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Special Episode 1: Seven Years Ago - Part 3 (Tension to the Fore)

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Special Episode 1
Seven Years Ago
Part 3 - Tension to the Fore

Melchior couldn't sleep.

Nearly a week had passed since the mission at Yew Gulch in which Dalibor had suffered a grievous injury that left him comatose. Following that, he was placed in the care of one of the hospitals of Iria, and the Guild, along with Cornelia and the Grimmhatt orphans, had been told of what had happened. The response was shock followed by subsequent anger and grim seriousness from Mitrofan and the other Guild members, and an eruption of tears from Cornelia and the orphans upon being told the sad news. It wasn't an experience Melchior and Kallias wished to repeat, telling them of that tragic event.

Since then, over the last week, three notable events occurred, and each of them played out in the Swampert's head.

The first happened the morning after their return to Iria following the Yew Gulch mission.





"Um, Kallias, Melchior? Marshal Yuliya wants to speak with you."

Nikita was the one to say this, after knocking on the door of Team Marshwood' dormitory. The duo looked ragged - proof that neither had slept well.


"Marshal Yuliya?" Kallias said, wiping sleep from his eyes. "Right. We'll be out at once."

"Okay. She's waiting in the Guildmaster's office." With that, the Cubone left.

After a quick thrust of water on their faces, Kallias and Melchior made their way to Mitrofan's office. There, the Furret awaited, along with Mitrofan.


"Good morning, you two," the latter greeted.

"Morning, Mitrofan. And good morning, Marshal Yuliya," Kallias returned. "What brings you here so early in the morning?"

"Yes, apologies about the earliness," Yuliya replied. "But I wanted to get this information off my chest. It's about that map you presented to us that you found among those outlaws' possessions in Yew Gulch."

"Yes…the map of Iria," Melchior recalled. "What of it?"

Yuliya unfurled that same piece of parchment on Mitrofan's desk. "These markings," she gestured to each of the marks located at various points around the capital. "We've figured out what they're referring to."


"And they would be…?"

The Furret's expression became serious when she revealed the answer.


"Wells."

"Wells? As in to collect water from…?" Kallias's voice trailed off as the horrifying realisation of what this fact meant to the case at hand came to him.

"Y-You don't mean…!" Mitrofan seemed to have come to the same conclusion, judging by his perturbed look.

"It seems to be," Yuliya said. "It seems to be a plan to poison the wells of Iria. If such a plan succeeded, many of our citizens would fall ill from it."

"But not just them!" Melchior pointed out. "There'll be a whole host of different people at the jubilee this week! People from all across the country…and foreign dignitaries and leaders, too! Not to mention…" A fearful look came into his eye. "...Loved ones, too."

"Oh…will your family be coming to the jubilee, Melchior?" Yuliya asked.

"No," Melchior blurted quickly. Kallias caught the split second flash of pain across the Swampert's face, and understood. "But…my wife will be there."


"And our own wives and children will also be at the jubilee," Kallias added, gesturing to him and Mitrofan.

"That means…" Mitrofan spoke grimly. "...That should this plan go through, our own families may be in danger."

"We could always tell them to stay at home. But…I can't very well do that. Elvira's been looking forward to the jubilee for months, as has Zenobia. It'd be a crushing blow to them if I told them they couldn't enjoy the festivities."

"Likewise, we could hardly cancel the jubilee over this, could we?" murmured Mitrofan. "So many logistics have been put in place for the day that it would be impossible to call it all off. I can only imagine the rebuke we would get from nobles, Branislav and House Ruslan for even suggesting the idea. That would be a greater blow to our name than anything else we've had thrown our way."

"True." Yuliya nodded in understanding. "...Well, we have to work with the jubilee's logistics, whether we like it or not. It will no doubt be made all the more difficult with the crowds. The possibility of the fugitives behind this blending in with the throng of citizens is a possibility that we can't deny.

"But we in the knights of Iria will act vigilantly! In the name of His Majesty, we shall see to it that your families, and all the citizens of Iria will not be endangered by the nefarious plots of this underground group! I, Marshal Yuliya of House Lysagora, swear this on my name!" She held up her right fist in the salute of the Selenian knights. "I will allocate knights to defend the wells marked on this map. No invaders will be able to taint their waters. I don't care if it means sullying my name with the other knights, cooperating with mercenaries. Their criticisms will mean nothing if it means saving the lives of countless civilians."

"Glad you're able to see the bigger picture, Marshal," Mitrofan praised. "I look forward to having your support."

"Yours too, Guildmaster Mitrofan," returned the Furret, before making her way to the exit. "...Oh, before I go. Thank you very much for unearthing this plot. We may be able to avoid a major calamity thanks to the handiwork of you, Team Marshwood."

"Anything if it means making our nation safer," returned Kallias. "You needn't worry. Our goals are perfectly aligned."

"Indeed they are. …Farewell. I look forward to our cooperation."

And with that, Yuliya left.




The second event happened three days after the mission, and two days after the first one.




Kallias and Melchior were having some dinner cooked by Aldebrand. But just as they finished up and gave their trays to the shelled dragon, Nikita came up to them.

"Um, Melchior? Kallias?" the Cubone asked, a very nervous look on his face and pressing his forefingers together. "Could you come to the main area? There's…something you need to be there for. Guildmaster's orders."

"...Of course," Kallias replied, with a slight frown. Nikita's expression didn't invite confidence that this would be good. "We'll be there at once."

"Thanks." Nikita turned and left. Team Marshwood followed him to the assembly area, where a sight awaited them.

Mitrofan stood, awaiting the duo. But so was a small group of knights, and between three of them, Spiridon stood, with his hands behind his back.

The Hawlucha had been suspended until further notice by Mitrofan due to his actions at Yew Gulch. It hadn't been a surprise to him or Team Marshwood, but Spiridon was still assigned tasks within the Guild, usually under the watchful eye of another - usually Helena, Aldebrand, Krim or Nikita. However, as punishment, he wasn't allowed to leave the Guild unless approved by the Guildmaster himself.

However, seeing the avian handcuffed by the knights, both members of Team Marshwood had the same guess as to what might have happened to have warranted this.


"Team Marshwood," Mitrofan acknowledged. "...You've no doubt connected the dots as to what's happening here."

"Well, just in case…why are you arresting Spiridon?" Kallias asked the Nidoqueen who appeared to be leading the group of knights.

"...It relates to one of the outlaws that was captured by the Guild members that partook in a mission at Yew Gulch in the Nagoria oblast," the Nidoqueen lieutenant explained. "A Perrserker named Perdido."

"Yes…what about him?" Kallias had a sneaking suspicion he knew what was coming next.

"...As you testified before, Spiridon had plunged his head into the vat of poison, with the intent to 'get revenge', as was stated by you both. In doing so, Perdido ingested some of the poisonous liquid, and a fair quantity at that.

"He fell ill not long after coming into our custody. He suffered from a high fever, sweats, stomach pains and vomiting. His condition only deteriorated over time. And this afternoon…" She paused briefly. "...He passed away, most likely from the poison."

"...'Most likely'?" Melchior echoed.

"An autopsy hasn't yet been performed on him," explained the Nidoqueen. "But the poison he ingested is the likeliest possibility. And as for who made him ingest it…" Her gaze fell to Spiridon. "...A charge of murder is being levied against him."

"...I…" Spiridon faltered, but he was interrupted by Kallias.

"I did warn you in Yew Gulch that letting your emotions get the better of you would lead to doing something you would regret," the Sceptile said with evident disappointment. "And now look." He gestured to him. "Being arrested for murder."


"But I…!" The Hawlucha tried to come up with a counterargument, but it died at his lips.

"...A great shame it came to this, Spiridon," lamented Mitrofan. "And at a time when the Guild's image is coming into sharp focus. If the leaders all around Ardalion heard that a murderer was mixed in with the Guild's ranks, then that would be a massive detriment to our name. It would be a convenient excuse for the nobles and knights that resent our presence to move to restrict the freedom we have right now. That's the last thing the Guild needs."

Spiridon flinched at the stern look of the Aggron. "...I-I'm sorry, Mitt!" he cried. The reminder of how his actions impacted the Guild made him blink with tears. "I never considered the Guild…I acted way out of line. I really made a mess of things, didn't I…?" He sniffled, trying to rein in his emotions.


"...I don't like to rebuke a good friend of mine like this," murmured Mitrofan. "But it must be done. As Guildmaster, I must consider the Guild's welfare and reputation above all. I can't pretend what you've done isn't a hammer blow to that."

"Mmm." Kallias nodded in agreement, as did Melchior.

"...But Spiridon?" Mitrofan continued, drawing everyone's attention.

"...Yes, Mitt?" Spiridon asked, his voice strained by his emotions.

"...We will get to the bottom of this," he vowed. "This whole episode has sent Dalibor into a coma and you into prison. It's a twisting, pernicious evil that's bubbling under the surface. For your sakes…I will bring it to the light."

"Mitt…" The Hawlucha swallowed the lump in his throat. "...Thanks. Thank you…"

"...It's all I can do," the Aggron replied. "That's all I have to say. Take him away, Lieutenant Ludmila."

"Hmph." The Nidoqueen turned to her fellow knights. "Take him away, men. Hop to it!"

"Yes, ma'am!" saluted the rest of the knights, before moving to take Spiridon away to the nearest prison.

All three watched them, Mitrofan's words to Spiridon going through in their heads.


…Yes. We will not allow this evil to derail the jubilee.



Finally, the third event happened a day after Spiridon's arrest, and two days before the jubilee.




"...Yes, I think that would be for the best," Kallias agreed. "There's just too much riding on this to be able to perform our duties properly."

"I could tell," Melchior said. "You definitely have your focus elsewhere when we're in practice for this."

"Well, that's a bummer." Rufina was with them, and didn't sound thrilled by the proposed changes. "The kids'll be sad not to see us there. But, hey…I get your point. "

"So we're all in agreement, then," Mitrofan surmised. "Very well. I'll present this proposition to Marshal Branislav. …Nikita, if you could?" he asked the Cubone off to the side.

"Of course, Guildmaster Mitrofan," obliged Nikita, taking the letter and exiting the office.

Some time passed before a reply was issued. And much to their surprise…it was delivered by none other than the Sirfetch'd himself, along with a small retinue of knights. And among them was the same Nidoqueen lieutenant that had escorted Spiridon away a few days prior.

Perhaps not to their surprise was the attitude with which he responded.


"My, my, this is a surprise." The bird knight sounded awfully smug and wore an expression to match. Instantly, Teams Marshwood and Silver Axe, along with Nikita who was with them, found an irrational want for him to get this over with. "Both Team Marshwood and Team Silver Axe are dropping out of the parade?"

"That is correct," Mitrofan affirmed. "It was a collective decision by all members of Team Marshwood and Team Silver Axe." He gestured to himself, Rufina, Kallias and Melchior. "It has become apparent that a group existing in the shadows is planning an operation to contaminate the waters of Iria. Most likely, it will happen during the jubilee, when the capital will have throngs of people enjoying the jubilee celebrations. If the wells are poisoned…the level of sickness will be unimaginable."

"And we know for a fact that this is a deadly poison," Kallias reinforced. "Sickness would be putting it lightly. You would have death on a massive scale. Everyone, no matter their class, would be affected. It would be nothing short of disastrous if their plans were allowed to succeed." If one thing had been gained from Spiridon's actions, it was that they could indeed confirm that this poison was deadly to those who ingested it.

"Hah! Bluster!" Branislav insinuated. "You mercenaries plainly see the attendance in His Majesty's parade as too daunting for your freelancing ways! This is your attempted justification at downplaying your fear! Who in their right mind would have the gall to abandon their place in His Majesty's parade? Only a coward, that's who!"

"You plainly don't understand," Kallias replied, feeling his annoyance increase. He tried his best not to let it show. "Are you aware of what we have uncovered? Did Marshal Yuliya not inform you?"

"Of course I did. She made it plain to His Majesty and Marshal Trokhym as well," the Sirfetch'd replied. "But that is nothing we knights cannot handle! Besides, we cannot very well unfold all that we have prepared! It would be an insult to bow to this threat! As they say in the theatre, the show must go on. His Majesty's parade will go ahead, no matter what happens! To even think of rejecting such an honour…you mock His Majesty's name and spit on it!"

"I beg your pardon, Branislav." Mitrofan's tone was definitely more curt. "This has nothing to do with offending His Majesty. On the contrary, we seek to quash this threat before it can derail his jubilee."

"Rubbish," scoffed Branislav. "Do you think us knights incapable of resolving such matters, Guildmaster Mitrofan? …How typical of mercenaries. Never bound by loyalty to His Majesty, and skiving off their duties whenever they feel like it. No honour, this lot! Always trying to outdo us at every turn and undermine our honourable name!" he ranted to his knights.

"...It's like you never even heard what we just said," Rufina said, shaking her head in annoyance. "This is our case! We mercenaries were the ones that uncovered this plot, so we should be the ones to put it to rest! And especially these two - " She gestured to Team Marshwood. " - Who you all desperately want to be in the parade because they're the real ones that gather all the clout and made all these people come to Iria in the first place!"

Melchior was getting worried.
Oh dear…she's getting fired up, he thought. Please don't go too far with this, Rufina…

"What? ...Such insolence," growled Branislav. Behind him, some of the other knights glared at the Haxorus. "Do you know who you're talking to, madam?"

"Of course I do," fired back Rufina. "A snobbish brat who happened to become a marshal because his dear old daddy happened to do a favour at the right time for the tsar. Someone who'd barely seen a glimpse of training as a cadet, suddenly made a marshal in the blink of an eye!"

"Y-You dare insult me like this?!" the Sirfetch'd spluttered.

"Yes, I do!" the Haxorus returned, before turning to the group of knights accompanying the knight. "Is this the kind of man you lot take orders from? I gotta say…I pity you all. You deserve better than this sad sack who hides behind his authority and uses it to mock others lower than him over the pettiest of things. Yuliya's good, and so is Trokhym, but him?" She pointed to Branislav. "He's a coward and a bully who doesn't deserve to be where he is today!"

"Silence, you uncivil woman! You dare to vilify - "

"Shut up," Rufina instantly shut down. "Listen here, you all." She continued directing her speech at Branislav's knights. "Those aren't rumours about how he became marshal - it's the damn truth! …Isn't that just sad? Think about it - all of those days, months, maybe even years training to rise in the ranks, only to find you've been bypassed by a lord's son who's barely seen combat in his life."

As Melchior had feared, she had pulled no punches. And her opponent looked apoplectic with rage.


"...Guildmaster Mitrofan." Branislav turned icily to the Aggron. "Does your partner's insolence know no bounds? Are you going to be responsible and rein her in as a leader should?"

Mitrofan considered the marshal's question before uttering his reply.


"No."

"...I beg your pardon?" The Sirfetch'd did a double take.

"Mitrofan?" Melchior looked over in shock and confusion at the guildmaster. This is new. He's not reining in Rufina this time?

Kallias, meanwhile, knew the look in the Aggron's eye. Hmm, this might be interesting. Let's just hope Mitt doesn't take it too far…

"My next words are not for you, Branislav, but for your fellow knights," Mitrofan told the Sirfetch'd, before turning to the group of knights accompanying him. Clearing his throat, he began.

"Within the Knights of Selenia, I am aware that there is friction between us. I am also aware of the fundamental distrust that exists in the knights towards us. A fear of being undermined, a fear of being recognised as second best by His Majesty Tsar Kliment. And in recent times, some in the knights, and also the noble houses of Selenia have accused us of purposefully interfering with the jubilee celebrations. I wish to set the record straight, and for you all to hear the lips from the Guildmaster himself.

"Let it be known that I have no issue with working with the Knights of Selenia. I am perfectly happy to cooperate with the knights in the setup of the celebrations of His Majesty's silver jubilee. And many of the mercenaries of this Guild share this view. Though there exists friction, there have been many cases where we have worked together without trouble. Marshal Yuliya, for instance, has been cooperative, as has Marshal Trokhym on the few occasions when we have worked together with him. House Ruslan, too, has been greatly supportive of our efforts, and the personal word from His Highness Prince Kasimir is that he wishes this cooperative spirit between the knights and mercenaries to continue beyond the jubilee. I, too, wish for this. And no doubt there are many knights that wish for this too.

"However…a certain someone - a leading light in the knights, at that - has done nothing but stymie our efforts to cooperate." Mitrofan turned to glare at Branislav. "I have seen to it that the anti-knight rhetoric is dialled down within my Guild, in order to ensure greater cooperation. But I have received a number of complaints from my mercenaries, rookie and veteran alike, of your continued derision and insults towards them. Evidently, you haven't done the same. You seek to keep stirring the pot, for what purpose I cannot fathom. This can only hinder the jubilee's preparations, and worsen our relations. And now, when I ask for your understanding over why we do not wish to participate in the jubilee parade, with no insult to His Majesty's name…you intend to twist into that very thing.

"I have held my tongue at your insults long enough, Marshal Branislav. But when you seek to personally mock good friends of mine within the Guild…then I can no longer ignore your words. You have crossed a line. And so, I will not condemn Rufina for what she has said. Because you deserve every insult thrown your way by her."

MItrofan's words were icy and cold. But the sudden change in tone next shocked everyone in the room.


"…Petulant, petty, pathetic. That is no attitude for one of the most prestigious men in the country to have!" he suddenly thundered. "Rufina is quite correct! You are unworthy of the title of marshal! And these honourable men and women do not deserve to be under your command! Now act like a man worthy of your title and recognise this danger that faces Iria! Because if you don't, then all those people you swore to protect when you took your oath as a knight will perish in a painful and horrible death! An infant could see the peril! If you have even the slightest devotion to your people, then you will allow us to withdraw from the parade! And if you do not do this, then I will raise the issue with His Majesty himself! Then we'll see just how much your authority means in the face of the tsar! Have I made myself clear, Branislav?!"

The silence was deafening in the aftermath of this. Everyone, be they mercenary or knight, gawped at the Guildmaster's rant. They had no idea at the start of his speech to Branislav's subordinates that it would descend into this. Even the knights could appreciate the sheer authority that radiated from Mitrofan in that moment. It was as if they were being faced with the wrath of a veteran general - and by the looks on each of their faces, the knights plainly had never been at the receiving end of such an authoritative wrath. Certainly, Branislav had never mustered such genuine fury, and probably never would.

(Perhaps the most stunned of them was the Nidoqueen lieutenant, who couldn't tear her gaze from Mitrofan in the aftermath of what had happened.)

The Aggron's wrath, however, was a sign that he had come to the end of his rope with the Sirfetch'd. All Guild members recognised this, and so Kallias spoke up.


"...The Guildmaster's normally a very patient man," he spoke. "To drive him to what we just saw…it's plain as day that a line has been crossed. I don't care for what kind of authority Marshal Branislav has. This wouldn't have happened if not for him."

"...I think it's best you all left," Melchior advised. "Let His Majesty know of our wish to withdraw, and the honest reasons for it. It's best we remain apart for a while until things have settled down here."

The knights looked at each other. A wordless understanding was reached between them, and so they turned to leave. Branislav's look on his face betrayed his wounded pride, and he gave Mitrofan a meaningful glare as he went to climb the ladder. The Aggron returned it.

Once they were gone, Rufina let out a snicker.


"Wow, Mitt. I forgot you could get that angry. And what a speech, too!" She gave a few light claps.

"Yeah…Y-You stood up to him really well, Guildmaster," praised Nikita.

"...It's nothing worthy of praise," Mitrofan downplayed, taking deep breaths to calm himself down after that catharsis.

"Mmm...as much as I hate to admit it, you have a point," Kallias said. "Branislav won't be forgetting that easily. And I don't think many of the lords would take kindly to that evisceration by words to a marshal, especially a darling in their eyes like him."

"...Let's just hope nothing boils over on jubilee day," Melchior said hopefully.

"...Yes. Let's."



Melchior tried and tried to fall asleep. But with these thoughts swirling around in his head, it was plain that it wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

"...Can't sleep?" a voice said to him in the dark. Turning over in the bed, the Swampert saw his wife staring at him.

"Paulina? …I'm sorry I woke you up," he apologised.

"It's okay, Mel," the Meganium assured. "...Is it this whole mission that's keeping you up?"

"...Yeah, it is."

"...It must be a great burden, having a week like that pass you by."

"...It is. To think, in a week, I've had a friend put into a coma, another friend arrested for murder, and my guildmaster erupt into a fury like nothing I've ever seen from him," Melchior reflected. "And then there's the biggest burden of all…this whole plot."

"...How evil," Paulina remarked, shuddering. "Death on a scale like that…I shudder to think what will happen if these mysterious people manage to succeed in their plans."

"...That's also it, too. If anything, that's probably keeping me up more than anything else," confessed Melchior. "...It's really occurring to me now just how big the stakes are if we fail. If they win…then many people will die. Hundreds, thousands…" He began to quiver. "...It scares me. It really does."

"They won't win," Paulina encouraged. "Not when they're faced with you and Kallias. They'll easily be defeated by you two! …Oh, and don't worry about me. I brought spring water from Serykholm to use tomorrow. Zenobia did the same."

The Swampert couldn't help but sigh. He was glad for the Meganium's encouragement. But it still didn't deter his nerves. It wasn't as if the problem disappeared at her motivating words

He reached over, therefore, and hugged his wife in a longing for comfort. Sensing his stress, Paulina let him embrace her, and she wrapped some of her vines around him. Normally, the mudfish hated this - he was a Water/Ground-type, after all - but when it was Paulina doing it, it was okay.

He didn't cry. He felt emotional, but not enough that tears fell. The stress of last week, as well as the comfort of his wife, helped bring him to this point.

At that point, he closed his eyes, and said a silent prayer in his head.

Thank the heavens for Paulina. For her sake, as well as everyone else in Iria…please let luck be on our side tomorrow.




Today was the day.

Many in the Tsardom of Selenia had been looking forward to this day. It was a day that would be marked as a monumental occasion in history. A celebration of their leader, focusing on his past achievements, his present good health, and hopes that the future would herald more prosperous tidings for their lands.

On this day twenty-five years ago, Kliment Nikiforovich Ruslan became leader of House Ruslan and ascended to become the tsar of Selenia. Twenty-five years later, he was to be lauded by the nobles and commoners under his rule, as well as foreign dignitaries from Alba, Dresilia and Miletos.

Many travelled to Iria to be a part of this historic occasion. The nights prior to jubilee day saw large groups of visitors travel to the capital, and inns and taverns across Iria repeatedly reported to travellers that they were long since full. Undeterred, many visitors simply camped out on the streets or outside the city walls.

Kallias and Melchior were aware of this. Therefore, they told their wives to come to Iria sooner to avoid the chaos. Paulina and Zenobia, along with Elvira, were accommodated in Mitrofan and Rufina's house in town two days before the jubilee. The members of Team Silver Axe were all too happy to help them out, and Rufina was eager to catch up with the two of them, as was Elvira with Stiliyan and Nevena.

Meanwhile, their husbands stayed at the Guild, except for the night before the Guild, when they temporarily relocated to Rufina's house and spent the night in bed with their wives. When morning came, they, their wives, and children, all had a big breakfast in preparation for the day ahead of them.

"So you two and Dad are on a big, top secret mission?" Stiliyan asked Team Marshwood, his eyes wide with curiosity.

"Yes. And one with very high stakes," Kallias informed. "If we fail…then there'll be grave consequences for the people coming for the celebrations today."

"...W-Will something bad happen?" Nevena timidly asked, looking over at her parents.

"No, it won't," scoffed Rufina. "You're looking at the finest men of the country right here. They'll stop whatever hare-brained plans these maniacs have come up with." She stopped to feed some food to Luka.

"...Was that why you three have been holed up in the Guild for the last two days?" presumed Zenobia.

"Yes," Kallias confirmed. "We've been trying out all sorts of plans for what these fugitives might do. Mind you…it might all be for nothing. Marshal Yuliya has kindly diverted some knights to guard the wells marked on that map. They might well abandon it now that we know of their plan. But I'd bet a sizable chunk that these people won't give up in trying to derail the jubilee. If these are pragmatic people - which I wouldn't be surprised if they were - "

"Or desperate," interrupted Rufina.

"...Yes, or if they're desperate, then they might abandon that plan and try something else," Kallias finished, glossing over the Haxorus's interjection.

"...Oh yeah…it's like what you told me, Dad," Stiliyan said. "Just as heroes never give up, villains don't give up easily either."

"Quite right, my boy," Mitrofan replied. "A good lesson in persistence. You'll hopefully learn that when you become a mercenary in your time."

"Yeah…Can't wait to become one." The Axew looked psyched. "Then I'll be like you guys, taking on top secret missions like this thing you're doing right now!"

"...Be careful what you wish for, Stiliyan," his father warned. "If you were in my position right now, you would want no part in it. It's been a stressful affair, with harm dealt to good friends of ours in Team Hair Trigger. It's led to me being rebuked by His Majesty and House Lada for raging at Branislav. And all the while, I'm reminded of the calamity that will be inbound if we can't stop these evildoers."

"...Don't put him off, Mitt," Kallias joked, in an attempt to lighten the mood and paint a brighter picture for the children in the room. "The boy won't ever want to become a merc again with what you're telling him. Look on the bright side. If we win…then we'll have averted a major crisis. We have to look at it like that. If you believe we'll lose, then we'll lose. We gotta keep our chins up. Not just for our sakes, but for our little ones too." He looked at the four kids around the table in acknowledgment. "We will win. Don't worry about us today. You just focus on enjoying the day for what it is."

"...Sure, Dad," Elvira said. "It's sad we can't see you and Melchior in the parade, but…you have important work to do instead. And because of it, you're gonna save everyone in Iria."

"Don't let nerves get to you, dear. I know you can do it," Zenobia encouraged. "You're one of the best mercs out there. And you too, Melchior," she said to the Swampert. "These villains won't win against you!"

"You can count on us," promised Kallias. "We'll have this whole mess sorted out by day's end."

"And we'll look after the kids," Paulina said.

"Sure as hell we will. I'm not letting one of those freaks lay their hands on them if it ever comes to it!" vowed Rufina. "They'll be safe as houses with us."

"...Right then." Kallias rose from his seat. "We have all the materials, yes?"

"We do," Melchior affirmed, going over to where their mercenaries' bag was located.

"...A-Actually, wait, Dad," Elvira interrupted. "Um...Mom and I have something for you."

"Oh yes, of course. I nearly forgot," Zenobia realised. "Hang on. We'll get them for you." The mother and daughter duo disappeared to their bedroom.

They returned with a small bag, and gave it to Kallias. He looked inside, and was staggered by what he saw.

"Zen! These are…"

"I know. Elvira found them being sold by a Dresilian merchant in Ozerograd earlier in the week. Given what we were hearing from you, we figured it would help you on this mission. You and Melchior are the most capable men I know. But…it couldn't hurt to have it. A contingency plan for if things become awry."

"...Thank you." Kallias felt touched. "I don't know if we'll use them, but…we'll certainly take them." He gave them to Melchior, who put it into the bag. After that, he gave the Heliolisk a big hug.

"Stay safe," she urged.

"I will. We'll come back with a heroic story to tell," the Sceptile promised. "...Now then. Let's go."

And Team Marshwood, followed by Mitrofan, headed out the front door.





The moment they stepped out into the street, the three mercenaries could immediately sense the change in atmosphere to a joyous one. The houses along the street were all decorated and repainted in preparation for jubilee day. Even those who didn't have the highest respect for Tsar Kliment saw it as a chance to get their houses redone. Rufina was one such person, and saw to it that the house looked presentable to any onlookers. Some banners, bunting, and other such decorations were hung up to fit in with the general look of the street they lived on.

There were also a number of people lining the streets. Not suffocatingly so, but there were certainly enough to make a misanthrope's skin crawl. Thankfully, they were all neighbours of Mitrofan and Rufina, and knew something of the situation he was in. Of course, they didn't know the full details, but they knew the sort of person Mitrofan was. If he had bowed out of something as honourable as the tsar's jubilee parade, then he most likely had good reason for doing it.

Therefore, not many people batted an eye when he appeared out of his home with Team Marshwood. On the front doorstep stood a familiar figure.

"Hello, Guildmaster Mitrofan," greeted Nikita, a happy smile on his face upon seeing the Aggron.

"You too, Nikita," Mitrofan returned. He then turned to Team Marshwood. "...Well, you two, this is where we separate for now. I'll scour the western side of town for any suspicious activity, You do the east."

"Right. Understood," Kallias obliged. "We'll see you later."

"See you. Oh, and…" Mitrofan paused to add, with a serious look on his face, "...Take care out there. We know these brutes are not afraid to murder. And after the way you took down two of their operations…I would rather you not meet a fate like Dalibor or Spiridon did."

"..." Team Marshwood's faces grew solemn in remembrance of what happened in the past week.

"...Please don't fall victim to them." The Aggron's tone sounded almost pleading. "Consider it an order as your Guildmaster…and as your friend."

"...You don't have to worry, Mitrofan," Kallias assured. "If these brutes think they can outsmart us, then they've got another thing coming."

"That's right," Melchior seconded. "We'll see to it that their plans never come to fruition. Not today, not ever!"

"...Good. With your determination, I know we'll win this." Mitrofan turned to leave with Nikita. "I wish you the best of luck." And with that, he headed left down the street.

"Well, let's get going," Kallias said to Melchior. "I say we monitor those wells marked on the map." He took out a map - an illustrated replica of the one he'd retrieved from the Yew Gulch mission. "Let's see…all along here." He pointed to the wells in Iria's eastern half. This had already been discussed in the planning they'd done with Mitrofan over the past week, once they'd learned the information about the map from Yuliya.

The duo set out, down the streets. They took quieter routes that didn't have as many people on them, so they wouldn't draw as big of a crowd if they were noticed, and subsequently interrogated by people on the street. They mostly avoided blatant scrutiny, thankfully.

Still…that didn't mean they didn't receive a number of odd looks as they walked down the streets. A number of whispers were overheard by them.

"There they go…"

"Why aren't they gonna be in the parade? People would kill for that!"

"Now, dear, don't be that way. You know what they're like. There must be an important mission or something that means they can't make it."

"...Important enough to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like that? …That kinda sucks. The little ones were looking forward to seeing them in the parade…"

Melchior couldn't help but feel slightly downcast at hearing this last remark. His partner happened to notice this.

"...You okay, Melchior?" he asked.

"...Yes. It's just…I fear many people will be disappointed not to see the two of us in the parade," the Swampert replied. "I wouldn't be surprised if people travelled to Iria just to see us, and they didn't get the memo that we had dropped out of the parade."

"...Well, nothing we can do about that now," Kallias returned. "...If they knew what we were doing, they wouldn't be questioning it."

"But it's not like we can tell them," Melchior mourned. "The last thing we want to do is start a panic."

"We've kept missions secret before, Melchior," Kallias reminded. "This is just another one of those instances."

"...Right," the Swampert murmured as the trio marched onwards.

Without incident, the duo made it to the first well. There stood two knights, who stood attentively and watchfully, looking out for any suspicious activity. This had been an arrangement by Marshal Yuliya, who had met Team Marshwood and Mitrofan the day before, which notably, was the day after the latter's outburst against Branislav. Yuliya had been quick to apologise for his behaviour, and doubled down on aid to the Guild in this mission. As such, she assigned a number of knights to guard each of the wells marked on the map retrieved in Yew Gulch. It took quite a bit of convincing from Trokhym and especially Branislav to arrange this, but it was eventually approved.

"Oh, it's Team Marshwood," said one of the knights, a Dewott.

"We haven't found anything out of place, before you ask," the other knight, a Sunflora, added.

"Really? Nothing at all?" Melchior asked. "Nothing suspicious?"

"Nuh-uh." The Dewott shook his head. "Nothing or no one suspicious. A few passersby going about their business, at best. But it's been all quiet here."

"Right," noted Kallias. "Thank you for telling us."

"No problem."

And with that, Team Marshwood departed for the next well on their side of town. With all of them, it was a similar story; the assigned knights at each well reported no oddities. And on their own, they didn't spot anything strange or out of the ordinary. (Apart from the atmosphere of jubilance due to the day's celebrations, of course.)

Once they had done a sweeping search on their side of town, Melchior couldn't help but feel discouraged.

"...I really hope we haven't made a mistake here," he said worriedly. "Are we sure those villains will strike today? Or have they aborted their plans?"

"...It's too early to come to that conclusion," Kallias replied. "It might seem like paranoia, what we're doing. But if we slacken our efforts, then they will strike, and the people here today won't be so jovial any more."

"…You know, we still haven't answered that question," the Swampert pointed out. "Who are we chasing here? We know it's an underground association of some kind. But we don't have a name for these people, much less their motivations. What drives them? What could they possibly be after? And why would they try to mass murder so many people?"

"...I can't answer that," Kallias replied regretfully. "But with people with ambitions like that…I don't know if it's worth trying to figure out such a psychotic mindset. I can appreciate convincing petty criminals to abandon their ways, but…I can't accept anyone who would even contemplate such a plan."

"Nor would I," Melchior sighed. He then looked up at the sky. "...It's not quite noon yet."

"…We should meet up with Mitrofan at some point," Kallias replied. "See if he has anything to report."

"That's a good idea. …Let's do some more searching for clues on our side of town, before we meet him."

And so they did that. But this venture yielded no further leads for the Master Rank team. Not feeling any more encouraged, the duo went to one of the southern wells that had been earmarked for Mitrofan to investigate. Luckily, they found him there with Nikita.

"Ah, Team Marshwood," he acknowledged. "Has something happened on your end yet?"

"No, nothing." Melchior shook his head. "None of the knights on our side have reported even the slightest thing out of line."

"Same," Mitrofan replied. "...The worst part is that some of the knights are beginning to get restless. On a day when the spotlight is on Tsar Kliment and the Knights of Selenia are being honoured, they're stuck monitoring wells because of the paranoia of some mercenaries. I can't say I blame them, truth be told. …I do worry that if nothing happens, then we in the Guild will look foolish."

"True enough," agreed Kallias. "I can only imagine how Branislav would milk that and use it against us."

A growl emanated from Mitrofan at the mention of the Sirfetch'd. "He would too," he muttered angrily.

"...Hmm…" Melchior seemed to be in thought. "You know…I've had a bit of a thought."

"...What is it, Melchior?" Kallias asked.

"…We've had trouble figuring out just why these people would think of such a plan. But…maybe that's the point," Melchior surmised. "Maybe creating chaos is their goal."

"...Perhaps," Kallias remarked. "What reason could one possibly have to commit a mass murder of innocents on a scale like we're envisaging? Maybe they don't need a reason, if chaos is their end goal."

"...You might possibly have a point," Mitrofan somewhat agreed. "...We were speaking of alternative plans back at the house. If we want to win against them, then we must think like them. What plan would do more than anything to cause chaos on a day like this?"

"...Assassinating the tsar," Kallias proposed. "After all, he's out in the open here. If one wanted to kill him, today would be a good opportunity to do just that. And besides…think about it. If you wanted to create chaos, what better plan is there than killing the tsar? That would send the country into a right panic."

"...Indeed," the Aggron replied. "But the knights' security is extra tight today. Our warnings about a plot compelled them to do this. Marshal Yuliya told me as much."

"...Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't check out Tsar Kliment," Melchior reasoned. "There might be something there that the knights are missing."

"...You wouldn't want Branislav hearing you say that," chuckled Kallias. "...But you have a point, Melchior. Let's head over to where the tsar is now. Which is where…?"

"Right now…" Mitrofan looked at the sky. "It's midday. If I'm not mistaken, Tsar Kliment is or will be giving a speech at Olbia Square around now. We should make our way there."

"Then it's settled," Kallias said. "Let's go."

Olbia Square was one of a number of public squares dotted around Iria. It was the biggest and most prominent of them, featuring an elegant water fountain and a distinguishable statue of a regal-looking Pangoro. Even children knew who this was - this was the ancient hero Ruslan who founded the tsardom of Selenia and became its first tsar. Beneath his statue, many of his predecessors had given speeches, and his current descendant ruling the house he created would follow this same trend.

With him, of course, came the usual throngs of people that had gathered on this day to see moments like this that would be remembered for years to come. This proved to be quite a problem for Team Marshwood, Mitrofan and Nikita. Long before they were even at Olbia Square, they found one of the streets leading up to it to be choked with people.

"Damn," cursed Mitrofan. "We need to get there quickly. But there are all these people in the way…"

Various heads turned in the direction of the new arrivals. Several of them did a double take at two of them in particular, and then it began.

"Hey…is that Team Marshwood?"

"A Sceptile and a Swampert? It sure looks like them…"

"It is them! I've seen them walking through these streets before! You can hardly miss them, what with those scarves!"

"Holy shit, it is them!"

"Not just them. Guildmaster Mitrofan's here too!"

"Wait, but why are they here? Why aren't they in there with the tsar and the knights?"

"Is it true you've fallen out with His Majesty? Is that why you're not in the parade today?"

"That's the reason? What, has His Majesty stiffed them or something?"

"Apparently the Guildmaster yelled at Marshal Branislav, from what I heard."

"What do you say to that, Guildmaster Mitrofan? Did you and Sir Branislav have a falling-out?"

"...Whether Marshal Branislav and I have fallen out is not relevant to the matter at hand," the Aggron immediately deflected. "May I ask that you let us through, please?"

"Sounds like you did have a bust-up with him," a member of the crowd snarked.

Mitrofan breathed in, and for a moment, Team Marshwood feared a similar outburst to the aforementioned incident with Branislav.

"Excuse me, Mitt," Kallias interjected. "We'll handle this." He cleared his throat, and addressed the crowd. "I know you all have many questions about our withdrawal from His Majesty's parade. But please…it's imperative that you allow us to pass. The joy of the jubilee today might well be scuppered if we can't make it in time to where we need to go. …Please understand. We're on an important mission, and time is of the essence for us right now. We need to get to the stage where the tsar's giving his speech."

"...Sounds serious," a Clefable remarked. "And if it's Team Marshwood, it must be serious. …Well, come on then, everyone! Let 'em through!"

"Yeah!" a Loudred yelled, in the way their kind did. "They've helped us plenty! Now it's time for us to return the favour!"

The crowd of people began to disperse, and a path through was eventually made.

"...Thank you all," Melchior said gratefully. "We'll answer your questions in time, after all this is over."

With that said, Team Marshwood made their way through the crowd down the street. It took some awkward manoeuvring to get around the crowd, and Mitrofan took to hoisting Nikita onto his shoulder so the Cubone wouldn't get lost in the crowd.

But eventually, after much painstaking asking and a host of 'excuse me's' from the group, the four made their way down to where the square began. From here, they could see the stage, and it appeared that they were just in time to see Tsar Kliment begin his speech.

The tsar was clothed in his full Selenian regalia. A refined Bisharp he was, wearing a distinguished crown and cape, and wielding a royal sceptre specifically for special occasions such as this one. He exuded power - he was one who, even without his regalia, could be picked apart in a crowd from the common 'mon. From this alone, many could say he deserved his position, and twenty-five years of relative peace was a testament to his skill as a ruler.

By his side stood his family - the noble family of House Ruslan that ruled over the country. There was Yelizaveta Markiyanovna Ruslana, his Infernape wife and the Tsarina of Selenia. There was his tsesarevich, Crown Prince Kasimir, with a smile on the Monferno's face at the crowd before them. Beside him stood a Mienshao - Svetlana Gerasimovna Lysagora, his fiancée and princess-to-be. And equally as happy was Kasimir's younger brother on his other side - Prince Leonid, a Pawniard with resemblance to his father. Flanking each of them were a number of retainers, as well as the three highest marshals of Selenia - Yuliya, Branislav and Trokhym.

A great cheer went up in the audience as Tsar Kliment stood up to the podium. Right now, it all seemed to be a defining moment in his reign: twenty-five years of ruling over the subjects before him, and they all reciprocated with cheers of joy and gratitude for their leader. The tsar couldn't resist a slight smile as he began his speech. The Amplification Crystal resting upon the podium would ensure that he could be heard even from the back of the crowd.

"Today marks a historic day for Selenia. A day of celebration, but also one of remembrance and reflection. I remember this day twenty-five years ago well. I ascended to the throne upon the unfortunate death of my father, Tsar Nikifor III. For me, that day was bittersweet. I had lost my father, who I had loved dearly, and I had no choice as the tsesarevich but to take up the mantle of leader of House Ruslan, and become the tsar of Selenia, an event that always felt like a distant fantasy to me. But that fantasy would now become reality.

"I was wracked with nervosity on that day. But one thing compelled me to carry out my duty that day; the citizens of my country, who applauded and cheered me and wished me good fortune as their new leader. I pledged, on that day twenty-five years ago when I became Tsar Kliment VII of Selenia, that I would forever devote my life to your service. Though I was yet green in judgement…that was a decision that guided me to carry out my responsibility to lead our nation. And now, twenty-five years later, I renew that same pledge, and it shall remain that way until my death, whenever that will happen."

His coronation, huh? Sounded like quite an event, Kallias mused briefly. If only Melchior and I were there to see it…

"These past twenty-five years have been fruitful for Selenia, and the stability and peace that persisted during that time is something I wish to upkeep in future. The jubilance of this occasion fills me with hope and optimism that this will come to pass. It has been of great benefit to our people, and I am only thankful to you, the people of Selenia, for seeing our tsardom through this era of peace and tranquillity. You are forever her bedrock, and I have eternal gratitude for your undying support for our nation."

Playing to the masses…at least he recognises their efforts, Mitrofan noted. It would be a glaring omission if he said nothing of their work to uphold his regime.

"I am blessed, as well, to have the support of my family through these times. In Tsarina Yelizaveta I have had a tsarina willing to carry out her duties and make sacrifices for our nation. She echoes the efforts of my own mother, Tsarina Sofia, when she was the consort to my father during his tenure as tsar. I have little doubt that my mother would look upon her with pride from the heavens above, and deem her a worthy successor to her."

Tsarina Sofia…Melchior reflected. He didn't know a huge amount about her, given she had passed away not long after he and Kallias arrived in Selenia, but from what he'd heard, she was a benevolent tsarina who worked to help Selenia's poor and supported the Guild in their actions.

"And it is with hope and pride that I will be able to say the same to my own son and tsesarevich, Kasimir, when he should one day carry the name of tsar. I wish that when that day comes, you will treat him and Lady Svetlana of Lysagora, who will become tsarina along with him, with the same respect and goodwill that you have bestowed upon Yelizaveta and I during our reign. I wish similar success to my younger son, Leonid, who will devote himself to his nation as any other member of House Ruslan would.

"With the blessing of Lord Arceus, our Creator, that will be in the distant future, and I will still be capable of ruling over Selenia and her people for many years to come. May that time be blessed with prosperity, just as the last twenty-five years have been! May our tsardom strive for greatness, and forever work to make our country a righteous and just nation!"

This was met with raucous applause throughout the crowd. Melchior looked around him; there were few people that didn't receive the tsar's message with acclamation. After all, who wouldn't wish for a better tomorrow? Who, within this crowd, would not want to repeat the glorious twenty-five years that Kliment had presided over?

That answer, the crowd would unfortunately find out.

Within the crowd, Melchior spotted movement through the crowd. There were a number of Pokémon gradually moving their way through the throng of people, and getting closer to the front.

"Kallias," he said to his partner. "Look." He pointed to them. A dark feeling was growing in his chest.

"Guildmaster." Nikita had the same thought. "There are some people going to the front…"

"Are there?" Mitrofan turned to look. "...Those people…a Skuntank, a Magmar, a Typhlosion, a Torkoal…? Mostly Fire-types…Just what are they doing…?"

They would soon have an answer. Once those Pokémon got close enough to the stage, they collectively unleashed a massive Smokescreen that enveloped the surrounding area.

Immediately, everywhere at the front was sent into a panic. And Team Marshwood, Mitrofan and Nikita were caught right in the centre of it.

"Argh!" Melchior cried, feeling himself being jostled by the panicking crowd. "No! Just like in Yew Gulch!"

"Only this time…" Kallias looked toward the stage, now obscured by smoke. "Even more lives are at stake…!"

"Nikita!" Mitrofan coughed, feeling the smoke. "Hold on tight! Don't get lost in the crowd!"

"Okay, Guildmaster!" Nikita called back, and did as the Aggron instructed.

"Protect His Majesty!" Team Marshwood heard the calls of knights over the panicked cries of the audience.

We can't stand by and do nothing, Kallias decided. Maybe we ought to -

Before he could finish this thought, he felt someone brush past him. He noticed a Jolteon speedily run past them…toward the stage.

Alarm bells rang in the Sceptile's head, feeling something was definitely up. And so he gave chase through the smoke, and managed to tackle the Electric-type to the ground.

"Agh! What the hell?!" the Jolteon cried out. Getting out from under the Sceptile, he did a double-take once he saw Melchior run up to accompany him. The duo pulled their scarves over their mouths to better weather the smoke.

"You!" His face contorted into an angry snarl. "You two! Here to foil our plans again!"

"That's right!" Kallias responded, moving in to slash him with a Blackthorn Cross Slash. "So you're with them, then! We won't allow you to go through with this!"

"We'll never let the likes of you win!" Melchior vowed, readying a Mud Bomb and throwing it at the Electric-type.

"Agh! Curse you!" hissed the Jolteon. He breathed to let loose a Discharge. This, if it had been successful, would've hurt the bystanders that had gradually moved away from him. However, a stun seed thrown in his direction stopped this attack in its tracks.

"Dammit!" The quadruped's eyes were filled with fury. "Team Marshwood! Damn you! May you be cursed for all eternity!"

"Oh, shut up. I don't have time for this," growled Kallias. "You need to stay down!" With that, he spun around and unleashed a Belladonna Cross Slash on the Jolteon. That managed to do him in, and he fell to the ground with a thud.

"Right, that's him dealt with." The Sceptile turned his attention back to the scene. "Now then - " But before he could say any more, a voice called out to them.

"Team Marshwood? You're here?"

The duo turned to look, and Marshal Yuliya was approaching them with a small entourage of knights.

"Marshal Yuliya," Kallias greeted grimly. "We had a feeling the attackers had changed tact, and go straight for the tsar himself. …It would appear we were correct."

"We have to stop those that are putting up this Smokescreen," Melchior said. "There were others - a Skuntank, and some other Fire-types, if I recall…"

"We are aware of this," Yuliya replied, and pointed to where a number of other knights were suppressing the Pokémon setting up the Smokescreen. Due to this, the Smokescreen was starting to dissipate, and once it had, the damage could be seen.

Thankfully, it was not extensive. The citizens were more startled than hurt, although a number of them were coughing and spluttering, afflicted with smoke inhalation. Kallias and Melchior could see Mitrofan and Nikita, whom they had become separated from after Kallias had made after the Jolteon, aiding a number of those who had been afflicted.

"Treat the wounded!" the Furret called to a number of knights. "Make sure that everyone is okay!"

"Yes, ma'am!" saluted a Gumshoos knight, before he and nearby knights dispersed throughout the crowd to check on the afflicted.

"...What happened here?" Yuliya asked.

"He was running towards the stage," Kallias informed. "We feared he was going to do something to His Majesty."

"Speaking of His Majesty…is he safe?" Melchior queried.

"Worry not, Mud Bomber Melchior," another voice touted. "His Majesty has been escorted to safety, as has Tsarina Yelizaveta and Princes Kasimir and Leonid, away from the actions of these rapscallions."

Team Marshwood looked over and saw that the answer had come from Marshal Branislav. The Sirfetch'd was now approaching them, while his own entourage seemed to be scouring the crowd for any more potential attackers that could strike.

"So they've been escorted away, then?" Kallias asked.

"Yes," Branislav confirmed. "They are safe. Marshal Trokhym and his men led them away."

Team Marshwood noted the slightly disgruntled edge that came into his voice, evidence that he was still smarting from the incident two days ago. Evidently, he was trying to hide it, and Kallias had a feeling that even he knew it would be unwise to have a go at them while surrounded by so many people.

"That's a relief," Melchior sighed, mopping his brow slightly.

"...So this rapscallion attempted to assassinate His Majesty, you say?" the Sirfetch'd queried.

"Yes, that's true." Kallias looked again at the Jolteon, before noticing the satchels attached to his sides. "Hm. What's that all about?"

"I'll check," Melchior volunteered, going over to the unconscious quadruped and opening the satchel.

There was one item in the bag. And once he took it out, the blood of everyone who saw it collectively froze.

It was an ovoid object with numbering on it.

02:09

02:08

02:07


…That was counting down.

"T-This is…!" an aghast Branislav reacted.

"No, it can't be!" Yuliya cried out in horror.

"In front of all of these people…!" Melchior said, looking around at the people around them.

"We need to get this out of here, away from these people!" Kallias yelled out. Alas, this was easier said than done, what with all the people blocking their avenue of escape.

"Leave that to us knights, Kallias," Yuliya replied, before stepping forward. "Excuse me, everyone! Please clear to either side for Team Marshwood to pass through! We must get this bomb out of Olbia Square now!"

Once the word 'bomb' was mentioned, no one needed to be told twice. No one hesitated to obey the Furret marshal's instructions. Thus, a path was cleared, and Team Marshwood ran with the bomb in hand.

They were far from safe, though. The bomb's timer continued ticking down as they ran.

01:22

01:21

01:20


"What do we do?! Where do we go?" Kallias was frantic.

"...Somewhere where this won't harm anyone when it explodes," Melchior panted. "But…that's easier said than done on a day like this."

"...Dammit," cursed Kallias. "...Where? Where can we go?"

"..." Melchior's thoughts were in a fray, due to the pressure of the time bomb. But a thought did come to him in that moment.

"How about the canal? That's nearby!"

"The canal?" Kallias didn't sound fully convinced. "There's bound to be people there too…But it's not like we have much of a choice! Come on, let's go!"

They ran towards the nearest bridge to the Miroslav Canal. This was a canal built some eighty years ago that ran through Iria and travelled through the central flatlands of the country to the River Evor, the tsardom's longest river. Its main purpose was for commerce and ease of access to the capital - two things that were being capitalised upon today.

This was of no reassurance to the duo as they came to the bridge running over the canal, where a fair number of people had gathered. Below, a number of boats were tied up at anchoring points.

All the while, the countdown was nearing the end.

00:12

00:11

00:10


"Everyone, get off the bridge!" Kallias insisted. "Please, it's for your own safety! This bomb's about to detonate!" His panic was enough to compel the people to do so.

"I've got it!" Melchior yelled, holding up the bomb and rearing his arm back to throw it. As if he was throwing a Mud Bomb, he hurled the not-at-all-muddy bomb as far away from them as possible.

He and all who were looking on saw the splash in the canal as the object landed in the water. Everyone braced themselves for what was to come.

00:02

00:01

00:00


KA-BOOOOOOOOM!


The noise was deafening. Equally as forceful was the massive deluge of water that was thrown in all directions from the explosion. Many of the spectators were drenched, and a number of the nearby boats suffered some damage. Others were snapped loose from their moorings. The buildings nearby were drenched too, with a number of windows broken. As they looked upon the scene, Kallias and Melchior silently prayed that no one in those houses had stayed home.

"...Whew," Kallias breathed, with slight relief. "Wasn't expecting a dousing like that when I got up this morning."

"Is anyone injured?" Melchior asked.

The crowd looked around them. Apart from ringing ears from the explosion, there looked to be few, if any, physical injuries. Thankfully, there were no Fire-types in the small crowd of people hit by the water, as they could have been grievously hurt. But there was no instance of this - the crowd looked more disturbed than hurt.

"...No. I think we're alright for the most part," a nearby Skiploom replied, wringing the water out of their foliage.

Thank goodness for that, Melchior silently thanked.

"But what was that?" exclaimed an Aromatisse. "Why did you throw a bomb into the canal?"

"Yes…that is our question too." Looking over, Team Marshwood saw a number of knights making their way over to them, no doubt having heard the explosion. They were led by a stolid-looking blue Meowstic. "Would you care to explain your actions, Team Marshwood?"

"...Gladly," Kallias replied. "We do apologise for the disturbance. But that bomb over there that just blew up was originally meant to detonate under the stage where Tsar Kliment was giving his speech. If it had happened there, many more lives would have been at risk, and he and the other members of the royal family would almost certainly have been killed. And possibly many more, too."

"Hm…Is that so?" The Meowstic, as well as the collected crowd, were surprised to hear this news.

"It is. Marshal Yuliya and Marshal Branislav can back us up on this," Melchior replied.

"...I see. Well…if this is true, then a major crisis may have been averted," the Meowstic knight surmised. "I thank you in advance once I affirm this for myself."

"Yeah! Three cheers to Team Marshwood!" cheered an onlooker, and the rest of the gathered folk gave similar noises of gratitude.

"That being said, that bomb was likely to have caused structural damage to the buildings and this bridge. I must ask that everyone stay off this bridge until we have confirmed its safety," requested the blue cat. "Men, start investigating right away."

"Yes, Lieutenant Rafail!" saluted a Politoed knight, as he and his fellow knights gathered to investigate the bridge. Kallias and Melchior had stepped off it to allow the knights to carry out their assessment.

"...A bomb, huh?" Melchior remarked. "Those people changed tact quickly. From poison to bombs…whatever next?"

"I don't know. But…" Kallias happened to look off to the side, and he drifted off course from the conversation.

This was due to movement from the corner of his eye catching his attention.

And what he had seen had made him go rigid.

A black-and-white shape seemed to flash by the edge of one of the nearby alleys. It might have been difficult to see behind the crowds of people, but Kallias happened to spot it.

This wasn't just any black-and-white shape, though. It looked familiar - distinctly familiar - and Kallias's lips pursed as he realised what, or who, he was looking at.

Is that who I think it is…? Kallias fist clenched. If it is, then…we have a score to settle.

"Kallias?" Melchior said. "What's up?"

"...Melchior," the Sceptile began. We need to head that way." He pointed to the direction in which he saw the figure, who he had caught sight of again and noticed was beginning to move away from them. If we are to apprehend him, then we need to act fast.

"That way? Why?"

"An old colleague's made his reappearance," Kallias replied curtly, holding back a snarl. The tone of his voice told Melchior all he needed to know.

"Hinnerk?! He's here?"

"Yes! And we need to catch him now!" Kallias turned in the intended direction. "Even if he might not be involved with today's events, I haven't forgotten about his actions a week ago!"

"...Nor have I." A determined expression crossed Melchior's face. "Come on, Kallias. Let's go."

And so they ran off towards where Kallias saw him. They saw a black-and-white shape in the distance; however, it occurred to them that the stance of the Pokémon seemed to be bipedal as opposed to the quadrupedal stance of Linoone. For a moment, the duo wondered if they had the wrong person, but they quickly dismissed that thought.

Hinnerk could very well have evolved into an Obstagoon. This would be something of a difficulty for them in the case of combat, due to his tougher strength. But that didn't deter them. He needs to answer for his crimes.

They reached a fork in the road. Hinnerk went down the left path, and was pursued by Team Marshwood.

"Get back here, Hinnerk!" shouted Kallias, before making a dash down that street. "You need to answer for what you've done!"

The chase went on, down a number of winding streets, until eventually the two of them arrived at the entrance to an ancient looking building. This was the Irian Arena, a known landmark within Iria which in older times hosted combat events, typically to recognise someone as a potential marshal in a special ceremony put on in olden times. However, new systems put in place by subsequent tsars eventually saw the obsolescence of this, and so the arena had no use for this anymore. It was kept in place, though, due to the will of those who liked its iconic look, including successive tsars and influential Selenian lords. While not quite matching up to magnificent monuments of similar stature in the East, it was well-regarded nonetheless, and still held events from time to time.

It was normally off limits to the public. But a lawbreaker like Hinnerk had no regard for such things, and went into the arena. Kallias, intent to chase him down, ignored this too, and chased after the rogue. And a few seconds afterward, Melchior entered the old building, following after his partner.

They soon got to the central arena. There was only one person in there, who was panting slightly from all the running he had to do.

"...Damn you two," hissed Hinnerk, now an Obstagoon. "You're always finding some way to ruin my day. And it looks like today won't be any different."



Notes

And a cliffhanger. Glad to get this one done - I was stuck on where exactly to take it for a while.

Kliment's speech is loosely based on the Accession Day message given by Queen Elizabeth II for her Platinum Jubilee. (Also, RIP Liz - thanks for living long enough for us to make jokes and memes about you being immortal.)

My train of thought regarding this Special Episode ended up contradicting some points I made up earlier in the story about this period in time. So I've gone back and altered some lines around this in previous chapters, now that I have a clearer picture of what happened seven years ago.

One more part to this Special Episode. Stay tuned!
 
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Special Episode 1: Seven Years Ago - Part 4 (Jubilant Showdown)

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Before we begin, I must state that there is a Trigger Warning for a panic attack in this chapter. It happens near the end of the chapter, in the scene after the flashback is over. A heads up for those who don't like that sort of thing.

Now, on with the show.




Special Episode 1
Seven Years Ago
Part 4 - Jubilant Showdown

The arena was normally off limits to the public. But a lawbreaker like Hinnerk had no regard for such things, and went into the arena. Kallias, intent to chase him down, ignored this too, and chased after the rogue. And a few seconds afterward, Melchior entered the old building, following after his partner.

They soon got to the central arena. There was only one person in there, who was panting slightly from all the running he had to do.


"...Damn you two," hissed Hinnerk, the Obstagoon. "You're always finding some way to ruin my day. And it looks like today won't be any different."

"Of course it won't," Kallias replied. "Justice never rests, even on days like this."

"Besides…it's not like we like to leave loose ends," Melchior added. "Especially when it's someone who colluded with criminals and told them to kill our friends."

"Hey, I never said that!" Hinnerk defended. "I only told them you knew what they were doing. I never told them to kill anyone. …Even if I couldn't stand that ball of hair…"

"That doesn't matter," Kallias returned. "You're a criminal, Hinnerk! All while being a member of a Guild that pledges itself against that very thing!"

"...Are you really with them?" Melchior inquired. "Are you aligned with the people that tried to poison Iria's wells, as well as try to assassinate Tsar Kliment today?"

"...You really want me locked up, don't you?" Hinnerk scoffed. "...You know, I never really cared about what they did. Why should I? They paid me good money, far better than anything in the Guild, just to get materials for stuff. Arcean orchids, Nagorian yew, explosive materials…that's not my business what they do with them. As long as I get paid, I really don't give a shit.

"But you're a threat to me earning those sweet tons of cash. And I know something else, too. This lot wants you dead for foiling their plans. And you know what? Since we think enough alike, me and them…I'd be happy to help them." His teeth bared with aggression.

"...You've crossed the Ferax now, Hinnerk." Kallias's voice was laced with contempt. "First complicit with murder, and now willing to carry it out. …Deplorable. Your lack of morals is appalling."

"...Tch," the Obstagoon spat. "You should've been blown up back there. Then I'd never have to hear the shit that comes out of your mouths again."

"Well, too bad!" Kallias shot back. "We lived to tell the tale. And now you're going to answer for your crimes!"

"You're not gonna win, Kallias!" yelled Hinnerk. "I've got a lot stronger with evolution. I'll crush you!"

"Well then. Let's see if your claws can match your tongue!"

The Sceptile saw no point in delaying combat any further, and so leapt towards Hinnerk, Leaf Blades at the ready. He intended to deal a Ferned Cross Slash to him. However…

Hinnerk suddenly let off a deafening yell, with his arms crossed in an X shape.

"Agh!" Kallias was momentarily distracted by his opponent's Obstruct, and that provided Hinnerk the perfect opportunity to strike. Dark energy coated his claws, and he lunged with a Night Slash, striking Kallias across his side.

"Kallias!" Melchior cried, and immediately sought retaliation. He threw a Mud Bomb at Hinnerk, and luckily, it struck.

"Curse you!" Hinnerk growled, as he was covered in mud.

"Thanks for the save," Kallias called to Melchior.

"No problem." Melchior turned his attention to Hinnerk, who was now giving the duo a glare for the books.

"...Tch. You always have to have each other's back, don't you?" he scoffed.

"Of course we do. That's the basic function of a mercenary team," Kallias said. "Perhaps you would have learned that if you believed in the way of the mercenary."

"Fuck that!" yelled Hinnerk. "You guys treated me like crap! I deserved much better than the shit position you all gave me! Bronze Rank, after all the stuff I did! Meanwhile, you have Master Rank! If that's not nepotism, then I don't know what is!"

"...So that's your excuse? …Typical." Kallias shook his head in disgust. "You put no effort into your work. You were rude to your clients. You were equally as rude to your comrades. You were a nuisance to work with. You never respected your peers in the Guild. At the end of the day, all you cared about was money. No wonder you never climbed the ladder of Ranks far. The fact you even got Bronze Rank was a shock to us all. …Of course someone of your nature would turn to crime. Your collaboration with these outlaws nearly killed a man and turned another into a murderer. These are the same people that planned what is in essence a mass murder. …It cannot be put into words how reprehensible your conduct has been. Don't for one minute pretend you're the victim here! You're a vile aggressor, Hinnerk! And it's high time we put an end to your trickery!"

With this, he returned to the fighting, with another Ferned Cross Slash at the ready. Hinnerk retaliated with Night Slash, in an attempt to block Kallias's slashes. However, the Sceptile was too swift for him, and managed to score a deep cut along his side.

"Argh!" Hinnerk winced. "Take this, you bastard!" He attempted to retaliate with another Night Slash, but Kallias blocked the attack and leapt back. This angered the Obstagoon, who ran forward to try and catch up with him.

However, in his haste, he'd forgotten about Melchior.

This became apparent to him when the Swampert, after having hidden underground, suddenly burst out and struck Hinnerk across his torso, knocking him backwards.

"Damn you both! You're really starting to piss me off!" snarled the Obstagoon, baring his teeth in anger. As he spoke, a steam-like aura began to cloud him, and he gave them a menacing look, daring them to attack.

However, both men knew immediately what this move was.

"Revenge," Kallias muttered in annoyance. "He wants to use our power against us."

"We have to find a way around, or wait him out," Melchior said. "What do we do, Kallias?"

"...Attack him anyway. It's not a problem if he can't land a hit," the Sceptile said, with a joking expression. "Don't worry, Melchior. I have your back."

"...I suppose I can manage that," the Swampert decided, feeling reassured by his partner's words. He readied a Mud Bomb, and lobbed it at Hinnerk. It hit him square on, drenching him with more mud. But the Obstagoon remained in his stance, his piercing angry glare remaining in place.

He additionally shot out Muddy Water at him. Kallias made sure to dodge out of the way so he wouldn't be drenched alongside their foe.

Finally, he threw another Mud Bomb. After this attack landed, Hinnerk finally acted.

"Take this!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, lunging for Melchior. The Swampert was about to dodge out of the way, bracing himself for the Obstagoon to land his deadly Revenge attack. But as it turned out…he didn't have to, because of what his partner threw at Hinnerk while the latter was distracted with unleashing his rage.

It was a stun seed, and it stopped Hinnerk clean in his tracks.

"Aargh!" he cried out. "A stun seed?! No! No! You pieces of shit!"

"...You played right into our hands," Kallias said, with a degree of satisfaction. "And now you'll see just how much your mistake cost you."

"Yes. Your crimes stop here, Hinnerk," Melchior said, before he looked over at his partner, opposite him. "It's time we ended this You ready, Kallias?"

"...I couldn't be more ready," the Sceptile returned. "Let's dance, Melchior!"

And so the two began a special manoeuvre that they reserved for moments like this, when their opponents were cornered like this.

Melchior readied two Mud Bombs in his hands, and threw one of them at Hinnerk. Once that attack landed, Kallias leapt up into the air. Then Melchior threw his other Mud Bomb, and while his opponent was blinded by the mud, Kallias landed in front of him and slashed with his Leaf Blades.

That in itself was a combo that worked for them in defeating enemies. But they weren't done yet.

Melchior then burrowed underground with Dig. Kallias remained above ground, and slashed at his opponents. This time, though, he cycled through each of his combo attacks: Ferned Cross Slash, Blackthorn Cross Slash, and Belladonna Cross Slash, and cut X's for days in his attacks on Hinnerk. He finished this combo with a standard Leaf Blade cut, and threw Hinnerk back with that attack.

Then, where the Obstagoon ended up, Melchior suddenly burst out of the ground, intending to make a big leap upwards. He managed to get in an uppercut as he jumped up, and mid air, he conjured a Mud Bomb and threw it downwards at Hinnerk.

That was a foe-ending combo for them. Rain of Mud and Slashes was the name Kallias had given it. They didn't use it a huge amount, given that it required set-up and for their opponent to be in the right position to carry it out. It was typically carried out in the audience of others, who could see Team Marshwood's teamwork for themselves.

As for the duo, they loved doing it. Thus, when the time was right, they relished carrying it out. And this time was no less satisfying than the previous occasion.

Especially when their opponent was someone as despicable as Hinnerk, who sold his soul as a mercenary to the criminal underworld.

The Obstagoon had been hit hard by the pair's attacks, and couldn't muster any form of counterattack. He lay in the dirt, fur covered in mud, and snarling at Kallias and Melchior, who looked over at him to see if he still had energy left. To their luck, it seemed he had none. Despite him being evolved, he was nowhere near a match for the elite fighters that were Team Marshwood.

"D-Damn you…" he cursed, curling his right fist in anger. "I'm…I'm not done with you…"

"Give it up, Hinnerk," Kallias reprimanded. "You lost, plain and simple. Now have some honour and admit defeat."

"...I hate you, you piece of shit," Hinnerk snapped at Kallias. "And you too, you mudbather…" He directed this at Melchior.

"It's all part of our job," the Swampert defended. "You spit in the name of justice, Hinnerk. At least now you'll get your comeuppance."

"...Fuck you," Hinnerk snarled. "You and your stupid fucking sense of justice…"

"Rage at us all you want," Kallias replied. "But you made the choices you did. You have no one to blame for this but yourself."

"Yes." Melchior could only agree with his partner. "Look at Helena and Krim, and Nikita too. They were in the same boat as you - homeless and penniless, with nowhere else to go. Mitrofan gave them all another chance, and they took it to get out of their bad situations. Now they're all assets to the Guild."

"You, though?" Kallias's tone was laced with scorn. "You haven't changed, Hinnerk. You were a rotten thief when you entered the Guild, and you're just as rotten now as you were then." He paused. "...No, pardon me. That's not right. You're worse than before."

"Conspiring with outlaws who planned to poison the city's drinking waters, and then assassinate Tsar Kliment…which led to Dalibor being put into a coma." Melchior shook his head in revulsion. "That's a whole new level of low, Hinnerk. That's unthinkable."

"...Since these people have committed treason, no doubt His Majesty will get involved with this," Kallias mentioned. "I wonder what he'd think about what you've been doing, affiliating with these people?"

"...Tch," spat Hinnerk without a care. "...You know, for two of the most loved people in this gods-damned continent…you don't exactly cop on quickly, do you?"

"...What are you saying, Hinnerk?" Kallias's eyes narrowed.

"I told you earlier, you know," the Obstagoon returned. "You threw their plans all out of whack. That whole assassination was put together in a hurry when you exposed their plan to poison Iria's wells. And now you've foiled even that plan. …No wonder they want you dead. Didn't you think of that? And with you walking around town as normal…you've created a big target on both your heads."

Team Marshwood would've normally let his words go in one ear and out the other. But this particular speech struck a chord of realisation within them.

They didn't have long to dwell on this before Hinnerk spoke up again.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, you're thick…Look at the stands, you blind idiots!"

They listened to him, looking around them. And a feeling of terror rose within them when they saw what was there.

A great horde of Pokémon began to appear in the audience. They came in all different shapes and sizes, and in a great number. At a glance around him, Kallias estimated at least thirty of them at minimum.

"W-What…? But how?" he heard Melchior saying. "We would have noticed them…"

"Must have been invisify orbs or psychic illusions or something like that," Kallias replied. "...Was this a trap of some sort? Did we play right into their hands?"

"You bet your ass it was!" Hinnerk said, a sadistic smile now on his muzzle. "I knew once you saw me, you'd chase me down like a Braviary to a Buneary. So I brought you right where they want you. And now…you're in prime position to be cut down by them."

As he was saying this, the Pokémon in the audience began to leap into the arena. The looks in their eyes spelled their intent quite clearly: they were after Kallias and Melchior.

"Kill Team Marshwood!" a distinguished-looking Tangrowth yelled out. "Don't let them get away! Those bastards deserve to burn in hell for ruining our plans! For our vengeance and fury! Destroy them!"

"Get ready, Kallias," Melchior said to his partner, readying a Mud Bomb. "Looks like we're in for an uphill battle here."

"Mm." The Sceptile said nothing else as he conjured his Leaf Blades and leapt at his nearest enemy, a Raticate. It would've been a breeze as a one-on-one fight, but he found himself having to contend with the attacks of other Pokémon. And though he was agile, there were only so many attacks he could dodge.

Melchior could at least weather the enemy's attacks better. As well as that, his Mud Bombs and especially his Muddy Water attacks could at least damage more enemies within range. And he also had the option of Counter, to deal enemy damage right back to them at a more powerful rate.

All the same, despite the advantages they had and the experience they possessed as fighters, the numbers were not a factor that aided them. There were simply too many enemies to contend with. They had the stamina to endure them, but the attacks kept piling up, even the weak ones.

Items only helped to a certain extent; they couldn't manage time to reach into the bag, for any time Kallias tried, the enemies would seize the opportunity and gang up on them. They were only so useful in this circumstance.

The seed of doubt over victory began to blossom within Melchior when a Weepinbell launched a Giga Drain and struck him with it, draining energy from him.

"Ack!" he winced, feeling the energy leave him. Damn… He looked around at the outlaws, and although he had felled at least six by this stage, many more still stared him down, and launched attacks at him. A Kabutops slashed at him with X-Scissor, and he managed to use Counter to deal a stronger attack back to the fossil Pokémon. However, he felt the sting of the long cut now on his right arm.

Next to him, Kallias wasn't faring much better. He optimised a strategy of dodging and slashing, which worked somewhat well in the first while, managing to cut down a few outlaws with it. However, his agility, though admirable, had its limitations, and other Pokémon of a similar speed, like a Swellow that happened to be among the horde, managed to outspeed him and dealt an Aerial Ace to him. He kept going, but even so, victory still was far from guaranteed.

His moment of doubt came when a Crobat lunged at him with a Cross Poison while he was preoccupied while using Blackthorn Cross Slash on a nearby Mismagius. It was an opening capitalised on, and it occurred to Kallias then, as he reeled from the sharp venomous X-shaped cut the four-winged bat had dealt to him, that he and Melchior were not in a good situation.

The Swampert saw this, too. Despair crept up on him as he saw the amount of enemies he still had not yet taken down. Fifteen, at least, and that wasn't counting the enemies on Kallias' side.

Off to the side, watching all of this, Hinnerk smirked as he watched Melchior and Kallias with their backs to each other as the outlaws closed in on them.

"Hah!" he snickered delightfully. "Guess even heroes reach their limit eventually!"

"...We're in trouble," Melchior breathed. "We're massively outnumbered. All these enemies…there's no way we can possibly overwhelm them all." He tried to keep the panic out of his voice, but the negative thoughts were proving to overpower his optimism in the moment.

I can't fall here. The image of Paulina flashed in his mind. I have to make it! For her! That was the greatest thought keeping him going.

"...Or…can we?"

The Swampert blinked. He looked at his partner, and the Sceptile had a glint in his eye that was all too familiar to him.

It meant he had a plan.

"Kallias…surely you're not serious? Please don't joke at a time like this…"

"Oh, I'm not joking," the gecko replied. "We can overcome this. …With the help of a gift Elvira and Zenobia gave me."

He slashed at a nearby Simisage with a Belladonna Cross Slash. After he did this, he quickly reached into their bag and pulled out the small bag Zenobia had given him that morning.

To think, we'll be saved because of a stroke of luck like that. …I'll definitely be thanking Zen and Elvira later.

There were two seeds in the bag. He took them out of the bag and gave one to Melchior. The Swampert's eyes widened at what he saw.

"An empowerment seed?! …W-With this, we can…!"

"…Let's show them what we can really do, eh, partner?"

Kallias's grin caused Melchior to give his partner a confident smile of his own.

"Yes. Let's show them the power of Mega Evolution!"

Both wasted no time in gulping down the seeds.

And instantly, they felt the effects.

Their bodies began to draw in light, before they were encased in two round crystals. Then those crystals broke apart, with two powerful shockwaves and bursts of light that made all of the Pokémon cover their eyes.

When the light dissipated…quite the sight greeted the outlaws.

Kallias and Melchior stood determined, having changed form. Kallias's head crests had grown, as had the bulbous seeds along his back. A plate of leaves formed at his chest and shoulders, and sharper leaves grew at his wrists. Perhaps the most noticeable change in him was his tail, which had grown exceptionally and developed a red stinger at the end, with its tip shaped like a conifer.

Melchior, meanwhile, had undergone a huge shift of bulk. His upper body, especially his arms, became incredibly muscular, while his lower body became rather more squat. His gills grew in size too, while his head fins thickened and grew, as did his tailfin.

They had undergone Mega Evolution, a phenomenon that certain Pokémon could access with the aid of an empowerment seed that gave them an immense amount of power. And as it so happened, Sceptile and Swampert were two species that could use the power of Mega Evolution for themselves.

Their auras were dominating, and their changed presence struck fear into the hearts of the outlaws.

"Crap! They've Mega Evolved!"

"What do we do?! There's no way in hell we can take them on!"

"They're legendary mercenaries on their own! With Mega Evolution on their side…they're practically invincible!"

"Shut up, the lot of you!" the Tangrowth from before suddenly cried out. "They may have Mega Evolution, but we have the advantage of numbers! We can still overwhelm them!"

"...Oh dear." Kallias shook his head. "Looks like someone didn't study tactics well enough. Well, let's not waste any more time. Let's see what wins out at the end of the day - you evildoers and your 'numbers', or us two with the power of Mega Evolution and justice on our side. Let's decide that, right here, right now!"

With that declaration made, he leapt straight into combat - or rather sped straight into combat. Mega Evolution gave him a lot more agility, and he was like the blink of an eye as he leapt back into the fray and slashed with his Leaf Blades faster than any Ninjask. His strength was also amplified, and his blades were sharper and cut a lot finer than before. Combined with the agility and strength, his enemies soon realised what the combination of both of these meant. For a lot of them, they had no time at all to react before they were on the receiving end of a flurry of Ferned Cross Slashes from the Sceptile, and in an instant, a number of them were taken down.

Enemies dealing with Melchior fared no better. Mega Evolution had amplified the volume of his Mud Bombs, as well as the force of their collision, and the Pokémon surrounding him were soon drenched from top to bottom in mud. He could then more effectively capitalise on Dig through this, creating a muddy tunnel that ended up causing the ground to experience liquefaction, destabilising the terrain below a number of Pokémon. This turned the ground into a quagmire of sorts, which in turn, made the enemies easy prey for Melchior when he shot out of the ground and slammed his huge arms down on his enemies, taking them down with the sheer power behind them.

It was an awesome power the two possessed in that moment. And it felt amazing for both of them to possess it. It was just like standard evolution, only with a greater sense of euphoria in its wake.

Team Marshwood were certainly feeling it as they fought.

"I haven't felt such a high for ages!" Kallias exclaimed. As he slashed again at a nearby Houndoom with Ferned Cross Slash, he began to laugh at the ecstatic feeling of the Mega Evolution high. "Ahahaha! Ha ha ha ha! This is wonderful!"

"Yeah…can't deny it's amazing." Melchior smiled, letting the exhilarating feeling wash over him. It's something else, being Mega Evolved. This power and energy…I truly feel like I can do anything.

But still…one key downside to Mega Evolution weighed on his mind. "This won't last forever. We need to make short work of these outlaws," he warned.

"Of course," Kallias acknowledged, still grinning with exhilaration. "Let's use this power and win the day!"

And so they set to work cleaning out the many enemies that lay before them. The outlaws wished to use their numbers advantage to gang up on the mercenaries and make a dent in them. But while some did land hits on them, the adrenaline pulsing through Kallias and Melchior meant that they shrugged off any blows dealt to them, and punished the attackers with a devastating Cross Slash from Kallias, or an especially muddy Mud Bomb from Melchior. Attacking from long range wasn't a viable option either - Kallias typically intercepted any projectiles with a speedy dice of his Leaf Blades, or simply dodged out of the way with his considerable speed, and Melchior often hid underground and used the muddy quagmire he'd created to make getaways.

Team Marshwood didn't use Mega Evolution too often; empowerment seeds were hard to come by, after all. And even then, they agreed that if they did have the means to use Mega Evolution, it would only be in extremis, against something they could not win without its aid. A situation like now, where they were heavily outnumbered and were struggling without it.

But now that they had its power, they managed to turn the tide, and soon, the horde of outlaws were on the back foot. The Tangrowth who had previously asserted the advantage through numbers was now seeing this strategy crumble to pieces as more of his men fell to the sheer force of the duo.

Damn it…damn it all to hell…

Before long, Kallias and Melchior turned their attention to him.

"So you're the leader of this bunch, are you?" Kallias interrogated. "Tell us. What exactly were you planning today? Were you behind the attack on Tsar Kliment? Did you plan to poison Iria's wells?"

"...I do whatever divine will tells me to," the Tangrowth replied vaguely. "The streets are full of filth in this city, and it is necessary, in the eventual utopia to come, to rid such scum from the world. They gather for such pomp and ceremony, only for the worship of this false leader! He does not deserve that honour and glory! That tsar is a sham! A spreader of deceit! Ridding this world of him as well as his people will bring our plans one step closer to fruition!"

"...What?" Melchior was baffled, as well as angry. "Why would you want to carry this out? If you succeeded, you would plunge Selenia into chaos and cause death on a massive scale not seen since the Famine two hundred years ago!"

"It is all for the ultimate plan," the Tangrowth continued. "But you two stand in the way of that plan. You are an abscess upon this world, staining it with your corrupting ways! Upon His name, you will be vanquished and sent to the flames!"

"...'Staining it with our corrupting ways? Look who's talking," Kallias riposted. "We won't give in to your intimidation! We won't allow to go through with your 'ultimate plan', whatever the hell it is!"

"Ultimate plan?" Melchior frowned at the Tangrowth. "What is your ultimate plan? What do you hope to achieve by killing the tsar and his people?"

"...That, you will find out in time." The Grass-type unfurled his vines, ready for combat. "But enough talk. I, Batraz, will be the one to send you to the afterlife!"

He launched a series of vines at Team Marshwood. Instantly, Melchior grimaced. Power Whip…I need to avoid that. He got ready to use Dig to escape them, but he didn't need to do that; Kallias leapt in and slashed them to pieces.

Melchior won't fare too well against him. I have to be the main offensive force here, he decided. But it looks like he hides behind his vines, this one. Just as that one had been cut away, more of his vines were making their way towards them. It would be slash and burn…except we have no fire. …Slashing away it is, then.

Kallias's Leaf Blades cut away at the relentless vine onslaught. Eventually, he reached Batraz, and unleashed a Belladonna Cross Slash onto the bundle of vines.

"Agh!" cried Batraz, watching the cut vines fall away. "...No worries. I'm not fazed by you! Poisonous Tendrils!" He launched another set of vines; however, this set were notably different, being a shade of violet. They slammed against Kallias, and he was thrown back.

"...Urrrrgh," he groaned. He looked at his wound, and saw the purplish bruise left there by the attack. Then he felt his head begin to swim slightly. Crap…Poison? That must have been a Sludge Bomb combined with his Power Whip.

He reached into the bag to take out a pecha berry. However, as he took out the item, ready to eat it, the vines suddenly grabbed the berry from him.

"No, you don't!" Batraz called, squeezing the vines and causing the berry to burst into juice. "And while I'm at it…" Another horde of vines lunged forward.

"No!" Kallias called out, reaching for his bag. However, he felt the poison eat at him, and flinched in pain. The distraction from this allowed the Tangrowth to bring it closer to him and make it unusable for him.

"So that's your strategy," Melchior remarked, gazing at the bag ensnared in vines. "Using your vines for absolutely everything, and not just moves…"

"Of course! And now that Fernblade Kallias has been poisoned, the clock ticks. All I have to do is stall you out!" the Tangrowth answered. In his next move, he launched vines into the ground. Energy was drawn through them, and he began to heal off the blow Kallias had dealt to him.

But the Ingrain did more than that; it drained the excess water from the liquefacted ground that had been caused by Melchior's frequent usage of Dig. Thus, the Swampert's earlier strategy of destabilising the ground to make the enemy lose their balance wouldn't be a viable strategy here.

"So he intends to play a stalling game," Kallias said. "...That's not good for us."

"No. The Mega Evolution is going to run out any minute now," Melchior said. Though they still had its power, it would make the battle all the harder if they lost it. "We need to end this quickly."

"Hmm…" Kallias pondered, slashing away at any vines that came close to them. "...I've an idea. Melchior, use Dig. Looking at his current position now…I think you can figure it out from there."

"...Yes, I can," Melchior said, feeling a little better about matters. He punched a hole into the ground, making it muddy, before diving in.

Meanwhile, above ground, Kallias slashed his way through the vines once again. He found his Ferned Cross Slashes tended to cut these ones sharper, so he utilised that move as he fought to get closer to Batraz and his bag.

"You won't change anything, Fernblade Kallias," taunted the Tangrowth. "You will lose, and I will win!"

"Really now? …I'd check underneath if I were you," advised the Sceptile.

"Mud Bomber Melchior can't do a thing. He'll be dead with one Power Whip! Even with his Mega Evolution, he can't possibly - "

At that moment, he felt movements on the ends of the vines that he had rooted into the earth to heal with Ingrain.

"Th-That Mud Bomber! He - "

The next moment, he felt tugs on the vines, before a force like nothing he'd felt before yanked the vines and him downwards.

"Gaaaah!" he yelled out in shock. In surprise, he released the hold on a number of his vines, which included the ones that held Team Marshwood's bag.

"And now your strategy's been uprooted, quite literally!" Kallias declared. "Good job, Melchior! Now let's finish this!"

"Gladly!" Melchior said, as he surfaced and punched Batraz with one of his massive arms.

"Ack! You - " The Tangrowth was thrown backwards from the force of the Swampert's punch. "Mud Bomber Melchior! I'll kill you!"

He threw forward another bunch of vines in a Power Whip, and aimed to hit Melchior as hard as he could. The Swampert found himself unable to dodge in time, and faced the full force of the onslaught of vines.

"Melchior!" Kallias cried out in worry for his partner. Grass-type moves were the ultimate bane of his partner. And a move like Power Whip would be deadly against him, especially against an enemy like Batraz. He had put them through the ringer, even when they were supercharged with Mega Evolution.

Time seemed to stand still for a minute after Melchior took the attack. Then a voice broke the silence.

"Counter!"

One that brought relief to Kallias and horror to Batraz at the incoming attack from the Swampert.

The Power Whip had dealt an especially huge blow to Melchior. But he hung on, and dealt that damage right back to the Tangrowth, with interest. Batraz stood no chance, and was flung across the arena to one of the far walls. Quickly, Team Marshwood caught up to him.

He was reeling from the devastating counterattack. He could only barely manage to crane his head to look up at Team Marshwood, who were both staring him down, ready to stop him if he dared move.

"...C-Curse you," he hissed. "Team Marshwood…may you be cursed until the end of your days! I may have been defeated today…but you will never win the greater victory. Once He returns…He will make you suffer an eternity of the worst torture hell has to offer. Mark my words…we will make you pay for the way you humiliated us today and these past two weeks!"

"...'He'?" Melchior noted. "Who are you talking about? Who's 'He'?"

"...You don't know. But you will know. You will know…when that day arrives…when He returns…"

As it seemed, Batraz was on the verge of unconsciousness, and fell off it once he had said this.

And just as soon as that happened, Kallias and Melchior felt their forms shift. Mega Evolution had run its course, and within a few seconds, they had reverted back to their original forms.

Once they did, both fell to their knees in exhaustion.

"Ow. Ow, that hurt," Melchior groaned in pain. "That Power Whip…ow, ow, ow…I'm gonna feel that tomorrow…"

"This poison's getting to me," Kallias panted, feeling more laboured by the second now that his adrenaline was wearing off and the poison he was afflicted by began to resurge within him. "L-Let's patch ourselves up first and foremost…"

"Agreed..."

Kallias took out a heal seed and oran berry and ate them both. He then handed the bag to Melchior, who took out a sitrus berry. Once the two of them had regained their energy, they took a moment to take in all that had just happened.

"...That Power Whip's going to leave a mark," he said, looking down at his arms. "Paulina's not gonna be happy…"

"...She would worry anyway," Kallias said. "She'd worry about you even if you only got a paper cut."

"That's Paulina, alright," Melchior murmured. His gaze turned to his back, and he was greeted by quite a sight.

All the unconscious Pokémon they had taken down lay in front of them, in the ground of the arena. As well as that, the effects of Melchior's liquefaction were still evident by the muddy, waterlogged ground that remained in the area.

"Wow…We really did all that, huh?" the Swampert remarked, slightly stunned they had managed to take down so many outlaws in the one fight. "How many did we take down?"

"...Forty-seven," Kallias counted.

"Forty-seven?" Melchior was surprised by that number. "That's…That's a lot."

"Indeed. But that's the power of Mega Evolution for you. It really is something else, isn't it?"

"Yeah. It is…"

He looked over at the unconscious forms. Something nagged him at that moment. Something ate at him, telling him the mission wasn't over.

Are we forgetting something?

Then he realised with horror what it was. Or…who it was.

A certain Obstagoon was missing from the area.

"Hinnerk!" he cried out. He scanned the arena, but found no sign of the conniving raccoon. "Damn…He must have taken advantage of the commotion and gotten away!"

"No! We're not letting him get away, after all of this!" Kallias yelled. "He can't have gotten far! Come on!"

"...Alright," Melchior acknowledged, although a part of him just wanted to rest after the trial they had been put through. After today, he felt like he had run a marathon.

Team Marshwood dashed out of the arena. Thankfully, they didn't have to run far, only to the outside of the arena.

That was where Hinnerk was, being held by his neck in a vice grip by Mitrofan. Flanking him was Nikita, as well as Yuliya and a squadron of knights.

"And just where do you think you're going?" Mitrofan demanded.

"L-Let me go, you heap of rust!" Hinnerk hissed, his breathing constricted by the grip the Aggron had on him.

"Not in a million years." Mitrofan was nothing short of furious. "I will not allow you to slip away after the way you've dragged the Guild's name through the mud with your actions. Do I need to remind you of your crimes these past two weeks? That isn't even counting your shady behaviour and all the possible offences you could've committed before all of this started happening!"

"Oh, there he is," Kallias breathed. "Thank goodness for that. I feared he'd gotten away again."

"...Upon my authority as Guildmaster, I won't allow that to happen," Mitrofan said, acknowledging the entrance of Team Marshwood onto the scene.

"Team Marshwood…I'm glad you're okay," Yuliya said with relief. "Lieutenant Rafail told us everything about what happened down by the canal. …What happened in the arena?"

"Long story short, we were led into a trap where those who were behind what's been happening in the past two weeks tried to kill us," Kallias explained. "Hinnerk was the bait for it. But we managed to overcome whatever they threw at us."

"There are a number of those outlaws passed out in the arena," Melchior added. "You should probably round them up, Yuliya. There were forty-seven of them in there. They were being led by a Tangrowth, whose name…I can't quite remember. Batreaux? Something like that."

"Understood. We shall get straight on that." Yuliya then turned to her knights. "We need more knights for this. Matvey, request backup from the nearest barracks. Tytus, make sure there is adequate space in the cells for these outlaws. By the looks of it, the gaolers are going to be quite busy in the coming days."

"Yes, ma'am!" obliged the aforementioned soldiers, before going off to carry out their respective orders.

"Take this scum with you while you're at it," Mitrofan said, not bothering to hide his ire. "Behind bars is where he belongs, and where he should have been all this time."

"...My. So you've finally come around on Hinnerk, have you?" Kallias said. "The mask is off this time with him. …Granted, not that it was ever on in the first place."

"...I made a mistake with him," Mitrofan admitted with regret. "He was the sort that I hoped would be reformed if shown a different path. I had just recruited Helena and Krim when they were homeless, and I brought in Nikita not long afterwards. Given the assets they have proven to be since, I had hoped Hinnerk would prove to be the same." He took this opportunity to glare at the Obstagoon. "…Alas, my generosity to you didn't culminate into anything, you ungrateful rat!"

"I worked my ass off for you, and what did I get in return? Bronze Rank! Meanwhile, look at them!" Hinnerk pointed angrily at Team Marshwood. "All the way at the top at Ace Rank, all because you love favouritism! They - " He was cut off when Mitrofan gripped his neck tighter.

"Don't even think about comparing yourself to them," Mitrofan cut in icily. "Kallias and Melchior have been nothing short of exceptional. They are Ace Rank and the pride of the Irian Guild, because they worked for it. From the day they first entered the Guild, they showed an eagerness to work regardless of whatever task was thrust their way. They worked themselves to the bone in their constant will to aid their clients with whatever task they needed. They've done this for fifteen years now. They understand the heart of what it means to a mercenary of the Irian Guild. And for that, they deserve the honours they've reaped.

"You, though? You're nothing. You only sought out money, and were rude to nearly every client you met. Many teams you worked described you as a nuisance to work with. Was it any wonder you only received Bronze Rank? Even that was too generous, in retrospect!

"...And to think I had hopes for you at one point." Mitrofan shook his head in disappointment and betrayed fury. "But you did not do as Helena, Krim and Nikita did. You took my kindness and spat it back in my face! You did nefarious dealings and aligned with wreckers who desired to throw this country into chaos! You're a disgrace! A stain on the Guild's reputation! You deserve nothing but the worst punishment His Majesty has to offer!"

With that, he dropped him unceremoniously to the ground. The Obstagoon gasped for air, but in that moment, two knights went to apprehend him.

"...You conspired with attempted assassins that plotted the death of His Majesty and his people," Yuliya sternly reprimanded. "You are under arrest for being an accomplice to treason."

"Accomplice to treason?!" Hinnerk snarled. "Damn you! You can't do this to me!"

"I should think that one of the highest ranking marshals in this country would know what charge she was levying," Kallias riposted. "At least you finally get your just deserts."

"Shut up!" The Obstagoon glared daggers into Team Marshwood. "You did this to me! Damn you, Team Marshwood! Damn you! I hope you're miserable for the rest of your gods-damned lives!"

"Take him away," Yuliya ordered. "We don't need to hear the insults of this enemy to our tsardom."

"Of course, ma'am," one of the knights replied, and he and his partner carted Hinnerk away, who was still cursing Team Marshwood and yelling obscenities.

"...Good riddance," was all Kallias could say to the scene before him.

"I'm sorry you've had to put up with him for so long," Mitrofan apologised. "I gave him too many chances. I did see the signs, but I was reluctant to send him back to the streets. I despise the sight of homelessness, and I didn't want to add one more down-and-out to their ranks, especially one who I'd tried to rehabilitate."

"...What's done is done, Mitt. The least we can do is move on from that mistake," Kallias said. "Next time, just think twice about who you take into the Guild."

"...I understand. I'll be more careful in future." Mitrofan then turned to the arena, where Yuliya and her knights were heading into you. "Excuse me! Yuliya!" he called out to her.

"What is it, Guildmaster Mitrofan?" she asked, turning around to him.

"I would like to see this scene for myself. Maybe also help with the arrest of these men," the Aggron elaborated. "...Please. It's my way of making up for having one of my own men plot against His Majesty."

"...Very well," Yuliya permitted. "You can come."

"Thank you." Mitrofan turned back to Team Marshwood. "We have matters here covered. You two should return to your families and inform them of what happened here today. And Rufina as well."

"...I suppose we can do that," Kallias replied. "Zenobia and Elvira will be worrying about me, no doubt."

"Same with Paulina," Melchior added. "If everything's alright here…then we can retreat for now."

"Be careful," Mitrofan warned. "Those outlaws may still be around. Keep a watchful eye, just in case."

"Understood," Kallias acknowledged. "...We'll see you later, Mitrofan."

"See you around." And with that, the Aggron headed with Nikita and Yuliya into the arena.

"...Ahhh." The Sceptile let out a long sigh. "Boy…do we have quite the story to tell our loved ones."

"You can say that again," Melchior commented. "Not gonna lie…I think I'll sleep for a week after what we went through today."

"Yes. Today was definitely a victory," Kallias replied. Then he frowned, reconsidering his words. "Hmm…actually, maybe not entirely. It's a little bittersweet, in fact."

"...What do you mean?"

"Two main things, really. First was Team Hair Trigger. Those outlaws drove Spiridon to murder and put Dalibor in a coma. We might have defeated them today, but that scar remains. Two good friends of ours, put out of commission.

"And then there's the second part. Our opponents…we're still no closer to figuring out just who they are."

"...Mmm…That is true. We don't even have a name for these people." Melchior thought back to the opponents they had faced in the last two weeks. The way they were boiling a mysterious liquid in a cauldron, the way that Toxicroak spoke about a 'rise from the ashes', the way the Tangrowth talked about an 'ultimate plan', the way how they could organise numbers against them… "They're definitely an underground organisation of some sort. And they're planning something. They had an 'ultimate plan'."

"An ultimate plan, eh?" Kallias pondered. "Hmm…there's still much we don't know. There are things at play here that we don't understand."

"Yeah…" Melchior said.

"...Melchior?"

"Yes, Kallias?"

"...I don't think that's the last we're going to see of them," the Sceptile opined. "I have an inkling they won't take this loss lying down. They spoke of a grand plan. …Somehow, I don't think they're going to simply disappear into the background. …Or if they do, they'll be plotting nefariously to further their aims, whatever they are."

"You think so?" A worried look crossed Melchior's face.

"It's just my opinion, of course. But we should look out for them in the future. They might well return with devastating plans just like today. …We should be vigilant should they return."

"...Yes. We should."

Before anything else could be said, a noisy growl reverberated throughout the air. Melchior looked at his partner, and saw that the noise had come from Kallias's stomach.

"...Well, before we do any of that, we should get some food into us," the Sceptile said, somewhat sheepishly. "I'm starving. Haven't had a good meal since this morning."

"...Me neither," Melchior seconded, realising how hungry he was as well. "...There might be street food we can get somewhere. That is, if they haven't shut down in panic."

"Hopefully not. We can eat and share our story with the ladies and kids," Kallias suggested. "...Now let's find them, first and foremost. I recall them saying they would be around Tsarina Svetlana Square…"

The two members of Team Marshwood started off, to reunite with their wives, and child in Kallias's case. But while they walked to their destination, Melchior couldn't help but think about his partner's warning.

We might see them again? …Hmm…I hope not. But we can't discount that possibility.



Seven years later…



"And so in the coming days after that, we received personal thanks from House Ruslan for saving their lives," Melchior was saying. "Word got out about what we'd prevented, and gratitude was given to us wherever we went. It got to the point where we had to do our missions in the early morning to avoid the crowds. …Of course, we tried to get back to business as usual, Kallias and I. But Mitrofan wasn't having any of it. Given what we'd done for Selenia and the very status of the mercenary within it, coupled with the fact that we thwarted plans to mass murder the people in Iria and assassinate all of House Ruslan…Mitrofan believed we were worthy of the highest honour that a mercenary could get. That…was Grandmaster Rank."

"Oh yeah…Elvira did say something about that," Arian recalled. "Very few mercenaries ever got that far."

"That's true. In Selenia, it's only been given to one other group of mercenaries. They were Team Hope, the founders of the Irian Guild," Melchior elaborated. "Notably, Tsar Kliment approved of the notion, as did the rest of House Ruslan. We turned down some of the offerings he made to us - land and titles - as we felt that wasn't our thing, being involved with nobility. But Grandmaster Rank was a mercenary's honour. We agreed that the honour of Grandmaster Rank was one we could accept."

"I heard from Dad that Mitrofan practically begged you to accept it and not be humble anymore," Elvira said, with a light giggle.

"Did he now? …Begged is a bit of a strong word. But he definitely urged us," Melchior replied. "And…at the ceremony, we received that honour, and many attended it, to see us join Grandmaster Rank. It was a truly special occasion. It remains one of the greatest days I've ever had." A slight smile crossed his face as he closed his eyes, trying to remember and possibly recapture the glory of that day in his mind.

"Perhaps…the last great day I ever had," he murmured. It wasn't quiet enough, though, that Team Elpis couldn't hear it.

Arian sensed sadness in what he just said. Immediately, he couldn't help but be curious.

"...The last great day? Melchior, what do you mean?"

"..." The Swampert didn't seem willing to answer him at first. It was like the question hadn't gone through to him. However, notably, any trace of a smile had gone from his face. And within him, Arian detected a notable twinge of pain.

Elvira, while not having the emotion sensing capabilities of her partner, saw Melchior's expression, and turned to her partner.

"Leave it, Arian," she politely requested. "I think Melchior's recalled enough for one day."

"...Oh, right," Arian mumbled, with slight regret once he gauged the mood in the room. Evidently, inquiring into what Melchior said was out of bounds for now. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be nosy…"

"...It's alright, Arian," Melchior replied. "But Elvira's right. It was quite a story, what happened seven years ago. …There is a story about what happened afterward. But if I told you today, it would be going off topic from why seven years ago was such an important event. I think, honestly…there's a connection between back then and what happened today. I have a strong hunch that that underground organisation who devised the plots are still around today."

"Hmm…maybe." A thought then came to Arian. "Hey, Melchior? Those people you mentioned…do you think they're the reason Mitrofan's suddenly done a 180 and became a tyrant? Do you think that maybe they're controlling him from behind the scenes?"

"...I've considered that," the guildmaster said. "I don't know if that's the case. But…it's a possibility I'm willing to consider. And given what we know - or what we don't know - about Rufina and his children…it's definitely possible." He then looked wistfully off to the side, and mumbled something that Arian's sharp hearing managed to pick up on.

"Especially given what happened to Paulina…"

Paulina? His wife? It then occurred to Arian that he hadn't seen hide nor hair of the Swampert's wife. He opened his mouth to ask, but shut it, remembering what Elvira had told him a minute ago. No, Arian. You've asked enough for one day.

"...We've been here for quite a while," Melchior said, as he rose from his chair. "We should check on how the Guild's doing. Hopefully, Axel and Natalie will be back with the ladder so that we can continue doing our missions."

"Alright. Thanks for telling me all that, Melchior," Arian thanked, as he did the same, along with Elvira. "You answered a lot of my questions."

"It was no trouble," Melchior returned. "...Before you go, Arian."

"Yes?"

"...Maybe one day I'll tell you what happened after Kallias and I reached Grandmaster Rank," the guildmaster lightly relented. "...But I'd rather not tell it today."

"...That's fine. You don't have to tell it if you don't want to," the Riolu assured. "...It's okay, Melchior. I don't mind."

"...Thank you for understanding," Melchior replied.

"No problem." And with that, Arian departed, leaving Melchior on his own.

The Swampert had intended to follow after the fledgling team. But he found himself lost within his own thoughts. All that he had told was bringing back memories from that time. Specifically, the people by his side back then.

Kallias…the partner he once had. Mitrofan…the guildmaster he answered to, and one of his closest friends. And Paulina…the wife who he loved with all of his heart.

Two were gone, and one had become his most major enemy.

His heart sank at this fact, almost painfully. He gripped his desk, and began to hyperventilate.

No, no, no…why, why, why? Why must Fate be so cruel? Why? Why?!

Several images flashed through his mind, and voices echoed through his head.

"...I'm sorry to have to give this to you, Mud Bomber Melchior," a Tropius mailmon apologised as he gave Melchior a black envelope.

"We're not friends or even allies anymore," Mitrofan growled with contempt as he sat upon the tsar's throne. "If you won't side with me…then you're my enemy. It's as simple as that."

"AAAAAAAAAAAH!" Kallias screamed as he fell off the collapsed rope bridge and into the rushing depths of the River Agrios below.


His breathing grew faster, and all the while, he became more and more panicked. It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault. That thought kept dancing around in his head. On every occasion, he could've been there for them, or done better to save them from their respective fates.

But he couldn't. A coward he was growing up, and a coward he would remain.

A coward didn't deserve Grandmaster Rank. A coward doesn't deserve to be Guildmaster of the Irian Guild. And no one respects a coward.

No one respects a coward.

No one respects a coward.

No one respects a coward.


Spiralling deeper into the pit of despair, Melchior only felt those negative thoughts grip him more and more.

But then he was reminded of a previous occasion when this happened, while Galen was with him in a training session.

"Deep breaths, Guildmaster. When your mind's in a fluster, bringing peace to it is absolutely vital. Deep breathing helps immensely with that."

The Medicham's advice was sound, and Melchior found it always helped to calm him down when he got like this. He took slow, deep breaths…and gradually, he felt the chaotic dark thoughts of before begin to recede.

Good thing I have people like Galen to look out for me, he inwardly thanked. And…Arian, too. The Riolu's earlier words came back to him, assuring him he didn't have to relive that time again, in the aftermath of seven years ago.

They look out for me. And as their Guildmaster, I need to look out for them, too. The Irian Guild is in my hands now. I need to live up to the legacy of what came before. For the mercenaries and Guild members in my stead…I must be a leader worth looking up to. With or without Kallias, Mitrofan or Paulina. I have to be strong…

At that moment, the door knocked, snapping the Swampert from his thoughts.

"Guildmaster?" Terran's voice came from behind the door. "Are you there?"

"I am. Sorry about that. Got distracted by something," Melchior apologised. "I'll be outside now."

And for Terran's sake, too…I can't let his faith in me be misplaced, he thought, as he headed to the door.





Meanwhile…



On the other side of Selenia, in a private room in Iria Castle, someone else was in a similar state of reminiscence.

Mitrofan was in his bedroom, alone. Nikita was outside the room, keeping a watch for intruders as he always did. Normally, the two of them would have been elsewhere in the castle, observing reports from his marshals and knights.

However, Mitrofan remained melancholic after his own reminiscence about Rufina a few days before, and wished to retreat from the eye of the knights for a while. Nikita trailed him, as he usually did, to make sure the Aggron was alright.

Once in the room, he found himself in thought about seven years ago, a time when Rufina and his children were still with him. However, upon remembering that time, his thoughts drifted to them.

An angry snarl crossed his face, and immediately, he made a request to Nikita: to bring him a certain item.

An item from that time.

"My…Team Marshwood certainly made a scene here," Yuliya remarked, slightly stunned at all of the fallen outlaws. Her troop of knights began to cuff them to be carted off.

"...If I had to guess, they tapped into Mega Evolution to fell these opponents," Mitrofan presumed. "Zenobia told me she gave them empowerment seeds to use if they were in a tough spot. …I can't say I blame them for using them. They might be experienced, but they're not invincible."

"Even still…I'm amazed they defeated this many foes, just the two of them," the marshal went on, as she, Mitrofan and Nikita surveyed the outlaw group. "Even a sizable troop would have trouble subduing this lot."

"...It's a testament to who they are," Mitrofan said. "They are truly special. Undoubtedly the best mercenaries in the Irian Guild. I am honoured to have them. And today, they did exceptional work in preventing disaster from befalling our leader and our people."

"...What should we do for them? Honours? A victory parade?"

"...Knowing them, they'll just go back to business as usual. But…I want to reward them. I'll come up with something. Don't you worry about that."

"...Goodness. Look there." Yuliya's gaze fell upon the unconscious Batraz. "That outlaw received quite the pummeling."

"Definitely." From where they stood, the mess of vines that Tangrowth were looked even more unkempt from the tussle he'd had with Team Marshwood.

What they could also see was two knights struggling to tie the Pokémon up to be carried away to the nearest holding set of holding cells, where all of the other outlaws were headed, too.


"I'll go and help them," Yuliya decided, before heading off in that direction. Mitrofan was going to follow her, before an object on the ground caught his attention. He bent down to investigate it.

It was a small, golden insignia of some sort. It had two triangular-shaped ends at either side of it, with a shape almost like a crescent moon in the centre where a gap existed within the crescent. It also had two pointed ends jutting downwards at either curve of the crescent.


"What is it, Guildmaster?" Nikita asked.

"...It's an emblem, by the looks of it," Mitrofan observed, tilting the object in his hand. "It belonged to the Tangrowth over there, if I had to guess, based on how near it is to him."

"Do you think it belongs to these outlaws?" the Cubone wondered.

"It has to be. And with it…we may have a clue as to who these people are." Mitrofan put in his satchel, before lowering his voice to a whisper. "But not a word about it to anyone, Nikita. We may have the key to the truth in our grasp."

"...Okay, Guildmaster," Nikita promised.

And now he held that object in his hand.

Alas, it wasn't quite the key to the truth that he had hoped. But…based on later events, he could form a strong guess as to who those outlaws were that tried to poison Iria's wells and kill any who drank from them. And when that failed, the attempted assassination of Tsar Kliment. And when that plot was foiled…

Mitrofan gripped the emblem in rage.

"Damn them! Damn those deranged cultists! They made it personal…and they will pay for it."



Notes

I now want a Pokémon Warriors game after writing this chapter. Who knows? It might well happen…

The Warriors games came to mind when I was making the sequence involving Kallias and Melchior's Mega Evolutions. I also had Project X Zone in mind when envisioning the combo they use to beat down Hinnerk.

There are also nods to Zelda: Skyward Sword, as well as Xenoblade Chronicles in here. See if you can find them.

Regarding the fic itself, it's hard to believe this work has been up here for a year already. Thanks for all your love and support! I appreciate it immensely.

And that's the end of this Special Episode! Next time, it's back to Team Elpis and the present day.
 
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Chapter 19 - Scouting Out Allies

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Chapter 19
Scouting Out Allies

"You're thinking too hard about this, Arian," Elvira said to him. "I know it's important that we find clues to these mysteries, but…you shouldn't do so at the cost of sleep."

"I know, I know," Arian replied, before he let out a yawn. "But I have to. I might be able to understand it all…"

The Riolu's curiosity had been sent into overdrive by the information Melchior had given him the other day about what happened seven years ago. As soon as he could, he drew up a flow chart based on what Melchior had told him and what he knew already. He hoped that through this, he would be able to be one step closer to figuring out the truth about the present.

Alas…there were still too many unknowns, and the best he could conclude were unsubstantial guesses and conclusions that had already been made clear. Wondering about it all had cost him sleep too, hence why he was tired this morning as he got breakfast with Elvira.

"Oi, what're ya bickerin' over, the two of ya?" Ishmael asked, who was walking by with a tray in hand. Axel and Lillian followed behind him carrying trays as well.

"Can we sit with you?" Axel asked.

"Of course," Elvira permitted. The three sat down opposite them at their table. "I was just telling Arian that he needs to get enough sleep if he wants to figure out the mysteries he's trying to find the answers to."

"...But they're what's keeping me awake…" Arian replied sleepily.

"Ya need a chesto, mate," Ishmael said. He handed the blue canine one of the aforementioned berries on his tray. Arian took it and ate it, soon feeling his sleepiness begin to wash away.

"...Thanks, Ishmael," he said gratefully.

"No prob," the Krokorok returned. "Anythin' for a mate." He dug into his food after saying this.

"So…you were talking about mysteries?" Axel asked. "What sort of mysteries?"

"Was that what you two and the Chief were talking about yesterday while Axel and Natalie were out together?" Lillian wondered.

"Yes," Arian answered. "...I don't want to go into too much detail for Melchior's sake, but…it was to do with seven years ago, when they saved Tsar Kliment from being assassinated."

"Oh yeah, I remember that," Lillian recalled. "...Ish and I were in Iria that day, actually."

"Really?" Elvira was surprised to hear this.

"Yup! We were sellin' trinkets and other doodahs like that with Lill's mum and dad," Ishmael added. "It was great. We made a lotta wonga that day."

"Oh, but we weren't in danger at all," Lillian clarified. "We didn't see any action at all. We only knew something had happened when news got out about Team Marshwood."

"...What about Axel?" wondered Arian. "You didn't mention him."

"Oh, I was living with Mom and Dad at the time in Kamengrad," Axel answered. "But we were in Iria on that day, to see the festivities. That was a fun day."

"Yeah…it was fun," Elvira reminisced. "I was there too, and I loved it, even if there were a bit too many people for my liking. …Then we found out what Dad and Melchior had gotten up to, and Dad told us all what happened in his brilliant way that he told stories."

"...Yer old man must've been a great bloke," remarked Ishmael. "...'Course, heroes are always great as pas, aren't they…?"

"Hm? What was that, Ishmael?" Arian asked.

"Ah, nothin'. Don't worry yer noggin about it," the crocodile deflected. "'Sides…we're 'ere in the present. Let's tackle shit that we can actually do."

"Yeah," Lillian agreed. "Let's go and see if Sifis has missions for us." And with that, the trio rose from their seats and headed to the main area.

"...Aw man. Now I'm curious about what Ishmael meant back there," Arian moaned in dismay.

"Everyone has secrets, Arian," Elvira said to him. "Don't chase them all down. Just focus on the ones you were told yesterday."

"...Right." Arian got up from his seat. "Let's see what missions there are today."

After returning the trays to Aldebrand, Team Elpis headed to the mission board where Team Sandstream already were, considering what mission to take for the day.

"Hey, you two," Sifis greeted. "Got some new ones today for you." He laid out three requests in front of them, all of them Bronze Rank jobs. Two were item retrievals - but it was the third request that caught Arian's attention.

Mercenaries of the Irian Guild, I need your help. A group of dastardly outlaws known as the Bibarel Brothers have taken up residence in Riverside Cave, and have been a nuisance to the citizens of nearby Rusalka. I am inclined to take them down, but I fear I cannot do it on my own. Could you please assist me?

- Yumina (Furret)

- Location: Riverside Cave (B8F)

- Reward: 200P


The request wasn't what piqued the Riolu's attention. It was the client's name and species.

There's no way that's a coincidence, right? After all he had been told yesterday, and the chart he'd drawn up and the brainstorming he'd done last night, he was not willing to think otherwise.

"We'll take this one," he said to Sifis.

"That one?" Elvira peered at the request. "...I guess we can manage that. Now where's Riverside Cave…?"

A map of Selenia was on the desk with various Mystery Dungeons pointed out in pins. A quick scan of it revealed where the Dungeon was - in the north of the tsardom, not far from the border with Alba.

"There it is. In…" Arian squinted at the name of the oblast. It was spelt Czarno. "...How do you pronounce that?"

"'Charno'," Elvira pronounced.

"Czarno?" Lillian turned to them when they said that name. "...Funny you should mention that. Our mission's up there, too. In a place called Riverside Cave."

"Riverside Cave?" Arian's ears pricked in surprise. "That's the same Mystery Dungeon we're headed to!"

"Huh. What a coincidence," Axel said. "What's your mission?"

"Helping a Furret deal with some outlaws on the eighth floor of the Dungeon," Elvira answered.

"...Wait, what?" Ishmael blinked. "...'S the bloody same as wot we got."

"...Really?" Arian's brow furrowed. "Can I see?" The Krokorok handed him the request paper.

One of our companions, a Furret under the name Yumina, has gone to deal with outlaws in Riverside Cave, but she has not yet returned. I fear something may have happened to her. Could you mercenaries in the Irian Guild rescue her and bring her back to us?

- Boleslav (Sirfetch'd)

- Location: Riverside Cave (B8F)

- Reward: 200P


"That's weird," Lillian remarked, when comparing the two requests. "They're…so similar. Too similar."

"They're more than similar," Elvira added. "They're demanding nearly the exact same thing for the exact same reward. They're pretty much the same request."

"...Bit of a bloomer, innit?" remarked Ishmael. "...Well, their screw-up. Ain't our fault."

"Hmm…" Arian muttered, half-listening to the conversation. Again, another detail stuck out to him; the name and species of the requester. Once again…it seemed too similar to a certain someone within Melchior's telling of seven years ago.

I'm sure of it now. There's no way in hell this is a coincidence.

"We should still do them," he insisted.

"...Ya seem pretty sure of yerself, mate," Ishmael remarked. "Somethin' up?"

"...I'll tell you later," Arian replied. "But I've a feeling about these clients. If we can meet them, then…" he trailed off.

"...Seems like you might be on to something, Arian," Lillian observed. "...Well, I'm in on whatever it is you're thinking. We could go together to solve these requests and divide the spoils between us."

"...Just like that one mission with Team Anima," the Riolu recalled. "And they sure saved us when we needed them. …Sure! I'm on board!"

"So am I," Axel seconded.

"I guess I am, too," Elvira seconded.

"Good on ya, Arry an' El," Ishmael praised, smiling a toothy grin. "...Now then. Gotta get goin' to catch the ol' nanny."

"...The old nanny?" Elvira looked puzzled. Her partner looked just as befuddled.

"Oh, it's just one of Ish's speech quirks," Axel explained. "He means the boat."

"A boat?" That, Arian wasn't expecting. "We get to travel on a boat?"





Indeed, they did get to travel on a boat. A passenger ferry with a number of other passengers, specifically, that was being pulled by a Lapras. It ran up and down along the River Evor, transporting passengers to the towns along Selenia's lifeblood. At the river port, an hour or so from Kamengrad, Teams Elpis and Sandstream got on, with each team paying half the combined fare. There was no crush to get on, and the boat wasn't crowded.

On the boat, they had time to kick back and relax. Ishmael and Lillian decided the best way to pass the time was to tease Axel over yesterday.

"So how was your alone time with Natalie?" Lillian queried, a joking grin on her face. "Any sparks fly?"

"No, nothing happened, Lill." By the sound of his tone, Axel wasn't in a mood to hear it. "We went to the carpenter's and asked him to make a ladder for the Guild. He made it. We brought it back to the Guild and helped to nail it in. …That's it. There's nothing else to talk about."

"...Nah, not buyin' it, Ax," Ishmael dismissed. "We had a few hours. Yer tellin' me ya did nothin'? Sounds like yer hidin' somethin'."

"I'm not!" Axel protested. "Stop it, you two!"

"...Um, if I can maybe ask," Arian requested. All six eyes of Team Sandstream fell on him. "Did you and Natalie talk? …I'm not trying to get a rise out of you, Axel. Really."

"...Well…we made small talk, I suppose," the Gligar recalled, relenting at the Riolu's honesty. "But…she's very shy. There was a lot of awkward silence between us."

"...That sounds like Natalie, alright," Elvira said. "Maybe if Serafina was with her, she'd open up a bit more."

"I kinda wish she did," Axel replied. "Because, you know…she is kinda nice when she does talk. And I like her voice and her smile…" He drifted off as he saw the grins of his partners. "Crap! No! I don't mean it like that!"

"Oooh! Axel loves Natalie! Axel loves Natalie!" Lillian teased in a singsong voice.

"I do not!" the Gligar cried.

"Oh yeah, ya do! Bet ya 'n 'er were doin' smoochy stuff under a tree!" Ishmael cackled.

"D-Damn it, Ish!" Axel was redder than a tamato berry. "Alright, you asked for it! If you don't shut up about me and Natalie, then I'm gonna tell Arian and Elvira about the decoy seed incident!"

Both of them froze in an instant, before threatening looks crossed their faces.

"No, Axel! Don't!" Lillian insisted.

"Ya better not tell 'em!" Ishmael snapped.

"Shut up, then, and I won't say anything!" Axel threatened.

"...Wow, the tables turned pretty quickly there," Arian remarked with bemusement. He thought back to Axel's words. "...Decoy seed? Elvira, what's that?"

"...A decoy seed causes whoever eats it to…" The Treecko considered her words. "...Become infatuated with the nearest Pokémon to them."

"Infatuated? So…it's like a love potion?" guessed the Riolu.

"Yes. Suppose I ate one right now. I would then fall into a trance where I would be love-struck with you," Elvira said. She then looked over at Ishmael and Lillian's faces, mixed with despair and embarrassment, and then over at Axel, whose grin was growing wider. "Wait a minute…" She looked back and forth between the Krokorok and the Sandslash. "Did…?"

"Yep!" Axel wore a shit-eating grin as he revealed the bombshell. "Ish meant to give her a heal seed, but mixed the seeds up! Next thing, Lill's chasing him down, trying to kiss him all over!" He began to double over in laughter. "Aha ha ha ha ha! That was hilarious!"

"Ya knobhead!" Ishmael looked furious. "I swear, I'll toss ya in the Evor!" He got up and lunged at the Gligar. However, Axel dodged out of the way.

"You'll have to catch me, Ish! Nah na na na nah!" he taunted, before running down the ship with an angry crocodile at his heels.

"...Boys will be boys." Lillian only shook her head with a bemused grin on her face. "Just like when we lived in Ardmacha…"

"...Did that really happen?" Arian asked.

"...Yes," the Sandslash admitted quietly. "But please, please, don't tell anyone else about it. It was so embarrassing…Ish didn't talk to me for a week after that happened. Even more embarrassing, because…we're cousins."

"...Oh. Ohhh…Now I see why you're so embarrassed about it," Arian mumbled, feeling a tad guilty at finding their plight funny. "We'll keep it a secret." Then another thought came to him. "But maybe tone down the teasing with Axel? Just a bit?"

"...I guess," Lillian accepted, with a small amount of reluctance.

"...I have a question, Lillian," Elvira asked.

"Shoot."

"You and Ishmael and Axel…are you from Alba?"

"...Alba? That's…the desert country up north, right?" Arian double checked.

"Yes, it is," Lillian confirmed. "And yes, you're correct, Elvira. All of us in Team Sandstream are Alban, born and bred."

"...Hm. I had a feeling," murmured Elvira.

"Yeah, some clients can guess. We come from a village called Ardmacha, in southwest Alba. Not a huge distance from Selenia, actually. Ishmael and Axel and I, we were all born and raised there. And our parents were born and raised there, too. We were part of the Ó Ruairc clan, who own the land of Oiriall. We're all related in some way - Ish and I are direct cousins, whereas Axel's relation is more distant. But he was still family to us. A fellow clan member.

"Our childhood was…aside from all the fighting training, it was mostly fun and games. You can kind of tell how closely-knit we are, the way the two boys are chasing each other." She glanced over at Ishmael, who ran past them still chasing a fleeing Axel. "Yeah…it was like that. One of us would play a prank on the other, then the other would chase them around the village while the third one of us watched it like it was some theatre performance."

"That sounds rather fun," Elvira opined. "But…I wonder. How did you end up in Selenia?"

"...Ah." Lillian looked away, not making eye contact with Team Elpis. "...In Ishmael's words, 'shit happened'. And…basically, because of that, we fled Alba and ended up in Selenia."

Arian was about to inquire more, but remembered the previous evening's conversation with Melchior. Better keep my mouth shut. Lillian looks and feels like she doesn't want to talk about it. He could feel the melancholy emanating from the Sandslash. Still, it must have been something sad…

"But enough moping around," Lillian said, dispelling that sadness. "Let's go break up the boys." She got up and marched over to them, with Arian and Elvira following behind her. The Elpis duo looked at each other, then shrugged their shoulders.

Childhood bonds, huh?




The boat made its stop at the riverside town of Rusalka. This was the main town of the Czarno oblast, situated at the confluence of the Evor and the Czarno River. Much trade took place here, receiving most of the trade that came down the Czarno River, and it was one of the more prosperous places in Selenia.

The crowds of people were something of a blessing and a curse. The blessing was that the crowds of people allowed them to blend in. The curse was what Elvira reminded Arian of as they were about to disembark.

"Remember that we're wanted," she said to him. "If one person recognises us from the wanted posters, then we're in trouble."

"Right. Of course…" Arian said, peeved at being reminded of that inconvenient fact.

"It gets worse," Elvira went on. "Every oblast in Selenia is ruled over by a house. Czarno's house is…House Kumiega. And their current leader, Metody, is one of Mitrofan's most loyal marshals."

"Metody?" That name sounded familiar. "Didn't Serafina and Natalie mention encountering him in Iria? While we were unconscious?"

"Yes. The same one."

"...Well. That's a worry…"

"Ain't gonna be a worry if we don't get busted," Ishmael said. "...Enough of that. Where's this Riverside Cave place?"

As it turned out, that wasn't too hard to figure out. A path went along the Czarno River to the Mystery Dungeon in question, according to signposting and some locals. Before long, they had found the route, and strolled along the side of the river to reach it.

"Well, there it is…" Arian looked at the cave mouth before him. "In we go."




Riverside Cave

B8F



Riverside Cave wasn't too difficult a Mystery Dungeon, especially with the combined efforts of Teams Elpis and Sandstream. The cave was a mossy one with many puddles and lakes of water. Arian couldn't help but notice that Team Sandstream seemed to be uneasy about the latter, trying their hardest to stay away from those bodies of water. They're all Ground-type, he ruminated. Understandable, I suppose, why they'd want to stay away from water.

They fought well, facing off against a variety of Pokémon including Cottonee, Carbink, Loudred, Duosion, Golbat, Ferroseed, Marill and Poliwhirl. There was some difficulty with Team Sandstream and fighting against types they were weak to, and at one point, Axel fainted from taking a Poliwhirl's Bubble Beam. However, a reviver seed saw to him back on his wings, and off the teams went again.

Eventually, they reached the eighth floor. And immediately, they were thrust into a scene as they found themselves in a wide open room.

"Hyuk hyuk hyuk! Try and catch us, lady!" taunted a Bibarel.

"Oh, but you can't catch us!" added another Bibarel, nearly identical to the other one. "We're the Bibarel Brothers! Even that big cheese in town can't lay a paw on us!"

They spoke obnoxiously, and Arian felt his skin crawl just listening to them.

They weren't alone, though. A Furret was in the same room, gazing with exasperation at the two. However, the new arrivals gave her room to pause from the frustration she was going through.

"You…Are you all from the Irian Guild?" she inquired.

"Yes, we are," Elvira answered.

"You're Yumina, right? Don't worry, we'll help you against these ruffians!" Arian added, before turning his attention to the two Bibarel bandits. "Now who wants to get it first?"

"Aw, crud! You mean the lady had a backup plan?" moaned one of the Bibarel.

"What're we gonna do, big bro?" the other Bibarel asked.

"We do what we always do, lil' bro! Play tricks on 'em 'til they give up!" the big brother replied. "Let's split up! That'll get 'em!" They then ran off down the hallway.

"Get back here!" Arian yelled, and was about ready to give chase.

"Wait, Arian!" Elvira called to him. "...How about we split up to catch them both? Team Sandstream can go on one team, and us and Yumina on the other. We might be able to corner them that way."

"...That would be the best strategy," Yumina expressed. "They do quite well against lone opponents. But they might not stand up to a group."

"Sounds like a plan," Ishmael approved. "Come on! Let's get 'em!" He, Axel and Lillian followed the path the two Bibarel went down. Arian, Elvira and Yumina followed after them.

"The path splits up ahead," the Furret informed. "Go down either path, and we'll go down the other!"

"Gotcha!" Ishmael acknowledged. His team took the right path, and so Team Elpis and Yumina took the left.

They soon happened upon a room. In it was one of the Bibarel.

"Gah! You caught up too soon!" he whimpered.

"Of course we did! Now prepare to be defeated!" Arian said. He wasted no time running for the

Bibarel, charging a Force Palm, and striking his opponent.

"Ngah!" cried out the Bibarel in pain. "Nope! No way! I need my big bro!" He therefore hightailed it and ran.

"Oh no, you don't! You're not getting away!" Yumina called. "You two! We need to give chase!"

"You don't need to tell me twice!" Arian returned, before running after the Bibarel.

They came to another room, one with a grassy floor. In it, the outlaw had reunited with the other Bibarel, who was duking it out with Team Sandstream.

"Oh, look! Lil' bro's here!" the older Bibarel proclaimed with relief. "Hyuk hyuk hyuk! You lot are gonna get it now!"

"Really now? I'd think again," Lillian fired back. As she spoke, Ishmael took out a petrify orb and threw it at the Bibarel Brothers, freezing them in place.

"That'll shut 'em up," the Krokorok said, smirking. "Right! Arry! El! Let's rip into 'em!"

"Sure thing!" Arian replied. "Let's go, Elvira!" He started after the Bibarel nearest to him, and struck it with a Force Palm. Elvira moved in with a Giga Drain, and leeched the energy from the dazed Bibarel.

"Excuse me…" Yumina then moved in. "Can I join in?"

"Of course," Arian allowed, and he and Elvira stepped aside to allow her to attack. The Riolu watched her curiously. If my hunch is correct…then we might see some signs of experience here.

Firstly, Yumina limbered up by moving from side to side quickly with a usage of Agility. Then she leapt towards the beaver with her claws at the ready.

"Agile Swipes!" she yelled out as she rapidly slashed at her opponent in what appeared to be Fury Swipes influenced by Agility. The hits came out quick and fast, and the Bibarel had no time to react to them.

"Ow! That hurt!" whined the Bibarel. "You're gonna pay, missy!" He charged towards her. However, to his surprise, Yumina charged at him too. He grinned initially; he was bulkier than her, and could easily overpower her, he thought.

Suddenly, he tumbled to the ground, having tripped over something.

"Oof!" he exclaimed. "What happened…?"

"Grass Knot," Yumina proclaimed. "You should've watched your feet. And now you'll reap what you sowed." She turned to Team Elpis, and gave them a nod, as if to say "Go ahead."

Arian and Elvira understood, and the two unleashed a Force Palm/Giga Drain combo that saw that brother taken down.

"Well, that's that," said Arian, wiping his paws. Looking over at Team Sandstream, they saw a similar scene, with the other Bibarel defeated and Ishmael handing an oran berry to Axel. "...You guys okay?"

"Yep," Lillian confirmed. "Axel took a Water Pulse to the face. That's the worst that happened. But really…he was annoying more than anything."

"Hah! Looks like the ol' Up and Down combo still works!" Ishmael declared proudly.

"Yeah!" Axel yelled, and the two slapped their claws together.

"Up and Down?" Elvira puzzled. "What's that?"

"It's a combo the two of them came up with," Lillian informed. "Ishmael uses Dig to push the opponent upwards, and Axel leaps up and uses Aerial Ace, slamming them to the ground. They mostly used that to take down the Bibarel."

"It's pretty cool! …Our idea's not perfect, though," Axel opined. "We should come up with something that involves Lillian at least."

"Yeah…Don't want Lill bein' a third wheel," Ishmael replied. "It's about teamwork, innit? Ya gotta get all of yer lot involved in a special combo like that, I think."

"Let's build on it when we get back to base," Lillian suggested. "Maybe we can ask the Chief for advice."

"Hmm…" Arian was in thought at what Team Sandstream were saying. "We should come up with something like that, Elvira. A combo move to make us greater in sync."

"...I suppose." Elvira sounded open to the idea. "Dad and Melchior had something similar."

"Oh yeah…" Arian recalled, thinking back to Melchior's story the day before.

"We'll try some things out when we're done with this mission. See what works," Elvira entertained. "But it'll be a while before we find something perfect. I know for a fact it took Dad and Melchior a while to perfect their combo. It'll be trial and error for the first while."

"That's okay." Arian didn't seem hugely bothered. "We'll work it out."

"So…you're all from the Irian Guild?" Yumina interjected.

"...Oh! Um, yes," the Riolu answered, realising they'd forgotten about their client. "Sorry, Yumina. We nearly forgot about you."

"It's no problem," Yumina said. "...I am Yumina. But you seem to know that already, given my request. …But I never got your names."

"I am Elvira, and this is Arian," Elvira chose to introduce. "Together, we are Team Elpis."

"I'm Ishmael, and this lot are Axel and Lillian," Ishmael followed up on his end. "We're Team Sandstream, and we'll help ya out with whatever ya want!"

"A pleasure to meet you all. ...So you claim to be of the Irian Guild?" Yumina wondered.

"That's right," Elvira answered. "We're underground at the minute because we're all wanted under Mitrofan's regime. But we still do all the jobs that the mercenaries of the old Irian Guild used to do. We've tried to keep the spirit of the old Guild within us, in standing for justice and seeing to the helping of those who request our aid."

"It's also led by Mud Bomber Melchior!" Lillian added. "So it's led by someone who knows what he's doing."

"Mud Bomber Melchior?" Yumina's interest was heightened all the more with the mention of that name. This, Arian happened to notice. "...If you all don't mind, I have a request for you."

"And that is…?"

"...I have a partner. Two of them, actually. I'd like to take you to them," the Furret explained. "There are…matters we wish to discuss with you."

"Matters?" Axel sounded unsure. "...What do you want to talk about?"

"...You will see. But I assure you - this isn't a trap," Yuliya made plain, seeing the look on the Gligar's face. "Far from it."

"Well, if you say so…" Axel still wasn't fully convinced.

"Let's get out of here first," Lillian suggested. "We shouldn't be having conversations like this when a feral could jump us."

"Good idea," Arian agreed. He took out his badge, and walked over to Yumina. She, seemingly knowing of this procedure, placed her paw on the badge.

Then they were all transported out of the Dungeon.




The group of six walked back into town. Notably, though, before she entered Rusalka, Yumina took out a cloak and threw it over herself.

"...Er, why ya doin' that?" Ishmael immediately questioned.

"I'd rather not be recognised by others," the Furret reasoned. "It's only for a while, anyway, until we meet my companions."

So she doesn't want to be seen in public? Arian thought. …Almost like she has an identity she needs to keep hidden from everyone else. I guess I was right. It really is her…

They continued into the town, and made their way along one of the side streets to a more hidden part of town. This part of town looked a bit shabby - a contrast from the lively trading town it appeared on the surface. A number of towns seemed to have this side to them - both teams had travelled to these parts of towns to meet with clients to give them what they needed and accept payment from them.

The group arrived at a back alley tavern, named The Swanna's Nest. A few patrons were seated outside, some eating an afternoon meal, but most getting in an afternoon drink. It was a nice day, and evidently, they wished to enjoy it.

Not Yumina, though - she headed inside the building. It wasn't too lively inside, given it was the middle of the day and these places were usually more packed come evening. Some patrons were inside, though, and at the barstools, a Swanna served.

At the far end, two figures stood - a Sirfetch'd and a Swoobat. Both looked up at the group, and did a double take once Yumina took off the cloak she was wearing.

"Ah! There you are!" the Sirfetch'd pronounced. The first detail the group noticed was his accent. It sounded somewhat silver-spoon, implying he came from a wealthy background. This, Arian mentally added to his list of reasons to believe this wasn't just an ordinary Sirfetch'd.

"Yes, I'm back, Boleslav," Yumina replied. "These mercenaries saved me in Riverside Cave. …Which reminds me." She turned back to Arian and Elvira. "I never did pay you." She dug into a satchel at her side, and brought out some coins. "Here you go."

"Thanks," Arian replied, as he put them away in their own bag.

"Hey, are you this Boleslav fellow?" Lillian questioned to the Sirfetch'd. "We did your mission. Could you pay us, please?"

"...I beg your pardon? But Yumina has already paid you!" the bird knight protested.

"No. We got two requests at the Guild," Axel argued. Next to him, Ishmael took out his team's request from Boleslav. Arian then took out Yumina's request. "Two different ones. See?"

"...I told you I had that covered," Yumina told Boleslav. "Why did you send a second request?"

"Why, to make doubly sure those mercenaries got wind of our mission, of course!" proclaimed the Sirfetch'd proudly. "You were the one that was eager to get them on our side!"

"Yes, but now we have two requests to pay them for," the Furret reprimanded. "And money's not something I'd like to waste…" She turned to the mercs. "My apologies. There appears to have been a mix-up."

"...Well, we ain't leavin' 'ere without pay," grumbled Ishmael. "Rather not 'ave dragged my arse 'ere for nothin'."

"...How about we work out a compromise?" suggested the Swoobat, speaking for the first time this conversation. "We'll pay them 300P, and they can divide it between themselves. We don't have to pay 400P, and they can get most of their money's worth."

"...If you insist, Maciej," grumbled Boleslav.

"...Fine," accepted Ishmael. "Pay up, feather'ead. And don't get yer wires crossed with yer partner next time."

"...Lectured by a mercenary…" The Sirfetch'd handed Ishmael 150P. "To think, this is what it's come to…"

This comment didn't go amiss by Arian, who by now, was bursting to blow this secret open. And now that both parties were here in a place where not too many people were…now was an opportune time, he felt.

"Right!" he interjected, drawing everyone's attention. "Now that we're all here, I have a question for both Yumina and Boleslav." He pronounced both of their names deliberately as a hint. This was effective; the expressions on both of them became more serious.

"Now, don't worry," he assuaged. "If what I'm thinking is true, then we won't expose you. I bet we share a common goal, us in the Guild and you as…" He paused. "...You know what, forget it. I'll just ask.

"Are you Marshal Yuliya - " He gestured to Yumina. " - And are you Marshal Branislav?" He gestured to Boleslav.

Instantly, the two tensed upon hearing those names.

"Y-You! …Where is your proof?!" 'Boleslav' instantly got defensive.

"...Calm down," 'Yumina' immediately placated. "We were going to tell them anyway." She walked to a nearby booth table. Everyone gathered around, curious to what she would do next.

She placed an insignia on the desk. A notable insignia that both Arian and Elvira recognised. It was similar to the ones the knights of Selenia wore.

But this one was different. It was more colourful and distinguished, with some more strands to it, implying that its owner was high-ranking within the knights, or at least was.

And indeed, someone of that calibre was in the same room as them.

That famous Furret from more than five years ago spoke.

"...You are correct. I am Yuliya Gerasimovna Lysagora, one of the loyal marshals that once served His Majesty Tsar Kliment VII."

I knew it, Arian thought. I knew I wasn't imagining things.

'Boleslav' then moved in, and placed his own insignia on the table. It was the exact same as Yuliya's.

"And I," began the Sirfetch'd in a grandiose manner. "I am Branislav Erastovich Lada, among the most loyal of marshals that ever served His Majesty Tsar Kliment VII while he still lived and breathed among us." But he didn't stop there. "...I would rather that have been kept a surprise. How did you figure it out, boy?"

"...Oh, um. I just guessed from the species," Arian hastily replied. He didn't have the heart to tell the duo that their names weren't exactly the best names to disguise themselves with.

"...Hmm." Branislav didn't sound convinced. But he didn't inquire further.

"And who're ya?" Ishmael asked the Swoobat, who remained behind the two marshals. "Ya 'aven't given yer name, mate."

"I'm Maciej," introduced the Swoobat. "But I'm not a marshal. I'm just an aide to Marshal Branislav here. A friend these two picked up along the way."

"Do not be humble, Maciej," Branislav replied. "It is thanks to your efforts that we have avoided detection from that dastardly Mitrofan all this time. I am grateful for it, too. If I were to be captured by that monster, I will almost certainly be put to death. Just like our good compatriot Trokhym was…"

Trokhym…Arian recognised that name from Melchior's story. He was inwardly disappointed to learn that the Rillaboom was no longer around; it meant one less potential ally. But he didn't focus on this for now. Yuliya and Branislav were the more important ones to listen to right now.

"As would I," Yuliya seconded, before shaking her head in dismay. "...How could it have come to this? How could the once right and just Mitrofan, Guildmaster of the Irian Guild, turn to assassination of our beloved monarch?"

"It matters not how it happened," Branislav responded bitterly. "It matters what must be done. And there is no greater way we can avenge His Majesty's name by slaying that monster that sits upon his throne! Our nation rots under Mitrofan's rule, and he must be overthrown!"

"Agreed," Yuliya seconded. "...But then we hit upon another problem. A Ruslan must be the one to become our next tsar. However…even if those rumours are true and Prince Leonid still lives…his whereabouts are unknown. We have no idea where he is or if he even still lives. And Svetlana too…" She seemed especially wistful at the mention of the lost princess.

"And that is why we must strike now!" Branislav asserted. "We have organised underground forces. If we make a defiant stand now, then he will surely come out of the woodwork to lead our nation!"

"But you don't know that! For all we know, Lord Leonid and Lady Svetlana could be locked up somewhere and won't be able to respond to that call!" Yuliya argued. "We need more forces, first and foremost! And more importantly, we need Prince Leonid himself! The presence of the last heir of House Ruslan would more than bolster our cause, if he's out there! But we don't even know if he's alive! We just don't know…"

She let out a distressed sigh as she addressed the mercenaries, who watched this exchange with slight discomfort.

"...I'm sorry," she apologised. "It's just…it's been a constant worry of mine over these five years; how Prince Leonid and Svetlana are, or whether they're even alive. I just want an answer…I don't want to kept in suspense any longer…" She wiped a tear from her eye. From the side, Branislav looked upon the Furret with an expression of slight disapproval.

"...Well, um. We've been looking for Prince Leonid too," Arian interjected, drawing the attention of the two marshals.

"You have?"

"Yes. And…we have something. We still don't know where he is, but…" Arian trailed off, unsure if this would satisfy their demands. After all, it's still a mystery.

"What is it, boy? Spit it out!" demanded Branislav. "This is our tsesarevich we speak of!"

"...Prince Leonid did survive Mitrofan's coup, and fled with Svetlana to the East, where he's been sheltering in churches and trying to get help from Dresilia and Miletos. But apparently he hasn't had much success," Arian recalled, trying to remember what Pontifex Sansarn had said about the missing prince. "That was in the two years after Selenia was taken over by Mitrofan."

"...How do you know of this?" Branislav interrogated. "Where is your proof? As you've surely realised by now, hearsay and truth can be quite hard to differentiate!"

"...Er, um…" Arian stuttered briefly in the face of the Sirfetch'd's interrogation. Geez, he's fierce. What's his problem? Is it just that I'm a mercenary? Is that it? He recalled Melchior's tellings of Branislav's disdain and mockery of mercenaries. If he's acting like this…then it means he hasn't changed a bit.

Luckily for the caught off guard Riolu, Elvira stepped in to answer for him.

"This isn't hearsay," she refuted. "These are the words from none other than Pontifex Sansarn himself."

"Pontifex?!" This, Branislav did not expect to hear. Yuliya and Maciej were similarly taken aback. "The holy leader of the Church of Arceus? The pontifex?" However, his shock soon turned to skepticism. "…Begging your pardon, but what business would His Holiness possibly have with mercenaries of all people?"

This remark was one that the five mercenaries bristled at. Especially Arian, who felt his earlier conclusion was not a premature one. Elvira took a breath before replying.

"It wasn't intentional. It was a chance encounter. We were in Iria a week ago, and we were nearly caught by Mitrofan and his forces. But…Pontifex Sansarn allowed us to shelter in Iria Cathedral, and managed to keep Mitrofan away from us. Not only that, but he gave us that information about Prince Leonid. As well as that, he promised to check church records in Padavonum to track him down, and let us know if he found anything. We haven't heard anything back yet, but…it's a promising sign, I think."

"...A link to the pontifex…" Yuliya was stunned by what she heard. "...Once again, I find myself astounded at what the Irian Guild can achieve. That's why…I must propose something to you."

"And that would be?" Arian wondered.

"...We have heard rumours of the Irian Guild existing in the shadows, evading the notice of Mitrofan. If they were true, then it would be fantastic news, to have another ally by our side. So I listened closely for stories that involved mercenaries of the Irian Guild. One that especially caught my attention was the sightings in Iria a week ago. Two mercenary teams, successfully evading the Irian Knights and even Mitrofan himself. I knew that, somehow, the potential of the mercenaries that once existed remained. And so…I made contact through that mission I sent."

"Oh…So it wasn't just taking care of those two outlaws?" Elvira said.

"Correct. It was also to get in touch with you mercenaries of the Irian Guild, and to see your skills on display for myself," Yumina confirmed. "…I am glad my hopes weren't misplaced. You dealt with those outlaws swiftly and efficiently. And so I must make my plea.

"We must ally." The Furret sounded almost pleading as she said this. "Please. Selenia has only been stagnant since Mitrofan took over. And we do not have enough resources to even think of overthrowing him. …But you all in the Irian Guild…you can make things happen. It was you who saved Tsar Kliment seven years ago. I know we in the knights have had our disagreements and rivalries with the Guild, but…there's no room for that now. We both have a common enemy. We stand a better chance if we're united."

"...Yeah, we would," Arian agreed. "We could use the strength of you both to help us work to overthrow Mitrofan. We need to unite as one."

"Yes. That would be for the best," Elvira agreed. "...What about you, Team Sandstream?" She turned to her Alban comrades.

"...Sure." Ishmael's response, however, didn't sound as enthusiastic. "I'm all for it if Feather'ead didn't talk down to us like we're scum."

"...What are you saying?" Branislav's eyes narrowed.

"...Yeah, I have a bit of a problem with that, too," Arian concurred. "Melchior told me all about the kind of stuff you said to him, Kallias, and…most of the Guild, really. It wasn't exactly praise, was it?"

"...Hmph," Branislav huffed discontentedly. "I'd rather you treated your elders with respect, boy."

"Respect goes both ways, Branislav," the Riolu retaliated. "If you want us to respect you, you're gonna have to respect us as well. So please. We need to cooperate, and if you make bad remarks about us, then it'll never work."

"...Arian has a point," Yuliya agreed. "We can't badmouth them now, Branislav. Not when we need their aid more than ever. It only fomented bad feelings between the knights and mercenaries seven years ago, and keeping it up won't do us any good."

"...I think that would be the wise thing to do, Marshal," Maciej added.

"Even you, Maciej?" Branislav uttered in dismay. He made a noise of reluctance, before coming up with a reply "...Very well, if you insist. I'll put my trust in you mercenaries."

"Thank you, Branislav," Elvira replied, though she didn't put a huge amount of gratitude in it.

"But!" the Sirfetch'd immediately proclaimed. "As long as you help us in our quest to overthrow Mitrofan. I will not be bogged down by wastes of time such as finding one's lost items. If it doesn't help us to this end, then leave it alone. That's - "

"Branislav!" interrupted Yuliya. "You cannot simply ask them to abandon their duty. Besides, we're in no position to make demands of them. We're coming to them asking for help. We may have been powerful marshals once…but we're wanted outlaws now. …Fallen from grace, some would say."

"That does not mean we cannot have honour in our demands!" Branislav refuted.

"Throwing demands at the Guild is not honour!" the Furret criticised. "That's just selfish! We need to compromise. More to the point, you need to compromise. It's you that's been - "

"Alright, enough, the both of you!" Maciej interjected, getting between the two former marshals. "You're not making your standing any better by arguing in front of the very people you want to make an agreement with. Stop bickering like kids, and do what's good for the nation. Y'know, what knights are actually supposed to do. Do you realise how infantile the two of you look right now?"

"..." Neither knight responded. Both looked down in slight embarrassment and shame.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no problem at all with allying with the Guild," the Swoobat reasoned. "Especially now, when we can't exactly pick and choose our allies. Would it really kill you to team up with them? I mean, you're fine, Yuliya, because you like the Guild anyway. But Branislav…come on, man. Think of the people you're meant to be protecting. You have the same goals as the Guild. Team up with them! It's for the good of Selenia!"

"...Fine then. I'll do it," Branislav agreed, swayed by Maciej's words. "No insults at all. I shall be like a child when their parents' friends are visiting. No bad words about the Irian Guild shall come out of this mouth while I am allies with you. …Is this acceptable?"

"...S'pose it is," Ishmael replied. "But we're not the ones ya gotta talk to. Ya need to organise that with the Chief."

"The Chief?" Yuliya wondered.

"He means the Guildmaster," Elvira clarified. "Melchior, in other words. …I imagine he'll say yes. But you'll have to talk that through with him first."

"Where would he be right now?" Branislav asked.

"Where our Guild is located," Arian answered. "It's located in Kamengrad."

"Kamengrad? I see…" murmured Yuliya. "...Well, could you guide us there?"

"Sure. We're headed back there anyway," accepted the Riolu.

"Then let us make haste! The sooner we make this alliance, the better," proclaimed Branislav. "Now off we go! To the boats we head!"

He made his way out of the tavern, followed by Maciej. Yuliya moved to follow them, but stopped and turned back to the five mercenaries.

"Thank you so much for doing this," she thanked. "I'm sorry you've had to witness Branislav and I arguing. I only found him recently myself…I had hoped he would be more open to accepting help from mercenaries. …A shame that bit of him hasn't changed.

"But he's promised to respect you. …Let's just hope he can keep his promise." With that, the Furret followed after her fellow knight.

"...How much you wanna bet he ain't gonna keep 'is promise?" Ishmael said to his partners.

"100P," betted Axel.

"Same," Lillian added. "Even I've heard about how much Branislav hates the Irian Guild. I bet he'll throw out something before we even get back to Kamengrad."

"...Look, he might do that. But give him a chance, would you?" requested Elvira. "Having him by our side would be a great help. He wasn't a marshal for nothing."

"...I getcha, El," Ishmael replied. "Just sayin' that we don't take kindly to digs. 'Specially from some stuck-up prat like 'im."

"We'll trust him. For now," Axel added.

"...Well, if we want him to trust us, we should probably catch up with him," Lillian suggested, getting ready to leave. "Come on, guys. Let's go."

Teams Elpis and Sandstream walked out of the tavern, following after their new allies. They soon caught up with them, and went to the riverside, where all of the boats were. Maciej returned after a quick chat with one of the ticket masters at the booth where they were selling ferry tickets.

"The next boat upriver leaves in half an hour," he informed the group. "We should go and get tickets."

And so the group did that, standing in line and getting tickets for the eight of them. That took ten minutes, and so the group stood at the jetty next to where several boats were anchored. They hadn't planned to do anything, just watch the world go by while they waited for the river ferry to arrive.

Twenty minutes passed. That turned into a half an hour. And then forty minutes.

"...Strange. The boat's not usually this late," Yuliya noted. "Is there a delay?"

"Oh, you haven't heard?" another voice chipped in, one that was taunting and teasing. "The boat's purposefully being held up so the passengers aboard don't come into contact with wanted filth like you all."

"That voice…!" Maciej turned around, as did everyone else. And what they saw made them freeze.

They were cornered by a horde of knights. And at the head of them…was a Floatzel, who was grinning like a Sharpedo with delight.

"What luck! What a treat we've landed today! We have the ones who beat Hinnerk. But look what else we have! Alban scum…and two ex-marshals."




Notes

'Ol' Nanny' is rhyming slang. Nanny as in 'nanny goat'(or nanny Gogoat, in this world). As in boat.

Ardmacha is a variation of Ard Mhacha, the Irish name for the town of Armagh, which was once a royal site in ancient Ireland. Oiriall is a variation of Oirialla or Oriel, a land in northeast Ireland in medieval times.

Czarno is named for Czarnobog, the Polish spelling of Chernobog, the Slavic god of death and bad fates. Rusalka is named after a water entity from Slavic mythology with malice towards mankind.

Bit of an unintended Fire Emblem reference with Yuliya's name. Yuliya's also the name of a princess in Mystery of the Emblem. Her Japanese name? Yumina.
 
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Chapter 20 - Cornered

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Chapter 20
Cornered

"...Strange. The boat's not usually this late," Yuliya noted. "Has there been a delay?"

"Oh, you haven't heard?" another voice chipped in, one that was taunting and teasing. "The boat's purposefully being held up so the passengers aboard don't come into contact with wanted filth like you all."

"That voice…!" Maciej turned around, as did everyone else. And what they saw made them freeze.

They were cornered by a horde of knights. And at the head of them…was a Floatzel, who was grinning like a Sharpedo with delight.


"What luck! What a treat we've landed today! We have the ones who beat Hinnerk. But look what else we have! Alban scum…and two ex-marshals."

Immediately, the tension heightened at the latter mention.

"Ridiculous!" Branislav shouted, perhaps a bit too quickly and emphatically. "You have not a shred of proof! Your words are as empty as your morals, Kumiega scum!"

"Oh? The righteous birdbrain's getting angry?" Metody smirked. "Must mean I'm doing something right."

"Sly and conniving…" Yuliya's tone was laced with disgust. "As expected of a member of House Kumiega. The very people that tried to grave rob the body of Prince Kasimir!"

"What? Grave robbing?" This was new to Arian. "They tried to rob the body of Prince Kasimir?" In truth, that had been another mystery to him when he was told there was another prince besides Leonid that was once the heir. What happened to him? he had wondered.

"Yes. When our tsesarevich passed away six years ago, it could not have been a more tragic occasion. Right in the bloom of his youth, and when we all expected him to be as great a tsar as his father…" The Furret swallowed her sadness, before looking back at Metody with a furious look. "But a few days after he was buried, House Kumiega sent graverobbers to pilfer his body!"

"We always knew you were disloyal blackguards," Branislav continued. "That incident proved it. Frankly, His Majesty's decision to execute you all and strip you of your noble status was perfectly just! And your claim that you intended to do a 'proper autopsy' on his body…Unconscionable! Cutting upon a Ruslan as if he were meat! The very thought is sickening!"

"Hey now. We were only trying to find out what really happened," Metody defended. "And we were prevented from that because of some stupid thoughts from our tsar? Something strange was definitely going on with how Kasimir died. Our crown prince was rarely sick growing up, and yet all of a sudden, he catches this mysterious illness and dies in a few days? …Yeah, I'm not buying that. We in House Kumiega don't buy coincidences. And if His Majesty and your houses wouldn't allow us to hear the truth…then we would steal it from under their noses and expose it to the world, as it should have been done!"

"...So you dared to commit treason, anyway," Branislav huffed. "It amounts to the same thing. Kumiega scum like you are without morals. The fact that you stand with the villain that slayed His Majesty is the greatest proof of all!"

"...Villain, you say? Strong words, coming from a concealer of the truth," sneered Metody. "After all, my fellow marshal and your ex-lieutenant told me everything. About how you shut her up when she figured it out. About how you tried to force her discharge from the knights. About how you - "

"Lies, lies, lies," the Sirfetch'd cut off. "Words from a treasonous rat are as empty as your conscience. And the same with that Nidoqueen! Never an honest soul, trying to subvert my command at every turn! Her words meant nothing then, and they mean nothing now!"

"...Hah. It's interesting how the tables have turned with you and Ludmila," the Floatzel observed smugly. "Before Kliment kicked the bucket, you were among the highest ranked in the knights, while you tried to demote and oust her. But now…she's the one at the top. You, meanwhile? Nothing but a rag-ridden outlaw and a filthy traitor - that's all you are.

"And by the end of this day…you won't be anything." Metody shifted to a battle stance. "I'll rip your life from you. The same with you, Yuliya, as well as you mercenary scum. Oh, Master Mitrofan will be delighted with me when we're done! You all made a mistake, meeting up here! Because now I know everything about where you mercenary scum have been hiding."

"Wh-What?!" Arian cried, panicked. "How do you know?"

"I have eyes and ears everywhere in Rusalka, little Arian," the Floatzel answered, pronouncing his name for all to hear, and in a slimy, taunting way that made the human shudder in annoyance. "You have no one to blame but yourself for letting slip that your little operation's in Kamengrad."

Everyone affiliated with the Guild tensed, while the Riolu felt his stomach drop in despair.

No, no, no, no, no…How could I have been so careless? I had to tell Yuliya and Branislav…but I didn't think Metody would catch wind of it. …Crap, crap, crap…!

"Come on, men! Let's wipe out these traitors!" Metody rallied. "When we have them all wiped out, we'll have a massive banquet! We'll have a buffet upon their coffins!"

"Sir, yes, sir!" Encouraged by their marshal's words, the knights got into battle stances.

"...Oh dear," murmured Elvira. "This is going to be quite an uphill battle." She took a glance at the river. "And there's no ferry coming that we can escape to…"

"...I have a plan," Maciej said. Everyone turned to him. "But I need you all to buy me time to get the plan in motion."

"Of course, Maciej," Branislav obliged. "Will it get us out of this predicament?"

"It will, provided Metody and his gang of knights don't complicate matters."

"Then go. Anything to get us out of this," Elvira quietly urged.

"Right." With that, the Swoobat made his move, flying out over the river and making his way further downstream.

"After him!" Metody barked. "Don't let him get away!"

"Yes, sir!" obliged a Pidgeotto, who flew after the escaping bat.

"...Don't worry about him. Focus on your own battles," Branislav advised. "Maciej is no weakling. It will take more than a stray knight to take him down."

"Understood," Yuliya replied.

"...Get ready, ya lot," Ishmael whispered to his comrades. "If we kick his ass, we can get back to the Guild in time to warn 'em."

"...I'm so sorry, everyone," Arian breathed. "I - "

"Shush, Arry. Don't be thinkin' now. Just fight."

"...Alright," the Riolu resolved, and focused for the fight that was to break out. It was seven of them versus at least twenty knights, including Metody himself.

Still…I won't just bow down to him. I have to make up for that slip of the tongue I made. And what better way than to take down the one with that knowledge?

Elvira made the first move, reaching into their bag, and throwing out a blast seed at the nearest opponent, a Miltank.

"Arian! Go!"

Arian then ran forward, and slammed a Force Palm into the Miltank.

"Hey! Upstart!" the cow raged, ticked off by the drop they got on her. She turned her rage on the Riolu. "Time to put you in your place!" She reared her head back, and tried to land a Headbutt. Luckily, Arian saw the attack coming, and dodged out of the way in the nick of time. Looking back, he saw Elvira and Ishmael dealing with the Miltank knight. He had no time to react before being the target of a Heatmor's Fire Lash. Unfortunately, he wasn't quick enough to react, and was struck with a searing blow across his side.

"Ouch!" he cried out. "That smarts…"

"Course it did, laddie," snickered the Heatmor. "I'm a trained knight! Honed my skills day in, day out! …Now then. Will you come quietly?"

"Like hell I will!" shouted Arian. "I'll never give in to you!" He readied his fists, and struck the Heatmor across his midsection with a Force Palm.

"...Feisty wee'un, aren't ya?" the fire anteater commented. "You're a hard hitter. I can see why Ol' Mitt wants you dealt with. That kind of strength could prove to be a real nuisance some day. Gotta cut you down 'fore that happens." He moved in with his own counterattack. But before he could move in, he was intercepted by one of his fellows.

"Off with you!" The commanding voice of Branislav rang out, and before he realised it, Arian saw the Sirfetch'd move in with his own move. The knight's leek slammed out a Brick Break attack, stopping the Heatmor cold in his tracks.

"Argh!" he cried out. "Of all people, the birdbrain…"

"If only you could as well as you could throw out derision, then you could easily defeat me!" Branislav proclaimed. "But alas not! Words and fighting skills are not one and the same with you!" He raised his leek blade again. "Now take this!" With a blade coated in darkness, he slashed at his opponent with a Night Slash, making short work of the Heatmor.

"Damn you…" Those were his last words before he fell unconscious.

"...Hmph. Mess with I, Marshal Branislav, and a punishment for the crass awaits!" the Sirfetch'd proclaimed.

"...Er, thanks, Branislav," Arian thanked. Looking around, he saw enemies on all sides in front of him. "...But we still have more enemies to deal with."

"I know, boy. And that's Marshal Branislav to you," Branislav haughtily corrected. "Now cover me. I must rain even more devastation upon these nefarious traitors!"

"...Right. Sure," the Riolu muttered, not happy about the bird knight's condescension. He's an ally, Arian…just ignore him and do what he says, he told himself as he leapt back into fray, facing off against two knights - a Musharna and a Mr. Mime.

Crap! I don't do well against either of them! Arian realised. But before he could reach for his items, a double Psybeam onslaught hit him square on.

"Urgh…" he groaned dizzily. His vision became blurry and faded, and he fell to the ground.

…But not long after, he immediately felt a seed being put in his mouth. Instinctively, he bit on it, and felt energy return. His consciousness returned, and he found Ishmael forcing him onto his feet.

"Get up, mate," he urged. "Can't be losin' ya now."

"Thanks, Ishmael," Arian said gratefully, as his focus returned. He saw Axel and Lillian move in to defend them against the Psychic-type duo, while Elvira was picking a fight with a Golduck that was duelling with Yuliya.

Branislav wasn't engaged in combat. He looked to be carrying out a Swords Dance. Oh, that explains it, Arian theorised. He's getting ready to deal more damage later. …Fair enough. We can keep the enemies off him. He turned to face his nearest foe: a Lombre who looked at him with an unimpressed look.

"You're the one that Master Mitrofan wants us to lock up?" he said. "...How the hell did Hinnerk lose to a shrimp like you?"

"Why not fight and find out?" Arian challenged.

"...Sure. But I doubt you'll measure up to me!" The Lombre inhaled, and from his mouth, bubbles blasted out towards Arian. The Riolu fought hard to avoid the Bubble Beam attack, but found himself having to retreat slightly, much to his annoyance. I need to get closer, not further away, he thought.

Thankfully, the Lombre soon found his attention diverted, as a small but strong force launched a Slam attack into him.

"What the hell?!" he cried, startled. Looking up, he saw Elvira standing between him and Arian.

"Don't harass my partner," she threatened. "Otherwise you'll have to deal with me."

"Thanks, Elvira," Arian said gratefully.

"No problem," the Treecko returned. "Now let's defeat him, together!"

"Yeah!"

Arian leapt back into the fray with another Force Palm prepared. He ran forward, and struck the Lombre's side.

"Agh!" hissed the Jolly Pokémon. That wasn't all he had to deal with, though. Elvira made her move, and used a Giga Drain to sap his energy.

"Damn you! You're really beginning to piss me off!" yelled the Lombre.

"...Strange. I thought you said a shrimp like me wouldn't be worth your time?" Arian taunted, adopting a satisfied smirk at disproving his opponent on what he had said earlier..

"...Tch!" the Water/Grass-type spat. "Eat this!" He turned on Elvira, and readied his claws, before leaping forward, intent to deliver hell to her via Fury Swipes. Arian braced himself for the attack's landing…

…But it never did. Thankfully, Elvira, seeing his retaliation, used Detect and dodged every Fury Swipe that came her way.

"Wh-What in - " A vein visibly bulged in the Lombre's head. "Y-You little trickster!" He tried harder to hit her. However, it was to no avail.

And he happened to forget she had a partner, who moved in to strike again with yet another Force Palm.

"Don't forget me!" the Riolu interjected. "...Or wait, no. I'm just a little shrimp that couldn't possibly measure up to you. Don't mind me."

"Will you ever shut up!?" the Lombre growled with annoyance.

"It's you that needs to shut up," Elvira said from his other side. With no more words, she threw an iron thorn at him, which hit him square in the face.

"...B-Bastards…" was all he said before falling unconscious.

"...Whew," Arian breathed. He wanted to take a slightly longer rest. But one look around him told him this was not an option. While the number of knights had thinned slightly, there was still much more to go.

And that's not even counting potential reinforcements, he realised. …Damn…are we in a tough spot?

"Arian, Elvira." The two looked over to see Yuliya nearby. She had just finished off a Venomoth, and was gearing up to face yet more knights. "They won't let up anytime soon. I think…it would be wise to go for the commander."

"That sounds like a plan," Elvira agreed.

"But the commander…that's Metody," Arian pointed out. "One of Mitrofan's most loyal marshals…"

"I know. But taking him down will put a big dent in this operation," the Furret reasoned. "And…you defeated Hinnerk. I know you have the potential to pull off a victory."

"...We didn't defeat him without help," the Riolu whined. "We had Team Sandstream's help." Looking over, he could see Ishmael, Axel and Lillian engaged in combat with other knights, and weren't in a position to lend aid to them so easily. Meanwhile, Branislav had been cornered by another two knights. No one was in a position to help them.

"I'll help you," Yuliya volunteered. "He's over there." She pointed to where the Floatzel was observing the fight from afar. "I'll help you clear a path to him."

"Thanks, Yuliya," Arian replied.

"Don't mention it." The Furret then turned her attention to their foes. Without a word, she dashed forward and slashed at her nearest opponent, a Greedent, with Fury Swipes. She had been in the midst of fighting the overweight squirrel, and that attack caused it to go down.

"That's enough of that, girlie!" a Darmanitan called, getting into the fray. "Can't let someone like ya be takin' us down, can we?"

"You're dealing with an ex-marshal here," Arian pointed out. "She's no one ordinary!"

"...'Was' a marshal. Don't mean nothin' now!" the Darmanitan touted. "Shoulda stayed with playin' with dolls instead of tryin' to tussle with us in the big leagues!"

"..." Yuliya said nothing, instead taking a deep breath. By the sound of it, as well as based on the scowl she was trying to suppress, there was no doubt some history here. While Arian had no hope of knowing the specifics, he could formulate a good guess. Undoubtedly, it was linked to the 'girlie' comments the Darmanitan was making.

That's low. The Riolu found himself irked by the Fire-type's words. He looked over at his partner, and nodded wordlessly. Elvira knew what this meant; she dug into the bag, and threw out a blast seed at the Darmanitan. She threw it with meaning, too; she didn't like his comments any more than Yuliya did.

"Argh! Ya little scamp!" the Fire-type raged. He got ready to leap over to her and deal a burning blow to her in the form of a Fire Punch. However, once again, this knight forgot she had a partner, who leapt in at that point to deliver a Force Palm across his midsection.

"Ngh!" Suddenly, his Fire Punch fizzled out. "I-I can't move!" It went better than Arian had expected; the Darmanitan had been paralysed by the Riolu's Force Palm.

"Alright!" Arian cheered. "Come on, let's lay into him!" He dashed forward, a Bite at the ready, and sunk his fangs into the Fire-type.

At that same time, Yuliya moved in with her own move. Boosted by her Agility, she was quick as lightning as she leapt into the air and bore down on him with U-turn. She descended, landing next to Arian, who unconsciously took her place where she had been.

"S-Stupid girl!" The Darmanitan moved to strike her with a Hammer Arm this time. But once again, Yuliya came prepared. As he prepared to strike down on her, she slugged him in the stomach with a Sucker Punch, knocking him off-balance.

Elvira then took the opportunity given to them, and slammed into the Fire-type with Slam. That did the Darmanitan in, and he fell unconscious.

"Let's keep going." Yuliya, however, wasn't intent on resting on her laurels. "I'll hold these knights off. You just focus on getting to Metody!"

"Right! Thanks, Yuliya!" Arian thanked, before looking through the group of knights for a gap they could break through. Thanks to the Furret marshal providing support along their flanks, they eventually found one, and dashed through to where Metody was issuing orders to the knights nearest him. He had his back turned to them, and Arian saw a chance to draw first blood. He leapt in with the intent to deal a Force Palm to the Floatzel. However, as he was about to hit him…

"Hyah!" Suddenly, Metody materialised water gauntlets at his fists, and blocked Arian's attack. "Nope! You haven't outsmarted me, little mutt!" Additionally, he kicked the Riolu, pushing him back slightly.

"...So you're Metody." Arian clutched his chest in slight pain as he spoke. It wasn't anything serious, thankfully; the marshal hadn't put a huge amount of force behind the kick. "Serafina and Natalie told us about you."

"Of course they would. Blabbermouths come a dime a dozen with mercenary types," Metody sneered. "But then again, you would know about accidentally letting secrets slip, wouldn't you? Loose-Tongued Arian." He smirked with victory at the nickname he'd invented for the Riolu.

"Sh-Shut up!" Arian immediately replied, though Metody's remarks had made their mark. His heart sank with guilt at his mistake.

"Take no notice, Arian," Elvira encouraged, in an attempt to alleviate her partner's worries. "Don't let him get to you!"

"Hmm…What's that they say about sticks and stones? Seems like your partner hasn't learned that lesson yet." But the Floatzel marshal was not intent on letting up with the snide remarks. "Didn't Fernblade Kallias teach his little girl that? Or was he too busy on missions as a merc to look after you properly, Elvira?"

"Don't talk about my dad like that!" Elvira shouted back. Evidently, she'd forgotten what she'd said only a moment before. And like Arian, his words did manage to strike a chord within her, reminding her of feelings of contempt she did hold for her dad at one point in the past.

That's all in the past, she reminded herself, shaking her head to rid those feelings. "My dad was a virtuous mercenary, with his heart always in the right place! He loved me and always wanted the best for me! I won't let you insult him like that, Metody!" She got into a battle stance

"Hah! Stupid girl," the Floatzel mocked. "If I was facing Fernblade Kallias, I would just hold up the white flag right away. I wouldn't be an idiot, thinking I could take him on. …You, though? You're nothing like him. You're a weak, fickle Treecko who only got lucky! The same with you, Arian!"

"Oh yeah? You wanna bet?" the human challenged. "We'll beat you right here, right now!"

"...Fine then. But you'd better put up something of a fight!" Metody accepted. "Hinnerk's a pompous idiot, anyway. No wonder you beat him. Meanwhile, here and now, you're dealing with me, Metody Eligiusz Kumiega, one of Selenia's most powerful fighters. Let me show you why I am where I am!"

He began by using Aqua Jet. Using his tails as propellers, he moved in the blink of an eye, and struck Arian head on. The Riolu was flung backwards, into the side of a Grotle knight who was duking it out with Yuliya.

"Oof!" Arian cried.

"Oi! Damn mutt!" the Grotle yelled, and got ready to attack him.

"Leave him to me," Metody ordered. "Focus on your own battles, cadet!"

"Yes, sir! Of course, sir!" obliged the mossy turtle, before turning back to his own duel.

Elvira sought to capitalise on this, and used Giga Drain on Metody. The attack connected, thankfully, and the Treecko stole energy from him.

"...You think you've got the upper hand now, do you?" To her dismay, the Floatzel didn't seem that fazed. "Think again!"

The next thing he did was coat his fists in ice, like the gauntlets of water he had formed earlier. In retaliation for Elvira's attack, he went for her.

"Hoarfrost Punch!" He dealt a number of blows to Elvira, and the Treecko was knocked back in a similar way her partner was earlier. This attack was much more powerful, though, and the gecko found herself reeling from the attack.

It looks like…a form of Liquidation, combined with…Ice Punch, I think, she analysed, as she got back to her feet. And he doesn't look as though he compromises much by using it. With Aqua Jet, he definitely makes the best use of his agility as a Floatzel. …We might be in for the long haul with this fight.

Still…it's not unwinnable,
she told herself, as she took out an oran berry. If we play our cards right…then hopefully…

Metody's focus, meanwhile, had returned to Arian. The Riolu had gotten back into the fray, and attempted to strike with a Force Palm again. However, the Floatzel saw his attack coming, and blocked it with his water gauntlets.

"This shit again?" he snarked. "Doing the same thing again and again isn't a good way of making yourself unpredictable! Seems you really are a dumb mutt. Just what's your story, anyway? I don't recall a prominent Lucario being a merc in the Guild."

"I don't need to tell you anything," Arian shot back. He jumped back, and thought back to the lessons he'd been having with Galen in the last while, involving this similar motion of blocking punches from opponents. Just be patient. Block his punches, and wait for your chance.

He ran towards the weasel. This time, his claws shone metallic, a sign he was about to use Metal Claw. Metody saw this, and frowned.

Either he's an idiot…or he's got something planned. Either way, he went in again, his Liquidation gauntlets armed again. I'll put this pompous kid in his place.

Arian's left arm came into contact with Metody's right, who blocked his hit without effort. But as he got ready to deal a blow with his other fist, he was taken by surprise as he felt a blow from his right side.

"Argh!" He used Force Palm on his right paw? …Damn. Knew he was up to no good. Looking up, he saw the Riolu retreat slightly, ready to go at it again.

But on his right side, Elvira was back in the fray, and threw a blast seed at the marshal. The blast hit him, and he reeled back in surprise from the blast.

"Damn mercs and their items," he hissed with annoyance. "But tricks won't save you here!" Right away, he leapt back at Elvira, his Hoarfrost Punch at the ready. At least, he wouldn't have to fear his attacks being blocked by her. From what he could grasp from the way she fought, Kallias's daughter didn't appear to be a hand-to-hand combatant, or even take after her father's way of combat.

However…he was wrong to underestimate her capabilities. Before he struck, the Treecko threw another seed at him. It wasn't a blast seed, but it was a seed that cast an aroma over him. …One that made him feel drowsy.

Wait! No! Those little… He didn't even finish his thought before he fell asleep standing up.

It was a funny sight. But Elvira knew this was no time for laughter. Now was a time to capitalise on the marshal's inactivity.

"Arian!" she called. "Catch!" From her bag, she threw yet another seed. Arian caught it.

"A violent seed? Oh!" he realised. He didn't need to be told, and gobbled the seed. After consuming it, he felt a greater power come to him.

"Hey! Guys! Marshal Metody's fallen asleep!" one of the knights pointed out.

"Those Team Elpis kids did that!" another knight added. "They threw a sleep seed at him!"

"Protect him! Stop them!"

"Oh, crud!" Arian cried, seeing the other knights turn their attention to them. "This isn't good!"

The knights began to move in on them.

Thankfully, though…Team Elpis had allies by their side, and they all came to defend them.

"We're your enemies, not them!" Lillian proclaimed, as she, Axel and Ishmael came to the front. Each looked battered from the fighting, but they were holding on.

"Quite so! Where do you think you're going, you bunch of blackhearts?" Branislav chipped in, slashing at a Rhyhorn with Leaf Blade and felling them. "I am a more worthy opponent than them!"

"Focus on Metody, Arian and Elvira!" Yuliya declared, from where she was fighting. "Don't worry about us!"

"...Understood," Elvira agreed. "Arian, let's team up! How about we…try out something? You know what you were suggesting earlier, back in Riverside Cave?"

"Oh, a team attack?" Arian was suddenly excited. "Yeah, let's try something out, here and now!"

"Great. Let's start it off!"

Arian acted on instinct, and slugging Metody with a Force Palm was the first thing he did. This knocked the Floatzel back and out of sleep. However, before he could react, Elvira moved in with her own move: a Giga Drain. This was then followed up by a Slam, as she hit Metody as hard as she could.

Arian moved back in, his claws at the ready with a metallic sheen. He slashed at Metody once, twice, three times, before rounding that part of the combo out with a Bite.

Elvira then moved in next to him. The next attack was to be an attack the two would do side by side, by the looks of it. Both were fine with this, and charged their most powerful attacks: Arian with a Force Palm, and Elvira with a Giga Drain.

Elvira went first, draining Metody's energy for herself. Then, as she finished, Arian moved in, and hit Metody as hard as his attack allowed.

This threw the Floatzel marshal back into the wall of a nearby watermill. Cracks formed where he landed in the wall.

He seemed to be unconscious, much to the surprise of Team Elpis. A few knights were quite dismayed.

"No way…It can't be!"

"Did Marshal Metody really lose to a pair of rookies?"

"This can't be real! He's much stronger than them! …Hmm…unless…"

"Did we do it? Did we…beat him?" Elvira wondered.

Arian went over to look. The Floatzel's eyes were closed, and he didn't appear to be moving a muscle.

"...Seems like it," he said, as he turned back to face everyone else. "...Wow…I can't believe I - "

He didn't finish his sentence before he felt a cold, hard punch slug him across the back of the head.

"Agh!" he cried. He turned around in horror, to see the Floatzel get back on his feet. While the marshal had taken a battering, he was far from being down.

"Sike!" declared Metody. "You totally fell for it, you dunce! Did you really think that little show of yours would do me in?"

"N-No…That didn't defeat him?" Arian's face of despair said it all.

"Haha! I love to see it! The way your excitement withers to despair as you realise how outmatched you are!" Metody chortled. "You never had a chance, you whelp! And when I'm through with you…you never will," he finished with menace in his tone.

He got ready to follow up on his attack, and intended to finish Arian for good. The Riolu tried to get up, but he was still reeling from the Hoarfrost Punch that Metody had dealt to him. There would be no chance to dodge out of the way before he went in again.

"Arian!" he heard Elvira cry. Similar cries could be heard from Team Sandstream.

He felt the impact of the chilling punch Metody dealt to him. Then another punch. And another. And another. The Riolu lost consciousness after the fourth punch. But Metody wasn't done with him.

I'll kill him here and post his head to the Guild in Kamengrad as a warning. He smirked inwardly at this thought. What a brilliant idea!

Perhaps if he hadn't been in fantasyland about such thoughts, he would've paid attention to his surroundings and seen the incoming attack.

The whoosh of a slashing blade sounded out, along with a pained yell from him.

"Gyaah! What the fuck!?" Metody cried out in pain. He looked over to see who had dealt that wound to him.

There, standing next to him, was Branislav, with his leek blade in his right wing, having just used a Leaf Blade on the marshal.

"You! Birdbrain…" the Floatzel growled, smarting from the cuts dealt to him. "How dare you steal my thunder like that!"

"You're not the only one whose thunder is being stolen," Branislav returned. "What better way to reclaim it by defeating you in your hometown, here and now? Come, Metody! Your opponent is me now!"

"...Tch…So the great Branislav is defending and cooperating with mercenaries?" Metody scowled. "I've seen it all now…"

"All in the name of protecting Selenia's name from underhanded urchins like you," the Sirfetch'd scathingly answered. "If freeing her means allying with those I once thought disdain of…then so be it. Our enemies are the same vile leeches that leave our fair tsardom to stagnate day by day. And so, to stop that rot, I will defeat you here and now!" He swung his leek around. "En garde!"

Branislav did not hesitate in his charge as he went in for another attack. Metody prepared his Liquidation gauntlets to fight back against him.

Meanwhile, Elvira had made her way over to her partner with a reviver seed. Arian took it, and regained consciousness.

"Urgh…What happened?"

"Long story short, Metody's fighting Branislav right now," Elvira informed. "Therefore, we need to take up his role and hold off the knights."

"...Okay, I see. I can do that," Arian replied. They took the ex-marshal's place in keeping the knights away from where the fight was happening with Metody.

"Hyah!" The bird knight swung with a green energy along his blade, aiming to hit the Floatzel. Metody was still the faster of them, and dodged his slashes. At one point, he avoided an overhead swing from the Sirfetch'd, and attempted to hit him in the side. He punched forward, expecting to hit feathery plumage…

…But he ended up punching his leafy shield instead.

"Your mistake!" Branislav proclaimed, bashing his shield and pushing the weasel back. That created a prime opportunity to strike with a Leaf Blade, which he struck Metody with, slashing him three times across his midsection.

"Yeeeaaargh!" yelled Metody in pain. The Sirfetch'd's slashes were especially painful for a Water-type like him, and the cuts stung like nothing else. It was a struggle to get back up again, and he found himself clutching his wounds.

"Don't like that, hm?" scoffed Branislav. "Then have some more!" He dashed in again, Leaf Blade at the ready, and slashed Metody in the same fashion as before.

"Ngaaaaaaah!" the Floatzel cried out again in agony. If the strikes were painful before, they were all the worse now, being cut where there were already wounds.

"You should never have engaged with me!" Branislav declared. "You think that I, Branislav Erastovich Lada, marshal most loyal to His Majesty Tsar Kliment VII, would roll over and accept defeat? I never rest! And I never fail in my duty as marshal!"

"...Try telling that to your fellow knights," scoffed Metody, breathing heavily as he spoke. "Why do you think Ludmila and your platoon left you for Mitrofan? One good reason, and they all say it - you're a terrible leader. Seven years ago, when Team Marshwood were having their moment of glory in saving Kliment from assassination, where were you? Someone in the background, far away from the limelight. You didn't care at all for your people! Just some haughty noble playing marshal and acting like a spoiled brat when confronted with the slightest criticism! And don't think I'm making this up! Master Mitrofan told us everything, and Ludmila was there to back us up!"

Arian and Elvira happened to overhear this, and realised that the way Metody told the story wasn't too different from the perspective Melchior told it to them the day before. When the Floatzel marshal worded it again…they found themselves in begrudging agreement with him.

"...Still your tongue. You speak nothing but slander, as befits a member of that nefarious House Kumiega!" Branislav shouted, almost defensively. "You people were nothing but stains on our nobility's purity, and you continue with your tainted ways today! …But no more. I shall fell the last remaining member of this house today, and then we shall no longer hear of the underhanded plots of your family again!"

The Sirfetch'd didn't charge in immediately. Rather, he seemed to coat himself in a yellowish energy, in preparation for what looked to be a finishing blow. This time, though, Metody was in more of a position to be defeated, rather than earlier with Arian and Elvira's attempt at a finishing combo.

"Now, to end this!"

Branislav was about to charge forward and stab at the Floatzel with all of his might. It was a signature move of his, and passed down through the last few generations of Sirfetch'd in House Lada's dynasty. It was incredibly powerful, and he looked forward to using it to fell the last remaining member of that troublesome house that laid claim to this oblast. Frankly, someone far better deserved land like this, not a disreputable bunch like House Kumiega.

He got ready to charge forward. But at that moment…a voice pierced through the air.

"I don't think so, Branislav!"

Then from his left, something was thrown at him. It was something on fire, and it hit him on his side.

"Agh!" he yelled, feeling the flames lick his plumage. Oddly, though…the flames were a greenish colour, not the typical red that Fire-types usually breathed.

"Branislav, look out!" Yuliya cried. "It's coming back!"

"What?!" The Sirfetch'd looked to his right, but had no time to react before the object hit him again. "Gaargh! What was that? Who threw that?" He looked to his left, where the object had come from.

And what he saw, or rather who he saw…was quite a shock.

The object, as it turned out, was a bone, with ghostly flames on it. It came back to its owner, who caught it with skill.

"To think, one of the most prestigious generals of the old guard falling for an attack like that…it's pathetic," Nikita opined, looking at Branislav with scorn. "Isn't it, Master Mitrofan?"

"Indeed it is, Nikita," Mitrofan concurred. "Inept scum like him have no place in the top brass. And yet…that was exactly where Kliment put him."

The very leader of Selenia had come upon the scene, along with his loyal aide. Also with him was a legion of more knights.

The blood of the mercenaries and ex-knights collectively froze upon the sight of him.

"Mitrofan?!" Yuliya gasped.

"What?!" a shocked Axel yelled.

"What the hell's he doing here?!" Lillian cried, panicked.

"Of all the times…" Branislav was furious at the interruption. "Right when I was about to put this cur down for good!"

"On the contrary, you couldn't have come at a better time, Master Mitrofan!" Metody professed, weakly stepping towards his leader. "We've come upon some vital information about the Irian Guild!"

"Oh? Do tell," Mitrofan asked. Next to him, Nikita threw an oran berry to the marshal.

No no no! He's going to tell him! Arian thought in despair. All because we couldn't defeat him in time! Oh, why did Mitrofan have to show up now, of all times?

"It's in Kamengrad, where the mercs have been hiding!" the Floatzel gleefully revealed, after scarfing the oran berry and recovering from the wounds Team Elpis and Branislav inflicted upon him. "That's where they've been all this time, gathering support and plotting our downfall! And now they've teamed up with two old enemies of ours to further that goal!"

"Kamengrad?" A scowl formed on the Aggron's face. "I'll have some words for House Kalininis when I come up there…"

"Ah, it's hilarious! I didn't even have to do digging to find this out!" Metody went on. "One of them let it slip! And guess who it was?" He pointed towards Arian. "One of the two you've been so desperate to catch in the last while!"

Mitrofan's gaze fell to the Riolu. Arian tried hard to swallow his fear, but the memory of their altercation in the Irian Catacombs came back to him, of how the Aggron had effortlessly taken him and Elvira out.

This time, he was reinforced by the new contingent that came with Mitrofan. As well as that, they still had Metody's knights to contend with, though luckily not as many as before. As for the marshal, he had replenished his health, erasing all the hard work he and Elvira had done to weaken him.

All their escape routes were blocked, except for the river. But Arian didn't fancy his chances with that route. Besides…He stole a glance at Team Sandstream. I have to think about them. They don't do well at all with water. Swimming upriver wouldn't be up their alley at all. And even if we were good…Floatzel are at home in the river. He'd have even more of an advantage if we jumped in the river. No…that's not a viable option at all.

"Your arrival changes nothing, you dastardly tyrant!" Branislav touted. "Fight me, one on one! I'll cut you to pieces! You'll rue the day you ever stood against I, Marshal - "

"Good grief. You truly have learned nothing from seven years ago," Mitrofan interjected. "You're still the same spoiled child you were then. This time you're boasting about your excellence and making it all about you. …Nothing seems to have changed about you. No doubt you intend to pull the rug out from under the Irian Guild. Tell me, mercenaries!" He directed his question to the two teams. "Is that the kind of man you want to ally with? One who'll stab you in the back the first chance he gets?"

Arian and Elvira considered Mitrofan's question. Admittedly…they still didn't fully trust the Sirfetch'd. Metody's earlier words to him had given them food for thought. But hearing it from Mitrofan, the same guildmaster that had stood up to him and reprimanded him for his condescension towards them, only caused the seeds of doubt within them to grow. Despite what he had promised not long before, they didn't truly know whether the Sirfetch'd had learned to get over his mistrust of mercenaries, or would throw them under the carriage wheels the first chance he got and was only allying with them on a temporary basis.

Near them, Team Sandstream seemed to be having similar misgivings. Neither team ended up saying anything, unsure of what to say.

"The silence says it all," the Aggron observed. "You can't trust him, after all the empty criticism he's lobbed at us for all these years."

"...Ain't like we got a choice," Ishmael chipped in.

"Pfft. Just another way of saying you're desperate," Metody responded. "Admit it! You don't want to partner with him either! It's a coalition that'll fall apart with the lightest breeze. …Maybe we don't need to do anything," he shrugged jokingly. "Internal conflict might do it all for us."

"I'm not taking chances, Metody," Mitrofan uttered disapprovingly. "That scum betrayed me!" He pointed to the bird knight. "And you, Yuliya!" He turned to the Furret. "You, who backed the Guild for all these years! You, whose cooperation helped us seven years ago! You were among those whose help I needed the most, and you went and stabbed me in the back!"

"I most certainly did not!" Yuliya repudiated. "You were the one that stabbed us in the back! Stabbed Selenia in the back! You killed His Majesty! Unless you've forgotten, my loyalty was to him, first and foremost! To side with you would be betraying everything I believed in! It would be unconscionable to side with you, after you killed my liege and ousted my sister and brother-in-law from this realm!" She grew more emotional with each outburst. "…Why would you do this, Mitrofan? You and Team Marshwood prevented His Majesty from being assassinated seven years ago! Why would you suddenly change your mind and kill him two years later? Answer me!"

"...Hmph. I would think you would know, Yuliya," Mitrofan replied. "A lot can change in two years. Certainly…that's long enough for one's opinion to change. I once thought His Majesty was a great man worthy of leading our tsardom. But I soon came to realise that he was nothing more than a coward who would stoop to the lowest heights if it meant getting what he wanted!"

"You dare accuse His Majesty of lowbrow behaviour?" Branislav interrogated. "We won't listen to your slander! And we will not let you sully His Majesty's name!"

"...It's Rufina, isn't it?"

Mitrofan had tuned out the rantings of that infernal bird. But he froze at the mention of that name. He looked over at who made that comment. And he found who had said it.

Arian, whose demeanour looked rather more serious. Just a moment ago, he was quivering like a leaf at the sight of him. Now…he still looked scared. But he was evidently trying to suppress it.

"...What did you say?" Mitrofan's tone was like ice. "You, Arian! Speak up!"

"...It's because of Rufina," Arian repeated, trying to suppress his fear. "That's why you're…like this, Mitrofan. You were a good man once. Everyone keeps saying that about you. But…something happened. And the fact that Rufina isn't anywhere to be seen…that has to have something to do with it. What happened to her, Mitrofan? Is she dead? Is she being hostage somewhere? Could it be…that someone kidnapped her and blackmailed you to overthrow Tsar Kliment?"

These were theories the Riolu had brainstormed after being told about the events seven years ago by Melchior. What he lacked was confirmation as to which one was true. And what better way to find the answer than from the lips of the man himself? Even if he is our greatest enemy…I have to know. I have to know the truth of all of this.

He examined the Aggron's emotions, to try and gauge how close he was to the truth. While this was somewhat hampered by the multitude of different aura waves that were emanating from all the knights in the area, he did manage to discern two emotions from the tyrant.

Anger. And on a more subtle level…pain.

However, before he could discern what these emotions meant, the despot spoke up again.

"What does that name mean to you?" he interrogated.

"...Well, um." Arian was admittedly caught off-guard by Mitrofan's question. "She's your wife, isn't she?"

"Team Silver Axe never on any occasion helped a Riolu," the Aggron replied. "They are known to be rare. If Rufina encountered one in her own time, she did not tell me of it. Have you even as much as met Rufina, boy?"

"...Well, no," admitted the human. "But - "

"Then don't throw that name around like it's nothing!" Mitrofan suddenly thundered. "You don't understand the weight of that name! Do you intend to use Rufina's name to guilt-trip me, Arian?!"

"N-No! It's not like that!" Arian defended. "I-I'm just trying to find out the truth!

"And what will you do with that truth?!"

"Find out what's really going on here!" the Riolu fired back. "People don't just become tyrants overnight! Something happened, and Rufina disappearing has something to do with it! She - "

"That's enough!" bellowed Mitrofan, and stomped his foot to the ground. Sensing movement beneath him, Arian jumped out of the way just as the Stone Edge stalagmites ruptured the cobblestones that he once stood on.

"Geez, that was close," he breathed.

"Hang on, Master Mitrofan! We got him!" a Carnvine knight volunteered. He then created his snare with a Grass Knot, and managed to trip the Riolu. From there, three different knights seized him before he could get back on his feet.

"Arian!" cried Elvira. She was in the midst of staving off the new group of knights that had come with Mitrofan. Yuliya and Branislav, as well as Team Sandstream, were helping her. The former marshals had been the most productive of the group in thinning the ranks of Metody's contingency. Now they were combatting the reinforcements, along with the Floatzel who was now back in the fray after being healed by Nikita's oran berry earlier.

"I will not have any more of these vile tactics of yours," the Aggron growled. "You use my wife's name in vain for your futile attempt to get me to stand down. You, a nobody who never knew Rufina! You, who seek the truth to twist it for your own gain!" He began to march closer to the Riolu.

"That's not true!" Arian cried out in desperation. He struggled hard to break free from the knights, but their grips were like iron. "I'm not going to twist the truth!"

"That doesn't matter," Mitrofan immediately deflected. "Even if you knew the truth, you would still be my enemy. It's not as if you can change the past. And by the looks of it, you don't have the potential to change the future either! You have made it plain that you and the rest of the Guild are no allies of mine. And so I will treat you like I treat all my enemies; put them down so they can be of no threat to me again."

He was getting closer and closer to Arian. Terror crept over the Riolu.

"Mitrofan, stop! Stop this!" begged Elvira. "Rufina wouldn't want this from you! Would she want to see you become this…monster that murders people and oppresses thousands of people across Selenia?"

"...It's almost as if you don't think I know my own wife." Mitrofan's indignance returned. "'I will support you no matter what path you go down.' Those were among her vows to me when we married nineteen years ago. And over the years, she has meant that. She supported me in the face of every single insult thrown my way since I became Guildmaster. She supported when I stood up to Branislav seven years ago. She supported me in the face of those restrictions Kliment intended to place on the Guild. And most of all…she always pushed the notion of payback and retribution. If Kliment took her away from me…then she would want me to pay him back in equal measure. And so I did just that. Dethroning Kliment was an act for Rufina, just as much as it was for the removal of a fickle, corrupt ruler like him!

"...Damn you, Elvira. I had hoped you of all people would understand." Mitrofan shook his head in dismay. "But no! It appears you take after your father in more ways than one! Thus…allow me to repeat what I said to your father, five years ago, in the throne room of Iria Castle.

"If you're not with me…then you're my enemy. It's as simple as that."

With that said, his tail gave off a metallic sheen, and he swung at Elvira. The Treecko had no time to react before the Iron Tail hit her square on.

"Aaaaaah!" she cried, as she was knocked onto her back.

"Elvira!" Arian yelled.

"I'll finish you off first," Mitrofan decided. "What a shame. If only your father had seen sense…then it wouldn't have come to this."

"Don't do it!" Arian pleaded, fighting harder than ever against the knights that bound him. "Don't kill her! Don't kill Elvira!"

Mitrofan paid no attention to the pleading Riolu. His attention was on the weakened Elvira, who was struggling to get up and away from the towering ironclad titan. She looked up at the former Guildmaster, and with the noises of battle behind her and her partner pleading with all of his heart, a thought came to her.

Are these…the last sounds I'm ever going to hear?

The Aggron got ready to strike again. He lifted his foot up, and got ready to slam it down again to use Stone Edge, a powerful move that would hopefully dispose of this meddling Treecko once and for all. A part of him was sad at the fact he would have to kill the daughter of a friend who spoke of his dear love for her. But he mentally brushed it away. There was no room for such platitudes when duty called like this.

However, at that moment, he found himself rudely interrupted by the tossing of a Gravelerock his way. It hit him on his side, and though it only clinked off his iron hide, he did cease his attack to see who had done that.

"Ya tosser! Get the fuck away from 'em!"

"Yeah, what Ish said!"

"You're not killing our friends, Mitrofan!"

It was Team Sandstream that had done it. They looked at the Aggron with fury in all of their eyes, and a determination that suggested they would fight him in the name of saving their friends.

It was at that moment that Mitrofan looked at all three of them and had a small realisation.

I know them. During that time…they were looking to form a team at the Guild. Just another set of new recruits looking to have a go at the merc lifestyle. …Interesting. These three might well have been the last group I ever recruited to the Irian Guild. My Irian Guild. And that Krokorok…He looked again at Ishmael. Could he be…?

Hmph. It's not like it matters.
The Aggron shrugged off these thoughts, and focused on the new incoming attacks from them on him.

Ishmael burrowed into the ground, in a usage of Dig. Axel looked to creep up to the Aggron, before striking at him suddenly with a Feint Attack. Lillian similarly launched herself towards him, and raised her right claws to strike at him with Brick Break.

Mitrofan would be lying if he said the last attack didn't hurt him at all. After all, he never took Fighting-type moves well, even from someone so different in skill level like the Sandslash. He was irked by this; just when he was about to finish off one of his greater enemies, her friends and fellow mercs had to jump in and halt him in their tracks. I can't ignore this. Looks like I'll have to deal with them too.

Luckily, his closest ally was alike in thinking this. Therefore, as Ishmael surfaced, intending to strike Mitrofan with Dig…he was suddenly hit with a flaming Bonemerang.

"Yargh!" he cried out. Fazed by this unexpected attack, he didn't carry out his attack - and that gave a window of opportunity for Mitrofan to give a hefty swipe at him with Dragon Claw. This threw Ishmael backwards, and he was knocked out by the two attacks he'd been dealt.

"Ish!" Lillian called worriedly. She handed him a reviver seed from the bag. "Oh dear…I don't think we have any reviver seeds left. We're beginning to run out of items..."

"Shit…ya ain't messin'?" Ishmael murmured as he got back on his feet. "Crap…" He looked around on all sides. Enemies everywhere, with Arian detained and Elvira in a weakened state. Granted, Yuliya and Branislav were still holding up, but… "This ain't good…"

"Stop pretending you have a chance," Nikita scoffed, brandishing his bone club as he blocked a strike from Branislav. "There is no hope for you all. There is only one path with one way out of this mess. And that is death." He paused to dodge another slice from Branislav.

"Tenacious cur!" the Sirfetch'd cursed. He looked out at the river. "Come on, Maciej…hurry up…!"

"Hey, Nikita. I've an idea," Metody said to him. He was in the middle of fighting Yuliya.

"And that would be?" the Marowak wondered.

"Those three over there…" He pointed to Team Sandstream. "...I think we can take them all down in one fell swoop."

"How so?"

"C'mon. Look." Metody gestured to behind them. "The bane of Ground-types like them. I'd gladly kick their asses right now if this bitch wasn't at my throat." As he said this, Yuliya slashed at him with a Shadow Claw. "Argh! Damn you, woman!"

"Damn you too," the Furret replied. "What are you up to, Metody? What do you plan to do with Team Sandstream?"

"Why else? I hate Albans," the Floatzel scoffed. "And they're the spitting image of those barbarian savages. Especially that Krokorok over there." He glared at the crocodile. "I'd bet my float he's that chief's son that the Ó Ruairc clan wouldn't shut up about."

"...So you're a prolific racist as well. Why am I not surprised?" Yuliya sarcastically muttered.

"You wouldn't understand, Lysagora bitch," growled Metody. "Pests. Savage pests. That's all they are!"

While Yuliya and Metody argued, Nikita focused on his duel with Branislav. Though the ex-marshal had been an experienced higher up in the past, he was an older knight whose age looked to be catching up with him. The Marowak, on the other hand, trained night and day to be an effective defender of Mitrofan, and was young and strong. Therefore, he was able to effectively hold his own against the Sirfetch'd and suffered only a few blows from the bird knight, while the Sirfetch'd sustained more hits than him.

It was a foregone conclusion that Nikita would eventually win the duel if he kept it up. But Metody's plan had him thinking. And he realised he did have a certain item with him.

If I time this right…I might be able to make Master Mitrofan's life easier by getting rid of them.

He threw another Shadow Bonemerang at Branislav. But in that moment, to the bird's shock…he ran away from him.

"Hey! Where are you going?" Branislav demanded, shielding against the projectile. "Fight me, coward!"

As he got nearer to Team Sandstream and Mitrofan, he pulled the desired item out of his bag - an orb.

"You wanna tussle?" Axel yelled at Nikita in a challenging manner.

"No," the Marowak immediately answered, as he grabbed his returning bone club. "I don't fight well in water."

"Water? What the hell are ya - "

Ishmael didn't get to finish his sentence before Nikita threw the orb at them.

"AAAAAAAAAH!"

All three of them were thrown back by the force of the blowback orb.

This wouldn't be particularly noteworthy in the case of a Mystery Dungeon - they would normally hit a wall and get back up from that.

But they weren't in a Mystery Dungeon, and a wall wasn't behind them.

What was behind them…was the River Evor.

Arian and Elvira's eyes bulged in horror.

"No! No!" yelled Arian.

"Ishmael! Axel! Lillian!" cried Elvira.

Team Sandstream landed in the water with a forceful splash. It was in the middle of the river, where it happened to be at its deepest.

A problem…for evidently inexperienced swimmers.

"Aagh!" Ishmael cried as he surfaced, flailing his arms about. "Crap! I can't swim!"

"This water! Blegh!" Axel said as he spat out a mouthful of river water. Lillian couldn't even get in a response before she fell underwater again.

Notably, a number of passersby were watching the whole ordeal with the knights and mercenaries. Some gasped in horror as Team Sandstream was blown back into the river. Some were in their boats, and were tempted to rescue them.

"Don't help them!" Mitrofan's order was heard loud and clear. "Or I'll have you arrested for aiding and abetting outlaws!"

That put any thoughts of rescuing them to rest. Based on the discomfort of a number of watchers, though, they weren't happy about this.

"Wonderful work, Nikita!" Metody praised. "Now, if you don't mind, it's my time to shine!" He delivered a Hoarfrost Punch to Yuliya, dazing her for a moment. That was the window he needed, and he ran towards the river, before jumping in himself.

"Oh no!" Elvira cried. "Team Sandstream!"

In the river, Metody caught sight of his prey. He snickered, watching them struggle. None of them seemed to be good swimmers at all. As you'd expect of a place like Alba. No rivers means robbing them of one of the basic skills of life: how to swim. …If you all can't survive in calm waters like this…then this'll be a cinch!

"Whirlpool!" he yelled out underwater. He bent the water to his will, and shaped a swirling vortex of water, before throwing it at the Ground-type trio. All three members of Team Sandstream tried to escape it, barely managing to get to the surface. But they underestimated the pull of the Whirlpool, and all three were soon stuck, flailing helplessly in the water.

"No!" Yuliya cried out in horror, watching the spectacle. "There's no way they'll get out of that! He's trying to drown them!"

"How dishonourable!" Branislav raged. "How low will you Kumiega scum delve?"

"They're going to drown!" Elvira yelled in desperation. "We need to stop Metody!"

"I don't think so," Nikita interjected, brandishing his bone club. "Like I said; you don't have a hope. Give it up! You can't win, Elvira!"

"Ngh…" The Treecko looked in desperation at Mitrofan. "Don't you see what's happening?! Why are you letting your marshal kill them in such a cruel manner?"

"...They are enemies," was the Aggron's simple response. "The only purpose of enemies is to get rid of them. I don't care how it's done."

"...You truly have lost it." Elvira clenched her fist. "You're not the Guildmaster Mitrofan my dad was good friends with. You are a monster. An irredeemable monster. You are beyond saving." Each word was said with increasing anger and bitterness, while at the same time, tears came to her eyes. Once again, the memory of the scary-looking but kindhearted Aggron giving her money to buy sweets came back to her. "I thought the old you might've been in there somewhere, but…no. He's dead. He's been dead this whole time."

"...Correct," Mitrofan stated. "The Mitrofan you knew is gone. It might have been a different story if your father and Melchior had less concern over guild ethics and more concern over aiding comrades in need. …But they never understood. Nor do you. And by the looks of it…" He gazed over at Arian. "Nor does your partner."

As for the Riolu, he had resumed his struggle against the knights' grips.

"Let go of me! Let go of me!" Arian yelled, struggling all the more fiercely.

"Nope, kid! You stay where you are!" the Carnivine from earlier said.

"Grrr! Let me go!" the Riolu continued to scream.

Oddly, as he said this…it was as if some form of a memory came to him.

"Let me go! Let me go, you sick bastard!"

"Hah! Look at your struggle. A varmint like you who threatens my life only deserves one fate. And that is...perhaps the most painful death

Arian paid no mind to these thoughts. He just wanted to be free. He just wanted to save Team Sandstream. I don't want my friends to die! Especially not like this!

"Ngaaaaargh! Let me go!"

And as he said this…something extraordinary happened.

His paws suddenly flared a bright blue, and a burst of energy occurred around him.

"Gah! What the hell?!"

All of the knights that were holding him back reeled back in hurt from this. Realising he was free, Arian ran forward, towards the river.

"What in blazes?" Nikita observed. "Something's happened with Arian!"

"Hm? What…?" Mitrofan broke off. He stared down at the Riolu's paws, which seemed to be glowing with blue. "Like flames…Is this…? Is it aura?"

Arian paid no attention to this. Only one thought was on his mind.

I need to save my friends.

He ran towards the quay, and got ready to jump in. Part of his mind screamed that this was a stupid idea, that he would just get caught in the vortex as well.

Indeed, Elvira voiced those same thoughts.

"Arian! Don't! You'll get caught in his Whirlpool too!"

Arian heard her words. But though he understood…the determination to save Ishmael, Axel and Lillian won out in the end, regardless of what dangerous situation he was jumping into.

And so he jumped in.

Instantly, he felt the water cover him. Then he felt the pull of the current, as he gradually felt himself be sucked into the Whirlpool. But he focused his vision. Somehow…it seemed to be sharper now. Perhaps it was due to this mysterious power burning within him right now. If this power can help me save them…then I'm all for it! If I could just dissipate this Whirlpool…then I can better help Team Sandstream.

He scanned the water, and saw him.

Metody, the causer of this chaos.

Bastard, he seethed. Then a thought came to him. If I can take him out…then maybe the Whirlpool will disappear.

At that moment, Metody's gaze locked with his. His smug smirk was all too present as he swam towards him.

Here he comes. Arian braced himself, and got ready to deal a Force Palm to the weasel.

Only…something unusual happened.

As Metody formed his Liquidation gauntlets, Arian habitually applied the energy to his paw needed for the Force Palm release. But…instead of forming around his paw, it shot out as energy towards the Floatzel, and hit him.

"Aaaargh!" yelled Metody underwater. "What the hell? Why…Why do you have power like that?"

Arian would answer him, were they above water. His glare hardened. Is that what this power can do? …Then give me more. This bastard deserves no mercy.

He went in again. He put one paw behind the other, to see if he could fire off that energy at the marshal again. And once again, Metody was hit.

"Gah! Annoying little shit!" raged the Floatzel. "Wait till I get my hands on you!" He tried to go in again, to try and attack the Riolu again. But…he couldn't. He found himself frozen in place.

"Paralysis…?" he realised in anger. "Little shit! Damn you and your Force Palm, or whatever the hell that attack was!"

Force Palm? Was that what that was? Arian thought. Then Galen's lessons came back to him, of how with enough training, Force Palm could potentially be used as a ranged attack. This power, or whatever it is…Is it allowing me to do this?

A new splash drew his attention away from the paralysed marshal. Looking over at where it had occurred, Arian saw Elvira in the water. He was confused…until she pointed to where the vortex had been.

Suddenly, Arian remembered why he had jumped in the river in the first place.

Crap! Team Sandstream! He looked over, horrified at what he saw.

Thankfully, the vortex had dissipated. But it had taken its toll on Team Sandstream.

Ishmael, Axel and Lillian were all sinking. They had run out of energy, and their eyes were collectively closed in unconsciousness.

No, no, no, no, no! In desperation, the Riolu swam towards them. Truthfully, he was desperate for air. But saving his friends came first.

I'll save them…or I'll die trying.

He grabbed the nearest one to him - Ishmael. He was difficult to move on his own. But Elvira came to him to help, and the weight was less of a struggle to handle. The two of them struggled upwards to get him to the surface. I need to save him, I need to save him, was the lone thought running through Arian's mind.

After what felt like an eternity, they surfaced, and the duo took in blessed lungfuls of air. To their luck, they had surfaced near the opposite bank away from the knights. They dragged Ishmael's unconscious body to the small shore, and left it there.

"...Right," Arian breathed. "The other two. We need to get them as well." Not wasting any time, he breathed in, and dived back into the river. Elvira followed suit, both determined to rescue their comrades.

Lillian and Axel's unconscious forms had hit the riverbed. Bracing themselves, they went for Lillian first. As they got her, Arian stole a worried glance at Metody. But to his luck, the Floatzel seemed to still struggle with the paralysis dealt to him.

Let's seize this opportunity while it lasts. The Riolu helped his partner get Lillian up to where Axel was laid down. While the Sandslash was much lighter, thankfully, her spikes were a problem, and a number of them ended up pricking Arian's side. He winced, but carried on. This pain's nothing. I can patch it up later.

They got to the surface, and placed Lillian where Ishmael was. Arian was partially curious as to how Mitrofan might possibly try to foil their plans. But he swept that thought away. That doesn't matter. I can worry about that later. Now…to rescue Axel.

Team Elpis dived back in to rescue the Gligar. Unluckily, he was the furthest away from them, meaning this part had more of an opportunity to be sabotaged.

Arian and Elvira got Axel. He was unresponsive - a bad sign. And given he waited the longest to be rescued…that didn't bode well either.

But the worst part of it all was that Axel was heavy - a lot heavier than his two compatriots. The Elpis duo struggled to even lift him up from the riverbed.

No, no…Come on, Arian! You can do this! You need to do this! You need to save him! In desperation, the Riolu put his back into trying to lift up the Gligar. Elvira did the same. However, not much of a difference was made.

And just when things couldn't get any worse…what they feared most came true.

"Whirlpool!" Metody created a vortex and tossed it towards them. Being in a compromised position with carrying their comrade, they couldn't resist it in any way.

"Mmmmph!" Arian cried out in pain, feeling himself be tugged by the Whirlpool. He held onto Axel as tightly as he could, not wanting his friend to be lost from his grasp. Elvira had the same idea.

But the Whirlpool was hurting him, with cuts appearing on his sides and making him wince in pain. And worse still…the urge for air had come to him. Not now! Not now! he urged his senses. He held onto Axel so tightly, he almost feared he would tear a wound in the fly scorpion.

The Whirlpool still buffeted him, though. And all the while…the need for oxygen became stronger and stronger.

Can't breathe, he thought. No…I'm not dying here. I'm not…

His vision began to blur. He felt the haze of unconsciousness creep up on him…

…But luckily for them, fortune intervened.

Next moment, the vortex suddenly dissipated once again.

Huh? What? That kept Arian from the lull of the darkness. Through his blurry vision, he saw one thing.

Metody seemed to be wrapped in a pinkish aura. However, based on his pained reaction to it…it seemed to be holding him back, rather than aiding him.

Is that…Psychic? I…think it is, he thought. But then who's -

He didn't finish this thought before he felt another force pulling on him. In fact, not just him - Elvira and Axel too.

Wh-What?! He realised at that moment that a similar aura was enveloping them. Are we under attack?

The force, however, seemed to be pulling them towards the surface. And as they broke above the water, Arian could see that they were being placed on the wooden planks of a boat.

Huh? Oh, we're back on solid ground. Thank God…

It was at that moment that the bluish energy around the Riolu's paws dissipated. And with that, Arian fell down in exhaustion, coughing up a lungful of river water and breathing in that sweet, sweet air. He didn't fall unconscious, but rather, he was completely spent. All that toing and froing, underwater, lifting comrades heavier than himself, while struggling against a vortex, twice, and the cessation of whatever power had sprung up within him had completely drained him of his energy. The thought of helping Team Sandstream in their current state came to mind, but he hadn't the energy to even move. He could do nothing.

Looking over at Elvira, she had dropped to her knees, in a similar state of exhaustion. By the looks of it, they definitely needed a breather.

But who helped us? That question came to him. And just as quickly, it was answered.

"...You love to play heroics, don't you?" Maciej commented, from his left. "Eh, don't worry. We'll get your friends next." He turned to his companion. "Get the other two on the boat!"

"As ya wish, Match." Looking over to his right, Arian was stupefied by what he saw: a Lapras, pulling the boat where he was now.

The Lapras's eyes then glowed pink, and Lillian was levitated from the bank where Team Elpis had left her onto the boat next. He seemed to be using Psychic, but it was a different form of it. One that wasn't intended to damage, but rather a form of it that was designed to transport objects…as well as people.

"Gonna have to grab the Krok by mouth," the Lapras informed. "He won't be able to be transported by my Psychic." He therefore paddled over and leaned his long neck down to pick up Ishmael with his mouth. He placed him on the boat behind him, ensuring all three members of Team Sandstream were safe aboard the boat.

"Now for our marshal comrades. They've been holding up well…but the tides are turning, and not in their favour," Maciej informed. As he spoke, the Lapras moved closer to the other bank where the fighting was going on. "Mitrofan and Nikita are no joke. Even without the other knights, those two would have their paws and feathers full. To get them out of there…I know what we can do. Aegir, if you could help me out here?"

"Sure thing, Match," Aegir, the Lapras, obliged. "A double Psychic, yeah?"

"The very one. Hey, you two!" Maciej called. "Stop fighting! We'll help you get out of this mess!"

Both Maciej and Aegir's eyes glowed pink, and they aimed their energies over at the quayside, where Yuliya and Branislav were duelling against Mitrofan and Nikita.

Mitrofan realised what they were about to do.

"Dammit! They're going to escape!" he raged. "Nikita!"

"I'm on it!" Nikita acknowledged. He reared his arm back, and threw a Shadow Bonemerang at Maciej, aiming to stop the bat's Psychic manoeuvre.

However, to his surprise, the Swoobat stopped his Psychic, before he could even move Branislav to the boat. He shifted to using a Shadow Ball, which he flung at the bone club. Its advance was stopped, and it came back to Nikita.

Meanwhile, Aegir's Psychic had brought Yuliya on board the boat. He now went to do the same for Branislav. This time, though, Maciej started with a Shadow Ball, and launched it towards Nikita.

"I don't think so." Mitrofan stepped in to block the attack. He weathered it like it was nothing.

That, however, did nothing to stop Aegir from using Psychic to lift Branislav to the boat. And soon, the bird knight was aboard.

"Great! Everyone's aboard!" Maciej declared. "Go, Aegir, go!"

"Not so fast!" another voice proclaimed. Then, out of the water, as Aegir was beginning to move upriver, Metody shot out and landed on the boat. "We have unfinished business here!"

"You!" Branislav yelled. "We can deal with you right here and now, Kumiega vermin! Even with our incapacitated, it's three against one! And I'm not finished with fighting!"

"Same here!" Yuliya seconded. "I can still fight!" Though both were weary, they stood strong, ready for another fight if necessary.

"Hold off, you two. Let me handle this mistake of a 'mon," Maciej insisted. He charged energy within himself, and let loose a Shock Wave on the Floatzel.

"Argh!" yelled out Metody. "Damn you, you winged rat!"

"This is a waste of time," Maciej scoffed. "Get off this boat and let us escape. Or I'll kill you right here and now. Honestly...you should have been dead a long time ago."

"...Of course you would say that," Metody growled. "Scum like you would say that." He looked from Yuliya to Branislav, then over at the mercenaries. "…I wonder how they'd react if I told them who you really - "

"Kindly fuck off," Maciej interjected. "You're a debased piece of shit, Metody. One that was discarded by the best, and should've remained out of sight. You're better off dead, in other words. You're of no use to anyone anymore." He gave a meaningful glare towards the Floatzel, before charging his attack. "Now get off our boat!"

Another Shock Wave was unleashed, and the Floatzel was shocked with electricity again. Then Maciej moved in again and rammed him with Heart Stamp. The force from this was enough to knock the weasel off the boat.

"After them!" Mitrofan could be heard yelling to knights. "Don't let them get away!"

"Time to hightail it out of here if ya don't mind, Match!" Aegir called.

"Please do! We need to get to Kamengrad on the double!" Maciej replied. "...After all, we have injured aboard." He glanced over at the mercenaries, where Arian and Elvira had regained some small amount of energy - at least enough to check each of their pulses.

"Not good," Elvira informed. "They're still breathing, but they all need medical attention as soon as possible."

"You have any reviver seeds on you?" the Swoobat queried. "That should help revive them."

"...No, we don't," the Treecko revealed with disappointment. "We used our whole supply of them in that battle. And I remember Team Sandstream saying they were low on items too." She checked their bag, by Lillian's side. It was waterlogged, and took some wringing out. Once that was done, she examined their possessions, and returned with unfortunate news. "...Yeah, they're right. There aren't any reviver seeds in here."

"...Well, that's great," Maciej muttered dryly. "We won't hit landfall until we get to Nagoria at least. And Kamengrad's another hour away at least from there…"

"...Hm. You never told us you had this whole thing as a backup plan," Branislav observed, in a slight change in topic. "Why did you keep this from us, Maciej?"

"As an emergency measure," the Swoobat explained. "Aegir has his own schedule, but when I told him we were in need of help, he was all too happy to oblige. …And good thing too. You really are our saving grace here, Aegir."

"Ah, no problem, Match," the Lapras said to him. "If you need help, I'll be there. …On the water, at least. On land…yer gonna have to find someone else."

"True. Like Yuliya and Branislav. Or these mercenaries," Maciej replied. "They'll make good allies, I think." Another thought came to him. "That being said…I don't think you mercs will be able to stay in Kamengrad anymore."

"Wait, why?" Arian asked, before his heart sank as a reminder of his earlier error. "Oh…Oh, that's why…"

"Yeah…We'll have to discuss all that when we get to the Guild," Maciej went on. "Pity that's the news we have to arrive with. I'd rather come to them in greater triumph."

Arian only felt worse, hearing the Swoobat's comments. He looked at the ground in utter dismay.

"It's my fault…It's all my fault…"
 
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Chapter 21 - Seeds of Doubt and Hope

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Chapter 21
Seeds of Doubt and Hope

Hi Mom,

I hope you're doing well, because I'm not.

Things have taken a bit of a turn for the worse for us. We were in Rusalka doing a mission, and somehow, we happened to come across not one, but two marshals from before five years ago! What a coincidence, huh? We agreed to team up, and thankfully, we now have two strong allies by our side.

However, before we could leave town, we were cornered by the knights, led by Marshal Metody, one of Mitrofan's top brass. We weren't going to go down without a fight, of course, and so we fought against them. We did fairly well, actually, and nearly managed to beat Metody.

But right when we were about to win, Mitrofan showed up out of nowhere. I can say without a doubt he's a monster. He's not that honourable guildmaster Dad always spoke fondly about. He nearly killed both me and Arian. And when our friends in Team Sandstream were thrown into the Evor, Metody tried to drown them. Mitrofan didn't even react to that. How could he allow such a thing to happen? I'll never forgive him for this.

Thankfully, we got out of it, somehow. But there's two big problems. One: Mitrofan knows where we are. Two: our friends in Team Sandstream are in a bad way. We couldn't give them medical attention immediately, and so matters have gotten complicated with them. We think they'll pull through, but we're still not certain yet.

Arian's taking it pretty hard. He keeps blaming himself for what happened, saying he's the one who let it slip. I keep trying to tell him otherwise, but I don't think it's gotten through to him.

Honestly, Mom, I feel like I could have done better myself. I just wish I could have done more. At least I'm still alive. That's something, right?

But because of the way things are, Arian and I, along with the rest of the Guild, may have to go into hiding. If that's true, then I'd be scared to try and send you letters in case Mitrofan decides to track them down.

I'd love to see you again. But I don't know when I'll see you next. Hopefully it'll be soon.


Wishing you lots of love,
Elvira.






The Treecko put down the pen. Once the ink had dried, she folded the piece of paper and placed it in an envelope. Writing her home address (technically, old home address) on the envelope, she walked out of the room, and into the atrium of the church they were staying in.

Her mind reflected on yesterday evening, when they returned to the Guild.





"Melchior! Melchior!" Arian yelled. He and Elvira were sent ahead of Yuliya, Branislav, Maciej and the indisposed Team Sandstream to let the Guild know of the present situation.

"Oh, it's you two." The first reply came from Terran, who happened to be in the main area. "Stop yelling! And I told you, his title is Guildmaster - "

"Shut up, Terran!" the human interjected in an irritated manner, catching the Larvitar by surprise. "I've no time for this! We need Melchior, now!"

"Arian?" As if on cue, the Guildmaster himself appeared. "What's all the commotion about?"

"Melchior!" Arian cried, with some degree of panic. "I messed up! I messed up big time!"

"...Messed up?" Melchior tilted his head. "What do you mean?"

"There's a lot to explain," Elvira said, a hint of grimness in her voice. "A lot happened in our mission to Rusalka today. There's some good, but a lot of bad."

"Sounds serious." Melchior's tone matched his words. "Come to the office and tell me all about it."





"...So that's what happened," Elvira informed. "We have new allies. But…we had a close shave with Mitrofan and the knights. They nearly killed us, and Team Sandstream nearly drowned. They're being transported here by Yuliya, Branislav and Maciej. They'll need medical attention once they get here.

"And worst of all…they know where we are now," Arian revealed, with such shame in his tone it hurt. "All because they overheard us talking…"

"...Is that so?" Melchior's expression turned grim.

"I'm sorry!" the Riolu apologised. "I didn't know Metody would have spies…"

"...He is known to be crafty, from what I've heard," the Swampert murmured. "Then again, he does hail from House Kumiega, who were known for being rather…unscrupulous when they were a noble house."

"...I shouldn't have said it. I should have just waited till we got back here. Or until we were out of Rusalka." Arian's fist clenched. "If only I knew…!"

"Don't beat yourself up over it, Arian," Melchior urged. "These things happen. …In truth, I'm surprised we've managed to keep the Guild's location out of the eyes of Melchior and the knights. Perhaps that's thanks to House Kalininis."

"House Kalininis? They're the house that presides over Nagoria, aren't they?" Elvira recalled. "But…aren't they with Mitrofan?"

"...Yes and no," Melchior replied. "They side with Mitrofan, but only for the sake of making sure their people don't fall under the rule of an unfit ruler, like Hinnerk. Those oaths they take for him…they're just empty words, in their eyes. Plus, they've always been friendly with the Guild. Thus, when Lord Agafon met me in the streets of Kamengrad, he told me he knew about the underground Guild below the town. But as long as we did good work and followed in the way of the old Irian Guild, then he wouldn't tell a soul."

"...Actually, didn't Mitrofan say something about that house?" Arian recalled. "He said he'd have words for them…"

"...So he's headed up here, then." The Swampert's expression turned serious once again. "...We need to call an emergency meeting about this. Could you tell everyone? They're all in the canteen right now, eating dinner."

"We'll do that," Elvira promised.

"Thank you," Melchior said gratefully.

Team Elpis went to go and tell everyone. The Swampert watched them leave the room.


Thank the Creator you didn't perish. I don't know if I could forgive myself if that ever happened…





At that emergency meeting, the whole Guild had been informed of that situation. There was a general reaction of shock and anger at what had happened to Team Elpis and Team Sandstream.

But at that meeting, Melchior had made a critical decision.

The Guild was to be abandoned, and everyone was to scatter to various locations in the vicinity of Kamengrad, where they could still at least be within reach of one another.

This was met with a degree of reluctance and misgiving among all who heard the speech. But they all agreed it was for the best.

And so they scattered. Arian and Elvira were sent to a smallish church to the north of Kamengrad, where they were taken into sanctuary by a elderly but kindly priest. They spent the night in the church.

Now it was morning, and Elvira had just penned a letter to her mother informing her what had happened the day before. As she walked into the aisles, she found herself faced with the priest that had taken her and Arian in.

"Hello, Miss Elvira." He was a Noctowl. "Did you sleep well?"

"...As well as I could," was the Treecko's reply. "...Um. I was hoping to get this letter posted to my mom, but…I don't think going into town would be a wise move on my part."

"Ah, don't worry. I can do that," the priest volunteered. Elvira handed him the letter, which he took in his beak and placed on one of the nearby pews.

Something occurred to her at that moment. "Where's Arian?" she asked. She was too busy writing the letter earlier to realise her partner had gone out of the room where they had spent the night.

"Over there." The Noctowl gestured a wing to where the blue canine was kneeling in one of the pews. "Seems he's doing some praying."

"Praying?" Elvira's brow furrowed at this. "He doesn't usually pray…I'll see what's going on with him."

She went over to where her partner was kneeling. His eyes were closed, and his paws were clasped together. As she came closer, he opened his eyes, and looked at her.

"...Hi," he greeted halfheartedly.

"Hello," Elvira returned. "...Are you praying? I must admit, I've never seen you do that since we met."

"...Yeah," Arian confessed. "I might as well try. Maybe a god does exist out there that can give us good luck, or whatever. I just don't want bad things to keep happening…"

"...There are gods depicted in just about every church in Ardalion," Elvira replied, feeling somewhat puzzled at his words. "Are you…questioning the existence of them?"

"...You don't?"

"No. I've never questioned it. I mean, the world and all its constructs had to be created by someone, right? Hence, Arceus and His pantheon."

"...It feels more authentic here," the Riolu muttered. "...I don't think we had a god in the human world."

"What?" Elvira frowned at this. "You don't have gods?"

"...I don't think so. At least…from what vague memories I have of the human world. There was definitely religion, and churches just like this one. But…I don't know. Something about being religious…just doesn't sit right with me. As if being in a religion and believing in a god was…something I wasn't fond of."

"A god?" The Treecko emphasised Arian's use of the singular. "Only one?"

"Yeah, I think so. And I guess there's a religion that believed he created everything. And yet…" Arian paused, considering his words. "...Somehow, I remember the words 'Big Bang' when I think of 'creation of a world'."

"Big Bang?" Now she was even more confused. "What, was the human world created by an explosion?"

"Maybe?" Arian shrugged. "Possibly. As if there was an explosion one day in empty space - poof - " He mimed one. " - And with that, matter settled, and planets formed, including Earth, where humans lived."

"Earth? So that's the name of your home," Elvira murmured. Admittedly, the talk about 'matter' and 'planets' went over her head.

"Yes. But I can't get back there. So I'd rather not talk about it," Arian immediately replied, before changing the subject back to the original topic. "Besides…somehow, this world's depiction of gods feels more authentic to me. And…who knows? Maybe one of them will take pity on us. Might as well give it a shot, I thought. I just…" He let out a big sigh. "...It's my fault that all this has happened."

"Arian, stop." Elvira had this same conversation with him yesterday evening. "Don't blame yourself. You'll only feel worse about yourself. Melchior said the same thing. And even if that detail hadn't slipped out, we still would've had that confrontation with Metody and Mitrofan. And Team Sandstream still would've suffered the injuries they did."

"...We could've acted sooner to help them," Arian muttered in self-admonishment. "If only I hadn't been pinned by those knights…If only we'd have seen what Nikita and Metody would do to them…!"

"That should be blame on their part, not yours," Elvira went on. "Besides, if we did nothing, then Team Sandstream would have definitely drowned. They may be in a bad way…but they're not dead. That much, we can be thankful for."

"...I don't want them to die," Arian said quietly. "Of everyone in the Guild, we've known them the longest. We wouldn't have defeated Hinnerk without their help. Without them, we would have been dead. In that fight, they definitely saved us."

"They did. And on this occasion, we saved them," Elvira reminded. "They'll probably be full of thanks when they're in a better condition. …They'll recover, Arian. Diarmuid and Gráinne are looking after them, as well as Raya. They're skilled in that craft. We can trust them."

"...It sounded serious from what I've heard," Arian refuted pessimistically. "...I don't want them to die. I don't want our friends to die…" He sounded close to tears.

"They'll pull through, Arian. They're strong." It irked Elvira that she couldn't think of a better reply in that moment. "But please…don't beat yourself up over it. They would probably say the same thing."

"...I guess. They would. I can even hear Ishmael now. 'Don't be a misery-boots, Arry, mate!'" the Riolu mimicked, in an admittedly not great imitation of the Krokorok's distinctive accent.

Elvira couldn't help but give a slight giggle. At this, Arian's expression did brighten slightly.

"There. A sad face doesn't suit you, Arian," she said. "...Remember when we first met and you were the one cheering me up?"

"Yeah…How could I?" the Riolu reminisced. "...How long's it been? A month? Two months?"

"Nearly two months. …Time flies," Elvira murmured.

"...It sure does," Arian replied. He did sound slightly better, but by the sound of it, the melancholy still persisted with him.

"...We should go to Diarmuid and Gráinne's," Elvira suggested. "See if they need any help."

"...I suppose. It's the least we could do." Arian got up from his kneeling position. But before they could move, the Noctowl's voice echoed through the church.

"...Hello there. Whoever might you be, fellow Sister? And whatever brings you here?"

Arian and Elvira looked over. The priest seemed to be addressing a visitor at the front of the church.

"Greetings to you, fellow follower of our Creator." The voice was feminine. "I am Archbishop Lachesis, and I have a letter for Guildmaster Melchior of the Irian Guild."

"Archbishop Lachesis?" Arian's ears pricked at this. "Sounds like an important figure. I say we go see what this is all about."

"A-Archbishop Lachesis?" The priest sounded quite surprised. "Y-You mean…the Archbishop Lachesis? The newly appointed Bishop of Metaxai?"

"The very same."

"...F-Forgive me, Your Grace." The Noctowl bowed in slight shame, still rather surprised by the presence of this woman. "I did not realise. I did not think someone of such influence would come and visit my humble little oratory out here in rural Nagoria."

"It's alright. I dressed discreetly so I wouldn't be noticed in public." As she was saying this, Arian and Elvira came closer, they got a glimpse of the one claiming to be Archbishop Lachesis.

Admittedly…they weren't blown away by her. She was a Cinccino, and she did at the least look like a holy woman, with a cross-wheel necklace and what looked to be a nun's habit. One thing that struck them was the woman's youth - she looked no older than thirty. However, that was it. The word 'archbishop' conjured the image of a dignified, robed individual, like Sansarn and Khariton had been, and the one before them didn't follow them in that image.

Still…they heard her words about dressing discreetly. In that context, it made sense.

"Hm? You have visitors to your church," noted Lachesis, pointing to the duo behind the Noctowl priest. "...A Riolu and a Treecko? …Hold on a minute. Excuse me, you two."

"Yes?" Elvira asked. "You mean us."

"I do. …Would you be Arian and Elvira of Team Elpis, by any chance?" the Cinccino asked.

"...Yes, that's us. …You know of us?" Arian tilted his head.

"His Holiness Pontifex Sansarn informed me of the two of you," Lachesis explained. "He told me of his journey to Selenia, and how he took into sanctuary four mercenaries of the Irian Guild. Two of whom were you."

"Yes. That's correct," Elvira confirmed.

"He suggested to me that I go over and see the land of Selenia for myself. That I needed to get out of Metaxai and observe the way Selenians did things," Lachesis went on. "And while I was in Selenia, I was to deliver to a letter in secret to the famed Mud Bomber Melchior in Kamengrad. Thus…that brought me here." She took out the item in question.

"That seal…" The Noctowl was astonished to see the particular seal on the envelope. "That's a seal from the office of His Holiness himself. …That's legitimate. Goodness gracious me…"

"Um…we can take that," offered Elvira. "We can deliver it to him for you."

"...Very well. But it is critical that the information in there be shared only amongst the mercenaries of the Irian Guild," Lachesis advised. "It would not be ideal if another party got their hands on it."

It's like the world just wants to remind me of my failure yesterday, Arian couldn't help but dejectedly think. Even if it's some stranger I've never met saying this.

"We'll deliver this to him," Elvira said. "...We have to go somewhere first, but we'll find him after we're done there."

"Thank you," Lachesis said appreciably, handing the letter to them. "May the Creator guide your path. And…may your nation eventually know freedom."

"Thank you, Your Grace." The Treecko bowed. In reaction to his partner, Arian chose to bow too.

They both left after this. Lachesis watched them go.

So they were who His Holiness wished for me to see. Hmm…they didn't look that remarkable to me. But who knows? Maybe there's something in them.

While she was lost in thought, the Noctowl priest came up to her.

"Forgive my impudence, Your Grace. But…may I ask why it is you here, and not a lower-ranking messenger? Surely the Archbishop of Metaxai would have many duties upon her plate?"

"...His Holiness has his reasons for sending me here, and so do I," Lachesis chose to say. "Let us leave it at that."

I do have reasons, alright. …Anything that involves me being away from them.





"I think it's best we stay out of town for now," Elvira suggested. "It reduces the chance of us being recognised if Mitrofan and his knights happen to be there looking for us."

"Yeah…That would be for the best," Arian agreed.

Despite receiving the letter, Elvira wanted to stick to the original plan and check in on Team Sandstream. To get to Diarmuid and Gráinne's, the two had to walk over rocky grassland typical of the Karstlands. It took a while, leaping over boulders and walking across exposed limestone, and Arian was careful not to trip on the gaps between the blocks of stones.

Clints are the stones, and…grikes are the gaps between them, he recalled, remembering the afternoon he'd spent with Elvira in the information centre in Kamengrad about the Karstlands.

Eventually, they made it to the east road out of Kamengrad that led towards Scree Canyon. From there, they had to head towards town, and a little ways before town, they saw the side road that went down to Diarmuid and Gráinne's. They headed down it, and reached the building in question. On the front of it, there was a sign reading 'SORRY, WE'RE CLOSED' stuck to the door.

Arian rang the bell outside the house. There was shuffling inside, before the door was opened.

"Oh, it's…the two of you." Gráinne had answered the door. The Flygon looked tired, a sign she hadn't gotten much sleep. "Good morning…"

"Hi, Gráinne," Elvira greeted. "We've, um…We've come to see Ishmael, Axel and Lillian."

"...Come in, then," the Flygon offered. Arian and Elvira followed her into the house. Given it was a shop, there was a counter and a number of herbs and potions stacked up on the shelves behind it.

Gráinne opened the latch at the counter's edge, and let herself, Arian and Elvira through. She opened the door in the back, and allowed Team Elpis in. They were led through a small hallway and into a room at the very back.

In there…lay all three members of Team Sandstream. Ishmael, Axel and Lillian all lay on beds in what was a makeshift sickbay. On the floor beside each bed was a basin for vomit, and by the smell of the room, they had been used for that purpose. Each member was wrapped up in blankets, and Lillian and Axel were both asleep. Ishmael, however, happened to be awake, and was talking to Diarmuid, as well as Rhiannon, who was also there. Raya was also in the room, though she was checking on the condition of the other two.

"...I swear, I'll get that weasel if it's the last thing I do…" He sounded angry…or about as angry as someone could be in a condition like his. He sounded weak, with all the bite taken out of his voice.

"Ishy, please…" Rhiannon sounded emotional. Arian recalled last night she'd been bawling her eyes out over the news of Team Sandstream's condition. "You nearly drowned yesterday. You're not well. When you're better, you can start saying that. But right now, you need rest…"

"Rhiannon is quite right," Diarmuid agreed. "You're in no shape to even get out of that bed, Ishmael. You should be asleep, like your cousins."

"I know, Uncle Diarmuid, I know…" Ishmael lay back in the bed, too tired to argue with the Gliscor. He blinked his eyes, ready to fall back asleep. But just before he did…he caught sight of two familiar faces. Well, three, if Gráinne was included.

"Arry! And El too," he greeted, perking up slightly. "Good to see yer doin' okay…"

"...At least you're still yourself," Arian remarked. Still…it hurts to see him like this. "How are you holding up?"

"...I feel like complete shit," came the crocodile's reply. "Don't got the energy to do nothin' 'cept just lie here and take Uncle Diarmuid's shit-tasting medicine. Oh, and throw up a bunch too."

"You need that medicine," Diarmuid defended. "You, who nearly died yesterday. Thank the heavens you saved them, you two." He directed this at Arian and Elvira. "I don't know what we'd have done if our son was killed by a marshal. Same with Lillian, and you, Ishmael. I don't know if I'd be able to break that news to Conall and Caitríona if you'd died yesterday..."

"Conall and Caitríona…" It occurred to Arian that it had been a while since they'd seen Lillian's parents. "Did you tell them about what happened?"

"I wrote a letter to them this morning," Gráinne answered.

"Right." Arian nodded in understanding. He was about to say more, but at that moment, a bell sounded.

"What's that for?" he asked. Both he and Elvira tensed, fearful that the knights might have caught up with them.

"Oh, that's probably Melchior at the front door," Gráinne replied. "He came by this morning and volunteered to pick herbs for us while we watched the kids."

"Melchior?" Then Arian remembered. "We need to talk to him. We have something for him."

"Do you? Well, come with me then," Diarmuid offered. "I'll get the door. You watch them, dear," he offered to his wife.

"Very well." The Flygon flew over to Ishmael's bedside, while her husband headed out the door and to the front entrance. He opened the door, and it was as he predicted: Melchior was there, along with Terran. Both held a bag of herbs in their hands.

"Welcome back," Diarmuid said to him. "Arian and Elvira showed up while you were gone."

"Ah. Hello, you two." Melchior waved to them. "Good to see you're still okay."

"Yeah, we're fine," Elvira said to him. "The priest looked after us."

"Good to hear. …Now then. Where do you want these, Diarmuid?" Melchior asked, stepping inside.

"Just in behind the counter there." The Gliscor pointed a pincer in that general direction.

"Thanks." The Swampert headed there, followed by his assistant. However, Terran and Arian happened to lock eyes, and the Riolu saw full well the glare that came from the Larvitar aimed at him.

I don't blame him for being mad at me, he thought. I did let that slip. …Just wish he didn't have to rub it in…

Luckily, Elvira's words drew him away from those negative thoughts.

"Melchior," she piped up. "We have something for you."

"Something for me?" The guildmaster tilted his head. "What is it?"

"It's a letter," Arian explained. As he spoke, his partner took the item out of their bag. "Actually…it's apparently from Pontifex Sansarn."

"Pontifex?" Diarmuid was surprised to hear this. "You have a line to the pontifex? …I don't know how you do it, Melchior..."

"Thank them, not me," the Swampert replied, gesturing to Arian and Elvira. "Without them, I wouldn't have that connection in the first place."

"Perhaps it's news on Leonid? Maybe he's found him," Elvira speculated hopefully. She handed the letter to Melchior.

"Only one way to find out." Melchior took the letter from her, and unsealed the envelope. He looked at the letter, and showed it to Team Elpis so they could read it too.





To Guildmaster Melchior of the Irian Guild,

I hope you are in good health. I write to you now from the Holy Cathedral of Padavonum, having returned from my visit to the Tsardom of Selenia, and the meeting I had with four of your mercenaries: Serafina and Natalie of Team Anima, and Arian and Elvira of Team Elpis. Whilst I kept them in sanctuary from Mitrofan and the Knights of Iria, I made a promise to them that I would search through the Church records to seek out where Prince Leonid Klimentovich Ruslan, tsesarevich of Selenia, travelled to since his flight from his native country with his betrothed, Princess Svetlana Gerasimovna Lysagora. Having made inquiries, I will now relay my findings to you.

After his flight from Selenia, Prince Leonid sojourned in the presence of House Navarra for approximately one year, where he attempted to negotiate aid from His Excellency Emperor Annibale to retake Selenia from Mitrofan's grasp. Alas, he was unsuccessful in this regard, and no aid was given, despite the lobbying of other exiled Selenian lords for the same goal.

Having failed in this venture, he headed south, to try and persuade Miletos in the same goal. Here, he sojourned with House Spyros, and tried to negotiate a similar arrangement with His Eminence Archon Pyrrhus. Once again, alas, he was unsuccessful. From here, the trail seems to have gone cold. He and Princess Svetlana left Strategos Khalkos's villa in Ithiki one night some three years ago, and he has not been seen since by any noble house in the East.

However, Prince Leonid did not disappear. Having failed to acquire aid from the East, he turned his gaze north, and headed towards Alba to get aid from there. This information is new to us in the East, and only came to light after an inquiry with Archdruid Cathbad. They informed me that Prince Leonid came to Breifne, seeking aid from Rí Trahaern Gwyrddach Ó Riagáin to retake Selenia from Mitrofan. Though the rí wasn't unwilling, it would appear he had contention over Prince Leonid's ability to become a leader. Thus, he would not grant the tsesarevich the aid he desired unless he became apt in the skill of leadership. That is where he has remained for the last three years, waiting for the day when he will be able to take his nation from the clutches of Mitrofan and alleviate the suffering of his people.

That is all the information I have for you. Do with it what you will. However you use this information, may you be guided by the light of our Creator, and make the righteous judgement that will alleviate your country's suffering.


His Holiness
Bishop of Padavonum
Pontifex Maximus of the Church of Lord Arceus the Creator
Illuminatus Conchylius Sansarn.






"...Alba…So that's where he's been," Elvira said. "All this time, he was in Alba?"

"We've been thinking he was in the East," Melchior remarked. "That's what I thought, too. I considered that he might've gone to Alba, but I didn't think it was likely, given Alba and Selenia's relations in the years before Mitrofan."

"Hm? Wait a minute…" This was new to Arian. "What do you mean, Melchior?"

"...It's to do with a political pivot towards building bridges with the East that was one of Kliment's policies," the Swampert explained. "He wished to break down the centuries-long animosity between the halves of Ardalion, and make greater progress towards friendship with Dresilia and Miletos. It wasn't a new strategy - other tsars have tried the same thing. The problem is…whenever they have, Alba has never taken it well."

"And why's that?"

"You surely know by now that Selenia and the Eastern countries don't get along," Elvira elaborated. "However, that's nothing compared to Alba. Alba despises the East, and they in turn despise them. They've fought many wars, and they rarely ever communicate diplomatically. Therefore, Selenia's the only potential ally they have. And if Selenia start pivoting towards being friendly to the East…then Alba will be in real bother."

"Oh, I see." Arian nodded in understanding. "So Alba needs Selenia as its ally."

"Yes. But…a fair amount of Albans don't like Selenia," Melchior went on. "They see us as weak-willed and pathetic, especially in regards to us being allies. …It's certainly true on the mercenaries' side. Some Alban mercenaries mock the Irian Guild for being spineless and weak. Kallias and I have certainly been on the receiving end of insults like that. …Granted, a quick tussle would shut them up. In Alba, you don't insult those stronger than you."

"But that's not true of all Albans, is it?" Elvira asked. "Dad said you and him cooperated with the Breifne Guild on a few occasions."

"We did, indeed. And you're right, Elvira," the Swampert acknowledged. "Many more Albans like Selenians. They see us as a breath of fresh air compared to those in the East. Besides…they clearly didn't hate Prince Leonid enough to kick him out of the country. There must be more to this than meets the eye. We must get to him as soon as possible. And that means sending someone to meet him in Breifne."

"...A pity we can't send Team Sandstream," Arian remarked. "They're from Alba. They'd know the culture."

"They would know. But I'd have to object to that, even if they were fit to go."

"Ah!" Arian was startled, before looking to the counter. Perched behind it was Diarmuid. "Oh, sorry, Diarmuid. Didn't see you there."

"Sorry. Couldn't help but overhear your conversation. But don't worry," the Gliscor quickly added. "Your secret's safe with us about that." He jabbed a pincer towards the letter.

"Thanks, Diarmuid," Melchior replied. "...But what do you mean? Why would you object to sending Team Sandstream into Alba?"

"Because of events that happened some ten years ago," Diarmuid answered. "I won't go into the specifics about it all. But the end result was that Gráinne and I, along with Conall and Caitríona, fled our village of Ardmacha and left Alba altogether to settle in Selenia. Part of why we left was…disgust with the culture. The idea that anyone could worm their way into a position of power, just because of how strong they are…it didn't sit right with us, especially after what had happened."

"What happened?" Arian wondered.

"That's not relevant to this conversation," the Gliscor immediately shut down. Arian, reminded of his unintentional prying, guiltily kept his mouth shut. "The point is that Ishmael, Axel and Lillian…they all know it. They all know that strength isn't everything. Strength can't keep a family fed. Strength can't bring back loved ones lost to you. They're not stupid. They were like us. They saw that when Ardmacha lost its Chief…it lost its soul. We all left the country and never came back. We still haven't gone back, and we have no intention to. Not even for something like this."

"...Is that so?" Melchior's face showed a small hint of disappointment. "...It wasn't like I could ask for their help anyway, given their condition. Hmm…who instead?" He looked at the two mercenaries before him. He seemed to consider options and weigh up the thoughts in his head, before making a decision.

"...Arian. Elvira. Could I…entrust you with this duty? The duty of meeting with Prince Leonid?"

"Hold up." Arian thought he'd heard wrong. "You want us to go meet with Leonid?"

"I do. To be honest…apart from the marshals, I can't think of anyone else," Melchior responded. "I can't go to Alba and leave my Guild members to fend for themselves against Mitrofan, who's actively seeking us out right now. Team Anima wouldn't be familiar enough with the dry desert terrain of Alba. As well as that, they tend to look down on nobles. Team Mindfist would weather it a little better, but I don't believe they have enough experience for a long trek across Alba."

"But we're the newest team you have," the Riolu pointed out. "How come we're your first choice?"

"...Because of the familial connection." Melchior looked at Elvira as he said this. "You being the daughter of Fernblade Kallias, Elvira…that might give the Albans cause to listen to you too. Fernblade Kallias is known all across Ardalion, and especially among those in the mercenary sphere, which Alba is heavily involved in. I know you don't like being compared to your father, but…"

"...I don't. I want to forge my own path as a mercenary," Elvira replied. "...But I see where you're coming from, Melchior. It's a card I'll play if we need it. …Just know that I won't be shouting it from the rooftops."

"I'm not expecting you to," came the guildmaster's reply. "I wouldn't place a burden like that on you. ...Are you both okay handling the mission I've entrusted to you?"

"...Yes, Melchior. We are," the Treecko responded, with some degree of determination.

"...I suppose if you really think we're the best…" Arian replied, though he still didn't feel confident that they were the best choice.

"That's the spirit." Melchior couldn't help but smile. "Go and make preparations. It's going to be a long trip to Breifne, in Alba's north."

"And across a desert, too…" Elvira acknowledged. "It won't be a joke, that's for sure."

"But where do we prepare?" Arian pointed out. "We can't go into Kamengrad, because the knights might see us."

"I've considered that. And I've made alternate arrangements," Melchior revealed. "There's a village to the north of here by the name of Kitesh. It's along the main road from Selenia to Dresilia. In fact…it's where Lex and Isaac are staying. You can make your preparations there."

"Lex and Isaac are there?" Arian replied. He had mixed feelings about this; on the one hand, he and Lex were on good terms with one another, but on the other, he wasn't looking forward to the inevitable beratement from Isaac about not keeping his mouth shut. It would be just like the Espeon to deliver a cold, hard truth in a manner that did not soften any blows.

"They are. In fact, they hail from that village. They'll be able to help you out, no doubt," Melchior replied.

"...I say we don't waste any more time," the human said with initiative. "The sooner we go to Alba and bring Leonid back to Selenia, the sooner we can overthrow Mitrofan and end this nightmare."

"Agreed," Elvira seconded.

"Then…I suppose it's farewell, for a while," Melchior said. "You've been working diligently for the past few weeks. You certainly have the work ethic of most mercenaries, that's for sure. You're already proving to be an asset to our Guild. That's why I feel confident to entrust this mission to you."

"…Thanks, Melchior," Arian said. He would feel flattered if not for his self-doubt.

"Now then…go and meet with Prince Leonid. Make the Guild proud." Melchior stood out of the way of the door, and watched the Elpis duo leave the apothecary's.

"...How do you do it, Melchior? Where do you find them?" Diarmuid asked jokingly, shaking his head. The Swampert shrugged in response.

"What can I say? Good fortune?"





"So…the village of Kitesh is along the road we were on, where the church was," Elvira directed, looking at a map. Once again, they were travelling through the limestone fields, stepping over large stones and leaping over limestone slabs. "We just need to keep heading north from there."

"Right, then." Arian paused as he righted himself on an elliptical rock. "Are there any Mystery Dungeons along the way?"

"Not according to this map, no," the Treecko answered. "It should be an uneventful trip. …Hopefully."

"Famous last words," Arian half-joked dryly, inwardly hoping his partner's words would prove true. I don't need another confrontation with knights. Not after yesterday… He shook his head in an effort to dispel those negative thoughts.

They eventually rejoined the road north, and walked north, back the way they came. They soon passed by the church they stayed at, and happened to see the Noctowl priest from before.

"Thanks for letting us stay!" Elvira called to him.

"Not at all!" the owl called back. "May the Creator guide your path, you two!"

That was the last conversation they had with another person for a while. The trek to Kitesh was rather quiet, with them only seeing the occasional passerby merchant. Thankfully, no knights crossed their path.

They left the Karstlands and found themselves in the grassy uplands of the Nagoria oblast. This area was still quite rocky, just like the Karstlands, and stone walls separated the fields from the dusty road. Looking around him, Arian could see this area as being a bit more inhabited, with the occasional stone cottage, next to which were fields in which berries, oats and other crops were being grown.

"I remember from that book I was reading," Arian mentioned, breaking a small period of silence. "They say the hero Gamaliel came from here, apparently."

"That's true." Elvira said, remembering her partner had indeed been reading a book on that period of history. "This was the worst affected region in all of Selenia during the Famine two hundred years ago. Nowhere in Selenia escaped it, but Nagoria got hit the hardest."

"...I suppose if you were in the middle of it all, you would feel compelled to do something about it," the Riolu murmured. "Hey…have you thought that maybe the situation with Mitrofan right now is similar to the one two hundred years ago?"

"...Honestly? No," admitted Elvira. "Back then, people were dying en masse, to the point where bodies piled up because people were too weak to bury them properly. More to the point, it was the neglect of Tsar Rihard and the outside force of the East that played into the awfulness of the Famine. This time, it's an inside force that's put things out of whack. But not so much that it can be compared to the East's leadership. Say what you want about Mitrofan…but he hasn't caused catastrophe to the level of the Famine two hundred years ago."

"...I guess you're right," Arian agreed, seeing his partner's point. Still…that doesn't mean he's a good leader we shouldn't overthrow.

"The worst part is that if this all works out, Prince Leonid and us will inevitably be compared to Tsar Kaloyan and Team Hope," Elvira went on. "But it's not an apt comparison. It would be disrespectful to all those that perished two hundred years ago. It's not comparable to the Famine War. It just isn't."

"...Let's cross that bridge when we come to it, maybe?" Arian suggested. "Let's worry about that when Mitrofan's overthrown. Let's just focus on the path ahead of us."

"Right. Of course."

They continued along the road. Once again, it was another beautiful day, with the sun shining brightly. Alas, there was no pleasant sea breeze like there was back at Elvira's house. Thus, the warm day was ever so slightly more unpleasant.

Elvira's words in Cyan Cove about the warm climate in Selenia recently came back to him. And these thoughts seemed to compliment passing words from two Pokémon who happened to be tending a field they were passing by.

"Gods, if only we had some rain…We haven't been having much at all recently."

"Why hasn't it been raining?"

"Dunno, boy. But we'd better get some soon, otherwise we ain't gonna have much of a harvest. And I'll bet Ol' Mitt won't come to help us either."

"It's a shame. I was actually kind of excited for him. I think he might do things differently, you know? Because Kliment sure wasn't that great either…"

Hm. Guess some people didn't like Kliment either, Arian observed. I guess you can't please everyone. …Still, though. The harvest might fail? That's not good. Especially given what Elvira and I were just talking about…

He worried about this matter all along the trek to Kitesh.





Around early afternoon, they saw a wooden arch with writing atop it reading 'Welcome to Kitesh'. As they crossed past the town's perimeter and into the town itself, they looked around. It seemed to be relatively small, with not a huge amount of traffic going about the town. There was the odd merchant peddling their wares, as there was in nearly every town, but overall, it was a quiet place. Fitting for a town in what was perhaps Selenia's most rural oblast.

Walking through the street, Arian and Elvira looked around them. At the very least, by the looks of things, there did look to be enough services in the town that they could reasonably prepare for their trip to Alba. A Kecleon Shop, a Klefki Bank, a Kangaskhan Storage - all the facilities were here, much to their relief.

Team Elpis were about to hit up the Kecleon Shop and get started on their preparations. However, movement from another building drew their attention.

The door opened in a house across from them. Outside stepped four figures - a Nidoking, a Rampardos…along with a Cranidos and an Espeon.

The latter two were recognised by Team Elpis. And in turn, Team Mindfist recognised them.

"Hey! Arian! Elvira!" Lex called.

"Lex!" Arian called back, perking up a bit. "Good to see you!"

"You too, man!" The Cranidos trotted over to them. "How're you doing?"

"...As good as we can be at a time like this," Arian murmured. "But hey - the knights haven't got us. Not yet, at least." Look on the bright side, I guess.

"That is a good sign." Isaac chose that moment to intervene. "Proof that Mud Bomber Melchior is a diligent thinker. …A pity it had to come in a situation like this, where one of our own let loose the details. The knights didn't even have to send in a spy."

"I didn't mean to!" Arian cried, once the Espeon turned a look of accusation his way. "I'm sorry…I-I'll try and be better in future."

"Here's hoping you keep to that," Isaac returned. "We can't have our secrets being leaked to our enemies all because one of our own can't keep his mouth shut."

"Don't blame him, Isaac," Elvira criticised. "Arian wasn't the only one at fault. We all were. We should've realised someone as crafty as Metody would have spies in every corner of his own town."

"Hmph. Never underestimate the sly ones," the Espeon retorted. "Miss nothing around them. Because they will take full advantage of what you miss."

"Hey, Isaac. Give it a rest, will you?" the Nidoking said. "These things happen. And they said they'll keep an eye out the next time. What more do you want from them?"

"Yes, Isaac," the Rampardos joined in. "They're your friends. Don't be mean to them."

"...I'm merely reminding them to be vigilant," Isaac defended. "When you're an outlaw, you can't be anything but. Get complacent and your enemies will capitalise on that in an instant."

"...Er, anyway." Lex chose to change the topic to try and prevent his partner from ruffling more feathers. "Why are you here, you two?"

"Well - " Arian was about to answer. However, the conversation with Isaac just now made him stop himself before he could reveal their mission. "We can't talk about it here. It's a secret."

"See, Ise? He's learned his lesson," the Cranidos said to his partner. He then turned back to Arian. "...But what is it?"

"How about you come inside and tell us?" suggested the Nidoking, before looking at the Rampardos. "Irma, would you mind getting the stuff for tonight's dinner?"

"Of course, dear," the Rampardos promised, before kissing him on the cheek. She then left for the marketplace.

"...Now then. Come in," the Nidoking offered. "We'll discuss it over some tea."





"So…Prince Leonid, eh?"

The house, as it turned out, belonged to Lex's parents. They were the Nidoking and Rampardos that were accompanying Team Mindfist. By the looks of the house, which looked quite nice although not too fancy, it seemed they were doing alright income-wise.

Team Elpis sat down in the kitchen with Team Mindfist, while the Nidoking, who introduced himself as Shura, brewed some tea. He then gave it to them, and they told him and their fellow mercenaries about their mission.

"So Prince Leonid's alive after all, huh?" Lex said. "Who would've thought?"

"I had an inkling those rumours weren't mere bluster," Isaac stated. "That being said…I am surprised he's in Alba. It must be a move of desperation, after the East rebuffed his efforts to take back his country. …If I must be honest, that's a foolish move on their part. If they worked to take back his kingdom, they would have stronger reassurance in an ally of theirs, and they could turn Selenia against the East's greatest enemy, Alba, and use them as a point to start invading from. But they've lost that chance now. And if Leonid strikes up an alliance with the Albans and rebuffs the East, then we might be in danger of more West-East polarisation. That was a missed opportunity. I didn't think Annibale and Pyrrhus were that short-sighted. Then again, not since Empress Minerva have we ever had - "

"Ise," Lex interjected. "You're rambling again."

"...Apologies," Isaac finished, although there was a sense he was somewhat annoyed at being cut off.

"...I'll be real. All this political mumbo-jumbo's beyond me," the Cranidos went on. "The whole point is, get Leonid, overthrow Mitrofan and Selenia'll be safe again."

"Essentially," Arian replied. "At least…that's what we hope." After saying this, he was then reminded of the conversation he overheard during the trek to Kitesh, and realised something.

Even if Mitrofan's overthrown, there's still a whole lot wrong with the world to be sorted out. Like this unnaturally hot spell Selenia's been having. That's some divine power Mitrofan can't control. …Maybe after getting him out, we can turn our attention to figuring that all out.

"Well, I wish you the best of luck," Shura said in support. "You've been good friends with my boy and Isaac. It's good to meet you two. …Oh, which reminds me." He turned his attention to Elvira. "Elvira, is it? Is it true you're the daughter of Fernblade Kallias?"

"...Yes," Elvira chose to answer. There's no point hiding it. "I am."

"...I never knew the man had a kid," the Nidoking said. "Like father, like daughter, eh?"

"...I suppose. But…I want to be my own person," the Treecko told him. "I don't want to ride on the coattails of what my dad achieved. I want to develop my own style of fighting, and become known as a legendary mercenary in my own right. Dad himself said he'd rather I did that."

"...You've a point there," accepted the Nidoking. "Not every parent wants their kid to follow in their footsteps. I mean…not even four years ago, I was a bricklayer struggling to make ends meet. And my boy Lex was learning all of what I'd learned and gaining all of my skills. I'll be honest, I didn't want him to become a bricklayer like me. The pay's awful, and I didn't want him going hungry once he became an adult 'mon. So imagine my surprise when Lex showed up at the front door one day after being missing for a while and said, 'I wanna be a mercenary!' I was surprised, but…I accepted it. Being a merc's far better than being a bricklayer. And Lex can hold himself in a fight, so he's fit to be one."

"I sure can!" The Cranidos smiled proudly. "We've beaten a load of outlaws already. And yeah, I'm not a thinker…But Ise can do that for me!"

"...I can't do all the thinking," Isaac returned. "In a scenario where we're separated from one another - which may well happen - you're going to have to fend for yourself on the strategy side of things."

"But strategy's hard…" whined Lex.

"Find a way to get around your aversion to it," Isaac replied. "At least your muscle memory's proving to be quite good. Try to use that to your advantage to overcome your…problems with strategy."

"...I guess I'll try that when we train next…" Alas, the Cranidos didn't sound that confident.

"...Moving on from that." Isaac turned his attention to Team Elpis. "You said you needed supplies? We'll help you with that."

"Yeah! Anything for friends." Lex perked up a bit after the strategy conversation. "We know where everything is in Kitesh."

"Well, off you go, then." Shura waved his hand toward the door. "I won't keep you boys. Go and help Arian and Elvira get ready for their trip across Alba."

As the four mercenaries got up to head out, they heard the front door open.

"Ah, that'll be Irma," the Nidoking said. His hunch was confirmed when the Rampardos walked in. "Hello, dear."

He looked at what she held. In one hand, she held a bag of items. But what was in her other hand caught his attention.

"A letter?"

"Yes. The Tropius mailmon gave it to me," Irma informed.

"Oh!" Lex seemed happy. "It's a letter from Sis! She hasn't written to us in a while!"

"That's true. She hasn't done it for a while," Shura acknowledged.

"Your sister?" Arian tilted his head. "You never told us you had a sister, Lex."

"Well, I do," the Cranidos revealed. "But, well…"

"There's a good reason we never mentioned it," Isaac immediately took over. "Lex's sister is a knight."

"A knight?!" Neither member of Team Elpis were prepared for this revelation.

"Yeah, she's a knight," Lex confirmed. "I don't really bring it up in the Guild much, because, you know..."

"It would cast unwarranted suspicion towards Lex," Isaac explained. "But you don't need to worry about loyalties with him. Lex is committed to our cause. And should he think otherwise…I'll bring him back in line."

"Yeah," Lex reassured. "I mean, I love my sis and all. But…I'd never turn away from being a merc."

"...Does it worry you, though?" Elvira queried. "Your sister being a knight. Being on the opposite side of us. If the two of you meet…what's going to happen?"

"Well…hopefully that doesn't happen," Lex replied. "But if we did…maybe we could talk it out? I mean, I'm not good with words, but…I could try and tell her to stand down. …Maybe I could even get her to join up with us!"

"...I wouldn't get your hopes up for that, Lex," Isaac advised. "But all the same…given your bond, it may be worth a shot."

"Yeah. …But enough about my sis. We got supplies to get," the Cranidos said. "Mom, Dad. I'll read the letter when I get home."

"Of course, Lex," Irma permitted. "Now go and help Arian and Elvira."

The two teams left the house, leaving Lex's parents alone, gazing at the letter that Irma had placed on the table.

"I do hope those two don't meet each other and end up fighting," the Rampardos said with concern. While she spoke, Shura got a small knife from one of the drawers and slit open the envelope.

Two things were in it - a letter, and a cheque.

"...There it is," muttered the Nidoking, taking hold of the latter object. "What keeps us out of the slums. What keeps us from going hungry. I'll cash it later."

"I'm glad she was able to get a good job like a knight. And rise to such a high rank, too," Irma commented. "But…I can't help but wonder. Is she doing the right thing, serving under Mitrofan? And worse still…now that Lex works as a mercenary…she might well be the one assigned to hunt him and the other Guild members down. If they cross paths and end up fighting…" She shut her eyes. "I don't want to imagine it."

"They're both adults who made their own decisions," Shura replied. "We did warn Lex what he was getting into, but he was dead set on becoming a merc. At the end of the day, we can't stop him if that's what he wants to do. We'd be bad parents if we stifled him."

"Even so…I don't want the two of them to have to fight each other," Irma expressed worriedly

"They'll sort it out between themselves. Maybe Lex is right - they might not even meet each other to even have that conversation. …Of course, I do hope things work out. They were very close as children. It would be a great shame if they ended up having to fight one another."

"...Let's just see what she has to say." Shura unfolded the letter. Irma came around to his side of the table and read the letter with him.

Hi Mom and Dad,

I hope you're in good spirits. I know it's been a while since I last wrote to you, but I've been quite busy in Iria lately, tending to my duties in keeping the city free of criminals. Master Mitrofan's been saying I've been doing an excellent job and that I'm an asset to him. I'm flattered to receive praise like that from him. I sure wouldn't have heard praise like that before five years ago.

I hope to visit Kitesh sometime soon, whenever I can. Maybe if there's a mission that takes me up that way, I might see if I can pay you a visit. Unfortunately, the way things are, I think Master Mitrofan would prefer I was stationed in Iria. And I think that would be for the best, too. Maybe you could come and visit me in Iria? I'd be willing to send over more money to make that happen.


"Go over to Iria?" Shura considered that. "Perhaps. We haven't been there in a while." He and Irma continued reading.

Recently, we've had a bit of a ruckus in Iria. You might have heard the news that Hinnerk's been defeated in Ozerograd. I'm glad about that, and so is Master Mitrofan. No one liked that underhanded thief. But the problem is that the pair that defeated him call themselves Team Elpis and are beholden to the Irian Guild, who are bent on taking down Master Mitrofan. They actually appeared in Iria, and I nearly caught them, with the help of Master Mitrofan and Metody. But the Church took them into sanctuary. And you may not believe this, but the Pontifex of all people was there. And of all the things to do, he mocked Master Mitrofan like he was a nobody! Stuck-up Dressie priests - they're all the same. How dare he come into our country and tell us what to do!

"The pontifex?" Shura hadn't been expecting to read that. "Now that's a surprise. He was in Iria?"

"Seemingly. But look, Shura." Irma pointed to the name Team Elpis. "Team Elpis…that was what Arian and Elvira called their team, wasn't it?"

"It was," the Nidoking recalled. "Oh dear…so she's already after Lex's friends..."

There's also those rumours about whether Prince Leonid is still kicking. I hope they aren't true, but somehow, I feel like they might well be. I won't lie, Mom and Dad. I'm worried about what will happen if it is true. If Leonid manages to regain control of Selenia, then we risk returning to Kliment's days, where just about everyone with some kind of authority hated my guts and nobles could buy their way to powerful positions.

That won't happen, though. If it ever comes to that, then I'll fight tooth and nail to keep him off the throne. I won't fail in my duty as a knight of Master Mitrofan, and I'll strike down any enemy that crosses my path.

That's all the news I have to tell you for now. Hopefully I'll be able to write to you more frequently if business in Iria doesn't keep me from the parchment.


Your loving daughter,

Ludmila.






Notes

How many of you saw that coming?

Then again, how many of you expected three letters in this chapter? I didn’t either. I’ve no idea how that happened. Funny how things fall together.

Now for place name lore dump. There’s a few name drops in Sansarn’s letter - let’s go through them.

Navarra is named for the region of the same name in Spain. Ithiki is a corruption of Ithaca, the Greek island. Breifne is named after the medieval kingdom of the same name in Ireland.

And finally, Kitesh, name-wise, is based on Kitezh, a mythical city beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar in central Russia.
 
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Chapter 22 - Heading North

Arukona

A Scribe Penning His Brainworms
Location
Ardalion
Pronouns
He/him
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. sceptile
Chapter 22
Heading North

"Is that everything?" Arian asked. He and Elvira had been shopping for supplies in Kitesh, with the help of Lex and Isaac.

"I think so." Elvira checked their bag once again. "Oran berries, pecha berries, rawst berries, blast seeds, stun seeds, petrify orb, violent seeds, vile seeds…and a few iron thorns and gravelerocks. I'd say we're pretty good."

"Remember to conserve water," Isaac advised. "That, I can't emphasise enough. You can survive much longer without food, but you can only survive for two or three days at best without water. No matter how hot Alba gets, never forget this."

"Gotcha. Thanks for that, Isaac," Arian said.

"It's all a comrade can do. Anything for greater efficiency," the Espeon returned. "And a lesson for two that probably have never been to Alba before."

"Have you been to Alba, Isaac?" Elvira replied.

"...I have, a few times. We live near Alba, after all, and some of their Dungeons have sizable yields of money and items." Isaac's expression then soured. "But I never liked Alban attitudes. 'Strength is everything', and electing their leaders based on that very premise?" He let out a scoff. "How delusional. A good fighter is just that: a good fighter. Not a strategician, and most definitely not someone who can lead a clan. With that attitude, it's no wonder Ceredigonia remains out of their grasp..."

"Yeah…" Lex said. "I mean, I'm not smart. But…I'm smart enough to know that I'm not smart. I'd be a terrible leader."

"You don't need to knock yourself down like that, Lex…" Arian said to him.

"Yes, he does," Isaac immediately refuted. "Never delude yourself into thinking you're a perfect fighter. If Lex acknowledges his weakness, he's a step above those who think they are perfect. There's nothing worse than an idiot in a position of power. And the Alban system lets the door right open to that exact scenario."

"...Couldn't you say the exact same thing about inheritance, though?" the Riolu refuted. "Every once in a while, you get a leader who gets too big for his boots and the whole nation suffers as a result. I don't really see the difference."

"...I won't deny that," the Espeon replied. "But with inheritance, one prince or princess is the heir apparent, and that is that. It keeps the incapable halfwits from thinking they have a chance."

"But is that really fair?" questioned Arian. "Keeping honest people who would make good leaders out of leadership just because of some bad apples?"

"...You ask for fairness? In leadership?" Isaac shook his head. "In a utopia, maybe. But in the real world, structures and precedent take priority. Hard decisions come into leadership, and leaders have to decide with their head, not their heart. Idiots guided by emotion wouldn't understand this basic rule."

"They aren't all idiots, though!" Arian argued.

"I'm aware. But history has shown that fools with power have always led their country to disaster. Case in point: Mitrofan," the Espeon cited. "He could've proven this country could've done without a tsar. He failed, and the end result? His realm is in stagnation. So…back to tsarship we go. Back to a proper system." With a flick of his tail, he walked away from the group.

"...Sorry about Ise," apologised Lex. "He gets like that…"

"It's okay, Lex. You did nothing wrong," Elvira assured. "It's Isaac who's at fault here."

"Yeah…Why does he have to be so cold?" whined Arian. "...He's wrong. We can have fair leaders."

"Yes. Here's hoping Prince Leonid will be just that," the Treecko wished.

"I hope so." Arian sounded less confident. Not that he didn't have the same hope as Elvira, but rather…the conversation with Isaac was still revolving itself around in his head.

We don't have to have an inherited system. …But maybe I just don't understand Alba's problems. He looked at a signpost in town, one of which pointed north.

Teamhair, Mumhain, ALBA

Just what awaits us up there?






"Right…I think we're ready to go," Arian said, after Elvira had double-checked their items again.

"Yes. Now would be optimal." Isaac looked up at the sun. It was around mid to late afternoon. "You'll still have daylight left in Alba if you leave now. But it will be evening, when the heat won't be quite as stifling."

"That's a good idea," Elvira agreed. "We don't want to be burned by the desert sun not long after we enter the country."

The two teams started off down the road. Lex had suggested he and Isaac accompany Team Elpis to the Alban border, since they would be able to get there and back to Kitesh with relative ease. Arian and Elvira accepted the offer, grateful for the help (even if the human was still stewing over the argument he had with Isaac).

Just as they started, though, they were interrupted by a voice. A familiar voice.

"Wait! Wait! Team Elpis! Please wait for me!"

"Hm? That voice…" Arian and Elvira turned around. There, running from the south entrance of town…was Yuliya.

"Yuliya!" Arian said, surprised to see the Furret. "What are you doing here?"

"Don't tell me…" A fear came over Elvira. "Has something happened in Kamengrad?"

"No, nothing," the ex-marshal replied. "But…I came to you to request something."

"And what would that be?"

"...Please take me with you." Yuliya's eyes looked pleading. "Please let me go to Alba with you. Guildmaster Melchior's approved of it, but he said I should let you know first."

"...We have no problem with that," Elvira replied. "But why exactly?"

"Yeah…You look like you really want in on this," Arian observed.

"I do," came Yuliya's reply. "I need to see them. I need to see Prince Leonid. And…Svetlana too."

"Oh yes…Svetlana. Princess Svetlana, I think?" the Riolu recalled. "Married to Leonid, or…engaged to him?" It occurred to him at that moment that he didn't know much about the lady betrothed to Leonid.

"Yes. The firstborn daughter of Lord Gerasim of the Lysagora oblast. The princess-to-be of Selenia, engaged previously to Prince Kasimir, then to Prince Leonid," Yuliya listed, before revealing something else. "She's also…my sister."

"Your sister?!" That, Arian wasn't aware of.

"Gerasimovna Lysagora…You have that same patronym and surname, don't you?" Elvira noted. "I was thinking that name sounded familiar…"

"Yes. We're both daughters of House Lysagora," Yuliya confirmed. "We loved each other very much. We were practically joined at the hip growing up. It's been five long years since I last saw her. I…want to see her again."

"Well, of course. Come along," Elvira accepted.

"Yeah. We could always use more help," Arian concurred. "Especially against the Albans, who are tough as nails, apparently."

"Hmph. What were we discussing before, Arian?" Isaac reminded, as the group of five started down the road. "All Albans have strength, but no thought. Outthink them and you'll be doing well."

"That's an easy trap to fall into," Yuliya argued. "There are plenty of Alban strategists. To pretend they're all knuckle-headed warriors will land you in trouble with them."

"I'm not saying they're all like that," Isaac imparted. "They - "

"Actually, you just did," Arian cut in, inwardly smug at that counter. "You said 'all' Albans. You never said 'some' Albans."

"You did," Elvira said in support, and Yuliya even nodded in agreement.

"...Tch." Isaac silently chose to end the argument there, in annoyance at his mistake.

Arian felt pretty good about that for a while. Soon, though, his attention turned to the road - or rather, what it had become. The terrain began to rise at this point, and a range of hills suddenly stood right in front of them. He also noticed quite an abundance of trees.

"We're getting close to Alba," Yuliya noted. "The Forested Upland divides Selenia and Alba."

"Forests?" That confused Arian. "But I thought we were heading to a desert?"

"The forest was a Selenian initiative dating back four hundred years," Isaac explained. "It was to keep the desert of Alba from expanding into Selenia. So a wall of trees were planted along this mountain range to keep the desertification at bay. Owing to the fact that the soil begins to get dry here, the roots of these trees expand deep into the earth to extract water from the ground."

"Oh…interesting."

"We've had fires, though," Lex said. "Some trees caught fire a few months ago because it was so hot. They were put out before it could get too bad, but…"

"...It's a bad sign," Isaac murmured. "If this great treescape is threatened…then the desert risks spilling over into Selenia. And that would spell disaster for our nation."

"...Why has this happened?" Yuliya questioned, to no one in particular. "What is with this heatwave we've had this summer?"

"You're telling me," Elvira replied. "I've had to live through it too. We've all had to."

"And the worst thing of all…it's not Mitrofan's doing," Arian added. "Even if we defeat him, that won't stop these unnatural weather events from happening."

"...Hey, Ise, do you know?" Lex asked. "Do you know why we're getting this hot weather?"

"...If I knew, I would no doubt have told you," Isaac curtly answered. "No, I do not. I am as in the dark as you all are about this. …I will say one thing, though."

"And that is…?" Elvira queried.

"If the summer heat is much hotter and warmer than normal…then we can expect the autumn storms to be much more fierce and harsh," the Espeon theorised. "When heat rises, it cools, condenses and creates clouds. Rain then comes back to the ground in thunderstorms. We call it convectional rainfall. If this amount of heat rises to the air…we can expect the rain to come down in much, much higher levels than normal."

"...You know your stuff," complimented Yuliya.

"It pays to know it," was the Espeon's response, holding his head up loftily. "Now come. Let us climb."

The quintet made their way up the hill ahead of them. While it wasn't the easiest of climbs, it wasn't so difficult that they would need to rest. The hills were rocky as well, and some strata were visible in exposed areas of bedrock. If the dry weather was of any consolation, at least it meant the terrain wasn't muddy at all, and thus their progress was not impeded by muddy, slippery terrain.

"There are a number of quarries along this range," Isaac stated, at one point during the climb. "A number of Selenian cities have been built using the sandstone rock that is present along the Alban border. The port city of Varana to the west, as well many important buildings in Iria, like the arena and Iria Castle - all were built with northern Selenian sandstone."

"...Dunno if that's true," Lex said to Elvira, who was near him. He reached out and helped her up a small ledge. "But if it's Ise talking, he's probably right."

"...You two know each other well," the Treecko remarked. "Are you childhood friends?"

"No, we're not," the Cranidos replied. "We've only known each other for…two years? I would talk about it, but…" He looked over at Isaac. "Maybe I should keep my mouth shut."

"Why? Did something bad happen?"

"...Yeah, pretty much. Me and Ise were saved by the Guild, though, and so we work for 'em. Plus - " Lex was about to go on, but he was cut off by his partner.

"Don't dawdle, Lex," Isaac called to him. "We can't keep Team Elpis and Yuliya waiting." He then turned to Elvira, and to her surprise…she heard his voice, despite his mouth not moving.

"That includes you, Elvira. Selenia is depending on you to fetch our tsesarevich. Don't get sidetracked with stories that won't help our cause."

Telepathy…
the Treecko realised. "Sorry," she apologised, before catching up to her partner.

Before long, they had reached the top of another hill. Before them lay a dense treescape.

"Through there we go," Arian said. "And on the other side…that's where Alba and Prince Leonid are."





Forested Upland

S1F



The five materialised in another forested Dungeon - a common sight in Selenia. However, Arian noticed one key difference between this one and most of the other forest Dungeons.

"...The trees looked a lot more withered," he noted. This was true - the tall trees did look terribly parched, a sign rain had been in short supply up here.

"Because it's been so dry…" Elvira noted sadly, looking at the trees.

"A sorry state of affairs, indeed," murmured Isaac. "...But we are not Kyogre. So onward we march."

"...Indeed…" Yuliya, though just as sad as Team Elpis, agreed with the Espeon, and went to one of the exits of the room. Team Elpis despondently followed after them.

The five of them soon arrived at a much more open room. By the looks of it, there were a fair amount of items on the floor.

"I'll pick off the enemies," Isaac volunteered. He aimed his gaze at a Dartrix that was getting closer to them, and fired a Psybeam at it.

"I'll get in on that, if you don't mind!" Arian called, stepping in. "I'm not missing out on beating up some ferals!" His claws gave off a metallic sheen, and he slashed with Metal Claw.

"...If you insist," the Espeon sighed.

"Hey, don't forget about me!" Lex eagerly seconded, and stamped his foot to use Rock Tomb. Rocks then shot out of the ground around the Dartrix. The owl let out a cry before collapsing to the ground.

"Thanks for that, Lex," Arian said gratefully.

"No prob, Arian," the dinosaur returned. "Hey, let's team up! We'd make a good fighting pair!"

"That would be a sound strategy, in fact," Isaac opined. "Going forward, you two shall be our vanguard. Yuliya, meanwhile, would be good for our rearguard. Elvira and I will provide support from the middle with items and longer-ranged attacks. …The most optimal strategy, in my opinion, would be to make use of our strongest attackers at the front and rear to keep our enemies at bay."

"I agree," Yuliya said.

"So do I," Lex seconded, faithful to his partner's decisions.

"Well, if you're all okay with it, then sure, I guess," Arian shrugged.

The five made their new formation, with Arian and Lex at the front. The former was given the item bag by Elvira to pick up items he came across along the way. This, Arian did, while occasionally handing an item back to Lex to make sure he didn't hog all the rewards.

He and the Rock-type made easy work of any ferals that came their way. Lex's brute strength made for a vital asset in combat, as did Isaac's Psybeams from the middle, whose long range ensured reliable backup from him. Arian was at least glad to see that the Espeon's coldness didn't extend to apathy. He would help him out like any comrade would, despite his attitude.

They eventually found the stairs, guarded by a Dustox. A Rock Tomb and Psybeam combo from Team Mindfist easily felled the moth, and the group of five ascended the stone stairs.



Forested Upland

S2F



"This floor's ferals consist of Dartrix, Dustox, Noctowl, Phantump, Lurantis, Linoone, Tropius, Tangela and Sudowoodo on the Selenian side of the Forested Upland," Isaac listed, not long into the second floor. "Not too different from your average forest-dwelling Pokémon. As we get deeper into the Dungeon, we can expect to see more Ground and Rock-type Pokémon, more typical of Alban habitats."

"Did you memorise all this or what?" Yuliya wondered. "I'm fascinated by what you know. In our barracks, we have documents on Mystery Dungeons and the Pokémon within them. But you're like a walking encyclopaedia with that kind of information."

"It's nothing. It's merely experience from being in this place before," the Espeon explained.

"Yeah, we've been here a lot," Lex added. "And I've been here a lot as a kid. Mom and Dad would sometimes come here to hunt for food and I always wanted to see how far I could get in here. I always hoped that one day I would get to Alba. …But Mom and Dad never wanted me to do that. They thought I would get hurt by all the Grass-types."

"I don't blame them," Elvira replied. "I once wandered into Verdant Woods with Flora and Tamara when I was five years old. Mom practically had a heart attack when she found I had gone missing. She always says that took years off her life."

"...That's quite a story," noted Arian. "Is that when you decided you wanted to become a mercenary?"

"Not really. I just wanted to be like Dad," Elvira answered. "We weren't really very good. So we had to call for help, and Dad happened to be in the area and ended up being the one to save us."

"Oh…" the Riolu murmured, interested in this new anecdote from his partner.

"An adventurous spirit, were you?" Yuliya queried. "...I was like that, too. I didn't like the traditions of the lady at all, like embroidery and baking. That was never my forte. I loved exploring the great outdoors a lot more. I did get in trouble a few times, but…eventually Father and Mother understood, and along with Svetlana, decided to gear me away from the life of a lady and more towards what I enjoyed. And so…I ended up in the knights and rose through the ranks to become a marshal."

"Wow," Arian remarked.

"Good thing your family was understanding," Elvira observed. "If you were with another family, they would no doubt try and suppress what you really wanted to do."

"That's true. …Thank the Creator I was born to parents who understood me," the Furret replied. "I wouldn't want to be born to parents who have one set vision for me and nothing else. I would never want to hate my parents."

Arian and Elvira listened intently to Yuliya's story. This did mean they missed the reaction of their companions in Team Mindfist. Particularly Isaac, who seemed to flinch at what the ex-marshal was saying. He looked to the ground solemnly.

"...Ise? You okay?" Lex wondered.

"...It's nothing." Isaac shook his head, trying to get rid of the bad feelings. "Ghosts of the past, nothing more. Fickle memories, just fickle..." Noticing a small gap had developed between them and the other three, he ran to close it. Thankfully, they didn't seem to notice, and the group fell back into formation pretty quickly.

Soon, they happened upon a Dartrix. The bird swooped in and attacked Arian with Pluck. The Riolu, alas, didn't react quickly enough to dodge.

"Ow!" he cried, feeling the pain of the feral's pecks at him.

"Arian! I'll get him!" Lex assured, and stamped his foot to attack the Dartrix with Rock Tomb. The bird let off a shrill cry at the wound.

"I'll help too!" Elvira called. She threw a blast seed at the grass owl, and that was enough to do it in. It fell to the ground in a heap of feathers.

"...Thanks, guys," Arian thanked, glad for the backup of his comrades.

"No problem." Elvira handed him an oran berry, and he ate it up.

"A pity you don't have Ice Punch, Arian," noted Isaac. "Your kind are capable of learning it, after all."

"Ice Punch…" Arian wondered. He'd seen that move in some of his training sessions with Galen, and admittedly rather liked the look of it. I can learn that too?

"It would be beneficial for Arian," Elvira agreed. As she spoke, the five got back to finding the stairs. "But the TM for it's been hard to come by. Not to mention, it's quite an investment. TMs aren't exactly cheap."

"...Fair enough," Isaac accepted. "But it would give you a better edge in combat. You would fare more effectively against a wider range of types than the moveset you have now."

"...I guess. …Who knows? If we find a TM for it, I'll be sure to try it out," Arian promised.

"Guess money's a problem for everyone who wants new moves," grumbled Lex. "There's a lot of cool moves I wanna learn! But we never have the money for them…"

"Patience, Lex," his partner assured. "Enough saving and we'll get enough to afford them. We may even find a TM on the floor of a Mystery Dungeon at the cost of nothing."

"I hope so!" The Cranidos smiled at the thought. "That'd be nice."

"It would be. You're not alone in wanting better moves," Isaac murmured. "Dazzling Gleam and Shadow Ball…I would love to have those moves one day. Powerful attacks that would counter weaknesses of mine."

"Oh, so you're not perfect, after all, eh?" Arian pointed out, with a hint of smugness. He paused to double team a Lurantis with Lex.

"I never said I was," defended Isaac, after the Grass-type had been dealt with. "Ignoring what I'm weak to is a foolish endeavour. I'm not perfect, no matter how some people try to delude me into thinking. Like I said back in town, acknowledging your weaknesses is a good step to take. An even better step, though, is working to overcome them. That's why I want those attacks. They would give me a better edge in battle. Just like what I was saying to you."

"...Right, I got it," Arian replied.

"Let yourself know one thing from what I'm saying to you, Arian," Isaac mentioned. The Riolu turned to him, and was rather surprised to see a rather serious look on his face. "No one's perfect. Not me, not you, no one here. Nor our allies or our enemies. Nor a ruler or his people. No one is perfect in this world. None."

"...Okay, I understand," Arian said slowly, not fully getting what he was feeling in that moment. He understood fully what the Espeon was saying. But…that look he had in that moment. That serious look, almost imploring him to understand that simple axiom.

What was that all about?



Forested Upland

S6F



"Say, Yuliya. I have a question for you," Isaac prompted, amid the Dungeon crawling.

"And that would be…?" the Furret asked.

The quintet had made good progress through the Dungeon. It hadn't been too arduous apart from two knockouts on their end: both Arian and Lex were knocked out by a threefold attack from a Noctowl, a Linoone, and a Phantump. Luckily, it was nothing two reviver seeds and retaliation from the other three couldn't resolve.

They were on the sixth floor now. Isaac informed them that they would be at the top after the ninth floor, meaning they were getting close to the end.

The Espeon, meanwhile, was curious about the presence of Yuliya, who had been helpful in their journey through the Dungeon. It was, however, only her. Thus, Isaac wondered about the presence of two others.

"Why exactly isn't Marshal Branislav accompanying you?" he queried. "I would think one of Tsar Kliment's most loyal marshals would be all too eager to meet up with his son."

"...Branislav said he was more useful in Selenia," the Furret replied.

"Oh? And why's that?" Isaac pushed.

"...He and Maciej claim to have hidden forces that they need to rally in the case that His Highness returns to Selenia," Yuliya elaborated. "They both claimed they would be better off staying in Selenia to collect supporters for Prince Leonid. As well as that…I wanted to go to Breifne to see my sister as well. Branislav dictated I could afford to do this. …Granted, he did say I would make a better impression on him than Team Elpis, given our shared bond as in-laws," she added.

Typical Branislav. Arian felt partly offended by the bird knight's claim. He really doesn't have much faith in us, does he?

"Branislav…" Lex muttered, a frown coming across his face. Isaac looked over at him knowingly.

"...I see," murmured the psychic cat. "Then I have another question. Who exactly is Maciej, the Swoobat that accompanies Branislav?"

"Maciej? …I don't know myself, to be honest," Yuliya admitted. "After what happened five years ago, I went into hiding, and lost contact with Branislav. It was only around a year and a half ago that I found him again. By then, he seemed to have Maciej by his side already. I wouldn't know. That's a question you'd have to ask him."

"Hmm…" Isaac hummed thoughtfully. Arian, who happened to be near him, heard him mutter something under his breath. "Probably won't get a straight answer…"

The Riolu didn't know how to feel about this. He found himself disliking Branislav, but Maciej was different. He seemed to be more supportive of them in the Guild. And as well as that, he did save him, Elvira and Team Sandstream in Rusalka from drowning in the Evor against Metody's Whirlpools.

Even if we don't know his origins…that doesn't mean he's not an ally. I mean, I'm a nobody in this world…but that doesn't mean I'm an enemy. …Well, then again, it's not as if most people know where I truly come from…

Not wanting to dwell on this point for much longer, Arian returned his focus to the Dungeon. Luckily, his stray thoughts hadn't distracted him from anything major. However, it was good timing to snap out of his thoughts, as he saw a Phantump approaching them.

Time to whet my fangs and send this ghost back to the afterlife, he thought, readying a Bite. Beside him, Lex readied his own Bite.

Biting ghosts…Arian couldn't help but inwardly chuckle at that. This world's logic is weird sometimes. But hey…I'm glad to be a part of it.





Forested Upland

Crest



After three more floors of searching, fighting, picking up items, as well as throwing them, Teams Elpis and Mindfist, along with Yuliya, made it to the top of the Forested Upland. And once there…a sight awaited them.

Below them, on the other side of the hills, lay a valley surrounded by hills. Before them was dry, with a number of bushes and trees scattered across it. And those trees were far from thick conifers or broad oaks, but smaller, thinner acacias. It was certainly a far cry from the emerald grasslands of Selenia.

Arian was the first to speak.

"...Is that Alba?"

"...Indeed it is," Isaac confirmed. "The tanistry of Alba. And specifically what you're looking at right now is Mumhain, the land of the Mac Mánais clan. They control this southeast jurisdiction of Alba."

"...I see," Arian murmured. I'm going to have to get used to these names…the names of a different country.

"I haven't been to Alba in some time," Yuliya said. "No doubt it's changed since then. …Hopefully they'll listen to us. And hopefully, Lord Leonid is here somewhere…"

"...Dad and Melchior went to Alba on many missions," Elvira mentioned. "Dad even got a Parabolic Torc for Mom for her hatchday once, which he got after trading with Alban merchants. She was very happy with that."

"...Maybe we should get a souvenir for her," suggested Arian. "Something valuable from a Dungeon, maybe."

"Maybe. She does like souvenirs."

"...Well, I think that'll be it for us," Isaac announced. "As much as I hate to say it, this is where we turn back."

"Ah." Elvira nodded in understanding.

"Yeah. It's getting late, and I don't wanna worry Mom and Dad," Lex replied.

"Besides, your journey is all the way to Breifne," Isaac went on. "We can't go all the way there."

"...I guess this would be a good turning back point for you, then," Arian said. "Thanks a bunch for helping us, guys."

"No problem!" Lex returned. "It's always good to help friends."

"And beneficial to do so in this case," Isaac added. "...I wish you the best of luck in meeting Prince Leonid. Hopefully once you do, we'll be one step closer to getting Selenia back on the road to being a proper country again."

"Thanks, Isaac," Arian replied. Even if he disagreed with the Espeon on some things, he did at least care for the cause.

"Farewell. I hope to see you back in Selenia with our tsesarevich." Isaac turned to leave, before turning back. "...Ah. One more word of warning."

"And that is…?"

"...When in a foreign country, it might be easy to be swayed by the culture. But never forget that the one you're seeking out is Selenian, and our crown prince at that. Remember Selenian standards when speaking to him."

"...Right. Understood," Arian nodded.

"That won't be a problem," Yuliya added. "We have three Selenians among us. And we're not ones to forget our heritage easily. Right, you two?"

"Yes." Elvira nodded.

"Y-Yeah." Arian nodded as well, though perhaps a bit too vigorously. He knew the truth, and he wasn't being truthful right now. But it would be too difficult to explain the peculiarities of his situation to Yuliya.

Isaac caught the expression on Arian's face, and a slight frown crossed his face. However, he dismissed it as he addressed them again.

"Very well, then. I think now this is the real farewell. Arian, Elvira, Yuliya - I wish all three of you the best of luck. May Victini watch over you." And with that, Isaac left in the direction of Kitesh, followed by Lex.

"Off they go…" murmured Arian.

"You're lucky to have reliable allies, you two," Yuliya praised. "A knowledgeable Espeon and a hard-hitting Cranidos…"

"Yeah…I guess we are," the Riolu replied. "We probably shouldn't take them for granted."

"No, we shouldn't," Elvira said. "Dependable allies are always in short supply with rebel movements. They never usually have the discipline of actual armies, and therefore they have a tendency to fall apart at the seams."

"Gamaliel's didn't, though," Arian pointed out.

"That's because nearly all of Selenia was united under his banner," the Treecko explained. "He had a strong cause, and a great amount of charisma, too. He was one of the most successful rebels in Ardalion's history."

"If only we could rally a similar cause ourselves…" Yuliya murmured. "Perhaps when Prince Leonid returns to Selenia, we might well do that."

"...Maybe. Though I can't imagine the people of Selenia now hold as much resentment towards Mitrofan as they did to Tsar Rihard and the East back then," Elvira replied. Arian, hearing this, was reminded of what she said earlier in the day about comparing their efforts to Gamaliel's.

"You have a point. …Even so, he must be overthrown," the Furret uttered with determination. "And so…onward we go, to find His Highness." She proceeded to head down the path ahead of them that led downwards towards the valley they were overlooking.

Arian and Elvira, alike in the same goal, followed her down.





Forested Upland

A1F



The three went into the Alban side of the Forested Upland. This was a notable change from its Selenian counterpart; the ground here was a lot drier, and the trees' foliage was much thinner. The trees were spaced a bit further apart than their Selenian counterparts.

"Well…" Arian remarked, observing the change in treescape characteristics. "I've only just stepped into Alba and I can already tell the difference."

"Anyone would be able to tell the difference," Elvira replied. "Selenia and Alba are starkly different countries, both in culture and in landscape." She looked away as a realisation came to her. "No wonder our relationship's been shaky over the years…"

"...It's always been that way," Yuliya replied. "An alliance like Dresilia and Miletos have only existed in our wildest dreams. They are alike in culture and landscape, and that is why they are able to form as deep a bond as they have. No matter how many overtures we can make about 'unity' and 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', we can never hope to have that. Besides…our ancestors have made too many mistakes and betrayed too much trust. No wonder animosity remains…"

"...Yuliya?" Arian said, worried.

"Oh, pardon me," apologised the Furret. "I didn't mean to get cynical. Now's not the time for that, to dampen our hopes before we've even spoken to any Albans."

"It's fine, Yuliya," the Riolu assured. "Let's get to the bottom of these hills so we can meet them!" he added, trying to sound optimistic to counter the ex-marshal's pessimism.

The three got to their routine of hunting for the stairs. Yuliya proposed she be the rearguard once again while Arian led the charge, and Elvira would be in the middle. Team Elpis agreed, and so the arrangement was made.

In the Dungeon, it was as Isaac had said; the Alban side of the hills had a lot more Ground and Rock-types in them. Now Lileep, Minior, Rhyhorn and Phanpy joined the mix of feral Pokémon. For Yuliya, this was something of a setback; her moveset wasn;t the best equipped to deal with Rock-types. For Arian and Elvira, though…this was good news. It would make getting through the Dungeon a lot easier.

"Hi-yah!" Arian yelled out, dealing a Force Palm to a Lileep in a wider open room. The Pokémon, wounded by the attack, stuck its roots into the ground, hoping to regenerate with Ingrain.

"I don't think so!" Elvira, however, was having none of it, and cast a Giga Drain towards the feral. It, however, still didn't go down.

"Allow me!" Yuliya then stepped in, dark energy coating her claws. She leapt forward and slashed at the Lileep with Shadow Claw. Luckily, that did it, and the Pokémon fell to its side in defeat.

"Thanks, Yuliya," Arian said gratefully.

"Always glad to help," the Furret replied. "I was worried that would take longer - Lileep are known to be tedious to fight. But anyway. Onward we head."

After picking up a set of gravelerocks dropped by the Lileep, the three continued their hunt for the stairs. They found it at the end of a long corridor, and went down the stairs.



Forested Upland

A4F



The fourth floor was fairly quiet for them, with surprisingly few enemies. It was at that point that Arian became curious about something else that had been on his mind.

"So, Yuliya…" Arian queried. "I wanna know something."

"Speak your mind, Arian," she permitted.

"...It's about Svetlana," he wondered. "What's she like?"

"Svetlana…my sister." Yuliya paused, thinking of an answer. "We got on very well. There was very little arguing between us in our family. It was just the two of us born to our father, Lord Gerasim of Lysagora, with me as the eldest and her as the youngest."

"Two daughters? …Did other houses try and court the two of you?" Elvira wondered.

"Indeed, they did. But Father made one thing quite plain to any potential suitors: that we would always have the final say to agreeing to any courtship," Yuliya answered. "And he held a lot of power as the lord of Lysagora, so people didn't say no to him. There was, however, one suitor he couldn't turn down."

"And that was…?" Arian asked.

"...Prince Kasimir. He met Svetlana a number of times, and the two grew fond of each other. Eventually, he proposed to her, she accepted it, and so it was arranged. My little sister would become a princess, and in time, she would become the Tsarina of Selenia. Our family was ecstatic. We could not be happier."

"...But then…how did she become Leonid's wife?" the Riolu wondered. Once again, he knew the general answer. But it was the specifics he wanted to know.

"...Because Kasimir died unexpectedly, six years ago." Yuliya's face fell, a sharp difference to the happy times she spoke of only seconds before. "Svetlana was heartbroken. She really loved Kasimir, and was in floods of tears when he passed away. As well as that, it left her without her husband. …And Father didn't want that. With me going the route of the knight, she would have to be the one to provide an heir for our house. Thus, it was arranged with His Majesty that she would be betrothed to Prince Leonid instead."

"...That can't have been easy," Elvira remarked. "Was that not too soon after Prince Kasimir's death?"

"...I suppose if I am to be honest…it was," Yuliya admitted. "But I was a loyal marshal to His Majesty. I couldn't very well object to this arrangement. So I held my tongue and supported my sister. At least she wasn't unhappy with him. Svetlana said she would be content with Leonid as her husband."

"But the marriage officially never happened," Elvira pointed out. "Because of what happened with Mitrofan."

"Indeed. And so they fled to Dresilia…" The Furret wiped her right eye. "I'm so glad to know that. My sister is alive…" She looked into the room they entered, and saw the stairs. She looked over at them as they got ready to descend.

Hold on, Sister. I'm coming for you.



Forested Upland

A5F



Arian, Elvira and Yuliya went up to the next floor, expecting another typical floor of fighting ferals and finding items. And for the most part, that was what they got.

Not long after they started on the floor, they came to a room with a number of items strewn about it. But accompanying that were a fair share of ferals. Two Rhyhorn and a Linoone came their way, while a Tropius slept in the corner.

"You handle the Linoone, Yuliya," Arian suggested. "Elvira and I can take these two lugs." He pointed to the pair of Rhyhorn.

"That's fine by me," the Furret accepted, and bared her claws against the Linoone, who gazed at her with a fierce look typical of ferals.

Arian started off by tossing a violent seed in his partner's direction, before charging at one of the Rhyhorn with a Force Palm at the ready. He struck it directly on the nose, which dazed the Rock-type in a manner that suggested it had been paralysed. Its partner roared at him and was about to charge into him with a Take Down.

But at that moment, Elvira used Giga Drain on it. The amplified power of the move thanks to the violent seed was enough to take it down in the one hit, much to her surprise. The other Rhyhorn, meanwhile, tried to launch a Horn Attack at Arian, but the paralysis stopped it in its tracks. The Riolu took advantage of this and slammed another Force Palm at it. Elvira then moved in and used Giga Drain, just as a measure to ensure it stayed down.

"...Wow, we did pretty good in that," Arian remarked. Looking over at Yuliya, he saw that she had wrapped up her side of the fight, having used Fury Swipes to slash at the raccoon.

He looked over at the corner of the room, and the items there caught his eye.

There were two of them. One was a max elixir - always good to have as it topped up their move usage. However, the other caught more intriguing, and he went over to get a better look at it.

It looked to be a torc of some kind. It was made of a golden coloured metal - brass, by the looks of it. But it was engraved with intricate markings that didn't look normal.

What's this? "Hold on a minute," Arian called out. "Guys, come look at this." Elvira and Yuliya both went over to see what the human was pointing to.

"What is it?" Elvira peered at them. "A torc?"

"Hmm…this looks handcrafted," Yuliya noted. "As if it belongs to someone with a bit of money on their hands."

"I was thinking…it looks almost like the sort of item some clients would ask us to look for in Dungeons," Arian brought up.

"That is true," Elvira agreed. "Maybe it's that? Is there a mission out there looking for these?"

Arian picked up the torc, and looked at it. At each end, he noticed what looked to be an insignia. It was a diamond shape, with the letters T, Ó, M, c, and M inscribed within it. The latter three letters were all bunched next to each other.

"What does this mean?" he wondered.

"...If I had to guess, it's implying the name of the smith who made it," Yuliya presumed. "But I wouldn't know the name. They probably live nearby, in Alba."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Elvira went to pick up the torc, and put it into the bag. "Let's keep going."

They headed down the nearest path. Luckily, they didn't have to look far for the next set of stairs, which they climbed down.

…However…it never occurred to them that they weren't the only ones on the floor.

As it so happened…another team was on the same floor, looking for a certain item.

And after a while, one of them was getting annoyed

"Come on…where the hell is it?" a female Gabite growled. "That Chief's bitch better not have duped us. Otherwise we came here for nothing!"

"Good thing Chief Mac Mánais can't hear you here, En," a male Hakamo-o remarked. "He'd beat you to a pulp if he heard you talking about his daughter like that."

"Shut up, Yann," the land shark fired back. "Where the fuck's that torc? That request said it was on this gods-damned floor…It better be here!"





Forested Upland

Alban Foothills



The rest of the Dungeon went smoothly for Team Elpis and Yuliya. It went well enough that all three were feeling optimistic as they went down the stairs and found themselves in a savanna-like setting.

They would cross this land, get to Leonid and Svetlana, bring them back to Selenia and take down Mitrofan. Maybe even with the help of Alban muscle. They would need all the help they could get.

However, the optimism vanished within two minutes of exiting the Mystery Dungeon.

Right as they came to flatter ground next to an acacia tree, two Pokémon suddenly stepped out in front of them.

They were a Gabite and a Hakamo-o. Both wore orange scarves and had challenging looks in their eyes.

"Going somewhere, you lot?" the Gabite said. "You Sels don't get Alba at all, do you?"

"In our country, if you wanna take a reward from a team…" The Hakamo-o brandished his fists. "Then you gotta fight us for it!"





Notes

And another cliffhanger! Boy, I sure have invoked them a few times. (And we'll definitely see a lot more of them in future.)

Elvira's anecdote is a call-back to Chapter 11, which was mentioned in the flashback meeting with Mitrofan and Kallias.

Forested Upland's floor labels (S1F and A1F) are in reference to the countries.

The Parabolic Torc is an item I made up, to be exclusive to Heliolisk. It would boost the power of Parabolic Charge and allow it to recover more HP from the damage dealt to the opponent. (I will say at this point that we won't see it in action due to Zenobia being a non-combatant.)

And now that we're in Alba, I can reveal (if it hasn't been figured out already from previous hints) that Alban naming conventions are based on Gaelic and Celtic names. We've seen it a few times before with names like Ardmacha and Breifne, and it's here too. Teamhair is the Irish name for Tara, an ancient Irish ceremonial site. Mumhain is the Irish name for the Irish province of Munster. Alba itself is the Gaelic name for Scotland.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!
 
Last edited:

Ambyssin

Gotta go back. Back to the past.
Location
Residency hell
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. silvally-dragon
  2. necrozma-ultra
  3. milotic
  4. zoroark-soda
  5. dreepy
  6. mewtwo-ambyssin
Blitz 2022 stuff

Merry Blitzmas!
Disclaimer: My Blitz reviews tend to be stream of consciousness stuff. You're free to ignore or take it with grains of salt.

I also know I'm looking at older chapters that may not be representative of your current writing abilities. 😅

1: The author being the fate that makes the encounter.
-What kind of society they running here that broken legs have people defaulting to amputation as a treatment option?
-Quite a bit of telling to open this fic. I can't help but wonder if you would have been better served showing Zenobia's injury when she comes into the kitchen rather than using a few paragraphs to explain that it happened. Similarly, dialogue and actions can show Zenobia's love and support for Elvira. I think you do yourself a disservice explaining it to the reader in such a detached manner. Those lines could have gone toward giving us some description of what the house looks like. Right now it feels like they're talking in voids with nondescript furniture.
-At the end of the scene between them, too, you need a proper scene break if you're jumping from Elvira's perspective to Zenobia's. As it is, it feels a bit disjointed.
-I am interested in the fact that Elvira speaks so positively of the whole mercenary thing. Most people do not think positive thoughts when the word "mercenary" springs to mind. It's basically synonymous with bounty hunter. Why would a guild need mercs? 🤔
-Like the descriptions of the beach. Evokes the classic PMD feel. Though, again, I do think you lapse into a sort of inorganic background dump with the mention of Elvira's disappeared father and the threat of natural disasters. There are definitely more natural ways to bring those up, like conversations with Zenobia and/or Riolu.
-It's similarly awkward that Elvira's talking to herself so much when she finds Riolu. This reads like third-person limited, so some of that dialogue could easily be converted to prose from her perspective and still read well.

2: Arian't you glad I didn't say banana?
-Zenobia: Who knows? Maybe you'll get along. The author: 😈
-I couldn't help but envision the "Hey, you, you're finally awake" meme when Riolu wakes up. XD
-GREEN EYES?! What is this, a 3D Sonic game?
-Hmm. So, is Riolu from a human world where pokémon don't exist (which is becoming more common for PMD fics of the late 2010s and early 2020s) or is his amnesia that bad he has no idea?
-Ah, the true dreaded first boss of waking up as an aura puppy: fine motor skills.
-I don't think Elvira would list off all those countries if the story didn't plan to take us to them at some point.
-Who keeps an atlas in their house anyway? Elvira's a NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERD.
-Oh, now we get the living room description. Might've been more helpful earlier. XP
-Geez that's a big lore dump which I'm thinking draws a lot from various real world mythologies; Greek's the one I recognize the most on the list. Though, is Arian naming himself after a renowned historical feature truly such a good idea? I feel like he's setting himself up for scrutiny in the future. That's not a criticism of the writing, more speculation on my part.
-That said it is a lot of lore and information on the world you're dropping down and, speaking personally, I doubt I'd be able to keep track of it all when you consider most of it won't be relevant until the story gets to those other places (which, again, I'm assuming it will). I don't fault Arian for wanting to learn what he can about this new place, but I wonder if you could have summarized him reading things in a paragraph or two, then save the actual details for points in the fic where they'll be relevant.
-An overthrown tsar and a city name ending in -grad. So, this is PMD Russia, then? Or maybe PMD Soviet Union? Scary thought, but it also clues us in as to why Elvira's dad is missing if there's a big bounty on his head. Assuming he's alive, of course.
-I do unintentionally get a chuckle from Elvira calling her dad selfless and heroic while describing him as a mercenary. Again, I don't think people use "mercenary" in a heroic light in any capacity. Something like "peacekeeper" might have been a more appropriate job title, since it sounded like that was what he did in hunting down outlaws.
-Not much to say about Arian comforting Elvira since they've only just really met so it feels a bit closer to the "instant friends!" schtick that people criticize the canon PMD games for doing.
-All right, I wanted to give it two chapters before I touched on this and, again, this may be something that you've changed recently, but... your dialogue tags. You're bending over backwards to avoid using "said." Thinking you need purple, exotic dialogue tags is a common trap new fic authors fall into, myself included. But the fact of the matter is that the fic reads more awkwardly with you using every alternative word under the sun except "said." It's far better to use it and then show things with character's body language than go for clunky words like "inquired."

3: Making the dream work
-See? Already starting to use said more here and the dialogue flows a lot smoother as a result. ^^
-I've heard of parents being embarrassing, but imagine your mom going and explaining your desires to be a hero and concerns over not evolving to someone you've known less than a day. I'd be pretty mortified if I was Elvira and I found out about that.
-Verdant Woods just sounds like the kind of place that'd be your tutorial mystery dungeon. Arian also has some of the most bravado I've seen of these total amnesiac humans. Which means he's about to get his ass kicked, isn't he?
-I see you're sticking very close to the canon interpretation for mystery dungeons here. Personally speaking, it's my least favorite way of going about them. Like with the games themselves, dungeon crawling tends to be the least interesting part of a fic... and in this particular case it's problematic because you're not actually describing the attacks being used much, if at all. Instead it's more like the text boxes in the games themselves going "X used Y attack!" This doesn't translate into a fic. Readers need to be able to visualize what's happening. "Quick Attack" doesn't give a mental image to most people, for example. There's slightly more description in fighting the Thorned Roses, but it's not really enough to go off of. There isn't choreography in it, really. And the best way to improve on that is through reading other fics, particularly some of the bigger PMD ones.
-DID THAT [Pile Of Kitty Litter] SAY 4R1AN'S A [Big Shot]?! HOCHI MAMA
-D: language, Vivian!
-Overall, these two give off all the Team Skull vibes of a tutorial/intro boss. Complete with Arian learning new moves and everything. It... is interesting how, despite struggling last chapter with basic things like walking, Arian has little trouble getting into battle.
-Okay, I will admit the human being the one to pose the team idea to the partner is not what I expected, even with Elvira's confidence issues.

4: How homely
-4 chapters dedicated to the same day, huh? That's quite interesting for the start of a PMD fic. Usually there are some time skips here and there to move things along. Still feels like we're in a "tutorial" of sorts.
-Man, Zenobia telling everyone all sorts of things she shouldn't. No wonder her husband didn't tell her where he was going.
-If Arian likes certain berries, does that mean natures exist in-universe? 🤔
-I'm at least glad Elvira is willing to say out loud they haven't done enough together yet to determine any chemistry when people around them are already calling them a good team. Gotta avoid that sense of feeling strangled by the red string.
-I'm going to predict Melchior ended up selling Kallias out. "Great partners" can falter under trying times, after all.
-It feels a bit contradictory Zenobia is telling Arian she's worried about losing the only family she has left when she's perfectly fine letting her go with someone she has, again, only known for a day.

5: "Better out than in, I always say."
-Really, Arian, I figured you'd realize it was a dream when you got hit with attacks and felt pain. :V
-Ah, I see we're back to not using "said" again for a lot of Arian's conversation with Zenobia. 😞
-Oh, yeah, that's right. No one told Flora and Tamara's families what happened, huh? They should have, like, missing person's reports out on them by now, lol.
-There was another little bit of mid-scene perspective switching after Arian challenges Elvira to a race. Feels unnecessary since it's just for a bit where the friends muse about them ending up together which, uh, feels like it'll make the moment where it does happen (because it will happen) not as impactful, if that makes sense.
-Funny that a raichu made the tunnel since I'm pretty sure they can learn Dig.
-Looks as though you're setting up for these disappearances to be the first big thing the new team investigates.

6: The only thing thorns grip is soil and bark.
-Don't think another exposition dump about Ozerograd's appearance is a good way to start the chapter. Not if there isn't a way to weave it into what's actually happening. It would be one thing if they passed specific structures as they walked, but it doesn't read that way to me.
-Weird Arian stammered at getting called out. Wasn't he the one with all the bravado the last few chapters?
-So, in the context of this story, I take it "clues" are a more cryptic way of informing those who will hear plights that help is needed?
-DID THAT [Punchy Bappy] JUST CALL THAT [Snakeoil] A [Big Shot]?!
-Mikhail is so cartoonishly evil I have trouble believing the town didn't rise up in revolt already. He even did an evil laugh! All he's missing is a mustache to twirl.
-oh no the quest to try and find out about the disappearances is going to become a chain of deals, isn't it?
-Probably shouldn't have swapped to the shopkeepers' perspectives at the end of the scene there. Not without a scene break, at least.
-The fact that they're now passing the lake that was mentioned at the start of the chapter is all the more reason not to open with the exposition on it, since Elvira's explanation reads as rather redundant.
-Little to say on the dungeon crawling. Again, it just feels like a direct translation of the games with added tutorializing. Necessary for Arian in-universe, but something you could definitely skip over for the readers.

7
-This intro exposition feels a bit unnecessary, again, especially since Elvira kinda went over Hinnerk's deal in the last chapter. Similarly, I feel there are ways you could have gotten Hinnerk and Mikhail's fearsomeness across through his actions and words as opposed to exposition.
-Adds a +1 to the [Big Shot] counter.
-I'm not sure what the purpose of that flashback was. It offers little in the way of insight for why Hinnerk has such a grudge toward Kallias. It doesn't even hint at how the latter supposedly ruined the former's life. So I again find myself wondering if it needed to be there at all. About the only big takeaway is hearing Elvira's name mentioned, which didn't warrant a whole flashback. Just a paragraph or two at most.
-There are in-universe stories about mystery dungeon teams? And Flora's mom is Diantha? How'd the Kalos champion wind up here? XD
-More landmark exposition, though perhaps the Empyrean Mountains will be something I can remember because, on a surface level, they sound similar to how Mt. Coronet divides up the Sinnoh region into different quadrants. And since this is the second chapter to feature a whole scene dedicated to just walking to the dungeon's origin, I do have to wonder if they serve a purpose beyond just being a means to dump exposition onto the reader?
-I do at least appreciate the dungeon is much quicker this time and used to talk about the natural disaster situation. That makes for much better reading in my opinion.
-Last scene's interesting at least. Sounds like there might be some moles within the Thorned Roses who aren't too happy with the group, either.

8: oh we going hunting?
-The flashback to a group name proposal read like another unnecessary flashback that could've gotten summed up with a line or two.
-At first I thought Kallias was the one trying to get them, but it seems like it's actually Melchior who's trying to dismantle the Roses from within. Though I wonder if Lillian's ruse would've been more effective if she tied them up without explaining anything until after? Then there responses would've been way more genuine. XD
-Having only ellipses as dialogue ("...") is something meant for games, not novels. The line "Arian said nothing to this" does the job more appropriately.
-Yeesh, the plot pedal suddenly goes full acceleration with all the secondary characters we met from the last several chapters now in big danger with missing kids and evictions. Talk about dark.
-Having this underground group secretly be the guild revival is a nice touch. I like it.
-Yeah, Hinnerk is even more cartoonishly evil here, going on a full on motive rant and falling for the "You're not so tough without your goons" ploy. I also don't think you should've showed us Hinnerk's thoughts there. Would've made for a better surprise when he pulls out whatever backup plans there are if we didn't know about them beforehand.

9
-I already appreciate that there's more fight choreography here than before. That said, it does feel a bit silly to have Elvira and Arian shouting before their attacks. It gives away their intentions and the only in-universe reason they can get away with it is because Hinnerk's supposed to be a brute and not exactly the brains of his whole operation.
-Same criticism about Hinnerk's thoughts applies here. Arian's the POV character, not him. We shouldn't be snapping into his head, even if it's for a paragraph or two.
-Still, overall a good bad and a nice step up from the preceding chapters. Timely usage of items. It did feel very anime-esque in how many hits Team Elpis could take from Hinnerk. Like watching two of Ash's pokémon battling.
-Cripes, Hinnerk even takes defeat like a cartoonishly evil villain, ranting and raving. But, again, I wouldn't be surprised if Melchior does know something about what happened to Kallias... and perhaps played a role in it, too.

So, overall, I think the last two chapters I read here are a big step up quality wise from the others. The issue is that I'm willing to bet the average reader is not going to give the story this much of a trial before deciding they're not interested and moving onto something else.

The biggest culprit is the exposition. It's nice to see you have such a rich world you've clearly put a lot of time and effort into. But heaping exposition onto people, even after you made changes that supposedly trimmed that stuff, isn't going to engage people like actually moving the plot along would. A lot of this exposition needs to be spaced out into places it'd be more appropriate. Introducing so many names and locations that aren't relevant yet is burdening with too much information, and that can make things exhausting to read.

Other issue the dungeon crawling in this introductory "episode" is very basic... and really doesn't contribute anything to the narrative. They're like game tutorials in pure text format, which isn't all that fun to read.

But chapters 8 and 9 don't have these issues, because they focus on the main conflict with the Thorned Roses. I don't know if future chapters are more like these ones, but I do believe you're improving with these, which is great to see. Keep at it.
 

Negrek

Bruminating
Staff
Hey, Arukona! I've had my eye on this story for a while, and I'm glad Blitz has come around to give me the nudge I need to actually take a proper look at it. I read the first three chapters to start with.

It's obvious you've put a lot of care into the worldbuilding for this story and want to make this MD world really feel like your own. There's a palpable high-fantasy air here, with the different kingdoms, mercenaries, and stew. I'm guessing we'll probably get to see quite a bit of the different kingdoms over the course of this fic--Eldisholm for sure! Frozen lava or I riot. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to see the different places you've dreamed up and the different pokémon societies that inhabit them. In particular, I can't see that I've seen any other PMD kingdoms based on Greece, so Metaxai is a particularly interesting one to me, and if Selenia being a tsardom indicates that it's to some degree inspired by Russia, that sounds like a lot of fun, too!

I'm also looking forward to diving further into the mystery of Elvira's father's disappearance! It's always nice when the partner pokémon has a reason for setting out on an adventure besides a nebulous "wanting to be on a rescue team/wanting to help the amnesiac human" sort of deal. I just hope that she doesn't end up needing the classic fantasy "extra push" to leave home that tends to come in the form of that home burning down and/or everyone inside it getting slaughtered. Zenobia's a sweetheart; it would be lovely if she managed to survive this story in one piece, heh.

I think you've set yourself up well with your protagonists here. Arian is, as one might expect, a bit of a blank slate at this point, and as a result doesn't have much in the way of a distinct personality; he wants to help Elvira as well as learn more about what happened to him, as one expects from a PMD protagonist in his position. At this time I find Elvira much more interesting; she has obvious problems she needs to solve, while at the same time being unwilling to recognize them and/or work to solve them, and it's obvious how going off to become a mercenary would give her the opportunity to grow in more ways than one. I liked the little dialogue between her and Tamara towards the end of Chapter 3; it was a cute moment of characterization, and I think it indicates you'll have Elvira and Arian bouncing off each other in a fun way as he starts to come into his own more over the course of the fic.

I also like that we're turning an eye towards some potential plot in Chapter 3 with the introduction of the Thorned Roses. At this point we've gotten past some of the usual PMD intro stuff that can feel a little obligatory--finding the amnesiac protagonist passed out somewhere, them starting to get used to their new form, the first mission where they learn about how mystery dungeons work in this world, etc.--and are ready to move on to something unique to your story! Rather than a random outlaw band like you often see in PMD fics, it sounds like the Thousand Roses are a more organized group, and probably more significant than just "villain of the week" sort of characters. Whether dealing with them ultimately becomes a major part of the plot or not, I'm curious to see what role they might end up playing in the plort and learning a bit more about how Selenia works based on what they get up to around here. Good stuff!

Overall your prose is pretty solid. Some real nice polish there! One thing that did throw me a bit, though, was that you look like you're trying pretty hard to avoid using the word "said." Usually I find it more distracting when people stretch for an uncommon dialogue tag rather than going with "said." In particular I think it gets funky when the dialogue tag is redundant--when you're using "X greeted" for something that's clearly a greeting, "X informed" when they're obviously informing someone, "X praised" after praise has been given, etc. All in all, I think you could stand to use "said" more often as a less-visible dialogue tag for cases where you don't particularly want to highlight anything about how the words were delivered.

Like I said earlier, it's obvious you've put a lot of thought into your worldbuilding and are eager to show it off. I think you might want to ease off a little in the amount that you're presenting in these earliest of chapters, or perhaps change the way you're choosing to do so. Having a character read an in-universe encyclopedia is a pretty dry way to convey information, and I think without context, it's going to be hard for most people to actually remember the facts delivered in that section long-term. It's a lot of information to absorb at once! I think it might work better to restrict the info actually within the text of the chapter itself to what it's going to be important for the characters to know (in this case, maybe a handful of names and a fact or two about them?) and then include more detailed info in another way: for example, maybe as a note after the chapter, or as a kind of teaser before the chapter starts. That way anyone interested can dig into the worldbuilding easily, but it won't disrupt the flow of the primary narrative.

In general, I think the best way to get your worldbuilding across is to have characters get out there and experience it! I'm definitely curious what life is like in some of the other kingdoms mentioned here, and seeing the characters go out and actually interact with them is going to be a lot of fun, but getting a little paragraph about each doesn't do a lot to make them stick in my mind. Having an amnesiac protagonist who needs the world explained to him is great as an in to convey information to the reader, but I think there are more exciting ways you could go about that than having him sit through a history/geography lesson.

That aside, though, I think this story shows a lot of promise, and it's exciting to think of the adventure our heroes are sure to embark on. I don't know how long it'll be before Elvira agrees to form a team with Arian, but it looks like we're getting close to that and the comencement of the plot proper, and that's excellent. Obviously you've published quite a bit ahead of where I am at this point, which is great to see. I hope you've had fun writing this story and that we'll see a lot more from you in the future!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
Heya, dropping in to kill a couple birds with one stone to check off a W3 bonus, and get my foot in the door to trying to pay things back for that thorough review of Once a Thief you left last week. I suppose your own story would be a great place to start on that front, huh?

Chapter 1

A Treecko stood in front of a boiling pot of stew. She watched as it bubbled, carefully watching observing so as not to burn the mixture, otherwise that would mean the ruin of tonight's dinner would be ruined. The fire cooking the stew had always made her nervous, and still did, but she'd grown used to its heat in the many times she'd cooked at it.

Would suggest a couple of wording tweaks here. Though a Grass-type being nervous from proximity to fire feels like a nice touch. Makes sense for the sort of Pokémon that she is.

In the last few weeks especially, she'd gotten used to it, owing to the dinners she'd been making. She'd had to, because the main cook of the house was out of commission.

The Treecko sighed, reminding herself of that reality once more how her current state of affairs came to be. Her mother, a Heliolisk, should really have been the one preparing the dinner. She was an excellent cook whose meals rarely failed to be anything less than delectable. But one day, a few weeks ago, she tripped and fell awkwardly, and in the process, broke her leg.

Can’t tell if this is one of those settings where children can inherit either their father or mother’s species, or if this is a sign this apparent protag is adopted. Also, I notice that you use commas for asides.

I also kinda wonder if some of them could’ve been collapsed into the sentence more smoothly. Like for instance, “Her mother, a Heliolisk, should really [...]” is functionally equivalent to “Her Heliolisk mother should really [...]”. Some food for thought, anyways.

Luckily, it wasn't serious; certainly nowhere near the point of amputation. But even so, a number of weeks would be required to allow the Heliolisk's leg to heal.

:copyber:


What on earth is this kid’s definition of a ‘serious wound’ if a broken leg is enough to stir worries about “wh-what if it needs to be amputated?”

All the while, her daughter insisted on doing more around the house and preparing the dinners while her leg recovered. Although her mother was reluctant to let her broken leg impact her, she relented in the end.

… Wait, is there a reason why neither the Treecko nor Heliolisk have had their names introduced thus far? Since it would make things a bit easier to keep tabs on versus “her” which can technically apply to both characters.

The Treecko had to admit to the tough work that went into keeping the house clean, cooking dinners and looking after her mother, all at the same time. How the Heliolisk managed it all, she had little idea. In that sense, she had respect for her for being able to juggle all of the daily tasks of the house with relative ease.

But at least, the Treecko had been able to handle tonight's dinner, as she felt the cooking had reached a good point to serve it. She took two bowls and ladled the mixture into them, before bringing them to the table.

… I just realized, but why have five of these first seven paragraphs all been effectively backstory paragraphs? Like something little like showing snatches of throwaway dialogue or Treecko looking up and seeing her mother resting and waiting for dinner or more stuff from the present day interleaved might have given off more of a vibe of things been shown to readers to draw their own inferences as opposed to it being told to them.

"Mom!" she called. "Dinner's ready!"

There was a distinct shuffling noise, and then the sound of wood clicking against the floor could be heard as the Treecko's mother shuffled her way into the kitchen. A Heliolisk on wooden crutches trudged into the room, a cast present on her right leg.

If I had a nickel for every story I knew that had a Heliolisk with a broken limb, I’d have two nickels. Not a lot, but still a bit funny that it happened twice.

"Smells great," she commented, as she took her place at the table opposite her daughter. She brought the spoon to her lips and tasted the stew. "And tastes great too. Your skills are catching up to mine, Elvira."

Oh, so that’s Treecko’s name. Though now I’m reminded of the horror show host character of the same name.

"No...I'm not even close to your level, Mom," Elvira, the Treecko, downplayed. "I don't get everything right. Remember last week, when I burned the soup that morning?"

Elvira: “Seriously, who on earth burns soup?!
:grohno~1:


"You were distracted at the time. Besides, those are basic errors that can be corrected with experience," pardoned the Heliolisk reassured. "When I started out with cooking, I made my fair share of mistakes too. It's all to do with experience, Elvira. I didn't learn my cooking skills overnight."

"True, but…" Elvira sighed wistfully. "I doubt I'll ever be as good a cook as you, Mom. It's because...you have a passion for it that I don't have. Your ability just seems so far above my level that it feels impossible to get even close to it."

I mean, it could be worse. Your cooking could actively make people sick instead. Wouldn’t be the first story I’ve seen with a character that managed that.
:loltias:


"Even so, you're not bad at it," her mother returned. "You certainly have potential to get better."

"...I don't know…I was never really into what you did, Mom." A conflicted look came into her eye, one that her mother had come to know all too well in the past while. "I always wanted to be a mercenary like Dad. But…that's not really an option anymore, is it?"

de7.png


Since, yeah. Even in its idealized depictions, mercenary work is quite literally cutthroat and this sounds like a real “be careful what you wish for” moment here.

… Though I wonder if there ought to have been a paragraph of description or two between some of the prior paragraphs, since there was quite a bit of disembodied dialogue in this chunk.

"Elvira…"

The Heliolisk, whose name was Zenobia, felt for her daughter. She loved her, as any mother did. And growing up, she'd always supported Elvira's want to be a mercenary. It was a career path the Treecko had wanted to go along since she was a little girl, hearing all about the adventures her father got up to. And when he was around, he was all too willing to foster that want for her.

But for reasons beyond their control…that bridge had been burned, and the option to be a mercenary was no longer available to her. To that end, she couldn't blame her daughter for moping.

Oh, so Elviramom has a name now, too.

Though I kiiiinda feel like this is something that would’ve been better handled coming out through some mixture of dialogue or else internal thoughts explicitly from Elvira’s perspective. Like it’s fascinating backstory stuff, but something about the way it’s presented feels a bit too “thrown out onto the table after the fact” in a way that making a back and forth out of it with little snatches here and there wouldn’t.

Especially when her father was such a good role model, too…

Can’t tell if this is rose-tinted glasses talking, or if Elvira’s dad was a mercenary cut from a really idealistic mold, since “mercenary” and “good role model” admittedly isn’t something one would usually expect to see together in the same sentence.

Zenobia got back to eating her stew. It was nice - proof that what she was saying to Elvira wasn't just empty words. However, her daughter was picking at her food. No doubt the conversation they'd had had brought her back into the doldrums.

Before long, Zenobia finished her meal. But Elvira had barely gotten halfway through hers.

"I'm not hungry," the Treecko announced.

"Elvira…please eat," the Heliolisk insisted.

I… kinda feel like this is a little bit backwards at the moment in terms of dialogue order. If you want to stick hard to the present ordering, it might make sense to add an additional sentence describing Zenobia giving an askew glance at Elvira or something in the paragraph right before Elvira speaks up.

"I'm fine, Mom." Her tone suggested she was anything but. "I just don't really have an appetite, is all."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Mom."

Zenobia didn't have a response to that. She didn't want to badger her daughter further.

"...If you insist." Zenobia didn't have a response to that. She didn't want to badger her daughter further.

Would recommend pulling the description about Zenobia forward a little. Though it might also make sense to throw in a paragraph of description describing Elvira’s mood a bit more. Like is she getting a bit testy and narrowing her eyes or something? Since at the moment, nothing is really stated on that front.

Elvira got up and took the plate from her mother. She then took her own plate and brought them and the pot to be washed up. Once that was done, she looked out the window.

Reminder that you mentioned that Elvira served dinner in bowls earlier.

"I want to go to the beach for a while," Elvira then said.

"...It's getting late," Zenobia commented. [ ]

"...Alright. But don't stay out too long, will you? Night will fall soon."

Would recommend adding a line of description covering Elvira’s reaction to Zenobia’s first part of her dialogue. Since as-is, it kinda feels like she yields unprompted here.

"Don't worry, Mom. I'll be back before then," Elvira promised. She left the kitchen, and soon, the sound of the front door opening and closing could be heard.

Zenobia heard all of this listened to her daughter drifting off and the house returning to silence, and sighed. She had hoped for a quiet evening reading a book in the living room, but now she had this to deal with, and it would weigh on her mind for the rest of the evening.

IMO, it probably makes sense to be explicit about what the “this” Zenobia has to deal with is.

It hadn't been uncommon in the last while, this melancholic attitude from Elvira. However, the Heliolisk felt guilty for not being able to do much about it. That matter was simply out of her hands to deal with, and there was only so much encouragement and pep talks she could give her daughter before her words began to ring hollow.

I don't blame her at all. If I were in her shoes, I'd feel as downcast as her. Especially given all that's happened in the world…

Another moment where IMO it might make sense to be a bit more pointed at hinting about what’s going on. Like is it dad’s absence that’s the main driver here? Selenia becoming a tyranny? Some combination of the two?

She shook her head to get rid of those thoughts, and made her way to the living room. She sat. She sat down on one of the chairs with a footstool in front of it, and picked up a book entitled Selenia: The History of Ruslan's Domain, picking up where she had left off before dinner.

“Ruslan”, huh? Wonder if that’s the name of the current ruler or a historical hero.

But she didn't get too far into her book before the thoughts inside her head proved too great a distraction. With a sigh, the Heliolisk put the book down and gazed over at the wall beside her.

On it was a painting depicting three figures in the evening sunset. On the right was a young Elvira. Next to her in the middle was Zenobia herself. But it was the figure on the left that the Heliolisk was gazing at wistfully.

I see that dad’s work paid well given that these two have a painted portrait from those times.

"...If only Elvira could get out of this spell she's in…" she murmured. "She hasn't gotten over your disappearance, dear. Neither of us have. It really hasn't been the same without you. Knowing you're missing…it breaks both our hearts." She closed her eyes, trying to fight back her emotions.

"I'm sorry, Kallias. I wish I could do more for our little girl…"

:sadwott~2:


I do kinda wonder if it’d have made sense to have brought up Kallias’ name in some capacity, especially if he has any level of local notoriety. Since “something something, Elvira dreaming of following in the footsteps of ‘Kallias the [whatever]’” or some jazz like that.

Dunno, maybe I’m overthinking things here.

Elvira made her way to the beach. Her house was located a stone's throw from the sea, and there was an idyllic beach not far from her house. While not a large beach, it still made a good place to walk on and sheltered enough to go for a swim, if that was desired. As Elvira made her way onto it, she gazed at the sea in awe of the sight.

But are there Krabby on the sand blowing bubbles off at the sunset? :V

No matter how many times I come here, I never get used to this view, the Treecko thought to herself. The setting sun made for an impressive backdrop, colouring the sky with a mixture of different colours, from orange to red to blue to pink. Not to mention, the sound of waves crashing against the shore helped to calm Elvira. It never failed to do that. Seeing this place brought back happy memories from her childhood, of her and her parents frolicking on the sands.

Getting some strong Explorers vibes right now, since it reminds me of the beach down the bluff from Treasure Town.

Once, she recalled that the sound of the waves had been so soothing that she'd fallen asleep, and had to be carried back to the house by her father.

She could still remember his voice through memories on this beach, and the encouraging words he would say to her to bring joy into her life.

"You're getting quite good at Outlaw and Mercenary, Elvira. At this rate, you might end up matching my speed when you get older."

Oh, so “Mercenary” in this setting is effectively a catchall for Rescue/Exploration Team. Or at least I think that’s the implication there.

"...Were you holding back, Dad? You weren't going as fast as you normally were."

"Hah! You're sharp. How did you guess that?"

"It was obvious, Dad! Anyone would be able to see that you weren't going as fast as you can go! I've seen you go much faster than that!"

Wait, so what was Kallias as a Pokémon then? A Sceptile? Since I just realized it was never explicitly stated last scene. Wonder if that’s meant to be a big secret or not.

"...Well, the Torracat's out of the bag now. Yes, I was holding back. But look at it this way; it's good to detect when someone's holding back. In the world of the a mercenary, not all outlaws are the same. They might well have a motive for their crimes."

Is Elvira sure her dad was in the right line of work? Since this feels a lot less cutthroat and rough around the edges than I’d have expected of a ‘mercenary’.

"But...why? Why would someone be an outlaw, if they're not a bad person?"

"...It's complicated, Elvira. Some outlaws are selfish and greedy and do bad things. But others don't have a choice. If they're really poor, they won't be able to afford even the cheapest food on the market. And so they have to steal food if they want to live. The world of outlaws and criminals isn't all black and white. Of course their actions are unreasonable - it's why us mercenaries exist. But...in the future, try to put yourself in their mindset. Why are they doing this? What do they stand to gain?"

Oh hey, that’s literally the thought exercise that one of my longfics is built around when it’s not being a vehicle for me to be a dumb hack. o<o

"Oh, okay…I kinda get it? Everyone has a reason for doing something."

"...Something like that. You'll get there yet, my girl. You have the fledgling heart of an Irian Guild merc within you yet."

“Irian Guild”, huh? I take it that they’re not based here in town?

It was one of her fondest memories with him. It had the two things that mattered to her more than anything in the world - her father, and her ambition to become a mercenary at the famed Irian Guild.

Yup, I’ll take that as an affirmative that they’re not here in town. Though why do I get the feeling that this Irian Guild is going to be a lot dodgier than what Elvira assumes?

Though I do wonder if there was another way of handling this flashback than all these lines of unbroken dialogue here, since this admittedly felt a bit ‘talking heads’ in setup here.

But five years ago…both had been taken from her. That fact stabbed her in the heart more than anything, and she felt tears prick at her eyes.

Where are you, Dad? Why haven't you visited us for five years? …Something's happened to you, I know it. But I can't do anything about it. All because I'm not strong enough…I mean, look at me. A Treecko, at my age? I should have evolved into a Grovyle by now. But I never kept up my training. And look what's come of it…

Guess Kallias really should’ve sent his baby girl an Eviolite at some point, shouldn’t he?

She looked towards the evening sun, vision blurred with tears.

I never was strong. Not good enough to be a cook like Mom, and definitely not strong enough to be even a good mercenary like Dad. …Weak…that's all I am…!

I mean, you’re a base morph, Elvira. Unless if you go out of your way to level up and make a sleeper build, that kinda comes with the territory.
:joltyshrug~1:


Elvira began to cry. There were periods where she tried to keep a smile on her face, but they never lasted. Since five years ago, it truly felt as though those happy days in her childhood were now firmly in the past. Now the days where she felt truly happy were few and far between, all because her two passions had been taken from her.

And it wasn't even her fault. It was because Fate had decided to deal an especially cruel hand to her. In fact, not just to her, but the whole world.

Oh, well that’s ominous there.

For whatever reason, in the last few years, and especially in the last year, there had been an increase in natural disasters and abnormal weather patterns. In regions where volcanoes and mountains were located, it was noted that more and more eruptions and earthquakes were taking place, which devastating communities in those regions.

Extreme weather events were another factor. Firstly, the storms that normally came into Selenia around the autumn were much fiercer, leading to more washouts, floods, and landslides. Then the winter had seen heavy snowfall and bitter cold sweep across the land. And following a brief respite in the spring, the first half of this summer had seen an exceptional drought take place across all of Ardalion. This had meant the drying up of wells, and water shortages all around. Luckily, Elvira lived near a town that had a lake, but her thoughts went out to those who didn't have such luxuries. Like the deserts of Alba, up north. From what little she'd heard, it had been absolute hell up there.

Oh yeah, that’s totally a good portent for what the neighborhood is like outside of town. Not. Since this sounds like a recipe for rampant Outlawry and endemic low-grade warfare.
:unquag:


Thankfully, there had been some rain in the last week, so it wasn't a completely hopeless situation. The well out at the back of their house had some water in it thanks to that. But even so…it was worrying. Very worrying, indeed, that this was happening.

I actually wonder if there would’ve been some way of playing up the sense that Elvira and Zenobia were in a precarious situation in the first scene such as little things such as showing Elvira being sparing with some ingredients, or Zenobia’s fall turning out to be from something like trying to check the water level in the well, or emphasizing that she needed to not screw up the soup since they wouldn’t have the extra food to do a do-over that night or something like that. Since this is admittedly a lot more ‘hanging by a thread’ than I assumed of Elvira and her family from the intro scene.

But why was this so? Many in society had asked this question. But no one had been able to give a definitive answer. Was some Legendary of the weather running rampant? Was it divine retribution for not paying enough tribute to the Creator? ( as some religious types had proposed? this notion.) Or was it just a freak couple of years, and everything would eventually go back to normal?

I suspect that Elvira’s going to winds up finding out the answer to this question at some point, even if it’s likely to be one heck of a ride to get there.

Alas, at this point in time, no concrete explanations for these mysteries surfaced, and so in their places Pokémon filled them with guesses and conspiracy theories, many of them wild and unbelievable. Such was the way when people were starved of the truth.

inb4 the nuts actually turn out to be onto something, since hey, it’s not that rare a premise in fiction.

Elvira was thinking about all of this as she walked down the beach. And unfortunately, it meant that she wasn't paying attention to the path in front of her.

Therefore, the Treecko was taken rudely out of her thoughts when she tripped over something and fell face-first into the sand. Worse still, it was as the waves flowed in, and she received a mouthful of swash as her face made contact with the soft sand.

Elvira: “Ptoo! Hey what the-?!” >.<

"Urgh!" Elvira gagged, spitting out the salt water and sand. "What did I just trip over?" She turned around to look.

And what she saw made her eyes widen in shock.

She hadn't tripped over something.

She'd tripped over someone.

Oh, this is the Riolu from the summary, isn’t it?

Laying on the shores of the beach, next to some seaweed and shells, was the body of a blue and black furred canine Pokémon.

"What? A Riolu?" Elvira uttered, hardly believing what she was seeing. Are they…alive? She went over to check the Pokémon, and listened for breathing. She need not have worried, however; the Riolu was breathing. However, it was also passed out, and unresponsive.

You know, I really am getting some strong Explorers vibes right now, if obviously with a stronger dash of “gritty, medieval fantasy setting” from the stuff established earlier on in this chapter.

"Wake up," the Treecko urged, admittedly somewhat lamely. "...Wake up! Please!" She gripped the Pokémon's sides and shook it, trying to wake it up. Unfortunately, this amounted to nothing, and the Riolu was still as unconscious as it had been before.

Elvira: “R-Riolu? S-Say something to me!”
:uhhh:


"Oh no, oh no, oh no...What am I going to do?" Elvira panicked. "What if this Riolu needs medical attention?! I don't see any injuries...but it'd be best if I brought them back to the house. Yeah, that would be best. ...Riolu!" she informed the unconscious Pokémon, disregarding the fact that they probably could not hear her. "I'm going to bring you back to my house! We'll patch you up there!"

IMO, this paragraph should be split up into two with some sort of description showing Elvira freezing up a moment or something like that. Though I’m admittedly tripping up over where concretely I’d recommend splitting things up. Maybe someplace around “Yeah, that would be best”?

No response. The Riolu remained inactive.

Elvira leaned down and tried to pick up the Riolu. However, the Fighting-type was bigger and heavier than her, and that option proved to be fruitless. She therefore had to resort to dragging the Pokémon behind her. It was unceremonious and inefficient, but it was the best Elvira could do, given the circumstances.

Elvira: “Mom! Mom!
- Beat moment -
Elvira: “... Right, broken leg. I knew that.” ._.;

Elvira continued back to her home. All the while, her mind was ablaze with thoughts.

Just who is this Riolu? Where did they come from? Do they have loved ones? If so, where are they? Just...what happened to this Riolu before it came here?

These questions were a flurry in the young Treecko's mind as she neared her house, with the Riolu in tow.

Elvira: “... We don’t have neighbors, do we? Since if we do, boy is this going to be awkward to explain.”
:fearfullaugh:

Whelp, that’s a wrap. I thought that this chapter was a nice opening and there’s a lot of promise for the future, even if there were a few lingering quibbles that I had with delivery in a couple spots in it.

But before then, let’s start with the stuff that I thought were the highlights. I liked the characterizations of Elvira and Zenobia. The two both give off a pretty believable vibe of characters who are struggling to get past past lost and a general state of affairs in the world that’s wearing down on them and their ability to get up in the morning each day, especially with the hole that Kallias has left behind in their lives. I’m not fully sure how on-the-mark Elvira’s general aspirations and understanding of how the world works is meant to be, but the overall sense of “character with heart set on following her parents’ footsteps” is a touching one to see, and it’ll be fun to see that evolve with time.

I also liked the tantalizing hints of a big world out there, if obviously one that’s seen its better days since it sounds like society is more or less falling apart in live-time. Like if Alba is explicitly mentioned as being a hellhole… that makes me suspect we’re going to see it in some fashion, whether directly on-screen, or indirectly by second order effects. Since boy does that have some implications for what Elvira’s journey is going to be like if that winds up coming to pass.

Though as for those quibbles that I had with the story. There’s a few parts where the wording struck me as needing a once-over, but I honestly don’t think that would be all that hard or time-intensive to tighten up. For things that aren’t as simple of a fix, there were a number of parts in this chapter that I thought could’ve used a bit more description. It’d been nice to see a few extra paragraphs from that sort of mold to liven up chunks of the story that are very dialogue-heavy and to hint at the state of Elvira’s world given that you imply that her and her mother’s existence isn’t exactly super comfortable in the second scene, but for whatever reason I didn’t get that vibe in the first one.

I also noticed that ‘show and not tell’ is a bit of a recurring issue, namely from the story veering heavily into the ‘tell’ side at parts, which you acknowledged in a review elsewhere. To your credit, the actual information that’s brought up is generally pretty interesting and helps sell a sense of character / world history. I just question whether it should be handled in such an exposition-heavy fashion when dialogue, character thoughts, or tying such information to certain objects or events often gets the point across just as well. Something to consider, at least. I can’t say that I’d fault you for just opting to shrug it off and move on, since sometimes for the sake of maintaining forward progress, you’ve got to live with some warts of a story and learn from them.

All-in-all, this first chapter seems like a nice start to your story, and there’s a lot of promise for things to come in the future, @Arukona . While I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to come back to things before RB4 ends, I generally liked what I saw of your story, and am interested in the trappings of your world. Even if it might take a while, I’ll be back at some point. Since hey, I do believe in paying things forward as a reviewer, and you were already quite generous to me on that front earlier in the past month.

Hope the feedback helped, and best of luck with Review Blitz!
 
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Negrek

Bruminating
Staff
Back for chapters 4-6! It's nice to see Arian and Elvira get out a bit and start to uncover the broader world, although they're not quite ready to leave home yet. I enjoyed your notes on what inspiration you'd taken for the names of various places, as well as what your thoughts were when you were coming up with the town. If you aren't familiar already, Spiteful Murkrow's Fledglings and Once a Thief are stories that use a lot of different pokémon societies with inspiration from real-world cultures and languages, so you might find them to be fun reads.

It's going to be interesting to see how Arian and Elvira operate as mercenaries without any of the usual guild structure; for now they're going home at the end of the day, but how long can that last? It was a bit surprising to me that there's still a messageboard in Ozerograd where people can post requests, since the guild's been dissolved, and anyone acting in a mercenary capacity is likely to get thrown in jail or worse. Is the idea that Thorned Rose members will sometimes do requests just to make some extra cash, or does it function more like a community noticeboard for now?

Regardless, it's obvious there's no shortage of work for Arian and Elvira to do, however they get wind of it. It seems inevitable that they'll get found out pretty fast--which could be an interesting development, honestly, if not that fun for them. I'm curious to see how you end up drawing together the various plot threads you've set up here--the various missing persons along with Iona and Elvira's fathers, plus whatever's going on with Arian. Right now it feels to me like the Thorned Roses might serve a sort of miniboss role--a first challenge for Arian and Elvira to get through together before they move on to tackle bigger threats in the world at large. It is interesting that the Thorned Roses feel like a pretty different sort of enemy than is typical for PMD--it's an organization in the "normal" world, rather than a big boss at the base of a dungeon. Unless maybe Arian and Alvira manage to get the seviper alone somehow and defeat him as a team, they're going to need some outside help to succeed. And they're definitely still not ready to go toe-to-toe with even the second in command! It'll be interesting to see how you handle the dismantling of an organization like this.

As usual, it's clear you've put some nice thought into your worldbuilding here; Ozerograd has a nice sense of history and a more urban feel than the canon PMD games. I think you definitely hit the fantasy vibe you were going for! If there's one thing I'd like a little more of, it might be a bit more description of the environment, especially in the mystery dungeons. For example, when you mention that things seemed "more normal" when they reach the grove at the end of the dungeon, what specifically does that mean? The grove is full of flowers, just like the dungeon itself. What about the dungeon is weird? Adding some concrete details would really make the surroundings come to life.

In some ways, it is nice that Elvira didn't immediately rush into forming a team with Arian. It's a very realistic position for someone like her to take. Becoming a mercenary is dangerous, her mother needs her at home, she's known Arian for literally like 24 hours or so, and at least personally, if my friends were on me all the time about how much I was going to fall in looooooove with somebody, I would probably never want to see that person again, lol. I'm excited to see how they end up working together and how they eventually grow into a renown pair--presumably with their own name! "Team Marshwood" is a name for a mercenary pair; hope Elvira and Arian manage to come up with something at least as cool eventually. I imagine it'll be a big moment when they ultimately decide on something.

On the other hand, not having Elvia agree to go with Arian right away, even though we as readers knew she eventually would, did drag things out a bit, and this was the real sticking point for me over these three chapters. Things are moving pretty slow here, and while I don't have a big problem with Elvira needing to decide what to do specifically, since it feels in character, there were other places where it felt like the scenes we were going through didn't add a ton of value. Most any traveling from place to place--from Elvira's home to the town, from the town to the dungeon--is often a good place to look to make cuts, I think. There's some worldbuilding in these segments, a little nice scene-setting, but I don't think you need to go into quite so much detail about how exactly everyone got from A to B. I'm left wondering what the point of e.g. the scene where they use the tunnel to sneak into the town is. No problem for there to be a tunnel they can use to bypass the guards, but did we really need to see them go through it rather than having it all summarized in a paragraph or so? I do think you're making a good choice in not showing all the floors of each dungeon in the future. I think you could cut most of the dungeon-crawling even here, tbh; not much happened other than Arian learning about money and the introduction of Galarian zigzagoon. There's a lot that you can imply happened in a story, or sum up in a sentence or two--I think it's a good idea to cut scenes that are less interesting to you and focus more on ones that you find exciting to envision or write--your readers will probably find them the most interesting, too!

I was surprised that the florges didn't tell Arian and Elvira anything about her kid before they went into the dungeon. "What species is my child" and, in this case, "what color flower does my child have" both seem like pretty important pieces of information to give to anyone who might be looking for them.

Chapter 6 was pretty chunky, and it seemed like there was a pretty natural place to break it after Arian and Elvira got their initial mission to find the torc. As stated above, you could probably streamline the dungeon and traveling segments to reduce the word count if you wanted to keep the overall chapter content the same, but I might consider splitting it otherwise; I was feeling the length on it a bit, personally.

All in all, these chapters felt like they moved a bit slow to me, but it's good to see the story opening up, and the characters are definitely making progress. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Thorned Roses and what might be going on behind the scenes there--they're a symptom of a broader issue, obviously, and I'm curious whether it'll turn out that whatever's behind them somehow has to do with what brought Arian to this world. Thanks for posting; I've had fun checking this fic out for Blitz.
 

Navar

Professional Mudkip Lover
Location
Brazil
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. swampert
  2. chesnaught-apron
  3. lucario-mega
Alright, let's see how this story turns out.

Chapter 1
Not much happens during the first chapter, like expected, just introducing Elvira, her mom, her personality and dreams. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, and I quite liked to see she and her mom are in good terms, and that Elvira helps her out however she can. It's quite sweet! I like it, she seems like a good girl. And also, seems this fic ignores the breeding mechanic of the egg being the same species as the mother. Always thought that was something very stupid, so good to see it being ignored here... unless she's adopted, but I doubt that's the case? It doesn't really matter in my opinion. There's also the hope that Elvira will be able to be a merc like her dad. Not the kind of dream I was really expecting but I'm not even complaining. She has a good reason, and while I don't know why she can't do it now, I'm hoping that whatever caused it can be resolved sooner rather than later.

I like the narration taking the time to tell the state of the world and how things are, with disasters increasing and such. Not sure if this counts as exposition or not, but even if it does, I liked it. Gives a sense of mystery, even if it's not something that's meant to be resolved, I still enjoyed it. Elvira did too, apparently, if she was too deep in those thoughts to see what was happening, and then she tripped...

Over a Riolu. Interesting.

And a short, sweet chapter to introduce the story. I think it worked really well and I barely noticed that it was that short, only when I finished. Good introduction! I'm caught up in this, and I'm curious to see how the story will go from here on.

Chapter 2

Yeah, Riolu as the human. Nothing wrong with using a punchdog, they're cool. Anyway, this first scene was pretty good in my opinion, has enough "fish out of water" with Arian not realizing what the hell is going on, but not too much to be an annoyance. Arian as a name is cute, to be honest. And, hm, Elvira has a good heart, she decided to rescue this random Riolu... doubt everyone would do it, but she did anyway. Her mom helped too, which was really sweet. There's nothing wrong with this bit, and nothing more to comment. The details are common in most fics that I doubt I need to go over them. For now, Arian is a good boy :)

Well it's a tad weird having the narration refer to Arian as... well, Arian before the plot even makes him choose a name. It feels a little, eh, spoilery? I mean, it's in the chapter's name, so I guess it was spoiled already, but alright. It was weird but not too much, I think. Anyway, seeing the two lizards being so supportive is very sweet in my opinion. Doesn't take long until there's some exposition about the countries and their capitals, as well as more lore on Elvira's dad. Shame he's gone, bet he was a nice dad to have. It's also a shame that the guild was destroyed, but I assume there's gonna be a different way for her to join. Maybe there's other guilds, surely there's more than one in Ardalion.

Arian really is a good boy. Wanting to help those that helped him, I mean. It could be good for Elvira, if all she has is her mom, and she's even hurt, so that's not a lot of company.

Liked this one too, big, enough stuff happening for me to digest... nice chapter.


Chapter 3
Things seem to have settled in for the moment. Arian is taking this new life fairly easily. Granted, he has amnesia, so I guess it's fine for him to settle in already. Oh, and good on you to have him read a book instead of getting all the information about Pokémon from someone else's mouth. I don't know why I never thought of that before... sounds like a simple solution, but huh, it works well, I guess. And yeah, Lucario are cool. Arian has a long path ahead. Speaking of paths... seems it's time for the good ol' dungeon exploration, after he gets a tutorial on what dungeons are, that is.

...Which was a pretty simple explanation, all things considered. Good.

Well, good thing to know Arian is a quick learner, but uuuh learning as he goes along isn't the brightest idea. I'm sure this will end swiftly... probably. Maybe.

Hm, I like the bit talking about wurmple silk. Good worldbuilding there.

On the bright side, their expedition isn't being too dangerous, and yeah, they're not taking too long there, thankfully.

Pffft, Vivian's unisex? I didn't know that. Anyway, they're there to fight some thugs, basic stuff. Arian did learn how to use Metal Claw, so he was right about learning fast, good on him.

Oh, sick. Force Palm. Something about that move is just really cool. Sadly not an Aura Sphere, but I doubt Arian would have that in his arsenal right away.

Tamara's a tease, isn't she? Arian hasn't even gotten to know Elvira yet... but hey, they do work together as a team fairly well, so maybe in the future.

Arian seems to be very supportive, so hey, they're mercs now... in everything but name, apparently? I'm rooting for the two of them, and my god he's adorable in wanting to help her. Good stuff.


Chapter 4
Well, the start of the chapter was good. Good to see Arian taking the time to learn more about Pokémon; he does have nine gens to go through... that's a lot of ground to cover. I also liked the touch of them only discovering eighteen types, for all we know, Gamefreak can make another one next gen and it'd be a bit of a nuisance to justify not knowing about it earlier. It's a small detail but in my opinion it does wonders for the story, in case there IS a new type when the next games are released. Even if it's not, I still think it's a nice touch.

I like hearing about her dad and his partner. Hopefully the two aren't missing, and it's just her dad.

Surprised that Zenobia is so supportive ot the mercenary idea. Well, good to hear. And Elvira has a point, she can't know whether or not she and Arian would make a good team just yet, even if they did good at the dungeon.

She does accept it anyway. Arian is a very good character, I like how eager he is to help others. Means that he's got a good nature, amnesia or not.

With that, the chapter comes to a close. I think it spend all its time setting up the team, which is fine by me. It came off very natural to me, so there's not any complaint on my part. Zenobia is a protective mom, albeit supportive, which is another plus, a lot of parent characters are just... dead or evil. Or just not there for reasons. She doesn't seem to be this way, and I quite like that deviation from the trope.

Overall I liked the chapter a lot. It's moving at a slow pace, but not one that I feel drags on.


Chapter 5
To be fair to Arian, he pretty much IS in a fantasy novel, so... yeah.

Anyway, this first moment with him and Zenobia... yeah, I like it. He's so comfortable with the entire situation, and it's only been, I think a few days since he first woke up as a Riolu? I can see why he's more calm now, rather than after waking up. It's a tad sad that he doesn't really care about getting his memories back, and it kinda makes me wonder how his human life was, because maybe he does have a place to go back to, or he could have nothing, with Selenia being a far better place than the one he used to call home.

And hm, Zenobia really is a cool mom! She prepared a bag and everything. Also, wonder how much a thousand Poké would be in this universe. It sounds like a lot of money, but I could be wrong. Regardless, Elvira's dad is cool, I like him despite him making zero physical appearances in the present.

Paying a toll to get into town? Damn, even in PMD, capitalism sucks. But hey, a tunnel solved all their problems... until someone finds out about said tunnel, that is. But uuuh, man, things in this town aren't so good, huh? If they need to pay up. Those thousand Pokés are gonna go down the drain sooner or later... unless Arian and Elvira teach them a lesson. It sounds like a plot thread.

God, all this hype about team Marshwood is getting me very curious about them. When they show up, I mean. They probably will, eventually. It's good that they're this humble, even if everyone other than them aren't humble. I can sense the hype from outside my computer screen, it's... big, very big. Not that I mind.

Chapter 6
Machoke walking menacingly like he's a Jojo character... love it. Even if it wasn't intentional, I just thought it was funny to read.

I'm sure this Obstagoon from the poster won't be a character in the incoming chapters, I'm sure... well, he sure is doing some nice job advertising against the mercs. Even if it's censored.

...Does this Seviper know everyone in town? That's fascinating, he's got an incredible amount of free time from the looks of it.

Oh god he's not playing games, poisoning Arian... yikes. This Seviper has some anger issues that have to be resolved. Scary guy.

What a nice couple of merchants, the Thorned Roses are some giant bullies, huh? I don't like them. Granted, that's the point, but still... they're not people I'd want to be anywhere near. Good thing Arian and Elvira are investigaing them, but if all it took for them to be defeated was Arian getting poisoned, I don't have high hopes for them actually taking down the roses. Maybe, maybe not. If they get help, it'd make things easier.

Also intrigued on what this Lycanroc means... but I'll find it out as I read the fic. Guess the help is coming up after all?

Another incident. Hoping they manage to find that missing child. Aaaaaalso, hello mister Krokorok, I sure hope you're an important character, because you look cool.

And more dungeon exploration. Not much to comment on the general details. Thankfully, they had a successful mission.

Bruh, the fee for entering just sucks if they have to pay it twice. Very awful.

Chapter ends, whooohooo! Fun one. I'm curious to see how the two(it has come to my attention they don't have a team name yet, or I missed it) will handle this entire thing. Here's hoping for the best.


Chapter 7
Oh, okay, Obstagoon really is a major character, and a drunken idiotic bastard at that. Hey, he does have a point about wanting a life without work. Granted, that's almost impossible, but... yeah, it's kinda something I wish for every now and then. Anyway, this first scene, having none of the main characters, worked well. Hinnerk is very salty about two guys, one of which is Elvira's dad, I'm sure of it. His reaction to her name says it all. This means trouble, for sure. Hinnerk might be blinded by vengeance or something like that, so I'm curious to see how this develops.

Right, yeah, it's her dad. Dunno why I doubted it, but eh. Anyway, a flashback scene... and a Swampert! My beloved mudfish. Already interested in Melchior. I'm very biased.

Okay Hinnerk has some very big anger issues. I don't think Kallias is the one with something stuck up his ass in this case... ahem.

Hooray, Elvira and Arian have a new job. A little distracting from the thing with the roses, but they don't have any leads yet so it's fine.

Also, yeah, Elvira will get a lot of pressure on her if people find out about her dad. Wouldn't wish that on her.

Always found it funny when there's a human expression that nobody but the human understands, heh.

Another successful dungeon run, so nothing specific to comment here.

I still like this Krokorok a lot, even if he's a goon for the roses. Shame.

Oh, nevermind. Something's... off. I wonder who's his chief. Hm... anyway, don't think this means they know where Elvira and Arian are, which is good, but I also doubt this is the last of it. Feels like there'll be a confrontation coming up soon, so I got that to be excited about...


Chapter 8
Ah, so now they're thinking about the name. Too bad Elvira forgot about it. Maybe it's a repressed memory. And naming teams is hard. I would be doing the same thing, but "A&E" sounds like a good name, even if it's probably a mouthful to pronounce. Oh well.

Okay, not good. They're looking for the two, so it's only a matter of time before they find them... meaning, Arian and Elvira are on the run, officially. Either that or they actually try to fight their way once the roses do show up.

Ahem, mystery person, eh? Hmmm... it's either her dad or Melchior. Probably Krokorok's "Chief" too? Just throwing some ideas here and maybe I'll get one of them right.

...Though the last part, the one that actually has the letter, makes me think it's her dad. At this point I'm not sure, but it's either of them.

Of course there's a spy, hey, the help did arrive. Anyway, this entire plan was hilarious to read, so I'm glad it happened.

Still, they took Tamara. Not good at all, and I get that they can't do anything to help, as much as they want to. It's a bad situation, all the way.

Lillian is cool. I like her a lot. She still has that big sense of pride and I'm glad that the two managed to get some help.

Sick, Ishmael is a cool guy after all. Hooray for him! So there were more spies among them. Cool.

Don't worry, I would also pick a name because it sounds cool, Lillian.

Aaaaaaand they've walked into a trap. I should've known things were going too easy for them. Things are looking really rough for them... which is great! I'm sure whoever the chief is will show up to save them, they were close to meeting him anyway.

Chapter 9
Starting off with a three on one against Hinnerk. Yup, they need to think outside the box for this one, even if Arian has the type advantage... it just happens that Hinnerk is older, stronger and more experienced. I'm, of course, rooting for Elvira and Arian. They're smart enough for this.

Hinnerk is also very arrogant. I mean, not accepting help at first, and needing some convincing to do it. It's a flaw in his character.

Thankfully, Ishmale to the rescue! I like him a lot. Krokorok is cool. Anyway, he was very helpful, and oh god orbs are busted in this setting. Petrifying them so easily? Nice. Hinnerk, though, continues to be incredibly full of himself... honestly, I'm glad he's being beaten up this bad by them. Serves him right.

...Except the fight is still kinda on his favor. Elvira got knocked out (and whoa revivers are pretty powerful like expected), needing Arian to help. Hm... for a real fight, these two aren't doing so great. I mean, Hinnerk is strong, so there's that. I like that he's shown to be stronger than them.

Hell yeah, Endure! Honestly it makes for great cinematic action, having a character use it.

Elpis. Good team name.

...SWAMPERT! My beloved! He's here! Whoo! Hell yeah I was right, it was him that wrote the letter, oh man. This is so cool!

It's very nice to see him, and as a character, I already like him a lot. Seeing Hinnerk be so pissed off was glorious too, so nothing but praise about that part.

Okay I'm really excited to see Melchior kicking ass he's so cool aaaaaaaaaaa it's so good oh my god this is great he kicks ass hehe!

Ahem... hype aside, good chapter. It does seem like there'll finally be some answers on what the hell happened to her dad. Neat.


Chapter 10
Man, Melchior is so cool, he's enough to make the rest of the roses walk away without any issue at all. Dude's strong.

Well, he does know what happened with her dad. It has to be something really, really bad, considering he never told, and there's the fact Arian sensed shame. I doubt it was anything intentional, but I could be wrong. Whatever it is, I'm sure the truth will be revealed soon enough.

Oh hey, Lillian. She's still a good character so I like seeing more of her. And... team Elpis is on their way to joining a guild and becoming proper mercs. Good for them. Seeing Zenobia be supportive was good as always, and a bit bittersweet to see the two of them getting into separate paths. It's sad.

Their chat about parents, I feel, was well-done. There's a bit of lore here and there, with the whole "outlaws usually have bad parents" thing, which I think it's true even in the real world.

Also good on them to be recognized for their heroic feat :)

The town looks different now. Instead of being all gloomy, everyone seems happy now that the roses are gone. Good. I'm also surprised by how humble Melchior is (I should probably stop talking about how much I like him /j)

Pffft, I really like the bickering between team Sandstream. They're friends for a long time, or it feels that way, and I like friendly banter. It's funny.

The dungeon run was fine. Instead I'll bring attention to how everyone treated Arian's questions. They do make sense for someone so new and that doesn't know much about the world. Overall, good scene there.

In Arian's defense, blast seeds sound like they'd be cool to use.

An Aggron! Hell yeah I like him already. And a schemer, too. I'm excited :)


Chapter 11
Starting with a tour around the town, wich a good prose to describe the place, and a bit of banter(Ishmael you're great), and a well... hm. It's a shame that they have to go to these lengths to hide the place, but at least they still have a guild, and they're still fighting the good fight. Also, an underground guild? Man, that sounds so cool. It's a good idea and well, there's nothing I can say about it other than praise. I dunno, it just sounds cool. Until team Elpis gets sick of the place, although that might not even happen.

I like the creed. They have a set of rules to follow and they're what you'd expect; very fancy, though. At least in terms of word choices. Not that I mind! And of course, team Elpis signs it without even flinching. They know what they're dealing with, for sure.

Well, no one believes Arian being human as much as his closest friends, so at least there's that. With the team officially formed... they're in for years of adventures.

Next there's a bunch of scenes just introducing the guild members, so sadly there's not much I can talk about, though that's fine.

Pfffft, more bickering. I love that, haha. Ishmael is great.

Something is funny about Arian not knowing that people call adults uncle and aunt despite not having blood ties. Honestly, I'm surprised that's a thing outside of Brazil.

And well, with them knowing more about the guild and how it works, the chapter ends. It feels like a bit of downtime after the fight with Hinnerk, which is appreciated. Still, there's the thing with Melchior still unresolved, and the whole thing with Mitrofan. Both of which I'm looking forward to learning more about. Overall, you got another good chapter.


Chapter 12
Things started off fairly well with the team deciding to go on a mission. Before that, a meeting with other teams from the guild. These two are interesting, and from the looks of it, resourceful allies, should them need it. And their mission is fairly simple, too. Just rescuing a Flygon. I also wanna point out that it's a good thing that Kallias(and by extension, Melchior) know he's not invincible. Elvira being taught that shows a lot of her father's character. Still, good to see that the veterans think team Elpis is capable of handling themselves while on missions. They are strong, after all.

Well, Arian, some humans are very hairy... but I doubt that's the same thing as having fur like a dog would. It hasn't come up that much but he does seem to be adjusting well to this body. Good on him.

Oh, and this is the first time there's been a mention of confusion. Hm... the way it's written works well, nothing wrong with it. And aww, Arian is sorry regardless. He's adorable, I really do like him.

And they found her! Nice. She's Axel's mom... interesting. Breeding mechanics don't really work like the games do. Honestly? I'm all for it.

Right, Melchior's back. Epic, I get to see him in a scene again. Cool fish. He's very wise, and with an impossible choice like that, I feel like he did what he thought was best. This Mitrofan sounds like a bit of a prick, but I don't really care, I wanna see more of him too!

Oh... so that's what happened to Kallias. Man, it's rough. Like I thought, Melchior had nothing to do with it, but I understand that he feels guilty over it.

What a good chapter, it hit the emotional spots juuuuust right for me.

Chapter 13
Oh god this start to the chapter got emotional very fast. I do feel sorry for him... losing a friend, or rather, being betrayed by a friend is rough. It does seem like he's kept this to himself for a long time. Poor guy.

Ah, it was a flashback/nightmare. Good thing Arian was there to support her, and that the two of them had a heart to heart. I like their solo interactions, it comes off as a budding friendship. Arian doesn't even need to ask how she feels, considering he can sense it, but he does so anyway. It's adorable.

Something is very tragic about Kallias meeting his demise like that. It feels anti-climactic, buuuut these kinds of things do happen, so I get it.

Oh, okay, Miletos sucks. No wonder Zenobia didn't want to go back there. It sounds like an awful place to be a woman at... and urgh, reminds me of the real world. Some countries are still like that. So Kallias was wrong in wanting to move there, which... yeah, he's allowed to be wrong. Still sucks to see him in so much pain. He's not a character that's physically present that much, but the effects are still seen. Cool.

Hm. Training scene with Arian, nice. He's not bad at fighting, but he can always improve. It's good that he goes for someone that knows the same move as him. Force Palm is pretty strong, too.

And, oh cool, a memory from Arian. Too small to make me think about its meaning that much, though. And then another sparring scene. It's a good chapter; still not having that much plot but I like that the characters are taking their time to train and process new information they've been getting. I think Ishmael and Melchior might be my favorites so far :)


Chapter 14
Hm, a chapter split into parts? Those are my favorites(usually) so this should be fun to read.

First things first, Arian is a bookworm. Though I guess he should learn more about the place he's in, but still... bookworm~, not that there's anything wrong with it. Honestly I was wondering why call them mercenaries when there's that view of bloodthirsty criminals that would do anything for money, and now... well, now I know why. It's an interesting story, for sure. And it does seem that team Hope succeeded in making the word be associated with something else entirely, apart from people like Hinnerk.

Oh, so THAT'S Dio. Oh god just the request makes him look like the most fabulous character in the entire story... I love it. These two missions should be fun, if only because I'm curious about this Dio guy. I get excited about the most weird things, sometimes.

Well, Natalie, every PMD character has to wear a scarf. It's almost a mandate at this point. And to be fair, they do look cool.

Hey, I like Serafina. I'm a big fan of noble characters that don't act all entitled and mighty. They're much more relatable, and the stories you can tell with them are pretty good. So props on that part.

The conversation was fun too. Liked how the characters acted and talked with each other, Arian saying "Hell" caught me off guard a little, but I thought that was funny too.

Still talking about Serafina, Natalie is a good friend and partner to her. I like them both.

The dungeon run was solid in my opinion.

Seems Dio will be a bigger character than I expected. I mean, I did hear from it on Discord, so there's that... he already made quite the impression on this chapter, so there's that.

Chapter 15
Right at the beginning there's already a big sense of tension that I could feel, mostly with everyone warning about the knights, and about the behavior. It works well here; because everyone there knows they can't just break in like they own the place, so the characters are expected to react to this. Arian, of course, is the one that takes it the worse, because he's not as aware of how things work there like the others are.

Thankfully, it ended well for them, and they made their way to the inn. By the way, nice song. Using songs in fics is fun, and something I don't see that often. Anyway, Dio's here. His first impression is... fabulous, to say the least. He's well-mannered, too, judging by how he speaks. Well, he does live inside a castle, so it's to be expected.

Oh my god he's so... fabulous. I like him a lot, haha. Anyway, for the plot, the rumors(like the chapter title) are about prince Leonid being alive.

I do like learning more about the world through the veins of people like Dio and his band. It IS surprising that Mitrofan did something good, though part of me wonders if it was just so Dio owed him something. I mean, he could also be doing it out of the kindness of his heart, but that doesn't seem right.

Hm, okay, that was going way too well, huh? They were jumped on by the knights. A little sooner than I expected, but I'm not complaining at all. Thankfully, they got help. Elvira's dad has a loooot of allies from the looks of it.

My next praise is with Mitrofan. He doesn't seem to be 100% bad, which is a good thing for me, there's layers to morality, and he's no exception, y'know?

Anyway, they had another dungeon run... and a "Meeting" with Mitrofan. Poor Growlithe(also, Growlithe! Good doggy)

Shit's about to get real.


Chapter 16
Oooooh, it's a three-parter? Nice! I love chapters divided into parts :)

Ahem. I loved this scene. I thought they'd have a showdown with Mitrofan, but that was poor judgment on me. I did, however, enjoy the chat they had. That Aggron clearly thinks he's on the right, and to me that's the sign of a great villain. One that changes things with both his words and actions. His followers share a similar mentality and are quick to defend him in any opportunity. He has his moments, too, with him wanting to be an ally to the mercenaries, but like he said, nobody would trust the words of a murdered. Very good stuff.

And things don't get better even after the (unconscious) duo escaped. They're all fugitives there, and they have no allies, nothing. Things are looking bad. I like that.

Oh, sick, a Floatzel. And he's smart, too.

...And a complete dick, huh? A total opposite of Serafina. So this guy is one character I'm probably gonna love to hate as the story goes on, if he's making more appearances.

Okay he's a massive asshole. I wanna punch that smug face of his. Serafina's much better than this guy, he doesn't get anywhere near her level.

Good thing they managed to get inside a church. Well, I mean, they weren't out of danger just yet, and Mitrofan was understandably very pissed off by the entire thing. He couldn't do much. Hell yeah.

All in all, the chapter ended pretty neatly, because they're safe for the moment. Except that Arian was knocked unconscious again when attempting to recover his memories. You know, for someone that said he didn't really care, he doesn't seem to be keeping to his words, not that I blame him.

This was a wonderful chapter to read.


Chapter 17
...Four parts? Huh, that's even better than I thought.

It feels like the calm before the storm. On one hand, team Elpis can't leave the church because they'd get captured. On the other, Mitrofan also can't just attack them and risking a war. I mean, he did say it wasn't worth it, so maybe he won't attack them should they leave the place. Doubt it, but eh. Anyway, Rufus is a good boy and I wanna give him a hug. Yeah, he was brave. Stupid, but brave at the same time. I also liked the moment between Mitrofan and Dalibor. There was a lot of tension there.

The conspiracy here feels like it's unbeliavably big. There's... not a lot of stuff I do know, but I'm excited to learn more about the past, the guild, and what really pushed Mitrofan over the edge. He did seem like a good guy before all of this.

Back to the main characters. Sadly, Arian doesn't remember much, but he's a main character so of course he's not gonna remember anything this soon(I say, reading chapter 17).

And a bit of exposition about Arceus and his pantheon. Standard stuff. Arian has some nasty amnesia or he comes from a world without Pokémon if he can't remember that.

...Even though Sansarn recognizes Arian somewhat? Hmmm, intriguing!

All's well that ends well, right? They got a way to go past the knights and escape the town, and more information about the prince.

Which then goes to the next plot beat: find the prince. This is an important step, something that both teams will have to do. I bet Serafina will be happy to help as well.

Now that they have a goal, and means to get out, they're on their way to free another town from a dictator's clutches. Epic.

Chapter 18
Good to hear everyone made it out safely!

...Man, Melchior is so formal. For some reason it feels so weird to have him be like this. Probably my expectations, but eh. I like him regardless. Tea sucks though, don't @ me.

First scene. Glad to hear more about the nobles, and that Melchior is also willing to search for Leonid. It's their best shot at taking down Mitrofan. Speaking of him, if the tsar wronging him did happen, then the tsar did something to his family. Feels like the easiest solution to this mystery, in my opinion. Melchior said the same thing, so hey, I'm smart.

Hoping that his wife is just kidnapped, because it does feel like she and Mitrofan were close.

Right, I forgot there's a Marowak. Marowak is cool. And the flashback(albeit small) with young Mitrofan does tell that their relationship is very strong, even in present day. Kinda feels like father/son instead of master and servant, at least to me.

They're so close that Nikita can talk about Rufina openly. It's nice seeing the antagonist(not sure if I can call him a villain) having a moment of "weakness" and to confide in his subordinate like that.

Oh, Rufina is very feisty. I like her, and now I hope nothing (really) bad happened to her. Seeing the two talk in the flashback was adorable too. Very wholesome, and a good contrast to how things are in the present.

The series of flashbacks showing their relationship slowly growing... yeah, wholesome as hell. I didn't know I wanted to see it blossoming, but apparently I did.

Hm, a very emotional chapter. I'm choosing to ignore the more sexual connotations on this one, because, uh, it didn't distract me? Anyway, Rufina and Mitrofan were very cute together. I really hope they can reunite in the present.


Special Episode 1
Sick, a flashback chapter. I'll admit I thought the starting scene was at the past already, and the only thing that made me realize it wasn't was Arian's presence. I may be stupid, because you usually add narration about the time the scene takes place in.

Regardless, the flashback started. Right at the start there's the different way Mitrofan presents himself, personality-wise. It's a little sad seeing him be this happy here, knowing how the future treats him. I did like the banter and I will admit Mitrofan is a looker. Sadly nobody but Rufina seems to realize that, shame on all of them.

Hinnerk is here, as sassy and bitchy as usual.

The two head into the dungeon, following some shady 'mons. Despite being so big they can get there without being seen? Neat. And as expected, the team made short work of the dungeon, until meeting with the shady guys before, and a confrontation with a veeeeery french Toxicroak. Honestly his accent made all his lines sound way funnier than they had any right to be.

I have no clue what the hell they found there, and well, neither do them. I will add that Kallias and his wife are adorable. I can tell they're in love with each other.

Awwwwww, smol Elvira is adorable! She's so cuteeeeee. Okay this entire sequence is just adorable, I love it so much. Very cute.

Well, the teasing was funny too. Apparently everyone wants a piece of Kallias??? Haha, I don't blame them. He's a charmer.

And this chapter, being the first part, was a lot more calm than I thought it'd be. Probably another case of calm before the storm. Everything is so easy to soften the blow, because something did happen seven years ago. Team Marshwood is getting to the bottom of this mystery.

Special Episode 1 Part 2
There's a lot of beef between the nobles and mercenaries... hm, the kind of conflict I was expecting. Good thing both Kallias and Melchior are mature enough not to take any jabs. Can't risk getting into the nobles' bad side after all. And this prince seems nice as well. Anyway, back to the plant thing from part 1. Meaning: I have no idea what that is. A miracle plant that's toxic, and salt? It sounds really weird to me. There's more information I'm not aware of. Though from the looks of it, the team is gonna help decorate instead of investigating this, for the moment at least.

Oh shit, Melchior likes to paint. That's adorable. He should try being an artist sometime. And awww, what a cute scene, with the kids being treated so well! Adorable~

Alrighty, so Hinnerk is involved with some tremendously shady stuff. Since those flowers are toxic(if they're the same team Marshwood found) then this might be a pretty big crime. But holy shit, fifteen thousand? Only someone rich would be able to afford this. It's probably a noble. To make matters worse, Dalibor ain't stealthy, so Hinnerk saw him. I'm sure this will not go bad at all.

Okay nevermind he was able to tell team Marshwood right away. Hm... next scene for me to read.

What is it with swamperts and grass-type spouses huh? Jokes aside, how sweet. As a prologue to another dungeon exploration, it was really adorable.

Oh my god poor Spiridon. I mean... men like him usually take a long time before finding someone, but still, ouch, being cheated on isn't good.

Okay the teasing with Melchior and Kallias was funny. It is nice to see that this setting is accepting of same-sex relationships. As a gay man, it's something I wish was more accepted in our world.

The confrontation with the outlaws was fine too. I did like seeing Spiridon losing it. He also has anger issues.

Good chapter.

Special Episode 1 Part 3
Ah, that was the injury that left him on a coma. No wonder Spiridon was that pissed off. For some reason I didn't make the connection until the prose pointed it out. I'm dumb.

Alrighty. So the evil plan is to poison the well and then poison the city? Well, that's... something, alright. Something very bad, obviously, and I get that cancelling the event isn't an option, it just means they'll have to try even harder to protect everyone there.

Shoot, Spiridon messed up. Really messed up. I know that he gets out sometime before the story starts, so I can't be too sad about his prison. Besides... he brought it upon himself. A shame, really.

Well dang, Mitrofan can give a hell of a speech when he wants to. And yeah, I really wanted that marshall to get what was coming for him, he deserved the complaints and even worse. It was also a funny scene, so a plus for me.

Awww, man Melchior is just adorable. I wanna give him a big ol' hug.

Planning scene ? Or a calm scene before shit goes down. And more baby Elvira! Very cute like all the times before. She's just cute.

Team Marshwood is so respected... cool. Well, the fact the knights haven't seen anything tells me that either they're stupid, or they're part of the plot. Gut tells me it's the latter.

And as suspected, things went south. Smokescreen, a big comotion, and panic ensuing. All things that raised the tension and made me get on edge.

To make matters worse, a bomb is gonna go off. Oh boy.

Thankfully, they managed to solve the situation without anyone getting hurt. Not to mention seeing Hinnerk, and with the chapter ending on a cliffhanger... I'm excited. They'll carry on to arrest him, at least.

Special Episode 1 Part 4
What a cool display of power from team Marshwood. They're completely in sync with one another, and yes, the attack names are really cool too. Seeing Hinnerk get beaten again(in the past, but still counts) was just as good as the first time. Of course, it's not over; more of the thugs are trying to kill them. Good to know they have limits(it was told on an earlier chapter and it's proven here, nice), and then... mega evolution. Oh yeah, mega evolution! This is seriously awesome. I love it. They've managed to win... but uh, a curse? Hm, normally that would mean nothing, but Kallias did disappear two years after this flashback, so... there's that.

Hinnerk once again gets stopped, this time by Mitrofan. Kinda curious because in the present, they were allies, until Elvira and Arian decided to step in. It's a very big personality change to happen in seven years. And with the warning about this not being over, the flashback ends. It was really fun reading about past events(and four chapters focusing on Melchior? Even better). At least they got the grandmaster rank from all of it.

Aw no, something happened to his wife? Poor guy. He needs a rest.

...And reading a panic attack hits very hard. I knew there was a warning about it at the start of the chapter, but oh man, it's bad. I've dealt with them a lot of times over the years, and they're a pain to deal with almost all of the time. And uh, it was saddening to read, but Melchior got over it quickly, so that's good at least. I do hope he can forgive himself.

The last scene is with Mitrofan. They're the ones that did something to Rufina, aren't they? Just a hunch. Well, he did say it was personal.

An epic four-parter special episode. Very good.

Chapter 19
Arian please don't pull an all-nighter just so you can solve the plot mysteries, it's not good for your health, physical and mental.

Hm... yeah, everyone was there seven years ago. They were doing their own thing, but it does help connect with the previous four chapters, which I found nice. And uh, Ishmael is still the best. Good croc.

...A mission against Bibarel? Oh god team Elpis is doomed. This is it, the fic is over (/s). Two identical missions... interesting. Kinda reminds me of when they went to meet Dio. Very interesting. Let's see how this turns out.

I forgot about decoy seeds. But they do make for some funny moments, and the story was one of them.

Lillian and Ish are cousins???? I... okay then. That makes the entire thing weirder, uh. So they're cousins and work together on the same team? Must be pretty close, then.

Well, the Bibarel fight was pretty short. Their client even helped! For all their talk, it was pretty simple, huh? And what's more interesting is what Yumina wants to talk to them about! This chapter has less going on than the four parts of the special episode, but it's still very much enjoyable.

Oh it's that bitchy Sirfetch'd from before. He doesn't seem to have humbled over the years, and is understandably very pissed about the coup. Not humble at all; not believing the pontifex trusted mercs with the information. At least the other marshall is smart enough to know they need allies to overthrow Mitrofan. If not with strength, but with smarts. Or something like that.

Also Arian has the right idea. Respect goes both ways and all. I still want to punch this bird, though. And it'd be all fine and well... then that Floatzel appears again. This will end up well.

Chapter 20
I really do wanna see this Floatzel get what he deserves. Also, Arian really did mess up here. Kinda, because I think the guild is strong enough to take care of them, but still, there's a risk since they know the location of the guild now.

Branislav was more helpful than I expected, but he's still a prick.

Nice to see Elvira defending Arian to the best of her abilities, and it's funny that they understimate the two. They did defeat Hinnerk, help or not. They're still strong, and yes they'll need help to take down Metody. This is exciting.

Which brings me to the fight. He's using psychological warfare against them, and is clearly stronger. Good that team Elpis needs to use their brains for this. As another comment, water gauntlets? Okay that's sick. Love seeing moves used like this, with creativity.

...And seeds. Because seeds are pretty fucking strong here, so they managed to put him to sleep. Of course the goons would try to stop them from doing any damage with this opportunity. They're not that dumb.

Eeeeeexcept Metody didn't actually lose. He's a pretty tough bastard, that fucker. Ending up fighting against Branislav, which sounds like a more even match than team Elpis.

Things went from bad to worse, with Mitrofan and Nikita(which I didn't know was an alolan Marowak, something that makes me like him more) appearing.

Arian is... an interesting character in this chapter. He seems to be making a lot of mistakes, even using Rufina's name. It was a tactic that didn't really bode well with Mitrofan.

He's also really good here, with a bunch of emotions to process. He's both in pain and angry, and I feel like Mitrofan's past the point of no return.

Metody is racist. Why am I not surprised?

Arian getting a sudden power boost doesn't feel like it came out of nowhere, it feels like an extension of his actions throughout this chapter, so I'm not complaining.

The chapter still had a downer ending... sadly. I hope things get better.

Chapter 21
The mood is set. It's a very sad mood. Arian's reaction to their failure is understandable; blaming himself for it, lashing out... things that I knew he'd do. He's a good guy, so the shock of losing so badly took him by surprise. Melchior does have the right idea in trying to comfort him, even if it didn't work that well. On the bright side, Melchior had a contingency plan, How much that works is yet to be seen.

For the moment, team Elpis is at a church. It's here that we learn more about Arian as a human. He's definitely from "our" world, and either agnostic or an atheist. It's not a discussion I was hoping to see, but I don't really think it's bad. And seeing Arian slowly cheer up was nice too.

Ouch, I feel really bad for Arian, his mistake keeps coming back, intentional or not. Nice that they have allies.

Ishmael is okay! Extremely beaten up, but okay! I also wanna hug him, but that's impossible. And he'd get hurt from it, ouch.

More Melchior, and more news on Leonid. And also, more information about the world! I like it, seems Alba is a place full of fighters. This is a bit of a sticky situation, but I'm hoping they manage to get some allies in this fight.

And it's up to team Elpis to meet up with the Albans. Took Elvira long enough to need to use her influence as Kallias' daughter, and I get that she doesn't want to, but there's not much of a choice here... sadly.

Even the Espeon is talking about Arian's mistake. God this is rough to read. The poor guy must be super upset.

There's a lot of letters in this chapter, hehe. Well, this was a nice and slow one.

Chapter 22
I also didn't expect a discussion on leadership... and Arian shares some words. Words of wisdom? Probably not, but at least the discussion was just that, a discussion. Nothing that ended in fights. Ironically, it'd probably happen in Alba. And Isaac has a point in that you should recognize your own weaknesses.

Yuliya joined them! With a lot of members, this trip should be fine :)

The weather thing popped up again, and as someone that lives near the equator, I feel for them. Summer sucks. Also, there's still no explanation, and yeah, there was never any chance of Mitrofan causing it. Still doubt this will be explained, but I'll see.

Man it's so cool seeing strategies being used in dungeons here! I don't think I talked about it before but I like it.

This feels like a chapter that develops Arian more, with the constant reminder that yeah, the world isn't perfect. Makes me wonder what he will learn from all of this.

Biting ghosts? Pokémon logic is... not logic at all, at best.

And they left the dungeon. So far, everything in their journey has worked in their favor. There'll probably something bad coming up soon, because of course it will.

Another dungeon... and more information on Yuliya's sister. I do hope they can reunite in peace.

More floors, and they didn't seem to notice the others there. Can't be good. Like I said, something bad.

And there's the end of chapter, another cliffhanger to be resolved. This is also the last chapter posted here, so this is where my review ends.

Overall, I did like the story a lot, and hell, I read it pretty fast. It usually happens when I'm excited about the contents of the fic. And well, it's the case here. I can't wait to see the next chapter.
 

zion of arcadia

too much of my own quietness is with me
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
Hello hello @Arukona ! I decided to check out the first chapter of Dual Wills, since you were kind enough to review Edgeworth. Some overarching thoughts: you did a great job establishing motivation and interpersonal relationships between Elvira and her family, even those that were missing. I had a strong understanding of everything happening and how it affected Elvira, and you left me with lots of questions re: her father and the mercenary guild and the riolu and the classic distortions of the mystery dungeons. One detail I noticed that intrigued me was the mention of religious types believing mystery dungeons were a form of divine punishment. I probably shouldn't bring outside knowledge to this without due cause, but since you're from Ireland, I'll be curious to see if religious conflict will be further emphasized upon. Even if not, it's a fun little tidbit of unorthodox (or, well, perhaps orthodox depending on how you define it) perspectives.

Some areas of improvement:

Redundant exposition. The situation with Elvira and Zenobia was explained via introspection, then Zenobia comes down to eat and they have a dialogue that essentially reiterates upon the same points. Pick one or the other, not both. One way to ease it, maybe, would be to have this set on the anniversary of the father's disappearance. I watched a show recently that did something similar, and it provides and organic way to introduce that plot element, as well as give the characters something to do/talk about that feels natural within the context of the story.

Epithets. We spent a lot of time with 'the Treecko' and 'the Helioptile' when their names would've sufficed just as easily. Especially since Zenobia doesn't even introduce her name to us, it's just randomly mentioned and used from that point on. Why not just name her right away? Names are almost always preferable to epithets. If it was to help with pronoun confusion, there were still a couple sentences where it was difficult to discern who was who, so might want to clean that up a bit.

Thanks for sharing! Have a poem I thought of while reading through this:

Stars climb girders of light.
They arrange themselves
in the usual place,
they quit before dawn,
and nothing’s been done.

Then men come out.
Their helmets fill the sky;
their cities rise and fall
and men descend,
proud carpenters of dew.

Man brief as the storm,
more than five feet of lightning,
twisted and beautiful.
Man made like his roads,
with somewhere to go.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
Heya, dropping in to take care of a few separate birds with one stone as part of offsite V-Wheel. And I suppose it was about time that I started paying things forward after you generously reviewed just under 30 chapters of my stuff in the span of a month, huh? ^^

Anyhow, let’s pick right up where we left off last time:

Chapter 2

Did I dream it all?

That It was the first thought that came into Elvira's head when she woke up that morning. Yesterday's end had been a wild one, with her bringing the passed out Riolu back to her house. She'd had the Fighting-type laid out on the bed in their guest room, and with the help of her mother, was able to assess them medically.

Luckily, Zenobia, who was partially trained had some training in the field, confirmed that the Riolu didn't appear to have any injuries, nor were they suffering from some kind of ailment, and would be able to make a recovery.

That was a relief for Elvira. The thought of the Riolu being at death's door didn't sit well with her. As well as that, Just as well, since when they woke up, Elvira would be able to glean the answers to the questions that had been in her head since her discovery of them.

Okay, so on a surface level, this opening section A: would work better as 3 paragraphs instead of 2. B: Has some wording that could be smoothed out a bit.

That said, I have to wonder if this entire sequence in general would’ve had more impact as something explicitly shown to the readers instead of handled in an “oh yeah, this happened offscreen” fashion, since your Chapter 1 is less than 3000 words long and IMO you could’ve easily depicted the events mentioned in passing within these three paragraphs within the span of less than 2000 words while preserving Chapter 1’s “fateful encounter / beginning of an adventure” note that it ends on.

Heading to the kitchen, the Treecko Elvira got up and headed to the kitchen to make that morning's breakfast. As she retrieved oats to make some porridge, she heard the familiar sound of her mother's crutches. Turning around, she saw Zenobia enter the room and sit down at the table.

"Morning, Mom," she greeted.

Whelp, guess Elvira and Zenobia really do have a meager existence given that their morning meal is “cheap starch mush”.

"Good morning, Elvira," returned the Heliolisk. "...You look rested. That's good. I feared you wouldn’t be able to sleep sleepless after your discovery last night."

Elvira: “... Right, the Riolu. Um… how’s he doing right now again?” ^^;

"No. I was quite tired last night after all that running about getting medicine for the Riolu," Elvira replied. "By the way...are they okay?" she added, her expression becoming worried.

IMO, this is another argument to consider writing the whole sequence of the Riolu getting brought up to Elvira’s house out in some capacity, since if Elvira had to go to town or something, it’d be an easy excuse to show it off and get people invested in these two’s neighborhood / show what it’s like.

"I checked on them this morning, when I woke up," Zenobia informed. "They looked better than when you brought them in. Alas, they still haven't woken up."

"Oh…" Elvira was disappointed. She was dying to know that who that Riolu was.

Okay, so I won’t harp on it too much, since by your own admission it’s a bit of a recurring structural issue, but this is a section where the “tell and not show” that you sometimes drifted into in Chapter 1 is really noticeable whereas something where not bluntly telling the readers how Elvira feels might have been a bit more interesting in framing. e.x.:

”Oh…” Elvira’s mouth curled into a disappointed frown. She just knew there was some story behind that Riolu, but if he wasn’t up to explain any of it…

Some food for thought if you go back to fine-tune things, anyways.

"They look to be around your age," Zenobia noted. "Who knows? When they wake up, maybe you two will get along."

Wait, how does Zenobia know this when Riolu have happiness-based evolutions and she’s a completely different species that might not even have the same aging curve as a Treecko or a Riolu?
:heliodoubt:


Though I’m guessing that’s a sign that age-based evolutions happen in this setting and that Zenobia has been around Riolu before to the point that she can accurately guesstimate their ages? Dunno, maybe I’m overthinking it.

"Maybe so," came the Treecko's reply, as the heat from the porridge came to the a boil. "Should I leave aside some porridge for them, then?"

"Of course. They'll probably be very hungry. A bit of food should do them no harm."

"Okay, Mom."

Actually, wait. How meager is Elvira and Zenobia’s situation anyways right now? Since given that the last chapter revealed that they had recently been worrying about having enough water to get by, it might have been worth hinting at if they’re in a similar situation food by showing something like Elvira reflexively getting ready to dish out food for the Riolu and then catch herself and look to Zenobia for approval or something like that.

Just seemed like the sort of consideration that might come to mind if Elvira and Zenobia aren’t in a position to just casually dole out charity to strangers.

Elvira doled out the porridge into three bowls and moved two of them to the table, where she and her mother ate their breakfast. After they had finished, Elvira brought the third bowl to the guest room.

There, on the bed, lay the Riolu. They were still unconscious from yesterday. But at least they were breathing. By the looks of things, they would make a recovery.

… Wait, what is this guest room like anyways? Since there’s not a lot of description about it to really help visualize it since there’s not a whole lot mentioned about construction style or the like. Like I kinda got an impression from Chapter 1 that Elvira and her family used to live a fairly comfortable life that’s since gotten a lot less comfortable, so it makes me interested a bit as to what that might look like. e.x. is the place a bit tatty from sitting disused and not having the means to repair wear and tear that’s built up? Has it been meticulously cared for just in case Kallias ever came back such that he and any mercenary buddies with him could see his house ready and waiting for them?

I mean, granted, that might wind up being a bit moot if you do indeed write out the sequence involving Riolu getting brought to Elvira’s house since that description would get primarily stuffed there and not here, but it’s something to keep in mind since as it stands, the guest room is currently a bit of a black box.

They've been unconscious for quite a while, Elvira noted[ thinking back to sunset the day before when she found the Fighting-type's body on the beach. The Grass-type put the bowl of porridge on the bedside table, and looked at the sleeping Pokémon, the questions from yesterday beginning to return to her.

Who are they? Is this Riolu from around here? Or are they from somewhere else? Are they even from Ardalion?

I feel like your description here is a little weird in ordering. Like while I suppose it’s not impossible to think about the Riolu, put the porridge down, and then go back to thinking about the Riolu, I kinda wonder if it’d have been narratively simpler for Elvira to do something like put the porridge down and then wonder about her houseguest a bit. e.x. as a throwaway example:

They've been unconscious for quite a while, Elvira mused.

The Grass-type put the bowl of porridge on the bedside table, as her earlier questions from yesterday began to return to her. She looked at the sleeping Pokémon, thinking back to sunset the day before when she found the Fighting-type's body on the beach.

Who are they? Is this Riolu from around here? Or are they from somewhere else? Are they even from Ardalion?

Some food for thought, anyways. Though ‘Ardalion’, huh? Guessing that’s a foreign country relative to wherever we’re at right here and now.

Elvira sighed. Sadly, she could not know the answers to those queries would remain a mystery until the Riolu rose from consciousness. In the meantime, she laid the porridge down next to him, and patiently waited for any signs of movement from the passed out canine.

Wait, but Elvira literally already set down the porridge last paragraph, so I’m not sure what she’s doing here.

A few minutes later...that was exactly what she got.

… Wait, so has Elvira just been sitting there and watching Riolu all this time? Since if so, it might make sense for her to explicitly mention going off to check up on Riolu or something to Zenobia, since I’d presume that she has other things going on.

Alternatively, if you’re meaning to fast forward or switch focus to the Riolu a bit, it might make sense to put in a hard scene break, since seeing a few minutes just get completely air gapped without any transition is admittedly a little jarring as a reader.

The Riolu's nose twitched at the scent of the porridge. Their ears then flicked, and with a groan, they began to wake up.

Yeah, see the above recommendation to drop in a hard scene break, since even with third-person omniscient narration, your “camera’s” focus has changed. If for whatever reason this is meant to be a story with third-person limited narration, you definitely want to add a hard scene break since it appears that you’re switching character PoVs.

"Urgh…My head…" They sounded like a young, masculine adult, just like Zenobia predicted. A young man, then. His eyes blearily opened. "...Wh-Where am I…?" he mumbled, as their eyes adjusted to the room.

I… did not realize that Elvira was that old. You might want to make Zenobia’s dialogue state this a bit more explicitly. Also, you can basically say the entire underlined bit as “They sounded like a young adult, just like Zenobia predicted. [A young man judging from their voice’s masculine-sounding tenor.]” with the bit in brackets being optional.

Though I’m guessing from the mystery surrounding Riolu’s gender that they’re not as easy to sex as IRL canines, since… yeah, that would take about five seconds of effort with an IRL canine.

"Oh, you're awake," Elvira began, and the Riolu turned her way. "I found you washed up on the shore just outside. Good thing I found you; you might've been there for a while."

Arian: “... I’m sorry who are you again?”
:riOMEGAlu:


She looked at the canine as he blinked multiple times. She was surprised to note that He seemed to be in a state of disbelief, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not he was really awake couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was then that Elvira took note of his emerald green eyes.

That's strange, she thought. I thought Riolu's eyes were red? At least from what I read…

Some suggestions for rephrasings to get the ideas you’re going for across a bit smoother.

But humans keep their original eye colors when getting mapped into a new species, huh? Or at least I think that’s the implication from this Riolu having green eyes and Elvira finding it the weirdest thing in the world.

It was then that he spoke again.

"...Wh-What are you? H-How can you talk?"

Elvira: “... I’m a Pokémon and this is just normal? Did you hit your head while getting washed around in the sea or something?” .-.

What? Elvira wasn't expecting those two questions. 'What' am I? Not 'who' am I? And what's this about 'talking'? It's like he's never seen Pokémon talk before…

Narrator: “He hasn’t.”

Even if I wonder if this guy hails from a world where there was Pokémon in some capacity, and if so, what that capacity was like.

"I'm a Treecko." Those peculiarities could wait; he had questions that needed answering. "And yes, I can talk. Just as you can. Just as all of us Pokémon can."

"...Pokémon?" The Riolu tilted his head. The word sounded foreign to him. "This…This doesn't seem real. Is this some kind of dream…?"

… Actually, wait, is this section meant to be written with an omniscient or a limited narrator? Since the first paragraph is written as if we’re in TPL narration from Riolu’s perspective while the second is written as if we’re in TPO narration.

Alternatively the “he” could be a typo with that meant to be for Elvira, but it might make sense to double-check this a bit.

A dream? Oh dear…he must've hit his head hard. "This isn't a dream," she told him. "This is real life."

Elvira: “Look, do I have to pinch you to prove it or something?” :|

"But that can't be," the Riolu protested. "A gecko, just casually talking to me? Especially one that's nearly as big as me? That's impossible. There's no way this is real."

Oh, so Riolu is from a world where Pokémon just flatly does not exist even as a media franchise. That’s definitely a rare bird for “human isekai” PMD stories since “human from mainline world” or “human from a world where Pokémon are cartoons” are usually a lot more common as tacks. Bravo for taking the road less traveled, especially since it means that Riolu will be “learning” things about this world as he goes along.

Okay, this is getting weird. Did he not hear me? "There's nothing strange about me talking to you, Riolu," Elvira replied. "We're both Pokémon, after all. We can understand one another just fine."

She hoped that was clear enough. But his reply only got even more bewildering.

"I'm a Pokémon…? No…that's not true." He sounded fearful, as if he knew the truth but didn't want to admit it. "I'm a human. I'm not a Pokémon."

Elvira: “... No, you’re a Riolu. Have you bothered looking down towards your feet right now?”
:eltywtf:


A human? But they're mythical creatures…aren't they? "You are a Pokémon," Elvira insisted. "A Riolu, specifically. Just look at yourself."

Oh, so I was right about how Elvira would respond.
:loltias:


Though ‘mythical creatures’, huh? Implying that Riolu wasn’t the first human to come to this world?

"A Riolu? Wh-What's that? I'm not a Riolu, I'm a..." He broke off briefly, and brought out his right hand as if to prove otherwise. However, he froze upon seeing a black paw, with blue fur along his forearm.

"Wh-What?! No! How am I…?"

He looked down at the blanket, and threw it off him. However, upon seeing a blue furry body, he cried out in horror.

"What the hell?! What is this?! What am I?! I'm a human, not a dog with blue fur! ...Wh-What? No, no, this can't be real!" He began to hyperventilate in panic.

A suggestion here for breaking up these paragraphs. Though I feel pretty vindicated in my read that Riolu’s from a world where Pokémon either died during development hell in the 90s or just flatly does not exist under the term “Pokémon”. (“Capsule Monsters”, perhaps?)

Elvira: “(... Geez, this guy must’ve hit his head hard while getting washed up onto the beach.)”
:ohnowen:


"Please, calm down!" Elvira begged, feeling fairly panicked herself. "Deep breaths. You're okay. Please…don't panic."

The Riolu, though still horrified by his new look, followed her advice, and breathed in and out. After a bit, he felt calmer, though still awfully shaken.

The second paragraph in particular feels a bit “tell and not show” again, especially since IMO it might be interesting to see these as conclusions for the audience to draw on their own instead of having the narrator blurt it out.

"Were you really a human?" Elvira asked him. "Aren't humans beings that exist only in myth?"

"Myth? No! They're not mythical! They're real!" the Riolu insisted. "I'm one!" He looked down at his furry body. "Or at least, I was…"

Elvira:
:sceptical~1:

Arian: “Look, I really was, okay?!”
:riohnolu:


"So you really are a human?"

"Yes!" the canine insisted. "I swear it's the truth! Please believe me! I was a human once!"

Wait, does Elvira even have a definitive idea of what a human looks like from her world’s myths if they just always come as Pokémon?
:joltyshrug~1:


Elvira wasn't sure what to make of this. It sounded utterly ridiculous, something that she would hear only in her wildest dreams. The thought that he hit his head came back to her again.

But he didn't have any head injuries, she recalled from Zenobia's examination of him last night. As well as that, those pleading, green eyes of his didn't look like those of a liar. Despite how unbelievable it sounded…she found herself believing him. If anything, because of how unbelievable it sounded.

Elvira: “I mean, he only inhaled a couple lungfuls worth of salt water, so that couldn’t have been good for his mental state… but he… really sounds convinced about this ‘human’ thing.” .-.

"Alright. I believe you," she said to him. "But how did this happen? How did you become a Pokémon?"

"Well…" The human-turned Pokémon pondered this question. A moment passed before the panicked look resurfaced again. "...I don't know. I don't know how it happened."

Elvira: “...”
:eltyunamused:

Arian: “Look, I’m doing the best I can here!” >.<

"You don't?"

"No…I can't remember. I can't remember a thing…" Despair crept across him.

"Oh no…" Elvira murmured. Amnesia? "Do you remember your name?"

I find it curious that Elvira isn’t having her “... wait, maybe this Riolu really is human” radar trip right now. Can’t tell if that’s an oversight or a deliberate implication that humans who come to her world usually have their memories, since you’d think that the myths would say a thing or two about amnesia if it was a running trend of human arrivals.

"My name?" The Riolu pondered that question. "A name…Come on, come on…" He racked his brain searching for something, anything. But…

"No…I don't know my name. I don't know who I am. Why? Why can't I remember?!" His breathing quickened again.

"Breaths, Riolu! Please…it's okay," Elvira said to him. "You're going to be fine."

bender-laughing.gif


"...Deep breaths…deep breaths…" the Riolu repeated, the mantra helping to calm him down. Still, the shock from the prior revelations plainly had him rattled.

"Are you alright now?" the Treecko asked.

"...Not really," the Riolu answered. "I mean…transformed into this blue dog? And I have amnesia to boot…"

… Actually that makes me wonder if Riolu’s on a funky sensory trip right now, since if Riolu’s senses take after IRL dog ones, he’s probably having some trouble distinguishing red from green right about now. And that’s not getting into that freaky aura vision thing that Riolu/Lucario have assuming that that’s something that’s just “always on” and not something that needs to be consciously focused on to view.

"That would be overwhelming for anyone," Elvira murmured sympathetically. "I'm sorry that happened to you."

[ ]


"...It's fine. It's not your fault, Treecko."

"Oh, my name's Elvira," she corrected. "Treecko is my species name. Just like how your species name is Riolu. There are more like me. …Sorry. I was so focused on you that I forgot to introduce myself."

Kinda wonder if there should be some body language dropped in there. Though that makes me wonder what on earth the naming convention in this setting is given that Elvira stuck to a given name and didn’t reflexively belt out “Elvira Treecko” or “Treecko Elvira” as the two most common common “throwaway” renderings floating out there nowadays.

"It's alright." The Riolu nodded in understanding. Recalling their conversation so far, he remembered something she'd said. "You said you…found me washed up? On a shore?"

"I did. You were lying unconscious on the beach near my house," Elvira informed. "Good thing I found you. You might have been left there for a while if I wasn't there."

Elvira: “If you look out the window, you might even be able to see the drag marks of where I was getting you onto my back and carrying you along.” ^^;

"Can I…see?" he asked. "Can I see where I washed up? I…might remember something if I go there."

e02e5ffb5f980cd8262cf7f0ae00a4a9_press-x-to-doubt-memes-memesuper-la-noire-doubt-meme_419-238.jpg


"Of course," Elvira permitted. She looked at the bedside table, though, and remembered the other reason why she came to the guest room. "Oh, but don't forget the porridge. I thought you'd be hungry."

inb4 Riolu remembers enough to remember that he hated porridge as a human.

"Porridge?" The Riolu looked over and saw the bowl. He caught the scent of it again, and his stomach growled hungrily. "Actually, I'm starving…Thanks for bringing it."

He picked up the bowl, which had cooled down a bit. He tried to pick up the spoon, but then he realised he had paws instead of hands, which made gripping the spoon much harder.

That’s definitely not something that gets acknowledged much about Riolu/Lucario in fiction, even if it makes sense based off how their arm’s paws are designed in their artwork.

Arian: “... Wait, how on earth do you hold these things without thumbs anyways?” ^^;

"Well, this is embarrassing…" he muttered. "I might just have to eat like this." He began to tip the bowl back. "Sorry, I know it's rude…"

"It's fine." Elvira had seen his struggle to pick up the spoon. "You can go ahead."

Technically, Riolu wouldn’t reflexively know that since this is a Pokémon setting and for some Pokémon “lift bowl and slurp” is likely the only realistic choice for eating. Though I suppose that that’s a human-ism in action there.

"...Thanks." With that, the Riolu lifted the bowl back and ate his porridge that way. It was undignified and he felt embarrassed as he ate. But he didn't have a choice otherwise.

Arian: “Seriously, how on earth do you hold that spoon anyways-?”
:riohnolu:

Elvira: “It’s a learned skill?” ^^;

Soon, he finished. "That was good," he said, licking his lips for any remaining bits of porridge. "Thanks a bunch, Elvira." He was smiling now.

"It was no problem." Maybe a bit of food was all he needed. "I-I'm not the best at cooking. I can only really do simple stuff…and sometimes I've burned meals…"

Elvira: “I… didn’t burn your food there, did I?”
:fearfullaugh~1:


"No, it's alright! It was fine, really," insisted the Riolu. "Thanks for making it."

"...You're welcome." I may as well take the praise. She went over and took the bowl from him. "So you want to see the beach?"

"I do."

Wait, did Riolu ever get off the bed during all of this? Otherwise, how does Elvira know that he can even stand/walk right now given that they found him slumped over soaked on the beach?

"Right. We'll go now if you want."

The Riolu began to get out of bed. It occurred to him just how foreign his new body was. Sure, he might've been bipedal with two arms and two legs, but other strange oddities came to the fore, like the sensation of fur, as well as a tail. He got into a sitting position, before getting off the bed to stand up.

Okay, while you can POV-switch / “head hop” to an extent in Third-Person Omniscient narration without it feeling jarring, usually it needs to have a bit more transition when shifting into things. Basically the equivalent of moving the camera that we’re seeing things play out through.

e.x. Something as simple as:

The Riolu started to get out of bed, when it occurred to him just how foreign his new body was. [...]

Might sell that transition away from a more “neutral” camera to one focused on Riolu a bit more smoothly.

But standing upright on a Riolu's legs proved unnatural for him, and he wobbled, nearly falling back onto the bed.

"Steady," Elvira urged, rushing over to catch him.

Something about the first paragraph feels a little too on the nose / directly “told” to me. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it might have been worth considering something like:

Except, something about standing upright with his new legs felt deeply unnatural. It was like he was on his tiptoes constantly! The Riolu wobbled briefly and nearly fell back onto the bed, when Elvira threw out an arm and caught him with a reassuring smile.

“Steady,” she urged.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be that per se, and there’s a deal of subjectivity involved, but it’s something that caught my eye.

"Thanks," Arian replied. "Sorry, it's just...I'm not used to standing this way. A human's stance is a bit different from this one."

Such is life with newly digitigrade feet. Though I see that Riolu will have to learn to Riolu instead of getting free instincts to help smooth things over for him.

… Though wait, ‘Arian’? Since Arian never explicitly mentions his name before this point, so it feels a bit weird that we’re getting it cold-dropped by the narration, especially if it’s not third-person limited narration where it’s explicitly from Arian’s perspective.
:what:


I think you might have accidentally snipped a line of introduction somewhere in a prior revision.

"I...see. Then I'll help keep you stable," offered the Treecko. She stretched out her hand, and the Riolu took it. It felt strange in his hands - no, paws.

"It must be weird," Elvira went on. "Being in your condition."

It might make sense to just flatly say something to the effect of “(trapped) in a body that doesn’t feel natural” or something like that, since something about “your condition” felt a bit vague.

"You can say that again," muttered Arian. "Anyway…can we go?"

"Of course." And so Elvira began to make her way out of the room, keeping Arian steady as they went.

I can already tell that this kid’s going to trip and fall a couple of times on the way over to the beach, since if he’s having this much trouble walking on level surfaces… ^^;

Once the front door opened, Arian saw the outside world for the first time. And he gazed in wonder.

It was a lovely day, and the breeze felt nice upon his fur. It was an unusual sensation to feel, but he found it to be a pleasant one. Plus, combined with the scene before him, of a sunny morning with light reflecting beautifully off the sea, along with the scene of greenery off to either side of him. Verdant grasses and viridian trees graced the Riolu's vision. He could also see a beach at the bottom of the hill on which the house stood. Undeniably, it was a sight for sore eyes.

Oh, so Elvira and Zenobia don’t live near a town, then? Or if they do, I guess it’s in another direction than in a line of sight with their front door. Unsure how to interpret this really, given that Elvira apparently had to go and fetch medicine for Arian after dragging him into her house.

This was what the outside of this new world looked like. And based on this first taste...it was a pleasant one, attractive in his eyes.

Maybe I'll be fine here after all, he thought to himself. This world doesn't look too bad.

Wait, what specifically is Arian finding attractive about this new world? It might have made sense to give a bit more specifics as to what he finds pleasant / attractive about it. e.x. is it peaceful? Does it feel strangely homely? Like it just feels like having some sort of “why” as to why Arian likes his new neighborhood might give things more punch.

But even with that thought, and how nice the this new world looked, it was still an unfamiliar one. and so Those anxious feelings from earlier anxiety remained in his stomach, [about being away from a world he knew, a world he was familiar with, and thrust into this world he knew nothing of in an entirely new body which he was still getting accustomed to.]

This seems like another bit where it might make sense to come down a bit more concretely as to the “what”/”why”. Especially since Arian doesn’t have a frame of reference of what his “normal” world is supposed to look like thanks to amnesia. Like is he worried that this world isn’t as it seems? That he’ll have trouble fitting into it when he is still struggling just to walk properly? Dunno, something about this just feels weirdly vague in a way that it likely doesn’t need to be and potentially be used to give insight into what sort of a person Arian is.

A few minutes later, they reached the beach. Much to the Riolu’s relief, the soft sand was a change from the dry earth they were on before - a relief to the Riolu. He breathed in, the salty air tickling his nostrils. That was also a new sensation for him - heightened sense of smell, as well as hearing. Yet more things I'll have to get used to…

Well given that Arian isn’t freaking out about something that’s supposed to be red that looks green to him, I’ll assume that he still has trichromatic vision right now. Which, fair enough given that PokéAni itself doesn’t really make use of vision differences in Pokémon even though there’s a lot of stuff that could be used on that front from IRL nature.

"...I like this beach very much. I've a lot of fond memories of this place," Elvira told him, as they walked down the shoreline. "I often walk here when I have things on my mind. ...That's actually what I was doing yesterday evening when I found you. It was around...here," she said, stopping and pointing to a general area where some seaweed and seashells lay scattered. "Good thing I found you when I did. This end of the beach isn't well seen from the road. You might not have been rescued for some time."

This… is a lot of sentences crammed all together in one paragraph and some of these actions read a bit strange when described as things that happen after the fact. Consider something like the following:

Elvira led him along the shoreline and looked out to sea with a wistful expression.

"...I like this beach very much. I've a lot of fond memories of this place," she said. "I often walk here when I have things on my mind. That's actually what I was doing yesterday evening when I found you. It was around...here.”

Elvira stopped and pointed to a general area where some seaweed and seashells lay scattered. [Arian gets a little worried or whatever and then looks back at Elvira here]

"Good thing I found you when I did. This end of the beach isn't well seen from the road. You might not have been rescued for some time."

Some food for thought anyways.

"...How did I wash up here, though?" the human pondered. "What happened to me that made me end up here?"

we-dont-know-dont-know.gif


"Hmm…" Elvira pondered that one. "A lot of beaches in Selenia, especially in the south and the west, are storm beaches, so lots of stuff tends to wash up, like driftwood and seaweed. …Maybe you're not the first person to have washed up on a Selenian beach."

Oh, so the current neck of the woods / nation is ‘Selenia’ huh? I’m guessing that it’s got some ‘moon’ vibes to it for one reason or another?

"Selenia?" The Riolu cocked his head. That didn't sound familiar to him.

"...Oh, of course. You would've forgotten this world," the Treecko realised. "Selenia's the name of the country we're in now. It's on the western coast of the continent of Ardalion. There's other countries too - Alba, Dresilia, Miletos, and Eldisholm. ...Are these names ringing any bells?"

Wow, 5+ nations here on this one landmass, huh? I can already tell that this is going to be a story with a large scope even if the plot somehow only occurs directly in like one or two of them. Will need to fire up a dictionary to see where these names are coming from, though I’m going to already call it that ‘Alba’ is the Grass-type / treehugger country given that it has a name that literally means ‘oak’.

Also that politics must be an unholy mess, since with that many nations and potential conflicts of interest while Ardalion’s busy going to hell in a handbasket…
:copyka:


Arian: “Lady, I have amnesia right now.”
:what:

Elvira: “... Right, still worth a shot, at least.”

"No." As far as he was concerned, the countries Elvira had listed were mere gobbledygook to him. "I don't know any of those places."

Arian: “Again. I. Have. Amnesia.” >_>;
Elvira: “Alright, alright, I get it.” -_-;

"Oh well. It was worth a try," Elvira sighed. "...We'll go back inside. There are atlases in the living room we can look at. Maybe they'll jog your memory."

"Alright. Let's do that."

Actually, I’m just realizing, but has Arian’s ability to walk around been improving on the way down to the beach? Or is he still needing to lean on Elvira for support? Since it’s not really explicitly described one way or another right now.

Arian: “... Actually, wait. Why didn’t we do that before stepping outside anyways?” ^^;
Elvira: “You specifically asked to go out?”
:what:

Arian: “... Right, should’ve thought about that with how much trouble I was having with walking at first.” ._.;

They walked back to the house, crossing a main road as they did so. Once again, the Riolu looked around him. So this is Selenia, he thought to himself. It appears to be a green and lush place, with many trees and forests and woods and the like. It doesn't appear to be look like somewhere that gets freezing cold or boiling hot

Doesn't seem so bad. I could get used to this. ...Hopefully. ...Was my old world like this?


He looked around at the sights before him: green fields, green trees, lots of trees, limestone rocks. It's not really this that surprises me...it's just the people. He looked over at Elvira. A world of talking creatures known as Pokémon...this will take some getting used to, alright.

While I get the meta reason that we’re dwelling on the scenery right now through Arian’s eyes beholding a new world, I kinda wonder if some of this should’ve come up in the beach scene in Chapter 1 such that you wouldn’t need as much broad-strokes description here and could focus on finer details or whatnot.

They soon returned to the house. Elvira guided them to the living room, which when they entered it, was fairly normal, with four armchairs in the room, a small table beside two of these chairs, a sofa, another table, a rug laid out in the centre of the room, and a fireplace that probably brought great comfort when winter set in and the weather got cold. But what drew the human's attention was the fairly large bookcase that stood in the room as its pièce de résistance and the most luxurious item he had seen so far in the house.

… Wait, why is all of this getting described right now when I thought that there was a scene in Chapter 1 that was explicitly described as going down in the living room and Arian might have walked through this place on the way outdoors once already barring some sort of acknowledgement that he didn’t get a good look or something like that.

Though this is another one of those bits where frontloading the description of this place as early as possible in the story (which IIRC, is Chapter 1) would free you up to focus more on the finer details. e.x. are the furnishings PMD-canon spec such that Arian would find their construction strange but be unable to put his paw on why? Do they look like something straight out of a Stock Medieval Fantasy story such that he finds it weirdly familiar but feeling old-fashioned and finds it surprising that a bunch of strange talking animals would make them?

Though on that note, what does Elvira’s house roughly look like anyways? Since it was not described at all up to this point of the story as to what it even generally looks like and Arian never reacts to seeing it, so it makes it a bit hard to visualize things surrounding going to/from it and moments inside of it.

"Oh hello!" a voice greeted. "I see you're awake now." Turning to see who the voice's owner was, the Riolu saw a Heliolisk sitting in an armchair, smiling warmly at him.

"...Er, hi," he returned, blinking slightly at the sight of the electric lizard.

I’m a bit surprised that Arian wouldn’t notice the cast on her leg or the crutches nearby given that this is his first introduction to Zenobia and you’d think that that’d stand out right away.

"Hi, Mom," Elvira greeted. "I'm just showing him around our house. He's healthy enough to be walking around." She turned to the amnesiac Riolu. "This is my mom. Her species is known as Heliolisk, just so you know."

That actually makes me wonder given that there’s multiple nations that presumably have their own cultures here on Ardalion if that’s universal, or if any of the other nations dusted off the alt-localizations such that there’s some parts of this continent where Heliolisk wouldn’t be called ‘Heliolisk’.

"Oh...okay." So this is Elvira's mom? the Riolu thought to himself. ...She seems nice.

"So then, Riolu," Zenobia said, making the human turn his attention back to her. "...Would you care to tell us your name?"

Arian: “It’s ‘Arian’! Pretty sure that I said that earlier in the-” ^^;
Elvira: “Er.. you actually didn’t tell us that.”
Arian: “... Weird, from the narration, I could’ve sworn that I had.” ._.;

"...Oh. Um…" He fidgeted awkwardly about this question, knowing that the answer would be just as awkward. "...I don't remember what my name is."

Keep this in mind accordingly for your narration, since exactly nobody, not even Arian himself, knows that he’s called ‘Arian’ at the moment, so it feels a bit weird for the narrator to already know that.

"He has amnesia, Mom," Elvira elaborated. "He can't remember anything - where he's from, who his parents are, none of that. He doesn't remember a thing."


"Oh dear," remarked Zenobia sympathetically. "You poor thing...But don't worry. Until you regain your memories, you can stay with us."

Elvira: “Wait, he can? Mom, I thought that we were short on water and-” ._.;
Zenobia: “Of course! What sort of Pokémon would we be to be so inhospitable to a stranger in need?”

"Really? Just like that? ...But we just met." The speed at which she offered him refuge surprised the Riolu. I mean, I'm grateful, but…

I take it that Sacred Hospitality is serious business in Selenia given how reflexively Zenobia offered this.

"I know that. But you seem trustworthy," Zenobia replied. "You seem like an innocent soul to me. I couldn't say no to someone in need. Besides…I wouldn't want to cast you out on your own. Especially given what's going on out there…"

Yeah, I called it.

Arian: “Um… do… I want to know, or…?” ._.

That sounds ominous, the Riolu thought. "Well…thanks," he said, trying not to focus on that last part. "Ms…um…"

"Call me Zenobia, dear," the Heliolisk told him. "I would gladly help you more, but as you can see, it’s become a bit hard for me lately my position has been compromised a bit." She gestured to her broken leg.

Arian: “... Wait, how have I not noticed that all this time?” .-.
Elvira: “That’s what I’d like to know. Are humans not known for being observant types?”
:eltywtf:


"Ouch," the Riolu winced. "Does it hurt?"

"At times. It should heal in a few weeks. But until then, Elvira will help you. I'll be around too, if you ever need an ear."

Note to self, bones take their sweet time healing in this continuity just like real life. Makes me wonder if either Elvira or Arian are going to have that happen to them at some point.

"Thanks. Hope you get better soon."

"Thank you…" Zenobia was about to say his name, but stopped herself when she realised she didn't have. "...Ah. I forgot you still don't know your name."

"No, I don't." The Riolu looked down sadly. "I'm sorry…"

Zenobia: “We could always come up with one for you in the interim? Perhaps ‘Blue’ would do the trick?” ^^
Arian: “Let’s… pick something a bit less on the nose.” -_-;

"Don't be, Riolu. But…maybe we could think of a name for you?" suggested Elvira. "At least until you find out what your old name was."

"That's an idea," Zenobia agreed. "...What would you like for a name, Riolu?"

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TET1UsSFbUQ


"Oh, um…" The Riolu, slightly disconcerted at being put on the spot like that, began racking his brains. Something that would suit him, a moniker he could go by, a name to make his place in the world…

...But after a minute of thinking, he came up short. "I can't think of anything," he told the two disappointedly.

Zenobia: “The offer for ‘Blue’ still stands-” ^^
Arian: “Look, I appreciate the hospitality, but I’d really rather have a name that isn’t just a color to work with.” >_>;

"Take your time," advised Zenobia. "A name is a big deal. It's not something that should be hastily thought of immediately. I should know; it took Kallias and I a long while to come up with Elvira's name."

If there are any particulars / quirks about how naming work here in Selenia, this feels like a fairly organic place to hint towards them here. Though that makes me wonder what Elvira was called before Kallias and Zebonia settled on ‘Elvira’ for her.

"Still…I don't want to just call you 'Riolu' all of the time," Elvira argued. "You deserve a name that makes you 'you'."

"If I'm honest, I feel the same this way too," her mother said.

Arian: “Um… ‘Riley’? Something about that feels like it’d be decently fitting-”
Zenobia: “Taken by another story, alas. I’d recommend picking something else.”
Arian: “(Wait, ‘another story’? Where is that coming from?)”

"Yeah…I'd like a name other than my species," the human admitted, inwardly surprised at the sentence he just uttered. Species…That's weird. Talking about myself as a 'species'...

"I have a proposal," Zenobia said. She leaned over to the bookshelf, and pulled out a book. It was titled A Glossary of Ardalion's Finest: Vol. 1 (A-F). The Heliolisk handed it to Arian.

Reminder that it probably doesn’t make sense to call Arian ‘Arian’ in the narration if he’s meant to be unnamed at the moment.

"It's a list of famous people throughout the history of Ardalion," she explained to him. "There's bound to be a name that'll suit you."

inb4 the very first entry is “Aaron” for the M08 memes.

"...Okay…" The Riolu looked at the book, not sure what to make of it at first. But he sat down and opened the first few pages.

There were many names depicted in bold, followed by a short description of each of them. They were a variety of kings, queens, lords, warriors, martyrs, and saints, and the book depicted them all as lofty figures.

Boy, there are some stories about this continent’s history, I can already tell.

Acantha. Little is known of this figure, but it is known that she was the mother of Persephone, the first queen of Miletos and lover of the hero Metaxas. Supposedly, she was a widow who took over the running of her husband's lands after he died, something quite surprising for the mother, a would-be dowager queen of Miletos. Her resolution as a female leader was not forgotten by the Miletan people, and Acantha became a common name amongst women. It is still popular today, most ironically, despite Miletos's regressive attitude towards the fairer sex in nobility into a position of submission.

Oh, so Miletos is culturally Greek, huh? Since all of those names are Greek in some capacity, and a casual Google turns up that ‘Miletos’ shares a name with an ancient Greek city in Anatolia.

Achilles. The forty-third archon of Miletos, and the father of the current Miletan ruler, Archon Pyrrhus. Seen as a figure of grandeur, his thirty-three year rule was seen as indulgent in cultures of the past, with an architectural revival of the ancient Miletan style woven into the construction of new buildings. Many sites in Metaxai and other Miletan cities received a makeover in what many saw was for the better. Achilles also did well in strengthening relations with Selenia, which has a history of terseness with the Eastern Alliance, and managed to win over Tsar Lavrentiy. At the same time, he helped to promote the Eastern Alliance's bonds further. Undoubtedly, he will go down in legend as one of Miletos's finest leaders.

Yeah, Miletos is Greek. You cannot convince me otherwise given that you straight up have an Achilles and Pyrrhus from that nation. Also, I see that the Eastern Alliance is Not!Russia / Slavland given that they have a ‘Tsar’, and that’s only a reflexive title for a leader in a specific handful of Slavic languages.

Aesir. One of the legendary Five Heroes who fought the Tyrant King in the twilight days of the One Kingdom of Ardalion, in the War of the Tyrant. The sight of his golden-maned nine tails immortalised him in the history books, and has since been a frequent mention in poetry. He founded the Kingdom of Eldisholm in southern Ardalion, and to this day remains its king. Since then, however, Eldisholm has become an isolated kingdom, refusing to allow outsiders to enter its borders. On a few occasions, Aesir has sought to come out of his shell and lift these restrictions, but on every occasion, his mind has been changed, and the hope of Eldisholm becoming like the rest of Ardalion remains a fantasy to this day.

Alright, so Eldisholm is apparently Norse/Scandanavian in flavor, since that’s exactly the sort of culture that would come up with ‘Aesir’ as a name. Even if this feels a bit strange to me since ‘Aesir’ as a word IRL specifically is a collective noun. If you are open to counter-suggestions for a name that would still fit the neighborhood, consider the humble ‘Adalwin’ or ‘Adel’. You might find the second particularly up your alley considering your fondness for making little shout-outs here and there since it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of an ‘Adel’ with a tie to an isolated kingdom that doesn’t like outsiders mucking about.

Though that said, how is Arian reacting to all of these names as he’s reading them anyways, since you’d think that every now and then he’d stop and have an “eh, not really feeling it” or else “... dunno if I want that guy’s name” here and there.

Afanasiy. A ward of the Hero Ruslan, and a clever strategist that guided his lord and later tsar to many victories on the battlefield. He remained by Tsar Ruslan's side at all times, earning the title of 'Shadow of the Tsar'. Many servants beholden to House Ruslan today strive to reach a standard similar to the relationship between Afanasiy and Ruslan.

Okay, the Eastern Alliance is confirmed for Not!Russia, since Afanasiy is a variant spelling / Romanization of ‘Afanasy’, which is very specifically a Russian name. Filing that one away.

Agrippa. A general of Dresilia, and a close friend of Emperor Octavian. The bond between them was said to be as close as brothers, and Octavian trusted him enough to name him as his heir apparent. Regrettably, death took him before he could ever accede to the throne. But between his many feats as general, among which being able to establish a truce with warring Alba, a seemingly impossible feat at the time, there is no doubting the great deeds Agrippa carried out for his country.

Oh, so Dresilia is Not!Rome, huh? Well, considering the last story I read with Not!Rome in PMD and what that neighborhood was like… well…
:copyber:


Let’s hope that Dreselia a bit less terrible of a place to hang around than that one, though given that the fundamental premise is that Ardalion is spinning apart in live-time…
:copyka2~1:


Áine. Alba's first ever leading banríon. Under her leadership, the historic tournament of Alba, one that determines the country's new rí, became one where killing, a frequent sight before that, was now forbidden. It did not sit well with the tanistry's staunchest warriors, but she preached that temperance and the will to hold back was sometimes necessary as a ruler. Unrest broke out during her tenure and she became a short-serving ruler in the end, but the rules of the Alban tournament were forever changed by her, and to this day, her peaceful nature is fondly remembered by many Albans.

Oh, so Alba is Gaelic. I guess I should’ve seen that one coming since it’s a name for ‘Scotland’ in a couple Gaelic nations. Though based off of ‘banríon’, looks like they’ve got quite a bit of Irish going on culturally.

- looks at your location details -

Ah, that would explain it. Though I just realized:

>Not!Rome having a history of warring with Not!Gaelics

laughter-worried.gif


Totally only positive portents for what their shared history entails, really.

Aneirin. A historic warrior of Alba. It was under his leadership of Alba's warriors during the Ceredigonian War against Dresilia, that in the face of overwhelming odds against them, that the Albans, with the utility of guerrilla tactics against their foes, managed to run the Dresilians into a stalemate, and eventually, upon the depletion of supplies and troops through the desert heat and rough conditions, forced them into a retreat from Ceredigonia and allowed Alba to annex the province. Aneirin was hailed as a hero by his people, and Rí Taliesin was grateful to him to the point where he allowed him to marry his daughter, Lady Olwen. Upon his death, he was allowed to be buried in the Benbecule Pyramid along with his rí and spouse. He is remembered as one of Alba's finest warriors to this day.

Wouldn’t have expected that one, but I suppose that’s one sign that the history of this world isn’t just Xeroxed from reality. I can already tell that Aneirin is """popular""" in Dreselia much in the same way that Arminius was in its IRL counterpart.

Aonghas. The sixth rí of Alba. He is more commonly known as Aonghas Fola ('Bloody Aonghas') due to his dictatorial and autocratic reign. Suspicions of cheating by him in the tournament led to the purge of those who had surmised this idea, and when a rebellion arose to overthrow him, blood ran in rivers, even from those who took no part in it. Fear grew of his reign of terror, and therefore, conspirators led by Tánaiste Talfryn killed him by poisoning his chalice of wine. It was this crimson reign that inspired Áine to inspire with her initiatives of peace, and when she became the very next ruler of Alba, the implementation of changing the tournament ended up being widely supported by the people, who were still scarred by Aonghas's terror.

Arian: “Whelp, definitely not choosing that for a name. Moving right along.”
:riOMEGAlu:


Apollo. The tenth archon of Miletos. He was noted for his achievements in building aqueducts that carried water from the fertile tributaries of the Pactolus to the northern Miletan cities that had difficulty procuring water in times of drought. Even today, many of these famous aqueducts still stand, as a testament to his finest achievement. However, other parts of his reign were not so fondly remembered, such as the failure to keep King Aesir from returning Eldisholm to isolation after he had previously decided to lift the restrictions between the island and the rest of Ardalion.

Oh so, Eldisholm is an island, huh? Though a reclusive nation tied to a king that’s a celebrated hero through the known world… where have I heard that story before?
:loltias:


Ariadne. A queen of Miletos, and the wife of Archon Bellerophon, the twenty-first archon of Miletos. She was thought of as a caring and benevolent queen, and worked to found the Maidens of Metaxai, a charity group run by nuns who gave alms to the poor that still exists today. A number of orphans were also adopted by her, and became part of the royal family. However, some nobles were discontent with bringing commoners into the royal sphere. Conspiracy theories surround her mysterious cause of death, which, while generally seen as suddenly falling gravely ill and succumbing to that illness, some have thought to be from poisoning, schemed by a malcontent noble.

Narrator: “She was absolutely poisoned by a malcontent noble.”

None of these names really resonated with Riolu. Most of them were the names of kings, queens and warriors, and it felt like each one had a great legacy behind their names. That, he felt, wasn't a great fit for him. He didn't want to be a pretender and take on an epithet he felt he could not live up to. Something a bit more humble, he thought to himself. Surely there was a hero who was a bit more modest than most?

Yeah, this is why IMO it might make sense to show Arian reacting to these names he’s going through earlier, even if it’s in something like blocks of 2 or 3. Since this feels like a very delayed reaction here and like we’re missing quite a bit of how specific names might have stuck out to him. Since I would assume Arian wouldn’t think of ‘Aesir’ in the same fashion as ‘Aonghas’ given what the book had to say about the two.

It would also likely help the little bits of worldbuilding / trivia since doing things in one big infodump like this risks details getting lost or glazed over by readers, since I assume that a good chunk of the lore that was brought up here is not incidental and is going to become relevant later on in the story for if nothing else, the second-order effects that these other lands have on Selenia.

He continued reading. But the very next name stuck out to him.

Arian. A saint renowned for his piety and humbleness. He was a close ally of the Five Heroes, and founded the acclaimed and historic Skalisty Monastery off Selenia's shores. He worked hard to keep the peace and sheltered many during the War of the Tyrant. His generosity was without comparison, and although he in his humble way may not have desired it, he was canonised a saint in 211. His nature of living modestly and eschewing luxury truly marks a sense of humbleness few people, if anyone, have been able to match.

Wait, there’s a church of some sort in this setting that can canonize saints? Since that seems to be the implication given that line there, which makes me wonder what on earth it’s like.

There we go, Riolu thought to himself. Finally, someone with a visible sense of humility. "Arian...Arian…" he repeated the name. Something seemed...right about it. No, not just right…

...It's fitting.

Let’s hope you’re an accurate judge of your own character, Arian. Since I can only imagine the amount of crap you’re going to get from more religious types in this world if you wind up not living up to the name of one of their beloved saints.
:copyka:


"I've found one," he announced. "'Arian.'"

"Arian? Oh, after Saint Arian," Elvira said. "...That's a good name."

"I agree," Zenobia seconded. "It suits you."

IMO, “Saint” is short enough that even if “St.” (with the period, mind) is a correct abbreviation, you might as well write it out here.

That said, I kinda wonder if narratively, it’d have made sense for Elvira and Zenobia to conclude that ‘Arian’ fit as a name before Arian himself did. Even if I’m not sure if Arian has really done anything yet that would lean into either him or Elvira/Zenobia concluding that it fits him.

Dunno, just feels like it’d be a bit more in-character / have more impact if it came after a day of Arian helping Elvira and her mother out with the day’s work in spite of being a stranger struggling with amnesia and bodily dysphoria, since then we as readers can see that “... huh, maybe it is a fitting name” a bit more when at the moment, Arian’s kinda a blank slate since he hasn’t done much before this beyond waking up, going down to the beach, and then coming back.

"Then I'll go with that," the Riolu decided. "My name is Arian. Arian…" He smiled, embracing his new name.

Arian: “... Even if I could’ve sworn that I already had this name like two scenes ago.” ^^;
Zenobia: “Continuity errors, dearie. Don’t mind them too much.”

He got up, and handed the book back to Zenobia, who put it back on the shelf. Gazing at the bookshelf, he was suddenly reminded of why they came back to the house in the first place.

Yeah, this is admittedly part of the reason why I suggested things might flow a bit more naturally narratively for Arian to take a shine to his name after Elvira and Zenobia mention that it feels fitting for him. Since he’d have a bit more emotional impetus to stop going through the very thick tome of names of names that might or might not also sound pleasing to his ear

"Oh right," he recalled. "We were going to look at maps, weren't we, Elvira?"

It’s a bit of a nitpick, but depending on how thorough Arian’s amnesia is meant to be, it might makes sense for him to be more “exact words” about looking at atlases here. Since it’s not impossible that Arian wouldn’t remember that atlases are books with maps in them.

Alternatively, it might make sense to play up the “boundaries” of Arian’s amnesia a bit more. e.x. if Elvira caught herself earlier when mentioning the atlases in her house, then Arian giving a throwaway remark that he at least remembers what an ‘atlas’ is, it helps signpost the level of memories that Arian still has for the readers.

"Yes, we were," the Treecko said. She went over to fetch a stool at the edge of the bookshelf, which allowed her to reach higher. She picked out an atlas and brought it to the table, before opening it on the first two pages.

Honestly surprised that Elvira just didn’t pull some gecko antics and clamber up the bookshelf, though I suppose Zenobia wouldn’t exactly approve of her doing that.

On it was an illustration of a landmass, which on the page's top-right corner, in fancy calligraphy, read 'Ardalion'.

Actually, I just realized it, but what does the writing in this setting look like, anyways? Like is it script that Arian recognizes as familiar from his human life? Is it something like Footprint Runes from the canon games where Arian would double-take at seeing the writing, and then double-take harder after he realizes that he can somehow understand it subconsciously?

Especially if it’s calligraphic font, since… uh… calligraphic writing can look really different from “normal” fonts in some languages.

Ardalion was split into various countries with that same calligraphic writing penning each of their names. Within those countries also lay a name in bold, depicting the capital city of each country.

To the south-west lay the Tsardom of Selenia, with Iria as its capital.

Oh, so Selenia is Not!Russia in this setting. I… admittedly did not realize that from the phrasing in those earlier blurbs from the name book, though perhaps I was a bit tired and jumbled it and the “Eastern Alliance” up a bit.

To the north-west was the Tanistry of Alba, with its capital city being Breifne.

Well that orientation is certainly different relative to reality. Not that I’m complaining since it’s a sign that Ardallion isn’t just a cultural Xerox of reality.

To the north-east lay the Dresilian Empire. Its capital was Padavonum.

>Dresilia directly borders Alba as Not!Rome to a Not!Gaelic power with a recorded history of the pair warring with each other

:copyber:


Considering what Elvira mentioned about Alba in passing last chapter, only good things™ can come of this, I’m sure. Especially since Alba directly borders Selenia and their problems can spill right over without much issue if there’s no natural boundaries or border fortifications to keep things out.

Though an ‘Empire’ and not a ‘Republic’, huh? I’m guessing that this is later-Empire Rome assuming in action… maybe. LARPing as Rome has been a major past-time of various European polities in history.

To the south-east was the League of Miletos. Its capital city lay in Metaxai.

Oh, so Not!Rome and Not!Greece are still neighbors with each other in this world. Though Not!Greece seems to be cut from its pre-Roman conquest mold given that it has ‘Archons’ as leaders. Which again, surely implies only good things™ about how it gets along with Dresilia.
:copyka:


And finally, to the far south, the Kingdom of Eldisholm was situated. Gimrei was its capital.

I mean, at least they don’t border Dresilia as well so they probably get along better with them than Ancient Germanics did with Romans back in the day? ^^;

"So this is Selenia, where we are now," Elvira told him. "It has lots of forests and green fields, and some mountains too. There's even an area of karst rock completely unique to anywhere in Ardalion called the Karstlands, located around here."

She pointed to an area to Selenia's central east, not too far away from the country's eastern border and what seemed to be a dominating mountain range. [ ]

"What you saw of Selenia outside there is generally what our country is like."

Would recommend cutting this paragraph up and expanding the bit of description that got turned into its own paragraph with an extra sentence or so.

"...Okay." Arian nodded in understanding. "...What about the others?"

Elvira: “Wait, why do you want to know this so badly? It’s not as if we don’t already have plenty of problems at home, and I’m not sure if we’d want to visit the other nations right now. Especially not Alba.”
:what:

Arian: “It might help me regain my memories?”
:joltyshrug~1:

Elvira: “Right, fair point, really. Anyhow…”

"Well...I've only left Selenia a few times, so I can't truly confirm whether these all are true or not. I'll tell you what I've heard." The Treecko pointed to Alba. "Alba's a desert through and through. Very dry and arid and sandy and...all the other things a desert is. There are a number of oases, though, as well as a major river called the Istwyth, so there are spots of relief in there. The people are quite warrior-like, and speak through their fists more than words. Every twenty years they have this big tournament to decide the next ruler of the country. Fighting means everything to them.

I’m honestly a bit surprised that Elvira has managed to travel at all in her life, since I hadn’t pegged her as the type to have moved around. Though I supposed if daddy’s job took her and Zenobia around a couple times…

Though yeah, I can already tell that Alba is """popular""" with its neighbors.
:copyka:


Though wait, given how much Alba apparently likes its fighting and how strong the Gaelic influences are with them, does that mean that thar be dragons up there? Since a number of Gaelic cultures did take a shine to them after a bit of cultural exchange with Romans IRL.

"Dresilia has much better land than Alba or Selenia. It's hot there, but wet enough that crops grow very well there, and as a result, they've built a powerful country that can thrive on its many resources. Selenia in comparison gets too much rain for good crop growth that a powerful empire like Dresilia can be built upon. And Dresilia has a culture deeply proud of its history and heroes of the past. ...A bit too proud, sometimes. They can be quite snobbish about it, or at least from what I've heard.

inb4 “barbarian” is a semi-regular slur for westerners on Ardalion in Dresilia and Miletos, since I can’t help but notice that the western nations of Ardalion take after cultures that didn’t exactly get along well with Romans and Greeks for large chunks of of their history.

Also, I do kinda wonder if either Arian or Zenobia should be cutting in here or there during some of these chunks of exposition, since it helps to break them up and potentially give insight into how your three characters tick in terms of mindset. e.x. If Elvira veered into harping on Alba as the resident craphole of a country given her thoughts about its present state of affairs in Chapter 1 while Zenobia kindly but firmly reminded her not to kick ‘mons while they’re down for their misfortunes, it says something about the two characters in a way that the present “whelp onto the next country!” dynamic doesn’t.

"Similar to them is Miletos." Elvira's finger drew a bit further south to the aforementioned country. "They're like Dresilia; a powerful country based on fertile soil who are proud of their history and heritage. But they have mountains to the south here, near the border with Eldisholm, so they're not quite as flawless in land as Dresilia is. The two countries are allied, in fact, in a pact that dates back many, many years. They're the richest and most powerful countries in Ardalion, known as the Eastern Alliance.

Oh, so the easterners on Ardalion really do slur the westerners as “barbarians” on occasion, huh? Since boy is that dynamic familiar from history.
:copyber:


"And then there's Eldisholm." Elvira pointed to the island off Ardalion's southern coast. This is It’s...a bizarre country when it comes to climate. It has active volcanoes and volcanic storms, but yet at the same time, they also see frequent blizzards and snow. Fire and ice...seemingly coexist in this country. Apparently there's such a phenomenon as hot lava freezing over down there."

Oh, so Eldisholm is just where Muspelheim and Niflheim meet and haven’t yet formed a proper world land yet, huh?

"...What? But how?" Arian questioned.

"I don't know. In fact, few do. Eldisholm's a country with a strict isolation policy, meaning that no one leaves or enters it. There's a lot of rumours about that place, and few of them are good. Rumours about cultists and Renegade worshippers down there…but we don't tend to think about them."

Ah yes, Giratina cultists. Though I see that the Tantal vibes are strong with this place. Also in unrelated news:

de7.png


Since… yeah, that phrasing screamed “ignoring this place isn’t a good idea”.

"Have people tried to go there?"

"They have. And they never come back," Zenobia informed. "The currents around Eldisholm sweep anyone away who dares go near it. The waters around Eldisholm are infested with swarms of feral Dragalge and Dhelmise, Pokémon that are prone to sinking ships. As a result, merchant ships daren't venture down there, going overland or around Ardalion's north coast instead."

Oh, so feral Pokémon in this setting are nonsapient. I think. Or alternatively they are sapient and just don’t care about wrecking civilized types’ days.

I swear, if you have some sort of sea serpent Pokémon that barfs up death lazors that camps around this place…

"Oh…I see," Arian said, in understanding. "Still…that doesn't explain how I washed up…" He looked back at the map. "Where are we, exactly?"

"Here." Elvira pointed to a location near Selenia's southeast, along its southern coast.

"Hmm…that's weird," the Riolu murmured. Just how did he end up on that beach in the first place? Drifting from Eldisholm was ruled out, and the lack of merchant ships travelling made the possibility of him falling overboard unlikely as well.

Wait, but wouldn’t it be Elvira who would be more likely to notice that things are weird? Since she presumably has the better idea of what shipping patterns would be like in this world, and likely would be able to point it out if asked.

"This is a big mystery," Elvira said. "A human transformed into a Riolu, and washed up on the beach outside…How did this happen?"

[ ]

"Hold a minute, Elvira." Zenobia picked up on a part of that conversation. "Human? Did you say that Arian transformed into a Riolu from being a human?"

You probably want to describe Zenobia abruptly stiffening up or something like that here, since I assume that this is supposed to be a startling / surprising moment for her.

"Yes, Mom," the Treecko answered. "He kept insisting he was a human, and was genuinely shocked that he was a Riolu. ...I don't think he's lying."

"I'm not," Arian pleaded. "I know it sounds completely crazy, but…it's true. I was once human."

[ ]


"I…" The Heliolisk couldn't believe what she was hearing. But the sight of the Riolu's emerald green eyes, begging her to understand, compelled her to believe. "...I understand. Well, maybe I don't, but…I believe you, Arian."

Ditto here for adding a bit more description/body language. Also, I get that there’s probably story / spoiler reasons for not just bluntly saying why Zenobia’s quietly freaking out about Arian, it might make sense to draw attention a bit to how Arian and Elvira are reacting to it, since I presume that they’re not finding her reaction normal right now.

"Thanks, Zenobia…" Arian was relieved to hear that she accepted his story so easily. [ ]

"...We still don't understand how Arian ended up here, though," Elvira pointed out, steering the conversation back to the original point. "Oh, if only the Guild were still around…they'd know what to do with him."

Her face then fell. [ ]

"But that's not an option anymore…"

[ ]

"The Guild?" Arian queried.

I would recommend expanding these parts with a bit more description to show off a bit more of Elvira and Arian’s expressions / body language to transition between their emotional states a bit more than what’s presently there.


"...Oh, right. You wouldn't know about them," the Treecko replied. She took a breath, getting ready for her answer.

"...The Irian Guild is a mercenary's guild, located in Iria, the capital of Selenia. The people they employed were some of the most renowned mercenaries and warriors from all over Ardalion,” she began. “Not just from Selenia, either! Just about anyone could get in, no matter their class or position of birth! The Irian Guild helped everyone who had a problem in society, from the young to the old to the poor to the rich, and they were incredibly reliable. If you gave them a mission, chances are that it would be solved in a flash! They were brilliant! The best people in the whole country!"

I would suggest splitting this paragraph up, though I actually gave a very conservative suggestion here. It might be worth meriting showing Elvira get a bit animated here, since I kinda get the vibe that she’s letting that giddy would-be adventurer stretch her legs a bit in this retelling towards the end, so you’d think that’d reflect in things like her body language or facial expressions.

Something to consider, at least.

Arian: “Wait, ‘were’? As in they’re not around anymore?”
:riohnolu:

Elvira: “... Yeah, I was just getting to that…”
:sadwott~2:


The girl sounded very admiring of this so-called Irian Guild. But the way she was talking…There's a 'but' to this, isn't there? Arian thought.

"Did something happen to it?" he dared to ask.

Arian: “I mean, it’s only obvious since you keep talking about it in the past tense, but… what exactly happened to it? Should I be worried right now?” ._.;

Elvira's expression dropped in an instant, like a stone in water. She looked off to the side, with a look of extreme hurt on her face. Arian almost couldn't bear to see it.

Arian: “Oh yeah, that’s a good sign already, there.”
:riOMEGAlu:


In fact…it was like he could sense that sadness. As if it was coming to him in waves. What is this…? he found himself wondering.

Aura sensitivity, son. You’ll get used to it soon enough.

"...You could say that." Zenobia was the one to answer, drawing him out of these thoughts. Turning to her, Arian could see a similarly sad expression on her face. "The Irian Guild as we used to know it is no more, unfortunately. Five years ago, in Selenia, there was a great upheaval, and our Tsar was overthrown. His replacement who overthrew him…had ordered the Guild burned down."

"What?!"

Arian: “W-Wait, that was just the building, right?” ^^;
Elvira: “...”
:sadwott~2:

Arian: “R-Right?”
:uhhh:


"Yes. And moreover…everyone who worked there was declared an outlaw, and bounties were put on their heads." Her expression was grim. "It's been awful for Selenia. Without the Irian Guild, many people are left hanging without help. There are the knights, but…"

She shook her head with evident distaste. [ ]

"They haven't proven reliable. At least not for us here in Ozerograd."

Another chunk that I’d recommend splitting and expanding things a bit. Though part of me wonders if there’s a bit too much exposition coming up, since admittedly there’s a lot that’s just being ‘told’ to Arian here from Elvira and Zenobia that I kinda wonder if he should’ve found out through more of a process of exploration given that this is presumably a touchy subject for Elvira and Zenobia given that Kallias was swept up by these purges.

e.x. if Elvira and Arian had to go to town for an errand for Zenobia, and they ran into one of these knights that was kinda a dick to them with Elvira letting a passing remark slip about how “things were better when the Guild was around” in frustration and the attendant “watch your tongue, kid” and whatnot that would follow afterwards with an explanation of what was going on at home afterwards, it would sell the sense that “life sucks because of the usurper who overthrew our beloved Tsar” in a way that Arian could experience and develop emotional associations and hit harder with the audience than him just being told this.

Even if the actual hypothetical “showing” of such an encounter happened before things were explained to Arian, e.x. in a hypothetical added scene showing Elvira going to town to pick up medicine and then running into a dickish knight, it would sell the sense that things aren’t okay in more of a visceral sense to the audience than pure exposition would.

But I realize that those aren’t exactly trivial changes, so I won’t fault you for opting to stick to your guns and letting missteps in the past be and just opting to learn for future chapters.

"That's…That's not good," Arian murmured.

Already, he was eating his earlier thoughts about Selenia being a peaceful place. [ ]

Kinda wonder if Arian ought to go into a bit more detail

"No, it isn't," the Heliolisk replied. "...If the Irian Guild is ever going to be properly reestablished and have a shot at returning to the height it was once at, Mitrofan - that's his name, the usurper who overthrew our Tsar - must be deposed of."

"But that's not likely to happen," Elvira continued. "Mitrofan's always quick to crush any rebellion, and deal with its supporters brutally. He always nips them in the bud before they can get going."

Something about “always quick to crush any rebellion” and “He always nips them in the bud before they can get going” feels a touch repetitive since the two cover fairly similar sentiments to each other.

It might make sense to rephrase things entirely around one or the other, and maybe elaborate a bit more on how Mitofan accomplishes some of these. e.x. if he’s got an analogue to Oprichniki that have a reputation for making Pokémon that get too vocal about how someone else should be calling the shots in Selenia “disappear” before they can even think of joining up with rebels, you’d think that’d get brought up since I can’t imagine they’d be popular among Pokémon that don’t like his rule.

"Not to mention the problem of the leader," Zenobia brought up. "House Ruslan - the one who previously ruled over Selenia - are no more. All of their members are dead. Just who would lead Selenia after Mitrofan is overthrown?"

Arian: “Maybe some sort of council? Like of workers or something like that? That’s a valid way of making decisions in a government, isn’t it?”
:joltyshrug~1:

Elvira: “Arian, this is a fantasy story, stop copping looks at modern history books.” >_>;
Zenobia: “Yeah, I… think Selenia would prefer some alternative form of government that wouldn’t crush dissent with as much gusto as Mitrofan.”
:fearfullaugh~1:


"Oh, I see. The new leader might be even worse than the current one," Arian noted. "Yeah, that's a problem, alright."

"But that's no reason to just sit about twiddling our thumbs while Mitrofan walks all over us!" Elvira replied, before sighing deeply.

"The state Selenia's in...it can't go on. If only there was someone willing to rise up to the challenge and overthrow him...Someone heroic enough...just like…" Her voice drifted off, and a melancholy look came into her eyes.

Boy do I sure hope that Mitrofan doesn’t have some sort of secret police organization set up considering how much Russian influence Selenia has, since letting these sorts of sentiments slip in a more public setting sounds like a fast way to wind up dead in a ditch in a setting where one exists. ^^;

"Like…who?" Arian wondered.

Elvira didn't reply. It looked as though she was fighting back tears. [ ]

"Elvira…" murmured Zenobia, her tone empathetic.

It might make sense to “show” Zenobia’s reaction a bit more. e.x. If she’s trying to move towards Elvira to comfort her or something.

Arian: “Hey, that guy you have a picture of looks pretty heroic. Maybe he’d be able to-”
Elvira: “O-Oh my gods, Arian. Read a room!” >.<

"I…I want to be alone right now," the gecko replied, as if she was about to burst into tears. And before anyone could say anything, she ran out of the room.

"What was all that about?" Arian asked, confused.

"...A reminder of what she's lost," Zenobia clarified mournfully. "I don't blame her. She loved her father more than anyone…"

Arian: “... Wait, that’s the Pokémon that the portrait is of, isn’t it?” ._.;

"Her father?" Arian suddenly realised this was the first time Elvira's father had been brought up. He didn't appear to be a presence in the house, though. But given what they'd been talking about…a dark feeling grew in his chest.

At that point, he noticed the painting hung up on the living room wall. He saw the three figures, and recognised Elvira and Zenobia. But he didn't recognise the third on the left, the gecko that was bigger than the two of them. With deduction, though, the answer was obvious.

Arian: “How… did I not notice that all this time?”
:fearfullaugh~1:

Zenobia: “That’s what I’d like to know, since between this and you taking so long to notice my leg and crutches, I’m starting to get a bit worried about you, Arian.”
:heliodoubt:


"What happened to him?" Dare I ask?

"...We do not know," was Zenobia's eventual answer. "He disappeared five years ago, and there hasn't been word from him since. ...His name was Kallias. He was a mercenary working for the Irian Guild before its fall. Elvira adored and looked up to him, and I loved him dearly."

… Actually, wait. Mitrofan doesn’t have secret police just chilling and doing the rounds, does he? Since Kallias sounded like he had a bit of a reputation and if said secret police spotted a house that just casually had a portrait of a wanted Outlaw hanging in their living room…
:fearfullaugh~1:


"...Is that why Elvira was all enthusiastic when talking about the Guild?" Arian wondered.

[ ]

"Yes. Kallias worked there, and was one of its finest mercenaries. It was Elvira's dream to follow in his footsteps and become a mercenary herself at the Irian Guild," Zenobia explained. "...Alas, since the overthrow five years ago, that's no longer a possibility."

This seems like a moment where it might make sense to drop in some body language for Zenobia or the like, since I would presume that this isn’t exactly a sunshine and rainbows topic for her herself, but we don’t get much explicitly described reaction here.

"...Oh no…But what about her dad?" Arian wondered. "What happened to him?"

"...He was in Iria the day the tsar was overthrown. He had a confrontation with Mitrofan, but had to make a retreat. He came home one evening, telling us he was wanted and had to go on the run." The Heliolisk was trying to rein in her emotions as she told the story. "He told us he had a lead on Mitrofan, and planned to head for the mountains with his partner. …That was the last we saw of either of them."

IMO, spell out the bit in underlined a bit more in terms of what that looks like. e.x. is Zenobia visibly blinking back tears? Does Arian hear her falter? It feels like this could be said in a more “show”-y fashion.

Though I see Kallias is pretty strong if he didn’t just get murked by the usurper who pushed out the former Tsar of this place. Since I would presume there’s some degree of Asskicking Equals Authority in this setting, especially for someone who’s coming to power by deposing another leader.

"That's terrible…" the Riolu replied. "And it's been Five years…with nothing at all during them. I'm sorry to hear that…"

I’m honestly a little surprised that Arian didn’t reflexively assume that Kallias was dead either in thoughts or his speech. Since when your loved one vanishes into the ether five years ago after a repressive regime was set up… a lot of people would give up hope of ever seeing him/her alive again.

"It's alright, Arian. You had no part in it. …But it's Elvira I'm most worried about," Zenobia expressed. "She's taken his loss especially hard. As well as that, the destruction of the Guild means her dreams of being a mercenary there have amounted to nothing.

[ ]

…I wish I could do more to help her, but with the way the world is, there's only so much I can say without it feeling trite." She looked down in shame. "I should do more. I'm her mother, after all…"

IMO, you should break this paragraph of Zenobia’s up into two pieces and add some transition between the parts. Though I’m not sure if it makes sense to take a ‘it wasn’t your fault’ tack with Arian since would either Zenobia or Arian have a logical reason to assume that? It feels like this is a moment that would more logically be something along the lines of “we’ll survive” or something like that.

"Don't say that," Arian rejected. "You're not a bad parent, Zenobia. You only want what's best for Elvira, don't you? That's a step above the bad parents who don't care at all for their kids. And you looked after her and cared for her for the five years since everything fell apart, didn't you?

[ ]

You're a good mom, Zenobia. At least in my book."

IMO, the struckthrough bit is a touch superfluous in this paragraph. Also, it might make sense to have some sort of pause and mutual looking moment between Arian and Zenobia to give the “You’re a good mom” line a bit more of a feeling of earnestness behind that.

"...Thank you, Arian." By the sound of it, the Heliolisk had needed a pep talk like that.

Another part where it might make sense to either pair this with description of a change in Zenobia’s expression / body language or else use that entirely as a vehicle to show how Zenobia looks comforted a bit more.

"You're welcome. …Hmm, but what about Elvira?"

His thoughts drifted to the melancholy gecko. [ ]

"Should I…talk to her right now? She sounded like she was about to cry when she left the room."

I’m not sure if “melancholy” is the right word, since that’s basically saying a stronger version “sad” or “depressed”, while Elvira was kinda visibly tearing up on her way out of the room. It might make sense taking a step back and another tack to the effect of “His thoughts drifted to the gecko. She’d sounded downright distraught when left the room earlier… how many moments like these had she gone through in the past five years?” or something like that.

"...Maybe you should," Zenobia considered. "She's been like that since everything happened five years ago.

[ ]

She was such a happy and optimistic child growing up too…thanks to her father, no doubt. But now that he's gone, along with her dream…she hasn't been the same, to say the least,” the Heliolisk explained. “…She needs a push in the right direction, to lift her spirits. From someone she can trust that isn't me."

Would suggest dividing this block up and expanding with description. One potential way of doing it is as suggested above.

"Yeah…I want to help her," Arian said. "It's the right thing to do. Especially 'cause she helped me. So I should return the favour. …But I don't want to say anything risky…"

"Elvira isn't one to bear grudges," the Heliolisk told him. "Unless you outright insult her or her father, you'll be fine."

Arian: “U-Um… h-how easy is it to give unintended slights in this world?” O_O;
Zenobia: “Arian, you’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.”

"...Right. Thanks for letting me know." Arian got up and headed for the door.

"Good luck. May Jirachi watch over you."

Oh, so Jirachi is the household patron Legendary / deity, huh? IMO, it might have made sense to bring this up earlier on in the story, since it feels like something that might have been the subject of little sayings / “don’t lose hope”-isms Zenobia might have tried to give Elvira.

And with that, the Riolu left the living room. But once he was in the hallway, it occurred to him that he didn't know where Elvira's room was. Luckily, it was a fairly small, frugal home, so there weren't many places to look.

Yeah, this is why it would make sense to drop in more explicit description of what Elvira/Zenobia’s house was like, since I actually had the completely opposite impression of what their place was like from the fact that they had a guest room and how the living room is well-stocked with furniture, books, and a portrait.

Hmm…There were a few doors along the hallway. Which one is it? He recognised the one at the far end to be the guest room, where they had come from, so he ruled that one out.

However, he was able to figure it out, when he heard movement from the second room from the door. [ ]

It must be these ears, he thought. I can hear better as a Riolu. Guess that's one advantage…or a disadvantage. Whatever the situation is. …But that's not relevant now. Shelving his thoughts about that for another time, he went to the door in question and knocked.

You know the drill, I’d suggest that you cut up and expand things a bit.

In particular, it might make sense to play up the angle that Arian hears something from the room which he realizes to be movement, and then realizes that it’s weird he can hear that because he’s so far away or something like that to play up the “alien senses” angle a bit more.

"Elvira?" he said.

No answer immediately. Then Arian heard footsteps, before the door opened.

"Arian? What are you doing here?" Elvira asked.

Wait, is Elvira even looking out the door right now? Or is she deliberately hiding herself since she doesn’t want to be seen with obvious tear stains on her face? It’s a little hard to tell-

"Just checking on you," he answered. "You looked like you were about to cry back there." Looking at her now, she clearly had been, if her tear-stained damp face and scent of salty tears were anything to go by.

Ah, yeah. This is probably a detail that makes sense for Arian to see and the narration to point out as soon as Arian sees Elvira’s face.

"...I've been better." The Treecko sounded as bad as she looked. "...You can come in, if you want."

Something about the underlined bit feels a bit “flat” to me even if I’m not definitively sure as to what I’d recommend trying to spice it up. Maybe have more of Arian’s reaction to things get acknowledged by the text. e.x. “It was an understatement if Arian had ever heard one. The Treecko sounded as bad as she looked.”

Dunno, maybe I’m overthinking this.

"Are you sure?" queried the Riolu asked. "I don't want to intrude if you don't want me to…"

"...No, it's fine. Really," insisted Elvira insisted, and walked back to her bed, while Arian followed her in.

Her room contained a lone bed, alongside which was a bedside table and a carpet at the bed's right-hand side. Next to the bed was a small bookcase, on which a small variety of books were perched. A window, complete with green, flower-patterned curtains, was present in the room, as was a desk located right next to it. Everything was very modest.

Maybe I just have different definitions of modest, since when I hear “modest” in a PMD context, I usually think of those sorts of spartan accommodations from the canon games where you get some straw piles and maybe one or two pieces of furniture. Like are there a lack of decorations? Are the pieces of furniture visibly simple, shabby, or worn-down? Some X-factor about why this room is modest feels like it’s missing right now.

Also, it might be nitpicking, but in most cases “[X] said” tends to roll off the tongue a bit smoother than “said [X]” or analogous speech tags. The two I shifted around are ones that feel like examples of that dynamic.

"...Listen, I…heard from Zenobia what happened five years ago," Arian began. "What happened to the Guild, and what happened to…your dad."

[ ]


"Mom told you?" Elvira was shocked to hear this, and was about to say more, but the Riolu spoke first.

The underlined feels like it’d work better as description / body language before Elvira starts speaking up. Since something about it being handled as after-the-fact description feels a bit weird to me.

"She did. And look, maybe I don't know the full story. But…I'm sorry for what happened," he said to her. "No one should have that happen to them to go through the things your family has. Especially your dad…who Zenobia said you really loved him."

[ ]


"...I did love him," Elvira replied. "I loved how selfless he was. I loved just what a hero he was, but how he could still be so humble as a person and not get swept up in the fame of being an accomplished mercenary.
[ ]

He'd always buy us souvenirs from the places he had missions in. When I was growing up, he'd tell me bedtime stories all about his adventures,” she said. “He was a great storyteller. Inspirational, even.

[ ]

…Enough to make me want to be just like him and become a mercenary at the Irian Guild myself."

This feels like a moment that would really benefit from showing the body language of the characters and their moods a bit more in narration. Also, I noticed that you had a couple phrases that were used in very similar if not verbatim terms very close to each other. It made the prose feel a touch repetitive to see them used like that, especially since the repetition isn’t done for emphasis.

"But then…"

"Yeah…" The Treecko let out a long sigh. "The Guild was burned down, and all mercenaries were made outlaws. Well, anyone who didn't side with Mitrofan, that is. And Dad would never side with a cold-blooded murderer like him.

[ ]

…But right after that happened, Dad left us, and never came back…"

I would write out an explicit description of what goes down in the pause that Elvira does in her dialogue, since putting it together in a contiguous block makes it feel too “fast”.

Also, you might have wanted to be a bit more explicit about Mitrofan killing off House Ruslan and some portion of the Irian Guild, especially if Mitrofan did any of that himself, since you’d think that Mitrofan pulling a:

im-the-captain-now-captain.gif


While still dripping blood from various members of the Tsar’s household would be a traumatic/chilling detail that would pop up in stories of “this is why Mitrofan sucks” among Selenia’s dissidents.

"Elvira…" Arian didn't have enough sympathy for the girl.

The underlined is another bit where IMO it feels a bit flat in delivery. It might make sense to have the narration tell a bit more about Arian’s thoughts a bit more before saying something to the effect of “He was starting to feel as if he didn’t have enough sympathy for the girl.”

"I told myself he'd come back one day. This is my dad we're talking about! But five years later, and we haven't heard a single thing…"

[Elvira was getting emotional.]

"...I don't even care whether he's alive or dead. I just want something - anything - to give us some closure over all of this. Where is he? And what happened?" She began to sniffle, gripping her bedsheets tightly. "Why did this have to happen? Why?!"

The “Elvira was getting emotional” bit feels like it could easily be 2 or 3 sentences in its own right if you describe what’s playing out a bit. Might also be a bit gut-punchier for the audience as well if Elvira’s visibly starting to cry in live-time in more “visual” terms.

Arian felt compelled at that point to bring the Treecko into a hug. Elvira was startled initially, but then fell into his blue fur and wept.

For her father, and her ambitions. The two things she cherished most in life…now gone, stripped from her. Without either of them…she was lost and unsure about where to go next.

I kinda wonder if the second paragraph would’ve had more punch if it framed in terms of something that Elvira said aloud while crying or something. e.x. “I-I spent my whole life looking forward to and training to become a mercenary with dad and now that’s just gone! I-I can barely make soup for mom on my own! What am I even supposed to do when we can’t even get by?!”

"...It's alright," Arian assured. "You're okay, Elvira. You deserve to cry."

[It wasn't all crying. Because the gecko had been crying before Arian entered, she had used up most of her tears. Instead, it was mostly quiet whimpers and sniffles that came out of her.]

Eventually, Elvira pulled back from the embrace.

"...Thanks," she said quietly.

I’m not really feeling the bracketed paragraph since something about the wording feels a bit stiff. Consider playing around with a bit, e.x. with the following potential suggestion:

A few tears dribbled from Elvira’s face, but otherwise she calmed into quiet whimpers and sniffles. A sign that she’d surely been crying for some time even before Arian arrived. The Riolu pulled her head into his shoulder and lingered there as the gecko began to fall quiet.

Granted, I could be wildly missing the mark in terms of intent of that bit, but it’s something to consider, at least.

"You're welcome," Arian replied. "You saved me, after all. It's the least I can do. …Though I can do more," he added, an idea coming to him.

"More? Like what?"

IMO, the underlined works better coming before “Though I can do more” since the dialogue already reads as if there’s meant to be a pause there. Might as well make it explicit by making those two parts their own lines of dialogue.

"Just general help with stuff. You know, chores and that," the human elaborated. "You're in a sad state right now, and Zenobia's leg is broken…so I want to pitch in. I don't wanna be useless and just lay about while you do all the work."

I’m unsure if “sad state” feels a bit too pithy here. Maybe it just needs a word tweak to something like “sorry state”. Maybe it would work better with a deeper change to something like “having trouble getting by”

[ ]

"...Hmm…" Elvira considered his offer. "...I suppose I could use a helping hand…Why not?"

[ ]

"Thanks very much! Now where do I start?" Arian asked.

IMO, you want to describe the changes in mood a bit more in description, since otherwise this dialogue is a bit whiplash-y since Elvira and Arian are coming right off the heels of a very somber/melancholy moment between these two.

"Well, there's some cleaning to do," was her answer. "And then I have to look after Mom, and change her bandages, and then there's lunch to prepare, and for that, I have to preparing all the necessary berries beforehand…"

Elvira listed the chores for Arian, with him nodding and mentally noting each one. Once she was done, he left the room, ready to get started.

A few rewording suggestions here. Though I kinda wonder if this would’ve had some more impact as a sequence if Arian explicitly answered Elvira in dialogue with something to the effect of “Yeah, I can do that. Don’t worry, you’re not alone right now.”

So eager to help, she noted, watching him go. If only more people were willing to help were like him these days…

[ ]

But with the way everything is, I can't really blame them. With no Guild…all these problems going on in the world are around I wonder how long will Arian's optimism is going to last?, once he finds out the state of our world's problems. …Or even just the ones right on our doorstep.

[ ]

Why do things have to be like this? Why is there so much wrong with the world…?

[ ]


Still…his help is appreciated. I guess I should just appreciate his help for now. Elvira got up from her bed, a small smile on her face. And I should probably help him out.

Dropped in some rephrasing suggestions for this bit, though IMO for this sort of internal monologue sequence with Elvira, it might make sense to chop it up and interleave it with certain actions or moments outside her thoughts for visual purposes. e.x. if Elvira got up in the middle of her thoughts, walked down the hall, and caught a glimpse of Arian already starting up a chore or something like that.

Alright, as you’ve likely gathered if you opened the spoiler tag, but I had quite a bit to say about this chapter. In the interest of time in case you need a bit to pick through the full rundown, I’ll try to distill things into a summary here, since that’s become a feature of my reviewing style in general.

Okay, so I admittedly have a fair share of bones to pick with this chapter in its current form, and yet… something about it just makes me excited about it and want to see more about it. I’m particularly fond of the lore you had on display here in this chapter. It gave off a sense of the story being set in a world with very different cultures and histories that share Ardallion. Ones that I'm sure are going to become relevant in some capacity later since hey, you did bring them up. I also liked the characters a lot, especially Elvira with her shtick of being hopeful for the future but wavering with keeping it in the face of a world that's going to pieces and Zenobia’s vibe as a mother trying to look out for her child in a hostile world where she’s not necessarily able to do that thanks to circumstance. Arian’s a bit harder to get a read on as a character since he’s still kinda a blank slate, but he seems to be forming emotional connections to the world around him. Which will be interesting to see how that holds up given that he’s not exactly in the best imaginable neighborhood at the moment.
:copyka2~1:


Alright, as for those aforementioned bones that I have to pick with this chapter. Front and center is the way that description is handled in it, which… is a bit of a multifaceted issue. For starters, you kinda need more of it in general. Like for most of the chapter, I didn’t have a solid idea of what Elvira's house looks, and I still kinda don’t for its exterior. In general, description is something you want to get out of the way as soon as you can in a story without causing issues with accidentally undercutting later parts of the plot, since they can communicate a lot between the lines. e.x. if it was described that Elvira’s house had a thatch roof with unpainted walls and a busted window that’s had to go unrepaired, that says a few things about her life circumstances as a character that would otherwise go over the audience’s heads. Which is a bit weird, since you have some bits of description that feel nicely detailed like the description of Elvira’s living room, but feel weird in placement since they come well after they’re initially brought up in-story.

Also on the subject of description, but I noticed that “tell and not show” is a bit of recurring issue. One example that really stuck out to me was the section that mentioned “Elvira was getting emotional”, or the opening chapter where an entire scene’s worth of events that would’ve potentially been a vector for introducing Ozerograd and Selenia’s unsettled state of affairs got crammed into around 3 paragraphs. Like I get that it’s possible to overdo description to the point that it drags and that things are a balancing act, though at the same time, the details that you see in your mind’s eye for how a moment in a story plays out won’t get picked up by readers if they’re not mentioned. Just stopping to make sure that those details are mentioned enough such that you could pick them up from reading things back is a good place to start.

The way that most of the lore is presented in fairly "exposition dump"-y framing also kinda dovetails into things on the “tell and not show” front there. Like while I get that Elvira’s not going to casually fly Arian around to four other countries to give a birds-eye view of things, it feels like those should be integrated a bit more into the events that are happening in “live-time”, and if possible “show” things to some extent. Like Elvira and Zenobia’s stories about how awful Mitrofan and his regime are would have more impact if we got to see it in some capacity prior to storytime, since we as readers would be getting those “something is seriously wrong here” vibes contextualized while Arian’s getting clued in as to the state of affairs and it’d hit home a bit harder as readers.

Lastly, mind your chronology of events. Even aside from blatant errors like the stealth namedrop of 'Arian' 2 scenes before when he canonically even knows the name, there's a couple moments where the sequence of events in the story that play out don't feel fully natural. One offhand example is the way Arian doesn’t notice Zenobia's cast/splint and crutches the moment he sees her for the first time and instead like 5 paragraphs afterwards while you’d think that would be something that wouldn’t exactly be easy for him to miss.

Well, that turned out a bit more critical than normal, but I do want to emphasize that on balance that I like your story @Arukona . Quite a lot, actually. Since you’ve built a fascinating world that I’m interested in seeing more of, even if there's some rough edges here and there that drag things down a bit. But hey, I’ve always been a sucker for worldbuilding so you've already got me hooked, and with a bit of fine-tuning, I feel that you’d be able to get a much stronger impression across selling Ardalion and its world to your readers.
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Busy Writing Stories I Want to Read
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
  4. quilava-fobbie
  5. sneasel-kate
Heya, figured that I should take some steps towards paying back your generosity from RB4 earlier this year. I had a good time with the first couple of chapters from this story and there’s an offsite review event going on, so eh. Good enough for me as a reason to jump in and see where the next one winds up going:

Chapter 3

Later that day...

"Mmm...tasty," remarked Zenobia, bringing the cup of tea away from her lips. "This is rather good for a first-time brew, Arian."

"Oh, it was nothing…" Arian replied. "I had Elvira watching over my shoulder the whole time. Really, if she wasn't there, I probably would have messed the whole thing up."

It was now mid-afternoon, and Arian, along with Elvira and Zenobia, were enjoying a cup of tea in the living room that the Riolu had prepared with the Treecko’s guidance of Elvira. He seemed to know little about preparing tea, so the Treecko guided him through the process.

I… kinda wonder if the description paragraph and the first two paragraphs of dialogue ought to have been flipped with each other and maybe differentiated a bit more. Since it kinda feels as if the first two paragraphs are more specific than the third, so it’s a bit weird to see Zenobia congratulate Arian about making a first-time brew and Arian talk about how Elvira helped him make it and then have a paragraph of description that basically says the same thing, but in more general terms.

She Elvira had calmed down, thankfully, from earlier. It seemed getting back into housework was all she needed. The presence of Arian, too, helped to cheer her up slightly, if only by a bit.

Reminder that both Elvira and Zenobia are ‘she’s and were mentioned in the prior paragraph. It might make sense to be explicit in the first sentence that you’re talking about Elvira here.

"Preparing a cup of tea is simple, though," Elvira pointed out. "You'll get the hang of it quickly. …By the way."

Elvira paused as the discussion about tea reminded her of something. [ ]

"... By the way, we're out of tea leaves, Mom."

IMO, “by the way” should come with the rest of the “we’re out of tea leaves” part, since it didn’t feel like a natural pause otherwise. It might have also merited splitting the center pieces off into its own description paragraph and expanding things a bit such that Elvira concretely sees some sign that they’re out of tea leaves, e.x. looking down into a jar or something to make more only to see they’re out or something like that.

"...Oh." Zenobia sounded disappointed. "...Oh well. I guess I'll have to wait another a little while until you procure more. Though Even if that's easier said than done in these current circumstances…"

[ ]


"...I'll see if I can find some," Elvira offered. "You never know."

Oh, so Mitrofan’s rule has been doing a number on trade in Selenia, I see. Since tea is usually a bit finicky about where you can grow it, and if it’s having trouble getting around…

Though IMO, showing some sort of reaction from Elvira here would help liven the scene up a bit, especially if she’s getting visibly waver-y in mood right now.

"It's alright. I can live without tea," the Heliolisk assured. "Don't worry yourself about it, Elvira. Though if you could do happen to find something…even the cheap berry leaves would be okay."

[ ]


"Berries, huh?" Arian noted. "They seem to be quite a staple in this world."

A small suggestion for a rework here, though I would also encourage showing off a reaction or some internal thoughts from Arian here since he seems to find the idea of berries being this commonplace a bit weird. Might as well lean into it for the sake of helping the audience visualize things smoother.

"They are. Berries are found just about everywhere in Ardalion," explained Elvira. "They come in all varieties and colours. You can make juice out of berries. You can use their leaves to make tea. You can even ferment them to make alcohol."

She then pulled a face at the last comment and looked aside, pawing at her shoulder.

"
...I don't really like it, though. We only have it on special occasions in this house."

Some suggestions for some reworks and typo fixes, along with an expansion for Elvira’s description. It doesn’t strictly have to be that, but stopping to smell the proverbial roses a bit more can help a lot with setting the scene a bit.

… Even if it’s got me wondering if there’s a deeper story behind Elvira’s dislike of alcohol beyond just its taste. Since you’d think that someone who lives in a neighborhood influenced by Slavic cultures wouldn’t bat an eye at alcohol, but…

"Speaking of berries…how are we doing on them?" Zenobia wondered.

"There's still a good amount in the pantry," Elvira said. "Maybe we should have a berry stew later. Then Arian can taste a wider variety of berries and see what he thinks."

"Hm. Wouldn't mind that," the Riolu considered.

Oh, so this is one of those settings where civilized Pokémon are all vegan? Or is there meat also on the table that gets sourced from somewhere?

Though I suppose that even if there is meat in this setting, with how Elvira and Zenobia are giving off “poor and barely scraping by” vibes, they wouldn’t be likely to be able to afford it regularly.

"...Anyway." Elvira got up, and gathered everyone's cups. [ ]

"... Anyway, I'll go and wash these."

Another spot where IMO you should pull the description forward and expand it and just group the dialogue together in one bit, since the two parts of the dialogue feel like things that would logically be said in the same breath as each other without any breaks in between.

"You want help?" Arian offered.

"No thanks. I'm fine on my own," the Treecko insisted.

E
lvira turned down, before leaving for the kitchen. [ ]

"There she goes…" Zenobia observed. "...She's always tried to be independent. Even back when she was a little girl, she tried to be more independent-minded than other children would be.

[ ]

I suppose it's because she had one less parent in the house. But I think it's also because of…pressure."

I would break a couple of these paragraphs up and slot in some extra description for visualization purposes. The first block feels like it’d benefit from showing some reaction from Zenobia, while something filling time in between the halves of Zenobia’s second bit of dialogue in her paragraph feels like it’d work well, whether that’s some sort of reaction from her for from Arian.

"Pressure?" Arian was confused. "What do you mean?"

"I've already said mentioned her father was a well-renowned mercenary. But I suppose I understated the extent to which his reputation preceded him,” she explained. I'm talking about “He was the sort of Pokémon who was well-renowned to the point that few didn't know his name. Imagine, therefore, being born to him and planning to follow the same career path as him."

Gave some suggestions for how to rephrase Zenobia’s line a bit to sound a bit more natural. I think it could additionally work well from splitting the “Imagine [...]” sentence off into its own paragraph with a moment to stop and give some character reaction to emphasize it more, but that’s optional.

"...Ohhhh," Arian said in realisation. "You think everyone'll want her to be just like her dad?"

Well, that’s going to be a bit hard given that Mitrofan apparently is going around and murking mercenaries from what’s left of the local guild. Still not sure how you haven’t gotten a knock on your door over the giant portrait of Kallias hanging in your living room, Zenobia.

"That's what Elvira's been thinking," Zenobia confirmed. "It's become a great fear of hers, especially with the recent events in Selenia. With everything that's happened, it's clear that people want a hero to rescue them from the clutches of Mitrofan. Some are even angry that Fernblade Kallias hasn't come out of the woodwork to save them.

[ ]

And With this expectations like those, Elvira almost feels the need that it’s her duty to step up to the plate. But she's been having inadequate feelings recently."

Might be going a bit out on a limb with some of these rephrasing suggestions, but the most important thing is to chop up Zenobia’s dialogue here since it’s… uh… kinda long. To the point where it’d likely have the most impact if you put it into separate paragraphs to emphasize and draw more attention to the individual parts.

Also, I see that Kallias is officially a Grovyle/Sceptile from that name and Elvira’s species. Though no patronymic middle names to go full Russian ‘Fernblade’, huh? I wonder if that’s an inherited family name or if it’s an earned epithet. Something to keep an eye on, though I’ll tip my hat to you for doing something different from species surnaming for your naming scheme since that’s fairly uncommon in this fandom.

"Really?" That, Arian hadn't considered that. "Those people shouldn't expect so much…"

I went for a minimalistic suggestion this time, though this is another one of those bits where I kinda wonder if pulling the description forward ahead of the dialogue entirely and then expanding it a bit would’ve been for the best.

"I don't blame them, given the tumult of Selenia in recent years. But it's only made Elvira's anxiety worse. Coupled with the fact she hasn't evolved by now…she's been feeling down as a result of it all." The Heliolisk was looking quite down herself.

"She hasn't evolved?" Another new factor for the Riolu to consider. Coincidentally, he was reading a book on the phenomenon. "Is that…not normal?"

… Wait, he’s doing that right now? Or that’s something he’d been doing in the background prior to this scene? The verb tense is such that you’re presently implying the former. Though either way, it would probably make sense to explicitly mention this at some point earlier in the scene, since a throwaway mention of Arian reading a book about a curious phenomenon about evolution along with a general blurb about how it generally works feels like something that could’ve easily fit into an extra sentence in the introduction to the chapter.

"I wouldn't say abnormal. Some Pokémon within their species evolve sooner than others," Zenobia explained. "I suspect Elvira's just a late bloomer. But it can create jealousy, having to evolve later than others.

[ ]

On that note, how's that book you've been reading?" she brought up, seeing as how they were on the subject.

Zenobia’s topic of conversation changes enough that you probably do not want these two to be in the same paragraph as each other. Especially if Arian is meant to have any moments stopping and reflecting on what Zenobia had to say about Elvira’s situation with still being unevolved.

"It's…interesting. A bit hard to imagine, though."

The book in question was entitled The Basic Facts of Pokémon: Vol. 6, Q-T that detailed a variety of Pokémon, of which including Riolu and Treecko were included in the book in question. Elvira had recommended it to him, and he'd been reading up on the unique facets of his species. But the topic of evolution had caught his eye. [ ]

"Like…do Pokémon really just change form one day?"

I think it might make sense to expand the “why” of how evolution caught Arian’s attention a bit more. Even something as simple as it being some fantastical process that he had trouble believing was real I think says a bit more than what that last sentence presently does.

Though yeah, this is part of the reason why it probably makes sense to pull some of these details forward earlier into the chapter, since this is quite a bit of info to be introducing after the fact from when it happens.

"They can indeed, through a variety of methods," Zenobia explained. "It's mostly a natural phenomenon, achieved through growth, age and training hard enough. Other times, it's through interaction with a certain item, like an evolutionary stone. That was how I evolved. Evolution was certainly an unusual sensation to go through, and it is an adjustment getting used to a new body. But you always feel better for it."

… Wait, is there a reason why Zenobia is explaining this instead of Arian learning it from his book? Or else him bringing up “why doesn’t Elvira’s species evolve the same way that I do?” and Zenobia giving a cut-down version of this focusing more on the “many Pokémon evolve differently” angle of things?

Like it makes sense that Arian would need this explained to him since he is coming in with zero knowledge of Pokémon or how they work, I wonder if there was a less exposition dump-y way of pulling this off.

"So for me…" Arian looked at what the book said about his species. "To become a Lucario…I have to 'enjoy a moment of great happiness, with a partner whose bonds with me are as strong as steel'?"

Oh, so there’s actual, honest-to-goodness happiness evolutions in this setting and not IQ evolutions like in the earlier PMD games. Noted, though it makes sense thematically given that I’m pretty sure that you’ve teed this story up to have some pretty strong coming-of-age motifs to it.

"Seemingly. So I’ve heard,” the Heliolisk replied. “I don't know how every Pokémon evolves…but I do know about Lucario. They're a much talked about species. Legends speak of their aura-sensing capabilities, and how they can manipulate those into attacks."

Arian: “... Wait, I can do that?”
:bulbuhhh:


"Really? Not gonna lie, that sounds cool," Arian said, interested.

He looked at the illustration provided in the book, where next to the Riolu, there stood a similar canine Pokémon, albeit bigger and stronger. It had a cream-coloured torso with a spike at the chest, and spikes on the backs of its paws. Its feelers at the back of its head were also bigger and there were four of them instead of two like on the Riolu, and its ears were larger and more pointy.

It resembled growth to him, and it was an interesting prospect to look forward to in the future.

Oh, so Arian really is reading this book in live-time in this scene. In that case, you probably want to explicitly mention him picking up the book and browsing through it at some point, since I actually don’t recall that being mentioned in the narration at all, and that feels like kinda a big detail to mention in terms of something that Arian is doing.

Though maybe let's not think that far ahead. I only woke up in this body this morning.

That actually makes me wonder if in the event that Arian evolves if the aftereffects from his body changing are going to become a significant plot point that’s explored. Since Arian can do certain things with his body now such as sneak around and hide easily that he won’t be able to do anywhere near as well as a Lucario.

Something to keep an eye on, I guess. Given that Arian’s apparently cognizant that evolving might not necessarily be a straight upgrade for him.

At that point, a bell rang. It seemed to come from the front.

"The door? I didn't plan on having any visitors…" she mumbled. She reached for her crutches, and prepared to get it.

I… did not realize that this setting was technologically advanced enough to have doorbells as opposed to people just walking up and knocking on the door. Unless that’s just one on a string to get tugged on or something like that.

"I'll get it," Arian said. "Your leg's still not right. You shouldn't strain it."

"...If you could get the door, that would be great. Thank you, Arian."

"No problem." And with that, Arian headed out of the room and to the front door, where he opened it.

Arian: “Probably just some neighbors or something like that, though let’s see who we’re dealing with-”

He blinked when he saw the visitor; a small Grass-type Pokémon with green colouring, three leaves atop its head and a white face. It was an entirely new face to him, and the species was unfamiliar to him. Elvira might know, the Riolu thought to himself. But she's not here right now. I'll just have to wing it. ...Here's hoping I don't act weird.

Arian: “Um… hi there... weird… shrub thingy.”
Petilil: “You’re new here, huh?” -_-;

"Er, hello. Can I help you?" he asked.

The face of the Pokémon, which was in fact a Petilil, a fact unknown to Arian, morphed into an expression of confusion.

"Who are you?" she said. "A Riolu doesn't live here! A Heliolisk and a Treecko do! I'm looking for Elvira, the Treecko! Please, it's urgent!"

Maybe I’m reading too much into things, but it might be worth considering making the Petilil more “shout”-y, since the dialogue as I read it admittedly didn’t sound all that urgent to me with the periods. Alternatively, if Petilil is very deliberately trying to avoid being overheard, it might make sense to add some body language to the effect of looking around to check for anyone tailing her or something like that.

"Right. I'll get her," Arian promised, before heading back inside. "Elvira! There's someone at the door for you!"

"There is?" Elvira's voice sounded as she came out into the hallway. "Who is it?"

Arian: “A weird white and green shrub thingy!”
Petilil: “Oh for crying out loud-! Elvira, it’s me!” >.<

"Elvira!" the Petilil called from the open front door. "There you are!"

"...Flora? What are you doing here?" Elvira asked, walking up to the front door.

… Wait, but Elvira was never actually described walking out of the hallway and coming into view here.

"Looking for you," Flora replied. "I need your help, Elvira, and I need it now."

"Why? What's the matter?"

Arian: “Yeah, her mother’s kinda got leg issues right now, so… uh… you’re sure this can’t wait at all?”

"It's Tamara!" cried the Petilil. "She went into Verdant Woods this morning, but she still hasn't returned, and I'm...I'm getting worried! Elvira, you have to help me! Please!"

Arian: “... Right, that would be a decent reason why this can’t wait at all. But wait, why do you need Elvira to do this and not any of the other neighbors-?”

"Verdant Woods? Oh no…Why'd she go in there?"

"She forgot her locket there yesterday, apparently," Flora huffed, shaking her head answered, in a scathing manner. "Look, I warned her. But you know her; she loves that locket, enough that she won't sell it for extra coin. But she hasn't come back yet, and...and...please, Elvira, you have to find her!"

Arian: “... Elvira, what’s wrong with these woods and why is this ‘Flora’ so insistent that you need to help her?” ._.;
Elvira: “Arian, isn’t it obvious from the naming scheme that Tamara got lost in a Mystery Dungeon?”
:eltywtf:

Arian: “Wait, got lost in a what now?”

"But…surely there are others better suited to this than me?"

"They aren't listening. Not surprising, given the way town is right now," the Petilil criticised. "Everyone has their own backs to watch. They don't have time to deal with a missing Pachirisu. …But the Thorned Roses don't bother you as much, Elvira! Please, you have to! I'm no fighter, but you are!" Then she added, "You were always the strongest of the three of us…"

Thorned Roses, huh? Can’t tell if those are supposed to be Outlaws or the local secret police. Though boy does this sound ominous if there’s just troublemakers roaming about and nobody can be bothered to brave them beyond some Treecko with a famous father.

"But I'm not strong…" Elvira looked down at the ground. [ ]

”But I’m not strong…”

Arian had been watching the conversation go back and forth. And gauging the Treecko's reactions, he could understand what Zenobia was getting at regarding her self-esteem.

I didn't realise it was this bad, he thought. …But still. We have to do something.

Another bit where IMO, you should pull some description forward and expand it and also chop up the paragraph that is part description and part inner thoughts from Arian.

Arian: “I mean, I still think that this would probably be for the best if someone else helped-” ^^;
Flora: “Come on, Elvira, I’m at the end of my rope! You’re the only Pokémon I can count on here!”
Arian: “... Or not. Boy do I have so many questions about how things got into this situation.” ._.;

"Come on, Elvira. You can do it. This is your friend we're talking about!" the Riolu encouraged. "Hell, if you want backup…then count me in! I'll help you!"

de7.png


Good thing that Zenobia isn’t hearing this right now, since I’m pretty sure she’d have a heart attack over Arian volunteering to go off into a Mystery Dungeon with zero combat experience or training.

"You?" Elvira was taken aback. "But…you only woke up this morning, Arian. And you have amnesia…"

Elvira: “Arian, can you even throw a punch properly right now?” ._.
Arian: “M-Maybe? And even if I can’t, I’ve gotta start from somewhere, right?”
:fearfullaugh:


"Doesn't matter! That's not gonna stop me! And you shouldn't let your fears get the better of you, Elvira. Who cares what everyone else thinks?"

Words do not begin to describe how ill-advised this is on Arian’s part. Though I kinda wonder if the “Who cares what everyone else thinks?” doesn’t quite fit this present context, since Flora doesn’t have any doubts about Elvira’s strength and nobody present has voiced any doubts explicitly. It might be a bit more fitting given the circumstances to frame things more along the lines of “your friend believes you can make a difference, and I do too” or something like that.

"Yeah, what he said! …Whoever you are." Flora turned her attention to Arian. "Who are you, anyway?"

Arian: “Wait, have I really not introduced myself all this time?” ^^;
Flora: “No, you haven’t.” >_>;
Arian: “... Right, guess that I should fix that…”

"I'm Arian. I'm…" He debated his answer. "Just a drifter. But that's not important right now! We just need to go to Verdant Woods, wherever that is, and get your friend back. Simple! We'll be back before you know it."

"But Arian…you've never been in a Mystery Dungeon. You don't know how dangerous they can be…"

"A Mystery Dungeon? …What's that?"

Arian: “... Wait, you mean that these aren’t just a bunch of random woods that anyone can comb through?” O.O
Flora: “If they were, do you really think that I’d be seeking out Elvira for help here?” >_>;

"Wait, what?" Flora reacted, aghast. "How do you not know what a Mystery Dungeon is? Have you been living under a rock all your life or something?"

Arian: “D-Didn’t Elvira just say that I had amnesia?” ._.
Flora: “Yeah, but just what did you do to manage to forget about Mystery Dungeons? It’s even in the title of this story for crying out loud!” .-.

[ ]

"Well, er…" Arian struggled for an answer. "...Look, Elvira's friend is the important thing here! I'll…figure out the answer on the way! Come on!" He began to make his way outside. "We won't gain anything arguing here!"

[ ]


"No, Arian, wait!" Elvira called out to him. "You don't know what you're getting yourself into!" She ran outside after him, as he ran towards the road.

IMO, this would be a bit more impactful with some extra description dropped in, especially since I would imagine that Elvira would probably be panicking a bit after the full wait of “oh crap, Arian’s actually serious about this” sank in a bit more.

[ ]

"...A Riolu who's never heard of Mystery Dungeons?" Flora puzzled, watching them go. "That's a new one. Even hatchlings know what Mystery Dungeons are…"

Same deal here where it probably makes sense to more explicitly describe Flora watching Arian and Elvira head off, since with the current phrasing, it sounds almost as if they’re still there on the front yard.

"Arian's situation is…unique," another voice cut in. The Petilil turned around, and saw Zenobia come to the door with her broken leg.

"Oh, hey, Zenobia," she greeted. "...Do you know anything about that Riolu? Who is he?"

"...Come inside," the Heliolisk offered. "I'll fill you in on the details."

Flora: “... Wait, Zenobia. Shouldn’t you be telling those two to stop if that Riolu doesn’t know the first thing about Mystery Dungeons? Since I’m pretty sure they were both right on their way to Verdant Woods right now.” ^^;
Zenobia: “... Eh, Elvira’s with him, I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
:joltyshrug~1:


[ ]

"We go right here," Elvira instructed, when she and Arian arrived at a fork in the road. "Verdant Woods is a bit off the beaten track, away from the main road."

Wait, where is this all happening right now anyways? Since there’s no real scene setting happening to ground the characters and where they are relative to the house from last scene right now.

Elvira: “Though Arian, uh… if you’re getting any second thoughts about this at all…” o_o;
Arian: “Relax, you’ll do great out there, Elvira. I know you will!” ^^
Elvira: “Arian, it’s not me I’m worried about here!” >.<

"Is it over there?" Arian asked, pointing to a series of trees further down the path they had taken.

"Yes, it is," confirmed Elvira. "And in that wood is the Mystery Dungeon itself."

Arian: “So… what are they again?” ^^;

"...Oh yeah...about that." The Riolu turned to her, a curious look on his face. "What exactly are these Mystery Dungeons you speak of?"

Kek, but yeah, I figured. Even if I can already see Elvira’s:
7f6.gif

face right about now.

"...Mystery Dungeons..." The Treecko let out a long sigh. "How do I explain them? Mystery Dungeons are They’re…strange places, to put it simply. Ordinary areas like forests and caves are that have essentially morphed into maze-like structures with multiple floors to them. And once you enter a Mystery Dungeon, there's no way out until you traverse all of the floors of the Mystery Dungeon."

Oh, so no bailing right after completing your mission objectives like in the games, huh? That definitely sounds like a reason to not want to get too close to the things. ^^;

"...Okay…" Arian murmured.

his Arian’s brow furrowed in confusion, a small gesture which This, Elvira quickly spotted. [ ]

"...I know. I'm probably not explaining it the best. No one really knows how to explain them, though. They're mysteries, enigmas that can't be defined,” she said. “No one really knows why they're here or what they're for. Perhaps to you, they're mystifying, but...they're a normal part of life here in Ardalion.

[ ]

You'll see for yourself just what they're like."

I would suggest reshuffling a couple parts of this sequence and dropping in some extra description for visualization purposes. Especially since it feels from Elvira’s line that parts of it were meant to follow a pause of some sort.

[ ]

"...That'll have to be it, I guess. Seeing is believing, after all," the human-turned-Riolu replied.

Might merit having Arian look off at the woods and wonder what he’s getting into or something like that before he gives his response. Though that’s just me there.

The two began to walk into a more wooded area and Arian began to looked around him at his surroundings. The foliage provided some shade from the sun, which made the woods somewhat cooler than outside. But strangely enough, for whatever reason...the trees seemed huge to him. They seemed much bigger than he was used to.

Maybe this world has naturally big trees? the Riolu thought to himself. Or...no, wait. I know what it is. Could it be the fact that as a Riolu, I'm just naturally small? Was I bigger than this as a human? If so, then…

Such is life when you’re now shorter than Yoda, Arian. Not that you’ll get an escape from manlet life after evolving unless you lucked out with your base size since… yeah, Lucario aren’t exactly tall by human standards.

Many questions bombarded the mind of the amnesiac human, a great number of which he had no answer for. But he did realise that his thoughtfulness was creating a silence from him After a brief moment, Arian realized that in the midst of his thoughts, he’d been silent the entire time. Enough so that, which he felt could create an a lingering awkwardness between him and Elvira. Arian didn't want that to happen, so he decided to divert his thoughts towards their mission.

Many questions such as…? The effect probably works a bit better if you mention two or three of them as examples of the untold multitude of questions on Arian’s mind in this moment. Also gave a few suggestions to try and smooth out some of this wording to make it sound a bit more natural in prose.

"Are we in the Mystery Dungeon now?" he asked Elvira.

"No. We're definitely in Verdant Woods, but not the Mystery Dungeon itself. You'd know when you are," the Treecko told him. "Hmm...ah! There's the entrance."

Arian: “Wait, here? But how on earth do you know-?”

Arian looked to where she pointed. Two trees stood dead ahead of them, their canopies hanging overhead. But between them, strangely enough...it was as if they couldn't see clearly beyond the trees. It was like the path ahead had been obfuscated by some kind of shadow.

"What is that…?" he muttered aloud.

Elvira: “The entrance to the Mystery Dungeon? I literally said you’d know as soon as you saw it and pointed ahead, Arian.” -_-;

"That's the Mystery Dungeon entrance," answered Elvira. "...Once we go in there, there's no turning back until we've reached the exit at the end. You sure you want to go in?"

Arian: “(U-Uh… is this really a good idea?)” ._.;

"Yes." Arian had made his mind up about that. "I want to rescue your friend. Even if I have amnesia, that's not gonna stop me."

"Then let's go."

And with that, the two of them walked forward, into the shadowy woods.

Arian: “(... I’m going to regret this in like five minutes, aren’t I?)”
:ohnowen:


Verdant Woods
1F

Oh, so MDs use game-style floor numbering in this story. Duly noted, then.

Arian couldn't quite describe what happened next. It was as if the moment they passed into the Mystery Dungeon, the surrounding area suddenly altered and changed into something completely different. Next thing he realised, he and Elvira were no longer in any kind of shadowy area, but in some kind of clearing that most definitely did not resemble the path on which they entered the dungeon on.

“Altered” and “changed” are synonymous verbs. I would suggest either chopping one or the other entirely or replace “altered” with some other verb focusing more on what the actual process of changing looks like to Arian’s perspective.

Arian: “(Oh boy, here goes nothing…)” ._.;

"Whoa! What?" a baffled Arian remarked. "So this is the Mystery Dungeon, is it?"

"Yes, it is," Elvira confirmed.

"...This is weird. Like, really weird. Wh-What? I mean, how does that even work? What kind of physics exist in this world to make this possible?"

I… kinda feel that this falls a bit flat since we don’t really get a solid description of what makes this place weird beyond that the clearing doesn’t resemble the path that they took in some unspecified manner. Like are they in a giant sunny meadow while they’d seen shaded forest just a couple meters ago? A bit of extra description would go a long way towards selling the “weird” factor a bit more effectively here.

"...You see what I mean when I talked about them earlier?" Elvira reminded. "You're not the first one to be confused by all of this. I was just like you when I first stumbled into my first Mystery Dungeon. It was here, actually. But luckily Dad was around, and he saved me."

It might make sense to do a more specific callback to Elvira’s dialogue about Mystery Dungeons here, since this feels a bit vague and hazy in phrasing.

[ ]

"Getting out of here...Oh yeah, you did say something about no turning back, didn't you?" Out of curiosity, the Riolu looked behind him, and was amazed to see just a cover of trees behind him, no entrance to be seen. "Oh...I see what you mean..."

[ ]

"Let's go, Arian," Elvira said. "The sooner we find Tamara, the better. The problem is…figuring out where exactly is she is? She could be anywhere in this labyrinth...We're gonna have to search everywhere thoroughly."

Another part where more description would help a lot for setting the scene, especially since I don’t have a solid idea at the moment as to what this Mystery Dungeon looks like concretely and if there’s any other features about it that don’t resemble the non-MD part of Verdant Woods beyond the fact that there’s abruptly no exit behind the team.

Elvira headed straight down the path directly in front of them, with Arian following close behind. They were out of the 'room', and in a 'corridor', as the Riolu labelled them.

So this is a Mystery Dungeon... he thought to himself, looking around him. ...It's bizarre, alright. And yet this is considered normal in this world? ...Boy, do I have a lot to get used to.

Just wait until you start running into Wonder Orbs, son.

His thoughts were interrupted when Elvira called out to him.

"There's a wild Pokémon ahead, Arian," she informed him.

"Wait…wild Pokémon?"

"Yes. It's only a Caterpie. I'll deal with it."

Oh, so the feral analogues are ‘wild’ Pokémon, huh? You’re going to have a field day if you have an excuse to break out alt-localization species names at some point. Especially for Swoobat.
:loltias:


Arian: “U-Um, Elvira? Wh-Where exactly is this ‘wild’ Pokémon again?”
:fearfullaugh:


Arian watched as Elvira dealt with the Bug-type. She struck it with her tail with Pound. The Caterpie immediately countered with Tackle, but Elvira was barely fazed, and delivered another Pound. That was enough to defeat it, and the bug lay on its side.

… Wait, but Arian was never described seeing the Caterpie initially, so it reads a bit strange to suddenly skip to “and then Elvira dealt with the Bug-type” since this is the first time Arian has seen a Caterpie in his life.

"This place is filled with wild Pokémon like that Caterpie there," the Treecko told Arian. "We're gonna have to be on our guard. …Can you fight, Arian?"

"...I guess. If I need to." Arian held up his paws, trying to make fist like motions with them.

Also, another benefit of showing the Caterpie first is that you could show off more effectively as to what they’re like, which presumably would also be a learning experience for Arian. A potentially shocking / intimidating one, at that. Since we didn’t actually see the Caterpie act threatening at all before Elvira promptly Pounded it into next week.

"What moves do you know?" asked Elvira

"...Moves?"

[ ]


"...Oh. You would've forgotten what moves you know," Elvira murmured in realisation. "They're like…special techniques Pokémon can use. Every Pokémon has the ability to use a number of different moves. They're normally dependent on the type of Pokémon you are. You're a Fighting-type, so you'll be quite capable at using physical attacks."

It might make sense to describe Elvira’s moment of realization a bit more, especially if she’s getting a bit tense at realizing that Arian’s probably in a bit more danger than she initially expected but trying to keep on a brave face or something like that.

Elvira: “... Arian, why did you wait until after we entered the Mystery Dungeon to tell me this?!” >_>;
Arian: “Look, I didn’t realize that these weren’t going to be normal woods, okay?!”
:ScaredCabot:


"I'm a...Fighting-type?" queried a puzzled Arian. "...What does that mean?"

"...Ah…"

Elvira faltered briefly, realising that explaining basic concepts like moves and types was surprisingly more difficult than she would've thought. As well as that, the thought of rescuing Tamara came to her, and she cast a glance at the Dungeon's entrance.

Elvira: “Arian, you’re supposed to tell me these sorts of things before we enter a dangerous place!” >.<
Arian: “In my defense, you didn’t get out that this was going to be a dangerous place.”
:FearfulMeowth:


This, Arian noticed. [ ]

"...No, let's not think about it," he then decided. "Your friend's more important than me figuring out what 'types' and 'moves' are. My questions can wait."

[ ]

"Are you sure?" Elvira asked.

[ ]


"Yes. Besides...maybe I can learn as I go," the Riolu reasoned.

I would chop the “This, Arian noticed” and write out some sort of reaction on his part in more explicit terms. Ditto injecting more description of how Arian and Elvira are reacting to each other here, since it can potentially give insight into their thought processes or personalities beyond strictly whatever is in their dialogue.

[ ]

"I suppose this Dungeon is harmless enough that you won't be in too much trouble," the Treecko replied. "...Come on. Let's go."

IMO, it would’ve been nice to see Elvira more visibly wrangle with things here before coming to this conclusion. Since she’s heard a lot of reasons up to this point about why it might be a bit of a bad idea to keep pressing on with Arian and she’s presumably squaring the circle in terms of thoughts internally right now.

Arian: “Uh… well, you sure came around on that quickly. Though h-how much trouble is too much-?” ^^;
Elvira: “Arian, you’ll be fine. Just keep moving on.”

They continued down the hallway to another room. However, a look around the room revealed no exits.

"It's a dead end," Elvira sighed. "...Well, back to where we started, I guess."

Whelp, time for things to go wrong given that I’ve seen this setup plenty of times in the past.

They made their way back from there. A thought came to Arian as they travelled through the labyrinth.

"What does Tamara look like?" wondered Arian, as they started down the corridor. "What species is she? Just so I know who I'm looking for."

Elvira: “Arian, Flora literally said that she was a Pachirisu…” -_-;
Arian: “Remember that I have amnesia right now, so it’s not a safe assumption that I know what a Pachirisu looks like.” ^^;

"A Pachirisu. ," Elvira answered. "She's an Electric-type with blue and white fur and a big, bushy tail,” she answered. “Tamara's always been lively and chatty, and a great friend for most of my life. ...But she also has a tendency to rush headfirst into risky situations without calculating just how risky that situation can be. Like right now."

[ ]


"...How well can she fight?" Arian asked.

This section feels like it’d benefit from A: rebalancing Elvira’s dialogue so that it’s less tail-heavy after the speech tag, B: dropping in some description. Since from a casual eyeballing of this section and the next 3-ish paragraphs, it gets a bit “talking heads” between Elvira and Arian.

"Well...good enough to hold her own," admitted Elvira. "This Mystery Dungeon isn't too difficult. This place would be too much of a handful for her. ...But that's the problem. She hasn't come back yet...and that's presumably what's gotten Flora all stressed."

I think you have a typo somewhere in the underlined since the first and second sentence in it contradict each other. I presume that you meant ‘wouldn’t’ in the second sentence.

"So she could be just lost?"

"...Could be. It's not uncommon. Back in the day, when the Guild was still around, a lot of the mission requests would be to rescue Pokémon who'd gotten lost in Mystery Dungeons,” the Treecko explained. “It was one of the many ways my dad earned his keep. Still…Tamara's not one to get lost."

Elvira frowned. [ ]

"I hope nothing bad's happened..."

Would recommend chopping this section up and expanding the “Elvira frowned” thing into a bigger standalone paragraph.

With that ominous thought, the two continued onwards. They found their way to another room after a long corridor with multiple twists and turns. But at that room's entrance lay a Pidgey, which caught Arian by surprise.

… Wait, how? Like did the Pidgey swoop in on Arian? Did he round the corner and walk face-first into it? Might merit describing what’s going on in your mind’s eye in a bit more detail

"Ah!" he cried, not expecting the sudden appearance of the bird Pokémon. Instinctively, he launched a self-defensive attack, and struck the Pidgey with a Quick Attack. It returned a Tackle his way, and hit Arian in the stomach. But the Riolu countered with another Quick Attack, which brought down the Pidgey.

That… uh… is a pretty dry action sequence there. Like I get that at the end of the day it gets old to write out a paragraph describing what every single attack looks like, but I legit am having trouble visualizing this. I’d suggest taking a step back and trying to imagine this battle play out as comic panels and then try to briefly describe the events to someone, since as an exercise, it can be pretty handy for trying to capture the sense of “motion” in an action sequence like this. Especially since you probably don’t want more important battles in this story to read like a list of actions kinda like this Pidgey encounter does.

"...Not bad, Arian," praised Elvira. "You did alright there."

"...Could have done better," the Riolu replied. "That bird got me in the stomach."

[ ] A bruise lay in the spot where it had struck.

Might merit describing Arian pulling his arm away from his stomach or Elvira looking over at him or something like that.

"Oh dear...Are you okay, Arian?" Elvira asked.

"I think so," Arian assessed. "It's a small injury, nothing serious. Let's keep moving."

Waaaaaaait, wouldn’t Elvira logically know more about Arian’s injuries than he would at this point? Like if it’s bad enough that she’s thinking “yeah, we should stop”, it might make sense for her to explicitly say as much to Arian.

The Treecko thought to protest, but ultimately said nothing. They walked on for another bit a little while longer, the human thinking back to his encounter with the Pidgey. It occurred to him that he definitely used something foreign to him to be able to strike the Flying-type in so quick a manner.

… I just realized, but what did this “look”/”feel” like to Arian? Since given how weird just settling into a Jackal!Yoda body has been for him over the past two chapters, you’d think that he’d have sensed something while using Quick Attack and had more of a “wut” reaction about it.

"So...did I use a move back there?" he asked Elvira.

"Yes, you did," she told him. "By the looks of it, it was Quick Attack you used. That's a fairly basic move that most Pokémon learn. I know it too, in fact."

While it makes sense in-setting for Elvira to explain to Arian that he used Quick Attack, I’m not sure if it makes sense meta-wise for the narration to also do this and pre-empt her doing this. That would be a benefit of going back and writing out the Pidgey sequence in a bit more “described” detail, especially since Arian is using techniques that are completely alien to him at the time, which doesn’t quite get sold from the story bluntly telling us that he used Quick Attack.

"I see…" Arian murmured.

[ ] Armed with this new information, he and Elvira continued the search for Tamara.

IMO, it might be fun to show how Arian thinks of these ‘moves’ he just used a bit more. Like is he excited by them? Worried? Somewhere in between? Some food for thought, anyways.

The two scoured the rest of the floor for the sight of a Pachirisu, and encountered a number of wild Pokémon along the way. They were dealt with in an easy fashion that even the inexperienced Elvira and Arian, who was still getting used to using his moves, could handle.

But they encountered no sign of Tamara. And in the last room that they hadn't searched...there was, oddly enough, in the middle of a forest, a set of stairs.

Waaaaaait, is there a reason why this isn’t the start of a new scene? Since this feels relatively detached in terms of time and place to the last paragraph since we functionally just fast-forwarded through the entire rest of the floor until we got to the stairs.

"What's that doing here?" Arian questioned.

"It's how Mystery Dungeons work," explained Elvira. "There are multiple floors to each Mystery Dungeon, and each one has a similar maze-like structure to it, like what we just went through."

Arian: “Wait, but why stairs?
:what:

Elvira: “Just how they work, it’s a game tradition. And why not, really?” ^^

[ ]

"Wait, so we have to explore more mazes?" Arian cried, groaning afterwards. "Great...just when we got done with that one. At this rate, it'll be nightfall by the time we find Tamara…"

"Well, we can at least say she's not on this floor," Elvira surmised. "So...up we go."

The pair started up the steps.

Might be worth showing that worry / exasperation set in a bit more explicitly for Arian here, IMO. Since his mood changes noticeably from his last line of dialogue but there’s not a whole lot of transition going into it.



Verdant Woods
2F

Arian: “U-Um… Elvira? How many floors are there in this place again?”
:riohnolu:


At the top of the stairs was another forest clearing. However, no sooner had Arian stepped off the last step that the stairs suddenly vanished into thin air, and the human found himself looking at a dirt floor.

"...Okay...I guess that's a thing in Mystery Dungeons," he muttered. "And another labyrinth to explore...Say, about that. How many floors does this dungeon have?"

Kek, and I was doing the “how many floors are there?” thing as a joke. :V

"...Three," the Treecko told him. "Verdant Woods is fairly tame. Some Mystery Dungeons have many times more floors than this one, and are much more dangerous."

Arian: “... I don’t know if I should be relieved or really, really scared right now.”
:FearfulMeowth:

Elvira: “Arian, I told you that you’d be fine in this Mystery Dungeon for a reason.” -_-;

"Well, thank goodness for that." Arian was relieved to hear that. "Imagine having to comb ten floors to find Tamara, for instance. Or twenty? Hell, maybe even a hundred!"

Elvira: “Hah hah… yeah, imagine that…”
:fearfullaugh:


"Places like that do exist. There are Dungeons even my dad would never dare tread," Elvira said.

[ ]

"Thankfully Tamara is in here and not in those places. On that note…let's get looking."

An optional thing, but it might have been funny to show Arian quietly freaking out at the reveal that there really are 100-floor Mystery Dungeons for a bit as a reaction to Elvira’s answer.

And so they searched the labyrinth of the second floor, encountering many more narrow corridors, rooms with a number of different exits, and wild Pokémon. Again, they were taken down with relative ease, though one incident warranted mention.

It was against a wild Wurmple. At one point, it had used String Shot on Arian. It caught the Riolu had been caught unaware, and he was completely taken by surprise when the silk wrapped around his legs. Trying to move only led to him falling ungracefully onto his face.

IMO, it might make sense to try and rephrase this section with less “passive voice”, since something about this feels a bit lacking in that sense of “action” that generally comes through better if the past tense is in active voice. Can’t speak for what follows past this point, but consider something like that following:

Arian obliged and returned to searching the second floor with Elvira. After a while, things began to get back into a routine: came across many more narrow corridors, rooms with a number of different exits, and of course, wild Pokémon. All of the encounters had been straightforward enough for Arian and Elvira to take them down with relative ease… or at least until they came across their first exception.

It was a wild Wurmple. Arian and Elvira went straight into fighting it much as always, except this time around it surprised Arian with a String Shot. Much to the Riolu’s alarm, the Wurmple’s silk wrapped around his legs and quickly gummed them up. He tried to fight it and move forward, only for his efforts to send him falling ungracefully onto his face.

There’s other potential ways of pulling off an “active voice” rewording, but I’ll leave that for you as an author to play around with if you opt to revisit this part.

"Agh!" he cried out.

Arian tried
to get back on his feet with his hands. But he found he couldn't; it was as if the silk had stuck him to the ground. He tried desperately to free himself. [ ]

"Hold on, Arian!" Elvira called back. [ ]

"Take this!"

She slammed her tail against the Wurmple, which finished it off. She rushed over to her companion's side. "Oh dear...you've got yourself stuck with the Wurmple's silk."

I would recommend breaking these paragraphs up and expanding the description a tad, since I’m really not getting a sense of relative direction at all in this battle. Like how are Arian, Elvira, and the Wurmple positioned relative to one another at this moment?

"Urgh...it's like glue," he complained.

"No kidding," agreed the Treecko. "Wurmple silk is often used in glue around here. It's a good adhesive. ...Perhaps a little too good," she added sympathetically, looking at her partner's predicament.

"Here. I'll help you out."

She knelt down and grabbed some nearby dock leaves. She then used them to grab some of the gooey silk that was wrapped around Arian's legs. Water would've aided her, but there was none nearby, so she had to make do. After some prying, Arian was finally unstuck pulled his legs free from the ground.

Some suggestions for splitting off Elvira’s last bit of dialogue into its own thing and to try and axe some of the passive voice in the last paragraph. I kinda wonder if there’s a smoother way of giving the response to the “like glue” bit, but I was a bit dry on hard suggestions of how to rephrase it.

"...Thanks, Elvira," he said gratuitously. "I'm sorry about that…"

You probably want “graciously” there since “gratuitously” means “unnecessarily / needlessly”.

"No worries. Though...your fur around your legs is still a bit sticky," she pointed out.

[ ]


"...Oh God…" he muttered in annoyance when he saw that indeed, his leg fur still contained some of the gooey, sticky residue from the Wurmple's silk.

"...Nothing I can do about that, I'm afraid," Elvira apologised. "You'll need to wash that off when we get to some water."

I can already tell that that leftover string shot is going to cause problems and get Arian stuck to bushes or something like that. Though I personally think that it might make sense for Arian to see the silk still stuck in his fur first before muttering in annoyance.

"...Alright. Anyway...onward with the search," Arian said, taking his mind off what just happened and continuing down the corridor they were in. Elvira quickly followed after him.

Okay, so I noticed that it’s a bit of a recurring trend in this chapter, but you seem to have a thing with referring to past events or objects in indirect terms for whatever reason. Like here, you could’ve said something like “his fight with the Wurmple” or “the sticky residue on his legs” and it’d still work here while being clearer to the audience as to what you were referring to.

Something to keep in mind, since in general, it’s usually better to be direct than indirect unless there’s a specific plot reason for not stating things bluntly (e.x. sitting character details for a reveal).

But a search of the second floor yielded no Tamara. Arian and Elvira found themselves at the stairs to the next floor.

"Well, no Tamara on this floor," the former surmised. "Shall we head up?"

Arian’s dialogue sounds really similar to the paragraph of narration. Probably because you’ve used ‘floor’ three times in rapid sequence. It might make sense to change up one or the other a bit for variety, e.x. “I don’t think Tamara’s here” or else tweaking the narration paragraph.

[ ]

"Hmm...I hope we didn't miss her," Elvira hoped. "She must be further up. ...Maybe she went all the way to the grove at the end? She wouldn't be incapable of getting there…"

"Then let's go," Arian said, and started up the stairs, with Elvira following him up them.

I’m surprised at how little Elvira reacted to the possibility of overlooking Tamara, especially if this is one of those settings where BAD THINGS™ happen in the event that you’re stuck in a Mystery Dungeon for too long. Showing her reaction or giving some reminder of the stakes might be worth showing off since it helps keep up an air of tension given that Elvira was depicted as being fairly worried about Tamara going into this Mystery Dungeon, so it feels a little strange that she’s not more worried about her given that she and Arian are now 2/3rds of the way through the MD and there’s been no sign of her.

Verdant Woods
3F

The third floor was much like the others, with the same forested look to everything. However, there was one notable difference that Arian spotted right away.

"Look!" he pointed out. "The stairs are right there. That's convenient."

Ah yes, the RNG gods are on the cast’s side here-

Elvira: “But we still haven’t found Tamara.”
:grohno~1:


… Right, that’s a thing, huh?

"Not yet, Arian," Elvira said. "Tamara might be on this floor. Let's search it first. If she's not here, she's in the berry grove."

Arian: “Wait, this place has a berry grove?” .-.
Elvira: “No, more like it’s a sign that Flora got Tamara’s location wrong and sent us on a wild goose chase.” >_>;

[ ]

"...You know, something just occurred to me," Arian voiced. "Should we split up to look for her?"

Well, that’s a terrible idea if I ever heard one there.

Though this might have worked better if we got to see Arian pause in thought for a bit or something first.

[ ]


"No! We shouldn't do that," denied Elvira. "This place is a maze that we could easily get lost in. The last thing we should do is split up. Not to mention, the wild Pokémon could corner us more easily if we were separate. Let's stay together, Arian. We're much stronger as a team."

"...Right. Forget I said anything," mumbled the Riolu, slightly ashamed of his poor idea. He silently followed Elvira down the corridor in front of them.

I kinda feel as if some of Elvira’s arguments are either out of order or else superfluous. Since the basic gist of things is essentially “Splitting up is a terrible idea” -> “This is why it’s a terrible idea” -> “We’re better off staying together”, but things are all kinda jumbled together, especially the “this is a terrible idea” and the rationale behind it.

Another floor, another fruitless search. Though, in a way, it bore fruit, quite literally. A dead end was accompanied by a bush of oran berries, and Elvira picked a few, suggesting they rest for a brief spell. Arian agreed, particularly after he had received a gash from a Pidgey's Peck. The oran berries helped to heal up his wound.

Oh, so there literally is a berry grove in this MD, huh? Wasn’t expecting that one. Though this is a similar issue as that one part on 1F that I pointed out where it feels from the fast forwarding like this could’ve had a hard scene break beforehand since there’s a noticeable shift of time and place relative to the last paragraph.

"If only I brought a bag with me," Elvira realised. "Then we could’ve picked these and have them in that berry stew I promised I'd make for dinner tonight."

>going into a MD without a bag

whywouldyoudothat.jpg


Like what on earth would these two have done if one of them got seriously hurt for any reason at all given that that presumably means that neither of them have an Escape Orb? .-.

"Oh yeah..." Arian recalled, remembering what had been said earlier that afternoon.

Another moment where it’s probably better to just bluntly state the “what” of what was remembered here.

"I should've brought a bag with me, actually," the Treecko went on. "It never hurts to have a bag of essentials when traversing a Mystery Dungeon. My dad never went on a mission without one. He would always bring the bare essentials with him, such as oran berries, max elixirs, geo pebbles, iron thorns…

[ ]

That was stupid of me to forget," she lightly self-admonished.

iu


Though Elvira’s line is long enough that you should consider breaking it up in two, especially since you can fairly organically pull that off with a moment of Elvira cringing to herself for failing Rule #1 of going into a MD before speaking up again.

"Nothing we can do about that now," Arian said. "Besides, we're on the last floor, and we're doing well. Any luck, and we'll have Tamara out of here by sundown."

Aaaaaand you jinxed it, Arian.

"...You're right, Arian," Elvira said, smiling at his optimism. "Come on. Let's go find Tamara and get out of here." She got up and headed out of the room, with Arian following her.

They returned to the room they started in, and found the stairs that took them upward.

… Wait, but wouldn’t this take them out of the Dungeon? Since I thought Elvira said there were only 3 floors-

Verdant Woods
Grove

Oh, so the berry grove really is a part of the MD.

Questions immediately arose in Arian's head when he emerged to a location that did not look maze-like in the slightest.

Or maybe not. Not really sure at the moment, honestly.

"Are we out?" he asked Elvira, once she had emerged.

"...We're at the end of the dungeon," the Treecko answered. "Just ahead of us is the berry grove. It's the only place we haven't checked yet. If Tamara's anywhere, she's there."

Arian: “Wait, what makes you so sure about this again?”
:riowtf~1:

Elvira: “... Process of elimination?”
:joltyshrug~1:


"Well, let's go then," Arian initiated, and he and Elvira made their way down the path before them.

As they did so, Arian couldn't help but take in the natural beauty of the woodland around him. The air was clean, and there wasn't any sign of pollution anywhere. Pure, natural, nearly untouched beauty, this was. Selenia truly is a beautiful place, he thought to himself. I'd love to explore more of it, if it's like this everywhere else in the country.

So Arian has memories of what pollution is like, huh? It genuinely does make me wonder what he knows, since it feels like even if Arian has forgotten about his old life as a human, he still remembers some things on a subconscious level.

Though why am I not convinced that all of Ardalion is going to be this pristine and unspoiled? Since it’s not as if it’s exactly impossible or even hard to pollute an environment even without industrial technology.

At that moment, however, the peace and stillness of the alluring forest was shattered by a distressed cry.

"Get away from me, you creeps!"

Arian: “Whelp, I think we found Tamara.”
:riohnolu:


The exclamation Arian was ripped Arian from his thoughts and made his fur stand on end by this exclamation.

"Someone's in trouble!" he said. "Was that Tamara?"

Some slight rephrasing suggestions, but yeah, I had a feeling it’d be her.

"It sounded like her," Elvira confirmed. "Come on, let's hurry!"

Yuuuuuuup.

They hurried further in. As they got closer, they came across got a view of what was happening. a Pachirisu was being confronted by two others: a Dark-type Meowth and a Deino. The latter two wore some kind of red band around their arm and foreleg, bearing the insignia of a rose and thorns. They were also speaking in confrontational tones.

Oh, so these guys are Thorned Roses, huh? Though IMO, this is one of those situations where you’re actually better off collapsing these two into one after axing a bit of a superfluous chunk.

"Your family hasn't been keeping up with the rent," the Meowth said. "And when that happens...prices have to be paid."

Arian: “Wow, you guys sound like the world’s worst landlords.”
:eltywtf:

Deino: “Technically my pal probably should’ve said ‘protection’ there. But who the hell are you and what do you think you’re doing sticking your snout in the middle of our dealings, huh?”
:typhNOsion:


"We don't have the money!" the Pachirisu protested. "And even if we did, your rents are stupidly high! How can anyone who isn't loaded with cash pay them?!"

Thorned Roses:
oh-no-anyway.gif


"Shut up!" the Deino fired back. "You don't get a say in the matter, wench! Pay up or suffer the consequences!"

Arian: “... Elvira, these are just a couple of common thugs, right? Since this is sounding like we just walked in on a mafia of some sort-”
:uhhh:


"You stop right there!" commanded Arian, choosing this moment to step onto the scene. Behind him, Elvira trailed. The latter was recognised instantly by the Pachirisu.

"Ellie!" she cried out, surprised, but relieved. "You came! Please help me!"

- Elvira looks at Tamara, and then at the glaring Thorned Roses -
Elvira: “(Flora, if we get out of this, I swear I’m gonna Pound you into next week for leaving me to go this alone with an amnesiac.)” >.<

"Don't worry, Tam! We'll deal with these guys!" Elvira called, before turning her attention to the two rogues. In an instant, her face darkened. "Well...if it isn't the Thorned Roses. Of all the people to run into…"

A-Meowth:
who-the-hell-are-you-terry.gif

Elvira: “... (Probably for the best he doesn’t know, really.)” ^^;

[ ]

"And just who are you supposed to be anyway?" the Meowth questioned. "A friend of the girl, by any chance?"

What can I say? When I get into a character, I can do a decent job at predicting where they wind up going.
:loltias:


Though given that this is the party’s first real encounter with these two Thorned Roses, it might make sense to describe them reacting to Elvira and Arian a bit more.

"That's no concern of yours," Elvira returned coldly. "Stop harassing Tamara this instant!"

[ ]


"Who do you think you are to order us about, missy?" the Deino said indignantly. "And you too." He directed this at Arian. "Don't you know who you're dealing with?"

Same here with the Deino and if he’s snarling or threat displaying here. Since I would assume that he’s probably doing his best to telegraph “piss off, brat” from his body language right about now.

Elvira: “Wait, how on earth did you reflexively know that Arian was there when you’re supposed to be blind-?”
Deino: “What, you think that I’ve never smelled Wurmple silk before? The ‘mon smells a few wraps shy of being a mummy!”
Arian: “... Boy can I not wash this gunk off me soon enough.” >.<

"No, I don't," Arian replied, drawing confused looks from the two ruffians. "I've never heard of you in my life." Probably didn't before the amnesia either, I bet.

[ ]


"Wait, what? You've never heard of the Thorned Roses?" the Meowth uttered. "Sheesh, do you not get out or what?"

"Tch. Probably just some trash talk," scoffed the Deino. "Don't listen to him, Bruno. This guy's probably some joker with a bag of tricks up his sleeve."

Another bit where some described reaction would probably be called for. But ‘Bruno’, huh? Wonder if that means we’ll see him and his buddy again in the future after this chapter.

A bag of tricks? I wish, Arian internally snarked. But he held his tongue. "It doesn't matter whether I know you or not," he replied. "Harassing a girl for rent money, alone in the woods like this? Not on my watch!"

Arian: “Again, you are the world’s worst landlords! How on earth is any of this legal from you right now?!”
:REElithe:

Bruno:
200w.gif

“Bub, do you think we care about legality here? We’re the Thorned Roses!
Arian: “(Yeah, I kinda figured we were dealing with a mafia here.)” ._.

"...You think you're some big shot, do you?" the Deino scathingly said. "You wanna play the hero in times like these?"

"...Yes. Yes, I do," Arian responded unflinchingly. "Because someone has to. Selenia's in a pretty bad place now, and someone has to step up to the plate and help out the common man."

Thorned Roses:
bender-laughing.gif

Bruno: “Seriously, what do you think you’re going to do to me, pup?”

"Ha! Big talk, Riolu," disparaged Bruno, the Meowth. "But words won't save you here. Actions are what count!" He unsheathed his claws.

"...Fine then. You want actions?" Arian punched his fists together. "Then we'll give you actions. ...Come on, Elvira," he said, turning to his partner. "Let's knock some sense into these ruffians."

Actually, wait. What was Elvira doing in all of this? Like is she trying to talk Arian out of this since she knows they’re tougher than they let on? Is she hanging back and waiting for a chance to ambush these two, or…?

"...Sure." The Treecko didn't sound quite so confident, though. Regardless, she still readied herself.

Arian: “Oh come on, what’s with that self-doubt there? Clearly you just need some music to psych you up!”
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfpplDh9TFQ

Elvira: “Arian? Doesn’t that theme play in battles where you get ambushed?
:uhhh:

Arian: “... I was thinking that it’d be more appropriate for fighting obviously punchable thugs in a secluded place since it was also used for that, but now that you mention it…”
:fearfullaugh:


Both duos gazed at each other, daring each other to make the first move. But eventually, it was Arian who walked slowly towards Bruno, before initiating with a Quick Attack and landing a hit on the Meowth.

"Argh!" the cat cried out. "You got lucky, Riolu. But that was only one hit. Take this!" He launched a Scratch at Arian, cutting the canine with his sharp claws and eliciting a wince from him.

Meanwhile, Elvira landed a Pound on the Deino. In retaliation, the dark dragon snapped back with a Bite, which narrowly grazed the gecko's side.

Yeah, this battle flow feels a bit “list of actions”-y, since in order to give off a proper flow of battle and sense of movement, you probably should consider doing this in more than three paragraphs to show Team Arian and the Thorned Roses moving about relative to each other and more of their battle in “motion”.

Also, I just realized, but:

>catmon ringleader baddie with base morph dragon underling

I’m reading a more dickish version of Team Fang from Guiding Light right about now, aren’t I? o<o

They mean business, Arian realised. They shouldn't be trifled with, these two. But if we fight hard enough, then...victory will be within our grasp, surely. Just got to keep at it with bringing down these two.

This battle is going to end with these three having to cut and run to avoid dying horribly, isn’t it?

Bruno came at him, claws bared. He brought up his paws, and dashed forward as well.

Deino: “Uh… Bruno? You sure that you don’t want me to handle the mutt? Since I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some ranged attacks-”
Bruno: “Shut up, dragon breath. He’s mine.

The Scratch landed, but Arian took the hit, and punched the Meowth as hard as he could. Bruno staggered backwards, clutching where he'd been hit.

"Damn you, mutt," he hissed. He went in to try again, but Arian cut him off with a Quick Attack.

Won’t spend too much time pointing it out from this point on since I kinda get the feeling that this is just a general structural thing, but the same criticism I had for the other battle sequences thus far in this chapter applies here, too.

Deino: “Uh… yeah, that’s kinda why I offered to take point on him-”
Bruno: “Shut. Up!
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:


"I can do this all day!" he called to him. Indeed, that was a strange sensation - he didn't feel like he was running short on energy.

Ah, taking after Riolu Pokédex lore, huh? Guess Arian got a decent amount of that Wurmple silk off him over the past couple floors.

Bruno let out an annoyed snarl and went in again. Arian did the same.

He didn't land the hit exactly like a punch - it was more like a swipe. However, this was soon a new discovery for him. His claws suddenly gave off a metallic sheen, and he slashed at the Meowth harder than before.

"Agh!" he cried. "Metal Claw?!"

Would you really rather have gotten hit by a Fighting-type move instead, Bruno?
:gardeshrug~1:


That said, I think that the middle paragraph could afford some tweaks. Consider playing around with something along the lines of this:

Arian threw his fist forward for another punch except this time he didn’t land the hit and it brushed along as a swipe. His eyes widened, first from the miss, then from seeing his claws suddenly take on a metallic sheen. They found purchase and slashed across the Meowth’s chest, sending him staggering back with a pained yowl.

The exact deets might not be what you’re looking for since I kinda went out on a limb with things, but it’s an example of what can happen when you stop and smell the roses a bit more for description.

"Metal Claw…" Arian was amazed. Another new move… He shook this thought off for now; he had a battle to win. So he moved in again, and once again, his claws turned metallic and slashed at his opponent.

Arian: “Ha ha! Look at me, Elvira! I’m Wolverine!”
Elvira: “You’re what now? And Arian? Why aren’t you just whaling on him with Fighting moves?!” >.<

[ ]

"Grrr! You're really pissing me off!" growled Bruno, hissing at the wound. "Hey, Vivian! Deal with this fuck for me!"

Probably want to have Bruno react more explicitly to getting Metal Clawed there, especially since it also helps telegraph that he’s getting angy.

Wait, Deino’s name is Vivian? As a guy? I mean, I guess that there’s technically guys with that name, but it still made me double-take there.

"Kinda busy myself!" the Deino replied, before breathing a Dragon Breath at Elvira. The Treecko dodged to the side, and struck him again with Quick Attack. "Dammit! You deal with her! You're fast!"

"Urgh! Fine!" Bruno yelled. "You deal with that ball of fur!"

Vivian: “I proposed doing this like half a scene ago-!”
Bruno: “Look, it wasn’t canon alright, so just shut up and do your thing here!”
:hissssss:


You're one to talk, Arian inwardly snarked. But he adjusted to the changed circumstances and found himself facing the Deino named…

"Vivian?" he asked the Deino. "Did I hear that right?"

Oh, so I’m not the only one who did a double-take at Vivian’s name there.

"Yeah. And? What's it to you?" huffed Vivian.

"...You are a boy, right?"

"Oh, for the love of - Vivian is not a girl's name!" shouted the Deino, clearly annoyed. "It's unisex! How many times do I have to tell that to everyone?!"

Yeah, Bruno and Vivian are going to pop up again in the future, I can already tell.
:lultias:


Arian: “And you’re not going around as ‘Viv’ to make it less ambiguous why-?”
Vivian: “Shut up already!

"...Really?" the Riolu queried sceptically.

"Yes, it is!" yelled Vivian, visibly frustrated. "What would you know anyway, you stupid idiot?! You haven't even heard of the Thorned Roses! You're just a wannabe hero with ideas above his station! You don't know a damn thing! You're noth - "

He was interrupted by a Quick Attack from Arian.

Ah yes, the part where Vivian learns that talking is not a free action.

"Be quiet, would you?" he remarked. "There's a story there…"

Wait, is that Viv or Arian that’s saying this line? Since the pronoun is ambiguous there.

"None of your business! Now shut up!" Vivian roared. He shot forward and Tackled him with great force.

"Oof!" Arian cried, the wind knocked out of him as the Deino's Tackle pushed him to the ground, the Irate Pokémon remaining on him.

"Get off me!" he yelled at the Deino, managing to push the dragon off him with a Metal Claw.

Tackle, huh? Starting to get the feeling that Bruno and Vivian really are “Team Fang, but more dickish” at this rate, since for all their huffing and puffing, they don’t seem to be dramatically above Elvira and Arian on the totem pole.

"Fuck you!" snarled Vivian, firing Dragon Breath at him. Arian couldn't dodge it in time, and felt the blast of breath.

"Ugh!" He tried to bear it, and struck back with a Quick Attack. The Deino staggered back, his Dragon Breath fizzling out.

Wait did Arian punch Viv in the throat or something? Did Viv run out of dragon energy to barf up? Otherwise, what made it fizzle out here?

Arian happened to take a glance at Elvira's side of the combat. She seemed to be holding her own well enough, with Bruno's irateness carrying over. This time, it was the annoyance of Elvira using Absorb to regain her energy from the wounds he dealt to her.

"You're getting on my nerves, you bitch," growled the Meowth.

Elvira:
5b3.png


"Good. It means I'm doing the right thing," Elvira riposted, before dashing forward with Quick Attack.

Oh, so she basically gives the slightly more polite version of that retort to Bruno, huh? o<o

She stopped herself from jumping back right away, though, and managed to fire off another Absorb, draining the Meowth's energy.

"Gah!" In retaliation, Bruno used Bite on her, eliciting a cry of pain from the gecko.

inb4 his bite was on Elvira’s tail, since depending on how much force she can swing that around with, that sounds like a fast way to get smashed into the ground a couple times.

"Elvira!" Arian cried. He saw the dark cat move in for another attack. "Oh no, you don't!" He ran forward to defend his partner.

I… didn’t get the vibe that Elvira was in serious trouble from the last bit. Which is part of the reason why I’d been suggesting a bit of a more expanded depiction of your “turns” in battle.

He didn't notice the glowing energy coming from his right paw. As Bruno closed in on Elvira, Arian jumped forward, and slammed his paw against the cat's side. The blow felt powerful, more powerful than the attacks he had been dealing, and satisfying.

Oh, so Arian’s current body knows Force Palm, huh? Boy is that going to leave a mark on Bruno there.

"Aaaaaaaargh !" Bruno certainly felt the power behind it, as he was thrown back by the sheer force of it. "Ow, ow, ow…"

"Whoa…What was that?" Arian murmured in wonder.

Force Palm, gotta love it. Though I just realized, but how come Tamara hasn’t been contributing to this fight at all right now? Like did she take off and run for safety? Since if she was supposed to, the story didn’t explicitly mention that she did.

"Arian!" Elvira snapped him out of his thoughts. "Look out!"

The Riolu looked to his left to see Vivian running towards him in an enraged manner, another Dragon Breath ready to be unleashed. He was about to fire…

Vivian: “Failed a spot check, bro.”
:AlviseDetermined:


…But Elvira cut him off with a Quick Attack, and the Dragon Breath skewed away from its target.

Vivian: “Oh come on! Seriously! Butt out, you stupid skink!”
:WHY:


"You hurt Bruno!" Vivian was visibly enraged. "You'll die, furry bastard!"

He but Arian moved out of the way in time. That didn't deter Vivian, though; the dark dragon chased him down, intent on great harm.

I think that you’re missing a word there for the “but Arian moved out of the way”. Though it might be worth emphasizing the ‘die’ in Vivian’s line to give it a bit more emphasis.

Bruno: “Viv, I just wanna point out that I’m also furry here-”
Vivian: “Shut up, Bruno! I’m avenging you right now!”