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Chapter 38 - Light the Way

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
I am.


I… am.


I….


Meowth sat in silent horror.


The drowzee was swift and effective, pulling the dreams from Rai and absorbing them. I might have been relieved, but Rai’s relaxing afterwards struck me as more limp than relieved.


Each particle of ephemeral energy that floated from Rai towards the drowzee seemed to glimmer in the light. Like a stream of images amid the light, I thought I could see them.


A tower. A path. Holding someone until they were gone.


Who was that person that Rai cried over?


Meowth…? Meowth? Meowth wasn’t sure.


Feeling like a dreamless state, Meowth might just float away. Where to go? M. M. M?


Not sure.


It was so hard to cling onto.


Rai.


Rai.


Rai.


Rai.


Rai. Rai and Mane.


Mane and Rrrr?


Ria.


Raiag.


Little Leo.


Lightning Strike.


Rrrrai.


Rai.


Rai and Mane.


Me…


Me….


Meowth.


Look.


Sc?


Listen?


Sco?


Run?


Scou?


Find.


Scout.


Scout.


Scout.


Scout.


Scout. Rai. Mane.


I am Scout!


Scout raised his head and called out loudly, yet not a single person stirred as he bellowed his name to the world.


He had no lungs and thus could not run out of breath.


His cry continued. He had no lungs, he could not breathe. He could not speak, thus he could not be heard. He could not exist and thus his voice grew louder and louder and louder .


And then, finally, the drowzee stopped. Flinching back as a constrained blast of dark rings struck it straight in the gut, causing it to regurgitate everything it had pulled out of Rai and send it smashing through the woods.


Scout stopped screaming as all three sleeping pokemon jumped to their feet.


“What was that?” Lucario snapped, looking back and forth dangerously as Rai and Mane sparked and smoked.


Rai went to run towards the wreckage in the trees but Keira placed a bone gently over his shoulder. “I’ll go,” she said, stepping forward confidently.


Whispering to each other, Rai and Mane pressed their bodies together and kept an eye out all around them, Rai’s golden eyes seeking any other threats.


“My head,” Rai complained as Mane growled. He shook it slowly, giving a moan of pain.


Mane just pressed firmer against him, keeping his head up as Rai lowered his. “Did you find it?” he called as Keira returned.


“A drowzee,” Keira said with a frown. “Dreamy Woods and all. Pretty daring little shit to sneak up on us.”


“But what attacked it?” Rai asked, alarmed at the notion they were being fed upon.


“I’d guess myself,” Keira replied, glancing back at the trail of destruction. There were burned out ring-like marks in the bark of trees that she poked at. “A Dark Pulse. Little bastard probably moved onto me and I reacted. It happens.”


The scale of the damage implied that could be the case. Several trees had holes blasted through them, and the trail of carnage went beyond what their eyes could catch just from here.


“Is there others?” Rai asked, worried.


“Can you look with your ‘aura senses’?” Mane added.


Lucario offered him a strange expression that disappeared as she said, “No.”


“No? Why not!”


“Because I can’t,” she replied, an edge of frustration bleeding into her voice.


The look Rai and Mane gave was almost complete non-comprehension.


“Wut?” Mane asked. “But… you’re literally a lucario. THE Lucario . What do you mean you can’t? We were taught in school that the whole creation of Rescue Teams in the first place was you sensing people trapped in dungeons! Isn’t that the foundation of Rescue Requests?”


Lucario glared at him and he balked a moment before refusing to back down.


“Not that it’s any of your business,” Lucario replied. “But not everyone is made to standard. I got it. I can’t control it. It just explodes out of me at random points. When that happens, sure, I see everything within several hundred units but I can’t just decide when that happens.”


“Oh,” Mane echoed.


Lucario snorted at him. “Yeah, well, I’ll forgive you because I’m nice like that.” She began to stretch her legs, cracking her spine with several twists that caused Mane to cringe and Rai to regain a little colour in his face, grinning playfully at Mane’s discomfort.


As they began to discuss the next move, Scout found his panic receding slowly. They were okay. They were okay, they were fine. Rai and Mane were fine. A little tilted from the rude awakening but they were tough. They. Were. Fine.


“Darkrai?” Scout whispered, as if someone could hear him.


“Darkrai?” he repeated, louder this time but still nowhere close to the cry he had just put out.


Scout stepped forwards, between Rai and Mane as they argued with Lucario over whether they should turn left or right. She kept on changing her answer when they almost agreed.


His paws ran through Rai as if he wasn’t there. Rai made no motion, no matter how small, that he could sense Scout. Scout stood in front of him as Rai’s eyes passed through him, feeling so lonely.


Mane didn’t catch his eye with a wordless motion that would elicit some sort of offended reaction.


Rai didn’t catch the silent communication and loudly get an answer that would cause him to go so red he’d hide under his paws.


Not even The Legendary Lucario had any idea he was there, a distant look in her eyes that he could not recognise if he had a hundred years to study it. Only that there was a part of her that wasn’t here in the conversation.


He couldn’t even cry.


Scout slowly took a step back from them. Then another. Then another. He walked until he could no longer hear them, but a part of him always could.


“Darkrai,” Scout said as he walked backwards until he found the nightmare bringer.


Darkrai floated with a tepid serenity amid humid plants. He was still but stiff, floating but frozen. He was not facing Scout as he walked in.


Scout had trouble keeping track of time like this, so he could not tell exactly how long they stood before Darkrai acknowledged him.


What he could see was the slight tremble in Darkrai’s arms. Just slight, just ever-so-slight that it was easy to miss yet impossible to ignore once he recognised it.


“I heard you,” Darkrai murmured softly.


Scout couldn’t find the emotion he was supposed to feel, each feeling slipped out of his paws like sand before he could cling on. “Thank you,” he managed.


“...you are welcome, Scout,” Darkrai responded, his back remaining pointed at Scout.


“...”


“...”


Part of Scout wanted to step out, run back. He’d given his gratitude.


The rest of him kept him rooted there.


Darkrai slowly sighed, his shoulders slumping and he turned to face Scout. “May I ask you something, Scout?”


“...okay.”


“What would it take?” he asked softly. “For you to trust me?”


Scout was silent a moment. “I’ve only spoken to you a few times. And I know you’re tricky. I know what the distortion we pokemon from the future cause.” He knew what it might do to Rai.


Darkrai’s eyes softened. “The distortion is minor,” he said. “And self-correcting. Indeed it is true that Palkia may be angered but it would never go against Arceus. It would not know about you.”


“Unless you told it,” Scout returned.


“I would have to be suicidal to attempt such a thing,” Darkrai replied. “In which case, Palkia would find fault with me, not you.”


They lapsed into thoughtfulness.


Darkrai lowered himself into the earth until he was eye level with Scout. “Scout. I can see how much pain you are in. Not only the pain of being alone for so long. Not only the pain of seeing those you love in pain themselves. But also the pain of your doubts, I know you want to trust me but you cannot bring yourself to. Do you fear it would be selfish?”


Scout flinched.


“Have you not earned the right to be selfish, just this once?”


“Once?” Scout murmured back. He shook his head. “I’ve been nothing but selfish. You don’t… you don’t know what I did wrong.”


“Perhaps. But I also know that we ourselves are rarely sound judges of our own actions. Tell me. Did you not do your best to support your partners?” Scout frowned. “Did you not do your best to stop Dusknoir?” That word ended on a slight edge but Scout didn’t dwell on it.


“Did you not do your best to save the tower? To the point where your body was breaking apart? You died to save the world, more than even Grovyle and Celebi did. You gave everything and you still think you should have done more? You did more than anyone could have asked you to.”


Scout had his paws together, staring blankly at the ground over them.


Darkrai nodded to himself. “I think I know what I should do. I will give you space for now. But I will return and I will prove myself to you.”


With that, Darkrai was gone.


Scout just did not know what to do.




“You’re leaving already?” Mane whined. “We took forever to find you!”


“Okay.” Lucario rubbed her ear. “First of all, oww. Second of all, you probably found me easier than anyone has in decades. What did you do? Call around a bit until you found me and got a teleporter over? You’re lucky Mawile is persistent.”


She gave them both a bop on the head to beat the point in.


“Why are you hitting me?” Rai complained, rubbing his head as Mane gave up and slumped to the ground.


“You encourage his behaviour.”


“I do not!”


“You totally do,” Mane said, grinning up at Rai until he blushed.


“Hit him again.”


“Harder this time~”


“Ugh.” Lucario grimaced. “I’m going to need a shower, the subtext between you two isn’t even subtext, it’s just text. You really need some time alone and I am am going to be nice and give you that time.”


Mane continued to smirk as she turned to look forwards. “In more seriousness, I need some time to get some stuff done. And, no offence, I don’t like people. I need to air out my thoughts alone. Go back to your home. What was it, Treasure Town? Go back there. I will meet you in Treasure Town.”


“Why should we trust you?” Mane asked, coming to his feet again. “Okay, maybe it wasn’t too hard to find you this time but if you just disappear there’s no chance we’ll be able to find you again, is there?”


“Nope.”


“So….”


“So, I’m not giving you the choice here,” Lucario pointed out. “I’m going. If you follow me you’ll lose me and you’ll probably piss me off and I won’t be as eager to punch Arceus in the face for you, just for me. Behave, hornball and I’ll behave as well. Look, I want to help you guys, I just really do need some time alone to get some stuff in order.”


Rai bumped Mane before he could speak. “Alright,” he agreed, nodding and Mane shut his mouth. “But please don’t take too long. We don’t need Armaldo getting on our backs about timespans.”


“Yeah, you got something better to jump on your back.” She gave a finger gun to Mane who grinned. “Okay, that’s enough socialisation for me. See ya, boys.”


And within the blink of an eye, she was gone.


The dust being kicked up by her exit proved she didn’t teleport, just ran really, really , fast.


“Think we’ll actually see her again?” Mane asked.


“If she tries to stand us up we’ll use our fame to start a worldwide hunt for The Legendary Lucario. Pretty sure we could get Team Go-Getters to help.”


“Nice.”


And so, right as they had come into Dreamy Woods, they turned around and left. Lucario was right. They couldn’t just chase her down, even with Quick Attack that speed was obscene.


Still, they had some hope. They had convinced her to help them, and if anyone could do something as big as get Arceus’ attention, it would have to be her.


“Hey, Rai, I want to ask you something?” Mane asked as they walked the quiet trail.


“Yeah?”


“Um… I’m not really sure how to start,” Mane said. They were alone now, just the two of them.


Rai smiled and gave him a soft bump. “Take your time.”


Mane smiled back, something small and happy. He studied Rai’s face for a bit, Rai acting as both of their eyes on the trail.


Rai eventually glanced at him. “See something you like?” he teased.


“Yeah,” Mane replied, blushing slightly.


Rai snickered and gave him a gentle flick with his tail. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re really cute?”


“I dunno. Maybe. I’d like to hear it again, though.”


“You’re cute.”


Mane went redder and poked his nose at the ground as Rai giggled at him.


He raised his head, smiling as the tension in his shoulders relaxed slightly. “I love you.”


Rai’s giggled stopped, but his smile only grow. He licked Mane on the cheek. “I love you too.”


They nuzzled each other, tails entwining before Mane gave a little sigh. “Remember how it all began?” he murmured.


Rai nodded. It had been surprisingly easy to fall into comforting each other. And from there, something more began to build.


“Do you remember what we… talked about that time we really… talked about us all?” Mane asked.


Rai had to think for a moment before nodding. “I think I know what you’re trying to get to,” he said.


Mane brightened. “Yeah?” Then the nervousness returned. “And…?”


Rai swallowed and licked him on the cheek again. “I still want you both. Is that okay?”


All the anxiety in Mane melted away and he sighed in relief. “Yes. Yes . More than okay.”


Rai giggled at him again. “How long have you been thinking about that?” he asked. “I know you get into your head a bit, especially if stuff is going on.”


“I didn’t want to bother you,” Mane muttered.


Rai bumped him again. “Hey. You’re never a bother. Alright?”


“I feel like one sometimes.”


“Then I’ll tell you until you believe me and then some more after that just to be sure. I love you, Mane. Nothing will change that.”


If Mane’s eyes were a little bright, well, that was okay. It was just them after all.


After they walked together, tails entwined and right against each other, Mane spoke again, “What if he… says no?”


Rai thought for a moment. “I guess we’ll just have to stay strong.”


“...what if he just wants you?”


“Hey.” Rai pulled him close. “Scout loves you too, you know? I don’t know what the future might have in store for us, but we’ll tackle it together, alright?”


Mane smiled and nodded. “Alright.” He licked Rai’s cheek in return. “We can only talk to him and hope for the best.”


Scout walked besides them as they spoke. This was not a new thing. He was there from the start of it all. He gave them privacy, of course, but he couldn’t exactly miss the talks they had about him when their relationship began to evolve to what it was now.


For the longest time, he didn’t know if he’d be revived or trapped like this forever.


He still didn’t know.


There was little to do besides think when he was in this state.


And yet, that was one thing he’d never put much thought into. He wouldn’t let himself.


It was something they’d have to talk about.


Sooner than you think, Scout.


Rai and Mane stopped as something moved between them and the rest of the path. They froze, uncertain what they were looking at. It was tall and looming, something dark and sinuous, a plume of smokey essence billowed from its head and its legless body grew two stilt-like protusions that sunk into the soil.


“Greetings,” the stranger said. His voice was like a whisper that was not as quiet as one, a hushed tone that carried far. Rai and Mane were on their guard, attached at the hip as its visible eye crossed from Mane, to Rai, to something next to them that was not there. “I am Darkrai.”


“Darkrai?” Scout asked, horrified. “What are you doing? What are you doing!?”


“My apologies,” Darkrai murmured softly. “But it is the only way to make you understand.”


“What-Who?” Rai asked, confused as it didn’t sound like this Darkrai was talking to them.


“What’s the big idea… Darkrai, I guess?” Mane added, smoke pouring from his nose as he was on guard to strike at a moment's notice.


Darkrai raised his hands in a placating gesture. “I mean you no harm,” he said. “I only wish to help. May I have but a minute to explain in silence and then I will answer what you have to ask?”


Rai and Mane exchanged a look as Scout shook his head at them.


“Okay,” Rai said, not one to judge off appearances or creepy entrances. “You have a minute then.”


“Thank you. I am one of the guardians of dreams, a pokemon you would refer to as Legendary. I was also a Time Gear Guardian, the one of Treeshroud Forest. With that connection to time and my command over the realm of dreams, I can interact with memories others lose. I know the time that was changed. And I know the one who was lost to change it.”


Rai cringed a little as Mane almost growled.


“And I can see him besides you.”


They stopped.


“...what?” Mane managed.


“What?” Rai growled.


Darkrai raised his hands again. “I am being serious, you two. Scout remains by you especially, Raigeki. He was there when you went to the Hidden Land. He tells me that Dialga could see him but Celebi could not.”


“Y-Y-W-?”


“Enough!” Mane yelled, sparks bursting out of him and causing Darkrai to recoil. “I don’t know what kind of game you think you’re playing here, but-”


“Let me prove it,” Darkrai said.


Mane froze. “...how?”


Darkrai turned to Scout directly, his eye meeting Scout’s ones. “Scout. You have spent so long in your state. Please. I am exposing myself to them.”


He turned to the two. “It is my accursed aura that gives you the terrors in the night, every night since the visitors from across the sea returned to you. I wish I could not bring harm to those who rest, but I do anyway. I only do it because I have the power to bring him back to you. But he does not trust me.”


“T-Tell them why!” Scout snapped.


Darkrai nodded. “In the Dark Future I was a king. It was I who attacked Riolu, Grovyle, and Scout himself, fearing the loss of the kingdom I had gained in the wake of the disaster. And I have come to realise this was wrong. That if I ever was to be the being they believed I to be, I would not pursue a realm of such cruelty. He does not trust me and for that good reason. But I am doing all that I can. This is my last option, to expose my neck to you.”


Rai and Mane were utterly stunned by everything that had just walked out in front of them out of the blue.


Mane was speechless and Rai was stuck on syllables, trying to get a word to respond out.


“...etih?” Rai managed.


“This is overwhelming,” Darkrai said apologetically.


“You think!?” Mane spluttered. “What the fuck are you even saying to us? If. If. If Scout was there, why wouldn’t Dialga have said anything!?”


“Scout told me that it refused to help you,” Darkrai said softly. “Did it not offer to strip the last of your memory of Scout away? He is attached to you, Raigeki. Reliqnishing that memory would relinquish the last bond holding him in a position to be helped. I can only theorise that Dialga in its weakened state fears Palkia’s reprisal too great to help. And, it cannot be blamed as such.”


“Paradoxes cause a distortion in Palkia’s realm, something Palkia has killed Dialga over in the past. With time so fragile and Dialga so weak, it may not be able to survive such an encounter. It is a callous decision but a warranted one for something of Dialga’s station. But. I am not so important, nor as easily found. If Palkia takes umbrage with me then it will only be due justice for what I have done. But all I wish is to offer Scout one last chance, a chance he does not believe he deserves to have.”


“...Scout?” Rai asked, softly.


Scout’s knees would have buckled had they been real to begin with.


“...are you really there?” Rai continued.


Mane looked stricken and did not know what to do.


“He is,” Darkrai said.


“...where?”


Darkrai pointed and Scout froze as Rai’s eyes nearly met his own. They were still searching, still seeing through him, but they were looking for him.


Mane squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head. “Big talk,” he muttered. “Big talk! If he’s really here, then do something!” he yelled at Darkrai.


“That can only be his choice,” Darkrai said softly. He offered his left hand to Scout. “Take my hand, Scout. It’s all you need to do.”


“Scout?” Rai whispered again.


Mane’s eyes squeezed shut again. “...fuck,” he whimpered.


And that was the straw that broke the camerupt’s back.


Scout tried to touch Rai’s face but he passed right through him. He nearly fell over and gave a ragged sob. “Fine!” he yelled. “Fine, Darkrai! Fine, you win! I can’t take it anymore!”


And he ran at Darkrai, almost looking ready to attack him. He pulled himself to a stop right in front of him, glaring at him in a mixture of grief and rage. “This was a dirty fucking trick! I swear to god, if this is all a trick I’m going to destroy you for everything you put us all through!”


Darkrai closed his eyes, visibly fighting back flinches. “All I wish is to help,” he whispered, sounding almost as broken as Scout felt in that moment.


“No affecting my memory,” Scout said. “No… implanting something in me. No tricks. Just… just me.”


“That is all I want to do,” Darkrai said.


Scout stared at his hand for a long, short, moment and then grabbed it.


His paw touched something for the first time in months and Darkrai’s eyes craned into a squint. “Brace yourself,” he grunted and then pulllllllllll-


Scout felt something pull at absolutely everything. His past, his present, his memory, his spirit, everything within him was harshly jerked forward. The last thing he knew was the sensation of his skull striking something eternally wide and thin, smashing right through it.


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Scout gasped. His lungs burned, his eyes burned, his skin burned. He could feel his tail burning. He could feel his fur burning. The flame. The flame. The flame. The flame. The flame returns.


Deep in the woods, there was a fire.


"GAH!" Scout cried, writhing for a moment before his stomach cramped and nearly tossed him into a sitting position. He gasped for breath, his eyes streaming with tears. His whole body felt like he had taken a hundred Force Palms along every scrap of skin.


It was like he was a bruise. His entire everything felt like a bruise with the pressure of the air, of his lungs expanding, pressing against it.


But, as all pain goes, it began to fade. His ears twitched, he spat blood out of his mouth as he had bitten his tongue and wiped his mouth. Scout shivered in place for a moment. He was so hot; he was so cold.


"Ugh…" he slowly began to take deep breaths, focusing on just breathing. It didn't help, except it did. His mind focused on purely breathing, and other aches began to take a back seat.


His heart thumped hard in his chest. Scout swallowed a few times and then opened his eyes.


Giving him a brief sensation of confusion as something blue and black and another black and tan slammed into him.


Not for an instant was he alarmed. A part of him recognised them. A part of him always would recognise them.


It took his senses a good couple seconds to remember how to translate language but once it did-


“SCOUT!”


Rai and Mane were actively weeping as they covered him with themselves, as if protecting him from the outside world. As if marking him as theirs that no one could take away again.


SPOILER_image.png



By the time Scout’s fur was soaked with tears, Rai finally managed to pull himself off him. “D-Darkrai, thank you.”


He looked around, an expression of confusion crossing his face. “Darkrai?”


“You know,” Mane sniffled. “He’s got a funny name. Dark Rai. Should I be worried he’s your evil twin?”


“He just brought Scout back!” Rai retorted, looking around urgently.


“Guess even evil you loves this dork.”


“Guys,” Scout managed, his voice trembling like glass on the brink of shattering. “Please.” He grabbed them both with a paw each and pulled them back onto him. “Please don’t let me go.”


Sensing everything not being said in an instant, they both fell silent and pressed against him. Scout was shaking like a leaf, as if he was freezing cold and needed something warm to cling to.


He began to cry. It was soft at first, soft and weak and then it grew harder, uglier, until he was howling into their fur, begging them not to let him disappear again.


It had been months.


Scout had lost track of the time but Rai and Mane had not.


Over half a year of trying to pick up the pieces and get through the days until the pain dulled enough to function again. And they had. They had done it. They had done it knowing that they’d never see him again.


And they welcomed Sean onto their team, but he wasn’t there to replace Scout. Nothing could. There had always been a void next to them, one all of them were aware of but rarely acknowledged.


But Scout had been there.


All that time.


Every minute of every day.


And they began to realise that as he cried into their fur, babbling nonsensical things about ‘games’ and ‘stories’, bundled into a verbal mess that no one would be able to make heads or tails of.


Mane, always the more fragile one, buckled under the onslaught first and did what he knew helped him when he couldn’t handle things. Rai leaning into him, almost smothering him as if protecting him from anything that could hurt him. Cracking into sobs as well as Scout screamed into their fur.


Rai held out longer, trying to be strong for everyone. But strength has its limit and he’d been taking that duty wordlessly, stubbornly, all this time. He tried to press onto Scout as well but his legs lost their strength and he collapsed onto him, unable to speak, unable to do anything but cling onto him as well.


There were things they still had to talk about. Serious things. Even unpleasant things. For now, however. For now they wouldn’t care for any of those things.


They were back together now.


And that’s all that mattered.




Scout had fallen asleep at some point in the reunion and Mane carried him back to Shaymin Village where Alakazam almost tripped over his beard when he saw them.


There was no denying the radiating feelings of joy from Rai and Mane and whispers about Lucario the miracle worker were bound to spread. The name Darkrai was mentioned but only the shaymin understood even a fraction of the implications and gathered together to discuss it.


Scout… looked different. Not much different, he had the same scars as he had before and even some new ones from the injuries he’d collected from the Dark Future and onwards. His fur was a darker colour, bluer than the creamy white it was before.


Neither Rai nor Mane cared about how he looked. If this was the consequence of Darkrai then it was hardly anything more than cosmetic. Alakazam transported them back to the Wigglytuff Guild’s teleportation quarter and bade them goodbye, their reward for their salvation of time finally in their paws.


The Guild’s reaction was… something to say the least.


"You know… I gave you a month to find a lead, not… this." Armaldo stared in visible surprise. His mouth hadn’t dropped open but his eyes had almost bugged out when they trotted in like the cats who caught the canary.


The pokémon of Team Sunrise were not at the guild when they returned; neither was anyone who regularly went out on missions.


Scout was woken up when Loudred, coming to welcome them back spotted Scout and bellowed. “OH MY GOSH!”


He yelled it so loud that later on Sunflora was bound to try and sue him for stealing her catchphrase. Because she could hear it from the track she was walking back on.


Diglett wasn't the cuddliest of pokémon, but Scout received a headbutt of joy to his sternum before Diglett blasted through the walls to go into town to find his father and tell him the good news.


Loudred's bellow of shock managed to stun Armaldo long enough that he wasn’t able to catch Wigglytuff when he exploded out of his chambers. One of the doors actually came off, that Armaldo at least caught before it could shatter against something.


Team Glee lurking on the floor above quickly started a party. They had no idea what was the response of that explosion of joy that Wigglytuff made but it didn't take much for them to instigate celebrations, good times, and general merriment.


Diglett's headbutt of welcome had been painful yet was nothing compared to the strength of Wigglytuff's embrace. The fact he didn't break any bones was a testament to Wigglytuff's control more so than anything else.


Once he was finally released, he was set down to meet Armaldo properly. Scout was cringing by that point and not just because of his bruised ribs.


Armaldo was big. Easily the biggest pokémon in the guild. He towered above everyone, multiple vibrant feathers sticking out, covered in a heavy exoskeleton that looked and functioned like armour, and with two piercing eyes.


Armaldo was towering, scary, and definitely a hardass. That wouldn’t be a problem. Only… Scout knew why he was here. Who he was replacing. And too much was happening for him to grasp onto any one feeling.


Armaldo looked over Scout once before turning to the beaming Rai and Mane. With a sigh, he asked, "How?”


"We like to exceed expectations!" Rai beamed.


"We really ARE this good," Mane added.


Chimecho, who was attracted by the commotion, gasped when she spotted the meowth. She tried to tug him back with Psychic, but that didn't work, leading her to fly right to him. "Meowth!?" She zoomed in close as Scout turned, grinning at the nurse.


"Chimecho!" He hugged the floating Psychic-type, and she smiled softly at him.


"How? She'll be. Everyone will be. I mean… this is wonderful!" She did a loop-de-loop. "But wait. Your fur, did Mane set you on fire?" She came in close to inspect him. "No… this isn't ash or burnt fur. Why is your fur such a different colour?"


"I'm not sure exactly, but when I was revived, I came back like this."


"I have to ask as much as I know you won’t like to answer it," Armaldo grunted, clicking his pincers and bringing Scout's attention to him. "But I must ask. How are you so certain this is the same pokémon that was erased from reality? Especially if his fur is such a different colour?"


"Look at his scars! We know Meowth. Trust me.” Mane positively leered. “We know.”


"He felt like Meowth!" Wigglytuff agreed. "When I hugged him. His Power feels different, yet similar. Hm. Are you a Dark-type now?"


“He must be,” Chimecho hummed. “I attempted to pull him towards me but it didn’t work.” She tried again, but still nothing. “Curious.”


“I’ve heard of rare accounts of pokemon shifting types,” Wigglytuff said, rubbing his chin. “Usually with the effect of a move. And in some very dubai-woobi cases some magic crystals, but crystals do everything in legends,” he giggled as Armaldo looked at him.


“It was a pokemon called Darkrai,” Rai explained, Wigglytuff’s smile flickered briefly. “He… well he said a lot of stuff and then brought him back!”


“We figured it was just some side effect of that,” Mane added, looking Scout up and down. “ Dark rai sounds like a Dark-type after all.”


"Hm,” Armaldo grunted, still eying Scout cautiously.


"Do you really think we couldn't tell who our friend is?" Rai asked seriously.


"Hm. Whatever, I trust you wouldn’t be duped.”


"Is there anything I can say or do to convince you?" Scout asked.


Armaldo gave him a hard stare. "No. But I can also tell I am in the minority here. Don't expect special treatment from me. I'll judge you on who you are now, not who you may have been. Understand?"


"That's fair."


Satisfied, for now, Armaldo waved a claw. "I assume you'd like to see Team Sunrise next? They are in town working with Kangaskhan."


He didn't mention they were working with her as they needed to recover from working with the children of Treasure Town.


Armaldo was relieved there was an age requirement for the guild. Wigglytuff or Chatot, or both, had been sensible enough to instate such a thing. He could not imagine the headache of dealing with children on top of everything else.


Back on his way to the Shaymin Village, after accidentally falling off Sky Peak, a young Ampharos sneezed and tripped over.


The whole of Team Ion thanked Armaldo and remained for Scout to go up to Croagunk to say hello. He hadn’t left his shop but had leaned over, watching happily. Or what passed for happy for Croagunk.


"Meh-heh-heh. It's good to see you again, Meowth," Croagunk said with a grin.


"Good to see you too." Scout smiled. Croagunk was the good sort, not big on words. They shared a nod, and they entered the middle section of the guild to observe the party that was forming rapidly.


"When did Loudred come up here?" Scout yelled over the beatboxing.


"I honestly don't know," Rai yelled back.


“Let’s just duck through,” Mane suggested.


The party honestly didn't need them, so they hurried out, although everyone shouted cheers when they spotted the meowth. Team Glee were performing a song and Wigglytuff was already dancing and causing a ruckus.


As they approached the steps leading down, Scout surrendered to the urge to look back. The big, empty-eyed, wigglytuff-head with a plume of feathers was there as always.


But there was something to the left of the guild now. Looking over the cliff.


He didn't look further.


It felt so odd to be walking into Treasure Town again, feeling the gravel under his feet, rather than just drifting along and feeling the eyes ON him, rather than passing right through him.


Whispers began breaking through a few pokémon. A meowth, walking with a VERY happy Team Ion? Duskull's eye followed them, Team's Tasty and Seedgey paused their discussion on lunch and turned as one, Vigoroth actually paused for a few seconds to rub his eyes.


They didn't stop to talk, but still passed greetings as they went by. Rai and Mane's tails were straight and proud, and Scout was pressed right between the two of them, not allowed to disappear on them again. His legs were still a bit weak as well but he was walking.


There were more shock and confusion than excitement in the faces of the townsfolk. Scout didn't blame them. It was hard to believe.


Scout hadn't seen Darkrai since he had returned. Part of him was glad of that. Part of him was uneasy. And a part of him was almost sad about not seeing him. Rai and Mane wished to thank him but he’d vanished before they composed themselves enough to address him.


Scout hadn’t yet gone into detail about his experience up to this point. His brain was having trouble processing it all. In that state he had not slept once but he floated in and out of spacial awareness, with things like emotions difficult to grasp a lot of the time. He could almost only remember himself in the third person, unable to fully grip onto the experience from his own point of view.


There would be time to pull it apart later. They crossed the bridge and stepped into the traders' area. They walked past the shanty marketplace. And waved to the Kecleon Brothers who nearly fell out of their shop.


Kangaskhan wasn't much farther ahead.


It was Guardian who saw them first.


He had been ordered to bring a rather heavy set of items out to the owners. Most pokémon didn't give Guardian too hard of time now. Few were exactly friendly, but few were directly rude as well.


Guardian dropped the box upon seeing them. It thankfully just hit the counter and spilled only a few old pieces of metal. Still, Guardian was not listening to the shouts of the owner or Kangaskhan's apologies.


He wasn't actually at Kangaskhan's Storage anymore.


His one eye may lack depth perception to a degree, but it was sharp and clear of cloudiness. He had looked into Scout's eyes more times than he had numbers to count, thankful he had someone he could protect. Someone who would protect him back.


He knew Scout's eyes. He knew his son’s eyes.


Scout, to his credit, didn't jump too hard when Guardian, a large, bulky, and rather slow dusknoir, suddenly appeared in front of them and caught him in a desperate embrace.


"Scout?" Guardian gasped, the arm that held the old scrap of cloth Scout had once worn as a blanket, then a scarf, fluttered in the wind. He didn't mean to ask, he already knew, but Scout nodded anyway.


"Hi." Scout didn’t know what else to say, looking up at the wide, desperate, eye of someone who had loved him enough to try and destroy the world to preserve him.


Guardian had a thousand things to say but they all vanished in an instant as he took his son in his arms. Guardian completely broke down in the middle of the street during the busy time. With dozens upon dozens of pokémon watching.


The Great Dusknoir did not care who saw him cry for his child.


Scout's mouth twitched into a shaky smile, and he slowly pressed his arms back against Guardian. He couldn't properly hug him as Guardian's chest was too wide for him to wrap his arms around, but it was the intent that mattered.


Guardian shuddered with sobs, and Scout felt himself wavering as well.


He didn't remember everything, or even most of the things, from before he travelled back in time with the others. He couldn't be sure if that was responsible for a simple inability to remember so much, who remembered everything after all? Or if his odd amnesia still held some effect on him.


He couldn't recall everything from the Dark Future. But he could remember some things. Like laying on a Dusclops to sleep. Sneaking up on his foolish guardian and pouncing on his head, batting at the wispy not-quite smoke coming off the top of his head.


He remembered feeling hungry and scared but never feeling like he had no one to feed or protect him.


He remembered enough of Dusclops, later called Guardian, as his Father.


That didn't make what Guardian had done okay. But Scout had seen Guardian's state during the short time Team Ion crossed paths with Team Sunrise. It wasn't okay yet, but… it could be okay eventually.


“I’m back.”




"Can you still like… purr?"


"I… yeah?"


"Cool. Do it."


Scout purred. It was still a funny sensation and one he never would think to do. Saniya giggled and scratched behind his ears.


That caused some genuine purring.


He was cozied up with Rai and Mane, the two weren't really eager to give him any space lately, but he found he didn't really mind. Having wanted to be with them for as long as they had missed him left him as clingy as they were.


After Guardian had stopped weeping long enough to carry him back, Scout was set upon by the rest of Team Sunrise. Kangaskhan also cried a little and let them off work today. With no other place to go for privacy, Rai led them to Sharpedo Bluff and into his old home.


It was a little dusty, and there was nothing soft to sit on, but the pokémon made do.


Guardian hadn't let Scout go for the first half-hour, squeezing down gently when he questioned himself if Scout really was in his arms, which happened a lot.


It wasn't the warmest to remain in the dusknoir's arms, but it wasn't the coldest either. Guardian was alright, and Scout knew that.


There was just a little time he needed to grow accustomed to the idea.


Guardian hadn't really wanted to relinquish his returned son to anyone, but Saniya convinced him to. "Two things. His fur is different, and I can't levitate him. What's up with that?"


It led to the explanation Scout feared he'd be getting to know well in the coming days. He was persisting as some sort of memory ghost after he disappeared, floating by them all that time before being revived by Darkrai.


Sean had to excuse himself briefly and Striker followed him. They returned barely a minute later, Sean’s joy matching Rai and Mane’s in some ways.


He had told Rai and Mane a little more of the context to Darkrai, but not everything. Not enough.


"I need to tell them," Scout thought, but as he opened his mouth the words got stuck, and he swallowed them.


Instead, they continued talking. He asked Team Sunrise what they had been up to.


"Then Vigoroth really ran us through the wringer, he's crazy." Saniya beamed, she almost twinkled in the sunlight.


All good times had to draw to a close, and as the sun began to move closer to setting than was okay, they got up to walk to the guild.


"Scout?" Sean asked as they headed out of Rai's home and into town.


"Yeah?"


"I'm happy you're back." Sean wasn't exactly looking at him. Scout wasn't sure if he was embarrassed or if it was something else. “I’ve really… really missed you.”


"I'm glad you're okay," Scout replied, smiling. And gave him a hug. Sean stiffened a little before pulling Scout into a similarly-tight hug as Guardian.


"Okay, I just thought of something!" Saniya loudly exclaimed. "Were YOU the thing that kept tickling my neck? I swear I could feel something going on, but I couldn't pinpoint it."


"Yes." Scout nodded. "Dialga said that you wouldn't be able to see me, but you'd probably have some… some sort of sense."


"Glad I wasn't having a stroke."


"I'm glad too."


Throughout it all, Striker had said very little. Sean had also been quiet, but Striker's silence was different.


Sean was quietly relieved, unable to find the words to express it and embarrassed to say the words when he did find them.


There was a caution to Striker’s eyes.


He knew Scout wasn't telling them everything. He had sensed that way back when they had returned from Fogbound Lake and spoken to each other. And as much as he tried, he could not forget Scout raising his claws to Sean's neck to threaten everyone into calming down.


Things were okay now. Yet, Striker was always a cautious soul.


Approaching the guild had Scout slow down, spotting something off to the side. He swallowed, coming to a decision.


"Can I just… take a moment?" Scout asked. "By myself."


The group didn't argue, they saw what he did, and let him go. Scout himself didn't want to be alone, but he felt like he needed to be for this. It was time to stop putting it off.


The waves crashed distantly over the cliffside. He walked a little to the side, moving around the guild. The others entered the guild as Diglett and Loudred raised the gate for them. He felt chills on the back of his neck, a distant feeling of panic trying to claw up his spine as he found himself alone but he forced it down.


He wouldn’t be afraid. Not here, at least. To back down here was the worst thing he could imagine. He had tried to be strong for everyone and he’d been strong for him first.


There it was. A simple headstone, with no pomp or spectacle to it.


Here lies Trill


Res̵t In Peace


I will always remember you


Scout quietly made his way to the gravestone, hesitating on the final steps. He didn't want to step on the grave after all. Or maybe he just didn't want to believe this was possible.


"Chatot?" Scout said, softly. He walked around the side of the grave, touched the headstone. It was clean of dust, being tended to every day.


Scout wasn't sure how to feel. He knew he was sad, but something was blocking him from really feeling it. He almost felt blank, hollow, unable to reach the aha moment he knew he was supposed to.


The grave was here. There was no question as to who it was, but part of him simply could not grasp it. Part of him that would not grasp it. This wasn’t how the story went.


"He would have been so happy to see you," a voice spoke softly from behind. Scout jumped; he hadn't heard anyone approach.


Wigglytuff gave him a sad smile as Scout stared at him, fur raised slightly and eyes wide and confused.


"He told us what happened in the Dark Future," Wigglytuff said, coming to his side. "Especially about you. That's the biggest thing I was afraid of. That he died with regret. I know he didn’t, though. He’d never regret saving someone."


"I'm sorry," Scout said. He could barely feel himself say it.


Wigglytuff embraced him. "It's not your fault," he said softly, but that only hurt Scout more. "He'd just be happy that you are safe and well. He’d have flapped the place down, given everyone the day off, and ‘let himself’ be talked into singing. H-He would have….”


Scout stared into Wigglytuff's belly, not understanding why Wigglytuff was hugging him. It WAS his fault. Didn't he know that? Hadn't Chatot told him everything?


He continued to stare as something heavy fell over him, and Scout felt something press down into his stomach hard enough that something finally gave way. He grabbed onto Wigglytuff and pressed against him, wanting to say everything as it all began to overwhelm him. Wigglytuff hummed something as he held them.


Scout repeated that he was sorry again and again, Wigglytuff didn't see anything for him to be sorry about.


They remained as they were until Scout had calmed down, and then just sat at the grave, thinking about Chatot.

Picture(s?) in this chapter done by Bograbbit: https://twitter.com/bograbbit?lang=en

The coloured one is also cropped, as in the original story Keira was present and standing awkwardly in the distance being all "Aww, how cute" lol. You can see the uncropped one in Chapter 40 of the original story on AO3.
 
Chapter 39 - Dies are Cast

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
"Can you all come with me," Scout asked, another day or two from their return to Treasure Town. The town bustled with excitement that he had returned but a part of him expected a little more.

They had, after all, just let Dusknoir talk all over him and then throw him into jail. Only Mane and the guild had stood up for him, and of the guild only really Chatot had tried to intervene.

Chatot….

Scout had been thinking, and he knew it was time.

Behind him walked Rai and Mane, never letting him out of their sight for long. He might have thought it clingy if it wasn't for the fact that he was so grateful he didn't have to ask them not to let him be alone.

Further along, came Sean, Striker, Saniya, and Guardian.

Despite being asked what this was about, Scout didn't quite explain. "I just think it'd be nice for the seven of us to talk."

Scout's whiskers twitched as they left the guild. Behind him was Chatot's grave, and a heavy weight pulled at his stomach with every step.

"Once you have the chance… you do need to tell others you trust." Chatot had said that. It was bordering on eight months ago now, but to Scout, the words felt as fresh as they did when they were first spoken.

"You know, I've wondered what does happen in dungeons if more than four pokémon enter?" Scout asked as they headed through the town. The pokemon at this hour flashed Team Ion smiles and Team Sunrise complicated expressions.

Scout wondered if he saw guilt in the eyes of the pokemon when they saw him, and then saw Guardian. He noticed they didn't meet his eyes and hurried away.

"Bigger distortions, splitting parties, more dangerous ferals. Some even say Shadow Pokémon can begin to show up," Guardian explained.

"How long does that take?"

"Anywhere from a minute to an hour… what are you thinking, not even Beach Cave would be safe in that regard?"

"Just curious," Scout replied. "I thought we could head to Sharpedo Bluff. It's a nice place."

Nice was not the word many would use. It was loud, extremely loud due to the waterfall near it. Perfect to talk if you didn't want people to listen, but also remote as it was Rai's home and most of the townsfolk still left the place alone out of respect.

It wasn't with much hesitation or nervousness that Scout stepped up to the cliff he'd nearly fallen off on his first day in the past. He didn't get too close though, even if about six different people would catch him if he fell.

"Why are we here?" Mane asked. "And why are you acting all weird."

"Sorry," Scout sighed, stopping and turning to everyone. He looked between Rai and Mane, curious and cautious. Between Striker and Guardian, guarded and open, and Sean and Saniya, smiling and daydreaming. "I think this is far enough."

"For what?" Mane asked.

"I'm just being careful. Dungeons are… weird places, but I think this is private enough. How's everyone been sleeping?"

A question he'd been asking the past couple of days, of a lot of people. An odd nightmare surge across town had passed, knowing it was unlikely Darkrai would know to come on an evening they were really going to talk, he began to ready himself.

Scout sighed and took a breath, looking over everyone again. From those who were purely happy to be around him, to those who didn't express things as clearly, to the people he trusted most in the world, they were all here.

"Rai… I was never entirely honest with you all the time we were together." Rai straightened up slightly. Mane noticed that Scout was on one side and everyone else was facing him so he stepped across to sit next to Scout, pretending not to be really happy at the grateful glance Scout flashed him.

Rai didn't join them, feeling that maybe it was better for this to sit where he was. Everyone else was background for a moment, it was like it was just them on any other night. Only, his chest felt fluttery and not for the usual reason.

"And I think you know that," Scout continued, letting the word hang.

Rai digested it for a moment before offering a shallow nod. "Yeah," he said, half sighing. "There was never anything big just… a lot of things that added up. Like Limestone Cavern and Ditto or the perfect apple thing." He looked to Mane. "He didn't know why you asked him either."

Scout gave a strange little smile. Almost happy that Rai had noticed, and likely noticed far more.

"Like Drowzee," Rai added suddenly. "That wanted poster wasn't up when we left but you just knew."

Scout nodded, that was always something that hung on the back of his mind. That Drowzee got away. Sure, he 'redeemed' himself in the end, but… things were different here, who knows what he would have done. What he has done now that he never got punished?

"Did you have more memory than you told me?" Rai asked softly.

Scout nodded. "Yeah. But… it's even more complicated then everything with the Dark Future and all."

Sean and Striker frowned at that mention, that wasn't what they were expecting.

"Did you know about the Relic Fragment?" Rai asked sharply. His paw raised to the empty string he still wore as if still feeling the weight of the fragment. His face flashed across several emotions at once, too difficult to really tell what they were.

Scout hesitated. They both knew that was an answer in itself, but he still said it, "Yeah. I knew."

"How?" Sean cut in. They both looked to him. "Um, sorry for interrupting. But, we didn't even know about that until we arrived here and I had a Dimensional Scream at the Brine Cave mark."

Rai's eyes flickered in something fragile, something that he never showed anymore. Those tiny doubts that played around in the back of your head like little devils, ready to lay you flat with bad thoughts in the late hours of the night.

"Rai, everything between us was real," Scout said, sensing what he was going to think. Because he knew all of them were going to be thinking it in a moment. "I swear. You were my rock, my guide, everything to me. I was so scared and confused when I arrived but…." He frowned at himself, glancing to Mane who listened silently.

They stared at each other for a moment.

"I had a conversation with Mane," Scout said softly. "In the Dark Future."

Mane's face creased into a frown. Some things of that time he couldn't remember already, but that memory was burned into his mind.

"He helped me see things differently. How I've constantly lied to everyone and when someone tries to call me out on it, I deflect, or turn it them, or I punish myself to make up for it. I don't mean to, but it's… a problem and I was thinking about when I could only watch you all."

Mane chewed his lip slightly. "Not that I wasn't right but…"

Scout shook his head. "You are entirely right, and I'm sorry."

"I never thought you were doing it for bad reasons."

"Maybe." Scout nodded. "And you said that. But I still lied. Lied because I thought that I knew what was right." Scout glanced down at the ground to take a moment and a breath. To Team Sunrise.

He raised his head and found his eyes on Sean first. "I knew from the start what had to be done. About the Dark Future, about Guardian, and the Relic Fragment, and where the Time Gears were. I knew all of that. Right from when I first woke up. Not on the beach." Scout shook his head, it seemed so obvious now. "But here on Sharpedo Bluff." He pointed to the very spot he had woken up at.

Frowns crossed faces. Sean glanced to Striker, Guardian gave Scout a questioning look, and Rai opened his mouth before closing it.

Scout nodded. "I also knew that Drowzee was an outlaw before he even spoke. I knew where the Limestone Cavern Time Gear was, and that Ditto was going to try and stop us. I knew Striker was good, although I only knew him as Grovyle, and that Dusknoir was an enemy. I knew a lot of things, I thought I knew more. But even though I never knew as much as I thought, I still knew enough that I should have acted differently."

"How did you know about the Relic Fragment?" Sean asked, before glancing to Guardian. "Guardian did thanks to Dialga but… did he somehow tell you?"

Scout shook his head. "No. Nothing like that." He took in another breath and sighed it out, not quite able to look directly at anyone. Rai was still frowning, eyes trained on where he had found Scout.

"You gonna tell us?" Mane asked.

"Or are you going to keep pussyfooting around?" Saniya said, before giggling.

Her joke broke some of the tension and Scout gave a smile. "Heh. I like that one." He swallowed and nodded, looking at Sean again. "When I told Chatot this, he couldn't really understand because… because well he just couldn't fathom the kind of thing I had to compare it to."

"You told Chatot?" Rai asked, almost offended and then sad.

"After Mane helped me realise," Scout explained. "I wanted to make sure I could gather the nerve, so I told him. He, uh." Scout's lip curled slightly, but he composed himself. "He told me I had better tell the people I trust once it was all over. I hoped I'd have him here to help me, but…"

His lip twitched again, and this time he couldn't entirely compose himself. "S-sorry," Scout said, wiping his eyes with his arm. "I think it was my fault he died, in some way."

"What?"

"No."

"That can't be."

"Scout…."

"No," Scout said, voice strained. "Please just… let me explain. It isn't like I did anything directly to cause it, but… if it wasn't for everything I did and didn't do, he… well." He shook his head again. "Okay. I'm going to start running us in circles if I don't just start explaining myself. You all might want to sit down or something."

Guardian lowered himself, but everyone else remained standing. Tense or jittery in some fashion.

"Sean," Scout began, meeting the human-turned-riolu's red eyes. "You ever played a video game?"

Sean blinked, of all the things he imagined to come out of Scout's mouth it wasn't that. "Uh… yeah?"

"Imagine playing a game… playing it several times in fact. Playing it enough that you know it inside and out. The plot details. The characters. The twists and the turns. Heck, even the music." Scout gave a soft laugh before humming something pleasant and oddly fitting for the town they were near.

Sean's face was slowly creasing into a frown.

No one else quite understood what he was talking about, but that was okay. He had some experience, he just hoped Sean would be able to help in a moment.

"Now imagine you wake up… and you're in that game."

Sean stilled. Scout felt himself come to a stop as well, twin breaths tensed, waiting for something.

"Huh?" Saniya asked, breaking the moment again. "What does all that mean? I want to play!"

Sean pursed his lips before wetting them. "I… don't know what to say to that." He frowned deeper and looked up at Scout, eyes set and serious. "You can't be for real here?"

Scout shrugged helplessly. "I don't have ANY idea how something like this is possible. But…" he lowered his head, closed his eyes, and gave a pained sigh. "I… I don't know if I'm actually Scout. Or if I've taken his body."

He said it. It never feel right to say, not the first time, not all the times he had wondered it, and certainly not this time.

He didn't want to look at the reactions, but he had to. Arms closed around him and Scout gasped.

"You are Scout," Guardian said, quietly. "I may not understand what you speak of, but I know it."

Scout gave him a watery smile, wanting to lean in, but he pushed himself out instead. "Armaldo said it best, even if he didn't actually mean it in this exact context. How can you be so sure I am? Am I actually the pokémon you knew? Or am I just close enough that you can convince yourselves that I am?"

Saniya floated up to him next and grabbed his face. "You're talking depressing stuff here," she said, seriously. "It's okay to question who you are and all that, but… I may act silly, but I did look you over and inner in the future. I can't anymore, cause of your new type, but… you ARE Scout."

"You're different," Striker said, speaking up for the first time. "There's no question there. But… how could you NOT be Scout?"

Sean didn't speak up. Rai and Mane didn't know who he may have been before, and as such had nothing to offer.

Scout smiled sadly. "In the time I was stuck as some sort of memory ghost thing, I was able to recall at least some memory of who Scout was. Enough so that I knew that Scout did NOT know the things I do. Not in practice at least. If I haven't somehow robbed his life from him, then something still happened. Can I even be considered the same person then?"

"People change," Guardian said, softly. "Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Most of the time, however, they simply change."

"They can change back, too," Saniya said, laying a gentle hand on Guardian's arm. He managed a grateful look.

"I guess," Scout sighed, "but we're straying. The fact of the matter is. I know things that I could not possibly know. I knew that someone was supposed to be found by Rai. I knew that Team Skull was going to come for him, having spotted his treasure earlier."

Rai blinked at him.

"It's not that I saw them go. I just knew they were going to. I knew what was going to happen, and I thought I was supposed to be there. Not to stop you from getting robbed in the first place, but to join you in Beach Cave to get it back. Only…" Scout's voice turned bitter. "Skuntank was NOT supposed to be there."

He hated that. Of all the many things he hated, there was something about that one specific moment that truly bothered him. It was inconsequential in the long run, they had gotten a Relic Fragment in time, but the change still nagged at him. How was that possible? Was it a flip of the coin, or was something else different?

Striker and Sean's appearance could not have led to a butterfly effect so far so quickly. His existence was tied to the future, not the past, nothing they did should have affected that.

"I don't know WHY he was there," Scout growled, grabbing at his head. "And I'm so sorry, Rai. At the time I… I honestly thought this was a dream. It was only after he knocked me out did it really begin to dawn on me that it wasn't. You weren't supposed to lose the Relic Fragment."

Scout gave a weak laugh. "That's just one of the boundless mistakes I ended up causing," he said softly. "It wasn't even supposed to be me. I wasn't supposed to exist. It was supposed to be the human who woke up, not at the bluff but at the beach. That's why I thought I was human."

"You said your name was Sean though," Rai said, unable to quite believe everything else yet.

"Yeah. I guess we really DID have some sort of head-knock memory transfer. How the hell that is supposed to work. Or maybe my name really IS Sean, and that was the name of whatever human monster is possessing Scout."

"Stop saying that," Guardian demanded, before softening. "Please."

"I'm sorry," Scout muttered. What part of it, even he wasn't sure.

Sean had taken a few moments to try and digest what he was being told. "Are you saying… you don't think we're real?" he asked, lowly.

Scout was horrified. "NO! That's not what I mean at all!" he said, raising his paws. "That's not what I mean."

"You're saying you played a game and we were the characters!"

"Sean I…" Scout looked away. "No. I don't believe that. Heh, have you ever heard of multiverse theory? Lucario implied there were other worlds, and if I remember right, you're from a different world to this one too. I, or some part of me, is just from a world where they THINK this is fiction."

Sean took a breath. He didn't look much happier, but he was thinking it over.

"Actually, I have been wondering," Scout said, pressing his interest for a moment. "What version of the pokémon world are you from?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"My perception has it all as a made-up franchise. But there were multiple realities in that, this one is one of them. I'm just curious, which one you might be from."

"How am I supposed to know?"

"Uh… ever heard of an Ash Ketchum?"

"No."

"Maybe not the anime then."

Sean grimaced and shook his head. "This is almost too much. You cannot be serious; this has to be some sort of joke you have thanks to my memories."

"Why would I lie about this?" Scout asked, before hearing himself. "I… why would I?"

Sean had no answer for that.

Striker raised a claw. "I'm still having trouble following."

"I was hoping Sean could help me here," Scout said.

Sean sighed. "Imagine a book you read or a theatre play you watch. Characters acting out a role, always the same, because books don't change, plays don't change. Or, at least, they're not supposed to. Scout's saying he's experienced something like that, except about us and this world."

That helped. Glances were shared, voices were raised, and questions were asked.

It all kind of melded into a cacophony Scout couldn't discern.

"Please one at a time!"

Rai was the first to speak. "Why didn't you say anything like this before?" he asked, eyes wide and questioning. He would always think the best of Scout. He didn't growl like Mane, or demand like Striker. Just ask and expect Scout at his best.

There were few things that filled Scout with as much shame as that. Rai thought the world of him, and he knew that he shouldn't.

"Because I'm a coward," Scout said, bluntly. "Because I am a liar. Because I was scared that you'd hate me, or not believe me. Or that I'd ruin everything. You know, beyond just spouting excuses to create pity and all."

Scout shook his head. "Also, deflective statements to try and make myself seem better as I am aware of what a piece of shit I am. Can't really avoid those it seems." He nodded to Mane.

He looked down, unable to meet their eyes. "I told myself it was to preserve the best ending that I knew of. Because failure meant that the world would be ruined and plunged into… well, the Dark Future. I thought that if I kept things on track, I would get us to that ending and things would be fine. Only…"

He wanted to tear his fur. "Things were already changed from the start. I shouldn't even exist; I don't know where I came from or how."

No one really had an answer for him.

Except…

"I… found you," Guardian said, quietly. "After losing my previous companions, I wandered, alone and going mad… at one point, I remember this with crystal clarity, I had a choice between two directions. It was like I was pulled to travel one way, and along with it I found you with your parents…."

Scout nodded. "Okay… so probably a coinflip, fifty-fifty chance situation. That's… reassuring to hear, I think. Thank you."

"You don't need to thank me. You saved me as well."

"Even so. That happened in the future, I don't know how that could have affected the past. There are so many questions, how things went, what things 'happened' and what things just weren't shown. I knew about the Dark Future because of the story. Still, you didn't see much of it, so I didn't know what the Planetary Investigation Team was really like. There are so many things I could say, but… it's really just inconsequential. I know what went wrong."

"You've said a lot about all the bad things you've been doing," Mane said, glaring holes through him, but whether it was about this or about Scout talking so badly of himself wasn't clear. "Haven't heard what they are besides lying."

Scout shrugged. "Lying is the most of it. There were things I could have done to make things easier for us, or harder for 'the enemy'. Uh, sorry Guardian."

"None taken."

"I could have done more. More about Team Skull. More to help Sean and Striker. Getting Mane to get an apple earlier wasn't something that happened in the story since he wasn't a character, but it did get us out of trouble."

"I wasn't in this story of yours?" Mane growled, positively smoking.

"No. It was for kids."

"Oh. Well, that makes sense. Still." He stretched out very 'strategically'. "How could all this not be included?"

Scout gave a breathy chuckle. The laughter was a little insincere, Mane being more provocative was a bad sign, not a good one.

"I'm much happier you are here," Scout said, softly.

Mane blinked and stopped stretching. He even blushed slightly. "Well… of course you are. I am the best."

Scout nodded and took another breath. "Okay. Going through everything I did wrong will take us hours. Days. Weeks maybe if we have to come in here every time." He glanced around uneasily. No Darkrai or anyone else though

"We have all the time in the world," Saniya said. "But, uh, that sounds depressing and bad for your mental health. Or maybe it would good for you to get it all out so we can tell you it's okay? Or, is this something Azumarill should do? You need to go to her anyway." Saniya was at risk of chattering, Striker slipped a hand around her arm and she closed her mouth.

"Let me just say, you're taking this a lot better than I would."

"I'm just debating on how much I should be upset," Sean said, but he grinned briefly. "This isn't exactly the easiest thing to hear, you know?"

"Yeah."

"I still am not convinced you aren't Scout," Striker said. "While you said that this change did not occur until after we travelled back in time, can you be certain?"

"No," Scout admitted. "But I LIKE to think that, as bad as I am, I would have let something slip. I like to think that, had I known things were changed from the start, I would have actually tried to work with what I knew, rather than trying to force everything to fit what I thought."

"I think you would have," Rai said. Always thinking the best of him.

"Perhaps. But… we DID travel through time." Striker gestured to Saniya. "Surely there is some explanation to be had there. Travelling back in time, something may have happened to you there to allow you to understand the history of the world. Combine that with the head-knock with Sean and believing yourself to be him."

"Mixing that with my knowledge of video games…" Sean said, rubbing his jaw.

"Do you think that could be it?" Striker asked, looking to Saniya.

"Uh… uh… yeesss?"

"You don't sound sure."

"I'd have to confer with Giratina. Or… Dialga… or even the other Celebi that apparently exists. That one that I need to kick in the face." She grumbled. "Halving our Power between us. How greedy can he be?"

Scout nibbled on his lip. An actual explanation, for a moment, he doubted himself.

"No… no, I don't think so," he said, shaking his head. "Even… even ignoring that I knew all this from the perspective of what WE were going to be doing as some sort of time nonsense… the story didn't end with Dialga."

Everyone came to a stop.

"What do you mean?" Sean asked. "Was it not over? Or… post-game? Oh my gosh, there's post game isn't there?"

"Yep." Scout nodded. "In the story, Darkrai damaged the tower himself although he claims he didn't this time. But when the Dark Future was averted, he tried something else. A world of darkness to rule over."

That got some concerned looks.

"That sounds… unpleasant," Rai said. He was the only one who hadn't seen the Dark Future in person.

"Yeah." Scout nodded. "And… what a perfect transition into the last and worst topic of the day. All that." He looked straight between Rai and Mane, they were realising what he just said.

"Wait, DARKRAI!?" Rai yelped. "That Darkrai that brought you back?"

"Mr handsome voice?" Mane added, equally as alarmed.

"Oh. Oh my gosh," Sean said, hitting it next as the remaining three clicked together.

"Darkrai?"

"The guy?"

"Who revived you?" Guardian thundered.

Scout wanted to sit down, but he also was restless.

"He came to me after months of being stuck like… that." Even the word choked his voice briefly. Imagining that state filled him with horror and he tried to avoid it always. "I don't know what he wanted with me. He. I told him I knew what he was, but he told me so much about how he wasn't that anymore. I don't even know what to think. He's the reason why Sean is a pokémon."

Sean blinked. Striker did as well. "What?"

"You got attacked," Scout said, before amending. "WE got attacked when travelling through time. It was Darkrai who attacked us, trying to stop us from changing the past and ruining his darkened world. A world he claims he was the hero in."

"I tried t tell him to go away. But he kept coming back. And... I don't want to give excuses, but… I just… it was hell to be stuck like that. He was the only one I could speak to." Scout was shaking now and Rai and Mane jumped to his side without hesitation.

He gave a strangled sound, a mix of a gasp and a whimper that they were pressing against him. He felt unworthy but was too selfish to lean out of the comfort.

"How…?" Guardian began, but he couldn't find the rest of the words.

"Darkrai claimed that he had changed," Scout muttered. "He said that legendary pokémon can perceive changes in reality, like time, through dreams and he's seen what the world would be like. He said that the previous Darkrai was killed by… Soothe and that by changing time, she would be erased."

Saniya twitched heavily at that. "Soothe," she whispered, almost too quiet for anyone to hear. Her memories of the audino remained crystal clear despite everything.

"He claimed that these things had made him realise what he was aiming for was wrong, and that he HAD to repay the debt he had to us with a good deed he could do. He was the one who removed that drowzee from hurting you," Scout said, patting Mane's neck. "We talked so much. He made so much sense. He sounded so true. But… he was a master manipulator in the game. He nearly…."

He couldn't say that.

"Nearly convinces the characters to do something awful." Was what he said instead. "And then he goes straight to Rai and Mane. I don't know if he just got frustrated, that he really wanted to help and I just couldn't trust him. But he forced it. I'm so sorry Rai, Mane, everyone. I might have really fucked up and I put you all through so much, all those nightmares, he just would not stop."

He was shrinking, almost crumbling over Rai and Mane now. They supported him, leaning back up. Rai was licking his face, his tears while Mane served as a sturdy rock to keep him up. He was warm. So warm after being so cold for so long.

Throughout it all, Scout babbled and repeated that he was sorry. He was inconsolable, they knew the time had passed to discuss everything he had said seriously and, perhaps, they needed the time to adjust to everything as well.

Before they left, however, Scout had one more thing to say. "I told you all that in here because it's the only place I could think of that he may not hear. You can't talk about this outside of dungeons. Darkrai might have changed but… if he hasn't, I've almost certainly made a colossal mistake in accepting his offer. I actually don't want you to completely trust me."

"That's weird to say since we have to mostly trust your word on all that," Mane snarked. At least he wasn't making outrageous remarks, that'd be a very bad sign. Perhaps Azumarill's services really were useful?

Scout smiled. "Yeah. I think I'm 'sound of mind', but he might have planted something in me. I don't know how effective it might be, but… maybe we should all share some sort of code word to make sure I'm alright in the head."

It didn't take them long to decide on the word dawn as their safe word. There was something almost nostalgic about this for Team Sunrise.

Code words, sneaking around, being careful. It was all reminiscent of a time they were having more and more trouble remembering.

"I think this information needs to be shared with Guildmaster Wigglytuff and Armaldo," Rai said, as they reached the end of town, having walked through, clustered together, in silence.

"Eww, the bug?" Saniya gagged.

"I'm serious. If Darkrai really is a danger, they should know."

Scout nodded. "Yeah. I was thinking I'd tell them next. But only them. Not the rest of the guild… at least for now."

"You're not expecting us to lie?" Mane frowned. He didn't like a lot of what had been spoken, but he wasn't going to start biting heads off.

"If they ask if I'm from a world, or just have some sort of memory that I am, that this is a story then yeah please do. But I doubt anything that specific will come up."

"If nothing else," Guardian rumbled. "Just say that it's something private between you and Scout. Not all secrets need to be told."

Mane grumbled but accepted it.

Scout continued to lead the way as they left. That had gone better than he had hoped, but it wasn't the end of it.

Saniya sighed. "Okay," she began, fluttering to Scout and grabbing his tail. "Sorry about this everyone, but I've got to have a one-on-one chat."

Without any further hesitation, and ignoring Scout's yowl of disagreement, she zoomed them down the slope and into Beach Cave before anyone could so much as raise a hand or paw to stop her. "Don't follow us," she called back. "We'll be just a few minutes."

"Okay-okay-okay, STOP!" Scout demanded, pulling himself free of Saniya. He grabbed his tail, holding it away from the grabby hands of the celebi. "What is so important?"

"What do you know about Soothe?" Saniya asked immediately. That was one thing pokémon tended to appreciate about her. For as wacky as she could be, she didn't dance around the point if she had one to make. "And are you Gabriel?"

"I… pardon?"

"Soothe," Saniya repeated. "Audino. Purple fur instead of pink. Tells just the best jokes." She smiled a little in memory. "I'll need to tell you them again. And Gabriel. Name. Giratina said they were getting another Giratina from a different reality to get some 'Gabriel' human. Sean is Sean. Is your name Gabriel?"

"No, that name doesn't mean anything to me." Scout shook his head as the memory of Saniya and Chatot talking about Soothe returned to him. "And Soothe? To be entirely honest… nothing."

"Huh?"

"She wasn't in the story I knew," Scout admitted. "I haven't really had time or… presence of mind to wonder about her and all. But now that you bring her up… hmm."

"You know… nothing?" Saniya asked, almost sagging in the air. "And you're not? Dammit, Giratina."

"Sorry," Scout replied, frowning. He shook his head. "I really don't know anything. Hearing about her was a bit of a shock really. But, uh… Wigglytuff might know something about her. Hm." Wigglytuff. That was a thought.

Scout's frown deepened as his mind clicked a piece together. It was an obvious piece, but he was a little slow sometimes. "Soothe killed Darkrai… or the previous one." He looked up to Saniya sharply. "What did YOU know about her?"

Saniya hovered in the air in silence for some time before she sighed. "Not much, to be honest. I met her… uh… you know I can't really remember. It was ages ago… or ages to come… in a future that no longer exists… hoo, paradoxes are FUN-KEY!"

"If you're asking me about her…" Scout began, but he didn't really know how to complete that line of thought.

"Yeah." Saniya nodded, understanding what he didn't. "She was my first attempt to save the world and, well… I've wondered. She might not have known where the Time Gears were, but… she had how many years to find them? Who knows? I do. I even gave the guys, you too even, some code words to say to her if you found her, and I've asked pokémon here, but no one says they've seen her around."

"A shiny audino is hard to miss," Scout agreed.

"Shiny?"

"Uh… story term for a differently-coloured pokémon… like you, actually."

"Me? Oooh! Shiny, I LIKE IT!" Saniya giggled, but she was more subdued. She sighed. "Sorry for dragging you in here, probably didn't even need to I guess."

"I'm sorry I don't know anything," Scout said, giving her a guilty smile.

She waved him off. "It's fine. She was always a bit mysterious, but she was also my first friend. Giratina was more of a… parent I guess. I'd like to know stuff about her, but… I suppose I won't get the chance, will I? If she's been this quiet for so long, who even would know? And everyone will forget about her eventually."

"We will?" Scout asked before he shook his head. "Right, Dialga, paradox thing. I really don't like that." He remembered a sableye with a sharp grin. Danny, he had named him. He wanted to hang onto that. The game had preserved them as well. Another ache hit his chest, right next to Chatot.

"Neither do I," Saniya said. "The Dark Future isn't a fun place to remember, but… I still don't like the thought of losing those memories. What am I? But a collection of memories? Even more, than a normal being is. Stupid legendary thing."

"Are you… okay?" Scout asked. Saniya snorted at him. "I mean… do you want to talk?"

"I've got a therapist now!" Saniya beamed, immensely proud of this for some reason. "But she did say to share stuff with the others. Hmm… I don't want to burden you just yet; you should probably come to see her too. With all." She gestured wildly. "THAT going on with you. Hoo boy, she could earn that Poké working on you!"

"I feel like I should be offended," Scout said, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "But your friendly tone and overall cheerfulness make me question everything."

"That's me!" Saniya beamed and giggled, flying around him a few times. "Let's get out of here. Oh! And let's not tell them what we talked about; we'll make them think it's some super dramatic secret!"

"I don't know if I want to keep any more secrets," Scout said, walking after her. They hadn't entered too far into the dungeon and could still leave through the entrance.

"It's not like it'll be a real secret!"

Scout chuckled wearily and followed on. He felt tired, this day had been very long and emotionally draining, but he had one last pair to have a difficult conversation with.


"So… you are telling me you have some sort of extended knowledge of the world and various important events?" Armaldo clarified.

"That's one way to look at it, yes." Scout nodded.

"Hm."

After returning to the guild, Scout didn't go to Armaldo and Wigglytuff immediately. They had dinner first. Scout had loitered behind after sending Mane and Rai off to speak to the pair. It felt scary to be alone for even that half a minute, but he counted his breaths and reminded himself he wasn't alone.

Understanding he had something important and private to discuss, Armaldo took them to Wigglytuff's library and used a Mute Orb to give them secrecy.

As long as they remained within a certain threshold, and this wouldn't take too long, no sound would escape the bubble.

And so, for the third time in his life, Scout said everything he hadn't said.

Chatot had been incredulous but understanding. The Team's Ion and Sunrise had been questioning and somewhat difficult to face. Armaldo and Wigglytuff listened to Scout in thoughtful silence, only speaking up to ask for clarification on something.

"You said that… events went a lot different from what you expected?" Wigglytuff asked. "What exactly?"

Scout grimaced slightly, but it was better to rip the band-aid off now. "Chatot, he uh… wasn't… he didn't die in the story." Wigglytuff was dead silent. "It's what I meant earlier b-by… sorry."

"Before we get emotional," Armaldo said, cutting in. "If I understand right, you didn't do anything specific to get him killed. Right?"

"Never! I even tried to warn him about Kabutops… unless that…"

"I warned him too," Wigglytuff said, softly. He looked, for lack of a stronger word, heartbroken but there was no rumbling of a Yoom-TAH coming, so Scout felt only sadness in kind.

He was guilty, however. "I didn't mean for it, b-but… I am afraid my interference caused a change big enough that-"

"You said things were different before you even woke up," Armaldo grunted. "I highly doubt you did anything that could feasibly be considered killing him. Chatot made his own decisions, don't take the meaning of his sacrifice away from him."

Wigglytuff swallowed heavily but managed a nod. "He always chose to do what's right, even when it wasn't easy," he whispered, closing his eyes and taking a shuddering breath.

Seeing that his old student needed time to compose himself, Armaldo spoke up, "Regardless, another point is raised. You touched on this Darkrai baddie. What can you tell us about him?"

Eager to move on from that topic, Scout immediately went into everything he knew about Darkrai. "Darkrai is a powerful legendary pokémon, he's a Dark-type if that wasn't clear, and can create nightmares just with his presence. Or it's involuntary, just being around him asleep locks you into nightmares."

"This darkrai, he… look I don't really know WHY he's evil, other darkrai are spooky but… good. This one… in the story, he was the one who damaged the Temporal Tower and led to the collapse of time as he wanted to rule a world of darkness. After it was stopped, in the story, he moved on to messing with space and Palkia."

Thinking hard, Scout tapped a claw. "He… powers up his nightmare abilities… somehow. He actually locks Azurill in a nightmare that no one besides Cresselia, Darkrai's dream-based counterpart, could wake him up from. And in dreams, Darkrai can enter them and even disguise himself AS Cresselia."

"He claimed when I was speaking to him that he didn't cause the tower and it happened as a consequence of the Time Gears being removed to stabalise a different disaster in the past but he was a master manipulator in the games and I know I can't trust anything he said."

"We'll need to make sure the family is safe," Armaldo said quietly. "Especially with Team Sunrise possibly causing Darkrai to notice them with their sessions with Azumarill."

"From what you've said," Armaldo began. "It sounds like you do have something more to say. Do you have some idea of Darkrai's first move?"

"I think I am Darkrai's first move," Scout admitted. "He could see me when I was stuck as that memory ghost thing. This is where things get complicated."

Both pokémon listened in complete silence, no questions, as Scout told them of his meetings with Darkrai in more detail. How the nightmare bringer claimed he had changed, how it was Darkrai who brought him back to the world.

"Shinx and Litleo were desperate," Armaldo grunted. "And you're saying he did not show until after Lucario had departed?"

"Oh. Yeah, that's true." He hadn't approached them until she wasn't there.

"Hm."

"How was Darkrai stopped?" Wigglytuff asked, having composed himself. "I presume he was?"

"In the story, yes." Scout nodded. "He was stopped when Cresselia turns up to explain about him, and he asks… I suppose Team Ion to meet him in the Dark Crater for a showdown. It's a trap, he's got allies, and after he was beaten, he tried to escape."

Scout frowned as that memory came back. "That's the hardest thing, he was able to open a time/space hole, the same kind of one Dusknoir was able to open, to escape with. He was only stopped when Palkia intervened, attacked him as he ran into it, and caused HIM to lose his memory. Same thing he did to Sean… and me, he was the one who attacked us travelling back in time and is the reason Sean turned into a pokémon."

"Who was his allies?" Armaldo asked, letting Wigglytuff think over what else was said.

"Uh… I know there was a magcargo… I think… uh… I'm sorry. I can't really remember besides that. There might have been an arbok." Scout frowned, wracking his brain. It was too blurry and minor of a memory to really grab onto.

"Can you give us a rundown on Darkrai's actions in order?" Wigglytuff asked. "Before we get too ahead of ourselves."

"Things are definitely different for this time," Scout pointed out.

Wigglytuff nodded. "I understand. But knowing what Darkrai would do could help us work out what he will do. Give us an idea of his pattern."

"You're taking this very well," Scout said, a little surprised. "Do you actually believe me?"

"I think belief is too strong of a word," Armaldo grunted. "But we've been dealing with Mystery Dungeons all our lives and recently had pokémon from the future come to change time. What you're claiming is a little difficult to believe, but it's not something we can immediately dismiss."

"What Armaldo said." Wigglytuff nodded. "If nothing else, I believe you believe what you're saying."

With a somewhat crooked smile at that remark, Scout went into the spiel of what he could remember. Darkrai tormenting the heroes with nightmares. Locking Azurill into a nightmare and being confronted there. Being kidnapped by Palkia, stopping the space dragon, and Darkrai locking it into a nightmare as well.

Throughout it, the two pokémon listened and asked questions when Scout paused for breath. Asking for clarification of events, or how Darkrai may have committed his foul deeds. Scout couldn't answer everything, to his regret, but he wasn't told off for not knowing.

Once they had gone through everything Scout could think of, and all questions had been asked, Scout had another thing to add.

"I had one more thing I wanted to ask."

Scout hadn't asked any questions of his own so far, so that caught their interest. "Alright, go ahead." Wigglytuff nodded.

Girding himself, Scout nodded. "Okay. When Darkrai was talking about why and how he changed, he mentioned… he mentioned the previous Darkrai getting killed and this being why he was... well, evil."

Wigglytuff went very still.

"He also said that a contributing factor to his 'change of heart' was knowing that the pokémon who killed him… Soothe, was now erased from reality. I just… I don't know who she was. She was not part of the story that I knew, but Chatot told us that you and he knew her and what she did. So… I just have to ask… what happened?"

Wigglytuff closed his eyes in pain. Armaldo gave him a curious look. He hadn't seen his protégé in some time, but a distant memory or two were tickled of a certain Team With No Name having three members. Chatot, Wigglytuff, and Audino.

"If you… don't want to answer," Scout started, seeing Wigglytuff's reluctance.

"I'd like to hear this as well," Armaldo said. "I remember hearing about her. And if she has a connection to Darkrai, this is something we should discuss."

Wigglytuff swallowed, he trembled slightly but steadied himself. "O-okay, um… uh…" Wigglytuff glanced between Scout and Armaldo, visible fear flickering across his face. "Okay… please don't get upset."

Armaldo didn't have much of an expression at the best of times but the look on his face had even Scout cringing just being around it. "I don't like that you're starting with that."

"Promise."

"You know I won't do that."

Wigglytuff sighed and rubbed his face with both paws. "This isn't exactly easy for me to talk about. Please, I don't think I can talk about this if you're going to get upset with me."

Armaldo took a deep and heavy breath. "I will… try to keep calm."

Knowing that was the best he was going to get, Wigglytuff began.

"Ch-Chatot and I met Soothe in… well, in Brine Cave. After Kabutops-" Wigglytuff spoke the name with clear anger, startling Scout. "-attacked us, I ran to the back with Chatot bleeding… ah..." It was clear that it hurt to think about this. "Okay, okay, Soothe saved his life, and we ended up inviting her to come with us. She agreed, and soon she became our third member. Things went amazing for about two years… then…"

Wigglytuff smiled before sniffling briefly. Remembering happy as well as painful memories. "I wanted to travel to Treeshroud Forest," he admitted, quietly. "And we took a few months to get there. On the way Soothe… she… she became quieter, sullen, withdrawn. Chatot and I were a little worried, but there had been times she'd be somewhat depressed, and she always bounced out of it."

He began to frown deeper; these were not pleasant memories for the Guildmaster. "Once we reached the end of the dungeon we encountered… well, we didn't know what the Guardian was, at first, I later learned that it was the legendary Darkrai. But… upon sighting the Time Gear and Darkrai, Soothe… she…."

Wigglytuff swallowed and bent his head. "I… can't really describe it. I don't want to. It doesn't matter how she did it. She just… she inflicted mortal wounds on it. Something just… snapped within her. Chatot he… he was so good, he knew this wasn't right, and he tried to talk sense into her, stop her."

Wigglytuff touched the old scar on his stomach, mostly hidden with his soft fur. "She turned on him. I saved him and got this scar, and I had to fight her. She briefly seemed to recognise me after she struck me, but then… well. She seemed to lose herself completely and began… she began… she began… uh." He cringed again.

He fell silent. Just silent, not wanting to say anything more.

Armaldo hissed in a sharp breath, he connected the dots. There was little Little Rhythm wasn't brave enough to talk about, but he'd been off about a certain phenomenon for many years now. "A Shadow Pokémon?"

Wigglytuff nodded, dead silent.

"How? Did Darkrai attack her?"

"No. She attacked him first."

"So…" Armaldo frowned deeply, but it softened slightly as he looked down at Wigglytuff. "I am guessing there were no other periods where she may have been slain?"

"No."

"So, she was likely a Shadow Pokémon manipulating you from the start."

Wigglytuff didn't respond to that one. He didn't have to.

Scout raised a paw. "What… exactly is a Shadow Pokémon? I mean… the ones I know are… something, but the way Dusknoir explained it all that time ago makes them seem… different here."

Armaldo gave him a perturbed look as if the idea of other types of Shadow Pokémon existing disturbed him. "Shadow Pokémon come in two known variants. You have ones who are obvious and those that are subtle."

"When Dusknoir explained it," Wigglytuff said, thinking it better he not fall entirely silent. "He was more relating that lesson to the subtle kind. They are a great deal rarer than the obvious, or at least we think so. Them being impossible to actually detect helps conceal them greatly."

"The obvious kind are half-mad," Armaldo continued. "Or more like entirely mad but can speak and act in broken ways. Vestiges of their former mind coming out as if on an automatic movement, like your heartbeat or breathing. They have a visible purplish glow to them and are erratic and violent. They are highly dangerous but are much easier to deal with."

"The manectric in Amp Plains," Wigglytuff said softly. "That's the kind he refers to. They are… terrible things, wretched and in so much pain that they'll destroy everything around them to sate that burning within them."

He looked down, Armaldo didn't continue, staring at him.

"While the subtle are… well, as the name implies." Wigglytuff shrugged. "They act the same as they did before. They sound the same. They are still… sane in a way. Even though they can act and behave like a normal pokémon, they aren't. Something has been taken away from them inside. And all Shadow Pokémon are driven to create more of their kind."

"How… does that happen?" Scout asked. He hadn't expected a lesson on this, but it was morbidly interesting.

"Two ways," Armaldo said. "Dying in a dungeon seems to be a way. Although it's not reliably truthful. There might be other factors involved we don't understand yet. But such reasons were a large part of why Rescue Teams were formed in the first place, first guided by the lucario your partners met even."

"While the second way," Wigglytuff added. "Is being killed BY a Shadow Pokémon. Thankfully, if there could be any thanks in this situation, subtle ones do not necessarily create more subtle ones, and they appear to be extremely rare themselves. They are an insidious agent that can enter any town or village and lay in wait for time. But never forever, the burning Hunger within them wins eventually…."

"No matter how well they hide behind the mask of who they once were," Armaldo said, gravity in his words. "Their true nature comes out eventually. Two years would be unheard of, assuming she hadn't slated it in times you were not watching her. Either way, Soothe clearly reached her limit."

Wigglytuff looked away. "Now that I understand that she was from the future it… perhaps makes sense. Trill told me a little about how the Dark Future was. I could not imagine a world so cruel."

Scout nodded, and Armaldo rubbed his jaw. "Hmm… I have never heard of a Shadow Pokémon slaying a legendary pokémon before… with the revival that legendary pokémon go through… but if Soothe truly was a Shadow Pokémon, which seems likely, then I wonder."

"You think Darkrai could be a Shadow Pokémon?" Scout asked, alarmed. He looked down at himself.

"It's a possibility we can't ignore," Armaldo said. "I don't know if the infection that Shadow Pokémon spread could supersede a legendary pokémon's revival, but if it could… that may explain why Darkrai went from a peaceful guardian to someone who would end the world. He would tell any lie to gain your trust, but to what end is unclear."

"It'd also mean that he's definitely bad," Scout said, frowning deeply.

"Yes," Armaldo said, narrowing his eyes at Scout. "It would."

Things fell into an awkward silence. Scout looked at his body in a new way, while Armaldo and Wigglytuff stewed in silence. Armaldo in concern, Wigglytuff in guilt. Oh so heavy guilt.

"I have something more I have to say," Wigglytuff began, bringing their attention back to him. "I… uh… uh…" he frowned, looked like he was about to cry, but withheld himself. "About Soothe."

He lapsed into silence, trying to find his words. And something bubbled up in Scout's mind. "She was still alive," he gasped, Saniya's words coming back to him. "Before time was changed! Saniya, uh Celebi, said so."

Armaldo went stiff and turned to Wigglytuff, who positively cringed and Scout realised he had spilled it before Wigglytuff could. Oops. "Explain."

"W-When… during the… uh… I couldn't go through with destroying her," Wigglytuff babbled. "She was my friend! I couldn't be sure if she was really a Shadow Pokémon and, and, and… uh… I-I-I-I thought I might be able to find a way to save her."

Armaldo was stone silent.

"There are ways, myths say!" Wigglytuff stated. "Legends of humans purifying Shadow Pokémon. And, uh… there has to be some way. There HAS to be."

"It is my understanding that you killed her," Armaldo said, lowly. "Rumours travel far, even if they aren't spoken of out loud. I heard she was slain, and that you and Chatot never wanted to speak of it."

"Chatot… didn't know," Wigglytuff admitted, the words falling like bitter droplets. "Until he returned from the future and confronted me about it, away from everyone else."

"You… allowed a Shadow Pokémon... most likely a subtle type... you allowed her to go free… for over fifteen years?" Armaldo asked, deadly calm. Wigglytuff swallowed. "Meowth. We will need to continue speaking another day... or night. Leave, now."

The anger emanating from Armaldo was palpable, and Scout was already edging away. "N-no worries. Uh, goodnight."

Neither of them responded. Wigglytuff bracing and Armaldo almost crackling with energy. Scout ducked out the library doors and then through Wigglytuff room.

The Mute Orbs effects were useful but held a certain limit to how much volume they could block out. Even as Scout moved to open the large, heavy, doors of Wigglytuff's meeting room, he could hear Armaldo start yelling.

"WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE, RHYTHM?!" Scout gave up and just ran for his room, letting Wigglytuff take this wholly and entirely.

He had things of his own to fret about for the night. His mind swirled with thoughts of Darkrai and Shadow Pokémon. Rai and Mane were waiting for him as he slipped into their room, and their presence helped.

The three of them didn't need to say anything, Scout was quickly pulled into the bed and surrounded with shinx and litleo warmth. It was like they were guarding him from anyone else who tried to steal him away, and Scout found himself feeling safe there.

Even just running through the guild by himself flushed his body with adrenaline, of fear that when he slammed into the room they wouldn't be there, or they wouldn't be able to see him and he'd come to, finding that all this closeness and life again was just a hallucination.

It wasn't. It wasn't. It wasn't. It was real. He was real. Everyone was real, forget the complications of a game and story and fiction. They were all real. And he had them close to prove it.

He could deal with whatever was coming tomorrow.


And so, Scout tells everyone the truth.

In the original, this chapter and the previous were one and it was Chapter 40 which was why it wasn't split. That meant that not all the chapter was this extended moment, rather only about half was. Which, I think hurt the chapter more than doing it on Chapter 40 helped.

I fixed a few small things, but otherwise, this chapter is pretty similar to the original. There is an important change happening in the next chapter, however.

Stay tuned~

I also have a discord server. It's part story based, part general and people are pretty fun there! I might start posting invite links to that again, but you can ask me if you're interested!
 
Chapter 40 - The Times We Talk

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
This chapter actually has a bit of flashback content to it.


The assembled guild stood in quiet awkwardness. No one had gotten a perfect night of sleep as at some point in the night as the Mute Orb's effects faded and the distant sound of yelling had encroached into the sleeping quarters. It was still going on as well.

Now the guild was stood in line, waiting awkwardly for some direction to be given. No Wigglytuff, no Armaldo. Just yelling.

The yelling stopped suddenly, and a few pokémon breathed sighs of relief. The doors to the Guildmaster's Chambers slammed open, and Armaldo poked his head out.

His eyes were bloodshot, his feathers were nearly wilting, but he growled at them, nonetheless. "What are you all just standing around for? You know what jobs you need to do. MOVE IT!"

A near-deflated Wigglytuff could be seen through the gaps in Armaldo's stance, looking exhausted before Armaldo slammed the doors shut and went back to yelling.

The apprentices wisely chose to scatter.

Not being sure what else to do, Team Ion fell back on their standard code of action. The job boards.

"Is it okay for me to be just jumping back into this?" Scout asked as they looked over the regular job notice board.

"Do you feel like you're going to murder us?" Mane asked far too casually. Team Glee glanced over in concern.

"Mmm… no."

"Then let's find this hidden chamber," Rai said, selecting a mission to Mt Bristle. They'd be escorting Pawniard up through the dungeon, looking for a room locked with a keyhole.

The pokémon was all over them when they arrived to meet her.

"T-Team Ion is taking… me?" Pawniard said after Rai had introduced her. She started to hyperventilate, and Scout handed her an apple to calm her down.

It did not help.

"I will plant this apple and grow and ORCHID IN YOUR NAMES!"

An hour later, after Scout managed to find a bag for Pawniard to breathe into, they were off.

She was friendly, very friendly if a little chatty.

"I'm so happy for you that you got your partner back, why is he blue now?"

"I once cut down a tree on this road for Machoke. He thanked me, and I was so happy."

"Did you really fight Groudon?"

"I bet you absolutely whooped Dialga!"

"Can I get your pawprints! All my friends won't believe me unless I have them!"

"You three are so cute together. Aww."

Rai and Mane, who were somewhat accustomed to this by now, took it in polite stride. Scout, however, was increasingly flustered.

"Oh my god," he thought panicked. "Fangirls exist!"

Still, he couldn't be too annoyed. It felt good just to be talked to again, even if she was really just talking TO him.

"You know I tried to go to Mt Bristle by myself, but the machop here just wailed on me. Like wham bam no thank you, ma'am. Machoke is nice, but they are NOT!"

"I found this key four weeks ago when on a walk. It has these scriptures on it, see." She shook her key around a great deal when talking. "Mt. Bristle. Ledyba said it's My Bristle, but there's no dungeon called that!"

She was, fortunately, able to fend for herself. She shrieked VERY loudly when any machop appeared, but all other ferals were dealt with sanely.

"SAVE ME!" she cried when a machop got within ten meters of her. A shock from Rai sent it fleeing. "Thank you! You are so strong and brave and wonderful and-"

It took most of the day, but they found the door the key reacted too. "Okay," Pawniard breathed quietly for once. "Okay." She stepped forward and slotting the key through the ancient keyhole. Bumpy stone and orange rust were all the door showed.

She turned the key.

Something clicked. It almost sounded like a snap, and the key was drawn into the keyhole like a frog snapping up a juicy fly. They stepped back as the door rumbled and groaned before simply vanishing from sight.

Pawniard raced in and cheered. "TREASURE!" Her voice echoed greatly in the room, raising her already loud voice to a clangourous rave.

The room was fairly nondescript. But there was a ruby chest in the middle of the room. Pawniard made short work of the lock, slicing through it with her deadly hands, and pulling it open. "Oooh," she gasped, pulling out something made of cloth. "This feels great!"

Team Ion took a look at it as Pawniard passed it around. A cloth similar to the colour of the night sky, almost silvery in parts mimicking stars. It felt wonderful as Scout ran it through his paws. As soft as silk.

"This looks like a good one," he said, passing it back to Pawniard carefully.

"Thank you so much for bringing me here!" she said, beaming at the three. She carefully laid the cloth around her neck like a scarf or a shawl. "Okay! Let's get back to Treasure Town, and I can give you your reward, eee, I hope you like it!"

The night would begin to fall by the time they returned. But for the first job after Scout's revival, it was a good one.

In bed that night, all cuddled up together, the felines had a short conversation.

"Things were a bit quiet today," Scout said.

"Were they?" Mane asked. "Were they really?"

Scout gave a short laugh. "She did talk a lot. But I mean."

"I know what you mean," Mane replied. Rai shifted, pressing against them both. "I'm still thinking about everything you had to say."

"Do you want to talk?"

"Not yet."

Scout accepted that, so the three of them drifted off.

Armaldo did, eventually, stop yelling at Wigglytuff. He needed a day to recover his voice, but once he could actually make words again, he went to Azumarill to talk.

"I've got another one that needs your help," he coughed. He needed several days for his voice, but he did not believe in laying about.

That was Wigglytuff's job, apparently.

And with that, Scout was expected to meet with Azumarill after completing their work for the day. Jobs that took them more than a day away were disallowed for now.

"This is ridiculous, he's not dangerous," Mane snapped. "Scout isn't going to hurt anyone."

"What makes you think I'm sending him for your safety? He spent how long in some post-death state? He needs to talk to someone professional about it," Armaldo replied. In the battle of glares, the powerful former outlaw tended to win over the strong former almost-outlaw. And Mane backed down as soon as he realised Armaldo was just looking out for Scout.

And so that was that. Scout began to meet with Azumarill.

The first week of meetings went okay. But as he grew more comfortable, more things began to get unveiled.

"I'm just… so angry at myself," Scout said, eying the ground. "Everything I did. Everything I thought I knew. I'm an idiot who put everyone at risk, and I keep doing it! Why do I keep doing it?"

"It is often ourselves who know the answer," Azumarill replied gently. "But need a push to determine it."

"I just don't know what is so wrong with me in the past. How did I think anything I did was smart or... or…? I don't know!"

"What was his problem?" Azumarill asked.

"He wasn't good enough," Scout said, not thinking his words through at all. He blinked and recoiled slightly.

He blinked a few times, stunned at his own declaration.

"He wasn't good enough because of someone else's expectations," Azumarill said.

Scout shook his head. "No… I wasn't good enough because of my own expectations." He fell silent, just trying to mentally work through what he had just said.

They'd need to continue on this point later, Azumarill decided, as Scout had closed up again. She knew she'd get nothing more today.

Things continued to be relatively stable until Saniya came to talk to Scout again.

"May we go for a walk on the beach?" Saniya asked. In the beach had become a euphemism for traversing the Beach Cave dungeon to question Scout about things they couldn't really discuss elsewhere. "Just the two of us."

"Keep him safe," Rai asked, and Saniya nodded.

"Always do."

Saniya tested out some short distance teleportation to warp them right to the beach, they appeared above the water and Scout fell in, before entering the dungeon.

"I'm going to stink like salt tonight," Scout complained as they entered. "And I can't even go to the Hot Springs. It's too far and too late."

"I said, sorry." Saniya pouted. "Forgive me?"

"Yeah, alright."

"You're the best!" Saniya cheered and celebrated by blasting a shellos into the puddle it oozed out from.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" Scout asked as they walked. Saniya didn't seem keen on stopping, so he couldn't imagine this was a long conversation or else they would have stopped by now.

"You know how we're all forgetting stuff about the future? Even me even though I'm a super-awesome legend and even have time powers?"

"Indeed, I do."

Saniya frowned. "I remember more than my sweet Striker or Guardian or Sean, of course, but I still am losing stuff. For example, I don't really recall what was binding me when Guardian tried to possess Striker. I know it was something, probably a Ghost-type but…"

"A spiritomb," Scout replied, knowing the answer.

She gave him a brief surprised look before nodding happily. "Thanks. But that's the thing. I remember more, but I'm STILL losing recent stuff. Uh, mentally speaking."

Scout nodded, he was following but wasn't sure where Saniya was going with this and why they had to speak about it privately.

"I still remember Soothe," she said, wearing an expression of confusion and the furrowed brows of concern. "And it's been… uh… carry the one." She counted on some fingers. "Over 18 years since I last saw her. I still remember her name, her species, even her colour. Although that was pretty and shiny, like me!"

Scout nodded again. "Wigglytuff definitely still remembered her as well," he reminded. He had told everyone in the know by now what had gone down when he spoke to the leaders of the guild. "It'd be nearly as much for him since he's seen her."

"You'd think she'd be one of the first things I'd forget," Saniya said. "Maybe not. She was my first real friend. She was the first person I trusted enough to save the world. But… but even then… all logic dictates that I should at least have trouble remembering what she was or sounded like. Nope." She tapped her head. "It's all still here."

"You think she's still around, don't you?" he asked. Saniya nodded. "I think… you should talk to Wigglytuff about this. If Soothe still IS around, she could be dangerous."

Saniya nodded again. "Yeah, that's… what I was thinking. But it doesn't… it doesn't make any sense. You and me, Striker and Guardian. Even Primal Dialga. Everyone disappeared when the time changed. Everyone but Sean and that's easily explained. Hmm."

Scout wished he had answers for Saniya. He really did. The mystery twinged at his head as well. This audino, not a part of the story, but acting so far before it really began that he couldn't really claim that she couldn't be possible.

Mane wasn't in the 'story' after all, and he was around.

"Okay, that's all I wanted to talk about," Saniya said. She didn't look happy exactly, the prospect of Soothe being dangerous simply did not sit right with her.

As they continued through the dungeon, she found it impossible to simply keep in her head. "Do you mind if I… tell you about her?" Saniya asked, almost shyly. "I never really talked about Soothe before, even with you guys. I didn't want to make you feel like I was comparing or anything. And I'm totally not!"

"Go ahead," Scout said, smiling. "I'd like to hear about her."

Smiling gratefully, Saniya began. "Soothe was so weird. She was often grumpy but was really funny at the same time. She had the driest comments to make about stuff. Like the time-frozen water. She even taught me what a pun was! She said they were awful but would laugh when I said one, and we'd get into a 'punny war'."

Giggling at the memory, Saniya sighed. "And she loved knock-knock jokes! The worst ones you could imagine! Hahaha, you know when Bidoof first told me one I nearly cried."

After they returned to the guild, Saniya did go to Wigglytuff to inform him of her suspicions.

"I didn't say HE could be here," she said, glaring splinters at Armaldo.

"And he didn't say I couldn't be here," Armaldo replied. She stuck her tongue out at him but quickly shrugged it off.

"I'm going to cut to the chase," she began, giving Armaldo one more look as if it was his fault she wasn't going to ramble on about beans for thirty minutes. "I think Soothe is still around. By this point, the two of us should have forgotten her existence, it's been so long since we've both seen her. But I still remember, and you do too. Don't you?"

At dinner, Wigglytuff didn't attend, and Saniya chose to go to bed early. Leaving Armaldo to make an announcement to the guild.

"If any of you get any word or view, an audino with lavender fur, do not approach. Do not make any indication of noticing her. Leave as soon as you can and alert someone here. She is potentially highly dangerous but determining IF this is the right audino is essential."

"How many lavender audino's are there?" Bidoof asked.

"Likely not many but being careful is essential. Do you all understand? Do not engage. Do not go looking either, just keep an eye out. Say it back to me."

He got a vague return, and Armaldo made them repeat it again. This time it came out clearly. "Good. You may eat now."

There were a few known gluttons in the guild. Loudred, Paras surprisingly, Dugtrio. None could pack away food like Bidoof could, however.

Yet, tonight, he was only picking at his food, a concerned frown on his face.

"Uh, Armaldo, sir?" Bidoof asked, finding his appetite to be lost. Bidoof talking during a meal was unheard of, and a few pokémon couldn't help but pause to look at him.

Armaldo finished chewing a bite and swallowed, staring at the small, plump, pokémon. "Yes?"

"I, uh… by golly. This might just be me plum misremembering, but I reckon uh've seen a lavender audino before."

Everyone paused now.

"You?"

"WHAT?"

"Hey-hey?"

"Shut up," Armaldo snapped, shooting glares at anyone else talking. "Explain."

Bidoof was, surprisingly, one of the only people who never so much as twitched when Armaldo glared at him. He began confidently, "It was when I first was on my way here, yup-yup. To Treasure Town to join the guild. I reckon I was lost, or I thought I was by golly."

He was frowning in thought. "I met a real perty audino with that light purple fur on my way, and she pointed me in the direction of the town. I remember it, I reckon, because." He began to blush. "She was awful pretty and being purple instead of pink was noticeable."

"And what did she say exactly?"

"Nothin, to tell the truth," Bidoof replied, frowning slightly. "I just asked her the way, and she pointed. I was too nervous to try and talk more by golly. I just thanked her and scuttled off."

"Hmm, this was when you joined the guild, correct?"

"Yup-yup."

"A couple years ago then… well, it was worth bringing up. Thank you, Bidoof." Armaldo went back to his food, the discussion over. Bidoof found his own hunger coming back now that he had said his part and the guild returned to raucous eating.

Armaldo eyed Bidoof a few more times, but the brown mouse didn't seem to have any other revelations to share.

A single lavender audino one time didn't mean much. Differently coloured pokémon certainly existed, a pink celebi existed with them right now while your normal celebi was green.

But still. It was something.


Beach Cave wasn't the only place they could talk. Just the most convenient. No one had been having nightmares, so the occasional comment was slipped by Sean or Rai, but nothing too big.

While on work at nearby dungeons, Scout was allowed to go a little farther now but still not more than a day away, the three of them talked.

It was often Mane who asked the harder questions.

"You ever use what you know about people to manipulate them in some way?" he had asked seriously. "And I don't mean just to get an advantage but, say, befriend them?"

It was a serious question, one Scout wanted to immediately reject but one he forced himself to think about. "Sometimes I worried I did," he admitted, giving Rai a guilty look. "But the story never really went into many lives up to this point. The only ones I sort of know are Bidoof and Wigglytuff and even then only a part."

"Well, did you ever try to befriend someone because you thought they were important?"

"Yeah… I think that's fair to say I did."

Rai's questions weren't as confronting to be heard, but he had a unique way of asking them that made Scout think all the same.

"Did you know I was from Amp Plains before?"

"I didn't, no. All I really knew about you was that you had the Relic Fragment and wanted to join the guild. Also, that you were really brave, you just weren't confident about it. That wasn't as true as I thought though, you were pretty confident even from the start!"

"Can I ask… why didn't you trust me enough to tell me the truth?"

Scratch that. Rai was excellent at asking difficult questions. "I… I don't know. Any answer I thought I had feels so stupid now."

"Well you ARE pretty dumb," Mane said, half-joking. "You're lucky you're cute."

"Come now Mane, people may think you only love me for my looks."

Mane smirked and gave him the up and down look. "That's part of it."

Scout turned away, ears going pink. "A-anyway. The only reasons I had were all because I was afraid. I was afraid you wouldn't believe me. Both about Dusknoir a-and if I told you how I knew."

Rai opened his mouth to object, but hesitated. "I… can see why you'd be worried, I guess it would have been hard to understand it. It still is hard to understand. It just hurts that you didn't trust me."

Scout looked down. "I'm so sorry."

Rai gave him a light bump. "It's okay. I forgive you, you're telling us now. Better late than never and all that."

Mane offered a smile, he may have been mad but he wasn't angry. They continued on the job, shifting to talk about Team Sunrise and what they were up to.

As the dungeon got a little safer, Rai offered a little more criticism.

"Hey," Mane said, bumping Rai. "Lay off him."

"Huh?" Rai asked, falling onto his side from the sudden bump.

"Huh?" Scout asked, thrown by Mane coming to his defence now.

"I thought you were the one being critical?" Rai said, cocking his head the other way, the other ear twitching.

"Well, YEAH!" Mane scoffed. "But if you're going to be all nit-picky, I'll need to be the unreasonably forgiving one."

Rai gave him an odd look. "I'm not unreasonable."

"Mmm."

Scout chuckled before sobering. "I get that you're mad."

Mane's tail flicked out sharply before he shook his head. "Look I'm not MAD-mad. I just think you're a bit stupid, but that's how you've always been. I'll get over it."

"You shouldn't have to get over it," Scout replied.

"Mmm. I still think it's stupid I wasn't in this 'story' of yours." Mane pouted. "That's just not fair."

Scout frowned at the reminder before he smirked. "Well, I like it a lot better with you in it," he said with an almost smug smile. Then, to Rai and especially Mane's shock, he leaned over and gave Mane a peck on the nose.

Mane spluttered at him, going violently red. "What was that for?" he demanded, fur popping with sparks..

"Because you're cute," Scout replied, grinning.

"ME?" Mane squawked. Rai looked like christmas had come early.

"Rai's cute as well," Scout said and gave him a kiss on the forehead, causing the shinx to nearly combust. "Both are so cute."

Rai growled without any heat to it, but he didn't know who to tackle at the moment.

Mane laughed, and the others soon followed. "Nah," Mane said, shaking his head. "If you've ever seen your reflection, you'd know YOU'RE the cute one of the team. I'm the handsome one and Rai… well, he's the fluffy one."

"Cute and cute," Scout said. He received a double tackle from Rai and Mane.

Mane pinned him and Scout booped his nose with a paw, causing him to growl.

"You look good under me," Mane growled, and Scout became aware of their position.

"I, uh."

"Off!" Rai said and tackled Mane off Scout, the two rolling and scrabbling for a moment before Rai had Mane pinned. "I'm the top cat," he said proudly.

"Yeah, yeah," Mane said, dismissively but he was getting flustered. "Now off."

"Nah."

"Oi! Off!"

"Nah. I'm going to take a nap." Rai then curled up on Mane and closed his eyes, smiling at the offending noises Mane was making.

"I am NOT your personal bed."

"You're warm and comfy," Rai hummed, nuzzling Mane for a moment.

"Well, YEAH, I AM the best. But still, OFF!" Mane's voice rose to a squeak several times as he spoke, with Rai still not getting off him.

"I'll make you get off," he warned.

"If you were serious, you'd have done that already," Rai replied. Mane closed his mouth, he had him there.

Scout smiled as he watched the display. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd seen something like that between the two. Mane caught him and said. "Stop your smirking," he demanded.

"And come over," Rai added.

"Oi!"

"Like you don't want that," Rai whispered.

Scout chuckled awkwardly. "I'm… I'm good."

"He'll make you," Mane said, giving in.

"He's right," Rai replied lazily.

Scout stood up. "Like you could catch me," he said and ran off. There wasn't much space to run in the dungeon ending, as soon as they left they'd end up at the start of the dungeon.

Rai leapt off Mane, knocking the wind of out the litleo, to give chase. Scout WAS quite fast and more agile than Rai, especially when he dropped to all fours.

But Rai could use Quick Attack.

Scout dodged him once, twice, thrice.

Then Mane got him.

Mane was the heaviest of the three and completely took Scout out. Rai crashed into the pile of cats and laughed.

"Your prey, my fair leader," Mane said, putting on an approximation of Scout's manner of speaking.

"Thank you, good sir," Rai replied, doing the same.

"You two are BOTH heavier than me," Scout complained from somewhere below, muffled by fur. "This isn't fair."

"Chimes has got you on her special diet," Mane retorted, poking Scout in the ribs. "Those shouldn't be showing."

"She's just trying to fatten me up to eat me," Scout whined.

"Because she's evil?" Rai giggled.

"Exactly. Someone's on my side for once."

Mane snorted and gave Scout some room to breathe, without actually letting him out. Scout took overdramatic gulps of air, and then nearly choked when Mane gave him a lick on the cheek.

"I don't need you to get hairballs as well," Scout said on default, voice going high and squeaky.

Rai glared at him then grinned and licked the other cheek.

"Stoooop," Scout pleaded, covering his face with his paws.

"He's so embarrassed," Mane laughed and leaned in close. "I wonder why. We're all friends here."

"The best of friends," Rai said, laying across Mane and giving a matching smirk down at Scout.

"Y-Yeah?"

"Cause that's ALL there is."

Scout shifted in embarrassment. "I… I thought… you two… were…"

Rai cocked his head just slightly. "Were what?"

Scout was very red. "You know I was… always there the past months?"

Rai blinked innocently and Mane went. "Ooooh. See something interesting did you."

"Mane, please get off me." Seeing Scout was flowing into discomfort, Mane did do as asked and released him, knocking Rai off in the process.

The two sat down on their haunches, watching Scout as he brushed himself off, not meeting their eyes.

"It's kinda funny," Rai was the one to start speaking. "We talked a lot about how we would like to talk to you about… it all, but I guess you saw it all already?"

"I… it's hard to really remember clearly," Scout admitted, picking at his fur at imaginary dirt. "Dunno if it's because of some physical limitation or I just don't want to remember what it was like. But… I do remember a lot of that stuff."

"Does it bother you?" Rai asked, Mane remained silent. "Can you look at us?"

Scout rose his head, flicking his eyes up and held for a moment before glancing down again.

"...do you both?"

Rai nodded. Mane's tail flicked. They shared a look.

"I felt… I did feel stuff I didn't really want to think about," Scout admitted. "Even… even though I know I'm a pokemon, my mind is… I still think of myself as human and who knows what really is going on with that. Where I came from… humans don't… they don't be with things that aren't human."

"You're not human now though," Rai pointed out.

"I know." Scout swallowed, looked up again. Rai was gentle, Mane was unreadable. "Don't the two of you… I mean… just each other?"

Mane slowly let out a long breath. "I think I know what you're saying there. Two-person couples are the norm, sure, but it's not… uncommon for more than that, especially with feline pokemon." His and Rai's tails had entwined, a single show of their anxiety as this conversation began.

"I guess."

Rai gave a slight smile. "You know, I imagined a lot of stuff over the last couple of months. Things I'd like to say, big gestures and all that. I can't seem to remember them now."

Mane nudged him. "What about that Fogbound Lake idea?"

Rai's ears flicked up. "Oh! Oh yeah!"

"The what?"

Then, Rai began to blush really, really, hard. "O-O-Oh, u-u-uhh. W-Well, I actually. When we. The-that, you know? Time. Um."

"Come on, Rai!" Mane cheered him on. "You know what you wanted to say that day."

"It's not that easy!" Rai retorted.

"Wait… what, Striker interrupted us at the lake," Scout said, remembering.

Rai's blush deepened but he also scowled. "He sure did," he muttered.

Scout was blushing as well too. "Back then?"

"Y-Yeah."

"Oh."

Scout glanced between the two of them. He was surrounded again, how did this happen?

Rai breathed out a hard sigh. "Alright. I can do it. Scout, I had a really big crush on you for months. I wanted to tell you that at Fogbound Lake but… I lost my chance. I realised I felt a lot more when I lost both of you to the portal to the future. It was way more than a crush. You made me feel brave, like I could do anything, that I could have a friend, a partner, and someone I could help as they helped me."

Scout looked almost ready to faint from it all.

"I wish you had felt safe enough with me to tell me all… all that stuff, but I guess I can't really be mad at you because I couldn't quite find the right moment after Fogbound Lake to talk about all this either. But now that you have told me? I'm glad. I'm happy. It doesn't change anything, I just know you a little better and that means you should know me a little better. I… I wasn't. I realised I wasn't completely sure until you got stuck in the Dark Future."

He looked to Mane. "And when you tried to apologise for not being Scout." Scout gasped slightly, turning to Mane as well who glanced away. "I think that's where it started for me too." Back to Scout. "When you were gone and I thought I might never see you again? Realise I might never be able to tell you that I… love you. That's when I really knew it. I love you, Scout."

He did fall over when Mane gave him a gentle brush. "Funny thing is, so do I." Scout caught himself on the ground and looked up at Mane, trying to hold a tough and cool expression even as a blush crawled over his face too.

"We didn't have the same bond as you and Rai, or heck even Rai and I. I was jealous of you, jealous you got to be with him while I was hated. I saw what you did for him though and I was even more jealous but I tried to be happy especially after I joined the team. When we were going through the Dark Future I realised why. I think we bonded pretty good there."

He flashed an almost-dorky smile then back to cool. "I've definitely been… into you but also when we lost you… it took me a while to really, really, realise how much we really did lose. Rai and I got together and I guess saw why but it became more." He swallowed. "I didn't really realise how much you meant to me until just the other day. When you told us all everything. I know I've been distant, I've been mad at you, but it also made me realise that… it doesn't matter that I'm mad at you."

He sighed. "I get why you did it and I know I'll get over it. Realising that, that it really doesn't change the way I feel. Heh, I guess you could call that love."

Rai put a paw on Mane's own and they smiled at each other before facing him.

"You don't need to say anything," Rai assured him. "...it's gotta be a lot to take in. We're friends first, even Mane and I. It won't change anything."

Scout was trembling just a little bit. Part of him had known all of this, the rest of him was just not prepared for how it made him feel.

"I… I-I do," he managed weakly. "I think I need… time. To… understand it all. Understand myself. I know… that I do." He looked to Mane specifically. "Both of you. You mean more to me than anything. I couldn't have lasted trapped like that if it wasn't for both of you. I just…"

He couldn't find the words exactly. He had to get used to the idea? That didn't seem like it meant anything. He had to get over himself? That just sounded wrong.

Mane nodded. "You need time. That's okay. I needed time."

"Heh, you sure did." Rai licked Mane's cheek and the litleo blushed.

"We can keep the lovey-dovey stuff on the down low for a bit," Mane suggested, no matter how hard that would be for him.

Scout chuckled at him. "Nah, don't. I think… you've already been doing that, I think I just need to get used to the idea. Can't do that if you're running on eggshells."

"Ooh?"

"Yeah. But, you know, try and hold yourself in check a little, don't want to scare me."

"We wouldn't want that," Rai agreed.

Mane nodded. "Allllright, we'll be cute and handsome and sexy, but only a little."

Only a little.


Some time ago.

Sean soaked his feet in the hot springs, sitting on a warm stone ringing the heated pond. He sat alone although the springs had several pokemon floating about.

It was the teams day off and Sean politely excused himself from Rai and Mane's company. He got the feeling they'd enjoy having some time to themselves.

With nothing really to do, he decided to wander out to relax here. Torkoal sometimes told stories he had heard and thought that might be interesting to listen to.

The old town leader was resting on the largest stone overheading the hot springs, a contented smile on his face as he watched and listened to young pokemon enjoying the water.

Sean felt a little shy. He was common enough around the town now that no one stared but he still felt somewhat of an outsider. Rai always put himself forwards to draw eyes off Mane and Sean, he was a good friend the shinx was.

He edged his way along the rim, getting closer to Torkoal. He wanted to talk but had nothing to say, leaving him feeling flat-footed.

He missed Striker. He missed everyone. He didn't feel as confident as he used to, despite the task in front of them he never gave up hope.

Now, now he just felt lost.

"You look troubled." Sean startled as Torkoal spoke, the elderly pokemon still had strength to his voice. "What brings you here today, Riolu?"

Sean glanced down, he hadn't noted how close he'd gotten nor realised how obvious it was on his face. "Um, nothing really."

"I do not see Shinx or Litleo around?"

"They're doing their own thing," Sean answered, rubbing an arm. "Figured I'd just… relax out here."

"Aye, fair enough, the springs are a good place to wash off the troubles of yesterday."

Sean smiled at the warmth in Torkoal's voice and sat a little more comfortably.

"...so, you must have travelled the future time quite extensively?" Torkoal began.

Surprised, Sean replied, "Oh! Well, yes, the world was pretty… different to what it is here though." A flash of a memory, a frozen Treasure Town went through his mind. The memory was blurry, the features vague, but he could still remember it.

"I suppose there would be. I have lived a long time and witnessed how the world has changed just in my time." He smiled, reflecting on pleasant memories. "Did you ever encounter the Circh dungeon, Riolu?"

"Circh?" He thought for a moment. "Haven't heard of it. A lot of places were named differently though."

"Ahh, yes. Well, Circh is something of an enigma in our time," he said. Sean thought of Guardian, how he researched as much as he could. He wondered if Guardian would have liked to share stories with Torkoal?

"How come?"

"Well, it is a strange place to be sure," Torkoal explained. "You are familiar with the difficulties of dungeon exploration. Feral pokemon as the most consistent danger. And yet, within Circh's walls there exists not a pokemon to be seen. It is empty. Entirely empty."

Sean blinked a few times, that didn't compute for a moment. An empty dungeon? "That sounds… kinda creepy."

Torkoal gave a raspy laugh. "Haah. Yes, quite apt way to describe it. Not only is it empty of pokemon but also of tangible treasures. Theories state that dungeons are alive and seek to draw people inside with treasures, if true it certainly works." Sean felt a wave of goosebumps. "And yet Circh has none of this."

He turned his head, looking away from the springs into the woods. "What it does have is a ruin. Pieces of pottery, lumber and brick make up the dirt walls. Eventually, if you are to persist through the unsettling place, you will find a dungeon zone that is expansive and wide. There is a ruined village with nothing in it. No one knows where it came from, but there are theories of course."

"The wildest legends state," Torkoal continued, "that there is an entity within the dungeon. Bipedal, strange, pale as a wraith. It is no pokemon that any have seen. These legends have inspired great curiosity and yet none have ever verified such a thing. It is only… there is a feeling to the place, I have gone just once many years ago. It feels… like something bad has happened."

Sean was fascinated, enraptured by the story. "Where is Circh?"

"It is a fair hike from town," Torkoal said. "But if one knows what dungeons to take, and is strong enough to pass through, the journey can be done in about half a day's walk for able bodied pokemon."

"What dungeons?"

Torkoal smiled at him. "Ah, my memory is somewhat short these days. I believe the Arrowroot Dungeon is one of them, but you may need to ask around to find the best path. If you do go, good luck. The dungeon has never been stated to be dangerous, just… unsettling and I do not believe a former human has ever walked within it."

The look in Torkoal's eye told him that he thought the same of the dungeon and Sean nodded. "Thank you, Torkoal! Elder Torkoal."

Torkoal chuckled at him. "Not a worry, Riolu."

Sean's feet dried on the run back to town.

It would be a time before he'd get the chance to feed his curiosity. Part of him wanted to experience it on his own, and so he didn't tell Rai and Mane what he'd learned and rather the three of them just enjoyed everyone being in a good mood for the first time in forever.

Sean did ask around. From Marowak he learned of Track Ridge and from Spinda that Mini Hill and Deep Forest were the last remaining spots he had to slip through. He built himself a strategy and armed himself with Striker's favourite things.

Orbs.

There were tricks to dungeon travels. One of the sneakiest tricks that he'd learned at the guild that even Striker hadn't known was that at a certain threshold in pathway dungeons, using an Escape Orb would skip the rest of the dungeon and place you on the side you were heading rather than back where you began.

It was hard to effectively judge that, Wigglytuff gave him some shakily-worded tips for how to mentally measure his way and then he was off.

He found a day to set aside and told Rai and Mane he was going to go to Circh.

"Really? Nothing's really there," Mane said.

"You've been there?"

"Once. Creepy place. You do you, though."

"You want to go alone?" Rai asked. Sean gave a nod. He returned it. "No worries, stay safe."

Circh looked different from the very beginning.

Most dungeon entrances appeared like a mirage, a ripple of gas in the air. Easy to miss, but once seen impossible to lose. The gate that entered into Circh was an old archway that sunk into darkness that seemed to stretch on forever without a hint of light.

And it was so silent. He noticed that next.

Regular dungeons held the drift of wind through corridors and the distant scuttling and shrieks of feral pokemon. There was nothing in Circh. Nothing but the sounds of his feet echoing through the corridors.

The walls were what Torkoal had said of them. Mostly plain dirt packed into the shape of the labyrinth, poking in sections were shards of what looked like pottery and the occasional chunk of petrified wood and more-formed lump of brick.

He could hear his breath in his ears. The tassels that hung around his head quivered. Sean always did his best to control that bizarre sixth sense, it hurt his head to feel something his mind had never been prepared to feel.

Yet, even holding that aura at bay he could still feel that something was wrong. Like a sighing breath as a heart slowly stopped, this place was as silent as a grave.

He kept walking.

Sean wasn't sure how long he walked for, tensed and ready for something to jump out at him. It felt like hours, it might have been hours, but nothing happened and eventually he stepped out into a vast area.

The walls of the dungeon melted away into reality again, reality that hung on inside the dungeon realm. Packed corridors became wide-open spaces and for a moment one could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a whole new world entirely.

Only the sky, red and roiling remained as a reminder that he was indeed still within a dungeon. He remembered what Torkoal said about dungeons possibly being alive but wondered if this dungeon was different to the others?

Said to be no treasure or feral to guard them. Was this the only place that tried to keep people away rather than draw them in?

If so, why?

He stepped forwards. A dirt trail, packed down under the weight of many feet over many years, led his way towards what was a town.

Seeing the town for himself made his chest hurt.

Low-roofed houses, built of brick, waterwheels and little fences with gardens of dust. His step stuttered a moment, his mouth was dry.

Sean was human in all but body. As a human he had gone to school. He had learned about history. He recognised this.

Not personally, no, it was nowhere that he had been. He recognised the mark of human hands all the same, however.

Saniya had once said that humans existed in their world a long, long, long time ago but she didn't know what happened to them.

Sean picked up something old and undeterminable. Whatever it was, someone had made it once. Someone human. He examined it for any idea, but it seemed like just a lump of something old and forgotten. He tossed it to the side, it tapped off a brick fence and fell inert in the grass.

He began to explore. He pushed open doors and took a look through houses. He found old chairs, beds that disintegrated to the touch, kitchens with fossilised wood once used to burn to cook food.

Chimneys and fireplaces, washrooms and places where clothes had been kept. No toilets, whatever this place was, it was older than toilets.

Wildflowers grew all over the place. Poking stubbornly through packed dirt and broken things. Strangely, the sight of the flowers slowly made the complex feelings he had begin to recede to calmness.

"There really is nothing here," he said to himself, looking left and right. It seemed to be a chunk of an old village, he couldn't tell how much of a village there was here nor if it'd be the same if he came back. Dungeons were strange after all.

"There is me."

He reacted immediately to the voice. Having just relaxed and lowered his guard, hearing something speak pulled a squeal out of him and he jumped, doing a roll, and spun around on whatever it was that snuck up on him, fists raised.

His defensive posture broke immediately when he saw what it was.

His mouth fell slack and his arms dropped, unable to believe what he was seeing. Sean blinked once, twice, three times.

The human in front of him offered a smile that was tinged with something sad. "I am sorry for startling you," she said.

She adorned herself with a smart, navy-blue, dress top that melded into a white dress of sorts that flowed around her waist. Her legs were further covered with stockings and she wore gloves along with a broach with a sapphire inside it. Her hair was a golden blond and tied into a ponytail behind her.

He just stared, not understanding how he was seeing what he was seeing.

"You'll catch flies with a mouth so open," she said politely.

Sean's brain rebooted, he blinked a couple dozen more times and yet the human in front of him didn't disappear. He went into detective mode and immediately said, "Are you a zoroark?"

She blinked back at him, a slight frown reaching her face. "Goodness no."

"A ditto?"

"A what?"

Sean gestured. "How…? How?"

She offered him a politely confused expression. "I am not sure what you are asking me, Riolu." She offered a gloved hand. "Perhaps we should begin with introductions. I am Violet."

Violet. Violet. Violet could be a pokemon name!

"Uh… I'm Sean?"

"You don't sound sure."

"No, that's Scout," he said on reflex, then his chest hurt again and his expression fell.

She seemed to see it all and her eyes softened significantly. "Are you… are you alright, Riolu?"

She spoke with such empathy in her voice he was nearly overwhelmed. He realised his aura senses were getting loose and realised he might be starting to hit them both. He forcefully quelled them, grabbing his tassels to lower them but it hurt and he grunted.

"Riolu, are you hurting yourself?" she asked, sounding alarmed.

"It's… fine," he grunted out, upper chest feeling tight before it finally gave in and he relaxed with a sigh.

Her eyes explored him for a moment, worry lighting the clear blue before she closed them with a nod. "Where did you come from?" she asked.

He felt like he should be the one asking that question, but he answered anyway, "Treasure Town?"

"You don't sound sure," she repeated, although a ghost of a smile flickered across her face at the tease.

"No. No. I am. I'm just… I wasn't expecting… well I guess I kinda was expecting but actually seeing is different from a vague believing, do you get me?"

"Not in the least."

"Sorry," he said, taking a breath to try and reorganise his thoughts. "I'm Sean. I am Sean. I'm from Treasure Town… sort of, it's where I'm from now. And, uh, I wasn't expecting to find a human here."

She smiled at him. "It is lovely to meet you, Sean. Violet." She looked to extend her hand to him politely but then just held her own hand, playing with her fingers a moment. "It's been some time since I've had another visitor here, forgive me if the place is a little…."

She looked around, embarrassment on her face. "Run down."

He winced as he looked around as well. "You live here?" he asked, trying to sound as polite as he could.

"Well." She shrugged. She gave him a meaningful look. He looked confused and her expression melted into another smile. "I must say it is nice to speak to someone who didn't immediately run away screaming. Or attack me. You looked very surprised to see me, more than others. May I ask why?"

"Oh, uh, well this'll sound pretty crazy but I am human too! Or, well, I used to be. Something about time travel turned me into a pokemon."

"Goodness, really?"

"Really. Oh, I guess that's why you can understand me, right? I'm still speaking human?"

Violet gave him a loopy smile. "It's difficult to tell, I was able to understand the language of pokemon nonetheless so I may not be the best way to test that."

"You believe me?"

"I see no reason why you would lie," she replied. "But if so, I prefer the company more than anything. It has been a lonely time here."

He swallowed, the more he looked at her the more tumultuous his stomach became.

"...how long have you been here?" he asked carefully.

"I don't know," she replied.

"Are you…?" he wasn't sure if he should ask, what if this was dangerous?

"A ghost?" she asked lightly. His ears flicked up in surprise. "I believe so. That would explain a lot of things. It's hard to remember." She tested her lips and spoke something Sean didn't understand.

"...what was that?"

"Just a prayer," she murmured. "Hm. What did you say your name was? I am sorry, I have already forgotten it."

"Oh, it's Sean."

"Violet, a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"You as well."

They lapsed into a beat of silence. Violet wasn't looking at him, instead staring blankly at a row of bricks.

"...uh, Violet?"

She blinked. "Oh! Hello you a… oh, sorry Sean. Yes. I am being a terrible host, I don't even have tea." She stood up sharply. "I shall make some."

She began to walk so he quickly followed. He noted her feet did make sound on the ground, a slight crunch on dirt and grass was brushed by her dress.

He felt quite small behind her though. It had been years since he'd seen another human he'd almost forgotten what they looked like. Tall, lanky compared to many pokemon, with long arms and legs with a big head. He wondered how tall he would be if he wasn't a riolu.

Then wondered how tall he'd be as a lucario, like his… well, that wasn't something to think about right now.

She walked him to one of the destroyed huts and struggled to open the door. She managed it before he could offer help and ducked inside.

He loitered outside, unsure if he wanted to follow an apparent ghost into a building but then her smiling face returned with a pile of rubble on a plate.

"This is," she began proudly. "...this isn't," she said, frowning at the plate. She set it down with a sigh sounding a mite frustrated and rubbed her face. "Goodness, I am terrible sorry, Arrvast."

"Uh… pardon?"

"I called you the wrong name didn't I?" Violet asked. He gave an apologetic nod.

She appeared very sad for a moment. "Well, I must stop leading you in circles. Perhaps we should just forget the tea. Tell me about yourself? What is it like being a pokemon?"

That was a question no one had ever really asked him. Striker kinda had but didn't have the context of not being a pokemon.

Thus, with a simple question it suddenly spilled out of Sean. "It's so cool and weird! I always imagined being a pokemon as a kid, I used to draw and make up cool things that I liked to pretend to be, my favourite was even a lucario I called Orion after Cynthia's lucario! But no one ever told me about how weird it was to have these aura senses, they give me a headache and I can't control them when they're active so I'm always getting a headache trying to keep them in check and my gosh I just vented at you."

She looked surprised during the sudden rant before giggling when he apologised at the end. "Oh my," she said, a teasing bent to her voice. "I must admit, I wasn't expecting that."

"I sound like Saniya now," Sean said, blushing.

"Who?"

"Oh. She's a friend… I guess was a friend."

Violet's amusement faded into compassion and she said. "Would you mind telling me about her?"

He wasn't sure for a moment, but then remembered what Rai had to say on so many occasions. To never let the heroes who gave up everything be forgotten. He held onto their memory every day, as long as someone remembered they weren't entirely gone.

"Saniya was a celebi, a legendary pokemon that sent my friends and I through time to change the future and save the past. Even though she lived in the worst place possible, she never, ever, gave up her smile. She was bright when everything else wasn't and I know she would have loved the sunrises she brought back to the world."

Sean would go on to talk with Violet for hours, telling her all about his friends and family. From brave Striker to cheerful Saniya. He talked about Scout's heartfelt perseverance and everything Guardian had done because he loved him so much. He talked about the strength that Rai held every day to preserve their memory and the summits Mane had climbed to be better than what people had tried to say he was.

Violet listened, asked questions, and just let him vent emotions that he had trouble talking about with anyone. Even Azumarill hadn't heard as much of the things he told Violet that day.

He wasn't sure what it was exactly that caused him to bare it all to her. Maybe it was just the surprise of seeing her. Maybe it was the softness in her eyes. Maybe he just had to talk to someone and Violet was the lucky girl that day.

Afterwards he felt a little less heavy.

"I think I have to go," Sean said, looking up at the sky. It didn't change at all, but he'd been talking for hours and his throat was sore. "I only get one day off."

"Ah." She seemed sad for a moment but smiled swiftly. "Well, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you, Sean, and to hear so much of the world outside this little place. I am… I am very glad people still continue to live." The words were heavy for reasons he didn't have time to learn. "If you ever feel the need, do come back. It was a lovely day, despite the lack of tea."

Sean smiled. "It was. Maybe I'll try and bring some next time!"

She smiled back at him. "I won't keep you any longer Sean."

"And I'll try not to keep you waiting." He said. He considered a moment and then offered his paw out. She looked at it for a moment, his paw wavered.

"I'm not sure if I should," she said softly. He lowered his paw. "My apologies, such rudeness is unbecoming."

"No! No, it's fine. I guess it's better not to… risk something?" He wasn't sure why he couldn't touch her. He wasn't familiar with the notion of actual ghosts that weren't at least pokemon as well.

She gave him a grateful smile and walked him to the end of the dungeon.

"You're not able to leave?" he asked. She shook her head. "I understand. I'll be back."

"Take care," she said and then he was off.

He decided he would bring Rai and Mane next time.


Some time ago.

"Knock-knock." Timber said, smiling happily at the old door he knew each line by heart.

"Who's there?" Returned the lovely voice he held so dearly.

"Chew." Timber grinned, he'd been working on this one.

"Chew who?"

"Chew through that tree, and you get Timber!"

Bell giggled in return. There was no pause this time, he grinned proudly.

"What do I owe the pleasure today, Timber?" Bell asked, amusement in her voice still.

"I, uh, wanted to just come talk," Timber replied, scuffing the ground briefly. "I like talking to you, yup-yup." He blushed and was glad she couldn't see it. It was easy to talk to a door. He didn't have to worry about what he looked like or what he was doing.

"You're very sweet. I like talking to you too." Timber beamed at that. "What would you like to talk about?"

Timber immediately fell into some excited chatter about the recent town gossip. Sunflora shared her juiciest bits with him more often nowadays, and it gave him great material to share with Bell since he knew she didn't exactly go out often.

He'd known her since almost his entire time in Treasure Town, and not once had he ever seen her around. Of course, he didn't know what she was, so that hampered it slightly.

She knew what he was, however, and hoped that if she did see him in town, she'd come to talk to him.

But he doubted she left her house anyway. He wondered what it was that kept her locked in there, too shy to leave. But he was too polite to ask.

"Oh, that reminds me," Timber said. They had been discussing recent events in the guild, and he was reminded of the other night. "The guild's been put on watch for someone!"

"Oh?" Bell asked, voice dripping with interest. She always loved to hear about the guild's actions.

"Yup-yup. Armaldo was all stern about it, you know how he is. They want us to keep an eye out for a lavender audino, but not to approach or nothin. The one they are looking for could be dangerous, they say, but haven't really told us much more."

"A lavender audino?" Bell asked, curious. "I've only heard of pink ones."

"I've actually met one!" Timber said, proudly. "She, I think it was a she as she looked pretty, pointed me the way to Treasure Town! So, there's probably a couple around, I reckon."

"Possibly. Hey, Timber, knock-knock?"

Timber beamed. "Who's there?"

"Atch."

"Atch who?"

"Bless you." Bell giggled.

It took him a moment, it often did with hers, but he got it and laughed. "How are you so clever?" he asked.

"Oh… you know," Bell replied, all coy. "I have a lot of time to think them up."

Timber understood and shifted the topic to the recent dungeon he had managed to clear with Paras, Flaaffy, and Marill. The four of them made a surprisingly good team.

Eventually, however, he had to say his goodbyes. "Before you go?" Bell asked, slipping some paper under the door. "Would you be able to get me these things, soon?"

"Of course!" Timber replied, taking the paper up and stashing it safely in his saddlebags. "Anything for you, Bell."

"You are too good to me, Timber," Bell sighed, but there was a smile to it. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight Bell."

Timber walked off, feeling light and happy as he always did after a good talk with Bell.

On the other side of the door, the lavender audino stood up from where she laid against the hardwood and stretched, popping her back.

"The Wigglytuff Guild is looking for me now, are they?" Soothe wondered, walking to her desk and beginning to comb through some of the many papers she had stored on and within it.

She found what she was looking for, near the bottom, yellowing with age and faded, but the sketch was still clear enough.

Her own copy of the map to Star Cave. She couldn't simply lay the other one out for Bidoof to find without copying it for herself.

She had never gone herself, but perhaps it was something she should consider.

"Interesting."


Oh, hey Soothe.

This chapter actually has received the most alternate work put into it from the original. In the original we didn't see what Rai and Mane had to say to Scout, I cut the scene off after they tackled him. And also, Sean's first meeting with Violet was vastly different.

But that's because in the original story he does disappear with the rest. This time around he didn't, so I figured he'd find her earlier.

This was a lot of fun.

AO3 version has two pictures in this chapter.
 
Chapter 41 - Stars Align

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
One month had passed, and then another. Team Sunrise, having NOT run off and ended the world, were given a tiny bit more freedom, while Team Ion continued going strong.

Scout was having night terrors, but no one else was, so it was decided that was probably not Darkrai. Being buried beneath Rai and Mane basically every night helped stave them off until it was only every so often he'd begin trembling in his sleep.

His sessions with Azumarill were going well. She was pleased with a lot of progress her new patients were making. Striker still was unhealthily attached to orbs, but that was more of a quirk than a genuine problem.

Eventually, Wigglytuff badgered Armaldo enough that the pair of them called Team Ion into Wigglytuff's meeting room.

Wigglytuff was seated on his far-too-large throne bouncing happily in place while Armaldo skulked around the side like a treasonous adviser.

"We have called you in for an important question," Armaldo began, ominously.

"You are to be offered the Graduation Test!" Wigglytuff said, ruining several hours of dramatic planning.

Armaldo gave him a Look.

"Sorry," he said, not very sorry at all. "I'm just too excited to hear their answer!"

Shaking his head, Armaldo nodded to the surprised trio. "Yes. Team Ion have proved themselves as exemplary apprentices of the Wigglytuff Guild, and it has been decided to offer you the option to attempt the Graduation Test. You can accept or refuse. If you accept, we will discuss further, if you refuse the offer will be retracted for now but will be offered again."

"U-Us?" Rai asked, wrapping his head around the idea. "We are some of the most recent entries! I thought Sunflora, or-or… Corphish would have been offered this first."

"Who says they haven't?" Armaldo asked.

"Several pokémon have been offered the chance," Wigglytuff explained. "Team Celestial are still out completing theirs. Otherwise, Sunflora, Loudred, Corphish, and Croagunk hae been offered. Croagunk made it clear he is not interested in graduating, whereas the former three want to graduate together alongside Bidoof."

Scout had heard of Team Celestial vaguely from Rai and Mane, a grovyle and braixen team. He chalked it up to one of those weird little changes he didn't understand, but they had Flaaffy, Paras, and Marill now too so he hardly paid it any mind.

"A plan that may not work out," Armaldo muttered. "Which I think they are beginning to understand."

"Bidoof seems smitten with the newest arrivals," Wigglytuff said, sensing how Armaldo's words could be taken. "He may not wish to join a team with Sunflora, Loudred, and Corphish anymore. They have been offered, recently, but are considering the question for now. But it was decided that you deserve the chance as well!"

Team Ion shared glances. Scout had told them this was a possibility already, and they had discussed the merits of graduating or not.

This was going to take another conversation, however,

"Can we talk as a team?” Rai asked as the leader of Team Ion. He stood confidently, and both Scout and Mane stood a bit straighter as well.

“Of course,” Wigglytuff answered and they were excused.

"Yes," Armaldo said, smirking. "And if you think you know what to expect, I am confident you may be surprised." He eyed Scout knowingly, and the meowth swallowed.

"So," Mane said as they arrived back in their room. "How much do you want to bet this isn't going to be just fighting the guild?"

"Based on the look he gave me," Scout said, "no bet."

"We'll be fine!" Rai insisted and tackled Scout into Mane. "Now, we've got to talk! Are we ready for this?"

“You ask with Mane squashing me?” Scout grumbled. Mane intentionally squished him more until he complained about it.

“Do we still have to pay the 90% if we’re out on our own?” Mane asked.

“Nah,” Rai answered. “The cost just decreases to 40%.”

“Hmm, do I be mad about that or happy about that?”

“It’s more than double what we’re making now,” Scout pointed out.

“We wouldn’t be living here anymore!”

“Licence and blah,” Rai laughed. “It’s not a problem Mane, we’ll be able to afford more pamperings for you, just think of it that way!”

“So, you want to try it?” Mane asked, eyeing Rai pointedly.

Rai swallowed but he’d come a very long way from where he had started. He nodded. “Yeah. If we were a normal team, maybe not but we saved the world! I think that means we know what we’re doing.”

“Pretty sure it was you two,” Mane said, gesturing with his tail. There was a scar on his neck and he couldn’t turn his head all the way without it twinging at him.

Rai almost deflated but Scout said, “To be specific, it was Rai. He was the one who walked through time stop.”

“Oh yeah.” Mane turned to Rai with a grin and Rai blushed. “He always downplays that, y’know?”

“I know. Never wanted to smack him so much than when I saw that.”

“H-hey, I was focusing the story on everyone who… gave up everything.”

For a moment, Scout’s smile turned to something a little sad then a lot sad.

Mane saw it and offered Rai another pointed look and Rai’s ears tilted. “Sorry to bring that up.”

“What? No, no don’t worry about it. I’m… dealing.”

Looking unsure, Rai didn’t approach but Mane was bolder and saw nothing stopping him from leaning against Scout. Mane was very warm, Scout knew, but Mane’s touches recently were a little of something else. Maybe it was in his head, or maybe he was just letting himself see it now.

Scout sighed and gave him a hug. “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t want to bring the mood down. Graduation Exam! I think we can do it. Not only is Rai a world-saving badass, but I’m not too bad either. Remember when we started, Rai?”

Rai brightened, gaining an amused smile. “Scared of shellos.”

“Not even I was scared of shellos!” Mane said teasingly, but he still leaned against Scout. “Heh. I remember too, Rai carried your fight against me.”

“I basically finished you off!”

“Yeah, the very last hit with an item.”

“Well, I’m cool now.”

“You are cool,” Mane agreed.

“Very cool,” Rai also agreed.

“Kinda cute.”

“Sorta handsome.”

“I love the funny tilt to your voice.”

“Couldn’t imagine a life without you.”

“Stooop,” Scout said, covering his face. “I can’t deal with compliments!” They laughed at him but did back off.

“I think we’re agreed then?” Rai asked, turning to Mane.

“Well, I’m outvoted,” Mane started.

“Do you really not think we’re ready?” Rai asked seriously. His golden eyes flashed to Mane’s red ones but found just a teasing glint to them.

“I’m just playing the contrarian,” Mane replied. He stretched and ‘accidentally’ smacked Scout gently in the face with his tail. “I think Team Ion can handle anything those old farts can dish out.”

“Don’t let Armaldo hear you say that,” Rai hissed.

Mane’s smirk deepened.

Rai would leap on him and call for Scout to help him take Mane down in revenge.

Much later on, after dinner, they approached the older duo.

"Armaldo. Guildmaster Wigglytuff," Rai said, stepping up to them as Chimecho levitated the plates away. "We've come to a decision."

Whispers broke out through the apprentices, they had been walking off, but this was interesting.

"No eavesdropping," Armaldo barked, and so the apprentices began to slink away. Slowly.

Rolling his eyes, Armaldo nodded to Team Ion. Wigglytuff beamed.

"We accept."

Because this outcome had been prepared for, Wigglytuff ushered them into his meeting room with a bounce and beam while Armaldo moved in after them. The former outlaw closed the doors and made his way up to the library.

"Armaldo's just got all the information we have!" Wigglytuff explained. Soon enough, Armaldo returned. He knew where he had kept the information and had no patience for dilly-dallying.

"Here's your assignment," Armaldo said, passing the information to Wigglytuff, who promptly dropped them between Team Ion and himself. Armaldo sighed, sitting down, bones creaking as he went.

Team Ion all stepped forward to take a closer look, there were numerous pieces of paper all set in a pile, although that scattered slightly after Wigglytuff dropped them.

"We want you to track down an outlaw," Armaldo said as Rai pawed the top paper over to read. "Pyroar. We don't know where he is or what he's currently up to. Still, there are dozens of accounts of blackmail, mugging, several counts of kidnapping for reward, and taking hostages when in danger."

"He's been quite tricky to capture," Wigglytuff said. "Clefable's guild has put an additional reward out for his capture, but even they haven't had any luck."

"A predominantly outlaw-focused guild, that is," Armaldo explained, as Team Ion only had a foggy idea of other guilds. "Situated outside Blackstone Village, you may want to go there to get any information they have on him."

Scout’s ear twitched and he frowned feeling like he had something at the tip of his tongue but it didn’t last and he shrugged it off.

Team Ion finished staring at the picture of Pyroar and reading about his crimes. Mane looked up first. "Pyroar, huh?" he asked, deeply unimpressed.

"Don't get sassy," Armaldo warned. "It was determined he would be the most appropriate challenge for you."

"Yeah, but a pyroar? I feel like you're saying something to me."

"So, you want us to track this outlaw down?" Rai asked, wanting to make sure they understood exactly what was required of them.

"Yes," Wigglytuff said, leaning down to pick up the documents he had dropped. "The Wigglytuff Guild is proud to be an exploration-first guild, but in light of your deeds, it was decided choosing a task that could test your strength, teamwork, and resourcefulness would be better than… the other idea."

"Battle against the whole guild?" Scout asked, only a little snarky.

Wigglytuff gave him a perfectly-innocent smile.

"While we do not doubt you can bring Pyroar to justice," Armaldo said, taking the documents from Wigglytuff. “As there is no intention to send you into something we don't believe you can handle, finding Pyroar is going to be the challenge. I've gathered what information I can on his movement and history, it’ll be up to you to interpret it.”

"You don't have a time limit on this task," Wigglytuff continued, it was only due to Wigglytuff speaking that Rai and Mane didn't interject with sassy comments about a time limit they HAD received not long ago. "And you'll have the full support of the guild in this endeavour. You can't bring anyone with you, but you can take your pick of items and request any help leading up to your leave."

He magicked something into his hands and passed it to Scout. "This is just an extra bit of identification in case any other guild tries to give you a hard time," he said, nodding to the envelope he gave.

"Due to your fame having spread, there may be pokémon doubting your authenticity so hold onto that," Armaldo said, rifling through the documents he had.

He organised them and passed them to Scout as well. "Read through this carefully, again you have no time limit on this task." Rai and Mane had to bite their tongues. "But you should still take the time needed to plan out your path, your gear, and anything you may need to do before you leave. This task could take months, and while you'll always be welcome back here, you won't be graduating until you complete the task or give up."

"What if Pyroar is captured by someone else?" Scout asked, glancing over the wanted poster on the top.

"If he's got some other guild after him," Mane said, nodding, "what then?"

"Then you'll fail," Armaldo said. "If he disappears entirely, dies, or is captured by someone else, you will not complete this. If you find allies you must still do the bulk of the work capturing him."

"Thank you, Guildmaster and Armaldo," Rai said, deciding to speak for the team. He stood up straight, and his companions followed suit. "We will not let you down!"

"Good luck," Wigglytuff said.

"Be smart." Was all Armaldo offered.

Team Ion left and decided to go to their room to discuss this.

"Any incites on this?" Rai asked Scout as they settled down to start looking through the documents.

"Nothing at all," Scout replied, shaking his head. "Never heard of a 'Pyroar' bad guy. Or about the other guilds. Could be cool to finally learn a bit more though."

"Well, then this'll be fun!" Mane grinned maniacally, sparks had been popping off him as soon as they had been told their target.

"You okay?" Rai asked, concerned. "I mean… a pyroar is a bit of a… choice."

"Heh," Mane smirked. "I thought it might be a dig at me, but even if it is I'm going to take this a different way! I get to beat up my own evolved form, that's like… the dream!"

"If you need to talk about it, don't hesitate," Rai said.

Mane gave him a scoff and then a genuine smile. "Okay, we've got to read through this stuff and figure out a plan."

Nodding to this, they began. There was a lot to go over that didn't actually say a lot. Armaldo had given them clippings of Pelipper Post and other news outlets that carry information on Pyroar.

Most of it repeated the same general information. Nasty fellow. Quite a thug, known for browbeating and blackmailing to get his way.

"This guy's not dumb," Mane pointed out as they discussed their findings. "If he's slipped away this many times. It says here that Team Force took him on and he still got away. I have no idea who that is, but it's probably impressive."

"Trio of Fighting-type's," Rai said, always knowing his teams. "So, yeah. If he got through them, he must have some smarts."

"I noticed a bit of a theme in my reading," Scout said, pulling up some papers. "Pyroar seems to like anywhere he can drink stuff other than water. So, if I know my RPG's, then we might be able to get something from bars and taverns around."

Not long after, they agreed to split up to get some things done.

Knocking gently, and being called in, Rai walked up to Wigglytuff. Mane and Scout were off doing their own tasks, Rai's was meeting with the Guildmaster.

"I'm sorry to bother you so soon, but I had something I wanted to ask," Rai began, taking a seat. He hadn't really spoken to Wigglytuff one-on-one much, with no Scout, Mane, or even Armaldo it was just them.

"Go ahead." Wigglytuff smiled, he was sitting on his throne but always welcoming.

"I was just wondering since you're quite the explorer, where you'd go first for some information on tracking this outlaw down?"

Wigglytuff's smile broadened, happy and proud at once. "I did have a few thoughts while looking into Pyroar's movements. I'd check out the Swanna's Feather, it's a rather exciting tavern in Meadow Town." Exciting was clearly a fun word here, based on Wigglytuff's giggle. "But the best place to look would be places with clientele willing to offer information for a price."

Rai thought for a moment, thinking over the map. “That sounds like a leading comment.”

Wigglytuff smiled innocently.

“Fissure?”

Wigglytuff's smile became something else. Fonder, but also sadder. "Oh, you know of it?”

“Kinda. The reputation at least.”

“Fissure is a rather colourful town Northwest from here,” Wigglytuff said. Northwest was where they had noted Pyroar had been last seen headed. “Do you have your map?"

Rai pulled the Wonder Map out, and Wigglytuff got off his throne to inspect it. He knelt down with Rai and drew a mark with something pink. "It's not usually marked on exploration maps because it's a rather unwelcoming place."

"Unwelcoming?" Rai repeated, Fissure certainly didn't inspire positivity with the name.

"Many pokémon who disdain the standards of society gather there as it is safer than the wilds. Undoubtedly there are criminals there, but not even the Clefable Guild would attempt a raid there. There are many pokémon loyal only to each other there. It's fine to visit for information, but if you go I implore you not to stay very long."

“The Clefable Guild is close to that, isn’t it?” Rai asked. Wigglytuff nodded. “Do you think Pyroar would risk getting that close to the main jail?”

Wigglytuff hummed. “There are better pokemon than me to ask that,” he said lightly.

Rai heard it and nodded, stepping back to leave. "Thank you, Guildmaster."

Wigglytuff nodded. "Fissure is a great place for information, but at a price Shinx. That price is usually money, but some pokémon may ask for something else. It is worth going to, but again. Don't remain there for long."

Rai agreed and thanked Wigglytuff one more time before seeking out Armaldo.

While Rai met with the Guildmaster, it was Mane's duty to speak to Chimecho. Chimecho was always of great help to anyone polite.

"Hey Chimes, can you help me?" Mane asked. He was not a polite pokémon, yet Chimecho seemed to not only tolerate him but like him.

"How can I be of assistance, Litleo?" Chimecho replied, beaming. Other pokémon may have an issue with Mane, but Chimecho never did.

"The team's got a graduation test," Mane began. "And we've been told to track down, get this, a pyroar outlaw. I think that's a bit on the nose but whatever, I like a challenge. The other two are doing their own thing, we were hoping that you could get into contact with a few pokémon, see if they have heard anything about this 'Pyroar' bastard."

Mane pulled up the documents he had carried in, and Chimecho levitated them out of his mouth. "Pyroar, huh? Hmm…" she stared at the paper for a little longer than was normal, and Mane coughed. "Oh, right. Yes, I can ask around. It may take me a while to do so, however."

"We don't have a time limit," Mane said, rolling his eyes. "THIS time." She giggled at the tone in his voice. "Thanks, Chimes. I… mean it, really. Thanks for being so good. You're probably the nicest pokémon in this place."

Chimecho gave him a soft smile. "You are very sweet, Litleo. I wish others would see you for that, but they are too preoccupied with their own ideas to see how things really are."

"You and me both," Mane replied, nodding. "I'll get out of your space now." He stepped back, turned around, before pausing. "Would you like a drink or something to eat that I can get for you?"

"Some water would be lovely for later," Chimecho said. Mane brightened and dashed off to get her some.

She sighed softly and floated into position to begin to meditate and reach out to the other Psychic's to ask around, she read over the items Mane had given her to help focus and to learn what questions she needed to ask.

As Rai and Mane did their work, Scout headed into the guilds storeroom. He breathed in the spices and smells, remembering old times, before looking around.

As Wigglytuff had given permission to take what they need, it was Scout's job to get a good idea of what they could take. Armaldo did as Chatot once had and checked the larder, but occasionally he was busy with other work, and it was down to Marill or Flaaffy to do it.

Marill was okay, Flaaffy was thankfully a perfectionist. The written record of items seemed up to date, but Scout still looked through them to get a feel.

He was just beginning to write things down when Mane popped his head in.

"Can I get a cup?" he asked. Scout, close by to the cups, quickly retrieved one.

"What do you need it for?" he asked, passing it over. Mane briefly took it in his mouth before considering what he was about to attempt.

He spat the cup out and frowned. "I was going to get Chimes some water, but… hmm, she's going to have my drool in it."

"Didn't know you cared about that," Scout said, stepping back to go back to his items.

"Anyone else, whatever. Eh, Flaaffy's alright. Chimes is nice though."

"And evil," Scout interjected.

Mane rolled his eyes. "And eevillll," he said, putting on a mock-imitation of Scout's voice. He grinned and leaned over to lick Scout’s cheek, but caught himself just in time. Scout had frozen up a little.

The two fell into a moment of silence. An awkward kind. "Uh…" Mane said, twisting a foot. One of Scout's ears flicked, but he didn't verbally respond.

"How about you get her some water and then go find Team Sunrise," Mane said after a pause.

"Pardon?" Scout asked, turning back to Mane in confusion. His tail flicked out hard, knocking a couple of folded scarves onto the ground. "Shoot." He quickly turned to pick them up.

Mane did not make any mention of Scout bending over in front of him and instead said. "I'll take over this job, I think you should spend some time with them."

Scout didn't reply at first, quietly spinning one of the scarves into a circle before setting it in its place. His tail flicked again, but he didn't knock anything off this time, only nearly whacked Mane in the face.

"Awkward with them or awkward with you?" Scout hummed. "Tough choice, I got to say. Tough indeed." Scout finally turned around, leaning back on the shelf and curling his tail around his leg.

For once, Mane actually did wear a somewhat flustered expression. They were in private after all, Mane did not always feel the need to keep an ever-present cool, calm, and collected manner of behaviour.

"Look, sorry, I will do this at your own pace. But I do think you ought to actually check in with them. Dusknoir was freaking out just as hard as Rai was when you didn't come back, he's just a lot better at hiding it. And ever since you've been back… you've pretty much avoided him. Not just him, all of them really."

Scout frowned and chewed on his lip, glancing away.

"I get it's weird," Mane said, stepping closer before reconsidering and stepping back. "I really do. Maybe not how weird, but I get it. You were their friend too, I think you still are, but you're not going to figure it out one way or the other if you avoid them forever."

Scout continued to be silent, dwelling on Mane's words. "I don't get how you are so observant," he settled on, giving a heavy sigh. "Seriously? How do you work that stuff out so much?"

"It's easy when you're as awesome as I!" Mane smirked. Scout raised an eyebrow. "Do you want the peppy answer or the depressingly sad answer that involves figuring out how to read people just so I know what ones will not kick me and what ones I can safely walk by?" he snapped.

Scout blinked and seemed to recoil without moving. "Sorry.”

Mane’s guard dropped as he realised he’d done it. "It's fine," Mane sighed. "Sorry for snapping.”

“I know you don’t mean it.”

Mane managed a grateful look. "Thanks. Now shoo, give Chimes her water because she's wonderful for helping us all and being so nice and eeevilll and go see your old pals."

"Alright. Promise you won't work too much while I'm slacking off?"

Mane rolled his eyes. "It's counting items. Between the three of us, you'll probably be the one working the hardest. Tata."

Scout retrieved the water, delivered it, and smiled at Rai talking to Armaldo and trying to not look scared of him.


“I have to ask, what did you do to these poor things?”

“Uh… grew.”

Sean glanced up as a tinkling sound reached his ears. It took him longer than he’d care to admit that she was laughing at his remark.

He smiled as well, tail wagging without thinking about it.

“Is that a reflex now?”

“Huh?”

She pointed. “Your tail.”

Sean looked back at the traitorous limb and grabbed it in a paw. It continued to wag a little even as he tried to quell it. She was laughing at him again now.

“I forget it’s there sometimes,” he admitted. “Sure couldn’t do that at first though.”

“Goodness, that would be difficult to adjust to.”

Sensing the question, he replied, “Yeah. These were worse.” He tapped one of his tassels and it swung against his head. “That was like, imagine living your whole life without being able to smell and then suddenly you could. Sure, the body naturally does it, but I wasn’t expecting to ‘feel’ what other people were feeling all of a sudden.”

She smiled, nodding along. Her hands worked as she listened, a needle and a thread through Sean’s raggedy old pants. He’d been talking about them last time and she suggested he bring them here and she could sow them back up for him.

There were a lot of holes, she said she didn’t mind the challenge. Better to work with her hands than do nothing as they sat around.

Sean was sitting in a place very few would expect him to be. The sky was red and angry, cloudy essence shifting above them as if whipped in a violent storm. It was the sky of a Mystery Dungeon.

And yet, there was not a hint of tension in his body. There was no risk or danger to him here, not here, not in this place.

“But yeah, the tail was weird too. It’s kinda like having another leg, that’s the closest it feels like. Just… poking out my backside.”

She gave a short laugh, almost like a cough at his statement and then smiled, shaking her head at him. “I’ve never heard a pokemon describe their tail like that before.”

Before him, sat a human. His friend. A ghost. Violet.

“How many pokemon have you asked about that, Violet?”

“Ooh, a few here and there,” Violet responded. She finished pulling a thread taught and checked over her patchwork. “Looks like the worst split is complete.”

“Thank you so much.”

She waved his gratitude off. “It’s not a problem, Sean. I appreciate your visits, so knowing there’s anything I can do for you is all the thanks I need.”

There was not much to be said of Circh.

There were no feral pokemon. There was not much of anything. It had been said at the end was a graveyard, but if there were any graves here Sean hadn't found them.

Not a headstone to be seen, but a grave nonetheless.

So, here he was. Sitting in a dungeon under a terrible sky, in a ruined village, chatting with a ghost.

It was a place that felt like something had happened. Some disaster had passed but stolen the breath of the land away with it, leaving fragments of what was in its wake. His aura senses had hurt him the first time he stepped inside, but he couldn’t figure out what he had felt or why it had hurt.

It was different around Violet herself.

By all accounts, Violet was a lovely person. She smiled frequently, her eyes soft with kindness, and let him talk about anything he wanted to. Even things he hadn’t been comfortable talking about with Azumarill, he felt at ease with Violet.

Because of that, he had something he wanted to ask her.

“Hey, uh, you know the second time I came around?” Sean began, a little awkwardly.

“You seemed quite relieved I wasn’t a figment of your imagination,” she said, starting on another hole.

“Yeah… it wasn’t actually the second time I had come around. But the fifth.”

She paused in her stitching a moment, a flash of something over her face. “Oh, I see.”

He swallowed. “I actually had, um… I’d brought Rai and Mane here.”

“Ahh,” she said, understanding in her voice. “And I had not shown. I hope they did not give you a hard time about it.”

They had… but in a nice way. Encouraged some extra trips to Azumarill. Azumarill herself also knew, he doubted she believed him either but she at least listened politely and noted he was doing better from a mental standpoint.

“Yeah, it was fine. I just wanted to ask… since the guys and Saniya returned… would you be here if I brought them? I haven’t told them about you, I don’t think Rai or Mane would have mentioned anything either.” He hadn’t told them he continued to visit her, he knew they knew where he was going though.

Violet stitched another line. “I’m not sure,” she admitted.

“...do you have other places that you….” He trailed off.

“Haunt?” she asked, a ghost of a smile on her face. He blushed a little, glancing down. “Not that I know of,” she said lightly.

Violet seemed physical, she was holding a needle and thread after all. At times he wasn’t sure she was even a spirit. After all, Ghost-type pokemon were alive. But… just what was this then? She avoided letting him touch her.

It wasn’t something he had managed to ask much about. Violet was content to hear about him and his life, but said little of her own.

Even though he burned with curiosity. Her accent was faintly kalosian with a blending of galarian into her. She used strange manners of speech at times and didn’t seem to understand when he didn’t understand them.

And this village… it was hard to tell considering the wreckage, but it had to be very old. Her dress was strange, there was a lot of strangeness all about this.

“Do you just… choose when to appear?” That didn’t seem right. She seemed surprised when he said he’d visited before.

She folded her hands in her lap. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said softly. Her eyes flicked down for a firm moment before looking back up. “You are welcome to bring anyone here that you wish, I’ll set a tray of tea and-”

She paused and Sean got to see something he never enjoyed seeing on her face. There was a cloudy flicker in her eyes, staring firmly but unfocused at the ruin around her. It was like she was seeing something that he couldn’t see.

“Tea,” she said vaguely. “I forget where it is.”

“That’s okay. I can bring some.”

That seemed to snap her back and she smiled. “Tea of a pokemon’s society? That must be lovely. My, I think pokemon brew the best. You should have tasted the tea dear Nelia brewed, goodness was it the best even when we had nothing to flavour it with.”

Her eyes drifted off again and she continued knitting, only it was unfocused and began to just string random patterns across his pants. Sean didn’t comment, his eyes tilted down a little as he listened to Violet murmuring nonsense to herself.

Despite the curious delusion, she still held a sort of timeless grace. He could believe her as a noble’s daughter in some far-off time, dancing in balls and being kidnapped by dragons that she won over with a heart worth more than any gold.

It shouldn’t be like this.

“I’ll ask them,” he said, she smiled at him and handed the pants back, careful to not let his paws touch her fingers. The holes had been patched, a few errant lines of string were still there though. He accepted them gratefully. “When they’re able to.”

“That’d be nice. Take care, Sean.”

“Take care.”

It was a long trip to make for a couple hours of chatting at most and so Sean didn’t make the trip that often. He had told the rest of Team Sunrise what he was doing, mostly, while they were stuck sorting boxes in Kangaskhan’s Storage.

They didn’t fault him for wanting to do something else but there would be questions. He hoped they would come with him when the restrictions on them finally began to loosen. And hoped, even more so, that Violet would be there the next time.


It was… nice to be around Team Sunrise.

Scout had been given a break from preparing their trip after Pyroar to reconnect with Team Sunrise. He was grateful for that, even if he didn’t want to be too far from them, part of him felt a similar familiarity with these familiar strange non-strangers.

Still though, when Guardian hurried off without a word whenever someone asked him to do something, Scout felt a gnaw in his stomach. And Striker didn’t look all that much at him either, most of that talking was Saniya, with some Sean comments here and there.

As much as Scout was happy with that arrangement, he knew this wasn't the point of this. Spending time with Sean and Saniya was fine, nice even. But they weren’t the ones where something difficult was between them.

"Um, Guardian?" Scout asked after Kangaskhan had called for Pidgeot's stuff. "Can I come with you?"

"I would be honoured," Guardian said, after a brief pause. Sean smiled at them as Scout hurried to Guardian's side, and they walked off.

Despite this step, it was only a small one. And Scout could not think of anything to talk about on the walk, leaving the two to just drift along in tense silence.

"How have you been?" Scout asked; finally, voice breaking slightly at the start. He cleared his throat, loudly, just thankful for the noise.

"I have had no complaints," Guardian replied. "How have you been?"

"Fine. Getting the chance to graduate is exciting, and I'll finally get to see more of the grass continent." He began to ramble but cut himself off, wincing.

"Great job," Scout thought. "Talking about leaving this place to someone who isn't allowed to. Perfect, you are smart. You sure do know what words to say. Yes, smart job, idiot."

Guardian was not upset at what Scout had said in the least. Just puzzling over him as Scout frowned at himself.

"May I…?" He paused. "It is not my place to ask. Not anymore." Guardian concluded and just stopped talking.

"May you, what?" Scout asked, he had stopped lambasting himself to hear Guardian's rumbly voice.

"It is nothing," Guardian assured. "Do not worry. Oh, we're here." He smoothly turned to float back a few steps, having already passed Pidgeot's items. The box was large, but nothing Guardian could not handle.

The walk back was slightly less tense but just as silent.

Later on, while retrieving with Saniya, she asked about it. "How did it go?" Saniya cocked her head, speaking quietly as if this was secret or something.

No one was sure why, but Saniya sometimes liked to whisper-chat as if she was discussing secrets.

It was usually the weather, or a particular type of flower she had seen and decided needed to die.

"Very awkward," Scout replied, also quietly. Quiet begat quiet, plus he didn't want Guardian to overhear somehow. "We managed 'how are you', and that's about it."

"Drat," Saniya cursed then gasped, covering her mouth as if she had spat a filthy slur. "My apologies. He didn't ask you anything else? Didn't try and start up any conversations or nothing?"

"No. I was the one to speak first."

Saniya sighed. "Every time he fails to follow my genius advice, I am going to fine him more. He's currently up to 1,200 Poké, time to double that."

"He wants to talk to me?" Scout asked, surprised.

"Uh… yeah?" Saniya replied, giving him an odd look. "We talk like every day, you and me. How Guardian's been trying for weeks to gather up a series of talking topics to have with you. How he's so sad and depressed and really wants to get to know you again? That stuff?"

"I don't… recall anything like that."

"No?"

"No."

"Hm." Saniya tapped her chin. "Oh! That's right. He asked me not to say so I've just been thinking it at you, which doesn't work since you're Dark-type now. Hahaha, oops. Pretend I didn't say that!"

Scout narrowed his eyes. He may not technically know Saniya as well as the others from Team Sunrise, but he had known her long enough, plus some memories resurfacing, that she tended to know what she was doing more often than not.

It would not surprise him if she grew weary of Guardian not following her advice and deciding to just 'accidentally' tell him.

At the same time, she might genuinely be that thoughtless. He was getting convinced she had a grand total of three marbles in her head that only occasionally clinked together to make a single thought. Or maybe they were flint because that thought often involved fire.

Saniya giggled at his expression, the half-narrowed eyes sliding off into the roof when Scout was doing some mental gymnastics. It was a cute look on him, she decided, so she booped his nose and then flew ahead to grab the box.

Time went quicker than Scout had realised, Saniya and Sean were great company and the time just flew by, but Kangaskhan popped her head in to inform them she was closing shop for the day.

Scout had walked with Guardian exactly twice, both times failing to get anywhere. He could empathise with Guardian's apparent tongue twistedness because he could not gather the nerve to broach conversation himself.

However, he hadn't even gotten one time with Striker. Striker tended to disappear before he could even begin to ask. No one said anything about it, but Sean started to frown a little after he vanished again on them.

Walking through Treasure Town with them was interesting. After the day began, Team Ion didn't usually run into Team Sunrise much. The latter team always had some job to do in town, and they were very good at being on time.

By the time Rai, Mane, and Scout entered the town, they were busy somewhere out of the way.

Leaving it a curious feeling to get the idea of how Team Sunrise was noticed by the town. It had been nearly three months since they had returned. Scout had seen the drama their return had caused initially when ghosting around.

He found himself overall flummoxed.

On one hand, he was happy as, for the most part, they were ignored. The same way any member of the town was, or random exploration team. A few eyes came to them, then left as that pokémon had no business staring.

On the other hand, the few that didn't ignore them rubbed him the wrong way. It was either gawkers that reminded him of the somewhat weird reception Team Ion got when they were around or suspicious glares.

Pokémon following them with their eyes to make sure they weren't up to trouble. Or ones ready to intervene when Guardian tried to eat a baby or burn the town down. Again.

"Okay, that one's fair, I guess." Scout thought. Guardian was an enigma to many pokémon around. He hadn't done anything wrong since his return, and he had changed sides.

But at the last minute away from almost everyone here.

He understood why Guardian was still distrusted, even if he didn't really like it.

There was another thing he didn’t like but he didn’t have the nerve to bring it up with anyone. Still, the fact no one was bringing it up with him was making him more upset.

The next day would not be so kind. After spending the rest of the evening going over plans for their leave with Rai and Mane, they had destinations and certain places to decide upon that needed to be agreed as a group. Mane didn't think Brooklet Crossing was even worth considering, Rai considered Shine Village to be a waste. After a compromise was mediated with Scout's assistance they had dinner and went to bed; Scout was feeling pretty good about the next day.

"So, it didn't go too badly?" Rai asked.

"No, it was still a bit weird. I can't really think of what to talk about with Dusknoir. And I kinda got the feeling Grovyle was avoiding me. But some progress was made, I was able to 'get' a lot of Saniya's jokes which was nice."

"Maybe instead of talking about your day," Mane offered as they settled down for bed, "because I know that's what you defaulted to." Scout laughed nervously. "Ask him something about yourself, something you don't remember that he might."

"That's… not a bad idea."

"Could be a conversation starter at least," Mane sighed, rolling around to get comfortable. Rai shifted out of the way because Mane was tossing straw around and he was licking his leg.

Scout curled up in his own pile and drifted off, Rai and Mane going to sleep against each other.


Scout couldn't help but notice that Striker was watching him. Not even discretely, any time he looked up and over, the grovyle would be staring and wouldn't glance away politely as if he hadn't been.

He wanted to ask. Striker hadn't been staring at him yesterday, or at least it didn't seem like he was.

It wasn't until Guardian and Saniya returned with the last of their boxes and joined the pair that Striker stopped.

He remained off on his own task but stopped staring at Scout.

"You've… done great guys!" Spinda said after all the furniture was assembled, or repaired. "How about… you five… take the rest of the day… off!"

"Thank you, Spinda," Sean replied happily. "We might stop around later?"

"Feel free, always happy to… have you!"

"Should we get something to eat?" Sean suggested as they walked back into the bright day. It was only somewhat past noon, Scout guessed, by the time taken and position of the sun.

"Food! Yes!" Saniya answered for everyone and zoomed off into the marketplace.

Sean chuckled. "Better go after her before she slaps Goodra again."

"I won't be cleaning that up again," Striker warned. So, Sean hurried up.

"Is that what happened?" Scout asked, looking up at Guardian. The Ghost seemed startled that Scout was addressing him directly.

"Yes, Saniya refused to bathe unless Striker helped her." Guardian shrugged as Striker side-eyed them. "You know how she can be."

Scout nodded.

Striker ended up racing off after Sean, leaving Scout and Guardian alone. They both peeked a glance at the other before looking away when noticing the other was looking.

"So…?" Scout began, like the waves as the beach everything Mane had suggested had just flowed away from head.

"Hm." Guardian pondered for a moment. "If you would prefer, I may remain outside of town. It would not do your reputation any good to be seen with me after all."

"What?" Scout gasped. "No. What? No. No. I don't care who sees me with you, they all joke I'm a hooker anyway."

Guardian's fingers twitched at that, his eye also flickered. He made no comment.

"Dusknoir I…" Scout trailed off, he just didn't know what to say.

"I believe I see Litleo," Guardian said, softly. Scout's ears perked at that. "By the Kecleon Market. I would not mind if you went to him."

Scout hesitated, on one hand, he wanted to go, on the other hand, Mane could help him find the words again, but on the tail end of it, leaving felt rude.

"I'll be back," Scout settled on and walked away. Guardian just watched him leave before choosing to make his way to where Sean and Striker were trying to pry Saniya off Goodra.

Thankfully, Goodra was not offended.

Spotting Mane made Scout unreasonably happy, and he almost skipped his way over to where Mane was speaking to the Kecleon Green, Rai was nowhere to be seen, and Mane's expression was neutral.

"And... that'll be 980 Poke!" Green said pleasantly. Mane scowled, checked the items over again, and scowled harder.

"Really?" Mane asked, glaring at the modest collection of items on the table. 'Really? I... fine, whatever."

Green beamed and held his hand out for payment but blinked. Mane was turning around. "Uh..."

"I said whatever, which means I'm off." Mane began to storm away but nearly walked into Scout instead.

"What's going on?" Scout asked, glancing between Green who was wearing a most composed expression now and Mane who was looking most frumpled. He looked to all those items that were on the counter, and Mane was leaving them. What was going on?

"Overcharged," Mane grunted. "Again."

Scout blinked and glanced to the Kecleon Brother's, who were holding their most business-like expressions. "Well, okay, don't we need them?" he asked, a cute sort of frown on his face. "Maybe there was a mistake. Hang on."

He approached the counter himself. "Good afternoon!"

"Good afternoon, Meowth!" Green and Purple chorused back.

"How much was all this stuff again?" he asked, looking over the collection of seeds, berries, and a couple orbs.

Green nodded. "Of course, of course. That'll be 400 Poke for you! It's fantastic, truly fantastic, to hear you have an opportunity to graduate! With your salvation of time, along with Shinx, we both think you deserve it."

It irked Scout that Green was disregarding Mane, and Sean for that matter, in that assessment. "Oh, just 400? I was expecting something like 800 or something, I thought you might have miscounted a little from your price to Litleo. Not that much."

Green paused, Purple did too from where he was serving a different counter.

"Just a little harmless fun," Green said after his pause.

"Is it?" Scout asked. "Or are you price-gouging Litleo because he's not with me or Shinx?"

"What are you doing?" Mane hissed.

"I… do not like what you are implying here, Meowth," Green said quietly.

"And I don't like you treating my friend like a criminal," Scout said, not quietly. They were attracting attention now. "Or, I don’t know. Me. We can find this stuff elsewhere."

And with that, he walked off.

Mane quickly joined him. There was silence between them for a moment.

"Holy shit, did you see his face?" Mane whispered, almost afraid to laugh. He could feel the Kecleon Brothers staring after them but did not give them the gratification of looking back.

"It was hard not to laugh, I have to say." Scout grinned back. He was trembling slightly, not from fear but from the nerves he had felt in doing that.

“Why did you do that though?” Mane asked. Scout flashed him a glower that had nothing to do with him. Mane just rolled his eyes at it. “I don’t really care, Meowth. It’s always been like this.”

Scout’s glower intensified. “Mareep-flocking fuckers,” he muttered quietly.

Mane blinked at him in shock. “ What did you just say?”

“Nothing!”

“That sounded like a whole lot more than nothing.”

“I just… I don’t really like… it’s nothing.” Scout began to avoid his eyes and Mane, deciding that this was not something to press at the moment, dropped it. He thought back on what Scout had said to Kecleon though.

"What are we going to do, though? Rai wants those items." They began to head to the guild, ready to share Scout's surprising boldness with Rai.

"Oh... I'm sure we'll be fine." Scout said, tossing a seed in his hand. Mane nearly tripped at the sight.

"You... stole?" He lowered his voice, someone could hear, and Scout stashed it away.

"Call it repayment," Scout said, smirking slightly.

"For saving the world?"

Scout gave him a Look . "No," he said softly. And that was that.

Mane swallowed, he wanted to comment but didn't. "The Kec's will kill you if they realise," Mane said instead.

Scout shrugged, and a claw popped out. "I don't think we'll have a problem," he said, reaching the guild. They entered the guild, and Scout looked around, spotting his target quickly.

"Sunflora!" He beamed. She beamed back.

"Good afternoon, Meowth. How's Team Sunrise? And Litleo, back from shopping?" she asked, nodding to Mane.

"Indeed." Scout nodded. "We had some fun and got into only a little bit of trouble." Sunflora giggled. "And I was wondering if I could ask you a favour?"

"Oh?" Sunflora's eyes lit up. She liked favours. Ones owed to her at least. "What do you need?"

"I was hoping if you could spread the word that the Kecleon Brothers are still prejudiced against my good friend Litleo and are resorting to petty price raising when me or Shinx isn't around. Probably doing it to other teams as well, not local ones though, but visitors. Not the best look on the town probably. I dunno."

Sunflora blinked. Scout's expression remained steady. "Uh...? What happened?"

Scout shrugged. "Nothing too bad, you don't need to demonize them or anything. But I was hoping you'd do this for me."

"Uh… I'm not sure. I don't like spreading nasty rumours."

"Not a rumour," Scout pointed out. "Plus, who better to spread the word than you! You did excellent when you told everyone I was a prostitute." Scout laughed. Sunflora did too, it was not as happy. "So, I thought of you right away!"

Abashed now, Sunflora gave a reluctant nod. "Okay, I'll do this. As long as we're cool?"

"Of course, we are!" Scout beamed. "And thank you."

Sunflora opened her mouth to receive a promise of a favour in return but rethought it and closed her mouth. She nodded, and they parted ways.

Mane was again silent for a moment as they came to the third floor to meet up with Rai. "I've never quite been so attracted to you as I am right now," Mane said, causing a most perplexed expression to cross Rai's face as he overheard that.

Scout simply laughed.

"Where did all that come from?" Mane asked as they approached Rai.

"Where did what come from?" Rai asked. "Also, hi!"

Mane quickly explained. Rai’s face darkened, but not because of Mane not returning with the items. "How often do they do this to you?"

Mane shrugged. "I'm usually in town with at least one of you, so I don't really get it anymore."

"Any more ?" Rai pressed.

"Rai, come on," Mane said. "I'm the town bastard."

"That isn't far," Rai snapped. "Not now, and not back then either."

"Well it's how things are," Mane replied, almost snapping back. When Rai frowned, he sighed and glanced away guiltily. "Sorry, I know you're just being nice."

"I'm not just being nice," Rai sighed.

Scout glanced between them with a frown. "Hey, I did get this at least." He pulled out the blast seed.

Rai smiled at him before cocking his head. "Why just that?"

A smirk began to slide onto Mane's face, what a nice reminder. "He may not have paid for it," he said.

Rai's eyes widened. "Where HAS this all come from?"

Scout grinned and, gently, tossed the seed to Rai. "I don't know. Something about Team Sunrise has been reminding me of a few memories I've sort of been remembering. It's something Scout would have done, so I wanted to try it. What better reason than to stand up for Mane!"

"Well, as long as you don't stop being cute, I think I can handle you being cheeky," Mane laughed. Surprisingly, Scout took being called cute well.

"I am the cutest," he agreed and then booped them both on the nose. "But you're both alright. Haha."

Rai decided this was grounds for a tackle-hug. He didn't do it for long, Scout was beginning to squirm, and he didn't want to make things weird again. This time, however, Scout was able to maintain eye contact.

"As much as I would love to continue being assaulted," he teased, making sure they knew that was a joke, "I should get back to the future people. Dusknoir knows I came to see Mane, but…"

"You haven't talked to him yet?" Rai said, gathering that was the case.

"You have such faith in me," Scout said, not even offended. "Yeah, I haven't."

"Remember, ask him about you as an adorably little cub," Mane suggested, "or ask about that weird old scarf he has tied around his arm. That could be something important to him?"

"I will. Thanks."

They waved him off. Once they were alone, Mane bumped Rai over. "You scared him off again," he said, also teasing.

"You were the one to call him cute," Rai defended, bumping him back. They soon started wrestling with each other.

Once Rai had Mane pinned, Mane said something softer, “I think Scout’s carrying a grudge,” he said.

Rai cocked his head. “A grudge? Against who?”

“I think it might be the town,” Mane said. “One of the things he said to Green, it just… he said he doesn’t like them treating me like a criminal, or himself .”

Rai frowned, chewing on it for a moment. “Think we should talk to him?”

“Yeah, but maybe not right now. I might just be reading into it.”

“Well, I’m glad he told them off! I can’t believe they’ve been doing that to you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, I’m usually with you so no one minds me.”

“But when I’m not?”

Mane glanced away.

“Mane! I think I have a grudge against the town now!”

“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” Mane sighed, grumbling to himself. “You love them and they love you. I’m just-”

“I don’t care what people think you are,” Rai said firmly. He was still on Mane, he went nose to nose. “I know who you are.”

Mane slowly blushed and managed a weak, “Yeah that’s the other reason. I don’t care what people think about me . As long as you don’t agree with them.”

“I’m gonna make everyone know you’re the coolest most awesome pokemon in town!”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“You cannot.”

“My influence is unlimited, I walked through time.”

Mane opened his mouth, Rai licked him from lips to nose. He couldn’t argue that and closed his mouth, steaming in embarrassment. Rai finally got off him and helped him up. “Okay, I’m gonna go back to town to get the stuff. Do you wanna come?”

“And see you chew the Kecleon Brothers out?”

“Maybe.”

“I’m there.”


Team Sunrise had become known. And Treasure Town, even before Team Ion’s fame began to spread, was a popular hub for teams to travel through.

Gossip that came from the town had a habit of spreading quite far and wide.

And one such thing had reached the ears of the Outlaw Guild. Guildmaster Clefable of the Clefable Guild sent first a message to Chimecho.

The answer that was given was apparently… unsatisfactory.

A powerful aggron arrived in town, bearing the insignia of the Clefable Guild’s officers and a letter.

Diglett informed him that Wigglytuff was in the town at the moment and he headed there next.

“Guildmaster Wigglytuff,” Aggron said, towering over the Fairy-type.

“Oooh, a new friendly-friend!” Wigglytuff said joyously. He danced a little. “Friend, nice to meet you friend.”

“I am not here on friendly business,” Aggron said gruffly. Wigglytuff continued to dance, even offered some silly faces to endear him.

It all seemed to bounce off his armour of contempt. “Stop that.”

Wigglytuff pouted. “That’s okay, friend. Do you like to dance instead?” he added hopefully.

“I come bearing a demand from Clefable herself,” Aggron said sharply. “The pokemon known as The ‘Great’ Dusknoir is a criminal of the highest order. A threat to the entire world, his schemes would have rent us into eternal darkness by his own admission. I have come to bring him to justice, where is he?”

“Boo,” Wigglytuff said, pouting. “That’s not a friendly thing to do! Dusknoir is repentant and is serving his sentence with us, us! The Wigglytuff Guild!” He seemed delighted to say this. “He’s moving boxes, and helping train people. He’s very smart! He can do so much good now! Hooray!”

“That is not the way that justice works,” Aggron said. Out in the outskirts, Team Magnezone slunk into town. Despite having no real face to show it, each looked deeply uncomfortable.

“BZZT! Officer Aggron, you have arrived. BZZT!” Officer Magnezone said.

“Where is Dusknoir?” Aggron asked.

“He’s currently doing his job for the day,” Wigglytuff hummed. “With his team! We shouldn’t bother them.”

“Are you going to try and obstruct me?” Aggron demanded.

Wigglytuff gasped, shocked at the thought. “But we are on the same side, friend! There is nothing to do here!”

Aggron’s eyes narrowed. “Wrong. Dusknoir will be tried for his crimes and submit to justice.”

“Not with you,” a deeper voice than even Aggron’s spoke up. Pokemon who had gathered to stare at the exchange parted as Armaldo came stomping through. A single magnemite sheepishly ducked into the shadow of Team Magnezone, receiving a slight nod from Officer Magnezone.

“I urge you to repeat that,” Aggron said. “I must have misheard. It is not likely the Wigglytuff Guild is aiming to become an outlaw guild to protect an attempted apocalypse bringer.”

Armaldo did not look impressed by the shiny badge and shiny armour and important packaging that Aggron had brought with him. His eyes just focused on the loud pokemon in the middle of town. “Dusknoir is under our jurisdiction. He is already serving his sentence. We told the Clefable Guild that already. Through Chimecho. Twice. Has Abra suffered an injury and could not pass that along?”

“The Wigglytuff Guild’s ‘jurisdiction’ in exploration is superceded by the Clefable Guild in outlaw management,” Aggron pointed out. “For petty criminals our Magnezone branch is more than equipped but for something like this? You are threatening a stance of breaking the rules of the Federation. You will surrender him to the Clefable Guild.”

“Um, friend, you might want to check your records again,” Wigglytuff said with an apologetic titter.

“What?”

Armaldo didn’t smirk but he sure seemed like he should be. “The Wigglytuff Guild is not an Exploration Guild,” Armaldo said.

Aggron just stared a moment.

“Yup,” Wigglytuff said happily. “While we mostly lean towards Exploration because it’s so much fun! Ours is a multidisciplinary guild. Check the records with the Federation! Check the records with the Federation! We have just as much right to manage criminals as we wish,” he said pleasantly.

“And while we normally work alongside Clefable’s Team Magnezone branch,” Armaldo added. “That’s entirely out of choice, not necessity.”

Aggron was silent for a tense minute. “I will be checking with the Federation,” he said with thinly veiled anger.

“Perhaps you should have done that first,” Armaldo retorted.

Aggron finally scowled at him and stomped off, grinding his teeth together. Armaldo snorted at him as he left and Wigglytuff sighed, “I hoped he’d be a lot friendlier than that.”

Armaldo shrugged it off and returned to the guild, offering a brief nod to Team Magnezone. Wigglytuff beamed at them as well and then rolled off. There was no apparent reason he was in town today, he just was.

“BZZT! Let’s return. BZZT!”
 
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Chapter 42 - Themselves Together

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
“Scout, a moment?” Chimecho said right before Scout could exit the guild to return to his business with Team Sunrise.

“Oh? Uh, coming.”

Chimecho smiled at him, floating around the middle floor of the guild in her little ‘office’ spot. Scout knew this was where Chimecho Assembly was in the game, but there was no assembly in real life as the only pokemon on their team were part of the guild.

This was where Chimecho conducted her Network Link and would send out messages for pokemon for a small cost, receive them, and all sorts of little things on the side.

“I heard you were headed to Fissure?” she asked. “Quite a place, do be careful.”

“Yeah, have you been?”

"No, but Team Celestial was from there and based on the scarring on poor Luno the place can be quite dangerous. Have you three decided which direction you are approaching from?" That mysterious team again, Scout was eager to meet them one day if they ever returned from their own graduation test.

“Yeah, we’re planning on heading through River Ridge Way.”

Chimecho hummed a moment.

“What is it?” Scout asked.

“River Ridge Way is faster but it is a little more dangerous. It’s not like a Mystery Dungeon, that’s a place of sheer cliffs and dangerous falls.”

“Oh, Rai said that there’s a path people take.”

Chimecho nodded. “I suppose.”

“Are you worried?”

She smiled. “I always worry a little when the others leave, comes with the medical territory I suppose. Well, I had another suggestion, it is a little longer but I know someone around Blackstone Village.”

Blackstone….

Scout frowned. He’d seen that on the maps and it tickled some sort of memory he just could not cling onto. He was sure it wasn’t part of the games, Treasure, Shaymin, and Capim were the only settlements he knew of and he was certain of that.

“Is it because the Clefable Guild is there?” Chimecho asked.

Scout blinked, looking up at her. “...a little, I think.”

Chimecho smiled. “The Guild is not actually located in the town. The town’s mayor always kept a firm hand on that, the guild does serve as the main jail of the continent, but it is not very close to the actual town if that’s a concern.”

Scout mulled it over. “I guess. I kinda wanted to go there but Rai has a good point about getting to Fissure as soon as we can.”

“A graduation test is not something to rush,” Chimecho advised. “If it means anything at all, I would suggest going through Blackstone. Mayor Indeedee has a wealth of knowledge that may be able to help you.”

That word hit him. “Oh!” he gasped. He remembered but also didn’t. It was like when he tried to remember… Dan…iel? The sableye. Something he knew but just couldn’t quite know either. He remembered something, someone, who had told him….

“Oh?” Chimecho asked.

“I think I met a Mayor Indeedee in the Dark Future,” Scout said, puzzling a frown. Chimecho blinked at him in genuine surprise. “She helped me get back to the… now, to now. And she said to go to Blackstone, I knew I recognised the name! Yeah, she said to go to Blackstone if I ever needed some help.”

Chimecho smiled. “That does sound like her. Goodness, to think we both know the same person… that was still around in that time.”

Energised Scout thanked her, “I’ll bring it up with Shinx and Litleo! Thanks, Chimecho.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Meowth. I can say from experience that Mayor Indeedee would love to meet you three and she truly is a wealth of wisdom. If you do decide to go, I can even send her a query and she may be able to have something all ready to help you when you arrive!”

Smiling, Scout thanked her again and ran off to return to Team Sunrise, but he kept it in his head to raise with Rai and Mane later.

Scout found Team Sunrise close by where he saw them last, mulling about in the middle of town. No one had picked a fight yet, which was terrific news. The only being picked was with an aggron but they were far away from that and couldn’t even hear the commotion.

"Sorry, I just had to handle something," Scout said, approaching. Two faces smiled, one turned away, and another watched in silence.

"I saw you rushing off with Litleo," Sean said. "Something important?"

"Just him getting treated badly." Scout frowned. "But I think that's handled now."

"Point me at whatever you want 'handled' heh," Saniya said, punching a palm.

"Calm yourself." Guardian patted her on the shoulder with a finger.

"Were your teammates not in need of your help?" Striker asked, finally turning back from looking at the sky.

"No." Scout shook his head. "They seemed to have things under wraps. Also, they may have been wrestling."

"Sure, that's all-" Saniya was elbowed.

"With your travels ahead," Striker said, "are you not doing anything to help prepare?"

Scout blinked. "Well… I was doing inventory, I was helping Litleo with that too. But they just want me to be spending some time with you guys before we go since I haven't really been doing that."

"What a time." Striker sighed.

Scout frowned and opened his mouth to ask Striker's problem, but someone beat him to it.

"Do not try and drive him away," Guardian snapped, rather loudly. Loudly enough that a few people glanced over.

Striker crossed his arms and didn’t say anything.

Guardian's eye began flickering violently.

"Striker," Sean said, quietly.

Striker jerked his head away from Guardian and returned to looking at the sky and ignoring everything. "Maybe, uh… we should go somewhere private?" Sean said, sensing what was about to happen.

"Not a bad idea," Saniya said, quickly. "Striker, race you to the beach!" She zoomed off but Striker did not follow.

Scout was left wondering what on earth was happening.

"Must you behave like this?" Guardian growled. "Scout is finally with us again, and you are behaving like this?"

Striker's jaw clenched, but he didn't respond.

"He's making an effort, and you toss this back at him?"

Scout looked between the two with building confusion.

"Just because you cannot let go of-"

"No!" Striker shouted, spinning back on Guardian. "I can NOT let it go."

Sean stepped forward, ready to force them apart in case this escalated. Or just drag Striker away before it could.

"Okay, what’s going on?" Scout asked, voice clear and sharp over the blood in their ears. "I haven't been blind. What is it?”

Striker finally dragged his eyes off Guardian, off Sean, off the sky, off Saniya who was awkwardly returning, to really, really, look at Scout.

Scout almost flinched. There was no hate there, but there was something he never knew Striker was capable of expressing. It was a deep frustrated wounded expression that seemed to regard him as if he didn’t even know him.

"Months back," Striker began, voice very clear to the eavesdroppers. “That night. The night Sean risked everything. What did you do?”

"I helped him," Scout said.

"NO!" Striker yelled, causing Scout to flinch back and Guardian to nearly grapple Striker. The only thing stopping him was the equal desire to shield Scout. "When your new friends found us and refused to listen to reason YOU PUT YOUR CLAWS TO SEAN'S NECK. You threatened HIS LIFE! That is something I cannot forget."

Striker closed his eyes, words going much softer now. "I can't forget it. It doesn't matter why you did it. Out of desperation to calm the situation, out of panic, I just don't care. All I see when I look at you is you threatening his life."

He opened his eyes again. "When you were with us, you were kind. You're not kind anymore, Scout. It's why I think you may be right, that you aren't really him. And if you aren't, then you've taken our teammate. And if you are, you have still changed too much."

Having nothing more to say to Scout, Striker turned to Guardian. "I'm sorry, I really am." And then he walked off.

Sean glanced between three different pokémon he wanted to help, Scout, Guardian, and Striker. Ultimately, he turned to Scout. "I… he doesn't… I'm not upset about that."

Scout nodded.

Sean turned to Guardian, but the dusknoir spoke first. "Go after him," he sighed, "make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

Sean nodded and ran after him. Scout and Guardian were left, with Saniya awkwardly floating around the sidelines. "I'm uh…." She began edging away before pausing. "Not going to go. I'm going to help, it's what I've been working on with Azumarill." She breathed. "Okay. Uh… who needs to talk first?"

"I, uh… I think I should go," Scout said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the guild.

"Scout, he…" Guardian began, but he didn't know where to even start with that. For one thing, he didn't know about Striker's reasons here. He did not think this was fair, yet he was rather stunned by the explosion from the composed grovyle.

"I'll see you at dinner," Scout said, firmly. "And maybe tomorrow. I… yeah." He began to walk off himself. Thankfully Striker had gone in the direction of Sharpedo Bluff.

He looked at his paw as he went and ended up going right and towards the beach, rather than the guild. He wanted to be alone.

Later that night, dinner was a tense affair. Loudred, Corphish, and Sunflora weren't talking much. Striker and Guardian projected a sense of awkwardness around them that caused even the chatterbox Saniya to eat with her mouth closed.

Bidoof wasn’t looking right at anyone, especially not Loudred. Rai updated Scout that there had been a fight of sorts in the guild regarding Bidoof’s place with Loudred, Sunflora, and Corphish.

He had heard the four had intended to graduate together but maybe that had changed…?

Scout, Rai, and Mane continued working on their path to get information. Fissure was a destination Rai had insisted on, although Mane had nothing nice to say about the place. Sky Peak was agreed to be worth checking out if necessary. Downer Town was agreed to not be worth checking out. Scout didn't mention what had gone on beyond that things got a little heated, but made sure they knew it was no big deal.

Everyone retired to bed early except for Bidoof and Guardian. Neither wanted to exactly share a room with certain others that night and ended up talking to each other.

Saniya, the magic sorceress she was, fell asleep almost immediately after touching her bed. Leaving Sean and Striker to talk in peace.

Striker had not wanted to talk earlier, and Sean didn't push him.

"Was that everything you're angry about?" Sean asked.

Striker sighed, not wanting to talk but relenting to it. Sean wouldn't sleep otherwise, and he wouldn't accept that. "Essentially. He's done a lot of things lately, since even before we first came to the past, but that's the main thing. I just can't get it out of my head. Him threatening you like that."

"I have forgiven him for that," Sean pointed out. "It all happened so quickly and then everything with going back to the Dark Future, he did his best even with… uh, it's a bit hazy now. But I know he was injured throughout the whole thing."

"Just because you forgive him, doesn't mean I have to," Striker replied, calmly.

"I understand," Sean said, smiling at him. "I can't say I know exactly what's going on, but… he's not unkind, Striker. He's changed, there's no question about that, but just over these last two days, it's almost been like old times! Saniya making jokes about him coughing up hairballs, Guardian telling her off for picking on him, he's only swiped at me once for scratching his ear."

Striker was quiet.

"You're only seeing that one moment when his two new friends were fighting his two old ones. He freaked out. Scout was always a bit rash and definitely makes sense to panic at a moment like that."

"That's all fine," Striker sighed. "I understand, Sean. But you're not understanding my side of things."

Sean raised his head and waited.

"If that really is Scout and… yes, I am more convinced that it really is him just with something extra, it doesn't change what he's been doing. Just because he was my friend, doesn't mean I can just let go of what he's done. If he knew all this stuff, why didn't he do something to stop Guardian earlier? I'm sure there were many things he could have done that could have helped us, but he didn't. And threatening you like that…."

Striker shook his head before burrowing his face in his hands. "It's like an orb activated in my head. Whenever I look at him, I just see that moment. I don't see him playing with the string of his scarf. I don't see him purring on your lap. I don't see him laughing or crying. All I see is his claws at your throat, telling ME to stop fighting two pokémon trying to kill us. It's a betrayal. I can't trust him."

"Why haven't you told any of us that's how you feel?" Sean asked quietly. Saniya was awfully quiet for the snorer she normally was.

"How could I? When you and Saniya have such a good relationship with him and Guardian wants nothing more than to have one at all. I thought I could just ignore it, or avoid him, keep an eye on him when that didn't work. But I just…"

"I think you really do need to talk to Scout," Sean said, Saniya started snoring. "Nothing's going to change, or get better until you have a real conversation."

"As if Guardian would allow me anywhere close to him after today," Striker muttered.

"Is that an excuse?"

"...yeah."

Sean gave a chuckle. "I just don't think all this is good for either of you. I get it. If he tried doing that to you, I'd probably feel like you do."

Striker snorted. "You don't hold grudges. Anger and resentment 'don't do you any good', right?"

Sean smiled and shook his head fondly, aura tassels flopping. "You don't have to forget," he said. "I haven't. But there is a difference between forgiving and forgetting."

"I'll try."

"It's all I ask."

And so they went to sleep. Guardian eventually joined them, but both were asleep by that point.

The next day did not start with a bang but a whimper. Team Sunrise waited in consideration after the morning announcement, no one was directly ready to ask if Scout would join them. The meowth himself seemed unsure, oddly enough neither Rai nor Mane were tossing Striker unpleasant looks.

Scout hadn't told them much. He had downplayed it and assured them it was nothing.

Eventually, after some hesitation, Scout did walk over to them. "May I join you today?" he asked.

Guardian visibly sagged with relief and Saniya squealed. "Of course! Come along, Armaldo, we've got a plus one again!"

"Whatever," the grouch replied, already walking off to do his duties.

Things were stiff and awkward to start. No one was really talking. Things were compounded by the fact that they were working for the Kecleon's today, but neither made mention of Scout or any grievance they may have with him.

Eventually, Striker made a joke.

"If the wind changes with that expression on," he said, as Saniya was making faces behind his back. "It'll get stuck like that."

They assumed it was an attempt at a non-orb-related joke at least.

Whatever it was, the tension broke, and everyone laughed at it.

The tension began to recede. Striker helped Scout balance some loose objects, Guardian caught something falling from Saniya's wares before it clunked Sean on the head, and Saniya continued making faces.

At no point did anyone apologise. Striker's words to Scout were not laced with guilt or resentment. It was normal, if a little stiff. More akin to Striker talking to someone like Ursaring than someone he knew well.

Scout himself didn't try to apologise either. He doubted it'd help, and he had already apologised to Sean himself about that whole situation back during their trek into the Dark Future.

Scout did have something big to say, however. "I was talking to Rai and Mane last night. They think we should be ready to leave tomorrow."

"Aww, we'll miss you."

"I am certain you will be exemplary to all bandit hunters."

"Make sure to 'call' back with Chimecho when you can!"

"I wish you luck."

And as this was their last day together, Guardian began to gird himself. It started during a trip carrying an old, breaking, box that had holes in it. Scout rode on top to catch items before they fell out.

Guardian didn't talk then, he just began to craft his words.

They delivered, helped stock, then went to get more. The smeargle the Kecleon Brothers were buying from was happy to nap as they did so.

Eventually, however, even Guardian could not hesitate to gather more information any longer.

"Scout?" he asked as they rested after being excused by the brothers. "May we talk? By ourselves."

Scout glanced back to Team Sunrise, before nodding to Guardian. "Sure."

They went for a walk, in Scout's case at least, to Sharpedo Bluff. "You know, this is where I woke up," Scout said, smiling at the cliffside. "Not at the beach. Rai spooked me and I actually almost fell off the cliff, he grabbed me before I could fall though."

"I am relieved," Guardian said.

They came to a stop, Scout had trouble finding the strength to lift his head to meet Guardian's eye. The dusknoir was so large, wide and dark. Despite being a Ghost-type, his arms were clearly defined with muscle, his belly moved slightly as he drew breath in and out, and even the djinn-like ending of his body waved and wisped away in the wind.

It was bizarre how such a creature could exist. But here he was.

And he was silent. "I…" Guardian started before pausing with a brief laugh. "You ever think about talking to someone so much, all the things you'd say, they'd say, and then when you finally get the chance you can't think of a single word to say?"

Scout gave the same laugh back. "Yeah. I know that feeling."

Guardian nodded and floated down slightly, pushing his physical, yet spiritual, body through the ground so he could better speak with Scout.

"I…," Guardian began, but again. He couldn't speak.

It wasn't like they hadn't spoken at all throughout the last two months. But it was all polite and distant. It was friendly good mornings and wishes for pleasant days. It was moments where Rai and Mane and Striker and Sean and Saniya, where everyone, was there to fill the gaps with sound and laughter.

All those times were gifted with distractions to avoid this. Now that they were here, neither knew what to say.

"I forgive you, you know that?" Scout asked, his voice very small all of a sudden.

"I… don't." Guardian shook his head. Scout looked shocked, but Guardian continued. "I don't forgive myself," he explained, calming the meowth. "And… to be honest, I don't think you forgive me either."

Scout's ears flicked. "I do," he insisted. "I understand why you did what you did, and you changed. I... I knew you would in time, I just wish I had done something more to help."

"You did help," Guardian said. "Your words to me before we parted in the Dark Future. I still remember them. The heroes who saved time or the villain who tried to end it. When speaking with Striker further, working with him again, reliving our old times… I cannot say that I am selfless. I am selfish and greedy."

Scout was silent.

"The point yet remains, even as we try to avoid it. I destroyed our relationship. Even IF you don't remember my betrayal so well, I do. That's not something that is just forgiven because 'redemption' and apologies are made. I think you want to forgive me but… it’s not always so easy."

Scout glanced away. That made him think of Striker. "I remember… some stuff now. Not a lot. Not so much that I'm totally convinced, but…"

Guardian reached to his arm and began untangling the old scruffy scarf he had tied around it. "This scarf is what I found for you when I first took you in," he said as it unwound completely and fell into his hands. "After realising, you were freezing, and I had no hope of warming you up. It was your blanket, then your cape, then your scarf. You threw it back to me when I betrayed you. I kept it."

He handed it out. "I know I ruined our relationship, but I would do anything to begin fixing it, building one anew."

Scout raised his paws and hesitantly touched the scarf. It was soft and clean despite its overall disrepair. It felt warm and safe, it looked loved and smelled like home.

He took the scarf and Guardian carefully tied it around his neck. Scout gave Guardian a genuine smile and Guardian, despite his face lacking a mouth, clearly gave one back.

Things weren't okay, not by far. But it gave them hope that there would be a time that they were.

Team Ion determined the last of their immediate plans, feeling confident with their chances.

That night, there was only one more conversation to have.

"Grovyle," Scout said, nodding as they stood together at the beach.

"Meowth," Striker returned.

Striker smiled. "You know Guardian would vehemently disagree with such impersonal greetings between us?"

Scout smiled. "Heh, probably. You'd know better than me."

With that sobering comment, they both considered their next words carefully. "I…" Striker began but had trouble continuing. "I don't know," he sighed. "Sean, Guardian, everyone thinks this and that, and I want to agree, but then we're here, and I can't ignore what you've done."

Scout nodded. "I don't think you should. It's… not to sound manipulative or anything, it's not what I mean. But… having someone to doubt me is good, I think." He remembered his conversation with Mane in the Dark Future even if a lot of the rest was going blurry.

Striker frowned. "Explain."

"What if I'm wrong?" Scout said, shrugging. "What if I'm crazy? What if Darkrai did something to me and I don't know it? Even beyond all of that. What if I'm lying?"

Striker didn't respond.

Scout bowed his head. "You're a true hero, you know? Everything about you. I won't ask you to forgive me because… if I was you, I don’t think I would.” His stomach clenched briefly, just briefly as he remembered Rai falling back with a cut through his body. He banished the thought before it could twist his expression.

He understood. “I don't get why everyone else has."

"I think… in a sense, you are too hard on yourself," Striker said carefully. "There is a lot of talk about what you should have done, which I agree with, but if you endlessly think about what you could have changed, you'll be blind to what you can do. It's also getting somewhat depressing. I don't hate you… Meowth."

"You can call me Scout," he said. "If you want."

Striker almost smiled. "Thank you. You may call me Striker."

"Thank you."

"I don't hate you," Striker repeated. "I just can't quite see you as I once did. For everything. You did the right thing in the end, like Guardian really. Like father like son, I suppose. Perhaps this makes me hypocritical or, rather, it certainly does."

"I don't think how you feel really 'counts' with stuff like hypocrisy," Scout said. "Sometimes, the answer just is 'because'."

Striker did smile briefly at that. The smile faded, his next words would not be easy to hear. "I don't know you anymore. I don’t know if you took my friend away or if you just lost him. I don’t know if I can ever see you the same again. Can you accept that?"

Scout was quiet. It wasn't easy to hear, especially with Guardian's situation with Striker. But, as Scout said, sometimes the answer just was because. "Yeah, I can. As long as we can get along. Coexist. Respect each other. Maybe get to know each other again. You’re a lot different in person than some pixels on a screen."

Striker nodded. "I can do that. For what it's worth, I am trying."

"It's all I can ask," Scout replied, causing Striker to give a ghost of a smile. "I'm trying too, to be better, I mean."

"It's all anyone can ask."

They shared a nod and then walked to dinner together. It wasn't the ideal outcome for both, Striker wished he could forgive and forget and Scout wished the grovyle could see him as a friend again, his own memories of Striker painted the grovyle in such a wonderful light.

Both game and personal memories. Striker had taught him Night Slash twice and was the coolest, bravest, pokémon ever. But if being tolerated was the most he could get, then that's what he would take.

Scout smiled at Guardian, sitting next to him. Marill asked about his new scarf, noting from Azurill's chatter of Guardian that the scarf had gone from his arm to Scout's neck.

Loudred passed an apple to Bidoof and Wigglytuff danced around an amused Armaldo.

Their last night together was a merry one.


It was odd not to be woken up by Loudred or Corphish in the morning.

It was just a normal, which was abnormal, slow awakening. Rai was the first to wake up, yawning widely and giving a good stretch. He hadn't slept like that for a while, and even though he was the early bird of the three he still enjoyed his sleep.

Rai's movement stirred Mane, as he was curled up next to him. Mane made a disagreeing sound at the warmth being moved and tried to paw him closer, but Rai flicked him with his tail, and Mane's eyes snapped open.

He flicked him again and nearly got his tail bit for his troubles.

"What time is it?" Mane asked, yawning just as widely as Rai had. "How early are you getting up?"

"I dunno," Rai replied, both were speaking lowly as Scout was still sleeping peacefully. "I feel really rested, I don't… know what time it is." Looking out the window was little help.

Their quiet muttering caused Scout's ears to flick a few times, and he scrunched up his face and rolled away from them. "Ooh no," Mane said, deciding if he had to be awake, Scout did too. "Up!"

He trotted over and poked Scout in the back until he tried to slap him away. "Go away."

"Nuh-uh."

"Mmmm," Scout growled before he cracked his eyes open. "What time is it."

"Hello to you too."

"What time is it?" Scout repeated leaning up into a sitting position. "And why do I feel almost well-rested?"

"That's what I was wondering," Rai said. "Let's go see what's going on."

"Did they let us sleep in?" Mane cooed, mockingly. "How sweet and kind and thoughtful."

"And if they did?" Rai asked, shutting Mane up.

That was the case.

The guild had gotten up, done assembly, and split apart to do their work for the day. Loudred saw them wandering in all confused and shouted. "THEY'RE UP!"

Which alerted Wigglytuff. "Yippee!" he cheered, appearing from behind them somehow and grabbing all three. "Did you sleep well? Oh, how exciting! AHH!"

He tossed them several times into the air before actually beginning to juggle them.

By the time Wigglytuff released them, they were almost fainting from dizziness, and Armaldo was shouting at him.

Having not set out yet, Team Ion hadn't slept in for very long. It was Marill, Paras, and Bidoof who helped them find their feet again.

Bidoof was saying something, but it was indistinct to their ears. The vague country accent was all they could make out.

The fourth member of that small team, however, seemed to decide something. It was difficult for them to tell, being so dizzy.

"Okay," Flaaffy scoffed, "everyone clear. I'm zapping them!"

Knowing full well, he intended to follow through; everyone retreated as Flaaffy shocked them.

This, thankfully, snapped them back to normal.

"Ow! What was that for?" Scout yelped, jumping back.

"I'll burn that pretty fluff of yours!" Mane growled, twitching once or twice.

Rai was actually quite happy with the shock, so he didn't say anything.

"Burn me, and I'll take that silly mohawk from you and give you something actually worth wearing."

"This is my actual fur!"

"How sad."

Scout pulled Mane back before he could begin to bite.

"Don't mind him," Marill sighed, stepping forward, and opened the Treasure Bag he wore. "We've brought you breakfast."

The promise of food distracted Mane and soon enough all was forgiven, not forgotten though, never forgotten.

"So, where are you heading first?" Marill asked, returning Team Ion to reality and reminding them why they must have been allowed to sleep in.

Scout and Rai shared a look before Rai said. "We're going to head to Quad Town first. It's pretty much just a stop on the way but hey? We may find something."

Marill nodded understandingly. Quad Town was one of the closest settlements to Treasure Town, and if they were heading North, then there was little point to avoid the place.

"Do ya three mind if we walk you ta town?" Bidoof asked, positively not sniffling already.

"Of course not."

They had some last things to get in town. Or, really, some pokémon to give goodbyes to.

Scout decided it was a bizarre feeling to be walking into town today. There was a heaviness to it. Knowing that this would be the last time he walked this familiar place for a while.

A tune got stuck in his head and he began to hum. "Da-da-dun dun, dun, dun, dun daadada."

Rai gave him a curious look before smiling. Scout smiled back and winked. Mane rolled his eyes and got a seven.

The town was oddly tense. Perhaps Sunflora had done as she said and spread Scout’s word about the Kecleon?

Marowak's Dojo was the first stop.

Scout and Mane had a flash of nostalgia that was difficult to place as they approached and Mane laughed at a joke he couldn't quite remember.

Giving an amused smile, Scout was the one to open the door.

It was quite a serious slobberknocker on the inside. Striker and Guardian were slamming into each other, blades of green and blasts of purply spheres caused eruptions of Power flooding through the room.

Sean and Saniya weren't exactly slacking either, experiencing a four-way tussle between themselves, Vigoroth, and Marowak. Sean's palm slammed into Marowak's raised bone, sending it flying. Still, Marowak himself was steadfast and was able to crack his helmet against Sean's head.

Saniya peppered Vigoroth with glowing leaves and an avalanche of generated stones, but he just kept coming for her, forcing her to weave, fly, and even strain herself to do tiny flickering teleports.

The six pokémon didn't notice them at first. It was Saniya who addressed them first. "Kitties!" she squealed and wrapped them up in delighted hugs.

Relaxing now, the rest of the fighters calmed down and came over.

"So, you're off now?" Sean asked, smiling proudly for them.

"Yep." Rai nodded.

"Stay safe. Don't do anything Saniya wouldn't do."

"There is nothing I wouldn't do!" Saniya protested, in the middle of hugging Scout's face and crying. "Burn their land. Expunge their culture. Stay safe and don't be sad!" she said and burst into tears.

He patted her back, repeating. "There-there." Until she calmed down.

Saniya cleaned Scout's koban and gave him a smile. "A good cry is good for you! That's why it's called a good cry. Remember that, you three." She gave them all a serious look, staring intently at each one in kind.

Scout smiled. Rai smiled awkwardly. Mane glanced away.

With Saniya moving back, Striker nodded to the three of them. "Best travels," he said, and that was that. He wasn’t much of a talker though and he and Scout shared a nod.

As Guardian drifted up to also hug and sob all over Scout, Striker added something. "During Sean and I's travel over the continent, we visited a few good places that gave us information. Towny Town is an out-of-the-way stop before Fissure and quite close to Blackstone. It’s worth going to and finding Liepard. She might be able to help you."

"Good point!" Sean agreed, nodding along to Striker's advice. "She helped us figure out where the Limestone Cavern was, the future had muddled up exactly where that was, and we were lost."

"I have also tried to work out some places you can search," Guardian rumbled, floating in now. He took out a piece of parchment from somewhere and handed it over. "Sadly I do not have the same experience Sean and Striker gained. Still, I truly hope this can help in some way."

He handed it to Scout, surely because he was the one with the ability to take it with something other than his mouth, who unfolded it and glanced in. "Thank you."

Guardian hesitated in place, floating back, almost floating forward, and completely unable to decide.

"Can I have a hug?" Scout asked, a little shyly. He did not have to wait long.

Guardian's hug was tight but not painful as one may expect from those brawny arms. He was not warm, he was a Ghost-type after all. But he was comforting, steady, and strong.

"There is nothing you can't do," Guardian whispered. "But there is no shame in asking for help. Shinx and Litleo are wonderful partners, and I am so very proud of you."

Scout leaned in and smiled. It was surprisingly not as awkward, he had wanted to ask Guardian for a hug before but had been too embarrassed to do it.

The hug went on for a while, but eventually, eventually, Guardian lowered him back down. There was tension in his arms, it was clear he didn't want to let go. But he did.

Team Sunrise each gave a smile or nod to Team Ion. "Are you leaving right now?" Sean asked.

"No, we're just getting a couple of things beforehand."

"We'll try to see you off," Sean replied, glancing to where Marowak was entertaining Vigoroth. "Is that okay?"

"Certainly." Marowak nodded. "We'll join you."

"See you at the crossroads," Sean said, and the trio of kitties left the dojo.

Past that, the three had an easy time. The Kecleon Brothers were polite, but there remained a certain level of stiffness between them and Scout. Electivire hugged Rai, sobbing his eyes out with pride.

Kangaskhan took the three of them into a crushing embrace and wished them the best of luck.

And Chansey, who was there with Kangaskhan, gave the three of them a puff of Heal Pulse afterwards.

"Dears, would you mind if I walked you to the crossroads?" Kangaskhan asked once they were all certain no one had broken anything.

"Of course not," Rai said, politely. Happily too. Kangaskhan's hugs aside, she was like a grandmother to the town. Chansey joined them, and Electivire joined them as well when they passed by.

Scout had an idea of what was going on, he shared a Look with Mane who had also clued on. Rai was happily oblivious.

Their suspicions were proved correct when they arrived at the crossroads. The entire guild, Team Sunrise, Team Go-Getters, several townsfolk, Lapras, and of course the pokémon walking with them were all here.

"What's this?" Rai squeaked, really not having clued in on what was going on. Mane laughed, and Scout grinned but also wanted to hide at the same time.

"Oh my gosh, we're here to see you off!" Sunflora was the one to break the silence as Wigglytuff danced over to them.

"Everyone here wants to wish you well," he said, dancing around them for a bit before stopping. "Ooh, dizzy."

The entire guild approached in turn to give goodbyes, Bidoof and Loudred both cried, Marill stood with his family as Azurill chirped for them to have a good time. Azumarill stepped forward last. "Make sure to talk to each other," she ordered, particularly to Scout. "Don't bottle stuff in, that stuff tends to come out at the worst times."

“I’m following the therapy idea you suggested too,” he said quietly. She smiled and wished him the best of luck.

"Hey, I can't believe you three are graduating before me," Corphish said, giving all three a pinch on the nose. "Back when I saw you two in Boulder Quarry, I knew you'd be great. But this is fast."

"I'll eat you if you do that again," Mane threatened. Corphish pinched him again and ducked back before Mane could bite him.

"I'll miss you three," he said, cutting off Mane's fury right at the source and moving aside to allow Chimecho to give them a rapid check over.

"Indeedee knows to expect you," Chimecho said, checking Scout's tongue and temperature. "So, you'll be treated well. Be safe, you three. You're all so important, come back safe. Okay?" She was speaking a little quickly, but the message was there.

Flaaffy gave them each a comb, refusing to let them appear atrocious when they'd be representing the guild across the continent and Paras added in a little invention of her own.

"I call it a Spore Bomb," she whispered meekly. She was more confident nowadays, but the crowds were still a bit difficult for her. "It's like a sleep seed, but they don't need to swallow it. Just breathe it in. But be careful, it goes both ways."

"Thank you so much," Rai said, sniffling. "You guys."

Rai then began to tackle-hug everyone. Everyone.

While he was doing that, Scout made his way to Armaldo. Everyone was around, so he felt like it was reasonably safe to do this.

"Best of luck, Meowth," he said, seeing Scout come up to him.

"Thanks. Do you mind walking with me up to the guild?"

Armaldo gave him a curious look but nodded. As they walked, Scout dug his paw into the Treasure Bag and pulled out a folded note. "So, I wrote something last night. Everything I could remember, a refresh of some of the stuff we talked about, and some other things I've remembered since then."

They reached where Scout wanted to be, Chatot's grave. Scout gave the simple monument a sad look over. "Please don't let anyone other than Guildmaster Wigglytuff read it, it's in unown so…."

"He can read that," Armaldo said, nodding. He took the letter. "Thank you, Meowth."

Scout nodded, and they walked back to the crossroads.

Team Sunrise gave them each one more goodbye, Saniya AND Guardian cried this time, and they were met by Team Go-Getters.

"You'll love the trip," Wartortle said. "The land is pretty beautiful."

"We might even see you on the road sometime." Chikorita winked. "There's always pokémon needing to be rescued."

"Hopefully not you," Charizard rumbled, smiling. "I think you'll be fine."

As much as they would love to continue spending time and talking, they had to go now, or they would never get anywhere.

Pokémon waved, cheered, or stamped their feet as Team Ion departed Treasure Town, a mission in mind and excitement in their hearts.


Nothing important happened between leaving Treasure Town and reaching Quad Town.

"Run, it's the diglett again!"

Nothing exciting.

"Scout, PLEASE stop falling down cliffs."

No one needed to learn how to swim.

"I'm a FELINE! Water and I don't like each other on principle."

Or fly.

"I AM RAPIDLY REALISING I DON'T LIKE HEIGHTS."

Nothing at all.

It took three days to reach Quad Town. They had expected just two, but there were certain… detours that distracted the trio.

Quad Town was a quirky place. Unlike Treasure Town which was largely sought out due to the presence of the guild, Quad Town was more of a stop along the road. There were resident pokémon who worked hard, small thatched houses, and a single hub of activity where most of the town's trade was performed.

It was also completely pointless for them to search for information.

"I haven't seen a pyroar around, no."

"This place is mostly wood, you don't see many Fire-types around."

"Other than Litleo right there, no."

Due to taking as long as they had to reach the place, no one particularly wanted to stick around for anything more. But the trio were tired and slept in a ball together near the outskirts of the town before setting off again.

Quad Town was a bust, but it also wasn't expected to bear any fruit anyway.

The next town, however, was far more fruitful. Sadly, this was a literal statement and not the kindness of the figurative one.

"There are so many combee," Scout hissed as they walked along rows and rows of fruit and berry trees. Actual towers of combee floated around, with beedrill and vespiquen herding or directing them. Pollen Town was an accurate name, a community of Bug-types and Grass-types working together to create their ideal living space.

All three members of Team Ion were left sneezing their lungs out before long. An accurately named town indeed.

"Okay," Rai said, once Pollen Town was far behind them, still sniffling. "First two didn't get us anything. Should we head for The Rock or Tiny Burrow next?"

"The Rock," Mane said, immediately. "Is what I'd say. So, Tiny Burrow?"

"Hey." Scout bumped him. "You're right sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Mane asked, a little offended.

"The Rock then?" Rai said, getting a nod from Scout. Rolling his eyes at them, Mane drifted along as Rai and Scout talked about something stupid.


"Guardian, would you like a hand?" Saniya asked. Guardian didn't respond. "Guardian? Hey, brawno?"

Guardian twitched and glanced up at her, eye flickering for a moment. "Oh, I am sorry, Saniya. I didn't notice you there."

"I can see that." She looked down at the item in his hand. "You… done crushing that?"

"Oh… oh, dear."

She carefully extracted what used to be a clay pot and scrubbed his injured hands with a rag she pulled from somewhere.

"You really need to stop dozing off like that," Saniya reprimanded, rubbing the greyish fluid that acted as his blood off his hands. "You're making me worry. You're making Azurill worry. Heck, even Vigoroth's noticed something's up."

Guardian glanced away.

"It's been a while since you've visited Azumarill, right?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"I'm due for tomorrow, but we'll switch."

"Saniya, I cannot. Your progress has been far too wonderful to see. I won't take that away from you."

Rolling her eyes, she smacked his arm. "I'm not going to stop going. Just reschedule. YOU are the one who stopped. Are you alright?"

"I am fine, no need to feel concerned."

"Hmm." She looked him over. "Stick out your tongue, I'm going to decide if you're 'okay' or not."

"I… no."

"Please?"

"No."

"Do you even have one?"

"I don't think so."

"Somehow I don't believe you." Saniya gasped suddenly. "How could I not know? We've known each other for so long, we've been the best of bosom buddies and then the most eclectic of enemies! Then back to best brawny beauty friends forever! How can I not know something about you? This is a travesty, a calamity, a debacle, if you mind my language, this may even be a fiasco!"

Saniya began to fly around him in a panic. "This can not do. Kangaskhan?!" She zipped away before Guardian could adjust well enough to calm… whatever was happening down. "Kangaskhan!?"

He floated after her, but he was slow, and she was not. By the time he reached the door, Saniya was already finalising her plans.

"Good news, everybody!" Saniya cheered, swinging back in to swing Guardian's entire frame around and around with her tiny arms. "Which is us! Kangaskhan said we can go. Well, us. Just us. I only asked for us. She tried to let those two lazybones." She gestured vaguely into the complex where Striker and Sean had no idea what was transpiring. "Go as well, but I told her they can pick their lazy bums up and work twice as hard."

She cleared her throat. "YOU HEAR THAT?" she screeched, voice echoing long and far.

"YES!" Sean's voice returned.

"SWELL! DON'T DO ANYTHING I WOULDN'T DO. SO, YOU HAVE FREE REIGN TO BURN THINGS. BUT NOTHING THAT'S CUTE, OKAY?"

"SURE, SANIYA." There was Striker's dulcet tones, loud and echoey as well.

"COOL! I'LL BE BACK FOR YOU MY SWEETY LEAFY."

"May I say something?" Guardian asked.

"You just did," Saniya giggled. "Too late. LET'S GO, Pikachu and Eevee!"

And then she was gone. Guardian could only hope she had gotten too excited and left him, but that was not the case as a Psychic tug dragged him along.

Team Sunrise had been confined to Treasure Town for months now. She took them to the market, to Raigeki's little cliffside home, to Marowak. All places they had been a dozen times over.

"I'm so bored," Saniya complained, from where she perched on Guardian's head. She had played with his receptor for a bit before it too bored her.

"Careful," Guardian admonished. "Say that too much, and something you might not like might happen."

"I'M BORED!" Saniya cried. "BORED! BORED! BORED!" She then waited, expectantly. "Guardian," Saniya wined, flicking him. "Something terrible was supposed to happen by now. I said I was bored, so bored. I may die… okay? Still nothing."

She rubbed her chin as he chuckled. "I bet this can't get any worse?" Saniya sighed as dramatically and genuinely as she could, sagging against Guardian. She then tensed. "Still nothing? Come on, give me SOMETHING!"

Saniya began to sob. "If I said something like bored or can't get any worse, in the Dark Future we'd have three sets of marauders and fifteen escaped monsters by now. Here in this place, it's all peaceful, and I love it except I also crave the excitement and thrill. Does that make me terrible?"

"No," Guardian answered immediately. "Saniya, you're not terrible for feeling bored."

"I think it's pretty bad to want ANYTHING from that time."

"I see," Guardian said, softly and heavily. Saniya rubbed the top of his actual head, avoiding the sensor.

"Sorry," she said, already knowing why. "I guess the five of us BEING the five of us isn't terrible."

"They've been gone for barely a week," Guardian sighed, "and it feels like an age."

"I didn't expect to miss Shinx and Litleo as much as I do," Saniya said. "Litleo and me could really shoot the piss, that's what the kids say, right?"

"Sure."

"Yeah, stab the fish. And Shinx is alright too, I guess. I haven't really talked with him much."

"He didn't go to the future, after all," Guardian reminded.

"Mmm." Was all she replied with. At first. "Except he was supposed to? Maybe. That stuff is still weird, even if it doesn't turn my head as much as it does the rest of you."

Guardian chuckled. "You would be the best one to understand something so senseless."

"No doubt about it." She clicked her tongue. "Ah… I wonder what they're doing now?"

"Why are there so many carvanha?" Scout cried, paddling as fast as he could while Rai and Mane desperately swung themselves down to Scout with vines. "AHH!"

"Probably something important," Guardian suggested, looking up at Saniya finally. They were seated at the beach, having chatted to Lapras for a little while about the goings-on. Lapras had places to be, however, so he gave them some peace.

"You know, speaking of Shinx specifically, I believe he rather likes this place," Guardian began, looking up at the setting sun. The krabby were blowing bubbles. "The tranquillity of it, the beauty of the ocean with the reflection in the bubbles.

"Hm," Saniya said, floating up to a bubble. She peered into it, seeing a distorted version of herself. Then she sucked it into her mouth and immediately began to cough and gag.

"Did you seriously just do that?" Guardian asked, deadpanning with disbelief. Saniya coughed a little, gave him a thumbs-up, and continued. He floated over and gave her a good smack on the back.

"Hooo. Don't do that," Saniya wheezed, through tears. "Not fun." She cleared her throat several times and smacked her lips. "Ugh, three out of ten, two pinkies down, do not recommend."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Do, it's important." She gave a glare to a krabby, who chittered at her in amusement. Leading to her tossing it out to sea with her mind.

"That'll teach it," Saniya growled. "Sending it back to its preferred habitat that it was probably going to do in a few minutes anyway. Mwa. Ha. Ha."

Guardian's eyes grew a lighter colour at her. "You are an odd one, Celebi with the Mirrors," he said.

She glanced back to him, curious. "Honestly, I'm pretty sure I'm the only 'normal' one, Dusknoir the… Guardian?"

"Heh. Really?"

"Of course." Saniya nodded. "No one can even begin to claim Scout is just your average meowth. Striker has an orbsession and not a Celebisession. So, there's definitely something wrong with him. Sean used to be human, and we all know he's totally crazy. While you, well. Hmm."

She rubbed her chin in thought.

"Yes?" Guardian asked, half curious, half challenging. "How am I crazy?"

There was certainly one thing she could say, but that'd be rather hurtful and absolutely not in line with the playful banter they were having.

"Your face is not your face," Saniya decided. Guardian blinked. "Your mouth is down there, and I don't know if you have a tongue or not, and it may drive ME crazy. And you don't want to see me crazy."

Guardian chuckled. "Astute observations there."

"But of course."

"You've missed one crucial thing, however."

"Have I?" Saniya asked, pityingly. "Have I really?"

"You put a pickle near Scout, and he nearly jumped off the cliff in fright." Saniya froze. "You replaced Striker's orbs with marbles, and he may have cried. And let's not even discuss raiding Sean’s clothes, that was horrifying for everyone involved."

Saniya chuckled. "Okay, but like… you got to give me credit there. That was funny."

"It was," Guardian agreed.

"Okay, but how does that make me not normal?"

"It is simple," Guardian said, putting on an approximation of The Great Dusknoir and his somewhat patronising teaching moments. "You are a wack."

"Curses!" Saniya cursed. "Avast, I have been outed as the madwoman I am."

They shared a smile and laugh and turned their eyes towards the path back to the guild. "…Should we start the trip back?" Saniya sighed.

"I think so." Guardian nodded. And so, one floated, the other also floated but in a different way, back up the path.

Before they reached the crossroads, however, and returned to the others, Guardian had one thing to say. "Thank you.”. Saniya had, in her own way, decided he might benefit from having a friend today.

"You're welcome." She smiled back, and to the guild they returned.

Striker and Sean had words to share with them when they returned. Strong ones. But they got off easy in the end, once Striker noticed that Guardian had an air of calm around him rather than the aura of tenseness he had been suffering.

"Armaldo wants to see us," Sean said, after he was done complaining about all the heavy lifting he was forced to do because he was 'Their Fighting-type and built for this'. Sean declared this as cruel and unsanctioned penalties upon him.

"Not just Armaldo, it looks like," Saniya pointed out as they entered the lower floor. Indeed, Wigglytuff and Officer Magnezone were waiting for them.

"BZZT! Finally. The four of you were expected over eleven minutes ago. BZZT!"

"It's okay," Wigglytuff said, rocking back and forth. "We were able to have a great talk! The best of talks!"

"BZZT! I disagree. BZZT! I cannot taste Perfect Apples and have no use for something like that. BZZT! How was this productive? BZZT!"

"Don't set him off again," Armaldo warned, giving both pokémon a sharp look. Wigglytuff smiled, and Magnezone turned back to the four.

"Are we… in trouble or something?" Sean asked, taking his role as the main speaker.

"Not at all!" Wigglytuff assured. "The opposite, in fact! The four of you have been working so well, so much, and with so much care to your terms that we've been speaking to Officer Magnezone about lightening the restrictions on you."

All four perked up immediately. "Wait, really?" Saniya squealed, doing a loop-de-loop around the room. "What does this mean?"

"What our news means is that your range of activity has been widened," Armaldo explained, voice as rough and blunt as always. "Rather than solely being restricted to Treasure Town, and minor excursions outside when supervised, you'll now be able to move in the range of a day's 'normal' travelling distance. You'll still be expected to return to the guild every night."

He was wise to focus them on the good news because they immediately forgot about Aggron.

"So, we can… actually go places now?" Sean asked, almost breathless. Saniya put her hand to her head and fainted in mid-air.

Guardian caught her, handed her to Striker, and bowed. "Thank you," he said simply. He still didn't talk much outside of Team Sunrise and Ion, but their restrictions were entirely on him, and they had weighed heavily on his conscious.

"What brought this on?" Striker asked, deciding to air out a few details. "I'd like to know, so we know what to keep doing."

Armaldo gave him a vaguely amused look, and the mere feeling of it woke Saniya back up.

It was Magnezone, however, who answered. "BZZT! There have been no complaints with actual bearing to them throughout your entire probationary period. BZZT! Furthermore, Team Go-Getters has given a word of approval as well. Team Ion have as well, but their word needs to be disregarded in consideration of the closeness of you and them. The guild also has excellent reports to show. The incident with Aggron solidified the decision. BZZT!"

“Situation? What situation?” Saniya asked.

All three of them looked thrown a moment.

“You… didn’t hear?” Wigglytuff asked. All four blinked. “Oh my.”

“In short, the Clefable Guild came to arrest you,” Armaldo said, nodding to Guardian. “But you’re under our jurisdiction.”

Guardian glanced down. “Oh….” Before he could make a case for why they shouldn’t have, Wigglytuff cut in.

"So, it has been agreed," Wigglytuff sang to distract them. "It's still a bit of a test, but I know you four will exceed expectations! You don't shirk work, you haven't tried to run away, and your smiles go for miles! You have the guild's stamp of approval!"

"Even him?" Saniya said, jerking her head towards Armaldo. He gave her a filthy look but said nothing. Wigglytuff tittered nervously, holding his tongue.

Someone who did not have a tongue to hold, however. "BZZT! It was Armaldo's suggestion that brought this change. BZZT!" Officer Magnezone explained, to Saniya's unending shock. "BZZT! Armaldo's history aside, his expertise and work inTreasure Town have been paramount. It was his own 'stamp of approval' that brought this change. BZZT!"

"Thank you, Magnezone," Armaldo grumbled, almost looking embarrassed. But that was impossible. "Thank you so much." His tone dripped with sarcasm, but being a pokémon, a robotic one at that, Magnezone did not pick up on it in the least.

"BZZT! You are welcome. BZZT!"

Sean and Saniya couldn't quite contain their snickers, even Striker had to smother a smile. All of which was made increasingly difficult by Armaldo's deepening glare.

Guardian pulled them all back before any insults could be accidentally given.

"Thank you," he said again. "I understand what my actions have wrought upon Treasure Town, the Wigglytuff Guild, and Team Magnezone. I will continue to work as hard as I can to begin to repair the harm I inflicted."

"And we'll be with you every step of the way!" Saniya cheered, having successfully calmed herself down. "Hahahahaha. Armaldo likes us."

Or not.

Sean and Saniya broke into giggles, and Armaldo ended up clonking their heads together before storming off in a huff. Magnezone wisely chose not to ask and left afterwards.

Once those two were gone, Wigglytuff joined them in giggling.

In the end, it was a good day.

Much better than Team Ion's. After escaping the carvanha, they had to deal with the lumineon who decided it didn't want to stay in the water, turned Rai against their new friend Ludicolo, and was a bad day overall.
 
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Chapter 43 - Fall Into Adventure

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Rai and Scout sat before a mighty exeggutor that they had come all the way to Yellow Petal Town to speak to. He stood at the top of a massive tree and Mane had volunteered to watch the bottom for trouble.

He definitely wasn't afraid of heights.

"Do not mind my circular way of addressing you," said the first head of the exeggutor. "It is the unfortunate result of trying to sway myself to be both serious, mystical, and playful as an exeggcute. This head speaks clearly."

"This head," the middle one said, "speaks frustratingly."

"And I am an idiot!" the third head laughed.

"We are all the same person," the other two snapped.

"I know! That's the joke!"

"My apologies for my behaviour," the first head said. "Now, before we get side-tracked further, what can I do for you, Team Ion?"

"We're searching for an outlaw," Rai explained, falling into old patterns easily. "His name is Pyroar, and we've got some information here…" he looked to Scout, who was already pulling the items out.

Exeggutor levitated the offered items over, and all three heads read through it quickly.

"Ah, yes," the first nodded wisely. "I believe we can give you some assistance."

"While the reed of knowledge may not be from us, perhaps another."

"Totodile!" the third head shouted. "Totodile knows!"

"Thank you," the first head said, very flatly. "Must you be so blunt?"

"It was going to be fun to go in circles for a while," the middle head sighed.

Ignoring them, the final head said. "Totodile totally totalled uh… well, he and Sudowoodo can help you. Totodile's in town; you can find him dancing in town normally. He's friends with Sudowoodo who tried to capture Pyroar a few weeks ago, but it didn't go well I think?"

"No," the first head said.

"Probably not," the middle said, before sighing louder. "Stop giving definitive statements. You don't know, Sudowoodo might be absolutely fine! We barely leave the tree as it is, how would you know?"

"I know because I DO get visitors," the first head snapped as Rai and Scout exchanged uncomfortable looks. "Perhaps you were asleep at the time?"

"Have you seen Sudowoodo?"

"Have YOU?"

"See ya, Team Ion!" the third head said, giving them an excuse to leave. "Run while you can. Seriously."

"Thank you, Exeggutor." Rai bowed. Scout did the same, and they left with some haste.

Mane happily re-joined them once they tumbled their way down, happily announcing that no one had tried to chop the tree down as he was watching it.

Upon learning who they needed to talk to next, Mane took the lead eagerly, racing ahead of Rai and Scout and nearly leaving them behind.

"Come on, we don't have all day," Mane called back at them, laughing at their slowness.

"You climb a giant tree and tell us that again," Scout huffed back, panting for breath. Sure, he didn't sweat in this body, which was nice, but the overactive panting he had to do was annoying in a whole different way.

"What's got you all fired up, anyway?" Rai asked once Mane had slowed enough for them to keep pace with them.

"Nice joke," Mane laughed, "I just can't wait! The sooner we find and beat this Pyroar guy, the sooner we'll graduate! Us, graduating from the Wigglytuff Guild. Ha, who would have thought?"

Scout exchanged a look with Rai. "Were you sniffing flowers or something while you were waiting?" he asked, really not sure about this enthusiasm from Mane.

Mane was not the most enthusiastic of pokémon around. Filled with sardonic remarks and purposefully dragging his feet to irk others. This energy was not expected, and Scout wondered if he was trying to make up for sitting around while he and Rai climbed the tree.

"Maybe," Mane answered. "There's a lot of them around. Now let's go!"

"Pikachu and Eevee," Scout muttered under his breath and jogged behind Rai and Mane.

"Lagging behind, eh?" Mane said, not looking back. He often guarded the rear in dungeons. "Respect."

"You know it's just because I'm on two feet, not four like you two!"

"Respect."

"Shut your mouth."

"Mmspek," Mane hummed, not opening his mouth.

Scout sneered at him, but it was a bizarrely endeared one.

It took a few minutes of questioning and walking to a different part of town, but they found Totodile without trouble.

The small Water-type was busy with a crowd of pokémon, riding a ball of water that somehow was not popping while juggling softball-sized water balls. Despite the aggressiveness, he tossed them with, none of the water was splashed onto the crowd, each maintaining their form.

Totodile did a flip, landed on the water ball, which rippled violently as he tossed all seven juggled balls into the air, each in a different direction with varying amounts of force.

Part running, part paddling, he maneuvered the water ball he was riding on and opened his jaw to the sky, zipping back and forth and catching every tossed ball in his mouth and drinking the water down.

He did a jump, flip, and landed on his ride with more force than before, popping it and spraying water up. As several pokémon, mostly Fire-types or Ground-types, tried to evade the falling water, it all missed them and splashed onto Tododile.

"Tada!" he called, doing a pose. The assembled pokémon all cheered before Totodile gasped. "One more!" he said alarmed. A single water droplet was falling, and he dashed, using a krokorok and rhydon as stands to leap into the air and catch the drop on his tongue. He did one more flip and posed once more.

The whole crowd applauded for him, and Poké were tossed into a scarf shaped like a hat.

Scout clapped as well, Rai and Mane couldn't exactly do so themselves, as the crowd dispersed and Totodile returned to his hat of prizes.

"Hello," Mane said, stepping forward quickly to introduce them. "You're Totodile, right?"

"Sure am!" Totodile replied, propping the scarf-hat on and beaming at them. Not a single coin slipped out, even when he began to dance around them. "Hello! Hello! Litleo, Shinx, Meowth! I bet I know you. Team Ion, am I right or am I right!?"

Totodile rapidly shook hands with Scout, taking the paw Scout had offered on reflex, nearly jolting the meowth out of balance.

"You're right," Rai said, grinning with just a touch of embarrassment. "We saw you perform, that was really impressive."

"Thanks." Totodile grinned. "I've practised that so many times. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've messed up that last part. Well, actually, I could definitely begin. The first time was when I just crashed right INTO Fearow and the second time I accidentally kneed Bronzong in the face. Although that hurt me more than it hurt them."

He giggled at the memory.

"So, what can I do for you besides share stories!" Totodile asked, flipping back and landing in front of Mane. "I'm sure you could tell me a few good stories about saving the world, but if you were here for stories, you probably wouldn't be talking to me."

"We're on the trail of an outlaw," Mane said, confidently stepping forward again. "Meowth, pull the stuff out."

"He might just recognise the name," Scout pointed out.

"Right, Exeggutor said you are friends with Sudowoodo who tried to bring in an outlaw a while back?"

"Oh!" Totodile nodded rapidly, his hat jingled, but still, no coins slipped. "You mean Litleo's evolved form? Pyroar?"

"Yeah," Mane growled. "We're on the hunt for him. Dragging the good name of my species into the dirt! Reason enough to destroy him."

Scout smirked at Mane at the mere concept of Mane having a 'good name' before explaining. "Part of it's a guild mission, but yeah. Here." He handed the stuff over, and Totodile read them in seconds.

"I know the guy!" He nodded rapidly. "Yep, know him, know him well. He came around and stuck around town for a couple of days. Didn't tip well, or pay for drinks, not nothin! Sudowoodo found out he was a bit of a bastard baddy no good fella and so decided to take him down."

Totodile shook his head sadly. "See, Sudowoodo is our town mascot, you would have seen him coming in just standing around near the start of town. Unless you came from any other direction, you wouldn't see him then! Or anyway, because he's still not standing around but sitting around and that's terrible. Just awful. Truly the worst. Nasty Pyroar, I'd have tried to help, but Sudowoodo is a bit scared of water."

"I'm sorry to hear about that. Is Sudowoodo okay?" Rai asked.

"And where did Pyroar go?" Mane added.

"Sudowoodo's okay, just a bit completely and utterly humiliated at losing to Pyroar. And as badly as he did, ouch. You'd think Rock beats Fire, but no, as it turns out, Fire just burns Rock until Rock faints and is then half-buried, just so that he can, and I quote from the note left behind 'Be as useful as the tree he pretends to be' and, well, that's just a bit harsh."

"True," Totodile added, musing on the point before anyone could respond. "But harsh."

"But what a burn right?" he laughed, again before any of Team Ion could respond. "Ah… yeah, I'm not willing to tell you where Pyroar went. At least, not yet."

"Oh, what now?" Mane growled, rolling his eyes. "What do you want? Poké? An autograph? To sleep with us? All three things have been asked many times, and we've acquiesced."

"To the first two," Rai and Scout both shouted, noses going red.

"Yeah, yeah. But the offers come in anyway. I'm getting what Lucario was whining about now."

"As fun as all three certainly sound." Totodile laughed, then winked. "I've got something else in mind. You're definitely strong, but Pyroar is too. I'm not just letting you go get yourselves hurt, so you've got to prove to me you can handle him."

Mane frowned, a spark popping off his mohawk. "And how are you gonna do that? Fight us?"

"Oh, good gracious no!" Totodile said, shaking his whole body in refusal. "Not at all. I'd destroy a little more than just your pride." He had the gall to wink again, Mane took a step forward and was pulled back by Scout.

Mane yelped, as Scout tugged him back by his tail. "Heel, boy."

"Uh, no offence," Rai said, taking Totodile's declaration as a joke. "But he has a point. How are you going to be sure? Isn't saving the world enough to justify us taking on a single outlaw?"

"Yeah, probably," Totodile agreed, going back to dancing circles around them. "But hey, I hear lots of stuff. Most stuff is just pokémon bragging and all."

"You don't believe us?" Mane demanded.

"I'm not saying you didn't save the world," Totodile laughed, shrugging any and all verbal barbs off. "But you can't blame me for being cautious? He severely wounded Sudowoodo, and he's more than just the mascot but the self-appointed guard of the town! He's probably the strongest pokémon here, cept for me and Exeggutor." He winked again and sprayed some bubbles. "So, he if lost so badly, what might he do to you?"

"We can handle it!" Rai said, confidently.

"Then you can definitely handle my test!" Totodile retorted back, ten times as friendly and three times as excited.

He had them there. So, Team Ion shared a collective nod.

"Alright," Scout began.

"What do you?" Rai continued.

"Want us to do?" Mane finished.

"One: That's adorable, finishing each other sentences." Faster than they were prepared for, he booped them all on the nose one after another. "Numbero two, our poor town's got some trouble. With Sudowoodo out of order and Exeggutor never leaves that tree… huh." He blinked. "The tree never leaves the tree. That makes a lot of sense and is like a pun at the same time! Hahahahaha!"

Rai awkwardly laughed along, not getting the joke. Mane raised an eye, while Scout blinked. "Did you just say Exeggutor has his head up his own ass?"

Totodile continued, smiling, "With Sudowoodo out for the count, both physically and morally, we've had some trouble here. A collection of those wildies have been entering the town to trash the place, cause mischief and general tomfoolery, and stealing our stuff! It's really annoying, but they are pretty strong, so no one's really been able to do anything about it yet."

"You mean no one has stepped up to do anything about it?" Mane said, looking Totodile up and down.

"What? Me? They're always across the town when they come, and I can't get there fast enough! Honest! Truthfully!"

"So, you need us to drive them off?" Rai asked. "We can do that. Where do they normally live, we don't really want to wait around for days hoping for them to show up. Taking the fight directly to them will work!"

"Oh, don't worry about that," Totodile said mysteriously. He waited, blinked, and looked around. "Well, if they had ANY sense of dramatic timing, there should have been a crash and commotion by now. You can tell they're troublemakers when they won't even play along with my show, darn them."

Shaking his head, he generated another water ball and began to zoom off riding it. "Let's just look around, they're bound to show up eventually!"

Sighing as he didn't give them an answer as to where the wild pokémon were, Team Ion pursued him. Totodile was fast, but he rolled in circles a lot, and they were able to keep pace.

When the pokémon began tossing more Poké to him, they began to suspect he was using their appearance to drum up some more cash.

If that was the case, they may never know. For Totodile's tomfoolery was spoiled when his water bubble exploded inexplicably.

And then the most annoying laughter rang out. "Hoi-hihihihihihihihi." There was a collective groan, and the townsfolk all began to back away as four pokémon made themselves known.

The high-pitched giggling came from none other than a jynx, with her arm entwined with a rather large electabuzz. Trailing behind him was a snivelling magby and strolling up by jynx's other side was a croagunk.

"There they are," Totodile grumbled, rubbing his tail where he landed on it. "Can you handle them?"

Team Ion stepped forward, standing between the rest of the town, and the retreating townsfolk, and the four interlopers.

"Stop right-AH!" Rai had stepped up to warn them away and was immediately attacked. A jet of ice from Jynx cracked into his head and knocked him sprawling.

Seems that these pokemon cared not for the 'no moves in towns' law.

It took Scout even less time to leap after Rai and for Mane's mohawk to explode into flames. But he didn't attack yet, simply jumped between the four and Rai, giving Scout whatever time he needed.

"I'm fine," Rai said, pushing Scout off him and strolling up next to the snarling Mane. He bumped him with a grin before turning to the four, eyes narrowing as his pupils constricted.

Mane grinned, and Scout bared his claws. The battle has begun.


Team Sunrise had taken to their new, still limited, but extended freedom with gusto. There was a hard limit of not going too far from town. However, the guild either underestimated their speed and stamina or was playing fast and loose with Magnezone's rules and giving them more freedom without stating it.

They had to come back every night, and that was fine. However, all four of them could go quite the distance and back, further than the rest of the apprentices for sure. Between Sean's Fighting-type stamina, Striker's speed, Guardian's endurance, and Saniya's pure haxx, they found it possible to go about as far as Amp Plains and back in a single day.

Which Guardian knew to be uncommon in town. It had taken Team Ion an entire day just to reach Amp Plains when they first went, a story he retold as best he could to an interested audience.

"I'm glad you didn't leave Mane to die," Saniya said happily, giving Guardian's face a brief hug. "That would have been sad."

"Yes," Guardian said gravely. "I am relieved I didn't make that mistake, at least."

"Plus, have you heard him talk? He's hilarious."

"I'm surprised you approve of him being around Scout in the way that he acts," Striker said neutrally. Saniya gave him a deeply offended expression and Guardian decided to keep a firm, but gentle, hold on her, so she didn't decide to punch the lizard in the nose. "I like him," he added, and she calmed down. "But still." And back to offended.

"I would have been surprised," Sean said, voice so dry the two Grass-type's could have wilted from it. "But he wasn't nearly the first pokémon I met that was so forward. Was it like that in the future?"

"Yes," all three said immediately, and then all exchanged an amused look.

"If not worse," Striker said, blushing slightly. "In those times pokémon would… not be shy about making advances. I'll leave it at that."

"Oh! Oh-oh-oh! What about that time-?" Saniya began. Guardian clamped his hand over her mouth.

"Do not soil Sean's ears with that story," Guardian said, knowing exactly what she was going to say. Some things could not be forgotten even with reality-altering paradoxes.

"Aww come on!" Sean said. "Everything I got was second hand, I should at least know some things?"

"I am afraid that, as you so helpfully made it clear many times, in human terms you are still a juvenile," Guardian said, as the responsible adult of the team.

Saniya bit his hand. The only adult on the team perhaps.

Sean huffed and crossed his arms. "Fine. I won't talk to you until you tell me."

"Is that not a childish response?"

Sean stuck his tongue out. "Anyway. We were talking about you being oddly okay with Mane around Scout. Not feeling any empty nest syndrome yet are we?"

"Preposterous."

"Is it though?" Saniya asked.

"Yes."

"Are you sure?" Striker added, smirking himself. "They're all alone now, without you to be watching and making sure."

"Raigeki is there," Guardian said haltingly.

"And he… doesn't make that worse?" Saniya grinned. Guardian had no answer for that point.

The mood remained light as Team Sunrise chatted.

"I really do miss them though," Saniya sighed, they were getting close to their destination now, but she had more words to share. "It isn't the same without them."

"It is a hole Team Ion has left in town," Guardian agreed.

Saniya began to whine, "Everyone is leaving me, and I don't like it!"

"We're not going anywhere," Sean soothed.

"Who said you are everyone!?"

"I did."

"Well, alright, then." She hugged him. "Don't leave me, please."

Saniya did not deal with parting well. Having known every time she left the group in the future could be the last time she saw them. They could be killed, or even she could be, was beyond difficult every time.

"And I believe we're approaching now," Guardian said, nodding forward to the dungeon entrance.

"Oooh!" Saniya said, enchanted by the sight before them so much that she didn't zip forward in excitement.

It was a waterfall. Truly a novel thing to these pokémon of the frozen future, to see that water crashing down with boundless life.

"It's so loud!" Saniya yelled. She didn't have to, she just enjoyed the freedom. "So much steam? Is it hot?"

"Just the impact of the water falling down," Guardian explained, "causing it to be tossed up as mist."

They walked onto a rocky outcropping, leading up to the bursting waterfall.

"This IS the Waterfall Cave, right?" Striker asked. "Are we certain?"

"Let me try!" Saniya said. Guardian grabbed her before she could zip forward. "Aww, come on, let me goooo."

"We need to be careful," Guardian said, and she crossed her arms at him and stared. Guardian was far better at staring, and she broke first.

"Fine."

"Want to take my hand?" Sean asked, holding his paw, not hand, out to Saniya. She grinned and took it.

There were three reasons why they were here. The first, and most obvious, was that there was a lost pokémon inside and they needed to extract them. Some Psyduck or so had entered this dungeon and not returned. Clefairy, Psyduck's friend, had come to the guild in alarm and Team Sunrise had taken the mission.

The second, and far less obvious, reason was that they wanted to see the place. Team Ion had spoken about the Waterfall Cave, and it sounded beautiful, if damp and moist. It was an exciting dungeon to go to, and all four were eager.

The final reason was that Scout had mentioned a Dimensional Scream apparently could occur here. Or, at least, it did in his idea of the world. No one entirely understood how it worked, even Saniya, and Sean had very few Dimensional Scream's in his time in the now-present.

It was a disorientating experience to have for sure, but one mixed with inner jokes and bonding moments. It only worked with a partner one trusted entirely, after all.

Guardian still sometimes thought about the Dimensional Scream Sean had experienced during that awful night when he sent Chatot, Scout, Mane, and Sean to the Dark Future.

He himself had been holding Sean at the time, and Striker was meters away. They weren't entirely clear on how close that trusted partner had to be, but no scream had ever occurred without one of them being within arm's distance of Sean.

The idea that even then, even when he was carting them off for execution, Sean still trusted him enough to have a Dimensional Scream was a little too much for Guardian to bare, so he refused to think about it and quashed the line of thought before it went too far.

"Anything?" Saniya asked.

"Mmm," Sean said, eyes losing focus as he stared at something only he could see. Saniya steadied him as Sean's eyes and ears heard something from another time.

Sean resurfaced with a crooked grin on his face and mirth dancing in his eyes. "Well, it wasn't Wigglytuff I saw," he laughed, shaking his head. "I actually got two visions. One was Sunflora and Loudred arguing so much that he yelled loud enough to disturb the waterfall, it's how they figured out it was a cave entrance."

"Oh! So they DIDN'T determine it was an entrance with all that hokey pokey nonsense!" Saniya gasped.

"Nope. Argument."

"Tee-hee-hee."

"Hoo-hoo-ha."

"You all laugh weird," Striker muttered, simply asking for retribution at this point.

"Hoo-haha," Sean laughed, sticking his tongue out. "Second one I saw was just Scout looking like he had a big speech prepared and Rai just leapt right in with no hesitation. Scout said some bad words under his breath but eventually jumped in after him. This is definitely the place."

Guardian entered first, being both the slowest, largest and most durable in case something was wrong. Striker, Sean, and Saniya followed in quick succession.

"Ew, the ground is moist," Saniya said, wrinkling her nose.

"You're not even touching the ground," Sean said, frowning in disgust and lifting his feet to state at his paw pads, now grimed up. "Ugh."

"Moist. Mooiiiist."

"Stop saying moist."

"The moist-ure is very unpleasant here indeed," Striker said, only the barest hint of a smirk on his face.

"I'm going to need some moist-urizer after this one," Saniya giggled.

"I'm afraid moist people won't get this joke."

"Hahahaha. Moist."

"Okay," Sean said, grimacing in disgust. "Here's the plan. I'm going to go with Guardian. You two can… go off together. That way we can cover more ground."

"Moist ground?"

"Yes," he said through clenched teeth. Guardian's eye glittered with amusement. "That. Come on, we'll make a game of it. Whoever finds Psyduck first wins."

"Bully! A challenge! I love competition!" Saniya cheered, grabbing Striker. "Now where would I mount the stuffed head of a…" her voice trailed off as she and Striker disappeared down a hallway.

Sean breathed a sigh of relief.

"Moist."

"Don't!" Sean snapped, fury lighting his eyes, "you start with me here and now, good sir. I will rampage through these walls and bring devastation upon us all."

Guardian gave a deep belly laugh. "My apologies, the temptation was far too great."

Sean mock-glared for a moment longer before he cracked a grin. "Alright. I'll forgive you this one time."

Guardian's eye twinkled, but he sharpened up quickly. "We have a job to do," he said, and Sean nodded. "Let's go."


Once they were permitted to do jobs, Sean bought a rollcall orb for them. It worked easily, tapping it to someone for a few seconds would 'register' them to them. After about a day the effect faded and there was a pretty short range on them, but that range got jumbled in a dungeon to 'functionally unlimited'.

If Sean and Guardian found Psyduck, they could summon Striker and Saniya. And the same was in reverse, as of course, Striker had a rollcall orb as well.

He spent most of his money on orbs after all. Despite how little they earned.

Needing to stop Saniya from trying to toss Armaldo into the sea was a valid concern for the three. She had calmed down greatly on her wrath upon him until Armaldo informed them they were hit with the ninety percent tax the apprentices were on.

She renewed her oath of vengeance upon him that night.

"Are you okay about that broken orb?" Saniya asked, startling Striker out of some thoughts. He realised he had been staring into the light of the broken orb, thankfully no sharp edges, and put it away with a hurried chuckle.

"Of course."

"Striker."

"I am," he insisted. "It's just how those orbs work. I can't… change that or anything."

Saniya giggled. "You're weird, you know?"

"I do." He nodded. "To make sure to remind me at least once a week."

"Am I weird?"

"You are probably the most normal member of our little group," Striker replied. She gave a mock gasp before nodding.

"But of course. You have to be crazy not to see it."

Striker grinned. "Well, I mean, you are certainly, without question, quirky. But if you weren't, I'd be genuinely worried something was wrong."

"Yeah," she agreed. "You don't live through the Dark Future without coping in some way or another." She turned to him with a grin and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Isn't that right, my Strikey-wikey?"

"You know I only love the orbs."

"Ugh. The orbs." She tossed her head back, putting on a show of dramatically fainting in mid-air. "Orb this and orb that. You guys worry far too much about your balls."

"Saniya!"

"What?" She said, completely innocently. "Did I say something? Or are you extrapolating something I said as something obscene? I wonder what that says about you hmm?"

Striker gave her a flat look.

"Hmmmm?" She floated in close until they were nose and nose. "Hmmmmmmmmmm?"

"You are a menace to society."

"And you are far too attractive for your own good. Who's the real menace when everyone stops working to listen to you? Huh? Who's the bringer of anarchy then when society collapses due to only wanting to listen to you? Huh? Answer me, you false idol!"

"I am not a false idol."

"Yeah, you're really not. You really are this dreamy, it's crazy really." She floated around him, keeping the tip of her nose on his head as she did so.

"Is this a roundabout method of calling me crazy?" he asked, putting two and two together.

"HA! You must be joking. Ahaahah. A tee. A hee. A hee." She booped his nose. "Fine, yes, you got me. I'm calling you crazy."

Striker laughed and shook his head fondly at her.

Saniya valued her time with all her friends, both in groups and on their own. Striker wasn't the biggest talker when others were around. He had explained to Saniya that he felt like others had more important things to say. He'd put in his two cents if he decided it was appropriate but wasn't one to potentially stop someone else from saying something.

But with her, he spoke much more freely. She loved to hear him talk. Not only because she loved his voice, but just enjoyed talking with him in general. Sean was easy to tease, and so was Guardian, neither of them really gave it back as good as they got, however.

Striker, on the other hand.

"Truly, your scheme was the most straightforward thing I've witnessed," he claimed after she asked his honest opinion on her one-mon act of the Tale of Lucario. "Every twist and turn masterfully done but seen in advance. Truly."

"Nooo!" She denied him, pushing him in vengeance. "I am the most random!"

"The hot dog song? Saw that coming a horizon away."

"No, you didn't!"

"And the ballad of houndour the wise? I saw that before."

"No, I made it up! AH!"

She giggled, he chuckled. They had good times together.

"I bet I can get Sean to say moist."

"Bet. How much?"

"How much ya got?"


Dusknoir were large pokémon. Riolu were not. It was natural for Sean to ride on Guardian's shoulder since the ground was beginning to genuinely mess with him.

Guardian did not permit Sean to wipe his feet on his back. Sean, however, did so anyway.

"I shouldn't have tossed you in the water first," Guardian grumbled, now with wet dog smell on his shoulder.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have," Sean retorted, sopping wet but his feet were no longer grimy. Guardian formed a Shadow Ball and tossed it at an offending feral pokémon. Sean copied the move and tossed his own at a different one.

They did make a good fortress team—Spamming Shadow Ball or Shadow Sneak to ward anything off from approaching. The Waterfall Cave was not considered an overly dangerous dungeon, they weren't expecting any terrible battles. Which was why Sean really suggested splitting them up.

Or so he'd claim if anyone asked him. Moist rattled in his mind, and he shivered a few times.

With Sean nice and safe on his shoulder, Guardian happily took care of everything that came their way. Something Sean picked up on.

"Are you doing it again?" he asked, turning to Guardian's face.

"What are you talking about?"

"Being all fragile teacup with me?"

"…I don't think you're going to break if I set you down. I just thought you didn't want to touch the ground."

Sean sighed and rattled his head. "Yeah, right. Sorry."

"It is fine, Sean." They floated in a moment of comfortable silence. "It is hard, sometimes, to forget you aren't so frail now."

"I was never frail," Sean replied, rolling his eyes. "Just because I couldn't use attacks like the rest of you didn't make me frail."

"You got sick."

"Once."

"Still."

"That sucked, yeah." Sean's eyes moved off to the past future with a soft smile. "Still, I remember a couple of times that 'frail human' saved your butts. Do you remember, uh… aggron? I think it was. It was trouncing you and Striker, and I jumped on its head."

"Nearly scared me to death," Guardian snapped, he did remember this. "Striker didn't stop complaining about that for many rest cycles. He only stopped when I forced him to. He was keeping Scout up with his muttering."

"Hahaha," Sean laughed. "Sorry," he added to Guardian's Look. "Still, that was crazy."

"You slammed a blast seed on its face and detonated it. That was indeed crazy."

"Awesome."

"Crazy."

"Crazy awesome."

"Heh," Guardian's eye-rolled. "Scout said the exact same. For three whole sets of cycles, he talked about that event."

They enjoyed some more stories between them. Sean's heroics being the topic of choice.

"I swear that gyrados was going to eat Saniya."

"Impaling its tail did require quite the burst of desperation."

"I had a stick. I might as well have used it."

Or his foolishness.

"I thought, back then, that watching you climb a sheer cliff in the middle of a battle to jump onto the enemy tauros was going to be the riskiest and outrageously foolish action you would ever make. I wish I had been correct."

All in all. A pleasant catch-up session.

"I still remember the taste of pennies from that."

"And I still don't fully understand why we should 'praise the sun'. It is beautiful, but…"

"Did I never tell you?"

"No."

"Hoo-haha."

"…Are you going to tell me?"

"I think I'll leave you guessing for now."

All good times come to a close, however.

"Hm?" Sean voiced, feeling one of his tassels quiver.

"What is it?" Guardian asked, pausing in his story of Scout's thirty-seventh attempt at being, in Scout's words, 'as cool' as Sean.

"I felt something," Sean said, before closing his eyes to focus. He'd been a riolu for close to two years now, he hadn't really tried to keep track. Nothing was as difficult to get used to as the aura tassels.

Understanding Striker and everyone else? Wonderful. Being as strong as a pokémon? Amazing. Having an extremely strong sense of smell? Manageable. Potentially becoming a lucario like his fu-

"Hm, I can kinda feel something over there," Sean said, the tassels shaking and he pointed to a patch of wall. "It feels like, uh… despondence, a bit of anger, and just… fear."

"I'll check it out," Guardian nodded, lowered Sean to a relatively dry patch of ground, and began the work of phasing through the wall.

As a Ghost-type, he could do so well. But being as solid as he was, it did take Guardian a bit of time to fully move through objects.

He emerged from the wall as a spectre of death, startling poor Psyduck half to death. "Oh my GOSH!" she squeaked, startling back several feet in alarm.

Immediately, Guardian felt like absolute grime on the moist ground of this dungeon.

"Of course," he lambasted himself. "What were you thinking, appearing on her like this? The Terrible Dusknoir, arriving when one is at such a weak point. She must think it's over for her, that I am here to-"

His own thoughts were cut short when she slammed into his stomach, desperately clutching on and sobbing relentlessly. "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, you're here to save me? Thank you, thank you, thank you."

That was the best he could make out of the tearful blubbering.

Slowly, carefully, Guardian lowered and clasped his hands around her and lifted her up. "It's alright," he said, softly, soothing her. "You're safe."

Looking around, he found a path he could float over, as he couldn't simply phase her through the wall as well and found himself within eyesight of Sean.

"You found her!?" he called, rushing in happily. "Great, are you okay Psyduck?"

"I-I-I'm okay. Thank you for coming out to save me."

"Okay, let me just summon the others." Sean pulled out his Rollcall Orb and squeezed it. The orb flashed, melted away, and then two quick pops sounded out.

Saniya and Striker fell over upon their appearance.

"Ooooh," Saniya moaned. "That was awful. Why is it always awful? My teleports aren't nearly that awful. Awful as moist!"

"Do you want to be sent back?" Sean growled.

"No. This orb is the worst."

"Lay off the orb, it did nothing wrong," Striker groaned, trying to get up.

"You and your orbs, jeez. Has Azumarill done nothing to help you?"

"There's nothing to do as I need no help!"

"You're both fine. We found Psyduck."

"I can see that," Striker said, pulling himself to his feet. Saniya had fallen to the ground and stared pitifully at Striker until he picked her up. She vibrated the gunk off her, and incidentally onto him, before zipping around.

"Yippee! You're in the safest of hands now, Psyduck!"

"Y-Yes. You saved the world, I can't imagine I'm in any safer hands. Thank you."

"Oh, do go on," Saniya said, flushed with praise. Striker pulled her away.

"We should be off," he pointed out. "Now that there are five of us concentrated here."

"Does Sean count or have we not figured that out yet?" Saniya asked. "Ooh! We could test it!"

"Please don't," Psyduck whimpered. Taking pity, Saniya did drop the matter, and they quickly fought their way to the end of the dungeon.

"Oh, this is gorgeous!" Saniya beamed. "Look at all the pretty gems!"

"This is quite magical," Guardian agreed. "Is this why you came here, Psyduck?"

"Yes," she said, nodding weakly. "I wanted to get something for Clefairy since she's always so nice to me, but I can't swim, and I kept getting attacked and pushed that way."

"You can't swim?" Saniya blurted out. "Wut, y?"

Psyduck cringed in embarrassment. Saniya nodded and easily tore a large purple gemstone out of the ground, the cracking sound echoing throughout the chamber. "Well, that means we can't press the slippy slide button at the end, or you might drown. Okay, let's just take this back for your girlfriend, and that'll be that."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"She's a girl, right? And your friend?"

"Y-Yeah?"

"So…?"

"Girlfriend."

"HA! Knew it."

Saniya floated off, satisfied with herself as Psyduck protested in mortification until they were out of the dungeon, out of the woods, and into Treasure Town.

"I'm just saying, you're protesting a LOT." That quietened Psyduck. "Silence of defeat, eh?"

There was no winning against Saniya.

"So. We should work out the whole 'does Sean still not count or not' on dungeons," Saniya pointed out once Psyduck was home safe. She was uninjured, just distressed, and Clefairy calmed her down.

"How should we do that?"

"We could ask Bidoof or something to join us in a weak dungeon. Like good old Moist Bluff."

"Drenched Bluff," Sean snapped.

"That's what I said."

"No. You didn't. You said moist."

"HA!" Saniya cheered as Sean deflated. "I got you to say it. You owe me 178 Poké now. Fess up." She held her hand out to Striker, who relented and gave her the money. Sean watched the transition with nothing but a flat expression.

"I think this is where we go… anyway," Guardian said, changing the subject. "Sean and dungeons. Bidoof?"

"Or any of them," Saniya said, brushing it off as she counted her winnings.

"Flaaffy is an option," Striker suggested.

"Oh, Flaaffy this and Flaaffy that," Saniya sighed. "It's all I heard about from him today."

"This is the first time I've mentioned him," Striker protested

"And it just passed midnight." Saniya stuck her tongue out at him. "I win. Again. Worship me like the goddess I am."

"Why Flaaffy?" Sean asked.

"His tail is an orb. What isn't there to like?"

And that was all that he needed to say.

Armaldo tried to chew them out for being late, but Saniya again won by pointing out they reached Treasure Town before the day was out and that was the technical agreement. She sailed away to bed, resting in the laurels of victory.

It had been a good day.


Mane grinned, and Scout bared his claws. The battle has begun.

It was Electabuzz who acted next, huffing in amusement at the three tiny pokémon daring to stand up. He rotated his arms and sent an extreme blast of electricity at them. Rai intercepted it and took the full hit, falling back onto all fours as his whole body jerked and shocked.

Electabuzz's cocky grin froze as Rai unleashed the electricity he had just absorbed, right as Croagunk ran in to double up on the leader's move and score an easy knockout.

Lancing Croagunk right through the middle and dropping him like a sack of potatoes and causing him to fold like a cheap suit.

The three remaining aggressors could only blink. And that was a costly blink.

Mane and Scout both had begun to move right as Rai had landed. As Croagunk fell, Mane sent his mighty Fire Blast, and Scout zipped forward as the claws on his right paw extended into a dark sabre.

Magby managed a brief, "Meep." Before Scout's paw crashed down, the darkness striking through the magby.

Electabuzz's fur curled from the heat as Jynx was blasted off his side and he stumbled from the burst of pressure, tripping over Magby who just keeled over after Scout's lighting-fast Night Slash.

Rai stepped forward as Mane prowled the right and Scout raised his claws from the left, surrounding Electabuzz.

The big bully looked left and right in panic as in seconds his posse just went down. "S-Screw this." He got up and ran for it.

"Want me to get his legs?" Scout asked, tensing in readiness.

"Get him," Mane said, puffing out smoke.

Scout was many things. Cute. A mess of a meowth. Upsetting durable.

One thing he absolutely was was fast.

Electabuzz got ten steps before Scout zipped forth almost as fast as a Quick Attack, his Night Slash going for the back of the knee and sending the pokemon tumbling before Scout leapt onto his head and his koban glinted with unnatural light.

Hypnosis had Electabuzz snoring on the ground.

"Holy moly," Totodile called, wobbling back over on a new water sphere. "Wow, that was… actually impressive! Good job, Team Ion!"

Whispered immediately broke out. Team Ion? Here?

"Give them space," Totodile called, and the crowd obeyed. The threat of being splashed was ever-present with Totodile. "Okay, maybe you can handle Pyroar."

"Maybe?" Mane asked.

"Yep! Maybe."

"We creamed these guys with a single hit each."

"These one-pump-chumps are one thing, but Pyroar probably is another. Anyway, I'll tell you where he was seen heading to!"

Several townsfolk came to gather up the knocked-out wild pokémon and find some sort of legal punishment as Totodile pulled Team Ion away.

He danced on his water ball until they reached a different part of town, a much smaller path heading out. "This one isn't used AS often as the other places since no one really goes this way. Anyway, Pyroar was heading in the direction of Blackstone Village, there's not much else out that way reputable folks want to go."

They were in the northwest, the three began to think. But Totodile answered for them. "Further than Blackstone is Towny Town, brr that's a place for sure, and further still is Fissure. Blackstone is the last 'good' town in this particular direction with Indeedee and the Clefable Guild there."

Totodile hummed. "Makes sense that Pyroar would be heading that way. Once he gets past them, he's pretty much in lawless land. I bet he's cocky enough to try. Well, good luck!"

"Thank you, Totodile," Scout said first. This was excellent news, their research into his movements had been spot on the money, and they were already heading that way. They'd speed up now, knowing they were on his trail.

"Yeah, thanks."

"Thank you for your help!"

"You're welcome. If you're ever around again, say hi! And, seriously, be careful. I can see you're strong and appearances are deceiving. For both you and definitely other pokémon. Stay safe, world saviours, Team Ion!"

"Stay safe, Totodile. If anyone else causes more trouble, make sure you contact someone."

"Hahaha. Okay."

He saw them off as the reinvigorated team made haste. The day was still young, and this was a real and true proper lead on Pyroar's location. If they could catch up, that'd be great.

Team Ion charged onwards.


Ha. Ion. Charge. I happen to be hilarious.

This is one of the chapters where I kept most of Team Sunrise's stuff in it. There was a lot of 'filler' with them in the original Arc 2. Fun filler, sure, but still very much filler. I kept this one as it's early on and establishing them as a team is still important, so it's less filler (plus, Psyduck is something of a running gag).

Thanks for reading!
 
Chapter 44 - From the Past

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Despite civilisation spreading across the known world thanks to Lucario, the distance between towns often remained large and scenic.

When pokémon came together to form a community, it started small, slow. Generally, it grew to a certain size before stopping.

It was true for nearly every town, and places like Treasure Town and Blackstone Village were no exceptions.

It would take nearly four days to reach Blackstone.

However, unlike most excursions between stops, Team Ion encountered a surprise on the dawn of the third day.

"Alert: Meowth, Shinx, and Litleo have appeared."

"Wait," Scout began, ears twitching, "is that?"

Three figures descended from the trees above them, surrounding them in moments. Beheeyem did a pose that looked distressingly like a dab, Electrike reared up on two legs and kicked the air while sparking, while Beldum simply floated there in silence.

"Beheeyem?"

"Electrike!"

"Beldum?"

"Team Gazer?" Team Ion said at once.

The trio of pokémon stopped their posing and came together to face the three kitties face on. "Indeed," Beheeyem said, doing a short bow and waving his hand. "It is good to see you again, Team Ion."

"You beat us to the gold!" Electrike said, stepping forward and sniffing Mane who edged back slightly. "But that's okay."

"What… gold?" Rai asked, still a little stunned by their abrupt appearance.

"To saving time, of course," Beheeyem answered. "No matter, it was likely a doomed attempt on our part from the start. We did not have the fragment you possess, after all."

"It was hardly a race to win," Mane said, giving Electrike a look over. "Just a race against time."

"Yes, yes," Beheeyem acquiesced, waving him off. "It doesn't matter who won."

"It wasn't a competition!"

"Thankful Statement: Team Ion, saviours of time, we give thanks for your saving of time," Beldum, ever the diplomat said.

"Err… thanks."

"Can I get an autograph?" Electrike said, suddenly, completely unable to hold his tongue. Beheeyem gave him a betrayed look, but Electrike decided he may as well just steer into the skid. "All three of you. Pleaassse?"

"I guess."

"Hooray!"

Beheeyem crossed his arms as Electrike got three paw pads on some paper. Then Beldum also asked for an autograph. Beheeyem sighed and asked for one also.

Once that was done, he tried to regain some credibility. "Ahem. Anyway." Beheeyem rolled up his own sighed paper and stored it very safely away, a dusting of red on his face. "You must be wondering how the illustrious Team Gazer reunited amidst the chaos and anarchy?"

Scout cocked his head. "Reunited? Did you split up?"

"I…" Beheeyem sighed, nothing ever went his way.

"Oh year, I did hear about that," Mane said, glancing over to nod to Scout. He turned a little too fast, and he winced, the scar on his neck twinging. "A fight about something, right? I try not to listen too much to the gossip since everyone in town warps the story out of any real truths before long."

Electrike and Beldum gave a glance to Beheeyem, who just had his head hung. "Okay!" he said, pulling himself up and going right back into showmon mode. "The story is fraught with danger, tragedy, but has a heart-warming end. You see."

"We found Beldum!" Electrike cut in.

Beheeyem's eye twitched.

The terrible storm had ceased. Whatever Team Ion and Grovyle had done seemed to have worked. Hopefully.

But if not. They still had to find Beldum.

They had left more than a day ago, but Beheeyem could follow a vague trail of frustration. Beldum floated with use of their own Psychic-powers, and he knew the stalwart thing so well he could pick up even this faint trail.

If only he wasn't so damned slow. "Volt," Thoughtlight the Beheeyem said. "I'm not fast enough, I'll give you the location I think Beldum's heading to and you go ahead."

"I'm not leaving you," Volt replied absolute certainty in his voice. "Beldum isn't any faster than you. We find him together."

"That's illogical when you could be faster."

"I don't care about logic! I care about you and Beldum, and I'm going to let you get hurt to maybe find them."

"Volt…"

"Okay? Just… hurry up." Volt began to run ahead. Thoughtlight groaned, but he did find the strength to go faster.

It may have taken days, if not weeks, to catch up to Cobalt, had the beldum not had a change of heart and turned around.

"W-wait," Thoughtlight said, breathless. "I feel."

"Like you're going to have a heart attack from all this exercise?" Volt joked, panting himself.

"I am not unfit!"

"You certainly sound like you dungeon crawl for days."

"I will slap you."

"Is daddy gonna spank me?"

"Disturbed Demand: Do not ever say that again."

The two looked up sharply as Cobalt drifted into view, eye swivelling and seemingly unable to focus on one for more than a moment.

Cobalt stopped a few feet from them, an eye trained downwards as if they were actually staring downcast at the ground in shame.

"Cobalt?" Thoughtlight asked, unable to really believe it.

"Embarrassed Inquisitive: I…" They couldn't quite finish their words, falling silent.

"Aww." Volt sniffled before leaping upon the beldum. "The gangs back together again! I knew you didn't hate us forever."

"Apologetic Response: I acted rashly and without thinking. I apologise for my actions."

Thoughtlight glanced away, unsure.

"What are you doing?" Volt asked, from where he had Cobalt on the ground, fluffy electrike body pinning them. "Get over here!"

That was all it took, and Thoughtlight joined the very uncomfortable cuddle pile. Cobalt was the focal point of it, and they were entirely made out of metal.

"We're back together!" Volt cheered. "We should do our totally awesome and not lame and awkward motto!"

"I feel offended."

"You can't just say how you feel. That makes me feel angry!"

"Happy Statement: I agree with Volt."

"Mmm." Thoughtlight gave Cobalt a suspicious look.

"Explanative: About doing the motto."

"Oh! Okay."

Beheeyem pushed away and struck a pose. "I am Beheeyem, the leader of Team Gazer," Beheeyem said grandly. "These are my compatriots, Beldum and Electrike. We seek to uncover the past!"

Volt jumped up happily. "Explore the future!"

Cobalt rose up, eye bright and cheerful. "Happy Declaration: And protect the present!"

"And that's how we reunited," Beheeyem finished his retelling that Team Ion had definitely asked him to do.

"I'm happy for you." Scout smiled bemusedly. "I'm sorry you split up for… for whatever reason. But I'm glad you're back together!"

"I am too!" Electrike said.

"The best part of that story was the threat of spanking," Mane said, unimpressed.

Rai gave him a look before shaking it off. "I'm happy for you as well. What have you been doing lately?"

With the air cleared, the two teams began to share stories. Rai and Mane, mostly Rai, told Team Gazer about how Team Sunrise and Scout returned as well as meeting Lucario, while Team Gazer told stories of ruins they had explored and treasures they had uncovered.

"We are in high demand at the moment," Beheeyem said, proudly. "Normally we only to exploration with a little bit of retrieval, but with so many new dungeons appearing we've taken on some rescuing as well. Not a problem for Team Gazer!"

It started something of a one-upping contest until Beheeyem pointed the finger. "How about a battle then? Friendly, of course, for old times sake. We never did get the chance to rematch you for that Boulder Quarry battle."

Rai looked interested, but Mane was the one to answer. "Sorry, we're actually out on the hunt for an outlaw. We've probably dawdled here a bit too long, he's somewhere ahead of us, and we'll never find him at this rate."

Rai blinked but nodded with a sigh. "Yeah, he's got a point."

"Aww."

"I'm sorry, we can't really lose this trail. If he gets to Fissure, we might not be able to catch up."

"Who is it you are hunting?" Beheeyem asked, accepting the refusal for the time being. "Perhaps we can assist you?"

"We're supposed to do this on our own," Scout explained. "It's the graduation test for the guild."

"I see. And who are you after exactly, we might be able to point you in the right direction perhaps?"

"Pyroar," Mane snapped. "That's who we're after."

Rai and Scout gave him a surprised look. "You alright?" Scout asked quietly.

"Declaration: You appear agitated," Beldum pointed out.

"Well, obviously, he's dragging my good name and the name of all litleo and pyroar through the mud!"

"Rebuttal: You seem to be taking this personally."

Mane glared at Beldum before he sighed and bent his head. "I'm sorry. I haven't been sleeping well, I've never been away from Treasure Town like this. It's bothering me."

"It's fine," Beheeyem said, waving him off.

"Yeah! We miss home too," Electrike said, as helpful as ever.

"Well Wishes: Good luck."

"And, hey," Beheeyem said, as the two teams began to move. "We're going to Darkfalls, a dungeon close by. We're just getting a few rare materials for Guildmaster Clefable in Blackstone. We might see each other soon, we should catch up."

"Sounds good," Rai said, and the two teams parted ways.

"You're not sleeping well?" Scout asked once they were clear of Team Gazer.

"Sorry," Mane said, rubbing his face. "It's not nightmares, I just… can't sleep."

"You should have told us," Rai said, bumping him gently. “Have you just been pretending to be asleep?”

"A little. I know, sorry."

"We'll make sure you can sleep," Scout said, and Mane gave him an amused look. Scout quickly changed the subject.

Several days later they arrived in Blackstone, early in the morning. All three felines gave big yawns as they plodded along, the road cleaning up into a well-worn track as the distant sounds of wild pokémon faded to the distant sounds of civilised pokémon.

"Looks like we're here," Scout said, relieved.

"Blackstone Village, here we are!" Rai cheered.

Mane just scoffed and smiled, trotting just as fast as they were.

Blackstone Village was, despite what the name suggested, filled with colour. Black stones were used in construction, yes, but there was a great many sights and colours to add that splash of life to it all. It wasn't a very large place, much smaller than Yellow Petal Town.

Thus, it was a surprise to Team Ion when they were recognised immediately. Not a minute after stepping through a wooden arch where they spotted and waved over by a pokémon.

"Greeting Team Ion." With a polite curtsey, a female indeedee greeted them. "I've been expecting you."

"You... have?" Rai asked, surprised.

“Of course. Chimecho sent word ahead.”

“Oh!” Scout was the one to perk up. “Mayor Indeedee, right?” He smiled brightly at her, looking her over curiously. While the memories of the Dark Future were a little blurry in his head, he very much remembered the indeedee who had saved him and… D…Danny, and who had pulled him out of his funk.

Mayor Indeedee looked far healthier than she had in the Dark Future. Her fur was a pristine purple with flecks of lavender where the light hit her, compared to the degree of scragglyness Scout remembered from the hardened survivor. Her brown eyes were chocolately and warm, compared to the edged and worn stare she had from years of living a waking nightmare.

“Right,” Mayor Indeedee replied, giving a bob of her head that carried her whole body down, almost like a curtsey. “Hearing you were coming has inspired a little bit of excitement, it’s been some time since we’ve had such visitors to our little slice of the world.”

When Team Ion’s expressions became slightly fixed she swiftly added, “Do not worry, no one else knows you are coming besides myself. I understand that the three of you are rather tired of the attention, Chimecho has been kind enough to emphasise that. The excitement is purely in myself, but I know how to be professional. She did not tell me why you were coming all this way, however, I can guess at a few things but perhaps it’d be easier to speak in my office away from excitable pokemon?”

“That’d be nice,” Rai said gratefully as they all relaxed a significant amount. “Thank you.”

Mayor Indeedee’s smile widened slightly before she nodded back to him. “There is no need to thank me, I’ve already had lunch.”

Scout held a perplexed look as Mane gave a surprised snicker at that. Rai seemed to understand and rolled his eyes at Mane, leaving Scout confused.

Blackstone Village was a thriving community with a small but dedicated population. Not many pokemon wanted to live next to a massive prison or close to a lawless wasteland, but those that were here were deeply close with one another.

The streets were marked with finely smoothed soil ringed by gravel patches of the famed black stone; obsidian pebbles that contrasted nicely with the green grass and brown dirt.

Even remote places like this new of Team Ion, largely due to the guild just out of the town, and eyes quickly turned to them. To their surprise they were glanced at, then pokemon looked away bored before heads snapped back to them in surprise.

Mutters broke out, Scout overhead something about a Team Isotope. THankfully, with Mayor Indeedee leading them, no one jumped out at them. A lot of pokemon smiled at the mayor, giving waves or briefly speaking with her about various things.

“So, how did you know we’d arrive today?” Mane asked.

Indeedee smiled a little awkwardly. "To tell the truth I've been standing around here for the last two days, Chimecho herself wasn't entirely sure when you'd arrive, and the others here think I've become a few Poké short of a purse if you know what I mean."

Indeedee winked, and Scout laughed.

"That's because you are always working!" a pokémon who just happened to be passing by, called. "Seeing you out of your office at all is crazy."

"Oh hush, Dewott," she called back. "I take breaks."

"Once a decade."

"Twice a decade."

"See? She admits it." He shook his head at her. “Team Ion I bet. Nice to meet you, don’t give Piplup an autograph, he’ll never shut up about it.” And then he was off. Some pokemon were still normal around them, which was nice.

Rolling her eyes, she turned back to them. "We're all quite close here, don't mind any jokes that might come my way. They like to give me a hard time."

“My office is on the other side of the town, I might as well give a short tour as we are walking,” Indeedee said, gesturing to a marketplace they were walking towards. Unlike Treasure Town split by the river, Blackstone’s trading hub was a big circle with various shops propped up.

“We have our own market, although it’s a flareon who runs it.” Flareon flicked his tail at them as they walked by.

"There's a small training ring here as well, it's important due to our proximity to Towny Town and Fissure that everyone here is at least able to defend themselves." She waved her hand, and in a moment a pokémon popped their head out of the building. "Gallade, I'm just showing some visitors around."

"You tell them I won the past thirteen fighting championships?" Gallade asked.

"Yes, of course, I did."

"Good." He went back in.

Indeedee shook her head fondly. "So, he won the last thirteen fighting championships." She smiled, and Rai giggled at the dry tone, it reminded him of Scout’s sarcasm. "Gallade's a good pokémon, a little prideful though. Not that they’re anything wrong with that." She winked.

With the marketplace toured, she led Team Ion further into town, past dozens of pokémon. Marowak is flirting with a weavile, a persian and arcanine arguing, a gardevoir and swampert walking hand-in-hand.

All the while, she gave a polite greetings. "Marowak, I think you're going to get struck if you keep that up," she warned, and he grinned. Weavile smirked, ice cradling one of her claws.

"Calm down, you two," she said to the arguing cat and dog. "What is it today?"

"She took my ball!"

"I'll take both of them if he doesn't shut up!"

"Persian, return his item," Indeedee instructed. Persian sighed, rolled her eyes, but did return it. "What's with the blue?" she asked, looking at Scout.

"It's complicated," he said.

"Bored now." Persian wandered off.

"Thanks for making her be less mean!" Arcanine barked happily, taking his ball and running off with it.

"Good day you two," Indeedee said as they passed Gardevoir and Swampert.

"Lovely morning, Indeedee," Gardevoir returned.

"I agree," Swampert said, looking straight at Gardevoir. She blushed and giggled, and the two ran off.

Indeedee smiled at the antics and continued on.

"So… you're popular around here?" Scout asked Indeedee as she led them to a building right in the middle of town.

"I've been here for some time now," she replied with a tone as dry as a desert. "I've seen many of these pokémon grow and evolve, and I do my best to help where I can."

"Because gratitude is what you eat?" Mane asked, accusingly.

"Mane!" Rai hissed, bumping him hard.

"There’s no need to hide it," Indeedee said, giving a bow. "Yes, I do subsist on gratitude, and it is obviously in my best interests to help pokémon. I do care about this place, however." She turned to the building she had led them to.

"This is my office. For some unknown reason, the pokémon here elected me the leader of Blackstone Town, and so if you're ever around and need help, I can usually be found here."

"Cool. Thanks," Mane said unimpressed. "Can we please get to why we're in this place?"

Rai and Scout gave him a Look, but Indeedee nodded. "Certainly, it is the topic of our next destination, after all. Come in.” She gestured and the door clicked open.

They stepped into Indeedee’s greeting room, a somewhat-cramped entrance littered with objects on the walls. Paintings, treasures, it was rather surprising the degree of it all around them. The door closed, giving a jingle as a bell was jolted and they looked around further.

It wasn’t entirely packed, but where objects weren’t placed there was mahogany walls that appeared to even be painted.

“Woah,” Mane said. “You’re right on outlaw territory and you’re office is like this? How do you not have people breaking in every day?”

Indeedee chuckled. “None of this is valuable, most of it is just recreations. Sentimental objects, really.”

Further ahead there were two doors, one on the right and one of the left with a greeting desk in the middle. It was unmanned but the desk was left very neatly with paperwork stacked in even rows.

Indeedee gestured to the right, that door opened too, and stepped inside.

This led them into a slightly-squashy office. There was a crackling fire on one end pumping out pleasant heat and there are dozens of books laid on the bookshelves around. The desk is cluttered but organised, with paperwork in neat piles but all over the place with several chewed-on pencils laying on the desk.



The walls are covered in objects. Several paintings and several ancient treasures, many of them appearing very old. A large construct took up part of one of the walls, displaying a serpent of sorts with a baleful eye, it reminded Scout of the nazca lines in appearance.



There was a plush rug underfoot that ran like a trail of grass up and around the desk.



Something spiced is in the air but the scent was vague and easy to miss. A warmth settles around the shoulders like a comforting hug and the three cats relax in it.



Indeedee took a seat behind the desk, grabbed a tin left on the desk and opened it revealing biscuits. Out a curtained window is the daylight view of a town winding down, black gravel is very visible making up the ground.

They each took a biscuit as Indeedee offered Scout a lingering look. “Chimecho said there was more to your visit here. Don’t mind the questions, but she specified Meowth specifically wanted to speak with me.”

She brought her hands together patiently as Rai and Mane turned to Scout. Scout nodded and swallowed the rest of the biscuit, his tail swished a little. He had told them all that he remembered and knew but it was still difficult to find the words exactly.

“Um, so, well there’s a lot to say and so much of it is probably really hard to believe but I was told, by, well. Okay. Core.” He said clearly, meeting her eyes.

Indeedee’s chin rose slightly, her eyes betraying a flash of surprise. “...go on.”

“You know how I came from the future?” She nodded. “You were one of the people helping us.”

Core sat in silence for a moment and then a moment longer. She swallowed and nodded. “Well. You’re right, it would be hard to believe if you hadn’t… said my name.”

“You told me it,” Scout said. “When you saved me. Said that if I ever needed help I could come to Blackstone Village. That you’d listen, if I told you that name.”

Core nodded along with him, a bemused smile flicking at her lips. “That is quite a surprise, I must admit. I see why Chimecho was filled with such nervous energy. I am glad to hear that I did the right thing in that time, I have heard it was dreadful.”

“That’s an understatement,” Mane snorted. Rai offered him a concerned look.

Scout nodded. “Yeah. So… um…?”

Core smiled at him. “Well, of course I’ll help you. But it seems I am at a disadvantage, you know me and yet I do not know you.”

“Oh! I’m Scout, it’s nice to meet you.” Classic Scout, blurting that out. He even thrust his paw forwards in a rather human greeting.

Core once again looked bemused but then fondly amused and took his paw with a firm shake. He felt her hand twitch against him before a grin crossed her face. They continued shaking until Scout began to fear she didn’t know it was supposed to stop.

They detangled after a handshake that lasted far too long.

“So, tell me what brings you out here exactly?”

And so, Rai and Scout explained the situation at hand. Core nodded and asked a few questions as they talked.

"I see. Well, I believe we can be of assistance." She gestured and down floated a map of the area. "Approximately a week or so ago we did have a rather… uncouth pyroar drift through town. The arrival shook the Clefable Guild into something of a tizzy."

"I was wondering why isn’t the guild in the town?” Rai asked.

"The Clefable Guild isn't technically a part of Blackstone Village," Core explained. "The villagers here, as you could understand, wouldn't be entirely comfortable with the guild being within the bounds of the town being that the prison is attached to it."

"Yeah," Scout agreed, nodding. "I get that. How close is it?"

"It's about an hour's fast walk," Core explained. "Follow this path.” She pointed to a part on the map. “No twists or choices, just a nice straight path, and you'll reach the guild. They will be expecting you as well I would imagine."

"Wait, really?"

"I'm not the only Psychic around, after all," Core pointed out. “Either way, word does spread fast around here. I should warn you that your fame has led to some… copycats you could say.” She smiled a little in amusement at her own wording.

“Copycats?” Mane asked flatly.

“You’ll probably see them eventually,” Core said, still amused.

Team Ion nodded and briefly discussed if they wanted to do this.

Scout was a bit sore over the Clefable Guild attempting to arrest Guardian, but as the main Outlaw Guild they’d have the best resources to track down Pyroar.

“Alright.” It was agreed they would.

Core had a little more to say. "While you're meeting with Clefable, I'll ask around town. This is a small community, so everyone knows everyone. If there is anything I can find to aid your tracking of Pyroar, I will compile it for you. You can come back here afterwards."

And with that, they parted ways.

"You know?" Mane said once Core was out of earshot. "She hasn't named her price for all this 'help' she's giving us."

"She seems nice," Scout said, but Rai did look uncertain.

"I mean, if she wants something for this help, I don't see the problem. As long as it doesn't take too long."

"We've taken long enough," Mane said. “I kinda want to ask about all those treasures though, like what they were and such. Do you think the ones in her actual office were real?”

Unlike the Wigglytuff Guild, the Clefable Guild was not a creepy half-head looming out in the distance, but a sturdy encampment of buildings connected by trails.

Core was right, following the path easily brought them into sight of the impressively sized guild. Whereas the Wigglytuff Guild was built into a cliff and had levels, the Clefable Guild was mostly above ground, extending backwards rather than down.

Coming close to the first building, it was clear where most of the black stone of Blackstone Village went. The whole fortress was built of the material, it was quite an effective first impression. This was not your light-hearted adventure guild. This was a fortress prison.

There were two guards standing in front of the main entrance. "Halt!" they said together, a cramorant and a bagon.

"The Clefable Guild has a strict visiting policy," Bagon said as they came to a stop. "State your name and business."

"This looks like Team Ion," Cramorant whispered, perfectly audible. "Weren't we contacted ahead of time?"

"Shush, everything has a system."

"But if we already know…"

"We're Team Ion," Rai confirmed, Bagon gave Cramorant a filthy look. "Indeedee said you would be expecting us?"

"That's right!" Cramorant said, happily stepping out of the way. "Come on in!"

Bagon just sighed and stepped out of the way too. "Good luck in there," he said.

The room they stepped into was spartan in decoration, with nothing besides walls and a single desk. Made of the same material as the outside, the room wasn't dark but had a weight to it. Behind the desk sat a mienfoo, sorting out some paperwork.

"I'll be right with you," she said, not looking up. "Make yourselves comfortable."

There were no chairs, so the three just sat where they were standing until Mienfoo looked up at them. "Thank you for your patience. Welcome to the Clefable Guild. How may I help you?"

"We're here because Indeedee said you were expecting us," Mane said, losing patience rapidly. "We're Team Ion and hunting Pyroar."

Mienfoo, to her credit, only blinked once before nodding. "Not a problem, Team Ion. Thank you for what you've done for us all. Clefable is expecting you, I'll take you to her right away."

"Thank you," Mane breathed, someone was not lagging around at least. He looked a little uncomfortable at his own attitude a moment before shrugging it off.

Mienfoo came around and led them quickly through a hall and into the outside two times before they arrived at the heart of the Clefable Guild. "Clefable?" She knocked on the door. "I have Team Ion here."

"Show them in."

Mienfoo opened the door and bowed as they came in, Scout giving her his thanks.

Unlike the bare-bones lobby, Clefable's personal office was a lot more decorated. Wanted posters with the images crossed out covered the walls, detailing every outlaw Clefable had brought to justice herself.

Elsewhere in the guild, all of the worker's private rooms held similar trophies. It was a matter of pride to show who you had brought to justice.

Clefable was tall. Taller than a normal clefable and rested behind a thick desk built of mahogany wood. She also sat in an actual chair and observed the three with a sharp eye. There were a series of stuffed cushions against the wall, and three of them floated over before plopping down in front of the three felines.

"Take a seat," Clefable said, steepling her fingers. "Team Ion, it is excellent to meet the three of you. I have only heard the best from Wigglytuff and beyond."

"It's great to meet you too," Scout said.

"Likewise, it's an honour," Rai added.

Mane simply nodded.

"Let me extend my own thanks for your actions during the collapse of time," Clefable said, neutrally. Once the words had sunk in, she moved on. "I won't waste time. I am aware you are hunting Pyroar." She floated up a series of papers on her desk, an image of Pyroar on the first one. "As per a graduation test for your own guild."

She said those words with an edge of tension and Mane spoke up. "Is that a problem?" he challenged.

"I am aware you are supposed to receive little backup in the arresting of the outlaw," Clefable explained. "I would have it that he is arrested either way. It is more important to have this threat off the streets than it is to pass a test you can take again, right?"

No one answered right away, and Clefable raised an eye.

"It's better that he's arrested, yes," Scout acquiesced, nodding.

"Hm." Clefable stood up. "Thirteen days ago, an attempt to arrest Pyroar was made by three of my own apprentices – Team Crash – and they failed in their efforts. Team Crash is not an inexperienced group, Hawlucha, their leader, is a capable leader, and Gothorita and Leavanny are far from weak themselves. All three of them are currently in a coma."

Scout cringed while Rai and Mane exchanged a glance.

Pulling up Pyroar's list of crimes, Clefable began to read a few out that even Team Ion wasn't aware of. The Outlaw Guild's were a lot more up-to-date on such matters after all. "Extortion. Violent beatdowns. Lairon might not walk again. Cottenee hasn't been found. This is a very dangerous pokémon, Team Ion."

Mane scoffed and shook his head, but his back legs trembled briefly.

"Are you alright?" Scout asked.

"I'm just pissed off."

"Anger is good," Clefable said, at normal volume as she had overheard their whispering easily. "But recklessness is not. There are pokémon searching for Pyroar as we speak. I would hope that if you find anyone who is facing Pyroar, or if anyone offers help, you would accept it. Not only for the sake of capturing Pyroar but for your own sakes as well. This is a very dangerous pokémon."

"Do you know where he's going?" Rai asked, taking in everything as he could.

"Logic dictates he's trying to reach Fissure," Clefable said. "That's why we sent Kadabra with Pangoro and Nuzleaf ahead with a teleport. If he reaches Fissure, he'll be out of our reach. Going there is extremely dangerous for members of this guild. You may be able to go but being how well-known you've become that could be a boon or a bane."

Clefable sighed. "The most I want to ask of you, Team Ion, is to not allow the reason you are doing this task interfere with actually doing it. If you can take out Pyroar by yourself, that would be fantastic, but if you have the option of assistance, don't risk your safety and others just to fulfil a demand from your own guild."

Rai nodded slowly. "Yeah, you're right. You're right. We won't. Um…" he glanced to Scout and Mane, who both nodded back.

Clefable relaxed slightly. "Good. If he does slip through our net and reach Fissure, you may be the only option to pursue, but I truly hope it doesn't come to that."

Clefable's expression twisted into one of disgust. "Fissure is everything wrong with pokémon. The liars and the selfish. The pokémon who seek to harm others. Illicit materials are traded there, and it is a very bad idea to purchase any meat products. You don't know who that might have come from."

As the leader of the Outlaw Guild, Clefable certainly did not have anything nice to say about Fissure.

"Well," Clefable said, "thank you for coming to meet with me and thank you for understanding our position. The teams dispatched after Pyroar each have a method of contacting each other in case of cornering him. Unfortunately, we don't have any more battle-capable Psychic's to join you, but if you do luck out in finding him, try and get assistance. Please."

"We'll do our best," Rai said, nodding firmly. "Right guys?"

"Right."

"Sure…"

"Very good. Best of luck, Team Ion." Clefable let themselves escort themselves out, she had work to return to.

Unfortunately, Mienfoo had walked them very quickly, and they weren't entirely sure of the way back. "So, that was something," Scout said, as they wandered lost and cold.

"I didn't really think Pyroar was this dangerous," Rai said, frowning a little. "The guild's stuff is a bit out of date."

"Or maybe they didn't want to 'scare' us?" Mane sneered.

"Armaldo wouldn't do that."

"Pfft."

"Seriously?" Scout asked. "Are you alright?"

"Didn't sleep again last night."

Scout frowned, but before he could push the subject further, something else caught his attention. "Hey… what?"

Rai and Mane also stopped, as before them was none other…

Then themselves.

A meowth on two legs, shinx and litleo joining them. This meowth, at least, still had white fur.

"Who's this joker?" the meowth, clearly a female, said.

"I think it's another team of copycats," the litleo laughed, also a female. "That one's the wrong colour, though!"

"What are you three looking at?" the shinx asked, again a female, sparking already.

Rai, Scout, and Mane needed just to take a moment to fully accept this was in front of them. "Who… are you?" Rai managed.

"Team Isotope!" the three answered.

Scout's eye twitched.

“Oh my gosh,” Mane sneered. “This is what she meant? Are you copycats? How lame is that?”

"You're lame!" Litleo yelled back. "We were here first!"

"No…" Scout said. "You weren't."

"If you're thinking you can join the guild-"

"We're already in a guild," Scout snapped. "The Wigglytuff Guild."

The three snorted at him. "Like we'd believe you're actually Team Ion."

"We are!" Rai spluttered, aghast at this. Mane had just run out of words for the first time ever, shaking his head.

"Oh yeah, how about you-?"

"Isotope!" a somewhat familiar voice yelled, causing all three to flinch. Mienfoo came running over to them. "There you are," she said, looking at Team Ion and flushed furiously. "I was reallllly hoping we could avoid this." She turned back to the copycats. "But it seems like I just shouldn't hope for anything."

"Hey, back off!" Shinx demanded.

"This is the actual Team Ion," Mienfoo snapped, before smacking them all behind the ears. "And this looks really awkward for the Clefable Guild. Clefable wants to speak to you, now get going!"

Shock, disbelief, more shock, horror, something unspeakable, and then embarrassment flashed across their faces before they turned and ran, unable to give Team Ion another look.

"I am so, so, so very sorry," Mienfoo said, turning back to them with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. "Needless to say, no one is particularly impressed with them around here. Clefable seems to find them hilarious, though." Under her breath, she muttered. "I bet she intentionally set you up to run into each other, crazy bastard."

"What was that?" Mane said, intrigued at the thought of cursing.

"Nothing!" Mienfoo squeaked. "Nothing at all. Just apologies, ahahahahaa. I'll lead you out of here, you must want to go after… that."

Team Ion really did not have words to say and followed Mienfoo in silence. She almost physically tossed them out the door and Team Ion just stumbled away.

"Copycats," Scout moaned. "That's the worst thing because it's a pun as well as identity theft."

"I mean… they didn't say they were Team Ion," Rai said, always the positive one.

"I don't care."

"Let's just… go," Mane suggested. They yielded to his wisdom.

It took the better part of the hour to walk back to recover from that, but at least the three immediately started making jokes.

"She got me all wrong," Scout claimed, shaking his head. "Did you see her walk? She was not used to being on two legs."

"Well, it IS weird that you are," Rai pointed out.

"It's entirely natural!"

"No." Mane shook his head. "It isn't."

"We're talking about Team 'Isotope' not me! Good grief, where did they even think up the name?"

"How is Ion weirder than Isotope?"

"Because I have advanced human knowledge. Do YOU know what an isotope is?"

"Isn't it a really small thing that is part of the building blocks of everything?" Mane asked.

"You… you guessed that."

"Did I?"

"Mmmm."

Blackstone Village was thankfully not nearly as much of a maze as the Clefable Guild, and the three were able to find their way to Indeedee's office without any difficultly. They didn't even need to ask anyone for directions.

Scout was the one to give a knock on the door, and it opened not a moment after his paw left the wood. "Come in," Core called, opening the door from afar with a psychic pull.

They stepped into the small building. It was no different then it had been a couple hours ago only the receptionist was in.

Scout's heart hurt for a moment so long he had to let them go first, eyes averting downwards, Rai and Mane took it better.

"This is Team Ion," Indeedee said to her chatot companion. "Meowth, Litleo, Shinx, this is Chatot."

"Greetings," the chatot said neutrally. It was far from the first chatot any of them had seen since the second-in-command died. Rai and Mane didn't react more than a blink, but it was a little harder on Scout, the wound being newer, and his relationship closer.

"Good morning," Scout said softly. This chatot stood less proudly than the one he knew, and their voice was softer than Chatot's stuffy bark.

"Chatot and I have asked around and compiled some information for you," Core said, levitating up a bound parcel of goodies. Except all the goodies were paper, and there wasn't much of it.

"You can find everything we have on this pyroar within," Chatot said, before nodding to Core. She smiled back.

"He’s been an excellent help compiling all this," she said gratefully.

Core stepped forward, handing the information over to Scout and waved to the door, opening it again. "As much as I would like to invite you to stay the night, this Pyroar does seem like a troublesome pokémon. You’ll need to head through Towny Town next."

"We do need to find him before he gets away," Rai confirmed. "Clefable's making sure of it, but he's been tricky."

"So, I've heard. I'll show you to the main road heading to Towny Town." She wasn’t able to keep a straight face the second time. "My apologies, one can only say Towny Town so many times without laughing. It truly never gets old. Ah, I would tell you the story behind that name but I won’t keep you. You’ll just have to come back around, spoiler alert, it’s my fault.”

All three of Team Ion smirked a little in amusement at that. Mane's amusement, however, faded fast and Scout cast him yet another worried look as they walked through the town.

He bit his lip, shook his head, Rai also gave him a look of concern and Mane opened his mouth to speak, paused, and turned away.

Core was not blind to this. "If there's something you'd like to get off your mind?" she suggested, looking down to Mane. "Feel free."

Mane gave her an unfriendly look before it melted into indecision, doubt, and then finally into resolution. "Yeah, alright. Do you know if there's anyone else with Pyroar?"

Rai and Scout gave him a curious look, something sparking in Rai's yellow eyes.

Core considered the question. "I can't say for certain. I haven't read over everything I was able to compile, so there might be something in there." She gestured to the paperwork Scout carried, yet another addition to his growing collection. "Did Clefable say anything about that?"

"No," Mane answered. "And I should have asked her too, but if she did know I think she would have mentioned it."

"I see." They continued on in a little silence, Rai casting several searching looks at Mane and Mane ignoring them all. Core greeted pokémon on the way but didn't stop to chat like before. Bisharp on his way to Gallade's Training Field, Ampharos giggling over gossip with Persian, Arbok and Serperior discussing something serpent related.

"You have handsss, you don't count," Arbok stated, offending Serperior.

"Don't roll your S's at me!"

"And we're here," Core said, stopping at the edge of the town.

"Thanks, we definitely couldn't have found it without you," Mane drawled, barely stopping to say that.

"Thank you, Indeedee," Rai said, hastening his step to keep up with Mane.

"Have a good day, and thanks," Scout said, smiling stiffly before running off to catch up.

"I wish you the best of luck." She smiled sombrely and waved them off.


"So you four reckon that Riolu 'ere won't count to the four-pokémon limit in this here dungeon?"

"That's what we said!"

"Uh, dunno about this."

"It's Drenched Bluff, even if something does happen we'll be fine."

Team Sunrise, plus Bidoof, were ready to enter the slippery dungeon. After deciding that they would, indeed, give this a shot, it hadn't been difficult to convince Bidoof.

Who actually convinced him, no one could quite remember. It was a whirlwind of Saniya mega morning energy, and then they were halfway to the Drenched Bluff, curtsey a teleport done by the celebi.

She had been practising, after all. There was no way the four of them could get to Amped Plains and back in a single day without cheating a little.

The effort still required her to be carried, this time by Striker, the rest of the trip to the dungeon.

"Uh still don't recall exactly when I said yes to this," Bidoof said, unsure. He, too, did not remember. Perhaps because the question had never been asked, simply the verdict.

"Pretty please?" Saniya begged. "With cherries and knock-knock jokes on top?"

Bidoof grinned. "Tell ya what. You give me a knock-knock joke to share with my friend, and you've got yourself a deal by golly!"

"Okay!" Saniya beamed and then cleared her throat. "Knock-knock."

"Who's there?"

"You're."

"You're who."

"I'm the one voted most likely to become a dictator by Treasure Town!" Saniya beamed. Bidoof cocked his head before chuckling. "You've got to change the answer though, this is a tricky one."

"Ah think Bell might like one like that," Bidoof said, walking in with Team Sunrise. "She's a fan of those clever, tricky, jokes."

"Aha!" Sean said. "Her name is Bell." He held out his paw, Striker palmed over the cash. They had bet on how long it'd take for Saniya to crack Bidoof.

Bidoof gasped. "Uh, oh. Uh… don't tell no one?"

"Oh, it's fine," Saniya waved his concerns off. "Say, I love knock-knock jokes! Could I meet Bell?"

"P-pardon!?"

"Could I meet your friend?" Saniya asked innocently. "If you like her, she's probably cool."

"I…" Bidoof hesitated, unsure. "Uh, Bell's a bit… shy." Saniya gave him a crestfallen look. "I could ask?"

"Yay!" Saniya cheered, doing a loop-de-loop. She then drifted over to Sean, who was counting his coins. "I require a cut of that."

"No."

"You earned money with my genius. That's like… verbal pimping. Now give it up."

"Your train of thought is a mystery, Celebi," Guardian sighed, pulling her away. "One I would hesitate before trying to solve. My deepest of apologies Bidoof that you have to deal with the four of us for this excursion."

"Ooy!" Saniya snapped.

"Hey," Sean snapped.

"Excuse you?" Striker snapped.

They all spoke at the same time, with the same inflection and level of offence at that. Guardian's eye flickered in amusement and Bidoof smiled.

"You four kinda remind me of my team, yup-yup," he said brightly. "Flaaffy's a little like Celebi, Marill's a little like Sean, and Paras is a little like Dusknoir."

"Does that make you, me?" Striker asked, smirking down at Bidoof who immediately went red.

"I, uh, uh, you, I, me, uh golly yup-yup by golly."

"He's falling back on the catchphrases," Saniya sighed, sadly. "Dammit." She handed the money over to Sean, who took it smugly. The bet on who would break Bidoof into the mess he was in was made last night.

"Why are you so good at guessing?" Saniya sighed, patting her empty pockets. She didn't have pockets; thus, they could not be full.

"That's my secret."

"You used the Dimensional Scream, didn't you?"

"You think I'd use Legendary-Pokémon-granted, time-based magical powers for self-gain?"

"Yes."

Saniya stared closely at Sean until he glanced away, thankful he couldn't sweat in this body.

"Regardless," Guardian said. "We've come ways in already, and nothing has gone wrong."

"Oh, right!" Bidoof said, surprised. He'd been completely distracted from his nerves by the team, suddenly he wondered if that was the goal. Looking around, there was nothing that implied the monsters he had heard about. "Can ya explain to me what it is you’re testing exactly? I'm still having trouble getting it."

"In the future," Striker explained, "when Sean was still human in body, the five of us were able to enter dungeons without concern. Well, any greater concern than normal."

"You think dungeons here are bad," Saniya laughed. "Hoo boy do we have some stories we don't quite remember!"

"Oddly enough," Guardian added, "dungeons were, in some ways, less gruelling than what I could remember. Perhaps it was simply the added muscle of Grovyle and Celebi and Meowth being able to hold his own, but I wonder…"

"Being able to enter dungeons in a five-pokémon group," Sean finished. "Would be pretty useful I imagine. I didn't seem to 'register' on the four-pokémon limit before. None of us knows why, but it's got to be some sort of human thing?"

"And he's no longer human," Saniya pointed out. "Or, at least, he's certainly a lot furrier than he was before." Sean blushed. "And shorter. And he's got things sticking out the sides of his head. And he doesn't have as many fingers anymore. And-"

"Okay." Sean cut in. "I think he gets it now."

"Do you?" she asked, peering imperiously down at Bidoof.

"Uh… yup-yup?"

"Very good."

The dungeon's trek continued with no warping of the walls. No monstrosities are walking out of breaks in space—nothing out of the ordinary, just cold, wet, and moist.

"Moist," Saniya giggled, poking at some slime.

Sean gave a weary sigh.

The Drenched Bluff had been chosen over Beach Cave for tworeasons. The first and foremost is that Team Sunrise wanted to go further than just Beach Cave. The second reason, and the one they'd claim to be the primary reason, was that they had a job request to recover an item from the dungeon.

There were no problems with Drenched Bluff, and the five cleared the dungeon easily.

"I reckon you four are mighty strong," Bidoof said as they walked back to town.

"World saviours," Saniya sang.

"Yup-yup. I dunno what to do to thank you for asking little old me to come along. Uh…" he glanced around, to Saniya, and decided to go for it. "Want a knock-knock joke?"

"Always," Saniya replied immediately. Before Bidoof could start it, however, she sighed. "Ah… did I ever tell you why I like knock-knock jokes?"

"No?" Bidoof answered.

"Have you mentioned this to us either?" Striker asked, also not knowing the answer.

Saniya smiled wistfully. "Soothe liked them. And jokes in the Dark Future were pretty rare. Giratina wasn't any good for any jokes that weren't incredibly inappropriate." Whatever Saniya considered inappropriate was best not pondered upon. "So, that's why."

She gave Bidoof a genuinely warm smile. "Thanks for liking them. It brings back some actual good memories that I don't really share with anyone else. Heh." She shook her head. "I think Soothe actually would have liked you."

"Really?" Bidoof said, surprised. He didn't know much about the audino, only that she was potentially very dangerous. The idea a pokémon like that would like him of all things didn't make sense.

"She wasn't very, uh… how to put it?" Saniya rubbed her chin. "Soothe was pretty low-key, which I totally get thanks to growing up in THAT hellhole. You either become like me! Or become a bit of a paranoid recluse. Or develop really 'quirky' traits like, for instance, an orbsession."

Striker gave her a deeply wounded look.

"So, yeah. I think she'd like you, you're quiet, but you're also nice. Thanks, Bidoof, for being you."

Bidoof was positively burning up with embarrassment at that point. He did not receive many compliments and began to stutter out various "By Golly's" and "Yup-yup's" as Saniya giggled at his reaction and Guardian handed over some betting money to a very smug Sean.

"I, I reckon you're much too nice to me," Bidoof said, once he was able to speak again.

"Nonsense!" Saniya cried, not willing to hear a bar of any self-pity or defeatism. "You're a silly goof too! I like that."

She continued complimenting Bidoof until he rolled over and fainted from the praise. "Damned by praise," she giggled, levitating him up and tossing him gently into Striker's arms. "Okay. Let's do the time warp AGAIN!"

Saniya teleported, dragging the rest of them with her. She wasn't sure where they'd end up. Hopefully, not two feet above the ocean like the last three times.

Her wish was granted. They appeared three feet above the ocean.


"You don't need to be rude," Rai said, as Scout caught up to them.

"Okay," Mane said, coming to an abrupt stop, whispering under his breath. "Okay. Yeah, okay. Okay. Now."

Scout stopped, concerned. "Are you okay?"

Rai gave him a quelling look. "This isn't just about sleeping badly, is it?" Rai asked.

"Read the room," Mane snapped at Scout, looking at the dirt track with trees around them. Anything but them.

He sighed. "Okay, I've been suspecting something for a while now. I didn't want to say anything in case I was wrong since this brings back ALL the shit, but I'm almost entirely convinced. Not totally certain, but enough that I got to say this before it ends up being something stupid I could have prevented by just talking about it."

"Okay," Scout said, nodding seriously. "Should we go… somewhere private?"

Mane snorted. "We're in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, and this isn't exactly some big clandestine secret, I think we'll be fine. This isn't THAT kind of mysterious topic. No, I'll just say it. I think Pyroar is my brother."

For a moment, Rai and Scout only responded with a blink.

"Ah," Rai said, Scout took another blink. "Ahh."

"Yeah."

"Oh," Scout said.

"Yah."

"Uh… how are you sure?" Rai asked, settling onto his belly. This felt like a sitting down conversation.

"I can't be totally sure," Mane said, frowning. "But what we've been hearing? What we've been getting from our leads? The fact that Armaldo set us on this specific guy, to begin with? It's all reminding me of my brother. It doesn't surprise me at all that he's a filthy criminal. I mean, how close was I to being one? And I was the failure child, HE took Mother's lessons like a psyduck to water."

"Mother?" Scout asked.

Mane gave him a curled-lip glare before realising Scout was being serious. "Wait… do you not know?"

"No," Scout replied, shaking his head. Other than a very brief mention from Chatot a long time back, and one bad ask during Mane's Truth and More Truth game after joining the guild, he had no idea.

"But you asked me in that silly apprentice bonding session, way back," Mane said, blinking dumbly. This did not compute. How could Scout not know?

"You made it clear it was off bounds," Scout replied as if it was obvious. "You told me not to bring it up again, so I didn't."

"And you didn't… just ask someone else?" Mane asked, genuinely stumped. "Rai didn't tell you? I made him to you about his family, I thought he would… someone would have told you in a literal heartbeat if you'd asked. You seriously don't know?"

"You… well… no. Other than Chatot mentioning that your family were a bit… on the wrong side, I never asked anyone. You said it was off-limits, so I figured that meant I should keep my nose out of it. Was I… supposed to ask someone else?"

Mane stared at him, boggled until a perplexing myriad of expressions ran across his face. Bouncing from disbelief to amusement to pain and all the way back to bemused affection. He shook his head. "Wow I… don't know whether that's the most endearing thing anyone has ever done for me or just plain stupid."

"Maybe it's both?" Rai suggested.

Mane leered at him, without heat. "Yeah, it's Scout. So, it's definitely both. There's always a bit of stupid in there."

"Hey!" Scout yelled, also without any heat.

Mane gave him a brief, soft, smile before sighing. "I get you were being weirdly good about my privacy, but this just means I am the one who has to explain it. Which isn't fun."

"I could," Rai offered.

Mane shook his head. "Thanks, but I think it'd just piss me off for reasons I don't quite want to understand. This way I'll only be mad at myself."

"Mane," Scout interjected. "If this is really an issue. You don't have to tell me. I can live without knowing."

Mane was quiet, another carnival funhouse of expressions crossed his face. "No. Don't… be all… nice like that!" he said, voice laboured as he fought back emotions. "You don't get to be all nice and offer me an out when doing so could put you, and by extension us, at risk. Just shut up, sit down, be quiet, and just let me talk. Cause I'm only going to say this once, and I'm not taking questions."

Scout followed suit. He was nervous at Mane's behaviour but also a little eager to know. He had wanted to know the story for a while now, but this was something Mane clearly didn't want to talk about, so he reigned in any satisfaction at getting the coveted explanation.

Mane paced for a bit, kicked up some dirt, set a falling leaf on fire and stared at the ash for a minute before gathering the words to say.

Once he began, he did not pause for anything besides a quick breath.

"I was mostly raised by my dad, Morpeko. Yes, haha, my dad was a morpeko, shut up. My mother, our mother," he corrected. "Was Pyroar. We, me and Litleo my brother, obviously, didn't know her very well and, really, I don't think Morpeko did either."

Mane took a breath. "The only stuff I remember oof Pyroar was her teaching us." He fell silent, squinting slightly against nothing.

"I'm… not going to talk about the details of what she taught us," he said firmly, looking right between them and nowhere else. "Just that she had plans. Creepy plans, insane plans, but still plans. She was one of those megalomaniacal maniacs who dreams of world domination, I'm pretty sure at least. Unlike some who go for it by accumulating power and influence, she wanted to get there by fucking and breeding pokémon loyal to her and only her."

He took another breath, speaking quicker. "Me and Litleo were the start of that. She taught seduction and domination, weird willpower lessons where she'd…" a flash of pain flew across Mane's face faster than the eye could blink. It was almost like it wasn't there, but the weight in his voice spoke louder than the flicker of expression. "She'd hurt us to build up toughness and more shit I do not need to revisit."

Mane frowned, he paused for only a brief moment looking sick before swallowing whatever was trying to come up. "The fact of the matter is, she was sick. She was sicker than Litleo and us could have possibly known."

He cringed away from Rai and Scout, needing a moment. Scout wanted to step forward and hug him but Rai stalled him with a slight shake of his head. "She was my mother but…"

He buried it and turned back. "We barely knew anyone or anything besides Morpeko, each other, and Pyroar. She was awful." That was the most he could say. "Morpeko was safer, but he still liked to pit us against each other, but neither of us was very strong, but we were tough, so we couldn't really hurt each other."

"In the end," Mane said, voice cracking slightly before he swallowed that as well, "Morpeko grew enough of a spine to tip someone off about Pyroar. The town quickly acted because… well, what do you do when there's a Shadow Pokémon around?" The question was not really a question, but it was still asked with the most bitter of smiles.

Scout's eyes widened, and even Rai stifled a gasp, Mane didn't pause to take in their reactions.

"Yep. Pyroar was a Shadow Pokémon. I didn't really come to know that for a while afterwards, I was still pretty young, but eventually, it all kinda made sense. I don't know what she was going to do to me when I was older, but I can guess."

There was a haunted look in Mane's eyes. The eyes of a son who knew his mother was going to kill him. He blinked it away, determined to not let the past drag him back. "Morpeko, not sticking around, took Litleo and bolted. He left me behind. Why? He didn't like me. Or I wasn't useful to him. I don't know, it's the second good thing he ever did for me, first was getting Pyroar lynched."

He said this so casually, it almost hurt to hear. "But yeah. That's why the townsfolk treated me like a temperamental electrode, fearing she had somehow spread it onto me. Although treating Rai like shit definitely didn't help those rumours, but when everyone's treating you like a bastard, you kinda become one."

He stopped. "Not to make excuses, of course, I was still a piece of shit. Sorry."

"You don't need to apologise," Rai said, eyes shiny. He knew part of that story, everyone besides Scout did. But not all that. Not everything Mane had just said. Not from his point of view. "Going through that… I can’t imagine it."

Mane's ears flicked at Rai, an almost smile crossed his face. "Heh, don’t think about it," he began to suggest before Rai had tackle-hugged him.

Mane was not usually accepting of affection he didn't start, but he allowed this time. He hadn't grown up with touch that was pleasant like this.

"Sorry I made you tell me that," Scout said, quietly. He didn't pile on because Mane was already frowning.

"Better you hear it from me," Mane sighed, pushing Rai off him with ease, unlike Scout who could barely move him let alone Mane. "Better me than someone else who'll just love to spin it in certain ways. Ultimately, if Pyroar is my brother, he's going to be a major piece of shit. Fits the stuff we've got on this pyroar already. Think of him like me, except less handsome and loveable and you might be getting close."

"And your father?" Rai asked. "That's who you meant when you asked Indeedee if anyone else was with him, right?"

"Morpeko," Mane said, some stressing on the word could be felt. Mane did not see that coward as his father any more than he saw Pyroar as his mother.

"He might be around. I dunno." He shrugged. "We haven't really been asking anyone about seeing any morpeko around. We probably should or read through that stuff, or tell Clefable. Damn, I should have just told her right then."

"We can go back around to tell them," Scout suggested. Mane didn't like the idea of wasting any more time, but it was important.

"Morpeko's a different kind of trash than Pyroar was. He'd bend over to anything she said, he's a weak piece of shit, but he's still a bastard. If he's been able to keep Pyroar around, he would have, assuming Pyroar didn't get sick of him and drop him in a ditch or something."

With that, Mane had the subject dropped. They'd head back to Clefable first to alert then to keep an extra eye out for signs of a morpeko around Pyroar. Hopefully, that'd give them the edge they needed to track him down.

Or just to watch their backs.
 
Chapter 45 - The Blizzard Island

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
"Wait… seriously?"

"I have no time for jokes."

Sean stared up at Armaldo in wonder. The intimidating fossil pokémon stared back with his usual expression of mild annoyance.

Sean blinked and spoke. "Repeat it, please."

Armaldo huffed, rolling his eyes, but acquiesced to Sean's ask. It was why he was only telling this to one member of Team Sunrise, trying to involve any of the others would inevitably attract them all. He'd be answering questions, receiving threats, and getting interrupted all day.

"To recount my words," Armaldo began, "your team's trial period has ended positively. Proving that Dusknoir does appear to be under control, perhaps even genuinely remorseful, and exemplifying the guild's values in your work has been a success."

"Trial period?" Sean asked when Armaldo took a breath. He just wanted to be sure of everything.

"You weren't explicitly told so," Armaldo answered. Every word he spoke was entirely level, almost bored sounding. "But the loosened restrictions was its own kind of trial. Due to Team Sunrise always returning, as per the agreement, even if you played with the limits on occasion." He gave a slight glare, and Sean stifled a smile. "You have proven yourselves."

Despite the fact that you technically could have simply left. These words were left unspoken, but both of them felt them hanging in the air around them.

"So…?" Sean began slowly. "What does this mean going forward?"

"It means you and your team are being upgraded to the benefits and restrictions of being an apprentice of the Wigglytuff Guild," Armaldo explained. "You will be eligible to go on expeditions, you are free to choose your own missions, you are expected to work six of seven days a week."

He paused there, Sean felt his nerves rise. Which was silly, Armaldo had already told him.

But the wicked Bug-type was almost smiling. "And you do not have to return to the guild every day." There it was. Freedom. "You still have to return after each mission," Armaldo added. "And it's required you do not go far without at least alerting the guild. But those are the new terms. Team Sunrise has proven themselves trustworthy, and Team Magnezone has agreed to this."

Sean nodded slowly, unable to stop the smile rising over his face. He did restrain the cheers, however. Just barely. "And the Clefable Guild?"

"Hasn't said a word," Armaldo replied.

"O-okay." Sean nodded faster. "Okay! This is great! Thank you so much!"

Armaldo snorted at him. "Don't thank me," he snapped. "If you must assign gratitude to someone, give it to the Guildmaster."

"I'll let everyone know," Sean said, speaking quickly and not hearing that at all. "They'll be so happy! Saniya might come and hug you later, I don't know! Bye!"

And then he raced off before Armaldo could instruct him that Celebi was not to come anywhere near him with any snotty cries or dreaded hugs.

Armaldo dropped his claws and debated on his next move for a few moments. He decided the most sensible thing to do would be to climb out the side of the cliff and bury himself in a cocoon of string.

He had paperwork to do, however.


"Surround Sea?"

"7.8/10, too much water."

"Mt Travail?"

"I don't feel like climbing another mountain."

"It'd hardly be climbing. And you float anyway!"

"Noooo."

Team Sunrise was hard at work, figuring out what they should do for work. Sean's announcement had filled the team with unyielding excitement. They were allowed to go almost as they pleased now!

Guardian was hesitant, as was Striker, neither of them was trusting enough to accept that things were so wonderful just on someone's word.

In a compromise, however, they agreed to let Sean and Saniya pick their first long-distance destination while they did a mission for the day.

Saniya was not an agreeable partner, however, and she and Sean could not agree on the destination. She continued to offer suggestions like Yellow Petal Town and Blackstone Village. "Fine!" Saniya said. "I'll just ask Chimecho directly then."

"We shouldn't chase down Team Ion," Sean protested. "We could mess their whole mission up!" But Saniya was not listening. "Saniya!" he yelled. Still not listening.

Sighing with aggravation, Sean went for a walk to clear his head.

It did not take long for Saniya to find Chimecho. It helped that the Psychic-type rarely left the guild and the guild was not overly complex to navigate.

"Celebi!" Chimecho beamed. She was in the little tiny office that Armaldo had finally convinced her to use. Chatot had tried to give her an office for years but tended to give in to her abject refusal. Armaldo just dug the thing out for her and made her use it.

"Chimes!" Saniya beamed back. "Have I got a question for you!"

"You have?" Chimecho asked, setting down the papers she was working on. "Let's hear it," she said, floating up. "As long as you promise to listen to me afterwards!"

"You want to talk?" Saniya asked, surprised. "Wow! Okay. What's up?"

"Didn't you have a question?"

"Nah, just messing with Sean," Saniya giggled, but a little guiltily. "I was giving him a hard time about where we should go for our first real getaway mission. Miiight have gone a little far though, I'll apologise later."

"Make sure you do," Chimecho advised. "But I am glad you came around to find me. I was thinking, with Team Sunrise going to be leaving for who knows how long soon, it may be useful if you can connect to the Psychic Network."

Saniya blinked. "I've heard a lot about that thing, but I still don't get what it is."

"Oh!" Chimecho gasped, quite surprised to hear that. "I can explain." Saniya took a seat. While in the air. It honestly took more effort to do that than simply float, but she was committed. "The Psychic Network is the broadcasted range of various Psychic-types across the Grass Continent. We are specially trained to find the exact frequencies others in the network send out, these frequencies go much farther than your normal Psychic move after all."

Saniya raised a hand. "Can you attack through it?"

Chimecho frowned at her as if that was an unusual thing to immediately think of. "I do not believe so. Many pokémon in the Psychic Network are not fit for battle either. Similar to teleporters, it takes a great deal of specific training to tap into the network well enough to be employed in this field."

"How am I supposed to do it, then?" Saniya asked. "I'm a very poor student. You could ask Giratina, but you can't. Because they're not with me anymore and wouldn't remember me anyway."

For a brief moment, Saniya looked deeply upset. The moment passed between blinks.

"So, yeah. I like to battle."

"Indeed…" Chimecho examined her a moment before shrugging it off. "But as a pokémon of legends, I believe you would have a reasonable shot of at least being able to tap in occasionally. The Psychic Network is primarily used to send rescue requests to available guilds or teams fortunate enough to be close to a representative, but it is also an excellent way to pass other information to pokémon who need to know."

Saniya opened her mouth to ramble on about something but paused. Scout's words and the threat of Darkrai floated up in her mind, and she tasted the idea a while longer. "Hmmm… well, I could give it a shot at least."

"Wonderful." Chimecho beamed. "We can start now if you're not busy."

"I'm not," Saniya agreed but glanced at the paperwork behind Chimecho, "but, uh… aren't you busy?"

"Oh, I can put this off for later," Chimecho giggled. "It's simply a little thing I do to help keep the cogs of the guild running."

"I'll say," Saniya said. "You make the food, manage the jobs, connect to this Psychic Network thingy, keep count of the stuff. What don't you do in the guild?"

Chimecho blushed. "Oh… you're overestimating me."

"Seriously?" Saniya continued. "How are you still an apprentice? Haven't you been here for years? I would have thought they'd have at least promoted you to… some important position?"

"I've been offered," Chimecho admitted, face still a little red. "But I prefer to remain where I am. I can have friends this way, it'd be different if I weren't an apprentice." And that was that. She changed the subject back to Saniya and closed the door, beginning Saniya's lessons on connecting to the Psychic Network.


"So, have you determined a destination for us?" Guardian asked over dinner later that night.

"Nope!" Saniya beamed. "I practised mind linking with Chimecho!" Saniya had made some progress, surprising Chimecho, but was still far away from being able to reliably connect to the Psychic Network. The rarity of encountering something she did not master immediately left her excited for more.

"Every location I suggested was refuted," Sean said, still rather ticked off. Saniya stuck her tongue out at him, but he didn't look amused at it.

"Perhaps we can determine one together?" Guardian suggested. "After dinner?"

Team Sunrise was just another group of pokémon in the Wigglytuff Guild by now. Even Guardian didn't get any odd looks, they were used to him by now.

Although the concept that The Great Dusknoir was now an official apprentice of the Wigglytuff Guild filled many pokémon in Treasure Town with mirth and amusement.

Bidoof had thought so and had Bell giggled at the news as well.

"You four," Armaldo said, as dinner was being finished up. "The Guildmaster wants to talk to you afterwards."

Not to keep Wigglytuff waiting, they joined him and Armaldo in Wigglytuff's greeting room.

"How have you been, friendly-friends?" Wigglytuff asked, resting on his throne with a great smile.

"We're great!" Saniya beamed back. "Unless you're here to tell us we can't go wherever we want, in which case I may swap your perfect apples for imposter apples!"

"No-no," Wigglytuff laughed, a little nervously. He snuck an apple behind him. "Armaldo and I just had a little suggestion for your adventure!"

"Meowth's information has been interesting," Armaldo said from behind them. He had followed them into the room but had loitered by the door until Wigglytuff addressed him. "And he left us with a few more things that he remembered before Team Ion departed."

"Really?" Guardian said. "May I ask what he left with you?"

"Just some clearer details on Darkrai as well as some other stuff that he said was this and that." Wigglytuff gave a so-so gesture. "But one important thing is Blizzard Island!"

"According to Meowth," Armaldo continued, as Guardian frowned at the name of the island. "At the deepest point within a 'Crevice Cave' lurks a froslass which has frozen and imprisoned an explorer known as Scizor. He is, apparently, still alive and could be saved."

"The entire island is quite inhospitable," Wigglytuff continued. "Very few pokémon go out there, so it could make sense that this poor adventurer has never been found. The last in town to traverse out there was Team Tasty I believe."

"If this scizor is as Meowth's vague description implies then there is someone historically important trapped there," Armaldo added. Three sets of eyes and one cycloptic eye glanced at him in curiosity. "Meowth's memory isn't the clearest, he says, and there is the matter of his information being flawed in the past, but there was enough there to theorise who this explorer is."

"According to Meowth, this Scizor was an honorary member of the Pokémon Exploration Team Federation," Wigglytuff said. "This is the same federation that gives guilds like ours an official status. That scizor was also the only known student of The Legendary Lucario." Even Wigglytuff said the name with a degree of pressure and reverence.

"We've tried to get into contact with her," Armaldo said, continuing on. "But she is a very difficult pokémon to find. Probably for the best regardless. If this information is not accurate, I wouldn't want to be the one to raise that hope and dash it."

Wigglytuff looked down sadly. "It's said that Scizor vanished shortly after the defeat of the tyrant Dancer. Many theories have been posited to his disappearance but all that we know is that Lucario does not speak about it and any who try to press her swiftly regret it. She has been spotted on Blizzard Island before, however, over the last forty years on the rare occasion."

"So, if Lucario has been searching there," Armaldo finished out. Even he said Lucario with a note of respect. "That leads more credence to Meowth's memory."

"That's where you come in!" Wigglytuff beamed. "You may be able to find Scizor! You four are quite strong and clever. If he is truly there, you may be able to save him. And that's what Wigglytuff Guildmembers do!"

"Is Blizzard Island the large island to the southwest of here?" Guardian asked before anyone else could speak.

Wigglytuff nodded, pulling a map out. "Right here." He pointed, and three of four of Team Sunrise grimaced for a moment.

"That's… Frozen Island, isn't it?" Striker asked, very softly.

"Yeeah," Saniya said, dragging the word out. "Oh, wow. What a place."

"Is there a problem?" Armaldo asked. Sean also looked curious.

"It's where…" Guardian began but trailed off.

"Guardian changed back," Striker said, choosing to focus on the positive. Not the almost-erasure of his soul.

Sean's eyes widened, Wigglytuff and Armaldo shared a look.

"Well, that's quite the test, tee-hee…," Saniya giggled without energy. "Ah, memories… that I wish I had trouble remembering." She still remembered everything about that. Being paralysed by Spiritomb, able to do nothing but watch as Striker screamed and screamed and screamed.

"I'm sorry," Wigglytuff said, face morphing into sadness, "I didn't realise. I didn't intend."

Guardian raised his hand, and Wigglytuff fell silent. "There is no need for apologies," he said. "Perhaps looking at it from Grovyle's point of view… the place where I finally chose the right thing to do is the better way."

Wigglytuff nodded, and Guardian glanced to the others. "Should we do it?"

"Scout mentioned Scizor once to me!" Saniya said. "Even though he's a bug, he's gotta be nicer than this one!" Armaldo sneered at her. "I say we do it!"

"I am fine with it," Striker said, nodding to Guardian and looking him right in the eye. The cold didn't bother him.

"And I'd like to see the place," Sean said. "I only saw part of it… and it ended on a cliffhanger for me." He gave a crooked smile. He had once thought the last he'd see of Striker, Saniya, and Guardian was Striker being obliterated by electricity and Guardian having a crisis over it.

Guardian was the last to nod. "Very well. Guildmaster Wigglytuff and Armaldo, we will find Scizor and bring him back safely!"

"We know you'll do great!" Wigglytuff said. "It's going to be cold and icy, so take everything you need to make sure you'll be alright." Striker and Saniya nodded to that. "And Froslass will probably be there, so you'll need to fight her to save him."

"Not a problem," Saniya said, raising a fist.

"Good to hear! Now, go to bed."

The four bade the pair goodnight and moved on, destination determined and a plan in their heads.


"Knock-knock?"

"Who's there?"

"Your."

"Your who?"

"Your best buddy bidoof around!" Timber said, grinning at the familiar wooden door. There was no pause before she laughed at his joke, he beamed proudly.

"That's a new approach," she said, voice smiling from the other side of the door. "I like it."

"Yup-yup!" Timber replied. "To tell the truth, I get help with this one, I reckon it helped though."

"Oh?" Her voice dripped with interest. "Finally converting someone to our cause?"

Timber laughed. "Nah, she already liked knock-knock jokes," he answered, happily.

"She?" Her voice was coy. "You're not going to replace me, are you?" A touch of sadness entered it then, and he gasped.

"Never!" Timber said, kindly but utterly resolute. "No one and nothin could replace you, Bell."

On the other side of the door, the audino cracked a smirk at his words. "You're sweet," Soothe said, hearing Timber bluster on the other side in embarrassment. "Who is this new friend, at least?"

"I wouldn't believe it myself, but it's Celebi!" Timber said, and Soothe grew very still. "She, uh…" Timber hesitated, guilt entering his voice. "Asked if she could meet you." She took a sharp breath, loud enough that Timber actually heard, but he was already hastily adding. "Now I told 'er that you are shy and all that so it probably wouldn't happen, you hear? But she asked me to ask you."

She was quiet for a moment, composing her words in the best way. "You've been talking about me?" she asked, softly and shyly. That wouldn't be good, especially around Celebi.

"Not really," Timber insisted, "I know ya like your privacy. Just Celebi, she asked about knock-knock jokes, and I mentioned I liked to think of a few with someone."

"I see," she replied, considering exactly what this meant. Timber wasn't exactly known for thoughtfulness in regards to holding his tongue. It wouldn't surprise her if he'd told Celebi all about her by now. At least he would have called her a mimikyu.

Hearing nothing, Timber shuffled a bit on the other side of the door, clearly apologetic. She let him shuffle about before replying. "I really don't know about meeting anyone else, Timber. I'd be so much happier if it was just you and me, like always. You can tell Celebi I was the bad guy, though. I'm sorry."

"N-not at all Bell!" Timber insisted. "I reckon you wouldn't like the idea, I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologise," she replied. "You're only looking out for me. Oh, gosh. You must think I'm a complete basket case."

"You value your privacy," Timber insisted. He was sweet, she'd give him that much.

"Thank you," she replied, softer than usual. "Should we change the subject, then? Has anything interesting been happening outside of my little house?"

"Yup!" And then he began to talk. Soothe listened mostly, adding in little sounds to show she was listening or small questions to prod him along. Not much had changed since the last time he'd come around.

Sunflora had learned and subsequently spread through her gossip rings that Charmander had evolved and he and Machoke had begun to see each other.

Flaaffy was also getting along better with Paras, which Timber thought was a pertinent thing to mention. The sheep was even complaining less, which was a miracle if there ever was one.

Loudred was as aggressive as ever, and Croagunk continued to watch them all sleep. Team Ion was apparently around Towny Town, while Riolu and Grovyle wouldn't explain why that was funny and-

"Towny Town?" she asked, sharper than she intended. That was near….

"Uh… yup! Bit of a funny soundin' place I gotta admit."

"Yeah," she said, her mind elsewhere. "Funny. Sorry about that, you were saying?"

The topic had returned to Team Sunrise eventually, despite Timber shying away from it. And then he mentioned something very interesting.

"How long are they going to be gone?" she asked, hearing that Team Sunrise were heading into the Frozen Island/Blizzard Island area.

"Not sure," Timber replied. "They're gonna take Lapras over, I hear. That could take a couple of days. I guess it'll be however long it takes them to find the guy they're looking for."

"I wish them luck," she said, glancing behind her. "Especially since two of them are Grass-types."

"I reckon they're pretty strong, yup-yup," Timber replied. "They'll do great!"

"Yes… say, Timber. I know it's a bit sooner than normal, but I was wondering if you would get me a few things?" she asked, getting up from the door. "Wait for just a moment."

She dashed into her house, kept nice and clean for the most part, but her table had quite a mess of things covering it. Near the top, only kept below a few things for paranoia's sake, was the map to Wish Cave.

If Team Sunrise was going to be gone for a few days, this was her chance.

She returned to the door, sliding a list of items under with some coins. "Would you be able to get me these things?" she asked sweetly.

"I sure can!" Timber said, beaming from the other side of the door. She saw the list slip the rest of the way and then a moment of silence.

"Are you… going somewhere?" Timber asked. Part of Soothe was impressed that he could determine that from the items requested, he wasn't dumb after all.

She had to answer this delicately. "I've been a slight bit restless," she said, speaking a little breathlessly and nervously. But not too nervous, didn't need him thinking he had to come with. "I thought I could take a short trip to get some new materials. I could make us some matching scarves again!"

Timber smiled excitedly at that. "That'd be very kind of you, yup-yup." It wasn't the first time she'd asked him for dungeon tools, nor the first time she'd left for periods of time. He'd learned not to offer to come with, she always said no.

But the idea that he'd have a new scarf was exciting, so he happily agreed. "I'll get em right now, yup-yup!" Timber beamed, and he could feel the smile from the other side.

"You are too kind to me," she replied. "Putting up with me and everything I demand of you."

He hated it when she talked down on herself. "I don't mind at all," Timber insisted. "We're friends, it's what friends do for each other. Even if we don't talk face to face, that doesn't matter." He said so with such conviction, she was silent for a moment.

"You're a good pokémon, Timber. Thank you."

"I'll be back in a jiffy," Timber said, already counting out who he needed to talk to in order to get the items. "Bye, Bell."

"Goodbye, Timber."

And he was off, back to Bidoof as his friend prepared to go. He considered asking where she was going to go. Sometimes when Bell left she was gone for a couple of days, sometimes for a couple weeks. He did wonder about her.

Where she went. Why she went. And why she wouldn't let him see her. But mimikyu could be dangerous just to look at, he gathered she was just trying to protect him. Even so, there was something small within him that wondered otherwise.

Soothe sat at her table and read over the copied map again. She had read it so many times that she could draw it while asleep. Timber wouldn't be long, she knew, but she had to do something to pass the time. Timber was fast. Timber was reliable. He wouldn't talk, no I mean he was always a loyal creature. Brown and kind and so very trusting. Soothe began to bite my lip as the thoughts began to rise up in your head.

Purple fingers twitched towards the iron barb laying on her table, innocently sitting there coated in the blood of victims.

Victim. One. OnonononlyDarkrai.

. . . I.

Killer.

Kill.l;lAKill.

Soothe tasted blood as her lip broke under the sharpness of her teeth and Soothe breathed hard and fast, nearly hyperventilating.

She slowly picked up the iron barb, completely clean of any blood. She carried it over to her fireplace and moved to drop it in the ashes, body extremely stiff.

Her whole body shivered occasionally, and wisps of shA̡d̕oW flowed around her fingers. She brought her left hand up and grabbed onto the extension feeler of her left ear and pulled, tugging her head to the side and pulling until she could almost feel it begin to tear. The pain helped ground her to reality.

Then she stopped. A light flash of pink around the same paw undid the damage she had inflicted on herself, and she gave one large body shake to rid the awful feeling she was left with.

"I am going to Star Cave," she said, out loud, to no one and nothing. "I will not be stopped."

Laying hidden but always remembered under a pile of fabric a light glinted. "Whyever would I stop you?" Came a saccharine voice that slithered along her ears, seeping like cold oil down the back of her neck. "Be careful you don't run into any… aggron out there."

That seemed too specific to simply ignore. She stared at where the light came from, rigid like a statue until the light faded away.

She sat down at her table, waiting for Timber to return. Her hands curled on the iron barb, she didn't remember retrieving it from the fireplace, and she didn't remember dropping it in the fireplace either, but she found that it didn't matter.

She traced a pattern on her table, the map to Star Cave, as she waited. No one and nothing waited with her.


Preparing for Blizzard Island had been a whole heap of fun. Guardian, greatly concerned about the difficulty Saniya had the last time they had come to this place, had effectively emptied the guild of yache and aspear berries.

"The last time we were there, the winds only started moving near the end of our stay," Guardian said, as he loaded up their bags, along with an extra Treasure Bag, with blankets. "Windchill is a very real and extremely dangerous thing for pokémon unlike me."

"I'm a goddess, bitch!" Saniya yelled, from underneath the blankets.

"I will swaddle you, and you'll never risk the cold again," Guardian said, threatening her with warmth and security until she complied.

Striker had also been a target of Guardian's wrath but had accepted the blankets without fuss as he knew that arguing with Guardian was like telling a stone wall off.

It didn't listen, and you looked foolish for doing it.

With Sean possessing fur he was granted only slightly less stifling protection and they were soon ready to set off.

Lapras agreed to take them but let them know that a trip that far to somewhere that wasn't the Hidden Land would take a day or so, even with the mysterious lapras magic he utilised. There were islands on the way, thankfully, but the bulk of their trip was spent in a very cramped position with nothing to do.

It was of considerable relief when they arrived.

"Oh, YES!" Saniya zoomed off Lapras as soon as she spotted the distant land. "Smell you later."

"Come back," everyone yelled at once, successfully peer-pressuring Saniya into at least slowing down.

She remained ahead of them as Lapras sped up, perhaps a little eager to get them to their destination as well. The waters were colder here than they were at Treasure Town. He found it was a nice change of pace, but so long with Saniya wore on anyone's patience.

And at long last, they were there.

"This place is cold," Saniya complained, almost immediately.

"Put another scarf on," Guardian suggested. Except it wasn't a suggestion and was, in fact, something, he was already doing to her.

"Too many of these and I'll just fall," Saniya said, muffled by the scarf. She appeared more akin to a floating sphere than a celebi at this point. Guardian put a pink bow on her just so they knew it was her. "This is discrimination."

"I think I'll need one of those before long," Striker said, teeth chattering slightly. He wasn't sure why Guardian was in such a motherly mood, and he wasn't going to ask.

The scarves exploded off Saniya, several landing strategically on Striker, and Saniya kept just one for herself. Guardian wrapped one more around her, and they were finally set for the rescue mission.

There was a little legwork to be made first. The dungeon wasn't kind enough to exist right on the beach and the thick snow and biting winds slowed Sean and Striker significantly.

Guardian loomed ahead of Striker to protect him from the worst of the windchill, with Saniya floating strategically in his shadow as well, cuddling up to Striker.

Sean kept close as well, but with his fur, he wasn't as cold. To prevent the need to overstock on scarves, Sean had also dug out his old pants and wore them like a scarf.

Saniya declared him dashing.

"This place looks familiar?" Sean asked as they trudged along the icy road. There was a path, thankfully, and with the island being perpetually frozen, no grass or gravel had grown over it to obscure their direction.

Only ice, snow, sleet, and other cold things.

"Not particularly," Striker said, rubbing his arms under the blanket. "Beforehand there was little to gawk at, floating rocks, the usual sights."

"Based on what I could fathom from Scout's word, the map of this time, and what Team Tasty had to say," Guardian said, having questioned them briefly before they left. "We did not enter the primary dungeon on this island, due to arriving in the mountain range. But I believe Crevice Cave is close to the foot of the Vast Ice Mountain, or Mt. Avalanche as it is called in this time."

"We should be able to find Crevice Cave just by going through the Blizzard Island dungeon, right?" Sean asked, standing close to Striker. "I wonder why no one has found him then?"

"Maybe they have," Guardian said darkly, and their thoughts turned to who was apparently holding Scizor captive. Scout's description said he was frozen, it would be lucky if he was alive even then.

"We should rename this place," Saniya said, wanting to change the subject. "This whole place is Blizzard Island. How about Saniya's Burn?"

"So you admit your witty retorts aren't hot in the least?" Sean asked, shivering at the cold.

"I'll witty retort your face!"

"I believe the only one who gets the right to name it," Striker began, edging slightly ahead. "Should be the one to reachitfirst!"

He then sprinted off, leaving Sean and Saniya in his dust. Or, rather, snowflakes.

"Oh, you want to go, bro?" Saniya screeched and zoomed after them.

Alarmed at the two Grass-types rushing off, Sean and Guardian pursued as rapidly as they could yelling at them to slow down.

By the time Guardian caught up, Saniya was pouting, Sean was telling them both off, and Striker was flush with the glory of victory.

"Before you chew my leaves off," Striker said, holding up his arms to halt the tirade. "Running warmed me up."

"If you needed warmth," Saniya said, sliding up next to him. "All you had to do was ask, Strikey-wikey."

"Down reckless one," Guardian puffed, bracing against a chilly rock with one of his large hands. "Please don't ever do that again."

"Striker started it."

"I don't care who started it." He procured a sun stone from somewhere and both Grass-types sighed in relief as its warmth reminded them of a sunny day, banishing the chill for perhaps a moment.

Striker smiled apologetically. "It IS cold, I'd like to get this done before one of us wilts. Also, I think I'll name this place, Orb Central."

"Orb Central, eh?" A voice belonging to none of them called out and the four pokemon jumped. Blizzard Island brought back difficult memories, it felt more akin to walking the false future then elsewhere had and they were doing their best to distract each other.

People sneaking up on them was not appreciated.

"Ice or rock?" the newcomer said, coming into view. It was a lucario. Faded fur speckled with snowflakes left her appearing almost grey, her chest spike was worn to a nub and one of the one's on her paw was broken. She carried a sack tied around her waist and her eyes glimmered with some sort of casual amusement. "Cause you all just went really stiff," she added when she received confused looks.

"Who…?" Saniya was the first to speak. Striker guided Sean just slightly back, in between himself and Saniya while Guardian evaluated the newcomer quietly.

Saniya went into dazzle mode while the big guy sussed out what they were to say. "Oh, like, my gosh!" Saniya said. "You look so OLD!"

The amused glimmer went as flat as a quarry. "Fuck you," she said.

Although it lacked any real heat, Saniya gasped in offence. "You said the bad word!"

"Bitch, fuck, hooha."

Saniya gasped again. "Stop her! She will corrupt Sean's innocent brain with profanity!" She clapped her hands over Sean's ears, causing him to flinch.

"Ow!"

The lucario waved her paw. "Let's cut straight to the chase. What the fuck are you doing here?"

"We should be asking you that question!" Saniya retorted. "Actually, we are asking you that question. What the… frick are you doing here?"

Lucario shrugged. "I felt like a snowball fight."

"I'll snow your balls!"

Lucario raised an eyebrow as Saniya worked out what she just said. Her expression was akin to a buffering video. "I said what I said and I mean what I mean!"

She glanced to Guardian anxiously, hissing. "Are you getting anything yet? I can't keep up the appearance of lunacy for long!"

She said this loudly. Lucario's big ears twitched. Sean was staring at her. Striker's eyes flicked away to Saniya in disbelief. "Appearance of lunacy?" he asked.

"Exactly. He gets it." She patted him on the snout and then spun around to Lucario. "Begone foul wench of the woods!"

"There's not a tree in sight."

"I cannot WORK in these conditions!" Saniya began to shiver. "It is so FUCKING cold!" And clapped her hands over her mouth. "You cannot prove I said anything. For I never said anything."

Lucario just seemed to be getting amused at the show in front of her. "O-kay," she chuckled. "Team Sunrise, right?"

Saniya gasped. "We're FAMOUS! Do you want my autograph? I can assure you it is worth the MONEY!" She rubbed her fingers together. "All of the money."

Despite her excitemeny, she didn't leave their position and her eyes remained on Lucario at all times.

"We're here to find someone," Sean said, finally finding an opening to respond.

"Oh?"

"A scizor," Sean said.

Lucario paused at that and raised an eyebrow. "I see. Well, good luck with that."

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Just wandering around," she replied casually and began to walk again. "Heh, scream if you find him, okay?" And walked off into the snow.

The four members of Team Sunrise all exchanged looks.

"That was THE Legendary Lucario, right?" Sean asked.

"I would imagine so," Guardian replied at length. "The physical appearance is difficult to mimic, not that it is unheard of lucario to… mutilate themselves in either deference or attempting to pose as her. Encountering this one here and now is certainly… unlikely. Scout and his teammates did encounter her as well, I wonder if Scout said something to her…."

Striker gripped Sean and Saniya's shoulders. "Lucario or not, we're here for a reason. Let's go."

"To Orb Central!" Saniya agreed. "That's the worst name you ever could have chosen. I hope you know that." She poked Striker in the face a few times.

"Of course." Striker smirked and off they went.

"We sure this is the place?" Sean asked, pulling out the map. Guardian loomed down, tracing a finger down it.

"Yes, this should be the dungeon Armaldo marked for us," he said, having traced their hasty path. The distance to the dungeon wasn't supposed to be very far, but they could no longer hear the ocean. "Very well, are we set?"

"Ready."

"Of course."

"Sure."

The four nodded. "We're here to save someone's life," Sean reminded as they began to enter the dungeon slowly. "So, please, let's take this seriously."

"Azumarill's given me tips to control myself," Saniya said, happily floating along. "We totes got this."

"I regret teaching you that word."

Being a group made of four world-saving pokémon, Blizzard Island was a trivial dungeon for them to face. No amount of snover would pause Saniya's wrath, and no number of marill could halt Striker's Leaf Blades.

That's what they expected, at least.

"Why is it hailing when there is a ROOF?" Saniya shrieked when the roof began to just pelt them with ice.

"Dammit, slow down!" Striker yelled, slashing wildly at a sneasel that just danced a deadly dance and danced him into a corner.

"I don't know what you're complaining about," Sean laughed, smacking the Ice-type's like popping bubbles. He continued to laugh even when an altaria descended upon them. He stopped laughing after it blew him into a wall. "WHY ARE THERE DRAGONS HERE?"

"Take this, Shadow Ball!" Guardian roared, blasting a castform in its snowy guise with all his strength. A golduck appeared out of nowhere, and the weather disappeared, castform changing to a Normal-type just in time for the Shadow Ball to pass harmlessly through its body. "I see. So that's how things are going to be."

"A castform just vibe-checked Guardian," Sean shouted, alarmed. Before it cast Sunny Day, turned into a Fire-type, and roasted Saniya with a Weather Ball. "Ah. Saniya too."

"Boost me!" Striker said, running for Sean. He braced and lowered his paws, waiting right as Striker leapt up. His foot planted onto Sean's paw, and he wrenched up, boosting Striker with all the strength he had.

Striker's arm leaves glinted green only briefly. Too quick for the castform to even notice.

Then it fell.

"You know?" Guardian asked after the kerfuffle was over. "I'm beginning to see why no one's managed to find Scizor in all this time?"

"How many people get injured on this island of nightmares?" Saniya asked. "No wonder they called off the rescue attempts."

"I am curious about Lucario, though," Sean said, leading the way through the chilly dungeon. There wasn't any wind chill anymore, which cut down a lot of the cold. "Wigglytuff said she used to look, but if that really was her do you think she still is?"

"You can only search for so long," Guardian said softly. "According to history, it's been forty-four years since he went missing. Anyone could understand giving up against that amount of time."

"I guess…" His thoughts turned, however briefly, to his parents back in his old world. Were they searching for him even now? Or had the family 'pet' finished replacing him?

Sensing Sean's negative thoughts, Striker spoke up, "I believe the four of us may be somewhat out of practice," he said, instantly angering Saniya.

"Are you calling me fat?"

"No…?"

"Well, alright, then." She smiled. "Carry on."

"So," Striker said, turning to the others. "We may be getting a little chunky." He grinned before Saniya grabbed his face from behind and began to pull.

Guardian gave a chuckle at that, Sean did not. Simply turning away to ward off a piplup that dared to draw too close.

"In all seriousness," Striker continued, once Saniya had been removed from his face. "Our extended time spent with Dialga and in Treasure Town working menial tasks and the few close-by dungeons we've explored haven't really been pushing us. I couldn't help but notice Vigoroth wearing all of us down as well."

He raised an arm and swiped out, sending his famed Ranged Leaf Blade to leave a gouge mark in a wall. But not as deeply as he felt it should have been. "We're not having the easiest time here, thus far. We're out of practice."

"You are certainly correct," Guardian sighed, acquiescing to Striker's point. "But there are other factors. This is an older dungeon, and two of us are vulnerable to the Ice-type. With the number of sneasel around as well affects me, Saniya is having double trouble, and Sean can hardly hit them."

"Ugh…" Saniya grumbled, in Guardian's arms still. "Let me at em," she said half-heartedly.

"You'll just have to rely on me, then," Sean said, nodding back. "I've been getting stronger with Rai and Mane." To prove it, he dashed off and managed to tag a sneasel, sending it crashing into a wall. "Hardly hit them my tail."

It left a little bit of blood behind.

Sean nodded satisfied, the others shared a collective Look, and they carried on.

Despite Sean being in front with Guardian backing him, the dungeon was relentless. Saniya, impetuous and lackadaisical, flew ahead to scout out their next opponents.

Her shriek cut the frigid air.

Striker was the first to react, dashing ahead with lightning reflexes. He slid along the ice to further speed up and having arrived so fast he was able to catch Saniya before she hit the ground.

However, his momentum caused him to continue to slide, and Striker was forced to flip them around so that he crashed back-first rather than Saniya-first into a wall.

Stunned from the blow, with a sharp crack ringing out from his shoulder, Striker began to slide to the ground as Sean dashed into the room.

Already pawing through the bag, he revealed an orb that erupted with a wave of light.

The short-range on the foe-hold orb was still enough to catch three pokémon lying in wait. The glalie, castform, and smoochum were held petrified in place.

Then, Sean attacked.

By the time Guardian reached the room, Striker was up, and three pokémon were completely unmoving on the ground.

Sean growled at the bloodied glalie before stepping off to check on Striker and Saniya.

"I'm fine," Saniya was repeating, trying to free herself from Striker's tight hold by smacking gently at his hands. "I'm fine, Striker. I. Am. Fine."

Very reluctantly, he let her wriggle out of his hold. She tried to zoom up but found there to be a problem. "Oh, dammit!" she gasped, sharply in pain. "My wings."

Saniya's wings were not just for show. Thin and fragile, clear as ice and as thick as it too. Saniya's wings weren't an easy target, her wingspan only being about the width of her head. But when they were hit, she felt it keenly.

"I, uh… agh!" Saniya began to float up, wings moving, before she yelled in pain and dropped, Striker catching her. "Oh flip-dipping doodle sucker," she cursed.

"Your wings," Sean said, coming right up to her. He reached out but avoided touching them. There were bits of frost left on them, Saniya having been lanced by an Ice Beam from the glalie.

"No, it's fine, I can do this," Saniya insisted. And she rose out of Striker's arms no problem. "See!"

"You're not moving your wings," Sean pointed out. Her grin paused. "Are you using Psychic?"

"Yes," Saniya groaned and dropped back down. "Oh no, I can't really fly. My wings feel like someone is trying to rip them off when I move them."

"They're fragile," Guardian said, finally reaching them. "And you do not want to damage them. I'll carry you, you cannot risk them."

"I can fly with Psychic!" Saniya said, quickly, and rose back up.

She was met with a wall of unimpressed looks. "You can't do that forever," Guardian pointed out. "And it harms you. AND you can't be distracted, your attacks are still ranged, you can't be trying to juggle holding yourself up and fighting at the same time. What if a sneasel hits you with a Dark move?"

To that end, faced with iron-hard logic, Saniya relented and Guardian carried her onwards.

He fed her several of the berries they had brought to give her some warmth, but they were not risking her flying and breaking her wings.

Despite Guardian's arms now being armed by Saniya, she was still a capable fighter. Magical Leaf and Ancient Power made short work of the marill and delibird around them.

At least now Guardian could point her at the enemy that needed to be BLAMMED rather than hoping she'd do it on her own.

If only she'd stop pouting and giving snide remarks about his take-downs.

"Oh, another Shadow Ball. How riveting."

"Did you Shadow Sneak the same opponent four times? Where's the pizazz? I thought you were a famous explorer or something?"

"So, you can punch with one arm. Congrats."

"Are you normally this sassy?" Guardian asked.

Saniya giggled. "Nope! How am I doing?"

"It doesn't suit you."

"Fine." She looked over to Striker and called. "HEY, STRIKER! FIFTY POKÉ SAYS YOU CAN'T HIT THAT PIPLUP FROM HERE!"

"Your money's mine, pink," Striker called and sent four separate Ranged Leaf Blades. Three of them hit.

"You cheated!"

"You can't cheat if there are no rules." He strutted over and held his hand out. "Pay up."

She grumbled, muttering obscenities under her breath, and complied. She really needed to get a hang of this new gambling problem.

Painfully satisfied with himself, Striker acted a little thoughtlessly for once and basically swaggered his way through the room.

Right as a piloswine entered the room from a different entrance.

"STRIKER!" Sean screamed in warning, as an Ice Shard came for the back of Striker's head.

The attack connected, and warm blood splattered across the ice.

"S-Sean?" Striker gasped, wide-eyed and frozen as he took in the riolu. Sean had intervened in the path of the attack, taking the Ice Shard to his chest, the blades of ice digging through his fur and flesh.

A pained wheeze broke out of his chest as he fell to one knee, head tilting down to stare at the ice as more of his blood painted it pink.

The world seemed to melt away around Striker. The cavernous passages in the room vanished from his senses, the jagged ice and gusts of frigid wind. It all disappeared to him as he stood frozen, staring at Sean as the riolu wobbled, falling and bracing with a paw against the bloody ice. All Striker could see at that moment was Sean bleeding. And then… the piloswine.

Striker lost it.

Physically burning with green, Striker launched himself as the piloswine with a primal scream as Guardian and Saniya rushed to Sean's aid.

The first Leaf Blade sheared the fur away from its beady little eyes. The second one slashed right through its muscle and the third cut through the bone.

"Striker STOP!" Guardian roared, flying over as Saniya doused Sean in glowing dew, slowly closing the punctures. He grabbed Striker by the arm, forcing him to halt before he drove his claws through its skull.

Striker gasped for breath and allowed himself to be dragged away from the dungeon feral before he killed it. The beast gave a pitiful whine, slumping over stunned and bleeding into the snow.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Saniya cried, an actual curse spilling from her lips. She gasped at herself but didn't pause. Sean was bleeding, that was leagues more important.

"Where's an escape orb?" Striker muttered, rushing the overturn the bag Saniya was pulling medical aid from.

"Striker."

"Where is it?"

"Striker!"

Guardian grabbed him again. "Calm. Down."

His one eye met Striker's two, tears glinting in Striker's eyes but not quite reaching emotional, more panicked. "He'll be fine."

"I am fine," Sean gasped, pulling himself up. "I've taken worse." Saniya backed away a step, to give him space but hung close enough to grab him if he fell. She and him were sitting on the cold ground, and Guardian itched to pick them up.

Saniya had managed to wrap Sean's pants around his torso to compress what she couldn't just wave away.

"I can't believe I'm getting blood on these again," Sean joked. It was certainly not the first time he'd bled on his clothes.

Striker truly wished it'd be the last. "You shouldn't have done that," he said, voice shaking just the tiniest bit.

"You'd be in much worse condition than me if it had hit you," Sean countered, groaning as he got to his feet. His arms couldn't raise entirely due to the fabric around him, and he adjusted it a few times.

There was silence.

"What are we going to do?" Saniya asked, always the brave one.

"Continue, of course," Sean said as if it was obvious.

"You are injured," Guardian pointed out. He had stopped Striker from grabbing their escape orb, but he was reconsidering now that the emergency had settled.

"I am fine," Sean repeated. He hopped back and forth on his feet to prove it. "You know I've taken worse and I'm not as weak as you remember me being," he said positively, hiding a slight tremor.

"I don't like it when you bleed," Striker said quietly. He was distracted and didn't see the tremor. "I cannot stand it."

Sean glanced away. "Well, neither do I. Now, come on. We've got a job to do."

"I'll carry you," Striker said, sensing this was not an argument he could win.

"Absolutely NOT!"

"Guardian cannot," Striker reasoned. "As he still needs a hand to direct his attacks and he's carrying Saniya."

"You won't be able to fight at all if you're carrying Sean," Guardian pointed out.

"We can't just let him walk!"

"I CAN walk, thank you very much."

"I can still use Shadow Sneak without my hands. You are completely disarmed if you're carrying someone."

"No one is carrying me!"

"I have to make sure he's-"

"Okay!" Saniya said, sharply cutting into the argument. She, having just been sitting around on the cold ground, got to her feet. "I can walk," she announced, somewhat dramatically.

That stopped everyone cold.

Saniya wobbled slightly on her green legs, not used to balancing with her legs in the least.

"No… you can't," Striker said dumbfounded.

"How dare you!" Saniya gasped. "I can walk better than you can, Grass-boi."

"…We are both Grass-type's."

"Enough!" Saniya demanded, imperiously standing up. "You cannot carry Sean. Guardian cannot carry us both. I, however, can walk." And to prove it, she began to step forward as proudly and regally as she could.

The pride, perhaps even arrogance, was there in spades.

Regality, however?

Saniya's gait was wobbly and she fell over after taking three steps. "This is fine," she said, struggling to get back to her feet. She got up and immediately fell onto her behind. "Don't stare at me!" she snapped and got back up slowly. "Stop looking at me!"

She took one more step and nearly did the splits.

Then she began to fight back the tears. "I can't walk," Saniya whined, tears beginning to win the battle. "I skipped leg day every day!" Then she burst into tears. "Sean, oh my gosh you can't just do that! Striker takes attacks all the time I can't lose you again!"

Guardian quietly picked her up, no one commenting on what just happened.

Sean brushed Guardian's hand away. "I can manage myself," he assured, and they began to trudge onwards.

"I'm sorry you had to protect me," Striker said quietly after a time.

Sean turned a frown on him and opened his mouth to snap something, but then paused and swallowed it. "Sorry," he returned, on reflex. Sean shook his head and forced the wave of irritation he had been feeling all day back. "It was my choice," he insisted and gave a smile. "And I'd do it again."


They had fought through Blizzard Island, or Orb Central if asking Striker, and had stared into the gigantic chasm in the ice. "This looks… new," Saniya said, examining the jagged tear in the ice before them. It was like a gaping wound, or a maw that had split open in the ice, still filled with strings of frozen gum yet to decay away.

This was the place and so they trudged forwards.

Insisting she was capable of doing so, and that Guardian's arms had warmed her up, Saniya began to fly again. She couldn't quite do it for too long and had to rest on his shoulder often, but she began to regain her independence.

While being carried, she practised connecting to the Psychic Network. Chimecho had been surprised at her aptitude, but Saniya just stated she was amazing.

In an odd turn of events, she had been almost too powerful.

"You are very, very, bright in here," Chimecho had said as she looked into the Psychic Network, squinting against Saniya's magnificence. "If nothing else, I should be able to find you if you are broadcasting."

Saniya herself hadn't managed to connect to Chimecho even once, despite being right next to her.

"It takes time," Chimecho had soothed. "If something does happen and you need to contact the guild, try to broadcast. I'll look periodically and if I see you, I'll connect. Okay?"

Even so, she had told Saniya to practice anyway.

With Saniya flying again, Sean said. "Just don't take another hit to your wings." And she nodded. There was no question she'd be being more careful than Saniya was known for.

"Hey Sean?" she called, as they delved deeper and deeper into the dungeon. It constantly hailed, forcing Saniya to remain on Guardian's shoulder as her wings could not take a beating from the storm.

"Yes?" he asked.

"I'm sorry about today."

Sean blinked, turning back to Saniya. It was a rare time when hail was not pelting them, and she was floating on her own, Striker and Guardian busied themselves mopping up some enemies. "Uh… what for?" he asked cautiously.

Saniya shrugged, she was clearly uncomfortable. "Just… being a bit careless and getting hurt."

"You don't need to apologise for that," he said.

Saniya observed him with a bit of a surprise. "Really? You seemed really upset before."

Sean frowned and shrugged himself. "Heh, yeah sorry about that. I've been a bit grumpy today, I think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something."

"If we're apologising for things," Striker's smooth voice slid right in, and the grovyle himself walked over with Guardian in tow. "I should probably do so for losing it on that piloswine." He looked down at Sean, and the makeshift bandages on him.

"I guess I'm not the only one on edge?" Sean said, giving a laugh.

"I suppose that's the thing, isn't it?" Guardian asked, sadly. "We are on edge."

"Come on," Saniya said, floating over to nudge him with her elbow. "We'll save Scizor!"

That wasn't what he meant. And she knew it.

"This frozen scape isn't exactly the kindest of areas," Guardian said, sighing. "Not on our bodies. Or our memories."

Striker shook his head and rubbed Guardian's arm. "This is the place you changed, that you saved me, and we stopped Dialga. It's the place Saniya first saw a sunrise."

"It is the place I saw a sunrise!" Saniya beamed, as brightly as the sun she had so desired to see. "Or, well, this is the island I saw it on!" With the same bright eyes, she said more things. "It's also the place I had to watch, completely helpless, as Striker's soul was being annihilated so his best friend could possess his body to go into the past and end the world."

Saniya looked down, her expression was frozen in place. "Why do I have to remember that part?" she asked, her grin still fixed like a rictus on her face. "The spiritomb, I still remember what it was, holding me in place as Striker screamed in agony. I still remember every second of it."

Guardian had gone very still. "I do as well," he admitted. "Every moment."

"Yes," Striker agreed, his voice as quiet as the ice around them.

"We're all pretty fucked up, huh?" Sean laughed, tears hitting his eyes. "I wasn't even there, but I saw part of it. Thanks to time collapsing, I could see Striker in place, not knowing if he'd be okay."

"I'm…" Guardian began. Saniya glomped him.

"I don't need you to say sorry," she said, hugging him tightly. "I don't hate you, I never hated you, not for one second. I only missed you, and you're back now. Striker's okay, we're all okay now."

"We're hardly okay," Sean said, still giggling. Striker came over and hugged him as well, and Sean leaned into his chest and cried.

Team Sunrise did not often dwell on the future that now never was. It was not only unhealthy too, but physically difficult thanks to its erasure.

They all carried scars from that time, however. Time was erased, but nothing erased scars.

Team Sunrise all stood a little closer together as they made one final push.

Froslass's chamber was not what they expected.

Scout's words ferried through Armaldo had painted an unpleasant picture to be sure. Armaldo had warned them to be ready for changes, as Scout himself made a very clear point that his word was a guide at best.

There was not one pokémon frozen. Not just one.

The snow that led into the final chamber was… rougher than usual. It was not the sleek snow or clear ice of the rest of the journey, rather it seemed to be black ice that had been broken and reduced to a powder. Leaving an uncomfortable grittiness sticking to Sean and Striker's feet.

The first pillars of ice had been ignored, more like stumps long since snowed over. Any scraps of colour in them were not eye-catching. The next set were intact.

It was not just one pokemon that had been frozen here.

More like ten, fifteen, thirty, the count went on. There were pillars everywhere, possibly hundreds of them. Entombed in each one lay a pokemon with an expression of horror, terror, fury or hopelessness.

"What… is this?" Sean said, aghast at the nightmare that they had entered. The grittiness under his feet felt like little needles digging into his paws and he raised a fit, brushing the black powder off his paws, little fragments of white revealing themselves as they fell.

"Th-there are so many," Saniya whimpered. Pokémon are frozen in various poses, various colours of ice. She spied with her little eye a pokémon that started with p.

A pikachu, on one leg, lost to the ice.

A phanpy rolled into a ball, lost to the ice.

A pidgeot, wings stretched for battle, lost to the ice.

Striker's eyes flicked back and forth, he didn't want to look at the sculptures surrounding him, but he didn't dare look away. The shaper of this nightmare may still lurk close by.

There were pokémon with scarves, pokémon with Treasure Bags of an ancient model. Pokémon with glittering orbs.

There were a dozen battles that had begun and ended in a moment.

There were lives here that no longer breathed.

Guardian was the worst affected of the four of them. Sean had clamped his paws around his tassels before they could dare to raise and hit him with a deeper horror but Guardian's eye saw more than light reflecting.

He saw what that black powder really was. He knew he would never, ever, tell them what it was.

"Oh~" A voice bounced from sculpture to sculpture, ringing with pleasure. "Visitors. Oh… how it has been so long."

Team Sunrise immediately stepped back to back, every member watching a different direction. The grave-pillars stretched far as a strange wind began to blow through the chamber, causing an ethereal hum to drift around them as snow began to fall.

The voice tittered. "Do you think my art is pretty?"

"It's over there," Sean whispered, gritting his teeth as he let his sixth sense rise. They only twitched an inch and that was enough to leave him biting his tongue hard enough to taste blood, better than anything else around them. He could sense the darkest spot in this place and knew that must be it.

"I see a defined body," the voice sighed dreamily. "Sharp eyes, sharper leaves." Saniya edged closer to Striker. "And one of my own to deliver them to me."

"I am not here to do any such thing," Guardian growled, his eye a fiery red. Sean couldn't bring himself to feel the remnants but he could.

These pokémon were not just frozen. They were dead. Dozens of people splayed out in 'artistic' vision to express the last moments of life's struggle.

There was only one thing each life had in common, despair in their glassy eyes.

Guardian was beyond sickened. It was not a natural death, these pokémon had been fed upon by a parasite until there was nothing left to give. Only the final embers of what once were still flickered, but it was too late.

Both of his arms shook, but Guardian was not cold. Nor was he afraid.

At Sean's nod, they crept forward, staying locked together watching every angle.

They exited the grave-pillars and into the final clearing. In the end, was the crown piece. Scizor.

Winds blew snow up from the ground, and once it settled, Froslass floated before them.

"So cold you must be," she tittered, wavering in place, back and forth. Back and forth. "So lively. So strong. Let me touch your skin."

Guardian raised his hand, formed a Shadow Ball in a split second, and lobbed it at Froslass.

It was popped by a sharp beam of ice, dissipating harmlessly.

"A pity," Froslass whispered, even as the rest of Team Sunrise began to mount an attack.

Before Striker, normally so fast, could land a hit, she was gone.

The wind began to whip the snow into a blizzard.

"Sean!" Guardian roared. "Where is she!?"

"I'm looking!" Sean yelled back, his tassels quivering as the snow began to fall faster, harder.

"I'm right here," Froslass whispered, trailing a frozen finger down Guardian's back. He immediately sent shadows striking at her, but they tasted nothing but snow.

"Four sweet pokémon~" Froslass sang as the snow began to fall harder. "One small, I will have him." Sean gasped as something struck him, draining the warmth from his muscles and leaving his legs locked up.

"One bright, I will have her." Saniya screamed as something hit her. The chill robbed her wings of what little strength they had regained and she dropped hard into the gritty snow.

"One sharp, I will have him." Striker growled as something hit him. Then groaned as it felt like the heat of the sun he carried with him was sucked out of his lungs, leaving him shuddering like the scared treecko he had once been.

"One large." Her hands touched Guardian again, and she crooned. "I will have him."

Striker slashed out, blinded by the snow he struck a heavier body instead. Froslass was already gone as Guardian reeled back.

"Dammit!" Striker cursed. "I'm sorry."

"I'm fine," Guardian grunted, more grateful than angry. The snow was falling so hard now, they could barely see.

"Saniya! To your left!" Sean screamed, he couldn't see with his eyes but with his aura senses churning he could feel where they were. The more he leaned into it, however, the more he saw what had once happened here. Murder of a most craven kind, a terribly slow death over months and years. He could feel the chill creeping in his chest like it had to so many others, slowly drawing the warmth out until everything was cold.

It was almost enveloping him, leaving it impossible to focus on the void that flitted between it all.

Sean gasped as something collided with his back and stuck, knocking him onto his belly. He could hear Saniya yelling out something, trying to attack everything around her, but Froslass was already gone. Sean rolled over, scrabbling at his back.

The snow on his back began to give, but his paws sunk into obscenely sharp tacks of ice that had been buried in it. He couldn't feel his back, but he could feel the blood now, mixing with the snow.

"Pink snow!" Froslass crooned, sweeping a finger along Sean's spine and drawing a line of burning ice. He screamed.

He tried to hit her, but his fists just passed through her. She smiled at him and stuck the bloody snow in her mouth. Her grin widened as something slammed into Sean's back.

Ancient Power.

"Got herrr… oh no." Saniya zoomed in as Sean laid in the snow. "Oh crap, I hit Sean!"

"Stop using ranged attacks!" Guardian's voice roared over the snowstorm. "We're only going to hurt each other. Gah, what?" Something began to hit him. And Sean. And Saniya. And Striker.

Hail was being mixed in with the snow, pelting them as well as blinding them.

"Snow, snow, go away," Froslass sang, waving along behind Striker. By the time he attacked, she was freezing Saniya's feet. "Come again another day."

Sticking with Saniya now, as Striker stuck with Guardian, Sean copied her Ancient Power as best as he could and aimed for where he knew no one else was. His arms trembled, he was having trouble standing.

"Snow, snow, go away," Froslass repeated, her voice bouncing around them in the snowstorm. "Die again now, today." A blob of darkness thundered through Guardian, but he didn't let out a sound.

"Would you like a story to slip off with?" Froslass whispered right into Striker's ears. He nearly hit her. "It's been so long since I've told it."

"Fight me face to face!" Striker yelled. "Coward!"

"Of course." She appeared right in front of him. He slashed out, but she grabbed his face with her hands. Her hands were so cold. "Sweet dreams." She breathed something pink right into his face and Striker staggered back, his movement becoming ponderous and dazed.

Froslass tittered again before the snow lightened just long enough for Saniya to blast a storm of stones at her. She vanished and they collided with Striker, knocking him flat into the snow.

"Ah! I hit Striker." They both ran forward, and Guardian too managed to follow until they all reached Striker. Not before Froslass, however.

"Shh," she said, cradling Striker. Her hands lifted razor-sharp blades of ice to his neck as Striker breathed heavily, head dazed and eyes rolling. "He's going to sleep."

"Think very carefully about what you are doing," Guardian warned as everyone froze.

"Oh, I am," she replied. "Would he look best standing up, or dying down? The cold does such things to Grass-types, natural positions are the most beautiful I think."

"Striker, what are you doing?" Saniya yelled, Striker was not responding. "Striker! DO SOMETHING!"

"Oh, he can't hear you now," Froslass replied, teasing them with a sing-song to her voice. Striker was grinning, almost dopily. "All he can hear is me. You want that, don't you?"

"Yesss," Striker slurred, face flushed even as his hands and legs went numb. Froslass began to run the blade along his neck.

"STRIKER DON'T YOU DARE FALL FOR THIS FLOOZY!" Saniya shrieked as she burst with light, a Psychic phenomenon that froze the storm around them, becoming as bright as the sun and taking ALL the attention onto her.

Striker's glazed look began to crack as Froslass winced from the light, shielding her eyes and removing her blade from his neck in that brief moment.

A barb of pure darkness speared Froslass in the abdomen and forced her off Striker as Guardian found his opening. With Saniya distracting Froslass, he had been able to turn Froslass's truly dark shadow against her.

She disappeared into the snow with a hiss, and they ran to Striker's side. Sean and Saniya got him up, but he only looked confused now.

"That's ENOUGH!" Guardian backhanded Striker across the face, snapping him out of whatever Froslass had done to him.

"Wha-what?" he spluttered, but Guardian was already turning around.

"Positions, everyone," Sean ordered, and Striker pulled himself back together when Saniya passed him an orb to clutch onto.

They each faced a different direction, refusing to allow Froslass to trick them into hitting each other again.

"Cold and dawn, the wind does blow," Froslass sang. "Bleak the morning early. You are covered with the snow. And the winter's now come fairly."

"Where is she?" Guardian hissed, but Sean could not pinpoint her location down. She moved too fast, too often.

"I see some snowmen, short and fat. There are your scarves and there are your hats. When I see the snowfall hear me shout. All of you children, please… come… out~."

"Well she's the creepiest thing I've seen all week," Saniya scoffed, holding close to Striker.

He nodded, neck sore. "Whatever she did to me, I did not want to refuse anything she asked. Do not let her get close."

"Too late," Froslass hissed, driving a blade of ice into Sean's leg. He screamed but rather than let the cold disable him again, his paw snapped out, coated in a Copycat'd darkness from around Guardian to latch onto her body.

"NOW!" Sean bellowed, holding onto Froslass with all the strength his numb paws could give.

As one, Team Sunrise bombarded her with what they had. Saniya's Ancient Power finally hit home. The eruption of Rock, Grass, and Ghost moves all at once tore Froslass from Sean's grip and sent her screaming into the winds around them.

"I have an idea," Sean said, breathing weakly as he bled from his back and leg. Froslass wasn't coming for them again so boldly, but she also didn't have to.

The storm was so cold. The trip to get here was so cold. The hits she had scored on them weren't the worst of wounds, Sean was putting several pieces together. Froslass wasn't nearly strong enough to take them on in a direct fight, and likely not all the pokémon frozen here either.

The brutality of Blizzard Island and Crevice Cave exhausted everyone that came here. The cold was so debilitating, and then to be wrapped in it completely with a taunting enemy that could hardly be hit.

The elements would take them out before she would, Sean, Striker, and Saniya could barely feel anything around them by this point.

Guardian could, but the cold was even beginning to affect him.

"What?" Saniya asked.

"Attack the sculptures," Sean said, bitterly. He was not blind or useless. There was nothing in the sculptures behind them, except a frozen memory. Only one pokémon in here had life to them yet, and that was in front of them.

"What?" Striker asked.

"Don't argue," Guardian said, raising his hand and firing a Shadow Ball. "Just go for it."

The Shadow Ball ripped through one of the sculptures, shattering it completely. The poor pokémon frozen within was more ice than anything else and shattered with it.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" the very winds around them seemed to scream.

Another sculpture shattered, and another.

"STOP!"

The veneer of calm, of control, of civility faded in an instant and Froslass, came directly for them, utter murder in her eyes.

"Vermin. FILTH!" she screamed, reaching for them even as Saniya and Striker began to bombard her with their Power. "You do not deserve to be preserved forever in majesty! You will be food, nothing more!"

Saniya attacked the air above them, destabilising the winds and with Froslass not controlling them anymore, the storm began to cease.

"Guardian!" Sean yelled sharply.

"I have her," Guardian replied, calmly. Far too calmly.

His belly mouth opened, revealing the Shadow Ball he had been forming. Froslass saw it as well and recoiled. Chunks of her body had been ripped away by Saniya and Striker's attacks.

"Saniya, hold her!" Sean yelled, and Saniya reached forth and gripped Froslass with Psychic. Sean copied the move, double Psychic to restrain Froslass. "NOW!"

Guardian unleashed the charged Shadow Ball.

Froslass' scream shook the sculptures, but there could have only been a relief to what was left. By the time the scream faded, there was nothing left of her.

Guardian panted for breath, slowly lowering his hands. He shook, his whole body trembling violently before he calmed down.

"She dead?" Striker asked.

"Yes."

And that was all they were going to speak on the subject.

"Quickly," Sean urged, running forward to where Scizor stood, frozen. "Everyone else here is gone I… I know it. But Scizor is still alive. Somehow."

"She fed on the life force of the frozen," Guardian answered, coming up behind him. "Feeding on them like a parasite until there was nothing left but their material corpse. She must have wanted to preserve Scizor, however. There is still a flicker in there."

"The trophy of trophies," Saniya said, sadly.

They began to work on the ice. Guardian burned away thinner areas with Will-o-Wisp, and Sean copied it to work as well. Striker carved at the thicker areas with his blades. Ultimately, it was Saniya who pulled Scizor out, carefully prying him from the hold of the ice with her Psychic.

Then she slapped him.

"Uwaa," Scizor slurred, he had jolted briefly from the slap, raising his head, before he sagged again and went still.

"We've got to go, now," Saniya said.

"Let me carry him," Guardian said. "Holding him like this can't be easy on you, or healthy for him." She slowly, carefully, released her hold on him, closing one eye as she did so. Once Scizor was secured in Guardian's arms, Saniya was picked up by Striker, and they began to quickly make their way out.

"Someone should come back here to give these pokémon a proper burial," Sean said, sadly, after making their way through the maze of bodies.

"Let's focus on getting back," Striker suggested. "So we don't have to organise one for Scizor as well."

Crevice Cave was exited easily, as Froslass' cavern was the final area. However, Blizzard Island would have to entered."

"Good thing we kept a hold of the escape orb," Sean said.

"It'll deposit us where we entered," Striker countered.

"Dammit, I forgot."

"Try to contact Chimecho," Guardian said to Saniya, as they exited the dungeon later. "The guild is going to have to be prepared for an emergency by the time we get back."

"Is he going to last the trip?" Sean asked worried.

"I have a better idea," Saniya said. "That lucario said to call for her if we found him. I know she wouldn't have bet on us, but if that is Lucario then…" She took a deep breath in warning and the three covered their ears.

Saniya's scream echoed for miles.

Snow shifted from the reverberation of her cry until silence slowly faded on them.

Strangely they didn't have to wait long, dragging themselves forwards hoping Lapras would be there at least.

"What's up guys?" a familiar voice from earlier reached their ears, even Sean jumping as he picked up nothing even with his tassels still flared.

They turned as one as Lucario approached. She strolled forwards as if on an evening walk before she froze in place.

Her eyes slowly widened, her mouth parting slightly at the sight of five.

She blinked and counted. One, two, three, four, and five.

Riolu, Celebi, Grovyle, Dusknoir….

Scizor.

"Lucario?" Guardian was the one to speak. "Are you?"

She remained frozen, as if her body had suddenly registered the cold all in one and frozen like the pillars in the cavern had been.

Her tassels hung limp, not even twitching an inch as she stared at them.

Finally, after a very long moment, she moved.

She moved with such speed, such force, that the snow was quite formidably blown away from them, leaving them standing on rock as the sound of snow falling wooshed around them.

"Cara?" she whispered, a trembling paw reaching for Scizor before she stopped. His eyes fluttered and he stirred with a pained sound. She flinched back, taking a step back and raising her head.

Her expression was guarded, disbelieving, it was bordering on anger and if left to simmer could grow apoplectic. The pressure of her stare became intense. Team Sunrise had been on guard when she appeared earlier, they were a group who literally fought a god and stared its madness down without flinching.

Perhaps they were tired and shocked from Froslass. Or perhaps the gaze of Lucario was worse than Primal Dialga's as she spoke. "What is this?"

The words were spoken simply, not soft but not loud. Almost more of a statement than a question. It stated danger if answered incorrectly.

Sean was out in front and found his tongue drying in his mouth. Striker managed a half step forwards, pressing a taloned hand on Sean's shoulder as if to pull him back but he too froze under her stare.

Saniya was the one who was getting closest to responding, working her mouth even as her lungs resisted. Every instinct screamed DANGER. That she had to take her friends and run.

Mercifully, none of them had to respond. Scizor continued to stir and finally raised his head. His eyes were dazed and unfocused for a moment before they sharpened on Lucario. He stared back at her, strangely untouched by the sheer pressure exuding from her presence.

"Keira?" he whispered.

Her eyes shot wide, she gasped as if shot in the chest and almost stepped back. The pressure disappeared into panic, and then hope, before it returned tenfold.

Guardian, who quite literally could affect pokemon with the Pressure of his presence, groaned and nearly sagged holding Scizor. His own weight felt feeble against this, if there was any doubt in his mind of who this lucario was it was banished the moment she had moved earlier.

He had heard stories, of course. Of Lucario's power. Her charisma. Her presence. It was difficult to take entirely seriously, how one pokemon could truly do all that. Be all that. He was swiftly changing his mind, barely able to hold himself steady as her power grew more rampant. Her tassels were twitching now.

Team Sunrise were shaking and it had nothing to do with the cold.

Lucario's expression was difficult to put into words. She had slipped into a snarl, but it didn't reach her eyes. Her eyes were wide and almost crazed rather than narrowed and focused. Her pupils had constricted to pinpricks, her body was trembling as well but it could not possibly be the primal emotions she was inflicting on Team Sunrise.

And yet, Scizor continued to look unaffected, eyes still somewhat dazed, confusion ringing as he looked over her. He repeated the word, the name, "Keira?"

Sean twitched as that name, spoken twice, registered with him. He gasped and stepped back into Striker's hold, but Lucario's eyes never once moved to him.

"Prove it," Lucario, or was it Keira, whispered.

"W…what?" Scizor croaked, throat sore from disuse over frozen years.

Lucario's paw clenched and then spears tore through the rocks. Not a single one so much as grazed a member of Team Sunrise, but they were encased in dozens of shining bones that split the earth in their arrival, even around Saniya locking her in place.

Striker was the first to react to that, his arms bursting with green energy as fight or flight finally kicked in. Before he could act, shining blades appeared.

A ring of ethereal swords, moving as if like a dream. They tapped the spears and popped, leaving cracks that more struck to break.

He could only manage a second of it before he groaned, slumping in Guardian's grip. The spears vanished as well, however.

Lucario's eyes had filled with tears. "Cara?"

Her expression of fury faltered, confusion and then hope banishing the anger. She took a step forwards, hesitant for the first time in living memory.

Then she ran to him.

Like an exchange of light to dark the pressure exuding from her vanished. Cut free of the feeling of danger, the four members of Team Sunrise just staggered. Sean dropped against Striker who fell onto his behind and Saniya falling onto Sean.

Guardian fared the best, still tilting down but he was caught and steadied by Lucario when she reached them. Her paws cradled Scizor's head, visibly shaking. Her mouth worked but no words came out. She looked up at Guardian and then down to Scizor, affirming he was still there.

"We found him," Guardian groaned, releasing Scizor as Lucario pulled him out of his grip. Scizor's legs couldn't support him, but they didn't need to. She was holding him against him, frigid carapace clanging against her rounded chest spike.

Lucario was blinking a great deal, looking down at Scizor breathing against her and all of them in complete astonishment.

"How?" she managed after mouthing the word silently for a long time. "How?"

"How long?" Scizor groaned. He managed to raise his head to look at her. "How long?"

Her eyes twitched, she hesitated.

Scizor stared back.

"... forty-four years," she said. His eyes widened and then closed with a groan of pain. He pressed his head to her chest.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "You must have thought-"

"Don't talk," Lucario said authoritatively. "Don't. You need… you need to take it easy, alright? We can talk later. Just… hold on."

He nodded weakly against her.

She picked him up bridal style and then turned to Team Sunrise, a host of emotions crashing across her face. In time, Guardian especially would feel honoured to have witnessed such bareness from The Legendary Lucario but for now, they were cold and tired and in pain.

"Where did you come from?" she asked firmly.

"T-Treasure Town," Sean managed.

She nodded to him and shook her hip, flicking her bag out and catching it in another paw. She rammed her paw into it, sinking somehow to the shoulder despite barely being bigger than her paw. She rummaged for a moment before drawing something out.

"Wanna do something illegal?" she asked, drawing out a strange card-like object.

"That's… an Entercard!" Guardian gasped, braced on the ground with the others. "Those are illegal! To a massive degree!"

"I'm The Legenday Lucario," she said confidently, activating the card and laying it down on a rock. "And even if I weren't, making sure he's alive is more important than a little lawbreaking. We can destroy them later."

Reality around the rock began to bubble and seep like smoke, creating a tear in reality in front of their eyes.

"If you follow me, do it now," Lucario said as the dungeon began to form and she readied herself. "Magnagates are places of absolute fucking horror. Just walk forwards, stay on the path, and do NOT listen to the voices no matter what they say or sound like. If you get lost you're lost forever. There is a very good reason these are illegal. Hold hands, people."

She began to walk forwards but did stop at the rim of the dungeon to look back at them. "Either way, I'll see you in Treasure Town. We have stuff to talk about, Team Sunrise." She gave Sean a meaningful look and then stepped in.

Team Sunrise stared at the Magnagate in horror a moment before Saniya said. "Welp. No time like the present." They linked hands and followed her in.


The original version of this chapter was more like two chapters in one, flipping between Team Sunrise doing this and Team Ion doing another thing. It made far more sense to split it into two.

Also, Lucario again! And a name, Keira~
 
Chapter 46 - Skies are Clear to Fracas with a Fearsome Foe

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Towny Town was nothing like the name would imply.

For Scout, hearing the name brought to mind sweater vests, middle-aged people calling everyone son, and a bizarre floatiness to the place that left everything feeling like some fever dream.

Rather than that, Towny Town was a cesspool of depravity that lurked on the fringes of polite society.

For a town populated by pokémon, it was a rather run-down place. There were general rules of understanding amongst civilised pokémon. Don't fight others in town. Don't trash the place. Be overall good-natured. Help, and you will be helped.

Towny Town was not like that. One could only assume that the name was kept out of sardonic irony, some sort of strange pride, or just out of sheer pragmatic laziness.

Towny Town teetered the edges of civility and the wilds. Pokémon who still valued the safety and security that living in a community and working together benefited resided in places like this. Money could not be eaten after all, unless you were capable of ingesting metal.

To loosen the proverbial shackle and live as a wild pokémon forsook such things. There was freedom but there was also danger and uncertainty.

And, really, there were very few proverbial shackles on civilised pokémon anyway. No more than simply asking everyone to get along.

Towny Town would toe that line, but not quite cross it. It wasn't worth it. And despite the relative lawlessness the place boasted, the buildings were largely intact, and the pokémon worked together for the most part.

Businesses that wouldn't be found elsewhere, or at least not so proudly demonstrated, could be seen as the highlights of a place like Towny Town.

Such as the establishment Liepard ran.

Rai, Scout, and Mane stuck very close together as they entered Towny Town, passing by a scorched sign proclaiming where they were.

There were pokémon, as there always were, but the energy of the town was a little different. Eyes followed them everywhere, but no one came up to say hello. It was not like Treasure Town or Blackstone Village, or anywhere they were used to.

Pokémon stared at them from a distance, it was very uncomfortable. Rai, people person that he was, bravely asked a braviary if he could point them the way to Liepard.

Rai had been completely ignored.

Asking around for Liepard received either ignoring or answers like. "I don't know. Go away." Or. "None of your business, exploration team." And even. "First Luxio shows up again and now a shinx? Your kind is just flooding this place, aren't you?" Sneered at them.

Eventually, however, someone reasonable was found.

"Liepard?" Aggron said, looking the three up and down with clear dubiousness on his face. "100 Poké."

Scout may have bitten him, but Mane was relieved to find someone who would take money. He answered them with the cash in hand and then in the mouth when the aggron ate it, "You can find Liepard's little hostel down that way." He pointed east. "Take a right turn once you see the rubble pile and keep going until you find a building with fogged-up windows. That's where Liepard is."

They thanked him for the helpful directions and raced off. Aggron did not play them for fools, and his directions proved truthful.

"This uh…." Mane paused upon spotting the place. "Grovyle and Riolu went here?" he asked.

"Yeah." Rai nodded.

"Oh, boy." Mane smirked, showing some teeth. "I'm going to have fun with them later."

That was not a good sign. Mane entered first, taking a deep breath before he entered. The smell hit Rai and Scout first. Cloying, heavy, and with an undercurrent of sweetened smoke.

Scout immediately coughed. "What is this?" he gasped.

"Us," a pair of voices spoke up, catching his attention. Twin salandit lay against a rather curiously shaped rock, their tails glowing as they emitted their pheromones.

It dawned on Scout just what kind of establishment they were in as he read the writing above the duo. Rai already had figured it out, sharing an amused look with Mane.

"We're here to see Liepard," Mane said without hesitation. One of the salandit gave a giggling hiss at him.

"But of course," he said before lazily moving his tail to wave to the right. "We're just the decoration. You can find Liepard in there." The right led to Liepard. The left had another door, otherwise, the entryway was quite small.

They moved on quickly, Scout opening the door as he was the only one tall enough to pull down the door handle.

"Oh, my," Liepard said with a purr. She lounged on a large cushion and the room was cramped and warm, meaning they had to get up close with her to talk. "What do I owe the pleasure of Team Ion here today?"

"We're here for information," Mane said with a smirk. "That's it."

"Just that?" Liepard purred. She laughed at Scout's uncomfortable grimace and decided to give a very Mane-like stretch.

Mane himself was unimpressed. "Pass," he said.

"Oh, very well," Liepard sighed, adjusting on the cushion she rested and into a more proper position. "Just spreading the word of Team Ion coming to me is fun enough, I suppose."

At this point, they weren't even surprised they were recognised, which caused Liepard to pout. "You three look so stiff, and not the kind most are here for. Relax, I won’t bite."

Her tone carried an edge of sultriness to it and she chuckled, clearing her throat and speaking with a more even voice, "My apologies, force of habit. Alright. Pokémon come to me for two reasons, and you appear to be here for the latter reason. What do you want, Team Ion?"

Rai was the mouth of the team and thus stepped up to speak. "We're looking for a pokémon, and we were told that you helped Grovyle and Riolu out a while back?"

Liepard brightened. "Oh, those two!" She sighed in memory. “Very brave pokémon… and human, I suppose. I hear they have returned, as have you, Scout ."

Scout smiled before realising she had said his name. No one had introduced themselves up to this point, and she smirked.

"So, business?"

"How do you know my name?" Scout asked, alarmed that this pokémon knew that.

Liepard gave him a Look. As did Rai and Mane.

Scout shrunk in on himself. "Ah."

"Indeed," Liepard said, back to amused. "Although I must give you my thanks. Pokémon in my… area of business tends to have a poor reputation around. The spreading of your unique status, however, has eased a lot of judgement. Heh. In short, business has never been better. Thank you for that."

"Great," Scout said, ears and nose going red.

Rai had to stifle a giggle at Scout’s expression.

"Nevertheless," Liepard added, after letting him stew in shame for a moment. "I am grateful. Your salvation of time is one thing, but the good word is another." She winked. "Normally I would charge quite a price for my aid but I am feeling generous today."

"We haven't told you what we want," Mane pointed out. She gave a dismissive flip of the tail in response.

Mane nodded to Scout, who stepped up with only a small bit of hesitation, pulling the old papers out. "We're looking for an outlaw, Pyroar is the guy."

He pushed over the objects to Liepard, and she peered down, tracing a claw down the smeargle-painted wanted poster. "The scar is a bit too light on the nose there," she said, tapping the paper. "And it definitely shows him in far too good of an angle. The artist of this has too much pride in themselves.”

Liepard leaned back. "Ah yes, him," she said the word lightly, but a shiver ran through Team Ion, nonetheless. "Pyroar was in here a short time ago. Sampling our services. We service all kinds but there are certainly those you take the money from and never wish to see again. He didn’t wind up paying the full amount, with money at least.”

She hummed, frowning. “Pity, this wanted poster doesn't show him from the back, or else we could see a memento I left him with."

"He was here? Why didn't you tell the Clefable Guild?" Rai asked, as Scout gathered up the papers and Mane took in the information.

Liepard raised an eye at him. "The guild and us do not get along, dear. We take care of our own business, regardless."

Her voice was even, but very cold.

"Do you know where he went?" Mane asked, adjusting to the information as best as he could.

"Why should I tell you?" Liepard asked lightly. "You get a freebie because he stiffed us a bit." A smirk curled her face as they all frowned in the same way. "But why should I say anything more?"

With Rai and Scout's eyes on the back of his neck, Mane pushed nausea away and answered. "Have you seen any morpeko around?" he asked. His voice clipped with nervousness he was trying to suppress.

Liepard stared at him in silence for a bit, a few things dancing behind her eyes. Perhaps evaluating him for some unknown idea. Eventually, she said, "Yes."

Mane let out a hard breath he was holding and glanced at Rai and Scout, both giving him a reassuring smile. "Well, that's not a good sign," he sighed, turning back to Liepard. "If I'm right, Pyroar is my brother and Morpeko is my, our, father."

Liepard raised her head, eyes narrowing for a moment. Scout and Rai edged closer to Mane, who stared back at her defiantly. She eventually lowered back down, nodding. "Sift," she called, sharply. One of the salandit popped their head in. "Fetch Lovely, would you?"

Sift nodded and vanished, going through the other door to find someone. Liepard looked back down to Mane, who looked very queasy now. "Yes. They weren't with us at the same time and were not seen together in town at all, I would know by now if so. But Lovely might have some information that'd help you. Hm, we didn't see where Pyroar went I would assume he's on his way to Fissure, he left three days ago. You might want to hurry if you think to catch up to him."

Sift soon returned, and a pikachu entered the room. She had a pink bow on, and the heart-shaped dint in her tail female pikachu possessed. "Yes?" she asked dreamily, looking over Team Ion curiously with rather sultry eyes.

"Four days ago, Morpeko," Liepard began, voice clipping a little differently, causing Lovely to stand up straight and drop the dreamy sway she had going on. "What can you tell us about him?"

"Oh, uh… well-"

"Non-gross information," Mane cut in. " Please . That's probably my pathetic excuse of a father, and I don't want to hear… anything he did."

Giggling a little at his discomfort, such was it that even Rai had to bury some amusement at the tables being turned on Mane for once, Lovely began.

"Well, he was a talky one. After we… well, afterwards he seemed to want to talk, so I encouraged it. You know, more time in the room, more money later on." She nodded to Liepard, who smirked back and rolled her eyes. "He was very curious about the area, pretty nervous guy. Definitely struck me as a pokémon who was probably in some trouble, so I told him about the shortcut."

Liepard raised her head sharply. "You did?"

Lovely's smile froze, and she nodded guiltily. "W-well. Yes. I thought we were supposed to do that?"

Liepard sighed and leaned back down. "You are right," she said. "You're not in trouble. It simply appears likely that Morpeko and Pyroar are connected, father and son even."

Lovely's expression turned dangerously furious for a very brief moment before she composed herself. "Ah," she said. She brushed her fur down for a moment, cheeks sparking. "Well, fuck. That's why Pyroar just vanished without a trace, isn't it?"

"Most likely."

"What's the shortcut?" Mane asked. Lovely gave him a dubious look and glanced to Liepard.

"Do you have a map?" she asked, and Scout procured it. Liepard dug her claw into a point on the map, causing a hole. "The shortcut is a very handy, rather curious, dungeon located just here out of Towny Town. It's very easy to miss."

Liepard leaned back, looking over Team Ion with a dangerous eye. "It's a curious dungeon for two reasons. The layout doesn't change, but the pokémon within it do. It's usually a safe dungeon as well, assuming you know the path." She grinned dangerously. "Getting lost in that dungeon is deadlier than the other hazards of it. We use it to help pokémon evade the guild or teams seeking to arrest them."

"Why would you help those kinds of pokémon?" Rai asked, more confused than upset. A dungeon that didn't change layout was very curious to his exploration senses, even if it was being used for evading the law.

"We do not help violent offenders," Liepard replied as easily as a flowing river. "It's very discretionary of who we'd alert to that secret. Because of the dungeon exits here." She pointed again, to a point right besides Fissure. "That's how we know it's a dungeon. If it was just a complex under the town, it would take days to navigate the correct path, but it should only take a few hours. Assuming you know the right way."

She gave them a narrowed-eye glare. "We'd hate to let too many pokémon know, as not only would it take the security of evading the guild away, it'd open us up to some very dangerous pokémon."

"You're telling us, though?" Mane pointed out.

"Yes," Liepard replied. "Because if Morpeko is escaping out that way, and he's smart or lucky enough to get the right path, no one is going to be able to catch him. And." Her claws came out. "That'd be a shame." She licked her paw.

"May I go?" Lovely asked, really wanting to leave by this point.

"Yes. Thank you for your information."

Lovely smiled weakly and vanished.

"Once your business here is done, I'll lead you to the shortcut," Liepard said, eyes not leaving the door and claws not retracting. "I'll even give you the directions you need to follow."

"I don't know if there's anything else we need to talk about," Mane said, ready to go and go now.

"Ah, but there is," Liepard said, nose twitching for a moment. "Raigeki here has a visitor."

Before Rai could react to the fact that Liepard knew his name as well, the door opened again.

"Always so dramatic, aren't you?" the new arrival scoffed, star-tipped tail catching the door before it could close.

Rai's eyes went wide, and Mane gasped. Scout frowned in puzzlement, taking in the visitor, the realisation not clicking just yet.

It was a Luxio.

"Ara?" Rai whispered.

Arashi, Rai's older sister, smiled in some way that made her look older than she was. "Hello, Rai."


Things were silent and somehow even more uncomfortable in Liepard's office.

Rai was gawking, Mane was almost glaring, and Scout simply looked confused. He had gathered this was Rai's sister by now, but the lack of anything happening after she spoke to Rai was confusing him.

"Are you… well?" Ara asked.

Rai blinked, swallowed, and made a weak sound before going back to gawking. Ara huffed in annoyance, and that finally seemed to break the camerupt's back.

"How? Why? What? Who? What? Why? How? Ara?"

"That's a lot of words to not say much?"

Rai closed his eyes and took a deep, very deep, breath. "Okay." He opened his eyes. "I don't even know what to say. Why are you… here?" He cringed slightly.

"I'm not an employee of Liepard, if that is what you are concerned about?" Ara said, Rai, did breathe a sigh of relief there. "Liepard is simply an excellent avenue of information."

"Aww, why'd you have to spoil my fun?" Liepard said, pouting as cutely as she could. "Their faces were magnificent!" She smiled. "And excellent? You flatter me."

"Hm." Ara looked away from Rai and to where the meowth and litleo lurked awkwardly. Ara took a few steps towards them and looked Mane and Scout up and down.

"A little scrawny," she said, about Scout. "And that one is fat.” She wrinkled her nose at Mane. “Hm.”

"Hey!" Mane snapped. “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy! Wait, muscles. I’m muscly!”

"Scrawny?" Scout murmured, looking down. He was pretty sure he couldn't count his ribs by sight anymore.

"Why are you here?" Rai asked again. Ara turned back, Rai was frowning at her. Quite the frown for the normally-happy-go-lucky Rai. "I haven't seen you in years. You left, and you never came back. Why are you HERE?"

Ara observed her little brother for a moment. She was a luxio, and he was a shinx, but there wasn't much height difference between them now. She was scruffier than he was, wearing a ragged bag stuffed with belongings.

She swallowed and her eyes softened a tad. "I have wanted to come to see you for a while now," Ara admitted, shaking her mane. "I almost did, a while back, when I heard some assholes peddling a rock that looked a little like your old treasure.”

Rai smiled slightly, briefly happy that she had thought of him to remember the pattern. He had talked about his treasure with her enough. But his smile didn't last long. "Why didn't you see me?" he asked quietly. "The world was ending, I could have used at least some moral support."

Ara frowned, glancing away. “Didn’t know what to say.”

“Time was falling apart,” Rai said softly. “It wouldn’t have mattered. Just seeing you would have been enough.”

Arashi gave a sort of shrug. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” Rai repeated, his tone becoming clipped a moment. “That’s not good enough, Ara! You left me in Treasure Town and I didn’t know what to do. You said you’d come back and you never did . Even the world wasn’t enough? Why are you here now? Is it just random chance or have you shown up because I’m famous now!?”

His voice steadily rose but never reached a shout. Arashi didn’t seem to be reacting much, her eyes widened a little though.

Ara gave a cracked smile. "The guild's been good for you,” she said. “You've gotten so much braver."

"He was always brave," Scout said, reminding them that this was not private. "He just needed some support." He didn’t flinch as she frowned at him, hearing what he was saying between the lines.

"And not to break up this 'happy' reunion," Mane said, causing Ara to turn around properly. "But we've still got MY sibling to worry about. Why ARE you here?"

"I'm wondering the same in return," Ara said, staring down at Mane. "I know who you are, Litleo. Son of the first Pyroar, Shadow Pokémon. That's nice. Your brother's a violent thug now, and your father is a coward. How far does the apple fall from the tree?"

Mane was actually stunned into silence at that.

“ARASHI!” Rai yelled, sparking angrily. "Don't you dare talk to them like that! Apologise!"

Scout, also had began to snarl, "Excuse you!" he snapped, raising his voice. "At least he's been around to support Rai. Where have YOU been?"

Ara turned her gaze on him, and Scout was caught in her gaze. He didn’t back down, remembering the logic behind Hypnosis and used it even though he didn’t utilise the move. Arashi was big and rough but she didn’t scare him.

She seemed to find something positive in his expression and raised her head, her eyes turning into some sort of approving glint.

Liepard cleared her throat. "While this may be a show I'd pay money to watch, I do have to remind you that we have business," she said, staring Ara down.

Ara turned away from Liepard's gaze. "Business can wait. I haven't seen my brother in years. Rai, I apologise for my words.” She glanced over Scout and Mane. “Rai’s my own family left and I only see the bad in others, especially when it comes to protecting him."

“Protecting him,” Mane snorted. “At least my family abandoning me was the best thing they ever did. You don’t have any idea what it was like listening to him cry after you.”

Arashi’s expression twisted a moment but this time it was her who couldn’t hold another’s gaze and she glanced away from Mane’s eyes. “I see.”

Rai’s expression softened, this was his only family left as well. “Since you apologised I’ll forgive you, but you can’t talk to them or about them like that. It’s been years, Ara, why go after my partners rather than being happy to see me?”

He glanced back to Scout and Mane. Mane did NOT look happy, but Scout nodded stiffly and nudged Mane. "Yeah, fine," Mane grouched. "At least your sibling actually wants to protect you. Shitty as it was.”

Liepard cleared her throat again. "Go for a walk around the town. I expect our meeting shortly, Arashi. But enjoy your time with your brother," Liepard said, excusing them. "I'll continue to entertain Scout and Mane, was it?"

Both of them turned to refuse.

"Thank you," Ara said, pulling the door open with her tail. "Rai?"

"Hey, hold on," Rai said, looking back and forth. "I'm not just going to leave them here."

"Towny Town may not be the most welcoming to two cute pokémon wandering around all lost-looking," Liepard pointed out. "They'll be safest here."

"We'll be fine," Scout said. "Go and… enjoy yourself. You must have a lot to talk about." He and Mane still didn't look too impressed with Ara, but Rai reluctantly nodded.

"I'll see you soon."

And then they stepped out. Ara quickly led Rai out of the building, and they both took grateful mouthfuls of fresh air.

"It's good to see you're well," Ara said, as they quickly began to walk to the edge of town. "Kangaskhan still feeding you?"

"She did until I joined the guild, yes," Rai answered, a little stiffly. "And sometimes she would anyway despite that. You asked her then?"

"She assured me she would," Ara replied, "I didn't have to ask."

"Yeah, she's… nice like that."

Arashi glanced over at Rai frequently, as if confirming he was really there. Rai kept his eyes forward. They neared the edge of town before she spoke again, "I'm really proud of you. Mother and Father would be as well."

Rai frowned slightly, but his ears flicked. "I guess."

"Come on, Rai. Give me something."

"I just don't know what to say," Rai said. "I've wanted to see you for years, and you finally show up out of nowhere and immediately attack my…."

"Your partners?" Ara said, a smirk flashing across her face. "Or would you prefer mates?"

"Pardon!" Rai went very red.

"I hear lots of things, Rai," Ara said, that smirk settling. She bumped him. "But I don't decide until I see it with my own two eyes."

"Them defending me confirms that?"

"You reacting like that," Ara corrected, and Rai's ears went flat, "is what confirms that."

"Well, it's not really what you might be thinking," Rai muttered, turning away. But the insides of his ears were still redder than normal.

"I'm sure."

"Well if that's what you think, why were you so mean to them?" Rai demanded.

Ara juggled a few answers in her head for a moment. "I suppose I never told you what went down between me and Mane’s mother. Knowing he’s related to her makes me wary."

"I trust him."

"That's good, healthy trust is essential for relationships!"

Rai groaned. "It really isn't quite what you think," Rai insisted. Ara gave him a prodding look, so he sighed. "I am with Mane, Scout is… complicated. He’s getting there."

"Hmm." She had a certain look on her face that led Rai to add.

"Please don't." The tone in his voice made her relent.

"But, to really answer your question, I'm your big sister. I HAVE to make sure they're scared of me so they know not to think they can mess with you."

"I still don't understand what you are saying."

"You totally do." Ara grinned with a lot of teeth. "I'll have the big sister talk with the two of them later, really drive the fear home."

"Don't be mean!" Rai demanded, not refusing the talk in general.

"I'll only threaten them with a little castration."

"They won't know that's a joke."

"A joke? Fine, fine, just the 'they'll never find your body' threat."

"Ara," Rai whined, and she snorted at him.

"I'm only messing with you," she said, planning out her threats to Mane and Scout in secret. "I've… I have missed you. Wondered if you’ve been okay."

"I've… missed you too."

"There we go." She leaned across and nuzzled him.

"What have you been doing?" Rai asked quietly. "Since I saw you? You already seem to know everything about me."

"I'd still like to hear it from your own mouth," she returned. "All the details. But, I can go over a bit of what I've been up to."

And so, Arashi began her story.

"I never joined a guild, no offence to you, but it just was never something I was interested in. I still owe the Wigglytuff Guild for getting that Gabite Scale for you though, so pass a message back that if they ever need a favour they can find me and I'll do it."

After leaving Treasure Town, she worked in Capim Town for a short time, until she had enough money to purchase a one-way ride from the Grass Continent to the Water Continent.

"I've spent most of my time just acting as a hired muscle. I'm not an explorer or anything fancy like that. If you wanted to get wordy, you could call me a mercenary, but I don't accept jobs that have me stealing or hurting civilised pokémon, although I've taken down quite a few baddies and other wildies are fair game."

She described a few of her more interesting jobs. Helping a bounty hunting team take down a whole group of outlaws. Joining a search into some ancient ruins believed to be humans.

The last of her stories was about protecting a gardevoir tradesman across mountainous terrain. His wagon of goodies had been too large to navigate through a dungeon, and bandits liked to pick on pokémon that came through the mountain.

"I zapped the murkrow off, choked out and tossed the floatzel with an Iron Tail, and tackled the weavile down the side of the cliff. Gardevoir managed to grab me before I fell too far, that was pretty wild."

Rai cocked his head just a little, and one of his ears flopped, that last word reminded him of something. "I've thought about why you left a lot over the last few years," he said neutrally.

"Have you?" Ara asked. "What conclusions have you made?"

They both remembered the conversation they had before she was quite ready to leave. How the months leading up to that point had been filled with anxious tension from Ara and confusion from Rai. How she had nearly attacked a few pokémon IN town and gotten in trouble.

How Ara had been born and raised in the wilds and a big part of her, no matter how much she tried, could not adjust to the rigidity of a town.

Of a civilised pokémon.

"I don't really like to think about where we came from," Rai said. "I barely remember anyone. I think I remember playing with my brothers, but I don't even know our parents' names…"

"Kogeki was our father," Ara said, smiling wistfully. "Raiton was our mother. Since you were the first boy, they made sure to give you a special name."

Rai nodded, he didn't have the same nostalgia as Ara. He had been very young. Not the youngest of the four, he had two younger brothers technically. But still, very young.

He did remember the names of his brothers, though. Sa and Ji. Hatched at the same time.

"What does that all mean?" Rai asked. He was never sure why their names were so much different from other pokémon. "Where did they get the name from?"

"I asked Mother the same question," Ara sighed, looking far away. "She said that they choose their names, and don’t have to obey what town pokemon do. They used some words passed down from word of mouth.”

Rai nodded, and they shared a moment of silence for their family.

"Did you really hate Treasure Town?" he asked quietly. It was what Ara had said when they argued about her leaving.

"…No, I never hated it. I hated being there, trapped there, but I don't hate the town itself." Ara wrapped her tail around his, their version of a hug. "You were so young when everything changed, and I'm glad you were. I kept myself together by raising you, but once you could stand on your own, I felt I had to leave. I know I left before I should have though. I am sorry. I’ve missed important parts of your life because of that.”

Rai sighed but hugged her back, both of them sparking and sharing the electricity. "I'm okay now," he said. And it was true. He had Mane, he had Scout, and he had lots of other friends. "I do wish you'd visit though."

"Can't keep this cat in one place, but… I will. I promise." She had promised the first time too. Rai was an optimist, however, and decided he could believe her.

It wasn't something that anyone in Treasure Town saw fit to discuss if anyone even remembered in the first place. The day Ara arrived, starving and scarred with Rai with her, the town had been sent into quite the tizzy.

She had not adapted to living in town well. Choosing Sharpedo Bluff as a home, just so the sounds of the crashing water could block out the thoughts running in her and Rai's heads and allow them to sleep had not been an easy choice to make. Being stuck on a cliff with no way to escape. But they needed to sleep.

She was, they both were, after all, wild pokémon.

Ara had been too old to be able to reinvent herself, raised a certain way so that her thoughts were wired towards open plains, lightning storms, freedom and living each day by what they could. Rai was still young enough, however, that he could adapt to the ways of civilised pokémon.

Where Ara would hiss, bite, and zap pokémon who crowded her, trying to 'help', Rai could control himself, hold back, relax, and understand.

His groundwork had been a wild pokémon, however, and those roots never quite left. A wild baseline filled in with a civilised colour. Plenty of times there were conflicting instincts that caused him to act rashly and without thinking.

He could do it. She, however, could not.

"I've missed you," Ara said, leaning against Rai. He leaned back. "Now, tell me everything. All the details. Uh, well, you can leave out some of the stuff about your 'partners'. I can live without hearing that."

Rai laughed and started the story.

"Well it was a pretty warm morning, and I came out of Sharpedo Bluff to find a meowth passed out on the cliff's edge…"


Coming to understand Rai's predicament at the moment, Ara returned him to Liepard without spending as much time as she would have liked with him.

Scout and Mane were both very, very, relieved to have him back. Arashi thought, maybe, it's because they had been stuck with Liepard the whole time. But she still smiled on the inside to see them so happy to see Rai.

"You are ready to bring Morpeko to justice then?" Liepard asked. She was cool on the outside, but her burning fury towards Pyroar had caused her claws to come out and never retract.

"Yes." Rai nodded, and Mane breathed a sigh of something. Relief? Nerves? Not even he was sure. "You mean, Pyroar?"

"Sure. Follow me, and don't dawdle."

"I'll see you off," Ara said, not offering. And Liepard nodded. Liepard's movements were precise, fluid, using her whole body with every movement. She was the kind who could walk on coals and make it seem sensual.

The twin salandit gave waves with their tails as the five left the room, the door clicking shut behind them, Lovely and a minccino and kirlia also watching them go.

"This is a considerable measure of trust I am putting in you," Liepard said, as they walked. "Not only to not reveal this to the Clefable, or Wigglytuff, or any other force of law. But also." She turned, a flicker of something more real than the bedroom eyes she always had passed through her face. "To bring Morpeko down. And Pyroar, I suppose."

"We're doing this," Mane huffed. "Not just for the graduation, and not just for your sake either. This IS personal. He's going down."

"Hm," she scoffed, but there was a measure of respect to it. "The shortcut is a long dungeon, with many corridors and few rooms. It has many twists and turns, and it is very easy to get lost and turned around in it. Hopefully, that has stalled them for the last few days. But there is a set path that will get you through it the fastest, so listen to me carefully because I am only going to tell it to you."

She was willing to repeat it, however, until they were there and Scout was confident he could lead them through it.

The shortcut was not an easy location to find. Nestled in a small set of rocks, it was as inconspicuous as anything he'd seen. Not even something trying to look inconspicuous, the entrance was, but a small entrance in a random location set off the beaten path.

"I'll see you when you've brought him down," Ara said, nodding to Rai. "And I'll be having a talk with you two later as well," she said, staring Scout and Mane down with Big Sister Energy.

They both swallowed nervously.

"Generic message of good luck," Liepard said, rolling her eyes. "Generic statement that you can do this. Now please, get it done. If, however, Morpeko and Pyroar have made it through and has reached Fissure you’re only chance to do this is to convince someone will pull to sell them out to you. I would suggest going to Delphox, her residence is a very blatant one. She will help, if you can pay her exorbitant prices."

With her, very clear, dismissal, Rai gave Ara one last nuzzle before Team Ion shared a group nod and dashed into the dungeon.

Ara watched them go with an eye of sadness, before sighing and turning to Liepard. "Well, now we've got to do business."

"Of course," she purred, turning back the way they came. "Come to my office."

"Always with the office," Ara muttered under her breath. Rolling her eyes, she followed.


Scout was like a shadow leaping between scraps of light.

The meowth had always been the first to make a joke about his strength but two things were never in question about him.

He was fast .

And he was tough.

The shortcut dungeon had indeed taken them a couple of hours to pass through but they emerged tens of kilometres from where they had gone in.

Towny Town was right on the fringe of society. Everything past it was untamed wilds. The idea of bandits and terrible pokemon barely seemed to gel in Scout’s head.

The mere idea that pokemon could be awful people seemed completely against the very nature of pokemon as he understood it.

They existed though. Places like this were where Shadow Pokemon fled to when they could not hide among society anymore.

This was where few exploration teams would go, fewer rescues, and only the bravest, or dumbest, of outlaw hunters would tread. They were well and truly out of the safety of the civilised world, and anything could go down out here.

Somewhere in this abyss of plains and woodland was Fissure, nicknamed the pit of the world. If Towny Town was a shanty town, Fissure was a lawless collection where any crime could have been committed.

That is what Team Ion knew of this place at least.

It was quite beautiful. All of the Grass Continent was, but there was an added mystique to the trees around them, the grass that few feet trod on. This was true wilds, only wild pokemon and outlaws lived out here.

Scout lived up to his namesake. Scouting ahead, they had to know if Pyroar had made it through the shortcut already or if they could lay a trap for him.

A rollcall orb was clasped in his paw, ready to summon Rai and Mane at a moment's notice.

Mane gave him a quick coaching of what Pyroar and Morpeko would probably try once they were out and sent him on his way, wishing him to be careful.

Scout wished he could claim to do so, but carefulness had never worked out for him in the past. He raced forwards, darting from spot to spot following a trail he had happened upon.

He would thank his lucky stars that something went right for once when he heard the sound of whistling, following it to be greeted with a sight that perplexed him a moment.

Pyroar walked along, murmuring something under his breath. What perplexed him was the similarities to Mane he noticed immediately. Evolutionary line aside, Pyroar’s voice carried a similar tempo to Mane’s, he strutted with a similar swagger, even his scent wasn’t too different from Mane’s smoky one.

There was no Morpeko but Scout couldn’t let this chance be lost. Rai and Mane knew to prepare to fight as soon as they were teleported and he activated the orb and threw it at the ground.

The sound of it smashing had Pyroar whip around, flames already building as a shinx and litleo appeared from midair, a meowth leaping out to join them a moment later.

“Gotcha!” Rai cried, crackling with electricity already as Pyroar raised a paw, looking almost offended at being disturbed.

“Who do we have here?” Pyroar rumbled, causing all of Team Ion to blink once. Even his voice was similar to Mane’s. Pyroar’s red eyes flicked over the three of them, taking them in one by one. They stopped on Mane, lingering a long time staring at him. “Ah. So, this is the legendary Team Ion. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

He gave a mocking bow that had Mane’s lip curling.

“You’re coming with us,” Rai declared firmly. “Surrender if you know what’s good for you.” He tossed Pyroar’s wanted poster to the ground between them, Pyroar glanced at it and then up at them.

“Surely you don’t think that’s me?”

“Save it,” Mane growled, sparks popping around him. “Save the talk I know you’re not going to go quietly, Rumble.

Pyroar, Rumble it was, narrowed his eyes. A smirk curled at half his mouth and he shook his head, his mane tussling around him, in amusement. “For fucks sake, Mane. Really? I heard Team Ion had a litleo, didn’t really think it was actually you. Gotta admit I’m surprised. Stopped making yourself a waste of space in town and changed that to the guild?”

“Enough!” Rai yelled.

Rumble stomped his foot, it thrumming with some sort of power. “Fuck off, wildie. Go cry to your sis . This is between Mane and me .”

Mane threw a paw up. “I want to hear this,” he said to Rai. Rai forced a nod, charging electricity but not unleashing it. He knew this would come to blows eventually, Mane deserved a chance to say what he wanted to though.

“Ohoh, you want to hear this?” Rumble taunted. “What do you expect me to say, little bro?”

“I’m waiting to hear you beg,” Mane said neutrally.

“Beg?” Rumble snarled.

“Beg,” Mane snarled back. “You don’t stand a chance against us. I don’t see daddy dearest around either. Finally abandon you too? Guess you’re not worth enough to him to keep around anymore.”

“I don’t stand a chance?” Rumble laughed. “You think I buy you beat a legendary pokemon? Please. I’ve heard Little Shinx’s stories. You didn’t fight it. And I know you didn’t fight it, Mane.” Rumble touched his neck, right where Mane’s scar was. “You didn’t even make it that far did you?”

His ember-red eyes flicked over Mane’s backup with similar derision. “What a little group you’ve built. The bitches crybaby brother, heard she abandoned him the moment she got the chance. And, oh look at that. The night mate. Doesn’t surprise me you surround yourself with two-bit whores and pathetic children, not much different to you is it?”

Mane seemed to soak that in a moment before he smiled, sighing lightly and shaking his head back. “I always wondered what you’d be like,” he said. “You always took Mother’s lessons to heart. You haven’t changed at all, Rumble.”

“Neither have you, Mane.”

“Wrong.” Mane took a breath. “I got something worth living for now. What do you have, Rumble?” Rumble opened his mouth, but only a rough scoff came from him. “Yeah. Sounds about right.”

Rumble slammed his paw into the ground again, this time a shockwave shook the earth. All three of Team Ion jumped, however, sailing over the Bulldoze, but Rumble followed it up immediately with a bellowing cry.

A shockwave through the air to match the one he sent through the earth. Mane matched it with his own, the sound ricocheting through the trees and sending leaves flying.

Rai unleashed his built-up charge all at once, a thunderclap deafened everyone present with the force of lightning and Rumble’s pained howl was drowned out by the echo.

Scout landed and dashed forth, drawing his claws into a sabre of darkness. Right as Rai dropped the lightning strike but Rumble was still staggered by the voltage, Scout struck him straight through the chest to his tail.

Rumble roared and staggered from the cutting blow, his tail suddenly whipping and turning as hard as steel. Scout was clobbered in the side of the head by the iron-hard tail and the world spun, his brain ringing from the blow.

Mane covered Rai needing to recharge, sending another blast of sound at Rumble and knocking him away from Scout, guarding Rai against a returning blast of flame that he weathered silently.

Rai pulled him down to avoid the rest of the flame and lanced Rumble in the neck with a thinner bolt of lightning, causing his throat to spasm and him to choke suddenly. Rumble’s eyes bulged and he tried to stagger away to catch his breath but Scout had already recovered.

He leapt upon the pyroar’s back, scratching his spine until Rumble bucked him off. Rumble hit him point blank with another Flamethrower but was met by a building Shadow Ball. As Rumble pumped more fire into it, Scout pumped more blood into it, containing the inferno before it collapsed in a blast of fire.

Howling as he was met with fire in his eyes, Rumble was beset upon by Rai and Mane in tandem, unleashing fire and lightning upon him in concurrent bursts.

Scout chewed a berry, parts of his fur burning from the blast before he rubbed some of the juice of one over his face and called, “Keep him steady!”

Rai nodded and charged electricity again as Mane dared to get in close to distract him. Rumble slammed his paws into the earth again, this time tripping everyone up with the Bulldoze. He snarled, their limbs being sapped of speed and vitality and tried to crush Mane under his paws.

Rai unleashed his half-made charge, Rumble beat Mane up with his paws instead and knocked him into the path instead. Rai only shocked him a moment but it was enough to disrupt his attack.

The pyroar turned blazing eyes of hate on Scout and took a deep breath. He breathed out the kanji symbol they were so familiar with, Fire Blast.

He knew it too?

Scout hissed and tried to leap to safety by the attack detonated and sent him sprawling anyway.

“Weaklings!” Rumble roared, slamming his paws into the earth and causing it to shake again. “You think you’re better than me because you’re in a GUILD? You’re NOTHING, Mane!”

He inhaled again, fire forming a spiral around his maw.

Mane snarled and unleashed his own. Twin Fire Blasts connected, sending a massive blast of fire into the air and setting several trees on fire. Both sides were forced back from the overwhelming heat, even Fire-types could burn after all.

Rumble’s eyes scanned the ash and smoke, trying to determine if they had endured the attack. He began to snort but then something flew through the smog.

A seed. It burst into a powerful pop upon touching him and he howled, recoiling from the blast seed. Team Ion burst out of the smoke as one, two Quick Attacks and Scout’s sheer speed.

Rai collided with his legs as Mane struck his chest, knocking Rumble off his feet right into Scout’s trajectory. He landed on the pyroar’s neck and pressed hard, pressing his koban straight into Rumble’s line of sight and pressing his strongest Hypnosis into the outlaw.

Pyroar’s will hit him back and Scout nearly staggered. It was just like Mane’s. But, he had practiced it on both Rai and Mane, he knew it was not always a battle he could win but Pyroar was stunned and injured.

Something would slip. Something was slipping.

Then Scout was hit in the spine by a spinning disk of black lightning.

"SCOUT!" Rai screamed, for a moment he saw Manectric and he was back in Amp Plains again.

Mane was not so frozen, however. Turning to the new arrival with abject hate in his eyes.

"Rumble!" the new arrival, Morpeko yelled as he recoiled from Mane. Rumble sprang to his feet and sailed over Morpeko as he cowered low. Mane didn’t see him coming and Rumble pounced on him, knocking him onto his back and pinning him underneath the far-larger feline.

Mouth smoking, Rumble forced Mane onto the ground, teeth ready to bite at a moment's notice.

The only reason he didn't bite down immediately was Morpeko's frustratingly sensible voice. "You can't kill him," Morpeko said sharply. "Not a member of Team Ion. They will NEVER let us get away then. We'll be chased forever."

Positively vibrating with repressed anger and instinct, Rumble held Mane down as Morpeko looked to Rai.

Rai was utterly frozen as the battle suddenly changed from imminent victory to imminent defeat.

Morpeko was here. That was why Rumble didn’t even twitch at Mane’s suggestion he had abandoned Rumble. He hadn’t, he’d simply parted temporarily to gather some food.

Scout was unmoving from a single Dark Aura Wheel, cheap hit it may have been.

Mane was pinned under Pyroar, inches from the maw of death.

Rai was the only one left, frozen in place now as Mane’s life was in danger.

"You're done, Shinx," Morpeko said, quietly. "No one's coming to save you, back down and leave now or else we'll have to hurt you and them."

“Damned if we do damned if we don’t,” Rumble snarled, smoke pouring out of his mouth. He forced Mane down harder when he dared to struggle. “Come on, give me an excuse, Mane”

Rai glanced between Rumble and Morpeko, trying to work out how he could force the pyroar off Mane before Morpeko could intervene, or Rumble could attack Mane.

“That’s your son,” Rai managed, staring at Morpeko in a type of disgust even Rumble hadn’t been deserving of. “Don’t you care?”

"Shinx, please ," Morpeko said, "I can only control Rumble so much, and I can see he's right on the brink of snapping and killing Mane. I can’t have him die now."

Mane, who was continuing to struggle, hissed, "Get OFF me!"

"SHUT UP!" Morpeko yelled. Mane stilled a moment on reflex, Rai saw the natural response and saw red.

"GET OFF!" Mane yelled, struggling harder. Pyroar's drool dripped onto his face, burning hot. He didn’t care what Rumble was about to do. He was in the midst of relieving so many days as a young child, as Rumble beat him up to the approval of Mother and Father. Rumble. The favoured son. The little pet monster who did as he was told always. He couldn’t go back to that. He’d die before he’d let himself go back to that.

The argument had drawn attention away from Scout, who stirred after a few moments and began to assess the situation. Once Rumble snapped and went to bite the back of Mane’s neck, Scout intervened.

Pyroar gave a groaning gasp as six Night Slash blades pierced his chest. Mane, immediately taking advantage, sent a Fire Blast into the earth underneath him and blasted himself, Rumble, and Scout. Then immediately charged Morpeko. He hated Pyroar for many things but he hated Morpeko so much more.

Morpeko yelped and dove for cover, but he was too far from cover. Mane charged him, spitting Ember's and Morpeko closed his eyes, cheeks sparking.

"GYAH!"

Morpeko unleashed electricity and blasted Mane back. "Oh, that's right," Morpeko breathed, relieved. The siblings got their species from their mother, but their strength from him.

Emboldened by the success, Morpeko's stomach grumbled, and his eyes narrowed. His whole body changed to a darker version of himself, and he wrapped himself up with Dark-type electricity, barrelling for Mane with the same Aura Wheel that had one-shot Scout.

Mane, who was dealing with the painful consequences of trying to charge an Electric-type, waited for the last moment and leapt as hard as he could.

The burning aura around Morpeko still seared his underbelly, but he evaded the worst of the hit. Landing, he tried to fire again, and a stream of sparks flowed from his maw as Morpeko turned around, leaving a charged gouge in the ground as he did so.

The fire interfered with the spinning aura and destabilised it. Mane leapt clear again as Morpeko rolled out, switching back to his normal form and blinking in surprise.

Scout slammed into him, knocking them both sprawling over each other. Mane looked up sharply as Pyroar returned to the scrap, having tussled with Scout briefly before knocking him back.

Mane went to edge around Pyroar, but Pyroar was done with playing around. He came right for him, eyes narrowed and mouth burning with fire.

Scout, falling into combat with Morpeko, jumped and skirted around as precise, but relatively weak, jolts of electricity went for his feet.

"Stay… still," Morpeko huffed and popped a Shadow Ball Scout tossed at him.

"No, you," Scout said, forming a Night Slash with his right paw. He sprinted for Morpeko but opened himself up to a concentrated discharge.

Scout blocked it with his claws, but the dark energy shattered under the surge of lightning. He reached Morpeko but was headbutted, and Morpeko jumped into a spin, forming an Electric Aura Wheel.

He spun into Scout like a buzzsaw, but Scout caught Morpeko with his paws, holding the Aura Wheel back even as it tore at his paws.

"Used to electricity. Used to electricity." Scout repeated in his hand. "Rai zaps me all the time. Used to it. Used to it. USED TO IT!"

But Morpeko was shockingly strong, and Scout was buckling. He repeated itself in his head over and over, agony rippling through his body as he suddenly thought of Mane.

Mane never talked about his upbringing. Scout hadn’t even known his mother was a Shadow Pokemon until very recently. Morpeko seemed to lack any hesitation to put Mane’s life at risk, and as the electricity tore at his body he wondered what else the rat had no hesitation to do.

He had seen Mane cringe when Morpeko shouted.

He had seen Mane laugh off Thunderbolt’s from Rai in training as if it was nothing. As if he was used to it….

Darkness was pooling around Scout, somehow darkening the area around him as he began to push back against the Aura Wheel, darkness swimming around his features until he was mimicking a monster and then a lightning strike knocked them apart.

Rai closed the distance, joining Scout and breaking Morpeko’s battle focus.

Morpeko squealed, slamming into a tree, a look of horror on his face.

"Rumble!" Morpeko shouted. "Swap places!"

Pyroar wasn't listening until Morpeko lit up with electricity, his whole body quirked and then he was running to Scout as Morpeko dropped down to Mane.

Morpeko shocked Mane, but Rai came after him and diverted the electricity into himself, charging up. "I'm. Not. Him," Mane forced out, step by step. Morpeko's eyes widened, and he took a step back, hesitant for just a moment.

Mane pulled on his Power and forced a Quick Attack through his spasming muscles, launching himself onto Morpeko and biting down with as much force as he could, filling his mouth with fire.

The manufactured Fire Fang caused Morpeko to scream, and Mane forced the fire in his mouth to shift to a Fire Blast, detonating point black and ripping a chunk of Morpeko's skin off, burning as they disengaged.

Pyroar, rampaging at Scout again, was faced with a much scrawnier opponent. As well as a much more agile one. The darkness had faded, leaving Scout winded but he didn’t show it.

"Stop moving," Pyroar yelled, missing Scout again. Scout kicked up some dirt in his eyes, snapping a little more of Pyroar's self-control away.

Scout was adept at switching between using two and four legs at any given moment, but as he grabbed a seed from the Treasure Bag he couldn’t shift so easily anymore.

And Pyroar was almost as fast as he was.

It was rather terrifying, really, to have an enraged, imposing and towering over him, pokémon aching to rip out his throat but Scout managed as well as he always had.

His Night Slash held the worst of the Flamethrower at bay as Scout charged Pyroar, leaping over a weaker Bulldoze and sliding along the loosened ground even faster.

Pyroar batted at him brutally with his paws once he was close, but Scout punched him in the throat at the same time. Spinning to on all fours before springing back up to two, Scout slammed the paw holding the sleep seed into Pyroar's gasping mouth.

Pyroar burned the seed to ash and breathed the smoke and fire into Scout's face.

Gasping for breath, Scout staggered back as his vision swam and his plan completely backfired on him. The seed was too destroyed to put him to sleep, but a wave of tired swept over him and caused him to sway.

A Fire Blast from Mane stopped Pyroar from tearing into Scout and Mane ran over, drops of blood on the scuff of his chin.

"That worked on you," Scout complained, wobbling.

"I'm very offended you just said that," Mane growled, knocking him on the head. He tore through the Treasure Bag until he had a heal seed.

Morpeko sniped Mane in the back for his split of attention. Pyroar then set Scout and Mane both on fire.

Pyroar approached from one side, Morpeko from the other. Rai ran in to hold them off but only momentarily before joining them on the ground.

"Any ideas?" Mane asked, dragging himself up. Rumble was bad enough, but Morpeko was so much worse. They were losing.

"Be the anime," Scout groaned. "Previous evolutions always win there."

"I… ugh," Mane sighed as they got lit up with fire and electricity.

Not wanting to lose the advantage they had been wrestling back and forth with this entire time, Pyroar charged into the smoke left behind, even as Morpeko yelled. "DON'T!"

Scout, laying over Mane as he had protected the other with his own body, dropped to the side, letting Mane headbutt Pyroar in the jaw and cracked a fang.

Mane tackled Pyroar onto his back and briefly pinned him before Pyroar's considerable bulk easily threw the smaller litleo off him.

They both rolled to their feet, and Pyroar slammed his paw into the ground, barely flashing orange at all before the ground shook. Mane lost his balance, and Pyroar pounced, aiming for the neck with claws and teeth ready to rip and tear.

Scout bit his tail.

Pyroar gasped before flicking Scout up, as the meowth was scrawny and light. He raised his head and breathed out a stream of flame bright enough to make the sun look impotent.

Scout was enveloped in an instant, an inferno drawing a scream out of him as he crashed to the earth.

"HOW ARE YOU STILL ALIVE!?" Pyroar demanded as Scout landed, charred and burnt but on his feet.

Scout replied without words, as like Mane, he knew that talking was quiet at this point. He drove his claws, merely extended and flashing white, into Pyroar's face, piercing his cheeks.

Scout also headbutted him, using his koban to hit even harder and pulled, leaving deep scratches in Pyroar's face. Mane hit him in the eye with an Ember, and Pyroar staggered back, as Morpeko jumped over again, Aura Wheel blazing and aiming to take them both out.

A bolt of extremely accurate electricity knocked Morpeko in his hangry form out of the sky.

"That's enough out of you," Rai said, shaking his head free of the buzzing.

Morpeko landed on a tree with a satisfying smack and fell back onto his back. Rai joined the beaten and bloody Scout and Mane against Pyroar.

“How are you?” Rumble began before his words just drowned out into an enraged slurring roar.

Pyroar attacked, and it was different.

Team Ion were forced to scatter before the flames incinerated one of them on the spot. Pyroar had dropped any sense of restraint.

This was extremely dangerous. Pulling at his Power so harshly would exhaust him in moments, even do considerable damage to his body that wasn't prepared to channel this much force.

But Pyroar had stopped caring.

"RUMBLE!" Morpeko yelled over the chaos, the roaring, the explosions and blasts of heat. Team Ion had run for it to put space between them, but Pyroar chased after, inaccurate but powerful. "STOP! STOP!"

Morpeko ran after them. He couldn't let Pyroar get himself killed at this point. All this time. All this work he'd put into him. He sparked dangerously, knowing Pyroar would react to it. "STOP NOW!"

Pyroar stopped and looked at him. For a brief moment, Morpeko was relieved his control still worked. It had taken years of conditioning to snip Rumble’s roiling inferno of rage to obey when he had to obey . For a moment he feared Rumble had been lost too much to fury to register it. For a moment.

Then he knew.

Pyroar's flames reached him in a split second.

Even as Morpeko put on That Voice and sparked in That Way, Pyroar didn't care. He had enough. It didn't matter how many times Morpeko had shocked him, teaching him to obey his father. It didn't matter how much that had hurt until his body naturally shied away from it. It didn't matter how much Morpeko had conditioned him with pain and fear until he automatically followed his words, no matter how he felt on the matter.

It didn't matter anymore.

Mane too, seeing Rumble’s hateful gaze turn at last to the mon they called itself their father, took a deep breath and called upon the same move they both had learned at that terribly young age, passed down from Mother.

An optimistic soul may have seen Mane's addition to the attack as a brief moment of solidarity between brothers, mutually turning on the one that had hurt them both so much. Mane only wanted to see the attack through.

The Twin Fire blast sent Morpeko through the side of the woods and he did not return.

Then, Pyroar turned back to Team Ion.

Rai flashed with electricity, so dangerously similar to Morpeko in Pyroar's head and he attacked him first. Fire and lightning met in the air, passing through each other.

Scout tackled Rai out of the way, getting shocked himself, but there was no one to save Pyroar from the lance of lightning striking him in the face. He recoiled with a howl and Mane followed up, knocking him off his feet with his Fire Blast.

Pyroar fell, but only for a moment.

He returned to his feet as Scout was upon him. Claws brimming with darkness and eyes even darker, Scout speared him in the chest again before grabbing his face and peering into Pyroar's eyes.

There was little conscious will left, Rumble snapping to primal rage. An easy target for Scout’s Hypnosis.

The fire in Pyroar's mouth flickered, but he wavered for a brief moment. Scout dropped down, and Rai and Mane nailed him together and Pyroar finally went down.

Rai shocked him again just to make sure.

"Oooh, thank god," Scout groaned, falling back. "I'm going to sleep," he slurred. He hadn't managed to eat the heal seed and still had the sleep seed in his system. He was asleep in seconds.

"H-hey," Rai said. "Don't go to… he's already asleep."

"He's got," Mane panted, wheezing for breath and coughing out smoke, "the right. You already did." And then Mane dropped as well. Both of them were burned and bleeding.

"But I can't just…" Rai looked between the three downed pokémon in desperation. "I… ugh. I don't have the dexterity of you, Scout. Get up!" He wandered over and nudged him. "Please."

Scout mumbled something and frowned.

Rai groaned, he looked to Pyroar. Not exactly sure what to do.

"Holy… shit."

Rai's ears flicked, and he turned, gasping when he saw Ara approaching.

"She was right,” Arashi said with a flummoxed expression. “That’s some utter destruction.”

"Oh… good," Rai said, with a responsible adult here, he would be allowed to faint too. Ara's expression changed, and she shouted something as Rai swayed as everything went dark again for him.

Arashi looked between the four unconscious pokémon and sighed. "It's going to be one of those days," she sighed, pulling an object out of her shoulder bag.
 
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Chapter 47 - The Day's Off

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
“Pick a card, any three cards, Scout,” Delphox of Fissure purred as she offered a spread deck of cards held in one hand to her visitors.

Team Ion had, after dragging Pyroar back to the Clefable Guild, decided to goof off and enjoy themselves. All work and no play after all. They had been told off by the healer of the guild after they were bandaged from the brutal fight, but none of them were strangers to injury anymore.

Thus, they went to Fissure.

They have strange ideas of fun.

Fissure reflected its name accurately, like an earthquake had ripped the land apart, Fissure lay within a deep crag in the earth. There was only one way in, near the thinnest part of the split that sharply tilted down. The smell of earth was intense, filling their noses on the trek down as the light of the sun was reduced to a sliver above them.

The town itself was and was not like Towny Town. That town held a general sense of roughness to it, shabby buildings and craning necks with narrowed eyes. In contrast, Fissure’s buildings were much like Treasure Town.

It was built of the same black stone as Blackstone Village was, that and the abundant clay down here.

Also unlike Towny Town, no pokemon were in sight. The place was clearly lived in and Team Ion felt eyes on them as soon as they even approached the crack, but not a single creature greeted them with their presence. The place was very quiet and they stayed close together, wondering if this was such a good idea after all.

Especially if there was some Team Isotope around mimicking them.

Still though, they stuck it out looking for Delphox and found a large and squat building shaped like a witches hat. That was the place.

The building was lit from within, a slight glow to the foggy windows and Scout knocked before they entered. Inside, he and Rai coughed at the powerful smell of incense in the air but Mane merely grimaced and pushed through it.

“Come in, Team Ion.” A voice beckoned them from within and they moved from a dark, cramped, room to what seemed like a greeting room. Several incense burners were suspended in the air by crisscrossing lances of fabric, there was a table that filled half the room, blocking anyone from entering farther than a few steps. Three cushions sat perfectly sized for the three of them, and behind the table sat an aged delphox.

Her fur was visibly greying in places but her eyes remained a bright, sharp, orange and she wore a blue-brimmed witches hat planted firmly on her head with slots for her ears.

Shuffling a deck of cards in front of her with a confident smirk she waited for the three to take a seat, Mane on the largest cushion.

“You expected us?” Rai asked as he was seated in the middle, all equal distances from Delphox.

“I expect many things,” Delphox replied, her voice carrying a magnitude to it. “But it is up to pokemon to make reality.”

Scout was watching her carefully. The part of his mind that played video games and felt human didn’t believe that this could be anything but tricks. But he was in a world where cubs shot fire and lightning and if that wasn’t magic, then what was?

Delphox’s eyes turned to him, seeming to evaluate him in return. From the visible scars through his fur to the tint of his fur in the first place. “Alola never existed,” she said, causing him to straighten up. “Most interesting to see one of you here.”

“You… know?” he asked, immediately thrown off his prior thoughts.

Delphox’s lip curled into a smirk and she flicked the cards between her hands before extending them with a hand. “Pick a card, any three cards, Scout.”

Scout had to stand from the cushion to reach but he was the only one tall enough, and with enough dexterity, to do it. He chose three cards from the right of the pile. Delphox slipped the rest of the cards into the fluff of her arms and spread the three chosen cards with a finger.

“The first card you chose, suggests your past,” she said, pushing the rightmost card to Scout’s left, as she had spotted him touching that card first. “The second your present. And the third, your future.”

Once the three cards were set she gestured for him to flip the first over. He did so with a feeling of trepidation he didn’t understand. “Arcana are a thing here?” he asked upon seeing the card.

Rai and Mane immediately flinched as they read it. “Death?” Rai squeaked.

Delphox smiled, plucking the card. “Death, but upright. Don’t panic, it simply means change, transformation, endings to new beginnings. Seems your partner went through a great change in his youth.”

Scout frowned, he felt that readings were general enough to apply to anything but that did sting a thought in his head.

Delphox slipped the card away and Scout flipped the next one over. “Ah, the daevil,” she said, eyeing the picture of the card, some monstrous darkness with hands.

“These don’t seem like happy cards,” Mane complained.

She was looking at Rai and Mane through the corner of her eye as she said. “Also upright. Thoughts you hate, attachment and restriction. Sexuality.” All three of them glanced away from each other. “I have useful herbs if you need?”

“That’s fine,” Scout said through gritted teeth. “Next one?”

Chuckling at his discomfort, she slipped the card away and let him pick it up. Her eyes were set firmly on the card as if waiting for something as Scout flipped it. A great spire being struck by lightning as pokemon leapt off it as the earth crumbled beneath it.

There was a moment of silence in the hut before Delphox picked the card up. “The tower,” was all she said at first.

“That’s the future, right?” Rai asked. “What’s the tower supposed to mean?”

“It’s not… good,” Scout said, vaguely remembering the tower was the bad tarot card.

“Upright,” Delphox continued, “Sudden change and upheaval, chaos and revelations. Solid structure being built on unfavourable land, a single push to send it all crashing down.” She slipped the card into her fur and drew the deck out again, shuffling it thoughtfully.

“Oh,” Rai said.

“I was hoping for happier than that,” Scout said, hoping he sounded casual. By the glance Rai and Mane gave him, he did not succeed.

“Well, I can help with happy endings,” she said, a smirk returning to her face. “About those herbs?”

They did not stay much longer. Although Delphox did get her payment for services rendered nonetheless.

The walk to Blackstone Village was peaceful. In the confines of the town, they were promised to find Arashi, who was sticking around for the time being to make sure they, or rather just Rai, were safe and well.

Entering Blackstone Village, they'd need to look around for Ara to find her. She wasn't as kind or had as much free time, to wait at the border of town for them.

And inquisitive pokémon looking for another attracts other inquisitive pokémon looking for others.

"Ah, Shinx, Litleo, and Scout," Indeedee said, smiling warmly at them. They had reached the modest marketplace and had, to their relief, attracted little attention.

There were some concerned looks at the bandages they still wore, but pokémon here weren't as nosey as they were in Treasure Town.

"Indeedee!" Scout said, first to speak. He beamed. "It's nice to see you!"

"It is lovely to see you in kind," she replied, frowning a little. "My, what DID that beastly Pyroar do to you? I've heard you captured him, I offer my congratulations, but my word I had no idea it was such a bout."

"We took him down in the end!" Rai said, nodding confidently.

"We are awesome yes," Mane added, getting a bump from Rai.

"We're fine now," Scout answered, already mostly recovered. "Morpeko got away, though."

"Ah, that's not ideal."

"No," Mane grumbled, and she wisely left the topic alone.

"Well, I must say it is lovely to see you. May I ask if you've seen a rockruff around?" Indeedee asked, concern filling her voice. "He's quite the handful I must confess, always running off into dungeons. I was hoping to put that energy to a better use today, but I fear he's already traipsing around in the wilds by now."

"Sorry, we haven't seen him," Rai replied, and she nodded.

"Well, nothing can be helped. What can I do for you? You appear lost, but I've shown you around already so you must be looking for something yourself?"

“We're just looking for my sister, Luxio,” Rai explained. “She's, well, a luxio. Carries a smaller pouch than Scout's Treasure Bag on her left shoulder."

Scout, whom everyone had just accepted that they may as well call him by his name even in public, nodded when Indeedee glanced at him.

"I believe I can help," she replied, "I haven't seen Luxio, but someone will have. Let us walk."

"Yeah," Mane said, "since we're here I might as well ask. What do you want for the 'help' you gave us earlier?"

"Want?" Indeedee asked, tilting her head slightly. "Oh, you don't need to pay me or anything. It was hardly anything difficult to have my assistant write up a series of accounts, after all." She winked.

"Everyone we've gotten help with wanted something," Mane argued, pressing the point. "Why would you be any different?"

"You've been shaken down for money and autographs all this time, haven't you?" she asked. Rai nodded. "Poor things. I don't need anything from you."

"Tauroshit. Are you going to call us on a 'favour' a year from now?"

"Mane!"

Indeedee raised her hand. "No, no, don't tell him he's not allowed to speak his mind," she chastised, causing Rai to blink and consider how he may have been doing that a lot. "His concerns are fair. How about this? Three potatoes, four big apples, and some wheat to pound into flour and we'll call us even?"

"I…" Mane blinked. "What?"

Indeedee giggled at his perplexed expression. "I'm taking, what you may call, the piss out of you. I need nothing, Litleo. If it'll settle your conscious, and perhaps your nerves, you gave me a rather unique meal of gratitude when we parted ways before. Tingly and spicy even, I've rarely enjoyed gratitude with a kick like that."

"Wait?" Scout asked, and Mane's expression changed like he'd been hit by a malamar. "You can taste gratitude?"

"But of course?" Indeedee replied, looking down at him. "It's what I eat, after all."

"Can you eat normal food?" Scout asked, before hearing himself. "Sorry, that's probably… sorry."

Indeedee laughed it off. "There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, Meowth. Questions are fine, welcome even." He smiled, and she did too. "My gastrointestinal system can only really fit fluid, I have no actual stomach see. Trying to take anything else in could hurt me but theoretically, I could. I’d regret it, though. And I have no taste buds.”

“Why do you have teeth then?” Scout couldn’t help but ask.

“I believe it’s partially to chew ice, partially a last defence mechanism. Partially, also, I think I’d look strange, wouldn’t you think?”

“Oh…”

“You look like you have one more?”

“Well… I just wondering, what does gratitude taste like?”

She chuckled at his expression. “Yours tastes rather understated but quite… present and filling.”

"What did mine taste like?" Rai asked, also rather curious.

"Difficult to put into words," Indeedee replied. "Something similar to biting into a citrus fruit but not nearly so sour, sweeter with a… pop, I suppose is the best word to describe it. Odd, but pleasant."

Rai nodded, satisfied with that. He and Scout looked to Mane, who rolled his eyes.

"What about mine?" he asked. "If you even got any."

She smirked. "Oh, I did." He blushed, just a tiny bit when Rai and Scout smirked at him. "Spicy, Litleo. Very spicy. A rather violent kind of taste, overpowering but also… brief."

"That's really interesting," Scout said, unable to contain his enthusiasm. The Pokémon World still amazed him, it was incredibly wild and fun to live this reality, see things from this side and experience them in ways he couldn't have dreamed of.

"Thank you," Indeedee said. "Most pokémon give me naught but strange looks if I ever was to describe how their gratitude tasted. Then they’d never let me hear the end of it."

"How does it work?" Scout asked, deciding to just go all in and learn. "Tasting, eating gratitude? It's hard to imagine, but…"

Indeedee considered the question. "I must admit the idea of receiving sustenance through consuming fruit, vegetables, and even… flesh is rather hard for me to imagine, in kind." Scout shivered slightly when she said flesh, it wasn't a nice word. He very rarely ate anything meat here, only when Rai and Mane were and he couldn’t resist the smell.

Rai and Mane did not comment.

"As an indeedee, I have special sensors in different parts of my body," Indeedee explained, the gentle, even matronly, tone to her voice fading slightly to something more enthusiastic. Everyone liked talking about themselves, after all.

"Psychically entuned, we are a very sensitive species to the emotions of others. In a technicality, I can feed on other emotions, but most would be the equivalent of processed foods such as cookies and other such sweets. Not particularly good for me. And anything I take in is brought in its purest sense, there is no filling in-between. Imagine eating nothing but sugar, spice, or salt? You wouldn't be able to live off that."

"Wouldn't be able to eat that in general," Rai mentioned. "That sounds way too strong."

"It's something I am prepared to consume," Indeedee replied. "Powerful emotions can be overwhelming, but my body is suited in kind. It's these sensors that are connected to my central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, and others that run off those and send signals. Gratitude triggers certain cells I have to absorb it and transform into nutrients that…" she paused. "I… my apologies, I have gotten far too into this."

"Oh!" Scout said, very enthralled. "No-no, that was really interesting!"

"Did you understand it?" Indeedee asked, genuinely curious.

"I think so." Scout nodded. Rai and Mane, who had barely understood a lick of that, just nodded along as well. Nod and the confusing words might stop.

"Quite an intelligent pokémon you must be," Indeedee said, smiling. "I imagine Chimecho must love to speak to you; did you learn this from her?"

"I have talked to Chimecho about this kind of thing," Scout agreed, without really confirming what she asked. She didn't need the mind-spinning explanation that had to be secret anyway.

On the inside, he was a bit surprised, though. Indeedee was very intelligent, even his conversations with Chimecho hadn't gone nearly that far, and she was right about to lose him before she stopped herself.

"Well, give her my best. I should stop dominating the conversation and actually assist you in finding Luxio. The last time I started talking about cell processes, I scared away some prospective pokémon looking to move here."

"Are you scaring off more pokémon?" one of the townsfolk, a flygon, called. "I thought we agreed you weren't to talk to anyone ever? Anymore?"

"Oh, hush you." Indeedee waved her hand and pinched the flygon's lips shut with a pull of Psychic. "Weren't you helping Houndoom rebuild his wall?" Flygon gave her a Look and flew off. Rather quickly, actually.

She had forgotten about that, poor Houndoom would be waiting by his wrecked wall with nothing but hope.

"Sometimes I wonder if they keep me around just to bully me so much," Indeedee sighed, turning back to Team Ion. "Let us find Luxio!"

Indeedee reminded several other pokémon that they were supposed to be helping Houndoom today. An aegislash, dragonair, and manectric all ran off with shame on their faces after being reminded.

"You would think they'd get the idea by now," Indeedee sighed, shaking her head. "My apologies for all the distractions and detours. This town always seems to be falling apart one house or another, and you'd think someone would help when they themselves offer that help." She gave Dewott a Look, and he too ran off to help Houndoom in shame.

"I'm sure that's why they keep you around," Scout said, concealing a laugh at Indeedee's fierceness. "You keep everyone in line."

"You are overstating me," Indeedee replied. "But I suppose I am useful for some things. Luxio?" she called, raising her voice. Ara, who was peering into a tent of goodies, pulled her head out quickly and glanced around. "I have a team asking for you."

Rai brightened as Ara paid the merchant and trotted over, Scout and Mane were a little more neutral. But Ara HAD helped them out after everyone lost consciousness, even if it was just for Rai's sake the point was still fair.

"So, that's what the cat dragged in?" Ara said as she looked the three over.

"You mean you?" Rai giggled.

"Well, yes."

"Thank you for coming to help us," Scout said, he gave Mane a glance. "It was pretty rough by the end." Another look. "So… thanks."

"Even if was just for Shinx's sake," Mane grumbled, he had seen the looks. "But thanks, whatever."

"Easy boy," Ara said, tail flicking out. "Someone might think you're actually being grateful."

Giving her a flat look, Mane blew some fur out of his face. "Take it or leave it."

She rolled her eyes right back. "Whatever," she drawled, in an exact duplication of Mane's uncaring tone.

"Play nice, please," Rai said, to Mane. "Luxio's just giving you a hard time for fun. You know all about that!"

"From my own partner, I am called out!" Mane gasped, falling onto his side dramatically.

"Get up," Scout said, grabbing his shoulders and tugging him back up. Mane definitely considered going all floppy just to piss him off but decided against it and remained standing.

"Alright, we've all here now. Shall we be off?"

"Before you go," Indeedee said, watching the back and forth quietly. "I insist you have something to eat. It's quite a travel before you."

"We do need to stock up on a few items," Scout agreed, patting the Treasure Bag. It was a little damaged from the battle against Pyroar, having been touched by scatterings of flames several times. But it still helps firm, if fraying in parts.

"Well, we have shopkeepers who would love your money." Indeedee winked and took Scout for a walk, the rest of them standing around in confusion for a moment before following.

"I confess I am curious about you in kind," Indeedee said as she brought Scout to the best of the best for only the highest quality of items. "I've told you a bit about myself, and you listened which is… depressingly uncommon. But how about yourself? I shouldn't dominate the conversation."

"Oh!" Scout's ears went up before folding back just slightly. "Uh, well… not really sure where to begin to be honest."

"How did you meet the others of Team Ion?" Indeedee asked, happy to lead him into some conversation.

"Well, I met Rrrra. Sorry. Shinx first and we made the team together. Litleo was actually one of our first missions in the Wigglytuff Guild."

"Needed rescuing did he?"

"…Sure, let's go with that."

Indeedee chuckled, it wasn't hard to imagine what the rather sharp-tongued litleo may have been doing.

"But he joined the team after we went to Amp Plains, he thought it was a trap… he was right, and he wasn't willing to let Shinx go and get hurt. Turns out, he does care."

"That's sweet," Indeedee said. "I promise not to tease him about it."

"You better not!" Mane yelled. They were close enough to overhear the conversation, but the three were choosing to let Scout talk to Indeedee alone. She seemed to like him, and Scout was smiling.

"Or I'll tell her about the 'sleep' seed story."

"Don't." Scout spun on them. "You. Dare."

"What is the sleep seed story?" Indeedee asked, serene and very amused.

"Well," Mane began, strolling up all fluffy and satisfied with himself. "One day, Scout decides to play a prank…"

Scout's good time was ruined forevermore when Rai and Mane decided to tell Indeedee a bunch of embarrassing stories about him.

From Rai's retelling of the naming debacle, also used to inform Indeedee that it was all just a misunderstanding, to Mane's story involving the three ducklett and a very upset Scout, they had a great time and so did Indeedee.

But to make up for it, they got discounts when a red-nosed Scout pointed out the stuff he wanted to buy, and Indeedee made sure of it.

She walked them to the edge of the town, the side they originally entered what felt like weeks ago now, smiling a little sadly.

"Well, it has been lovely meeting you four," she said, mostly looking to Scout. "Stay safe on your trip home, please do not get yourself into trouble like this again, and when you reach Treasure Town would you ask Chimecho just to inform me, so I know you made it back safely?"

"Of course." Scout nodded. "Thank you, Indeedee."

"Take care." She waved and received it in return.

Team Ion each took a breath, nodded to each other, and stepped out with light in their eyes. Ara followed along, slightly apart but closer to Rai as the three chatted about the future.

Pyroar was defeated, their graduation exam was finished. Scout supposed they'd be living in Sharpedo Bluff soon, a part of him was sad, a part of him was excited, and a part of him was scared.

He feared they'd have darkness to deal with soon enough. But for now, he smiled and spent time with Rai and Mane, walking comfortably to Treasure Town.

Team Sunrise staggered through the Magnagate, emerging out in the wilds close to Treasure Town. All four of them tightly gripped the other and once they were out they all collapsed to their knees or flat on the ground, shuddering from that experience.

Striker was the first to recover enough to smash an Energy Ball into the glyph of the Entercard, breaking it and causing the shivering portal to distort before collapsing. With that he dropped onto his back and groaned, “That was worse than any dungeon of the future.”

Saniya, who had the clearest memory of the Dark Future, was nearly crying and Striker, recovering enough again to crawl over to her, pulled her into a hug. Saniya burrowed into his chest, trembling violently.

Guardian, built of the sternest stuff, was slowly remembering how to float as Sean coughed violently, almost writhing on the ground. “Sean?” Guardian croaked, reaching a hand to the riolu.

A simple tap seemed to ricochet a blast that knocked Guardian back a foot and Sean sprang to his feet. “DO NOT TOUCH ME!”

Every flinched at Sean’s furious bellow, including Sean himself. He recoiled, shaking his head and looked at his paws. “N-no, I mean. I’m sorry, I didn’t, why did I-?”

Guardian slowly reached for him again as Sean covered his face. “Oh my gosh, could you hear that stuff in there? I can still hear it! I can still hear it! Something’s in my HEAD!” His paws curled around his tassels and he looked like he was about to try and rip them off.

Guardian struck in that moment, his palm holding a sleep seed that he had crushed into power. He caught Sean by the muzzle and forced him to breathe it in, the riolu’s eyes going wide with shock before losing consciousness swiftly.

Guardian picked Sean up as Striker struggled to his feet, his expression thunderous. “Where the FUCK is Lucario?” he snarled, looking around as if she was just standing around ready to be punched in the face.

“Let’s find out,” Guardian said grimly, shouldering the horrors of that magnagate aside for the time being.

It wasn’t difficult for Striker to determine where they were, having learned the terrain around Treasure Town well while running from Guardian.

Once they arrived in Treasure Town they stormed up the guild, Guardian not even waiting for the sentries to raise the gate he simply grabbed it and lifted it himself.

Saniya, who recovered enough to be angry for Sean’s sake, raised her voice like a raging goddess, calling, “WHERE IS LUCARIO?”

They arrived at the bottom floor where she was pacing outside the hospital wing. She glanced up at them, eyes locking onto Sean immediately. “He didn’t leave the path did he?”

Saniya zoomed straight up to her like a pink missile, and Lucario caught her dead cold. “There’s a reason those things are banned, it was your choice to enter it.”

That seemed to stop her cold in both fury and arguments, but Striker was next. “You did not warn us it would be THAT bad!”

Guardian floated straight past her, intent on getting Sean help immediately. “I figured you could handle it,” she replied, eyes narrowed. “And you did, good job.”

Striker snarled, looking all the ready to punch her in the face.

“Grovyle!” Armaldo yelled, stomping out of the office. “Celebi too, back off. Do not agitate Lucario.”

“Sean suffered some sort of meltdown afterwards!” Saniya shrieked.

“Then I will help you,” Lucario replied firmly. They turned to her, confusion replacing some of the anger. “To prevent it from happening again, seems he’s in need of help sooner rather than later.” With that she turned around and entered the hospital wing.

Guardian was laying Sean down on a bed as Chimecho floated around in concern, rays of light beaming off her and onto him, her frown only growing with each moment. “There’s nothing?” she muttered.

Scizor lay unconscious on another bed, just the slighted sound of his breath indication he still lived, piled with blankets and warmers.

“Riolu needs to have it wrought out of him,” Lucario said as soon as she entered. “There’s nothing physically wrong with him, it’s something else. Take him to Beach Cave right now and do everything you can to keep him from hurting himself.”

“W-what?” Guardian said, turning to her. His eye flickered as his fingers twitched at the sight of her. “What are you talking about?”

“The kids a human isn’t he?” she asked. “He’s been getting testier and angrier lately, right? Nothing to do with puberty either. Well, probably.”

“How could you know that?” Guardian demanded, thinking back to the travel through the dungeon where Sean had been showcasing some concerning lapses in composure. It was more than that as well, their beloved hero had been more distant, less patient, more liable to anxious energy lately as well.

“Because it happened to Wartortle and Dewott as well,” Lucario replied. “Team Go-Getters are around aren’t they? They haven’t told you about this?”

She received a blank look and she growled, “Idiots. Take him to Beach Cave right now and work the stuff out of him before something happens.”

When The Legendary Lucario orders you to do something, you listen and obey. Guardian quietly scooped Sean up and floated out with Striker and Saniya in tow.

Lucario backed out and lay against the wall with a groan. “I should go too but I can’t focus.”

The rest of the guild had no idea how to approach the legendary figure and thus kept their distance.

She stood vigil the whole night, Team Sunrise didn’t return and eventually Wigglytuff went out to look for them.

When he returned with an unconscious riolu in his arms and hollering for Chimecho, the whole town was awoken by it. Sean looked an absolute wreck, bruises blooming all over his body so deep they were visible through the lighter patches of his fur.

“Go to the beach!” Guildmaster Wigglytuff ordered as Chimecho yelled out in shock from the medical bay. “The rest of them are injured too!”

“From Beach Cave?” Loudred spluttered but the Guildmaster was already gone. There was a brief exchange of plans before Loudred, Croagunk, and Sunflora went off to find them while Armaldo turned his gaze towards Lucario.

He approached her, more delicately than he may approach anyone else in the world and asked, “What has happened?”

The lucario had stood vigil and motionless all this time, although he knew without a doubt that she hadn’t slept a wink even as dark circles deepened under her eyes. “He’ll be back to normal tomorrow.”

“But why?” Armaldo pressed. “You knew at a glance Riolu has been struggling for some time, didn’t you? Our town therapist has hit a wall in helping him, she’s been very concerned about his mental state. I thought it may be a feeling of being locked into town, but you seem to know something else.”

Keira the Legendary Lucario turned a tired eye to Armaldo, meeting his own. He was a formidable pokemon, enough so that he didn’t even twitch at the weight of her stare. Like eons of pressure. She had no psychic attack but for a moment Armaldo nearly buckled under the pressure of her eyes alone.

“I dunno, I just have ideas and they tend to work.”

He paused but eventually accepted that, stepping back with a respectful nod. Lucario waited around until the guildmembers returned, Loudred carrying Saniya, Sunflora dragging Guardian in with her vines, and Croagunk supported Striker to limp in. All three had Aqua Rings floating around them.

“What happened?” Armaldo barked, eyes flashing wide at the sight of them. His mind ran a mile for a moment, Beach Cave was one of the least dangerous dungeons on the continent, there was nothing in there that could do this much damage to them besides a possible breach, which was impossible with Sean in their team.

Yet, there was a sense of relief on all three of their faces. “He, uh,” Saniya said weakly, managing a smile. “He’s okay now.”

He turned to Lucario with confusion on his face before turning back to them, opened his mouth, nothing came out. Growling, Armaldo shook his head. “Go to the hospital wing, and everyone else go to bed!” He stomped out, the guild shaking and slammed the door behind him.

Keira smirked a touch at the dramatic fella. Striker motioned for Croagunk to stop as they were passing by and cleared his throat.

“Um,” he began.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

His jaw tightened a tiny amount before he sighed and nodded, nothing else was said and the night returned to peace and quiet.

Sunflora and Loudred scuttled past her when they emerged but Croagunk paused and glanced up at Keira. “Meh-heh-heh, good to have you around, Lucario.”

She tilted her head to him and he crawled into the Swap Cauldron.

Eventually Wigglytuff was kicked out as well and he flashed Keira a smile as he returned to his own bedroom.

Once it was truly peace and quiet, she let her eyes close.


To the confusion and relief of the guild, Sean was absolutely fine from whatever rambunctiousness had gone down overnight.

He was the first awake and went ahead and prepared the morning meal since Chimecho had worked so hard overnight, making sure Scizor continued to not die.

“Hi, everyone!” he chirped when the first few pokemon entered, drowsy from the interruption last night.

“Um… are you okay?” Flaaffy asked, eyeing him in concern. “You looked absolutely terrible last night.”

“Thanks!” Sean beamed. “I felt terrible! But I feel much better today.”

“You’ve still got….” Flaffy gestured to his nose and Sean grabbed his own and winced. “Bruises everywhere.”

That was true, Sean was limping just slightly as well but there seemed to be a sparkle back in his eyes that the guildmembers were realising had dimmed the past couple of weeks. He had been getting worse until Team Sunrise returned, which seemed to fix him until he quietly went downhill again.

It was insidious, how subtle the trend was, most of them only noticed it now that he seemed to have recovered. He got a lot of thank you’s for preparing the food that morning.

Eventually, the rest of Team Sunrise slithered out. They had fared better than Sean but were stepping carefully nonetheless.

“Oh my gosh!” Saniya squeaked as she spotted Sean. “You weren’t there when we woke up! Sssss-” She glanced at Striker who was looking cool as a cucumber except for his eyes. “Sssaniya, me, really almost freaked out when you weren’t there!”

“Morning, guys!” Sean grinned. “Sorry about… that.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Guardian rumbled as they seated themselves with him. “Just talk to us if you’re not feeling quite right, okay?”

Sean nodded. “I don’t know what it was but venting in the dungeon really helped.”

“Venting,” Saniya said, eyes narrowing. “Sssssusure, that’s what we’ll call it.” Sean blushed a little, but there was a tiny glimmer of pride in his eyes. “I don’t know where you learned to fight like that but I’m going to take credit.”

“Those slashes and jumps were all me,” Striker countered.

“I believe his stamina was inspired from me,” Guardian added.

“All me,” Saniya concluded.

Relaxing, the guild day went on as usual and Armaldo shelved out tasks for everyone today.

“No one is to bother Lucario,” Armaldo added with deadly consequences promised in his voice. “Understood?”

He got a chorus of agreements, the guild was used to acting appropriately after The Great Dusknoir fiasco and no one wanted to see The Legendary Lucario get angry.

Everyone but Team Sunrise had a job to do. “You four,” Armaldo said. He was eyeing Sean carefully but there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary. “You get an extra day off to do as you please.”

They all perked up and disbanded.

Excited, they discussed a few interesting options that could be explored. “Should we ask Lucario about all that?” Sean brought up first.

“Armaldo might bite us in half,” Striker pointed out.

“I’ll bite him first!” Saniya declared, sending a fiery glare around her until she couldn’t find him. “He’s not even around.”

“I don’t know,” Guardian said. “While I do believe she owes us some answers, and we may be able to leverage rescuing Scizor for that, I am leaning towards letting her be for now. We all saw her exchange with Scizor and with us in the medical bay she was not able to spend any time with him. Let’s just do something else and at the end of the day perhaps we can talk to her.”

His wise reasoning won out and so they left the guild. Everyone stuck close to Sean who was in the best mood they had seen since the day they’d returned.

The previous night they had rushed by Lapras and deciding he may be concerned, they went to visit him.

Lapras spotted them from the waves he was surfing and floated over promptly. “Team Sunrise! Are you four alright?”

“We’re fine now,” Sean said.

“Thank you for the Aqua Rings,” Guardian rumbled pleasantly. “It eased the burn quite a bit.” Sean chuckled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head.

Lapras relaxed, looking most relieved. “I am glad to hear it,” he said. “What on Vitalia happened in there?”

No one answered at first, some eyes turning to Sean, silently letting him decide if he wanted to explain or not. Sean for his part, shrugged. “I’m not actually sure, it was all kinda a blur after the magnagate.”

Lapras’ eyes rose. “A magnagate? Those are monstrous things!”

“We figured that out,” Striker said, crossing his arms. “Seemed like a good idea at the time, we much would have preferred getting your help in retrospect. Lucario, the legendary one, opened one and we followed.”

Lapras grimaced a little. “Goodness, that must have been quite a circumstance to require something so dangerous. Was it destroyed?” Striker nodded. “Good. I am relieved to see you are all in good spirits today.”

“I feel much better,” Sean said. “I’m not entirely sure why, but I do.”

“I wish I could offer an idea but I have none,” Lapras sighed.

“Well, maybe not,” Sean said. “We got a day off so we’re trying to work out what to do today?”

Lapras hummed in thought. “Perhaps you'd like to visit Dialga? He's a little lonely nowadays."

"Lonely!?" Saniya gasped, horrified. "I knew he liked us."

"Master Dialga is lonely?" Guardian asked, concerned. "How do you know this?"

"I visit Dialga myself," Lapras explained. "I'm not always at the beach, after all. I travelled back there a couple of weeks ago, and Dialga came to see me. We got to talking. Dialga didn't say he was lonely, but I felt the lack of companionship there. Don't tell Dialga I said that, though."

"Hmm."

"We should go," Striker said, nodding. "Dialga did so much for us; visiting occasionally won't do any harm."

Sean frowned a bit but didn't huff or make any verbal rejection to the point. He remembered bright and clear how the last visit to Dialga went, but part of him wondered if that story is what stopped Guardian from asking to visit as well.

He refused to feel guilty over the matter, especially after Scout revealed he had been able to speak to Dialga. That Dialga knew he was there the whole time and said nothing.

"To the Hidden Land?" Lapras asked.

"To the Hidden Land!" Saniya, Striker, and Guardian chorused. Smiling happily at the decision, Lapras let them on the back of his shell and they were off.

Unlike the trip to Blizzard Island, which required some Lapras Secrets to make in any sense of a reasonable time, the path to the Hidden Land was passed down in his blood for generations. Since Dialga first locked the realm away one-second difference to the rest of the world, only a single small path could breach the sea of time, and only Lapras' family had been given the knowledge of crossing it.

With experience having sped the journey up, within a few hours, Lapras appeared to be flying within the air itself and their surroundings blurred to a magical azure before the air snapped, and the Hidden Land appeared in view, titanic and floating in a gap in time, in the split of a second.

Temporal Tower floated in the far distance. Serene and mostly whole, it appeared to be a little less ramshackle than the last time they were here, Dialga continuing the repair work in the absence of others.

A sky-splitting roar nearly spooked Sean and Striker off Lapras' shell, requiring Guardian to snatch them both up and causing Lapras to shake with laughter.

"Did you KNOW that was going to happen?" Saniya demanded after her heart stopped beating a million miles a minute.

"Perhaps," Lapras said, still giggling a little. He nodded forwards, was a blue speck dropped from the tower and began approaching them. "Dialga detected my entry last time. I believe they have some way to tell when someone enters the Hidden Land.”

It was a relief that they didn't have to traverse the dungeons again, but that spook had given all four of them a nasty flashback to Primal Dialga, and none of them departed Lapras' shell immediately upon first docking.

"Dialga is not going to do it again," Lapras soothed, nudging them off with words. Saniya left first, shaking it off. Followed by Guardian who was still holding Striker and Sean.

Waiting close to Lapras, Team Sunrise stood with not a small amount of tension as the speck grew wider, larger, and more Dialga-like.

Gliding majestically in the air like a dinosaur horse made of metal, time, and concise frustrated, Dialga approached.

"Team Sunrise," Dialga rumbled. The legendary was larger than the last time they had been here, but still not quite as large as the Dialga they had known before. "It has been a while."

Thankfully not large enough, or perhaps still mindful enough, not to roar everything in a literal sense of a caps lock.

"Master Dialga," Guardian said, bowing and dropping Striker and Sean into the dirt. "It is good to see you again."

"What did I tell you about the Master thing?" Dialga grumbled, stomping closer. Every step felt like it shook the world. As this entire subspace was just one island, that may have been true.

"That I shouldn't do it," Guardian sighed. "Yes, Master Dialga," he added, perhaps to be a little cheeky.

Dialga gave him an unimpressed stare before snorting. "So. What brings you four here? Lapras claim that I am lonely or something?"

"Yes," Saniya said, brightly. She felt Lapras' glare on the back of her neck, and she smiled, very proud of herself.

Dialga levied a glare at Lapras who had the decency to look a little abashed. "If you're here, you might as well talk. Answer me, what have the four of you been doing?"

Concealing smiles at Dialga's obviousness, Team Sunrise minus Sean regaled Dialga with their time since they had left. Dialga largely listened to their stories without speaking, but it did glance at Sean many times.

"And then Lucario opened a magnagate! And we went through it and it was just the worst thing EVER! After that Lucario told us to take Sean to Beach Cave and now he’s all better. Today, Lapras said you were lonely and so we came here!" Saniya finished, having done a great deal of the talking, but not all of it.

"That was… a lot," Dialga said, although it wouldn't admit that it had zoned out most of what Saniya had just rattled off. She spoke awfully quickly, and Dialga didn't have the benefit of interfering with time anymore to make her more bearable.

Time was still too unstable to mess with, even Saniya's teleports were toeing the line.

"What about Riolu?" Dialga asked, finally finding the time to address Sean directly. "I am not certain if he is simply being polite and letting you." He gave Saniya a Look. "Talk or is just quiet. But I would have expected something by now."

Sean blinked. "Pardon?" he asked.

"A thank you," Dialga replied, rumbling. They were a little offended but wouldn't directly say that. "For taking in these three strays for a time before sending them back to be with you. I've heard whispers of Palkia's whining and whinging for several months now about an impact to space. Ensuring it did not know of any of you protects you from Palkia’s wrath but endandgers myself, I would hope you have some politeness to share.”

"I… did thank you," Sean said, very puzzled. The rest of Team Sunrise and Lapras were all staring in confusion as well but towards Dialga. "When Shinx, Litleo, and I came to talk to you. I understand we were a little rude, but I DID thank you."

Dialga paused. A frown touched its face. "I have not seen anyone besides Lapras since Striker, Saniya, and Guardian left," Dialga answered, firmly. "I have no idea of what you speak of."

"No," Sean said, voice rising to a near-squeak as horror began to grip him. Guardian was looking sharply between everyone. "Lapras?" Sean turned. "You brought us here, and we talked to Dialga."

"Yes." Lapras nodded. "I did."

"When did this happen?" Dialga demanded.

"About three months ago," Lapras answered.

"I have no knowledge of this," Dialga insisted. "I have not seen any of Team Sunrise since you left, I only know the name due to being told by Lapras."

"No!" Sean said, voice hitting a near yell. "We came to talk to you! We met you at the Rainbow Stoneship. You could see Scout! And you told us that you WOULD not revive him, because of some shit with Palkia. Scout had to be revived by Darkrai."

"The meowth is revived?" Dialga thundered. "No wonder Palkia has been trying to enter the Hidden Land. It must be furious."

"You TOLD us!" Sean insisted, almost sounding like he was pleading. "And then you told him! The only thing you offered was to remove Scout's memory from Shinx?"

"Remove?" Dialga spluttered. "Remove memory? I am a dialga. I control time, not the mind. How, by any stretch of the idea, could I interfere with one's memory? Even that of a being, formally, removed to time? Perhaps I could preserve such a memory, not remove. You make no sense!"

Sean looked to Striker and Guardian and Saniya in horror. "We've got to get back to Treasure Town," he said. "We had a nightmare the night we stayed here." He turned to Lapras, who wore a grave expression. "Everyone, right?"

Lapras slowly nodded.

"We've got to alert the guild. Darkrai was here."


Lapras, pushing himself harder than before, made it in almost one day, but night had well and truly fallen when they arrived, and he sagged on the beach as Saniya levitated and flew the other three ahead.

Guardian, calmer than the others, lifted the gate again without waiting, and once they were all through, passed under and let it drop. He had tried to phase through it and bumped right into it, but no one else needed to know that. It was likely enchanted similar to the jail cells.

Saniya, actually bouncing off the walls, caused quite a ruckus by the time they had stormed into Wigglytuff's chambers and woke him up.

"Wuzzuh?" Wigglytuff groaned, eyes pulling open as he clutched a chatot-doll firmly to his chest. He didn't quite recognise them at first, or anything really, being woken up far too suddenly. He had no blanket, there was none in the room.

Saniya might have cooed at the doll if the sight of it also wouldn't have made everyone so very sad. Wigglytuff soon set it, gently, aside and got up. "What is it?" he asked, as Armaldo also stormed in.

Four threads of white string suddenly wrapped around the four of them and pulled them out very ungently as Armaldo roared, "WHAT ARE YOU FOUR DOING?"

The String Shot very tight, knocked the wind out of Sean and Striker's chests, but Saniya struggled, yelling. "We have bad news!"

There had been a little more shouting, and conflicting voices before Wigglytuff shut everyone down with a small shockwave.

"Okay," Wigglytuff sighed, sad he had to do that. To make up for it, he began to Sing his next words, putting some calming Power into them. "Tell us, tell us, tell us what you've found~?"

Eyes fell to Sean. Team Sunrise never had an official leader, but decisions were most often deferred to Sean. He knew it, his companions knew it, everyone knew it. So, it was him to explain.

"We visited Dialga," Sean said, voice soft and almost meek in the pressuring silence around them, "and we found out that when Shinx, Litleo, and I went to ask Dialga about reviving Scout, it wasn't Dialga we met that day."

"How have you learned this?" Wigglytuff asked, the song fading as he prompted Sean to elaborate.

"Dialga said they hadn't seen anyone since the others." He gestured around him to the others of Team Sunrise. "Left, besides Lapras. And… well, on the same night we stayed there we all, including Lapras, had a nightmare. Since the only one that could also see Scout was Darkrai and the false Dialga offered to take Shinx's memory of Scout."

"Which doesn't make sense," Saniya said, nodding. "But none of us really thought about that."

"Yeah," Sean agreed. "It must have been Darkrai there, trying to do something. And I mean… Darkrai 'wanted' Scout to be revived and he could probably have done it at any time. Why would he NOT have revived Scout then and there when we were asking for it? Why try and trick us into thinking Dialga wouldn't?"

"That is… confusing," Armaldo said, Wigglytuff was very silent. "You can't be certain that the Dialga you saw was Darkrai."

"Who else could it have been?" Saniya snapped, always ready to argue with Armaldo.

"I am not saying it can't have been Darkrai," Armaldo retorted, heat entering his voice. "I simply find it reckless to immediately assume one suspect and treat it as if that is the only answer. Darkrai are not known to be able to create illusions, they can manipulate dreams, but I do not know of any legends of Darkrai that can cause a waking illusion. The zorua family is far more capable of that."

"Scout informed us that 'Dialga' could see him, however," Guardian pointed out. "Currently, only two pokémon have been able to do that. And considering that Dialga is now proven to not be the same, that leaves us with only one. I am a Ghost-type and Saniya is a time-based legend, and yet neither of us could see Scout."

"Right," Saniya added. "The most I had was just a little tickle on the back of my neck, I had no idea. And I'm literally the Time Travel Pokémon, Giratina told me."

"Which leads us back to Darkrai," Wigglytuff sighed, speaking up. "Considering that Scout's own statement on the matter. According to Darkrai himself, according to Scout, Darkrai could see him due to a combination of his earlier manipulation of time and Scout's current state as a 'living memory or dream' of sorts. Perhaps a dream-manipulating pokémon could also see him, but perhaps not if they didn't have some sort of control over time."

Armaldo crossed his arms. "I will accept that Darkrai is the most likely answer, but that doesn't explain how he could create an illusion like you are claiming. There are pieces missing here, and it's dangerous to work with incomplete information!"

"Then we will find what we need," Striker said, deep voice running through every crack and crevice in the room. "We don't know where to start, however…"

Armaldo opened his mouth, but Wigglytuff spoke first. "First things first, everyone… go to bed."

"What?" Was the unanimous response.

Wigglytuff looked tired. Lines were under his eyes, his shoulders were slumped. His fur was matted. His eyes were dull. "The four of you are still exhausted from recent injuries, Armaldo is tired of dealing with the guild in my absence and I… I'm just tired. We aren't going to get anything done working off stress and panic, so we will all go to bed and reconvene tomorrow morning."

He held a firm look and waited until a few pokémon began to crack. "Also." Wigglytuff raised his voice. "That goes for the eavesdropping pokémon as well. You have work to do tomorrow, and you can't be tired either."

A shadow of a smile crossed Wigglytuff's face as the distant sounds of scuffling hit everyone's ears, and Armaldo positively snarled at the impudence. Before he could march off to shout at them, Wigglytuff said, "Not tonight."

Armaldo paused at the door, standing very still. He took a deep, shuddering, breath and let it go. "Very well. Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow."

Armaldo glanced back to Team Sunrise, none of whom were moving. "The Guildmaster has ordered you to bed. Move it."

The sharpness of Armaldo's tone did get them to move, and Team Sunrise retired to bed, slumping into their room as one.

Despite various levels of exhaustion among the pokémon, few had a particularly good night of rest. Saniya's wings were still sore. Guardian could still feel the pokémon lost in Froslass's icy graveyard. Sean could think of nothing besides the meeting with 'Dialga' that hadn't been Dialga at all. And Striker simply didn't want to leave his companions unguarded with what was likely an enemy on the loose.

He also thought of Team Ion. They had no idea of what had transpired, and to make matters worse, they were likely exhausted as well.

Striker did slip into rest eventually, but the days at the guild always begun early and they had arrived back rather late. It felt like he had closed his eyes for a minute before they were opening again and Team Sunrise moved.

They were not the first ones up, but not the last either. The four rested close to each other during the morning announcement. Wigglytuff barely said anything, simply stood around as Armaldo discussed what needed to be discussed.

He didn't mention the eavesdroppers, as he didn't know who exactly it had been. Knowing the guild as he did, however, Armaldo assigned everyone besides Chimecho a lot more work than normal and glared holes through anyone who even looked like they were thinking of complaining.

There was no sign of Lucario still, and Chimecho’s update on Scizor was brief.

Saniya was dozing on Guardian's shoulder, and Striker had an arm hooked around one of Guardian's hands, holding himself steady. Guardian and Sean were more alert, one being a ghost and the other built for this kind of activity.

Looking to the four, Armaldo nodded and slowly turned around to avoid knocking Wigglytuff over with his tail. He began to walk into Wigglytuff's room, and the four followed. Wigglytuff entered last, feet almost dragging.

As soon as Wigglytuff had the doors closed tightly, Armaldo activated a mute orb. The aura of quiet flowed out, folding along the hard surfaces of the room until no sound would easily leak out.

"Are we all ready to discuss this reasonably, levelly, and respectfully?" Armaldo asked, gesturing for Wigglytuff to sit in his big chair. Wigglytuff trudged to it and sat.

"I'll be nice," Saniya said. "I can be serious, you know?"

"Miracles have happened before."

"You don't make it any easier," Sean said, raising an eye at Armaldo. "You egg her on as well."

Armaldo eyed him but said nothing.

"Who would like to begin?" Wigglytuff said. "Say your thoughts on the matter at hand."

"I'll start," Sean said, the youngest of the six in the room. "We were treating the whole Darkrai stuff as 'he's probably evil, but we're not sure' well… shouldn't we change that? It's not really a matter of 'probably' anymore. Directly trying to manipulate us, especially Shinx, into forgetting Scout… into giving UP on him, when he could have helped at any time. What could it be besides him being evil?"

"A fair point," Wigglytuff said. "Who next?"

"At least one of you go again," Armaldo said. "You know I'll be playing Yveltal's Advocate in this discussion, so start mounting your reasonings now."

"I don't see what else needs to be added," Saniya said, going next. "He basically forced Scout into accepting the deal to be revived. He's got to be a dick as well. Attacking the guys when they travelled back in time too, as if he's had a change of heart. He's just trying to trick Scout."

"Not the hardest thing to do, that," Striker said, sighing. "We do have a problem with it all."

"Ah?" Armaldo said. "You've noticed something wrong?"

"It's hardly difficult to notice," Striker replied, very tiredly. "We know that Darkrai revived Scout, but we don't know why. We now know that he posed as Dialga in an effort to do… something, perhaps memory erasure wasn't even the goal? But he posed as Dialga for some reason, to speak to Scout perhaps? But we don't know why."

"The issue that I see with everything," Guardian said. "Is that Darkrai wants Scout alive. I have him to thank for that. But at the same time… he could have simply offered that revival in the Hidden Land while disguised as Dialga. Clearly, he has no fear of reprisal from Dialga or Palkia or else he would not have revived Scout in the first place. But the issue is still there. Why later? Why not use the guise of Dialga to revive him without needing to give himself up as the benefactor here?"

"Well, I am impressed," Armaldo admitted. "Some logic. I'm glad you four haven't lost it completely yet. We have no motive for Darkrai's actions. It seems random, confusing, even contradictory. We have no definite confirmation that it was Darkrai who met with you besides the fact that you had a nightmare the same night."

"We all had a nightmare," Sean pointed out.

"Which may be a correlation, you had come off a stressful encounter with a bad result while frustrated and afraid."

"What else could disguise as Dialga and still be able to see Scout?" Sean pressed. "If the dialga still couldn't have seen Scout, this would make more sense. But Scout told us he did!"

There was silence.

"And Scout is known to lie," Armaldo pointed out. He knew it would not go down well, but he had to make the point.

As expected, Sean, Saniya, and Guardian all reacted rather negatively. Striker was notably absent from their cries of anger.

"We agreed to be calm," Wigglytuff said, raising his voice in that way that left the feeling of physical pressure on everyone’s shoulders.

"I know it is not exactly something that is wanted to be discussed, but it DOES have to be pointed out," Armaldo said. "For the matter of what he had told us about why he lied and why he knows and what he knows… I do believe him."

More than a few pokémon blinked in surprise at him. Armaldo continued. "Knowing where Scizor was where even Lucario failed heavily weighs in his favour, and he gets nothing out of admitting it besides relief of admitting the truth and anger at his behaviour. I acknowledge that. But YOU have to acknowledge that everything we are working on is his word."

Quietly, behind the others, Striker nodded in agreement.

"You are… right." And to everyone's surprise, so did Guardian. "I don't believe that he is lying about anything," Guardian said, sternly. "But… yes. We are working on Scout's word and only that. And with Darkrai being able to damage time, revive Scout, and likely more… it is definitely not out of the question that Scout may have been tampered with in some way."

"So. You believe it is possible too?" Armaldo asked.

"I… fear it," Guardian answered, admitting it in a different way. "And, unfortunately… with the elusive nature of Darkrai, it throws anything Scout has to say under at least some level of scrutiny. If Darkrai is an enemy and he revived a being that KNEW he was an enemy… the question is simply… why?"

"Well… what if Darkrai isn't bad?" Saniya asked. "Maybe he really did change?"

"A possibility that hasn't been ruled out," Armaldo said. "But it grows less likely each time something comes up. On top of every possible manipulation, if Darkrai is a Shadow Pokémon than there is no doubt in his malevolence."

"What about the pokémon who killed Darkrai?" Sean asked, Wigglytuff cringed. "Soothe, I think?"

Saniya also cringed.

"She should be erased from time, now," Guardian said since no one else was talking. "And yet… I recall an order to keep an eye out for her."

"Wigglytuff," Saniya said, sharply. "How much of her do you still remember? Of Soothe?"

Wigglytuff blinked, not prepared to be addressed by this point. He hesitated for a moment, but there was only one answer to give. "Everything. Well, I mean… not literally everything, but I can't think of anything I knew before that I don't still know. Although would I know anything I don't remember? Would I even know that I knew, notice that I knew? Hmm."

"I still remember her too," Saniya said, voice heavy. "And… Guardian, who were your servants after you joined Dialga?"

Guardian stared at her, puzzled for a moment. He blinked. "Uh… S… B…" He flexed his fingers, looking at a hand and trying hard to remember. "I… can't really remember. I remember remembering, but there is just a hole… maybe I could remember if I really dug deep."

"No," Saniya said, shaking her head. "That's not my point. My point is… besides core memories that just won't go away, even we can't remember much of the Dark Future. Maybe I could get away with it, since I'm Celebi and everything, but even some stuff has slipped from my head. But I still remember Soothe, and so does Wigglytuff."

The point hung in the air before digging deep.

"You really think she's still?" Wigglytuff gasped, nearly rocketing out of his chair. The matter had been raised before, of course. But besides a general warning to the guild, it hadn't been addressed further. And yet, the memories of her still did not fade.

"I don't know how that could be," Saniya admitted. "I've even talked to Scout about it. He doesn't know anything about Soothe. Nothing at all. And, well… if Soothe is the reason why Darkrai turned evil then… well, I sent Soothe into the past even though Giratina yelled at me for it later. It's kinda my fault."

"What?" Guardian nearly thundered. "Saniya! Do not DARE think that way. The Dark Future was not your fault! Soothe's actions were her own."

"And," Sean added, "time travel's really weird and funky. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that. Even if it wasn't Soothe, since the Dark Future happened, it had to happen in some way, right?"

"We stopped it though," Saniya argued. "You can't self-fulfil that way, because we DID stop it happening. Don't try and teach me anything about time travel, Sean! I barely can wrap my own head around it, but I know more than anyone else here."

"That doesn't change the fact that Soothe did it," Striker said, coming up to her. "Not you. As Sean said, the Dark Future existed in some way or another. You can't make a time loop, you've said that before. It wasn't your fault it happened."

She smiled slightly at him. "Well… enough of my pity party. I have no idea how Soothe could possibly still be alive.”

"But if Scout was revived," Armaldo said. "Perhaps she was as well?"

"She's connected to Darkrai in some way," Striker agreed, "and he revived Scout."

"Are you two saying what I think you're saying?" Saniya asked.

"Perhaps." Armaldo nodded. "I think one thing cannot be disputed here. We don't have all the answers. We don't even have some of the answers. There are too many holes, and we can't get it out without someone to ask. Dialga clearly can't help, and I doubt Darkrai will be accommodating even if we were to track him down."

"You want to find…?" Wigglytuff asked, painfully softly.

"You've left a Shadow Pokémon to run amok for years upon years," Armaldo answered, causing Wigglytuff to recoil. "Whether or not she can give us information, she needs to be found regardless."

"We don't know for sure that Soothe is still around," Wigglytuff attempted, but he did a poor job of trying to sound convincing. It was in his eyes, Armaldo could see. Shame, regret, and worst of all. Hope.

"She needs to be found because she is dangerous, Wigglytuff," Armaldo stated, and Wigglytuff's expression flickered for a moment. Eventually, he slowly nodded.

"I think Team Ion needs to be recalled as well," Armaldo added. "I know they deserve a break due to their victory, but this is important."

Again, Wigglytuff reluctantly agreed.

Chimecho, who was waiting outside the door and definitely not eavesdropping, took this as permission to enter.

"Good morning, Guildmaster, Armaldo, and Team Sunrise!" she said warmly. The power of the nurse meant she could hide any and all signs of exhaustion unless she was literally beginning to keel over. "I hope I am not interrupting anything."

Armaldo snorted.

"We are just wrapping up now," Wigglytuff said, noting that the Mute Orb must have deactivated earlier than normal. "Team Sunrise, you look like you need to properly rest. Take the day off, you still have your offer to take some time off. If something comes up, you will be alerted. Now please, rest."

Guardian carried them all back to bed.

As Team Sunrise was departing, the two leaders of the guild nodded to Chimecho to speak her part. "I have something thing to report. Scizor has regained consciousness and is markedly less confused than he was upon his arrival, Lucario is with him, bringing him up to speed on the last forty-something years.”

She smiled, although there was something to it. “Do you need me to contact someone now?”

“Send word to Team Ion to return immediately, that it is considered very likely that Darkrai disguised himself as Dialga when Team Ion went to requisition he revive Scout,” Armaldo said.

She nodded. And floated off.

“As for your four,” Armaldo began, he flicked a glance at Wigglytuff who seemed to be zoning out. “While I am loathe to give you more time off, just take it and don’t rub it in anyone else’s faces.”

They all saluted and vanished.

Armaldo turned a glance to Wigglytuff, a long and lingering look.

Rhythm could sleep with his eyes closed, Chitin the Explorer knew that. He also knew when his apprentice was not sleeping. “Rhythm?” he asked quietly.

“...”

Armaldo sighed, he was not good at talking to people. He preferred action and thus he stepped out, Wigglytuff following silently. He left Junior by the grave he could not move on from and went to find Azumarill.

Things had to be done but all he felt was tired.

Delphox of Fissue shuffled cards in her hands absentmindedly.

She dealt three, she flipped the future card over.

The Tower.

She frowned, scooped them up, shuffled again, dealt three again, checked the future card again.

The Tower.

Every time. Every time for the past three months, the Tower was in every dealings future for every single person.

Delphox considered herself an excellent magician able to fleece money out of people with hocus pocus and the occasional actual enchantment. In her opinion, the cards were bullshit. You can draw a meaning that will land with someone with any card, it was simply how life was.

Yet, she shuffled and dealt again.

The Tower.

Upright every single time.
 
Chapter 48 - Beauty, Style, Grace Approaches

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
"Statement: That was adequately enjoyable."

"Yeah yeah! Beating that ninetales and zapping everything and zooming along when you smacked into him and Thoughtlight doing that thing he does to make us all fast! Well, more like you two. I'm fast enough!"

"Trick Room, Volt. I say the name every time."

Team Gazer was flush with victory, as they usually were. Beheeyem wondered if winning would ever grow old, but he doubted it.

After rescuing Sliggoo and returning her to her mother, they were back on the road. A group consensus to travel towards Blackstone Village to sniff around for Team Ion or any outlaws they could apprehend was reached, and the three made haste.

As fast as they could go, at least. Which wasn't actually very fast.

If Electrike's complaining was indicative of.

The easy-going chatter that filled their days was shattered, however, when an explosion up before them caused them all to jump in alarm and go on the defensive.

The explosion which, judging by the smoke, was caused by a powerful Fire-type attack caused Volt and Thoughtlight to edge closer to Cobalt, aiming to protect the beldum if it was needed.

However, then the talking began.

"Prepare for trouble!" a voice that could only be described as amused called out, from the smoke emerged a four-legged pokémon with a shock of hair a lot like a flame on his head.

"And make it double," a second voice, almost as amused, just a tinge of excitement, added to the presentation. Both pokémon were… singing.

"To protect the world from devastation!" the litleo emerged, doing a jump and kicking out with his forepaws.

"To unite all pokémon within every nation," the shinx emerged, doing a barrel roll and jumping up sparking with electricity. Team Gazer stared in mutual stunned silence.

"To denounce the evils of truth and luuv," the litleo purred, giving a wink.

"To extend our reach to the skies above!" the shinx called, shooting a bolt into the blue sky.

"Litleo!" Mane smirked devilishly.

"Shinx!" Rai smirked, falling into a prowling stance.

"Team Ion blast off at the speed of light!" Mane stood on his hind legs for a moment and might have committed a cardinal sin.

"Surrender now or prepare to fight!" Rai joined him.

"MEEEOWTH! That's right!" Scout did a jumping flip from somewhere and landed on his back legs, praising the very sun. Then he collapsed into laughter. Rai and Mane quickly joined him, and the three felines fell into a fluffy pile.

"I have now won at life," Scout giggled, wiping his face as a luxio also walked onto the road, a flat expression on her face. "I succeed. I win. Nothing can stop me now."

"I still don't know why you wanted to do that so badly," Mane said, trying to regain SOME street cred. "But I will admit that was kinda fun."

"Can we do it again?" Rai asked. "Maybe when we arrest someone?"

"Probably have to change it though!" Scout laughed. "It IS stolen after all."

"From US!" Beheeyem yelled, fuming as Beldum and Electrike struggled to hold him back from grabbing Team Ion and throttling them. "The idea of a motto is OURS!"

"Team Rocket did it first," Scout called, detangling himself.

"I DON'T KNOW WHO THAT IS BUT THEY SOUND STUPID!"

"Do NOT belittle the TRio in my house here, good sir!"

Beheeyem, who had calmed down enough to be released, rubbed his shoulders as Beldum floated up. "…Digression: Team Ion, are you… well?"

"That was pretty cool," Electrike added, Beheeyem nearly had a stroke at the word of approval. "But ours is better!" That downgraded him from a stroke to an aneurism.

"Funny as that… was," Ara said, frowning when Team Gazer glanced at her in perfect unison. "Creepy. Anyway, fun as this is… are we going to stand around talking or can we walk and talk?"

"Walk?" Beheeyem said, defaulting to repeating words until his brain rewired.

"Wellll, hello there," Electrike said, grinning as he began to approach Ara. He was knocked back with a bolt of electricity.

"Luxio!" Rai called. "You could have at least given a warning shot first."

"That WAS the warning," Ara said, as Electrike pulled himself back up.

"I like a girl who can play rough."

"My family was murdered by your kind," Ara snapped, and he closed his mouth.

A moment of awkward silence fell over the collective teams until Mane leaned to Scout and whisper-shouted. "She has NO chill at all, does she?"

That broke some of the tension, and Beheeyem cleared his throat. "Ahem. Understanding that you have had bad experiences with electrike's. Still." His eyes flashed, and he suddenly snatched Ara up from a distance, holding her in a powerful Psychic. "Do not attack unprovoked again."

Ara spluttered for a moment, psychic holds pressed down on everything. Including the throat.

Before Rai could do something rash and unthought, Beheeyem released Ara. Not exactly gently, but at least onto the ground.

She rubbed her neck but nodded. "That's fair enough."

"Wait?" Mane asked, blinking. "You're just letting that go?"

"I 'warned' his friend, he 'warned' me. It's fair play."

Mane nodded, a small measure of respect in his eyes. He never quite agreed with having to talk everything through and play nice and roll over for anyone who was upset or offended.

Scout was entirely lost to the silent machinations of pokémon and simply wanted to do damage control. "Uh, now that that is all… moved aside, hello!"

Beheeyem blinked but raised a hand in greeting.

"Hi-hi!" Electrike chirped, although he did refrain of running circles around them.

"Declarative Observations: Team Ion are alive, signs of previous injury, high spirits that don't appear to be deceitfully affixed to present a 'strong front'. Deduction: You arrested Pyroar?"

"That we did!" Rai said happily, after sharing a look with Ara to make sure things really were okay. He did admit it was fair, but he still would have protected Ara had things gone further. "He was nasty and tough and had help, but we still won!"

"As expected from the saviours of time," Beheeyem replied, smoothly. "Nevertheless, it is good to see you again. From your little… plagiarism from earlier, I suspect you are here for that promised bout we each agreed to?"

"Not just yet," Ara said, speaking over Mane who had gone to answer. "These three get into more trouble than they're worth and still have got SOME injuries, you're not doing any fighting until it's fair. Understand?"

"Then, why are you here?" Beheeyem asked.

"We've been given a little bit of a break after catching Pyroar," Rai answered, Scout, didn't look as happy as he and Mane did. "So, we decided to walk back to Treasure Town and do and see some stuff we didn't really get to see or do before."

"Is that so…?"

"Want to come with?" Scout asked. He received a few curious looks for the suggestion. "Well, I mean. We do have the standing offer of a match between us. And there's probably stuff on the way and in Treasure Town that might be coming up. Do you three have other plans?"

Beheeyem raised a hand. "One moment." Before he pulled Beldum and Electrike into the bushes.

"What do you think?" Beheeyem whispered.

"I think it could be fun!" Electrike replied, speaking quietly for once.

"Inquisitive: Do we have other plans?"

"No…"

"Inquisitive: What of this 'other stuff' Meowth mentioned?"

"I'll ask."

Scout was beginning to count his claws when Beheeyem emerged again, a few leaves falling off his head. "May I ask about 'other stuff' that is coming up?" he called.

"Team Charm might be stopping around Treasure Town sometime soon. I can't say for sure, however."

Beheeyem needed a moment. "O-oh. I will. Uh."

Electrike burst out, Beldum wasn't far behind. "WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?" Electrike did zoomies around everyone, besides Ara. "Let's GO!"

Far away, Team Thunder Crash sneezed. "Someone talking about us?" Eevee asked.

"Probably," Pikachu replied.

Back with the two teams, Beheeyem was trying to regain order. "He said he can't be sure!" he yelled, stalling the beatboxing Beldum was belting out.

"Declaration: Any chance of meeting Team Charm in person is a chance worth taking."

"You're not wrong, but."

"Interjection: There is no but."

"Yes, however."

"Interjection: There is no, however."

"Beldum…"

"Declaration: Yes. You are Beheeyem, I am Beldum."

Beheeyem felt that oh-so-familiar headache come about. "Beldum, by the legends I will SLAP you."

"Defiant Statement: There is nothing you can do to me! Do. Your. Worst."

Beheeyem slapped the shit out of Beldum with his mind before turning to Team Ion. "Yes, very well, we shall accompany you at least some of the way until we can have our battle."

"And flirt with Team Charm!"

"And flirt-" Beheeyem snapped silent. He turned to Electrike who grinned. He then slapped the shit out of Electrike with his mind. "And MEET Team Charm if the situation presents itself."

"Alright!" Electrike whooped, recovering well from the beatdown. "We're back off to Treasure Town! I can't wait to see Marill again."

"Declaration: Team Ion." Beldum turned to the group of kitties. "For the time being you, three are recovering from what likely left you needing urgent medical attention. We of Team Gazer aspire to help you regain complete and total physical wellness."

"Aww," Rai said, smiling. "Thanks, Bel-"

"Interjection: And then we will beat you back into needing urgent medical attention."

With that, they swivelled around and floated off out front, Electrike already running ahead to get a move on getting a move on Team Charm.

Beheeyem, who was floating back, sighed tiredly as Team Ion, plus Ara, reached him and gestured. "Well… let's go."

Far away, Team Thunder Crash sneezed again.


Armaldo's heavy footsteps were not for stealth making.

He was a cunning pokémon for sure, but speed, agility, and quiet were not his forte. So, by the time he finally reached his destination, the door was already opening, and Azurill was yawning.

"H-hello Mr Armaldo," he yawned, rubbing an eye. "Is Marill okay?"

"Currently, Marill is excelling," Armaldo answered. "Just yesterday he pioneered his team's mission to Apple Woods to acquire some Perfect Apples. An important task to be sure."

"Yup!" Azurill beamed but yawned again. It was quite early, but it had to be early because Armaldo was a busy pokémon.

"May I see your mother?" Armaldo asked.

"Yup." Azurill wandered back in and passed his mother, she had him go right back to bed and came out to her door. The house was much too small for Armaldo to risk going into. Even if he were to crawl, his large body and heavy tail would definitely damage something.

"What can I do for you this crisp, early morning?" Azumarill asked, suppressing a yawn of her own. Armaldo would have felt a little bad. Azumarill was never of perfect health, and interrupting her sleep wasn't going to help.

Still, he had to ask her some things.

"Wigglytuff is not going okay," Armaldo stated, not bothering with preamble or small talk. They weren't here to talk about the day or Marill, so Armaldo wouldn't bother wasting her time.

Azumarill nodded. "You're right," she said, a touch of bitterness entering her voice. Not due to anything personal, only the anger at being unable to help. "He comes, we talk, but it's not helping him."

"Why haven't you said something already?" Armaldo asked, needing to know everything he could.

"It's a privacy thing," Azumarill answered. "Pokémon have to trust that I won't speak of anything we talk about to others without their permission. And I have my doubts you told Wigglytuff you were coming here today." Armaldo nodded, Wigglytuff had no idea.

Azumarill hummed and closed her eyes, the lines under them deepening. "Honestly, I've feared your arrival, Armaldo. If you've grown concerned enough for Wigglytuff to come, that means he's breaking down so badly he's unable to hide it anymore."

That was alarming. "You've been anticipating this?" Armaldo growled. His normal speech was growling, but this was a touch deeper than normal.

"Again, Armaldo, I reiterate the importance of trust with my clients. If I wasn't deeply concerned, then we would not be having this conversation at all. Wigglytuff has been teetering, and I imagine he still is. Still, he's beginning to buckle under the strain of pain and guilt, and nothing I do is helping. Yes, I have been anticipating our meeting, but it's just a confirmation rather than an inevitability."

Armaldo sighed out a rough breath. "I understand well enough." He paused, suddenly not so sure of things. "There's nothing you can do?" he asked.

"If there was, I would have done it already." Azumarill shook her head. "All I can do now is to continue meeting with him and give you a piece of advice."

"I'm listening."

"Wigglytuff has lost nearly every person he has ever cared about. You. His parents. His friends. His partners. He's lost everyone in some way or another."

"Hmmm."

"You're here now," Azumarill said, emphasising the word. "But he still lost you for a long time. I believe it has been your presence, and company, that has helped him hold himself together, but you know Wigglytuff. He's always loved even more than he can hold.”

Armaldo's eyes darkened, and he sighed. "You want me to contact Team Charm then?"

Azumarill smiled, like a moment of confirmation between them. "Unless you'd prefer to track down Team Raider?" Armaldo scoffed at the idea. "Or worse yet, Soothe."

Armaldo stilled, all amusement fading. "He's told you about her, then?"

"I met her; you know?" Azumarill replied. "All that time ago, when the team with no name first came to Treasure Town. I was younger, of course, but I still remember her. When they came back, neither of them were ever quite the same. He has the same look in his eyes now that he had when they returned from that terrible forest."

"She's very dangerous," Armaldo said, it was like his voice could darken shadows themselves with its tone.

"Yes," Azumarill replied, unperturbed by the warning in his voice. "And imagine how dangerous she could be if she finds Wigglytuff first? He…" she paused. "Well, that's too private to share. Point of the matter, get Team Charm here before something happens. Please. He needs to enjoy something again; he doesn’t explore anymore, but Team Charm is something from before he knew Chatot and Audino. If anyone can help, it's them."

Armaldo nodded and stepped back. "Thank you, Azumarill. I'll leave you to your rest."

She nodded. "You should rest as well, Armaldo," she said softly.

Armaldo snorted. There was no time for him to rest.

She watched him leave with sadness in her eyes before quietly closing the door and going back to bed.


Scizor was restless, and it was putting Chimecho in a tizzy.

Being frozen for over forty years was not good for the body in any shape or form. His limbs were all fragile, his shell hadn't moulted for the entire time. It was flaking, he found himself out of breath from just eating, and she could record his blood pressure, with some difficulty, and it was lower than she knew was healthy for a scizor.

But he was also very, very, persistently annoying with his requests.

Chimecho had heard, as pretty much everyone had, that Scizor had proven to Lucario his devotion to training by keeping up with her for years.

She was now beginning to believe that he had nagged Lucario for years until she gave in.

And Chimecho, while she was a nurse and therefore formidable, was no Lucario.

"Okay," she said, cutting Scizor off halfway. "Fine. Just, let me ask if she will go with you.”

"I can handle myself," Scizor began but Chimecho shot him a Look of pure death, and he closed his mouth.

She'd done it before, and he'd only remained quiet for ten minutes, so she knew it wouldn't last long.

Hurrying, Chimecho hovered out looking for the fated victims to sacrifice to this annoyance.

"Ah!" Chimecho said, popping her head into the mess hall. "Team Sunrise, exactly the… pokémon I was looking for."

"What do you need, Chimecho?" Sean asked as he was the only one not stuffing his mouth at the moment.

Chimecho paused, staring for a moment. Team Sunrise always ate with… vigour, but this was something to see.

Celebi had, probably, convinced the other two into an eating competition. She hoped Celebi had swayed them, at least, and this wasn't normal. Or Dusknoir's idea.

Still, the belly mouth gave Dusknoir quite the unfair advantage, not that he wasn't being challenged despite it.

Blinking and clearing her throat, and swallowing some revulsion, Chimecho said. "Scizor is… of… better health," she said, deciding to twist the facts just a tiny bit. He was really getting on her nerves. "And desires to go for a walk to stretch his legs. I'm not comfortable letting him go alone, so I was wondering if the four of you could either find Lucario or accompany him yourselves, ensure he doesn't get into any trouble, and just… watch him."

Perhaps it was a little bit of punishment for unleashing Scizor on her. Chimecho blinked and put that thought away in a little box in the back of her head. It wasn't Team Sunrise's fault Scizor was overly pushy. It was their fault he was here, but it was because of her Scizor was still alive.

She put that thought into a little box as well.

"Of course," Sean said, smiling up at her. Chimecho smiled back, and she floated off with Sean in tow. He also wanted an excuse to leave this show of gluttony behind.

Team Sunrise had issues. Azumarill helped, certainly, but they definitely had periods of extra quirkiness caused by that Dark Future trauma.

Chimecho concealed a smile at Sean picking at his fur and scuffing his feet outside Scizor's door. The little human-turned-riolu was honestly pretty cute, and there were times Chimecho forgot he was somewhat the youngest of the guild.

He didn't always act it, and certainly, chronologically Sean was actually older than a lot of pokémon here. Yet mentally, he was but a teenager.

Loitering outside of the door to the medical bay, Sean bit his lip. He glanced shyly at Chimecho before shaking the hesitation off and nodding to himself. He pushed the door, open himself, and Scizor looked up as they entered.

"Scizor, this is Riolu," Chimecho said as they entered. "He's the… a… this pokémon is in Team Sunrise, the very same who rescued you."

She gave Sean a slightly embarrassed look. No one was ever entirely clear on who the leader of Team Sunrise was. Some believed Sean, some Grovyle, and some others even felt like Dusknoir was really the leader.

No one bet on Saniya. Not even Electivire, who always went for the bad odds.

Sean was mostly oblivious to Chimecho's thoughts, and he stretched out his paw in greeting. "Good morning, I uh…" he paused, glancing at Scizor's very large and very dangerous pincers and lowered his paw in embarrassment.

Scizor, however, gave him a look of amusement, which really only pushed him further into the depths of embarrassment.

"Good morning, Riolu," Scizor said, warmly. A far cry from the whining, whinging, pokémon Chimecho had to suffer. "I hear I have a massive debt to you and your own."

"Not at all," Sean said, immediately waving it off to both pokémon's surprise. "You don't owe me or any of the others anything."

That threw Scizor a bit. It was a common practice among pokémon to give something in return for something. Scizor had his life returned to him by Team Sunrise, Chimecho and Chansey as well. He already planned on giving Chimecho something once he got out of here.

Deciding to drop the matter, because he knew painfully well that pokémon of Sean's species were impossibly stubborn, Scizor nodded. "Understood. I also hear you're going to be keeping an eye on me to make sure I don't trip over a log and die?"

Sean glanced at Chimecho, more than a tiny bit worried. Chimecho frowned and shook her head. "If you were that fragile, you would not be leaving this bed at all."

"It's sarcasm."

"Oooh," Sean and Chimecho chorused. Sean wasn't entirely sure if that was exactly sarcasm, but he got the meaning now.

He smiled. "To be honest, I haven't met that many pokémon who actually do that."

"When you spend more than five minutes around Lucario, you either learn to talk her way, or you take her words as literal and create some sort of cult. She disapproves of that, so I had to learn."

That sounded like a joke, but there was a strange tilt to his voice and a smile didn’t reach his eyes. "Oh."

"I'm not kidding," Scizor elaborated before swinging his legs off the bed. "Anyway, I've had enough of being locked in place for one lifetime, so if it's alright with you two, I'd like to start my walk."

"You WILL be careful," Chimecho said as they began to make their way out of the room. "I won't be hearing of any situations that involve intervention. No running or sprinting or jogging."

"Those may as well be the same things," Scizor pointed out.

"No backtalk," Chimecho cut over him. "No goofs, gaffs, OR guffaws."

"What do you think we're going to do with him?" Sean asked. "Take him out back and beat him with a two-by-four?"

Chimecho was still unmoved. "There will be no beating."

"Well, those are my plans down the river."

"No boating."

"Well, that idea is sunk."

"No swimming."

"I'm drowning in these rules."

"No drowning!"

Sean and Scizor couldn't help but share a smirk.

"And no plotting."

"Yes, nurse," Sean said, bowing. "I promise this will be just a walk. The Treasure Townies aren't going to cause mayhem… well, probably."

Chimecho narrowed her eyes.

"Certainly not."

She nodded. "I'll go fetch the others, and you can begin your day. Stretch your legs, Scizor. Some movement will be good for you. Just not anything too strenuous."

"I understand," he said, and she nodded.

Once Chimecho was gone, Scizor glanced to Sean. "Is she always like that?"

Sean shrugged. "Not usually that strict. You WERE in really bad shape, though."

"So, no drowning then?"

"No drowning."

"Well, that idea is sunk."

"I already used that joke!"

"Well, imitation is flattery."

Sean gave him a quirked smile. It was odd how much he was already getting along with the strange pokémon. He guessed it was Scizor's attitude, it was very different from the vast majority of pokémon he had met. And much different to Lucario’s.

For a moment Sean recalled the name Scizor had whispered when she was holding him and his expression flickered. Scizor seemed to notice it, but despite his attitude there was a muscle-deep exhaustion in him and he was already breathing a little hard from walking from the medical bay to the main room of the lower guild.

Soon enough, the others appeared. Being that Team Sunrise were in a bit of a mood, Saniya appeared with a teleport and a bang, while Guardian phased out from a wall.

Striker, always the rock of this little group, just walked up to them.

"YOU are SCIZOR?" Saniya gasped, flittering around him. "Like, oh my gosh."

"I wasn't aware you had become Sunflora," Sean said. Saniya smacked his nose.

Striker nodded in silence while Guardian greeted Scizor calmly. "It is good to see you in good health, Scizor. I am Dusknoir, this is Celebi, and that is Grovyle." He pointed to Saniya but planted his large hand right on Striker's head. Striker flicked his eyes up in a sharp glare until Guardian let go.

Scizor bowed back in time, sweeping one arm under his abdomen. "With you all here I can now give my thanks for the rescue. You saved my life; I am in your debt."

"You are?" Saniya said, cocking her head. "So, if like we ask you to do something weird for the debt you'd do it?"

Scizor paused, flashing her a wary look.

"Oi!" Sean snapped. "I already told him he doesn't owe us anything."

"Noooo!" Saniya cried and grabbed Sean's face and leaned in dangerously close. Staring into his eyes, she said just one thing. "Whhhhhy?"

"Because-" Sean began, but she squeezed the sides of his mouth. Undeterred, Sean continued. "Becaush hzee doeshn't."

"How are we supposed to conquer the world in my image if everyone we save just gets to go ladada ladadee?"

"We aren't aiming to conquer the world. In your image or not," Guardian said soothingly, pulling Saniya off Sean.

"Ohh. Right, I forget sometimes."

"Do not mind her," Striker said, nodding to Scizor who looked remarkably at ease with all of this. "She is merely an entity of pure chaos. She doesn't mean what she says."

"I’ve never said anything I don’t mean!" Saniya said, curled up happily in Guardian's big hand, only her nose poking out between his fingers. "Buy gold! Your voice is almost as attractive as you! Time is an illusion!”

"You do have a nice voice," Scizor said.

Striker, without missing a beat, said. "Ah, so you ARE one of them."

Guardian nodded sadly as Scizor looked confused. "A what?"

"Sean refers to them as creatures of terror and famine of sense. A fanboy/fangirl."

"I'm Sean, by the way," Sean said, as Scizor's confusion was only growing. "Used to be human, not anymore."

"I see," Scizor said, nonplussed. "It feels like three weeks and four days ago that Lucario was complaining about the very same thing. Well, let's be off."

Team Sunrise followed quickly. Which wasn't difficult as even with Scizor's restlessness, he was still weak from his long stint in the ice. His steps were slow but purposeful.

It took about five minutes to reach the steps leading down from the guild, but it was there that the conversation continued.

"Did Chimecho already mention Sean to you?" Guardian asked, not understanding why Scizor was taking this so well. Most pokémon had been quite surprised to learn ANYONE was human. Wartortle and Gengar and Dewott had created QUITE the stir.

Even now, the old ninetales legend still made a few pokémon wary of humans.

"No, I've heard very little about the world as it is," Scizor answered, taking a careful step down each stair. "Lucario informed me of the time I have been gone, which was difficult to hear, but besides a bit of reading material I have been supplied with, I know very little."

"Oh, okay."

Scizor gave Sean a keen side-eye. "Were you expecting a bigger reaction?"

"Kinda?"

Scizor laughed. It was the kind of laugh that carried for miles. "It's hard to be surprised by anything anymore," Scizor said, answering without actually answering. "First, I've heard of a human around here. I must say you are definitely a great deal furrier than what Lucario described your species as."

Sean blushed a little and gave an awkward laugh. "Ahh… hahaha. Yeah, I'm a riolu now. But I WAS human."

"That's a very strange thing to hear," Scizor said. "Where did you come from?"

"My own world," Sean answered. "There's still millions, if not billions, of humans there."

"Quite a few. Are there pokémon?"

"There are, yes. Just as many, if not more."

"Wonderful to hear. A world without pokémon is difficult for me to imagine, although I suppose a world without humans would have been the same for you."

Sean nodded. It was difficult at times. "I'm not the only human-turned-pokémon around though. Wartortle of Team Go-Getters is one too!"

"Scout thought he was Sean too," Saniya commented, but Scizor didn't know who or what she meant.

"Other humans? My, there has been a lot happening since I have been gone."

"I could explain some of it," Guardian offered. "There is a great deal to tell about current events and what you have missed, but I researched a great deal of it before coming here, so I could recount some of it to you?"

"That would be kind of you." Scizor smiled. "Reading is one thing, but hearing it is second only to living it." He chose not to mention that Lucario had already told him about Team Go-Getters and Paradise.

"Well we can tell you a bit of that to," Saniya said. "We're part of the most recent history stuff going on! The world nearly ended, well it did, but I sent pokémon back in time to undo that. The third time was the charm!"

Scizor's expression could only be described as WTF. She hadn’t mentioned this yet.

"There is… a lot to go over," Guardian said, a little laboured. They'd get to the messy stuff later. Or never. He would be fine with never. "First things first, the story of Team Go-Getters. It was… oh, around eighteen years ago now and a meteor was approaching the planet…"


Scizor had walked quite slowly. Slowly enough that the time it took for Guardian to explain Team Go-Getter's story, mostly just the important parts he knew of, took from the stairs to the guild to the entrance of Treasure Town, just slightly past the crossroads.

But he also walked tirelessly and without complaint. No one would believe Chimecho if she were to complain about him.

"Certainly," Guardian said, happy to put off any further talk for later. Much later. He wasn't entirely clear on the story of Paradise anyway. Knowing as much about Team Go-Getters came from asking them to clear up details than any record-keeping he had from the Dark Future.

And the things he had learned there were a little foggy regardless. He knew Kyurem was involved in some fashion…

"To give Dusknoir a break, who wants to gossip about the town?" Sean asked. It was almost a rhetorical question, as only one pokémon would immediately raise a hand to spill all the tea.

"Me!" Saniya said, leaving no room for discussion or debate. She fluttered to Scizor and put an arm around his neck. As her arms were very short, this effect was not as great as she had envisioned. "Imagine a place," she said.

"Okay." Scizor closed his eyes.

"No, don't close your eyes when you're walking!" Saniya chastised. He opened them. "Chimecho would turn us into soup if she heard about that. And every bit of information in this whole place goes to Sunflora. And who rooms with Sunflora? Chimecho. Therefore, Chimecho knows everything."

"You don't know that for sure."

"We know she could know," Saniya replied. "It's… the thing." She glanced at Sean. "With that dead meowth? Ya know… Chodinger?"

"…Schrödinger," Sean said.

"That's what I said. Explodia."

"That's not possible," Sean scoffed. "No one can escape him."

Saniya stuck her tongue out, and then they both giggled. "Anyway. If you die. The blame will be on us. And if the blame is on us, then I'll be in trouble. And if I'm in trouble, then Armaldo risks being right. And I will never allow a gross bug to be right."

"Hey!" Scizor gasped. He gestured to himself with his pincers. "Hello?"

"Hi!" Saniya beamed.

A flash of utter despair went through Scizor's eyes, and he looked to Sean, who just let him suffer for that moment.

"You were going to tell me about Treasure Town?" Scizor said, pushing it all down where it couldn't hurt him anymore.

"Oh yeah!" Saniya said, slapping her forehead. "Okay. You like the one-two punch description of stuff? So, I've got Saniya's brand of pokémon descriptions to give!"

"That's a terrible advertisement."

"You're a terrible advertisement!" Saniya snapped, sneering down at Sean. "Yet we let you talk to strangers."

"If you were a responsible adult, you'd tell me NOT to talk to strangers."

"Yes, but that would require me NOT wanting you to be kidnapped."

"Oh please, you'd shrivel up and die without me." Sean and Saniya glared at each other for a moment until she broke.

"Yeah," she giggled. "You're right. Anyway!" She turned back to Scizor, who was still successfully following all this. "I'll name them and shame them as we pass by." They put the pedal to the metal and began walking at a breakneck pace of one step every two seconds.

"That's Duskull. He dresses up in Reaper Cloth's to taunt poor kitties in their dreams."

"Guilty as charged. Hee-hee," Duskull giggled, waving to Guardian.

"Down there lies Marowak's Dojo. He threatens to bone everyone who comes by, I wonder why he doesn't have as many customers as you'd think."

The dojo stood proud and defiant.

"Down there is where Chansey lurks. She cares for unwanted children. Which I think explains the whole blood sacrifice they tried to do to us that one time."

Scizor raised a claw. "Could we stop by? That is the same Chansey who assisted in saving my life, correct?"

"Sure. Why not?" Saniya pointed them down that way. "Fair warning, she's entirely callous and will probably say something like." Saniya put on a snotty, squeaky, voice. "You're not made of revival herbs. Get lost."

"Still haven't let that go?" Striker asked.

"I will never let it go."

Approaching Chansey's chansey-shaped abode, they could hear naught. Still, the shrieks of the youth emanating from within like a multi-headed hydra of childlike wonder and destruction.

They all fell silent when Scizor knocked, and Chansey tore the door open. "What?"

Scizor blinked. "Hello. I'm Scizor."

"I know who you are," Chansey snapped. "Say what you want and get lost." She noticed Saniya floating there. "You again. Get the rest of the revival herbs yet?"

"I will end you," Saniya growled, being held back by Striker and Guardian together. She was small but strong and feisty.

Yet Chansey was unperturbed. "Try me."

Scizor decided it was best to do this quickly. "I would just like to thank you for saving my life."

"You’re welcome." Then she closed the door. As that was all Scizor said he wanted.

He blinked and glanced back to Team Sunrise, silently questioning.

"Yeah," Sean sighed, tugging him away. "She's like that."

Returning to the walk, Saniya shook off her all-consuming rage and continued. "Vigoroth is the hyper guy who likes to talk about the deals everyone is offering here and there. He's cool, we like him."

"He's like a can of soda that's been shaken up in pokémon form," Sean said, deciding to add his part to it.

"Whatever he said." Saniya waved the interruption off. "Electivire is over there. He's loud and boisterous, and I think he has a gambling problem."

Electivire was not privy to this judgement, he just continued helping a staraptor do some kicks and wing blows.

They reached the bridge separating the town in two, and Saniya had words to say on this as well. "This is the bridge. It's old and probably needs to be rebuilt before it breaks, and someone falls into the water and drowns."

The bridge creaked ominously as they passed over. Which took a while, because Scizor was slow.

"Chimecho said no drowning," Scizor said, a little nervously. The bridge continued to creak.

"Down there is Xatu, who is a bitch bastard with really funny riddles." They didn't really see Xatu much, but Team Ion had words to share on him at one point. "Seems like he’d be a good daddy.”

She then rotated them in the exact opposite direction. "In there is the mini-market which is odd because it's bigger than the Kecleon Market. It's where pokémon just set up days shops. You can get knickknacks and gewgaws and sometimes even actually useful stuff in there. Don't hold your breath, though. Suffocating is probably something Chimecho would end us for as well."

They moved further. "This is capitalism in person," Saniya said, before glancing to Sean. "That's how you say it, right?"

"Right." He nodded.

The Kecleon Brothers waved politely.

"And lastly." Saniya zoomed forward and waited around the final large pokémon-shaped shop of the marketplace. Everything else was filled with nothing, just the occasional house, or went into even more obscure things than the mini-market and exploration teams didn't often bother going there.

Scizor did not pick up the pace, and Saniya floated impatiently with Kangaskhan busy with a customer. She regretted being so fast and awesome as it took time for the less fast and far less awesome to catch up and entertain her.

"THIS!" Saniya declared, grandly, once he had finally reached her. "Is Kangaskhan's Storage. She's basically everyone's kindly grandmother. You do not sass Kangaskhan. No one does. For you answer to us if you do."

"Plus she's too nice to sass," Sean said as Kangaskhan saw off her customer with an additional gift. "She let us work for her a lot when pokémon here were being a bit… much."

Scizor nodded, having taken it all in. "I had noticed the five of us received a few curious looks. Curious as in the expressions given, rather than actual curiosity."

"You waste NO time," Saniya said, before reconsidering. "Well, you waste a LOT of time walking yourself on those trembling little legs of yours. But not in talking."

"Trembling little legs?" Scizor snapped. "I do not know what word was more offensive there."

"Oh." Saniya blinked. "Sorry. Weak little sticks." She said this was an entirely straight face. Still, She couldn't maintain the look of distant understanding after glancing at the pure flatness of Scizor's expression. She ignored any jabs at her own ability to walk unaided, lies that they were. Lies and slander.

Scizor raised a pincer and snapped it. Saniya was unmoved. "Clack all you want. I don't take things back."

Scizor held her gaze for a moment before nodding. "Fair enough. Anyway, is this all to see, or is there more that way?" He gestured forward to where the sea could be distantly seen.

"Oh, there's a bunch of this town yet to see," Saniya said, floating forwards without looking. "But a lot of that is just boring town." She floated back, heading back into town. "Sharpedo Bluff is neat though, but I've just described a couple of the shopkeepers! I have so much more judgement to share on the other residents of Treasure Town."

"I'm sure you do," Scizor said, raising an eye. "I have no doubt of that. Before you continue, may I ask a thing or two?"

"But of course."

Scizor gave Team Sunrise a very serious look. "So. I know there is something you are avoiding talking about. And I want to know what it is."

Sean managed to conceal a very guilty look before Scizor continued. "Where is the alcohol of this town?"

Then he blinked. That wasn't anything close to what he expected from Scizor. Sean breathed in relief as Saniya deferred to Striker on the matter of the selection Spinda's Café would offer at night.

Scizor, however, watched him out of the corner of his eye. He was no fool. Who else had been lost trying to find him?

He knew he was captive to a froslass. The worst of which could drain your very soul until you were nothing but a husk. He was still alive, yet, despite being held captive for many, many, years.

He shuddered to think of what that could mean. But couldn't find the words to ask. Part of him wanted to know, so he could just know and understand. But part of him didn't want to know for the same reason.

For now, however, he was fine to just recover from his ordeal and listen to this odd team of pokémon.

Team Sunrise were pleasant, and he was happy to listen until something caught his attention.

"Ah," Guardian said when Scizor asked. "Well… that has to do with our role in the more recent events of the world."

"We can skip over the boring stuff about Paradise," Saniya suggested.

"That was hardly boring," Guardian protested. "I… think."

"You don't even remember! Must have been boring."

"Or my memory is affected by the changing of time!?"

"Let's explain before we confuse Scizor too much," Sean suggested and so, the story has begun.

It was quite a fascinating story. One of danger, of time travel, of the risk to the world itself.

Nothing like the adventures Scizor had lived through, where only the fate of towns hung in the balance. Not a small thing at all, but not quite the scope of the entire world and beyond.

Guardian was the one to explain his role in the Time Crisis, he did so with shame evident in his voice, but also a sense of… not pride, but there was no hesitation in detailing his own crimes against pokémon and the world itself.

Yet, by the end of Guardian's story, and he was the one to finish describing what had happened, Scizor really only had one question to ask.

"The pokémon here… of Treasure Town," Scizor began carefully. They weren't close to anyone, but if someone wanted to eavesdrop, they could. They were free to, he wouldn't whisper this. "They simply believed you?"

Guardian blinked.

"Even after you admitted your deception and revealed the fact that no one could really and truly prove your word as truth. It was simply taken at your word to take three pokémon into custody, one of which being a resident of this town and guild for several months before this?"

"Thank you," Sean sighed, almost yelling with a sense of vindication.

"Yes," Guardian answered, nodding. "It wasn't difficult, either. The situation was straightforward. Time Gears had been taken, that was shown to have an effect that pokémon knew to be bad, and the fact that Team Ion had been in the centre of the loss of three of them made spinning a distrustful tale about Scout to be disturbingly simple indeed."

"That still…" Scizor scoffed and shook his head. "That is very painful to hear." He glanced out at pokémon wandering about. "No trial. No argument is given to the accused. The pokémon here simply allowed you to take three prisoners to another time altogether, believing that to be the case without hesitation as well."

"It WAS true," Saniya pointed out.

"That doesn't matter! Illusions. Tricks of the eye and mind. Even then, even at the most base fact. No one should have been taken to another place and time until determining that returning the gears would fix the problem. I mean, yes. I've heard the same thing. Do not disturb Time Gears for any reason. Say if Grovyle was the enemy, what if he had damaged a gear and no one knew how to fix it?"

"It's weirdly relieving to hear someone else say that," Sean said. "No offence to anyone around here but the whole town is stupid."

"You don’t mean that," Striker said.

"Yes, I do! It really frustrates me how… mareep in a field pokémon can be!"

"I mean, you don't mean no offence. You mean all the offence."

"Well… yeah."

Scizor shook his head. "I could only imagine what Lucario would have to say about all that. She would be making endless jokes at the expense of everyone around which, if history has proven to be a guide, no one would realise were insults."

Guardian, a little flummoxed but also deeply relieved at this turn of events, couldn't help but ask. "I have avoided asking out of respect, I’m sure you’ve been inundated with such things before. But. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about Lucario?

"I…"

"I studied the past before I came back, there was even a place with a frozen pokemon believed to be Lucario. She was still worshipped even in that dark time.”

He remembered few things clearly, but the town that had been built around the frozen lucario was one of the largest in that time. Myth and legend that one day she would awaken and save them led to a cultish community around her.

So, he was curious. “Is she actually as old as pokémon believe, is she really so powerful? There have been many pokémon who claims she is the strongest, smartest, and mystically wise. The details are foggy, but there was a settlement in the Dark Future that was built around her, legends woven, it was one of the largest left in the world, all bound by that security."

"Oh yeah, I remember that," Saniya said, Sean and Striker nodded as well. "Very weird place, building your whole town around a single frozen pokémon."

Scizor, reeling a little from these questions thanks to being phased by the story of Guardian's manipulation hissed. "Please keep your voice down."

Team Sunrise paused as one and Scizor said. "As far as anyone knows here, I'm just a random scizor, and I would really like to keep it that way. Look, I'll answer your questions but not in the middle of town."

Nodding, they followed him out to Sharpedo Bluff. More deserted than the beach, while still being a place Scizor had not yet seen.

If the five pokémon had hoped it would be entirely deserted, however, they were to be sorely disappointed.

"At least the ocean will never leave me," Dugtrio sighed, staring out into the crashing waves. "Right Ocean? Why don't you ever answer me, Ocean?"

"Uh…?" Saniya cleared her throat.

Dugtrio didn't jump, as that would be illogical. "How long were you there?" he demanded.

"Long enough."

"You heard me talk about why my love is deep yet forbidden and now understand my all-consuming draw that will one day consume me?"

"…We just heard you asking the ocean why it doesn't talk back."

"Ah." Dugtrio bobbed in place, no one said anything for a moment. "Um… I didn't need to say what I just said."

"No. No, you didn't."

"Don't repeat it?"

"Already mentally repressed." Everyone nodded in agreement. "So." Saniya blinked. "Oh! Dugtrio? I didn't know you were here, probably should have expected it," she giggled.

He giggled as well. It was high-pitched and horrifying.

"Repressed again. Let's go a third time. Hi Dugtrio, we're taking Scizor for a walk, and now he's going to tell us about Lucario!"

"Lucario?" Dugtrio asked, thanking the sea for a distraction so he wouldn't talk about the sea. "I am always up to learn."

"Join us then," Saniya said, opening her arms as if she was saying she caught a fish thiiiiis big. "We can grill him together!"

"Very well."

Everyone got sorted. Scizor sat down to give his legs a rest and Sean and Striker joined him. Saniya rested on Guardian's shoulder, and Dugtrio kept a good meter and a half between him and anyone else.

"Alright," Scizor sighed, getting ready for the headache that normally came. He had a constant one since coming off from the ice, but this was a more familiar one. "Let's get the questions out of the way."

Guardian raised his hand first. "Clearly this is an uncomfortable topic for you… if it is a stressful endeavour, I can control myself."

Scizor blinked, a little surprised. "Ah, no, it's not that. I've just… there is a lot to say about Lucario, and I have a feeling she’s eavesdropping.” He looked around suspiciously. “I can never be certain if she isn’t behind me.”

“Not at the moment!” Saniya chirped.

“We’ll see.”

"Well, if you don't mind," Guardian said, lowering his arm. "The image that so many pokemon have of Lucario seems quite… at odds with the personality Team Ion and ourselves encountered.”

"The first thing you should know about Lucario," Scizor began, "is that she hates that 'image' other pokémon have made of her. Hate isn't a strong enough word. I don't think there IS a word strong enough to describe how she feels about it."

"Deplorahatred!" Saniya said, chiming in immediately.

"That… well." Scizor nodded his head in consideration. “What do you think of deplorahatred?” he called out. There was no response. “I’m going to assume she approves.”

A stick hit him, somehow despite not being seated near any trees. “Definitely likes it.”

"So, Lucario does not like her fame, then?" Guardian asked, glancing around warily. It felt odd, was she really listening?

Scizor snorted. "It's… more complicated than that. It's more the hero worship that she disdains. Pokémon viewing her as some sort of pokémon to be worshipped. She thinks of the moniker 'Legendary Lucario' to be. I quote 'The stupidest shit that has ever been applied to me, and I've been called the Child of Arceus', and that's with a great deal of cursing removed."

"Is she really that OLD?" Saniya asked, unable to hold the question in any longer. "I've heard she's super old and, sure, pokémon like ME are immortal to the cruel sands of time, but Lucario aren't."

"I don't exactly know how old she is," Scizor answered. "She, herself, doesn't actually know. She'd give estimations of anywhere between three hundred to five hundred years. And, well, that was over forty years ago now."

"Is she as strong as they say?" Sean asked, thinking of the cool stories he'd heard.

Scizor smirked. "Those stories don't do her justice." And he left it at that.

Striker was last of Team Sunrise to ask a question, each deciding to only ask one out of respect of how tired Scizor seemed even with one question about Lucario. "It's difficult to believe one pokémon could have shaped civilisation," he said. "Even one as long-lived and… apparently, powerful as Lucario."

Scizor nodded, that was a fresher question than he was accustomed to. "It's a disservice to say it was only her," he said. "I've asked her the same kind of thing and her answer was always along the lines of 'The boat was already there, I just pushed it out to sea' which I think translates to…"

He considered the words for a moment. "Communities certainly existed before her. Pokémon working together against the wild and dangerous world around us. She helped shape those communities further. Gave a clearer order, designed a better system, she provided the concept of money rather than just bartering with items and such. Which could be seen as good OR bad."

Sean snorted at that.

"And she's gone across the entire world, spreading this sense of order among the chaos of the world. Rescue Teams to find pokémon lost in hazardous dungeons soon developed into exploration teams to find more as well as find new communities of pokémon. Lucario never told me much about what the world was like before she started her ‘Fucking ordeal’ but I do know a couple things."

Scizor nodded back to the town. "Buildings like that? Communities like that? Didn't exist. Communities would be a couple dozen pokémon at most, just surviving together. She has said that she's made mistakes in how she build order and rules to things. Outlaw hunting teams came up after exploration ones when pokémon grew greedy. When their needs were met, they turned purely to wants. But… I think the way things are is a great improvement over what there was before."

He sighed then. "But does that mean she should be worshipped for it? Hardly. Lucario would be the first to tell you that. But pokémon don't listen. Ironic that they hang on every word she says except for the most important."

Scizor rubbed his head, the headache had come back. One built of hundreds of pokémon asking him questions of the great Legendary Lucario.

"We have a question if you do not mind?" Dugtrio asked, still there himself.

"Go ahead," Scizor said, almost sighing.

"How did you prove yourself to Lucario so that she took you on as her student?" he asked. "To our knowledge, no other pokémon before or after you were ever taken on by Lucario."

Scizor’s expression flickered, similar to what Sean had noticed earlier.

He turned to Dugtrio, waiting quietly. "Lucario absolutely loathes the attention she receives from pokémon. And I'm aware of the tale of Scizor the Great, proving his mettle to Lucario over months and years of hard work, proving he was strong enough, diligent enough, worthy enough to learn from her."

He shook his head. "Not the truth in the least. To be entirely honest, Lucario took me in as her student because I badgered her into it. I followed her, for years, asking until she gave in. I was one of those fans. The fanboy, yes. I tried to hide it at first, which is what caused that myth, I think. Following her to 'prove' myself? No. I just annoyed her until she gave in."

"Oh." Dugtrio's six eyes blinked. As did all seven of Team Sunrise's.

Scizor gave them an amused smirk. "She removed me of that sentiment towards her swiftly. At first, I saw it as a test of my worth, her behaviour towards me, but no. I really did just badger her into giving in. I'm not exactly regretful of that," he said, somewhat amused as another stick hit him. "But it is a little embarrassing to see stories about myself taken so far out of context."

"Kids learn about you in school," Sean muttered.

"A novel concept, school," Scizor said. "Lucario was never actually a fan of it. Said it’s boring."

"Is she from the human world?" Sean asked seriously. Scizor had broken what little ice remained between them completely with his fanboy admittance. So, Sean just went for it. "Because of everything I've heard. Money, civilisation, school… I mean… is she like the first human-turned-pokémon but not?"

Scizor raised an eye. “I suppose you would have the context to guess something like that. But it’s not my answer to give.” Which was an answer in of itself. “Now, mind if that’s the end of the questions? I have a headache.”

Nodding, Team Sunrise got up as one. "We'll escort you back to the guild," Sean said, happily.

"Fuck that," Scizor said. "I'm not going back to the bed again. Where else can we go to stall?"

"The beach!" Dugtrio declared, fifteen times more dramatically than was needed. "The beach is nice," he continued, blushing. "The waves are… beautiful."

"Okaaay," Scizor said, edging forwards. "To the beachit is."

"I shall lead you there!" Dugtrio said and began to bob his way forwards, going through the ground as if it was water.

Scizor gave Team Sunrise a concerned look, but they did not share that sentiment, so he shrugged and went along with it.

On this fine day, trouble came in the form of a team that had retreated largely from the eye of Treasure Town. Since Grovyle had been proven to be a hero and their actions nearly ending his life, Team Flame had avoided Treasure Town to some degree.

Not entirely, this was their home after all, but to a degree. Today, however, Team Flame came a-knocking.

"Um, excuse me?" a soft voice called out just as they crossed the bridge. Glancing back, three pokémon came walking over it: a bellsprout, camerupt, and ponyta.

Striker frowned just a tiny bit, but he didn't hold grudges. A complete lie, of course, but still, he'd be polite.

"Yes?" Scizor asked since they were all looking at him.

"I hear you are the famed explorer Scizor," Ponyta said. "A rumour is already crossing through Treasure Town at your sudden revival."

Chansey had mentioned it to Kangaskhan and Sunflora had been unable to put a stopper in it before it could spread. She saw the pokémon all facing each other and decided to just go on a mission today as that endeavour was already a failure.

"Is this true?" Bellsprout asked, a little nervously. There had been pokémon who claimed to be Scizor over the years and Lucario was not known to take such claims well when she found out.

"Team Flame," Dugtrio said, popping his heads out. "We ask you to do this elsewhere or step aside. We are heading to a glorious place."

"The beach?" Ponyta sniffed.

“But of course.”

"We will see you there," Ponyta said and raced off, Camerupt was the slowest to follow, and Bellsprout waddled along with him.

Scizor sighed. "Would it be rude to just go back to the guild and leave them waiting for nothing?"

Saniya found that hilarious, just too funny, so it was decided it would be too rude.

Scizor was no faster now than he was before, so it took them a fair while to reach the beach. Nearly an hour.

Camerupt was napping, Bellsprout was making a sandcastle, and Ponyta was complaining about sand in his hooves when they arrived.

"Oh, by the wings of Moltres, FINALLY!" Ponyta gasped upon sighting them. "Tally ho my companions, they have arrived."

"I'm not sure what is so important about this," Scizor said. "Yes. I am the very same scizor that was a student of Lucario. That Lucario." It was only noticed now by Team Sunrise, as they weren't accustomed to hearing the reverence themselves. Still, Scizor said Lucario like any other word.

"Lucario," Bellsprout said, and there was the reverent gravity to the name others used.

"I demand proof!" Ponyta called. "Many have made such a claim, and all have been proven to be fraudsters, imposters, charlatans even! And the wake of such incidents after Lucario learned of this is best left to the imagination. If you are as you claim, prove it."

"He's asking for a battle in his pompous, roundabout, way," Camerupt snorted. He couldn't care less who Scizor was, but he could always go for a battle.

"Right," Bellsprout added, nodding. He was braver now, stuttered far less as well.

"You want to battle him?" Sean gasped.

"Team Flame I strongly advise reconsidering," Guardian added. "Scizor has been frozen for decades, we FOUND him in Blizzard Island, frozen by a Froslass. This IS Scizor, but he is still in recovery."

"Okay," Scizor said, ignoring Team Sunrise.

All four of them spluttered a little. "Chimecho said no battling," Sean said. He may joke around, but he did not willingly invite the wrath of Chimecho upon himself.

"This will be hardly a battle to death or dismemberment," Scizor soothed, waving them down with his pincers. "I'm hardly fragile."

"You nearly died," Saniya protested. As much as she wanted to see violence and mayhem, she too feared the chimecho's wrath. Dinner would be abysmal, she was certain.

"Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger," he said, turning back to Team Flame. "As long as this is just a nice, pleasant, sparring match. I don't want to hurt you, after all."

His confidence ticked at Ponyta's nerves, and he snorted, "I promise I'll hold back."

"This is two Fire-type's," Striker pointed out. "It's your only weakness."

"Heh," Scizor scoffed. "Many pokémon have thought the same thing. He opened his pincers. "I accept your challenge, Team Flame. I've wanted a proper workout. And, hey, Lucario herself may be watching and she’ll be most annoyed if you hold back.”

Dugtrio, who was still here, looked up from staring at the waves. "The beach is a sanctuary of peace! And also still technically part of the town."

"I promise to treat the sea with respect," Scizor said. Dugtrio considered it before nodding, he too wanted to see what Scizor could do. "Some fire might warm me up as well, I still feel chilled."

"To the bone?" Saniya called.

"I don't have bones," Scizor corrected.

Striker began stepping forward. "If you insist on fighting, at least let me make it even."

Scizor reached out with a pincer and pressed him back. "I assure you I will not be hurt," he said. "I am confident in myself as well as the control of these pokémon. I am not helpless."

"It's more we’re afraid of Chimecho than afraid of you getting hurt," Saniya helpfully said. "Just to make things clear."

"Comforting," Scizor said dryly. "Now." He turned back to Team Flame. "To make things fair and 'safe,' we'll go for three good hits, and you're out."

"Does multiple hits with a Razor Leaf count as one hit or multiple?" Bellsprout asked.

"Just one," Scizor said. The terms were agreed upon and Team Flare all shared a nod. There were three of them, one attack each and they would win.

"Alright," Dugtrio said, deciding to officiate. "BEGIN!" He ducked underground as the battle began.

Bellsprout immediately extended his arms underground, forming them into Vine Whips that burst out from the sand, snaring Scizor's legs with ease. It wasn't exactly a 'hit', but it did bind him to prevent him from dodging the attacks from Camerupt and Ponyta.

Camerupt exploded fire from his volcano at Scizor while Ponyta galloped across the sand, wreathed in embers.

Ponyta was shockingly quick and reached Scizor just a moment after Camerupt's flames enveloped him, slamming hooves first into an impenetrable shield and getting knocked back from his own impact

Scizor smiled from behind the Protect shield, glinting green stopping every ember and flame. A little bit of heat had gone through, and he popped his neck. "Much better. Lucario says Protect is cheating, but she's pretending she’s not here."

He dropped it right as Ponyta caught his hooves and struck the equine with a closed pincer, striking with enough force to knock him flying up and past Camerupt.

Scizor's wings revealed themselves and began a droning buzz, sending a painful buzzing wave across the other two. Neither could exactly shield their ears from the Bug Buzz and were already feeling a little dizzy from the vibrations.

Scizor then began to stride forward, carefully stepping along the sand and rocks and approaching Bellsprout. Not to be outdone so easily, the leader of Team Flame unleashed a barrage of Razor Leaves.

The leaves slammed into Scizor with abandon, the former not even attempting to dodge even though this was a point against him.

Bellsprout's Razor Leaf wasn't the real attempt, however. It was a distraction. Not being entirely happy with just a victory by default, Camerupt rocked the beach, shaking the sand and bringing down part of the sandy cliff.

Dugtrio yelled out in anger as the waves rippled from the movement.

Despite his surety of steps and willingness to fight, Scizor was not healthy, and the shaking of the sand did throw his balance out. Stumbling right as Ponyta leapt up, fire blazing and rotating around him like a wheel.

He burned part of the sand to glass as he sped for the stumbling Scizor. One hit with the Razor Leaf and another with Camerupt's Magnitude, one more and he was out. Scizor was both too slow and far too unagile to avoid Ponyta's attack.

He knew this. So, he didn't try to avoid it.

He caught it.

"What can I say?" Scizor asked as Ponyta gasped, being held back by two flashing blade-like apparitions. "I was a good student."

Shining blue, translucent blades began to appear around Scizor. It was a Swords Dance and yet it had caught Ponyta, proving to have a degree of physicality to it the move was not supposed to have. This was his legend, the proof of his identity.

More blades flashed into existence around him, and Scizor slashed out, striking Ponyta three times in rapid succession. He stepped forward to the stunned pair and with several more flashes, Bellsprout fell in kind.

Camerupt tried to explode with fire for that moral victory, but dozens of the blades flashed around his own body and contained the blast with ease.

Team Flame wasn't exactly unconscious, but they were definitely defeated. This was just a friendly match, nothing serious.

"Okay," Ponyta panted. He flinched a few times, feeling like a blade was going through him. There was no cut or slash, just the disturbing sensation of it which faded after a few moments. "I am inclined to believe you, now."

Scizor smirked and went to talk but coughed instead. The cough turned into a coughing fit and Team Sunrise, pleased and relieved at his ease of victory, grew concerned.

Very concerned.

"Chimecho will end our very lives if she finds out we let him fight and got injured!" Saniya shrieked. She turned to Dugtrio and flew so far that sand was blown up from her movement. She grabbed the middle head and leaned in. "You won't tell her, right? Old buddy, old pal, old friend?"

"We would sell all four of your lives for a bucket of sand," Dugtrio replied without hesitation. Saniya's grip began to tighten, but Scizor pulled himself together.

"I am fine," he said. "Maybe making the swords wasn't the best of ideas, but I had to prove it somehow! No one else can do that."

"He is right," Bellsprout groaned from the sand. "That's pretty damning evidence that this IS Scizor."

"I was hardly even touched as well," Scizor said, to calm Team Sunrise not to insult Team Flame. "I can pull a fast one on Chimecho."

He would be wrong about that.

Leaving Team Flame to pick themselves up, perhaps it was their pride that was the most damaged, Team Sunrise decided they were taking Scizor back to the guild now before anything else happened.

But Guardian, ever the curious soul, couldn't help but ask. "I've never even heard of what you just did," he said, eying Scizor. "Forming those blades. Was that Sacred Sword?"

"Nope," Scizor said, popping the p.

"Er… Secret… Sword?"

"Uh-uh."

"Then, what was it?"

"Swords Dance," Scizor said, grinning.

Guardian gave him a dour glare. "No, it wasn't."

"Yes, it was."

"Swords Dance increases your strength temporarily. It is not an attack."

"That's what I thought too." Scizor nodded. "After Lucario mastered her aura blade, she started talking about some scyther she once fought who could use Swords Dance as a physical shield of sorts. I am entirely certain she was either bullshitting me or trying to get me to do it myself so we could have sword fights. And she got what she wanted."

He flexed an arm and clacked a pincer, a shining blade of white appeared at the tip. His gaze was focused, but he softened it, and the sword began to rotate around him before disappearing into his body and causing his carapace to glint for a moment.

"I can still use it for the normal idea," Scizor said. "But if I focus hard enough, I can control them. Not very strong things, they are barely a step above an illusion, but they can be surprisingly powerful. It is called Move Mastery"

Guardian’s eye widened, he’d heard of the concept but had never seen a fully realised mastery in person.

Striker nodded, impressed. "I also did something Dusknoir never could understand." And he wiped off a quick Leaf Blade that flew off his arm and impacted on a tree, shaking it briefly and cutting a shallow slash into the bark.

"Very impressive." Scizor nodded back, quite impressed. “Is it mastery?”

“Not quite yet.” Striker shook his head.

"So cool," Sean whispered.

"What was that?" Scizor asked.

"Said it's getting a bit cool, let's hurry up."

He shared a smirk with Striker and followed off as Sean led them back to the guild, Striker smirking, Saniya off with the fairy's, Guardian perplexed, and Sean still reeling from the cool.

The cold, of course.

It was a suspicious meal that night for Team Sunrise. It seemed like all their least favourite foods were on their plates, but Chimecho only smiled serenely during mealtime.

Dugtrio avoided their eyes completely and slunk off with Diglett after dinner was done.

It was an unsatisfying meal followed by a restless night, but Scizor slept well. Very well.

The night passed slowly, but eventually, the dawn beamed its way into everyone's eyes and woke them up. Team Sunrise were still fine to take a break, something they looked forward to as yesterday was not a break.

Chimecho was not kind enough to allow that, however.

"So, I guess in the end, it was better I stretched some muscles."

Scizor and Team Sunrise were out again that same day. Scizor was making the argument that he was walking better and had more energy, the benefits of yesterday's battle with Team Flame.

Team Sunrise, who were hungry and tired, did not agree.

"Stop looking at me like that," Scizor said, crossing his arms. "I don't know what you're yawning about, I slept great."

Perhaps he was taunting them, they wouldn't know as another voice reached them. The five pokémon, having reached the crossroads and walking into Treasure Town to find something to eat, all paused when someone called.

"Well, good to see you’re on your feet."

Lucario strode towards them, a glint of something in her eyes. She walked straight up to Scizor and they stared at each other for a long time.

Carapace made a half smile. “You look bored.”

“I’ve been bored for forty-fucking years,” Keira replied. She took three steps back.

Cara sighed. “Second day on my feet and you already want to beat me up again.”

She cracked her knuckled. “Two fights a day, that’s about 16,000 fights I’ve missed. I want to start making up for that.”

He gave Team Sunrise a ‘Would you look at this crazy person?’ Before turning back to her. “Alright. I’ll soften you up, then they can fight you.”

“Excusemewhat?” Saniya squeaked.

Keira the Legendary Lucario grinned broadly. “I’ve missed you, Cara.”
 
Chapter 49 - Of Killer Times

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
A warning for raunchy jokes in this chapter.


"This."

The sounds of battle caused the very air to shake with splitting cracks.

"Is."

Dozens of translucent blades danced like illumise and volbeat above glimmering lakes.

"Fucking."

Matched by shining spears forged of blazing white light, compacted into rigid staffs that sizzled the air as they swung.

"Awesome!" Saniya concluded.

The Legendary Lucario and Scizor the Apprentice were duelling upon the sand of the beachfront. They had only an audience of Team Sunrise, having shown they were surprisingly good at getting about without people noticing them.

Scizor was not well and so Lucario was clearly holding back, pulling her punches and causing explosions of sand to rain down from near-miss strikes. It was almost blinding with how much light they were generating with their attacks.

It was a blur of motion to Sean who couldn't keep up with the action, even Striker and Guardian were struggling to pick out the two of them from the storm of energy surrounding them. For two of the strongest pokemon known on the continent, it was jarringly humbling to witness pokemon of this power duking it out even holding back as they were.

Only Saniya was able to follow everything, her erratic mind able to keep tabs on the chaos. After ten minutes of annihilating the beach and even expanding it a little when an attack was deflected and obliterated a portion of the stone ringing it, did they stop.

Scizor was panting hard, braced on a single knee as his body glowed from the heat. In comparison, Lucario appeared barely winded but she did raise a paw, the one with the fully blunted spike, and rubbed her forehead with it before extending a paw to Scizor.

He carefully took it with a pincer and was pulled up. He nearly stumbled but she steadied him, a brilliant smile on both of their faces.

Scizor, who had looked pained and tired while in the hospital wing, beamed with liveliness and Lucario whose bored voice and faded fur expressed age seemed a hundred years younger.

"I have missed you," she said, patting his shoulder.

"Clearly," Scizor replied, grinning. "You've never said so many nice things in such a short amount of time." He laughed as she pushed him over, but a smile had fought its way onto her face and it wasn't going away.

Then he fainted.

"Oi! OI! Cara!?" A brief flash of alarm crossed Lucario's face before she picked him up. Turning to the onlookers she said. "Let's not tell the nurse what happened, here. Okay?"

"I would sell you out for Dugtrio's bucket of sand," Saniya said immediately. "Back me up guys!"

"Nothing happened."

"Nope."

"I'm not even here."

"I have been betrayed by my closest friends!"

Lucario smirked as she walked up to them, carrying Cara the scizor like he was her newly-fainted bride. "I'll drop him off, make sure he's okay. I want to see your four later."

Sean winced. "We've, uh, got a job to do, so."

"I'll come with!"

Sean grinned painfully. "Greeaat."

Lucario's smirk broadened a moment before she began to run off, carrying Cara with her.

"...if we run," Sean began. "Really, really, fast, do you think we could make it?"

"If I teleport us somewhere rando-"

"No," Striker vetoed Saniya immediately.

"But-"

"No, Saniya," Guardian sighed. "Still, though, imagine learning from The Legendary Lucario? I wonder what she wants of us?"

"Maybe to thank us," Striker asked. "We did accomplish something she cou…" He trailed off, looking around. "You don't think she can hear us, do you?"

"Wuss."

"Some of us value our lives more than a bucket of sand."

"You don't understand Dugtrio like I do!"

"I don't want to understand Dugtrio like you do."

Saniya laughed. "You're missing out, my sexy-sexy friend. Missing. Out."

Team Sunrise had begun to move back towards the town as they talked. It was technically a day off, but if Scizor was back in the hospital wing, hopefully remaining unconscious lest Chimecho actually murder them, then the four of them couldn't sit around doing nothing.

"A little presumptuous to claim we're on a job," Guardian scolded lightly. "To Lucario no less!"

Sean winced. "I just… I don't know."

"I understand," Striker said, nodding. "Does not strike you as you thought?" What happened in the Magnagate was silently agreed not to be talked about. "She did offer that piece of advice, however. This is our chance to understand the moods you've been suffering."

"I knew it wasn't teenage hormones!" Saniya declared.

"You literally bet on that."

"In pretend."

Sean didn't comment. It wasn't that, although Striker was right and he was curious about how she knew fighting would help him, especially since she couldn't have known he hadn't been fighting like that already.

Rather, there was something about her… something that made his stomach turn and twist. That name that Scizor, that Cara, had murmured….

It sounded like….

It couldn't possibly be, though. Lucario was ancient, she was as old as recorded history here. And he was from an entirely different world.

…but he himself was here due to dimensional and time travel.

Ultimately, Sean and Striker wandered up to the guild to find a job while Saniya and Guardian hovered around Spinda's Cafe.

"Were you ever mad at Sean for calling you Guardian and not something that started with the same sound as the rest of us?" she asked randomly.

"No," Guardian lied.

Saniya squinted suspiciously at him.

The boys returned with Lucario in tow and she seemed to be talking animatedly to Striker.

"It's all in the wrist motion," she was saying, demonstrating whatever she was talking about. It looked strange. "We'll get time to practice."

"What did you pick?" Guardian asked.

"Lucario picked it," Sean said, Lucario holding up a crumpled poster.

"We're going to beat someone up!" she said cheerfully. "I really enjoy doing that, but I'll let you guys. I'm sure the four of you taking on deities and such can handle a krokorok.

As they turned towards the town, Lucario reached into her little tiny hip bag and drew out a scratched flask of something bigger than the bag was.

"Are you going to explain yourself?" Saniya asked calmly.

Lucario opened the flask and Saniya's feelers wilted slightly from the stench that emanated from it. She recoiled, gagging as Lucario took a hefty swig.

"One Look," she explained.

"That's not what I asked!"

Lucario smiled. "I need something to get through what's going to happen in town."

"That smells horrific," Saniya coughed. "And that's still what I asked!"

"Tastes even worse," Lucario said, taking another swig.

"You're not always drinking it, are you?" Sean asked as they entered the town.

A few moments later the town started a cheer stampede for Lucario. Her retracted claws came out slightly around the carton and the scratches the metal flask had were explained.

She took another swig.

For Lucario's sake, they did their shopping quickly. The Kecleon Brothers were professional as always but gave them a small discount and Lucario a free apple.

For them, it was a pretty big deal.

"You know, I didn't think pokémon would fall to greed," Lucario commented as they left, quickly walking back to the crossroads. "Introducing money seemed like a good idea. Something 'worthless' except everyone would respect it. Put some order to things without pokémon having to give up food or themselves to pay for help."

"I mean, it seems to work pretty well," Sean said. "It definitely makes sense to me."

"Dimitri and Jessica said the same thing," Lucario said, shrugging. "Kenji's a fucking contrarian though."

"I…" Sean blinked. "Only know one of those."

"Wartortle, Dewott, and Gengar," Lucario explained. "The other three humans before you."

She frowned. "Kenji barely counts though."

Lucario rolled her eyes as she noticed Team Sunrise staring at her. "That fucking name thing too," she said, gathering why they were staring. "I did NOT start that. The only thing I changed was shortening the damn things, so they were actual names, but everyone kept the stupid secrecy thing about it too."

Lucario began to mutter obscenities under her breath and that combined with the One Look held most of the pokémon at bay.

There was a trio of pokémon who began to follow them out of town, however, and with Lucario's muttering, Sean wasn't able to ask the question he wanted to.

She stopped before they moved past the watering hole and turned back to the approaching through.

"I require three items upon my return," Lucario said grandly. "Magenta twine three smoots in length. A ruby pendant in which the sea can be witnessed. And a single plum, floating in honey, served with an edible scarf. Go."

They ran for it.

Lucario rubbed her temples and stepped back into line with Team Sunrise. "That should keep them entertained for a while."

"What did you even ask for?" Striker asked.

"And why did it sound so funny?" Saniya giggled.

"I don't fucking know. Whatever came out of my mouth at the time."

"You swear a lot," Guardian said. She gave him the finger guns.

"So, what job did you pick and how far is it going to take us into the wilds?" Saniya asked.

Lucario handed it to her. "Uh…." Saniya finally looked at the job in question. "Wanted: Krokorok for indecency and that's a… oh boy that's a list." She went red, words stumbling off. Sean glanced up at what was written before Lucario snatched it back.

"You are a child baby thing; you shouldn't be reading. I remember this guy, lol. Alright, this says we got to go to Sicilly. Should be fun."

"Sicilly is the closest town to Treasure Town, right?"

"Indeed." Guardian nodded. "Hardly qualifies as a town, however."

"Well that's something at least," Lucario said, folding the wanted poster. "Beat him up, toss him to Officer Magnezone, he'll work off his debt to society in the iron mines."

"Is it that serious?" Guardian gasped, grabbing the poster. "Oh my." His face turned a strange colour.

"What?" Striker took it as well. He immediately coughed and handed it back to Lucario.

"Good lord, you are all so innocent," she laughed, shaking her head. "I am going to have too much fun today. I cannot fucking wait."

"So, uh…," Sean began, wanting to move the conversation away from that. "Do you have to send pokémon out on errands often?"

Lucario considered the question. Or she was staring at a leaf. Hard to tell. "I don't stick around in towns very often," she answered. "It's always the same, no matter where I go."

"There-there," Saniya said, patting the Legendary Lucario on the head.

"Careful," she said. "I bite."

Saniya poked her on the nose and teleported to avoid the bite that came for her.

"Tee-hee-hee," Saniya giggled, protected behind Guardian. Lucario smirked at her for her daring.

"May I ask why you wanted to join us, today?" Guardian asked, after making sure Saniya wouldn't try that again.

"You may." Lucario nodded.

She didn't answer.

"Uh… why did you want to join us today?" Guardian repeated.

She chuffed a brief laugh at him. "You're a fun one, big guy. I used to know a dusknoir, he had a certain level of 'quiet guilty regret' about him too." Guardian blinked at something so random, but before anyone could ask about the point, she answered him.

"When Team Ion told me about you four, I knew I'd need to swing around to Treasure Town eventually. Finding you carrying Cara out of that forsaken icy tomb almost gave me a heart attack. Doing something I couldn't do." She gave Striker a meaningful smile and he glanced away swiftly. "I'm interested in you guys, see what you're made of."

"What was with the Magnagate?" Saniya blurted out. "Because that was such a douche move."

"I told you it'd be intense," Lucario replied.

"Was it some sort of test?" Guardian asked.

She snorted. "No," she replied, bringing to mind what Scizor had to say about believing she was giving him a test. "I had to move quickly and also had to know if you were going to come through as well, otherwise I'd destroy it once I got to the other side. I don't like taking risks, if I blew it because someone got curious and went in anyway there'd be no coming back from that."

She glanced at Saniya. "Dunno what would happen if a legend got murked in one of those, but there is another celebi around anyway."

Saniya glared darkly at a pear on a tree. "Ah yes, I've heard about them. Stealing half my power after we lost most of it! Tauroshit!"

She attacked the pear and erased it from this place.

"But yes, I had to check out that one anyway." With a sudden Bone Rush in her paw, she poked Sean on the cheek.

"Me?" Sean asked. "Why?"

"I make it a point to visit all the humans that turn up," Lucario said. "Admittedly it's only really been happening for the last twenty years, and you're only the fourth one I know about. Kenji was here before me, but he also doesn't count. Third?"

Lucario wore an expression like she was doing mental maths before shaking her head. "Eh, he's still only been doing shit and causing trouble for years, ancient history be damned."

"You're saying a lot of things that I don't really understand," Sean said. "Am I supposed to?"

"No." Lucario shook her head. "I just talk out loud a lot. I haven't had anyone to really talk to since Cara disappeared, so I returned to the habit of doing it to keep myself at least a little bit sane."

That was a very sad thing to say, but she wasn't looking for sympathy. Lucario clapped her paws before they could even try. "So. You know about me because… who doesn't? I, however, don't know much about you four."

She raised the folding wanted poster. "While we're walking, tell me about yourselves."

It would take at least several hours to get there and back, so Lucario grilled all four of them.

She started with Sean.

"Well, uh, I ended up here just a couple days into leaving for my pokémon journey. A pokémon journey is-"

"I know what it is."

"…Right. So, Giratina snatched me up, and I ended up in the Dark Future with no idea…"

"I'm asking about you, not your life story."

Saniya was next.

"Besides playing with fire, what are you into, pinkie?"

"Pie!"

"Delicious. Now spill the beans. Who are you?"

"I am Saniya the celebi of beauty, grace, and throwing a mace."

Lucario laughed. "You'd hardly find a mace around here. Still, go on. Hit me with some rambling thoughts, you seem like the kind."

Saniya's eyes widened. No one ever asked her to just talk for talking's sake.

Guardian put his hand up, trying to stop her. "Lucario, be warned she can talk for-"

He was too late.

"Six days ago I woke up with a crick in my neck because I slept on my side all night. I wanted to sleep on Striker's belly, but he was on his back and sitting on his back is mean, and I was also really wanting to see Giratina but no amount of yelling at mirrors works. They're just not there, and it makes me really sad because Giratina raised me and before we disappeared in the future we talked, and we agreed we were parent and child, but Giratina wouldn't remember me here, and that's really just not fair because we were together my whole life. I never told anyone how old I am, but I know, because I could keep time in the timeless time, but it was hard, and I could never really be sure I was entirely right about it all, but I think I was."

Saniya took a breath. "But so there I was, wanting to sleep but I couldn't get comfortable. I thought about sleeping in Guardian's belly mouth, but that's super weird, and I wouldn't want to do that anyway it was just a thought because how would it be like? Is it like… gross in there? I'm not supposed to ask, he might eat me by accident anyway and that'd be stupid. I bet the other celebi of this time wouldn't care if I died because we're sharing our Power, I bet you know all about Legendary Pokémon and that shared source of Power thing? Is it the same for you? They call you 'Legendary' but is it just a name or are you literally a Legendary lucario? Is that why you're still alive even though you're so old? But your fur is all faded anyway, so that's probably not it. It's just me. If I died the other celebi would get full strength but fuck him. If HE died, I wouldn't be so weak. I can't believe I'm this weak, I'm Celebi! A goddess! I used to be the strongest in the team and now… well, I'm not the weakest, I'm probably still the strongest but not as much anymore."

She took another breath. "And another thing, about my neck, it's still aching. I slept well last night, well, besides all the horrible dreams we all have. It's not everyone in the guild, just us four. Azumarill says it's something-something trauma, but I hate it. The nightmares are so constant that they barely bother me anymore except the ones about Soothe. I dream of her being choked by shadows and stabbing Darkrai. She apparently killed Darkrai, they think she's a Shadow Pokémon now, but that's impossible. We're all fine, none of us are or ever were Shadow Pokémon. No matter how bad Guardian got, he just wanted to live. Soothe wasn't a Shadow Pokémon, I'd know it. I'm sure I would."

She took yet another breath. "So, you wanted to know about me, right? Well, I got named by Sean. He named us all. We all got words starting with the ess-sound, but not Guardian. We joke that's why he turned against us, but obviously, that's not it. We saved the world! But this is about me. Uh, well, I got raised by Giratina. I like making jokes and talking a lot. People think I can be a bit much at times, so I've been working on that with Azumarill, but it's tough sometimes. She says my humour and wackiness is a kind of personality trait I developed to survive the Dark Future, but the others aren't like that. I WAS there a lot longer than them, though, so who knows? I don't like Armaldo. He arrested Guardian and is a bastard all the time. Bug-type's are okay, even though they are stupid strong against me now. That's why I have Ancient Power to smack them like the bitches they are. I really like to tease Sean and flirt with Striker. Striker's voice is HAWT, have you heard him? He doesn't talk much."

She took a breath and then sighed, "Hoo. Okay, I'm done. I feel better! I wonder if this would help Vigoroth?"

"Very informative," Lucario said, nodding. "Maybe a little much," she added, looking very pointedly at the mouth on Guardian's abdomen. "But fun all the way. We'll leave the ghosty-ghoul for last. Striker, was it?"

"There's not a lot to say, really," Striker said.

"He likes orbs!" Saniya interjected.

"Orbs, really?" Lucario smirked. "Good lord, you are NOT going to survive today."

"I have an appreciation for the various and powerful uses orbs provide," Striker explained, tensely. "Saniya claims I have an 'orbsession' but-"

"You do." Saniya nodded.

"Yep," Sean added.

"She is not wrong," Guardian rumbled.

"I do NOT have an orbsession! That's a made-up word, and it sounds stupid."

"You wanted to name Blizzard Island's main dungeon Orb Central," Saniya pointed out. Striker opened his mouth to rebut the point but found he had no words.

He sighed and lowered his hand. "Despite what they may say," he grumbled. "I'm the most collected member of the team."

"You do seem to be the strong silent type," Lucario said. "Well, besides balls, what are you into?"

"Stop saying it like that!"

"Fine, besides the orbsession, what are into?"

Striker gave a weary sigh. There was no sanctity in the world.

"I rescued Striker when he was a treecko," Sean explained. "He's a really strong pokémon."

"Exceptionally loyal and steadfast," Guardian said. "He never faltered, unlike myself."

"Also, HAWT!" Saniya said. She got Looks from everyone besides Lucario. "What? It's true."

"You have quite the one-track mind," Lucario snorted. "I want to hear some of this from Striker himself." She turned to the grovyle. "Come on. A little pride doesn't hurt anyone."

"It's hardly a matter of embarrassment," Striker said. "The name comes from the fact that I am the strongest battler in the group."

"Oi!" Saniya and Guardian snapped at the same time.

"I was, and still am, stronger than you!" Saniya declared.

"Doesn't' mean you're the strongest battler," Striker pointed out.

"We were evenly matched even when I was a dusclops," Guardian said.

"And we continued to be evenly matched when you evolved," Striker retorted. "I think that says more about me than you."

"I think I can easily prove how much I was holding back for Scout's sake."

"I can show you the same thing!"

"Girls, girls," Saniya said, floating between them, waving her hands to placate them. "You're both pretty."

Lucario laughed. "I like you."

"I like me, too!"

"Yes, yes, we all like Saniya," Guardian said. "My apologies, Lucario. We can get somewhat rowdy at times."

She waved him off. "Go wild as you want, it's nice to actually be treated as just another pokémon for once." She nodded to Guardian. "Well, it's just you that I haven't grilled yet. Saniya said a couple of interesting things for sure, and I've heard plenty about you all, but still. I like to hear it from the pokémon in question."

She gave him a smirk, but there was a dangerous edge to it that made them nervous. "So, Guardian, tell me about yourself."

Guardian hesitated, nervous suddenly. It was surprisingly easy to forget this was the Legendary Lucario with her behaviour. He considered the fact she said she had come here just to see them. For Sean, supposedly, but he wondered if he himself was a concern.

She'd be foolish if it wasn't, and he doubted she was foolish.

"There are certain things lost to my memory due to the paradox wiping the Dark Future out, but I still remember enough. I took in Scout after finding him among his deceased parents, still alive but starving. I raised him as my son, and we took to banditry to survive, a regretful thing I assure you."

"As regretful as what comes later?" she asked, raising an eye.

Sean frowned at her as Guardian cringed. "Well, no."

"Same thing with Sean, I'm not here to listen to your life story no matter how interesting it is."

"What do you want to hear, then?"

Lucario shrugged. "I dunno. I would prefer it if you relaxed a bit. I don't think you're going to be any trouble for anyone anymore. I've already seen enough to tell that you're okay."

"Ah." He did relax a bit. "You let me think you were, however?" he accused.

She shrugged. "I just asked you to tell me about yourself. Anything you thought I intended by that was you."

"You knew what he'd think, though," Sean pointed out. "That was mean, Guardian's suffered enough."

She eyed him through the corner of her vision, he looked most stern it was adorable. Lucario nodded. "Fair enough. Sorry, you can probably tell I don't talk to many people."

"I apologise as well," Guardian said, "for jumping to conclusions."

Lucario nodded and gave him a finger gun. "So. Now that that's out of the way. Can you tell me why the four of you relaxed so soon around me? Or at least didn't treat me as some sort of divine prophet? Not complaining, just maddeningly curious to see if I can repeat it."

The four of them shared some glances and curious looks. There wasn't really an entire answer.

"Well, Team Ion DID mention that you're… not like the stories say," Sean began.

"We haven't really dealt with it ourselves due to a bit of difficulty with the town, but Shinx and Litleo have expressed their frustration with the attention," Striker added.

"And Chikirota, Charzies, and Dimitri also would ramble on when they were getting drunk with us about their fans," Saniya giggled. "Sean's not allowed to drink, though."

"I never should have told you about human laws," Sean grumbled.

"Oh yeah, the go-getters are around here too aren't they? I should pay them a visit too."

"I think," Guardian said, "it may also be affected by our time in the Dark Future. You weren't as well known there due to a breakdown in community. Besides, well…."

"Besides Luka Caro Town!" Saniya scoffed, she fluttered over to Lucario and began playing with her aura tassels. "Three guesses as to where THAT name comes from."

"Don't tell me," Lucario said, flatly. "Absol?"

"Nope."

"Dunsparce?"

"Uh-uh."

"Was it a town that was basically a cult based around me?"

"Bingo-bango, you win the thingo!"

"Oh boy," Lucario cheered, still entirely flat in voice. "What's the thingo?"

"More trauma!"

"Goodie."

She cleared her throat. "Uh… you were going to tell me about a cult in my name?"

"Well… the town was built around you," Guardian said, being the most equipped to continue talking. "Literally. You were unfortunately frozen in time as well."

"So, that's where I was when everything went to hell," Lucario said, nodding. "Probably slept okay for once."

"I suppose… well, the town was built around you on the matters of harmony and unity. Luka Caro Town was the largest town I ever saw in the Dark Future, one of the least dangerous as well."

"Something good at least."

"Oh, and there was a legend in the town!" Saniya said, her memory was clearer than any of them. "Saying that when the end of the world came, you'd unfreeze and save the loyal pokémon there!"

Lucario stared at her, raising an eye. "Well. You could say they waited too long, and their time ran out."

Guardian coughed.

"Okay, fine, don't laugh."

"It wasn't very funny," Saniya said. "Bit in poor taste."

"I suppose so." She glanced towards Striker; he was holding a very composed expression. She poked him with a Bone Rush. "What's up?"

He gave her a frown. She poked him again. "What's up?" she insisted.

"Nothing important."

"Would it help if I said I'm sorry?" she asked. Striker frowned. "Something's up."

"Erasing the Dark Future erased the pokémon as well," Striker snapped. "Many pokémon supported the Planetary Investigation Team's goals, but it was still an entire world that was erased. Only we are still alive, Scout, and apparently, Soothe. It simply doesn't seem fair."

Lucario nodded. "Fair enough. Survivors guilt is a rake up the back, I can say that from experience." She paused. "The guilt side of things," she clarified. "Although, there was that one time… so many dungeons."

"That reminds me," Sean said. "You knew about you being able to join us even though that brings the number to five."

Lucario smirked. "Even if it wasn't fine, I can handle whatever the dungeon tries to spit out. But yeah, I do know that you don't 'count' on the dungeon count."

"How?"

"It was the same for Dimitri. Tested it with Kenji and Jessica too. Six is too much, but five is fine. You counterbalance one pokémon, which is neat enough. Four pokémon aren't your usual team because rescues can be compromised by adding a fifth, but it works without any problems for you."

"Do you know why?" Sean asked. "If anyone would it'd probably be you."

"I'm a smart pokémon for sure, but I hardly know everything."

"Damn," Sean sighed. "Just another mystery then."

"What's life without a bit of mystery?" Lucario asked, smiling with a gleam in her eyes. Saniya caught it and gave her a suspicious look, but she didn't ask.

Lucario continued to chat with them as they walked. The ice had been broken, raised again, and broken a few times again to fully relax Team Sunrise.

Saniya was entirely fine. Guardian was next to treat her about as normally as he'd treat any he respected. Sean was next, he was pretty in awe of Lucario but wouldn't say it. Striker, difficult as he was, was last to really treat her like anyone else.

Via largely remaining silent. It was his normal state with the company that Team Sunrise didn't really know.

Sicilly was tiny.

It was a collection of about twelve homes. It didn't even take the moniker of Sicilly Town because it was hardly a town.

The minuscule nature of the place wasn't their concern, however. Plus, if word spread that the Legendary Lucario stepped foot there, pokémon would flock to it to follow her path and sniff her footprints.

Entering the hamlet, they were greeted by a seedot swinging on a tree branch. "Hey. What'r y'all doing out here?"

They looked up to him. "Looking for a deviant krokorok," Saniya answered, fluttering up to him. "Have you seen him around?"

"I reckon he went thataway." Seedot gestured with a foot. "A couple of deputy magnemite come knocking around for him too. Ah pointed 'em along, but ah haven't seen 'em since."

"Thank you."

"I like your accent," Lucario said, nodding to him before they left.

"Thank ya, kindly. Ah've been practising it."

"Have fun, cowboy," she said, running after Team Sunrise before they could leave her behind.

They found several magnemite lying unconscious part way on the other side of the hamlet. It took five minutes to enter and leave and another two just to stumble across them.

Saniya fluttered down to them, worried. She waggled her fingers and sprinkled some glittering water on them, calling upon a Life Dew to revitalise them.

"BZZT! We are conscious. BZZT!" one of the magnemite said, floating up.

"Not well, though," Saniya warned.

"BZZT! You are correct. BZZT!"

"We're here for Krokorok," Striker said, picking the other one up who was having more trouble rising up. "Did he do this?"

"BZZT! Correct. BZZT!"

"What way did he go?" Sean asked, frowning.

"BZZT! Follow the path. He shouldn't be too far away. BZZT!"

Saniya sprinkled some more healing water on the magnemite Striker picked up, and it floated woozily with the other one. Team Sunrise shared a nod and ran off, Lucario kept up a sedate pace, sauntering after them.

The magnemite were not kidding when they said Krokorok wouldn't be far away.

He was, in fact, right through the trees. Where the town met the forest and then gave way to a rocky outcropping of dirt and hills, Krokorok waited.

Striker, eager to prove himself the best battler from their earlier debate, ran in first. He was Striker, he struck first and struck hard to wipe their enemies out in one fell blow.

That was the plan, at least. Hopping rapidly on the ground to close in on the krokorok wasn't conducive to stealth, and he ended up tripping.

"Gah, what?" Striker gasped, being thrown onto his face and losing his sack of orbs.

They rolled out of his reach, and he looked back as vines entangled his legs and going further.

"You good, there?" Krokorok asked. "Mind if I grab your balls?" he asked, picking up one of the orbs.

"Get away from them!" Striker snapped, and his arms flashed. He did as Lucario advised earlier, with a particular flick of his wrist and launched a ranged Leaf Blade, leaving a glancing blow on Krokorok's belly. He stumbled back from the blow, more surprised than hurt.

Striker tried to start slashing at the vines holding him, annoying evidence of a Grass Knot ensnaring him.

Krokorok didn't press the advantage, he had, simply backing up and eyes flashing green as he maintained the Grass Knot on Striker. The rest of Team Sunrise came barrelling over loudly, yelling at Striker for getting caught.

"Why did you run so far ahead?" Sean demanded, scrabbling down the side of an incline. Krokorok had busied himself in a crevice of sorts. It was too large to really be seen as one, but it was a large, dug-out, area with nothing but rocks and dirt.

Saniya flew down and as the next most fast, she attacked Krokorok next. "Your reign of terror is done, Krokorok!" Saniya boomed, flying at him like a pink missile.

Sean reached Striker as Saniya impacted Krokorok. She tackled him first, as he was a Dark-type and thus immune to being thrown with Psychic. He stumbled back from the blow to his neck and coughed, swiping out. She weaved around the clumsy blow, channelling her Power to form a devastating Magical Leaf.

"Hey," he called, coughing. "I'm not so bad. They're making things up about me! How do you even know I committed any lewd acts?"

"I said NOTHING about lewdness, you pervert!" Saniya yelled, sending hundreds of glowing leaves at him. "You give pokémon like Scout a bad name!"

"Ow! Hey! Quit it! Ouchies!" He jumped and hopped back. "Aww come on, I was only advertising my services!"

He flicked his claw, and more vines exploded around Striker. "See? He's fine."

Saniya gave him a dangerous look as Guardian caught up to her. "Scout is NOT a night-mate," he growled at her.

"Sure. Take him together?" she asked.

"Woah. Hang on there," Krokorok gasped, raising his hands. "Both of you at once? That costs a lot extra."

"Cease," Guardian demanded. "Come quietly, and we won't have to hurt you."

"Now you're definitely doing it on purpose. Come quietly?" he scoffed. Guardian blasted him with a Shadow Ball.

It didn't do a whole lot, but it was the principle of the matter.

Saniya and Guardian began to double-team him while Sean worked on tearing the Grass Knot off Striker. "Can't you get out of this yourself?" Sean snapped, snapping several vines that tried to grab him.

"If I COULD I WOULD," Striker retorted, slashing at them with Leaf Blades. They only cut so far; the Grass Knot was surprisingly powerful.

Lucario finally arrived at the battlefield, and she stared down at the divot they were tussling in. She found a nice rock and sat down on it, content to watch this from afar.

It wasn't going well. Saniya was peppering Krokorok with a lot of leaves, but he continued to joke back at her. She glanced at the bag Krokorok wore, he had one hand suspiciously buried in it while he continued trying to reason with Saniya.

"Half off," he said.

"NO!"

"I think the grovyle is interested. Trialling is free, but tips are always nice."

"Cease!" Guardian demanded, opening his belly mouth to charge up a much more powerful Shadow Ball. That was what Krokorok was waiting for, however, his hand flew out of his bag and swiftly tossed a seed. Guardian spluttered before his eye rolled and he fell to the ground.

"Guardian!" Saniya shrieked, flying to his side. "What did the nasty thing do to you?"

"Sleep seed," Krokorok answered. "Handy for escaping from pesky adventurers like you."

"I am going to adventure your FACE!" Saniya yelled.

"That's going to cost triple since you're a gal."

Saniya began hitting him in the head with a rock she levitated.

"Ow. Ow. Ow. Kinky costs double. Ow." He caught the rock in a hand and crushed it. "Okay. So, trialling IS free, but I'm getting the feeling you're not interested."

"Finally!" Saniya said, raising her fists. "Put em up, and I'll take you mon-a-mon."

"…Getting mixed signals here?"

"EeeeeEEE!" Saniya raised a bitch-slapping hand and flew in ready to beat him purple. Krokorok evaded her strikes, sharp and savage as they were. He got her foot with a Grass Knot, but she exploded it and rained grassy pulp on the krokorok.

"This is a good idea for advertisement," he said, licking the thick fluid off a claw.

"Cease," Saniya demanded. She flew at him, aiming to choke him a little for aggravating her. Lucario was watching from afar and shook her head at Saniya's foolhardiness.

Krokorok's eyes betrayed a glint of a smirk as he jumped back. Saniya, who had already begun to brake to properly break him, was caught flat-footed in the air. Still moving, she was grabbed by Krokorok as his hands flashed with Dark Energy.

Spinning to get a little extra momentum, Krokorok threw Saniya with all the force she had gathered right back at Striker and Sean. Sean, who had given up on helping Striker, had moved to help Saniya and barely ducked underneath her being thrown as she screamed. "SOMEONE HOT GET IN MY WAAAY!"

She collided with Striker, and they both were knocked sprawling.

"I think she'll thank me later," Krokorok said, eying how they had collapsed together. He glanced down as Sean came running. "Ooh, another customer to please!"

"I'm a kid," Sean snapped, and Krokorok froze.

"I… shit."

Sean punched him in the stomach with a flat palm, sending a blast of energy through it. The Force Palm knocked Krokorok off his feet, and he rolled a few times as Sean shook his paw. The knockback from Force Palm always stung.

He glanced to Guardian snoozing peacefully on the ground and began searching for an item.

Krokorok gasped out as he pulled himself back onto his feet. "It's always the children," he growled. "You're not supposed to beat the children, they say. Well fuck that, you hit me first."

Sean dropped a healing seed in Guardian's belly mouth and returned to Krokorok, who had chomped down an oran berry for the blow and was right in the middle of retaliating.

Sand blasted out from below Sean and trapped him in a spinning vortex of a million tiny rocks. Sean gasped and choked as sand went up his nose and into his mouth and batted out in every direction to try and push the Sand Tomb away.

Krokorok stepped forth to deliver the finishing blow, but he was caught by shadows. "Uh… tendrils are my thing. I'll sue," he complained before Guardian rose out from his shadow and socked him in the jaw with a fist covered in ice. "Oooh, can I have some ice for that hit?"

Guardian obliged.

"I was kidding! Stop fisting me!"

That did make him stop, flustering Guardian just enough to trap him with a Sand Tomb as well.

Saniya, who had enjoyed laying on Striker's chest for a bit, rose back up to attack and was immediately trapped when an orb of dark energy appeared around her. "Hey! What gives?"

Krokorok's eyes glowed dark red as he caught Sean and Guardian with it as well. Panting for breath but still very much in control. "Mean Look," he sighed, relieved it was working. "Well, that won't hold you for long, so I'm off. See ya. Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell Scout, hi. He'll know what it means."

Saniya was already beginning to overwhelm the lock the Mean Look placed on her, but he was running quite fast.

"Not yet!" Striker yelled, pulling up a trail of dust as he ran between Krokorok and the exit. "We're not finished!"

"Well, I never leave a customer unsatisfied," Krokorok smirked.

"Cease," Striker growled.

"Whatever you want." He winked, hiding the flash of green in his eye. Striker jumped before the Grass Knot could snare him again, which was a surprise.

He had also jumped FOR Krokorok, arms glowing green with a devastating Leaf Blade on both arms.

Krokorok was nothing if not adaptable to his clients and spun around, swiping with his tail and catching Striker in mid-air with it.

The blow was hard, but he also latched onto his tail and planted his feet firmly on the ground.

"So, tails are your thing?" Krokorok teased, but the tease didn't succeed in getting Striker to let go. "Okay handsome, I'm flattered, but I've got to go now. We can talk about tails later."

Striker grit his teeth and pulled, knocking the balance out and raising his arm to slash again. Krokorok caught his arm with both claws, and they struggled for a moment.

Panting for breath, Krokorok grinned and gave a lecherous wink, a pink love heart coming from it and smacking Striker in the face. His grip slackened for just a moment, enough for Krokorok to free a hand.

Killer_03_BogRabbit.png


Then Krokorok dropped an orb. The same one Striker had lost. It broke on the ground and activated, blasting Striker in the chest and causing several more orbs to drop.

"Hot damn. A mug orb!" Krokorok cheered. "Not gonna ask where those came from, though." He shattered another one under his foot, recognising it, and covered his head as the three pokémon behind him broke through the Mean Look.

The Luminous Orb blinded everyone besides Krokorok, and Lucario who had also looked away, and Striker felt himself get grabbed.

He yelled out but was released quickly, and he himself be thrown.

Krokorok doubled down on that finishing move, grappling Striker and using his strength against him with Foul Play to score the grovyle like a bowling ball against the other three. "Strike!" he called, dashing up the cliffside. He saluted to Team Sunrise, who were trying to recover from the blinding. "You almost got me; I'm impressed. Grovyle, feel free to contact me. Liepard in Towny Town will know where you can find me. Ask for Killer!"

Sean positively recoiled. "No," he muttered, shaking his head. "Nooo."

Killer paused. "Uh... not named for the reason you're thinking of. It's for the little death." He winked and clicked his tongue. "See ya! I'll be waiting."

"Lucario!" Saniya yelled, feeling around blindly. "STOP HIM!"

Krokorok, who was standing right by her as he taunted Team Sunrise, glanced at the pokémon who had moved from sitting to lying down. "See ya, sis," he said, pointing to her.

"Catcha bro," Lucario pointed back and did nothing as he escaped.

She watched Team Sunrise stagger about with amusement until their eyes recovered.

"Where is he?" Saniya yelled, rising up like an enraged goddess. "I will feed his blood to the honeysuckles and grow dicksuckles!"

"Not that that wouldn't be a million Poké idea," Lucario said, before giving a disgusted expression. "I-Ugh, I need to not say things like that. But anyway, I dunno."

"You LET him go!" Sean yelled.

Lucario shrugged. Striker and Guardian could not quite make words.

Sean breathed, trying to keep calm. "Why did you let him go?"

"It was your job," Lucario laughed. "I was only here to watch. If I did everything for you, what would you learn?"

"We learned that you're a bastard," Saniya growled.

"Well, I can assure you my parents were not together, so you're not wrong in that regard."

"I don't know what you mean, and I hate you for it!"

"Calm down. He was hardly an actual outlaw. Pokémon can be a little too sensitive." She waved Krokorok's wanted poster. "This is less of a problem and more of a grievance. It's also a private takedown request and not one sanctioned by Officer Magnezone." She tossed the wanted poster over to prove it.

Sean was still not allowed to read it, and Saniya took it from him. There it was. Sudowoodo had put this up, the poster had simply been worded to make it seem like he needed to be taken to Officer Magnezone.

"But… the magnemite?"

"Not all magnemite are members of Team Magnezone, now are they?" Lucario asked, getting to her feet. "And, I mean, he still was 'breaking the law' so no one would have told you off if you had taken him down. Still, that was fucking hilarious to watch."

"Well I still have one more question," Saniya said. "Are you related to him?"

Lucario blinked.

"He called you sis, and you called bro."

She blinked again. "You know, I just can't really take blaziken as a species seriously anymore."

"What does this have to do with what I asked?" Saniya demanded. Took her two more seconds to crack. "Why?"

"When you've seen what I've see-ugh." Lucario actually gave a full-body shiver. "It just... ugh. No, I don't want to talk about it."

Sean raised a paw. "I... kinda want to ask."

"Ask, and you perish."

"...What happened?"

Lucario sighed and created a Bone Rush. This one was different from the normal glowing bone. It had a second one crossed over it like the hilt of a sword. Lucario thrummed with Power, her tassels shivering, and an ethereal glowing blade formed from the tip of the long side crossing down like a triangle to the sides of the hilt.

"You asked," she said, pointing her Aura Blade at Sean. "Time to perish."


Team Sunrise had discussed going after Krokorok. While he had embarrassed them a bit, he had run rather than continue the fight and Sean was confident they could catch him if they took chase.

"No, we are not going all the way to Towny Town for an outlaw!" Striker growled through his teeth.

"Why not!?" Sean demanded, stomping his foot on the ground. "Just have Liepard give us the info, you get in touch with Krokorok, we capture him, and we can go back home without our tails between our legs."

"Yeah, Striker?" Lucario leaned down a bit with her hands on her hips. The teasing smirk on her face said it all. "You got his name and everything, surely you're interested?"

Striker coughed and resolved to never look at anyone ever again.

Ultimately, however, it was decided to drop the matter.

Disappointed, and tired of the day, they made their way back to Treasure Town. Lucario got them talking pretty quickly, her endless persistence overwhelming even their grumpy attitude at her behaviour.

Or their failing, as she liked to remind them.

"Hey, remember when the prostitute fucked you all up?" Lucario teased.

"I will commit murder," Guardian threatened. "Again."

There were pokémon waiting for them when they got back because of course there were. It was the three pokémon Lucario had given nonsensical demands of and the three lit up like a moth on fire when she came into sight.

"Oh, Legendary Lucario," the first of the three, Sneasel said. "I present to you magenta twine, three smoots in length." He presented a purple rope about five meters long. Lucario picked it up, genuinely surprised he knew the length.

"Oh, Legendary Lucario, I present to thee a ruby pendant in which the sea can be witnessed." The second of the three, Noibat, bowed deeply, setting the pendant on the ground. She picked it up, bemused.

"The sea can be seen?" she asked, dubiously.

"Oh yes, just…" Noibat nervously fluttered into the air. "J-just look at it… this way." He pointed her to the left, and she raised it.

"Well… I'll be." She could, in fact, see the sea from where they were. She could see it without the pendant, of course, but the thought amused her.

"Oh great and powerful Legendary Lucario," the third and final, Minccino, said. "To thus, I present my task. A single plum, floating in honey, served with an edible scarf."

The scarf had dirt, sticks, fur, and bugs on it. But it sure was edible.

"Thanks…." Lucario took it hesitantly, fighting to not just drop it and shatter the creatures entire dreams. She's done it before, and the results were messy, so she wasn't eager to deal with that again. "You three have done a good. A good. Now, go away."

They vanished quickly, floating off, chests heaving with excitement. Lucario looked to the items she now had. "Well… I'm going to keep these two." She stuffed the first two items into her tiny little knapsack. "This… can… go."

She rid herself of the stickiness and relaxed, knowing it was away from her now.

"It's time for alcohol now, right?" she asked, pulling the flask out and tipping it over to reveal just a sad drop was left.

The grass died where that drop fell.

"Armaldo isn't going to be happy with failure," Guardian sighed, glancing up at the guild.

"Have you failed before?" Lucario asked, looking at the entrance to Spinda's Café.

"Well, no. We haven't."

"How do you know he won't be happy? He might pat you on the back for trying."

"Armaldo doesn't seem like the type."

"Heh." She gestured to the guild. "You can go off to get shouted at, I'm going to go drink."

"You are just an asshole, aren't you?"

She winked and gave them finger guns. "Now you're catching on."

She descended into the café. There was a brief uproar of noise, but it quietened quickly.

None of them were eager to go to the guild.

"Do you want to follow her?" Sean asked.

"You're not allowed to drink."

"It's a café, I think I can have something else."

Really not eager to deal with Armaldo; they ended up following.

Inside the café, Lucario had been welcomed very warmly. Too warmly. There were three different pokémon that tried to hug her, and one of them succeeded by jumping onto her shoulders from behind.

It was Grookey and only the fact that he was a child stopped her from dunking him like a basketball.

Rillaboom extracted her child, utterly mortified, and Lucario brushed it off. She could deal with children, it was when the adults tried that she had an issue.

A crowd of pokémon parted before her, no one eager to get in Lucario's way as she made her way to Spinda's counter.

"Hello, hello, hellllooooo," he swooned, doing a lazy twirl. "Welcome to Spinda's! Spinda's… café."

"Dramatic," Lucario said, taking the pause as a build-up moment. "What drinks do you have?"

"What drinks do you want…? Legendary Lucario?"

"Just Lucario," she said, very firmly. "Goes for ALL of you," she raised her voice. "I'm just another patron tonight."

"So modest."

"Wow, it's Lucario."

"She's fine."

She gave a sigh, turning back to Spinda. "Alcohol," she said.

"What… kind… do you… want?"

"The kind that gets me as dizzy as you are," she said.

Spinda gave her a loopy smile. "One Spinda Special coming up!"

"A Spinda Special!?" Across the room, Wynaut jumped up excitedly. They raced over as fast as their little legs would take them. "How exciting! No one asks for that!"

"Why not?" Lucario asked, the barest edge of a smile curling at her lips.

Wynaut paused for a brief moment, and Lucario's lips twitched again. "Heh. Uh, well Spinda's Special is pretty strong! An explosion of flavours too intense for anyone besides him to handle more than once!"

"It takes a goooooood… shake," Spinda slurred, swaying around as he mixed the drink and splashing it a little. "Some salt and some line and some Dragon's Breath Wine made from the finest spelon berries."

"I do like a kick to my drink," she said approvingly.

"Extra for you, then! Oooohh."

"So, Lucario?" Wynaut asked. She turned back to them, already pleased they didn't add legendary to the address. "Wobbuffet and I run an exploration group known as Project P."

"Oh, so you're the brains behind Team Frontier?" Lucario asked, genuinely stunning Wynaut.

"You… remember them?"

Lucario shrugged. "I stayed in the Shaymin Village longer than I normally stick around, Mawile had a looooooot of questions. Hard to forget her."

"Mawile will be delighted, I'm sure!" Wynaut nodded. "You're somewhat in luck, Machoke and Breloom are here!" They waved over to a table where the two pokémon sat with drinks and a plate of food each.

Neither was so bold to approach, and Wynaut shook their head at them. "You're a rather big deal here, I think a lot of the pokémon are nervous about approaching."

"Hm." She wasn't averse to not being crawled upon by clamouring fans. But some simple company and being treated normally wouldn't irk her in the least. Lucario considered just taking a drink and sharing it with Team Sunrise, but she had the feeling she was wearing them down, and she didn't need them uncomfortable around her for a whole different reason.

Not this soon at least.

"Mawile isn't here, though?" she asked.

Wynaut shook their head. "Mawile has elected to leave Team Frontier, actually." They sighed a little, sadly. "We at Project P support all new horizons, but it is a little sad to lose a member. She stayed in Shaymin Village to research the place, and I hear she met a kindred spirit in an ampharos."

"Well, hopefully they're a good fit together," Lucario said, she glanced back to Spinda wondering how long this drink would take. She saw him adding several fancy colours to it and it was beginning to smoke. She decided she wouldn't bother him.

"So, I was wondering if you would sponsor Project P!" Wynaut said, cheerfully smiling at her.

Lucario considered it. It was a bit presumptuous to ask the famous pokémon to sponsor their thing so soon. "What do you have in mind?" she asked.

"Only your word of approval!" Wynaut beamed. They glanced around and leaned in. "I don't know if you know this, but even just your word of approval would definitely broaden our horizons. Word tends to spread quickly around here."

"And everywhere," Lucario replied, having leaned in as well. Leaning back, she said. "Well, I… hmm." She glanced at Wynaut again. "I'm having trouble working out how to refer to you."

"Wynaut! Or, would like my name?"

"I always like names."

"My name is Maybe!"

Lucario's expression was entirely serene for a moment. Then she couldn't help but laugh a little. "Of course. I couldn't have guessed. I guess I'll be blunt, guy, gal, other, or they?"

"I prefer they," Wynaut replied, equally as cheerful as ever, but there was a sense of sternness to it.

Lucario nodded. "Fair enough." She raised her voice. "I'll support Project P."

Wynaut, knowing what she was doing, beamed gratefully at her and Spinda miraculously finished with the drink moments later.

She took a generous sip and considered the flavour. She swallowed and hummed. "Oh yeah, this makes sense."

"Give me some of that," a banette said, materialising next to Lucario. "Spinda never gives me the good stuff."

"You… can't handle it," Spinda accused.

"I'll be the judge of that!"

Amused, Lucario did the let the Ghost-type drink some of that multicoloured toxin. "Ooh yeah, this will definitely kill me." She reached for it again, but Lucario took it away.

"Get your own."

"Yeah, bitch!" Saniya said, materialising on Lucario's other side. She snatched the drink and took a sip and then burst into flames. "Ow."

Ludicolo burst through the wall with a Water Gun and doused her.

"I've got a veeeerrrry special dance to do!" he yelled to the cheering crowd. "To the lucario of legend! Years ago the saviour of myself. The dance was done before it begun, but I dance on thanks to you hun! She got me my medicine, so I better return the favour with something sweet! Bellossom's get READY!"

The dance would not be described. Guardian took Sean out of Spinda's Café for no reason.

Lucario enjoyed it though. "I can gel with this kind of attention," she laughed, tipping Ludicolo for the dance afterwards. "You're still a few centuries too young for me, though."

"You saw it here, folks!" Ludicolo laughed, stumbling away from the full force of the dance he had done. "Hoo, I need some water."

He was quickly attended to by the bellossom.

Lucario laughed more that night than she had in years.

In respect for not killing herself with alcohol, Guardian ended up taking her out when the party wound down.

"I can walk, you know," she said, resisting his guidance. "Steel-type, immune to poison."

"That doesn't work like that," Guardian said.

"Alcohol is poison," she sang.

"And you are still intoxicated."

"Let's go to the beach!" she said, prying herself from him to wander. She was remarkably steady on her feet for someone who had challenged Banette to a drinking contest and WON.

"I… fine."

"You're the daddy-type, aren't you?" Lucario asked as they headed.

"Excuse me?"

"All fatherly and responsible and taking care of everyone around you."

"Oh…"

"Also, you totally have that-"

"Must you finish that?"

"I didn't need to finish that last drink, but I did it anyway." She randomly laughed. "Ah… you know, Felix would never let me drink. I mean, sure, he was technically 'not allowed to buy it' himself but pffft when did the 'rules' ever stop us?"

"I don't know who that is."

"No… I suppose you wouldn't." Lucario walked in some gentle silence for a moment, the sounds of the sea getting louder. "You kinda remind me a dusknoir I once knew."

"I think you said that before?"

"Probably. He had a similar sense of guilt about him that you do, for different reasons of course. Heh, stupid ones but reasons, nonetheless. I hope I didn't kill him; I don't think I did. He was tough. I don't really know if any of them survived Kyurem, though."

"Lucario," Guardian said softly. "I don't understand what you are talking about."

She sighed. "No… you wouldn't. I'm sorry. For being a bitch today."

"It's alright."

"Is it though? You saved Cara and he hasn't even brought up Dancer yet. I decided that he hated me, you know? For doing that."

Guardian stared at her. He knew that name, the Dread Tyrant Dancer. The last major victory The Legendary Lucario had in recorded history, shortly before her student vanished. Rumours were abound for decades.

"Dancer?" he ventured, carefully.

Lucario didn't seem to hear him. "I eventually thought he had just left. I didn't even blame him for that. I dunno, was I really even looking for him on that stupid frozen island?"

"Lucario, I don't understand."

"Mmm." They reached the beach and Lucario lay down in the sand, making a sand angel for a while.

Guardian watched her, low flickerings of concern in his eye. Saniya joined them, teleporting in and joining her on the sand, but by digging a hole instead.

Striker had taken Sean to the guild hours ago. But Sean grew worried, and eventually, the two of them showed up as well, Lucario continued widening her sand angel.

"I was wondering something today," Sean said, yawning slightly. It was a terrible time to be awake. "Are you human? Or WERE you human if you're going to be pedantic about the wording?"

Lucario's expression was blank for a hard moment, and she stopped her movements. Sean feared he'd asked too much. Then she made a whistle-pitch sound that devolved into wheezing laughter. "Oh my gosh. The amount of times I've been asked that since Dimitri fucking turned out. Holy balls."

She shook her head, eyeing Sean. "No. I'm not human. Never was human. What I am is human enough in mind that I was 'fit' for this 'task'." She gave air quotations when she said that. "But I've always been a pokémon. This life and the last. And NO, I'm not a humie either."

Sean blinked. "A... humie?" Saniya looked up from her sandcastle.

"Humie!" Lucario exclaimed, giggling with intoxication she denied being under. "You know, it's like the opposite, but the same, of a furry! Pokémon that pretend to be humans. I mean, sure, you're a furry." Sean spluttered at the accusation. "But I'm a pokémon, and that's it." She sighed a little.

"Excuse you!" Sean squawked. Saniya looked intrigued at the notion of teasing. "What are you saying?"

Lucario gave him the flattest of all looks. A stunfisk would be proud of the expression if it wasn't an being of pure entropy. "Sean. Come on."

Sean glowered.

"Sean. Come on. You're a riolu." She raised an eyebrow meaningfully.

"I… you… well…," Sean sighed, defeated. "You didn't have to call me out like that."

"Lol. Lmao."

He shook his head at her, and they sat with Lucario as she rambled on a little more before finally allowing Guardian to drag her back to the guild.

She'd have a murder headache tomorrow.


Art by Bograbbit and thanks to the amazing Chaos for getting it for me!
 
Chapter 50 - The Past Lives On

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Lucario woke with a killer headache.

"Who poured hot sauce in my eyes when I was sleeping?" she groaned, shuffling around on the straw she was on. The distant sounds of sleep reached her ears and buried into her aching brain like more nails.

She pulled herself up and found herself in the medical wing sleeping next to Cara, the scizor still down and out from their little sparring bout. She felt a little bad about that, she considered how she might apologise to him without having to actually say the words.

It was still quite early, the sun had yet to rise, and she carefully and quietly extracted herself from the room. She may not ever get the mercy of a full night of sleep, Lucario guessed she'd slept for maybe five hours, which was longer than usual, but she didn't need to ruin Cara's beauty sleep.

He definitely needed it.

She wandered the guild for a short time, stepping into the sleeping areas and going to the end, finding an empt bedroom.

There was a brief wonder why she hadn't been dumped in this room, but she noticed signs of habitation. And cat fur.

"Ah… it's the kitties room." She left it well enough alone. After going through their stuff, of course. Finding nothing interesting, she wandered out with her head still pounding. She decided she needed something to drink, not alcohol, and with no coffee beans to roast, she substituted it with the mysterious fluid in the Swap Cauldron.

"Hoo, that's got pop!" Lucario said after dunking her head in it. She considered removing the fur that had been left in it, but she had a passing idea of how objects like this worked and decided someone would be happy to get lucario fur.

Even happier if they knew which lucario that fur belonged to, but no one needed to find out.

If Croagunk wanted to sell it himself, he was free to.

She considered going outside to run around but was stopped by a grumpy pokémon.

"What are you doing skulking around here at this time?" Armaldo demanded. It didn't matter that this was Lucario, she had already shown she didn't care for being praised and worshipped and treated like anyone special.

That really made him respect her more, but at the same time she was a complete clown and the circus that came with it, so it was hard to believe this was The Legendary Lucario at times. She was the pokémon who essentially started their entire world, he hadn't expected her to be like this.

She brought many things that paved how the world worked to this day. She had armed pokémon with the skills to adventure in dungeons and the safety of being rescued from them. It was thanks to her that he himself was an explorer, if just through the fact she made it possible in the first place.

Maybe by that logic, she was also the reason he had become an outlaw, but pokémon praising and blaming Lucario for things entirely unconnected to her was tiresome enough.

So, when he found her creeping around he knew how to respond. He barked at her like he barked at Bidoof when he returned back to the guild at weird hours of the night.

Lucario's ears flicked up, and he noticed that they were a little larger than the norm. She turned to face him, a momentary flash of paw-in-the-cookie-jar on her face before she noticed who it was.

"Oh, Armaldo. Nice to see you," Lucario said. "How's the weather?"

"It's extremely early," Armaldo said, voice as coarse as ever. "The weather is not good for a run." It was raining outside.

"Sure." She shrugged. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

"The guild needs a lot of work to run," Armaldo answered. "I ensure things are ready to move once the Guildmaster and his apprentices have awoken."

"Sounds boring," she yawned.

"If you are tired, you should sleep."

She yawned again and smacked her lips. "That sounds weird coming from someone centuries younger than me, whippersnapper."

"I need to be awake," Armaldo replied, not rising to her bait. "I hardly see why you need to be."

"Well if you must know." She rolled her eyes and cracked her neck, tassels flopping about. "Every morning, I lower the moon and raise the sun."

Armaldo gave her a flat look.

"I never get a full night of sleep," Lucario said, honestly. "Three to four hours is about as much as I normally get and I can't be bothered just lying in a heap waiting for the sun to rise, I might as well get moving."

A flicker of something went in Armaldo's eyes. Was that concern, Lucario wondered? She snorted at him.

"That is not healthy," Armaldo said.

Lucario scoffed. "I never said it was healthy, just reality. Trust me, big bug guy this is the best I get."

"Well, that explains some of your attitudes, then," he growled.

She smirked. "Nah, that's just because I'm a bastard coated bastard with bastard filling." She stretched and something cracked. "Well, I'm bored. Show me what the guild's number 2 does to start up."

"You do not want to bother Scizor?" Armaldo said, turning around to begin walking to the mess hall.

"Cara can get some more beauty sleep. Trust me, he needs it. Forty-four years of it was hardly enough to make him halfway good-looking."

"You make a lot of callous jokes."

"Call it some unhealthy coping technique."

"And treating that as a joke is more of an example."

She gave him the finger guns. "Now you're catching on."

Lucario metaphorically watched over Armaldo's shoulder as he counted out the rations of the day, discarded completed and out-of-date job requests, and got his notes in order for the morning address.

He didn't appreciate her biting commentary.

"This brand of paper is so excessive, why not just skin your enemies?"

"We stopped doing that a century go."

"Wow, things are going downhill."

"Must you?"

"I must."

She didn't solely watch and prattle on, however. She did help. With a broom that looked as ancient as she was, she swept the higher level. There was more debris left after yesterday, and she knew it was because of her.

Lucario was cleaning smudges off the window when her larger-than-normal ears picked up the sounds of activity down below. Tossing the rag to the side, she strutted down to the lower deck where the apprentices were up and rowdy.

They fell silent upon seeing her. "Bow," she said. A fair number of them actually did that. "For the love of-" Lucario held her nose. "You'd think I learn by this point."

The doors to Wigglytuff's chambers opened, and Armaldo and the Guildmaster came out. Armaldo frowned dangerously upon seeing the state of the guild. "Why are you all so quiet? And why are you bowing?"

He glanced to Lucario, as if this was her fault.

Well, it was. "I was joking," she insisted, crossing her arms. "Joking!"

Hesitantly some pokémon began to pull themselves up. Only Team Sunrise, Chimecho, and surprisingly enough Bidoof, hadn't done as she asked and bowed to her.

Wigglytuff gave an amused titter, and Armaldo started morning address with a little more contempt-for-life in his voice.

Most of everyone was given rather intense work for the day that didn't match what Lucario had witnessed him planning earlier.

The only team Armaldo didn't bark at was Team Sunrise. And it wasn't because they hadn't bowed. Armaldo grunted at Lucario, giving her some side-eye. "Are you babysitting them again today?"

"Sure am!"

"Try to not stand by and watch them fail again."

"Oh, we're not going to be working today!" Lucario laughed, strolling over to the four nervous pokémon. "Well. It's going to be a workout, but you can get fucked over by another prostitute tomorrow."

Armaldo and Wigglytuff coughed violently.

"What?" Armaldo demanded.

Lucario turned with a gleam in her eye. "Oh?" she purred. "They didn't tell you?"

She felt hands grab her. "We can assure you," Guardian insisted as he began to drag Lucario off. "That Lucario is simply wording it for fun. Krokorok merely escaped after battling us."

"Although, he definitely had a thing for Striker," Saniya said. "I get it." She nodded. Striker covered his face.

Lucario gave a toothy grin at the guild's leadership and let Guardian drag her away.

"Must you?" he asked tiredly.

"I told EVERYONE at Spinda's Café," Lucario laughed. She felt his hands get tighter. "I'm sure the whole town knows by now."

They nearly reached the incline, so she mentioned. "You think it'll look good for Dusknoir to be manhandling the Legendary Lucario around my… lovely fans?"

He paused and reluctantly let go of her. She rolled her arms. "You've got a firm grip," she said positively. Now. I'll see you at the crossroads."

She dashed for the window and went right through it.

"Should we like… pick a job and then… I dunno, leave her behind?" Sean asked.

"Do you really think she won't be able to find us?" Striker asked.

"Fair point."

With Lucario's earlier words in mind, they just pushed forwards wondering what she had for them today.

Down at the crossroads, there she was. And Team Go-Getters.

"Oh, hi!" Chikorita said, waving with a vine.

"You're back!" Sean said, grinning as Wartortle gave them a salute in greeting.

"Heard this old bag of bones was in town," Wartortle said as Lucario snorted at him. "We were planning to head back to the Air Continent but she's hard enough to find at the best of times." He turned to her, raising an eye. "Where were you when time was falling apart anyway?"

"Shush," Lucario replied, forming a Bone Rush and tapping him on the head. "I'll fuck you up again."

Wartortle just laughed while Charizard glanced nervously to Chikorita.

"Did you guys fight Lucario?" Saniya asked loudly. "Because she's really asking to be punched in the face!" Equally as loud.

Lucario smirked as Team Go-Getters, legendary saviours of the world first, all glanced around not meeting anyone's eyes.

"I floored them," Lucario said.

"You did not floor us," Charizard corrected. "We held our own."

"You mean the second time?" she asked. He winced.

Guardian and Striker both looked interested. "You have any tips?" Striker asked.

"Yeah," Wartortle chuckled. "Don't let her hit you and you'll be fine." He rubbed his jaw. "Because your grandkids will be feeling it if she does."

"Stop it," Lucario said, although her grin had only broadened. "I can only take so many compliments."

"So, what are you up to today?" Chikorita asked curiously as the two teams began to mingle alongside Lucario. She was speaking to Sean, the two 'leaders' of their teams.

"I don't know," Sean replied, glancing to Lucario chatting with Saniya and Charizard and all three were speaking too fast to parse. "I think Lucario has something in mind."

"Probably a battle," Chikorita answered. "Since you haven't fought her yet. She rocked our world, though I hear Jessica actually did pretty well. Jess is Dewott of Paradise, in case you forgot."

Sean remembered, and he nodded.

"Hey, Lucario, what did Jess do when you fought her?" Chikorita called loudly, interrupting the rapid-fire conversation.

Lucario's left ear flicked and she hummed, "Well, I was going to go easier on her after you guys but she is a wicked dirty fighter so I dropped that idea after a minute."

Shaking her head, Chikorita turned back to Sean. "Well, we're actually got one last thing we wanted to do around here. Not just visiting Lucario. We wanna check out that Circh dungeon, have you heard the rumours?"

Sean almost recoiled. "Oh! Uhh…."

His tassels flicked a moment, sending a flash of Sean's emotions across everyone causing them all to pause and blink. Sean grasped his tassels and pulled them down. "Sorry, sorry!"

"It's okay," Chikorita assured him. "You, uh… know the rumours?"

Sean glanced guiltily to Team Sunrise.

He… hadn't gotten around to telling them about the ghost of Circh. It'd been a while since he had gone as well. There just wasn't as much time now that they could leave as they pleased and he was thrown so much into being with them again that it had just failed to occur to him.

And when it did, he remembered bringing Rai and Mane to Circh and Violet not appearing. They were nice about it, too nice. Pityingly nice, he knew they didn't believe him and while he couldn't say he knew what they were thinking of him, it couldn't have been anything too sane.

The idea of bringing Striker, Saniya, and Guardian around only for her to not appear again. He wasn't sure how he'd take that.

"Sean?" Striker asked, concerned. They knew Sean used to go to Circh, he said the dungeon was weirdly relaxing and he always had returned in a pleasant mood.

After he stopped going, he started getting moodier. For a moment all of Team Sunrise had the same guilty thought, had they been depriving Sean of that peace?

Lucario, feeling all the weird tension in the group opened her big mouth to talk very loudly. "Ookay. Riolu, better spill it before we go."

"Huh?" Sean jumped.

"We're going to Circh," Lucario declared. "It's a harmless place, well as harmless as a dungeon gets. I'm curious if it'll spawn anything since there aren't any ferals normally, so we might as well go as a group. So, you might as well tell us what that weird shock, guilt, fear, hope flash was because that was a complicated emotion for a single place."

Sean wanted to back away, as all eyes turned on him and his ears tilted down like a sad puppy.

"Nooo!" Saniya cried. "You're making him sad! Bad Lucario! Where's my paper, I'm gonna deck you on the snoz!"

"I'll roll you like a bowling ball."

"Jokes on you, I don't roll!"

"Jokes on you I don't bowl."

"Bowl is a weird word if you think about it? Bowl. Bowl. Bowl."

Saniya began to repeat bowl for the next ten minutes, fading into the background as Sean shrugged and said, "I'll… explain on the way I guess."

"Only if you want to," Striker said quietly.

Sean flashed him a smile. "It's fine, I meant to do it earlier. Did Shinx or Litleo mention what I go to Circh for?"

Striker shook his head.

"May I ask?" Wartortle said, coming up next to Sean who nodded. "So, the reason we're interested is, you know, the whole ghost rumour."

Sean nodded.

"You saw the ghost?"

Sean nodded. "Talked to her, actually. She's… a human."

He received a surprised look from Team Sunrise, even Guardian who had heard the rumour but hadn't really paid it much mind. Lucario seemed as usual, poking at Saniya who was still saying bowl.

Sean sighed, "But, I brought Shinx and Litleo to meet her but she didn't show up. And so I looked crazy."

"We wouldn't think you were crazy," Guardian assured him. "And I am sure neither Shinx nor Litleo would think that of you either."

Sean shrugged. "I mean, I looked crazy. It's one thing to say you saw the ghost, another to say you've spent a couple days talking to her. She's really nice, her name is Violet and-" It all started coming out.

Why he went looking in the first place.

Meeting Violet.

How she looked and how she acted.

How she was extremely nice, but sometimes not always entirely in the present.

He spent most of the time travelling just letting it all come out. Everyone listened, even Saniya stopped saying bowl, and no one judged him.

It was unbelievable, but rumours existed for a reason.

Circh.

Circh was a strange place filled with strange sights and strange sounds.

There was an ever-present echo undercutting the silence. Faint enough to fade into the back of your mind, but present enough that it was always playing. Whatever the echo was, it couldn't be worked out. Just a hollow, ringing, sound that never faded entirely.

To Lucario's interest, the dungeon did not begin to warp around them as the eight of them entered it. There was no corrupting of the space around them as whatever fuelled these maddening labyrinths reared up to try and tear them apart.

There was no howling of monsters unspeakable or breaking of things that should remain unbroken.

There was nothing except the echo.

It felt longer to Sean, walking through the initial corridors filled with nothing. He had come through here enough times to have a feel for the size, but it seemed bigger on the way to the broken town.

Right as he was getting concerned there was some distortion going on, they found it.

To Sean's relief, the broken place looked as it always had. The sky was red and roiling above, red clouds surging across the sky wildly. Despite the red sky, the place was not bathed in red. No one knew exactly why a sky in a dungeon looked like that, nor why it didn't stain the area in red either. It simply was.

Sean stepped forwards first, asking them to slow down for him to go ahead. "Violet?" he called, stepping onto the broken cobblestone. "Violet? It's Sean. I brought my friends, are you here?"

He looked around, left and right and forwards.

There was no sign of her.

He sighed, shaking his head as he turned around. "She's always here straight away. I don't know if she can show up for more than one person."

There was disappointment on Team Go-Getters face, mixed with exporative curiosity of the place they were in.

"Human ruins though," Chikorita murmured, picking up a piece of brick with a vine.

"Really old human ruins," Wartortle added. "The place I came from, much more advanced than this." He glanced to Sean. "You're from the future, aren't you?"

"Uh. Yeah, I guess so."

"Do you remember the year you left?"

Sean considered a moment before saying it.

"Interesting, just a couple of decades after me. How's the pokemon league in Sinnoh?"

"We have the coolest champion!" Sean blurted out. "Cynthia visited Solaceon Town once and I got to see her battle a friend's riolu!"

There was a shift in the air and Sean glanced around, as did everyone else, feeling it. All eyes fell on Lucario who was staring at Sean.

"...what?" he asked, glancing nervously behind him.

"Say that again," she said with an intensity that had Sean almost backing up.

From the look in her eyes he did and-

"Oof." He bumped into something.

Gasps rang out and Sean glanced up, seeing Violet smiling down at him. "Sean, you're here."

Sean's expressions brightened like the sunrise and he spun around. "Oh my gosh! Violet! You're here!" He laughed and threw his arms up in the air in celebration. "I told you I wasn't crazy!"

"We… didn't think you were," Guardian managed to respond, eye wide and locked on the human in front of them. He remembered what Sean looked like, a female human was a little different but he could tell they were the same species.

Chikorita and Charizard were staring with jaws open while Wartortle was rubbing his eyes. "I haven't another human in so long," he muttered.

"You used to look like that?" Chikorita asked numbly.

"Well. I didn't have boobs."

Violet looked up and over to them with a perplexed expression and Wartortle went vermillion. "Sorry, ma'am," he managed and Violet laughed at him.

Lucario was still staring at Sean and not the human but she decided to reserve that for later and pulled her eyes up to the apparition before them. "Well, I'll be," she said, rubbing her chin. "It's been hundreds of years, I almost forgot what a human looks like."

Saniya floated up and then circled Violet, eyes wide and taking in everything she could see. "Wow, you look so much prettier than Sean did!"

Violet's perplexed smile returned.

"I haven't seen so many people in a long time," Violet said before curtseying. "However, Sean has told me much about many of you. I'm afraid I have no tea to offer you."

Sean clicked his tongue. "Damn, I meant to bring some. Sorry, it slipped my mind."

Violet smiled at him. "It is more than fine. How have you been?"

The only one not staring at Violet was Striker, watching Sean instead. He seemed happy and relieved and slowly, Striker relaxed around the spooky newcomer.

"Excuse me, miss," Chikorita said, as Sean filled her in on how he was. "I never expected to actually meet a human in the… uh."

Violet's smile turned demure. "Flesh?"

Chikorita chuckled awkwardly. "You are… know you're a…?"

Violet tilted her head back and forth and gave a non-commital hum. "So, is this Team Go-Getters?" Sean nodded. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, I have heard good things."

Wartortle grinned and nudged Charizard. "We have fans in the spirit realm too."

Charizard had a similarly perplexed smile as what Violet had been wearing. He was writing things down in a notepad rapidly.

"And this is Striker, Saniya, and Guardian!" Sean said happily, introducing Violet to his friends one by one.

She smiled and welcomed each one individually. "I've heard so much about you three, I am very glad you and Sean are together again."

"She IS nice," Saniya declared, floating back to Guardian. "Be careful of the big guy though, he's gonna burst with questions."

"I will not burst," Guardian protested. "But, well, there are a few questions that come to mind but I feel… that I should not ask them."

"Do not worry of offending me," Violet assured.

"It's not… offence. It's maybe just not the time and place," Guardian said, visibly straining to hold himself in check. "Although, where have you… come from? When you were… back before this?" He gestured around them, breaking under one question at least.

"This is Circhester," Violet said pleasantly. "Of the Galar region, although, I was born in Kalos and lived a few years in the courts."

"Courts?" Sean asked, he had never gotten much out of Violet when he asked her about her past.

"Oh," she said, a little faintly as her eyes slipped slightly off focus. Sean began to gesture to cut back on the questions. "Once upon a time, with dear uncle Az…."

"How about that tea?" Sean said loudly, causing Violet to blink slowly.

"Oh. Oh! Of course, there is none I am afraid. Bad tea season."

"Do you mind if we take a look around?" Wartortle asked as Charizard's wings flapped anxiously. "It's an interesting place."

"Of course, go ahead." Violet nodded. "Don't less Miss Mariam chase you off though, she's more bark then bite."

They nodded. "Have fun," Chikorita added, glancing at Lucario.

Team Go-Getters made themselves scarce for the time being, leaving the six remaining people.

Eyes turned to Lucario, who was stretching. "Just getting my fighting muscles ready," she said before popping her back. "Actually, they're always ready I just want to remind you I'm going to fight you."

"A battle?" Violet asked in surprise. "It's been a long time since I have witnessed such! Oh, you should have seen how Nelia and Kanerudo would fight." Her eyes turned distant again. "Such times…."

"A battle? Here?" Sean asked.

Lucario clapped her paws together. "Yep, and it tracks into what I wanted to help you guys with. After all, you stopped being so moody after these three beat the stuffing out of you." Violet covered her mouth in shock.

"You going to explain that?" Saniya asked challengingly.

"Maybe, but you gotta fight me first."

Team Sunrise all exchanged some looks. Team Go-Getters had given them some friendly ribbing advice on the way in while Lucario had just looked amused at it all.

Things like: "Don't let her knock you out." And. "Fighting back is usually a good strategy."

They clearly didn't think they stood a chance, which sparked something in Team Sunrise. The pokemon who had not only fought against the dead timeline but battled Primal Dialga into submission and fought through multiple spans of time.

They were strong.

Team Go-Getters had gotten Rayquaza to look up.

They could take on Lucario.

"Questions can be saved until after," Lucario decided, putting space between them. Violet stepped aside herself, eyeing from the sidelines as Team Sunrise gathered to whisper a quick confirmation with each other.

"Do you want to do the honours?" Lucario asked Violet, looking to the human with inscrutable expression.

"What are the terms?"

"Defeat or surrender. Or common sense."

Violet nodded. "Lucario, Team Sunrise. This battle will continue until defeat or surrender or if I deem the risk of harm too great to continue. Do you understand?"

Five pokemon nodded. Charizard could be seen flying up and he shot a column of flame into the air in support.

"Bring it on, Lucario!" Sean called.

Sean's tassels rose, Striker's arms burned green, Guardian's belly mouth spilled some dark mist, and Saniya glowed with Power.

Lucario smirked and took a half step back, raising her arms and generating a simple Bone Rush. "Come at me then."

"Begin!"

And then Lucario moved.

Team Sunrise had seen her fighting her student and thought she was going way too hard.

They realised that moment that she had been holding back.

One moment she was forming her glowing Bone Rush, the next moment she had cleared the meters she had put between them and was swinging it.

With one end of it, she struck Sean on the shoulder, while the other end smacked Saniya out of the air. Going further before Striker and Guardian could even react, she had swung it again, clobbering Striker in the chest and bashing Guardian in the top of his head.

In just a moment she had sent Team Sunrise each flying in a different direction, splitting them up.

"Come on, now," Lucario said, grinning widely as she waited for them all to hit the ground and stop rolling. "Keep up."

Targeting Guardian first, Lucario spun her Bone Rush in her paws a few times and gave him time to recover, walking sedately towards him as Guardian clutched at his head.

His eye focused on her and burned with baleful fire. Lucario's shadow, twisting from the light show above, turned against her and snared her legs. Guardian's eye continued to glow, and he formed a Shadow Ball.

He threw it with all his might, and it was easily defeated by her Bone Rush. The Shadow Ball wasn't the attack, however, but the distraction. Saniya came for the back of Lucario's head as she was caught by the shadows and distracted by the attack.

Yet Lucario's smirk never ceased, and she cracked her neck at the exact moment Saniya tried to strike it. Saniya's eyes widened. As a Psychic-type, she could push herself to react to things faster than a normal pokémon. She could only watch as Lucario glanced at her and shifted her grip on the Bone Rush.

It smacked Saniya in the face and knocked her back before Lucario leapt up, twisting over Striker who tried to come at her from underground. She swung the Bone Rush and struck him in the back of the head.

"You're making it too easy for me," Lucario laughed, winking at Guardian. She rushed him, sprinting rather than stepping faster than they could keep up with. He was not agile, but he was tough.

She was only using her Bone Rush, striking in in the back, against his chest, in the joints of his arms before a bash across the side of the head knocked him down.

Guardian toppled. Then a shadow zipped from the ground to grab her leg. Lucario raised an eye as it pulled her back down, jarring her leg against the ground. Guardian, not as downed as he seemed, swung at her with a fist covered in flame.

She caught his wrist and stopped him cold.

Guardian grunted, trying to force it, and tried a Fire Punch with the other arm. She caught that one too. She squeezed, and he gasped, flames sputtering out. Lucario pulled him over her shoulder and slammed him right onto Sean, who was coming for her back.

She casually stepped back from the pile, clapping her ashy paws. "Come on. Everyone tries to fight me from behind. You think I do not immediately know what you're trying?" She gestured a 'come at me' twist of her paw. "If you want to actually have a chance, fight me from the front.

"Very well," Striker said, sliding into view. His arms glowed, and he yelled out, pumping even more Power into his Leaf Blades until they extended into sabres of green light.

"That's better," Lucario said, forming her Bone Rush again. "Entertain me."

Striker sprinted for her. He WAS fast, that couldn't be denied. Fast enough to even impress her.

Striker slashed back and forth, but she blocked them with deflective strikes from her Bone Rush. He tried to break it, his attack should slice right through the Ground-type energy of the Bone Rush, but any marks he left in it melted away into nothing. She was pumping too much Power into them, repairing the damage his attacks dealt before he could break them.

Striker put both arms together and slashed out a brutal X. Lucario met it with her Bone Rush, but it broke.

She was knocked back, lines of fur falling from her arms and chest as the X of green burned through her fur.

"Impressive," Lucario said, nodding. But her smirk only deepened. "Guess that means I shouldn't just fuck with you all, then."

She moved again. Just as fast as the first time. She didn't even form the Bone Rush this time, meeting Striker in Close Combat and using her whole body to beat him black and blue.

A chop to the neck, and blow to the joint of his arm, a kick to the leg. She grabbed him by the tail and swung him around, tossing him into the air before forming something black and spirally in her paw.

"Ever wonder what a Dark Pulse is?" Lucario asked the falling Striker, her shadow beginning to curl around her. "It's pain. And I have a lot of it to share."

She pointed and fired a stream of curling, burning, hoops of blackness to blow him out of the air.

Or that was the idea.

Saniya teleported onto Lucario's arm and pulled it down, sending most of her Dark Pulse into the ground at Lucario's feet.

It tore the dungeon's floor up wherever it touched, sending dirt and stones flying. The initial beginning of the attack still hit Striker, and he was sent into the distant wall.

Lucario was thrown from teh shockwave but raised her knee up as Saniya pulled her arm down and clobbered Saniya in the nose with it, probably breaking something. "Not bad, Pink," she said, flipping in the air as Saniya was sent sprawling.

Saniya caught herself with Psychic, righted herself, and then slammed all her Power into Lucario to hold her in place in the air.

"I…" Saniya gasped, feeling immense pressure from grabbing Lucario with everything she had. "I held Dialga down with this. I held time together with this. You will NOT breakthrough me!"

Even with Lucario in the air with no physical vantage, she was somehow pushing back against it. Her tassels floated up as if untouched by the Psychic and, to Saniya's horrified realisation, her Psychic was dissolving around the tassels. She had to continue feeding a massive amount of energy into the attack to maintain it against the resistance and with it seeming to be consumed by Lucario's aura.

With a telekinetic burst, she pulled the groaning Sean and Guardian up and yelled. "ATTACK NOW!"

Saniya talked a big game. She lacked the same depth of Power to pull from as she had against Dialga, and Lucario felt like an ocean being held back by a dam.

A single crack and it'd overwhelm her. "Ahh, ow-ow-OW!" Saniya's nose began to bleed from the strain of holding the ancient pokémon in place. "Hurry!" Saniya shrieked.

Guardian and Sean came in Fire Punch and Force Palm to crash against Lucario's chest, avoiding the blunted spike.

Saniya sagged in the air as her grip was broken from the sheer smack to her captive and Lucario was knocked flying like she'd done to them at the beginning.

Guardian caught Saniya as Sean pulled a quick oran berry out to smush into her mouth.

"Oh buddies, oh pals, oh friends of mine," Saniya slurred through a mouthful of oran. "That was actually as tough as holding time together."

Sean looked back to the wall. "I'll get Striker up," he said and raced off, leaving the two of them to hold Lucario off.

She was getting up. Admittedly slowly, but surely Lucario was standing. She cracked her neck again. "I'm impressed," Lucario said, not really any worse for wear. "You four DO make a decent team. I'd rate you… probably an eight altogether. Unfortunately, however-"

She moved again and grabbed the two pokémon standing between her and Sean. "You're sevens on your own."

She slammed Saniya into Guardian's head, knocking their lights out for a moment and forming a Bone Rush. "Oh, Seaaaan~?"

Sean glanced back in horror. He skidded to a stop and desperately pulled on mimicry. She was upon him, but he blocked her strike with his own Bone Rush.

The strike shattered it, but he'd avoided damage to his actual bones.

Sean leapt between her legs before she could bash his head in, digging into the bag. She spun on him, and he flicked a seed into the air before punching it with a Force Palm.

The blast seed exploded, knocking both of them back. Sadly, Lucario was now between him and Striker who was… not there anymore.

Just a hole.

Sean resigned himself to holding Lucario off himself until Striker could reach her and copied her Bone Rush again, several times. It broke every time he blocked, but he was fast enough to form another one to continue blocking.

His arms were aching and shaking from every blow jarring his whole body and Lucario kept a shit-eating smirk on her face the whole time.

"Come on, are you even trying?" she laughed. The ground below her shifted, and he leapt for her, trying to press the advantage with a Force Palm. His sudden attack caught her off guard and Striker was able to blast out from underground without being clubbed again.

Lucario blocked Sean's hit, but Striker's scored a nasty uppercut to her stomach. Striker caught Sean as the riolu said. "Boost me!"

Sean had boosted Striker enough times that Striker was happy to repay the favour, throwing Sean at Lucario. A metal-rattling bang echoed out, and Sean and Lucario were knocked flying, Force Palm exploding them apart.

Sean landed near Guardian while Lucario did a flip and landed on her feet. Striker dove back underground and so Lucario sprinted for the hole and dropped a present in it.

A Dragon Pulse.

Something deep exploded, and a muffled cry reached their ears.

"Are you ready to give in, yet?" Lucario asked. Sean finished dropping a sitrus berry in Guardian's belly mouth, and they both rose up. "No? Good."

She began to dramatically slow-walk towards them. Striker burst out from behind her, Leaf Blades shining. She ducked underneath him and formed a Bone Rush and extended it straight up, hitting his jaw with a considerably bony blow.

She grabbed his leg before he could begin flying away and tossed him at Guardian.

Being so nice and gracious, Lucario waited for Saniya to also join them and for Sean to feed them all that good, good, healing items.

"You know, I don't use items myself," Lucario said, restarting her walk. "It's arrogance, I can assure you. I don't know Protect either, more arrogance. I haven't had a challenge in decades, even Cara I have to intentionally limit myself to have some fun. He's about equal to me in skill, which is nice, but I outclass him in Power so much it's not fun to really go all out."

She paused at about twenty meters from them. "You're doing quite well, Team Sunrise. Most pokémon go down after a couple hits from me. I tip Tyson's fedora for you. But we're approaching the point where stubbornness will get you hurt. I'm going to take you down now."

She said this so matter-of-factly that it was terrifying.

Lucario moved.

Sean tried to rush out to stop her, but he couldn't hold back a tsunami of a pokémon with his paws. She gave him a gentle thwack on the head with her Bone Rush, knocking him sprawling, and went for the others.

Saniya tried to stop her with Psychic, but she was still weakened from doing it earlier, and Lucario disabled her attempt with a single ring of Dark Pulse.

She entered Team Sunrise's space, and then it has begun.

Guardian's hands both burned with fire, and he began trading dukes with her, Lucario caught one wrist, but Striker slashed at her. The two together were a powerful team.

She took a crack at Guardian, but Striker's Leaf Blade cut right through the Bone Rush. He was burning with green, and she realised something.

Overgrow.

Aiming at Striker to take him down was thwarted as Guardian caught her limbs with spreading, solid, shadows, diverting her strikes and slowing her steps.

They danced around her, a pair of pokémon that had fought together, and each other, for years.

Guardian punched; Striker slashed. Striker kicked; Guardian restrained. Saniya joined the slobber knocker herself, impairing Lucario's sight with leaves and battering her with stones. Not just Ancient Power, but stones she ripped from the ground to smack her over the head with.

Lucario swiped at Saniya, Guardian caught her arm and squeezed with a flaming palm.

Striker slashed an X into her back, she drove materialising Bone Rush's that weren't in her paws at him, but Saniya diverted them back at her with Psychic.

Team Sunrise were powerful on their own, but they always won due to their teamwork. Even Lucario was finding it difficult to break this chain.

She formed a Dark Pulse to blast Guardian away, Striker met it with an Overgrowth-boosted Energy Ball and detonated it before it could fully form.

That, however, was what she was waiting for. The detonation hurt for sure. Her own Dark Pulse was a powerful attack indeed, but the eruption knocked everyone flying, not just herself.

A united front was Team Sunrise's biggest strength and Lucario was having trouble overcoming it without doing some serious damage to them.

So, explosion.

Flipping in the air and onto her feet, Lucario moved back first. She punched Saniya with enough force to crash her against the wall far behind Sean and then leapt after her.

Saniya struck a building with a cry, beginning to bounce off it. Before she could even fall off the wall, Lucario landed next to her, channelling Dark Energy through her feet. She leapt off, leaving a wave of Dark Pulse behind and blasting Saniya again when the wave enveloped her. Saniya dropped.

With the propelled force of the Dark Pulse, she literally flew. Forming the Bone Rush one more time, Lucario knocked the recovering Sean back down before reaching Striker.

She twisted and cracked it over his head. The burning energy of Overgrow flickered out. Striker dropped.

She reached Guardian, breathing a Dragon Pulse into existence, and blasted it into his belly mouth, sending a muffled explosion through the room. Guardian dropped.

Lucario exhaled softly and straightened up, turning back to the last one standing.

Sean was facing her, quivering slightly. She winked. "Now that they're out of the way." She cracked her neck again and shook her limbs to get some more blood going. "Let's actually do this."

"What?" Sean breathed, but Lucario was on him already.

She hit his nose with the end of her Bone Rush, and he recoiled with a shout of pain. "Come on then," she said and hit him again in the same spot. "Come on. Get mad at me."

She hit him again.

And again.

And again.

In the same spot.

Sean felt a surge of fury blind him. It wasn't as intense as the one he had fought the others with, that unknown, outsider force that just drove him mad for a minute and had to be beaten out of him.

It wasn't as strong, but he still felt it.

He attacked Lucario in a blind rage. Several Force Palms jarred her legs before she began to swipe her Bone Rush around, blocking the thundering blows.

The bone shattered from every hit, but she too could form one lightning-quick, and she deflected his Force Palms, stepping back as he tried to rampage against her.

The pain of the recoil began to creep into his wrists, and with one huge strike, he knocked Lucario flying, carving right through the Bone Rush as if it were butter.

She hit the wall, cracking her head against it, and he froze. "A-Ah," he whispered.

Lucario groaned and pulled herself up, rubbing the back of her head. "That's going to be a bump," she complained.

"Lu-Lucario, I'm-"

She stepped up to him and hit him in the nose. Again. "What was that?" she asked, that shit-eating grin back as Sean went ramrod still.

His eye twitched. She hit him in the nose, again.

Lucario whistled as Sean went wild on her again.

This continued for a while until, after calming down, she hit him in the nose and he just groaned and fell back.

"Hm," Lucario hummed, poking the downed riolu a few times.

"That's enough," Violet's voice cut through sharply and Lucario looked up and considered before nodding.

She stole the Treasure Bag from him and Violet took it and began administering berries until they were all conscious again.

"That was fun! You're actually quite strong, definitely the strongest of the teams I've faced so far. Although, I should fight the Go-Getters again because it's been a few years." Lucario said, clapping and sitting down. "What did we learn?"

"That Team Go-Getters were not kidding?" Guardian asked weakly.

"Hahaha."

There was silence. Lucario waited expectantly. When no answer came, she turned to Sean. "How do you feel?"

"Pain."

"I mean emotionally. Mentally. On the inside."

"Like…." Sean opened his mouth to tell her how much he disliked her now, but oddly enough that wasn't true. "Huh."

"Oh?" Lucario smirked again. That was a little annoying.

Sean frowned. "I… huh."

"What is it?" Saniya demanded. Lucario had also torn up some fabric for them to press against bleeding spots, Sean and Saniya had nosebleeds, and their voices were a little muffled.

"I've been feeling back to normal since we had our battle, but… I guess I feel normal still?"

Lucario nodded and leaned back, satisfied. She had assembled them all into a little circle to sit down and talk about important shit. "I thought so. Nothing like some percussive maintenance."

"What is the reason behind it?" Sean asked. "I haven't felt this good in months. I mean, I feel like a tractor ran over me at the current moment, but it's not like the last couple months."

"Well, sit down, pull up a cuppa, and get ready because I'm about to teach you all some history!" Lucario proclaimed happily. They were already sitting down. There were no cups to speak of. And she wasn't going to wait for them to get ready.

"It was fascinating watching that type of battle," Violet added, having settled herself quietly and they almost forgot she was there.

Lucario gestured back and forth with her paw. "We'll get there."

She took a breath and glanced up at the smouldering sky for a while. "Sean. Have you thought about what's different about this world compared to your own?"

Sean blinked. "Uh… yeah?"

"What?"

He frowned. "There's humans where I come from?"

"Tcheh," she scoffed, but seemed amused. "That's one, what do you think the other difference is?"

Sean stared at her a little dumbly. She gave him a lot of minor gestures, flicking her eyes about until it finally dawned on him. "Mystery Dungeons?"

Lucario beamed at him. "There you go."

She looked to the sky again, and they looked with her. "There's more than two worlds. There's at least four dimensions I think, plus those mirror world dimensions. Don't mess around with those. But of the four I know of, this is the only world with dungeons. And also the only world without humans. I've been able to glance into other worlds. Seen some shit that I." She shuddered. "Did NOT want to see. But some stuff that's just curious. This world has no humans. This world has dungeons. I feel like those things are connected."

"You feel?" Guardian asked. He was probably the least injured, as he was the toughest. Still, he'd eaten several Dragon Pulse's and felt a little sick.

She shrugged. "I can't say for certain, sorry. I know a lot, stuff I'm about to share with you, but much of it is conjecture and theory."

"You think humans and dungeons are connected?" Sean asked.

She nodded. "I do. And while it may seem just like a guess to start with, I do know for sure a few important things." She leaned back. "I was brought to this world in a different way to you… how did you come over, actually?"

"I can answer that!" Saniya said, bouncing up. "My Giratina was able to contact a Giratina from another world, and that one was able to pull Sean into their Reverse World and send him along into our Reverse World and out into the Dark Future by way of thin barriers in reality! That's what Giratina said, at least. He told me he was getting a Gabriel and I looked STUPID when that wasn't Sean's name."

Lucario was staring at him.

"Yeah! Like that face exactly!"

There was something on Lucario's face. It was like an expression she had forgotten how to make. "Huh. Okay. We're going to need to talk about some stuff soon but, first of all." She gave Sean a lingering frown before shaking it off. "I was brought here by Arceus."

"Truly?" Guardian and Saniya gasped.

Lucario nodded. "And they were 'kind' enough to explain a little of the shitstorm I was heading into to fix. Apparently, this world has the same beginning as the one I am from but an event about… I'd think around three thousand years ago now caused a timeline split."

Violet and Sean wore a nearly identical frown.

"If you've heard of alternate universes," she added, nodding to Sean. "Forget what you think. A timeline split requires something obscenely, cataclysmically, large that it literally breaks reality apart. And even then, to my knowledge, part of what Arceus DOES up in that higher dimension is pruning these splits out to not unbalance shit. I dunno, that part is just a guess from me."

"Three thousand years ago?" Violet repeated.

Lucario glanced at her. "Yeah?"

"Three thousand years…?" Sean hummed, still frowning.

"Does that sound familiar then?" she asked and he nodded. "Guess you paid attention in class. It was the firing of some superweapon by a king of Kalos that created this." Sean's eyes widened.

"AZ," he whispered. "The Ultimate Weapon!"

Violet flinched. Hard.

Lucario turned to her, she had gone as pale as, well, a ghost.

"Are you okay?" she asked, a drip of concern entering her voice.

"You speak of-" Violet began before standing. "Oh dear, oh my, oh Xerneas." She made a faithful gesture to Xerneas. "Nelia, where are you?" she cried out and began looking around, her eyes simply gone from this place and time. "Nelia? Nelia please! NELIA!?"

Sean looked to her in disturbed sadness. He hadn't seen Violet get this bad before, nor this quickly. Violet began to wander off, calling out for her partner.

Everyone's eyes followed her.

"She mentioned an uncle, didn't she?" Lucario asked lowly. "Sounded like she was going to say Azzy, but… that might be a kid's nickname for a guy called AZ. That's what the king was called?" Sean nodded as Lucario continued staring after Violet and then to Sean. "You're an interesting one, aren't you?"

"Neat. In one reality, in mine and what actually does seem like to be yours too, the damage was minimal. I don't know why. Maybe 'AZ' got cold feet at the last moment, or someone managed to do something just in time." She looked back to Violet again. "Either way, it was a failure. However… maybe it took some other kind of intervention to stop?"

"You're saying that… the Ultimate Weapon did this?" Sean asked, distracted by Violet. "Destroyed humanity?"

Lucario nodded. "Right. Not all at once, I doubt. Humans are not easy to kill. I can attest to that." She had a somewhat bitter smile. "But it did enough damage that they all died out eventually. We've just got relics of them left here, like Aegis Cave, or this place."

She glanced up at the sky again. "To be clear, Arceus did not tell me much. Some of that is just my connecting of dots. One thing it told me before dumping me here was that this world was permitted to remain out of curiosity. How would a world with no humans work?"

She frowned. "That tells me that you guys have got some type of importance. I can hardly guess what. There is no history I know of what the world was like before humans, and I never really bothered to ask any Legendary who might know. Hard enough to find as it is, my first thought is usually to challenge them, not what was the world like a fuck-tonne of years ago."

"Well that's… enlightening," Sean said, not really sure what to do with this knowledge now. Guardian was enraptured, he loved history, but the others also were unsure.

"Why are you telling us this?" Striker asked.

Lucario shrugged. "That amount of detail? Because I like you. But it is important to the next part of this."

"There's more?" Guardian was thrilled.

"Easy there, this is less history and more specifics. But I do have an answer, and a solution, for Sean's crankiness." She turned to him. "Kenji was the same. Dimitri was the same. Jessica was the same. Happy human-turned-pokémon that slowly grew moodier and moodier."

She frowned. "Kenji's a dick and also been around the longest which explains a bit of that. Dimitri's around the same age as you… how old are you?"

"Uh." He was thrown by the switch back to him. "Around… sixteen, I think?"

"And you were how old when you came here?"

"Twelve."

"Hm." She stared at him again, eye twitching just briefly, before shrugging it off. "You and Dimitri could be explained by puberty, and Kenji is just an edgy bastard. But Jessica was an adult. A well-adjusted adult." She rubbed her lip. "With a hell of a right hook."

She looked at Sean again, eyes piercing through him. "With Kenji? He's a dick, so who cares about him being human?"

She frowned. "Dimitri becoming a little surly too, is odd, but he had to save the world. That's stressful, and people manage stress oddly after things relax."

She shook her head. "But Jessica too? Three humans-turned-pokémon. They all became moody, angry, and emotionally unstable, the longer it went on. That's three for three. And now you. Four. Four humans-turned-pokémon, each following a similar path."

She cracked her knuckles. "Odd. Isn't it?"

Sean glanced around at his friends, worried. They all shared his concern. "Is something happening to me?" he asked.

"I don't know, to be entirely honest," Lucario said, shrugging. "I have my guesses, but they are just guesses. But. It's another thing there, isn't it? No humans. Dungeons. And humans that appear inevitably become moody. Is it just homesickness? Is it frustration at how pokémon can be? Is it the response after trauma since you only seem to appear when the world is in danger? Maybe."

"But you think it's something to do with dungeons?" Sean asked, staring her down. "Right?"

She shrugged yet again. "I can't say for sure, and I don't feel like concerning anyone over pointless guesses."

No one knew what to say.

"Look, I'm dumping enough on you without getting to the point. I don't know if this moodiness is anything besides angst, but something has proven to work for it." She waved at their surroundings. "Working out allllll your frustration in a dungeon has proven to work. Helped Dimitri. Helped Jessica. Kenji's still a contrarian, but I hear was a lot nicer afterwards."

"That's why you wanted to fight us?" Sean asked. She nodded. "Oh… did you have to hit me in the nose that many times?"

"Yes," Lucario said, probably lying. "It's more than just working out, and it NEEDS to also go down in a dungeon. You need to really push yourself, work out that tension and let it just… bleed out. Maybe not literally, and it isn't like you need to do this every day. Just… think of it as your 'time of the month' heh." She winked, and Sean flushed.

She grinned at him, and he managed a small, but real, grin back. "You'll be fine, Sean. It is weird that this keeps going on with humans, but it's easily fixed. And heck, if you do some real rough training, you might not drag the others down so much!"

His grin faded to a flat look. She poked her tongue out at him.

"Alrighty then! Looking forward to the walk back to town? I sure am!"

They all groaned. They had just fought the Legendary Lucario. Walking anywhere was not on their list of priorities.

"Carry me," Saniya pleaded. Guardian, kind as he was, obliged.

"Me too." Sean reached up with grabby hands. Lucario stared at him again, almost looking unsettled. Guardian did as he was asked.

"Say… Guardian?" Striker began.

"No. If the citizens see me carrying you, they'll judge me as much as they judge you."

"Hey! You're the one being judged!"

"I overheard some pokémon referring to you as Scumiker the other day. For the first time, I am not the least respected in town."

Striker growled.

"Oh yeah," Lucario bursting out into laughter. "People really liked the Killer story, I might have embellished it a little."

Striker gave her a very dangerous look. "Careful," she laughed. "I could tell them even more!"

He glanced away, grumbling under his breath.

"OI! GO-GETTERS!" Lucario called loudly, Charizard flying up to look at her. "WE'RE GETTING READY TO LEAVE!"

"I want to talk to Violet first," Sean said, still unsettled by her behaviour. "I've never seen her get like this so fast."

"Well, she can't be hard to find as long as she's still calling out. Who's Nelia?" Lucario asked.

Sean shrugged. "I don't really know, actually. She's never answered me much, I know it's a pokemon and seems like she raised her? I don't really know more than that."

"Hm."

"Please don't press her about the weapon," Sean added. Lucario raised an eye at him. "Look at what she did!"

Lucario sighed. "Fine. She obviously knows something and this place looks old enough to be three thousand years old."

"Have you encountered many ghosts like this?" Guardian asked. "I cannot say that I have, and, well." He gestured at himself.

True Ghosts were a strange fixture of the world. Little more than rumour and legend was known about them.

"A couple, maaany years ago," Lucario answered. "Back in the old world, fucking Ash pulling Felix and I into hell." Sean jolted.

Lucario sighed. "Fucking hell. Can we talk about THIS later?" she growled and he nodded his head rapidly, looking terrified.

Striker looked between them, suspicion on his face. "What is going on?" he asked.

Team Go-Getters weren't far when they caught up to Violet.

"Violet?" Sean called softly.

"It'll be fine," Violet was murmuring, petting a rock. "One last fight, he has to be stopped. I know it. I won't forget he's not the same as he once was. The shadows have stolen him away and left a puppet in its place. I know, Nelia. I know."

Violet turned to him and smiled. She began to speak but no words came out of her mouth, there was no sound at all. Suddenly, the lack of the echo was louder than any noise and their ears popped.

Even Lucario was rubbing her ears and they all looked to each other, and around.

When they looked back, Violet was gone.

"What was that?" Wartortle asked, coming into range. "Everything went all staticky."

"We couldn't hear anything!" Saniya gasped. "And where did she go? Oooh! That's spooky!"

Sean frowned, looking at where Violet was. There was not so much as a footprint to suggest she had ever been standing there.

Keira the Legendary Lucario placed a paw on Sean's head. "Come on, kiddo," she said with a seriousness unusual. "I think that means we should go."

She glanced up, the sky seemed different and she couldn't tell why.

There were eight of them in here, and two humans weren't enough. Circh was not a dungeon of ferals, but was a dungeon nonetheless.

As they left, the skein grew thinner.

Thinner.

And thinner.

Until an unlikelihood occurred.
 
Chapter 51: World to Explore

Team_Ion

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him
Team Gazer had proven to be quite the entertaining companions.

"Inquisitive: What is the value in watching this?" Beldum asked. Of everyone in the crowd, only they ended up getting splashed by Totodile at the climax of his dance.

"Thank you," Totodile said, bowing to individual pokémon. "Thank you. Thank you. Not you." He did not bow to Beldum. "Thank you." Nodded to Electrike who whistled.

"Declaration: I am offended."

Beldum got splashed again, and so they had to leave quickly before robot violence occurred.

The plus of walking their way back meant that activities that Team Ion hadn't been able to enjoy before, due to their haste of finding Pyroar could be enjoyed now.

They were in no rush at all to get back to Treasure Town, so the seven of them took their time enjoying the towns and villages they passed through. Ara had Scout tie a rock to Rai's tail and instructed him to build up muscle in the fifth appendage.

In Rivers Bank, the seven of them joined a local competition. The rules were simple. The first team to catch Cutiefly won. And Cutiefly was to be treated gently. Those were the only rules.

Obviously, attacking everyone else happened immediately.

With three pokémon to a team, Ara could not join Ion or Gazer and decided to work entirely on her own, putting her nose up at any other team.

Rivers Bank was a very small town, so there wasn't a whole lot to break, which was lucky when Graveler decided to explode and took out three different teams. All to give his partners a better chance.

Cutiefly, unlike the others, was beholden to absolutely zero rules and he had a very good time turning everyone against everyone. With a wink and Attract, he destroyed the teamwork of four separate teams.

One may wonder why he would subject himself to so many pokémon trying to capture him. No one but the officiators of the competition knew that it was Cutiefly's idea in the first place and he revelled in the chaos.

But it was also the culture of the little town and brought in plenty of pokémon for this twisted fairy's game.

Ultimately, Cutiefly fled into a dungeon and with Team Gazer butting heads with Team Ion, neither of them were able to enter in time before a team consisting of a fennekin, vulpix, and espeon got in ahead of them.

Ara alone managed to pursue it.

It was the first team who won, with Ara wandering out an hour later all confused. "I swear they navigated that dungeon better than I've ever seen," Ara said, staring after the winning trio in something resembling actual respect. "Hit me with a combination attack too." She winced.

After continuing on, and Scout nearly falling into the Thousand Falls, he swore that someone tried to push him in, Team Gazer challenged them to their own little competition.

With both of them still licking their wounds after the slobber knocker in Rivers Bank, they put off the battle for now and instead moved towards an old dungeon in the area. By this point, Rai could hold his tail up even with the rock. So, Ara had a bigger one tied to it.

"Moss Cavern has got a lot of dead ends," Beheeyem warned. "Collapsed dead ends. The dungeon feels like it's going to fall on your head at any time… perfect for us!"

"Sure," Scout said, unsure.

"There's this really fun treasure at the end too!" Electrike said, hopping around excitedly. "We got it once, but someone else got it too! It's a Joy Seed!"

"Declaration: It appears this dungeon regenerates its treasure." Which was fair enough, being that items appeared scattered through dungeons all the time.

"And how do you want to do this?" Ara asked, behind them as always but never too far. "You can't go in at the same time, or you'll be regarded as a team of six. The dungeon won't like that."

"Yeah, I don't really want to see what it'll do," Rai shivered, thinking of his first venture through the Hidden Land.

"You can go in first," Beheeyem said. "Just to be fair as we have done this dungeon before."

"So. I'll wait at the entrance and whoever comes out first, WITH the Joy Seed, is the winner?" Ara surmised. She got assent to those stipulations.

"You don't already have a Joy Seed, do you?" Scout asked, eyes narrowed.

"…Nooo."

Ara held her paw out, and Beheeyem grumbled and handed it over.

Scout shook his head. Not even surprised Beheeyem hadn't even attempted to lie, he had noticed it when he first came, and it was same now. Pokémon weren't natural liars.

"We should hand ours over too," Rai said, very helpfully.

Scout, straight-faced, handed it over without hesitation. Mane gave Rai a side-eyed look and Scout a small smirk. Team Gazer glared as Scout shrugged in an oh well fashion.

With the cheating stymied at the source, they were ready. Beldum kept count, as no one would be better at ensuring a fair amount of time had passed than them, and once the fifth minute was reached, they headed in as well.

It was an old dungeon with many frustrating dead ends and a lot of Rock-type and Grass-type pokémon. Besides some nasty geodude and an encounter with a vileplume that poisoned Scout, there weren't many issues for Team Ion besides geography.

It moving on them and attacking, many rocks being geodude, was somewhat irksome.

The head start did give them the edge over Team Gazer, however, and Team Ion claimed the Joy Seed first, exiting the dungeon all fluffed up and pleased with themselves.

Rai chatted with Ara, and Scout and Mane also took some time to themselves while waiting for the other team.

"I think we should just go," Mane said, only joking a little. "It'd be hilarious to see Beheeyem's face though."

"I wonder what Beldum would say," Scout giggled. "Declaration: You are rude pokémon."

"Declaration: You are also unobservant."

Scout jumped immediately upon Beldum's unamused voice reached him. Mane did not, having seen them coming. Scout levelled him with a betrayed look, so Mane licked him on the nose to fluster him.

"So," Ara said, walking over with Rai. "Team Ion exited first with the Joy Seed."

"Yes," Beheeyem grumbled. "We gathered that."

Electrike didn't accept this. "We demand a recount!" he declared, stomping a foot and sparking.

"We do?" Beheeyem whispered.

"I thought that's what you were going to do," Electrike hissed back, trying and failing to be quiet.

"No," Beheeyem groaned.

"Statement: That will not be necessary," Beldum rescued them. "A race with a handicap on us proves nothing. There is only one competition that will prove the true superior of us."

"Saving the world?" Rai asked innocently cute. His sass was not appreciated, and he gave a subtle wink to Scout and Mane.

"No," Beheeyem scoffed. "Beldum has the right idea. We still have not had our battle!"

"Name a time and a place," Mane said, striding up and walking past Team Gazer, rubbing his tail against Beheeyem as he did so. "We'll take you on any time."

"Right here! Right now!" Electrike said, but Beheeyem hushed him.

"We all must be at peak condition, with no exhaustion or dalliance that anyone can use to claim a handicap. No, we'll battle tomorrow morning after everyone has rested."

"If that's what you want," Rai said, nodding. He looked to Scout. "What do you think?"

"I think," Scout said, stepping over to Rai and Mane himself, "you're on. We won thanks to Corphish before, but we're all stronger now and have Mane." He turned to grin at Team Gazer, gone was the nervous meowth that couldn't battle that they had met as, a time that felt so long ago now. "Tomorrow morning then."

It was agreed.

"There's one thing that will make this a true test of skill," Ara said, the next morning as they were gearing up to fight. She turned to Scout. "Drop the bag."

He blinked at her, and she nodded at Beheeyem too. "That one too. Drop the scarves. Drop. EVERYTHING. If you really want to prove who's the strongest here, you're going to be playing entirely on equal playing fields. No items."

She was met with a bit of protest.

"Half my role is managing items!"

"Without seeds and berries, someone could be seriously hurt."

"I want to eat orans!"

"Sis is right." Rai quietened the argument, nodding to Ara and then glancing to Scout. "Could you take this off?" he asked, holding his neck out and presenting his scarf.

Scout hesitated before nodding and began to untangle them, removing his Joy Ribbon and even the Silver Bow from Mane. He enjoyed feeling the Silver Bow again, it left certain tingles on his paw pads.

Team Gazer also relinquished their items, leaving everything for Ara to protect and absolutely not pilfer through for the best items when they were all tired and injured.

"I'll keep a watch on the battle," she said, taking the role of officiator. "I'll decide if someone ought to be taken out of the fight since this is a friendly battle we don't want anyone actually hurt. You ready to rumble? Okay? Okay."

It was a nice clearing they picked for their fight. Nice now, it was going to be torn up a little. Team Ion took the side to the right of Ara, and Team Gazer took the left. With a bubbling stream not too far away and trees crowning this area as a lovely glade, it was time to sing the song of pokémon.

"Rai," Ara said, catching his eye. She twitched her tail a few times and winked, he smiled back and nodded before composing his face in a battle-ready stern stare.

"Okay… both teams ready?" Ara called. She received determined nods from every participant, besides Beldum as nodding required their entire body to headbutt the ground.

"Have fun you six. FIGHT!"

Muscles had been tensed, claws were twitching, eyes were narrowed, and noses were twitching.

With Ara's call, the battle began in an immediate blaze of elemental activity. Electrike and Rai both lit up with electricity and tried to snipe another, Beheeyem was Rai's target while Electrike was aiming for Mane.

Both arcs of electricity clashed in mid-air as the Electric-type's battled for dominance.

Mane breathed a storm of Ember's right at Beldum as Scout dashed ahead, a great deal faster than what he had shown way back when. He was also aiming for Beheeyem, remembering what the Psychic-type did the last time they fought.

Beldum intervened, however, and Scout's claws melded with darkness, clanging against Beldum's metallic body. Unlike the last time, however, this was no mere Scratch attack but a super-effective Night Slash, sending a blade of darkness through Beldum and affecting them a great deal more than they were expecting.

Still, Beldum taking a double hit from Scout and Mane gave Beheeyem the time to channel his Power and throw out a grand, shimmering, cage of bizarre energy, twisting their agility and speed against them.

"Dammit," Scout blurted as Beldum suddenly spun on him like a spinning top and crashed their body against his chest. It was awfully familiar, and he didn't much appreciate the super-quick Take Down.

Scout went flying, and Mane tried to run up but found his legs weren't obeying like normal, it felt like he was trying to run through water and Beldum turned on him as well.

Mane's mouth lit up with flames as Beldum rocketed at him. He received a head-tilting strike from Beldum, but detonated his Fire Blast at point-blank range, blasting Beldum back as well as a drop of blood fell from his temple.

Rai and Electrike's beam struggle broke when an explosion sent Beldum through it, and Rai charged Electrike. They were of similar speed and contesting each other prevented the bizarre effects of the Trick Room from affecting either of them.

Rai tackled Electrike and knocked their heads together, scuffling on the grass but neither trying to shock the other.

Beheeyem, torn between Rai and Mane elected to assist Electrike and charged Rai. Adding him into the mix affected the matchup. Rai wasn't slowed, but Beheeyem was ridiculously faster.

He snatched Rai off Electrike and tossed him into the air, sending a telekinetic blast up at him. Rai matched it with a Thunderbolt, but Electrike took advantage of that and jumped into the discharge, powering himself up and lancing Rai out of the sky with a follow-up Thunderbolt.

The two members of Team Gazer shared a confident nod before a blast of Embers forced them apart. Beldum, however, came charging back, charred and hurting but still very much in this. Mane let himself fall to the ground to avoid the blow, no number of slow limbs stopped the pull of gravity, and he could fall at the same speed.

Right into Scout's range.

He had bit his lip when Beldum smacked against him and had used that blood to form a handy Shadow Ball, driving it paws-first into Beldum's eye.

Mane rolled around the other way and yelled. "Watch out!"

He prepared a Fire Blast but Beheeyem snatched him up from afar with his Psychic, throttling him in the air and pulling his mouth away from Beldum who was shaking it off.

Electrike took another Thunderbolt for Beheeyem from Rai and Rai growled. "I can't get around his ability," he snarled. Rai was a famously good shot with his electric attacks, having them diverted was frustrating.

Scout raised his Night Slashes and took another bone-bending Take Down but slashed through Beldum again.

"Demand: How are you still conscious?" Beldum said, voice afflicting a measure of frustration unusual to their normal flat tone.

"I'm just getting started," Scout said, rubbing his mouth. His eyes burned into Beldum's single eye and his koban seemed to reflect an unusual amount of light for a moment.

Beldum was unaffected by the attempt at dominating their mind but then was hit by a barrage of embers. Scout followed him and blasted him yet again with a Shadow Ball, knocking Beldum up. It hadn't put them to sleep, but his Hypnosis had still slowed them down enough.

"Cobalt!" Beheeyem yelled, speaking their name for the second time today. He raised his hands to direct his focus and telekinetically pulled Beldum back, out of the way of Rai's Thunderbolt.

"Dammit!" Rai yelled, growing more frustrated with his misses. Electrike spun around and shook his rump at Rai to taunt him further.

"Volt!" Beheeyem yelled sharply. With Beldum out of his range, Scout had launched himself forward at max speed, jumping into a pouncing leap right before reaching Mane's part, clearing the disabling effects of Trick Room.

Beheeyem tried to catch Scout off reflex. Your regular meowth was a Normal-type after all. He knew it was different for Scout, but instincts won over reason even for a Psychic-type.

Scout's Night Slash crippled his leg and snapped his natural floating ability, and he hit the ground.

Mane bellowed out a bombarding yell, knocking Volt off his feet and giving Rai a clear shot to unleash a Thunderbolt on the entirety of Team Gazer.

Scout was collateral damage, but that was expected at this point. Rai knew and trusted Scout's toughness by now.

Fighting through the pain of being zapped, Scout formed another Shadow Ball on Thoughtlight and knocked him flying, towards Rai and Mane. They hit him together, a mutual Quick Attack right into Thoughtlight's belly.

Thoughtlight flew out of the Trick Room and crashed through the branches of several trees. Ara trotted over to where he fell as the remaining members of Team Gazer pulled themselves together.

The Trick Room was quivering at this point, and Cobalt knew they didn't have much time before it failed entirely. "Directive: Cover me," they said and flew for Rai, the only one not particularly winded at this point.

Rai took a heavy load of steel right to his chest and was knocked out of the Trick Room as well. Scout and Mane prepared their super-effective attacks on them, but Volt was able to zap them both and send them twitching to the ground.

"Looks like Beheeyem is still in this," Ara determined, as Thoughtlight was not going down so easily. He was slow out of the Trick Room and could see it beginning to collapse, he began to build the Power to reinstate it, but Rai came running around the edge of it to meet him.

Rai was the closest thing to an official leader of Team Ion; it was only right he takes on the leader of Team Gazer mon-a-mon.

Thoughtlight dropped his concentration for Trick Room and instead focused everything on stopping Rai in his tracks, snaring him with as powerful of a Psychic he could do without actually trying to break bones.

Rai felt the air in his lungs get forced out when his whole body clamped down in mid-air, and he wheezed a breath back in, physically struggling against the weight of the Psychic might crushing every part of him.

He yelled out and sparked with electricity, but Thoughtlight would not let go even as lightning arced down his arms.

His fingers were constantly flashing from the will he needed to restrain Rai and he dearly hoped Volt or Cobalt would notice and aid him soon. Team Gazer fought best as a team, after all.

Rai's mouth went entirely black, and his fangs burned with Dark Energy, and he bit through the Psychic with a Bite. Thoughtlight gasped sharply as suddenly Dark Energy began warring with his Psychic control and his arms shook as Rai writhed in the air, snapping at invisible strings.

His back paws touched the ground, and his claws extended, digging into the grass as his tail also flexed before slamming straight down, glinting metallic for a second.

Ara watched with a proud smile.

Rai rooted himself in the ground and tugged until Thoughtlight's control snapped, breaking out of the Psychic on his own.

Thoughtlight groaned out and sagged briefly, it took an unfair amount of focus to hold someone down and breaking it gave him a splitting headache.

Rai gave him other pains to worry about as he slammed into his stomach, after charging himself with electricity. The makeshift Spark dazed Thoughtlight and Rai finished him off with a crack of thunder.

Scout and Mane were handling their fight as a team. The Trick Room had begun to fail entirely, robbing Cobalt of their crushing speed. Their Take Down still hurt, but Scout was agile enough to avoid him and keep him away from Mane, giving Mane the space to fight Volt from afar.

Ember's crashed with Thunderbolt's in the air, sending static electricity and burning flames everywhere. Mane couldn't quite charge in as electricity hurt from any distance and Volt was just as fast and slightly more agile than him.

Scout's claws raked lines in Cobalt's metal body many times, but he lacked the oomph to take the beldum out. His only option was to build a Shadow Ball, but Cobalt was aggressive enough to prevent him from getting the time needed to really build one.

Both duos were at a stalemate until Scout glanced to Mane and made a decision. "Hey!" Scout yelled, slashing Cobalt away. "Switch!"

He ran to block Volt's Thunderbolt with twin Night Slash's, giving Mane the time to breathe and turn on the charging Cobalt.

Scout was still zapped as blocking lighting with things attached to him didn't work like it did in the anime's he thought he watched, but his steps were undeterred, walking through the lightning to an increasingly-distressed Volt.

"What even are you?" Volt yelled over the sounds of his discharge petering out.

"I'm tougher than I look!" Scout answered before pouncing.

Mane blasted Cobalt out of the air with a Fire Blast and then did a second time just for good measure.

Cobalt's eye was blinking different colours, not unlike Thoughtlight's fingers, in distress. "Alarm. Alarm. Alarm." They repeated, not saying anything more.

Scout crashed against Volt and took another shock for his troubles but pinned the electrike and his eyes burned into him as well. Volt felt a lot different to the steely wall that Cobalt had presented, but no less tricky, being a sparking channel of activity.

Scout would never claim to be a master of Hypnosis, but it did the job well enough to daze Volt with some extended use, and he pulled himself off him, staggering back. Volt was blinking dumbly and trying to remember what foot he used to walk with as Scout called upon the Shadow Ball he couldn't manage against Cobalt.

Right as Volt began to spark, Scout unleashed it on HIS face for a change.

Volt dropped.

Mane stepped back from the blinking Cobalt, deciding that he'd gone far enough. Ara trotted over as the beldum tried to rise and tackle again.

"Defiant Challenge: I am not yet finished. Face me, coward, or feel my wrath!"

Mane turned on them. "You asked for it."

Ara wisely stepped back and let Mane blast Cobalt again, coughing out smoke after he did so. He was tapped, and so was Cobalt. They were still blinking, trying to rise, but Ara put a paw on them. "Enough," she said, forcing them back down. "You've lost. Accept it."

Cobalt beeped something angry at her, but it was no word she could understand.

Scout stumbled over to their bags and began divvying up restorative items for everyone. Beldum was able to eat through the second hole in their head and did so in absolute silence.

Flush with victory, Mane trotted around the defeated Team Gazer only a little dickishly. "Looks like we won," he said, highly pleased. "This is like… the last right of passage. Dreadful opening exploration, Beach Cave/Amp Plains? Check. Handsome kitty? Check. Beat Team Gazer? Check."

"Yeah, laugh it up now," Electrike warned, groaning as he tried to stand steady. "We'll win next time!"

"Indubitably." Beheeyem nodded, rubbing his head. "A victory for Team Ion, today perhaps, but there is always tomorrow."

"You can't be thinking of fighting us again, tomorrow?" Rai groaned.

Beheeyem and Electrike glanced to Beldum, but they didn't do the Team Gazer norm and add in their own two-poké as well.

"Beldum?" Beheeyem asked, rubbing a bruise on his stomach. "Are you okay?"

"Statement: I am not in any mortal peril."

"That's… not really what I asked."

"I am fine," Beldum said, giving no preface to their words beforehand. Their eye swivelled to Beheeyem before swivelling away. "Annoyance: Your mothering only further cements you as the parental figure of Team Gazer."

Beldum's attempt to bait Beheeyem didn't work, for once, and only incited more concern.

"You okay, Co?" Electrike asked.

"Statement: Beheeyem already asked that."

Team Ion, and Ara, watched this exchange in silence. Ara started snacking on an oran berry herself. She rubbed her tail on Rai's, giving it metallic glints now and then.

"Well, I'm asking now!" Electrike exclaimed.

"Frustrated Retort: Stop asking."

"Cobalt," Beheeyem said, worried.

"Fine!" Beldum yelled. "Emotional Tirade: It's my fault. It's always my fault. My uselessly limited movepool has waned your battle prowess and interfered with Volt's speed by focusing on Trick Room. Extrapolative Analysis: We are slow in dungeons, hardly the great explorers we set out to be, and time and time again has shown only I am the issue."

"Cobalt that's hardly your fault," Thoughtlight said, after taking a stunned moment. He had never heard so much from his friend. "When you evolve, everything will sort itself out."

"Demand: And when will that be?" Cobalt asked, an edge of emotion still in their voice. Their eye swivelled towards the ground, downcast. "Miserable Statement: It has been years and years and nothing. No victory, hard-won or not, no amount of fighting and training. No hope with Luminous Spring. Nothing."

That caught Scout's attention. "Hey, uh… not to interrupt," he said, interrupting. Team Gazer all looked up with the realisation they had shown some drama outside of their team. Rai and Scout looked a little uncomfortable, Mane was just zoned out.

Ara continued to munch on food, taking an apple out of Team Ion's Treasure Bag.

Beheeyem rubbed his face, he was aching all over, and this was only reminding him of it. "My apologies," he said.

"No, don't… I was just wondering about Luminous Spring?" he asked, glancing to Rai. "I don't think I ever actually asked about it. For… reasons, but that's a real place?"

Rai nodded. "You know of it then?"

"Do pokémon go there to evolve?"

"That's correct," Beheeyem said, answering in Rai's stead. "Although several years ago the spring simply… went dark. No pokémon has been able to evolve. We first came to the Grass Continent in search of a place for Beldum to evolve, as Luminous Cave on the Air Continent also went dark."

"And pokémon cannot evolve other ways?" Scout asked, highly puzzled. "I could have sworn I've seen dungeon pokémon evolve, and plenty of already-evolved pokémon are in them. They can't ALL be pokémon initially trapped there, right?"

"No," Thoughtlight said, a little puzzled in kind as to why Scout didn't know this. "Natural evolution remains a path, but no one knows what triggers it. Pokémon need to achieve some condition to naturally evolve, for some pokémon that condition has been determined. A specific item, or area, or even state of mind or time. Most others, however, live their lives not knowing when, or if."

Thoughtlight sighed. "However, areas such as Luminous Spring are known to work on request rather than asinine, unknown, conditions. The loss of these places, however, has left pokémon like Beldum frustrated, their species is known to be an exceptionally difficult pokémon to naturally evolve, and no other way has been figured out."

"We always were adventures and treasure hunters!" Volt piped up. "And the Grass Continent has lots of mysteries, but we did initially sort of come here for Beldum."

Beldum's eye swivelled again. They knew this, of course, it was no secret. Still, frustration emanated from them continuously.

Scout wet his lips, recalling what he knew that others didn't. "I think… if I remember right," he stressed the word and Rai and Mane's ears flicked. "Luminous Spring… and I suppose Luminous Cave were affected by time going to shit, that WAS happening years in advance after all. With time fixed, maybe the spring is active again?"

Silence dominated the clearing.

"Are you… how would you… no, you would know, wouldn't you?"

Scout nodded, fairly sure. He recalled it wouldn't work for him or Rai. Or perhaps it'd just be him and Mane, Rai never travelled through time after all.

"Isn't Mystifying Forest close by?" Mane asked, raising a paw.

"I mean… yeah, it is," Ara confirmed. "How… interesting that this would come up now," she added, giving Scout a lingering look.

Scout was genuinely clueless as to this but played it off coolly. "Well, I mean, it's worth a shot, right?" he asked, glancing around to everyone.

Team Gazer took a moment to huddle together and discuss backup plans in case of this being an insidious trap and if such a venture would be worth it.

It was quickly decided, however, that they would indeed give this a shot.

"Well," Ara said, getting to her feet and stretching out. "As the one with the map, I'll lead us."

"Hang on," Scout said, "the six of us just had a battle."

"And?" Ara asked.

"We need some time to recuperate," Beheeyem said.

"Nonsense. Pain is just weakness leaving the body!" She zapped Scout to prove it.

"Argh," Scout yelped, jumping up and dropping back down.

"See?"

Five pokémon all glanced to Scout on the ground, whose foot was twitching slightly.

"Oh please, Rai's shocked you harder than that. I know. He's told me." She said this in a very strange way and gave Scout a whole new look of danger before shaking her mane and pointing them forward. "Get up and get going. If you can talk, you can walk."

The threat kicked them into gear and taskmaster Ara was followed with some space between her and the rest of them.

"Your sister is mean," Electrike whispered.

"I heard that."

He eeped and ducked back behind Beheeyem. "Protect me, daddy!"

Beheeyem groaned and felt that old headache come back. "How much will it cost for you to just electrocute him anyway?" he called.

"Electrocute means 'to death' you know?" Ara replied.

"Yes. I know."

"Heh."

Mystifying Forest would still take a couple of days to reach. Team Ion, having gone mostly north from Treasure Town in pursuit of Pyroar, had passed the forest by a considerable margin. From where they had battled Team Gazer, however, the forest was due slightly northeast from their location. They had neared the ocean before diverting towards Mystifying Forest.

It felt right for Scout to be heading there. It was the location of the graduate exam that was the expected test, and he did want to visit the spring if just to confirm it was active again and let the pokémon know they could evolve there again.


"They are! That's amazing news! Oh, the Guildmaster will be delighted to hear it!"

Chimecho basically flew out of her room and bumped immediately into Armaldo. He didn't make a sound as she grunted from the impact, knocked back as if she'd just ran into a wall.

"Are you alright, Chimecho?" he asked in that gruff way he spoke to everything. She privately thought it was a touch of awkwardness.

"Oof," she groaned. "Oh, I'm fine. I have excellent news! Team Celestial have docked in Capim Town and are on their way back to the guild! The Guildmaster will be delighted to hear this, oooh, it may even come better from you. Would you like to come with me?"

Armaldo nodded and together they entered the room with the tacky throne.

"Hiya!" Wigglytuff chirped. "What can I do for you, friendly Chimecho?"

She looked up to Armaldo who opened his mouth. "We have received word that Team Celestial have docked in Capim Town," he announced.

Rhythm's eyes grew wide and round and his mouth popped open but no sound came out of him at first. Then he inflated and made an excited shriek. "Ooooh myyy goooosshh!" He immediately began to dance.

With Armaldo, pulling him into a sudden jig as Armaldo cursed, "Gah, Wigglytuff!"

"Sorry not sorry!" Rhythm sang with a beaming grin so bright it balked Armaldo's complaints and he allowed Rhythm to dance him around. "I can't wait to see them again! Oooh, they can meet Team Sunrise AND see what Shinx and Litleo have done and meet Meowth! So many friends to meet! AAH!"

He would deny it if she ever brought it up, but Chimecho was certain she saw just the slightest smile on Armaldo's face at Wigglytuff's joy at the news.

She quietly excused herself, a small smile on her face. She couldn't wait to tell Blossom, they'd both missed Twila sorely. A teasing smile lit her face as she imagined how Vigoroth would react, wondering if they should keep that as a surprise or something.

With ideas in her head, she floated off.


With Pyroar defeated and no known reason for them to dawdle, the two teams happily made their way to Mystifying Forest, recovering from their fight over the next two days with some healthy snacking.

Team Gazer just could not let the competitive edge go, and when they arrived, a new challenge was writ.

"Whoever gets to the end first wins!" Electrike said.

"And we'll be entering first, this time," Beheeyem added.

"You've already been here," Mane pointed out.

"And you'll have a fourth member," Beheeyem retorted, gesturing to Ara.

"I'm bored now, can we just go in."

"Declaration: Eat our dust." And Team Gazer rushed in.

"Do you think we should just let them win?" Scout asked.

"Never!" Rai yelled. "We will destroy them every single time!"

"I think Rai's going crazy," Mane whispered loudly to Scout.

"Seems so," Scout whispered loudly back.

Rai pounced on Scout. "Hey! He said it first!" Scout protested.

"And you are so much easier to pin," Rai replied and licked Scout's nose, flustering him.

"Please get off him," Ara said flatly. Rai blushed and did as he was asked. Ara needed to take a moment to not kill someone. "Let's get through Mystifying Forest without being weird. You." She flicked her tail at Mane. "You're going to lead; this is a heavy Grass-type dungeon. You." She poked her tail at Scout. "Are going to be separated from my brother."

"Does that mean I get to be with Rai today?" Mane teased.

She crackled with electricity. "No. Lead. From the front."

Mane rolled his eyes and bumped Scout. "Well, you heard the taskmaster. Let's play nice."

They entered after a few more minutes of waiting. Ara positioned herself in the middle with Rai at the very back, separating him from the other two.

She wasn't in the mood for inside jokes and flirting slowing them down. Rai was in agreement, wanting to beat Team Gazer.

With the group somewhat split into two, it was a pair of duos who took on the feral pokémon. Scout and Mane used fire and claws to ward off any foolish oddish or ninetales that sought to destroy them.

Ara and Rai, on the other hand, combined their electricity to show any pokémon seeking to mess with them that electricity hurts and that it was hardly worth it.

As they went, she also continued showing Rai tail tricks. He had graduated from wearing a rock on his tail to carrying one, the star-end curled around a rock. He dropped it fairly often when he was distracted, however.

Still, it was helping as she was teaching him something.

"Okay!" Ara called an hour into the dungeon. "You. Litleo. Swap with me."

Mane glanced back, surprised. Rai had taken a few hits from an exeggutor's Barrage, but he insisted he was fine. Guarding Rai with fire was more important than her ease of mind, and she pushed him back and began leading herself.

Scout was not allowed to join them and had to awkwardly keep up with Ara. She moved quickly, almost like she wanted to get away from him, so he had to run to keep up.

"You don't… like us very much, do you?" Scout asked after a few minutes of this. He had hit an exeggutor with Shadow Ball, so he hoped that was enough clout to start resolving this.

"That's… I would not say I dislike you," Ara said, after a moment of hesitation.

Scout glanced at her, curiosity warring with consideration on his face.

It was Ara, in the end, who forced out a breath and began talking again. "His relationship with Litleo isn't the easiest to accept due to the history there. I knew his mother as well." A snarl bit at her face before she suppressed it. "But, I can see he's good for Rai."

She glanced back at Rai and Mane smiling at each other, almost casually knocking ferals away from them. The picture of confidence that someone who knew them years ago would have trouble imagining was them today.

"He is," Scout said, smiling back at them as well. They noticed and shot him a grin each. Feeling warm, he turned back to face the front, Arashi watching him out of the corner of her eye. There seemed to almost be a smile at her face but not quite. "It wasn't easy at first, but I couldn't imagine not having Mane with us."

"I know Rai can make his own decisions," Arashi said, tone remaining firm and somewhat distant. "It's why I left."

A frown plucked at Scout's features, he couldn't quite be polite enough to force it away. Rai didn't like to speak about his family much, the only things he'd said of Arashi were glowing praise and yet he still hadn't liked to talk about her much.

"You left too early," Scout said, feeling bold enough to say it. He saw Arashi's head turn and her features harden but he didn't back down. "He was too young to be left on his own."

She stared at him, almost dangerously but not quite. "To your people, maybe," she said after a time. "It was what my family did," she concluded, looking forwards again. "Wild pokemon have their own cultures."

"Rai's not really wild though," Scout pointed out.

"He hatched wild, and I know that spark never left him. I can see it in everything he does."

"He doesn't act like you, though."

She cracked a smirk. "Thank fuck for that." As Scout blinked in surprise, she hunched and then relaxed her shoulders. "I'm not the nicest person, I know that. There were lots of reasons why I left that I don't feel like going into. He's tough, he saved the world." And despite her words, there was a heaviness to them.

"...you lost years of his life though."

She almost flinched. The beginning was there but she suppressed it.

She didn't answer him, didn't agree with him, just silence drifted over them broken only by the crackles of energy behind them.

"...you're good for him too," Arashi eventually said. "I'm glad he has people willing to say and do the things he wouldn't want to. Shouldn't have to. Thank you for that."

He nodded to her, and she nodded back. "Alright," Arashi growled, "enough talking. Let's hurry up."

Thankfully the tension between them eased a bit, and Team Ion reached the end of the dungeon.

"Careful," Scout said as they left the winding pathways and the sky above could be seen again, a much nicer colour than what lurked through the thick leaves that covered the sky in the dungeon. "There might be a pitfall up ahead."

There was, in fact, a large hole in the ground. Not covered up, however. They easily avoided it and made the last few steps, entering Luminous Spring.

Three pokémon panted for breath in front of them.

"We," Beheeyem huffed, gasping for breath, "win."

"Victory," Electrike wheezed, laying on his side.

Beldum didn't have lungs but they had slammed halfway into a tree and hadn't extracted themselves yet. "Powerful Declaration: Victory for Team Gazer!"

"Victory for Team Gazer!" the other two chorused before falling into a coughing fit.

Rai sighed, sparked a little, but congratulated them all the same. "Damn. Good job though, we both had a few good advantages here, but you won fair and square."

"Yes," Beheeyem managed, still gasping.

"Declaration: Let us all recount our team motto. All of us."

"I don't think so," Ara said.

Beheeyem and Electrike got up. "I am Thoughtlight of Team Gazer!" he began and nearly fell over. "These are my compatriots, Volt and Cobalt! We seek to uncover the past!" He paused and glared at Team Ion. "Do it."

"You seek to uncover the past?" Scout said, uncertainly.

"Explore the future!" Volt yelled.

"Explore the future," Rai acquiesced.

Cobalt was pulled out of the tree by Thoughtlight. "Declaration: And protect the present!"

"I'm not saying it," Mane said. Team Gazer looked to Ara in unison.

She shocked them for absolutely no reason.

"We're actually here for something important," she reminded them.

"I don't remember that," Electrike said. "Isn't this so we can be lauded as the ones who brought back evolution?"

"Technically, that was us," Scout pointed out, giving a wave.

"Technicalities," Beheeyem said, brushing that off.

"They're in a mood, aren't they?" Mane whispered to Rai, who nodded back.

"Let's take a look," Scout said, stepping forward. He liked to give good news for once, so he really hoped that he wasn't going to crush Cobalt's hopes and dreams.

The path to Luminous Spring from the exit of the dungeon wasn't long, and soon the smell of moss, the soft sounds of water, and a widening landscape heralded their entrance.

Luminous Spring was a simple pond. Rocks that worked all the way down into the water dotted the edges far away, and the water was a mixture of blues and greens, flowing together in a dance of natural colours.

There was no stunning light shining down on it, however, and Scout knew that was an important part.

"This is what it was like before," Beheeyem said, quietly. "There's supposed to be a light here."

Beldum floated in silence, and it was Scout who walked forward first. He eased himself into the water and began to swim out.

"Wait, can you swim!?" Electrike asked in a surge of panic.

"He can," Rai insisted, and Scout proved his bucking of the cats-vs-water trend by paddling out like a dog.

The water was cold, he didn't like that. And it didn't move much either, leaving a layer of grossness on the top, staining his fur a murky green. He kept his mouth tightly closed and breathed out hard with his nose to stop any water going up there.

"Okay?" Scout yelled. "If there is something supposed to happen, I'd really like to not look like Saniya and look foolish."

He waited, everyone waited, something flickered in the distance and then it was like the world blinked something out of its eye. Light began to beam down from above, cascading onto Scout and lighting him up like an angel.

"Those that seek awakening," a disembodied voice spoke, coming from every direction at once. It was soft, gentle, and very kind. "The resumption of time has brought light here again. If you seek evolution… come forth."

At the shore, the assembled pokémon all began talking at once.

"Oh, wow!"

"It's really back?"

"D-Declaration?"

"Scout come back!"

"Wait does he want to evolve, though?"

Scout, for his part, was not interested. "Seeker of awakening?" the voice called regardless. "Do you seek this path?"

"No!" Scout called sharply, beginning to paddle back. "I just came out to make sure the spring was going to work."

The light flickered once as he swam back before the voice spoke again. "Curious," it said. None of the listeners could determine if the speaker was male or female. "It seems that evolution is barred to you for reasons beyond the norm."

"Yeah," Scout said, reaching shallower water. "Because of travelling through time, right?"

"… There is an influence of the distortion of space, yes. Why that should be… time travel, you say? Yes, that would do if the time you travelled to no longer exists… ah yes, that makes sense."

Scout reached the shore and crawled out, shaking himself off like a dog and spraying everyone else. "S-sorry," he said when he got many unfriendly looks.

"It is not just you," the voice continued, Mane frowned. "This distortion is greater than one. The litleo and the shinx, they too are barred from evolution."

"Wait?" Scout said as Rai and Ara recoiled. "Rai never time travelled. Why would HE be barred?"

"I do not know," the voice answered. "Yet the same distortion lurks around him. I have no answers to give, I am merely a vessel for enlightenment. If none are here to welcome evolution, then I shall go."

"Wait!" Beheeyem called, stretching their hand out to the light. "We do have someone here who wants to evolve." He turned to Beldum, who had been awfully silent through all of this.

Beldum's eye swivelled between their partners before floating forth. "Seeker of awakening, this is Luminous Spring. Do you seek to evolve?"

"Declaration: Yes."

"You do not need anything more to evolve. Seeker of awakening, once this action has begun, there is no diverting its course. Are you sure?"

"Resolution: I am."

"Very well. Seeker, we shall begin."

The light grew blindingly bright, and everyone had to avert their gaze. The light of Luminous Spring erupted further than just the clearing, it beamed an arc of pure light into the skyline, presenting the action far and wide.

Pokémon began to talk about what they had seen and what it could mean.

As the light faded and everyone was able to look again, Beldum was no more. In their place floated a larger pokémon. With a pair of arms similar to what Beldum had looked before, now attacked to a disk-like body, two red eyes peered forth with a spike jutting forth like a nose.

Metang was now here.

"C-Cobalt you evolved!" Beheeyem said before bursting into tears. "I'm so proud of you."

Electrike cheered and ran circles around the sobbing Beheeyem. "Cobalt! Cobalt! Cobalt! Cobalt!"

Slowly, Cobalt floated forth. They felt around, lifting their arms curiously. Beldum had been a mostly-unmoving girder of steel, Metang, however, had a little bit of dexterity.

"Declaration," Metang said, reaching the sobbing Beheeyem. "I can… hug you now." And so they did, Beheeyem gasped as the metallic arms nearly broke something and that stopped the crying at least.

"C-Careful you're strong!" Thoughtlight wheezed, and Metang adjusted their grip a few times.

Volt jumped onto Cobalt's back. "You're so big now!" he cheered. "I can nap on you now!"

"Query: And why would you want to?"

"Why not?"

"That's a pokémon."

"And so are you!" Volt jumped off and landed on the ground. "This is awesome! YEEEAAH!"

"Seekers of awakening?" the voice called, cutting through the festivities. "Are there any others who seek the light of evolution?"

Thoughtlight glanced at Volt, but he shook his head. "Nah, I want to evolve like Thoughtlight did. Spontaneous. Uh, no offence."

"There is none to take."

Volt didn't glance at Rai and Ara as he said that.

"I'm good," Ara said, also declining.

"Very well," the voice said, beginning to dim.

"Wait!" Scout called, and the light only flickered. "If… if it's alright could I ask you some questions?"

"I am… unused to questions," the voice replied. "And I can tell you I likely will not answer."

It wasn't a refusal to the asking, however, so he went for it. "Are you Xerneas?"

"I cannot answer that."

"Cannot or will not?"

"I cannot answer that."

Scout breathed out a sigh and nodded. "That's fair enough." He was pretty sure of it.

The light began to dim, and the seven pokémon discussed leaving. This was their last excursion before Treasure Town, so they had no reason to dawdle any further.

Before they could leave, however, the light returned brightly.

"This is not my place," the voice spoke, emanating from everywhere at once with some sort of physical weight. "I am a neutral participant, taking no side. But… I am aware of the change to time." They knew, thanks to Saniya and Dialga, that only pokémon who were legendary pokémon were sensitive to the changing of time.

"There is one thing I must give a warning to you." Scout fe