter snapped.

"It's a scar he left behind while he was here," Cernun said, shaking his head. "Valter tried to explain to him that it was safer for him to stay with me, but he refused to listen and lashed out at my acolytes when they got in his way. I attempted to stop him, but my powers were somehow weakened when I tried to fight him."

Ander grimaced and shivered at what must have happened to the town for Kline to leave such a wound on it. Nida and Crom stared wordlessly, wondering what on earth could've made Kline lash out in such a manner, before Pleo turned back and gave an insistent beat of his wings to Valter.

"B-But you'd have to let us go eventually!" Pleo cried. "I'm Tromba's Protector and I'm needed back there!"

"You go ahead and think that, uccello," Valter huffed. "Unlike last time, I won't so easily allow this haven to be disturbed just so that you can chase your whims, Protector or not."

The Ghost-Type turned around and took his leave for a set of steps leading to a raised bluff when he stopped and turned his head towards Roteck on his way over.

"See to it that they are settled in," he instructed. "This village will have new members to tend to, and it can't afford to sustain idle hands that add nothing back to it."

"Understood, Duke Valter."

The Aggron paced ahead as Valter departed, walking up to Team Traveller as he looked down at them with a gruff, impatient scowl.

"Come on, you're not going anywhere soon," Roteck said. "So you might as well get used to your new home."

Nida, Crom, Pleo, and Ander stared bewildered as the Aggron pushed them along for the bridge, the four staring puzzledly as Trizano hopped up and gave a reassuring smile.

"Go on. I'll explain what's happening as you tour the village."

One by one, the four set off, grudgingly going ahead of Roteck as Trizano followed after them. All the while, Nida cast uneasy glances at her surroundings, wondering just how they were supposed to get the Knights' Ledger, much less find their way back to their friends in these circumstances.



As Team Traveller was marched towards their new home, the less-seaworthy members of the Iron Fleet huddled together tightly below deck. A few of their number poked timid glances up the staircases to the deck, while others traded worried murmurs of what had become of Alfred and his group. An air of lingering expectation hung about the anxious gathering as the pirates looked over to Hess and Rodion, hoping to persuade them to flee the wretched island.

"Wh-Why are we here right now?" a Litten whimpered. "You saw those things, let's get out of here!"

"Uh… technically, we didn't see anything," a Drednaw replied. "We just couldn't find Alfred-"

"You know what I meant!" the cat snapped.

"All of you just simmer down a moment!" Rodion barked. "We can't get going anywhere fast before the ship's water is replenished!"

The Floatzel's scolding at once drew a torrent of protest from the other pirates in reply. Was it really so bad to just sail off with a little less water? After all, getting water from this wretched hellhole meant going back… and that meant…

"You can't seriously expect us to go out there! Those… things are eating souls!" a Wimpod exclaimed. "Gods knows what they're doing to Alfred and the 'mons with him right now!"

"Look, I at least roughly know where the water is," Kichiro said. "It's somewhere east of the Mystery Dungeon here."

"So go and get it yourself!" the Wimpod spat.

"Oh, screw that, I already got chased by those ghosts going out there!" the Ledian snapped. "One of you can have a turn!"

The crew broke out into a heated uproar, with conflicting demands for Kichiro to go back or for so-and-so to fill his place flying about in an overlapping din. Hess threw a claw over his face, pinching his brow with an audible groan before slapping his tail against the timbers and letting out a sharp bellow.

"All of you just shut up a moment!" Hess shouted. "Look, between the ghosts and the abandoned island, it looks like we're on Pioppo. Or else some island that's really similar to it."

"And we know there is water here," Rodion added. "Which is more than what can be said about the other islands around here. We just need to know where exactly it is to replenish our supplies…"

"… What do you mean by that?" a Vileplume asked.

"We've got enough water left for about a day at sea," the Floatzel replied. "If we set sail for an unsettled island, there's no telling that there will even be water for us to find."

"And we already got caught in a storm once already!" Hess growled. "I don't know about you, but I'm not in the mood of becoming the laughingstock of Orleigh for dying of thirst at sea!"

Hess shot a piercing glare around the gathering, the crew's protests quickly ebbing away as the Aggron shook his head and continued in a low rumble.

"So… do we have any volunteers?"

Chirp chirp chirp

Hess narrowed his eyes, turning towards the back right of the gathering where a Kricketot was chittering to himself. The Aggron let out a low growl, prompting the Bug-Type to abruptly stop, before shrinking back uneasily.

"I… uh… didn't say anything."

Hess' face fell into a sour frown as he let out an impatient snort and stomped the timbers of his ship underfoot.

"Are you seriously going to make me pick someone again?" Hess fumed. "Show a little backbone already!"

"I volunteer Alvise!" a Pawniard cried.

Alvise reflexively jolted back with a start at the Pawniard's outburst and looked back with a surprised stare. The Manectric wondered what on earth had come over the Dark-Type, only for it to dawn on him that the runt had been one of the dweebs he'd whipped into shape back at the ruins, prompting him to harden his eyes into a harsh glare and bare his fangs angrily.

"Wait, what?!" Alvise cried. "Volunteer yourself, you stupid jerk!"

"I remember you couldn't shut up earlier about being an elite pirate," the Pawniard growled.

"Yeah! Last I checked, elite pirates didn't sit around on their butt all day while others did all the work!" a Voltorb added.

"So why don't you head out and find us some water, oh mighty elite?" the Pawniard demanded.

The Manectric let out a sharp snarl and began to let furious sparks dance on his pelt, prompting the other pirates to shrink behind their captain with whimpers and whines. Hess stared at the scene puzzledly, wondering what had happened between them and the new 'mons and why they were suddenly going on about this 'elite' nonsense. The Aggron opened his maw to bring up the three's failure at the tournament, when a sudden thought crossed his mind… Alvise was one of the buddies of that blasted Marowak, so if he was sent out, his friend would be a natural pick to help him scout the island full of soul-eating ghosts! With his mind set, Hess stomped the deck underfoot and let out a low growl.

"Hrmph, with an attitude like that, maybe making yourself useful is just what you need!" Hess snapped. "And take that Marowak friend of yours with you!"

"N-Nanda?!" Nori protested. "They didn't even mention me earlier-!"

"Nah, you can go too," the Pawniard insisted. "And you can take Valatos with you while you're at it!"

"Yeah, show off that eliteness you're made of!" the Voltorb jeered.

The Marowak spluttered incredulously, waving his club and stomping his feet frustratedly back at his Aggron superior.

"If you think this is some sort of joke, it's not funny!" Nori growled. "We already had to scout Tidemill and you're not dragging us into something like that again!"

Hess yelped and backpedaled at Nori's outburst, before cringing and freezing in realization that he'd cowered in full view of his crew. The Aggron's mind went blank, dreading what he expected to be derisive mockery when a Staravia's scoff cut through the air.

"Hrmph, sounds like you three are just a bunch of cowards," she harrumphed.

Valatos let out an irritated buzz as his teammates growled and bared their teeth back at the Staravia. The Yanmega beat his wings and flitted up, hissing square into the bird's face.

"Say what?" the dragonfly fumed. "If you're so brave, why don't you volunteer yourself!"

"Because you lot have been going on about how great you are, but now that you've got a chance to prove it, you try to fly from it like a bunch of weenies!" the Staravia spat.

"Hey! This isn't cowardly at all!" Alvise insisted. "Part of being brave is knowing what battles to pick, and-"

Bwok bwok bwok!

The Manectric trailed off at the sound of derisive clucking, looking ahead to see the other pirates making mocking jeers while the more able mimed wingbeats… including none other than Hess, who paused, before giving a sheepish glance down to an incredulously staring Kichiro.

"Wait, is it right for me to be doing that as the captain?" Hess asked, prompting the Ledian to bury his face into one of his fists.

"Aren't you asking that a bit late here?"

"Look, you've gotten your orders," Rodion harrumphed. "So if you're as strong as everyone else seems to think you are, either give a clear reason why they're wrong or get going!"

Valatos, Alvise, and Nori hemmed and hawed uneasily. Going out to get water on this hell island was just asking for a trip to the Spirit World! Surely Rodion had to understand it was unreasonable to demand them to just waltz out there by themselves!

… On the other hand, if they didn't go out after how much they'd bragged about being elites to the rest of the crew, they'd never live it down. If they had to go around being treated as cowards by a bunch of bottom-tier pirates like these dweebs for the rest of their career, they might as well walk into the forest and offer themselves up to the ghosts! With their minds set on avoiding certain humiliation, Alvise and Nori dug in their heels as Valatos shot back a defiant scowl at the Floatzel.

"You know what, fine! We'll find your stupid water!" Valatos snapped.

"Hrmph, glad to hear. When you get to shore, just keep going straight ahead until you see the Mystery Dungeon and then look around the eastern side of it," Kichiro instructed. "The stream's somewhere there, and I'm sure you'll find it if you keep at it."

The three huffed and made their way up the deck, hounded by the other pirates all the while even as they clambered down a set of rope netting to a waiting blue Gastrodon. Amidst jeers and taunts, the three set off on the Gastrodon's back, reaching the beach where Alvise and Nori got off the mollusk who beelined back for the ship without so much as looking back at them. Alvise and Nori walked inland groaning and grumbling as Valatos flitted after them, the three pausing and looking off at the thick forest ahead of them with palpable dread.

"Uh… is it too late to walk that 'elite pirate' thing back?" Nori gulped, before a rumbling voice called off from the distance.

"Oi! Hurry it up already!"

The three looked back towards the ship, which was too far to make out Hess' form clearly, but not far enough to keep his voice from booming over the water to them. Alvise shook loose some seawater from his legs, before giving an annoyed grunt and turning back towards the forest.

"… Come on, let's go."

With that, the Manectric set off, followed behind by his Yanmega and Marowak teammates as they slipped off the beach and into the overgrowth. As the sunlight faded and the beach disappeared from view, the three crept along, tensely eying their surroundings as they tried to trace Kichiro's path to the water the ship needed.



At the same time, the crew of the Uragan had dispersed onto shore into Magmapool Town to help with the search for the missing Protector. Cabot, Niilo, and Berecien were among the sailors to look around, passing up visits to hot springs, markets, and card shops as they searched high and low for any clue of Pleo's whereabouts, only to come up empty handed time and time again. Eventually, the trio's stamina wore down, prompting them to trudge along tiredly into the doorway of a tavern, where they noticed its tables were taken up by fellow Pokémon in indigo scarves.

"Looks like we're not the only ones who wanted to take a break from searching," Niilo sighed.

"Blugh… just what we needed after not being able to find a single lead," Berecien groaned.

"Maybe we can ask to join someone's table?" Cabot proposed. "After all, most 'mons here seem to be from our crew…"

The Cranidos and his companions began to mill around in search of a table with open seats, only to find themselves struggling unexpectedly. The first table they came across was already crowded with other crewmembers, while another had only two remaining seats, with one taken up by a Pikachu in a deerstalker hat scooting in with a mug of black coffee. The three opted to try their luck in the back corners, where they came across a pair of tables: 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'. Cabot sighed and began to drift back with his friends for the door to come back to the tavern later, when a buzzing cheer reached his ears from behind.

"Hey! Over here!"

The Rock-Type turned and saw a Vespiquen at a table near a side window waving cheerfully, a Salandit next to her drinking from a rum-filled cup before giving a wave of his own. Berecien and Niilo's expressions eased a bit, before the pair shuffled along with Cabot for the table, the Vespiquen pulling along a pair of extra seats with an amiable buzz as the group neared.

"How have you been doing?" the Vespiquen asked. "Any luck with finding that Protector?"

"I wish, Melli," Berecien sighed. "Everyone saw him here with those przemytnicy, but nobody seems to know what route they took to get back to their island."

"That's some really poor planning if they just kept all the ships together close enough for Lugia to put them all out of commission with one attack," Niilo grumbled. "Who signed off on that?"

Cabot shifted uneasily as his friends talked about Pleo. After how much the Lugia had opened up to him on Giotto, it just felt… wrong to be hunting after him like a common pirate again. He shook his head, before opting to see if the Salandit and Vespiquen at least had any idea of how the young Protector was doing.

"So what about you two?" Cabot wondered. "Did you find any leads yet?"

"We haven't really been looking around town for any," Tegu replied. "Jun assigned us to show the ropes to some of the newer members on the crew."

The Salandit motioned off at a Sneasel and a Jangmo-o creeping up behind a Whismur in indigo at the bar, as the Dark-Type of the pair snatched away a coin purse at the Whismur's waist. The Whismur paced ahead a few steps, before looking down in alarm to see his purse had been snatched, and turned to see the pair laughing and waving it tauntingly in front of him.

"Those two in particular. Clyde and Barrow is what they go by."

Berecien's face fell into a sour frown as the Sneasel and Jangmo-o continued to jeer at the Whismur while he hastily reclaimed his purse, leaving the Ponyta to turn away with a disgusted snort.

"What a lovely bunch," he scoffed.

"Eh, they're not bad Pokémon," Tegu insisted. "They're a little slow to pick up on stuff, but for a pair of thieves from Giotto who'd never set foot on a ship before, I guess I can't really blame them."

The Salandit tilted his cup back to drink up the final drops of his rum, before pushing the cup aside and hanging back, propping his feet onto the table much to Berecien's visible annoyance.

"You know, other Pokémon still have to eat off that table," the Ponyta grumbled.

"Well, good thing I won't be here to take up space by the time that happens," Tegu retorted.

"Quit your shenanigans and get your feet off that table, Tegu!"

The gathered Pokémon at the table looked to their side to find Nagant staring at them with a sharp, irritated glare. The five blanched before the shrimp directed her scowl at the Salandit of the group, making him blink in surprise as the Water-Type let out an audible hiss.

"You're a member of Her Majesty's navy, not some band of pirates," the Clawitzer snapped. "Act the part."

Tegu bit his tongue, before grudgingly pulling his feet off the table and returning to his normal sitting stance on his chair. Nagant hopped along huffing and grumbling, shoving an unfortunate Pansage out of her way as she beelined for a tub of water set at the end of the bar. The Water-Type steadied herself, before hopping into it with a loud splash that kicked up a spray of saltwater that splattered onto Clyde and Barrow, making the pair turn around with audible frustration.

"Agh! Hey!" the Sneasel protested. "What's the big-?!"

Nagant shot a wordless glare at the two that made Clyde's protest abruptly die in his throat, the Sneasel and his companion hastily retreating to the other end of the counter. Back at Cabot's table, the Cranidos and his friends stared at the irritated Clawitzer for a moment, before opting to turn their attention to a cluster of hollowed apples filled with nuts set out at the center of the table.

"Yeesh, who spit in her drink?" Niilo murmured.

"Well, she was going off to meet the Duke this morning…" Berecien said.

A sharp clink rang out as Nagant grabbed a clear bottle, pouring a portion into a clay cup before slamming the bottle back against the bar. Berecien and his companions watched as a volume of clear fluid sloshed out of the top and onto the counter, as the shrimp grabbed her cup and guzzled its contents.

"I'm guessing it didn't exactly go well," the Ponyta muttered.

"Maybe someone should go cheer her up?" Melli proposed.

"And spend the night in the sick bay after eating a Water Pulse from her?" Niilo retorted. "No thanks."

"Whelp," Tegu remarked. "Nothing we can do other than to give her a wide berth for a while."

The Salandit shifted and promptly put his feet back onto the table, leaving Berecien to stare nonplussed a moment, before shooting an unimpressed frown.

"Are you really going to disobey the Captain's orders when she's in a mood like that?" Berecien questioned.

"Hey, she technically never said I couldn't put them back on," Tegu said with a sly grin, prompting Berecien to roll his eyes.

"Ugh, whatever."

Tegu disregarded the Ponyta's warnings with a dismissive wave as Niilo gave a teasing chide to Berecien, sparking a bantering back-and-forth between the two over who was more in the right. All the while, the conversation flew over Cabot's head entirely as the Cranidos wrestled over what to do once he ran into Pleo again, when he looked back at Nagant, noticing that she was alone with her drink and not interacting with any of her underlings around her.

"I… need to talk to the Captain," Cabot murmured.

"Wait, right now?" Niilo asked.

"Yeah. Something's been bothering me and I don't want to wait with it anymore."

The other Pokémon at the table traded wary looks with one another, before turning their attention back to Cabot.

"Look, whatever it is, I really think you should give her some space for now, Cabot," Berecien insisted. "You know how the Captain can be."

"I'm aware of that, but this is important and I've already waited with this for long enough," the Cranidos replied. "Just trust me on this?"

"… If you say so," Tegu said. "But I'd be careful how to bring things up with her."

Cabot nodded back, getting up from the table as he made his way across the tavern. The Cranidos breathed in as he neared Nagant in her tub, clearing his throat to speak.

"Captain Nagant, I-"

The Clawitzer turned as the corner of her eye caught Tegu's feet on the table, prompting her to hiss sharply and jump out of her tub, shooting out a watery pulse from her firing claw that launched him into the wall with a splash and sharp cry. Cabot turned wide-eyed back to the table where Tegu flopped forward into a puddle on the floor as Melli gave a startled gasp and Berecien and Niilo blanched. The tavern's patrons stared at the scene and the Pokémon near Nagant quietly inched away from the clearly unsettled shrimp, leaving Cabot to squeak and cringe as Nagant turned to him grumbling under her breath.

"Insubordinate little whelp…" she fumed. "And what was it, Cabot? I barely started my drink."

Cabot stammered and shrank back, looking off once again at the felled Salandit at the other end of the room. The Cranidos wondered to himself if coming to plead his case was really such a good idea and fumbled with his words trying to avoid stirring his superior's wrath.

"I-I was wondering if we could have a moment to talk in private?" Cabot stuttered, prompting the Clawitzer to look around her before harrumphing and flicking some water off her smaller claw.

"Hrmph. This is private enough, just keep your voice down."

"Uh… w-well, I was just thinking… what if?"

The Cranidos gulped, bracing himself as he hoped that enough of Nagant's patience remained for him to mutter out his next words.

"What if we're better off just letting Pleo go back to his home island?" he asked.

"What?!"

The hubbub in the tavern suddenly quieted down at Nagant's shout, as she noticed that everyone in the hut was now staring at her and the Cranidos. The shrimp hopped up, still dripping as she neared her Rock-Type subordinate with a harsh glare.

"Fine, we'll go somewhere more private," she growled.

The Clawitzer latched onto Cabot's scarf with her large claw and dragged him away with a yelp across the tavern's floor. Berecien, Niilo, and Melli traded worried looks as Cabot slipped past the doorway of a side entrance where Nagant pulled him into a shaded alleyway and let him go with a sharp hiss and irritated click of her claws.

"Cabot, have you gone mad?!" she demanded. "'Let Lugia return to his home island'. Travellers above, why didn't you just suggest that I deliver him in person over to the Company's Director himself!"

"I haven't gone mad!" Cabot exclaimed. "I know that it sounds a little crazy, but-"

"Do you not remember anything from Giotto?!" Nagant snapped. "How could you say that we should just let the Protector go when Her Majesty's realm is falling apart because her subjects think that he abandoned her?!"

"I know what's happening on Giotto," he insisted. "But-"

"That bird is the only hope our empire has right now!" Nagant barked. "And you just want to let him fly off?!"

"Captain, if I could just-"

"Did you really think that I needed to deal with this after Duke Seok blew me off?!" she shouted. "Honestly, as if it wasn't bad enough that Her Majesty's nobles aren't taking matters seriously-"

"Stop interrupting me already!"

Cabot watched as the Clawitzer stared back incredulously, making him flush pale out of realization he'd snapped at his superior. The Cranidos flinched and stumbled back, attempting to stammer out an apology as he cringed out of fright.

"Aah! I-I'm sorry, Captain! I didn't mean-!"

"Stop."

Cabot felt a pinching sensation tug at his shoulder and looked up to see Nagant pull her claw back as she scowled back at him, yet had a surprisingly calm demeanor about her.

"Take a deep breath and tell me what you were trying to get at," she ordered. "Respectfully."

Cabot inhaled sharply and hesitated over just how he could best plead his case given how bad of an impression he just made. The Cranidos looked down, as he fidgeted with his claws and warily began to speak up to his superior.

"It's just that… when I was spending time with Pleo, he felt so miserable all the time and kept talking about how much he missed being at his home and with his friends," the dinosaur murmured. "After he left us for his friends at the stadium, I kept thinking about how what we're doing might be wrong…"

He pulled his arms back to his sides and looked up at Nagant, giving an uneasy stare back at the wizened shrimp.

"We're supposed to be the good guys, aren't we?" Cabot asked. "So why are we hunting down a Protector and forcing him away from his friends when it makes him so miserable?"

Nagant stared back silent, her features unmoved outside of a serious scowl. Cabot paused for a moment, before continuing on uncertainly.

"I mean, I know that the Company is still going after him, and I'm sure he knows it too," he said. "But in spite of that, he genuinely wants to be with his friends. If we try to drag him away… aren't we just doing what the Company's doing?"

Nagant's face fell into a frown, prompting Cabot to gulp realizing that he was losing his superior's patience. The Cranidos waved his arms, hoping to try and persuade Nagant to bear with him a little longer.

"Th-That's not to say that we shouldn't do anything!" Cabot insisted. "I'm sure Pleo would let us help him keep the Company off his back! And we could try and explain how everything's a misunderstanding, and do the same with those Pokémon in Tidemill, and-"

"I've heard enough."

Cabot blinked, watching as the Clawitzer turned away towards the tavern's door with a low grumble.

"I appreciate your idealism, Cabot, and the Navy needs Pokémon who can see the silver linings in these cloudy days," she said. "But this is one time where it's just not going to cut it."

"Wh-What do you mean?" Cabot stammered. "This is the Guardian of the Seas, we can't just-"

"Humor every idea that bounces through his mind because he doesn't know any better?" Nagant demanded as she looked back at him. "Think, Cabot. When you were young, didn't you have any things that you wanted that in retrospect you were stubborn or irrational about?"

The Cranidos reflexively opened his mouth to protest, only to trail off after his mind turned back to when he first signed up for the navy. His own enlistment had happened on a whim thanks to his recruiters making naval life sound like an exciting adventure! Even if everything had worked out in the end, with how the whole episode had led to a fight with his parents and how little forethought he'd put into the matter at first… it was hard to argue that his thought process wasn't childish or irrational. He stared back at a loss for words as Nagant let out a harrumph and shook her head back.

"That's what Lugia is going through. How can he possibly understand his place in the world or what he needs when he's been hatched for all of a month?" she asked. "And why should I stake the Empire and my place in it on that?"

Cabot shrank away uncomfortably at his captain's retort. Nagant… admittedly made a fair point about all the Pokémon in the Empire needing Pleo… b-but was there really no way to resolve this other than to hurt him and tear him away from his friends?! The Cranidos struggled with his thoughts, when the clink of metal drew his attention back to the alley and prompted him to see a small bag of coins at his feet.

"Wh-What's this?"

"Money, for a fare back to Giotto," Nagant replied. "If you're not prepared to carry out your orders in this mission, you're better off taking leave until we're finished and going back to your home to help patch it up after that pirate raid."

"H-Huh?! But I want to stay on the crew with everyone else!" Cabot insisted.

"Then are you going to follow your orders and do what's expected of you in this mission?" Nagant asked.

Cabot faltered a moment, grimacing before drooping and grudgingly replying to his superior.

"… Yes."

"Hrmph, I couldn't hear anything," Nagant scoffed. "Must've been the wind whispering-"

"Yes, Captain!"

The Clawitzer paused, tilting her head slightly as she watched Cabot stare back at her with hardened, determined eyes. The Water-Type said nothing as a faint smile spread over her mouthparts, leaving her to shake her head and turn back for the tavern.

"Glad to hear we're on the same page then," she said. "That bottle of vodka isn't going to finish itself."

Nagant hopped off, leaving Cabot alone to peer uneasily at the dirt underfoot. For all his bluster and conviction he'd mustered just moments ago, he couldn't help shake the sense that it was a terrible mistake to chase after Pleo once again… How was he supposed to face him when they saw each other again? Explaining that he was there to take him away back to the loneliness he'd felt on Giotto…

The Cranidos shook his head and forced his chin up. No, it wasn't a choice between Pleo and his happiness. It was a choice between whether Pleo would be able to be around any friends at all or if those awful Company Pokémon would get their claws on him! The dinosaur set off, making his way back through the door to the tavern rationalizing that Pleo would surely understand once everything was explained to him…

Or at least he hoped he would.



Author's Notes:

- niño - Spanish: "kid", "boy"
- Basta! - Italian: Interjection meaning roughly "Enough!" or "Stop it!"
- Un attimo! - Italian: "Hold it!" lit. "A moment!"
- uccello - Italian: "bird"
- przemytnicy - Polish: "smugglers"
 

Extension_Driver

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
he/him
Here from Catnip Circle!

So! Prologue stuff! I’m not familiar with PMD so please take all comments with a huge grain of salt.

- A pretty good description of the burrow at the start, if I may say so myself. The main character here is a Nidoran F, and your description of loose barbs, teeth and ears in particular such give the reader enough clues. Not only that but you explicitly confirm it in case the reader did not catch it. This is good!

You launch into the introduction of the Travelers, which is a small hook for revealing the culture of the Pokemon here. I don;t know enough about PMD but I must say it sounds convincing enough.

With the arrival of Nida’s mother, we know the main character’s name. I do wonder why you have Spanish words in the dialogue however, was this world a world which normal nations existed alongside regions? That is interesting, I always thought they had their own, distinct languages separate from Earth, so to speak.

You characterize both daughter and mother well; Nida being impulsive and rushed, forgetting her scarf – a nice touch that it differentiates a wild Mon from a town/civilized Pokemon. I don’t think any of the games I see have that... then again I only played like a couple hours of Red Rescue Team aha.

As for the legend of Humanity, being a PMD story... so I dunno how much knowledge the Mons should have. But I do like the reverence the Mons speak about human technology, especially their vehicles and their enormous cities, for one.

You also subtly hint at how a Pokemon would think; in how a human would always ask questions and try to understand in ways a Pokemon never would. This is a small thing but it makes sense in-universe in the context of a bedtime story, I like that.

Currently, I am not sure if the Star of Destruction is something from the newer PMD games I do not know of, or an entirely original thing. But I’m willing to leave it be in case I ever read more. It does seem to be some sort of superweapon that killed a hella load of legendaries though. And I like the fact that it is left ambiguous if a Legendary really intervened and took the smashed landmasses to fix them – but considering this is the Pokemon world I'm more than likely to believe it did in the context of the story.

I do like the mention of the Marked and the fearful reaction. You are setting up a Chekhov's Gun here, as well as the rumor of the Legendary on the island that I have discerned exists by way of checking the summary.

Nida’s wish to become a powerful pokemon is a fine note to end the chapter on. Overall a nice fic and an excellent start to the story!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
Heya, I see that there’s been some feedback since the last update, so let’s start by diving right into things:

- A pretty good description of the burrow at the start, if I may say so myself. The main character here is a Nidoran F, and your description of loose barbs, teeth and ears in particular such give the reader enough clues. Not only that but you explicitly confirm it in case the reader did not catch it. This is good!

You launch into the introduction of the Travelers, which is a small hook for revealing the culture of the Pokemon here. I don;t know enough about PMD but I must say it sounds convincing enough.

Yeah, the Prologue and first couple chapters’ purpose in this story is basically just to ease the readers into the setting and its cast. Glad to hear that it seems to have landed well for you.

As for ‘Travelers’, that’s actually not something that you’ll encounter in canon PMD games, but rather is something specific to Fledglings’ world as an OG setting. It won’t be the last time you hear of them either.

With the arrival of Nida’s mother, we know the main character’s name. I do wonder why you have Spanish words in the dialogue however, was this world a world which normal nations existed alongside regions? That is interesting, I always thought they had their own, distinct languages separate from Earth, so to speak.

Nah, it’s just taking advantage of the fact that TPCI has multiple complete language localizations lying around and makes an assumption that once upon a time, Pokémon language wasn’t unified. You still see hints of that in the speech of some locals in this story.

You characterize both daughter and mother well; Nida being impulsive and rushed, forgetting her scarf – a nice touch that it differentiates a wild Mon from a town/civilized Pokemon. I don’t think any of the games I see have that... then again I only played like a couple hours of Red Rescue Team aha.

It’s basically a going out on a limb take of “why do Pokémon in official PMD art always have scarves on them?” In this setting, it’s also a means of telegraphing affiliation to other Pokémon.

Currently, I am not sure if the Star of Destruction is something from the newer PMD games I do not know of, or an entirely original thing. But I’m willing to leave it be in case I ever read more. It does seem to be some sort of superweapon that killed a hella load of legendaries though. And I like the fact that it is left ambiguous if a Legendary really intervened and took the smashed landmasses to fix them – but considering this is the Pokemon world I'm more than likely to believe it did in the context of the story.

The Star of Destruction is an original thing, yeah. It’s not far removed from the realm of things that we’ve seen cooked up in official Pokémon media, but as of right now, it has not been a thing in either PMD or Mainline Pokémon.

I do like the mention of the Marked and the fearful reaction. You are setting up a Chekhov's Gun here, as well as the rumor of the Legendary on the island that I have discerned exists by way of checking the summary.

Nida’s wish to become a powerful pokemon is a fine note to end the chapter on. Overall a nice fic and an excellent start to the story!

And glad to hear you had fun with things as a start. @Virgil134 and I will be looking forward to seeing you pop around again sometime in the future. ^^

Though on that note, it’s been a while, but Virgil and I are back with a fresh update today. He’ll be doing the honors of posting today, so let’s pick right up where we left off last time with…
 
Chapter 71: Cold Water

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
Chapter_71.png


Roteck and Trizano led Pleo and his companions down a set of winding paths away from the town's center, towards a thick line of trees in the distance that surrounded the clearing the village sat in. Along the way, the shops quickly thinned out into solid clusters of houses as Team Traveller continued on, the surrounding buildings becoming increasingly more simplistic as they strayed further and further from the center. The march for the fringes had largely gone without incident, barring an attempt by Crom and Nida to ask for their badges back that was gruffly rebuffed by Roteck. As the lot carried on, Pleo craned his head from time to time, spotting wary, cross-shaped eyes glimpsing out of windows and doorways before he looked ahead at Trizano, picking up his pace to tug at his steel plumage for attention.

"Trizano, how did you find us here?" the young Lugia asked. "We didn't meet each other after Mengir... did we?"

"I believe that it is I who should be asking you that question. My home is here in Darkwood Square," the Skarmory beamed. "When duty and adventure don't call, it's only natural that I would return to my patron, isn't it?"

"But, then how did you even get to Mengir if that 'Valter' is so insistent on nobody leaving?" Pleo insisted. "He got mad at us when we just wanted to go back to our friends!"

"Duke Valter can be persuaded to let some of us go… or at least for a time," Trizano replied. "After all, somebody's got to make the world think Blackmoon is dead and buried, and Cernun does wonder about his rightful home. I simply do my part and help relay what I encounter in my travels back to them."

The Skarmory let out a soft chuckle, shaking his head as he brushed a set bladed wingtips past the tip of his beak.

"Besides, it gives me a chance to help out 'mons in need," he said. "Like your Druddigon and Scyther friends' little construction project back in Fensedge."

Crom and Ander at once let out a small cry, staring wide-eyed at the Skarmory. He must have been the one who wrote all those letters! The one who was responsible for getting Salvini and her friends back together to work on the shrine! But… if he'd gone out of his way to help them as strangers there, why would he insist on keeping them captive now? The two puzzled over the strange discrepancy, only for Nida's voice to interrupt them.

"Wait a minute, 'make the world think Blackmoon Village is dead and buried'?" Nida questioned. "But it is destroyed, isn't it? You even said so!"

"The buildings, sure. But a town is so much more than that," Trizano explained. "The Pokémon that made Blackmoon what it was relocated here after they burned it down with their own claws."

The four stared stunned at the Skarmory as they shuffled along, Roteck trudging on unmoved in his same, impatient gait. The Pokémon they saw all around them… were the same Pokémon that lived in Blackmoon Village? And they destroyed their own home? Ander blinked at Trizano, half-supposing that it must be the influence of the demon prowling here that had driven these Pokémon to do such a thing. But… perhaps it was for the best to hear things from the bird's own mouth.

"What on earth would compel you to do that?" the Scyther buzzed.

"I don't know the details as well as Duke Valter, since Roteck and I were mere Bronze Ranks at the guild back then... But Lord Cernun had awakened on our island after his egg washed up with an abandoned ship about fifteen years after the Great Calamity," Trizano began. "When the Empire found out about it, they came to oversee him and... there was a falling out. It was bad enough that everyone opted to destroy the town and go into hiding with Cernun so that he could grow and come of age in peace."

"But that's around the time my parents were born!" Crom exclaimed. "How could you already have been part of a Bronze Rescue Team by then?"

The Druddigon's surprise was answered by a sharp scoff as Roteck looked back over his shoulder and answered with a low, rumbling voice.

"Hrmph, it comes with the territory when he's a spring Torchic at only 41 years," the Aggron grunted. "Being an Immortal does wonders for helping you age gracefully."

The group's jaws fell, as they looked over at Trizano. 41 years?! Why, the same youthful vigor that exuded from the Skarmory was coming from someone old enough to have grandchildren! The metal bird gave a sheepish grin back, extending a wing out playfully.

"Yeah, I get that a lot."

"But how?!" Crom demanded. "You don't look anything like a 'mon that old!"

"Was it because of something Cernun did to you?" Pleo asked. "Or...?"

"Hrmph, your questions can wait for later," Roteck interrupted. "You've got other things to worry about right now."

The Aggron stopped and pointed ahead down the lane towards the end of their path. The four carried along warily, where next to a structure shaped after a Haunter's head, there was a rough shack… if it could be called that. The "house" was nothing but a glorified heap of straw and stray timbers, sporting open windows and a doorway that was merely covered by an old cloth. Pleo tilted his head puzzledly, as the Aggron looked down at him and his companions.

"This is yours," he said. "It might not be a whole lot to work with with all the other Pokémon we need to split supplies with, but you'll have plenty of years to worry about renovating it."

The four's expressions flattened at this… most unimpressive display of hospitality. Nida paced ahead with an audible scoff, frowning and twitching her whiskers as she neared the doorway, eying a patch of stray straw that poked out from the walls.

"You can't be serious," the Nidoran piped. "Why this thing looks like it'd fall over if I sneezed on-"

"BOO!"

Nida's eyes shot wide at the sight of an open maw suddenly phasing through the cloth covering, prompting her to leap away with a loud shriek as her teammates jolted back with a start. The mouth abruptly clamped shut as its owner emerged, revealing a Haunter beside himself with laughter who was promptly joined by a snickering Misdreavus and Drifloon that similarly phased through the cloth and filled in before the team with teasing smiles.

"Mwee hee hee! Pleasure to meet you! We're Team Phantom, your new neighbors for eternity!" the Haunter beamed. "I'm Vince, and the Misdreavus and Drifloon are my partners Lisa and Cantone."

"Our... neighbors?" Pleo asked, his question quickly followed by Nida giving a disgusted frown and flattening out her ears.

"Travellers above, could this get any worse?"

"Wait, eternity? But we have to leave from here eventually!" Crom cried.

"Don't be so sure about that..." Cantone said, before pointing out a mother Kangaskhan and her child playing in front of a simple hut with wooden shingles further down the lane.

"It isn't the first time we've heard that song and dance," the Drifloon chided. "Six years ago, she was all 'Rawr, you can't keep me from my Wrecknamer' and now she's just as settled in as anyone else."

"To be fair, her falling for someone in town and the kid coming along afterwards probably helped with that," Lisa added, only for Roteck to interrupt by clearing his throat and shooting an unamused scowl down at the three.

"Hmph, you're certainly making yourselves comfortable," the Aggron harrumphed, folding his arms. "What happened with your last patrol, Vince?"

"With that pirate captain? After we scared off a bunch of his lackeys at the village's old ruins, he turned tail with his crew and now they're all huddling scared in their ship," the Haunter chortled. "Why I'd be surprised if he didn't sail off by sundown!"

Roteck paused, shaking his head and turning away as he pinched his brow and let out a somber sigh.

"I never thought he'd come here like this..."

The four members of Team Traveller blinked amongst each other. Hess, the bumbling bully who ran the Iron Fleet, was someone that Roteck knew? Crom looked up, wondering if the two could be related somehow, only to be caught off-guard by the Aggron letting out a gruff snort and scowling back at the Ghost-Types.

"Anyhow, don't just float around there," he grunted. "Get back out there and make yourselves useful!"

"Huh?" Vince asked. "But what would there still need to be-"

"The dungeon?" Roteck chided. "These four were in a larger group when they were caught. Do you really think it's safe to assume that nobody from their crew is going to go out and look for them?"

Vince and his companions blinked with flustered hems and haws before awkwardly drifting off, leaving the Aggron to shift his shoulders and turn back to Pleo and his companions.

"As for you, this is ciao. I've got other things to take care of," he grumbled. "Just go in and make yourselves at home for now."

"B-But we really do need the Knights' Ledger and to go back home!" Pleo insisted. "Can't you just let us know what happened with Kline? Whatever it is, I'm sure we can leave without going through it again!"

Trizano looked down at the pleading Lugia, extending a wing over his shoulder with a reassuring pat.

"I don't really know what happened with him since I was away at the time, but I do know that impatience won't help you win over Duke Valter at all," the Skarmory said.

"... What are we supposed to do then?" Crom murmured.

"Rest," Trizano answered, as he began to pace off with Roteck. "We'll see what we can do with Valter, but for now, take advantage of this refuge you've been given."

"You- You promise you won't just leave us here?" Pleo pleaded. Trizano paused and fell silent, before quietly speaking up.

"I didn't last time," he answered. "I don't intend to this time either."

The Skarmory gave a parting wave before turning away, heading off along with Roteck. All the while, an uneasy grimace clung to his face as he wondered just how even he would be able to keep such a promise…



The day after Bunsen's arrival to Tromba, life in Bluewhorl slowly returned to an uneasy semblance of normalcy. The villagers warily went back to their daily routines around town, in the fields, and at the guild, with some even taking time to enjoy themselves. As the sun hung in its noontime position, Marley and Gwenith proved to be no exception as the pair sat at a terrace outside of Mirlia's juice bar during a lunch break. The Druddigon among the two sipped at a serving of Haban juice in a clay cup, much as she would have on any other warm day where sales at the bakery had been better than normal… except today the sight of lavender sails cast a pall over the town from the harbor, making her hang her head and sigh in a deflated voice.

"I can't believe it's come to this..." Gwenith muttered.

"Hrmph, it's not as if we haven't dealt with the Company poking around our island before," Marley scoffed. "Not that I'm enjoying seeing those canallas strut around like they own the place."

"I suppose, I just imagined we'd have some respite after hearing that the Protector was finally found," Gwenith said. "But with this, I just don't know what will happen if they come back."

"I'm sure it'll work out," the Nidorina replied. "For the Company to send three ships at once means they're feeling threatened."

Marley licked her paw, eying a few lavender-scarved Pokémon passing in the background before turning back to the Druddigon with a wry smile.

"And I don't know about you, but I'm not putting money on their weaknesses holding up under the weight of a god," she insisted.

"You there!" a voice from behind piped up. "Get up and stop lazing around!"

Marley and Gwenith looked to the side, seeing a scowling Roserade in a Company Second-Rank scarf approaching. Behind her, the glaring forms of an Aromatisse, a Scrafty, and a Forretress followed, prompting Marley to narrow her eyes and let out a low growl towards her would-be intimidators.

"I'm doing fine, you lousy weed," she snarled, raising the barbs under her fur. "I'd like to remind you that Pokémon from the ranks who cross me tend to wake up in a medic's hut."

"So I've heard," Sicula harrumphed. "That's why I was instructed to give you this."

The Roserade unceremoniously threw a sheet of paper onto the table, leaving Marley and Gwenith to peer down at it and recoil in shock after seeing it was a resettlement notice for Marley and her family. The Nidorina hopped up from her seat, her face blank with bewilderment for a fleeting moment before she grit her teeth and glared back with a seething growl.

"Qué diantres es todo esto?!" Marley demanded. "You can't just take me away from my fields!"

"'You just can't take me away from my fields!' Tough seeds, Nidorina," the Forretress snapped. "It's a resettlement notice for Vollezee and you know full well we can hand 'em out."

"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. The Scrafty and Forretress at once rushed forward, the Fighting-Type charging in with a Headbutt that knocked Marley off balance. The Forretress attempted to join in with a Heavy Slam, when a loud roar rang out and blue and red blur stormed in, the Bug-Type's advance being swiftly stopped by Gwenith raking him with claws trailing greenish flecks of dragonfire. The Forretress pinwheeled back while the Dragon-Type let out a low snarl and looked over back to Marley, with her body tensed and ready for battle.

"I've got this one, Marley!" the Druddigon cried. "Just try and get to that Roserade!"

Marley shoved the Scrafty aside, tearing along the ground for Sicula with her eyes livid with murderous rage. Droplets of poison began to build up on her paw as she lunged ahead, swinging her paw down only to feel it strike a hard surface. Marley lost her balance and fell forward to the ground, shaking her head as she saw the Roserade skid back while the remnants of a Protect faded between her flowers, leaving the Nidorina to seethe and give chase when a sharp cry from the Roserade pierced the air.

"Enough!"

Sicula slung the satchel over her shoulder and yanked out another piece of paper, being filled with the same orders for resettlements barring a few unfilled blanks for names and dates. Gwenith and Marley slowed to a stop, as the Roserade shot a hateful glare over at the Dragon-Type of the pair.

"Keep it up and I'll have you on the first ship after her, Druddigon!" the Grass-Type hissed, before turning back to Marley. "And you..."

The Roserade stormed up to the Nidorina, pulling an arm back before landing a fierce slap across the rabbit's face. Marley recoiled, folding her ears back and staring wide-eyed as Sicula continued with her tirade.

"You should be mindful of who's in charge of writing these," the Roserade growled. "Do you think I'm going to allow the children of some miscreant to follow her out of the goodness of my heart?! Maybe it'd be better if they were scattered across the Company's islands!"

Gwenith backed away from Sicula as Marley stood in stunned silence, the fire in her eyes seemingly going dark before her tormentor. Sicula hissed and narrowed her eyes, before holding out one of her flowers accusingly in Marley's face.

"So what will it be, Nidorina?" she demanded. "Are you still planning on being a rebel today?"

Marley screwed her eyes shut bitterly, looking away as she grudgingly muttered in reply to her inquisitor.

"... No."

"I see that you can be reasoned with," Sicula harrumphed. "Good. You'll need all the help you can get to get your affairs in order."

The Roserade turned to take her leave, brushing some dust off her petals before she paused to glance over at Gwenith with a piercing scowl.

"As for you," she snapped. "If you feel like staying on this sorry rock, I'd suggest you do your part to make the Company feel that you're needed here."

Sicula hurried off with a sharp huff, the Scrafty and Forretress helping their Aromatisse teammate stagger along as Gwenith stared apprehensively after the departing group. From the corner of her eye, the Druddigon spotted Marley staring at the ground ashen-face, prompting her to draw near to try and provide reassurance.

"Marley, I-"

The Dragon-Type was cut off by the Nidorina raising a paw for a stop, looking away as she muttered in a low, defeated tone.

"It's alright, Gwenith," she murmured. "I... just need some time alone."

Gwenith stared uneasily, pacing up to Marley to try and give a reassuring pat only for the Nidorina to turn away. Sensing there was nothing else that could be done, the Druddigon inched away uneasily, pacing off as she began to hear the sound of a hitching voice behind her. Gwenith shook her head, carrying on without the heart to turn back and confirm her suspicions of who she was hearing, wondering just how much further the gods would allow their sleepy island to be tested.



Shortly after Lyn's departure for the Board's meeting chamber, Sorge and the rest of Team Sentinel left the Nektar Weide alongside Ellsberg, passing a letter postmarked for Elilan's desk off to a Dartrix messenger. After passing it along, they stopped and obtained replacement scarves from the local garrison where Ellsberg discovered that Aldrich and Zelle were fellow Second-Ranks. Much to his surprise, he also learned that in spite of seemingly only having two subordinates, Sorge was a Third-Rank just like Lyn. The Dartrix returned not long after with a summons calling for the lot to come to Elilan's private residence, prompting the group to take their leave, making their way across Canalhouse City's maze of islets and bridges past passing swimmers and watercraft in the shadow of slim, tall roofed buildings.

Their course eventually took them into the wealthiest portion of the city, which was south of the central core, where the tall, stone buildings along the canals were noticeably wider and built with glass windows and decorative statues. They followed the route of a busy canal, where a row of storefronts had been set up plying silks and gems to well-kept shoppers, before turning right at a fountain built around a sculpture of Manaphy. The five carried on from the fountain down a quiet tree-lined canal flanked by large stone houses surrounded by small yards separated by walls of brick and stone which Ellsberg took in with quiet awe.

The lot carried on as Ellsberg gaped about the surrounding mansions. Space in Canalhouse City had always been at a premium, even moreso after the Company had built it up in the process of turning it into its capital, leaving such manors to be rare specimens snapped up by the rich and powerful. In all his years as a notary, he'd never spent more than a few passing moments in this district within the city, though even in their hemmed-in footprints the residences in the neighborhood exuded a tangible aura of wealth... if not always taste as a nearby mansion festooned with red and gold banners with Merchantry symbols evidenced.

The Mothim and the others eventually found themselves at the front of an iron gate that closed off a three-story house with parapets that had been fashioned from light stone where a pair of Company guards in dark blue cloth and mail kept watch as armored fliers in lavender circled the perimeter overhead. Ellsberg tried to peer past the gate's bars, catching a glimpse of a small garden built around a fountain that left the Bug-Type twitching his antennae speechless.

"For a secondary residence, Administrator Elilan's house is a lot more impressive than I'd expected…" he murmured.

"Considering that the Settlement Protocol forces his family to live here, it only makes sense," Sorge replied. "Even if the Administrator spends most of his time overseeing Nagrobek, he still wants his family to live as comfortably as possible."

"Well I certainly wouldn't have any trouble living comfortably around here!" Zelle insisted. "The shops in this part of the city are totally worth every Thaler!"

"I know where someone is gonna spend her share of the money we took from those con artists," Ketu teased.

The Weavile gave an impish smirk and poked at her side with a claw. Zelle shifted back with a small chuckle, before pushing Ketu's claw away with a feeler and giving a self-assured smile back.

"What can I say? It is a great way to celebrate we finally got Subject Red after all these years."

Ellsberg watched as Zelle teasingly jabbed Ketu's side back with a feeler, making him move away with a stifled laugh before smirking reciprocating with a jab of his own. The Mothim tilted his head and watched as the two carried on much like rambunctious youngsters, with no hint from Ketu of the lazy, uncaring demeanor he gave to Lyn, nor the mission-focused ruthlessness he exhibited when they were planning to capture Lugia. He had noticed before that Ketu seemed to act differently around his friends than how he'd gotten to know him the past few years... Was this who he really was? The Bug-Type flitted and wondered to himself, only for Aldrich to speak up with an upbeat cheer.

"Heh, well let's not keep the Administrator waiting and go show our prize," the Noivern said. "After that we can all go celebrate together."

The members of Team Sentinel nodded among each other and approached the gate, where an armored Hariyama turned his head and warily eyed the party.

"Who are you all?" he demanded. "This is a private residence, so if you're here for a meeting-"

"It's fine, they're friends of the Administrator," a similarly-attired Golurk interrupted, before turning to Sorge.

"Hey there Sorge, it's been a while. Administrator Elilan's been expecting you," he greeted. "Come in and make yourself at home.

"Heh, it'll be a pleasure, Jan," the Kommo-o said.

The Hariyama looked back puzzledly, and then back at Team Sentinel, before sheepishly helping his counterpart open the gates and let Ellsberg and the others through. The five made their way through the garden, coming to a set of double-doors hewn from solid wood with metal knockers styled after a Zoroark's head. Sorge pulled at the knocker and clattered it against the wood, leaving the group to wait until footsteps sounded out and the door creaked open to reveal a female Zoroark.

"Sorge? What are you doing here?" the Zoroark asked. "It's been years since you and your team last visited."

"Good afternoon, Lela. We just wrapped up a mission on the other side of Anyilla for Elilan," Sorge replied. "It's kept us busy for quite a while, so we figured he'd be eager to see the results."

"Hardly a bold assumption there," a deeper voice answered from further within. "But still, I can't say that I'm not surprised."

The sound of approaching footsteps rang out as Elilan came up from further within the hallway, joining the side of the female Zoroark as he smiled down at the party on his doorstep.

"I had merely been expecting Ketu and Ellsberg's presence, but it's really quite a treat to see you all again," he said. "From what you told me in your message, there's surely a fascinating story behind it. Step inside, and we'll discuss it at my office."

"Dad, what about me?"

Elilan's mane abruptly shifted and rustled as a Zorua poked her head out, peering down with a protesting wave of her forepaws.

"You said we were gonna hang out all day!" the younger fox insisted.

Elilan reached up, pulling the Zorua out and setting her down on the ground as he crouched and cast a reassuring glance down to her eyes.

"I know I did, Sophie. But this meeting is very important," the father Zoroark explained. "It may very well mean I'll be able to move here in the near future and stay with you and your mother permanently."

The Zorua wavered a moment, casting a hesitant glance at Team Sentinel's members before turning back to her father.

"I mean… if it really means you'll finally be able to move…" the Zorua murmured.

"I promise it won't take long," Elilan insisted. "After that, we'll spend the rest of the day together."

Sophie looked up with wide eyes, the Zorua staring up half-hoping for her father to change his mind. After a moment's silence, she relented, folding her ears back with a disappointed sigh.

"… Alright, but I'm going to hold you to that, dad."

The corners of Elilan's mouth started to curl up into a small smile, as he extended a claw to pat the top of his daughter's head with a soft chuckle.

"I wouldn't expect you otherwise."

The Zorua made her way inside, prompting Elilan to nod to his wife who followed suit and slipped down the hallway into a chamber to the left with the door creaking shut after them. After their newfound solitude, Team Sentinel and Ellsberg made their way in and closed the doors behind them, with the Zoroark Administrator setting off for a set of stairs ahead and motioning after himself.

"Come on, this way."

Elilan led the group up a set of stone stairs to a hallway lined with a red rug, passing a portrait of Elilan, Lela, and Sophie that overlooked them from the left as they entered an ajar doorway on the right. The Zoroark pushed the door open, revealing a room that had been laid out around a dark-wood desk and high-backed chair that Elilan sat down in. Team Sentinel made their way towards the other end of the table, Ellsberg looking around the room as Ketu hung back near the doorway and leaned against a bookcase set against the wall with his arms set behind his head. The Bug-Type frowned a moment, before noticing that the walls of the room had been lined with bookcases packed with various tomes, broken in occasional intervals by glass cases that seemed to contain curious artifacts. In one, there was a curious machine made of rusted metal consisting of a frame and a pair of tatty wheels with spokes of metal wire, while another had what appeared to be a strange bracelet built around a glass surface in the center, and further down was yet another artifact with a cracked and dirt-caked contraption made of an unknown material that had been unfolded much like a flipbook or some manner of oversized locket. Ellsberg wondered to himself what the strange objects in the cases could be, when Ketu spoke up, prompting the moth to turn his attention back to Elilan across the table.

"So how did your meeting with Lyn go, Administrator?" Ketu asked. "I do hope you liked the surprise we left for you."

"I'll admit it was quite amusing, but unfortunately it didn't make much of a difference," Elilan answered. "Aside from Zorn, the rest of the Board still wants Lyn to continue his hunt for the Guardian of the Seas."

The members of Team Sentinel scrunched their brows and let their jaws hang in disbelief as Ellsberg let out an incredulous buzz. Second chances in the Company were rare commodities to come by, and here Lyn was getting another one from the Board?

"But how?!" Ellsberg exclaimed. "Especially after they saw that Ditto!"

"Inler seems to be convinced the Imperials sabotaged Lyn," Elilan harrumphed. "Even if his patience has worn thin enough to make this Lyn's last chance, Inler must be real paranoid about Betulo joining the Board to excuse that sort of blunder."

The Zoroark shook his head with a grumbling sigh, before focusing his attention back at Team Sentinel's members.

"But it's just a minor setback considering why you're here," he said. "I assume you have the Lugia with you?"

"We actually have something better, Administrator," Sorge replied. "A Legendary we know you've been waiting for far too long."

Elilan blinked and his eyes widened as Team Sentinel began to smile proudly. Could it be that at long last, the four had finally managed to...

"… You captured Subject Red?"

"We sure did," Ketu chimed in as he stepped away from the bookcase to join the rest of his teammates. "After me and Ellsberg ambushed the Lugia in Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon, Subject Red jumped in to try and save him."

"We spotted him and his friends in Magmapool Town heading for the Mystery Dungeon earlier," Aldrich explained. "So we followed them inside and confronted him after he intervened with Ketu's ambush."

"Even though they did manage to help the Lugia escape, it doesn't really matter," Zelle added. "Subject Red got himself captured in the process."

Elilan sat stunned for a moment, before leaning back into his seat as a sneering grin began to spread widely over his face.

"I had considered the possibility that this would happen, but for it to actually play out and get Subject Red captured… it's exceeded even my wildest expectations," the Zoroark said. "This will accelerate our plans so much more than that Lugia ever could…"

Sorge answered back with a warm smile as he fished through a satchel slung over his shoulder. The Kommo-o dug around inside, carefully pulling out the form of a white Apricorn that he displayed proudly between his claws.

"I'm glad to hear that, Administrator," Sorge answered. "In that case, let's not wait any longer and show you Subject Red."

The dragon took out a concave clay stand from further in his bag along with an Iron Thorn to keep his superior's desk tidy, setting the Apricorn down as he carefully prodded at the nut's surface. After aligning the barb with a dent in the nut's shell, Sorge drove the Iron Thorn in harder and harder until the Apricorn's surface split, and a zig-zagging ray of white light shot out, materializing on the table in front of Elilan into a green serpent with a red spot visible on his back. The Zoroark stared intently for a moment, only for his mouth to suddenly curl down in a sour frown, a change that Team Sentinel's members quickly picked up on as they gave worried looks back.

"Administrator, what's wrong?" Aldrich asked.

The Zoroark snatched the Zygarde Cell by its tail, looking unimpressedly as he lifted it up. The serpent dangled limply, leaving Elilan to run a claw along the red spot on its back. A portion of it flaked off in his claw, prompting him to raise it to his nose, and catch a spicy odor in his nostrils.

"You've been tricked. This is not Subject Red."

Team Sentinel's members blanched out of surprise and Ellsberg twitched his antennae puzzledly as Elilan put a nearby jar over the Cell to silence its hearing. The Dark-Type scowled down at the Cell in the jar, before turning back to Team Sentinel's members with a sharp glare.

"What you captured is just one of his Cells with Tamato juice used to mimic his markings," he growled.

"But that's impossible!" Zelle exclaimed. "We fought Subject Red and saw that little snake right there move exactly like him!"

"She's right. We've been chasing Subject Red for years and he's always been clumsy and jerky with his cells," Aldrich insisted. "We would've seen through that sort of deception!"

"Clearly you've underestimated how much more control he has gained over his powers since the last time you encountered him," Elilan spat.

One by one, Ketu and the other members of Team Sentinel hung their heads in shame. From the side, Ellsberg blinked puzzledly, wondering what these 'Cells' Elilan had grown so agitated over were if this wasn't Subject Red after all. The Mothim thought to ask further, only to decide against it after a low growl filled the air and Elilan looked at Team Sentinel's members with livid, blue eyes.

"Well then, you've created quite the situation," the Zoroark snapped. "Not only did Subject Red elude you once again and is that Lugia still out there, but three of you blew your covers for absolutely no reason!"

Elilan shook his head irritably, gritting his teeth as his words took on an exasperated tone.

"What am I supposed to do with you three right now?!" he demanded. "You're now wanted spies in Imperial territory, and as members of the Intelligence Division I can't just freely reassign you without making Inler suspicious!"

"I don't think things are as bad as they seem, Administrator. My cover with Lyn is still intact, and we know he'll go out there again to hunt for that Lugia," Ketu said. "Subject Red was last seen helping him, so if I stay with Lyn there's a good chance that I'll encounter both again and have another shot at capturing them."

"And how do you expect that will go after everything that's happened, hm?" Elilan pressed. "Even if Lyn doesn't suspect you, he still knows that there's a spy on his crew that tried to set him up. He may be a fool, but he's not dense enough to just assume he'll no longer be sabotaged, and making any sort of move without raising suspicion will be next to impossible."

Ketu raised his voice reflexively to rebut the Zoroark's charge, only to trail off as he realized that there really wasn't a good reason to think he'd have the same leeway that he had before going to Buyeom. The Weavile fell silent, looking down as he let out a low mumble under his breath.

"I'll figure something out…" he muttered.

Elilan gave an unimpressed scoff and shot Ketu an irritated look, only for Sorge to step forward and clear his throat to speak.

"I think Ketu has a point, Administrator," he insisted. "It's true that Lyn is on edge right now, but we've played the long game before and he's bound to feel more at ease eventually. Even if Ketu can't make a move for the Protectors immediately, if he bides his time he'll eventually be able to. Not to mention that if Ketu can get us a firm location of the two, we can still go after them ourselves if needed."

Sorge shifted his shoulders and shook his tail slightly, letting out a faint rattle as Elilan's scowl seemed to ease a little. Sensing an opening to plead his case, the dragon continued on, looking square into his surperior's eyes.

"Besides, when we hunted Subject Red all those years ago we knew he wanted to team up with other Protectors for some sort of plan to stop us, but we were never able to figure out what it was or how serious a threat it would be," the Kommo-o said. "Now he's with that Lugia, perhaps we can get answers to those questions."

Elilan paused at the Dragon-Type's argument, his expression softening before he pinched his brow with a sigh.

"I suppose I can see your argument," Elilan admitted. "And the best way to move on from this debacle would be to plan our next move..."

The Zoroark hardened his eyes into a stern gaze, giving a rap of his claws against the desk before his spoke up again.

"Though let me be clear: I will not tolerate another blunder like this. You now know about this trick and I expect you to double check whatever Pokémon you catch out in the field," Elilan snapped. "I know what positions within the Company you desire, and I can assure you they'll be filled by other candidates if you fail to deliver results thanks to clumsy oversights like this."

"Yes, Administrator…" the group muttered.

"Good. In that case you'll go back to Lyn, Ketu. Lay low and support him in his attempts to find this 'Imperial spy'," the Zoroark ordered. "The sooner he feels more at ease, the sooner you can make another move."

The Weavile directed his gaze down to the floor, curling his mouth into a sour frown. After glowering over the prospect of having to continue spying under Lyn, Ketu folded his ears back with a resigned sigh and looked back up at Elilan.

"Understood... Administrator."

The Zoroark left Ketu to stew in his displeasure of having to return to Lyn's command, turning a sharp glance over to Ellsberg that made him flit back with a start.

"Ellsberg, you'll return to your normal duties for the Legal Department. Now that Lyn's infiltration is over, he's bound to return to the Argent Aviso and won't be in need of your brigantine anymore," Elilan continued. "If you still want that promotion, I suggest you'll be ready in case I or Lyn asks for your help again."

"... Understood, Administrator," the Mothim sighed. "I suppose it would be a nice change from being bossed around on my own ship."

"As for the rest of you, you'll remain on standby here in Canalhouse," Elilan instructed. "It will take a while for the Intelligence Division to come up with a new assignment for you, but it will likely be somewhere in Linglan or Garanza. I will see what I can do to assign you somewhere more useful, since we obviously know Subject Red is far closer to home."

Sorge, Zelle, and Aldrich straightened up and nodded back at attention, the three's expressions taking on a tense and serious demeanor as they snapped back in affirmation.

"Yes Administrator!"

"Good," the Zoroark said. "Then we're done here."

Elilan got up and opened the door to his office, waiting as Team Sentinel and Ellsberg filed out one by one and made their way for the stairs. After his company departed out into the hallway, the Dark-Type closed the door, pacing back to his desk where he sat frowning as the sound of footsteps faded away. The Zoroark let out a frustrated sigh, pinching his brow before he pulled the glass jar off of the Zygarde Cell in the room, and scowled down at it.

"I must say, Kline, I never expected you to develop such a cunning streak after all these years."

Elilan peered down intently at the Cell, waiting for a response only for it to continue to remain unmoving. He closed his eyes, letting out a derisive scoff at the motionless serpent.

"But it doesn't matter. Tricks only work once, and you can't run from me forever."

The Zoroark picked up the cell, letting it hang limply in his claws as he headed off to a shelf in the back corner. Elilan set the cell down and put the jar back over it before making his way for the hall and exiting his office, closing the doors behind him to leave the room empty barring the unmoving cell inside.



At the stream that Kichiro discovered, the water flowed along its streambed, softly trickling above the quiet creaks and rustles of the forest. A buzz cut through the air, as Valatos flew low along the ground, settling on a rock as Alvise and Nori followed along, stooping down to drink from the flowing water.

"Hrmph, those lazy bums could've found this on their own," Valatos grumbled.

"Well, I'm not complaining," Nori harrumphed. "They're the thirsty ones and we're not."

"I say we take a dip in it," Alvise growled. "Clean ourselves off and let those stupid dweebs drink from that!"

The Manectric batted a paw against the water, leaving Nori to pause before turning and raising a brow skeptically back at his teammate.

"Wait, but wouldn't we be drinking from that same water afterwards?" the Marowak asked. "This water's being used to reprovision the ship, right?"

"What sort of question is that?" Alvise scoffed. "We'll obviously just take our own water first!"

"Uh… but how would we do that?" Nori wondered. "I didn't grab anything that would hold water back there."

Alvise blinked after hearing his teammate's reply, realizing that the lot of them had left the Mistral Marauder without grabbing any additional supplies, prompting him to sheepishly try to amend his explanation.

"Uh... well... I mean, we could drink more first and wait until we get to the next island, or..."

"Genoeg. Let's just get back to the ship and get this over with," Valatos hissed. "We'll figure out a way to get back to them that doesn't involve drinking our own fil-"

"That's it over there!"

The three paused and raised their heads at the sound of a familiar Growlithe's yips carrying along the winds, their eyes widening in surprise as they realized it to be none other than the mutt that was always with that Lugia. One by one, Valatos and his companions crept up the stream's bank, following the sound of the Growlithe's voice as they spotted a fog-wreathed passage between a row of trees, and the Growlithe hurrying up with a Cubone, a Kabutops, and a Swellow carrying a rolled up map in his beak.

"Isn't that that Eltenios mutt and those dweebs who keep giving us trouble?" Nori whispered. "What are they doing here?"

"Impossible... it must be some sort of trick by the ghosts," Valatos said. "There's no reason for them to be here of all-"

"This is the Mystery Dungeon from that map on the wall," Elty remarked. "Wherever Cernun is, this is our best chance of finding him."

"Egh... I'm not feeling so hot about our odds here," Guardia replied. "What if those ghosts are inside waiting for us?"

"Well we can't just sit here!" Dimitri exclaimed. "Pleo and the others are in danger and the longer we wait, the more likely it is that something terrible will happen to them!"

"Rihth, nah a momen to looth," Kiran said, before stowing the map in his beak back into his bag. "Everyone hold on tight and we'll make our way in!"

Alvise and his companions watched as the four hastily formed a chain with their limbs and shuffled off into misty ether. Nori blinked, trading confused looks with his teammates as they tried to make sense of their eavesdropped conversation.

"Wait, but if this is some sort of trick, wouldn't the ghosts be trying to show us things that we know?" the Marowak wondered. "Who the hell is Cernun?"

"... I think you might be onto something," Valatos said. "It must be someone they're looking for."

"Then they must have gotten separated from that Lugia after all!" Alvise barked. "All we've got to do is find him and we can take him back to the crew ourselves!"

"Alvise, we don't even know why they're here!" Valatos snapped. "How do you suppose we figure out where that bird is?"

"Well, Eltenios seems to have an idea," the Manectric insisted. "Let's just follow him and his buddies into the dungeon and snag that Lugia when we've got the chance."

Valatos flitted his wings and mulled the idea over. Following someone who had an idea of where the Protector would be would certainly make finding him easier than trying to find him themselves… and coming back to the Iron Fleet would be sure to shut those uppity dorks on the crew up about where they stood in terms of rank. A devious smile spread over Valatos' mouthparts, as he turned to his teammates with a sharp buzz.

"Let's do it!" the Yanmega exclaimed. "Last I checked, a 'mon who found a Protector didn't get pushed around by dweebs hiding behind the Captain."

"Uh... didn't we try something just like this back on Kenobi?" Nori asked.

"Look, do you see that Rhydon here? Or Farn? Or any of those other square-necks?" Valatos demanded. "No? Then it's not the same, so shut your yap!"

"But there's ghosts around!" Nori whined. "And we have to tell the crew about the water!"

"Pah, let them get their own water if they're so thirsty! We've done our work!" the dragonfly buzzed, turning his gaze off to the dungeon's misty entrance.

"I say that we give ourselves a bit of an advantage going back," he sneered.

"I mean... when you put it that way… it doesn't sound so bad," Nori murmured. "But how are we supposed to get out?"

The Yanmega paused and held a tarsal up in the air blankly, realizing that he and his companions hadn't brought any fresh supplies with them to prepare a dungeon crawl. Alvise raised a brow and peered over at Nori's bag, before lowering his snout towards its opening and pulled away the cover with his teeth. The wolf pawed through the satchel's contents, where in short order he found a black, glass orb and turned his head back to his teammates.

"Looks like we've got an Escape Orb," Alvise said. "It'd let us get out with the bird quickly after taking him down, and if we did get in trouble, we at least have a way to escape the dungeon."

Valatos gave a buzzing harrumph, turning back to Nori with an insistent scowl.

"So, any other complaints to throw on the pile?" the Bug-Type demanded. "Or are we good here?"

Nori batted his club against an open claw, his face turning up into a sneer as the pirate was filled with newfound confidence.

"Heh heh! I'm sold! Let's go grab us a Protector!"

With that, the three carried on, venturing off into the fog after Elty and his companions. All the while, their minds swirled with daydreams of forced respect on the Mistral Marauder, and well-earned revenge against the yappy mutt and his friends when they caught up with them.



Pioppo's Mystery Dungeon was a tangled mass of trees, darkened dirt, and undergrowth much like the surrounding forest, the Distortion rearranging branches and trunks haphazardly from floor to floor. In spite of the foreboding appearance, Kiran and his companions' journey had largely gone by without incident barring the occasional scuffle with a resident feral. Their current search took them to a chamber next to a shallow pool that faintly reflected treetops dangling from an inverted floor above as Dimitri craned his head to look around his surroundings. After peering warily off at the chamber's exit, the Kabutops shuffled along with his teammates, pacing ahead for the mouth of the exiting corridor.

"As creepy as this place looks, at least we haven't encountered any ghosts yet..." Dimitri murmured.

"Well, there's certainly no shortage of Ghost-Types..." Kiran muttered, prompting the Kabutops to shoot back an unamused stare.

"Real ghosts, Kiran."

Elty carried along at the back of the group, shifting his gaze anxiously towards the thick vegetation around the chamber and expecting a wraith to lunge out at every turn. The Growlithe overheard a clinking noise behind him, prompting to turn over his shoulder where he spotted Guardia lingering behind to grab a yellow emera, adding it to a small pile within her claws.

"... Bonehead, what are you doing?" Elty asked.

"Collecting Lapis, of course!" the Cubone piped. "At an island as this we'll need all the ones we can get!"

The Growlithe narrowed his eyes and flattened his ears out in annoyance. Of all the things to worry her helmeted head...

"Are you seriously thinking of painting right now?" he grumbled.

"Of course not! I'm thinking of warding off those evil spirits!" Guardia retorted.

Elty blinked and his jaw hung open a crack as he furrowed his brow disbelievingly back at his Ground-Type teammate.

"... Evil spirits. Seriously?"

"That's what they do!" the Cubone insisted. "Why else do you think the colonies back home use them to make paint?"

The Fire-Type rolled his eyes, before turning around and pacing forward with a dismissive snort.

"Whatever, I'm sure that I'll manage fine," he scoffed. "It's not the first time I've gone off into a dungeon before."

"So I've noticed," Guardia said. "I wouldn't think a sea walker would go all the way into dungeons so often... but you're handling them like you've been visiting them all the time!"

Elty stumbled over his forepaws at the Cubone's exclamation, giving a tense shift of his body before lowering his head and continuing on.

"You could say that I've had some experience," he muttered.

"From being in a team like this one?" she asked. "Or...?"

Elty pricked his ears and looked back puzzledly at his teammate. His surprised expression began to melt away as he recognized Guardia's question to be much the same as her earlier ones from the beach, his eyes quickly hardening into a sharp scowl

"I just said I had some experience," the Puppy Pokémon harrumphed. "How I got it is none of your business."

The Growlithe turned his nose up and marched forward, leaving Guardia to look after before shuffling along and trying to settle her agitated teammate back down.

"Look, all I was saying-"

The Cubone's train of thought was abruptly curtailed by Dimitri and Kiran tensing up, the Kabutops of the pair putting the flat of his blade out to motion for a stop.

"Keep it down!" Dimitri whispered. "We've got company!"

Elty and Guardia looked ahead, hurrying to the side of their teammates as the forms of a Haunter, Drifloon, and Misdreavus floating ahead of them. Much to their surprise, the three were all donning scarves, each made from blue cloth bearing white, overlapping antlers as if they were a band of guards or scouts.

"Do we really have to go making rounds like this?" Cantone grumbled. "Why, they've probably fled already by now!"

"It would be better to play it safe than be sorry later," Lisa retorted.

"Besides, if they're not here, maybe we can skip out and give those other jerks a good parting gift if they're still around!" Vince chortled. "Those looks on their faces last time were hilari- Huh?!"

The Ghost-Types turned and jolted back in surprise at the sight of the four strangers staring slack-jawed at them, the Swellow among them giving a dubious raise of his brow.

"What... exactly are you going on about?" Kiran asked.

The three Ghost-Types looked back in flustered shock, the Haunter of the group fumbling for words as he drifted away uneasily from the intruders.

"We were... uh..."

Vince threw his arms out, joined in by the Drifloon and Misdreavus as a violet haze abruptly billowed up, forming a large wraith with yellow eyes and disembodied claws that snarled back at Kiran and his companions.

"About to become your worst nightmare!" the ghost sneered. "Quiver in fear as we drag your souls to the Spirit World!"

The ghost paused for effect as unimpressed, frustrated scowls settled on Kiran, Dimitri, and Elty's faces, their loss of words punctuated by a flying yellow emera, with Guardia pulling her free arm back from a throw.

"Take this, spirit!" the bone lizard cried. "And that! And that!"

The Cubone threw a red emera, then a blue, and a green one. The last sailed into the haze when a sharp yelp rang out and the wraith's form abruptly flattened out into a mound.

"Ow! That hit me in the eye!" Lisa cried.

"You're not fooling anyone with that act, you know," Dimitri harrumphed.

The mist quickly boiled away, revealing the Haunter and his companions' forms again, glaring and growling back at their disguise's lack of effect.

"Well aren't you the little killjoy!" Vince snapped. "No matter, we'll keep you from running off all the same!"

The Haunter reached into a bag, fishing out an orb full of golden spheres and readying it for a throw as Team Traveller jolted back with a start. Instinctively, Kiran stepped forth, batting his wings frantically for attention.

"Wait a second! We just wanted to talk!" the Swellow insisted. "Look, things are obviously more than they seem, but perhaps you've seen a group with what'd look like a giant, long-necked Wingull lately?"

The Ghost-Types paused as the Drifloon and Misdreavus of the trio traded wary looks with one another. Vince faltered a moment, before lowering his raised hand with the Totter Orb slowly to a neutral position as the pre-battle tension faded away.

"Kinda sounds like our new neighbors," Cantone replied. "So what?"

"Ah! So you have seen them!" Dimitri cried. 'Where are they now? We've been looking for them!"

"Now hold up here, granchio! Nobody said anything about you being allowed to see them!" Vince shot back. "They're staying here with us!"

Guardia shuffled into a tense stance at the Haunter's cry, tightening her claws around her club as she lowered her head and let out a low growl.

"Grr... sounds like they're itching for a fight-"

"Hold on a moment," Kiran interrupted, raising his left wing for a stop. The Swellow approached Vince, staring back intently at the still-glaring Haunter.

"Look, if you're not ready to let Pleo and the others go right now, maybe you could take us to them?" the Swellow offered. "You know the area better than we would, so it's not as if we'd be able to cause you trouble, right?"

Vince eased and shifted back, trading glances with his teammates before turning back to Kiran warily.

"Er... I mean, I don't think it would hurt?" the Haunter replied.

"Though we're doing this we're going to take some precautions..." Lisa said, prompting Elty to raise a brow puzzledly.

"And what would that -Ack!"

Elty's scarf abruptly jerked up and wrapped itself around his eyes as the Misdreavus' eyes flashed a glowing violet, leaving him fumbling around startledly.

"Hey! What are you doing?!" the Growlithe yelped.

"If you come with us, you're coming blind," Lisa insisted. "You're not finding your way out unless we let you. Got it?"

Kiran, Guardia, and Dimitri hesitated, looking over at Elty as he lowered his ears and pulled his tail in tight with a low whine. These three strangers were effectively asking them to submit them to their mercy with nothing to go on beyond the few moments they'd seen each other! At the same time, it was evident that they had seen Pleo alive and well, and fighting them would put them back to having no lead at all! With the stakes as high as they were… perhaps there really were no better alternatives for them at this moment.

"... We agree," Kiran replied. "Just lead the way."

The three Ghost-Types floated forward and the Misdreavus of the trio pulled Team Traveller's scarves into crude blindfolds, while her teammates seized Team Traveller's badges along with Kiran and Elty's satchels. After the four were disoriented to Vince and his partners' liking, the three prodding their 'guests' off along the floor of the Mystery Dungeon. Unbeknownst to the lot, from around the corner, Valatos, Alvise, and Nori poked their heads around, watching puzzledly as Team Traveller and their escorts slipped off.

"What on earth just happened between them?" Nori asked.

"I dunno," Valatos buzzed. "But we're following to find out."

"Valatos, we just watched them get blindfolded and put at those Ghost-Types' mercy," Alvise retorted. "How can we be so sure those dweebs aren't getting led into a trap?"

"We'll follow just close enough to in earshot. If there really is an ambush, we'll be far enough behind to get away if we have to," the Yanmega insisted. "Besides, if that bird's really a 'neighbor', those three must be headed to some sort of stable zone. We can see how they get in to plan out our own approach."

Nori and Alvise looked at each other, before grunting back satisfied. Valatos set off, followed by his companions as they quietly continued along after Team Traveller's footsteps deeper into the dungeon.



Author's Notes:

- ciao - Italian: "goodbye"
- Qué diantres es todo esto?! - Spanish (Latin American): Expression roughly equivalent to "What is the meaning of this?!"
- Genoeg - Dutch: "Enough"
- granchio - Italian: "crab"
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
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  8. mawile
Hi guys! I'm sorry it took so long to get to this. Life's been busy! But I'm back, and ready to go over my thoughts for the next section.

Starting with Chapter 44, In Harm's Way

As Ketu and Ellsberg made their way through the doorway, they looked around and saw they had entered a timbered office lined with bookshelves and sunlight peeking in through glass windows.
There's nothing really wrong with this, but it does read a bit awkwardly to me. I think it's the end of the sentence, talking about the office being lined with sunlight peeking in through glass windows. Logically it makes sense, it just reads a bit weird.

"All I need is for Lyn to be demonstrated to be the incompetent that I know him to be in front of the rest of the Board.
This one reads as a bit overly wordy. Mabye that's intentional, given who Elilan is. But "to be" is used three times in this sentence. Something along the lines of "All I need is for Lyn's incompetence to be demonstrated in front of the rest of the board" would probably work just as well.

Everything would finally stay the way things were meant to, and he'd finally get the respect he'd worked so hard for in the Company's ranks.
Good luck with that, Mothman. Given the lack of respect some of the others get who have done far more than you, I suspect it's going to take more than a little title to get you any.

There are little things here and there that hint at Elty's past as a dungeon mon and I like that. For example, his familiarity with different types of dungeons. Sure, it's not out of the question that his seafaring life would involve getting into dungeons, but it's still interesting. I'd love to see it come up at some point and see him and Guardia bond over it.

A place where Pokémon of all stripes from sea and land gathered to trade with one another, and a mainstay for the sea clans of the Cradle, including Viktor's.
Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like this and the surrounding passage was sufficiently covered during the last arc, and I don't feel like such an extented section really adds anything to it.

While one could argue the time of finding a bazzar was a bit overly convienient, I do think it was a fun solution to the existing problem of "escape the dungeon when you don't have access to a teleport"

45 - Do Gooders

"I can do it as easily as you can leave us behind right here," the Poison-Type hissed. "If you want to try and fight us for it, I'll remind you that we've beaten the tar out of you just fine in the past. So what's it going to be, Elty?"
Damn, brutal.

Hand-in-hand with a firm brow pinch from their Aggron captain.
This feels like an incomplete thought.

red lanterns that were strangely shuttered up in the middle of the day,
Oh I seewhat you did there. Hardly even hiding it. 8P

I really like the last scene of this chapter, given that it starts to introduce more background for Lyn, starting to explain why he is the way he is.

That said, I do feel like this chapter drags a bit, due to the significant amount of pov changes. If I counted correctly in my half-asleep state, there's 5 different povs, and even more pov switches. I feel like this chapter may have benefitted from being divided, but at the same time, I wonder if that would have caused one chapter to lack A-plot progression.

46 - All Ears

"Yeah, bonehead had the right idea," Elty grunted. "I haven't heard her all this time, so she must be out like a rock on her little
Ah, sweet foreshadowing.

While I do really enjoy the scene on Tromba, at this time it feels a bit like extra fluff. I think it ends up being relevant later? I certainly hope so, at least.

The Nidoran turned and glared at Elty. Of all the things that stupid mutt had to teach Pleo, it just had to be how to shoplift.
"This is your fault!" Nida hissed.
"My fault?!" Elty spat, arching his back irritatedly. "He's the one that took the damn malasada!"
God Damn it Elty.

Things had not gone as smoothly as Ellsberg had hoped since his meeting with Elilan. Thanks to having to switch the Nektar Weide's sails with ones carrying decoy patterns and Ketu's sudden bout of stubborn hostility, the sloop was slow to leave port from Mengir. That delay in turn forced a grueling overnight run powered by a constant current from the escorts, the exertion and long hours grinding the crew down as the hours whiled by with the passing waves.
Big oof. Fun worldbuilding stuff though.

Ellsberg saw Ketu watching, a smug smirk creeping over his face at the entire episode.
It could be just me, but I kind of feel like "episode" implies a more prolonged exchange than what we saw. Another word might be more appropriate.

"Whoa! You can't just sneak into there! There's guards inside!" Elty protested. "And you don't even know if that's not some random Sentret!"
To be fair, I think they still kind of owe him lol. I guess we'll have to wait till next time to see how he manages to get out of this pickle.

Also, the last sentence in the above quote reads a bit oddly. I wonder if it would be more appropriate to reword it as something like "And you don't even know it's him. It could just be some random Sentret."

48 - Friend or Foe

While I'm happy to see Salvini's plot resolve amicably, I will admit that I felt it resolved a little too easily.

The Swellow paused, looking down at the sketches still incredulous at Ander's change of heart.
I get the feeling the sketches in question are based on Ander's book. It seems like a reasonable assumption.

Didn't really have much specific to say about this one beyond that it raised the stakes of the arc effectively. So on to the next one.


49 - Side effects
Unbeknownst to Crom and his companions, Team Traveler has a fitful day some hours ago when the sun still stood high in the sky.
While I understand what you were getting at, this reads a bit awkwardly to me. I feel like there has to be a clearer way to convey this.

I got a kick out of the Undertale reference coming out of Nagant. And the skirmish between Her, Hess, and his underlings gave me a bit of a Paper Mario: TTYD vibe in a good way.

I'll covery thoughts over this chapter in my conclusion write up. Speaking of which...

I have mixed feelings on this arc. Overall, there's a lot of fun stuff in it. It sets up Ellsburg's deal with Elilan, provides some character development for Elty, and wraps Salvini's side plot, setting her up in a location that I know we see later. It also introduces the idea to Pleo that his powers can be dangerous and hurt people just as much as it helps if he's not careful, a harsh but important lesson. So it's not without its important beats. And there are a couple other minor things brought up in this arc that are relevant later.

But at the same time, it feels like it doesn't move the main plot forward very much, especially with the length of the arc in mind. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it also can cause it to feel dragged out. I know some major shake ups happen in the next arc or two, which I'm looking forward to, but this one almost feels formulaic.

But that could also just be me. I know I had a hard time finding time to sit down and read and review, so that may be coloring my perception of this arc. And all that said, I do like the plot beats that are there, for the most part. I like the subterfuge with Ketu and Ellsburg, since it introduces a new wrinkle in Lyn's plans and more look into the political machinations of The Company. And I like seeing Elty return to his old crew, only to second guess himself - at least subconsciously - when that puts pokemon he's started to care about in danger.

A part of me feels like Salvini's arc was wrapped up a little hastily and too neatly, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to spend more time on it, given my critiques above.

So like, while I have my issues, it's by no means a bad arc! I just find myself wishing it was just a little bit different. But I think that's all I really have to say, so I'll cut this off here. I'll get around to the next arc at some point, but idk when. Until next time.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
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Hi guys! I'm sorry it took so long to get to this. Life's been busy! But I'm back, and ready to go over my thoughts for the next section.

Well you know what they say, better late than never. And it looks like your review was worth the wait at least! :eyes:

This one reads as a bit overly wordy. Mabye that's intentional, given who Elilan is. But "to be" is used three times in this sentence. Something along the lines of "All I need is for Lyn's incompetence to be demonstrated in front of the rest of the board" would probably work just as well.

No, I think you definitely have a point. We decided to shorten this line like you suggested.

Good luck with that, Mothman. Given the lack of respect some of the others get who have done far more than you, I suspect it's going to take more than a little title to get you any.

Alas, demanding respect from soldiers ain’t easy when the other Pokémon are bigger and look more intimidating than you. Fortunately for Ellsberg, things will start to turn around for him a few episodes from now.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like this and the surrounding passage was sufficiently covered during the last arc, and I don't feel like such an extented section really adds anything to it.

I’m afraid you are, since this is referring to the market specifically. Last episode showed off Braveshoal, but had nothing about this particular event.

This feels like an incomplete thought.

Yeah, you’re right. We went ahead and changed this one.

God Damn it Elty.

He’s not a bad influence, I swear. o3o

It could be just me, but I kind of feel like "episode" implies a more prolonged exchange than what we saw. Another word might be more appropriate.

Also, the last sentence in the above quote reads a bit oddly. I wonder if it would be more appropriate to reword it as something like "And you don't even know it's him. It could just be some random Sentret."

We made tweaks for both of these.

I got a kick out of the Undertale reference coming out of Nagant. And the skirmish between Her, Hess, and his underlings gave me a bit of a Paper Mario: TTYD vibe in a good way.

Heh, that was a fun moment to write. I’m glad you enjoyed it. ^^

So like, while I have my issues, it's by no means a bad arc! I just find myself wishing it was just a little bit different. But I think that's all I really have to say, so I'll cut this off here. I'll get around to the next arc at some point, but idk when. Until next time.

Thanks for the review! It was fun to see the different things you liked about this episode, but also helpful to see what didn’t quite click with you, so I appreciate that. I’ll look forward to your next review!
 
Chapter 72: Out of the Bag

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
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He/Him/His
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2nL5k5t.png


Back in Magmapool Town, the local harbor hummed with activity, with boats and accompanying sea Pokémon making their way to and from the docks in the shadow of the wreckage of the naval yard. In the midst of the port's bustle, the marine escorts of the Uragan looked around for any clues the Siglo Swellow had left behind. Among them were Cyanea and Katyusha, who busied themselves attempting to coax an elderly Relicanth to stay awake, a sharp sigh betraying past struggles.

"Okay, let's try this one more time…" Cyanea groaned. "What were you doing when the pirate ship left?"

"Well, I was taking my midday nap when I suddenly heard this racket coming from above the water," the Relicanth began. "I popped my head up and saw this white-sailed schooner pulling out of the harbor while the guards were throwing attacks at it."

"And…?" Katyusha pressed. "What did you see afterwards?"

"Oh, I couldn't tell you, dearie," the elderly fish said. "I figured that since it was the second time something of the sort had happened that day, that it was just some sort of drill and went back to sleep."

The Tentacruel and Sharpedo shot disbelieving stares at one another, before Cyanea grumbled under her breath and turned back to the Relicanth with an unimpressed frown.

"… A drill."

"Well of course," the Relicanth insisted. "Those guards and naval cadets do need to practice every now and then."

"How many drills cause damage like that?!" she exclaimed.

Cyanea raised a tentacle and pointed off insistently at the naval yard in the background. Even after a full day of work to clean it up, its docks remained a mass of ships and wrecked piers pressed up against each other. The Relicanth stared off for a moment, before shaking his head back.

"Very realistic ones," he replied. "You know as well as I do that Duke Seok's just wasting the extra taxes he levies on everybody. Why, they couldn't even be bothered to return the training ship properly and just let it sail off to the west!"

At the elderly Relicanth's mention of the Siglo Swellow having gone west, Katyusha let out a sigh of relief, batting her fins against the water as she turned around all but ready to leave the wizened fish behind.

"Finally we've got something useful from this old coot," the Sharpedo muttered, drawing a splashing protest back from the Relicanth.

"Now see here, missy! I'll have you know that back in my day I was quite the looker!" he huffed. "Why they used to call me Byeong-Ho the Dashing…"

The Relicanth trailed off and yawned, before his head sank below the surface and the rest of his body followed up to his dorsal fin, snoring and leaving behind a trail of bubbles lazily rising to the surface. Cyanea looked on with exasperated disgust, before waving a tentacle and motioning to her partner to follow along.

"Well, we have some new info at least," she grumbled. "Come on, let's go pass it on to the Captain."

Cyanea and Katyusha set off, weaving past an approaching sloop and a school of Wishiwashi as they made their way for an ironclad docked at the edge of the naval yard. As they drew closer, they saw Nagant and Jun talking near the railing as the Beedrill's buzzing voice carried along the waves.

"… that's what he said, Captain…"

The churn of the harbor's water was broken by the sound of repeated, angry thuds as Nagant pounded her firing claw against the railing with a frustrated seethe.

"Why can't Commodore Valan keep his lousy snout out in Gestirn?" the shrimp fumed. "Does he really think the Empire will fall apart if I search for the Protector on my own?"

A loud creak followed by sharp yelps rang out in the background, prompting Nagant to turn and see indigo-scarved guards bolting out of the way of a leaning mast hitting the pier with a deafening crash. The Clawitzer and her first mate looked on blankly, before she turned away and waved a claw defeatedly.

"You know what, don't answer that."

"I mean, you two did agree to meet to share findings…" Jun reminded. "And I'm sure Commodore Valan… er… probably doesn't expect anything less from you than he does from any other Captain?"

"But I don't have anything to present to him! The only new bit of information we've been able to find out so far is that Lyn left port before the Protector did!" Nagant exclaimed. "And it's not as if that pompous yashcherka is going to bring anything that's actually useful, so what am I to do now for finding the Protector?"

"Er… Captain?"

Nagant looked over the railing to see Cyanea and Katyusha staring up at her uneasily. The Clawitzer blinked a moment, before her face fell into an annoyed frown.

"What is it now, Cyanea?" Nagant snapped. "Can't you see I'm a little too busy here to hear about more of your accomplishments right now? Or are you going to tell me that you ran into that Aggron only for him to get away again?"

"Eh?" Katyusha asked, giving a puzzled raise of her brow back. "But she was just floating around here and- Ow!"

The Sharpedo jolted back with a yelp as Cyanea jabbed her with a poisonous tendril, leaving the shark to shoot back a dirty glare while the Tentacruel began to speak up.

"We just wanted to say that we think we've found something."

"Well, we haven't really found any meaningful leads yet, so it certainly can't hurt…" Jun mulled.

"Hey! Our lead's plenty meaningful!" Katyusha protested. "We found out that the ship sailed off for the west!"

Cyanea threw a tentacle over her face, before shaking her bell and turning with a sharp huff to her teammate.

"Oh come on, Katyusha, don't oversell it like that!" Cyanea cried. "There's nothing out to the west! No ports, no big reefs, just a bunch of Subway outposts and abandoned islands!"

The Tentacruel trailed off and blinked puzzledly to herself, realizing that in the midst of her chiding, something had been amiss with the Relicanth's testimony…

"Wait, what ship would want to go that way anyways?"

Nagant twitched her barbels tensely as she mulled the matter, before she narrowed her eyes in realization and she turned her attention back to her subordinates.

"One that wants to throw off its real destination elsewhere in the Cradle," Nagant answered.

"… What should we do once Valan arrives then?" Jun asked.

"I'm afraid we have no option but to just sail towards Tromba," the Clawitzer said. "Clearly cutting off those smugglers isn't working, and they might have already made it back there for all we know."

Jun flitted back with a startled buzz, staring back at his superior in shock as he raised his voice in stammering protest.

"W-We can't just sail up to a Company island!" Jun insisted. "We don't have any proof that the Protector is actually there, and it would likely mean war!"

"Well, what other options do we have, Jun?" Nagant demanded.

"Maybe… we could try Pioppo?" Katyusha proposed.

Nagant and Jun peered down at the Sharpedo with confused stares at the mention of Pioppo. Even Cyanea was caught off guard, as the Tentacruel turned and looked puzzledly at her partner.

"Huh? What are you talking about Katyusha?" Cyanea asked.

"Well… when we overheard that Kabutops and his rod talking to Lugia in Otvaga, they did mention Blackmoon Village," the Sharpedo said. "Maybe that's why they went to Sormus in the first place, so they could travel to it from there."

"But why would they be interested in those old ruins?" Jun pressed. "It's been abandoned for years and Pioppo is at the edge of the Cradle at that."

"I'm… not sure," the shark admitted. "But it is what we heard. Right, Cyanea?"

"I mean… we did… and I guess it would match up with their ship sailing west," the Tentacruel mused, prompting Jun to shoot a skeptical frown and turn towards Nagant.

"What do you think, Captain?"

"… I think they're onto something, but I don't think it's worth our time to go there," Nagant murmured, prompting Jun to give a surprised beat of his wings in response.

"Huh? But if you think those ruffians are really headed there, why wouldn't it be?"

"We've been one step behind that schooner since the moment we pulled into port," Nagant harrumphed. "If we set sail for Pioppo, what are we supposed to do if it turns out they've sailed off already?"

Nagant shook her head, before hopping up against the timbers with a determined scowl.

"No. Only a fool would chase after them at this point. We're better off trying to predict their next move and wait there for them in ambush."

"Uh… wouldn't that mean going to Tromba?" Katyusha asked.

"After going out of their way to Pioppo? Unless they planned on it, I doubt it," Cyanea countered. "There's no port on Pioppo for them to reprovision, so wouldn't they need to do that at another island before heading home?"

"If that's the case, the most logical places would be here, Haipheh, or Boisocéan," Jun said. "And I doubt they'll be pulling back into port here anytime soon…"

Nagant turned and looked out at the sea, hesitating quietly for a moment before turning back to her Beedrill first mate.

"… Call everyone back and get the ship ready to sail," Nagant said. "We'll leave the moment Commodore Valan arrives."

"Right now?" Jun asked.

"Yes," Nagant snapped. "Time is of the essence here and every passing moment increases the odds that we'll miss the Protector."

The Clawitzer looked off at the harbor where the sight of Pokémon in the air flying towards and away from the island caught her eye. The shrimp paused a moment, prompting Jun to twitch his antennae puzzledly before Nagant clicked her firing claw and turned back to her first mate with a stern gaze.

"Send a message to Darzin as well," she said. "It'd be best if we nipped any unwanted conflicts in the bud before we left."



"And here we are!"

Elty folded his ears back uncomfortably at the sound of Vince's voice, feeling his scarf getting tugged down past his snout and his vision to be awash in sudden light. The Growlithe squinted his eyes to try and adjust to the sudden brightness as he heard Guardia and the others being unblinded, his vision stabilizing while he turned his body around to see a gated palisade made out of wooden scraps. The Puppy Pokémon turned back ahead and saw a collection of wooden huts mixed with small plots of berry plants on both sides of a lane where Pokémon looked up and began to drift over curiously.

"Huh? Who are they?" a Castform murmured.

"Maybe they're from the same group as those other newcomers?" a Cramorant whispered.

"Then why aren't they tied up and passed out?" a Phantump asked.

Team Traveller's members looked around warily as the small gathering in front of them grew thicker with approaching Pokémon forming a growing crowd, prompting Elty to keep his body braced and tense throughout. The Growlithe felt a tap on his shoulder, making him turn to see Guardia leaning in and speaking in a low whisper.

"Gardie, don't you think it's a bit strange?"

"Us being stared at?" Elty replied. "Well, yeah."

"No, their eyes!" the Cubone insisted. "Everyone has eyes that look like Trizano's!"

The Growlithe raised a brow, before looking up at the Cramorant in the crowd who sure enough had eyes with cross-shaped pupils… as did a Tirtouga and a Polteageist chattering in the background, along with a young Kangaskhan watching them warily from within her mother's pouch. Elty blinked and began to wonder to himself what the strange eyes meant, when the crowd turned at the sound of approaching hoofbeats and one after the other villager bowed towards a coming figure. The Fire-Type watched as what appeared to be a smaller and less colorful version of the 'Xerneas' David passed himself as approached with a Dusknoir following close by his side. Much as Ketu had taunted them about, the deer really did have different eyes from David's disguise. Unlike the Deerling eyes that the Ditto had used, these had bold, blue irises and the same cross-shape pupils they'd seen in the other villagers'.

"Vince, what is going on here?" Valter demanded. "Who are these strangers and what are they doing in our village?"

"They're friends of that group with the white bird that got pulled in earlier," the Haunter replied. "We found them rooting around in the dungeon and they came quietly enough, so…"

Valter shot a disbelieving glare back at Team Phantom, letting faint, shadowy wisps trail from his hands in frustration.

"This village is supposed to remain a guarded secret!" the Dusknoir snapped. "What were you thinking just bringing them in like this?!"

"'Guarded secret?' Wait, so you mean all this time all those evil spirits were just a ruse?!" Guardia exclaimed.

Kiran sighed and lowered his brow in exasperation, shaking his head at the Cubone's outcry.

"… Wasn't that obvious by now?" he asked.

"Look, we didn't see anything alright? We've been blindfolded this entire time!" Elty insisted. "We just wanted to find our friends and have a moment to talk with that blue deer of yours over there."

Cernun tilted his head, before flicking his ears out of surprise.

"Me?" the Xerneas asked. "But what exactly did you want to-?"

"Elty?"

Elty and his companions peered over, catching the sight of Pleo's head poking above some of the shorter members of the crowd. The Lugia walked forward as Nida, Crom, and Ander followed with disbelieving gapes, Pleo blinking to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him, before letting out a startled squawk.

"How did you all get here?!" he exclaimed.

Pleo and the others ran towards their teammates, trading relieved greetings and hugs while the gathered villagers murmured puzzledly among each other. Dimitri craned his head up, noticing Valter staring at them skeptically as the familiar form of a Skarmory with cross-shaped irises drifted in at the edge of the crowd, making the Kautops jump back in surprise.

"Trizano?!" Dimitri said. "What are you doing here?!"

"I suppose I should be asking the same of you," the Skarmory answered. "But welcome to my home, even if it's not the most welcoming of places anymore."

"Would someone please tell me what's going on here?" Valter demanded. "Trizano, why do these trespassers know you and why do you know them as well?"

"We can explain!" Nida insisted. "Just sit down and actually listen to us and what we need instead of shooing us away!"

Valter huffed and began to billow out black shadows as his eye hardened into a sharp scowl.

"Is this about that nonsense with Cernun again?" the Ghost-Type fumed. "If it's just going back to that then you can forget it and go back to your-!"

"Wait just a moment, Duke Valter!"

Valter paused mid-sentence, turning incredulously as Trizano hopped up and motioned for patience with a wave of his wings.

"Things have been… complicated between us," the Skarmory began. "As absurd as demanding things from Cernun may sound, surely we ought to give them a fair hearing first?"

The Dusknoir frowned with displeasure back at the Steel-Type, raising a finger and starting to chide him when Roteck suddenly spoke up.

"They are going to be living here with us for gods-knows-how-long," the Aggron said. "Not that I can't handle getting the stink eye from a new arrival or two, but we might as well take some time to trade our stories if they're going to be living here."

"I don't think it can hurt…" Cernun mulled. "Let's hear what they have to say, Valter."

Valter paused, trading looks between the Xerneas and the gathered interlopers, before shaking his head and murmuring under his breath.

"… Very well. We will discuss this at a quiet place," he said. "But don't test my patience any further than you have already."

The Ghost-Type turned and motioned for Cernun to follow, the blue deer setting off after him. Roteck and Trizano followed suit, leaving Team Traveller's members to hesitate for a moment before they too set off from the gathered crowd and trailed after the Xerneas and the Dusknoir. All the while the lot thought to themselves, wondering what they were to do for the 'hearing' that Trizano had gotten them into.



About fifteen minutes later, Valter had guided Team Traveller towards the fringes of town for a wooded patch wedged along the foggy southern fringe of the stable zone. There, the ground rose up into a ridge overlooking the village and the dim light through the fog was further plunged into shadow by the treetops overhead. Nida paced ahead uneasily, watching as Trizano and Roteck's steps became more cautious and measured as she wondered to herself just where they had been brought to when Valter suddenly paused and motioned off to his left.

"We're here," the Dusknoir said. "Though tread lightly on these hallowed grounds."

The Nidoran and her companions raised their brows, looking off to see a tiled-roofed pavilion sitting next to a small spring with columns, and an altar inside hewn from black stone. The group drew forward, noticing the structure had been well-cared for, and that along its stonework, there were paintings portraying an ominous ghostly figure with a lower body that billowed out much like a sheet in the wind. The lot paused, before looking back to their guides warily with expectant stares, wondering aloud to themselves…

"What… is this place?" Nida wondered.

"It is the santuario to our island's Protector who yet sleeps," Trizano answered. "Darkrai, Lord of the New Moon."

"Wait, your shrine?" Kiran asked.

"That's right," Roteck grunted. "We weren't able to take much of Blackmoon Village with us when we went into hiding on such short notice, but we made it a point of taking this."

"And for good reason," Valter added. "Even though we have a Protector watching over us here and now, it is still our duty to ensure our island's own Protector feels at home when he awakes."

Ander shifted uncomfortably at the mention of the second Protector, shrinking back as Cernun paced forward and began to speak to the gathered Pokémon.

"Since we were going to trade stories, a place with this much history around it seemed as good a place as any," Cernun said, making Pleo ruffle his feathers uneasily.

"So… what happened to you?"

"Well… some Pokémon say that they remember things from just before they hatched, but the first thing I remember was waking up on a stranded ship with statues of Pokémon everywhere around it," the Xerneas explained. "The ship was a mess and I don't remember finding anyone to talk to other than a couple ferals who swam away after seeing me."

The members of Team Traveller gave puzzled stares back at the blue fawn. At the back of the group, Ander froze and shrank back waveringly, before gulping and pressing ahead with something strange he'd noticed about the demon's testimony.

"S-Statues of Pokémon?" the Scyther stammered. "What do you mean by that?"

"I… suppose they weren't really statues, but I didn't have any way of knowing that at the time," Cernun replied. "I was there on that wreck for about a day when Trizano and Roteck showed up and took me into Blackmoon Village. Everyone seemed to be very agitated and nervous back then, and some of the townsfolk wouldn't even talk to me since they thought that I was with the Pokémon that attacked them."

Nida and the others tilted their heads at Cernun, finding it strange that the townsfolk could've ever been something different from the adoring mass they had seen them as. The Xerneas' words prompted Valter to give a shake of his head and let out a low sigh, as he chimed in to continue off the Protector's testimony.

"It was an episode we're all grateful that Lord Cernun has forgiven us for," the Dusknoir said. "The town had been raided by pirates shortly before his arrival, and were it not for them being scared off by a flash and a disturbance in the water from the shipwreck Cernun awakened in, they likely would've left us in far worse straits."

"I obviously didn't know that, so I spent those first few days with just Roteck and Trizano," Cernun piped. "Trizano was shorter back then and Roteck wasn't an Aggron yet… and I think you two had a Rescue Team called Team Armor? Or was it Team Alloy?"

"It was Team Anvil," Roteck corrected. "And we weren't really sure what to make of you… at least until that thing with Carola…"

"Carola?" Dimitri asked.

"The first Pokémon to become an Immortal. She was a guard who'd been grievously wounded in the raid and hovered near death after it," Valter explained. "Lord Cernun chanced to run into one of her children distraught after being told Carola was slipping away and it moved him to aid her."

"I didn't know exactly what was happening, but I remember feeling how sad everyone felt and how they wished for her to get better," Cernun said. "I tried to do something about it, and that was when my powers first came out."

"Your… powers?" Ander questioned.

"To grant everlasting life," Valter replied. "After Carola was blessed, her wounds healed without a trace and she returned with vigor we'd never seen from her along with cross-shaped pupils much like Cernun's."

"After that, I tried it again a few times and found I could heal the other hurt Pokémon," Cernun continued. "And so they became Immortals as well."

Pleo ruffled his feathers uncomfortably at the fawn's reply. Everlasting life? But… Nida had made it sound that normally Pokémon eventually stopped living, but did this mean that an Immortal could never die? If so, then…

"Wait, but if they live forever, what about their friends?" the Lugia wondered. "Wouldn't they eventually die and leave them all alone?"

"Well of course!" Cernun exclaimed. "After I realized that, I made them Immortals as well, and all of their friends too!"

Nida and Crom blinked, trading dubious looks with each other as their teammates similarly couldn't help but sense there had to be a catch to Cernun's powers. Among them, Ander buzzed with a start and went wide-eyed at the Xerneas' proclamation, holding a scythe out accusingly as he backed away for distance.

"But you- You can't just toy with life and death like it's some sweets to be handed out!" Ander protested.

"Mind your place, Scyther!" Valter snapped, prompting Ander to shrink back.

"But weren't there any side effects to what you were doing?" Guardia asked. "I mean, what would've happened if you'd made a Pokémon who had it out for someone into an Immortal? Or if you tried to disturb the dead with that power?"

Cernun's ears flared before the deer fell quiet and hung his head, an uncomfortable silence settling over the gathered Pokémon. Valter shook his head, giving a stern stare back at Guardia and her companions.

"It was precisely when Cernun began disturbing the dead that all of our troubles began," the Dusknoir sighed, drawing a stamping protest back from Cernun

"Valter, that wasn't those Pokémon's fault!" Cernun cried. "None of us knew that that Incineroar would get us into such trouble!"

Team Traveller's members shifted back uneasily at the mention of 'disturbing the dead'. Surely they didn't mean to insinuate something like there being a bunch of half-rotted corpses shuffling around somewhere thanks to Cernun's power over life…?

"Who is Cernun talking about?" Dimitri pressed. "You didn't dig up a bunch of graves and have him try to make Immortals from them, did you?"

"It wasn't anything like that! It was the shipwreck that Cernun was discovered on!" Valter insisted. "After he had reinvigorated Carola and the others, I sent for the ship to be examined for signs of its origin. Considering everything it brought on us afterwards, I would've been better off letting it sink to the bottom of the sea."

Elty bit his tongue, looking warily back at the Dusknoir as he hesitated a moment before speaking up.

"What… happened?"

"It was a vessel from the Royal Navy, and when we came upon it, we had discovered no sign of the crew and statues of Pokémon all over it, the lot fixed in expressions of shock and terror," Valter explained. "We had brought some of them back on shore and realized that they were the crew, and asked Cernun if he could heal them of their malady."

"Well, it certainly worked. Cernun's power brought those Pokémon back to life, though they didn't become Immortals like us," Trizano remarked. "Most of them were beside themselves out of fear and hysteria, so beyond learning that they'd charted a course out of the Dead Zone we weren't able to get too much from them."

"Or so we thought," Valter harrumphed. "Among those that Cernun revived was the ship's captain, who sought out my Governor at the time and passed word back to the Admiralty about Cernun's presence. That was the point when Commodore Coil was dispatched to us."

Team Traveller's members recoiled at Valter's reply. That blasted Magnezone had caused trouble even here?!

"Wait, Commodore Coil?!" Elty yipped. "That same tin can Admiral we ran into back on Giotto?"

Valter paused, giving a probing stare over the Growlithe and his companions before folding his arms and shaking his head.

"Hmph. It sounds like you've encountered him yourself," the Dusknoir said. "And not for the better either."

"I'll say! He was running an egg-napping ring with pirates under everyone's noses in the middle of the Empire!" Nida piped.

"Yeah, if it wasn't for us, he'd probably still be at it with everyone none the wiser!" Crom exclaimed, prompting Valter to begin to billow out a shadowy haze from around his body.

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Valter growled. "While things have obviously changed for Coil since he last came to this island 25 years ago, he sounds much like the same sort of Pokémon that I remember from those past days…"



"It was the summer after Cernun arrived when Coil came. We'd been recovering from the raid earlier in the year and things were finally returning to normal. The villagers were happy with his presence among us… or at least most of them were. There were a small number of Marked who lived in the town at the time who insisted that Cernun would be the end of us, but none of their doomsaying had come to pass, so it didn't occur to us that there'd be other dangers that would follow him. I remember at the time I was along the seafront that day, checking up on how well reconstruction was going…"

Valter made his way down a wooden pier as the pattering of feet rang out behind him, prompting him to look back and spot guards dutifully following behind a Dhelmise in Imperial indigoes. The Dusknoir's eye proudly sported a recently transformed cross-shaped pupil, its owner dutifully tidying his scarf as he and his entourage carried on. The Ghost-Types' course took them past a motley mix of stucco-walled buildings and wooden shacks to where the town's harbor lay. As Valter neared, he saw the docks busy with small craft and sea Pokémon much as it always had been, while a shop that had been built in the shape of a Polteageist head was receiving its last coat of paint after reconstruction, complete with new cross-shaped pupils. The Dusknoir let out a content chuckle, looking back on his seaside village with the Dhelmise as he still couldn't believe how quickly it had recovered from being the burnt, rubble-strewn husk it was just mere weeks ago.

"Hmm, his Majesty will certainly be pleased to hear about how fast everything has turned around," Valter said.

"Well it'd be far from the first surprise this island's experienced this year," the Dhelmise murmured.

"And we have that Cernun to thank for it!" the Dusknoir chortled. "Were it not for the vigor he's brought to this town, it'd probably still be the shambling wreck it was after the raid!"

Valter's declaration drew a quiet frown back from the Dhelmise, who shook his head and gave a stern glance back.

"I don't think you should let the town get too attached to him, Your Grace," the Dhelmise chided. "He is a god, and this is not even his own domain."

"Pah, what good is it if a god can't feel at home wherever the fates take him?" the Duke retorted. "And besides, the villagers are happy with him, so why rush him away- Huh?"

The Dusknoir trailed off as he saw the Pokémon around them stop and look out to sea. Valter glanced puzzledly at his subjects before following their gazes off to see three ships with indigo sails pulling into port. From his vantage point, he could see gangplanks being lowered and the forms of a Magnezone, a Salamence, and an Incineroar gathering at the docks as Pokémon in naval scarves massed behind them. The nearby townsfolk looked on at the scene and traded nervous whispers, leaving Valter to blink uneasily as he sized up the arriving crews.

"… The navy?" Valter murmured. "Why are they coming now of all times?"

The Dusknoir floated forward, making his way for the docks as the Magnezone and his subordinates marched inland, meeting the Electric-Type's procession at the end of the docks. The Magnezone captain stopped to look eye to eye with the approaching Ghost-Types, before turning in place to the Salamence and Incineroar beside him with a stern buzz.

"Valan, Corbett. I want you two to fan your subordinates out and secure the perimeter," Coil ordered. "As of today, this little hamlet is as important to His Majesty's realm as Tidemill itself!"

"Understood, Commodore," the Salamence answered.

Valter blinked, watching as the Salamence and Incineroar took their leave and orderly formations of indigo-scarved Pokémon followed closely behind them. As the pair and their underlings went into town, Coil shifted his attention back to Valter and bobbed his body forward in a rough approximation of a bow that struck the Dusknoir as unusually stiff and insincere.

"Ah, you must be Duke Valter. I have heard much of you, but in the interest of time I shall move things right along," the Magnezone said. "Where is the Protector that you discovered? His Majesty has sent me to take him into the realm's care."

"'The realm's care'? Was that not my task as part of the crown?" Valter asked. "I hadn't received any indication otherwise from the court, so why the sudden change?"

"That would be because I hadn't received word back yet, Duke Valter."

Valter looked back as creaking reached his ears, turning to see his Dhelmise Governor floating forward with his expression still locked in its stern countenance from earlier.

"I had included a short summary of the developments since Cernun's arrival in my last report to the crown at Captain Corbett's request," the Dhelmise explained. "Given the extraordinary circumstances, I felt that it was something that shouldn't remain such a parochial concern."

Valter gave a befuddled blink at the Dhelmise, before narrowing his eye indignantly and letting a faint shadowy trail billow out.

"I don't understand why such a matter wouldn't be important enough to include me in it," the Dusknoir harrumphed. "But as long as I can get an explanation for what the court wants, I can send for him at once. I admittedly don't always keep tabs on him since Cernun likes to mingle with the commoners, so-"

"And there you go! Full of life just like all the others!"

Coil looked past Valter at the sound of cheers coming from further down the path. There in the middle of the lane was the form of a blue fawn posturing proudly as a young Shuppet got up and blinked cross-shaped eyes, floating off happily as the gathered townsfolk clapped and cheered on the young Protector. Valter looked back at the scene and grimaced as Coil glanced back at him with a sharp scowl.

"That won't be necessary, Your Grace," the Magnezone insisted.

Coil floated up towards the assembly, flanked at his side by a Malamar and an Aegislash as his subordinates shooed the townsfolk back. Cernun looked around, unsure what to make of the sudden newcomers as he flicked an ear back curiously.

"Who are you?" Cernun wondered. "Did you come to become an Immortal too?"

"That won't be necessary for now, Xerneas," Coil said. "I am Commodore Coil from the Royal Navy of Anyilla. I'm here to get you started on some special studies so we can get to learn about each other."

"Studies?" the Xerneas asked. "Nobody in town told me I needed anything like that. I've been busy discovering my powers!"

The Malamar and Aegislash moved forward with harsh scowls, the other naval Pokémon pacing forward as Coil floated closer towards Cernun with a stern glare.

"Well, you've been misled," he harrumphed. "Come along, little one. The sooner we get started, the better it will be for your friends."

The Xerneas' cheery demeanor suddenly faded, as he paced back unnervedly at the sight of the encroaching strangers around him. Valter began to move over to intervene, as Cernun raised his voice in a stammering protest.

"Wh-What's going on?" the young Protector stuttered. "Why can't this wait at all?"

"That's not important," Coil insisted. "All that matters right now is that you follow the wisdom that we can give you."

Coil moved a magnet towards Cernun, only for the deer to abruptly leap back and bolt away. The Magnezone let out a sharp buzz, as sparks danced irritatedly on his surface.

"Gah! Get back here!"

Coil shot a weak arc of electricity through his left magnet that zipped into Cernun's hindlegs and made the deer yelp and pratfall onto the ground. The Malamar and Aegislash immediately moved for the fallen Xerneas, as the onlooking townsfolk gasped and shouted in protest.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?!" Roteck cried. "That's a god-!"

"Out of the way!"

A Salamence swooped in and summarily swatted aside the protesting Lairon. Trizano flew up to interfere, only to meet much the same fate from Valan's claws. Off to the side, the Malamar hoisted Cernun off the ground with a telekinetic pull and began to drift away, carrying Cernun off as the Aegislash kept a close watch from behind. The other guards quickly closed ranks, forming a snarling cordon as Cernun struggled and cried out for help.

"Help! Help!"

Valter stared in befuddled shock at the events unfolding before him, before hurrying after Coil with a startled shout.

"Commodore?!" Valter exclaimed. "What is the meaning of this-?!"

Before the Dusknoir could finish his protest, his Dhelmise Governor abruptly floated in his way and pushed back, cutting the startled Duke off from the departing Magnezone with sharp scold.

"That's quite enough, Your Grace!" the Dhelmise interrupted. "This is an order from King Alexander's court, so it's not our place to interfere!"

Valter stared stunned at the Dhelmise, shocked to hear such words coming from the Pokémon who he'd fancied to be his confidant. Bewildered, he turned back to see Coil's entourage carry Cernun off for his ship, watching with the nearby townsfolk in wordless shock.

"Such a fool I was, not pressing the matter after hearing that. I tried telling myself that if it was really something that Alexander and his inner circle wanted, that it wasn't my place to contest it… but there was no dispelling what I had seen that day. Coil and the others remained in town after that and made me hand over the medic's hut that they repurposed into a research facility. To this day I don't understand what could have compelled King Alexander to approve Coil's research, just that it picked up after research that had been ongoing in the time of Queen Erna, using the same findings that had been recorded in what you call the 'Knights' Ledger'…"



"For the next couple of weeks, things managed to continue on, but cracks began to form in the peace. A scuffle with the guards here, a disorderly mob that was forced to disperse there. Before long, the higher-ranked sailors began going about in their Imperial armor much as if they were invaders forcing themselves upon our village. It became obvious to me that if things were to continue any further with Cernun, I couldn't keep the island from revolting against His Majesty. I agonized over what to do, before making the fateful choice during the New Moon to try and put an end to things on my own accord…"

The sky was moonless on the fated night, as Valter slipped from alley to alley on silent streets, the only break from the darkened walls and shuttered windows being a tatty poster blazoned with runes spelling out a curfew on the wall of a nearby shack. The Dusknoir floated along when the sound of chatter filtered along the winds, prompting him to poke his head around the corner reluctantly and see a lonely tavern lit up with Pokémon in indigo scarves sitting at the bar, including a Salamence in cerulean plates on his body that drank from a large cup before craning his head up with a displeased growl.

"Grr… what on earth is keeping Coil so long with that 'research' of his?" Valan fumed. "I'm supposed to be hunting down pirates, not sitting here getting an earful from a bunch of ungrateful peasants!"

Valter raised his brow at the dragon's complaints before carrying along, floating down the lane in the shadows for a two-storied building made of wood at the end of the street, which in happier times had been the medic's hut for the town. The Ghost-Type slowed as he approached, discovering that the windows had all been hastily barred and Pokémon in naval scarves and cerulean cloth armor were circling the outside perimeter. He hid behind an alley wall and watched the guards' movements, noticing that the Torterra and Onix that patrolled the side of the building made a habit of meeting in the middle before heading back out to the front and back of the hut. The Duke waited for the pair to start heading off, before rushing ahead and phasing through the wall, arriving into a darkened room where papers had been strewn about on desks that had been brought in.

"Cernun was supposed to be in Room 213… so… where am I right now?"

The Dusknoir floated through the doorway, turning and seeing that it had been labeled '105' with a scrawled paper that had been recently plastered onto it. He frowned, wondering where he was to go next when he heard approaching footsteps and hastily phased into the room across the hallway. Valter quickly crouched against the floor and peered at the bottom of the door, watching as an Accelgor in armor hopped by and a similarly-attired Raticate scampered past. Valter exhaled sharply after the pair left, before looking back to see the room he was in had been repurposed for storage with a small stack of barrels that piled up to the ceiling. He followed the barrels up, phasing through the ceiling to come to a room with a table and jars of medicine set out. The Ghost-Type paused uneasily when he slipped through the doorway, wondering if Cernun had perhaps been tormented there, his body turning corporeal as he looked back to see the room behind him labeled…

"'208'?" he murmured to himself. "Cernun was supposed to be in a Room 213 , so then his chamber must be…"

Valter looked off to his right where he noticed a door labeled '209', prompting him to float along until he got to a reinforced doorway at the end that bore the '213' he had searched for. The Dusknoir felt around the edges, finding a pull latch that he tugged at and discovered to be firmly fixed, the latch rattling in his grasp before he backed up and prepared to rush through the door when a sharp, hissing shout reached his ears from behind.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?!"

Valter whirled around, seeing the armored Accelgor and black Raticate from earlier glaring at him. The Accelgor raised his arms for a fleeting strike, approaching with a threatening growl.

"This building is strictly off-limits to visitors!" the Accelgor snarled. "That goes for everyone on this island! Nobles like you don't get a free pass!"

"Oh, we'll see about that…"

Valter threw a fiery punch forward, catching the Accelgor under his chin and launching the Bug-Type headfirst into a nearby wall. The Raticate dove in with a crushing bite, forcing the Ghost-Type back before the Raticate pivoted and threw himself forward again with another Crunch. The Duke lurched to the side, letting the Dark-Type sail on and snap at empty air, when he slipped behind and threw a sharp chop with his hand at the back of the rat's head just below the armored helmet protecting its top, sending the Raticate tumbling to the floor.

The Dusknoir braced himself for another blow, tensely breathing only to hear the sound of incoherent groans, prompting him to shake his head and back away from the armored door, before phasing through it and popping into a darkened room filled with scattered papers and medical instruments on desks. A startled cry rang out which made him look over and see a wide-eyed Cernun with his legs and neck chained to a circular platform in the room, gasping anxiously until he recognized the newfound intruder.

"Valter?!" Cernun exclaimed. "What are you doing here?!"

"Getting you away from this place," the Ghost-Type answered as he moved over to him. "The village can't take what's happening here much longer."

"Wh-Whuh? What do you mean?" the Xerneas asked. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know yet," Valter said, as he felt along Cernun's chains for a lock. "But somewhere far away from-"

"Come now, Duke Valter, the Capital isn't that far away."

Valter and Cernun froze at the sound of rattling cloth and mail, the Dusknoir of the pair turning to see Coil in cerulean plates at a now-open doorway. Cernun struggled against his chains to hide away as the Magnezone floated forward with a fierce glare.

"That was what you were going to say, and not something treasonous, I hope."

Valter blanched, backing away uneasily as he struggled over what he could do to explain the circumstances. After fumbling with one excuse after another in his mind, the Ghost-Type wondered to himself what the point of coming here was if he was going to just shrink away when confronted over Cernun. The Dusknoir stopped himself, balling his fists as he stayed put in the Commodore's path.

"I am exercising my privileges as a noble of the court to stop this madness!" Valter cried. "I don't care what your experts are telling you, you and I both know that dealing with a god like this will only bring disaster to the realm!"

"The realm is already muddling through a disaster, Duke Valter! It's with this god's help that we can finally bring it to an end!" Coil shot back. "He's been perfectly at ease handing out immortality to common peasants, so he should have no issues giving it to the servants of His Majesty's navy in order to put an end to the Company's treason!"

Valter's eye widened at Coil's words, realizing that the Magnezone had just openly stated his intent to use the god who had come to Blackmoon Village's aid as a tool of war. The Dusknoir stammered, before shaking his head stunned back at the Electric-Type.

"Th-This is madness! You can't force a Protector to just do your bidding like a puppet!" Valter exclaimed. "That's his power to invoke, not yours!"

Coil glared fiercely at the Ghost-Type, sparks dancing on the surface of his body as he moved towards him undeterred.

"Hrmph, I've had enough of this," the Magnezone scoffed. "Retire to your palace and mind your own affairs. I'm the one representing King Alexander here, not you."

The Electric-Type floated along when Valter abruptly cut him off, billowing shadowy wisps as he reciprocated with a glare of his own.

"I can't let you do that, Commodore," the Dusknoir said. "If this is really something that His Majesty approves of, he can bring it up to my face! I won't be part of this any longer!"

The Magnezone's temper flared as the sparks on his body grew larger and louder, as his voice came out in a hateful, metallic hiss.

"Have it your way then!" Coil seethed. "I'll see to it that this is the last time you'll interfere with my plans!"

The Magnezone fired a large, jagged bolt of electricity towards Valter. The Ghost-Type reflexively lurched to the side and melted into the wall, leaving Cernun to duck and squeal as the bolt zipped overhead and broke against the wall where it left behind a scorched bloch. Coil whirled around, looking around tensely for his Dusknoir foe when Valter abruptly phased through the wall beside him, swinging a fist wreathed in flames that struck the back of Coil's head at a gap not covered by his body armor and sent him clattering to the floor.

"Who do you take me for?!" Valter spat. "Do you think a Duke just sits around all day lazing about?!"

The Magnezone rolled against the floor with an audible rattle, hastily righting himself and floating back into the air as he turned back with a sharp seethe.

"Don't try to interfere with duties you weren't trained for!"

Coil shot out a weak jolt of electricity that flowed through Valter's body and made him jerk up and freeze as his body became warm and numb. The Dusknoir struggled to move his limbs as he cracked open the mouth on his stomach along the yellow band on his torso. The Ghost-Type glared, forming a growing Shadow Ball as Coil zipped from side to side to anticipate the wraith's attack. Valter tried to keep pace with the Electric-Type with his newly sluggish body before flinging the Shadow Ball forward, only to go wide-eyed as he saw Coil float out of the way of his attack. The orb zipped along into the back wall, leaving the Commodore to spark and hiss as he glared daggers back at Valter.

"Here! Let me show you how it's done!"

The Magnezone threw out another large bolt of electricity that coursed through Valter's body and dropped him to the ground with a pained yelp. Cernun watched horrified as Valter struggled to get back up, only for Coil to fire another Thunder, and another, as the sound of agonized screams from the Dusknoir filled the air. Valter's cries grew weak as Coil cast a final bolt at his head, leaving him to loll back as a black mist began to trail up from the ends of Valter's motionless body as Cernun's voice hitched and stammered

"V-Valter!"

Coil drew his magnets back beside his body, floating up beside Valter's burned body as he shot a disgusted scowl down at him.

"Hrmph. For a 'ghost' you still very much have life in you… or had it, I should say," Coil sneered, before turning to Cernun and floating forward as sparks arced between his magnets.

"Now, time to bring you to where you're needed."

Cernun froze out of terror as the Magnezone approached, screwing his eyes shut as he expected to feel the same jolt and numbness that the Commodore inflicted on him when he was first captured. The Electric-Type neared, weak jolts of electricity dancing between his magnets when a loud crash rang out outside, followed by frantic shouts and a sharp roar in the distance.

"Gah! Fall back and form a perimeter!"

Coil paused, looking around puzzledly as he recognized the roar to come from a Salamence's voice, and none other than the Lieutenant he'd entrusted to help lead the curfew!

"Valan?" Coil buzzed. "What on earth-?"

A beam of burning, white light suddenly shot through the boarded-up window, spraying splinters and dust into the air and making both Cernun and Coil jump back. Coil brushed himself off as the din of snarls and blasts filtered in, prompting him to look out the remains of the window and see a mob of Pokémon trading blows with guards in the approach up to the medic's hut. The Magnezone let out an annoyed buzz, sparking as his voice crackled with a hissing seethe.

"Is it really so hard to get decent Lieutenants in the navy nowadays?!" Coil spat. "I warned those two that something like this could happen-"

Coil's fuming was cut off by the sound of shifting and thumping, prompting him to jolt back out of surprise as he saw Valter rise from the ground and get up. The Magnezone stared stunned as the Dusknoir righted himself, shaking an arm out of disbelief at his newfound vigor as he looked back at the Commodore. Coil noticed that the cross in Ghost-Type's eye was now missing, and the burns he'd left behind were visibly healing before his eyes while Valter glared and readied himself to battle once more.

"Gah! You were able to come back from that?!" Coil hissed. "No matter, let's see how you enjoy dying and staying dead!"

"Stop it!"

Coil looked back, where he saw Cernun lower his antlers as they lit up in a rainbow of colors and the markings on his chest and legs flushed a golden hue. The Magnezone floated dumbstruck as the light between Cernun's antlers grew brighter and brighter, the deer glaring back with a fierce defiance that he'd never seen before.

"Just get away from us!" Cernun shouted.

A great ball of pinkish-white light gathered on the Xerneas' antlers as the room was filled by blinding light that made the Pokémon outside through the window look up from their clashes with shocked stares. Coil instinctively charged up sparks on his body as the Xerneas' Moonblast sailed forward and enveloped Coil, the light inside cracking through the hut's gaps and into the night sky as a splitting, metallic screech filled the air.

"A-AAAAGGGGGHHHH!"

"As you can surmise, I failed to prevent that revolt."



"Given what the navy was up to, I still say we made the right call," Roteck snorted.

"So what happened to Coil?" Guardia asked.

"Well, my attack knocked him out," Cernun explained. "It didn't take long afterwards for his lackeys to grab him and leave."

"They did put up a stiff fight to try and turn things around," Trizano added. "But me, Roteck and the rest of the villagers drove them off to keep them from being able to regroup."

Valter's mood sank, as he cast his red eye's gaze down toward the ground, traces of a betrayed expression coming over his face as he thought back to the night that sealed Blackmoon Village's fate.

"Even the Governor who had worked with me for years fled with them," Valter sighed, shaking his head. "But all along, we knew this victory was fleeting. That they'd come back with even more ships to try and make an example of the revolt."

"Is that why you came to this place?" Nida wondered.

"We admittedly were at a loss for what we could do to conceal our presence, and the Marked on our island fled for Gestirn fully expecting the Empire to bring its full wrath upon us," Valter replied. "But with the pirate raids we had been suffering just before then, we decided the best option was to burn the town and make it look like a particularly cutthroat attack."

"We took that 'Knight's Ledger' that Coil had been using as part of his research with us," Roteck explained. "Figured that if it came to it, we would at least be able to keep him off our backs under threat of exposing what he was up to."

"But then why did this 'ghost' thing come along?" Pleo demanded.

"Well… our cover wasn't as effective as we had thought. About a week after Blackmoon Village was put to the torch, Valan returned with a crew to scout the island," Trizano answered. "He had begun to suspect something was up and had almost discovered Darkwood Square here when Valter came up with the idea to make the island seem like it had been haunted by the spirits of everyone from Blackmoon Village. Valan didn't seem particularly scared by it, but his crew certainly was, and it was enough to drive them off and spare the town."

"Tch, if he never bothered coming back here, he got scared enough by it. It's that Coil that was a thorn in our side," Roteck insisted. "Even after the navy got sick of sending crews out here, the rotter went out and contracted crews to try and find us. Mercenaries, pirates, the occasional merchant crew blinded by greed…"

Team Traveller watched as Valter shook his head and let out a low grumble, the Aggron's words evidently having done its part to stir up unwelcome memories for the Ghost-Type. The group wondered to themselves what could have happened to the town amidst all the attacks, when the Dusknoir hardened his brow and spoke up in a harsh voice.

"As such, we needed a way to nip such incursions in the bud. Permanently," Valter continued. "And so it was that the 'ghosts' began dragging their victims off 'to their doom' much as you lot were."

"So that's how it all happened… But what about that fight with you and Coil?" Kiran pressed. "How could you be dead and then come back?"

"It is the nature of the Immortals who bear the mark of Lord Cernun's blessing. It freezes their body's aging and gives greater vitality and healing from wounds," the Dusknoir explained. "We don't know if an Immortal will ever die of old age, but we haven't had any pass on yet since Cernun came. What we do know is that should an Immortal be struck down, he will elude death's grasp and come back to life."

"'The mark of Lord Cernun's blessing'? You mean the cross-shaped eyes?" Crom said. "But you're an Immortal and you don't have one!"

Crom looked back expectantly at Valter and the gathered Immortals, waiting for a response only to be answered with a long silence. The Druddigon blinked and shuffled awkwardly, before hesitantly pressing his question.

"… Aren't you?" he asked.

"Valter… isn't one anymore," Cernun began. "After he came back to life, the cross shape in his eye was gone and no matter how many times or how hard I've tried, I haven't been able to make him an Immortal again."

The Xerneas shook his head glumly, looking off into the distance for the edges of the stable zone.

"Those Pokémon that were petrified didn't become Immortals either when I healed them…" he said. "I don't know for sure, but I think that it just might not be possible for me to give that power if a Pokémon's already died once."

Team Traveller's members traded surprised glances with each other. Between what Cernun had to say about his true nature and the destruction of Blackmoon Village being an elaborate ruse, the lot couldn't help but feel slightly overwhelmed at everything the Protector had to say.

"That's… quite a bit to take in all at once," Dimitri murmured.

"Well, I hope it makes it clear as to why you must stay here," Valter harrumphed. "This village is in a vulnerable position and should our secret ever be exposed, Coil wouldn't hesitate to rally the Empire's ships to make short work of us."

"But you don't have to be afraid about that anymore!" Pleo insisted. "Coil's no longer in the navy!"

Pleo's exclamation drew a blank stare from the Dusknoir, who fumbled for words before he pressed the seabird to continue on.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nida and the others got him caught egg-napping and he got in trouble and everything!" Pleo chirped. "And… I don't know about the rest of the Empire, but they can't be as bad as Coil like you make them out to be! I even made a friend from the Empire!"

"Co?" Elty asked, giving a puzzled raise of his brow. "You di-? Ow!"

The Growlithe was cut off by a conk at the back of his head from Guardia's club, prompting him to shoot a glare over as the Cubone scowled back with a sharp hiss under her breath.

"Not helping right now!" she scolded. Valter looked at the bickering pair and their surprised teammates skeptically, before turning back to Pleo with a narrowed eye.

"Explain yourself, uccello," he demanded. Pleo shifted and squirmed, wondering to himself where the best place to even begin his tale would be…

"Well…"

After a moment of deliberation, Pleo opted to begin things with the team's departure from Nerea, and how after being chased to Sormus, they were captured by an Imperial captain and brought to Giotto. There, while Pleo befriended one of his captors, Nida, Elty, and Guardia met with a local detective and two attorneys and discovered together that Coil had been dealing stolen eggs to pirates. Through grit, a dash of luck, and their participation in a local tournament, they helped their new friends in Giotto with exposing Coil, and managed to free Pleo and escape to Buyeom in the confusion surrounding Coil's summons.

"… So how do you know what happened to Coil afterwards if you fled?" Valter asked.

"Well, after escaping we got to Buyeom, which is where we met Kline," Nida answered. "He told us about how Coil got disgraced, meaning that Nico and Rita managed to expose him after we left Giotto."

"Yeah, a lot of Pokémon in Giotto found out about the truth and got angry about it," Elty said. "So he can't do you any harm anymore."

Valter paused, his eye hardening into a doubting scowl as he peered down at Elty and his teammates.

"Did you see these things happening to Coil, or was it merely told to you?" the Dusknoir demanded, prompting Team Traveller's members to sheepishly hem and haw as Nida pawed at the back of her head.

"I mean… Kline told us, and he hasn't exactly been wrong about anything so far," the Nidoran began, only to be cut off by a ghostly huff.

"Hrmph, when he chooses to be. How do you know he didn't just say what he thought you wanted to hear?"

"H-Huh?! But why would Kline do that?!" Crom exclaimed. "He was looking for someone to help him out!"

"To manipulate you into helping him with his own problems, of course!" Valter spat. "It wouldn't be the first time."

"But- But he wouldn't do anything like that!" Pleo cried. "He helped us back on Buyeom!"

The Lugia's cry drew a dismissive scoff from Valter, leaving him to blanch and grimace puzzledly. Cernun let out a low sigh, giving a glum shake of his head before speaking up in reply.

"That certainly doesn't sound like the way he was acting when he was here," the Xerneas said. "All he did was yell at me for making 'mons Immortal and tell me to completely ignore everything that was going on with Coil to help him with some 'Elilan' that was a more serious threat."

"He was probably overselling the problem anyways to try and play on Lord Cernun's emotions," Valter scoffed. "I can sympathize for his plight with his counterpart, but to come to this town and demand everyone to put all that we've cobbled together in danger to help him is the sort of selfishness I'd expect from a common corsair!"

"But Elilan is a genuine threat!" Ander insisted. "Especially if his plans get anywhere close to being completed!"

"Is that why Kline wants to charge in and risk getting captured while his foe is still young and has the upper hand? That Elilan's strength isn't going to grow as he ages, and his life will eventually grind to an end," the Dusknoir retorted. "When I pointed this out to him, he just scolded us saying that we'd either get found out eventually or run out of resources. He even spouted fearmongering hypotheticals about how Elilan might seek out Cernun directly for immortality if he got old enough! What did he tell you to get you into the fold? That Elilan will summon a meteor to fall on the Cradle?"

Team Traveller quietly grimaced at Valter's angry reply. They had seen firsthand how Kline had been able to warn them of things well beyond what any of them could have found out on their own through his Cells, so how could Valter and the villagers just dismiss Kline's warnings about Elilan as mere exaggeration?

Kiran raised his voice to speak up, only to realize that whatever had happened to sour things between Valter and Kline, it probably wasn't worth dredging up when all they had to do was convince Valter to let his part of the Knights' Ledger off the island. It couldn't be that difficult, could it? If both the Company and Empire feared it as much as Nerea said, then surely the Dusknoir could be convinced that it would keep Coil too at bay.

"But… even if we're wrong about Coil, there's no reason to live like this. You have part of the Knights' Ledger after all!" the Swellow exclaimed. "Why not just use that to blackmail the Empire into leaving you alone? It'd even work on the Company to boot!"

"We're avoiding our enemies just fine right now without having to needlessly use the Ledger or risk getting it destroyed," Valter chided. "As will you all once you stay here."

Team Traveller's members blanched and stared back blankly at the Ghost-Type. Why, it sounded as if Valter's 'solution' to the town's troubles was simply to hide away from the rest of the world entirely!

The group thought to themselves, realizing that all of the things they'd seen and overheard while in town about shortages of resources and space were happening because Darkwood Square was always growing with new Pokémon who would be around forever because Cernun had made them into Immortals on a whim. Was this what had caused drove a wedge between Kline and Cernun's falling out with each other? As perverse as it sounded… perhaps Ander really did have a point in saying that Cernun was toying irresponsibly with the balance of life, not that Valter's insistence on trapping everyone on the island was helping at all.

Kiran clamped his beak shut, wondering just what on earth any of them could do to persuade 'mons as dug in as that. The Swellow mulled the matter to himself, before deciding that as long of a shot as it seemed, perhaps Valter would respond better to a more concrete offer.

"Look, we get that you want to stay hidden and we don't want to expose you either," he said. "But if you just keep us here, you're going to get our friends worried and then they're going to come and look for-!"

Valter abruptly billowed out a black mist and hardened his hands into clenched fists, letting out a livid hiss that made Team Traveller's members jump back with a start.

"You dare try to threaten your way out of here?!" the Dusknoir bellowed.

"Th-That's not at all what I was trying to say!" Kiran stammered. "I-!"

"You will still your tongue and cease wasting my time with this nonsense!" the Ghost-Type shouted. "Your friends can try all they want, but in the end, they'll either flee like the rest when their nerves fail them, or they'll stay here for eternity!"

Valter turned away with a huff, storming off as Cernun shrank away uneasily and followed after. Along his way, Valter slowed a moment before turning back to Roteck in the pavillion.

"Roteck, take them back to their lodgings," the Dusknoir growled. "This conversation is over."

"Uh… Duke Valter," the Aggron murmured. "Are you sure that-?"

"Just do as you're ordered!"

The Aggron paused, before hesitantly making his way for Team Traveller alongside Trizano and motioning for the lot to come along with him. The group grudgingly set off, leaving the shrine behind as Trizano quietly followed along from behind. As they drifted off, Pleo looked back over his shoulder, seeing Cernun watching them depart before continuing on after Valter. The deer had to have some sympathy for their plight… but with Valter competing for his influence and being this stubborn, just what else could they do to try and plead their case…?



Off at the berry fields on the eastern side of Darkwood Square's clearing, the leaves rustled and shook as the forms of a Yanmega, a Manectric, and a Marowak snuck along from a path in the fog past a pair of guards playing cards, pawing at the scuffs and scrapes they'd picked up from ferals in the dungeon, and occasionally helping themselves to a berry from a passing bush. The three wandered out of the bushes and beside a row of simple shacks, prompting them to hang back into the shadows and gawk ahead warily at the sight of the village's interior further ahead.

"Any ideas where those twerps got off to?" Alvise whispered. "It took us forever just to find this other way in!"

"I dunno, why don't you go poke your snout deeper into this place yourself and tell me?" Nori grumbled.

"Ugh… what did we ever do to deserve this?" Valatos groaned.

"Er…" Nori murmured. "Well, we went around saying we were elite pirates and-"

"Don't answer that, bonehead!" the Yanmega hissed, prompting Alvise to snort and roll his eyes.

"What's with all these shacks?" he asked. "It's like there's an entire town down here."

"I've been hearing in town they've spotted more pirates lurking around here. How on earth is that possible?"

Alvise trailed off at the sound of the stranger's voice mention of pirates and froze for a moment. He blinked and turned his head towards the chatter, wondering to himself if they hadn't snuck in as well as he thought earlier.

The Manectric and his companions inched along a nearby wall at the sound of ghostly voices ahead. The three hesitated, poking their heads around the corner to spot the forms of a Haunter and a Drifloon floating down the lane as a Misdreavus accompanying them furrowed her brow back in annoyance.

"I hope you're not getting things confused with the 'mons we just brought in earlier," Lisa harrumphed, prompting Cantone to blink and sheepishly brush his feelers against each other.

"… Right. Whatever happened to them anyways?" the Drifloon asked. "Did they get sent to the cells with those real pirates?"

"Nah, I'm pretty sure they're joining our neighbors, so we'll see 'em around pretty often," Vince replied.

"'Cells'? 'Neighbors'?" Nori mumbled from his hiding place. "Who are they all talking about?"

"Really, shame they're not from that other crew. It'd never get old to scare them out of their hides!" the Haunter chortled. "Especially those three scemii going on about 'rah rah, we're elites and you're gonna listen to us' before squeaking and running off screaming like the rest of them!"

Team Phantom's members broke out into uproarious laughter as Valatos, Alvise, and Nori felt their blood boil. The Yanmega of the group flew forward, his mind set on revenge for the humiliation he'd endured from the ghostly jokers.

"Oh that's it!" Valatos seethed. "I'm gonna pull out his ghostly tongue and-!"

Nori and Alvise hastily latched onto Valatos' wings and tail, wrestling him to the ground and out of sight as they covered his mouth and desperately tried to muffle his angry hisses.

"Nani yatten da yo?! Don't just go out there!" Nori whispered.

"Yeah, you'll give us away, genius!" Alvise snapped.

Vince and his companions departed beside themselves with laughter, leaving Valatos and his companions to quietly fume after them. As the Ghost-Types slipped off, Alvise paused as a sharp scowl settled over his face.

"So then those dorks are those 'ghosts' from all those stories about Pioppo? Well there's no reason to play the fool any longer, and we'll have plenty of time to get back at 'em," the Manectric growled. "Those pirates they were talking about must've been the ones that went missing, let's find 'em and get back to the ship to explain what's really going on."

"Wait, you mean to go deeper into there?" Nori asked. "But what if we get caught?"

"Then we'll just use that Escape Orb we've got with us," Valatos said. "Let's just hurry up and find them."

The three crept along, drifting from wall to wall and alley to alley as the fields thinned and the village's shacks clustered ever-tighter with each other. All the while, the lot kept dutiful eyes and ears out for approaching Pokémon, stopping and waiting for the sounds of footsteps and voices to pass as they carried on in search of clues, only to stop and frown puzzledly at the lack of any sign as to where the captured pirates could be.

"Help! Help! Somebody get us out of here!"

The trio turned their heads, before recognizing the voice to be from a Chingling they'd remembered seeing among the crew a couple times before. The Chingling cried out for help again and again, prompting Valatos and his companions to quietly creep after the Bell Pokémon's distressed cries, following them until they found themselves at an alleyway overlooking a crude hut guarded by a Spiritomb and an Amoonguss in blue scarves.

"Doesn't that stupid little bell ever shut up?" the Spiritomb grumbled.

"Ugh, why couldn't Carola still be on shift?" the Amoonguss groaned. "At least that way she could gum up his mouth!"

Valatos peered ahead, looking for any way around the lurking guards ahead. His eyes chanced to fall upon a wobbly awning of red cloth over a doorway a few huts down on the main street, prompting him to flit his wings and hurl a cutting gust at it. The Air Slash cut through the awning's supports, leaving it to flop over and knock a resting pot to the ground with a crash that jolted the guards up and drew their attention away.

"Eh?! Hey what the-?!"

"Bah, I told Emilio to reinforce that awning!" the Amoonguss growled. "Come on!"

Alvise and his companions watched as the guards left the doorway and darted across the street, running through the doorway and across a crude lobby where they ducked down a winding set of steps and found themselves in an underground passageway dimly lit by candlelight. The three paced ahead, noticing cells built on either end of them when they chanced to catch movement at the far right end. Alvise and the others crept along and quickly found themselves face to face through a barred door held in place by a crude padlock with Alfred, Pieter, and the rest of the missing foraging party from the ship.

"Ah! It actually worked!" the Chingling exclaimed.

"Travellers above, you actually made it here!" the Noibat cried. "Quick, get us out before those two come ba-!"

"Pfft, wow! These guys have really let themselves go," Alvise sneered. Nori and Valatos joined in with jeering smirks, leaving Pieter in the cell to blink back incredulously.

"H-Huh?! What do you mean?" the Sealeo asked. "And why are you laughing right now?! We're stuck in a cell!"

"'Help! Help! Somebody save us!'" Nori snickered. "From how you were running your mouths off, I was half-expecting you to start crying for your mothers!"

The mood among the pirates in the cell quickly soured, as the Charmeleon among their number had his tail flame flush a whitish hue and let out a sharp growl in response.

"As if you'd do any better!" Alfred fumed. "Look, just hurry up and get us out of here before those guards get back!"

"Tch, do we seriously have to do everything for you?" Valatos scoffed.

The Yanmega beat his wings as a violet aura settled on a patch of the ground, the floor lurching as a large stone wreathed in a purplish glow tore out of the ground and smashed against the cell door. The pirates inside jumped back with a yelp as dust flew through the air, looking down as the air cleared to see the lock lying with its latch broken on the ground and Valatos smirking from the other end of a now wide open door.

"See?" he buzzed. "Easy as cake for an actual elite pi-"

"Ehi!"

The dragonfly and his companions froze as the other pirates grimaced, the lot looking back to see the Amoonguss and Spiritomb who'd been keeping watch outside staring them down and growling fiercely.

"I've never seen you three around here before," the Spiritomb snarled. "And what do you think you're doing letting the prisoners out?!"

"We… Uh…" Nori gulped. "We were…"

"Oh forget it, eat sparks!" Alvise snarled.

Arcs of electricity danced on Alvise's pelt as he expelled a Discharge at the two guards, leaving them to convulse and drop to the ground with sharp cries. With their enemies stunned, the pirates hastily dashed ahead, leaving the guards to stumble back up huffing and fuming from their blow.

"Nrgh… get back here!" the Amoonguss shouted.

The pirates ran for dear life as a glowing green orb and a shadowy ball zipped by, charging up the stairs and throwing one of the crates in front of the steps to buy time for an escape. Valatos and the others then rushed outside, coming to a skidding stop as they found that a small crowd of onlookers had gathered, including Team Traveller at the edge who paused and stared slack-jawed.

"W-Wait a minute!" Crom cried. "Those are-!"

Valatos and his companions narrowed their eyes, readying attacks when they heard the guards throwing aside the crate, and saw the passerbys hastily adopting aggressive stances and advancing on them from all sides.

"A-Ack! We're trapped" the Noibat cried.

"Oh no we're not!" Valatos hissed. "Hold on, dweebs!"

The Yanmega and the other pirates latched onto each other as Valatos fished out the glowing form of an Escape Orb and dashed it against the ground. A shattering noise rang out as the pirates vanished in a flash of light, the Spiritomb and Amoonguss catching up just moments too late to stop them. A stunned silence settled over the surrounding Pokémon, Elty among them shrinking back and folding his ears with a grimace as he realized that there was only one place the pirates could be headed off to now…

Straight back to the Iron Fleet, where they'd reveal everything about what they had seen.

"Oh no…"



Author's Notes:

- santuario - Italian: "shrine", "sanctuary"
- Co? - Polish: "What?"
- scemi - Italian: "fools", "idiots"
- Nani yatten da yo?! (何やってんだよ?) - Japanese: "What are you doing?!" (Hepburn Romanization)
- Ehi! - Italian: "Hey!"
 
Chapter 73: Backed Into a Corner

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
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On the Mistral Marauder, Hess and his underlings had warily ventured back onto the deck, cautiously watching over the railings out at Pioppo. The crew's wait for Valatos and his companions had gone without incident, as the forests remained peculiarly quiet and the sun moved further and further west. By the time the sky began to lose its blue daytime color, the mood on the deck had turned restless, as impatient grumbles and thumps rang out around the Aggron captain as he peered inland with his scope.

"It's been hours," a Miltank complained. "Shouldn't we have heard something back from them by now?"

"Captain, how long are we going to keep waiting for them to return?" a Vileplume demanded.

Hess let out a sigh of relief that he likely managed to get rid of his Marowak underling, pocketing his looking glass before turning back towards the gathering with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Well, we tried. It's been long enough," Hess said. "I guess we have no choice but to turn off and…"

"Oi! We're back!"

A loud buzz and woosh of air passed Hess' head, prompting him to turn and see Valatos fly by and settle on the railing. The Aggron blinked bewilderedly, before looking down to see Alvise and Nori clinging to the back of a blue Gastrodon with Alfred's missing party. Hess stared as the lot made their way up some netting back up to the deck, where his expression fell into a disappointed grimace.

"… Wait for them to tell us exactly what happened," he groaned.

"Wait, Alfred?" a Drednaw asked. "Is that you?"

"No, it's the King of Conntow," the Charmeleon snorted. "Of course it's me!"

"But how'd you get back from those ghosts?"

The crew continued trading incredulous remarks as they began to drift for the arriving pirates. Alfred and the rest of his group stayed to chatter with their peers who gave disbelieving pokes and prods, while Alvise and Nori hurried to rejoin Valatos at the head of a crowd of curious pirates. Along the way, Alvise chanced to see the Pawniard who singled him out to go scout and pushed him out of the way as a weak jolt came out his fur that sent the Pawniard falling backwards paralyzed. As Nori and Alvise approached, Hess screwed his eyes shut out of annoyance, leaving Rodion to cast a skeptical glance over at Alfred and his companions before turning back to the scouting party.

"Aren't those the deckclaws that went missing?" the Floatzel questioned. "What happened and where'd you find them?"

"Hrmph, those 'ghosts' from earlier were all fakes, that's what!" Alvise spat.

The Manectric's answer drew gasps and threw the gathered pirates into a confused din of questions. After stomping the deck for silence, Hess peered down letting out an impatient growl from the back of his throat.

"What do you mean 'fakes'? Everyone was screaming bloody murder over those ghosts earlier!"

The three shifted a bit at their captain's impatience, before they started telling him about how they came across Elty and some of his teammates shortly after finding the water the crew sent them out for. From there, it was a simple matter of tailing the whelps to a hidden village, where they discovered that some local Ghost-Types had been responsible for the 'ghosts' they'd been running into. All the while, as the trio rounded out their tale by recounting their daring escape in which they freed Alfred's party and effortlessly overpowered the guards and sighted Pleo during their escape, the mood of the crew got more and more surly. At the end of the trio's tale, Hess' maw curled into a bared-fang snarl as he began to realize that he'd been hiding on his ship all day for nothing at all!

"So all this time, we've been had by a bunch of hicks holed up in a glorified cave?!" Hess growled.

"Uh… well yeah," Nori murmured. "But where are you-?"

"That tears it!" the Aggron roared. "Nobody makes the Iron Fleet look like a fool and gets away with it!"

Hess' cry prompted a few skeptical glances from his audience, as a Wimpod from the group blinked and began to speak up.

"But what about our last trip to Andaku when we got- ARGH!"

The Wimpod was summarily cut off by a stomp on his back from Hess, leaving the hapless Bug-Type laying against the deck groaning out of pain. As nearby pirates cast wary glances at their stricken comrade, Hess cleared his throat before turning back to the rest of his crew to speak.

"As I was saying, nobody makes us look like a fool without us doing something about it!" the Aggron insisted.

"Well what are we supposed to do then?" a Cherrim demanded.

"Yeah! They've got a town and everything in there!" a Litten cried.

"We do what we do with any other town. We raid it," Hess said. "We know where it is now and last I checked, that bird we were after was there and we needed supplies anyways! We'll take him along with a bit extra!"

A few scattered ayes broke out in the gathering, while the bulk of the pirates traded dubious looks with one another. Sensing that there remained work to be done to raise his underlings' spirits, Hess stomped the deck, before letting out a bravado-filled roar.

"Tonight, we celebrate our victory on this deck! With their rum!"

The pirates' trepidation quickly vanished as the gathering broke out into ecstatic cheers at Hess' exclamation, leaving Kichiro to shake his head and bury his face in an opened fist.

"… They're just in it for the rum, aren't they?" he sighed.

"Well, sometimes Hess needs to play to his audience," Rodion offered. "No problem in using rum to help with that."

"Let's get going!" Hess bellowed. "That village isn't going to loot itself!"

"Hey, hold up a minute! Those 'mons are incredibly dug in in that dungeon!" Nori protested. "How do you expect us to charge in without them picking us off!"

Hess flinched as he spotted Nori still on the deck ahead of him. The Steel-Type paused and realized the the bone lizard did raise a fair point. Someone would need to go ahead of the rest of the crew to provide a distraction, and he already had the perfect candidates in mind…

"When we get to the Mystery Dungeon, you and your buddies are going to go ahead and cause a distraction for us in town," Hess ordered. "The rest of us will raid 'em while their guard is down."

Valatos, Alvise, and Nori jolted up in shock, stammering out protests as they tried to make sense of Hess' sudden demand.

"B-But there's only three of us and that's an entire village!" Nori complained. "How are we supposed to do anything?!"

"So start a fire or something!" the Aggron huffed. "All that matters is that you're in charge of buying us time, and if we can't make it into town, we're leaving without you!"

The three grimaced and shrank back, Hess ignoring their obvious discomfort to pace up to the edge of the railing and motion for his crew to follow.

"Come on, let's move out!"

A rousing cheer went up as Hess poked into a chest near the tiller for items and clambered down into the water, his underlings getting their own supplies as they began to prepare for battle and make their way for the beach. All the while, Alvise and his companions lingered behind, looking off at Pioppo in the distance as Alvise let out an audible gulp.

"What did we get ourselves into?"



Deep within Pioppo's Mystery Dungeon, Darkwood Square had descended into a state of general disorder after Valatos and his companions' escape. Here and there, Pokémon darted in a frantic rush, some gathering into small groups to prepare to head off into the island's wilderness and face the pirates head on, while others piled up stones and clutter to form barriers in the lanes, and a few who were once from among Valter's guards as a noble dug out old and worn-down sets of cloth and mail. All the while, Valter floated to and fro, shouting out orders as he tried his hardest to move his eye around to keep up with the whirlwind of activity.

"Get those barricades together!" the Dusknoir barked. "I wanted the main entrance blocked five minutes ago!"

As the villagers hurried about under Valter's direction, Team Traveller looked on from beside the wall of a nearby hut. The lot shifted uneasily, as they racked their minds glumly as to how they were to manage Hess' crew invading the town in search of them on top of their troubles of just making it back to the ship.

"It always seems like trouble's right on our tail…" Elty muttered.

"W-Well we can't just stand here!" Crom cried. "We need to do something!"

"Like what?" Guardia asked. "Valter didn't even want to hear from us earlier!"

Kiran looked off at the Dusknoir leader as he finished giving instructions to another group of villagers, hesitating for a moment before shaking his head and digging his feet in determinedly.

"… Maybe we should try again," the Swellow murmured. "Perhaps he'll be more willing to hear us out in a time like this."

The Flying-Type set off, followed one by one by his teammates with Elty trailing half-heartedly at the rear. If he'd only kept his yap shut back on Orleigh, none of this would be happening! He'd never have fought Pieter, and Valatos and his cronies would have never found the village…

He- He needed to get the captain to back off somehow, but how was he to do that when that blasted dragonfly would just blab about everything?!

"Gardie!"

"H-Huh?!"

Elty jolted upright with a yelp, looking ahead to see Guardia glaring back at him and stomping her feet impatiently.

"Are you coming or what?!" the Cubone snapped. "We're trying to convince Valter here!"

The Growlithe shook his head and hurried along, catching up with his teammates as Nida neared Valter, raising a forepaw as she tried to draw the Ghost-Type's attention.

"Um… Valter," Nida began. "We were just wondering if…"

"Can you not see I'm busy right now?!" the Dusknoir insisted. "I don't want to hear your protests right now!"

"But we didn't even get to-!" Crom started, only to be cut off by a sharp huff.

"Enough!" Valter fumed. "As if it's not bad enough that I need to repulse an inva-!"

Before the Ghost-Type could finish, a spinning, white projectile sailed in, clipping the Dusknoir in the face. Valter recoiled with a sharp shout, as an impatient and raspy cry piped out from Team Traveller's midst.

"Will you just let us speak for a moment?!"

Valter rubbed at his face fuming as he looked back at Team Traveller. At the fore was Guardia catching her bone in her claws and scowling at him, with the rest of her teammates staring in wide-eyed shock. The Dusknoir seethed and billowed out black, shadowy wisps about his knuckles, hardening his red eye back in a fierce glare at the bone lizard.

"What is your problem?!" Valter shouted. "You just hit me in the face!"

"That's because we're trying to help you and your colony, you stupid jerk!" Guardia piped.

One after the other, the Cubone's teammates buried their faces into open wings, paws, and the flats of scythes with audible groans. Sensing that she was alone in her willingness to fight, the Cubone blinked, before sheepishly moving her free claw behind her helmet.

"Er… ahehe… perhaps we could start over?" she offered.

Valter glared back in wordless fury and balled up his fists readying for a swing, only for the sound of hoofbeats to approach. The Dusknoir calmed a moment, looking over to see Cernun coming up from behind curiously shifting his attention between the Duke and his audience.

"Valter, what's going on between you all?" Cernun asked.

"We wanted to say that we could help fight off those pirates if you'd just give our badges back and let us call for our friends to assist you!" Nida insisted.

"That's not necessary," Valter harrumphed. "And you're quite presumptuous to think that I'd have a mind to entertain your suggestions after that little episode at the shrine earlier!"

"B-But you're turning the town upside down trying to prepare for Hess!" Pleo cried.

The gathered Pokémon paused and turned their attention to the young Lugia, who faltered a moment before pulling his wings in tight and looking up pleadingly at Cernun and Valter.

"Look, I know that maybe you're not ready to leave here… but we've dealt with Hess before and so have our friends," the Lugia said. "If they knew that you were in trouble, they'd be more than willing to help if you didn't try to keep them here forever afterwards!"

The Dusknoir scowled back sternly at Pleo's plea, only to notice from the corner of his eye that Cernun was glancing over at him with palpable unease.

"Valter, if we're really in that much danger, shouldn't we take their help?" the Xerneas asked. "They haven't tried to boss us around like Kline did, so maybe we can trust them."

Valter paused and remained silent for a moment, his scowl wavering before it dissolved into a sighing shake of his head.

"… Fine, but you'll fight on our terms, and I'm not exactly ready to give you your badges back yet" he replied. "Send a few of your friends out to pass word along with a scouting party. It would only be a short journey back to the beach to notify your companions,

"Understood," Dimitri answered. "I'm one of the best 'mons suited to cut through the brush back to camp. So I can head out and-"

"I'll come too!" Ander offered.

The gathered Pokémon stared as Ander stepped forward, visibly straying to the right to give Cernun a berth. The Scyther tapped the flats of his blades together uneasily, before continuing on in a wary tone.

"You're… going to need some way to convince them we're all okay, right?" Ander murmured. "I was one of the first 'mons taken, so if they see me okay they'll know it's safe to help."

"… Just hurry it up," Valter ordered.

Ander and Dimitri set off to a Hypno gathering with a small party of Ghost-Type Pokémon nearby. The pair made their way over as the group interlocked limbs with each other and the Hypno closed her eyes in focus, before vanishing in a blip of light. Valter stared off after the now-empty space for a moment, before turning his attention back to the remaining members of Team Traveller.

"As for the rest of you, help us prepare for the arrival of these pirates," the Duke said. "If they get away, the secrets we've fought so hard to keep hidden will be all for naught. If you know anything about what we can expect from them… well, the fate of this village could hinge on if we have a way to counter them."

"Right, show us the way, then," Kiran said.

Guardia watched as Kiran and his companions set off, beginning to walk after them when she noticed that Elty wasn't among them. The Cubone blinked and looked behind where she discovered that there was neither hide nor hair of her Growlithe teammate to be seen.

"Nani? Where'd Gardie go?" Guardia asked. "He was right here just a minute ago!"



Shhk-Shhk-Shhk

The sound of rustling bushes and crunching twigs rang out at the fog-wreathed entrance of Pioppo's Mystery Dungeon, as Hess led a small train of pirates with Rodion following close behind. The lot stopped in front of the last row of trees before they stopped growing entirely in the fog, Hess watching the mist shift with the wind before noticing a rough corridor forming ahead and turning towards Valatos and his teammates.

"This must be it. That's your cue, Valatos," Hess said. "The rest of us will be getting ready-"

"You… shall… join… us…"

The pirates turned towards the treeline to their right, watching as a purplish haze billowed out and piled up into three wispy wraiths with glowing golden eyes and disembodied hands. The gathering shrank back reflexively, as Kichiro frowned, flitting forward with an unamused stare.

"… Really?" the Ledian grumbled. "You can't even think of something original to say?"

The ghosts turned to each other for a fleeting moment, before the wraiths floated forward, their hands stretched out with open claws as they approached the pirates.

"Join us… in the Spiri-"

The figures were promptly hit with a hail of rocks, followed by a watery jet, and a barrage of beams and projectiles from the rest of the pirates that kicked up a cloud of dust. As the cloud churned, sounds of weak groans filtered through the air, leaving behind the forms of a Gengar, a Litwick, and a Shedinja sprawled out on the ground. Hess looked over the fainted Ghost-Types, before stepping forward and stomping the ground with a sharp growl.

"Jig's up, gasbags!" he snarled. "Have a small taste of what's coming to your stupid village!"

Rodion paced up, looking over the groaning Ghost-Types with a sharp frown before he turned his head up to his Aggron superior.

"What should we do with them anyways?" the Floatzel asked.

"Hrmph, tie 'em up and keep a few 'mons on watch over them while we fill up the barrels we brought along," Hess ordered. "They've got something to make up for and we could use some more deckclaws anyways."

Rodion quickly hurried ahead with a Croagunk and a Miltank, setting to work binding the Ghost-Types up with belled ropes. In the background, a group of pirates began to roll barrels down to the stream and fill them with water, leaving Hess to turn his attention over to Valatos and his teammates before shoving them off towards the fog of the Mystery Dungeon's entrance.

"As for you, it's time for you to do your part for this gig," the Aggron snapped.

"Th-This is crazy!" Nori cried. "We're three 'mons and they're an entire town!"

"Yeah, just what are we supposed to do when they already know we're coming?" Alvise demanded, only to get answered by the thump of a worn bag being thrown at his feet.

"That's for you to figure out," Hess spat. "Now get moving!"

The Aggron stomped against the ground, calling up a hail of rocks from the earth that he launched at Valatos and his companions. Nori hastily grabbed the bag on the ground before the three bolted off with frightened yelps and barely avoided the rocks, running into the mouth of the Mystery Dungeon's entrance as the fog thickened around them. The three slowed their pace after it was evident Hess wasn't following up his attack and the fog began to thin and the other side of the Mystery Dungeon started coming into view. After a few uneasy steps forward into the dungeon, the lot stopped to pant and gasp for air, Nori shaking his head and stomping his feet in frustration.

"How are we even supposed to start fires like he asked us to?" the Marowak complained. "Alvise here's the only one of us who knows any Fire attacks!"

Nori shifted the bag on his shoulder uncomfortably after he felt a poking sensation through the cloth, prompting Valatos to fly up and pull the cover back to see its mouth full of Blast Seeds and oily rags. The dragonfly and his companions traded looks with one another, before Valatos' mandibles settled into a devious smile.

"… I think we can work with this," he said. "Kom op."



At the Siglo Swellow's encampment at the beach, Pat had freshly returned from Tromba with mail and the sailors had begun to stock freshly cleared fire pits with wood as the sun began to pass towards the horizon. All the while, Beatrix and Vicente turned expectantly from the scene to look off at the forest, only to see time and time again that Kiran and his charges had failed to come back. The wait had left the Illumise and her first mate tense and worried, her feelings leaking out to her subordinates as anxious murmurs and rumors floated around in the background.

"… It's been six hours now since they left," Vicente sighed. "Captain, what do you think we should do?"

"We did say we'd wait until nightfall," Beatrix said. "And that hasn't happened yet…"

The Illumise trailed off, looking off at the setting sun as the orange sky seemed to turn a darker, cooler hue by the moment. The Moon Caller's Traveller could already be seen rising from the east, meaning that the nightfall she waited on would be upon them before it finished its westerly course across the sky. The Bug-Type paused, before shaking her head with a sigh.

"Though… perhaps it'd make sense to start putting together a rescue party-" she mused, only for a sharp shout to reach her ears.

"C-Captain Beatrix!"

Beatrix and Vicente grimaced as the sound of a Fraxure's hoarse shout reached their ears from behind, prompting them to whirl around and see Pladur hobbling up clutching at the bandages around his stomach, his red eyes wide and spooked with visible panic. The Illumise fumbled with her words, before finally managing to splutter back with a start at the surprise arrival.

"Pladur?!"

"What are you doing here?!" Vicente cried. "You're supposed to be resting!"

"Wh-What's going on?! Beatrix's been gone from the ship for hours and the Pokémon back on board were saying some of our crew was taken!" the Fraxure exclaimed. "Is Crom okay? He's still here, isn't he?"

Beatrix set her mandibles on edge, letting out a hemming and hawing buzz as she struggled how to answer the Fraxure without sending him off into a panic.

"Uh…" the firefly began. "Well, we were in the process of looking for him and-"

"You…" a ghostly voice rasped.

Pladur looked off in the distance as startled cries rang out from the encampment, his jaw flopping open and his face flushing pale as he pointed off with a frightened whine. Beatrix and Vicente turned around, just in time to spot a massive, violet, ghost exit the treeline as a pair of glowing yellow eyes and disembodied claws sprouted, drifting through the encampment and past Natrix and Philips as the pair looked up frozen in stupified terror and the Servine of the two flushed pale.

"Ah- Aaaah…."

"E-Eyaaaaah! Ghost! Ghost!" Philips shouted. "Everybody run!"

"Calm down a moment!" Dimitri's voice insisted. "It's not real!"

The large ghost abruptly dissipated, revealing the forms of a Gourgeist, a Palossand, and a Shuppet, along with Dimitri and Ander exiting the treeline. The gathered sailors gawked with shocked murmurs, as Vicente and Beatrix hurried up to the pair with stunned stares.

"Dimitri? Ander?" Vicente asked. "What on earth is going on here?"

"It's a long story but there's not any time to explain right now!" Ander buzzed. "The kids are in trouble and the Iron Fleet's going right for them!"

"H-Huh?! What do you mean?!" Pladur demanded. "What's happening right now?!"



Back in Darkwood Square, the village remained in an uproar, as barricades were hastily thrown together and groups of villagers were sent off into small squads. In the midst of the hubbub, Kiran and Guardia hurried into a small intersection, looking around at passing Pokémon when they saw Nida, Crom, and Pleo darting up from the other end and hurried up to hail them.

"You three couldn't find Elty either?" Kiran asked.

"We haven't seen so much as a hair of him!" Guardia cried. "I don't really know where else we can try."

Pleo and Crom traded worried looks as Nida shuffled her feet uncomfortably and grudgingly cast her eyes towards the ground.

"We might have a clue where he went to…" she murmured.

"One of the guards at the entrance said she spotted him sneaking off and when she followed him he ran off talking about 'fixing a mistake'!" Pleo exclaimed. "He must've tried to go out of the dungeon and leave here!"

An uneasy silence fell over Team Traveller's other members at Nida and Pleo's explanation. Elty had already snuck off once to rejoin his crew before… could he be doing the same again after everything that they'd gone through together? The scenario weighed upon the five, as Trizano hurried past in the background, pausing at the sight of the group and stepping up with a curious bat of his left wing.

"C'è qualcosa che non va?" the Skarmory asked. "Why do you all look troubled?"

"Our Growlithe friend went outside of the village," Crom said. "We were trying to think of how we could even find him without getting ambushed."

"Eh?! Well why didn't you say so earlier?!" Trizano squawked. "If it's a matter of a missing 'mon, Trizano the Valiant Knight Skarmory would be glad to help!"

"But aren't you needed here at your village?" Kiran asked. "We don't want to be weighing you down-"

"Nonsense, I've carried 'mons the size of that Growlithe and then some before," Trizano insisted. "Besides, a single 'mon wouldn't attract as much attention as a whole party."

"Then let me come with you!"

Pleo and his companions turned out of surprise to see Guardia stepping forward before Trizano, waving her club for emphasis before she pawed at the back of her helmet, realizing that perhaps she was being a touch brash.

"It's just… I think it might help if someone Gardie is more familiar with is there with him," she explained. "Since we don't really know what's gotten into him."

"Fair enough," Trizano replied. "Good luck holding down the fort, everyone."

Guardia hopped onto Trizano's back and the two hurried off for the haze in the distance. All the while, Pleo watched after the pair, before turning his head over to Kiran uneasily.

"… Did we make the right choice?" he asked.

"I mean, Trizano's argument sounded sensible," Kiran reassured. "And we'd genuinely be able to help more here-"

"Oi! Stop standing around and help us keep watch over this entrance!"

The four turned at the sound of a rumbling voice and saw Roteck scowling down at them. After a moment of awkward hemming and hawing, the group followed along to a barricade, where they took up spots overlooking the main entrance into the stable zone. Crom breathed in and tensed his body, looking down warily at his Nidoran companion as his breaths came out tense and worried.

"Do you really think that we're ready?" the Druddigon asked.

"… As ready as we can hope to be," Nida sighed. "Let's just watch each other's back and do what we can. It'll be like a big monster house!"

Crom blinked and let a small smile settle over his maw, his spirits being lifted by Nida's cheer. No sooner than he'd dispelled his worries, the air crackled with a sharp pop, making him grimace and pause.

"… What was that?"

The villagers around them turned and began running off deeper into the stable zone, conflicting orders being barked in confusion. Team Traveller watched as their barricade emptied out, before looking off to see thick, black smoke trailing up from the other end of the village, leaving the four to blanch as a sinking realization came upon them.

"A-Ack!" Kiran squawked. "They're already here!"



In the eastern outskirts of Darkwood Square, the forms of a sneering Yanmega, Marowak, and Manectric carried under thick black columns of smoke curling up from straw and wood huts being consumed by spreading flames. Every now and then, Valatos or Nori would throw a Blast Seed, causing a loud burst followed by a fresh column of smoke, while other columns started off slower from Alvise throwing burning fragments of cloth through doors and windows. The trio made their way to the end of their narrow street, looking back at the fiery results of their handiwork.

"Hah! This dump burns easier than a Parasect!" Valatos sneered.

"Hrmph, shame there's nothing of actual value to take here," Nori said. "Here I was expecting some resistance!"

"H-Huh?!"

The three's attention turned to the coughing, wide-eyed form of a Gastly floating out of nearby house, darting clear in front of the three pirates. The cross-pupiled Ghost-Type recoiled with a squeak, prompting Alvise to bare his fangs and approach with a predatory smirk.

"Well, well, well… look what we have here…" Alvise snickered.

"E-Eek!"

"So what about it, champ?" the Manectric sneered. "Feel tough enough to take on this big bad wolf?"

The Gastly backed away stammering, before bumping into a post and falling towards the ground, his nerves quickly failing at the sight of the sparking Manectric drawing near.

"A-AAAAAAAAH!"

The Gastly desperately zipped back up and fled down the road loudly bawling out of fright, leaving Alvise and his companions behind to trade malicious laughter among themselves.

"Pfft! What a joke!" Valatos sneered. "These dorks are even more pathetic than the dweebs back on the crew!"

The three carried on, Valatos blowing a few embers from one of the burning huts onto its neighbors to spread the flames. All the while, Alvise and Nori followed after when the Marowak of the pair abruptly paused and looked off to his right with a puzzled furrow of his brow.

"Hey… Alvise?" Nori began.

"Huh?"

"Doesn't this hut look like that one Haunter with those dweebs who tricked us back at the ruins?" Nori asked. "You suppose this is their base?"

Alvise frowned before going up to the window of the Haunter-shaped hut and peering in, discovering some clumps of straw set out as bedding. The Manectric bared his fangs, fetching an oily rag from Nori's satchel that he bit down on with a fiery bite and throwing it alight through the window. The sound of crackling fire started up as orange flames began spreading outside and pouring smoke out the windows, prompting Alvise to turn back smugly to his teammates.

"You mean it was their base," he retorted.

Valatos and Nori snickered at their friend's reply, watching with glee as the fire spread within the doomed hut when the sound of a startled, ghostly shout from behind cut through the crackling flames.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?!"

The three turned to see the forms of a Haunter, Misdreavus, and Drifloon floating up in wide-eyed shock, before their mood took an angrier turn and the Ghost-Types shot back livid glares at the arsonists before them.

"That's our base you just set on fire!" Vince seethed.

"Oh put a lid on it!" Alvise scoffed.

The Manectric began to spark, prompting to Vince grit his maw and dig through a satchel on his body, fishing out a glassy orb filled with yellowish orbs of light. Before the Haunter could raise his orb, he was struck by blue bolts of electricity that made him lose his grip and fall to the ground along with his teammates. Vince and Lisa struggled back up as Cantone remained on the ground unconscious, only for Valatos to swiftly lunge in with a shadowy slash at the Haunter's face, Nori joining in with a strike from his club between Lisa's eyes. The pair listed, drifting to the ground unconscious while Alvise kicked the Totter Orb into Team Phantom's burning base and Valatos let out a triumphant buzz, sneering down at the fallen Ghost-Types.

"Hrmph, not so tough when you're in a straight fight, are you?" he spat. "Consider that payback for earlier!"

"Huh?! How did you three get back in here?!"

The Yanmega's moment of triumph was quickly cut short by a Nidoran's shout and the sound of approaching footsteps and wingbeats, looking over to see Nida, Pleo, Kiran, and Crom having arrived and staring them down with much the same mix of incredulity and indignance that Vince had. Valatos and his companions gave a sharp huff back, shooting taunting sneers at the other Pokémon.

"Tch, there's more than one entrance to this stable zone, prinses," Valatos replied.

"Yeah, we threw a Slumber Orb at the guards at a little back entrance and then we could just walk right in like nobody was home!" Nori snickered.

"You- You won't get away with this!" Pleo squawked. "We're gonna stop you and keep your buddies from making it into town!"

The three pirates dug their feet in and braced themselves at Pleo's outburst in anticipation of a sudden attack when Alvise noticed that Guardia was conspicuously missing from the party. The Manectric's tension promptly melted away, as a malicious grin started to spread over his muzzle.

"Hah, I'd like to see you brats try!" the wolf shot back. "Things will be different this time! You don't have any flour to throw in my face, no ship to throw me off of, and no helmeted ankle-biter to stop me from doing this!"

The Manectric shot out a wide, arcing spread of electricity, which swept up the four and sent them falling to the ground heaving and panting. Nida struggled against numb, wobbly limbs to stand back up, as the sound of Alvise's mocking laughs rang out in her ears.

"Ha ha ha! You really are just a bunch of dweebs without that Cubone to hide behind!" he sneered.

"N-Nrgh… C-Come on, we need to put him down for the count!" Nida said. "Crom! Help me deal with him!"

The Nidoran bounded ahead as her Druddigon partner stumbled back onto his feet with a loud roar, the pair darting from left and right to try thwart Alvise's aim as they charged him when a Marowak's shout cut through the air.

"Hold it right there, you little brat!" Nori cried.

Nida looked to her left just in time to see Nori swinging his club, which struck her in the gut and knocked her into Crom with a yelp. The two tumbled back, prompting Nori to reach through his bag for an orb to use against the pair, only to pull out an oily rag. The Ground-Type blanched, hastily poking his head in where much to his surprise he found that there was precious little in his satchel other than the fire-starting materials he'd seen earlier.

"That useless debutcho only gave us that one orb and stuff to burn things- Ow!"

The Marowak was cut off by a sharp punch trailing orange flecks that caught him in his chin, knocking him back into a wobbling stumble as Crom stormed back into battle. Further in the background, Kiran and Pleo desperately weaved away as Valatos hurled stones from the ground at them, which brushed Pleo from his underside and left him reeling in the air.

"O-Ow!"

"Gah! He closed that gap faster than I thought!" Kiran shouted. "Just hang in there, Pleo! We'll think of something!"

Pleo looked back at Valatos and tried to keep pace with the Yanmega's bobbing and weaving. He needed something to stun the Bug-Type or else he'd just fly away before he and Kiran could do any real damage to him, but the attacks they'd used had just minorly inconvenienced him!

The Lugia weaved around Valatos as the Yanmega charged in, when he remembered Alvise's earlier Discharge… and the Thunderbolt tee-yem he'd learned on Buyeom. With how painful it had been, surely a bolt of his own would hold Valatos at bay! At once, he tensed his limbs, straining with all his might to throw an arc of lightning at the Yanmega, only for it to fail to produce anything other than a few weak sparks in his plumage, much to Valatos' sneering delight.

"Hah! Leave learning moves that don't come naturally to the adults, you overgrown gull!"

The Yanmega lunged ahead with a claw trailing a shadowy haze, prompting Pleo to turn and flee with a squawk and flinch as Valatos bore down on him. Before the Bug-Type's Night Slash could hit its mark, the dragonfly was cut off by a slashing gust of air, sending him back screeching and hissing angrily as Pleo steadied out to see Kiran in front of him wide-eyed.

"Pleo, are you alright?" the Swellow panted.

"Uh- Uh huh…" Pleo gasped.

"Look, just try and stay alert," the Swellow insisted. "Every moment here counts, and if you freeze up like that-"

"Lights out, runts!" Alvise's voice snarled.

Kiran whirled and saw Alvise sparking behind him readying another Discharge. The Swellow at once dove in and flung a whirling wind at the Manectric to interrupt him, sending him tumbling back as the Swellow carried off.

"Mind your head a bit more next time!" Kiran jeered.

On the ground, Alvise got back up onto his feet, watching as Kiran circled around him and grit his teeth with a low growl.

"Pah, lousy feather duster!" he snarled. "Here, have a little parting gift just for yourself!"

A loud, electrical crackle split the air as Alvise let out a bolt of electricity, followed by a pained squawk as Kiran plummeted to the ground with a limp thud. The Swellow's teammates froze and stared with jaws agape, Pleo stammering before letting out a horrified cry.

"K-Kiran!"

A set of jeering laughs rang out, making Pleo recoil as he saw Alvise, Valatos, and Nori drawing near with predatory smirks and their bodies coiled to strike.

"Still feeling lucky, brats?" Alvise sneered. "You all oughta know when you're beat!"

"Yeah, we're really quaking in fear here. What are you lousy runts going to do that your mentor couldn't?" Valatos taunted. "Cry on us?"

"Maybe we'll go easy on ya if you hurry up and surrender!" Nori added.

Pleo backpedaled, shrinking back wide-eyed until he bumped into Nida and Crom standing firm behind him. Their eyes were wide and faces etched with fear, and yet in spite of it all, the Lugia could see that they were still unmoving. The young Protector dug his feet in, summoning all the courage he could muster to stand firm and stammer back defiantly.

"N-No! I'm their Protector!" he cried. "And I'm going to keep fighting for them for as long as I can!"

"Well, you don't need to worry about that," Alvise growled. "This little battle won't be lasting for much longer!"

The Manectric sprang forward with bared fangs, prompting Pleo to jump up and hastily take to the air. Alvise landed on the ground, his paws just barely missing Pleo's tail as he began to spark and ready a bolt of electricity, when Crom spat a Dragon Rage at him.

"Grah!"

Alvise's Thunderbolt sailed off as he reeled, managing little more than to blacken a patch of dirt. Nida watched as Alvise tried to steady himself, running in as toxic droplets began to collect on her right paw. The Nidoran jumped up, swinging her arm down for a Poison Jab, only to feel the air suddenly get knocked out of her lungs as a whirling, white object sailed in.

"A-Agh!"

Nida flopped to the ground, the poison on her arm smearing inertly against the ground as the projectile returned and clipped the back of her head, leaving her stunned in the dirt. The world around spun in Nida's eyes, friend and foe alike running muddy when a piercing scream reached her ears. She forced herself to her feet, looking over to see Pleo's wing being pinned down by a rock torn from the earth and Valatos looming over him with a cruel smile.

"Look at you, trapped by a little rock when you're supposed to be some Protector!" the Yanmega sneered.

Pleo tugged desperately at his wing, freeing it little by little with frightened pants as the Yanmega approached, his tarsal extended and starting to flash flecks of a black, shadowy aura.

"Well that's fine by me," Valatos said. "Let's see your hick friends get you out of this one!"

Pleo closed his eyes as Valatos swung at him, desperately straining his muscles as he gave one last shot at calling forth the Thunderbolt that Alcon tutored him. The Lugia felt warm sparks shoot out and heard a loud crackle along with an ear-splitting screech. Pleo opened his eyes, seeing Valatos lurch away singed with static crackling on his body, before he stalled and fell to the ground much to Nori's wide-eyed shock.

"G-Gih! Alvise! He just took out Valatos!" the Marowak complained.

"Do you think I'm blind?!" Alvise snapped. "Just get it together already!"

Nida, Pleo, and Crom hastily darted away, regrouping at the other end of the lane where they looked back at the still-bickering Marowak and Manectric. Nida glanced at Valatos, realizing that merely catching him off guard had proven enough to defeat him, before shaking her head and casting a determined glance to her teammates.

"Come on!" Nida piped. "We got one of them down! We can take the others!"

"Yeah, but for how much longer?!" Crom asked. "Alvise is still up and can hit us all at once!"

Nida looked back as Alvise and Nori drew near, bracing herself as they approached snarling and ready for battle. Between the two, Alvise was by far the bigger threat as long as he could throw around Discharge as he pleased. On the other paw, overpowering him meant little if Nori was free to just bludgeon them!

… Unless, they could do something to keep Alvise occupied while stripping him of backup.

"Then let's make Alvise think that he's the one we're gunning for!" Nida exclaimed. "Pleo! Give us some cover!"

"Right!" Pleo cried.

The Lugia opened his beak as a glowing orb formed in it, which he spat up at Alvise's chest. Nori watched as his Manectric teammate stumbled back, seeing Nida and Crom beelining for him as he darted over and called out sharply.

"Alvise!" Nori said. "Watch your- H-Huh?!"

Before the Marowak could react, Nida abruptly changed course and ran at him, leaping into the air giving a spinning kick at his belly. The Nidoran landed on the ground, preparing to give a second blow when she was cut off by a Bone Club sprawling her out, knocking her to the ground as Nori glared back with livid red eyes.

"Lousy little spike ball!" he seethed. "I'll beat you into a pulp!"

Nori leapt forward, bringing his club up and swinging it down with an overhead smash for Nida's head. As his bone barreled for the Nidoran's head, it suddenly found its mark against a bluish arm, the Marowak turning to see Crom having rushed in. The Ground-Type snarled, pulling his arm back to swing at his attacker when the Druddigon suddenly lunged forward open-jawed and bit down into the side of his neck. Nori screeched in pain, thrashing and desperately striking at the Druddigon's head as his strength ebbed and he fell forward unconscious, dragging Crom to the ground. The young dragon let go after hitting the earth with a yelp, spitting up scales and stumbling in a light-headed daze as Alvise looked over from chasing Pleo with an incredulous stare, before gritting his teeth and sparking with a disgusted growl.

"Seriously?!" the Manectric snapped. "Do I have to do everything here?!"

Sparks began to build up on Alvise's fur as he let loose a Discharge that fanned out around him, striking Crom and Nida and sending them crumpling to the ground. The pair got up woozily, struggling back to their feet when Crom turned and much to his horror, saw the form of a young Lugia slumped over unconscious further away.

"A-Ack! Pleo!"

"Hah! He'll be easy pickings!" Alvise sneered. "All I've gotta do is get you two out of the way first! And then it's just an easy Escape Orb out of here!"

The Manectric let sparks dance on his fur once again as Nida ran up to try and strike him with another Poison Jab. Alvise quickly sidestepped, prompting Crom to run in with a roaring bellow with his claws drawn for a Scratch, only to feel a warm current flow through his body and freeze up.

"Nrk!"

The Druddigon struggled, fighting unsuccessfully against his newly-paralyzed body as Alvise stepped back out of his reach. Nida instinctively reached for her bag, only to realize that she'd handed it off to Elty earlier in their exploration of the island. The only other bag for the team was with Kiran, who was sprawled out on the ground, with Alvise standing square in the way. Nida's face fell with a grimace, her reaction drawing a malicious smile from her Manectric foe, as he quickly surmised the Nidoran's predicament.

"What's the matter? Don't have a berry to heal your boyfriend?" Alvise jeered. "Well that's a shame for you, because I was just getting started!"

Alvise lunged forward, bounding towards Nida as she remained fixed and wide-eyed. After freeing Pleo from Giotto and escaping from Team Sentinel, they were gonna lose him to these three jerks?! Everything they'd done, all the fighting they'd endured… it was all going to be for naught like this?

No! It wouldn't! She wouldn't let it! Nida dug her paws in, her muscles tensing and her breaths suddenly growing short. All the while, Alvise began to spark, when suddenly, Nida's body became awash with an ethereal white light.

"Huh?!"

The light grew brighter and brighter, Nida seemingly going into a trance as the features of her body melted and reshaped themselves into a growing form with thicker legs, a longer body, and larger ears, dissipating to reveal the form of a Nidorina. Alvise stood stunned at the sudden transformation, only to be jolted back into battle by Nida narrowing her eyes, and lunge forward with a Poison Jab.

"Eat sparks!" Alvise spat.

The Manectric shot forward a coursing bolt of electricity, which flowed through Nida's body and made her screech in pain. The Nidorina's vision grew fuzzy and faint from the electricity wracking her body, the rabbit summoning all her will and newfound strength to force her body in a final lunge where she drove her poison-slicked paw into Alvise's throat. The wolf let out a sharp yelp, tumbling back before he tried to struggle back to his feet, only for his legs to give way from under his body and leave him limply slumped over.

Nida fell to her knees, panting as she weakly looked around the lane of charred cottages. The air was still thick from the smoke of Team Phantom's burning base, its owners sprawled out unconscious in the lane with Kiran and Pleo not far away. Amidst the throbbing of her head, the Nidorina heard the shouts of Pokémon belatedly arriving to fight the fires, and the tired crunch of approaching footsteps, prompting her to look up and see Crom inching forward with a wary, wide-eyed stare.

"N-Nida," he began "You-"

"We- We shouldn't just sit around right now," Nida said.

"H-Huh?"

"The rest of those pirates are still out there. We need to get Kiran, Pleo, and Team Phantom back up and tie those three up before they get back onto their feet!" the Nidorina insisted. "If their buddies walk in on us like this, we're finished!"

"Right!" Crom replied.

Nida hastily darted over to Kiran and opened his bag, letting Crom stick his claws in to fish out a Reviver Seed before making his way over to Pleo. The Druddigon craned down, moving the seed into Lugia's mouth as he looked back at Nida. Moments ago, she was the same Nidoran he'd always known, but here she was standing before him as a Nidorina… and a spitting image of her mother. The Druddigon tried to turn his attention back to Pleo as he began to stir, only to find his mind beset by worry after worry as to whether it was still his friend in the Nidorina's body, or a stranger alike in name only… and how he'd explain everything to the others when they got back…

If they got back…

"I just hope everyone else is doing fine without us…"



Back at the entrance of the Mystery Dungeon, the Iron Fleet's ranks had broken into smaller teams which left the air thick with impatient tension as some of the pirates wondered aloud as to what to expect. At the head of the group Hess peered off into the fog with Kichiro and Rodion, before looking back at his gathered underlings and giving a determined snort.

"Alright everyone, you know the drill," Hess barked. "We move in teams of three and when we make it to the town, we regroup and push through. We don't know how much the Distortion's going to separate us inside, so everyone's in charge of looking out for their own teammates. Are we clear?"

"Aye!"

Hess watched as the gathered pirates roared back enthusiastically, their spirits raised by the prospect of plunder and drink. The Aggron let a grin creep over his maw, before turning back confidently for the dungeon's entrance.

"Heh heh heh… Then let's go pay those runts a little visit-!"

"Captain!"

Hess blinked and whirled around in surprise at the sound of a familiar yipping voice. There, bounding from the bushes to the right of the group was a somewhat rounded Growlithe running out short on breath, a cursory glance revealing to all the gathered Pokémon that it was none other than…

"Eltenios?!" a Litten cried.

"What's he doing here?!" a Wimpod asked.

The shock of the Puppy Pokémon's return drew murmurs and exclamations from the crowd, only for them to be drowned out by a loud growl as Pieter stormed up to the front, flopping and fuming before the Growlithe.

"Grr! You've got some nerve showing your mug around us again!" the Sealeo spat. "Don't think I forgot about how you turned traitor earlier!"

"Oi! Enough already!" Hess bellowed.

The Sealeo abruptly bit his tongue and backed away, leaving the other pirates to cast puzzled glances over at the Aggron captain. Hess plodded forward, giving a wave of his claw as he attempted to soothe the unsettled crowd.

"Look, we've got one of our own here! Eltenios has obviously been through a lot, but I'm sure we can get to the bottom of everything over some rum and loot," he reassured. "For now, let's hear out what he's found out from those hicks, and-"

"Um… actually, about that…" Elty began. "I… I… kinda wanted to take a break from the crew."

Audible gasps followed the Growlithe's words, prompting surprised and confused whispers to filter about the group as the gathered pirates tried to figure out what had caused Elty's sudden change of heart.

"… Did he get hit in the head?" the Litten wondered. "Because that doesn't sound like Eltenios to me."

"Yeah, what sort of nonsense is this?!" the Wimpod demanded.

Others had taken a darker turn following Elty's declaration, their faces hardening into sharp scowls and glares. Among them was Kichiro, who flitted up to Elty batting his fists together with a sharp hiss.

"Sounds like Pieter and his buddies were onto something earlier," he growled. "Knock him out so we can deal with him lat-"

"Enough, Kichiro," Hess snapped, before turning a stern glare down at the Growlithe before him. "Eltenios, explain yourself, now."

Elty looked up at the Aggron's scowling face, before turning and seeing that it was being replicated by all of the other pirates who were present. The Growlithe hemmed and hawed, shifting uncomfortably as he tried to explain himself before his peers.

"Look… I know you all came here because of what I said on Orleigh about the spike ball and her friends needing to go to here-" he began, only to be interrupted by a staticky voice piping up.

"Eh? You did?" a Voltorb pressed. "We weren't thinking about anything like that when we came here."

"Yeah!" a Sandile chimed in. "We got caught up in a storm! We just needed a place where we wouldn't get sunk!"

"H-Huh?"

Elty blanched out of surprise as other pirates chimed in and nodded along with the pair's rebuttal, while a few others vaguely recalled his story but otherwise didn't think much of it. The Growlithe grimaced and pinned his ears and tail close to his body as he realized that his crewmates had come to Pioppo via complete coincidence, and for reasons he was completely unprepared to argue against. The Fire-Type backpedaled uneasily, wondering to himself whether or not he had made a mistake in seeking out his crew when a Floatzel's sharp huff snapped him back to attention.

"Eltenios, we've got a town to raid here!" Rodion grumbled. "Stop stalling and spit it out already!"

The Growlithe stared blankly, frozen with indecision before he shook his head and steeled himself before continuing to plea his case.

"Well… when I initially got caught and stuck with that spike ball's team, I really hated things. They weren't happy to have me around and I wasn't happy to be with them," Elty began. "Maybe it was us saving each others' necks a few times, but.., they eventually started treating me like I was one of them. And, it's not as if they've got anything really valuable to take, so… I was thinking maybe we don't need to pick fights with them?"

"Eltenios, we're still understaffed because of those stupid hicks," Hess growled. "What are you going on about?"

"It's just that bird with them really means a lot to them and their village, and the Company and Empire are both breathing down their neck to get at him as a weapon," the Growlithe explained. "Maybe it's a bit much to actually help them, but considering how we'd be in trouble too if either of those two got their way… maybe it'd make sense to give them a break for a while?"

"Tch, you think I don't know that? That's why we're trying to get him," the Aggron retorted, prompting Elty grimace uneasily.

"… To try and get those captured deckclaws back?" he asked.

"No, we're thinking bigger than that," Hess replied. "Perhaps it's time to stop waiting on the Company or Empire to get a Protector and get one of our own, to look out for pirates like us!"

"Wait," a Pawniard interjected. "But I thought that we were going after the bird because you wanted to get the Council off your ba-ow!"

The Pawniard was cut off by a passing backhand from Hess, before he turned back to Elty. The Growlithe went wide-eyed and began to stammer, wracking his mind desperately for a way to try and talk the Aggron down…

"B-But you can't do that!" Elty cried. "You can't take Pleo like that!"

"And why not? I'm here, so's my crew, and you know where to find him and what he's weak to," Hess snarled. "Sounds like a pretty good reason to me!"

"B-Because… the Empire! And the Company!" Elty protested. "If you got him, what good would it do if they just stole him from us afterwards?! Or another crew! Or-!"

"Eltenios, stop beating around the bush already!" the pirate captain snapped. "You know where that overgrown Wingull is, so give me something to work with already!"

The Growlithe froze and stared for a long, silent moment before he hung his head and closed his eyes with a glum shake.

"… I can't, Captain. They're my friends."

The ground suddenly lurched as Hess stomped his foot and let out a loud, irritated growl, glaring back furiously down at the pup before him.

"Eltenios, me and my crew have been giving you food and drink since you crawled aboard empty-bellied on Nagrobek!" the Aggron fumed. "We're your friends here, not some band of merry munchkins!"

"But they're friends too! Look, I know that there's obviously some bad blood, b-but that can be worked out!" Elty insisted. "I don't know when I'll be able to come back and pull my weight on the crew again, but I just wanted to make sure that they could go back to their home safely first. There's no reason why we need to get in the way of that!"

"Save it! You don't have to worry about your 'friends' fighting each other!" Hess seethed. "You've clearly made up your mind as to who your friends really are!"

The Aggron called up a few stray stones from the earth that he flung over to Elty and landed right in front of him, making the Growlithe jump back with a sharp yip. A chorus of growls filled the air, making Elty fold his ears back and whine as he spotted the other pirates closing in with glares and bared fangs, before looking back to Hess in time to see him lower his head with a fierce scowl.

"If you're really going to pick a bunch of hicks over the 'mons who've looked out for you all these years, then you clearly need a reminder of what you're choosing beaten into you!"

Hess pawed at the ground, and then charged forward, prompting Elty to flinch and screw his eyes shut in anticipation of his captain's crushing tackle when a sharp cry pierced the air.

"That's enough!"

A shout rang out followed by the ground shaking, making Elty open his eyes and jump away out of reflex as he saw Hess tumble past him. The Growlithe backed away, watching as the pirate captain got up sporting a fresh, ruddy streak on his shin when a silvery form flitted in and settled on the ground near Elty, revealing Trizano with Guardia clutching to him who warily looked around before sliding off.

"Pushing around a 'mon a fraction of your size is hardly a fair fight," Trizano said. "Isn't it, Captain Hess?"

Guardia quickly sidled up beside Elty, only to notice stunned gasps going about the gathered pirates. The Cubone tilted her head puzzledly, glancing between Trizano and the brigands as murmurs and agitated growls reached her ears.

"Wait, it's that Skarmory!" a Noibat cried.

"Again?" Kichiro hissed. "Why doesn't that stupid bird buzz off already?"

Guardia paused and blinked at the pirates' reaction, turning her head to and from Trizano and the surrounding Pokémon.

"You all know each other?" she asked, before curling her mouth into a sharp frown and turning over to Elty with a sharp scowl.

"And you didn't tell me?"

"I didn't know him that well!" Elty protested. "And is that seriously what you're most worried about right now?!"

"Grr! You're a thorn in my side as always, Trizano," Hess snarled. "Don't you ever know when to butt out of a 'mon's affairs?!"

"You didn't honestly think that I'd just sit back when your affairs involved my home island, did you?" Trizano scoffed. "I'll just thwart you here like every other time we've crossed paths!"

The pirates began to crowd around, forming a blocking ring around Elty, Guardia, and Trizano. The three braced themselves as Hess dusted himself off, balling one of his claws into a fist as he let out a bellowing roar.

"No. This time it's gonna be different!" the Aggron shouted. "I'll stomp you three into the ground myself!"

Hess stormed ahead for Trizano, pulling his fist back as flames broke out along his claw. The Aggron threw his Fire Punch forward when Trizano abruptly weaved to the side, leaving the pirate captain to swing at empty air and skid to a stop.

"Now!" Trizano cried. "While he's open!"

Trizano shot back with a spread-wing tackle, a glint of light spreading across his wings as he closed on Hess. The Aggron clumsily side-stepped the incoming Steel Wing, digging his feet in as Trizano sailed past him. Hess growled and readied himself for a retaliating lunge, when a Cubone's cry suddenly rang out from his side.

"Take this, metal face!"

The Aggron turned and recoiled at the sensation of a heavy blow breaking across his gut, prompting him to look back at the sight of Guardia pulling her club back. The Steel-Type squeaked and recoiled, flailing with a start as he jumped away wide-eyed from the bone lizard.

"A-Aaaah!"

Guardia raised a brow at the Hess' startled reaction, as Elty charged on ahead, cinders dancing in his mouth as he readied an Ember to spit up…

"Here! Have something to drink!"

… only to be abruptly knocked to the ground by a jet of briny water. The Growlithe gagged and coughed on the ground, prompting Guardia to look and see Pieter sneering as the gathered pirates traded laughs and jeers.

"Hey what the-?!" Guardia cried. "I thought we were fighting against just- Agh!"

The Cubone was cut off by a slash from behind, knocking her forward as she saw a Pawniard draw his blades back to the mocking laughter of the surrounding pirates.

"Well think again, dweeb!" the Pawniard sneered. "You pick a fight with the Iron Fleet, and you deal with all of us!"

Elty staggered back up to his feet panting and shook his head to regain his bearings. Undeterred, the Growlithe ran ahead as Hess swatted at Trizano, dashing up to spit up a spray of cinders into the pirate captain's face.

"Grah!"

Up in the air, Trizano banked hard as he circled about Hess, diving for the Aggron with his wings spread for another Steel Wing.

"You'll never keep up with me swatting at the air like that!" he chided.

"Oh shut it, you overgrown niwatori!"

Trizano turned towards Kichiro's voice, only to be abruptly enveloped by the rings of a Supersonic, making him squawk and lurch in a daze. As the Skarmory reeled, Hess whirled around, sending a well-aimed stone at the confused bird that sent him crashing to earth with a heavy thud.

"Agh!"

"Alright, that's enough fun and games," Hess snarled. "It's time to put you all down for the count!"

The Aggron stomped the ground and crouched as the earth lurched, while stones started to pry out of the ground for a Rock Slide. Elty, Trizano, and Guardia froze as the surrounding pirates jeered at their plight, when a Vileplume at the edge of the gathering turned her head and abruptly jumped back with a startled cry.

"Ack! There's someone in the-!"

Minhwa was summarily cut off by an Illumise zipping in and ramming her with a Zen Headbutt that flung her back with a yelp. Most of the pirates turned in surprise while a Drednaw and a Staravia dashing forward, only to be bogged down by Natrix and Philips bursting from the forest, while the form of an Unfezant in the air carrying Pladur followed. The Fraxure wildly threw out a Sleep Seed, which struck Pieter and left the gathering to descend into a startled uproar. Hess' eyes widened and his jaw flopped open as one after the other, more and more Pokémon in white scarves poured out of the brush and began to battle his underlings, the pirate captain struggling to make sense of the sudden reversal of fortune.

"Hey what the-?!" Hess exclaimed. "How did those Trombans-?!"

"Coming through!"

The Aggron was abruptly hit by a watery tackle that knocked him off his feet and onto his back with a heavy thud. Elty and Guardia blinked incredulously, as it became apparent that the still-dripping figure was none other than Dimitri, with Ander flitting in closely behind him and easing into a fighting stance.

"What are you all doing here?!" Ander cried. "We thought you were in the village!"

"Blame Gardie here," Guardia piped. "He decided to sneak out and blundered into this fight."

"It's… complicated," Elty muttered, before shaking his head. "But first things first, how on earth did you get everyone here?"

Hess rose back up to his feet as Kichiro and Rodion approached from his left and his right, tensing their bodies as they sized up their new foes.

"Hrmph, I see you called the cavalry," Rodion growled.

"Tch, don't you all know when to give up?" Kichiro hissed.

"Grr… reinforcements or not, it doesn't matter!" Hess snarled.

The Aggron bared his teeth, easing into a fighting stance as he let out a bellowing roar that reverberated in the air and made Elty and Guardia recoil with a start.

"We handled the Scyther and his friends on their own ship once, we can do the same here on land!"

"Let's see you back that up!" Ander shouted.

Ander whipped his scythes forward, flinging out a whitish shockwave towards Hess. The Aggron yelped out of alarm, hastily shielding his face with his arms as the Vacuum Wave struck them. The blow made him grunt in pain and sent him stumbling back as Dimitri noticed the Steel-Type was disoriented from his blow.

"Come on!" Dimitri cried. "This is our chance!"

One after the other, Elty, Guardia, Dimitri, and Trizano dashed in, readying their blows for the pirate captain when a Ledian's sharp hiss suddenly sounded out.

"I don't think so, chump!"

Kichiro spread his arms as a faint bluish aura spread over his body and settled on him, similar lights forming and spreading over Hess and Rodion in much the same manner. The light faded away as the three braced themselves, the only sign of any change being a bluish flicker that appeared when Kichiro threw one of his fists into an open palm and glared down at Elty and his companions.

"We're not going to just sit back and make this easy for you!" the Ledian snapped.

Trizano dove for Hess, flying low against the ground only for Rodion to come running up with water pooling about his paws. The Skarmory turned, only for the water to coalesce into a pair of blades. Before he could react, Rodion lunged forward with a cross-slash that sent Trizano tumbling back, forcing a hasty retreat as the Floatzel turned back to Hess.

"Captain!" Rodion exclaimed. "We've got a clear shot to put them on the ropes!"

"Way ahead of you!" the Aggron replied.

Hess stomped the ground and called out a hail of rocks, before flinging them out at chest height at Team Traveller's members. Elty and Guardia dove as the stones caught Dimitri and knocked him to the ground with a yelp, brushing Ander and Trizano as they reeled from the blow. The Growlithe poked his head up, seeing Hess trying to peer through the clouds of dust he kicked up and fail to notice them entirely.

"Come on, bonehead!" Elty cried. "This is as clear of a shot as we're going to get!"

Elty leapt ahead, breathing in sharply before spitting up a spray of cinders at Hess' face. The pirate captain recoiled, prompting Guardia to dash up and leap with her club drawn, smashing it with all her might against Hess' gut only to feel it abruptly glance off with a blue light flickering along where her bone struck, the Aggron reacting little differently than if he'd been struck with a Venipede's sting.

"A-Ah!" the Cubone yelped. "He barely felt my club because of that light thi-!"

"Get off of me!"

Hess swung around, whipping his tail into Guardia and Elty and swatting them away. The pair tumbled to a stop, groaning in a daze as they heard a dismissive snort and saw Hess approaching with his head lowered for a charge.

"It's like you two runts never dealt with Reflect before!" he sneered. "That barely did anything to me!"

Elty and Guardia hastily stumbled up and ran, Hess starting to run after them when he abruptly stopped at the sound of rushing footsteps and saw Dimitri running up with his left scythe pulled aside for a chopping strike.

"Oh no you don't!" Kichiro hissed.

Dimitri looked to his left just in time to be struck by a high-pitched pulse that distorted the air in rings, leaving him to lurch and swing at empty air. The Ledian gave a taunting jeer from the side when a loud buzz prompted him to hastily flit aside just as a Scyther's blade zipped past him, forcing him to hurry out of Ander's reach. Further away, Elty and Guardia watched Dimitri continue to struggle in his confusion, their attention turning to Rodion as he forced Trizano off with a jet of water. Hess gave a knowing glance over to the Floatzel, and lowered his body into a crouch with a low growl.

"Rodion!" the Aggron shouted. "Stay on your toes a moment!"

"Right!" the Floatzel nodded back.

Rodion cast his arms out as Trizano dove at him, forming a barrier of light that the Skarmory crashed into and glanced off with a surprised squawk. Elty looked over at Hess as he saw him brace his body and plant his feet into the ground, making him go wide-eyed as he recognized the pirate captain to be preparing nothing less than an Earthquake.

"G-Gah! Not so fast!"

The Growlithe darted up and spat up a cone of bluish-white flames that settled on the hide of Hess' right leg. Hess grimaced as he brushed the flames off of a now-reddened and burnt patch of his leg, before glaring and letting out a sharp bellow.

"Let's see you all handle this!"

Hess jumped up and slammed his legs into the ground with a violent tremor that churned the earth. Elty watched as Ander hastily flitted up with a yelp, and turned to run with Guardia when the ground lurched up and sent them flying into the air before falling down facefirst. Elty let out a sharp yelp as he crashed onto the ground, panting haggardly as he heard Dimitri screech in pain and saw the world around him grow muddy and indistinct. The Growlithe tried to struggle to his feet, only for them to give way and leave him slouched on the ground, barely able to lift his head as he heard the din of battle in the background.

A dull thud pricked Elty's ears, followed by another with the sound of wingbeats. The Fire-Type looked ahead, where suddenly he noticed the forms of two Oran Berries, Guardia dragging herself over before looking up at the sky.

"H-Huh?" Elty stammered.

The Growlithe weakly followed Guadia's gaze, spotting the form of an Unfezant flying overhead with a tusked figure clinging to its back. Elty strained his eyesight and saw that it was none other than Pat and Pladur, the Fraxure calling out to him from the Unfezant's back.

"H-Hang in there!" Pladur cried. "Don't give in just yet!"

"R-Right!" the Growlithe answered.

Elty and Guardia stumbled forward and ate their berries as Pat returned to engage the other pirates, rising back onto their feet as the fruits filled their bodies with newfound vigor. The Cubone of the pair looked back to see Trizano being swatted away by Hess, the Skarmory's blows having left little other than brief bluish flickers along the Aggron's hide.

"Gah! How are we supposed to hit through that thing?!" Guardia exclaimed.

Elty tilted his head before giving a sighing shake of his head back.

"As long as it's still around, you'd need to hit it with something that's not a physical blow," the Growlithe said. "Not that I'm exactly great with those."

The two looked over to see Hess pulling a claw out of his bag, before looking around with an embarrassed grimace. The sound of buzzing cries turned the pirate captain's attention upwards, noticing Kichiro weaving around slashes by Ander in the air, prompting him to call out with a flustered mumble.

"Uhh… Kichiro? You wouldn't happen to have something for this burn would you?"

"Oh for crying out loud!" the Ledian hissed. "How on earth do you not have anything to treat that?!"

Kichiro's scolding was cut short by a loud screech as his Scyther opponent lunged at him, prompting him to pull his arm back and drive a punch crackling with electricity square into the mantis' face that sent him falling to the ground stunned. As Ander struggled to regain his bearings, Kichiro turned away, throwing a Rawst Berry with an annoyed huff towards his Aggron teammate.

Elty blanched, watching Hess bit down on the berry's tip and begin to smear it across his burn. Whatever they could do to turn the tide of battle, it would have to happen soon. It wouldn't be long before Hess healed himself back to his former strength, while still hiding behind the protection of Kichiro's Reflect. And if Dimitri broke it, that blasted Ledian would just put up another!

… Unless Kichiro wasn't there to maintain it!

"We need to get Kichiro down for the count somehow!" Elty piped. "As long as he's up, he can just use Reflect again once this one dissipates!"

"How are we supposed to do that when Ander can't keep up with him?!" Guardia cried.

Elty turned his mind to Kichiro and grimaced. Even with his weakness to fire, he was still the third-strongest member of the Iron Fleet, hard to hit in the air, and capable of throwing a mean punch. If he saw them coming, there'd be no way they could overpower him before he put up another Reflect! They'd somehow have to keep him from putting Reflect up…

"Is that all you've got? You hit like a little grub!"

Elty turned his head at the sound of a sharp hiss and saw Ander and Kichiro staring each other down, the Ledian letting out a seething hiss as he cocked his fists back and glared daggers back at the Scyther.

"Tell me the last time a 'little grub' did something like this to you!"

The Growlithe watched as Kichiro dove after Ander, swinging wildly as a spark of inspiration came over his eyes. Kichiro had always had a short fuse when he was on the Iron Fleet, and with his temper as hot as it was, they didn't need to keep Kichiro from using Reflect. Why, with a little prodding, he'd do it just as well himself!

"I think I might have something," Elty murmured. "Come on, let's get Dimitri back on his feet!

Elty and Guardia hurried along, running for Dimitri just in time to see him strike himself with the flat of one of his blades in his confused state. Guardia held out her club and gave him a bat across his head, making him jump and shake his head with a start with newfound lucidity.

"Gah! I'm here! I'm here!"

"Great, we'll need it," Elty snapped. "Look, we're sunk as long as Hess and the others can just keep hiding behind that Reflect. I'll do my part to distract Kichiro, but you need to smash that thing to bring Hess and Rodion back down to normal!"

"But we're already having trouble fighting them normally!" Guardia protested. "How are we supposed to deal with them when they're hurting us faster than we can hurt them back?!"

"So put some more oomph in it!" Elty cried. "You learned Swords Dance from that tutor, didn't you? So use it here!"

The pair looked over to see Hess gobbling down the pulp of his Rawst Berry, turning and lowering his head with a low growl. Dimitri braced himself and raised his scythes, digging his feet into the ground as he called down to Elty.

"Here goes nothing! You two just make sure that this works!"

Dimitri lunged forward, running ahead as Hess charged with a roaring bellow as he brought a scythe back and shot it forward with a stiff chop. The scythe hit through the bluish light and hit Hess' hide, the Aggron getting sent stumbling back as the Reflect around his body abruptly dissipated, the same happening to Rodion and Kichiro as they looked down at their limbs with a start.

Guardia watched as Elty took off running after Dimitri, while the sound of cries overhead alerted her to Trizano and Ander passing overhead to engage Rodion and Kichiro to her right. The Cubone inhaled sharply, closing her eyes as she tightened her grip on her club.

"Alright… deep breaths."

The bone lizard swung her club out, spinning and jumping with a frenetic dance that made her blood pulse. She dutifully tightened her grasp on her bone, keen to keep control of its movements unlike her past attempts with her technique before she came to a stop with a stamp of her foot. Guardia paused a moment, feeling her breaths come out heavy, her eyes brightening in realization that at long last she'd finally mastered Swords Dance!

"Gah! Get off of me, you overgrown crab!"

Guardia's moment of triumph was quickly cut short by a sharp cry from Hess followed by the sight of Dimitri being struck by a steely swipe from Hess' tail, sending him sprawled out onto the ground much to Guardia's alarm.

"Dimitri!"

As the Kabutops reeled, Ander was knocked back by Kichiro striking him with a Thunderpunch, his attention quickly turning to Dimitri as he lolled and groaned struggling in a daze to get back to his feet.

"Rodion! Keep these two busy a moment!" the Ledian shouted. "I'm going to put our little Brick Breaker down for the count!"

Kichiro wheeled and dove for the Kabutops, drawing his arms back for a crackling punch when a taunting yip reached his ears.

"Oi! Kichiro! You're not seriously running away and letting Rodion carry you, are you?"

The Bug-Type whirled, stopping to see Elty bouncing back and forth before shooting a sharp glare back at the taunting Fire-Type.

"It's Keiichiro, you useless mutt!" the Ledian spat.

"Yeah? Well what are you going to do about it, Kichiro?" Elty retorted.

The Growlithe stuck his tongue out and blew a raspberry, making Kichiro turn with a loud hiss, his attention now fully diverted from Dimitri and onto a single, overriding priority:

"I'll knock you into next week, Elty!" he snarled.

The beetle lunged for Elty, pulling back his fists ready to throw the opening volley of a Comet Punch. The Bug-Type threw his upper left arm forward, sailing for the Growlithe's face only for him to jump back and leave the Ledian swinging at air.

"Hah! Your aim's as bad as your banter!" Elty jeered.

The dog vaulted forward with a fiery somersault, striking Kichiro with a pained screech. Satisfied with his blow, the Puppy Pokémon tried to turn to fall back, only for a blow to hit the back of his head and knock him forward, followed by another that struck him in his gut.

"Agh!"

Elty pitched forward face-first into the ground, gasping for air as he looked up and saw a seething Kichiro hovering over him before diving with his upper right fist drawn back.

"Let's see you banter this-"

Elty flinched as a hail of stones suddenly sailed by, sweeping up Kichiro and sending him plummeting to the ground unconscious. The Growlithe looked over to see that the stones had come from Dimitri having used a Rock Slide, which similarly drew the attention of a now-livid Hess and Rodion.

"Oh, you're gonna pay for that, chump!" Hess bellowed.

Elty felt himself get pulled up by Guardia as the pair turned and watched in horror as Hess jumped up for an Earthquake. The pair froze, watching as the Aggron fell back to earth when they abruptly felt themselves get yanked up into the air as the earth jolted up in cracked shards and clods of dirt flew up from below.

"A-AAAGH!"

Elty dangled precariously as he heard a loud scream and looked down to see Dimitri toppling over amid the cracked and torn ground, when the force carrying him suddenly threw him up. The Growlithe yelped and he heard Guardia similarly cry out, the two landing on something metallic and hard to the touch. Elty cracked his eyes open and saw Guardia next to him, with Trizano's head craned back smiling at him.

"I could use some help from up here!" the Skarmory exclaimed. "We've got the vantage point, but it won't mean much if we can't do anything with it!"

A steaming jet of water suddenly flew in, prompting Trizano to pull up abruptly and Elty and Guardia to latch onto his body for dear life. In the process Guardia's eyes drifted down, which made her eyes to shrink to pins as she spotted the ground far below her.

"A-AAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

The Cubone dug her claws tighter into Trizano's back, clinging tight and whimpering as Trizano evened out, giving a grimacing shake of his head.

"I should have anticipated as much bringing a Ground-Type this far up," the Skarmory murmured. "But you must fight through this fear of yours!"

"E-Easy for you to say!" Guardia snapped. "You're not the one that'll get smashed if you fall from here!"

"No, but my village will be!"

The Cubone looked up, staring with a startled gasp at Trizano's head. All this time, amidst her fright of the height she was at, it hadn't occurred to her that Trizano too would be frightened at this moment. Trizano shook his head, before banking hard as a hail of rocks zipped past his wings.

"Just think of everyone that's counting on you!" the Skarmory insisted. "Use that strength to charge through those fears!"

Back on the ground, Ander pulled Rodion aside from his shots at Trizano, the Scyther swinging a blade that nicked the Floatzel's arm and made him jerk it back with a sharp yelp. The Water-Type's cry drew Hess' attention, prompting him to turn and charge ahead at his ally's attacker.

"Oh no you don't, you lousy bug-! Agh!"

Hess' attack was abruptly cut short by a Stun Seed zipping in, cracking against the back of his head as small sparks danced along his hide and his limbs froze in place. From above, Pladur and Pat flew by, calling out to Trizano and his passengers as they passed one another.

"Now!" Pladur shouted. "While he's bogged down!"

"We're gonna need to work together for this!" Trizano cried.

"I've got you covered!" Elty exclaimed.

Blue sparks began to dance on Elty's paws, as he swiftly tagged Trizano and then Guardia, wreathing their bodies with a bluish aura that settled and subsided. The lot drew in sharp breaths as the Helping Hand faded away, filling them with newfound vigor as Trizano beat his wings and pulled his body up.

"Alright, hang on!"

The Skarmory dove forward as Pat and Pladur hastily harried Hess with a thrown Gravelerock, spreading his steely wings as a whitish glint formed along their edges and he flattened out low against the ground. Trizano rammed Hess before pulling up, prompting Guardia to whirl around and throw her club in a spinning arc. The Bonemerang carried on, striking Hess in his arm before coming around and striking him again in his face, sending him reeling back with a wide-eyed yelp.

"R-Rodion?!" Hess whined. "How is she hitting this hard?!"

Further away, the Floatzel bit down on Ander's wings with ice-coated fangs that froze them over, slashing him away with a Liquidation before turning back to Hess and crying out back to the startled captain.

"Uspokoysya! Just focus on keeping your attackers in one place!" Rodion insisted. "They can't do much if they can't move around!"

Hess looked up, watching as Trizano and Pat circled around and began to make their way back. The Aggron snarled and narrowed his eyes into a determined glare, still smarting from wounded pride from his earlier attack cut short.

"In that case, I've got the perfect thing to take out a couple of birds at once!" he cried.

The Steel-Type stomped the ground, calling up stones from the earth that he hurled up into the air. Pat squawked and wheeled back, only to be struck from below and get launched with Pladur into a nearby treetop. Trizano hastily pulled up, feeling a spray of stones strike his underbelly and knock him back, pitching Elty off who looked down and saw his feet dangling in the air and the ground fast approaching.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

The Growlithe curled up his body and screwed his eyes shut when he felt claws latch onto his shoulders, pulling him up abruptly as he looked and saw Trizano grabbing onto him with his talons.

"I've got you! I've got you!" the Skarmory insisted. "That makes two passen- Huh?!"

Trizano looked back in alarm to see that Guardia was no longer on his back, seeing her lurching and falling towards the ground right above Hess.

"Guardia!"

Much to Trizano and Elty's surprise, while Cubone clutched onto her club for dear life, she did not cry out as she fell. With a glimpse of determination in her eyes, the pair watched as the Cubone maneuvered her body to place its full weight behind her club, swinging it for Hess' fast approaching head between his eyes.

"AAAARGH!"

The Cubone bounced off of the Aggron's snout, tumbling onto the ground gasping as Hess toppled back with a bellowing roar. Guardia tried to rise to her feet, only to feel her limbs ache and wobble, leaving her to tumble dazedly as Hess righted himself clumsily and started to plod ahead.

"Hang in there!" a Skarmory's voice cried

Guardia looked up, seeing Trizano swooping in with a whitish glint on his wings and Elty clinging to his back, readying embers in his muzzle. The pair shot forward, when a jeering shout broke through the air from below.

"Here! Stick around a bit while you fight!"

Elty looked down just in time to see Rodion spit up a jet of water that broke against Trizano with a cloud of steam. The pair flinched as droplets of scalding water nipped at their hides and Trizano lurched with a pained squawk, the steam clearing to reveal a fresh burn poking between the feathers of his right wing. Elty latched on as his Skarmory companion flew lower to the ground and struggled to stay airborne, only for a hail of rocks to rip out of the earth and strike Trizano's breast. The Immortal shot up and pinwheeled, throwing Elty off to the ground tumbling away from the Skarmory with a yelp.

On the ground, Elty laid limply on his side and watched his surroundings ebb in a blur as the shouts and cries of battle came indistinctly. He rolled onto his feet, staggering up as he looked over, seeing Trizano grounded and slashing desperately with his good wing at Hess as he harried him with tired but heavy swings. Further away, Rodion was drawing near, Ander trying to stop him only to be thwarted by his frozen wings weighing him down. Elty grimaced, folding his ears and pulling his tail in tight as he struggled to see how the battle could be going any worse when he noticed that from his position, there was a clear line of sight to attack Hess. The Growlithe stared for a moment when the sound of coughing and gasps reached his ears, turning his attention to Guardia as she approached limping along against her bony club for support.

"N-Ngh… that Trizano really gives terrible advice," she wheezed. "I can barely see straight from everything spinning."

"Can you still throw?" Elty asked.

"Uh- Uh-huh."

"Then throw that bone of yours at Hess!" the Growlithe insisted. "We've got one shot at this!"

Guardia nodded back weakly, struggling back onto her feet while leaning against Elty for support before she threw her club into a spinning Bonemerang, which carried on until it found its mark square on Hess' flank.

"AUGH!"

The Aggron flinched, instinctively covering his side as Guardia let go and fell to the ground, throwing an arm up to retrieve her bone on its returning arc while Elty dashed forward faster and faster as fire began to wreath his fur. The Growlithe leapt up, somersaulting forward into a Flame Wheel as Hess shook his head and turned back for battle.

"Hey what the-?"

The Steel-Type was cut off by Elty barrelling into his face. The Growlithe felt his feet brush up against Hess' metallic head, prompting him to vault back and jump towards the ground. The Growlithe looked up, watching as Hess tottered before stumbling and falling forward face-first, prompting the Puppy Pokémon to hastily dart out of the way with a yip as Hess' body hit the ground. Elty panted, instinctively turning to flee from the Aggron when he heard an incoherent groan come from the metal lizard's throat.

"Huh?"

The din of battle settled down as the gathered Pokémon, both the pirates and the sailors stopped and gaped at the fallen captain. The members of the Iron Fleet blanched and grew wide-eyed, as startled cries went out among their number.

"C-Captain Hess!" a Hoppip cried.

"Th-This wasn't supposed to happen!" a Litten whimpered.

"Now!" Beatrix shouted. "Press your advantage while their leader's down!"

The Siglo Swellow's crew broke into a rousing cry as they threw themselves back into battle, Elty and his companions running ahead to join them as Rodion swatted aside a Timburr and beelined to Hess. The Floatzel rifled through a satching, fishing out a Tiny Reviver Seed that he slipped into the Aggron's throat, leaving him to stir weakly and raise his body clutching at his head.

"Ow… feels like I just got hit by a ship…" Hess groaned. "We at least put those dorks on the run?"

"Uh… about that…" Rodion said.

Hess looked back to see his underlings still fighting with the Siglo Swellow's crew, having been penned back along the path back to the beach, a few of their members turning and fleeing back for the ship entirely. The Aggron wobbled back up to his feet, stomping out to the head of the remaining pirates and letting out a bellowing roar as he stomped the ground and braced his stance for an Earthquake.

"Nrgh.. I'm not going to stand for this! We've got some unfinished business to settle!" he shouted, only to be answered by Dusknoir's voice.

"Hold it right there!"

Hess looked off at the treeline and saw the sight of shadowy figures approaching through the brush, revealing the glaring forms of a Dusknoir, at the head of a large crowd of Pokémon with cross-shaped pupils.

"As the leader of Darkwood Square, this is as far as you go!" Valter hissed.

Anxious gapes and stammers went about the gathered pirates, Hess and Rodion grimacing as they sized up the new group and realized they were both outnumbered and hemmed in in an inferior position. Rodion pawed at Hess' shoulder, leaning in and giving a tense whisper up to his earholes.

"I think this is the cue to turn tails, Captain," the Floatzel advised.

Hess dug his feet in blanching, feeling his limbs ache as he watched the gathered defenders advance. Seeing the path clear behind him, he wavered a moment, before reluctantly calling out to his underlings.

"Ngah… C-Come on everyone! We're getting out of here!"

The golden-scarved pirates turned and fled, tearing down the path in hasty retreat. Valter billowed out shadow, rushing ahead as he called out to his fellow villagers.

"Penso di no!" the Dusknoir cried. "Everyone, pick off whoever you-!"

"Oh just can it already!" Hess shouted.

Hess spat up a great orb of water onto the ground, swiping the top of it with his tail and sending it forward cresting into a wave. As the Surf crashed down, the Aggron hastily ran off, allowing the wave to carry on in his absence into the crowd of defenders with a chorus of shouts and yelps. Among them, Elty and Guardia were caught up in the deluge, getting knocked to the ground gagging and coughing up water as the pair stumbled back up to their feet.

"A-Agh… That Bossgodora packs quite a punch…" Guardia wheezed.

"Wh-Where's he now-?" Elty began, only to abruptly trail off. "Huh?"

The Growlithe looked up to see a few last stragglers from the Iron Fleet retreating with fainted comrades, including Hess running off with one of his earlier water barrels held over his shoulder. The pirates carried on, hastily abandoning the bound Ghost-Types from earlier as the gathered villagers threw attacks after the fleeing pirates, only for them to slip away into the bushes. A few of their number hurried along, beginning to give chase when Cernun's voice suddenly pierced the air.

"Stop!"

Sailor and Immortal alike turned at the sound of nearing hoofbeats to see Cernun approaching from the rear. The Xerneas looked off at the treeline anxiously, before lowering his head and looking away.

"Too many of them have already seen us and gotten away," Cernun said. "We're better off taking care of our wounded than dragging out a pointless fight."

The villagers shuffled and drifted off from their positions uneasily, turning their attention to the unconscious and wounded among their midst, including Trizano making his way for Dimitri on the ground. Through the shuffling masses, Pladur hobbled along with Pat, making their way over to Elty and Guardia where the Fraxure stared them down with wide, frightened eyes.

"Y-You're Crom's teammates aren't you?" he stammered. "Where is he? Is he alright?"

"He's fine," Cernun reassured, pacing up with a nod of his head. "He's back in the village with his other friends."

"O-Oh Travellers above, he's okay!" Pladur exclaimed.

The Dragon-Type's voice hitched as he started to cry, Elty and Guardia patting him to try and calm him as Ander watched uneasily. As the Fraxure sniffled and dribbled relieved tears, the Scyther noticed Cernun's head had drifted towards the ground with his ears folded back glumly. Ander hesitated a moment, before he breathed in and after summoning his courage, inched forth and warily spoke up.

"Is… Is everything alright? You seem troubled," he said. "Isn't this something you should be happy about?"

Cernun looked up at the Marked warily, pausing for a moment before he gave a sighing shake of his head.

"It's just… this is so much more of a mess for us to deal with than I thought it'd be…" the Xerneas muttered.

"What do you mean?" Guardia asked.

"It'll take a while to explain, but for now let's get back to the village," Cernun insisted. "There's still some loose ends to take care of."



Author's Notes:

- Kom op - Dutch: "Come on"
- C'è qualcosa che non va? - Italian: "(Is) Something wrong?"
- niwatori (鶏 / ニワトリ / にわとり) - Japanese: "chicken" (Hepburn Romanization)
- Uspokoysya! (Успокойся!) - Russian: "Calm down!" (BGN/PCGN Romanization.)
- Penso di no! - Italian: "I don't think so!"
 
Chapter 74: Moving Along

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
pj7niAk.png


In the sea north of Buyeom, the Uragan and her plated hull had laid anchor alongside a yellow buoy with a star-shaped pattern painted on it. On the deck, the crew had entered an uneasy lull, watching as the forms of three ships with indigo sails edged over the horizon. Among their number were Nagant and Jun at the railing, the Clawitzer of the pair peering through a spyglass to see an approaching frigate, along with a passing glance of a blue, flying Pokémon that flew ahead of the ships. The shrimp thought to give scope over to her first mate, when Jun moved a drill over his eyes and squinted, evidently having sighted the figure himself.

"That must be his messenger," he said. "You don't suppose they've had better luck than us, do you?"

"Cyanea and Katyusha specifically said their ship was spotted sailing west. And I doubt Valan would come to us first if he really found the Protector," Nagant harrumphed, putting away her scope. "Though that messenger seems suspiciously-"

The air wooshed above the Clawitzer captain and her first mate as a dark shadow abruptly blocked out the moon's glow and zipped from one end of the deck to the other. Nagant looked up and whirled around, searching for the disturbance's source when she was abruptly answered by the booming cry of a Salamence in flight.

"Ah! Captain Nugget! There you are!"

Nagant narrowed her eyes, looking over towards the bow to see Valan banking into a wide turn over the water before coming back for her ship, leaving her mouthparts to curl down into a sour frown.

"… Of course."

The Salamence flew over the railing and dropped down onto the deck, churning up the air as he beat his wings and came to a stop before Nagant. The sailors peered up curiously from their tasks as Valan craned his head down towards the Clawitzer with a firm, serious gaze.

"I set sail as soon as I received word of your findings," Valan said. "I hadn't discovered so much as a feather of Lugia up on Gestirn Island, so what exactly did you find out here on Buyeom?"

"We know the pirates that took him passed through given the mess they made of the naval yard. Furthermore, a couple of my subordinates discovered that their ship was last spotted sailing towards the west," Nagant replied. "Based off their course and our prior encounters with them, I can only assume they'd be making their way to Pioppo."

Valan froze for a moment, before scrunching his brow into a disgusted scowl. The Salamence's odd reaction took Nagant aback, prompting her to blink before raising her own brow back puzzledly.

"Is something the matter, Commodore?" the Clawitzer asked.

"Peh, what on earth would compel them to deal with that miserable rock?" the Salamence growled.

"I'm not sure, but they seem to be looking for something of value there," Nagant mused. "I presume that they're not looking to shelter there for long."

Valan let out a low grumble, turning off to the sea as he seemed to hesitate a moment, before pressing the matter further from his subordinate.

"Are you certain they went up that way?" the Salamence questioned. "And if so, I don't suppose you mean to chase them there."

"No. We were already one step behind them just pulling into port here," Nagant insisted, shaking her head back. "By the time we made it to Pioppo, they'd be long gone."

"So you mean to try and think a step ahead of them?" Valan demanded. "But where exactly would you propose sailing, then?"

"I would presume they'd be setting sail for their homes on Tromba next," the Clawitzer said. "If so, then assuming they made it off Pioppo, the most logical route for them would be through Haipheh."

Valan paused a moment at Nagant's reply, tilting his head as he shot a dubious frown back at her.

"And what would force them to go that route specifically?" the Salamence pressed.

"I wouldn't expect them to have much in the way of provisions after going to Pioppo, so they'd logically seek out the closest port they could shelter in," Nagant explained. "That's why it would make sense for you to cover the other possibility I can think of and set sail for Boisocéan. It'd be a longer and more difficult journey, but their ship had already visited recently, and they'd surely remember it as a safe harbor."

"Hrmph, it doesn't sound like you consider it likely for them to go that route in the first place. So why separate?" Valan grumbled. "Are you sure you can even handle the Protector on your own?"

Nagant hopped up and down against the deck, giving an impatient wave of her claws as she tried and largely failed to hide an impatient hiss at her Salamence superior.

"Commodore, I already caught him once with my crew when it was smaller than this!" she snapped. "If there's anyone in the navy that's best suited to bringing him in, it's us!"

"OW!"

Nagant and Valan turned at the sound of a sharp cry, where they saw Cabot leaning against a barrel cringing with Niilo and Berecien looking over in concern. The Cranidos opened his eyes with visible droplets forming at their edges, his voice coming out in a pained whine.

"I stubbed my toe…" he whimpered.

"Hey… It's alright," Niilo said as he patted Cabot on his shoulder. "It'll pass."

"Just take it easy for a while, alright?" Berecien added.

Nagant buried her face in her small claw, mortified as Valan turned back to her with an incredulous glance before scoffing and shaking his head.

"Wasn't he one of the Pokémon you assigned to take care of the Protector at Giotto?" the Salamence demanded.

Nagant clenched her mandibles, screwing her eyes shut as she grudgingly muttered back a reply.

"… Yes."

"And why am I supposed to believe that your subordinates could handle the Protector when that's what you had to resort to the first time?" Valan pressed, forcing Nagant to struggle to restrain herself from hissing at her superior again, before impatiently clicking her claws.

"Commodore, just listen for a second. If we both sail for one port, then that means that if there's anything that we overlooked or got caught off-guard by, those pirates will be clear into Company waters by the time we notice it!" Nagant fumed. "Considering the stakes of failing this mission, you of all Pokémon should appreciate hedging for unexpected risks!"

Valan paused, batting his tail to and fro as he thought the matter over, before giving a shake of his head and craning his neck back down.

"Hrmph, I suppose that's a fair argument," he said. "But in that case let me go to where you expect the Protector to head to. My subordinates are more experienced, and I'm sure we could put on a better display than…"

Valan cast a glance at the still-whimpering Cranidos and his companions, before turning back at Nagant with an unimpressed scoff.

"Well, it should go without saying."

"Because I tracked him down once already!" Nagant cried. "I'm the one with the experience catching him and I pieced together where he was going! Why shouldn't I have the honor of waiting for him in Haipheh?"

Valan frowned and opened his mouth seemingly ready to rebuff his subordinate, only to trail off and relent with a low growl.

"… Very well. As someone of higher rank and more firepower at my disposal, I suppose I would be more suited for handling a neutral island," the Salamence said. "Besides, when- er… if you wind failing to handle the Protector on your own, I'll still be able to come in and lend assistance!"

Nagant's body visibly tightened at the Dragon-Type's reply, her words coming in choking, barely-restrained seethes as she tried to stammer out a passing reply.

"I- That's-"

"A fantastic idea, I know," Valan finished. The Salamence turned to take his leave, readying his wings to take to the air when he craned his neck back with a small, vaguely patronizing smile.

"Good luck with your ambush, Nugget," he insisted. "I will be waiting to hear back from you and will keep an eye out for the Protector myself."

Valan crouched his legs and sprang up, taking wing and flying away from the deck of the Uragan. No sooner than the Salamence had slipped beyond earshot, Nagant whirled around and shot a watery pulse at a nearby barrel, dashing it to splinters as her subordinates flinched and cringed as she screeched angrily.

"AAAAAAAARGH! What did I ever do to deserve the gods cursing me to be stuck with that overgrown treplo?!" Nagant shouted.

"Ahem… While things came out… worse than planned with Commodore Valan, shouldn't we be moving?" Jun asked. "After all, no one knows how long we have before the Protector arrives at Haipheh."

Nagant let out an impatient huff, before turning back to her crew with a sharp scowl as she leveled her large claw out at the crowd.

"Hoist the anchor and get us moving!" she ordered. "I want us in Haipheh before sunrise!"

At once, the deck burst into activity as the sails were lowered and the stone anchor was hastily pulled up. Nagant felt the ship lurch under her body, prompting her to make her way for the railing and clamber down a rope for the familiar comforts of the sea. On her way down, she looked out over the horizon, watching her Drifblim messenger drift off in advance for Haipheh as she leveled a harsh glare off at the waves in the distance.

"This has gone on long enough," Nagant growled. "It's time to bring your little escape attempt to an end."



Back on the shores of Pioppo, the Mistral Marauder remained anchored in the shallow waters just offshore much as it had for the better part of the day. There, the pirates hurriedly scrambled up ropes thrown over the side of the hull, among them the ship's Aggron captain who after making it to the deck sighed and stopped a moment to catch his breath. Hess turned, seeing a Croagunk attempting to hoist a barrel up, only for it to slip and fall back into the water much to the Steel-Type's annoyance.

"Just hurry it up with those barrels!" Hess snapped. "I want to get out of here before those dweebs decide to give chase!"

The Croagunk hastily squeaked an 'aye' in response, going back for the fallen barrel as others were lugged aboard and the arrival of new pirates making their way onto the deck slowed to a crawl. After more Pokémon ceased coming along, Rodion moved a paw around, doing a headcount only to pause and realize that his count had come up three short.

"Wait, Valatos and his friends aren't back from their trip into the dungeon," he said.

"Tch, their loss if they can't make it," Hess spat. "We need to get moving while we can!"

"They are some of the stronger Pokémon on the crew," the Floatzel reminded. "Shouldn't we at least try and find out where they are first?"

Hess hemmed and hawed uneasily at his first mate's prodding. This was as good of a chance he had to be rid of that blasted Nori, but after having just come up short against a bunch of common peasants… would the crew really take his side if he pushed back against Rodion's suggestion?

"Nah, it's alright Rodion," Alfred insisted. "We've got the rest of us to worry about."

"Yeah, and didn't they say they were elite pirates?" a Pawniard added. "I'm sure they'll figure something out."

Rodion raised a brow and let his muzzle flop open in exasperated incredulity at the crew's sudden lack of concern. Hess blinked at the turn of events, before opting not to question his good fortune and chimed in with an overeager harrumph.

"Whelp, that sounded fairly convincing to me," he said. "Come on, we're moving out!"

At the Aggron's shout, the deckclaws quickly set about hoisting the anchor, as the escorts churned the surrounding air and water to push the Mistral Marauder away. While the deck returned to its busy self, Rodion paced off for the stern, watching the shrinking form of Pioppo as he wondered aloud to himself.

"What on earth happened to them out there?"



Half an hour after the Iron Fleet's hasty retreat, Elty and his companions marched through the thick woods of Pioppo's Mystery Dungeon after Valter, Cernun, and Trizano. A quick glance behind revealed the floor had folded vertically due to distortion, with glimpses of the rest of the party from the Siglo Swellow and the defending villagers popping through the treetops as they too made the trek for Darkwood Square.

Elty's attention drifted away when he heard Guardia call out the sighting of fog ahead, the mark of the entrance back into Darkwood Square's stable zone. After passing through the haze and letting the dungeon's winding paths melt away, Elty found himself back at the same palisade gate that Team Phantom had taken him to earlier in the day. A cursory look revealed the palisade to be undamaged, letting Elty breathe a sigh of relief as he heard excited chatter coming from his teammates further ahead. The Growlithe carried on, stepping through the gate where he saw the lot crowded around a Nidorina that was now holding out a scarf too small for her body with a sheepish laugh. Elty paced forward towards the group before he blinked, his eyes widening in surprise at the sight of the scarf as he realized the Nidorina was none other than…

"Nida? When did you evolve?!" the Growlithe cried.

"What's the matter, Elty?" the Nidorina asked, shooting back a teasing smirk. "I didn't think you were the type to worry about falling behind."

Elty folded back his ears and let out a pouting harrumph, before trying to argue that it was hardly fair to compare a Growlithe's evolution with one that could just be grown into. The Puppy Pokémon's protests drew chuckles from his teammates as one after the other, they crowded around the new Nidorina to wish her well… the sole two exceptions being Pladur who inched away uncomfortably from the Poison-Type after her gaze fell on him, and his child who watched wistfully from beside Kiran.

"She's still the same 'mon inside… isn't she…?" Crom murmured to himself.

The Druddigon looked back at Nida sizing up her new body before feeling a cold chill go down his spine. While reason insisted that Nida was still his same old teammate, she was now far from the cutesy little spike ball he'd grown up with. Her face, her fur, her very gait while walking… why it was all just like Marley's! Crom hung his head, thinking perhaps it was only logical that she'd become like her too when a sharp chirp threw off his train of thought.

"Speaking of not falling behind, why did you sneak off like that earlier, Elty?" Pleo asked.

The gathered members of Team Traveller paused and turned expectantly to their Growlithe teammate, who blinked and shuffled his paws a moment before answering with a dismissive shrug.

"I just thought that I could talk Hess and the others out of coming here," he replied. "Nothing else to it."

"Well, tell someone else before sneaking off next time!" Ander buzzed. "If it wasn't for us coming in with the ship's crew, those pirates would probably have you halfway down a plank right now!"

"Yeah, yeah… it was a learning experience, alright?" the Growlithe scoffed back, giving a grumbling shake of his head. "Besides, all's well that ends well."

Elty's fur stood on end at the sound of a loud crash, looking off towards the eastern fringes just in time to watch a charred roof cave in. After clambering onto a nearby barricade for height and squinting off into the distance, the Growlithe noticed that in spite of his nearsighted vision, he could still see that the buildings around it were all torched and ruined, prompting him to look back with puzzled concern at his teammates.

"… What on earth happened here anyways?" he asked.

"O-Ow! Hey! Easy there!"

The lot turned at the sound of a pained buzz, and saw Valatos, Alvise, and Nori with their limbs tied up being pushed along towards a wooden platform on stone blocks set up in the central square where villagers were gathering. The three were marched up and unceremoniously shoved down, leaving Nida and her teammates to trade wary glances with one another.

"Come on," Nida said. "Let's see what's happening."

The Nidorina and her companions drew forward, the air growing thick with boos and hisses from the crowd of villagers, including Team Phantom's members who were sporting fresh bandages. On the center of the platform, Alvise tried in vain to shake off the bindings over his legs as his eyes moved uneasily out to the surrounding mob, and then to his Yanmega teammate.

"Uh… Valatos, you wouldn't happen to have any ideas for us to get out of here, would you?" the Manectric gulped.

"I can't move my wings, you dip!" Valatos snapped. "What do you think?!"

Nori glanced around at the surrounding mob when he noticed Roteck nearing them on the platform. The 'mon was a spitting image of Hess, and with how cagey he'd been just being around him…

"I think I've got something," Nori said.

The Marowak shuffled to his feet, baring his teeth and glaring up at Roteck with the loudest, most threatening growl he could muster.

"Grr… you'd better untie me right now, you lousy metal-head!" Nori snarled. "Keep me waiting and I'll take one of your bones and get out of here mysel- AAAAGH!"

Nori was cut off mid-sentence by a heavy punch at his gut from Roteck, leaving him coughing and wheezing for air. Roteck stooped down, grabbing Nori by his throat as Alvise and Valatos recoiled, bringing the hapless Marowak up to his glaring eyes.

"Any more threats you want to throw my way, tough guy?" the Aggron demanded.

Nori squirmed and pulled his tail in towards his body as Roteck tightened his claws about his throat, stammering nervously before he finally managed to squeak out a reply.

"N-No…"

Roteck loosened his grip, letting Nori fall to the ground with a thud and a yelp, shooting a sharp scowl down at him and his teammates.

"Bene, I'll let the others deal with you then," the Aggron harrumphed. "They've been itching to give you three a piece of their minds over your arson earlier."

Roteck stepped aside, as the glaring crowd's boos and jeers at the captured pirates continued to ring out. The three shrank back, squirming under the torrent of growls and livid snarls about them.

"Not so tough now, huh?!" Lisa spat.

"Yeah! Serves you right for burning up our base!" Cantone fumed.

Alvise tried to turn his head as best as his bindings would allow, only to be summarily clocked in the face with an errant apple. The Manectric turned his eyes over, catching sight of the Gastly from earlier floating next to a Kangaskhan joey blowing a raspberry at him, prompting him to grit his teeth and begin to spark.

"Hey!" the Manectric snapped. "If you all think we're just going to sit here and take this, you've got another thing comin-!"

"Enough!"

Alvise quickly held his tongue and the crowd's heckling abruptly faded as a sharp shout announced Cernun and Valter's approach towards the platform, with Trizano coming along and waiting at the base. The two ascended the crude steps that had been set up at the edge and neared the captured pirates as they trained down sharp glares at them.

"When most Pokémon are stuck in a hole, they usually stop digging," Cernun piped. "Considering how much trouble you all are in, you should really set the tough 'mon act aside for a while."

Valatos, Alvise, and Nori stared up blankly, finding themselves at a loss for words at the strange deer. After spending a moment staring into Cernun's eyes, Nori began to grow unnerved and attempted to scoot back from the blue fawn.

"W-Wait, who's that 'mon supposed to be?" the Marowak stammered.

"You don't think it's another Protector, do you?" Alvise asked.

"Whatever he is, he doesn't look that tough," Valatos harrumphed, prompting Valter to narrow his eye and let out a sharp huff.

"I don't know whether you feel that our lack of numbers or our isolation as a village makes us a lesser threat, but you are sorely mistaken if so," the Dusknoir chided. "We carry the blessing of Lord Cernun, and we are capable of passing down… more lasting punishments if need be."

The Ghost-Type revealed a dusty green gem that carried a dim glow, flashing it in clear view of the gathered Pokémon that seemed to make an uncomfortable chill settle on a villager here or there. The three pirates froze and stared up with nervous grimaces, noting the deadly serious expression on their captor's face.

"W-What is that?" Valatos demanded.

"It's a Teleport Gem that the village teleporters crafted some years ago in the Dungeon's Distortion. I'm sure someone must have told you about what it does before, but it's an object capable of sending Pokémon to linked places that are beyond the ability of a teleporter to go to on his own," Valter explained. "In this case, it's linked to a canyon in the Wastes with spent ash and stone being its only comforts. We have not needed to use such things or craft additional ones in years…"

The Dusknoir paused, turning his eye out to the still-smoking fringes at the eastern end of the village, before looking back with a piercing glare and irate hiss.

"Though perhaps today will prove to be an exception."

Valatos and his companions' eyes widened, their bodies flushing pale and quivering at the idea of a cold, lonely end out in the Wastes.

"W-Wait, you can't do that!" Nori cried. "We were just following orders!"

"Y-Yeah, it's Captain Hess' fault!" Alvise insisted. "He made us come here!"

The Manectric's protest made Roteck grit his teeth and ball his fists up, stooping to grab Alvise by his neck before Cernun tapped the platform with his hooves. Roteck looked up to see the young Protector shaking his head back, prompting the Aggron to slink back with a dissatisfied growl. The entire time, Valter's expression had remained firm and wholly unmoved by the pirates' pleas.

"And yet, it was you that dealt us this blow. It's truly a miracle that none of the villagers lost their Protector's blessing from it," the Dusknoir scoffed. "I believe that in normal towns, that would be more than enough reason to have you three exiled."

The Ghost-Type's reply drew a torrent of pleas and whines from the captured pirates, which fell on deaf ears. After seeing their captors' faces still remain as hardened and inhospitable as when they came in, the three's begging began to take an increasingly desperate air and their voices began to hitch and break. All the while, Guardia shook her head from the side, as she watched Valatos, Alvise, and Nori begin shedding frightened tears onto the platform.

"Gods, you're pathetic," the Cubone said.

"I… don't think any of that will be necessary, Valter," Cernun insisted. "We've been able to deal with worse 'mons than these three before in other ways… at least when they were willing to cooperate."

The three pirates continued to sniffle a bit after the Xerneas' words, which slowly died down as the lot began to realize that they might be out of mortal danger. His eyes still damp, Nori timidly lifted his head up at the deer.

"H-Huh?"

"Well, the alternative would be to have you make what you've done to the town right," Cernun explained. "Though you'd be here for a very long time, and as such, you'd better start acting like you belong here."

"Wh-What are you going to do to us?" Valatos asked.

"I… think that Valter had a term for it once," the Xerneas mused to himself. "'Community Service,' I think?"

Cernun's reply drew approving nods and murmurs from the crowd, along with a moment of quiet surprise among Team Traveller's members as they traded glances with one another.

"Wait, they do that here too?" Elty wondered

"I guess even after hiding away in a Mystery Dungeon, some things really don't change much from town to town," Nida sighed.

"Essentially, you would be helping the village on an as-needed basis," Valter explained. "To start with, you would be cleaning up all the rubble left from the fires, and helping to build new shelters. Unpaid, of course."

The Dusknoir's explanation drew back offended glares from the pirates. Even when bound and at the mercy of a village, Community Service was no light blow to their own pride, which Alvise was quick to be let known through an irritated growl.

"And why on earth should we put up with that, huh?!" he snapped.

Valter moved the Teleport Gem around in his fingers, the dull glow giving way to a weak whitish pulse of light from within as he narrowed his eye back at the three.

"Well, there was an alternative sentence floated earlier," the Dusknoir reminded. "Would you really prefer that one instead?"

Alvise and his companions fell silent and visibly shivered at Valter's retort, the Manectric pulling his tail between his legs and lowering his head in a bid to look small and unthreatening.

"N-No…" he whined.

"Then it's time for you all to get to work," Valter harrumphed. "Roteck! Unbind them and set them to work at once after a good bath!"

Roteck stepped forward, stooping down to untie the pirates' bindings as Nori turned his head back with a surprised and annoyed scowl.

"Hey! That wasn't part of your deal earlier!" the Marowak protested. "Why do we need to take a bath?!"

"Because you three reek!" Roteck spat. "It's like you rolled around in a trash pile!"

"Hey! We already took a bath before we left Kenobi, alright?!" Alvise snapped back. "We're clean enough!"

"And when was that?" Roteck demanded.

"Uhm… about two weeks ago?" the wolf answered.

Alvise's reply drew a loud chorus of disgusted groans from the gathered villagers, as even Team Traveller's members found themselves recoiling and sticking their tongues out of revulsion… with one exception:

"… Wait, that's what they're all complaining about?" Elty scoffed, tilting an ear back. "I went without baths longer than that on the Iron Fleet!"

Nida flattened her ears and whirled to Elty, her face contorted into a disgusted frown at his reply. As if it wasn't bad enough that he wasn't bothered by such awful bathing habits…

"Ugh… why are you proud of that?!"

After making his way from one pirate to the next, Roteck undid the bindings of Valatos and his companions enough for the lot to stand and pace about. Warily, the three found their footing, eying their surroundings as the Aggron turned to the surrounding crowd.

"Are there any parting words before these three head off?" Roteck asked. "I don't expect them to have a lot of free time today."

The Aggron was answered with a host of 'nays' and grumbles to 'hurry the bums off already', prompting him to begin to march the trio off, when he heard a sharp yip coming from just beyond the platform and turned down to see Elty staring up at him.

"Actually… I've got some for them," the Growlithe said.

Roteck blinked back puzzledly as some of the bystanders raised brows and murmured among one another. After a moment's pause, the Steel-Type shook his head and let out an impatient snort.

"Fine, but hurry it up," he harrumphed.

Elty gave a grateful nod, before trotting out in front of Valatos, Alvise, and Nori with a smug smirk, making the lot glare back and visibly fight to restrain themselves.

"Grr… what did you want, you little runt?" Valatos hissed. "To come and laugh at us?"

"Well, yeah. After everything you three have put me through, of course I wanted to," Elty replied. "But… at the same time I guess I just wanted to give some advice."

"And what would a little pipsqueak like you know, huh?!" Alvise snapped.

"Well, that I've been where you are before and Community Service kinda sucks…" the Growlithe began. "But it doesn't have to stay that way."

The pirates fell silent and blinked back puzzledly at the Fire-Type. After a moment wondering to themselves what the ankle-biter before them was angling at, Nori let out a snorting harrumph in reply.

"Just what's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, if you settle down and open up to these 'mons, you might start making a few friends… real friends, not someone giving you a 'donation' to pass by you," Elty explained. "'Mons who are willing to look out for you when you get in trouble and make this whole 'Community Service' thing less of a drag. Who knows? Maybe they'll even put in a good word and get you out of that sentence faster."

"Well a fat lot that means coming from you!" Alvise growled. "I don't see you volunteering to stay behind!"

"I've already got my own Community Service and problems to deal with," Elty replied, shaking his head back. "But I did have something for you before I left."

The Growlithe turned away, poking his rump up in the air before giving it a vigorous shake as he blew a taunting raspberry at the pirates. At once, the three's tempers flared, Alvise's fur sparking as he bared his fangs angrily.

"Why you little-!"

Elty ran ahead beside himself with laughter, the Manectric and his fellows trying to give chase, only to suddenly feel the ropes at their ankles abruptly tighten. One after the other, the three pitched to the ground with yelps, coughing up dirt as the looming shadow of an impatient Aggron fell over them.

"Alright, time to go," Roteck snapped.

Roteck drug the three along, when he heard a clinking noise coming from Alvise's body. The Aggron raised a brow, before running a claw along the underside of the Manectric's scarf, finding a small bag filled with coins and giving it an absentminded toss up and down.

"How on earth did this not get confiscated already?" he grumbled. "Well no matter, you won't be needing it here anyways."

The Steel-Type turned his attention back to the ropes, dragging the pirates along as they flailed and shouted in protest at their predicament.

"A-Agh! You fat thief! That's my money there!" Alvise whined. "I earned it fair and square in a bet!"

"Stop jerking me around, you stupid clod!" Valatos protested. "I'm a grown 'mon and I can bathe whenever the hell I want!"

"Let go-! S-Stop pulling!" Nori stammered. "Marowak aren't supposed to get soaked!"

Team Traveller's members watched as the pirates were dragged away unceremoniously past the edge of the crowd. The group traded dubious glances with one another as to how much the rotters could really be made to do any good, as Vince gave a mocking wave farewell.

"Have a nice bath!" the Haunter jeered.

"Are they really going to be able to do Community Service like that?" Pleo asked.

"Golly, you don't have to worry about that," Lisa reassured. "We can handle them."

"Yeah, they're not so tough when they get caught off guard!" Cantone said. "Nothing that a prank here or there can't help out with."

"Mwee hee hee! Or twenty," Vince offered. "We've got a big score to settle with those three, and I can already tell that we're going to be getting a lot of laughs out of them for a long, long time."

The Ghost-Types bade Team Traveller farewell, before heading off after Roteck and his prisoners. Nida watched after the departing pranksters, before giving a shake of her head.

"I almost feel sorry for Valatos and his buddies…" Nida murmured. "Almost."

"So… what do we do now?" Ander asked.

As the crowd thinned and began to disperse back into the rest of the village, Pleo noticed that Valter remained with Cernun in the middle of the assembly, seemingly lost in thought. The young Protector waddled forward warily, before craning his head up with a pleading look at the Dusknoir leader.

"Is… there really nothing at all you can do to help us here?" Pleo asked. "I mean, we tried our best to help protect your village!"

"That's really not-" Valter began, only for Kiran to cut him off.

"And surely you must realize that the Iron Fleet won't forget what they saw," the Swellow added. "One way or another, other Pokémon are going to find out about this place, so the best thing we can do is settle this matter with the Empire and Company before they-!"

"Enough!" Valter snapped.

The Dusknoir shot a sharp scowl back, making Pleo back away uneasily and Kiran cast a worried glance over. After a long silence, Valter pinched at his brow, turning away with a grudging mutter.

"I… I just need some time to think this through," the Ghost-Type sighed.

Valter floated off, Cernun following along with his gaze drifting towards the ground and a troubled air surrounding him. Pleo began to head after the pair, when Trizano hopped up, and motioned for a stop with a wing.

"Bear with him a little longer, Pleo," Trizano insisted. "It's not an easy decision for him to make right now."

Pleo tilted his head back at the Skarmory, before the Steel-Type ruffled his feathers and began to follow after Cernun and Valter. The young Lugia waited a moment as the three slipped off, before turning back for his companions. All the while, he couldn't help but look back off at where Cernun, Valter, and Trizano had departed, unable to shake the feeling that when he'd tried to get their help that time, that something was different.



Team Traveller's curiosity over Valter and Cernun's decision eventually got the better of them, leading the lot over to the steps of the pavillion where Nida, Pleo, Crom, and Ander had been first shown to the village. There, the group made small talk and happily prattled away with each other happy to be reunited. All the while, Elty remained at the fringes, saying nothing with his ears and head held low, before he turned and shuffled away from the group. While his teammates had been enjoying themselves, the Growlithe's thoughts kept drifting off towards his confrontation with Hess and the Iron Fleet. To how the bridge he'd so desperately clung to for eventually returning to the crew had been burned away from under his feet with nothing to replace it.

"Gardie?"

Elty pricked his ears and turned around, where he saw Guardia standing behind him. Her red eyes were hardened into an impatient stare much as they had many a time in the past, but this time seemed to carry a curious twinge of concern.

"What's going on?" she demanded. "You wandered off again."

The Growlithe hemmed and hawed a moment, attempting to fish up one excuse after anot