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Pokémon Places We Call Home

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam | pfp by kintsugi
Location
Route 123
Partners
  1. mightyena
  2. psyduck
Long time, no see! I'm back for the Review Blitz, and this time I'll start at chapter 11.

Chapter 11
I like the delve into Nip's mind where we see how differently things look from his POV--he stole the egg purely to stay alive, but in everyone else's eyes, it was just cruel, callous murder.

Haru refusing to accept Nip's explanation for his actions reads like she's in denial. She's lived in a village of vegetarians for so long that she doesn't seem to understand the necessity of death and suffering in a way that Nip does.

As he spoke, he could see the Haru’s expression begin to shift towards one of deep concentration. “Are you… sure you’re not overreacting a little?”
He's running for his life, Haru, I don't think that's overreacting!

Despite Haru and Nip saying they don't care about what each other thinks, it's obvious that they do. Haru wouldn't have gone to his cell in the first place, and Nip wouldn't be so wounded by her words and actions if it wasn't so. It's kinda sweet to see that, even with their outward disagreement with each other, they still do care for each other.

Only once he was totally exhausted did Nip finally drift into fitful, troubled sleep, his dreams disturbed by rough waves, flashing lightning, and frost-covered trees.
Poor Nip, I feel you :( I move a lot and I always struggle to sleep in new places, and none of those places have ever been prison! I think it's sweet that he says a prayer before drifting to sleep, in that he's still hoping and trusting in a higher power.

For a second, he locked eyes with the bellossom that ran the stand. But she quickly averted her gaze to her partner, the roserade standing beside her. That pairing was something he had been curious about for a long time, but an explanation would have to wait for another day.
A Bellossom and a Roserade? I wonder why Nip is curious about that particular matchup.

Though he didn't see how that would protect from an attack from above. Something like a staraptor swooping from above would be a real threat.
Ah, the villagers are so complacent that they don't foresee a lot of the dangers that Nip does. And they probably haven't had to deal with them like he has!

Ah, we get to meet Tempest!

Chapter 12

Sure, Muse was here too, but everything about the dark-type’s mind and emotions were an enigma, like a deep, dark void in a vibrant world.
Ah, I love this perspective of what Dark types are like to a Psychic type! It's fun to see how different authors all have their own interpretations of what they look like in their stories, and this is really neat!

Was it a façade? Kind of. But considering how ugly her real feelings were, and how much disrespect she’d receive as a leader for showing that side of herself, she could bottle it up and put on a cheerful look.
Ah, another glimpse at Shimmer's real feelings! Though I don't believe her bubbliness is TOTALLY a facade, we're definitely witnessing more of her insecurities and worries.

and a carefully constructed bidoof plush that she’d had to go to the next town over for.
Haha, nice little Bidoof bias!

Interesting they didn't know regional variants were a thing.

But without proof of Nip’s end, she could not return home.
I read this as "without Nip's head," at first, which makes me wonder... What sort of "proof" would she want to show?

“That was intentional. Someone, for some reason, wanted him dead. And if he somehow survived, they didn’t want him talking.”
Ah, really astute! This does raise a lot of questions... I was shocked to see that Tempest was able to sense her in his mind and push her back out. I wonder if psychic presences leave some sort of trace or feeling in someone's mind once they've been there?

This chapter was a nice continuation from the previous and a good setup for the next. Even though stuff happened (meeting Tempest! Learning a bit more about him!), I felt like it served more to lead in for the chapter coming up, but I never found myself getting bored or antsy was a thing. I like the little insights we get to Umbra's point of view, and I'm itching to know more about what she's up to.

Chapter 13

Geeze, Haru, have a bit of compassion and mercy on Nip for his situation! Poor guy, that must be so brutal.

Her gaze drifted to the parchment, and the useless marks on it. Stupid! She knew that it was a pointless endeavor, trying to communicate with writing. And yet, she’d wasted her time with it anyways. How could she be so stupid?
I don't get why they think that trying to communicate with writing turned out to be a pointless idea. Tempest meant what he wrote down, and Nip explained the meaning to them. It's not what they were accustomed to, but it was still working, so I don't know why she's so upset.

Huh, so Tempest says that Nip is all he has left! But Tempest had a mate, didn't he? Shimmer saw her when she dove into Tempest's memories. I wonder what happened to her--I wonder what happened in general! Umbra definitely isn't happy to see him, and with good reason, since it seems like he'll be capable of clearing Nip's name. I can't imagine Jhorlo will be too happy at having Tempest there, either. I wonder if Umbra was the one who tried to kill him, or at least stop him from speaking? If not her, then who's working with her to stop him?

Speaking of Johrlo, I'm personally itching to see more of him! He's been talked about quite a bit, as everyone is waiting for him to assess and make the decisions as to what to do with Nip and Tempest, but he's yet to be seen in quite a bit. Last I remember, he was teaming up with Umbra and planning on eating Nip, so he's more of a dirty hypocrite than anybody else in the village! He not only doesn't follow the rules, but he doesn't even follow the ones that he made and enforces on everyone else! I can only imagine how he's going to react when he sees Tempest has arrived.

There's a lot going on, and while many questions are answered, there's still more! You do a good job of keeping the plot moving forward and giving bits of the story, a little at a time, without dragging it on or feel like things are moving too slowly. In general, I felt like everything moved at a decent pace, which is really nice.

I think my only critique with these chapters would be the interaction we had with Toshi and Haru in Chapter 12. It felt like their conversation quickly turned from the way Haru treated Nip to how she treats her father to blaming Regigigas for their grandfather's death. It's all valid for them to go over, and stuff that's understandable for her to be angry about. But the conversation just felt a bit on-the-nose, not like a natural flow, and it just didn't emotionally hit for me.

But! Aside from that, you've got a very compelling story here. I'll definitely be back for more--and hopefully before next year's Blitz, hehe.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Heya, I kinda fell off the wagon on this, but catching up with PWCH was one of my goals for Review Blitz, so this seems like as good a time as any to get that rolling into motion again with things right after Nip's explosive wake-up call in…

Chapter 23

H… help…

Shimmer stirred, still half-asleep, and blearily opened her eyes. Pale dawn light filtered through her window, painting patches of sunlight on the wooden floor and casting the rest of the room in a blue hue.

Wait, Shimmer can sense Nip? Or is that meant to be a "voiceover" sort of thing?

Something poked her in the back, rousing her further and making her aware of the warm, furry thing under her head. She rolled onto her side, catching a glimpse of Muse's face. A small part of her wanted to giggle as the absol twitched in her sleep, but sense overruled it as she caught a glimpse of her contorted face and remembered the night before. Muse's feeling of foreboding hadn't gotten any better. Shimmer had insisted on Muse sleeping here, hoping company might soothe her. Poor thing.


I can already tell that Muse was very flustered after hearing Shimmer insist that, since... yeah, we know how Muse feels about Shimmer even if she's not been open about it yet.

Rolling back over to face the window, Shimmer couldn't help but wonder what had woken her; usually, she didn't wake until the sun had risen fully. Had it been Muse's fidgeting? She couldn't help but feel like she was forgetting something.

Help!

Oh, so Shimmer really is just hearing Nip crying out in the background right about now. I wonder if that's straight-up words or telepathy in action there.

A sudden burst of psychic energy, distant and weak, struck her mind. She gasped, bringing a hand up to her right horn. That must be what had roused her. Someone was trying to contact her. Someone who knew where to find her. And she had a sneaking suspicion she knew who.

And if he was contacting her, then…

Scratch that, it's Tempest. I guess it didn't occur to Umbra that he'd be able to communicate effectively since otherwise you'd think she'd have killed him off the bat before dragging Nip out.

She sprung to her feet, then leaned over to shake Muse awake. Before she could speak a word, the absol jerked awake and scrambled to her paws, eyes wild and hackles raised.

Muse took two gasping breaths before addressing the kirlia. "Shimmer? What's going on?"

"I'm not sure," Shimmer replied, uncharacteristically serious. "I think Tempest is trying to contact me. I don't know why. But I think something is really, really wrong." She threw her arms wide to emphasize her point.

Muse: "... It's something to do with Nip, isn't it? I swear to gods, that Sneasel..."
:gardexhausted:


Muse took another breath, this time deep and steadying. "Okay. Focus. We'll go down to the square to see what's going on. Grab my bags, please."


Ah yes, time to see the guard hut burning in broad daylight.

- Meanwhile, elsewhere on their way out of Theran -

Vale: "Seriously, Umbra. Didn't anyone teach you how to be subtle with these things?"
:AlviseUnamused:

Umbra: "Yeah, yeah, shut up. I got what I wanted, all that's left is to finish the job."

"Right." Pink psychic energy gathered around Shimmer's hand, her eyes glowing the same hue. A set of pink bags flew across the room, straps landing in her waiting palm. She secured one bag around her waist, then attached the other to a harness before strapping the whole setup around Muse's torso. She stuck one hand in the bag, feeling around to verify she had the basic supplies she might need, then raced out the door with Muse on her heels.


Wow. That was a much smoother process than I was assuming. I suppose that Shimmer has had a lot of practice with this routine.

The villa sat on high ground, compared to the village square, at the top of a rise that offered a view of the rest of Theran. On a lazy day, Shimmer could sit outside beneath a sturdy magnolia tree, watching the villagers mill about without a care in the world.

But today, she had a clear view of a dark plume of smoke and licking flames billowing out of the jail, and of several pokemon racing toward it.

Shimmer: "Er... Musey? Isn't that the guard hut? Since when did it ever give off that much smoke?" ._.
Muse: "Yeah, Nip totally had something to do with this. Even if I don't understand how he'd manage to start a fire as an Ice-type."
:mewtwofacepalm:


For a moment, Shimmer stared in wide-eyed shock, jaw hanging open. What could have caused this? Did her father know? She hesitated, knowing her father would be upset if she spied on him like a child, before letting her emotion sense spread out. As usual, Muse was a black hole. She could pick up a single, faint trace of someone in the villa, though it was hard to interpret their emotional signature from this far away.


Can't tell if that's Jhorlo or if Vale broke off from Umbra to avoid drawing attention to himself and try to not raise questions about him being in unexpected parts of town right around the time of a major fire.

A nudge from behind grounded her back in reality. Muse gave her a light headbutt. "We should get down there. Climb on my back. It'll be faster."

"O-oh. Right." Shimmer couldn't keep the tremble out of her voice, her usual cheery front shattered. She put her hands on Muse's side and vaulted up to straddle her back, clinging tightly to the absol's mane. "As quickly as you can."


I now have the mental image of Muse just spamming Quick Attack repeatedly to get her Sanic on and blow through town in a black-and-white blur.

Muse lurched forward, racing down the hill at full sprint. Wind whipped around Shimmer's face, her thick hair streaming behind. A moment later, they leveled out at the bottom of the hill, the panicked cries of villagers starting to reach Shimmer's ears. She squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on reigning in her emotion sense. Her grip on Muse's fur tightened, heart racing as she silently urged the absol to run faster.

Oh no oh no, please let everyone be okay!

Huh, maybe Muse really is Quick Attack spamming her way over to the smoldering remains of the guard hut.

By the time they reached the square, other pokemon were already fighting the flames. Saku and Chip spat streams of water from their reserves while Toshi flung globs of water from his tail. Nearby, she spotted the cubone from the meat shop slinging globs of dirt and mud at the base of the fire.

Shimmer sprang from Muse's back and took a few running steps forward, only to stop and turn back to the absol. She didn't have any water or ground moves. What was she supposed to do for help?

Muse: "Don't you have telekinesis through Psychic or something, Shimmer? You could always throw clods of dirt to try and smother the flames."
:joltyshrug~1:

Shimmer: "Musey, that's something that I've done for campfires. This is a bit bigger than one!" .-.

But before she could say anything, the sound of coughing made her whip back around toward the building.

Two figures emerged from the entryway, supporting each other. The first was Whisper, her feathers singed and sooty. One wing held a damp cloth to her beak. Leaning against her was Tempest, who looked even worse. The fur on parts of his flank had burned away, leaving exposed, blistered skin in an angry red hue. His eyes were dull, and his tails drooped as he limped forward.


Yeeeeeeeah, Vale had better hope that he didn't get spotted, since he's a dead 'mon walking otherwise considering how he and Umbra blew this place up with Whisper still in the building.

The pair made it only a few steps further before Tempest shuddered and collapsed, taking deep, heaving breaths.

"Lecha!" Whisper croaked, her voice hampered by the smoke. "Lecha, quickly!"

"Coming!"

Shimmer turned just in time to see the aromatisse scurry away from an injured Vale, leaving him in the hands of her illumise assistant, Twi.


... Or Umbra could've backstabbed him and left him to burn. Can't tell if that's what went down, or if Vale just got caught up in things.

The stench of burnt fur wafted towards Shimmer; patches of Vale's fur had burned away, but his injuries were hardly worse than Whisper's. Next to him, Anu paced restlessly, his aura sensors quivering.

Lecha paused as she passed Shimmer. "You know how to use heal pulse. Right, Dear? Come, help me."

Oh right. That's a Level Up move for Lukes. I always keep forgetting about that since my mental associations with Lucario in terms of movesets is always very Gen 4. Though I suppose that's a sign that Anu either is relatively strong, or else he picked this up from his parents.

"R-right." Finally, something she could do. Something other than standing around uselessly.

Shimmer stumbled after Lecha, rushing towards the fallen ninetales. By the time she reached him, healing energy danced at her fingertips. She focused, pushing the healing energy forward, aiming for the areas that looked the worst while Lecha elevated Tempest's head. With her free paw, she reached into a satchel, pulling out a couple rawst berries.


... Oh, it's Shimmer that Lecha is asking help for. I misread that there. I do wonder if Shimmer's internal thoughts and the remainder of the rest of the paragraph work better separated, but I could potentially be overthinking things.

"I need you to try to eat these," she said to Tempest. "Do you think you're able to?"

Gingerly, Tempest took one of the berries between his teeth, biting into it, only to drop it as a coughing fit wracked his body.


Shimmer: "O... kay, I'm just going to take that as a 'no' there."
:lugiyikes:


Lecha let out a sigh, reaching into her bag again for a mortar and pestle. "Very well. I don't like using a topical treatment on burns, but it looks like the best choice here." She turned her head towards Whisper. "If you have any burns, you can get a berry from Twi. I'll be with you once I've finished treating him."


Oh, I see that you're referencing the worldbuilding you had for Rawst Berries in your Itemdex, since I distinctly remember that it warned against doing this since it carried a risk of causing infections. I suppose I should be a bit less surprised to see your interpretations of how canonworld works also appear here, but it was still neat to see.

Whisper held up a wing. "Not yet. I have a situation I need to deal with."

She looked back towards the guards' hut. Flames still licked at the timbers but were dying quickly under the onslaught of water.

"I just woke up to my workplace on fire, one guard injured — not the one who, mind you, was supposed to be there — one prisoner trapped and critically injured, and one prisoner missing." She took a stumbling step towards Anu and Vale. "What in Regi's name happened here?"


This paragraph with Whisper IMO works better hacked up. Maybe not necessarily into three like this, but definitely into more than the single paragraph that's presently there since there's quite a bit going on in it.

One prisoner missing? Shimmer whipped her head about, scanning the small crowd for the oddly colored sneasel. Without thinking, she let loose her emotion sense, as if it might help her pinpoint him. But he was a dark type. Even if he were here, she wouldn't have sensed him. She did, however, pick up the general anxiety of the gathered pokemon, and a surprisingly strong spike of the same from Vale.


Shimmer: "Wait, Vale? Why are you-?"
Vale: "Look, I don't know anything, I swear!"
:AlviseScared:


"It was one of those explorers," Vale grunted, teeth bared. "I don't know if she acted alone, but I suspect not. Anu left to deal with another one at the temple. Then the charizard attacked while he was gone. She knocked me out. When I came to, the whole place was on fire and she was making her escape with Nip."

"What?" Whisper puffed out her feathers, hitting Shimmer with a sharp pang of shock.

So Vale is able to front a cover story under pressure. I suppose that'd be handy given that he's presently plotting behind his employer's back. Also, as a minor nitpick, but you have a missing space in your second paragraph here.

Anu hung his head. "I knew there was something wrong with those explorers. Something about their aura was just… wrong. And the fact that the zoroark was parading around as a charmander… But for them to attack a guard… I should have paid closer attention to their credentials. I'm sorry, Whisper."


Oh, you don't even know the half of it, Anu. And I'm not just talking about how they're a party of betamons and regional variants.

The hawlucha's expression softened. "Dear, this isn't your fault—"

"And Nip!" Anu flattened his ears against his skull, tail tucked between his legs. "I really thought I was getting through to him… Please don't sugarcoat this, Whisper. I could have prevented this. I've failed this community."

:sadwott~3:


Yeah, Anu hasn't exactly been having a good past couple of weeks in Theran Village, has he?

Shimmer frowned, bracing herself against the waves of disappointment and regret that rolled off Anu. She didn't expect a sudden flash of anger from nearby.

He's lying.

She knew that psychic signature. She snapped her head to stare intently at Tempest. The ninetales struggled, trying to stand, only to slump back to the ground, panting.

Shimmer: "Wait- Anu is lying? But why would he-?" ._.

"Stop that!" Lecha chided. "You're in no condition to move."

The Manectric's lying, Tempest repeated in her mind. Umbra was here. Umbra brought the charizard. He was in on it.

What?
Shimmer sent the word back without meaning to. She could believe that Umbra was somehow involved. But… but Tempest's story couldn't be right. Vale was a good mon. He was always hanging around the villa, helping her dad out with odd jobs. He could be gruff, but he only had the village's best interests at heart.

Right, I completely forgot about the "They expect one of us in the wreckage" angle of Umbra's plan. I suppose that's a sign that it's been a while since I last read this story. Though you should probably make it a little more obvious that Tempest is referring to Vale specifically since his present dialogue is interpretable as referring to Anu since it refers to a 'he' immediately after Anu's dialogue.

Right?

But if Umbra was involved, why didn't Vale say so? How could he miss her involvement? And what would Tempest have to gain by lying? It was possible he was covering for Nip. But if Nip had abandoned him to die in a fire, why would he still be loyal?


Tempest: "Because he was literally dragged out of his cell kicking and screaming... well, until the part where we all got blown up, anyways." >_>;

Her mind raced through the possibilities, trying to decide what to do. Who to believe. Should she try to read their thoughts? Her dad always told her not to, and they would definitely notice an inexperienced mind reader like her, but maybe…


Ah yes, no ulterior motives for that insistence at all there.
:copyka:


Please. Tone was difficult to discern through a psychic voice, but she could feel the desperation emanating from the ninetales. I can't lose him again.


Shimmer: "Okay, slow down. Where on earth is Nip right now? And I get why Umbra would want him, but-"

"What do you mean the explorers were involved?"

Toshi's panicked voice cut through the haze. Shimmer's gaze followed the bidoof as he scrambled to a stop in front of Whisper, his eyes wide and fur ruffled.

"Haru said she's supposed to be with them. What if they tricked her? What if they hurt her? We have to do something!"

Ah yes, time for the part where Theran Village bumbles their way into getting into conflict with a military scouting party. I guess we had to wind up making Muse's premonition a reality at some point.
:copyka2:


Sudden clarity hit Shimmer as she took a deep breath. Something didn't add up here. And she would be the one to get to the bottom of it.

Giving Muse a quick pat on the shoulder to get her attention, Shimmer sauntered over to the group surrounding Vale.

"They didn't say anything about where they were headed, did they?" Whisper asked.

Vale hesitated. Shimmer felt more waves of anxiety. "No, I'm afraid not. Not while I was alert, at least."


Shimmer: "..."
:absus:

Vale: "Wait, isn't that the face that your bodyguard makes-?"
:AlviseScared:

Shimmer: "Don't change the subject, Vale. Seriously, since when are you ever this cagey?"

"Haru said she was helping them set up a base…" Toshi mumbled. "Maybe they're in the forest. Maybe we could catch up to them?"

"We have reason to doubt their character," Anu pointed out. "There's no reason to believe that story is true."

"Maybe we can track them?" Whisper suggested. "Only one of them could fly, so they couldn't have all escaped by air. There should be some scent trail to pick up on."

Whisper: "Vale, you'll do the honors, won't you?"
Vale: "Er... Well..."
:uhhh:


She needed to speak up. She needed to speak up now before everyone ran off without the full story. "Heyyy, Valey," Shimmer chimed in with a sing-song tone. "You didn't happen to see anyone else in the attack, did you?"

Was that fear she sensed? "No, just the charizard."

I can already see the
:shanegry:
face from Tempest off to the side right now.

Shimmer giggled. "That's funny." She let the statement hang in the air for a few heartbeats while she played with her hair. "Because Tempest said Umbra was there, too. And that would change the situation significantly, don't you think?"

Vale glared at her. This time, she was certain she felt a spike of fear. "Quit joking around, Shimmer. This is serious! Haru could be in danger. And that ninetales cannot talk."


Shimmer: "Vale, you do realize that he's a telepath, right? He literally gave me a headache when I tried to probe his memories like 10 chapters ago."
:gardexhausted:

Vale: "I... er... uh... l-look, he clearly got thrown around hard so there's no reason to think he has a reliable recollection of events!"
:AlviseShocked:

Muse: "Vale, seriously, you'd be making yourself seem less suspicious if you just went with 'I misspoke'." >_>;

She giggled again. "Silly Vale, of course he can. He just doesn't have any interest in talking to you."


Oh, so Vale really does have that emote from the last cutaway gag right now. I can already tell.

All eyes were on her, now. Perfect. Just how she liked it. Whisper's gaze was fiercest of all.

"Shimmer, if you know something, then just say it. We don't have time for cryptic statements."

Holding in a sigh, Shimmer waved one hand in a circle. "You know how psychics can communicate with others if they know roughly where the other is? Or how they can project thoughts into someone else's mind? Turns out ninetales have some innate psychic ability. So I've been teaching Tempest how to speak with his mind!"

Ah yes, let's go back to Vale and see how he's doing right about now...

"You've been—" Whisper cut herself off, ruffling her feathers. She turned to the ninetales. "Is this true?"

While Shimmer couldn't hear anything — she doubted Tempest could project into multiple minds at his skill level — the way Whisper's eyes widened and her beak hung open told her everything she needed to know.

Muse: "Vale? Seriously? What is going on here?"
:absus:

Vale: "I-I plead the Fifth."
:AlviseScared:

Muse: "Yes, and we don't have that as part of our jurisprudence, so start talking."

Small sparks danced across Vale's pelt. "Are you seriously going to believe that? Even if he can talk, we know he's loyal to Nip! He's probably just trying to buy time to let the bastard escape. I bet Umbra is still up at the villa."


Vale, I get that you're in a bad spot, but you do realize that for the sake of saving your own hide, that it's better to pretend that you were coerced into working with Umbra instead of thinking about just Discharging everyone and running, right?

Was she? Shimmer tried to think back. Had she picked up on Umbra's emotions? She didn't think so. She only remembered picking up one emotional signature. But she had to be certain. Turning to Muse, she asked, "Could you run check, please? Get Dad as well, if you see him. He needs to know about… all this." She waved her hand in the direction of the smoldering hut.

The absol dipped her head. "Anything for you." Then she turned and sprinted back up the road.


Vale:
Image


I see that things are going well™️ for Vale's attempt at a cover story right now.

"I'm not sure what that's supposed to prove," Vale growled. "Even if Umbra wasn't there, that doesn't mean she's here."

"That's true," Whisper admitted. "But you were supposed to keep an eye on her."

Shimmer turned back to Vale, changing the subject. "Now, now, you heard what Toshi said. Haru is supposed to be with those explorers that took Nip. I know Haruru, and she would never help Nip escape." She took a step closer. "And while she doesn't like him, I highly doubt she would help Umbra with anything, either. Not after she threatened to kill Toshi."

Shimmer: "Vale, seriously. Just tell us what really happened in there. We don't have all day."
:gardexhausted:


Vale gritted his teeth. "Maybe you don't know her as well as you think you do. You don't exactly endear yourself to her, princess."

Shimmer's eyelid twitched. Seriously? Vale was usually rude, but not this rude!

I mean, he's not wrong. Though yeah, Vale is clearly losing his cool in live-time. It kinda makes me wonder if anyone else in the crowd has noticed that Vale's reaction seems a bit off or else if they're in "meh, it's just Shimmer being Shimmer" mode at the moment.

Before she could come up with a witty reply, Toshi butted in.

"Excuse me?" he squeaked, marching towards the manectric. "That is my sister you're talking about. How dare you suggest she's in cahoots with these… these… pretenders! I don't care if they were helping Nip or helping Umbra. Either way, she could be in danger and you're here arguing trivialities instead of trying to help!"

Let's see if Vale's smart enough to take the opening and bounce or if he's going to keep digging himself in deeper.

Toshi drew back his lips to fully bare his incisors. "Are you going to help us find my sister? Or are you just going to waste our time?"

Vale sparked, ears flat against his skull as static rippled across his flanks. But his expression betrayed unease. After a moment, he looked away. "I'm telling you. Umbra was not here. The charizard was helping Nip escape. But… I did hear the word 'mountain' when they fled."

I mean, yeah. That's definitely very on-brand for "stress" body language for canids there. Though I see he's opted to throw Umbra under the bus to save himself... and potentially doom Theran Village to being on the receiving end of a punitive military expedition in the process.

"That makes a degree of sense," Anu said, pawing at his nose. "They've been trying to get me to take them up to the old shrine for days. Though it still doesn't explain Nip. As far as I know, they never interacted with him… But they did definitely try to lure me away from my post."

"It's a lead," Whisper concluded with a wave of one wing. "I'll gather up some supplies and leave immediately. Lecha, could you part with some oran berries? Possibly some aspear and rawst, as well. I suspect most of my supply was ruined."

- Shimmer and Muse turn and stare at Vale -
Shimmer + Muse:
:absus:

Vale: "Okay, seriously? Don't you have anything better to do right now? Go back to your manor or something!"
:AlviseUnamused:


The aromatisse looked up from her work on Tempest. "Of course, dear. Twi, could you please fetch some?"

“You got it!" The illumise gave a messy salute, then buzzed off back towards the medic hut.

"I'm coming with you!" Toshi announced, taking a step towards Whisper.

The hawlucha tilted her head. "That's kind of you to offer, but—"

"My sister could be in danger! I'd never forgive myself if something happened to her while I stayed back here and did nothing."

This... is going to end terribly, I can already tell. Since Toshi already got messed up once in this story from his attempts at amateur adventuring.
:copyka2:


"We'll come too," Shimmer chimed in. "Musey and me."

Now Whisper's attention was on her. "This isn't a game. These pokemon are dangerous, and we don't know how powerful they are."

Oh Whisper, you have no idea...
:grohno~2:


"You allowed Muse and me to help watch Nip and Tempest. And you're going to need all the help you can get, right?"

"This is different! Your volunteer guard duty was in a controlled environment. There's more at stake here."

Shimmer crossed her arms and stuck out her lip, glaring. "Well, who can you trust to bring instead? Vale?"

Vale: "Look, princess. Toshi literally asked me to help already, so what did you think I was going to do? Just fart around in front of a burned-out building?"
:AlviseUnamused:


Whisper returned the glare for a moment longer, then sighed and turned away, flapping her wings. "You three are going to follow along if I don't let you come anyways, aren't you? Fine. But you have to listen to everything I say."

Image


"I… I will come as well," Anu said. "It is my duty. Romi and the others can cover things here until we return. And if they hear any additional information that suggests we need to look elsewhere, Romi is the best mon to catch up to us."

I want to come as well. Tempest's voice entered Shimmer's head. He must have contacted Whisper just after, as they both turned towards him.

Multiple 'mons from this party aren't going to return to Theran alive, huh? Since this is feeling eerily akin to that expedition that Haru's grandfather was a part of.
:sweats:


"Absolutely not," Whisper said. "Your condition is too bad for you to travel, as I'm sure Lecha will agree. And I still cannot guarantee you are telling the truth. If the explorers helped Nip escape, I don't trust you to help stop him. You will stay here."

She tilted her head in Vale's direction. "And that goes for you, too. Until we get to the bottom of this, you are to stay in Lecha's hut. Do. Not. Leave."


Yeah, Vale's totally going to bolt at some point, I can already tell.

Sparks danced on Vale's back as he let out a growl, but he lowered his head submissively.

"Good. I'll see what I can scrounge up from the ashes. We should still have a nullify looplet. I hope it survived the flames. Anu, get rations from Meaad. Tell him it's an emergency and we'll pay it back after we return."

Huh. So the local guards have the power to appropriate local resources on an as-needed basis. Duly noted, but I suppose that is true to reality in crisis situations.

Toshi scurried off to speak with his parents as Whisper approached the burnt building. At the same time, racing pawsteps alerted Shimmer to Muse's return. The absol collapsed on the ground in front of her, panting. "She's… she's not there… Jhorlo… coming…"

Shimmer shot Vale an accusatory glance. This whole situation reeked.

Boy is Vale fortunate that everyone else was distracted and didn't seem to hear Muse say that, otherwise things would be getting very awkward and uncomfortable for him with Whisper right about now. Or at least, more than they already are. ^^;

"That doesn't prove anything!" the manectric growled. But he didn't look at Shimmer as he shuffled off to the medic hut.


Well, nevermind. Everyone did hear that. Though I wonder if there were other reactions beyond just Shimmer + Muse's there, since Vale is getting obviously fishier and fishier in live-time.

Suppressing a sigh, Shimmer turned to fill Muse in on the plan. The absol shot her a distressed glance. But she didn't try to argue. She didn't have a chance to, as Whisper returned with a few items in wing. She handed a few berries, an orb that Shimmer thought might be a petrify orb, and a heal seed. Anu returned a moment later, bag laden with food.


Wait, 'thought might be a petrify orb'? Meaning that they don't have a characteristic appearance in this setting? ^^;

"We'll properly sort things out as we go," Whisper said, standing a bit straighter. "Lecha can explain the situation to Jhorlo whenever he gets here. Let's move out."


Not that it doesn't make sense to not want to fall behind Haru too much from their in-setting perspective, but this just screams "future disaster waiting to happen", just saying. .-.

She took the lead, marching out of the square at a brisk pace with Anu just behind, stopping only to collect more berries from Twi. Toshi dashed over to meet them, ignoring a call from his mother. Shimmer took just a heartbeat to lift Toshi onto Muse's back. The bidoof clung tight to her fur, shooting a grateful glance. He'd struggle to keep pace with everyone else on foot, she suspected. But she could manage.

Oh, Haru, Shimmer thought as they raced out of the square. Now look what you've gotten yourself into.

Cue us cutting over to her and seeing her happily skip along through the forest to Susana or something like that.

The palest beginnings of dawn light crept above dark treetops, casting the surrounding forest in a dark, blue hue. Haru yawned as she padded down the path toward the mountain trail, feeling the brush of her bags against her back. This was early, even for her. But the sooner she took the explorers up the mountain, the sooner she could get back.

Up ahead, she caught sight of Susana — currently in her charmander disguise — and the girafarig conversing. But where were the other two?


Well then. They were a bit closer to home than I was expecting, but I can see that I wasn't far off.

Susana looked up, caught her eye, and waved a hand. "Over here!"

Waddling down the path as quick as she could, Haru dipped her head in greeting. "Good morning. I… thought we were in a hurry. Where are the others?"

"Topaz forgot some of our supplies and had to run back for them," the girafarig answered. "And Skorch is feeling under the weather. Probably ate something that didn't agree with her. She'll catch up later if she starts feeling better. She can fly, and she has a rough idea of where we're heading."


Oh, Susana didn't assign her entire team to tag along with Umbra and Vale in case something went south. I can't tell whether that was smart or really, really dangerous of her.

"O-oh, okay," Haru answered. Then a thought occurred to her. If Skorch could just fly up to the shrine, why do you need me to guide you?

Then she remembered that the path was no longer well-traveled, and was likely obscured by bushes and wild grass. It would be difficult to guide someone if you weren't familiar.

That, and if Skorch got shot out of the sky by a sufficiently strong Rock-type wildener, that would mean having to find your way back to civilization through completely uncharted territory.
:joltyshrug~1:


And, fortunately, she was familiar enough. Even if it had been many, many seasons since she'd been to the old shrine.

"Would it be better if we waited until she feels better?" she asked. "Having eyes in the sky could be useful if we run into trouble."

Susana shook her head quickly. It took Haru a few heartbeats to figure out the meaning of the unfamiliar gesture. "No, no, I understand your concerns. But we're on a strict timeline. We can't afford to spend any more time waiting around."

Haru: "Also, wait, why am I catching a faint whiff of smoke in the air?"
:what:

Susana: "Probably just what's left of our campfire! (Seriously, Skorch, just how much of a mess did you make out there?)" ^^;

Haru supposed she couldn't argue with that. While things weren't so strict here, she imagined schedules in bigger towns, and for organizations as huge as the expedition society, were different.


Haru: "Isn't this sort of life stressful for you? You'd think that at least here in Theran, you wouldn't feel this rushed." .-.
Susana: "Yeah, well, life can be full of surprises like that, huh? (Topaz! Any day now would be nice here!)"
:fearfullaugh~1:


She was spared from continuing the conversation by the sound of racing pawsteps.

"Ah, there he is." Susana waved a claw, then pointed in the direction of the pawsteps. Haru turned to see the raichu racing up the path. He skidded to a stop, panting.

"Sorry I'm late. But I got the goods." He held up a cloth bag.

"Thank you, Topaz," Susana replied. She took the bag and tied it to a large pack on Remer's back before turning her attention to Haru. "Well then, we should be off."

Haru: "O... kay? I still don't understand why you're all in such a hurry, but..."

"R-right." Haru sucked in a deep breath, stealing one last glance down the path. Her heart thudded hard against her chest, pounding fast with anticipation. She could still back out of this, right now. No, remember why you're doing this, she thought to herself.

She turned to point a paw at a fork in the path that led into thicker vegetation. "We'll need to head this way."


Remer: "Also, I don't mean to be a nag, but... er... just how quick of a guide are you again?" ^^;
Haru: "Did you all get in trouble with the inn or something last night? Since you all are in a real hurry to get out of town."
:what:


The group set off, Haru in the lead. As the ground sloped up, it didn't take long for the route's disuse to show itself; the undergrowth here was less tended-to, overgrown bushes taking up half the path in parts, grass springing up between dirt and stone. Early in the journey, before the sun had risen fully, they came across a fallen tree blocking the path, its trunk covered in spongy moss. While the three explorers leaped or clamored over it without issue, Haru was forced to push through a thick bush and weave between the chaotic tangle of roots to get around.


I actually wonder what the story behind why the local shrine is apparently left abandoned is. I'm guessing that it has something to do with the doomed expedition in the past, but...

While the journey was silent for a time, it wasn't long before Susana started trying to make conversation.

"So, Haru, what's this shrine like?" she asked. "I mean, we've heard a few descriptions, but we've never seen it for ourselves."

"Prepare yourselves for disappointment," Haru answered. "It was already falling into disrepair before the village quit visiting about fifteen cycles ago. I imagine it's even worse now. What could be moved was already taken down to the village a while ago."

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about that prediction. Either that, or it's going to wind up coinciding with the date that Jhorlo set up the Arrangement™️ that keeps Theran's carnivores fed.

"Really? I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose." Susana scratched at her cheek. "Still, I'm sure there's things there that couldn't be brought down that we may find useful. Carvings, paintings, and statues. Information. Speaking of which… you don't happen to know any strange or unusual stories. You know, legends that wouldn't be well known outside of your village?"

Haru sighed, her head drooping before she paid attention to her surroundings again, stumbling around a crumbling hole in the middle of the path. "Nothing that Anu couldn't tell you."


I mean, I'm sure she has stories about a certain failed journey, but yeah, there's no way she would ever willfully bring that up to a stranger.

"Sure, sure," Susana said, waving one hand, "but I want to know your version. What were you told? How do you remember it? You seem to have a different perspective on things than someone like Anu would."

Her version? Haru didn't want to talk about her version. But Susana wasn't going to shut up unless she did. She grumbled, then began.

"Well, there's plenty of stories about how Regigigas formed our continent, moved the pieces together to create mountains, and pulled them apart to create rivers and valleys. There's stories about his three sentries, spread out across the land to protect other followers, and garnering followers of their own. And there's stories of the Banished Ones, the two failed creations lost somewhere beyond the sea."

👀

Wait, there's Legendary Betamons floating around out there, too? I admittedly wasn't privy to scrapped designs outside of the Gerbils, but...

Another grumble escaped her as she ducked to squeeze under an overgrown holly. "Some pokemon think his resting place is deep within the heart of Mount Domo, but I think that's stupid. Even if he is there, for a mon that's supposed to be protecting his followers, he sure did a lousy job. I have my doubts he ever even existed. Or cared, if he did exist."

The girafarig, Remer, sped up to walk beside Haru. "I can't help but notice something troubling you, Haru. Do you want to talk about it?"

That would be that lingering misotheism that she's got... which is going to be interesting to see play out whenever she gets to see another Legendary beyond Celebi.

Haru felt a headache coming on. She sped up. "My reasons for distrusting gods are, frankly, none of your business."

"My apologies." Susana hurried to catch up and stand at Haru's other side. "Please excuse Remer. He means well."

Haru: "Seriously, what on earth is this, an interrogation?" >_>;
Remer: "Sorry. I... just figured that it was something that you might have wanted to share since you sounded interested in our mission back at the inn." ._.

Haru shot the girafarig a glare. "Anyway, my point is that there's no way for us to know how true any of these stories are. Even if the gods are real, the stories have probably been distorted after hundreds upon hundreds of cycles being retold."

"There is… one way you could find out," Topaz interjected.

Pausing mid-step to glance back at the Raichu, Haru tilted her head. "What are you talking about?"

Go on, Topaz...

"I get what he's saying." Susana reached for her Expedition Society badge. She ran her claws across the metallic surface. "Think about it like this. If we could just… find one of these gods. Talk to them. They'd know the truth about what happened all those years — I mean cycles — ago. And imagine what we could do if we just… could get them to do our bidding. We could reshape the world. Make it fairer. Imagine reaching out to the mother of all life, Mew, and having her change the way pokemon work so that no pokemon is obligated to eat meat to survive. Or if she created some lower life form so that we didn't have to hunt other sapient creatures."


Ah yes, we have our villain motivation of the story, I see. It's one of those things that sounds noble on face value, but then takes on really, really ominous undertones when you realize that there's no way that such power wouldn't wind up being abused.

She spun to face Haru, her eyes gleaming. "Wouldn't that be great?"

Haru shifted uncomfortably, off-put by her sudden excitement, before starting to walk again. "Well… yeah, it could be great." Then she thought of the encounter with Celebi, and she couldn't help but let out a snort. "But good luck convincing them to do anything. I bet a bunch of them have gone mad, given how old they'd be."


Ah yes, the part where they're just casually trying to persuade Haru over to the Dark Side, even if she doesn't realize what's going on here.

Susana didn't try to argue further, and the group lapsed into silence again. The sun slowly climbed high into the sky as they worked their way through the undergrowth, stopping only once for a brief break before continuing their marathon. Occasionally, the monotony of the trip was broken by quiet conversations between the explorers, but Haru kept out of it.


Susana: "Well... this is awkward. I dunno, I was just kinda hoping that you'd have more to say."
Haru: "Look, Susana, I know that you're trying to make smalltalk, but I don't really like thinking or talking about gods, okay? The more they stay completely out of my and everybody else's lives, the better." >_>;

The sun had nearly reached its zenith by the time Susana called for a second break, this time for lunch, in a small, grassy clearing along the path. To their left, the ground sloped upwards, a tree line a short distance up the hill. To the right, a rocky lip protected them from falling down a short, but steep, incline, scraggy bushes clinging between cracks in the stone.

Haru sank gratefully to the ground as Susana began passing out rations: dried meat sticks for herself, and apples and carrots for the rest of the group. As everyone settled down to eat, she pulled a ceramic dish and a waterskin from the supplies on Remer's back, filled the dish with water, and set it in the middle for everyone to share.


Haru: "(Urk... Susana seriously couldn't have stuck to a berry mix? I thought that Zoroark were able to subsist on those.) I'm... just going to go and eat my food a little ways off, if you don't mind." 🤢

Taking a bite from an apple, Haru closed her eyes, enjoying the weak warmth of the autumn sun. Her family would need to start preparing winter rations soon. They still had half a season, but the weather could change fast. A healthy stock of wood and dried fruit would do them well.

Susana tore a bite from her own meal, jaws snapping as she did her best to chew and break it down. Haru couldn't help but cringe and hastily looked away. At least the meat was so processed that it didn't look like anyone anymore.

I mean, at least she's not outright uncomfortably scooting away from Susana... yet, anyways.

Just a moment later, the disguised zoroark addressed Haru.

"So, Haru, how much longer do you think it'll be before we reach the shrine?"

Glancing up at the sky, Haru squinted. It wasn't sun-high quite yet. She looked at her surroundings, trying to pick out anything familiar. Her attention turned towards the downward slope. She approached, climbing up on the stone so she could look over. A good ways below, she could make out a patch of blurry colors that she thought was Theran Village.

"We're definitely over halfway there. It shouldn't be too much longer…"

Which is a surefire sign that something is about to go seriously awry, since there's two entire chapters ahead of us.

Susanna bobbed her head and opened her mouth to say something more, only to suddenly snap it shut and stare intently at Remer. The girafarig was stiff, eyes wide and boring into the tree line. Haru's heart raced as she stood, following his gaze. She could hear the sound of rustling bushes, now, coming closer fast.

"What's going on?"

Before any of the explorers could answer, the nearest bushes rustled, then a figure burst free and stumbled down the slope towards them.

All:
:treeckosurprised:

Haru: "H-Huh?! Who goes there?!"

They'd clearly seen better times; their fur was bushed up, eyes wide and wild, and breathing ragged. Dried blood coated their cheek, and the scent of charred flesh and fur wafted from them. Their claws were bound together in thick rope. A second length of rope twisted around their ankles, tight enough to restrict movement but loose enough that they could still run — if barely.

More importantly, though, Haru recognized the pokemon. And she couldn't fathom any reason he would be here.

"Nip?!"


Well then, that's quite the ending note to leave off on. I'm guessing things won't be staying so hunky-dory between Haru and her current buddies in the imminent future.

So I gather that this was basically a transition chapter teeing up what's probably going to be a series of very unfortunate events for Theran Village, since both in town and out in the woods, pieces seem to be moving in place for a collision that can only possibly bring good things™️ for trying to avoid the future that Muse saw for Theran Village a couple chapters ago. The characterization is the main star of the show here, with us starting to see the hidden layers of various characters such as Shimmer unwittingly tugging at threads that will out Theran Village's dirty laundry, and Susana pretty much spelling out what the central conflict of the story is going to be about once things inevitably get past Theran Village. It definitely holds a lot of promise for the future, and based off Nip's appearance at the end, it looks like things might be getting fairly real fairly fast for the cast.

As for criticisms... I don't have too much to throw around other than that the description of the backdrop of the scene with the smoking ruins of the guard hut and everyone trying to figure out what on earth just happened feels like it kinda forgot the onlookers at a couple points. Like yes, the scene is still ultimately focused through Shimmer's eyes, so she's going to gloss some details here and there, but it'd be a sign for if her arguments are playing with the crowd (and explaining why Vale is getting ever more antsy) or if they're largely getting shrugged off, which can give things more of an undertone. But in the grand scheme of things, I suppose that's not exactly a big flaw, and what was there was still fairly serviceable.

It's been far too long, but I'm glad to be back in this story @windskull , and I'll be looking forward to seeing what goes down in the chapters after this one. ^^
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to belt out a review at this time of night, but eh. I felt like coming back to this story sooner rather than later, so good enough. Let's pick right up with…

Chapter 24

Nip stirred, waking. His head — no, his whole body — ached, dulling his senses. But as he struggled awake, he became aware of wind whipping around him, tugging at his fur. Amidst the pain, the sensation felt distant. Something sharp dug into his sides.

Nip: "Yv- Yveltal? Are those your talons?" @.@

He peeked one eye open just a crack, trying to process the sensations, trying to figure out their cause. Had he overworked himself? Then his mind caught up with what he was seeing, and he snapped to full alertness.

He hung limply from two thin, scaly arms, occasionally bobbing as trees — many turning gold and red and brown — rushed by several body lengths below. All at once, his last memories came racing back. Umbra. Vale. The strange charizard. Tempest's distraction. His failed escape.

I'm honestly a little surprised that Skorch is just carrying Nip out in the open instead of attempting to stash him in a bag to reduce the odds of being sighted.

Nip: "Oh gods. I didn't need to be reminded of this."
:uhhh:


Struggling against the wind, he tilted his head slightly and squinted. That same charizard was the pokemon carrying him now, her talons digging tightly into his torso, but holding him away from her body. She was speaking, but her words were snatched away by the wind. He could just make out another voice as well: Umbra's.

Nip:
:eltyscared:

Umbra: "Yes, go on and squirm, worm. You've been eluding justice for far too long."

He was as good as dead. Umbra had him in her clutches. She won. There was no way she would drag him all the way back to the tribe. As soon as she had the chance, she'd end his life.

And even if, by some miracle, she did take him all the way back to the Tribe (not home, he reminded himself, no longer home) the outcome would be the same.

He's going to wind up biting Skorch to get her to drop him or something like that, isn't he?

He hung his head, despair threatening to overwhelm him. Had he always been destined to die at her hands? Was he cursed by Yveltal? Damned as a wretched creature? Or did Yveltal not care for him at all?

No.

His heart fluttered as one last hopeful thought danced in his head.

Nip: "I'm... not sure why I'm getting my hopes up like this, but I'd really, really like to not have my throat ripped out by my ex, so I'll take grasping at straws, thanks."
:grohno~2:


He wasn't dead yet. And that meant he still had a chance, small as it might be. All he needed to do was find a way to escape. And he had one idea.

In one jerking motion, he twisted around in the charizard's grip. His claws were inaccessible at the moment, bound tightly together. But he could still get his mouth around her arm. He bit down with all his might, teeth sinking deep into flesh. The iron taste of blood welled on his tongue.

Wow, I was right on the money for how Nip was getting out of this one. Or at least enough to make it to Haru without being brutally murdered by Umbra beforehand.

She jerked her arm free. And all at once, he was plummeting towards the trees.

Nip: "Wait! I meant to do this when you were closer to the ground-!" O.O

His brain barely had time to process his descent before twigs and leaves grabbed at him. Pain blossomed across his chest and the wind was driven from his lungs as a branch broke his fall. Then he slipped off and landed, stunned, on the forest floor.

He coughed, gasping, as horrible pain throbbed in his chest. Had he broken a rib? It wasn't an outlandish assumption, given the fall, but he hoped with all his heart that he hadn't.

Nip: "'Cats always land on their feet', my ass." @.@
Umbra: "You're a weasel, Nip!"
Nip: "Whatever!"

Please, Yveltal, he silently prayed, if you have any favor left for me, let me get out of this alive.

Small typo there. Also, I could've sworn your past format was to italicize explicit thoughts by characters, so I also suggested that as a tweak.

Nip: "Actually, considering everything that's happened to me so far, I'm starting to wonder if this is less favor and more being forced into some sort of penance." ._.;
Umbra: "Nip, get back here so I can kill you!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:

Nip: "You know what, I'm just going to go with 'favor' for now."

Ignoring the painful protests of his whole body, he rolled onto his side, dragging himself with bound claws under a nearby bush to hide. It wasn't a permanent hiding place, and it wouldn't be effective once his captors landed — and knowing Umbra, they would land — but it gave him a moment of reprieve to think.

Hadn't this happened before? Him, battered and burned and an inch from death, hiding deep in the undergrowth from someone who wanted to kill him? What were the chances?

Nip: "I didn't even do anything this time! Or at least not right before it!" O_O;

No, focus, he chided himself. Shaking his head to clear the thought, he turned his attention to his bindings. His wrists were tightly bound together in front of his torso. His legs, too, but they were looser. Enough for him to hobble along, even — though he'd never be able to run.

Start there. The claws could come if he had time, but he needed to be able to run. Sucking in a breath to endure the pain, he twisted until he hooked one claw into the knot around his leg, tugging and twisting until it came loose. At least, loose enough to give more slack to the rope. He should be able to run like that, almost at full sprint.

Ah yes, so that's how Nip got into the state he did when he crashed into Haru and the Totally Legit™️ Explorers at the end of last chapter.

A crashing sound from branches above startled him, and he sprang to his feet with fur puffed out. Something thumped onto the ground, followed by a quieter thump.

"He must still be nearby," Umbra's voice shot cold fear through his heart. "It still reeks of him. Do you understand now why I wanted him dead first?"

"He's cunning, I'll give you that," the charizard replied. "But in his state, he won't get far."

Umbra: "You could've at least stuffed him in a bag instead of just dangling him from your arms, but nooooo..." >.<
Skorch: "Look, we clearly didn't have one big enough to hide him to spare, alright?" >_>;

Dread twisted Nip's stomach. He was out of time. Any heartbeat now, Umbra would spot the marks where he dragged himself, or properly pick up his scent trail. Or maybe she'd have the charizard flush him out with fire. He'd deal with the rest of his bindings later, but he had to move now.

Keeping low to the ground, he dragged himself deeper into the undergrowth as quietly as he could, trying to disguise his noise amongst the sound of wind in the leaves. As soon as he was on the far side of the bushes, he forced himself to his feet, fighting nausea. Crouching lower than the bushes, he crept further away, casting glances and swiveling his ear back to listen and make certain he was moving away from his pursuers.

"Look, there's blood here," he heard Umbra say. "And see these scratches in the dirt? He was just here."

Nip: "(Seriously?! I thought that I'd at least get five minutes out of this!)"
:grohno~2:


"So he couldn't have gotten far," the charizard concluded. "Which means…"

He didn't dare look back again, afraid he'd come face-to-face with the fire-breather. But their voices were growing quieter. He was moving faster than they were. Just a bit further, then maybe — Something snapped beneath his paw.

Nip:
:uhhh:

Umbra: "Okay, yeah, he's just past those bushes. Charizard, light him up!"

Nip froze. The sound of the breaking twig wasn't that loud. But to his strained payche, it sounded louder than a seed bomb.

And unfortunately for him, Umbra's hearing was her best sense.

"That way!" The sound of someone barreling through the undergrowth in his direction followed Umbra's exclamation.

Nip: "So much for having Yveltal's favor..."
:eltyscared:


No more time for stealth. Gritting his teeth, Nip dashed further into the forest, running as quickly as his bindings and injuries would allow. Distance. Gaining distance was all that was important right now. Bushes and brambles tugged at his fur as he ran, and he fought the urge to yowl in pain as he trod on a thorn. But adrenaline pushed him through the pain, pushed him to run faster, pushed him to duck through paths that others might not be able to take.

But the problem with something big and powerful like a charizard was that it could make its own path, and Nip could hear her gaining on him.

- Meanwhile in the background -
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-DlAEXKVlU

Nip: "Is this really necessary right now?!" >.<

Suddenly, he burst free from the undergrowth onto a dirt path winding through the woods. The local wildeners must use this — that was his best guess for such a well-maintained trail. While it wouldn't present obstacles to his assailants, it was bound to lead somewhere. Hopefully somewhere safer.

Image


I mean, at least it will help you not die in the short term? So good enough.

He stumbled down the path, fallen leaves crunching and squelching beneath his paws. Any other time he would find the changing colors beautiful. But right now, he was focused only on escape.

Paths like these usually led to rivers or gathering spots or other landmarks where he might find help. Or perhaps even…

As he pushed through some overgrown bushes, the last thing he expected was to emerge into open air and come face-to-face with a group of pokemon. Three of them — a charmander, a girafarig, and a raichu — were unfamiliar. But the last pokemon was someone he'd grown accustomed to seeing, and one he'd never expected to run into somewhere like here. And though his chances of receiving help from her seemed slim, with nowhere else to run or hide he had a feeling she was his only hope of getting out of this alive.

Haru stared at him, eyes wide and jaw hanging. It took her precious seconds to find her voice. "Nip?"

Ah yes, and there's our Chapter 23 ending there, just from the opposite side of the scene.

Haru struggled to make sense of Nip's appearance. What was he doing here? And in such a ragged state, no less? And alone. Where were the guards? None of this made sense!

The sneasel took a step forward, eyes wild and panicked. "P-please," he stuttered, casting a glance to the woods behind. Something else was crashing towards them, the sound making Haru's heart race. She took a stumbling step backward, legs stiff as he continued.

"Umbra and a charizard, they attacked the guards' hut. They took me. They. They hurt Tempest. I don't even know if he's alive. I got away but they're still after me." He glanced into the woods again before turning to take another step, staring at Haru. "Please, help."

Haru:
Image

Nip: "Haru, I'm literally a banner art character alongside you! The story needs me alive for it to progress!"
:grohno~2:


Haru struggled to process his plea. Umbra and… a charizard? Skorch? Before she could ask for more information, another pokemon crashed through the bushes just behind Nip, who raced towards her, his fur bushed.

A lone mawile emerged, though Haru could still hear rustling, suggesting there was at least one other pokemon waiting in the woods. Haru took an uneasy step back, her gaze shifting back and forth between Nip and Umbra.

Haru: "Oh for crying out loud. Again, Umbra? Seriously, couldn't you have just poisoned his food in jail or something?" >_>;

Nip said she was with a charizard. While Nip might have been lying, the timing was awfully convenient. Skorch wasn't here. She'd stayed back in the village because she was sick, right? But if she was helping Umbra, then… Haru glanced at Susana, but her disguise gave nothing away.

"There's nowhere left to run, Nip," Umbra said, taking a step forward. Nip, in turn, took a step back, ear flat against his skull and teeth bared. "Accept your fate. Accept justice."

Haru: "I... can't believe that I'm saying this and defending Nip of all people, but that's not how laws work in our village, Umbra. Once the village settles on a punishment for a criminal, they serve their agreed sentence out-" -_-;
Umbra: "
Image

Seriously, get out of the way, Bidoof. Before I deal with you as his accomplice."
Susana: "(Gods, now I can see why Zaid was giving us such a hard time about not getting sucked up into local drama.)"
:mewtwofacepalm:


"This was never about justice!" Nip shouted back, though there was no hiding the fearful quiver in his tone. "If you cared about justice, things never would have reached this point!"

Umbra narrowed her eyes. "No one forced you to commit treachery. You dug your own hole."

I'm honestly a little surprised that Nip isn't just straight-up attempting to hide behind a bigger Pokémon right now, since for all he knows at the moment, Susana and the others are potential allies against Umbra.

Nip's eyes darted back and forth as if looking for a way out. "I… I can't deny that, but… But you still can't absolve yourself of guilt when you spent seasons upon seasons to make me break!"

Haru uneasily turned to Susana, trying to drown out the shouting match for a moment. "Aren't you going to do something about this?"

The false charmander tilted her head, expression unreadable. "Why should we?"

Oh, so Zaid really did give them a spiel about not getting involved with local drama at some time in the past, huh?

Why should they? "You're Explorers!" Haru sputtered, incredulous. "Someone's asking you for help. Aren't you supposed to, you know, break it up and get an idea of what's going on?" As far as she knew, Enforcers usually handled this kind of situation, but explorers and rescuers could step in in an emergency like this. Right?


Haru: "... I mean, you are Explorers, right?" .-.
Topaz: "Er... uh... I mean, it is part of being an Explorer to do due diligence about who to help, so..."
Nip: "The 'mon who's about to be murdered right now! How is this a remotely difficult decision?!"
:ScaredCabot:


And though she was hesitant to help Nip, she doubted Susana's team knew anything about his crime. Even if they did, this wasn't the will of the village.

But Nip mentioned a charizard. The thought circled around her head again. Was Skorch really involved?

Susana let out a long sigh, her expression turning bored. "Remember our agreement, Umbra."

Haru:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5vd5cE3n0M

"I'm sorry, what?! Since when do you two know each other?!" O_O;

Nip was shouting something, but at Susana's words, it died in his throat. He stared at Susana, while Haru's attention turned towards Umbra.

"Agreement?" Haru started. "What are you talking about?"

Yeah, I figured that she'd be taken aback by that.

"We spoke to Umbra and another pokemon yesterday. They asked us to take care of this sneasel here for his crimes. I apologize for not telling you, but it was purely Explorer business."

"Take care of… N-now hold on. I apologize, but Umbra here isn't law enforcement. She doesn't have the jurisdiction to hand Nip over to you guys. And this isn't an incorporated village. You can't just come here and do what you want without proper approval from our Mayor or the head of the guard."

Susana: "... (I swear to gods, we should've just bolted and just met this kid in the woods the following day instead of giving into that sick creep's blackmail.)" >.<

"Is she not?" Susana asked. "Well, she was with a manectric. Vale, I think his name was?" Her charmander mouth twisted into a smile, an expression that looked off. Threatening, almost. "Haru, relax. This is all by the books. Just let us do our job. If you're really concerned about it, then you don't have to be involved. Once we reach the shrine, I can have Skorch take you home."

And thus, for want of good intel about Theran Village, its fate as a smoking crater was sealed. Since... yeah, I can already tell that this is going to end in violence in short order.

Haru: "... Susana? You're kinda scaring me right now. L-Look, Umbra literally doesn't have any authority in our village! If you do this, you'll get in more trouble!"
:CabotScared:


Haru's heartbeat accelerated. If Vale was there, then it was possible that this was by the books. But something didn't add up. She stole a glance at Nip, the sneasel frozen in wide-eyed terror. She shook out her fur.

"I-I'm sorry. Vale is involved in local law enforcement, but he's not in charge. If things changed and you guys are turning Nip over to the enforcers—" She hesitated. If Umbra was involved, she doubted that was the case. "If you guys are turning him in, then I need to know that Whisper okayed this. I-I think we should head back."

Susana hesitated, her expression distant for a moment, as if paying attention to something else. Then she smiled again. "The hawlucha, right? Of course she okayed it. We wouldn't be doing this otherwise, right?"

Assuming that Susana survives past this immediate arc, I can already tell that her superiors are going to give her a giant earful for not getting a better lay of the land before yielding to an improvised blackmail plot.

Of course. The thought entered Haru's head. Susana's been trustworthy so far. "I…"

Haru, you've literally known Susana for less than 24 hours. Maybe this is a sign for you to take a step back and re-evaluate your standards of what a 'trustworthy' 'mon are.
:eltywtf:


But the charizard. Nip had said the charizard attacked. He could be lying, but it didn't make sense. Why would Umbra be here if they were really turning him over? The charizard attacked. The charizard attacked.

She shook her head, trying to focus with a splitting headache. She had a decision to make. If she went along with this, then her village would wash their hands of Nip, and no one would have to worry about being threatened by him again. He was guilty. He'd hurt not just them but the pokemon he'd lived with before. He wasn't deserving of mercy.

Nip: "Haru, for the love of the gods!" O.O
Haru: "I mean, you literally are a child killer and I don't think I've ever seen you have a positive interaction in the village." -_-;
Nip: "I-I had a whole heart-to-heart with Anu, and-!"
:LyleScared2:

Susana: "Er... Bidoof, it would be nice to get to that shrine sometime today. If you don't feel like getting your paws dirty, we can just move along and let Sneasel and Mawile here have at it with each other. That's a decent compromise, right?" ^^;

On the other hand, she thought back to her brother. Her… not really her friends, but her peers, Shimmer and Muse. She thought back to that time in the forest when Nip had saved her brother from the wildener quilava. How would the person she cared for the most react if she just stood by and let this happen? Could she live with his disappointment?

Was this really just? Could she live with herself if it wasn't?

Toshi in Haru's Mind:
:whodarespostthis:

Haru:
Image

"... Okay, yeah, I should step in and not let Umbra rip his throat out."

Of the second and third questions, she was uncertain. But she knew the answer to the first. And it made her decision.

"I-I'm sorry," Haru stuttered, taking a step back. She was keenly aware of the rock wall behind her, the drop on the other side, and how much danger she might be in. "I can't abide by this. We aren't an incorporated village, and you can't just come here, ignore our rules, and boss us around. I'm happy to help you get to the shrine, but I will not take you any further unless we return to the village first and get this sorted out."

Time for things to blow up in 3... 2...

Silence. For one agonizingly long moment, no one moved. Then Susana sighed again.

"How disappointing. I had such high hopes for you, Haru."

Oh. Well that's totally not ominous at all given what we've seen of how Zaid's gang deal with local Pokémon that know too much™️ about what they're up to.
:fearfullaugh~1:


That was all the warning Haru got before the zoroark charged her, shedding her disguise. Utter chaos broke loose. Out of the corner of her eye, Haru caught sight of Nip bolting, then the raichu chasing after him. The charizard exploded from the tree line, taking to the air to join the chase.

But she couldn't focus on that. Susana bore down on her, springing with claws outstretched. Haru had no time to run. No time to fight back. All she could do was curl into a ball and brace.

Haru: "S-Susana?! What are you?!" O.O
Susana: "Sorry, Haru. I really didn't want things to end this way, but it will be quick, at least."

The pain of sharp teeth blossomed along her sides. She let out a terrified squeal, lifted and shaken violently before being tossed aside.

She lay dazed on the ground for a moment before trying to struggle to her feet, feeling blood oozing through her fur. But before she could, a paw grabbed her around the back of the neck and lifted her, so that she was face-to-face with Susana.

Haru squirmed and squealed, jaws snapping in instinctual panic. But the zoroark held her at an angle where she couldn't reach.

Haru:
giphy.gif

Susana: "Honestly, perhaps this is for the best, Haru. Since I'm not sure if you'd have survived with us if you were just always going to be this trusting."

"What a disappointment," Susana said, casually strolling towards the rocky lip to the side of the path. "You seemed so like-minded. We thought you might even come around to understand us, with time. But I guess you were all talk."

Susana, you literally had the perfect chance to get out of your deal with Umbra and then bounce afterwards since everyone was already outside of Theran Village, just saying. Especially since she doesn't have her Discharge Buddy at her back.

Susana: "Well, yeah, but the Bidoof was the easier target and less likely to seriously injure one of us and more liable to run her mouth off to the rest of that village, so... er, no offense, Haru."
:wellyousee:

Haru: "Gee thanks, you just had to rub it in after biting a bloody chunk out of my body, didn't you?" >_>;

She held the bidoof over the edge, giving Haru a clear view of the sharp drop, followed by a steep slope. She'd probably survive if she fell, but not without severe injury. An angry, pained screech in the distance told her Nip was faring no better.

"Since you had to go and make things difficult, let me explain how this is going to work." Susana shook Haru, letting her words sink in as she held the bidoof over the edge. "You're going to do everything we tell you to. You're going to take us to the shrine, like we asked. Then, when we're done there, you're going to continue to guide us further up the mountain, until we find proper information on Regigigas' current location or reach the top empty-handed."

[ ]

"If you refuse, I'll drop you right now. If you try to run, I'll snap your neck. But if you're a good little bidoof and do everything we tell you to, we might let you go home when this is all said and done."

Yeeeeeeeaaah, Haru's going to have trust issues for a long, long time after this, since literally every outsider she's run into in this story thus far has wound up coming to bite her for trusting them. Including quite literally here.

Haru: "Wh-What on earth are you, Susana?"
:ScaredCabot:

Susana: "Someone who needs a way up to that shrine and a guide who will take us up there like their life depends on it. So are you going to play ball, or no?"

"U-up the mountain?" Images of an injured, malnourished, dying bibarel flashed through Haru's mind. "Y-you can't! It's too dangerous! No one has survived the trip!"

Well, I suppose there's always a first time for everything, though... yeah. I've got a feeling that Susana and the gang are going to be surprisingly hard to kill off given that they're outright going around to capture Legendaries.

Susana loosened her grip. And just for a split second, Haru thought for sure she was falling. Then the claws closed around her right hind leg, leaving her dangling face-down. Her vision swam, and it felt like she was being sucked down the cliff, despite not moving at all.

"Well, Haru?"

"Okay, okay!" Haru squealed, shutting her eyes tight. "I'll do it!"

Remer: "Just saying, Susana, we could've just axed the Mawile instead." .-.
Susana: "Look, if this Bidoof was going to rat us out for putting down a literal child killer, she'd have done the exact same thing if we dealt with that Mawile. This was literally our only sensible play here." >_>;

Her stomach lurched as she was pulled back over the edge before being unceremoniously dropped in the grass.

"If you want to eat, you better hurry up," Susana said. Then she turned to face the rest of her team. "Looks like you two caught him. Topaz, resecure the sneasel's bindings. Then feed him something. He's more valuable to us alive and I don't want to waste energy carrying him.

Umbra: "Hey! I never agreed to you keeping him alive!"
:REElithe:

Susana: "Mawile, take a good, hard look around you right now. And tell me with a straight face just who you think's going to come out on top if things come to blows."

Haru had totally forgotten about their meal, her food trampled and dirty from the one-sided skirmish. She looked up just in time to see the charizard drop Nip, planting a foot on him before he could try to escape again. Still, he struggled, taking in heaving breaths as he tried to pull himself free. The raichu gave him a strike across the face before moving to resecure his leg bindings.

"Why'd you go and put his claws in front of him, Skorch," Topaz grumbled. "Ugh, what a mess."

Oh, so Skorch did make other mistakes when dealing with Nip.

Skorch: "Look, I'm sorry, but I had to get in and out of setting a guard hut on fire in the span of 60 seconds!" >_>;

"We were in a hurry," the charizard replied. "It took longer than expected to subdue both him and the ninetales."

Yeah, I figured.

The raichu grunted in response as he loosened the arm bindings just long enough to re-secure them behind Nip's back, leaving him unable to do anything with his claws. Nip, in turn, growled and tried to bite Topaz, but without success.

Umbra watched the proceedings with an unamused expression. "Why would you waste valuable resources on him?" she asked, stepping to the center of the group. "We should just kill him now before he finds a way to slip away again."

"Because you have yet to earn my trust," Susana responded as she gathered up the remainder of their meal site. "We don't need you getting in the way of our goals — which are already derailed as it is. He lives until we complete our goal or I am satisfied you will not turn on us or let Haru escape and run for help."

Skorch: "... I'm sorry, Susana, but why are we not just giving her a free skydive off that cliff just to the side of the path right now? She and her buddy are the ones who blackmailed us and threatened to have us turned into literal lunchmeat."
:judgemander~1:

Susana: "Because it's going to be a dangerous journey up and we need the extra strength, Skorch. Assuming that she's willing to play ball, anyways."

Umbra turned to glare at Haru, the murderous intent on her face clear. "You can do what you want with her. I hold no loyalty to this village. And I am more than happy to help with this excursion, so long as I can return home after. You do not need to hold my own goal over my head to convince me."

At that, Susana hesitated, glancing at Remer. "What do you think?"

Remer: "Like you picked the wrong horse in this race, Susana. But I don't suppose there's anything we can do about that now..."
Topaz: "I mean, if she's really willing to just piss off back to wherever she came from, it's hard to argue that that's one less loose end we need to worry about after this."
:joltyshrug~1:

Haru: "I'm really not liking where this 'loose end' discussion is going right now."
:uhhh:


"Steel pokemon are harder to get a read on," the girafarig answered, climbing to his feet, "though she seems honest in this regard."

Huh, so type effectiveness also impacts ease of psychic effects on a Pokémon. That makes me wonder if Remer can read Fighting-type emotions/vibes/whatever better than the average Pokémon in that case.

The head on his back spoke next. "I'd still recommend keeping him alive until she proves her loyalty. Consider it… collateral."

"Very well. Then my answer stays." Susana turned back to Umbra. "Speak with Topaz and get yourself something to eat. I need to tend to Skorch's wound."

I'm honestly surprised that Umbra is just accepting this, though I suppose the chance to be able to just blow off Jhorlo and go back up north is a good motivator for wanting to be patient.

Umbra glared for a moment longer, then begrudgingly approached the raichu.

Haru looked down at her half-eaten food, her stomach twisting in knots. She couldn't finish it. She couldn't take a single bite. She was going to die here, lost to the mountain. And her family would probably never know what happened.

Nip: "For the record, you villagers really are too trusting, you know that?" >_>;
Haru: "Okay, yeah. You might have had a point back then."
:grohno~2:


Someone stumbled into her side, sending a painful jolt across her fresh bite wound and forcing her attention back to reality. Nip slumped beside her, forced into a sitting position by Topaz. He growled at the rodent, but Haru could smell his fear.

"Wait there until we're ready to go," Topaz said, standing behind the two of them before turning his attention back to Susana.

With nothing better to do, Haru followed his gaze. Susana was standing next to Skorch, holding up one of her arms to inspect a nasty bite wound oozing with blood.

Yeesh. I hope these guys didn't cheap out on their healing supplies, since that looks like it'd easily grow infected.

"Mm… It's a deep one, but not too severe. I'll use our last super and save the stronger stuff for later."

Reaching into her bag, the zoroark pulled out a small red bottle with a yellow contraption on top. She shook the bottle, claws scratching at the front of the contraption, then aimed it at the charizard's wound. A quiet hissing sound filled the air as a mist sprayed out of the bottle.

Image


They have human technology?! Usable human technology?!

Skorch winced, but as the spray hit her wound, the bleeding quickly coagulated and then stopped. And to Haru's surprise, the wound grew smaller, scabbing over.

Once the mist stopped, Susana placed the bottle back in her bag. "Not perfect, but about as much as we can expect out of a self-brewed potion around here. Can you eat on the go?"

Well, never mind that. Though clearly that culture across the sea must've held onto some things from the past a bit better than Haru's side of the pond. Since, yeah. You don't see too many Pokémon using literal Potions in most PMD stories.

"Of course," Skorch replied as she tested her arm.

Susana bobbed her head. "Good, then we set off immediately." The zoroark turned back towards Haru with narrowed eyes and gestured up the path. "Lead the way. You too, sneasel. Stay in front of us."

Haru: "I regret everything right now."
:FearfulMeowth:


Haru wanted to protest. Wanted to run away. But there was nowhere to run, and refusal meant certain death. So she climbed carefully to her feet, ignoring her developing aches, and began to walk. Nip limped just behind her. Casting a glance back, she could see his eyes glazed from pain and his ear flat against his skull. But he gritted his teeth and kept his gaze on the path ahead.

She turned back to the path as well, trying to ignore the gaze of the dangerous predators just behind her.

She'd messed up. She'd messed up bad. And now she was going to pay the price.

Remer: "Technically, I'm an herbivore, just saying."
:joltyshrug~1:

Haru: "That doesn't make me feel any better when you're literally ready to kill me along with your buddies!"
:uhhh:

Remer: "I suppose that's a sign for you to do your job as a guide, then. Don't worry. This will all be over soon enough."

Alright, made it to the end and it's time for the the part where I sum things up, with a gif that's been a bit of a buddy of mine this Review Blitz:

Image


And how. Since... yeah, things went from cute and happy chatter with ominous undertones to tense and precarious really, really quickly there. I mean, I doubt that anything mortal will wind up happening to Haru and Nip since they're kinda cover art characters, but there's a strong sense of "anything can happen" and "something is going to go terribly wrong" that's been lingering with the story for a few chapters now, and the light of the train at the end of the tunnel is just starting to come into view now.

If I had one criticism of this chapter beyond the scattered typos and the couple paragraphs where I didn't agree with their formatting for presentation, it'd be that I'm not sure if Susana's thought process for sticking with Umbra was hinted at strongly enough. Since from Susana and her team's perspective, Umbra is a very dangerous loose cannon that could be helpful to them, or blow up in their faces, while Haru is a bulliable base morph peasant. Like obviously once Haru lets it out that she's not willing to look away from Nip being dealt with, sticking with Umbra becomes the smart play since if Haru wasn't going to let that slide, she wasn't going to let Umbra getting a free cliff dive slide either. But that's mostly a matter of interpretation, and it wasn't really reflected in Team Susana's little cues or dialogue in ways that one might expect to see.

But altogether, I think that the chapter was pretty put-together, and it definitely kept me in suspense through most of its length. Kudos, @windskull , and I'll be looking forward to getting caught up sometime a bit later in the coming weeks.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Heya, dunno how wise of me it is to be reviewing at this hour, but eh. It's the weekend and I wanted to squeeze one last review out tonight, so I figured I'd do something different from oneshots and finish my PWCH catchup with…

Chapter 25

"Up ahead, that has to be the right place. Right, Susana?"

Haru didn't look up to see where the charizard was pointing. Everything hurt. Her legs, her head, her belly, even her ego. She'd barely paid attention to where they were walking, only glancing up when addressed to see if they were still on the right path. Otherwise, she tried to ignore the conversations around her. But it was difficult when the explorers spoke in harsh, hushed tones, discussing what to do after they were finished at the old shrine, and how long they could afford to travel after dark before resting.

Ah yes, that's certainly a sign that things are going well™️.

Nip: "I can't tell whether you've just given up and are waiting to die, or if your survival instincts are just that bad."
:GrumpNip:


To her side Nip limped along, his breathing heavy and punctuated with the occasional whine. He seemed determined to focus on the path ahead, ignoring his hostile surroundings save for the occasional swivel of his ear.

Oh, so Nip really is scanning his surroundings for a way out even if it's getting into "It's just a little airborne! It's still good! It's still good!" territory. I kinda figured.

It was hard to feel sympathetic. In Haru's opinion, this was all his fault. If he hadn't shown up, none of this would have happened. The explorers wouldn't have turned on her, and she wouldn't be a prisoner. She'd be able to go home after this. But now? Now she was as good as dead. If the explorers didn't kill her, the mountain would.

Image


More like they'd have gotten rid of you the moment you knew too much about what you were up to, Haru.

Behind her, the sound of paw steps came to a sudden stop. Haru stopped a few heartbeats later, forcing herself to look up.

Before them, a cavern gaped wide open, carved into a cliff face. Faded carvings decorated its entrance, mostly covered by overgrown vines and moss. Although she couldn't see it well from her vantage point, she knew there was writing above the entrance reading, "To our Protector, our Lord, Regigagas."

Ah yes, that terminology is certainly familiar. Though Regigigas has sure been doing a bang-up job of that lately, hasn't he?
:copyka2:


Susana took a step forward and spun around to face the group. "Okay. I want to finish with this site before sundown, which doesn't give us much time. Topaz, you stay out here with our guide and prisoner. Everyone else is with me. That includes you, Umbra."

The mawile scoffed, shaking her head, but said, "Very well." With Susana in the lead, she and the other explorers disappeared into the yawning cave.

Topaz: "Um, Susana. Are you sure that this isn't something that you want me to do on my own-?" .-.
Susana: "Topaz, it's a Bidoof and a tied-up Sneasel. You can handle a Bidoof and a tied-up Sneasel." >_>;

Haru sank to her belly, paws screaming for a break. She was ready to wake up from this nightmare. But her aches reminded her that this was all too real.

A hiss at her side snapped her out of her thoughts. She started to disdainfully turn her attention towards Nip, only to let out an alarmed squeak and scramble back to her feet.

Topaz was no longer a raichu. In his place stood a larger rodent, its fur a dark reddish-orange. Haru scrambled a few precious steps back from the unfamiliar pokemon.

Narrator: "♫ What kind of Pokémon are you? How do you do the things you do-? ♫"
Haru: "Not helping right now!" >.<

The strange pokemon scoffed, shaking out its fur, then spoke in Topaz's voice, his tone patronizing. "What? Never seen a gorochu before?"

"N-no!" Haru stuttered. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

Oh. At first I thought that Topaz was supposed to be that canned fire bear thing. I didn't even know that there was an evolution to Raichu that was planned once upon a time.

"That's because your stupid, backwards raichu never learned to evolve." Topaz flexed his forepaws, an electric pulse rippling from his cheeks all the way down to his tail. "This p — this place, this continent is so weird."

Cautiously, Haru took a step forward. "W-what are you talking about?"

The gorochu rolled his eyes, scoffing. "Ugh, how much do I have to spell out for you? Are you really this dense?" He sized up Haru with a smirk. "We're not from around here, you hillbilly. We came from across the ocean on our Lady's orders. Took us long enough to get a seafaring vessel going with our mixed bag of knowledge and the frankly paltry resources on the other continent, but here we are."

"Across the ocean?" Nip asked. "That's impossible!"

Yeesh, Topaz is just pulling out all the stops to murder every last bit of sympathy we as readers have for Team Susana, huh? Though yeah, I suppose that if the Weirdlands are advanced enough to be able to use human-style healing items, that it makes sense that they'd view Haru's neck of the woods as being backwards.

Haru had to agree. They had boats capable of riding the ocean along the coast, sure. But going out to open waters? That was far too dangerous!

I'm now curious as to what style of boats are the norm in PWCH's setting anyways. Not that this isn't on-brand with old-timey navigation, since in a lot of cultures, you would indeed conduct your seafaring by hugging the coastlines precisely due to this issue.

And yet, everything presented to Haru thus far suggested these pokemon were capable of more than anyone she knew. Still, there was something she couldn't wrap her head around. "But… But why? Why are you doing this?"

Topaz opened his mouth to say something more, then suddenly snapped it shut, his expression shifting into a glare. "I've said more than enough. I'm not about to get my hide tanned for overspeaking. Besides, what's it matter to you? You're as good as dead once this is all over, anyways."

Ah yes, just go ahead and casually kill Haru's incentive to keep working with you, Topaz. I can already tell that Susana would be screaming internally if she could overhear this.

Before she could question him further he turned away, though the way his ears twitched made it clear he was still listening to her every movement.

He's right, I'm going to die here, she thought. She'd hardly thought of anything but her demise since the explorers — or whoever they were — turned on her. Topaz wasn't lying. The chances of surviving this ordeal were slim, whether death came by accident or by the paws of his team.

This is the mental equivalent of tharn in action, isn't it? Since it sure feels an awful lot like Haru's having a deer in the headlights moment in terms of thought process.

"Haru?"

Why did this have to happen? Why? Why? When did everything all go so wrong? When did her life spiral out of control?

Because your author needed a reason to kick you out into the broader world around Theran Village and the only way that was going to happen with your personality was if you were proverbially or literally dragged off kicking and screaming?
:joltyshrug~1:


Her eyes darted back and forth until they settled on dark, blue-green fur. Right. Everything spiraled out of control the moment he showed up. Maybe she wouldn't have come with the explorers if not for her experiences with him.

Ah yes, scapegoating since you don't want to admit that you chose poorly in trusting the literal whos to go alone up to a sketchy part of the immediate neighborhood and didn't listen to the doubting voice in your head. I mean, it's understandable, but still made me
:eltyunamused:
a bit.

Her head spun, her breathing shallow. Maybe… Maybe…

"Haru? Haru, you need to snap out of it. This isn't helping."

It took her a moment to realize Nip was talking to her. He was staring at her now, gaze inscrutable. If anything, his expression suggested… Worry? Pity, maybe?

Nip: "Again, if you go into things with this sort of mindset, you really are going to die on this mountain." >_>;

Anger swirled in her head, mixing with barely restrained panic to create a volatile cocktail. "This is all your fault!"

"My fault?" Nip recoiled as if struck by claws.

"Yes, your fault! If you hadn't shown up, then none of this would have happened."

Image


Time to see if Nip gives as good as he gets here, since he does have a few arguments he could throw back into Haru's face if so inclined.

"You chose to work with those pokemon of your own free will," he hissed, hackles raised and with a growl in his throat. "I had nothing to do with this."

I mean, Haru technically didn't know that they got roped into doing a hit on you, but otherwise, yeah. Nip kinda has a point here.

Haru ignored him. "Everything's gone wrong since you came here," she countered, her voice raising to a shrill squeak. "The egg, then Umbra, then Tempest and Celebi, and now this. If you hadn't shown up, I'd be on my way home soon! But instead, I'm going to die on this gods-forsaken mountain and no one's ever going to know what happened!"

Ending her rant with a wail, Haru buried her face in her paws, curling up to block out the world. She took deep, shuddering breaths, his previous words sinking in. Nip had a point. She knew he had a point. But she couldn't accept it. She couldn't accept the idea that she'd driven herself to her own demise.

Mom, Dad, Toshi… I'm sorry.

Oh trust me, if this story is going where I think it's going, it's not going to be your own demise there, Haru.

Something hard gently nudged her side. A few heartbeats later, it happened again, this time with more force.

"Hey," Nip grunted, nudging her a third time. "You're not dead yet. And that means there's still hope."

Haru: "Nip, how on earth can you possibly see hope in a situation like this?!"
:grohno~2:

Nip: "... I'm still breathing? So it means that my patron goddess must still have some favor for me right now."
:joltyshrug~1:

Haru: "Oh stars, seriously?!" >.<

Slowly, Haru uncurled, staring up at Nip with wet eyes. His expression gave away his annoyance, but his tone was gentle.

"There is still hope," he repeated, lowering his voice. "If you can just hold on to that, if you can just focus on that little chance of survival, then maybe we can figure something out. That's how I got by as long as I did."

Also the conviction that something bigger than him out there didn't think that his time was up probably didn't hurt, either.

Haru blinked in confusion. "Wh… what are you trying to say?"

At first, Nip didn't reply. He turned his head towards Topaz, ear flicking before he turned back to Haru with a lowered voice. "I'm saying that there's always a chance we can make it out of this alive. We just need to focus. Just need to be alert and ready to pounce on opportunity. But that opportunity won't come if you give up."

Haru: "Yeah, what, a 1% chance? That's sure worth getting our hopes up about things." >_>;
Nip: "It'll be a 0% chance if we don't even try. And we're on the banner art! That's gotta count for something, right?" ^^;

Unease plagued Haru's mind. But the more Nip said, the more her panic dissipated, leaving behind clarity. He… had a point. She wasn't dead yet. Maybe there was still a chance to escape. But one major obstacle stood at the forefront of her mind.

Keeping her voice low, she asked, "But how? There's five of them. And I'm not a fast runner."

Nip took a deep breath, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, the frustrated expression was gone. "You're right. In normal circumstances, we'd never get away. I'm injured. You're injured too, but less so. That's why we have to be prepared for an opportunity to present itself. For an opening where they're busy or preoccupied."

Oh. Whisper and the gang are going to provide that opening, aren't they?

He looked to the sky in the direction of the setting sun. "Wherever they think they're going, it's going to take a couple of days to get there. Which means we have a couple of days to figure something out. To find a moment when enough of them are distracted so we can make a break for it. For a convenient chance to lose them in dense forest, or down a river, or… something."

Haru: "Nip, Pokémon die in the woods around here!"
:grohno~2:

Nip: "I mean, you also said that they died in that 'Misty Canyon' or whatever it was. I made it through in one piece (and so did my ex, unfortunately), so who's to say we can't do the same here?"
:lucathink~2:


Now that he had mentioned their injuries, Haru felt acutely aware of all her aches and bruises. He spoke a lot of sense, but they'd never get far in this state. Maybe his hope was misplaced.

But at the same time, it was the only hope she had. She'd never get away with just her strength and skill alone. As uneasy as she was at the prospect, she needed his help. He, more than anyone, knew a thing or two about running and hiding and avoiding capture.

"Okay," she finally said. "It's worth a shot."

Haru: "Boy are we fortunate that Topaz doesn't have good hearing, since you'd think that this would be dicier this close to a 'mon that's a Raichu evolution." ^^;

But if they were going to have any chance of escape, they needed to be as prepared as possible.

Twisting, she reached around to grab a strap on her bag with her teeth, pulling it around where she could easily access it. She reached inside with grabby paws, scooping out four oran berries. One was kept for herself, while the other three were rolled towards Nip.

Nip: "... Wait, how on earth did they even allow you to keep that?" .-.
Haru: "I... guess they were assuming that I'd sometimes go ahead on my own as a guide? Now that you mention it, it wasn't really elaborated." ^^;

"I can't make proper medicine out of these," she whispered, "but they should still help some if you eat them."

Nip stared at the berries, squinting, before shifting to remind Haru that his arms were still tightly bound behind him. Right. That was a problem now, and it could cause more later. She was positive she could chew through them, but not with Topaz watching. Not while he snuck suspicious glances their way, tail sparking threateningly.

Topaz: "Hey, wait a minute, is that a bag that you're wearing right now? I thought that Susana confiscated that from you-!"
:what:

Haru: "No! No! She insisted that I keep it because... uh... there might be passes where only I can fit through them first?"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Topaz: "... Alright, but I'm talking with Susana about this she gets back, since that doesn't sound right to me at all there." >:|

With a sigh, Haru reached out to pull the berries back to her side, using her teeth and paws to tear apart the thick skin. Then she passed the mostly intact flesh back. This time, Nip leaned down, wincing, to grab it with his teeth, popping the whole thing in his mouth to chew as best he could. Haru peeled two more berries before starting on her own.

As she watched the sneasel eat, she noticed that Nip's focus shifted from her to their surroundings, his ear swiveling at every sound.

"How are you handling this?" she couldn't help but ask. "Aren't you scared?"

"Terrified," Nip corrected. Now that he mentioned it, Haru realized the fur at the back of his neck was standing on end. And yet, he was somehow managing to remain the rational one between them.

I mean, considering Nip's background and everything that he canonically had to go through to get to this point, this is probably just another Tuesday for him at this rate.

"I lived the last three cycles of my life in constant fear," Nip continued. "And I learned that giving up doesn't make things better. If you want to survive you have to fight back."

Yeah, I figured.

"Fight back…" Haru considered his words for a moment, studying the grass beneath her paws. She glanced back up, words tumbling out of her mouth without thinking. "Is that how you've justified your crueler actions?"

"Haru, please." Nip's expression turned stricken, and there was an edge of desperation to his tone. "If we want to get out of this alive, we have to work together. Bickering doesn't help. Can't this wait until we're out of danger?"

Image


Since worrying about past misdeeds seems like the sort of thing that would be better handled at a time when your base survival isn't in serious question.

Nip made a good point. Embarrassment turned Haru's face hot. She decided to change the subject and instead focused on a different thought plaguing her mind.

"This mountain is dangerous enough in the best of times," she mumbled, tracing patterns in the dirt. Now that they weren't talking about escape, she didn't bother keeping quiet enough to avoid Topaz's listening ear. "I lost my grandpa to the mountain…"

Oh, so Haru's going to tactically induce
:eltyscared:
among Topaz and Team Susana to get them to send them ahead a bit further to scout out danger or something like that, huh?

Nip looked like he wanted to say something. But before he could, Susana reappeared, now without her disguise.

"We need you at the shrine, Haru," the zoroark said, her tone cloying. "Topaz, keep an eye on the other one, will you?"

Haru: "Wait, huh? But why do you need-?" ._.;
Susana: "That wasn't a suggestion, Haru. Get moving."
:typhNOsion:


Haru cautiously climbed to her paws, picking her way across the overgrown path. She didn't want to go. Why would Susana need her? Had they changed their minds and decided to kill her here? Or maybe she was overthinking this, and they were actually going to let her go?

Probably to read text, since they are from clear across an ocean, so there's exactly zero reason to assume that there's shared writing, especially past writing.

Light filtered into the cave, but it couldn't penetrate far. With the sun setting on the other side of the mountain, most of this area was cast in shadow.

But that didn't stop Susana. As they entered, she scooped up a short torch that had been planted at the entrance. She gestured for Haru to lead the way.

Dirt and dust coated every inch of the chamber, tinting everything with reddish grime. The shapes of carvings flickered in and out of view within the torchlight, depicting many of the stories of Regigigas that Haru still remembered from her childhood. Some of them, however, had been coated by slimy lichen, blotting out parts of the pictures or text.

Haru: "I'm... not clearing that away, just saying."
:TailsEww:

Susana: "Keep moving, that's not why we've got you here."

Here and there, the rotting remnants of wooden furniture and structures still remained. Nature had reclaimed the shrine fast; if Haru remembered correctly, it had only been about fifteen cycles since the shrine in the village was completed.

I wonder if we'll get more storytime in the actual text about what the background for this is, since I can already tell that there's quite the tale behind why the mountain shrine became effectively unusable.

Near the back of the chamber stood a statue of Regigigas, carved from stone and just small enough to fit inside. Haru remembered hearing that it was carved out of the cave itself. Small bits of metal made up the eyes and markings on the statue, gleaming in the light of the fire. At the base was a stone basin. At one time, it would have been filled with water — a representation of Regice to complete the trio — but with the disuse of the shrine, it now lay barren.

Haru came to a sudden stop as she caught sight of the rest of the false explorers. They, too, had undergone transformations like Topaz. Skorch's transformation was almost unnoticeable, with only the loss of a horn. But the second head on Remer where his tail should have been felt uncanny.

And Umbra didn't seem phased by their true forms at all. If anything, she seemed bored. Perhaps frustrated.

I wonder if that's just because she's seen them for the past day, or if that's a sign at something deeper about these off-continent 'mons and up north.

"Don't just stand there," Susana huffed, giving Haru a nudge with her foot. "You have work to do."

Haru stumbled forward with a squeak. "What do you want from me?" she demanded in a shaky voice. "What can I do that you can't?"

Susana approached a wall to their right. She tapped her claws against an image of Regigigas shaping a mountain. Or, to be more specific, against old, faded writing beneath it.

"Can you read this?"

Yeah, I knew it.

Haru took a few careful steps forward, squinting in the dark. Her head ached, perhaps from trying to make out the small shapes in the dark. It looked like it was written in the antiquated writing style her village used before the modern incorporated territories standardized written language, forcing them to switch for trade purposes. Instead of a series of dots and dashes, the dots were stacked in bunches of three rows and two columns. Her grandfather had thought it important for her to learn.

And so our Lord came to form Mount Domo
That which He would call Home for ages to come
We rejoiced for his proximity
We prayed for his protection

Ah yes, Regi braille, along with some backstory behind the local writing system. It does a lot at helping to sell a sense of history both for Theran Village and for the broader world outside of it even with little glimpses like these.

"I don't know what it says," Haru lied, turning to Susana. "We don't use that form of writing anymore. It died out over a lifetime ago."

Silence fell over the room. Haru held her breath. Then, suddenly, pain exploded in her head and she felt a force seize her and lift her inches into the air. She let out a loud yelp, flailing, her senses blurred.

"She's lying," Remer — his second, darker head — hissed. "She's telling a partial truth. I heard the words echo in her head."

Oh, so Psychics in this setting can function as lie detectors... wonderful.
:copyka2:


Realization struck Haru. He'd been listening the whole time. Had he been listening before, too? How hadn't she noticed? Was he that advanced?

Was that why they suggested finding someone else to bring them here? Was that why she jumped to the conclusion of Toshi? Had he been subtly influencing her thoughts or manipulating her the whole time?

Well that's a really creepy realization right there. And I suppose that's a sign that Team Susana is a lot stronger than they come across outwardly.
:FearfulMeowth:


She focused, remembering the basics of warding off a psychic's powers. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind, then focused on the visual image of spikes and thorns, of fire, of all things unpleasant.

Get out of my head!

The girafarig recoiled and dropped Haru. For just a heartbeat, Haru felt proud of herself. Then Susana loomed over her and all feelings of accomplishment gave way to fear.

Aha, that would certainly be a handy counter to Psychics snooping on what's going on inside one's head.

"Is that so, Remer? I'm disappointed in you, Haru. Did you really think you could hide things from us? Do I need to remind you of the position you're in?" As she spoke, dark, wispy tendrils swirled around her jaws.

Haru shrank back. "N…no, of course not." An image of Nip flashed in her mind. She quickly forced it down, focusing on the zoroark's jaws instead. She couldn't afford to let them hear any thoughts of escape. Nip would be safe, but any moment she thought of escape without diligence was a chance Remer could read her mind.

Boy is it fortunate that Susana chose Topaz to babysit Haru and Nip outside since... yeah, the jig would've been up really, really fast had Remer done the honors.
:copyber:


"Well then," Susana growled. She reached down to spin Haru around so that she was facing the wall again. "Read."

Haru took a deep breath, trying not to tremble with fear. She repeated the words she'd thought before, phrasing familiar from her childhood.

Susana bobbed her head. "Good. On to the next."

The two of them made their way around the chamber, Susana providing light as Haru read the passages out loud. Passages about the creation of the continent. Passages about lands far beyond the ocean, far out of reach, with warnings to never go here. Passages about the war of the gods. Passages about the followers of Regigigas, hidden away from battle until they couldn't hide anymore. And passages about Mount Domo, and the mystery dungeon near the peak, where legends said Regigigas lived.

:DukeWriting:


Fascinating deets there. And given what Susana has said about what she and her faction are really after, I can already tell that a good chunk of this isn't just going to stay background lore later on.

"Is all this really necessary?" Umbra growled when Haru was about halfway done. She leaned against the wall, arms crossed across her chest. "This seems like a waste of time."

"Far from it," Skorch replied, her tail swishing. She was now on the ground, using her good arm and a piece of charcoal to scrawl in an unfamiliar script. "Even if we don't use this information to track down Regigigas now, it will be even more worth it later, when the others arrive."

Haru:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5vd5cE3n0M

"Wait, there's more of you?!" O_O;

The others. Haru had forgotten about that. And now, with new context, horrors swirled in her mind.

It wasn't just her in danger. It was her entire village.

She had to get out of there.

She had to survive.

I... kinda wonder if Haru should've gone into a bit more detail about how Theran Village is in danger, since from the exact words Skorch said, it's not obvious that enough buddies to Team Susana would roll up to be an existential threat to the town. Like a decent enough progression would be something to the effect of "Wait, they said they were on a ship that crossed the sea, it must be huge and there must be tons of them" -> "Are they talking about that? Or are they implying that there's even more ships that are coming" -> "Team Susana is really strong and willing to kill over seemingly petty obstacles, can we even resist more of them coming" give or take the middle step as it sinks in that Theran is in serious trouble right now.

She had to warn everyone.

But for the moment, she pushed her thoughts out of her head. For now, she needed to focus on what was in front of her, to focus on surviving this day.

She's... not going to succeed at that, is she? Since I remember what Celebi had to say about what he saw of the village in his travels, and what Muse saw from her vision, so...
:uhhh:

Though I suppose that it's time to give the recap for this thing. It felt like another buildup chapter, with the sense of tension plus character dynamics being the main star of the show, both from Haru and Nip putting out tentative shoots towards working together, and Team Susana and the way they operate once the mask comes off. It does make me wonder just how hard and fast things are going to spiral out of control back in Theran Village, since we've had our first confirmation that the village is indeed in trouble... right at the time when a bunch of its strongest defenders are absent from it and about to go up a treacherous trail, which can only portend good things™️ to come for everyone in town.

I don't have a whole lot to complain about this chapter except for two sticking points that didn't quite land right with me. One is that I'm not sure if there was a logical reason communicated in the narration for why Haru is being allowed to keep her bag, without the bare minimum of an acknowledgement that "Susana and the gang went through the bag and took everything that they felt was remotely threatening to them" at some time in the past, since... yeah. If Haru hadn't been the equivalent of a peasant that barely gets out of town, that could've backfired really hard and fast on them. Even if I suppose that it has been established from past actions that Team Susana's playing a bit faster and looser than what would be ideal for a buttoned-up operation.

The other sticking point is how Haru realizes that Theran Village is in danger from Team Susana's buddies, which I think is skipping a few steps for her to realize the scope of the threat involved goes well beyond a second or third team of five floating around (not that even that wouldn't likely be a massive handful for Theran). It might've made sense to slow down a bit more and show the wheels in her head turn a bit more for the benefit of the readers there, but that might just be me.

Hoo-wee, these past few chapters have been quite a ride. Glad to finally be caught up, @windskull , and I'll be looking forward to where you take this story in the upcoming year. ^^
 

Negrek

komorebi
Staff
Happy birthday, Wind! This seems like an excellent opportunity to settle in with some hot chocolate and get caught up on Places We Call Home.

Although we don't have a terribly cozy set of chapters here, do we? I'm quite enjoying the uptick in action we've seen since Chapter 20 or so; it looks like we're building to a big turning point in the story, and I'm ready for it! Here we have Haru and Nip forced to work together--perhaps we'll finally see a bit of thawing on Haru's end. I couldn't BELIEVE that they were both sitting around, injured and at the mercy of these weird pokémon, and she started in at Nip again. Haru plz. (I was also amused when he showed up all bloody at the end of Chapter 23. Nip and Haru have GOT to stop meeting like this.) Haru being forced to take the party up the mountain that killed her grandfather is a deliciously painful twist. iirc Jhorlo was actually behind that disaster, but if nothing else that's going to be a harrowing adventure from a psychological perspective! They'll have backup if they can hold on long enough for the party from the village to catch up with them, but perhaps they'll find a way to escape on their own before that. I'm curious to see whether Susana's team manages to escape unscathed.

Meanwhile, I didn't miss that Jhorlo was on his way to town when Muse and Shimmer left; I'm sure he'll get everything straightened out there, and everyone's going to return to find things normal and under control. :copyka:

The beta pokémon continue to be a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the small hints we got about their homeland we got in this section. It seems like this "other continent" has some sort of knowledge of, or perhaps contact with, the human world. I'm really curious to find out whether we're in a post-apocalypse sort of situation, where remnants of the previous world have been better preserved on the other continent than they have on Haru's side of the world, or if the people on that far continent are receiving visions or maybe even people/objects from another world somehow. The presence of beta pokémon makes the thought of "alternate realities" pretty attractive. Maybe they're a group of people who came from a different reality and ended up stranded in Haru's world somehow? I'm enjoying the use of pokémon and concepts that you don't normally see in PMD fanfic, in any case. Since Regieleki/Regidrago also happened to be mentioned in this chapter, I wonder if their far-off resting place also happens to be in the land Susana and the rest of her group hail from.

I was a bit confused at the part where Nip gives Haru his pep talk about staying alive and waiting for an opportunity to make a move, because a few paragraphs up Topaz was stated to be there, with his back to them but "listening to their every move" or something along those lines. Surely he would have overheard that entire conversation? Or at least recognized that the two of them were whispering together. It just seemed like a really bad conversation to have where one of their enemies could overhear it, but perhaps I just missed a bit where Topaz was distracted by something or similar.

Like I said earlier, this run of chapters really has the feeling of a build-up to a big confrontation. I figure the party from the town's going to clash with Susana's team, and perhaps from that point Haru, Nip, Shimmer, and Muse (at minimum?) will have to strike out on their own. Alternatively, maybe they make it back to the village, but somehing goes down with Jhorlo, and then they have to flee. Possibly some people will die up on that mountain? In any case, I feel a big shake-up coming for sure, and I'm really excited to watch the story move into its next phase and expand beyond Theran Village. (Perhaps some characters are going to end up traveling over to the "beta" continent at some point? Learning more about what's going on with that group is another thing I'm really excited for.) I know you've had a lot going on and haven't gotten to work on this as much as you might have liked to, but it was great to be able to come back to these three chapters and get caught up again. Here's hoping you're able to press forward in 2024 and take this story to new heights!
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott

Review of Chapters 3 and 4​


Didn’t want to leave just a single review on this fic and call it there for this Blitz. Here we go again-

I’ve read that chapter 3 is the point where the intro pretty much stops, and the story gets going on its main strides. Don’t really agree with that assessment myself - sure, Umbra has been introduced, and she exemplifies the difference between the two ‘worlds’ (if you will) very well, but I think the opening chapter vibes continue until about halfway through chapter 4, when Nip tries to steal eggs or so. Not really a complaint, just something I noticed.

Anyway, what piques my interest in these two chapters is how the whole meat question is addressed, and that this really comes to light in how Nip and Haru interact with each other. Haru is clearly disgusted by the whole idea of eating other sapient beings, where as Nip sees it as entirely normal - normal enough to try and steal eggs later. It’s in the little interactions when they’re out and about where this meat question really comes through effectively, as the dialogue and arguments between the two make for an interesting contrast.

Makes you wonder if Nip is going to go a step beyond eggs, and start seeing Haru and the others as a potential lunch.

Another positive is the whole framing between Haru and Nip - it’s clearly not just highlighting one over the other, but giving them both equal opportunities to share where they come from, and what their thoughts on things are. The story clearly treats both of these characters with about an equal amount of performance, and it gets me interested in seeing whatever chemistry / conflict will arise between the two in the future.

Overall, I still don’t have any big gripes with the story here - but I do have some actual gripes this time, so might as well share ‘em. First is actually just a fragment of dialogue: When Nip explains his beliefs, he says:

"Yveltal, the overseer of death and most important pokemon in the land, if you ask me and my kin"

The bolded part isn’t necessary, in my eyes - arguably makes the statement less dire; it sounds like Nip isn’t particularly convinced in Yveltal being the most important Pokemon out there.

Now of course, that’s a very small thing to point out, but it does lead into something bigger - maybe this is just me, but Nip sounds awfully formal for a wild Pokemon. Not saying he needs to speak entirely in broken grammar or anything, but he sounds overly careful about the way he phrases things. I think a more blunt approach to his dialogue would have fit the character better. Arguably Umbra has the same thing going for her, which makes her sound incredibly sadistic - though in her case, that can very well be intentional, and given her one scene up until now, it very much works for her.

And that’s it for now again. Like last time, there’s not much I have a problem with. I’m enjoying this a lot so far, keep up the good work!
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott
Review of Chapters 6 and 7

Heya Windskull. New review event means another good opportunity to come back and read more PWCH, so that’s what I’m doing. Two chapters this time, to be more exact.

So, the whole village is understandably upset about Nip snatching an egg, and now is after him. Haru and company aren’t content with just blocking all the exits of the Mystery Dungeon he’s locked into, they just dive in. And what better person to run into than the carnivorous Mawile we saw a few chapters ago?

First things first, I’ve got nothing but praise to give for the entire setup and fight between the protagonists and Umbra. Even before the fight starts, you see how sharp the contrast between these characters and their whole way of thinking is - whereas Muse, Shimmer and Haru really just want to get to the bottom of what her whole deal is, Umbra wants them gone. Out of the way. Whether they step aside or if she has to tear through them, it doesn’t matter.

Unsurprisingly, the fight that ensues because they can’t see eye to eye is… brutal. Characters getting injured, threatened with death, all this early on in the story. I’ll be honest, I thought at least one character wasn’t going to make it out of this alive. The stakes are very real already, and the sudden twist the story took into this scenario is incredibly compelling. It really got me on the edge of my seat while reading.

In a lot of ways, it’s a sobering experience for the village characters at large. Suddenly they’re confronted with a far more dangerous world out there, one that’s right at their doorstep, no less.

Anyway, by teleporting out of the dungeon, they’re rescued just in time. Umbra is taken in for questioning, obviously, but… at the end of the chapter, it looks as if she’s allowed to stay in the village? In a guest room? Is there anyone keeping an eye on her, or not? Did I miss any mention of her being kept under watch in the text? Seems incredibly strange to just… let her stay while the villagers are looking for Nip.

Which, yeah, probably isn’t going to end well, all things considered. That’s one thing I’ve definitely got a lump in my stomach about whenever I think about it.

Leaving Umbra’s state at the end of Chapter 7 for what it is, though, I’m surprised by how little else I have to comment on. Everything in this story from the prose to the characters is executed in a superb way - nothing feels overdone or boring, people have motivations that make sense, and there’s nice pacing throughout these seven chapters so far that has kept me engaged. I think you’ve got something real special brewing here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it!

And with that, I think I’ll leave things off for now. Hate to sound like a broken record, but this is seriously impressive so far. Keep up the good work!
 

tomatorade

The great speckled bird
Location
A town at the bottom of the ocean
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. quilava
  2. buizel
Here for catnip. It's like the wheel is tempting me to return to the PMD sphere with another chunky fic I've been avoiding lol. I think I read the first bit of this a very long time ago but don't remember much so this will be a bit of a refresher.

I think I'm going to approach this more broadly than I usually do, here for the first three chapter. I suspect you've had a lot of feedback on the early chapters and so I hope to find something new to say.

Prologue

Quick pit stop at the prologue. I wonder who's narrating? It's usually my first question with prologues like this--I'm obsessed with these omniscient narrator types. From what I've absorbed of this through osmosis, I highly doubt it's any of the main/side characters I'm somewhat familiar with unless there's a classic PMD twist. They've certainly got a villainous bent to their speech and the brief reference to a boat of pokemon and underpopulated bay makes me think of colonisation. Especially considering the focus on gods we see through the rest of the prologue, though the narration is less about supplanting gods and more using them in some nebulous way.

Anyway, I like the way this introduces some characters and broader ideas of the fic. PMD usually doesn't go so hard on gods as capital-G gods, moreso some grumpy dudes hanging out in volcanoes and waiting for the MCs to come hang out with them. And there's some ambiguity with what's real and just stories that makes me hmmm...

Chapter 1

So immediately we're struck with a little hamlet village somewhere outside the usual PMD setting. It was a good idea to throw in a little mention of expedition teams if only to appease people coming in and wondering where the mystery dungeon stuff is lol. I'm all for this by the way. It's slow but not wasteful and getting settled into characters is always worthwhile.

Haru makes a good first impression. Well, maybe good is the wrong word, she certainly seems like a bit of a grump after all, but I like the allusions to her species. With all the characters so far, actually, you might get a sense of their vibe just from knowing their designs. Anyway, Haru is beaver and beaver is the entrepreneurial spirit of the working class. She was me being forced to join clubs in school fr.

Muse doesn't strike much of an impression immediately. Being used as a horse is unfortunate but she doesn't seem to mind too much I guess lol. Quiet, but not brooding like most absol. Bodyguard makes sense, I think.

I will agree with Haru's assessment of shimmer in some ways. I'm nervous about her, I guess. Too many family sitcoms with some young girl/guy utterly convinced the MC is their partner despite all evidence otherwise. It can very quickly go from wacky to uncomfortable, depending, though that will have to be seen when Shimmer and the bro start actually interacting. Haru's comment that her crush is the cause of most of the stress in her life is interesting. Either she's got a great life or Shimmer is truly unbearable beyond reason lol.

I'd forgotten how quickly we get into the premise of the fic. For some reason I remember Nip coming in after a couple chapters, but he actually shows himself right away.

You've got some great buildup from the forest trip, to the sounds of the fight, to the stray evidence--blood and etc--which makes me wonder if there's a bit too much time spent evaluating Nip's body before rescuing him. You almost spend more time describing his state and him in general than the leadup to finding him, which makes their discomfort around whether he might live a little awkward. I get that time has paused somewhat during the narration, but there's plenty of time to contemplate how strange he is in a quieter moment idk. With how the next chapter starts especially.

Chapter 2

As any fiction reader knows, dreams are the key to all of life's problems so I'm paying close attention to Nip's at the start of this chapter. unfortunately I have no thoughts yet. something something faith something something sybolism.

I like Nip. We don't often get this kind of fish-out-of-water story in PMD but the idea of ferals or wilderners or whatever experiencing the 'civilised' world endlessly interests me. It works partcularly well in pokemon, and here where that world is only a couple steps away from Nip's, really. We haven't really got there yet but I'm excited to say the least.

Hmmmm.... there's some interesting stuff to dig into with Nip's conversation. Especially that sort of timid evasion he has on why he was tussling with the kangaskhan in the first place. It's a good bit of foreshadowing for sure, but what it tells me is that even he understands the issues around eating eggs. Like, a pure feral surely wouldn't care and I doubt they'd mind telling anyone so Nip's culture might have some taboo around that. Or at least stress that the townsfolk would.

There's a great sense of naivete to the folks talking to Nip. It feels like an old veteran trying to talk to his kids or something. They don't seem to underestand what his life was like on a basic level and he needs to gtfo. Lecha is a nice voice of reason, at least. Although I'm reminded in this monent that she literally is the only adult in the room lol. their hearts are in the right place, at least.

Here Haru says she's not that interested in exploring but she takes to learning about the outside world with passion she otherwise only seemed to have for building her beaver enterprise. Do I sense some wanderlust? I can imagine her franchising the family business out to other villages in the future.

Haru reveals herself to be a reddit atheist. I'm excited to see how that will turn out in a world where gods definitely exist. It's something I think about a lot considering how uch my own writing seems to center around gods--how does one approach modern human religious sensibilities in a world where gods provably exist? We also get the first sense of religious tension near the end of the chapter. Not much remarkeable happens beyond some interesting namedrops. Hoopa especially. I have to wonder what he's all about that Haru's parents react like that learning Ruffle likes him.

Haha! I knew it! she's gonn turn the family business into a mcdonalds! Besides that and her want to travel (to some degree) what strikes me most here is her concern for social standing. The dea that she wants ot keep up with the gods for the sole purpose of boosting her reputation is fascinating in a very pragmatic way. It really fits with her character. It might not if just described to me, but watching her go about her day puts that into a different perspective--as I thought earlier, even her want to learn about other places is to further the family business. Very interesting character you've got here.

Chapter 3

uh oh Haru's shown him the daycare it's all over. And she's just tempting fate with that wilderner comment, come on.

Really, though, having a general knowledge of what happens in the future makes reading these early chapters very juicy. It's especially clear the steps you've taken leading up to Nip's incident before hand. I can almost see the thought process behind it, even if he isn't aware of it yet or even really knows the consequences of this information. Some great dramatic irony in general. I actually don't know if this will eventually turn into more of a journey or if we're staying in town for the most part, but with how much Haru talks about the outside world I suspect she'll be thrust into it under less than ideal circumstances.

And we get to see the butchershop finally. And the juiciest bit of drama so far. It seems strange that Haru wouldn't know that groups of pokemon hunt out in the wild, but she also seems fairly sheltered even if she goes about the world acting the opposite. There's some nice little details here. Mandi's shop being alllll the way outside of town, the different sized doors and Haru's general discomfort with the smell. Mandi still seems to be under some regulation, but I think that only puts the moral conundrum further into light. Like, it fairly explicitly places the lives of villagers over wilderners in a way that makes no real logical sense--it's not like one is more sentient than the other, after all. And the whole 'check to make sure it isn't a missing person and no hunting!' thing seems so easy to bypass I wonder if anyone's even following that.

lol 'how do you live with yourself.' very smooth, Haru. Way to go.

At the same time, I do get Haru's discomfort. If I were a prey animal I would not be thrilled about this arrangement. It all seems faintly rotten. And I don't have a side I agree with on really any level, I think the herbivores living with carnivores situation is just doomed from the start as much as Nip believes it's just their lot in life and the villagers we've seen think they can 'help' carnivores on some level.

I think you flex your best descriptive muscles with the temple. it's got a vibe to it that nothing else has so far, even filtered through Haru's eyes. It's sort of sobering in a way that I feel in real life visiting historical churches and the like.

And we get the final nail in the coffin with mention of Anu's egg and the confirmation that Nip was after the kangaskhan's. You know, I don't think I can remember my first reading experience years ago, but this might be better the second time through. There's lots of little setup details that make it engaging through the overall slow pace. Then again, I don't really get the same 'oh shit!' moment I might have on first reading.

Honestly, I'm eh on the mawile reveal. Not really a bad thing but she doesn't get me hyped like I think sh'e supposed to. I'm always down for more conflict, but she seems almost too blatant and distrupts the quieter vibe the story had to this point. Anyway, it's not a huge deal just a little jarring to have a pretty standard PMD-villain type here.

Overall this fic has an interesting position. It's very slow, but hard to say that nothing has happened. Plotwise that's true but there so much worldbuilding to explore that it already feels fairly formed early on. The morality of this society is somethign I've latched onto immediately moreso thatn the religion. I think this has to do with the inherent antagonism Haru has shown, though the individual religions and gods they follow haven't formed or become distinct enough for me to get too invested in yet. atm it's more Haru being grumpy about people wasting their time with

I'm also surprised by how unstable(?) the village is. One thing I strongly remember about this fic is that it was cozy which.... isn't necessarily true? It's chill, I guess, but that chillness is unstable and leading someplace that feels decidedly un-chill. Like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Anyway, great fic so far. I can't promise to be back anytime soon because busy but I'd like to if I get the time.
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott
Review of Chapters 8 and 9

Disclaimer: I made the dumb decision to read this chapter while fighting off a migraine, headache and vision issues at the same time. Unsurprisingly, it was hard to concentrate on the story properly, and I had to reread certain things over just to figure out what exactly was going on. That naturally influences whatever thoughts I’m noting down, so keep that in mind while you’re reading my review here.

Anyway, back to PWCH. Still enjoying this fic a lot from where I last left off, let’s see what happens after two more chapters, shall we?

Chapter 8

Catching and hunting Nip! It’s pretty much what you’d expect story wise, though I did enjoy the little suspense snuck in towards the end with Haru not wanting Umbra to just chew Nip to pieces right away. We also get some breadcrumbs about Umbra not being entirely honest (who could have seen that coming) which I’m guessing the next few chapters will elaborate on, as I don’t think they’re fully realised all that well here. Haru is pretty eager to get Nip off Umbra’s ‘hook’, so to speak. Sure, I get she not accepting ‘wildener justice’, but it’s somewhat odd how she wants to hear Nip’s side of the story - as far as I can till, Nip doesn’t say much more about it in this chapter other than that his decision to steal the egg wasn’t entirely on him, as Umbra claims it is.

Aside from that, this chapter was pretty spot on! Only other thing I could find was a single instance where Nip’s name wasn’t capitalised.

Chapter 9

This was an interesting chapter - not just because of the end, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So this reveals a lot more about how the villagers and the wildeners live and think. Nip and Umbra having an arranged marriage that neither was happy with, Nip’s bizarre reasonings for killing a bunch of unborn children, and then the vote to rehabilitate him instead of sending him off with Umbra / any sort of greater punishment. It’s interesting to read about… though I do think Umbra’s response to the rehabilitation was somewhat glossed over.

Anyway, the end brings up an entirely different set of characters in a locale we haven’t seen before. Brings up Mew and gods as well, which is quite the step up in terms of plot stakes. I don’t know how it’ll start tying into the rehabilitation arc that is likely soon to come, and with Umbra’s response being left in the dark… Who knows what the next few chapters will bring?

But yeah, my overall opinion is pretty much unchanged. Still like the pacing, still like the story, still like the characters, you name it. I could go into the nitty gritty of grammar and prose, but I feel like that would be nitpicking, for the most part. There’s never a moment where I’m bothered by the way this is written, and that’s my benchmark for ‘this needs extra work’.

Anyway, this review’s gone on long enough. Thanks again for the chapters, and good luck with the rest of the fic-
 
26: On the same Page

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
  5. windskull-bidoof
  6. little-guy-windskull
  7. purugly
  8. mawile
  9. manectric
Thanks for the reviews as always! One day I'll have the energy to go back and reply to everything.

On the Same Page


Everything ached.

Though the oran berries had alleviated the worst of Nip's pain, the evening's walk flared his bruises and scratches and burns all over again. Exhaustion made his feet drag across the dusty ground. As the evening passed, the vegetation around them thinned, a sign of their elevation. But the high slope to their left made it clear there was still a long way to the peak.

All the while, he tried to remain alert, on the lookout for any opportunity to make a break for it. But exhaustion made it harder, a fact he was unfortunately all too familiar with.

Now, sometime after dark, his captors finally elected to stop and camp for the night. The strange zoroark scurried off and disappeared into a nearby copse, returning shortly thereafter with an armful of wood. She dropped them on the grassy path and set to work digging a small pit. Then she arranged the wood inside, stepping out of the way to let the charizard start a fire after she had finished.

All the while that… Gorochu — or whatever Topaz called himself — watched over both Nip and Haru, leering with undisguised malice. Across the clearing, Umbra, too, stared at Nip, eyes narrow and mouth set in a thin line. And why would she hide her disdain? She had no reason to. His captors were basically on her side, and Haru was as much a prisoner as he.

Nip swallowed thickly, ear lying flat as he averted his gaze. If Umbra had her way, she'd find a way to kill him in the night. He was afraid to sleep. He was afraid that if he did, he'd never wake up. Or would she want him awake to feel his death? He wouldn't put it past her.

To his side, Haru sank to the ground. He snapped out of his anxious trance, focusing on the bidoof instead. She looked as tired as he felt, eyes drooping shut. He wanted nothing more than to drop on the ground and rest too. But he needed to stay vigilant, a point that felt all the more important when the zoroark approached them.

"We need a way to keep our… guests from wandering off," Susana mumbled, just loud enough that he could hear. Then she barked, "Topaz! Help me dig a pit." She jabbed a paw at the Gorochu. "Skorch, I want you on first watch tonight."

Grunting an affirmation, Topaz raced to her side and started scooping out pawfuls of dirt, creating a neat little mound. A moment later, Susana joined in, deepening the hole while he widened, until they'd formed a hole about twice as deep as Nip was tall, just wide enough for himself and Haru to lie down inside.

Topaz dusted off his paws, then scurried over to nudge Haru back to her paws. Then he gave Nip a rough shove, nearly knocking him over as he drove the two of them to the edge of the pit.

Nip hated this. What if they buried him alive? Would he be able to fight back? But he hopped in on his own, keen not to fall and injure himself further. Heartbeats later, however, a heavy weight thumped on top of him, driving the breath from his lungs. He gasped for air, panicking as he tried to struggle free, toe-claws failing to find purchase in the loamy soil.

After a moment, the dazed Haru finally managed to drag herself to the side, freeing him. She mumbled something under her breath that he didn't quite catch.

Nip struggled to sit up with bound arms. Before he could do anything else, he heard a rustling, then the light above dimmed. Glancing up, he saw a tangle of branches blocking off the exit, their leaves illuminated by firelight.

From above, Topaz's voice drifted. "Don't waste our jerky on him. Our supplies are too limited to bother. Besides, it's not like we're going to keep him alive for that long, right?"

Susana's voice drifted from further off, and Nip was only able to catch snippets. Words like trust, and soon.

They're talking about me
, Nip thought. Resigned and exhausted, he slumped against one of the walls. A heartbeat later, the branches shifted. Something hard bonked him on the head, then rolled to a stop in front of him. An apple. He was half-convinced they were hitting him on purpose.

Nip sighed, using his foot to drag the apple closer before leaning forward to grab the apple's stem in his teeth. If he had to eat fruit to have energy for tomorrow, he'd do it.

He could make out the shape of Haru — a paler blotch against the dark dirt — tearing into her fruit. A flash of her teeth in the moonlight gave him an idea.

"Haru," he whispered, "could you unbind my arms? Either by cutting the rope with your teeth, or tugging the knot loose?"

The bidoof looked up, a pair of beady eyes glistening at him in the darkness. "Why?"

Because it would make things easier? Because my arms hurt from being stuck like this for so long? Because my wrists feel raw with pain? He answered, "So I don't have to struggle to eat my food. …You… you can put them back when we're done if you just pull them free. Best not to let them get any ideas that we're working together."

Something flashed in Haru's expression. "Don't talk about that," she hissed. "There may be prying ears. Or minds."

"Prying…" His thoughts flashed to the abnormal girafarig — Susana hadn't bothered putting their disguises back up after leaving the old shrine — and realization hit him like a geopebble. As a pokemon with dark elemental affinity, his mind was protected from most psychics, impenetrable. But Haru's wasn't.

"Fine, fine," he said, forcing his fur to lie flat. They may not be able to read his mind, but they'd be able to smell his fear. "But can you at least get my bindings so I can eat?"

Haru hesitated a moment longer, then took a deep breath and murmured, "Okay. I'll loosen it, but just temporarily. If I undo it entirely, they'll know something's up."

Nip shifted so that he was on his knees with his back to Haru, allowing her better access to his arms. Her grabby little paws and teeth tugged at the knots, pulling his arms this way and that. Fur brushed up against his, and he felt her cold nose touch a particularly tender spot. Then the ropes slackened, and he was able to pull his arms free.

Leaving his bindings in a position where he could easily slip them back on, he turned back to Haru, rolling his shoulders and rubbing at his wrists where the ropes had irritated his skin. "Thank you," he mumbled, reaching down to spear the apple on one paw.

His gaze flitted to the branches blocking the exit. "If you can handle it, I think it would be helpful to sleep in turns tonight."

Haru took another bit of her apple, chewing it slowly before she replied. "In case someone out there gets any… ideas?"

"Yes. I don't trust them to keep their word."

The bidoof paused, shivering and taking a shuddering breath. "Y…yeah. I think you're right. I can take first shift if you'd like."

"I would appreciate it," Nip admitted. "I'll try to get some shut-eye as soon as I'm done eating."


"Useless!"

Umbra's screeching snapped Nip out of his stupor. He climbed to his feet, staring in the direction the raticate had disappeared. His fur pricked with frustration. If Umbra had driven it in the right direction in the first place, he could have ambushed it. Instead, he'd been forced to give chase, tripping over the dense undergrowth. Now it was too far away.

Dusting his fur off, he turned to face Umbra with an agitated expression.

Big mistake.

The mawile swung her second jaw at him, sending him sprawling. She stood over him, eyes narrowed in a dangerous squint.

His heart raced, panicked eyes darting between Umbra's face and her jaws. Her expression was unreadable, but that was perhaps more terrifying than blatant anger.

"Can you not do anything right?" Umbra said in a dangerously quiet tone. "Now the tribe will go hungry because of your incompetence."

"Y-you drove it the wrong way," Nip stuttered, scrambling as he tried to back away and get to his feet. He knew it was dangerous, but he had to push back against this. "I couldn't keep up!"

"Are you suggesting this is my fault?" The familiar pink flashes of fairy energy sparkled at her fingertips and cascaded to the ground.

"N-not on purpose!" Nip raised his claws to protect his face, just in time to block the brunt of a strike. The spark popped against his arm in blinding flashes and burned, eating away at his will to fight back. With a quiet cry, he curled inward, only to be knocked over again with a burning kick.

"Look at you, you pathetic lump," Umbra said in a sickly sweet voice. Then it shifted to a growl. "You would not want the tribe to starve, would you? Don't bother coming home until you've got more than twice that raticate's weight in food."

He only whined in response.

Footsteps, light over the crunching undergrowth, faded away. Some time passed before Nip finally uncurled, breath hitching. He was alone again.

Or was he?

His ear twitched as a gust of wind rattled the branches high above, bringing with them whispers.

Did you notice Nip limping today?

Umbra says he tripped over a root while hunting. How clumsy can you get?

How did he manage to pass the hunter's test with slip-ups like that?

He is a curse on our tribe.

The elders never should have taken his egg.

Outsider. Outsider. Outsider.


The trees twisted and contorted, roots slithering through the undergrowth to surround him like the bars of a cell. He scrambled, squeezing between them, only for new, thorny brambles to intertwine and dig into his fur.

A thick fog rolled in as he struggled to keep his breathing under control, breath visible in the cold. With it came the eyes. Watching him. Staring. Glaring. Judging.

Nip pressed himself against the thorny roots, eyes wild and frost billowing out of the sides of his mouth.

"Stop!" He pleaded. "Go away!"

The fog closed in, roots tearing through the ground around him. The whispers persisted.

Nip.

Nip.


"Nip!"


Something was shaking him. Nip startled awake, fur bristling, to near-total darkness. A thin sliver of moonlight dappled his prison through the branches, revealing the shape of a familiar bidoof sitting over him. Her eyes flashed in the dim light.

"Haru…?" Nip's tone came out groggy as he blinked the sleep from his eyes. "What…?"

"You were dreaming," Haru answered quietly. "You were thrashing and mewling in your sleep."

Nip's fur burned hot with embarrassment. "Oh. Sorry," he mumbled. "Don't worry about it. Just a nightmare about…" Did he dare say it? What point was there in hiding things now? "About my tribe."

Haru sat back. "About… what happened when you left? Or… something else?" Nip suspected she was trying to ask about his attack on the nursery, but with all the tact of a rampaging tauros. He was too tired to care.

"In… a way," he answered with a sigh. "More the… events leading to it. The fights. The manipulation. The isolation." Why was he bothering to explain himself now? It wasn't like it would change Haru's mind. Her stubborn behavior had made that exceedingly clear. But… if he was being honest, he wasn't sure he wanted to change her mind. Not anymore.

The bidoof's expression was unreadable. "You… hurt a lot of pokemon," she mumbled. "Both here and there."

"I know," Nip replied, drooping, "but when you've spent cycle upon cycle of your life beaten down again and again, wallowing in misery with no way out but…" he trailed off, wincing.

"It warps your perception, Haru. It influences you. Makes you want to lash out."

"But it doesn't make it right." Haru said. "It doesn't fix what already happened."

"No," Nip conceded. "It doesn't. You have to live with the consequences. But that's just it. Live. When you die, only Yveltal is left to judge you. It… that prospect is terrifying. Especially after… what we saw here in the village." He didn't say Celebi's name, but he thought of the scatterbrained god all the same. "That would be the easy route, to embrace death without fighting anymore."

It was a coward's way of thinking. His tribe taught him to fight for his life but to face death with dignity. But what dignity was there in laying over and dying because others thought you should?

Haru was silent for a long time. Nip felt his stomach flip as he settled down again, closing his eyes. Why wasn't she saying anything?

"I… think I can understand that."

Nip peeked an eye open. The bidoof was tracing a pattern in the dirt, refusing to look at him. "When I was pretty young, before Toshi was even born, there was a horrible drought. Crops failed. We had to travel to other towns to get enough food. It came at the worst possible time, when we were trying to remain an independent settlement under mounting pressure. I don't remember that part, but I remember the hunger.

"Both of Muse's parents, Shimmer's mom, and my grandfather made a journey up here, beyond the shrine and up towards the peak, in hopes of finding Regigigas. In hopes that, perhaps, he could fix things." She laughed bitterly. "Only my grandfather made it back down, and he succumbed to his injuries within a day of his return, nothing to show for their trouble. To make matters worse, the drought broke within a moon. Times were still hard, but not for much longer. All that suffering… all for nothing."

Silence. Nip broke it moments later. "Is… this why you hate reliance on gods?"

"It wasn't the sole cause," Haru answered, "but it was the start."

Everything about Haru's behavior suddenly made sense. Nip considered what to say next, or whether he should say anything at all, but finally took a deep breath.

"I can understand where you're coming from, as tough as that may be to swallow. I… spent my entire kithood trying to be accepted by my kin, all the other pokemon of my tribe. I was born in the tribe, but my egg had been stolen from somewhere else. I… don't know where. No one would tell me.

"I was viewed as an outsider. Underestimated because I was small. Aside from Tempest and one or two other 'mon, I had to struggle every day of my life to be respected as an equal."

His tone rose as he struggled to keep his volume in check. "And then I prove myself. I prove that I'm strong and capable of hunting and fighting just as well as anyone else. And what do I get? I get paired with a pokemon who hates who I am so much that she's determined to make my every waking moment miserable. That she's determined to find any way to get rid of me that doesn't get her claws too dirty."

Behind his back, he flexed his re-bound claws. "No one but Tempest ever tried to help." There were others who were sympathetic, but they never lifted a paw. "And as an outsider himself, he had limited influence. Haru, I struggled with the idea that Yveltal would allow me to continue suffering. What good was a god that ignored the pleas of her followers? But when things reached their breaking point… I realized that Yveltal isn't that type of goddess. Yveltal would not hold my paw. If I wanted to escape, I had to take matters into my own paws."

"Despite all that, you still chose to follow her?" Haru asked.

"For me, it provided comfort. Hope. I had to cling to something to survive." He hesitated before adding, "Even if… recent events have made that difficult."

He sighed. "Our situations may be different, but their effects were similar. Both left us worse off. Bitter. I… think I understand where your anger comes from now. You're hurting."

Haru shifted uneasily but said nothing. "Sorry," he mumbled, turning to lie back down. "That all probably sounded stupid."

He closed his eyes, but he was too tense to sleep. His mind still dwelled on images of Umbra, on the burn of fairy energy and the bruises she left behind.

Then, to his surprise, he felt something warm press against him. Twisting his head, he could just see Haru lying back to back with him, face turned where he couldn't see.

"Don't think anything of it," she grumbled, stifling a yawn. "But… Maybe you have a point. Sort of. I… I let my feelings cloud my judgment. I have no one to blame but myself for getting into this situation.

The two lapsed into uneasy silence for several moments, only the sound of their breathing, the crackle of fire, and the distant chatter of nocturnal wildeners providing ambiance.

Finally, Haru found her tongue. "Look. I… I still don't like you. You're rash. You've hurt a lot of pokemon. And you've tried to use your suffering to justify your actions. But if we have any hope of survival, we have to work together."

It was probably the closest thing he was going to get to an apology. Not that he particularly deserved one, did he? "Thank you." He paused. "Do you want to try sleeping for a bit? I don't think I'll be able to for a while."

The bidoof shifted beside him, yawning. "Sure. Just wake me up sometime before dawn, okay?"

"Of course." Then Nip went silent. Soon enough, he heard quiet snores from Haru.

Tilting his head, he stared at the flecks of light above their makeshift prison. He closed his eyes, mentally tracing over the spots where he used to dye his fur. He'd stopped bothering when he went on the run. It was too identifying. And before long it had faded. A connection to his tribe and his god, severed.

Yveltal, he prayed. If you have any kindness to spare in your heart, please let us get out alive.


The air was thick with exhaustion, worry, and fear, the strength of emotions threatening to overwhelm Shimmer. She focused on blocking out as much as she could.

The sun had set not long ago, forcing them to travel with only an intact luminous orb and a torch for light, and Muse's nose to guide. Earlier, as the sun was setting, they'd found signs of a struggle, droplets of blood decorating the grass. Muse had picked up Haru's scent, alongside Nip's, Umbra's, and unfamiliar scents she couldn't place. Anu suspected it was the explorers.

As they'd followed the scent trail up the road, Anu realized they were headed straight for the old shrine. They'd picked up their pace. Now, the shrine entrance loomed ahead, the entrance a dark void in an already dark night.

"They must have lingered here for a while," Muse reported, sniffing at the grass. "I can smell both Nip and Haru here, and it's strong. Haru's scent leads to the cave, while Nip's leads…" She took a few steps forward before raising her head and tasting the air. "It seems to lead directly up the trail." She ran several more body lengths forward. "Haru's scent, and most of the others, rejoin here and continue up the path too."

Whisper sighed. "Then we know she was still okay at this point." Shimmer didn't read her thoughts, but the spike of worry suggested she wasn't completely confident about that.

The hawlucha tilted her head to stare at the crescent moon and stars. "We'll stop here for the night, and start again at the crack of dawn."

"What?" Toshi squeaked. "But Haru's still out there! We can't stop now. What if she's hurt?"

"I know you're worried," Anu began gently as he approached the shrine entrance. His luminous orb did little to dispel the darkness. "But the road ahead is perilous. You've never been there, but there's a forest not too far beyond here that we'd have to cut through. There are territorial wildeners there. And the path becomes untamed and perilous not far beyond that." The conviction with which he spoke was unusual. "We can't risk stumbling about in the dark. This is the safest place we could ask for."

"Anu is right," Whisper agreed, stooping down to be eye-level with Toshi. "He knows this trail better than any living pokemon in the village." Then she stood, following her mate into the darkness.

Reluctantly, Toshi followed, head drooping. Even with her mental blocks up, the waves of anxiety rolling off of him nearly overwhelmed Shimmer. It was kind of charming, in a messed up way, knowing that he cared so much about Haru's safety.

She was worried too, of course. But it didn't do anyone any good to worry like that. Maybe she could cheer him up!

Practically gliding across the dilapidated path, Shimmer caught up with the bidoof. "Aw, cheer up," she said in a sing-song voice. "We'll catch up tomorrow, I'm sure. Then we can all go home and pretend this never happened and you and I can talk about our future plans together and…" Shimmer trailed off. The more she spoke, the more the anxiety waves spiked. With them came other emotions. Negative emotions.

Toshi came to an abrupt stop, spinning to face her. "Shims, I'm not in the mood to humor you."

Shimmer faltered, blinking twice. "But I—"

"My sister is in serious danger, and you're making it about yourself!" His voice turned shrill. "Do you even care?"

"Of course I do! I was just—" But Shimmer didn't get a chance to finish her thought. Toshi whirled back around, racing into the cave.

Shimmer started to give chase, but a paw on her shoulder held her back. She looked up to see Anu staring down at her, eyes gentle. "Give him some space," he began, walking around and then stooping so that he was eye-level with Shimmer. "He's stressed right now, and needs time to himself."

"I was just trying to cheer him up," Shimmer protested sullenly.

Anu was quiet for a moment. He bit his lip, struggling to start speaking.

"Your heart is in the right place," he began slowly. "But have you considered that you can be… overbearing sometimes, making him feel like he has to go along with you to keep the peace? Toshi has a hard time saying no to people. If he shut you out here, doesn't that suggest that he must be extremely stressed?"

Shimmer dropped her gaze, stomach tied in knots. She didn't like where this was going. "I guess, but—"

Anu cut her off. "No buts. Shimmer, you are an incredibly smart and powerful young woman, but you need to learn to take no for an answer. There are a lot of bad things going on right now. Haru is likely in danger. Tempest is severely injured, and both Nip and Umbra are missing. One of our guards might be involved in this mess, too. Who knows how deep this buneary hole goes."

Pawsteps sounded behind Shimmer, then she felt a puff of hot breath on her back. She turned her head to see Muse, as unreadable as always.

"Musey?" Shimmer asked hesitantly. "What do you think?"

Unease briefly flitted across the absol's face before she took a deep breath, relaxed, and leaned down to bump her forehead against Shimmer's. "I… think Anu's words are wise. Give Toshi some time. When we get back, let him have an honest conversation with you."

Shimmer didn't like that answer. What if… What if Toshi was really upset and never wanted to see her again? What if she messed up so spectacularly that she couldn't fix things? What if…

What if he didn't actually like her?

Muse nudged her, nuzzling Shimmer's cheek. "It's going to be okay. No matter what happens, I will be here for you. Right now, let's just focus on finding Haru."

Shimmer took a deep breath. Right. Haru. She was what was most important right now. "Okay. Let's just get some rest."

"I'll take first watch," Muse offered. "I'll wake Whisper or Toshi in a while."

Shimmer frowned. "No," she said, putting a hand on the Absol's back. "Let me. You're the best tracker. We need you at your best tomorrow."

"But…" Muse looked between Shimmer and Anu before dipping her head. "Very well. I will speak with you in the morning." With that, she headed into the cave, leaving Shimmer alone with Anu.

The lucario gave her a pat on the head, then turned toward the cave as well.

Shimmer headed to the entrance a moment later, sitting so that she faced the moonlight flooding inside. Alone her thoughts raced.

Vale's lie bothered her. She wasn't surprised by Umbra's involvement; she and Muse had suspected foul play from the mawile for some time. But why was Vale covering for her? Did her father know about this? What about Jaques and Lotte? They couldn't. They would have done something to stop it, right?

And then, more personally, there was Toshi. She knew Anu had a point, but she couldn't shake the feeling that maybe… just maybe… his reaction was something that had been a long time coming. She knew he was sometimes uncomfortable around her, but she'd convinced herself it was something he'd get used to.

Sighing, she pulled her knees to her chest and stared at the stars above.

Oh, Regigigas. Why is this happening?
 

tomatorade

The great speckled bird
Location
A town at the bottom of the ocean
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. quilava
  2. buizel
Sooo I ended up reading a bit more than last time. Past chapter eight even but I'll be keeping my review right up to eight because that felt like a decent resting point. Also going to back to ye olde review structure for efficiency sake--I have less to say about each chapter than the individual elements.

Us VS Them

PMD be PMD and thus must have some consideration for feral/civil pokemon. This take in particular is closest to the Once a Thief/Fledglings model, I think, which is neither here nor there. What interests me in comparing the two is the level of dysfunctionality between the societies. You have a kinda third thing going on with the tribes, too, which adds an extra level to the situation.

Back to the point, there's like a frictionality between everyone that tells me this society will one day collapse into rubble lol. I'm thinking specifically of the big brawl in the dungeon, where one side talks about some sort of pact, the other side talks about village rules and it's clear nobody really cares about what the other side is saying. Or even the first confrontation with the fletchinder. I mean, I want to sympathise with them like Bruxi was but ehh... they kinda seemed like they wanted the fight tbh. Fucked up to steal their ball though, Haru.

It's not a take I've ever thought about before expanding my reading list, but suddenly I have a lot of thoughts. Mostly about how everyone kinda sucks. There's obviously something more going on between Umbra and Nip that I cannot currently comment on. I have some thoughts about the society they come from, but they're little seeds right now for sure. And the general untrustworthiness makes it difficult to tell who's telling the truth. That said, Nip cannot be trusted for obvious reasons.

The wilders on the other hand remind me of those off-the-grid-lifestylers. A little removed from society but maybe not as much as they pretend to be. They have safe zones, after all, and mimic the town in that way--I have to believe they have a similar problem of carnivores struggling to live with herbivores although maybe we won't see so much of that.

And the town is... a town. idk. Johrlo's a little freak, but his motivations are not so clear beyond general politician behaviour so there's not much to say yet.

It's a perfect time to lead into characters, anyway.

My New Friends :)

Over the course of these chapters we get a nice, meaty slice of characters, so lets just jump right in.

Haru

Grumpy :(. She continues on much the same path as before, although with bigger decisions she gets to be a... what to call it, voice of reason? Maybe not. I don't always think she's the most reasonable one, but she always seems to be pushback to other pokemon's ideas. This makes her interesting in some ways--she's strange for a PMD protag, actually, something I only realised here. Normally the grumpy ones are a bit more cartoon-grumpy, if that makes sense. A character born from circumstance and sad backstory stuff rather than philosophy, but Haru is purely pragmatic. Overall, I think I like her. If we continue at the same pace she could get a little irritating, maybe, but that hasn't happened yet.

Toshi

Did we get him in the first three chapters? Idk. Well it's unfortunate that he's a bit of a doormat, specifically to Shimmer, and especially because he doesn't seem all that thrilled to marry her lol. it's almost like he's perfectly designed to be her foil hmmmmm.... Beyond that, it's interesting that he has more of a sense of adventure than Haru. He's a bit like the average PMD partner in that way, shy but yearning for something greater. I also like the tag team beaver moves he has with Haru. Strong sibling vibes, those two. Beyond that, it's a little hard for me to picture his interactions with anyone outside Haru or Shimmer. It's neither here nor there, we're only eight chapters in, after all.

Shimmer

A lot less than I thought she'd be. I might chalk this up to all these character moments being filtered through mosty action-packed chapters, but she still had some interactions with Toshi. They were about what I expected but less frequent, which was a good balance, I think. It also helps that she's just... like that. Very airy. Very chill kinda princess vibe. She does not fit with Johrlo at all lol, just the most obvious adopted child off all time and yet... not? Somehow? Anyway, I feel sorry for the inevitable fallout of her father being a little freaky little weirdo. She seems like she's a bit of a daddy's girl.

Nip

My dude is not okay. I kinda get it, but he's also the character I have the most problems with. You spend a lot of time on his consideration to steal the egg, but it never quite makes sense for me. He's pretty explicit knowing that he's doing a terrible thing and knowing that he could probably rob the meat store instead, but he just doesn't do that. Unless I'm missing sometihng, his reasoning is that he's leaving anyways, so why not. I just feels like it needs a bit more. Maybe he learns that the meat shop is more heavily guarded or something. Maybe he fears the owner for some reason. Maybe he tries there but is unable. Maybe He senses Umbra and has to hit the closest store. idk, I could be missing something but it never quite came together.

Muse

Muse is the one I have least to say about. She chill. Sorta there. Her premonitions are an interesting worldbuilding detail for the absol line that I like a lot, And she provides the other voice of reason beside Haru while still often disagreeing which is interesting. I feel like I'm waiting for some big backstory reveal from her for some reason. Could just be because she's an absol tho tbh.

Umbra

I want to dislike her but she brings a lot to the story lol. I think she just isn't my archetype tbh, kinda scrappy and sttuborn. A little frustrating. She's sterner than I expected which is maybe better than a wacky evil guy. I think I'm neutral on personality overall.

Buuut she brings some welcome conflict. I especially like that she's presented as the strongest pokemon in town. Every time she interacts with the main group there's an underlying tension knowing one pokemon won't be able to take her alone--unlike Nip, who's about on the same level. She's a little arrogant so it's uncertain exactly how strong she is, but moreso than the main gang at least. She also brings an entirely opposing viewpoint to everyone else in the fic. She works briefly with Johrlo but true to her wildcard nature, I doubt that's a long term partnership. She's also fun in tha Nip is obviously not going to be dying anytime soon so I'm wondering how she'll shift her goals or escalate them as the story goes on.

Side booooooooooys

Like I said, Johrlo's a weirdy freaky little freak.

Bruxi was great. She has a big scary grin, a multiple-choice backstory and lives in a society so she's actually the joker now. I like that her and the birdy boys are kinda exasperated with he townies when talking to Nip, then when he reveals his crimes are all like 'yoooo wtf you say dawg?'

Anu and Whisper don't have a huge presence but there's a hidden restraint that I like a lot and hope to see more of.

Most others blended into the background a little bit. There's some interesting tidbits I'm keeping in mind, but not enough to comment on yet.

Plot stuff

Unfortunately, I think this is where I have the most issues.

First, I just don't have much investment in the egg theft after Nip's decision comes to pass. The dungeoneering is exciting and I like the worldbuilding and character moments that come with it, but it doesn't feel like the motives have the weight they should. It's more like a thought excercise than I think it should be--I want to feel bad about Nip's egg theft and the moral quandary here, but I'm a bit too removed. We don't really get to know Anu and Whisper, for one, but our viewpoint characters are also fairly removed from the the incident and not as appalled as I thought they might be. They still have room for banter and imagining the best side of Nip for some reason (at least for Toshi).

Second, it's a little hard to see where the story is going at this point. I mean, I know we'll have some sort of judgement and more conflict with Umbra, but none of that leads into anything else at the moment. I think my problem is partly the prologue setting up a lot to do with religion and religious difference and that sort of spooky end line, but not much has materialised yet. Religion in particular is taking a backseat at the moment. The other half of this is that the conflict is actually fairly simple so far. Johrlo might have greater plans but right now he's just a little nasty boy and I don't get much sense of his motivations beyond that. Umbra is better, but without much knowledge of her history with Nip it's hard to say what's going to happen with her.

The ultimate root of all this might just be the slower pace. It's good for some things--character and worldbuilding in particular-- but I don't know if I've reached a point where I can confidently say what this story is about, if that makes any sense.

Beyond that, I think my favourite moment was the final big brawl in the dungeon. We get some great character moments from Nip, likely at his lowest point here, and Haru is finally sick of this shit. Most of all, it's a great leadup to what might happen next. Nobody really gets what they want here. it's a worst-case scenario beyond Nip just escaping. Very juicy, can't wait for the trial.

Anyways, this was a lot of fun. I plan to return sometime in the future.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Heya, I see that you bumped PWCH lately, and with Review Event going on on PMDiner, I figured that now was as good of a time as any to jump back into the story and try to stay caught up with…

Chapter 26

Everything ached.

Though the oran berries had alleviated the worst of Nip's pain, the evening's walk flared his bruises and scratches and burns all over again. Exhaustion made his feet drag across the dusty ground. As the evening passed, the vegetation around them thinned, a sign of their elevation. But the high slope to their left made it clear there was still a long way to the peak.

Nip: "Is this really necessary right now-?"
:sevidazed:

Everyone Else Minus Haru:
Image


All the while, he tried to remain alert, on the lookout for any opportunity to make a break for it. But exhaustion made it harder, a fact he was unfortunately all too familiar with.

Now, sometime after dark, his captors finally elected to stop and camp for the night. The strange zoroark scurried off and disappeared into a nearby copse, returning shortly thereafter with an armful of wood. She dropped them on the grassy path and set to work digging a small pit. Then she arranged the wood inside, stepping out of the way to let the charizard start a fire after she had finished.

Nip: "Wait, but that's a good thing! Sneasel are supposed to be nocturnal by persuasion, so-"
Susana: "I'm right here, you know!"
:absus:


All the while that… Gorochu — or whatever Topaz called himself — watched over both Nip and Haru, leering with undisguised malice. Across the clearing, Umbra, too, stared at Nip, eyes narrow and mouth set in a thin line. And why would she hide her disdain? She had no reason to. His captors were basically on her side, and Haru was as much a prisoner as he.

Nip: "You townsfolk really are painfully naive to the point of lacking a survival instinct, you know that? Why on earth did you ever trust this-?" >_>;
Haru: "Oi, can we not get into this right now?! And what on earth did I ever do to deserve this anyways?!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:

Topaz: "One, you know too much right now. Two, one of your worthless hamlet's guards literally threatened to kill us and have our bodies butchered for meat, so excuse me if I'm not losing sleep from watching you squirm right now." >:(
Haru: "Wait, whaaaa...?"
:grohno~2:


Nip swallowed thickly, ear lying flat as he averted his gaze. If Umbra had her way, she'd find a way to kill him in the night. He was afraid to sleep. He was afraid that if he did, he'd never wake up. Or would she want him awake to feel his death? He wouldn't put it past her.

To his side, Haru sank to the ground. He snapped out of his anxious trance, focusing on the bidoof instead. She looked as tired as he felt, eyes drooping shut. He wanted nothing more than to drop on the ground and rest too. But he needed to stay vigilant, a point that felt all the more important when the zoroark approached them.

I honestly am a bit surprised that Susana isn't taking over babysitting duties given that you'd think her Illusion abilities would help a lot for thwarting attempted escapes, but I suppose that's a bit too much of an opportunity cost considering how she needs to otherwise work as the team leader.

"We need a way to keep our… guests from wandering off," Susana mumbled, just loud enough that he could hear. Then she barked, "Topaz! Help me dig a pit." She jabbed a paw at the Gorochu. "Skorch, I want you on first watch tonight."

Skorch: "... Wait, but aren't those two literally species that are capable of learning Dig, Susana?" .-.
Susana: "Oh come on, what are the odds that either of those two got tutored that move in a dinky little hamlet like that? And that's the point of keeping watch over them." >_>;

Grunting an affirmation, Topaz raced to her side and started scooping out pawfuls of dirt, creating a neat little mound. A moment later, Susana joined in, deepening the hole while he widened, until they'd formed a hole about twice as deep as Nip was tall, just wide enough for himself and Haru to lie down inside.

Nip: "You know that it'd be trivial for me to jump up and clamber over the edge of that thing, right?"
Susana: "And you know that it'd be trivial for any of us in the party to kill you if you tried, right? (Even if in retrospect, I suppose it'd have been nice to have something to make a grate for the extra security.)"
:zoroare_u_srs:


Topaz dusted off his paws, then scurried over to nudge Haru back to her paws. Then he gave Nip a rough shove, nearly knocking him over as he drove the two of them to the edge of the pit.

Nip hated this. What if they buried him alive? Would he be able to fight back? But he hopped in on his own, keen not to fall and injure himself further. Heartbeats later, however, a heavy weight thumped on top of him, driving the breath from his lungs. He gasped for air, panicking as he tried to struggle free, toe-claws failing to find purchase in the loamy soil.

Whelp, I suppose that's one way to tell that Nip never learned Dig, since otherwise he'd probably be a bit less worried about being buried alive.

After a moment, the dazed Haru finally managed to drag herself to the side, freeing him. She mumbled something under her breath that he didn't quite catch.

Nip struggled to sit up with bound arms. Before he could do anything else, he heard a rustling, then the light above dimmed. Glancing up, he saw a tangle of branches blocking off the exit, their leaves illuminated by firelight.

From above, Topaz's voice drifted. "Don't waste our jerky on him. Our supplies are too limited to bother. Besides, it's not like we're going to keep him alive for that long, right?"

Topaz, I get that even before factoring in any common prejudices from the corner of the world you hail from that you're probably still pissed over Vale threatening to turn your team into fresh stock for Mandi and that it's affecting your outlook at the moment, but you are aware that just openly bringing up "yeah, you're gonna die" to one of your captives is going to incentivize him to do something stupid like try to escape even if he sees a 1% chance of success, right? ^^;

Susana's voice drifted from further off, and Nip was only able to catch snippets. Words like trust, and soon.

They're talking about me,
Nip thought. Resigned and exhausted, he slumped against one of the walls. A heartbeat later, the branches shifted. Something hard bonked him on the head, then rolled to a stop in front of him. An apple. He was half-convinced they were hitting him on purpose.

I see that Susana and her team were taught the hidden art of wielding Apples as Gravlerock substitutes. :V

Nip sighed, using his foot to drag the apple closer before leaning forward to grab the apple's stem in his teeth. If he had to eat fruit to have energy for tomorrow, he'd do it.

He could make out the shape of Haru — a paler blotch against the dark dirt — tearing into her fruit. A flash of her teeth in the moonlight gave him an idea.

"Haru," he whispered, "could you unbind my arms? Either by cutting the rope with your teeth, or tugging the knot loose?"

The bidoof looked up, a pair of beady eyes glistening at him in the darkness. "Why?"

Nip: "Because those teeth can go through wood and this is one of the few moments where you can do it without being spotted and both of us dying horribly? Seriously, how do you expect either of us to make it out of this pit if we can't grab the ledge?" >_>;

Because it would make things easier? Because my arms hurt from being stuck like this for so long? Because my wrists feel raw with pain? He answered, "So I don't have to struggle to eat my food. …You… you can put them back when we're done if you just pull them free. Best not to let them get any ideas that we're working together."

Something flashed in Haru's expression. "Don't talk about that," she hissed. "There may be prying ears. Or minds."

Nip: "Not a problem for me since I'm a Dark-type, just saying."
:gardeshrug~1:


"Prying…" His thoughts flashed to the abnormal girafarig — Susana hadn't bothered putting their disguises back up after leaving the old shrine — and realization hit him like a geopebble. As a pokemon with dark elemental affinity, his mind was protected from most psychics, impenetrable. But Haru's wasn't.

I mean, you could always bait Haru into getting mad enough to try and bite you unprompted to catch your captors off-guard, but that feels like she'd go for something other than your bindings there. ^^;

"Fine, fine," he said, forcing his fur to lie flat. They may not be able to read his mind, but they'd be able to smell his fear. "But can you at least get my bindings so I can eat?"

Haru hesitated a moment longer, then took a deep breath and murmured, "Okay. I'll loosen it, but just temporarily. If I undo it entirely, they'll know something's up."

Though wait, is anyone watching over them right now? Or has Topaz pulled the "meh, they're three feet away, I can handle them" card? Since you'd think that leaving them completely unobserved would be a risky endeavor on Susana and the gang's part unless they have some sort of bell that will go off if either try to jump out of the not terribly deep pit.

Nip shifted so that he was on his knees with his back to Haru, allowing her better access to his arms. Her grabby little paws and teeth tugged at the knots, pulling his arms this way and that. Fur brushed up against his, and he felt her cold nose touch a particularly tender spot. Then the ropes slackened, and he was able to pull his arms free.

Leaving his bindings in a position where he could easily slip them back on, he turned back to Haru, rolling his shoulders and rubbing at his wrists where the ropes had irritated his skin. [ ]

"Thank you," he mumbled, reaching down to spear the apple on one paw.

An optional thing, but part of me wonders if it might make sense to show off a bit of Nip's thought process regarding Haru at the moment, especially if it's changed at all since they decided to team up last chapter.

Though huh. I didn't consider the possibility of Sneasel skewering their food with their claws, but I suppose they are long and sharp enough that it'd be in the realm of possibility.

His gaze flitted to the branches blocking the exit. "If you can handle it, I think it would be helpful to sleep in turns tonight."

Haru took another bit of her apple, chewing it slowly before she replied. "In case someone out there gets any… ideas?"

"Yes. I don't trust them to keep their word."

Nip: "Especially not Umbra, since... yeah, she's been trying to kill me for a while now."
:FearfulMeowth:


The bidoof paused, shivering and taking a shuddering breath. "Y…yeah. I think you're right. I can take first shift if you'd like."

"I would appreciate it," Nip admitted. "I'll try to get some shut-eye as soon as I'm done eating."

Haru: "Wait, but I thought from you bringing this topic up that you were going to-"
:uhhh:

Nip: "Keep it down! I'm trying to sleep here!"
:GrumpNip:


"Useless!"

Umbra's screeching snapped Nip out of his stupor. He climbed to his feet, staring in the direction the raticate had disappeared. His fur pricked with frustration. If Umbra had driven it in the right direction in the first place, he could have ambushed it. Instead, he'd been forced to give chase, tripping over the dense undergrowth. Now it was too far away.

Ah yes, having war flashbacks in your dreams of past spousal abuse. I'm a bit curious as to how often Nip had these since going on the run from his tribe, since... uh... he didn't exactly read as having had many opportunities to not constantly be under stress and intense worry about his immediate survival. ^^;

Dusting his fur off, he turned to face Umbra with an agitated expression.

Big mistake.

The mawile swung her second jaw at him, sending him sprawling. She stood over him, eyes narrowed in a dangerous squint.

His heart raced, panicked eyes darting between Umbra's face and her jaws. Her expression was unreadable, but that was perhaps more terrifying than blatant anger.

I'm now morbidly curious as to how Vale x Umbra would go as a proper pairing now considering how that's how Umbra deals with her other halves when crabby.
:copyber:


"Can you not do anything right?" Umbra said in a dangerously quiet tone. "Now the tribe will go hungry because of your incompetence."

"Y-you drove it the wrong way," Nip stuttered, scrambling as he tried to back away and get to his feet. He knew it was dangerous, but he had to push back against this. "I couldn't keep up!"

"Are you suggesting this is my fault?" The familiar pink flashes of fairy energy sparkled at her fingertips and cascaded to the ground.

Nip: "Yes- No? M-Maybe? I don't know!"
:eltyscared:

Umbra: "If the next words out of your mouth are 'can you repeat the question', so help me, I'll Fairy Wind you into next week!"
:hisssssss:


"N-not on purpose!" Nip raised his claws to protect his face, just in time to block the brunt of a strike. The spark popped against his arm in blinding flashes and burned, eating away at his will to fight back. With a quiet cry, he curled inward, only to be knocked over again with a burning kick.

"Look at you, you pathetic lump," Umbra said in a sickly sweet voice. Then it shifted to a growl. "You would not want the tribe to starve, would you? Don't bother coming home until you've got more than twice that raticate's weight in food."

Yeah, see, I knew that there was a reason why seeing Umbra get outgambited by Jhorlo like 15 chapters ago felt cathartic. She did stuff like this a lot to get her way in her tribe, huh?

He only whined in response.

Footsteps, light over the crunching undergrowth, faded away. Some time passed before Nip finally uncurled, breath hitching. He was alone again.

Or was he?

His ear twitched as a gust of wind rattled the branches high above, bringing with them whispers.

Nip: "H-Hello? Wh-Who's there?"

Did you notice Nip limping today?

Umbra says he tripped over a root while hunting. How clumsy can you get?

How did he manage to pass the hunter's test with slip-ups like that?

He is a curse on our tribe.
The elders never should have taken his egg.

Outsider. Outsider. Outsider.

Well then, especially that second-to-last line. I think that I'm starting to understand why Nip snapped and did the Nippening in his tribe in the first place, since this seems like it'd wear just about anyone and their outlook down fast enough to the point where one would start to find themselves rationalizing the unthinkable.

The trees twisted and contorted, roots slithering through the undergrowth to surround him like the bars of a cell. He scrambled, squeezing between them, only for new, thorny brambles to intertwine and dig into his fur.

A thick fog rolled in as he struggled to keep his breathing under control, breath visible in the cold. With it came the eyes. Watching him. Staring. Glaring. Judging.

Nip pressed himself against the thorny roots, eyes wild and frost billowing out of the sides of his mouth.

"Stop!" He pleaded. "Go away!"

Oh, it's another nightmare sequence, kinda like that one in Chapter 5(?) or whatever it was. I have to wonder what's causing them, since they seem to be very particular about the visual motifs that they have in them.

The fog closed in, roots tearing through the ground around him. The whispers persisted.

Nip.

Nip.


"Nip!"

Cue the
:AAAAAA:
wakeup in 3... 2...

Something was shaking him. Nip startled awake, fur bristling, to near-total darkness. A thin sliver of moonlight dappled his prison through the branches, revealing the shape of a familiar bidoof sitting over him. Her eyes flashed in the dim light.

"Haru…?" Nip's tone came out groggy as he blinked the sleep from his eyes. "What…?"

"You were dreaming," Haru answered quietly. "You were thrashing and mewling in your sleep."

Nip: "On bare dirt with no cushioning? Boy, I really must have been tired from the forced march up here." .-.

Nip's fur burned hot with embarrassment. "Oh. Sorry," he mumbled. "Don't worry about it. Just a nightmare about…" Did he dare say it? What point was there in hiding things now? "About my tribe."

Haru sat back. "About… what happened when you left? Or… something else?" Nip suspected she was trying to ask about his attack on the nursery, but with all the tact of a rampaging tauros. He was too tired to care.

Ohhh boy, I'm sure that Haru's going to love hearing about this one.
:copyka:


"In… a way," he answered with a sigh. "More the… events leading to it. The fights. The manipulation. The isolation." Why was he bothering to explain himself now? It wasn't like it would change Haru's mind. Her stubborn behavior had made that exceedingly clear. But… if he was being honest, he wasn't sure he wanted to change her mind. Not anymore.

The bidoof's expression was unreadable. "You… hurt a lot of pokemon," she mumbled. "Both here and there."

Nip: "I... have a tendency to act before I think? Since in retrospect, if I knew your village had a Blissey, I'd probably have just stolen one of her eggs instead."
:fearfullaugh~1:

Haru: "His. And I don't know, Nip. I'm not exactly 'Ms. Think Before Doing Things' in this story but I don't have a bodycount to my name."
:typhNOsion:

Narrator: "Not yet, anyways."
Haru: "Hey! What is that supposed to mean?!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:


"I know," Nip replied, drooping, "but when you've spent cycle upon cycle of your life beaten down again and again, wallowing in misery with no way out but…" he trailed off, wincing.

"It warps your perception, Haru. It influences you. Makes you want to lash out."

"But it doesn't make it right." Haru said. "It doesn't fix what already happened."

Nip: "Haru, the Pokémon in my tribe literally have no agency in their lives from hatching! Look, it sounded more reasonable at the time than you'd think!"
:grohno~2:

Haru: "Okay, first off, that's an inference the writer of these gags is making and not confirmed. Second off, how on earth would lacking agency in one's life possibly justify... that?"
:absus:


"No," Nip conceded. "It doesn't. You have to live with the consequences. But that's just it. Live. When you die, only Yveltal is left to judge you. It… that prospect is terrifying. Especially after… what we saw here in the village." He didn't say Celebi's name, but he thought of the scatterbrained god all the same. "That would be the easy route, to embrace death without fighting anymore."

It was a coward's way of thinking. His tribe taught him to fight for his life but to face death with dignity. But what dignity was there in laying over and dying because others thought you should?

Umbra: "The dignity of knowing when you're beaten and not dragging things out like mortally wounded prey?"
:eltywtf:

Nip: "Go away. You're not even supposed to be awake in this scene right now!" >_>;

Haru was silent for a long time. Nip felt his stomach flip as he settled down again, closing his eyes. Why wasn't she saying anything?

"I… think I can understand that."

Nip peeked an eye open. The bidoof was tracing a pattern in the dirt, refusing to look at him. "When I was pretty young, before Toshi was even born, there was a horrible drought. Crops failed. We had to travel to other towns to get enough food. It came at the worst possible time, when we were trying to remain an independent settlement under mounting pressure. I don't remember that part, but I remember the hunger.

Image


I mean, I know the stories about the sorts of messed-up things that happen in famines due to desperation. And with a story where the Meat Problem is as prominent in the story as this one...
:uhhh:


"Both of Muse's parents, Shimmer's mom, and my grandfather made a journey up here, beyond the shrine and up towards the peak, in hopes of finding Regigigas. In hopes that, perhaps, he could fix things." She laughed bitterly. "Only my grandfather made it back down, and he succumbed to his injuries within a day of his return, nothing to show for their trouble. To make matters worse, the drought broke within a moon. Times were still hard, but not for much longer. All that suffering… all for nothing."

So I take it that the more religious members of the town rationalized things away the complete opposite direction and figured that Regigigas intervened after the fact to break the drought because he was moved but had Slow Start or something like that? Since that does feel like the most on-brand thing for a Regigigas ever.

Silence. Nip broke it moments later. "Is… this why you hate reliance on gods?"

"It wasn't the sole cause," Haru answered, "but it was the start."

Nip: "Wait, the start? What on earth happened afterwards?" .-.

Everything about Haru's behavior suddenly made sense. Nip considered what to say next, or whether he should say anything at all, but finally took a deep breath.

"I can understand where you're coming from, as tough as that may be to swallow. I… spent my entire kithood trying to be accepted by my kin, all the other pokemon of my tribe. I was born in the tribe, but my egg had been stolen from somewhere else. I… don't know where. No one would tell me.

"I was viewed as an outsider. Underestimated because I was small. Aside from Tempest and one or two other 'mon, I had to struggle every day of my life to be respected as an equal."

I mean, if those eggs that got swept up in the Nippening were also from a similar background as Nip's... yeah, I think that I can start to understand how he wound up talking himself into going through with things.

His tone rose as he struggled to keep his volume in check. "And then I prove myself. I prove that I'm strong and capable of hunting and fighting just as well as anyone else. And what do I get? I get paired with a pokemon who hates who I am so much that she's determined to make my every waking moment miserable. That she's determined to find any way to get rid of me that doesn't get her claws too dirty."

Behind his back, he flexed his re-bound claws. "No one but Tempest ever tried to help." There were others who were sympathetic, but they never lifted a paw. "And as an outsider himself, he had limited influence. Haru, I struggled with the idea that Yveltal would allow me to continue suffering. What good was a god that ignored the pleas of her followers? But when things reached their breaking point… I realized that Yveltal isn't that type of goddess. Yveltal would not hold my paw. If I wanted to escape, I had to take matters into my own paws."

inb4 his epithany turns out to be completely wrong and Yveltal turns out to be a total airhead like Celebi, but as a psychopomp for Nip to just blue screen over how everything he did was meaningless.

Which, I suppose we already saw to an extent after Celebi turned out to be wildly off-base from his tribe's portrayal of him and started to make him doubt that Yveltal was as remembered in his tribe's mythology.

"Despite all that, you still chose to follow her?" Haru asked.

"For me, it provided comfort. Hope. I had to cling to something to survive." He hesitated before adding, "Even if… recent events have made that difficult."

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about that prediction regarding Yveltal. Especially since everyone in this story seems to be wrong about Legendaries in one way or another.

[ ]

He sighed. "Our situations may be different, but their effects were similar. Both left us worse off. Bitter. I… think I understand where your anger comes from now. You're hurting."

Haru shifted uneasily but said nothing. "Sorry," he mumbled, turning to lie back down. "That all probably sounded stupid."

Oh no, just wait until Theran Village becomes a smoking crater due to the series of events Haru put into motion by teaming up with Susana and she winds up realizing it.
:copyber:


Though I kinda wonder if it'd have made sense to add some sort of (non-)reaction from Haru before Nip speaks up again as a "reading the room" moment.

He closed his eyes, but he was too tense to sleep. His mind still dwelled on images of Umbra, on the burn of fairy energy and the bruises she left behind.

Then, to his surprise, he felt something warm press against him. Twisting his head, he could just see Haru lying back to back with him, face turned where he couldn't see.

"Don't think anything of it," she grumbled, stifling a yawn. "But… Maybe you have a point. Sort of. I… I let my feelings cloud my judgment. I have no one to blame but myself for getting into this situation.

Wow. Haru not being judgemental and catty towards Nip for once? The world must be ending. And I suppose considering what the implied goals of Zaid and his followers are, it just might be.

The two lapsed into uneasy silence for several moments, only the sound of their breathing, the crackle of fire, and the distant chatter of nocturnal wildeners providing ambiance.

Finally, Haru found her tongue. "Look. I… I still don't like you. You're rash. You've hurt a lot of pokemon. And you've tried to use your suffering to justify your actions. But if we have any hope of survival, we have to work together."

Ah yes, it's certainly a ship start. Though I can already tell that this is going to wind up aging poorly for Haru within the span of like 6-10 chapters.

It was probably the closest thing he was going to get to an apology. Not that he particularly deserved one, did he? "Thank you." He paused. "Do you want to try sleeping for a bit? I don't think I'll be able to for a while."

The bidoof shifted beside him, yawning. "Sure. Just wake me up sometime before dawn, okay?"

"Of course." Then Nip went silent. Soon enough, he heard quiet snores from Haru.

Nip: "Wow, she really went out quickly. Can't tell if the march really wore us out that badly, or if she's just like that." .-.

Tilting his head, he stared at the flecks of light above their makeshift prison. He closed his eyes, mentally tracing over the spots where he used to dye his fur. He'd stopped bothering when he went on the run. It was too identifying. And before long it had faded. A connection to his tribe and his god, severed.

Yveltal, he prayed. If you have any kindness to spare in your heart, please let us get out alive.

Yveltal:
Image

"Boy, I sure love a nice midnight snack of seeds and souls. What a beautiful night."

The air was thick with exhaustion, worry, and fear, the strength of emotions threatening to overwhelm Shimmer. She focused on blocking out as much as she could.

The sun had set not long ago, forcing them to travel with only an intact luminous orb and a torch for light, and Muse's nose to guide them. Earlier, as the sun was setting, they'd found signs of a struggle, droplets of blood decorating the grass. Muse had picked up Haru's scent, alongside Nip's, Umbra's, and unfamiliar scents she couldn't place. Anu suspected it was the explorers.

Oh, well. This is totally going to end well™️ and not with multiple fatalities when these two sides wind up meeting each other again, I can already tell.

As they'd followed the scent trail up the road, Anu realized they were headed straight for the old shrine. They'd picked up their pace. Now, the shrine entrance loomed ahead, the entrance a dark void in an already dark night.

"They must have lingered here for a while," Muse reported, sniffing at the grass. "I can smell both Nip and Haru here, and it's strong. Haru's scent leads to the cave, while Nip's leads…" She took a few steps forward before raising her head and tasting the air. "It seems to lead directly up the trail." She ran several more body lengths forward. "Haru's scent, and most of the others, rejoin here and continue up the path too."

Whisper sighed. "Then we know she was still okay at this point." Shimmer didn't read her thoughts, but the spike of worry suggested she wasn't completely confident about that.

Whelp, I suppose it's fortunate for the gang that Susana seems to just have a trend of making small but critical oversights / overly hasty decisions, since had she been more creative about putting Pokémon on Skorch and Ravir's backs, she could've potentially thrown Team Theran on one hell of a wild-goose chase when she was given very good reason by Vale to want to be paranoid about being followed.

The hawlucha tilted her head to stare at the crescent moon and stars. "We'll stop here for the night, and start again at the crack of dawn."

"What?" Toshi squeaked. "But Haru's still out there! We can't stop now. What if she's hurt?"

"I know you're worried," Anu began gently as he approached the shrine entrance. His luminous orb did little to dispel the darkness. "But the road ahead is perilous. You've never been there, but there's a forest not too far beyond here that we'd have to cut through. There are territorial wildeners there. And the path becomes untamed and perilous not far beyond that." The conviction with which he spoke was unusual. "We can't risk stumbling about in the dark. This is the safest place we could ask for."

Oh. That forest was where Volt and the rest of Catkin's expedition bit it, huh? Since I can see Whisper's reaction there.

"Anu is right," Whisper agreed, stooping down to be eye-level with Toshi. "He knows this trail better than any living pokemon in the village." Then she stood, following her mate into the darkness.

Reluctantly, Toshi followed, head drooping. Even with her mental blocks up, the waves of anxiety rolling off of him nearly overwhelmed Shimmer. It was kind of charming, in a messed up way, knowing that he cared so much about Haru's safety.

She was worried too, of course. But it didn't do anyone any good to worry like that. Maybe she could cheer him up!

Image


Since... yeah, this kinda seems like a really, really bad time to try to flirt with your crush, Shimmer.

Practically gliding across the dilapidated path, Shimmer caught up with the bidoof. "Aw, cheer up," she said in a sing-song voice. "We'll catch up tomorrow, I'm sure. Then we can all go home and pretend this never happened and you and I can talk about our future plans together and…" Shimmer trailed off. The more she spoke, the more the anxiety waves spiked. With them came other emotions. Negative emotions.

Toshi came to an abrupt stop, spinning to face her. "Shims, I'm not in the mood to humor you."

Yeah, I knew that it was a bad time. But we're just going to casually blow this one-sided ship to smithereens right here and now, huh?

Shimmer faltered, blinking twice. "But I—"

"My sister is in serious danger, and you're making it about yourself!" His voice turned shrill. "Do you even care?"

"Of course I do! I was just—" But Shimmer didn't get a chance to finish her thought. Toshi whirled back around, racing into the cave.

Cue Muse's
:pogsol:
face in the background after realizing that Toshi's removing himself from the running for competing for Shimmer's affections~


Shimmer started to give chase, but a paw on her shoulder held her back. She looked up to see Anu staring down at her, eyes gentle. "Give him some space," he began, walking around and then stooping so that he was eye-level with Shimmer. "He's stressed right now, and needs time to himself."

"I was just trying to cheer him up," Shimmer protested sullenly.

Anu was quiet for a moment. He bit his lip, struggling to start speaking.

"Your heart is in the right place," he began slowly. "But have you considered that you can be… overbearing sometimes, making him feel like he has to go along with you to keep the peace? Toshi has a hard time saying no to people. If he shut you out here, doesn't that suggest that he must be extremely stressed?"

Shimmer: "But I was literally trying to make him feel better! We've got something between us, so surely affection would help lift the mood, right?"
:grohno~2:

Anu: "Er..."
:lucariwhat:

Shimmer: "R-Right?" O_O;
Muse: "Boy, this is going better than expe- I mean, uh... oh no, how terrible." ^^;

Shimmer dropped her gaze, stomach tied in knots. She didn't like where this was going. "I guess, but—"

Anu cut her off. "No buts. Shimmer, you are an incredibly smart and powerful young woman, but you need to learn to take 'no' for an answer. There are a lot of bad things going on right now. Haru is likely in danger. Tempest is severely injured, and both Nip and Umbra are missing. One of our guards might be involved in this mess, too. Who knows how deep this buneary hole goes."

Yeah, that bit in underlined is not going to age well at all whenever Shimmer winds up finding out the awful truth about her dad and the racket he runs.
:copyka2:


Pawsteps sounded behind Shimmer, then she felt a puff of hot breath on her back. She turned her head to see Muse, as unreadable as always.

"Musey?" Shimmer asked hesitantly. "What do you think?"

That she's quietly happy that Muse x Shimmer is now transparently on the table once this all dies down? :V

Unease briefly flitted across the absol's face before she took a deep breath, relaxed, and leaned down to bump her forehead against Shimmer's. "I… think Anu's words are wise. Give Toshi some time. When we get back, let him have an honest conversation with you."

Okay Muse, you can't fool me there. >:V

Though I suppose that it only makes sense that Muse would have issues telling Shimmer 'no' given that her job is basically to be her babysitter and help make her wishes attainable when they're not completely suicidal.

Shimmer didn't like that answer. What if… What if Toshi was really upset and never wanted to see her again? What if she messed up so spectacularly that she couldn't fix things? What if…

What if he didn't actually like her?

Toshi: "Why is this just occurring to you right now?! And seriously, can't this wait until after we find Haru and Nip?!" >.<
Shimmer: "B-But I- I just-"
:SphealCry:


Muse nudged her, nuzzling Shimmer's cheek. "It's going to be okay. No matter what happens, I will be here for you. Right now, let's just focus on finding Haru."

She's fighting so, so hard to fight back that squee, I can already tell /s

Shimmer took a deep breath. Right. Haru. She was what was most important right now. "Okay. Let's just get some rest."

"I'll take first watch," Muse offered. "I'll wake Whisper or Toshi in a while."

Shimmer frowned. "No," she said, putting a hand on the Absol's back. "Let me. You're the best tracker. We need you at your best tomorrow."

"But…" Muse looked between Shimmer and Anu before dipping her head. "Very well. I will speak with you in the morning." With that, she headed into the cave, leaving Shimmer alone with Anu.

Shimmer: "Well, uh... this is awkward and distressing right now. Say, uh, Anu. Y-You're able to read emotions, right? Can you check on Toshi-kins to see whether or not he really-?"
:grohno~2:

Anu: "Shimmer!"
:tessANGRY:

Shimmer: "Right. Bad time for this..."

The lucario gave her a pat on the head, then turned toward the cave as well.

Shimmer headed to the entrance a moment later, sitting so that she faced the moonlight flooding inside. Alone her thoughts raced.

Vale's lie bothered her. She wasn't surprised by Umbra's involvement; she and Muse had suspected foul play from the mawile for some time. But why was Vale covering for her? Did her father know about this? What about Jaques and Lotte? They couldn't. They would have done something to stop it, right?

Image


I mean, if they had known specifically of what Umbra and Vale were up to, they'd probably have nixed it, but... yeah. You're going to have a lot of pedestals broken in the not-too-distant future, Shimmer.

And then, more personally, there was Toshi. She knew Anu had a point, but she couldn't shake the feeling that maybe… just maybe… his reaction was something that had been a long time coming. She knew he was sometimes uncomfortable around her, but she'd convinced herself it was something he'd get used to.

Sighing, she pulled her knees to her chest and stared at the stars above.

Oh, Regigigas. Why is this happening?

Because we're headed into the part of PWCH where everything comes crashing down so that way whichever of you all are still standing won't think twice about going on a journey wandering the earth trying to stop the main antagonists of the story?
:gardeshrug~1:


Random Wildener: "Also, because your town's run by evil two-faces casually breaking the rules they claim to live by and they were going to get theirs eventually."

I mean, it's taken a while to get here time-wise, but we did know it was coming based on what's been teased about the intended direction of this story.

Alright, onto the customary recap:

So I take it that this chapter was a bit on the transitional side just moving the proverbial pieces into place for when things start really blowing up. Or I suppose given the established hints of where things are going to go for Theran, an explosive chain reaction that just results in things spiraling deeper and deeper out of control. To that end, I think that it does things pretty well. Nip and Haru finally are able to empathize with each other on some bare level, Shimmer gets her first indication that what she assumes about how her life is isn't all that it seems, and a lot of very
:uhhh:
shoes waiting to drop are placed on the ledge for what feels like might be the last bit of normalcy for PWCH's cast as we know them, since... yeah, I will be very surprised if everybody in Whisper's expedition winds up coming back in one piece since there's a massive vibe of "something is about to go horribly, horribly wrong and not everyone's going to make it" that has been growing stronger and stronger for this story for like the last 10 numbered chapters.

I don't have too many things that I had to complain about this chapter. A couple scattered points where I wasn't fully sold on the wording or paragraph formatting, and a couple places where I thought adding a small extension would make things a bit better, but even what's there is really taut and well-written as a chapter.

I suppose we'll see what fate has in store for the cast and for Theran Village in the coming chapters, even if I'm pretty sure that it's nothing good. Though good work @windskull , and it's nice to be caught up with this story again after three months. ^^
 
27: Escape

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
  5. windskull-bidoof
  6. little-guy-windskull
  7. purugly
  8. mawile
  9. manectric
Escape


Morning came far too soon. Dawn light trickled into the makeshift prison, dappling Haru's face. Despite getting relatively decent sleep, exhaustion clung to her bones. She wished she could get some more rest, but the branches shifting overhead indicated otherwise.

Susana's long claws reached into the pit, scooping her up before unceremoniously dropping her beside it. The zoroark leaned in again, dragging out Nip, who hissed and spat at her.

He looked about as good as she felt, though he'd clearly attempted to groom and clean himself in the night. She wished she'd done the same. Her complaints about him grooming in public seemed so far away now. So inconsequential.

Further down the path, the other three explorers gathered together, eating and conversing. Umbra sat beside them, her attention slipping in and out of the conversation as she took opportunities to glare at Nip. Even from a distance, Haru caught some of their chatter.

"How much longer do you think this is going to take?" Remer asked. "I pinged the camp to give our location this morning. Our Lady is requesting a status update."

Skorch puffed a ring of smoke. "Your guess is as good as mine. The stories we found refer to another mystery dungeon. We'll probably have to go all the way to the peak."

"I'll bet we'll get there in no time flat!" Topaz said, jumping to his paws. "Come on, we're the best scouts of the gang."

"You know Our Lady doesn't like referring to our alliance as a gang," Skorch huffed.

"Yeah, well, she's not here!"

Umbra tore off a bite of jerky, chewing. "Do you seriously plan to make me wait that long to get my side of our deal?"

"Susana will decide when your end of the bargain has been fulfilled," Remer replied. "But if you prove your worth, I'm sure it won't be that long."

Umbra let out a low growl, clenching and unclenching her claws. "I will do what I must to get rid of him. I do not care what happens to this village. Once my role is done, I plan to wash my claws of the situation and return home."

Skorch tilted her head. "You don't live here?"

Haru would have listened to more, but an apple bonked her head, shaking her out of her thoughts.

"Hurry up and eat," Susana grunted. "Or don't. No skin off my back. We're leaving soon."

Nip sat beside her, scowling at his own fruit before leaning over to take a bite. With a sigh, Haru gave up on eavesdropping and dug into her own.


The path became dilapidated as they traveled further up the mountain. Grasses and bushes sprouted up in the middle of the otherwise open space. In one spot, the remnants of a landslide forced them to scramble over piles of stone and rotting wood, slowing them down. It felt like they'd barely made any progress by sun high, but Haru already wanted to drop and take a long nap.

They still had a long way to go, the peak visible in the distance. Ahead, the path curved away from the cliff they'd been following, veering into a stretch of woods that sloped gently upwards.

"Susana!" Remer called from the back of the group. "This seems like a relatively sheltered area. Should we stop here for lunch and try to gather more supplies? We may not have another opportunity as good as this."

"I thought we were in a hurry!" Topaz protested. "We brought plenty of supplies. Let's stop for lunch, sure, but we shouldn't waste any more time than we need to."

"Easy, Topaz," Susana said, her tone placating. "You both make good points. We don't know how many days it will take to reach and research the peak, and Our Lady will want updates. But we also cannot afford to run out of food."

The gorochu's cheeks sparked with indignation. "Then why are we wasting our food on them?" He gestured sharply in Haru and Nip's direction. Haru flinched, but Nip remained stoic.

Susana took a deep breath. "I'll concede your point on the sneasel. But we need Haru in good health if she's going to guide us."

But you've made it clear I won't survive this either, Haru thought, involuntarily shivering. Her gaze dropped, staring blankly at the pebbles in front of her, but a nudge from Nip made her look up again.

She glanced at him, confused, but he said nothing. Instead, he stood at attention, ear swiveling, nose twitching, and mouth slightly parted to take in scents. Looking for an opening, maybe?

Raising her head, she sniffed at the air, only to freeze as she picked up a musky scent. Someone else was nearby. A wildener, she suspected. And a big one at that. She tried to think back. Had she smelled this before? It reminded her a bit of ursaring scent, but it wasn't quite right. As she squinted at the tree line, she could just make out gouges in their bark, likely territorial markings.

Nip turned his attention to her and hissed in a low voice, "This could be the opening we need. We need to draw their attention. Get loud. Argue with me, or something."

"What?"

But before she could get clarification, Nip let out a growl and spoke in a loud, disgruntled tone. "Ugh, don't you get how tired I am? I could hardly get any sleep with you snoring all night long."

Well, she had to say something now or this wasn't going to work. Letting indignation color her voice, she replied, "I don't snore!"

"Oh yes, you do. Like a hibernating snorlax. Not to mention how much space you took up splayed out like one."

"Oh my god, shut up." Susana stomped over towards them, making Haru shrink back. She raised a claw as if to strike them. But before they could, Remer called out.

"Susana?" The mutant girafarig's voice quavered. "We're not alone."

Just as he said it, Haru felt the ground tremble. Pebbles jumped and clattered as it lurched, the trees swaying. She yelped, dropping to her belly as she rode out the shock waves of the earthquake.

Before she had time to recover, two massive ursaluna barreled out from the trees, claws glinting in the sunlight.

"Shit! Evasive maneuvers, team!" Susana called over the wildener's threatening roars. "Skorch! In the air. Topaz! Non-electric attacks! Remer! Focus on range! Umbra, do whatever you can to help!"

Then the zoroark launched herself at the nearest ursaluna, whispy tendrils of dark-type energy dripping from her mouth before she let out a vicious snarl.

Haru cowered in place, trembling as the clearing broke out into a flurry of battles. How strong were these explorers, if they were willing to take on not just one, but two angry ursaluna?

A sharp nudge to her side made her flinch, shaking her out of her thoughts. She whipped her head around. Nip stood alert, eyes still on the battle. But when he spoke in a low hiss, he was clearly addressing her.

"This is our chance! They're too distracted fighting for their lives."

Their chance…? Clarity hit Haru like a snorlax. Nip was right. They likely wouldn't get a better opportunity than this. She sprang to her feet, fighting full-body tremors. "R-right. Let's go."

"Head for the trees," Nip said, spinning on his heel. "The undergrowth looked thick. We might be able to lose them." Then he dashed away, head low. Haru raced after him as quickly as she could, left in the dust.

She'd made it halfway to the trees — Nip nearly swallowed by their shadows — when she heard Skorch roar, "Susana! The prisoners!"

Haru didn't dare look back, but she could hear the zoroark's yelp well enough, followed by a loud curse. "Topaz! Stop them!"

Haru stumbled over her paws. She couldn't see Nip anymore. It was just her. Just her in danger. Just her outpaced.

An odd scent hit the back of Haru's throat, almost like the smell of burning. A heartbeat later, before she had a chance to think, a thunderbolt struck. She collapsed, her limbs seizing and convulsing. Instinctively, she tried to let out a terrified squeal, but couldn't.

Then, as suddenly as the pain started, it was over. She slumped, panting, the burning scent still stuck in her throat. Her paws felt like jelly as she tried to stumble forward. But she'd gotten hardly more than a pawful of steps before a heavy weight slammed her from behind, sending her tumbling.

The gorochu's claws dug into her back, drawing blood as his weight forced her to the ground. She screamed and struggled, hind legs churning in the dirt, but couldn't drag herself free.

She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling tears welling. Was this it? Was she going to die here while Nip escaped? Why? Why was this happening? What did she do to deserve this?

Something cold nicked her ear. Topaz grunted, his weight shifting. The pressure on her back lessened. She peeked one eye open.

Nip?

The sneasel was racing towards her, shards of ice accumulating on his legs. The scent of electricity flared in her nostrils again. But before Topaz could release his charge, Nip pounced, striking him in the head with a single, spinning kick that threw him off balance.

Haru scrambled to her feet, staring with wide eyes. Nip… Nip had rescued her.

"Stop staring, idiot," Nip snarled, giving her a shove with his shoulder. "Run."

Shaking herself out of her stupor, Haru dashed towards the trees. Behind her, she heard the sound of another dull strike and a yelp from Topaz. A heartbeat later, Nip dashed past her once again.

The shadows of the trees swallowed him. She dove under the nearest bush, finally daring to take a look back. Topaz clutched at his head, glaring into the bushes. He shook it, then dropped on all fours and dashed toward the trees.

They weren't safe yet. They had to keep moving.

"Stick to the densest undergrowth," Nip hissed from somewhere nearby. "He's bigger. It'll slow him down more than it will us."

That made sense. Haru took a deep breath, pressing her belly against the dirt so that she could shimmy under a tangle of brambles. Thorny stems scraped her pelt, tugging loose strands of fur. But she emerged on the other side of the patch unharmed. The crashing sound of Topaz kept her moving.

She completely lost sight and sound of Nip, but she could still smell him nearby. Silently, she cursed herself for not bringing any battle supplies, though she doubted Susana would have let her keep them.

As she dived under a bush, she felt the ground slope beneath her. Down was good. Down was towards home. Or it would be if she didn't suddenly emerge at a steep drop-off, eye-level with the tops of the trees in front of her. Swirling mist rose around their branches. In spots the air wavered, revealing flickers of dead branches.

Nip emerged to her left, panting. His eyes darted wildly. "A… A mystery dungeon?" he gasped.

Behind them, the crashing came closer. Nip whipped his head around, then he turned to Haru. "We have to chance it."

"What? You want to just go running into a dungeon — a dungeon we have no information on?"

"Have any better ideas?" He didn't wait for a response. Walking to the edge, he stood precariously before taking a seat with his legs dangling over. Then, with a deep breath, he pushed off, half sliding, half falling down the slope. Loose pebbles skittered around him before he lost control and fell, disappearing into the mist.

Haru glanced at the forest behind her. He was right. They had to chance it. She could either enter the mystery dungeon or face Susana's wrath.

She took a single step…

And pitched forward, tumbling down the hill. Head spinning, she had just enough sense to tuck into a ball, rolling out as she bounced off stone and spun through dirt, fog rising around her.

She came to an abrupt stop when she crashed into a snowdrift. Stunned by the sudden cold, it took Haru several heartbeats to uncurl, backing out of it. Powdery snow clung to her back in clumps. She shook it off, thankful for her water-resistant pelt.

Snow crunched behind her. She froze, then whirled around.

It was just Nip, staring at her with wide eyes. "We need to move. If he jumps in now, he'll find us."

Right. Topaz.

Haru turned to get a good look at their surroundings. They were in a small clearing, ringed by holly bushes and tall, gnarled, leafless trees, their branches creating a web overhead. Pale sunlight trickled between them, dampened by dungeon fog. On the far side, the bushes parted, creating an open, winding path broken by the occasional tree. As far as she could tell, it was the only way forward.

She took a few steps, then paused, looking at the tracks she left behind.

Nip followed her gaze. "We'll just have to move quickly. Look for oddities that could suggest a zone shift. Do you know anything about this dungeon?"

"Nothing," Haru replied. "I didn't even know it was here." Maybe Anu did. Maybe Toshi did. Maybe her grandfather would have. But she'd never seen a reason to memorize any dungeons except for ones that might actually matter to the average merchant. A part of her regretted that now.

"I see. Well… hopefully it won't be a long one. I don't suppose you have any food stocks if we're here for a while?"

"Just oran berries," Haru said as they exited the clearing.

"I see," Nip mumbled. "All the more reason to move quickly."

They lapsed into tense silence, trudging through the snow as they pushed deeper into the dungeon. For the most part, it had the typical layout that Haru was used to, with small clearings and winding paths, though these paths were wider than what she was used to. She noticed Nip constantly checking over his shoulder, ear swiveling as he remained vigilant. There was no point in small talk. Only in pushing forward.

Several empty clearings later, they found the entrance to the next zone, a small ring of holly bushes, the trees around them almost forming a cage. A beam of sunlight shone down on the center. Haru and Nip wasted no time in entering the ring, the fog closing in around them, then parting to reveal a new clearing.

"That should be enough distance for now," Haru said, slumping. "Let's rest for a moment."

"This would be a good time to deal with these bonds," Nip said, gesturing with his head to the arms behind his back.

Right. His bindings. Haru felt her heart skip a beat, the smallest seed of doubt in her mind. What if he used this opportunity to make a break for it? What if he ran as soon as they were safe and went on to hurt someone else?

She pushed the thought out of her mind. He just saved her when he could have left her behind. Right now, they both needed to be able to run and fight freely. She could put aside her misgivings.

Taking one of his paws in hers, she pulled him down so that his arms were at mouth level and began gnawing on the rope, crushing and splitting the thick cord of fibers in her jaws. Several tense heartbeats passed as the knot frayed and loosened. And then, all at once, Nip was free.

He wasted no time springing back to his feet, rubbing at his sore wrists. "Thank you. Let's keep moving."

The next zone went by in tense silence. The one after that, as well. Nip finally broke the silence on the fourth.

"Once we find our way out, it would probably be beneficial to keep to the shadows. How well do you know the mountain?"

"This part?" Haru asked. "Not at all. I've never been this high." She glanced at the twisted branches above them. Snow flurries filtered from the foggy sky. "I… believe there's a river that cuts through the mountain a bit off the main path. I could hear it yesterday evening, not long before we made camp. Otherwise, I'm clueless."

Nip sighed. "That may be our best option."

As they entered another empty clearing, he took a quick look around for food or the exit before pointing to a path out. "If we can follow the river, or even swim in it, we may be able to lose them. We could mask our scent."

He had a point. Haru couldn't help but be surprised, even though she knew she shouldn't be. The plan seemed like something a wildener would come up with. Of course, he almost was one. But his logic was sound, and she couldn't come up with any better ideas.

Humming an affirmation, Haru turned her attention back to the sky. It was hard to judge what time of day it was. The sky of a dungeon rarely synced up with the real world. They could have been here a quarter of a day or an entire one, and only her tiredness and hunger would give any indication of which was correct.

Suddenly, Nip put his arm out in front of Haru, forcing her to stop. He held his other paw up to his mouth, gesturing for silence. Then he took a few hesitant steps forward before stopping again.

But the sound of crunching snow continued. A moment later, Haru caught a glimpse of a dark orange pelt racing past.

Topaz was here.

Nip remained still for several heartbeats, then raced ahead. "Come on. We need to hurry. He must be following our tracks."

Haru chased after him as fast as she could, spraying snow behind her. Ahead, the path opened into a clearing. They'd already passed through here once, their paw prints now mingling with Topaz's. Nip wasted no time dashing to the only path they hadn't taken yet, Haru trailing close behind.

They didn't dare talk, afraid that Topaz would hear them, running in tense silence. Only the sound of crunching snow broke the monotony. The twisted, gnarled branches of the trees bared down on them, reminding them that there was no place to go but where the dungeon took them.

Panting, Haru struggled to keep pace. The snow numbed her paws, her hot breath coming out in puffy clouds.

"There," Nip hissed. "There's the next exit."

Sure enough, Haru could see the now-familiar ring of bushes and branches, heralding them to a new zone. Nip waited just outside for her to catch up. Then, together, they stepped into the space.

Every heartbeat they spent with their vision obscured by fog felt like torture; Topaz could catch up at any minute, and they'd not know it until too late. But finally, the fog cleared, revealing a copse of scattered trees and deep snow drifts. A small handful of wildeners were scattered about the field. A few raised their heads to curiously or warily stare at Haru and Nip, but none bothered to approach. And that was just fine, as far as Haru was concerned. The sooner they got out, the better.

"This must be the stable zone," she said, taking a few steps into the snow. "Look for a path winding out of here."

"Like that one?" Nip pointed to their right, past a dozing furret, and to a spot where a trail almost clear of snow disappeared into the mist.

"Exactly like that one," Haru agreed, taking the lead. "Come on!"

The mist swallowed them up, thick enough that Haru couldn't even see her nose, her footsteps muffled to silence. But just as quickly as it engulfed her, it left her standing next to Nip, brown and gold leaves falling around them.

She took a second to orient herself, sniffing at the air. The wind was blowing towards her and into the dungeon. Not good. But the air seemed moist, perhaps a sign of the river. A narrow dirt path weaved through the undergrowth ahead of them, winding through the woods with the occasional dip. Most of the bushes and plants along the side were barren of leaves, picked clean.

"This looks like it might be a sawsbuck path," Haru said. She pointed one paw down the path. "I think there's a good chance we'll find the river if we follow it."

Nip tilted his head. "I'm surprised you recognize it."

Haru scoffed, taking the lead. "The nearest village is more than a day's walk away. We need basic survival skills to travel. Just because I don't live like a wildener doesn't mean I know nothing."

"I didn't intend to say that," Nip growled, shaking his head. He dashed forward, passing Haru. "Come, we cannot afford to waste any time. Topaz could exit any heartbeat now."

Nip was right, Haru silently admitted. There was no time to dawdle. Against the aching protests of her limbs, she broke out into a sprint, twigs whipping at her fur along the edge of the path as it narrowed, widened, and twisted, meandering through the forest.

They traveled without speaking, afraid to alert any prying ears to their presence. Occasionally Nip would stop, sniff at the air, then dash off again.

As time passed, the sound of rushing water grew louder, louder, louder, turning eventually into a roar. Far louder than a river should be. The forest petered out, giving way to grass nearly as tall as Haru.

She stopped and stood on her hind legs, just able to make out the far side of a river. Or the bank, at least, which sharply dropped off at least a couple body lengths above the water. Dropping back onto all fours, she pushed through the grass until she reached the near bank. Nip came to an abrupt stop just behind her, a growl in his throat.

Instead of the gentle, swirling currents they'd hoped for, the water raced past, white and frothy. To their right, the roaring was louder. The sound finally clicked in Haru's mind. A waterfall. They were near a waterfall.

"This… This is no good," she huffed, barely audible over the roar. "I'm not sure even I could swim that…"

Nip watched the swirling water for a moment, then nudged her side. "What if we go downstream? Maybe it'll let up if we get past the fall."

He turned and pushed his way back into the grass, blades parting around him. Haru turned to follow but hardly made it a dozen paces when a shadow suddenly blotted out the sun. Heartbeats later, a blast of fire rained from above, combusting the grass in front of them.

Haru froze, panic seizing her. Nip gave her a shove, shaking her out of it. She turned to race away from the fire.

Only to skid to a stop as more grass burst into flame ahead.

She yelped, turning again, but there was only more fire. "Shit!" On three sides, flame closed in. Behind them, the river rapids roared. They were trapped.

"Do you know any water techniques?" Nip yelped, focusing and trying to form ice shards on his pelt. "We need to cut a path through!"

She didn't. The best she had was rollout, which could get her through the fire fast, but she'd still be putting her body in harm's way.

Before she could try, the shadow swooped by again. Claws dug into the nape of her neck. She squealed and struggled and tried to twist and bite, but the charizardthe way the charizard held her, she couldn't. She could hear Nip hissing and spitting nearby. But her vision was too blurred to locate him, smoke burning her eyes.

Skorch dragged her across the ground and through the fire. Pain blossomed across her side as flames licked at her fur. Then the charizard suddenly let go, sending her tumbling across the ground.

Haru tried climbing to her feet but her legs gave out and she collapsed; she couldn't move. She heard Nip growling and spitting, a pained roar from Skorch, then a dull thud, a sickening snap, and an agonized screech. Grass and smoke blocked her vision. The acrid stench of burning filled her nostrils. Somewhere nearby, she could hear Nip gasping for breath, a pained whine accompanying every exhale.

They'd failed.

She had no clue how long she lay there under the charizard's careful watch, but it was long enough for some of her strength to return. Not enough to run, but enough that she managed to sit up.

The fire had either been put out or burned itself out. She wasn't sure which. But a dark patch of scorched grass still smoldered. The charizard nudged her towards it with one foot. Ashy dirt, still hot but starting to cool, burned her paws. She danced on them, trying to spare her feet as much as possible.

A moment later, Nip was ushered over to the grass, his left arm hanging at an awkward angle and his eyes glazed with pain. He stank of scorched fur and fear. She felt somewhat sorry for him.

Haru looked away, only to squeal in panic. While she'd been preoccupied with him, Susana had emerged from the tree line, the rest of her fake explorers and Umbra accompanying her. Her maw was twisted into a scowl, eyes narrow.

"I see now why you insisted on killing him before we traveled," the zoroark growled, gesturing a paw toward Umbra. "Thanks to these two, we've lost over half a day of travel. And on such a time-sensitive matter."

"Our lady isn't gonna be happy with that," Topaz mumbled, speaking out of the corner of his mouth.

Susana's nostrils flared, a puff of spectral energy bursting from her mane. "Topaz. Stop." She took a deep breath. "You've proven your point, Umbra. These two have outlived their usefulness."

No. Haru shrank in on herself. No. No. No. No. No. She wanted to take a step back. To turn and flee. But she felt rooted to the spot.

The mawile took a step forward, undisguised glee and malice twisting her face. Haru always knew Umbra was dangerous from the moment they first met. But now she could see the side Nip feared. Umbra had no reason to mask it anymore. The only people around her didn't care… or were about to die.

"S… stay back!" Haru squeaked feebly.

But for the moment, Umbra ignored her. Haru wasn't her prize. Instead, she raced towards Nip, knocking him to the ground with a hard strike across the chest. Haru heard a quiet "oomph" as the wind was driven from him.

He writhed on the ground, trying to get back to his paws, but Umbra pinned him with one foot, her second jaw arced towards him. He lashed out with his good arm, but her thick, wiry leg fur kept him from doing any damage.

"Face your death with dignity, coward," Umbra spat. "Or don't. You've had plenty of opportunities to do so, even before fleeing, and yet you still struggle."

Pink sparks of fairy energy swirled around her claws as she raised them, aiming for his throat.

Something whizzed past Haru's ear. The projectile smacked Umbra on the side of the head, knocking her off her feet. Haru blinked as the aura sphere burst apart, eyes wide. A loud yelp from Susana followed. She turned her head towards the source.

In the distance, the zoroark tussled on the ground with an absol, who'd bit down on her arm. Not just any absol — Muse.

And behind her, racing from the tree line, were Shimmer, Toshi, Anu, and Whisper.
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott
Review of Chapter 10

New wheel, same reviews… or something.

Right off the bat, it’s fun getting back to this fic after having enjoyed it a lot before, which already put me in a good mood starting off. Having reread my previous reviews to refresh my mind a bit, I’m liking the hinting at the time travel / cosmic / supernatural elements in here, with Celebi on the verge of jumping into the story. How’s that going to fit into the story, I wonder?

Back in present times, the consequences of the vote on Nip are explored well. Nip’s still doing what amounts to community service, but the villagers that voted to do worse to him aren’t exactly pleased to deal with him. At all. Vale’s in no mood to deal with him, and Nip’s honestly lucky he’s still alive at this point…

…speaking of which, Umbra at the end. Damn. From being such a powerful force to getting tossed around like a volleyball. Turns out that fighting against actually trained Pokemon is a much different experience. You can tell there’s some condescension coming from Jhorlo specifically, with Umbra not (being able to) reading the contract and him laughingly brushing it off. Despite being a ‘good guy’, he doesn’t sound like one at all. It’s expanding upon the themes and conflict of this whole narrative in an interesting way.

Once again, I’m honestly struggling to find anything to criticise or point out. This fic is incredibly well put together! Thanks again for the chapters, and good luck with the rest of the fic.
 

GumPlum

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/Him, They/Them
Edit 12/26/2019: Made some minor tweaks to the final scene based on feedback to try and make it feel more believable.

@NebulaDreams
Nip is definitely a fun character to write since he's so different from the rest of the main cast. As for Twi, I would consider them a case of "teen parroting nasty remarks from their parents," something that comes up again later down the road.



Haha, yeah, most of my chapters end up keeping themselves to the pov of one character, outside of short scenes at the end of a chapter with one exception a few chapters down the road. On the negative side, it ends up limiting the movement of some chapters, but not often. This next chapter is really the last of the "setup" chapters before the plot really starts to kick off, so I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

@Umbramatic
Glad you're enjoying it so far! Most PMD fics I've read tend to use "ferals" to describe pokemon living in the wilderness, but I wanted to do something different and give that idea an in-universe name. It came down to wildeners and wildlings, and wildeners won out in the end.

@Negrek
Thanks once again for pointing out those errors! I'll keep what you pointed out in mind, for when I get around to fixing everything.


In early planning for my fic, mystery dungeons didn't exist in the world, but they were added later when it made sense to add them to the lore and I found a couple of places where they could be plot-relevant, so they ended up coming back. As for Nip's suspicion, you are at least partially correct, though you'll have to wait to learn more.


Even though there's a lot of lore to cover in my world, since I created an original PMD setting, I try really hard to not let things become an info dump and for it to be revealed naturally, so I'm glad you feel like I did well here.

With that said, we're on to chapter 3, which is really the last set up chapter before the plot begins to unfold. Enjoy.



Chapter 3: Customary
“You shouldn't be putting so much stress on your leg, dear. You’re going to worsen your wound.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday! I’m no newborn kit, exposed and mewling for the safety of a nest. I know how to take care of myself.”

Waiting in Lecha’s reception room, Haru was beginning to have second thoughts. Despite having arrived bright and early, it seemed Nip had arisen even earlier, and was causing a heap of trouble for the poor aromatisse doctor.

He still had a limp as he rounded the corner of the hallway into the reception room, sniffing cautiously at the air. Still, he certainly seemed better than he had the day before, his strength starting to return. His fur also looked better, groomed neatly into place with not a single piece of straw sticking to it. And despite the look of discomfort on his face, he seemed determined to stand on his own, removing his paw from the wall as he stepped into the open. Finally, he caught a glimpse of Haru, locking eyes with the smaller pokemon.

“Oh, the bidoof from before. So, you did show up.” His voice was quiet, perhaps a bit surprised.

For a moment, Haru was stunned into silence, disarmed by the blunt response like she had been the day before. She shook her head to clear it. No. She had promised herself now that she would get to know the strange sneasel. If nothing else, she’d do it for the possible fame, to spread her and her family’s name! Resolve set, she took a firm step forward. “Of course I did. I said I’d show you around, and I intend to keep that promise.”

A difficult to read expression crossed his face, but he quickly shook it away. “Fine, I wouldn’t mind checking out the shrine you mentioned at least. And I could use a proper meal. Lecha only offered me vegetables and berries, and told me I needed to speak with a ‘Mandi’ if I wanted anything with meat in it.”

Meat? Haru hesitated. As an herbivore, he always made an effort to avoid Mandi’s shop, and all the unfortunate implications that came with it. The temple as well, though for different reasons. But if she wanted to get on Nip’s good side and learn more about where he came from… “Alright, I guess I can help you with that.”

Lecha finally appeared from the room beyond the hall, a cloth stained with berry juices in her paws. “Are you going to show our guest around town, Haru? Take it slow, would you? I’ve told him he needs to rest his leg, but since he insists on moving around, I suppose I can allow it as long as he stays nearby and rests frequently.”

“You can’t make me stay here if I don’t want to,” Nip argued. Lecha chose not to respond to that.

“Don’t worry, we bidoof aren’t exactly known for our speed,” Haru joked. Her comment seemed to defuse the tension. For now.

She turned to the curtain-shrouded exit, making sure that Nip followed before making her way back into the open air. The sneasel followed close behind, blinking as he adjusted to the mid-morning light. Haru gave him a moment to gather his senses as he made his way out into the open before beginning to walk speaking as she went.

“So, this is Theran Village’s central square. You’ll notice that there are a lot of small vendors around here. Ruffle - that’s the bellossom over there - has a stand where she sells the berries that she and Rosalei grow. The building next to it is a food shop that works with them for supplies. It’s run by a swalot, but you’d be surprised how careful he is about keeping his workspace clean. There’s a slurpuff that sets up shop around here sometimes but… it’s really just a bunch of junk. But she’ll buy some of the weirdest things from you for high prices! Don’t ask where she gets all that money, you won’t get an answer. Let’s see, what else…”

“What about that place over there?”

Nip had paused to point at one of the larger buildings in the square. It was a mishmash of bright colors: pink, blue, and purple. Two pokemon were hanging nearby at the moment: her father and a diggersby. They were both busying themselves, running about with lumber and dirt and metal as prepped for the days work. “Oh, that’s our nursery and daycare. They’ve been working on expanding it. Grombert - that’s the diggersby over there - and my father have been hard at work the last moon or so to get it ready, and they’re almost done. Tor, the blissey that runs it, lives there, along with a couple of orphaned mons that stay there all the time.”

The sneasel scoffed, catching Haru off-guard. “Why would you make your nursery the brightest, most obvious place in town? Wouldn’t that attract trouble?”

“Well…” She began, averting her gaze as she considered his question, and the relatively valid point. But soon, an answer came to her, making her respond in a firm, confident tone. “It makes the kids feel more comfortable, apparently. Tor also really likes the bright colors, not that you would know from the way he talks about it. Besides, it’s safe here, especially in the middle of the village. We only have a few guards, but they take their job very seriously. No wildener would ever dare try to break in here.

His ear twitched, appearing unconvinced. But he dropped the matter. “So, who is this ‘Mandi’ I was told to see.”

“Oh. Right.” Remember what you’re doing this for, Haru. “Her shop is actually a bit of a walk away from here, so, um, if you could follow me, please?” She began walking at a slow gait, making sure that the injured sneasel would be able to keep up. Though… perhaps she was dragging her feet a bit. Until they arrived though, she supposed it would be as good of time as any to learn more about him.

“So, I know it hasn’t been very long yet,” she started, “but what do you think of the village so far?”

“It’s… odd. You have all these… ‘buildings,’ as you call them. Weird dens that seem too big and open to be safe. And they’re so spread out. Why would you do that?”

“I think a lot of pokemon like to have space. And with them being more spread out, it both gives larger ‘mon a way to maneuver and helps keep a fire from spreading, should one of them catch fire.”

“I guess… But why is there no tree coverage? Or brush? I can understand a central clearing for everyone to gather in, but trees and the brush provide cover and protect from danger. Why would you settle somewhere with so little coverage?”

“There’s no trees in the center because we cleared them out and leveled the ground so we can build on it. Same for the brush, although you’ll notice we have a few bushes and trees here and there for decoration. Why? Are things different where you come from?”

“Oh yes. Where I come from, we build and carve our dens out of dirt and stone and bring in brush and moss and other plants to build our nests. The nursery and children’s den are built the same way, but with brambles and thorn bushes protecting the entrance. And we use harvested pelts from our hunts to line our nests and to build more mobile shelter for emergencies.”

Haru came to a sudden stop, stiffening. Nip almost bumped into her. She turned back to look at him incredulously. “I’m sorry, did you say that you hunted other pokemon?”

He blinked a couple times. “Of course. How else would we get the food we need?”

“You… but you don’t need to kill for that.”

The sneasel scoffed. “You are a plant eater, right? I wouldn’t expect you to understand. The gods blessed us with sharp claws and teeth for killing and tearing. We do what we must to survive, just as our prey does. But death is an inevitability for all living beings. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get in Yveltal’s good graces.”

“Who?”

Nip looked taken aback. “Yveltal, the overseer of death and most important pokemon in the land, if you ask me and my kin. Without death, there is no rest, and pokemon would continue to multiply until there was no space left.”

Haru blinked. “Nope, never heard of them. But… maybe I’m not the best mon to ask. If you ask me, I think too many pokemon follow the myths and legends too closely, and don’t think for themselves. Sometimes I wonder if we’d be better off forgetting them.” Nip opened his mouth to say something, but Haru shook her head and continued before he could. “But that’s beside the point. Anu is supposed to be tending to Regigigas’ shrine today, so perhaps you can ask him if he knows more about Yevetal. Or whatever their name was.”

It occurred to Haru that she might be acting like a huge jerk. But she was still in shock, dwelling on the idea of a whole group of pokemon hunting, let alone a society, as opposed to a loosely associated group of wildeners! The idea of anyone hunting down innocent pokemon, and trying to justify it, made her blood boil. There was plenty to go around, right? Mandi’s business proved that, did it not?

Speaking of Mandi’s business…

“Sorry,” she said bluntly, in a tone that suggested that she was not very sorry at all. “Anyways, this is Mandi’s.”

She stopped in front of a small, plain wooden shack. It was old, but still looked to be in good condition other than a worn paint job. Mandi probably had not spent much time worrying about that. What really sat the building apart from the others they had passed on the way, however, was the entrance. Instead of the usual open doorway, or cloth covering at best, the entrance was covered by two separate wooden doors hinged at the top. One was quite big, obviously built for larger customers, while the other one was small and looked to be made with smaller and weaker pokemon in mind. A quick glance back made it clear just how far they had walked; the town square was completely out of sight now, and the forest beyond that was barely a dot on the horizon.

Haru led the way inside. As she pushed her way past the wooden door, the movement set off a bell, prompting a voice to call from inside, “I’ll be with you in just a minute!”

She heard Nip quietly shuffle in behind her. The room they stepped into was surprisingly clean, if mostly empty. There was a counter at the far end with both a tall and short portion, made from carefully carved and polished stone. Above her, she could see a hole cut in the roof that light leaked through; likely an entrance for any flying types that could not easily push one of the doors open. Beyond the counter was another doorway, this one just covered by a cloth like most. There were even a couple sweet-smelling potted plants next to the counter and a couple stools and woven mats. Everything seemed relatively normal for a shop.

Except for the smell.

Even with plants to help mask it, and the curtain to help contain it, Haru could pick up the scent of blood and the stench of death. It made her hair stand on end. Nip, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed rather undisturbed.

Finally, after what felt like forever to the poor bidoof, Mandi emerged from the backroom, thankfully cleaned up.

The bird that waddled inside was nearly four times Haru’s size, her head nearly devoid of feathers with a thick, tan, feathery collar around her neck.

“Ah, Miss Haru!” The mandibuzz said in a cheerful voice. “Never thought I’d see you visiting my little shop. Either you’re here to help that sorry looking sneasel over there, or you’ve suddenly grown a taste for meat. What can I help you with?”

Haru thought it best to ignore the sorry excuse for a light-hearted joke. “I am here to help the sneasel, actually. This is Nip. He’s from some far-off place and is looking for a... meal more to his tastes. We’re hoping you could help him out.”

Mandi seemed to catch on immediately. “Of course, dear heart,” she said in a sing-song tone before turning her attention to the sneasel. “So, what kind of flavor are you in the market for? We have a couple rattata ready to go, just brought ‘em in this morning and already checked them over for disease. If you’re more a fan of the watery taste, I have a remoraid I could sell ya that Vale found a couple days back. Or I have a bit of ponyta flank left. Everything else is still being processed I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I haven’t had fish in forever. I could go for some of the remoraid.” He paused, considering a word that stuck out in her statement. “Er… what do you mean, processed?”

“Ah, you really must have come from somewhere far off. All the meat vendors around here are required to process any bodies they bring in and check with neighboring towns to see if any unfortunate souls are missing, so their bodies can be returned for a proper burial instead of being salvaged. Enforcer’s Union rules.”

“Do you have no way to tell that you aren’t hunting pokemon from neighboring… villages, then?”

“Hunt?” she squawked. “Oh, goodness! Everything we bring in is scavenged. It would be unbecoming at best to hunt others. Every pokemon that’s brought in here died of causes out of our control. They could be of something natural like old age, or something less natural like drowning or being unfortunate enough to cross a territorial wildener’s path.”

“Do they have ways of knowing who belongs to what tribe where you’re from?” Haru asked.

“Of course! Every tribe marks their members with something. Dyeing fur or skin with berry juices are the most common ways, but some of them use more permanent marks, like specific scars or piercings. Hunting down another tribe could start a skirmish; everyone knows better than to do that.”

Haru looked the sneasel over. “So, what’s your mark then?”

“We typically use half-circle markings and occasionally asymmetrical lines.” Nip shifted his weight off of his injured leg. “But, er… mine were washed off during my travels, and I haven’t bothered to reapply them.”

The bidoof mentally stored that information away. “Interesting… but we’re getting sidetracked, sorry.”

“It’s all fine,” Mandi said. “Now, for the next question. Do you just want that dethawed to prepare yourself? Or did you have a specific preparation in mind? I assure you, Zylar is quite skilled in all sorts of preparation techniques. He can do it as a filet or on the bone. He has equipment for grilling, frying, baking… you name it.”

“Why would you cook perfectly good meat?”

“To reduce the risk of contamination, dear. But I assure you, we keep everything frozen so that it lasts longer.”

“Is it really that old?”

“You never know with scavenged meat. Usually, it’s not that old, but we believe in playing things safe.”

For a moment, Nip hesitated. “Fine, fine. Just dethaw it, I guess. And I guess you might as well cut out the bones if you’re going that far.”

The mandibuzz bobbed her head cheerfully a few times. “You got it! I’ll get Zylar on it right away!” With that, the bird turned to shimmy back towards the back room, squawking out an order to whoever Zylar might have been, leaving Haru and Nip in an awkward silence.

Nip watched the doorway that Mandi had disappeared through, and when it became obvious that she would be a while he instead hobbled over to one of the stools, looking it over for a moment before taking a seat himself. Haru followed after, choosing one of the mats.

She was starting to feel rather uncomfortable with the whole situation. Maybe she shouldn’t have offered to give him the tour after all. Without thinking, she mumbled, “How… do you live with yourself?”

The sneasel shot her an unamused glare. Crap. Maybe she should have worded that better. But the words were already coming out of her mouth. “Like… hunting. How do you live with yourself knowing you cut someone’s life short. You’ve cut several lives short, all for the sake of eating when you could have… I don’t know, not done that? At least I’m assuming you’re eating, and not just hunting for sport.”

Nip was silent for several moments, staring down the Bidoof. When he finally responded his tone was cold. “No. Hunting for sport would be cruel, but there is no way that we could have sustained everyone on this ‘scavenging’ concept. Not while competing for territory with rival tribes as well.” He paused to shake his head. “Death is inevitable. And while I agree that killing for sport is wasteful and wrong, taking a life to be able to live is just the way the world works. Just as we hunt other mon to survive, other mon would kill us if it meant they would live.”

She quickly sensed that she would get nowhere with this. So, she opted to drop the subject, turning her head. It was silent again, for a time. Hoping to brighten things up, she asked, “so, what is the climate like where you come from?”

For a moment, he seemed to consider whether he wanted to answer. “Cold,” he finally said. “Well, cold in comparison to here, I mean. Where I come from, snow is not uncommon by this time of year. It was forested, where I lived. Live. To the north, there are mountains. We don’t travel up there - Tempest always warned that the tribe up there was even less receptive to outsiders than us.”

“Hold on, back up please. Who’s Tempest?”

“He was - still is, I suppose - my mentor. A majestic ninetales. He was adopted into our tribe at a young age, orphaned after his father, Snow Weaver, vanished. He never really talked about it, so I did not force the matter. He taught me much of what I know.”

“Including how to hunt?”

The blunt interjection earned Haru another sharp glare. She muttered a quick apology, if only because she had not meant to bring the issue back up.

“If you must know. He taught most of my hunting skills, yes. And most of my battle skills as well. I would consider myself a seasoned fighter, and one of the better in the tribe, thanks to him.”

Thankfully, before she could stick her foot further in her mouth, Mandi returned to the counter, this time followed by a cubone in a cloth apron, carrying a bundle wrapped in wax paper. Haru recoiled when she noticed the bloodstains on the cubone’s apron.

Nip rose from his seat, meeting with the cubone across the short counter.

“Your order,” the cubone said quietly. “It’s ready. Take it.”

“Ah, thanks. Er… what’s your name, again?”

“Zylar.”

“Thank you then, Zylar,” the sneasel said before backing away with the package in his claws, already starting to tear into the paper.

“Pleasure doing business with you two!” Mandi chirped. “Now, about payment… That would be ten poke for the meat, add five for the dethaw, and two for the cut… that’ll be seventeen poke.”

Haru glanced back to the sneasel - who had paused to stare dumbfoundedly at Mandi - as it suddenly occurred to her that he probably had no money. Did they even use poke where he came from? Who knew? With a sigh, she pulled off her satchel. Fortunately, she always carried a little with her when she was around town. She dumped a few of the coins onto the counter, carefully counting out just enough for the meal. A glance back revealed that Nip had already sank his teeth into one of the slices of meat almost ravenously, without even cooking them! How weird. And kind of gross. Very gross, actually, to her.

With a quiet thanks to the shop keep she moved to exit back the way they had come.

Stars, please let the rest of the day go better.

*​

Fortunately for Haru, most of the remainder of her tour went off without a hitch. She had the opportunity to show off some of the other shops, the guards’ hut and yard where the town guard trained and where many of them stayed, and even showed him the sprawling fields of berries and vegetables at the town’s edge. Nip had seemed to be in awe of just how much food they grew there.

But as the sun began to descend from the sky, there were still a few things left to show. Still, she had saved the temple for last, hoping that he might open up more about his home while there.

The two were now on their way up the path towards the temple, Haru leading the way, with Nip trailing a bit behind, his limp more pronounced than it had been in the morning. She paused when he started falling too far behind.

As he finally caught up, she spoke up. “Do you need a break? We can stop for a bit if you need to.”

The sneasel responded with grit teeth and shook his head. “I’m. Fine,” he huffed. He glanced up the street and, noticing a building up ahead, pointed it out.

“Is that. The place?”

Haru turned her head to the building he was pointing at. It was more isolated than most of the village’s huts, and far bigger too. The land around it was surrounded by a carefully placed wooden fence, four uniform horizontal planks making up each section.

“Oh, no that’s not the temple. That’s Mayor Jhorlo’s house.”

“Is this… Mayor Jhorlo one of your village elders?”

“Er… No. He’s just our Mayor.”

“Oh, Mayor is his title. I see. What is a ‘mayor?’”

“He’s sort of like… the guy in charge of making sure everything runs safely and efficiently here,” Haru explained.

“Oh, so he is not an elder, but his function is similar to one. I understand.”

“I… guess? Are these elders something important in your tribe?”

“The tribe’s leadership is made up of the elders,” Nip explained. “Pokemon that have been fortunate to survive into their twilight years, that choose to impart their… wisdom. To the rest of the tribe.”

Haru took a moment to digest that. And to digest the hesitance in his voice. “Are you okay?”

He blinked at her a couple times. “It is nothing important, it’s fine,” he finally said. “Well, I have no need to learn about this mayor’s house. The shrine must be further ahead?”

“O-oh. Of course.” With that, Haru took the lead again, traveling in silence for some time until another building came into view.

This one also stood out from most of the other city architecture. While most of the houses had been built out of wood and clay, and occasionally cobbled together stones, this building was made of slabs of carefully carved stone. It was square in shape, with intricately designed pillars, depicting the stories of Regigigas that she’d heard her whole life. Stories of the titan dragging the continents and islands into place, of him forming the golems. Of the golems taking their place resting in the mountains, protecting Regigigas’ “Tomb,” the shrine supposedly somewhere deep in the peak where they slumbered. Haru could not help but have her doubts.

Nip, on the other hand, seemed entranced by the design. By the stone building and all its art. The two made their way up the ramp leading into the building through a huge open entryway.

The inside was lit with a combination of candles and of the luminescent plant life that many of the villagers used in their home. The building was mostly empty, save for a pair of pokemon. The first was a reserved lucario, a broom in hand, sweeping away dirt and leaves that had managed to blow in through the entrance. The second was a hawlucha, her arms crossed as she spoke quietly with the lucario. She was the first to notice the visiting pair, tilting her head up slightly to signify to the lucario that they were no longer alone. The lucario turned his head to look back towards the duo, his eyes widening slightly in surprise.

“Haru, is that you? I never expected to see you here.”

It seemed like that was the theme of the day. “Good afternoon, Anu, Whisper.” She nodded her head in the direction of both pokemon. “I, um, this is Nip. The sneasel we found the other day. He said he’s on some sort of spiritual journey, so I offered to show him the shrine.”

Only then did Anu seem to notice the sneasel standing beside her. “O-oh, o-of course! Good afternoon, sir.” He paused when the hawlucha, Whisper, interrupted him, mentioning something to him quietly before taking her leave. She brushed her claws against the lucario’s shoulder before she left. Whatever she said, it seemed to fluster Anu.

He turned his attention solely to the sneasel. “A-Anyways. So, tell me, what made you make this journey you’re on. Are you a follower of the great Regigigas? Or perhaps of his titanic creations?”

Nip quietly shook his head. “Not directly. The name Regigigas is… vaguely familiar, though I know little more than that.”

The lucario seemed taken aback for a moment but smiled regardless. “I suppose I should not expect much more from a foreign mon. Every part of our world has their own culture, after all. It’s to be expected that pokemon from other places would have limited information about Regigigas. So, tell me. Who do you follow?”

“My tribe follows the legends of the trio of balance. However, Yveltal is our patron deity. Our neighboring tribes though, the ones we are friendly with, pay tribute more specifically to Zygarde and Xerneas.”

The lucario smiled weakly. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard of them. I would love to hear more about them sometime, but I’m afraid now is not the time, as I need to finish clearing the shrine of debris before the evening patrons come in to pay their respects.”

Now it was the sneasel’s turn to act surprised. “Really? No one down here has heard of them?”

Anu shook his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised. Not even the passerby explorers have ever mentioned them. Where did you say you were from?”

“The northern mountains. On the other side of… I believe your healer called it the Great Misty Canyon?”

The lucario let out a hum. “Oh! That would explain it. Last I heard, the Expedition Society only just started making plans for a permanent outpost on the other side. Information is… quite limited, if they haven’t been there yet. Not many explorers travel north of the canyon.

“Regardless, you are free to stay here for a while, if you would like. We have a small room to your left for visitors that wish to pay their respects to their own deities.” Anu gestured to another large doorway to the side him, leading to another dimly lit room. Haru could make out a handful of candles on a stone slab, as well as a few other items that she couldn’t identify from here.

“I appreciate it, thank you.” With a dip of his head, the sneasel limped past the lucario and into the room.

In hopes of passing the time, Haru turned her attention to Anu, who had returned to sweeping. “So,” she started, “How are things with you and Whisper? I believe your egg should be close to hatching, right?”

The lucario looked up with a surprised expression, then quickly busied himself with sweeping again, a tiny smile on his face. “We were talking about that, actually. Whisper things we have another moon or so to wait. She was heading over to check with Tor when she left.”

Sensing how flustered Anu was, Haru just gave him a quick hum before turning her attention to the display beyond. The main statue on the shrine was of Regigigas. Unlike most everything else, his statue had been molded from bronze. Or at least coated in it. Metal could be a bit hard to come by. And metal-workers were even rarer, so getting the statue built had to have taken a lot of work and money.

A few offerings lay at the feet of the statue. She still had no clue what Anu did with those, but she remembered them disappearing from time to time when her dad used to bring her and Toshi, back when they were younger.

In front of the statue of Regigigas were three smaller statues of his titans, the golems of rock, ice, and steel. Unlike the first statue, these were only made of stone, though they had been painted. Or at least, they had been at one time; much of the paint that had covered them had chipped and weathered away over time, and never been replaced. Anu once told her there used to be more, but their names and appearance had been erased from history, for reasons no one knew.

Her attention turned up to the wall behind the statues. Although there was little light to make them out with, she could see the bits of the paintings of the creation trinity, and the single egg painted in the middle. Of all the gods, those were the only ones she could believe might exist. No other explanation had come up for the creation of mystery dungeons, after all.

Deciding to not dwell on stories and memories that would sour her mood, she began to make her way over to where Nip had gone, to see if he had finished whatever he was doing.

He had not. As she approached the room, she could make out the outline of the sneasel in the dim light. He was sitting with his legs almost crossed, his claws in his lap. She suspected that his eyes were closed, but she could not tell from here. As she got closer, she began to make out bits and pieces of something that he was mumbling.

“Do I disgust you, Yveltal? …I don’t know how much longer I can keep running. Yveltal, if you hold any favor for me still after what I did, let me make it someplace safe.”

Haru backed away slowly. Perhaps it meant little. Perhaps she should not be quick to judge. But something about that sentence rubbed her the wrong way. She forced herself to calm down. It was probably nothing. She hoped.

She waited by the entrance, ruminating on the feelings until the sneasel finally emerged, a hard to read expression on his face.

“Thank you for waiting for me,” he mumbled.

“No… no problem,” she said, trying to not avert her gaze. “We should… probably go back to Lecha’s, huh? It’s getting late, and she’ll probably want to apply fresh bandages.”

He grunted an agreement before beginning to make his way back down the ramp. Haru followed behind at a slower pace, her mind dwelling on what she overheard, and what little she knew about Nip. He had said before that he was on a spiritual pilgrimage. Perhaps it had some truth to it, but what he said suggested he was running from something, or someone. And based on what Anu said, there was no knowledge of Yveltal down here, which would suggest that he was not here to find something about them. So, it raised the question.

If he was not really on some sort of pilgrimage, what had he come all the way here for?

*​

Twilight was perhaps the liveliest time of day in the forest. As sleepy pokemon made their way back to their nests and shelters, out came the kricketot and kricketune, singing their evening songs. Out came the volbeat and illumise, dancing their twilight dance. And out came the nocturnal pokemon – hoothoot and sneasel, murkrow and morelull – all waking for evening activity.

As dusk began to settle in, a particular kangaskhan was settling down in her carefully constructed shelter. Today had been quiet; no pokemon had been foolish enough to try fighting her. No threat had been stupid enough to trespass on her territory. Few would have the nerve to try fighting a kanaskhan. Fewer survived to tell the story.

But as she tried to settle in, a sense of unease overcame her. Something was wrong. It took only a few seconds before she realized the forest around her had silent silent. No chirps, no buzzing, not even the rustle of a rattata dashing from bush to bush. She gently rubbed a paw over the egg hidden in her pouch, as if worried it would no longer be there. Slowly she stood back up, sniffing at the air, peering deep into the undergrowth.

Suddenly, she heard something burst from the bushes behind her.

By the time she spun around, they were already upon her.

She felt a powerful set of jaws clamp down on her leg. She let out a howl and tried to shake the pokemon free, swinging her leg wildly. The pokemon did not let go; if anything, they bit down harder. She caught a glance of cream and black in the fading sun. She could not easily reach down to bite, so she did the next best thing she could think of to do. She took a deep breath, focusing energy into her left hand. It became alight with fire, a technique she had learned from her father. In one swift strike, she struck the jaws that had clamped down on her leg. The blow was just enough to dislodge her assailant, sending them flying in an arc when she swung her leg again.

The other pokemon landed on their feet a short distance away, finally giving the kangaskhan a chance to look over her opponent. She was tiny, only coming up to the kangaskhan’s thigh. But just as big as her body was the massive second set of jaws that protruded from the top of her head. Besides the black and cream, a red curved design had been dyed into the fur on her chest. Another design, a spiral, had been dyed around her right arm.

The kangaskhan let out a huff. “Try to attack me, eh?” she roared. “You ain’t any bigger than that sneasel I smashed up. You’ll crumple just as easy!”

For a second, the mawile seemed caught off guard by the statement. But then her resolve strengthened. She dashed forward head-first.

The kangaskhan was faster. When the mawile had almost reached her, she spun, swinging her tail in hopes of knocking her attacker off balance. It connected, tripping up the mawile and throwing off her momentum. But it did not keep her down for long. As soon as she had her balance, she dashed again, this time springing up. The kangaskhan brought her hands up defensively, protecting her chest from the brunt of the steely headbutt. Even so, despite the small pokemon’s stature, the force of the blow made her skid back a few inches, kicking up leaf litter and dust.

By the time the mawile landed. she had already begun her next attack. As the mawile sprang again, this time with her second pair of jaws arced forward to bite the kangaskhan focused just long enough to allow her hand to become alight with flames once more. Jaw made contact with flame. The kangaskhan felt jagged teeth graze her arm, only for them to be knocked away as her fist connected. The mawile was knocked sprawling backwards, bouncing in the grass. She did not move.

The kangaskhan let out a triumphant roar and turned her back.

Then she felt a blow to the back of her head.

She whipped back around. The mawile was gone.

Another blow, this time to her flank. She tried to whip around, but the mawile was already gone again. Another blow to the head. She let out a frustrated roar, snapping at the air.

She turned her head back. The mawile was already upon her, striking her directly in the stomach with anther headbutt, knocking her off-balance. As she desperately tried to regain keep her footing, she felt teeth snapping at her heels. She stumbled, falling back onto her back.

The mawile was on top of her in an instant. She felt teeth sink around her neck. At any second, she expected the pokemon to rip her throat open.

But it never came. Instead the mawile remained there, staring her down with a cold look in her eyes.

“I had planned to kill you,” the mawile began, “but… something you said interests me.”

The kangaskhan tried to raise a fist. The teeth sank in deeper.

“Do not try my patience. You said something about a sneasel earlier. Tell me, what did he look like?”

Sensing the danger, she and her unborn child were in, the kangaskhan began to stutter, fumbling over her words. “I-I- yes! The-the sneasel! He was kind of a gre- a grey brown! W-with weirdly colored feathers. Y-yeah, they weren’t red like they usually are!”

The mawile narrowed her eyes. The jaws dug a little deeper. “And what did you do to him?”

“He- he tried to steal my egg! S-so so I made sure he wou-wouldn’t be able to do that again, see?”

The pressure relieved slightly. “Did he, now? Tell me, did you kill him?”

“I-I don’t know, he tried to drag himself off but- I never saw the body, I swear! I just left him to be picked off. He might’a survived!”

The mawile seemed to consider it for a moment before finally pulling her jaws away, only to strike at the kangaskhan’s shoulder, digging fangs in and ripping a bit of flesh away as she tore it open, making the normal-type shriek in pain.

“Something to remember me by,” she grunted with one last look at the kangaskhan before hopping down. “If I see you again, you won’t escape with your life.”

She began to walk away, leaving the kangaskhan to tend to her wound. She could have killed her; she had planned to in the first place. But it would have been such a waste, with only herself to feed. And besides, the kangaskhan had given her valuable information, valuable enough that she considered sparing her life a fair trade.

Nip was nearby. And if he was alive, he could not have gotten far.
Heya, heya! Apologies for the delay and lateness of this review for p-wheel, but I’m finally here after the prologue and first three chapters!

I wanted to commend you right off the bat because, despite my slow reading and distractions, this story has been a breeze to read! You don’t linger on thoughts too much, dialogue and prose flow really well, it’s just easy to read. I never found myself questioning or rereading what you wrote to understand it more, and that’s a really great thing in my eyes. And because of the ease of the text, that let me focus a lot more on the characters and the themes you were playing with. I really like how your world feels so far, with already different cultures clashing Through Nip and Haru. It feels like an almost territorial and segmented world, where people don’t know too much outside of their homes, unless they’re active explorers. I think you reflect that super well with Haru, partially through her dreams, so to say, are mostly about strengthening the family business (very locally centered stuff) partially through her somewhat obstinate way of viewing Nip’s culture around death and eating pokemon, and all that. As a personal enjoyer of when pmd fics delve into the meat debate in detail, I really enjoyed how you explore it here, and I’m sure it only gets more interesting in future chapters. And to that end, I also love how distinctly creature-like the pokemon feel here, especially with the reliance and constant use of smells and sniffing. Their body language, like Nip’s eyes narrowing into slits when threatened, really comes through clearly and effectively. They really do feel entirely separated from humans, for example, which are easy to fall into representing with pokemon. These really feel like pokemon, and I love that.

I also really love how you really delve into legendaries as gods and the focus of religions in this world, and what you already show off with the ideology of Yveltal’s followers is great (and if my sneaking suspicion of Nip running away for fear of death is right, then that’s even better contrast and conflict to his faith). It’s easy to just make legendaries feel like gods because they’re so powerful but never delve into it, but you really do make it feel like dedicated faiths in this world. I’m sure this aspect especially will be expanded on greatly in the future of the fic, so I look forward to that a ton! Especially since it relates to the characters a fair bit so far. Nip especially is the one I have my eye on the most, because I wanna learn the most of his culture and how he acclimates to a new one (not to mention he has a really great introduction).

Honestly, I can’t really say any negatives for the fic so far, even though I’m still just early into it. I was admittedly worried I wouldn’t be able to fairly read and review this from some stuff I saw about it and some of the tags (stuff like whump, from what it sounds from some of your work and tags, makes me uncomfortable and drives me out of a story), but for now it was largely all fine. I got worried with the drowning scene, but it was short and vague enough that I didn’t mind too much. That’ll be something I’ll be wary of whenever I continue with this fic, so I hope they’re not too big detractors for me once they do come up. But still, I have hope! You’re off to a simple, but really strong start for the characters and especially the top-notch world so far, and I’m sure they’ll only get better and better. This small bit of writing already gives me good trust that you’ll do well in this regard. I can’t wait to find out more about Nip and Haru’s development, and whatever other character gets into the spotlight in the future! If I find the time, you’ve definitely got a reader with me, I’m eager to get back into this world and learn more through the multiple chapters you already have out.
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott

Review of Chapters 11 and 12​


You know the drill by now, one or two chapters (two, in this case), my thoughts, maybe some commentary on the state of the fic, that sort of deal.

Moving right along, these last two chapters were admittedly not as captivating as the ones that came before. A good chunk of that is because the story is progressing at a slow pace (though it is progressing) - to be more specific, it’s largely retreading the same ground. You see the conflict between civilised and feral brewing up, both verbally and physically, and the villagers seem to be playing a game of hot potato, except the potatoes are Nip / Umbra / the newly introduced Tempest.

One aspect that I didn’t really like is that the conflict felt lacking in terms of punch - Nip very bluntly stated his (and by proxy, the feral’s) philosophy to life, while Haru acts dismissive to it. In the latter’s case, it’s fully understandable, but I feel like her reaction could’ve been stronger. She doesn’t seem all that disgusted or horrified by what Nip’s done, only, well, dismissive, if you will. Some extra emotional ‘oomph’ from her would’ve done well in this scene.

But though I’m opening on a sour note, many of the strengths the last few chapters had were present and accounted for. The narrative is interesting and tense, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next, plus the extra attention to Muse and Shimmer in these chapters was a warm welcome - they could’ve used a little extra time. In addition, I like the ability psychic types have of reviewing others’ memories if they put the effort in. Everyone has their own take on psychics, and it more often than not results in some wildly out of balance type dynamics. This implementation doesn’t fall into those pitfalls.

So yeah, good chapters again. Not as strong as what came before, but strong nevertheless. Thanks for the chapters!
 

Ambyssin

Gotta go back. Back to the past.
Location
Residency hell
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. silvally-dragon
  2. necrozma-ultra
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. dreepy
  6. mewtwo-ambyssin
What's this? Haru admitted that maybe she's been going about things the wrong way? Huzzah! I'm not one to judge given my body of work. I'm not entirely sure what she and Nip can do in their current situation, but that isn't exactly the point of this chapter, is it? And at least Nip is also owning up to his mistakes. Since, yes, Haru does make a good point that "Oh, woe is me my life is a tragedy" doesn't excuse inflicting pain onto others. (It's a trope some media, especially cop shows, love using, but it can be a decent one IMO). Now, I can't remember if Nip also being an outsider was mentioned previously and I forgot, but it does give greater depth to why he seemed to struggle so much within the tribe. It's quite surprising that, with how poorly things went for him there, that he does still cling to his devotion for Yveltal. You'd think if he hated the tribe that much he'd look for a different patron. Maybe a toothpaste deer?

And speaking of revelations, oh my god Shimmer might finally be getting the hint Toshi does not like her like that. It remains to be seen whether it will take twenty-plus chapters for her to find feelings for Muse. But it's definitely going to happen. Mark my words.
 

Gyeig

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. samurott

Review of Chapters 13 and 14​


Two. 13 14.

Introductions aside, it’s been a decent and a solid chapter. 13 required some extra reading for me to process exactly what happened in it, while 14 grabs attention right away. Not every chapter needs to be a home run of activity, but it’s something to keep in mind.

So I like the moral back and forth in these chapters, and how the characters develop through them. Some new element gets introduced into the story, we see how everyone processes it, what their reaction is, how it fits into their moral code and world views, and the conflicts that come up as a result. It’s been said before, but this is the main strength of the fic - there’s something going on with these characters on a deeper level, they’re all clearly flawed to varied degrees and have their own take on the situation, and that’s kept me wholly engaged so far.

…Which is why this next bit of critique probably sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past few chapters is that plot development has been noticeably slower. I didn’t think much of this at first, but there’s a pattern that I’ve been noticing that… explains quite a bit: Something happens, and we get a plethora of scenes that features every villagers’ reaction to the events at hand in some form. There’s quite a lot of characters for this early point in the fic that end up in the spotlight in some way, and I feel like there’s some characters that get left out too much, or should have something more at this point. With these recent two chapters, I can’t help but feel that way about Haru - one of the main protagonists, who sadly doesn’t feel as interesting as the other characters at this point in time.

That said, I do like the scene with Umbra, where new light is indirectly shed on Jhorlo, and how he’s potentially planning on just using Umbra for his own ends as long as she’s around. It’s a neat piece of drama, especially from this perspective. Really good job with this one.

And we come to the end again. I’ve said this so many times that it barely needs to be said anymore, but these are some gooood chapters. Thanks again for them, and best of luck-
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. lugia
  5. quilava-fobbie
  6. sneasel-kate
  7. heliolisk-fobbie
Heya, bumping this as part of off-site Review Tag, since it seemed like as good an excuse to catch up on this, and I finally have the free time to take on fic reviews again. So let's just dive right into…

Chapter 27

Morning came far too soon. Dawn light trickled into the makeshift prison, dappling Haru's face. Despite getting relatively decent sleep, exhaustion clung to her bones. She wished she could get some more rest, but the branches shifting overhead indicated otherwise.

Susana's long claws reached into the pit, scooping her up before unceremoniously dropping her beside it. The zoroark leaned in again, dragging out Nip, who hissed and spat at her.

Nip: "Is this really necessary right now?"
:GrumpNip:

Susana: "Oh trust me, I'd have liked nothing better than to give you a free cliff dive a couple chapters back. It'd definitely have made our lives a lot easier." >_>;

He looked about as good as she felt, though he'd clearly attempted to groom and clean himself in the night. She wished she'd done the same. Her complaints about him grooming in public seemed so far away now. So inconsequential.

Haru: "Yeah, being kidnapped and bluntly informed that you're going to be murdered has a way of putting things into perspective."
:FearfulMeowth:


Further down the path, the other three explorers gathered together, eating and conversing. Umbra sat beside them, her attention slipping in and out of the conversation as she took opportunities to glare at Nip. Even from a distance, Haru caught some of their chatter.

"How much longer do you think this is going to take?" Remer asked. "I pinged the camp to give our location this morning. Our Lady is requesting a status update."

They did what now? Like with psychic abilities, a badge, or...?

Skorch puffed a ring of smoke. "Your guess is as good as mine. The stories we found refer to another mystery dungeon. We'll probably have to go all the way to the peak."

"I'll bet we'll get there in no time flat!" Topaz said, jumping to his paws. "Come on, we're the best scouts of the gang."


Aaaaand Topaz just went and tempted fate. Since this sounds like exactly the sort of thing that a doomed expedition would say right before happily skipping past the point of no return.

"You know Our Lady doesn't like referring to our alliance as a gang," Skorch huffed.

"Yeah, well, she's not here!"

That actually makes me wonder if Topaz is a press-ganged criminal from the Spaceworld Continent, since it'd definitely match up with the thuggish demeanor and being stuck on a mission so far away from home.

Umbra tore off a bite of jerky, chewing. "Do you seriously plan to make me wait that long to get my side of our deal?"

"Susana will decide when your end of the bargain has been fulfilled," Remer replied. "But if you prove your worth, I'm sure it won't be that long."

Translation: she's gonna welch on that deal the moment she gets a clean opportunity to do so.

Umbra let out a low growl, clenching and unclenching her claws. "I will do what I must to get rid of him. I do not care what happens to this village. Once my role is done, I plan to wash my claws of the situation and return home."

Skorch tilted her head. "You don't live here?"

Aaaaaand I'm pretty sure Umbra just made a fatal error there, since that undercuts the story that she gave while shaking Team Susana down with Vale.

Haru would have listened to more, but an apple bonked her head, shaking her out of her thoughts.

"Hurry up and eat," Susana grunted. "Or don't. No skin off my back. We're leaving soon."

Nip sat beside her, scowling at his own fruit before leaning over to take a bite. With a sigh, Haru gave up on eavesdropping and dug into her own.

Haru: "Sheesh, and here I thought Nip was ridiculous with how quickly he tried to pull off a 'losing sympathy' speedrun." >_>;
Nip: "Hey!"
Susana: "Yeah, yeah, excuse me for not giving a Rattata's ass about whether some peasant from a freak village that threatened to chop us up into fresh meat finds us sympathetic or not." >:(
Haru: "... I'm sorry, WHAT?!"
:chatotWhat:

Nip: "I mean, seriously. Are you really that surprised when your village is full of carnivores, Haru? They have to get their meat from somewhere."
:eltyunamused:

Umbra: "Oi, this is a reveal that's supposed to come out later in the story. So let's pretend that that didn't just come up in conversation and move along so I can get to killing my ex here." >.<

The path became dilapidated as they traveled further up the mountain. Grasses and bushes sprouted up in the middle of the otherwise open space. In one spot, the remnants of a landslide forced them to scramble over piles of stone and rotting wood, slowing them down. It felt like they'd barely made any progress by sun high, but Haru already wanted to drop and take a long nap.

Team Susana:
Image

Haru: "Gee, why don't you just go ahead and crack a whip at us while you're at it?" >.<

They still had a long way to go, the peak visible in the distance. Ahead, the path curved away from the cliff they'd been following, veering into a stretch of woods that sloped gently upwards.

"Susana!" Remer called from the back of the group. "This seems like a relatively sheltered area. Should we stop here for lunch and try to gather more supplies? We may not have another opportunity as good as this."

"I thought we were in a hurry!" Topaz protested. "We brought plenty of supplies. Let's stop for lunch, sure, but we shouldn't waste any more time than we need to."

I mean, between having to maintain a cover and getting shaken down by Vale, I suppose I should be less surprised that Susana and the gang aren't well-stocked for supplies. Can't tell if that's just the logistics of having to operate so far from home or if that's just heightened risk tolerance from Susana in action there.

"Easy, Topaz," Susana said, her tone placating. "You both make good points. We don't know how many days it will take to reach and research the peak, and Our Lady will want updates. But we also cannot afford to run out of food."

The gorochu's cheeks sparked with indignation. "Then why are we wasting our food on them?" He gestured sharply in Haru and Nip's direction. Haru flinched, but Nip remained stoic.

Aaaaand Topaz continues his streak of being the biggest asshole on the gang. Makes me wonder if he really does have an ex-con background.

Susana took a deep breath. "I'll concede your point on the sneasel. But we need Haru in good health if she's going to guide us."

But you've made it clear I won't survive this either, Haru thought, involuntarily shivering. Her gaze dropped, staring blankly at the pebbles in front of her, but a nudge from Nip made her look up again.

Skorch: "Er... yeah, in retrospect, I suppose we should've given her a bit more positive motivation than that for working with us, huh?"
:frownzard:


She glanced at him, confused, but he said nothing. Instead, he stood at attention, ear swiveling, nose twitching, and mouth slightly parted to take in scents. Looking for an opening, maybe?

Raising her head, she sniffed at the air, only to freeze as she picked up a musky scent. Someone else was nearby. A wildener, she suspected. And a big one at that. She tried to think back. Had she smelled this before? It reminded her a bit of ursaring scent, but it wasn't quite right. As she squinted at the tree line, she could just make out gouges in their bark, likely territorial markings.

inb4 it's an Ursaluna

Nip turned his attention to her and hissed in a low voice, "This could be the opening we need. We need to draw their attention. Get loud. Argue with me, or something."

"What?"

Haru: "Nip, you did think this through in advance, right-?" ._.;
Nip: "Haru, when have I thought anything through in this story? Look, we've literally waited an entire day for this moment, so just work with me on this!"
:unamusedwott~1:


But before she could get clarification, Nip let out a growl and spoke in a loud, disgruntled tone. "Ugh, don't you get how tired I am? I could hardly get any sleep with you snoring all night long."

Well, she had to say something now or this wasn't going to work. Letting indignation color her voice, she replied, "I don't snore!"

"Oh yes, you do. Like a hibernating snorlax. Not to mention how much space you took up splayed out like one."

Haru: "... Did you just call me fat in a roundabout fashion?" >:|
Nip: "Yes, yes, perfect! Keep at it!"

"Oh my god, shut up." Susana stomped over towards them, making Haru shrink back. She raised a claw as if to strike them. But before they could, Remer called out.

"Susana?" The mutant girafarig's voice quivered. "We're not alone."

Minor typo there, but ah yes, it's time for this moment:

https://media3.giphy.com/media/Izy9...niydrg3w&ep=v1_gifs_search&rid=giphy.gif&ct=g

Just as he said it, Haru felt the ground tremble. Pebbles jumped and clattered as it lurched, the trees swaying. She yelped, dropping to her belly as she rode out the shock waves of the earthquake.

Before she had time to recover, two massive ursaluna barreled out from the trees, claws glinting in the sunlight.

Yeah, I had a feeling. Though I wonder if given that Hisui forms are treated as Spaceworld Continent natives, if that means that these two are specifically Bloodmoon Ursaluna

"Shit! Evasive maneuvers, team!" Susana called over the wildener's threatening roars. "Skorch! In the air. Topaz! Non-electric attacks! Remer! Focus on range! Umbra, do whatever you can to help!"

Whelp, that confirms that Team Susana has Ursaluna back home as well, though time to keep an eye out for if my hypothesis of theirs being a different regional morph is onto something or not.

Then the zoroark launched herself at the nearest ursaluna, whispy tendrils of dark-type energy dripping from her mouth before she let out a vicious snarl.

Haru cowered in place, trembling as the clearing broke out into a flurry of battles. How strong were these explorers, if they were willing to take on not just one, but two angry ursaluna?

Nip: "Um, Haru. I think that this is the part where we want to take advantage of the distraction and bolt-"
:FearfulMeowth:

Haru: "Nip, I'm not running when there's freaking wildener bears right next to us!" O.O;

A sharp nudge to her side made her flinch, shaking her out of her thoughts. She whipped her head around. Nip stood alert, eyes still on the battle. But when he spoke in a low hiss, he was clearly addressing her.

"This is our chance! They're too distracted fighting for their lives."

Their chance…? Clarity hit Haru like a snorlax. Nip was right. They likely wouldn't get a better opportunity than this. She sprang to her feet, fighting full-body tremors. "R-right. Let's go."

Well, I see that Haru's a bit more sober-minded under stress than I initially assumed, but I suppose that only makes sense since otherwise they'd have some problems living up to the chapter title.

"Head for the trees," Nip said, spinning on his heel. "The undergrowth looked thick. We might be able to lose them." Then he dashed away, head low. Haru raced after him as quickly as she could, left in the dust.

She'd made it halfway to the trees — Nip nearly swallowed by their shadows — when she heard Skorch roar, "Susana! The prisoners!"

Nip: "Oh for crying out loud! Don't you have bigger problems to worry about right now?!"
:WHY:


Haru didn't dare look back, but she could hear the zoroark's yelp well enough, followed by a loud curse. "Topaz! Stop them!"

Haru stumbled over her paws. She couldn't see Nip anymore. It was just her. Just her in danger. Just her outpaced.

Haru: "He... really just went and left me to my fate, didn't he?"
:uhhh:


An odd scent hit the back of Haru's throat, almost like the smell of burning. A heartbeat later, before she had a chance to think, a thunderbolt struck. She collapsed, her limbs seizing and convulsing. Instinctively, she tried to let out a terrified squeal, but couldn't.

Then, as suddenly as the pain started, it was over. She slumped, panting, the burning scent still stuck in her throat. Her paws felt like jelly as she tried to stumble forward. But she'd gotten hardly more than a pawful of steps before a heavy weight slammed her from behind, sending her tumbling.

Haru: "Well, it was a great idea for a moment. Thanks a lot, Nip." X_X
Nip: "Look, I'm doing what I can, okay?!" >_>;

The gorochu's claws dug into her back, drawing blood as his weight forced her to the ground. She screamed and struggled, hind legs churning in the dirt, but couldn't drag herself free.

She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling tears welling. Was this it? Was she going to die here while Nip escaped? Why? Why was this happening? What did she do to deserve this?

Nip: "I mean, you've kinda been a massive judgemental prick for the entire story, and-"
Haru: "Oh stars, not now, Nip!" >.<
Nip: "I mean, you asked the question. Though with how prominent you are on the banner art, you're probably not in that much trouble..."

Something cold nicked her ear. Topaz grunted, his weight shifting. The pressure on her back lessened. She peeked one eye open.

Nip?

The sneasel was racing towards her, shards of ice accumulating on his legs. The scent of electricity flared in her nostrils again. But before Topaz could release his charge, Nip pounced, striking him in the head with a single, spinning kick that threw him off balance.

Wow, Nip actually displaying something approximating concern for someone outside himself and Tempest for once. I think hell just froze over.

Nip: "Hey! I had that scene with Anu, you know! Also, you're welcome." >_>;

Haru scrambled to her feet, staring with wide eyes. Nip… Nip had rescued her.

"Stop staring, idiot," Nip snarled, giving her a shove with his shoulder. "Run."

Nip: "For crying out loud, you'd think that a Pokémon that's a prey creature by nature would be quicker to bolt." >_>;
Haru: "I grew up in a peaceful village where I didn't have to constantly worry about running from mortal peril, okay?! (Even if I clearly don't know it as well as I thought I did...)" >.<

Shaking herself out of her stupor, Haru dashed towards the trees. Behind her, she heard the sound of another dull strike and a yelp from Topaz. A heartbeat later, Nip dashed past her once again.

The shadows of the trees swallowed him. She dove under the nearest bush, finally daring to take a look back. Topaz clutched at his head, glaring into the bushes. He shook it, then dropped on all fours and dashed toward the trees.

They weren't safe yet. They had to keep moving.

Haru: "Um. Nip? How do we even know if this undergrowth we fled to is even real?"
:ohnowen:

Nip: "What are you going on about? Of course this is rea-"
- Beat moment -
Nip: "... Right, the Zoroark. That's a thing. Uh... I assume she's too busy trying not to die to angry Ursaluna right now for us to need to worry about that?" ^^;

"Stick to the densest undergrowth," Nip hissed from somewhere nearby. "He's bigger. It'll slow him down more than it will us."

That made sense. Haru took a deep breath, pressing her belly against the dirt so that she could shimmy under a tangle of brambles. Thorny stems scraped her pelt, tugging loose strands of fur. But she emerged on the other side of the patch unharmed. The crashing sound of Topaz kept her moving.

inb4 Skorch just torches the forest to try and smoke them out, since it's certainly a hunting technique that has a long history in human cultures...

She completely lost sight and sound of Nip, but she could still smell him nearby. Silently, she cursed herself for not bringing any battle supplies, though she doubted Susana would have let her keep them.

As she dived under a bush, she felt the ground slope beneath her. Down was good. Down was towards home. Or it would be if she didn't suddenly emerge at a steep drop-off, eye-level with the tops of the trees in front of her. Swirling mist rose around their branches. In spots the air wavered, revealing flickers of dead branches.

Haru: "Oh for crying out loud-" O.O
Nip: "No, no, this is good. This is really good for shaking the weirdoes that are going to kill us."
:sweats:


Nip emerged to her left, panting. His eyes darted wildly. "A… A mystery dungeon?" he gasped.

Behind them, the crashing came closer. Nip whipped his head around, then he turned to Haru. "We have to chance it."

"What? You want to just go running into a dungeon — a dungeon we have no information on?"

Nip:
Image

"Need I remind you that I went through like a dozen of these just to make it to your village? Including ones that you apparently all consider lethally dangerous?"
Haru: "Yeah, that's great for you. I'm not exactly a seasoned explorer here!" O_O;

"Have any better ideas?" He didn't wait for a response. Walking to the edge, he stood precariously before taking a seat with his legs dangling over. Then, with a deep breath, he pushed off, half sliding, half falling down the slope. Loose pebbles skittered around him before he lost control and fell, disappearing into the mist.

Haru glanced at the forest behind her. He was right. They had to chance it. She could either enter the mystery dungeon or face Susana's wrath.

She took a single step…

And pitched forward, tumbling down the hill. Head spinning, she had just enough sense to tuck into a ball, rolling out as she bounced off stone and spun through dirt, fog rising around her.


Haru:

Image


She came to an abrupt stop when she crashed into a snowdrift. Stunned by the sudden cold, it took Haru several heartbeats to uncurl, backing out of it. Powdery snow clung to her back in clumps. She shook it off, thankful for her water-resistant pelt.

Snow crunched behind her. She froze, then whirled around.

It was just Nip, staring at her with wide eyes. "We need to move. If he jumps in now, he'll find us."

Right. Topaz.

So places in Mystery Dungeons match up with the outside world for at least short periods of time in this setting. Duly noted, though I suppose it makes sense if the sections or whatever PWCH's floor equivalents are called take some time to shift around.

Haru turned to get a good look at their surroundings. They were in a small clearing, ringed by holly bushes and tall, gnarled, leafless trees, their branches creating a web overhead. Pale sunlight trickled between them, dampened by dungeon fog. On the far side, the bushes parted, creating an open, winding path broken by the occasional tree. As far as she could tell, it was the only way forward.

Waaaaaait a minute. These surroundings are the same forest from the banner art, aren't they?

She took a few steps, then paused, looking at the tracks she left behind.

Nip followed her gaze. "We'll just have to move quickly. Look for oddities that could suggest a zone shift. Do you know anything about this dungeon?"

"Nothing," Haru replied. "I didn't even know it was here." Maybe Anu did. Maybe Toshi did. Maybe her grandfather would have. But she'd never seen a reason to memorize any dungeons except for ones that might actually matter to the average merchant. A part of her regretted that now.

Nice subtle indication that Nip is really experienced at traversing Mystery Dunegons given his casual drop of "zone shift" as a phenomenon they should be looking for.

Haru: "Yeah, I... uh... kinda left that up to my brother to worry about, really."

"I see. Well… hopefully it won't be a long one. I don't suppose you have any food stocks if we're here for a while?"

"Just oran berries," Haru said as they exited the clearing.

"I see," Nip mumbled. "All the more reason to move quickly."

Oh, so hunger is a thing in PWCH's Mystery Dungeons. Duly noted.

They lapsed into tense silence, trudging through the snow as they pushed deeper into the dungeon. For the most part, it had the typical layout that Haru was used to, with small clearings and winding paths, though these paths were wider than what she was used to. She noticed Nip constantly checking over his shoulder, ear swiveling as he remained vigilant. There was no point in small talk. Only in pushing forward.

Several empty clearings later, they found the entrance to the next zone, a small ring of holly bushes, the trees around them almost forming a cage. A beam of sunlight shone down on the center. Haru and Nip wasted no time in entering the ring, the fog closing in around them, then parting to reveal a new clearing.

So when can I expect to see the random streetlamp plopped in the middle of things as if it was planted there? /s

"That should be enough distance for now," Haru said, slumping. "Let's rest for a moment."

"This would be a good time to deal with these bonds," Nip said, gesturing with his head to the arms behind his back.

Right. His bindings. Haru felt her heart skip a beat, the smallest seed of doubt in her mind. What if he used this opportunity to make a break for it? What if he ran as soon as they were safe and went on to hurt someone else?

Nip: "Haru, we're being chased by my ex and a team of four strong enough that they could probably kill us by breathing on us..." >_>;
Haru: "... Right, that sounds like a good argument to worry about whether or not it's smart to trust you sometime later." .-.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. He just saved her when he could have left her behind. Right now, they both needed to be able to run and fight freely. She could put aside her misgivings.

Haru: "Also, yeah. That helped, too."

Taking one of his paws in hers, she pulled him down so that his arms were at mouth level and began gnawing on the rope, crushing and splitting the thick cord of fibers in her jaws. Several tense heartbeats passed as the knot frayed and loosened. And then, all at once, Nip was free.

He wasted no time springing back to his feet, rubbing at his sore wrists. "Thank you. Let's keep moving."

The next zone went by in tense silence. The one after that, as well. Nip finally broke the silence on the fourth.

"Once we find our way out, it would probably be beneficial to keep to the shadows. How well do you know the mountain?"

Haru: "... Shouldn't we just be trying to find the fastest way back to Theran Village?"
:eltywtf:

Nip: "One, I don't necessarily want to go back to Theran Village considering how my jail cell is apparently open season for everyone who hates me. Two, do you really think we're going to outrun a Charizard back to your village across open terrain?" >_>;

"This part?" Haru asked. "Not at all. I've never been this high." She glanced at the twisted branches above them. Snow flurries filtered from the foggy sky. "I… believe there's a river that cuts through the mountain a bit off the main path. I could hear it yesterday evening, not long before we made camp. Otherwise, I'm clueless."

Nip sighed. "That may be our best option."

Nip: "I mean, yes, this is more or less the definition of grasping at straws right now, but I'll take what I can get here."
:sweats:


As they entered another empty clearing, he took a quick look around for food or the exit before pointing to a path out. "If we can follow the river, or even swim in it, we may be able to lose them. We could mask our scent."

Clever weaselcat is clever. Though I suppose that he wouldn't have kept Umbra on her toes for a year if he wasn't experienced at throwing others off his trail.

He had a point. Haru couldn't help but be surprised, even though she knew she shouldn't be. The plan seemed like something a wildener would come up with. Of course, he almost was one. But his logic was sound, and she couldn't come up with any better ideas.

Nip:
:GrumpNip:

Haru: "... Look, can we reserve the complaining about me being 'judgemental' until we're safely back in Theran Village? I didn't even say that one out loud!" >_>;

Humming an affirmation, Haru turned her attention back to the sky. It was hard to judge what time of day it was. The sky of a dungeon rarely synced up with the real world. They could have been here a quarter of a day or an entire one, and only her tiredness and hunger would give any indication of which was correct.

Suddenly, Nip put his arm out in front of Haru, forcing her to stop. He held his other paw up to his mouth, gesturing for silence. Then he took a few hesitant steps forward before stopping again.

But the sound of crunching snow continued. A moment later, Haru caught a glimpse of a dark orange pelt racing past.

Topaz was here.

Haru: "... How?!"
:grohno~2:

Topaz: "Did you really think that I came here from all the way across a sea and wouldn't know how to get around in a Mystery Dungeon or two?"
:typhNOsion:


Nip remained still for several heartbeats, then raced ahead. "Come on. We need to hurry. He must be following our tracks."

Haru: "... Because this Mystery Dungeon is full of freaking snow everywhere. Fantastic. Why on earth couldn't we have stumbled into one where it was raining all the time?"
:mewtwofacepalm:


Haru chased after him as fast as she could, spraying snow behind her. Ahead, the path opened into a clearing. They'd already passed through here once, their paw prints now mingling with Topaz's. Nip wasted no time dashing to the only path they hadn't taken yet, Haru trailing close behind.

They didn't dare talk, afraid that Topaz would hear them, running in tense silence. Only the sound of crunching snow broke the monotony. The twisted, gnarled branches of the trees bared down on them, reminding them that there was no place to go but where the dungeon took them.

Panting, Haru struggled to keep pace. The snow numbed her paws, her hot breath coming out in puffy clouds.

"There," Nip hissed. "There's the next exit."

Cue Topaz catching up in 3... 2...

Sure enough, Haru could see the now-familiar ring of bushes and branches, heralding them to a new zone. Nip waited just outside for her to catch up. Then, together, they stepped into the space.

Every heartbeat they spent with their vision obscured by fog felt like torture; Topaz could catch up at any minute, and they'd not know it until too late. But finally, the fog cleared, revealing a copse of scattered trees and deep snow drifts. A small handful of wildeners were scattered about the field. A few raised their heads to curiously or warily stare at Haru and Nip, but none bothered to approach. And that was just fine, as far as Haru was concerned. The sooner they got out, the better.

I actually wonder what wildeners live in this place, since they haven't really been identified thus far, and it might be a potential avenue to show a bit about what Nip's used to / experienced in life and his travels. Especially since IIRC from past blurbs, it's been heavily implied that Nip's native neck of the woods isn't all that different from their present environment.

"This must be the stable zone," she said, taking a few steps into the snow. "Look for a path winding out of here."

Oh hey, that bit of terminology's definitely familiar. :V

Probably not the place Haru and Nip want to be considering how they're being actively tracked by an Explorer that's clearly quite comfortable just jumping into MDs, but still.

"Like that one?" Nip pointed to their right, past a dozing furret, and to a spot where a trail almost clear of snow disappeared into the mist.

"Exactly like that one," Haru agreed, taking the lead. "Come on!"

The mist swallowed them up, thick enough that Haru couldn't even see her nose, her footsteps muffled to silence. But just as quickly as it engulfed her, it left her standing next to Nip, brown and gold leaves falling around them.

I might be tripping, but I could've sworn the area transitions in Sunglow Thicket were different from this. I'll need to go back and sanity-check them sometime, but this is definitely familiar-feeling right now.

Haru: "... Was it really such a good idea to just go back out into the outside world again?"
:ohnowen:

Nip: "Considering how we got followed almost immediately going in... it really could've been worse." >_>;

She took a second to orient herself, sniffing at the air. The wind was blowing towards her and into the dungeon. Not good. But the air seemed moist, perhaps a sign of the river. A narrow dirt path weaved through the undergrowth ahead of them, winding through the woods with the occasional dip. Most of the bushes and plants along the side were barren of leaves, picked clean.

"This looks like it might be a sawsbuck path," Haru said. She pointed one paw down the path. "I think there's a good chance we'll find the river if we follow it."

Nip tilted his head. "I'm surprised you recognize it."

Nip: "Since just saying, Bidoof aren't exactly 'hunter' material-"
:what:

Haru: "Look, my family and I chop down trees with our teeth for a living, okay? I know what a sawsbuck path looks like." >_>;

Haru scoffed, taking the lead. "The nearest village is more than a day's walk away. We need basic survival skills to travel. Just because I don't live like a wildener doesn't mean I know nothing."

I guess that I should take the under on there being any sort of paved road network anywhere close to Theran given that it's taken for granted that you need survival skills to get around.

"I didn't intend to say that," Nip growled, shaking his head. He dashed forward, passing Haru. "Come, we cannot afford to waste any time. Topaz could exit any heartbeat now."

Nip was right, Haru silently admitted. There was no time to dawdle. Against the aching protests of her limbs, she broke out into a sprint, twigs whipping at her fur along the edge of the path as it narrowed, widened, and twisted, meandering through the forest.

They traveled without speaking, afraid to alert any prying ears to their presence. Occasionally Nip would stop, sniff at the air, then dash off again.

Definitely letting the xenofiction vibes come through here, since that's certainly a very "cat"/"weasel" response by Nip there.

As time passed, the sound of rushing water grew louder, louder, louder, turning eventually into a roar. Far louder than a river should be. The forest petered out, giving way to grass nearly as tall as Haru.

She stopped and stood on her hind legs, just able to make out the far side of a river. Or the bank, at least, which sharply dropped off at least a couple body lengths above the water. Dropping back onto all fours, she pushed through the grass until she reached the near bank. Nip came to an abrupt stop just behind her, a growl in his throat.

... They're going to wind up going over the falls before the chapter's over, aren't they? ^^;

Instead of the gentle, swirling currents they'd hoped for, the water raced past, white and frothy. To their right, the roaring was louder. The sound finally clicked in Haru's mind. A waterfall. They were near a waterfall.

"This… This is no good," she huffed, barely audible over the roar. "I'm not sure even I could swim that…"

Nip watched the swirling water for a moment, then nudged her side. "What if we go downstream? Maybe it'll let up if we get past the fall."

I'm half-expecting Topaz to just come and his best Kool-Aid Man impression in like five seconds at this rate.

He turned and pushed his way back into the grass, blades parting around him. Haru turned to follow but hardly made it a dozen paces when a shadow suddenly blotted out the sun. Heartbeats later, a blast of fire rained from above, combusting the grass in front of them.

Haru froze, panic seizing her. Nip gave her a shove, shaking her out of it. She turned to race away from the fire.

Only to skid to a stop as more grass burst into flame ahead.

Whelp, looks like I was right about them about to have unwelcome company, but wrong about who it'd be.

Nip: "I just knew that Charizard was going to be a pain in the ass once we got out." O.O

She yelped, turning again, but there was only more fire. "Shit!" On three sides, flame closed in. Behind them, the river rapids roared. They were trapped.

"Do you know any water techniques?" Nip yelped, focusing and trying to form ice shards on his pelt. "We need to cut a path through!"

She didn't. The best she had was rollout, which could get her through the fire fast, but she'd still be putting her body in harm's way.

Nip: "Wait, but you live in dams along rivers, and-"
:grohno~2:

Haru: "Look, I'm not exactly 'Little Miss Veteran Fighter' here, okay?!" >.<

Before she could try, the shadow swooped by again. Claws dug into the nape of her neck. She squealed and struggled and tried to twist and bite, but with the charizardthe way the charizard held her, she couldn't. She could hear Nip hissing and spitting nearby. But her vision was too blurred to locate him, smoke burning her eyes.

You have a word oops here on your TR version. I assume that you meant something along the lines of the bolded addition here.

Haru: "This- This is it. I'm really going to die like this."
:ScaredCabot:


Skorch dragged her across the ground and through the fire. Pain blossomed across her side as flames licked at her fur. Then the charizard suddenly let go, sending her tumbling across the ground.

Haru tried climbing to her feet but her legs gave out and she collapsed; she couldn't move. She heard Nip growling and spitting, a pained roar from Skorch, then a dull thud, a sickening snap, and an agonized screech. Grass and smoke blocked her vision. The acrid stench of burning filled her nostrils. Somewhere nearby, she could hear Nip gasping for breath, a pained whine accompanying every exhale.

They'd failed.

:oofdoof:


That one was painful just to read there.

She had no clue how long she lay there under the charizard's careful watch, but it was long enough for some of her strength to return. Not enough to run, but enough that she managed to sit up.

The fire had either been put out or burned itself out. She wasn't sure which. But a dark patch of scorched grass still smoldered. The charizard nudged her towards it with one foot. Ashy dirt, still hot but starting to cool, burned her paws. She danced on them, trying to spare her feet as much as possible.

A moment later, Nip was ushered over to the grass, his left arm hanging at an awkward angle and his eyes glazed with pain. He stank of scorched fur and fear. She felt somewhat sorry for him.

Haru: "Wait, how on earth do you stink of fear when you don't have sweat glands-?"
Nip: "Use your imagination, Haru. And is that seriously what you're worried about right now?!" >.<

Haru looked away, only to squeal in panic. While she'd been preoccupied with him, Susana had emerged from the tree line, the rest of her fake explorers and Umbra accompanying her. Her maw was twisted into a scowl, eyes narrow.

"I see now why you insisted on killing him before we traveled," the zoroark growled, gesturing a paw toward Umbra. "Thanks to these two, we've lost over half a day of travel. And on such a time-sensitive matter."

Susana:
giphy.gif

Haru: "U-Um, just saying, you do need us alive right now. You even said so yourself!"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Susana: "Correction, I need you alive right now."

"Our lady isn't gonna be happy with that," Topaz mumbled, speaking out of the corner of his mouth.

Susana's nostrils flared, a puff of spectral energy bursting from her mane. "Topaz. Stop." She took a deep breath. "You've proven your point, Umbra. These two have outlived their usefulness."

Well, scratch that then. But I guess this is a sign that Whisper and the gang are going to bumble into things pretty quick.

No. Haru shrank in on herself. No. No. No. No. No. She wanted to take a step back. To turn and flee. But she felt rooted to the spot.

Ah yes, tharn. The bane of many a small mammal with big front teeth.

The mawile took a step forward, undisguised glee and malice twisting her face. Haru always knew Umbra was dangerous from the moment they first met. But now she could see the side Nip feared. Umbra had no reason to mask it anymore. The only people around her didn't care… or were about to die.
"S… stay back!" Haru squeaked feebly.

Umbra:
Image

Haru: "... The story is going to give us some way of getting out of this, right?"
:uhhh:


But for the moment, Umbra ignored her. Haru wasn't her prize. Instead, she raced towards Nip, knocking him to the ground with a hard strike across the chest. Haru heard a quiet "oomph" as the wind was driven from him.

He writhed on the ground, trying to get back to his paws, but Umbra pinned him with one foot, her second jaw arced towards him. He lashed out with his good arm, but her thick, wiry leg fur kept him from doing any damage.

"Face your death with dignity, coward," Umbra spat. "Or don't. You've had plenty of opportunities to do so, even before fleeing, and yet you still struggle."

Haru: "Okay, in retrospect, if I had known that this was what you had to deal with, I'd have voted with Toshi during your sentencing, Nip."
:uhhh:

Nip: "Gee, thanks for the confidence in me right when I'm about to die." >_>;

Pink sparks of fairy energy swirled around her claws as she raised them, aiming for his throat.

Something whizzed past Haru's ear. The projectile smacked Umbra on the side of the head, knocking her off her feet. Haru blinked as the aura sphere burst apart, eyes wide. A loud yelp from Susana followed. She turned her head towards the source.

In the distance, the zoroark tussled on the ground with an absol, who'd bit down on her arm. Not just any absol — Muse.

Nip: "Oh thank gods. I mean, this is kinda a deus ex machina here, but I can live with that right now!"
:sweats:


And behind her, racing from the tree line, were Shimmer, Toshi, Anu, and Whisper.

Yeah, I knew it. Even if, uh... I'm really, really not expecting everyone from this party to make it back to Theran alive. Since we saw how strong Susana and the gang were back at that Ursaluna encounter.

Alright, made it to the end, so let's get straight into those thoughts. For such a compact chapter, I thought that it did a good job at having a lot communicated between the lines. Like it was subtle/implicit, but there was a lot of characterization that came through from the details of how Susana and her crew, Haru, and especially Nip reacted to their environment and scenario that made a lot of sense for what had been mentioned of their backgrounds in the past. The description of the Mystery Dungeon sequence had some meta stuff behind it that was a lot of fun to see personally. A part of me kinda wishes that there was more time to see it delved into a bit more, but as a device to give Haru and Nip a spatial skip ahead, I understand why it was hurried along a bit. The tension was also well-handled in the chapter, like having the banner art handy was a decent grounder of "well, Haru and Nip are going to get out of this somehow", but as for everyone else...
:copyka2:


Well, we'll see next chapter, I suppose.

As for weaknesses, I saw a couple typos here and there. There might have been more, but I was too busy having fun with things to really notice them if they existed. I think that there were probably a couple more details about the Mystery Dungeon that could've been provided (e.x. the wildeners that Haru saw in the stable zone and why she just brushed them off as non-threats), but again, I get the meta reason behind things being accelerated there, so maybe that would've gotten in the way. I'm of two minds of the very ending note. On the one hand, in-character, there's no real reason why Haru or Nip should've seen it coming, but a part of me wonders if there was any device at all that could've been provided as subtle foreshadowing that it'd be coming so that way it'd feel a bit less sudden. But I suppose I can't judge that harshly, since getting blindsided by events is sometimes just a part of an adventure-focused narrative.

Glad to be caught up with this one again @windskull . I'm not sure just how much of a disaster the next chapter is going to be for the cast, but you've certainly got me in suspense for when it comes.

Good work, and I hope the feedback was helpful. ^^
 
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