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Fledglings

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Spiteful Murkrow, Mar 2, 2015.

  1. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Mafias hiding in plain sight is a Pokéworld tradition, as evidenced by everyone's unfavorite Kantoan Casino Operating Syndicate. They're also fairly brazen in some real-life cultures, as seen in how many Yakuza outfits in Japan until recent years had a tendency to distribute business cards and list their headquarters in phone directories.

    As for the Zoroark, it felt like a logical application for its abilities. After all, there's only so many theater SFX to go around, and being able to refashion your surroundings in a manner that passes the initial 'feels solid' sniff test (or at least according to the anime) is a godsend for anyone who needs to camouflage big, inconvenient things from unwanted attention.

    Saéta is based off of some generic mafioso archetypes, though he's more Mr. Big than Don Corleone in terms of what you'll see him actually do on-screen. As for the dirty cop, while it is a fairly common device, it was a deliberate choice to show that the Company isn't the only faction in sore need of housekeeping.

    Well, they're wise words to live by. Though 'bluff and keep a cool poker face' would also be some pearls of wisdom to take from the series.

    Part of that is that Sibich from the beginning has been conceptualized as a 'manipulator' character. In general, such characters tend to go hand-in-hand with major egos since they're used to getting their way with just some simple emotional sleight-of-hand.

    The 'professional tutor' part was actually addressed in the scene where he is introduced to Queen Aleria. At this stage, Pleo's heart and mind still needs to be won over before anyone can really worry about teaching him long division, as a bird god with math skills but no emotional attachment to where he is will quickly become a bird god with math skills that flies away the moment his flight feathers grow back.

    The version of AA1 you played was obviously not the GBA release, and you've probably noticed some details surrounding him weren't quite adding up.

    I suspect that you'll be less wrong than you think, though I hope you'll enjoy the twists and turns as this episode reaches its conclusion.

    Yeah, part of living in a massively multispecies society is that you'll run into cases where idioms go over someone's head in hilarious fashion.

    I think it's more the 'only one absence' part that makes it seem legit. You can't really maintain a business trafficking anything with a one-off investment of time.

    I'm sure that once things settle down, they'll be on good terms. However, with about half a story to go, it'll be awhile before they can have a relationship with a more solid foundation than 'your boss kidnapped me but you were nice to me'.

    Battle-grade narcolepsy takes a good deal of skill and determination to master.

    Well, I hope that you enjoy where things wind up going from here.

    And while February kinda came and went thanks to this chapter dragging on physically longer than anticipated, I've still managed to get everything together within a close-ish amount of time to the end of the month. For this month in March, I will be targeting one story update plus a non-canonical bonus, with the current goal being to wind the current episode down in mid-April and try to resume a less strung-out posting schedule from there out thanks to a shake-up in the drafting system the last two episodes used. Obviously rule of 'it's done when it's done' still applies, but I hope that what does come out makes things worth the wait.

    Special thanks for this chapter goes to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net, along with the proud readers and reviewers that I've been fortunate enough to run into over the course of writing this story.

    And without further ado, let's pick up where we left off:

    [​IMG]

    The time after Team Swellow's victory on the field flew by in a daze, thanks to Team Bedtime's battle strategy abusing techniques that put their opponents to sleep, including a potent Yawn from its Munchlax leader. In spite of it all, Nida, Elty, and Guardia managed to piece together enough of the journal to notice that Sibich seemed to have total control over his underlings' activities, and that he seemed to use the journal to maintain a running log of his dealings and exploits. Before they knew it, the three were back in the courthouse, with their paws and the team's satchel filled with muddy notes, running up with an audible yawn in front of an agitated-looking Pikachu.

    "… Again?" Cardino sighed. "What happened this time?"

    "Sorry, we got Yawned on during our last match and had trouble staying awake afterwards," Nida explained. "That's why it took a while to get over here."

    Cardino sighed and he flattened his ears against his head in exasperation. If he'd known his assistants would have had this much trouble with the tournament, he would've looked around for an extra set of paws to fight in the ring while these youngsters focused on finding clues.

    "Sure seems like you three are a magnet for trouble," the Pikachu murmured. "But did you find anything, at least?"

    "Someone mailed us Sibich's decoder," the Cubone answered. "These papers were the transcriptions we were able to make before time ran out.

    At once, Cardino's jaw dropped and he spluttered incredulously. They got mailed Sibich's decoder? But how, and who- Pah, it wasn't worth sweating the details right now! This was the break of a lifetime, and it couldn't have come with better timing!

    "Well don't just stand there!" the Pikachu exclaimed. "Hurry on in! Nico has been stalling for over half an hour!"

    The courtroom doors swung open dramatically, clearing the way for Nida, Guardia and Elty to stride in at a hasty pace, Cardino closing the doors behind them. As Team Traveller made their way inside, Nico opened his beak to exclaim something-or-other at a Cofagrigus on the witness' stand with Rita floating at his side, only for his budding outburst to die in his throat as his voice stalled out of shock. The Fire-Type took a breath, gathering his wits for a moment, before gesturing excitedly with a wing to present Detective Cardino's assistants to the court.

    "Aaaaand here's our evidence, your honor!" the Fletchinder cheered.

    "Really now?" Akin scoffed. "Looks more like a bunch of children and an out-of-shape mutt running in with a last-minute distraction."

    "That's where you're wrong!" Guardia countered. "Those three pirates were framed and we have proof of it!"

    The Cubone's claim at once stirred up murmuring among the audience, some curious, some skeptical. For his part, the Cofagrigus witness on the stand narrowed his eyes, shooting a hardened glare back at the youngsters before turning to the Slowking judge.

    "Your honor, I didn't agree to come testify to be smeared with baseless accusations," Sibich huffed. "I already plead no contest to my crimes."

    "That's for the evidence to decide," Nico countered. "Your honor, I call Cardino's assistants to the stand to share this evidence that they've found!"

    The Slowking judge moved his gavel to his mouth, giving it an idle whirl as he pondered. The timing did seem a bit suspect, but after the tumultuous events of the last trial, it hardly seemed fair to dismiss it out of hand. Satisfied, the Slowking shook his head, turning back to Nico with an expectant look.

    "I will allow it," the Slowking said. "Witnesses, please take the stand."

    Sibich scowled as he slinked away from the witness' stand to make way for Team Traveller while they shuffled forward. The three youngsters took their places, and Nida fished the journal out of her bag as Elty and Guardia set out the transcriptions they had made. The trio steadied their breathing, keenly aware that every eye in the courtroom was on them. Nida cleared her throat uneasily and straightened her posture, preparing to speak.

    "We'd gotten the idea that Captain Sibich's diary would tell us more about what his crew were up to," Nida began. "By a stroke of fate, earlier today we stumbled on his decoder."

    "We took a look through different parts," Guardia added, passing out a small stack of transcriptions. "Even though we couldn't finish in time, we know that he seems to insist on calling the shots for his crew."

    "Most interestingly, he seems to be pretty disdainful of his Marked crewmembers," Elty said. "Calling them 'blotch-heads who got in his way' that 'draw attention away from the rest of the crew'."

    "As you can see, Eric and his buddies' claim to be set up is completely reasonable," Nida continued. "There's someone with the motive and mindset here to do it. Captain Sibich!"

    The Nidoran's exclamation at once drew a set of startled protests from the defendants' docket. There, Eric, Hanuna, and Sela gawped at the Poison-Type with wide eyes and slackened jaws, incredulous at the claim she'd laid before the court.

    "H-Hold on a second!" Eric stammered. "Captain Sibich really wrote that?!"

    "But the Shadow Brigade was the easiest crew for Pokémon like us to join!" Hanuna added.

    "How about we get an explanation here, huh?" Sela demanded.

    "Well now, your honor. That sounds like an awfully surprised reaction from the accused," Nico said. "Perhaps there's some truth to the witness' claims."

    The Slowking quieted for a moment, playing with his gavel in his paws. The Psychic-Type paused in visible thought, before shaking his head and beginning to respond.

    "I'll admit that it does sound a bit-"

    "Hold it!"

    All eyes in the courtroom turned to a billowing and seething Cofagrigus, giving a look that could kill towards Team Traveller. The Ghost-Type slammed his hands onto the ground and turned up to the judge, visibly agitated.

    "I demand to be allowed to testify," Sibich spat. "I refuse to let a pack of neophytes try and shift the blame onto me through engaging in selective quotations!"


    "Yeah, what he said!" Akin hastily added. "What bit of decisive evidence did the witness provide to exonerate your client?"

    "That Captain Sibich used Pokémon like the accused as patsies," Nico scoffed. "You heard it straight from their mouths!"

    "Yes, but did your 'patsies' here not commit the crimes they're accused of?" the serpent demanded. "That's the important part, and you don't have the evidence to prove it!"

    The Fletchinder grimaced, realizing that this whole time, while he'd been trying to cast doubt on Sibich, he'd completely failed at proving his clients' innocence! They certainly weren't acting misleading, but nothing that he'd shown the court so far could prove that they weren't a part of those egg thefts!

    "Nrr… rrgh…"

    "It's really all quite simple, featherbrain," Sibich said, giving a dismissive wave of his hands. "I'll explain to you from my experiences as a captain how it was that the testimony of those little snoops you called to the stand changes absolutely nothing."

    "I'll hear it. Captain Sibich," the Slowking replied. "You may begin your testimony explaining the context of your journal entries."

    The Ghost-Type floated back up to the stand as Team Traveller hastily took their leave back for Nico's desk. All the while, the Cofagrigus trained a harsh glare on the youngsters, seething behind clenched teeth before he swallowed his agitation and turned his attention to the judge with newfound sobriety.

    "I admit, the youngsters' words are true…" Sibich reluctantly admitted. "That is what those entries in my journal say after reading them properly."

    Some shocked gasps went about the gathered audience, wondering just what sorts of malevolent acts the Cofagrigus captain before them could have done if he was willing to hide his true colors from his own crew. In anticipation, the Ghost-Type held up a hand for silence, before turning his attention back to the judge.

    "However, things are not as simplistic as the Defense's witnesses would like to believe," the wraith insisted. "The lines have merely been taken out of context."

    "… Would you care to explain that?" Nico asked.

    "They are things I wrote out of frustration after long days of working with the Marked on my crew," Sibich explained. "It got tiring to deal with them going behind my back constantly."

    "If they are all such awful crewmembers, then why do you have them on your crew in the first place?" the bird pressed.

    "Because a trained and experienced crew is worth more to a captain than a ship full of rookies," the Cofagrigus retorted. "Despite the flaws among my Marked subordinates, it simply made the most sense for me to stay the course to teach them prudence in their mission and of honor among thieves."

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia gaped at Sibich. How could he regurgitate the blatant lies he'd told them at the detention center yesterday so plainly in public ? It was totally shameless!

    "Grr… that's an obvious lie!" Guardia spat. "He's guilty and we all know it!"

    "Maybe so," Nico murmured. "But I can't see anywhere where his testimony contradicted the evidence we have."

    "Hold on, Nico. He admitted that anything read from his journal through that decoder is proper, right?" Rita asked. "Then if so, anything else he wrote in that book is something that he'd be admitting to happening."

    "Yeah, but how does that help us with this giant book here?" Elty demanded. "We'll never be able to decode the whole thing before the judge gives a verdict!"

    "We'll buy some time. Nico's great at pressing a witness when he has to, so just look around and try to find something that would relate to this last raid," the Misdreavus insisted. "He's bound to have said something about what happened beforehand."

    "Hold it! About your first statement!" the Fletchinder cried. "What did you mean by 'write'…?"

    Team Traveller blanched and threw a set of paws over their faces, shaking their heads as they noticed a deepening glare settling over the judge's face. 'Stalling for time' was one thing, but this was just reeking of desperation...

    "Let's just hurry this up before the judge loses his temper," Guardia sighed.

    Nida and Elty at once flipped the diary open and browsed back to the most recent entries in it. The pair fished out the decoder and hastily started to transcribe entries while occasionally peering up to overhear Nico in his latest featherbrained attempt to stall the judge. On the third entry in, Elty hastily scribbled down some runes, before Nida's eyes went wide as she realized that when combined with the ones next to it, it described a 'Guardian of the Seas' in Giotto. Wait, but that meant...

    "Eh?!" Nida exclaimed. "Someone told him Pleo was here?!"

    "Huh? But weren't we at Sormus at the time that was written?," Guardia muttered. "That said, how exactly would that do anything to help prove our case?"

    "If he was coming for Pleo, it'd explain why he went out with all his ships…" Elty said to himself. "Did he talk anywhere afterwards about planning? Since even Hess plans out his bigger raids."

    The three looked down and started to transcribe the next messages. Glyph by glyph, words and then entire sentences started to take shape in front of their eyes, with Nida and Elty falling silent as their eyes fell on one in particular that they'd just completed.

    "Drilled through attack plan with crew, left notes under cover," Nida murmured. "'Under cover'? Like a blanket?"

    The Nidoran looked around at the rest of the notes, and failed to find any mention of drapes or any sort of covering. By happenstance, the Poison-Type grabbed the front cover to turn to another page when she realized that it felt unusually thick. Nida blinked a moment, before lifting up the diary and shaking it in front of her, hearing a faint rustling sound from within. The Nidoran's ears perked up, her actions failing to go unnoticed by Sibich from the witness' podium whose eyes widened out of surprise.

    "Oi!" the Ghost-Type snapped. "Just what do you think you're doing there?!"

    "That's it!"

    The Nidoran hopped onto the desk, whirling to face the judge as she thumped the wood underfoot for attention. Try as she might, the Poison-Type couldn't contain her excitement, coming to the realization that the discovery she just stumbled on was huge!

    "Your honor, there's something inside this diary's cover!" Nida exclaimed.

    For a moment, it seemed like Sibich's face had gone pale, however much that was possible considering his coffin-like body. The Ghost-Type sputtered, desperately attempting to find the words to downplay the Poison Pin Pokemon's epiphany.

    "P-Pah! Preposterous!" Sibich insisted. "Even if there was, just how would you propose opening i-?"

    CRACK!

    The courtroom flinched at the sound of splintering wood after Guardia club came down on the diary's cover. The binding cracked as the front cover buckled out and a panel toppled out, leaving Nico and Akin alike to stare mouths agape, the Serperior stammering in shock at the Cubone's treatment of case evidence.

    "Hey! She can't do that!" Akin squeaked. "That's destruction of evidence!"

    "That's where you're wrong, Jalorda!" the Cubone insisted. "I'm improving your evidence!"

    The Cubone yanked away the freshly-broken cover, causing a small wad of folded-up papers that had sat in the newly exposed hollow to flop out onto the witness' podium. The Slowking judge's eyes widened, the Psychic-Type audibly gasping in surprise at the sudden turn of events.

    "Oh my! Diaries with compartments?" the judge exclaimed. "I wasn't aware that you even could keep private possessions and private thoughts together."

    Nico strutted over and grabbed the papers with his beak, bringing them back to his desk. The Fletchinder and his Misdreavus assistant pored over the articles carefully, prompting curious murmuring to break out in the audience. Guardia peered over, struggling to see just what they had uncovered.

    "What does it say?"

    Nico unfurled the papers from the cover onto his desk, as they settled it became evident that they contained an annotated map of Polderfield Town and its surroundings with colored dots and arrows. Along with it, names had been scrawled onto a separate list, apparently denoting groups of Pokémon and actions written out over them.

    "It looks like it's a diagram of the harbor, with attack routes," Nico murmured. "I'm more interested in this list here though, Captain Sibich…"

    "Grrnh… and just why would that be?" the Ghost-Type demanded.

    "Well for one, I see Eric, Sela, and Hanuna's names in here, but they're under a team for pillaging Polderfield's main square," the attorney began. "On the other hand, I see your name in this group here under 'recruitment' for what appears to be the local daycare. And wasn't that where your diary was recovered in the first place?"

    "Then that means-" the Slowking began, much to Akin's grudging realization.

    "That the real culprits were the Pokémon who went to the daycare…"

    WHAM!

    "Which would include you, Captain Sibich!" Nico exclaimed. "As none other than their ringleader!"

    "Rrgh… this proves nothing!" Sibich hissed. "It was a setup!"

    "I'm afraid that won't work," Rita retorted. "You yourself admitted that the decoder was right."

    "Yeah, and that's how we found out about the compartment in the first place," Nida cried. "You wrote about it in your diary!"

    The Nidoran's exclamation at once made Sibich set his teeth on edge, the Cofagrigus appearing much like a Deerling in the line of a Flash Cannon as he realized that he had indeed confirmed in front of the whole courtroom that the decoder belonged to the diary...

    "Nrgh…"

    "Your honor, these documents are the decisive evidence needed to prove my client's innocence," Nico said. "It shows that they were part of a broader conspiracy organized by Captain Sibich to frame them and other Pokémon like them for more serious crimes, so that the real culprits could evade justice!"

    The Fletchinder beat out a wing, dramatically leveling his wingtip across the room and peering down at the Cofagrigus at the other end, before finally raising his voice again to press one further question.

    "… Do you have any commentary to add, Captain?"

    "Nnn… Ngaaaah..." the Ghost-Type seethed. Sibich wrenched an arm free, flinging a shadowy orb at the Defense's table that sent them diving for cover. The Coffin Pokémon raged, his voice coming out in an increasingly unhinged-sounding hiss.

    "This can't be happening! Everything in my plan was perfect!" he shrieked. "I'm Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade, I made it perfect! And I'm not letting a songbird and a couple of runts ruin that perfection!"

    The Ghost-Type rained another Shadow Ball at the other end of the courtroom, making some observers in the audience duck out of their seats with yelps as it slammed into the wall below. His patience with the Cofagrigus long exhausted, the Slowking judge glared and pounded his gavel irritatedly against the wood of his podium, turning his attention to a Glalie and a violet Persian with pudgy cheeks.

    "Bailiff, please take the witness into custody and escort him out of the courtroom," the Slowking judge grumbled.

    "No! I refuse! You cannot do this to me!" the Cofagrigus screeched. "I'm Captain Sibich of the Shadow Bri-"

    The Ghost-Type was cut off by a shadowy ball striking his face, as the Glalie and the Persian descended upon him. The Cofagrigus thrashed against his attackers, only for the Glalie to chomp down on his face, drawing a pained shriek as he toppled back in a daze. With their charge subdued, the captain was unceremoniously dragged off, the courtroom door slamming shut and leaving behind a stunned silence… broken by the sound of a Fletchinder poking his head up above his desk and shooting a smug smile across to the prosecutor's end of the room.

    "Well, it looks like the 'Rookie Killer' has been killed," Nico jeered.

    "Nrghh," Akin groaned. "This is one of those times when it's really best to just slink away for another day."

    "So be it, I'll be waiting for tha-"

    "Aherm."

    The Fletchinder and Serperior quickly stilled their tongues as the sound of the Slowking judge clearing his throat sounded out. The pair turned, watching as the Psychic-Type toyed with the gavel in his paw, giving a satisfied shake of his head.

    "With these turns of events, I think that I'm ready to hand down my verdict," the judge said. "With regard to the defendants and the charges of egg theft… Not Guilty!"

    The Slowking brought his gavel down onto the desk with a forceful thud, prompting cheering to erupt from the audience. For a moment, the Pokémon on the Defense's side of the room swelled with pride, glad that their hard efforts had in spite of all odds paid off.

    "Hah! You did it! You did it!" the Scraggy exclaimed. "You got us off the hook-!"

    "However, based off the evidence at hand, we can clearly see that the defendants are guilty of larceny," the Slowking ordered. "I order that they be returned to detention to await sentencing on a separate occasion as prior cases are reconsidered in light of this new evidence."

    WHAP!

    "… Way to make us look like idiots, Eric," Hanuna snarled.

    "Come on, get going," Bastiodon scolded. "You can go warm a cell for a few days before you get put on trash duty."

    The Pokemon by the Defense's end of the courtroom looked on while the Bastiodon guard marched the three pirates away as Cardino slipped in from outside, the Steel-Type guard slamming the door loudly behind him. From where she floated over Nico's shoulder, his Misdreavus assistant sighed and shook her head.

    "Well, all's well that ends well…" Rita sighed. "Er… sorta."

    "I'm sure they'll be grateful in due time," Cardino said. "Larceny is usually grounds for some form of Community Service, nothing that those three can't bounce back from if they make the most of it."

    "Hrm… I guess we'll have to see what they do. Though something's bothering me," Nida murmured. "We found out that Sibich was responsible for this egg theft… but that list of eggs involved multiple crews... Who exactly was helping him?"

    Before anyone could answer the Nidoran's question, she was cut off by the sound of thumps and shouts from outside the courtroom. The door was abruptly smashed open with a shadowy fist, as Sibich's seething form floated back inside.

    "I'm not going down on my own!" the Cofagrigus shouted. "I refuse to let Coil hang all the blame on me!"

    Stunned gasps broke out in the audience, the Ghost-Type narrowing his eyes and slamming his hands against the ground for attention, hoping to strike while the iron of his spectators' shock was still hot.

    "That's right! Your beloved pirate hunter Admiral Coil has been working with me for years!" the Sibich snarled. "So what are you going to do about it?!"

    At once, the Cofagrigus was answered with a hail of loud jeers and shouts. The Ghost-Type was promptly clocked in the face by a flying apple, with other audience members taking the opportunity to lob objects of their own from the overlooking balconies.

    "Get out!" a Bellossom shouted.

    "A likely story from scum like you!" a long necked Exeggutor jeered.

    The Cofagrigus toppled back under the blows of the incoming attacks when a flung Iron Ball sailed along into his forehead, sending the Ghost-Type clattering to the ground with a groan. The bailiffs came along and drug the now-unconscious Cofagrigus off, though the uproar in the audience was little-changed prompting the judge to pound his gavel for order. While the Slowking attempted to calm the riled-up audience, Cardino stared after the door where Sibich had been dragged off, before shooting a sidelong glance at the Fletchinder beside him.

    "Hey Nico, you interested in representing another client?" the Pikachu asked. "I think we can get you a face-to-face meeting with him sometime around sundown."

    "Well, it's my job," the Fletchinder murmured. "But why?"

    "I think I might've found a break to this egg ring case, but it's gonna require the cooperation of a tough customer."



    As the sun continued its ascent up to its midday high in the sky, the Silver Wing Cup continued on at the Vecioferàle Arena. The day had been marked with cycles of frenetic activity, followed by lulls much as this one where the field was cleared and rearranged and spectators drifted out into the hallways to purchase concessions or settle bets in the wake of the second round. From the portion of the stands set aside for the contestants, the lull was occupied more by plotting out strategies for next matches, slinking off to train, or in the case of Valatos, Nori, and Alvise, simply lazing around and waiting for time to pass by.

    "Ugh, I'm so bored spending all this time watching all these other Pokémon fight," the Marowak groaned.

    "If only we were in a large city where we could freely go around with plenty of stuff to do like the Imperial capital…" Valatos sighed, before shooting a piercing glare at the Manectric beside him.

    "Hey, you saw what happened the last time we went out!" Alvise snapped. "I'm not going unless if there's a good reason for it!"

    "Bah… why couldn't you have left town when you were younger without getting a gang of 'mons mad at you?" Nori huffed.

    The Marowak and Manectric's argument quickly took a turn for the worse as the two bickered with one another, drawing an annoyed sigh from Valatos. After a moment's reservation, the Yanmega opted to let the pair sort out their own differences and settled on a railing overlooking the arena. The dragonfly turned his head rightwards down the contestants' stands and watched the forms of various Pokémon go by, fanning his wings lazily when a squeaking voice reached his ears.

    "Ah! You're back!"

    Valatos looked ahead and saw the form of a blue Nidoran hopped into the arms of a waiting young Druddigon, the Dragon-Type taking her up and nuzzling her against his snout. The Yanmega retched at the lovey-dovey scene further away, and gave a seething chitter that turned his teammates' attention away from their spat.

    "Eh? What's with you, Valatos?" Alvise asked.

    "Yeah," Nori added. "What are you looking at?"

    The pair peered over from the other side of the contestants' stands, just in time to see the young Druddigon and Nidoran ahead joined by the rest of their teammates. At once, Valatos' companions felt their moods sour along with him, the pair growling lowly as Valatos beat a tarsal against the stadium's railing.

    "Grr… of course they have to show their ugly mugs in the most guarded spot in the stadium," Valatos hissed. "If it weren't for that, I'd give the lot of them a good Air Slash."

    "Wait, those dweebs from the ship know those 'mons with the bounty on them?" Alvise asked.

    "I'm pretty sure that the Crimgan with them mentioned something about it," Nori said. "But surely we have something better to do than just sit and watch them here."

    "Well, since Prinses Alvise here isn't up for going out into the city, let's do the next best thing and stretch our wings in the halls a bit," Valatos sighed. "Maybe there's something we've missed so far."

    The Yanmega got up and flitted off for the hallways, followed by his Manectric and Marowak teammates. The pair made their way along the circular walkway ringing the stadium, looking through the arches out to the passersby in the canal-lined plaza below milling between shops and stands set up for the occasion of the Silver Wing Cup. The three started to turn down an interior passageway, passing some rooms that had been locked tight with signs labeled 'Arena Props' or 'Plaza Decor' denoting their contents.

    Valatos and his companions swung around a corner, carrying past a room lined with holes cut into the floor that had herbs hung over the doorway with the sound of flowing water coming from it. The herb-scented air carried an underlying odor reminiscent of the Mistral Marauder's heads, which judging from Alvise's disgusted reaction after sniffing the air, had been freshly used for their same purpose. The trio picked up their pace and turned down a corner, eager to return to a portion of the stadium with fresher air. The lot carried on, heading towards the sunlight and making their way forward when the sound of murmuring ahead caught their ears.

    "I don't even care how you did it, but why did you change our matchup?" an agitated, bat-like voice demanded.

    "Yeah, it's not like there's any team in this tournament we can't beat anyway," a barking voice added. "And we've been swimming in fan mail! Why risk our reputation with the crowds?¨

    "Huh?"

    Valatos poked his head around the corner, where the forms of a Weavile, a tan-furred Lycanroc, and a visibly agitated Crobat in white scarves with a blue sun pattern came into view with other like-garbed Pokémon loitering further down. The Yanmega and his buddies peered on in silence, watching as the Dark-Type gave a dismissive shrug of his shoulders before replying to the Crobat.

    "I was bored, I saw an opportunity to have a little fun, and I took it," he answered. "Nothing wrong with that."

    "You endangered our operational security for your own amusement?" the Crobat spluttered. "Ketu, what's wrong with you?"

    "Would a 'game' give us a chance to have an easier path to the finals?" Ketu retorted. "Besides, you're not actually sorry that we're getting the chance to throw around a few of those Tromban idiots, are you?"

    At the mention of 'Tromban idiots' from the strangers' voices, Valatos flitted up with a start. The Bug-Type beat his wings agitatedly, realizing that there were only two possibilities the weasel could be referring to. Both of which were scores he wanted to settle!

    "Hey wait a minute!" the Yanmega buzzed. "That's-"

    "I dunno, he makes a pretty compelling point there, Kane," the Lycanroc murmured.

    "Hrmph. You'd just better hope nothing goes wrong from this, Ketu," Kane snapped. "You'll have a lot more to worry about than just being knocked down a rank by the Captain if it does."

    "Tsk, nothing to worry about," the Weavile answered. "Let's just kick back and have a little fun with our next match. It's not every day we get to humiliate some hicks in front of their own Protector."

    The team of white-scarved strangers slunk off down the hallway, chattering amongst themselves about how much of a cakewalk their next match would surely be. All the while, Valatos and his companions stared after them, their jaws slacking as the significance of the Weavile's words began to dawn on them.

    "That little weasel's rigging the matches!" Nori exclaimed

    "Come on, if we hurry, we can tip off a ref before the next matches start!" Alvise grunted. Valatos mulled, fuming under his breath, only for his temper to get the better of him. He was not going to just let that Weavile's scheming go unanswered, much less just sit around while he stole away their chance at vengeance on those Tromban hicks.

    "Grr… lousy fleabag, going out of your way to steal my revenge!" the Bug-Type hissed. "Let's do it, I wanna see that weasel suffer-!"

    A deafening, roaring cheer cut off the Yanmega mid-sentence. He trailed off, the three of them pausing to wonder about the occasion for the audience's raucous demeanor. The question swiftly answered itself, however, as Thalez' voice filled the air from a glinting metal bangle hung in the hallway.

    "Aaand our intermission's over, folks!" the Rotom cheered. "Time to move on to the eighth-finals!"

    The three brigands grimaced at the announcer's words, a sinking realization setting upon them that the tampered team lineups had surely been seen at this point. Now, whatever had made it in front of Thalez would be read aloud and none would be the wiser about the original lineup.

    "… We're too late."

    Valatos stared blankly ahead, head drooping low and wings uncharacteristically still as Thalez droned on in the background. It seemed that not a single thing had gone right for them since they first bumped into those blasted brats back in Kenobi! No matter which side of the law they fell on, it hardly seemed fair for them to not catch a single, small break...

    "And moving on to our matchups!" Thalez's voice crackled. "Our first fight will be between Team Tailwind and Team Sunshine. Next up will be Team Venom and Team Surveyor, then Team Traveller and Team Iron..."

    The trio stood blinking dumbfounded for a moment as Thalez called out 'Team Iron', the hastily-devised name that they'd entered themselves and their teammates into the tournament with. The Rotom droned on, leaving Valatos to click his mandibles and spread a malicious smile over his face as much as his chitinous mouthparts allowed. With newfound peace of mind, the Bug-Type turned to his teammates, giving a cheery flit of his wings.

    "Whelp, what are we waiting for?" the Yanmega asked. "Let's go prep for our match."

    "Wait," Nori insisted. "But I thought we were gonna tell the refs that that Weavile was cheating."

    "No need. Cheating or not, we can still work things through with this lineup," Valatos chittered. "So let's just have a little fun."

    The Yanmega flitted up, giving a anticipatory rub of his tarsi as he lavished in a feeling of assured self-confidence stronger than any he'd had since the Mistral Marauder pulled into port at Giotto. Alvise and Nori traded puzzled looks with one another, but the dragonfly was happy to better articulate his point.

    "After all," the Bug-Type began. "How many chances are we going to get to beat the tar out of those dungeon brats in front of a cheering crowd?"



    (Continued in the next post)
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018
  2. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    "Yah!"

    The sound of a Gallade's cry rang out from the pit of the Vecioférale Arena, as he lunged forward with a swipe, sending a hulking Scolipede skidding back along a grassy arena floor. The centipede hissed angrily and built up a glob of violet fluid in between his mandibles, and spat it up in retaliation at the Gallade. The glob carried on, finding its mark on the Fighting-Type much to the Bug-Type's satisfaction, only for his cheer to swiftly end as he felt himself get lifted off the ground. The Bug-Type shrieked and thrashed, watching his opponent motion with his arms with glowing eyes as he sent him flying towards the top of the pit's walls. The Pokémon in the stands flinched and cowered, cringing before an Exploud and a Ninjask hastily stepped up and threw up two barriers of light as the Scolipede smacked against them with an audible crash. The hulking Bug-Type pitched back before limply tumbling into the pit, crashing face-first in the grass and twitching his hind legs weakly.

    "And looks like Team Venom's Scolipede is down for the count!" Thalez cheered. "And with that, Team Surveyor is the winner to progress to the quarter finals!"

    A roar of approval swelled in the stands of the Vecioférale Arena, prompting the forms of a Gallade, Blastoise, and Goodra on the field to wave back in triumph. Amidst the celebratory mood, there were occasional outliers here and there: a Boldore slinking back with a disappointed sulk over his chosen team failing to win the match, a Honchkrow beating a wing out agitatedly at money lost on betting on the wrong team… But most unusual of all were the ashen faces of a Nidoran, Growlithe, and Cubone in the contestants' sections of the stand, the lot sporting grimaces all but dripping with visible dread.

    "Looks like that it for this round... We're up next…" Elty gulped.

    "Against Valatos and his buddies…" Nida groaned. "Fantastic…"

    "Ugh, I told you you'd jinx us by talking about not fighting them again, Gardie!" Guardia snapped.

    "How is that my fault?!"

    A low growl rumbled from the Growlithe's throat as he arched his back aggressively. Not to be outdone, Guardia tensed her grip on her club, pointing it forward and growling back at her Fire-Type challenger. With a wide-eyed grimace sensing the imminent trouble, Kiran flitted up, interjecting with a hasty wave of his wings.

    "Hey, hey, calm down!" Kiran squawked. "You won't be doing yourselves any favors going into battle divided!"

    "And you're not the only ones who have a tough matchup," Ander murmured. "We got slotted against one of the crowd's favorite teams for our next match."

    The Scyther's reassurance failed to sooth the three youngsters, particularly Nida, whose ears flattened against her head in annoyance. Just how was being told that they weren't the only ones facing insane odds supposed to help?

    "But you're also much more experienced fighters than us!" the Nidoran exclaimed. "How can we even do this?!"

    "Yeah, we can't use any items like the last time we faced them," Elty protested.

    "And even then we needed my colony's help," Guardia added.

    "Well, how did you get past encounters with groups of Pokémon in Mystery Dungeons?" Kiran asked.

    "We tried to take down the Pokémon that would hurt us the most first," Nida answered.

    "The same principle applies here," the Swellow insisted. "All you need to do is to try and keep your most dangerous opponent still fighting from attacking you."

    The Flying-Type's instructions drew uneasy glances back from Team Traveller. Yes, keeping the toughest foe from fighting them had served them well in dungeons… but this was no Mystery Dungeon, and Valatos and his buddies were not exactly common ferals from a Monster House.

    "That's a little easier said than done..." Elty groaned.

    "Alright beauties and gentlebeauties! How about we get this next fight started?" Thalez's voice crackled. "Can Team Traveller and Team Iron please come onto the battlefield?"

    At once, a loud roar broke out from the stands, the spectators eager to see the next fight. One that the grimacing members of Team Traveller were hoping on the Travellers above wasn't their last...

    "Well... that´s our cue," Nida sighed.

    "Good luck out there, Nida," Crom said. "I'm sure you guys can do it."

    The Nidoran stared out onto the field a moment before turning to face the young Druddigon. The rabbit twitched her nose, weakly forcing a smile onto her face before mustering an equally weak and unenthusiastic response.

    "Thanks Crom."

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia breathed in before making their way out onto the battlefield. The field had been cleared and laid out as a rolling, grassy plain, bereft of any meaningful cover to be used in a battle. The three looked down the field at Team Iron and grimaced, realizing that there would be nothing to help tilt this fight to their advantage beyond their wits and reflexes, which judging by the sneering glares from Valatos and his companions as they approached, was a realization that had also dawned on them.

    "Well, well, well," Valatos sneered. "What have we here?"

    "Looks like we got lucky and got an easy matchup this round!" Nori added, joined in by a devious smirk from his Manectric teammate.

    "It's time to get back at what you did to us on Kenobi you little brats," Alvise taunted.

    "And this time you won't be able to hide behind another Monster House or a bunch of street thugs!" Valatos chimed in.

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia gulped and tensed their bodies at their foes taunting. Trying their best to steel themselves for the coming fight, the trio dug their feet into the ground and attempted to summon defiant scowls to shoot back at Valatos and his buddies.

    "H-Hah!" Elty stammered. "You don't scare me!"

    "Yeah, we've toughened up since last time!" Guardia insisted, giving a wave of her club. The gestures did little to impress Valatos, who answered back with a derisive chortle.

    "Hah! Sure you have!" the Bug-Type buzzed. "Just tell yourselves whatever you need to feel better, this'll be over before you know it."

    "We all know these two teams by now, so let's not delay this any longer and get the action rolling!" Thalez crackled. At once, the audience erupted into cheers, their excited roar swelling in the arena as Thalez raised his arms for the countdown.

    "Three! Two! One... GO!"

    At the sound of Thalez's thunderclap, the three members of Team Iron tore forward in a rush. Alvise's attention quickly settled on Guardia, venom visibly swirling in his eyes as he lunged for her with bared fangs.

    "You're mine-!" the wolf roared, only to be cut off by a whirling woosh and a dull blow against his head. The Electric-Type gave a whining yelp and stumbled, looking up just in time to see a spinning bone twirl back towards the form of a Cubone falling back. The Ground-Type threw a claw up and caught the returning Bonemerang with a determined scowl.

    "Now!" Guardia cried. "Ring him before he can get away!"

    The wolf tensed himself and bared his fangs, when he caught the sight of a hopping blue blur come from the left. Alvise opened his jaws and whirled towards the oncoming rabbit ready for a crushing bite, only to howl in pain as he felt a burning pain on his hindquarters. The Manectric whirled around just in time to see Elty dart away, his focus promptly interrupted by a pair of stiff kicks at his gut that sent him stumbling back.

    "Alright, Guardia!" Nida squeaked. "I think we've got him on the-!"

    "Not so fast, brats!"

    The Nidoran turned, only to hear Guardia and Elty suddenly yelp and dive out of the way. As the Poison-Type looked up, she was cut off by a slicing gust of wind striking her in the side and sending her pinwheeling across the battlefield.

    "Gyah!"

    "Hang in there, Nidoran!" Guardia shouted. "I'm comi- Agh!"

    The Cubone's attempts to rush after her teammate were cut off by a blow from behind, sending her tumbling along the ground. Stunned, the bone-lizard lay on the ground trying to catch her breath for a moment, only to glance upwards and see her evolutionary relative charging for her with his club raised for an overhead smash. Guardia went wide-eyed and reflexively grabbed her club, holding it up just in time to block Nori's blow as he brought it down towards her.

    "Let's see how tough you are when you can't hide behind your colony, jari" the Marowak snarled.

    The sound of Guardia's struggle grabbed the attention of Nida and Elty, prompting the pair to rush in from opposing sides of the arena towards Nori. Much to Nida's surprise, given his stocky build, Elty had actually managed to pull ahead of her, as cinders danced on his orange pelt and set it alight.

    "Hey bonehead!" Elty jeered. "Think fast!"

    The Marowak was cut off by a wheeling, burning tackle to his side, knocking him off his feet. The lizard uneasily righted himself, watching as his Cubone opponent slipped away along with a Growlithe still trailing embers off his pelt attempting to follow suit.

    "Grr! Why you-!"

    Nori swung fiercely at the intruder, making a loud whack ring through the arena followed by a pained yelp, as Elty sailed forwards and skidded along the ground. From the right of the Marowak, Nida attempted to lunge for the bone lizard, only for her whole body to stiffen up at a blood-curdling howl from just a few paces behind her.

    "Here, you lousy pincushion!" a wolf's voice growled. "Try this on for size!"

    Nida shrieked as she felt fangs dig into her pelt and her body get lifted up off the ground. The Poison-Type felt her body get shaken like a rag doll, prompting her to raise her barbs in a panic and Alvise to drop her with a pained whine. She fell to the grassy ground with a yelp, lying stunned and panting as she watched Alvise spit up some barbs from the side. The Nidoran froze, watching in petrified terror as a slicing gust of wind struck her square in her chest, sending her skidding back with an agonized cry.

    "A-Aaagh!"

    Pat-pat-pat

    "Hang in there, spike ball!" Guardia's voice cried.

    WHAP!

    "Eyaaah!"

    Nida craned her head to see Alvise snatch up Guardia in his jaws, the wolf biting down into Guardia's abdomen with a pained squeal. In a panic, the Ground-Type lashed out with her club, clocking her tormenter below his left eye with her bone. The Manectric shrieked and let the bone lizard go, letting her flop unceremoniously to the ground, before tottering and collapsing onto his side.

    The Nidoran waited tensely for one or the other of the two Pokémon to get back up, only for the pair to remain still beyond the occasional weak twitch or rising of their chests from breathing, a sure enough sign that the two were down for the count in this battle. From his place in the air, Valatos chittered annoyedly at Alvise's defeat, training his compound eyes down on the visibly haggard spike lump below.

    "Lights out for you, Nidoran!"

    The rabbit blanched as the Yanmega beat his wings together and began to flick up a slicing gust of air from his wingtips. Nida hastily sprang to her feet and bounded away as the sound of a piercing wind came from behind her, the Poison-Type hastily side-stepping as the Air Slash mowed down the grass off the battlefield just to her right and forced her leftward towards the arena wall. The Nidoran looked up, and much to her horror spotted Nori ahead charging towards her with his club swung out wide for an attack.

    "A-Aah!"

    Nida screwed her eyes shut in a panic, loosened a spike from her pelt and flicked it forward. The projectile sailed on into the air, with the sound of a yelp and abruptly stopping footsteps following immediately afterwards.

    Cracking her eyes open, the rabbit saw Nori stumble back slightly, his club-hand's grip loosened on account of the fresh, poison-dribbling barb which had been lodged in it. Just as the Ground-type began to regain his bearings, he was thrown for a loop again as he felt his club yanked right out from between his claws, his eyes shooting open wide in shock.

    "H-Huh?!" the Marowak cried The bone lizard whirled around in an instinctive panic, groping for his missing club only to turn and spot a Growlithe waving his bum at his face, his jaws clamped firmly around the bone that moments ago had been secure in his grasp.

    "Chodź i weź to!" Elty jeered. "Just try and get your bone back!"

    Grinning as well as he could with Nori's club in the way, the Fire-type darted away, leaving Nori in his dust to splutter and take off after him, blood running hot and his helmeted head transfixed with a look that could kill.

    "Get back here, you lousy fleabag!"

    The Growlithe led Nori on a wild chase across the battlefield, darting to and fro ever out of reach of the slower Marowak pursuing. Exasperated, the lizard growled, shouted, and cursed in the bone-thief's general direction as the Puppy Pokémon continued leading him on, far outclassing his pursuer in speed. Elty's grin widened impishly, the Fire-type making no effort to hide his enjoyment of the episode, but his smile faltered as a loud hiss sounded out from above him.

    "Knock it off, you lousy mutt!"

    Valatos motioned with his tarsi and called up a dirt-caked rock from under the battlefield, sending it flying soil and all square for the Growlithe. Elty hastily sidestepped with a yip, but was unable to avoid a nasty graze to his flank from Valatos' Ancient Power knocking the bone in his mouth free and sending it flying ahead. The dog stumbled disorientedly, his body throbbing from the heavy blow when he noticed in alarm that Nori was making a run for his dropped club. He took off after the Ground-Type, only for his best efforts to be thwarted as the Marowak somersaulted ahead and pulled his club in close to his chest.

    "Gotcha-! Agh!"

    As soon as Nori recovered his bone, he toppled onto his side and rolled from a pair of swift kicks from a Nidoran's feet. Their owner whirled back to Elty, beckoning him to come and strike while the iron was still hot.

    "Elty! Quick!" Nida squeaked. "Before he can get back up!"

    "On it!"

    The Growlithe lunged, his fur becoming wreathed with flames as he darted forward and leapt up into a somersault at the stricken Marowak. The bone lizard looked up just in time to see his attacker falling towards him, and in a panic swung his club, catching the Fire-Type in his hind leg... but failing to stop him from barreling headfirst into his chest and throat and kick up a cloud of smoky dust. The young Growlithe tottered in a stunned daze, trying to keep his balance as he saw the Bone Keeper Pokémon struggle to rise to his feet with his club.


    "Grnk!"

    Only for Nori's grip to abruptly fail and for the Marowak to flop unceremoniously to the ground on his belly. The Ground-Type's club followed suit, toppling onto its owner's head and leaving him on the ground groaning incoherently. Nida and Elty panted, looking at their handiwork, only to be snapped back to attention by the sound of a seething buzz from the air.

    "Grr… do I have to do everything myself?"

    Valatos dove, darting in a zig-sagging pattern towards Nida and Elty as the pair hastily tried to waylay him with fire and spikes thrown from a distance, only for their attacks to miss their marks one after the other. Nida's eyes widened as the hulking bug closed in on her, a shadowy haze starting to accumulate around his front legs that spooked her into fleeing. The rabbit turned and bolted, managing to make it away a few paces before suddenly feeling a slicing pain on her back and the sensation of a chitinous claw pin her down.

    "Yaaaaaaah!"

    The rabbit squealed in pain and fright, swinging her paws for dear life and desperately trying to wedge her nails into the gaps of Valatos' carapace. By chance, one of her swipes slipped in between one of the segments of the Bug-Type's flank, forcing him up with a startled buzz, and prompting him to ready another Night Slash to finish off his foe.

    "Say your prayers, you little pest-"

    Before Valatos could finish his taunt, he felt a burning pain flash over his wings and saw fire move past his eyes. The Bug-Type fell to the ground screeching, rolling desperately to put out the embers that had landed on his wings. He hastily righted himself and beat his wings, wincing in pain from the sensations of a fresh burn, looking up to see none other than the tubby Growlithe culprit dart in front of him.

    "Grah! What did you do, you lousy mutt?!"

    The Fire-Type didn't bother to stop to give a response, instead beelining for his stricken teammate. Panting and winded, the Nidoran stumbled to her feet as her teammate nosed her up from the ground, peering down with exhausted eyes that were at once alight with the taste of victory just within reach.

    "Nida! We can pull this off!" the dog yipped. "We just need to think of a way to slow him down enough for us to hit him!"


    "It won't matter!" Valatos hissed. "Let's see you pull through this!"

    Elty lurched as he felt the ground roll under him, a stone erupting from the battlefield underfoot to strike him beneath. The Growlithe went flying through the air in a plume of dirt, shrieking as he sailed up and hit the ground hard, coming to a rolling stop amidst the torn-up grass of the battlefield.

    "Nrgh…"

    The Fire-Type wheezed, struggling to his feet with his vision running muddy as Valatos swooped in from above. For a moment that felt like an eternity, the Growlithe stood there, frozen in fear as the dragonfly descended upon him with a claw trailing smoky haze, only for a thwip to ring out and a dart-like spike to suddenly strike the Yanmega's singed left forewing.

    "Eaaaargh!"

    With a pained shriek, the Bug-Type pinwheeled in the air and slammed head-first into the ground. Elty threw himself to his feet, stumbling as he saw Valatos weakly pick himself up, tottering in a daze from an impact. Sensing that their window of opportunity was at hand, Nida bounded forward, looking back at the Fire-Type to beckon him to follow.

    "Elty, this is it!" she cried. "Let's make this count!"

    The Nidoran ran ahead and shot out a spike at the stricken Yanmega, followed closely on her heels by Elty as flames wreathed his pelt. The Growlithe charged and vaulted up, somersaulting into the Yanmega's side and sending him tumbling back in a cloud of cinders and torn-up grass. The Bug-Type wheezed and hissed hatefully, struggling to his feet and facing his attackers just in time to see a blue blur charge him.

    WHAP!

    A long silence hung in the air after Nida's tackle to the Yanmega's face. She heard a faint groan and felt Valatos' head slide down and flopped backwards, looking down to see that the Yanmega was lying still and motionless beyond faint signs of breathing.

    Nida and Elty panted and stared ahead exhausted when the sound of a loud roar reached their ears. The pair looked up apprehensively, only to realize that it was coming from the stands. There all around them, in every shape and size were Pokémon cheering for them, congratulating their hard-fought victory, leaving the pair to soak in the attention for a tired, happy moment.

    The two noticed movement from the corner of their eye, were they saw the medics lifting up and dragging off Valatos and his compatriots from Team Iron. For a fleeting moment, the rabbit and dog watched as the Yanmega raised his head, seemingly glaring off at them before drooping back down, which served to shift their minds back to their own battered and sore bodies.

    "P-Psiakrew… Come on," Elty panted. "We should go help Bonehead and get patched up ourselves."

    Nida limped off, fighting with her legs against the weight of her body to make it over to Guardia's unconscious form. She heard Elty slip and flop against the ground, the Nidoran pausing a bit before continuing on a few paces and also toppling onto her side, staring off ahead with her breath coming in ragged pants. They'd made it one match closer to making it to Pleo, but how could they hope to build at all upon this victory? They'd pushed themselves to their limits just to overcome Valatos and his buddies, and there'd be stronger teams… and the Empire... Surely they wouldn't just let Pleo go without a fight even if she and the others did get a private audience with him…

    Just what could they hope to do…?

    "Nida! Hang in there!"

    The Nidoran blinked and felt herself get lifted up from the ground by a pair of claws, craning her head up to see Crom looking down at her. The rabbit turned and sized up her surroundings, seeing Pladur helping Elty up and limp along away from the battlefield, and Guardia slumped over on Kiran's back. In spite of her battered and lightheaded state, the spike ball couldn't help but have a smile settle on her muzzle as a realization sank in her mind...

    "We won…" the Nidoran murmured. "We really won."

    "And you did great out there…" Crom answered. "But let's take things one step at a time, alright?"

    "I think I'd like that…"

    The Druddigon let his Nidoran companion clamber tiredly up his head, for what felt like the first time in ages. And so it was that the two made their way back for the contestants' portion of the stands, glad for the quiet of a precious peace the two could share just like old times.



    After Team Traveller's battle, the rounds of the Silver Wing Cup continued on in the arena, crowning upstart victors and dethroning rising stars from the eighth-finals of the tournament. From their place in the stands, the victory over Team Iron had taken a weight off of Nida, Elty, and Guardia's shoulders, especially after the Cubone came to in the medic's hall and returned to the stands after the application of a Reviver Seed and some Oran paste. Even so, the cloud of anxiety over the group had not fully departed them, as Team Swellow huddled together during the halftime of the eighth-finals, strategizing their options for how to deal with what was set to be a grueling match with one 'Team Blue Sun'.

    "Eh? Kiran, are you sure that it makes sense to field Pladur, Ander, and yourself against Team Blue Sun?" Nida murmured.

    "Yeah, isn't their heavy hitter an Ice-Type?" Elty added. "That sounds like a recipe for disaster if I ever heard it."

    "That's just the lot we were dealt," Ander sighed. "Dimitri's not in shape for a second battle today, and Crom would be in the same boat as the rest of us without being any fresher for fighting."

    "Egh… that sounds more like the moment you'd call for allies to help," Guardia grumbled. "Which this hut colony's backwards rules of battle forbid."

    "I know it'll be an uphill battle, but it's nothing that we can't handle with the right strategy and Tromban spirit!" Kiran insisted, puffing his chest out. The Swellow waited for a moment, beak upturned into an expectant grin... but instead of the rousing 'hurrah' he had anticipated, the only reaction he drew from his companions was some uncomfortable shifting-around and uneasy looks that darted to and fro among the lot.

    "Eh… I don't know about this, Kiran…" Pladur murmured, only to be answered with an excited wingbeat.

    "Nonsense! It's been the key for our island being able to overcome daunting odds!" the Flying-Type insisted. "Just look at what everyone went through when Darzin was thrown out from the village!"

    The Fraxure paused and thought about that fateful day, only for his thoughts to turn to envisioning a rampaging Marley charging ahead. The Axe Jaw Pokémon blanched as a shiver went down his spine, hastily shaking his head back at the Swellow.

    "That's not really helping, Kiran…" Pladur gulped. "H-How am I supposed to do anything against a team like Team Blue Sun?"

    "You're supposed to be the toughest fighter on our team after a Dragon Dance or two, right?" Dimitri asked. "So just hang in there and keep your nerve, and you should be able to turn things around!"

    "I was also under the impression that that was our basic strategy myself," Ander added, the mantis' affirmation doing little to dispel the cloud of anxiety surrounding his Fraxure teammate.

    "But- But-"

    "Soooo, my dear audience, I think I speak for us all when I say I'm tired of this intermission!" a Rotom's voice crackled. "How about we get this next set of battles underway?"

    In one voice, the audience hooted and hollered back an affirmation. After taking in a moment to savor the crowd's adulation, Thalez flitted up, cheerily carrying on with his announcements.

    "Good! Then let's have the next two teams enter the battlefield right now!" the Rotom buzzed. "This festival of mayhem must go on!"

    "That's our cue," Kiran murmured. "Wish us luck out there?"

    "Yeah, we will," Nida said. "After all, Pleo's counting on us too!"

    "Show them what we're made of, dad!" Crom cheered, the Druddigon's well-wishes being joined by Guardia from her resting place beside him.

    "Yeah, knock 'em dead!"

    The three Pokémon set off into the arena pit, coming out onto a sandy battlefield laid out much as a desert clearing flecked with small rocks. There, at the other end, Kiran noticed a Weavile in a scarf with a blue sun pattern lead in an Electabuzz and Tauros that snickered with one another. An uncomfortably familiar Electabuzz and Tauros… which stirred up an ominous feeling for the Swellow that something was dreadfully amiss right now.

    "Is something wrong, Kiran?" Ander whispered.

    "I've seen that Tauros and Electabuzz before…" the Swellow muttered. "I can't remember exactly when, but I have a bad-"

    "Hey, Fraxure."

    Pladur blinked and turned his head over towards the Weavile on the other side of the field. The Dark-Type nonchalantly shifted himself, before peering off at the stands… square at Crom.

    "That Druddigon there spectating in the stands…" Ketu murmured. "He's your kid, isn't he?"

    "Oh? Uh…" Pladur stammered. "Well yeah, he is."

    The Weavile cracked a sneering smile, before shrugging his shoulders.

    "He certainly looks to be in better shape than when we threw him off our ship like a piece of garbage," the Sharp Claw Pokémon said. "Shame there isn't one here to throw you from after this match is over. It's always fun taking out the trash."

    At once, Kiran and Ander hopped back with a start at the Weavile's words. From his place before the weasel, Pladur went wide-eyed and spluttered out of shock.

    "Wh-what?!"

    "And to the left, we have our favorite rising stars in this tournament!" Thalez cheered. "Team Blue Sun!"

    The crowd immediately broke out into applause, prompting the Weavile to turn and wave to his admirers. At the other end of the battlefield, the initial shock of the Dark-Type's taunt began to wear off, the three starting to realize that this Weavile- no, his entire team must be from none other than Lyn's crew! At once, Pladur set his teeth on edge, growling and flashing his claws as he felt his blood boil in his veins as the implications of the taunt and what it meant for his child dawned on him.

    "You- You're from that awful ship!" Pladur cried. "The one that stole our Protector!"

    "Brilliant deduction there. I'm its first mate," Ketu scoffed back. "And what's your point?"

    "How- How dare you show your face here, you miserable furball!" the Fraxure snarled.

    "Ooh, looks like the battlefield's heating up already heating up!" the Ghost-Type announcer continued. "To right we have Team Swanna-!"

    The Rotom's voice abruptly paused and trailed off as he floated up and raised an arm over his eyes. The Ghost-Type peered down onto the field and blinked incredulously, realizing the team had taken a peculiar turn since the last match.

    "… With a Marked teammate at a tournament for our new Protector?!" he exclaimed. "Those Trombans sure have chosen a different strategy this time!"


    At once, the stands of the arena erupted in a throng of boos and jeers, their ire swelling up much like a rogue wave and crashing down upon on Ander and his teammates.

    "Go home, blotch-head!"

    "Yeah, we don't need Pokémon like you near our Protector!"

    The members of Team Swellow shifted uneasily under the torrent of abuse, serving to dampen their already shaky confidence about their odds in the upcoming match. Judging by his demeanor, the opposing Weavile had come to the same conclusion, and was clearly relishing his foes' doubts with a smug grin plastered on his face.

    "You should know when to fold them, Fraxure. It's not too late if you and your team want to forfeit," the Weavile sneered. "It would spare you the humiliation of being beaten into a pulp in front of your own Protector."


    "W-We'll never surrender to the likes of you!" Pladur insisted. The Fraxure growled with all the bravado he could muster, glaring daggers as Thalez's crackling voice chimed in.

    "Well, let's not keep these passions bottled up any longer! Let's get this battle started!"

    The two teams took their marks at opposite ends of the sandy battlefield, easing into battle stances and staring each other down from their respective sides. From Team Swellow's end, Pladur's breath came out in seething pants, while his teammates traded worried looks with each other. For their part, Ketu and his teammates seemed to not think much of their opponents' posturing, the lot of them shooting jeers and taunting glances back.

    "So be it," Ketu scoffed. "In that case... which of you Tromban hicks wants to have a bad time first?"

    "Three! Two! One! GO!"

    The countdown flew by with a collective chant from the stands, sending the Pokémon of both Team Swellow and Team Blue Sun flying down the battlefield. Up at the head of his team, Kiran darted ahead for the middle of the field, turning back to call out to his Fraxure teammate.

    "Pladur! Keep your distance!" the Swellow squawked. "We'll try to keep them busy while you prepare!"

    The Fraxure flew into a frenetic, stomping dance as fiery blue lights swirled around him, his Swellow partner flying up and readying his wings for a crushing strike. The bird dove, barreling towards the form of the Weavile below as he leveled out his body for a Wing Attack, only to see his foe slip out of view and feel his wings strike air.

    "Huh?!"

    The Swellow was cut off by a freezing, stabbing pain at his breast, making him stagger and look down to see a cluster of icy shards lodged between his feathers. The Flying-Type fought to maintain his balance, reeling from blows that stung far worse than he'd expected for a simple Ice Shard, when he saw the Weavile slip ahead of him and pull an ice-slicked fist back. Kiran pulled up in a panic, tearing into the air as he felt the Ice Punch slip past his feathers, and a mocking voice call out after him.

    "If that's the best you can do, you ought to just give up already!"

    Further down the field, Ander charged the Electabuzz, weaving back and forth as the Electric-Type shot out arcs of static at him. One after the other, the thundery moves missed their mark, prompting the Electabuzz to opt for a different tactic and let his foe come to him, pulling a fist back as electricity danced on his knuckles.

    "Oh no you don't, you overgrown insect!"

    Tarmo swung his fist out, bringing it square for the mantis' jaw… only to miss and strike air. The Electric-Type went wide-eyed, with the next sensation he felt being a slashing pain on his arm, sending him skidding back as he cradled his arm from a swipe from Ander's scythes.

    "Eyargh!"

    "Pladur! How's that setup com- ARGH!"

    Ander's words were cut off by a crushing blow from his side, as he felt a hefty body tackle him and throw him to the ground. The mantis tried to right himself, only to feel a horn wedge itself in between his body's segments, looking up to see a Tauros pinning him down. The Bug-Type screeched and thrashed his scythes wildly, desperately scrabbling to freedom after forcing the bull off of him with a yelp.

    Further away, Ketu bounded down the battlefield, starting to give chase after Kiran only to notice Pladur from the corner of his eye. The Dragon-Type was continuing the movements of his Dragon Dance, prompting him to scoff and train his attention to the Fraxure.

    "You know, we heard what you guys were doing way back when the Protector was still on Boisocéan," the Weavile said. "Wanna know what we did in response?"

    Ice began to build up on the Weavile's claw, prompting him to flick a large, jagged chunk of ice at the Fraxure's feet. At once, the Dragon-Type yanked his foot away, only to lose his footing and flail.

    "A-Agh!"

    Much to the Weavile's sneering delight, the Fraxure slipped, falling flat onto his back as the blue dragonfire around him dissipated. Eager to rub salt in the wound, the Weavile flashed his claws, narrowing his eyes at the stricken dragon.

    "Nothing! Because it wasn't worth wasting our effort trying to stop a bunch of sad sacks like you!"

    The Fraxure threw himself up to his feet, hate smoldering in his eyes as the dragonfire returned and he re-entered his war dance. The Weavile gave a scoff, and readied his claws to pounce...

    "Gwooooah!"

    Only to be cut off by the sound of a startled bellow. The Weavile looked left to see his Tauros teammate sailing through the air away from a whirling wind and crashing into the side of the arena. The Dark-Type turned his head back, where there circling in the air was the form of his Swellow foe, calling out to his Scyther teammate below

    "Ander! Now's your chance!" he cried. Without prompting, the mantis flicked out his scythes and rushed ahead at the Electabuzz. The Electric-Type stood his ground, and let static build on his pelt, gathering it up in a thick, jagged arc that shot out just as the Bug-Type descended on him.

    "Aaaah!"

    "Hah hah! That's right, bug!" Tarmo jeered. "Just stay nice and-"

    The Electric-Type was cut off by the sight of the mantis swiping his claws in a cross-shaped strike that sliced his belly and launched the Electabuzz backwards. Tarmo tumbled back, coming to a groaning, sparking stop on the ground as Ander panted out of exhaustion. The Electabuzz's defeat quickly drew the attention of his teammates, including Ketu, who turned away from his toying with his Fraxure foe and trained his attention on the winded Scyther.

    "... I'll deal with you later, lizard."

    The Weavile ran towards the Scyther, prompting the Bug-Type and his Swellow partner to take notice and brace themselves, readying attacks to try and stop the Dark-Type in his tracks.

    "We'll take on the Weavile!" Kiran cried. "He can't dodge forever!"

    The Swellow attempted to start things off with a whirling burst of wind, which served to force the weasel to roll out of the way a moment, before springing towards him. The Flying-Type attempted to fall back, only to be cut off by a heavy, icy blow from behind.

    "Gyah!"

    Ketu watched as the Swellow pinwheeled and crashed to earth, twitching weakly on the sandy battlefield. The Weavile cracked a satisfied smile only to hear a buzzing sound come from his side, prompting him to duck as a scythe slid overhead, slicing the tip of his right ear feather off. The Dark-Type looked up seething at the sight of Team Swellow's Marked Scyther pulling his scythes back from a missed swing, and slid between the legs of the mantis. Ander cried out in alarm, hastily whirling around to attack his foe again with a cross-shaped strike with his blades. Ketu hopped back, allowing the Scyther's blades to swing out in front of him. As the mantis tried to bring them in, the Weavile jumped up onto Ander's scythes and raised an icy fist back, bringing it square into the Scyther's chin with a frigid uppercut.

    "A-Aaaah!"

    The Weavile hastily hopped off, leaving the bug to topple backward onto the arena floor with a dull thud. The Dark-Type stepped on the fainted Scyther's thorax, giving an annoyed brush at his severed feather-tip when he heard a loud growl, and saw that Pladur had freshly finished his second Dragon Dance.

    "Like I was saying earlier, Fraxure, what did we have to fear from some Tromban hicks bumbling around from port to port around the Cradle?" the Weavile taunted. "If you couldn't defend your own kid, what were you going to accomplish other than some meaningless errands on shore?

    The Fraxure roared back in rage and planted his feet to spring forward, only for his cry to be answered in kind by a loud bellow and the sound of trampling hoofbeats approaching.

    "Time to go down like your kid, lizard!"

    Fintan lowered his horns and charged ahead, aiming to run down the Fraxure in his path. The Tauros watched as the Dragon-Type slipped under his body, the Normal-Type going wide-eyed as he felt his horns connect with the air, followed by a pair of piercing stabs at his hindgut. The bull bellowed in pain, wrenching his head back to see Pladur's left tusk buried deep into his abdomen by his legs. The dragon snarled and wrenched his tusk out, making the Wild Bull Pokémon's tails shoot out along with an agonized scream. The Fraxure fell back, leaving his Normal-Type opponent's legs barely able to support his weight, Fintan's attempts at trying to regain momentum accomplishing little other than to stagger along with a shambling totter as he felt a warm fluid ooze down his legs.

    "Nnr-urgh…"

    The Tauros weakly tried to raise his head to scan his surroundings, looking up just in time to see Pladur lunge off the ground towards him. For a fleeting second, the bull watched as the Fraxure neared, his blood-red eyes burning with hate as he spread a set of claws and swiped them downwards...

    WHAM!

    Fintan's forelegs buckled and his head slammed down into the arena floor after the claw swipe, leaving his rear legs still struggling before they gave in and let their owner slump forward. Pladur looked down at the felled Normal-Type, panting and fighting back the urge to spit on his child's tormentor, when the sound of a slow clap drew his attention back to Ketu nonchalantly observing.

    "So you do have a few tricks up your sleeve," the Weavile scoffed. "Guess you picked up something useful in that boring adventure of yours after all!"

    The Dark-Type was answered by a loud roar, watching as the remaining fighter from Team Swellow flashed his claws and fangs. Pladur seethed, every scale on his body coursing with visible rage and hatred for the black-furred monster who stared him down.

    "Cállate!"

    The Fraxure charged ahead, readying his claws for a swipe as they trailed flecks of dragonfire. Ketu braced himself, ready to spring out of the Dragon-Type's way only to realize that he was coming fast… too fast.

    THWACK!

    "Grah!"

    The Weavile tumbled back as pain shot through his body, sending him skidding along the ground. The Dark-Type came to a stop, coughing from the dust kicked up from the arena floor and moving a claw over his flank that now dribbled a few red droplets of damp and sticky fluid. Ketu looked up with an angry scowl, staring down a panting Fraxure glaring back at him with a look that could kill.

    "You Company types always act like you're masters of the world, that nothing can ever go bad for you!" the Fraxure bellowed. "Well, I'm here, and I'm about to show you just how wrong you are!"

    "Fine, enough toying around then," the Weavile hissed. "I guess we're doing this the hard way!"

    Pladur roared and charged again, the scent of victory and vengeance spurring him on. The Dragon-Type raised his claws, ready to tear his son's tormentor limb from limb in front of the baying crowd.

    "Say your prayers, you lousy red-feathered-!"

    Before the dragon could react, he was hit by a freezing wind that numbed his joints and slowed his movements. The Fraxure carried on, fighting with his frigid limbs to keep pressing forward, only to catch a glimpse of the Weavile rapidly descending upon him and drawing back a punch aimed for his face.

    "Aaaaaah!"

    Pladur tumbled back and sprawled out onto the arena floor, breathing haggardly. At once, the fire in his belly that had driven him on died, and a flood of fear took its place. He was now completely alone and down to the last of his strength, fighting against a Pokémon who'd dispatched his teammates without seeming to break a sweat. The Fraxure did his best to stay conscious and hastily tried to roll to his feet, any thoughts of vengeance and victory now replaced with an urge to flee and spirit his son away for dear life from this demon here with him.

    "Game over, skink!"

    The Dragon-Type went wide-eyed as he saw Ketu standing above him, prompting him to throw his claws over his face up to try and shield himself. The Fraxure watched the Weavile raise his claw trailing shadows and jerked his own claws back to try and stop it… only for the Dark-Type's claw to slip past the tips of Pladur's claws, and plunge into his stomach.

    "AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

    The dragon screamed as he felt an agonizing pain shoot through his body, thrashing as he felt the slicing claw dig into him before wrenching free. Pladur curled up and turned onto his flank, instinctively throwing his claws over his wound and whimpering from pain and shock. The Dragon-Type began to feel lightheaded and looked down to see blood oozing between his ruddy claws and onto the sand. The world started to go blurry, the sounds of the arena going indistinct where for a fleeting moment, he saw Crom in the stands with a crushed, horrified stare looking back at him. Pladur reached out a claw weakly, hoping to try and reassure his child, that somehow everything would be alright...

    "Crom…"

    The world then went black, and Pladur stopped moving on the battlefield. Unbeknownst to the motionless Fraxure, the stadium erupted in loud cheering, with Thalez taking his place in front of one of the glistening badges used to transmit his announcements to the audience.

    "And Team Blue Sun takes it with a stunning finisher!" the Rotom boomed. "We've got a winner!"

    The stands' roar continued, prompting Ketu to flash his claws triumphantly and bow. His right claw was still stained a bright crimson from his opponent's blood, but seemingly did little to sway the enthralled and enraptured spectators.

    "D-Dad!"

    The hubbub in the crowds quieted as a young Druddigon ran onto the field, the cheers giving way to the sound of distraught bawling. Crom crouched over his father, tears running down his face as his voice came out in hitched sobs. Nida and Elty ran up after the stricken dragon, their faces fixed in ashen grimaces as the festive atmosphere in the stands had vanished into a cloud of unease, which seemed to suck in even Thalez.

    "Er… it appears we may be having technical difficulties on the field..." the Rotom stammered from his booth, before hastily turning back to a shaded corridor with a murmur. "Wait, was this a scripted event? I thought that we were aiming to keep the crowds excited, not bring the whole mood down."

    Nida and Elty neared their Druddigon teammate, grimacing as they watched him sob over the unmoving form of the Fraxure on the field. The two ran up, noticing Pladur's chest rising weakly before their gaze drifted towards the blood on the sand which made them shrink back, when a disgusted growl caught their attention from behind.

    "Gah… what a mess."

    The three youngsters looked up to see Ketu flick out the digits of his right claw, brushing off a film of bright-red liquid off of them. At once, Crom's mouth hung open and the Druddigon crouched against his father's body, quivering out of fright, his teammates growling back with forced bravado at the Dark-Type.

    "As if that nicked feather wasn't enough… Now I've gotta wash all this blood off my claw."

    "Wh-What is wrong with you, you canalla?!" Nida snapped. "You leave a 'mon bleeding on the ground and all you care about is your stupid claw being dirty!"

    "What can I say? In my normal line of work, you sometimes make a few messes," Ketu scoffed. "You're small though, so who knows? Maybe you'll be a bit tidier for me to deal with tomorrow."

    Nida and Elty paused, staring back at the Weavile as an uneasy feeling rose in their stomachs. 'Tidier to deal with'? As in deal with them?

    "… Just what do you mean by that?" Elty demanded.

    "What I mean is that you'll be facing me next round, brats," the weasel sneered. "So start thinking about if you want to bother showing your little faces or not."

    "How would you know that?" Nida demanded. "The matchups are chosen randomly between rounds!"

    "That sure didn't stop me from getting the foes I wanted in this match," the Dark-Type retorted. "Though good luck finding any proof of that to show the refs before tomorrow."

    Nida and Elty flushed an unhealthy pale color at the Weavile's words. He set this match with Team Swellow up? Then that meant that he was rigging the matches! And after doing what he did to Crom's father, he wanted to face them next…?

    The pair stood staring off into space a moment, Ketu turning to leave as Crom continued to sniffle over his stricken father. The weasel looked back, and curled his muzzle into a cruel smile.

    "Oh, by the way, kids… Lyn sends his regards," Ketu said. "He's looking forward to seeing all of you back in your pathetic little town where you belong… in pieces."

    The Weavile turned and left, cavalierly stepping past his felled teammates as he departed the arena pit. All the while, Team Traveller's members gazed ahead blankly and stammered, the color from their faces having ebbed away as a team of Pokémon in red scarves with semi-circle patterns ran up.

    "Come on, we need to get this wound looked at stat!" the Blissey insisted. The group started loading the fallen members of Team Swellow onto stretchers, Crom hastily following after his father as a Granbull noticed Nida and Elty still frozen in place on the battlefield.

    "Are these your teammates?" he asked. "Are you kids coming along?"

    "Y-Yeah, we're coming…" the Nidoran finally managed. "We're coming…"

    Nida and Elty watched as a still-sniffling Crom headed off with the medics and the wounded members of Team Swellow. The two saw their remaining compatriots leave the stands to follow after the Druddigon, prompting them to join and trudge along after the medics. Their hope of continuing on in the tournament vanished entirely, as the gnawing dread of impending doom and impossible hurdles staring them down took over.



    (Continuted in next post)
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018
  3. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Outside of the stadium, Valatos and his companions had slunk off, making their way limping down back alleys in what was becoming an increasingly familiar ritual to them as the disused lighthouse of the Vecioférale Arena towered in the background. The three were battered and still sporting bandages from their defeat, and opted to ditch their teammates from Team Iron rather than put up with the earful for 'losing to a bunch of hick kids'. Time and time again, the trio tried to piece together how their defeat had happened... how they possibly could have lost to a team that they had no trouble putting on the ropes back in Kenobi.

    "Gah… I didn't remember those little canàje hitting this hard last time," Alvise groaned. "And I still didn't get a chance to zap them thanks to that stupid lizard with them!"

    "Yeah," Nori whined. "They were supposed to be an easy sweep!"

    "Well, they weren't, okay?" Valatos hissed. "Let's just get back to the ship and crash a bit."

    The Yanmega's retort prompted Nori to pause to catch his breath, leaning against the wall for support. Berating or not, the Ground-Type was beginning to regret not having a healthier set of shoulders to lean on. Judging from the lack of company beyond clutter and clotheslines in the current alley, it was a fair assumption that no one would step up here to help them limp back to the ship.

    "… Shouldn't we have gone back with the other half of the team, though?" the Marowak insisted. "Maybe they'd have some idea for what we could tell the Captain about getting that bird-"

    "I don't want to hear it, Nori!" the Yanmega shouted, the angry dragonfly's hissing being quickly joined by a snort from his Manectric counterpart.

    "Yeah, besides. Those idiots were going to take the main canal back," Alvise added. "The better we stick to these backroads, the better we can stay out of trouble-"

    "Agh!"

    The three paused and rose to attention as the sound of a yelp rang out in the alleyway. A crash followed, along with the sound of a body thudding, of thunder crackling, and footsteps running for dear life.

    "Q-Quick! This way!" a rough voice cried. The first voice was soon joined by a higher-pitched voice shouting back.

    "Yeah, we'll shake 'em through the alleyway!"

    The three watched as a rough-looking Vigoroth and Steenee tore through the alley intersection ahead in a panic, slipping away as fast as they appeared. Alvise's fur shot up in a panic, while Valatos and Nori paces ahead tensely trying to make sense of what had happened.

    "Hey, what the-?" Valatos began.

    "Uh… Oon second thought," Alvise stammered. "Those main canals aren't sounding so ba-"

    "Just shut up and let's check it out!"

    The Yanmega flitted ahead, prompting Alvise to try and turn away only to be caught and drug along by his tail by Nori. Valatos made his way forward as his teammates fought with each other in the background, standing in the intersection of alleyways between multistoried stone buildings. The dragonfly looked about his surroundings, seeing naught but some dingy stairwells, scrawled graffiti on the walls, and litter.

    "Why there's nothing he- Agh!"

    The trio was promptly struck by several other Pokémon coming around the corner, sending the three tumbling back while yelps rang out. As Valatos and his buddies dusted themselves off and looked ahead of them, they saw a black scarved-Manectric, alongside a Swampert lying on his back and a half-buried Salazzle.

    "Agh… my fins," the Swampert groaned, only to be answered by an exasperated rejoinder from the Salazzle underneath.

    "Get off of me, you fat lug!" the lizard hissed. "I can barely breathe!"

    "Ow! Watch where you're going!" Nori snapped, pointing his club at the stranger Manectric.

    "I could say the same to you, ya lousy liz-"

    Luca got up, and after noticing the voice addressing him, hopped back and braced himself with a growl. There in front of him was the Marowak who'd caved in the stadium passage the other day, his Yanmega buddy, and most importantly his brother.

    "You again?!" the wolf growled. "What are you three doing showing your ugly mugs back around our turf, huh?"

    "What are you doing running around and playing touch-tail like a bunch of hatchlings?" Valatos spat. The Yanmega's outburst was swiftly met with a trio of glares from the other Manectric along with his Swampert and Salazzle counterparts, which made Alvise set his teeth on edge and gulp.

    "Uhm… what he meant to say was… we were just leaving?" he offered.

    "Hey, Luca," Giusy said. "You think these three got anything to do with those street punks?"

    "Yeah, they sure seem to have a habit of interfering with us right when we're getting to the bottom of something with those mooks," Carlo huffed, which promptly made Nori's eyes widen with a start.

    "Eh?! Th-That's not it at all!" he exclaimed. "We were heading back to our ship!"

    "Well, you ain't now," Luca growled. "I'm not the one to pass things off as coincidence, and besides…"

    The older Manectric pointed out a paw at his white-scarved counterpart, shooting a fierce glare that seemed to drain the color from Alvise's face.

    "Your friend there has a family reunion to take care of."

    Alvise pulled his tail between his legs at the mention of a 'family reunion'. The Electric-Type backpedaled with a wide-eyed stammer as thoughts of what said 'reunion' might entail flashed through his mind.

    "L-Luca! Come on!" the younger Manectric whined. "We can talk this out!"

    The Electric-Type's panic drew a dismissive beat of Valatos' wings. The dragonfly hissed back, and despite the injuries from his earlier battle against Team Traveller, flitted forward menacingly, determined not to let the nobody from yesterday chase him off once again.

    "Hey bub, I don't know what you're up to," the Bug-Type hissed. "But I don't take orders from some random shlub off the street-EYAAAH!"

    The Yanmega shrieked as a bolt of lightning shot out from the black-scarved Manectric and enveloped him, sending him crashing limply to the ground. At once, his teammates' nerves failed them, prompting them to go wide-eyed and Alvise to raise the call for retreat.

    "Run for it!"

    Alvise and Nori turned and bolted as a searing gout of fire and an exploding ball of mud nipped at their heels and tails, kicking up a shower of dust and litter. The pair ducked as an arc of electricity shot overhead, turning their attention rightward to a low fence. Instinctively, the two hopped up, hoisting themselves up over the fenceline, only for a sharp shout to ring out behind them.

    "Carlo, Orb 'em!"

    The Swampert fished through a rucksack and dug out a blue orb crackling with sparks under its surface and hurled it at the fenceline. The sphere struck the wood of the barrier, exploding into a shower of glass and sparks that caught up the fleeing Manectric and Marowak. The duo yelped and froze at the top, before lurching over the edge headfirst.

    CRASH!

    The sound of splintering wood rang out, prompting Luca and his subordinates to run up to the fenceline. After bearing it, the three Pokémon paused as they noticed the sound of pained groans... along with a curious clattering sound whenever the two Pokémon on the other end moved.

    "My back…"

    "I can't see anything!" Nori cried. "Who turned out the lights?!"

    "… Isn't that the spot where the Pokémon on this block leave their trash for pickup?" Giusy asked. The Salazzle's words were met with silence, followed by a sniff from her Manectric partner's snout that confirmed the stale, rancid smell of grime and decomposing waste. The Electric-Type furrowed his brow in disgust, before giving a shake of his head.

    "Hrmph. Drag the bug along and tell Valerio to bring his wagon by this dump's gate"," Luca barked. "We've got some other trash to bring back to our hideout."

    The Salazzle scampered off, leaving Luca and Carlo to carry down the alleyway until they saw an intersection heading right. The pair turned, making their way down the right until they reached an entrance to a yard filled with heap of rubbish and spoiled food… with Nori and Alvise sprawled out amidst a pile of sullied, broken-down boxes. The pair watched as Nori staggered up with his head covered in a crate, tugging futilely at the box to free himself, only for the black-scarved Swampert to throw a hand around his shoulder and grip tightly.

    "Come on, bub," the Swampert growled. "We're going."

    "Hey! Hanashite!" Nori yelped. "Get off of me!"

    The bone lizard flailed as best as his paralyzed body allowed, only to be promptly knocked down with a jet of water, and unceremoniously dragged off by his tail by the Swampert. On the trash heap, Alvise struggled to get away, only to slip and tumble backwards, coming to a stop in front of his brother. Luca at once pounced on his sibling from his flank, planting his feet on Alvise's back as he glared down.

    "Nice try, furbrain," the larger Manectric snarled. "But you're not getting away with crossing your own family this time."

    With that, Luca dug his teeth into his brother's scarf, dragging Alvise along kicking and flailing for the exit of the rubbish yard. At the front, a covered cart pulled along by a Zebstrika came to a rolling stop, a Yanmega's tail poking out of the end. The black-scarved trio shoved the dragonfly's body back and unceremoniously dumped their new captives into the cart before drawing the covers shut, walking along with the cart and its puller as if nothing had happened.



    Around the same time, Team Traveller paced uneasily in a shaded medic's bay in the stadium's underlevels. The space consisted of a long, stone hall partitioned with retractable curtains that closed off sections of straw bedding, tired groans coming from behind some curtains where more thoroughly defeated contestants lay licking their wounds. In one of those partitions, Pladur's companions including a still-woozy Kiran and Ander watched as a Blissey tended to the form of a Fraxure stretched out on a straw pile, along with the anxious faces of Vicente, Natrix, and Philips having freshly run from the Siglo Swellow at the news of Pladur's calamitous defeat.

    The Dragon-Type was in horrid shape, with scrapes flecking his body, and a set of large bandages wrapping around his stomach that sported an ugly red stain along with flecks of blue from the juices of Oran berries. All the while, the Axe Jaw Pokémon never showed any signs of lucidity, and barring the rising of his chest and the occasional groan or whimper, of life at all. The atmosphere in Pladur's corner of the hall had been grave since his arrival, with Crom anxiously shadowing the Blissey's movements as he tried to tease out some reassurance that things would be alright with his father.

    "Is he gonna be alright...?" he asked.

    "It's nothing we haven't patched up before, but he's been hit pretty badly," the Blissey answered. "He should be able to get back on his feet after a week of bedrest as long as his wounds are kept treated."

    The medic's answer set the teeth of the youngsters in the group on-edge with a grimace. Crom peered down at his father's stricken form, looking up uneasily at the Blissey.

    "A… week?" the Druddigon gulped.

    "Well, I mean you weren't planning on just pushing a Reviver Seed down his throat and throwing him back out into battle with a wound like this, were you?" the Normal-Type insisted. "We Pokémon may bounce back from a hard knock or two, but even a hardened fighter's body has its limits."

    An air of gloom settled over the gathered Pokémon at the Blissey's words, their reaction looking only marginally better than the one she would've expected had the Fraxure expired on the spot. The Happiness Pokémon sighed and shook her head, reasoning that it must merely be the natural reaction by hopeful competitors to such a crushing defeat.

    "… I know that it's probably not what you wanted to hear as entrants to the tournament, but that's how things are," the Blissey sighed, before rising to take her leave.

    "I'll give you some space to be alone with your friend," the medic said. "But again, don't push him."

    The Pokémon shuffled off, sliding the curtained panel shut over the space around the straw bedding. Freshly alone, the members of Team Traveller and the Siglo Swello's crew glumly traded looks with one another, shaking their heads at the news.

    "Whelp, that's it I guess," Elty muttered. "We're doomed here."

    "Maybe if we work together we might win after all…?" Guardia offered. The Cubone's question was promptly answered by a groan, prompting them to look over to see Pladur stirring weakly on his bedding. The group watched as he tried to turn over onto his belly, before falling back onto his back, prompting Elty to shake his head.

    "… Nope, definitely doomed," Elty sighed.

    "How are we supposed to get Pleo back now?" Nida cried. "Even if that horrid Weavile doesn't fight dirty like he did today, there's no way that we'd be able to beat him."

    "We do what we can and take the only option left," the Siglo Swellow's Hitmontop First Mate answered. "Springing Pleo and getting out of here."

    Vicente's suggestion was at once answered by a startled buzz from a haggard-looking Scyther. From his place leaning against the poles holding up the curtain, the mantis staggered forward, shooting a look at the Hitmontop that appeared as if he'd suddenly sprouted another head.

    "You can't be serious with that!" Ander exclaimed. "We're in the middle of the Imperial captial! How would we even get off this island without being sunk?!"

    "Getting off the island is not what I'm worried about. We've dealt with slipping cargo past customs under tighter circumstances before…" the Fighting-Type snorted. "It's more getting the Protector to begin with."

    The Hitmontop's admonishment prompted his fellows to pause and think. They had an idea of where Pleo would be in Tidemill… but to get there, there would be the guards to fight through, and the garrisons with even more guards outside, and the defensive walls, and the frigates and galleons of the navy… Why, what were they to do facing obstacles like those?!

    "… I don't know what can be done. We don't exactly have the strength to storm the gates of where he's being held in the stadium…" Kiran murmured, only to be met with a shake of Dimitri's head.

    "Well, we'd better figure out something quick," he piped. "Last I checked, only teams along with invited guests have full access to the entire stadium. And I wouldn't put money on us being able to do that past the kids' match tomorrow."

    Nida shifted uncomfortably, finding that no matter what scheme she bandied around, she simply couldn't think of anything that would give her and the Siglo Swellow's crew a hope of retrieving Pleo. Based off of the grimaces and silence in the room as she looked around, the Nidoran surmised that everyone else was having much the same problem.

    The Poison-Type turned her attention to the window, where she saw the sky was growing dark, and the first lanterns of the night were starting to be lit. She folded her ears back, realizing that Cardino had sought out their help tonight… As bad as things were, they hadn't collected their pay yet for their work on the case, and it wasn't as if they were getting any more ideas just sitting around here...

    "I... don't really know either. But I do know that Cardino asked us to visit him in about half an hour," she responded. "I'm not sure what's it about exactly aside from getting paid, but maybe stretching our legs a little would help us come up with something?"

    "… That's fair enough," Natrix murmured. "We'll do our part talking with Captain Beatrix and the others to see what we can do about Pleo, too."

    Elty and Guardia shuffled off, making their way past the piles of straw bedding for the room's stone doorway. Nida turned and started to follow after them, only to see Crom standing at his father's bedside, still visibly shaken.

    "… Are you going to be okay, Crom?" Nida asked.

    "I… I don't know," the Druddigon stammered. "But I think that I just need some time with my dad..."

    The Nidoran stared after the dragon, looking away with a vague sense of guilt, as if there was something she could be doing right now to help her friend. The Poison-Type shook her head uneasily, rationalizing that Crom himself would know what he needed most right now. If he truly needed a moment alone, then it was for the best to let him have it.

    "… I understand," Nida said. "We'll be back as soon as we can, okay?"

    The Druddigon nodded back glumly, prompting Nida to turn and leave slowly and in similarly lowered spirits. The rabbit carried along to catch up with her teammate, her mind wondering all the while just how they could possibly get out of their present jam.



    "Are you sure this is a good idea, Cabot?"

    Berecien shifted uneasily with his teammates at the steps of a short, squat hut that had been built alongside a spindly canal that hugged the interior of the citadel's wall, with water slipping in through grates at its base. Such quarters were a far cry from the pomp and grandeur of Queen Aleria's palace in the background. Cottages like these were normally set aside for the guards and servants who helped to staff the various buildings within the walled compounds. The house had been built with simple stone and a shallowly sloped roof of wooden shingles, with the only sign at all that it belonged to someone other than the likes of a common gardener being a small coat-of-arms depicting a ship and crossed claws hung over the doorway.

    The young Protector shifting uneasily in their midst had been thrust into a gloomy mood since the wrenching defeat of... what was it, 'Team Swanna'? Some random team that could have surely been pushed aside with a night of post-tutoring amusements and reassurances about the competence of Imperial medics… had they not somehow had ties to the sea rats they picked up with the young Lugia. Yet for some daft reason, instead of leading the Protector to a playroom, the Citadel's gardens, or even just a rooftop to stargaze, Cabot had deigned to try and distract the seabird... by dragging him, Niilo, and the Protector all off to the residence of the one Pokémon in Giotto who would somehow be able to make the seabird feel even less comfortable than he already was.

    "Of course! Pleo's still afraid of Captain Nugget, so how's he ever supposed to see that we're the good guys?" Cabot exclaimed. "If he sees how she really is, I'm sure that it would smooth things over!"

    The Cranidos wagged his tail eagerly, expecting a hearty affirmation... only to watch in disappointment as Pleo shrank back uneasily and his teammates rolled their eyes at the suggestion with impatient shifts of their feet.

    "… Yeah, good luck with that," Niilo grunted.

    "She is a bit more on the cantankerous side, Cabot," Berecien snorted. "I think we'd have more luck just by letting him spend time with Her Majesty, Admiral Coil, or else someone who's less… temperamental."

    "And she's a scary crab!" Pleo squawked, beating his wings in protest.

    "But we've all seen that when it really comes down to it, she does care about us!" the Cranidos insisted. "If that's how she feels about her own crew, surely she'd feel the same about the Empire' s new Protector!"

    The Rock-Type's suggestion was met with a round of unamused, skeptical looks from his teammates, with even the young Lugia's expression seeming every bit as unconvinced as the others'. Sensing that his battle for persuasion was a losing one, the dinosaur flashed a pleading look and pulled his arms in towards his chest.

    "Just trust me on this?"

    Cabot turned back to the simple wooden door and brought up a claw. The Rock-Type balled it up and rapped it against the wood, waiting for an answer. After a long pause, Pleo and his escorts started to shift uncomfortably, wondering if anyone was home. The Cranidos raised his claw again, only for the door to open, revealing a surprised Clawitzer at the other end. The crustacean blinked a moment, sizing up the Cranidos forcing a smile in front of Niilo and Berecien on her doorstep, with Pleo's form shrinking away, prompting an annoyed scowl to settle over her face.

    "… What do you want?" Nagant demanded

    "Well, we thought it might be handy if you got to know Pleo a little more, Captain," the Rock-Type explained. "He kinda started off on the wrong foot with you earlier."

    "Pleo?" the crustacean questioned.

    "It's the Protector's name," Cabot insisted.

    "Hrmph, it looks more like he has other ideas."

    Nagant pointed past the three sailors off towards the lane. Blinking, Cabot and his companions turned back and saw Pleo creeping off slowly for the shadows.

    "Uh… Protector, where are you going?" Berecien wondered. The seabird at once jolted his head up, and looked back uneasily mid-stride, appearing much like an Aipom caught with its tail in a cookie jar.

    "Oh! I… er…"

    As Pleo fidgeted uncomfortably, Cabot paused before clearing his throat. The Cranidos inhaled deeply to brace himself, steeling his nerves to plead his case to his obviously unamused superior.

    "Captain, if he feels constantly threatened around us, what's to keep him from flying off?" Cabot asked. "His flight feathers aren't going to stay damaged forever, and shouldn't the Protector of an Empire want to be a part of it?"

    The Clawitzer narrowed her eyes and scowled from the doorway, giving a quiet click of her mandibles. After a long, awkward pause, the crustacean sighed and shook her head.

    "… Ladno. Let's just get this over with."

    The four made their way into the cottage, finding it to be barren of the normal decor of a residence beyond the presence of some simple decorative stonework in the floor, a handful of cheap shelves along the wall, and a few ratty cushions haphazardly strewn about. Instead, the bulk of the abode's floorplan was consumed by a large pool of water connected to the grate, evidently Nagant's living, sleeping, and accommodating quarters all rolled into one. Berecien eyed the surroundings uneasily, noting that the house seemed to lack any other rooms… Was this really how captains of naval frigates lived nowadays?

    "I would have thought that the Empire would have done more to help you transition, Captain…" Berecien murmured, only to be answered by a dismissive hiss.

    "Hrmph. Such is the price for trying to inherit my family's title and estate when it's no longer in Imperial territory," Nagant grunted, as she lowered herself into the pool. "But so be it. It's not as if I'll have to wait much longer to get back what's mine."

    "Well, underwhelming house or not. Don't you ever host guests here?" Niilo questioned.

    "Hrmph. I have my ship for that," the Clawitzer snapped. "Do you have a problem with it?"

    "Well, I was thinking… maybe you had something to drink for the Protector and us something?" the Sandslash continued. "Like a cup of water?"

    Nagant rolled her eyes and brought over a clay bowl from some tiles next to the pool, levelling a claw at it. The Clawitzer cracked her firing claw open and spewed out a jet of water, which half-bounced out of the bowl leaving water splattered all around it, with a small amount of briny water remaining inside. Without a further word, the shrimp latched onto the sopping bowl and unceremoniously dropped it in front of her guests.

    "There," she huffed. "Now dish it out yourself."

    The bowl of briny water drew disgusted stares from Niilo, Cabot, and Berecien. Keenly aware of the others' reactions, Pleo uneasily craned his head down, eying the bowl skeptically.

    "… Uh… are we supposed to drink that?" Pleo whispered, only to be answered by Cabot emphatically shaking his head back.

    "Er… I don't think you'd feel too well if you did, Pleo."

    "Aherm. Perhaps we should skip refreshments for now?" Berecien offered. "Maybe we can start with some form entertainment instead?"

    The Ponyta's answer was met with a hardened glare from the elder Clawitzer. Based off her stiff demeanor and visible hostility, it was evident that she somehow had an even lower opinion of the suggestion than Niilo's request for drinks.

    "Like what, Berecien?" Nagant demanded. "I'm a captain, not a common bard!"

    The Fire-Type backpedaled a moment and gulped, half-expecting the agitated crustacean to snipe him with a Water Pulse right then and there. He looked about the dingy abode for something to lighten the mood, only for his eyes to settle on a simple checkerboard made of light and dark wood lying to the side.

    "Well, what about a game?" the Ponyta insisted. "You've always been a fan of checkers, and it's a simple game to pick up, is it not?"

    The shrimp's hostility ebbed for a moment, with an expression approaching genuine anticipation settling over her face. Nagant clicked her claws, half unsure whether to take up the fire horse's suggestion, before shaking her head and answering.

    "… I'll humor it."

    The Clawitzer pulled the board over and set it down in front of her, carefully setting out the pieces on their respective sides. After it was prepared, the shrimp grabbed a corner of the checkerboard and rotated it to turn the light pieces towards the young Lugia, moving her small claw to latch onto one of the dark pieces and push it forward diagonally to the left.

    "Your pieces stick to the like-colored tiles," Nagant explained. "If you jump over one of mine, it's yours."

    Pleo peered down at the board, noticing that the Water-Type had moved her piece onto a square of the same color. Why, there were plenty of those further down the board on Nagant's end! Did he really just have to make one of his pieces jump to get some of Nagant's?

    "Hrm…"

    The Protector opened his beak and picked up one of the light-colored pieces on his end, lifting it from the board and swinging his head forward. He opened his beak, sending the checker flying across the board and clattering down on Nagant's end of the wooden board, leaving a trail of spittle as it knocked a few of Nagant's pieces into her pool. The Clawitzer spluttered incredulously for a moment, only to be cut off by a curious chirp from the young Lugia.

    "Like that, right?" Pleo asked. "It jumped over a whole bunch of your pieces!"

    The Clawitzer stared at her disturbed and freshly-disordered side of the checkerboard, tightening her claws with a low hiss under her breath. Keenly aware that his superior was losing her composure, Cabot hastily cleared his throat, hoping to shift the topic of conversation before Nagant's temper got the better of her.

    "Er… how about you two start with introductions first!" he suggested. "That should happen before any games or drinks anyways, right?"

    Nagant scowled at the Cranidos, and it was clear that her patience for her subordinates had already worn thinner than the cheap drinks served at Tidemill's seaside taverns. She narrowed her eyes, trying to pick apart just where the sailor was going with this.

    "Introduce how, exactly?"

    "Just tell him some stuff about yourself?" Cabot insisted.

    The Clawitzer blinked, before sinking back into the water. The shrimp brooded a moment, twitching her barbels out of indecision before finally harrumphing back to a watching Protector.

    "Hrmph. I'm a captain of an Imperial frigate," Nagant said. "It's my job to sail around and help protect the remaining realm from brigands, Company schemes, and assorted louts who threaten the order of Her Majesty's realm."

    The Water-Type's declaration was followed by an awkward silence as Pleo found her explanation to be… thorough, yet not telling him anything he didn't already know about the shrimp. The seabird shifted uncomfortably, wondering if there was anything at all that he could talk about… before one idea in particular came upon him.

    "… What about your family?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "You mentioned back on Orleigh that if you caught me you'd tell me about it," Pleo insisted. "Well, you caught me, so what were you going to say about them?"

    The Clawitzer paused, even her barbels failing to display any motion as a long quiet quickly sucked out what little life there was in the room. The elderly shrimp stared back at the young Protector, before shaking her head and raising her voice to speak.

    "... I used to live with my family on Conntow, where my mother was a Marchioness," the Clawitzer answered. "We had an estate there called Nagant Bridge built over a ruined bridge from the Old World that straddled a river going into a harbor just outside of Middleguard City."

    "Wait, Nagant Bridge?" Niilo asked, raising his brow. "But you're-"

    "Nagant the Thirteenth, named after 'Nagant the Great', the heroic navigator," the shrimp interrupted. "My family kept up the tradition by sending their younger members to join seafaring professions such as those in the Navy. At the time of the Great Calamity, I myself was sailing regularly as a freshly-enlisted naval cadet."

    A wave of grimaces settled on Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo, the lot coming to the realization that Nagant's enlistment was in all likelihood the reason why she was here before them to tell this tale at all. The Great Calamity would've happened when Nagant was about the same age as when the three of them enlisted and set sail for their first missions, and destroyed every part of her home settlement while she was far away at sea… Beyond their obvious discomfort, that realization failed to percolate down to the young Protector, who gave a blank tilt of his head at the wizened crustacean.

    "So what happened to everything else?"

    "Gone. All of it," Nagant snapped. "I spent years afterwards drifting from port to port on various ships, with my accommodations being whatever the navy could spare during those dark years. It was only afterwards that I finally got even this pittance of an cottage as recompense."

    "But I don't understand. After all of that, why wouldn't you just accept the new title?" Berecien insisted. "My own parents lost everything when the Company dispossessed them, and they don't live like this…"

    "Hrmph. You'll have to bring it up with the Prime Minister at the time who decided they didn't want to support titles that lay outside the Imperial realm," the Water-Type growled. "I'm sticking to my rights, and even if it takes my life to see it, I'll see what's mine return once the Empire is restored to its old glory."

    "But what's the use of it?" Pleo asked.

    The room went dead silent as Nagant shifted her body in the pool's water with a splash. The shrimp visibly tensed up, training a stare on the young Protector as her claws tightened shut with a powerful grip.

    "What?"

    "You've gone through all this trouble just to get me for your old title and land…" Pleo murmured. "But if they're all destroyed, then aren't you just doing all of this for nothing?"

    The four Pokémon flinched at the sound of a heavy slam against the ground from Nagant's big claw and heard the clay bowl from earlier shake. Pleo ruffled his feathers uneasily and craned his neck to see the Clawitzer visibly seething, pulling her big claw away from the room's stone flooring.

    "We're done here," Nagant hissed. "Cabot. Please take the Protector and see yourselves out the door."

    "H-Huh?!" the Cranidos stammered. "But-"

    "Now, Cabot!"

    Cabot and the others flinched, hastily darting out of the chamber and back through the front door with the young Protector. The sound of Nagant following after reached their ears, and before the lot were down the front steps, the Water-Type slammed the door shut with enough force to disturb a few pebbles out in the path to the dwelling. Cabot stared back at the darkened residence for a moment, hanging his head dejectedly.

    "… I'm sorry that that happened, Pleo," the dinosaur sighed. "I really thought that if you just talked with her, then-"

    "It's alright."

    "Huh?"

    "She doesn't seem as scary anymore," Pleo insisted. "I understand why she's like this."

    The three sailors paused, before wary smiles crept up over their faces. Somehow in spite of everything it sounded like something good came out of that whole debacle.

    "Well, small victories, I suppose," Berecien muttered. "It's late, and we should be getting back."

    Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo sighed and started making their way off down the lane, leaving Pleo to waddle after them. He beat his wings and noticed that the air still felt like it came too quickly through it, a quick glimpse revealing that while some of his plumes had grown back, the majority still sported the marks of clipping. The young Protector winced as he felt something poke his chest and looked down to see his King's Rock. He adjusted it carefully, taking in the stone loop and the split band that Nida had tied back together. At once, the young Protector was filled with a flood of wistfulness, his mind shifting to his friends.

    Watching Kiran and Ander get defeated in the tournament had shaken him earlier in the day, with Crom's reaction to the wounded Fraxure making him wonder how the two were related, and if the young Druddigon was doing alright. Whatever the relation, the whole episode seemed to shake up Nida, Elty, and Guardia… and he wasn't there to help... The young Protector sighed, looking up at the stars in the night sky before trudging off in heavier spirits, wondering when he'd see his friends once more.



    The way back to the Guards' Headquarters went by listlessly that evening as Team Traveller went to collect their pay from Cardino and see what it was that he additionally wanted from them. The atmosphere was not for any fault of the districts of Tidemill they passed through, as the streets and canals throbbed with Pokémon as much as ever. Much like Bluewhorl's residents, the local Pokémon made a habit of shopping and socializing after leaving their places of labor. While the local Pokémon passed time together at taverns and eateries much as Trombans did, there was a noticeably different aura about the evening rush, with the local preference seemingly tilted towards perusing evening markets set up along the water and stopping to observe the performances various theaters and street entertainers. No, instead the listlessness afflicting Team Traveller was enforced by an all-encompassing sense of gloom that hung over the three like a cloud, which made what ought to have been a lively and exciting evening walk slip by in a dull blur. When they finally reached the steps of the headquarters, even Cardino seemed to sense something was amiss, prompting the electric rat to clamber down and meet his assistants on the street.

    "You're on time for once," the Pikachu said, passing over a small bag that clinked with coins as it moved. "Though you seem a bit downer than normal."

    "We had an emergency come up back at the stadium," Nida replied. The Nidoran took and stashed away the mission reward with a sigh, shaking her head. "A friend of ours got hurt pretty badly in the ring."

    The Pikachu blanched and flattened his ears out apologetically. His assistants had been a bit of an enigma all this time and on the later side, but even so he hadn't expected them to be grappling with a personal crisis as grave as this...

    "Ah... well, I'm glad that you still managed to come out here," Cardino offered. "You've technically completed your obligations, but... I still needed your help with this case."

    "What do you mean?" Elty demanded. "Didn't we just get through proving that Scraggy and his buddies innocent? Why would the case still be open?"

    "We still don't know the full story of the real culprit, pal."

    The three present members of Team Traveller traded uneasy looks with one another. Cardino's determination to close the case was admirable… but what else could be done right now?

    "But just what are we supposed to work with there? We know there's a 'Coordinator' and that Sibich says that some 'Admiral Coil' is the culprit," Guardia murmured. "But you can't really trust the word of any old pirate, can you?"

    "… Probably not," the Electric-Type sighed. "But even so, you can still learn a thing or two from them. Come on."

    Cardino and his assistants made their way inside, pacing down the hallways to the courtyard where they continued on back through the detention block. As soon as they entered, they were greeted by the sight of a much fuller cell block than the day before. The group made their way down uneasily only to spot the Mareanie and Furfrou from the day before back behind a cell, visibly anxious and disoriented. Now that they noticed it, it seemed like the cell block as a whole was filled once again with other faces that were missing just yesterday… but why?

    "Hey, didn't some of these 'mons already get sentenced once?" Elty murmured. "What are they all doing back here?"

    "Well, given how the main witness for sentencing these pirates was revealed to have been colluding and feeding wrong information to us , it was hard for the judges not to push for a retrial," Cardino explained. "If it was discovered that Sibich's ship-burners were getting lighter sentences than cooks from his galley, it would cause an uproar against the crown."

    "Hrmph, you'd never have this issue if you ran your trials like a civilized group of majū," Guardia grumbled.

    Nida and Elty rolled their eyes at the bone lizard's assertion, only to have their ears prick up at a muffled noise. The group carried on, where it became increasingly clear the sound was the hissing voice of an angered Cofagrigus. One that was becoming all too familiar to the group for their liking.

    "I told you, I'm not telling you a thing to help you with your featherbrained plans!"

    Cardino and his assistants paused, staring ahead down the hallway. There, ahead on the left was the door to the visitor's room, its occupants hidden from view but with sounds instantly discernible to be the muffled voices of Nico and Rita, along with the much louder sound of a none-too-cheery-sounding Sibich.

    "Er… just what are we supposed to learn from Sibich like that?" Nida asked, prompting Cardino to look ahead skeptically and flatten out his ears.

    "Uh… well, Nico did say he was still working on it," he reassured. "Let's check up on him and see how it's going."

    The Pikachu walked up to the door of the meeting room, pressing up against its push panel to reveal Nico and Rita sitting at one end of a table, staring down a shackled and visibly glowering Sibich at the other end.

    "As I was saying, there's nothing featherbrained about this at all. You'll give your testimony as the accused, and we'll use it to help bring the Coordinator out into the spotlight," Nico reiterated. "It's also the last chance you got at making any change to the current perception of you being a heartless cutthroat who steals eggs from their mothers before sentencing."

    The conversation quieted at the sound of footsteps approaching. From his place chained to the table, Sibich looked over and instantly set his teeth on edge with a hateful scowl at the sight of Team Traveller's presence.

    "Hrmph," the wraith huffed. "If you were hoping to persuade me, you would should have left those brats at the Day Care."

    "Oh trust us, we didn't want to see you again either," Elty grumbled, rolling his eyes.

    The dog's retort was quickly answered by a seething hiss as an inky haze billowed out of Sibich's body. From their places across the table, Nico and Rita shifted back slightly, the Misdreavus floating up close to her Fletchinder partner's ear.

    "Er… Nico, I don't think that we're getting through to him," Rita whispered. The robin paused, and moved a wing thoughtfully to his beak .

    "Hrm… perhaps I need to put things in the most direct possible terms, then."

    The Fletchinder turned back to the Cofagrigus across the counter, beating his wings with a heady thud against the table. With a fierce scowl across his face, the Fire-Type leaned in, glaring at the Ghost-Type at the opposing end.

    "Sibich, the court has exiled Pokémon to the Wastes for less serious crimes than what you were discovered to be doing today," Nico snapped. "I don't know how much Cofagrigus really can get by on eating gold, but you'll be hard-pressed to find much of anything out there to stave off a long, lingering death by starvation."

    No answer came back to the Fletchinder's words but the cold, steely glare of the captain of the Shadow Brigade. The Ghost-Type scoffed, giving a dismissive wave of his upper right hand as much as his bindings allowed.

    "So what am I supposed to believe? That by playing along with you, you'll magically make all my problems go away?" Sibich snorted. "I wasn't born yesterday, Fletchinder."

    "No, but you can believe that the judge will sentence you to something other than exile to the Wastes if you cooperate," Nico countered. "Wasn't that why you attempted to frame your more disposable underlings to begin with? If you would really prefer that the real culprit got away and you took the sentence, then there's nothing I can do to convince you. If you want a different option, this is the only other one you have."

    The Ghost-Type paused in visible thought for a moment, before giving a grudging sigh and turning his attention back to his Fletchinder questioner. The Cofagrigus folded his arms as much as his bindings would allow, shooting a sidelong glance at Cardino and his party of assistants.

    "… Fine. And I presume the peanut gallery here is also present to question me?" the Cofagrigus grumbled. "So what do you all want to know? Not like I have anything to lose right now anyways."

    "Who is Admiral Coil?" Nida asked. "And why did everyone react the way they did when you said he was the Coordinator?"

    "Hrmph. I'm not the local here," Sibich snapped, letting a little blackish haze billow out from his coffin. "Why don't you ask one?"

    The wraith shot a finger at Cardino, who after having Team Traveller's gazes settle upon him, shook his head, and began to explain the identity of this 'mon of mystery.

    "He's a naval admiral who is in charge of Giotto's defenses and helps keeps the peace in the Capital on behalf of the royal family," Cardino explained. "He's had a long history of naval service defending the island from piracy and hunting down pirates from dangerous waters. That's the primary reason why Her Majesty was currently considering him for filling the current vacancy of Prime Minister."

    "Not the easiest of claims to swallow, as you can see," Rita added. "He's viewed very highly even by some Pokémon on other islands in Imperial waters."

    "Aha... so he's the most trusted warrior of your colony," Guardia mulled. "So even the common gatherers would not believe it if they were told that he endangered the colony in such a treacherous way."

    "I… think?" Cardino replied, giving a puzzled tilt of his ears. "And even if something serious did come out, I'm not sure how Her Majesty would react. Coil's family has a long history of service to the royal family in particular."

    Guardia blinked and wondered under her breath why this colony would make such a big deal over lineage for its leaders and warriors. In the process of heaping up all their buildings and monuments, could the Pokémon of this 'Empire' really have forgotten wisdom as simple as the fact that talent wasn't an inherited trait? After all, in the colonies around home, there were tales of warriors having hatchlings that lacked their parents' bravery and stomach for battle, and of zokuchō who'd had young that in spite of their best efforts to mentor them were unable to gain the discernment needed to follow their parents' footsteps.

    Why, if this Coil was even half the ne'er-do-well that Sibich made him out to be... If this ruler of the Empire just let him have his job because his parents had it before him, then no wonder why he'd caused so much trouble! But even so, what would he have to gain here? As the highest warrior of the Empire, what would he possibly gain from undermining his own duty in such a fashion?

    "But I don't understand," the Cubone continued. "Just what would a pirate have to offer someone like that?"

    "The power to make things happen. If the Admiral needed a raid to be done that he couldn't afford to get involved in, I'd do it in person or sway another crew back on Orleigh to do it in my stead," Sibich explained. "In return, he repaid me with tips so I could mount an occasional raid in his waters, along with a steady stream of eggs to bring back to mold into discardable pawns that suited my needs."

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia recoiled in disgust at the Cofagrigus' statement. The idea of spiriting eggs away to raise as pawns for crime was already odious enough, but to hear him say it so cavalierly and with such disregard for the Pokémon he used… why, it was enough to think that perhaps even sending him to the Wastes wouldn't be punishment enough!

    "Why would he bring you here, though?" Cardino demanded. "If Admiral Coil really is the Coordinator as you allege, then I'd imagine he'd want you as far away as possible from him."

    "He sent a message that the Lugia had been seen on Giotto, and informed me that he was in a fringe town south of here," Sibich answered.

    Cardino's assistants jolted up, their eyes widening in alarm. Admiral Coil had gotten wind of Pleo being awake? But they'd never so much as heard of the Admiral until they arrived here in Giotto! Could someone have told him? Could it have been the old Clawitzer who ambushed them?

    "But Pleo was with us all the time!" Nida exclaimed. "And how would he know anything about him?!"

    "That's irrelevant, as the Protector was nowhere in that hamlet. The only thing we found was a waiting ambush," the Cofagrigus insisted. "I was told that my crew was drawing too much attention and that if I helped single out some Pokémon to bear the brunt of the court's wrath, that I would be rewarded with a sentence lenient enough to escape from in return for my silence."

    "Could you really trust that if he misled you from the start of your journey to Giotto?" Nico asked. "Given Admiral Coil's bid to be Prime Minister, it sounds more like he wanted to be rid of a liability."

    The robin's response at once set the pirate's teeth on edge, his mood visibly darkening. Sibich grumbled bilously under his breath, the Ghost-Type realizing that with the information Nico had provided, all of the inexplicable events that had befallen him in the past few days suddenly made sense.

    "I was not… aware of Coil's current circumstances at the time," the Cofagrigus seethed. "If I were, I would have not been so quick to trust him."

    "Guess there really is no honor among thieves," Cardino sighed, shaking his head. "But still, we won't be able to get anywhere with just your testimony."

    "I'm afraid that's the best I can do. Coil usually uses street thugs to do the dirty work of running messages and contraband," Sibich said. "But I've seen no one outside my crew in these cells since our capture."

    Wait… Coil used street thugs to do his dirty work? Then, the notes that they recovered from that chamber in the stadium... the gang that Saéta had been so agitated about... could they have some sort of connection to him as the Coordinator?

    "Wait a minute. Cardino," Nida said. "Didn't Saéta say that say that he and his goons were searching for a gang that was doing things on their 'turf'?"

    "The egg thieves, yes," the Pikachu answered. "Was there something strange about what he said?"

    "I was just thinking," the rabbit murmured. "If those are the Pokémon Coil is using to do his dirty work right now, then they have to have something on them."

    "That would be our best bet," Cardino muttered. "But how would we even go about that on such short notice? And even assuming we actually manage to find them and grab something from them tonight, dragging Coil in would be bound to cause a real stink at the tournament. Unless we managed to find something really good, there'd be no way we could justify it."

    Elty blinked at Cardino's explanation, realizing that a commotion at the stadium would mean that there'd be fewer guards to pay attention to Pleo… But for how long? And where would they be?

    "Hold on, did you just say that Admiral Coil was going to be at the tournament tomorrow?" Elty asked, tensing himself expectantly. It was a long shot, but… could it be something they could turn to their advantage?

    "... I mean, yeah," the Pikachu sighed back. "But where are you going with this? It's not as if we have that many leads to work with."

    The Fire-Type paused and narrowed his eyes, giving a serious look back to the Pikachu.

    "... Don't be too sure about that, Cardino," Elty replied. "But first things first… what sort of stink at the tournament are we talking about here?"



    Author's Notes:

    - Jalorda (ジャローダ) - Japanese: "Serperior" (Official Romanization)
    - Prinses - Dutch: "Princess"
    - jari (じゃり) - Japanese: "brat" (Hepburn romanization)
    - (¡)Cállate! - Spanish: "Shut up!"
    - canàje - Venetian: "brats"
    - Hanashite! (放して!) - Japanese: "Let go!" (Hepburn romanization)
    - Ladno (Ладно) - Russian: "All right"
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
    Venia Silente likes this.
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Okay. So, disclaimer. I was in the process of making my usual review. And then this ****ing Nor'easter made me lose power and everything I'd written got deleted. I suppose it's my fault for trying to do this. I'm going to just hit the points I had been originally covering. -_-

    1) Courtroom stuff: some more classic AA staples at play, here. From Team Traveller's entrance to offer up decisive evidence at the last second, to the big "Pursuit" moment of challenging Sibich. I was a bit confused way Sibich was so willing to testify when his "the defense hasn't proved its clients' innocence," argument was probably good enough to walk away with. Still, I liked the breakdown. Hard to replicate something like that in written form, I guess. But I appreciated all the nods to Ghetsis, with Sibich ranting about perfection. Very appropriate, considering Ghetsis always leads with a Cofagrigus. ^^

    2) Coil: sure, nobody took him seriously, but I can't say I'm surprised there. Damon Gant, much? Maybe it's just because I have an abusive authority automaton of my own. I couldn't help but think of Frost from Dragon Ball Super with this. The idea that Coil is a pirate hunter, but also works with the pirates, is very similar to Frost, who saves his universe from disasters that he secretly brings about, all so he profit off planets' misfortunes. Looking forward to seeing exactly how this stuff goes down.

    3) Team Traveller vs. Team Iron: I will admit, you got me here. Successfully baited me into thinking Ketu's team had rigged it to fight Team Traveller. When instead they went for Crom's team. The actual battle itself reverses the usual trend of Team Traveller starting off behind and scrambling to save face. They have a bit of a strategy and it shows, before things descend into their usual blend of chaos. It's... still a bit hard to see them winning convincingly with such a bare bone set of moves. And, to be fair, you do acknowledge that issue via Nida thinking about the odds the team is facing. I also liked the teamwork b/w Nida and Elty. It shows that they've clearly made some improvements since the hostilities of the last two episodes.

    4) Team Swellow vs. Team Blue Sun
    I don't get the reference, exactly, but I was told to put an "I see what you did there." XP

    And it's quite clear here that Ketu is a much more visceral fighter than we've seen so far. Yes, Lyn and Nagant were shown to be rather effective and hard-hitting, but I'm not quite sure any of them had caused quite the level of damage of that Ketu managed to do to Team Swellow here. And the fact that he adds in quite the demoralizing taunts all the while makes him come off as significantly more sinister than either Nagant or Lyn. Playing to the dark-type element well, I suppose, if you're into that theory/depiction of them. But it's a chilling (heh) show of what happens when Ketu decides not to be a lazy bum. And it speaks volumes for the little operation that Administrator Elilan is running behind-the-scenes. Needless to say, it makes it pretty clear who the worst of the worst is in your massive totem pole of villains.

    Dang it, Ketu. You just cost everyone their K10+ rating! :p

    (also, oh snap, three posts! 0_0)

    5) Luca and Alvise: not much to say here. Kind of figured they'd run into each other again, and they did. <.<;

    6) Medic tent: I do think it could've done you some good to expound a bit more on just how shellshocked Crom was by what happened to his dad. He doesn't get all that much attention, and while the group needs to plan and get through their hopelessness, I'd have thought Crom would've been the center of attention here.

    7) Birb & crab: This is certainly a surprising change of pace. It's good thinking on Cabot's part, but Nagant is quite stubborn. I did get a laugh out of the first few failed attempts to get Nagant to warm up to Pleo. But then it starts going into her family backstory. (Nagant Bridge, huh? Clever... very clever.) It certainly sounds like she's harboring quite a lot of resentment, but you can see just how dedicated she is toward regaining everything she lost. And it looks like it did manage to work a bit, despite Nagant's little outburst.

    8) Detention center: Okay, yeah, Coil really seems like Frost to me. Headcanon accepted! It's interesting to get a glimpse into the workings of this scheme. And it does indeed show a little bit into the seedier side of the Empire, to try and drag them down toward the Company's level. Though, I'll have to see how Coil actually acts before I make any firm judgments. And, from the sound of it, it looks like there'll be tournament upheaval. Just... not necessarily the variety I was expecting. Though, that could still happen with Pleo getting sprung.
     
  5. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Ouch. Those sorts of moments are never fun, but I certainly put in the effort that you put in for the review.

    As we've seen from Ace Attorney and even real life to an extent, vanity is a surprisingly effective way at undoing malevolent figures. As a character that pulls a non-trivial amount of influence from Ghetsis, it only made sense he'd also have a raging ego.

    Well, I hope that resolution winds up being satisfying for you. As for the background behind Coil… that's something that I'll be holding onto until the next trivia section, since there's a number of quirks behind that one. All I'll say for now is that while fiction was an influence for his role, he actually is styled in part after an actual historical figure.

    Their roster of moves should be expanding over the next few chapters, though I hope that you still found the underdog win to be entertaining and not overly straining of credulity.

    Yeah, for a few days after publishing, I was actually considering going back and cutting the chapter into two due to how long it was. I ultimately declined since I figured the confusion for readers who already saw the initial version would cause more issues than it solved, though that's probably the longest any single installment will be in this story for a while. Though unfortunately this current one today will also be a 3-pager thanks to 900 characters in a scene screwing up my initial plans of formatting in two posts.

    As for that K10+ rating, while I'll concede that I'm certainly pushing the boundaries there, I don't think that it's time for a reclassification just yet. Ketu's maim-a-thon actually isn't the first event of its sort in story for a couple years now, though it's certainly the one that got the most spotlight.

    Well I hope that you'll enjoy seeing where that goes in this installment.

    Hrm, it's certainly something that I'll have to keep in mind if I revisit the chapter. Though given the scene's role in acting as a bridge to move Nida, Elty, and Guardia back to the detention center, I'll admit that I was approaching the scene more from a group perspective.

    Yeah, Nagant and Lyn may be foils of each other with loss animating their current goals, but they certainly haven't gone down the same paths as each other. For one, Nagant is less likely to stab you.

    I felt that showing off that underbelly was important, since even if its leadership is a bit less shifty than the Company's, there's a reason why just letting the Empire get what it wants isn't necessarily a good thing. As for that upheaval, you'll see the first spark of that this chapter, so I hope you'll enjoy it.

    Speaking of the chapter, I have it ready and raring to go today, with the non-canon special currently in crunch mode to make a publishing date just after the end of the month. The next chapter, and last of the arc is still targeting a mid-April date, though admittedly there will be a lot of moving parts to it that need to be nailed as a climax. Due to meta busyness and falling a touch behind on pre-planning, the next update will likely be the last until sometime in late May, though for those of you following Casting Off, the story will be winding down during that interval, meaning that you'll have something for a fix for tales from the Cradle.

    With that, I'd like to extend my thanks to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net for their assistance helping to nitpick this current chapter, and to the readers and reviewers who I've been keeping waiting on pins and needles for this update. With that, let's get down to business and go back to our favorite urban misadventures from last time:

    [​IMG]

    With the onset of night, Tidemill's streets darkened and the Moon Caller's Traveller rose over the horizon. Even as the bustle of the city shifted into its nighttime rhythms, the Siglo Swellow teemed with the sound of movement and muffled chatter. In spite of the signs of activity, the upper deck and waters around were mostly barren of Pokémon, the focus of the hubbub instead taking up a hastily-vacated galley that had quickly filled with standing crew members. There, Team Traveller and their companions had gathered the sailors, who traded curious murmurs with one another as to what the nature of the meeting was. Although he knew full well what his teammates hoped to present, Crom carried an anxious air about him all the while, his mind turning from the packed galley back to his father at the stadium's medic hall.

    "We won't be gone for that long, right?" he murmured.

    "Natrix and Philips are covering for you right now," Kiran reassured. "I'm sure there will be time to stop by to see him again tonight."

    The gathering quieted as the sound of buzzing wings approached, carrying Beatrix down a flight of steps followed by her trusty Hitmontop first mate, Vicente. The pair sized up their surroundings, before noticing Kiran and his charges and making their way over with expectant stares.

    "You were awfully insistent earlier about this meeting," Beatrix said. "Did you find something out there?"

    "We did," Guardia nodded. "We might have found a way to get your Protector back."

    At once, the cargo hold flew into an uproar, with excited chatter among the gathered sailors. One after the other, they pressed for more details, wondering if the Cubone really had something, or was merely succumbing to wishful fantasy.

    "What's this way?" Vicente demanded.

    "Yeah, this is a huge city full of guards!" a Golduck exclaimed. "You mean to say you actually have a way of getting him out?"

    "That's right. Today, we found out that an Admiral here in Giotto has been double-dealing with pirates," Elty began. "He's going to be attending the tournament tomorrow in the section of boxes where Pleo's been held for the entire tournament."

    "We're going to be visiting some… fixers tonight to try and see if we can get any evidence against him for a trial dealing with a partner of his tomorrow," Nida added. "If we get it, we'll be able to get the guards to drag him into court."

    An uneasy pause lingered in the air. Their mission was to retrieve their Protector and take him back to Tromba! As awful as it was to hear that such a trusted Pokémon here was compromised, just how did that relate to what they needed to do?

    "… I'm not seeing how exactly that's helping us at all here," an Unfezant in the crowd said.

    "It's helping us because we're currently working with a detective from the guards as assistants," Guardia explained. "When the guards come to bring Admiral Coil to court, we'll be coming along, and can hang around a little afterwards."

    "The guards would thin out and have to shake up their routines quite a bit having to escort such an important Pokémon out, which would give us a chance to spring Pleo out," Elty continued. "It's just a matter of distracting the guards at his box with something like a Slumber Orb, and then getting him out of the stadium."

    The Growlithe's answer was met with a dismissive snort from a Dwebble, the Bug-Type's skepticism being audibly murmured through unimpressed hems and haws from some nearby shipmates.

    "Just a matter?" the Dwebble scoffed. "By that standard, living in the Wastes is just a matter of getting food and shelter."

    "I actually don't think it's as impossible as you'd think. The streets and canals here are a maze, and it's difficult even for me to keep track of Pokémon sometimes from the air," Kiran offered. "If the kids can make it out of the stadium, they'll have a lot more options for ways to slip off."

    "Yeah, and if they can make it to the water, I could get them back to the harbor in a heartbeat!" Dimitri added. "I'm a swift swimmer, and I've already swum them through a tight spot once before!"

    Kiran and Dimitri's reassurance drew some less skeptical murmurs from the gathered sailors. It would still be a heavy lift, but… yes, they had to admit that it would be technically feasible. Even Vicente and Beatrix seemed to be convinced, the pair quietly mulling over possibilities and options that would be available if Kiran and the others could make it back.

    "… We'd need to keep the ship ready to go at a moment's notice," Vicente said. "But if you can get back here in one piece, it shouldn't be anything we couldn't handle."

    "It's settled then," Beatrix grunted. "Though it should go without saying that there will be very little margin for error in this operation. Is there anything that you need for help, Team Traveller?"

    "Well, the ship obviously needs to be ready, and getting Pladur back aboard tonight would be important," Nida said. "But the biggest thing that we need would be some Pokémon to help us with those fixers."

    "Pah! With your track record, you'd be better off just walking up to their front door!"

    At that moment, a short, furry presence began to move through the crowd, revealing the unamused form of a Sentret making his to the front. Nida and her companions stared and blinked blankly for a moment, before rolling their eyes in annoyance.

    "Urgh…" the Poison-Type groaned. "Did you have to pick Scout up at sea, Crom?"

    "I mean he did escape from a pirate den, Nida," the Druddigon whispered back. "And besides, Hariti does still have kids that needed letters delivered to them..."

    "Actually, maybe he's onto something there," Pat mused. "If you've met these 'fixers' once already, can't you just walk up and tell them you want to talk?"

    The Unfezant's question drew a long silence, finally broken by an uncomfortable fidget from the Nidoran as she folded her ears back.

    "Er… we're not so sure that they'll say 'yes' back to us."

    "We'll join you," Kiran offered. "Your situation sounds like exactly the sort where a helping wing would come in handy."

    "Yeah, Kiran and I can both get up high," Ander added. "We can keep an eye out from above if needed."

    "Then what are we waiting for?" Dimitri cried. "Let's get a move on!"

    Team Traveller began to set off, Elty and Guardia being joined shortly afterwards by Kiran and Dimitri. Much to their surprise, even Ander seemed willing to come, and followed after, leaving Crom to shift uneasily in the crowd. The young Druddigon felt a pawing sensation at his legs, looking down to see none other than Nida looking up at him, giving a reassuring bat of her ears.

    "Try to stay positive?" Nida said. "After all, we want to come back to Pleo at our best, don't we?"

    The Druddigon paused before nodding his head back, forcing a smile over his maw. Although he was still plagued by uncertainty and vague doubts as to whether it was right to turn his attention from his father, the rabbit's reassurance lifted his spirits, giving him just enough confidence to follow along.

    "R-Right!"

    The pair darted after their teammates, ducking down the hallway and clambering up the flights of stairs to the deck. There, they watched as the others slipped off down the gangplank, and looked out at the cityscape framed by the stadium's tower and the Royal Citadel, hoping that Pleo could wait for them for just one more night.

    "Hang in there, Pleo," Crom murmured. "We'll have you back before you know it."



    (Continued in the next post.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2018
  6. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Team Traveller met up with Cardino at the gates of the Visitor's District, prompting them to swing south and walk along the winding lanes and canals of Tidemill. The route took them away from the tall, multistory buildings they'd grown used to seeing for streets lined with unfamiliar, ramshackle wooden shacks that weren't present on the route Luca and his underlings took them through the day before. According to Cardino, they were passing through a fringe neighborhood of Tidemill Central known as Novomarca that sat along the quickest route between the Visitor District and the seaside neighborhood where the Saéta Family's warehouse was. The buildings seemed to be jammed together and appeared a bit worse for wear, the lanes around them largely empty of the same bustle the neighborhoods around the arena had to them.

    If anything, it felt like the Pokémon around had largely taken their business indoors, with the occasional stern face glaring from an entrance or window. Flickers of conversations would occasionally poke through the muted surroundings, the argument of some less-sober Pokémon emanating from a tavern, or worries about companions who had yet to show up from late in the day. A young voice asking why dinner was so small caught Nida's ears, stirring up uncomfortable memories of a year with a blighted harvest where the Nidoran remembered asking the same question again and again in much the same manner.

    The buildings started to become less shabby as Team Traveller neared the seaside neighborhood which housed Saéta's warehouse, but the impression from their time in Novomarca failed to ebb away on the Pokémon. For all its pomp and grandeur, Tidemill City evidently couldn't fully shield its own from the same troubles that Pokémon on less populated islands like Tromba struggled with. The thought brought Nida's mind back to Nerea's explanation that both the Empire and the Company were buckling under strain and breaking, and of tales she'd heard of Tromba's revolt before her birth. She remembered Mamí recounting many a time of how the insult of Darzin's impunity finally stirred up the fire in the townsfolk's bellies to run him out after the injury of a bad harvest, giving Bluewhorl's Pokémon just enough courage and desperation to lash out. If a mere village of berry-growers and sailors could get so riled up, then no wonder why Nagant had moved heaven and earth to steal Pleo away! If there were ever enough Pokémon in Tidemill living in such conditions, then it was only logical the Empire would want to parade him before the city as soon as it had the young Protector in its clutches to take their mind off their circumstances…

    "We're here," Cardino said. "Look alive."

    The Pikachu's statement made the gathered Pokémon look up and spot the form of a row of warehouses at the end of a lane up ahead. The lot continued and followed after Cardino, only to follow the lane to a dead end.

    "Huh? Where is the gate?" Elty asked.

    Instead of the barred gate they'd remembered seeing, the Growlithe saw there was a wall of crude bricks that cut the lane off. Team Traveller and their companions blinked, and watched as Cardino pawed at the wall to feel it was solid, much as the gate had felt earlier.

    "It seems like that Zoroark underling of theirs is protecting this place, even at night," the Electric-Type sighed. "If it's just an illusion, a weak attack would dispel it for a bit... but illusion or not, I don't think Saéta would take kindly to us breaking down this wall."

    The Pikachu's response drew some frowns and uneasy shifts, Nida giving a worried paw at the ground as she stared ahead.

    "But then how do we talk to the Don?"

    "Would it be too much to try and ask for directions?" Ander offered.

    The mantis' words were followed by the sound of an audible creak and low chattering coming down an alleyway to the left, which prompted the group to look over as a small door built into the wall swung open, letting out a Machoke and jet-furred Raticate that were in black scarves marked with a red lightning bolt. Cardino ran his paw along the brickwork of the wall and noticed that they seemed misaligned going towards the left, a sign that the wall and its entrance surely were more likely to be the real deal than the wall before them.

    "… Maybe you're onto something there, Scyther," Cardino murmured. The Pikachu flared his ears, before beginning to pace over for the guarding pair, giving a friendly wave of his paw for attention.

    "Hey," the detective greeted. "Looks like you two are kinda busy, but we were just wondering-"

    "Hrmph. Don't go sticking your nose where it don't belong, Pikachu," the Machoke snapped.

    "Huh? But we were just here yesterday!" Guardia protested. "We even saw you right at the front gate!"

    "Doesn't matter. All I see here are some warehouses for waste management, and I know you aren't employees," the Raticate growled. "So scram before I push you into the canal!"

    The black-scarved Pokémon began to make their way over, tensing their bodies for an attacking ambush. With their numbers, Cardino and his companions dug their feet into the ground and braced themselves, only to notice the sight of a Swoobat in a black scarf settling on the roof eave, and of a Vikavolt and a Wigglytuff coming from behind. Sensing that things were getting out of control quickly, the group legged a hasty retreat, darting back down the lane and continuing for a rightward alley until they came to a panting stop underneath a high wall plastered with wanted posters for pirates and local ne'er-do-wells.

    "Well that went well," Dimitri sighed. "How are we supposed to get in without someone letting us through in the first place?"

    Nida looked around when she noticed that overhead, a set of wooden shutters had been left open a crack. The Nidoran looked around for any sign of an approaching presence, and when she found none, peered up and flicked a spike up at the shutters. She watched her spike sail on, finding its mark and wedging into one of the shutters as it creaked inwards, prompting her to give an excited look to Cardino.

    "Cardino. You said that a simple attack would've dispelled one of that Zoroark's illusions, right?" she asked. "Well, if you're right, those shutters look pretty real to me."

    The group peered up at the shutters above them. It was far from an ideal entrance, but at the very least it was real. And if it hadn't been disguised on this end, odds were that Saeta's illusionist had missed the inside of it as well.

    "We take the openings we can get," Cardino replied. "It'll be tricky, but I think your taller friends can squeeze us through there if we get up on each others' shoulders..."

    One-by-one, Dimitri, Crom, Ander, and Kiran clambered atop each other to form a crude tower, waiting for their teammates to clamber up and crack the shutters open to let themselves slip through into the darkened warehouse. Upon making their way through, Nida, Guardia, and Elty dropped down onto some wooden planks underfoot, watching as the rest of their teammates carefully followed them in by flying and climbing their way up.

    "… Where are we?" Guardia asked. "And how do we get to the Don's office?"

    Elty waited for its eyes to adjust to the lighting of the warehouse, where he noticed that the lot of them were standing on a pallet of crates. All around the building, crates had similarly been piled up on a stony floor, leaving a maze of narrow passageways. The Growlithe looked up, spying a slender network of catwalks that seemed to connect the different sides of the warehouse, which made the group wonder if the rigors of the night were why Savio's illusions were so much less elaborate than the last time they were here... or if he simply spared his effort when there weren't outsiders to be dealt with.

    "The Don's office was at the edge of this warehouse one floor up," the Puppy Pokémon said. "I remember the sun was setting in the west out the window, so I think that means it would've also been on the west side of the warehouse?"

    Team Traveller and their companions looked out the shutter, noting the moon in the sky ahead. Given that the night was still young, that would surely mean that they were on the east of the warehouse. The group turned their heads back ahead of them, where they noticed at the end was a rickety wooden set of steps going up from the ground up to a dimly lit doorway.

    "Ah, that's straight ahead!" Crom exclaimed. "Come on, let's go!"

    The Druddigon motioned for his teammates to press on, dropping down to the stone floor and carefully making their way past the crates on the ground. For a Pokémon into 'waste management', a close gander at some opened crates revealed Saéta seemed to have a good deal of wares that would fetch a decent price at a shop, including the expected assortment of berries, orbs, and seeds. The group carried on, crossing a small intersection of crates where they saw a stack of wooden tubes that had been bound by ropes and metal loops… Cannons? But merely having one loaded with anything other than lines for a Lyle Gun was usually cause for getting a ship summarily sunk by a vessel in Company or Imperial colors! Surely Saéta couldn't have that many Pokémon interested in buying Lyle Guns from him...

    "And that's how Pezzo sent up the wine for the winter party up in smoke last year," a buzzing voice said.

    "Ugh. Seriously?" a high, airy voice scoffed. "How's that screw-up not been made to take a long walk off a short pier already?"

    "Well hey, you can't say the 'mon doesn't know how to do a good party trick or two with his flames," the first voice said. "I heard the firedancing routine he did at the party to make up for it saved his neck."

    Cardino and his companions froze up, hearing the voices and attending footsteps were coming closer and closer from up ahead. The Pikachu looked around in alarm, before he noticed a small gap between crates leading to a small pocket.

    "Quick!" Cardino whispered. "Let's lie low in that pocket!"

    One after the other, the gathered Pokémon ducked past the gap and into a small clearing surrounded by crates, peering through the small entrance to see a Vikavolt and Wigglytuff pass by. The pair carried on chattering, only for the Wigglytuff to pause uneasily, and pull her nose up to sniff the air.

    "Destacàr," the rabbit murmured. "I think someone's here."

    The gathered Pokémon blanched and looked around frantically for a way out, only to see that they'd gone into a dead end. Nida backpedaled up into a crate when she heard the tink of shifting glass inside. The Nidoran hastily propped herself up and discovered the crate to be filled with orbs, prompting her to slip her paw in and fish out one filled with white, rapidly-swirling clouds. Nida pulled the sphere back and threw it in a high arc, sending it sailing off toward the right behind the black-scarved Pokémon with an audible crash and the woosh of a sudden burst of wind.

    "They're making a run for it!" the Wigglytuff shouted.

    "Quick!" the Vikavolt barked. "We'll cut them off!"

    The mobsters turned and ran after the sound of the shattering glass, prompting Team Traveller and their companions to hastily abandon their hiding place and make a mad dash leftward. The party made their way ahead, before reaching a sparser portion of the warehouse, panting quietly as they looked back and realized that as the guards found nothing around the orb they'd used as a distraction, they'd fall back on their other senses… including a sense of smell that was bound to give away where they'd passed through.

    "We- We didn't happen to bring something to cover our scent, did we?" Crom stammered, glancing around uneasily. "If they notice our tracks, they'll follow us straight back to where we are!"

    "I don't think we'll need it," Dimitri said. "Smotri, up there."

    The Kabutops pointed off at a crude ramp made of crates that stretched up to the ceiling, where just beyond it was a wooden grate. The lot looked around and noticed that the ceiling seemed to be flat, unlike its sloped roof from outside… which would logically indicate that on the other side of the grate would be none other than an attic.

    "They can't smell what's not there," the crab insisted. "Come on."

    The gathered Pokémon hastily made their way up the crates, pulling themselves up one after the other until the hatch was in sight. With a swift flick of his scythes, Ander cut open the grate's supports, letting it flop open and his teammates to begin clambering in… Cardino went in first, then Nida followed by Elty and Guardia... It soon came to be Crom's turn to climb up, the young Druddigon nearing the edge, only for the crate to suddenly lurch underfoot. The Dragon-Type yelped and leapt up, latching onto the ledge as the crate underfoot fell to the ground with a crash and the sound of shouts suddenly rang out from below.

    "Hey! There's someone near the wall on the south side!" a buzzing voice exclaimed.

    The cry threw the group into a panic, prompting Dimitri to hastily shove the rest of the young Druddigon up before scrabbling up himself. Kiran dived in afterwards, making it into the attic and quickly tugging the hatch shut. The group panted, peeking back down through the grate to see the Vikavolt and the Wigglytuff coming across the shattered crate from earlier and storming off in search of them further below… mercifully off away from their grate.

    "Talk about your close shaves there…" Cardino sighed. "But where have we wound up this time?"

    Nida looked back down through the grate and scanned her surroundings beneath her. The Nidoran tried to make sense of where they'd run off to, only to overhear the faint voice of Don Saéta from further ahead...

    "Giusy? Just what is the meaning of this? I was in the middle of penning a correspondence."

    The blue spike ball blinked, before carefully pacing forward, prompting the rest of the party to follow suit carefully. Nida stopped at a different grate, peering down to see a Salazzle standing at a low table opposite of none other than Manectric boss himself, seated behind a stack of papers, prompting a smile to spread over the Poison-Type's face.

    "I'd say we're exactly where we need to be," Nida said, before the gathered Pokémon hushed themselves, and leaned in to listen to the Pokémon below.



    In the room below, Don Saéta continued to jot down some notes on a paper set down on the desk before him, giving a stern look across the desk at the Salazzle. The elderly Manectric waited patiently, prompting the Poison-Type to clear her throat and carry on.

    "We've got some of those street punks ready for interrogation, boss," Giusy said.

    "Hrmph, about time," Saéta grunted. "I'd have expected you to have had more to show from those mooks by now."

    "Pardón," the lizard murmured. "It's just that we had a few unexpected turns, and weren't sure how to present them to you."

    Saéta cocked his head, lifting a brow skeptically back at the Salazzle before turning his attention back to his writing. Just what sort of unexpected turns could dragging a few punks off the street involve.

    "I'm not sure if I follow."

    "Get your paws off of me you domkop!"

    The Don's head turned towards the doorway as the sounds of buzzing and shouts rang out, including a voice like his that made his ears perk up incredulously. The Electric-Type gave a puzzled look back to Giusy, who shook her head and began to explain the disturbance beyond the door.

    "We picked up your son and his friends working with that street gang from an alleyway near the arena," the Poison-Type said. "He's out in the hallway. We figured you'd want to press them yourself."

    The Manectric's paw abruptly slipped, dragging his writing pad across his paper and leaving a long, black streak of charcoal over it. The wolf looked down and shook his head with a disapproving grumble, setting his paper and charcoal aside as he rose up from his seat.

    "... Send them in."

    At Saéta's insistence, the Salazzle got up to open the door, letting in Carlo as he dragged along the bound forms of a Yanmega and a Marowak in his burly arms with Luca unceremoniously dragging in a fellow Manectric. The bound wolf in the group was pushed to the front by Luca, leaving him face-to-face with Don Saéta's glaring eyes as the stench of waste clung to his captives' bodies.

    "Gih!"

    Alvise instinctively scooted back away from his father's gaze, only to feel a his brother's head press up against him from behind and shove him back towards his dad.

    "Oh no you don't!" Luca growled. "You're not running away this time!"

    His brother pushed forward again, shoving Alvise forward into a faceplant directly into the line of sight of his father's silent, stern gaze. The white-scarved Manectric weakly picked himself up, his blood running cold and his tail folding back timorously between his legs as he spoke up in a squeaking stammer.

    "Er… h-hi dad…"

    A tense silence hung in the air at Alvise's greeting, Nori and Valatos watching anxiously for any changes in the elder wolf's dispassionate demeanor. At last, Saéta shook his head, breaking the silence with a sigh.

    "Bònjorno, Alvise…" the elder Manectric said. "It's been far too long."

    The Don walked over from behind the desk, pacing and circling deliberately around his three captives. Every so often, he would train a stern glare on one of the brigands, who would flinch away from the attention much to his unimpressed displeasure.

    "Really now, you should be grateful the boys were feeling so hospitable... Most families wouldn't bother seeking out their children who abandoned their family business," Saéta chided. "Much less children who ran off with a bunch of sea rats."

    Saéta's words drew audible gulps from his son's partners, the Marowak and Yanmega quickly having the color drain from their faces. The pair tripped up over each others' words in protest, each hoping to hastily steer the dangerous Pokémon's mind from any plans involving them.

    "H-Hey!" Valatos buzzed. "You've got everything all wrong here!"

    "Yeah! We've never had anything to do with you before in our lives!" Nori whined.

    "A likely story," Saéta scoffed. "But since you need a refresher of your place around here, let's bring in some of your associates now."

    The Manectric motioned to the door as a bound Vigoroth and Steenee were dragged in by an Escavalier and an Ambipom. For a long, awkward moment, Valatos and his companions stared at the group of strangers, before turning back to the elder Manectric.

    "... Who the hell are these guys supposed to be?" Valatos demanded, only to be answered by an offended outburst from the Steenee.

    "I could say the same to you!"

    Some puzzled murmuring floated about the room as Saéta's underlings traded blank looks with one another. Just what was this bug going on about, not recognizing these two?

    "Eh? But they have to be your associates!" Carlo exclaimed. "We've been seeing them nose around whenever you've been here!"

    "We don't do anything with street punks like those beyond fencing loot!" Alvise snapped. "You ought to know this already!"

    "... You still haven't changed, have you?" the Don sighed. "I'd have thought that this encounter would've gotten you to reconsider. Here on the turf that ought to be rightfully yours, and we find you scuttling around like an alley rat with nothing but those two bums for support reeking of garbage!"

    "Th-That was Luca's fault! I smelled like myself before he jumped me!" the younger Manectric whined. Alvise's protests did little but prompt Saéta to look over to Luca who gave a dismissive shrug back, followed by a annoyed shake of the elder wolf's head. The Don scoffed unimpressedly, leaning into his child's face with a hardened glare.

    "Seriously, get some smarts," Saéta scolded, as he returned to his seat behind the table. "Who in their right mind would trade away family and protection for sleeping in some musky hulk with rabble that'll leave you high and dry in the first botched raid?"

    "The sort of 'mon who wants to live a little!"

    Alvise's outburst drew a dismissive snort from his father from across the table. Saéta shot a disgusted scowl down at his rebellious child, walking up and looming over him.

    "Excuse me?" the father wolf demanded.

    "Y-You heard me! I've never been satisfied just staying cooped up in this stupid district with your 'business' even when I was an Electrike!" Alvise snapped. "When I'm with Valatos and Nori here, we always get to see something new!"

    Nori and Valatos watched as Saéta's frown seemed to deepen before their very eyes, prompting the two of them to struggle against their bindings to try and poke at their Manectric teammate for attention.

    "Uh... Alvise," Nori whispered. "I don't think we should be making the nice Pokémon even madder-"

    "And what would you care anyways?!" Alvise continued. "You always spent all your time training Luca to take over 'the business', so why can't I go do something else if I have to play second fiddle anyways?!"

    The younger Manectric's outburst drew a low growl from his father, along with a reflexive crouch as if ready to spring upon him. The Don paused a moment to let his irritation subside, before continuing on in an audibly irked tone.

    "Alvise, the business has a structure and a reputation to maintain. We´re not a bunch of common thieves!" Saéta snapped. "By playing your part in it, you help to ensure that the whole stays together and that if needed, you can help keep it going if anything were to happen to your brother. Just what have your two 'friends' there done for you all this time?"

    "... They've always been at my side for whatever we've gone through," the younger Manectric answered.

    "Hrmph, a likely story."

    "I'm serious! I mean, yeah, they give me a hard time sometimes... and we've gotten captured before... and they kinda needed to be thrown from a ship the last time to stick with me," the younger wolf murmured. "But when push came to shove, they've always been 'mons I could count on to watch my back! If the choice is between being able to live the life I want or being stuck here glued to Luca's shadow, then by all means, give me the dice to roll!"

    With that, sparks began to dance on Saéta's pelt. From their bindings, Nori gave out a whimpering whine, as Valatos turned his attention to his Manectric teammate.

    "That would've been really touching, Alvise," he gulped. "Except that I think your old 'mon's about to kill us."

    The Don's sparks grew stronger and stronger, only to abruptly flicker and dissipate with a harmless crackle. The elderly Pokémon eased his posture, shooting a disgusted scowl at the bound youngster before him.

    "... Very well, then," he growled. "Have it your way, Alvise."

    Alvise blinked uneasily, his father's words repeating over and over again. That… was it? Even in his youth, he'd been able to glean enough to know what happened to Pokémon who crossed his father in his line of work. So what gave here? No abrupt life-ending event? No maiming? Not even a beating?

    "... Huh?" he asked. "You're just giving in like that?"

    "Alvise, you're my son. If risking your life chasing stupid thrills until the day you drown at sea is really what you want out of life, then I'll respect that," Saéta answered. "I'd hoped that perhaps I could help you see some sense, but it seems that there's nothing that I can do to jolt you back to reality right now."

    The elder wolf shook his head bitterly, turning to look out the window at the scattered lights of the city's lanterns in the distance. The Electric-Type rose his voice again, his words coming out with a thick air of disappointment.

    "Maybe you'll come to see sense soon enough, to see what a fool you're being," the elderly Manectric muttered. "For your own sake, don't wait until you're in the Spirit World in order to turn back."

    The wolf continued looking out the window, before giving a shake of his pelt. His earlier somberness seemingly dissipated in favor of a sharp, impatient annoyance.

    "... Now get out of my office," Saéta snapped. "The only 'mons that have any business being here are my business associates, not random tourists."

    Alvise shifted uneasily as his tail began to droop. While for his own sake, his father's respite had been welcome, something about this victory felt hollow... He was convinced that he'd made the right choice abruptly running away from home all those years ago without saying goodbye to elude his goons... and that the freedom he found on the seas afterwards had been worth it...

    Even so, he couldn't help but waver after seeing his father turn away from him entirely. Could he have done anything differently? Would it even have made a difference?

    "... Dad…" he murmured. "I-"

    Creeaaaak

    The room abruptly quieted at the sound of a creak from above, prompting the gathered Pokémon to look about their surroundings. By chance, Carlo happened to look up, where the Swampert noticed a wooden plank in the ceiling sagging.

    "Hey wait a minute," he said. "Was that part of the ceiling always-?"

    The wooden plank abruptly snapped, sending it and a good chunk of the roof collapsing into the room with a crash. The room quickly filled with a plume of dust and confusion, the sound of yelps ringing out along with coughing from the particulates in the air.

    "Agh! What was that?!" an Escavalier cried.

    "I thought we just fixed those roof timbers!" an Ambipom spluttered.

    The dust began to settle down, revealing the stunned forms of Cardino, his assistants, and a number of 'mons who hadn't been present yesterday. At once, Alvise growled, recognizing the intruders to be none other than the pests who'd humiliated them at the tournament!

    "You again!" the Manectric cried.

    "Grr... I didn't know they paid you detectives to go trespassing, Cardino," Saéta seethed. In response, Cardino scooped up his hat and placed it back on his head before sheepishly answering back.

    "Er... we got an invite at the backdoor?"

    Don Saéta's face reddened with lividity at Cardino's shamelessness. The Manectric sparked, motioning to his underlings as a low growl filled his voice.

    "... Boys," Saéta snarled. "Show these 'mons how we handle uninvited guests here."

    At once, Carlo, Giusy, and Luca began to advance snarling, pushing the increasingly unnerved party from the ceiling backwards. After feeling his wings brush up against the timbered wall of Saéta's office, Ander buzzed with a start, raising his voice in anxious protest.

    "N-Now hold on here!" the Scyther stammered. "We only came because we wanted to trade information!"

    "Yeah!" Elty added. "We wanted your help dealing with a mutual enemy who will be in a restricted area at the stadium tomorrow!"

    "Well, the only thing you're getting is a good beating!" Valatos snarled. "You're gonna regret showing your face in front of us agai-"

    "But before then," Saéta insisted. "Show Alvise and his friends the door."

    "Huh?!" Nori cried. "But we were just about to-!"

    "Out. Now."

    The three opened their mouths in protest, only for the Escavalier, Ambipom and Swampert in the room to pick up the pirates and drag them out of Saéta's office, slamming the door behind them. The bound Vigoroth and Steenee blinked incredulously at the whole scene, before Saéta rose and began to surround his trapped interlopers with his underlings.

    "Just what do you think you're doing here, huh?" Luca sneered.

    "We wanted to make an offer to the Don," Crom said. "But your doormons were being obstinate and wouldn't let us in."

    "That's mighty presumptuous of you," Saéta growled. "I'm the one who makes deals here, and the only deal I'm in the mood for right now is the one that gets you out of my office spitting your teeth up into the canals."

    "Even if we told you we have a way of taking down the Coordinator?" Nida pressed. "He was apparently keeping in touch with a pirate who got caught a couple days back. If we can find any proof they talked with each other, it'll catch him red-pawed!"

    Saéta and his lackeys shot back scoffing frowns at the Nidoran's response, only for Luca to notice from the corner of his eye that the bound Vigoroth and Steenee were shifting uncomfortably at the term.

    "'Coordinator'?" the Vigoroth asked. "How do you shlubs know about him?"

    The sloth, realizing at once he had spoken too much bit his tongue. Unfortunately for the creature, the mobsters' attention had already settled on him, prompting the Vigoroth to audibly gulp.

    "Come again, buddy?" Luca demanded.

    "Yeah, it sounds like you've got something that you want to tell us here," Giusy added.

    "A-All I did was run a couple letters, I swear!" the Vigoroth insisted. "I had nothing else to do with his operation! All I've seen of the 'mon is a shadow!"

    Kiran's eyes lit up at the Normal-Type's words. This 'mon was a courier! So if his job was to run letters on behalf of the Coordinator, then maybe...

    "Wait! That's it!" the Swellow exclaimed. "Do you have any letters with you right now?"

    The Vigoroth blanched and visibly paled, shaking his head overvigorously back at the question.

    "I… er… no?" the Normal-Type stammered. "It's not like I just go walking around the time with- Hey! What are you doing?"

    Undaunted by the Vigoroth's protestations, Giusy helped herself to patting down the sloth, discovering a envelope hidden under his scarf. The Salazzle wrenched the envelope free, shooting a glare back at the pallid Pokémon.

    "Hrmph. If you'd stuck to mail delivery, maybe you wouldn't be here," the lizard spat.

    "This look familiar at all to you?" Luca asked.

    Giusy passed the envelope over to Nida, who snatched up the envelope and tore it open. The group fished out a letter inside and unfurled it, scanning their eyes along line after line of written runes… only to discover that the letter seemed to have a far less nefarious purpose.

    "Wait… a letter for Thalez?" the Nidoran said. "There must be some sort of trick to this thing."

    "Maybe it's encoded just like the diary...?" Crom suggested.

    "… Looks like it's just some fan mail to me," Luca scoffed. "What are you going on about a 'code' here?"

    "Yeah, wasn't the coded journal you showed us a bunch of nonsense when you tried to read it out loud?" Dimitri asked. "The writing forms actually readable sentences here."

    A set of uncomfortable blinks went around the gathered Pokémon's faces. Sure enough, the letter read perfectly fine, even if its topic seemed peculiarly innocent… Why, it was hard to see how rearranging the runes here would do anything other than to turn the note into a jumbled mess!

    But even if the letter wasn't coded that way, surely there had to be some sort of trick to it…

    "Right…" Cardino mulled. "Maybe it's written in a sort of ink that can't be seen normally?"

    "I don't see anything out of the ordinary for it," Ander buzzed. "And I've been told that my vision allows me to see things that your kind would normally miss."

    Ander's mention prompted Saéta to mull a moment over the letter only to furrow his brow in annoyance, drawing some uneasy murmurs and coughs from the group. Frustrated with their breakthrough having evaporated before them, Elty slammed a paw onto the fan letter and gave a disgusted scowl.

    "Pah! Some lead this turned out to be!" he harrumphed. The Growlithe snorted out a couple stray embers, which fell onto the paper, and much to his alarm set it alight. The Puppy Pokémon yanked his foot back with a yelp, as the eyes of all the present Pokémon widened in shock at the sudden eruption of flame.

    "Agh! The letter!" Nida exclaimed.

    "Quick!" Cardino cried. "Put it out!"

    Guardia ran over and beat the letter over and over with her club, leaving behind a charred sheet on the floor. At once, Saéta's pelt began to course with electricity, the wolf lowering his head towards the stocky mutt with a furious snarl.

    "What is your problem Growlithe?!" the Don shouted.

    "H-Hey! How was I supposed to know it'd do that?!" Elty stammered. "Paper doesn't just suddenly burst into flame from a little ember like that normally!"

    The Growlithe flinched, only to pause and crack an eye open uneasily and see Saéta staring blankly. The other Pokémon in the room sported similarly dumbfounded expressions, as Guardia's attention turned over to the charred letter on the floor.

    "… That's right," the Cubone murmured. "It doesn't."

    The bone lizard bent down and examined the paper, noticing that a small patch of it appeared unburnt, but of a curious yellow color. Guardia picked up the paper and carefully peeled away the burnt part, revealing a full sheet of yellowed paper underneath, with runes starting to become visible as more and more of the charred layer was peeled away.

    "Eh?! That 'mon hid a letter within a letter!" Giusy exclaimed.

    "You can do that?" Luca asked.

    "… I've heard of stories of 'mons doing this sort of stuff with treasure maps, but never letters," Saéta murmured to himself. "Who wrote this thing? And what exactly is the writer trying to hide?"

    Cardino and Nida crowded around, dutifully helping to peel away the burned layer until the body of the hidden yellow paper was fully exposed. Cardino scooped it up, noticing a stamp at the bottom right with a design bearing a cluster of five leaves roughly laid out as a star before looking up and beginning to read aloud.

    The paper was a note requesting an alliance with one 'Captain Tarquin' of the Strongjaw Gang in Orleigh, promising power and wealth if he would be willing to trade some favors as a member of Orleigh's ruling council. The letter carried on, flattering its intended recipient and making it clear that the author was in need of a new partner in light of his prior one pushing his luck and falling afoul of his superiors, until terminating in a squarish burn mark for a signature...

    "Signed, Admiral Coil?" the Pikachu finished, which drew a surprised squeak from Nida.

    "Ah! So he really is the Coordinator!"

    Cardino stared blankly at the paper, pawing over and over again at the leafy sigil in the corner, only to shake his head out of stunned disbelief.

    "I didn't want to believe it, but it looks that way, pal," Cardino murmured. "That seal on the letter is definitely his."

    "It would make sense… Every tougher crew will be gunning for Sibich's spot on the Council once they hear about his capture, and the Councilmembers will all want to sway whoever winds up taking his place," Elty murmured. "The Pokémon in Orleigh are almost certainly wondering if something's up with him by now, so if I wanted a new partnership, I'd certainly make it before half of Rosequartz gets bogged down in turf wars over sorting out a new hierarchy."

    "So, Don Saéta," Guardia pressed. "Are we still wasting your time here?"

    The Manectric glared back, visibly mulling over the youngsters' words. After a moment's consideration, the Electric-Type shook his head, his demeanor easing into a more relaxed if still stern expression.

    "… I think it's worth letting your little episode with my ceiling earlier slide. Though you'll need more than just a little piece of paper to plead your case," Saéta said. "Going after Admiral Coil's like going after the queen herself. If you swing at him and miss, you won't be alive to get another chance."

    Team Traveller and their companions blanched and gulped at Saéta's explanation. With stakes like those, it would be wise to heed the Don's advice and err to the side of caution… but what were they still missing, then?

    "Uh… what else would we need then?" Crom asked.

    "The same thing that took out my old rival in the business, Scarpatti," Saéta explained. "You get someone with inner knowledge to squeal and finger the 'mon."

    "Wait, but didn't Scarpatti kick the bucket after a deal went wrong?" Giusy corrected. "Aren't you thinking of-"

    "My point still stands, thank you very much!" Saéta snapped. "And as for 'mons with inner knowledge, I think that we've got a couple right here."

    The Manectric moved his paw down the other end of the room, all eyes following it over towards the form of the bound Vigoroth and Steenee. The pair fidgeted uneasily a moment, before the Steenee worked up the courage to ask about their newfound attention.

    "… Why are you looking at us like that?" the Grass-Type pressed.

    "Because, Steenee, I'm making you and your partner an offer you can't refuse," the elder Manectric answered. "You're going to help these nice Pokémon by ratting on the 'mon who's been giving you these letters before being left to slink off under whatever pier you two crawled out from."

    The two went wide-eyed with a panic, reacting to Saéta's demand much as if he'd told them they were to choke down hot coals. The pair began stammering, only for the Vigoroth to splutter back a vehement refusal.

    "I- I'm not doing that! You're crazy!" the sloth exclaimed. "You don't know what happens to the 'mons that cross the Coordinator like that!"

    "… I thought you might be hesitant," the Don growled. "So allow me to make a counteroffer."

    The Manectric whistled, prompting Carlo and an Ambipom to enter the room carrying along a pair of barrels, followed closely by the forms of an Escavalier and Drampa. The Swampert and Ambipom struggled under the containers' weight and set them in front of the Steenee and Vigoroth, a quick glance revealing the reason why to be that the bottoms of the barrels were filled with stones. The two Pokémon peered blankly at the barrels, only to feel themselves get lifted up, and dangled into the opened casks.

    "H-Hey wait, what are you doing?!" the Steenee cried.

    "Giving you my counter-offer of having you deliver a message back to your associates for me about their dirty dealings on my turf," Saéta said. "Namely by taking a long walk off a short pier inside those barrels and having a nice, long nap with the fishes."

    "… Boss, we are doing this away from my place, right?" Carlo asked. "I don't want to be sleeping next to a pair of drowned rats tonight."

    The Vigoroth and Steenee's eyes widened with panic, the two thrashing wildly as they were forced into the barrels. The Ambipom came over and clamped lids over the tops, before beginning the process of lifting up the Steenee's barrel when Carlo and the Ambipom were suddenly cut off by the sound of a Vigoroth's yelp.

    "A-Aah!" the Normal-Type screamed. "Okay! Okay! I'll talk!"

    The elderly Manectric growled and motioned with his paws at the underlings to stop, prompting the Ambipom to set the Steenee's barrel back down onto the floor. The Don then turned his head over his shoulder to Team Traveller and their companions, still wide-eyed and stunned from the shakedown with the barrels.

    "So… how exactly do you want this squealing to get done?" Saéta asked.

    Team Traveller and their companions shrank back, visibly flustered and unsettled by what Saéta was expecting them to say back. Perhaps… it was best to try and low-ball their demands, for their own sakes of not getting sucked into his… 'business'.

    "Uh… we needed a witness at the courthouse tomorrow?" Nida answered.

    "So be it," the Manectric answered, before giving a crackle of static and turning his head to his underlings.

    "Get them out of those barrels and take them to our… accommodations for their like to pass the night," the wolf barked. "We'll need them at least somewhat presentable if they're giving a public testimony."

    The Swampert and Ambipom grunted back affirmations, undoing the bolts on the barrels and unceremoniously dumping the Steenee and Vigoroth out onto the floor. The two hit the ground visibly pallid and shivering, before being picked up and marched out of the room by the Escavalier and the Drampa. Carlo and his monkey colleague stopped by to collect the barrels, the Swampert peering into the Vigoroth's barrel only to give a disgusted groan and slide the lid over it before leaving.

    With the room now mostly vacated, Saéta turned to his gathered associates and gave a nod, prompting Giusy to walk over to a nearby chest and fetch a bottle of wine that was set onto the table, along with cups made from blown glass wrapped with rubber holders. The Don waited as the Salazzle pulled the cork out, pouring wine carefully into the glasses as Saéta slipped his paw into a holder, raising a half-filled glass in front of the present Pokémon.

    "Let us have a toast," the Manectric said. "To a fruitful and productive relationship, and the death of the Coordinator."

    The Don's words hung in the air, Team Traveller and their companions trading uneasy looks with each other before vigorously shaking their heads back. The wolf raised a brow, prompting the gathered Pokémon to hem and haw and offer up one excuse after another to refuse Saéta's hospitality.

    "Er… that's alright," Cardino insisted. "I've already drunk quite a bit tonight."

    "I'm too young for wine," Nida added.

    "Nie dzięki, I… uh… have a really bad stomachache right now," Elty said. "Can't be drinking much of anything at the moment."

    Saéta blinked nonplussed for a few moments, before opting to shrug the matter off and sip from his glass before setting it aside on the table with a roll of his eyes.

    "Suit yourself, then," the Manectric harrumphed. "I'll see if I can arrange something celebratory through the mail later."

    "We'll appreciate the gesture, I'm sure," Cardino replied. "Though we should get going. We've got a big day tomorrow, and a lot of things to plan out for it."

    "I understand. And good luck with your case," the Electric-Type grunted. "We may have opposing interests most of the time, but I can assure you that I'll be pulling for you in this case."

    Saéta's statement made Guardia pull her helmet tight against her head, prompting the Cubone to turn to her teammates with an uneasy whisper.

    "… Is that really what we should be hearing from him right now?" she murmured.

    "Er… thanks. And good luck with… whatever it is you do that's not completely illegal," Cardino cheered.

    "Much obliged, and good night."

    Luca and Giusy stepped up and led the group of unexpected guests out of Saéta's office, bringing them through the warehouse, and much to their surprise, through a series of gates that led back onto the street. When the gates slammed behind them, the group collectively exhaled a sigh of relief. Until the morning at least, they'd have reprieve from this whole ordeal and they'd be able to rest and plan in more comfortable surroundings.



    (Continued in the next post)
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2018
  7. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    The following morning, the sun began its ascent in the skies over Giotto with a brilliant golden hue, scattering its rays from east to west as they pursued the Sun Chaser's Traveller across the sky along with the last vestiges of the night. Within the confines of the Saéta Family's compound the warehouse was busier than normal with black-scarved Pokémon moving about, including a Swampert, Salazzle, Ambipom, and Escavalier who made their way over to a row of storage rooms fitted with bars. The four made their way by, passing one room after another before stopping by a room with the forms of a dozing Vigoroth and Steenee sprawled out on the ground. There, the Swampert fished out a crude key from a small bag and walked up, glaring at the makeshift cell's occupants, before batting out a fist to loudly pound against the bars.

    "Hey, stoolies! Get up! It's time to make yourselves useful!" Carlo barked.

    The Swampert waited, only for the Vigoroth and Steenee inside to do little more than snort and shift uneasily in their sleep. The Vigoroth blinked his eyes a moment, before turning over and dozing back off, swiping a claw off at an unseen presence.

    "Nrgh, no…" the sloth groaned. "Five more minutes…"

    The four mons traded frowning looks with one another, Giusy murmuring under her breath if it wasn't too late to just drown the two wastes of air after all. The Escavalier rolled his eyes, before turning back to his Swampert teammate.

    "Open the door," Bug-Type said. "I'll handle this."

    Carlo slipped the key into a padlock that had been slipped over the door and undid it, allowing the Escavalier into the cell. The Cavalry Pokémon crept along, hovering over the Vigoroth as he readied a lance and promptly brought it down on the Vigoroth's side with a stiff jab. As soon as the spike made contact, the sloth's eyes shot open, the Normal-Type squealing out of startled surprise at the sudden jolt.

    "Eyaaah!" the Vigoroth yelped. "Let go! Let go!"

    The Escavalier let go, leaving the Vigoroth to pant on the ground and his Steenee partner to crack her eyes open, looking up with an audible gulp to see the four black-scarved Pokémon glowering over her. Giusy spat a glob of poison onto the ground, evidently impatient with the pair's lack of progress.

    "We had an agreement, and the trial you need to sing at is in an hour," the Salazzle growled. "So get up and start making yourselves presentable!"

    The pair hastily drug themselves to their feet and timorously made some attempts at dusting themselves off with obviously forced vigor. As the pair made a show of their grooming, the Ambipom's attention turned to the cell just over to the left, where it had been left vacant beyond a few stray brown scales and strands of blue hair.

    "Hey wait a minute, wasn't the boss' other kid supposed to be in that cell there?" the monkey asked.

    "Gah! They must've broken out overnight!" the Escavalier exclaimed. "Quick, tell the boys upstairs that-"

    "They've been let go and are someone else's problem."

    The four mobsters turned and saw Luca making his way down into the row of barred rooms with a stern expression. The group traded incredulous stares with one another, before turning back to the Manectric. The prisoners in the other cell… had just been left to walk away?

    "Eh? Luca, what are you talking about?" Carlo demanded.

    "Yeah, we don't just 'let 'mons go' when they cross the business like that!" the Escavalier exclaimed.

    "And if it was just a matter between that lizard and that bug, we wouldn't have let them go," the wolf countered. "But then that furbrain had to come along and make things a family matter."

    The Ambipom blinked, giving an awkward pause at Luca's explanation. Wouldn't a family matter with a close betrayal involved just get Don Saéta more riled up? So what gave here?

    "… Not sure if I'm following, Luca," the Normal-Type murmured. "What would that have anything to do with it?"

    Before the monkey could react, the Ambipom was answered with a sparking swat of Luca's paw at his shoulder, leaving him to recoil from the shock and paw uneasily at his shoulder as the wolf fumed and shook his head.

    "Because, dad has a soft spot for his family," Luca scolded. "Even though that schlub we dragged in was an embarrassing failure of a sea rat, he's still his family."

    "That… makes some sense, I guess," the Ambipom replied. "So that's how you also feel, huh?"

    The Manectric visibly paused at the question, his eyes darting away even as his muzzle remained firm and unmoving. After a moment of silence, the Electric-Type answered with a dismissive snort, before turning away.

    "... I'm just glad that idiot's out of our fur, that's all," he insisted. "If Alvise doesn't want to help the business, it's better for him to stay out of the way until he gets some sense."

    Luca began to set off, leaving the four mobsters to gossip with one another. He clearly went through a lot of trouble to admit it, but it seemed that Luca was happy with how things turned out…

    "Ah, so he does care about him," Giusy murmured.

    "Yeah, I never thought he'd have picked up his old man's sense of sentimentalism," Carlo said.

    The mobsters were interrupted by a bolt of electricity striking the ground near their feet, prompting the lot to yelp and look up at a glaring Manectric, his irked demeanor carrying a hint of overperformance.

    "Are you going to start marching those mooks along or what?" Luca barked. "We've got a trial to make!"

    The four underlings hastily squeaked back affirmations, dragging off their prisoners as Luca set off through the box-cluttered warehouse. The Manectric carried along, stepping out into the sunlit street outside where he followed the canal towards the sea before sitting and staring off at the sails of the ships in port.

    "It's all on you, bro. You've got your own life to run into the ground, and we've got our own problems to take care of," he grunted. "That Cardino rat better deliver if he knows what's good for him."

    The wolf stared a moment, looking back down the lane to see his four associates already making their way off with the Vigoroth and Steenee, prompting him to shake his head and give one last look at the harbor.

    "... Whatever you wind up doing out there, just try not to be too much of a disappointment."



    About an hour later, the courtroom that Nida, Elty, and Guardia had grown increasingly familiar with over the past two days began to fill in with Pokémon. The motley faces that composed the audience grew in number as Nico and Rita made their way to their desk, with Cardino coming by today as a visibly deflated Akin slithered over to his. From their spot on the courtroom floor, Nida and her companions looked up, spotting Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Dimitri keenly watching them from the audience. It was a big day, and even if Nico, Rita, and Cardino didn't know the full story, they seemed to be able to sense the tension in the air as well.

    "So… are you ready for this, Nico?"

    "I feel as if it's me who should be asking that, Cardino," the Fletchinder answered. "You're sure your assistants have found evidence important enough to force the Coordinator in here?"

    "I don't see how any audience, living or dead, would be able to rightfully say it's not important enough," Guardia insisted.

    "We have his handwriting, a signature, and a witness!" Nida added. "It's hard to get clearer than that!"

    The Nidoran trailed off as as the call for an 'all rise' went around, prompting the Pokémon in the courtroom to stand up. Nico and Rita peered over at the judge's podium, where the Slowking judge was returning to his podium and took his seat before raising his gavel.

    "Then here goes nothing…" the Fletchinder murmured.

    WHAP!

    The judge brought down the gavel and looked around the courtroom, just in time to watch the doors of the courtroom open and see the glaring form of a Cofagrigus be led into the courtroom for the defendant's docket. The Slowking shook his head, before raising his voice to speak up to the gathered Pokémon.

    "The court is now in session for the trial of Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade," the judge declared, his words followed closely by the Serperior prosecutor and Fletchinder attorney's statements.

    "The Prosecution is ready, Your Honor."

    "The Defense is ready, Your Honor."

    "Prosecutor Akin," the Slowking ordered. "Please give the court your opening statement."

    The judge's prompting drew a defensive coil from the serpent prosecutor, prompting him to hiss in annoyance. Akin flicked his tongue moodily, before turning back to the judge, his eyes all but screaming his desire to do anything but in some way revisit his blistering loss from the day before.

    "Your honor, is this really necessary?" the Serperior insisted. "We saw how the defendant is obviously guilty, so there's no reason for the Defense to subject me to this blatant humiliation!"

    "Your opening statement, Prosecutor Akin ?"

    The Serperior slunk down against the ground, giving a glare and an irritated hiss across the courtroom towards Nico.

    "You're doing this just to show off, aren't you?"

    The Serperior was cut off by an irked clearing of the judge's throat, prompting him to look over and see the Slowking was scowling impatiently at him. With wounded pride, the Grass-Type sighed, before shaking his head and opting to cut to the chase with what would hopefully be an open-and-shut opening statement.

    "Anyhow, Your Honor. The defendant, Captain Sibich of the Shadow Brigade, pirate scourge of Orleigh, was captured in a failed raid on Polderfield Town just three days ago," the prosecutor explained. "After his capture, it was found through Detective Cardino's investigation that the Cofagrigus had been attempting to shift blame towards lower-ranked underlings to allow him and higher-ranked subordinates to evade charges for heinous activities such as egg theft."

    The Serperior's words prompted murmurings among the crowd, some observers insisting that they knew that Captain Sibich was directly involved in the odious acts of his crew all along, while others wondered just what sentence the judge would hand down. Akin waited for the chatter to ebb a moment, before clearing his throat and continuing on.

    "The Defense specifically proved that the defendant is guilty of numerous counts of egg trafficking, and provided decisive evidence against him while exonerating his last client," the serpent continued. "The Prosecution sees no reason to doubt the facts of this case or even to bother with further witnesses, Your Honor."

    "Thank you, Prosecutor Akin," the judge replied, before casting his glance over to the other side of the room.

    "Well then, do you have any objections to raise here, Defense?" the Slowking asked. "After yesterday's thing came out, my caseload has… grown fairly dramatically with retrials, so I'd like to not spend too much time on this particular trial if we don't have to."

    Much to the Psychic-Type's surprise, from the Defense's corner of the courtroom, Nico answered back with a shake of his head. The Slowking blinked incredulously, before the bird began to speak to explain himself.

    "My apologies for your troubles, Your Honor," the Fletchinder answered. "But I am afraid I must raise an objection here."

    The Fletchinder beat his wings against his desk with a loud pound, drawing the attention of the whole courtroom before raising a wingtip back at the judge with a determined gaze.

    "But Captain Sibich is not the core culprit of the egg trafficking scheme we uncovered!" the attorney declared. "He's reached an agreement to cooperate by testifying against his former associate, the Coordinator! He's the true culprit, and a Pokémon who's been swaying the underworld here in Tidemill outside of public suspicion from within the ranks of the guards!"

    "That Cofagrigus accused Admiral Coil of being in league with him in front of the entire court yesterday!" Akin scoffed. "Surely you're not putting stock into the desperate ramblings of a condemned 'mon, are you?"

    "I am, and I will demonstrate that contrary to your impressions, Captain Sibich was telling the truth yesterday," Nico declared. "Admiral Coil is the Coordinator who trafficked eggs to him!"

    At once, the Fletchinder's exclamation drew a loud and angry outcry from the audience. The air in the courtroom grew thick with jeers and boos, as livid glares settled on the Pokémon around the Defense's corner of the courtroom.

    "This story again?!" a long necked Exeggutor cried.

    "How could that defense lawyer drag Admiral Coil's name through the mud like this?!" an Elgyem snapped.

    "Yeah, just because he won his last case, he suddenly thinks he can save anyone?!" a Glaceon shouted.

    In the face of the overwhelming torrent of hostility, Nico couldn't help but shrink back and pull his wings in tight. For his part, Akin seemed particularly unimpressed with the Fletchinder's grandstanding, prompting him to give a dismissive scoff back at his counterpart.

    "Hrmph. I see your win yesterday's been going to your head, attorney," the Serperior snapped. "You can't honestly believe your client's accusations, can you?"

    Back at the Defense's corner, Nico and his companions traded apprehensive glances around the room. Even with the evidence they'd uncovered, this premise of Admiral Coil really being the Coordinator was clearly something that the audience, and judging from his glaring scowl, the judge would have to be eased into...

    "… I think that we've riled up the room pretty badly," Rita murmured.

    "Gee, you think?" Elty snorted. "Get your partner to throw out some evidence already!"

    From his place before the judge, Nico blanched, hastily trying to find a way to dispel the initial shock surrounding his accusations. The Fletchinder beat his wings out, stammering out an insistence to the watching audience.

    "N-Now hold on a second here! I didn't exactly find this easy to believe myself!" Nico exclaimed. "I wouldn't make these accusations if I wasn't completely sure about them, Your Honor."

    "Eh?" Cardino asked. "But I thought your specialty was bluffing-"

    Before the Pikachu could finish his statement, Nico hastily threw a wing over the detective's mouth. After an awkward chuckle, the Fletchinder ruffled his feathers, before turning his attention back to the judge behind the podium.

    "The point is, Your Honor, I've seen concrete evidence pointing towards Admiral Coil being the culprit," Nico insisted. "Just look at this!"

    The Fletchinder attorney fished out a a yellow paper riddled with runes that smelled of smoke, the very same Team Traveller had returned with from Saéta's place the night before. Nico took the letter and began to pass it around, sending it first by Akin's desk. There, the Serperior browsed the paper, before flushing pale from shock and uneasily passing it onto the judge, who similarly had the color drain from his face.

    "This- This is a letter soliciting a partnership with a wanted pirate! There must be some sort of deeper story here!" the Slowking exclaimed. "Perhaps it's a forgery? I've heard that the competition for the Prime Minister spot was fierce between Walpole and Coil. How can we know this wasn't planted to damage him?"

    "Because, the Defense has two witnesses to back up its claim," Nico retorted.

    A stunned silence filled the courtroom, uneasy murmurs floating about the audience. From his corner of the courtroom, Akin visibly grimaced at the mention of a witness. Since when did a chronic bluffer like that Fletchinder suddenly walk into court catching him off-guard at the start?

    "I-It does?" Akin gulped.

    "That's right," Nico retorted. "The Defense calls its witnesses to the stand!"

    The Fletchinder pointed off at the door to the courtroom where the Glalie and Persian bailiffs led in a Steenee and Vigoroth. The Pokémon made their way forward, as the pair clambered behind the witness podium and shifted uneasily, the Vigoroth clearing his throat uneasily.

    "Er… uh… hi?" the sloth stammered. "I just wanted to say that I've got nothing to do-"

    The Normal-Type's gaze turned up towards the audience, where the Vigoroth grew acutely aware of a Manectric in a black scarf glaring down at him. Luca motioned with a paw across his neck, prompting the Pokémon to audibly gulp.

    "… Other than come clean," the sloth said. "Yeah, I ran letters for this 'Coordinator' 'mon, and that one you've got in your paws is one of his."

    The Vigoroth's claim at once set the audience back on edge, drawing loud protests and jeers. From his place at the head of the courtroom, the judge maintained a skeptical glance, seemingly torn between the evidence he saw and the outlandish nature of the claims.

    "I… still don't know if I can swallow this claim, Defense," the judge said.

    "Yeah, you probably just pulled some random thug off the streets to play along with some gambit of yours!" Akin snapped.

    "Well then, I suppose that we ought to cross-examine the witness, shouldn't we?" Nico answered.

    The Fletchinder turned his attention back to the Vigoroth and Steenee, listening intently as the two laid forward a claim of serving as a messenger on behalf of the Coordinator. As the pair's story carried on, Nico would pause and pepper the Vigoroth and his Steenee compatriot with questions, about where the letters were obtained, about times and places of meeting, of how long he'd been operating. All the while, a disturbingly coherent picture of the Coordinator started to emerge. Of a figure who had influence among the guards, and seemingly the power to affect anything he pleased in Giotto and in the waters of the Empire. A pallor settled across the audience and the judge, as the premise of Coil being this Coordinator shifted from seeming outrageously outlandish into something that felt disturbingly probable.

    "… We need to bring the Admiral in here for an explanation," the Slowking said. "Detective Cardino!"

    "Yes, your honor."

    "Please go along with the bailiffs to summon Admiral Coil to court," the judge ordered. "Bring reinforcements along. Even if he's innocent as I still hope, the 'mon can be a bit confrontational at times."

    "As you wish," Cardino replied. "Come on, kids, let's go."

    At the Pikachu's prompting, Nida, Elty, and Guardia followed after the Detective, their companions in the audience quietly slipping out of the courtroom as well. The lot made their way through the doors, a thick tension surrounding them all the while as they set off for what was sure to be a fateful confrontation with Admiral Coil.



    About half an hour later, the hallways of the Vecioferàle Arena echoed with the sounds of stomping footsteps on the move. Their owners were a small handful of guards in indigo scarves, having been pulled off of duty from the courthouse, following after a Pikachu sharing their garb, along with a Nidoran, a Cubone, and a Growlithe keeping pace. All the while, the three youngsters seemed to fidget with unease, their glances shifting back to the detective Pikachu every now and then as they wondered if they were overlooking anything in their attempt to bring Admiral Coil to court.

    "So… how's this work anyways, Pikachu?" Guardia asked. "Isn't Coil supposed to be a very powerful Pokémon?"

    "Well, it's a legal summons. So it shouldn't matter if he's strong or not, he has to come," the Pikachu answered.

    "And if he doesn't?" Elty pressed.

    An uneasy silence lingered in the air, before Cardino folded his ears back, evidently having found it to not be a very pleasant scenario. Even so, the Electric-Type opted to guard his thoughts close to his chest, shaking his head back at his assistants.

    "… We'll cross that bridge if we have to, pal," the Pikachu sighed.

    The party made their way down a hallway lined with doorways with guards posted at the front, carefully examining some signage hung up outside each entrance. Cardino came to a stop at one bearing 'Admiral of Her Majesty's Navy', prompting him to step through into a chamber with cushions and low tables set aside to entertain guests with curtains opened to a private box where Admiral Coil floated and bobbed above the floor enthralled by the sight of a Gengar, Spiritomb, and Chandelure locked with an opposing Rhyperior, Machamp, and Klinklang in pitched combat. The Pikachu began to pace forward, only to at once draw the ire of an agitated Aegislash and Torterra who stepped forward with low growls.

    "Oi! This is a restricted area!" the turtle snapped. "State your purpose here, Pikachu!"

    "I'm here for a court summons for Admiral Coil," the detective replied.

    The pair's outburst drew the attention of a Malamar and Heracross in the back of the room, along with Admiral Coil from out in the box's stands. The Electric-Type motioned for the guards beyond the entrance to the stands to pause, floating out into the reception room and peering down at the Pikachu before him.

    "Is there an issue here, Officer?" the Magnezone asked. "I was just in the middle of watching a match."

    "You have a summons to testify in an ongoing case against an egg trafficker," Cardino answered.

    Coil paused and bobbed unimpressedly, evidently having thought nothing of the answer. The Magnezone give a nonchalant spin of his magnets before he started to turn back for the ongoing match in the arena, waving off the detective's questioning.

    "Hrmph. It's nothing that can't wait until the end of the day," Coil scoffed. "Tell them to throw the scum back into a cell to rot until then."

    "This is fairly urgent," Cardino said. "You're being accused of having involvement with the trafficker's activities and the judge wanted to hear your alibi."

    An arc of static suddenly danced on the Magnezone's steely body, prompting Nida, Elty, and Guardia to reflexively shrink back. The admiral turned around slowly, his eyes now sporting a piercing scowl, leveled firmly at the intruding detective.

    "Is this supposed to be some sort of joke?" Coil hissed, drawing a similarly hostile reception from the posted guards.

    "Yeah! Admiral Coil would never be up to stuff like that!" the Heracross exclaimed.

    "Take a hike if you're going to waste his time!" the Aegislash spat.

    "That's for the courts to decide, and I can assure you, I'm not wasting his time," Cardino retorted.

    The Pikachu fished around in a satchel about his waist, pulling out a piece of rolled-up paper. The mouse unfurled it, revealing it to be a paper densely packed with runes, with the judge's signature featured prominently at the bottom next to a waxen seal.

    "You would have something better to tell the judge than that you ignored a summons just to watch a few fights, wouldn't you?" the detective pressed.

    Coil sized up the paper, shifting and bobbing out of visible aggravation as he realized its contents were for a subpoena. The Magnezone let some sparks dance on his body, giving a crackling huff back to the diminutive detective before him.

    "Hrmph. If you really want to inconvenience the guards here by throwing together a security detail, then so be it," Coil harrumphed. "You can rest assured that you won't be hearing the last of it, Pikachu."

    "Fine by me," Cardino replied. "My job's just to help dig up clues to the truth, not to be convenient to other people."

    "Let's just get this over with," the admiral snapped.

    The Magnezone floated off, leaving the box followed after by six guards. Team Traveller poked their heads out the door as the admiral set off, watching as one after the other, guards from the other rooms left and followed along in ones and twos at the beckoning of Coil's new entourage. The three watched as the number of guards thinned in the hallway, and Cardino setting off afterwards before Nida raised its voice after them.

    "Hey, Cardino," the Nidoran murmured. "We… kinda need to make a bit of a detour here before heading back."

    The Detective Pikachu looked back over his shoulder, shooting a visibly unimpressed frown back at his charges. They couldn't seriously need to attend another match in the ring now of all times, could they?

    "What is it this time?" Cardino demanded. "We finally got Nico what he needed to try and blow the case open!"

    "Uh… well… it's just that we left behind some stuff we took out of the team bag yesterday," Elty explained. "And we wanted to see if it turned up at the lost and found."

    The Pikachu folded his ears back and pinched his brow with a paw. After a moment to shake his head, the Electric-Type reasoned that his assistants had been through a lot as part of their work… Perhaps it was time to be a little easy on them.

    "Alright, I think that Nico should be able to handle everything if you're running late anyways since all the evidence is back at the courtroom," Cardino replied. "Good luck?"

    "Yeah," Guardia answered. "Ganbatte."

    The Detective Pikachu hastily scampered off after the rest of the body of guards accompanying Coil, their footsteps fading and being subsumed with the roar of the spectators in the background. Nida, Guardia, and Elty walked off in the other direction, looking around when they reached a quiet spot between rooms where Nida shook her head and gave a determined scowl.

    "We've been keeping Crom and Kiran waiting long enough," the Poison Pin Pokémon muttered. "Come on, let's find them."

    The three carried on, passing a stairwell leading up to the level above. There, waiting for them in the shaded corner behind it was none other than Crom and Kiran, the two keenly eying their surroundings as Nida, Elty, and Guardia neared.

    "Any luck, you two?" the Nidoran asked.

    "We think we've found where they're keeping Pleo," Kiran chirped back.

    "Yeah, and a bunch of the guards just left for some reason!" Crom exclaimed.

    "That's from our end," Elty said. "And Ander and Dimitri are waiting for us at…?"

    "The canal that brushes up against the back of the stadium," the Swellow finished, pointing a wing off at a small waterway bounding the plaza that carried on behind the complex's disused lighthouse. "If we want to make our move, the time is now while the extra guards haven't been able to be replaced."

    Kiran's exhortation made the three shift uneasily, prompting them to gaze out at the plaza below. They could see a group of indigo-scarved Pokémon moving out around a saucer-shaped creature whose metal reflected light off its curvature. The three peered down towards Cardino, wondering if there could've been a way to free Pleo without exploiting his trust in such a fashion…

    It was too late to turn back now. This was the only opportunity that they'd have to get Pleo back, possibly for good. All that was left to do was to bide their time… and then finally take the plunge.

    "Let's give it a little bit until we know Cardino and the others are gone," Nida said. "We've only got one chance at this, so let's not rush into it."

    "Right," Crom answered. "Let's keep an eye open."

    The four walked up to the ledge of the stadium's level to get a better view, looking out into the plaza around the stadium. The group waited, watching as Admiral Coil and his entourage melted into the hubbub of the city, prompting Kiran and the four younger Pokémon to check for approaching guards and cast cautious glances down the hallway they'd need to navigate to reach Pleo. Their breaths came tense and guarded, the five steeling themselves for a mission that quite literally placed the weight of the world on their shoulders.



    At the time Team Traveller waited for Coil's entourage to be far enough from the stadium, Valatos, Alvise, and Nori were trudging their way back to the docks where the Mistral Marauder waited. This time, the three didn't bother making an attempt to stick to the alleys of the city, the purpose of having do so now left moot, and their states of mind far from being in a position to care about discreetness.

    "Ugh, we finally made it back," Valatos sighed.

    "What's the big deal of making a bunch of illusions to confuse us on the way out, huh?" Nori growled. "We would've gone away sooner if they'd just shown us the door!"

    "Now do you see why I said that coming here was a bad idea?" Alvise huffed. "Let's just go up the ship and get things over with."

    The three shambled up the caravel's gangplank, flopping down tiredly on the planks, where a visibly fuming Vileplume, Charmeleon, and Sealeo were waiting for them on deck.

    "There you are!" the Vileplume exclaimed. "Just where do you think you've been?"

    "Yeah, we thought that you fell into a canal or something!" the Charmeleon added.

    The outburst quickly drew the attention of the rest of the Iron Fleet, who began to sidle over to the gangplank to see what was going on with their freshly-returned crewmates. Among them was the Aggron captain, his face clearly sporting a disappointed grimace at the three's return.

    "Oh. You're back, along with your lizard friend…" Hess murmured. "That's… wonderful."

    "Eh?!" a Voltorb exclaimed. "But you were saying that if they didn't show up by noon, that we were better off sailing off to- OW!"

    The Electric-Type was promptly swatted by Hess' tail, sending the hapless Pokémon pinballing clear off the deck and into the harbor water. Some of the sea escorts swiftly went over to retrieve the downed Voltorb, leaving Hess behind to clear his throat and attempt to change the topic.

    "So since you were gone all night, did you actually find anything while you were out?" Hess demanded. "Your teammates told me that you didn't find any leads for getting that bird after you lost us the tournament."

    The three blanched, trading gulping looks at each other. It had been true that they hadn't found any leads to the Protector beyond 'winning the tournament'… But couldn't their supposed teammates at least attempt to make a cover story for them?

    "Er…" Valatos buzzed. "You see, uh…"

    "We had some trouble with some local criminals who bogged us down overnight," Alvise said. "They thought we were involved with some street punks they had a turf dispute with."

    The ship rocked as a loud stomp hit the wood of the deck. The nearby sailors hastily braced themselves and looked over to their Aggron captain who opened his maw with a bellowing roar.

    "What sort of lead is that?!" Hess shouted. The irate Aggron made Alvise and Valatos backpedal uneasily, their Marowak teammate, whether in a fit of pique or bravado, stood his ground, raising his club defensively as he glared back.

    "Oi! We spent the night locked up in a cell!" Nori snapped back. "Give us a break!"

    As quickly as Hess saw the Marowak's frustrated challenge, his nerves got the best of him, prompting him to shrink back. The newly-meek Aggron's eyes darted about uneasily, as he stumbled over his words trying to muster a response.

    "I- I mean, when you put it that way…" the Iron Armor Pokémon stammered, before muttering under his breath. "Gah… why couldn't he have stayed locked up?"

    "Besides, it wasn't a total bust!" Nori insisted. "We found out that those Team Traveller twerps and their buddies are trying to work with those 'mons that jumped us to settle a score with some 'mutual enemy' that would be at the stadium!"

    The revelation drew some puzzled murmurs among the gathered sailors. Even Hess seemed to be taken aback, his earlier unease ebbing away in favor of an incredulous scowl.

    "Wait, what? Didn't you just lose to them yesterday?" the Aggron demanded. "Why would they want to risk getting in trouble when they're still in the running?"

    "Beats me," Valatos grumbled. "But they came there saying that the 'mon they had a score to settle with was in a restricted area of the arena and they needed help pulling it off."

    Hess blinked, before falling silent. A dawning realization crept up on the Steel-Type that score to settle or not, there was only one Pokémon in the entire stadium that would motivate those hicks to go through all that trouble. The captain gritted his teeth and balled his claws up, his change in demeanor quickly being noticed by the Pokémon around him.

    "… Boss?" Alvise murmured. "You suddenly went quiet."

    "… We need to get into that stadium," Hess said.

    "Huh? Why?" Valatos asked. "I don't see the-"

    "Why did those 'mons enter the tournament in the first place?!" the Aggron roared. "To get that bird! They wouldn't be taking a risk like that unless it somehow helped them get him back!"

    The pirate captain's declaration drew murmurs and startled outcries from the sailors gathered around him. Could those Trombans really be plotting to try to just cut the knot and outright steal the Protector away from the tournament?

    "What are we supposed to do now, then?" a Sealeo despaired. "We can't just sit here and let them walk off with our target!"

    "We're not," the Steel-Type snorted. "I'm going in with a team, and we're gonna beat them to the punch and steal the Protector first!"

    The Aggron's exclamation drew an outcry from the gathered Pokémon, with even Rodion seeming taken aback by his plan. Voices went up one after the other in protest, including that of an incredulous Ledian.

    "I think he's finally lost it," Kichiro muttered. "Just how do you expect us to pull that off?!"

    "I think you'd do well to think this one through a bit, Hess," Rodion insisted. " Even if our crew isn't known here, this isn't exactly friendly territory. That Clawitzer and her kholui are bound to be around. If they spot you, they'll surely try to take you down, so how do you propose getting around that?"

    "We'll stick to the canals on the way over to the stadium," the Aggron replied. "It's harder to see things there in between the water and all the 'mons there. If that shrimp and her cronies had been swarming the stadium, we'd have been caught days ago by now."

    The Aggron noticed that his crew still seemed less-than-convinced, prompting him to shake his head and lower his voice a bit. His armored head sometimes was slow to pick up on his crew's mood… but even here, it was plain as day why they weren't enthusiastic about their odds. Then… perhaps the best thing to be done would be to remind everybody what was at stake.

    "... I know that these are long odds, but this is likely our only chance at pulling this off," he murmured. "So are we going to go for it? Or slink off and say that we had a chance to bring a Protector to Orleigh but turned tail at the last moment?"

    The metal-hided lizard heard his underlings' wariness begin to melt away as one after the other, cautious affirmations began to swirl around their number. Satisfied that he'd shifted the mood enough, Hess batted his tail against the deck, turning his attention to the crew around. With a sense of determined purpose, the pirate captain began to speak, counting off with his claws as he cast glances off at the canals in the distance.

    "Alright, I'm gonna need ten swimmers, ten fliers, and fifteen 'mons who aren't afraid of getting a little wet!" Hess barked. "If we pull this off, you'll get double shares of our next batch of loot!"

    The mention of double shares of loot served to be enough to sway most of the numbers Hess needed, Kichiro and a few more stubborn holdouts being accounted for after being promised first dibs over any spirits swiped from Tidemill on the way out. The volunteers began to make their way to the bow of the ship, Hess stopping by a chest at the bridge to rifle through some supplies when he saw the sight of Rodion approaching.

    "Not this time, Rodion," Hess said, raising a claw in a stopping gesture. "You stay with the ship."

    The Floatzel first mate raised a brow, before scoffing back. He had a fairly good hunch as to what would account for Hess' newfound reluctance to take him along, and began to raise his voice in protest.

    "Captain," the Sea Weasel Pokémon began. "If this is about what happened back with that Clawitzer. That was simply a run of bad lu-"

    "That's not the point. If this goes south, there's no negotiating our way out of this one, which means playing whatever we can as safe as possible." Hess explained. "And to do that, I need you to get the Mistral Marauder ready in case we need to get out of here in a hurry."

    The Floatzel blinked uneasily and looked around the Mistral Marauder. During the past few days in port, the crew had really let things go. The deck looked more like a saloon than a sail-ready ship, the ropes around the moorings were still tightly tied up, and the sails were still folded up. As loath as he was to admit it, the ship wasn't prepared for a speedy exit, and it was hard to imagine the remaining crew being able to remedy the matter without someone directing them.

    "… That's fair enough," Rodion replied. "Just make sure you're not taking stupid risks on your side of things."

    "I'm not planning on it," the Aggron insisted, before turning back to his amassed underlings.

    "Alright, let's do this!" Hess shouted. "Stick to small groups and watch out for your teammates! You're the first and only lifeline they've got for getting back if they go down!"

    The Aggron ran and dove off the side of his ship, hitting the water and coming back up to the surface with a series of powerful strokes in the water. One by one, other Pokémon began to set off after him in the canals, in the air, or on the surrounding pathways, rushing off for the Vecioferàle Arena for what was perhaps the Iron Fleet's boldest mission yet.



    Back at the Vecioferàle Arena, Kiran and his pupils crept up along a corner on the fourth tier of the arena, drawing shallow breaths as they heard murmuring from around the bend. One by one, the five poked their heads around, seeing a doorway separated by a thick curtain of indigo cloth with a Hitmonlee and a Lunatone waiting in front. The Swellow stared ahead a moment, carefully sizing up the Pokémon at the entrance. Every move, every moment would determine the fate of their scheme to secure Pleo's freedom, with failure potentially resulting in the harshest of fates for the lot who were captured. With those thoughts in mind, Kiran ruffled his feathers uneasily, turning back to the younger Pokémon with him.

    "Well, this is it. Are you sure that you don't want to trust this to other Pokémon?" the Flying-Type asked. "Once we make our first move, there's no turning back."

    "There was no turning back from the night we snuck aboard Lyn's ship," Nida answered.

    "Or when I left home to gather lore about your Protector," Guardia added.

    "We're ready, Kiran," Elty grunted. "You've got a whole town counting on us back home, and I'm not about to turn tail this time."

    The Growlithe rooted through the tattered bag on his Nidoran teammate's shoulder, pulling out a glassy orb that swirled with peach mist under its surface. One by one, the five passed the Slumber Orb around to each other, brushing limbs against it until it wound up being passed to Crom. The young Druddigon took the orb, tightening his claws firmly around it, before looking back down at the guarded entrance.

    "Here goes nothing…"

    Crom beat his wings for stability, pulling his arm back for a throw. In the process, the sound of the Dragon-Type's movements drew the guards' attention, setting the pair on edge at once as their attention instantly shot towards the corner where Team Traveller rested.

    "Hey!" the Hitmonlee cried. "Who goes there-!"

    Before the Fighting-Type could finish, he saw the form of a dragon zip out, flinging a spherical blur at the ground ahead. The guards hastily weaved out of the way, only for the sound of shattering glass to sound out, followed by a sudden explosion of peach smoke that filled the hallway.

    "Agh! We've got intruders!" the Hitmonlee yelped.

    "Nrgh… call for help…" the Lunatone said tiredly. "Right after this nap."

    The Rock-Type slumped over onto the ground, her Hitmonlee counterpart following suit after a vain attempt to retreat into the stadium box. A faint breeze blew in from the windows, blowing the orb's dissipating mist away, revealing that both guards were soundly dozing. Team Traveller crept forward uneasily, Crom stopping to poke at the Hitmonlee with a claw cautiously, only to notice as they neared the entrance that the sleeping breaths of the Hitmonlee and the Lunatone were intermixed with the sound of loud snoring from beyond the indigo curtain, sign enough that for now at least, they'd face less resistance.

    "Huh, I wouldn't have thought that one of Lyn's dirty tricks would wind up working for us for a change…" Crom murmured.

    "Hey! What's going on out there?!" a whinnying voice cried.

    At the sound of the cry from inside, the five stiffened up. At once, Kiran made his way over to the curtain, motioning for his pupils to follow.

    "Come on," Kiran cried. "Let's move in!"

    The Swellow batted out a wing and threw the curtain in the doorway in front of them aside. With the indigo curtain out of the way, the five saw a chamber laid out with low tables and cushions with the arena pit visible up ahead, running forward as they looked wildly about their surroundings for their Protector. The group passed the slumbering forms of a Vanilluxe and a blue Florges passed out on the floor, along with a loudly snoring Gumshoos when the sound of running footsteps reached their ears. The five braced themselves, watching a Ponyta, Cranidos, and Sandslash in Imperial indigoes pop in from the stands, and much to their astonishment, along with none other than Pleo. The young Lugia for his part seemed every bit as dumbfounded to see his companions, jumping back in surprise.

    "H-Huh?!" Pleo squawked. "Nida?! Crom?!"

    "You again?!" Berecien hissed. "What do you think you're all doing here?!"

    "I heard that there was a little bit of confusion and that one of my pupils was stuck here," Kiran answered. "My students and I are here to take him back."

    "Well you've got another thing coming, bird!" Niilo growled. The Sandslash lunged forward, raking his claws which slashed Kiran with a pained squawk. Out of reflex, the Flying-Type flew up, retaliating with a slicing gust at the Sandslash below and sending him tumbling back, clearing a path towards Pleo.

    "Now! Make your moves!" the Swellow cried.

    Nida, Crom, Elty, and Guardia rushed forward as Kiran continued to harry Niilo, Cabot and Berecien hastily darting ahead to intercept. The Ponyta charged ahead, aiming to strike the Nidoran in the group with a flaming tackle, only for a yip to reach his ears.

    "Not so fast, Imp!"

    Berecien felt a pain shoot through his haunches, prompting him to rear up with a pained whinny as he looked back to see Elty latched onto his hindquarters. His Cranidos partner looked around in startled confusion, before making a beeline for Crom. Cabot lowered his head for a headbutt, only to jump back as a bone narrowly missed him from the front. He quickly whirled to see Guardia retrieving her bone from an arcing throw, prompting him to hastily change course and plow into her, knocking her off her feet and sending her tumbling back onto the ground to a growling stop.

    "Ngah… Nidoran! Crimgan! Hurry it up!"

    The path now cleared of any other defenders, Nida and Crom ran up to Pleo, the pair hastily latching onto his wings and tugging him along. All the while, the young Protector followed along uneasily, spluttering out of confusion at the sudden tumult.

    "Wh-What are you doing here?" the Lugia squawked.

    "Getting you out of here!" Crom cried. "Come on!"

    The three ran along, just in time to come across Guardia regaining her bearings and swing her club out. Her bone carried on, its heavy knob slamming into Cabot's throat as the Cranidos wheezed out of pain.

    The Cranidos tottered back, coming to a stop against a pillar. The dinosaur slouched over, throwing his claws out against the ground as he struggled in a daze to find his footing. A sharp yelp rang out, revealing Elty sailing back through the air, a pair of fresh hoofprints stamped on the pelt of his flank.

    "Grah!"

    The Growlithe hastily righted himself, instinctively breathing back a gout of embers at his tormentor. The Ember swept up the Ponyta, though much to Elty's dismay, did little to faze his attacker beyond drawing a stinging wince followed by an unimpressed sneer.

    "Is that really the best you can do, you mangy mutt-?"

    The sound of a startled cry prompted Elty to turn back and suddenly dive away. Berecien looked up, wondering what had so spooked the tubby pirate, only to go wide-eyed as he saw Niilo's spiked back sail for him. The Sandslash struck him, sending the pair tumbling back into a wall with a pair of pained yelps. From his vantage point up ahead, Kiran looked around the room, seeing that their foes had been stunned and the exit was clear. They had been blessed by fortune so far in battle, and now was the time to make the most of the luck they'd had.

    "We need to get going!" the Flying-Type exclaimed. "Now!"

    The Swellow flew off, prompting his teammates to run after him. From his place at the back of the group, Pleo began to follow suit, only for a startled cry to reach his ears from behind.

    "Pleo, w-wait! Where are you going?!"

    The young Protector looked back and saw Cabot getting up, his eyes wide and his face visibly filled with confusion and despair. Pleo hesitated a moment, his mind drifting towards the snatches of happiness the Cranidos had helped to give him since Nagant captured him. Was… was he doing the right thing?

    The Lugia's mind turned back to his teammates, to the Pokémon back home in Tromba, how sad Nida told him everyone in Tromba had been after Lyn took him away. No, there would be time to be a Protector for Cabot and Pokémon like him… but not like this, and not right now.

    "I'm sorry, Cabot," Pleo said. "But these are my friends! They need me more right now than your Empire does."

    "H-Huh?! B-But-!"

    "Please don't be sad," he insisted. "We'll meet again, I'm sure of it."

    With that, Pleo turned and ran. The young Lugia beat his wings, his flight feathers still not healed enough to let him get off ground, but enough to help drive him forward. The seabird darted forward, the sound of Cabot's voice crying out from behind following him.

    "Hey! Stop!"

    Team Traveller looked back and saw Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo running after them readying themselves for battle. The sight prompted Nida to fish through the team's satchel and fish out a scaled, orange seed, hurling it up at the capstone of the arched entrance. A deafening blast and flash of heat rang out, followed by the sound of crumbling stone, and the sight of Berecien, Cabot, and Niilo skidding to a stop as a pile of masonry fell down before them. Team Traveller ran forward, sidestepping around the still-dozing Hitmonlee and Lunatone as they looked back panting amidst the smoky haze to see that the entranceway had been blocked by a small mound of upended and scorched stone blocks, with the sounds of shouts coming from the other end. Satisfied with the blockade, Kiran shook his head, turning and motioning down the hallway.

    "Come on, this way! The other guards had to have heard all of that!"

    Pleo watched as his friends took off running, the young Protector running after them down the hallways under the light of the midday sun. Amidst all his worries, he'd finally been able to return to his friends… but for how long, and what dangers awaited them during their desperate flight out of this faraway city?



    Author's Notes:

    - Novomarca - Venetian: "New Market"
    - Destacàr - Venetian: "Stop" (interjection)
    - Smotri (Смотри) - Russian: "Look" (second-person imperative) (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
    - Pardón - Venetian: "Sorry" (formal)
    - Bònjorno - Venetian: "Hello"
    - Ganbatte (頑張って) - Japanese: "Good luck". lit. "do your best/give it your best" (Hepburn Romanization)
    - kholui (холуи) - Russian: "lackeys", "grovellers" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2018
  8. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    (The irony that this chapter is out on the release weekend for Detective Pikachu is not lost on me!)

    I've got to agree with some of the crew, here. If it wasn't for the fact that Team Traveler's already gotten involved in some death-defying escape acts, I'd be rather skeptical of their chances. But considering their track record, this is basically just Tuesday for them. Though I like the core idea behind it. I mean, Coil is so high-ranking that trying to indict him would no-doubt rattle the entire city and give the perfect back drop for an escape. In some sense, it's actually the perfect plan. Even if it is stupidly risky. XD

    And Novomarca serves as a reminder of something it feels like we haven't actually seen for awhile and that's the little guy struggling to make ends meet, so to speak. There's already a bit too much happening in this episode to really examine all of that, I suppose, so the little reminder is appreciated. Even right of the bat, it feels like this much-larger iteration of Team Traveler is having a considerably better time of things. They're able to McGuyver their ways into the mob's base with very few difficulties. And then we have impromptu Metal Gear Solid in my PMD story! In all seriousness, I do like the little stealth element that's going on here. Using orbs to distract guards. Having scents to deal with. All it was missing was some tactical cardboard box action! Also, Kiran is best Otacon, don't @ me.

    Now that we've reached the point where Saéta gets to reunite with his wayward son, I need to ask if there's any Don Pianta influence going on here? Since you brought the Trouble Center up in your last trivia, it got me thinking that may not be the only bit of TTYD showing up here. But I digress. I envisioned the conversation b/w Alvise and his dad going one of two ways: badly or with Saéta relenting and just shooing him off. Which has that effect of making Alvise feel a bit empty inside. I'm pretty sure that's a classic staple of these kinds of disagreements, especially if they go in the direction you took this one. Not saying that that's bad or anything. Namely since you have Team Traveler literally crash the party in the middle of things and prompts Saéta to send his son away. Ouch. So much for a feelsy moment. Why you play with my emotions like this? ;~;

    Ah, Coil used the old "special letter in flammable paper" trick. How nifty. And very pirate-like, to really hammer home that connection. Ngl, at first I was kinda excited that maybe Thalez was involved in this because I'm convinced he's actually a bad guy. It was still cool, and to your credit (and as a good bit of characterization showing Saéta's in charge for a reason) it's not actually enough to build a case on.

    Ahhh, he did it. He said the thing! :D

    This one's much cheesier, and probably overdoing it a bit. Especially since you already used "long walk off a short pier" in the scene before this. I think "Nice, long nap with the fishes inside those barrels," would get your point across. That said, I do like the ending bit where the parties wish each other luck. It's always fun to see the opposite sides of the law ribbing on one another like that.

    And with that, it's time to return to court! *grabs the Spirit of Justice soundtrack* I see Nico's wasting no time jumping into "true culprit" mode and naming Admiral Coil. The gallery seems about as hostile to the idea as the Khura'in court was to Nick in general, so points for that one. Coil sure seemed a bit irritated, but doesn't seem to have much of a reaction other than annoyance, so that just holds me in suspense a bit more for what could potentially happen. And I'm amazed at how smoothly things went for Team Traveler getting Pleo out of the box. Like, were the spectators just too enthralled with the matches to care? I suppose they must've been... or you're leaving me in suspense for the next chapter when things go off the rails. Speaking of suspenseful, I had a bad feeling that Hess was going to try something as dumb as storming the arena since this episode had gotten set up. And now it looks like that's coming to fruition. In the immortal words of Bubsy the Bobcat, "What could possibly go wrong?"

    This looks like it could be the wildest conclusion to an episode yet... even topping the escape from the pirate domain. In the meantime though, I know I'm quite looking forward to this little bonus. ^^
     
  9. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Hey man, high rewards and limited options totally justify high-risk strategies.

    Yeah, in retrospect, the undertones of Novomarca probably should’ve been introduced a bit sooner given that it’ll be relevant for part of the next episode, but I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying things. As for the cardboard box moment, it was a bit of a missed opportunity, but there might be a few opportunities in the future for it to come up.

    I actually didn’t consciously design Saéta and Luca’s dynamic around Don Pianta, but it’s certainly got some similar dynamics now that you mention it. As for playing with your feelings, after 60 chapters in, you should know that it’s how I roll in this story. :3

    Yeah, I’d been waiting for a chance to make a nod to that one special episode from Sky, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

    Hrm, I might fine-tweak Saéta’s line a bit while bringing the story up to speed with Xenforo formatting, though I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the ending exchange.

    Well, I hope that you won’t be disappointed by the conclusion when it comes, since there’s certainly a lot of stuff that still needs to go down before the dust settles for this episode.

    As you may have gathered, the migration to Xenforo wasn’t particularly kind to my intricately-cultivated collection of links and scene breaks. That’s something that I’ll be working on restoring on a chapter-by-chapter basis between now and the rollout of my next chapter. Before then, there is the matter of that non-canon special I alluded to in my last update to get through…

    Namely a good old-fashioned jaunt by Team Traveller as part of an alternate Chapter 55 through a land far, far away from home, or the Cradle at all, really. Special thanks for helping to cobble this special together goes out to Virgil134 and Ambyssin, the latter of whom will actually be posting a part 2 here to this yarn in his thread.

    So sit back, relax, and happy April Fools’ Day, everybody.




    Bonus Chapter: Turbulent Roadtrip

    The hours after Team Traveller's defeat at Sormus went by in a darkened, unconscious blur, bereft of even the light of dreams. When Pleo finally stirred, he awoke to a dim glow shining through his heavy eyelids, the feeling of leaves underwing evidencing that he'd been brought into someplace with tree cover. He stirred against the ground, gritting his beak as a renewed pain wracked his whole body from his toes out to the tips of his wings.

    "Nnrgh…"

    The Lugia sat up with a start, still bleary-eyed from his slumber, as he realized that his aches had come about because of that battle that they'd lost earlier. So... just where had he and his friends wound up this time?

    Pleo's vision began to clear and he noticed in the dim light that he was sprawled out on moss-covered dirt… much like the Mystery Dungeon back in Boisocéan. The Lugia looked ahead uneasily, and to his alarm, he was in a shaded place full of trees towering higher than any he'd seen before in his travel. Pleo stood up at once, seeing that he was in a clearing, a quick glance revealing his still unconscious friends scattered all around him.

    "Ah! Nida! Elty! Guardia!" the seabird squawked. "Wake up!"

    The young Protector darted over and nudged at his Nidoran teammate with his beak, pleading her to get up. The nudging and ruckus drew stirs from the three Pokémon, who tiredly shifted their bodies.

    "Ungh…" Nida moaned. "What's going on?"

    The three woozily rose to their feet, only to jolt back with a start at the sight of the towering forest. In all their travels, they'd never come across a forest anything like this one. Which beggared the question of what happened, and equally important...

    "Wha-?! How did we get here?!" Nida exclaimed.

    "Gah… we were at Sormus running from Lyn and his lackeys… Then… we got ambushed by those Imps while we were about to fly off," Elty murmured. "The last thing I remember was us getting soaked by that Clawitzer and everything just went kinda black there."

    "Yeah, but that doesn't explain why we're in the middle of a forest!" Guardia piped. "I'd expect us to be in a ship, or a cave, or… someplace without trees!"

    Nida paused, twitching her nose anxiously as a gnawing realization that the Cubone was onto something sank in. But even if the place was strange, just who but Nagant could have done it? The Clawitzer was the one who knocked them out, but on the other paw, a step back and the feeling of cloth underfoot revealed that even the team's bag had made the trip! What could have possibly motivated her to just let them keep that?

    "Well, however she dumped us here, we at least got our items out of it," the Nidoran sighed. "So we aren't totally helpless right now."

    "But where do we go now?" Pleo murmured, eyeing his surroundings anxiously. "We've never seen a forest like this before, so how can we find out where we are?"

    The Poison-Type paused, staring off blankly at the trees around her. No matter where she looked, all she could see was the same dimly lit scattering of gigantic trees, with nary a hint to something as simple as what direction was north or south. Just how was anyone supposed to tell where they were based off of that little information?

    "… Er…"

    "I mean, if there were more solid walls around, I'd say we were in a Mystery Dungeon," Elty offered. "But… I dunno..."

    "Perhaps we could start by scouting around a bit?" Guardia suggested. "The more familiar we are with the territory, the better we'd be able to find a way out afterwards."

    The team murmured among themselves and quickly concurred with the Cubone, following after her among the trunks of the forest. All the while, the four wondered just what on earth could have enabled the trees to grow so tall… why they were even taller than the ones back in Mengir! Guardia spotted a clump of bushes blocking the path up ahead, prompting her to pause and search for a way around, only for the sound of voices to reach her ears.

    "Gah… what are we supposed to do now?" a scratchy voice whined.

    "Yeah, Lycanroc! We've got no food or money!" a high, nasally voice added. "We need that to get anywhere!"

    The sound of Pokémon up ahead made Team Traveller stop and look around their surroundings. All around them, they saw nothing but the same trees and bushes they'd seen all this while, but when Nida raised her nose and sniffed, she caught the scent of fur… and a smell that reminded her of a less smoky and more dusty version of Elty coming past the bushes.

    "Huh?"

    The team crept along, poking their way through a gap in the shrub ahead. The four saw a group consisting of a ruddy Lycanroc standing on his hindlegs, a Sneasel, and a Jangmo-o gathered around. None of them had scarves on them… so were these local ferals? But if so, why would they worry about money?

    "Pipe down, mates. We just got out of prison, not a bloody Kecleon shop! We'll just need to take things step by step and worry about getting some supplies first!" the Lycanroc snapped. "Once we get that figured out, we can focus on settling the score with Snowy and the rest of that stupid guild."

    … No, they surely were not ferals. Given the mention of prison, it seemed far more likely that the three were merely some pirates who in a fit of blunderful thinking opted to shed their scarves to lay low even if it meant winding up on the wrong side of the Pact. In that case, there was nothing more the team needed to see, other than to turn and take themselves far, far away from these shady strangers.

    "These guys seem like obvious criminals," Nida whispered. "Let's get out of here before they know we're here."

    "To be fair, we're obvious criminals right about now," Elty admonished. "Why the Company went to all the trouble of-"

    "But how do we even start?" the Jangmo-o insisted. "We tried foraging, and all we managed to pick up were some pine cones!"

    "Simple. There's bound to be some inexperienced dweebs crawling around these parts," the Sneasel said. "We just give them a hard knock and walk off with their stuff!"

    "Okay never mind," the Growlithe said. "Let's go."

    Team Traveller turned and began to slink off past the bush, first Guardia, then Nida, then Elty, and finally Pleo. As the white bird made his way back onto the path, he felt a branch snag on the spikes on his tail, prompting him to turn back and tug. A simple pull failed to dislodge himself, prompting his eyes to widen with worry as he tugged harder, and harder until...

    Crack

    The branch suddenly gave way with a loud snap, prompting gulps from the young Lugia and his teammates as the sound of movement at once came from beyond the bush.

    "Oi!" the Lycanroc snapped. "Who's there?!"

    With the brigands now aware of their presence, the team's hearts began to pound and hasten. From her spot at the front of the team, Guardia shook her head, whirling and darting forward with a loud shout to her teammates.

    "Run!"

    The four took off, running, darting down the path for a sunlit clearing up ahead. As the team was almost upon the opened space, a white wind shot out, encrusting the ground underfoot with ice, and pitching Guardia forward onto her belly. Her teammates, unable to stop in time, collided with her, sending the whole of Team Traveller tumbling forward into the clearing in a groaning heap.

    "Speaking of inexperienced dweebs, looks like we've got some right here!" the Sneasel jeered.

    "Yeah, thanks for stopping by," the Jangmo-o snarled. "Now fork over the goods-!"

    Pleo and his companions uneasily rose to their feet, looking around them to see that the path was blocked by the growling form of a Midnight Lycanroc. Flanking him from both sides were the snarling forms of the Jangmo-o and the Sneasel. The pair approached, glaring and growling, only for a sudden wide-eyed moment of surprise to set upon the Jangmo-o, followed by an intimidated cringe.

    "E-Eh?! Sneasel!" the Dragon-Type whined. "These dweebs have Lugia with them!"

    The Sneasel blinked and noted that the seabird with the group did seem unusually silvery under the light. The Dark-Type grimaced, and backpedaled uneasily at the sight of the Legendary, waving his claws frantically as he stammered back.

    "Er… we were just going someplace! Hah hah..." the Dark-Type offered. "Uh… really, really far away!"

    "Huh? Where?" Pleo asked. "Is it someplace brighter than here?"

    Pleo's reaction at once made the Sneasel and Jangmo-o tilt their heads in surprise. Far from the regal, authoritative voice of a living god, the Lugia had spoke back to them much as a lost whelp would to a passing stranger!

    "Uh, boss?" the Jangmo-o murmured. "Are Lugia supposed to sound that squeaky?"

    "How am I supposed to know that, mate?" the Lycanroc huffed in response. "That said, I ain't no Legendaryologist, but he sounds like a runt. A hatchling, even."

    "Lugia's a bird, right? So don't you mean a fledgling?" the Sneasel countered. "Kweh heh heh!"

    The Dark-Type was cut off by a smack to the back of his head, pitching him forward onto the ground. The Sneasel groaned and picked himself up, his Lycanroc teammate having no stomach for his puns at this time.

    "I don't care, alright? Point is, he and his friends are just some pikers like Snowy and that shelia that's always with him," the Lycanroc growled. "Legendary or not, we're Team Fang! We can take him!"

    The Lycanroc's declaration seemed to raise his teammates' confidence, prompting them to snicker and jeer at Team Traveller as they crept along. Hastily, the four youngsters tensed up, bracing themselves for battle with this team of unscarved brigands.

    "Remind me to never listen to you for direction again, bonehead," Elty grumbled.

    "Elty, focus on important things here!" Nida snapped.

    "Right, like knocking a few numbskulls around!" Guardia exclaimed. "Yah!"

    The Cubone tore along the ground, vaulting with her club to spring up as she neared the Midnight Lycanroc. The wolf grimaced and backpedaled as the bone lizard flew into the air, bringing her club down onto the Rock-Type's head with a heavy blow.

    "Grah!"

    "Hah! Your bark's worse than your bite!" Guardia jeered, coming to a stop on the ground. The Ground-Type looked up, only to notice light shrouding her foe's paws and his pained grimace to turn into a devious smile.

    "Oh really, runt? Try this on for size!"

    The Lycanroc swung a claw low, catching the young Cubone in her chest with crushing force. Guardia yelped from the stunning blow, giving a weak shake of her head to realize that she was now airborne, and sailing headlong for a tree trunk.

    "Woooooah!"

    The lizard hit the tree, and slid down with a dazed groan, which served to brighten the eyes of the Jangmo-o and Sneasel, now filled with newfound enthusiasm.

    "Hah! This'll be easy!" Jangmo-o exclaimed.

    "Yeah," the Sneasel added. "I dunno what rock you all crawled out from under, but we on Team Fang have actual experience ripping off dorks like you!"

    The pair charged ahead, the Sneasel lunging forward at blistering speed as his Jangmo-o teammate charged after with his tail readied for a swinging blow that forced Nida and Elty to dive out of the way. From his place at the rear of the group, Pleo's nerve failed him as he watched the Lycanroc charge him, prompting him to squawk out of fright.

    "A-Aah!"

    Reflexively, the young Lugia spat up a glowing ball of light at the Lycanroc, making him stumble back. Sensing that time was of the essence, Nida and Elty charged forward, shooting glares at their Sneasel and Jangmo-o foes.

    "Grr! If you think we're just going to roll over for you, you've got another thing coming!" the Nidoran hissed. "We've come too far to get pushed around by a bunch of scum-sucking canallas like you!"

    The rabbit darted for the Sneasel, the weasel swinging at her with open claws. With a hasty sidestep, the Poison-Type weaved around the swing, before retaliating with a pair of spinning blows. The Sneasel buckled under the first kick, the second sending him skidding back with a yelp along the ground, much to his teammate's alarm.

    "Sneasel!" the Jangmo-o cried. "Come on! Keep it tog- Ouchies!"

    The Jangmo-o felt a weight and piercing pain pulling down on his flank, prompting him to look up and see Elty's jaws wrapped around them, attempting to drag him around much like an awkwardly-shaped toy.

    "Hey, lunhkfed!" Elty jeered. "Whorry more about yourshelf!"

    "Gah! Get off of me already!"

    The Dragon-Type spat up a gout of fiery blue light, forcing Elty off with a yelp. The Growlithe tottered a bit, his gaze turning to the corner of his eye where Pleo had spat up another ball of light at the Lycanroc, only for this one to be batted away by a barrage of rocks torn up from the ground.

    "Hah!" the Lycanroc snarled. "Was that really the best you could do, you overgrown feather duster?!"

    The young Legendary took off running in a panic, the werewolf charging after him until he heard Guardia groan, and saw the Cubone right herself from her tree trunk. The Rock-Type slowed to a stop and trained his attention to the bone lizard, a low growl rising in his throat.

    "I'll deal with you later," he snapped. "For now, let's put that little bone in my craw down for the count!"

    The Midnight Lycanroc, eager to further repay his head blow, took off running for the Cubone. From her place against the tree trunk, the Ground-Type watched paralyzed with fear as the much bigger, furry yajū lunged for her, only for a sudden squawk to ring out.

    "Guardia, quick!"

    Before she could react, Guardia felt a presence swoop down and pluck her up. The Cubone screwed her eyes shut, feeling her body get dumped on something warm and feathery that she dug her claws into for dear life.

    A sudden realization dawned on the Cubone, as she remembered that there was only one Pokémon with feathers around here big enough to carry her like this. The lizard cracked her eyes open, seeing the ground zip by underneath and white-and-blue head of none other than...

    "Huh?! Pleo!"

    "Just hang on!" the young Lugia insisted. "We'll work it out!"

    Back on the ground, Sneasel and Jangmo-o had grown weary of being harried by these surprisingly strong rookies. Panting and weakened from battle, the Dark-Type flicked a claw irritatedly and turned to his Dragon-Type teammate.

    "Gah! New strategy, Jangmo-o," the Sneasel cried. "Let's stick together and pool our attacks!"
    "Er… but haven't we been doing that all this ti-"

    "Stick closer scales-for-brains!" the Dark-Type hissed. "Just follow my lead!"

    The two withdrew, inching up back to back with each other as Nida and Elty flanked them. The two sent forth an icy wind quickly followed by a swing of the Jangmo-o's tail that struck Elty with a yelp, before whirling and doing the same to Nida right as she ran up readying a Poison Sting.

    "AGH!"

    The Nidoran tottered back with an agonized cry, leaving the two partners in crime to take in the handiwork of their cooperation, the Jangmo-o being particularly surprised with the results.

    "Hey, Sneasel! It actually worked!" the Dragon-Type cried.

    "Of course it did! I came up with it!" the Sneasel insisted. "Now let's rip off these chumps!"

    The pair charged ahead, training their attention on the dazed form of a Growlithe struggling to keep his balance. Sensing that the tide of battle had turned, the Sneasel charged ahead, slipping into a shadow on the ground before popping up in front of the Puppy Pokémon with his claws bared.

    "Lights out, dweebs!" the Sneasel jeered. "And thanks for the free gear!"

    From his place, the weasel's taunt at once snapped Elty into attention, the dog yelping as he saw the Sneasel quickly running for him. The Growlithe weaved his head so the Sneasel's attack grazed him, and jumped back before somersaulting forward in a hasty, fiery wheel, which promptly barreled into the red-feathered bandit.

    "AAAAAGH!"

    The Sneasel sailed back singed and trailing curls of smoke, coming to a tumbling, unconscious stop at his Jangmo-o's teammate feet. The Dragon-Type went wide-eyed and quailed, shaken by how suddenly his friend had been defeated.

    "A-Aah! Sneasel- Nrk!"

    The Dragon-Type bellowed out in pain, glancing up at his rump to see a needle dribbling venom lodged in it, along with its owner hopping away a little further ahead. The dragon felt a chill come over his body, though not enough to quench a fire of irritation stoked by the indignity of his surprise attack.

    "Hey! What's the big idea! I was busy reacting to somethi-!"

    "Eyaaaaaah!"

    A sharp cry rang out, prompting the Jangmo-o to look up and go wide-eyed at the sight of a Cubone falling from the sky. The Ground-Type brought her club down with an overhead smash right onto the Jangmo-o's head.

    The impact was followed by the sound of a loud crash, and afterwards Guardia stepped away from a weakly twitching Jangmo-o. A low growl drew everyone's attention behind them, where the Lycanroc glared, spitting contemptuously to the side.

    "Hrmph, so you got through them already," the Lycanroc snarled. "Well, it'll take more than that to beat me! I'm the one who carried those two dorks!"

    The wolf howled and charged ahead readying a Rock Tomb. As soon as the Rock-Type had darted forward, he was hit by a shining burst on his shoulder, followed by a heavy, clubbing blow that caught him in the stomach. The Lycanroc bowled over and looked up just in time to see Elty roll at him with a Flame Wheel that struck him and knocked him onto his knees, followed by a pair of swift kicks that sent him rolling into a tree trunk. The Rock-Type lay there groaning, weakly cracking his eyes open when he saw all four members of Team Traveller charging him, prompting the frazzled werewolf to yelp, his nerves having deserted him.

    "A-Ack! Keep your lousy gear! I didn't sign up for this!"

    The Lycanroc got up and bolted off in a panic, only to catch himself pause, and turn back running for the forms of the fainted Jangmo-o and Sneasel.

    "And you two are coming along!" the Lycanroc shouted. "No way am I letting you two dweebs squeal on me!"

    The Rock-Type ran up, and much to Team Traveller's confoundment, quickly slipped his two teammates under his arms. The four watched with puzzled expressions as the Midnight Lycanroc disappeared off into the undergrowth with his fellow brigands. With the forest returning to its prior silence, the team blinked, panting uneasily as they turned to nurse their wounds.

    "Well, that was certainly a warm welcome," Elty harrumphed.

    "They were certainly… a different team," Pleo muttered.

    "What... was that all about?" Nida asked. "And how did they know Pleo was a Lugia?"

    "Could… there be more than one of me?" Pleo murmured. The seabird's question drew some baffled glances from his teammates, much as if he'd asked them if the sun ever rose in the west.

    "But that's preposterous!" the Nidoran squeaked. "There's only one Lugia, and that's you!"

    "Meh, they probably just read a story about you or something," the Elty retorted. "I'd be more worried about where we could be right now."

    The Growlithe's comment made Pleo blink and tilt his head puzzledly. Weren't they just in some sort of forest? What else would there be to be worried about beyond ferals or more bandits like Team Fang?

    "Huh? Why's that?"

    "Those three mentioned something about breaking out of a prison. But what if they're wrong?" he said. "I admit there's less cells than I'd expect, but that Clawitzer did knock us out after saying she'd capture the mewa… and doesn't this place seem like the right sort of spot to banish a 'mon you don't want to deal with?"

    An uneasy pause hung in the air, Nida, Pleo, and Guardia grudgingly realizing that so far that beyond Team Fang, the forest had been quiet and desolate enough to be a place where a Pokémon could be easily forgotten. The three lingered a moment on the thought, before Guardia dispelled it with a shake of her head and a rap of her club against the ground.

    "Well, I don't know what's going here, Gardie," the bone lizard harrumphed. "But we've got better things to do than worrying what this weird forest is."

    "Oh? What do we do now?" Pleo asked.

    "I say we move on, and keep an eye out for anyone else here," Guardia offered. "If there's one team of thieves prowling around, there's most likely others."

    "Sounds good enough to me," Nida grunted. "Come on, let's patch ourselves up and get going."

    With that, the Nidoran dug into the team's satchel, hastily pulling out an Oran Berry and dividing it among the four of them. After applying its juices to their wounds and wolfing down its pulp, the group pressed on, setting off deeper into the darkened forest warily eyeing their surroundings.




    After their hostile encounter with Team Fang underneath the treetops of the towering forest, Team Traveller continued tiredly in their search for a way out, keeping an eye out for any further brigands lying in wait in the shadows. All the while, as the four made their way past one giant tree trunk or set of wall-like ridges after the other, they couldn't help but sense the place they'd woken up in was peculiar… and seemingly doing its best to hide wherever its exit was.

    "Anything at all?" Nida asked.

    "Nothing," Elty sighed. "No exits, no stairs, nothing at all that would suggest that this isn't some normal patch of land if it weren't for the freaky trees."

    "What about that?" Guardia asked.

    The Cubone raised her bone and pointed off in the distance up ahead. Nida and Elty squinted, taking a few step forward for the image to take shape in their eyes, where they saw a mass of tightly-spaced trees. The Growlithe paced forward, sniffing the ground as he neared a set of roots and looked up to discover that much to his shock, the trees had been fused into a solid, impenetrable wall of wood.

    "Gah!" Elty whined. "This place really is some sort of freaky prison!"

    "I wouldn't be so sure, Gardie," Guardia rebutted. "There weren't exactly any trees, but the Mystery Dungeon back home also sometimes made giant walls. Perhaps we're just in a stable zone right now…"

    The Cubone trailed off before noticing her teammates staring skeptically at her. Wagging her tail awkwardly from the attention, Guardia cleared her throat, opting to perhaps amend her earlier statement.

    "… A very big stable zone," she insisted.

    "But don't those have ways to get out?" Pleo asked. "How are we supposed to find our way out here?"

    "Er… we could try walking along this wall and see where it goes?" Nida suggested.

    "But it took ages just to get here!" Elty exclaimed. "And we don't know this place is even safe to be poking around like this."

    "So what do you suggest then?" the Nidoran insisted, drawing a blank hem and haw back from her Growlithe teammate.

    "Uh… maybe we could try signaling other Pokémon outside?"

    "Huh?" Pleo asked. "But wouldn't our badges need to have been touched by a teleporter for that to work?"

    The young Protector gestured at the metal bauble pinned on his scarf, moving his beak against it for a nudge. The Legendary spoke an inquisitive 'Hello' into the badge and waited, only to be answered by a long silence affirming his suspicions.

    "… Er… right. Maybe there's a path somewhere that leads outside...?" Elty began, only to be answered by a shake from Guardia's head.

    "Then we'd be better off following Nida's idea. We'd still need to find this path first..." she finished. "Assuming that it'd even be someplace near this wall."

    "Hmm… let's just keep track of where we've been and look around for some clues," Nida said.

    The Nidoran's suggestion drew murmurs of agreement, prompting Elty to inhale and blow out a column of cinders onto the tree-wall. The embers danced against the wood a moment, leaving a blackened mark against their bark, which the four members of Team Traveller used as their guidestone.

    The youngsters set off, each fanning out in a separate direction along the wall, with Nida opting to follow it lengthwise to the north, or at least what she presumed to be the north. Along the way, the Nidoran crept forward carefully, dutifully nosing around for traps and looking back over her shoulder towards her other teammates, until she chanced to notice some trampled bushes up ahead.

    "Eh?"

    The Poison-Type carried along, following the damaged bush and noticing a trail of crushed and mangled foliage that carried on to a tree's trunk. The Nidoran blinked and sniffed the air uneasily, before opting to move along along the path, unable to shake a sensation all the while that she was being watched.

    "… Hello?" she asked. "Is anyone there-?"

    Nida's question was abruptly cut off by a rain of warm, sticky fluid that splattered over her head. The Poison-Type jumped back with a start, fanning her barbs out and running a paw up to her ears… and pulling it back completely red.

    "H-Huh?! Th-That's-!"

    The Nidoran flushed pale and went woozy, her pupils dilating as she realized that the red substance looked like none other than blood. She backpedaled in a panic, only to slip and feel the same warm, sticky feeling against her legs, prompting her to lose her nerve and squeal out of fright, stumbling in a flailing panic to get back to her feet and away from this death-cursed place.

    "Mwee hee hee! I knew that Tamato juice would come in handy!"

    Nida blinked and paused at the disembodied mention of 'Tamato juice', prompting her to uneasily raise her paw before licking it, and feel the hot rush of spice confirm that it was indeed made of Tamato berries. The rabbit whirled around, eying her surroundings defensively in search of the prankster, only for her teammates to rush in from the path's entrance.

    "W-What's going on?!" Pleo cried.

    "Yeah!" Elty yipped. "We heard you scream-!"

    Before anyone could react, the tree ahead was consumed with billowy shadows, eyes and mouths appearing in the mist as all of a sudden, the forms of a Haunter, Drifloon, and Misdreavus popped out with a singular, unifying cry…

    "Boo!"

    "AGH!"

    Team Traveller's members yelped and leapt back as the three Ghost-Types settled towards the ground, giggling with glee over the strangers' visible alarm. The four youngsters gasped for breath, as the initial shock of their surprise began to fade.

    "Looks like you got them good, Haunter," the Drifloon said, much to his partner's snickering delight.

    "I'll say! Looks like they're in… a sticky situation!"

    As the Haunter chortled, Team Traveller instantly assumed defensive positions with Guardia shooting back a fierce glare. These ghosts must be none other than another band of thieves, and for her part, she would make sure that they'd regret trying to prey on them.

    "Grr… if you think that you're going to rob us, you've got another thing coming!" the Cubone snarled, only to be met with a trio of blinking stares back.

    "'Robbery'?" the Drifloon scoffed. "Since when did we ever get mistaken for thieves?"

    "I suppose the Tamato juice might have been a little overkill…" the Misdreavus murmured.

    "Mwee hee hee! You've got it all wrong, kiddos!" the Haunter insisted. "Team Specter doesn't take things from other Pokémon, we give them things! Like the fright of their lives!"

    "You dumped this icky Tamato juice all over me you lousy jerk!" Nida snapped. "How is that giving me anything?!"

    "Well, you got Tamato juice," the Drifloon said.

    "We do also give lifts out of Mystery Dungeons like this one to lost Pokémon," the Misdreavus added.

    The Misdreavus' words at once perked up the team of youngsters. If this was a Mystery Dungeon, then it would be a simple matter of having a team hail a teleporter to fish them out! And with any luck it sounded like they'd just run into one!

    "But, since you all sound kinda mad about the prank…" the Haunter began. "I guess we're just better off leaving you alo-"

    "Wait!" Pleo cried. "We need to leave this dungeon too!"

    The young Lugia looked to his teammates, hoping to have them vouch for their circumstances… only to notice that the lot of them sported skeptical expressions, evidently unenthused by the idea of doing much of anything at all with this team of pranksters.

    "Eh… I dunno about this one, Pleo," Elty murmured.

    "Yeah, color me not impressed with this offer," Nida grumbled.

    "We are an Exploration Team," the Drifloon insisted. "Even if you're not the type to take a joke, if you're in trouble here, you shouldn't be too choosy about your help."

    The balloon-like Pokémon reached for a metallic band looped over his arm and showed off a shining bauble shaped like a crescent moon with rainbow wings on it. At once, Pleo's eyes lit up, finding the badge to be proof enough that these Ghost-Types held their best hope of leaving this strange Mystery Dungeon.

    "See! We can trust them, right?" he insisted, drawing reluctant sighs back from his fellow teammates.

    "Egh… I suppose," Guardia said. "But their colony's practices are even more backwards than normal."

    "Ugh… fine," Nida groaned "Just hurry up and get us out of here."

    "Mwee hee hee! On it!"

    The Haunter rifled through the satchel on his body, before taking out a rainbow-colored sphere. Nida traded puzzled looks with her teammates, wondering just what the wraith hoped to accomplish by pulling out this orb on such short notice.

    "One trip out coming right up!" the Haunter insisted, prompting Elty to tilt his head and perk his left ear up.

    "Hey, wait a minute!" he cried. "Why aren't you grabbing your badg-"

    Before Elty could finish, the Haunter threw the orb against the ground and shattered it, swallowing up the gathered Pokémon in a flash of light. For a fleeting moment, quiet returned to the strange forest, only for the silence to be broken in by running footfalls.

    "Grah! We missed our chance!"

    The crunch of trodden sticks and leaves rang out as an Absol with a serrated forehead scythe and a harness around his chest stepped out into the clearing. Behind him, the form of a blue Houndoom in a white, tightly-fitted suit and helmet followed, scanning the surroundings warily. A woosh of disturbed air rang out, as the pair were joined by a purple creature with small, nubby arms and legs and a round head topped with three needles zipped into the freshly-vacated clearing. The Absol swiped a paw against the ground irritatedly, prompting the blue Houndoom in the suit to sigh and shake her head.

    "To be fair, if it wasn't for the Nidoran, we wouldn't have been able to find them in the first place," the Houndoom said.

    "That was an Exploration Team that they departed with, correct? If that is the case, it is reasonable to assume that they are proceeding to Aeon Town," the purple creature added.

    "Grr… we don't have time to chase those four around!" the Absol snapped. "There was an Ultra Wormhole torn open earlier and we need to figure out what they know. Otherwise, we're looking at a potential disaster here!"

    The Absol's declaration drew puzzled glances from his teammates, who looked at each other before looking back at the Dark-Type.

    "… Aside from the shrunken Lugia, they looked more like clueless and lost children to me," the Houndoom replied.

    "I hypothesize those terrestrials pose a minimal threat level, Gallian," the purple Pokémon insisted.

    "Well, we're not here to judge by looks. Weren't you the ones harping on about how your Ultra Recon Squad unit is here to investigate how Ultra Space is affecting my world?" the Absol growled. "In my book, that means checking any potential threats by any means necessary."

    The Dark-Type shook his head, before setting off deeper into the forest, followed along closely by his teammates. Along the way, they traded curious looks with one another, wondering just what had brought these fallers from afar to this world.




    (Continued in next post)
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2018
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  10. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Team Specter's orb quickly brought them and their newfound charges to a dirt path at the fringe of a towering forest. When Team Traveller looked behind them, they discovered that much to their astonishment, the trees seemed to be far less impressive in height from the outside. After a moment trying to puzzle out the discrepancy, their Ghost-Type guides motioned off into the distance ahead where the sight of a settlement at the base of a wooded hill came into view, and prompted the lot to set off for it.

    The journey took the group along a gravelly road down the hill from the great trees and into a rambunctious town filled with colorful gravel-roofed shacks and buildings styled in the fashion of Pokémon heads. They passed what appeared to be a Post Office, a well-trafficked line of businesses anchored by the familiar lizard-headed shape of a Kecleon shop, and a fountain styled after a Gorebyss. All the while, Pleo fidgeted uncomfortably, seemingly spotting something amiss with the town.

    "Eh? None of these Pokémon are wearing any scarves," Pleo murmured. "Are they ferals?"

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia blinked before looking around. Barring an exception here or there, such as a young-looking Electrike with an ascot or a Hawlucha with a bandanna, the Pokémon in-town truly weren't wearing scarves! For that matter, none of the Pokémon without some form of scarf seemed to be wearing anything at all that would make them stand out from a common feral in the hinterlands!

    "Eh?! You're right!" Nida exclaimed. "But… these Pokémon aren't acting like ferals, so what's going on here…?

    "Maybe it's some sort of weird local tradition?" Elty wondered. "Though it makes me wonder how they tell each other apart out in the field..."

    "Hrmph," Guardia grumbled. "Maybe they just rely on physical features and scents like normal Pokémon...?"

    The Cubone trailed off, noticing a Noivern staring at the team as they walked by on the street. She noticed the process repeat again with a Ribombee, then a Hariyama. The Ground-Type blinked, looking around to notice that all of the Pokémon around them were staring at them as they walked by, as if they'd strutted around after spending a few weeks gorging on Pinkan berries.

    "Wait, why's everyone watching us?" she asked.

    Nida and Elty tilted their heads curiously, and slowed their pace, allowing Pleo to go ahead along with Team Specter a ways. As the space between them and their seabird teammate widened a few paces, the three noticed that the passerbys' gazes had remained focused on Team Specter, with their focus on none other than their Lugia teammate.

    "I… think they're looking at Pleo," Nida said. The Nidoran's comment prompted Pleo to look back puzzledly, just in time to see his teammates walking up next to him as he noticed the strangers staring at him and wondered aloud what was happening.

    "Me?" Pleo questioned. "But why me in particular?"

    Nida and her teammates shifted uncomfortably a moment, wondering if the locals would somehow know about Pleo's true identity as a Protector. The four lingered a moment, only for the sound of an impatient grumble to draw their attention back up to their Haunter guide. Opting to not make a bad impression on their rescuers, the three carried along and followed behind the Ghost-Types until they reached a sundial-shaped building. The structure was fashioned from golden stones and draped with violet tapestries with white emblems depicting an overlapping sun and moon. The four marvelled a moment at how richly decorated the building seemed to be, only to notice that in front of it was a stone pedestal positioned directly in front of a heavy-looking metal door.

    "Go on ahead," the Misdreavus instructed. "The guild just needs to check your footprints before you head on in."

    "For what?" Elty asked. "And how'd they be able to do that on a stone block anyways?"

    "Security," the Drifloon answered. "Don't ask me how that block works, it just does. Everyone going into the guild here at Aeon Observatory gets checked. No exceptions."

    "Mwee hee hee! That's right!" the Haunter added. "The guild needs to make sure that the only troublemakers going in are its own members!"

    Haunter's explanation prompted Nida to fold her ears back skeptically. If the guild needed defenses from outside trouble, wouldn't it be a little late for them to do anything if it could come right up to its doorstep? And more importantly...

    "Wait, but why wouldn't you do a check like this on the outskirts of town?" Nida pressed. "Wouldn't anyone who would be kept out from the guild here just be able to cause trouble right outside of it?"

    The Nidoran's question prompted their Ghost-Type guides to trade puzzled looks with one another, before shrugging the matter off and turning back to their charges.

    "Eh, this is usually sufficient. Just go on ahead," the Haunter insisted. "The pedestal can only take five Pokémon at a time anyways."

    Nida blinked for a puzzled moment, muttering to herself under her breath how this town hadn't gotten plundered by pirates yet with such slapdash defenses. After deciding that such worries weren't terribly relevant right here and now, she proceeded onto the pedestal along with her team, placing their feet on the stony surface when all of a sudden a chittering crackled to life.

    "Four non-registered Pokémon identified!" a Trapinch's voice piped up. "The Pokémon are... Nidoran-F! Cubone! Growlithe! And... uh... wait, why isn't the last one coming up?"

    The disembodied voice made Pleo jump back with a start, looking around wildly for its owner. After failing to spot any other Pokémon nearby, he craned his head down, coming to the conclusion that the voice must've been...

    "H-Huh?! The stone just spoke!" he squawked. "How'd it do that?! You said that it just checked footprints!"

    "You'll have to ask Magearna about that one," the Drifloon answered. "Never fully understood her 'technology' that she dabbles with."

    "What's important is that it works," the Haunter added.

    "Wait, Haunter? Is that you? Are you with these Pokémon?" the Trapinch asked. "And what on earth is that weird thing with the three-toed feet we're seeing down here?"

    "We pulled a team out of Dewdrop Woods," the Haunter explained. "Service with a scare, as I always say!"

    The Haunter's chortling drew audible groans and eye rolls from their rescued charges, prompting his Misdreavus teammate to shake her head and speak back into the stone.

    "They're with us, they've got some… different members than normal," the Misdreavus said. "We figured that Guildmaster Metagross would want to take a look."

    The voice from the stone went silent for a long moment, before the sound of a creak and heavy grinding rang out, prompting Team Traveller to look ahead and see the metal door slide open in front of them and lead into the sundial-shaped building.

    "Right," the voice replied. "Come on in."

    At the voice's beckoning, the teams stepped forward, heading down a carpeted hallway decorated with tapestries. Above them, the ceiling had been lined with painted constellations like the entrance hall where at the end they entered a central room with hallways radiating out on several levels. Curiously, the night sky motif of this room seemed to progressively melt away into a dawnlike orange the further one went down the room, before merging into a mural depicting the sun rising. There, the hubbub of the main hall ground to a halt, as Team Traveller watched the gathered Pokémon one-by-one stop in the middle of their routines and stare silently at the four of them.

    "Uh… hi?" Pleo offered. The seabird walked up warily as the crowd's attention remained trained on him and his teammates, who traded uneasy looks between each other behind their companion.

    "Okay, these 'mons are doing it too," Nida whispered. "Is there something we're missing as to why we keep getting stared at?"

    "Eeeh?!"

    The quiet was broken by a startled cry and a red-and-white blur zipping in, the form of a feathery dragon coming to a wooshing stop in the air before Team Traveller. The being craned her head down wide-eyed, pointing and stuttering at the sight of Pleo in the group's midst.

    "Lugia ?! Is that you?! What are you doing here?!" the Latias exclaimed. "And why have you shrunk?! This isn't the doing of that weird virus going around, is it?!"

    "Uh… hello, red… birdie thing," Pleo stammered. "Who- Who exactly are you again?"

    The creature's mouth hung open for a moment as she hemmed and hawed awkwardly a moment. The dragon began to realize that she'd fallen for a case of mistaken identity and started to flush an embarrassed red, backpedaling away from the young Lugia.

    "Er… never mind that, I had you confused for… someone else," the Latias said.

    "What's going on here?"

    The sound of a squawking voice rang out along with the sound of dull, heavy footsteps. Team Traveller looked over towards their left where the forms of a Braviary and a stern-faced Metagross made their way over, sizing up the white bird among the group.

    "Fact: this is an infant Lugia in our presence," the Metagross announced.

    "H-Huh?! How did you know that?!" Pleo cried. "And why do you talk so weird?"

    "Well, you've got yer long neck, yer silver feathers, and those blue plates on yer back," the Braviary answered. "It's pretty obvious enough that you'd be Lugia, or at least a shrunken version of him." He turned to the Metagross next to him. "Wait, did ya just call him a baby?"

    "Wait… how would you know that Lugia would look like that?" Nida demanded. "You're off in the middle of nowhere, and no offense, but neither of you look like the sort of 'mon who'd spend all day studying other islands' Protectors!"

    "'Island?' Gracious... there aren't any islands reasonably close to here. What continent did they say they're from, again?" a Comfey asked.

    "No idea, but it can't be here. Anyone around these parts would know this is the Horizon Continent!" a Togedemaru exclaimed. "It's literally plastered on every map of the world!"

    Nida tilted her head puzzledly at the Pokémon's explanations. She'd heard of distant lands in passing before: Garanza, Linglan… But what on earth was the...

    "Horizon… Continent?"

    The Nidoran's question drew murmuring from the gathered crowd as some of the bystanders began to wonder where the four strangers had come from. From his place ahead of them, the Metagross Guildmaster's eyes flashed blue, before his visage turned into a hardened glare.

    "Fact: these Pokémon are from another world entirely."

    The Metagross stepped back as his declaration drew a chorus of surprised cries from the gathered Pokémon, which even the nearby Braviary found strange enough to raise a brow at.

    "So, are ya saying they're like Vulpix, then?"

    "Negative. Fact: their world is populated entirely by Pokémon. Fact: they have access to engineering and equipment beyond our capabilities," the Psychic-Type replied. "Fact: their world houses Mystery Dungeons that operate under different mechanics."

    "This has gotta be some kind of joke, right? We're in Anyilla!" Elty answered. "You know, tons of water, islands… the Company and Empire at each other's throats all the time?"

    "And mean pirates making everyone miserable trying to steal their stuff!" Pleo added, only to be met by a harsh scowl from the Metagross Guildmaster. The young Protector squeaked and hastily retreated behind his teammates, warily glancing at the displeased steely creature.

    "Silence. I already addressed your quandary. Fact: this is not your world. Fact: you have no memory of your arrival here," the metallic crab droned. "Conclusion: the means of your arrival are a mystery. Order: no one is to disturb me while I investigate this matter."

    "Eh? But how do you know that?" Pleo asked.

    "Fact: I read your minds," the Metagross replied. At once, the air around Team Traveller's heads seemed to be sucked out of the room, as pallid grimaces began to settle over their faces. One after the other, Nida, Elty, and Guardia tried to stammer out an explanation, only for the Guildmaster to pre-empt them with an irritated stop of one of his forelegs against the ground.

    "And you are wasting my time," he harrumphed, before turning to the Braviary next to him. "Order: keep them occupied while I investigate this matter."

    The eagle straightened up and saluted the metal crab, who quickly stomped off behind the room's solitary metallic door to the left. Back from behind his companions, Pleo continued to shiver, still shaken from the Psychic-Type's hostile demeanor, pulling his head in tight against his chest.

    "I… I don't like that guy. He's mean… like Lyn," he whimpered.

    "Nah, that ain't it. Guildmaster's just a mighty terse fellow," the Braviary explained. "He's not one fer appreciating things that mess up his daily routine. And that's been happening a lot around here, lately. So, don't go taking it personally now."

    The Flying-Type looked up at the gathered Pokémon in the room, giving a wave of his wings for attention and motioning for the lot to come closer.

    "Well, come on now, y'all. Don't be shy!" he insisted. "You heard the Guildmaster… make with the friendly greetings."

    The Pokémon in the room began to draw near around the new team of strangers, trading animated chatter with one another. A new team in the guild was always an exciting occasion, but for one to come from such an exotic place...

    "So, they're from an alien world?" a Trapinch murmured. "But they look just like normal Pokémon!"

    "Well, they're friendlier-looking than Vulpix and Silvally," a Togedemaru piped. "They're already winners in my book!"

    "Psst. Nidoran," Guardia whispered. "Do we really stand out that much?"

    The Nidoran raised her head and looked around the room. While the atmosphere had certainly taken a more congenial turn than when they came into town, everyone present seemed every bit as fixed on them as the passerbys outside…

    "… Yeah, it looks like we do," Nida sighed.

    "Youse guys heard Braviary," a Yungoos said. "Come on, Growlithe, let's break da ice!"

    Elty's ears perked up at the mention of 'Growlithe', surmising that the raspy speaker wanted to trade introductions. The Fire-Type looked ahead, spotting the form of an approaching Yungoos and began to sidle over...

    "Eh?" he murmured. "Well, I guess it couldn't hurt-"

    … only to stop and catch himself after he noticed that the mongoose was accompanied by a Growlithe companion of his own, prompting him to stop and tilt his head puzzledly at whether he'd misunderstood the Normal-Type's exhortation.

    "How ya doing, stranger?" the mongoose greeted. "I'm Yungoos, and dis is Growlithe, a teammate of mine who's a representative of your kind 'round dese parts."

    Elty raised a brow and folded his ears back with a baffled scowl. Did… he just introduce himself and his teammate by what species they were? What sort of introduction was that?!

    "I know what a Growlithe is, alright? But what sort of team are you running here?" Elty demanded. "You addressed him like a total stranger!"

    "Eh? Dunno what you're batting at here, Growlithe. He just called me what everyone else does," Growlithe insisted. "He's Yungoos, and I'm Growlithe."

    Elty raised a paw and spluttered incredulously at the pair. Travellers above, these two were a strange lot! Was this some sort of custom here in the Horizon Continent?

    "But you just used the same-! Look, surely you have to have something to tell yourself from other Growlithe in conversation," Elty insisted. "Didn't you get a name for something you did at least? Like 'Digger-of-Holes', or 'Starter-of-Weird-Conversations'?"

    Yungoos and his partner blink and traded blank stares with one another, before the other Growlithe shook his head and moved in to whisper to his teammate.

    "This alien pup's weirding me out a bit, Yungoos," he murmured. "Do you think we ought to play along with him?"

    "Alright, hrm… How about we call ya 'Tubby Growlithe', and my teammate 'Skinny Growlithe'?" Yungoos offered. The mongoose waited expectantly for a response, only for Elty to sourly frown back and turn away with a harrumph.

    "… I'll take a pass on that, thanks."

    Yungoos' explanation was met by puzzled stares back from Nida, Guardia, and Pleo. As different as the three Pokémon's backgrounds were, they were united by their shared sense that something about the mongoose's introduction felt deeply amiss… could it be that…?

    "Wait, so then you're all called by the type of Pokémon you are?" Nida asked.

    "Correct. I seem to recall Vulpix having a similar disconnect when he first showed up, but quickly gave up correcting us. It certainly is a fascintillating difference in universal culture."

    Team Traveller turned their attention over to their right, where they saw a strange, metallic creature seeming to be made of gears with a Liligant-like dress approach. The steely Pokémon raised a hand, only to shake her head out of realization that she hadn't introduced herself yet.

    "Oh, drat. It would appear my polite manners algorithm failed to boot. Give it a moment."

    The Magearna pawed at the dress on her body, prompting Pleo to tilt his head in confusion as the Steel-Type robotically nodded forward with a curt bow before returning to her upright position.

    "There we go. I am Magearna, the guild's primary technical specialist. I manage the equipment that keeps this place operating at one-hundred percent efficacy," she explained. "It's my job to manage the technology that keeps this place running!"

    "Uh… huh," Elty grumbled under his breath. "I'm sure that that's totally doable when she's got a few screws loose."

    "Now, now, keep up. My introductions programming is only at fifty-seven percent and I have several folks to get to. But first, why don't you tell us a bit about yourselves?" the Steel-Type asked, extending a hand over to a flustered-looking Pleo.

    "Uh… Well, I'm 'Pleo'," he answered. "And these are my teammates Nida, Elty, and Guardia from Team Traveller."

    "Ah… So you carry names in the style of Team Radiance's members… fascinating. As for here in the guild, we have a number of colorfoliated characters I'm sure you'll come to enjoy being around. First off, Primarina here is a ranking veteran and the most famous musician in all Horizon!" the Steel-Type cheered, prompting a Primarina at the front of the group to grin and burst into song.

    "What is this my eyes see?
    Could it be travelers from afar?
    You seem a touch homesick.
    Have you tried wishing upon a staaaar?
    "

    The seal flopped onto the ground, blowing out a looming bubble of water that floated over Team Traveller's heads, only to strike the tip of Pleo's head and deluge him and his teammates with a torrent of water. The Water-Type bowed as the surrounding Pokémon applauded and cheered his performance. Pleo joined in as well as beads of water continued to roll off his plumes, his teammates being the sopping, seething exceptions to the rule as Magearna moved on.

    "Espeon and Umbreon are two researchers from the Mist Continent," Magearna said. "They are… here under very specific circumstances."

    The Steel-Type motioned over to a vaguely feline pair of pink and black-furred of Pokémon, who seemed to shift uncomfortably under their newfound attention. The duo fidgeted awkwardly, before they offered up half-hearted greetings back at the group.

    "Er… hello," Espeon greeted.

    "Pleased to meet you, I guess," Umbreon added.

    "Lastly, Milotic and Serperior are members of Team Captivate!"

    Magearna raised her hand up to introduce a Milotic and Serperior settled over in a corner, the pair looking completely devoid of enthusiasm or vitality.

    "… Meh," Milotic answered. Her partner similarly looked over, before also giving a half-hearted greeting.

    "Hey… I guess…" Serperior said, drooping forward much like a wilted sprout.

    "Yeesh, that enthusiasm certainly took a dive," Guardia murmured. "Do you suppose we're not welcome here?"

    "Don't be ridiculous!," Braviary explained. "Guildmaster expects anyone who shows up 'round these parts to get treated with respect… unless they're outlaws, of course. But y'all look like upstanding folks to me. . And ain't no one gonna cross Metagross."

    The eagle's wings visibly sagged and the Flying-Type shook his head glumly, as if dealing with a great weight on his shoulders. The bird visibly paused and mulled a moment, tripping over his words over how to explain the matter back to these strangers.

    "It's just that the guild's been through a lot as of late," Braviary sighed. "So it's been weighing upon some of the 'mons here."

    "… Oh. Well I'm sorry to hear that things haven't been going well," Pleo muttered. "Are we really not causing any trouble at all?"

    "Hardly," Braviary insisted, before casting a glance back over at the morose members of Team Captivate.

    "In fact, yer arrival might be just what some of our teams need," he insisted. "Milotic! Serperior!"

    The serpent duo craned their heads up sluggishly, the Milotic among them giving a puzzled tilt of her head back at her Braviary superior.

    "Huh?"

    "Please take the time to show this 'Team Traveller' around Aeon Town," Braviary instructed. "If'n they're going to be staying a while, they'd best know their surroundings!"

    Braviary held out a wing expectantly with a cheerful grin spreading over the ends of his beak, only for it to abruptly fade when he saw Team Captivate's members lower their heads and curl in on themselves.

    "… Hoo boy. Guess I need to be a bit more firm with 'em," he murmured. The bird strutted over to the pair, giving an awkward ruffle of his feathers before lowering his head down to meet the depressed duo.

    "Hey, I know that what's been going on's obviously been eating at you two. But yer never gonna get out of this slump just sitting here and dwelling on it all the time!" Braviary insisted. "Why not show these rookies the ropes a bit. If nothing else, the fresh air oughta help a bit."

    "… I suppose we can give it a shot," the Serperior said. Her Milotic teammate echoed the grass snake's reluctant agreement, turning her head to face Team Traveller before craning down with a sigh.

    "Go on ahead," the Milotic said. "We'll catch up with you at the gate."

    "Alright," Nida answered, nodding her head back. "See you there!"

    The four youngsters darted off, prompting the gathered guild members to drift off and return to their daily routines. As the main hall thinned out, Milotic slunk off down a hallway over to the guild's lodging, rooting through a chest her team set aside with a stash of supplies when she heard a presence slither up behind her.

    "Millie, do you think that we should be worried at all about that team that came in?" Serperior asked.

    "Eh?" Milotic replied. "Why would that be?"

    "Well… the Guildmaster said they're from another world right? Look at all the trouble Vulpix brought with him from the human world," the Grass-Type began. "Who's to say that they aren't actually involved with Zero in some way?"

    "Serpy, come on," the Milotic snorted. "They're just a bunch of kids."

    "Kids with Lugia with them. I mean, he's obviously a little… small. But what if the Lugia of their world isn't like ours? You saw those portals Zero used. What if… what if this Lugia found out about her plans and is here to strike some sort of deal to save his own hide?" Serperior insisted.

    "… We were instructed to do this by Braviary and the Guildmaster," Milotic rebutted. "I'd think it'd be wise to not challenge them right now. Especially after everything we heard about the Glyphic Falls expedition."

    "Then why don't you sound that convinced right now?"

    Milotic shifted uneasily at her partner's question, lowering her head before giving a sighing shake and looking back.

    "… I guess I wish I had someone else who could pick my brain to weigh in right now," Milotic admitted. "To tell me whether my instincts are right or not. Gods knows it would've come in handy back in Dewdrop Woods…"

    "So you mean someone like Airy," Serperior said.

    "… It would be nice, yeah. But I don't know what's gotten into her," the Water-Type despaired. "I know it's only been a day. But surely she'd have sent us something saying that she's safe. She was always super-responsible like that."

    "Well, you're the captain here," the grass serpent murmured. "So whatever you decide, I'll back you up on it."

    Milotic slithered up to the doorway and turned her head out into the hall, looking back down at the main chamber towards the hallway going to the gate. She lingered a moment, before pulling her head back in and slinging her satchel around her body with a shake of her head.

    "Let's go ahead and keep an eye on those kids," the Milotic said. "If anything weird comes up with them, we're giving them a hard conk on the head and taking them back to Metagross to deal with."

    The sea serpent slithered off, prompting Serperior to follow after her. The pair left their place in the guild, making their way up to the front where Team Traveller's members were there waiting for them, the lot carrying on under the watchful gaze of their none-too-trusting guides.




    Little by little, the members of Team Captivate wound up taking to their newfound role as guides more eagerly than they expected. One of the first places they visited were the local docks, which were curiously bereft of ships and teeming with Sharpedo that had plastic seats on them. The group was also brought to the local Kecleon shop, a quick visit revealing that even in this world their goods were heavily overpriced. Eventually, Team Traveller found themselves in front of the town's Gorebyss fountain, the journey filling the four youngsters with a sense of wonder as townsfolk stopped to gawp at the silver-feathered stranger in their midst and provide a much-needed respite to Team Captivate from their earlier mood.

    At about noon, an audible grumble of Pleo's stomach prompted the pair to search out food, leading them to drift into the Crabrawler's café. There, the club-clawed crab that ran the establishment was beside himself with the idea that his humble establishment would be visited by none other than a Legendary, sending him into a frenzy preparing a fresh malasada to gift to the young seabird in front of a crowd of gawking customers.

    "So… how is it, Lugia?" a Turtonator asked.

    "It's really sweet!" Pleo chirped. "I've never had a malasada this good before!"

    At the young Lugia's praise, Crabrawler beamed with pride, raising his claws up and clicking them triumphantly for attention before the gathered onlookers.

    "Well, you heard it straight from his own mouth! The Guardian of the Seas says that none other than yours truly makes the best malasadas out there!" the Fighting-Type proclaimed. "Good luck finding another place in Horizon- no, the world that can top that!"

    The crab's pronouncement drew chortles and cheers, a few Pokémon who were more quickly to be parted with their money asking for an order of Pleo's Sweet Malasada on the spot. From a table to the side, Team Traveller watched as Pleo continued taking hearty bites out of his snack. The three took somewhat off-put swigs from an order of juice Team Captivate had purchased, looking up occasionally to see the café customers continue to shower the young Protector with attention.

    "Pah, it's only the second time he's ever had a malasada," Elty harrumphed. "And how come we didn't get anything?"

    "I guess even over here, Legendaries are still a big deal…" Nida murmured. "Was this how things were in the Old World, too?"

    "Perhaps we should stay awhile and find out," Guardia suggested.

    The Cubone's suggestion drew incredulous gapes from her teammates across the table. Stay here? In a mysterious world they'd been in for all of three hours?

    "Eh? What are you talking about, bonehead?" Elty demanded, prompting the Cubone to shake her head back.

    "However we got here, it's obvious that your Company and your Empire don't know about it. So wouldn't this be an opportune place to learn the lore of your sea guardian in peace for a while before going back?" she explained. "Who knows, humans aside, if this world really is like how the Old World was, maybe we'd find some secret techniques to use to retake your home island!"

    Nida went silent, peering down uneasily at her drink as she ran a paw around its rim. They'd been struggling so hard to get Pleo back home to Tromba all this time… but it was hard to argue that this Aeon Town was a quieter place. And judging from everyone's reactions about the Company and the Empire, they could rest easy without worrying about anyone chasing after them…

    Would it really be for the best if they waited a while to go home and just stayed here for a while?

    "Heh, I didn't know that Lugia came that small," a Trumbeak said. "He's quite the cutie."

    "He must still be pretty young," a black-furred Raticate murmured. "I just hope for his sake he's actually safe here with the likes of Espeon and Umbreon joining the guild…"

    The sound of the conversing voices made Nida and her companions blink a moment. The Nidoran flicked her ears uneasily, before turning to her right towards the sound of the conversation.

    "Huh?"

    Nida and her companions saw the Trumbeak and the Raticate, alongside a Furfrou, seated at the table beside them, seemingly unaware of their presence. The three leaned in and listened as the group carried on in between sips of juice, the Furfrou giving an exasperated shake of her head.

    "Yeah, what on earth was Guildmaster Metagross thinking letting those two in with all the stories going around about them?" the dog exclaimed. "I heard they were the ones who froze over Aurora Vale and turned Pokémon into monsters!"

    "I heard that one, too. Word has it they were brainwashed or something to work for some character... Zero, I think her name was. As if the whole thing wasn't weird enough, I heard she's been skulking around trying to do something with Legendary Pokémon she comes across," the Trumbeak sighed. "But I dunno, if they really had been doing stuff like that for so long, could they really have just left it all behind like that?"

    Nida, Elty, and Guardia felt their faces contort into tense grimaces, the three setting aside their drinks and sliding off their seats. The group made their way uneasily over to the edge of the gathering around Pleo, spotting Team Captivate lounging near the café's counter. After faltering and shying back a moment, Nida shook her head, walking up to Team Captivate's members to uneasily paw at them.

    "Milotic, Serperior…" the Poison-Type murmured. "Er… could we have a moment to talk?"

    The two Pokémon traded blank looks with each other, before turning back to the Nidoran. There surely wasn't any harm in striking a conversation, but something about this felt suspiciously sudden...

    "Uh… sure?" Milotic answered.

    The two drifted off, following the youngsters along to a vacated back corner of the café as Pleo continued to bathe in the café patrons' affection as he ate. Milotic and Serperior looked back a moment, before turning their attention back to the youngsters in front of them, giving puzzled tilts of their heads.

    "Did something come up?" Serperior asked. "Are you not feeling well?"

    "Who exactly is this 'Zero' that some of the Pokémon around here have been talking about?" Elty asked. "And what exactly has been going on around here lately?"

    The pair immediately blanched and traded reluctant gazes with one another, before turning back silently. Their earlier misgivings about the group now seemed to be silly in retrospect, but did they really have to get worked now after they'd all just started having a good time…? Milotic cleared her throat, making a few fumbling attempts at giving an explanation before she finally was able to marshal her words into a response.

    "Zero is a… well, we don't exactly know what she is," the sea serpent admitted. "But she's a creature who's been using twisted magic that she calls the Prism Virus to cause trouble here in Horizon lately."

    "'Turning Pokémon into monsters' and 'freezing over Aurora Vale' sounds like a bit more than 'trouble'!" Guardia exclaimed. "And what do Espeon and Umbreon have to do with this? Aren't they with your own guild?"

    Serperior raised her tail and motioned for a stop, her expression having turned serious. The grass snake shook her head, before giving a hesitant answer to the Nidoran before her.

    "This really isn't something we'd be able to explain that well," Serperior said. "We don't really know the full story of what's been happening either."

    "Then who would?" Nida demanded.

    "Team Radiance might know since Zero is gunning for them, but they're not here right now," Milotic answered. "I suppose you could ask Espeon and Umbreon themselves… but…"

    "It really would be helpful if we knew about what was going on, Milotic," Nida insisted. "We've already had our share of nasty surprises traveling from not knowing the full story of the places we visited."

    The two serpents paused and looked back at the happy scene around Pleo's table, before letting out a deflated sigh. A palpable trepidation hung in the air, as if the two knew that the scene before them would soon end and be lost forever.

    "I suppose I can't fault you there…" Serperior sighed. "Come on, let's get going."

    At once, Nida and her companions started ahead to retrieve Pleo, only to be stopped by Milotic's voice hastily calling out.

    "Wait!"

    The three blinked and looked back, seeing the sea serpent had slithered up, her eyes pleading with the team to not take a further step. The fish trained her gaze down quietly for a moment, before speaking up in a low, mumbling tone.

    "We'll get him," Milotic offered. "It wouldn't do any good to cause a scene with everyone in such high spirits right now."

    Team Traveller watched as Milotic and Serperior went to fetch Pleo, their minds weighed down all the while by uneasy feelings and a faint sense of dread. They had hoped that the hearsay they overheard about this 'Zero' would've been just dismissed as some crazy story, but as soon as they'd brought it up, they'd all but sucked the life out of those two!
    Could Espeon and Umbreon really have been up to something after all? If they were, just what were they going to discover about this place after talking to them?




    When Team Captivate and their charges returned to the Aeon Observatory, they found that the main hall had largely cleared out for the day as the guild's members dispersed among the various Mystery Dungeons to tackle requests for the town's denizens. The group ducked down a hallway leading to a batch of more secluded rooms, where they found none other than Espeon and Umbreon in a dusty, windowless room to the side where they fiddled with some books and murmured some things about Espeon's 'jewel' and 'healing'. The pair were engrossed in their research, so much so that they failed to notice the sound of Team Captivate and Team Traveller approaching.

    "Espeon, Umbreon, you two have a second?" Milotic murmured.

    The duo looked up from their books, and sized the newcomers up. The new team of youngsters appeared to have a deep-seated sense of unease etched on their faces. For their part, Team Captivate's demeanors similarly seemed off-kilter, their faces sterner than Espeon and Umbreon recalled them being at any time in the past few days.

    "The new team was looking around for you," Milotic explained. "They wanted to ask a few questions."

    The two researchers stiffened up and scooted back at the mention of 'questions'. Her fur tense, Espeon put a paw forward, clearing her throat and warily speaking up in reply.

    "… What sort of questions are we talking about here?" the Psychic-Type asked, only to be cut off by Nida stepping forward with an overhasty response.

    "What is this 'Prism Virus' that's going around?" the Nidoran piped. "And what do you two have to do with it?"

    The Poison-Type's words visibly sent a chill over the atmosphere in the room, the researcher duo casting uneasy glances to the side. After a moment fumbling, Umbreon began to speak up, his words coming out dripping with reluctance.

    "… That's…" he stammered. "Er… well…"

    "Something we don't have any interest talking about so publicly right now," Espeon snapped. "We've already done it more times than we care to."

    "Eh?! What are you going on about that?" Elty demanded. "We heard a bunch of Pokémon who weren't even in the guild talking about you!"

    "… You were fairly open about what happened when you first came," Serperior murmured. "Can't you two just do it one more time-?"

    "Oh, good. Y'all are back. Perfect timing!"

    Team Captivate's members craned their heads back to see Braviary coming to a fluttering stop at the room's entrance. The Flying-Type ruffled his feathers, before looking over expectantly at the pair.

    "I need a wing to help with with a shipment of supplies that just came in," the eagle said. "Would y'all be able to spend a minute with that?"

    "Er… neither of us have wings, Braviary," Milotic replied. "So…"

    The bird rolled his eyes, unimpressed with Team Captivate's semantics game. Undeterred, Braviary beat a wing out and gave it a friendly shake for attention.

    "Ya know what I meant. Come on, it'll just be two minutes," the Flying-Type insisted. "Do it, and I'll see that you get a second helping of supper tonight."

    The pair looked over at Espeon and Umbreon's uneasy forms, and then back at Braviary. Espeon and Umbreon did seem to be having trouble speaking up about their experiences with the Prism Virus… Perhaps if they felt they were more alone, they'd be able to better open up about it?

    "Give us a moment," Serperior said. "We'll be right back."

    Team Captivate slithered off with Braviary, leaving the researchers behind with the batch of youngsters before them. Noticing that the room was now barren, Guardia shot an impatient glare back at the two, giving a rap of her bone against the ground.

    "Look, no one is going to overhear you now," she harrumphed. "So come on, spill your guts already!"

    The Cubone's exhortations did little but make the duo shift their gaze downwards and away from their questioner. Sensing something was amiss, Pleo waddled over, and with wide, pleading eyes, craned his head down to meet the pair.

    "Can't you just tell us?" Pleo insisted. "You don't seem like bad Pokémon… we just wanted to know what's going on."

    A tense silence hung in the air after the Lugia's plea, before Espeon broke the quiet with a reluctant sigh. The pair twitched their tails, shaking their heads and bringing their gaze back up to the team of youngsters, with Espeon muttering out at quiet demand.

    "Where do you want us to start?"

    "Maybe start by explaining what this 'Prism Virus' is?" Nida asked. "And does it really turn Pokémon into monsters?"

    "We don't fully know what it is, but that's what we were told it was. It targets a Pokémon's life energy and corrupts it… permanently transforming the Pokémon. Or so we thought, anyway," Umbreon answered. "As for 'monsters'… I suppose the more accurate term would be 'infectees', but that's really just splitting hairs. The point is, any Pokémon affected turns violently destructive. It's a lot like the plagues of fear and hate that swept through the lands in the past."

    Team Traveller's words widened out of alarm at the mention of 'plagues'. There'd been talk in the past within the Cradle of grave illnesses that spread like wildfire thanks to ill Pokémon tainting the air and water around them with miasmas. And it was the reason why every settlement in the Cradle maintained a quarantine routine to keep sickened sailors out of port, since such diseases often proved unstoppable once they spread among the townsfolk. And here this Prism Virus… it made Pokémon into monsters when their victims caught it?

    "So what, someone can just sneeze on you and turn you into some monster just like that?!" Elty yipped.

    "… Eh? I don't know what 'virus' means to you in your own world, but here it's spread by having an infected Pokémon hit you with a beam of light," Espeon explained. "The virus causes this red crescent moon to grow on your body that you can channel the infectious energy through."

    "The infected are filled with a consuming urge to spread their corrupted energy onto other Pokémon within Mystery Dungeons…" Umbreon added. "As I'm sure you've already gathered, it tends to overrun those dungeons fairly quickly."

    The four flushed pale a moment at Espeon and Umbreon's explanation, with Guardia reflexively grabbing her club. Nightmarish images swirled in their mind of bloated, deformed monstrosities prowling Mystery Dungeons and hunting down Pokémon with beams of red light amidst their claustrophobic corridors. Worse, if the virus were to not stay in the dungeons, it would find an island with few places to hide, and a whole host of victims who had no hope of swimming or flying away.

    It was a recipe for disaster in the Cradle, one that would strangle its life out before its new gods even had the chance to be born. Amidst it all, one gnawing, uncomfortable question kept playing over and over again in the group's minds:

    "And… you… you spread this?" Nida asked. The spike ball was answered with silence from the two researchers, before Umbreon finally spoke up in response.

    "… We did."

    "H-Huh?! B-But why?!" Pleo squawked. "You didn't seem mean! Why would you have any part in such an awful thing like that?!"

    "Were you brainwashed?" Elty pressed. "Tricked into helping it along?"

    Espeon glumly shook her head back in response, her words coming out with visible hesitance, as if she had been brushing up against freshly-reopened wounds.

    "We were infected of our own free will," the Psychic-Type admitted. "Afterwards… it just didn't occur to us to try and do something."

    "You- You chose to be infected? But why?" the Cubone demanded. "And what do you mean it 'didn't occur to you'? Couldn't you see that you were obviously turning Pokémon into hideous abominations?"

    "We were approached by Zero weeks ago. She taunted us about how we let Dark Matter wreak havoc on our world-" Umbreon began, only to notice his audience shooting puzzled looks back at him.

    "Dark… Matter?" Pleo asked.

    The Dark-Type blinked before shaking his head. It certainly was presumptuous of him to expect aliens from another world to know his world's history, prompting him to speak and answer back.

    "Pardon me. A time when the world almost ended thanks to a malevolent monstrosity that tried to hurl our world into the sun," Umbreon explained. "It… seems that events like those are depressingly common around here."

    "Brr, I'll say! The things that we went through in that time, it was just so frightening and made us feel so small and helpless…" Espeon shuddered. "Knowing that the Legendaries here either couldn't help us, or worse, didn't want to help us while all of that was going on…"

    Pleo felt a chill go down his back at the researchers' words. This world was supposed to be filled with Protectors, ones who were strong and grown to boot! Did… did bad things really happen so often that not even they could stop them?

    It was something specific to this world, was it? Did they really not care about the other Pokémon that lived here? Would he and his fellow Protectors really stop caring about other Pokémon as they got older? Or had they been led all along to think they had much more power than they truly had?

    All of these possibilities were… disturbing, to say the least. As the young Lugia heard Umbreon continue on, he gulped in apprehension of just what the pair could possibly have to additionally say.

    "Those sorts of feelings made us upset," Umbreon muttered. "We grew resentful of the Legendaries, for how they could just leave us behind like that, and started thinking that maybe we could do things better without them..."

    "That's when Zero came, and laid that all before us. Making the fears and resentments we'd felt all that time suddenly seem to make sense," Espeon continued. "She promised us that she had a way of bringing it all to an end… if we would just let ourselves get infected and help her."

    Nida, Guardia, and Elty bristled uncomfortably at the Psychic-Type's explanation. They hadn't said anything about 'humans' or an 'Abyss', but this whole conversation felt uncomfortably alike what Margi had told them of how she understood the Cradle's past back in Boisocéan. Could… could this feeling of abandonment and hopelessness have been what turned their predecessors against the Old Gods? Could the Old World have ended thanks to something like this?

    "B-But you must have seen that you were being used!" Guardia cried. "This Zero exploited your fear and doubts to get you involved in all of this! How could you not feel anything at all about all the horrible things that were happening?!"

    "It just didn't occur to us. While we were infected, we just kept thinking over and over again about how frightened and upset we were," Umbreon answered quietly. "How anything that happened was better than going back to that."

    "… Perhaps it simply wouldn't have occurred to us as long as we were like that," Espeon added. "No matter how much it ought to have."

    "But I don't understand, what exactly was this Zero trying to do with that virus?" Nida demanded. "Why would she be willing to cause so much suffering?"

    "Because she wants to create a world of eternal night," Espeon said. "Where all the Legendaries are dead and all that remains are Pokémon like you and me."

    The four went slack-jawed in shock at Espeon's explanation. This- This Zero was going to kill all of this world's Legendaries? But that would ruin it in the same way it ruined their own! And if Pleo were to be caught up in that…

    How would the Cradle be able to go on without a Lugia watching over it…? The four backpedaled uneasily, their minds quickly coming to a shared answer, with an overpowering urge to be away from this horrid world and back in the familiar comforts of their own. Elty led the way, the Growlithe turning his head back towards the entrance of the room.

    "I uh... think we've heard enough" he muttered. "This simply isn't a good place for us and we should get going… someplace really, really far away from here."

    The Fire-Type turned and darted off, followed closely by his teammates only to feel the ground rock underneath. The four looked up, and skidded to a stop at the sight of the Metagross Guildmaster lumbering into their path with his ruddy eyes narrowed to slits.

    "You have learned of the Prism Virus"

    Team Traveler gulped as they realized Metagross hadn't phrased that as a question.

    "Yeah. And… uh… we remembered that there were some important things waiting for us back at home, and needed a way to get back," Nida replied. "As soon as possible."

    The Psychic-Type blinked, before casting his gaze over to a visibly nonplussed Espeon and Umbreon who quietly slunk back into the room, and realized that what the pair shared of the recent happenings in the Horizon Continent must've spooked the youngsters. Metagross thought for a moment, as Team Traveller watched anxiously, trying to tease out his thought process from behind his glaring red eyes…

    "Fact: my knowledge of such mannerisms is nonexistent," Metagross declared,watching irritatedly as his words drew visible grimaces from the members of Team Traveller.

    "B-But-" Pleo began.

    "Fact: you did not let me finish," he growled. "Fact: there exists a party that should have knowledge that could assist you."

    "Who is it?" Guardia demanded.

    "Fact: they are Team Paradox," the steel crab answered. "Fact: they have been interfering with my guild's attempts to combat the Prism Virus. Approach them at your own discretion."

    Team Traveller cringed and went wide-eyed in panic. If Team Paradox was opposing the guild's attempts to stop the Prism Virus, then did that mean that they had something to with spreading it? It seemed like such a counter-intuitive group to ask for help from, but with Zero out to kill any Legendaries she could… did it really make sense not to take the risk if Guildmaster Metagross thought it was their only way home?

    "I think we'll take our chances," Nida said.

    "Very well," the Psychic-Type answered. "I calculate that they are still in Glyphic Falls following our confrontation yesterday."

    "Huh?" Pleo asked. "Where's that?"

    Metagross' eyes glowed a brilliant blue as a rolled up piece of paper floated out of an adjacent room. The Psychic-Type set it on the ground with his telekinesis, and unfurled it, revealing it to be a map of a land dotted with paths and targets of various colors.

    "It's the purple target here on this map," Metagross explained. "I'll let you have this copy."

    Metagross left the paper to settle on the ground, prompting Nida to snatch it up and stuff it into the satchel on her shoulder. She breathed a sigh of relief, heartened that at the very least, the group wouldn't be flying blind on their search for a way back home.

    "Thank you for that, Guildmaster," she murmured. "And we should really get going now."

    The four took off for the guild's entrance, starting to pick up speed as they left the hall, when the sound of a yelp rang out from behind them.

    "H-Huh?!" Milotic's voice cried out. "Where are you going?!"

    Team Traveller slowed and looked back uneasily, turning to see Milotic and Serperior slithering up with wide-eyed shock. Undeterred by their sudden appearance, Elty stamped the ground impatiently, shooting a scowl up at the pair.

    "Home," he snapped. "We found a lead, and the sooner we get to it the better!"

    "B-But you just got here!" Serperior protested. "And what about that 'Company' and 'Empire' you said was chasing you around in your home?!"

    The four Pokémon of Team Traveller paused and noticed that Team Captivate's duo seemed to be visibly unsettled by their departure. They thought back to when they'd first met the guild and remembered that Braviary mentioned that they'd been going through a hard time just before they came, which they'd forgotten about after how much the pair's mood had improved showing them around the town… and with the way they were reacting, it wasn't hard to guess that that had been the happiest the two had been in some time.

    Their thoughts turned to Espeon and Umbreon, and how the two had mentioned that their fear was ultimately what put them down their path to working with Zero. It seemed like a silly, nonsensical comparison with how grimly they'd described the ravages of the Prism Virus, but… were they too about to hurt other Pokémon by letting their fear get the better of them?

    No, the two would understand. They had to! Pleo meant a whole lot to Tromba and the Cradle back home, so they couldn't just risk him staying here if they knew there was such danger prowling around in the background! But even so… was there a way they could get their point across softly?

    "It's just that, there's really important things for us at home. And the longer Pleo is away from it, the more likely it is that something will go terribly wrong," Nida explained. "… You understand, right?"

    The Nidoran's words seemed to suck the air out of the room as Serperior and Milotic drooped their heads. The pair faltered a moment, fighting against freshly-lowered spirits to try and speak back. Much to Team Traveller's surprise, rather than the protest they expected, the pair seemed to agree with them… in the most technical sense of the word.

    "I… I mean, I guess that I do," Milotic muttered.

    "Yeah," Serperior murmured. "You've got your own troubles without us…"

    Nida shifted uncomfortably at the pair's reaction, with Guardia and Elty tugging at her barbs and motion with their paws to leave while they could. From his place, Pleo fidgeted around, wondering if there was anything at all that they could do to not leave Team Captivate in such sorry spirits after the congeniality they'd shown them…

    Wait a minute. Espeon and Umbreon had mentioned feeling abandoned by the Legendaries in this world, hadn't they? If so, then as scary as it was, there was a reason beyond the Prism Virus why they had to go back! Maybe… if he put things that way...

    "I'm sorry that things had to happen like this. It's just that… we heard that some Pokémon here are feeling abandoned by their Protectors, and it made me worry…" Pleo began. "Not just about what they've been doing here, but that by being out here and focusing on keeping myself safe, that I'd be making the Pokémon counting on me feel abandoned as well."

    At once, Milotic and Serperior jolted their heads up, looking back wide-eyed in surprise. The pair coiled and shifted uneasily, hastily raising their voices up in protest.

    "H-Huh?!" Milotic exclaimed. "Abandoned?!"

    "Is that what Espeon and Umbreon told you?" Serperior pressed. "Lugia, you shouldn't take that to-"

    "I don't think your Legendaries abandoned you," Pleo insisted. "But… I don't think that they're the only Pokémon that feel that way, and maybe they're not the only ones taking things into their own hands."

    Pleo trailed off and shook his head before craning his head back up to the two serpents. It wasn't the thing that had first prompted him to want to leave, but the more he thought about it… about Espeon and Umbreon and what their hopelessness had driven them to do… the more he knew that he couldn't leave the Pokémon back in Tromba to go through something like that.

    "And I don't want the Pokémon back home get worried like that, especially when there's so much less world to go around for them."

    Milotic and Serperior relaxed their bodies and let out reluctant sighs. For all his naiveté, they had to admit that he'd raised a very fair point.

    "… I suppose that I can't argue with that," Serperior admitted. "I just wish that things didn't have to be this way…"

    "Well," Pleo mulled. "Maybe there's something I can change…"

    The young Lugia batted out a wing and gave it a stiff shake, letting a silvery feather flit to the ground. The seabird picked it up with his beak and set it in front of Team Captivate, before looking up at the two.

    "Maybe I can leave a reminder that I'll be thinking about you," he said. "If I can do it, then I'm sure your own Protectors will be doing it as well!"

    The pair stood looking down for a moment, prompting Milotic to crane down to take up the feather. The two Pokémon looked at it for a moment, before putting the feather away and looking back with a small smile.

    "… Thank you, Pleo," Milotic answered. "And good luck getting home."

    "If you run into trouble at all, just don't be afraid to come back and stay a while?" Serperior offered. "It is better sometimes to know when to fold them and try again later."

    "Right… we'll remember that," Nida replied. "Thanks again for taking us around you two. And I hope that everything that's been going on works out for you."

    The four turned and began to carry off, waving back at Team Captivate's members. Nida and her companions watched as the pair waved back at them, before pressing onwards, no longer in their earlier agitated unease, but now with something approaching confidence as the group left the observatory for what they hoped would be a way back to their own world.




    (Continued in next post)
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2018
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  11. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    About an hour later, Team Traveller found that the directions on Guildmaster Metagross' map brought themselves at the front of a towering set of falls with a narrow strip of land carrying on behind them. The four followed the rocky spit, slipping down the narrow path past the falls, and continuing on into a space full of curving waterfalls thick with mist in the air, decorated by the occasional sight of what appeared to be eyed glyphs.

    "According to the map, this is it," Nida said.

    "Blegh… it certainly feels like it," Elty spat. "The water's so damp and gross here."

    "I don't know, I think it feels great!" Pleo chirped. The seabird's commentary at once drew a disgusted shake of Elty's head, along with an annoyed furrow of Guardia's brow. Even so, in spite of the annoying dampness, the bone lizard found herself scratching her brow puzzledly.

    "It's still really strange, though…" she murmured. "Without the fog, how is anyone supposed to know you're in a Mystery Dungeon or what parts won't shift with the Distortion?"

    Guardia's question prompted Nida to flick her ears uneasily, before gawking at the surrounding falls. With no fog like the Mystery Dungeons back in the Cradle, there was little that seemed to evidence the place was a Mystery Dungeon… Even so, there were still things that struck the spike ball as obviously unnatural about the place. Much like the trees back in Dewdrop Woods, the height of the waterfalls also seemed to be impossibly tall, and from what she could see there again didn't seem to be any other entrances back outside of these falls...

    "Maybe this place works differently from the Mystery Dungeons back home," the Nidoran mulled. "But let's start the same way we always do, look around and try to get our bearings."

    "It would be wise to try and see what yajū are lurking around," the Cubone murmured. "But how would we do that with all this mist?"

    "Simple," Elty answered. The Puppy Pokémon pivoted and turned back to face the falls, opening his mouth with a sharp bark.

    "Oi! Is anyone out there!"

    Elty's shout carried on, only to be drowned out by the roar of the falls. The Growlithe waited a moment expectantly, before blinking out of sheepish awkwardness as he noticed his teammates frowning from the corner of his eye.

    "Gardie, take this seriously!" she huffed. "That's not going to-!"

    "Who goes there?!"

    The sound of the bellowing shout made the four Pokémon jolt upright and blank, incredulous looks settle over Guardia, Nida, and Pleo's faces. Had Elty's call…? Did it really…?

    "… Work?" the Cubone finished. An uneasy gulp went about the four Pokémon, prompting them to trade looks before Pleo began to crane his head back to answer.

    "Uh… Team Traveller?"

    The four looked behind themselves, where they saw the form of a party of three peculiar Pokémon approaching. There was an Absol with what seemed to be black crystals encrusted on his chest, a Houndoom swaddled head to toe in peculiar padded cloth with blue fur poking out, and a strange purple creature with blue, crystal-like eyes that floated in the air. Team Traveller shifted uneasily at the strangers, unsure what to make of them, and most of all the peculiar creature among them.

    "Nida? What's that purple floaty thing?" Pleo asked. "And what is with the other two Pokémon?"

    The young Protector's question drew no response other than for the Nidoran to blink and stare blankly ahead. Evidently she too was at a loss of words for what to say back.

    "… I… don't know," she admitted.

    "I am referred to as Sticky and my species designation is Poipole," the purple creature answered. "My teammates here are Gallian the Absol and Luxeira the Houndoom."

    The Poipole's words drew cautious blinks from Team Traveller's members, and drew a puzzled tilt of Nida's head back at the creature.,

    "Wait, they have actual names too? We didn't run into anyone else in town like that..." she murmured, as her Growlithe teammate cleared his throat and gestured at the Houndoom and Absol in front of him.

    "Uh…" the Growlithe murmured. "You two have got just a little thing on your… er… well, everything."

    "Is this some sort of trick?" Guardia demanded. "I've never seen any sort of Pokémon that looked like either of those two! Just look at those crystals crusted over on your white friend!"

    "Grr… aren't you two personable ones?" the Absol spat, his eyes flashing a vibrant, aggressive purple that caught his teammates' attention.

    "Easy there, rookie," Luxeira insisted. "We're just here to read their auras, no need to get things so riled up off the bat."

    The Houndoom's reassurance failed to have its intended effect on the four Pokémon, who visibly squirmed and backpedaled as the three strangers drew nearer.

    "Read our… auras?" Pleo asked.

    "Yes, we've been trying to find you ever since we detected you falling out of an Ultra Wormhole back in Dewdrop Woods," the suited Houndoom explained. "As members of the Ultra Recon Squad, our primary directive has always been to analyze the fallers we come across and help them on their ways back home. Even if we're stranded ourselves, we can continue that endeavor."

    Luxeira's words drew puzzled stares back from the four youngsters, the lot trading looks with one another. They were watching them? And what did the Houndoom mean by...

    "... Fallers?" Pleo asked.

    "Fallers are terrestrial Pokémon such as yourselves that have been hurtled through Ultra Space by Ultra Wormholes. Typically, they end up in a pocket of Ultra Space. But, on occasion, the wormhole is powerful enough to breech another world. Which, I suspect, is what happened to you," she explained. "Perhaps tell us a bit about yourselves? It could help us narrow down where you're from."

    "Uhh… well…" Nida stammered. "We're Team Traveller, a rescue team from the Cradle. Does that help at all?"

    "Captain, I am afraid that does not register as an area I'm familiar with," Sticky mulled. "Maybe things will become clearer with a bit of a closer look."

    The Houndoom and Poipole suddenly darted forward, as blue glassy surfaces suddenly slid over their faces and lit up with light as they faced Pleo. Sensing something amiss, Guardia held out her bone accusingly, stammering out a startled yelp in response.

    "H-Hey!" the Cubone exclaimed. "What are you doing with that thing there?!"

    "Oh these?" Luxeira answered. "It's just our visors, nothing to be alarmed abou-"

    Before the Houndoom could finish, her visor suddenly flashed purple as a shrill beep went off. Nida and Elty winced and covered their ears at the racket, prompting Pleo to look around in alarm as Gallian's demeanor suddenly became noticeably more hostile.

    "See! It's just like I figured… this lot is full of troublemakers!" the Absol snapped. "That alarm only goes off when something's wrong! Like with that blasted Vulpix!" His eyes and scythe flashed red.

    "Uh… y-you pointed that thingy at me and it beeped?" Pleo stammered. "What would be wrong?"

    "You are registering Ultra Aura levels high enough to signify that you have been exposed to a high dose of Ultra Space radiation. Even by faller standards, these are pretty large readings. Just how far away is your world?" Sticky exclaimed, drawing a low growl and bared fangs from his Absol teammate.

    "Bah, that's not it! You two are giving them too much benefit of the doubt! You said you saw large readings? Then that can only mean one thing. This so-called Lugia…" Gallian snarled. "Is an Ultra Beast."

    "H-Huh?!" Nida exclaimed. "No he's not!"

    "Yeah, I don't even know what an Ultra Beast is!" Pleo squawked.

    "They are creatures from Ultra Space… like me," Sticky explained. "We find this world alien, and are alien to this world's Pokémon in return."

    "B-But I'm a Lugia! I'm part of my world!"

    "Hah! A likely story!" Gallian snorted. "I know who Lugia is, and I definitely know I'm not bigger than him! You're just trying to pass yourself off with a disguise, and there's no reason why you'd do that unless if you were trying to hide something!"

    Pleo opened his beak to protest again, only to squawk out of fright at the sight of shadowy mist beginning to accumulate on the Absol's horn. The Disaster Pokémon lowered his body with a low growl, readying his legs for a pouncing lunge.

    "And it's a very poor disguise at that," he growled.

    "Uh… Gallian?" Luxeira began. "I think this is really something we should talk-"

    "I'm putting you down!!"

    With that, the Absol lunged forward at the four youngsters, prompting the Houndoom to raise a paw and trail off with a shake of her head.

    "… out," she sighed. "Come on Sticky. Looks like the rookie's managed to turn the situation hostile… again."

    "Eyaaaah!"

    As Sticky and Luxeira quickly fell back, a pained shriek rang out as Gallian sliced into Pleo's wing with a shadowy swoop of his horn. The slash cut a few feathers loose, prompting the young Lugia to stumble and dart away in a panic as his wide-eyed teammates hastily ran in to intervene.

    "G-Get off of him!" Nida cried. The spike ball was the first to reach the Absol, and quickly ran up and delivered a pair of whirling kicks at his side. Gallian skidded back, snarling angrily as Elty and Guardia ran in after him.

    "Hang in there, spike ball," the Growlithe yipped. "We're coming-!"

    "Gardie, watch it!"

    The Cubone hastily yanked the Puppy Pokémon back as a metallic tile sailed through the air and flopped onto the ground in front of them, bearing a star-shaped insignia lit up by purple light. The pair looked over incredulously at Sticky, baffled by what it was that he'd hoped to accomplish with the tile.

    "Eh? What are you doing throwing those metal plates around?" Guardia demanded, her puzzlement being similarly echoed by her Growlithe partner.

    "Yeah, if you had money to throw around, you could've used it on items or something!" he snapped.

    "Just stay away from those!" Nida cried. "They look like triggered traps!"

    Elty blinked and squinted at the the tiles. True enough, they did light up like a triggered trap back at home… but when was the last time a trap looked anything like this?!

    "But- But that's insane!" the Puppy Pokémon yipped. "Traps don't come on metal tiles! And since when could Pokémon throw them around?!"

    "Hrmm… Captain, if they are unaware that Ultra Beasts can set traps of their own volition, perhaps Gallian's claims are unfounded?" Sticky wondered.

    "They're playing dumb to distract you, moron!" Gallian barked, drawing a sigh back from his Poipole counterpart.

    "I figured that would be your response."

    Elty went wide-eyed as the Poipole zipped over and spewed out a torrent of violet sludge. The liquid drenched Elty's fur, prompting him to shriek as it seeped down into his pelt. In a panic, the Growlithe set his fur alight and launched himself at the Poison-Type with a blazing somersault.

    "Argh!"

    The Flame Wheel found its mark, sending Sticky crashing to the ground, and drawing an alarmed yelp from his Houndoom partner from further behind.

    "Keep it together, Sticky!" she cried. "I'll lay down some suppressive fire!"

    Luxeira breathed in, and spewed out a gout of fire, swallowing up Guardia. The bone lizard shrieked and flailed on the ground, the Houndoom's flames stinging with particular force, prompting her to stagger up just in time to see another gout sail overhead and take off running.

    Team Paradox's members had fallen back into a vaguely delta-shaped position, with Sticky and Luxeira flanking Gallian from the sides as the three spewed shadowy beams and toxins forward, sending Team Traveller scattering in a panic. In his haste to flee, Pleo ran ahead beating his wings to try and get airborne when his left foot stepped down on something cold and smooth. The young Protector heard a click and went wide-eyed, only to shriek as he felt spikes suddenly jut out of the floor and into his feet.

    "A-Agh!"

    The young Lugia's cry drew his Nidoran teammate's attention, prompting her to turn and see Pleo had stepped on one of the tiles and a trail of violet fluid was dribbling from his left foot. Nida grimaced, realizing that the metal tiles really were traps. Her own nerves starting to fail her, the Poison-Type called back, hoping to keep her teammate calmed and collected.

    "H-Hang in there!" she cried. "We just need to get our footing back!"

    "Enough!"

    Nida whirled and froze as a Gallian dissolved into a stream of black shadows and zipped along on the floor before gathering around her. Much to her teammates' horror, the shadows suddenly reformed into Gallian as he lunged up with a slash of his psychically-charged horn and sent the Nidoran tumbling with a sharp yelp, leaving her slumped over on the ground unmoving.

    "A-Aaah! N-Nida!"

    The three stood in a stunned daze, only for a light to glimmer from the bag on Nida's back and the Poison-Type to suddenly get up woozily, coughing and struggling to stay afoot.

    "Hrnk… Urgh…"

    The Nidoran rose to her feet, similarly reinvigorated from the light, if disoriented from her experience. From their places beside her, Elty, Guardia, and Pleo stared slack-jawed, startled at their teammate's sudden revival.

    "What- What on earth was that?!" Elty yipped. "You just got up again like that was nothing!"

    "And what was that freaky shadow thing?!" Guardia cried. "In all the lore I've heard, I'd never heard of Pokémon being able to do that!"

    "Pah! You four must be the sorriest Rescue Team I've ever run into!" Gallian snarled. "How do you not know something as basic as how a Reviver Seed works?!"

    A Reviver Seed helped Nida get back up? Without even being chewed on? But Reviver Seeds don't just magically heal Pokémon like that! … Although it wouldn't be the first peculiar thing about this world they encountered...

    "Sticky! Swing around them from the left!" the Houndoom barked.

    "On it!"

    But that could wait, as the presence of a gout of fire narrowly missing Guardia and stream of sludge brushing Pleo quickly jolted the Nidoran and her teammates back to attention. Even so, when they knew so little about how this world differed from their own, just how would they ever regain the element of surprise?

    "Ngah! Just how are we supposed to handle these Pokémon?!" Guardia cried. Her Growlithe teammate clenched his teeth, as he realized that so far, it seemed like Team Paradox had been catching them off guard with one thing after another from this alien world! Bah! If only they could repay the favor somehow!

    … Wait a minute, maybe they could!

    "If they're going to be giving us such a hard time with moves from their world," Elty murmured, "then maybe we need to surprise them with something from ours!"

    The Growlithe's gaze turned to Gallian - charging forward as the diamond on his forehead crackled with dark energy - then at the other members of Team Paradox. If those two were always dependent on Gallian charging to the fore for them… then maybe...

    "We just need to get that Absol to get out into the open! He's the toughest, and if we can't take care of him, we're not going to pull through here!" he yipped. "If we all work together, we should be able to take him down!"

    "How are we supposed to do that?!" Pleo squawked. "He's got two buddies with him!"

    "Focus on distracting them!" Elty insisted. "I'll handle the Absol! If it worked on those two square-necks at Sormus, it can work here!"

    The Growlithe spotted one of the metal tiles lying on the ground up ahead, and bounded ahead. The Fire-Type bade his time until Gallian ran past, before turning, and giving a forceful shake of his rump at his Absol opponent.

    "Chodź i weź to!" the Growlithe jeered. "You couldn't hit the broadside of a Wailord with that stupid shadow attack of yours!"

    Gallian's scythe flashed dark red in response, his eyes hardening into a fierce glare as he pawed the ground underfoot.

    "Is that so?" he spat. "Tell me… how's this for a broadside?!"

    His attention now focused on the impudent Puppy Pokémon, the Absol charged ahead melting into the ground as a stream of black shadows. As the Dark-Type bore down, Elty rolled out of the way, leaving the Disaster Pokémon to carry on into the tile and yowl in pain after feeling spikes jolt up into his paws.

    "Hrngh!" he winced. "What- What did you do-?!"

    "Now!" Elty cried.

    As the stricken Absol tried to regain his bearings, he was cut off by a gout of cinders from the side, followed by a spinning blow to his flank along with a second that clipped his hindlegs, his attention turning back to a Cubone who clumsily caught a bone flying back at her.

    "E-Eh?! That was a Honebūmeran!" she cried. "It- It actually worked that time!"

    Gallian snarled and pivoted to turn his attention to the bone lizard, when a whirling gust sent him tumbling head over heels into a large rock. The Absol hastily righted himself, fighting against his injured paws only to see a blue blur run up, and a nailed foot to come for his face…

    WHAP!

    WHAP!

    The Dark-Type staggered back, his breaths coming out ragged as he pawed at a fresh imprint on his face. Gallian howled in pain and ran off, wheezing as he felt his body shiver and his limbs' movements grow clumsy and laggardly.

    "Ngrrr…. I've had enough of this!"

    The Absol turned back, black and red energy crackling in his forehead diamond… only for it to suddenly lose its glow, and for the Dark-Type to slump over onto the ground.

    "Nnrrk…"

    Luxeira and Sticky went wide-eyed at the sight of their teammate's defeat, the pair stammering and backpedaling as the color left their faces.

    "G-Gallian!"

    "I- That's- T-Tactical retreat!" Luxeira yelped. "We'll regroup after falling back!"

    The two turned and began to run off for dear life, only for a sharp squeak to ring out from behind them.

    "Wait! Don't go!" Nida cried. "You said that you could help us get back home!"

    At the Nidoran's plea, the Poipole and shiny Houndoom slowed to a stop, before looking back over their shoulders uneasily. There, they saw Nida's form bounding up, the Poison-Type rearing up on her hind legs to wave for the two to stop.

    "This… obviously wasn't how any of us wanted to meet each other," she said. "But you said that you helped Pokémon like us get back to their worlds, right? How does that work, and can you do it for us?"

    "I mean, we used to have a machine that would handle it…" Luxeira answered. "But we lost it when we lost our home."

    "So we're stuck here, then," Guardia muttered.

    "Maybe not. I will admit that we have never done this before…" Sticky began. "But we could attempt to signal the Lightless Black. He certainly would be able to help you get back… Maybe."

    "Who is that?" Nida asked, prompting the Poipole to uneasily shift in the air.

    "Uh… well… I speculate that he is, in fact, a light-eating Ultra Beast," the Poison-Type explained. "We only know of him because he... destroyed our home."

    The Ultra Beast's explanation made Team Traveller's members cringe and shift back uneasily. The four watched as the Poipole and Houndoom traded looks with one another, as if a sudden realization had dawned upon them.

    "What's that look supposed to mean?" Guardia asked.

    "I just realized..." Luxeira murmured. "Considering the Lightless Black's ability to move between worlds, it could be that he brought you here in the first place."

    "So if that is true… then maybe you really could convince him to take you back as well," Sticky added.

    The Poipole's musings failed to provide any reassurance to the four youngsters. If they'd been called here by such a destructive-sounding Pokémon, who was to say that they could count on him to take him back? Couldn't he just as easily try to destroy them?

    "And we're supposed to trust him to take us back why?" Elty demanded. A long silence hung in the air afterwards, as Luxeira and Sticky traded uncomfortable glances with one another, before turning back to their questioners.

    "Well, he's most likely the only Pokémon who could send you back," the Houndoom answered. "For all we know, you could've been brought here by accident. In which case, he might be open to sending you back home."

    Luxeira's reasoning drew back a sharp frown from the Cubone in the group. Of all the crazy ideas she'd heard before, this was right up there with being dragged from island to island high up in the sky as one of the worst-sounding ones she'd entertained. Couldn't there be an alternative they were missing…?

    "And there's no other way back at all other than dealing with a Pokémon that destroys colonies?" Guardia pressed.

    The Cubone was answered with a pair of shaking heads, prompting the lot to pause uneasily. After a long silence, Nida sighed, before shaking her barbs and grumbling back a response.

    "I suppose we have no choice, then…" she muttered. "Let's call on your Lightless-"

    "Urgh… N-Nida? I'm not feeling so good- Nrrk…"

    Nida bit her tongue and turned at the sound of audibly sickly squawks to see Pleo had limped up beside her. She'd forgotten entirely about her teammate tripping the Toxic Spikes trap, leaving the seabird visibly shivering and tottering, apparently having trouble keeping his balance. The Nidoran moved a paw for her bag, only for the sound of a groan from behind to reach her ears and prompt her to freeze with a start.

    "Ugh… Sticky? Luxeira?" Gallian wheezed. "Can you make the room stop spinning?"

    The gathered Pokémon looked over to see Gallian pawing incoherently at the air, evidently in as sorry a condition as the poisoned Lugia. From their place, Luxeira and Sticky looked at Pleo, and then back at their stricken teammate.

    "… Right," Luxeira said. "Let's get you all patched up first."




    Luxeira and Sticky's attention quickly turned to treating their wounded teammate and the poisoned bird in their midst, which fortunately was mostly resolvable with a few berries the two teams had between them. After healing Pleo and suitably calming Gallian's nerves, the rest of Team Traveller sat for their turn to be healed, recounting the story of their flight from the Company and the Empire before they found themselves in this strange new world.

    "Well, that's certainly quite the tale…" Luxeira murmured. "That said, I think it is time we summon the Lightless Black."

    "Wait, right now?" Elty asked.

    "Tch, weren't you the lot who were trying to get home faster?" Gallian scoffed. "And I don't want to be around any of you for much longer. You're making my skin crawl. It's not like you have unfinished business here, right?"

    "… Point."

    Sticky fidgeted, before throwing out a metal tile with a star-shaped icon onto the ground. The metal sheet settled against the ground, before its thrower floated over to Team Traveller, peering down with a waiting gaze.

    "Are you four sure you want to do this?" the Poipole pressed. "The Lightless Black can be very unpredictable and we´re not gonna be around to help you."

    "E-Eh?" Pleo stammered. "You're not?"

    The Poison-Type shook his head back in response, making Pleo shift his feathers uneasily. Sensing the seabird's unease, Sticky floated over, doing his best to try and pass on an explanation.

    "The last time we came face to face with him, it… ended with him attacking us in a fit of rage. We do not want to risk putting him in a bad mood again. That could make things exponentially harder for you all," the Poipole explained. "It would be most ideal if we did not have to resort to such extreme measures as summoning the Lightless Black. Unfortunately, given your current situation there is no other alternative if you intend to return to your universe…"

    The four youngsters hesitated a moment after hearing Sticky's response. They'd hoped that their guides would've been with them to at least introduce them to this 'Lightless Black', and the fact that they didn't want to for their own safety surely wasn't a good portent… On the other paw, they didn't have any other real options for getting back to the Cradle, and surely staying here was as much of a risk long-term as going home through an untested route...

    "We'll take the risk," Nida sighed. "Let's go home"

    "Very well then. Just understand that, if this trick works, we'll be promptly exiting," Luxeira said. "I wish there was more we could do for you, but we're all that's left of our Ultra Recon Squad. Our resources are too scarce. You have my sincere apologies,"

    "That's... understandable," Nida replied. "Though thanks again for the help here."

    The Houndoom nodded back before Sticky took off his harness and pressed down on the metal tile with a click. The group watched tensely for a moment, before a bright, white tear opened in the sky and expanded into what looked like a burrow. From his place on the ground, Pleo looked on in startled surprise, gesturing up wildly at the strange new portal.

    "A-Ah! There's a hole in the sky!"

    Team Traveller stared mesmerized as the hole spiraled into a large white circle, with purple and white lines radiating out in all directions. As the four tried to settle on how to make sense of the strange portal, Sticky slid his harness back on before he and his teammates got up and began to set off, the Houndoom among them digging out a multicolored orb from the center of her harness.

    "Good luck, everyone," Luxeira said. "We'll be rooting for you to get back safely."

    The Dark-Type hurled the orb against the ground, dashing it to pieces as a pillar of light swallowed her and her teammates up. As the wormhole continued glowing behind them, Team Traveller looked back, staring uneasily at the now inert glass shards dotting the ground as Elty folded his ears back.

    "… We did make the right decision... Right?" he asked. As if on cue, a bright flash and loud thud came from the wormhole behind them, along with the sound of a deafening, bloodcurdling roar. The four felt their blood run cold, unable to fight off unnerved shivers that settled upon them as they looked back to see the glowing hole collapse behind the towering form of a blue bat with black, crystalline armor and a set of massive claws jutting out from its torso nearing them.

    "… Ulp… I'll take that as a 'no'."

    "Heeheeheehee... is that you, my succulent little Poipole? I'm so very flattered! Here I was worrying I'd never get to taste your sweet, precious liiiiight," the creature cheered. "Why, if you'd only given me some advance notice, I'd have brought some mood music for our special little meal together-"

    As the crystal-covered bat neared, his vision settled upon the forms of a Nidoran, Growlithe, Cubone, and diminutive Lugia before him… with not a sign of the Poipole he'd sensed to be seen. At once, the giant Pokémon let out a shrill shriek, his eyes lighting up with a rainbow-colored glow.

    "Skreeeeep! What is the meaning of this? Where is my precious Poipole meal?!" the creature demanded, before training a piercing glare at the youngsters below him.

    "You... did you worthless little snacks trick me?!" he bellowed. "DID YOU LIE TO ME... NECROZMA?!"

    Team Traveller felt the color drained from their face and backpedaled out of fright, their breaths coming shallow and quickly as they suddenly realized that Team Paradox hadn't wanted to stay around for good reason.

    "Did- Did he just call us snacks?!" Guardia squeaked.

    "S-Spike ball?" Elty whined. "I really think we need to get out of here-"

    "W-Wait!"

    Nida, Guardia, and Elty went wide-eyed as they watched Pleo run up and wave his wings in front of the massive bat. The three grimaced, expecting the beast to pounce on him at any moment, only to see him pause, and tilt his head curiously down at the seabird.

    "Team Paradox said that you were able to help us get back home!" the Lugia insisted. "That you were able to move between worlds!"

    Necrozma looked down at Pleo, and stared at him for what felt like an eternity, as slowly, a smile crept across the bat's face.

    "Wait a moment. Heeheeheehee. You're not from here, are you? Tell me… have you slipped between worlds? Are you… just like me?"

    From their places, Nida, Elty, and Guardia watched as the massive creature seemed to calm down, prompting them to warily creep forward and rejoin their Protector teammate, if still glancing over their shoulders uneasily for any routes that could be used to escape.

    "Well, we're Team Traveller…" Nida began. "And to the best we've been able to tell, we're from another world."

    "… We heard that you might have had something to do with that with some portal you made," Elty continued. "And… maybe you'd be in the mood to help us get back by opening another portal?"

    The four forced wide, overeager smiles as Necrozma moved one of his smaller wing claws to his chin. The Psychic-Type paused a moment, evidently deep in thought before turning his gaze to an overlooking ledge.

    "So… that little cold did cause problems after all. Well then… this is so very interesting!" he exclaimed. "It just so happens that you are… heeheehee… CORRECT! I can solve your little predicament."

    "Huh? You mean it?" Guardia asked. "You're really going to open a portal?"

    "Yes, of course," Necrozma insisted. "It should just be a simple matter…"

    The Pokémon turned and his red eyes brightly flashed. Much to the four's astonishment, a crack of light opened and a fresh hole in the air… directly above a patch of land between the tips of the falls. Team Traveller's members traded dumbfounded looks with one another, before Elty uneasily cleared his throat to speak up.

    "Er... we can't go through the portal if it's that high," he said.

    "Nonsense!" the Lightless Black insisted. "The little bird can just fly you all up. Well, go on. It's all you, little Lugia!"

    Team Traveller visibly hesitated at Necrozma's demand. If he was able to open a portal so easily, then it should have been a trifling matter for him to make a portal they could reach. So why had he gone out of his way to put it up there if he really wanted to help them?

    "C-Can't you just create another portal back to our home right next to us?" Nida stammered.

    "Why should I go through all that effort when there's a perfectly fine Ultra Wormhole right there?" the Psychic-Type demanded. "I'm not wasting my light on something stupid."

    "But didn't you just say it was a simple mat-" Guardia began, only to be cut off by a mocking mimicry from the crystalline bat.

    "Nyeh, 'isn't it a simple matter?' Look, just get onto your bird friend already!" Necrozma snapped. "I've got better things to do than hearing you complain!"

    The four youngsters backpedaled unnervedly at the Psychic-Type's sudden souring of his mood, with their minds uncomfortably drifting back to how he'd calling them 'snacks' earlier… Something stank about all of this, and it felt painfully obvious that this was a trap. In that case, the only thing left to do was to follow in Team Paradox's footsteps, and get out while they could.

    "A-Actually maybe we should leav-" Nida began, only to go wide-eyed as she saw a shadowy ball slam into the ground at her feet. The Nidoran hopped back with a yelp, looking up with her mouth agape at the now-fuming Necrozma as his smile promptly vanished.

    "What's that? You're spitting on my generous offer?" He bared his fangs at Team Traveller and his arms swung out. "You… you stupid… foolish fools! I am only trying to help here. But no… you're going to ignore me! And walk away! Just like everyone else!"

    A low growl rumbled from the Pokémon's throat, as he cracked his maw open wide with a threatening hiss.

    "I will make you see that there is no better… more helpful friend… than me. Than Necrozmaaaaaa!" he snarled.

    "It sounds more like you weren't planning on letting us go home at all!" Nida shouted back.

    "I guess we'll have to fight our way through then!" Guardia cried.

    At the Cubone's cry, Nida flicked forward a spike at the bat's wings, followed by Elty spitting up a gout of fire at the Lightless Black's face. Necrozma screeched and writhed, prompting Pleo and Guardia's faces to light up and for the pair to throw in a glowing ball of light and a Bonemerang, seemingly forcing the Psychic-Type to the ground with an agonized wail.

    "Gyyyyyyaaaaaaah! No! Stop it! Stop… hurting me!" Necrozma shrieked.

    "I- I think we did it!" Pleo cried. "We're beating-!"

    "FOOOOLS! Are you all really that gullible?"

    Much to Team Traveller's horror, Necrozma flapped up and took to the air, as if their barrage had never happened. The four felt their blood run cold, looking up to see the bat shooting a cruel sneer down at them.

    "I knew it! You all hate me," Necrozma thundered. "So, I… heeheehee… I tricked you. I made you think you were winning. It's something I think I had considerable experience with. And you fell for it. Bwahahaha!"

    The blue bat thrust his right chest arm to the side, prompting a small hole to open up in the sky and a shining golden horn to emerge. The horn slid, puffing out a sad-sounding 'wah-wah', before promptly falling back into the hole which collapsed in on itself, along with Team Traveller's understanding of what had just happened.

    "… What was that?" Guardia murmured, prompting Elty to stare and shake his head blankly.

    "I dunno, but we've got bigger problems right now."

    "Precisely! I was willing to extend a hand and help you four. But noooooo! You're repulsed by me. Everyone hates me!" Necrozma seethed. "But you… you all did this to me. YOU MADE ME INTO THIS! Heeheehee… and now you want to ignore it and hope I go away. But… heeheehee… the only ones who will be going away are YOU!"

    The bat's eyes suddenly flashed blue, and Team Traveller's members felt themselves get lifted off the ground and into the air. The youngsters thrashed desperately, screaming and flailing as Necrozma brought them nearer and nearer to his face.

    "L-Let go of me!" Pleo squawked.

    "Heeheeheehee, come to me, my pretty little birdy!" the Psychic-Type chortled. "Your liiiiiight... I'll bet it's so soooooft and fluuuuuuffy! Like soft-serve ice cream. Bwahahaha!"

    The four continued to struggle in midair as Necrozma brought the lot to a stop in front of him. The Ultra Beast flashed his teeth and a red crescent moon appeared on his forehead, the four screwing their eyes shut and flinching out of apprehension.

    "Huh?!"

    Team Traveller cracked their eyes open, watching their captor awkwardly bat his wings and arms in the air. The red crescent moon appeared on his forehead again, but nothing happened. As he continued to repeat this gesture, they grew increasingly stupefied at what it was the creature was attempting to do to them.

    "Nrgh… Come on!" he complained. "Ah! I think I felt a few photons that time!"

    Nida raised a brow, watching as the crest on Necrozma's head flickered with rainbow light for a few moments at a time. The rabbit noticed that little rays of light were flowing into it, looking down and seeing that it was streaming from none other than the light from the sun bouncing off their own badges!

    "Wait, so you really do eat light?!" she squeaked. "Then w-what is it that you're trying to do-?"

    "Gah! Why isn't this working?!" Necrozma fumed. "Why can't I eat your light?! I've done this a million times before! Even to Pokémon like you! What's keeping you safe? It's like you have no light at all, but I know you have it! I want your light! I want it NOW!"

    "You can take this light instead!" Pleo shouted. The young Lugia built up a glowing ball within his beak, before disgorging it and sending it into the face of the blue bat. The Lightless Black yelped and lost his concentration, sending the four falling back to the ground. Necrozma hissed angrily back as Pleo defiantly took his place before him.

    "Whatever it is that you're trying to do, I won't let you get away with it!" the young Lugia snapped. "I'm a Protector and I won't let you hurt my friends!"

    "Grr, you foooooolish bird! You think you're a Protector?!" the Psychic-Type seethed. "WRONG! I'm the Protector of this world! I brought it out of the darkness. It was me! ALL ME! Witness the power of Necrozma and despair!"

    The bat flew up with a shrill shriek, spreading his wings as flecks of light gathered on his wingtips, before coalescing in a giant, beam of light at the young Protector. The blue beam swallowed up the young Legendary, sending him flying and crashing limply against the ground much to his teammates' horror.

    "Pleo!"

    The three stared ahead in horror and watched as a light came from the bag on Nida's shoulder and zipped over to the stricken Lugia, at once rousing him with a gagging cough. Pleo and his companions looked up as the sound of malevolent laughter reached their ears, looking up to see Necrozma peering down at them.

    "Heeheeheehee! See, little fledgling? That's the power of a real Protector!" he sneered. "The sort of power you'll never have!"

    Pleo stared up blankly, trembling at the sight of the much larger, and stronger 'Protector'. He- He could just throw him around like it was nothing! How was he supposed to do anything against that?! How was he supposed to be anyone's Protector if there were monsters out there that could overpower him this easily?! Necrozma seemed to pick up on the seabird's loss of morale, baring his fangs back at the four youngsters.

    "Lugia turned his back on me! After he called me a friend. After I helped him! He left me to have my light stolen!" he snapped. "Instead of helping me… he let me get thrown into a lightless void of Ultra Space to rot for centuries!"

    Pleo craned his neck up wide-eyed, backpedaling out of frightened confusion as he felt a shiver go down his spine. A malevolent smile cracked over the bat's face, as a shrill laugh came from his throat.

    "Heeheehee… But none of that matters anymore! Mistress Zero… heeheehee… she's going to get my light back!" Necrozma exclaimed.

    The Psychic-Type's declaration made Team Traveller's jaws drop out of shock. This- This thing was in league with Zero? Then was he the one who caused the Prism Virus? If so, then in searching for a way back home, they'd blundered into exactly the dangerous situation they'd been trying to protect Pleo from!

    "She wants every Legendary in this world killed. So, I'm going to ANNIHILATE YO– ACK!"

    Necrozma was cut off mid-sentence by a flying bone striking the back of his head. The bat hissed and glared as he pawed at his head, following the arc of the bone back down to Guardia who caught it in midair and swung it out wide.

    "Come on, we gotta fight this yajū!" she cried. "We can't just sit here waiting for him to kill us!"

    Necrozma hissed and made his eyes glow again, seizing the Cubone and starting to lift her off the ground, only for Elty to barrel into the black, crystalline armor on his chest with a burning somersault, making the bat jolt upright in pain.

    "Eyaaaaaah!"

    Guardia dropped back to the ground as the black arms attached to the bat flailed wildly. Necrozma gasped for air, gritting his teeth and forming a swirling, shadowy ball at the end of one of the smaller claws on his wings. He readied a throw, only to feel a stabbing pain catch him in his wrist, sending the Shadow Ball veering off course from the Growlithe. The Psychic-Type seethed, yanking the spike out of his wrist before directing his gaze down at a Nidoran swiftly hopping away from him.

    "Grah! Stop it already!" he bellowed. Necrozma turned to try and follow his latest attacker, only to feel a strong whirling wind suck him up and push him backwards. The bat flew wildly, haggardly stabilizing himself as he saw the four youngsters arrayed in front of him, prompting him to screech back at them.

    "Skreeeeeep! Cut that out! You're annoying me!"

    The Lightless Black spread his wings and filled the falls with a blinding flash of light, bathing the whole area with rainbow-colored beams and drawing a chorus of screams from Team Traveller. Necrozma looked down, seeing that the four were strewn about the ground, weakly struggling to get up and shamble around, with the so-called 'Protector' among them lying spread-eagle on the ground.

    "U-Ungh…"

    "Foooooooools!" he hissed. "Did you really think you could fight back against me? I am Necrozma, Devourer of Light! I am the one true Protector of this world!"

    "I... I-I will not... let you hurt my friends…"

    Nida watched as Pleo struggled back up to his feet, the young seabird fighting with fatigue and against his weakened body to hold himself up. The rabbit watched as the bird paced forward awkwardly, with all the determination his battered frame could summon.

    "Pleo…"

    " Is that… heeheehee... supposed to scare me?!" Necrozma jeered. "All this time, you've been running your mouth off about being a Protector. But you are NOTHING! You are worthless! Like every other Legendary in this world… and beyond! You are all fools! And I will destroy you all!"

    Pleo stumbled and wheezed, when he heard the mournful voice of a Stufful cry out, wondering where Solgaleo was when his mother needed him most. The Lugia looked around and noticed he and his friends were still alone when the voice was joined by a Minior wondering why Tapu Lele hadn't come back to put an end to the ice that had overtaken Aurora Veil. Pleo's body stiffened as he heard Umbreon's voice wondering if Latias would really be able to help them after what had happened with Dark Matter, making him realize that these were Horizon's Pokémon. Their voices feeling abandoned and alone and wondering where their Protectors were and whether they would do anything for them.

    He looked back at his teammates, as they looked up tiredly at him. This was their only chance at getting home again… He… he didn't know if there was anything that he could do, but he wasn't going to turn away here…

    He wouldn't leave them to feel abandoned like this…

    "I… I am a Protector... and these are the Pokémon that I have to defend."

    At once, Pleo's plumes erupted in silvery light, his gait becoming animated and full of vigor. From his place overhead, Necrozma's jaws slackened out of excitement, bringing his arms together out of giddy anticipation of feasting on the newfound light of the little feather duster before him.

    "Ooooh! So you do have light inside you after all?!" he exclaimed. "Yes! A little appetizer before killing you and your frie-!"

    "NO!"

    The young Lugia brought his wings together, the winds whirling between them as a column of wind shot up and swallowed up Necrozma. The bat fought desperately against the raging gale, only to lose his balance and be swept up with a frightened shriek, sailing further and further away over the horizon much like a great blue kite.

    As the bat-like creature vanished, so did the light enveloping the young Guardian of the Seas, making him slump to the ground exhausted. The bird lay there for a moment, panting as he heard tired footsteps approach, which prompted him to look up, and see Guardia and his teammates drawing near still shaking from their ordeal.

    "Is… is it over?" the Cubone asked. The bone lizard's question prompted Elty to look up and see the hole of light still overlooking the edge of the waterfall and turn back with a shake of his head.

    "Not just yet," he murmured. "Come on, let's go home."

    "Pleo… I… I know it's a lot to ask, but…" Nida said. "Can you still fly right now?"

    "Yeah…" he weakly nodded back.

    The Lugia uneasily picked himself up and lowered his body to let his teammates clamber onto his back. One by one they took their positions, Guardia clinging tight and closing her eyes firmly in anticipation of the young Protector's takeoff. Pleo looked up at the ledge and shifted uneasily, turning his head back to face the Nidoran passenger on his shoulders.

    "Are we sure that portal will lead us home...?" he asked, only to be answered by a tired paw at his shoulders.

    "Only one way to find out," Nida answered. The Lugia looked back at the ledge, and after reasoning that they'd already come this far, ran forward, beating his wings. Pleo felt his body leave the ground, and fought to climb higher and higher, reaching the top of the waterfall where he flopped down gasping for air. One by one, his passengers slid off of him, and began to walk for the portal ahead.

    "Oi, Lycanroc! Get a load of this!"

    As soon as the four set off, they heard a familiar scratchy suddenly pipe up. The lot grimaced, looking around their surroundings to try and spot its owner...

    "H-Huh?!"

    Right as the forms of a Sneasel, Lycanroc, and Jangmo-o walked up, headed directly for them.

    "There's a glowing hole up ahead," Sneasel continued. "And you can see-"

    "That our old friends came right for it," Lycanroc sneered. "I knew following them here would be worth it!"

    This- This was that blasted team of thieves from earlier! After all they'd gone through with Necrozma, did they really have to deal with them again?

    "You again?!" Elty growled. "What are you doing here?!"

    "We came to get revenge, but then we heard this big, scary, shouty voice and we went to hide," Jangmo-o retorted. "But now he's gone… which just leaves you dweebs!"

    The Dragon-Type's description drew a roll of Lycanroc's ruddy eyes, prompting him to shake his head and glare back at his weakened foes.

    "Like Jangmo-o said, we've been looking for the right time to make our move," he growled. "And that time's now."

    "But Lycanroc,what about that hole here?" Sneasel insisted. "There's something on the other end!"

    "I couldn't care less right now!" the wolf spat. "It changes nothing!"

    "Yeah!" Jangmo-o added. "I thought we were gonna get our revenge here!"

    Nida grit her teeth and braced herself. They'd managed to best Team Fang the last time they fought… but they were in horrible condition right now! There was no way they could win a fight like this! The Nidoran backed up along with her Cubone and Lugia teammates, thought curiously, Elty did little other than to shake his head and fold his ears back submissively.

    "Urgh… I know when we're beat," Elty whined. "We surrender, just whatever you're going to do… don't throw us into that portal…"

    "Huh?!" Pleo squawked, his consternation being quickly echoed by his Cubone teammate.

    "Gardie, what are you doing here?!" she snapped. "Why do we want them getting involved at all with that?!"

    Nida opened her tongue a moment to protest only to catch herself. Elty was doing his best to try and make going through that wormhole sound like the worst thing in the world right now. With Team Fang out for revenge… who was to say they couldn't have their yearnings steered in a bit more of a constructive direction?

    "Y-Yeah! Who knows where it could go to?!" the Nidoran added. "Why, it could get a 'mon stuck inside of a strange world or something!"

    "Hey! That would actually be a great idea!" Jangmo-o exclaimed.

    "Yeah!" Sneasel piped. "We'd never have to see their mugs again!"

    Lycanroc moved a claw to his muzzle, glaring dow skeptically at the party of runts. Something about this light hole felt far too convenient… but if it really did go off to another world, then there certainly wasn't anything that the little whelps could do to tell anyone about what happened afterwards, and no way that anyone could find them… Why, it was as perfect a crime as one could get!

    "Hrmph, you've sold me on it," he grunted. "Toss them into that portal, mates."

    The three quickly ringed Team Traveller's members, starting to herd them towards the portal as Elty quietly winked back at his teammates. At once, the four broke out into loud and… unusually dramatic protest and pleading, as one by one, Team Fang threw Nida, Guardia, and Pleo through the light hole until all that remained was Elty being held up by the scruff of his neck by Lycanroc.

    "Any last words, fleabag?" he growled.

    "Nah, I'll save it for when I'm actually falling," the Growlithe said back.

    "Hrmph, whatever," the Rock-Type harrumphed. "Enjoy being stranded out there."

    Lycanroc wound up his arm and tossed the Growlithe forward, sending him cartwheeling head over heels, just in time to watch the Fire-Type look back with a smug smirk.

    "Thanks for playing right into my paws, idiot!"

    As soon as the Growlithe fell into the hole of light, the three members of Team Fang went wide-eyed. He- He taunted them as he was falling in! This was all a giant trick!

    "Wait a minute, they wanted us to throw them in?!" Sneasel cried.

    "Lycanroc, wasn't this supposed to be a bad thing for them?" Jangmo-o asked.

    "Grr! We've been had!" Lycanroc snarled as he motioned for the two to follow. "Come on, we'll follow them through, and-!"

    The Rock-Type felt a woosh of air and looked back just in time to see the portal abruptly collapse and fade out into a blip. For a long moment, Team Fang stared and blinked at the vacant air where the portal had been just seconds ago, before Sneasel brushed his ear feather uneasily at the whole incident.

    "… Well, even if they wanted to go through, glad they went first," Sneasel murmured.

    "Yeah, I doubt we'll be seeing them again anytime soon," Jangmo-o said.

    "Hrmph, good enough, I guess," Lycanroc spat. "Though I wonder… where exactly did they end up?"




    "Oof!"

    After being thrown through the Ultra Wormhole, the next thing that Nida, Pleo, Guardia, and Elty sensed was the feeling of hard cobbles underneath their bodies. The four picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, grumbling about their rough sendoff by Team Fang.

    "Ow! Would it have killed those jerks to just let us walk through the portal?" Nida hissed.

    "Well… at least we're home… right?" Pleo asked. The seabird craned his head up, where much to his surprise, he noticed that they had landed in a cluttered alleyway with buildings that had five or six floors, nothing at all like those in Bluewhorl… or anywhere else they'd been for that matter.

    "Eh? Aren't these buildings a little tall for a normal hut-dweller colony, though?" Guardia mulled. "You never said Bluewhorl was big…"

    "Then… Where are we now?" Pleo wondered.

    "That way!"

    The four blanched as they heard the sounds of shouts and rushing footfalls, prompting them to make their way down the alley and turn left. There, they watched just in time to see a Decidueye Araquanid, and Herdier in Indigo scarves rush by on an intersecting street, leaving the group to freeze… only to exhale after the group of guards slipped past them oblivious to their presence.

    "Looks like we're Imperial territory," Elty sighed. "Though for now at least, they're not looking for us...

    "They seemed like they were in a hurry, though," Nida murmured. "Is something going on-?"

    "Ack! Look out!" Pleo cried.

    The young Lugia abruptly shoved his teammates aside as the noise of crackling electricity and shouts rang out. Team Traveller flinched, expecting some sort of attack to come their way. They cracked their eyes open, only to see a running blur from the corner of their vision.

    "Wait. A baby Lugia?" a yipping voice cried out. "Never mind. Just keep running, Silvally!"

    The group turned and watched as a hulking, black-furred and white-feathered creature with talons charged past them. The team stared at the strange being, seeing it had a birdlike head and front legs with a fin-like tail… and a Riolu and white Vulpix riding its back, leaving Guardia to gape slack-jawed and rub her eyes from disbelief.

    "What the-?"

    "Sorry, we're in a bit of a hurry, here!" the snowy Vulpix yelped.

    The four looked dumbfounded as the peculiar party leapt headlong into the Ultra Wormhole, prompting it to abruptly collapse and leave behind the dingy, shaded contours of the alleyway. For a long, quiet moment, Team Traveller's members simply stared ahead, with stunned incredulity at the abruptly disappeared strangers.

    "What… just happened?" Nida stuttered.

    "They went that way!" a crackling voice buzzed. "After them!"

    Nida and her companions froze and hastily ducked behind a small pile of disused crates as a Magnezone followed by a Malamar and Heracross in indigo scarves slipped into the alleyway. The Electric-Type bobbed and scanned his surroundings, spotting a set of tracks that carried on ahead of him… before abruptly vanishing. The Magnezone fumed, before throwing a bolt of electricity at a nearby wall in frustration, whirling back to his underlings with an annoyed hiss.

    "Fan out down that alleyway!" he barked. "Those three couldn't have gotten far and I want them paralyzed and in a cell!"

    "Yes, Admiral Coil!" the Malamar answered back.

    The squid, beetle, and their superior made their way down, leaving Team Traveller to wait until the coast was clear, and uneasily slip out, glancing about their surroundings with sighs of relief.

    "Back to the norm, I see," Elty muttered. "Come on, let's get going."

    Team Traveller turned and darted down the alley, hurrying along as the sound of shouts from searching guards behind them rang out. All the while, a peculiar thought kept pestering Pleo about the three strangers in the alleyway.

    "Who were those Pokémon? And where did they go?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
    git-it, Virgil134 and Venia Silente like this.
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Naturally, I've already read this one (for, aha, obvious reasons). So, this'll be less a review and more just saying a bunch of color commentary. Feel free to ignore it all. XP

    Answer: Ley lines. Awfully chaotic stuff there. In actuality, I drew a bit of inspiration from both the Great Deku Tree from Ocarina of Time and the Boggly Woods from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (this would be the headcanon tune for Dewdrop Woods). So, it was nice to see this description! ^^

    I'm pretty sure Jangmo-o would actually be dense enough to try and eat a pine cone.

    I think I might've suggested this, so I'm just gonna sin myself here. Roll credits! *ding*

    The sad part is, you can count their successful crimes on one hand. :p

    They particularly enjoy messing with main characters, no matter what universe they're from. I also like how Pleo, the most naive one of the group, is the only one willing to trust them. Just like I'd expect of ya, kiddo.

    Elty and Shane would probably get along great... until Shane started speaking, of course.

    Similarly, Guarida and Tessa would enjoy each other's company. :V

    Even in other universes, Elty's weight is apparently fair game. Poor guy really needs to just hit the treadmill. You'd think his adventures would have helped him shed a few pounds.

    Fact is Primarina introduces himself like this quite a lot. Makes you wonder how he even managed to find an audience in the first place. At least Pleo's entertained. <3

    This one's missing bold tags.

    Even the PMD world isn't safe from the terrors of inflation!

    Wouldn't be hard, since the other continents are stuck with normal donuts. *snicker*

    Aww man, Pleo needs a hug.

    Man, it's a good thing no one told them about Temporal Tower and the Tree of Life. They'd probably have heart attacks.

    Now, all Team Captivate needs is the Tidal Bell and they can catch their own Lugia! :V These poor girls... this is the last happy moment they're gonna have for a looooong time.

    I think this does a good job showing that arguing with Gallian is like trying to go up the down escalator. Waste of time and energy.

    You turned this into a pretty intimidating introduction. It's great! Let's break out the mood music!

    I'd like to imagine Necrozma is playing the part of those people complaining that Team Traveller are still at "level 0" so to speak. Also, roll credits! *ding*

    And thus, we have definitive proof that birbs > bats. And poor Dawn Wings... that was his only battle he'll get to be in and he dropped the ball big time.

    That's about it. Again, thanks a ton for agreeing to do this! I had a lot of fun with it. <3
     
  13. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    I decided to gloss the flavor text, since it’s stuff that you’ve shared with me quite a bit. I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to write that collab with Virgil and me, and I had a lot of fun giving our characters a world swap moment together.

    It’s been a bit longer than I’d have wanted between a large workload and lots of meta catchup, but I’m back with the midstory climax to this tale. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Fledglings is still entertaining the browsers of this site enough to place in the 2017 Fanfiction Awards, including in a tie for Best Plot, which I genuinely wasn’t expecting. The next update will be coming around late-June, which is a bit later than normal but done so I can work on my drafting queue. As you all might have noticed the update rate has slowed down during this episode and the goal is to go back to biweekly updates once this hiatus is over. Once that’s finished, the story will return with a special chapter that explores the backstory of someone from the main cast and sets up some stuff important to the story’s second half with Episode 12 currently slated to follow afterwards with a mid-July arrival.

    Special thanks for this episode goes to Virgil134 for providing assistance to helping to get this chapter out of the door. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the readers and reviewers who’ve been helping to keep this thread humming along, and hope that you all enjoy the ride today.

    And now, onto the moment you all have been waiting for...

    [​IMG]

    The air around the Vecioférale Arena rang heavy with shouts and cheers as the Silver Wing Cup dragged on. Unbeknownst to the mesmerized masses, at that moment the circular hallway rang out with the sounds of running footsteps and hurried pants. Their owners, Team Traveller along with the Guardian of the Seas, tore along the smooth, stony floor, their ears trained for any sign of trouble that might rise up over the din of the spectators.

    "Hanh… hanh… wh-where are we going?!" Pleo cried.

    "To the canals!" Kiran squawked back. "Ander and Dimitri are waiting for you there!"

    Pleo's eyes widened at the mention of Ander being there waiting for the team. The last time they'd met, he'd attacked him! What on earth would motivate such a change of heart? Puzzled thoughts swirled in Pleo's mind as the floor tiles zipped by underfoot, only for his attention to snap back at the sound of a shout and sight of a Skuntank guard rounding the corner from one of the private boxes just ahead.

    "Hey!" the skunk bellowed. "What do you think you're doing here-?!"

    Without thinking, Kiran banked hard towards the Skuntank, whipping up a whirling gale between his wings that swept up the Poison-Type and sent him flying back into the box. The group heard him scream followed by a loud crash and the sound of startled yelps from inside, drawing grimaces from the younger teammates. It would be a matter of moments before the other guards inside put two and two together, prompting the lot to look around frantically for an escape route when Nida's eyes caught the sight of a stairwell nestled in an alcove ahead.

    "Quick! Over there!" the Nidoran cried.

    The party rushed down the stairs, making their way down towards the ground as shouts and running footsteps came down the hallway. As the lot passed the second flight down, Pleo craned his head out, noticing waterways outside that carried on in neat lines… with a giant square packed with Pokémon wedged between the canals and the stadium.

    "How are we supposed to get out of here with all those Pokémon?!" he cried. "I haven't been able to fly since we got captured!"

    "There's a loading dock at the bottom that leads out to the canals," Elty answered back. "If we get down there, we'll be able to dodge most of the crowds!"

    The Growlithe bounded ahead, leading Team Traveller down to the ground level where the light came through slit-like windows near the ceiling. In the dimmed light, the lot looked around uneasily, only for Crom's yellow eyes to spot a service entrance with a door left ajar that smelled of seawater.

    "Ah!" Crom cried. "That's the way!"

    The six ducked through the side entrance, running down a stone hallway with light at the end. The lot ran along, popping out into an enclosed dock riddled with crates and barrels strewn about, only for the sound of voices ahead to prick their ears. Instinctively, the team dug in their feet and came to a skidding stop in front of a stack of crates. There, a surprised Emolga and Pelipper looked up from a game of cards and down at the unexpected trespassers.

    "Hey wait a minute?!" the Emolga yelped. "Isn't that the Pro-?!"

    Before the squirrel could finish, she was cut off by Crom fishing out a scaled seed from the team's bag and hurling it at the crates. The seed exploded with a searing flash, sending the two guards and their cards flying into the water as fire and smoke kicked up from the remains of the blast. Kiran and his charges pressed ahead as the plume of smoke thickened, running off ahead to the edge of the dock where a brown crab jetted up in the water, slapping its surface impatiently.

    "Took you long enough!" Dimitri chittered. "I was starting to get worried that you'd gotten caught in there!"

    "We're fine, just had a little bit of an unexpected run-in," Elty replied. The Growlithe trailed off, as he and his teammates noticed Pleo staring with a blank, dumbfounded look at Ander flitting over towards the docks. The seabird shifted uncomfortably, tripping over his words with his tongue before he finally managed to utter out a question.

    "Ander?!" Pleo asked. "What are you doing here?!"

    "Here to help you get away, that's what!" the Scyther snapped.

    "But you said that I brought misfortune to the Pokémon I was around!" the Lugia cried. "Why do you want me back?!"

    Ander flitted back uneasily, growing aware that he was increasingly the spotlight of attention among the gathered Pokémon. The Bug-Type tapped his scythes together, half-wondering himself how he'd let himself get into this situation.

    "I- I mean, I still don't think that you're safe to have around," he stammered. "But-"

    "Hey, stop!"

    Ander ducked as a crackling arc of electricity zipped overhead, the mantis and his seabird questioner turning to see that the Emolga and Pelipper had pulled themselves out of the water. Further behind, more forms in indigo scarves could be seen running up the docks, prompting the Scyther to frantically nudge at the young Lugia with the flat of his blade.

    "Gah! We need to go now!" Ander buzzed. "I'll answer you some other time!"

    Without prompting, Pleo and his teammates hastily clambered onto Dimitri's back as the Kabutops swam off, Kiran and Ander following behind flinging back a gust of air and a white shockwave at their attackers as beams and missiles strafed the water around them. Dimitri spotted a narrow channel wedged between a pair of block-like buildings to his left and darted down it, his passengers' hearts racing as they slipped off into the shadows.




    Back on the fourth level of the stadium, the stony floor echoed with the sound of a chitinous carapace landing on the ground over and over again. Its culprit was a wizened Clawitzer, who made her way along the hallway with her eyes narrowed and her mouthparts clicking unamusedly at having to be out of her more watery preferred environment.

    "Bah," Nagant spat. "I don't see why I have to make these checkups in perso-"

    As soon as the crustacean rounded the corner for the Protector's box, she came to a slack-mouthed stop. There in front of her was a pile of rubble where the entrance was supposed to be, with a Hitmonlee and Lunatone in Imperial scarves sprawled out asleep in front of it.

    "What the-?!"

    "Nrgh… five more minutes, mom…" the Lunatone moaned. Nagant stared open-mouthed at the sleeping Rock-Type, as its dazed mutterings were joined in by the snores of a nearby Hitmonlee.

    "Hmm… so many Mareep…"

    The Clawitzer scowled and lowered her firing claw, before promptly disgorging a torrent of water into the dozing pair's faces. The Hitmonlee and Lunatone jolted up with a gasping splutter, jumping to attention.

    "Eyaah! I'm up! I'm up!" the Hitmonlee squealed.

    "What is the meaning of this?!" Nagant hissed. "Why is there a gigantic pile of junk blocking the entrance to the Protector's box?!"

    The guard duo stammered uneasily, only for the sound of shifting rubble rang out. The Water-Type hopped back as she felt stones brush up against her from her right, looking back as a hole opened up in the rubble and Niilo poked through, Berecien and Cabot visibly peering after him from inside.

    "Bah, about time!" the Sandslash spat. "Here I was thinking that we'd be stuck in there all-"

    The pangolin bit his tongue at the sound of an angry hiss, looking up and flushing pale at the sight of none other than Nagant glaring daggers at him.

    "Er… is it too late to pile up the rubble again?" Niilo gulped.

    The Clawitzer captain dragged Niilo out of the hole, prompting Berecien and Cabot to dart out into the hallway, followed by a Gumshoos, Vanilluxe, and blue Florges with visible grimaces. The shrimp peered through the hole, noticing signs of a struggle and silvery feathers scattered around, before turning back and shooting a harsh glare at the three guards who were supposed to guard the Protector's inner chamber.

    "You there!" she hissed, as she grabbed the Gumshoos' scarf. "How did you let this happen and where is the Protector now?!"

    "I-I don't know! They threw a Slumber Orb before breaking in!" the Normal-Type stammered. "I only woke up after this rubble fell on my tail!"

    "Who is they?!" Nagant roared, only to be answered by a snorting response.

    "Those dzieciaki we picked up on Sormus."

    The sound of Berecien's answer prompted Nagant to let the Gumshoos go and direct her attention back to the Ponyta in front of her. The Fire-Type audibly inhaled, bracing himself to break the news about what was surely the last thing his superior wanted to hear right now.

    "They came back with friends while the guards were thinning out to a disturbance elsewhere in the stadium," Berecien explained.

    "They must have known it was going to happen," Cabot added. "Since they attacked us and stole the Protector in that exact timeframe."

    PLAM!

    The group flinched as Nagant sent a glowing blue orb into a nearby wall, throwing stone chunks and a cloud of dust up as a sphere-shaped indentation was left behind. The shrimp raised her small claw over her face, before flicking it away in disgust.

    "Ugh! This is just fantastic!" she seethed. "How are we supposed to find the Protector again now that he's missing in the middle of the largest city in the Empire?!"

    "Hoy! Don't just stand there!" a deep voice from further down the hallway cried. "Come and help the rest of us!"

    The Clawitzer whirled around, claw raised as she came face-to-face with a startled looking party in indigo consisting of a Mamoswine, a Vivillon, and a Wartortle. The three stammered and backpedaled a moment at the sight of the unexpectedly high-ranked Pokémon, only for the crustacean to chitter irritatedly.

    "What do you want?" Nagant demanded.

    "Uh… apologies, ma'am," the Mamoswine gulped. "B-But it's really urgent!"

    "Yeah, a band of kidnappers ran off with the Protector!" the Vivillon added. "We spotted them heading towards the harbor!"

    The three blanched as they heard a seething hiss emanate from the Clawitzer captain, who clicked her mandibles and leveled her large claw at the group.

    "How do you manage to lose them like this?!" the shrimp snapped.

    "Er… well, they struck after a bunch of us had been pulled aside to provide security for Admiral Coil after he got a court summons," the Wartortle explained. "Uh… we were still redistributing our remaining ranks until reinforcements-"

    "Spare me the history lecture and get moving after that Protector!" Nagant bellowed.

    "Yes ma'am!"

    The guards began to make their way back out, followed closely by the guards tasked with guarding Pleo's chamber. The Vivillon followed from behind, flitting down the hallway only to hear the sound of chitin thudding against stone behind her and feel her wing get tugged at by a claw.

    "You," Nagant ordered. "You're stopping by the naval yard to serve a notice to the sea escorts of the Vasilek to start heading into the canals."

    "Huh?!" the Vivillon cried. "But that's all the way-!"

    "To the south, I know," the shrimp finished. "If they're notified in time, there's still a chance they can help cut off the Protector in the canals."

    "Right!" the Bug-Type answered. "On it!"

    The butterfly flew off, leaving Nagant to cast her gaze out the window down towards a canal that passed by the base of the stadium. The Clawitzer neared the window, before turning back towards Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo as they uneasily pawed at the ground.

    "Patch yourselves up," she barked. "If you're in any condition to run afterwards, I want you on that bird's tail as well!"

    "Aye, Captain!"

    Nagant hopped ahead, leaping from the window ledge and vaulting head over tail into a dive into the water below. The Howitzer Pokémon felt the water rush past her gills, a fiery determination filling her and prompting her to tear through the water for the harbor.

    She'd gone through enough grief just tracking down the Protector for the Empire, and if a bunch of peasants from across Anyilla thought they could just steal it away from her, she'd need to remind them of how wrong they were. If they were going to steal away the hope of a generation for the Empire, they'd have to first pry it from her cold, dead claws.




    As Nagant stormed off through the canals, a loud roar went up from within the stands of the Vecioférale Arena. The audience watched in rapt attention as a Gallade barreled ahead of his Goodra and Blastoise teammates in a arena pit that had been freshly-lined with trees for an Incineroar, the Psychic-Type tackling the cat and launching him high into the air. The Incineroar righted himself in midair and came to a springing landing on a branch, as a Metagross and Braviary charged forward weaving around trunks with a glowing-eyed headbutt followed by cutting gusts of wind that sliced across the field much to the audience's delight…

    … or most of it, anyways. A few faces here or there seemed to be unmoved by the performance, among them was none other than that of a Weavile in the contestants' stand, looking up disinterestedly from a small collection of letters in his claws.

    "Pah, this is the quarter finals?" he scoffed. "With a sorry pair of teams like that, no wonder we became a hit with the spectators here!"

    Ketu spread the letters in his claws and waved himself with it to ward off the midday heat. From further behind, an orange Lycanroc with a white scarf and a blue sun pattern raised a brow and looked up with a curious glance.

    "Eh? You sure it wasn't our team's personality that made us popular?" the Rock-Type asked. "I noticed that we got a lot less mail today. Maybe they felt you went a bit too far yesterday?"

    The Weavile stopped fanning himself a moment, thinking back to how the fanmail had seemed to slow down a bit since his last match. After a moment's pause, the Dark-Type shrugged the matter off, before returning to cooling himself.

    "Meh, it's my job to complete the mission, which in this case means winning," Ketu said. "I couldn't care less if an egg or two gets broken along the way. It certainly never made me feel anything."

    "Ketu!"

    The weasel stilled his claws and turned back, just in time to see a Crawdaunt scuttle in in a visible hurry. Ketu frowned, before rolling his eyes and tapping his foot impatiently as the breathless lobster darted up.

    "Oh? What now?" the Dark-Type asked. "Some mail carrier sent another batch of letters?"

    "The guards are all in a commotion right now!" the Crawdaunt cried. "They say that someone's stolen the Protector!"

    Ketu jolted up with a start at his teammate's words, letting the letters in his claw fall to the ground.

    "What?!" the Weavile exclaimed. "How?!"

    "The guards apparently thinned out around fifteen minutes ago after some noble got into hot water and needed to be escorted out!" the crustacean explained. "A team of a Swellow and some kids caught them off guard with an Orb and ran off with the Protector towards the coast!"

    The weasel gritted his teeth as his breaths came out harsh and seething. The attackers the Crawdaunt described were none other those accursed brats from the day before!

    "Grr, I should've taken care of those lousy hicks yesterday instead of letting them slink off to lick their wounds!" he hissed, before turning to the form of a Crobat dozing from an awning over the stands. "Kane!"

    The Crobat jolted awake at Ketu's shout, prompting the Poison-Type to flit down with a start, blinking his tired eyes awake as he settled near his teammates.

    "Ngah?! What is it?!" the bat yelped.

    "Go back to the ship and tell Lyn that those Tromban hicks grabbed the Protector and are heading for the harbor!" the Weavile barked. "We're gonna have to take him back from them!"

    "Right! On it!" the Crobat replied.

    Kane took off, a newfound vigor coming over his wingbeats as he slipped out into the sky. Back on the ground, Ketu's Lycanroc and Crawdaunt teammates shifted uncomfortably, the wolf among them going up with an uneasy grimace.

    "So what do we do now?" the Rock-Type asked.

    "We make our way back to the ship," Ketu harrumphed. "We've already done our part, and Lyn's going to draw a lot of heat going after the Protector, and I'm not getting left behind when he needs to get out of port."

    The Weavile hurried out of the stands, the Lycanroc and Crawdaunt faltering a moment before following suit. They had done their part in this mission, their role now was simply to get out of the way and hope their crew could recover the Protector by letting Lyn do what he did best: fighting and mowing down anyone who got in his way.




    Whishhh

    In the main canal leading away from the Vecioférale Arena, the water and its surroundings hummed with their usual busy traffic of rafts and swimming Pokémon. In the midst of it, the form of a Kabutops tore through the water, weaving around Pokémon and various watercraft with yelps and angry admonitions from passerbys. On his back were the forms of a white, long-necked bird along with a blue Nidoran, a Growlithe, a young Druddigon, and a Cubone. The Nidoran among the group craned her head back to the forms of a shadowing Swellow and Scyther before turning back to her aquatic guide with a cry.

    "Dimitri, how much further is it?!"

    "Just a couple of minutes!" the Kabutops shouted back. "Just hold on tight until we get there, those guards can't lag behind us forever!"

    "H-Huh?!" Pleo squawked. "What's a couple of minutes away?"

    "The harbor, pollito!" Kiran answered. "We have a ship there to take you out of here!"

    The Swellow's answer made Pleo blink blankly back. Was he mishearing things? Or did Kiran really just say...

    "You have a ship?!" he cried.

    "It's the one my dad sails with! Remember how I told you about him-" Crom began, only for a sharp yelp from Ander to cut him off.

    "Agh! Look out!"

    The Scyther's cry rang out, prompting Dimitri and his passengers to look up as a churning wave came down the canal, upending a slew of rafts and sweeping up hapless swimmers. The Kabutops' attention diverted to a small alcove in the canal, where he beelined and dug into the stone as the water surged past him. The crab evened out, his passengers drenched and coughing as the sound of frightened yelps rang out, the Pokémon in the canals clearing out in front of a set of Pokémon in white scarves swimming up in the water.

    "Bah! I missed!"

    Team Traveller's blood went cold at the sound of a familiar, rumbling voice from further up the canal. The lot looked ahead where much to their astonishment, there in the water was the half-submerged form of an Aggron in a white scarf with the same design as Ander's snarling at them.

    "Hess?!"

    "You again?!" Guardia demanded. "We left you back in your horrid pirate town!"

    "I'm here to grab that bird there," the pirate captain spat. "So step aside before I run you o-"

    The Steel-Type caught himself, his gaze falling upon the form of a Growlithe among the Kabutops' passengers. Hess blinked, realizing that it was none other than his ship-burner who'd gone missing after Nagant's attack on Orleigh, and trained a scrutinizing eye on the fire dog.

    "Eh?! Eltenios?!" he cried. "What are you doing here? I thought you got lost at sea earlier!"

    Elty's body went rigid at the sound of his old captain addressing him, glancing anxiously at his fellow passengers. He had been torn away from the rest of the crew without any say last time… so why was he torn about leaving Team Traveller right now?

    "Uh, well… I-"

    "Oi! Save the story for later!" Hess barked. "You did good with that cover of yours, just keep those hicks busy and-!"

    "We were just leaving," Dimitri said. "See ya!"

    The Kabutops cut off the pirate captain by spitting up a jet of scalding water at the Aggron's face, prompting the Steel-Type to screw his eyes shut before getting knocked back by the attack. Hess lolled onto his back from the Scald, leaving Dimitri to turn away and zip off in the water. Back in the canal, Hess righted himself, coughing and brushing away some hot water out of his eyes, before giving out a seething roar and slapping his tail against the water's surface for attention.

    "Don't let them get away!" the Aggron bellowed.

    Dimitri charged ahead as beams and jets of water zipped overhead, the Kabutops wildly zigzagging left and right to evade the Iron Fleet's attacks. The crab looked up and veered right at the sight of a pile of rocks flying for him, sending him veering down a side canal where a mixed gust of silvery and pinkish dust sliced into the water before him.

    "Gah!"

    Dimitri abruptly stopped, prompting him and his passengers looked up to see a white-scarved Ledian and Hoppip smirking down at them from the air, the beetle tugging his partner into place against a stiff wind. From behind, the water churned as Hess stormed along in the water, followed closely behind by a body of baying underlings.

    "Grr! You shouldn't have tried me, you lousy crab!" Hess seethed. "Eat rocks!"

    The Aggron thrashed his body in the water, calling up a hail of rocks from the bottom of the canal that zipped into the air. Dimitri yelped and hastily darted ahead weaving around the rocks with a watery jet only for a large stone to clip his side and drench his passengers. The Kabutops winced and slowed down as the Ledian and Hoppip moved in, ready to pounce on the injured crab…

    "Dimitri! Keep going!" Kiran squawked. "We can't let the guards catch up with us because of these pirates!"

    The Hoppip abruptly was slammed into the wall by a cutting gust from Kiran, drawing a pained shriek before he fell into the water. From the other end of the alley, the Ledian buzzed with a start, flying up in a panic as a Scyther bounded off the walls and narrowly missed his head with a swung scythe, opening a path up for Dimitri to carry on as his passengers threw back attacks to try and cover their trail. The Kabutops' eyes lit up as the sight of an exit to a much wider lane of water came into view when a bellowing shout came from behind.

    "Oh no you don't!"

    Team Traveller flinched at the sound of roaring water, looking back to see Hess riding the crest of a large wave flecked with debris from behind them. Pleo watched as their Kabutops guide desperately tried to pick up his pace, only for the wave to overtake him and pull him and his teammates underwater. The Lugia screwed his eyes shut as he felt water wash over his plumes, darting back up to the surface where his head broke above the water and where he saw the sight of his friends in front of him in the canal coughing up water and trying desperately to stay above the surface. The young Protector went wide-eyed, instinctively swimming for the sound of his friends when a loud snarl rang out from behind him.

    "And stay out of my way!"

    Pleo turned his head back at the sound of Hess' shout, seeing the form of the hulking Aggron tearing towards him in the water. The Protector screamed and turned to try to fly away, beating his wings furiously only to pitch forward and dunk underwater. The young Lugia flinched, pulling his head under his wings as the sound of roaring water came upon him.

    "Not so fast!"

    Before the the churning water could descend on him, Pleo heard a wet smack followed by a sharp yelp and loud splash. Pleo pulled his head up and turned back to see his teammates looking off at Hess listing on his side in the water, rolling over to right himself a daze. Further behind, the culprit of the blow quickly became apparent with the form of a glaring Clawitzer at the head of a large body of Pokémon at the end of the canal in indigo scarves.

    "So this is how Pokémon from Tromba repay kindness," Nagant hissed. "And you, Aggron. If I'd have known you'd be this much of a thorn in my side, I'd have sunk you back in Orleigh!"

    "Well that's your problem," the Steel-Type spat. "And you're not getting the better of me this time!"

    Hess threw a hail of rocks back at the Clawitzer and her underlings, catching a Pelipper square in his head. The Clawitzer retaliated with an orb-like burst of water that missed her Aggron mark and shot an unfortunate Staravia out of the sky. One after the other, the air thickened with attacks from white and indigo-scarved Pokémon, the hapless onlookers on the street diving into nearby shops to peer out unnervedly at the battle. Amidst the confusion, Dimitri, Ander, and Kiran drug the sopping members of Team Traveller back onto Dimitri's back, the Swellow among them shaking off some water as he prodded uneasily at his charges.

    "Are you all okay?" Kiran coughed.

    "Urgh… as good as you can be getting soaked like this." Elty groaned.

    "Come on," Dimitri insisted. "Let's just hurry up before they notice u-"

    "Going somewhere?!"

    Before the Kabutops could finish, a glob of sickly purple sludge zipped by, catching Ander in his chest. The Scyther gagged, and uneasily wavered in the air as he pulled up to avoid sinking into the canal, his gaze leading his compatriots' eyes over the the approaching forms of a Tentacruel and Sharpedo in Imperial garb.

    "Don't think that you're going to get away from us so easily this time!" Cyanea sneered.

    "Yeah!" Katyusha jeered. "We're wise to your tricks now!"

    Dimitri darted forward, attempting to slip off to an intersecting canal ahead. Much to the vampire crab's horror, the Sharpedo from their pair of pursuers cut them off, whirling around with her jaws opened and barreling head on for the lot. The Kabutops looked around wildly, before his eyes caught the ledge of the canal, and he jutted a scythe out to bank hard to his right.

    "Hold on, kids!"

    The Rock-Type leapt up, sending himself and his passengers spilling into the street as they came to a tumbling stop against the wall of a tea shop. Pleo and his teammates lay there stunned a moment, the young Protector getting up with a groan as he nursed fresh nicks and bruises among freshly torn-up plumage.

    "Gotcha!"

    The Lugia looked up as Katyusha propelled herself out of the canal with jaws opened wide, prompting him and his teammates to hastily roll out of the way. Katyusha sailed past, the shark going wide-eyed as she clamped her jaws shut onto empty air…

    "Whuh?!"

    … and flopped onto the cobbles of the street with a yelp. The Sharpedo looked ahead to see Pleo standing in front of her startled, and spat up a jet of water only for him to sidestep and hastily duck away, leaving her to flail her fins and flop in an impotent attempt to keep her head-dominated body up with the youngsters just outside of her jaws' reach.

    "Katyusha, why didn't you just use Scald on them?!" Cyanea spluttered from the water.

    "B-But a bite oughta have been super effective!" the Sharpedo whined.

    Team Traveller rolled their eyes at Katyusha's bellyaching only for a glob of poison to sail overhead and splatter over the window of the tea shop behind them. The five youngsters and their companions ran along, bolting for an alleyway up ahead to their right as more bursts of poison and water nipped at their heels. One after the other, the group made their way down the alley, only for Ander to make it to the mouth of the lane when a burst of water exploded at the back of his head.

    "Aagh!"

    The Scyther's eyes flickered before the mantis pitched faceforward into the ground, the back of his head sporting cracks that dribbled yellowish fluid, much to Nida's horror.

    "Agh, Ander!"

    The Nidoran and her companions turned back, only for another burst to break just overhead. The group looked out into the canal where its culprit was quickly revealed to be a Clawitzer shooting a harsh glare at Cyanea and Katyusha in the canal.

    "Ah, Captain Nugget!" the Tentacruel yelped. "We were just-!"

    "Just pin them down already!" Nagant snapped.

    Team Traveller ducked as another salvo of water and poison tore through the corner of the shop next to the alleyway, grazing Crom and Elty and sending them lurching forward with yelps. The lot reflexively bolted ahead, only to find themselves looking back at Ander's still-unconscious body when they heard the patter of Dimitri's feet and saw him running for the mouth of the alley.

    "Go on ahead!" he shouted. "I'll catch up with you!"

    The five youngsters grimaced as they saw the Kabutops run ahead for Ander's downed form, Kiran pushing them along from behind with a forceful nudge.

    "Come on," he said. "We all knew what sorts of risks we're taking here. Just please make the most of it!"

    Kiran and his charges hurried along, lowering their heads as bursts continued to ring out behind them. The youngsters and their Swellow guide carried on, running down the alleyway before popping out and bounding across a bridge over a canal lined with tall stone buildings. The group bolted for the mouth of a narrow lane towards their left, when a leafy arrow suddenly zipped by Kiran's head with a thwip. The group came to a skidding stop, where ahead of them were the glaring forms of a Decidueye, an Araquanid, and a Herdier.

    "Hold it right there! You're disturbing the peace and abducting a Protector!" the Decidueye hissed. "Come quietly and your charges won't get any worse!"

    Team Traveller's members froze, their gaze following Elty's head as he looked over at an open doorway to his right, and a rickety sign with herbs and a pestle above the owl. The Growlithe sprang up and spat up a gout of fire onto the sign's post, prompting the Decidueye to let his arrow slip…

    WHAM!

    … only for the sign to fall on him and his companions, sending his leafy missile sailing off into a wall. The group watched as the trio of guards groped about in a stunned daze, Elty sporting a grin until he noticed himself at the slack-jawed center of attention of his teammates.

    "Oh come on! We were already in trouble with the law here! What's wrong with a little property damage?" he asked. A patter of feet rang out behind them, the battered and panting form of Dimitri coming into view with Ander slung over his back as he stared dumbfounded at the stopped group.

    "What are you doing?!" Dimitri cried. "The alleyway is-"

    "This way!" Crom insisted.

    The youngsters charged through the opened door, pulling the Kabutops and his stricken passenger along through the doorway just as the Decidueye guard and his companions got back up to their feet.

    "Sergeant Alba, they're getting away!" the Herdier yelped.

    "Well don't just stand there!" the owl screeched. "After them!"

    The group charged through a room with a simmering cauldron lined with clay jars and a strong herbal smell in the air as the guards came in afterwards throwing attacks around and filling the air with the sound of dashed pottery. Team Traveller made their way to an open doorway where a puzzled red Florges poked her head in, only to yank it back as Kiran and his companions bounded through and vaulted over a counter in front of a wide-eyed Axew. The lot came to a skidding stop into a covered hallway outside in front of a bookstore, Nida and Crom flinching at the sound of shouts and crashes from inside.

    "Er… I guess we ought to have been a bit more careful there," the Druddigon murmured.

    "Eh, don't sweat it," Elty insisted. "We got exactly what we needed from that little detour!"

    The Growlithe proudly raised a small knapsack in his mouth, revealing them to be filled with seeds and berries, the telltale form of a Reviver Seed lying at its top. The other Pokémon traded stern frowns back at the Fire-Type.

    "Urgh… you are so not learning your intended lessons from your Community Service," Kiran groaned. "Petty theft is 100% not acceptable from my pupils!"

    "Oi! Desperate times call for desperate measures!" the Growlithe barked back. "Besides, if you don't want to just take the stuff, you can pay for it later by mail or something!"

    Before Elty could finish, an errant arrow sailed by, zipping into the front of the bookstore and whipping up a rain of paper. The group looked back, seeing the Decidueye guard and his counterparts from earlier stagger from the front of the pharmacist, glaring across at them.

    "Worry about it some other time!" Dimitri shouted. "We've got company!"

    "Stop right there, criminal scum!" Alba hissed.

    The team charged on ahead, the guards' attacks carrying on and upending the shops that had the misfortune of being along the zig-zagging path of the fleeing group. The tide of destruction swept up a bakery, a pottery shop, a grooming parlor… as Guardia's attention turned to a stairwell going up to the right next to a bulletin board up ahead.

    "There!" Guardia cried. "Up ahead on the right!"

    The party ducked up the stairwell, flying up a set of stairs and balconies that led them past one dingy apartment of mats and rude furniture after another, the sound of Alba and his underlings ringing out from below. At the third floor, the Decidueye sprang up, raising his bow to shoot, only for Kiran to whirlwind the owl into an opened apartment. The group carried on, where the last flight ended at a solitary door, the Nidoran at the head throwing it open to see the sky above and a patio surrounded by tiles underfoot.

    "A-Aah!" Nida cried. "We're on the roof!"

    The little spike ball and her companions looked around, seeing that they were now on the rooftops above Tidemill City, the ground four- no five- uh… more stories off the ground than it appeared safe to fall off of. Instinctively, Guardia shrank back, backing up against the door when the sound of shouts from inside rang out, prompting Crom and Dimitri to shove a nearby crate over the door as Kiran pulled the Reviver Seed out of the pilfered satchel and slipped it into Ander's mouth, setting him spluttering and stirring with a groan as his eyes refocused.

    "Nrgh… what happened?" he groaned.

    "Well, let's see here, we've just resisted arrest, assaulted some local guards, committed larceny, and caused more counts of damage to public property than I can count offhand right now..." Kiran murmured. "Other than that, I don't think you missed a whole lot."

    "That oughta hold them for a bit, but we need to get moving!" Dimitri panted.

    "How?!" Guardia exclaimed. "We're stuck here on a bunch of roofs!"

    The group looked around uneasily, only to hear a loud stomp and shouts coming from the side of the building to the right. The lot peered over, where they saw the forms of haggard-looking Pokémon in white scarves running along

    "They went somewhere on land!" Hess' voice shouted. "Don't let them get a-!"

    Team Traveller watched as Hess ran along under their eyes, only for a tile to slip off the roof and break beside him. The Aggron looked up, where Guardia and her companions grimaced as the Steel-Type's blue eyes widened and his claw shot upwards in their direction.

    "There they are!" Hess cried. "Get them!"

    The edge of the roof suddenly disappeared in a hail of rocks and other beams and missiles from the alleyway, kicking up a cloud of dust as broken tiles and timbers rained around the roof. Team Traveller flinched as they heard shouts and squawks ring out, as fliers in white and indigo scarves harried each other in the air nearby. After having their attention shift back down to the rooftops, they saw that barring the occasional alleyway, the rooftops were conjoined, providing what would be their only route forward to escape.

    "Run!" Elty shouted. "And don't look down!"

    The lot charged ahead, bounding as tile and shingle crunched underfoot and Pokémon in indigo scarves from the air sent forth cutting winds from behind as further attacks flew up from other Pokémon in similar garb from a canal on the opposite end of the building. The group reached a small gap over an alleyway, prompting one after the other to leap over it… with the sole exception of Guardia, who skidded to a stop and cringed away much to Kiran's surprise.

    "Eh?! Come on Guardia!" he cried. "You can make that jump!"

    "N-No! I can't!" she whined. "I- I won't make it if I fall from this high!"

    The Swellow peered down at the alleyway below and at the quivering bone lizard, before giving a shake of his head.

    "Then it seems like you'll need another way over," he answered.

    "Another wa-? Agh!"

    The Cubone yelped as she was suddenly thrown onto the Swellow's back, the bird running and flying forward over the gap as she dug her claws into his plumage. The Ground-Type screwed her eyes shut as she felt the air brush past her, before feeling her body drop and land on tiles. The Ground-Type cracked her eyes open to see that Kiran had flown her over the gap and onto the roof across the gap, panting breathlessly as she peered warily back up at the Swellow, who shook his head with a smile.

    "If you need help, just ask for it," he insisted. The Flying-Type began to move ahead, when the sound of an Aggron's grunts from the side reached the gathered lot's ears.

    "Nrgh… just a little more!"

    Much to their horror, Team Traveller spotted a ladder to their right leading to the roof, where clambering up it was none other than Hess followed by a small train of Pokémon. The pirate captain of the Mistral Marauder hoisted himself onto the roof, and on sighting Team Traveller, dusted himself off and gave the tiles underfoot a satisfied stomp.

    "Hah!" he sneered. "Gotcha you little-"

    The sound of a whining creeeeak rang out, as the ladder suddenly came ajar and buckled, collapsing back to the ground as the sound of yelps and thuds rang out… followed by whines and the sight of a small pile of Pokémon in white scarves lying at the bottom of the building shambling to their feet.

    "Ow…" a Pawniard groaned.

    "My spleen…" a Charmeleon moaned.

    The Aggron blinked and then looked down at the collapsed ladder with a sheepish grimace. Evidently, the builders hadn't constructed it in mind with Pokémon quite as bulky as him.

    "Er… oops?"

    Team Traveller turned and bolted ahead to slip away from the distracted pirate, only for a watery blur to suddenly jet up and come to a stop ahead of them. There, pivoting on her tail was none other than Nagant, the Howitzer Pokémon leveling her firing claw at the lot of them with a low hiss.

    "Shakh i mat, buyany," the Clawitzer spat. "It's time to surrender peacefully and come along."

    "Get bent, you lousy sea bug!" Hess roared. The Aggron charged ahead, lowering his head into a reckless charge only to be caught and forced back by a Water Pulse. The Steel-Type yelped, throwing his arms out to try and maintain his balance as he stumbled backwards past Team Traveller, only for an icy beam to land under foot and send him slipping and coming to a tumbling stop at the edge of the roof… directly behind a now ashen-looking Team Traveller.

    "Why am I getting this sinking feeling that this has happened before?" Nida gulped.

    "I-It did?" Crom stammered. "How did you get out of it last time?"

    Nagant shook her head and leveled her claw, an orb of water forming in between the tips of her pincers as Hess dragged himself to his feet. Before she could fire, she was cut off by an watery burst from behind, drawing a shriek from the elderly shrimp that sent her tumbling. Hess blinked before looking over at a visibly nervous Team Traveller, when a jet of water sprang up from the corner of the Aggron's eye.

    "Hey, what the-?!"

    The Aggron turned and went wide-eyed as a blue blur moved onto the roof and launched him back with a tackle that sprayed water all around the rooftop, pitching him over the opposite edge of the roof with a startled shout followed by a loud crash. Team Traveller brushed away droplets from their eyes, turning back towards the blur only for their blood to run cold at the sight of an uncomfortably familiar Samurott glaring back at them.

    "Lyn!"

    "I've been getting very tired with your rebelliousness, Trombans," the Commissioner growled. "It's time I put an end to it and take what's mine."

    The Samurott gave a bloodcurdling cry, drawing the attention of a Crobat along with a following array of flying Pokémon in blue-sunned scarves. The fliers swooped in, driving off the indigo-scarved counterparts from the air and forcing Hess' underlings in the alley back with yelps with a rain of cutting winds before turning for the rooftop Lyn was on. Satisfied with the turn of events, the Samurott gave a dangerous grin and fished his seamitars from their scabbards, raising them ready for battle.

    "Have at you-!"

    Before the otter could finish he was cut off by a blue orb of light which zipped along and wrenched the blade from his paw and sending it clattering against the tiles. The otter whirled over in the direction of the Aura Sphere, seeing the seething form of a Clawitzer with her large claw still leveled at him.

    "You must be Commissioner Lyn," Nagant hissed. "I don't know how things work in your little treasonous gang, but I'm afraid I can't just sit back as you meddle in Her Majesty's affairs."

    Lyn stooped down and fished his fallen blade up with a scoff, before rearing up and sweeping his blades out with a low growl.

    "Just try and stop me."

    The Samurott bellowed and dashed towards the Clawitzer, who in turn jetted for the oncoming swordsmon. Team Traveller took off and ran as the sound of water spraying and blows from behind rang out, running ahead only for a slicing gust to tear up section of roof before them.

    "Ack!" Nida yelped. "What on earth was-?!"

    "Extraction team, take your positions!" Kane chittered. "Looks like we're going to have to do the heavy lifting today!"

    The Crobat sent forth a glob of violet sludge, his salvo followed by a hail of gusts and beams from the fliers around him. Team Traveller tried to run ahead, only for the fliers to quickly block off the front with attacks, then the left and right, until before they knew it the lot were ringed by fliers circling overhead, keenly eyeing an increasingly unnerved Team Traveller below.

    "A-Aah! What do we do here?!" Crom yelped. "They have us surrounded!"

    "Yeah, we can't fight all these Pokémon!" Pleo cried.

    Nida's eyes darted from one flier to the next when she realized that the Crobat's face looked familiar… The rabbit's mind turned back to their prior adventures, the vivid image of one of her spikes zipping into his carpal joint and making him wobbly before fire and wind sent him plummeting out of the skies over Boisocéan. Nida's eyes suddenly lit up, realizing that the team didn't have to try and fight their imposing foe head-on after all.

    "Go for the wings of that Crobat!" the Nidoran yelled. "We can shake the others!"

    The blue spike ball flicked a barb at the bat, prompting him to hastily weave out of the way and swoop down. The Crobat dove for the silvery-feathered bird in his foes' midst, only for Dimitri to dart forward to intercept the bat. Kane's plowed into Dimitri's shoulder, his body brushing up against the crab's scythe, prompting him to jerk up and retreat as he felt warm fluid ooze against his fur before a gout of fire and a burning burst of light caught his wings followed by a rough slash across his belly.

    Kane shrieked, lurching wildly to and fro as he fought to stay airborne. The bat let his rear wings droop limply, beating his forewings harder to stay aloft as he hissed back angrily at the ringed Pokémon below.

    "R-Rgh! I've had enough of this!" Kane fumed. "Hurry up and sweep them while I can stay airbo-"

    "Take that!"

    The Crobat whirled and his eyes shrank to pins at the sight of a hail of rocks sailing for him. The stones struck him and a number of the fliers with him out of the air, sending them to crashing onto the roof and others into the street with audible groans. The still-airborne fliers gaped stunned a moment, only for a group of indigo-scarved Pokémon flying in a V-shaped formation to swoop in and chase after them, leaving the skies cleared of all but the sounds of a jeering Aggron.

    "Hah!" Hess exclaimed. "I got 'em! I got 'em-"

    The pirate's celebratory racket prompted Nagant and Lyn to peer down into the alleyway, before summarily disgorging a pair of watery shots at the Aggron. The pirate captain hopped over a orb of water with a yelp and leapt out of the way of a torrential jet, the Steel-Type going wide-eyed and squealing out of fright.

    "E-Eyaah! Fall back! Fall back!"

    Hess dove for cover along with his lackeys, prompting Nagant to turn and notice that Team Traveller had bolted on ahead. The shrimp jetted along after the fleeing youngsters and their companions, readying her claw to fire off a burst of water only to shriek as a stabbing pain sliced into her and sent her tumbling back along the roof. In her place, the form of a Samurott snorted, swinging it and flicking away some bluish fluid off its edge.

    The otter ran along after Team Traveller, who came to a skidding stop at the edge of the roof seeing that it was hemmed in by broad canals on two ends. The group felt the roof sag underfoot as Lyn ran along, forcing them to fight to keep their balance as they realized that the supports were less than adequate for supporting their weight. They looked around, and noticed a wooden ladder at the last end. Crom darted over, only to recoil back after seeing Hess and his underlings run up to the base of the building.

    "Wh-What now?!" the Druddigon cried. "We're trapped!"

    "Yeah! Even if we get past Lyn, that Clawitzer and that Aggron pirate will just block the way!" Nida added.

    Dimitri looked ahead to see Nagant harrying Lyn from behind, prompting the Samurott to whirl and disgorge a beam of ice back at the shrimp. The Kabutops then turned his attention down into the alleyway, where he saw Hess pawing the ground with a loud bellow, only to be summarily forced back with a yelp by a pair of watery jets. The Aggron charged back blindly, before running square into a stack of crates, falling on his rump with a yelp. As he nursed his snout from the impact, Dimitri's eyes lit up with a flash of inspiration.

    "We'll have that Aggron help us out!" the vampire crab said. "We just need to get in front of him!"

    "Have you lost your mind?!" Ander exclaimed.

    "Trust me on this one!" the Kabutops insisted.

    Nagant's voice suddenly cried out, the Clawitzer having been frozen in place against the tiles. With a bellowing roar, Lyn turned back towards Team Traveller's end of the roof, charging ahead with his blades drawn. The youngsters paled, only for Kiran to dive in with a loud squawk.

    "Go on ahead!" the Swellow ordered. "I'll distract him!"

    "You'll need someone to keep that Daikenki's eyes off the air, Ohsubame!" Guardia cried. "I'm coming with!"

    "Guardia!" Pleo cried. "Wai-!"

    The young Lugia darted after the Cubone, only to hop back as an Ice Beam zipped at his feet. With a hurried tug, Crom, Nida, and Elty dragged their Protector companion along, making their way one by one down the ladder as Guardia and Kiran ran ahead throwing a Bonemerang and Air Slash at the Samurott in front of them. The otter deflected the bony missile, only for the cutting gust to dig into his shoulder with a seething growl as the pair ran off for the center of the roof. Lyn swung his blades out, forcing the Swellow and Cubone to hop back as their tips sailed past, their owner giving a low growl back.

    "Grr… do you actually think that you can win here?" the Water-Type spat. "I was besting more formidable foes back in my days in the Academy!"

    "Not every battle is won on the field," Guardia harrumphed back. "Not that I won't give you a good knock!"

    Lyn growled and swung his seamitar down at the bone lizard, only for it to be brushed aside and into a patch of tiles by a gust of wind from Kiran. The blade embedded itself into the roof, prompting Guardia to clamber up Lyn's still extended forearm and leap up bringing her club down onto Lyn's snout.

    A roar of pain sounded out, followed by a watery pulse shooting forward from Lyn's mouth and the sound of a sharp yelp as Kiran's pupils shrank to pins. Much to his horror, there was Guardia, sailing through the air with her club, her body limp and unconscious.

    "Guardia!"

    Kiran saw Guardia's body hit the roof's tiles and skid along them, prompting him to fly after and snatch up the lizard and her bone before they sailed off the roof. The bird panted as he heard a fierce roar, looking back to see Lyn charging with his seamitars drawn, only for a sudden blue orb to knock him off his feet and send him glaring towards the direction of a scowling Clawitzer.

    "Hey, square-neck. You didn't think that little nick and frost was going to stop me, did you?!" Nagant hissed.

    As the rooftop above rang out with shouts and blows, the rest of Team Traveller clambered down into the alley. There, the forms of a host of white-scarved Pokémon neared from every direction, sneering and snarling threateningly as Hess lumbered down at the mob's head.

    "Are you sure this is going to work?" Nida murmured.

    "It's our only shot, so try and sell the part!" Dimitri cried.

    "Grr… I hope you like swabbing decks, you lousy runts!" the Aggron captain growled. "That's the first thing I'm making you all do once I press you into my crew!"

    "Just try us!" Crom snarled back. "You'll never take us down!"

    "Yeah!" Pleo added. "I'll take you down with my powers just like last time!"

    The mention of 'powers' made Hess audibly gulp and the nearby pirates inch away with nervous hems and haws. The metal lizard knew full well what the bird's 'powers' could do, and in a maze of stone buildings and cobbled streets like Tidemill, there was no guaranteeing a soft landing like the last time he'd wound up on the wrong side of the overgrown Wingull's sorcery...

    "That's- Uh. Th-That… That won't mean anything if I defeat you first!" the Aggron insisted. "G-Good luck blowing anything away when you're out cold!"

    "No worries, Captain!" Elty barked. "A good old-fashioned headbutt would put him down for the count!"

    Elty's words at once threw his nearby teammates into wide-eyed alarm, only for them to catch him turning to face them and pawing impatiently at the ground. Nida, Pleo, and their companions watched warily as the Puppy Pokémon turned back to face the Aggron, giving a playful wag of his tail.

    "Why, that's even what put him down back in Sormus!" the dog insisted. "One stiff ram from that old hag of a shrimp and he keeled over like a burnt Shedinja!"

    Elty's report prompted a malevolent grin to spread over Hess' face. His confidence restored, the Aggron began to paw at the ground, lowering his head in the direction of the young Protector.

    "So that's what's super effective against him, huh?" he sneered. "Well you're in luck, ya overgrown Wingull! Because I've been doing headbutts since I was a shin-kicker!"

    The Aggron stomped the ground, shaking the surrounding street before opening his maw with a deafening roar. The Steel-Type stormed ahead, tearing along the cobbles underfoot and lowering his head for a forceful ram. Hess carried on, the forms of the runts and their fellow-travellers coming into view, only for them to suddenly slip out of his vision, with the Nidoran among them sliding between his feet.

    "Huh?!"

    WHAM!

    Hess felt his head slam into the stony wall, and stumbled back, shaking his head in a daze as a large hole and a few chunks of splintered wood lay strewn about where the bottom of the ladder was just a few moments ago. The Aggron blinked and looked underfoot to see that far from being trampled underfoot, the meddlesome pests had slipped behind him, in front of a slack-jawed audience of his underlings.

    "Argh! I missed!"

    Cra-Krak

    A low groan filled the air, followed by the sounds of timbers swaying and snapping. Up on the roof, Lyn and Nagant braced themselves as they felt the roof jolt underfoot, and begin to list more and more towards the canal.

    "Huh?! The roof!" Nagant exclaimed. "It's colla- Ack!"

    Before the Clawitzer could finish her statement, she felt a whirling wind sweep her up and hurl her head-first into Lyn. The Swellow culprit took a moment to examine his wingwork as the two Water-Types separated from each other, taking off with Guardia and her bone as the roof lurched and pitched forward, dumping Lyn and Nagant shouting into the canal along with a mass of tiles and wood. Back on the ground, Hess looked up to see Kiran's form approaching with his limp Cubone passenger, turning back to Team Traveller as they stood in the center of a regrouped mob of pirates.

    "Eltenios! What the hell was that?!" he growled. "You said that that overgrown Wingull would crumple up from a little tackle, not- Huh?"

    Creeeeeaaaak

    The Aggron noticed a sea change among the mood of his deckclaws, whose eyes widened with panic and began to run off with yelps and shouts. A similar panic had come over the runts and their companions, who followed suit shortly afterwards. A falling stone prompted Hess to look up, where he noticed the timbers from the wall above falling outward, bringing the facade of the building's side along with it.

    "E-Eeep..."

    Hess darted forward as the stony wall fell into the alleyway, dashing itself against the side of the alley and disintegrating into a rain of bricks and wooden shards. From further up the alleyway, Team Traveller shielded their eyes as a cloud of dust overtook them, coughing as the sounds of disoriented shouts rang out all around them.

    "Is- Is it over?" Pleo stammered.

    "Urgh… h-hey!" Hess' voice shouted. "Hurry up and get me out of here!"

    The youngsters looked back as the dust began to clear, looking back to see the form of a dust-caked Aggron laying on his belly with a large pile of rubble burying his legs. Above, the occupants of floor after floor of freshly-opened rooms looked out with slack jaws, watching the Aggron below flail and struggle with the rubble below as Team Traveller looked up sheepishly.

    "It's over enough!" Kiran insisted. "Come on, let's get out of here!"

    The white-scarved members of the Iron Fleet rushed back for their stricken captain as the shouts of incredulous onlookers rang out in the background. In the midst of the confusion, Team Traveller and their companions darted off, running off down the alleyways past passerbys towards the harbor's water in the distance.




    (Continued in next post)
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2019
  14. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    "There!" Crom panted. "I can finally see it!"

    The docks in the visitor's district resounded with the patter of feet against wood as Team Traveller bounded along, forcing their way past sailors along the way with yelps and irritated shouts. The group carried on until they caught the sight of a schooner sporting white sails with waterspout patterns, scrambling up a lowered gangplank as all eyes on the deck turned stunned to the newfound arrivals.

    "Travellers above, they actually did it!" a Raichu exclaimed, a nearby Servine similarly staring dumbfounded.

    "How on earth did you manage to get him here?"

    "There they are, stop them!"

    Before the pair's questions could be answered, the quiet was broken by a multicolored beam of light zipping overhead and sailing along into the wood of the Siglo Swellow's deck. Elty turned back, where the sight of an approaching mob of Pokémon in indigo scarves could be seen storming up the docks, lobbing an increasingly thick volley of attacks that pockmarked the merchant ship's hull and deck.

    "Worry about that later!" the Growlithe shouted. "Let's just get moving already!"

    After weaving out of the way of a flying rock, Beatrix buzzed loudly, and flitted onto the ship's rigging, looking down to bark out orders to her subordinates.

    "Cut the moorings and get some cover up!" the Illumise cried. "We're getting out of here!"

    With no time to spare, the moorings along the dock were summarily sliced by a Bayleef flicking razor-like leaves from the railing, prompting the ship's escorts to begin their work of whipping up currents in the water and air. The ship lurched ahead as Pokémon ran up to the railings, hastily following the lead of a Hitmontop in spreading barriers of light between their paws to deflect the hail of attacks coming from land.

    "Return fire!" Vicente cried. "If we can't keep them off our tails here, we're as good as sunk!"

    Team Traveller joined in as another wave of deckhands came up behind the barrier holders, spitting up and hurling attacks back at the docks as the ship plowed along. The sound of yelps evidenced that some of the attacks found their mark on some of the guards, while others sailed off into nearby ships and sailors on the docks. From his place aboard the deck, Pleo watched as a few of the ships began to list and smolder, only for a loud blast and shrieks to ring out nearby, his sight catching a Trumbeak keeling over and slumping to the deck from the aftereffects of a crackling thunderbolt. The young Lugia blanched and looked over at the felled Trumbeak, prompting Crom and Elty to try and snap him back to attention.

    "Mewa, get it together!" the Growlithe snapped.

    "Yeah!" Crom cried. "If we can't get out of the harbor, nothing we've done will have mattered-"

    "Ojo!"

    The three's ears perked up at the sound of an Unfezant's startled shout, prompting them to turn and see a large wave coming towards them from the middle of the harbor with swimming Pokémon in indigo scarves riding its crest. From her place at the tiller, Beatrix stared blankly a moment, before leaning hard on the tiller and steering the Siglo Swellow's bow square into the wave.

    The water lifted the hull up, pitching the ship back wildly as the sound of crashing wood and screams rang out. Team Traveller's members dug their paws around the railing and rigging, holding on for dear life as the ship pitched further and further up, only for it to splash back down. Nida felt her head strike the deck as water cascaded over her, the rabbit getting up dazedly as the ship lurch underfoot after a crunch rang out by her ears. The Nidoran peered back and saw that the Siglo Swellow had grazed a pier, with the docks further behind now a mess of tangled and half-sunken ships, with the water between them and the harbor's entrance clear and open.

    "Take us dead ahead!" Beatrix barked. "We've got a clear shot to the open sea!"

    The escorts still able focused the water and wind into a strong current, powering them and the schooner along as the injured among them were dragged from the water groaning onto the deck. The crew braced themselves as Pokémon in indigo scarves began to mass on the wall hemming the harbor in from the sea, the sailors readying their Protects for another volley of incoming attacks. Unfortunately for the crew, their numbers had thinned, while the guards' had only increased, prompting more and more attacks to begin to slip through as the ship began to move between the harbor's walls at the entrance. The white, blinding light of a Hyper Beam came through, slamming into a Bayleef and a Nosepass and sending them slumping to the deck as a spray of bullet-like seeds sailed by and caught Nida with a yelp, knocking her to the ground with a daze and making Pleo squawk and dart back in fright.

    "A-Aah!"

    "Hang in there, Pleo!" Kiran cried. "We're almost free here-!"

    "Ready the seafire and don't let that schooner get away!"

    Pleo watched as the eyes of the nearby sailors shrunk to pins at the mention of seafire and looked up as a Magmar on an overlooking wall from above pushed over a large stone cauldron and breathed fire on it. Pleo saw embers drip down from the lid of the cauldron, the seabird watching as Crom and Elty's faces contorted into horrified grimaces. The Lugia looked up unervedly, and watched as a mass of burning fluid dumped out of the cauldron and fell for the deck before reflexively batting his wings out.

    "L-Leave us alone!"

    The young guardian desperately brought his wings together and flung forth a churning wind, only to notice that his feathers hadn't lit up in the process. The bird squawked in horror and curled his head under his wings, screwing his eyes shut in fright. Pleo heard a splash, along with frightened shouts and the sound of crackling flames...

    "Agh!" a Seaking yelped. "Watch where you dump that stuff!"

    "I can't get past it!" an Eelektrik cried. "There's too much seafire blocking the harbor entrance!"

    The Lugia paused, realizing slowly that the shouts were coming from behind him and fading away. Pleo cracked his eyes open and looked back to see the walls of the harbor behind the Siglo Swellow, fire dancing on the sea's surface just behind them… along with the deckhands all around him staring at him with slack-jawed silence.

    "You- You did it!" Vicente cried. "Your quick thinking saved this ship from becoming ash!"

    "He really is our Protector!" a Golduck chimed in.

    Pleo hopped back with a start, his words coming out with a flustered stammer. He hadn't done anything out of the ordinary at all there! Why was everyone making such a big deal out of it?

    "H-Huh?!" Pleo exclaimed. "But my powers didn't come right there-!"

    "It doesn't matter!" Crom cheered. "We were in trouble and you still came to our rescue!"

    "Yeah!" Nida piped up. "You protected us, just like you were meant to!"

    The seabird quieted a moment as a thought came to mind… could it be that a Protector didn't need its powers all the time to defend the Pokémon they cared for? The thought was interrupted by a stream of fire soaring overhead, prompting Beatrix to whirl back to her crewmates.

    "There will be time to celebrate later!" she snapped. "Come on, while those guards are still busy bottled up in the harbor!"

    The Siglo Swellow powered on against the waves, the attacks from behind coming less frequently and further and further off their mark as the ship sailed on for the horizon, the Pokémon settling down to tend to their wounded and the vessel's damage. Amidst it all, a strange joy filled the crew: as far as they were from home and the safety of its harbor, it somehow felt as if a part of it had come to them with the presence of their long-sought Protector.




    Back deeper within Tidemill, dust continued to swirl around a stone building that had its roof freshly shorn off, which now lay dashed in pieces in the water of the canal. A few shattered timbers floated along with a few stray tiles as the canal water bubbled and the form of a Samurott staggered and pulled himself onto the street panting, flecked with fresh lacerations and bruises from his fall into the water with the building's rooftop.

    "Urgh…"

    Lyn heard an irritated hiss from behind, tensing his paws over the hilts of his blades as he looked back to see Nagant clambering out of the water beside him, with murderous hate burning in her beady eyes.

    "Grr… you!" the Clawitzer seethed. "I don't know what you did back there, but you had something to do with it!"

    "Yes, of course, because falling from a rooftop is just what I needed to help recover the Protector," the otter spat back. "Did you hit your head on the way down?"

    "No, but let me help you out with that!"

    Lyn and Nagant lunged for each other, the Samurott dealing a swift slash at the shrimp's shelled body as she shot back with a spray of black orbs that burst against his chest. The pair tumbled back, seething as they righted themselves and prepared to tear into each other once again when the sound of bricks falling drew their attention to a nearby alleyway where a group of white-scarved Pokémon led by a aggravated Ledian came into view with a dazed Aggron caked in rubble and dust in its midst.

    "Ugh, of course you would fall for a ruse like that," Kichiro grumbled.

    "I don't want to hear it!" Hess snapped. "Let's get out of here before-!"

    "Oh no you don't!" Nagant screeched. "You're not just getting away like that!"

    The Clawitzer leveled her claw and summarily disgorged a watery pulse that launched Hess into a wall with a yelp, sending the white-scarved Pokémon around him scattering in a panic. The shrimp hopped over as Lyn frowned unimpressedly at the Aggron's ordeal, shaking his head while a Huntail swam up in the water from a Crobat being slung onto the back of a Wailmer.

    "We need to get going," the Samurott murmured.

    "Excuse me, Captain?" the Huntail asked.

    Lyn motioned further down the street where a body of Pokémon in indigo were massing. From a distance, the lot could be seen beginning to make their way down the street canvassing the buildings for intruders.

    "There's nothing to be gained from staying here while the Protector's gone, and we've got downed deckhands," the Commissioner barked. "We're better off taking this moment to retreat and try to pin down the Protector's trail before we start having to leave behind deckhands."

    The Huntail hesitated a moment, wondering if the Protector was truly as gone as his superior presumed. A yelp caught the fish's attention, prompting him to cast a glance at Nagant fighting a visibly wide-eyed Aggron and then back at the approaching guards. They were in enemy territory, and it appeared the Imps wouldn't shy away from force to try and extract information… for the sake of the mission, it really was best to just cut and run while they could.

    "Aye, Captain."

    The Samurott motioned to his nearby underlings to move out and slipped into the water as a loud thud rang out. There, back in the alleyway, Hess fell from a fresh indentation in the alley wall panting and dripping water, trying to scrabble away for dear life only to feel his neck get gripped by a forceful claw and be drug to face the business end of Nagant's large claw.

    "A-Aah!"

    "You should have stayed on your island cesspool while you had the chance, Aggron!" the shrimp seethed. "You're under arrest, and you're gonna tell me everything about what you kno-"

    "Everyone!" a Samurott's voice bellowed. "We're moving out!"

    The Clawitzer slackened her grip, allowing Hess to fall to the ground and hide his head under his claws as she turned back. Much to her aggravation, she noticed her Samurott foe slinking off at the rear of a large group of Pokémon in blue sun scarves, prompting her to hiss in rage and jet off after him.

    "Why you-!"

    The Clawitzer hopped up onto a nearby crate and vaulted up into the air, trained her large claw on Lyn as an orb of blue light began to form between its tips. Before the Aura Sphere could form, the Samurott abruptly dove, before lunging up with a seamitar drawn, uppercutting the shrimp and sending her flying back with a loud cry.

    Nagant felt her head hit the stony cobbles of the street, tumbling back as she got up in a wheezing daze, noticing blue fluid dribble out onto the stones from a cracked segment of her armor. Undeterred, the crustacean chittered and leveled her claw for Lyn's form in the distance...

    "I- I don't know anything!" a rumbling voice yelped.

    "Huh-?"

    Nagant turned, only to feel a sudden blow on the side of her head from a rigid, steely tail and get launched face-first into the wall of a nearby shop. The shrimp went limp and flopped backwards into the street, her attacker standing a good distance away shivering with his eyes screwed shut and his tail curled in timidly against his body.

    "That stupid bird and his friends ran off already!" he squealed. "I don't know anything, so don't-!"

    "Captain, she's fainted!" Kichiro shouted. "Hurry up and run!"

    Hess cracked his eyes open warily, seeing the prone form of the old shrimp laying groaning in the street ahead… along with the slack-jawed faces of a few of his lackeys poking out from various nooks and crannies of the alley he was in. The Aggron quickly forced a grin, and shifted his body into a noticeably over-triumphant pose.

    "Er… all in my plan, of course!" the Steel-Type overhastily piped. "Time for a strategic retreat!"

    The Aggron and his underlings quickly slipped off into the darkness of the alley as the indigo-scarved Pokémon neared Nagant's fainted body. From further down the canal, Lyn peered back over his shoulder at the scene, slowing a moment as he wondered whether the steely oaf might know something useful...

    "… Nah," he harrumphed, before turning back and shaking his head. "It wouldn't be worth the trouble."

    The otter hurried along, diving under the surface of the water. His lackeys who were able formed bubbles for their passengers and followed suit, while the filers dispersed into small groups and fanned out, their presence in the great city dissipating much like a dying wind at sea.




    As quiet began to return to the canals of Tidemill Central, the interior of the courtroom in Tidemill West began to come alive with activity as it filled with Pokémon. There, in front of the doorway, a Fletchinder, Misdreavus, and Pikachu traded uneasy looks with one another, eyeing hallways expectantly only to time and time again find them empty of faces they'd expected to come in at any moment.

    "Cardino? When are your assistants supposed to get back?" Rita pressed.

    "They said they'd be right after me, pal," the Pikachu murmured. "But I haven't seen hide or hair of them or their friends."

    Nico shook his head as the sound of footsteps prompted him to look up towards the podium. There, the Slowking judge presiding over the case had slowly begun to settle into his seat, playing with his gavel a moment before giving it a firm bat against the wood of his podium.

    "… I'm afraid we can't wait for them any longer," the Fletchinder muttered. "We've got the evidence we need here, so we'll just have to interpret it ourselves."

    "All rise, court is now in session."

    The Fletchinder attorney and his assistant hastily made their way over to their table, settling as Akin perused some documents spread out in front of him. At the end of the courtroom, the doors creaked open, revealing the form of Admiral Coil, bobbing along followed by guards, carrying an aloof and puzzled demeanor about him.

    "If I may, but why exactly am I here, your Honor?" the Magnezone pressed. "I was just in the middle of spectating her highness' tournament."

    "You know exactly why you're here!" a livid Cofagrigus seethed from the defendant's box. "You rusty piece of sh-!"

    "Aherm! In the last session, we heard some… troubling allegations regarding you, Admiral," the Slowking answered. "That's why I've brought you here, so that you could help clear the air regarding them."

    Coil's eyes quickly hardened into a scowl as the floating saucer crackled in indignation. The Magnezone cast a stern glance over at Nico's table, lingering for an unimpressed moment before turning back to the Slowking judge.

    "Hrmph. Well I suppose it would only be natural that my rivals would be coming out of the woodwork as Her Majesty mulls a new Prime Minister for the realm," the Electric-Type scoffed. "Surely you're not wasting this court's time with unsubstantiated slander…?"

    WHAM!

    "That will be for the courts to decide!" Nico squawked, pulling his wings back from a forceful pound on his desk. "From evidence that we recovered in our case, we have a letter clearly tying you to active collusion with pirates!"

    A spark crackled a moment over Coil's surface, as he shot a fierce glare across the room at the Fletchinder. Taken aback, the Fire-Type seemed to flinch a moment, prompting the Electric-Type to harrumph and let a spark of electricity crackle up the side of his body.

    "… I don't have time for this farce," the Magnezone hissed. "If you value your practice, I would suggest you not try and drag me into whatever featherbrained scheme you have."

    "Well, surely answering a few questions wouldn't be too much before sending you on your way, Admiral?" the judge insisted. Coil paused a moment, before giving a dismissive spin of his magnets.

    "… Hrmph, let's just make this quick," the Magnezone harrumphed. "I'm missing my matches at the stadium."

    "Witness, please tell this court about your relation to the letter the Defense presented before us seeking a partnership with the Strongjaw Gang."

    Admiral Coil let out a buzzing sigh, before floating behind the witness' stand. The Electric-Type settled himself as Nico braced himself at his desk, the Magnezone witness giving a crackle to clear his voice.

    "There's really not a whole lot to say about this matter. Any position with a political undercurrent has always had characters trying to get ahead by shifty means," the Admiral offered. "As such, it's hardly a surprise that a suspiciously-timed letter would be trotted out just days before Queen Aleria was due to decide on her next Prime Minister."

    "Hold it!"

    All eyes in the courtroom turned towards the Defense's corner of the courtroom. There, Nico stretched a wing out at the witness stand, giving its tips a forceful, accusing waggle.

    "This letter is has your signature on it!" the Fletchinder exclaimed, moving his wing down on the singed letter. "How do you expect the court to believe that another culprit could have made this?"

    "I sign numerous documents on a daily basis as the head of the City Guard," Coil glowered. "Do you mean to tell me that it would be impossible for someone to trace it based off of that?"

    "Objection! The rest of the writing on there wouldn't have had a source material to copy from!" the bird cried, "How do you explain that?"

    "That's simple," Akin interjected. "I didn't notice it at first because of the signature, but the letter isn't written in his writing."

    Gasps went about the room at the Serperior's revelation, while Nico began to flush pale under his feathers, his beak hanging agape.

    "… It's… It's... not?"

    "I believe the Prosecutor here would be a bit more likely to receive correspondence from me than the likes of a lowly hack attorney," Coil hissed. "Tell me, Serperior. Do you happen to have a sample handy?"

    "Of course, Admiral," the serpent answered. "I was asking Admiral Coil for witness statements in the prior case, which I didn't include since I didn't feel it had decisive evidence. In the process he gave me a report of the raid's aftermath and signed off on it which I have right here…"

    Akin craned his head down to an embroidered bag set on his table, nosing in to pull out a folded-up sheet of paper. The Serperior unfurled it, revealing it to be a paper lined with rows of messy runes…which much to the judge's astonishment was written in runes that looked completely different from the ones on Nico's letter with the exception of a signature at the bottom.

    "Ah! It really is different!" the Slowking exclaimed.

    "Some degree of variance in handwriting between samples is to be expected, but this much? That's surely a stretch to believe," Akin scoffed. "And hardly any basis for a case against Admiral Coil!"

    Nico's stiffened and went wide-eyed at the Serperior's argument. The Fletchinder tried to think of one rebuttal after another, only to come up with nothing but a blank, sinking feeling.

    "… Agh."

    The audience at once broke out into boos and jeers, prompting Nico and Rita to shrink back and hide behind their desk. From the witness stand, the Magnezone gave a angry harrumph, sparks dancing on his body.

    "I hope you've learned a lesson from this, Fletchinder. If you're going around wildly accusing others of wrongdoing, you'd best have proof to back it up!" Coil snarled. "Perhaps a stint being disbarred from the court will set you straight! I'm sure you can use your bluffing for a more appropriate line of work like hustling cards in a tavern!"

    "But all of the evidence was-!" Rita began, only to be cut off by a sharp hiss from the Magnezone on the stand.

    "A waste of everyone's time! All you've done is string this court along and stall the real culprits from getting justice!"

    Visible arcs of electricity crackled on Coil's magnets, before he slammed them down into the wood. A deafening crack rang out and the sizzle of charred wood filled the air, making the Defense and Prosecution alike jump back with a start. Even the Slowking judge from his podium went wide-eyed with alarm, timidly motioning for calm with his paws towards the irate Magnezone.

    "E-Easy there, Admiral!" the judge stammered. "I think that we've heard everything that we need to here to conclude this trial..."

    Nico looked around frantically for something, anything that he could use to keep the trial going until he could catch his slippery nemesis in a contradiction… only to notice smoke still curling up from the witness stand, and Coil's magnets still glowing with radiant heat.

    "Hold it!"

    The courtroom's attention quickly settled on the Fletchinder, who found himself filled with newfound vigor at a sudden realization… Admiral Coil touched things with those magnets! Then if that was the case, if he'd sent a letter, he'd have to have sealed it...

    "Prosecutor Akin, do you still have that report from earlier?" the bird said. The Serperior flicked his tongue out puzzledly for a second, before raised a brow back skeptically.

    "… Yes? Where are you going with this?"

    "I'd just like to run a simple comparison…" the Fletchinder murmured.

    The Prosecutor slithered over and deposited his letter on the desk where Nico compared it with the letter Cardino's assistants recovered. Although the writing seemed to be different, both of them had a curious pair of square-shaped impressions on them… along with the distinctive form of a small burn left on their envelopes where a spark had touched them.

    "These two letters were handled in exactly the same way as each other!" he cried. "Meaning that it couldn't have been handled by anyone other than Admiral Coil!"

    Nico's exclamation was at once met by the sounds of crackling electricity, as Coil sparked in a rage behind the witness' stand. The Magnezone pointed a magnet back accusingly, his voice coming out as a livid screech.

    "Are you seriously trying to play this game again?! There's more than one Magnezone in this entire city!" Coil snapped. "We all seal our letters in roughly the same fashion since we don't have digits!"

    "Hey wait a minute, Nico!" Rita exclaimed. "There's a mark on this decoder envelope as well!"

    Nico peered back at the envelope that Cardino's assistants had found the decoder in and noticed that while faded, the seal of the envelope really had been singed much like the other two. The Fletchinder's eyes lit up as a realization dawned on him... this envelope that the decoder was kept in had to have been handled by Coil in the past!

    "Admiral, would this look familiar by any chance?"

    Nico held up and unfurled the colored grid of the decoder, prompting Coil to jolt up with a surprised buzz. The Magnezone bobbed disorientedly a moment, before giving back a seething, crackling hiss.

    "All I see is an unmarked envelope with a paper full of gobbeldygook," he harrumphed. "I fail to see the point here."

    Nico's beak flopped open at the Magnezone's bald-faced lie of a retort. Even so, he couldn't think of a way to prove that Coil used it at all…

    "Erk… that's not enough for me to rest my case on," the Fire-Type mumbled to himself. "But it's related to Sibich, and from that reaction, to Coil as well…"

    The Fletchinder looked down, when his eyes noticed that the envelope had something further wedged inside. Hadn't the Nidoran and her friends merely said they'd found the decoder in there?

    "Huh? There's something else in here."

    The attorney poked his beak in and rooted around, closing it around a thin, light object that he pulled out. It was a silvery-white plume, the mere sight of which made Coil and Sibich mutually gasp out of surprise.

    "Hey wait a minute, that's one of that Lugia's feathers!" Sibich exclaimed. The Magnezone behind the witness stand went wide-eyed, dissolving into a babbling stammer at the sight of the feather.

    "I… I… don't see how this is relevant at all-" he began, only for a thump and a loud shout from the Defense's corner to cut him off.

    "Objection! Your Honor, this is decisive evidence of Admiral Coil's involvement!"

    "I don't follow, Defense," the judge murmured. "Please show this court some evidence as to how this ties the Admiral to your client."

    Nico scrounged around his bag, pulling out a rolled up piece of paper and unfurling it to reveal a notice bearing a silhouette of a white bird with a long neck and blue plates plastered with runes.

    "A… poster?" the Slowking asked.

    "For the Silver Wing Cup: a tournament for the chance to have a private audience with the new Protector of Anyilla," the Fletchinder explained. "And the only Pokémon who had access to the Protector and could have sealed this envelope in such a fashion is none other than Admiral Coil!"

    "Agh!"

    Coil jolted upright in the air at Nico's exclamation, prompting the bird to continue on, sensing that at long last, he'd put his foe behind the witness stand on the ropes.

    "That's decisive proof that you've been in league with the Shadow Brigade all along, and directly coordinating activities with Sibich for your own mutual benefit!" the Fire-Type exclaimed. "And you were seeking to continue your scheme with other pirates and other criminals here in Tidemill City after you couldn't continue using Sibich and his lackies as pawns anymore!"

    "Lies and slander!" the Magnezone insisted. "If I were really to stoop to such a business-"

    "You'd discard us when it was convenient, and use us as tools to advance yourself higher into your queen's good graces," Sibich added. "Fine 'partnership' you had there."

    "Nrghh…" the Magnezone groaned. "You can't be seriously suggesting-"

    "You're this 'Coordinator' that has been the talk of the underworld!" Nico squawked. "And from the sound of it, you've been manipulating the wrong side of the law for your benefit for years!"

    Sparks began to dance on the Electric-Type's body, the Admiral jerking his body erratically as his eyes darted back and forth and his breaths came out in harsh, seething hisses.

    "That's- Nrgh… Graaaah!"

    Coil lobbed a bolt of lightning at the Defense's table, dashing it to splinters. Nico and Rita leapt back with a startled cry, looking up as the Magnezone threw himself at the pair in a rage. A Persian and a Glalie hastily moved in to intercept, only for the steely Pokémon to summarily fell them with a pair of deafening thunderclaps. A wide-eyed Bastiodon lobbed a Stun Seed ahead, cracking with a loud bang against Coil's body, which made him list and drop limply to the ground, still sparking and glaring defiantly.

    "Grr… that decoder is mine, and you have no idea what you're doing," the Magnezone hissed. "What I've done to help protect this Empire!"

    "Working with pirates and criminals isn't protecting it at all!" Rita cried. "You were even willing to let them get away with egg theft if it meant keeping your scheme going!"

    "Fool! As long as I was there, my connections to one pirate could keep the three others from ever wreaking havoc in the first place!" Coil shouted. "When those agents overstepped their bounds-"

    "Spare us the lecture," Sibich spat. "I'll be looking forward to finding out what your so-called allies do to traitors in their midst."

    "You have no right to protest, you miserable lump of sea bilge!" the Electric-Type roared. "You knew exactly what you were getting into-!"

    "I've heard enough!" the Slowking snapped. "Bailiff! Please extract Admiral Coil from the premises!"

    "You idiots! Who do you think has been keeping this Empire together?!" the Magnezone screeched. "Who do you think has allowed the Empire to keep up with those square-necks?! That airhead currently sitting on the throne?!"

    WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

    "Bailiff!"

    A Jumpluff and Simipour falteringly came forward, dragging the saucer-like Pokémon out of the room with his metallic body creaking against the ground. The lot made it to the doorway as the wounded guards were spirited off by their fellows, leaving a dead, stunned silence to linger among the audience as Coil shouted from the doorway, training a piercing glare at Nico and Rita.

    "Everything that happens to the Empire from here on is your fault! Everything!" he seethed.

    The bailiffs slammed the door shut, leaving behind a silence thick enough to cut with a knife. The judge stammered, reaching for his gavel with a trembling paw as he tried to restore some sense of normalcy.

    "Y-Your Honor," Akin muttered. "Can we just get this over with now? I could use a moment to reassess my strategies as a Prosecutor… and get a stiff drink."

    "I… I think that it's time that we got to the sentencing-" the Slowking began, only to be interrupted by the shout of a Bellossom from the audience.

    "For what?! To cover up some other crime?!"

    "Yeah, what else are you hiding here?!" a Glaceon shouted.

    One after the other, the Pokémon in the audience got up and stormed down into the center of the courtroom, mobbing the front of the judge's podium with angry shouts over the trial's revelations. The Slowking judge went wide-eyed, looking around at the sea of glowering faces before his eyes fell on an unobstructed door to the rear.

    "C-Court is dismissed!" the judge yelped. "We'll reconvene sometime later! Much later!"

    The Slowking turned and bolted, slamming the door behind him. Eager to similarly duck out of the way of the angry crowd, Akin slipped out of the front entrance as the remaining guards drug Sibich from the room, leaving Nico and his companions to watch blankly as the mob poured out of the courthouse bringing their vitriol out of an increasingly empty courtroom as a Manectric paced up with a satisfied trot.

    "Nice work there, oseo," Luca said. "Our organization's been looking for years to get that Coordinator off our back, and here you managed to pull it off with a little sharp thinking!"

    The Manectric's praise drew dubious stares between the Fletchinder and the Misdreavus, as Cardino paced up, raising a paw inquisitively to the black-scarved Manectric.

    "I take it the kids are with you, then?" the Pikachu asked. "Their buddies were hanging out in the audience earlier and I haven't been able to find any of them since we left the stadium."

    "Tch, beats me. I haven't seen either of them since you went out to fetch Coil," the wolf retorted. "As far as I and the rest of my associates are concerned, our involvement ended as soon as he was exposed."

    Luca turned, beginning to make his way for the door before pausing and turning back, his face having taken on a serious expression.

    "By the way, you all might want to stay clear of the streets for awhile," he admonished. "Mob mentality's a fickle beast and it might take awhile for this thing to simmer down again."

    The wolf slunk off, leaving the door to swing shut with a faint thud. The three Pokémon stood at the desk in the emptied courtroom, trading uneasy looks with one another.

    "… Did we handle things the right way here…?" Rita murmured.

    "… It's the truth," Nico answered. "It had to come out at some point."

    "I dunno, pal," Cardino sighed. "I just hope things don't get to be too much of a mess from this…"




    As the city's courthouse teemed with unrest, the harbor at the Visitor's District still smoldered with lingering seafire that continued to burn at the mouth of the harbor entrance. The docks were a mess with ships thrown haphazardly against each other, wounded Pokémon lying on the wharves being tended to by medics as other sailors set about cantankerously separating their crafts from each other.

    Amidst all the chaos and destruction in the harbor, a large party of white-scarved Pokémon ran along the docks for a caravel with suspiciously ill-fitting white sails on it, running a hapless Nincada off into the water as they charged down the pier. The group was a sorry-looking bunch: frazzled, caked with dust, and dragging along fainted counterparts. The lot charged up the waiting caravel's gangplank, headed by an Aggron who appeared much as if he'd seen death himself.

    The Pokémon fanned out, Hess beelining for the tiller before looking up at his crew, stomping his foot against the deck with panicked haste.

    "Go, go, go!" the Steel-Type yelped. "We need to get out of this harbor and back out onto the sea!"

    The ship rocked wildly under the lizard's stomps, but failed to accomplish anything among his crew other than a collection of blank stares back. His Floatzel first mate grimaced, before raising a paw to point out to the water...

    "Erm, Hess…"

    The Aggron captain followed Rodion's paw with his gaze, where he at once noticed the sight of a still smoldering slick of seafire blocking the harbor's mouth. All around it, the water had been clogged with with torn-up piers and half-sunk ships strewn wildly about, prompting the Sea Weasel Pokémon to carry on uneasily.

    "How exactly do you propose we do that?" the Floatzel asked.

    The metal lizard's jaw fell open at the sight of the trashed harbor. With all that junk floating in the water, his crew would be lucky to swim out of the harbor with their hides on their backs! This was nothing like the orderly harbor that they'd planned on sailing out of!

    "Wh-What?!" he cried. "When did this happen?!"

    "Those Tromban dweebs from earlier got chased out by the guards and tore up the harbor in the process," a Litten gulped. A pall came over Hess and his raiding party as they realized that if the Siglo Swellow had already left, they'd surely managed to grab the Protector ahead of them… and leave them stranded in the one place where all the guards were sure to start looking for anyone who'd made a grab for the blasted bird!

    "Wh-What do we do now?" Wilhelm stammered.

    "Uhm… er…"

    Hess looked around wildly, before noticing that the Litten from earlier was still wearing his normal golden scarf. By reflex, the Aggron raised his voice, blurting out the results of a desperate, flailing epiphany.

    "We fly our original colors!" the Steel-Type ordered. "Quick, take those sails down!"

    At once, the crew flew into a frenzy as the white sails pilfered from the Siglo Swellow were stripped down and thrown onto the deck as their golden sails were hastily hoisted up. As the old sails went back up, the deckhands hastily rifled through bags and chests for their original scarves, throwing them over their now-compromised disguises in a slapdash hurry. From beside the rear mast, Kichiro looked around with his mandibles slackened, before turning to his captain with a glare.

    "Is this really the best you could think of?!" the Ledian spat. "Just how dense do you think the guards will be?!"

    "You there!" a hissing voice shouted.

    "Meep!"

    Hess peered down uneasily from the bridge of his ship, looking over to see a battered and scowling Decidueye along with a similarly roughed-up Herdier and Araquanid. The Grass-Type flitted up, settling on the railing and training a harsh glare on the Aggron captain

    "Have you seen any Pokémon from a ship with white sails and a waterspout pattern on it?" the owl demanded.

    Hess stammered and fumbled with his words, watching out of the corner of his eyes as his underlings hastily crowded around the white sails they'd pulled down from the masts. The Steel-Type gulped, hoping to the Travellers above that the Imp wouldn't look too deeply before those sails could be dealt with.

    "Uh… no? I mean, it's just us in our gold and silvers here," the Aggron insisted. "Those 'mons already took off ages ago."

    "Blast!" Alba hissed. "You heard the 'mon, fan out and try to find stragglers to interrogate!"

    The Decidueye growled and hopped off, the guard and his teammates charging off into the battered harbor. From the deck as the owl slipped off, the crew let out a collective sigh of relief, as Kichiro continued staring with his mouth wide open.

    "Words… fail me," the Ledian uttered.

    "… Wait, I just realized…" a Sealeo murmured. "If that guard didn't recognize our scarves, does that mean we're nobodies here?"

    The Sealeo's question was answered by a loud groan from a Yanmega, followed by eye rolls from his Marowak and Manectric teammates. The dragonfly gave an annoyed beat of his wings and flitted up as as his voice came out in an aggravated chitter.

    "Did it really take you three days to figure that out?" Valatos snapped. "We put it together as soon as we were kicked off this boat!"

    The crew traded looks with one another before turning their attention over to Hess. The Aggron captain grimaced a bit, before burying his face in an opened claw with a groaning sigh.

    "Urgh… can we just be happy right now that we didn't get caught?"




    As Hess and the Iron Fleet nursed their wounded pride on the Mistral Marauder, what precious little traffic making its way to and from past the harbor's seawall was limited to a few narrow passages under the water where teams of aquatic guards kept watch. Among their number were a Cloyster and Quagsire pair at one of the entrances, lazily bobbing with the current as they occasionally checked and let Pokémon through if they had indigo scarves on and turned all others away.

    "A real fine mess those surface 'mons made of things," a Cloyster grunted. "Last I checked, even when I was drunk on duty, I didn't manage to make the water catch on fire!"

    "You're preaching to the choir here," a Quagsire grumbled. "If it wasn't for 'mons like us, who knows how those lunkheads on the docks would manage- Huh?"

    The Quagsire trailed off at the sight of approaching dark shapes in the water. At the front, the form of a Samurott came into view, tearing along straight for their position with a fierce scowl and showing no signs of stopping.

    "Hey!" the Cloyster exclaimed. "You can't just go through here without-!"

    Before the Cloyster could protest, he was cut off by a sharp slash, sending him slamming into the wall and tipped over with a groan. The Quagsire went wide-eyed and spat up a glob of mud back, only to be struck by an icy beam that froze him to the side of the wall. The Samurott swam past, followed by a small train of Pokémon swimming with white scarves and blue sun pattern, some carrying passengers who clung tight to them in bubbles of air, others slumped over limply on their carriers.

    Lyn carried on a ways as the seafloor dropped away into the depths and faded from view, motioning with his paw to surface where he saw the forms of fliers in the air making their way towards a waiting brigantine ahead. The Samurott sighed, before swimming up, digging his paws into a rope ladder slung over the side and making his way up just in time to overhear Ellsberg and Ketu's voices arguing over some matter he neither could make out nor cared to know about. Lyn reached the deck and shook himself dry, catching sight of the two trading glares as he made his way over and stomped the deck's timbers to announce his presence.

    "So, did you get the bird?" Ketu asked.

    The Samurott snorted and shook his head, shooting a disgusted look back in the direction of the harbor where black smoke curled over the skies above it.

    "The Protector slipped away thanks to the interference of that shrimp and some pirate clod," Lyn harrumphed. "Have you noticed any ships passing by lately?"

    Ellsberg and Ketu stared back incredulously at the Samurott. He'd lost the Protector again, and his main concern was if whether or not they'd been watching passing ships?

    "… We're near a harbor," Ellsberg buzzed. "So wouldn't that be expected-?"

    "Ships passing by lately, Ellsberg!" Lyn snapped. "As in within the last fifteen minutes!"

    "Er… there was a schooner in the distance with white sails just a few minutes ago that was heading south around the time smoke started coming from the harbor," the moth offered. "I think that's still it over the horizon?"

    Ellsberg raised a tarsal and pointed off southwards at a speck on the horizon. Reflexively, Lyn fished out his scope and focused it on the white object. There through the scope, he saw the battered form of a schooner with sails with a waterspout pattern, the deck filled with Pokémon being laid out for treatment, with the form of a white bird looking on uneasily… the same distinct, long-necked form of Tromba's Protector.

    "Grr! It's that one!" the Samurott growled. "Lower the sails and give chase!"

    At once the crew flew into a hurry, pulling up the anchor and letting the sails down and unfurl in the wind. As the deck hummed with activity, Ellsberg paused to take out his own scope and look out at the ship in the distance. He noticed that it seemed to be very much an unremarkable schooner… twin masts, a raised bridge, and a bow that seemed to have a rounded knob fitted over it… Wait a minute, a knob fitted over the bow? That could only mean...

    "Lyn, that ship's got a bulbous bow!" Ellsberg cried. "That's the sort of hull pursuit boats have! There's no way that my Nektar Weide would be able to keep pace with it!"

    "So we damage it and slow them down!" the Water-Type retorted. "Is it really that difficult to think one step ahead, Ellsberg?"

    "Sounds to me like you're skipping the 'risk analysis' step, Captain." Ketu chided, much to Lyn's spluttering irritation.

    "Excuse me?!"

    "At this range, any attacks we make will be a crapshoot," the Weavile explained. "If our salvo doesn't cripple that schooner, we'll have done nothing but squander our element of surprise. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack after we a clear opportunity presents itself?"

    The Nektar Weide lurched forward as the sails took on wind, leaving Lyn to blink uneasily a moment. The Samurott glanced off in the distance, lowering his head pensively before shaking his head.

    "Hrmph, I'll admit I hadn't considered that angle, but fair enough," he sighed. "Even if that schooner can outrun us, we should still be able to remain close enough to keep an eye on them. They will have stop eventually."

    The otter grumbled and hurried off for the tiller at the stern, leaving Ketu and Ellsberg behind on the deck. The Weavile and Mothim traded looks with one another, the moth shooting his weasel counterpart a skeptical glance as he rested on a nearby length of rigging.

    "Trying hard to get back into Lyn's good graces, huh?" Ellsberg asked.

    "Hrmph, I was more worried about ensuring that we'd have better odds of getting that Lugia first," Ketu harrumphed.

    "And whatever happened to letting Lyn do your dirty work for you?" the Mothim demanded.

    "A little shrimp came along and stole the Protector out from under him last time," the Dark-Type retorted. "So I've decided to cut the middleman out."

    Ellsberg flitted in place and mulled Ketu's words for a second. Although their original plan was to have Lyn kidnap that Lugia first, he had to admit it went less than ideal the last time… as had the two times before that. Not to mention Lyn did just return empty-pawed once again. As loath as he was to admit it, perhaps Ketu really did have a point about taking matters into their own hands...

    "… I'm not fully sold on this," the Bug-Type hesitantly said. "But I'll have to admit that's a compelling argument."

    "Just follow my lead and don't get in my way, Elmer," Ketu ordered. Ellsberg let out an annoyed buzz over his misnaming, prompting the Weavile to cross his arms and brush the matter away with an explanation.

    "Besides, if we're lucky we might just have some help with our mission at our next port."

    "… Come again?" the moth demanded. "Just how are we supposed to have help even deeper in Imperial territory?"

    A sly, cat-like grin came over Ketu's face at Ellsberg's retort, prompting the Mothim to flit his wings impatiently. The Weavile fanned a set of claws out, picking disinterestedly at them as he began to speak back to his Bug-Type questioner.

    "Judging from the direction they're going and the fact that they left in a hurry, there's a good chance they'll stop on Buyeom Island for reprovisioning," he explained. "Administrator Elilan has some hidden assets stationed there that I go back with a long way."

    "… I'll wait and see what you have there," Ellsberg sighed. "But don't get cocky about this again."

    "Hrmph. Just worry about keeping your glorified raft in one piece for now," Ketu retorted. "There'll be plenty of time to bring you up to speed."

    The Mothim frowned a moment before flitting off with a harrumph, leaving Ketu to sidle up and rest against the railing. The Dark-Type looked ahead at the shrinking form of the Siglo Swellow in the distance, watching it intently as he tapped his claws against the wood of the railing. All this time, he'd been hanging back under the assumption that letting Lyn go through the trouble of grabbing that bird was the best way to completing his mission for Administrator Elilan… but after this whole episode, it was clear to him that if he wanted to get anything done he'd have to do it himself.

    It was time to get into action and snatch up that Lugia on his own.




    About twenty minutes later, the sight of Giotto Island had just started slipping over the horizon, leaving the battered hull of the Siglo Swellow to bob along in the water. The crew's ranks had thinned, as deckhands continued resting off wounds below deck as the remainder attempted to tend to the stricken vessel.

    A few more intrepid souls had come back onto the deck in spite of their wounds, including Ander, who wobbled up from below deck with his blotched head sporting a fresh set of yellowed bandages. The Bug-Type made his way to the railing and leaned against it tiredly, before a chirp caught his ears and made him notice Pleo further down the deck. The mantis froze, before hastily shifting away and hanging his head over the railing.

    "Oh, you're back up already?" Dimitri asked. "I'd have thought that between the head wound and what happened yesterday in the arena that you'd be resting right now."

    Ander looked down, watching the form of a battered and scuffed Kabutops scrabbling up along the hull onto the deck. The Rock-Type hoisted himself over the railing, finding his footing on the deck as he shook a few droplets of seawater off of his blades.

    "Though then again, I do have a habit of lowballing 'mons," the crab murmured. "Why, for a while back there, I didn't think we were even going to make it back to the ship!"

    Dimitri waited expectantly for an answer, only to notice Ander's gaze fail to meet his. The crab followed the Bug-Type's line of sight over to the form of a young Lugia pecking pensively at a gouge torn into the center mast as Nida and Crom waited alongside him.

    "… Don't celebrate just yet, Dimitri. Now that we have that bird, both the Company and the Empire will be looking for us," the Scyther sighed. "To say nothing of what disaster may come upon us in the interim given the sort of creature he is…"

    "Hey! Sorry to keep you waiting, Pleo!" a yipping voice cried, before being joined by a raspier counterpart.

    "Yeah, it takes more than a blow like that to keep me down!"

    The pair's glances shifted over to the forms of a young Growlithe and Cubone running up to the Lugia and his teammates followed by a Swellow, the white bird pulling the three and his fellow teammates into a tight embrace with his wings. The six pulled themselves apart, and Kiran and Crom began to trade tales with their freshly-reunited teammate about their journeys, with the mix of wistfulness and cheer that only friends long separated could muster as a smile crept up on Dimitri's face.

    "We'll make it work out somehow," the Kabutops insisted. "I'm sure of it."

    Ander stared wordlessly at the scene for a long moment. Every plume, every quill of the so-called Protector gave off an aura of imminent danger… and yet in spite of it, the bird seemed to be so wrapped up with an innocent, childish longing for companionship. The Scyther shook his head, wondering just how much the ancients had failed to document about the demons they warred with, before turning back warily to his Kabutops counterpart.

    "What do we do now then?" Ander asked.

    "Well, I know the kids were looking to head out to Pioppo Island in search of something that would help ensure your Protector's safe passage... " Dimitri answered. "But we can worry about that later. Let's worry about things like patching up the crew and ship for now and take our time thinking through how to get Pleo back to where he needs to be."

    The Scyther grimaced at the idea of returning Pleo to Tromba, before casting a glance back at the bird. His powers were certainly not growing any weaker with age, and from what Scout had said about his escape from Rosequartz Town, it sounded as if he was already ready to wreak disaster upon the world...

    So then why did he not wreak havoc while he could? Why would he let himself get attached to the Pokémon about him who would be the first to suffer from his terrible power? Could it be that his destructive desires were being held back somehow?

    If so, then for the sake of what remained of the world… it was for the best to return him to where he felt comfortable. Even if it meant bringing that risk down upon their homes.

    "… Right," Ander murmured. "Let's just get the rest that we can for now."

    The two Pokémon slid off the railing and made their way towards the young Protector and his companions. There, as the Siglo Swellow sailed on under the midday sun, the crew and their new passengers let their worries slip by a moment to make the Guardian of the Seas feel at home in that little schooner on the sea.




    Author's Notes:

    - dzieciaki - Polish: "kids"
    - Shakh i mat, buyany (Шах и мат, буяны) - Russian: "Check( and )mate, ruffians"
    - Ohsubame (オオスバメ) - Japanese: "Swellow" (Official Romanization)
    - oseo - Venetian: "bird"
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2018
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    I'd like to preface this review by saying that, going into this last chapter for the episode, things are quite different. Whereas the earlier episodes had subplots taking place in different locations, meaning some of them couldn't necessarily be resolved, here you have an instance where all the various subplots in the episode are interwoven together and centered on the same areas. It's quite the challenge you've posed for yourself with this set-up. Let's see what happens!

    Initially the escape plan goes off remarkably smoothly. No real hitches to speak of. I'm not entirely sure if that's you trying to build up some anticipation for things going off the rails or trying to demonstrat that, for once, Team Traveller seems to have a plan that's actually working and not devolving into utter bedlam. It's about time they'd had something go there way for a change, I'd say. On the flip side, I liked the sort of "aw shucks, gee whiz" comedy interspersed with Nagant's extreme anger at this turn of events. Though, from what we've seen of Niilo, I don't really feel like he'd be the kind of guy to make a quip about putting the rubble back.

    And, sure enough, yeah... those opening scenes were short for a reason, it seems. While this isn't the first action scene you've written involved multiple parties, it doesn't have some very different dynamics to it that makes it flow to the point where I wasn't really stopping to take any notes or anything. You've got things starting simply enough, with Hess trying to be as imposing as he can, only for Nagant to swoop in and one-up him and his crew. They clearly win the numbers game and overwhelm Team Traveller out of the gate. If I had to fault anything, I think that the fight has some tonal issues of mood whiplash. Like, you go from Katyusha and Cyanea doing their squabbling routine to a rather visceral attack by Nagant on Ander. And from there you go to the bit with the sign wreckage, which feels a bit more on the comical side again. Kiran really doesn't help in that regard with his community service quip. Like, I get making one-liners. It's fun. But it speaks to that fladerization of his character I mentioned about him awhile back. You introduced him as a veteran who knows what he's doing, so I'd feel like he'd recognize the urgency of the situation. Maybe it was all intentional, but I tend to find things like what happened to Ander work better during moments of hope for the good guys. As it is, it's fine. There's nothing wrong with mood whiplash, even if it's jarring. XP

    I do like the coordination of all of it, though. Moving from a canal chase into alleyways into residential buildings leading up to a rooftop standoff that goes diastrously awry as the Company winds up joining into the fray. It does feel scripted like something you'd see in a movie. The terrain changes work to your advantage in keeping things fresh, and you space out the three factions' introductions well so that just when I'm wondering what more you'e going to do, a new ripple pops up. You splice in just enough of Lyn and Nagant duking it out to convince me the two are pretty evenly-matched and, thus, preventing each other from getting their prize (Pleo). And, unlike some of the earlier mood whiplash, I do think you juxtapose their duel well against Team Traveller's trickery of Hess. And it leads to a nice bit of a building description. You paint a very clear picture for me.

    The bit of ship combat at the end provided a nifty moment, though I'm really fuzzy on what exactly Pleo was able to do. I realize that's intentional, but given how detailed everything else was up to this point (some might say over-detailed but I can't speak to that), to have the ending moment be kind of a question mark felt like the ending to it was a bit flat. I suppose all that's left to say here is that, given the level of this crazy scene, I was genuinely surprised that one of these foes didn't end up "out of commission," so to speak. I mean, it's entirely possible Nagant or Lyn could have one of their superiors cast them aside, but given we're at the halfway point here, I was thoroughly expecting this to be a last hurrah of sorts for Nagant, Lyn, or Hess. That doesn't appear to be the case, though.

    I don't have much to say about the Ace Attorney part. I think it was good and, given the length, you had Coil lose it at a steady pace. And his ranting at the end of it certainly gave of an ominous vibe of a potential future as far as one faction in this story is concerned. The reason I don't have much to say about it, though, is that the whole thing felt underwhelming compared to the fight scene that came before it. Especially considering the fact that none of the characters we've been following throughout the story are involved and it's just minor characters from this episode. I feel like, since you don't make any mention of what's going on outside the courtroom, you could've positioned this part before the big fight scene. That would've ended the episode (and the half of the story) on an adrenaline run. And the short follow-up scenes would have felt appropriate as a way to wind everything down. I may just be talking crazy, but as I read it, I kept asking myself, "Why did this get put after the huge climactic fight? It's kind of sucking the wind out of the chapter's sails."

    I see what you did there, buddy. :p So, which island has a Solgaleo/Lunala/Necrozma as its Protector, huh?

    Like Quercus Alba? Cause he wasn't such a good guy... o3o;

    Tag got mucked up here.

    HOLD IT!
    How does a Magnezone even sign documents? Even if you had a magnetic pen, your arms cannot move in a way that would produce legible writing. How do you explain this conundrum, witness?
    ... I'll shut up now. :p

    Otherwise, this was quite the action-packed finale. Definitely your most impressive ending to an episode so far. And I look forward to the second half of the story! ^^
     
  16. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Well, can I just say I kinda sorta definitely ship Crom/Nida at this point? xD Nah, but seriously, their little scenes together since they've united have been adorable. You can tell they have a super soft spot for each other, probably more so than anyone else on the team. I feel like I may have said this before, but, well, they continue to make me squee, so have the comment again. I do feel bad for Crom, though, seeing him feel guilty over his dad being hurt... but I also think I see a little more determination from him than in other spots of the fic. Kiran's had to help him get out of his funks in the past, but I think Crom intuitively knew this time that he had to focus on helping Pleo, since there was little he could do for his dad while healing.

    Also wanted to give a shoutout to Ketu's dialogue in particular. Seems he's just gotten more and more angry as time has gone on, and in the chapters I'm catching up on, he seems particularly brutal and ruthless when talking to others.

    Anyway... so the whole Ace Attorney-esque plot with Admiral Coil and them was wrapped up, eh? Again, I really enjoyed that arc. There was a ton going on with both it and the tournament, not to mention combining all the groups of characters into one location and giving them all time in the spotlight and interactions with one another. The flow/pace of things didn't feel like too much or too little. ^^

    Last thing I'll comment on is the crossover bonus chapter with @Ambyssin's Guiding Light. I'm not caught up on Serebii's version, just Bulbagarden's, so there were quite a few characters and hints to story events that went over my head. Didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the bonus chapter, though. Watching Nida, Guardia, Pleo, and Elty have to navigate through new areas in Fledglings is fun enough as it is, but put them in a whole other world I'm immersed in already was a treat to read. Bless Pleo's little heart for trying to stand up to a Necrozma of all powerful things for the sake of his friends. <3 Alsooooo pretty sure I saw a cameo of Braviary/Metagross/Incineroar from Guiding Light too in chapter 61?

    Anyway, as for chapter 61, Elty's insistence on property damage being okay 'cause the situation was a little dire got a few chuckles out of me. Also enjoyed how Kiran and Guardia got to interact... since he's not got to be a leader-type figure for her before.

    With yet another 'mon on Pleo's trail by the end of this chapter, the threat continues to look bigger and bigger for Team Traveler, and with everyone at each other's throats now in person rather than being scattered across different islands, I'll be interested to see how Team Traveler fares.
     
  17. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Just started this, here are some thoughts on the Prologue and first 11 chapters =)

    Prologue


    This sets up the world nicely. I like that we have a nidoran as our main character. I don't think I've seen any of the Nido-Family in such a role in a PMD 'fic before. I do like these pokemon, this evolution line is one of my favourites from Gen 1. So this sounds like it's going to be a delight to read.

    The fact humans used to live in this world is very interesting. And the first mention of 'protectors' who I assume are the Legendary Pokemon.

    Chapter 1

    More underused pokemon here! Mildly amused at a druddigon working in a bakery.

    I already like Kiran. I can't work out if he's a member of her team, or some higher-up in the Guild she works for? Maybe he's a bit like the Chatot of the Guild?

    So far the characters are pretty memorable, and I like that.

    Something sinister is already going on, too! It also sounds like a lugia has hatched! (I might be mistaken, but that's what popped into my head when I gave it's appearance some thought.)

    The descriptions in this story are beautiful. I really love the description of the mystery dungeon and the egg hatching. That was just fantastic.

    Chapter 2

    The mystery dungeon here feels true to the originals, and Nida's personality shines through as she insists on going into potentially dangerous territory. Am I right in thinking the mist is reflecting how some areas of the dungeon aren't visible to the player? If so, that's done well.

    The battle with the krabby was intense enough to feel threatening to these aspiring rescue team members, and I liked the use of berries to heal wounds.

    That ending on a cliffhanger was welcome, too!

    Chapter 3

    I have to say I love this lugia already. A legend who is a playful little hatchling? It's adorable! But something so huge rough-housing with a teeny tiny nidoran must seem intimidating to Nida! His surprise and fascination at absolutely everything is humorous and almost... cuddly. And he ends up being 'recruited'? Perfect!

    The reactions of the other pokemon are very believable. Their island's protector is fresh out of his egg, and is pretty clueless. I like how we're getting to know the supporting cast. As for Scout... his chapter-closing statement tickled me!

    Chapter 4

    More adorable Lugia... well... Pleo at this stage.

    I love Hatteras. He kinda reminds me of Ampharos from Super. I can't remember if that game was out at this stage. I think so? Nevertheless, I love the similarities. Both Guild Master and Mayor, and his insistence on those jobs and titles was comedic genius.

    That scyther doesn't bode well. I feel like the plot may be beginning to unfold here.

    The bedtime story was cute. A little bonding moment, as mildly 'disastrous' as it turned out! XD

    Chapter 5

    Lovely opening scene here!

    Seeing more of the little town was nice. Also, I really loved how you had a mawile training in the dojo. (Huge mawile fan, here...)

    The bread-fetch training was fun. Poor Pleo getting his lovely white feathers caked with mud! Poor lugia. The contrast with the real mystery dungeon we saw was well described towards the end, with its wooden walls and claw marks. For a while I was wondering who placed the traps in real mystery dungeons, but you answered that before I got chance to ask! Fantastic!

    So they're up against Crom's mother? Wasn't expecting that, at all. Nice surprise, given I thought the rest of his family were pretty much just bakers!

    Chapter 6

    Crom's mother is more of a fighter than I'd first assumed! But poor Pleo got a bit of a lesson there.

    I'm intrigued to know if the Marked Pokemon kids are going to gel with Pleo and turn their backs on their parents and other members? And here come the pirates!

    Chapter 7

    This is possibly the best chapter so far. Things really pick up here, and the struggle was realistic. Marley really shows herself to be a veteran fighter, even so much as to tank an earthquake and dish out a blow that hurts and winds a much stronger pirate. I think the pacing you're going for with this story is intended to be reminiscent of the PMD games?

    The attacks are well described, and I'm going to assume the ringing Pleo heard was his ears from taking a blow from those rocks.

    Pleo's true powers shine through towards the end, but it appears they've either drained him or he's taken way too much damage. Maybe a combination of the two?

    Those remaining pirates lying around makes me wonder if the growlithe is the one listed in the tag on FFNet? Maybe he becomes a main character? Hmm... nevertheless, my interest in the story has picked up from this chapter.

    Chapter 8

    I do like the use of different scarves in this story. The medics sporting a pokeball motif is pretty funny in a world without pokeballs! Mind you... I do recall that this world did have humans in it. So it's totally fitting for a 'Pokemon Center' theme. I wonder if they've ever seen a real pokeball?

    Speaking of scarves, I do enjoy the comedy Hatteras brings with his variety of jobs!

    The community service was a pretty neat alternative to banishing the pirates. And my guess was right! The growlithe joins the main cast in... a rather unexpected way. But I guess he'll need to earn their trust?

    This story really is picking up =)

    Chapter 9

    Elty sure fights dirty. Pleo has a lot to learn if he's going to tackle ferals and pirates, huh? Elty's struggles with Crom trying to heal him were hilarious, too! Tugging out his fur like that... Oh boy! I wonder if this growlithe will have a change of heart later down the line, and prove to be a solid and loyal member to his new team, or if he'll turn traitor?

    I liked the use of a porygon to relay TMs and HMs! That really was imaginative! (And humorous that leftover human 'technology' is perceived as 'magic' to a race that doesn't really understand technology!) I don't know if it will ever come up in this story, but I do wonder if Melissa is 'leftover human technology' as well?



    I really liked this metaphor! And it was perfect coming from a large, electric sheep!

    So the gang get to venture into a Mystery Dungeon! Oooh...

    Chapter 10

    Only just realised in this chapter that the 'ahp-gredh' is the up-grade for Melissa! Thanks for clearing that up here XD using pronunciations like this, such as for the TMs, really does make those objects sound alien.

    Poor Pleo is terrified now. I'd kinda forgotten that the ferals eat other pokemon. That situation with the skarmory must have been terrifying for Nida.

    The little bonding moment at the end was adorable. I really do like Pleo. As these chapters have gone on, he does seem a fair bit older, albeit still with child-like outbursts and actions. Some character development already. He's adorable.



    Just wanted to point out that this should be 'crude'. I see this pop up occasionally.

    Chapter 11

    Ah, so the fog is a barrier between the real world and the distortion! That's interesting. I'd initially thought it was emulating the games where you can't see further than a certain point in the dungeon. Very interesting! I like that.

    Elty is trying to pull his weight more, trying to earn his team's trust. I'm not sure if that's genuine or not, but the team's reactions are believable. Nida is reluctant to give him the time of day, as shown by her blatant refusal to use his bag, opting to use up resources before they pocket the orb.

    As for the Slow Orb, that description sounded like it had a string shot inside it. If that's the case, that's fantastic. I wonder what the other orbs look like?

    The frillish battle was well described, although I can't work out what the black beam attack was. That's probably more my lack of understanding for a frillish's moveset, however XD

    I'm really beginning to enjoy this story more and more now. I look forward to what's coming next!
     
  18. Umbramatic

    Umbramatic The Ghost Lord

    Disclaimer: this is a review of chapters 10-15

    Well, I'm finally giving it a shot, I'm finally trying to slowly catch up to this thing. Emphasis on trying slowly.

    But this fic is as cute yet strangely omnious as ever! Pleo remains best protagonist and it's intresting to see the pirates adjusting to village life, especially Elty. The glimpses of the stuff with the Marked Scyther was very intresting and also kinda heartbreaking. I suspect it'll be more relevant down the line.

    These Company people are pretty sinister. They're intresting characters but as people I don't like them at all - signs of good villany I say. :p I certainly hope they don't make off with Pleo, but it also could be an interesting excuse for The Gang™️ to get off the island. Guess I'll find out when I read more.

    But yeah this fic is a treat as always and I hope I can catch up to the rest of it eventually.
     
    Virgil134 likes this.
  19. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    So… that hiatus obviously lasted quite a bit longer than planned, but I'm finally back, and hopefully to some semblance of regular updates as well. To start with, I'd like to kick things off by giving some responses to the past four months' worth of reviews:

    @Ambyssin:
    To be fair on Niilo, I'm not sure if trying to press for pay with Nagant right there would have turned out well. o3o;

    Well, I'm happy to hear that the picture came off as clear, since during writing, I was actually a bit worried the climax was a bit too hazy and loose. Glad to hear it had its intended effect.

    Hrm, I didn't think it was that unclear, but Pleo basically blows a bunch of burning seafire off course and away from the oh-so-combustible sails and timbers of the Siglo Swellow.

    But yes, it'll be a while before any big players from the current group of villains bows out of the story.

    I can kinda get where you're coming from, though I admittedly don't think there are any better places to put it in the narrative, and it's needed in order to set up some important events in the next arc of chapters.

    Haven't quite hashed that one out yet. o3o;

    But I suspect there will be a few more times in the story where things catch your eye like that.

    I was thinking more the scientific names for barn owls and oak trees, though Quercus Alba shares the latter of the two in theming.

    I probably fixed this one a while back, but thanks for pointing it out.

    You use what you're given and make impressions/burn marks with your magnets. If Coil had thought to use a magnetic pen, he'd probably still be a free 'mon right now.

    @diamondpearl876:
    Well, you're not wrong about the shipping, though the two aren't quite at the point yet where things would really develop there.

    I think it was more intended that he's always been a fairly cold operator behind that lackadaisical exterior, it's just that more of it's bared for the world to see. I'm glad you really like his dialogue though, and I hope that will remain that way for the upcoming chapters.

    Ah, well I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Figuring out how to make an inherently dialogue-heavy subplot interesting was something that took quite a bit of ironing out to get it working.

    Guilty as charged on the cameo, but I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the crossover.

    Yeah, there's still some room for escalation left in this story, and as for Kiran, he'll have quite a few more opportunities to resume his 'soccer coach' role, even if it's not quite the same as before Team Traveller left.

    @DeliriousAbsol:
    I'm glad to hear that Nida was able to cut so much of a profile from the start. All it took was a little bout of misremembering the PMD: R/B starters and a touch of attachment. But Nidoran are great, so I don't have any regrets there.

    Kiran is basically a guild equivalent to the teachers from PSMD. He's there to help teach youngsters and get them ready for later life, in this case to teach them the basics at going through a Mystery Dungeon without something going horribly wrong.

    As for the descriptions, I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying them. My art skills are a touch on the lacking side, so I usually have to lean on my narration to pick up the slack.

    The mist is a thing I taped on after binging a fair deal of Digimon Tamers that helped to make for depicting Mystery Dungeons in a more game-accurate manner while still feeling 'plausible' in spite of their blatant unnaturalness. Though I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the dungeon crawling

    Sounds like this chapter did everything that it was supposed to, then ^^

    PSMD actually wasn't out at the time Chapter 4 went up, though it's funny how much the two wound up resembling each other, even if PSMD!Ampharos never dabbled in politics.

    Hey now, in a world of Pokémon, I wouldn't want to trifle with a large, toothy lizard with sandpaper hide, no matter what her day job was. o3o;

    Nah, it would take a bit more than that to dislodge them, and I'm not sure if Pleo would really feel satisfied at the outcome of 'turning' someone against their family like that.

    The Growlithe is indeed the one from FFNet's tags. You'll be seeing a lot more of him as you go further into the story.

    Oh, you haven't seen anything yet. ^^

    Melissa and other Porygon would be human relics yes, though considering the nature of Porygon, they're likely a few dozen generations removed from the last ones that saw humans in the flesh.

    'Rude' can actually be used to mean 'simple' or 'unrefined' as it's done here. 'Crude' would've been a perfectly fine synonym, though.

    Regarding the orbs, it's done on a case-by-case basis. The ones with official art are described with effects that resemble it as much as possible. The ones that didn't have official art were built around a move that pulls off a similar effect to what the orb's game effect does, which in turn influenced their visual description.

    @Umbramatic:
    Glad to finally see another review from you, though I'm glad to hear that it was 'cute yet strangely ominous', since while I intended for the story to come off as within the spectrum of a 'Saturday Morning Cartoon', I still wanted it to be a work where there was room for darker themes and undertones to emerge.

    As for catching up, don't worry about it too much. I'll be looking forward to hearing your feedback for the later parts of the story whenever you're ready to give it.

    And with that, I'd like to thank you all for bearing with me for waiting on that long-promised special, though hopefully this artwork of Cabot I commissioned recently was a decent sign of life. As an advisory, but today's special will definitely be on the darker side and pushing the boundaries of the posted PG rating a bit in terms of tone and content, but given its singular occurrence and how the narrative won't have a moment quite as heavy in the main story for quite some time, I decided it wasn't enough to be worth adjusting the rating.

    Special thanks to this chapter goes out to Virgil134, Tangent128, and sugoitsu from ff.net, without whom, I'd probably never have gotten this special out in its completed state. I'd also like to thank the readers and reviewers for their patience, and to assure that while I might keep you waiting, the future arcs are hopefully coming at something closer to a biweekly update schedule as opposed to another four months of radio silence.

    And with that, let's get that yarn started:
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
  20. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    [​IMG]

    It was said that in the days of humans, Pokémon lived divided into two camps: one that lived alongside humans as their partners and guardians, and one that lived amongst the ebb and flow of nature. Even after that era passed and Arceus himself cobbled together the Cradle, the rough dichotomy remained intact with the arrival of the Pact, dividing Pokémon who attempted to preserve the knowledge of humans in their settlements from those who chose to remain apart, which the town dwellers came to know as 'Ferals'.

    The windswept plains of Nagrobek Island were no exception to the rule, as the wild, unplanted fringes were the domain of Pokémon that knew no banner and respected no rule beyond that which their own strength could secure. There, they carried on living as their forebears had for untold eons in the age of humans, waking and sleeping among the elements, and gathering and hunting as their strength allowed. In places of particularly treacherous nature, such Pokémon would sometimes set aside their differences, much as the Pokémon that dwelt inside the maze of barren trees that formed Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon did. There, deep within under the branches of the dead forest, an Arcanine kept a silent, dutiful watch over a moving set of Pecha bushes.

    "I found one!"

    A young, cheerful yip carried through the air, followed by the sight of a young Growlithe poking his head up from the bushes, pulling out a Pecha Berry and plodding along for the watching Arcanine waiting at the edge. The younger of the two Fire-Types set the fruit down, giving a playful wag of his tail before his elder as he beamed with pride.

    "It was hidden under the leaves just like you said it would be, mama!" the Puppy Pokémon cheered. "Guess those other Pokémon didn't sniff it out that well."

    Cheer filled every crease of the young dog's body, only for his happiness to go unrequited by the mother Arcanine. The larger dog shook her head, pawing at the ground as she nosed impatiently at a small pile of gathered berries.

    "That's wonderful, dear. We've gathered enough for today," the larger Fire-Type answered. "Take it and let's get going back to the den."

    "Eh? Already? But we came all the way here by one of the exits…" the Growlithe murmured, his tail's wag slowing somewhat. "I bet if we wanted to, we could just go on a little further and we could run in the fields outside!"

    The mother Arcanine faltered a moment, her ears and head drooping as she went silent. The Fire-Type grimaced, as if struggling under the sudden weight of a large burden.

    " Eltenios…"

    "Aw, come on, I didn't ask you to teach me to hunt… just to run!" the Growlithe insisted. "Those predators you say are out there shouldn't be an issue as long as you're around! You're tougher and faster than any of them!"

    "Eltenios! Now isn't the time!" the Arcanine snapped. Startled by his mother's snarl, the young Growlithe yelped and pulled his ears and tail in tight towards his body. He gave a low whine back as the elder dog looked away, shaking her head reluctantly.

    "Just take what you can and let's go back," the mother Arcanine grunted. "It was already dangerous to be out this long right now."

    The Arcanine took up a small mouthful of the Pecha Berries and began to pace off. Her child pawed uneasily at his own berry, before picking it up and carrying along after his mother, one question uncomfortably pressing up against his mind.

    "Why… was it dangerous?"

    "Over there!"

    Elty ran ahead into his mother's hindlegs as she came to abrupt stop. The Puppy Pokémon shook his head and peered ahead to see the form of a lanky, dark-scaled Marowak followed by an Abomasnow and a violet Zebstrika in lavender scarves sneering and laughing as they neared.

    "When I was told I'd have to root around for a feral Arcanine that put a Rescue Team in the medic's ward, I was expecting it to actually be difficult," the lizard jeered. "And here I don't even have to drag in some random mutt to take your place, Pact-breaker!"

    A low growl came from the Arcanine's throat, her back arching as she flashed her teeth back at the three intruders, fiery hate burning in her eyes.

    "I didn't break the Pact, so I'm giving you the same warning as I gave those earlier intruders," the Arcanine snarled. "Get out of my territory."

    "Last time I checked the Company owns this island and we'll do what we damn well please on it," the Marowak spat. "This miserable stick pile you sleep in is no exception!"

    "M-Mama?" the Growlithe whined. "What's going on?"

    "You and your mother are coming with us, kiddo," the Abomasnow growled.

    "Yeah, we have uses for troublemakers like you outside your little freak show of a forest," the shiny Zebstrika taunted.

    The umber Marowak held out his bony club, before slackening his grip, letting it slide down before latching on to its center. The lizard spun it around as blue, ghostly fire erupted at its ends, whirling it back and forth wildly before swinging it out to the side with a menacing glare.

    "So what are you waiting for?" the Marowak sneered. "It's time for you mutts to go!"

    "Over my dead body, it is!" the Arcanine snapped back.

    The Fire-Type lunged for the Marowak at rapid speed, lowering her head in a blistering charge only to feel the air pass by her. The dog went wide-eyed with alarm as she looked back, watching the lizard reform from a shadowy haze with a malevolent sneer.

    "Huh-?!"

    "Ha! You ferals should really get out from under your rocks more often!" the Ghost-Type jeered. "Here! Have another learning experience!"

    The Marowak sent his club flying in a spinning arc, clipping the Arcanine in her side and sending her tumbling to the ground with a yelp. Further away, her pup pulled his ears and tail in tight as he backed away with a frightened whimper, only to shriek as he suddenly felt a hand yank him up by the scruff of his neck, bringing him face to face with the Abomasnow.

    "Gotcha, you lousy little-"

    Before the Ice-Type could finish, the Growlithe in his hands spat out an ember into the creature's face, prompting him to drop the Puppy Pokémon to the ground with a yelp. There on the ground, Elty staggered back up to his feet as the Abomasnow rubbed his face face, a swirl of frigid air swirling about him as his breath came out in a furious bellow.

    "Alright that does- Ack!"

    A hulking orange blur flew in, sending the Frost Tree Pokémon tumbling back as Elty felt himself get yanked off the ground once again. The Growlithe cringed, feeling the air rush past him until he realized that he was being held in the mouth of a fuzzy, warm Pokémon, prompting him to crack his eyes open and see none other than...

    "M-Mama?!"

    "I'll explain later!" the Arcanine yipped. "Just stay with me!"

    The mother Arcanine ran ahead as a stream of ghostly blue fire zipped overhead, tearing along past rows of leafless trees along a narrow dirt path as shouts rang out behind them. The dog bounded ahead where she came to an intersection, where a loud growl prompted her to see a Golem directly ahead, and an open path to her right. The Fire-Type turned on her heels, rushing right into a chamber lined with dead trees where her paws touched a patch of dirt with the shape of a footprint faintly etched in the dirt.

    Click!

    It took only a moment for the Arcanine to realize what had happened before ribbons of silk suddenly shot out from the ground and coated her legs. The Fire-Type lost her balance, pitching forward as her child went flying from her mouth towards the ground.

    "Aah!"

    Elty hit the floor of the dungeon and tumbled along the leaf-littered ground until he came to a panting, whining stop. From behind them, the sound of sneering laughter rang out, growing louder as its culprit drew ever nearer.

    "What an idiot!" the Marowak jeered. "I knew that dumb feral would fall for it!"

    The Growlithe picked himself up and looked on in horror as the lavender-scarved Pokémon pinned his mother down. The sound of loud blows and a pained cry rang out, only for a gout of fire to shoot out from the group that sent the Abomasnow stumbling back with a pained screech. The Arcanine wrestled herself free, wobbling to her feet as she looked over wide-eyed at her pup.

    "Eltenios, run!" she cried. "Don't look back!"

    Elty lowered his head and charged ahead as fast as his legs could carry him, his breaths coming out shallow and ragged as shouts and snarls rang out behind him.

    "Agh! She burned me!" the Abomasnow cried

    "Hurry and pin her down!" the Marowak snapped. "If we try and suck her in with that Apricorn like this, you'll get one of us caught instead!"

    "Hey!" the Golem shouted. "Her little runt's running off!"

    The Puppy Pokémon heard footsteps running after him, prompting him to start to turn his head back only to abruptly jerk it back into place. No, he could challenge his mother's instructions another time, but not here, not now. The Fire-Type ran ahead for dear life as he heard the racing footsteps and shouts grow louder and louder, the young dog wildly flying around corners in an attempt to try and slow down his pursuer.

    "H-Huh?!"

    Elty came ahead to a chamber where to his left was a set of stairs going up into the roof of an earthen tunnel. Without thinking, the Growlithe charged up the stony steps, spotting light at the end as he ran up into a clearing with a stream and scruffy clumps of grass. The Puppy Pokémon dashed along wildly, only for his feet to get caught on the steps. Elty yelped, pitching forward face first and tumbling onto the dungeon's earthen floor. The Fire-Type curled his body up and quivered, lying frozen on the ground, only to realize the sound of the pursuing footsteps had been replaced with that of the creaking and groaning of strained stone. A loud clatter rang out, followed by silence, and the sound of his own panting, haggard breaths. Little by little, the Puppy Pokémon uncurled himself, rising back onto his feet with an unsteady wobble.

    "Mama? Are you alright?"

    The Growlithe looked back at the direction of the stairs, and saw naught but a small patch of disturbed dirt in the clearing. Elty ran up and pawed at it, looking around desperately for any sign of his mother only to find nothing but the barren trees around him, along with warm tears bubbling in his eyes as a growing, awful realization began to settle on him.

    "M-Mama?"




    Elty's cries reverberated through the twisted woods, fading away on the winds out of the Mystery Dungeon long before they could reach the seaside cliffs overlooking it in the distance and the stone complex nestled on it. There, in a thick-walled seaside tower anchoring the complex's center, the sun shone through the windows of a chamber built high enough to peer over the horizon. The room was a far cry from the ebb and flow of the Distortion: a shaded space that looked over a collection of squat buildings ringed by a wall, and a fortified ring of even thicker stone walls going up towards the edges of a seaside cliff built around a central keep to the west.

    Inside the office, a Zoroark sat behind a neatly-hewn desk lined with papers on a high-backed chair with lavender cushions, moving a quill back and forth between an inkwell and the papers. The walls of the surrounding room had similarly had no expense spared in decoration, including a large tapestry bearing a map of Anyilla, flanked by a shelf with a number of rare orbs on display, along with four curious, differently colored spheres made from a strange material with white bottom halves separated from the rest by a black lining in the center. The room was silent barring the sounds of the Zoroark's pen moving, only for the sound of knocking and the door creaking to ring out, which prompted the Dark-Type to flick his ears and look up from his work.

    "Administrator Elilan, do you have a moment?"

    The jet-furred fox watched as the spider-legged form of a Trevenant in a lavender scarf with a three-layered square pattern scuttled in. Recognizing the figure to be none other than his Commander, the Zoroark tilted his head, before giving a surprised raise of his brow.

    "Hrm? You're certainly up here earlier than I expected, Betulo," Elilan said. "I thought you said you'd be busier than normal today."

    "I felt the circumstances merited changing up my plans a little," the Trevenant responded. "There was an urgent report for your desk."

    The Dark-Type shifted disinterestedly, before giving a shrug and leaning back in his chair.

    "If it's the daily status report about the prison, you can just leave them in my mail slot," Elilan answered. "I will review it later."

    "It's the transcript of a message I decoded from Team Sentinel. They've sent back a report about Subject Red."

    The Zoroark abruptly trailed off, shooting a curious stare at Betulo before reaching up and grabbing the envelope out of his claw. The Dark-Type tore the letter open, his eyes moving back and forth along a sheet of paper, working his way down as a disappointed scowl settled over his face.

    "Hrmph… they didn't need so many words to say that they barely missed capturing him again," Elilan harrumphed. "I know that I asked for regular updates, but this is ridiculous."

    The fox gave a disgusted shake of his head and summarily crumpled up the paper, casting it to the corner of his desk and looking away. Betulo eyed the crinkled ball of a report warily, before clearing his throat to attempt to draw his superior's attention back.

    "With all due respect, Administrator, perhaps it would be better to have Sorge and his team let things simmer down for a while," the Trevenant offered. "Subject Red is no longer in Anyilla's waters, and the more they chase him, the further he flees and the harder it will be for them to extract him."

    "You speak as if the Empire isn't also looking for Protectors. And Garanza and Linglan wouldn't exactly let the opportunity pass to have another Protector join them," Elilan scoffed. "If Subject Red were to attract attention out there, us hanging back would accomplish nothing but give someone else a head start at intercepting him. You know that the plans we have for the Cradle rely on Subject Red, so why take that risk?"

    "Because Subject Blue and Doctor Nyxem's research are every bit as important to those plans," Betulo replied. "There comes a point where taking further action risks the things we already have, Administrator. I know the way Inler has been managing this impasse with the Imperials has been less than ideal, but you can't expect Team Sentinel to constantly pursue Subject Red without drawing any attention to themselves."

    The Trevenant shook his head, letting his branch-like arms crackle before he continued on with a stern gaze.

    "If Sorge causes a diplomatic incident in the process, you can be sure Inler would notice and the other Administrators would find out about Subject Red and Blue's existence, along with Subject Blue's presence here in this facility."

    "And what of it?" Elilan demanded. "The Board can find out all it wants, but once Subject Red is reunited with his counterpart, simple discovery won't do anything to change my new balance of power."

    "Assuming Sorge recovered Subject Red and brought him back successfully before they found out, otherwise we'd have bigger issues to deal with than me not being able to sit aside you on the Board. Your peers would at the very least demand Subject Blue be transferred from containment here to Inler's control, and Nyxem's research at Torn Outpost would almost certainly be shut down," Betulo said. "Letting Sorge wait for the right time and place to move after Subject Red is a risk to what you've been working for, but the alternatives aren't any better. It's better to let the unpredictable be what it may and focus on things that are more immediately controllable for now... such as Torn Outpost's next shipment of laborers."

    Elilan frowned silently, picking his claws a moment before turning his attention back to his Commander.

    "I was under the impression that you were still on top of things for Torn Outpost's logistics," he said. "What exactly is the problem?"

    "We're about fifty 'mons short for the next batch to be sent out there," Betulo answered. "I'd instructed some of the guards here to go into the interior to help make up the difference, but the ferals are getting more clever about avoiding them."

    The Administrator frowned, giving a shake of his head back at the Trevenant.

    "Really now, that's what's been giving you so much trouble?" the Zoroark asked. "You're severely overthinking this problem, Betulo…"

    "How so? We've been lucky to get more than one or two Pokémon a day lately" the tree insisted. "We're not getting the numbers we need short of setting one of the forests in the interior on fire."

    Elilan tented his claws in response to Betulo's protest, his muzzle curling up in a small smile before replying back to his Commander.

    "There's always some crew of disposables out there that slips up during a raid," the fox answered. "Just bide your time and take the numbers you need from the next one."




    Much as Elilan had predicted, one week later, there was indeed a hulk full of unfortunates ready for his disposal. The prison hulk's arrival to Nagrobek was a dreary affair, the vibrant Company-issued lavender sails of the ship doing little to brighten up the dingy, run-down shacks of Dulefield Town as the ship's masts poked over the town's hipped roofs.

    The scene on and around the ship was little improved, as haggard, reeking Pokémon lay bound on the deck while others groaned from netting dangled over the side of the ship. The local guards were swift to work as soon as the vessel moored, unceremoniously dragging its miserable cargo along up the docks and for a path headed onto solid land.

    Among the bound Pokémon were a Trapinch and Gible in cyan scarves, the pair snatched up by a Passimian as they eyed their surroundings in a panic. While the Fighting-Type brought them up the path, they saw line after line of shuttered, decaying huts, a few containing Pokémon who warily watched the accursed procession past their doors and windows. The lemur's course brought the two Ground-Types to a clearing, where they were dropped against the battered cobblestones amid a large crowd of their captured peers in what appeared to be a local square, with their lavender-scarved captors blocking off the entrances and trading sneers with one another.

    "Wh-What are they gonna do to us?" the Trapinch gulped.

    "I- I dunno, Pekka," the Gible replied. "Just try not to draw attention to yourself."

    The murmuring was broken by the sound of a sharp rap of bone against wood, the gathered captives watching as a lithe, umber Marowak with a Second-Rank scarf clambered up a crate overlooking the square. The lizard stood up, batting his bone idly against his free claw as he peered down at the pirates with a malicious smirk.

    "Good morning, you thieving scum," the Marowak sneered. "Welcome to hell."

    The umber lizard's sneer widened eyes and set teeth on edge among the captive pirates, a few visibly attempting to squirm away as the Ghost-Type hopped down and passed by. The Marowak looked around slowly, his face betraying an obvious satisfaction with his captives' palpable fear.

    "I'll spare you all the introductions, since I think we all know what this place is and why you're here," the head guard said. "The only question will be whether you mind your place and make life easier for yourself or if you resist and force us to make life… uncomfortable for you. The Pit's always in need of new bodies to work its mines."

    The Marowak raised his bone and rapped it against the ground, turning to the guards behind him with an impatient growl.

    "Get them marched off and processed," the Marowak snapped. "The sooner these wastes of flesh get out of public view, the better."

    Pyry and Pekka yelped as they felt a sudden shove from behind, pushing them forward along the ground, with similar cries and protests coming from behind them. In their panic, the trek from the square went by in a long, hazy blur, the dilapidated buildings of Dulefield Town melting into fields and hills until the pair found themselves getting marched through a gate in a tall, stone wall, ringing squat buildings built under the shadow of a central tower. The two carried on past a wall of glaring passers-by in lavender scarves, towards an entrance in an inner wall that took them to a courtyard where they carried on into the entrance of a hulking stone building with small, barred windows into an open, dimly-lit hall. The pair were shoved to the ground, and lay panting as the hall filled with prisoners, the guards circling around them under the watchful gaze of a Scizor barking orders, waiting to swoop in and drag away one after the other to the different wings of the surrounding prison. Among the milling crowd of guards was the Passimian from earlier, who slowed down at the sight of Pyry and Pekka.

    "You two," the Fighting-Type barked. "This way."

    The lemur latched onto the pair, tearing off their scarves before roughly forcing white and black striped replacements on. The Passimian drug the two off, carrying along down a row of cells roughly hewn from stone where small, haggard groups of Pokémon peered out. The guard carried on to a rickety set of stairs leading up to a wooden catwalk up to a second level of cells, carrying on to a corner cell facing out to a set of narrow windows. The Passimian fished out a crude key and undid the lock, before unknotting the pair's bindings and unceremoniously dumping them onto the cell's stony floor and slamming the door behind them.

    "Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, brats," the monkey spat. "You're going to be in here for a long, long time."

    The Gible and Trapinch picked themselves off the ground, where the forms of a Gogoat and an Arcanine came into view, approaching with hardened scowls. His nerves long since depleted, Pekka bolted for a corner of the cell and lodged his head in the corner quivering, until he noticed the sound of slow, regulated breathing, looking up to see Pyry next to him closing his eyes, with a strange ease about him.

    "H-How can you be so calm?!" the Trapinch hissed. "We're in Nagrobek! Our lives are over right now!"

    "I- I mean, we're not alone…" the Gible murmured back. "My äippä's somewhere in here. If we can find her, at least she'll be there to watch our backs."

    The Trapinch's jaw cracked open, as an irritated chitter came back from the antlion as he flailed his limbs indignantly. Pyry had always been adamant that his mother was none other than Beatrice the Swift, but what good was that supposed to do them now?!

    "Pyry, she's dead! She tried to raid Vollezee and failed! If she didn't die there in the city, they almost certainly brought her here and made an example of her!"

    "Th-That's not true! You heard the stories back on Orleigh! She was caught!" Pyry insisted. "And there's no way a 'mon as tough as her could have just been done in like that!"

    Pekka scowled back at the Gible, only for his frustrations to begin to ebb as he saw the little land shark's face remain firm and insistent. Pyry really did believe from the bottom of his heart that his mother would come for him… in a hope that everyone else knew was already in vain.

    "… Come on veikka, don't do this to yourself…"

    "So soon? I thought you said we shouldn't expect the signal until the end of the week!"

    The Trapinch trailed off as he and his partner looked at the back of the cell where the Gogoat looked up and shifted uncomfortably against the wall to their right. The pair blinked a moment before creeping closer, until they were able to see the Grass-Type moving his head and peering through a small hole, speaking in furtive whispers.

    "That's what I heard, apparently the schedule has been bumped up a bit," the voice on the other end replied. "As far as I know, nothing else has changed, but you need to make sure this doesn't catch the others unawares."

    "I'm just saying," the Gogoat grumbled. "A little notice would've been-"

    The Gogoat suddenly stopped as he sniffed the air, prompting the Grass-Type to jump up and whirl around. The goat's startled look quickly hardened into a harsh glare, as the Pokémon lowered his head and pawed threateningly at the ground.

    "And what do you think you're doing, you little twerps?" the Gogoat snarled.

    Pyry and Pekka felt their blood run cold, and backed away timorously from the angered Gogoat. The Gible quivered, fumbling with his words as he tried to talk down his looming assailant.

    "J-Just looking for a place to rest, that's all!" Pyry yelped. The Gible's protest was quickly joined in by his Trapinch partner, who tucked himself behind his teammate as best as his bulky head would allow.

    "Y-Yeah, we'll get out of your, uh... leaves!"

    The pair turned and bolted, the sound of running steps chasing after them as they made their way for the front of the cell. The pair came to a skidding stop in front of the cell's bars and screwed their eyes shut in a panic only to feel a hot flash zip by and a low growl ring out.

    "That's enough!"

    The two cracked their eyes open and peered behind them, where they saw the form of the Arcanine from earlier crouched between them and the Gogoat, her teeth bared as smoke curled from her muzzle.

    "Your quarrel is with the Pokémon in lavender, not these pups," the Arcanine growled. "Act the part."

    The Grass-Type glared for a long, silent moment, before backing down and throwing his horns back with a snort as he slunk off for the back.

    "They'd best not do anything to make me regret trusting them to keep their mouths shut, Sirmia," he snarled.

    Pyry and Pekka shivered as they watched the Gogoat slink off back for the wall and opted to keep their distance from the irritable buck, the last they heard of him being the sound of his hooves clopping over back to the far end of the cell.

    "Sorry about that, some fresh meat got thrown into my cell," the Gogoat spat. "Let's keep this a bit quieter…"

    The Gible and Trapinch trudged along when they suddenly felt a warm nip from behind, prompting them to freeze in panic when a low growl reached their ears.

    "Don't mind Bill, he's just a little on-edge from being cooped up in here."

    The pair blinked and looked up to see the Arcanine from earlier peer down at them, giving a firm, intent gaze down at them. The pair shrank back timorously, Pyry and Pekka each attempting to slip behind the other until the antlion won out, leaving his land shark companion to stammer back to his questioner.

    "H-Huh?"

    "You seemed a bit disoriented," the Fire-Type replied. "I suppose confinement does that to Pokémon of your type as well."

    "W-Well what are we supposed to do?!" Pekka exclaimed. "We just got dumped here and one of our cellmates just tried to jump us!"

    "Take things one step at a time, and keep your focus on what lies beyond these walls," the Arcanine answered. "When the opportunity comes, you mustn't miss your chance to give chase after it."

    Sirmia turned and took her leave, pacing over to their left where she sat and looked out through a barred window out towards a column of fog poking over the horizon. Pyry and Pekka blinked, watching as the Arcanine looked out longingly in the distance, before trading puzzled looks with one another.

    "What do you think she did to get stuck here?" Pekka whispered. "She certainly doesn't feel like one of us."

    "Beats me…" the Gible sighed. "But what was with that Gogoat from earlier?"

    The two looked uneasily back towards the far end of the cell, where the Grass-Type was slipping away from the wall. The goat went and pawed impatiently at the ground with his hooves, acting as if his earlier encounter with them had never happened.

    "And why was he so worked up about us hearing a little talk?" Pyry wondered.




    In the sea southwest of Nagrobek, a small flotilla of ships carried on a northeastern course, flying sails of a constellation of colors, the lion's share being split between ships flying one of two patterns. At the front, a collection of three ships flying blue sails with white flames led the group, being followed closely by four ships flying dark red sails with silvery blades fanned out on them, the largest among them sidled up with the largest of the blue-sailed ships. There, on the deck of the blue-sailed flagship, the form of Pyroar garbed in blue and Bisharp in dark red pored over a sea chart spread out on a repurposed crate, the Dark-Type tapping his foot against the wood impatiently.

    "I'm not fully sold on this, Amaro," the Bisharp muttered. "How exactly does splitting our forces help us here?"

    "It's simple, Dirk. The prison complex is surrounded by sea cliffs from three sides with a naval garrison at the base. If we want to finish the job and put that place down for the count, we'll need to thin out the defenders," the Pyroar explained. "The fastest way to do that, is to cause a distraction big enough to draw ships and 'mons away from that prison. That should give you and the rest of the flotilla room to go to town on those walls as the prisoners break out, and me a nice chunk of loot for my trouble."

    "I suppose I can see where you're coming from, but I'd like to remind you that we don't really have any room for overlooking details here," the Dark-Type growled back. "This will be the most difficult raid any of us have had to do since Vollezee. We had more allies with us then, and you already know how well that turned out…"

    "That would be the case if this battle was just about numbers," Amaro countered. "But you know as well as I do that we have another tool to help tip the scales…"

    The Pyroar cast his gaze towards the water, where a set of red spikes sliced through the water as a lumbering blue form latched onto the hull. The figure clambered up, revealing itself to be a Feraligatr in a blue scarf adorned with white flames who saluted the two captains with a toothy grin, seawater still dribbling down his scales.

    "Kapitein Amaro, I've just heard back from the moles," the Feraligatr said. "They say that everything's ready to go from inside the prison as soon as the flotilla blows the first hole into the prison walls."

    "Excellent, Laurens. Go back to your ship for now and tell the crewmembers to get ready," the lion ordered. "As soon as I give the signal, we sail out for Dulefield Town. Tonight, we celebrate our victory in their own taverns!"

    "Aye! We'll all be looking forward to it!"

    The Feraligatr darted to the edge of the railing and dove off into the water with an audible splash. Amaro and Dirk watched as the reptile slowly surfaced again, powering off towards a two-masted ship in the distance as the Bisharp narrowed his eyes skeptically.

    "Hrmph, rising star or not, I still don't like this," Dirk harrumphed. "Out of all the 'mons in the Phlogiston Raiders you could've entrusted espionage to, you had to choose the one that hailed from a bunch of distorted sea rocks on Vollezee."

    "Well, he was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, so you'd have to give the credit for this raid happening at all to him," Amaro retorted. "I'm sure that he'll have plenty of time to fill you in on the details when he's sitting as your peer around our table back in Orleigh."

    The Pyroar's suggestion at once drew an annoyed hiss and frown back from his Bisharp counterpart, who jabbed a blade into the railing with an audible thunk.

    "Amaro, I'm not opposed to putting control of the Council firmly under 'mons friendly to us in the old guard, but even you have to know I'm not just going to give you a free second vote for making decisions by having one of your own captains join!" Dirk chided.

    "Well maybe this raid will help to persuade you otherwise!" the lion chortled. "But we can hash out the details later, we've got a prison to destroy!"

    Amaro shook his mane and began to prance off down the deck, only for a sharp hiss to reach him from behind.

    "Can we really trust that information?" Dirk's voice said. The Pyroar paused, before craning his head back towards Dirk waiting behind him.

    "Hrm?"

    "From the Imps," the Bisharp insisted. "Of Captain Beatrice still being locked up in that sorry sea rock."

    "It's worth a shot, isn't it?" Amaro asked. "With her back on the prowl, it'd put the fear of the gods back into those square-necked landlubbers!"

    Dirk scowled back at the Pyroar, who brushed off the Dark-Type's misgivings with a shake of his mane and small, disarming smirk back that served to ease the Bisharp up slightly.

    "But even if she isn't," Amaro answered. "I'd say that removing that little cesspit from existence would be a good way to settle the score… for us."




    Off under the column of fog, Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon churned and shifted with the Distortion within, its resident ferals navigating the ever-changing terrain as they attempted to carry on with their lives. Among them were the forms of two Foongus under a sky with trees dangling upside-down in the distance above, watching a noticeably scruffy and haggard Growlithe pass by tugging along a trio of visibly greenish, unripened Cheri Berries through the dirt. The young pup would occasionally drop one of the berries, forcing him to go back and attempt to drag it along.

    "… Eh? Isn't that Growlithe a bit young to be gathering on his own?" one of the Foongus asked.

    "Just leave him," the other Foongus grumbled. "We've got our own problems with those knot-necks in lavender prowling around and we can't be watching over every random kundel in the dungeon."

    Elty watched as the Foongus pair slipped off, shaking his head and glaring determinedly as he brought his meager meal along for a gap among the dead trees filled with fog. He'd been lurching from day to day since the square-necked Pokémon took his mother, with little more than the scraps he'd been able to gather through half-remembered lessons from the departed Arcanine. All the while he'd desperately clung to a faint hope that she would return, even if the Protector herself had to return from wherever the square-necks had taken her egg to make it happen.

    The Growlithe proceeded forth, carefully pacing along with his meal into a haze that thickened to the point of being unable to see the nose on his face… before thinning out little by little to reveal the contours of a stony den wedged between tree roots.

    "H-Huh?!"

    Elty abruptly stopped with a start, dropping his berries out of surprise as he discovered the form of a lazing Pangoro occupying his expected refuge. The bear's black and white fur filled into view as the Growlithe made his way forward, fumbling with his words as the creature got up, shooting a harsh glare over at the intruding pup.

    "What do you want?" the Pangoro demanded. "I'm trying to sleep here."

    "B-But this is my place to sleep," Elty stammered. "My mother found it and everything!"

    "Yeah, well it's mine now."

    The Growlithe spluttered as his face contorted in anger, the fire in his belly burning as he snorted out some stray Embers.

    "You- You can't do that!" Elty cried. "It's mine! This place is-!"

    The Fire-Type was cut off by a set of claws digging into the scruff of his neck and lifting him up, sending him flying back into a tree trunk with a shriek. The Growlithe picked himself in a daze and watched as the Pangoro lunged for him, prompting him to curl up and screw his eyes shut before hearing a low growl, looking up to see the Dark-Type looming over him with a hateful glare.

    "Take a hint, you stupid dog!" the bear snarled. "Get out of my territory before I shove you into the Distortion!"

    The Growlithe yelped and took off running back through the fog for dear life. The pup hurried through the thick mist the best his senses would allow him, picking up speed and bounding out as soon as he saw the shape of the tree trunks outside take form. The Puppy Pokémon stood there panting and looking around uneasily, when his eyes shrank to pins at the horrified realization that he felt lighter after coming out...

    He'd left his Cheri Berries back in the den!

    "My food!"

    Elty paced back for the Distortion before stopping, realizing that the Pangoro would surely be waiting for him on the other end. The Puppy Pokémon pulled his ears and tail tight against his body, tears beginning to well up in his eyes.

    "… Why is this happening to me...?"

    The Fire-Type slunk off and settled down on a pile of loose leaves, burying his head in them. Everything he did to try and fight to keep himself fed and alive seemed to fail, as if the Travellers themselves preferred he stopped existing. The Puppy Pokémon curled up, sitting there and waiting for the winds of the Distortion to come and sweep him up… off to whatever dark place awaited him and his mother.




    KLANK! KLANK! KLANK!

    "Get up, scum! It's time to make yourself useful!"

    Pyry and Pekka jolted at the sound of harsh clanging at the front of their cell, where the forms of a Passimian and a Vikavolt stood followed by a glaring Exploud with bound arms. The Passimian slipped a key into a lock built into the door and threw it open, hitting the wall with a loud crash as the the sound of other cells opening and indistinct shouting rang out in the background.

    "W-What's going on?!" Pekka yelped.

    "Hrmph… it seems it's our turn to crush rocks for them," Sirmia murmured, drawing a blank stare from her Gible cellmate.

    "Crush… rocks?"

    "You didn't think we were just going to let you sit in your cells and get fat off of our food, did you?" the Vikavolt sneered. "No, hurry up and help process the current batch of tin ore along with the rest of the scum!"

    The Passimian threw a pair of hands into the cell and latched onto Pyry's fin and the back of Pekka's neck, dragging them for the door with a yelp. The two Ground-Types struggled and flailed with startled cries as they were drug through the doorway, where they saw the Exploud from the next cell over glowering behind the Vikavolt. For a brief moment, Pyry and Pekka saw their Gogoat cellmate trade a nod with the Exploud, blinking curiously before the Ground-Types were pinned to the ground by their captors. The Vikavolt gave a sharp buzz, readying a glob of silk between his mandibles, when a deafening blast suddenly rang out that made the Vikavolt jolt upright with a startled buzz.

    "Huh?! What on earth was that?!"

    The Exploud shifted, the guards unaware that his limbs were beginning to move suspiciously against his bindings, before he threw his head down and charged, bellowing out to the Gogoat inside.

    "Now!"

    The Gogoat bit down on the Passimian's arm and yanked the lemur in with a shout as the Exploud pushed the Vikavolt in from behind and tumbled into the cell together. Sparks began to build around the wings of the Vikavolt, only for the stag beetle to be struck by a gout of fire from a wide-eyed Arcanine and then slammed headfirst into a wall by the Gogoat, sliding to the ground with a feeble groan. Pyry and Pekka gasped for air, watching as the Passimian was pinned to the ground by the Exploud, only to kick him free and make a frantic break for the cell door, slamming it shut and locking it as he panted haggardly.

    "H-Hah! Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable, scum!" the lemur snapped. "Consider your tickets to The Pit booked after your little stunt-"

    "Stay back! Back I tell you!"

    "Eyaaargh!"

    "They're ganging up on us! Sound the alarm!"

    At the sound of panicked shouts behind him, all semblance of confidence quickly drained from the Passimian's face. The Fighting-Type looked back and saw beams and projectiles flying wildly around the hallway as Pokémon stormed out of freshly-opened cells and mobbed guards in lavender scarves one after the other.

    "Wh-What the-?"

    The Fighting-Type looked around the prison hall in a panic, until he noticed a white-furred Ninetales in Company garb running in in a hurry. Instinctively, the Passimian raised a hand, waving to try and flag his cohort down.

    "H-Hey!" the guard exclaimed. "What's going on he-"

    The Passimian's eyes widened as the Ninetales' eyes flashed a brilliant violet and a cone of an alike-colored aura swirled from her forehead. The Fighting-Type hastily attempted to fall back, only for the aura to envelop him and suddenly sweep him off the ground before hurling him to the side headfirst against the bars. The lemur slumped over with a weak groan, leaving the fox to step atop the fallen Fighting-Type's body and peer intently through the bars at a slack-jawed Pyry and Pekka.

    "Huh?!" Pyry exclaimed. "You just beat up your own buddy!"

    "Hardly."

    The Ninetales stooped down and snatched up the misshapen metal key from beside the unconscious Passimian and slid it into the cell door's lock. The Exploud pulled the door open, leaving the Ninetales to drag the Fighting-Type and throw him beside the Vikavolt before filing out with its occupants. As the Exploud locked the cell door behind him, Pyry and Pekka stared incredulously at the Ninetales who drew an impatient growl from the Exploud.

    "Took you long enough!" the Exploud grumbled. "Here I was getting antsy the signal was a false alarm!"

    "Yeah, well I can't be bailing all of you out from your own dumb mistakes," the white Ninetales retorted.

    "Explain yourselves," Sirmia demanded. "Who are you, and what is going on here?"

    "We're members of the Phlogiston Raiders, and we've been waiting for two months to make our move here," the Gogoat explained.

    The Arcanine tilted her head before noticing Pyry and Pekka staring off in the distance as pained shouts and screams rang out. The Fire-Type looked back, watching as lavender-scarved Pokémon were mobbed among the corridors, some being pushed into cells and locked up, others being pounced and set upon by angry prisoners, and still others fleeing in a mad dash for safety away from pursuing mobs. The three Pokémon stared incredulously for a moment, before slowly turning back to the Exploud as a satisfied smirk spread over his toothy mouth.

    "Liking the handiwork, huh?" he said. Pekka and Pyry peered up at the Normal-Type and then back at the now-closed cell, wincing as the sounds of angry revenge being dealt out in the background filtered to their ears.

    "Yeesh, I'll say," the Trapinch murmured.

    "What about the Pokémon in the mine the guards keep talking about?" Bill insisted. "That 'Pit' they keep threatening Pokémon with."

    "We weren't able to get anyone embedded into it," the Exploud explained. "We'll do what we can to find it and free them once the reinforcements make it up here."

    "Well, we don't have time to wait for that. Let's not waste the advantage we've got for now…" the white-furred Ninetales said, before turning her snout up and letting out a piercing howl that made Pyry and Pekka cringe and caught the attention of the newly-freed prisoners.

    "Hey! We've got your ticket to freedom here!" the Ninetales shouted. "Just get out of the cell block before the guards can do anything!"

    The Ice-Type's call was answered by a loud, roaring cheer from the prisoners in the hall as the crowd began to charge off down for its far end, prompting Sirmia to dash off after the group and Pyry and Pekka to hurry along after her. The hallway quickly thickened with bodies, the scent of freedom prying the convicts away from their cells and indulgences of revenge, sending the thronging mob of Pokémon charging down the hallways past one bend after the other for a pair of double doors with sunlight filtering through their cracks. As the mob neared, the doors abruptly flew open, revealing a Scizor at the head of a smaller group of snarling Pokémon in lavender.

    "There they are! Crush those scum!" the mantis at the front cried. "We'll assist the other blocks after this one!"

    The Scizor and her underlings filed into position, the guards at the front raising a wall of light barriers while their compatriots deeper within sent a volley of attacks down the hallway. The air filled with yelps and screams as the attacks found their marks, felling a number of prisoners at the front of the mob, only for others to charge ahead and take their place, careening square into the blockading guards. The front line quickly turned into a melee of blows and shouts, with Sirmia caught in the thick of it spitting up a column of fire onto an unfortunate Ferrothorn.

    "Aaaaaaagh!"

    The Grass-Type shrieked and writhed under the flames, before staggering over and slumping to the ground. Sirmia, satisfied with her belly-fire's work, shoved the spiked guard aside, giving a disgusted growl at the prone Ferrothorn.

    "Don't get between me and my pup, you vile-!"

    The Fire-Type suddenly felt a wet burst catch her in her gut, launching her back and sending her tumbling into a wall. Sirmia staggered up dazedly, growling and seething when she felt her paws leave the ground, looking over in a panic to see a Slowbro with glowing eyes and his arms held out guiding her body into the air.

    "Lights out, you miserable mutt!" the Psychic-Type snarled.

    The Slowbro moved his arms, preparing to fling Sirmia into a wall, only to feel a pair of sharp pains on his legs. The creature winced and lost his focus, dropping Sirmia back on her feet as she darted back from the startled Slowbro.

    "Agh! What the-?!"

    The Psychic-Type's gaze darted down, where he noticed a pair of angry-looking critters hanging onto each of his legs: a Trapinch on his right ankle with his powerful jaws, and a Gible on the calf of his other leg.

    "You little brats!" the Slowbro seethed. "Get off of me!"

    The Slowbro thrashed wildly, flinging his Gible and Trapinch attackers to and fro in an effort to shake them loose. Pyry heard Pekka suddenly yelp and hit the ground with a thud, before feeling a forceful swat that knocked him loose and sent him tumbling to the ground. The Gible looked back and flinched after seeing the guard looming above him, only to let loose an agonized scream as Sirmia wrestled him to the ground with a fierce bite. The Gible and Trapinch picked themselves up panting, watching as the Arcanine got off the unconscious Slowbro and spat up a wad of spittle. The time to celebrate the victory proved to be fleeting, as a deafening blast caught their ears and made the three jolt back.

    BOOM!

    All eyes turned back through the doorway and into yard, where a large cloud of dust and smoke rose from the wall ringing the complex. The Scizor stared wide-eyed with her jaw hanging limp as the gust cleared, revealing a gaping chasm blasted into the prison wall, with a fiery blur rushing away from it.

    "Gah, there's a hole in the exterior walls!" the Bug-Type shouted. "Don't let the prisoners-!"

    The Scizor ringleader was cut off by a fiery burst, launching the mantis back with a stunned hiss. From the direction of the shattered wall, the form of the culprit, a Chandelure in a lavender scarf became apparent, prompting the Exploud to crack a broad grin as the guards stood in fixed shock.

    "Now's the time to charge!" the Loud Noise Pokémon cried. "Don't let those square-necks bog you down!"

    The Exploud charged ahead, the prisoners following in a mob descending on the still-stunned guards. The air grew thick with cries and traded blows as both guards and prisoners fell, but amidst the struggle, an ever-widening path onto the yard opened up, prompting the Chandelure to cry out to the Pokémon inside

    "The exit's open!" he shouted. "Hurry up and take advantage of it while you can!"

    The mob of prisoners charged ahead, some on the fringes straying off and getting bogged down fighting the remaining guards scattered ahead. From within the melee, Sirmia, Pyry, and Pekka ran ahead, dashing along the open yard for the hole in the wall with all the strength their legs could muster.

    "What are we supposed to do after we get out?!" Pekka exclaimed.

    "I don't know, veikka!" Pyry panted. "Worry about one thing at a time first!"




    "Grr..."

    From his office in the tower overlooking the cliffside prison, Elilan had watched the prison erupt into chaos, as trails of smoke and dust curled up from within the complex. The low boom of cannonfire rang out from the ship-packed sea below, with a set of four red-sailed ships among them catching Elilan's eye as they led the charge in an attempt to pin down the ships docked at the garrison. Other ships shot volleys of Apricorn grapeshot and lobbed bombs up the cliffside towards the walls of the prison. The Zoroark glared and dug his claws into the window frame to gouge a set of deep grooves with his claws, before instinctively whirling back at the sound of a Trevenant stumbling to a halt behind him.

    "Betulo!" the Zoroark Administrator exclaimed. "There's Apricorns flying past my office window! Give me a status report of what's going on out there!"

    "The garrison and Dulefield Town have been attacked by pirates and a riot's just broken out in the prison," the Ghost-Type answered. "It started right when the raid did, so our current assumption is that the pirates and prisoners are coordinating their actions."

    "What?! Why did it take me this long to find out about it?!" Elilan snapped. "Do something about it!"

    The Trevenant opened his mouth to speak back, only for a deafening blast to rattle the office's windows. The pair peered out the window, where a cloud of dust and smoke was rising up from a chunk of the prison's exterior wall freshly reduced to rubble, with other plumes rising further away. Crashes and wooshes rang out, as further attacks continued pouring in from the ships in the sea below. The Administrator gritted his teeth and balled his paws up into fists, his voice coming out in a seething, dangerous growl.

    "I don't have time for this…" he fumed. "Just make sure Subject Blue is secured and order your subordinates to fall back to defensible positions, I'll help even the odds a bit."

    "Understood, Administrator."

    The fox breathed in and closed his eyes as a corona of magenta light surrounded his body, his eyes shooting open awash in the same hue, the aura about him pulsating for a lingering moment before bursting outwards in all directions.




    (Continued in next post)
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
    Venia Silente likes this.

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