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Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Summary: Stranded in a remote village with only a gaggle of children for company and a vague notion of her past, the stoic and reserved Espurr must find a way to blend in with the crowd... or else. Based upon the character of Espurr from Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon.

Rating: Fiction T

Warnings: Heavy themes and instances of near-death accounts, actual death, and bullying take place within this story (With more likely to be added as it continues). Since this is an adaption of an already-existing story, there are spoilers for Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon all throughout (although knowing the plot isn't required to understand it). If any of these things bug you, then read ahead at your own risk.

~\({O})/~

“You’re awake. Good! I’ve been waiting so very long…

…How long? You were out for quite a while. I was beginning to get worried about you. Although, your mind wouldn’t have survived the trip if I hadn’t put you under. Transferring consciousness between bodies is a big deal, after all!

Do you remember what we talked about? The questions I asked you? The conclusions we came to together?

Yes… We’re here. We’ve arrived at the Pokemon World. But…

I’m afraid I have to leave you now. However; I trust you’ll be just fine on your own.

You will… If you answered my questions with an honest and open heart, you should have nothing to fear.

And now we must part, dear Espurr. My heart goes out to you, in the new world…

~\({O})/~

Do Psychic-Type Pokémon Dream Of Electric Sheep?

PROLOGUE

Those That Live in this World, and Those That Have Come to It

~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

The first thing she noticed was that she was laying on her back, and there was a scent in the air she didn’t like. The second thing she noticed was the rushing of the river that she must undoubtably have been right next to. The third thing she noticed (And the least important, her mind argued, to the chagrin of her body) was that she was parched.

Like, seriously parched. As in, her throat was going to die if she didn’t get any water. So, Espurr reluctantly admitted it might have been more important than she thought, and picked herself up clumsily.

The river rushed by not a few feet away from her, just as she’d thought. Espurr fell to her knees, attempting to cup up water in her hands, but it just wasn’t working how she wanted it to. She couldn’t work her fingers as well, and it all fell through her much smaller paws before she could hoist it to her mouth. It took Espurr a minute to recognize that her fingers were much smaller than they should have been (and covered in fur as well), but she temporarily ignored that in favor of her growing thirst.

Would she have to drink from the lake with her tongue? Espurr lolled it around in her mouth uncomfortably. She really hoped she wouldn’t need to. She then came up with the rather clever plan of tearing a largish leaf from a nearby bush and scooping up water in that.

After a few drinks from her makeshift forest ladle, Espurr’s thirst was finally quenched, and the ripples spreading through the water in her leaf had finally calmed enough for Espurr to see her reflection.

From head to toe, grey-purple fur enveloped her body, the only standout features being the white tips of her hands, feet, and floppy ears, and the oversized, pinkish pair of eyes on her face. She stared at it blankly, trying to decide what to make of it. The sight was shocking for sure; but Espurr couldn’t in all honesty say she’d been surprised. She had had a nasty suspicion of it while drinking her fill of the lake’s water just a minute before.

The real shock, in Espurr’s mind, came when she tried to recall her name. She was sure it wasn’t ‘Espurr,’ but… She wasn’t sure what her real name might have been, either. In fact, everything that seemed to be floating in the back of her mind; all her memories, thoughts, fear, doubts… They all slipped away like mirages once she tried to truly recall them. And the scariest thing was that she never would have noticed if she hadn’t taken a good, hard look at the depths of her mind!

Espurr felt her breathing speed up as she took a shaky step away from the lake, dropping the leaf of water to the ground. Her entire mind was a blank slate! She began to shiver uncontrollably, repressing the urge to release a loud scream for help. Had she felt like this often before she woke up here? Had she even existed before then?? Did she have parents? How did she remember what parents were?!

Swish.

Espurr was roused from her distressed panic by the sound of something deftly moving through the woods behind her. She turned around, quickly scanning the forest for any intruding p… (pokemon, her mind helpfully substituted. Espurr was mildly unnerved, but opted to use it all the same). It took all of four seconds to find them.

Approaching from behind, a trio of pokemon lurked in the woods. The shade of the canopy cast a foreboding darkness over them, and Espurr could barely make out more than the broadest of details on their cone-like heads. She wisely backed herself against the nearby tree, lest she fall into the lake unawares.

A heavy moment passed, all four pokemon staring directly at each other but none daring to make a move. Eventually, the cone-headed pokemon all slowly turned to each other in sync, rigidly raising their arms up in the air. Espurr watched the rapidly blinking lights flash between the trio, illuminating the strange markings on their heads and the ugliness of their limbs and lower bodies. And then the lights stopped, and in an instant they were all staring directly at Espurr again.

Then they started moving towards Espurr, and as they pushed apart foliage and ferns on their path towards her, she saw that they floated. And then she ran.

She didn’t know how far she ran or for how long, but she didn’t stop, no matter how many times she tripped on her new legs, until she couldn’t hear the distant beeping and the swish of brushed-apart foliage behind her. Espurr collapsed to her hands and knees, wildly panting as the surge of adrenaline that had encompassed her body slowly wore off. She glanced around the forest, taking in the setting sun to the west. It seemed she was more lost than ever now. She didn’t even have the river to guide her anymore. Surely the river would have led her to some sort of civilization. Why hadn’t she followed the river?!

Espurr felt the first tendril of cold mist swirl around her paw. She looked behind herself, and saw the wall of mist that was approaching from behind her. It wouldn’t be safe to travel out in all this fog, she realized; doubly so with those other pokemon possibly hunting her. Espurr glanced up at the great oak tree that stood before her, studying all the little grooves and branches that ran up its trunk. Those pokemon had no legs, and their arms weren’t much better, she concluded. They’d never be able to climb a tree without waking her first… right?

~\({O})/~​

Curled up in a tree branch just large enough to not risk falling from in her sleep, Espurr dreamt horrible dreams of a black void of nothingness. An in between of nothing but horribly impossible back, and she dreamt of the strange pokemon that had approached her earlier, with their flashing lights. What were their intentions? Why had they charged at her like that? Was she just a random passerby to them, or was it something more sinister? The incessant whispers of those questions plagued Espurr as she slept.

She awoke to the sound of rustling below. Stretching uncomfortably in the branch, Espurr realized it was still nighttime. Fog plagued the forest ground, surely as cold and damp as it looked, and Espurr was dearly glad she had made the decision to sleep in a tree. She took a look around. The forest seemed much more ominous than it had before, almost foreboding in nature.

Unsure as to what had woken her up, she attempted to hone her hearing. She could hear quiet rustles from below the fog…

…And saw the flash of a light. Espurr snapped awake in horror. She sat up in the tree, quickly catching her balance before she could fall off. Were they back? Had the strange pokemon caught up with her? She cautiously peered over the tree branch in fear.

Flickering lights of the red, green, and yellow variety lit up the fog right below her tree. Swish. That was the sound of foliage being brushed aside by something. Espurr quickly hid herself in fear. How had they found her? What did they want with her?? Were they going to climb the tree???

Swish. More foliage. Espurr hesitantly stole another glance, hoping she hadn’t been spotted (Although; she noted with growing anxiety, if they were here, they most likely knew she was too). The lights had disappeared, but so far the pokemon had not yet made another move. Did this mean they couldn’t climb trees after all? That she was safe, at least for the time being? Espurr’s heart leapt pre-emptively in hope. She waited a single moment, her heart beating over her frightened breath. The pokemon had gone away; it seemed. Could it be true? Had they given up?

Espurr glanced over the branch a third time, and was met with the sight of three cone-shaped heads poking out of the fog, staring up directly at Espurr’s tree. She quickly hid again, leaning against the tree trunk only half out of pure exhaustion. She knew it was too good to be true. They were waiting. But, for what? Did they expect her to come down from the tree?

A sudden wind ruffled Espurr’s fur, coming out of nowhere and leaving as quickly as it had arrived. She watched it blow off, violently rattling the branches of a few trees as it went. It certainly hadn’t been natural. Just the very scent of the wind reeked of evil. Was this what the strange pokemon were waiting for? Espurr didn’t want to wait around until whatever the second stage of the strange pokemons’ plan was rolled about.

She looked around, performing a quick survey of the woods from atop her lofty perch. Escaping on the ground was a bad idea all around. Even if she somehow managed to make it to the ground safely and escape the strange pokemon, she’d still have to travel through the fog afterwards. And there was no way of knowing what other evil things were waiting in there for her. The idea of staying in the tree until the strange pokemon left occurred to her, but she didn’t know if that was even a safe option anymore. That left one final idea.

She would escape through the trees. If she walked all the way to the end of this branch, there was a somewhat jumpable gap between this tree and the next. It was risky, but the best other option available to her was to sprout wings and fly, and she didn’t anticipate that happening anytime soon.

Espurr felt the beginnings of another, stronger wind begin to ruffle through her fur. It smelled just as rancid as the last one did, and it was stronger. That was it, she concluded. It was time to go.

She looked down at the strange pokemon, who hadn’t moved an inch from their previous spots. It was going to be too late soon. She had to escape! Bracing herself, Espurr began to dash for the edge of the branch, attempting to get a running start. Halfway across, she lost her footing, and for one horrifying second she thought that she was going to fall; that every bone in her body would break and then she would be left defenseless as the strange pokemon carried her off to a fate worse than death-

-And then she caught herself with her other foot, resuming her charge to the end of the branch with renewed determination. She leapt off the branch as soon as her feet touched the very end, reaching out as far as she could in order to catch the next one. She would make it!

The wind that appeared out of nowhere violently ruffled Espurr’s fur, the poor pokemon only having enough time to look in its general direction before she was hit with a strong blast of the foul-smelling gust. It knocked Espurr far off-course, her paws barely missing the branch by a hair’s length before she began the heart-wrenching journey towards the ground.

Crack.

Espurr let out a loud yowl of pain as she hit the ground, rolling to a stop on her side. She picked herself up quickly before anything else could take her by surprise. Her right arm was fine, but her left arm; the one she had landed on, hurt like nothing she had ever felt before. She could barely move it! Just bearing the immense pain was taking a lot of her. Gritting her teeth in pain that made her want to vomit, she spared a half-second’s worth glance at the mighty oak she had just fallen out of.

Espurr’s observation was cruelly cut short at the appearance of a trio of coned heads hovering through the fog. All of the sudden, Espurr forgot about the mighty oak and the blinding pain in her arm, and began to run for her life.

~\({O})/~​

~Audino~

An audino quietly picked the herbs and weeds from around a ground-bound bush in the forest, slipping them into her exploring bag. It was the full moon, so the night was suitably light, and her herb stores were running low again.

Fresh-picked herbs were always available on the Air and Grass Continents, but rarely grew anywhere on the Water Continent. They were vital to Audino’s medical practices, and she had been lucky to find this clutch of them sitting around the nearby mystery dungeon. Mystery dungeons being what they were, Audino had returned once every month at the full moon (she was superstitious) and found the exact same bush with the exact same clutches of herbs growing around it awaiting her.

Of course, finding the bush was a different beast entirely- Every time Audino came looking for it, it was in a different place. But that was to be expected of a mystery dungeon. The places were always re-arranging themselves however they saw fit, after all. Audino was simply grateful she’d found the bush fairly quickly tonight. Something was different in the air this time- she could sense it. It was like the dungeon itself had taken a malevolent tone. The lack of wild pokemon around made her ears bristle with uneasiness as well. Dungeon wildlings were never pokemon to shy away from a fight. If the dungeon locals were all in hiding… then what were they all hiding from?

Audino didn’t want to find out. She kept the escape orb she had bought from Kecleon’s specifically for this occasion in one of the bag’s looser pockets- just in case she’d need to make an impromptu escape all the sudden.

She looked up from her herb picking in confusion as an unnatural wind blew past her, shaking the trees with visible anger as it went. Audino clutched her escape orb tightly. This soon? The dungeon had never acted up this soon before.

There was suddenly a loud thump in the distance, followed by a sickening crack. Audino had half a mind to just leave right now and forget her herbs. But that notion disappeared once she heard the yowl of pain that followed. Whatever pokemon had made it sounded rather young… But a dungeon wildling; even a young one, could spell trouble for her at this point.

Suddenly, Audino saw the silhouette of a small pokemon running straight in her direction through the fog. Was it a dungeon pokemon? Audino braced herself for possible battle. She watched as within seconds, an espurr stumbled out of the distant mist and into the immediate area, running frantically through the woods. For a split second, Audino was confused. Espurr weren’t native to this dungeon. So why was one here?

Audino only had to see the look in the espurr’s eyes once to understand completely. Their eyes glimmered in the moonlight with a look of pure fear instead of pure fury, the hallmark of many dungeon wildlings. This wasn’t a pokemon who had become corrupted by the dungeon’s influence; it was a fully intelligent one who was about to come pretty darn close!

By now, the espurr had realized Audino wasn’t yet another hostile pokemon, and had changed its course directly towards her.

“Please help me!” the pokemon cried out in terror, clutching her left arm to her chest as she dashed up to Audino. Audino studied the arm, identifying the fracture in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t easy to break a pokemon’s bones. Something had done this to her!

Something that was approaching from the fog at this very moment. Hints of the strongest wind yet began to blow through Audino’s fur as she hurriedly beckoned the espurr towards her. Behind the terrified pokemon, she could see a trio of silhouettes approaching, accompanied by flickering lights.

The espurr reached Audino, violently shivering both from intense cold and sheer terror. Audino hugged the Espurr close, keeping an eye on both the wind and the approaching pokemon.

As the wind grew stronger, the pokemon approached, and Audino finally got her first good look at them: a trio of beheeyem, ghostly lights flickering in the fog. They weren’t dungeon pokemon, Audino realized: their movements were too composed for that. Too calculated.

“Stay close, and whatever you do, don’t let go. Understand?” Audino whispered to her new charge. The espurr nodded, staring in fear at the exact same thing Audino was.

There was no more time to waste. Any longer, Audino knew, and the approaching pokemon would be the least of their worries. In one swift motion, she pulled Espurr close and whipped out the escape orb.

“Shut your eyes!” she yelled to Espurr, hurling the orb at her feet. It exploded in a plume of brilliant, blue-white smoke, and when the smoke cleared, Audino and Espurr were nowhere to be found.

~\({O})/~
Music of the week! :D

The Black Rider - Howard Shore
 
“Logic is infallible, but also ruthless.”

~~~~\({O})/~~~~

PART I. THE VILLAGE

~~~~\({O})/~~~~

1.

Tricky

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily. The sun shone brightly in her face, and she tried to raise her arm to cover it out of instinct. She then noticed her left arm was in a cast.

“Oh! You’re up now. Good.”

Espurr’s head turned as Audino walked into the room. She beckoned to someone standing outside the door where Espurr couldn’t see them, then walked over to a cabinet filled with several types of herbal remedies. The exotic smells wafted over to Espurr as Audino opened the doors and fished through it.

She tried to raise herself from the straw bed she had apparently been sleeping on, clumsily working with only the use of one arm. Audino turned back at the sound of the straw rustling, looking at Espurr disapprovingly.

“Sit down, please. You still need rest!” she chided the psychic kitten. Espurr sat down again, noticing for the first time how much her body truly ached from the events of the previous day. Her left arm dully ached within the confines of the cast; a vast improvement over the blinding pain from last night… Last night. Espurr suddenly felt a lot less relaxed.

“You collapsed the moment we arrived here. Half delirious, I suspect.” Audino continued to fish through the cupboard. “And just before Errand Day, too. You were lucky Kecleon’s stays open late on Saturdays.”

Audino finally found what she was looking for, closing the cabinet and glancing towards the still-empty doorway.

“What are you still waiting out there for? You need treatment!” She told the unseen pokemon in the doorway.

“Sorry, Ms. Audino,” a voice muttered. “It hurts to walk….”

“Well, that’s why you don’t go jumping out of trees,” Audino retorted, pouring whatever she had gotten into several small leaf-made pouches. “Not to worry,” she continued. “You’ll have company.”

“Really?!?” the voice suddenly perked up with all the excitement of a pokemon kit in front of a candied berry stall, and a fennekin somehow limped through the doorway on only one leg. Audino directed her to the nearest straw bed, which the fennekin threw herself on like it was a pile of autumn leaves.

Audino supplied her with a few bags of ice. “Keep those applied for the next twenty minutes or so,” she ordered, the fennekin reluctantly putting her paws under the ice.

“IF you rest, your injuries will likely heal by the end of the day,” she told the fennekin. “But, unfortunately…” She said, addressing Espurr, “I estimate yours will take a little longer to heal. You should be fully recovered within a week.”

“A WEEK?!?!!” the fennekin moaned, like it was her with the longer sentence and not Espurr.

“A broken bone is no joke,” Audino told her, just a hint of an annoyed edge to her voice. “No matter how resilient pokemon bones are. A week, and no less.”

She grabbed her bag, and began to walk towards the door. “I’ll be back shortly. A poor ursaring is having throat troubles, and I’ve scheduled his appointment in for today. I don’t want either of you to move a muscle until I return; do you understand me?” she asked, punctuating the last sentence with a pointed glance towards the fennekin.

“Y-yes, ma’am! Absolutely understood!” the fennekin chirped happily, in a tone that suggested it was not understood at all. Audino kept her wary eyes on the fennekin a good moment longer.

“I expect to see you both sitting on those beds when I return,” Audino stated, and walked out the door without another word.

“SO-o-o-o-o-o….” the fennekin drew out her single word for as long as possible after making sure Audino had left. “What are you in for?”

“You’re new here,” she piped up just a second later.

“What’s your name?” she asked immediately after that.

“Are you…”

“Hah! There’s no way you’re Ms. Audino’s kid, are you?”

“Wait. Are you?”

“Huh? Are you? Pleaaase tell me!”

“Do I ask too many questions? Some pokemon say I do, but Mr. Farfetch’d says that the worst questions are unasked ones, so I’m going to ask as many as possible!”

“What’s your name? I feel like I’ve asked that one before…”

Espurr watched the Fennekin prattle on and on, unsure of how to answer the hyper pokemon’s questions or even get a word in on the one-sided conversation. How could she, when she herself didn’t even know the answers to half of them?

“…And then I totally robbed like, half my Pop’s oran berry harvest, and then he made me clean the entire house from top to bottom! That was yesterday.” The fennekin finished telling what must have been a lengthy story in the space of half a minute.

“A~nyway, I’m out of things to talk about. Did I ask for your name?” she finished. Espurr blinked at the fennekin, flabbergasted.

The fennekin immediately drooped down, noticing just how much information she’d bombarded her temporary roommate with.

“I came here just to see you, you know.” she muttered.

“You …did?” Espurr asked in pure surprise before the fennekin could open her mouth again.

“Yep! Jumped out of a tree to do it, too. Twisted my tail, sprained three of my ankles, and my ear hurts.” the fennekin tried to wag her tail, and cringed in silent pain. “But it was all for a noble cause!” She stated boldly, perking up. “ I couldn’t allow a fellow child to suffer in the clutches of the evil Nurse Audino for an entire week!” the fennekin moaned dramatically, attempting to put a paw to her forehead, before wincing at the sudden pain and shoving it back under the ice.

“Audino can’t be evil.” Espurr stated, trying her best to ignore the fact that the obviously loopy pokemon in front of her had just endangered her life to meet her. “She saved my life yesterday and patched me up.” She directed her eyes towards the cast on her left arm for good measure.

The fennekin looked at her like she was both crazy and the best thing ever. “Wait. Did you just say she saved your life???”

In that moment, Espurr realized she had gone too far. What was she going to say, that wouldn’t immediately put her in a situation she didn’t want to be in? ‘I woke up yesterday in the middle of the woods with no memories in a body I’m sure isn’t my own, and then spent the night getting chased by three hostile pokemon, and that’s how I broke my arm?’ Just from what she’d seen of the fennekin, her entire life’s story would be spilled to the world in five minutes flat.

“Um… What’s your name?” Espurr asked cautiously, trying to quietly divert the subject.

“Uh-uh! You’re not changing the subject on me-“ the fennekin angrily began-

“If you tell me your name, then I’ll tell you mine.”

“Deal.”

The fennekin cleared her throat dramatically, as if queuing up for a moving performance. “My name is… A secret! But everyone just calls me Tricky, so you can too!” She bravely stared Espurr right in the eye. “Your turn.”

“Oh… I’m Espurr.” Espurr carefully stated.

“Well, that’s boring.” Tricky yawned, stretching the best she could under the bags of ice. Squinting for just a second, she pulled her paw out from under the ice and gave it a twist just to be sure.

“Oh wow! I’m healed! I’m finally healed!” Tricky screeched, jumping up from her bed of straw and ice and frolicking around the room in joy. Espurr watched Tricky’s tail painfully cramp as she tried to wag it, sending the fox plummeting to the ground headfirst.

“My tail still hurts, though…” She muttered from the floor. And then she was back up again, walking rather stiffly to avoid moving her tail. “Wanna go exploring?” she asked excitedly.

Espurr was fairly sure Tricky had some kind of memory problem. “We were told to wait here,” she reminded Tricky. “Besides,” she added, tilting her head. “I don’t imagine you can go many places with that tail.”

“So what~?” Tricky sang. “If you listen to the dumb adults your whole life, life stays boring! Besides, I haven’t showed you around yet!” Without another word or even Espurr’s consent, Tricky began to forcibly push Espurr out the door.

“Tricky!” Espurr cried out in shock.

“Silence, my liege!” Tricky called back in a heavy accent. “This is the most important of occasions, and it demands our full attention!”

Espurr tried to drag her feet against the ground in order to bring them to a halt, but it didn’t even slow Tricky down one little bit. And with her left arm in the condition it was, Espurr found herself left totally helpless as Tricky bulldozed her down the hill and through a clearing full of wooden seats.

“That’s the school- school’s out today-“ Tricky said in between gasps as they passed.

“Tricky!” Both Espurr’s and Tricky’s heads turned to the right, where what could best be described as an angry otter wearing a safety vest was marching right towards them.

“Berry crackers…” Tricky mumbled. “Bye, Watchog! See you tomorrow!”

“Is this another one of your shenanigans?” Watchog angrily asked as he marched towards the pair- “What are you doing with that poor student?!!!” he shrieked in horror once he’d gotten close enough to see what was happening. “Put them down right now!!!”

“No can do, Watchog!” Tricky yelled as she plowed Espurr off. “Audino’s orders! Espurr needs me to show her around town!”

“That’s VICE PRINCIPAL Watchog to you!” Watchog called after her. “And those don’t sound like Audino’s orders!”

“They are! Trust me!” Tricky yelled as she turned a corner.

“Trust… you?” Espurr could hear Watchog sputtering the proposition in disbelief as they rounded the corner, as if the two words were completely foreign to him. She could kind of see why.

“This is the village square!” Tricky announced as they entered what was obviously the village square. She finally stopped plowing Espurr around like a toy, allowing the psychic cat to catch her bearings. “The village is larger, but this is the place where everything happens! You’ve got your Café Connection, which is called that because there’s an actual phone there, your fighting technique shop – no-one EVER shops there – and your Kecleon’s stall!” Tricky excitedly pointed all three out as she mentioned them. “Don’t steal from Kecleon,” she added with a hushed air of finality. “Trust me.

Espurr wasn’t sure whether to be intrigued or worried by that. She wasn’t even supposed to be here. It had been all of five minutes since she’d woken up, and already she was knee-deep in trouble!

“And so, you see…”

Espurr’s ears twitched, and for a minute she turned away from the fennekin eagerly awaiting her reaction to eavesdrop just a little.

“…He’s nine! We both know he wouldn’t just walk into one of those places like that! Not unless someone prompted him first…”

“Well, I’m getting to that…”

“What’s so interesting?” Tricky’s head curiously slid over to the side of Espurr’s, who had turned to view the pair of arguing pokemon. Upon seeing them, her entire face lit up, a slight wince betraying the pain from her injured ear.

“Deerling! Shelmet!” she gasped, suddenly plowing into Espurr from behind again and unwillingly pushing her towards the duo. “Guysguysguysguysguys-“

Deerling, the elder of the duo, looked up, her face twisting up into annoyed incredulity as Tricky pushed the hapless Espurr towards her.

“Um… hi?” Deerling raised a hoof in greeting, still trying to figure out exactly what was happening before her. “Tricky, what are you up to now?” she asked in a much sterner tone. ”I thought you were still in Nurse Audino’s office from jumping out of that tree.”

Tricky let Espurr down, dashing out in front of her stiffly. “Guys- You are never gonna believe this- I found Nurse Audino’s kid! Seriously! See?”

“Loser alert...” Shelmet, the younger of the duo, rolled his eyes.

“Tricky…” If Deerling could have facehooved, she would have. Instead, she settled for shaking her head in disbelief. “Nurse Audino doesn’t have kids. Plus, she isn’t married, and she isn’t a psychic-type. How could this be her kid?” she stuck an irked hoof in Espurr’s direction.

“Well…” Tricky’s tail drooped, causing her to wince. “She’s… adopted! Audino saved her life last night!” she nodded vigorously, as if that would prove her point even more. “…Right, Espurr?” She looked at Espurr, hoping for confirmation.

It took Espurr a few seconds to realize that Tricky had just come up with the perfect cover story for her. This way, she wouldn’t have to explain herself to everyone!

“…Something of the sort,” Espurr replied. Deerling momentarily looked shocked (Espurr suspected she wasn’t used to having the wrong answers much), but almost immediately she was all business again.

“Great,” she said, shaking Espurr’s good paw the best she could with her hoof. “See you in class tomorrow. And you…” She turned to Shelmet, the little pokemon already trembling at her fury. “Show me exactly where he went in. We need to get him out of there before nightfall!”

Without another word, Shelmet led Deerling off through the town gates, Deerling practically digging her hooves into the ground in anger with every step she took.

“So… Are we following them, or are we following them?” Tricky asked mischievously from beside Espurr.

“We’re going to get in more trouble...” Espurr couldn’t fathom how the fennekin could still want to continue onwards, especially after jumping headfirst out of a tree.

“Ha!” Tricky laughed. “ I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

“Well, we’re in enough of it as it is. I wouldn’t want to get kicked out the day I got here.” Espurr began to walk as fast as her short legs would take her, heading back up towards the school.

“Come on!” Tricky ran back up, rapidly orbiting her as she continued up towards the town’s northern gate. “You’re just like every other pokemon in this village! We’ll be in and out! It’s probably nothing anyway!”

Espurr did her best to ignore her. The events of yesterday were beginning to flash through her head again- Her harrowing trip through the woods, the strange pokemon that had chased her… Were they still looking for her? What if they were right outside the village at this very moment? What if… What if they found Shelmet and Deerling?

That stuck in Espurr’s mind more than anything else that had come before it. She’d known them for all of half a minute, but they didn’t deserve to go through what she had yesterday. The horror, the sheer terror… No-one deserved to go through that. Espurr hadn’t realized she’d stopped walking until Tricky stopped too, tilting her head in confusion.

“…Does this mean you changed your mind?” she asked hopefully.

Espurr’s eyes widened, and she grabbed Tricky behind one of the houses without even thinking.

“Hey- What gives-“ Tricky started to fuss, but Espurr quietly put her good paw to Tricky’s mouth. She pointed.

“Look! Audino’s coming back.”

Sure enough, the pink and yellow pokemon was leisurely hiking up the hill to the school, unawares that the very two pokemon she had told to stay put were watching her at that moment.

“No biggie!” Tricky suddenly leapt up with new life. “We’ll just take the long way around. If we’re quick, she’ll never know we were gone! Follow me!”

She began to dash down the thin alleyway, stopping some six feet away for Espurr to catch up.

“Come on, Slowpoke!” she yelled. “At this rate, taking the long way around won’t be a shortcut!”

Espurr simply couldn’t move as fast as Tricky could, and that was a fact. She kept stopping to catch her breath and tripping on the various things in the alleyway. Audino had been right, she realized: She did need more rest.

~\({O})/~​

This wasn’t the way back at all, Espurr realized. They had since abandoned the buildings of the Village for trees that blotted out the sun ominously, casting everything below various shades of blue and purple. It wasn’t like the foggy green forest she had run through yesterday, but it was no less foreboding, either.

“Are you certain this is the way back to the school?” She suspiciously asked Tricky, who was sniffing something out on the ground as she went.

“Yep! Totally. We’re taking the looooong way around,” The fox remarked. Espurr could see her mental smirk. She tilted her head in suspicion. The colorful roofs of the village were quickly disappearing in the distance behind them. If this was truly the long way around, then Tricky had meant it in every sense of the word.

“Stop!” Tricky suddenly perked straight up, holding out a paw to stop Espurr from going any further. In the distance, someone was talking.

“I’m going in after him!”

“No! You c-can’t! We… we won’t let anything bad happen to you!”

“Like you didn’t let anything bad happen to Goomy?”

There was a scoff, followed by the clip-clop of someone backing away.

“Fine! You two go, then.”

“W-why would we do that? I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Y-yeah, he’s totally fine. And once he brings that paper back, he’ll prove it!”

“He should have been back hours ago!”

Espurr recognized two of the voices as Deerling and Shelmet- but, the other, the third one, was foreign to her. She reluctantly followed Tricky as the fennekin snuck through the underbrush.

Deerling’s ears pricked up at the sound of something sneaking up behind them.

“Who’s that?” she yelled loudly, taking a battle stance. “Show yourselves!”

Seconds later, she was greeted with the sight of Tricky stumbling out of the underbrush, followed by Espurr not a moment afterwards. Deerling relaxed. “Oh…” she dropped her battle stance. “It’s you two.”

“You guys left without me…” Tricky infused her voice with extra sadness to get the specific effect she wanted.

“Well, I didn’t see you signing up to help.” Deerling pointed out venomously.

“Yeah! We don’t need a loser like you taking up precious space when we’re short on time.” The third, new voice had come from a pancham who leaned against one of the trees, his arms folded. He was chewing a twig in his mouth like he thought it made him look cool (Although this was only speculation on Espurr’s part), and just for a split second while studying him, Espurr locked eyes with the miniature panda.

“Who’s the new kid?” Pancham asked, twirling the twig around in his teeth.

“Nurse Audino’s child,” everyone but Espurr replied in unison. A moment later, Espurr decided never to lock eyes with anyone ever again.

“Guys, we’re on a clock here!” Deerling stepped up. “Goomy should have been back hours ago. He could be in serious trouble! You know what happens when pokemon stay in mystery dungeons too long. And if you don’t want to get grounded for life by your parents…” She looked pointedly at Pancham and Shelmet. “…Then it’s our responsibility to help him!”

“We’ll go.”

Everyone looked in surprise at where the voice came from. Tricky’s mouth fell open in awe and stayed that way. Espurr slowly put her good paw down.

“…Are you sure?” Deerling asked, eyeing her cast. “You don’t look too good.”

Espurr’s attention was drawn back to her cast, and the dull throbbing of her bone that was slowly beginning to become sharper. But this… Goomy must have been even younger than she was, and she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him to the strange pokemon; should they come hunting once again.

“…I can’t leave him in there.” she stated with an air of sincerity.

“Well, we won’t stop you.” Pancham nodded gratuitously, Shelmet quickly following in his wake.

Deerling sent them a quick glance of annoyance, then reluctantly cleared a path for Espurr and Tricky.

“Have fun getting killed!” Shelmet yelled after them.

“Shelmet!” Deerling’s shrill scolding could be heard but not seen, as the bushes began to physically close up the way back. Espurr watched as they curled up around each other, creating a wall of green behind them. She cast a look to the front. From here on out, the jungle looked downright malevolent.

Maybe it was.

~\({O})/~​

“I’m gonna be honest with you…” Tricky excitedly scampered everywhere around Espurr as the pair made their way through the shadowy forest. “That was amazing! I didn’t think you were the exploring type! Now we can be fellow explorers together, and brave mystery dungeons together, and even join the Expedition Society together! When we grow up, of course. The Expedition Society doesn’t accept children.”

Espurr tripped over her own feet again. Sure, the ground was littered with all manner of trip-friendly objects, but she could tell that wasn’t where the problem originated from. It felt like… It felt like her feet weren’t her own.

She looked up at the woods, noticing the utter lack of wind, how the forest seemed to stare down upon them with a thousand evil eyes, the rancid scent that once again filled the air… Something was wrong here.

“The forest doesn’t want us here,” Espurr finally said. “I can feel it.”

“Well, duh.” Tricky was nonplussed. “We’re in a mystery dungeon.” She dismissed it with a wave of her paw. “I should know; I’ve been through, like, 30 of these and come out just fine. You’ll always know you’re in a mystery dungeon when the wind stops blowing, and everything smells bad, and you get that kinda creepy feeling, like someone’s watching you…”

Tricky’s constant expulsion of words blended in with the background noise as Espurr walked. She wondered how far in Goomy was. She wouldn’t have dared to step in here if not for him. She just hoped he wasn’t too far from the entrance.

“…And you know it’s time to leave once this really thick fog starts creeping in…” Words finally stopped sprinting out of Tricky’s mouth, the fox falling silent as she saw the same thing Espurr was seeing: A thick mass of fog slowly crept between the trees, almost impossible to see through.

“…Exactly like that,” Tricky quietly finished. She suddenly looked a lot more frantic. “Already??” she asked; to no-one in particular. “We were only here for five minutes! How come there’s already fog?!”

Espurr saw the treetops above crackle violently; blown away by a wind that had come out of nowhere.

“Tricky?”

“Yes?” The normally hyperactive fox glanced back at Espurr.

“What happens if you stay in a mystery dungeon for too long?” Espurr asked, her voice wavering with just a hint of fear.

“Well, first, this really freaky wind starts to blow out of nowhere,” Tricky started, ticking it off on her paw. “And it just gets stronger every time it comes back. And if you don’t leave after that, then the dungeon begins to lash out at you itSELF-“

Both Espurr and Tricky jumped a combined total of six feet apart as the trunk of a giant tree suddenly splintered apart, falling to the ground with a deafening crash and flattening the area of ground Espurr and Tricky had previously been on.

Shaken, Espurr walked around the tree trunk to where Tricky was still picking herself up.

“Maybe I should just stop talking…” Tricky finally conceded, still catching her breath from the sudden incident.

~\({O})/~

~Goomy~

This had all been such a bad idea. He’d only wanted to prove himself to the other kids. He was nine! That was… a big kid’s age for sure! But no-one ever seemed to realize that. Deerling only coddled him, and Pancham and Shelmet bullied him more than the others, and Tricky… It was taboo for anyone in Serenity Village to hold more than a minute’s worth of conversation with Tricky. (Not that he hadn’t tried. The first and only time he’d attempted making friends with her, she had roped him into stealing oran berries from her father’s berry patch. That did not end well for either of them.)

But this was just as bad, if not even worse! Pancham and Shelmet had told him to do it. If he could find the paper they had left in this dungeon from the last school field trip, write his name on it, and bring it back to them before nightfall, they said, then they would finally recognize him as one of the Big Kids and stop teasing him! It was too good to be a dream, so he’d taken the dare.

And he’d found the paper, too. And written his name on it. But then this really creepy fog began to roll in, and suddenly everything felt more scary than it should have, and he couldn’t move! He was too scared to.

And it just got worse the longer he sat there. The fog, the drafts of wind, the scary feeling coming from everywhere… He had heard that there were wild pokemon who lived in mystery dungeons, wild pokemon that would eat you all up for breakfast if they caught you, wild pokemon that had been brainwashed by the Dungeon Wraith and set out as its personal hunting slaves…

No matter how confidently Deerling had assured him that the Dungeon Wraith was just a scary story made up to frighten little kids into staying in the towns, Goomy couldn’t help but wonder if the off-kilter howls he heard reverberating through the woods more and more frequently were really just wild pokemon after all. They didn’t sound like the howls of any pokemon he’d been taught about in school; off-pitch roars and screeches that rustled through the wood like the moans of a ghost.

Goomy didn’t like ghosts. He shivered even more then he already had been, keeping the paper close just in case a sudden wind came up and blew it away. Was he going to die here?

“GOOMY!”

Off in the distance, to Goomy’s left. He looked in that direction, but couldn’t see anyone through the unnaturally thick fog.

“GOOMY! WHERE ARE YOU?”

His heart leaping with sudden joy, Goomy realized where he had heard that voice before. It was Tricky!

“I- I-“ Goomy’s voice stuttered and died in his throat. No! He couldn’t be too scared to call for help; not when it was so close! Too scared to move, too scared to talk… Pancham had been right. He really was just a little kid after all. Maybe he deserved to be teased. He’d take that over sitting alone in this cold and scary dungeon any day.

“GOOMY!!”

With a sudden pang of fear, Goomy realized the shouts were coming from his right now. They were passing him!

“I- I… I- I’m HERE! I’M OVER HERE!” he yelled out, his voice returning to him in an instant.

An excruciating ten seconds passed. Goomy didn’t hear a response. Had he not been loud enough? Did they not hear him?

But all his fears were dashed when two shadows approached through the clouds, the fog parting to reveal-

A pair of furfrou. They leapt out of the clouds in sync, their eyes vacant and their mouths dripping with drool, both aligned in permanent snarls. Goomy couldn’t stand it anymore. He broke down in tears before the twin beasts. He was going to become some wild pokemon’s lunch!

“Begone, foul beasts!”

Tricky’s voice shot through the air again, and the furfrou were suddenly sent running off once a pair of twin embers flew through the air and set both their afros alight. Tricky rushed out of the fog, followed by an espurr Goomy didn’t know but was just as glad to see.

“Tricky!” Goomy happily glode over to Tricky, giving her his best attempt at a hug. It was a short-lived reunion, however, as the mystery dungeon actively repelled such activities with a bellowing screech that blew through the trees and nearly knocked the three of them off their feet.

“Uh-oh…” Tricky looked up in fear. “It’s getting mad. We should go.”

It was the first thing Tricky had said that day that Espurr wholeheartedly agreed with.

~\({O})/~​

“In my fifteen years of service as the Vice Principal of this school…” Watchog paced the principal’s office like a stressed-out madmon, all three of the teachers in the room watching him as he did it. “In my fifteen flipping years of service… one student has been the very bane of my existence.”

Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy were all seated in front of Principal Simipour, the head faculty member of Serenity Village’s School. He watched Watchog pace back and forth through the office through sleep-worn eyes (Audino had recommended he go for a checkup multiple times in the past, but Simipour had always insisted he was just fine), the same tired smile adorning his face as he did it.

Watchog suddenly spun on his feet, pointing a paw directly at Tricky.

“Thievery, trespassing, cutting school… And now she’s corrupting the newcomers!” Watchog’s ranting took on a slightly paranoid tone; one not lost on any of the staff or students in the room. “She’s making them think they can do whatever they want; whenever they want…” Watchog let out a hysterical chuckle. “Just think; the next generation: A bunch of scummy layabouts who steal and pillage and trespass to their heart’s content! Are you all just going to sit back and let this be the future?” he questioned the teachers, gesturing broadly to the trio of students in front of him. “This needs to be nipped in the bud, right here, right now-“

“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your… maniacal rant,” Farfetch’d started cautiously, clutching his stalk in his wings, “But is there a specific reason you’ve summoned us teachers and these three poor students here after nightfall, when they should be sleeping safely in their beds right about now?”

“Ha!” Watchog let out a sudden laugh, cutting Farfetch’d off. “Oh, I assure you, Farfetch’d; sleep is the last thing on these little demons’ minds…”

“Wanna remind me why you elected him Vice Principal again?” Audino asked Principal Simipour in a hushed voice.

“As it happens,” Watchog continued, “I didn’t have these students dragged from their beds. Rather; I ran into them on their way back…” he paused for dramatic effect, “…From the Foreboding Forest.”

Silence fell over the room, as the other three teachers tried to digest that.

“But what were they doing in the Foreboding Forest, I hear you ask?” Watchog continued, only pretending to have heard them ask. “Why, none other than… a dare!”

He whipped out the paper with Goomy’s slimy handwriting on it, making sure the rest of the staff could see it.

“And here’s the proof!” Watchog cried triumphantly. “A sheet of paper, straight from the school’s stores! And there’s only one pokemon who would propose a dare as stupid as this…”

Watchog cast his ever-leering eyes down towards Tricky, who immediately looked astonished.

“I-it wasn’t me this time! I swear!” Tricky cried out in her defense, but found herself breaking under Watchog’s intense glare.

“You said you found all three of them exiting the dungeon together;” Principal Simipour finally spoke up, his expression as infuriatingly cheerful as ever. “Yet only one has written their name on the sheet of paper?”

Watchog suddenly looked a lot less confident in his deductions. “…Yes,” he conceded, a good amount of his bravado lost.

“And assuming the point of this dare was to write one’s name on this sheet of paper and bring it back to the village…” Simipour turned to Goomy for confirmation, which Goomy readily provided with a nod. “…Then I think it’s safe to say these two were not part of the dare in the first place, wouldn’t you agree?”

“…Yes,” Watchog concluded, looking suitably cowed.

“And knowing that,” Simipour continued, “What would you then say they were doing in the dungeon?”

Tricky piped up before Watchog could.

“We were saving Goomy! Pancham and Shelmet dared him to go in and he didn’t come back out, so me and Espurr volunteered to go in after him, and we saved him from getting eaten by the dungeon wildlings!”

A wave of uncomfortable shock passed through the teachers at the mention of anymon getting eaten by the dungeon wildlings.

See?” Tricky questioned Watchog angrily.

“Then, I think it’s settled,” Simipour concluded.

Watchog caught his jaw just in time to stop it from falling open in shock. “You aren’t seriously going to let them go unpunished, Principal?!?” He asked in shock.

“Oh, certainly not,” Simipour replied. “Children going into mystery dungeons unsupervised is grave misbehavior indeed. But…”

He glanced towards Tricky, Espurr, and Goomy.

“…The cause was noble, and I have a hunch little Goomy here won’t be venturing outside the bounds of the village on his own anytime soon. Therefore, excessive punishment is unnecessary. A weeks’ worth detentions will do.”

“Detention for a week?!” both Tricky and Watchog cried out, for entirely different reasons.

“Yes, Simipour replied, locking eyes with Tricky. And unless you’d like me to make it two, I highly suggest rolling with it.”

With little more than a squeak of fear, Tricky disappeared out the door, only stopping once to groan in pain as her tail cramped halfway down the hall.

“Wait!” Audino called out after her, grabbing her exploration bag and dashing out after Tricky. “You still need healing! I’m ordering you back to the clinic!”

The door slammed shut of its own accord behind them, leaving only three teachers and two students in a silent office.

“I-I think I s-should be going,” Goomy finally stuttered out, the excitement of the day’s events finally beginning to get to him.

“I agree,” Simipour replied. “If I recall correctly, You live in the same area as Farfetch’d; correct?”

Goomy thought about it for a second, then nodded. Simipour turned to Farfetch’d.

“If you would do the honors…” he asked. Farfetch’d nodded and left without another word, Goomy sliming off in his wake.

Now it was just Espurr, Watchog, and Simipour in the office. Espurr considered her options, looking at Watchog as he silently mulled over his apparent defeat. A moment later, he stormed out, letting the door swing shut behind him.

“Espurr, was it?”

Espurr glanced up at Simipour, who still wearing the same expression on his face.

“I heard about your predicament last night,” he told her, still seated. “I must say; it was rather reckless of you to charge into yet another mystery dungeon only the day you got here, especially with your arm being what it is. However, your being here tonight is a convenience, if a minor one.”

He ruffled through a few of the neatly-stacked papers on his desk, pulling out a folder and opening it.

“The pokemon who chased you last night are known as Beheeyem, and they’ve been sighted several times in the past few days searching for you.” Simipour’s voice lost its airy quality for a more sincere tone. “That is why, for the time being, I strongly implore you to stay within the bounds of this village. I say this out of concern for your own safety; not to put a shackle on your freedom. We don’t need another disappearance on our hands.”

“Disappearance?” Espurr suddenly felt like she wanted to puke. “You mean… someone already disappeared?”

“We’ll discuss that another time.” Simipour closed the file, leaning back in his seat. “But, for now, I think it best that you stop allowing such thoughts to clog up your mind, and take kind Nurse Audino up on her offer to let you stay up at the School Clinic.”

Left with no other options, Espurr nodded silently, and politely bid Principal Simipour good night.

~\({O})/~​

“Today was fun.”

Tricky happily munched on a stalk of celery as she watched Audino lock up the school clinic.

“And I mean it this time.” Audino stopped at Tricky’s bed on her way into one of the clinic’s other rooms. “Stay in your beds, or I’ll see what I can do about extending that weeks’ detention to a month.”

Satisfied at the suitably frightened look on Tricky’s face, Audino draped a thick tarp over each of the high-up baskets containing luminescent moss that lit the room with a bright yellow glow, then continued into the clinic’s other room, leaving the door open just a crack behind her.

Espurr carefully helped herself to one of the berries on the plate between them, and took a bite. Tricky had eagerly informed her that those were the ‘boring oran ones’, but to her, it tasted like the best piece of fruit in the world (if not a little messy). It was amazing; what fear could do to one’s appetite. Espurr hadn’t even noticed how worn-out and famished she was until after her cast had been cleaned, and she’d been given a seashell filled with water to drink. She wondered briefly about what Simipour had meant by ‘another disappearance.’ Had there been others like her? Others, who hadn’t been lucky enough to make it to civilization? Were the Beheeyem responsible for their vanishings?

For the first time, Espurr realized just how much danger she had truly been in last night. If she hadn’t stumbled upon Audino by chance… she might not have survived at all. That was a scary thought.

Espurr glanced over at Tricky, who had somehow fallen asleep mid-meal, the half-eaten celery-stalk resting idly at the foot of her bed. Espurr decided to follow Tricky’s example, and closed her eyes to rest as well.

Then, a moment later, she got up, placed the celery stalk back on the plate, and promptly crashed in the straw bed again.

~\({O})/~
Music of the week! :D

Many Meetings - Howard Shore
 
~\({O})/~

2.

The Dazzling Debut of the Dashing Wanderer!

~\({O})/~

~Serenity Village Outskirts~

“I’m happy to inform you all that I have safely made it to the boundaries of Serenity Village,” the tall, yellow pokemon declared as he walked down the mountain path. “And in record time, too! Only two days.”

He wore a thick cloak over his body, carrying a walking stick in one paw and fiddling with a strange gadget in the other.

“Well, that’s a record for you, Chief.” A voice beeped itself out of the gadget, distorted by distance. “For us… we’d be getting nothing done if we were that slow.”

“Buizel!”

“What? Just stating the facts.”

“How’s it been going? Did you use the map Jirachi gave you?” The voice continued, then faltered for a moment in doubt. “Oh, no, never mind. Of course you used it. What was I thinking?”

“Actually, I was more interested in hearing about you,” the yellow pokemon replied, expertly deflecting the question. There was no need to reveal that he had lost the map to a nasty gust of wind early on in the trip, and had spent the rest of the time taking shifty side-routes and bumping into dead ends and mystery dungeons. “What’s the report back at the Society?”

“Well, we tried to get Mawile to do the morning report,” a new voice spoke up over the line. “But she went ahead and locked herself in her room with those old glyphs I dug up for her, so Dedenne’s in charge of that now. I must say, she almost does it better than you, Chief.”

“Of course I do it better!” The second voice piped back up indignantly. “Who do you think arranges that report every morning?”

“It’s been a while since the last… incident, but we’re all keeping an eye on Swirlix, just in case.” A fourth, scratchier voice piped up near the back. “She’s been looking a little… ravenous lately.”

“Jirachi’s… still sleeping.” The third voice interjected.

There was a heavy pause, as everymon tried to figure out what to make of that.

“What? He was extra tired today. Would you have done it?”

Another heavy pause, as everymon asked themselves whether they would have done it.

“Anywaaay…” Dedenne spoke up again. “Archen stepped out and picked up that report you were looking for. Turns out, you were right: no-mon’s gone in or out of Pokemon Plaza for an entire week. No mail, no food shipments, no electrical transmissions… nothing. It’s like the entire population all up and vanished without telling anymon. Mawile and Archen are heading out to look it over tonight.”

“Speaking of Mawile…” Ampharos mused.

“Here, Chief.”

“Oh?” Ampharos raised an eyebrow, despite well knowing that they couldn’t see him. “You’ve been quiet.”

He could practically see Mawile shrug from behind her clipboard.

“There wasn’t much to say. The wise ‘mon speaks only when necessary.”

Ampharos was about to reply with a witty remark, but suddenly he found the gadget he held in his hand wildly flickering on and off without rhyme or reason.

‘Chief?” Dedenne’s voice came through the speakers, so garbled up one would have to know her personally to tell it was her. “Ch-i-e-e-e-“

And then, just like that, the gadget cut out completely. Ampharos shook it a little, but nothing happened. The fur on his back bristled in unease. Jirachi’s gadgets rarely ever failed like that.

Unless…

A strange hum floated through the air, and suddenly the area all around him took an ominous tone to it. Ampharos stopped. He discreetly planted his walking stick in the ground, stuffing the Expedition Gadget back into his explorer’s pouch.

“You’re best off going back to the woods from whence you came,” he addressed the trio of pokemon standing right behind him. “That, or…”

He didn’t hear the pokemon move a muscle. As much as he disapproved, Ampharos had the nasty feeling they had been looking for a fight in the first place. He shed his cloak without warning, grabbing the walking stick and posing flamboyantly. “…Face the wrath of the Dashing Wanderer!”

Ampharos came face-to-face not with the dungeon wildlings he’d been expecting, but instead with a trio of beheeyem, all standing still as stone. Confused but alert all the same, Ampharos kept his fighting position. Why weren’t they moving?

And then, in an instant, they did. They started hovering towards him, raising their arms with the rapidly flickering lights straight up and blinking him in the face.

Blinded; Ampharos barely jumped out of the way of a large shadowy ball that suddenly flew straight out of thin air. He landed on his feet, only just managing to keep his bearings. That wasn’t a Shadow Ball, and Ampharos doubted beheeyem could perform that move naturally anyway. Whatever that was… it was new.

It exploded across a grove of trees, shaking several branches but otherwise leaving the trees untouched. That, too, made Ampharos flinch, and he barely avoided another one.

Quickly generating a Dragon Pulse in his mouth, he aimed it directly at the beheeyem. This wasn’t a battle he could afford to prolong, if he was correct in his line of thinking. It shot through the air, narrowly avoiding the trio of attackers as it went on to shred the forest for another twelve good feet. The sheer force of the move sent Ampharos stumbling back from recoil, but he caught himself with his walking stick, ready to dodge the next attack.

However, it never came. Ampharos headed back onto the mountain path just in time to see the tips of the beheeyems’ cone-like heads as they fled into the forest. He picked his cloak back up, and draped it over himself. It seemed in the end; they were cowards at heart.

Letting the orb at the end of his tail glow brightly as a source of light, Ampharos approached the site where the beheeyems’ unidentified attacks had landed. Just as he suspected, there seemed to be no physical damage to the tree itself…

But when he put his paw on the trunk of the tree, it met not with the rugged texture of earthy bark but instead with the smooth surface of cold, hard stone. Ampharos knocked against the tree for good measure. For all intents and purposes, that section of the tree may as well have been a stone statue. Ampharos pulled out his expedition gadget. This was something he needed to record. He had the feeling it was going to be of great importance in the future.

He fiddled with the buttons, trying to find the one that activated the feature he wanted. He knew Jirachi had installed a camera function not too long ago…

After recording the strange anomaly, Ampharos hurriedly continued on his way, at a much faster pace than before. There was no need to risk a second encounter with those beheeyem tonight.

~\({O})/~​

“Look sharp, class!”

The entire class of Serenity Village immediately stopped horseaing around and assumed their seats at the speed of light as Farfetch’d marched into the outdoor classroom. Watchog followed, eyeing the class suspiciously from the spot he took in the background. Farfetched walked up to the teacher’s desk, twirling his leak like a baton before stomping it to the ground like a cane. Everyone jumped to attention at the abrupt noise it made, and Farfetch’d cleared his throat, now sure he had everyone’s attention.

“We have a new student joining us today,” he began, scratching the student’s names off the blackboard one by one with his wing. “Now, I’m told a good number of you already met her yesterday, but we’ll introduce her anyways just to maintain proper form.”

Farfetch’d beckoned with his wing, and Espurr slowly walked out of the gate leading to the school clinic, stopping in front of the blackboard.

“Espurr, please introduce yourself.” Farfetch’d gracefully cleared the way with his stalk.

“Good morning,” Espurr began, reciting the well-rehearsed speech she had mentally practice for the occasion this morning. “My name is Espurr. I wish to become a student here at the Serenity Village School, and I hope that we can all become good friends and classmates in the near future.”

A few quiet snickers (and one loud ‘pffffffffffffft’) emerged from Pancham’s side of the classroom, but apart from that, she was received with warm curiosity and mild interest.

“Very well done!” Farfetched clapped in applause. He was the only one who did. He crossed the final name on the board out with his leek. “There’s an empty seat next to Tricky right there. Why don’t you take that one?”

Espurr thought she heard Watchog mutter something along the lines of “Of course; put the troublemakers together… Not like I mind; I’M just the Vice Principle…” under his breath. She ignored it, walking over and taking the seat quietly.

“Isn’t this so cool??” Tricky whispered to her the moment she sat down. “Not only do we get to attend the same school and detentions, but we get to sit right next to each other, too!” she immediately straightened up once she noticed that Watchog was watching her.

“Now that we have that out of the way…” Farfetch’d began to write on the blackboard with the chalk in his wing. “As I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, we are entering the last school week before Summer Vacation. And since we all know you’re going to spend Summer Vacation letting your brains rot…”

He finally finished jotting down whatever he was writing on the chalkboard, letting the class see just what he had written down. “We will spend this last week reviewing our current curriculum!”

There was a collective groan from the class at the idea of reviewing old material, save for Espurr - who had no idea what the class curriculum was and therefore couldn’t be disappointed in learning it - and Deerling, who was more pre-occupied with scratching at her bright pink coat than much else.

Tricky let her head flop to the desk in disappointment.

“Aww… more school?” she complained dejectedly. “And detention? Not fair.”

In the distance, Watchog folded his arms triumphantly.

“We will spend the first half of the week reviewing the curriculum,” Farfetch’d began. “And the second half will subsist of a daily exam from all three of your teachers on each subject, so be prepared for that.”

A few more groans from the class, but no-one outright objected (If only for the presence of Watchog).

“Now… is the class ready?” Farfetch’d asked. The class was not by any means ready, but Farfetch’d began anyway.

“History! So far, we’ve covered…”

He took a leaf through the fat history book on the teacher’s desk.

“…Ah! Yes. Here it is. The Human Age. The earliest scrap of recorded history we have in our current possession dates back to the year 2050. In fact, it’s even where we get our current time system from. It’s said that many of the things the Humans left behind have been passed down and become deeply-integrated parts of our culture, from spoons to mechanical clocks to even- Deerling?”

Deerling looked up, still mildly agitated from the constant itching of her coat.

“Yes, Mr. Farfetch’d?” She asked, trying her best not to sound irritated.

“Would you like to be excused? I’m sure Audino can do something for your molting.”

Deerling immediately stood up from her desk and made a beeline for Audino’s office.

“Thank you, Mr. Farfetch’d-“ she briefly spoke in passing, dashing up to the clinic without another word or detour.

Once she was gone, Farfetch’d returned to the book. “Now, where were we- Yes, Espurr?”

The entire class glanced at Espurr, who had her good paw up. Noticing everyone was looking at her, Espurr promptly lowered it.

“Where are the humans now?” she questioned.

Farfetch’d flipped through the pages of the book, getting increasingly flustered as he went. “I was just getting to that, if everyone would pipe down and let me tell the story…”

He went back to trying to find his place again. Trying her best to ignore Tricky’s dramatic ‘dying’ act right next to her, Espurr briefly wondered what a human was. The name sounded familiar to her… but just like the rest of her memories, it floated off the moment she started to think about it.

“…Due to various relics and ancient texts we’ve pieced together over history, we pokemon have been able to get a pretty good idea of what happened to the Humans,” Farfetch’d continued.

Without warning, he suddenly leapt on the desk and slammed his leek into the chalkboard, jolting the rest of the bored-to-death class to attention. Watchog, who had fallen asleep in the corner, jolted awake with a high-pitched scream.

“Bam! Wiped out! Just like that.” Farfetched paused for a moment, stepping off the teacher’s desk he had jumped on. “By what? We don’t know; only that the pokemon were left to pick up the pieces, and no-mon’s even seen what a Human looks like since.”

Espurr listened intently, absorbing the information with an interest unrivaled by anyone in her class, who had already studied the material before. The ghostly concept of a Human continued to float around in the back of her mind for the rest of the class.

~\({O})/~​

School wasn’t so bad, Espurr decided. At least, it wasn’t the dread-fest Tricky had made it out to be. Farfetch’d held the first class, and proved himself a very motivational speaker when he wanted to be. Then, there was Audino’s session on medicinal herbs, berries, and health, which seemed extra boring following Farfetch’d’s class. But, the class wasn’t that droll, and Audino was nice enough, so Espurr didn’t think too badly of it.

A break for recess was given before Watchog’s class, and though Espurr didn’t see Deerling during that period, she did take notice of the way the other teachers were all mentally preparing themselves for future headaches.

Watchog taught the dungeon class, and it was safe to say he was not a very encouraging teacher at all. Quite the opposite; Espurr observed. It wasn’t like he could go five minutes without warning his students about what would happen if they were ever caught doing the things he taught unsupervised under his watch. Watchog’s class was the only one the students of Serenity Village made an effort to at least pretend they were paying full attention to.

After Watchog finished his lecture, Principle Simipour came out and gave the Weekly School Announcements (Which weren’t anything groundbreaking, Espurr noted with dismay; only minor announcements about the last week of school before Summer Vacation). Espurr noticed how tired he seemed; as if he had just woken from a deep slumber. Afterwards, everyone eagerly moved out of the hot sun to eat lunch in the Clinic Building.

“I hate Summer Molting.” Deerling growled, slathered from head to hooves in a greenish paste that clashed with her short pink fur and made it look like she was wearing a coat of mud. “It’s already annoying enough when it’s cold outside- but in the summer heat? It’s downright unbearable!”

She took a bite of her apple to drown her annoyance in.

“Remember to eat quickly, please,” Audino called from another part of the clinic. “We need the paste in its prime to perform the second part of the procedure.”

Deerling grumbled under her breath, then went back hurriedly finishing her apple.

Espurr noticed the way Pancham and Shelmet were eating quietly instead of causing the usual fuss they must no doubt have been responsible for in the past, and Goomy was staring at Deerling in pity. The sole oblivious mon was Tricky, who happily munched on her assortment of fruits, vegetables, and nuts without abandon.

“Are you gonna eat that?” she asked, looking directly at Espurr’s yet-untouched nuts and seeds.

“Typical Tricky…” Pancham whispered to Shelmet in a jeering tone. “Never stops eating.”

“Well, we’re in a heat wave right now!” Tricky retorted indignantly. “At a time like this, eating is important!”

“Drinking is important…” Goomy added, shuddering. “A few times I thought I was going to dry out during class.”

That earned a brief worried look from Deerling, but she had to leave a moment later at Audino’s call.

Tricky stole another glance at Espurr’s plate.

“My question still stands. Ya gonna eat that?”

Espurr took a nut from the plate, noticing how it didn’t have a distinct scent to it. She put it in her mouth and bit down, enjoying the slightly sweet, slightly oily texture it had.

“Yes,” She answered, to Tricky’s dismay. “Sorry.”

~\({O})/~​

“Now, Principal Simipour doesn’t hold the same high standard to punishment as I do…”

Watchog marched behind Espurr and Tricky as they walked down the path to the oran berry fields, Goomy sliming up in the two students’ wake.

“…But your detentions for the following week will be personally overseen by the law-upholding gaze of yours truly, Vice Principal Watchog.” Watchog announced, his voice taking on a flamboyant tone. “And I assure you; I. Will. Be. Vigilant. In my supervision- Sharp left!”

The three students stopped marching down the path at Watchog’s shrill cry, taking a sharp left.

“Mr. Watchog?” Espurr annoyedly brushed away the dust Watchog had unwittingly kicked into her fur.

Vice Principal Watchog,” Watchog muttered. “What is it?”

“Why are we the ones leading?” Espurr questioned him. “You seem to have all the directions, yet you’re making us lead the way, when we clearly have no idea where we’re going.”

Vice Principal Watchog sputtered. “I… I have to make sure you don’t run off while I’m not looking! Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had deserters…” He growled, staring at Tricky.

“Sharp right!” he yelled a second later. Everyone perplexedly took a sharp right.

Now we’re just back on the path,” Tricky observed in an obnoxious tone. “Do you even know where you’re going, Mr. Watchog?” She asked cheerfully.

“For the last time…” Watchog sputtered, his face red, “It’s VICE PRINCIPAL WATCHOG!! And yes, I took a wrong turn. Sue me. All straights from here.”

After a few more minutes of silent endurance as Watchog danced around them frantically to make sure they were keeping a perfect straight file, they finally arrived at the berry fields; long, open plains of bushes that stretched far into the distance, ending at the neatly-clipped trees that marked the entrance of the forest.

“Here we are,” Watchog drawled. “The three of you will be spending detention picking tomorrow’s lunch. Here’s a list from Principle Simipour, outlining what you need to pick and where.” He handed out a trio of lists to Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy, who took it with his slimy paws. Espurr looked over the list, her eyes scanning through the squiggle-like text in confusion. She couldn’t read this!

“Vice Principal Watchog?” Espurr raised her one good hand again.

“FINALLY!” Watchog exclaimed loudly at the mention of his full title. “Yes? What is it?”

Espurr showed him the sheet of paper.

“I can’t read this. Are there any in English?”

Watchog’s face fell as fast as his prospects of a well-behaved student.

“…What’s English?” he asked suspiciously. “Is this another prank??”

“-Of course not, Vice Principal,” Espurr started quickly before Watchog could continue his paranoid train of thought. “English is…”

She stopped short when she realized she didn’t actually know what English was. It was another one of those memories that had appeared on the tip of her tongue, and then slipped away without a second thought.

“…A dead language,” she carefully finished. “It’s all I was taught to read.”

Watchog’s skeptical eyebrow nearly rose out the top of his head.

“We don’t speak dead languages here,” he told Espurr. A moment later, he sighed at her unwavering gaze. “If you can’t read it, one of your partners in crime can help you out. But I still expect hard work from all three of you! If I catch any of you slacking, I have permission to extend your detention periods… Into Summer Vacation,” he finished with a leer, intended just for Tricky.

Tricky didn’t like the sound of that. She began to physically drag Espurr into the Oran Berry Section; Goomy accidentally dropping his copy of the list as he slimed after them. He watched it blow off into the fields helplessly, carried off on a sudden gust of wind.

“That Watchog is evil!” Tricky gasped once Watchog was out of earshot. “He wouldn’t cancel Summer Vacation, would he?”

“I-I think he would,” Goomy stuttered as he slimed up, his eyes peeled to the paranoid otter loitering about stiffly in the distance.

Tricky grabbed one of the wicker baskets resting next to the large gate in her mouth, entering the fields with a bound. “Espurr! You’re on reading duty!” she yelled back through the basket, oblivious to any of her classmates’ plights. “Goomy, help me pick berries!”

Both Espurr and Goomy traded looks. Goomy looked at his slimy paws that weren’t fit for picking berries in any way, shape or form.

“Want to trade?”

Espurr handed her list out to Goomy with her one good arm, heading over to the remaining wicker baskets. “I can’t read it anyway.”

Goomy gave Espurr a grateful stare, bobbing his head readily and taking the sheet.

“Okay… I- It says we need 50 oran berries from t-the orchard…” Goomy began, following Espurr through the gate and into the field, where Tricky was already busy shoving countless orans into her basket without rhyme or reason.

~\({O})/~​

“Exactly 50 orans… ten apples…” Watchog searched through the students’ baskets, his own copy of the list in his hands. “10 carrots; fresh dug…”

A moment later, he put both the list and the baskets down, a look of complete and utter shock on his face.

“I don’t believe it…” he muttered in disbelief. “You actually got everything. And without any problems, too…” He just caught himself from swooning. “I think I need to sit down…”

As Watchog stumbled off to find a seat, Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy all took a well-deserved break in the shade.

“T-that took l-longer than it s-should have,” Goomy stammered, still panting from the heat.

“It was only the oran section that took longer.” Tricky happily stated, licking the oran berry juice off her paws before it could stain her fur.

“Y-you ate some of the berries??” Goomy just stopped himself from crying out in shock. “We could get g-grounded for that!”

“Eh.” Tricky finished licking the last of the juice off her snout, causally falling back to all fours. “What Watchog doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Right, Espurr?”

There was no answer, causing Tricky to do a double take in surprise.

“Espurr?” She asked.

Espurr quietly walked to the end of the fence surrounding the oran berry fields, oblivious to the concerns of her two classmates. In the distance, she could hear something noisily making its way through the trees, stepping on sticks and bumping into tree trunks as it went. It wasn’t the beheeyem; she was sure of that much. She didn’t even know if this was the direction she had come from anyway. But Principal Simipour’s words still hang fresh in her mind: “I say this out of concern for your own safety. We don’t need yet another disappearance on our hands.”

A gust of sudden wind ruffled Espurr’s fur, the psychic kitten looking eastward to the forest from which it had come. A large sheet of paper flipped and fluttered through the air, slowly soaring lower and lower as it continued to surf the wind. By the time it reached Espurr, it was flying low enough for her to leap up and grab, and she plucked it out of the air with her one good arm.

“Ooh- what’s that?”

Espurr jumped; startled by the sudden exclamation from behind her. Tricky ran up, Goomy doing his best to keep up with her.

“Oh…” Espurr tried to keep the paper out of the dry dirt the best she could with only one hand at her disposal. “I don’t know. It blew in on the wind.”

“Hey! Troublemakers!” Watchog yelled a distance away, apparently recovered from his near-fainting spell. “The forests are off-limits! You’d better stay clear!”

“OKAY, MR. WATCHOG!” Tricky yelled, immediately standing in front of Espurr to cover up the map. “WE’RE COMING BACK NOW!”

The words “It’s Vice Principal Watchog!” could be heard floating over the breeze towards them.

“We’ll hide it under the baskets,” Tricky chirped, happily trotting off. “Watchog will never find it.”

As Tricky and Goomy headed off, Espurr cast a quick glance up towards the sun before following, which was already beginning to dip into an early sunset.

It was hot.

~\({O})/~

Baram Town ~ Air Continent

~Mawile and Archen~

“I never understood how you manage to sleep on Lapras’ backs,” Archen said, ruffling his feather in exhaustion as he stepped onto the dock after Mawile. “Don’t you ever worry about falling off?”

The many windmills of Baram Town stood proudly above them, lazily turning in the early morning breeze. On any normal day, seeing the windmills slowly spinning in the morning sun would have been a breathtaking sight worthy of the expensive Air Continent Pass it took to get there. It was safe to say that Archen was more than a little peeved at the long journey ahead of them, as well as the fact they weren’t going to be staying in town for more than an hour. He yawned, covering his beak with a wing. Maybe it was his lack of sleep that had him in such low spirits.

Mawile, whose time management ran in the same vein as the Chief’s (Or, as Archen sorely referred to it, ‘Drop-Dead Organization’), wanted to be back in Baram Town before dark, which required chartering a lapras in the dead of night and setting out only moments after. They had arrived in Baram Town at the crack of dawn; Lapras promising to return for them at the dawn of the next day.

Mawile marked off the second box on a page in her journal, which Archen saw was marked ‘Arrive in Baram Town’ (The first was ‘Charter Lapras’).

“Trial and error,” she replied, stowing the clipboard away in her exploration bag. “You learn quickly where the best spots to sleep on a Lapras’ back are once you’ve tried it a couple of times.”

Archen shivered at the thought. He never cared much for water in the first place; let alone doing something as foolhardy as what past Mawile had apparently attempted. If only he could fly… This mission would be over already, he ruminated.

The streets of Baram were still mostly empty for what was undoubtedly a major tourist attraction, currently belonging to the early birds, miscellaneous other early mons, and pairs of unfortunate explorers such as themselves. Even Kecleon was still hurriedly setting up shop as Mawile and Archen walked over to his stall.

“Ah- just a minute!” he called out with a sense of manufactured cheer, hurriedly straightening things on all their shelves. “I’ll be ready for you in just a minute~! Bit of a late day today…”

Archen had a bit of a hard time fathoming how anymon could consider this late, but he wasn’t given the time to think on it. Mawile handed him her exploration bag for the items, which Archen reluctantly took in his wings.

“Welcome to the Kecleon Shop!” Kecleon chirped, straightening his apron discreetly. “What would you like to purchase?”

“Everything on this list, please.” Mawile handed him a sizeable list. “I assume you’re fully stocked?”

Kecleon suddenly looked far more distressed than what was good for business.

“Actually…” he began, wringing his hands together uncomfortably, “My shipments come from the Rescuer’s Guild in Pokemon Plaza. I haven’t had a delivery in over a week, I’m afraid…” He wiped his brow.

Mawile took a minute to study the list.

“…I suppose we can make a few exceptions, then,” she conceded, pulling an inked pen out of the bag Archen was holding and making several modifications to the list. She handed it back; Kecleon’s face relaxing considerably at the large number of crossed-out items. “We happen to be on our way to Pokemon Plaza ourselves.”

“R-really?” Kecleon’s face lit up as he removed items from the shelves. “What for?”

“Expedition Society business,” Archen grumpily chimed in before Mawile could answer. “We’re investigating the sudden cut-off of communications in the area.”

“Perhaps you’ll take a look-see for the lucario who delivers my stocks every week?” Kecleon asked hopefully, setting the last of the items on the counter. “I’ll throw in a future discount…” he hurriedly added immediately afterwards.

Archen rolled his eyes where the Kecleon couldn’t see him. Typical shopkeepers. They only ever sold things at a gain to themselves.

“We’ll keep an eye out.” Mawile’s reply was short and prompt. “The bill, please?”

“Oh- yes- I’m just forgetting things left and right lately-“

Kecleon dived under the counter, emerging with a pen and paper. He tallied the prices of all the ingredients up in his head so fast Archen was surprised they hadn’t established a shopkeeper’s monopoly yet (Until his tired mind reminded him that they had.), writing the final bill at the bottom of the paper and sliding it to Mawile.

“That’ll be 550 Poke,” he finished cheerfully. “Except for the tiny reviver seeds. I’m afraid I’m plumb out of those.”

Mawile dug in her bag for the money, handing it to Kecleon and placing the items in the bag Archen was holding. He slung it over his back as they left the stall.

“Here.” Mawile took the bag from Archen and handed him a chesto berry as they walked through Baram Plaza. “Breakfast.”

Archen took it reluctantly, watching Mawile pull out a chesto berry of her own and take a large bite of it. It seemed she was more tired than she let on. All those nights of sleepless rune research must have taken their toll on her after all.

“It’ll take us approximately seven hours to arrive at Pokemon Plaza,” Mawile stated, taking another bite of the bitter berry. “In other words, high noon. We both need to be at our best for this.”

She downed the rest of it like it was a rare delicacy. Archen cringed through his beak at the sight. He grumbled quietly before taking a bite. This was going to give him indigestion later.
 
~\({O})/~​

The Village Plaza, it turned out, was most packed just before sunset on a Monday evening. Serenity Villagers scrambled around in a hurry, trying to gather all their supplies and grab an early dinner before the shops and café closed for good. They hurriedly went about their business, narrowly skirting around Vice Principal Watchog and his trail of students; as well as the wooden wagon they carried their supplies in.

“Wait right here,” Watchog ordered them as they approached Kecleon’s stall. “I have to purchase the non-pickables. I don’t want to see you standing one centimeter out of place when I return, or I’ll assign summer detention for all three of you. Got it??”

“Got it…” All three students recited wearily.

Satisfied enough, Watchog started towards Kecleon’s stall, leaving the three students on their own. Espurr took a seat on the ground the moment he had turned his back, almost drooping with sleep just like her classmates. The day had taken quite a toll on all three of them; Watchog’s detention in particular. It was taking most of Espurr’s willpower to keep herself from napping in the street.

“Good evening, students.”

Al three students glanced up wearily at the pokemon who had greeted them, suddenly straightening up and leaping to their feet when they saw who it was. Audino adjusted her exploration bag over her shoulder, a smallish purse in her hand.

“N-Nurse Audino!” Tricky immediately made an effort to look awake, only succeeding in making herself look constipated instead. “We totally weren’t sleeping on you right now. Trust us!”

“I hope ‘Vice Principal’ Watchog hasn’t been too hard on you,” she said, trying to keep a straight face at the sight of Tricky’s acting. “He has a penchant for working the detention students to the brink of exhaustion sometimes.” Audino’s sentence ended on a slightly darker note, a small edge to her voice betraying her true feelings on the subject.

“W-we know…” Goomy sighed dejectedly.

“You all behaved yourselves?” A brash voice rang out behind them. Everyone turned around to face Watchog, who lugged back a week’s worth of nuts in his hand. He glowered at all three of the students as he approached. “Did anymon move?”

“Oh, put a wooper in it, Watchog,” Audino retorted, her voice suddenly less cheery. “They were with me the entire time, and I haven’t seen them move once.”

Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy were treated to the rare sight of watching Watchog’s face drain white as he noticed Audino for the first time. “A-Audino!” He muttered nervously, tightly gripping the sack the nuts were held in. “Fancy seeing you here…”

“Happened to be in the area; thought I’d lend a helping hand,” Audino replied with just a little crossness in her voice. “Somemon has to look out for the students’ health; after all, and it’s not going to be you.”

“Really?” Watchog folded his arms defensively. “They’re just as happy to cause trouble on any other day. The way I see it; this is a useful waste of their energy.”

“Oh; you did not just go there…”

Espurr happily tuned out what was obviously about to devolve into a petty argument, in favor of watching the cloaked pokemon who was clumsily wandering through the square. He was yellow from head to toe; for what little the earth-green cloak concealed, it did nothing to hide the pokemon underneath. Espurr briefly wondered why he had it. She stepped out from behind the arguing Audino and Watchog, heading over towards the Kecleon Stall to get a better look.

“Pardon me- coming through; I’m afraid-“ He stumbled through a group of conversing pokemon after tripping on a rock, the orangeish orb on his tail glowing dimly in what Espurr assumed must have been embarrassment. Was this normal? She thought. He seemed so… clumsy.

Tricky yawned loudly, walking over to stick her nose into the second most interesting thing happening in the square at that moment. Her eyes widened once she saw the pokemon.

“What’s his problem?” She quizzically asked, for once too tired to set off another domino stack of mischief. Espurr looked at her briefly, no longer surprised by her abrupt interruptions anymore.

“You mean he’s… new?” Espurr asked.

“Well, duh.” Tricky rolled her eyes as she sat. “Who runs like that?!”

As if on cue, the pokemon stirred from the ground, picking himself up dizzily. Espurr’s eyes widened.

“He’s about to charge straight at us.” she suddenly said. Tricky opened her mouth to say something to the contrary-

“-My sincerest apologies; madame,” the tall yellow pokemon apologized to a passing lotad as he picked himself up from the ground. “I think it’s this way,” he confidently stated, pointing straight in Tricky’s direction. Only seconds later, he tripped over the exact same rock that had sent him sprawling to the ground in the first place. Both Espurr and Tricky barely managed to clear the way before the pokemon went barreling through and stopped just short of Hawlucha’s Slam School (An otherwise unremarkable tent near the southwest end of the square).

Espurr blinked twice in shock at the sight, watching Tricky stare at the crashed pokemon, eyes wide and mouth agape.

The pokemon twitched, raising himself from the ground clumsily.

“Pardon…” he apologized, trying his best to regain his bearings. “I’m afraid I possess a natural predisposition towards clumsiness.”

“You wha?” Tricky’s ears fell at the complicated vocabulary.

“I have a horribly awful sense of direction.” the pokemon tried his best to simplify the sentence. A second later, he shook his head.

“Oh, where are my manners?” he lamented. “My name is Ampharos. A traveling pokemon, known far and wide as…”

In a sudden burst of flamboyance, he whipped the cloak off, posing dramatically. “The Dashing Wanderer!”

The noise managed to grab the attention of most of the square; save for Audino and Watchog. Poor Goomy, who had fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion, was rudely snapped awake again.

“I might ask your names now,” the Dashing Wanderer inquired, dropping his pose now that he had unwittingly attracted the attention of half the pokemon in Serenity Village.

“I’m Tricky. That’s Espurr.” Tricky’s introduction was swift and brash. “We’re going to join the Expedition Society when we get older!”

It was Espurr’s turn to let her mouth hang open in shock. She caught it before it could become embarrassing, staring at Tricky in surprise. When had she agreed to that?!

“You’re a travelling pokemon, right?” Tricky promptly began to bombard Ampharos with her usual truckload of questions, all tiredness forgotten for the time being. “Have you been to the Expedition Society? Have you? Huh?”

“That…” the yellow pokemon said, for obvious lack of a better answer. “…Is classified!”

“Oh…” The disappointment on Tricky’s face set in faster than a flat cake. “…What are you doing here, anyway?” she asked him. “We’re just a loo stop on your way over the Mountain.”

“Why, I came to see the sights, of course!” Ampharos replied cheerfully. “Serenity Village is known for its stunning scenery, after all.” Ampharos glanced at Tricky’s face for a minute to see if she had bought it or not. He was making this all up on the spot, of course. He couldn’t reveal his true reasons for travelling to the Village.

“But now, unfortunately, I must bid you all adieu; goodbye; tally-ho!” he exclaimed, stumbling up towards the Café Connection. “I have some important errands to tend to.”

In other words, Ampharos had an important pokemon to find. And after an hour of walking around the village, he was none the closer to finding the mon he was looking for. He stopped at the door of the café, feigning a loss of breath to buy himself some time to think. In just about an hour, he had discreetly ‘tested’ every single adult pokemon who happened to live in the village (The place was rather secluded. Newcomers wouldn’t get far without knowing the lay of the land, he theorized, which all-but ruled out the pokemon he was looking for). His questions had been directly poised to elicit specific reactions from the right pokemon, thereby proving their humanity to him. But, so far every single adult pokemon in the village had answered his questions ‘correctly’, which allowed Ampharos to quickly narrow the possibilities down to three on the spot: they were A. dead/lost in the wilderness (Ampharos very much hoped it wasn’t this one.), B. extremely clever and a good liar, or…

…C. They weren’t an adult pokemon. Ampharos suddenly realized that last option made much more sense than it should have. But his actions today had already earned him the title of travelling madmon, he was sure; he couldn’t simply go around asking about the village children! Not unless he planned to blow his cover, or spend a night in the local jail (Thereby blowing his cover in the most undignified way possible). If only there was another way…

He glanced back at the pair of children he had just met. The fennekin had asked about the Expedition Society… Perhaps there was a silver lining to his sudden dizzy spell after all. Disguising it as a quick bump against the doors of the café, he discreetly let his own spare Connection Orb fall from his bag. It rolled out in the middle of the square, over to where he knew they would see it.

Sure enough, a moment later, he saw the espurr and fennekin walk over, picking it up and chattering to themselves amongst it. A few times he got the creeping feeling the espurr could see him through the window, but he was pretending to stare at a menu, so he doubted the young pokemon suspected anything. This way… He’d have his answer in no time flat. If the newly arrived Human was among the village children, he’d roll with it. If not… He’d just ask for the orb back a few days later. Win-win. Ampharos began to truthfully study the menu for the first time.

Espurr and Tricky took a good long look at the Café Connection as the kooky ampharos chatted with Kangaskhan.

“That… was mega weird,” Tricky concluded, after a long, quiet pause.

~\({O})/~​

“I mean, we don’t get a lot of tourists here,” Tricky said, orbiting Espurr as they walked up towards the residential section of Serenity Village . “We’re super out of the way! The last one was…”

“…well… you,” she finished, tilting her head at Espurr.

Espurr declined to say anything in response, still inspecting the glassy blue orb their mutual acquaintance had dropped earlier. Tricky had a point; she realized. The ‘Dashing Wanderer’, whatever his true name and motives, was a shady character at best.

“Now that I think of it… you never told me where you came from, did you?” Tricky asked, slowing to a trot beside Espurr. “That’s like; question number #2 on the list of things friends should know about each other!”

Espurr mentally froze. She still didn’t have an alibi of any kind to cover for her lack of memory past the last couple of days!

“It’s like I said,” she replied, staring at Tricky. “I… Got lost in the woods, and Nurse Audino found me and took me here.”

“Yeah, but where did you come from?” Tricky dashed in front of Espurr, walking backwards up the path. ‘Come on- I want the juicy bits!”

Espurr panicked inside. There were no ‘juicy bits’ to give! Aside from the trio of beheeyem that apparently wanted her hide, but she had a nagging feeling that was best kept to herself. And with six days of Watchog’s taxing detentions ahead of them, she’d barely given any thought to the issue at all.

“I… don’t want to talk about it,” she finally said.

“Spoilsport.” Tricky spun around, scurrying up the road and heading towards a house coated in blue; like a large shell.

“C’mon!” She yelled back at Espurr; a ways ahead. “You get to meet my Pops today!”

Espurr looked up at the uniquely-decorated house, and then smartly stashed the orb in a nearby bush.

~\({O})/~​

“So…” The immense blue turtle grunted out, one of his flippers curled around a large spoon. A massive spread of different dishes lay in front of them; Tricky’s plate(s) piled high with choice selections from every dish. Espurr sat next to her, a much humbler piece of fish on her plate.

“Yep.” Tricky replied happily between messy laps from a bowl of rawst berry soup.

“You brought a friend.” The turtle took a deliberate sip from the spoon, eyeing Espurr suspiciously.

“Yep.” Tricky took a large bite of a stuffed bell pepper lying on a plate to her left.

“On leftover night.”

“Yep.” Crumbs went flying everywhere as she scarfed down half of a piece of peach cake on the plate to her right.

“Use your table manners!” He shouted, jarring her out of the cake she was currently driving her snout into. “We don’t eat like dungeon wildlings in front of our guests!”

Tricky jumped, immediately straightening up and modifying her eating habits. Espurr was taken aback by the sudden outburst, but seeing that Tricky had already returned to normal calmed her down a little.

“But I have to practice my Dungeon Eating, Pops… ” Tricky said with a hint of manufactured gloom.

“What is Dungeon Eating.” The big blue turtle asked; only half incredulously. He had seen too much of this.

Immediately Tricky perked up again, her eyes gleaming with that mischievous glint Espurr knew all too well by now.

“Weeeeell…” she began. “You know how you’re in a mystery dungeon, and you don’t have the time to sit down and prepare great big meals?”

“No.” Tricky’s father replied, his tone as flat as the one-word sentence he spoke.

“Well, it happens!” Tricky continued. “And that’s what Dungeon Eating’s for!”

“And how does this ‘Dungeon Eating’ work?”

“Easy!” Tricky declared. “You just eat everything on your plate as fast as you can! Like this…”

Carracosta stopped Tricky with another one of his outbursts before she could begin messily scarfing her food down again.

“NO! I won’t hear of it! You’ll eat your food like a respectable ‘mon, or not at all!”

“Fine…”

Tricky sat down, taking smaller bites of her cake. Crumbs still flew, to Carracosta’s dismay, but not nearly as many.

Silently deciding that trying to interpret what had just happened in front of her wasn’t worth the brainpower, Espurr took a polite bite of the fish on her plate.

~\({O})/~​

“And this is my room!”

Tricky led Espurr into her bedroom; a quaint, empty room located on the western wing of the house.

“It’s rather quaint…” Espurr noted, taking in the bareness of the room.

Tricky scoffed. “Well, lucky you, sleeping in Nurse Audino’s office. We kids just don’t have the privilege! Besides, the thing I really wanna show you is hidden on purpose.”

She began to scurry towards the corner of the room where her bed was (An actual bed; Espurr realized; not a mass of straw. Tricky’s father must have been generous).

“You’ve hidden things by accident?” Espurr asked; curious, but at the same time not fully believing it.

“Do you really wanna know the answer to that?” Tricky asked, foraging under her bed. “Or do you wanna see my secret?” Without waiting for an answer, she dived head-first under the bed, rummaging around in all the junk.

Espurr waited a few minutes, then decided to peek under the bed as Tricky dug. A yellow paw slapped her away amongst the digging.

“No spoilers!” A muffled Tricky yelled from under the bed. A few dusty books with the picture of what looked like a turtle pokemon on the cover inadvertently slid out on the floor from all Tricky’s digging.

A moment later, Tricky herself emerged from under the bed, releasing both a cloud of dust that shot out into both their faces, and a box.

“Ready?” she asked. Espurr didn’t feel that question particularly needed to be answered.

Tricky threw open the box, and pulled out a pair of scarves. She proudly displayed them in front of Espurr, who didn’t know what to think.

“These are my most prized possessions!” Tricky declared happily, holding them in front of Espurr’s nose. Espurr felt it twitch uncomfortably as the dust particles went up her nostrils.

“That’s… Nice…” Espurr choked out, trying to hold in a sneeze. Tricky’s face fell.

“Are you okay?” She asked, oblivious to the effects of the dust.

Espurr’s sudden sneezing fit even managed to reach Carracosta’s ears from all the way from across the hall.

“Huh.” Tricky shook the scarves to expel all the dust. “They are a little dusty, aren’t they? I haven’t used them in so long…”

She slipped one around her neck, trying to get a feel of the material again.

“Like ‘em?” she joyfully asked Espurr, trotting circles around the room. “I totally forgot about them until now! I used to wear these both to school every day.”

Espurr carefully picked the spare scarf up with her good paw, admiring the way the fabric shimmered bright blue and bright green at the same time. Just the fabric itself seemed lofty- as if the scarf was not of this world at all. She turned it around in her hand, noticing what looked like the tiniest nick just above the tie of the neck.

“…I like them,” She said, looking up at Tricky.”

“I know, right?” Tricky was practically beaming with excitement. “I don’t remember why I stopped wearing them-“

She suddenly froze mid-sentence, her ears lowering just a little. Espurr caught the motion before it disappeared, and she felt a sudden wave of negativity pierce through her head.

“Tricky?” Espurr asked. The fennekin didn’t even glance back at her. “Is something wrong?”

Tricky removed the scarf, putting it back in the case. She dejectedly took the scarf Espurr was holding, putting it on top of the other one and shutting the lid of the case.

“Never mind that…” she said, shoving the case back under her bed, and all of the sudden she was back to her normal, perky self.

“Wanna help me clean up after dinner?” She asked. “Pops loves cooking, but he hates mess. And the best part is; he doesn’t even notice when leftovers go missing!” (Espurr didn’t think this was the best part at all, but humored Tricky anyway.)

“Sure…” Espurr cast a glance at the setting sun outside. “Mind leading the way?”

Between the two of them (And Tricky’s bottomless stomach), the table was cleared in only ten minutes; and the empty dishes set aside for Carracosta to Water Gun to cleanliness later. Afterwards, Espurr bid both Tricky and Carracosta good night, and set off on her way to the school. She almost remembered to pick up the strange blue orb on her way out.

Almost.

~\({O})/~​

For a place referred to as the ‘Air Continent’, there seemed to be an amazing amount of forests and underbrush. Archen ducked for the umpteenth time that day as Mawile’s back maw caught on a tree branch, nearly snapping it back in Archen’s beak. (This happened often. Archen had already lost count of how many times.)

“Are we at least a good part of the way there??” he asked grumpily, a tiny bit of edge creeping back into his normally scratchy voice. Chesto berries didn’t agree well with his stomach.

Mawile looked up from the map she was reading.

“It’s worrying,” she spoke up a moment later, seemingly ignoring Archen’s question.

What’s worrying?!” Archen snapped, in no mood for mincing words.

“If I’m reading this map correctly,” Mawile calmly began, shaking her maw free of yet another low-jutting stick, “Then we should be getting close to Pokemon Plaza. And yet, the underbrush remains just as untamed as it’s been this whole trip.”

Archen raised an eyebrow in skepticism, unable to see how that meant anything. Seconds later, the branch narrowly missed his face.

“So what?” he asked, stepping around it.

“Pokemon Plaza is a frequented area,” Mawile continued. “Therefore, the land around it should be maintained weekly, unlike the anomaly we see here.” She gestured briefly to the overgrown flora around her, recording the present discoveries on her clipboard.

Archen shrugged the best he could with a considerably light sack of dungeon supplies around his back. “Maybe Air Continentals just don’t like tidiness,” he responded. “Ever thought of that?”

“I think not,” Mawile replied. “We’re on the main traveling route. These shrubs have been growing for a couple of weeks unchecked; minimum.”

“Then maybe you read the map wrong,” Archen retorted. “Ever thought of that?”

He didn’t notice Mawile had stopped until he bumped straight into her. A moment later, he saw why. Just ten feet down the path, a tarped wagon sat on its side. The most putrid of smells wafted from under the tarp, making Archen want to puke up the chesto berry he had consumed earlier.

Then again, his stomach argued, maybe that would be a good thing.

Next to the wagon sat a perfect stone statue of a lucario, posing dramatically for battle. Its back was turned to the pair of explorers, staring up at the sky in horror at something that was no longer there.

Mawile and Archen approached the wagon quickly; Mawile attempting to stuff away her map as she went. The details on the lucario statue were near life-like. If it had not sat right before her, Mawile wouldn’t have believed such intricate sculpting was possible…

…Unless it wasn’t. She remembered Kecleon’s words of worry: “My shipments come from the Rescuer’s Guild in Pokemon Plaza. I haven’t had a delivery in over a week, I’m afraid…” Was it such a stretch to believe…?

Ignoring Archen’s incessant feather-ruffling, she strode over to the tarped wagon, holding her breath when the smell became too putrid to bear. She whipped off the tarp with her maw, spinning full circle to see what the wagon held.

“ I knew it…” Mawile muttered, taking out her journal and recording the finding as Archen gagged in the distance.

Setting the journal aside, Mawile leaned in towards the mishmash of rotting berries and other ingredients, picking up an oran by the stem in her hand. It had molded over and bruised in several places, and felt more like a miniature sack of water than anything else.

“Congratulations…” Archen muttered in the background, his voice now hoarse. “You’re now singlehandedly responsible for depriving me of sleep and making me throw up, all in one day.”

Mawile set the berry back down, brushing her hands off as she stepped back.

“A week old; by the looks of it,” she said aloud for Archen’s benefit. “This must have been Kecleon’s shipment. And if this is the delivery…”

They both stared back at the statue that sat in front of the cart as the full implications of that deduction hit them.

Mawile inspected the statue carefully, noticing further all the life-like details the statue had to it. Far too many for it to be a statue.

“He was attacked from behind,” Mawile stated, stepping back. “And if this example is anything to go by, we can assume all of Pokemon Plaza looks like this as well.”

The findings were recorded in their entirety, and then there was nothing to do but press forward. Mawile’ deductions held true as they went. The underbrush only seemed to get worse the further in they treaded, and eventually they happened upon the statue of a scyther wildly slashing at something from the underbrush.

“The hedgekeeper; I assume.” Mawile marked it all down on her journal. Archen fearfully glanced at the statue as they went.

They could see the short buildings of Pokemon Plaza through the trees as they walked, the area around them eerily quiet. It was not long after that Mawile and Archen entered the main square of the Plaza, which was filled with the statues of countless pokemon running in terror. Some were frozen in place; permanently going about their day in a fossilized shard of time, while others had apparently been caught running about in terror. None of them had seen it coming; judging by the looks on their faces.

“Okay…” Archen nervously ruffled his feathers. “We’ve seen what we need to. Let’s go back now. We’ll declare the place off-limits; done.”

“We can’t declare the place off-limits until we have solid grounds to do so on,” Mawile told him, pulling both their expedition gadgets from her bag and handing one to Archen. “I’ll need a little help photographing everything. Starting…”

She walked over to the Plaza’s secondary entrance, where a collection of the five largest statues stood. Mawile only needed to lay her eyes on them once to recognize them immediately: Teams Go-Getters and A.C.T.; reduced to nothing but stone statues. Like almost every statue the pair had encountered so far, they were standing in battle position; ready to fight something that had obviously overpowered them all in seconds. Mawile was now incredibly unnaerved. Steeling herself, she took an assortment of photographs once she found the proper button (Jirachi really needed to start putting labels on those).

Archen photographed the various statues around the square, working in tandem with Mawile until they had amassed through pictures a decent reconstruction of the scene. Looking through the evidence, Mawile didn’t notice the dark figure hoisting itself onto the rooftop until it accidentally kicked a roof tile to the ground. She spun around just in time to see it conjure what seemed like a shadow ball with its hands, aiming at Archen.

Look out-“

Mawile dropped the gadget, pulling Archen out of the way before the attack could land. It exploded against the wall of a house, turning the doorway to stone.

Both Mawile and Archen assumed a battle stance, eyeing the blurred figure. Too dark to see; it looked like somemon had cut a pokemon-sized hole in the fabric of reality and pasted pure blackness in its place. The edges of the figure were too blurred to even make it out properly.

“Expedition Society!” Archen shouted, showing the figure his badge. “Stand down and follow us!”

It was a vain gesture. He barely jumped out of the way of another shadow attack. The pokemon started towards them unnaturally, its movements like the manipulation of a puppet rather than a living being. Mawile briefly wondered if it lived in the first place. It walked off the roof flawlessly, jumping onto the ground and heading straight for them. Mawile knew better than to stay put; lest they end up like the rest of the pokemon that had stayed and fought. As Archen began to conjure a Dragon Breath in retaliation, she grabbed her expedition gadget from where she had left it, and pulled a blast seed out of her backpack.

Timing her throw to Archen’s attack, Mawile hurled the seed directly in the shadowy pokemon’s face.

The purple-colored explosion created by both the blast seed and the dragon breath would have brought the world’s strongest pokemon to the brink of fainting, and both Mawile and Archen had to quickly scramble back to avoid being damaged as well. But, when the explosion cleared, the shadowy pokemon was still standing all the same. Mawile almost lost her bearings in shock. What creature was it; to survive a tactic as powerful as that?

The shadowy creature took a shaky step towards them, then another.

It began to conjure a third attack. Mawile prepared to lure its aim elsewhere and dodge at the last second. But then, out of the blue, the figure stopped. Its body seemed to lock up just like one of Jirachi’s malfunctioning robots. Mawile and Archen watched as it began to convulse violently, and then suddenly burst into tiny scraps of ash that floated off into the sky. Mawile saw that there was nothing inside its body but more of the darkness that encompassed its outer shell.

Archen caught his breath heavily, picking up his fallen gadget from the ground.

“Are those grounds good enough for you?” he asked, just a hint of snark invading his tone; as well as squawk.

Mawile gathered her bag and gadget silently, still recovering from the event. Had it even been real? She wondered. It actions had proved very much so.

Finished gathering their supplies, both explorers began the return trip to Baram Town. It would prove one of the Expedition Society’s most bicker-free trips to date.

~\({O})/~​

“That was mighty irresponsible of him,” Audino grumbled as she removed Espurr’s cast. Espurr sat on one of the straw beds, watching her carefully cut it away. It was made of a hardened block of paste; one that curled around Espurr’s arm and kept it from healing bent. It was soiled and dirty from the day’s activities, and some dirt had even wormed its way through the cast and onto her arm.

“I tried to advocate to the Principal in favor of your injury,” Audino continued, cutting through the cast and removing it, “But he insisted nothing would happen! That it wouldn’t get dirtied or wet or torn off…” She scoffed, setting the cast aside. “Sometimes I think he’s just as ignorant as his Vice Principle is.”

She got up to retrieve another cast from her medicine cabinet, leaving Espurr to look over her broken arm. It throbbed dully, the pain centering where the fracture must have been. The cast had kept Espurr from moving it too much, and over the course of the past two days, the pain had become little more than background noise in her mind. She tried to move it, suddenly feeling it return tenfold. Espurr let out a sudden gasp as the white-hot pain shot up her arm.

“Keep it still,” Audino said. “It might grow back crooked if you move it too much.”

Using a pair of sanitized leaves, she cleaned the arm off before wrapping the new cast around it.

“Now, you don’t move that under any circumstances,” Audino told Espurr, standing up. “Understand? If Watchog tells you to do anything of the sort, you tell him it’s the nurse’s orders.” She put the medical supplies back inside the cupboard, closing the door with just a hint of repressed anger.

“Sleep well, you two.” She set her exploration bag near the side, draping cloths over the luminous moss and heading into the clinic’s back room for the night. Espurr stared at the tarped mushrooms in interest. Was this what pokemon used for lights at nighttime?”

There was a sudden rustling of straw behind her. Espurr jumped; startled, then tried to get a better look. Nurse Audino had said two, after all…

“Don’t look at me.” Deerling’s dejected voice drifted out from the bed behind Espurr.

Espurr tried to turn herself around the best she could without disturbing her arm.

“Deerling… right? I don’t believe we’ve properly met,” She introduced herself. “I’m-“

“Save it,” Deerling hissed back. “I’m not in the mood. Go to sleep.”

~\({O})/~

Music of the week! :D

World's Worst Pep Talk, John Powell
 
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~\({O})/~

3.

Nuzleaf

~\({O})/~

Baram Town ~ Air Continent

~Mawile~

“…And that’s why the Expedition Society has declared Continental Emergency,” Mawile finished explaining, taking a bite from a chesto berry as she talked. “With the Rescuer’s Guild being the issue in question, we’re the closest establishment to step in.”

Archen lay in the room’s sole bed; sound asleep. That was fine. Mawile considered sleep a natural detriment to the activities of the mind, and with the help of chesto berries she had easily built up enough stamina to regulate her sleep to one twelve-hour period a week. While the other Expedition Society members thought this habit was unhealthy, they couldn’t deny Mawile’s much faster work-rate, and she never had to worry about missing the morning bell.

“Hmm… That’s certainly troubling…” Ampharos began, his voice crackling through the gadget. “But not unexpected; in the end. You’ll be meeting with Law Enforcement?”

“What little is left,” Mawile replied. “It turns out the Air Continent relied on the Rescuer’s Guild a little too much to establish a serious police department, should anything ever happen. Hence; why no-mon heard about this sooner.”

“Troubling…” Ampharos paused again, weighing his next response. “I encountered a few of our shadowy nemeses on the way to Serenity Village as well. A trio of beheeyem, who used attacks much in the same vein as what you just described.”

“What about the Wigglytuff’s Guild?” A third voice suddenly butted in over the line. “Or the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute? Surely; they’d be inclined to help…”

“This is a private conversation, Dedenne,” Mawile chided.

“Not really,” Dedenne’s dry response crackled through the line. “Don’t forget; everything on the line goes through me first. Nothing’s private.”

“I’m afraid she has you there, Mawile,” Ampharos’ voice chimed in. Mawile thought she heard an air of mischief in that tone, but decided to write it off as voice distortion for his sake.

“HAPPI is located on the Mist Continent,” she answered. “They’re currently having a snowstorm in direct opposition to our drought, and couldn’t respond in time even with our early transmission. And the Wigglytuff’s Guild is disorganized-as-usual, so they won’t be of much help responding to off-continent emergencies. We’re on our own.”

“I see…” Ampharos pondered that for a moment. “Anyway, the main reason I called was to inform the Society that I may be staying here in the village a little longer than intended.”

“What?” Both Mawile and Dedenne said at the same time.

“Is this because you’re worried you won’t make it back?” Dedenne asked. “Because we can send somemon. Buizel hasn’t had any serious missions in a week; I’m sure he’d be happy to go-”

“-I’m afraid not,” Ampharos answered, “Although I do appreciate the offer. I’ve run into some… unexpected difficulties searching for the Human.”

This was news to Dedenne, but not Mawile.

“What?” She asked; her voice ridden with disbelief. “You’re searching for a Human? What led you to even consider something so ludicrous??”

“Why not?”

Ampharos’ cheerful reply left Dedenne, for once, speechless.

“…Shouldn’t you at least have some evidence to go on first?” She slowly asked.

“We do.” Mawile put a word in before Dedenne could start another one of her one-sided rambling sessions.

“Jirachi picked up two pulses of immense teleportation energy on the Pokemon Nexus,” Ampharos explained; mainly so Dedenne wouldn’t needlessly spill the news to the rest of the Society. “Both occurred within a couple of days of each other, and both landed in this area. Such energy has only ever preceded the arrival of a human, and the arrival of a human has only ever preceded imminent disaster; which I fear we may be on the brink of. That is why it is of the utmost importance to find this human and bring them back to the Society, where we can properly prepare them for the trials they were brought here to face.”

“Oh… I guess that makes sense.” Dedenne’s cowed voice crackled through the line.

Mawile finished her chesto berry, grimacing briefly at the dry, bitter flavor it had.

“I’m afraid I have to go now,” she told them. “There are countless sheets of paperwork waiting to be filled in, and I must have them all at the Baram Town Hall by sunrise tomorrow.”

“You guys aren’t gonna make any more calls tonight?” Dedenne asked, yawning.

“I’m 99% certain of it,” Mawile stated, inking a pen and pulling the first sheet of a formidable stack of paperwork towards her.

“All agreed, then?” Ampharos asked.

It was all agreed. All three pokemon removed their connection orbs from the slots.

Ampharos, however, stuck his back in immediately after, disabling the ‘call’ function on his gadget. Instead, he tried to sync up with the other orb; the one he had ‘accidentally’ let drop out of his bag for that pair of children to pick up.

It was a little-known fact that the connection orbs could record decent audio and relay it back to the Expedition Gadget when synced up with another orb of the same frequency, like Ampharos had done with his pair of orbs earlier that day. Jirachi had designed the feature specifically for Bunnelby’s spelunking missions, but this was a rather clever use of its abilities, if Ampharos did say so himself. A foolproof way of determining whether the Human was on the school premises or not.

Until the audio recording finally synced up, and Ampharos realized he was listening to a discordant symphony of nighttime sounds instead of hearing the chatter of several children. Baffled; he sped it up. The entire four hours of audio were composed mainly of the same outdoor noises. They must have left it somewhere outdoors, Ampharos realized. He suddenly felt far less clever than he had a second before. They were children. Of course they had lost the orb in the middle of the forest. What had he been thinking?

He began to pour through the audio, stopping it every few seconds to see if he had stumbled upon a hidden clue. They were children, after all. There had to be something hidden in all the mess…

~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open. She was met with the unwavering blackness of the void.

Espurr picked herself up, looking around at the darkness without end. There was nothing here. She couldn’t even see the ground beneath her feet; much less understand how she had anything to push up against.

All around her, she could hear tiny, hushed voices wavering all around the void; indistinct sentences and phrases flitting past her ears before she could understand them. One was louder than the rest. It continued to swirl around her, chanting something Espurr could hear in volume but not understand. She caught only a single word as it passed close to her ear, and it was a word she had recently heard a number of times:

Human.

Espurr quickly singled that one out from all the others. Easy, considering it was both louder and larger. She heard a sudden cackle emanate from the gust of wind, before it took off into the blackness. Espurr tried to follow it. She ran after the wind, simply not able to keep up with it. She kept tripping over her feet; the gust of wind getting farther and farther away with every passing second. And eventually, it slipped away completely, and Espurr collided headfirst with a pure black wall she never even knew was there.

She slowly got back to her feet, rubbing her head. She hadn’t seen a wall…

…And she couldn’t feel one, either. Espurr put her left paw out where the wall used to be, feeling a disturbing absence of anything in its place. Walls didn’t just disappear like that, she decided, looking around in vain. And the lack of any surroundings must have meant… She was dreaming.

Once Espurr came to that realization, everything around her became much, much easier to comprehend. It was still all black, of course. But now; at least, she had an idea of why that was, which was far more than she’d had just a moment ago.

The only problem now was figuring out where to go. It wasn’t like there was a helpful sign to point her in the right direction, when everything was dark and black.

And then, just like that, there was. It was tall; far taller than Espurr. Attached to a thin metal pole; she had to stand a good distance away just to read the words written on it.

The words weren’t like anything she remembered ever seeing. Her eyes flicked over them, easily gleaning the meaning even though the numerals were foreign to her.

F-O-L-L-O-W M-E

Follow? Espurr’s eyes quickly scanned the darkness again for another clue. Where? Was she supposed to just walk in the general direction the sign pointed in? She hoped not.

Espurr’s eyes locked on another sign, standing far away in the distance. It was practically identical to the one she was standing in front of. She blinked twice, and she could no longer see a difference. Follow the signs, then. Espurr figured that was simple enough.

Time seemed to be an abstract concept in dreams, and Espurr found she couldn’t recall whether she’d been walking from sign to sign for five minutes or five days (even though it felt more like five seconds). It never really jumped out at her until she made an effort to question it. However, all thoughts of time left her mind once she heard the sudden gust of wind ripple past her ears, whispering its inane chants as it went.

Immediately, she began to pursue it again, this time making a better effort to not trip over her feet as much. It quickly out-sped her, doing loop-de-loops in the air as if confident in its abilities to outrun her. Rightfully so, it seemed. Espurr tripped again and landed face-first in the… black, she named it. She pulled herself to her feet, trying to will the gust of wind towards her.

It didn’t work. Espurr began to chase it again, running faster than she remembered ever running before.

She really should have seen the second wall coming. Espurr sat up, baring her fangs and hissing at the infuriating breeze. Her head and face stung madly, still bruised and battered from the other two times she had banged her face into something unwillingly. She briefly wondered how a dream could be this painful. Slowly getting to her feet, she stuck a paw out in front of her to see if the wall was still there. It brushed up against an immovable black surface; like a solid stone cave far, far underground. Espurr could hear but not see the chattering of the malicious breeze, growing more and more muffled until she couldn’t hear it at all.

She removed her paws from the wall, deciding to see how far it went. She had not walked even three feet until she was met with the cold embrace of yet another wall. And another, three feet in the next direction. Every direction she went, she was met with cold, hard, pitch-black stone. The space was actively getting smaller, and soon Espurr began to feel rightfully cramped within the walls that didn’t even exist. Somewhere in her mind, she registered that it was all a dream and therefore she couldn’t possibly be hurt, but it all felt so real, and for all she knew she was actually going to get crushed by these walls! Her head bumped up against the wall from above she hadn’t even noticed was there, and she felt two other walls press in from either side as she quickly sat. They began to jut into her arms more and more with every passing second, and Espurr huddled down as far as she could. Soon, she felt the wall press down against her head again. These walls were getting too close for comfort. She wanted to wake up already!

Espurr laid down as it became too small a space for her to sit comfortably in (Or just sit at all), and as she stared up at the roof, she thought she saw the familiar flickering lights she had come to dread- the lights of the beheeyem. They flashed brightly, blinking her directly in the eye. Espurr cowered even further than she already had, shutting her eyes tightly to avoid seeing the bright lights that were even making their way under her eyelids.

There was suddenly a sickening crunch as the walls pressed in even further, and blinding pain filled her left arm-

~\({O})/~

School Clinic

“Y’all are trippin’ me. What do I know ‘bout all this language-teachin’ stuff?”

The hushed voice floated through the door, mingling with the first, blue-yellow wisps of daylight creeping through the window. Espurr shot awake, nearly falling out of the straw bed she had been sleeping in. Her left arm; the one in a cast; had fallen into a painful position in her sleep. Espurr laboriously readjusted it into a comfortable position, biting back a low yowl of pain. She heard Deerling shift uncomfortably in the bed behind her, all-but undisturbed by Espurr’s sudden movements.

“Nnghh…” She moaned, falling back to sleep only seconds later. Espurr ignored her in favor of trying to listen to the voices right outside the clinic door.

“You’ll get a curriculum, of course. None of our teachers are left without one.” That was Principal Simipour. Espurr recognized his voice from when he had spoken in the office that night.

“But I ain’t one of them te-“

“You’re the only pokemon we could find in a timely manner. Besides, your name was on the board-“

“That name was done marked up on the board years ago! Was… volunteerin’ for janitor duty an’ stuff like that.”

“I see… Well, it is a bit of an emergency. Our students are all taught basic reading and writing by their parents- it’s one of the Serenity Village School’s base requirements. We simply can’t teach without it. Now, on occasion, there has been the odd student who just hasn’t learnt it all or is on the younger side, and we’ve employed independent tutors to nudge them in the right direction. But with summer vacation right around the corner, those tutors are all on leave, and we can’t just call them back at a moment’s notice. Therefore, we had no other choice. It takes a village to raise a child, after all.”

“But…” The other voice tried to protest, clearly running out of excuses. “Ain’t there hundreds other pokemon more qualified than me?”

“Just follow what’s in the book, and you’ll be fine,” Simipour assured the mysterious pokemon. “And if it’ll make your day any better…”

Principal Simipour’s voice lowered into a whisper, and Espurr had to lean in to hear what the blue monkey was saying. She almost toppled off the straw bed, barely catching ahold of the bed with her good arm and stabilizing herself. There was a loud scuffle against the floor that made Espurr freeze up in fear, but no other significant noise after that. She pulled herself up onto the bed, trying to make as few crackling noises against the straw as possible.

The two adult pokemon outside the shack suddenly went quiet; as if they were onto Espurr.

“Ah…” Simipour sighed after a moment. “Nothing like the sound of students eavesdropping in the morning. Or lack of it, although my Vice Principal might be inclined to disagree with me on that particular preference. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted, then.”

Espurr froze a second time; mortified. Had he known the whole time? She heard him spin around in the dirt, then saw the messy blue crop of hair adorning his head through the window as he passed. A moment later, the door to the clinic creeped open, and a pokemon with a large leaf adorning its head walked in, carrying a large book in his bark-y hands.

“Mornin’…” He said, noticing Espurr. “I see you’re up an’ all.”

He walked over, taking a seat in the straw bed that had accommodated Tricky just a few days before and setting the book aside from him.

“My name’s Nuzleaf.” He introduced himself, holding a hand out towards Espurr. “I reckon I’m to be your language teacher until that blue monkey gets his priorities sorted out.”

Silently, Espurr took it, standing up to reach Nuzleaf’s hand with her good paw. She looked back at Deerling, who was sleeping on her side; her back to the straw uncomfortably. Espurr spared her a look of silent pity. It looked like she had had a rough night.

“Now, I ain’t the expert on teaching,” Nuzleaf began, opening the book to its table of contents. “But I reckon you’ll do just fine flipping through the book yourself.”

And before Espurr could say a thing to the contrary, he lopped the heavy tome into her hands. Hand. Espurr had no chance of holding the large tome with only one good paw. It thumped to the floor of the clinic, jolting Deerling awake once more.

“Huh?” She mumbled incoherently, gazing at Nuzleaf. “Who’s the… leaf-head…”

A moment later, she flopped her head down onto the straw, fast asleep once more. Nuzleaf picked the book up from the floor, glancing around to make sure he hadn’t broken anything or disturbed anymon else.

“…Maybe we should do this outside,” he admitted.

~\({O})/~​

“You okay practicing on your own?” Nuzleaf nervously asked. It was clear to Espurr he hadn’t done this before.

The school looked like a completely different place in the early morning. The blue light of dawn crested over the blackboard, and Espurr could barely see the sun beginning to rise behind the desks. A light breeze ruffled her fur, of the cool, breezy kind (And not the foul-smelling mystery dungeon variety). Nuzleaf flattened the pages of the book with his hand before the breeze could wreak havoc upon the book, taking a seat in what was currently not Tricky’s desk at the moment.

“Oh. Right. Darn.” Nuzleaf flattened the leaf atop his head back nervously as he took the book once more. “Forgot you can’t read an’ all. ‘Guess I’ll have to do the teachin’, then.”

He walked over to the blackboard, picking up a piece of chalk and marking down several numerals on the board.

“This here…” Nuzleaf began, jotting the rest of the markings down. “Is the Unown Alphabet.” He glanced back for Espurr’s benefit, just to make sure his pupil had gotten that all. Upon finding her staring directly at the blackboard, he put down the chalk and flipped the book open again.

“Now, legend says pokemon borrowed it from the human language an’ all, but… ‘t doesn’t matter,” Nuzleaf continued. “The most important thing is, just about ev’ry pokemon in the world uses this here alphabet. Any questions?”

Espurr could have asked any question in the world, and she knew it. But the second she was called upon, every possible question she could have come up with pertaining to the subject at hand flew out of her mind much like her former memories had, and she was left only with a single one; one that had absolutely nothing to do with the Unown Alphabet.

“…Back there on the porch,” Espurr quietly began, almost in shock at her words. But she had to know. “What did Principal Simipour whisper in your ear?”

Nuzleaf looked a little taken aback by the question.

“So you were eavesdropping…” he muttered to himself. Espurr kept her eyes trained on Nuzleaf, as if doing so would get him to spill the information sooner.

“N-none of your business,” Nuzleaf finished, his voice somewhat shakier than before. “It’s not a place for kids anyway.”

He quickly picked up the chalk and began to write again, ignoring Espurr’s intrigued stare.

“Now, I ain’t gonna tell you the history an’ all- I reckon one of your other teachers will cover that just fine-“ Nuzleaf continued, his back to Espurr. “But I think we can get all these letter sounds sorted out before school-time. This one here reads…”

~\({O})/~​

“M-morning, Mr. Farfetch’d!”

“And a good morning to you, Goomy!”

“Afternoon, Teach.”

“Yeah. Afternoon, Teach.”

“Well, it’s a while until afternoon yet...”

“Hey! Look! It’s Deerling!”

“Ugh… Please don’t make me do this right now, Pancham…”

“Good morning, Deerling.”

“Morning, Mr. Farfetch’d…”

Farfetch’d walked up towards the teacher’s desk, nodding as he passed Espurr’s seat.

“Good morning, Espurr,” He said he said in passing. Espurr discreetly hid her yawn as Farfetch’d took his spot next to the blackboard. As goofy as his accent was, Nuzleaf was quite the ruthless teacher when push came to shove. He had effectively managed to drill the entire Unown Alphabet into Espurr’s brain in the space of two hours (She could still hear his cries of ‘not that one, dangnabbit!’ floating around in her head whenever she thought of the letter ‘E’), although she didn’t expect to remember any of it come nightfall. Already; the letter pronunciations were growing soft and fuzzy in her mind, and she couldn’t shake the unnerving sense of familiarity that came from just looking at the strange alphabet.

Farfetched let out a murmur as he finished crossing out the penultimate name on the blackboard.

“it appears we are missing a student,” he began, his voice bearing no hint of surprise nor agitation. Espurr got the idea said student had been late before.

‘Of course we are,” Watchog grumbled from his spot near the entrance to the school clinic. “Leave it to the Troublemaker to be late. Again.”

“I’m late I’m late I’m so totally late sorry Mr. Farfetch’d-“

Tricky bounded in through the school gate, digging all four of her paws into the ground to bring herself to a halt before she hit the desks. For a moment, it didn’t look like she was going to stop in time, and the fennekin squinted her eyes shut to prepare for impact with the nearest desk-

A moment later, Tricky opened her eyes. She had stopped just in time, her paws pushing up against the desk instead of painfully stubbing into it.

“H-hi.”

Goomy, the occupant of said desk, greeted Tricky cheerfully. Tricky exhaled her breath of relief directly into Goomy’s face without a second thought.

Goomy scrunched up his face in disgust.

“Y-your breath smells like s-spoiled rawst berries…” He complained.

“Hah! Here!” Tricky stuck her nose up triumphantly in Watchog’s direction as she walked to her desk. “And on time, too! So you can’t do anything about it…”

“You were five seconds late…” He growled.

“Is that everyone?” Farfetch’d crossed Tricky’s name off with his stalk. “Very well, then. Let’s begin.”

~\({O})/~​

“This year, we learnt about the properties of Medicinal Berries,” Audino began, putting three tarped baskets and an additional bowl on the teacher’s desk in front of her. “And how mixing the right berries can heal injuries, cure illnesses, and replenish energy, while mixing the wrong ones can make you feel ill, sluggish, or just awful all over.” The blackboard was now covered in a diagram showing which berries did what, and how they mixed together. Audino removed the tarps from the baskets one by one, revealing the assortment of berries hidden within.

“Come on,” She beckoned the class to stand up from their seats. “Come closer.”

Within a moment, the entire class was standing around the teacher’s desk, gazing in at the berry baskets. Tricky looked like she was going to swipe one when Audino’s back was turned, and Espurr, who had not eaten breakfast in the short period of time between Nuzleaf’s class and the start of school, was almost inclined to do the same. However, all notions of secret mid-class snacks were dispelled when Audino turned back around with a pair of gloves and a spoon in her hand, giving Tricky a harsh don’t-you-dare look.

“These berries are not for eating,” she explained. “Today, we will be reviewing how to properly mix berries together, and which ones not to mix. When the test comes around later in the week, you will all be expected to do this on your own, so pay good attention here.”

Most of the class went white through their fur/skin/slime at the realization (They must not have studied much on Berries, Espurr realized). Strapping on the gloves, Audino fished through the first basket, pulling out an oran berry.

“To start off, you will need a berry as your base,” Audino explained. She set the oran berry in the bowl before the class, letting them get a good, long look at it. “Since we’ll primarily be making medicines and other basic mixtures in this class, you will almost always use oran berries, but other base berries exist as well.” Without another word, Audino took a wooden spoon, and began to crush the berry to mush with it.

Showing the class the mashed oran paste, Audino fished in the second bucket for berries. “With an oran berry as your base, you can now begin to add the other berries that will serve as your modifier.” She pulled out a handful of berries, setting them on the table in front of the bowl. “For instance… If I were to mix a chesto berry with our oran berry here, it would then gain the sleep-preventing properties of the chesto berry, amplified by the boosting qualities of the oran. And if I were to add a bluk berry instead, the oran berry would amplify the effects of the bluk berry, thus turning our mixture into a skin-soothing lotion.” Audino held both berries out to the class in turn.

“However…” She picked up the third and final berry, showing it to the students. “If I were to add this mago berry to our oran mixture, what do you think would happen?”

Deerling was the first to raise her hoof among the silent class, who stayed that way for lack of a better answer.

“The… oran berry would amplify it?” She hopefully asked, glancing at the blackboard behind Audino.

“Close.” Audino set the berry down with the chesto and bluk berry. “The mago berry is known for its slight intoxicating qualities- in other words, too many mago berries can make you drunk. But when mixed with our oran berry, the mago berry suddenly becomes a powerful intoxicant: One that can even spell death for a medical patient if administered by accident.” Audino didn’t flinch at the ripple of gasps that spread through the class; the sound of her point properly hitting home.

“Due to its likeness to the original oran berry, many doctors know this particular mixture as the ‘Oren Berry,’ or ‘False Oran,’” She continued, pointing out the mago berry on the blackboard. “And the more medicinal berries one adds atop a pure oran base; the closer the likelihood that you will end up concocting such a dangerous mixture. This is why many medicinal berry mixtures using bases outside oran are frowned upon, or, in some cases, illegal. The results are simply too unpredictable or even dangerous to use.”

Much of the class had a shocked expression on their faces. Tricky in particular looked like she wanted to faint.

“I’m never eating my pop’s cooking again…” she said. Much of the class looked like they agreed with her.

“Now, there’s no need to disappoint your old Pops,” Audino reassured them, picking up the third basket. “This applies only to a specific range of berries- Medicinal Berries.” She showed them the third basket, which was filled to the brim with strawberries and peaches and other various berries. Espurr gazed into the basket along with the rest of the class. Nowhere to be seen were the oddly-colored and shaped berries of the other two.

“These are your average cooking berries,” Audino told them. “While nutritious by default, boosting these berries with the oran mixture does not lead to any notable effects when eaten. They are, for lack of a better term, ordinary berries.”

She set the basket down, and Espurr took a moment to digest the information. Why weren’t all berries the same? She wondered. Why did some cause such drastic changes when they were mixed together, while others were no more than basic foodstuffs? The question hung in her mind, baffling her completely.

“Ms. Audino?” Espurr asked, raising her good paw in the air.

“Yes?” Audino called on her.

“What’s the difference?” She asked. “Why can’t a mango berry cause the same reaction as a mago berry?”

“I…’ll have to refer you to Farfetch’d to answer that question,” Audino began. “He’s the history teacher, after all. All I know on the subject is that Medicinal berries only began to grow after the Human Age came to its end.”

Espurr lowered her paw disappointedly, gazing up at the blackboard filled with the berry drawings and Unown numerals she couldn’t understand in the least. Perhaps the answer was hidden there. Espurr mentally steamed; frustrated. She wished she could read!

“Now…” Audino moved to the side, letting the class finally see the blackboard in its entirety. “I’d like you all to study this blackboard, outlining a chart of which berries; when mixed, create what.”

~\({O})/~​

“Psst.”

The floating nut in the air wavered a little, before Espurr’s concentration pushed it back to a stable spot in midair. Too preoccupied to deal with whoever had snuck up on her little corner of the school clinic, Espurr watched it float; mystified.

She had accidentally dropped it earlier, and it had rolled just out of the reach of her good hand. Frustrated by the latest in a long string of such incidents caused by the clumsiness of her new paws and the added handicap of only having one of them available for use, Espurr kept her eyes on the nut as she got up from her seat to retrieve it. However, she had only taken a few steps towards the nut when; to her shock, it began to rise up from the ground!

The moment the seemingly impossible phenomenon registered in Espurr’s mind, the nut fell to the ground, but Espurr found she was no longer inclined to pick it up. At least, not traditionally.

Instead, she had recreated the scenario several times, first with nuts, then with berries, until almost all of Espurr’s lunch now lay on the floor, and Espurr was sure she was at risk of attracting Tricky’s attention sooner or later. None of the food had floated like that nut had, and Espurr was beginning to grow tired of the fruitless endeavor. The nut had floated. She had seen it! Why couldn’t the rest of them? Why didn‘t they float? Espurr narrowed her eyes at the pile in frustration.

Just then, she thought she saw the pile quiver a little, and Espurr realized she must have been on the right track. She concentrated harder on the pile, trying not to raise the entire mess of berries but only the one nut; and slowly she watched it shakily rise out of her lunch and into midair, wavering at the same level as her face. The sheer excitement almost made Espurr giggly, and after a few minutes of dedicated practice, she could even make it move around in the air a little. If only she could float it back into her hand..

“Psst!”

Espurr jumped, the nut clattering to the ground loudly. She turned around, coming face to face with the wry snout of Pancham. Espurr was taken back for just a second. They hadn’t talked at all since they had met in the Foreboding Forest, and neither side had made any move to change that…

Until now. Espurr wondered why.

“…What do you want?” she asked; suspicious.

“Yeesh…” Pancham muttered, sitting back with his hands behind his head. “Cut your poor classmate some slack! I just wanted to congratulate you on saving that wimp Goomy back in the Foreboding Forest. Instant respect. You’re his hero forever. But…”

Pancham leaned in towards Espurr, his voice lowering to a hush. “Wanna know how you can be my hero?”

If he expected an answer, he obviously wasn’t courteous enough to wait for it. Espurr already felt some mild animosity brewing at how causally he had brushed Goomy off as a ‘wimp’; the pokemon that had toughed out a mystery dungeon for far longer than Pancham would have ever dared!

“The Foreboding Forest is a big deal,” Pancham continued. “…If you’re Vice Principal Watchog. But see, to get ‘in’ with the cool kids around here, you’ve gotta do something that’s a big deal. Something that would give Vice Principal Watchog a heart attack. Something like, say, braving one of the nastiest mystery dungeons around; you catchin’ me?”

Pancham had let his voice raise enough to grab Tricky’s attention. Her ears perked up as the words ‘mystery dungeon’ wafted by, and she dug her snout out of a peachberry, wiping her mouth off with her paw.

“What about mystery dungeons?” She asked loudly, still savoring the sweet taste of the berry.

“Nothing,” Pancham snapped at her; his voice immediately gaining a vicious bite. “’It ain’t for your ears anyway.”

Tricky stuck her nose up at Pancham indignantly and returned to her peachberry, but it was obvious to Espurr that she was still eavesdropping.

“Anyway…” Pancham leaned in again, his voice falling to a whisper. “I can get you in. All I gotta do is switch up Watchog’s detention cards, and you’re good to go. Whaddaya say?” He held out his hand towards Espurr, smirking and bending the twig in his mouth at an odd angle.

“Deal!” Tricky had glanced up from her peachberry again, excitedly talking for Espurr before the psychic kitten could say anything.

“How many times…” Pancham growled, all his swagger suddenly lost for a downright vitriolic look aimed straight at Tricky. “No-mon. Is talking. To YOU!”

His outburst captured the attention of Deerling and Goomy, who were chatting together in another corner of the clinic. They both stared at him annoyedly, before returning to their conversation. Ignoring Tricky, Pancham turned back to Espurr.

“Oh, and did I mention the treasure?” He asked, making Tricky’s eyes widen with excitement.

“Well, I’m having detention too!” Tricky argued back, not about to let it go so easily. “So I count as 50% of the vote.”

“Didn’t I just say butt out?” Pancham asked. “You got a hearing problem? What I say goes ‘round here. Butt out.”

Strangely, Espurr couldn’t get a single clue as to Pancham’s true intentions. When talking to other pokemon, Espurr had realized she could gauge their intentions and their emotions by tuning out the background noise and focusing only on their speech, but it wasn’t happening with Pancham. The words flew off his silver tongue flawlessly, and Espurr couldn’t detect a shred of… anything from them. It was like she was being blocked.

“Just ignore the pest,” Pancham sighed, holding his hand out again. “I need an answer from you now. You in or out?”

The smart thing; Espurr knew; would be to turn him down. To watch the smirk on his face turn into a scowl as he realized not all the students in the school were dim enough to fall for his tricks. For surely this was another one of his schemes! He wanted revenge for being made a fool of at the Foreboding Forest the other day. Revenge for being bested by the new kid and the village troublemaker on day one. And she wasn’t about to let him have it.

“It’s a deal,” Espurr said, shaking Pancham’s outstretched hand. “We’re in.”

For just a moment, Pancham’s face faltered.

“We?” He asked.

“Well, duh,” Tricky piped up. “We’re having detention together, remember? I count as 50% of the vote!”

“’Scuse me for one minute.” Pancham dived behind the straw. Espurr could hear hushed whispers coming from behind the straw (Pancham’s and Shelmet’s; without a doubt, her mind decided), but she stayed where she was instead of confirming that fact for herself. There was no need to clue Pancham in on the fact that she was onto him.

Exactly one moment later, Pancham leapt back over, landing neatly in his seat again and relaxing.

“Excellent,” He smirked. “You’re both on.”

He ushered them closer, his voice falling into the lowest hush he had taken since the start of the conversation.

“Now, here’s what’s gonna happen…”

~\({O})/~​

“Vice Principal Watchog’s gonna take you to the Drilbur Coal Mines today, whether he likes it or not. Be ready.”

“Mr. Watchog?” Espurr asked as Watchog packed a large knapsack for the trip. Behind one of the straw beds, Pancham lay in wait.

“Vice Principal Watchog.” Watchog muttered; trying to decide whether water or berries was more important, eventually deciding on both and stuffing them into the bag.

“May I use the library before we leave?” Espurr asked. Watchog looked towards her in suspicion, one bushy eyebrow raised.

“I thought you said you couldn’t read.”

In the background, Pancham gave Espurr a thumbs up. He quietly dashed out from behind the straw, expertly switching the cards hanging from Watchog’s hitchhiking pack, and then it was like he had never been there in the first place.

“Well, Tricky can read for me,” Espurr explained. “And we won’t be long.”

Watchog almost let out a high-pitched chuckle of disbelief, catching himself in an attempt to remain dignified at the last moment.

“You want to make the Troublemaker read for you.” He said, his voice flat.

Espurr nodded animatedly. Watchog shook his head in disbelief.

“Whatever,” he said. “I have to finish packing this vital supplies anyway. Five minutes. Understand?”

Both Espurr and Tricky nodded, and then they were both gone faster than Watchog could blink. He blinked twice anyway, then shook his head once more and went back to packing the supplies.

Watchog blinked again when he realized the detention card attached to the knapsack read ‘Help Out at Drilbur Coal Mines’ instead of ‘Cleanup Outside Foreboding Forest.’

“Odd…” he glanced at it lopsidedly. “I must have read it wrong.”

~\({O})/~​

“Why are we going to the library?” Tricky asked curiously as they entered the empty warehouse filled with packed bookshelves that leaned over them claustrophobically. She spun on her paws, walking backwards again so she could face Espurr. “The adults don’t like me in here because I’m a ‘hazard to the books’ or something.” Tricky rolled her eyes. She then accidentally walked into a pile of books lying around next to one of the right-hand shelves, stumbling in place and barely keeping her balance.

“Not that they could stop me anyway,” She continued, righting herself and resuming her trot alongside Espurr. “but no-mon ever comes in here willingly, so they’ve never had to try!”

“That makes us the first, then.” Espurr walked over to a ladder attached to the bookcase. She pointed at a golden plaque that had been bolted to one of the bookcases, several Unown figures engraved into its surface.

“What does that read?” she asked.

“Archeology to Electricity,” Tricky translated, her eyes rapidly gliding over the text without a problem. “What are you looking for?”

“Mystery Dungeons.” said Espurr nonchalantly, like it was a matter of fact thing.

Tricky’s eyes lit up in understanding.

“Right this way…” she beckoned gleefully.

Tricky led Espurr further down the hall, struggling to move slow enough to for Espurr and the heavy ladder to keep up.

“There are two branches once you enter the mines. The one on the left is all boarded up; you take that one. It leads to a nasty mystery dungeon.”

“A Complete Guide to Mystery Dungeons. Page 64; Drilbur Mines.” Tricky read from the thick, dusty atlas they had together managed to pull off the top shelf. “It says there was an explorer who went into the dungeon soon after it popped up and never came out,” she continued, tilting her head in confusion. “They even have a picture!”

Espurr looked at the illustration on the other page; detailing a shark-like pokemon cheerfully waving one of its fins, a brown bag draped over his shoulders.

“He wasn’t famous…” Tricky went on; mild disappointment cracking through her voice. “They refer to him as ‘Gabite’ instead of his real name.”

Espurr felt a sudden wave of anxiety overtake her for a second. The gabite had disappeared many years ago, if the tattered edges and yellowed pages of the book were to be taken at face value, but Espurr couldn’t help but feel for anymon who had met their demise in a mystery dungeon; as well as fear whatever they might have met their demise at.

“Maybe we can research him later,” she finished, eager to move on to the next subject.

“Time’s up, troublemakers!” Watchog yelled from outside the library. “We’re leaving now!”

Tricky hurriedly slammed the book shut and rushed back towards the door. The fennekin’s rough handling must have damaged the book somewhat, as it looked a little more tattered than it had been when they’d pulled it from the shelf, but Espurr wasn’t particularly concerned with that right now.

Right now, she was about to go dungeon spelunking.

~\({O})/~

Drilbur Mining Site

“The only thing you have to do is bring me back some of the red gems that sit at the bottom of the dungeon as proof you went in. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em. Do that, and I’ll recognize you both as my equals. I made my way all the way down the bottom of that dungeon myself, just so you know.

“W-well, see, we w-weren’t really expecting you for another t-three days,” The poor drilbur who had drawn the Social Interaction Rock stammered out in front of Watchog. He sent a pleading look back towards the other drilbur who stood several good feet away, receiving nothing but winces and looks of pity in return.

“Psst. Over here!” Tricky quietly beckoned Espurr behind a largish rock, east of Watchog and the stuttering drilbur. Espurr cast a look towards Watchog to make sure he wasn’t keeping an eye on them, then quickly followed.

“We can enter from there.” Tricky pointed to the main mine shaft, guarded by several drilbur who were desperately trying to avoid having anything to do with the group out front.

“But it’s crawling with pokemon,” Espurr pointed out, peeking over Tricky. “Maybe it’d be better to wait for Watchog to let us in.”

“That’s ‘Vice Principal’ Watchog to you.” Tricky heightened the pitch of her voice in an imitation of Watchog’s shrill cries, falling to a hushed whisper immediately afterwards to mute the sound of her snickers.

“Still…” Espurr hid behind the rock once again. “We won’t make it far with that many pokemon guarding it. And we don’t need a reason for the Vice Principal to give us more detentions.”

“Are you talking about the drilbur?” Tricky asked; a hint of rare incredulity to her tone. Espurr nodded slowly. What other pokemon were there?

“Hah!” Tricky waved it off like it was nothing. “They’re pushovers. I’ve made it past them tons of times, and that’s when they’re all guarding that door. We won’t have trouble at all!”

Without another word, she leapt from the rock they were currently behind to another nearby boulder, landing cleanly and looking back at Espurr. Espurr quickly scampered from one rock to the next, tripping along the way. She still wasn’t over that yet.

“What were you up to in the mines, anyway?” Espurr asked as she scampered behind the rock, curious despite herself.

“Treasure hunting.” Tricky snuck behind a third, closer rock, Espurr following not far behind.

“Hi again, guys!”

Espurr watched; shocked, as Tricky announced their presence to the entire collection of drilbur with a brash paw-wave.

“U-uh-oh…” the drilbur all stared at Tricky collectively in shock and horror.

“I-it’s the T-t-troublemaker…” one stammered out.

“A-and she brought f-friends!” another finished; pointing straight at Espurr.

Tricky sent a prompt ‘I-told-you-so’ smirk Espurr’s way, before trotting right out into the open.

“Y-you’re not here again for our g-gold, are you?” one timidly asked.

“Nope!” Tricky trotted towards the mine shaft. “That was last week. Today we’re going exploring.”

“Now where did those two troublemakers get to?” Espurr’s ears pricked up, and she noticed Watchog glancing around the mine-yard angrily, the heavy bag still swinging from his shoulders.

“Goomy! do you know something about this?!” her heart sank as she watched Watchog angrily interrogate poor Goomy, who seemed just as at a loss for words as the drilbur did. But it was too late to go back on the dare now, and letting Watchog catch them would just end up in summer detentions for all three students. Espurr didn’t think she could stand a single week of Watchog’s detentions as is.

“Tricky.” Espurr hissed quietly from the rock. “Watchog’s onto us. Hurry!”

Tricky glanced at Watchog, mumbling something under her breath Espurr didn’t’ hear but was sure would have turned a few of the teachers’ heads. She resumed her trot towards the mine shaft a second later; just like nothing had happened.

“So-o-o…. We’ll just be going now, if you don’t mind,” Tricky stated, cleanly cutting her theatrics short and passing several of the drilbur.

“W-wait!” one of them cried out after her, in a vain attempt to stop the fox. “The m-mines aren’t a safe place f-for children! You could g-get in trouble down there!”

Espurr kept an eye on Watchog’s movements, waiting for a safe opening to dart out. Goomy was confusedly loitering around where Watchog had previously been, and…

…And Watchog wasn’t there. Espurr’s heart skipped a beat. While Tricky distracted the drilbur, she quickly scanned the mine-yard to see where he had gone.

Until she realized with horror: He was heading right towards the mine shaft.

“What was this detention, anyway…” Espurr heard him grumble, since he was now close enough to hear. “Perfect spot for troublemaking…”

“Ha!” Tricky laughed, turning around to stare the drilbur down bravely. “I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

She nodded ecstatically to drive her point home; oblivious to the approaching Watchog. Espurr studied all the drilbur. They weren’t that intimidating… Espurr glanced back at Watchog, suddenly darting to a different position behind the rock just before he could catch a glimpse of her. It was her best chance.

Tricky stopped mid-nod as she saw Watchog suddenly storm straight into her line of vision. Her face of assurance quickly morphed into one of surprised fear as Watchog caught sight of her standing in the middle of the mineshaft.

“Hey! You shouldn’t be over there!” Watchog barked, dashing straight after Tricky. Espurr’s heart jumped once more as she heard him begin to run- she was out of time! Quickly, she darted out from behind the rock, running straight past the drilbur who did nothing to stop her from continuing-

“Run for it!!” Tricky screeched, running further into the mineshaft. Watchog stopped at the shaft, both too large and too unwilling to go in after them.

“You two troublemakers better come right back out of there!” He yelled after them. “I mean it!”

“No can do, Watchog!” Watchog heard Tricky’s distant voice waft out of the mine and into his ears, making his face flush red with fury.

“It’s Vice Principal Watchog, you lout!” He shouted after them in vain; furious.

When there came no reply from the mineshaft, he turned to the drilbur, who visibly shrunk in his presence.

“Find them.” Watchog growled. “it’s your mine!”

With gratuitous nods and whimpers of fear, the drilbur all scuffled into the mineshaft, more eager to get away from the steaming mad Watchog than they were to find the pair of escaped students.

A very confused and slightly frightened Goomy reluctantly decided to get himself some shade from the broiling sun, despite Watchog’s strict orders not to move. It looked like Watchog was going to be a while, anyway. He wouldn’t mind… Right?

~\({O})/~​

“We are so doomed now...” Espurr broke the silence of their walk through the mine with the incredibly sober statement. There was no getting out of this one. Watchog was going to no doubt report them to Principal Simipour the moment they left the mine, and Espurr doubted Simipour would see fit to let them off the hook so easily again.

“Yep…” Tricky panted out, still recovering from the rush of successfully evading Watchog. “…But at least we made it! This beats detention any day.”

Espurr wasn’t so sure it beat detention for the rest of their lives, a fact she was certain Tricky was purposefully ignoring. The thought continued to hang over her head as they continued in silence through the dark tunnels. Every so often, she thought she heard the distant sounds of something tunneling through the ground above their heads, but it was too dark to tell for certain.

It felt like they had walked for an eternity when Espurr saw faint flickers of light emerging from around the corner. Dust had gotten in her mouth and her eyes, and she found herself sorely wishing she hadn’t accepted Pancham’s dare just half an hour earlier. From the way Tricky was panting up ahead, Espurr could tell she was just as parched.

Tricky let out a sharp gasp of joy upon seeing the light, bounding straight for the turn up ahead. Espurr quickly tried to keep up, catching herself on the tunnel wall before she could trip again. However, she soon realized, to her disappointment, that the light ahead didn’t shine brightly enough to be a way out of the mine- instead, it came from a torch that hung from the low cavern walls, illuminating the twin shafts deeper into the mine Pancham had told them about.

Espurr couldn’t hide the disappointment on her face - she wanted to get back above ground! – But Tricky ran over to the mines, more excited than ever.

“This is it!” She shouted back at Espurr in glee. “We made it! Now… which one did Pancham tell us to go through?”

“N-not so fast.”

Both Espurr and Tricky spun around to look at the colony of drilbur who had approached them from behind.

“Y-you aren’t supposed t-to be down here,” one of the drilbur stammered out. “We a-aren’t going to l-let a pair of c-children push us around anymore!”

“Come on, guys…” Tricky moaned, letting her voice drawl. “We’re fine! There’s nothing to worry about!”

As Espurr’s eyes adjusted to the dim light of the torch, she finally saw the drilbur clearly- saw their clearly frightened faces against the flickering flames; saw the way some of them were trembling despite themselves… And then, Espurr realized: They really weren’t that bad after all!

She cast her eyes to the torch flickering to their right, pouring all her concentration into nudging it. If it was anything like that nut…

Sure enough, after a while, she saw it begin to move. The light dramatically shifted as Espurr’s spirits rose and the torch wavered in midair, illuminating everymon’s faces for one swift second; and then Espurr let it drop and the light was snuffed out.

Espurr couldn’t see anything; and neither could Tricky. She could only hear the cacophony of terrified whispers and squeaks from the drilbur as they began to clumsily pursue the two students; only rely on memory as she pulled Tricky towards what she hoped was the right mine shaft with her one good arm.

And for the third time that day, Espurr painfully banged her head into a wall she hadn’t even seen coming. Or, in this case, a board. The rotted old board of a boarded-up mine shaft. She heard it break away amongst the cacophony of sounds the advancing Drilbur were making, and it didn’t take the power of sight for both Espurr and Tricky to latch onto the same conclusion-

The drilbur were scared out of their minds, of course. But they were more scared of Watchog than they were of a couple of village children. They didn’t want to return to the surface with nothing to show their new, brutal employer! That was why they were so horrified when the espurr and the fennekin grabbed ahold of each other, and jumped into the boarded-up mine shaft.

The labor of drilbur stopped short at the mine shaft, barely able to see the pair of children disappear into its darkness. It had been boarded up for a reason- one of the few times the drilburs’ cowardice had been wholly and utterly justified. Something lived down there. Something wild. Something evil. Something that had gobbled up many of their drilbur compatriots for lunch, and would happily chow down a pair of unsuspecting children as a mid-afternoon snack. And the drilbur were too scared to go after them.

They always were.

~\({O})/~

Music of the week! :D

Mine Mission - John Powell
 
~\({O})/~

4.

Monster of The Mines

~\({O})/~

Abandoned Drilbur Mines

~Espurr~

The other side of the mine shaft led not to solid ground, but instead onto a steep incline of dirt that suddenly carried Espurr and Tricky further down into the earth—

Espurr closed her eyes in fear, refusing to scream loudly like Tricky was. She tried her best to roll herself into a ball, keeping her eyes closed as tightly as possible. She didn't want to see what was coming, in case the thing she opened her eyes to would be the thing that spelled their deaths. There was only the majorly uncomfortable sensation of tumbling in a ball down an underground hill, and the sudden riiip! of her cast as it tore off—

And then the whoosh of the air current leaving Espurr as the two students tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the cliff. Once everything had gone still, Espurr took a shaky breath. The air had gained a foul taste to it again- the trademark scent of a mystery dungeon. They had arrived.

"Did we make it?" she shakily asked.

"You can open your eyes now."

Espurr uncurled herself, met with the sight of Tricky's snout right in her face the second she stood. She almost fell over again. Instead, she managed to settle for a slight jump back. Her arm dully ached, free from the cast once more. Espurr tried not to move it.

If the tunnels of the mine above had been dark, they were nothing compared to the caverns of the mystery dungeon below.

Not that the mystery dungeon was dark. Not by any means. In fact, it glowed with the luminescence of all the crystals anymon could ever wish for. Green and blue and pure white diamonds shone along the walls, and Tricky had sparkles in her eyes at the sight of all the gems.

"Wow wow wow!" she exclaimed. "Look at all these gems! And in a mystery dungeon, too! Who would be stupid enough to board this off?"

"..There's no red." Espurr's response was quiet, as if it wasn't meant for Tricky in the first place.

"Hmm?" She turned around, barely keeping her excitement below a threshold safe enough to display in the dungeon.

"Pancham sent us for red gems," Espurr pointed out. "Well, there aren't any red ones. Not anywhere."

It was true. The light from the glowing crystals cast all sorts of colors upon Tricky and Espurr's coats, from blue to green to sparkling white… but no red. No red whatsoever.

"Well…" Tricky's voice faltered for a moment, but she regained her composure and shrugged immediately after. "…Maybe we need to go to the bottom of the dungeon for the red ones! I bet those drilbur were just silly cowards who were too scared to mine in a dungeon." With that, she began to trot off without another care in the world.

Espurr watched the crystals on the wall as they went. From what she had seen of the drilbur, she had to admit Tricky's explanation mostly checked out. But Espurr couldn't help but notice the unnatural, jagged gaps in between the crystals as they walked, as if somemon had torn them from the cavern wall themselves just that day. She wanted to think thieves… but nothing had been stolen in the village, and the drilbur should have toughened up by now if they were being stolen from all the time—

"Espurr; watch out!"

Tricky's voice shot over from Espurr's left, and she barely had time to glance in that direction before a brilliant orange ember flashed through the crystals, blinding the two students and an unruly-looking geodude.

The geodude wasted no time getting back to its feet… hands, and skittered straight for Espurr like a deformed spider. Espurr quickly backed herself up against the crystal wall as the Geodude continued to run straight for her. And then she put two and two together.

The brief look of relief at Tricky's face at the element of surprise she had bought herself quickly faded into a look of terror once she saw what was happening right in front of her. But it was far too late for her to do anything, even as she began to charge an ember—

The geodude let out a hungry snarl as it finally reached Espurr, but found itself with a face-full of blue crystal instead of a face-full of purple pokemon. Espurr, who had ducked at the last second, wasted no time kicking the geodude's hand out from under it and getting a good distance away before it could retaliate. Tricky's ember a second later spelled the end for the already-cracked crystal, and it shattered into pieces, expelling shimmering dust all over the cavern. A particularly large piece landed on the still-recovering geodude, who was knocked unconscious immediately.

The entire thing had started and ended in seconds. Espurr tried to shake the sparkling dust from her fur. She had known wild animals in dungeons existed, but wild pokemon? Watchog hadn't covered that yet.

Watchog… Espurr mentally grimaced at the punishment that was sure to be awaiting them above ground, then walked over to Tricky. The fennekin was still staring at the sight of the conked-out geodude; her mouth hanging wide open and her eyes bugging out of her head.

"Holy mystery dungeon…" she muttered out. "…we fought a dungeon 'mon! And WON! This is amazing!"

"About that…" Espurr began. The blink-and-miss-it strategy she had come up with on the spot had given her a few ideas she'd be remiss not to use.

~\({O})/~​

"Stop that! It tickles!"

"Sorry… I'm still trying to control it."

"…You really are weird."

"…What?"

"Aren't you psychic-types supposed to know how to do these things from birth or something?"

Tricky barely suppressed a slight bout of involuntary laughter as the piece of floating crystal brushed the tip of her sparkling tail again. The two of them hadn't been able to get that shimmering dust the crystal had expelled out of their coats, but they had managed to amass so much of it they might as well have been walking crystals themselves. Several other dungeon wildlings – all animals – had attacked Tricky and Espurr on their way further through the caverns. All had fallen to the irresistible strategy of bringing a crystal down upon one's head. The entire thing had been Espurr's idea: Once a dungeon wildling was spotted, Espurr would act as bait and lead them away, and Tricky would then leap out of hiding and collapse the nearest crystal with her ember.

Espurr was currently toying with a piece of the original dark blue crystal they had broken, making it float in midair and dangerously swoop over Tricky's head and tail, to the latter's rare annoyance.

"No," Espurr carefully lied, choosing what sounded to her like the safest response while keeping her concentration tied to the floating piece of gemstone. "Not all of us. At least; not from birth."

Tricky suddenly gasped and scampered ahead, causing Espurr to almost drop the crystal in surprise.

"Come on! I found the stairs!" Tricky yelled from the distance, bounding up to the entrance of another cavern. Espurr cast a quick look at Tricky's route, then attempted to float the crystal up to her left arm-

-But then a sudden sharp pain reminded her that she didn't currently have access to a left arm, and the crystal fell to the ground and shattered into sparkling dust. Successfully managing to lose a few of the numerous sparkles hanging on her coat, Espurr hurriedly picked herself up and continued for the pathway that led onwards.

Only then did the baffling implications of Tricky's statement fully hit her: Mystery dungeons had stairs?

~\({O})/~​

Mystery dungeons had stairs.

Perfectly level, perfectly cobbled stairs, and Espurr couldn't fathom why. Even as she navigated the steps, which just happened to be the perfect size for Espurr and Tricky to walk (Or in Tricky's case; bound) down, the smoothness of the stone compared to the rough floors of the rest of the cavern both amazed and baffled her. Did all dungeons have these?

"All dungeons have those," Tricky said dismissively, once Espurr had asked. "Dunno why; don't really care." she shrugged, glancing around the cavern.

"Is it darker on this floor?" She asked.

Espurr saw that it was. The cavern they were currently traversing was just a little darker than the one they had previously made their way through, and the crystals here glowed a bit brighter in the growing darkness than they had on the last floor. And Espurr saw the red ones. They glittered in secluded spots amongst the many other colors, only truly visible if one was actively searching for them like Espurr was. And then she heard the distant skittering echoing through the cavern walls; the sound of approaching dungeon wildings.

"I hear more enemies coming," Espurr warned Tricky. "We'd better hide. It sounds like a lot."

And before Tricky could even open her mouth to protest, several moles skittered around the corner, rushing right past and around the two students without even paying them any mind. Espurr and Tricky shared a look of slightly weirded-out confusion. Then the armadillo rolled past. And the rabbits hopped on by.

Tricky couldn't contain her snickers at the goofy way the retreating herd of dungeon wildlings was running off, but Espurr cast a look to the cavern up ahead; the one where even the crystals dared not shed light. Something must have scared them. Something like a larger dungeon pokemon.

And then she heard the distant stomping. And Espurr put it all together.

"Hide!" Espurr suddenly yelped, pulling Tricky by her ear-fluff behind a teal-colored crystal jutting up out of the ground.

"Oww… Watch the ear-fluff!" Tricky complained once they were safely in their hiding place. "How would you like it if I pulled your ear?"

Espurr's ears briefly tingled, and something instinctually told her that would be a very bad idea.

The stomping slowly became louder. Both Espurr and Tricky could hear whatever was making them drag its feet across the floor.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Louder and louder. Espurr dared not breath; nor peek out from behind the crystal and risk being seen.

Then the thuds stopped, right by their hiding spot. Espurr froze in horror. Had they been found out?

An excruciating moment of silence passed, in which Espurr could hear only the creature's raspy breaths. Then the sudden scraping of claws against gemstone came from the opposite wall. The creature tore the gemstone out of the wall with its sheer strength, causing a loud crack and sending the shimmering dust all over the cavern. It repeated several more times. First the scraping against the gemstone. Then the resounding crack! of rock being torn from the cavern wall. Then the explosion of sparkles that erupted not a second later.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The creature began to march on again; and only when it was well on its way into the cavern did Espurr get a good glance at it: A monstrous gabite, dragging its feet through the cavern like a zombie. Its head hung low; drooping down over its body, and in its arms were a collection of sparkling red gemstones. The same stones that had been mysteriously absent from the first floor. This must have been what was happening to them, Espurr realized.

As the creature stomped off, Espurr and Tricky slowly emerged from behind the crystal, stepping on the sea of sparkling gemstone-dust that now littered the floor. They could still hear the distant thuds of the creature's footsteps in the distance.

"What was that?" Tricky whimpered, much of her bravado suddenly lost.

Espurr picked up the blue crystal she had dropped to the ground earlier. It remained unbroken, but that was the least of her concerns.

"But why did it only take the red ones?" she mused to herself. She couldn't think of any possible reason the monstrous pokemon would only steal the red gems, and it bothered her greatly that she couldn't.

"Espurr!" Tricky yelped; her voice wavering with fear. "What was that?"

"I think…" Espurr stared at the cavern behind, where the dull thuds of the monster could not be seen but just barely heard. "…That's the explorer who got lost down here. He matches the picture in the book. Remember?"

Tricky's face went pale through her fur.

"Is that going to happen to us?" she questioned, a frightened look on her face. Espurr didn't know what to tell her. Before now, she hadn't even known this could happen!

"…Not if we move quickly," she said, settling on what seemed like the least scary answer. Besides, Goomy had survived in a dungeon for upwards of hours, so that was already a notch in their favor. "Can we still go back up?"

They both cast a look down the corridor, where; to Espurr's dismay, the silhouette of the dungeon stairs was no longer visible.

"Dungeons re-arrange themselves behind you," Tricky explained. "So the only way out is down…"

Espurr didn't understand how travelling further downwards would bring them back up to the entrance, but so many things about mystery dungeons confused her already that she was able to simply add it to the growing laundry list of confusing things about mystery dungeons and move on.

A distant roar and the agitated chitters of several dungeon wildlings sent both pokemon sprinting for the opposite corridor just seconds later.

~\({O})/~​

They had found the stairs again. Just barely. Espurr wasn't sure how long this dungeon went on for. They were currently on the third floor, by her estimates. Tricky had seemed to regain her natural disposition once the gabite was out of their senses, and the rest of the time had been spent walking through the labyrinthine caverns in search of the next stairway, the next floor down, and (Hopefully) beyond that, the way out.

The ache had returned to Espurr's left arm as they traveled through the hues of blue and green and white. Or maybe it had never left, and she just hadn't noticed until now. She currently wasn't calm enough to practice floating things in midair or hold a conversation with Tricky, whose efforts were wholly devoted to finding the next stairway anyway. But she couldn't stop wondering about the crystals. She couldn't stop wondering what the gabite's obsession with the red gems was. Not knowing was killing her on the inside, and it managed to consume her thoughts for most of the trip.

Until, captivated by the gemstones lining the walls and the unnatural spaces where the red ones had previously been, Espurr suddenly felt her legs get shoved out from under her and she landed face-first into the cavern dust. Espurr whirled around, fearing a dungeon wildling had gotten the slip on both her and Tricky, but she stopped once she realized she had actually tripped on an old, dusty leather bag.

"Are you okay?"

Tricky glanced back at Espurr, watching the psychic kitten untangle herself from the bag's straps. Perplexed; Espurr struggled to lift the heavy bag that was easily half as big as she was over to Tricky, and they immediately opened it.

Espurr didn't really know what she was expecting. Once the pair of students managed to pry the bag's straps open, nothing but the musty smell of dust hit them square in the face. It didn't do wonders for Espurr's throat, but once they had managed to dig past the decomposed berries and now-antique exploration equipment, Espurr finally managed to get her good paw on the one thing she was sure would yield some answers: An old journal.

Only, she couldn't read Unown.

"What is it?" Tricky asked. "Does it belong to Gabite?" she tilted her head at the notebook, discreetly hiding her shudder at the mention of the pokemon's name. Espurr handed the notebook to Tricky.

"See for yourself," she told the fennekin. "I can't read."

Tricky took the notebook from Espurr's paw, twitching her nose at the cloud of dust that erupted from Page One.

"Entry #1; 2/11/10993," Tricky read.

"Wow… This was a long time ago," she added, glancing back at the page.

"I'm investigating a new dungeon that's just popped up in the area at the request of a small little village nearby," Tricky continued. "It's nestled in the middle of a mine-shaft, and I have to perform a routine dungeon patrol before the place can be declared a class A dungeon, or off-limits. As I write this, I'm setting up camp in the dungeon. I got too caught up in my sight-seeing, and wasn't able to make it out before dark. It's not recommended to camp out in a mystery dungeon, but if it's a class A dungeon like I suspect, then I should be fine."

"Signed, Gabite the Explorer," Tricky finished. Both Tricky and Espurr shared a look.

"He camped out in a dungeon?" Espurr asked.

"Seems that way." Tricky glanced around the cavern. "But I don't see any camping supplies…"

"Maybe it's on page two." Espurr knew they had struck metaphorical red gemstone with this journal. Surely; the answers to her burning questions would be revealed by the explorer's logs!

Tricky flipped to page two, wisely turning her head away to avoid the dust that fluttered off the pages.

"Entry #2; 2/12/10993. I've been in this dungeon for far too long already. You can't really tell time down here, but judging by the amount of time I slept, a full day since I entered the dungeon has probably elapsed. The dungeon's already beginning to attack me. It sicced a horde of dungeon pokemon upon me as I slept, and I had to battle my way out before breakfast. I believe the proper term for such an encounter is called a 'Monster House'. I wager I only have so long before the dust storms show up. That's why I'm trying to get to the end of this dungeon as fast as possible. There are four floors, at the least. I'm hiding the Dungeon Anchor right now recording this. I estimate I can lay low here for a few hours safely before continuing on my way out. Going to sleep again won't bode well for me. Oh, why was I stupid enough to believe this dungeon was Class A? At least the place if filled to bursting with gemstones. Maybe I'll take a few of the red ones back out of the dungeon with me."

Tricky flipped the page again, but found it blank. Confused, she flipped to page four. And then leaved through the notebook clumsily. Nothing had been written on the book's blank pages at all.

"That was his last entry, wasn't it?" Espurr asked. She couldn't stop at least a little of the disappointment from creeping into her voice. Something must have happened between the writing of that entry and the present, and she wouldn't be privy to it. That annoyed her, but also intrigued her as well. She made a note to ask one of the teachers about the prolonged effects of staying in mystery dungeons later. One of the teachers that wouldn't want to kill her later…

Tricky nodded; the book in her mouth. She grimaced and spat it back in the bag immediately after, cleaning her tongue off with her paws..

"It even tastes old…" she complained.

Thud. Thud. Thud. In the distance. Both Espurr and Tricky looked behind themselves in fear.

"It found us."

Tricky sprung to her feet at Espurr's comment, heading further into the dungeon. Espurr quickly tried to work the bag over her shoulder with just the use of one arm. It was just small enough for her to carry, but she had to get it over her head first.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Espurr's head spun back towards the cavern from which the beast was quickly approaching. She could even see its shadow on the wall now; shuffling along the cavern like a body possessed. If only she could…

"Espurr; come on!" Tricky's terrified voice echoed through the cavern after her. "You're gonna get caught!"

Torn between the bag and the monster, Espurr did what seemed the only logical option at the time- She balanced the straps of the bag over her head, quickly turning tail and running for the other cavern before Gabite could see them. She could have sworn it caught a glimpse of her; but only for a fraction of a second, and then she was panting for breath against the same crystal Tricky had hidden behind, the bag still swinging awkwardly from her head. Espurr carefully tilted it to the left, nudging the strap in the right direction-

-It fell painfully on her left shoulder, sending bounces of pain through her broken arm. Espurr barely managed to contain her expression of displeasure to a mere hiss of pain.

"You took the bag with you?!" Tricky exclaimed in a hushed voice.

"It could be useful," Espurr argued back. "Besides, we need to show the drilbur once we get out of here."

Thud. Thud. Thud.

"You could have been caught!" Tricky hissed. Espurr could hear how much the fear had gotten to her in her voice. "What if it got you?! You'd— You'd—"

Tricky went silent. Her ears drooped, and Espurr felt the corners of a foreign negativity cloud over her mind once more. She moved back from Tricky just to cope.

"I don't want it to happen again…" Espurr heard her whisper.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Both pokemon promptly abandoned their argument in favor of the clearly audible stomps that were coming from just around the corner.

"We can't let it get ahead of us," Espurr suddenly said, having just come to the realization. "Or we'll be trapped behind it in the dungeon."

Thud. Thud. Thud.

"You mean… Berry crackers… We have to sneak ahead of it?" Tricky's fear openly shone through her voice.

Espurr nodded. Tricky whimpered. She could see that Tricky was scared out of her wits, but lying wouldn't help their situation. Not now.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

They could hear the gabite's heavy breaths now from behind the crystal. Espurr realized it must have been just beside their hiding spot now, and Tricky was trembling in fear. It was their last chance to gain a head start upon the creature.

Espurr didn't see any other way of getting past.

"Sorry, Tricky."

Without warning, she dashed out into the open-

-Espurr had known Gabite was close, but she hadn't properly estimated how close. She barely avoided being snapped up in Gabite's jaws by only a hair's length, barely keeping the bag on her shoulder and her wits about her as she dashed away.

"Now dash past!" Espurr yelled back, as Gabite roared obliviously and began to stomp directly after her.

Tricky watched bug-eyed from her place behind the crystal, equal parts awed and terrified. Even she wasn't that reckless! Then she realized her window of opportunity was closing, and snapped firmly back into adventurer mode.

The gabite was steadily advancing upon Espurr, even as she rushed around the corner and dashed through the cavern. There were only so many gemstones she could maneuver the zombie pokemon into before the gabite's rudimentary mind caught on, and soon it began to weave around the boulders and crystals as it loped after her. Espurr was lucky to hear the scampering between the gabite's thunderous footsteps and terrible roars, and was able to shield her eyes just in time to avoid being blinded by the ember that soared through the crystals and exploded against the back of Gabite's head.

Enraged; Gabite swiveled its head around. But it was promptly used as a launching platform for the fennekin, who stuck a landing several feet in front of the monstrous pokemon.

"Why did you stop?" Tricky asked frantically. "I can see the stairs from here!"

And Espurr realized it was true- at the end of the corridor lay the perfectly cobbled, out of place stairs that would lead them to the next floor. They could escape!

Gabite snarled, nearly recovered from being blinded and being hit by Tricky's ember and taking a blow to the face immediately afterwards. The sound set both Espurr and Tricky into motion, and by the time Gabite was able to properly open its eyes again, the two pokemon were already out of sight.

~\({O})/~​

The roars of the zombie pokemon raged through the caverns above as Espurr and Tricky rushed down the dungeon stairs. Espurr stopped and glanced back at the stairway, hoping she'd be able to witness them seal the two pokemon on the floor like the last two flights apparently had.

"What are you doing?!" Tricky cried out in terror.

"The stairs-" Espurr began.

"-They don't move if somemon's watching them, you ignoramus!" Tricky screeched, rushing back and practically bulldozing the poor feline down the cavern hall.

Espurr didn't have the courage to turn her head back towards the cavern, even as Tricky pushed her down the hall. She heard the 'thud' of Gabite's footsteps; the angry echoes of Gabite's roar, and then what was no doubt Gabite taking his first step onto the staircase, and she wished more than anything that the stairs would just close up behind them…

…And then, as if the dungeon had been feeling particularly generous that moment, Gabite's roars suddenly became a lot more muffled, and the sudden cut-off of light from above threw both Espurr and Tricky into darkness. And then they stopped completely, and there was only the disappearing sound of Gabite's thudding footsteps.

Tricky stopped when she realized they could no longer hear Gabite's enraged roars.

"Did… Did we make it?" she asked, catching her breath and giving Espurr a chance to break free from the Fennekin's grasp. Espurr looked backwards at the cavern they had just come from; the one that was now enshrouded in darkness.

"I can't tell…" she said, barely calm enough to even talk. "It's too dark."

"Well, I can't hear him." Tricky attempted to shake herself off, the sparkling dust in her coat sending glimmers of light that reflected off the crystals and cast a dim glow around the cavern. Espurr noticed the red hue a few of the gems took. Could it be?

Quickly, she went ahead, shuffling her fur on purpose as she went to set a dim light to the gemstones around her. They weren't in a narrow hall shrouded by rock and crystal anymore. The cavern was wide and unfettered by obstacles. It was almost as large as the entire school classroom, and in the middle of the cavern sat the largest mountain of red gemstones Espurr had ever seen.

Tricky trotted up, taking the cavern in with amazement.

"Wow…" she began. "Remind me why I wanted to go home again? This is amazing!"

"Let's just grab some of the crystals and go home." Espurr didn't fancy the idea of staying in the cavern any longer than necessary. As enthralled by the place as Tricky seemed to be, even she didn't contest the idea, and the two set out to work picking a few of the better gems.

Espurr opened the bag she had slung over her shoulder the best she could with her working arm, allowing Tricky to dump the stones into one of its many pouches. The bag settled onto Espurr's left shoulder uncomfortably, and she laboriously adjusted to so that the straps wouldn't dig into her bad arm as much.

Thud. Thud. Thud. In the distance. Espurr wrote it off as her imagination. The stairs to this floor had been sealed. There was no way for the gabite to get back here before they left the dungeon... Right? All they had to do was find the way out, anyway.

"I see some light!" Tricky announced, pointing ahead to where Espurr did indeed see a source of light in the distance. It wasn't daylight, but it wasn't crystal-light either, so it must have been the way out; she deduced.

Thud. Thud. Thud. This time, Tricky heard it too. It echoed around the cavern, making it impossible to tell where the sound had come from. Both Espurr and Tricky hurriedly turned towards the underground hallway they had come from, expecting their pursuer to have somehow broken through the dungeon floor and arrived here.

However, when the gabite attacked, it wasn't from the front, but from the side. The only warning the two students had was the sudden sound of footsteps from the left-

-Thud-Thud-Thud-

"No fair!" Tricky whined, just before they were both forced to jump out of the way of the charging gabite. The shark-like pokemon slid to a stop, spinning on its toes and bellowing mindlessly at Espurr and Tricky. Tricky let out a squeak of fear, and quickly quickly made an effort to blend in with the red of the gemstones. Espurr stared at Tricky in shock, barely dodging a swipe from one of Gabite's fins a second later.

Enraged; Gabite began to charge after Espurr, who very nearly lost the bag as she ran. Espurr led Gabite around the mountain of gemstones, losing sight of the shark-like pokemon as she approached the cavern hall again. Before Gabite could round the corner, Espurr quickly dived into the same gemstone crater Tricky was currently huddled up in. Gabite roared as it dashed past; unaware that the pokemon it was pursuing had hidden.

"Tricky!" Espurr prodded the cowering fox with her good arm.

"I… I can't…" Tricky shuddered, covering her eyes with her paws. "I can't beat that thing…"

"But we don't have to beat it!" Espurr pointed out; half in confusion. Had Tricky really thought they would have to defeat Gabite? "We just have to leave the dungeon!"

That made Tricky perk up a little, as she realized the obvious. "But…" she stammered.

Gabite suddenly slid to a stop in front of the gemstone cavity, having caught on to the fact it was chasing naught but thin air by now. It let out a deafening roar at the two pokemon who had dared to intrude upon its lair, preparing to strike them down with a clawed fin. Espurr decided she'd had enough. Without thinking, she grabbed a big fat gemstone, and hurled it straight in Gabite's face. It exploded into shards of sparkling dust, doing almost nothing to impede the encroaching Gabite's attack, and then it was Espurr's turn to cower as the feral pokemon brought its fin down upon her head-

-A flaming ember whooshed past Espurr's ears. It hit Gabite square between the eyes, and its impending attack slashed into the nearby red crystals instead of Espurr's skull. Having unwittingly destroyed some of its treasure enraged the blinded Gabite even more, and it began to unleash all fury upon where it thought Espurr and Tricky were. Espurr suddenly felt Tricky chomp down upon her right arm, and she was pulled out of the way of an attack that probably felt less painful than her arm did. She looked into Tricky's eyes and saw nothing but fire, as she was dragged a safe distance away from Gabite's temper tantrum by the fennekin.

Tricky had dragged Espurr a good distance away from the gemstone pile, where the gabite was still unleashing living fury upon its treasure. The sound of every new gem exploding into dust at the hands of another one of its attacks were met with more of Gabite's thunderous roars, and eventually it gave up with the slashing and swiping and just charged headfirst into the pile. Espurr watched the mountain of gemstones sway dangerously. And then she put two and two together.

Espurr focused on a single gemstone; located on the bottom of the pile. Surely; she could…

…Her heart skipped a beat as she suddenly saw the gemstone move a little; a motion easily missed by those not looking for it. But it wasn't coming out any further. It was too heavy. Espurr couldn't free it on her own.

Gabite sniffed the air; its sight finally returning once more. Its eyes fixed on Tricky and Espurr; and seconds later, so did its body. It let out a mighty roar once more, loping towards them with reckless abandon. Espurr poured all her concentration into one final mental pull-

The gemstone soared free at the last second, whizzing through the air and knocking Gabite's right foot off its mark. Suddenly sent tumbling to its side, Gabite could only brace for impact as its body clashed against its massive pile of loot. Espurr and Tricky could only stand back and watch in horror as the mountain of gemstones clicked and, and then buried Gabite under an avalanche of shiny red rocks.

And then there was silence. A few of the stones clinked as they settled, and the gemstone dust rang heavy in the air.

"…Did we… ?" Tricky asked in a small voice; the fire gone from her eyes. "Did he…"

Espurr was sorry to say that she wasn't sure. However, she could also admit with little guilt that she didn't really care one way or another anymore.

"Let's just… go," she managed to say with level tone.

"Yes, let's." Tricky hurriedly agreed.

~\({O})/~​

"I-is he still out there?" a drilbur asked, walking about the Mine Crossroads uncomfortably. The light from the flame illuminated many of the drilbur colony's similarly anxious faces.

"He's still pacing around the mine shaft. We heard him grumbling about 'no-g-good-troublemakers'."

Many of the drilbur drooped their heads in defeat at the scouts' report. A new torch had clumsily been set up (For even if the drilbur could technically see in the dark, having the light around provided a sense of comfort for them), and the smallish cavern now acted as a hidey-hole for the Drilbur of The Mines. They were faced with a dilemma above-ground; an angry pokemon who was sure to let them have it if they came back empty-handed, and below ground…

…The drilbur didn't speak of what was below ground. And at the heart of it all was the cause: A pair of children from the Village had absconded into the mines, and gone to the one place no pokemon should ever go. The entire colony of drilbur had since assembled to debate the issue.

"N-now what d-do we d-do?" One of them asked, the collective stutter beginning to return to their voices full-force.

-"I supp-pose we c-could stay down h-here for the rest of-f our lives," Another drilbur proposed. It seemed like the colony was actively considering it.

Until suddenly, there came a rumbling from deep inside the boarded-off mine shaft, and the very two children the drilbur had been stressing over tumbled right out into their hands, both covered in sparkling dust and panting heavily. The Drilbur of The Mines glanced at both pokemon in complete and utter shock. The bag Espurr had been carrying suddenly began to tremble, and there were several muffled shattering sounds from within. Espurr winced at the sound. Those were the gems. Had everything they'd just gone through really been for nothing?

"We… Defeated… Your… Monster…" Tricky spat out between gasps.

"Y-y-you what?" A lone drilbur managed to utter out. This was apparently a shock to a select few of the drilbur clan, who promptly fainted on the spot. Espurr and Tricky both picked themselves up on shaky feet.

"Yeah. We beat your monster," Tricky repeated matter-of-factly. "Y'know… Gabite?"

Several gasps rang throughout the drilbur clan, amongst shocked whispers of 'It's true!'.

"H-how?" Another drilbur spoke up. "H-how did two children…?"

"It was crushed by all the gemstones," Espurr replied.

"G… G-gemstones?" The word seemed to catch many of the drilburs' interest. "W-what gemstones?"

"Y'know…" Tricky muttered promptingly. "The gemstones?"

One of the drilbur walked forward, picking up a few grains of the dust that had fallen from Espurr's bag in its claws.

"Emeras…" he quietly whispered to himself in silent joy. "We s-struck emeras!" He yelled to the rest of the clan. There were cheers everywhere, as the mood in the cave suddenly went from overwhelmingly anxious to undeniably joyful.

"…What's an emera?" Espurr asked Tricky.

"Beats me…" Tricky yawned, falling flat on her haunches. "I was asleep that day in class."

"H-how can w-we ever thank you?" The drilbur asked. Espurr perked up. She saw the perfect opportunity! Tricky opened her muzzle, likely to demand unlimited candy for life, but Espurr spoke first.

"There is one thing…"

~\({O})/~

~Goomy~
Goomy wanted to go home. He should have gone home an hour ago. But instead, he was moping under the shade of a rock while Vice Principal Watchog paced the mine angrily. He'd wanted to ask what was wrong; where Tricky and the new student had gone, but Watchog seemed far too angry for Goomy to even consider it. Goomy was genuinely worried he might assign extra detentions for anymon who even talked to him at the moment. And so he'd stayed under that rock, feeling sorry for himself; and also very confused, and maybe even a little bit angry at his two classmates for putting him in such a position! Even if they'd saved him from the Foreboding Forest just a day ago…

"Stupid troublemakers… I am going to give them both detention for a year when they get out of there!" Goomy winced as the sound of Watchog's angry ranting shot through the air like an attack in Dungeon Class. "And I can do it; too… Ruin their whole summer for them… Maybe then they'll think twice before crossing the Vice-Principal!"

Watchog jumped in surprise not a second later, letting out a high-pitched shriek at a sudden bang that came from deep within the mine. He turned towards the cavern entrance, glancing into the darkness.

"Troublemakers?!" he called out into the mine hopefully. "Is that you?!"

At first, Goomy dismissed it as yet another one of Watchog's failed attempts to retrieve the other two students. But then he heard the faint reply:

"It's us, Mr. Watchog!"

Watchog immediately stood back, resuming his brooding mood once more. "Finally decided to come back out; did you…" he audibly grumbled.

Moments later; and Tricky bounded out of the mines, followed by Espurr and several drilbur.

"Oh; you two are in a world of trouble," Watchog sneered at the two of them, before taking notice of the bag on Espurr's shoulder.

"Where did you get that?" He snarled, roughly snatching the bag off Espurr's shoulder.

Espurr swallowed her pain, making eye contact with Watchog.

"It's my souvenir from the mines," she said. It was only half a lie.

"Troublemakers…" Watchog seethed. "Don't get souvenirs."

"B-but they weren't t-t-troublemaking," One of the drilbur piped up.

"Yeah!" Tricky fired back at Watchog. "We weren't troublemaking!"

Watchog couldn't contain himself. He let out a high-pitched chuckle of insane disbelief.

"You expect me to believe that?" He wheezed, coming down from his laughing trip. "You probably just bullied the drilbur into saying it."

"No-mon bullied us," The drilbur said, his voice suddenly losing all stutter. "Except you."

"You forced us underground!" Another piped up.

"Barged onto our property!"

"Kicked us out of our own mine-yard!"

"Bossed us around!"

Watchog's face contorted into several twisted faces as he tried to individually battle the mounting accusations against him.

"You can't give us orders!"

"You aren't fit to give orders!"

"ALRIGHT!" Watchog yelled; so loudly that even Goomy had to grimace in pain at just how loud the sound was. "Why don't we just go home… and forget this all happened?" He asked, his face settling into something more appropriate for deal making.

"And you'll never come back?" The drilbur all collectively gave Watchog the stink-eye. Watchog opened his mouth, but then though better of it and nodded his head instead.

"And you'll agree that these two haven't been up to any troublemaking at all today?" The drilbur remained no less hostile towards Watchog while saying it. Tricky had a goofy grin plastered on her muzzle, and Espurr had to admit the positivity was contagious.

"They just helped us uncover a very large stash of unprocessed emeras today," one of the other Drilbur mentioned. "And I believe you're a large buyer of processed emeras…"

Terrified, Watchog nodded his head ferociously.

"W-we'll just be going now," he said with a shaken voice, picking up the bag and shuffling off in an unusually uptight manner for him. Espurr and Tricky shared a quick look of triumphant disbelief, then quickly followed before they could dock any more points against the angry Watchog,

"Yeesh; I h-hated that 'mon…" Espurr heard the drilbur begin to converse and gossip behind her.

"T-tell me about it. T-talk about h-high horsea…"

"Goomy!" Watchog snapped as they approached the slimy pokemon. "Did you move from that spot?"

"N-no, sir," Goomy stammered out, his eyes shimmering with fear of Watchog's wrath. But to his surprise, Watchog relaxed, gesturing for Goomy to follow as he continued onwards. "At least somemon's on my side today…"

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

~Espurr~

"So." Pancham smirked from his spot against one of the many buildings lining the Serenity Village Square. "Did you get them?"

"You didn't tell us the mines had a monster in there!" Tricky yelled at him, then hurriedly checked to make sure Watchog was out of earshot first. Sure enough, the long, brown pokemon was moping his way home, after dumping them in the town square.

For a split second, Pancham's face gained a confused look to it, but it was gone with the blink of an eye, and he was back to his normal self again. He shared a look with Shelmet, who was loitering right next to him.

"We… we knew about the monster," Pancham said. "I was just testing you. Did you get the gems?" His voice took on an almost taunting quality towards the end, as if he knew something Espurr and Tricky weren't supposed to.

"We tried…" Espurr began. "But they exploded into dust the moment we took them out of the dungeon." she showed them the dust in the bag for good measure. To her utter surprise, however, she was met with the downright mean laughter of Pancham and Shelmet.

"You two are such dimwits!" Pancham gasped out between laughs. "We got you so bad!"

"Everymon knows you can't take emeras out of dungeons without processing them first!" Shelmet added, crying tears of laughter. Both Espurr and Tricky stared at the two them, half in disbelief. Espurr saw the darkening look upon Tricky's face, and decided to end the conversation before it could turn into a fight.

"Anyways…" Espurr said, closing the strap on the bag with her right arm. "Thank you."

"What?!" Both Shelmet and Pancham ceased their laughter to look at Espurr in shock. Espurr sent them her best attempt at a smile.

"It was fun," she told them.

"You had… fun?" Shelmet gasped. "In a mystery dungeon?"

By this point, Tricky had caught on, and she stuck her tongue out at Shelmet in passing before quickly nodding like Espurr had.

"Doesn't surprise me," Pancham said, folding his arms. "I always knew you were a freak. Just like your 'partner.' Now the whole village gets to know, too…" He smirked nastily.

Tricky gasped. "You wouldn't!" she shot back at him. "You can't prove it!"

"Yeah," Pancham brushed Tricky's accusation off nonchalantly. "But who's the village gonna listen to? Me… or the local troublemakers?" he sent Tricky a wink that made her look like she wanted to flamethrower him onto the next continent.

Satisfied that he had humiliated the pair of them well enough, Pancham began to walk off, Shelmet following behind him.

"And now, I must be off; ladies." He bid them goodbye in the most obnoxious tone possible, blowing them a kiss and then sauntering off. Shelmet stuck his tongue out at Tricky before scampering after Pancham.

Tricky was borderline growling at the pair of them as she watched their figures turn to silhouettes in the distance.

"I hate them…" she snarled.

Espurr merely wondered whether they would leave the two of them alone; now that they had gotten their 'victory'.

"I should probably get going," Tricky said, turning to Espurr once the two bullies had disappeared. "My Pops is gonna make me clean the whole house from top to bottom if I don't get home before dark. Also if he finds out what happened today; so don't tell him."

She bid Espurr goodbye, and then ran off in the direction of her house. As Espurr started off towards the school, she briefly wondered where she would go once her arm fully healed. Would the school provide a place? Or would she be left to find one herself?

~\({O})/~​

"I've had a talk with the Principal," Audino said, trying to keep the anger out of her voice as she pulled yet another cast out of the medicine cabinet. "Watchog will no longer be overseeing your detentions. Not with that arm, at least." She began to dry Espurr's recently-washed fur off with a towel. Espurr could barely keep her eyes open; much less follow Audino around the clinic as she switched between tidying up and cleaning Espurr's arm.

"I always tell him; don't overwork the students!" Audino continued as she worked. "Don't make their injuries worse! And what does he do? He takes you to work at the mines! I've never seen dirtier pokemon in my life! And I'm the village doctor!"

"Honestly…" Audino grabbed the cast and began to wrap it around Espurr's arm. "It's a wonder you didn't split the fracture again."

She got up, closing the cabinet doors and picking up the mess after her. "IF you keep that cast on, you can take it off tomorrow night," She told Espurr. "Report to me for the rest of your week's detentions. If you can't be trusted to keep yourself safe outside of this clinic, you'll just have to serve them inside it."

She went around the clinic, covering the globes containing luminous moss with tarps.

"All set, Deerling?" Espurr heard her ask the straw bed facing the other side of the wall.

"Yes, Nurse Audino." Deerling's voice emerged from the bed; though Espurr couldn't see her.

"I'll discharge you tomorrow," Audino continued. "You should be past the worst part of the molt now."

"Thank you; Nurse Audino," Deerling said, sounding relieved to be over molting. Espurr sat down upon the straw bed she had made her residence for the past two days, casting a look back at Deerling's bed. She was tired and half-soggy from the bath that been required just to get the emera-dust out of her fur, and her throat still felt scratchy from all the dust she had breathed in that day.

"Sleep well, both of you." Audino picked up Espurr's bag by accident, setting it down once she realized her mistake and taking her own. She continued into the back room of the clinic, leaving Espurr and Deerling alone for the night.

"It's not true, is it?" Deerling asked a moment later. "You didn't go into the mines with Tricky?"

Espurr froze. How had she known? Then she remembered a certain pokemon's words, and the answer hit her.

"…Pancham told you, didn't he." Espurr said.

"He told everymon," Deerling replied. "He said he'd sent the troublemaker and the new kid to the drilbur mines, and they fell straight for his trick."

Deerling sighed, readjusting herself on the bed so she could see Espurr properly. "Espurr, right?"

Espurr nodded.

"Listen… I don't want to sound rude, or mean," Deerling continued. "But I think you should stop hanging out with Tricky. Or just don't humor her if she tries to get you to go into a mystery dungeon with her. We've all been there. It never ends well. And I don't want to watch somemon else get hurt because they were reckless for her."

Espurr didn't respond. She was too tired and beat-up to formulate any proper response right now, and what Deerling was sending her way sounded like something that required her full brainpower.

"…Okay?" Deerling softly asked a moment later. But Espurr had already fainted from exhaustion.

~\({O})/~

Café Connection

~Ampharos~

Four hours. Almost four hours of searching through the footage backwards, and Ampharos had found nothing of consequence. About two hours into the footage he had heard the sudden sound of a voice and skipped it back, but only the distant, off-tune singing of a passing 'mon with a heavy Grass Continent accent rang through the speakers. The entire four hours of footage seemed to be truly comprised of nothing but night noises. Ampharos sighed, switching the orb off for a break and rubbing his temples the best he could. He would need to recharge it soon anyway.

A knock rang out against the door, causing Ampharos to perk up immediately.

"Come in," he addressed the piece of wood. Or, rather, the 'mon standing behind the piece of wood.

The door opened a crack, and Kangaskhan peeped her head in through the door.

"Is everything okay in here?" she asked. "I'm about to lock up for the night, and the other guests have been complaining about hearing all sorts of noises coming from this room."

"Understood." Ampharos expertly covered the Expedition Gadget with the covers as he got up from the bed. "Just a matter of an open window. You'll hear nothing more about it, I hope."

He pretended to latch the window shut (Despite it not having been open in the first place), then drew the drapes closed. Satisfied, Kangaskhan began to shut the door once more.

"Good night, then. I'll see you in the morning for checkout."

Ampharos gave the pokemon a reassuring smile until he was sure the door had shut; and Kangaskhan would not open it a second time. He removed the covers and pulled the Expedition Gadget out again, setting the volume to the lowest setting above mute. One last broad survey of the footage, before he retired for the night. Just to see if his plan had really come to naught.

Ampharos began again at the start. The very start. He sifted through the unrelated chatter of what sounded like Fennekin and Espurr (For of course, they had been the ones to take the orb), closely listening for any clues that might point him in the right direction.

"Now that I think of it… you never told me where you came from, did you? That's like, question number #2 on the list of things friends should know about each other!"

That was Fennekin. Ampharos leaned in closer. Surely; this was his lead…

"It's like I said. I… Got lost in the woods, and Nurse Audino found me and took me here."

Espurr must have been holding the orb. Her voice blasted through the speakers louder than Fennekin's had.

"Yeah, but where did you come from?" Fennekin whined. "Come on- I want the juicy bits!"

"I… don't want to talk about it."

"Spoilsport."

Ampharos paused the audio. Then he rewound it and listened to that section all over again. This 'Espurr' was certainly dodgy in many ways. As Ampharos booted off the Expedition Gadget and tucked himself in for the night, he jotted down Espurr's name in his mental book of suspects.

He had a new lead.

~\({O})/~

Music of the week! :D

Pirates Vs. Natives Vs. Heros Vs. Chickens - John Powell

On 5/19/2020 this chapter received minor edits for consistency.
 
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