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Chapter 21 - Have You Ever

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Scout sat alone in a cell.

He didn't have the energy to pace around and scratch the walls in frustration anymore. He'd already tried that, it just blunted a claw.

The cell that Team Magnezone used was nice, as far as cells went. Thick stone walls. Metal bars he could see through. The stink of anger and hopelessness pervading through the entire cell block.

Quite nice.

What wasn't nice, however, was ev̡erything.

"What is…? What is going on?" Scout thought as he lay huddled up into a ball. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly?

He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to look at his paws. These… white, fluffy, paws with pink paw̷ pads. For this entire time, he thought they were his, but now he wasn't so sure.

"I'm not Scout," he thought desperately. "My name is Sean. I'M the human."

Yet, Dusknoir had said something else.

"Hę'͘s a filthy traitorous liar!"

Scout growled and shook his head. That didn't even sound like him. But… what did he even sound like in the first place. He desperately tried to remember his life as a human. His family. His friends. His own voice.

His mother, whose name he couldn't remember. Whose voice he couldn't recall. Even trying to think of her felt like he was watching an old-timey video crackling away.

"But how do I know what that IS?" he demanded to himself. But there was no answer to be recalled from the depths of his mind.

He couldn't remember his family. He couldn't remember his friends. The only thing he thought he could remember clearly were three things.

His namę.

His specięs.

And the gamę.

"My name is not Scout," he thought, for if he was wrong about his name, how could he be sure of anything? "I'm a human," he insisted, for what else could he be? "This didn't happen in the game." Or did it?

Did it happen, Scout?

Scout groaned and tried to wake up. This was a nightmare. Darkrai was doing something, or he was experiencing a guilt-induced delirium nightmare. This couldn't be happening.

It was happening.

The terrified meowth wasn't sure how long he huddled, curled up, in the holding cell. He ignored the magnemite that stood guard, the same ones that had taken him here in the first place, or the various buzzes he could hear from beyond the door.

He ignored them until there was no option to ignore them.

"Scout?" Dusknoir's voice was low and concerned, and Scout jumped. He uncurled and backed away, hitting his back against the hard, stone wall.

He stared up at the powerful Ghost-type, the pokémon that would end his life if he got a decent chance. The magnemite were gone, they were alone.

"Get away from me," he hissed,̧ but Dusknoir was unphased.

"I have secured some time for us to speak without interruption," Dusknoir said slowly, carefully,̧ but Scout remained attached to the wall. "We'll get five minutes to talk and I wanted to explain some things."

"I don't want to hear how you're going to kill me," Scout spat and Dusknoir recoiled.

"Kill? Scout, no." He shook his head firmly. "I would ne- you think I would…? No. Scout no, do not think of me this way. I would never hurt you."

This was not the expected discourse.

"Wha? Excuse me?" Scout was not understanding motives here, or words, or sense really. "You… you… You turned the entire town against me, telling them I was some rampaging monster trying to end the world. THAT hurts, Dusknoir."

Dusknoir sighed sadly and floated closer. Scout backed away, suddenly aware that Dusknoir was able to move through the bars and get to him if he wanted. They were alone, and the remaining four minutes of private time would be more than enough time for Dusknoir to kill him.

He tried to form a Night Slash,̧ but it slipped off. He pricked a paw and tried to create a Shadow Ball, but the same result. It simply melted off into nothingness.

"The room you are in bars the use of your abilities," Dusknoir said softly and winced when Scout whimpered. "Scout, please listen to me. I'm not your enemy, it was something I had to do to fool our real enemies."

Scout continued trying to make a Shadow Ball, not willing to listen,̧ digging claws further into his paws. Several drops of blood fell and Dusknoir snapped. "Stop hurting yourself!"

Scout recoiled, flattened himself against the wall, and stopped trying to squeeze more blood out.

"Our mission was different, yet the same goal," Dusknoir said lowly,̧ these words only for Scout. "You would infiltrate the Planetary Investigation Team and lead me to them. Only… only something has happened, and you've lost your memories."

Scout could not believe what he was hearing, but he listened regardless. "Please understand Scout. I did this only to keep up appearances so that Grovyle and the human would not suspect you. For they will come to rescue you. It has happened before, and I hope it will happen again. If I can trap them here, that will work. But if they do succeed in taking you, you must play along and slow them down, leave a trail, anything that won't put you in danger."

"I…" Scout blinked, unable to even think of words anymore. "What?"

Dusknoir nodded sadly, but surely. "In the future that we are from, they seek to change the future. Doing so will mean the end of me, and you. And countless pokémon still living. So we came together to stop them. I know Grovyle has spoken to you, but you mustn't believe his lies over my truths. You are my partner." A large finger touched the fabric tied on one of his arms, old and worn but always kept and looking so familiar for reasons Scout could never place. "And we are trying to save the world."

"I don't believe you," Scout said softly, and Dusknoir flinched harder than if Scout had punched him in the stomach.

"Scout…."

"Don't CALL me that," he said angrily, pulling himself off the wall and pointing a ble̴eding paw at Dusknoir. "I know what you are doing. I know, I know. I KNOW!" he shouted and Dusknoir recoiled. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"

Scout glared at Dusknoir as the spectre began pulling back. "Think about it Scout, if they are to succeed we will disap̵p͏ear." He glanced at the door and sighed. "I'm out of time. I've told them I simply wished to see if I could convince you to tell me where the others are. Remember what I've said, Scout. And please make the right decision."

The door opened and Magnezone called Dusknoir back. He gave one last searching look to Scout, meeting Scout's furious glare with a softly-glowing eye, before following, leaving into a room filled with quite a lot of noise.

Scout thought he heard someone yell his name. Or, perhaps, his former name. The door closed and he was left alone again, even more conflicted.

He gripped his bleeding paw tightly, wincing from the pain but not stopping. The pain was something he could latch onto, even as his blood made his paws sticky and gross. He remained in the solitude of his own thoughts for a painfully long time before taking a soft breath and getting up.

Extending a claw on his left paw, Scout reached through the bars and began trying to jam it into the lock. He wasn't sure if he could do this, but his paws seemed to know what to do.

He ground his teeth together as he felt pressure building on the root of his claw, but he pressed on, trying to find the right chink to unlock the cell.

Scout felt it begin to give and he nearly smiled, before the splintering feeling of a breaking claw shattered that smile.

He could barely hold in the gasp as pain exploded from his paw and Scout recoiled, breaking his claw even more. He shoved his right paw in his mouth to stifle his scream as the other paw blossomed with agony.

He breathed several minutes of very hard breaths, not daring to look at his paw. He could feel the trickle of blǫod mix with the dirt and tears of pain.

Eventually, thankfully, the pain dulled to a throb and he released his paw, swallowing the blood and saliva that had accumulated in his mouth.

He reached up with his left paw to marvel at the damage, all the claws were extended besides one, instead of a solid claw there was blood and a skin tear. Grimacing, Scout scurried to the corner of the cell and huddled up again.

He shook slightly as he tried to keep himself together, but he was alone. No one was there to watch him fall apart.


As Scout was dragged away, Mane fought every instinct he had to blast the magnemite and instead forced his knees to bend and move the other way.

He bit down hard on his lip, more than enough to draw blood, and bumped into someone. His eyes flicked to the offender, Bidoof, before flicking back to where Scout was disappearing.

Mane's muscles began to strain as he physically fought the need to run forward and eventually, Scout was gone.

The Fire-type took in a deep breath before looking to the rest of the guild. Most of the lemmings were just staring in a mixture of confusion and sadness, the flower was silent for once in her life, even the sound monster just stared, his wide mouth gaping noiselessly.

They weren't helpful, those that were helpful happened to be whispering to each other. Mane would have none of that.

Ignoring the town behind him, idiotic mareep that followed whoever was biggest, Mane strutted angrily to Chatot and Wigglytuff. His oh-so-powerful and wise leaders.

"What was that?" he hissed, the two cutting their conversation quiet. "You just let him take Sean? Scout. You let him take Scout. If that's even his name, actually. You know what? I'm going to keep calling him Sean until HE gives me word."

Chatot ruffled his feathers at the utterly banal method of addressing them but held his own sharp retort back. "Meowth will be cleared, this we can be certain of."

"The fucker clearly has it out for him," Mane growled and Chatot gave him another stern look for the language, "you really think Dusknoir is going to let him go? And for what? Ridiculous claims he's got no proof of."

He spun back on the town and roared. "THERE IS NO PROOF! YOU ARE TAKING DUSKNOIR'S WORD OVER MEOWTH'S."

A few mon's jumped at the near-loudred volume, but no one looked him in the eye. The crowd was already dispersing, and Mane's growls only hastened this.

Tossing his head and scoffing, Mane turned to begin his way back to the guild. "See you," he spat, before breaking out into a sprint.

Mane passed more than a few pokémon on the way back. Several were headed to Spinda's Café, others just home. He scowled at them all, even for just a fraction of a second. This was ridiculous, malarkey, stupidity, and he despised it.

However, someone else needed to hear what had happened. And explain himself as well.

He squeezed through the grate of the guild, scoffing again at how easy it would be to break into this place, and immediately headed straight to the medical wing.

"So, guess what?" Mane yelled, banging into the medical wing and making the shinx jump. "Your old buddy Dusknoir told us all something interesting."

Rai gave Mane a look of confusion before it morphed into worry. "He what?"

"He did indeed." Mane grinned. It was not a nice grin. "Let me recount." He held a paw and licked it between each point. "He told us about a little dance, then reminisced about making a little love, THEN HE ARRESTED SEAN!"

Rai's confused, apprehensive, frown melted into horror. "He what?"

Mane nodded, still grinning a grin better seen on a bruxish than a litleo. "He claimed that Sean is actually one of TWO of that bastard Grovyle's partners, the other is a human apparently, oh and he also claimed that Sean's name isn't even Sean. But Scout."

Rai's jaw began to drop as his pupils began to dilate. Mane noted that before continuing. "He also said that part of why he believed all this is because YOU told him something." Mane stepped forward, butting his head against Rai's. "He said you told him his name and confirmed that Grovyle asshole said they were partners. Is that true!?"

"What? I didn't tell him his name!" Rai retorted, stunned and unable to process all of what Mane was saying.

Mane butt his face against Rai's and snarled. "What. Did. You. Tell. Him?"

Rai's yellow eyes were wide and lost, confused and trying to grasp just what Mane was saying. "V-very funny," he muttered, recoiling from Mane. "Haha, jokes. Don't know what's possessed you to talk like this but-"

"Don't you dare," Mane replied just as softly. "Don't you dare think I'd make all of this up to stir up shit."

"Well, wouldn't you?" Rai retorted.

Mane saw red. "NO! FOR FUCKS SAKE, RAI! DUSKNOIR JUST HAD SEAN ARRESTED AND YOU'RE ACTING LIKE I'D MAKE THAT UP? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?"

Rai cringed back, stepping close to a corner as sparks burst off Mane. Mane's furious expression vanished between breaths, seeing that Rai was looking… afraid of him.

"I," he said, matching Rai's lost expression with his own.

Shouts began to reach their ears from outside as the guild returned, storming in. Chatot was screeching, "HE IS RIGHT, THIS IS MALARKY! WE MUST DEMAND HIS RETURN IMMEDIATELY, WIGGLYTUFF!"

Rai heard it all, the confusion and anger from the guild as Mane backed away to the door.

Rai blinked, took a breath, and then blinked again. His eyes were dilating further, and he began to shake. "He… he told me Sean was HIS friend," Rai said between numb lips. There were crackles of electricity popping off him and Mane stepped back to await the explosion, closing his eyes.

Then.

Nothing.

Mane cracked one eye open before the other one and then straightened up. Rai had stopped moving completely with his eyes closed. Not a snap, crackle, or pop to be heard.

Rai took a deep breath, Mane tensed, then exhaled. Rai opened both his eyes and gave Mane a thin smile that unsettled him more than Rai literally exploding the room would have.

He hopped down from the bed, uncaring of his wound. It was mostly healed anyway, Chimecho was simply careful. "Let's go see Dusknoir then," Rai said pleasantly, and Mane turned his head slightly, almost cocking it.

"You sure?"

"Yes."

There was no question to Rai's tone. He would go see Dusknoir now, even if he had to walk straight through Mane.

Mane smiled. It was an even less nice smile than the previous one. "He took him to Team Magnezone's base. Let's go."

Rai followed Mane's lead, knowing the litleo was a bit more familiar with the way than he was. Mane trotted down the steps, eyes passing over the guild as they stopped and stared. Chimecho shrieked something upon seeing them, but Rai ignored her. Chatot squawked something, Mane ignored that.

"I'm going to see him," Rai said pleasantly, and the guild let them pass. Wigglytuff watched them go, a sad frown marring his face. He gave a soft exhale and nodded to Chatot before following after them.

They turned left at the watering hole and continued on. Mane knew this path pretty well, although Rai wouldn't bring up why. It's not that he got into trouble badly enough to come here often, but occasionally Team Magnezone wanted to speak with him and he'd oblige.

The tense silence between the remainder of Team Ion didn't last long.

"How much of that was true?" Mane asked. "Human? Future? Grovyle? Scout?"

"Sean told me about being human," Rai admitted. Mane raised an eyebrow at him, but he had nothing more to say. He frowned and looked away, body tensing even as he walked as he began to realise what he hadn't been trusted with.

They took another left and began heading down a gently falling slope, almost gentle enough to be unnoticeable.

The building Team Magnezone run their operations from was not dissimilar to the Wigglytuff Guild. Except, rather than a creepy wigglytuff head, it was given the vague shape of a magnezone. Mane normally could appreciate the vanity. This time, however, not so much.

They butted their way through the door and into the building. Magnemite and magneton buzzed in the air in excitement, giving quick unpleasant screeches to each other.

All eyes fell on Rai and Mane as they entered, and a magneton floated in close to speak.

"ZZZT! All visitors are to be turned away unless there is an emergency," the robotic pokémon buzzed. "What is your business here? ZZZT!"

"The meowth you just arrested for no good reason," Mane snarled, coming up forward. He restrained the fire wanting to crackle out of his mouth. It would not be good to try and threaten them. No matter how much he wanted to.

"I am also going to speak to Dusknoir," Rai said pleasantly, the eyes of the magneton swivelling to him.

"ZZZT! I am afraid we cannot release the meowth. Furthermore, Dusknoir is assisting us with his account and is not able to speak to anyone else. ZZZT!"

"I don't think you-" Mane began, but Rai spoke over him.

"I am going to speak with Dusknoir," he said and stepped forward. The magneton was stunned at the complete disregard of its word.

"ZZZT! Excuse me! ZZZT! You cannot enter these premises unescorted. ZZZT! Shinx stop or I will be forced to detain you. ZZZT!"

Rai did not stop and a few magnemite began to buzz. Mane licked his lips, tasting heat. If this was going to come to a battle, then he'd play ball.

"Excuse me?" a light and fluffy voice called, and everyone paused. Even Rai glanced behind to see Wigglytuff enter, an apologetic smile on his face. "So sorry for the intrusion. Forgive us, forgive us."

"Guildmaster?" Rai asked and Wigglytuff gave him a smile.

"I'm sorry Shinx but you're going to have to come with me. We can all talk to Dusknoir later, but for now, we really need you back at the guild." He sent a smile to Mane as well, and the litleo felt disarmed. "Litleo too. We dearly need you both right away."

Mane hesitated, suddenly unsure, and Rai swallowed. "But," he began but Wigglytuff's smile was stable and his eyes kind. "But… alright." He bowed his head and Mane frowned. Rai's tail drooped as he dragged himself back.

"So sorry to have intruded, have a good day. Have a good day. Treat everyone here well, alright?"

The magneton nodded and Wigglytuff shepherded his wayward apprentices out. "Phew." He breathed a sigh of relief before taking both felines in an arm each. "Let's get back quickly," he suggested, and they could only hang on as Wigglytuff sprinted off in a stunning burst of speed.

Wigglytuff kept the sprint up the entire trip and wasn't even winded a few minutes later as he carried them into the guild.

The gate clanged shut behind them and Wigglytuff finally released them. "I know this time is a tough one," Wigglytuff said warmly, giving the two members of Team Ion a smile. "But it'll end okay. It'll end okay."

"How can you be so sure?" Mane grumbled. He hated how Wigglytuff's arrival seemed to suck all the anger out of him. The damn Fairy-type did some trickery, Mane was sure.

"Because Meowth is strong and good!" Wigglytuff declared as they headed down. "He will be okay until we can solve this for him." They reached the bottom of the guild where everyone was assembled and Chatot breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the three.

"Welcome back, Guildmaster," Chatot said primly as the apprentices stopped mulling about in awkward stilted silence.

"Thank you Chatot." Wigglytuff smiled at his second-in-command.

"Dusknoir told me that Sean was his friend from before he lost his memory," Rai said, cutting out any other angle of conversation. "I know I wasn't there to hear it, but Mane said Dusknoir claims that Sean is actually Grovyle's partner."

The apprentices were all silent, barring one.

"So, one way or the other," Sunflora began, "Dusknoir lied. Why would he lie? And which one did he lie about?"

Mane snorted. "Obviously the claim that Sean is some maniac trying to end the world."

There was silence. No one wanted to say what was there, but Mane could hear it anyway. His face screwed up until he couldn't take the silence anymore. "Yeah, I get that he has memory issues, but you can't actually believe this?"

"It…" Chatot begun, words sounding physically painful, "can't be considered off the table." He grimaced before flapping as Mane and Rai both delivered thunderous expressions to him. "Now-now! I do not believe he would do such a thing now. But it cannot be ignored that, uh… Meowth himself doesn't know. It is curious that Grovyle would wish to speak to him alone, is it not?"

"And did that actually happen?" Mane snapped.

"Yes," Rai said quietly, and Mane closed his mouth. All eyes fell on Rai and he cringed. "Yes, it happened. But Dusknoir said that...! Argh!" Rai tossed his head. "He told me that Grovyle would try and manipulate him as they BOTH knew him and were trying to stop him. But now, why did he tell me that if it's not true?"

"We're not going to get any answers until Dusknoir can be asked the questions," Croagunk pointed out and Rai scowled.

"I tried."

"He'll be safe there," Sunflora said softly, giving Rai and Mane a comforting look. "No one can hurt him there. There aren't many safer places around than Team Magnezone's base."

Rai screwed his face into a frown or a snarl, but he couldn't quite decide on it and he fell into a cracked expression of misery. "I…" Rai didn't finish, simply began to walk. "I'm going to bed." He did not go towards the medical wing, but Chimecho didn't try and stop him.

Mane followed after a moment, making sure to give every member of the guild a scowl as he went.

"So, when are we going to break him out?" Mane asked as Rai slumped into bed.

"Sometimes I worry that you can tell what's on my mind," Rai said, muffled by the straw. Mane smirked a nasty smirk.

"What can I say?" he asked as Rai sat up and they began to talk.

Things were a bit uncertain between them, Mane's expression flickered between a smirk and a frown and neither was an honest expression. He had something to focus on that wasn't the lack of trust he had been given.


Black-furred feet smacked into the ground as Sean ran along the path.

He had watched Dusknoir and did nothing as Dusknoir had Scout carted away to the building the police used as a base of operations.

He had done nothing as Dusknoir hit the final nail in the coffin of any hope that he and Striker may be able to convince residents of Treasure Town to help them find the Relic Fragment.

Right now, Sean didn't know what to do. He was running to one who might. Once Dusknoir was gone, he quickly made his way out of town and withheld the urge to run. Sableye were about after all and he didn't need any suspicion or anyone following him.

Once he felt safe enough, and still earlier than he knew Striker would be happy with, he ran.

There were only two tiny slivers of good news he could hold firm to. The first, Striker was safe. That clever grovyle was still free, even if he had been discovered in the process of obtaining the fourth gear.

The second, Dusknoir didn't seem to know that Sean himself was no longer so easily discoverable. A riolu didn't stick out nearly as much as a full-blooded human would.

For the time being, they still had one small advantage.

With that and more on his mind, Sean ran. He had but one destination in mind. With a nearby grove that Striker had pointed out as a meeting destination.

The Grass-type had hoped to come back to Treasure Town after obtaining the gear from underground, or even after acquiring the gear from where the crystals lay.

However, since that was definitely not an option, Sean pointed his feet towards the path to the dungeon – Brine Cave.

Fighting-types had excellent stamina and Sean found himself stopping for only a short break before continuing. His paw pads were stinging, and his legs began to protest from the effort, the pain caused him to slow down slightly and calm down.

He walked the rest of the way. He ignored the path to the entrance of the dungeon and instead walked up into a grove of trees.

As Sean went, he tapped trees with the metal bumps on the backs of his paws. Once he had tapped enough, he felt something appear behind him.

Sean spun, senses honed by the future, to meet Striker's arm with his own. The two pressed against the other for a moment, staring into the other's face, before Striker smiled. "It's good to see you," he said, and Sean couldn't help but smile back.

It was comforting, hearing the grovyle's voice again. "Good to see you too," Sean replied and together they lowered their arms.

"I thought you might come around once news reached Treasure Town," Striker said, stepping back to lead Sean to his camp. "I couldn't be sure though, I was going to leave tomorrow and leave something behind for you."

"Well I'm here now," Sean replied. "So gimme." He grinned as Striker laughed. His smile didn't last long.

"I've got something better," he said enigmatically, and Sean rolled his eyes at the dramatics. "A Time Gear."

"I couldn't have guessed," Sean said. "But seriously, what were you going to leave?"

Rolling his eyes back, Striker beckoned him into the grove where he had been staying. Sean looked around and nodded, very spartan and very much the kind of camp the grovyle would set up.

"Just a note," he answered, and Sean pouted for a moment. "So," Striker began, sitting down. "What exactly drew you out here? I'd like to think you came because you have the key or have its location." Sean frowned and Striker sighed. "Or maybe you just came to check up on me?" Sean shook his head and Striker gave him a wary look. "Then something has happened?"

"First." Sean raised a paw, walked over to the confused grovyle, and smacked him across the face. "That's for the injury you inflicted on Team Ion."

Striker rubbed his jaw but made no movement back. "Fair," he admitted. "Also, ow. I see you're getting stronger. In my defence, I tried to just get them out of the way but the shinx came at me from behind and I just… reacted."

Sean nodded, understanding. "Yeah, I'd have probably done the same thing. Still not nice, that's really going to scare Scout." Striker nodded, looking just a little guilty. Sean could tell the nuances on Striker's face. "I did want to ask what you learned about Scout, but I think I can guess."

Striker's expression became grave. "What happened?" he asked, eyes narrowing.

"Dusknoir's worked out who he is and got him arrested in front of the whole town," he explained, Striker immediately hissing. "That's the reason why I came. Dusknoir has Scout and… yeah," he finished. Striker had already gotten up and was pacing back and forth.

Sean almost laughed at that. Scout had learned the art of pacing anxiously from Striker, but in turn, Striker began to do it with more flourish, building off each other. It would have been a cute reminder had it not been caused by such terrible news.

"I told him to stay away from Dusknoir," Striker said after a moment. He paused his pacing long enough to repeat that to Sean before he was back at it. Already digging a hole in the ground. "Something must have rattled him during that incident when we were travelling back in time. More so because he definitely believed he was you. He said he remembers his name is Sean and that he was a human."

Sean sighed, "You don't think when his head hit mine during the time-travelling that there was some kind of…?"

Striker shook his head, to Sean's relief. "I'd imagine his delusions are more based on the fact that he looked up to you so much." Sean blushed behind the fur, to Striker's disappointment.

It was much more enjoyable when he could see how flustered Sean could get. That fur got in the way. "That even through his amnesia he remembers - Sean and human and simply thought he's you. The two of you don't act much alike, although there were a couple of similarities."

Sean accepted that, so Striker asked the next question, "What exactly happened? Recount it for me please."

"Dusknoir called some very important town meeting, bringing in pretty much everyone. Even the town elder Torkoal was called from the Hot Springs. Once everyone was there, he revealed the future to everyone, his version at least." Striker hissed at that. "And painted you as some grief-filled apocalyptic madmon or something."

"He would," Striker growled, but let Sean go on.

"He then went on to say that you brought a human and a meowth with you," Sean explained. "The meowth obviously being used to implicit Scout. Human too it seems since a few members of the guild reacted in less of a shocked manner to hear it."

Striker rubbed his jaw, incidentally the same place Sean had hit him earlier, in thought. "And what of Shinx's reaction to all this? The two seemed rather… close."

"I didn't see him there," Sean said, frowning. "Everyone was supposed to be there… except those with medical reasons not to." His tone became slightly accusing and Striker winced.

"I didn't mean to slash him like that."

"You SLASHED him?" Sean demanded and Striker stepped back. "Of all the-no wonder he-ugh, fine." He shook his head and moved past it. "Whatever, it's in the past." He rubbed an aura tassel in annoyance, one of them had hit him in the nose when he shook his head.

"So, he wasn't there?"

"Not that I could see," Sean said, moving past his anger. "Dusknoir did claim he had received some information from Shinx though, so I can't say for certain. The litleo was there though, I'm sure that was a surprise for you? He protested strongly to Scout's guilt as did the guild once they were able to react."

"So, the guild is on his side?" Striker asked, leaning in interest.

Sean frowned and shrugged. "Eh… sort of? Chatot especially tried to talk them down but they were running off the idea that Scout is either innocent, or he's completely amnesiac. Something that might not work, Scout was clearly rattled from everything going on."

Striker nodded. "Dusknoir hasn't completely turned them against Scout yet. With enough time though…"

"I think we're ignoring something bigger here," Sean pointed out. "Dusknoir has Scout and you know he'll use him against us."

"Dusknoir won't hurt Scout," Striker countered, and Sean rolled his eyes.

"Yes, I KNOW that he won't hurt him under normal circumstances. But who knows how he may act if things get desperate? Maybe he won't kill him, but you can't claim he wouldn't hurt Scout if he thought it would save them both in the end?"

Striker had nothing to counter that with.

He took an uncomfortable breath. "If it comes down to it, we can rescue him."

"If it comes down to it?" Sean repeated, frown deepening. "I think we should go rescue him now."

"The risk-"

"Dusknoir has our friend!" Sean snapped and Striker paused. "He's come back to save you before and you're just going to leave him there?"

"Your emotions are interfering with your logic," Striker argued back. "We know Dusknoir won't hurt him, nothing irreversible. But going to save him puts everything at risk. Myself, you, the entire world. Scout will understand." Striker and Sean stared each other down before Striker looked away and began pacing again.

Sean stared angrily at the grovyle for a moment before groaning and burying his face in his paws, muzzle poking out. "Well, what if Dusknoir is able to do… something to turn Scout to his side then?"

Striker's pacing became more aggressive.

"YOU can't say it's not a possibility," Sean stated, Striker didn't respond. "Especially after YOU slashed his friend. He has amnesia, he probably doesn't know what the hell is really going on right now and is scared and alone. Except for Dusknoir. You KNOW Dusknoir will try and turn him to his side."

"After turning an entire town against him, I feel like Scout won't want to listen."

"Yeah." Sean nodded. "For now. The longer he's alone, the more likely he's going to get desperate. Dusknoir knows how to get to Scout, you can't deny that."

Sean was able to see this rare side of Striker. The one who didn't know what to do and was too anxious to hide it. He rubbed a clawed hand along his head as the other one hung limply by his side.

"Well then, what do we do?" Striker asked, turning to Sean. "YOU are the leader of our whole little team. You're the one that gets us places. What do you think we should do then?"

Sean looked up at the sky, marvelling how the sun still shone and the wind ruffled his fur.

"We're going to have to act," he said, looking down. "Look I… I know you're right." Saying that left a bitter taste in his mouth, it wasn't right to leave Scout to Dusknoir's mercy. But Striker was still right. "We can't just charge in and get Scout. Either you'll get captured, or you'll be running with an entire town and guild AND Dusknoir on your tail and we can't have that. You're going to have to get the last Time Gear and I'M going to have to find the key to the Hidden Land."

He looked back to where he had walked from, to where the entrance of Brine Cave lay. "But I have no idea where to start. The only, terrifying, guess I have is that Dusknoir has it."

"Apparently Litleo had it. But his hous̛e was ransacked and that was all that was taken. I took a look myself but couldn't find anything concrete. Just a sheet." He smiled slightly. "Been years since I've had one of those…."

"If Dusknoir has the key," Striker began but didn't finish the thought.

"He'll either have destroyed it." Both of them winced at the thought. "Or, if he can't, he's probably got it on him somewhere."

The two remained in silence for a bit. Striker looked to Sean. "What do we do then?"

Sean didn't respond for a long moment, choosing instead to stare ahead. "I… you have to get the Time Gear. Dusknoir mentioned he has it guarded, but he's not there at the moment. This is probably your best chance of getting it. When the alert inevitably comes that you're trying to take the gear and Dusknoir leaves I'm going to see if I can sneak into where he's been staying and look for anything that might point us in the direction of the key."

Striker nodded and Sean added. "I'm sorry, this is the best I can really think of. The situation is screwed up, we've got to take what chances we can get.

Striker gave him a long, searching, glance. "You," he said heavily. "Have to be careful. Dusknoir is still unlikely to do anything until he has all three of us. He doesn't know who you are, that's our last trump card here. You have to get in and out without being seen."

Sean smirked and gave a stretch. "Even as a human I was good at going unnoticed," he bragged. "Now I'm two feet tall, less than half the size I was before. I can do this Striker. I have to be able to do this."

The grovyle nodded and gave his closest friend a smile. "I'll be seeing you soon then," he said, glancing back to his belongings. "We'll meet back here in seven days. Alright?"

"Seven days." Sean nodded. They shared a fist bump and then parted ways.

The time for sneaking around was finished.

The real Sean would now stand up.


Striker breathed a sigh of relief as he approached the mouth of the cave. Even from this distance, he could see the glimmering of blue crystals twinkling at him from the darkness.

Although from this distance they looked like the teeth of a horrible mouth.

He remained in the overgrown thicket, eyes sliding back and forth carefully. He would not believe that there were no guards here. Visible guards, however, were a different story and he knew how well the sableye could hide.

That shadow there by the lip of the cave? Possibly a sableye. That grove in the rock? Could house a sableye waiting to send the alarm.

Striker smiled grimly. Even if they were visible, he doubted he'd be able to strike all of them down without Dusknoir getting word somehow.

It hurt to do, it left him feeling ill at the prospect of willingly walking into a trap without even using an item to sneak in invisible. There was no choice and calling Dusknoir to this place was Sean's only real chance to find the key that they needed to progress.

There were a no other options.

Once his breath was caught, Striker jumped out of the bushes and sped to the entrance. He thought he caught a shadow twitching, but there was no chance to turn back now. He cracked a grin, he wouldn't turn back even if there was a choice.

Striker disappeared into the cave as the two sableye watching it poked their heads out and nodded. They sent Master Dusknoir the signal, a weak spiritual throb that would scarcely be noticed by any of the Ghost-types around, but one that Dusknoir was waiting for.

One squirmed and the other ground its claws down with its sharp teeth wishing there was something to eat. There wasn't much else to do besides wait and hope that the master arrive in time.

The denizens of Crystal Cave posed little threat to Striker and he carved his way through without hesitation. A Leaf Blade to lay low a graveler, a quick Dig to smash a seviper out of the way. He even took out a trio of riolu with Bullet Seed, not pausing even as they rang a familiar vibe with him.

Enemies dropped before him or leapt out of his way. Nothing would slow Striker here, and nothing did.

He breezed up to the final room where three crystals shone blue. A terrible gouge in the dungeon made of crystals. The site of the entrance to the Crystal Crossing impressed Striker and he paused for a brief moment.

Not for long, however, as he knew there would be more sableye around. He hopped through the room and into the entrance, two more sableye watching him go.

Striker was confident that the enemies further in would be more powerful. Simply the visage of the entrance was a testament to the power of a legendary pokémon, warping a dungeon in such a stable way.

But even the froslass and glalie were laughable and he slashed, dug, and shot his way through any enemy that dared approach.

One particularly swift absol managed to cut through his Treasure Bag and his arm in the process, sending orbs scattering everywhere. He bashed its head against a wall and quickly gathered his items, not letting a single orb loose.

Despite his diligence, however, one was snatched by a glameow and he growled and tried to chase it.

It was heading backwards, however, and Striker had to let it go. Turning back over an orb, even a beautiful Luminous Orb, was not worth it.

Striker held a gru̴dge against glameow from then on.

He tied the cut band together and continued.

Crystal Lake was stunning.

Its majesty outweighed the allure of Fogbound Lake and the hidden paradise of the Underground Lake. Gemstones littered the land, and water, spreading blue, teal, and green light through the cavernous room.

Even then, however, Grovyle didn't slow.

He continued hopping as fast as he could, avoiding the water for now, until he found himself along a final stretch. A long path headed to an enormous flat crystal that was then crowned by a ring of spiky blue gems.

Only there were two things wrong.

The first, the Time Gear's light was consumed by even more crystals that had spiked up behind it, covering a large part of the lake in an incredibly hard substance.

The second, Azelf was floating ready for him.

"I presume you are Grovyle?" Azelf called as Striker began to slow. He was breathing heavily, but his heart pounded harder. "The thief."

"Yes," Striker answered as he came to a stop. There wasn't much ground between him and Azelf. "I'm assuming you too are beholden to Dusknoir's lies?"

Azelf's eyes narrowed and Striker knew there was no manner he could ever convince the Spirit of Willpower. The loss of Uxie and Mesprit surely nailed that.

"I know you won't take it," Azelf said as they floated up and bared their fists. "I know you don't deserve it after the fates you inflicted on my siblings. But I will offer it regardless. Give up and I will show mercy."

Striker gave a bitter smile and fell into a combat stance. "Can you sense my resolve?" he asked and Azelf nodded, a look of almost respect in their eyes. "Then let's not bother with the dialogue."

With that, Striker attacked.


He listened for Azelf's breathing over his own for a moment, relieved he hadn't killed the legendary, before forcing himself up.

The flat crystal battlefield was covered in broken crystals, gouges, and even bits of blood and leafy powder.

With several grunts of pain and exertion, Striker forced himself to his feet. There was no time to be taking a nap, he had the worst game of treasure hunt to still go through.

He scampered over the spiky crystal crown and onto the spiky sea of crystals. Frowning in annoyance, Striker carefully toed his way towards a dull glow. One clump of crystals appeared more special than the others and Striker had seen them enough times to know the light of a Time Gear.

A stream of Bullet Seeds and Energy Balls blasted the spiky parts off, but scarcely even touched the flatter crystal they rested on.

Striker walked up and onto the trimmed crystal and looked down. There it was, even through the blue crystal, he could make out the foggy shape of a Time Gear.

He clenched both hands a few times and rolled his shoulders. Both arms ached, and his hands didn't move as quickly as he could like. There was no other way, unfortunately.

Striker took a breath, raised both fists, and slammed them down together. A dull thwonk echoed out from the impact and Striker was sure he felt something crack.

Thankfully it was the crystal.

Gritting his teeth, he raised his hands again and felt for the Power. He channelled it into his favoured Dig and then slammed down again. And again. And again and again and again.

Slowly the crystal broke, his hands bled, and Striker continued striking the crystal. Both arms jarred by this point, and shards of crystal cutting into him.

Striker was accustomed to pain.

The gnawing pain of the stomach when one was starving. The parched pain of the throat, when all the water was frozen and not even ice.

The pain of the heart as the day remained dark. The pain of the body as one fought to protect what little they had, sometimes only one's life. If that was even worth having in the dark future.

He was used to agony of many different kinds, and this was no different. Still, Striker couldn't hold every tear back or every spasm in his chest as he hit the crystal again and again and again.

He hit it until he couldn't hit it anymore.

Largely due to someone catching his hands as he raised them again.

Striker immediately swung forward, jumped, and kicked back, slamming his feet into Dusknoir's belly and diverting his centre of balance, allowing him to throw the weighty Ghost-type over himself and into the hole of shattered crystal. He still hadn't reached the Time Gear, and hadn't even made that much progress, but there was no question now. It was time to go.

Striker ran. Fighting Dusknoir when he was healthy and uninjured was an unpleasant prospect. But when he was in this state? After fighting a legendary? No.

As he sprinted, Striker shoved a bloody hand into his Treasure Bag and siphoned through the orbs. He knew he had a Luminous Orb in here somewhere, perfect for both blinding Dusknoir and forcing sableye out of the shadows.

He could tell them apart by feel, size, and weight and each orb he rolled was not the one he needed.

A sableye leapt in his way and he cut it down. A shadowy tendril nipped at his ankle, and Striker cut that with his tail. Azelf got up and grabbed him in Psychic again. That problem had no easy answer, unfortunately.

Striker roared and struggled against the grip until Azelf just couldn't hold him anymore, but Dusknoir had caught up by that point.

Striker did the splits as he ducked below a Shadow Punch and threw his own normal, and bloody, fist into one of the eye-like markings on Dusknoir's chest. He knew those were sensitive.

Dusknoir gasped as Striker rolled to his feet, still rifling through his bag in a panic. He couldn't understand why he couldn't find it, he didn't have THAT many orbs. The Luminous Orb was always-

Striker realised three things.

The first was that he really hated glameow.

The second, he didn't have a Luminous Orb.

The third, possibly the most pertinent, Dusknoir had extra company.

A ponyta reared up and kicked him with flaming hooves and he fell right into the spreading vines of a bellsprout. They couldn't hold him for long, but long enough for a camerupt to blast him point blank with an unnecessary amount of fire.

Everything went black and red and pain all over before it got worst. Something snatched him from behind, but with Striker's disorientation he could barely even swat at it.

He yelled out as Dusknoir lifted him over his head and blasted him in the back with a plume of ghostly flame. A sableye leaped up and cut through the Treasure Bag and it fell. Dusknoir continued to lift him over his head, falling back, to slam Striker face-first into the same crystal he had slammed Azelf into.

He felt something unpleasantly close to his neck almost snapping before everything went dark.


Sean had spent the days in misery.

Even though he wasn't the one locked in a cell somewhere, breaking his claws in locks. The riolu had been left anxious and jumpy.

The whole town was in a state of anticipation. He had gone through and listened in on a few conversations. Not everyone thought Scout was the demon centipede or bacon bird in disguise, but the general acceptance was that the Great Dusknoir was in the right.

More than once Sean had to sneak away from a conversation so he wouldn't fall to the temptation to try and correct the townsfolk.

Everyone was active. And every exploration team in the area, besides the apprentices at the guild, were looking for him.

Looking for a human at least, and Sean found it bitterly amusing to find a few pokémon trying to educate the explorer teams on what a human looked like.

There seemed to be a huge disagreement over whether humans had tails or not.

He was fine with it, any distraction from actually finding him was valued. Not that anyone was looking for a riolu, allowing him in and out of town safely.

He had stopped coming in as often. The sableye could be anywhere. Dusknoir could be anywhere. And someone coming in and out all the time could attract unwanted attention.

So, Sean waited in silence, biting his tongue and forcing himself away. He had to be ready for Dusknoir's departure, he had to get all the time he could manage.

Yet, loitering around the cottage Dusknoir was residing in wasn't wise. There were more sableye watching it, he was certain.

Was Sean paranoid? Yes. There was no question there.

Was Sean ready? No. There was no question there.

He hadn't been ready to be pulled through a portal at twelve years old and into a nightmare hellscape either.

But he didn't get the choice to be ready or not, he simply had to be. And when he saw Dusknoir hesitate as he avoided a very determined shinx, Sean knew it was time.

Not minding the shinx, Dusknoir made haste towards the town centre and called out. "Grovyle is at the location of the Time Gear!"

Immediately, Claydol floated forward. They were ready to transport Dusknoir to stop the thief.

A few exploration teams also came forward, but Dusknoir had no time to entertain them. Only a team boasting two Fire-type's were allowed to come, along with two sableye, before they disappeared.

Sean worried, he couldn't help himself, but he also couldn't waste time fluffing about. He had only found two sableye to still be in town, and both just left.

He would still be careful though, Dusknoir was tricky, but there was no better chance than this.

With the town distracted with anticipation and hearsay, Sean ran off. He had burned the path into his mind and didn't falter until he was right to the cottage. It took him a few minutes, it was quite out of the way.

Uninhabited, hopefully at least, but he didn't enter through the door. A small window, too small for his previous human body to squeeze through, was the choice of entry.

The cottage was quiet, dull, and filled with an odd smell. It was a small, one-room, dwelling with a fireplace and a lump of straw, a single table, and a few of Dusknoir's personal items placed around in specific spots.

Despite it all, a small smile graced his canine face. It was surprisingly easy to pinpoint the areas Dusknoir frequented. The fireplace was cold, but the ashy remains of wood still sat there. The small table had finger marks almost drilled into it, Dusknoir was almost compulsively a finger-tapper.

The place was clean and quiet, organised in that special way Dusknoir did. It was almost too easy for him to begin rifling through the area, replacing everything exactly as he found it. Leaving the crooked objects crooked and the jar twisted almost tight, but not quite.

He opened the chest Dusknoir stored his items in and found the secret compartment in a few seconds. He deduced this was the feint and continued searching through the orbs and seeds. He found a groove and had a lot of trouble getting into it.

"Damn stubs," he muttered, glaring angrily at his paws. Fingers would be so much better here. Sean dug out a stick from his own bag and used it for a few minutes until he got into the real secret compartment.

It'd leave behind a trace, but a stick should be too difficult to track. Dusknoir would likely suspect he was here, regardless.

With that sobering thought in mind, Sean sped up his search. There was no telling if he'd send someone back to check his dwelling.

The secret compartment was frustratingly bare. Simply a scrap of paper with symbols that reminded him of his own language. Unown symbols, the writing looked familiar too. With some focus, he could make out most of the words.

"Because of you, Guardian is gone," he read, quietly. "And now you've lost Scout," he trailed off, realising why this handwriting looked familiar.

Striker had written this. But when? And why for that matter?

He frowned and glanced back at it before carefully putting it back in. That was private, but also useless to him.

He continued to look as the minutes ticked away more and more, but there was nothing but dust to be found.

Dust and a single shard of a rock that had been swept away. Highly dissatisfying.

Knowing this was pointless, Sean got out of the cottage and ran along the overgrown edges of Treasure Town.

He had to go check out Team Magnezone's base now. Work out how to get in and out. The jails boasted in the past were Delphox Enchanted to suppress pokemon's natural powers, so whatever he did he had to avoid going in one.

As he returned, however, he picked up the sounds of distant cheering.

Listening in closely, he could hear Dusknoir's deep rumble, but not the words, along with a cheer from the crowd every few moments. He carefully unwound his control over the aura senses he kept restrained and was nearly overwhelmed by a blast of furious jubilation emanating from teh town.

"There is only ONE more threat to stop!" Dusknoir roared, voice raising enough for Sean to make it out. "One more and the world is saved!"

"One more!" the crowd repeated, stamping, cheering, or hollering.

"No," Sean said quietly.

"Grovyle has been caught!" Dusknoir yelled and the crowd cheered again. "Now we search for the human."

"The human!" the crowd repeated.

"Save the world!"

"Save the world!"

Sean backed away as Dusknoir continued to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He didn't have the key to the Hidden Land.

And he didn't have Striker either. Sean didn't know what to do.

Dusknoir held every card.
 
Chapter 22 - Ever Felt Like This

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Everything was terrible.

Strangely, this brought a vague sense of comfort to the riolu known as Sean.

Surviving the dark future was terrible, and everything there was life and death almost all the time. Striker, Scout, Saniya, and Guardian had been the only things that made it bearable.

Then some of them had become the things that made it hurt the most.

The pain balanced out eventually, however, and Sean could at least look back on the better times with nostalgia.

When every day and night, it was hard to tell what time it was really, was spent knowing that a shadow could betray you, that a dungeon was an enormous risk, or that death could come at any time, one grew jumpy, anxious, and paranoid.

And yet he had gotten used to it.

Sean wasn't sure if that was a good thing, but he had survived despite being almost a normal human. With nothing but the clothes on his back on the very first day of his journey at twelve years old, he had survived long enough to rescue Striker and form a team.

Surviving the endless dusk each minute and hour and day and year had cost them all a lot, but it had given something in return. Something as warped and twisted as the world itself.

In times of calm, Sean was anxious and fluttery. He second-guessed himself a lot. In times of crisis, however?

Sean returned to his campsite and began to plan. Ideas were the best he could do for the most part in the future, and while he could properly hold his own now, he hadn't lost that part of him. That crying, grasping, tenacious part of him.

He sat down. He took a drink of water. He ate a delicious apple. And then he put his mind to work.

There were a lot of things that needed to be done, and this was a terrible setback on top of it. There was little Sean wanted more than to just have time to think, to plan, to work out what to do.

As such, time was quite literally not on his side.

"Dusknoir doesn't need to kill us to win," he muttered, talking out loud helped him think. "He just needs to stall us long enough so that time collapses anyway."

Taking the Time Gears certainly hadn't bought them any time either. Time was collapsing faster.

Needing to take a view at his tools, Sean removed every item from his small Treasure Bag and assembled everything into piles. He set the money to the side and focused on the seeds and orbs.

He had one slumber orb, the cloudy white sphere belayed an exceptionally handy use. Two petrify orbs, an escape orb, which happened to be useless for this situation. A luminous orb that Striker had entrusted to him. He also had the orb he hated using the most - the mobile orb.

It was useful. Very useful. Albeit highly uncomfortable to use.

He set the seeds he could use to the side and packed everything back up. He had two more stops to make before he could begin to execute any wild and rash ideas that Striker would greatly disapprove of.

The thought of Striker's reprimands for what he was about to do left a small smile on Sean's muzzle as he made his way back towards town.

The sun was beginning to set, and he knew that he wouldn't have the best selection of items at this hour. But making his way to the Kecleon Market, or even the stalls the various exploration teams set up could prove useful.

Even if information was all he could find.

As Sean stepped into town, he could feel the buzz of anticipation in the air. Pokémon were formed into small groups, chatting and theorising. There was always someone quiet, looking around carefully.

More than once, Sean heard the word human get tossed around and he hastened his step. It was bizarrely terrifying to be within the confines of Treasure Town; formerly such a welcoming place, but to a human-in-hiding, it matched some of the least friendly places of the Dark Future.

Knowing that all these happy, pleasant, and sane pokémon would have him killed, even if they didn't truly know what awaited him in Dusknoir's embrace, left him feeling ill to the stomach.

He was the only one walking alone, even the shiftiest looking pokémon around had at least one companion to stand with them. Sean's only companions were in the grip of the enemy. He was alone. Just his shadow walking by him.

Being forced to pause at the bridge, as a trio of larger pokémon were all crossing on a row, Sean didn't make eye contact even as the zangoose eyed him for a longer moment than necessary.

Once Team Razor Wind was clear, he stepped forward, catching the sound of a brief whisper from Zangoose to his teammates.

He fought the urge to walk faster.

"Welcome, welcome," the green kecleon said. He was the only one manning the shop at the moment, the purple one was nowhere to be seen. "How can I help you?"

"I'm heading to a dungeon soon," Sean said calmly, stepping up closer, "and I was hoping to grab some supplies before departing. What do you have left in stock?"

"The day may be nearly over, but the Kecleon Market still has wares!" Green smiled and gestured to the wall behind him. "Berries, seeds, even orbs. I have permission from my brother to sell them." He winked and Sean cracked an appropriate smile. "But we will restock tomorrow, so there will be better choices to come!"

"I'll grab however many orans you have," Sean replied and noticed something, "and is that a quick seed?"

"It is indeed!"

"Throw that in as well. The vanish seed too."

Once everything had been stored and paid for, Sean gave his goodbyes and began the tense walk back out of town. He had a stop, but thankfully not in town.

"Pokémon detected! Pokémon detected!" He found himself staring up at the Wigglytuff Guild.

"Who's footprint? Who's footprint?"

"The footprint is Riolu! The footprint is Riolu!"

Another bitterly amusing thing to Sean, as the grate opened. If the gatekeepers knew who he really was, such an act of welcome would not be given.

He bypassed the middle floor almost completely, only giving a cursory look around and seeing just two pokémon, before stepping down to the bottom.

"Excuse me?" Chatot huffed, spotting him immediately and flapping over. "Visitors are not allowed on this floor. Please leave."

"My apologies sir." Sean clasped his paws and bowed slightly. It didn't throw Chatot off too badly, the unpreened feathers sticking out alerted him to Chatot's tenseness. "I was simply hoping to speak to Shinx and Litleo and thought puttering about up there would just waste everyone's time."

"Team Ion?" Chatot narrowed his eyes. "What business do you have with them?"

Sean showed his bag with a soft smile. "I, uh, heard they were having a rough time and was hoping to invite them out for a drink at Spinda's Café, my treat."

Chatot raised his head slightly, watching him for an unpleasant moment, before almost smiling. "I'll go fetch them," he said and began hopping towards a corridor at the back. "Return to the middle floor, they'll see you up there."

He was a bit disappointed at the dismissal, and anxious, but did as he was told and waited around, ignoring the two snoozing members of Team Slacker.

Soon enough, to his relief, Shinx and Litleo arrived. Both were looking a mixture of curious and annoyed. They were tense together, standing noticeably apart. Riolu had heard the gossip around town, surprise and confusion of Litleo joining this team considering his history.

He didn’t like what he heard, but not about Litleo. Rather, the way others spoke of him rubbed him the wrong way.

"What do you want?" Litleo demanded, eyeing him up and down.

Sean gave them a more genuine smile than what he had given to Chatot. "I was hoping to have you both at Spinda's Café for a drink or two!"

Litleo raised an eyebrow while Shinx shook his head. "I'm sorry, I really don't feel like it."

They were in the guild, so this was risky. "I was also hoping to talk to you both about something."

Litleo cracked a grin, baring one-too-many teeth. "What do you want?" he repeated, more genuine himself and even less friendly.

This was already going wrong and Sean hated this. Yet he believed that Scout had made real friends and he had no one else he could possibly turn to.

They might reject him and get him into serious trouble, but he knew there was little way he could pull this off without any help.

"I want to help you," he said bluntly and Shinx frowned, Litleo just eyed him some more. Feeling even more like a piece of meat to the Fire-type, he quietly added. "I… overheard you two at the beach the other day."

Shinx's eyes went wide while Litleo's eyes narrowed. Sean crossed his arms and tried to look firm. "So, can we talk? Somewhere else?"

The two feline pokémon exchanged a look before nodding to the canine.

Sean led them out of the guild and past Spinda's Café. They walked in silence, both parties hoping this wasn't some sort of trap.

He pointed them through the crossroads and towards the best place he could think of. "I thought we could talk at Litleo's hollowed-out tree," he said quietly. It ran close to where Dusknoir and the sableye were undoubtedly guarding but was far less conspicuous than the beach or leading them to his own camp.

Litleo's house was in an even worse state than before, but none of them commented on it.

"How do you know where I lived?" Litleo demanded as soon as they were inside.

"And what do you mean, 'you want to help'?" Shinx added, eyes shining in the darkened house.

"I know where everyone lives," Sean replied without really answering. He’d even followed Bidoof to his visits with some ‘Bell’, although the one time as he didn’t like to eavesdrop, nor knock-knock jokes. "And I mean what I said. I want to help you rescue Scout."

"We never said anything about that at the beach," Litleo pointed out and Sean made note of the fact that both of them were between the exit and him.

"Why would you want to do that anyway?" Shinx asked.

"It was an easy conclusion to make, considering what happened," Sean answered smoothly, "and I don't think Scout is guilty, if Scout really is his name anyway. Either way, I thought of the two of us as friends." He shrugged. "Not as close as you two with him, but definitely a friend regardless. I don't think he should be punished, I know he's not a bad pokémon." He tapped one of his aura tassels and Shinx's eyes lit up slightly.

Litleo was still wary.

"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he said. "Why would you risk yourself like this? If you get caught you'll be in a LOT of trouble."

"I… don't really have that many friends." Sean glanced away, cheeks burning. "I'm always moving and drifting. Scout never seemed to care or judge and there was just… something about him."

Shinx smiled slightly. "Heh, yeah he does have that something."

Even Litleo seemed less antagonistic after that. "Yeah... I've never got why, but I know what you mean."

"Anyway, I've worked out a plan in trying to free him." Sean nearly slipped and said them. "But I can't do it by myself, that's why I've come to you. I know you care about him and want to do something. We can do something! I can get him out."

"Why should we trust you?" Litleo asked, Shinx pausing his hopeful expression and nodding in agreement.

“Yeah. If you believe he’s innocent then won’t that be proven?”

Sean smiled bitterly. "I know it's not really a good answer, but what choice do you have?" Both of their eyes narrowed. "And if people were willing to listen, he’d be out already." Sean raised a paw and both of their frowns deepened. "I don’t trust what Dusknoir had to say there, the future? That’s crazy and even if it is true he can’t prove it. I saw how he took control of the conversation after Scout tried to fight back, he did it too well."

Shinx's lips pursed and he gave Litleo a searching look, the stormy expression on the Fire-type was no help. "What IS your plan?" he asked, turning back. "Before we agree to anything, what are you doing and why do you need us?"

Litleo nodded. "You want to risk yourself for some reason, but why do you need us?"

"I've got a few orbs and seeds," Sean explained, patting his Treasure Bag, "that I can use to disable the guards and get into the base. A mobile orb to walk through walls, slumber and petrify orbs to disable anyone without hurting them. I can even break them out of whatever cages they are in."

He dropped his paw and sighed. "But. I need time. I need, well, a distraction. Someone to distract Dusknoir, because if he intervenes there is almost nothing I’ll be able to do against him."

"You want us?" Litleo's voice was deadly flat.

"To be a distraction?" Shinx finished, sparking angrily.

"You wanted to talk to Dusknoir haven't you?" Sean shot back and both of them paused. "But he's avoided you at every turn right?" There was no nod, but he knew the answer anyway. "Dusknoir is going to be on guard now that he has Scout and Grovyle. This is a chance to both help Scout get out as well as finally talk to Dusknoir."

Shinx nodded slowly, Litleo remained annoyed.

"A distraction though?" he muttered, and Sean gave a smile.

"Think of it this way?" he suggested. "If you were to break in and out you and Scout would probably be fugitives for the rest of your lives. But if you simply take this opportunity to distract Dusknoir, you can't get incriminated. The risk is just on me."

"You could sell us out," Litleo pointed out.

"Only if I was caught," Sean replied and Litleo finally smiled.

"Cocky. I like it."

Sean gave himself a mental pat on the back for finally working out how to approach Litleo's tastes. Although now he was looking him up and down again and Sean felt very exposed for a different reason.

"Nice."

"Okay," Shinx agreed, nodding, and Sean felt a wave of relief. "We'll distract Dusknoir while you get Sean out." He looked to Litleo, who nodded, before frowning and turning back to Sean. "Only Meowth. Right?"

Sean nodded without hesitation, although he dearly wished Shinx hadn't thought of that. "Only Sc-Meowth. I can't imagine the thief would be held in the same jail, but if he is I'll probably need to paralyse everyone with an orb to get them out anyway."

Shinx nodded again and Litleo stretched. "Awesome! When are we going to do this?"

"As soon as possible," Sean answered, patting his bag again. "I have everything I need. As soon as you two are ready we'll start. And the sooner we can do this the easier it should be."

"We've been ready for days," Shinx answered confidently and Litleo gave him an appraising look.

"Nice."

Sean smiled and nodded. "Let's go then."


Trill was the nighttime guardian of the guild.

He knew the ins and outs of the whole place.

People who came in.

And people who left.

Team Ion were not in their beds. He had a feeling he knew where they were.

He paced outside Rhythm’s chambers for some time, pondering whether to go in or not. They had suffered a major disagreement in proceedings here and talk between them was tense and unpleasant.

It was funny, in a way. The rules lawyering chatot felt that they should exercise pressure on the law enforcement team to just outright take their member back. Innocent until proven guilty and all.

Rhythm did not agree. He felt that Meowth’s innocence was guaranteed and thus doing things the fair and legal way was a better choice of action.

Trill did not agree. It felt like abandonment. The Guild was meant to be the home of those who joined it, no matter what.

No. Matter. What.

He eventually stepped away from the chambers and flew out a window into the open air.

If Shinx and Litleo were going to do something stupid, they should at least have someone smart to bail them out.


Orbs were a strange thing.

No one was really sure what they were or how they came to be. They spawned in dungeons, but dungeons were not places the wise or the sane tended to ponder about.

One thing Sean did know about orbs, one thing he still worried about, was that Striker had an unhealthy fixation on the things.

He gathered it was due to how they met. Even as a human, Sean could use the mysterious things and he had paralysed an entire horde of pokémon and then carried the broken treecko to safety with an escape orb. It was how they met, and Striker obsessed over the things since.

Regardless of how useful they were, the fixation on them still concerned him at times.

What also concerned him, and was a mite more immediate, was the pair of sableye standing in front of the door to Team Magnezone's base.

There were only two entrances to the area, and the second entrance would be unwise to use first.

Sean rolled a slumber orb between his stubby paws and got ready to activate it. With night having fallen, he had some ability to sneak, but sableye had excellent night vision. Perhaps even better than day vision.

And they weren't in a dungeon, forcing Sean to get a little more creative in his use of the orbs. He swallowed a nibble of a vanish seed and disappeared into thin air. Walking when invisible was highly disorientating and Sean stumbled several times as he couldn't see anything either. Not even his own feet.

Using his aura tassels, however, he was able to sense part of his way. All he needed was to be quiet enough and get close enough for the sableye to be in range.

In a short amount of time as well, the seed would only last a minute or so at the amount he had eaten.

He couldn't sense much, just floaty bits of boredom, but his memory was sharp enough to give him context. Sean squeezed down on the slumber orb and tossed it like a smoke bomb.

Two soft thunks heartened him and slowly Sean felt his vision return. He was facing the wall and had nearly kicked a rock.

Looking to the entrance and the two sableye were asleep, knocked out before they could alert Dusknoir. Hopefully.

With Shinx and Litleo distracting him Sean held some hope he’d have the time he needed.

He didn't rely on that hope, however, and grabbed his next orb. Walking through the door seemed silly, so he walked through the wall next to the door instead.

The mobile orb's effects would last him about five minutes and walking through walls would be tremendously uncomfortable.

There was no time to hesitate, however, and so he pressed his paws against the thick stone. He pressed harder and felt something give.

What it was, he was never sure. Walking through a solid object was easily the most uncomfortable feeling he had ever suffered. Stone was awful, but there were worse textures to feel scraping against his heart, brain, and everything else. Tickling his organs was not fun.

It didn't hurt, thankfully, nor would it cause damage as long as he wasn't inside anything before the effects wore off.

And yet the feeling of stone passing through every scrap of flesh, vein, muscle, bone, and more was simply horrific. He closed his eyes, even though it didn't do anything but add some extra discomfort to his eyelids. Walking through a wall with his eyes open was just as unpleasant.

Sean came through the other side and took a deep breath, lungs filling with air and not dust, and he tried to not shake too hard.

He palmed another orb and began creeping through the darkened base.

Even though it was night, there were high-priority prisoners held within and Dusknoir had certainly insisted on tight security.

Thankfully, however, for these peaceful times, 'tight security' consisted of a pair of magneton with a rotating schedule. Soon enough someone else would arrive and find sleeping pokémon, or they would wake up, so this had to be done quickly.

He ducked beneath a desk and peered out. The base was simple and spartan in nature. The mechanical pokémon had little need for physical comforts and little space was filled with chairs or waiting areas. It was a simple large, round, room with multiple doors. With two magneton guarding one door, Sean was confident he could guess the way.

He walked back into the wall and began feeling his way through it, closer to the magneton. Being blind again was annoying, but he was beginning to really appreciate being a riolu.

The sensing abilities, even weak as they were, happened to be exceptionally handy for tasks such as this. They just gave him the worst of headaches. His human mind was not prepared to experience another sense no matter how much his body was designed for it.

Letting those senses go wild too long left him feeling… strange to say the least.

He activated a petrify orb, not risking a slumber not working on the robotic magneton.

Twin clinks of magneton falling to the ground heartened him and he carefully poked an eye out and kept going through the wall. No need for them to see him after all.

Sean paused at the door leading to the jails and fished another petrify orb out. He marvelled at the lack of security designed to deal with items but was thankful for it. He began to walk through the wall holding the orb. Readying the wave for whoever else Dusknoir was using.

His suspicions were correct, and he immediately blasted a wave of petrification at the sableye who was just reaching for the door.

The second one jumped but then fell to the ground in a stiff, startled pose.

Scout and Striker were also rendered stiff and unmoving, besides their eyes, and Sean raced over to the two jail cells.

He walked through the bars and punched Striker in the chest, breaking the effect of the orb. He coughed and gasped. "S-Sean?" As Sean walked through the wall dividing them and gave Scout a similar hit.

"What are you?" Scout began, but Striker cut over him.

"Don't waste time," he whispered. "Just get us out of here."

"Do you have the key?" Scout asked, but Sean just smiled and pushed his paw through the lock. When his move failed to form, he felt a flash of panic.

"Other side," Striker hissed. "These cells prevent the use of moves." Sean nodded and stepped through the door and tried again.

His smile became fixed slightly, feeling the presence of a claw and noted the faint smell of dried blood. He didn't let that dissuade him and took a needed breath, using Force Palm as he exhaled.

From inside the lock.

His paw jarred and he barely withheld the shout of pain, but the lock dented and broke as he recoiled. The sound banged out loud, echoing through the chamber.

He carefully nudged the cell door open, gentle enough, so he didn't phase through it, and scampered to Striker's cell, dropping his bag.

"Get the sleep seeds and give them to your 'friends'," Sean said, Scout just blinking at him.

"Wha? Bu-?" He looked from the bag to the stunned sableye. "Who? What?"

Another bang broke the lock on Striker's cell and the grovyle stepped out with a stormy smile. "You shouldn't have come," he growled, wincing when Sean smacked his arm. "This is stupidity above anything I've seen."

"We've got to go," Sean said, looking for Scout who was only just getting the right seeds. "Dose them and let's go."

Scout frowned and looked to the sableye hesitantly. Striker urgently snatched them from the meowth, forcing the seeds between the sharp teeth of the sableye.

Striker opened the door and they gingerly stepped over the stunned magneton and ran through the quiet, empty, room.

Sean ran right through the door, ready to knock anyone out with a hit to the head, and Striker soon followed, opening the door for himself and Scout.

"What is going on?" Scout demanded, but Striker didn't answer.

"Answers later," Sean said, gesturing rapidly and Scout didn't hesitate any longer. Something was causing his whiskers to twitch, and he didn't want to stand around anymore.

They ran for the trees and melted into the undergrowth.

"Why are you doing this?” Scout demanded again, slapping leaves and branches out of the way. “Who are you!?”

"HE is Sean," Striker answered, now that they were clear. “Do you believe me now?”

“Do I believe- I am Sean!”

“Don’t say that so loudly!”

"Dusknoir will figure it out anyway," Sean added, ducking under the falling branch. "Striker's just a worrisome wendy."

"The who now?"

"Grovyle's name."

"Less talking," Striker growled, glancing back as something loud boomed from behind them. "More running."

Scout groaned, the sounds of something behind them were fading as they went further. Knowing they were getting away, Dusknoir and sableye weren't exactly swift creatures, inspired him to keep up as they left the slower, overgrown, area and onto the dirt path.

Keeping up with a Fighting-type and Grovyle was not his favourite thing and Scout was forced onto all fours before long, wincing with each bound as his left paw was still stinging from the claw breakage a few days ago.

He'd been stuck in the cell for several days, fed each day sure, but it had left him exhausted and eventually he had to stop.

"I'm sorry," Scout gasped, legs shaking as he staggered to a stop. "I have to… to… stop."

His two companions, both of which he was still reeling from the presence of, slowed as well and exchanged a look. "I'll carry you," Grovyle, or Striker now said and reached for him.

"You're injured too," Sean pointed out and grabbed Striker's arm. "We can pause for a moment, here I have some berries…"

He fished a pair of Sitrus Berries out as well as two orans each and handed them over. Scout ate his share gracefully, Striker just scoffed them down.

"We can't stay still for long," he muttered, pulling both of them further into the trees and out of sight.

"I've got a quick seed just in case too." He gave Scout an appraising look. "We need to work out where to go," Sean added, as Scout was still catching his breath. "Dusknoir has access to at least two teleporters, so I do not think Crystal Cave is a wise place to head to."

Striker rubbed his head, where he'd been slammed into the ground. "Azelf had the Time Gear buried beneath crystals, I hadn't made much of a dent by the time I was caught."

"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Scout asked, looking between the two pokémon in furious desperation. "Everything has gone mad and I don't know what is happening anymore." He turned to Sean with a mixture of anger and confusion. "You're the same riolu that's been around town and talking to me, aren't you?"

Sean nodded apologetically. "Yeah… I'm sorry for concealing my identity, but I had to make sure you were okay."

"You've been talking to him?" Striker snapped and Sean winced again. "I told you to stay off Dusknoir's radar!"

"Well things had gone well up till now," Sean snapped back. "I was just a friendly face around town. Never had any sableye tailing me or anything."

"Why didn't you tell ME about him?" Scout focused his reproachful glare on Striker. "When we talked. THIS could have been helpful to know. Oh, by the way, Sean, you're not really Sean. Cheerio."

Striker crossed his arms. "You not remembering Sean was safer in case something like this happened and Dusknoir extracted information from you. He was only able to get us out because Dusknoir had no idea."

"I really am sorry Scout," Sean apologised again, Scout twitching at the name. "Everything's kind of gone to hell and I know you're stressed, confused and probably feeling betrayed too. We're here now, we're together again and can work out what to do."

Scout stood up and began pacing, Sean gave Striker a teasing smile at the sight. "What are we going to do?" Scout asked, both of his companions exchanging unsure looks. "Seriously? Dusknoir's so much stronger this time around, the town and guild bend over backwards for him!" He frowned and glanced to the side, ears twitching. "I… I think we might…" he trailed off and Striker hissed.

"What do you hear?"

"Someone's approaching," he said quietly. Scout always had the keenest ears of them all.

"We have to go then." Striker turned around and kneeled down. "Get on my back, I'll carry you."

Scout hesitated, but Sean gestured for him to hurry up and he hopped on. Striker muffled a grunt at the pain of Scout pressing onto his wounds, but he'd dealt with pain before.

"Sean?" a voice shouted and both meowth and riolu turned to the voice.

The smell of ozone was barely any warning before a sharp jolt of electricity blasted out from where the path was and knocked Sean off his feet. He slammed into a tree and shook leaves off it as Striker leapt up, Scout falling off his back in the process.

Striker spat a Bullet Seed, but it was met with an Ember. Before he could race to Sean and grab him, Mane and Rai leapt out into battle positions.

"YOU," Rai growled, eyes glowing completely white as he stalked towards Sean.

Striker formed an Energy Ball and tossed it, but Mane countered that with a Fire Blast. Striker used the smoke to grab the dazed Sean and began to run, but Scout wasn't following and the momentary indecision that caused stalled him enough for Rai to strike him with Thunderbolt.

Striker gasped in pain. The blast was strong, if not as strong against him as it could be, but his prior injuries were screaming with pain.

"Rai, STOP!" Scout yelled and Rai roared.

"HE LET GROVYLE GO!"

Sean detangled from Striker and rolled to his feet, trying to catch his breath. "Just let us explain," he pleaded, holding his paws wide in a placating gesture. "The-"

"I'm done listening to liars." Rai's voice rumbled like the thunder in Amp Plains.

"Rai," Scout said, voice tensing to the point of snapping. "Stop."

"Riolu there told us he'd be freeing you," Mane said, glaring holes into Sean. "And not the thief."

Striker leapt forward, silently thanking Sean and Scout for the distraction. He had already gotten up and had circled around, once their attention was off him.

A Leaf Blade, held back enough so not to draw blood again, knocked Rai back with a howl and he carried further, clubbing Litleo across the face and into the dirt.

Rai bounced and landed on his feet, already popping with electricity. Striker was gone, digging underground, and with the night obscuring him, Rai was paused for just long enough for Striker to use the old trick twice.

“GROVYLE!” Scout cried. “STOP!”

In a burst of dirt and green, Striker hit Rai right in the stomach and into the air. Mane breathed fire at him, but Striker was not finished. He snatched Rai from the air and brought him down as a shield, taking the brunt of the Fire Blast and sparing Striker most of it.

Mane swore again, but now Sean was moving.

A Force Palm to the back of the head sent him back into the dirt, and this time he didn't get up. Scout stared at the battle in horror before his expression melted into something dark. He began to move.

Rai screamed and forced electricity into Striker until he dropped him and lashed out with a Bite attack so dark it melted his own face into blackness.

Striker sacrificed his injured arm to the Bite and grabbed Rai by the throat, lifting him up to throw. Rai yelled something and Striker began forming both Bullet Seed and an Energy Ball to bring him down.

Scout did something desperately stupid.

"STOP!" Scout roared, holding Sean by the back of the head and a Night Slash to his throat. Striker gaped upon seeing that, giving Rai the opportunity to land and charge up another attack. "RAI!"

Rai also paused, and Mane groaned, pulling himself up from the ground. Everyone's eyes turned to Sean and Scout, the riolu holding very still as Scout's claws kissed the fur of his neck.

"What... are... you... doing?" Striker demanded and made to step forward.

"Everyone is. Going. To stop," Scout said darkly as drops of blackness fell from his claws and into his fur. "Everyone is. Going to calm. Down. Everyone. Is going to. Explain. What is going on."

"He's working with Grovyle!" Rai yelled, but then hesitated. "But… don't... don't hold your claws to his neck, Sean, he doesn't deserve THAT."

"Oh, NOW you choose reason," Striker growled.

"The only reason why you aren't twitching on the ground is because of him," Rai snapped back, and Striker raised twin Leaf Blades, Rai crackled.

"I. Said. Stop."

They paused.

"I agree with Scout," Sean said calmly as if he didn't have blades to his neck. "Please just let me explain and stop fighting. We don’t know what to think at this point and this chaos isn't helping."

Scout's grip on him didn't slacken, but he did frown.

"I might not be great at the whole riolu-sensing thing," Sean admitted. "But I can feel just how confused and conflicted you are."

"I don't see why we are stopping," Mane said. "He has RIOLU by the neck, shouldn't we be taking down Grovyle now?" He turned crackling jaws on the Grass-type and Striker sneered at him.

"Because we aren't enemies here," Scout said, breathing hard and catching his words. "We are not enemies here."

"You are holding YOUR friend by the neck," Striker said. "I don't know what has gotten into you, but you are going to release him."

"I will. Release him," Scout said, still speaking slowly, calmly, and deliberately. "When we all agree to listen to each other."

He didn't like that. "We don't have time," Striker protested.

"We will MAKE time."

"The truth of the matter is," Sean began. "Is that I am Sean, the meowth you knew as Sean is one of my friends from the future. Scout. Although during the trip backwards an incident occurred and Scout was knocked into a different place, although thankfully not a different time, with no memories. He thought he was me, that’s pretty flattering all things considered."

Scout's hold finally began to loosen. "That's what happened?" he asked, softly. It wasn't hard to accept, it was in fact the theory he had during his time in the cell. Still, to hear it confirmed was heartbreaking.

Rai and Mane were both looking horrified. "N-no, that can't…?" Rai mumbled before firming. "No. YOU are a liar, and I'm done listening to liars."

"We're not the bad guys here," Sean added, catching their attention again. "We came back to save the world, not to destroy it."

"You are taking Time Gears," Mane growled.

"To save time," Striker growled. "Anything Dusknoir may have told you about the future is a lie. He's the enemy here, he-"

It was unwise to speak of the devil. For he may be listening.

Striker was cut off when something smacked into him and he gasped. It was almost gentle, and it didn't hurt for a moment. He fell to his knees as a sableye drew back, Striker's blood on its claws.

Tendrils of shadow knocked Rai away, but passed through Mane, as Dusknoir and three more sableye arrived to surround the future trio.

"Good work, Scout," Dusknoir said warmly as a shadow slammed into Sean's chest and knocked him and Scout off their feet. "But it seems you remain conflicted. No matter, no matter."

"Wheh-heh-heh." The sableye sharpened their claws on their fellow's claws, the scraping sound sending shivers down Scout's spine.

"What an excellent night," Dusknoir laughed merrily. "To match a beautiful day. Grovyle AND my old-friend-turned-Riolu? What a day, what a day…"

"Who do you mean?" Striker gasped from where he was surrounded, magnemite trying to get the confidence to approach him. Dusknoir gave him a pitying look.

"You cannot seriously expect me to not gather that the young riolu here is Sean?"

Striker grinned. "Never met the riolu before now?"

"Hoo-hoo-hah." He looked to a sableye and snapped his fingers.

It grinned and began to speak. "Quote: The truth of the matter is that I am Sean, the meowth you knew as Sean is one of my friends from the future."

Striker's grin began to crack, and his eyes began to narrow. He flicked to where Sean and Scout were trying to ward the sableye off and did something desperately stupid.

He tackled Scout and rolled to a stop as Dusknoir yelled out. "STOP HIM!"

Scout was gasping as Striker pulled him up and held a Lead Blade to his neck. A distant, sarcastic, part of him was amused that the tables had turned like this.

"Dusknoir," Striker growled and Dusknoir stopped.

The two pokémon glared each other down as the sableye staggered in confusion. The ones trying to force Rai and Mane down hesitated and were knocked off. The two felines rose up furious but froze themselves as they took in the situation.

Dusknoir knocked Sean towards him with a shadow and grabbed him by the head and lifted him up. "I'll play your game Grovyle."

Striker pressed the Leaf Blade harder against Scout's neck and the meowth wondered how Sean had remained so calm. Each twitch felt like Striker would slice his neck open and he began to hyperventilate. One paw was free, and he considered trying to Night Slash him, but Striker was trying something.

"Let Sean go," Striker demanded. "Now."

"Release Scout first," Dusknoir said and gestured with his free arm. "You are surrounded Grovyle. Your tricks are done. You are done. Do you really want his blood on your hands on top of everything else?"

"You are a monster," Striker hissed and pressed closer, Scout squeaked as he was handled roughly, "but I know you still care about him. Let Sean go or else."

Dusknoir squeezed down and Sean gasped before gritting his teeth. "Striker enough, let him go!"

"Hoo-hoo-ha!" Dusknoir laughed and squeezed harder. "Hear him beg, Striker?" Sean gasped and went ramrod stiff in Dusknoir's hold, eyes glazing over.

"You have no right!"

Dusknoir's eye fell on Sean, twitching in his hold and it slowly widened. "What are...?"

Striker was also stunned as he realised what was happening. "You still...?"

"Striker!" Sean yelled, once his eyes had cleared up. He then smiled. "It's okay. He's not going to give in. Don't do this, can't you see what you are doing?" Striker hesitated, almost dropping his eyes from Dusknoir. The Ghost-type's twitching fingers kept him focused.

"One of us has to-" Striker began before blinking. "Did you just...?"

"It's not worth it," Sean said, and Striker's arms began to relax. "If you hurt him, you'll become just like him."

Dusknoir stared at Sean, realisation lighting his eye. "A Dimensional Scream?" he whispered and Sean felt his hand's grip nearly loosen and release. "Even now you would still..." Striker's expression twisted and he bent his head. His arm leaves stopped glowing as he released the Leaf Blade and dropped Scout, the meowth scuttling forward and away from Striker.

"Excellent." Dusknoir shook it off."You nearly made quite a dire mistake there, but I am glad we can be civilised pokémon here."

Striker raised his arms, shining green. “Civilised nothing, Dusknoir. The mission, no matter the cost.”

Dusknoir lowered his head, eying Striker for a very long moment. The sableye were all tense and unsure of themselves, Scout slowly trying to remember how to feel his feet again.

Dusknoir still held Sean by the head but the riolu had relaxed.

Everyone had dropped their gaze from Rai and Mane.

A surge of lightning and fire blasted the sableye off their feet and everyone jumped as the two reminded the pokemon from the future that they were still there.

“You two!” Dusknoir called urgently, finding his attention flipping between threats. He still held Sean, still knew Striker would hesitate. “What do you think you are doing?”

Rai was panting for breath, golden eyes glowing in the darkness. “Everyone is going to stop,” he demanded. “Everyone is going to explain what is going on! Why did you arrest Meowth? Why is he saying you are trying to save the world? Why do you know that, Meowth? You said you barely remembered anything!”

Scout flinched as if struck as Dusknoir urgently worked to control the situation. “Shinx, you must understand that when dealing with villains such as these they will use anything to-”

“Why is threatening Meowth a deterrent to you!?” Mane roared.

“You said he was YOUR partner!” Rai insisted, Scout looked horrified. “And you did THIS?”

“If you just let me-”

“He’s a liar,” Striker snarled. “We are saving the world.”

“Oh, shut up!” Dusknoir snapped. “You would kill everyone and call it salvation.”

“Anything better than that dead world!” Striker roared back.

His arms were burning green. Dusknoir’s hand clenched down on Sean’s head until the riolu squealed in pain and, surprisingly, the pain seemed to startle Dusknoir and his grip loosened.

Just enough of a hesitation for Striker to live up to his namesake.

Dusknoir was knocked back with a gasping roar as Striker suckerpunched him in the chest, knocking him back and freeing Sean from his grip.

“SABLEYE!” Dusknoir roared and the six lurking on the fringes exploded into action.

The time for talk was over.

One pounced on Sean as he scrambled, one for Scout as he tried to stand, and the rest for Rai and Mane as Dusknoir and Striker fought in the clearing.

They had run far, but Treasure Town expanded far itself and the sounds of battle carried farther and wider.

Dusknoir restrained Striker with one hand as the other raised to the sky, he chanted something as a cerulean blue not unlike a Time Gear poured from his hand, a temporal mist that began to coalesce.

Rai and Mane joined hips as they blasted sableye back with fire and lightning while Scout defended from the slashing claws of a hungering imp.

Sean had similar bad luck, unable to hit the beast striking and biting at him and he was forced to raise the metal on his paws to defend himself.

They were being pushed back and cornered in the middle of the clearing when a voice cut across the carnage, “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”

A voice so loud it may be a Hyper Voice caused only the defenders to cringe and everyone looked up as a swooping saviour descended.

Oh, wait, that was Chatot.

Dusknoir had Striker by the throat as everyone paused yet again as Chatot swooped down, beak agape and eyes wide. “Fighting? Prisoners free? Sableye? Dusknoir? What is the MEANING of this?”

Dusknoir breathed heavily, a sigh of relief. “We have caught some escapees,” he said smoothly as a sableye leapt for Striker and hit him in the back of the neck with a burning hand. One punched Sean in the throat as well.

Sean tried to speak, but suddenly found he could not. The Throat Chop breaking his ability to talk for a time. Striker too was left mouthing angrily as Chatot stared imperiously among the pokemon for answers. He had caught those attacks and his eyes narrowed, but Dusknoir knew he merely needed to talk without interruptions.

“And I believe this riolu is in fact the very human we hunted,” Dusknoir said smoothly. “He called himself Sean, cited Scout and Striker as his companions from the future. I believe I have all the proof I need now, Chatot my friend.”

Chatot looked to Rai and Mane. “What drove you two to leave your beds?” he snapped.

Rai’s ears tilted back for a moment but they both rose up forcefully. “We were breaking Meowth out,” Rai said confidently. “Distracting Dusknoir for Riolu. He said he’d only get Meowth out but he took Grovyle too.”

“And everyone is saying different things,” Mane added on, Dusknoir’s baleful eye flashed to him angrily and motioned to a sableye. “They’re claiming they’re saving the world, Dusknoir says it’ll kill everyone.”

Scout, struggling against a sableye cried out, “No! Time is already falling apart! There’s a tower, okay? Okay? We need to take the gears there and everything is fixed! Please, Chatot, you have to believe me!”

The sableye punched him in the throat as well, something cloying sticking to his voicebox as he tried to babble more.

Chatot’s eyes flashed. “Don’t you dare harm him,” he snapped, raising his wings threateningly.

“Wheh-heh.” The sableye kept Scout pinned, bearing teeth threateningly in his face.

Chatot observed everything going down, hearing what had been said. He eventually turned to Dusknoir. “I believe a fair and impartial trial is necessary,” he said primly.

Dusknoir’s eye flickered. “A trial? I have told you. Shinx and Litleo have. Meowth just admitted it. You know the gears missing is causing this, Chatot. What trial could possibly be necessary?”

“Actually,” Chatot said. “Reports of time disturbance were occurring weeks before the first gear was reported missing.”

Head of intelligence wasn’t just a boast.

“That… of course, the gear had to be found missing.”

“They are getting a trial, I will hear nothing else,” Chatot barked.

“These are… criminals,” Dusknoir growled. “From my time. They are under my jurisdiction.”

“We are not in your time, Dusknoir,” Chatot said firmly.

Dusknoir stilled. Entirely stopped.

The distortion above their heads coelesced darker and darker.

“I see,” Dusknoir said. He glanced to the sableye and nodded. They braced and then everything exploded.

A shockwave of darkness that sent Chatot, Rai and Mane flying off their feet before Dusknoir found himself being tossed back by Striker. A shadow curled around Sean’s leg and the riolu shrieked as he was thrown by a tendril of darkness at the Dimensional Hole that had formed above their heads.

He and the sableye connected and then they were gone.

“ALERT!” Chatot shrieked, a Power-amplified cry that carried across all of Treasure Town’s residential area. “ALERT! POKEMON ARE BEING KIDNAPPED!”

Dusknoir charged back for Striker, who was trying to scramble to his feet, and grabbed him around the torso.

Before he could turn and throw him, however, Chatot collided with his back, body burning into a blue light.

The Brave Bird staggered Dusknoir and Striker fell out of his grip. "GET HIM!" he bellowed to the sableye and their fear of him snapped them out of their dazes. They grabbed Striker as Dusknoir spun onto Chatot and punched him out of the air with a fist crackling with electricity.

Mane took his chance. He twisted and blasted one of the sableye away from the carnage with a Fire Blast and freed himself. He blasted the one off Rai as well. "Come on!" he yelled and the shinx immediately fell into a run with him.

They sprinted for Scout fighting the sableye all over again, ducking through the chaos or removing obstacles in their way with Fire Blast's and Thunderbolt's.

They ran for the portal, spotting Scout barely avoiding being knocked into it by the shadows Dusknoir was just now throwing at everything.

Dusknoir charged for Scout but Chatot got in his way again and crashed into him. Feathers danced around Dusknoir, staggering his strength as he tried to punch Chatot again and Chatot scored a nasty hit on his face.

Dusknoir snatched Chatot out of the air and tried to crush him, but Striker speared him in the back, the pain causing Dusknoir to release Chatot.

The two powerful pokemon fought Dusknoir together. As Chatot swooped in from the sky and doused him in feathers, Striker beat him back with burst of green energy, beating him back foot by foot towards the portal.

Dusknoir roared out something and punched Striker with everything he had, knocking the Grass-type flying. Chatot continued pestering him from above and Dusknoir snatched him out of the sky again.

Scout broke free of the sableye and rushed to Chatot’s aid.

Scout was trying to fight him off with Night Slash, but his slashes barely seemed to phase Dusknoir. Dusknoir continued squeezing Chatot in his twitching hands.

The bird was going limp.

"DUSKNOIR!" Rai roared as Dusknoir managed to get a hold on Scout as well. Something exploded from behind him and several sableye flew into the portal. He began flying for the portal, ready to fling them out so that Chatot couldn’t free Scout.

Dusknoir spotted them coming and shadows rippled before lashing out at their feet. They passed harmlessly through Mane, he was a Normal-type after all, but Rai staggered as they snared his back feet. He writhed and broke free, leaping after Mane.

Mane, wreathed in flame, tackled Dusknoir's in the back. Then they touched the portal and disappeared.

Rai followed in right after them.

Then landed in the dirt.

And Rai was screaming muffled cries into the dirt.

Someone grabbed him and tried to pull him up, but Rai shocked them, and they released them. He thought he saw Croagunk but didn't care.

He had missed the portal by a split second.

Scout AND Mane were gone.

"Sean?"

Rai didn't care who was yelling that, the person was silenced quickly anyway. There was a cacophony around him, pokemon had heard Chatot’s alert and were rushing to help.

The guild members quickly grabbed Grovyle the Thief who was staring towards Rai, or really where the Dimensional Hole had been, in horror. "SEAN?"

"HE'S GONE!" Rai screamed.

"Chatot?" Wigglytuff cried, rushing onto the scene. "Where's Chatot?"

"Dusknoir had him," Grovyle muttered, falling slack in the firm grip of Loudred and Sunflora. "Sean, Scout."

"Litleo too," Croagunk croaked, coming up as the town finally began to properly calm down.

“A Dimensional Hole,” Striker muttered softly. “A portal to the future.”

"They have all gone to the future?" Corphish gasped. "Hey… we have Grovyle… what are we going to do?"

"Trill," Wigglytuff whimpered. "Trill, no."

Rai continued sobbing in the dirt, sparking too much for any pokémon to risk trying to comfort him.

"What are we going to do?"


Shine Village was a pleasant place.

A small stream ran through it, giving life-giving water to any who needed it.

Grassy hills sloped gentle rides for younger, or just playful, pokémon.

A cosy town square, which was more of a town circle, had a ring of small businesses. A Pelipper Post office was the main building of the town, but a small building had been built around a watering hole to become a warm place for pokémon to socialise at the later hours.

It was also boring. So, so, boring.

"And in the Damned River dungeon you can fight buizel! Buizel are the best to fight!" A breloom boasted, puffing his chest out proudly. "My record is fifteen buizel in a single outing."

"Fifteen huh?" his companion yawned and the breloom's confidence faltered. "Cool."

"Er… yes, well unless you count all the floatzel too! Then my record shoots up to twenty-six!"

"Twenty-six waters for a grassy. Cool."

Breloom glanced away, this really wasn't going well. He fumbled around, unsure of how to continue, before his eyes lit up.

If strength didn't impress her, maybe a treasure would.

"So, I recently came into possession of a mysterious relic," he said proudly, and his companion's ears quirked. He dug into his travel bag, looking for it. "Legends state it only shows to those it deems worthy."

"Worthy of what?" she asked, and Breloom wasn't sure what to say.

"U-uh… the guy didn't say."

"You got it from someone else?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "How is that 'worthy' then?"

"W-well, you see. I think it's sort of like, only the worthy can see it or touch it. Uh… here, what do you think of it?"

He passed over an odd stone. The luxio frowned as she pawed it over to herself, cut from a chunk of rock, it would have been completely uninteresting if one side wasn't sanded flat. Badly sanded at that.

And on the flat side was a white circle with four spires and four spirals. To her eyes, she could see the wobbles and cracks, feel the incorrect weight.

Luxio licked her lips and looked up at the breloom, staring hopefully at her. She smiled and he seemed to relax.

With her tail flicking, she cosied in closer and asked. "So, who did you get this from?"

"This nice fellow," he answered, not wanting to say more. He'd been asked to keep their deal a secret. When she didn't reply, simply leaned in closer and peered up at him, his will to keep a promise faded away. "A skuntank. He uh… he had a koffing and zubat with him too."

"Glad to hear it," Luxio said and gave him a lick on the cheek that left him tingling, before hopping back. "I'll remember you well, but I've got someone to hunt."

"W-wait!" Breloom called, but she was already out the door. He sighed and grabbed the treasure she seemed so interested in, marvelling at it for a bit. The owner gave him a free drink for his troubles, and that made him feel a bit better.

Luxio left Shine Village behind her quickly, it hadn't taken long for a few locals to confirm the presence of some 'Team Skull' and also their departure.

And also the way they went.

She grinned, sparking slightly as her Power roiled within her. Someone was using her little brothers treasure to their own advantage. She did not approve of this.

She may have to pay Treasure Town a visit soon.
 
Chapter 23 - When Strange Things Happen

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
In the original version, I posted Chapters 21, 22, and 23 within a day of each other as part of a thank you celebration for hitting a milestone.

Since I can get these out just the same, I thought why not? Hah, back then I even wrote all three within the same day which was a huge undertaking and thus those chapters were among the roughest of the whole story.



When Striker had been thrown roughly into the cell next to his, Scout had very little to say to him.

His paw stung like beedrill were crawling in his flesh, stabbing him with their stingers. It didn't compare to the pain of feeling abandoned, left to rot, and jeered at as he was carted away with no one but Mane calling foul.

It heartened him a little at least that the litleo stuck up for him. And yet Mane was disliked by the town and his support meant nothing to sway the hearts of those he thought were kind pokemon.

It frightened him, truly, in ways that jumping into dungeons never had. The feral pokemon appeared almost mindless, just berserkers with a touch of tragedy to them that Corphish had revealed.

The citizens of Treasure Town, however? They could think for themselves. They could think and love and hate.

And for a moment he felt what Wartortle of Team Go-Getters must have felt those years ago. A whole town united in their contempt for him.

How amusing in such a bitter way. Tricked by a Ghost-type into thinking he was the one trying to damn them when rather it was the ghost who fooled them. Scout was the enemy, the vile mole that had infiltrated the Wigglytuff Guild to find the location of the Time Gears to give his wicked partners the positions to strike.

And strike they did.

Striker was next to him. He might have washed the blood of slashing Rai off him but Scout still could see it on him. See Rai's shocked expression as he crumpled to the ground, his lifeblood staining the ground red.

He didn't want to talk to him. He knew Grovyle put the salvation of the world before everything, even his own life. He knew it was likely an accident, he had seen his reflection and mused on it in retrospect.

Yet, seeing Rai collapse like that would lead him to threaten Sean shortly after this, no words being spoken between them as they both languished as failures in their cells.


His head ached like nothing else.

It felt like he was being moved, but the effort to open his eyes was too much. Something heavy smacked on the ground and something tittered before he was moved again.

Awareness flowed in and out until Chatot was sure he was being held upward. With blood flowing normally again, he found the prospect of opening his eyes to merely be a herculean task, rather than outright impossible.

"Mmmf," he groaned, cracking an eye open. His vision swam immediately, and he had to close it again. He tried again, things were a little clearer, but his eyes were still filled with fluid. Chatot lifted a wing to rub his eye.

Well, he tried.

"Hm?" Awareness began to return much faster. "What?" Chatot squawked as his other eye was a bit clearer, and blinking a bunch cleared the other one up as well as it could.

He was tied to a pillar, that was the first thing he couldn't help but disapprove of.

The second disapproval was all the sableye staring hungrily at him. Such a prospect would be unpleasant even if he wasn't held in place.

The third, and greatest, disapproval he decided upon was the fact that he was not the only one being lynched like this.

"Litleo?" Chatot squawked, ignoring the sableye. "Litleo?" he said harsher but still no response. "Litleo, can you hear me?" Finally the troublemaker reacted.

He did a lot of the same as Chatot himself, sighing and groaning, before slowly coming to with a lot of blinking. Once he was aware he seemed to jolt, as best as he could when tied to a pillar and stared out in shock.

"You know…?" Litleo began, staring out in a mixture of shock and terror. "I once had a dream juuust like this. It was… interesting."

Chatot tried to ruffle his feathers as he found a fourth thing to disapprove of, inappropriate-on-multiple-levels jokes, but a sound from his left interrupted him.

The human, Riolu, or really the 'real' Sean snorted in amusement. He met Chatot's eyes and Chatot was spooked to see the darkness of the expression he wore.

Chatot didn't wish to stare into that abyss for long, so he broke eye contact and looked back to the sableye. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded shrilly. He cleared his throat and spoke more confidently. "Release us immediately."

The sableye just tittered at him again. "Wheh-heh-heh." A few scraped their claws and others eyed them hungrily. Chatot grew less comfortable by the moment.

"So, where's Dusknoir?" Sean asked, voice much calmer and level than Chatot's own. "Couldn't he stand to face us like this?"

"I was simply ensuring the safety of a prisoner," Dusknoir said grandly, melting in from a dark door. "I would have had this done already, but I found myself needing to take some time to compose myself."

Sean grinned widely, an expression Chatot found to be ridiculous. "You didn't get Striker did you?"

Dusknoir's fingers twitched and he rolled his head stiffly. "No." His anger began to brim and Dusknoir's baleful eye moved to Chatot. "Thanks to you."

"Me?" Chatot squawked. "YOU attacked first! You broke OUR laws? How DARE you do such a thing Dusknoir. And to think I actually respected you once. But now to see you as a craven, irrational, vicious thug I see my thoughts were incorrect."

"Ha!" Litleo laughed despite their predicament. "Burn!"

Dusknoir raised his hand to glare at Chatot and the bird found himself looking away. "Due to you," he spat. "Grovyle escaped. He remains in the past to end the world. That is on you, Chatot."

"Don't listen to him," Sean cut in. "Dusknoir has been using you all. Scout was telling the truth, we are trying to save the world, YOU might have saved the world there, Chatot." He paused before looking to Dusknoir. "What did happen actually? After I got tossed through."

"Chats fucking bodied Dusknoir!" Litleo laughed. "I thought you were a bit soft, but I think I can get why you were part of that 'Team With No Name'. Heh, Dusknoir didn't like that."

Sean smiled. "I bet he didn't."

"It is no matter," Dusknoir interjected smoothly, voice still brimming with shaking anger. "I have Sean and I still brought Scout back with me. It is only Striker that I yet need to obtain, and he is viewed as the most reviled thief in your time. Perhaps I won't even need to do anything if the crowd's violence does him in regardless."

"He'll survive," Sean growled and Dusknoir eyed him. "The pokemon of the past will see sense once he gets to talk like you've been trying to deny us."

"Perhaps. But he'll be arrested nonetheless. It will be simple to return with Master Dialga's blessing and retrieve him."

Litleo snorted. "After you did what you did, I'd like to see you show your face to the guild. Wigglytuff would explode you."

Dusknoir glowered but then waved his hand at the sableye. "Sadly you will not get the chance to see such a thing." Litleo's grin became fixed as the sableye all chuckled. "None of you are leaving this room alive. Sableye?"

"Wheh-heh-heh."

"W-w-w-w-wait!" Chatot squawked as Litleo squeaked in sudden fear. "What do you think you are doing?"

Dusknoir didn't answer, he was already heading out of the room.

"What's the matter?" Sean called, but Dusknoir didn't pause. "Can't stand to watch me die? C'mon, Guardian! Were you always this much of a coward?"

Dusknoir froze, even the sableye paused with highly unsure expressions. He turned back to Sean with a searching look, the anger in his eye had burned out. "I… I have business elsewhere."

He turned away to leave the room but paused again, floating frozen at the doorway. He gave a deep sigh and slowly turned back but couldn't meet Sean's eyes. The sableye shrugged it off and clashed their claws again.

"Okay, listen up," Sean hissed, loud enough for only Chatot and Litleo. "These guys get a bit excited, a bit sloppy, they are definitely going to hit the ropes. If we all get a chance, we have to break these things. They are flimsy, one good tear should be enough."

"W-wha?" Chatot squawked.

"Just don't act until I say so!" Sean hissed and braced as the sableye came for them.

The claws were awful.

Half physical, scratching lines of pain in his heads and necks, half spiritual and striking their spirits. Chatot and Litleo fared better than most would, being Normal-types.

Sean fared much worse, but he'd suffered this before in smaller doses and forced himself to think about Striker, think about Scout, his thoughts even moved to Guardian, and he held his composure.

The sableye slashed and slashed, nicking and scratching the ropes in their eagerness.

Sean forced his head to the side to see the progress of the others. Litleo's ropes were fraying, Chatot's were taking some time however and he dearly hoped they could withstand this.

He felt blood begin dripping and even his spirit shrieking in pain. Chatot began to spasm and his rope frayed.

Sean tried to speak, blood was in his mouth, blood was in his eyes, blood was in his soul.

He tried to speak, but he found that he couldn't, their dark energies crawling down his throat again.

Dusknoir, no Guardian, was frozen to the spot, watching with unblinking intensity. His fingers began to twitch erratically, shadows began to dance like puppets on strings. The attack continued, and the blood was beginning to hit the ground like precious rubies.

His fingers twitched in a way he couldn't control.

A sableye stumbled slightly as it found its balance not quite what it expected.

"NOW!"

Sean pushed with everything he had, and his bellow got through to the others, both lashing out in instinctual desperation. The ropes broke and the sableye were knocked back.

In the chaos of the fight, Sean had palmed a luminous orb that Striker had given to him before he journeyed to Azelf's lake. Being thrown through time before left him a little more resilient to its effects compared to Mane and Trill, Scout also seemed to have passed out though.

Sean managed to hold onto consciousness long enough to keep the orb concealed before awakening again on the pillars.

"Eyes!" he yelled to the two before smashing the orb on the ground, causing it to erupt like a flashbang.

Sableye didn't have eyelids. They couldn't quite close their eyes and were sensitive to bright lights regardless. Dusknoir didn't have an eyelid himself and was also blinded by the burst of light.

All six sableye fell back screeching from the burst of white light, trying to cover their eyes, as Dusknoir roared in pain. Sean grabbed Chatot and hoisted him onto his back and kicked Litleo into gear as well. "We have to run," he said, and Litleo nodded, running alongside him as Sean carried Chatot.

They left from the right door, since Dusknoir was shrieking something from the left. Both of his companions were a bit blinded by the orb as well, neither had closed their eyes in time, but at least weren't facing him at the time.

Sean ran forward, pass a door that was beginning to open, turned left, forward, right, right, right, left, left, and then ran to a hole in the wall and peered out. "Here," he said, pushing Chatot up. The bird was still in a bit of shock from the ordeal but flapped his wings and hovered outside as Sean helped Litleo out.

"What… is this place?" Chatot gasped, looking out at the dark and frozen landscape. He had brain damage, that was the only explanation for what he was seeing. Even his worst nightmares back in Treeshroud Forest never created scenes like this.

"How well can you fly?" Sean asked, crouching down and pulling both pokémon out of sight. Something reached the hole and paused and all three of them held their breaths. It moved on and they breathed a sigh of relief.

"My wings are undamaged," Chatot answered, simple questions were helping.

"Can you hold onto Litleo?" he asked, the pokémon in question was still taking time to breathe again. "And fly him down to that path?" Sean pointed and their eyes followed to where he was meaning.

A very thin path skirting the edge of a cliff and giving a great view of all the falling rocks that just hung suspended in mid-air.

"This is like the water that froze at the Underground Lake," Litleo whispered as Chatot nodded.

"I-I think so. I've carried the Guildmaster."

"Good, Litleo?" Sean turned to him and gave him a gentle shake to rouse him from just staring blankly. "Hold onto Chatot."

Chatot fluttered over and the two pokémon tangled him into Chatot's claws so he could carry him down. "I'll meet you down there."

"What are you?" Chatot began, but Sean was already moving. Skidding down the sharp cliff without hesitation. "Oh."

He hastened to catch up, the sounds of shouting could still be heard as there was literally no other sound. There wasn't even the sound of dirt moving and rocks sliding, as nothing was moving besides Sean himself. Only the sounds of skin and fur getting torn by the descent.

Chatot wished to grab him and help him down as well, but two pokémon would be a struggle and he needed both talons for Litleo anyway.

They were quiet as they flew down, the sounds of their own breathing being the most they could hear.

Once Sean got to the bottom, he looked up and gestured wildly. "Get to the ground," he hissed, half whispering half shouting.

Chatot did as he was asked. There would be time to retain dignity later, but he had no idea what was going on and this pokémon seemed to have some idea.

"We are going to have to run," Sean said and began doing as he said. Litleo quickly joined him while Chatot had to hop and flutter to keep up. "Don't fly," he said when Chatot began to. "We have to minimise risk we'll be seen. And don't talk."

Both pokémon had many questions.

Why were rocks falling from the sky, but not?

Why did Dusknoir try to kill them?

Why was this place a hellscape?

Why was the person trying to doom their world helping them?

Many questions. But until they were safe, both would hold their tongues.

Both could taste blood still anyway. The sableye hadn't left the worst scratches, whatever else the sableye were striking left them shaking though, but there was still some blood.

Hopefully, they wouldn't leave a trail.

They ran until Chatot felt his legs just giving in. "We-we-we have to stop," he gasped, fluttering more than hopping as he just couldn't anymore. "Please."

Sean didn't reply immediately but then pointed. "That cropping, just get to there."

Chatot groaned but continued at it. Litleo said nothing, he simply focused on getting there.

"This alcove will shield us for a bit," Sean said, glancing around. There was an entrance to a dungeon right here, which would be helpful. Litleo and Chatot staggered to a stop, gasping for breath. Sean had them move in closer, underneath some frozen rocks. Litleo looked unhappy about that, but they weren't going to fall.

"What is going on?" Litleo demanded angrily, then had to pant for breath again.

"Once you have your breath we have to move on," Sean said, gesturing to the dungeon. "It's unsafe to stay so close to the stockade."

"Now just hold on!" Chatot squawked, flapping angrily between hard breaths. "We worked with you to escape… that, urk. But we are not going any further without answers!"

Litleo glanced towards Chatot, something resembling respect in his eyes.

Sean sighed. "Alright fine," he said and pointed to the rock fields. "Look at that. Look. At. That. What does that look like?"

Chatot was silent, observing the frozen area. There was no ice though, everything had simply stopped.

"It's dark," Litleo said helpfully.

"It's frozen," Sean said. "Think back to when Dusknoir was telling the town about the future when he had Scout arrested." Both pokémon flinched at the reminder. "What did he say about Grovyle, Scout, and me?"

"That you were seeking the planets paralysis," Chatot answered before giving Sean a glare. "So, it this it then? Grovyle remains free and so you succeed?"

"No!" Sean raised his voice. "This IS the future that WE came back to prevent."

"That doesn't make sense!" Litleo growled back. "You and Grovyle were stealing Time Gears. You know, the things needed to keep time moving. How is this NOT your fault?"

"Because the Time Gears were never meant to remain where they were," Sean answered and looked up at the unmoving sky. "Look. I can't say I know everything, I really don't. But I came to this world from my own and found it like this, lifeless, frozen. Paralysed. The world had already collapsed."

Sean sighed and looked down to face them. "I don't know if there is anything I can say that'll convince you. But look at what Dusknoir just tried to do! Kill you both. Do you really think he was surprised by this mess of a world? If things had changed he would have disappeared already. But they haven't. This is the world Grovyle, Scout, and I have been trying to change. And we needed to place the Time Gears in their proper place."

Sean turned and pointed out to the distance, where a citadel loomed. "Temporal Tower."

"That's… broken," Litleo whispered. Shards of the once glorious spire were strewn about as if the top had exploded before freezing in time.

"Yeah. It has to be fixed in the past, to stop this future. The gears were a part of the tower, I think at least. They were taken to stabilise time a long time ago but weren't supposed to stay taken."

Chatot looked uneasy. He thought of what Scout had said. "If… if this is true, and you were human…." He glanced out. "Wartortle of Team Go-Getters. Dewott of Paradise. Two humans who came to save the world, become a pokemon to do it."

He gazed sharply at Sean who looked genuinely interested in the idea of others. "Why wasn't it simply told? If… if Meowth knew, why lie?"

Mane also frowned, looking expectantly for answers.

Sean offered a regretful look. "We knew how people would react to the gears being taken, causing time freezing before they could be brought to the tower. And, as for Scout, he really did have amnesia. I really think he did think he was me, but." He blushed a little. "I guess they say imitation is flattery, haa."

Chatot and Litleo exchanged a glance before nodding uneasily. "I still do not know how much trust to put in your words," Chatot said and Sean frowned. "But you did save our lives, to the detriment of yourself possibly. It would have been easier to escape if there was a distraction after all."

Sean smiled slightly. "I'm not the kind to leave someone to die."

"That's all well and good," Litleo said nasally before turning back the way they came. "But we're missing someone."

"Scout," Chatot hissed and turned himself. "How could I have forgotten?" He fluttered slightly before nodding.

"You… are you thinking of going back?" Sean asked and they turned back to him.

"You bet your nice ass we are!" Litleo said and grinned. "You might have known him once, but he's MY teammate and Shinx would literally never forgive me if I came back without him, I'm not leaving him to Dusknoir's freaky fingers."

"You will not be uncouth when we find him," Chatot snapped. "But he is also a member of the Wigglytuff Guild and I am the second to the Guildmaster. To leave an apprentice to such a fate is unacceptable."

"Scout will be fine," Sean said uncertainly. "Dusknoir cares too much about him to hurt him. You noticed he wasn't on the execution posts like we were? He'd be somewhere else, and safe."

"What tosh," Chatot said, flapping a wing. "You said that you came to the past with him. YOU would leave him here?"

Sean sighed and rubbed his face. "There are few things I want less," he admitted, "BUT I know Scout will be safe."

"Why?" Litleo demanded. "Considering what Dusknoir has done so far, why would we believe that he'd be safe here? What more is here that you aren't telling us?"

Sean hesitated. He couldn't be left alone here. He saved them because it was genuinely right to do, but he also couldn't survive this place alone. At least not with his sanity intact.

"If you aren't going to talk, then we'll just leave without you," Litleo continued, nodding to Chatot. "Thanks for the save, but we're not leaving him here."

"Just," Sean began, tensing up, before sighing. "Alright. Alright. I really didn't want to leave him. He WILL be safe, but he won't be happy. And I…" he glanced back to the dungeon. "Without Striker or Scout or anyone else I can't really get to Celebi myself. I don't even have my Treasure Bag…"

He nodded to himself, deciding, and stepped forward. "You'll need me and my smarts to possibly survive this anyway.

"Just like you need us," Litleo muttered, but he seemed happier with the help.

"Heh," Sean chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I do actually… it's not a good idea to be alone in this place." He frowned and looked back to the dungeon. "It messes with you. Makes you hear things that aren't there, or... maybe stuff you shouldn't be able to hear in the first place," he admitted, looking highly uncomfortable. "Let's just... go."

"Very well," Chatot squawked. "Let us be off."

They took one step each before the sounds of scrabbling caused them all to jump back into the cove. A distant scream froze them all and various energy was summoned to fight if necessary.


Scout awoke feeling only pain.

It felt like someone was rubbing the backs of his eyeballs and there wasn't anything more that he wanted at that moment than for the feeling to stop.

Opening his eyes helped in theory. The feeling behind his eyes stopped but was replaced with the sensation of many tiny needles being pressed into the front of his eyes.

There was no winning really, and he moaned.

"Thirsty?" something said, and he whimpered. The feeling of a bowl being pressed to his lips was welcome and Scout opened his mouth. He choked after a few mouthfuls and began coughing, the feeling rippling through his skull painfully. The water was nice though, his skin felt so hot.

The sound of the bowl being set down caught his attention as did the sound of something clanging shut. He forced his eyes back open and blinked them until it was no longer painful, only uncomfortable, to keep them open.

He saw the gem-incrusted eyes of a sableye and started back with a cry of alarm.

"Hey-hey-hey," the sableye said, raising its hands. "Calm down will you?"

"What? Where? Who? What? And why?" Scout gasped, scrambling back. He didn't go too far before something yanked his leg and he slipped onto his back.

"Uh… say again?" the sableye asked as Scout leaned up.

He tested both legs. The right leg was fine, the left leg was also fine. The claws were all still no, no fur had been removed. The one small issue was the shackle around his ankle, connected to a chain, that was then connected to the floor.

"Yeah." the sableye winced, seeing that he had noticed. "Please don't start shouting at me."

Scout considered that request for half a second. "No."

The sableye sighed and braced.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?" Scout yelled, standing up. He wanted to run to the bars, but the chain wasn't very long.

"Not as bad as I was expecting," the sableye admitted and Scout growled.

"I'll give you bad if you don't start talking."

"The long and the short of it is that Master Dusknoir wants you protected," the sableye explained, talking quickly, "but he also thinks you're probably still confused and might do something… drastic. So, you're just in there for the time being."

Scout glared and pointed his undamaged paw and extended the claws before going further and wrapping them into darkness for Night Slash. "I will not just sit here."

The sableye frowned and raised his own hands. "I'm sorry, but I do have permission to knock you out if you try anything."

Scout seethed but let the move go and sat back down, glaring holes into the sableye. It continued to look very uncomfortable with the attention. Scout noticed a pair of Treasure Bags behind it and realised they had also dumped their bags there, which seemed odd.

"Uh… not that I really get it, but don't meowth have to blink?"

Scout's eyes were burning, but it was the principle of the matter to continue staring without pause.

"Seriously. Please."

He continued staring at it sighed and turned away, Scout blinked immediately multiple times.

"You know you've got it better than anyone I've ever heard of," the sableye muttered, turning back to Scout. "Master Dusknoir actually likes you. You're gonna get fed as much as you want and nothing out there can possibly hurt you when Master Dusknoir is protecting you."

"If you're trying to sell me on this," Scout said before sighing. "I… I don't know."

The sableye rested his head on his hands and asked. "What don't you know?"

"Everything!" Scout replied angrily. "Just a few days ago I knew everything, and now I don't know anything."

"Well, uh… you're a meowth?"

Scout gave it a flat look. That one actually stung since he thought he was human but apparently not!

"I'm not an idiot thank you." Ha. "I meant what's going on. I thought… I thought I knew what was going on, and now this? All this? It doesn't make sense. Why does Dusknoir care that much about me?"

"I don't know," the sableye answered. "You'd have to ask him yourself."

"Well then where is he?" Scout demanded and the sableye winced and looked away. Scout frowned and glanced around. "We're in the future." It dawned on him. "He's going to kill them."

"If it, uh… if it makes you feel better, you'll be fine!"

"It doesn't," Scout growled. "You disgusting freaks."

"Hey! That's-" Sableye's words were lost when something boomed close by and both of them jumped. "What was that?" it screeched and ran to the door.

Scout tried to run forward and look but was tripped by the shackle again. He hissed angrily as shouts and the sounds of charging feet reached them.

Three blurs zipped by the open door and the sableye jumped. "The prisoners!" it hissed quietly and glanced back to Scout then back to the door. "I… uh." It looked back and forth, but the sounds of its fellows seemed to be going farther away rather than closer. "Dammit," it cursed and ran out the door, the other way, to alert the others which way the prisoners had gone.

Scout immediately generated a Night Slash and began hacking at the chain.

His normal claws were protected by the dark energy, but he wasn't making much of a dent in the links of chains. Put it between. He stopped, took a breath, forced two claws between one of the links and then used Night Slash.

The expansion of the solid energy strained his claws, and soon it felt like trying to push a boulder. Scout didn't pause even as his claws began to break under the strain.

He gasped out as the chain broke and shook his paw. A claw had cracked slightly but didn't break. Already going better than the last lock he'd tried to break. He ran to the door and immediately reached through to put a claw through the lock. He winced as the memory of the last time he'd done this flashed through his mind, but pressed on.

Physically pressing the door caused him to nearly fall over when it swung open. He caught himself and couldn't help but pause in surprise.

The door hadn't been locked. Was the sableye that irresponsible?

It had left him alone, so Scout decided it really was that foolish.

He grabbed the bags, noticing how light they were, and peeked out the door before running off in the direction he had seen the others go.

The sounds of movement echoed continuously as there were no other sounds to be heard. He glanced out an open hole in the wall but saw nothing of interest, just a sheer cliff, and moved on.

This place was a field of endless grey. No colour, no landmarks, just passageways that were often cracked yet allowing nothing from the outside in. As there was no wind to speak of in the first place.

He found what seemed like a door and tried to open it, but it didn't budge. The sounds of sableye still followed him, and Scout moved on.

He tried another two doors before finding a window. Deciding he had to get out of the compound, he lifted himself out and looked around.

He had a wide vantage to the complete horror that was the Dark Future.

The sky was grey and tinged with stone-like clouds that floated like bloated corpses in the polluted ocean that was the sky.

Dim rays of light that crawled across the horizon lit a barren wasteland as far as the eye could see. The wind didn't blow. Morning would never come. Spring, summer, autumn, or winter would never come. It was a world of perpetuity, locked in the moment of its last breath to be preserved until there was none left to witness it.

It was a graveyard.

The world will be your graveyard.

Tearing his eyes from the void-like horizon, Scout spotted a dim rocky path stretching out below the cliffs. "Grovyle, the game… that's the way right?"

He hoped so at least.

Getting down would not be pleasant or easy, but it would be quick.

Scout edged himself towards the cliff and looked down. He hissed out in disdain; it wasn't a sheer drop, but it was close to one. He knew once he began to go, he would not be able to stop.

Yet there weren't any other options.

"Okay, okay, okay," he repeated and began to ease himself down. The stones did not move, which was nice, but also not nice as the sharper edges immediately scraped his feet. Lifeblood dripped on the thirsted stones.

Scout hissed in pain, but he couldn't stop. He'd been in a lot of pain the last few days, his left paw was still aching from the broken claw and he feared that he might have gotten an infection. The trip through time had also left his limbs shaky, or was that the trauma from the night before?

Scout slipped and fell several meters before he slowed himself enough to stop. Gasping now, he continued going down as carefully as he could. To break something here, especially a leg, would be ruinous.

Each moment felt like torture. Both due to all the rocks digging into him and the emotional terror. You weren't sure which was worse.

He slipped again and decided he hated rocks so very much.

With his tail, Scout felt his way for holds and sharp rocks to avoid. He strategically allowed himself to fall at times, cutting himself some more in the process.

All the while, he was having a bad day. Quite a bad day. It was a beautiful day outside, birds were bleeding, and flowers were dead.

The sounds of sableye began to fade into nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The gasp of his own breath seemed to echo out for miles, a siren call to any hungering predator that remained on this cursed land. Scout could hear the beat of his heart, thumping almost painfully loud in his ears. Thump-thump-thump.

His mind briefly turned to auditory deprivation rooms and wondered if he'd go mad from the sound of his own heartbeat. Thump-thum-thump.

Scout reached the bottom and decided he could go mad later. For now, he had to run. Tump-thump-thump.

The flat cliffs he had found himself on were nice to run across but left him anxious. He was in plain sight up here, and it was a bit too far of a drop-down to the path to risk. "Thump-tHup-Thump.

There were no holds to slow his fall, and he'd almost certainly break something at that distance. Thump-thump-thump.

He ran and ran until his lungs burned, and the pounding of his own heart bounced like a bongo drum in his ears. Sean wasn't sure how long he had run for, was he Sean? No, he was Scout. Scout the meowth, the partner to Dusknoir. Thump-thump.

No. Thump.

Partner to Sean, he looked up to the human, so strong despite having no powers. He wanted to be as brave as Sean, as swift as Striker, as strong as Guardian, and as bright as Saniya. Thum.

He was Sean. Thu.

Sean was an interloper. Th

This is my body. T

I am you and you are me.

Let . me

Give me.

R̴el͘ea̕se.

Scout slipped off the cliff he was desperately scrabbling against, he had been abandoned there. He didn't mean to go off, he didn't want to fall off. His claws couldn't hold, one was missing, another was damaged, his arms were burning, and his legs couldn't hold him.

Scout screamed as he lost his hold and fell. Thump-thump-thu-


In the old days I gained inspiration for how to do the Dark Future section from an author called NaturallyDark. Great author, should throw some support that way!
 
Chapter 24 - We're Going 'Round the Twist

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
I'm sure you are ALL just dying to know what happened at that huge climactic cliff-hanger? You know. The one where Rai misses the portal.

The future can wait, for now we're heading back to Treasure Town! Because that was a situation and a half.



Rai was pawing at the ground, eyes wide but blank in shock as he tore up dirt and grass. As if he could dig his way to the future.

Striker's mouth had fallen open and he stared blankly at where the portal had come and gone. He wasn't moving and did not appear to be breathing either.

The sounds of pokemon approaching reached both of them but neither responded, neither was in the state of mind to process other people let alone what had just happened.

"No."

It was not Rai who spoke first, but Striker.

"No," Striker murmured again, shaking his head in a jittery fashion. "No, no, no."

Rai's ears pricked and suddenly he screamed, a discharge of lightning blasting in every direction like a storm cloud's eruption. He spun to Striker, incandescent fury flashing through his body like golden ichor.

The air burned into ozone as Raigeki took a step forward, grass withering under the voltage crackling through his body.

Striker did not respond. He continued to mutter. "No, no, no." Over and over again.

Rai was a hairsbreadth from attacking before Striker staggered, falling to his knees and wailing, "SEAN!"

That howl of despair, of grief so whole and true, struck Rai harder than any Leaf Blade ever could. He staggered as well, mind flashing to the Sean he knew as well.

His shiny koban, half-smile of an expression that knew more than he told but glimmered with kindness and hope and belief in Rai himself.

Rai's vision blurred and he slumped as Striker grabbed his head, screaming Sean's name again. Screaming it over and over and over again.

As pokemon attracted by Trill's cries and the flashes of battle circled, unsure of whether to come any closer. Not towards Grovyle the Thief and yet also not towards Raigeki. No one approached him as he pressed his head painfully into the ground, clawing at the grass with choked sobs breaking through from his chest.

It wasn't until the guild finally arrived. A flash of pink and white at the head as Guildmaster Wigglytuff raced onto the scene.

"Shinx!" Wigglytuff called, racing into the ozone-stinking battlefield. He almost scooped the shinx up to hug him.

Yet, he did not. Wigglytuff appraised the situation as he could see it between steps.

Charred ground and grass, the stink of smoke and ozone, gouges in the ground, several trees. Ichor and blood splashed in a few places. Signs of a massive battle, one that involved far more than those who were in sight.

He moved up to Rai and softly picked him up. Rai shocked him on reflex but Rhythm didn't even twitch, he was humming and hugging him, a soothing magical song that slowly weakened his squirms until he fell into an enforced slumber.

Rhythm set him in Chimecho's care, waving off her concerns as Rai had scratched him up pretty badly. He walked across the battlefield, to where Striker had stopped moving again.

Stopped making sounds.

He was as rigid as a statue but trembling slightly because of it. He had cut himself with his claws pretty badly, leaving his contenounce fearsome, blood dripping down his face and neck.

As Rhythm stepped too close, Striker raised his Leaf Blade to the Guildmaster. The entire town hushed, many pokemon taking steps back. Striker's eyes were blank yet focused, staring down Rhythm with the gaze of someone with nothing left.

And so, Rhythm stopped.

They stared at each other for a very long time.

"Can you explain what happened?" Rhythm asked calmly. Striker's eyes twitched. "Where did everyone go?"

"..."

"Please."

"To the future," Striker spat, all but confirming the townsfolk's belief in Dusknoir's words. "He took Sean and Scout. As well as the litleo."

"And Chatot," Rhythm surmised. Striker gave a stiff nod.

Rhythm's expression softened into a painful look of grief. Where Striker had cracked and thrashed and screamed as years of fear and tension had come together with Striker's worst nightmare coming true, Rhythm's gaze shifted in a different way.

The expression of someone who had experienced the worst moment of their life and was reliving it again with the only person they had left.

His belly heaved slightly as tears filled his eyes but unlike Striker he held himself together.

"Surrender," Rhythm urged. "And explain all that you did not before."

Striker's jaw tensed, his Leaf Blade still raised and glimmering like a disc of death. His hand clenched as well, his body tensing.

"Please."

That word drifted out into the dangerous silence left by the holding of breaths on the knife's edge.

Energy dripped from Striker's blade, fostering grass where it fell. His body as rigid as metal, as sharp as a blade. The scarred body of a mon who had lived through times of chaos, where nowhere was safe and few could be trusted.

"Grovyle." Rai had come to and was out of Chimecho's grip. He came back onto the battlefield, as bold as anyone.

Well, that was not true. No one else dared to step onto the charred grass, no one besides the Guildmaster. Rai stepped forwards again, bold as Rhythm, with no Scout or Mane to back him up this time.

Rai walked until he was only just further back than Rhythm, he sat on his haunches and looked up at Striker. At the blade that had nearly ended his life, raised to strike down the Guildmaster.

His eyes were narrowed, red and puffy with the remnants of tears, narrowed with the anguish of losing everyone he cared about. Again.

They stared at each other then. More silence, more time that grew too much for some pokemon who found themselves just running away. Though not too far.

Rai had heard Striker scream.

"Do you really care about him?" Rai asked, the words coming freely. "That sound you made… how can someone like you make that kind of sound?"

Striker's expression twisted into a snarl. "It is you. You. You are the expression of the pokemon of the past. So content in your own safety that you resist any reason to change it. You don't know what the future is like. And it's your actions that will lead to it."

Rai was unmoved by the vitriol spat in his face. "Then convince me," he said.

Striker actually blinked, his furious disgust shivering across his face. "...what?"

"If I'm the 'expression' of everyone that won't believe you, then talk. I'll listen." He swallowed, his expression darkening for a moment. "But don't think it's for you. It's not. You would have killed me. Whoever you are, pokemon of the future seem to care nothing for our lives and will do anything to get your way. But talk. Talk. Talk because Meowth said you were right, and even if he's not told me the truth all the time, I trust him."

Striker's eyes flicked to Rhythm who nodded.

He did not lower his blade, but he did begin to speak, "The future is a world already dead. It is frozen, time collapsed, its ruler went mad and trapped many of the other legends in time. Even its counterpart, and so space is also in chaos because it can no longer maintain it. Time broke so greatly that it can not be fixed in the past, for the place to fix it has been destroyed."

His head tilted slightly. "There was only one option left. The past. Fix time where it could still be fixed. To do that, the gears of the tower had to be retrieved and brought to it."

"The Time Gears," Rhythm said softly.

"Yes. Even though it would temporarily cause time to further decay in their areas, once returned to the tower all would be repaired and everything would return to normal."

Murmurs broke out and soon pokemon were booing Striker. He did not react so much as a twitch to the sounds, for it was all that he expected.

Rhythm nodded once. "Can you prove it?"

Striker shook his head. "No. And we knew we couldn't. Thus, we had to steal them. Do it fast, do it quick, get to the tower. We only get one shot, our patron cannot send anyone else."

Rai turned his head, hearing the calls for Striker to be taken down, as a liar, as a thief.

He turned to Rhythm. "Meowth said pretty much the same," he said. "Litleo and I, we were asked by Riolu who's the real human to help break out Meowth. We agreed and distracted Dusknoir, but he broke out Grovyle as well. So, we chased after them. We tried to stop them but then Dusknoir showed up and…."

Everything had happened so fast, Rai could barely organise it in his head.

"Well, another fight broke out, Chatot showed up, Meowth said Grovyle and Riolu were telling the truth and Dusknoir decided to take everyone to the future. So, again everyone fought and Dusknoir chucked people threw a portal thingy he made."

"Dimensional Hole," Striker corrected.

"...whatever, eventually though he began pulling Meowth and Chatot to the future. Litleo and I tried to catch him, but only Litleo made it. He knocked them into the… Dimensional Hole and we're the only two left."

"Do you believe him?" Rhythm asked quietly, so that Rai didn't have to say one way or the other in front of Treasure Town.

Yet, Rai held his head up and spoke loudly, "I believe Meowth," he said, voice carrying. He turned, eyes twitching and glimmering with both electricity and fresh tears. "What are you people doing? Saying these things. Didn't you hear him scream? Didn't you hear us both? Is he right? Is Grovyle right about us? If you're so sure what has to be done, then step into this circle and do it yourself!"

No one stepped forwards.

Rhythm smiled proudly at Rai, but Rai just seemed to slump after his words, his vigour fading from him like a punctured balloon.

Striker was staring at Rai, very complex emotions crossing his face. Slowly, his blade vanished and he lowered his arm.

Rhythm turned to Striker as Team Magnezone finally arrived on scene.

"BZZT! Make way, make way! BZZT!" Magnezone ordered, pokemon separating to let them through. They floated over the battlefield without hesitation.

"BZZT! Grovyle the Thief, you are hereby under arrest, again. BZZT!"

Rhythm raised a paw as Striker frowned, halting their movement. He offered a rare Guildmaster Wigglytuff Frown at them which froze Magnemite and Magneton in their tracks.

"Grovyle, belief is all well and good. But right or not, the world is clearly at stake. I will need to conduct a test myself and smooth things out. I ask you, a beg you, please surrender. We will not allow Dusknoir to take you, nor will you be treated poorly."

Striker faced Rhythm with a stony expression. "No one stopped him from taking Sean and Scout. Nor Chatot and Litleo."

Rhythm's expression cracked again and he needed to take a breath, tears falling again like he had been punched in the chest.

"I know," he whispered. "I know. And so we must do better. I know you don't trust us. And for clear reasons as well. But. If I am to trust you, I need trust in return. One last time. Please?"

Striker's eyes seemed to dim and, like Rai, all the air seemed to fizzle out of him. He essentially fainted, wobbling a moment before falling into Rhythm's arms.

Rhythm held him a moment, testing his pulse before lifting him up. He turned to Team Magnezone. "Officer Magnezone, lead the way."

Magnezone studied Rhythm a moment before nodding. Magnemite and Magneton swooped down and pulled Rai up in an electric cage and more than a few people shouted in anger at that action.

"BZZT! He is culpable in the escape. BZZT!" Magnezone said.

"Officer Magnezone," Wigglytuff begun pleasantly; two eyes meeting Magnezone's one. "Shinx has had a terrible few days. This can be overlooked this one time, please."

Magnezone hesitated. Everything Wigglytuff said was pleasant yet they found themselves profoundly terrified.

Despite that.

"ZZZT! I am afraid I cannot allow that. ZZZT!" Magnezone shook in place rapidly in an attempt of a head shake, or perhaps because Wigglytuff began to frown. ""BZZT! The laws are clear, none may break them. Not even ourselves, especially not ourselves. BZZT!"

Rhythm nodded and whispered a quick order to Chimecho, the next most important member of the guild, before heading off to Team Magnezone's base.

They would not be placed in the same cell.

Perhaps as a show of compassion, or even as a form of punishment, Rai found himself placed in Scout's cell. It was a comfort because he could smell him. But also a torment because he couldn't escape his thoughts, escape the knowledge that his Sean had been left terrified and alone in this room while Rai did nothing but chase a ghost and yell at magnemite.

He couldn't sleep, so he took up his Sean's favourite thing to do and began to pace, trying to work the nervous energy out of his muscles.

It helped in one way, he began to exhaust himself physically. However, he could not stop thinking, and in frustration, he unsheathed his claws, copied his Sean's coping method, and began to scratch at the stones surrounding them.

He scratched and scratched until he found himself losing track of time, his mind finally began to relax, and he followed the many patterns his Sean had created, following them along and picturing images and stories to them all.

He followed them to the bars, to the straw, to the corners. And Rai began to grow tired.

He found himself plodding along and yawned. He pulled himself to the bed but couldn't get comfortable. One way, or another, even with the comforting smell of his Sean that reminded him of nights in the guild, his mind stubbornly refused to sleep.

Rai still had no answers for the enigma that was Dusknoir. Despite yelling at him to cover for Sean's traitorous break-out, Dusknoir had given no answers. He had simply floated there, and ignored them both.

Both.

Even Mane was gone now.

Rai snorted into the straw. He remembered Mane coming to him and Sean, Scout he reminded himself, to try and scare Scout off for some insane reason. In a twisted way, they really did leave him. Just as Mane claimed everyone would.

He had apologised for that, and Rai would much prefer having him with him now than lost to times yet-to-be, but it was funny in that bitter way.

Rai turned again and began batting at the wall, brushing the straw away as he did so. There was no escape from his thoughts, but at least he could stew in his misery without anyone trying to buoy his spirits. That'd be frustrating at this point.

As he went he found that Scout had clawed even behind these, but the straw had hidden it. He continued batting at it in a mixture of sadness and apathy, before a shape began to form.

Rai frowned and began brushing the straw away faster.

He uncovered what appeared to be a scribble of sorts. It would have been unremarkable, except all of Scout's other scratches had been chaotic. This one seemed deliberate, and it had been covered up. Coincidence? Rai wasn't so sure on that one.

He rolled onto his belly and stood up to get closer and take a clearer look at it. It wasn't dark in the cell, but the light didn't shine on this wall.

It was a triangle with a part seemingly bitten out of it and placed on the top, in the bitten-out portion there were spikes.

It almost looked like…

Rai's eyes went wide as his heart did a flip.

Sharpedo Bluff. Scout had scratched a, very poor but still recognisable, drawing of Rai's home. "Why would he…?" he whispered before glancing behind him. He was completely alone here. Rai covered the scratch up and laid back down on the bed.

His mind was sill cluttered, but he now had something that wasn't terrible to fixate on. Sharpedo Bluff. Rai had to go to Sharpedo Bluff.


"Are we there yet?" Electrike whined.

"Statement: No."

"Why?"

"You asked that," Beheeyem growled, headache pounding, "I think… thirty-two seconds ago. The answer yet remains that we are over an hour away from even hoping to land in Treasure Town."

Electrike huffed, rather dissatisfied with that answer. "Well why can't we go quicker?" he grumbled, giving a reproachful look to the two Psychic-types. "If YOU two weren't so slow."

"Inquisitive: If we weren't so slow… what would we be?"

"Faster!"

"Statement: That is obvious."

"Well, why did you have to ask then?"

Beldum's eye swivelled away from Electrike and he grinned in victory.

"Play nice, children," Beheeyem sighed, trying to rub the headache away.

"Statement: Volt is the oldest of the three of us." Beldum's eye continued rotating as Beheeyem spluttered furiously at them. "Addendum: You are the youngest of the three of us."

"And you both nominated me as your leader," Beheeyem pointed out. "AND the two of you are both far too immature to even hope to function on your own without a guardian. Ergo, you are children."

Beldum was silent for a moment, weighing Beheeyem's words. Beheeyem took that as a respite, he knew it wouldn't last long.

"Inquisitive: If we are children, are you our parent?"

"Daddy?" Electrike added and Beheeyem was sure he was on the cusp of an aneurysm.

"Shut up, Cobalt," he demanded, ignoring Electrike.

"Inquisitive: Are you using my name as a form of discipline?" Beldum asked, curiously. "Example: A parent declaring their child's name in a fit of frustration to stun the child into listening to them. Inquisitive: Is this your view? Do you see me as your child?"

"Daddy?"

"What did I ever do to deserve this?" Beheeyem groaned, finding the erratic display of waving his arms to be stress relieving. "I'm sorry our search in Solemn Valley was pointless but that is NO excuse to be treating me like this!"

There was silence for a moment before Electrike decided to add his two cents. "Sorry, I was just trying to lighten the mood."

Beheeyem managed the tiniest smile towards Electrike, Beldum decided to continue being a little shit though.

"Statement: My inquiry was frank and honest. Inquisitive: Do you see me as your child?"

Beheeyem turned a truly flat glare onto Beldum, who was unaffected as always. "Enough talking you fistless sack of sassy sauce!"

Electrike snorted as Beldum's eye bore into Beheeyem with immense judgement. "Defiant Statement: There is no such sauce product."

Beheeyem felt a little more of his sanity be surrendered to the void and wondered if he could deafen himself to acquire some sliver of peace.

All the while they continued making their way to Treasure Town. Partially destroyed, still a little on fire, chaos reigning in the ashes of what remained.

Standard fair of Treasure Town, really.


Rai followed his nose.

He wasn't sure why, but by pressing his nose down closer to the ground he looked extra busy and no one intervened to try and console or judge him.

Treasure Town was recovering from the previous day. Not only from the loss of Chatot and the possible betrayal of Dusknoir but from Rai's own words. No one had expected the cheerful shinx who many saw as their own little brother or nephew to lash out like that.

Rai wasn't sure if he had ever felt so angry as he had that night. From lingering frustration with his Sean and Mane, to Riolu manipulating them to help, to the chaos of the fight to the apathy of the town afterwards.

He also couldn't help but note that many pokemon were sympathising with Wigglytuff, but no one had so much as mentioned Mane and only a few had spoken of his Sean.

Rai wondered if Wigglytuff was feeling something similar. He and Chatot were very close, very close. There were rumours. Although there were rumours about everything ranging from Mane having a crush on him, to Sunflora and Chimecho being together, all the way to the entire guild acting as Dusknoir's consorts during his time here.

Rai paid them no mind and continued on. He did manage a smile to Kangaskhan, she had not been in the crowd last night.

All the while he felt the eyes. He felt the whispers as he passed by. He felt the mixture of pity and concern but he did his best to ignore it.

In the tightness of Electivire's smile, Rai knew he was so sorry that he'd been led astray by the wicked Meowth.

In the knowing look Purple Kecleon gave him, he knew that he was confident that he had been right about the cloying influence of Mane.

In the eyes of Treasure Town, Rai knew they were pitying him for being used to further the goals of wicked pokémon. He hated it. Hated how they were so sure of themselves, of everything. Had his and Grovyle's words meant nothing? So easily brushed off as the lashing out of someone manipulated and the silken words of the enemy?

He wasn't so sure he believed Grovyle, or at least he didn't agree with the way the Grass-type conducted himself. If this was true, he should have said something! Rai would have listened!

Would he have…?

He tried to shake the thoughts out, but he couldn't help but wonder. He idolised The Great Dusknoir. Was he too just someone comfortable with the way the world was? It had taken him so long to join the guild, Mane had kind of said something similar about him in a way.

Was it only because he'd seen the look in Dusknoir's face? Seen his dear Meowth so afraid of him?

Rai stepped out of Treasure Town and felt the sea breeze blow into his fur. He smiled more genuinely, letting the wind blow the negativity away, and closed his eyes with a deep breath. This was home, this was the place he had lived for years. Ever since Ara had convinced several residents to dig out the cliff for the two orphans to live in.

The guild was lovely, the guild was home too. But only with Sean. "Scout." Rai reminded himself, shaking his head. That was still too weird to think of and he wasn't entirely convinced without asking the meowth himself.

A dull throb echoed in Rai's chest as he thought of him again and his smile slipped off his face, the wind stole it away with the comfort of home.

He set his jaw and quickened his step. There was no time to be standing around thinking about things, now was the time for action.

As Rai approached the jutting stone that appeared like a sharpedo's fin, he noticed he was not alone.

"Dugtrio?" Rai called in surprise, the Ground-type turned in equal surprise.

"Young Shinx?" Dugtrio replied, three mouths speaking in perfect chorus. It was always a little trippy to talk to Dugtrio, with three heads, three sets of eyes, and three mouths. He was never sure which one to focus on, although the middle head seemed appropriate enough. "What is it that draws you to us? Is it the sea?"

Rai smiled slightly, even after the events of yesterday, Dugtrio was still his weird old self. "No," he answered, shaking his head. "I'm actually going into my house to look around."

Wigglytuff had bailed him out this morning as promised, but Rai didn't stick around to go back to the guild. He headed straight here and hadn't thought to tell Wigglytuff exactly what he was going to do, although the Fairy-type seemed to have an inkling that Rai had regained some sort of drive.

"To look around?" Dugtrio repeated. "What is it that Young Shinx wishes to search for?"

"Well," Rai said as he trotted to the covered entrance. He removed the living blanket of grass to open the pathway into his house. "I found something in Sean's cell last night. It's led me here." He paused at the entranceway with a paw raised, hesitating.

Now that he had said it, Rai felt a wave of doubt crash over him. Not unlike the waves hitting the cliff far below. Dugtrio stared at him in concern, the shinx had just stopped moving completely.

"Young Shinx?" he asked gently. Rai blinked and swallowed, lowering his paw back down.

"I," he said, unable to continue. What if he was reading into it too much? What if the image was purely a coincidence? What if it wasn't, but there was still nothing here? Even if there was, how did he know it would mean anything?

Dugtrio seemed to pick up on his inner turmoil and he burrowed up closer to Rai. "Whatever you think may be down there, you have to find out for sure," he said wisely, Rai swallowing again and turning to look at him. "If you don't go, you'll never know. If you never know, you will always wonder."

Rai swallowed once more before managing a smile. "That's wise. Have experience there?"

Dugtrio bobbed in place, suddenly flustered. "We will move at our own pace," he defended, Rai blinking at the sudden change in personality. Dugtrio stopped bobbing in place and glanced out at the cliff, or most likely beyond it. To the distant sea, the blue waves rose and fell, crashing and bubbling, in endless motion.

Rai sensed that he'd lost Dugtrio's attention to the sea and turned back to the tunnel to his own home. It had never felt so foreboding to step into it. "I'm going to do it," he said, mostly to himself as Dugtrio was no longer aware of his existence.

A glance at Dugtrio confirmed that the Ground-type was enraptured by the sea again and Rai chuckled slightly before stepping forward.

Everything may have felt like it had changed, but Dugtrio was still the same as he always was. Rai never suspected that'd be comforting; this was not the first time he had caught Dugtrio above his home, staring out into the ocean.

Sharpedo Bluff was quiet. The sounds of the sea were still there, but the mouth of the cove always somehow drowned most of it out. It was there to lull him to sleep, otherwise quiet.

Rai glanced around. Scraps of straw of beds long since lost to the winds. He could still see the scratch marks Ara had made on the floor in a stubborn fit, decreeing one side to be hers and the other side to be his.

She had the bigger side of course.

In the corner was where he had slept the first two weeks they were here, Ara huddled up with him and almost pressing him further into the wall. She always protected him, even then when they were both terrified of some monster coming into their new home to finish them off, she protected his sleeping body with her own.

In the mouth of the cove was the one broken 'tooth' of the sharpedo, broken when Ara finally perfected Iron Tail and smashed it to pieces.

It was their home. And then his, just his, when she left.

Rai shook his head, it would do no good to be buried in old memories. He walked forward to the water hole and took a drink before looking around.

There were really not many places that anything could really be hiding something. No marks on the floor to imply something buried, or on the walls. Rai looked up at the roof just in case his partner decided to be even more paranoid than he usually was.

In the end, the message wasn't well hidden. Rai decided that was probably for the best, if it was too well hidden he may have given up to his own fears and decided that he really was overthinking things.

Pulling the piece of thick parchment out wasn't fun with paws and teeth, he ended up managing to hook it with a claw.

His heart pounded as he unfolded and smoothed out the message Scout had left him. Then, he frowned.

"What… is this?" he muttered, peering closer and farther. The characters were not footprint runes. No, instead they held a vague similarity to unown script, but Rai had no idea how Scout could possibly know that.

"There's a lot I don't actually know about him," he thought to himself and frowned. He couldn't read unown script, not many could. Unable to help himself, those little old doubts wormed their way into his brain.

He trusted Scout, he was so very important to him. And yet… he wasn't blind to the fact that the meowth knew things he wasn't sharing. Events stuck out in his head that he allowed to get brushed off, but had never entirely left his head. He truly wished he'd get a chance to speak to him about it all.

He resolved to himself that he would. Future or not, if pokemon could get to and from the future then so could they!

He refolded the letter and picked it up in his mouth. It hopefully wouldn't smudge before he could get it to the guild.

He may not be able to read it. But he had an inkling of someone who could.


"Rai, I hope I never have to give you this." Wigglytuff read, frowning hard. Rai had given him the note and quickly explained what he had found, Wigglytuff brought him into his bedroom to read it in privacy.

Rai had never been in Wigglytuff's bedroom, part of him wasn't sure if Wigglytuff even had one or if he just existed sometimes and didn't exist other times. In looking around he was surprised at how bare it was. Just a bed and a window with an actual curtain. Not the opulence he had thought before, yet strangely he wasn't overly surprised now that he knew the Guildmaster a little better.

"But if uu are r-reading this," Wigglytuff read on with some difficultly, stumbling over the occasional word, "know that I'm sorry for… just ever-ev-everything. Trust Grovyle and find the Relic Flagment. You have to find it."

Wigglytuff had paused on the mention of Grovyle and Rai frowned too. They exchanged a glance and Wigglytuff read on, squinting as he deciphered the particularly sloppy unown script as best he could. "If you are reading this, I'm going to ass-ume everything has gone to hell in a hensbasket and something I was comfletely unfrefoared… un…unprepared for has happened."

Rai listened on, terrified and eager. He didn't know what Sean, Scout dammit, was going to reveal, but he knew this had to be important. The fact Scout felt the need to hide whatever he was hiding from him hurt, and Rai had an idea now on what he was hiding, but he held onto the hope that he had a reason to do it.

Mane had almost yelled at him until he agreed to looking at it from that angle.

"If Grovyle is agrou… around, trust him. I know he's probaby viewed as the caase, cause, of this, but he… isn't." Wigglytuff paused, as Rai frowned, neither said anything. "He's trying to SAVE the world and I came back from a fnozen, frozen future to help him. Only, I lost my memory. It's… comqlicated, I remember stuff but at the sane time I don't feel like it's an actual nenory. I'm so sorry I didn't tell you this in person. I just…."

Rai leaned in. Hearing the truth from Scout was painful, but he had accepted it as the truth anyway. At least, most of the truth.

Wigglytuff looked uncomfortable, an exceedingly rare expression on him. He knew this was really just meant for Rai, but Rai couldn't read it. So, it was up to him. "I don't know why I'm like this. Instincts left ower from the future mayde? I do trust you, but Dusknoir. Dusknoir. He's the euemy, enemy, he's an agent sent back to stop Grovyle and me as he doesn't want the frozen future chang'd. It's probably because of him that whatever has happened to me, happened."

Rai almost smiled, Scout was eloquent as always.

"So, you, or anyone who might be reading this if this is not Rai hello, need to get the Relic Fragment. Here's an ideu of what it looks like." Wigglytuff turned the parchment around and Rai nearly laughed at the terrible, but still vaguely accurate, drawing.

Smiling slightly, Wigglytuff continued. "That is a key of sorts to the Hidden Land and it HAS to be found. Find Team Skull, talk to the townsfulk, you have to find out who has it. You also need the Time Gears."

Both of them stared at the letter in silence then. With a strong voice still, Wigglytuff continued. "Yes, really. Taking them will only stop time in their places for a short tine, once they are placed in Temporal Tomer, tower, time will be completely fixed. Placing them back where they were token won't help, time was already falling apart. You have to get by Dialgaga though, I can't even imagine that though."

Wigglytuff turned the page, they were nearly done. "Rai, even if I newer have to show you this, please know that I was going to tell you every-thang-thing eventually. Dusknoir was simply too dinegierous, but maybe I made it worse by hiding all this. I'm sorry, it feels like an excuse and lt prodadly is."

Rai didn't respond. "I've feen trying so hard to keep things 'one way' tat I've comfletely screwed it all up I bet. Just… please beleeve me when I say this. All of this. The gears have to go to the tower, time is already collopsing. They hafe to go to Temporal Tower. Please. Sean."

Wigglytuff finished and took a deep breath.

Rai sat in silence, trying to digest that entire spiel.

"What do we do?" he asked quietly. Scout had mentioned Grovyle several times as someone to trust.

Dusknoir had said the opposite, but Dusknoir had taken Scout, Mane, and even Chatot too.

Yet, Scout was a member of a team stealing the Time Gears, he had lied. Or had he? And for how long? Did he ever really have amnesia?

Rai simply didn't know. And Scout wasn't here to ask these questions to.

Someone else, however….

"I think we need to free Grovyle," Wigglytuff said softly. "I asked Magnezone after seeing you out to see him myself, but they refused me. I have an idea of how we may sway the town to our side."

Rai swallowed. He didn't want to believe Dusknoir was the bad guy, but they were out of options regardless. They had to speak to Grovyle, even if just to ask how he had come to the past.

"Do you really believe this?" Rai whispered.

"I don't think Grovyle is bad," Rhythm said softly. "Do you?"

He'd nearly killed Rai. Used him, confused him.

That scream still echoed in his head.

"I don't," Rai said, the mark of Striker's attack on him itching.

Rhythm smiled at him.

"What's your idea?" Rai asked.

"Maybe if we take the Time Gears back?" Rhythm began as Rai's eyes widened in alarm. "And if they don't work, that'll be a big point in his favour. It's the logical part of why I believe him, because reports of time going haywire were coming in well before the first gear was reported missing, before Meowth wound up on Sharpedo Bluff. And if he fell there right as they came from the past, then there is no way they could have been the cause!"

Rai's eyes almost sparkled at how smart the Guildmaster really was.

"He also hugs really good!" Rhythm said. "Though some people don't think that's logic, I disagree, boo-boo."

Somehow, that made Rai giggle and feel much better. He felt some energy return to his aching muscles. "Okay! We gotta convince everyone! Gears and Grovyle!"

Rhythm nodded. "I will gather the town. Shinx, I… I want you to take a nap! Guildmaster's orders!"

Rai looked puzzled for a long moment, but one had to obey the master of the Guild and that was that.


When Rai arrived in the centre of Treasure Town to find Wigglytuff addressing the populace. He listened in as he made his way through the crowd, this was something he could interrupt.

Wigglytuff spotted him as he emerged and beckoned. On his right side floated Magnezone who stared at Rai with an eye that reminded him of Dusknoir. Rai didn't like that the comparison now made him uneasy. On Wigglytuff's right stood Alakazam, stroking his moustache distractedly.

Rai crept past Wigglytuff and behind him so that he didn't have everyone staring at him in that mixture of pity and worry they had been doing earlier. He could still spot the whispers though.

Wigglytuff wrapped out his word. "And could I request a member of the town to volunteer to accompany Officer Magnezone and myself to Boulder Quarry?"

The town broke into excited murmurs as Wigglytuff turned to Rai with a beaming smile. "I remembered," he whispered happily, "exactly what Chatot tried to teach me when talking to everyone! Yay-hooray!"

Rai gave a smile back, even now Wigglytuff's optimism was heartening and he felt a few of his worries slide away.

Eventually, Wynaut stepped forward. "I will come!" they said, smiling bashfully. "If that's okay with everyone else?"

No one objected to Wynaut's inclusion and they stepped up beside Rai.

"How are you doing?" Wynaut whispered as Magnezone finished up the explanation.

"I'm fine," Rai replied with a bland smile. Wynaut smiled apologetically, but anything they were to say was drowned out by Magnezone.

"ZZZT! It is decided then! Wigglytuff, Wynaut, and Officer Magnezone will take the Time Gears to Boulder Quarry and test them all until they work. ZZZT!"

The crowd cheered and Wynaut gave a sudden bow, nearly smacking their head on the grass. Wigglytuff giggled and shouldered the bag containing the Time Gears.

"Are you ready?" Wigglytuff asked Alakazam, and he got a slight nod. Alakazam was focused and ready. Rai stepped back to allow the three to touch Alakazam and soon they disappeared.

He blinked the afterimage away before noticing he was now the only one standing in front of the town. Rai realised his plan of hiding was filled with many exploitable holes and his ears fell back. He didn't like this much attention.

He quickly turned and trotted away, aiming for the guild where he could hide. Even as he walked, not ran, Rai could still hear a few pokémon whisper well-meaning, but hurtful, things.

Scout wasn't the bad guy. And if this last-ditch effort didn't work, then Grovyle might not be one either.

Rai truly couldn't say exactly what he hoped. He did believe Grovyle now and not just because he trusted Scout first. But if it was true then the world was on the precipice of destruction. And if it was false, then his closest companion was trying to destroy the world.

His walk, not a run, turned into a run and Rai fled Treasure Town, never feeling so unwelcome.


"Wigglytuff?" Wynaut asked softly. There was no response. "Wigglytuff?"

Wigglytuff stood frozen, staring at his paws in horror. They had arrived at the end of Limestone Cavern, and both Magnezone and Wynaut were impressed Wigglytuff was the first to discover the secret of this place.

They had moved past where Ditto was once frozen, Team Gazer and Corphish had brought him with them to the guild a while ago, and to the inner sanctum.

Even with no Time Gear in place, the area was still lit up in a clear marker of where to put it. Although the stiffness of the place and absolute silence unnerved Magnezone and Wynaut, Wigglytuff had seemed unaffected until it was time to try the Time Gears.

He had reached in to pick a gear up and then recoiled with a gasp of horror. Now he was just staring at his paws and neither Magnezone nor Wynaut knew what to do.

So, they kept trying to rouse him.

"BZZT! Guildmaster Wigglytuff? What is wrong? Are you injured? BZZT!"

"Wigglytuff?" Wynaut reached out to touch his arm and Wigglytuff jerked from the touch, but finally returned to them. "Are you alright?"

"Y-yes," Wigglytuff said, forcing cheer through his voice clear enough that even Magnezone could hear it. "The gear just… reminded me of something."

"What?" Wynaut asked, but Wigglytuff didn't answer. It took a moment for Wynaut to realise that may have been a very personal question.

He took a breath and reached back in, one eye closing as his paw rubbed against a gear. He wanted to recoil again, but took a deep breath and curled around it, pulling the Time Gear out.

With an uncomfortable grimace, Wigglytuff clasped it in both paws and walked up to the slot the Time Gear needed to be placed in. He reached up and pressed it in, pulling back as soon as he could.

They waited.

Nothing happened.

"Not this one then," Wigglytuff said lightly, grimacing again when he had to remove the Time Gear. To help him, Wynaut reached in to grab a gear of their own but upon touching it, recoiled with a shriek.

Their cry of alarm caused Wigglytuff to drop his Time Gear and it bounced once before settling.

"BZZT! What is it? You are alarming me. BZZT!"

"I-it felt like," Wynaut stuttered, pointing an arm at the bag as Wigglytuff brought the first gear back. "Like… the-uh…." They trailed off, glancing to the side as their face went a little purple.

Wigglytuff set the Time Gear to the side and managed a genuine smile. "Let me do this," he said, and Wynaut didn't object.

Each time he touched a Time Gear, the same feeling would crash into him, as heavy and painful as the first time. Somehow, someway, the Time Gear felt like feathers, a gentle weight, and blood. It was the worst thing Wigglytuff had ever felt, knowing his friend and partner was going to die in his arms.

Somehow, the first touch of the Time Gear felt like that. It felt like Trill dying in his arms in Brine Cave, emotions and all. If it wasn't for finding help at the end of the dungeon, Rhythm knew he would have lost Trill.

He blinked tears away when the others couldn't see his face, Tril lwould tell him that the Guildmaster had to remain strong and composed. Or maybe he'd distract everyone with some awkward anecdote or seemingly irritated complaint to draw attention away from him so he could compose himself.

It was always the way it'd been. Rhythm felt things intensely. Intense joy, intense excitement, intense anger, intense sadness. And touching the Time Gears was bringing the final, and worst, one right back to his mind.

He didn't know where Trill was.

He didn't know WHEN Trill was.

He just had to hang onto the hope that everything would be okay.

The second gear felt worse. So much worse. Because it was the same weight of blood and feather with the sting of abject betrayal, betrayal of himself and Trill… and his own betrayal of everyone.

"Wigglytuff?" Wynaut said gently, and Wigglytuff realised he was trembling in place with the gear in hand. He quickly pressed it into the hole, but nothing happened. It was the fourth gear, the last one. One of these had to have been taken from this place, and none of them were working.

With a shaky breath, Wigglytuff pried the gear out and returned all four of them to the bag. His arms shook as he brushed the tears away and tried to put on a smile.

"W-we need to g-get back," he said weakly, standing up. "That's that then. None of the gears work. Grovyle must have been telling the truth."

"BZZT! If Grovyle is not the enemy… then? BZZT!"

"H-have we been deceived by Dusknoir?" Wynaut asked.

"We might have," Wigglytuff admitted softly. "We have to get back as soon as possible, we need to speak with Grovyle, with the whole town. Everyone needs to hear this."

"I can help get everyone back into the town square," Wynaut said, focusing on what could be done.

"BZZT! We cannot simply let Grovyle free," Magnezone objected. "At the very least, he must be guarded. BZZT!"

"Of course." Wigglytuff nodded, face drying. The gears were unpleasant, he decided, but a fantastic defence mechanism, if touching them brought to mind and feel of the worst experiences of one's life. Who could stand to touch them? Wigglytuff couldn't help but wonder what Grovyle felt when he touched it, he wouldn't ask though.

There were better questions that had to be asked. Chatot would agree, Wigglytuff was sure. He wanted to do what Chatot would have advised.

Alakazam didn't say much before bringing them back and Wynaut immediately ran off to bring the town in yet again to hear what needed to be said.

Magnezone floated off to Team Magnezone's base to retrieve Grovyle, while Rhythm took a moment to breathe.

He wanted to bounce through the trees.

He wanted to chatter away with his apprentices, now that Trill couldn't tell him off for that.

He wanted to hear Trill tell him off. He just wanted to see him.

He had to keep being strong, he had to push the silly down and away as this was not the time or place.

The oak trees agreed.

But he still took a moment to breathe. Just a moment. Before heading to the guild to get everyone. He put on a smile, his voice remained light, if still concerned, as he directed anyone still in the guild to come to town.

He rocked back and forth on his feet as if carefree and content. He didn't want to cause any undue panic, but perhaps looking so happy would drive the wrong point home?

Rhythm wasn't sure, Trill could tell him. But Trill wasn't here. So he continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

He continued bouncing in place.

"I came from a dark future," Grovyle said, the crowd listening in silence. "The wind doesn't move, rocks hang in the air frozen. Nothing moves, everything is dead or dying. The few that remain alive have mostly lost their minds, I would have lost myself as well if it wasn't for my partners. My partners." His words choked to a stop and Grovyle needed to take a moment to compose himself.

Wigglytuff blinked. He seemed to have zoned out completely, missing Grovyle's arrival as well as the beginning of the dialogue. He hoped no one had noticed.

"Why should we believe you?" someone shouted as Grovyle pulled himself back together.

"You heard Wigglytuff!" Grovyle snapped. "The Time Gears don't work, time was already failing before Sean and I took the first one." Grovyle turned to Wigglytuff for confirmation, the Fairy-type was thrown for a moment.

"Uh, y-yes!" he proclaimed, Grovyle frowned at him. Wigglytuff turned to the crowd to tell the bad news. "Wynaut, Magnezone, and I tried all the Time Gears at Boulder Quarry and none of them worked. Right?" he asked, to Wynaut who was actually already standing by him.

They gave him a puzzled look. "…Yes." They nodded, Wigglytuff wondered why everyone was acting so strange. He checked to make sure he didn't have any food on his face. "You've gone over that already," Wynaut said and Wigglytuff paused.

"…Oh, yes. Of course, just…" he gestured randomly at Grovyle, "making sure we're all on the same track."

Grovyle continued staring at Wigglytuff as an awkward silence fell over the town.

"What if Grovyle did something to the Time Gears?" someone yelled, if just to break the silence.

Grovyle turned on the crowd with a scowl. "How could I damage artefacts of such power?" he demanded angrily.

"How would we know?"

"Why can't you consider that Dusknoir deceived you all for weeks?"

"It's his word against yours."

"And Dusknoir isn't here anymore!" Grovyle exploded, the magnemite restraining him buzzed in worry. "He attacked you all to force his way into the future with prisoners! Not even considering to abide by your own laws, wants, or customs. He lied to you all and spread false information and has admitted to deceiving you all before! Why should you believe HIM?"

Grovyle fell silent as the town all began breaking into murmurs. Dusknoir's actions HAD led to the chaos that Treasure Town fell into. He HAD admitted to deceiving them of his true purpose, and the rumour that he had manipulated Young Shinx to get information had spread, although few knew how to take that.

Shinx nodded to Grovyle's words and the murmurs grew louder. The entity that was Treasure Town began to panic and was bordering on a breakdown. That would be expensive and necessitate more rules.

The individuals may be rational, but Treasure Town as a whole was highly prone to crowd mentalities panic response.

"Yoom-Tah!" Wigglytuff shouted, without any real TAH to it. The town quietened, they all remembered the quake Wigglytuff had caused only a short time ago.

"We must look at the facts, everyone!" Wigglytuff said brightly, shining with force of personality. "We know Dusknoir has deceived us once. We know that the Time Gears do not work. We know that Dusknoir has taken some of our valued community members, and he has NOT returned to bring them back."

"But the Time Gears are not to be disturbed," someone protested. "And now that they have, everything is going wrong. How do we know time was going wrong before HE took the first gear?"

Wigglytuff considered the question for a moment. He raised a paw. "I wish Chatot was here," he said plainly, yet it packed more emotion than anything he had said up to this point. The whole town fell silent. "He would know. But he said that the first reports of issues with time was dated before the first Time Gear was found to be taken. And we know when the people from the future arrived with Meowth's appearance. I think it's true, I believe that Grovyle is telling the truth."

Grovyle cast a look of terrified awe at Wigglytuff as the town began to nod. If the Guildmaster believed this, then that combined with what Dusknoir did. It could be true.

"The only wish," Wigglytuff added, turning to Grovyle, "I only wish you had told me during the expedition. I would have listened."

Grovyle stared back with a changing expression. First, it was defiance, then suspicion, then a dawning regret. He swallowed and ducked his head as the magnemite began to release him. "I… you must understand, the world I come from. The time I come from. It is a place where you can't trust strangers, even your allies." He scowled briefly. "Even they can turn on you. If I had told you what I was really doing, it could have risked everything."

Grovyle dropped his gaze from Wigglytuff's sympathy as the magnemite fully released him. He didn't run, sprint, hop, or bounce to freedom. He seemed to sag in place without them to hold him up. "But perhaps I should have. You probably would have listened."

Wigglytuff gave him a rueful smile but didn't say anything. The answer was plain as day.

"This should be all for today," Wigglytuff said loudly, turning back to the anxious crowd. "Return to your duties! The Wigglytuff Guild will solve this problem!"

Grovyle stepped forward, somewhat unsure of his position. Wigglytuff beamed at him and gestured for him to stand with him.

Wigglytuff almost hugged him but restrained himself as Grovyle wasn't looking so good. The rest of the guild looked conflicted to have Grovyle standing with them again, but a few were smiling. Rai wasn't.

"It is good to have you back, friendly friend," Wigglytuff said and Grovyle nodded.

"Thank you," he said, glancing at the dispersing crowd. The majority were still keeping an eye on him. "I don't know how that went well, but it did. Thank you, Wigglytuff."

Wigglytuff couldn't hold back the desire for touch completely and he took Grovyle's hands in his soft, fluffy, paws. Grovyle's eyes widened in surprise. "I'm sorry this has all happened, but we've made it here. Now we need to work out what to do next. And we can do that at the guild."

Wigglytuff quickly led the apprentices back to the guild. No one was talking, besides Wigglytuff. And he was simply filling the silence.

Grovyle continued wearing an exceedingly uncomfortable expression as he was led into the guild. Kindness and trust like this were not known of in the future and believing in someone offering it was what got you killed.

Got you killed.

You killed.

You.

"Our first method of action," Grovyle explained to the guild. "Is the key to the hidden land. Sean and Scout both failed to find it, and all we really know is that Shinx either had, has, or will have it at some point."

"It's called the Relic Fragment," Rai replied plainly. "And it's my treasure. It was stolen by Team Skull and sold. Apparently, Litleo had it at some point, but it was stolen from him."

Grovyle nodded. "Yes, Sean was able to fill me in on that. He tried to find it during… my failed attempt to retrieve Azelf's Time Gear, which is our next priority. But he also was unable to make any hide or hair of it. Dusknoir doesn't seem to have it, at least we hope."

"Litleo's gone…." Rai turned away. "And no one else can help."

"What about Team Skull?" Sunflora piped up. Most of the guild was happy to just eavesdrop, but she would be part of the action. "If we can find them, we can ask who they sold it to. Then find them and follow the trail."

"It ends with Litleo though," Rai protested, but Sunflora held a leaf up.

"Maybe. But if the item has passed through several of the townsfolk, then it's possible someone has seen or heard something else about it. I'll find my girls and spread some roots, see if I can dig up any information. But finding Team Skull is a good idea."

Grovyle coughed awkwardly and took the spotlight again. "I had a run in with them shortly before the expedition began."

"Oooh," Wigglytuff hummed. "Did you!?"

"Indeed." Grovyle nodded guiltily. "I tried to see if they still had it, I… did some damage to them but once I failed to find anything I let them go."

"So, Skuntank and the rest of that Team Skull could be anywhere," Sunflora sighed. "Well… I'll still do what I can. I do think finding them is a good idea, even if it's just to ask for their help. Getting as many exploration teams searching for, uh…" she glanced to Rai.

"The Relic Fragment," he offered, and she smiled.

"Right. Getting as many pokémon searching for the Relic Fragment as possible can only help."

Grovyle nodded and Sunflora smiled. As a fellow Grass-type, she didn't feel the need to be so hard on him.

"Finding the Relic Fragment and retrieving the final Time Gear," Grovyle said firmly. "These are our goals."

"And getting to the future," Rai said and Grovyle paused. "To rescue everyone."

"Yes-yes!" Wigglytuff nodded, looking happily to Grovyle. "Could you explain how to do that?"

"There isn't any point," Grovyle said harshly and Rai growled. "Look." Grovyle began to pace and Rai was reminded of Scout. "I don't think you are all understanding what Dusknoir would do. Even if you could find Celebi in time and somehow also pinpoint the right time and place to get there, there would be no one to save. Only Scout, but we cannot split our resources with so much on the line."

"Stop implying they're dead!" Rai shouted. "Why are you so sure? Have you such little faith in YOUR partner?"

Striker looked taken aback. "I-"

"Well, I know Mane, Chatot, and Sean. Scout, dammit!" Rai sparked for a moment and Corphish edged away. "We can't accept that they are just gone. They could have escaped. You don't know that they didn't?"

For once, Grovyle actually considered Rai's words. He was not unaware that Sean had experienced a Dimensional Scream while being held by Dusknoir and had managed to hide a Luminous Orb. It was hard to allow himself to hope though, hope hurt.

They couldn't split time trying to find the Celebi of this time, however. Grovyle could see that Rai wasn't going to quit. Wigglytuff was looking on the verge of tears as well.

"Perhaps it's not… entirely impossible," he admitted, reluctantly. "Sean seemed to have something in mind. I wouldn't pin your entire self on it, and we MUST fix the tower before even attempting to find Celebi."

Grovyle wondered what would happen if the future was erased while pokémon from the past were in it. Perhaps the guild could track down Celebi later and retrieve them. Maybe.

Rai was satisfied at winning and nodded. "Exactly. We'll save them all. Or maybe they'll get back on their own! If you got here before, then they could do it again right?"

Grovyle's eyes widened slightly. Rai was making a lot of good points he hadn't considered. He didn't want to hope, but the last time he had actually ended well for once.

He smiled slightly and Rai returned it. "It is possible, yes."

The guild now re-energised thundered off in a cavalcade of action. Everything MAY have gone to shit, but they could only go up from here.

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?

Right?


Right?

We're back in business. Woo!

Hope you all enjoyed this! A little more light-hearted then what's going on in the future. Only a little.

The past still knows hope after all.
 
Chapter 25 - In Danger

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Back to the future time.


"Okay?" Mane asked backing up against the wall by the others, positively spooked now. "What in my name was that?"

"Shush," Chatot hissed, pressing Mane back further. The litleo grumbled as he was squished further against the wall.

"You know?" he asked, voice muffled by chilly stone. "You ever find that fantasies aren't so fun in practise?"

Sean, in response, pushed him harder against the wall. "Be. Quiet."

"Six fantasies."

"Litleo," Chatot snapped and Mane grumbled some more, but did hold his tongue.

The three pokémon remained still. Squeezed into a tiny space, crushed against the rocks, holding silent. Each could feel the others heartbeat, hammering away.

Slowly as nothing more was happening, Sean began to peel himself off of Chatot's back, brushing a few feathers off. Chatot similarly relaxed his posture and released Mane, who immediately began to mutter obscenities under his breath.

Sean's tassels began to shiver in the air, and he closed his eyes. Mane gave him a curious look, but Chatot nodded wisely.

"What can you sense?" Chatot whispered.

Sean was silent for a moment longer. "I… don't really know. Pain, maybe confusion? It's foggy, and I'm not exactly great at using these things." He tapped one of his tassels and they fell slack.

A distant thump echoed.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Mane demanded, stepping in place anxiously. "If something is out there, we're going to have to get by them anyway. Is it even a bad guy?"

Sean groaned, "It might-"

He was cut off by a scream. High, piercing, which carried for miles in the silent landscape. All three of them jumped at the sound of pain and misery.

"What was?" Chatot flapped.

"What should?" Mane begun.

Neither of them were heard by Sean, who had already ran out from their cropping and back onto the path. He knew that scream.

"Come ON!" Sean yelled back. That scream would have been heard by everything in the area, there was little point in being quiet now.

Mane fell into a hesitant run but Chatot took a moment longer to regain his bearings and flap after them.

Sean sprinted forward, paws thumping against the ground, as he approached a white figure on the path. Writhing in pain against the stone, there was nothing but sheer cliffs on both sides, one going up and another going down.

From Scout's cries, Sean feared he'd fallen from up above. That was several storeys he had fallen, at least.

"Scout! Scout!?" Sean said as he reached the meowth. Scout didn't seem to hear him, he was twisting in pain against the unforgiving ground, clutching his right arm with his left. Sean winced when he saw it, knocked out of its socket and twisted further with Scout's violent convulsions. He almost looked like he was having a seizure on the cold, unforgiving stone.

A pair of bags laid with their contents scattered around them and Sean immediately began searching for anything that could help. Scout lashed out with a claw and slashed through one of Sean's legs and the riolu nearly buckled from the sudden pain.

He found a sleep seed right as his companions reached him.

"Hold him down," he commanded Chatot. The bird didn't do as directed.

"E-Excuse?"

"Hold him so I can give him this sleep seed!" Sean snapped and Chatot narrowed his eye but quickly followed through.

His wings, although appearing clumsy, were very strong and Chatot was able to grab Scout from behind and hold him up, pinning his arms.

The meowth whimpered and shook, almost sobbing as Sean came forward. Mane watched helplessly as Sean forced Scout's mouth open and shoved the seed down his throat. The meowth gurgled a little, but soon fell slack in Chatot's hold.

"Okay," Sean breathed, dreading this next part. "Lay him on his back, set his arms on both sides." Chatot caught on and grimaced before complying. Something clinked on the stone as Scout was set down and with no more convulsions, Sean and Chatot spotted the cuff around his leg with the broken chain.

"Have you done this before?" Chatot asked, once Scout was laying prone on his back. It was unpleasant to see all the tears in his fur and paws.

"Yeah, and it's never pretty," Sean said, grimacing. He looked to his paws with a frown. "I haven't done this as a riolu yet, but I should be right. Litleo?" he asked, remembering the Fire-type. "Can you get everything in the bags while we do this because we need to be gone?"

Mane nodded silently and went about collecting the items as Sean began the procedure. He grabbed Scout's wrist and began to lift it up, twisting until he felt resistance. Even asleep, Scout winced in pain. Sean stopped lifting and began to twist the arm, again until he felt resistance.

Pausing to take a steadying breath, Sean nodded to Chatot. "Might not want to watch this," he said with a grim smile. Chatot didn't back away and Sean decided he couldn't hesitate, the sableye and Dusknoir WOULD be coming for the scream as fast as they could.

Sean took another breath and began to lift the arm further and further until he felt something pop. Sean and Chatot flinched at the sound, and Scout moaned in pain.

"Th-there," Sean said, lowering his arm. "We have to go, get him on my back."

Chatot nodded and began to gently lift Scout. "Quickly!"

"He's hurt," Chatot protested, but complied again. He was frowning harder, following orders like this was bothering him.

"Let's go."

Mane looked up. "I haven't gotten everything!" he objected, and Sean turned a frustrated stare on him.

"We have no time. We have to go NOW!"

Chatot flapped over and took the bag that Mane had yet to touch and scooped what he could, pushing aside part of a blanket that was sticking out, but Sean began to leave without them and so they both hurried to catch up.

"Is this really necessary?" Chatot demanded as they approached the dungeon. "Leaving perfectly good items like a trail?"

"Do neither of you understand what will happen if you are caught?" Sean asked, not turning to face them. He had a meowth on his back weighing him down, he wasn't in any position to be meeting their eyes.

Chatot made a spluttery sound and Mane scowled.

"How did Scout get out?" he asked, deciding to focus on the important questions. "You made it sound like he was locked up somewhere. And he just falls out of the sky when we're talking about him?"

"This place is maddening," Sean answered, without actually answering the question. He didn't know the answer. "Keep close, if you get separated you could lose each other. It's not like the past, here space is all mashed up as well, you could walk over a hill to the ocean and two feet past that the ice caps."

They didn't seem to thrilled to be accepting that but stuck close, Sean was the one carrying Scout after all and both Chatot and Mane's eyes were trained on the meowth with concern.

"Here we are," Sean said, pausing only briefly at the dungeon entrance. "Chasm Cave. Fortunately, being this close to the broken tower ensures at least a little bit of reliability with space." He stepped in with no further dilly dallying and his companions hurried to match his step.

Even carrying Scout, Sean wasn't letting anything slow him down. He was limping slightly, however, from the slash Scout had given his leg. Marks of blood would lead their followers to the dungeon but once they were through they should be in a better position.

How the meowth got out and got to them, he'd take as a sliver of good fortune. He felt he was due for some good luck after the last few days.

"Since I'm carrying Scout," Sean said, as the roof of the cave disappeared into skies and they found themselves in a plains cut with sheer cliffs that led to inky blackness. "You're both probably going to need to do most of the fighting."

"We can handle it!" Mane scoffed, stepping up forward to pass Sean. He turned to look him in the eye. "You guard him with everything."

Sean met the fiery gaze with a cool one of his own. "You don't need to tell me to protect my friend."

"Ahem," Chatot cleared his throat and they stopped staring each other down. "The matters leading up to this point may have been fraught with tension and uncertainty, but we are going to have to work together to get through this, I'm certain."

Sean nodded and Mane turned back to looking ahead. "I'll lead." Was all he said before setting off with a stiff walk.

Chatot stuck behind Sean as they went, he and Mane acting as a guard to protect him. Or, really, to protect the unconscious Scout.

The dungeon was unpleasant, with its cliffs that fell into nothingness and the lack of any noise. It was unnerving. The three kept themselves steady by talking.

"It's the best way to maintain your sanity in this place," Sean explained when Mane demanded why he was asking them what berries they enjoyed the most.

"Berries?" Mane sneered.

"Talking," Sean replied, unmoved by Mane's antagonism. "It drowns out the silence. When it's silent, stuff starts to 'get to you'. And I mean it, like something is trying to crawl into your brain. I'd really prefer us all to keep our sanity here."

"Alright." Mane nodded, a sneaky gleam entered his eye. "How bi-"

Mane was drowned out when Chatot lunged ahead to strike a drifloon that had been sneaking forward, knocking the Ghost-type down the cliff.

"You can chatter later," Chatot snapped as more drifloon began to float up. "Combat should be loud enough."

Sean kept an eye on the closest drifloon whenever they tried to slip past and go for the weakest of their number, turning to block it with his own body if necessary.

Thankfully, Mane's Fire Blast and Chatot's surprisingly powerful Aerial Ace dispatched the drifloon before any could reach him.

"Good work you two," Sean congratulated, genuinely impressed.

Mane flipped some fur out of his face. "Of course," he sneered, with noticeably less heat than before.

Chatot simply nodded. "We had best not dawdle," he pointed out and the group began to move again. This time Chatot took the lead and Mane stepped back behind to guard the rear.

If Mane's chuckling was any indication of what he wasn't saying, no one commented.

No other incident occurred through the dungeon and they landscape changed from riddled with cliffs to completely flat ground.

"Hm?" Chatot blinked and glanced around. He and Mane looked back, and as far as their eyes could see the ground was flat.

"What just…?"

"We're out of the dungeon," Sean said, surprised he had to point that out.

"Obviously," Chatot sniffed, flapping back to the lead. "It was simply odd to experience the change so suddenly."

"It's how it is here," Sean replied, shouldering Scout into a better position. The meowth had stirred a few times but hadn't quite woken up yet. "Dungeons are the only places of sanity in the future."

"What?"

"What he said," Mane parroted. "What?"

Sean sighed. His shoulders were hurting, his feet were hurting, he had a killer headache, and he didn't want to play educator every two minutes.

"Look," he said, as they came into view of a frozen waterfall. "When time collapsed, a bunch of legendary pokémon tried to do something about it. Our team discovered multiple of them frozen in time, including Palkia."

"Palkia…?" Chatot murmured.

"Palkia is Dialga's counterpart, except for space rather than time," Sean explained again. "And when Palkia tried to stop Dialga's rampage, it got frozen in time. With Palkia no longer maintaining space, the world has gone… confusing. Areas that are not dungeons can shift and change. You could leave a dungeon and find that the area past it used to be halfway across the world."

"You can't be serious!" Chatot squawked. "How would anyone find their way around? Maps would be obsolete!"

"Maps ARE obsolete," Sean confirmed. "But dungeons always remain the same places. THAT is how you find your way around. The places between them might change, but where you are doesn't. And where the dungeons are don't change."

"That's still confusing," Mane muttered, and Sean nodded, jostling Scout who whimpered.

"Yeah. It is."

They walked in a period of silence, Sean letting his companions digest that revelation. Personally he found a world where everywhere remained where it was to be a delightful novelty. Reminded him of home and left him feeling sad that such normality was not normal to him anymore.

Even the feel of the wind on his face was bizarre after living in this dark world for as long as he had.

"Water!" Mane cried, spotting the waterfall. He ran forward and Chatot flew eagerly as well. Sean didn't move any faster, he could see it was frozen.

"What?" Mane asked, patting the water with his paw. "Frozen…?" He frowned but took a breath and breathed fire on it. The water hadn't felt very cold, but if it was frozen…

It did not melt.

"What?" he repeated and poked it again. "What is this?"

"It's frozen in time," Sean said. "You were at the Underground Lake weren't you? You would have seen this."

"We kinda left before we got frozen in time," Mane replied, frowning. "You know? Thanks to your buddy. Shinx says thanks for the chest cut, he always wanted to see his ribs from the inside."

Sean turned his head at that. "Ah… sorry about that." He turned back with an apologetic expression, Mane was unmoved. "If it'd make you feel better, I hit Striker in the face when he told me that."

Mane's expression didn't move, at first.

"Heh." He began to smile, before pausing and moving back to a frown. "I'd like to believe that. Dunno though, you kind of told us what we wanted to hear before."

Sean rolled his eyes, stepping past the frozen waterfall and Chatot futilely pecking at it. "Look I'm sorry. I didn't want to lie, but the situation left me with no other options. You wouldn't have helped me had I told you I was going to break Striker out too."

"You should have heard Shinx though," Mane laughed fondly. "I didn't know he knew that many filthy words. If it wasn't for everything going on that would have been a great night."

"Hang onto that," Sean advised as Chatot gave up and joined them. "Anything happy is something you need to hang onto here."

"You're so melodramatic," Mane pointed out, coming by Sean's side. "And I'm thirsty. Real thirsty."

Sean frowned and glanced to Mane as he smirked. He ignored him.

Mane pouted as Chatot flapped up to his other side. "Litleo does bring up a valuable point," Chatot said. "Among his… less useful babble. We will need water at some point."

"Hopefully we can get to Celebi before we need any actual water," Sean said, "but for now, berries we have are going to have to do."

"Yes, berries. Give me them."

"Hm." Chatot looked between the two before opening one of the bags. "That is the second time you have mentioned this 'Celebi'. As with many things, the name rings a distant bell in my mind. Who is Celebi?"

"Is that how we're getting back to the past?" Mane asked, through a mouthful of oran berry.

"Yesh," Sean answered, before swallowing. "Yes. Celebi is the key to all this. She's how we got to the past in the first place. She can lead us to the Passage of Time. But first we need to find her."

"And… where?"

"We're going to head to Celebi's most common haunt," Sean answered. "It's where we first met her. It's where she usually hides. We'll be heading through several dungeons to remain on track, trying for a shortcut could be… risky."

"Risks are the spice of life!" Mane said.

Chatot disagreed with Mane. "The dungeons then. Since you claim they act as anchors of our position?"

Sean nodded. "Yep. The space between them is roughly the same space as it 'should be' just it could be a very random terrain," he said as Scout shifted on his back. "Let's… uh?"

Mane and Chatot heard the rustling of movement and turned as Scout threw himself off Sean's back, the sudden force knocking the riolu onto his face.

Scout ran in a blind panic, right into a wall.

"Sean!" Mane cried, running up to him.

"What?" Sean growled from where he was picking himself up.

Scout turned on Mane and hissed, claws coming out as he bared his teeth. The litleo forced himself to a stop. "Woah, woah, woah," he said as Scout gave a few warning swipes with his left arm. The right hung limply by his side. "Hey, don't you recognise me?"

Scout paused in his hissing, blinking furiously. Chatot also approached and Scout backed up against the wall, clinking the cuff against the stone, causing Chatot to pause.

"Scout," Sean said, standing up. "Chatot, Litleo, give him space." They glanced to him worriedly and neither moved.

Scout was trembling against the wall, eyes flicking to all three in quick succession. When no one moved he almost began to relax, pulling himself off the wall.

"Scout," Sean repeated. "Are you alright?"

Scout gave a long, hard, blink and breathed out a sigh. "W-where?"

"You're safe," Sean answered.

"With us!" Mane added. "Seriously, Scout? Don't you recognise me?"

Scout blinked dopily at Mane for a moment. "I… lit… M-May…?"

"Mane," he correctly, flatly. "Seriously? You forgot ME?"

"Back off," Sean said, and Mane turned to him angrily.

"Seriously? Have you even MET me? How could he forget me?"

"He took a blow to the head," Sean snapped back, not noticing as Chatot hopped forward. "After travelling through time. Then he had to be put to sleep, probably with a concussion. He's disorientated. Give him a break."

Mane growled and looked to Chatot for validation, only to notice Chatot roosting in front of a puzzled Scout.

He was speaking quietly, enough so that the other two had to strain to overhear.

"-ou slept for an entire day. The Guildmaster and Corphish made many jokes at you and Shinx's expense for sleeping so long. Felines, they laughed. Things changed, of course, as they got to know you."

Scout cocked his head. "Chatot?" he asked, tasting the word. "Chat… oh! Chatot!"

He straightened up before relaxing and shook his head. "Good grief, what just happened?" he looked around, spotting Mane and Sean. "Did I actually blank out? Jeez, I barely recognised anyone." He blinked a few more times as Mane puffed his chest out.

"Of COURSE you didn't forget me. I clearly just stunned you with my dashing good looks."

"That must have been it," Scout said dryly, and Mane blinked.

"Really?"

"It's good to have you back," Sean said warmly, stepping forward. He smiled gratefully to Chatot and the bird nodded back. "How's your arm?"

"My arm?" Scout asked, lifting his left. "Fine. It's… uh?" he looked to the right, where his arm still was just hanging there. Scout's eyes widened lightly as he tried to move it.

He managed a weak swing of his arm. Trying to move his digits was impossible.

"M-my arm?" he said in alarm, looking up at Sean. "What happened?"

"It's fine," Sean said, stepping up to rest a paw on Scout's left shoulder. "You fell pretty far and dislocated it pretty badly. I was able to pop it back in after giving you a sleep seed. Chatot helped."

"I got the items!" Mane said.

"After that I carried you through the dungeon. We're in the interim before the next one. I'm glad you woke up though, how's your head?"

"My head is fine," Scout said, still trying to move his arm. "My arm is NOT fine." He gave up and grabbed it with his other one. Grimacing at the numbness the arm, feeling like he was hefting a sack of bones.

"It'll probably be numb for a while, but you should recover." Sean nodded. "We should give you a berry and get on our way. The sableye could catch up to us at any time, and we've stuck around here too long."

With Sean no longer having to carry Scout, he hoped the Dark Hill would be easier. But he didn't count on it. He remembered everyone struggling with the Ghost-types to come.


Dusknoir growled wearily as he floated back into the stockade. By some perverted miracle, Sean had smuggled a luminous orb through. Undoubtedly, Striker had been the one responsible for Sean to even possess such a thing.

Striker's quirkiness about orbs had long since moved past an amusing foible and right into tantrum-throwing territory.

The sableye all kept their heads down as they followed him. Wisely avoiding catching his attention. Not a scrape of a claw or nervous titter could be heard.

It was bad news all around and Dusknoir did not enjoy the thought of having to approach Master Dialga to explain and beg forgiveness. He'd like to see a sableye attempt it, but Master Dialga would quite literally smite one of them if they dared to approach.

Annoying gremlins they could be, yet Dusknoir didn't wish them destroyed.

So, he would suffer Master Dialga's displeasure alone.

But first he had to strategize. Approaching Master Dialga without a cunning plan would be masochistic at best and suicidal at worst. Neither of those things was Dusknoir, no matter how Striker liked to claim he was the former. If anyone was suicidal it was Striker.

To plan he needed to be calm. And to be calm, he needed to see Scout.

The sableye were all very silent. Even to Dusknoir's stressed mind, he couldn't help but wonder why.

Glancing back at them, glaring just to be sure, he looked over all six of them. None were foolish enough to raise their heads and Dusknoir turned back and continued to float towards the brig.

Six sableye.

Dusknoir froze.

He slowly turned back to them and counted silently. Six sableye. He decided to do this again, slowly, verbally.

"One."

The sableye didn't move.

"Two."

The sableye kept their heads down.

"Three."

The sableye didn't scrape their claws.

"Four."

The sableye stood together.

"Five."

The sableye stood together."

"…Six."

It was minute, but Dusknoir could see their shoulders tensing. All six. At the same time. They were identical, and he had a feeling he knew how this was going to go.

"I believe," Dusknoir began plainly, the sableye continued to tense. "I set one of you to guard Scout. Am I wrong?"

None of them reacted.

Dusknoir turned and raced as fast as he could for the brig, tearing the door open. The cell was bare, the chain was snapped. The bags were gone, which was something. Assuming the sableye did in fact store them away safely, if they didn't then that would mean Scout….

He floated back out of the small room slowly. Needing a long moment to collect his composure so he didn't start doing something violent.

"Tell me," Dusknoir began, voice shaking with rage, "which one of you disobeyed my orders and left Scout alone to escape?"

He waited. Although he knew it was futile, none of them moved.

"I know you can tell each other apart," Dusknoir said lowly, eye flickering as his fingers began to twitch erratically. "Tell me which of you is to be punished. Tell me which one of you disobeyed and you will be rewarded."

Despite the promise of a reward, despite the threat to all of them, none of them lifted the accusing finger. Dusknoir's own fingers itched and the shadows around him began to twist.

"Tell. Me," he demanded as the dull light of the room began to dim further. "Tell me or you will ALL suffer the punishment."

None of them cracked.

Dusknoir released his Power, despite how badly he wanted to blast them until they broke and told him what he wanted to know. Harming them would be pointless, it would be wrong even, and he needed them to track his escapees down.

"Very well," Dusknoir whispered. "None of you will eat until the four of them are in front of me. And if Scout is hurt…." He left it hanging.

All six of them cringed. Food was everything to the sableye, to all pokémon in this dark time. To be barred from eating was torture.

"If Scout is hurt…" Dusknoir repeated, just to make sure they heard it clearly. He wouldn't finish the threat. They could picture what he'd do to them while they were searching.

A distant scream caused them all to jump and the sableye all turned back. Dusknoir floated a half-step forward, knowing that cry. A stab of pain went through his chest as he pulled himself back. He wasn't fast enough, he wouldn't be able to get to Scout in time.

"Well what are you waiting for?" Dusknoir roared, the sableye all jumped again. "GO AFTER THEM!"

The six pokémon scuttled out as fast as they could. If they could catch the escapees already, Master Dusknoir may even forgive them.

Although, if that scream was who they thought it was.

Dusknoir watched them all disappear before turning back. He wasn't entirely convinced the sableye could get to them in time. Sean was wily and clever, and also capable of first aid. He could trust Scout would be in safe hands until he was back in Dusknoir's own, safer, hands.

He gazed down at his hands, his fingers twitched once and he felt confusion. That twitch, the stagger of a sableye to one of the mobile shadows he had commanded. Had he really…?

He shook it off for now, he had to think of what he'd say to Master Dialga. He'd wait, just in case, the sableye could surprise him.

Was that optimism?

The sableye ran as fast as they could until they reached the door to the outside. Without hesitation they were off, following the still-echoing cry of pain.

One of them had something to say, however.

"Th-thanks," Sableye said, ducking his head as he felt the eyes of the others on him. He was the one who had been set to guard Scout.

"Don't mention it," Sableye replied offhandedly. He was always quite chill.

Sableye nodded in agreement, she wasn't willing to say anything comforting though.

"Do it again and I'm wringing your neck," Sableye hissed, she was hungry. They were all hungry.

They were hungry. Yet, they were family first.

Sableye managed a weak grimace as Sableye turned away.

"I can't believe we're going without food," Sableye grumbled. He was always the most food-conscious of the six.

None of them knew much about where they came from, only brief scraps of memory. They may not be blood related, they may not have actual blood perhaps, but they were close regardless.

"Just focus on finding them," Sableye said gruffly. He was the best at keeping them on track and the other five all clashed their claws together in response.

The sableye always stuck together.


"I think I would have been happier if I stayed unconscious," Scout coughed, nearing his wits end.

"At least you can actually do something," Sean commented dourly. He had been regulated as the main bag carrier now, he and Scout now wore their own Treasure Bags. Scout's one was carried more as a means of comfort, since all their items fit into Sean's bag without trouble.

"With one arm?"

The dungeon they had walked into was filled with Ghost-types, and Sean knew only one move capable of properly fighting them.

And since his Copycat relied on his opponents attacking first, Sean was left as the item carrier.

It was a role he was used to, having been a human for most of his life. Didn't mean he enjoyed it, however.

Even with the Ghost-types bringing back unpleasant memories, Sean still found himself almost enjoying the experience.

There were four of them again. Scout was here, even if one arm down, and he was here. Chatot was surprisingly strong, almost reminded him of Striker.

Mane was different though.

The litleo seemed to flit between tense shoulders and angry glares and a more relaxed, friendly, and uncomfortably flirtatious state.

He wondered if it was a coping method.

"So, then I said to him," Mane said with a sleezy smirk, "is that a-"

"Hush please," Chatot snapped and Mane turned an annoyed glare over to the bird. "Your ceaseless scarlet tales are beginning to severely test my patience. Riolu may have claimed that silence drives you mad, but I fear I'll go mad if you keep this up, regardless."

"You're such a stick in the mud!" Mane groaned. "Seriously? Does Wigglytuff never stick you or something?"

Chatot immediately flew into a rage. "DON'T YOU DARE SPEAK OF THE GUILDMASTER IN SUCH A CRUDE MANNER!"

Mane met Chatot's fury with a smirk. "So, that's a no then?"

Chatot seemed to fluff up in apoplectic rage but seemed unable to find the right words to voice his contempt of this entire situation.

"Calm down," Sean said, Chatot began to splutter furiously. "Look. I know how you feel, this is a stressful experience, but-"

"No," Chatot snapped, voice sharp and brittle. Sean paused as Chatot took a breath, Scout glanced back to the Flying-type in concern. "I do not believe you do know how I feel. Taken from everything and everyone I ever knew, tied up to be executed, now on the run in a frozen world with one of the most wanted criminals in both times ordering me around without the time to even ask anything. I do not believe you understand how stressful this is."

Sean's face flashed with something intense but he took a breath looked Chatot over. Feathers sticking out, panting for breath, favouring one leg, one wing tucked firmly against his body.

"I'm with Chats for once," Mane said, sliding into the conversation. "You're strutting around and telling us both what to do and we have to do it because if we don't, who knows what'll happen?"

"I'm helping you!" Sean protested. "You don't seriously think I'm going to hurt you?"

Mane snorted. "Hurt us? Hah. Good luck. But you still know stuff about this place, what's going on, what COULD happen. And you haven't slowed down for a second to explain it. We have to rely on you to have any idea on what to do. And, well, I get it." Mane rolled his shoulders, grinning an unpleasant grin. "I mean, if you DID tell us then there might be the risk of us deciding we don't need you, huh?"

Sean pursed his lips, taking a half step back. "Yeah," he admitted, glancing to a worried Scout, "I won't lie and say that I haven't thought about that. But." He turned back to face them, face setting into a firm expression.

"Technically I only need one person with me to keep my sanity in this place. I COULD have lost you in this dungeon up to this point, or even in the first one. But I'm not going to. I want to help you get back to the past, and if helping you helps me too, then why shouldn't I?"

"I'm not leaving them," Scout cut in, Sean smiled at the meowth as Mane's ears perked.

"The matter still remains," Chatot pointed out, "that we depend on you completely for guidance."

Sean sighed and nodded, glancing forwards. "Look. These dungeons are extreme, taking your focus away to stop and chat is risky and since we left together we've had to move as fast as we can. IF the exit of this dungeon is safe, I'll answer some questions then."

"That's all we ask," Chatot said and hopped forward. "Come. Let us move through this dungeon swiftly."

Mane nodded and joined him. With renewed vigour, they charged their way through the dungeon. Scout began sending Sean speculative looks every so often though.

They continued trekking through the uphill dungeon until the ground began to level out.

"Finally!" Mane cried, running forward onto flat ground. The environment around them changed as they blinked from the dungeon walls to open air.

Scout flinched as he noticed a large rock above him and skirted forward and tripped onto his face. He groaned and forced himself up with his left arm, the right was still not responding. The rock remained where it was.

"Are we out of the dungeon?" Chatot asked, panting softly for breath. The four slowed to a stop and glanced around. There was rock walls to their right, and a cliff to their left.

"Looks like it," Mane said, stepping close to the cliff drop. Scout wanted to reach forward and pull him away, but Mane wasn't stepping too close to the edge. "What are those lights?"

"The stockade," Sean answered, briefly taking a look before shuddering away. It was a sheer drop down, only Chatot would survive that and only because he could fly. "See the tower in the distance? Roughly as long as that's in sight the space around it is fairly predictable. It was dangerous to come here though, Dialga is insane and violent so no one lives here."

"Does anyone live?" Chatot asked.

Sean nodded. "Even after the apocolypse pokemon still come together. There's an equator of sorts, since the planet doesn't spin one half is cold and frozen and the other half is scorched and burning. That equator area is the safest place, there's a slew of towns called The Rubblebelt. They aren't as… well I would say aren't as friendly as pokemon of your time but after that display in Treasure Town I am not as sure."

Chatot and Mane frowned as Scout winced. They continued walking forward as the riolu was already setting off.

"Since we have left the dungeon," Chatot said, hopping forward. "You have promised to explain some things."

Sean nodded. "Let's just get out of open space first," he suggested, nodding forward past an old, dead, tree. "The next dungeon shouldn't be far away, but," he added sharply when it looked like Chatot was going to protest, "It'll be a safe place to quickly run in if anything happens."

"You're really paranoid, you know that right?" Mane said, Sean didn't respond.

"He has to be," Scout said, walking next to Mane. "To survive this place."

Mane gave him a searching look. "I guess says a few things about you too," he said lightly.

They continued until the walls began closing in again, but the sky remained stationary. "There's the entrance to the Sealed Ruin dungeon," Sean said, pointing to a rectangular break in the rocks. "This will have to do for now."

He came to a stop, edging himself very close to the dungeon, before turning to the three curious pokémon with arms crossed. "First, we can't stand here for long. Enough to catch our breaths and ask some questions. Then we have to keep going. Understand?"

"Tell us why we have to be in such a hurry?" Mane asked, immediately. "Ever since we got out, even after Scout screaming the place down, we've seen nothing. No sableye, no Dusknoir, nothing."

"Do you remember the sableye in Treasure Town?" Sean answered with his own question. "Their ability to sink into shadows and appear or disappear very quickly? I've ran from them for a long time, and because of how much racket that was about before we got Scout, I have no doubt they are trailing us." He looked around suspiciously, but it was for show. If a sableye was watching them, he wouldn't be able to see it.

Sean tested his aura senses next, reminded that he could do that now. But his abilities were still weak, and he sensed nothing but the frustration of the three in front of him.

Feeling others emotions left him feeling deeply unsettled, like his bones were itching and pressure on the back of his eyes. It just wasn't natural to his still-human mind. Still, he could pick up on Chatot's stoic frustration, Scout's pained frustration, and Mane's rather complex set of emotions he couldn't quite parse.

"How did things get like this?" Chatot asked quietly. "The pokémon I knew would have stood strong in the face of this calamity. Banded together. But all we've seen are maddened souls in dungeons and the evil of Dusknoir."

Sean frowned. "Dusknoir… is complicated to discuss, I cannot say he is evil just… misguided. In The Rubblebelt you have pokémon that are a bit more the way you'd recognise but everyone is still harsh. Kindness gets used and unless you're useful as well they wouldn't have survived long."

Mane glanced between the uncomfortable, and still confused, Scout and Sean. "So… what's the deal here. He really was your buddy in this time?" He coughed after speaking and smacked his lips. "I'm also thirsty still."

"Have a berry," Chatot said and Scout moved to dig into his bag, before remembering there was nothing in it. Sean reluctantly passed a berry along and then one to Chatot. "Scout?" he asked, offering one out himself.

"I'm not too thirsty," Scout said, turning the berry down, waving his left arm. He had a feeling it'd be better saved for when it was needed. Even if his right arm was still hanging like a limp noodle. "A sableye gave me water when I was in the cage." Sean nodded and stowed the berry away.

"Actually," Scout said, taking Sean's attention back. "I've been dying to know. Dusknoir said some stuff, the sableye did. And even Grovyle tried to use me as a hostage against Dusknoir. What is with that? Why would that matter? What am I not understanding here?"

Sean frowned, considering the question.

"I mean… I'm sure I was with you and Grovyle," Scout added, frowning in frustration. "Well, I was only sure about Grovyle before. And now you, and Dusknoir said that I was HIS partner, but Grovyle still came to me, and you broke me out, and everything is just confusing."

"What do you remember?" Sean asked. "Exactly?"

Scout glanced to Mane and Chatot, who also looked curious.

"I don't really know," Scout answered, turning back to Sean. "I know what we were doing." He tried to ignore the feeling coming off the two pokémon behind him. "And I know why. But I don't actually remember it myself. It's like I'm a different person. I'm not sure of anything anymore since I thought I was y-you."

He trailed off. It felt awful to say. Weird to admit. Disturbing to even consider.

"Does he know of the games?" Scout wondered. He had wondered it a lot since he found out he wasn't even Sean. Apparently. "My friends. My family. Is any of that actually mine?" He couldn't remember any names anyway.

Risking to dwell on that was already clawing at Scout's throat. Even mentally calling himself Scout felt both right and wrong to a skin-tearing degree. Was he even Scout or some alien consciousness hosted in his skin, what had happened? Who was he, WHAT WAS-

If Sean was uncomfortable at the reminder, he didn't show it. "Strange," he said and gave Scout a smile. "But stranger for you I imagine. Jeez, where do I even begin?"

"With Dusknoir, maybe."

Sean gave a crooked smile and nodded. "Alright. Ye… I'd like to say years ago, but honestly I don't even know. I don't know how long I've been here. I'm not from this world actually, from my own human world. No dungeons there, lots of pokémon still though. I know you're having trouble, Chatot, but imagine not even being a pokémon and thrown into this on the first day you set out on your own adventure?"

Sean looked up to the dark sky and sighed. "I first met Dusknoir when he was still a Dusclops, Striker and I quite literally tripped over you. You were a little bandit and stole my bag and ran while he distracted us."

Mane giggled unexpectedly and waved them off when they looked to him. "Sorry. That was NOT what I was expecting."

"Yeah!" Scout said stunned. "I was with Dusknoir?"

Sean smiled and nodded firmly. "He raised you. You were his kid." Scout's eyes widened. "That's why he's trying to protect you, even now. I know he'll always see you as his son, that's why I don't think he's evil. He was one of us once, I named him Guardian because that's what he was. I named you all, actually."

"Oh."

Chatot and Mane blinked in shock as well. Mane recovered first. "You know I can see it," he said, glancing back to where the lights still twinkled. "He always came across as a daddy to me."

Sean and Scout gave Mane a Look and Mane grinned back.

Chatot glanced between them before gathering that Mane had said something inappropriate again and covered his face with a wing.

"He's my…?" Scout began, voice shaking but not stuttering. He cleared his throat and shook his head. "Really?"

Sean smiled kindly. "Sorry you had to find out this way, but even though you've got amnesia I'm not going to hide that stuff from you."

"How did I come with you then?" Scout asked, still stunned.

At that, Sean smiled a fond smile. "Heh, well Striker and Guardian were pretty much the same strength and you, worried for your dad, came back and I was able to diffuse the situation. Afterwards you and Guardian agreed to travel with us."

Sean continued smiling and raised a fist. "The four of us became members of the Planetary Investigation Team. Well, we were pretty much the only members. The four of us and Saniya, that's my name for Celebi. And our benefactor, Giratina."

He grinned as Scout gasped, knowing who that was even if Chatot and Mane didn't.

Sean adopted a thoughtful expression. "Oh, as well as Soothe, although I never met her. I guess she was sort of the first member, Saniya sent her back years ago. That's all of us though."

Chatot's head shot up. "What?" he squawked and flapped over. "What did you just say?"

"I, uh, uh, what?" Sean backed away, surprised at the sudden reaction from Chatot.

"The name?" Chatot snapped, getting in right and close. "What name did you just say?"

"…Soothe."

Chatot recoiled, slowly shaking his head. "No… no…" he muttered, hopping away. "Impossible. Utterly impossible."

"I'm going to go out on a limb here," Mane said, concerned alongside everyone else, "and say that you know the name?"

"What was the species of 'Soothe'?" Chatot demanded, turning back to Sean.

"I… I never met her," Sean protested, Chatot's eyes narrowed. "But, well, Saniya told us to keep an eye and ear out for an audino with lavender fur and a sassy disposition."

Chatot slowly nodded. "Ah." He turned away and to the dungeon. Silence crawled between them. "We have spent enough time chattering, we should go."

Mane scrambled to his feet as Scout scrambled for words. "Wait," he said. "I have to know why Dusknoir, Guardian, whatever. What happened there? Why did he turn evil and I stayed?"

"I can answer that in the dungeon," Sean said, happy to be moving again.

"Oh NOW you can talk in the dungeons," Mane muttered, stomping ahead. He had other questions he wanted to ask as well.

"This won't take long," Sean said as they began moving into the dungeon. "And this one isn't as bad as the previous one."

"I still think we should talk about Chatot!" Mane protested, running up to the bird hopping away. "Hey? Hey Chats? What's with the freak-out? You know the chick?"

"There is nothing to say," Chatot replied and Mane huffed.

"Obviously," he drawled. "So how'd you know her? Another pokémon from the future? What luck that YOU would have met them all." He glanced back to Sean. "That IS all of you guys right?"

Sean nodded. "From what I know, yeah."

"Sweet. So Chats? Chats? Chatot? Hello?"

"Be silent, Litleo!" Chatot snapped.

"Not until you spill the beans."

"You have no right to be making such demands of me!"

"Well we just demanded Riolu tell us everything, so… double standard much?"

"Stop." The word was as tight as a drawn bow, ready to snap an arrow at the lightest twitch.

Mane could hear it. And for a moment he considered himself before disregarding it entirely. "Come on," he whined, patting Chatot's back.

"I SAID NO!" Chatot yelled, spinning back and blowing Mane back with a gust of wind. The blow knocked Mane flying and he hit the wall and bounced off it.

Sean and Scout jumped from the sudden action and Scout ran to Mane's side while Chatot realised what he'd done.

"I-I."

"Cool," Mane said as Scout helped him up. "I'm fine," he grunted to Scout's quiet question. He brushed himself off and began trotting forward. "Well, like Chatot said we have to go."

His voice was clipped as he didn't look at Chatot as he passed.

"I… didn't mean," Chatot began. Scout ran past him and to Mane's side while Sean slowly came up to Chatot.

"This place," he said gently. "I'm sorry you're having to go through this. But turning on each other will kill us."

Chatot swallowed and gave a shaky nod. "I'll… I'll apologise."

Sean nodded and walked alongside Chatot as he tried to pull his thoughts together. Chatot wasn't the kind to lash out like that, even Sean knew that.

He wondered about Soothe and what she meant to Chatot if being questioned so insistently could bring about such a reaction.

The four walked in silence until the sounds of their own heartbeats began to get to them and Scout began to loudly talk about all the mishaps he'd had in dungeons.

It helped.


"Where are they?" Sableye growled. The other two looked on worriedly. "Where are they? Where are they?"

Sableye paced back and forth, scratching his claws. He didn't appreciate being left waiting, he didn't appreciate what it made him think and feel.

"Th-They are probably just having a tougher time then we did," Sableye said, hoping to provide at least some comfort.

"Or they're extra dead," Sableye said, picking his teeth. He knew they weren't going to be given provisions as a punishment, but no one could stop him from eating anything he found in dungeons. Even if the 'food' was best left untouched, he was hungry dammit.

It also made Sableye look extra guilty for depriving them of food in the first place. So, it was a plus-plus.

They were waiting outside the entrance to the Sealed Ruin dungeon. The escapees had moved into it not a few minutes ago, implied by the lingering traces of heat.

It was foolhardy to enter a dungeon with more than four members, so they had split into two teams of three.

The first team had made it through without trouble, the others were taking their sweet time and it was driving Sableye ready to start biting his claws.

And all five of them would give him those looks again if he started that again.

Maybe just one small nibble….

"Look at him," Sableye said, nudging Sableye. "He's so hungry he's eating himself!"

"Y-You know that's not true!"

"Do you see him spitting them out?"

"Well… I-I."

"Sableye!" Sableye barked, causing both of them to jump. Sableye pointed a chewed claw at him and he stopped leaning over Sableye. "Stop whining about your belly. If you can't find something worthwhile to say, don't say anything at all."

Sableye grumbled something about food, but did back off. Sableye went back to chewing on his claws while Sableye looked on worriedly.

They waited in relative silence, talking only to reaffirm their sanity, until Sableye finished chewing one hand and moved onto the next.

"For the master's sake Sableye!" someone yelled and all three jumped. Sableye immediately put his hand behind his back, but his other hand was even more chewed. There was no winning.

Sableye, Sableye, and Sableye walked out of the dungeon. The lead of that team was strutting with annoyance and grabbed Sableye's chewed claws. "What have we told you about doing this?"

"Lay off the guy," Sableye said, supporting Sableye as she limped along. "You know he can't help it when he's worried."

"Where have you three been?" Sableye demanded, pushing past Sableye to get a closer look at the injury Sableye was sporting.

"A lot of bastards were attacking us," she explained, but Sableye was already past that.

"A drifblim got her good," Sableye explained, backing off easily to let Sableye take a look. Her leg had been twisted, but he couldn't feel any breaks. Just a sprain.

"You're going to want to lay off running for a while," Sableye said softly. Sableye nodded quietly, she was a little ashamed she'd been snuck on upon by the drifblim so easily.

"We're all here now!" Sableye said, taking all attention to her. "So what are we doing next?"

"Well," Sableye said, stepping back from Sableye and straightening up, "we've been waiting long enough that we've rested enough. Due to this injury you're going to need to take some time, rest that leg. But you can't stand around too long, alright?"

"Did the targets pass through?" she asked.

"Yes." Sableye nodded, gesturing to the dungeon. "They entered the dungeon already. We're going on ahead, through the dungeon. Sableye scouted ahead while we waited, it may be traversable by avoiding the dungeon. You three consider going around the dungeon and see if you can get ahead of them."

"Gotcha."

"Swell."

"Alright," Sableye whispered, surprising the others. She didn't usually speak.

Sableye nodded, pleased he was being listened to. "Alright." He nodded, looking back to Sableye and Sableye.

Sableye managed a smile and nodded back, Sableye continued to look argumentative but seemed willing to hold his tongue for now.

"Let's go. For Master Dusknoir and for our world!"

"For Master Dusknoir and our world!" the others chanted back.

Sableye, Sableye, and Sableye ran into the dungeon, one of them complaining already about food. Sableye, Sableye, and Sableye watched them go, relieved to be given permission to go around the dungeon.

"So…?" Sableye begun, smiling to the ladies. "Grass-Fire-Water anyone?" he asked, raising a fist. Sableye grinned and held hers out.

"You're on."


"You know this place isn't so bad," Mane said faux-cheerfully as he left a muk a steaming pile of sludge.

"By 'isn't so bad' you mean 'is a nightmarish land of evil and horror', right?" Scout asked, forcing a metang to flee with a Shadow Ball. He felt his head swim for a moment and staggered, but shook it off.

"Something like that."

Chatot still hadn't found the time to apologise to Mane and had begun seeing Sean's point on dungeons really not giving them much time to talk.

He knew he could say it at any time but shouting it in the middle of a scrap hardly seemed polite.

Perhaps it'd be easier though.

Chatot was one concern. Scout was another.

Mane was a brimming pot of tension, but he could be managed in other ways.

Scout's right arm was being held by his left when not in battle and Sean noticed him stumbling constantly, shaking his head before collecting himself and straightening up.

He couldn't help but look at his arm. First the paw, now the whole arm. Scout was surprising him with his lack of demanding aid, normally his ears would be bleeding by now from all the pleas he couldn't understand.

He hadn't begged to be carried once. Sure, Sean was considerably shorter than what he used to be, but he had carried Scout through one dungeon. He had expected Scout to beg to be carried again, and if he had been unable to say no when it was just cute eyes he had no idea if he could refuse actual words.

And yet he hadn't asked once. Had not complained at all. And mostly remained quiet. At least that wasn't too far off his normal behaviour, after Guardian betrayed them Scout had closed up greatly.

Scout stumbled again, catching himself, and brushing off Mane's concerned whisper. Sean observed the ground he had tripped over as he passed. Nothing out of the ordinary like all the other times. Nothing that'd cause him to lose his balance at least.

He dug a berry out.

"Scout?" Sean called, and the meowth didn't react.

"That's you," Mane pointed out and Sean saw Scout's ears flick before he straightened up.

"Oh! Right." He turned and Sean held out the berry.

"You have to eat something," he said as pleasantly, yet firmly, as he could. Scout looked at the berry for a moment, but then a sound occurred in front of them and Mane exploded the disturbance with a blast of fire.

"Thanks," Scout said, accepting the berry once it was clear. Sean noticed him grab his numb arm immediately, squishing the berry against the other hands paws. He lifted it up with his other paw and bit into the berry carefully, leaving the juice on his paw without wiping it away.

Sean wondered about that.

"This dungeon remains a challenge," Chatot grunted, forcing a probopass' mini-noses back with a burst of wind, distracting it long enough for Mane to blast it away.

"It's great," Mane insisted, flambeing a tangrowth.

"Because everything seems tailored to you," Sean muttered, hitting a forretress multiple times in the shell with Force Palm, blowing it back inch by inch. His leg was aching again, but he pushed through the pain.

Mane breathed embers on it, and it fled as quickly as it could, squeaking in terror.

"The last place wasn't so bad either," Mane laughed, puffing his chest up at Sean's flat expression.

"Preferable to this for certain," Chatot agreed.

"Ghost-types are fine with me," Scout offered.

"Okay." Sean took a breath and raised a paw, pointing a stubby portion of his paw up. "First! You are all Normal-types, so you didn't have to deal with all the attacks. Two. I could barely do anything against Ghost's."

"That's your problem," Mane said, looking down his nose at Sean. "Come on, lots of Steelies around. Shouldn't you be loving this?"

"You'd love it too if you had to punch those 'Steelies'," Sean muttered, but dropped the matter.

The four experienced no further troubles for the rest of the dungeon. Despite Sean's light complaints, he did find the experience preferable to the dungeons before it. First carrying Scout and then feeling useless had stressed him out. Not helped by the antagonism from Chatot and Litleo.

At least now that he'd given some explanations, both of them seemed calmer, more content with him. He could sympathise, not understanding what was going on when he first arrived in this place was very difficult as well. And he hadn't had anyone to explain anything.

Still, being able to actually have conversations rather than just hearing random syllables felt much better.

"So, we got a little distracted," Scout said, as they began nearing the end of the dungeon. "About Dusknoir and what happened there?"

Scout was trying hard not to show just how interested he was. To know that there was such a history between Dusknoir and Grovyle was fascinating enough to overcome any annoyance at not having known about it before. But to know he was related to it?

It wasn't a pleasant topic for Sean, however, and he grimaced. "Yeah, alright. Let's just get through that as fast as we can."

Scout nodded, and the other two listened in as Sean began to explain.

"First, I don't know the entire story," he prefaced. "I couldn't understand the words since humans can't understand pokémon and it isn't something Striker likes to talk about these days. What I could tell, however, was that Guardian was approached by someone. Who? I don't know. Someone. And they convinced him that, well…."

He trailed off, suddenly unsure of if he should finish telling the story. Scout accepted the consequences before, but he almost seemed to be an entirely different person now.

"What the cost would be?" Scout asked, Sean blinked. The meowth gave him a smile, small and weak, and Sean returned it. They understood each other.

"Yeah." He nodded. "Guardian couldn't accept it and tried to talk us out of it. When Striker and you refused, he tried to take you by force. That led to one of the worst fights I've ever seen, and I've seen some stuff, but we escaped. You were inconsolable for ages, and Guardian never stopped pursuing us. He'd become a dusknoir shortly after and even Striker could barely fight him anymore and we didn't always have Celebi around."

Scout nodded sadly and he took a deep breath. He wobbled in place for a moment and Sean nearly went to steady him, but he regained his balance and gave a thankful smile.

"Thanks for telling me," Scout said, and Sean nodded. "No one has been explaining anything. It's good to finally understand what I've been missing."

Sean smiled. "That's not all you wanted to ask though, right?"

Scout blinked, almost looking affronted. Sean smiled again and he sighed. "How well do you really know me?"

Laughing, Sean said. "I've known you for years. Probably. It's not hard to read you, even if you're pretty different now."

Mane glanced in, interested. But Scout beat him to the punch. "So, I am then?" he asked, he had a feeling that Sean had missed that he was genuinely asking how well he was known. "Different?"

Sean gave him a puzzled stare for a moment. "Well, yeah. There's plenty of similarities and plenty of differences. You're not as tense or as quiet as you started being. You smile a lot again, that's nice to see. You were sort of the 'heart' of the team, when Guardian turned against us you lost a lot of that. So, it's been great to see that again."

Scout smiled, before becoming self-conscious of that and stopping. Sean sniggered at him.

"Otherwise, it's hard to tell. Again, I don't really know a whole lot about how you used to talk or speak. If Striker was around, he'd be able to fill you in some more. But I'm glad he's not here, I'm not sure he could take coming back to this place."

Scout nodded. He was disappointed, but there was nothing that could be argued there. Still, it wasn't everything he wanted to ask.

"Where did you come from?" Scout asked, determined not to evade around the subject. Sean cocked his head at him, and Scout rephrased. "You mentioned earlier about not being from this world. How does THAT work?"

Sean breathed out a sigh as Chatot and Mane looked in again. They had gone a while since they had been attacked, the walls were changing as well. But not immediately. Perhaps they were close to the end of the dungeon.

"Yeah. I have no idea how I came here though. The world I'm from has humans all over the place. Heh." He smiled wistfully. "It's been a long time since I've seen my friends or my family. I hope mother is alright. And my father. And my friends. I try not to think about them, heh, I'd love to see Felix and Keira again now that I'm like this that'd be funny." He shook the memories away, it would not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

"Glenn and Sarah too, so many people." He couldn't help but dwell.

"Who?" Scout asked, tone clipped.

"Sarah's his glameow," Sean answered and the tension in Scout's shoulders seemed to release. "What?" he asked coyly. "Two kitties not enough?"

"Pardon?"

"Excuse me," Chatot cleared his throat and Sean sniggered again. Mane seemed torn between offering a high paw or offering to smack Sean in the face.

"Yeah?" Sean asked, turning to Chatot. He was still smiling, it was just so fun to finally speak with Scout. He'd wondered for years what everyone talked like and sounded. Pantomime could only fill so much of that need.

"It appears we've reached the end," Chatot sniffed, gesturing around. They were in a very wide room. It looked perfect for an awful lot of bass music or a collection of ominous healing items. There was nothing of the sort, no sound at all. "Or at least, this is the first time the dungeon has changed thus far."

"Yep, this is the end," Sean confirmed, pointing forward. Mane had spotted something and trotted up to a strange lumpy stone near the middle of the room. "Out that exit and we should be outside again. One minute we have walls, then one second we'll be out. It'll probably be a bit weird out there."

"What do you?" Chatot begun.

Mane had poked the odd keystone and it poked back.

A wave of force blasted him flying with a yell and the three other pokémon all jumped to attention. Mane landed and rolled a few times before groaning, very dizzy.

He tried to stand, but it appeared he'd drunk too many perfect apple ciders and he fell back down.

"Who/What/When/Where/And WHY?" A voice that could only be described as legion chorused out.

Scout ran to Mane's side and helped him up, clumsily with one arm, as Sean immediately tried to diffuse the situation. Chatot simply squawked and flapped threateningly.

"We are just passing through," he said quickly, and placatingly. "We'll be out of your hair in seconds. We are leaving now."

"Leaving/Going/Running/SCREAMING" The odd keystone erupted into purple and green and the thick, almost syrupy, essence that was a spiritomb leaked out before rippling.

"We are going," Sean said firmly. "Chatot, Litleo, Scout, go before it attacks."

Chatot fluttered back to help Mane get up and Sean began backing away, still holding his paws up calmly.

The spiral eye of the spiritomb sunk into its body as the other eye remained trained on the four. Its whole form shivered constantly, roiling up violently every few moments.

"Leave/Go/Flee/Run/Leave," the spiritomb ordered and Sean nodded.

"Yes, we are leaving."

"RUN/RUN/RUN."

The whole spiritomb jerked violently as a dull boom echoed out, the odd keystone was nearly tipped from some unseen blow in its back.

The spiritomb screamed a piercing shriek of 108 tortured souls before exploding out in a miasma of violence.

Sean had no time to brace before the shadows struck him and launched him flying back. He slammed again the back wall as the spiritomb turned its fury on the remaining three.

Its initial ghostly blast affected none of them, but it switched tactics immediately. Their shadows deepened into darker pools and lashed out, striking each one in the chest.

Scout wheezed weakly as his legs crumbled, but Mane and Chatot took the attack better.

"RAAH!" Mane roared, blasting back with an Ember. The spiritomb howled, shrieked, and roiled, retreating its essence as Chatot copied Mane's next attack, Fire Blast, with his Mirror Move.

Sean pulled himself up and rushed over to Scout. "Scout?" he hissed, leaning down by the meowth. Scout groaned but grabbed his arm and pulled himself up. He looked ready to vomit, but was holding it in.

"Litleo!" Sean yelled, as the litleo in question began to pull himself up. "Circle around and use Fire Blast, Chatot get into the air and distract it, when Litleo attacks you copy it."

They complied. Reason was shelved for clear-headed orders. If Sean had any idea on what to do, they'd follow and then tell him off later.

Chatot fluttered about, swiftly evading through ducks and dives the spiritomb's clumsy blows. Mane got into position and gave a wordless cry as signal.

Chatot fluttered up to get a good eye of him and they both formed a Fire Blast and barraged the spiritomb.

"Scout?" Sean hissed, wincing as he heard Scout's breathing whistling behind him. "I hate to ask, but can you take this and get it close." He held out a blast seed, Scout gave it a dubious look.

"I," he wheezed, barely able to catch his breath. Each inhale felt like nothing was entering his lungs. "Have bad experience with those."

"You are the quickest and most agile," Sean said, Scout still shook his head, grabbing onto Sean's shoulder to steady himself. "I. Alright, I'll-"

"I can barely-"

It was not Scout's day.

He made a sound uncomfortably close to gurk when a sneaky attack struck him in the back. He crumpled in Sean's grip like a collapsing house of cards.

Sean said a very bad word and rushed to Scout's aid while Mane and Chatot continued with fervour, they hadn't noticed Scout get struck.

"Litleo!" Chatot called above the sounds of violence, fluttering closer to where the Fire-type was sending explosions at the screaming spiritomb. "I must apologise for my earlier action. I know this isn't the time nor place, but no matter how I think I cannot find the right words to express my regrets. The Guildmaster always says to speak without thinking when one is talking from the heart, so let me do this now."

"Yeah, okay, sure," Mane huffed. He was running on sparks at this point.

"You have been unfairly judged by many in the past, due to nothing but your parentage. The Wigglytuff Guild has offered a blank slate to any who wish it and I have not held true to such an ideal. Let me apologise for all of my behaviour up to this point. I have been wrong."

Chatot capped it off by forming another Fire Blast and his, Mane's, and a surprise angry one from Sean using Copycat, struck the spiritomb all at the same time.

It continued to screech and roil, but it's body was growing smaller and its cries quieter.

"Eeep!" the now tiny spiritomb squeaked, turning and fleeing. "Eeep-eep-eeeeeee-" It's voice grew distant as it hopped away, mostly just a keystone at this point.

"Hoo," Mane breathed, relieved that was over. "Anyway, what was that?" he asked, turning to Chatot who puffed it furiously.

"What?" he squawked. "You weren't listening as I bared my soul and admitted I was wrong?"

"Nah," Mane laughed. "I heard you! I just wanted to hear you say you were wrong again!" He stuck his tongue out at the gaping Chatot and sauntered away.

"Wrong my back feathers," Chatot grumbled, hopping after him.

They both spotted Sean cradling Scout and immediately rushed forward, even as their limbs really began to squeal in protest.

It had been a long day.

"Scout!" Mane cried, jumping to his side.

Scout batted his away with his working arm. "I'm fine," he croaked, clearing his throat for nearly half a second before returning to gasping for breath. "I'm fine," he insisted, struggling to free himself from Sean's grip. "Just a bit winded."

"Your ribs," Sean muttered, feeling along Scout's chest. Scout tried to suppress the flinches, but he couldn't. "When you fell. You cracked some, fffuck! How could I have missed that?"

"I'm fine," Scout repeated, pulling himself free of Sean's oddly comforting embrace. It brought to mind curling up in a warm lap. "Seriously, stop freaking out. We don't have time to be lolling about, especially after the spiritomb battle. We have to go."

"Eat this," Sean said, pulling their one sitrus berry out and offering it.

"No thanks." Scout waved him off.

"Don't be difficult," Sean warned. "Or I will force you to eat this."

"I'm with nice guy over here," Mane said, stepping into the conversation. "You have barely had anything and you're the one in the worst shape."

"I can still keep going!" Scout insisted, turning to Chatot. "Tell them! I've been in worse states."

"That you were in a brief coma from," Chatot snapped, Sean nearly crushed the berry in his paws.

"That's a fun reminder," he growled.

Mane raised a paw. "So was I."

Sean ignored him. "If doesn't matter if you've had worse," he said, glowering until Scout began to crack. "What matters is that you are hurt now. Eat it."

Scout sighed and held his paw out. Sean watched him eat it, all three of them did, before nodding. "Now get on my back."

"Out of the question," Scout replied, stomping a foot. The chain clinked annoyingly on the ground. Its weight had grown invisible against him, he didn't even feel it anymore.

"My back is warmer!" Mane added with a Rai-like grin. He was ignored, causing him to pout.

"Scout."

"No! You don't need to treat me like glass! I got this far, and there can't be that much more to go. But YOU need your energy."

They stared each other down for a moment, before Chatot cleared his throat.

"As has been brought up several times today," he said, blinking tiredly, "we don't really have time for this." He fluttered in the air, flexing his talons. "Now, I could very easily carry Meowth myself if he continues to be obstinate."

Sean sighed and ground his teeth but relented. "Fine. But you are taking it easy from here."

"How much easier could I be taking it?" Scout grumbled.

Sean walked them all forward before nodding and taking the lead. Scout turned away from him but didn't move away.

They walked in an uncomfortable silence for a while, Sean's expression changed to a frown as he stared forward, thinking.

"Is something the matter?" Scout asked, noticing Sean was frowning a lot more. "Is this about me?"

Sean shook his head, to Scout's relief. "Up to this point, I've had a good idea on what to expect," Sean admitted. "Since we are close to Dialga, time is relatively stable, and space doesn't intrude. But the further you go the less… sure it becomes. We've got a big gap between dungeons coming up and there could be anything in the way."

"Anything?" Scout asked, reminded of what had been said earlier.

"Palkia got frozen in time," Sean quickly explained what had happened when time collapsed, Scout wincing with each part of bad news. "So, yeah. Pretty much anything. These places tend to follow SOME constants though. The area won't be bigger than what this place was originally, but the path to Dusk Forest IS pretty long."

"Can these places be dangerous?" Chatot asked.

"Everywhere is dangerous," Sean said.

"Bring it on!" Mane replied.

"How will we know?" Scout asked. Sean gave him a pained look.

"Well. You can't, really. But we, uh… relied on you to 'scout' ahead."

"Oh. My. Freaking. Gosh," Mane said, somehow energetic and flat at the same time. "THAT'S why he's called Scout?"

Scout raised an eyebrow at Sean as he laughed. This was a topic he could enjoy.

"I named everyone!" he giggled, shaking his head. "And yeah. Striker was our main fighter with strong 'strikes', Scout was our scout, even Guardian…" his smile became fixed. "Well. He was the protector. He 'guarded' us. Saniya even means moment in time. I thought it was clever. Only my name doesn't have any meaning."

"Why's that?" Mane asked. "Shorn means something, weird name for a riolu though. More like a mareep name."

Sean shrugged. "Humans don't normally do that. Not the same way as pokémon. Honestly I was pretty lucky with the names I gave those guys, since Striker told me it actually fits how you do the whole naming thing. Saniya is a stretch though."

There was a Raigeki, it wasn't completely out of the question.

"He didn't tell you before?"

Sean shook his head. "Humans can't understand pokémon remember. Until I became a riolu, all I heard were 'gro, grovyle' or 'meow, me, owth."

"So, we sound like feral's to you?" Mane narrowed his eyes.

"Hey, I didn't get to choose how I used to hear pokémon!" Sean protested and Mane rolled his eyes.

"Suuurre."

"Anyway. The dungeon is about to properly end."

The four pokémon paused as their surroundings changed with a blink. When before they were within a dungeon with walls and a roof, with a single blink they were outside on a cliffside.

Everything was dark, as things usually were in the future. There were a line of trees tended once upon a time and a large rock sticking out of the ground.

"Where?" Mane began, glancing behind them. "WOAH!" he yipped and jumped forward. The other three spun around and found themselves right at the edge of the cliff, looking out onto a thin platform of rocks leading to a floating rocky entrance with the dungeon ripple. Beyond that there was the sea. Frozen.

It wasn't ice, however. The water had just stopped.

Scout felt something unpleasant grip his soul. "Where are we?"

He looked to Chatot, who wore the same troubled expression. Sean just shook his head in awe.

"Hey guys?" Mane called from where he had begun trotting ahead. "I, uh… think you should see this."

In silence befitting the lack of sound around them, the three came forward, passing by unsettlingly familiar trees and on a well-worn track.

Mane had stopped, staring out in terrified amazement. Or perhaps, just terror. He was standing by a pokémon that didn't move, most unusual for its species, a vigoroth.

They stopped by him and the four looked past Vigoroth, frozen with his arm raised in a greeting, and out into the bustling crowd. All dulled and completely unmoving.

They looked out into Treasure Town.


Feels like a missed opportunity to explore a frozen-in-time Treasure Town in the games, doesn't it?
 
Chapter 26 - Seeing Things

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
The waves didn't crash against the cliff. The leaves didn't drift in the trees. The life of Treasure Town had been lost, and it was left in endless grey.

The newcomers who breathed and lived, their voices were clear, as there was nothing to impede them, yet still distant. It didn't dare draw too close to those with life and fire.

It watched as the four stared and carefully began to edge their way into a place so familiar. A place that none of them had ever wanted to see. Not here. Never here. But always… always here.

I am always here.

Scout glanced behind him, thinking he heard a sound on the wind. "Did you… hear that?" he asked, concerned.

"What do you take me for?" Mane asked shakily. "Of course I did."

"There isn't much sound in this place," Sean said. "Anything is easy to hear."

Chatot simply nodded. They all took a glance behind them, but there was nothing to see. Nothing that breathed, nothing that lived.

So, they began walking forwards. "Let's get through this place as fast as possible," Sean suggested. There was no argument to be had about that.

Mane stepped closer to Scout, close enough to brush against him. Tension rippled through his body, he was breathing short and rapidly fast. "I don't want to do this," he admitted as Scout looked to him.

Hesitantly, Scout placed an arm around his neck and hugged him to him. Mane gave a shaky breath but smiled, his steps not stopping.

Scout began to tremble himself as they made their way further into the town. Vigoroth was merely the first pokémon they saw. Frozen in a half step, his eyes glassy, dust having formed on him, not a glimmer of life to him just perpetually locked in his last moment.

Kangaskhan stood in her shop, talking cheerfully to Marill. Azurill was nowhere to be found. They didn't speak with words or eyes. They didn't speak at all — only frozen nightmares.

Their smiles felt more like rictus grins.

"Don't dawdle," Chatot said softly, hurrying them away from staring too long.

Sean nodded. "Try not to stare," he said, pulling Scout's eyes away from the Kecleon Brothers. "It's not good for your head."

"S-sure." He nodded and darted away from where Wynaut was getting served, they had been giving a cheerful salute. Now it seemed like they were reaching for help.

They had only crossed the bridge when Chatot stiffened. "Oh," he said vacantly and spread his wings and soared forward.

Sean and Scout looked on sadly as Chatot flew to where Sunflora was giggling with Loudred. Neither of them was moving.

Chatot brushed a wing gently across Sunflora's face. The dust had settled on both of their bodies. A magmar had also been talking to them when time froze.

Scout felt his mouth quivering slightly as they approached. It was wrong to see Sunflora so frozen and Loudred so quiet. Their grins were natural but fixed. Their eyes were bright, yet lifeless.

"Chatot," Sean said quietly, they were all quiet. It felt wrong to even speak here. "We can't get distracted here."

Chatot didn't reply, simply continued brushing the dust off his dear apprentices. He brushed their shoulders, their heads, their legs.

"Come on, Chats," Mane said, plastering a rigid smile on his face. "You'll have plenty of time to mother hen them when we get back."

Chatot gave a tired chuckle and lowered his dusty wing. "Right."

Sean and Scout exchanged an uncomfortable look. Mane's optimistic loudness was needed, but felt out of place here.

"Is everyone frozen?" Scout wondered out loud. They still had to talk after all. It seemed that way, from where Team Flame stood to joke together, and where Electivire was posing for Chansey.

The four continued looking left and right, taking in faces they knew, remembering voices that couldn't be shared.

Treasure Town was a graveyard.

"Probably not," Sean answered, which caused his companions to stop.

"What?" Scout demanded.

"Did?" Chatot continued.

"What?" Mane said, breaking the chain.

Sean gave a weak shrug and a weaker, painfully uncomfortable, smile. "This isn't the first place I've seen frozen like this. But in those places… I remember Sahra Town specifically had only half of its population frozen. Half didn't. And it was random, no location factoring in that they could tell."

"How could you tell?" Mane demanded. "I thought you couldn't understand pokémon?"

"Saniya was there with us at the time," Sean answered. "She translated."

Chatot took a deep breath. "So… someone could be here still?"

Sean shrugged again. "Maybe. I'd really hope not though. You three don't deserve to see what this place can turn pokémon into."

"How… long has it been like this?" Chatot asked. "Do you know?"

Sean frowned. "Not… really. Saniya couldn't quite explain it, but she said something to the effect of 'time is all jumbled up, some places have gone for longer, some places shorter'. It's, uh, not helpful I know."

"Speaking of time," Scout said, wanting to get his mind on anything else. "I was wondering, uh, how old am I?"

Sean blinked at him and then almost smiled. "Hah, that's a funny question. I don't really know, I guess. You're at least, I dunno, five? I was twelve when I came here and Saniya calculated about four years."

"You're that old?" Mane asked as Scout said.

"You're that young?" They looked to each other.

Sean grinned. "Humans age differently," he explained to Mane. "Twelve is only just starting puberty, sixteen is still considered a kid."

Mane blinked as Scout caught on to what he'd said of him. "Wait, I'm five?" He frowned, that didn't seem right. Nor did what Sean said. He thought he had been at least 18/19, not sixteen.

"So am I," Mane offered and Scout boggled at him for a moment before recovering. "Around that age at least."

"Huh. You come across as so much older."

"Oi, I AM an adult! Rai and I are the same age, give or take a few months."

Scout looked dizzy, pokemon aging was not his anticipated education today.

Scout made a low, weak, sound before chuckling. "I feel," he began, voice shaking. Then something clacked behind them.

The sound, soft and tinny, rung out as loud as a drum to the ever-present silence and anxiety of the listeners.

Scout and Sean twisted around first, Mane quickly spinning back as well. Mane sparked briefly, before coughing. He could barely light a matchstick, let alone form a proper fireball.

With his arm still hanging numb, Scout wondered if he'd be able to do anything in his state.

Sean's aura tassels rose, but he counted only three vague signals and dropped them with a sigh.

Three.

His heart lurched, and Sean spun back around. "CHATOT!?" he called, causing the other two to jump.

"What is… it?" Scout demanded, melding into concern.

"Where is Chats?" Mane asked, voice getting high.

"You have got to be kidding me," Sean groaned, rubbing his face. He was so tired. Cupping his paws, Sean shouted. "CHATOT!?"

No response.

"This." Scout voice clipped and came in bursts. "Isn't. Happening. This. No. No. No." The meowth began to shake badly.

Mane stepped forward and added his voice to the mix. "CHAAATTTS?"

Sean cringed, his ears were sensitive, and even Scout was broken out of his shaking by the volume Mane put out.

"He'll have to have heard that," Scout muttered, trembling still.

"All that means is he'll know we've noticed he's gone," Sean said, stepping forward. "Come on. We've got to look for him before something happens."

"Something already happened!" Mane pointed out, trotting along.

"Something worse."

"Why are you so cagey around the words?" Mane asked, Sean scowled. "Seriously? We get his life might be in danger if you've had anything to say about this whole place and time."

"I didn't want to have to say something so blunt," Sean snapped, jerking his head back at their trailing meowth. "Scout can be… sensitive."

Mane gave him a flat look. "And you care about this here and now… why?"

"Because why is it so bad to be a little nice?" Sean snapped. "I know it. You know. And I know Scout knows it. Stating such things is horrible, and we need to keep morale as best as we can."

"Cool." Mane nodded, accepting that. "Just wanted to know why. Explaining is fun."

Sean breathed out a heavy breath as Scout caught up. The meowth was quiet again.

"Is he always like this?" Sean asked tiredly. They were all tired.

"Yeah," Scout answered.

"You do know it's rude to talk about someone who's listening?" Mane said, voice light and teasing.

"Really now?" Scout snapped. "Doesn't that person know it's rude to listen to other people's conversations?"

Mane turned back to give him a smirk. "Nice one."

Scout rolled his eyes, and Sean stepped up to walk, in-between them. "Play nice, children," he muttered.

"But, bro," Mane pleaded, voice higher.

Scout groaned. "Just stop," he asked. "I've got a headache, and you really aren't helping."

They passed a gaggle of frozen figures. It was hard to think of Spinda and Wobbuffet so still and quiet.

"I have a remedy in mind!" Mane said, eyes locked on the frozen ones. His voice shook slightly, but he swallowed it. "It's called-"

"I don't want to hear it," Scout snapped. "Just look for fricken, argh, CHATOT!?" His voice broke on the call, and there was no response.

Sean gave Scout a concerned look. The meowth was beginning to cough wetly, covering his paw. Something dark lingered on his paw, but it was hard to see in the dull light. Then Mane veered off the path, heading right.

"Where are you going?" Sean demanded, trotting after him as Mane sped up.

"The dojo!" Mane replied. "Come on. Gotta look everywhere!"

Sean groaned, and Scout overtook him, running after Mane. "Slow down," Scout yelled. Mane did so... just a tiny bit.

They ran around the track, passing by Zigzagoon and Mr. Mime, to find the door to the dojo. "Hey! It's open!" Mane cheered, poking his head in.

He immediately recoiled.

Scout caught up with Mane at long last and panted for breath. He wished he could run longer, Marowak would be disgusted at him getting winded so quickly, but he'd been going all day with injuries.

His vision went blurry for a moment, and he slurred out. "Run off again and I'll see what happens to… ooh." He grabbed his head, groaning as he took some needed breaths.

Mane oozed up next to him, rubbing up before bouncing his flank against him, nearly knocking Scout over. "Hey," he said. "Take a look inside!"

"Hmm?" Scout cracked his eyes open. He didn't want to; he could go to sleep right here. He remembered what they were doing and went straight. "Did you find Chatot?"

"Nah." Mane shook his head, grinning. "Something better!"

"What?"

"Take a look!"

Scout frowned. Mane had that sleazy grin that boded poorly. "What is in there?"

Rolling his eyes, Mane explained a little. "Marowak is giving someone some 'after hours' training!"

Scout continued frowning, trying to work out why that sounded so wrong. His eyes widened. "You're sick!"

Mane laughed, shaking his head. "Oh, come on."

"No. Mane, what is wrong with you?"

He rolled his eyes. "You're such a spoilsport. No ones in there with Marowak. It's perfectly innocent. You really don't know how to deal with jokes, do you?"

"We are around frozen people we BOTH know," Scout growled. "What part of you thinks that making jokes about this is appropriate in ANY WAY?" His voice echoed as he shouted, cascading across the dark and quiet place.

Mane's eyes widened, and he blinked a few times. "Oh, uh… wow. You're really upset," he said, taking a step back. "I think you need to calm your nerves. I know a tried and true way to do that!"

Scout's eye twitched. "Okay," Scout snapped. "WHY do you keep acting like that?" Mane paused and gave him an affronted look. "Seriously. It's not the time to FUCK around, Mane! Just stop making your comments!"

Mane looked to consider it for a moment. "Mmm… Nah. This body is just too hot to keep contained like that!"

Scout felt his eye twitch. "Go for an hour."

"No."

"Thirty minutes."

"And how are you going to keep the time?"

"I'll count," Scout growled and raised his paw. "One. Two. Three."

Mane let him count to twenty-seven before he interrupted. "You sure look like you know what you're doing with those paws of yours," he crooned, and Scout dropped it.

"Shut up."

Mane blinked. "You didn't just tell me to shut up!" he gasped. "Never. Not sweet, kindly, sexy, Scout."

"Shut. Up."

Mane rolled his whole body. "Nah."

"WHY?" Scout exploded. "Why do you have to do this? All the time?"

Mane laughed at his emotions, and Scout flipped from furious to tired. He was having trouble catching his breath and Mane gave him a pitying look.

Scout snarled at him. That seemed to flip a switch.

"Fine," Mane said, uncharacteristically soft. "You want to know?"

Scout nodded, desiring only answers to fill the static in his ears.

"It's because I'm terrified," Mane said plainly. "I'm scared. I'm trapped in a hellscape with only a maybe out, having to dodge murderous pokémon literally hunting me down, along with travelling through dungeons with ferals more crazed than I've ever seen."

Mane paused to take a breath, while it was Scout's turn to blink in surprise. "Now I'm in my own home, but it's frozen and everyone is effectively dead and displayed for my eyes to see. I grew up with these people and they're all gone I'm... scared. This is how I'm coping, Scout. I'm sorry if that offends your delicate sensitivities, but I can't deal with this any other way."

"Oh."

"Yeah," Mane snarled, heat entering his voice. "Oh. Seriously," he scoffed, tossing his head. "You strut around like you know what's best and right and perfect for everything and when something 'offends' you, you get all pissy and passive-aggressive. Don't think I hadn't noticed, even before I joined Rai's team."

Scout took offence to that. "Rai's, AND mine," Scout shot back, and Mane raised a fiery eyebrow. "We made the team together."

"Sure." Mane nodded with a smirk. "Roll right over you being passive-aggressive, just go straight to 'this is what is correct, and I know it' because why act differently?"

"And who's being passive-aggressive now?" Scout demanded, and Mane laughed. The audacious sound carried for miles, but it was just for the rapidly angering Scout.

"You're doing it again!" Mane laughed, bitterly pawing the ground in fractured amusement. "Do you even notice you're doing it?"

Scout hesitated, beginning to frown.

"It's almost funny. The way you behave sometimes." Scout glanced up sharply at Mane's mocking expression. "You're always looking like you have something more to say, some secret you can't wait to share so you can show just how smart and clever and right you are. You know, if you ever shared stuff, things might not be going to literal fucking hell."

"You are NOT blaming me for this," Scout growled, tail lashing. "This? THIS? Are you blaming me? FOR THIS?"

"Maybe," Mane sang, making sure the notes carried. "How would I know otherwise? You don't tell ME anything, heck you don't even tell Rai anything. Hiding everything of worth from your so-called 'best friend.'"

"And what are you basing this off?" Scout growled, ignoring the stabbing feeling in his arm and chest. "Newsflash, I did have amnesia, I don't remember being here."

"Oh please," Mane snorted, rolling his eyes. "Newsflash, amnesia doesn't work as you claimed. You don't just lose everything but a few tiny details. There is no way you didn't know what was going on, or at least not had SOME sort of idea from the start. But did you tell anyone? Chatot or Wigglytuff? Rai? No. You didn't. You claimed you couldn't remember anything."

Scout nearly stepped back, but he had to defend himself. He had to. "And YOU'RE an expert on amnesia?" Scout demanded, pointing the finger.

"You think you're the only pokémon in the world that's ever had amnesia?" Mane shot back. "But you know what? I get it." Mane's tone changed. "I get why you didn't say anything. This is clearly a big deal, we're in a literal dead world and you couldn't risk everything just to share some details, no matter how much it would have helped."

Scout blinked. "What?"

Mane continued, but he began to grin like a sharpedo, smoke curling around his maw. "I get that. I understand that. I accept that. But what I don't accept is the way you behave. You come at me, rolling your eyes, giving little comments to yourself and Rai, or snapping at me 'Oh Mane you're such a gross flirt. Stop, wah-wah' and you think you have the right to tell me how I should act because you just KNOW what the best way is."

"I-I. Do not. I do not. I do n-not think like that," Scout stuttered, vision nearly going black with a headache. "Or act like that. What about you, then?" Scout waved a paw violently on his numb arm, grunting as sharp pain shot through his paw. "The flirting is just weird, but whatever. Like you said 'I accept that' it's who you are. But what about the way YOU have been behaving towards Rai for the last HOW MANY YEARS."

Mane's lip curled, but Scout continued. "Mercilessly bullying him at the slightest proclamation, ruining his self-confidence, picking on an ORPHAN for what? Some self-justified act of 'toughening him up'? You can talk about what I've done and acted all you want, but I haven't behaved nearly as viciously as you."

"Ah…" Mane sighed, smiling. "There it is."

Scout snarled. "What?"

"Doing it. Again," Mane laughed, bordering on hysterically. "You're turning it back on me again! Am I a horrible excuse for a pokémon? Sure am. I'm rude, aggressive, a nasty flirt, and a bully, with criminal parents and a home where everyone, literally everyone, dislikes me. At best. That's all true. It's all earned, I deserve it sure I get that."

He stopped laughing, and instead, his expression changed to a vicious glare. "What's also true is that you are a liar who refuses to accept blame for what you have done and whenever something does come your way, you find a way to make the other party look worse and you so righteous in comparison."

Scout couldn't gather the words to reply, so Mane continued.

"I chatted with Riolu a little when you were napping. He told Chats and me what you guys needed to save time. Some 'Relic Fragment' that belonged to our best buddy Rai. You knew about that all this time, didn't you?"

Scout stared at him. Mane grinned again.

"Oh, don't look so stunned. You're not as good at hiding as you think. Rai's noticed, you know? He knows that you're not entirely honest with him. If even he can see it, do you think everyone else can't as well? Or, well, actually only anyone who's spent much time with you, which is just Rai, and now me. Clever, really."

Scout still just stared in silence, trying to find the words to defend himself. There weren't any.

"Look," Mane said, expression melding back into a calmer state. "I get it. I get you saving the world is more important than anything. I reaaallly do get that. I even think you don't want to hurt anyone. I even think you and Rai ARE a talk away from expressing your undying love and passion for each other. I do know you care about him. But I also know that you're not as nice of a guy as you think you are."

"A-and what about you?" Scout asked. "Everyone you've done, just… whatever in comparison?"

"Seriously?" Mane asked, genuinely baffled. "You still don't get it? Who's the better person between us? You. That's the answer. But being better than me isn't that great of an achievement. And between you and me, not only do I get that I'm a dick. But I'm actually trying to change."

Mane shook his head. "I'm a piece of shit but I admit it nwo, I'm trying to be better. I've been acting as nice as I can, getting used to it, acting the good, responsible, apprentice. Have I been good at it? Eh, probably not."

"So what?" Scout whispered. "Just because you admit it, it's okay?"

Mane groaned. "You really are this dumb? Really? I know you pretty well by this point. I can tell you've felt guilty about all the lying and manipulating. And that's fine; I already said I think you're a good person."

Mane sighed, he was calmer now, getting this off his chest. "But you leave the guilt as all there is. You don't try to change or make yourself better. You just stew in your own guilt until you decide you've punished yourself enough to make it okay."

Scout shifted uncomfortably, but Mane wasn't done. "Then you keep doing the thing you were guilty about. At least I'm trying to change, but you're just acting, denying everything, shifting the blame onto anyone else if you're called out. And you're not as good at it as you think you are."

Scout's face burned. He would have far preferred to have been set on fire to this.

"I…."

"Don't bother," Mane said, rolling his eyes, "admitting it all now. Doesn't that just prove my point? You'll either feel guilty and keep doing it. Or you can actually make a change. Maybe actually think about that for once? Tell someone what you really think. Maybe Rai when we get back? Either way, I'm done. Let's just find Chatot and get out of this creepy place."

He began walking off, and Scout forced himself to follow. Had he really been trying to shift blame, make himself look better in comparison?

He thought about what he hadn't said, and what still hadn't been told.

Mane didn't say anything else as they walked. He'd gotten what he wanted off his chest.

"I…" Scout said, noticing something at last. "Where's Sean?"

Mane stopped cold. "Shit."

"And," Scout's voice was going high. "We've got company."

They both turned as something large and crackling with electricity approached.

"Oh, no."


Chatot took a deep breath. He couldn't bear to imagine it, but he had to ask. "So… someone could be here still?" It was in front of his eyes, but could it be an illusion?

The riolu - who he still had trouble considering to be Sean - shrugged again. "Maybe. I'd really hope not though. You three don't deserve to see what this future can turn pokémon into."

"How… long has it been like this?" Chatot asked. "Do you know?"

Something clacked behind them and they looked.

The sound, soft and tinny, rung out as loud as a drum to the ever-present silence and anxiety of the listeners.

However, Chatot wasn't listening. Right as the others turned around, he looked to the left and began to walk. He heard their voices, fading like they were being covered with water until there was nothing but a warm feeling in his beak and pressure behind his eyes.

It feels so good? Doesn't it?

Chatot agrees.

"Chatot!" Wigglytuff beamed, bouncing to where he was roosting. "This is where you got off to? Silly bird, let's get you home."

"Ah, Rhythmlytuff," You said. He felt so happy to see Tuffwiggly again. I could almost cry. "Ahem. Guildmaster, how wonderful it is to see you. It feels like an age since we've spoken."

Wigglytuff giggled and picked me up, cuddling you against his warm belly. "Yes," he said. "But I'm here now. You're here now. Let's go home."

I roosted comfortably in Wigglytuff's embrace. You felt so warm, so safe. Chatot was home with Wigglytuff now.

Wigglytuff hummed a lovely song as he carried us. His embrace was as steady as we all thought it'd be. Strong, sturdy, yet warm and soft. This is Wigglytuff. Chatot's partner. Chatot's friend. Chatot's life.

The pathway to the guild was as it always was. Pokémon bustled back and forth, many of them even were taking a rest to talk or wait. Most were waiting. What were they waiting for?

Chatot didn't worry about that. He couldn't see them, but they waved to him anyway. People always wave when you pass them, pokémon are friendly like that.

The gate of the guild, a sturdy object, held firm. Wigglytuff didn't pause at the grate, and the Guildmaster didn't need to. With a blink, he was inside. And we came with him!

Don't mind the bones scattered around Chatot's roost. Those were fake. Those weren't Chatot. Chatot is here now, Wigglytuff is thrilled!

Wigglytuff continued to carry us all in his sturdy embrace. One didn't need to fear when Wigglytuff was here. Treasure Town was safe because Wigglytuff was here.

As is proper, Wigglytuff said hello to everyone as he passed.

"Hello, Bidoof."

"Yep-yep. Gosh, golly."

"Hello, Sunflora."

"Hello, Guildmaster and Chatot."

"Hello, Neirdae."

"Hello, Corphish."

"Hey."

"Hello, Loudred."

"YEAH, HI!"

"Hello, Chimecho."

"Hello, Guildmaster."

"Greetings."

"Hello, Elle."

"Hi!"

"Hello, P1ka."

"It's nice to see you."

"Hello, Setech."

"Hey."

"Hello, Taho."

"Lol!"

"Hello, Pichu, one and two."

"Hi-Hi!"

"Hello, Tez."

"It's so nice to see you!"

"Hello, Epsy. Hello, Robbie. Hello, Neo. Hello, Julia. Hello, Haru. Hello, Arcanine. Hello, Zorua. Hello, Alpha. Hello, Mikey. Hello, Sud. Hello. Hello, Coda. Hello, Klonoa. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Sirius. Hello. Hello, Bench. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Flow. Hello. Hello, Fizzo. Hello, Danirbu. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, CC. Hello. Hello. Hello, Rocket. Hello. Hello. Hello, fruits. Hello. Hello. Hello, Axotol. Hello, Jermy. Hello, Wally. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Flocon. Hello, Kirby. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Tikki. Hello, Layse. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Loop. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello, Emo Lord. Hello. Hello, you."

"It's time to take a nap," Wigglytuff said, pooped from all the hello's he had to give. Make sure to say hello back!

Sleep is a fantastic idea. Rest is what you need for strong bones and flesh that doesn't yield. Sleep lets us dream.

Wigglytuff took everyone to the best room. It's the one at the back. It's always open for new recruits. Poor Shinx never got to sleep in this room.

But Chatot and Wigglytuff can!

Chatot roosted comfortably in Wigglytuff's embrace, and he cleared his throat to begin the night-time song. "Nighty-nighty sleepy-head. It's time to go down to your bed. There are dreams and-"

"Yawn." Wigglytuff yawned. "Let's just go to bed."

"Of course, Guildmaster." Chatot would sing the wake-up song later then.

Shall we see what's approaching the two kitties?


Scout and Mane stood frozen. With black and grey fur, faded blue patches, and the classic star-tail, it could only be a luxray that approached them.

"This can't be happening," Scout laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. "No, no no no."

"L-Leave!" The luxray roared. "Leave. Now. Why others? Why more? Leave. Go. Leave. You are not. Here. Allowed. Here. No. Leave. Leave. Why more? Leave. Or I will. I will. I will. I will."

"You'll leave?" Mane asked. "Great! Now shoo. Go! Go away!"

The luxray shook its head, tossing an old necklace around its neck. "LEAVE!" it roared, electricity sparking out everywhere and jolting some of the bodies.

"Please don't go all Frankenstein on us," Scout laughed, again. He couldn't handle this; this was no bueno. This was no good. This was not allowed. He would not accept this.

Several frozen pokémon fell in heaps, collapsing against the ground in dull thunks. Both Scout and Mane flinched.

"No," Scout moaned.

Mane's voice broke as he forced himself to look at the luxray. "Rai?"

The luxray paused. It cocked its head slightly and took a half step forward. "LEAVE!" it screamed, and neither of them moved.

It howled in frustration and electricity built up. Scout continued to laugh weakly under his breath, while Mane just stared. Lightning struck, and their fur went up as the town square was bathed in electricity.

Like a horde of puppets with their strings cut, everyone frozen in time collapsed to the ground.

"Cool story, bro," Mane said, grinning weakly.

Then Sunflora stood up.

"No…," Scout moaned again.

Loudred stood up.

"No…."

Everyone stood up.

Mane's face twitched erratically. It was like he was being shocked with electricity. He tried to make words, but nothing was coming. The risen pokémon all wore blank stares with glassy eyes. Electricity was crackling around their limbs and bodies, causing frozen muscles to twitch.

Only Luxray and its eyes glowed brightly, sunken pits of yellow. It growled deeply, far deeper than before. "Leave. Forever."

"The electricity," Scout whispered, mind focusing on all the wrong things now that he had reached the apex of panic. "He's moving their bodies through electricity."

"Yeah, I gathered that," Mane croaked.

The frozen pokémon rushed them. Flinging in a wave of bodies, Mane and Scout screamed. Mane tried to blast them with fire, but they were still frozen in time, no amount of fire could so much as touch them.

Scout just went into absolute panic mind and froze up, being tackled and smothered in seconds. Most of the controlled pokémon, however, were sent at Mane.

Both pokémon suffered a moment of remembrance. Scout remembered the parasect, but Mane remembered being buried by the electrike in Amp Plains.

He screamed. Howled. Thrashed. Even used up every spark he had. Nothing helped.

With Scout not getting bitten and eaten by the horde of zombies he imagined them as, he had a better chance to recover. He recoiled, pulling himself out of the pile of bodies and darted out.

Mane was still thrashing, but he was not screaming anymore. He'd run his throat ragged, and there was no air down there anyway.

"Mane… HANG ON!" Scout slashed his paw open on the horns of a tauros and began firing Shadow Balls into the horde.

While the insubstantial fire hadn't done much, the force caused by exploding Shadow Balls did help and threw jerking pokémon off Mane.

Scout plunged in, shoving and slashing out with everything he had, with just the one arm, to remove enough bodies to grab Mane's tail.

He didn't worry about breaking anything. He just pulled until Mane was out.

"RUN!" Scout screamed, but Mane didn't respond. His eyes had glazed over, but tiny puffs of air proved he was still living.

Scout groaned and tried to pull Mane onto his back, but with just one arm and his own injuries plus Mane's weight, that seemed impossible.

The luxray howled again and sent out another wave of electricity, commanding the frozen pokémon once more.

"RAI STOP!" Scout screamed, voice breaking over the luxray's own roars.

It did not stop.

A moment was needed, and Scout slashed Mane across the face, cutting his cheek, and the litleo finally reacted. "RUN!" Scout screamed again, and Mane rolled onto his feet and legged it with everything he had.

The horde pursued them until they passed the guild, in which they all collapsed again like puppets. Scout glanced back, just once, to see the luxray watching them leave. Yellow eyes were glowing brightly, watching them run.

Scout followed Mane as the litleo veered left. They are running purely on autopilot. Scout himself didn't even think to where they were going until Mane ran right into a door and began banging his body against it.

"Mane? Mane!?" he grabbed the litleo by the shoulder and, without any fire left, Mane headbutted him in the stomach before going back to beating himself against the door.

"Open. Open. OPEN!" he screamed, scratching at the wood. It was impervious to the touch. It was frozen in time.

"There's an open window here," Scout coughed, pointing. Mane looked and raced for it, trying, and failing, to jump up.

Scout grabbed Mane and hoisted him up before jumping up himself. His right arm was moving, with a lot of protesting, and once he fell inside, he felt his muscles scream in protest.

Groaning, Scout tried to pull himself up but could only get onto his behind rather than his feet. In the ever-present dull, but always visible, a light he saw Mane scurry over to his bed and begin petting at the blanket that laid there. A fine sheet, finer than even Chimecho's in the medical bay.

"Frozen," Mane mumbled, feeling the unforgiving creases almost cut at his flesh. He couldn't feel the blanket, only this afterimage.

He forced himself back and turned and froze. Scout tensed and looked the same way. Right by the door, another Mane stood frozen.

Scout's eyes went wide, and Mane's squeezed shut. "Fantastic," he whimpered, stepping back and stepping on a sharp edge of his blanket. He recoiled and lifted his back paw, glancing back at the blanket that hurt him. The one nice thing in his life, hurting him.

Scout was staring at Mane's frozen version, not realising the still-living litleo had begun to shake. It was only when Mane started to cry, did he look away from his frozen form.

With his face in his paws and tail curled around him, Mane began to sob into the ground. "I just want to go home," Mane whimpered as Scout found a heroic seventh wind to get up. "Please. Anything. Just let me go home."

"D-do you want to talk?" Scout asked, coming close, but not too close. "Or do you just want… something else?"

He almost said comfort, but he wasn't sure if he could give it. Upon thinking, he was relieved he didn't. He didn't want to know what Mane would say.

"I just want to go back," Mane breathed, exhausted. "I hate this place. This is hell. This is actual hell. How the fuck did you survive this place?"

"I don't know," Scout answered, and Mane lifted his head to glare at him. Even with the tears, he looked fierce. "I don't. I really don't."

Mane stared at him before quirking a defeated smile. "Heh. Sure."

Scout looked away but accidentally looked at the frozen Mane at the door. "I don't remember being here," he said. "I don't remember Sean. I thought I was him. I still… I feel like I am. But... I did remember what the future was, I did remember what had to be done."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Mane asked, resting his head on his paws now. It was more comfortable than anything else in here.

"I was scared," Scout answered and scoffed at himself. "I'm a coward. But that doesn't make it alright. I was scared I'd mess something up. I thought I knew… how things should go, and… yeah, I thought I knew more than I did. I'm not Sean and that… that's terrifying to me. Because I don't know who Scout is."

He was close. Right on the cusp of telling Mane everything. But... but Mane was fragile and overwhelmed they were exhausted and it... just wasn't time.

Mane's eyes began to droop as Scout yawned. "To me, you're some sort of relentless meowth. How are you even still alive?"

Scout smiled slightly. "Heh. I don't know. I'm sorry you ended up coming here, this is my fault."

"No…" Mane said before blinking. "Well, yeah, it is. But I did jump through to save you. The only fault you have is being a secretive liar and a weirdly attractive friend."

Scout groaned. "Not this again," he said, but he was smiling. Mane stuck his tongue out at him.

"I don't mean that way," he chuckled. "Well… a little that way. I mean, more… there's something about you. You got Rai to join the guild in a day. I didn't start with the bullying. I did try other ways first. As pathetic as that is. But you? Did it in a day. Then I joined the guild. Grovyle even joined that stupid expedition to see if it was you, I asked Sean."

Mane yawned and rolled over. "I really don't know what it is. Pisses me off a little really. You're good at making people like you."

"Sorry. I think."

"Heh. Yeah, you should be. How are you going to make it up to me? I can think of a few ways…."

Scout gave him a flat look but then thought back to what Mane had said about his overactive flirting lately. "Are you alright?" he asked, before scoffing at his own question. "Stupid question."

"Yeah. It is."

"I mean. Do you want to talk? Or do you want me to listen?"

"Not really," Mane admitted. "I was planning on waiting for you to go to sleep, then bawl my eyes out."

Scout frowned and began to sit up.

"I'm kidding."

The meowth slumped down, but he still had a cute frown on his face. He had a feeling Mane wasn't really kidding. He got up and stumbled over to Mane, pressing against him. Mane was like stone at first but then he pressed back almost desperately for any comfort he could get.

"While I'd love to talk feelings till the tauros come home." Mane and Scout screwed their faces up at that comment, remembering the one that had been frozen. "Ahem. But we should probably talk what we're going to do. Chatot and Sean disappeared on us. And I doubt they're together. We need to find them before they go crazy or whatever."

"It isn't fun," Scout agreed, eyes sliding shut. "Being alone here. Your heartbeat starts talking to you."

"Creepy."

"Your face is creepy."

Mane laughed. "But seriously. We should check out the guild. Someone might be there."

"I think that luxray might have something to do with it," Scout said. "It mentioned 'other' intruders. And what about the beach?" Scout suggested, eyes entirely shut now, "that's where stuff usually…" He trailed off and fell asleep.

Mane yawned, and his head fell as well. In the silence of the future, their breathing could be heard.

With only frozen Mane as a guard.

Neither noticed as it slowly began to move.


Chatot gasped awake.

He nearly fluttered off of the cold patch of straw, but there was nowhere in sight to flutter to. He blinked several times, trying to get the sleep out of his eyes.

"Where…?," he murmured, looking around. This was the guild. This was… this was Team Ion's room.

But only one bed of straw?

Curious, Chatot picked himself up and began to hop his way down the room. He wasn't sure how long he rested, but he felt better. Compared to what he was, at least. Still rather lousy yet, in comparison to before, this was golden.

"I can't believe it!" a high and cheerful voice called out.

Chatot paused, eyes widening as his heart did a flip. "Rhythm?" he gasped and took flight. This had been just a horrible, horrible dream. He wasn't sure why he was in Team Ion's room, but if Wigglytuff was here, then it was over, nightmare or not.

Chatot zoomed to the entrance to the rooms, but then landed. He found it in him to stop, take a breath, and re-evaluate the situation. He shouldn't blindly accept all was well.

Sean's words and warnings about the future returned to his mind, and he decided that being careful was the better option. There is no reason for him to be in Team Ion's room, rather than either his own perch, the medical bay, or even Rhythm's room.

And the place was quiet. So, painfully, quiet.

So, he paused and listened out with his sharp ears, perfect for catching every apprentice that tried to sneak around.

"Yeah. I found him, Lucky. It's so nice to have him back!"

That was Wigglytuff's voice. Wigglytuff giggled. "Yeah, he's a fussy thing, but he's safe now."

Chatot leaned in a bit more, hoping vainly that'd help. Wigglytuff was talking to someone, but he couldn't make out even a murmur from whoever else was around.

"I've got him in the new recruits room! It's fitting. It's like recruiting Chatot all over again!" Wigglytuff giggled. "Oh, come on, you know this is the one. He's not like the others; they were liars." Another giggle.

Chatot decided he should ask some questions. One didn't build an information network like his without asking pertinent questions. He hopped out, and Wigglytuff's voice fell silent.

The room was dark. There was no change in the light outside, endless dusk, but the room was still dark.

"Erm. Guildmaster?" Chatot called, hopping further in. "Guildmaster? I'd like to speak to you and ask a few questions."

Something was off. Why was Wigglytuff here if this was the future? Chatot tried to remember how he got here, but after hearing something in the town square, everything else was fuzzy at best.

"R-Rhythm?"

He is not in this room, Trill.

The silly bird just goes back to bed. Wigglytuff is waiting. You're leaving him cold.

He blinked, having hopped halfway back before coming yo his senses.

Thoroughly unsettled now, Chatot looked back and forth. The door to Wigglytuff's rooms was cracked open. There was a window, as well as the incline to the floor above. He was feeling drawn to the window but breaking it was a bit foolish. The guild was the safest place on the continent, possibly the world since Rhythm was here And no one knew where the Legendary Lucario was.

He wanted to look around, possibly find anyone, but Croagunk's shop was dark, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to see Croagunk frozen.

Chatot headed for the incline. He flutter-hopped his way up to the middle and found the room crowded. "Oh, what's this?" he asked on reflex. It was one of his duties to make sure the notice boards didn't get too crowded with individual teams taking too many jobs. Yet, every pokémon was dull and lifeless.

He swallowed any further words and continued to the top. Only to squawk in shock when Wigglytuff rolled down.

"Chatot!" Wigglytuff beamed, opening his arms for a hug. "What are you doing up already silly bird!" He grabbed the stunned Chatot in his arms and began carrying him down.

"N-now, Wigglytuff," Chatot stuttered, particularly thrown at this instance. "Put me down. I must go out to find the others."

Wigglytuff paused. "Others?" he asked, voice quiet. "Who?"

"Scout and Mane and Sean, er… ahem. Meowth and Litleo and Riolu. They must be in a panic looking for me. How did I even get here? Wigglytuff? Wigglytuff?"

Wigglytuff tittered happily. "Oh, you don't have to worry anymore!" he said cheerfully. "They are gone now, moved on. They have left us like all the others. It's back to you and me, leading the guild as always! Apprentices come and go, but we're always here."

"But," Chatot protested and tried to pry himself from Wigglytuff. "Rhythm, release me."

Chatot had long since put up with Wigglytuff's touchy-feely behaviour. He wasn't the most affectionate of pokémon, but Wigglytuff was certainly in the running for most. He respected Chatot's boundaries though, and always put him down when asked.

Wigglytuff did not let him go.

"Rhythm? Did you hear me? Let me go."

Wigglytuff began to hum a beat. It was a little offbeat but cheerful. "You don't have to worry, Chatot," Wigglytuff said. "You're safe here. You're fine here. With me! We've reunited again. It's been so long since I've seen you. Only fakers. Boo-boo. You don't have to leave again, not ever!"

Chatot fell silent, and Wigglytuff carried them back to the room. "Sing me my bedtime song again," Wigglytuff requested, and Chatot stuttered out the beginning.

"N-night-night sl-sleepy thing. It's time to go to sleep. There is fun and… and fun to see and play. Rest your head, down you lay."

Wigglytuff smiled and cuddled up. "Thank you, Chatot," he breathed, breath sweet with something else behind it. Chatot simply lay frozen. He called him Chatot, not Trill. That wasn't the bedtime song, not at all.

He shifted slightly, but Wigglytuff's grip on him was iron-hard, and he could barely move. Chatot just fell silent and began to match his breathing with Wigglytuff's, waiting until the Fairy-type fell asleep.

Once he was confident, Chatot began to untangle himself. He didn't want to think. He didn't want to feel. Whatever had happened to his Rhythm, if it even was, he couldn't deal with this right now.

It took a minute. Or an hour. It is hard to keep time in the future. But eventually, Chatot was out. He crept out very carefully, hoping Wigglytuff would remain asleep.

He glanced back a few times, Wigglytuff rolled over and mumbled something, before speeding up.

"Yep," Wigglytuff said, right as Chatot reached the entrance again. The Flying-type froze. "It's been so fun having Chatot again, Slink! So much fun."

Chatot looked back in confusion. He could still see Wigglytuff in the room from here, even if from a distance it didn't look so much like Wigglytuff.

"You said it, Tez. Can't wait to play some more!"

Chatot looked to the window again. He had made an error in trying the normal exit before. He flew into action and readied an Air Cutter, sending the blade of air at the fragile window while flying at it.

The Air Cutter bounced away in a puff of air and Chatot slammed into the window beak first. He cursed and bounced off. There was no sound of his attack or collision, but his curse echoed through the empty building filled with so many pokémon.

He grunted and grabbed his beak with a wing. A giggle was all he had to prepare himself before Wigglytuff swept him up in his arms again.

"Silly, Chatot," Wigglytuff giggled, rubbing his head. "We don't need to play outside tonight." He began walking them back to the room.

Chatot still thought he could see something in the room.

"W-why aren't we going to your room?" Chatot asked Wigglytuff gave a dismissive titter. "No. The Guildmaster should not stay in the apprentices' rooms."

"You are not the Guildmaster," Wigglytuff snapped, and Chatot flinched. "Now, now, Chatot. We're friends, but we have to do what I want first. We can go later."

Chatot pulled himself free and hopped onto the cold ground in front of them. "I am sorry, Guildmaster," he said sternly. "But I cannot stay here any longer. My compatriots in this endeavour are surely concerned, and we do not have time to waste here."

"Being with me is a waste?" Wigglytuff asked softly. Chatot paused.

"Of course not," he said.

"Then stay." Wigglytuff smiled, and Chatot felt lighter. It was a little strange, he couldn't help but wonder why Wigglytuff had such a toothy smile, but it was okay. Wigglytuff was here.

"All I want is for us to be together again," Wigglytuff said, and Chatot began to sway. "Wigglytuff and Chatot again. The real Chatot, this time. Not the other ones. Those were fake Chatot's. They were wrong, and they had to be removed. I want the real Chatot, and only the real Chatot would be kind and stay with me. Aren't you the real Chatot?"

Chatot wobbled. He was the real Chatot. We all are. How swell to be Chatot. To be the second in command of the Wigglytuff Guild, how kind and generous Wigglytuff is.

"I…"Chatot said he wasn't sure why I wasn't giving in already.

"Note," Wigglytuff soothed. "Join me."

Chatot froze.

That was not his name.

Wigglytuff opened his arms for a hug, Chatot leapt forward in a flurry of wings and feathers and startled the Fairy-type, flying over him and out into the room.

"CHATOT!" Wigglytuff screamed and began to pursue. "NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!"

Chatot did a barrel roll and avoided Wigglytuff flying from the roof. He got to the second level and ducked around three more Wigglytuff.

He Wigglytuff'd and Wigglytuff'd until he was Wigglytuff'd out of Wiffletugg.

Chatot nearly reached the top of the guild when Wigglytuff's paw came out of nowhere and grabbed him by the wing. Chatot pulled, and he felt several feathers be torn off, but his wing was free.

Wigglytuff screamed at him to stop, as Chatot reached the top.

A skull of a chatot was knocked clattering as he slammed to a stop. He stood on the femur of a chatot, and tripped, falling back into his old roost.

Chatot squawked a high chirp before falling silent like the others.

Bones. Bones of birds were everywhere. Skulls leered at him from corners, white and brittle, and bones littered the ground. Littered his roost.

Wigglytuff's weak sobs reached him but didn't startle him out of his shock.

"Why?" Wigglytuff asked, coming up the incline with tears running down his face. "Why do you always run? Why do you make me do this? Why, Chatot?"

Wigglytuff hefted a crude hammer and cruder nails. Chatot spotted one thing in common with the bones: the feet were all side by side, with nails driven through them.

"Why do I have to hurt you? Why won't you be Chatot for me?"

Chatot leaped out, squawking and flapping violently. He slammed into the grate and tried to go for the hole everyone went through when they wanted to sneak by him. Before he could, Wigglytuff grabbed his tail feathers.

"You'll have to stay here until you love me," Wigglytuff sobbed and raised the hammer.

Chatot struck him with metal-coated wings and knocked him and the hammer back.

Zooming forward, Chatot slammed into this accursed depiction of his closest companion, and they barrelled down the stairs.

"CURSE THIS WRETCHED WORLD!" Chatot cried and threw Wigglytuff into the throng of frozen pokémon.

He flew further downstairs. He couldn't get to the grate, he knew trying the same trick wouldn't work twice, and all the other windows were likely frozen. He knew there was one, one that should already be broken.

Wigglytuff never let him get someone in to repair the window he accidentally broke. The one in his meeting room. It would be open. It had to be.

Chatot flew as fast as his partially-plucked wings could take him and headed for the doors. They were ajar, and he slid through them without hesitation.

What he found, however, caused him to hesitate.

Wigglytuff was already here.

On his chair.

Dulled fur, dust building up, glassy eyes.

He was frozen in time.

Gone. Not him. Before him. A frozen corpse sitting on his tombstone. Trill's Rhythm, forever silenced.

A pitiful sniffling caused him to turn around, dire fury lighting his eyes. "You aren't Rhythm," Chatot spat and the monster pretending to be him screamed.

"I AM WIGGLYTUFF! I AM! I JUST NEED A CHATOT!"

Wigglytuff threw himself at Chatot, and Chatot met it with wings bared. A Hyper Voice nearly blew him back, but it was nothing to the real thing.

Wings coating with temporary metal, Chatot slashed at the false idol and matched his own Hyper Voice with Mirror Move.

Wigglytuff's fist lit up with crackling electricity, and Chatot's eyes widened. Wigglytuff launched himself at him with the Thunderpunch, aiming to clobber Chatot out of the sky.

Chatot flew back and twisted, catching Wigglytuff with his wings and talons. He pointed the fist at the other, non-broken, window and threw Wigglytuff with all his force.

The electrical attack punched straight through the glass and Wigglytuff fell out of the building. Chatot flew for the other one, the one he'd accidentally broken all those years ago, and ignored the false Wigglytuff as he screamed his name.

He raised his head and forced himself up, burying the horror of what he'd experienced. The worst was seeing the real Wigglytuff, frozen, and lifeless. That, of all things, was the greatest horror to Chatot.

He began to search for others from the sky. Only to be lanced out of the air by a sudden burst of electricity.

He'd landed with a harsh crash.

Scout had woken up to a knocking sound. Something is calling his name. Then he and Mane had jolted up to the distant sounds of screaming and came running, only to hear something scream Chatot's name and then a lightning bolt blasts him out of the sky.

Scout had not slept as much as he wanted, but was at least feeling much more alive.

"Chatot!" Scout cried, running with his lamed arm. It wasn't very far to find him.

"Chatty's!" Mane also yelled, with some actual energy rather than pure fumes.

Chatot shook his head and pulled himself up. "What was that?" he asked, not particularly worse for wear.

"Thunderbolt," Mane said, rather helpfully, as Scout helped Chatot regain his bearings.

"Your feathers… are you… what happened?"

Chatot brushed him off. "Just a small situation I freed myself from." He gave them a critical look over. The two exchanged a glance.

"What did you tell me in the medical tent at the base of Foggy Forest?" Chatot demanded, peering suspiciously at Scout.

"What?"

"Answer the question."

"Th-that I was… human."

Mane gave him a look as Chatot relaxed. "Good. Now, what is going on?"

Mane glanced to Scout, and he nodded.

"What happened?" Mane asked, and Chatot just shook his head at him.

"I see you have lost track of Sean. Do you have any leads?"

"We found a luxray that can move the frozen pokémon to attack," Scout said, grimacing. Mane nodded in agreement. "And it mentioned 'others' before it attacked us. Sean had already disappeared by then."

Chatot nodded. "We shall find this luxray then."

"Also," Scout began, but couldn't continue. He shared a look with Mane, and together they tried to beam it at Chatot. The bird's eyes widened slightly, and he swallowed.

"We'll deal with anything that comes our way," he said, and they nodded. Scout kept a firm hold on their Treasure Bag.

It didn't really have much in it. But it felt nice to hold.

"Scout?" He heard a whisper.

And now it was talking to him. Scout shook his head. Great.

Treasure Town provided no information. Only that all the frozen pokémon were returned to their previous positions. Sunflora chatted away with Loudred as Magmar came close. Everyone was calm and unmoving. Horrifying, lost, frozen, gone.

"Of course," Mane scoffed as they passed, refusing to flinch at any pokémon. "Of course it'd be back at Sharpedo Cliff."

They passed Kecleon, Kangaskhan, and finally, Vigoroth. The dungeon they had exited from still floated ominously in the sky, but before that stood Luxray.

"This is not the place for you," Luxray said, eyes narrowed. "Leave."

"Where is Sean?" Scout demanded as Chatot and Mane exchanged puzzled looks. Scout turned back and forth to keep an eye on their backs.

Luxray frowned. "Sean?" it asked, before shaking it matted mane. "I do not know a 'Sean.' What I do know, however, is this place is dangerous. You must leave quickly before it is too late. If you do not leave, the same fate will befall you as it has me, and those few others."

"Wha?" Scout spluttered. "What? What? What? Warning us? Talking normally? You attacked us! With lifeless, frozen, pokémon! Why should we trust ANYTHING you have to say?"

Luxray cocked his head at him as Scout glanced back, hearing something. Its eyes flicked from Chatot to Scout to Mane, curiosity on its face. "Who…?"

"Guys?" Sean shouted, and the three pokémon jumped. Scout turned back to see Luxray back off, something swinging around its neck as it turned, while the other two turned around to the source of the voice.

Luxray paused upon seeing him staring, before ducking into the entrance to the home dug into Sharpedo Bluff. Something ached in Scout's heart.

Sean came running. "How the hell did you three get back here?" he called, rushing forward with something in his paw.

"Sean?" Mane and Chatot gasped.

Sean paused, catching his breath. "Oof." He looked up sharply. "How long has it been since you've seen me?" he demanded and again, the two were left confused.

"A few hours at least," Mane answered, turning back. "We, uh… kinda fell asleep."

"You fell asleep?" Sean asked flatly. Chatot nodded as well.

"Surprisingly nice nap."

"We got attacked by the frozen townsfolk!" Scout yelled, turning back to see Luxray was gone. "The luxray controlled them somehow! It was the worst. Thanks for the warning."

Sean frowned. "That… sounds scary. You alright?"

"It happened," Mane said, frowning as well. "This whole day has been confusing."

Sean smiled. "Considering it started in the dungeons, getting this far is pretty impressive."

"Where did YOU go?" Mane asked. "Did you sleep?"

"It's not been so long for me." Sean shrugged but opened his paw to show the Relic Fragment. "Look what I found though."

The three gawked at the sight.

"How?"

Sean grinned. "Things don't change in the future unless something HUGE happens in the past. That's what he said at least. Just because a few pokémon have been scuttling about in the past, doesn't mean anything's changed yet. So, the Treasure Key is in this time and place! I found it. Neat, huh?"

"Maybe that's why Luxray was so psychotic earlier?" Mane muttered, Scout just kept staring in confusion.

"Ahem. Can we leave now?" Chatot asked, looking around. "I've had enough of this. And we have wasted too much time."

Sean nodded. "Good idea."

They made their way through the town. Sean kept a close eye on all the frozen pokémon. They didn't move, thankfully.

They passed the guild. Mane kept a close eye on it. No facsimile of his partner came after them, thankfully.

Scout watched the path to the residential area. He hadn't had time even to think, but he was sure someone had called his actual name to wake him up. Nothing was there, unfortunately. He looked to Sean, the band of the Relic Fragment swinging back and forth.

"Don't… trust."

Scout shook his head. There was that voice again. He looked at his bag.

"That's… not… Sean."

His breath hitched.

"Hey, Sean?" Scout asked the riolu, glanced back.

"Yeah?"

"Where did you find that? I thought I saw it around Luxray's neck. Also... I've never heard you call the Relic Fragment by that name. You always called it the Key to the Hidden Land."

Sean sighed. Chatot sighed. Mane sighed.

They turned to him. Eyes were blank and lifeless.

"You had to interfere."

Scout jerked back. All three of them?

"You had to listen."

Scout immediately began running. He wasn't dealing with this. Hahaha, you can't run.

"You had to fight."

Scout sprinted as fast as he could, bolting on all fours, he was approaching the paths to the residential areas again. He could feel whatever was behind him approaching. It wasn't running. It didn't need to run.

A roar shook the silence around him as lightning fell like a gods wrath. It missed him, miraculously, or perhaps was never aimed at him.

Eyes of burning gold gleamed through the smoke caused by the attack and Scout coughed for breath, slamming into a powerful body.

The luxray didn't even grunt as he ran into it, looking down. It was close enough to smell, a caustic ozone bitterness permeating the wretched creature.

It stoof still, silent, as Scout's meowth insticts overtook him, eyes locked on the grimy artifact around its neck.

He ripped it off and then ran again.

"Turn right." The voice was back, Scout obeyed. He was running right along the path. He continued sprinting, and he felt whatever was behind him ripple with annoyance. He spotted the house that Mane owned and yelled out.

"MANE!"

Mane came bursting from the open window. "THERE YOU are?" His eyes went wide, and he yipped almost canine-like at the things approaching. "FIRE BLAST!" he yelled, using the move as he did so.

The darkness retreated from the light and the heat, hissing, and whispering.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Mane demanded. "I woke up a few minutes ago, and I was already going crazy and I swear the frozen me MOVED and was covering its fucking eyes like some sort of twisted peekaboo!"

Scout panted for breath, hyperventilating from the terror. "Please tell me you're really Mane," he begged. "Flirt, make inappropriate remarks, actually answer questions as they are!"

"Woah-woah-woah!" Mane gasped, waving him down. "What is going on?"

"I thought I heard Chatot and the two of us, both of us, me AND you went to help. But it wasn't Chatot, and it wasn't you, and it wasn't Sean, and I am terrified, Mane. I am freaking out."

Mane backed off, Scout's claws were coming out, and he was darting each direction for threats. "Tell me something only me, and you know. Right now. From the past. Or I swear I will go insane."

"I, uh, uh, uh. I-I-I don't know. What do you want to know?"

"I didn't ask it questions. It just asked each other. That's it! Tell me something NOW. Tell me how we first met?"

"Okay, okay, okay. I uh… okay. We met outside Kangaskhan's Storage. You knocked me out with a sleep seed. I joined your team after we were nearly killed by Shadow Pokémon. Is that enough?"

Scout's breathing began to settle. "Y-yes. I think so. Holy shit, what was that?"

"I don't know," Mane said, looking positively spooked. "What happened?"

Scout grimaced. "I-I don't even know." He looked to his bag, frowning suspiciously. He opened it and began digging through it, taking common checks to make sure nothing was coming to attack them.

"What are you looking for?" Mane asked, not sure if he should step closer.

"Something has been talking to me," Scout replied, still looking. "Not like the… well, it said that Sean wasn't the real one. That's how I got out of there. I was completely fooled. It sounded like it was coming from my bag."

He grabbed everything. From the glass from the desert to the seeds, to the apple, to the orbs, to the one Yellow Gummi. And that was it. He dug the glass out again, and it was the only interesting thing he could fathom could be doing this.

Nothing but his reflection. He couldn't see through this glass. Scout sighed and dropped it back in, placing the stolen artifactwith the rest. "Okay. We better find the others."

Mane couldn't help but notice Scout was watching him very carefully, so he decided to flirt some more.

It helped, for once.

"What was that burst of lightning? Scout asked, looking around. Mane nodded. "Earlier?"

"I did hear something. Then you were just gone."

They trotted until they neared the guild. Mane began to cringe away from the frozen pokémon, Scout noticed keenly. The other one hadn't.

They followed the sound of coughing, to find Chatot smouldering. He was up, but not in a great position. Mane went running forward, and Scout caught him by the tail.

"Ow!" Mane yipped before giving him a sultry look. "Kinky."

"What did you say to me the first time we spoke together privately? And where did we speak?" he demanded. Chatot wobbled slightly but blinked.

"The guild larder," he answered. "And I told you to be careful of rumours. After Boulder Quarry."

Scout relaxed. "It's Chatot."

Chatot ruffled his scorched feathers. "But of course," he snapped. "Who else?"

Mane laughed. "Definitely Chatot."

"Sorry," Scout said, glancing around. "I got tricked earlier by some… things that looked like you, Mane, and Sean. I really don't want it to happen again. I will cut someone if it does."

He bared his claws constantly.

Chatot noticed that he was keeping a close eye on both of them as they walked out into Treasure Town once more.

"Never thought I'd be tired of this path," Scout muttered, looking around. "But I really don't want to go back into town again."

"Well neither do I," Mane said, eyeing Sunflora and Loudred fearfully. "If that luxray attacks again."

"That luxray actually," Scout trailed off. "I don't even know anymore."

"To turn our noble town into a beacon of horror," Chatot spat. "Unforgivable."

"I'll apologise to Leaves and Loud Lad when we get back," Mane snapped. "But for now, if they move I'm going to explode them."

"Should we start calling?" Chatot suggested.

Scout screwed his face. "I'm pretty sure calling is how the horror monsters find us," Scout snarked.

Mane gave him an odd look. "I'm pretty sure whatever is here, knows we are too."

Scout considered that. "I guess."

"SEAN!?" Mane bellowed, putting some Hyper Voice into it. Both of his companions staggered from the volume.

There was silence.

Then.

"LITLEO?" Sean yelled, staggering out from the bushes. Scout tensed. "Holy fragaroly. You have no idea what I've been through."

"Stop right there or Mane is going to roast you!" Scout snapped.

Sean paused. "He is?"

"I am?" Mane asked.

"Back in Treasure Town," Scout began, and Mane rolled his eyes at the melodramatics. He hadn't experienced what Scout had, "a couple of days before Dusknoir sent everything to hell. You came to speak to me. What was that about?"

"About Dusknoir," Sean answered, nodding firmly. He saw what Scout was doing. "We had a bit of a roundabout conversation. I even hinted, so strongly, I was from the future. I even winked."

Scout swallowed and smiled. Sean nodded back. "How did you three end up here?" he asked. "Different answers from all of you."

"Oh, come now," Chatot sniffed, but Scout answered.

"Dusknoir threw me into the portal."

Mane rolled his eyes but answered. "I tackled Dusknoir through."

"And I," Chatot sighed. "Was grabbed by the beast and dragged in as well."

Sean and Scout breathed a sigh of relief. "Had an experience did you?" he asked, trotting up. Sean was covered in leaves and small scratches. "I've had some fun myself."

"If there are doppelgangers," Scout snapped. "Why didn't you mention it earlier?"

Sean gave him an apologetic look. "Whatever it is… I can't even be sure. This place is dangerous."

"How did you lose us, by the way?" Mane asked, trotting along as they all, very quickly, began to leave. "You were right behind us."

"I got lured away," Sean answered, pursing his lips. "Something that made me all 'suggestible.'"

"The same happened to me," Chatot squawked. "I was… anyway." He looked away.

"We just took a nap," Mane said, sticking his tongue out. "Pity my future self was frozen. I could have had some fun there."

"Oh my god," Scout and Sean said at the same time, and Mane laughed. After Treasure Town, they needed to laugh. Despite that, they hurried their step.

Mane kept an eye on any pokémon they passed. They didn't move; he was thankful.

Chatot tried not to look to yearningly at the guild. Whatever had happened to him was bizarre and painful. He didn't even want to imagine. But no false Wigglytuff came after them, he was thankful.

Sean watched the roads again, but also kept an eye on his bag. His shoulders grew tense as he waited for everything to go wrong again.

"They're… safe." He heard a whisper and sighed in relief. Scout saw the Relic Fragment lying innocently on the ground. "Don't." He realised he still held the thing he took off the luxray.

He left it alone. And left the wails of Treasure Town alone.

They watched as the intruders left town. Luxray and Wigglytuff kept a close eye on them as they left the boundaries and escaped.

Luxray shivered, and Wigglytuff giggled.

"Failures. After them."

The two moved, shifting shape and form as they rushed forward.

Scout's whiskers twinged, and he paused, glancing back. Sean's tassels quivered, and he looked forward with a smile.

"Watch out!" Scout cried as the something surged after them like a tide of shadows. Chatot squawked in shock and Mane's mouth burned with flames.

"Bang."

A burst of pink light annihilated the shadows and bathed the world around them in light almost as bright as day.

The light burned away, and a floating, pink, pixie was left. She turned back with a grin. "How's THAT for an entrance?"


Reading over this old chaos has been fun. A first attempt at some horror this was, mostly preserved.
 
Chapter 27 - Even in Times Like This

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
The light burned away and a floating, vibrantly pink pixie floated there. She was a stark splash of colour against the varying shades of lifeless grey around them. She turned back with a grin. "How's THAT for an entrance?"

Sean raced over to her in delight. The other three just stared, hackles raised and energy burning with nowhere to go.

"Huh?" Scout managed and Celebi giggled.

"Very astute of you," she said, covering her mouth. She zipped in close to Sean, grabbing his face and tassels. "My gosh,, they did a number on you. Who did this to you, Sean?"

"Dunno," Sean answered, face somewhat smushed with her hands on his face squishing him. She released him and flicked his nose. He rubbed it with a grin, saying, "Good to see you, Saniya."

"Well, it's TERRIBLE to see you," she replied, pouting and turning away. "You come here, all different, with no Striker. You've changed, Sean. You've changed bad."

She found herself facing the other three and squealed. "And Scout too! You brought Scout and not Striker! Come on, Sean. What's a lady to do? Him?" She pointed to Mane who laughed.

"I think I like this one."

Chatot hopped forward. "So you are Celebi, err... or, uh?"

"Saniya too," Celebi answered, giving a shrug. "If you want the down and the low of it. My name is Celebi, but everyone else got names from Sean so I made him give me one too! I like it, very creative teehee." She covered her mouth, eyes dancing with humour of a hidden joke.

"She's very persistent," Sean said, smiling freely for the first time since he'd returned to this time and place.

"How are you here?" Scout asked, pulling things on track. "I thought you were in the forest?"

Saniya raised her hand before examining her fingers curiously. "I was. But I got a call and came rushing, Sean said it was important. Some shadow monsters bent on devouring your souls or something." She yawned dismissively. "Same old, same old."

"This is normal to you?" Chatot squawked.

"Yes. I thought you would have figured that out by now."

Scout was still puzzled. He was still wondering what the hell just happened. They began to move, still eager to leave the town. "Is it safe?" he asked. "Also, how did you get a 'call' exactly?"

"Not safe at all," Celebi answered cheerfully. "They could come back at any moment. I'd like to see them try." She punched a fist into her palm and squinted suspiciously at the bushes.

"To answer the second," Sean said, pulling out something. "I was spending the time you three were dealing with whatever you were dealing with, finding some reflective glass to call our benefactor on."

"Excuse me, what?" Scout asked.

Sean waggled the glass, but Saniya was the one who answered. "My gosh, you really HAVE lost your memory. Ol papa tendrils said you were acting odd and said that Sean said you didn't know up from down, but this is bad." She then gasped and grabbed her face. "Do you remember me old buddy, old pal, old friend old chum ol' buddy ol' pal?"

"Uh…."

The celebi gasped in horror, wailing, "NO!" She leaned back, crying to the heavens. "I have been forgotten! The final death is upon me!"

At Scout's building concern, Sean slid over. "Don't mind her," he said. "Saniya is crazy." He said this in full volume.

Saniya seemed surprisingly okay with it. "Crazy With a Capital Kuh in human language he says!" She laughed. "I didn't hear the capital, Sean. Where was it?"

"Saniya is Crazy," Sean corrected and she nodded in agreement.

"Good." She looked to the other two pokémon with them and blinked. "Who the fragarolie are you two? If Sean transformed into a riolu, did Striker transform into a frumpy chatot!?"

"You say fragarolie?" Sean asked as Chatot puffed up furiously. "Since when?"

"Since you wouldn't stop saying it," she replied, sticking her tongue out. "I just never said it around you in words you could understand. The others got so confused, it was hilarious." She nudged Scout, who was still confused at the inside joke she seemed to want to share with him.

"This is Chatot and Litleo," Sean said, moving past Celebi's behaviour as if it was normal and introducing them. "They were pulled into the past by Dusknoir but are close with Scout. We're working together."

Celebi nodded. "Swell. So, anyway, the boss. The big lug. Tentacles and terrible plans that somehow work, but then DON'T because the planned peeps end up coming BACK." She glared at Sean, losing track of her words. "Without my sweet Strikee-wikey even. Is he okay?"

"He should be."

"Hmm." She narrowed her eyes but then blinked it off. "So, the big boss," she explained to Scout, not turning away from Sean. "Is something you should know, Scout. You talked with him all the time! You talked with him today, you silly yungoos."

"Pardon?"

Sean lifted the glass again. "Once I got into contact, he was able to find you. Do you actually have some glass on you or something?" he added, almost mad but too happy that Saniya was around to really commit to the anger.

"In my bag?"

"For the love of-" Sean grabbed his nose and breathed hard. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't know it was important!" Scout protested. "Why didn't you ask ME? The amnesiac. If I had any glass?"

"Well, it is important," Saniya said, slotting back into the conversation. "Giratina can't do much, but the old lizard thing can still look and talk through mirrors. It's how you found me in the first place! Way back when. Ah... memories." She shook the thoughts away and stored them for later.

"Giratina?" Scout asked, reasonably calm.

"GIRATINA?" Chatot shrieked.

"First of all." Celebi held a finger up, then stuck it in her ear. "Ow, volume travels really far here. Second of all, got a problem with the One with Tentacles and Bad Ideas that Somehow Work But Then DON'T BECAUSE YOU CAME BACK?" she yelled, at a similar volume. Sean was unphased and she giggled.

"The Renegade Pokémon?" Chatot managed. "You have contact with it? Preposterous."

Once more, Sean lifted the glass. The image swam and a great, golden, eye stared through. "Preposterous am I?"

Chatot made a weak sound, looking ready to just lie down. "This day is just too much."

Mane stared blankly.

"Don't scare them," Sean said, turning it away. "I really don't need that here and now." Giratina rolled its giant eye at him and the mirror returned to normal.

"Giratina?" Scout managed as they fell into silence. Treasure Town was left behind them, and he wished to leave everything in it behind him.

"This day," Chatot repeated, again.

Mane nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Anyone want to explain everything that just happened in the past… however long?"

"I really would rather not think about Treasure Town," Scout said, grimacing. Both Mane and Chatot cringed in agreement.

Sean shrugged. "I got up to some interesting stuff involving fire, thirteen pieces of gold, and an inexplicably fat shadow monster. But sure, we can just forget it."

"You seem to be missing that YOU are used to this kind of chaos," Chatot snapped, pointing a wing at Mane and Scout. "We are less prepared for surviving this hellscape."

"Betcha glad you came with me in the end," Sean said with a grin. "But seriously, I'm impressed with how well you're all handling it."

"Scout's not doing well," Saniya pointed out, getting a concerned and annoyed glance from the pokémon at hand.

Sean shrugged. "It's really not his fault," he said. "He really doesn't seem to remember much."

"Does he at least still ACT like the adorable meowth I knew and loved?" Saniya whined and Sean laughed.

"A little, don't worry, he's not all gone. Just a bit different."

Scout turned away. This was bordering uncomfortable territory he really didn't want to be thinking about. Who was Scout? Was he Scout, or did he… replace Scout?

He hadn't dared to consider if he'd 'replaced' the human in the earlier months, but now the thoughts were intruding upon him. Who was he? Was he Scout or had he…?

The idea was horrific, so he pushed it out of his mind with a question.

"Giratina?" he asked. "Again. What? And how? And what?"

"Do you really want another set of rambling?" Mane snarked. "He'll drone on for hours if you let him."

"That's true," Celebi giggled at Sean's expense. "So, I'll explain! I know the most anyway."

"Go ahead." Sean shrugged, smiling much more than he had been up to this point. It was nice to be back around Celebi. With Striker gone and Scout different, he'd been feeling somewhat alone.

He might be letting her silliness affect him a little too much, however.

"So, even I'm not sure where to begin," Saniya sang, fluttering back and forth. "Sometime after time went kablooie. Sometime after time. Heh, that's a fun thing to say!"

Saniya immediately lost track of what she was asked.

While Celebi began to ramble on about pointless things that weren't Giratina, Sean sidled back to take a closer look at the other three. All of them were doing a little better now that they had rested, Scout seemed able to move his right arm now, but exhaustion and tenseness were still apparent and that chain was still around his leg.

It looked sturdy, he pondered if they'd be able to remove it, but it didn't seem to be affecting Scout so he decided to ponder more important things.

He hoped they'd get through this last dungeon without too much trouble. All five of them should.

Sean paused. He wasn't human, at least not in body.

"Hey, Saniya?" he called, interrupting her third tangent about apples. "How are we going to get through Dusk Forest with five of us?"

She gave him a puzzled look. "Same as always. You, hmm." She paused like he had. Eyes widening slightly. "Ah. Yeah, that might be a problem."

"The who now?" Mane asked, taking Celebi's manic attention.

"Do you not understand?" she cried, grabbing his face and smushing it tactically shut. He couldn't blast her with fire this way. "Sean's in the body of a cute little riolu! He might even be useless as a bag carrier now!"

"Hey," Sean snapped, without any heat. "I did more than just carry the bag."

"Gave Striker a fetish for orbs and not ME!" she snapped back. "That's what YOU did."

No one was quite sure how to respond to that. So, it was ignored.

"What is the problem?" Scout asked. "About him being a riolu now?"

"Well." Celebi rolled her eyes. "Beforehand he didn't show up on dungeon's weird little radar thingy so all five of us could enter without any spooky, scary, problems seeping up from the cracks in reality. He just didn't 'count' to that arbitrary number. But now that he's a pokémon he just might! Oh dear, oh my, oh gosh! We're going to have to split up and search for clues, Yampee Doo!"

"What?" Chatot squawked. "What? Stop talking like that."

"Craazzzy," Saniya sang and poked his beak. "Means I get to say what I want."

Chatot began building a tongue-lashing, but Sean shook his head. Chatot gave a world-weary sigh and held it in.

"So, we're going to have to split up?" Mane asked, just to clear the air. "Because that'll end well."

"I call dibs on Scout!" Celebi said, raising her hand.

"Hey!"

"I call double dibs!" Mane shot back.

"Excuse you?"

"Triple dibs," Celebi said, a superior smirk on her face. Mane met her eyes with a glare, and they stared each other down for a moment.

"Okay." Mane smiled. "That sounds fair."

"What?" Scout spluttered.

"She called triple dibs," Mane answered, speaking slowly. "Can't beat that."

"Ah, you're alright," Celebi said, grinning at Mane. She looked over to an amused Sean and added. "Can I keep him?"

"No." Sean shook his head.

"Fine." Celebi pouted. "I've got Scout to play with anyway."

"Now listen here," Chatot began, puffing up again. "What gives you the right to dictate who goes with who?" Celebi opened her mouth. "And if you say it's because you're crazy, so help me."

She closed her mouth.

"It is for the best," Sean said, nodding to a pleased Celebi. "She's a mythical pokémon and very strong. She'll be able to get Scout through with no issues."

"Why can't she just go alone then?" Chatot snapped.

Celebi gasped. "Alone? Me? How could I survive without my Scouty-wouty?"

"Then you are unfit to protect him!"

"Uh… hello?" Scout asked. He felt very passed around at the moment.

"Alone, sure, but we power each other up!" She did some bicep pumps. "I skip leg day, not arm day. Plus, he's my friend. I've known him for a lot longer than you have. And I know how long he's been in the past, so I KNOW I've known him longer than you."

"Wait?" Mane asked, disregarding everything else. "How is that possible? I thought you couldn't keep track of time here?"

"Well sure." Celebi rolled her eyes. "But I'm literally Celebi. Time is my thing. It's nasty old Primey-Whiny-Dialga's thing too. And he's even crazier than I am! So, it's up to me to make sure time still exists a little bit. And keeping track of it's just a thing I do automatically. Although it CAN be tricky to keep track of time exactly since I get random numbers at random times."

"How long?" Scout asked. Sean smiled, he knew what Celebi was about to pull.

She grinned. The bait had been taken. "Well," she began grandly. "It has been sixteen years since I sent the first person into the past."

Scout blinked.

Chatot blinked.

"Huh?" Mane asked.

Sean and Celebi laughed. "The look on your faces!" she giggled, covering her face. "I am serious though," she said between fits of laughter. "Not you guys though, my best buddy Soothe was sent first!"

Chatot stiffened before releasing a weak sound.

Sean's smile became fixed. He forgot that little titbit. Mane flinched away from Chatot and Scout looked between them worriedly.

For the first time, Celebi's radiant cheer paused. "That's an odd reaction," she said, puzzled.

Chatot covered his face with a wing. "Sixteen years ago was when I was saved by an audino named Soothe. Fourteen years ago is when Wigglytuff and I first began to consider settling down and forming the guild after Soothe herself suggested it."

Celebi grew very still. "You knew Soothe?" Her voice dropped to a quiet tone, almost fragile.

Chatot shook his head. "No. NO! This is impossible. If you sent her sixteen years into the past, from here, then that would imply this time is mere seconds after time did collapse. That cannot possibly be true!"

Celebi raised a hand. "Mind if I explain the wonkiness of time travel?"

"Here we go," Sean said, holding his head. "Last time she did this my head nearly exploded."

"Go ahead," Chatot said primly, angrily staring down the celebi.

Scout felt himself getting dizzy again.

"Okay." Celebi shrugged. "The full explanation is, uh… too tricky to put into language. Even I don't really understand it, but I'm a part of it all so I know it, even if my mind doesn't. The previous Celebi might have known it, but he died so whatever."

She shrugged. The casual blasé nature of speaking of someone who was deceased stunned Chatot, Mane, and Scout. Sean didn't even blink.

"So, when someone travels into the past through the Passage of Time," Celebi began to explain, "it opens a link between times for as long as someone is in the past. One second there is one second here and it muddles up trying to time travel further. Because paradox's can't exist or BAD STUFF happens, it wouldn't work if, say, you wanted to travel back to a year before you came here. Because you already exist there, you cannot exist in two places in a single time or BAM!"

She clapped her hands, and everyone jumped. Then she shrugged. "Well, I dunno, actually, if there is any BAM. It just doesn't work, rules of time travel. If you tried to travel to that time, it just wouldn't work and you'd go nowehre. It also complicates stuff since due to the existence of someone from the future in the past, it keeps the times connected. It's why Sean, Striker, and Scout went to the time they did. Because of the link, they had to travel to the same moment in time that Soothe was still in because of the link between times."

"That's impossible," Chatot muttered and Celebi beamed.

"Sure is." She grinned. She did love seeing the headaches form. "For normie pokémon. We deities are a bit more special! Or, at least, before the split we were. Ugh, Giratina won't tell me nothing about that. Just that 'oh this is why you are weak and basically useless' bleh. I want the power! But I can't have it, sadly. Oh well."

"Does that mean that there's only one chance at stopping all this?" Mane asked. "That if time falls apart in the past, no one will be able to travel back again?" Sean nodded quietly to him.

"It is impossible," Chatot snapped, ignoring Mane's question, "because Soothe is no longer…," he trailed off, suddenly fearful. Celebi was pleasant enough, if annoying, but she was admitted to be crazy and had called Soothe her friend.

She seemed unconcerned. "Go ahead." She waved a hand. "Tell me Soothe died. Hahaha. You're wrong."

Chatot girded himself. "I am sorry," he said, taking a heavy breath. "But I saw it happen."

"Did you kill her?" she asked, curiously.

"WHAT? N-no."

Celebi cocked her head. "Did you help do it?"

At that. Chatot paused.

Celebi shrugged. "We all knew you past pokémon would take offence to the Time Gears getting snatched. You're silly, but it's no biggie."

"No. Biggie?" Chatot managed, before the stress of it all finally snapped the camerupt's back. From Scout's arrest to stress in the guild to arguing with Rhythm to being thrown into this nightmare he couldn't wake up from, nearly being executed, running for his life and suffering through a fake mimic of his closest partner he just erupted. "NO BIGGIE? I HAD TO FORCE MYSELF TO ASSIST THE DESTRUCTION OF ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS AND THE POKÉMON WHO SAVED ME LIFE!"

"Oww."

Chatot turned away, eyes pricking with tears. Scout and Mane, stunned, had no idea what to do. Scout stepped forward, thinking to lend some comfort.

"If Soothe was dead," Saniya said with unexpected sharpness. "Then I would have been able to send the guys to whenever I wanted. Well, probably not literally whenever, but I would have been able to choreograph it a bit more than just 'here's the portal. Jump in'. You've got a couple months at best. Good luck."

"How can you be so sure?" Chatot spat. Celebi gave him a stern look.

"I'm literally the 'Time Travel' pokémon. The only other one with nearly the same amount of 'sure' would be Dialga. And while he's a stupid face who get's to BREAK HIS OWN RULES!" she shouted at the sky. "Seriously. Sending Guardian back earlier into a time Soothe had already lived through? How idiotic of a beast is he?" she trailed off, muttering. "The timeline can barely handle this," she muttered angrily.

Now, it was Chatot who hesitated. "Are… you are certain?" He studied the look on her face. "You… really are."

"Yep," Celebi said, back to happy. "Now, IF you had killed Soothe, also what luck is it that someone who knew her ended up here?" she asked, turning to Sean. He shrugged, so she turned back to Chatot. "I would be a bit less perky pixie and more fae monstrosity on you. But you didn't, so there."

Chatot's eyes flooded with tears and he slowly stopped walking. Roosting down, he covered his face. "Oh, thank the legends," he whispered. "I… I think? But he, he had to have? What has she? Gah, where has she been?"

"You are welcome," Celebi, taking herself to be one of the thanked there.

"You tried to kill the chick?" Mane asked. Chatot lowered his wing with a thunderous expression.

"Do. Not. Dare."

Mane took the warning and actually backed off.

Chatot sighed and stood up, he could shake another self-shaking revelation off. "With the issues with Time Gears going missing," he begun, "Wigglytuff and I couldn't help but think of Soothe. Even though we were both certain it was impossible. Now… well, I know it was Grovyle and Sean, but… if Soothe really is still out there?"

"Better apologise quickly," Celebi advised. "Once you get back. Don't worry, she's pretty chill and great with a joke!"

Chatot gave a weak laugh. "Yes. She always was until Treeshroud Forest." He sighed and shook his head. "This explains a lot. It places things into perspective, but…." His eyes hardened. "Perhaps her goal was noble, but her actions remain disgraceful."

Celebi paused, giving him a warning look. "Be careful, little chatot," she said, more serious than she had been up to this point. He met her eyes fearlessly.

"I understand that this place is a nightmare," he replied, "but attacking the Guardian of Treeshroud Forest so brutally was beyond sense."

Celebi paused. "She attacked a Guardian? Why?"

"I do not know, that is the thing!" Chatot answered, eyes moving away from Celebi and to the past. "One moment the three of us were journeying and excited, hoping for some grand discovery. She had been a little distant that day, but it was nothing I had not seen before. We would talk and all would be resolved."

He shivered, eyes reflecting a moment of deep sadness. "Then, upon reaching the end, she went for the Time Gear as if... well something had changed within her. The Guardian, some… thing. I don't even know what it was. Tried to intervene. And upon spotting it, she… she…"

Chatot's throat closed up and he closed his eyes. "She savaged it! Using the iron thorns I gifted her to defend herself, she stabbed it in the chest many times and when it tried to crawl away she chased after it and continued mauling it! What explanation can you give for THAT? She killed it!"

Celebi paused completely. Everyone did.

"Huh." Celebi frowned. That did not compute. "This 'Soothe' what was their species?"

"An audino with lavender fur," Chatot answered and Celebi's frown deepened.

"I don't…what?"

"I tried to intervene," Chatot continued, "and she turned on me. Wigglytuff barely managed to save my life, and took a stab wound of his own. For some reason, she seemed to had gone completely feral. But almost." He cringed, a word dancing on his tongue but he couldn't say it. "Worse," he finished lamely.

It was clear to everyone he hadn't said exactly what he was thinking. "We only meant to knock her out, calm her down, find an explanation, but she continued to fight. Ultimately, W… I… I-I don't want to finish that. I cannot."

Celebi pursed her lips. "We're here," she said, tone of voice determining the conversation to be over. Oddly, similar to exiting the other dungeons, reaching this one seemed to come out of nowhere.

The five of them all stared up at Dusk Forest. It appeared similar to the Foggy Forest with the types of trees and low hanging mist, but only slightly.

"So." Celebi clapped her hands. "Scout with me, you three with you three. Deal? Deal. Cool, let's go. No time to waste~"

"We're just gonna move on after THAT?" Mane asked, disbelieving this could just be smoothed over and ignored.

"Yep," Celebi said, without turning around. "We are."

Mane opened his mouth to object, but Celebi seemed to be giving off a warning aura. He closed his mouth. Mane and Sean glanced to Chatot, who seemed determined not to look at anyone without looking away from anyone.

"Uh… about this plan," Scout began.

"Scout," Saniya said, voice clipped. "Please."

He hesitated a moment longer, but no one was saying anything. "S-sure." He quickly trotted up next to her. Saniya gave him a stunning smile.

"Okay! We'll go in first. You guys wait a minute or three. Count to 180. Then follow in. We should hopefully reach the middle at around the same time, but whoever gets there first, wait for the other party. Okay?"

"Sounds good," Sean answered for his team.

"Perfection. Let's go!"

She grabbed Scout and danced her way into the enclosing trees.

"So," she said, the moment they were out of sight. "What's goss?"

"Goss?" Scout asked, uncomfortable.

"Gossip!" Saniya said, flying around him in circles. "Come on. You and I always shared the juiciest of gossip! I mean, sure, there wasn't much here. But you've got to have met some interesting pokémon in the past!"

"She'd get along with Sunflora," Scout mused before saying. "Well… uh... what kinds of things do you want to hear about?"

"I dunno!" Celebi said, unfairly thrilled about that. "Whatever you think is interesting."

"Tell me about Giratina," Scout asked. "You never did get around to that, when you were talking earlier."

"I didn't?" Celebi gasped and crossed her eyes. "Let's see kaplooie, the time Sean made Striker and Guardian go on a date, the flower I found that died when I touched it… ah yes! So, I didn't! Hihihihihi, sorry."

Scout smiled to placate her. "It's alright. Now, Giratina?" he asked, somewhat desperately.

Celebi buzzed in mid-air. "Okay, but then you have to tell me whatever I want to know. Deal?"

He saw no reason to be afraid. "Sure."

"Swell! Okay, could you get out that piece of glass?"

Scout was still holding onto it, so Celebi didn't have to wait long. "Mirror-mirror in my palm," she began before smacking it. "Giratina! Wake up!"

Scout jumped at the sharp, almost aggressive, tone. She laughed at his reaction. "You are so easy to startle," she sighed fondly and turned the glass around. "Wotcha?"

Scout couldn't help but lean back. The glass no longer reflected his face, poorly as it was, instead a void opened, and the eye of the void stared back.

"This isn't as funny as you claimed it would be," rumbled the voice of a thousand shards of shattered glass. Giratina drew back from the mirror, so its kaiju-sized eye was no longer staring straight through Scout.

"But it was still funny to begin with," Celebi giggled. "Okay, anything you'd like to say?"

Scout looked back and forth. They had stopped focusing on the dungeon. "Uh… we have company."

Celebi immediately tossed the glass to Scout, who barely caught it, before she zipped after the maddened pokémon that dared to approach.

She removed them from their sight.

"Phew," Celebi breathed, Scout couldn't help but edge away. She brushed some dust off her shoulder. "What were we talking about?"

"I… uh… G-Giratina?" Scout asked, flipping between staring at Celebi and staring at the mirror. It felt very heavy to be holding Giratina's view and he was sorely needing to know what and the what and the what of what was going on.

"What?"

"First off. Mirror. How can Giratina see and speak through it?" Scout demanded hotly. He was done dancing around the subject.

Celebi shrugged. "I dunno. Ask it yourself."

Scout glanced down at the mirror he held and felt existential dread. The mirror chuckled.

"I don't think he wishes to speak to me," Giratina said, greatly amused. It could see the mirror shaking from its end.

"Well, fine," Celebi sighed, rolling her eyes. "I guess I'll start from the top."

"I'll just leave you to your conversation," the whispery, rumbly, glassy voice of Giratina echoed before the eldritch weight of the mirror seemed to cease.

Celebi turned the crazy eyes on Scout and a part of him wished for Giratina to come back.

"In the beginning," she began dramatically, "there was… well I dunno. This is the boring part, I'll just skip ahead to time collapsing."

"Thanks."

"I don't know much, to be honest." She shrugged. "All I know is that the previous Celebi did… something which stopped time completely collapsing and died. From him, came me! An upgrade, one could say."

Scout cocked his head slightly and didn't reply.

"At first I didn't know up from down. Well, who does in this time and place? But I found some water that wasn't frozen and Giratina was there!" She outstretched her arms like preparing for a hug, or to say she caught a fish THIS big.

"On the other side of everything being terrible was that. Old tentacles basically raised me, told me what had happened, and even begun guiding me with some 'Plan' to fix this." She gestured rudely at the concept of The Plan. "Around that time I also met Soothe! But this isn't about her, so eh."

Celebi lowered her arms and looked expectantly to Scout. "Is… that it?" he asked, carefully.

"Yep!" Celebi beamed. "So, gossip?"

"Wait, wait, wait," Scout said. "That barely answered anything! How did Giratina know where you were. How did Giratina know how to fix time? Why hasn't it done anything itself?"

"Third one is that Giratina can't," Celebi answered. "Wow you REALLY are forgetful, huh? When Dialga went bonkers a bunch of the more powerful pokémon tried to stop it or return it to normal. During this apotheosis of annihilation, Palkia got frozen in time and Dialga left a reality-wide web to catch and freeze Giratina if they try and leave their own world. Giratina can't leave."

"Oh," Scout said, feeling like he knew this already. Sean mentioned something about Palkia earlier, he remembered.

"Yeah." Celebi frowned but perked up quickly. She zoomed ahead and obliterated an onix before fluttering back to Scout. "Giratina says that its world is the only thing keeping this time somewhat stable, and me of course. Anyway, I need the goss."

"What do you want to know?" Scout asked, leaning away as Celebi got really close.

"What's the past like?" Celebi asked, softly. Scout blinked. She leaned away from him and began leading him, speaking without facing him. "I've only seen it in… glimpses and pieces of broken memory of my predecessor. Giratina has told me about it too, but I just can't quite imagine it."

Scout thought deeply. Celebi's sudden swerve sobered him back to the here and now. He considered the many wild changes between here and the past, but he knew what he had to say.

"You ever see a sunrise?" he asked. Celebi shook her head. "It's stunning. The way the light lifts over the horizon, bathing the world in a cool, gentle, light. It's like the world saying good morning."

Celebi smiled and turned back to him. "That's worth fighting for, right?"

Scout nodded.

"I wish I could see one," Celebi sighed, turning back. "But I can't leave the future. Who knows what would happen to time if I left?"

"How do you know something bad would happen?" Scout asked, curious. He relaxed.

"I don't, not really," Celebi admitted. "Giratina told me. And I do trust Giratina. Plus, it does make sense, I'm the only time-manipulating being left that hasn't gone COMPLETELY insane. I'm crazy, sure, but I'm cute-crazy. Have you seen Primal Dialga? Not cute at all. A pink bow would do it some good, I think."

Scout chuckled, before snorting with genuine laughter. The image was absurdly funny to him. Celebi shot him a grin. "And pigtails, and a frilly scarf."

"Stop or I'm going to choke," Scout gasped.

Celebi giggled. "Okay. She fluttered forward, missing a beldum flying at them. Scout saw it and blasted it with Shadow Ball, Celebi startling in the process.

"Woah… nice one!" she cheered and gave him a fist bump, on his damaged paw. Scout hissed in pain and recoiled, and she paused. "Oh, wow," she said, grabbing his arm.

Scout grabbed her arm with his working one. "Don't," he hissed. She relaxed her grip but didn't let him go.

"I'll be gentle," she said and began to lift his arm. "Hmm…" she felt along his radius and ulna bones and then his shoulder bone, the scapula. "I think you've broken this arm just a little," she surmised, and he pulled back.

"Yeah, I fell pretty far."

"Sean definitely set this." She nodded, grabbing his paw. He hissed again and tried to pull back, but her grip with very firm. "This is definitely infected," she said, pulling his paw up. "You broke your claw?"

"Days ago," he grunted. Celebi placed her other hand around his paw and he gasped sharply in pain.

"What are you doing?"

"Just doing what I can," she said as a soft light began to glow. He fought to keep himself from recoiling further, the tensing of that arm hurt even more than it being grabbed. He ground his teeth again and took several deep breaths.

Celebi, thankfully, released his paw quickly. "Infections are serious, Scout," she said, sternly. "But… I would guess you didn't really have much of a way to deal with it."

"Is it fixed?" he asked, letting his arm hang again. Trying to ignore the stabs of pain.

Celebi shook her head. "I cleaned it," she said. "But I can't just magic the infection away. You're going to need some actual care."

"I don't exactly have time for that," Scout grunted, shouldering himself back into place. "Once we get back to the past, we're going to go straight into the end game. I… I actually picked up something in Treasure Town!"

He was so tired and overwhelmed that it had slipped his mind. He dug into the bag and unveiled a grimy stone, Saniya took it with a grimace.

"A rock, joy."

"Can you clean off the grime?" he asked urgently.

She shrugged and waved her hand with some more sparkly water, dissolving the muck and slime to reveal-

"It looks right," Scout breathed, taking the fragment back as Saniya blinked at him.

"What is it?" she asked.

He looked up, surprised she didn't know. "The Relic Fragment?" he asked, she blinked again. "It's needed to get to the Hidden Land in the past," he explained, remembering what Striker had described and swiftly adding. "Sean and Striker worked it out, I guess you… didn't know?"

"No," she said, still frowning. She poked the pattern on the rock, not understanding. She shrugged though. "Whatevs, if that's what you need then ain't you lucky?"

Lucky. Scout frowned, his heart doing a strange dance in his chest. If this really was… then that luxray….

Celebi frowned in concern. "Scout?" she said, before sighing. "I suppose there isn't much more time left before we erase this timeline anyway."

She managed a smile at his deeply uncomfortable look. "Don't destroy yourself too early trying to do everything yourself," she said gently, laying a comforting hand on his non-damaged shoulder. "Even if we are all going to disappear soon, you need to be strong enough to actually get there. Alright?"

Scout shrugged weakly.

Her grip tightened. "Alright?"

"Alright," Scout said, moving out of her stern gaze. "I'll ask Chimecho to take a look."

"Good." Celebi nodded. "This 'Chimecho' a healer then?"

"The guild one, yes."

"Cool. Sounds evil."

Scout smirked slightly, almost giggling at the reminder of his own joke. "Heh, I agree."

Saniya grinned at him and they continued onwards. Her words came back to him a lot as they walked and chatted, however. Trying to do everything himself. Oddly enough, he could see where she was coming from.

Mane's words from Treasure Town began to ring through his mind and he began to withdraw himself. Saniya would have none of that.

"Hypnosis!" she shouted, sending a vileplume to bed before laying it to rest. "Now you do it!"

"Pardon?" Scout gasped, he didn't want to kill anything.

"Hypnosis, duh," She shook her head at his obliviousness. "Come on. It'll be fun! Saniya and Scout's Hypnosis prowess again!"

"I… what?"

Celebi paused. "You used Night Slash and Shadow Ball," she said, cocking her head. "I assumed you still had Hypnosis too." She then gasped, covering her mouth. "Did you GIVE IT UP?"

"N-no!"

She calmed down and wiped her brow. "Phew. So why aren't you using it?"

"I didn't know I could use it," Scout explained. Saniya paused.

"But you're using Night Slash and Shadow Ball," she repeated.

"Because Grovyle and Dusknoir taught me!" Scout defended. She rolled her eyes..

"Duh. Like I taught you Hypnosis."

"What?"

"What?"

They stared each other down for a moment. "You… seriously. This memory stuff is weird, Scout," she complained. "Fine. I'll reteach you."

She began leading him to a safer area before smirking as a thought hit her. "Let me guess. Striker and Guardian retaught you those moves in the past?"

"Yeah…?"

She laughed. "They taught you those moves in this time as well! Mwaahahaha. This is perfect, to finish the trifecta!" She paused. "You still remember Scratch though, right? If you don't, Sean will be very sad."

"I… yeah."

"Good. Now." She pulled them into an alcove and grabbed his paw with his own. "Hypnosis is ALL about eye contact. You're going to need to meet their eyes and overpower their feeble pond-like will with your own sea of determination. Get it?"

"Not in the least," Scout answered. Saniya smirked at his answer. "Could you at least demonstrate?"

"On you?"

"How long will I be asleep for?"

"I'm a master of my powers," Saniya answered. "I can just make you a little drowsy. Now, look into my eyes…"

Scout met her eyes. Celebi's green eyes bored into him and he began to feel things going light. A distant part of his mind questioned why he trusted Celebi so easily, another part was happy to be with her again. Yet another reminded himself she was an ally in the games, nothing implied she wasn't here.

"And there we go," she said, leaning back. Scout took a slow blink before he jerked back into sense. She giggled, yet again, as he shook it off.

"That was weird," he said.

"Well, yeah," Saniya said, coming back in close. "Doing a weaker Hypnosis can leave someone more suggestible, or at least dazed enough to make an escape. Smacking them tends to break them out though, so unless you can finish it in another hit, retreat. Kay?"

"Sure." Scout nodded. She smiled and came in close.

"Now you do it."

"How?"

"Just stare into my eyes and picture a clash of minds and wills, try to overcome mine. Don't worry, I'll hold back."

This still didn't seem to answer anything, but he decided to try. The emotion of the Night Slash and the sacrifice of Shadow Ball were both odd to his logic, but he grasped them quickly.

The quiet revelation he already knew the moves left him feeling somewhat confused, yet pleased, and disappointed as well, but there wasn't time to dwell on that.

"Do we really have the time for this?" Scout asked, suddenly aware of them just standing around.

"Not at all," Saniya answered. "So, hurry up!"

"Are you sure?" Scout asked, breaking eye contact. "Maybe we should-"

"Scout?" Saniya asked, bringing his head back to hers. "Dominate my will."

Now he was just uncomfortable. Saniya yawned.

"Ah… ah! See, nice work!" She beamed, flitting back.

Scout blinked. "Are you sure that wasn't just-"

"Nope. Definitely Hypnosis. Not very good, not like you used to do, but it's a start. Now, break everyone's wills as we go along!"

Celebi continued to chat about breaking wills, Striker the grovyle, and the intricacies of the Planetary Investigation Team, as they continued on.

She was easily distractible, thankfully, and still blasted most opponents away before long. Scout did try and follow her, rather poor, instructions as they went, however.

Scout found a question he wanted to ask, as they were nearing the safe zone of the dungeon. "So, you taught me Hypnosis?"

"I did," Celebi said.

"And Grovyle and Dusknoir taught me Night Slash and Shadow Ball?"

"Right. Right."

"Why?"

Celebi gave him a strange look. "Because you were the baby of the group!" she said as if it was obvious. "Guardian may have raised you, but you were just adorable and wanted to be like everyone!"

She sighed and smiled, looking off into a distance that wasn't there. "It was so cute. You wanted to learn Shadow Ball because that's what your dad used. Guardian cried the night after you asked him that because you said you wanted to be like him."

Scout smiled slightly. He felt strangely warm to hear that. Sean and Striker hadn't really told him much about how things were, besides them being terrible. To hear that there were some good times, hearing that made him smile.

"After learning Shadow Ball, you wanted to learn Leaf Blade. Heh," Celebi laughed. Less giggly than normal. "You were so damn stubborn in trying. Ultimately, Striker helped you learn Night Slash instead. Have your own slash attack."

Celebi shook her head. "I taught you Hypnosis after that when you asked me. And you kept Scratch. For yourself, and Sean really." She looked up at the dungeon sky. "Yeah, Scratch represented both of you in a way. A basic attack, something even Sean could 'technically' do. You're probably the cutest thing in this time, wanting to learn from us."

Scout smiled. He couldn't help it. Celebi grinned back at him.

"Anything else?" she asked, airily. "You look like you have something else you want to ask."

"How well did you know me?" Scout asked, eagerly. He'd asked Grovyle, he'd asked Sean. Neither of them gave him the answer he wanted. He really hoped he wouldn't have the chance to ask Dusknoir.

"Pretty well," Celebi answered. "But not as well as the others. I wasn't always around, after all, sticking too long with the team could be dangerous since Dialga was always after me. But it wasn't until recently that they were after you guys too. Not until Guardian betrayed us, really."

She frowned, an expression that looked wrong on her face.

"Did I ever…" Scout said, trying to put it into words that weren't insane. Although Celebi was crazy herself, perhaps…?

"Did you… what?"

"Ever sort of… know things were going to happen?"

Celebi cocked her head. "…No," she answered. "Knowing stuff like that was really up to me, Sean as well to the most limited degree. The Dimensional Scream works differently in the past, Giratina said, but… hmm."

She stroked her chin and got really close, their nonexistent noses were nearly touching. Somehow, Scout wasn't overly uncomfortable with this.

"I heard from Giratina who heard from Sean that you thought you were Sean," Celebi said, musing on it.

Scout blinked. "How much did he say?"

"Pretty much everything," Celebi replied before rolling her eyes. "Or at least to be really boring. Either/or."

"How did he have enough time."

"I hear that YOU were napping." Celebi poked her tongue out at him. "Sean gets a lot done when he needs to."

"Oh."

She giggled at his expression and returned to flitting around him. "Yeah. So, I heard that you thought you were him and all that. Which is really curious. You WERE pretty damn obsessed with Sean though, so if you took a bad head blow with all the timey whimy nonsense going on, I can kinda get why you might think you were him. Kinda. You certainly pretended you were him enough times that you could probably pull it off for a short time. But, hmm… could it even be possible for you to somehow share his Dimensional Scream?"

"I don't think so," Scout said, disappointed. He was beginning to accept an uncomfortable possibility. Scout and him, something had changed when he travelled through time. When Scout travelled through time.

Saniya observed him for a moment. "That's not really what you wanted to talk about, was it?"

Scout frowned and composed his face. Saniya snorted at him.

"Please don't think you have to hide stuff from me," she said. Scout met her eyes for a moment before looking away. Saniya sighed. "You don't trust me."

"I don't really know you," Scout said, rubbing his aching arm uncomfortably. The chain around his leg clinked. "I feel like I do at times. Really comfortable, like we're old friends. Then I blink and we're back to having first met. And you're really friendly, and I'm just… not."

Saniya nodded. "I understand," she said, turning away to blast an enemy, "you don't know me anymore, so I won't expect you to tell me what you really want to ask." She turned back to him with a knowing smile. "I can say, however, that you are Scout. Plenty of differences, a bit of Sean mixed in there somehow, but you are him."

Scout smiled, nodding gratefully.

"But whatever IS eating you up," Saniya said, turning back with a smile. "You're going to need to tell someone eventually. You don't want to disappear with regrets, after all."

Scout's stomach dropped, he hated being reminded of that, but he nodded. "Th-thanks," he said. "For not asking."

"I wish you would trust me," she replied softly. "But I understand."

They didn't talk much further as the dungeon began to melt away.

The path widened up greatly as the wall-like trees faded away. They walked into a somewhat cosy clearing, a few rocks floated around and one tree had been in the middle of falling. Otherwise, it appeared to be a safe place.

"We'll wait here," Saniya said, coming to a stop with a grateful sigh. "Past there," she said, pointing forward, "we'll eventually reach the plateau that leads to where the Passage of Time is."

"Was it there before?" Scout asked, before sighing. "Sorry, stupid question?"

Saniya giggled. "Actually that was a clever question," she said, shaking her head. "It's been there since I sent you all to the past. If everyone sent to the past had returned, I would have had to find it again. Since Soothe was sent, it's been there. All these years…."

He looked forward. "And no one else has moved through it?"

Saniya shook her head. "No. Between Dialga and I, no one sapient has even come close to the Passage of Time. And the monsters in the dungeons will never leave them. So, it's been left quite safe. Even if someone did come close." Saniya shrugged. "I still need to open it manually again. It's not just left open all the time, it closes pretty quickly."

"Dialga…?" Scout asked, cringing.

"The big mambo jambo occasionally flies around here, but Dialga is a bit too weak nowadays to do much more than sit in the broken remains of his own mind." She pointed to where, somewhere in the distance, Temporal Tower floated.

"Dialga is weak?" Scout asked, confused. Saniya half shrugged.

"Weak for a literal embodiment of reality is still stronger than pretty much anything else," she explained. "But yeah. After time collapsed it's been a lot weaker. It's why it relies on Guardian to do the work for it. If Dialga actually somehow died, well. Time would probably completely unravel and that might damage the past as well."

That was a lovely thought. "Oh."

They tucked themselves out of sight and waited for a short time. It didn't take long for the sounds of argument to reach them.

"I'm just saying," Mane whined, flicking his tail into Sean's face multiple times.

"Well don't 'just say'," Sean snapped, brushing the tail out of his face. It seemed without Celebi to pep him up, he was finding Mane annoying again.

The third member of that group groaned. "Children, please," he pleaded, exhausted.

"Hey, guys!" Celebi called, zooming out of their hidey hole and nearly blitzkrieging the three. "You're FINALLY here. We've been waiting for weeks!"

"Seriously?" Mane coughed, suddenly horrified.

"She's joking," Sean said, shaking his head. Mane nodded wisely.

"I knew that."

"Just about ten minutes," Celebi said, honestly. "Well. Here at least. Who knows where else?"

"You do?" Chatot asked, tentatively.

"Yeppers!"

Celebi turned around and pointed. "At the top of this plateau is the Passage of Time. It'll take the four of you back to the past."

"The four of us?" Mane asked, stepping forward to check Scout over. "So, you really aren't coming?"

Celebi shook her head. "Can't risk it," she said. She glanced back to where she knew Temporal Tower floated ominously. "It sucks, I know. I really do. I'm amazing and incredible and very beautiful. But it's the way things are. I'll come with you up to the end, though."

"Damn," Mane said, finishing looking Scout over for injuries. "He seems in one piece though."

"I don't break my pals!" Celebi sang, fluttering around Chatot and Sean. "Plus, Scout is pretty tough. He doesn't look it, but he is. Like me!"

Mane smirked. "I gotta agree there." And stepped back from invading Scout's personal space.

"We're almost there," Sean said, panting slightly. He nodded to Chatot who swallowed thickly and nodded back.

"This nightmare is ready to be awoken from," he said as dramatically as he could.

Saniya giggled, and everyone else smiled at Chatot.

"Okay," she said, clapping her hands. "While stopping and having a good old chinwag would be fun, we really should get going as soon as we can."

Everyone nodded and began the walk to leave this stable zone. Five pokémon here wouldn't cause any dungeon distortions quickly, but they had to split up again before continuing.

"But first," Saniya said, flying to a stop. "We need to work out who's going with who."

"What do you mean?" Sean asked, frowning. "The same as before?"

Saniya glanced to Scout with a Look, Scout swallowed. "I wouldn't mind going with Chatot," he said quietly.

Sean frowned some more, glancing at Saniya. She also seemed a little surprised, but quickly nodded. He narrowed his eyes, wondering what they were planning.

If it was another plot to turn his hair pink again; this time he would be ready for it.

"Me?" Chatot squawked.

"Him?" Mane scoffed.

They looked at each other, then to Scout who now wore a mixture of guilt, worry, and something a little harder to pin down. Nervousness?

"Chatot is probably the strongest after Saniya," Scout said, rubbing his right arm. "And, uh… yeah. We're almost there, this last stretch shouldn't be too bad."

Mane looked ready to protest and Sean looked a little hurt. But the litleo took a breath and nodded.

"Yeah that makes sense," he grunted. "Chats is surprisingly strong. And if that means I get to go with Celebi for a bit then sure!"

Sean too nodded to that. "It'd be nice to spend some more time with Saniya before we leave," he said, and she cooed at him.

Chatot was still rather surprised, but the three others nodded to the idea and he stepped forward. "Very well," he said, ruffling his feathers. "I will accompany you, Scout."

Scout smiled. "Thanks, Chatot," he said. Chatot couldn't help but notice that Scout was trembling occasionally.

Chatot and Scout stepped into the dungeon first, melting away from sight. They walked quietly at first.

"It seems somewhat strange to me," Chatot said, a mixture of pride and confusion in his voice. "That you'd choose me. Celebi seems… odd, yes, but Riolu and Litleo? I would have thought you close with them by now?"

Scout smiled bashfully and shrugged. "Well… the thing is. Well," he repeated, not quite sure how to phrase it. "With Sean, it's just… I know. I know he's the real Sean and all that, and I'm Scout and the meowth. Always have been, always will be. But… even though I know that, I still think of myself as Sean. As 'the human'. I know that's weird and stupid, but I can't help it."

Chatot nodded, he could understand where he was coming from. "You spent some time thinking of yourself as Sean. I suppose you still haven't recovered much memory?"

Scout didn't really respond to that. "And, Mane… he and I. Well, we didn't get off to the best beginning. I helped knock him out. Then he started flirting with me, and then he nearly died. And he and Rai have such a history together."

The meowth's eyes lit up, that was it. "That's what it is! Sean and Celebi. Mane and Rai. Everyone has such a history, and even I have history with Sean and Celebi. But I just don't remember it. It feels awkward at times. But with you! All the history is recent, it's stuff I know and remember."

Nodding in understanding, Chatot stepped out of the conversation to blow a vileplume away before returning. "Understandable," he said. "Building new bonds and memories. I would have thought, by now, you would have built enough of a rapport with them at least. It isn't like this with Shinx, is it?"

Thankfully, Scout shook his head. "Nah. Shinx and I get along great. I miss him. I really… really miss him."

Looking downcast, Scout turned away to help ward a pair of leafeon away.

"I have seen you two together," Chatot said, softly. Scout cringed, he really didn't want to talk about this. Chatot took the hint and dropped the subject.

There was silence, Scout continued to cringe. His stomach was flipping, what was he thinking pondering this thought?

"Litleo and I had an argument just recently," Scout admitted. "In Treasure Town. Just earlier. He brought up some… good points actually."

Nodding, Chatot asked. "Like what? If I may ask?"

"Like everything I've been doing," Scout replied, smiling weakly. His lip was quivering, but his eyes were going firm. He closed his eyes and took a heavy breath.

Chatot couldn't help but tense slightly.

"There's something I… I-I really want to say," Scout said, voice wavering and filled with fear. "Something I should have said. Something I really, really, should have said a long time ago. It's, uh… not very good, but… but I sh-should have. Earlier. Ages ago."

Chatot waited patiently. "Whenever you're ready," he said when Scout gave him a fearful look. The meowth swallowed and nodded weakly.

They continued walking.

"I… I really don't know where to begin," Scout barked a laugh and covered his face. "Where could I possibly begin that makes sense?"

"The beginning, perhaps?" Chatot joked.

Scout snorted. "Everyone says that. I don't- I don't even know, not really, where the beginning even is." He rubbed his face and dropped his paws. "Okay. Okay. Okay, uh… okay."

Chatot warded a vulpix off to give Scout some time to breathe.

"Okay," Scout said. Chatot turned back and saw that Scout was quite physically shaking. "P-please don't. Don't… I don't even know. I feel like I'm going to be sick, what is this?" His stomach was turning so much and he was suffering terrible thoughts.

It felt like there was a soft hand on his cheek, laying like a comforting touch yet the feeling was making his skin crawl so terribly he wanted to start tearing his fur out.

'Thank you.'

'You're… welcome?'

'Not yet.'


PainpainpainpainpainPAIN-

Chatot stopped to extend a gentle wing to Scout's shoulder. "Take your time," he said soothingly, and Scout nodded. He was still shaking, however.

The touch soothed him and he breathed. What he imagined Chatot would do was not what he would do, he knew this. He knew this. He fought the irrational terror gripping every part of him and forced it down.

"I am human," Scout choked out, voice filled with a mixture of fear and regret. Chatot's wing was still on his shoulder. They both stopped walking. "B-but not the same as Sean."

Chatot gave a slow blink and retracted his wing, cocking his head. "Are there other kinds? Like pokémon?"

Scout shook his head. "No. No. N-no. I-I mean, like… the world that, that, Sean is from. I'm not... I'm not from that world. The world I'm from, well, it doesn't have pokémon."

Now that. That, Chatot had to blink at. A world without pokémon? Preposterous. This world had next to no humans, however, so he considered it.

Scout was staring at him fearfully, but he was gathering his nerve to continue. His mouth felt like ash. "At. At least not… real pokémon. We have pokémon, but they're made up. Not like… not like myths and l-legends. It's more like… uh… games? Stories? But ones people know are made up. No one believes pokémon actually exist somewhere, or well… most wouldn't."

Chatot blinked again. "Stories?"

Scout managed a weak smile, rubbing his face. He wasn't shaking as much now, but it was still visible. "Yeah, um… how do I explain this. Um… you know like… made up games and stories? Or, actually, do you have plays or theatre in this world?"

"Yes."

Scout nodded, rapidly. "A little like that! You can play these games, or stories, by yourself though. You don't need other people. Well, you can play with other people, but you don't have to. And, uh… anyone with this… this, uh… porygon-like device, thing, can play it. Or, well, I'm just going to confuse us both at this rate."

Scout watched Chatot's expression keenly. The bird was digesting this slowly, thoughtfully. He wasn't saying anything, however, and the nerves caused Scout to continue unprompted.

"O-one of those stories was, uh… this one." Scout flinched. He said it. He finally said it. Out loud. To someone else. Chatot frowned. Well, he was on a roll now. "Called 'Pokémon Mystery Dungeon'. It's, well there are a bunch of them, but this story I knew really well. Or, at least, I thought I did. Things have gone way off track and I don't even know what to think anymore."

Scout began to laugh, a near-hysterical sound. Chatot needed to adjust to hearing everything up to this point. He took a breath and released it. He ruffled his feathers.

"What does that mean?" he asked, and Scout stopped laughing. Still shaking, however.

"It means I'm a terrible person," Scout said and immediately shook his head, almost laughing at himself. "I'm doing it again, deflecting like Mane said. I'm… I knew. I knew. I knew what was going to happen before it happened. I knew Dusknoir was the bad guy the whole time. I knew Grovyle was trying to save the world. I knew this dark future would happen!"

Scout then shook his head and exploded. "BUT IT'S ALL GOING WRONG!" he cried and covered his face, falling back and trying to look small so Chatot wouldn't hurt him. "Everything I thought has been warped. There was no meowth character. Dusknoir and Grovyle were never teammates. The human was supposed to end up on that beach, not me at the bluff. SKUNTANK WASN'T MEANT TO BE IN BEACH CAVE!"

Chatot started back as Scout got up and threw a Shadow Ball at the wall. It popped harmlessly. He was bleeding. "I don't know what's going on. I thought I did. I thought I had to keep the story how it was, but stuff was different before I even woke up at Sharpedo Bluff! What is happening and why is it happening?"

"Scout, calm down," Chatot snapped, putting his authoritative voice on. Thankfully, Scout listened, desperate for any guidance. "Blaming yourself for… 'this' is malarkey."

Scout gave a weak laugh. "I knew Dusknoir was going to drag us into the future," he admitted, Chatot paused. "And I was doing nothing to stop that. But not you. Not Mane. Mane wasn't even a character in the story! It was supposed to be me and Rai. But I'm not even the human, Sean is! But I'm Sean. I don't know anything anymore, but I did. I thought I did."

He buried his face in his paws again. "I've been lying to everyone. Thinking I had to keep the 'story' that might not even exist on track. What if I'm just crazy? But I DID know so many things, but I DIDN'T know so much more and this is all my fault."

He got up and started pacing back and forth. "Time is literally collapsing. If I've screwed things up this hard already, what if we fail? Celebi's already said we only have ONE CHANCE at this. There's no safety net, and I've dragged us all down to this point with my fucking stupidity! Do you know how many problems I could have prevented if I just TOLD SOMEONE already?"

Scout buried his face again and screamed. "I've lied to Rai all this time. You, and Mane, and Grovyle, and everyone. I don't even know why? To keep some story on track? It was never on track to begin with!"

Chatot hopped over. He didn't see a freaking out meowth revealing the web of lies that had been strangling him slowly. He just saw his small, young, scared apprentice finally admitting he was way in over his head. He rested his wing on Scout's back and let him begin to shake and cry.

He didn't speak. Scout didn't need to be told not to feel emotions.

Chatot waited until Scout was finished, and once he uncurled to stand and rub his face, he spoke. "To be frank, that is difficult to believe," he said, and Scout snorted. "But… I don't disbelieve you. I don't think you could bare such an emotional breakdown so falsely. You, at least, believe what you're saying."

Scout nodded and shakily said. "I-I can prove it. Maybe. At the end of this dungeon, Dusknoir, the sableye, and Primal Dialga are going to ambush us. Celebi has to teleport us closer to the Passage of Time and we jump into the portal."

Chatot reared back at the mention of an ambush and Scout cracked a weak grin. "That's if I'm not crazy and things haven't changed again. I don't know. That's what was supposed to happen, with a different party. If they aren't there, we can just go. But if they are, one of us needs to tell Celebi to do it."

Chatot gave a slow nod and Scout pulled himself up and away. "Uh… sorry for unloading that on you. I've been holding it in since day one." He shook his head in disgust. "I really don't remember this place, being 'Scout'. So, I don't know even what I am. I'm afraid I've somehow taken over this body or something and k-killed the previous personality. I just don't know."

"You're not a killer," Chatot said, firmly and decisively. Scout smiled gratefully at him.

"Celebi said I was Scout too. Thanks for not… hating me or something else that I definitely deserve. I'm going to do everything I can to fix these mistakes. But… Chatot?"

"Yes?"

Scout took a breath and sighed, he hated to ask this. "Please don't tell anyone this. I WILL tell them all," he explained at Chatot's troubled expression. "But I want to do it. Explain it. All myself." He rubbed his eyes. "God, I'm an idiot. But please, I have to explain this myself."

Chatot nodded. "Very well. Once you have the chance… you do need to tell others you trust. I can see this has been weighing you down greatly, for quite some time, right?"

Scout smiled weakly and nodded. "Right. Okay. Thanks again, and uh…?"

Chatot stretched a wing, gesturing forward. "Let's go."

Scout nodded and they began fighting their way through the dungeon.

Feeling Celebi's disappearance, Scout had a bit of a tougher time fighting through the Deep Dusk Forest. With Chatot's expert skills, however, nothing managed to reach him.

Razor-sharp leaves were met with sharper air. Sand from hippowdon was blown back. They just turned around and left a steelix and an aggron alone to their fight.

"How old are you, Chatot?" Scout asked when they were nearly through. Smaller topics, completely ignoring Scout's little reveal, had been discussed to keep their heartbeats from talking to them.

"Hm? What a question to ask," Chatot scoffed. "I am twenty six cycles old."

"Oh."

The cuff around Scout's leg caught on something and he stumbled with a shout of alarm.

Chatot helped him up, holding back some hearty laughter at the expression of mortification on Scout's face.

"You'd think being a cat would let me land on my feet," he groaned, rubbing his chin. He had gone flat on the ground.

He shook the leg chained and gave it a glare. "Wish I had a damn key for that," he grumbled.

"How DID you break free?" Chatot asked. "It only occurred to me now, did anyone ask you that?"

"I… think?" Scout said, frowning. "Well, either way, I used Night Slash through the links of the chain and extended it until it broke." He lifted his left paw to look it over. "Almost broke a claw, again, but got free. The cuff itself was way too strong to break, though. Maybe I should have asked Celebi if she could do anything about it..."

Chatot nodded. "I'm impressed," he said, and Scout felt warm. "Critical thinking with the tools you had available."

Blushing, Scout brushed it off. "All thanks to the guild," he said.

Chatot smirked and flapped his wings proudly. "But of course! Only the best come from Wigglytuff's Guild."

Scout laughed and nodded. They smiled at each other as the dungeon began to change again. Scout's smile faded.

"Chatot," he said, quietly. "I really want to say thanks for listening to me and putting up with me all this time. And sorry, again, for dragging you into this."

Chatot shook his head. "Blaming yourself for mistakes only throws you into a never-ending cycle, Scout. Don't let the past rule you, or you'll continue to make those mistakes over and over and over again."

Scout nodded, smiling in thanks. He had been doing exactly that. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, as the dungeon began to change. Both of them tensed slightly but kept going. "Before we join the others, just remember. In Brine Cave, Kabutops attacks from above."

Chatot flinched. "What do you… how do you...?" he began, before nodding. That centred Scout's story in his head. Scout nodded back and they sped up.

"Hey, guys!" Scout called, running forward. Saniya, Mane, and Sean stood around looking anxious, but brightened when they spotted the two.

"Still in one piece, eh?" Mane called, running up with a beaming grin. His tail wagged a bit before he got it under control.

The plateau was flat, as expected.

The land was almost unremarkable. Flat, grey, stone. Flatter, greyer, stone. Raised areas, equally flat, equally grey.

There were no floating rocks, curiously enough. Surrounded by dark and grey, just spires of stones surrounding them like a bowl.

Glimmering as a gem of colour amid endless grey, of life in the lifeless future, the Passage of Time shone with the soft glow of hope.

In contrast to the bleak greyness of its surroundings, the Passage of Time was a brilliant, luminous, blue. Glowing with the same light as the Time Gears, flashes of colour, images, voices, and smells were experienced as they drew closer.

"We should be careful," Chatot advised, glancing around. "We don't know what might be here. If we are alone or not."

"You weren't waiting too long?" Scout asked, also glancing around worriedly.

Celebi opened her mouth and declared, "For. Ev. AH!"

The last of that was not her emphasising the word, but Celebi's reaction to the appearance of Dusknoir.

Chatot hissed a breath and Scout's claws came out.

Mane's mohawk burst into flames, and Sean's tassels rose.

Saniya simply stared at Guardian with a mixture of sadness and anger.

"Stop there," Dusknoir said, grandly, holding his palm up like an officer. "That will do."

"Dusknoir!" Chatot and Mane yelled.

"Greetings," Dusknoir said, nodding. "It has been some time. Scout, Sean, Saniya, Chatot, and Litleo."

"Guardian!" Sean and Saniya yelled.

"Your scurrying carried you far," Dusknoir said, travelling forward. "But sad to say, that's all over now. This is the end."

"Wheh-heh-heh." Came a sinister chuckling, claws snapping and eyes gleaming, the sableye appeared from the shadows to surround them. They had tracked them skilfully, and they were hungry.

Lead Sableye with the chewed claws nodded to Second Sableye, she nodded back.

"The sableye too," Sean grunted, gritting his teeth. "Shit."

"Language, Sean," Dusknoir said, shaking his head.

"Fuck you," Mane growled. Dusknoir raised his head.

"That… is expected from someone as crass as you." Dusknoir shook his head. "I was impressed at your will to survive in Amp Plains, but perhaps I should have left you to the electrike."

The sableye edged closer, the five of them stepped back until their backs were hitting each other.

"So," Mane begun, refusing to show his reaction to Dusknoir saying that.

"Who's ready?" Sean continued, glaring holes through Dusknoir.

"To bash some," Celebi giggled, she was always having fun.

"Face in?" Chatot finished. The other four looked to him in surprise. "What? None of you heard me in my younger years. I could shit-talk with the best of them."

"You'll need to save the stories," Scout said, claws melting into darkness.

"Yeah, bore us all later," Mane laughed. "Or not, who knows? Could be interesting."

"Gotta survive this first," Sean growled.

"Or tell them anyway, just for me," Celebi laughed.

"Spare yourselves the effort," Dusknoir said, eyes narrowing as the sableye looked nervous. "You have no chance of succeeding."

"You're so dramatic, Guardian," Celebi giggled, she changed her voice to a growl. "You have no chance of succeeding. Ah, classic Guardian."

Dusknoir's fingers twitched. "You have no right to call me that," he growled.

Celebi stuck her tongue out at him. "Is that so? Well, Sean had a funny story to tell on the way here. About one of your goons stumbling in the act, how he had to force you to stay. Not so tough are you?"

Dusknoir froze, staring at them in an expression tantamount to horror. His eye flicked from Saniya to Sean to Scout and then back to Sean. His fingers twitched.

He took a breath. "It doesn't matter. Anything you or your Planetary Investigation Team tries doesn't matter."

"We won't know," Sean said.

"Until we try," Mane finished.

"Get ready," Chatot squawked, wings going metallic.

"We'll fight," Scout concluded.

They all lashed out at once and sent the sableye flying. Once they were clear, all five of them turned to Dusknoir.

"Are you such fools to think I'd come here alone," Dusknoir scoffed as the world blinked.

"Oh, by the legends. I'm BLIND!" Mane screamed.

"The sun went out," Celebi said, alarmed. "That… that's foreboding."

"Really?" Scout growled. "Everything going… dark," he said, trailing off as things began to lighten again. "I would have preferred if everything stayed dark," he whimpered, as red eyes lit the world in a ruby glow.

All five of them froze. Beyond the Passage of Time, above the perfectly flat rocks, stood a monster.

Scout slowly shook his head. There were few words he could even begin to gather to believe how different it was to see a monster through pixels and a monster in the flesh.

Dialga's formerly soft blue scales were now a dark navy blue, its streamers were a magma-like red, the diamond on its chest was as red as a rotting heart.

These were all true to Dialga's appearance, but nothing to the gravity its presence brought with it. Nothing to the timeless, eldritch, madness in its eyes. Nothing, to the monster that Primal Dialga was.

To stand within its presence invited madness, esoteric whispers that screamed to leap into the void. Every thought to walk off a cliff or intrusive idea to take a weapon and dig it into someone's skull.

The pressure that descended upon the world was akin to the sky falling upon them. Lightning crackled around Primal Dialga, it was not merely in front of them but above them, behind them, below them.

It was time gone mad and it was looking straight them.

It roared, Mane and Chatot's legs give out, Scout and Sean buckled. The sableye collapsed and Dusknoir braced himself on the earth with a hand. Only Saniya seemed mostly unaffected by the pressure, but even she was silent, staring only up at Primal Dialga.

Primal Dialga roared again. The sound was inconceivable, and Celebi threw her arms out like a guard. A green shield appeared around the five of them, but she nearly wilted from the effort of maintaining it.

"What… do… we… d-do?" Celebi gasped.

"Hoo-Hoo-Ha!" Dusknoir laughed, holding his belly as he rose up. Primal Dialga's aura seemed to lesson as the instinctual dread that gripped them all began to pass for purely rational mortal terror. "Look at you now, formerly so brave, now you tremble as you realise what foe you have gone up against! This could have been your ally Sean! Saniya!"

Sean's lip curled as he steadied himself. "A pathetic slave to a mindless beast," he said softly, but in the stillness of the ruined world it was the most audible shout in the world. "That is what you are, Guardian."

Dusknoir twitched again. His eye flickered and he looked past them, to where Scout was helping Chatot and Mane up.

"Scout," he called, head twitching. "You've played your role well. You've got us all here, you may drop the act now."

Scout nearly flinched, his breath hitched. Mane met his eyes before rolling them.

Chatot scoffed and steadied him.

Sean raised an eyebrow. Saniya tittered.

Primal Dialga loomed over them, the greatest anchor in the world. Scout stepped forward, meeting Chatot's eyes and moved his lips, hoping Chatot could remember.

Dusknoir's eye lightened as Scout came forward, he stepped forward as Celebi lowered the barrier. Dusknoir's eye went dim again.

"If I was ever on your side," Scout began words as soft as the blanket tied around Guardian's arm. Scout's blanket, that he held onto all this time. "If I ever did care for you, then I see now that once seeing you as my father was a mistake."

Guardian flinched. Hard.

"Celebi?" Chatot hissed. "Can you teleport us past them?"

"What?"

"Teleport us. Past Dusknoir."

"Dialga controls time. It'll break anything I do."

"Can you do it? Even for a moment?"

"Yes. I can."

The sableye all exchanged glances, holding onto each other as they stood. Dusknoir wasn't moving forward, he was only shaking. Dialga growled something unearthly, and even that barely roused Dusknoir.

He raised his head and Scout's eyes widened. Tears streamed down Dusknoir's face, bluish liquid seeping from his one eye.

"I only do this," Dusknoir began, voice shaking along with his body. "To protect you."

He raised his hand, and a Shadow Ball formed.

"We shall be rid of this danger!" Dusknoir roared as shadow tendrils burst around them. "I will not allow us to disappear, Scout. This ends now. Sableye, attack!"

The sableye leaped. For the future. For Master Dusknoir. For their own lives.

"Time to travel," Saniya sung and the five of them disappeared.

"Master Dialga!" Dusknoir cried, turning back up. "Quickly!"

Even outside of the current time stream, flying in an endless ocean of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, even sensations. Even when experiencing all and nothing. Even then, Dialga's scream reached them.

The spokes on Primal Dialga's back widened and the gem glowed a sickly red.

It roared again, and time shattered.

From the hole in space and time, five pokémon tumbled.

"G-gah," Mane groaned, coughing for breath after that.

"Get up!" Saniya snapped, pulling them all up with a pulse of Psychic power. She activated the Passage of Time and it lit up in a stunning stream of power. Even Primal Dialga cringed away from it.

"THERE THEY ARE!" Dusknoir roared and he and the sableye surged forward. "YOU WON'T GET AWAY!"

"Tee-hee, Guardian," Celebi giggled and flew forward to meet them. "Get to the past!" she called back. "Change history!"

She blasted the seven with Magical Leaf and staggered the sableye. Dusknoir, however, was not nearly as moved.

He blasted at Celebi with the formed Shadow Ball and she zipped away as her charges leapt into the Passage of Time, preparing to close it to even Dialga as they began to disappear.

"NO!" Dusknoir bellowed and desperately shot a shadow tendril at Scout. "SCOOOUUT!"

The Ghost-type move passed harmlessly through his body.

Then hooked onto the shackle around his leg.

Dusknoir yanked.

And Scout was pulled back.

"AHH!" he screamed and slammed his paw into the ground, claws coming out to try and pull himself back as his bag fell into the portal. Saniya cursed something terrible and went to break Dusknoir's tendril. Dialga leapt down, roaring again. She gave Scout an alarmed look filled with regret. She had no choice. She closed the portal.

Saniya tried to reach him but was forced to disengage and disappeared as Scout was pulled back completely, Dusknoir's heavy hand closing around him.

He looked up as Dialga landed and he was forced behind Dusknoir, one hand clamped hard enough to nearly crush his bones while the other held up, shaking, pleading for Dialga to show mercy.

Scout tried to move, as the sableye joined Dusknoir in pleading for forgiveness. "Be silent," Dusknoir hissed, forcing Scout back further. "Don't let the master see you or even I can't protect you."

Scout froze up as Dialga began to rumble an eldritch gurgle. Hearing it felt painful, and Scout hung his head. Protect him? PROTECT HIM?

The metal around his leg hung innocently and Scout was forced to hold in sobs of disbelief, as his friends escaped the dark future.

They escaped.

But he remained.


Oh. Oh, dear. Oh no. Dusknoir… Guardian… what have you done?

Scout tells someone the truth! And is trapped in the Dark Future. Which is the bigger twist for you in this chapter? These cats. Rai misses the jump in, Scout fails the jump out.

Saniya is very fun to write.
 
Chapter 28 - Exactly a Day

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Night had fallen. Most of the guild was still and sleeping, with only the lost ones away.

Like most other days, the day had amounted to nothing for Bidoof. He did his best, asking around for any information on the smelly members of Team Skull.

Sunflora had found some information, and so had Dugtrio. Bidoof only found tired and scared pokémon.

He had a hearty dinner of what little was remaining in the guild, with Treasure Town being repaired and with Chatot not around to be frugal, the guild was not taking its steep share from successful missions at the moment.

Yet, with no Chatot and no plan the guild was left feeling not as safe. It was quietly decided that the apprentices would keep an eye and ear out for anything.

Bidoof, however, could not sleep.

It was odd. This night, as with the last week, Croagunk had not crept in to stare at him during the night. Despite the absurdity of it, without Croagunk's creepy presence, Bidoof found himself restless.

Croagunk was out by his Swap Cauldron, as well as keeping watch in a way. That should make him feel safer, not less safe.

Bidoof tossed and turned. Corphish's thunderous snores and Loudred's nocturnal clacking of his pincers were all he could really hear. Neither felt as comforting as they normally did.

Bidoof blinked. Something about that thought was wrong, but he was too distracted to make sense of it.

Sighing, he rolled out of bed and glanced at where he hid his diary. He felt a little too exposed to write anything, nor did he have anything worth writing about.

He decided to go for a walk and ease his stressed nerves. He gathered his bag and went to the mess hall, absentmindedly putting some foodstuffs in it.

Croagunk was there as he walked by, eyes cracking open and following him as he went. "U'm just going for a little stroll, yes siree," he explained. Croagunk didn't respond.

With no Chatot guarding the top, he could leave without needing to try and sneak out a window and scale the cliffs.

It would be the first time he squeezed through one of the large holes in the gate. Bidoof was never too sure what that thing was for; it stopped larger pokémon only if they couldn't figure out the gate could be lifted. Smaller pokémon could often fit through it.

For the image, he supposed.

Bidoof wasn't sure why he was walking until he was already along the path outside of Treasure Town. He had paused at a path leading into the residential area, the last area in fact. Next to no one lived down there anymore and most of the homes were overgrown and lost.

Without any further hesitation, Bidoof began to walk. He knew just where he was going now, and the idea that he'd waited this long to return now seemed silly to him.

"Gosh, what have I been up to?" he asked himself as he walked, a quiet night not providing any answers.

He began to think of knock-knock jokes as he went.

Bidoof. And he walked. And he walked some more. Past the houses that were inhabited and into the closest place too dangerous in the area of Treasure Town. No one could be certain what you'd find in the forgotten houses.

There really wasn't much risk, he knew. Its reputation left this place quiet and perfect for collecting one's thoughts.

It's how he found his friend here in the first place.

With eyes set on a single, tiny, dwelling, he sped up. Unlike most of the others, it was in relatively good shape. No large holes and the door was heavy and very sturdy. Made the perfect sound for a knock-knock joke.

Bidoof raised a paw and gently tapped it against the door before he lost his nerve. He waited, fidgeting nervously, before frowning.

It was a rather rude time to be knocking, what if she was sleeping and he was disturbing her? The thought of bothering his friend left him considering if this was worth it.

He wanted to hear her, though.

"Knock-knock?" he called, impulsively turning back to the door. He tapped it again, louder. "Knock-knock?"

He waited again. Nothing.

Bidoof sighed and began walking off.

"Who's there?"

He froze and glanced back at the door before running right back to it.

"T-Tim," he said, voice shaking.

"Tim who?"

"Timber."

There was a moment of silence before a soft, almost reluctant, laughter came through. "You know that's not a good knock-knock joke, right?"

Bidoof grinned in relief. "You still laughed!" He beamed, even though he was beaming at a solid door.

There was a scoff of laughter and he imagined she was shaking her head at him. "What brings you here, Timber?"

Timber the bidoof bowed his head apologetically. "I… I'm sorry I haven't visited in a while, Bell. Everything that's been going on at the guild, even before that with all the work… but still. That's no excuse. I'm sorry." He shouldered the bag he had and dropped it with an audible thunk. "I…I hope you haven't been hungry by golly. I brought food anyway, yup-yup."

"I can get food myself," Bell replied, almost reprimanding but not quite. "But thank you."

"Sure." Timber nodded.

"So, again?" Bell began as Timber tried to find words. "What's up? This is a bit later than usual, Timber?"

Timber hesitated, still not sure what to say. He didn't want to leave her thinking he'd just come to talk about his own problems, but wasn't that the truth? "I… was missing you a bit. By golly, this is embarrassing. But I've also been getting worked to the bone with all these terrible things happening with time! I just wanted someone to talk to."

He took a breath once he was finished. Bell was silent, but he was calm. She often held silent as she thought of what she herself would say. Timber liked to imagine her frowning slightly as she thought deeply, nothing like the nervous fidgeting that he himself did.

"Knock-knock?" Bell asked and Timber's eyes lit up.

"Who's there?" he replied.

"Etch."

"Etch who?"

"Bless you," Bell finished and giggled. It took Timber a moment, but he laughed too.

"You're much better at these than me," Timber said, smiling. He heard Bell giggle a little more before she composed herself.

"I have time to practise," she said, and Timber felt guilty all over again. She seemed to sense the silence be less of a thinking time and more of a guilty time and added. "I'm here for you. Whatever you want to say, I'll listen. Can't promise my advice will be good, but it'll be genuine."

Timber smiled and nodded. "Right. Thanks, Bell, you're the plum greatest friend I ever could have. I reckon I've been a bad friend in kind though."

"I'm just thankful you're still here," Bell replied. "I know you're busy. I really don't blame you. Thank you for coming back, though. It means a lot to me."

Timber sniffled and wanted to keep apologising, but they'd just be running in circles then. "Th-thanks."

"You're welcome."

"I've just been feeling plum done useless lately," he explained, knowing she was listening. "With the Great Dusknoir turning out to be a bad guy, Grovyle a good guy, and losing Meowth, Chatot, and even Litleo. It's left us all running in circles. Everyone is trying to figure out what to do, and they are, but I'm not able to do anything to help. I'm not strong, and I don't have a special role at the guild either. I guess I can only wait and try my best, but I don't even know how to try anymore!"

"It sounds like," Bell began when he took a breath to compose himself, "that you are feeling inferior to the others. That you have nothing to offer to help resolve this situation. Is that correct?"

"Y-yeah," Timber said, nodding. "I'm not clever or strong or have any special skills to help. I'm just me. And I'm worried that, with so many of our friends gone, they're going to need me and I'm going to let them all down."

"Timber," Bell said firmly. "You shouldn't focus on what others can do better. Look at what you can do and what you have done. You are the most hardworking member of that silly guild, I know that. You don't give up. That's what's important. That's what we need right now. Someone who won't give up."

"B-but I don't know if I can do it," Timber said, bashfully. "You're too kind to me by golly."

"You're not kind enough to yourself," Bell insisted. "And you do have something bigger to offer if you still won't believe in yourself. That map, remember? The one to Star Cave."

Timber's eyes lit up before darkening again. "O-oh right. I don't know…."

"Timber," Bell soothed, voice smooth and calming. "Think about it. Just think about it."

"W-well sure, by golly." Timber fidgeted, remembering where he stored the map. "But I can't just go up to the Guildmaster and claim I know where Jirachi is. What if Jirachi isn't even there? I don't know, it'd be gosh darn embarrassing and we don't have much time anyway."

"You still haven't gone?" Bell asked with a sigh. "Come on, Timber. Why haven't you gone yet?"

He winced, resenting that this was brought up. He'd found the map not long after he first arrived in town, so she was the first and only he told. Once he told her, she told him he should check it out, but he was never able to muster the courage to go out alone. He wanted to ask her if he was honest with himself. He knew, however, that she didn't leave her house. He didn't even know what she looked like.

"I… there's just been… golly. I'm sorry Bell, I just can't. What if it's not real or Jirachi isn't there? I dunno if I could take the disappointment. It's my treasure and if it's wrong, I dunno. It would hurt too much, yup-yup."

Bell exhaled softly and Timber felt bad all over again. "I really thought," she began before cutting herself off. "No, I understand. You can't wonder forever though. Not knowing will eat you up eventually."

Timber's ears twitched as he lay on the ground.

"Knock-knock?" he asked, hoping to pull things to a lighter topic.

Bell was quiet again, he hoped he hadn't offended her. "Who's there?" she asked, making him smile.

"Me."

"Me who?"

"Medoof," he finished and Bell chuckled.

"Still terrible," she said, fondly, and Timber grinned.

"Your turn," he said, eagerly.

"Knock-knock?" Bell asked, not taking long to think.

"Who's there?"

"Woo."

"Woo who?"

"Sounds fun," Bell giggled. "Can I join in?"

Timber laughed. "Sure."

"Woo hoo!" Bell cheered, quietly and softly.

They laughed together, softly into the quiet night.

"You're a lot stronger than you think you are," Bell said, once they were finished laughing. "Try to not look at the big picture, but instead look at things at a smaller scale. Don't try and work out how you are going to save time, but instead focus on what your first steps are going to be tomorrow. Looking at things too widely is scary and anyone would feel useless in the scope of it stuff this big. Look at what you can do first. Alright?"

Timber nodded. "A-alright. You're still good at the advice-giving by golly! I reckon you could set up a shop based on that, you hear me? Bell's Advice. O-or whatever you are might be better. Putting you're n-name could b-be a bit, you know, uh… I… you know?"

He would have kept going but Bell giggled, and he shut his mouth. "That's kind of you to say, but I don't think I could deal with the attention. Everyone looking at me, talking to me, all day, every day. No, that's too much. Thank you for thinking of me like that, however. You are a good pokémon, Timber."

"You're a good pokémon too, Bell," Timber replied, blushing slightly. He wondered if she was blushing too and if he would even be able to tell. He yawned loudly, unable to keep himself, and felt Bell's amusement through the door.

"It's quite late," she pointed out and he nodded.

"Sorry for coming by at this hour," he said, and she laughed again.

"Normally you'd say that at the start," she teased, and he blushed again. "Our talks are fun. Come by at any time, Timber."

"Aww shucks," Timber replied and looked backwards, along the path. "I should get going. Thanks for talking to me. I promise I'll visit again soon." He pulled the food out of his dropped bag and placed it against the door, nudging it so she knew he was placing something down.

"Thank you, Timber," she whispered. "Good night."

"G'night, Bell," Timber replied and nosed around the strap, so the bag was back on. He glanced once more at the door, but she had no additional goodbyes to give. He trotted off, feeling a little lighter.

He thought he heard a door creak open, but when he glanced back it was closed. The food was gone.

Bidoof smiled. It was back to being Bidoof again, only Bell knew his name, while he only knew her name in kind. He'd never asked what she was, somehow the anonymous nature of their friendship was more exciting. He did have a strong theory in mind, however.

She'd dropped the occasional hint she was a mimikyu.

He stretched and nodded to himself. Tomorrow would be another day, and he'd be ready for it now.

He would be ready.


Sand, sand, sand. Waves crashed against the shore. The krabby mumbled haiku's to each other. A pair of weedle hummed as they scuttled along. The sun was hanging low against the sky, it was already close to setting. A soft breeze blew through the leaves, singing a simple song of life.

"Pleh," Mane coughed, spitting out sand. He felt something poking him and his tail flicked at it, sending the krabby scuttling away, spitting in panic.

A trail in the sand was baked by the sun, and a pair of pokémon seem to have entered the Beach Cave. Based on the panicked strides cut across the beachy canvas, they left by running.

"Bother," Chatot huffed, the sun poking at his eyelids like little javelins. He wanted to roll over and bury his head in the sand.

Several tracks in the sand were more recent, leading into the shoreline and then trailing out of it. The waves had already consumed the feeble tracks already left. They led in many ways, but all led back to one spot.

Sean sat, staring down with balked eyes. He had woken up more than ten minutes ago. The others were still out. Time travel, it seemed, got easier the more one did it.

He had found Mane, half buried in sand and snoring loudly, puffing up sand as he exhaled.

He had found Chatot, on his back with legs poking up, occasionally twitching.

He had not found Scout, curled up in a ball. Or half buried in the sand. Or on his back with legs twitching. There was no sign of him, and nothing had happened on the return trip. He remembered clutching at the feathering wing of Chatot, the fluffy fur of Mane. There had been no claws digging into his arm. Not like the first time.

"Hold onto me!" Sean recalled Striker yelling that at him. He didn't see it as odd at the time, to be understanding his pokémon partner. There was too much chaos happening to notice. "Come on, just hold on!"

Something had happened the first time. Something breached the portal. Dialga, it had to have been. Sean didn't really remember, Striker hadn't seen it. Scout had, however. Yet he too had lost his memory.

There was no roaring. Just a voice, smooth and deep and malevolent, telling him to fail for interfering.

"SEAN!" Scout had screamed, spotting whatever was attacking them before he did. Something sent an attack at them, somehow, through the crossing of time.

Thundering down the Passage of Time, Sean had turned to see a roiling mass of physical hatred. Physical pain. Physical cruelty. Whatever it was, it was sent for the strongest of their group.

There was no question about his action. If Striker was killed, it was over. They were all sacrificial in the end, but Sean always knew he would give his life for them if he had to. He was just sixteen and willing to die to save a world that wasn't even his own.

For Striker, strong and noble, yet so innocently optimistic. It didn't matter that he couldn't know Striker's words, he knew what he meant.

For Scout, loving and lively, and the promise of why they were doing this. It was for those like Scout, that the world had to be saved.

For Saniya, crazy and erratic, and the most honest of them all. She fostered hope in them, and gave them the promise that things could be fixed.

For Guardian, stalwart and dependable. Yes, even Guardian. Betrayal did not break every bond, not for why it was done. Guardian protected them with his body, but Sean would cover him with his own if he ever needed it.

The shot was aimed at Striker, and Sean moved to intercept it all that time ago. But Scout, stupid, naïve, determined Scout also intervened and shoved them both out of the way before it was too late. Sean had screamed as whatever was sent for Striker ripped through his body, but the pain was brief when Scout pushed him out of the way.

His head still rang when thinking of how hard their heads clunked together.

The remaining energy blasted Scout away and he was torn from them as time and space warped Sean into a pokémon and left Scout alone.

Part of Sean wondered why Scout didn't become a human, as he had become a pokémon. Perhaps thinking he was human was enough of a change?

It didn't matter. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing about that mattered anymore. Sean would never see him again, would he? Lost to the darkness of the future until Sean either saved the world and committed the greatest mass murder history never experienced or died in the process.

"Where?"

A voice croaked and it broke Sean from his reverie of depression. He looked up to see Chatot pulling himself up. He shook some sand off, blinking painfully. The future was always in endless dusk but here the sun still shone, and it stung Chatot's eyes.

He had never enjoyed pain as much as he did then.

"We…?" Chatot said, weakly. "We made it? We made it. We made it," he repeated, confirming it to himself audibly. A breeze blew, ruffling his feathers. Chatot choked on his words before laughing out loud. "WE MADE IT!"

His excited screeching properly roused Mane who rolled out of the sand tomb he was burrowing into and glanced around. "We… the beach?" Mane groaned.

Mane's expression flipped to a beaming expression of pure joy. The sand in his eyes soaked up any tears that most certainly didn't come out. "We're home."

"Mane, err, Litleo!" Chatot said, delightedly. He flapped over to Mane and grabbed him in a surprise hug. "We made it!"

"Not all of us," Sean said. He didn't really wish to rob them of their joy and relief so soon, but it had happened and couldn't be denied.

Chatot slowly put Mane down as the litleo frowned and looked back and forth. "Scout?"

Hearing that. It was too much.

Sean covered his face and began to shake. "He's not here."

"Scout?" Mane repeated, voice rising. "Scout?"

Chatot's expression of relief turned to horror. "N-no. His voice. I… I heard… I heard… him cry out. Something happened."

"Scout?"

"Dusknoir must have, somehow," Sean didn't end that sentence. He didn't know how. Scout was a Normal-type, he had no idea how Dusknoir could have managed to grab him. Not with Saniya holding him off.

"Scout?"

"This cannot be," Chatot whispered, falling back down onto the sand, blinking dumbly. "No. We… we were there. We were free. We all jumped in."

"Scout?"

"I don't know how," Sean replied, voice cracking. "But I've looked, and there is no sign of him. Nothing happened through time, but I remember holding into you and Litleo. But not Scout. He got pulled back, somehow."

"Scout!?"

"But…" Chatot said.

"SCOUT?"

"There is no but," Sean snapped, "he's still in the future."

"SCCOOUUUT!?"

"But… but…"

"SCOOOUUUUT!?"

"Enough!" Sean yelled, snapping at Mane. "He's not here. Stop screaming."

"SCOOOUUUT!?" Mane screamed, voice cracking and breaking. He coughed and tried again, but only managed a croak. "Scou…t."

Sean forced himself up, unable to look back at the lowering sun. It didn't matter how beautiful it was at the moment. He'd look at it tomorrow. "We have to get going," he said softly.

"To the guild," Chatot agreed, quietly getting up himself.

Mane did not follow. He went ahead, marching along the path to Beach Cave, sniffing and yelling out with his breaking voice. "SCOUT!?"

"He's not here," Sean snapped again, before squeezing his eyes shut. "Just… he'll be safe."

"Safe?" Mane snarled, turning back to him. An actual fire burned along his eyes and he began walking back towards him. "SAFE? Safe in the fucking nightmare land? Safe with Dusknoir? Safe with FUCKING DUSKNOIR?"

"Yes!" Sean yelled back. "Dusknoir will protect him."

"You say that," Mane sneered. "But all we have is your word. How do you know?"

"Don't you trust me by this fucking point?"

"I DON'T TRUST ANYONE THIS MUCH!" Mane yelled, voice breaking again. He coughed violently, gasping for breath and sagging on the sand.

"Stop this," Chatot said softly, turning back from where he was leading. "Just come back to the guild. We need to work out what to do and I need to see Wigglytuff."

"So you can fuck your fucking mate?" Mane hissed, with embers continuing to pop off him.

"I am going to find Striker first," Sean growled. "Wherever you judgemental pokémon have stuffed him. And if he's hurt…."

"Enough." Chatot's voice was ice and sharper than the frozen waves in the future.

"Why should I listen to you?" Sean and Mane demanded.

"Because we are in the past now," Chatot declared, staring Sean down. "We are not in the future, you have no jurisdiction here nor any wisdom to guide us." He turned to Mane. "Regardless of how you feel about it, you ARE one of the apprentices of the Wigglytuff Guild and I am your superior. You will listen to me or else."

"Or you'll give me a time-out with no food?" Mane sneered. "Like I haven't lived off scraps for half my life." He turned tail and began to leave, kicking up sand as he continued shouting for Scout.

Sean, however, had begun to calm down. "Litleo?" he called with Mane not even pausing. "Did what the three of us go through mean nothing? Like it or not, we have a bond now. Please, just… come back to the guild."

Mane paused, those words hit him hard and he glanced back. "No one wants a bond with me." Was all he said.

"Litleo," Chatot sighed, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry for snapping. We are all highly emotional after our ordeal and… the absence of Scout. If we want any hope of getting him back, we are going to need to continue working together. Please."

Mane stared him down for a long time before he inclined his head and quietly began to walk after them. Chatot hopped in the lead and Sean and Mane didn't speak a word that was roiling through their heads.

With their muscles still creaking from the multi-day ordeal, it took longer than it should have to move from the beach to the guild. A ten-minute walk turned into a thirty-minute one, Spinda's Café was oddly closed, and all three were out of breath by the time they reached the grate.

Chatot nearly teared up upon first spotting the looming Wigglytuff head. He always thought it was a ghastly thing, hanging over the heads of the entire town, staring forward with empty eyes. Soothe had laughed herself silly when she described the idea to them, and Wigglytuff decided that if it could cause laughter, then it was perfect.

He had a thought then. Soothe, the future. Had she known about the guild? He didn't want to dwell.

Right now, the fact that the fabric ruffled in the breeze. The fact that there were no bones lurking within the uppermost roost. The fact that this was the living guild, and not the tomb that he had experienced only a short time ago left him tearing up.

Chatot stepped on the grate. It might be a bit late for Diglett, but the sensitive Ground-type could usually hear if someone did come to the guild, the echoes being detected through the earth. And he would dutifully come with Loudred to determine who had arrived.

He didn't have to wait long. Diglett was a good kid.

"Pokémon Detec…?" Diglett began, immediately trailing off.

"What?" came Loudred's rattling voice. Chatot couldn't be happier. He could listen to Loudred complain about dating problems for the next year he was so happy. "Diglett?"

The tiny shift of soil caught all of their attention. Chatot due to knowing Diglett's behaviour, and paranoia from the future ordeal. Mane because he had to be sharp when everyone disliked him, and paranoia from the ordeal. Sean because he had to know pokémon's behaviour, and he was paranoid in general.

"Chat…" Diglett trailed off, meeting Chatot's eyes as his own widened. Feathers were ruffled and missing, there was sand all over him, minor burns from both fire and electricity and a certain heaviness to his stance expressing exhaustion. "CHATOT!"

Diglett's sharp voice carried right through to Loudred who was silent for a shockingly long moment, he tended to hum when not talking. "WHAAAAT? CHATOT?"

The speed of the reaction was astounding.

Loudred's voice echoed across the entire cliffside, more than likely reaching the town as well. And more than that. Much more. Was Wigglytuff bursting from the guild.

There was one moment where Diglett was staring up at him, wonder and tears in his eyes. Then all Chatot knew was Wigglytuff's fluffy warmth around him.

Sean and Mane jerked back from Wigglytuff's sudden appearance. The gate didn't even have a chance to hit the ground before the rest of the guild followed.

Everyone surged out in confusion and excitement. Sunflora and Rai at the forefront. Loudred, Bidoof, Dugtrio, and Corphish not far behind. Chimecho and Croagunk were last, but only by a few seconds.

They moved around Wigglytuff, who was an anchor in place that could not be moved. He had Chatot again and he was not letting go.

Striker was the last to actually leave, poking his head out carefully. His eyes immediately fell on Sean who lit up like a volbeat doing a mating dance. He dashed out of the guild almost as fast as Wigglytuff and tackle-hugged Sean.

"Trill," Rhythm sobbed, arms shaking around Chatot. "My invaluable partner. Trill. Trill. Trill." Trill was tearful in kind and leaned further into his embrace. The fake Wigglytuff had been all wrong but Trill could always count on Rhythm.

"Rhythm," he said, voice cracking. He didn't say anything more, just buried his head against the warmth.

Rai slowly walked forward. Past where Striker was whispering 'I'm not losing you again' and Sean replying, 'Right back at you.'

Because he wasn't here for Sean. The human-turned-riolu wasn't really someone he knew. He was happy they were safe, and Chatot was safe. He, and the rest of the guild, would pretend they hadn't heard Wigglytuff and Chatot call each other by their names. It'd be rude to make a big deal about it.

He walked to Mane wearing the most fragile, bitter, smile he'd ever seen. "Sorry," Mane said, blinking away some emotion that wouldn't be so merciful as to let him not feel it, "for being the wrong one."

Rai came to a stop in front of Mane who closed his eyes. The litleo stood in tense silence as the rest of the guild began to break away from staring at Chatot to notice Mane. And also who wasn't there.

Mane took a shaky breath and forced his eyes back open. Rai wasn't saying or doing anything, it was worse than if he was attacking him and throwing him off the cliff right now.

"Sorry," he said again, shrugging with his eyes flicking from person to person not lingering for a moment to take in the disappointment in their eyes. "I know I'm like the last person you'd rather have here but I'm what you got." He tried to grin, play it off, act all smooth and make a flirtatious remark to get someone to be mad at him for being an ass rather than being mad at him for being the wrong one.

He couldn't handle the words about to come. Wrong one, wrong one, wrong one. It was echoing through his head already, he was trembling slightly as he tried to remain calm, tasting iron on his tongue.

Rai still wasn't speaking.

"I k-know you gotta be upset," Mane said, stumbling over his words. "But you know how life is. Can't always have the good things, sometimes you're stuck with the trash and there's little you can-"

Mane was cut off when Rai finally reacted and lunged for him. He closed his eyes, feeling relieved that Rai was going to hurt him for not being Scout.

Instead, he hugged him.

"Don't," Rai said, voice raw with emotion. "Don't say that you're worth less than him. Or anyone. Don't. Don't. Don't."

Mane frowned, it was easy before it deepened and deepened into something vast and painful. He squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't understand what was going on. "What are you doing?" he muttered. "Hit me. Shock me. Scratch me. Yell at me for not being Scout."

"DON'T!" Rai yelled, causing Mane to flinch before he tried to lean into it, bracing for the pain he knew he deserved. Rai caught himself, he wasn't shouting at Mane. "Don't," he repeated, softer. "Please don't. Don't. Don't." Rai squinted, before squeezing his own eyes shut. He pulled away from Mane, who suddenly yearned for the contact lost.

He wouldn't ask for it. Instead, he turned around. He'd run. He didn't know why Rai was being so nice, but it was scaring him. "What happened?" Rai asked, pausing Mane in his tracks. Why was he running?

The litleo turned back, but he didn't even know where to begin. What even was the beginning? Dusknoir grabbing them? Waking up? Sean freeing them? Scout freeing himself?

He was tongue-tied. Sean, in his endless dependability, broke away from Grovyle and stepped forward.

"Right as we were escaping," he explained into the silence. Even Wigglytuff had looked up from sobbing over Chatot, although he didn't even consider letting Chatot out of his arms. "Right as we leapt in, Dusknoir somehow got a hold of Scout. It was too late for us to do anything, we were already disappearing. There was no chance to do anything, and the three of us jumped back into this time without him."

Rai stood in silence.

"I'm sorry I'm not the one you wanted," Mane said, looking up at the whole guild. He was confused at the expressions he saw. There wasn't anger at his presence or even resentment. There was sadness and disappointment, he couldn't see if it was because of him.

He wondered, distantly, if they weren't getting it. If it hadn't sunken in yet. So, he repeated it. "It should have been me," he said. Because it should have. Not that Dusknoir wanted him, but Scout was surely worth more to these pokémon than him.

He laughed weakly.

"Stop." Rai stopped stewing in silence and Mane stuttered to silence. "Stop saying your life is worth less than his."

Mane stared in confusion. "But it is?"

Rai took a deep breath, opening his mouth. All that came out was a hiccup as tears flooded his eyes. Rai immediately turned tail and ran off, sprinting down the steps and out of sight.

"Shinx!" Bidoof called, taking a step forward.

"Shinx? Oh my gosh!" Sunflora glanced between Bidoof and Mane.

"Oh dear, Shinx."

"Shinx come BACK!"

"Hey, Shinx? Shinx? Hey? Hey?"

"Maybe he needs some time."

"I'll go," Mane said, ignoring the last. He turned around. Not looking at the guild helped. Not looking at how they weren't angry it was him, give it time he was sure. Without waiting for a response, he couldn't stand their eyes of pity. Pity that had to be veiling contempt. Mane ran after Rai.

As he left, Chatot and Sean began to explain everything that had happened. Sean stuck close to Striker, not sure entirely how safe things were, but no one seemed alarmed to see either him or Striker so perhaps he had convinced them of Dusknoir's deceit.

Mane's muscles did not appreciate it and once he was out of sight he had to slow to a trot. He couldn't see Rai, but he knew where he'd be going.

The beach.

Annoying that he'd just come from there, but Mane would survive. He always did.

While Scout….

Mane refused to think of it, and shook his head, moving after Rai.

He took his time. Partly for his own sake, but also to give Rai some time on his own. He knew he'd hate it if someone interrupted him when he wanted to vent some emotions to an empty audience. A few bolts of electricity flying up from the distance reassured him of the wisdom of his choice. Rai could vent in peace.

By the time Mane chose to step out and walk back onto the beach, the sun had already kissed the horizon and bathed the sky with a pinkish hue.

Rai sat along the coast of the beach. Sitting much closer to Beach Cave than Mane would have liked. It was a bit of a walk to reach him.

He plodded along, keeping his eyes on Rai. The shinx was just sitting, staring out at the ocean. He took his time but made it to him. Not wanting to go any further, Mane sat down next to Rai. He didn't slump into the sand, that'd be undignified, and Mane always maintained his dignity.

They sat.

Just silence.

Only the rise and recede of the waves and the whisper of wind in their ears.

Mane would be okay if silence was it. He could just fall straight asleep.

"This is where he and I became a team," Rai said, quietly and plainly.

"Here, huh?" Mane replied, looking forward to the horizon with Rai. It was beautiful, the sunset.

"Right here, actually." Rai glanced to his left. "I was crying on the sand, right there. I'd lost my treasure and had reached that point where I just was going to give up. He didn't let me, though. For someone he didn't know, only just met. Sure, I caught him before he fell off the bluff, but I was the one who spooked him into nearly falling off in the first place."

Mane looked over to the sand Rai gestured to. There was nothing special about it. The silver bow around his neck felt heavier and he looked down, remembering it was the only thing Scout had when he woke up.

"You know, he was so confused, at first," Rai said, looking back to the horizon. "I startled him really bad when he first woke up. And he couldn't stop staring at me every few seconds."

"Probably stunned by your good looks," Mane joked on reflex. He immediately felt bad about doing it. He gave Rai a careful look, hoping he wouldn't see offence at him not taking things seriously. To his relief, Rai smiled a little.

"Haah. I helped him around town and showed him to the guild, I figured that'd be the end of it. It's when Koffing and Zubat took my Relic Fragment and he… he actually helped me. Without any questioning it, he just did." He coughed a laugh. "He told me his name right away. So weird. I get why now, but at the time I didn't have any time to even think."

Mane nodded. "It's brave of you both to go straight after them. I never…," he trailed off, nearly biting his tongue at what he nearly said. Quickly changing it, Mane said. "Would have been able to do that myself."

Rai gave him a side-look, and he knew he was caught. The shinx didn't say anything and faced the horizon again.

"Even after we lost," he said, losing himself to the memories again. "Even when I took it as meaning I really couldn't become an explorer." Mane cringed slightly. "He told me differently. Basically a complete stranger. Someone who didn't know me and feel bad for me, well he might have a little but… but he convinced me. I don't even know how. I guess it's just not as scary when together, he said we should become a team. Together."

Rai sighed sadly, sniffling slightly. "I really wish I had just sucked it up and gone to the town meeting with everyone else. I heard that you stuck up for him though." To Mane's surprise, Rai gave him a brief nuzzle. "Thank you."

"I yelled at him in the Dark Future," Mane blurted out, Rai barking a laugh. "He kinda deserved a yelling."

Rai faced him, turning fully from the horizon. "Maybe, he's a good guy though."

"I know. I said that too. He's just got a bad habit of keeping secrets, I've noticed."

Rai smiled a bitter smile. "Yeah. I should have been bold and brought it up with him. I just didn't want him to be mad at me." He looked down. "It feels like I've just lost him again. I'll never see him again, will I?"

"You will," Mane said, angrily. He didn't snap it at Rai, just at the world in general. "If we got back, then there is still hope!"

"But…" Rai asked. "Grovyle said that… th-that Dusknoir was going to… kill you."

Mane pursed his lips and turned away, it was true. Sean's insistence came back to him. Dusknoir's behaviour came back to him. "He won't hurt him," Mane said, turning back to meet Rai's eyes. "We learned why… the guy's Scout's dad."

Eyes widening, Rai sat up straight. "What?"

Mane nodded. "Yep. Dusknoir even used to be on the good guy's side but turned against them. I… don't know why exactly. But even though, Dusknoir won't hurt him. When Chats and Sean and I woke up, he wasn't there with us. He was somewhere safe."

He forced a confident smirk, it was better to see the barest twinkle of hope in Rai's eyes than sullen defeat. "We'll save him. Celebi, the cool chick that got us back here, said there's a Celebi of this time. If she could send us back, maybe that one can send us forward? We can go get him ourselves once time is fixed! And I've been in the future, so I can show you around like an expert."

"You'd really go back?" Rai asked, smiling weakly. "Grovyle made it sound so…."

Mane shrugged, although the thought of going back was more terrifying than any thought he'd had in his life. "I would."

Rai nodded. "Then we'll get him back," he said, almost asking it. Mane nodded anyway. "Okay…" Rai swallowed and smiled. "Thank you."

Mane grinned. "You can thank me once we have our unlucky pal back."

Rai nodded. He glanced out at the water again, watching the ripples in the waves, the shadows of the flying pokémon, and the distant pokémon travelling across the horizon.

"What happened?" Rai asked after a time. Mane nearly fell asleep waiting. "In the future?"

Mane opened his mouth to respond but paused. He wasn't entirely sure where to begin. Waking up? The first escape? Scout arriving? He decided on Scout, it was what Rai needed to hear.

"Well after Sean broke us out of the stockade," Mane said, the name Sean once again slipping out without any thought, "Chats and I were all set to go back and get Scout back ourselves. It didn't take much convincing to get him to come along."

"You trusted him?" Rai asked as Mane paused.

The litleo shrugged. "Dusknoir WAS trying to kill us at the time, he wasn't going to leave us alone anyway. Being alone in the future is really weird. But, anyway, just as we were setting off, Scout turned up! He'd broken out and made his way to us all by himself!"

Rai settled comfortably as Mane spun the tale of the dark future. The way they'd worked together to fight through nightmarish dungeons, and how Scout had fought the Ghost-type pokémon off himself.

How despite having a dislocated arm and cracked ribs, which Mane chose to leave out, with his whole world being shifted multiple times, Scout pushed forward without hesitation and kept on going.

How they encountered a frozen Treasure Town, getting split up, and how they fought their way out of it. Mane chose not to focus much detail there, both because of his own criticism of Scout and the luxray that he feared could have been Rai himself needing not to be mentioned.

He spoke of Celebi, and how they all fought off the sableye together before finally going for the portal. And, unfortunately, how Dusknoir managed to pull Scout back right as they were leaving. He grew a little choked up upon recounting that, the emotions of not even an hour ago still weighing heavily on him.

"Even if Dusknoir wasn't Scout's father," Mane said as he finished telling the tale. "I know Scout would be fine. He's probably the smartest dummy I've met, and a lot tougher than he looks. He'll probably do something stupid and get back himself before we even get there!"

Rai snorted and giggled through it all. It wasn't hard, Mane found, to put a bit of a humorous spin on things. Humour found in tragedy and all.

"Thanks, Mane," Rai said earnestly, and Mane shrugged brushing it off. "No. I'm serious," he said, very seriously. "What you said earlier… apologising for not being Scout. Please, I… I really don't want you to think you're worth less than anybody."

Mane shrugged again, but his smile became a lot more fragile and uncomfortable. "I know I'm the greatest guy around, but… well, when you go years with everyone telling you otherwise." He shrugged again.

"Who?" Rai asked, narrowing his eyes. "Who said something like that? I'll tell them what for!"

Mane snorted and Rai pouted. "I'm serious!"

"Hi, Serious," Mane laughed, Rai's eyes going wide with horror. "I'm Mane."

"You didn't just…?"

Mane grinned at him. Rai snorted and shook his head. He stepped forward and butted his head against Mane's, surprising him. "I don't care what anyone else thinks, Mane," Rai said softly, too close for Mane to brush away. "I'm happy you're here."

Mane swallowed and stepped back, turning around quickly so Rai wouldn't think he was tearing up or any such malarkey. "W-we should get back," Mane said, voice perfectly even and not shaking. "It's getting dark and I'm completely beat."

He didn't move until Rai did, just in case the shinx did want to stay here longer. "Sure," Rai said. "Let's walk together."

Mane nodded and they went side by side. It took longer, again, for Mane to make it back. He wasn't sure what he was running on. The fuel had burned away, and he was out of fumes too. Just stubborn willpower now. Chimecho would probably yell at him, the evil nurse that she was.

He found himself pressing against Rai. He couldn't help it, feeling Rai's warmth and knowing it was him, Mane only wanted to lean into the only good thing he'd known.

They found themselves in the guild's mess hall. Dinner had already been served, but Chimecho and Wigglytuff quickly pulled together food for the future trio. They descended upon the offerings like beasts possessed.

Chimecho made sure there was plenty of oran in their meals, while Wigglytuff prioritised food everyone liked. He even gave Chatot a Perfect Apple, although Chatot insisted it be cut into quarters, one for Mane, Sean, and himself, and the last piece for Wigglytuff as well.

The Fairy-type put up token resistance at being offered some but ate the apple without any trouble.

The rest of the guild was very quiet. The telling of the story and the sinking in that Scout was still gone was beginning to hit them.

Exhaustion caught up with Mane and he fell asleep at the table.

"I'll carry him back," Rai offered. Chimecho had done check-ups on the three as they ate, and found they were mostly just exhausted. No serious wounds that needed treatment with anything more than oran berries.

Once they were done, Wigglytuff carried Chatot to his room. He would not be guarding the guild tonight, he would be sleeping. Wigglytuff hummed Chatot's own night-time song to him as he walked and Chatot fell asleep in his arms. Peacefully, since this was his Rhythm, not the beast that dared to call itself Wigglytuff.

Sean made it to the room Striker had been staying in, close to Team Ion's room, without much trouble.

"Scout will be okay," Striker said as they settled down to sleep. Sean and Chatot had explained the whole story to the guild, leaving out most of the Treasure Town experience, however.

"I know he will be," Sean said, feeling the unfamiliar straw. "But Dialga was there."

"And he wasn't a double agent?" Striker asked, not flinching when Sean glared at him.

"You thought he was?" Sean demanded.

Striker returned an uncomfortable look. "He… he had his claws to your neck, Sean. What was I supposed to take from that?"

"He wasn't a double agent," Sean snapped before all the energy seemed to rush out of him. "Sorry, Striker. I don't want to argue. I'm just glad I'm back but leaving him there…" he briefly smiled as a thought occurred to him. "Hah, you know we didn't actually talk about the whole claw/neck thing. Was a bit too busy to think about it."

"He'll be okay until…," Striker trailed off. He was the least squeamish of the team in discussing their ultimate fates, but he sensed Sean wouldn't appreciate it. "He'll be okay."

Sean sighed and curled up, shifting several times. There was no comfortable spot, so he quietly scooched over to Striker and curled up by him.

Striker rolled over to hug him, and he nestled into the safety of the grovyle. Even with companions, Sean had felt a little alone in the future. He wasn't alone now.

"Good night, Sean."

"Night, Striker."

Despite having fallen asleep in his arms, Trill stirred as Rhythm set him down gently. "Rhythm?"

"I'm here," he replied softly, settling onto the bed with him.

"Rhythm, I have to ask you something," Trill said quietly, bracing himself.

"Okay," Rhythm replied, pulling him into a hug. They were in the privacy of Rhythm's bedroom now, no eavesdroppers out here.

"I want you to be completely honest with me," Trill said, seriously. Rhythm gave him a quirked look but didn't refuse. He knew he would be honest, but he also knew he had to ask this question directly.

"I will," Rhythm said.

"In Treeshroud Forest… no. At ANY point, did you kill Soothe?"

Rhythm froze.

"I… wow, that's… not what I was expecting, heh." Trill felt Rhythm's hug slacken, and he was able to extract himself. He began to preen a wing, letting Rhythm collect his thoughts.

They tended to scatter like marbles at times.

Rhythm swallowed, he'd never lied because Trill had never actually asked him. "No." The answer hung in the air.

"Why did you let me think you did?" Trill asked, not pausing from preening. "I realise, now that I never directly asked you if you had. Or, at least, I don't think I did. I hope you would always tell me the truth but… you knew what I thought."

Rhythm swallowed. "I did know. I'm so sorry, Trill."

"Why?" Trill asked again.

"I," Rhythm sighed. "Because of what she became or just was. She was a Shadow Pokémon, we both know it. I don't know how, or why, it shouldn't have happened unless she was already… but… I don-I don't know how. But she was. She was. I didn't want that to taint even your memories of her"

Trill lowered his wing and started on the next one, he didn't ask anything.

"Trill?"

Trill sighed and lowered his wing. "Yes, I know. There was no logical reason why she should have snapped like that. But she still did. Was she always?"

"How did… how did you know?"

"In the terrible future," Trill explained, "I encountered Celebi. As we were talking the topic somehow moved back to Soothe, as I had reluctantly spoken briefly about her with the others before Celebi. I had learned already that Soothe was apparently someone Celebi knew, and she confirmed this. Soothe was from that future."

"Oh."

"Did you know that?"

"No. No, I did not know that." Rhythm frowned. "That… that doesn't really explain much, but… perhaps something had already happened to her in that time?"

"That's what I have been thinking," Trill said, going back to preening his wing. "If you saw what I did, and apparently what Soothe saw, I think something must have happened to her there. I only suffered it for a few long days, but Celebi implied she knew Soothe for a much longer time. To have been hatched and raised in that terrible time, yes I can imagine something happening. But does that mean she was using us from the start?"

"I don't like to think that," Rhythm said, shrinking away from the idea. "Even… even a Shadow Pokémon surely could not have fooled us both for so long? The times we shared were genuine."

"You and I both know it could be possible. What other explanation could there be?"

Rhythm didn't respond.

"I have yet to hear an answer, Rhythm," Trill said. "About why you let me think you had killed her."

"I was… afraid you'd try something," Rhythm admitted. "That you'd try and…"

Trill blinked once, lowered, his wing and raised his beak. "Rhythm," he snapped, "what do you take me for? As tragic as it is, we both know there is no helping a Shadow Pokémon."

"Maybe."

"Maybe?"

"I…" Rhythm looked away and then set his jaw. "Who's to say there is NO way?"

"History."

"History isn't always right. No one may have figured it out yet, but… I've found stuff. Stuff about Shadow Pokémon over the years. Stuff about how… humans could purify them."

Trill's eyes widened as a piece clicked into place. "You let me think she was dead… not because I would try and help her, but so you could try."

"Trill."

"Rhythm!" Trill squawked, pulling himself out of the bed. "Have you lost your mind? You've been allowing… you… I cannot believe this."

"There might be a way!" Rhythm cried.

"Might," Trill responded, hopping to the door. "It's been so many years, Rhythm I…" he paused, not leaving. He sighed. "I don't want to be alone tonight but…" He felt Rhythm take him up in his arms and pull him back.

"I'm sorry," Rhythm whispered. "If it was you, I'd do the same thing."

"If it was me, I'd want you to destroy me," Trill responded, pressing his beak to Rhythm's forehead.

"I would want the same," Rhythm admitted. "I love you. I feel like I don't say that enough."

"I love you as well, but I am still angry that you've done this. Who knows who she could have hurt in all these years? Or how she has suffered herself? Once this time situation is resolved, we have to find her."

"Riolu might be able to help. Can we… at least try?"

Trill was silent. "I… I don't know. You'll need to show me what you've learned. But for now, I need to rest."

"I'll hold you all night."

"Thank you."


The next day began not with a bang.

As much as Sean, Mane, and Chatot would like to just sleep until the world was fixed, Scout was back, and everything they suffered was just a bad dream, time wasn't so kind.

Quite literally. Every one of them had a nightmare about Primal Dialga, although they were too exhausted for the nightmare to wake them up.

Sean's paws cracked slightly with each step, Mane gave one huge stretch that cracked his back before slumping back into the straw and falling asleep again. Rai let him snooze for another five minutes before necessity outweighed compassion.

Chatot was sat on Wigglytuff's shoulder, talons clasped tightly enough to draw blood, but Wigglytuff took it with a smile. Chatot was still asleep, even as Wigglytuff walked around.

Without question, Chimecho took a better look at the three as they lined up for morning address. She floated around Chatot first, taking a listen in, ghosting over his body with a gentle Psychic pulse.

"I dislike the number of feathers he's lost and damaged," she sighed, straightening a few of the offending feathers. "But he's just tired. Give him these sitrus when he wakes up." She handed three berries to Wigglytuff who nodded, jostling Chatot.

"You've got some fur that may have trouble regrowing," Chimecho said, floating around Mane second. "The wounds across your chest and ankles will likely scar, the scratches on your face are debatable but other than that it's rest you need." She set two berries down and Mane consumed them.

Mane yawned in her face and she moved on to Sean.

"Again, you need rest, take these." There wasn't much time spent on Sean, she wasn't quite as comfortable around either Sean or Grovyle, and the two stood together. She looked enough to find the same, however. Just exhaustion.

"My legs are okay," Sean said, as Grovyle gave Chimecho an annoyed glare. "Fighting-type, I think…?"

"Correct," Chimecho said, floating away after leaving the sitrus berries.

"All three of you need rest," Chimecho advised, managing to wake Chatot who yawned loudly. "But I fear rest may not be given due to the current situation."

"What do you mean?" Mane demanded as Chatot blinked himself aware, he noticed everyone was looking at him and squawked, falling off Wigglytuff's shoulder.

"I'll quickly explain," Grovyle said, as Chimecho floated over to Wigglytuff to provide an oran wrap to his shoulder.

"So…?" Mane said, once Grovyle was finished rambling on. "We need to find the smelly guys?"

"That's a way of describing them," Grovyle said, "yes."

Like the universe was finally smiling upon them, Bidoof came running in all out of breath.

"Everyone listen!" Bidoof yelled, most uncharacteristic for the mellow Normal-type. "I was sorting through Meowth's bag and LOOK!" He plopped a rock down on the ground.

Rai's eyes went wide as Mane, Chatot, and Sean also flinched in shock.

"Is that?" Rai asked before bolting over and looking over it. "It i-how? How?" He looked up at Bidoof as if Bidoof has all the answers in the world.

Bidoof only really knew knock-knock jokes and didn't know what to say.

Rai's face had gone worryingly blank. "I don't… I don't… I don't understand!" he shouted, recoiling from the fragment. "I don't get it! How is this? Why is this? How did he? I DON'T GET IT!"

Mane ran over, pressing against Rai before Rai tried to run off or anything. Rai pressed back desperately, seeking the warmth and comforting presence as Striker and Sean followed after Mane.

"It looks right," Sean murmured, picking it up and looking over the symbols.

"Just like the pattern in Brine Cave," Wigglytuff said, drawing everyone's eyes to him for a moment. "That pattern, Brine Cave."

Chatot pulled away from him, gliding over not to Sean but to Rai. "Young Shinx, er. No, Shinx," he corrected. "I believe I can explain." A lot, he left out.

Words were on his tongue as Rai looked up, desperate for explanations about everything. Chatot, the guild intelligence, learned pokemon. He could tell him.

To Chatot's discomfort, he could. He realised. He did know. He didn't understand but he did know. He could speak Scout's words and explain everything, but if he didn't understand would anyone?

Scout asked him not to. He basically begged him to tell them himself.

And yet, Scout was gone. Would they ever be able to see him again? Would he ever be able to explain his side?

"...in the future time we passed through Treasure Town," Chatot explained calmly, Rai meeting his eyes. "In that time Meowth and Litleo encountered… well, a luxray." Rai's expression shifted just slightly, minutely, but Mane tensed against him nonetheless. "He had that object."

Rai looked down, no one said a thing.

"...oh," Rai said softly. "...you ran into me?"

Mane swallowed. "D-dunno."

"It must have been," Rai continued, speaking lightly. He looked straight at Sean, to the fragment he was holding. "If he had that."

Rai looked down. "I don't know how to feel about that. Losing that hurt so badly. Did Scout really steal it?"

There was no answer to give because Scout wasn't there to give it.

Rai sighed softly. "Okay. I'm not going to be weird. It's to save the world, maybe we can take it back afterwards?" Sean nor Striker reacted at all to that.

He closed his eyes, took a breath, and then nodded. "You said Brine Cave?" he asked Wigglytuff.

Wigglytuff nodded. "It's a dreadful place, but…"

"We can confirm," Sean said. "It's where we learned about the Key to the Hidden Land. We take it to Brine Cave and that opens the path." He didn't add that he didn't know what that path was, best to face that when it came to it.

Sean exchanged a particular look with Striker, a silent bit of communication asking something without saying it. Striker took his paw and stabilised Sean, ready and willing to help him with the Dimensional Scream if it could occur and help them here.

"Alright," Rai breathed, straightening up. "We've got no time to waste. Brine Cave, let's go."


The scene where Mane is apologising really hurt me in the original version and… yep, still hurts.

Poor Mane. To a degree, his tendency, especially in the earlier chapters, to be an asshole is sourced from a need to have a 'reason' for people to hate him. Something he can blame that isn't… well, we'll get there~
 
Chapter 29 - Your Name in the Dark

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
There's a trigger warning for this chapter.


Dialga roared. Dialga screamed. Its head was tossed around on its long neck, eyes bulging and spittle flying. The pressure of its presence felt like it was intensifying gravity, the sableye were being blown away and Scout could barely hold onto consciousness.


A pulse of power burst out and Scout was nearly blown back from the shockwave. Dusknoir roared out in pain, desperately shielding Scout from the blast.


"Master!" Dusknoir gasped, trembling as he held one hand out to placate the rampaging legendary while the other hand held Scout firmly safe. "Please. I have a plan. I have a plan."


Dialga screeched something else and released another shockwave before it took flight. Dusknoir groaned in relief and his grip on Scout loosened for a moment.


Scout tore himself free and leapt back, claws coming out on both paws as he raised his good arm in an attempt to be threatening.


"Scout!" Dusknoir coughed, spinning around on him as the sableye, now with Dialga gone, snuck back in and surrounded him. Dusknoir raised a hand, trying to placate him. "It's alright. You're safe now."


"Safe?" Scout spat, tears pricking his eyes. "SAFE?"


"YES," Dusknoir roared back. The sableye all flinched. "You are not in that accursed time. It makes you think differently." Dusknoir's aggression turned to pleading. "It makes you think a sacrifice is worth it. It's not worth your life, Scout! It isn't! Please listen to me!"


"I will NOT!" Scout screamed. “You are a coward and a traitor and don't deserve-"


Two of the sableye took their chance and pounced on Scout, grabbing him by the arms and holding him firmly as the others ran in to restrain him.


"LET ME GO!"


"You will hurt yourself," Dusknoir croaked, covering his face for a moment. He pushed away Scout’s words. They had to have been shouted in anger and emotion not meant. Not meant.


Scout growled, voice beginning to warp. His vision went black for a moment as Scout pulled both arms down, throwing the sableye over his shoulders before slashing up with his claws. The double Night Slash knocked the two sableye flying and Dusknoir groaned again.


Scout growled again, eyes going completely black as the dark energy coursed through his claws, dripping murkily onto the pale stone.


"Scout," Dusknoir said, warningly. Holding his arms up again. "Do not fight. You will be safe, you will be protected. Just let me PROTECT YOU," Dusknoir yelled, voice breaking. “You have no place to run and everyone else has abandoned you. I am everything you had and everything you need! STOP THIS!"


Scout shook, shaking and trembling. "No," he whispered, shaking his head. “All you did was take everything from me."


The darkness receded as Scout's claws went light again. He fell to his knees and covered his face, tears splattering the ground to wash the blackness away.


"Scout," Dusknoir said, softly. He floated over to Scout and picked him up, gently, in his shaking arms. "It's alright. I'm here." He pulled Scout to his chest and nodded to the sableye. The other four were supporting the two Scout had slashed, and none of them were saying anything.


Scout didn't reply, he just continued to shake as he was carried away from where the deactivated Passage of Time lay.


Dusknoir felt Scout begin to relax, stop shaking, and begin to breathe properly again. He gently stroked Scout's back, focusing on the areas he knew Scout had always enjoyed when he was raising him.


"You know who I am now, correct?" he asked, quietly, as they began to make their way back to the stronghold. It wouldn't take too long, with Master Dialga's help he had a shortcut or two the sableye had taken to get ahead of them in the first place.


There was some time before Scout responded. The sableye kept up the background chatter to hold the madness at bay until he felt Scout shift, he had a feeling he was ready to talk.


Which one of them was ready to listen, however, was the real question.


"Sean told me," Scout replied. He, as much as he hated to admit it, was safe now. Not as safe as he would have been and now trapped with Dusknoir, but this was okay. He still wanted to freak out, cry, bury his head in Dusknoir's cool hands and just sleep, but he clearly didn't get what he wanted.


That thought made him smile a little. "Mane makes such good points," he thought, fondly thinking back on their one-sided argument yesterday, or today he wasn't sure really. How that felt so long ago already, he didn't know.


"What did Sean say?" Dusknoir probed, Scout was replying but he had to know everything.


Scout decided to be honest. He was too sick of double truths and technical statements to lie. He wasn't even sure why he would, any more.


"He told me that you raised me," Scout answered, speaking clearly even though his face was still partially tangled in Dusknoir's fingers. "That we first met them when we tried to rob them, and that the fight it caused somehow turned into friendship."


Humming slightly, he restarted the petting, Dusknoir nodded. He missed this, his fingers twitched so often without being able to groom Scout's fur or give him a pet behind the ear.


"It was Sean," Dusknoir explained. "I was fighting Striker when he was still a treecko, you had already run off with their bag and the human wasn't particularly able for combat but pursuing you. You came back running when you heard me cry out and the human wasn't far behind. We were arguing, and nearly missed the fact we were being surrounded by something far worse than just bandits."


"Worse?"


"The monsters that crawl upon the land." Dusknoir said. "We had to work together to fight them off. I wonder if he regrets that… no. I don't wonder that. I wonder if he would do differently if he, somehow, was able to go back to change that, let me take a blow?"


Scout frowned, he felt like he knew where this was leading. He remained silent, letting Dusknoir talk.


"I would like to ask him, but I don't know if he'd be able to give me a truly honest answer. We may be enemies now, but there were a great many times we saved each other. I was given the name 'Guardian' by Sean, you know?" Scout nodded. "Yes. Because I protected us all. It is painfully ironic to them now, but I still hold true to that name. I am a protector, not a destroyer."


"This world is destroyed, ‘Guardian’," Scout replied, voice weary and quiet. He raised his head, rolled over and rested in his hands rather than being carried like a log. Scout looked up, he looked forward, he looked from side to side.


"Why is this worth more to protect than what the world used to be?" Scout asked, feeling Dusknoir's silence behind him. Even the sableye were quiet now. "You saw the world. Treasure Town. The millions of people living in the day and the night. The food, the water, living rather than surviving."


Dusknoir remained silent, one of the sableye quietly asked. "Living rather than surviving?"


It meeped and Scout gathered that Dusknoir had glared at it for speaking.


He leaned back, looking up to Dusknoir's dulled eye. "Are you trying to live? Or are you trying to survive?"


"They are the same thing," Dusknoir whispered back, anything louder and it'd be a croak.


Scout shook his head, he pulled himself back up and looked forward. "You were in the past. You were all in the past. You know that's not true."


"Scout." Dusknoir slowly pulled him up against his wispy, yet still firm, chest. "Surviving is still better than being erased."


Scout sighed sadly, he wondered if it was possible to convince Dusknoir. Grovyle had befriended him, somehow, in the game, but was there enough time for that?


"What if you aren't erased?" Scout asked, quietly. "Would you save the world, then?"


"There is no question of if’s, Scout," Dusknoir replied. “To change the past to such an extreme, everyone in this world would be erased. The greatest loss of life ever unknown."


"How many people died when the world was ruined?" Scout retorted. "I see mostly Ghost-type pokémon… like you."


Dusknoir gave the weakest, shortest, laugh. "Yes. Just like me."


Feeling chilly all of a sudden, Scout instinctively tried to pull back, but Dusknoir's grip while gentle, was firm.


"The sableye too," Dusknoir said. "None of us may truly remember who we were before, but none of us want to die again."


"What if you won't?" Scout repeated.


"Changing time erases us all. Me and you. I cannot accept that."


"But how do you know? What if there was a way otherwise?"


"There is no other way, Scout," Dusknoir said, voice tinging with a hint of frustration.


"You know Dialga only cares for its own survival," Scout snapped. "Why would you listen-"


"Dialga didn't tell me that."


Scout paused. He looked back to Dusknoir. "Pardon? Who did then?"


"Giratina admitted it," Dusknoir answered. Scout's eyes widened, that was a slight snag.


He had no real answer to that, so Scout turned back around to the front. They were passing over some hills of darkness, a few wretched creatures lurching around. It didn't seem like a dungeon, something better and worse.


He had only one real ace left to use, but to tell Dusknoir?


"When the future is changed," Scout said, focusing on the when and not if. "Can't Dialga do something about that? Sane Dialga, in the past? It's the ruler of time, an actual deity. Couldn't it revive someone erased?"


"Malarkey," Dusknoir replied. "That is fanciful hopefulness, Scout."


"But how can you say it cannot happen?" Scout replied. "What about Arceus? Or other legendary pokémon. Who do you think they'd revive? The heroes who saved time and sacrificed themselves, or a villain who tried to stop it."


Dusknoir's hands clenched reflexively, nearly choking Scout before he was able to control himself. A sableye gave a most nervous giggle as Dusknoir took a breath.


"Don't," he said, voice dark and pleading at once, "call me a villain."


Scout nearly flinched at the deadly tone, but he didn't back down. "It's what you are.”


They did not speak the rest of the way. A different fortress, less ruined than the previous one with better cages.


Despite Dusknoir's trembling anger, he gently set him down and quickly began to restrain him. A pair of sableye brought in extra tools and by the time Scout was no longer being held, his arms were tied behind his back, the chain that had doomed him to this was fastened by a thicker, shorter, chain and even his tail was tied and pinned to his leg.


"Is this really necessary?" he asked, Dusknoir startled at his voice.


"This is simply a precaution after the last time." He turned to the assembled sableye and all flinched as his eye lit up with murderous intent.


"One of you," Dusknoir growled, "will watch him. You will not let him out of your sight. If he escapes again there will be nowhere you can hide from me. Understand?" The six of them rapidly nodded. "Good. Choose amongst yourselves and don't choose the one that watched him last time, I need to begin preparations. Meet me at the Dusk Spire immediately."


Dusknoir floated away. He briefly paused to glance back at Scout and appeared to wish to say something. He shook his head and continued on, not spitting whatever it was out.


"O-okay," a nervous sableye began.


"Not you," the other five said in unison. He nodded and Scout knew it was the one who had been guarding him before. He watched carefully as the other five sableye decided amongst themselves.


The one that seemed to be seen as the leader of the five was quickly standing with the nervous sableye. Lead Sableye had to lead them.


Chill Sableye was voted out next, and Aggressive Sableye insisted it'd be too boring to stand around with a sullen meowth.


Quiet Sableye and Hungry Sableye played Grass-Fire-Water to decide, playing best of three.


"Score!" the hungriest sableye cheered, he had won and therefore was able to have the easiest job of watching the prisoner.


"Don't sneak off to snack," Lead Sableye ordered, getting a nod from the sableye remaining behind.


"Good luck." Hungry Sableye grinned, saluting them off. The other five sableye disappeared and the two were left alone.


Scout tested the restraints. They were done up unpleasantly well. With his paws behind his back and pointed upwards, he couldn't stick a claw through the chain to Night Slash his way to freedom again, and the chain itself was thicker anyway.


He couldn't get as close to the bars and his tail did not appreciate being stuck down to his leg. He was well and truly trapped.


Scout's eyes fell on the sableye left to guard him. It was watching him but had already sat down to relax, laying against the wall and picking at its dagger-sharp teeth with a claw.


It noticed him staring. "What?"


Scout glanced away. It sighed. "Whatever. Let's get the awkward part out of the way. I'm Sableye, you're the guest of honour that's not allowed to go anywhere. One of us gotta be talking at least a little bit or we'll go coo-coo. Hear me?"


Scout stared blankly at him; he didn't really want to talk. For now, it could chatter on itself. He had something to try.


"Scout?" he thought, crossing his eyes before closing them. "Scout? Can you hear me?" The mystery of who he was had been digging at him since the first time he was imprisoned.


Chatot had tried to reassure him that he was no killer and several pokémon had said that he was Scout, just a little different. He, however, still couldn't be sure.


He hadn't tried to communicate with the original owner of the body unless it was him and something else was afoot, but Scout was sure of something. He, or whoever originally was Scout, was not aware of any game that this world was apparently a part of.


Unless he was simply much better at being sneaky than he was now, one of the others had to have noticed something.


Part of him wished he was able to ask Dusknoir, but the rest of him was sure that would have been a bad idea anyway.


"Scout?" he tried again, trying to focus hard. "Scout? Meowth? Owner of this body that might not be me? Hello? Is anything there."


He waited.


Nothing.


Scout sighed, feeling maybe a little relief, and opened his eyes, blinking the blackness out of them and giving his head a shake. He missed something as it fell to the dark ground.


Sableye was staring at him again.


"You're not gonna go wacko on me?" it asked. "Why were you shaking your head all wildly?"


"Just shaking some loose thoughts out," Scout replied, his guard groaned.


"He's going nuts on me already."


Scout laughed. It was fake but sounded plausible. Sableye paused at the sound, laughter wasn't common in this time and began to believe Scout was crazy all the more.


"I'm fine," Scout said to its worried look. It was worried for itself, he knew, but that was also fine. "Hey, so I'm bored, so why don't we play a game? Tic-Tac-Toe in the dirt, it'll be fun and something to do until Dusknoir and the others get back!"


Sableye was thrown somewhat off guard by the sudden friendliness and narrowed its eyes, eyelids moving over the gem-encrusted eyes for a moment before they pulled back. It met his eyes for a long moment before shrugging, Master Dusknoir might even reward him for entertaining his kid.


"How are you going to do this?" he asked, coming closer.


"You make the board," Scout replied. “And I'll tell you where to put my marks. Here's what you have to draw…"


He began to give Sableye step-by-step instructions while his mind whirred. Maybe there was another Scout, maybe there wasn't. But that could be worked out later. For now, he had to get out of here.


Scout's eyes met Sableye's as often as he could do it without looking incredibly suspicious. Celebi had told him that a weak Hypnosis, like his own, could leave a target more susceptible to suggestion.


He was going to test this out.




Things were moving. The whole guild was preparing to set out as Wigglytuff warned them what may remain inside the cave.


“Why has no one gotten rid of them?” Sunflora asked. “If they’re so dangerous?”


The answer was a complicated matter.


“It is difficult to adequately explain,” Chatot began. “But it is a matter of the dungeon being unpopular to explore with a difficult climb and no rewards, the place being considered out of the way to seek out and the three having no warrant or request for their arrest. Technically, there is no legal or moral right to rout wild pokemon from a place they consider their territory.”


“But they’re dangerous!”


“That they are,” Chatot said grimly. “Thus it will be the team I shall lead who will enter first, we shall regroup at the end of the dungeon and march forth as a group, which is unlikely to be attacked, assuming they are still there. Then, it is only a matter of waiting for the Guildmaster and Grovyle.”


Grovyle nodded. "Only one Time Gear left to obtain," he managed, visibly struggling with each word. "We… ah… we… need to."


"What's going on?" Sunflora asked, concerned. "Grovyle? Are you alright?"


Striker tried to raise a hand to gesture that he was fine, but his arm wouldn't move. Wigglytuff sat down with him as Sean frowned in concern. "With the Relic Fragment back Grovyle and I need to go to Crystal Cave immediately. Not only to get the gear but to request Azelf undo this curse."


Sean immediately became very alarmed. "A curse!? This is the first I’m hearing about this!”


Rai glanced to him. “Things have been happening since Dusknoir happened. Grovyle fought Azelf and we’ve noticed he’s been….”


Chatot nodded, he remembered the legend. "If you harm Azelf," he said, frowning thoughtfully. "You may lose your will to move in a few days. As goes the legend, at least."


"Oh my gosh!"


"I-is Grovyle going to be okay?"


"WHAT? But we NEED him."


"Everyone," Wigglytuff called. "Don't worry. Grovyle and I will set off to Crystal Cave immediately. I don't know how long it might take to convince Azelf or to get the gear. So, the two of us will head out right now."


“I can’t go with you?” Sean asked, conflicting emotions flashing across his face.


Wigglytuff nodded comfortingly. Grovyle couldn't talk, so he would. "The rest of the guild needs to begin making their way to the dungeon known as Brine Cave." Chatot twitched at that, Scout's words hitting him all over again.


He looked out, wondering what Scout was thinking.


Wigglytuff stepped back and picked Grovyle up and slung him over his back. The Grass-type wasn't entirely enthused at that, but he had no energy to protest. He managed a weak smile for Sean.


"I'm sorry you all only got one day of rest," he said to Mane, Chatot, and Sean. "But as we know, time is running out."


"We wouldn't be waiting around anyway," Mane said, Sean and Chatot nodded firmly.


Wigglytuff smiled and began walking. "Would someone fetch Alakazam? He should be in town."


Bidoof raced off and the guild followed their Guildmaster up to the top. Grovyle found the energy to stand, with Sean's assistance, and the guild paused at the entrance of the guild to look out at the crashing waves.


"You are all heroes," Wigglytuff said softly. “You will be the pokémon who save the world. I believe that. But, please… be careful."


"I will not allow a hair on a head to be harmed," Chatot said, hopping up to Wigglytuff's side. Wigglytuff smiled and grabbed him in a hug.


"Trill, you are my invaluable partner," Rhythm said, hugging Trill tightly, but not too tightly. "Be safe."


Trill returned the hug, deciding it was okay to do so in front of the guild this one time. "And you are mine."


Sunflora, Chimecho, and Loudred may have aww'd from behind them. Chatot decided to ignore it. Wigglytuff hugged him until Alakazam and Bidoof appeared out of thin air, and then he set him back down.


Grovyle came to stand by Wigglytuff, bracing himself against the Guildmaster and Alakazam nodded, closing his eyes to focus.


"We will retrieve supplies from Treasure Town first," Chatot barked, going into leadership mode. "Then we will begin the trek to Brine Cave! Understood?"


"Yes sir!" the guild repeated.


Wigglytuff waved them off as Striker said. "Sean? I won’t be far." He had a grimace on his face, a subtle green glow to his body that had Wigglytuff looking thoughtful.


“Are you tapping into Overgrow?” he asked. Striker nodded. “I see. Don’t push yourself any farther than you need to.”


Sean nodded back and fell into step with Mane and Rai as they ran to Treasure Town.


"Prioritise sitrus and oran berries!” Chatot barked as he directed pokémon into groups to get specific items.


"Sunflora, take those two and find every orb you can. If there are any left.” Sunflora ran off with Corphish and Diglett.


Chatot fluttered in place, hopped back and forth, and snuck glances up at the guild whenever he felt he could. Wigglytuff and Grovyle eventually disappeared and he found no need to look any further. He still did, however.


Sean fell into step with a revitalised Team Ion as they finished preparing for the dungeon and set off. He smiled as he remembered running this path to meet with Striker, then lost that smile as he recalled why he had been running.


"In advantage of maximising time and resources," Chatot explained as they walked along, "Litleo, Riolu, Shinx, and I will enter the dungeon first. Followed by Sunflora, Dugtrio, Corphish, and Bidoof. Chimecho, Croagunk, and Diglett will wait for the Guildmaster outside the dungeon and Chimecho will accompany him and Grovyle. Croagunk and Diglett shall enter last."


The sun began to rise higher into the sky as the path changed from well-worn, to rocky, to grass, and then back to well-worn. A stiff breeze was blowing, ruffling fur and feathers. A random thunderstorm lasted for only six minutes before the day became sunny again.


"Oof." Bidoof flinched as a lightning strike landed steps from him. From the cloudless sky. "This is worrisome, yup-yup."


"I heard things have been going like this for days," Loudred muttered, perfectly clear to everyone. "Exploration Teams entering the town the last few days have been talking about weird weather. I thought they just didn't have anything else to say and were making up stories."


"You should know better," Sunflora admonished, getting an offended gasp from Loudred.


"Well excuuuuse me, Sunflora."


"Yes, you are excused."


Chimecho rolled her eyes at their antics and went to float around Croagunk instead. He welcomed her presence with a nod.


"Last time I came here," Sean mentioned to Rai and Mane. “Was right after Dusknoir got Scout arrested. I came to talk to Striker. Because the place was so isolated it was a useful spot to meet up if we ever got separated." Rai didn't respond, but Mane nodded to him. Sean frowned, eying Rai for a moment.


His eyes lit up as a thought occurred to him. "I also punched him in the face!" he declared with pure enthusiasm.


Rai sensed he was being addressed. "Is that so?" he asked politely.


Sean sagged a little when the shinx turned back to eye the road.


Mane bumped Rai, then Sean. "Don't be rude," he said, Rai blinked in surprise.


"Oh. I'm sorry, I'm just a little distracted. Why did you hit him? Isn't he your friend?"


"Yeah well," Sean trailed off. He had hoped what he was going to say would make Shinx lighten up, but now he felt it might be viewed as just weird. "I hit him because he slashed you, actually."


The wind continued to blow as Rai gave Sean a curious frown. "Why would you care?"


Mane wowed silently as Sean flushed under the fur. Yet another advantage of now being a pokémon, he couldn't be spotted blushing as easily.


"He's really not that bad of a guy," Sean insisted to the person Striker had nearly killed. "Future reflexes and stuff… not that that’s an excuse, I mean. I like you, so I was mad at him for doing that.”


Rai continued frowning, but at least he was talking now. "You like me?" he asked. "I thought… well, okay. Thanks."


Mane sent a half-amused half-apologetic glance to Sean before bumping Rai again. "Play harder to get why don't you."


Rai sighed. "Look," he said, looking back up to Sean, "I get why you did what you did and all. I forgave Grovyle, so I forgive you for lying to me. I still don't like it though. I've had enough of being lied to."


Sean nodded. "That's fair," he said. "Sorry for breaking your trust." He extended a paw. "Fresh start?"


Rai eyed his paw for a moment, a moment long enough for Sean's friendly smile to become a fixed grimace. Then Rai extended his tail awkwardly and patted it. "Uh, yeah." He managed to wrap his tail around and give a wobbly shake. He smiled again, a realer one. "Fresh start."


Sean breathed a relieved breath and retracted his paw from the mortifying tail shake. He reminded himself that quadrupeds probably didn't do that and vowed to bury his head in the sand. Snickering from the guild behind him didn't help.


"Down here!" Chatot called as they grew closer to the dungeon. Sean quietly pointed out to Mane and Rai the path he had taken to speak with Striker, before heading down rather than up. They skirted along the eroding cliffs and to the classic chasm of a dungeon opening.


Salty, humid, air exhaled from the chasm opening like the dungeon itself was breathing. Mane poked at the silver bow in discomfort as Rai grimaced at the heat.


"Very well," Chatot said, hopping to a point before the dungeon and pausing. He stared into the inky depths of the dungeon, Wigglytuff's words, Scout's words, and his own broken memories washing over him with each breath exhaled from the dungeon.


"Chats?" Mane asked, as Chatot completely stopped moving. "Helllooo?"


"Ahem." Chatot cleared his throat and turned around. He extended a wing, the one with more feathers. "This is the entrance to Brine Cave," he explained. "A perilous dungeon with a potentially dangerous foe at the end."


The guild, plus Sean, listened as Chatot went over everything again. He folded his wing back in as he was finished and raised his beak. "Understood?"


"Yes sir!"


"Very good." Chatot's eye quirked in his own form of a smile before hesitating. "Uh… ahem. The Guildmaster would normally address you all with some rousing speech, but he is not here as of yet…"


He paused, seeming to wait for something.


"Give it a go," Mane said, grinning. "If we laugh, you'll know our spirits are raised!"


Chatot gave him a flat look before he smiled again. "I have been there to witness each of you begin to where you are now. From where the Guildmaster must take a distant approach out of necessity, he relies on me to ensure you are all working, training, and most importantly, happy."


A few pokémon smiled at that. Very Wigglytuff. "None of you were good explorers when you started," Chatot continued, very honestly. He got a few chuckles. "And now? Well… it's an improvement, I suppose."


The whole assembly laughed at that.


"The Guildmaster cherishes you all," Chatot said once the giggles had calmed. "As do I. All of you." He closed his eyes, pretending not to hear the sounds of feelings. "I am proud to call you apprentices of the Wigglytuff Guild. In these days of turmoil and confusion, you have not given into fear or panic, each of you have come here knowing the world is at stake. The Guildmaster is correct, each of you are heroes.”


He straightened up and turned to the dungeon. “Now, be safe in there and we'll all meet up at the end. I will notice if anyone is tardy, understood?”


"HOORAY!"


Chatot waited for Rai, Mane, and Sean to join him and they entered Brine Cave.


Mane and Chatot couldn't help but mentally compare the trial they were facing currently with the dungeons from the future.


The future had scarier dungeons, to be sure. With decaying walls and shrieks of the damned, every step in that place was terrible. However, all the water and ice pokémon around were giving them an impressively bad time.


"Birds are singing," Sean laughed as Chatot yelled at a barboach until it ran away in tears.


"What are you so happy about?" Mane growled, shaking off water left by a gastrodon.


"It's nice to be useful again," Sean answered, pummelling a dewgong with a Force Palm to knock it flying and unconscious.


"About time you were useful for something other than directions," Mane snarked. Rai gave him a mortified look at the rudeness. "All those gastly were not fun. All those tongues, ugh.”


Sean shuddered in discomfort.


"Hush, children," Chatot said and the two closed their mouths. Before all three, Chatot included, laughed.


"Never thought I'd laugh about all the horror," Mane giggled.


"You have to laugh at it," Sean replied, wiping his eye. "Or you'll fall into a foetal position and never get up."


"Morbid."


"Yes-yes," Chatot huffed, but his eye was twinkling.


Rai felt a little left out.


Mane and Sean kept up the chatter as they went. The reflex of always needing to talk in the future holding firm, Rai was drawn into their conversations as they went until all three were sharing stories about Scout.


"He would never bathe!" Rai said, Mane shaking his head in amusement. "Was he always like that?"


"Nah." Sean shrugged. "He'd lick himself wherever and whenever. But humans don't."


"I can tell," Mane said with a smirk, flicking at some stray fur on Sean's shoulder.


"Yes, well." Sean rubbed the fur down. "Did he ever stare into space at all? Just randomly dazing out?"


"Oh yeah." Rai nodded, happy to share that experience. "Happened in dungeons a few times. Nearly got his head charm thingy taken by a murkrow when he got too distracted with a piece of dirt."


As they talked, Chatot thought in silence.


"And so that's the situation," Wigglytuff explained to a very angry Azelf. "Grovyle is very sorry for what he did, but Uxie and Mesprit will be unfrozen once time is restored."


The gems of Crystal Lake twinkled in the soft light of the lake, Time Gear still buried but light shining despite the rocky covering.


Azelf had attacked Grovyle upon spotting him, and then Wigglytuff for bringing him here. Wigglytuff was more than tough enough to block Azelf's strikes, however, and didn't strike back.


He simply let the legendary pokémon wear itself out.


"Why… should I… believe you?" Azelf demanded, panting for breath. They regretted ever thinking the lake was lonely, too many visitors were bothering them nowadays.


"Why were the Time Gears brought here?" Wigglytuff asked. He genuinely wanted to know the answer and hoped that getting Azelf to talk might calm them down.


Grovyle remained standing in silence. He gathered that trying to speak to Azelf would be counterintuitive. He could still see the scorch marks on the ground and he still felt the hit Team Flame had given him.


"To stabilise time," Azelf answered. "Therefore taking them has led to time's recent issues!"


"But something was going on even before the first gear was taken," Wigglytuff explained, patiently. "I'm also wondering, if the gears were placed here, then what was here before that?"


At that, Azelf hesitated. "I… I'm not sure. It was thousands of years ago and my memory…" they frowned. They may not have been Uxie, but as a direct child of Arceus, their memory was usually very clear, even over millennia.


"We tried replacing the Time Gears," Wigglytuff explained as Azelf remained silent. “And none of them worked. Time was breaking down even before the first gear was taken, and surely there was a time they existed before they were here? Information suggests they need to be returned to their place of origin, the Hidden Land."


From that last part, Azelf's eyes lit up. "The Hidden Land!" they said excitedly. “I remem…." A frown retook their face and they close their eyes. "I… I had it, then it just slipped away. Something… the gears… D… no, Temporal, uh..."


"Tower?" Grovyle offered, Azelf immediately glared at him, before it fell into a more thoughtful look.


"Yes. I'm not sure what is going on with my memory, something feels like it is blocking it." They floated in place, visibly hesitating. "What… what did you say before? Please explain it again?"


Wigglytuff nodded and began to repeat everything he had said. They were getting through to Azelf, he could feel it. Grovyle was looking worse than before, he knew he needed to convince Azelf. Getting the gear, he could do that if truly needed, but his friendly friend was in trouble and only Azelf could help.


So, Wigglytuff did something he knew well and talked from his heart.


As the four travelling Brine Cave were attacked, they'd all break out of their respective thoughts to fight off the attackers. A Steel Wing there, Thunderbolt there, Hyper Voice to a Force Palm took down one particularly persistent dragonair.


There wasn't much time for quiet introspection as ferals came from forwards, back, side to side, and even from below. Between moments of fighting, Chatot considered a few things.


He didn't quite remember the first venture through Brine Cave. Due to the blood loss he had suffered, a measure of amnesia took that day mostly from him.


The quiet discomfort at Scout being completely right about that made him consider what else Scout had revealed to him. He glanced at Sean and Rai, both were chatting amicably now.


Even with his fractured memories, Chatot was sure there wasn't this much violence in the dungeon the first time. Times change, perhaps literally.


"So, Saniya mentioned that she thought Scout and her friend," Sean said, snapping Chatot from his reverie, "this audino called Soothe, were a little alike in personality. She said they'd either get along perfectly or wouldn't be able to stand each other."


Ah, Soothe. That brought back memories of waking up outside this dungeon with Rhythm panicking and crying while the oddly-coloured audino pressed her paws to his chest, having been sliced open by Kabutops.


She had not been comfortable or, to be honest, overly pleasant on that first meeting, for reasons he had never been clear on. Rhythm had drowned it out with his dramatics upon seeing him wake up. He sometimes wondered how someone so pure could have survived as long as he had without him, but Rhythm was much stronger and smarter than he looked.


No one knew that better than Chatot. Only Soothe and Lopunny came close to understanding Rhythm like he did.


And only he was gifted with Wigglytuff's actual name.


And yet. Trill remembered Soothe, so reserved and suspicious yet when she smiled and laughed she seemed like a whole different person. She had saved his life with nothing demanded in return.


Now that he knew where she was from, it made him wonder all the more. Sean was a decent sort, Grovyle wasn't too bad, and Scout was a delight. Not everyone was so warped from the future. And then there was Dusknoir, he didn’t understand why he would be so adamant to protect that vile place, especially now that he knew what it was like to live in the sun.


They had all seen how he flinched when Scout disowned him. A recoil of an injured heart, is that why he had stopped Scout from escaping with them? No. He couldn’t imagine it. Somehow, no one reacted with such a bare-hearted flinch if that pain was not true. He loved Scout, but then… why?


Chatot was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, he failed to notice the dungeon begin to change.


He caught it a moment later as Rai said. “I think the dungeon is changing.”


Chatot threw his wings up, the brush of his feathers causing them to pause. “We wait,” he said, very quietly, looking all around him. The attackers were Water-type’s, and there were countless holes of water around them.


They all stopped, falling silent.


Having lagged behind in his thoughts, however, Chatot was behind the three with Rai and Mane out front.


Trill’s head hurt. Something was pounding on his brain.


Just remember. Kabutops attacks from above.


They had only just barely crossed the threshold. The attack came when they were almost to the mouth of the exit. Yet, Chatot's eyes flicked up and he screeched a warning. Rai skidded to a stop, but Mane was already steps ahead.


From above, three murderers descended.


"MANE!" Chatot screamed, leaping forward without thinking.


"MANE!" Sean yelled out as Mane immediately froze up. Chatot's wings glinted as the three killers landed and lashed out.


"MANE!" Rai screamed as Mane fell, a lash of blood sending a red stripe against the rocks.


He landed, head knocking against the stone, as the laceration from his neck began to bleed out.


"No," Trill grunted, trembling with effort, his wings raised. Kabutops' scythes and the right omastar's tendrils were pressed up against his wings. He had blocked two of them, but the second omastar had struck Mane in the neck.


Chatot heaved and he blew all three of them back with an exceptional push of strength. Rather than pressing the attack, he barked out, "SEAN! Tend to Mane." He remembered Sean resetting Scout's arm, he had some medical skill, and with his dexterity, he could do something.


Sean, having already been charging forward to fight, switched tracks and ran to Mane.


"Rai. To me. We shall fight them together."


"So, the swift snack seeks to struggle?" Kabutops hissed, voice sliding around them, burrowing into their ears and hanging over their necks. "Certainly." His eyes were dim, small, and filled with malice as the two omastar gurgled in his shadow.


Rai trembled with electricity as he reached Chatot's side, his eyes were narrowed and set with his teeth bared. Chatot blew a wind and forced the Rock-types further back to give Sean more space before he and Rai charged.


Sean knelt by Mane's side, stripping him of the silver bow he wore quickly. He set his back down and pulled it open, pulling out a finely sown sheet.


"You'll be fine," Sean repeated as Mane weakly gasped for breath, legs kicking out continuously. He pressed the sheet to Mane's neck and unwound the silver bow, tying it around as best he could to stem some of the bleeding.


"It didn't hit the artery," Sean said, half to Mane half to himself. "It's just a bit of blood. You're okay Mane, hear me? You're okay and you will be okay."


He flinched as ozone rose and electricity crackled, raising his fur. Chatot barked something and Rai snapped a response and forced the omastar trying to go for him to retreat.


"You… had… it?" Mane whispered. He knew the feeling of his sheet. "You took it?"


"Sorry," Sean replied, pressing against the cut. "You can tell me off about it later. Okay?"


"Bitch."


Sean hiccupped a laugh and doubled down on pressing as firmly as he could on Mane's neck without cutting off his breathing. Mane's breathing was quick and rapid, his blood began to soak through the sheet and Sean pulled more of it up.


His aura tassels began to rise without him noticing, touching the silver bow as the bow began to glow slightly. Tingles ran up his arm.


"BACK!" Trill screeched, striking an X into one of the omastar's face and knocking it clattering against the rock. He swooped in after it, cracking its shell and knocking it into a wall where it stopped moving.


Kabutops moved.


"RAI!"


Rai's electricity began to overwhelm the cowardly omastar and it screeched pitifully before trying to flee, as slowly and wobbly as it could. Rai blasted it until it stopped moving, almost frothing at the mouth in rage.


His anger towards the omastar that had struck Mane left him blind to everything else and Trill’s warning barely registered. Trill swooped after Kabutops as it slashed at Rai. Rai's electrical discharge knocked it back before much of a cut was dealt, but it was enough to slice a line right through Rai's side and red began to mix with the blue and black of his fur.


Trill smacked Kabutops in the back of the head but kept flying for Rai as the shinx cried out in pain. He grabbed Rai in his talons and tossed him back towards Mane and Sean.


"You will not harm anyone here!" Trill declared, turning to face Kabutops himself. He raised his wings as metal shone again. Kabutops sneered and raised his own scythes. “You will not harm anyone EVER AGAIN!”


"Weary words of a weakling," Kabutops hissed, and began to circle Chatot. Its eyes flicked to the injured duo, Chatot walked with it, not giving it a chance to go for them. "Steely sight of someone who's seen I sometime before?"


It continued staring closely as Chatot's wings trembled. It laughed.


"Aha! Weary words of a weakling who warded a Wigglytuff! I remember you." Its voice lost all amusement and turned to pure malice. "I remember you."


Trill raised his beak, resolution in his eyes. "And no one will remember you." He struck out, one wing slamming into Kabutops' raised guard while the other swiped out at Kabutops' legs.


The deadly pokémon leapt over the swipe and headbutted Chatot, dazing him with its far harder cranium. It tried to stab forward and impale Chatot, but the bird wasn't such a junior to be phased yet and knocked himself back with a burst of wind.


With some distance between them, Kabutops spat a sharp jet of water at Chatot. It sheered through the top of Chatot's wing, but he didn't so much as flinch. Blue light flashed and Trill was spitting water straight back at Kabutops.


It flooded itself in its own personal torrent and launched at Chatot, Aqua Jet flooding the floor as it went. Trill met Kabutops in the air, steely wings against rock-hard scythes.


Kabutops tried to sever Chatot's wing, but the Steel Wing was too hard and only cut into it. Trill grabbed Kabutops' torso with his talons and pushed and pulled, flipping them around before tossing Kabutops straight at the ground.


The extra speed from the Aqua Jet was to Kabutops' detriment and it smashed into the hard ground. Trill came down, wings cycling between several elements and moves before he decided on copying the Aqua Jet.


Kabutops rolled out of the way and lashed out, Trill jumped and parried.


Both of them, panting for breath, began a whirlwind of stabs and slashes. Metal wings met rock scythes and shrieking out piercing cries as they met each other in scythe-to-wing combat. The air was snapping at the speed of their strikes, lights flashing and casting gruesome shadows along the walls.


Rai prowled along the edges, even he could not pick out a clear target with how much they were moving, crackling uselessly with electricity.


Kabutops went for a stab, Trill ducked and it smashed straight through the wall instead. Kabutops grunted but was unable to pull itself free. Trill carved an X into Kabutops and nearly tore his arm out from the blow, knocking him flying as spittle flew into the air.


Kabutops landed with a crash and gasped. "W-wait," he said, forcing a scythe into the ground to help pull himself up, the other one hung limply as it was rendered useless. "We can talk."


Trill pointed a wing at Kabutops. "I don't want to see you ever again," he hissed. "Now leave."


"I see," Kabutops said as he glanced to an omastar. Having pulled himself from the wall, it began to aim for Chatot as Kabutops said, "Our duo deigns to your demand."


"DI-"


"CHATOT!" Rai screamed, charging forward lighting with electricity. Face freezing in apoplectic fury, Rai blasted the omastar with enough electricity to send it through the dungeon wall, shattering the wall in a torrent of rock and electricity.


Kabutops took his shot. Trill’s eyes widened as Kabutops leaped for Rai beside him, scythe raised to cut straight through the exhausted shinx. The lamed arm suddenly appeared undamaged as he struck for Rai’s chest.


The satisfied gleam in Kabutops' eye froze as he was forced to a complete stop.


"No," Trill breathed. Wing outstretched, hardened with metal, and pierced entirely through Kabutops' abdomen. "You won't hurt anyone ever again."


Kabutops' eyes widened briefly before Trill yanked his wing back, tearing it from Kabutops. The murderous felon took a single step back before the gaping wound seemed to click at last, with murky brackish blood welling up from the wound. His eyes went blank and he toppled. His face looked peaceful in death.


Trill took several hard breaths before he gave a soft, weak, sound and dropped to the ground.


Rai's breath came in quick, short, bursts. Not dissimilar from Mane's own. He took a step back, eyes locked on Kabutops' body. His own wound was still trickling blood, but he couldn't even feel it now. The scythe had been inches from skewering him.


Sean was completely silent from where he was still kneeling by Mane. The battle had started and ended in just a few minutes, enough time for him to do everything he could.


"Shinx," Sean called. Rai glanced back at the only source of sound besides the dripping and the ringing in Rai's own ears. "Mane has to get back to the guild." He paused, he didn't want to say it, but Mane was almost unconscious now. "If we don't get him in care soon, he will die."


Rai glanced back to Chatot and then to Sean. He took a single step.


"Riolu!" came a high-pitched shriek. "LITLEO!?" Sunflora, Dugtrio, Corphish, and Bidoof came sprinting up to them. Not a few seconds later, Wigglytuff, Grovyle, and Chimecho were racing after them as well.


Wigglytuff moved ahead of Chimecho, then Sunflora, and right to Chatot.


Rai sat down and lay on his side, relieved to just sit down to breathe again.


Striker and Chimecho were by Sean's side as Sunflora, Dugtrio, Corphish and Bidoof watched in worry.


"He had his neck slashed by a jet of water," Sean explained as Chimecho began to glow around the bloody sheet and untouched bow. "I don't think it hit the artery, but he's lost a lot of blood. I've stemmed it as best I could, and he ate one oran berry. He needs more help, or he…"


Chimecho nodded as she finished feeling around with Psychic. "He needs to get back to the guild quickly," she said gravely. "Or Litleo will die."


"No…" Mane moaned. "I… I've gotta… help… save…" he sighed weakly, each word getting harder.


"Don't speak," Chimecho said softly as Rai found himself on his feet and then by Mane's side. He pressed a gentle paw on top of Mane's own.


"You have to be alright, okay?" he asked, Mane cracked an eye open to meet his.


"…okay."


Chimecho felt something and jerked with a flinch, looking for Wigglytuff. She quickly floated over to where Wigglytuff sat, holding Chatot and rocking back and forth.


"Guildmaster?" she asked, trying to feel for Chatot. "What…? Oh."


Wigglytuff raised his head, tears matted his face. "He's already gone," Wigglytuff whispered, rocking Chatot's still body back and forth.


The words were soft and yet they carried. All at once, the air was knocked out of the guild's lungs.


Chimecho floated in place, not moving as the constant breath of the dungeon itself seemed to hitch.


Sunflora slowly covered her mouth.


Bidoof glanced between Wigglytuff and Chimecho, not understanding. "Wha-what? G-Guildmaster? Ch-Chatot?"


The quiet steps of the final arrivals seemed to boom around yet were unheard. Croagunk and Diglett arrived.


The words of the others were drowned out as a painful droning filled Rai's ears. He blinked. He blinked again. He blinked more. Yet, no matter how much he blinked, Chatot didn't sit up. He didn't squawk in offence or tell them off for speaking such a horrible lie.


The Guildmaster was a prankster, he never took anything seriously. This wasn't something to joke about. This… couldn't be true.


Rai stood and began to walk towards Wigglytuff. He was holding Chatot to his chest, matted with red blood. From where Chatot had fallen, a puddle of blood and a line from where Wigglytuff had picked him up.


A line that led to Kabutops' scythe, red blood from where he had impaled Chatot and been impaled in kind.


From where he stabbed Chatot.


From where Chatot took the hit for him and delivered a killing blow in kind.


Where Chatot had died. To save him.


"No," Rai whispered as his stomach clenched. There was nothing there, but his stomach felt like he'd swallowed sand and metal. He wanted to vomit, his right forward paw accidentally stepped in the line of red.


Wigglytuff seemed to crumble in on himself as Rai stood in front of him. His tears were streaking down his face, running down his fur, to where Chatot was pressed against his chest. He began to shake violently, arms tightening around Chatot.


"Trill," Rhythm whimpered. "I can't do this without you. Trill. Trill. Trill." His voice broke further with each word.


"Please no," Rai whispered. His ears were static. The dungeon was laughing. Kabutops was dead. Chatot was dead.


Rai's back legs gave out and he buried his face into his paws. "I'M SORRY!" he screamed, this was his fault.


"It's not your fault," Rhythm whispered.


It was. It was. It was. Rai knew it. He knew it was his fault. He shouldn't have been such a big target. He should have attacked Kabutops. He should have done something different.


Rai continued to shake and cry even as Sunflora knelt down with him and hugged him.


Rai felt the Relic Fragment around his neck and wanted to throw it into the ocean.


"You have to go on," Rhythm whimpered. Rai looked up. Wigglytuff was still falling apart, unable to even look away from Trill’s too-still form. "You can't let this be for nothing."


Grovyle and Riolu came to his side and Rai slowly got up. He looked back to the guild and they began to walk, Chimecho levitating Mane even as she bowed her head.


Everyone was crying. Bidoof couldn't stand and Sunflora was leading a sobbing Loudred along. Croagunk had covered his face but couldn't cover his tears. Diglett was between Dugtrio's three heads and they were silent with sniffles.


Corphish simply stared blankly ahead.


Tears pricked at Mane's eyes, but he was barely conscious.


Grovyle's eyes were downcast and solemn, but he said nothing. A hand rested on Sean's shoulders and the riolu bit his lip, shaking as he suppressed his emotions as best he could.


They walked into the final room. It opened up into the ocean, a cove letting in a gentle light. A large replication of the symbol on the relic fragment was engraved on the wall.


Rhythm couldn't help but look up, wishing to see Soothe and have her miraculous powers revive Trill. Yet, even the first time, Trill had still been alive when he found her here.


Rai lifted the Relic Fragment to an enormous copy of its symbol and the entire room buzzed with some arcane energy. A jet of life burst from the middle of the symbol and across the water, past the horizon.


Moments later, a lapras appeared.


Lapras docked and looked around at the large group. "This is more than I had thought I'd see," he said in a graceful tone, looking over everyone. His eyes fell on Wigglytuff. "Oh dear. Is there anything that can be done?"


Rhythm shook his head, clutching Trill to his chest.


Lapras bowed his head. "I am greatly sorry for your loss." His eyes continued roaming, settling on Mane. "And that one?"


"He needs help soon," Chimecho said, voice quiet and hollow. "We've done what we can, but he needs to get back to the guild."


"I see," Lapras said. "I cannot do much, but I can at least preserve them in their states until you return." He breathed out a pair of rings of water before pushing them over. One rotated around Chatot, the other Mane. "Those Aqua Rings will keep them as they are for the time being."


"Thank you."


Lapras turned to the three who stood before him. A grovyle, riolu, and shinx. "I only have so much room, and you three… you three are the ones."


Grovyle nodded and Lapras turned around. "I am the guide to the Hidden Land. I have been expecting someone for some time, so time is of the essence. I… am sorry about what happened here, but you will need to grieve on the trip."


Grovyle leapt on, Sean moved on slower. Rai hesitated. He looked back to the guild, he still felt the weight in his stomach. He still felt that this was his fault. He could still see Chatot leaping in front of him and taking the hit.


"Save the world," Bidoof encouraged, sniffling and hiccupping.


"We'll see you when you get back."


"Be safe."


"Hey, you can do it."


"Do it for Chatot."


Mane cracked an eye open. "Do… everything I would have done," he croaked. "And more. Give them hell, Raigeki."


Rai met Wigglytuff's eyes and he nodded weakly. "He believed in you. We all do." His eyes fell down to Chatot. It almost looked like he was sleeping.


Rai took a breath and climbed onto Lapras' shell, settling next to Grovyle. Lapras cast one last look over to Chatot before setting off at impressive speeds. Riding the currents below, leaving Brine Cave behind them.


"I'm… sorry for the loss of Chatot," Striker said softly as the silence dwelled between them. "He was a noble pokémon."


Sean raised his head. "He was a stuffy, cranky, insufferable critic," Sean snapped, voice cracking as tears finally broke to begin streaking down his face. No one else was supposed to die for this. "He was a hero."


That brought the weakest of comforts in Rai before he turned to look back at the cove of Brine Cave. The guild was departing, having to leave for Mane's sake. Everyone looked back as they disappeared.


Rai didn't speak. Sean didn't speak.


Striker watched over them as they drifted into sleep, making sure they didn't slip into the water. Brine Cave was behind them, it had to be behind them.


The Hidden Land was now. The Hidden Land was the future. The Hidden Land was coming.


Despite it, Striker looked back to Brine Cave one last time. "A hero indeed," he sighed before nestling down to wait. He had the final gear, he had his will back once Azelf found themselves agreeable to Wigglytuff's overwhelming personality.


But still. He looked back this once.
 
Chapter 30 - On Your Way

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
"Sean," Striker said, rousing the resting riolu.

Sean yawned and cracked his eyes open, squinting against the sun and coming up to rub his face with his paws. Some water splashed onto his hanging tail and he twitched before leaning over to scoop some up and throw it into his face.

The salt burned and Sean briefly regretted everything.

As Sean carried on, Striker carefully made his way over to Rai. It was about two steps, but his surface was rocking, and he didn't want to fall off.

"Shinx?" Striker asked, giving Rai a poke. Rai frowned and mumbled something, trying to turn over. Thankfully the craterous texture of the shell prevented him from rolling into the water and Sean's groaning helped bring him to consciousness as well.

"W-where?" Rai asked, yawning.

"We are nearing the Hidden Land," Lapras said, having instructed Striker to rouse them. Rai blinked and sat up, remembering where he was.

"Right," he said, quietly. The rest of the memories from the previous day began to hit him and he found he didn't want to look at Striker. Looking at Sean was also unwelcome, so he stared past Lapras' neck instead.

"Is that… what is that?" Rai asked, peering forward to a break in the sky and sea before them. It was minute and difficult to see at first, simply a twist in space, but once one spotted it they could not unsee it.

"Why are the waves twisting?" Striker asked, alarmed at the prospect of something he was not prepared for.

"Do not be concerned," Lapras soothed. "That is the edge of the gap in time. That is the portal through which we will reach the Hidden Land."

"Is this what Spinda meant?" Sean muttered, his eyes mostly free of salt. As Lapras began to speed up, none of the others responded to that.

His fins touching clearer water, all three of his riders jolted with the sudden increase in speed.

"W-Woah," Rai squeaked, clutching on as Lapras began to go faster and faster until his fins began to leave the water.

"Okay," Lapras said, voice steady as the rocking began to get harsher. "Here we go." All three grabbed onto whatever they could to steady themselves.

"I'd advise closing your eyes for a moment," Lapras suggested. Everything began to go white and he closed his eyes before his head touched the ripple in time and space.

"It is safe now," Lapras said and all three opened their eyes carefully.

"Lapras?" Striker gasped. "Is that-"

Sean finished. "The Hidden Land?"

"Yes. This is the Hidden Land. Dialga's domain." He nodded towards where a tower stood before everyone realised there was no ground or sea below them.

Rai jolted as he saw into the abyss. "We're flying?" Rai squeaked, clutching on even harder.

"Is that it…?" Striker muttered.

"No, not flying. I am crossing the sea of time," Lapras answered as they began to approach the landmass. From their vantage point, a great deal of the Hidden Land could be seen.

Mountainous spires jutted from the ground, dotting the landscape with pyramids of danger and adventure. Between the peaks, thick, green, woodlands sprung, carpeting the land in the natural splendour of untamed wilds.

"We're going in," Lapras said. "Hold onto something." He nosed his head down and sped up even further, approaching a part poking out of the landscape, a natural shoreline for the sea of time.

Lapras came to a gentle stop, resting seemingly in mid-air. He swayed a slight amount, moved by an invisible current. Carefully, the three climbed off and onto the floating, but perfectly solid, land.

"Thank you," Sean said, quietly bowing to Lapras.

The transporter smiled at him and bowed back. "There is no need to thank me. I've done what I can."

"What can you tell us of this place?" Striker asked as Rai took a deep breath, smelling the area.

"Very little, I am afraid." Lapras' demeanour changed to a quiet apology. "I have not been any farther than this port. All I can say is that Dialga awaits at the top of Temporal Tower." He nodded again to the floating citadel, still visible even from this point. "And that the Hidden Land exists one perfect second out of sync with the rest of time."

"What does that mean?" Striker pressed. Lapras smiled at him.

"Nothing that can help or hinder your work here," he replied. "It is simply the means of guarding this place. Besides the one specific entrance, it is impossible to find the Hidden Land for it exists one second beyond you and always does."

Striker nodded. "We did truly need the key, then."

Lapras nodded once more, looking to Rai as well as the shinx turned back. "That is one last thing, actually," he added. "The… 'key' unlocks more than just the entranceway. I do not know exactly where or how, but my family has passed down for generations that such an item unlocks the path to Temporal Tower as well in a place I only know as the Old Ruins. Guard it well."

Rai looked to the Relic Fragment, heavy against his neck with the weight of what it took to get it. He nodded. "I'm not losing it," he said, deciding to omit saying again.

Lapras nodded one last time. "Do not dawdle," he instructed, raising himself up. "I will wait for you here, but time is truly of the essence. You must repair Temporal Tower by any means, Dialga may not welcome you in their state, however. I can give you only one piece of advice."

He offered a strict but encouraging look. "Do not fight, you can't defeat Dialga, at least not in time. Distract it and set the Time Gears within their place. That is all I can hope you must do."

"Thank you," all three said and Lapras smiled.

"I wish you a safe journey."

Rai, Sean, and Striker stepped forward, the steady presence of Lapras watching them leave before they were consumed by the dungeon that existed before them.

"There is no doubt in my mind now," Striker said as they entered the dungeon. He looked to Sean, who nodded back.

"There wasn't much, to begin with. Dialga's citadel is the same, so we have been in the future of the Hidden Land before."

"Only that it was connected to the rest of the world," Striker said. "Dialga must have lost control of the defence mechanism."

"Does this matter?" Rai asked, eyes set firmly ahead.

"Yes," Striker answered. "The two of us know the landscape well. While some areas are undoubtedly unfamiliar, many of the dungeons are the same. The one we are within right now was known as the Forest of Woe and is an excellent path to where I believe we need to go."

Sean smiled slightly at the name while Rai gave them a disturbed look. "Fun name for a dungeon," he pointed out.

Striker scoffed, or was it a chuckle? "Aren't they all?"

Rai frowned and turned away, putting his eyes back on the dungeon as something shook.

Or, really, everything shook.

One of them shouted out in alarm as the world shifted, Sean toppled over, and Rai's claws came out to grip the ground. A wall of trees simply crumbled into nothingness as the tremor began to cease.

"What… was that?" Rai gasped. Nothing had attacked them, nothing besides the dungeon itself.

"I do not know," Striker answered, helping Sean up with a grunt. He hadn't fallen over himself, but something had struck his leg and the limb rang with pain.

"Whatever it was," Sean said, breathing fast. "It can't have been good. We better hurry up."

Looking left and right, the trio of time savers began to speed up. Striker concealed any pain in his leg with a smile and they pushed on as pokémon began to appear.

It was most unsettling. From cracks in what passed for walls in this dungeon that led into a null space, creatures materialised.

Some were reaching out, trying to claw their way out. Some succeeded but moved immediately to attack. There was no sense in their minds and no mercy reflected in their eyes.

Striker always struck first, Sean copying a Bullet Seed or Energy Ball to back up his moves. Rai's attacks inflicted the most effect, stunning the enemies with shocks of electricity.

Some stopped completely after Rai blasted them, only staring forward in utter silence until they were either knocked out or the trio had pushed further, leaving upright headstones of pokémon watching them go.

"Do it again!" Striker ordered as attackers formed through the cracks in the walls, or spilled from entrances into the room they were in. Rai nodded and discharged all the electricity he could, blanketing the creatures in a shock wave of energy.

He panted for breath as they ran past, each former attacker simply staring at them as they left.

"What are they doing?" Rai asked, keeping stride with the two bipedal pokémon.

"I don't know," Striker answered, risking a glance back while Sean watched their path. "And I'd rather NOT learn what."

Sean's tassels quivered and he braked to a stop, throwing an arm out that clubbed Striker in the belly. "Watch out!" he yelled, Rai not being blocked in kind.

From the barest crack in the wall, unnoticeable if one wasn't looking for it, a manectric came tumbling through, snarling and spitting.

Rai was pinned as it landed right on him and he let loose the storm in reflex, only for it to be absorbed completely by the manectric.

It tried to bite his throat out, but Striker grabbed its head in time and wrenched it away as Sean slammed his palm into its side and something exploded with force.

The manectric was thrown into the wall and it cracked its head and went down. All three of them watched it warily, but it didn't get up.

"Here," Sean said, extending a paw for Rai. Rai just stood up on his own power.

"Thank you," he said, bowing his head.

Striker began to move forward. "Let's continue," he said, before nodding to Sean. "Good work, Sean. Keep an eye out for any more."

Sean nodded as Rai's face screwed up slightly. "I felt it coming," he said, flicking one of his tassels. Striker nodded happily and they continued on.

"I wish Sea-Scout was here," Rai said, quietly. He quickly pinched his mouth closed, he hadn't meant for it to slip out.

The other two gave him sad looks of different varieties. Sean a guilty one that lasted only a moment before he looked away, and Striker an emphatic one that met Rai's eyes.

"Yeah."

"We have to keep going. For him."


"Damn," Scout cursed. "You win again. How are you doing this?"

"Heh," Sableye chuckled, scratching out the board. "Guess I'm just a master at this."

They had played Tic-Tac-Toe with some difficulty for a while so far. Scout had won the first game and then about one out of every seven games since then. He was visibly flustered but clearly doing his best to keep his cool.

"Okay. I'm going first. Circle in the middle."

They played again, with the sableye managing yet another upsetting victory.

"I blame this entirely on having a concussion," Scout defended as Sableye laughed at him. "Fine. Can we try a different game? I saw you playing, uh, 'Grass-Fire-Water' earlier? How do you play that?"

It was tricky having nubby paws and not the spindly finger-claws of the sableye and he was forced to go Grass more often than not. Which Sableye took delighted advantage of.

He gave up and switched back to some variations on Tic-Tac-Toe that he could think of. 4 in a row on a bigger board, even moving onto 5 in a row that took time to scratch out to have a field big enough.

Through the dim lighting and his restraints, Scout couldn't see the board quite well and could only direct Sableye as best as he could, from the constant giggles he wondered if Sableye was cheating but didn't say anything.

He instead blamed the lighting, and the concussion, which continued to make Sableye giggle. Adding in some passive-aggressive remarks and humorous anecdotes continued to raise his warden's mood.

"Yeah, Sean with his big long fingers was always the best at playing the Turn Your Head and Cough game, but no one really liked playing that."

Thankfully, Sableye didn't always understand the drivel he was putting out.

His reproachful tone when recounting stories that didn't happen were enough to make the thing giggle.

"Five in a row!" Sableye crowed, raising its arms victoriously. Scout peered at him suspiciously but quickly sighed and bent his head.

"Gah, dammit. I'd ask who taught you, but it was me."

"I don't need no teaching," Sableye proclaimed, pointing a claw at itself. "I've always been the smartest of the pack."

"Really now?"

"That's right."

"What's two plus two?"

"Four."

"Dammit."

Scout got a sneaky gleam in his eye. "What's one plus one?"

"Trick question."

He was genuinely surprised at Sableye catching that one. Scout sighed theatrically and tried to storm off, but the chain caught and he landed on his belly.

Sableye giggled but was a little more worried this time. More of a nervous titter. "Don't hurt yourself. Master Dusknoir wouldn't be happy about that."

"Sometimes I forget," Scout sighed and pulled himself up. His right arm was still stinging between moments of numbness.

"Well, what do you want to do now?" Sableye asked, bored again. "Wanna try and break my streak?" it asked eagerly. Board, or dirt, games were much more enjoyable than sitting around in monotony.

"Maybe later," Scout replied. "I'm really hungry."

"Yeah, me too."

Scout nodded. He was aware, most of Sableye's own stories had related to food in some way.

"Well, what's there to eat?" he asked, meeting its diamond-covered eyes.

"The Master feeds us at allotted times," Sableye replied, sounding a little unsure of himself. "I don't know where it comes from. I've tried to learn, but he threatened to break my fingers and skip me out for lunch one day."

The second comment disturbed Sableye more than the finger-breaking threat that turned Scout's stomach a little. He knew Dusknoir had a goodness deep inside but that seemed genuinely cruel.

"I have food," Scout replied, easily. He glanced around, his bag wasn't there. "It's in my bag… ah dammit, did that fall through the portal?" He already knew he didn't have it, he was really hoping it had since he had the fragment in there.

"Sure did," Sableye replied. Scout avoided looking too relieved.

"I'm really hungry," Scout said, meeting Sableye's eyes again. Part of him thanked his lucky stars he was adorable enough to get his companions to reteach him moves, and even more lucky that his body remembered even if his mind didn't.

At least, he assumed it was working. He had gotten Night Slash down fairly well and even Shadow Ball had been easy even though he had to watch his blood dissolve dozens of times over a couple of hours.

Celebi had said he got something out of his attempt with her.

"Dusknoir probably wouldn't want me starving," he added again to try and push. He was getting a little nervous now. Were the diamonds interfering or had Celebi just been bored of sitting around?

"Yeah! Yeah. Yeah…" Sableye glanced at the door. "Yeah. I'll be back."

Scout breathed a sigh of relief as it disappeared. As much as he would like to try, the chains were unbearably thick, and he'd nearly shattered his claws breaking the thinner ones. He would not be able to break these ones.

Even if he had, going out alone would be a dire mistake. Once was too many.

So, for now, he had to keep at it.

Sableye appeared again quickly, panting and unsettled.

"I should NOT have gone," it said, and Scout cursed inwardly. Sableye did, however, have a bag. "Master said not to let you out of my sight."

"I'm still here," he said, lazily, as if it was no big deal. "And hey! Since you brought me some food, how about we share!"

"Share?" Sableye asked, looking down at the bag in confusion as if he was wondering why it was there. "Share what?"

"Whatever you've brought," Scout said and almost immediately Sableye was drooling. "You, uh… like apples?"

"Yes."

"Well." Scout suppressed a smile and gestured. "Pull one out."

Sableye didn't need telling twice. Already, he was moving on from his earlier panic. Food was on the mind now."

It took the brief moments of a skilled forager to retrieve the apple. Sableye broke it in half and offered out the bigger half.

"I'm not THAT hungry," Scout protested. "And you're bigger than me."

"Why are you being so nice?" Sableye asked, getting suspicious. It did pull the larger half back and offer the smaller one through. Scout couldn't quite reach it, so it took some careful steps closer.

His paws were still bound, so Sableye had to awkwardly hang it in the air until he was able to bite into it and pull back. The apple was munched, juice spilling down as he awkwardly tried not to drop it into the dirt. Took some time.

"Why shouldn't I be nice?" Scout asked once he dropped the apple, feeling like not addressing the question would only ruin what was being fostered already.

"You're a captive," Sableye pointed out, "I know Master Dusknoir likes you and wants you safe, for some reason, but you're still trapped here, taken from everyone you were with before. You definitely didn't want to be here. Or play games with me."

"You didn't put me in here," he said, looking sadly down at most of the apple. He was, in fact, quite hungry so he shelved his thoughts and bent down to eat it off the floor. Once another few bites were down, and Sableye also ate his half, he continued.

"You're nice to me, it'd be rude to be, well, rude back."

Sableye gave him a funny look at being called nice. He recalled schooling the meowth completely in games of wit and skill. Although, he considered, he wasn't torturing or taunting him.

Well, a little bit of taunting, but perfectly friendly stuff.

Beating him so badly could maybe be constituted as torture, certainly sounded like it without context.

Yet, they shared some laughs, that was what counted, Sableye decided.

"Have you ever had a gummi," Scout said, totally smoothly.

Sableye shivered. "Yes," he literally moaned. "It was the best thing ever. Can't believe the past gets stuff like that."

"Yeah," Scout agreed easily. "They sold them at Treasure Town, we'd treat ourselves occasionally."

"You could BUY them?"

"Treasure Town," he answered, before shrugging. "Can get anything there."

"Oh." Sableye looked crestfallen. Scout began to feel a little bad, his captor almost looked ready to begin weeping the kinds of tears recounted in ballads.

Maybe this would be told in odes to glory if he played this right.

"I know a way to the past," he said as plainly as he could. No simpering tone or smooth silky tenor. Plain speech, bold and brash.

Sableye was immediately back on guard. "Oh, no-no-no," it said, stepping back. "I'm not falling for any tricks."

"Not a trick," Scout replied. "I've been to the past and I know… what… yeah three different ways back here. Although one is the stupidest thing ever and the other might be a bit tricky. The third way, however, that'd be easy."

"I don't wanna hear this!" Sableye snapped, stepping further back. "You're gonna spin something! I knew you were too nice!"

"Did I play my hand too soon?" Scout feared, but it was too late to back down now. "I'm not asking you anything," he said, which was true for the moment. Part of him wondered when he'd gotten so comfortable with technical truths. "Just pointing out something."

"You're not gonna trick me!"

"Like how there are no gummi's in this time."

"Yo-" Sableye froze. "Th-that don't mean nothing to me," he said, weakly, as his stomach rumbled. "That also means nothing."

"I know the way," Scout continued, speaking brightly. "I even know how you could escape. Dusknoir wouldn't really notice you gone, would he?"

Sableye continued to hesitate, but he did answer a direct question. "Probably not… the others though… big meanies, but…"

It continued to look unsure, but that was leagues better than adverse. "Well think of it this way," Scout said. "Dusknoir told you to keep an eye on me, right? If I'm leading the way, you won't be letting me out of your sight. It's not like I can do much with my arms tied behind my back like this."

"You're just telling me what I want to hear!" Sableye retorted.

"So, you do want more gummi's?"

Sableye cursed to himself. "Damn right I do! All that fresh food and tasty stuff, I wish I'd never-" It stopped short, swallowing saliva. Scout decided that backing off was better for now, and let it come to its own decisions.

They waited in silence. Silence long enough for sounds to begin rattling around in their heads, veins whispering and each blink beginning to hiss out words.

Scout considered asking for another game of five in a row when Sableye broke the silence.

"How?" it asked, very quietly but perfectly audible in the silence of the future. "How would you… go back?"

Scout smiled, this one he couldn't help. "There are three main ways," he answered. "One is silly, Dialga." Sableye shivered. "Second is difficult, Celebi." Sableye shook his head. "The third, however, that one is easy."

"What?" he questioned again.

"The Dimensional Hole that Dusknoir is using, of course!" he said happily. "I guess it's kinda Dialga, but we don't need to go anywhere near Dialga. Just need to get to the opening and jump back to the past.

"How do you know where that is?" Sableye demanded. This was the kink in Scout's plan. He had only the vaguest of ideas, knowing that the dimensional holes pathway was through time and space. Going from Treasure Town and they landed in the Hidden Land.

He did, however, remember where Dusknoir's Dimensional Hole exited Dusknoir, the sableye, and Grovyle.

He had an idea of it, at least.

"Dusknoir was muttering his plans when he thought I was unconscious," Scout replied. "He says a lot under his breath, I noticed."

"Where is it?" Sableye asked. Scout gave him a smile.

"Ever heard of Barren Valley?" he asked. Sableye's gem-encrusted eyes lit up.

"Yes."

"The portal is around there."

Sableye nodded, looked at him, and hesitated again. "I…" Scout waited. "I don't know. If we get caught, Master Dusknoir will probably not be happy."

"If it comes down to it," Scout said. "I'll back you up. Say I tricked you while you blend in with the others. He can't tell the difference between you all, I noticed?"

"Yeah, that's right. I… I dunno. This is crazy."

Scout met his eyes again. It was risky to try Hypnosis again. "You've been to the past before," he said softly. "Don't you remember how wonderful it was? Dusknoir would not even notice you're gone, and even if he did and decided to chase you he'd never find you in the past. It's safe, much safer than here. I… I just want to be with my friends."

"You want to change the past," Sableye grumbled.

"And how much help was I?" Scout replied, only mostly self-loathing. He sighed. "I knew stuff and I didn't tell anyone. Keeping secrets is what led to all this. Yes, I want to go back to the past, but so do you, right?"

It was silent. His claws itched.

Only those who with hearts most shrivelled by the darkness had refused in the game. The sableye changed too, didn't they?

"R-right."

Scout breathed out a quiet sigh of relief. "Okay! I can get us both to the past, but we have to work together. Neither of us can do this alone, we need to work as a team."

"Well… what do I have to do?" Sableye asked.

"Just take off the cuff," Scout replied, kicking out the leg in question. "You can keep me bound if you want, it will mean you'll be doing most of the fighting though, we'll mostly be running away from enemies."

"I'm great at running away!"

"Me too!"

Sableye nodded and stepped closer, awkwardly. "Uh… okay, step back." Scout complied and Sableye nervously came into the cell. He could see, now that they were closer, small dark points within the gems of its eyes, flitting about nervously.

There was no key, but Sableye was able to carve through the old metal with only a little bit of cursing. He would have damaged Scout's own leg, but the Ghost-type moves used just passed harmlessly through.

Once it was down, Sableye stepped back, nervous again. Scout just smiled thankfully at it and it gave him a shaky nod.

"Could I carry the bag?" Scout asked, stepping out of the cage. "Just to be a little useful on the move."

Sableye helped get it onto his shoulder and Scout nodded to him. "Alrighty then. First, we'll need a map. Also, I'm not sure about calling you Sableye." He didn't want to ask for an actual name, so he suggested one himself. "Mind if I call you Danny?"

The sableye blinked. "I've never had a name," he replied, a shadow of a pout crossing its face. "Except for the others calling me hungry and glutton and fatty. You can call me anything other than that."

"Danny then." Scout nodded and Danny gave a hesitant nod back.

"What does it mean?"

"It's a human name," Scout answered as they began to move. Quietly, even though this entire building was currently uninhabited. Shadows still moved and their eyes fixated on every dangerous surface. "It means whatever you want it to mean."

"Even awesome?"

"Even 'the Great and Powerful."

Danny grinned a sharp-toothed smile.

"I like that."


"I don't like this! I don't like this!"

"This… isn't really working," Scout wheezed as they ran for the umpteenth time.

As it turns out, when being led by a cowardly sableye who fought only in overwhelming numbers it was not wise to believe things would be smooth sailing.

To further compound the issue, his arms and tail were still tied down, preventing Scout from helping in battle at all. He really didn't want to try a Hypnosis on these wretches creatures.

As the shrivelled cherry on this sundae of disappointment Scout wasn't entirely confident he was even leading them on the correct path.

He had an idea, but it was flimsy at best. He had a plan, but his arms were tied, and every opponent was a monstrous being that needed to be avoided.

"How… far… have we… gone?" Scout gasped as they once again evaded something better left alone.

Danny gave him a worried look. Meowth was really not looking great and he hadn't fought at all. "Hey, uh… are you okay?"

"Fine," Scout replied, failing to catch his breath. "I'm fine." He nodded, managing to speak two words without gasping.

Danny looked unconvinced. "Are you su-"

Something screeched from behind him and Danny screamed, vaulting over Scout as something with pincers and far too many legs swiped out from above them.

Scout jerked from the screech and Danny's sudden movement but spotted the ariados as it descended upon them, poison drooling from its mandibles.

It lashed out with a leg and Scout saw his chance. He leapt up and twisted around, exposing the bindings to its attack. He yelped out as the strike cut into his back, and also found agony ringing through his right arm as the rope tying his arms together was shredded.

On the ball of his paw, Scout spun around lashing out with a Night Slash and cut into the ariados' face. It reeled back, screeching, and he took this opportunity to run after Danny.

He bolted over a web spat at him and continued running, feeling wetness drip down his back from where he had been slashed.

"Danny?" he called, hoping the sableye would hear him and hear him quickly. "DANNY?"

He ran from room to room of the dungeon calling out, this attracted undesirable attention as well and what little energy Scout had been able to conserve was being wasted as he ran, leapt, and threw his own blood around to survive.

"DANNY!?" Scout screamed. He turned a corner and-

"Oh, THANK THE LEGENDS!" Danny yelped, scuttering up to him, claws chewed down. "I thought you were behind me! Where did you go? I've been seeing WORDS in my eyes!"

He clung onto Scout. Danny blinked, then realised Scout had gotten out of his bindings. His tail was still strapped to his leg, however. "How did you get out of those!" he gasped, pointing an accusing finger at him.

Scout offered a 'Are you kidding me?' Look until Danny cringed.

"Okay, okay, no funny business."

"We need to stick together," Scout said placatingly.

Danny nodded. "Right, right, right."

It was easier sailing from there, with plenty of running until they exited the horrible non-dungeon, just a regular cursed labyrinth. With Danny's help, they had decided to head to a town close to the Dusknoir Keep to get a better idea of where Barren Vally was.

Emerging from it, they had a straight path to the 'town'.

Scout was nervous, his experience already didn't offer much comfort to places being where they were supposed to be, despite Danny explaining the towns along the Rubblebelt were in a stable area and could be counted on being where they were supposed to be.

It didn't give Scout a whole lot of confidence, however.

They had no other choice.

Barrow Town was a piece of shit by any standard Scout could think up.

"It's pretty normal as far as that goes," Danny offered when Scout voiced that little criticism more politely.

The place was in a few words, a junk town. Built of broken things, the sharp edges sanded down or left as a warning.

The place smelled off, like old garbage drifting along the wind and not a single pokemon offered them a friendly look.

To Scout who had only remembered the kindness of Treasure Town, a memory that swiftly became bitter as he remembered the way the town just let Dusknoir spin his tail to vilify him, the place was something of a shock.

"I almost prefer it," Scout grumbled, as at least no one came near them. They were strangers and strangers could bring any sort of trouble with them.

Eyes hungrily fell on the bag and Scout tucked it tightly under his arm.

There were no shops designed like pokemon, but there were shopkeepers.

"Listen, bud, we need a map," Danny said, leaning on a counter at an unimpressed sewaddle. "Or a guide or whatever. Barren Valley, you know the place?"

"What do you got to trade for that information?" Sewaddle asked.

Scout opened his mouth to offer any number of things but Danny caught him before he could. "For a map or guide, not just if you know there is one?" Danny said clearly.

Sewaddle sneered a little at him and rolled his eyes. "What do you have?"

Danny nodded to Scout who unveiled a few things they'd taken with them. Some food, a good sharp spike, and a precious orb.

Sewaddle's eyes immediately lit up on the orb. "That'll do nicely."

"Now." Danny snatched it before a web could tug it away. "The map first."

They stared at each other, but unblinking diamond won out and Sewaddle ducked below for a few moments, coming up with an ancient piece of leather that looked ready to crumble to dust.

He slid it over, the orb was pushed in return, and Danny unravelled it to make sure the map was legit. As he had no idea where Barren Valley was, he was really banking on the hope that the speed of which Sewaddle procured it would mean it was real.

Although, at the same time, the age implied it could be from before time collapsed.

"Pleasure doing business with you," Danny said smoothly, Scout watching the whole exchange with a measure of respect for the sableye. Sewaddle quietly stashed the spike that he'd snatched while neither was looking.

"You did that well," Scout said, impressed at Danny and clearly showing it.

It stoked his ego as well and Danny grinned. "Well, we should get going soon. We're not far from the boss's joint and someone here might recognise either one of us. Me would be worse."

Sewaddle, who had recognised Danny immediately and sent out a silent warning, made sure to retreat from the town square as pokemon began to move around them.

Scout and Danny, both sharp and a little paranoid, couldn't help but notice that there were more pokemon than before and that places that didn't have anyone in the way were rapidly beginning to close.

"Danny?" Scout said calmly.

"Yeah?"

"We might need to run."

"Yeah."

They shared a brief look and that was the signal. They bolted, moving with the speed and agility of nimble felons undertaking a grand heist.

Scout made sure to zip through Sewaddle's shop and snatch the spike he thought he could steal while neither of them were looking.

"Hey!"

"That's one of the crony sableye!"

"I knew that meowth was a traitor!"

Danny launched into Scout as attacks began to be flung, zipping them through a shadow. A movement so rapid it felt like they had fallen through a curtain before they tumbled through the other side of a building.

"Come on," Danny hissed, tugging him up and keeping them going. They ran until the townsfolk were beginning to lag behind.

Still though.

"Danny," Scout gasped, his strength flagging. He had ups and downs, surges of energy that soon faded leaving him even more drained than before. He wasn't sure where the boosts were coming from, but it was wearing his body down and he could no longer breathe comfortably, panting all the time.

"We gotta keep going," Danny said, almost dragging him along by his uninjured arm.

"I. Need. Stop," Scout pleaded, tripping and staggering.

Danny didn't stop them moving, both of their ribs were showing as they both fought for breath. Scout wasn't the only person who went hungry in the Dark Future.

There were no clouds overhead, yet thunder still rumbled.

"There they are!" A villager had spotted them, and both of them groaned and tried to push on.

"You're not getting awAH!"

It was not thunder rumbling, but lightning striking.

A burst of white light nearly blinded Scout as a lightning bolt struck down, causing floating rocks to fall and smash into the ground, forming a barrier and forcing the pursuers to stop, at least for the time being.

Danny looked around, stunned that could even have happened. Scout had huddled into a ball when the lightning struck, trying to block out the pain.

Danny alone was stunned at what he saw.

A luxray stood tall and proud, golden eyes glaring down at them as something smaller, purpler, slipped off its back.

"About time we found you," the speaker, not the luxray, said.

Groaning as his vision swam, Scout gasped in pain as something picked him up and he tried to struggle but was shushed. "Don't thrash, you'll hurt yourself."

He groaned, still trying to pull away from the voice, trying to open his eyes and keep them open.

"Who are you?" came Danny's snappy voice and it sounded threatening. Scout whimpered.

"A friend," the voice said, Scout was jolted as he was moved and he hissed on reflex. Something tapped his head and he whimpered again before a feeling like someone had blown the mist out of his brain ran through him.

His vision cleared and he found himself eye-to-eye with warm brown eyes set on a white-furred face. Purple fur crowned it, leading out to a pair of curly horns.

He barely recognised the pokemon, it was a little beyond his knowledge but Rai had pointed out pokemon he didn't know before.

"Uh…?"

"You awake?" the indeedee asked him. He nodded. "Good." She, it was a she the voice was unmistakable, set him down and straightened up.

Danny joined him to stare in confusion at their sudden saviour, neither knowing what to say.

"You can start with 'You're welcome'," she said with almost a scoff.

"Who?" Scout managed.

"Why?" Danny continued.

Indeedee gave a sigh of someone with not a lot of time and a lot of things to do. "Celebi sent us," Danny tensed as Scout relaxed. "I was the only one close enough when she sent out a call for help while this one was prowling around slightly more mad than he already is. I'm surprised to see you two, but I can roll with this."

"Wait," Scout asked. "Celebi sent you?"

"Yes," she said, annoyed.

"How?"

"Psychic-types," she replied, turning around. "Look, we can talk on the way. I know what's going on, I hear you're suffering a bit of brain damage so I'll be brief."

She had come down to the alcove they had reached to pull them up, the luxray wasn't moving, just staring.

"The Planetary Investigation Team is more than just the four of you. Celebi has been gathering allies for years now, we help keep an eye on Dialga and Dusknoir while you guys hunted down the way to change the past."

"W-Why didn't she say anything?" Scout demanded. "And who is this?" he added, not quite looking at the luxray.

It growled a little at him.

Indeedee silenced him with a look. "You already know this, Meowth. You just clearly don't remember it. Celebi threw this one at me, said she fished him out of Treasure Town and that 'He's not one of those no-good spooks now play nice and do it' and other things I didn't listen to."

Danny was frowning deeply. "So, that's how they were always ready for us," he grumbled.

Scout tried to shake this confusion off. "Well, okay fine! We can use the help. We need to get to Barren Valley!" Indeedee paused at that. "There's a portal back in time there, I need to get there."

Indeedee raised an eyebrow at him, measuring him up for a moment.

"Hm. So, you convinced the sableye to help you?" He nodded. "That's impressive, I'll give you that. Alright, you two clearly cannot survive on your own. I'll give you a hand to get there. We, I suppose." She looked to Luxray.

Scout was grateful but Danny was less trusting.

"What's in it for you?" he asked suspiciously.

"A better world," she replied easily.

The ease of the retort threw him for a moment but he added. "W-Well, why should we believe you? Anyone could say Celebi sent you! And what's with Mr Quiet over here, why ain't he speaking?"

He gestured erratically at Luxray who growled again.

Scout looked again and glanced away. "Treasure Town?" he whispered.

Indeedee, clearly frustrated took a breath to calm the air. "Alright," she said, sounding a little more gentle. "I understand that this is not a situation anyone wants to be in. But aren't you due for some good luck? I am here to help you, considering the state you two are in if I wanted to hurt you I wouldn't bother playing around, now would I?"

"I'd beat your ass," Danny grumbled, nibbling on one of his claws anxiously.

She smiled. "I'm sure you would."

Scout gathered his nerve and met Luxray's eyes.

It stared back. "You took it," he said, darkly.

Scout swallowed and nodded.

"Where?"

"In the past now," he admitted. Luxray growled something, Indeedee pressed a hand on its back and surprisingly Luxray soothed.

"Then the past," he said decisively.

"Looks like he's willing to help," Indeedee said. "Come along. We can't be wasting time."

Danny slowly wilted. "Fine, but I'm not happy about it."

"It's fine," Scout assured him. "She's here to help."

"No one is nice for no reason," Danny grumbled.

"I told you my reason," Indeedee retorted.

"Why would you care?" Danny pressed. "About the past? I know what I'm doing this for and him, but you?"

She levelled him with an old, old look. "Because I still remember what that life is like," she said simply. He fell silent, as did Scout. "Come along, I haven't come this far for nothing."

They quickly scuttled after her, suddenly a lot safer as neither of them was much of a fighter but by the display, this one was more than capable.


With Indeedee and Luxray in front of them, the push to Barren Vally suddenly became significantly easier.

She took the map in hand and began to lead them, mapping out a deadly path through several choice dungeons.

"These should cut down our time by days no less," she said as Danny complained about the unholy danger they were walking into.

"And cut our life expectancy to minutes!" Danny retorted.

"You just sit on Luxray's back if you're concerned," Indeedee said pleasantly.

"No."

Scout found himself closer to Danny than anyone else. Indeedee spared little attention towards them unless Danny was complaining, besides making sure they were still there. And Luxray….

He couldn't even begin.

How was he here? What luck was this?

He had to know.

"Uh… hey, uh. Luxray?"

Luxray looked at him. "Why'd you leave the town?"

"Look," Luxray responded. It, or he, was a mon of few words.

"F-For me?"

"Treasure."

Hearing that word, even in a voice so different, stung Scout's heart. It really… really could be, couldn't it?

Indeedee glanced back. "You know this guy?" she asked bluntly.

Scout jumped. "How did you do that?"

"Do you know what I am?" she asked.

"Uh…?"

"Indeedee subsist on emotions," she explained, looking back and mind blasting a shambling terror. "Primarily gratitude." She was even thinner than they were, and Luxray was mangey, so that immediately said a lot. "But I can sense the rest of it too, that's how we found you. Followed the panic. At the moment you feel a nervous nostalgic trepidation and it's really pressing against my senses."

"Oh. Oh, I'm so sorry."

Danny was already looking dizzy at the explanation being rambled at them.

"I'm still alive, it's whatever. But back to mine."

Scout looked to Luxray who held no glimmer of recognition. "R-Rai?" he uttered, soft as a dying whisper.

Luxray didn't respond.

"I can't do this," Scout said, the tension in his voice suddenly snapping. Danny froze as he heard it, a sound he'd heard before. A sudden crippling of an ability to cope before someone panicked and ran off into the wilderness and died to their own insanity.

Clearly, Indeedee heard it as well as when Scout tried to bolt her arm snapped out and he was caught in a translucent psychic grip. "Stop that," she snapped as Scout began to hyperventilate.

Danny began to chew his claws down again as Luxray was left fending off monsters around them.

Scout yelped as the grip intensified, causing joints to pop and making him struggle harder. "We're not dealing with breakdowns," she grunted, restraining him firmly. They pressed on, breaking into a sprint to get to the end of the dungeon.

And once they were there, she ordered Luxray and Danny to stay together as she dragged Scout off.

He finally broke free and ran into a frozen tree, smacking weakly against it and hyperventilating so hard his vision went spotty and he dropped to the ground.

"Are you okay?" she asked tiredly.

It was the wrong thing to ask. "Am I OKAY?" Scout screamed. "NO! GO AWAY!"

"I can't," she replied, unmoved by the vortex of emotion pouring out of him. "You'll go crazy… although I am questioning if I'm too late. Is this really the time to break down into a crisis?"

Scout was back to hyperventilating on the ground.

They waited over painful seconds until she sighed and her hand came down onto his head. Just as before, the fog was blown out of his brain and his thoughts were snapped into sudden clarity.

It did not feel good to swing back so hard though and Scout gave a pained sound, sinking into a boneless heap on the ground.

He sniffled.

She rubbed her face. "Great," she sighed a ragged, tired, sigh before hoisting her head up. "Okay, we gotta talk this through," she said, trying to sound gentle.

"...what's the point?" Scout asked. "What's the point? I can't do anything that'll matter."

She frowned at him, disturbed by the defeat in his voice. "I can recount a few reasons why that is patently untrue," she said.

"It's true," Scout continued, becoming eerily calm. "I'm not supposed to be here. There. Or anywhere. I'm just some sort of outlier. They'll save the world, I'll disappear and that'll be that. Dialga won't revive me, and neither will Arceus. I only made things worse for everyone. I-"

"Enough," she snapped. "I am not enduring a pity party for the sake of you getting your feelings out. You're in a crisis, fuck we all are. That team of yours dared to change the world and actually follow through, that's why I am helping you. Not to sit through you whimpering about… ergh." She tensed her jaw and took a breath.

"Okay, that's not helpful," she said. "I'm getting frustrated. I'm sorry." She sat down, crossing her legs to join him on the ground, in the shadow of a frozen tree.

She stared at it for a while, drawing his eyes to it as well. Perfectly frozen in the middle of a light breeze, frozen forever with everything being brushed back.

"...in a place like this, you give up," she began softly. "The world is ruined. Destroyed even. The only things that are left are the ruins of what was before and, worse yet, reminders of everything we don't have. These frozen trees, lakes, towns. It shows the people living here what the world should be like but isn't."

She shook her head. "It's hard to go on like that. People endure, we survive as best we can but… it's not a place many grow old in. If the dark and the cold doesn't get to you, the loneliness does. It turns you mad and so many people walk out into the wilderness, knowing or at least hoping that the madness will take the pain away."

"It doesn't. They're still pokemon. I can still sense what they are feeling. It isn't peace, it's the opposite. I tell people that, and it's like the last bit of 'hope' they had is gone. It'll only be pain until they die. That's what living here is like."

Scout was quiet for a while, almost to the point the silent madness began creeping in.

"You said you remember what that life was like?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'm old. Dunno how old, just Old. I remember the world as it used to be, the people as it used to be. I guess that is what keeps me going." She chuckled a little. "Kept me going. Thought I was out of hope until Celebi came sniffing around, speaking of a plan to turn the clock back."

She shook her head. "Not everyone gets it at first. That changing time means everything here being gone. Some people, like the dream ruler, crave the company this world forces. The people who do understand what will happen welcome it. Knowing that their sacrifice might help bring the light they can see frozen back? It's worth it."

Scout had sat up but was still looking down.

"You've seen the past, kid. Don't you reckon it's worth fighting for?"

"But… what can I even do?"

She stood up, offering a hand for him to take. "Doesn't matter what you can do. What can I do? I can get you there. What can the villagers do? They can get you there. What can Sean and Grovyle do? Maybe they can fix it, but they can't do it alone. It doesn't matter what you can do, as long as you do something."

He stared at her for a moment longer and then took her hand.

"...thank you, Indeedee."

She smiled. "This awful time has made me a bitch but I'm a little nicer in the past. Hey, if you ever need help, go to a place called Blackstone Village. I was the mayor of that little place, call me Core and I'll listen to anything you have to say, okay?"

His eyes widened at Core and she gave him a slight smirk. He nodded. "I'm Scout."

Her smirk grew. "Careful with giving your name out too easily, who knows what people will think." He flushed for reasons she couldn't know but she could feel the embarrassment radiating off him and laughed anyway.


"RaaaAHHH!" Rai roared, laying the last two sableye to the realm of sleep with a Thunderbolt.

Dusknoir had jumped them at the Rainbow Stoneship but Rai, Sean, nor Striker were going without a fight.

A sneaky sableye may have snagged the Relic Fragment off Rai and tossed it into the portal, but they were still fighting with everything they had.

The battle had gone better than expected. The sableye weren't in the greatest of shape and were easily dispatched with a good hit or two.

Dusknoir was the real problem. Sean and Striker fought him together and they counted on Rai to keep the sableye at bay.

He took one down with one shot, it giving just a soft meep before it collapsed. The others turned on him, but that was the plan.

Rai picked them off one by one as Striker grappled with Dusknoir. Arms seeping with solidified energy clashed with Dusknoir's shadow-burning fists with Sean taking potshots by copying Rai's own electrical attacks.

With the sableye done, Rai turned back to see what he could do to help. At first, however, he stared at the three.

He had looked up to Dusknoir so much. He had looked up to Grovyle as well. Grovyle had earned forgiveness, but Dusknoir had taken Scout from him twice.

With eyes narrowing, Rai built up electricity, charging as much as he could.

Sean spotted his action and nodded as Striker leapt back. They fired twin Energy Balls at Dusknoir, colliding with the sensitive eyes on his stomach and causing him to flinch.

With his angle clear, Rai discharged everything he could into Dusknoir, shocking him with everything he was worth.

Dusknoir shook from the electricity coursing through him but didn't make any sound. He endured, he pushed himself clear, and the battle continued.

With Rai in the mix, things were harder and easier. Rai was rash and unpredictable. Dusknoir was able to grab the shinx more than once, but with a shock or a sudden Bite, he was forced to release him before he could toss him into the future.

Striker was predictable, but easily the most powerful. And Dusknoir knew his opponent could predict his own actions as well. They were a dance of power and pressure, determination vs perseverance. Striker's body constantly glowed with the power of Overgrow, it had the entire push through the Hidden Land and he had to be overtaxing his body.

Striker knew that he would not survive the day one way or the other and gave it all that he had.

As Dusknoir slammed his hands in a clap, with Striker's head in the middle, Striker uppercut him with arms shining with Power and cutting grey holes in his body.

Sean was the least of his problems on his own, but with his bothersome capacity to duplicate everyone's moves, he was an outstanding nuisance. From doubling up with an attack or matching Guardian's own moves with weak, but strong enough, copies, he found himself slowly, but surely, being pushed back.

Striker was breathing hard and Guardian met his eyes with his own for a moment. Striker was grinning, his chest heaving. This was almost like old times when they would push themselves to be as strong as they could, all to make sure they would both be strong enough to save the world.

Save the world.

Dusknoir flinched, and Scout's words hit him all over again. His eye flicked up, to where the sun danced in the sky rather than being locked in place forever.

He hesitated.

And took a triple attack for his troubles.

"GWOAH!" Dusknoir roared as everything went black and then white. "Oooh…" he groaned, staggering forward as his wispy end almost fluttered away completely. He began to sag in the air.

Scout flashed through his mind again.

Dusknoir collapsed to the ground.

"We… we did it?" Rai gasped, sitting down in relief.

"I," Dusknoir seethed, pressing a hand flat on the ground to push himself back up. "NO! I REFUSE TO LOSE!"

Rai yelped and got back up as the sableye all gathered around Dusknoir, glaring angrily at them. A pulse of power burst from Dusknoir, blowing his three enemies back.

"Gaah, dammit," Striker groaned, trying to pull himself up.

"Guardian," Sean growled.

"No," Rai sighed, blinking the disorientation out of his eyes.

"You think you could win, devils who would end the world?" Dusknoir snapped, rising up. "I am the saviour, you are the destroyers!"

"Erk." Rai got back to his feet and not listening. "We WON'T give up."

"That's right," Striker said, pulling Sean up as well. "You are delusional, Guardian."

"Scout wouldn't want this, Guardian," Sean said softly.

They both said his name.

"Your determination is admirable," Dusknoir admitted as the mouth on his stomach began to move. "But your will can never match mine." His stomach mouth opened up, revealing a gaping void.

"His stomach!" Rai squeaked, getting bad memories of the time he was in there.

"He's going to use Shadow Ball," Sean cursed, in their state Dusknoir's full power would be a mortal blow.

Energy began to form, and the world began to shake. Whether it was from another tremor or because Dusknoir's power was so mighty, no one was sure.

"The stomach mouth," Striker hissed.

"The eyes were always sensitive," Sean added.

"We have to force everything we have down there," Rai finished.

The other two glanced at him and nodded.

Black tendrils of energy coalesced into vantablack as Dusknoir's Shadow Ball grew larger and larger.

"NOW!" Dusknoir roared and the sableye moved, surprising the three.

They had all tried to strike the Shadow Ball, which had yet to be fired. Shadows from each of the sableye stretched forward rapidly as their moves were lost into the growing strength of the Shadow Ball, striking through them and snaring their legs.

"It's OVER!" Dusknoir bellowed before roaring out and blasting the behemoth of a Shadow Ball at them.

It was almost inconceivable at how large it was, Rai was sure Dusknoir had said something about there being a certain size range for the move and this was CERTAINLY not keeping to those rules.

That was it. "NOW!" Rai screamed, just leaping ahead. With no other options, Sean and Grovyle did too, striking out with limps and heads to strike the oversized Shadow Ball.

Due to its size, it did not explode on impact. Instead, it bounced back at Dusknoir.

"WHEH!" a sableye leapt forward and managed to pull Dusknoir out of the way, sending the Shadow Ball into the portal and away from now.

With their legs released, but Dusknoir unharmed, the battle raged on.


"Hey, Scout?" Danny asked as the final leg of their journey was drawing to a close. Luxray was following a smell on the air and Indeedee was coaching him through the intricacies of it.

"Yeah?"

"What do you think the world would be like if it wasn't like this?"

They were walking together, close by of course.

Scout looked at Danny, surprised at the deep question. "...I don't really know. Better than this."

"Yeah." Danny glanced away.

Scout grimaced. "Are you getting cold feet?"

Danny looked back. "Yeah. Is a gummi really worth destroying the world?"

"We're not destroying it," Scout replied softly. "We're changing it."

"Why change the world if you're not around to enjoy it?"

Scout could have spoken of Dialga and Arceus saving everyone, but that was something not even he truly knew would be the case. Instead, he thought about what Striker and Indeedee had said, or were going to say.

"I guess, even if I'm not around anymore I know that what I did mattered in the end. That I made things better, that I helped at least one person. If that's all I can do then it is worth it."

"What about yourself?"

"If I can go to sleep knowing I can be proud of myself. And never wake up. At least I can sleep knowing that."

Danny fell into a thoughtful silence and they walked, listening to Indeedee's quiet narration of the grey rocks around them until she spoke up sharply.

"We're here."

And so they were.

A break in reality, a hole that led to a different time. Rippling like someone had grabbed the seams of the air and pulled it apart to reveal the dark rainbow between the air.

"That's it!" Scout hissed, overjoyed that it had worked. "Oh my god, I can't believe it!"

"You really didn't have any faith in me, did you?" Indeedee said good-naturedly.

Scout chuckled, feeling light and happy again.

Then he was pulled down suddenly, a psychic push as Indeedee hissed, "Get down, someone's coming through."

Back to anxiety.

Sableye began to fall through the portal, in a poor state and running off. Nothing else came and soon Scout popped his head back up. "It's there, we got to go now!"

"You do," Indeedee agreed. He looked to her. "I can't go, you know that, right?"

He blinked at her. "What? Why?"

She smiled at him, a pitying expression really. "I exist in the past already." She looked to Luxray, whose eyes had locked onto something in front of the portal.

He suddenly leapt out, bolting downhill. "TREASURE!" he roared, pouncing on the Relic Fragment.

Scout ran down after him. "Wait! Wait! Wait! We need that!"

Luxray spun on him, snarling dangerously and Scout skidded to a stop. Danny and Indeedee joined him quickly as Luxray crackled with lightning.

"We need that to get to the tower," Scout said weakly. Indeedee nodded and raised her hands, Luxray yelped as a psychic impulse rocked him and Scout cried, "NO! DON'T HURT HIM!"

Indeedee sighed coarsely as Danny jumped into a shadow. "I know it's hard but-"

"No." Scout began to approach Luxray. "Just let me… RAI!" The luxray twitched, and soon the psychic grip was just holding it. "Rai, Rai, Rai. Don't you remember? The treasure. The Relic Fragment. It meant something, remember? You knew it was something special, that it meant something. This is what it means. Please, please, I know you. I know you. You might not know me but I know you."

He came in close, closer, risking getting bitten by bone-snapping jaws. He pressed a paw to its snarling muzzle, risking an electrocution too.

"I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry I took it before. It was dumb, I was dumb. I always am, haha. You might not know it, but I am. We made a team, we joined the guild. We beat Mane and then befriended him. We sat under the stars together, we saw Fogbound Lake and battled Mesprit. You were going to save the world! You still can. I know you can. I can't do much, but maybe I can get the last piece there."

His paws fell around the Relic Fragment, held precariously within Luxray's jaws.

"I shouldn't have just been silent. I should have talked to you. And not just here and now. But always. Please, please, I'm sorry. I can do better. I will do better. I'll say the things I should have already. I just need a chance."

Its eyes were stormy. He couldn't parse any meaning from them.

"Rai?"

His eyes closed, screwing tightly shut. The jaw tensed.

Then it opened.

Just enough for the fragment to be pulled out of his mouth.

Scout remained in front of him. He should run. He knew he should run.

Instead, he hugged the luxray. It was so much bigger than him, mangey fur rubbing coarsely against him. It was big and scary and could kill him in a single movement.

For a moment he thought he felt it lean into him, just a little bit.

"Go," Indeedee called, her voice soft but strong. "Now. Fix the world. You can do it."

Scout let go of the luxray, its eyes were still closed. Danny appeared out of its shadow and nodded. Together, they ran for the portal and leapt through as the Dark Future was swallowed into a starburst of light-light-LIGHT.

Danny had felt brief indecision upon seeing the others, burned and injured, but he was doing this for himself. They didn't need him, they didn't like him. He wanted to live in the sunlight, where things weren't so dangerous, where apples and gummi's existed for all. He wanted to know he did one good thing.

Time tore at Scout reminiscent of the last time he had suffered this, he thought he tasted Danny screaming as they leapt through time, but all his senses were muddled in this area regardless.

Sean's theory of time travel proved true. The more one did it, the easier it became. Scout remained conscious as he was spat out, although highly disorientated.

What he did see and know, however, was Dusknoir trying to hurt someone. His claws turned to black sabres and he lanced forward and impaled Dusknoir with a Night Slash.

Dusknoir roared as something stabbed him from behind. He was a Ghost pokémon and held a hollow body, so the attack merely hurt rather than disabled.

It also held him in place.

"S-Scout?" he asked, seeing who had stabbed him from behind. His belly was open, he was distracted, and so a final combined double Energy Ball and Thunderbolt blasted him from within.

Dusknoir staggered back, Scout's claws losing their Dark energy and returning to normal. Smoke billowed from his belly while grey ooze seeped from multiple points of his body.

"No." Dusknoir weakly shook his head. "I only want to protect you." And collapsed.

As he fell, Sean and Striker saw who was standing behind him.

Sean gasped and Striker's weary eyes widened.

They had no time to say anything, as Rai had already moved.

"SEAN!" he screamed and tackle-hugged Scout. Throwing the meowth on his back, while Rai sobbed into his chest.

"Is he ever going to get our names right?" Sean asked, pouting. His smile couldn't be hidden, however.

"Let him have this one," Striker suggested, also smiling as Rai tearfully licked Scout's face, trying to clean his filthy fur.

Too many tears continued to fall, however, so he had to keep cleaning them away.

Scout lay in something of a daze. Time travel wasn't easy, he wasn't sure how he had even managed to remain standing at first, and all his energy abandoned him afterwards. Then he was on the ground with a familiar weight on his stomach.

The zaps from the tongue slowly began to restart his mind and Scout's heart lurched. He opened his eyes to find Rai crying over him.

Immediately, his arms snapped up, wrapping around Rai in a desperate hug, nearly crushing the shinx against himself.

"Rai?" he asked, voice tinny and fragile.

"You're here," Rai said between fits of sobs. "How? How? I don't care. You're here."

Scout began to laugh, and he hugged Rai further, burrowing his face into his friend's fur and laughing and sobbing.

A way away, Danny lay slumped over and unconscious. No one noticed him there just like they didn't notice Dusknoir begin to get back up.

Sean was whooping and cheering. Striker was easily the most composed, shaking his head at the theatrics but still grinning without restraint. He hadn't seen such happiness before, that more than anything reaffirmed his decision to leap between Rai and Dusknoir.

"Y-you?" Dusknoir stuttered. He had risen again, lashed out, his son was here somehow, and this couldn't be. This couldn't be. The Relic Fragment rolled between Rai and Scout and he knew Scout had picked it up on the way back.

Striker had seen it coming, eyes so sharp, and took the attack for them.

Rai gasped as Striker crumpled.

"What did I say?" he whispered as Scout blinked in confusion. Rai tried to pull enough fury up to strike back, but his elation about Scout's return confused him and he was unable to make a spark.

"STRIKER!" Sean cried out, running to his partner's side.

"No!" Striker's arm lashed out and clubbed Sean, knocking him flying back. "No…" he growled, eyes narrowed on Dusknoir.

The look in his eye would nearly make Striker weep. For this brief moment, Dusknoir looked unsure, he looked regretful, he looked upset. He looked like Guardian, for just this one moment.

"Uwrow…" Striker growled, voice breaking deep. "WrooooOOOH!"

Striker leapt forward, grabbing the arms of his lost friend and shoving him back.

"Grovyle!" Rai yelled out, going to stand.

"Grovyle!" Scout yelled out, vision returning to clear.

"STRIKER!" Sean screamed.

"Guardian," Striker growled, forcing him back as the larger pokémon struggled. "I'm… I'm taking you with me! We are BOTH going back to the future!"

"Wha?" Guardian spluttered.

"No!" Sean yelled, running forward. "Striker, I'll go!"

"NO!" Striker yelled, turning back briefly. His tail lit up and then slashed through his bag, toppling it to let the Time Gears spill out.

"Sean!" Striker yelled urgently as Guardian's back neared the portal. "Although the parting hurts, I leave the rest in your hands. Scout, Shinx, help him get to the tower. Save the world."

"STRIKER!" Dusknoir roared. "STOP THIS!"

Striker grinned and slammed his head into Dusknoir. Sean took a breath and nodded. They didn't have time to really say goodbye, a moment to understand each other was all they'd get.

"Sorry for the hold-up, Guardian," Striker said, forcing him back the last few inches.

"SCOOUUUUUT!" Guardian cried as he and Striker were drawn in by the portal. It rippled once then blinked, disappearing completely.

"Grovyle," Rai whimpered. Scout leaned onto him, both of them stunned at how fast that had all gone wrong. He gave a thankful smile to Scout. "I got you back." He licked Scout's cheek and the meowth blushed a little.

"Rai, I… I… I'm so sorry for everything," Scout said, chest tightening until he felt like he couldn't breathe. He palmed the Relic Fragment forward. "I picked this up on our way back."

Sean spotted it and sighed in relief. "You grabbed it," he said, quietly. "Thank goodness." He took a breath and pulled his head up. "Okay. We need to put that in the Rainbow Stoneship before anything else goes wrong."

He held a straight back, looking very firm and not at all like he was about to cry.

Rai nodded as he took the Relic Fragment in his mouth, he began to run forwards but noticed Scout wasn't following.

"I'm just going to help him pick up the pieces," he called, quietly. Rai understood what he meant and began trotting up the staircase, glancing back often to make sure Scout was still there.

"Are you okay?" Scout asked as he and Sean began picking up the Time Gears.

"Striker knows what he's doing," Sean replied, not looking at him. "It's great to see you again, though. I'm glad you're okay."

Somehow, that hurt. He knew Sean wasn't saying, meaning, or even implying anything by it. But the riolu's gaze still fell on where the portal was, where Grovyle had sacrificed himself.

"It'll be," Scout began, almost saying it'd be okay. He paused, however, he had no proof of such a claim and no time to be saying more. "I'm with you," he said, changing it.

Sean gave him a smile as Scout's eyes noticed an outlier.

"Danny!" he cried and ran forward. The sableye was completely unconscious but breathing. "Good, he's alright."

"Isn't that…?" Sean asked, unsure.

Scout shook his head. "This one's okay. He helped me get back, even if I had to bribe him to do it." He stepped back, but a thought occurred to him as he saw Temporal Tower looming in the sky. "Actually… do you have any gummi's?"

Sean was able to procure a purple gummi and Scout also left an apple by Danny's side. He hoped the sableye would wake up in time.

"It's what I promised him," he said quietly. Rai called something inaudible from above, but Scout looked up to wave, beaming in happiness.

"Go ahead," Sean said with a cheeky smile. "I'll give you two some privacy," he added with a wink.

Scout flushed again but had no retort. He scampered up the stairs, giving the one who really wanted to be alone some privacy.

Sean's smile faded as he looked back, back to where Striker had disappeared. He bowed his head, Striker would be mad at him for lagging behind to suffer emotions but he had to take a moment and let it out. Striker was gone, the last he'd ever see of him.

The final sacrifice of his partner now lost to the sea of time. Sean wiped his eyes.

Sean wondered what Striker's final moments would be. If they'd even notice, or if the time change would happen instantly. He hoped for the latter, quick like nothing happened at all.

But no matter what, he would fight to see it happen. Fight to save the world and die trying. He dried his face and followed after Scout, still having trouble making it to the top. Regardless of what he felt now, he would remain ready to fight.

Scout knew what was coming better than Sean did. How long it'd take for time to remove them, he hoped Dusknoir would still have a change of heart but was ready for 'Striker' to appear even if he didn't. He hoped disappearing wouldn't be painful. But he would still be ready to fight.

Rai didn't know what was coming, he was only aware of what had happened. With the loss of Striker, he empathised more with Sean than he ever had before. With the retrieval of Scout, he had yet to ask how he had managed that, had left him feeling happier than he could ever remember.

Maybe it was hysterical happiness, Chatot was dead, Striker was gone, and they still had to save the world. But for now, he would smile as Scout came lagging up puffing for breath. He'd smile with eyes bright. He'd smile and be ready to fight.

They were ready for the final fight to the finish.


Originally I followed Grovyle's goodbye a little more to the game, but it has been pointed out that a lengthy goodbye is a little unlikely and in some ways, a brief farewell means more. At least he got to say goodbye at all.
 

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, you gave a pretty generous review of Fledglings earlier this year on AO3, and as such, I figured that the least I could do was to try and repay the favor. Especially since I’ve heard a lot about Warped Skies from a number of other regulars here, so I figured that it was as good a time as any to pop my head in and see what the buzz was about:

Chapter 1

The sun warmed his fur, probed his eyelids, and pressed its ever-burning presence along his entire body, from the top of his head to the tip of his tail.

He moved over, making a pained sound. There was an overpowering feeling of foggy weight on his brain, everything hurt, and he didn't feel like dealing with life at the moment.

Falling back asleep was a mercy. One that would not be granted.

Yeesh, sounds like getting transformed as a human in this story is quite an ordeal.

"Oh my gosh!"

A high, but boyish, voice cracked through the air like a whip to the ear. The foggy weight immediately flashed into eye-watering pain and two brown-tipped paws clasped themselves over his pointed ears.

There were numerous things wrong with the feeling of paws over his ears, compounded further by the erratic twitching of his tail, but there was no time to think about such things. He began to curl into a ball, wanting to hold onto sleep.

Oh, so protag already has gone full “Pokémon body instincts” here given that he’s not really questioning the “... wait a minute”-ness of having pointed ears or a tail right now. I must say that’s definitely different from how most PMD novelizations play things.

"Um… hello?"

Well now it'd be rude to continue rolling into a ball to escape such cruelty.

He cracked his eyes open, squinting against the light, the cruel, cruel, light and groaned. His eyes felt like they had never so much as peered into a warm spring day.

I mean, if this character is who I think it is, then this could literally be the first time these specific eyes of his have seen anything.

Watching this all go down was a nondescript shinx. He had slept a difficult night over the thunder and rain and wind howling around his cliff-based home and had dragged himself up a little later than his usual start to the day.

I did a double-take here given that the entire first few paragraphs are very tightly coupled with the perspective of the protag and then we go to a more “floating camera” view. While you can indeed do this with a third-person omniscient perspective, which I’m guessing is what this version of Warped Skies is written with, you probably need an extra sentence to the effect of “little did he know someone else was there” right before your current first one.

Finding an unconscious meowth effectively on his doorstep was another wrinkle to his morning, but one that could be managed.

Well that’s something already different from Explorers… maybe. Unless if we’re still on the opening beach right now.

It was half-soaked from the previous nights storm, and he felt a wave of guilt. Had this poor meowth been searching for shelter, but been barred by his closed door? It was dangerously close to the cliffs edge, it might have fallen, and no one would have ever known.

Well, never mind then, we’re officially already in an AU at this point. Nice little thing to show off how things won’t quite be the same in this story. Though mind the possessive “’s”es there.

The meowth in question peered at him, silent, fur somewhat raised in readiness to do something should things move south from here.

Its eyes were adjusting and spotting a shinx gave him a most curious feeling of vertigo. A shinx. A shinx. Pokémon. Electric-type. Pokémon. Shinx. There was something wrong here, and he was fighting morning brain to figure out what it was.

Oh, so that was why the protag hadn’t gone full “AAAAAAAAAAAAA” just yet, though I wonder if this will be a recurring thing for him over the course of this story.

A pendant was around the shinx's neck, unnoticed until a gust of wind caused it to swing slightly.

That’s also new. Noting that for the future.

"WOAH!"

Shinx started back as Meowth exploded into movement, leaping up in a sudden panic and skirting back.

Right to the cliff's edge.

Wow, not even 2 minutes in the story and this guy’s already doing his best to kill himself off. ^^;

"Watch out!" Shinx cried, leaping forward as Meowth stepped into open air. He rocked for a brief moment, before his balance left him, with his arms flailing he began to fall.

Meowth: “Oh, oh crap-” O.O

"AH!" he cried.

The shinx darted forth with startling speed. "Got you!"

The meowth fell about an inch before something clamped around his flailing right paw. Teeth pierced through his paw and a new shock of pain went through him, unfortunately literally.

The shinx was glittering with electricity and had zapped him in the process.

Meowth:
:AAAAAA:

Shinx: “Are you seriously complaining about not falling off a cliff right now?!” >.<

The jolt ended up being rather fortunate. His initial reaction to being bitten was to unleash the beast and drag them both down, shocking him stunned him long enough for the shinx to pull him up.

… Wait, what does the narration mean by that? Should I be concerned right now? .-.

Shinx panted with his heart racing, sitting down once he had them both safe. Meowth was holding his paw, which was bleeding slightly, but he didn't look too bad. He looked scared but he had almost fallen.

It hadn't been difficult to pull him back, Shinx realised, this meowth was surprisingly light.

In spite of not visibly looking small, huh? I’ve got a feeling that that’s not as throwaway a detail as it appears at first blush, so noted for the future.

Looking closely, Shinx thought he could see Meowth's ribs. Meowth caught him staring, and he glanced away, ears flushing.

… Well that would explain why he was “surprisingly light”. .-.

"Thank you," Meowth managed.

This morning was going terribly, he had been bitten, shocked, and nearly fell to his death. He was in a little too much shock to feel any pain from the bite, it didn't even ache and he stared down at the slight blood on his cream fur.

There was also the problem of him having paws.

And claws.

And a tail.

Oh, so now we’re going to get the
:AAAAAA:
moment, huh? :V

Meowth glanced down at his furry body and carefully poked himself in the leg.

"Huh," he said, looking down.

His lovely human hand was much smaller, covered in white fur, and had a disturbing lack of digits comparatively. He wiggled them, hoping that his fingers would reappear. The most curious feeling occurred when he tried to move either his pointer or thumb, both attempted actions would move just one of the three digits.

Meowth: “... Am I hung over right now or something?” ._.
Shinx: “Well you’re certainly something alright. Seriously! Pay attention to your surroundings more!” >_>;

Glancing down further, more cream-coloured fur. Trailing down to hind paws that were tipped with brown fur. He tried to clench his toes, and claws popped out. Trying the same with his hands would cause his new paws to also unsheathe claws.

He felt up, without unclenching his hand, and felt his forehead. The feeling of metal was equally unwelcome as everything else. His tail sagged to the ground, laying like a limp noodle.

I am honestly a little impressed that this guy hasn’t panicked and started running around like a beheaded Torchic just yet.

Shinx stared at him in confusion as the stranger that had just jumped off the cliff just began to touch all over himself in mounting concern.

"Excuse me?" he asked but received no response, the meowth was too busy poking himself. "Hello? Meowth? Are you okay?"

Oh, so this is another one of those stories that does “lowercased species for species, and uppercased species for name”. Not sure when that trend picked up, but I’ll admit that it lends itself to canonworld stories and ones set in worlds with similar naming dynamics.

"Okay," Meowth breathed out. He felt a little dizzy, he'd like to sit down but the vertigo of almost falling off the cliff came back so he decided to keep standing. If a little unsteadily.

"This is fine."

"What is?"

One of Meowth's eyes twitched for a moment, but he took another breath. "This. It is fine."

Cue the appropriate gif:

this-is-fine.gif


Since, really. I am not convinced at all that things are fine for our protag right about now.

"Okay…." Shinx glanced around, there was no one else here. He took a breath and turned back. "Okay, um… are you okay? You must have been out in that storm all night, you're half soaked. And, uh, half dry."

I mean the obvious answer is ‘no’, but I’m not sure if Meowth is the type to be candid about that given what we’ve seen of him thus far.

Meowth's eyes fell on him and Shinx felt for a moment like Meowth was seeing him for the first time. It was a little weird.

Narrator: “Because he is seeing you for the first time through his eyes.”

His eyes flicked down, spotting the treasure. Shinx shifted in place, uncomfortable. He wanted to cover his treasure up, but it his first to gain courage was wearing it all the time, however. He still looked uncomfortable with shiny meowth eyes right on his treasure. This was a mistake, he should stash it back in the hole in his house so no one could steal it and-

I think you either have an extra word or are missing a couple in the bit in underline, since I’m tripping up over what it’s supposed to be saying there.

"Huh," Meowth said, blinking a few times. The vertigo was coming back, along with a lot of stuff that was not quite déjà vu but felt an awful lot like it.

Wait, are Meowth’s “Huh”s supposed to be statements or questions? I can’t really tell, but if they’re supposed to be questions, you should put a question mark as the ending mark for his dialogue.

"Shinx… that is in fact a shinx," he thought, eyes widening. "That's the Relic Fragment. This… this is Sharpedo Cliff, isn't it? Does that mean?" He looked up, past the shinx. It was farther than he would have expected, but in the distance he could make out a few buildings.

Treasure Town. That was Treasure Town. Mystery Dungeon. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon.

Oh right, the shtick of this story is supposed to be that Meowth is wrong-genre savvy to him being in an Explorers setting. Guess I should’ve expected that being front and center right away.

A dream then, he decided. That's what this was.

Narrator: “It was not a dream.”

He looked back to the shinx, the partner clearly. He was, in a word, adorable. This felt odd, lucid dreams he tended to wake up from very quickly, but he might as well play this one for the moment and chuckle about it with friends when he woke up.

de7.png


Since I remembered the last time I read a story set in PMD canonworld where the protagonist thought he could turn things into a personal wish-fulfillment romp and… things happened in that story.
:fearfullaugh~1:


"I'm…." He paused for just a moment, having a moment of tongue-twisting to try and remember his name. "Sean," he introduced himself, stretching a paw out in greeting. His eyes still ached, his head was pounding a little, and his heart felt noticeable, beating like a drum in his dream-chest.

Annnnd we have a name, ‘Sean’, huh? Well it’s certainly short and punchy.

It was curious how a simple greeting could have such a profound effect. Shinx's ears and tip of his nose went red and he spluttered for a moment.

"Nam-? You? I… okay." He cleared his throat, Sean slowly lowered his arm, gathering that a shinx probably wouldn't shake, and he clearly said something wrong already.

"Did I… say something wrong?" he asked, feeling a little embarrassed now. Of course his dreams would be about awkward social embarrassment in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon world.

I can already tell that Sean’s “real life” existence is quite something from that throwaway comment.

"I… no, no, I don't judge or anything. Um…." He looked like he was judging a little.

Sean: “Wait, is this one of those PMD settings where it’s weird and offputting to go around blurting your names?”
:joltyshrug~1:

Shinx:

:blobyes:


"Also, it’s four words shorter than I’d have expected for a name. Or a true one, anyways.

Sean frowned, glancing away. Now Shinx wouldn't even look at him. He felt edges of embarrassment try to cling to him, but he wouldn't let this drag his dream into one of those horrifying trips that make you afraid of sleeping.

He'd had enough of those dreams.

Oh don’t worry, from what I’ve heard through the grapevine secondhand about this story, it’ll go there anyways for you down the pipe, Sean.

"Could you tell me where I am?" he asked.

He already knew, Sharpedo Bluff or something? Cliff? It was some sort of fish-shaped location, he was sure. The pounding of the waterfall far behind him rang out distantly, falling down into the sea.

"You don't know?" Shinx asked, ears perking up. There was a glimmer of wanting to help in his eyes, forcing the embarrassment back for the moment.

Sean: “Okay, seriously. How much of a faux pas did I just commit back there?”
:ohnowen:

Shinx: “A decently big one, but anyhow! Moving on from that…”

Sean shrugged. It felt odd to be standing so short, and his shoulders didn't roll so well. His tail flicked once before sagging again, good lord that was an odd sensation. Almost like having another arm, except poking out from behind.

Sean: “That thing’s gonna get me into some awkward situations, I can already tell.” >///<

He didn't really want to think about how his dream was able to simulate that feeling so well.

Narrator: “Because it’s not a dream.”

"I don't," Sean answered, shaking his head. "I don't remember much of anything actually; do you know how I got here?"

Well, he obviously remembers the plot of the Explorers games. Though that makes me wonder if Sean just remembers everything like the canonical Gates protagonist is generally accepted to or if there are indeed some things that he genuinely doesn’t remember anymore now that he’s a Meowth.

"There was a… storm last night," Shinx said, quietly. He frowned deeply and Sean wondered if he said something wrong again. "You don't remember anything? You said your… uh."

He began to grow embarrassed again, Sean quickly cut through that.

"You can just call me M-Meowth if you want?" he said, nearly stumbling on the name. He looked down again, it was excessively trippy to not see human there, yet it also felt completely normal.

Yes, that’s bodily dysphoria for you, Sean.

Shinx's expression brightened in relief and he nodded. "Yes, we don't really know each other so that makes more sense. I'm Shinx, hello."

Oh so you went with that workaround for why the locals address themselves by species name normally. Though that makes me wonder what the in-setting workaround here is if you’re doing something like addressing five Pikachu all in a room together.

"Hi."

Shinx smiled at him for a moment before an ear twitched and he cocked his head. "What do you remember?" he asked.

"Not much," Sean answered, looking down.

He remembered what role he was supposed to play and briefly considered straying. Things were already a bit off course, he wondered why he was at the cliff rather than the beach.

"Just my name, really."

Would suggest breaking this part up a bit, but I can already tell that this insistence on trying to stick to a script is going to wind up causing problems in the future, especially since we’re already off-script not event like a thousand words into the story.

"Oh, well… you might need to go to the guild then!" Shinx said, briefly beaming with energy. It was cut short in a moments notice. "I'm sure they can help you there."

He turned to gesture with a paw, waving at a pinkish blob in the far distance.

Sean was surprised he could see so well, normally something that far away would be barely a blot to him. Dream magic, he decided.

Wait, do cats really have that good of farvision in reality? I could’ve sworn that they didn’t, but maybe I’m getting my wires crossed with some other mammals.

"Wigglytuff Guild," Sean murmured, Shinx turned back with a note of surprise.

"Yes! You remember that, then?"

Sean blinked before shrugging it off, smoothly saying, "I can see a Wigglytuff from here," he said, it was true. His eyes were good. Although he may not have guessed Wigglytuff if he didn't already know it.

Shinx: “Wait, but then how did you know it was a guild-?”
:riowtf:

Sean: “I guessed?” ^^;

Shinx nodded. "Good eyes."

Smiling, Sean asked. "Would you show me, then?" he asked. "I don't really know the place."

:sceptical~1:


Though inb4 it turns out that Treasure Town in this story is also off-spec from the games since hey, we’re already subtly in an AU as it is. No reason why that wouldn’t get blatant in short order.

His companion paused for a moment. "I… okay. Sure, I can show you. Treasure Town can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don't remember it."

Feeling good about that prediction, really.

With that, Shinx began to lead him into town. It was a longer walk than Sean had anticipated, there was a great deal of overgrowth heading to and from Sharpedo Bluff.

As they walked in a somewhat stiff silence, Sean took the opportunity to look around. The world was beautiful, he had to admit. Trees with deep emerald leaves swayed in the wind, up ahead as the land sloped downwards there was a bridge over a slice of saltwater.

Treasure Town grew larger and larger until it was larger than life. Dozens of pokémon walked around, talking and playing and laughing and bartering. Pidgey. Zoroark. Beedrill. Greninja. Machoke. Sunflora. Sableye. Wurmple. Poochyena. Swellow. Litleo.

Sean: “... Wow. And here I was expecting a glorified truck stop.”
:bulbuhhh:

Shinx: “Eh? No, this is the biggest settlement in some distance around. Though what’s a ‘truck’ again?” ^^;
Sean: “It’s… uh… something I don’t fully remember because of amnesia! Anyhow, moving along!”

There were even pokémon he didn't know the species of, which filled him with brief excitement before remembering that this was a dream and that brown, yellow, and black pikachu-looking thing didn't actually exist.

Morpeko would be offended if she could hear his thoughts.

Ratcheting up that “we’re in an AU” meter in live-time, I see.

Shinx's pace increased suddenly. He wasn't quite running away from him, but there was a noticeable increase in speed, Sean hurried to not be left behind.

Shinx's haste, unfortunately, just drew attention.

"Shinx, dear?" Kangaskhan said, spotting the two. "And… Meowth? How do you do?"

Sean: “It’s ‘Sea-’”
- Cue Shinx biffing Sean for silence -
Sean: “... (Right. That’s going to take some getting used to.) Er, it’s ‘Meowth’ and… hi there?” -_-;

"Good morning, Kangaskhan," Shinx said cheerily. "I'm sorry, I've got no time to talk, I'm helping Meowth to the guild."

"Ah," Kangaskhan said, spotting someone else. "I shall not keep you, then."

Sean: “Wait, aren’t you supposed to take me off to help you get back some sort of treasure of yours?” .-.
Shinx: “What, huh? Why would I do that when I’m wearing it right now? And how do you know that I have a treasure?” ._.;
Sean: “I… uh… might have overheard you say something about it while I was waking up- a-anyhow, that’s beside the point! Let’s talk with the nice storage shop owner right now-!”

The time was enough, however.

"Eyy, Shinx!"

The litleo that Sean spotted earlier sauntered up to them. Tail flicking back and forth while a smirk slid its way onto his face. "I was just wondering if you were going to drag yourself into town or not today."

Sean: “I certainly didn’t remember there being Litleo in-” .-.
- Sean catches himself and shakes his head -
Sean: “The place I came from. So this is a bit surprising right now. Yeah, let’s go with that.”

"I'm here now," Shinx said, stiffly. "And I'm going to the guild." He immediately stepped around him, leaving exactly one litleo between him and Sean. "With Meowth," he added, as Sean was dillydallying.

Sean: “... (Isn’t he supposed to be a cowardly introvert as a partner? Why’s he acting like this guy spat in his Oran Berries this morning?)” .-.

Sean wished he hadn't had said that, however, as Litleo's gaze moved to him and he continued standing in the way. Sean noticed a few small things, Litleo's posture changed to grow slightly taller, paws spread wider, tail stopped moving, and his eyes narrowed just a tiny bit.

"Got a pal, huh?" he asked, staring at Sean with nothing less intense than predatory. He looked him up and down. "Nice."

Sean: “I-Is there something wrong with that, o-or…?” ^^;

"We're going," Shinx said, voice strained, and Sean nodded to Litleo and edged his way past.

"Good day," he murmured, Litleo didn't reply.

Sean: “Oh thank goodness we’re never going to see that guy’s face ever again-”
- Cue a glimpse of the FFN cover art -
Sean: “Oh come on!” >.<

As they walked, perfectly not in a rush, away, Sean thought he heard the litleo say something about seeing Charmander before there was enough space between them.

Which will totally come up again at some point in the future.

"Who… was that?" he asked as they crossed the bridge.

The wonder of seeing Treasure Town from this angle was somewhat dampened by their obvious rush, he didn't have time to talk to the Kecleon Brothers, or Electivire, or visit Marowak, or even get creeped out by Duskull. They were speeding along just below a run.

"Litleo," Shinx replied, voice remaining tense like a stretched length of thread, liable to snap at any moment. It was a far change to the quietly shy shinx he thought he'd just met.

I’ll admit that I didn’t see this coming either, but I suppose that it does make sense that if you’re running a Sky AU story that the partner’s personality would be fair game as well, since Shinx is definitely a lot less meek and timid than I remembered the Explorers partner being.

Sean opened his mouth to deliver a retort but rethought it and closed his mouth. Then he said it anyway, because there were no consequences here.

"I gathered that."

That sort of attitude is going to cause problems in short order, I can already tell.

Shinx didn't respond at first, but he eventually sent a confused look his way. "Then why did you ask?"

The question was so earnest, Sean's natural sarcastic response was completely lost to the winds, and he shrugged instead. "You seem like you know him."

"Oh, I know him," Shinx's voice turned bitter before he shook his head. "He doesn't matter, okay? He's just a jerk."

- casually looks back at the FFN cover art -

Mm, yeah, nah. This won’t be the last time we’ve heard of Litleo for a long time, I can already tell.

They exited the town, taking only ten minutes to cross the surprisingly large town, and only slightly out of breath.

Sean looked around eagerly, but there was no Spinda's Café. "I suppose it wouldn't be till later… but can I make it appear?" he thought hard, visualising the café.

Nothing.

Sean: “(Okay, seriously, no Spinda’s Cafe? What sort of warped Treasure Town is this? Where else am I supposed to chill to tunes all day over a berry juice?)”
:grohno:


And Shinx was also talking, and talking quickly, so he missed some of it.

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" he asked, Shinx stopped and nodded.

"Sure, the Wigglytuff Guild is just up there," he said, gesturing to a terribly large number of steps. "You need to step on the grate to be checked out before you can enter. Once you're in… uh, someone should be able to help you."

Sean: “Right. Footprint checking, should’ve anticipated that. Guess we should get going right-”
- Beat moment -
Sean: “Wait, why did you say all that like you expected me to go on my own?” ._.;

"You're not coming with me?" he asked, surprised.

Shinx cringed. "I… well I kinda have other things planned today."

Sean: “(... Oh right, he’s supposed to get his Relic Fragment stolen from him. It’s alright, Sean. Just play along.)”

"Like what?" Sean asked. Part of him felt bad to see Shinx cringing further, but most of him was just interested in seeing the results of this.

"W-well, I, uh… nothing too important, I'll see you up there I guess."

"Thanks!" Sean beamed and Shinx's nerves faded slightly, and he smiled.

Sean: “(Pretty sure this wasn’t how the games went, but it’s cool. Just need to go up, get checked in, and then we can get the plot back on track.)” ^^;

"I guess I can walk you to the guild entrance." He batted at the Relic Fragment for a moment before taking a breath and followed him up the stairs.

On the way up, Sean found something a little concerning. He could feel tired from the powerwalking and now climbing these steps. But he was sure he'd felt tired in dreams before, that was a thing. Right?

dsmGaKWMeHXe9QuJtq_ys30PNfTGnMsRuHuo_MUzGCg.jpg


The Wigglytuff Guild was a little horrifying up close. A massive Wigglytuff head with a tied plume of feathers at the top with a dash of purple on its forehead. The eyes were wide and unblinking, there was odd totem polls flanking it, and the mouth yawned into oblivion.

About par for the course for a wigglytuff.

Wait, I didn’t remember that being a thing in-

- Does a quick background Google -

Yep, that definitely wasn’t a thing in the games. It’s a nice, subtle nod that for all the outward similarities that we’re not really in Kansas right now.

Before the closed gate, there was a thatched grate that Shinx pointed to. "Stand there, and someone will read your footprint."

"Read my footprint?" Sean asked, stepping forward. "Are they going to tell my future or something?" he joked.

"No. Just what you are?"

Sean: “I’m sorry, say what now?” o_o;

"This seems a bit… odd."

"A little, but you'll be fine once you're in."

Sean: “(Whatever, let’s just get this over with. Hopefully this dream doesn’t stick me with that dead-end mission having to check footprints along with this guy like the actual games at this rate.)”

Sean gave Shinx one more smile before stepping on. There were different sized holes to ensure someone would be able to have their entire foot viewed without trouble and he needed to wait only a moment before a response came.

"Pokémon detected!" a high-pitched, energetic, voice cried. "Pokémon detected!"

There was but another moment before someone boomed. "Whose footprint? Whose footprint?"

Unless the line is very deliberately meant to be different from what it is canonically, you want “Whose footprint?” there, which is also more grammatically correct.

The voice, Loudred's of course, voice boomed all around them and Sean's headache flared up again.

"The footprint is… Meowth! The footprint is Meowth!"

Sean: “I… was not expecting that to be anywhere near as much of a racket, really.”
:eltydizzy:


The voices stopped and Sean glanced back to Shinx, who was watching enviously. He smiled and the shinx smiled back at him.

"You may enter," Loudred declared and the grate began to rise, allowing entrance into the guild.

Grinning, part of him always wanted to do this, Sean turned to Shinx with a pleased look. "Your turn!"

Shinx:
:Fearfullaugh:

Sean: “Wait, but aren’t you coming?” ._.;

Shinx started violently, almost jumping like a startled cat.

"What?" he squawked.

I mean, he is a startled cat, so…
:wellyousee:


"Is there SOMEONE else there?" Loudred's voice boomed, causing them both to jump. "They must be checked out AS WELL!"

"N-no, it's fine," Shinx squeaked, already backing off. "Just… go in. Please."

Sean: “(Wait, this is part of the script, right? Though even if it is, why do I feel so uneasy about it-?)” .-.

Before Sean could get a word in, Shinx ran off and the gate clanged shut.

Sean: “Oh, well. That resolved itself, really.”

"Sorry," he called, looking down into the grate where he knew Diglett to lay. "He's, uh, a bit shy and he's run off."

"A LIKELY story," Loudred yelled, voice still carrying easily enough that it sounded like he was bellowing into his ears directly. "Get him on the grate or buzz off."

Sean: “Look, he literally just ran off and-”
- Beat moment -
Sean: “(Right, this is around when he’s supposed to get that Relic Fragment stolen, huh?) Uh… give me just a moment here.”

Sean flinched and stepped back. "I'll… go find him," he muttered, more than a little annoyed. He ran away from the guild and on his trip downstairs he realised just why Shinx might have had trouble finding the nerves to enter the guild.

The grate wasn't the first barrier, Loudred was.

Oh, so it’s basically an ear-rape tier experience for Shinx just to approach that thing, huh?

And now he had to track down a wayward shinx partner in a place he only knew from playing a game. He hoped his dream would show him the way.

bender-laughing.gif


As he ran, he expected the dream to switch, but it continued as solidly as it had been up to this point, and his paws stung slightly. Sean frowned, staring at his feet for a moment. He clenched them, and claws popped out. Also a weird sensation. The end of his tail also stung slightly, it had been dragging down on the ground through the town and up the stairs and lifting it up felt very bizarre.

Sean felt a seed of doubt.

Sean: “(How long has it been since I played Sky anyways? Since I could’ve sworn there was supposed to be a Café run by Spinda here!)” ._.;

"This is… no! That's ridiculous," he scoffed, shaking his head. A claw popped out of his paws and he debated scratching himself with it, that was what you did, right?

inb4 Sean winds up making himself bleed.

Pressing a claw into his body wasn't the easiest to push himself into doing, however, and before he could commit, he was nearly bowled over.

"Whoops," a deep voice chuckled with mirth. "Sorry," he said, completely unapologetically.

"Heh-heh, watch yourself," another voice simpered and before Sean could get a good look, the pair flew off.

Oh, it’s Team Skull, isn’t it?

He looked up as the pair departed, spotting what he knew to be a koffing and zubat fly towards the beach.

The beach!

Yuuuup.

Sean: “(Oh thank goodness, I was starting to get worried it’d be a pain to find that place.)” ^^;

Of course. "Duh," he muttered to himself. The games started at the beach, but he'd been woken up early. That's why things were a bit off, and his waking up at the cliff instead but that was fine.

794.png


Sean picked himself up and ran after them, colliding with something else almost instantly. "Watch yourself," the owner, a skuntank, growled before stomping off.

Sean stared after the pokémon for a moment, but Skuntank didn't look back. He was heading away from the beach, into town, and Sean breathed a sigh of relief. Before immediately gagging from the stench.

Sean: “... God, I hope I don’t have to go through that noxious gas combo sequence before I wake up from this.”
:TailsEww:


He grabbed his nose, relieved to find he had one. "No snake meowth or anything," he said before dropping his paw. This dream was rapidly falling out of his control, but that was honestly relieving. Dreams that made sense weren't usually dreams.

I’m really curious how long is it going to take before that mindset starts causing issues for Sean. My current over/under is 5 chapters.

He had his goal and so he ran after Koffing and Zubat. The trail downhill winded around a little, but he could hear the crash of waves before long and smell the salt in the air.

The scent nearly made him sneeze but not quite, a bothersome feeling. Almost as much as the tail that was still dragging on the ground.

Sean: “How on earth does Meowth do it from the anime anyways? He makes it look so natural.” ._.;

He hiked it up and whacked himself in the back of the head. There was no winning here, so he settled with holding his tail with a paw and jogging awkwardly.

And learned that without a tail lagging behind to balance him, he fell over easily.

Truly no winning.

Or, you know, you could just embrace facultative bipedalism and go on all fours, but you do you, Sean.

Sean's inner war with his tail was brought to a grinding ceasefire when he finally arrived on the beach, to find Shinx sulking into the sand.

He hadn't noticed him yet and was talking out loud.

Sean: “(Right, Team Skull probably ripped him off already. Comforting thoughts, Sean. Comforting thoughts…)”

"Even in my spot everything goes wrong!"

He seemed more angry than miserable.

"Oh, who am I kidding?" Shinx slumped into the sand. "I'll never be brave enough to join the guild."

Sean: “(Wait, where was that side of him all this time anyways up to this point?)”

Sean wasn't sure what he had missed, well he had some idea, but he decided now was time to clear his throat.

Shinx, immediately, jumped into the air. "Wha-who?"

"That's Mario," Sean answered, Shinx blinked at him. "Hi."

Shinx: “Wait, who now?” ._.;
Sean: “It was supposed to be a joke. Anyhow what’s going on here, Shinx?”

"H-Hey. What are." He turned slightly to wipe his face as discreetly as he could. "What are you doing here?"

"I got knocked over by a couple of thugs talking about snatching something from someone, so I followed them, but they were too fast for me."


"Oh." Shinx's lip quivered for a moment before he shook it off. "You didn't go into the guild?"

"Not without you," he replied, stepping forward. He laid a gentle paw on Shinx's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm… I'm fine."

Sean: “Really? You’re sure you didn’t get ripped off by someone or-”
Shinx: “Meowth! I said I was fine!” >.<
Sean: “Well, you don’t really look fine, so…”

Sean waited in silence before Shinx buckled. "No. They took my treasure and ran into the cave. By the time someone gets down here, they'll probably be too far away to catch. I've lost the only thing I have left!"

Sean: “(I… didn’t remember the partner in Sky being this broke and desperate, but now that Shinx mentions it…)” .-.

He buried his face into Sean's chest and cried for a moment. Surprised, and a little uncomfortable, with the turn of events, Sean awkwardly patted the crying shinx on the back.

"There-there," he said, letting Shinx cry for a bit.

Soon enough, however, Shinx pulled back. "Thanks for coming after me," he said, voice dejected, "but there's no point in wasting your time on me."

Sean: “Shinx, are you even listening to yourself speak right now?”
:eltywtf:


"There is every point!" Sean protested, feeling a flash of defensive anger for him. Didn't matter if this was a dream, that was not okay. "Come on, you said they went into the cave? Let's go after them."

"Us?" Shinx gasped. "Into Beach Cave? That's a Mystery Dungeon!"

"And?" Sean asked, giving him a confident nod.

Sean, do you even know how to fight properly right now? ^^;

"I… you'd go into a dungeon for me?" Shinx asked, voice very small. "You don't even know me."

"Of course!" Sean beamed. "You helped me, so why shouldn't I help you?" That was what happened in these kinds of stories, right? "This treasure sounds important, but I don't think I can do it myself. We'll need to do it together."

Sean: “(Also, I’m pretty sure we have to stick to a script or else this dream is going to go to some really weird places, so let’s stay on-plot here.)” ^^;

Shinx met his eyes for a moment, Sean extending the metaphorical hand of help, and Shinx debating whether to take it.

"Okay." He nodded and Sean beamed. "We better hurry, to make sure they don't get away."

"Right." Sean nodded back and followed Shinx across the sand and towards a cavernous hole in the tranquillity of the beach.

Sean: “(U-Um… this dream did give me an ability to fight innately, right? I’m not gonna have to go through that fanfic trope where I struggle just to use Tackle the first time, right?)” ^^;

Beach Cave was not like Sean had expected. At the same time, however, he never expected to see it firsthand.

A yawning chasm that seemed to slope down forever and descend into inky blackness, gusts of briny wind stung the eyes and left a churning feeling in the gut. Shinx hesitated for a brief moment before pushing forwards, Sean hesitated for a longer moment, but he didn't want to be left behind and he hastened to catch up.

Sean: “(... Boy am I starting to get second thoughts about all of this right now.)” o_o;

Neither of them noticed someone watching them enter the dungeon.

Well, that certainly wasn’t in my Sky playthrough. Guess we’re going to find out who on earth that was before too long.

It was difficult to run, Sean found, since claws would randomly unsheathe themselves from his hind paws.

It was strange trying to get them to retract. Feeling similar to the sensation of pushing spikes into his toes, but without the ungodly agony from doing so.

Sean: “... Is it supposed to be this much of a pain to keep those claws in my body?”
:ohnowen:


They continued moving down until the floor evened out. Once it did, Shinx paused completely. He took a deep breath as Sean looked around, then choked from the smell.

Sean: “Blaugh, I guess that’s one way to know that we found ‘em.”
:TailsEww:


The walls were not too far from Sean had expected to see. Bluish stone, a damp light-magenta ground, and deeper pits of water were all around. The trip downwards had been somewhat dim, but strangely now that they were at the actual beginning, everything was perfectly visible. A light shone from nowhere, which was something Sean decided was best not pondering.

"We're really in the dungeon," Shinx whispered before a reverberating sound startled him and he squeaked, popping off a jolt of electricity that thankfully didn't hit Sean.

Sean: “... Oh. Never mind then. (Dammit. Guess I should’ve expected there’d be something iffy with Mystery Dungeons given how they’re obviously not spots of stable reality.)”

"This place feels even weirder than I remember," Shinx muttered before bumping into Sean. He jumped, and sparked with electricity, before realising it was the same pokémon that had come along. "Oh, sorry."

So when Sean gets shocked does he get all poofy and frizzy from static electricity? :V

Sean licked his lips, tasting the air, and decided Shinx was right. This place did feel weird, and the smell was even worse. Salty and foul. There was a fine sort of dust that glittered even on the sludge all about that attracted the meowth's eyes.

"Have you ever been in a Mystery Dungeon before?" Shinx asked, taking a tentative step forward.

Sean: “Obviously not, no. Why, is this normal for them?” ._.;

"I don't think so," Sean answered, looking around warily. "Not that I remember at least," he corrected, thinking over it.

"Oh, that's right."

He looked over at the meowth stepping awkwardly to avoid particularly slimy parts on the ground. "If you don't remember much of anything, does that mean you don't remember what a Mystery Dungeon is?"

Sean: “I literally just said-
Shinx: “Yeah, well that wasn’t canon. But, you don’t remember what a Mystery Dungeon is, right?”

Sean took a moment to respond. This was all too bizarre, and frighteningly lifelike, for a dream. He never had fantastic dreams like this, the most he ever dreamed about was flying. And even those felt floaty in a way this experience didn't.

Narrator: “Because it’s not a dream-”
Sean: “Alright, alright! Give it a rest already!” >_>;

This was just like a game he had played many times, perhaps too many, if there was such a concept. The first game starring pokémon he had played. This was almost painfully unusual, and he barely knew how to respond to the question. He knew what a Mystery Dungeon was for sure, but remember it in the scope of a being who had existed here the whole time?

"I… sort of?" Sean answered, shrugging.

Sean: “I… just didn’t remember it being like this, really.” .-.

"Oh, that's a bit awkward." Shinx frowned, turning away. They continued walking for a minute before Shinx turned back, holding an exceptionally guilty expression. "What do you know?"

"They change and have dangerous pokémon in them?"

Shinx: “... That’s seriously all you know?” >_>;
Sean: “... Yes…? What else should I know about them?” >.<

"I guess that's about the gist of it." Shinx nodded. "Be careful though, don't separate from me. I've been in here before, the ferals aren't too bad here but they're creepy."

Sean: “... (Feral? That definitely wasn’t part of my Sky playthrough.)” ._.

"Feral?" Sean frowned, glancing around. In the games you could recruit the dungeon pokémon. "What do you mean by feral?"

"THAT!" Shinx yelled, causing Sean to jump. Shinx's whole body crackled with electricity for a moment, pulling his fur up, before it was discharged into a focused strike of lightning. He seemed to have good aim, lancing a shellos in the eye.

Sean: “Holy crap, dude! What the hell was that-?!”
:eltyscared:

Shinx: “Saving your sorry hide there! You need to pay attention in places like these, Meowth!”

Sean spun on the threat as Shinx had attacked, claws coming out reflexively. Already it was fleeing, but the shellos had tried to jump him from behind.

Panting slightly as his heart raced, Shinx gave Meowth a crooked smile. "Pokémon in dungeons are almost certainly going to attack adventurers. They don't listen to reason, they don't even seem capable of talking anymore."

Sean: “(I… really could go for getting woken up by my alarm clock right now. Since boy is this trip taking a bad turn fast.)” O.O

He shook his head again. "It's really sad, and nothing seems to be able to help them. According to some really strong adventurers, sense can sometimes be knocked into them, but it seems to come down to pure luck on if it happens or not."

Oh, so there is still a recruiting mechanic for dungeon Pokémon in WS. I’ll admit, that surprised me a bit after seeing the description of ferals being “Dungeon Madness”-spec earlier, since that’s a relatively rare bird in the fandom. Or at least the parts of it I’ve read thus far.

"How does someone go feral?" Sean asked once his heart had stopped pounding. He could still hear the electricity surging and the scream from his would-be attacker was still echoing.

… Wait, but the Shellos was never described screaming earlier. You’d think that a shrill noise like that would stand out enough that it’d have merited description.

"I'm not sure exactly," Shinx admitted, causing a rather unpleasant jolt of panic to thump Sean's heart. "It seems to happen when a dungeon forms around some wild pokémon or, even worse, a town. Everyone inside gets turned into them. Most adventurers are pretty safe, but if you get knocked out and NOT eaten or killed, and you are stuck in a dungeon for too long, it's been known to happen." He shivered slightly.

Sean: “(Oh my god.) Uh… you know what? Sorry to be a bother, but I have this really killer stomachache and kinda need to go back to town and-”
:grohno:

Shinx: “Oi! You promised me you’d help me get my treasure back!” >.<

The matter-of-fact nature of how Shinx spoke about getting eaten sent a shiver down Sean's spine, but he ignored it in favour of smiling. "Sounds like risky business."

Sean: “(It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, it’s just a dream.)” o_o;

"It is," Shinx agreed, nodding his head. "But the rewards!" His head shot up high with determination blazing in his eyes, along with literal electricity crackling through his fur. "The romance of the adventurer. The skills you need to face the trials. The treasures you can find. Dungeons always have the best loot, some pokémon believe it's a way of luring us in, but if so the rewards are still worth it!"

Sean: “... Yeah, I’m just gonna headed back for the guild now-”
Shinx: “Bold of you to assume that you’re going to be let in the guild if you turn tail here. Chatot already gave me an earful just the other day for being a ‘coward’, so how do you think he’s gonna react to hearing about this?

"Sounds like you want to be an adventurer?" Sean laughed, causing Shinx to blush and fluff up his fur.

"…Maybe?" he admitted quietly "Is that bad?"

"Bad? I think that's really cool! I bet that's what the guild is for, right?

… Wait, how is Sean reacting right now anyways? I know I’ve been meming about Sean not exactly looking forward to this in jokes, but it’s a bit hard for me to tell how much of this is genuine from him and how much of this is putting on a brave face since there’s not a lot of description of bodily cues or internal reactions.

"Right. I… I thought you might already know that. You offered to come into a strange place with a strange pokémon without any hesitation. That's what pokémon like the guild’s members does! They're so cool, the Wigglytuff Guild helps everyone in need no matter what and everyone who goes through them turns into a really good explorer!"

A couple nitpicks there, especially since a “guild” is technically not “pokémon” but rather its members are. Though this feels like a lot of words to be said in one breath from Shinx. You might want to consider chopping this line of dialogue up in two and adding a line of description in between, such as something about how Sean is parsing all this or something.

"I couldn't just let you lose your treasure! What kind of, uh. Well, what kind of thanks for helping me would that be?"

"Mm," Shinx said, giving Sean some side-eye.

So how obviously is Sean screaming internally from his expression right now? Since I can see that skepticism that Shinx is displaying there. >:V

Sean gave an awkward smile. "What kind of friend would I be if I just let you down like that?"

Sean: “(It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, it’s just a dream!)” O.O

Shinx's ears flicked up in surprise and he glanced to him before glancing away. He didn't say anything, but he didn't seem offended.

"What do you want me to say?" Sean grinned.

"DUCK!" Shinx suddenly shouted. Sean just blinked at him dumbly, he wasn't used to following immediate orders for life-preserving measures. Not his own life at least.

Sean: “Wait, as in say that, or-?”
Shinx: “No, as in ‘duck or you’re gonna die’!” O_O;

Seeing he wasn't moving, Shinx tackled him out of the way of a powerful jet of water, it clipped Shinx's tail but did no harm.

The air was knocked out of Sean's lungs when Shinx used his chest as a springboard to leap up and fire a jolt of electricity, sending something else scampering with a cry.

For the second sentence/paragraph, IMO it’ll sound a bit more actiony if it’s not narrated in passive voice. E.x.:

Shinx abruptly sprang onto Sean, and he felt Shinx’s paws knock the air out of his lungs. His now-partner used his chest as a springboard, and leapt up to fire a jolt of electricity. There was a cry, and then the sounds of something else scampering away in hurried retreat.

Some food for thought, anyways. Since in general, 95% of the time when passive voice is used, it sounds better being switched over to active voice.

"Ow," Sean grunted, rolling to his feet. "You're strong, you know that?"

"What?" Shinx's face went so red Sean could see it through the fur. "No, I'm not! They're just weak!"

Sean: “... Wait, is that supposed to be physically possible for you when you have face fur?” .-.
Shinx: “Look, can we just move on and get my treasure back now?” >///<

"They'd probably take me out in a single hit, right?" Sean smirked, taking advantage of his obvious weakness to gain what he loved most. Minor abashment from friends and acquaintances.

That… is a rather curious thing to want the most from your friends and acquaintances, though filing that one away.

"W-well," Shinx stuttered. "N-no. You're not weak. I j-just didn't want you to get hurt. Getting hit in the back isn't fun, I can tell from experience."

Not least of all since that happened to him all of five minutes before you two came to this place.

Sean nodded sagely. "Getting hit in the front isn't much better either. So, thanks for hitting me in the side." He paused for a moment and dropped the sage look. "Oh! I meant that genuinely! Sorry, I don't want to seem ungrateful. I really am thankful you saved me from getting hit by… something. What was it?"

I wasn’t aware that Shinx’s mood had visibly turned enough for Sean to have an ‘err’ moment about it. It probably would make sense to take some time to describe Shinx getting flustered or something there.

"A Water Gun," Shinx mumbled. He clearly felt bad for tackling him and Sean reaped the consequences of his enjoyment. Guilt.

Sean: “Great, now I’m feeling bad for messing with him like that.” ._.

"Hey, I really do mean it," he said, scratching an arm awkwardly. "Thank you. That's twice you've saved me from getting attacked from behind. And I'm supposed to be helping you by getting that, uh… thingy back. Your treasure?" He had almost said Relic Fragment, and Sean didn't want to spill any accidental knowledge. He'd look creepy.

Nah, you’d look clairvoyant like Xatu… which I suppose is just another way of saying ‘creepy’, but it’s a little bit different.

"You're already helping?" Shinx said softly. "I don't know if I'd have come in here if you didn't offer. So, thanks."

"Thank me later," Sean said, nodding. "When we get it back."

They’re not going to get it back at this rate, are they? Since given that we technically have already been veering off-course from the canonical Explorers narrative thus far…

Steeling himself determinedly, Shinx continued leading the way through the dungeon. This time Sean kept a much closer eye on his surroundings. Already After all, he'd been nearly hit twice already.

Part of Sean was looking out for stairs, and wondered if he should ask Shinx about them, but held his tongue.

Sean: “... (Wait, this isn’t going to raise even more questions when I find my way around this place without asking questions, right?)”
- Beat moment -
Sean: “(Assuming things go that way, since that whole ‘feral’ thing definitely wasn’t in my Sky run.)” ._.;

They continued on for much longer than Sean gathered a standard Beach Cave floor to be, so he reasoned the dungeons were more related to the Mystery Dungeon animated specials rather than strictly the games.

Holy cow, how much MD content has Sean seen and read as a fan before the events of the story? Like did he also read the manga with the Chimchar and Totodile too? .-.

They stumbled across several enemies, each time Shinx zapped them with electricity and sent them scurrying back into the pools of water. The pokémon creeped Sean out, the emptiness of their eyes, viewing but not seeing, and their complete silence besides angry, or pained, screeching made him all the more uncomfortable.

I mean, would you rather that they made moaning or hissing noises like idling zombies from any number of past movies, Sean? Since that’s functionally what they are at the moment.

An anorith dropped something after Shinx blasted it and Sean felt the overwhelming urge to grab it, pick it up, keep it tucked to his chest and purr on it forever. He shook the feeling off after only twelve seconds, did his best to ignore the small snort of amusement from Shinx, and they continued on.

Sean: “... Shut up, it’s an endearing quirk.” >///<

It was a seed, not as big as the game would have implied, but still large enough that 'seed' was an odd choice of name. He wondered if it would grow into anything, then pondered where the seeds came from.

Narrator:
Gnomevile.jpg

Sean: “Good enough for me, really.”

"What is this?" he asked as they entered another room, shaking the seed. It looked almost like a flower with lilac to red tints on it. Shinx gave him a curious look before remembering the memory loss.

"Looks like a blast seed to me. Keep hold of that, but not too tight. They can explode… actually that's entirely what they are for. A good weapon, I think it'll be useful later."

Ah, so you went with a homebrew appearance for Blast Seeds. Since that’s definitely different from either canonical depiction we’ve had of them in the series thus far. Though can’t say it doesn’t play up the “this is an AU”-angle well.

Later. The word struck a nervous chord with Sean as he realised what must be approaching soon. He could even distantly smell the sour, putrid, stench that the koffing had left even from the brief interaction that was had earlier. It bothered him the scent hadn't faded yet and it was even more unpleasant than Koffing earlier had been.

inb4 the Blast Seed winds up making the Relic Fragment episode go really off-base and does something like literally explode Koffing with all the attendant
:squirpuke~1:
-ing afterwards.

Determined to keep hold of the blast seed until the time was right, Sean continued following Shinx and letting him do all the work.

Quality teamwork there! :^)

Pokémon would either descend upon them in a horrific rampage or would run as soon as they were noticed. For Sean, he much preferred the latter. Shinx was more than capable of fighting what few feral pokémon did attack, but each encounter was making him uncomfortable.

Shinx: “Um… Mewoth, how come you’ve just been hanging back all this time again?”
:what:

Sean: “My… uh… amnesia might’ve affected my fighting skills?” ^^;

Pokémon were meant to be nice and friendly, but the unholy gurgles these things made to the whites of their eyes, all left Sean feeling very out of place. He was glad Shinx was fighting fit enough for the both of them.

Bruh, did you go through the same dungeons in Sky that I did, Sean? Just because they looked cutesy and had cutesy animations didn’t mean that those Dungeon ‘mons were a bunch of spiteful buggers who’d happily wreck your day if they were rocking a more broken move or ability. >:V

It wasn't like he didn't want to help. But he was having trouble just keeping claws unsheathed let alone actually fighting. The fact a battle was coming up left him feeling nervous.

Sean: “... Crap. Now I really do have a stomachache.” O.O

"I don't know how to fight like this!" he thought to himself in mounting worry, paw holding tightly on the blast seed.

Sure is a great thing that you volunteered to go along with Shinx without knowing for sure that you could, huh?
:gardeshrug~1:


Though I kinda wonder if this would’ve had more impact if we saw Sean definitively try and fail at least once before this point. Since Sean technically doesn’t know he can’t fight right now, especially with all the weird impulses his new body’s been giving off to him.

The ground began to change. Turning from the magenta ground to sand as they drew closer to the sound of waves.

"Here we go," Shinx whispered. "When dungeons change like this it means we're nearing the end or a midpoint, and this place is small. They came in before us. So, they should be at the end here."

Oh, so that’s how you handle those points where you can stop and reshuffle items and save before progressing in this story.

"Do you want me to scout ahead?" Sean asked, feeling funny at the thought that had come to his lips without him even thinking about it.

Shinx shook his head. "Together." And they did.

Sean: “(Oh thank god.)”
:sweats:


Sure enough, a pair of Poison-type pokémon floated before them, backs turned and facing the waves.

"Nothing but waves past here." The lighter voice that belonged to Zubat rang out. Sean palmed the blast seed, considering giving the pair a taste of their own medicine and attacking from behind, but Shinx spoke up before he could try a dirty tactic like that.

"Uh… HEY!" he shouted, causing the pair to swivel around to them.

Sean:
8319d0d28c7aa38a65521f2c6b98b602.jpg


"Well, well," Koffing boomed. "If it isn't our old friend. And… you, what are you doing here?"

"Give me," Shinx mumbled, he glanced to Sean for support and received a nod. "GIVE ME BACK WHAT YOU STOLE FROM ME!"

Sean: “... (Okay, I definitely did not remember my partner in Sky being anywhere near this bold or angry-sounding.)”

Even Koffing and Zubat were surprised by his volume. "That's my personal treasure," he continued, at a more reasonable tone. "It means everything to me."

I can’t tell if the lack of exclamations is deliberate or not, but the lack of them makes Shinx’s line feel weirdly “flat” for a moment that I presume is supposed to come off a heartfelt and heated.

"Treasure you say?" Zubat asked, interested. "Hmm. This piece of junk may be more valuable than we thought." Zubat was wearing the Relic Fragment and the image instilled a surprising amount of anger in Sean. His claws flexed.

I kiiinda wonder if this could’ve been done in a more “show” and less “tell” fashion, since for whatever reason, the underlined fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it’d have hit differently if we saw the effects of Sean being angry before the narration tells us that for emphasis?

"It could be worth more than we had hoped, I'd say," Koffing agreed. "We ought to try selling it. We may just get a high price." The pair sniggered. "Woah-ho-ho, imagine what the boss would think? All the more reason not to give it back."

Shinx:
:hissssss:

Zubat: “Yup, sounds like a winning idea to me!”
:coolbat:


"What?!" Shinx's expression mixed anger with desperation. "Give it to me, NOW!"

[ ]


"If you want it so badly, why not try and take it. Heh-heh-heh." Zubat snickered before the pair of them just flew right for them, attacking without warning.

Another spot where the lack of an exclamation point gives off a vibe that I’m not sure is fully intentional. Though I kinda wonder if there should’ve been a line of description before going into Zubat and Koffing’s ambush since it’d be a chance to show off some body language or subtle characterization there. Especially if this incarnation of them is also meant to be off-spec from canon.

Zubat opened his mouth and screeched, spewing out a horrible shockwave erupted from him that knocked Sean and Shinx off balance. As they staggered from the audio onslaught, Koffing belched a terrific amount of smoke from the holes on his body, covering the formerly-pristine battlefield in a choking miasma.

"Woah-ho-ho take a load of this!" Koffing spat globules of deadly poison, firing indiscriminately into the smog.

Sean: “Wait, those things are deadly?! Since when?!
:grohno:

Shinx: “Look, just don’t get hit by them, okay?!” O_O;

A shout of pain from Shinx made him focus his shots, but the concentration kept him in place. Prime for Shinx's retaliation.

"Who-ho-hurg!" Koffing grunted as he was hit by a lance of electricity right in one of his pores, knocking him back and nearly deflating him for a moment.

What does a deflated Koffing look like anyways?
:thonklithe:


Coughing Hacking, Shinx and Sean ran to safer air, taking it gulps of oxygen that wasn't flooded with smog.

"You crooks," Shinx coughed, gasping for breath. "You play dirty."

I would recommend dividing this paragraph up and turning either “Coughing” or “coughed” into a synonym to avoid word repetition over such a tight narrative distance.

"Heh-heh, what did you expect?" Zubat asked instead of attacking. He received a face of electricity for it. Sean would have been impressed had he had the focus to think about that.

Smooooth, Zubat. Not that I’d have expected Team Skull to magically be competent even in an AU.

His heart raced wildly, it was so much different to imagine a fight vs actually fighting one and he was being overwhelmed.

"Gyah! Enough of this." Koffing came zooming back, slamming full-bodied into Shinx and knocking him down. "Eat some Sludge!"

Sean took in a gulp of air to gather as much Power as he could, and he acted on autopilot.

Yada yada, you get the drill here. Though you should swap “Sean” and the pronoun around since at first, I thought the “he” was talking about Koffing there.

Also, we don’t really get a good look at how Sean is reacting to seeing Shinx pinned like this. Is there a brief flash of stress or something? Consider dropping in an additional sentence ahead of the part where he throws himself into the fray to expand on that.

Koffing coughed; a brief feeling of puzzlement flew through his mind before everything went black.

"YES!" Sean cheered, snapping back to thought again. He had thrown his blast seed aiming for Koffing's mouth and got it in one shot. It wasn't a blast seed after all, but a sleep seed was almost as useful.

Okay, while you can head-hop to an extent in third-person omniscient perspective while still feeling natural, it feels a little jarring here to see things from the perspective of Koffing blacking out and then just going straight to Sean’s dialogue.

It might be worth either rephrasing “Koffing coughed [...]” into something more in-line with a “fixed camera” view, or else adding another sentence to the effect of “Koffing hit the ground drooling as Sean looked on and got a big, doofy grin” afterwards to serve as a smoother transition to a “camera” that’s focused on Sean.

Though I guess I should’ve realized something was up with that “Blast Seed” earlier from that description, since yeah. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a canonical Blast Seed with purple on it.

Shinx unleashed electrical hell on the snoozing Koffing enough to wake him briefly, before unconsciousness claimed him once more.

The description here fell a little flat for me. Perhaps it’s just how you roll as an author to an extent and an artifact of tongue-in-cheekness that comes up in the narration of your story thus far, but I feel like I’d have been able to visualize “electrical hell” with a few more concrete statements about what that involved. Like were there sparks flying? A bright yellow flash? It’s a thing that I’d noticed in a couple other parts in my readthrough thus far, but it might be worth taking some time to stop and smell the proverbial roses a bit more, especially in action sequences like these where without things standing out in your readers’ minds, you risk things blurring together.

Zubat screeched again, disorientating both of them, and dove into a vicious tackle. He slammed into Shinx and bit down, pulling a cry from Shinx. He had knocked Sean back into the smog and he was blinded again.

Sean: “Shinx, why is he still up right now?!”
:eltydizzy:

Shinx: “Look, I’m working on it, alright?!”
:CabotDizzy:


Hearing Shinx's scream, Sean forced his eyes closed and focused on just where the sound was coming from. He toppled as soon as he tried to walk, but he toppled in the right direction.

The Smokescreen had faded but the stench was still there; it was building further.

Sean: “Oh god, I knew I should’ve gone back to the guild.”
:squirpuke~1:


Shinx tried blasting Zubat, but he had already released him and flew circles around the wildly-aiming Electric type. He screeched again and dove into another tackle, sending Shinx into the water.

"Heh-heh-heh," Zubat laughed, mouth spotted with a small bit of blood. He turned his attention to the meowth and swooped at him again.

Sean: “Great, could this day be going any worse right now?”
:eltyscared:


The sound of wings fluttering through the air brought back severely bad memories for Sean and he dove out of the way on reflex.

Oh, so something happened to Sean in the human world involving something that flew at him. Noted and will keep that one in mind for the future.

Zubat didn't mind, he sailed up and moved to try again. Only to be blasted out of the sky.

"GYAH!" Zubat cried as the electricity overwhelmed him and he plummeted to the ground.

Shinx was soaking wet, and had shocked himself to do it, but the unplanned swim had cleared his mind and allowed him his aim back.

Sean: “Oi, you could’ve stepped in a little sooner, you know!” >_>;
Shinx: “I was literally in the middle of an unplanned swim!” >.<

"Give me," Shinx panted, prowling forward and Zubat tried to flutter to the air. "MY TREASURE!" He pounced but missed as Zubat managed to rise into the air.

"Never!" Zubat hissed and blasted him with another Supersonic. "You're weak, you have to rely on tricks. So, this is wh-"

Pot calling the kettle black, much?

He didn't finish his sentence. Sean, having recovered from his own ailment, had taken his chance and threw himself at Zubat. He snatched Zubat out of the air with a two-pawed hold and pinned him to the ground.

"Shinx, I got him!" He shouted, heart pounding as Zubat struggled. Zubat tried flapping his wings but Sean refused to let go. "This is just like holding a chicken, this is JUST like holding a CHICKEN!" he repeated in his head. "Just don't think about the time that chicken died."

Oh, there’s a story behind that chicken, I can already tell.
:copyka2~1:


Zubat tried a Supersonic but wasn't angled right and the noise bounced harmlessly off Sean's forehead charm. Holding onto Zubat as tight as he was caused Sean's claws to extend, and his captive hissed in pain as blood was drawn but did stop struggling.

Zubat: “I call hax.”
:GrumpNip:

Sean: “Yeah, yeah, shut up. You’re not supposed to be that tough of a fight anyways.” >_>;

"G-great," Shinx said, still dizzy from the confusion that the Supersonic had inflicted on him. "Just give me… okay." He dunked his head in the water and pulled himself up, eyes steady and focused on the task at hand.

"You've lost," Shinx said, running forward with eyes refocused. "Now I'm taking my treasure back." He yanked the Relic Fragment off Zubat's neck with his teeth and caused the bat-pokémon to meep with fear with those fangs near his neck.

Sean: “Uh, Shinx? You’re kinda scaring me a little right now. ^^;

Sean looked to Shinx with questions and Shinx nodded. Taking a breath, Sean threw Zubat away from him and scuttled back to draw some distance between them. Zubat did not take this as a time to attack, simply glaring with a scathing look and fluttering to Koffing's side.

"Weh…" Koffing groaned, waking up and slowly floating up. "How did we get roughed up so badly by THEM?"

Because you two suck and are literally tutorial bosses that players have to go out of their way to lose to most of the time?
:gardeshrug~1:


"I dunno," Zubat answered, glancing past Sean and Shinx despite having no ideas. A smirk was curling at his face. "But they're gonna look worse in a moment."

"Wuh?" Koffing's eyes focused and he laughed. "Oh. Woah-ho-ho I see what you mean."

Sean: “I… don’t think I like where this is going, really.” ._.;

Sean and Shinx looked up from where they were checking the Relic Fragment for damage, narrowing their eyes. "What are you talking about?" Shinx asked as Sean's claws unsheathed again. "We beat you easily."

Skuntank is right behind these two, isn’t he?

"If it were just us you'd be right, strangely enough," Koffing said smugly, causing Shinx to frown in confusion and Sean to gasp in horror.

The Smokescreen was long gone, and the piles of sludge weren't giving off much smell at all. Yet the putrid smell of utter foulness was only getting stronger. It had been only getting stronger through the whole dungeon. He'd briefly smelled it before, when he bumped into-

"SHINX," he shouted, spinning around to where they had entered from. "SKU-"

Yeah, I knew it.

That was as far as he got before Skuntank descended upon him.

A meaty claw cracked Sean across the head and knocked him flying, Shinx could barely turn in time before Skuntank breathed right in his face.

The sheer stench was utterly overpowering, and he lost consciousness with a soft gasp. The last thing he heard was a strange laughter. "Chaw-haw-haw…"

Sean: “Okay, this definitely did not happen in my Sky playthrough. But hey, at least the dream’s over now, right?”
:riplup:


<><><>

"Ugh… what happened?" Sean mumbled as he blinked his way back to the world of the consciousness. "Ah, arg!" He moved his head and then suddenly had sharp, stabbing, pains erupt from his chin, right side of neck, and his ribs.

This is enough of a jump of time and place that you should strongly consider adding a hard scene break, especially if some time has passed between Skuntank running Sean over and Sean waking up after the fact.

Sean: “Oh, come on!
:WHY:


"Ooh," Another groan caught his attention long enough to divert the pain for a moment.

Blinking away tears of pain, Sean forced himself to his feet. He was distantly aware that he was still very short, very furry, and very much not human. But most of his awareness was focused on Shinx, curled up in a ball and quietly sobbing.

Sean: “Oh. Um… right. I- I don’t suppose we’re going to get a mulligan like in the games here?”
:ScaredCabot:


"Shinx?" he called out softly, not sure what do say or do in the least.

Shinx heard him, despite the weak call, and uncurled, standing up. "Come on," Shinx muttered. He turned tail and began to walk out of the dungeon.

Sean hastened to catch up with him, stumbling with every step, although there was no need. Shinx trudged along so slowly that even with one leg going numb, Sean was able to keep up with him easily.

Sean: “(Boy is this not like my Sky playthrough. The hell is up with this dream anyways?)”
:ohnowen:


They exited the room and found themselves back at the room where they had started. Slope moving upwards to freedom.

Sean glanced behind him in confusion, but there was just a flat wall where they had just come. Sensing his confusion, Shinx spoke.

"Getting to the end of a dungeon and then leaving the last room will bring you to the entrance again." He spoke every word with a distressingly flat tone, one that made Sean want to reach over and hug him. Shinx was already trekking up the slope, so Sean hurried to join him.

Sean: “W-We’ll get ‘em next time?” ^^;
Shinx: “Meowth, please. Just stop right now.”

They reached the exit to the cave. Dusk had arrived and was bathing the entire beach in beautiful colours. Shinx didn't seem to notice, he just trudged forwards.

Sean tried to find the words to say, but his mind was entirely fixated on something else that he couldn't. Shinx reached a gouge in the sand, marking the spot where his treasure had been taken from him, and completely broke down.

"WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN?" he screamed, burying his face in the sand and screaming harder. Sean stood frozen, awkwardly trying to move forwards and comfort the shinx, but his mind was too selfishly fixated on his own problems.

:sadwott~2:


Though Sean being “selfishly fixated on his own problems” feels like it’s something that should be shown more and told less. Though that now makes me curious if the narrator itself is a character, since right or wrong, that’s a rather pointed judgment by it there about how Sean’s mind is ticking.

He traced his aching jaw, wincing at the sharp jab of pain he received for doing so. Skuntank had slammed into him, but he hadn't fainted until after Shinx had. He had felt the pain as sharp and clear as real life.

Sean: “(Also, if Shinx is right and this isn’t some sort of freaky dream, we’re probably both lucky to be alive right now.)” o_o;

Sean had had dreams where he had fallen and hit the ground from great heights, been slammed into a shed once and knocked into the air. Not once had he felt pain.

Sean: “This… isn’t a dream, is it?”
:FearfulMeowth:


His heart made various flips and clenches as the reality of his situation began to dawn on him. Not only was this not a dream in the slightest, but the story he knew was already going wrong.

Sean: “Oh my god, just what on earth did I get myself into-?”
- Sean peeks up at the title and notices it’s called ‘Warped Skies’ -
Sean: "That’s not a good omen for the future, really.” O_O;

Panic began to grip at him as Sean tried to remember every titbit of the plot at once, but each thread slipped away from him as Shinx cried harder. There were more important things to deal with than his own thoughts.

Sean: “... (Right, I should probably do something about him.) Uh… Shinx?”

"Shinx." Sean found his words again. "I'm so sorry."

He carefully stepped forward, then another, until he was by the little pokémon's side. He gently laid a paw, not a hand as he reminded himself, on the quivering ball that was supposed to be the spunky partner pokémon and sat down, remaining on the beach with him until he had cried enough.

"I'll never be an explorer," Shinx muttered not long after he stopped crying, bringing Sean out of his reverie.

Shinx: “Not least of all because I’m pretty sure that Chatot and the rest of the guild’s never going to let me live this down.”
:PyroseDespair:


Uncurling, he came to his feet and gave a brief shake to get the sand off but gave up halfway.

"What does it matter?" he mumbled and began to walk away. "Thanks for being there, but you've probably got better things to do than waste time with me."

Well, even if Shinx gave off vibes that were a bit “off” from what I remembered of the Sky partner, he’s apparently not that different given how he’s ready to just lay down and give up from defeat like this.

Sean: “Okay, for one, we’ve got like a hundred more chapters of this, so you can’t just stop and give up here.”

"H-hey," Sean said and scurried over to him. "Shinx, don't say that. You will be an explorer and you're not a waste of time!"

Shinx paused and looked up at him, eyes bloodshot, but worst of all there was no spark to him. Literal or otherwise.

Sean: “... That probably would’ve meant more coming from me if I wasn’t a complete incompetent at battling in that fight back there, wouldn’t it?” ^^;

"Why do you care?" he asked. "I mean, you don't even know me. You told me your name and I didn't even tell you mine. I got you into trouble when you didn't know what you were getting into and then knocked out in a dungeon.

[ ]

I'm lucky you're not spitting on me right now, but instead you're putting paws on me and telling me I'm everything I'm not."

IMO, you should break this up into at least two paragraphs with something in between, since that is a lot for Shinx to get out all in one breath for words.

Sean didn't really know what to say to that. He knew the words were somewhere and desperately tried to find them.

"W-well. I mean, we were in a hurry. I'm Sean." He put on a cheerful tone and stretched out a paw. "I woke up today with no memories except I'm pretty sure I used to be human. Who are you?"

The shinx blinked at that. "Human?" he asked, some liveliness returning to his expression. "You didn't say anything like that before…" he drifted off and eyes wandered a bit before he righted them back on Sean's face.

"My name… well, it's Rai… Raigeki, which only my sister knows. You too, now, I guess. You can call me Shinx if you want to, strangers and all that."

Sean: “... How on earth do you survive when you and your sister are in a room together with strangers? Like are you two Shinx A and Shinx 1-?”
:eltywtf:

Shinx Rai: “Meowth, please!” >.<
Sean: “... Right, not the right time for that.”

"I know your name, and you know mine." Sean put a grin on, he knew Rai saw right through it though. "So, we're not strangers anymore."

[ ]


"You're… very strange." Rai shook his head. "But I guess I'm not much better. I've had that Relic Fragment for years you see, it's the only thing I have left of my… well it's the only thing I really have. Had, I suppose."

His ears drooped, and he sighed. "I was sure it meant something, something big for me. But I guess not."

Well that’s an ominous hint about Rai’s background there. Though I would recommend dropping in some extra description and hacking the second paragraph up.

Sean: “U-Uh… funny story about that.
:fearfullaugh~1:

Rai: “... Please don’t tell me it really was something big, since I could really go without bawling into the beach sand for the rest of the evening.” >.<

Rai hesitated for a moment before going for broke. "You said you were human?"

Sean nodded, hoping he'd play this right. "Yeah. That's why I was so confused when I woke up. A talking shinx is, well, not what I was expecting. Having paws and a tail is weird too."

Sean had mostly done his best to ignore the extra limb up to this point, everything else happening one after another. Now that he had time to focus he couldn't help but notice it.

"It's like having an extra arm," he said, swishing the tail up and down and side to side. "Except it can bend much more and doesn't have any fingers. This is really, really, weird for me."

Rai: “Technically, it’s more of an extension of your spine than a limb-”
Sean: “Whatever, you know what I meant.” >_>;

"Not having a tail would be weird for me," Rai said, swishing his own tail in chorus with Sean's. "But I guess I can see your point… well uh… humans are kind of a myth around here."

Sean: “(Oh, so at least that’s constant here. I think.)”

"I could be wrong." Sean shrugged, defaulting to passively agreeing with the person doubting his claims. "I don't remember much of anything. Just that I'm Sean and that I'm supposed to be much taller and not have a tail. Or fur. And have five digits on each hand. And, well… I'm rambling."

"Heh." Rai smiled briefly. "You ARE a strange person."

Sean: “Tell me about it, really.” ^^;

"For sure," Sean confirmed, immediately working to get that smile again. "And you barely know me yet. Just think how weird I'll get later."

Rai raised an eyebrow as Sean reevaluated what he had just said. "Um… not in a bad way? Sorry, I tend to talk a lot when I'm feeling nervous."

inb4 he winds up doing this in a battle at some point.

"Maybe I could use that," Rai said with the briefest smile. Twitching his tail and turning back around he said. "You've probably got nowhere to go. Walk with me for a bit."

As they walked, Sean took this as his chance to try and restore the track a little. "As I was saying, you are totally going to be an explorer. I mean, did you see how you handled yourself in that dungeon?!"

Sean: “Since you were kinda carrying me there through the whole thing.” ^^;

"You mean getting knocked out by getting breathed on?"

"Not that part." Sean cringed, chiding himself internally. "I mean everything else. You walked us both through a Mystery Dungeon, protected both of us, fought two dirty bastards and beat them both." He paused and said. "I'm saying 'both' too much."

Sean: “Also that ‘noxious gas combo’ is some cheap cutscene power BS that only your Guildmaster can reliably tank, so don’t feel too bad for losing to it.” >_>;
Rai: “I’m sorry, how do you know this again?”

Rai gave a tiny smile again and Sean powered onwards. "The only thing I literally did was get in the way, hit Koffing with a Sleep Seed and hold Zubat. You battled them yourself, and everything before that."

Oh, so “you carried me” really does come up in Sean’s reassurance there.

With the words flowing, Sean finally felt confident again. "Even at the end, Skuntank had to get you with a cheap shot after fighting his flunkies. He wasn't game to even fight you head on. What does that say about a coward like that?"

"Smart I guess, smarter than me," Rai said, looking away from Sean.

[ ]

"They were right about ME being a coward though,” he muttered. “You say I'll be some adventurer, but I can't even gather the nerve to step on the guild grate. When you asked me too, I just ran away. I don't even deserve to be an explorer."

Another spot where I’d recommend dropping in more description and dividing up an existing paragraph.

"I don't think you're a coward," Sean said. "I mean it!" he added when Rai gave a bitter laugh. "Look at what you did today. No, seriously. Cowards don't do that. They roll over and take it. You charged in. That's brave."

This part I think should be split up into like 2 or 3 paragraphs even if I’m tripping up a bit as to how. The ‘bitter laugh’ part for instance definitely feels like something that would hit harder if it was more “in the present” as opposed to something that’s described after the fact.

"I had you there," Rai said, although there was less certainty in his voice now.

"And look how useful I was," Sean thumbed a digit at himself and laughed. "I don't think I could have gone in without you and wouldn't have made it through the second room without you. And honestly, until the very end, I was having fun. If you were an explorer I'd ask you to teach me."

[ ]

"What are you saying?"

Another spot that feels like it’s missing some description to show Rai’s reaction or whatnot here.

Sean swallowed and summoned all his nerves. "If you want, we can make a team together. The two of us can go to the, what was it? Wigglyfuff Guild and join together."

"Wigglytuff," Rai corrected. "And… and…." tears welled up in his eyes and he angrily brushed them away.

"I completely failed today,” he protested. “You got knocked out and I failed to get my treasure back. Why would you want to make a team with me?"

Well, “guilt” is probably a heavy motivator right about now. But really, it’s probably for the best, Rai since Sean’s gonna die in short order without someone to show him the ropes. ^^;

"I like you." Sean shrugged, heart flipping all through his chest. He couldn't think about how everything had gone wrong and this was real and the world was ending and-

Also, that too.

He really couldn't think about it. Not yet. "And I think, I really do believe, you'll be a fantastic explorer. I can only hope I can keep up with you."

Sean: “(... This story isn’t going to have some sort of twist like 30 chapters down the pipe where it turns out that that wasn’t really the Relic Fragment and Rai’s not really the Sky partner, right?)” ^^;

"You mean it?" Rai's voice was tinny and filled with the kind of hope that was almost painful to hear.

"One hundred percent yes!"

Beaming suddenly, Rai tackled Sean, repeating thank you’ again and again until the sun set.

I mean, the first mission was only a humiliating epic failure that I’m sure Chatot will have a field day with, but that’s still a really touching ending note to leave things off on.

Also, your image link at the very end is broken. You probably want to update it sometime with one that leads to a hosted version of whatever this was supposed to lead to.

Whew, that on took a while to get through. Even so, I had fun with it, and from just the first chapter, I can see how WS built a following. At the same time, there are some rough edges to the story that I feel that if removed would probably help its strengths come through a bit better.

But we’ll get to that later. To start with, let’s begin with what I feel are the strengths of this story. The elephant in the room is the premise, which while “canon story which goes off the rails” has been done before, I like how you not only did that from the jump, but did it in a way that was subtle at first but once the real divergences kick in, it becomes apparent that this was never going to be a story that roughly followed the canon plot beyond maybe the broadest of strokes. While “literal player of Pokémon games” can be a tricky beat to pull off without breaking suspension of disbelief, I liked the way how you use how Sean keeps comparing the world he’s in to his game and those little bits that are “off” versus what they ought to be in a non-AU of Sky to tee up the bigger changes later.

The other main strength that I think the story had going for it from a first impression were that Sean and Shinx are fun characters to watch and a nice departure from a stock Explorers casting, namely that they carry some elements that are consistent with a stock depiction… as well as ones that are subverted from them. Like seeing Sean effectively need to be carried by Rai through the entire first Dungeon and the story actually acknowledge that was a refreshing change from the stock Sky novelization, as was the depiction that Rai actually has modes other than shrinking back timidly and wallowing in self-doubt that’s really common for depictions of the Explorers partner in the fandom.

At the same time, both Sean and Rai feel like they’re relatively well-rounded characters, they have flaws, but at the same time have enough of a heart to try and fight them in some circumstances. Kinda like how Sean goes into things thinking that he’s going through the motions of a re-enactment of his Sky run, only to get thoroughly disabused of that when he fails much to Rai’s despair. I dunno how much “I’m in a game” is going to affect Sean’s thought processes in coming chapters, but in light of how polarizing that can turn out for other characters where that runs on for a decent length of time, him challenging those assumptions early on is probably for the best for his audience sympathy, since I’ll admit that my own sympathy for Sean rose quite a bit after that moment where it clicked for him that things weren’t a dream and there would be consequences for his actions.

That said, as alluded to earlier, there are a few issues that I think get in the way of your story, or at least its first chapter in the state that I read it in. I noticed that there were a number of small typos and wording hiccups here and there throughout the prose. They’re not exactly big or hard-to-fix issues, but I would recommend making a point of stepping through things and smoothing them out.

Onto more structural and less “change a couple letters” issues, but a few places in this chapter are a bit light on description. In some cases to the point where I'm having trouble visualizing things or getting full reads off of characters and how they’re ticking, with the fight with Team Skull being one of the more standout moments for that. I also noticed that some spots have an issue with "tell and not show". Like moments when we’re told that Sean is getting mad, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re seeing it since there’s not a whole lot of accompanying mannerisms or “angry thoughts” accompanying it. It also interrelates with moments where we get told stuff after the fact instead of as they happen, which makes those things feel more “told” and less “shown” by the narration when the opposite is almost always a more effective tack to take when depicting events unfolding in live time.

Lastly in the criticism pile, but the entire chapter is told all in one scene when you have logical points for splitting things into at least 4 scenes offhand since the chapter’s structure can basically be boiled down to:

- Sean almost dies from swan diving off a cliff and has a “Hello World” with Rai
- Sean and Rai’s time in Treasure Town and on the beach
- Sean and Rai in the Mystery Dungeon up until Skuntank crashes the party
- The aftermath on the beach with Rai bawling his heart out over his stolen treasure

Doing all of this in one long scene without breaks winds up making things feel like they drag more than they ought to, since one scene break can do the work of 2 or 3 paragraphs of transitional description. It also makes the individual locations stand out a bit less since they blend into each other more instead of having more emphasis in framing. It’s ultimately your call as an author as to whether or not you want to stick to your guns, but I don’t think this would be a terribly hard change to implement.

That said, even if I had some bones to pick with the chapter, I had a lot of fun with things @Team_Ion . I don't know if I'll be able to come back to this story during RB4 since your chapters on average are pretty chunky, but even if there were a few parts that I thought could use fine-tuning, it left a good first impression on me. I’ll definitely be coming back to this story sometime when things are a bit less hectic to see how Sean and Rai’s journey develops.

Since hey, what can I say? You left a pretty promising hook in that first chapter of yours, and it’s made me curious as to how you’ll follow it up.
 
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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
Hi Ion. It’s been a long time since I reviewed anything of yours. But given the current review blitz going down on TR, this seems like a great time to check out your rewrite. I’m just covering the first chapter today, but I hope to cover more later in the review event.

The first chapter pretty much goes how I remember the original going, but with a bit more streamlining. But it also does more to set up on ideas that I know play out later, such at introducing Litleo early on and touching on some more changes to the world that I suspect have to do with things I didn’t get to in my original readthrough, given I never got around to getting more than a few chapters into the second arc. There’s also some subtle foreshadowing to some of the later, bigger reveals that I caught, but won’t go into here to keep from spoiling any people going into this blind. Suffice to say, I’m glad to see a bit more foreshadowing, as it helps make the upcoming twists feel planned and integrated.

There are a few little typos or writing hiccups I want to point out, though.

Sean wasn’t sure what he had missed, well he had some idea, but he decided now was time to clear his throat
The sentence structure here reads a little bit weird to me. I kind of feel like this needed to be divided into two sentences after “missed” or have the “well he had some idea” be interjected by em dashes or parentheses instead like so:
Sean wasn’t sure what he had missed (well he had some idea) but he decided now was time to clear his throat
I bring this up because the “well, he had some idea” feels like an interjection rather than a continuation of the sentence, and I think that would make it read clearer.

The walls were not too far from Sean had expected to see.
I think there’s a word like “what” missing right before Sean. I also kind of think it might be useful to swap “far” with something like “different” as it would make the meaning more clear.

Already, he’d been nearly hit twice already.
Cut one of the uses of already. I personally recommend the first over the second.

For Sean, he much preferred the later.
*Latter

This last one I’m just going to show how I’d change it and then explain.
”Give me,” Shinx panted, prowling forward as Zubat tried to flutter out of reach. “MY TREASURE!” He pounced but missed as Zubat managed to rise.”
In this particular case, I replaced “and Zubat” with “as Zubat” since these are happening simultaneously, and then I swapped one use of “(in)to the air, and removed the other. Two sentences ending the same feels repetitive, and I don’t think that’s your intent. Even if you leave the first as-is, I’d at least recommend removing the second instance.

Regardless of my little issues here and there, I do think this is overall a good opening. It introduces us to our main characters and already provides the hook of “PMD sky but not.” And in that regard, it does what it set out to.

But I’ll end the review here. Until next time.
 

Navar

Professional Mudkip Lover
Location
Brazil
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. swampert
  2. chesnaught-apron
  3. lucario-mega
Hey, Ion! I'm finally taking the time to read your story, so here's a review for you! Hopefully you'll enjoy it~

Chapter 1



Whoa, this was a great start! It's the common start from Explorers, so I knew what to expect, so there's not gonna be any comment on that particular part. What I'm gonna comment on are the tiny little differences, mostly on the lore, likePokémon using species name, which is something from the games, but that never got any in-universe explanation(though I always did find that to be weird). Sean himself is a nice main character, considering he already knows the world(he's from the real world, etcetera, etcetera), so there's the expectation that he knows where things will go, but I know it's not gonna happen lol. I admit part of my reason for wanting to read was to find out how this poly relationship will go to(and knowing Litleo is a jerk now means I'll get to see him develop, which is great too)



The prose here is really well done! The chapter is long but the prose is so good I didn't really have a problem with reading it, it was very easy to digest, but I feel like part of that is due to me being so familiar with explorers. It was a really good chapter and despite being familiar, I liked the differences. I liked seeing Sean's reactions to the world he knows so well, seeing it in person(and even thinking it's a dream) was a great treat. The dungeon itself was nice, seeing them explore and fight against Koffing/Zubat. And Sean comforting Rai(and getting to know his name!) was also really sweet. I'm excited to see their relationship develop, because judging from all the art, I bet it's adorable, too. A nice introduction to the fic, that's all I can say.



Chapter 2

I also started humming the treasure town theme! It's a great piece of music, and good to know Sean is also a massive nerd for this game, haha. I would sing it if I was there, too, so I can't exactly blame him for doing just that. It's just great. And he's happy to be a Pokémon, which is adorable(at least until things go south sooner or later, probably sooner if I'm to take a guess). Also also, a reference to Capim Town! I like that town's theme too, but Rai is right, Treasure Town is really just that better.



And speaking of Treasure Town, the little things that changed, like the shops, are a nice touch. It's small enough that Sean probably thinks it's nothing, if he doesn't really comment about it. At least he doesn't think he's in a dream anymore.



Wigglytuff, like in the games, is adorable! I like that goofball a lot. I also quite like the comments on Pokémon from gens beyond 4. Despite knowing the universe of the game so well, Sean is still surprised. Of course, it's not exactly the same, so I get it. Still funny to read, though. I wonder if there's any reason for "Ion" as the team name, electricity pun aside.



Rai is so cute, licking Sean, just cat things, I guess. A comment on something so little but I just had to, it's very wholesome, I'm liking these two a lot.



...I almost forgot about each of the guild members having some sort of catchphrase, but I doubt there's gonna be any explanation for it. I'm very nostalgic about them, though, so it's cute to see it represented just like in the games.



There's also some lore about Rai, and a sister? I'm intrigued! This caught my attention(as it was your intention, I think), so there's something more to look forward to. Apart from beating up Team Skull, kinda sad we never got to properly do that in the games. Great chapter too.



Chapter 3



Oh hey, Wiggly and Chatot both have names, that's neat. I assumed they had, but like... I dunno, I wasn't expecting it. I'm just so used to knowing them by species name that I kinda associate every Chatot and Wigglytuff with the explorers ones, funny how that works. Anyway, Chatot sings him a song every night? That's... cute. Wiggly does seem like the kind of guy that would like to have a lullaby before sleeping. He's childish sometimes, isn't he? To the point the motto hasn't even been created yet. Loudred even comments on that, hehe. It's a very catchy motto, to be fair. He has a point.



Quick Attack is that fast, huh? It's in the name. And Rai is very excited about it, so he's probably trying to go even faster! For a first mission, rescuing someone should be easy enough for the two of them, I think. Also curious on how this works, because if Sean is the explorers human, he's from the future. But he's also from the real world, so how the hell does this work...? It's not clear now, so I'm assuming it will be later, I'm not sure. Guess I'll have to find out?



On another note, nice tidbit about not using moves in town, makes sense, they wouldn't wanna bring a fight to the middle of the town for no reason.



Hm... no dimensional scream here. That's probably the biggest shock to Sean yet, amidst all the different things. It's what he expected to happen. And Drowzee so early? That's gotta count too. I'm more intrigued now. At least Drowzee didn't do anything bad to them, thanks to Sean's quick thinking. But I bet there's gonna be consequences to this. Chatot is probably gonna be pissed.



Another cute thing: the two talking about each other. Very wholesome stuff!



The dungeon exploration was pretty standard, so there isn't much I can talk about it. Overall, cute chapter here.



Chapter 4



Hmmmm, the start of the chapter was pretty funny. With Sean thinking he was being friendly, but apparently everyone thought he was being flirty. Haha. This is the kind of hijinks that makes me laugh really bad, I loved it! Wonder how long it'll take before the three get on friendly terms with him again, and not think all the awkward stuff. Sean really dug his own grave with that sentence, huh? But in his defense, he didn't really know any better. Also, they're going after Litleo, hm? Interesting. I wonder how that'll turn out. Litleo seems like a gremlin, at least at the start of the fic.



The fight wih Litleo was a nice surprise, and I think both sides did their best, Sean in particular being more cunning than I thought he'd be. Litleo himself was fun to read, with all his teasing and all that, but I also just really wanted him to get what was coming to him, even Rai was annoyed(calling him a Mudbray's ass was hilarious, too), so glad they managed to sort the situation out. It was a little rough, in terms of how long it took for them to win, but a win is a win anyway! Good on them.



I think Rai and Sean make a good team even when they're messing around, talking about the thing at the guild, even with Sean calling himself a whore(or a harlot, I think?), so their bickering was amusing to read, to say the least. The great thing is that they're growing with each other, and I really like that. I love how Sean apologizes for it, and for his words. It's very sweet to read. It's interesting to see how different they are, and how straightforward Pokémon seem to be. Fun stuff to think about. And it's super sweet to see Rai thanking Sean for helping with joining the guild. I always liked the explorers partner, and reading them is great too.



Sunflora being his wingman is NOT what I expected but it was hilarious anyway, I'm loving this cast a lot.



Another great chapter, I think.



Chapter 5



Aw, Wiggly and Chatot really are adorable. He sings a lullaby for him to sleep, and another for him to wake up. They obviously trust each other very much, so this routine is comfortable for both of them. It's sweet, and I really like it, adds some nice touches to the story, well done there. As for the plot, it's the expedition! Closing in soon, which is interesting because it'd take more time in the games, iirc? Or maybe it's because in the games you needed to do daily jobs for the time to pass, and on a story you just focus on the bigger picture, unless you wanted to have "filler" chapters.



Right, forgot this chapter is supposed to be focusing on the other members of the cast, which is a nice change of pace. I fugre the explorers side characters could use some more screentime, even in the game. Here, it works just as well as I expected. Oh, and Corpish says "hey" the more stressed he is? Neat, it's kinda like a nervous tick, from what I can imply. It's funny to see everything is still so awkward, poor Sean, he had good intentions but stuff happened. At least he's learning, so this kind of stuff won't happen a lot later down the road. Stil lfunny, because I would also want to crawl under a rock.



Litleo is always a treat to read, he's so salty lol. So much that I can't tell if he wants to give advice or if he's just messing with Sean, because Rai is very precious.



And a scene with Swellow! How sweet, he's a side character, so seeing a bit of focus feels good. And him wanting to reassure Wurmple? Lovely.



I think every segment of this chapter works well to talk about the other characters, and just the idea of shifting focus to them is great. I love it! Nicely done.



Chapter 6



First, time gears! I was waiting to see when they'd make an appearance, so nice to see it this early, I like it! And for once Sean might recognize this one, and probably thinks it's Grovyle again? He didn't say anything, but it's a good assumption, I think. On the bright side, they've been assigned a proper mission. Sure, Corpish is joining(and it might even make things awkward, considering... that), so they have some sort of backup if things go wrong. Not that I think they wilI(granted, there's a fair chance it's gonna happen), but having support is always good. And Chatot trusts them enough for it, too, that's cool.



Man, this Zangoose is a bit of a prick, isn't he? He's so salty about being kicked out, but I'm sure it was for a good reason. With how arrogant his team is, you'd think they would've been kicked out sooner. Oh well. Corpish proves to be a nice guy here, both because he shooed them away, and for telling the team what they should bring. An exploration is more dangerous, yeah. They should pack way more stuff than if they were to rescue someone, or even arrest an outlaw.



Rai is well-prepared, taking all his items, and aw, Kangaskhan is cute! I like her. The little teasing/flirting with Rai and Sean was cute too. I'm liking these two more and more with every chapter, heh.



Oh, an Alakazam. Wonder if it's the same from team ACT. And there's an ominous warning about not going to investigate, I'm sure everything will be just fiiiiiiiiiiine.



(Ah, yes, of course, he would flinch when seeing a Grovyle, makes sense)



Hm, the expedition sounded fine enough. Enough tension, nice moment,s and they meet an Electrike! I love Electrike~



And this seems to replace the game expedition where they go somewhere Wiggly already went to before? It sounds like that, and I don't remember the dungeon name from the game, so I'm assuming it's a different one.



Good chapter :)



Chapter 7



Hm, I quite liked the starting scene, getting to know that Wiggly intended(somehow I doubt it was his intention, but I digress) for them to confirm the existence of a time gear makes Wigglytuff sound more like a badass and not the goofball he's usually portrayed as. But my favorite part of this bit is the conversation between Sean and Rai, I'm a sucker for how they're portrayed, the confusion of Sean supposedly being somewhere he knows, but realizing he doesn't actually, is exciting. And Rai being there to support him? Even better! It's very adorable, these two are dorks, and they're written really well.



Second part of the chapter. Kinda of a relief to see Sean wanting to go to fogbound lake. And I remembered the perfect apple incident, which would happen here, however... Sean's quick thinking and warning about Team Skull might've changed things. For the better or worse, I dunno. Whatever the result may be, I think it was a good call. That and supporting Rai, I honestly can't get enough of them. They work really well with one another. It's cool to see they can talk with each other about... I dunno, everything? Mostly everything here, at least from what was shown so far. I'm also rooting for Rai to get the Relic Fragment back.



Was it the same Grovyle? I think it was, but it could've just been a feral. Oh well, we'll be finding that out soon, but the evidence points to it being THE Grovyle.



I quite like how Chatot is being used mroe here. His characterization in the games could leave a lot to be desired, but I don't think he's a bad guy. Him going out of his way to advise and support Sean? Great stuff there! I'm liking this a lot.




Chapter 8



After all the downer news from chapter 7, it's good to see the apprentices taking their time to bond and learn more about each other. I like the characterization on Sunflora! She has little going for her in the games, and here's she's a bit of a gossiper. I like that! As for the game... standard truth or dare? Or, I guess, more truth. I didnt get the rules either, but from what I understood, you just ask questions, no dares. Sounds perfect for team building, which is something I think all of them need. Like Chatot said, Sean isn't very social(he just like me fr).



Hearing about their reasons for joining warms my heart! Apart from Bidoof, I don't think the game went into details on any of their backstories, so you had the chance to go crazy with them. I feel a little bad for Chimecho, she sounds like she had a rough time before joining. At least everything's going well for her now! Well, apart from all the time gears going missing. Other than that, everyone around seems to be enjoying their time with each other. Croagunk's reason is pretty simple, so there's that. And he's a tease, asking Rai on his opinion of Sean~



I thought the question for Sean would be worse, but given he's a human, that's the reason. Not that anyone except Rai would know, of course. It's not an embarassing question to ask, though. His answer is pretty simple.



It didn't take long until the kiss question, huh?



And here's the perfect apple incident. Which could've gone a lot worse, but hey, Sean actually did something for once! And my god is Litleo a pervert. Holy shit, I knew he was flirty, I just didn't expect THAT much. At least he helped solve the apple incident. Good on him.




Chapter 9



I like the chapter's name! Anyway, for the actual contents: Chatot is being a nice guy and apologizing! How sweet of him, not what I expected, but a welcome surprise regardless. Also there's no explanation for why Wiggly is that strong. He just... is. Honestly, I don't think I want an explanation, I kinda like it the way it is, just a strong, softy guy that has a love for apples. I don't mind it at all. Another difference: Chatot knows about the other apprentices wanting to give their share. That was nice even in the game, but with him knowing here I think I might like it better the way you wrote it.



Awww, I really like how far Sean is willing to go to get Rai's relic back(though he knows it's of importance to the plot of Explorers, so there's also that), shows he's gotten closer to him. I loved that. Still, that little scuffle with team Skull was odd, to say the least. I dunno what they were trying to accomplish, but glad to see they're getting bounties and not tricking the guild like in the game. One of the differences I'm liking the most, if I'm being honest.



I'm also enjoying ALL the moments where Sean tells Rai how cute he is, because getting that Shinx flustered is great, and funny, too!



...So the Sableye know about the fragment, huh? Probably the ones working for Dusknoir, though I don't think there's been any mention of him yet? Apart from Sean knowing about the Sableye, I think.



What matters to me is the end, because it seems... Grovyle's making an appearance earlier than he should have. I THINK I've heard of this in Discord before, but I dunno enough details about it. Sean's panicking, so it's probably not a good thing... probably. Well, I had fun with this chapter too!




Chapter 10



Ah, got it. Grovyle is taking Team Skull's place at the expedition. Now I get it. Hm, things have gone off script real bad, huh? There's also the fact that Sean tells Chatot the truth, which... I don't think the explorers protagonist ever did? Unless I'm remembering wrong.



I'm mostly interested in what this means for Grovyle. How much similar he is to his game counterpart... but honestly I just wanna see him be a good guy, I like Grovyle(Explorers was the game that made me like Grovyle, for once). In other news, team members are being picked up, so there's some small tension there.



Ah, much like the game, everyone's being picked. That's nice to hear, and hm, the apple incident was far less brutal here, so team Ion has some points to being chosen. Nothing wrong here! I like this scene a lot too, even if I was expecting everyone to go, mostly because what the hell would Sean and Rai do if they stayed? Get harassed by Litleo? Actually, that was probably it... but good to know everyone has a reason why they were picked. Like Chatot said, Wiggly makes no mistakes! I think.



Something about Grovyle seems very off. I'm very suspicious about him, even if my mind is telling me there's nothing wrong with the guy, it's just that he's very quiet and introspective.



I also loved the bickering between Shuppet and Murkrow. Was funny to read, lol. Sunflora is very gossipy, pffft. Everyone in town thinks Sean is a harlot, poor guy. He's not getting rid of it so soon from the looks of it!



Hm, that scene with Grovyle(Striker! What a cool name) and this mysterious Riolu make me wonder what's their deal. I almost wonder if this Riolu is the actual human from the dark future? That would be a cool twist.



Great chapter.



Chapter 11



Alright, a lot to unpack on the first bit of this chapter. First, Sean is terrified. Everything up to this chapter has been fun and games, with the occasional bad things like the fragment being stolen and the Litleo encounters, but with Grovyle, things are different. Which is good, they SHOULD feel different. It feels as if Sean doesn't really know what to expect with this particular expedition, and that's great to me. Sean doesn't really know what's going on, so there's tension because of it. I think it was conveyed pretty well with him trying to not avoid Grovyle, but not look too much into it. I, the reader, know there's something up with him, considering the scene with Riolu. Sean does not. I like this.



Second bit of the chapter feels longer(it probably is?) but I still liked it a lot. There was a lot of talking, but I really enjoyed Grovyle here. He has that sense of being more experienced and stronger than the two, so there's a lot he could teach. I even liked the training scene! I didn't know Meowth could learn Night Slash, but hey, I'm all for it! And he's a good teacher, too. Grovyle is neat, I like him.



For the action scene in this chapter, I felt bad and happy for Sean and Rai, mostly because it had that angst/comfort angle? With Rai apologizing for knocking him out, and Sean apologizing for bleeding over. Grovyle also did wonders there, and I appreciate it.



And the last bit of this chapter. Chatot talking more about the humans is great, mostly because there's references to other games! And hm, I didn't consider Paradise to be secluded, but now that I read it, I like this idea. Good to know Chatot can keep a secret, now to see if Sean can do it too...



Chapter 12



Huh, I'm sure this Lucario isn't gonna be a major player on the story, not at all! Jokes aside, I am VERY curious about her, because with all these stories about her, some of them have to be true, I think. Or part of them. Like Grovyle said, they have some kernel of truth in them. Sean probably doesn't know because it's not from the games. Man, I'm really liking how different this feels to the games it was inspired by. I mention it a lot, but it's a big part of why I'm enjoying the story this much. There's something really nice about it.



Still great to see the two cats developing! Rai is still cute, wanting to spend as much time with Sean as possible. I know they get together eventually, so I wonder if this is planting the seeds for that. If it is, then good job! And Grovyle is scheming, that guy... yup, he knows a lot more than I expected him to.



Next is a pretty sweet scene with the cats, and whoa, Rai really does care about Sean a LOT. Like, really, a lot. He's going very far on this just to protect him, but it's nice that they had this moment to talk about it, because I could see this overprotectiveness becoming an issue later in the fic. Communication is very important!



Awww, linking tails! That's too cuteeeeee. Hehe, I'm loving them! This story is really fun to read. I'm binge reading but I'm still enjoying every chapter! They're all really good!



Ahem, back to the story. Sean is doing a good job at giving clues without revealing he knows what it all means. Granted, he might not remember every single detail(something I haven't considered before, but now that I do, it hit me), so there's a bit of both, I guess.



I like how much they're supportive of one another!




Chapter 13



Croagunk is a nice guy! I could see more of him, to be honest. He's nice! And oh, he's gonna keep a secret, how neat. Chatot hiimself seems worried about the consequences of anyone knowing about Sean's (former) humanity, so he's obviously very careful not to spill the beans and let anyone else know. He's also very knowledgeable, so he knows about Groudon. I was expecting it, or rather, I knew it was gonna end up on that. The expedition also seems to be going well, so that's neat. Also, I didn't know felines didn't sweat. Today I learned, I guess.



Their trek is going just fine, so I'm not gonna spend too much talking about the details, just gonna say that it's cute to have Rai laugh a lot during this, I think he kinda deserves a little break? He's been putting a lot of effort, so he deserves to take a break.



Sean still wants to take normal baths. I don't blame him. On the other hand, Rai doesn't get sarcasm. They both know things the other doesn't, I like that dynamic.



Grovyle didn't do anything bad, I almost thought he would, but he still seems helpful. And Wiggly wanting to fight Groudon? Precious. If there's anyone that could, it'd probably be him. He's simply too overpowered.



Seems that for the first time, Sean's knowledge of the game works in his favor! Or... works better than the other times he tried. Ahem. He knew he didn't NEED to fight Groudon (because it wasn't even Groudon), so with his quick thinking, it turned out okay!



...Except Grovyle did his thing anyway and stole the time gear. For a moment I was wondering if he was taking Dusknoir's role in the story, but it seems it's just the usual time thief. Well, this chapter was a blast!



Chapter 14



Oh, there's two Sean. Seans? There's two of him. One's a Riolu, one's a Meowth. There's something goin on, for sure.



Okay, so let me digest this first scene. There's a lot of revelations, and even more mysteries. I like it! So... both of them know Meowth!Sean, but he doesn't know THEM. Obviously his memroy is all messed up, so I don't expect him to know about it so soon, and apparently Sean took on Riolu!Sean's name? It's confusing, which I guess is kinda the point of the scene. Regardless, from what I could gather, they're not bad guys, and they do wanna help Meowth. Just... might not have the best methods to do it. I am, though, very curious on how this will end up.



And the little scene at the springs was cool too, I just really like seeing the two of them relaxing. I'm sure they need it. Then Grovyle shows up... and immediately manages to send Croagunk away, and entices Rai with the possibility of finding his Relic Fragment (I wonder if this version of Grovyle knows about it).



And here's the kicker, the scene where Grovyle and Meowth talk about what they know about each other. There's a lot to unpack here, so I'm focusing on the fact that... I have little clue. Clearly there's more to it than meets the eye. Sean is from the real world, thinking Explorers is a game, but is also from the future? I don't follow it exactly. I'm sure I'll get the answers later down the line, but for now, it's confusing. Which is fine, I guess.



Grovyle does seem to be helpful, as I thought. Him and Sean hit it off pretty well. And though Sean still lied to Rai later, I think this is headed to a good path. Nice chapter.




Chapter 15



And, fifteen chapters in, after mentioning him a few times... it's him, the chonky ghost. Dusknoir's on the scene! His introduction happens the way I was expecting it to happen, ending with a (humorous) bit where Sean is tortured with random trivia about Dusknoir. Even when they're gone shopping, Rai STILL wants to spout random stuff about Dusknoir. He just loves the dude, and I'm gonna be sad when he realizes Dusknoir is eeeeeeevil. It's gonna be a depressing thing, for sure. And I know Sean won't tell because that will just raise a million questions and Rai will want to know why he knows and yada yada yada. Not a complaint! I'm just thinking of the justification.



Next,a scene with the two Seans. Good thing the prose used Riolu to refer to one of them, because it'd get confusing really fast otherwise! Was a fun tidbit, if I'm honest. There's nothing to tell more than that, and next...



...Litleo is back! Cool. And he even wanted to help, what a nice surprise. He must've had some change of heart, and if he's telling the truth(if he joins the team then he probably IS), then good on him! A case of missed communication on this one, but not one that I particularly dislike.



This seems like it's the chapter that starts the road for Litleo to join, with him even going as far as saying he'll go with them to an obvious trap. That's... really nice, actually. I like this. He was a bit of a side character for the previous chapters, but his presence was still known, so it feels like a natural extension of his character.



It also seems we're getting some neat backstory related to Rai. I wonder if it'll get expanded upon in the next chapter.



Chapter 16



Okay, now that the three of them are together in a dungeon, I get to see how well they work WITH each other, instead of Sean and Rai against Litleo. This first scene showcased a little bit of that; they work surprisingly well, with a bit of teasing from Litleo himself. It's cool too, I think. Even with the arrival of a feral Shinx, there's no real issue with any of them.



Second scene and more Chatot! I like how you portray him, and here in particular, how he's worried about team Ion. There's also the fact he likes to deal with facts, logic, etcetera. It's part of his personality, and he only worries more, knowing that none of those things are there to help him.



Oh god I actually love Litleo. What a gremlin, constantly wanting attention, even in the heat of battle! He's adorable(I have the feeling he'd claw me if I said that to his face, but it's worth it), pffft. I love these three.



The conflicting ways in which Sean and Litleo try to help Rai is sweet. So that's why he's such a jerk to the guy... I understand him better, but I'll have to agree with Sean here; being an ass isn't really helping Rai deal with his problems. At least Litleo DOES care about him, which I knew, but it's nice to see them talking about it. Behind Rai's back, yes, but they needed to talk.



They're all so tired from the dungeon, it's sad. Both mentally and physically. And Rai eventually does snap at Litleo, rightfully deserved in my opinion.



Ooooh boy. The confrontation with a Shadow Pokémon? I didn't think that would actually happen, I just thought shaodws were gonna be a passing mention. Glad to be wrong, and... god it was painful to read (in a good way). Good chapter.



Chapter 17



One: I feel the universe would explode if Litleo and Electrike were together. It could not handle so much flirting. Anyway, this first bit is neat, Dusknoir IS pretty strong, so he did carry them very easily, even if he got tired from the effort eventually. I kinda wonder if that was on purpose, but eh. It's nice that he's not shown to be invincible, just very strong. And team Gazer is a fan. At this point, the only one that isn't a fan is Sean, for understandable reasons. Team Gazer is fun to read, lol. And good to see team Ion made it out to the guild safely(plus Litleo, he's not a team member just yet, though that might change soon?)



And then another cool scene where the team is resting and everyone is discussing what the hell happened. Team Gazer itself is a nice addition, and they really needed the rest. Also, Beldum is cute, I always love robotic, monotone characters. I particularly enjoyed the moment where Chatot and Dusknoir are alone together. It didn't come to mind before, but they do share some personality aspects. They're both wise and formal, so they could share information with each other.



Team Ion wakes up... plus Litleo. Ahem, their little talk was necessary, I suppose. With lots of apologies, all of them accepted. Even Litleo! I think the three of them got closer with this... near death experience. Funny how that works.



And Litleo, or rather, Mane, joins the team! I've been waiting for it, and I'm happy to see it finally happen! There was a lot of buildup for this, all written very well, so I'm really glad he's joined. Of course, not everything is alright, there's still a lot to go before Mane and Rai make up. That's for the future, though.



A nice breather chapter after the intense stuff that happened in Amp Plains.




Chapter 18



Okay, so things with team Ion have been going pretty well. They're probably resting for this chapter too, so nothing too crazy's gonna happen here. Apart from almost changing the team name(first, Team Skull, then, Team Plasma, what's next in "mainline evil teams making their way to PMD?"), they just talked and enjoyed each other's company. I can see the hints to Rai/Sean, now to wonder about how Mane's gonna fit in... probably gonna take longer, since he's only now joining the team. And this is just the first arc! There's still a lot of ground to cover before they're all together. Romantically.



I mentioned before that Electrike and Mane would make the universe explode, and now they're agreeing on a "date". Oh god this will not end up well. Even Beheeyem seems to think they're the same way, and he's absolutely right.



It's sweet that Sean wants to get stronger for the others, it's a motivation that makes sense with his character and his personality so far. I do hope he can accomplish that, for their sake, but also for his own. With the small scene at the dojo, I think that's something to be expected. I don't think writing every training scene is necessary, but I'll see.



And then the guild finds out what happened to Uxie. Sean knows the entire truth, but he can't exactly say it, both because Dusknoir and because I doubt the guild would believe him.



Ah, team Rocket. I love this joke, a lot. Sean would know it.



Glad to see Chatot is still being the supportive uncle here! And well, I think Sean's gonna tell it sooner, probably the next chapter? It's important enough to warrant a full scene. As for the last one... Dusknoir is still being shady, huh? I dunno who this Scout is, but I do remember the name from Discord chats. Interesting.




Chapter 19



Another meeting with Riolu and Sean. A town meeting's in order, so I guess this means Riolu gets to know it through Sean and doesn't need Dusknoir to point out, and I doubt he'd want Dusknoir's presence anyway. They had both a lot to talk about, and little. And I was wrong, Sean does trust Dusknoir. I was... mistaken, so my bad there. Well, Riolu was acting really suspicious at the end. At the start, his questions made logical sense, but the further they got, the weirder the questions became, at least to someone that doesn't know any better, like Sean.



Secondly, a scene at the guild. Of course Mane is getting bored, but hey, his question wasn't for nothing! It was answered so there's nothing to punish him for, and if anything Rai was a bit of a... pussycat. Pun intended. Anyway, I know Soothe from the emote? And some messages but I dunno enough about her, just now reading that Wiggly and Chatot know about this character. She'll probably show up later on the story. If it's enough for Wiggly to worry, then she must be pretty important, right? It's gotten my interest at least, so I'll be looking forward to that.



Ah, Dusknoir is willing to teach Rai! Well, that's useful, and he did try his best against that shadow Manectric. With a bit of guidance, he should get stronger enough to hanlde one on his own, or at least with the help from his teammates.



This was another good breather chapter, and Dusknoir's interactions with them were a high point for me. I almost want him to not be evil, or at least redeemable. He seems so nice, so the eventual betrayal will sting really bad. Good work here! And hm, no more breather chapters? Fascinating.




Chapter 20



Alright, I can tell this chapter is gonna be beefy, so I'll try my best to tell my thoughts on it as I go along.



First: planning the expedition. There's a lot, a LOT of parties here, and with a chapter this big, there's gonna be dedicated sessions to each of them, I think. The pairings make sense, and I am a little worried about team Ion, going back there right after getting their strength back. However, Wigglytuff is wise, I'm sure he made the right call here, as worrying as it might be. That's not to say he doesn't make mistakes, it's just... he's wise enough to be trusted.



Second, a scene dedicated to the cat trio going through the dungeon. This time, Sean is a lot more useful, as he's the only one not weak to ground there. When faced with the Tyranitar, I think the prose showed off how his quick thinking helped them, even if Mane did get hurt in the process. That Litleo is too proud of himself to want to stop, so they keep going... it's a little worrying, especially with the fact that Sean thinks they're being watched. It could be the dungeon messing with their heads, but I wanna bet it's something else.



Why does every time someone goes into sand there's always a prequel reference Ahem, Sean is smart. Smart enough to convince his teammates to jump inside the sand whirlpool, good on him. And what the hell is up with Mane and his fantasies? Dear god he's too horny to be contained.



The fight with Mesprit was honestly my favorite one so far! It's like everyone was in sync and doing their bast. For a moment, I thought she was shadowed.



And then Grovyle appears. This was... different, because Sean knows the truth here, and everyone else doesn't. It pained me to see Rai so hurt, and I'm sure it hurt Sean too.



I'm skipping ahead to THE final scene. There's just... a lot to say here. Sean--Scout. It's the reveal here that matters, because it changes the entire status quo of the fic. Is Scout really a monster? Is he really a bad guy here?



This changes a lot of things, but at the same time, unveils new mysteries. I get why you said this is where the story starts. It does feel that way.



Great... no, amazing stuff here. This might be my