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Fledglings

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

  1. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    "Hurry up, the exit's just ahead!"

    Sirmia stomped impatiently from the edge of the hole in the prison wall, standing atop a mound of rubble and looking back at Pyry and Pekka as they ran along struggling to keep pace with their peers in their rush towards freedom. The Fire-Type watched as one prisoner after another passed the pair through the hole, prompting her to furrow her brow and wonder aloud to herself whether she ought to have just dragged them over herself.

    "We're trying! My legs can't keep up with yours!" Pyry cried. The Gible's partner lurched along, his breaths coming in ragged pants as he called back to the Arcanine at the end.

    "Just keep runni-!"

    Pekka flinched as a flash of magenta light overtook the yard, prompting the bug and his partner to skid to a stop as dead-looking trees suddenly erupted from the ground, turning the open yard into a cramped series of paths and clearings amid piles of disturbed dirt.

    "A-Ah!" Pyry yelped "The wall! Where'd it go?!"

    "Feel around for it!" Pekka cried. "It's gotta be some sort of trick!"

    The pair frantically felt out ahead of them, only for their limbs to find nothing but empty air. The newly formed woods behind them began to sound out with shouts as a few prisoners fell to the ground after guards caught up with them, prompting some of their peers to charge blindly away in the suddenly transformed courtyard. Pyry looked around wildly, trying to make sense of how the hole in the wall could have been hidden from them so suddenly, only to find himself puzzled time and time again.

    "Wh-What's going on here?!"

    The two jumped back as a sudden gout of fire tore through the air above them, rending a magenta-rimmed hole with a pile of rubble and the form of an impatient Arcanine staring down at them. Pekka went slack-jawed as he looked around at the dungeon-like surroundings and the ruined wall ahead, trying to make sense of how the sight he beheld could be possible.

    "What the-?"

    "Hurry and get over here!" Sirmia snapped.

    Pyry and Pekka ran ahead for the hole ahead of them, jumping through as they faceplanted and came to a tumbling stop in the dusty rubble just outside the prison wall. The Trapinch and Gible stared flummoxed at the wall behind them, before turning back to see Sirmia scowling down at them.

    "What happened to you?" the Arcanine demanded. "I stopped hearing you trying to get out after that flash of light repaired the wall!"

    "I-I don't know! We just started seeing and hearing things!" Pyry stammered. "It was like it was all-"

    A sudden glow of magenta light came from the hole in the wall, leaving behind what seemed to be unbroken bricks. Pyry stared ahead, running a claw over bricks that felt unnaturally smooth to touch.

    "One big illusion…"

    The Gible trailed off, only for the sound of crunching footsteps to ring out as the moles from earlier and a small party of escaped prisoners ran up to the wall, the Gogoat among them impatiently stamping his feet at Sirmia and her charges.

    "Hey! What's the holdup here!" the buck demanded.

    "Yeah, why are there no more Pokémon coming?!" a Poliwhirl in a prisoner scarf shouted.

    "It's the prison!" Pekka cried. "Some Pokémon's making a bunch of illusions to throw off the others inside!"

    "Over there!"

    A sharp shout rang out as a bolt of electricity flew by and splintered a nearby tree branch, prompting the Poliwhirl and a number of prisoners to break off with a start for the undergrowth. The remaining Pokemon turned where they saw Electrode rolling over a nearby hilltop, signalling to a large mob following behind.

    "I see escapees!" the Electric-Type cried. "Don't let them get away!"

    "Let them figure it out on their own! We'll come back for them later and we've got ourselves to worry about right now!" the Ninetales shouted. "If we have to retreat and you can't make it to the ships in town, no one's helping you!"

    The fox darted off for the wooded areas further inland, prompting Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia to follow suit as attacks flew along the wall. As the three ran ahead, Pyry and Pekka looked off in the distance, where they could hear distant booms and see smoke curling up from a far-off seaside town with a harbor hosting three haphazardly docked ships. The pair paused as they noticed the ships were flying blue sails with white flame patterns, realizing that the booms were coming from none other than a raid! All they had to do now was make it down to the shoreline and...

    "Huh?! Where are you going?!"

    Pyry's cry prompted Pekka to whirl his head-dominated body and see his Arcanine guide starting to pace off in the background. The pair ran after her, prompting the Fire-Type to stop, and furrow her brow back sternly.

    "The Mystery Dungeon," Sirmia answered. "I have a pup waiting for me back there."

    "You can't go off there alone!" the Trapinch exclaimed. "You'll get picked off like that!"

    "Yeah! And we've already needed your help to get by!" the Gible cried.

    The pair's protests were cut off by an arc of electricity zipping by overhead, prompting the three to jump back out of surprise, and Sirmia to shake her head back at the young pirates.

    "I'm sorry, but this is where our paths split," the Fire-Type insisted. "I'm sure you and your friends can work something out."

    "Maybe it doesn't have to," Pekka insisted. "Look."

    The Trapinch pointed ahead with a nubby foreleg off at the foggy plume in the distance, following a winding trail that hugged a set of wooded coastal hills back to the village.

    "It'll be safer going down there in numbers," Pekka insisted. "You can slip off back for your dungeon in the confusion!"

    "Yeah, they can't be checking for Pokémon going inland all that carefully!" Pyry added.

    Sirmia frowned before her ears perked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and her nostrils caught the whiff of Pokémon approaching from upwind. The Arcanine peered off at the looming column of fog in the distance, before shaking her head resignedly.

    "Good enough. Hold on tight," the dog growled. "I can't turn back to rescue you like last time."

    "Hold on ti-? Ack!"

    The Gible's words were cut off with a yelp as he felt a nip at his back fin and was hoisted onto Sirmia's back, the dog repeating the process with his Trapinch partner. The pair latched onto the Arcanine's fur as she bounded ahead, sprinting off through fields down the bluff the prison sat on as she dashed off for the churning town in the distance.




    Back in Dulefield, chaos reigned in the square where the prisoners had marshaled earlier. Smoke curled over the rooftops as Pokémon garbed in blue smashed storefronts and picked through their contents. Further inland, a group of guards who'd attempted a failed counterattack mounted a hasty retreat under withering fire, with a bellowing Feraligatr leading its charge.

    "Hah! Not so tough when you don't have numbers on your side, are you?!" Laurens snarled. The reptile spat up a torrent of water after the fleeing guards, only for the sound of darting footfalls to reach his ears, and prompt him to see none other than his Pyroar captain hurrying up with a satisfied grin.

    "Good work, Laurens," Captain Amaro said. "Looks like that little dust-up you arranged is paying us dividends already."

    "Hrmph. It's a shame that we're not doing this to their blasted sea-mud capital," Laurens growled. "I've got a score to settle with that place for what it did to my home."

    "All in due time, Laurens."

    The Pyroar cast his gaze past Laurens, where a red Oricorio, a Honedge, and a Durant were stripping some metal furnishings off of a storefront, when a barrel suddenly shifted and began to move away. The barrel moved along, red paws poking out from under them when the Oricorio suddenly bolted up to attention and pointed out the barrel to her fellows.

    "Hey! This barrel's moving!" the bird cried.

    The brigands set aside their plunder and bolted for the barrel as it abruptly dropped to the ground. The Honedge knocked it over with the flat of his blade, throwing out a wide-eyed Mienfoo in a lavender scarf. The Fighting-Type attempted to bolt away, only for the Durant to catch the Pokémon by his scarf and lift the hapless guard with his mandibles.

    "Gih!"

    "Dirty square-necked scum!" the Durant snarled. "You should've run when you had the chance!"

    "No matter," the Honedge sneered. "When this is all over, we'll take you for a nice, long walk off a short plank."

    The Mienfoo quivered at the threat, the Fighting-Type's face flushing pale as he curled up, his innards having grown sick with fear over the fate that would inevitably follow that long walk.

    "N-Ngah…"

    The Durant shoved the Mienfoo to the ground, prompting the other two pirates to swoop down on the Fighting-Type as blows and pained shrieks rang out. Amaro shook his head in distaste before letting out an irritated growl at the three that made them pause and glance up uneasily.

    "Hrmph, focus less on settling your scores and more on the task at hand!" the Pyroar barked. "The further we can push out the guards actually resisting us, the more freedom we'll have to clean out the town."

    "Fine by me," Laurens added. "More loot's a fair trade over watching some random square-necks cack themselves any day."

    BLAM!

    Amaro and Laurens whirled back at the sound of the blast, looking back to see smoke curling up from the harbor as one of the pirate ships listed and began to capsize, allowing a corvette in lavender sails to pull in. The harbor's water suddenly went white with churning brine and waves as beams of various lights zipped around and the skies thickened with rapidly approaching shapes.

    A cry went up from a street further behind them as a Simisear carrying a chest was felled by a slicing wind from the air, knocking the pirate to the ground and scattering the chest's spoils as a Luxio and Dragonair dropped their loot and fled in a panic. Over by the captured Mienfoo, the Durant looked up, only for a fiery burst from the air to catch him in the head and sprawl the ant out unconscious, leaving his fellows and the Mienfoo to scatter off in opposing directions as Laurens and Amaro noticed that the shapes in the air were sporting lavender scarves and that others could be seen prowling the streets in the distance.

    "Over there!" a Graveler cried.

    "Those must be the ringleaders!" an Absol shouted. "You heard Captain Lyn's orders, don't let them get away!"

    Laurens went wide-eyed as from every direction, the surrounding alleys and lanes suddenly grew thick with Pokémon in lavender scarves. The massed Pokémon spat forth a salvo of beams and projectiles, sending the two scurrying to a stony Storage Shop's damaged entrance for cover.

    "You know what? This was a bad idea!" the Feraligatr cried.

    "Keep your nerves about you, Laurens!" Amaro snapped. "It'll take more than a single Company shipt to make us turn tail from this town!"

    The Pyroar slipped through the storefront as attacks poured through the windows and scattered seeds and berries all around them, before charging and breaking down a side door with a tackle. The pair dashed through into an outside alleyway, where they came face to face with a charging horde of Company Pokémon. Laurens grimaced and braced himself, only for his superior to build up light in his mouth, which he disgorged down the narrow lane, filling the air with pained screams and dust as a loud blast rang out.

    Laurens blinked his eyes, struggling to keep the dust out when he saw that the alleyway was now strewn about with the weakly twitching forms of burnt and groaning Pokémon, with a pile of rubble where the side of a shop had been with an open square visible just beyond it.

    "We've got an opening!" the Pyroar cried. "We'll regroup and see what we can do to force these new 'mons off-balance!"

    The pair ran down the alleyway, over the rubble where the shop corner was as Laurens followed his superior into the square where a barricade of crates and debris had been set up to the left with a rag-tag group of pirates perched behind it braced for battle with an unseen foe.

    "Here he comes!" a Carbink yipped. "Get the big one before he-!"

    The Fairy-Type was suddenly cut off by a blue blur rushing in, getting flung headfirst into a wall and slumping over. The culprit was quickly revealed to be a Samurott with a drawn seamitar and a lavender scarf with a purple square overlapping a quartet of smaller ones, prompting a Lombre to rush in readying attack, only to be summarily cut down with an agonized scream by a fierce swing from the otter's blade.

    A Beartic charged ahead with a fierce roar, readying a claw swipe, only for Lyn to spit a Water Pulse into his face and send him crumpling to the ground. The otter reared up and bellowed, prompting other pirates to waver and their nerves to fail them as the mustelid rushed forth. The brigands scattered madly out of the Water-Type's path, fleeing as fast as their legs could carry them as the Company Second-Rank quickly zeroed in on the Beartic as he staggered to his feet. The Ice-Type turned and saw the Samurott charging, his body freezing in place in stupefied terror.

    Lyn raised his blade and prepared to bring it down onto the Beartic's stomach as the Ice-Type screwed his eyes shut and flinched, only for the sound of a roar and a sudden pulse of air to knock Lyn off-balance and stumble into a doorpost. The otter grimaced, whirling back and looking across the square where a Pyroar stared him down amidst a trail of disturbed rubble.

    "That's quite enough, you overgrown sea rat!" Amaro snarled. "It'll take more than that for me to let you end a good plundering!"

    The Beartic pulled his head back and cracked his eyes open, panting as he saw the Samurott clambering away from a bowed-in wall. The polar bear folded his ears back, hastily scooping up the Carbink and Lombre as he rushed off just as the Samurott got back up, dusting himself off with a threatening growl.

    "That's where you're wrong, you filthy pirate," Lyn spat. "You thought that you'd be able to have your way with one of our own islands and that no one else would come to stop you?!"

    "Pah! You're just some random Second-Rank!" Laurens growled. "I've turned 'mons of your ilk into quivering messes before and you'll be no different!"

    The Samurott glared, pulling his other seamitar free and spinning it about his knuckles, before stopping it with a firm grip on its hilt. The otter swung his blades out wide, giving a low, challenging snarl back at the Pyroar and his protogé.

    "Then go ahead and try it, pirate scum!"

    The otter's taunt prompted Laurens to spew a torrent of steaming water at the Company Pokémon, catching him in his flank. Undeterred, he grimaced his teeth and swung out his seamitars for a lunging slash, only for a deafening burst of air to strike him in his face.

    "Grah!"

    Lyn recoiled, digging his feet into the ground as he stopped his momentum and sprang forward for Captain Amaro. The Fire-Type hastily tried to sidestep his foe, only for the otter to catch him in the jaw with a retaliating uppercutting punch.

    "Agh!"

    The blow knocked the lion flat onto his back, prompting Lyn to bring the blade in his other paw up for a swift slash when a loud roar rang out from behind.

    "Chew on this, you miserable otter!"

    The Samurott suddenly felt a crushing, piercing pain sink down on his shoulder, prompting him to bellow out in pain. There, Laurens had bit down deep into his shoulder, sinking a set of fishhook-like teeth into the otter's hide. The alligator pushed the otter down, readying a swipe of his claws for Lyn's neck when he suddenly saw the otter's free arm jut forward.

    Splutch!

    The Feraligatr went wide-eyed as he felt a searing pain in his side, screaming out muffledly as he thrashed about. The alligator felt a punch at his throat and his body suddenly launched backwards following another blow at his gut, sending him tumbling away into the middle of the square until he hit a crate in the barricade.

    Laurens lay there for a moment, his tongue lolling with a tired pant that felt warm, sticky liquid oozing in his mouth from holes where fangs had been torn out. The Feraligatr staggered up to his feet and winced as he felt pain shoot through his side, prompting him to brush a claw up against it and pull it back to reveal it completely reddened with blood.

    The alligator fought to keep his balance, only to suddenly feel a frigid blast at his left foot. Laurens' yellow eyes shrank to pins as he looked down and saw his foot frozen to the ground in a chunk of ice.

    "A-Aah!"

    Laurens looked back up and screamed out of fear at the sight of a charging Samurott. At this point Lyn's shoulder was studded with teeth and portions of his hide had been torn up and dribbled blood, yet, he still kept coming. The Feraligatr pirate tugged desperately at his trapped foot, watching in horror as the Samurott raised a seamitar and barreled for him.

    "Time to end you, pirate!"

    The otter swung his seamitar for his foe's throat, when a gout of fire zipped by and a burning pain swallowed up his wrist. Lyn bellowed, dropping his blade before whirling and glaring at the Pyroar culprit as smoke curled from the ends of his mouth.

    "Well played," Amaro spat. "Exactly the sorts of dirty tricks I'd expect from a Company peon like you."

    "You're in no position to be moralizing me," the Samurott growled. "Have at you!"

    Lyn fished his blade back up and lunged at the Pyroar, only for the lion to build up light in his mouth. The Fire-Type lowered himself, spitting up a brilliant beam of light that swept up the otter with a yelp and sent him pinwheeling to the ground. Amaro panted, watching satisfiedly as smoke curled up singed hairs on the otter's body with one of his seamitars lying just beyond his grasp. Before the tired captain could relish in the outcome, he suddenly went wide-eyed as the Samurott abruptly threw out a paw and lobbed his remaining seamitar at him, the broad blade zipping through the air and slicing Amaro's foreleg.

    "Gah!"

    The lion roared in pain, looking down at his left foreleg to reveal a red streak forming along a long, straight slice. The Pyroar attempted to dart forward, only to wince as pain shot through his leg, prompting him to totter and struggle to keep himself upright.

    Over at the ruined barricade, Laurens finally dislodged his stuck foot enough to limp forward, panting as a loud bellow filled the air. The Feraligatr cringed, looking up to see Lyn grab his dropped seamitar from the ground and run for Captain Amaro. The Pyroar hastily attempted to steel himself, when the Samurott suddenly sprang up, lunging for the Pyroar with the tip of his blade trained square on his abdomen.




    "This is it, we're here!"

    Sirmia's course down the hill had taken her and her passengers through rolling fields of grass and crops into the outskirts of a ramshackle settlement of wooden huts by the sea. The place already had a forbidding air to it with its decrepit, decaying buildings, but the sight of blue and lavender scarved Pokémon fighting on the shore in the distance couldn't help but make the Fire-Type splutter out of incredulity.

    "This is where you're running to for safety?!" the Arcanine cried.

    "No! We've got to get through it for safety!" Pyry insisted. "If we can get to those ships out in the water, then we can escape!"

    The pair continued bobbing up and down as Sirmia ran forward, shooting her head back with an incredulous scowl. The Arcanine wrenched her head back and shook it with a disbelieving snort, spitting up a few embers as she charged along muttering aloud.

    "You sea-walkers truly are a szaleńczy lot, you know that?"

    Pyry opened his mouth to protest, only to hear the sound of haggard panting and hurried footfalls. The Gible looked ahead and went wide-eyed at the sight of a Company Trumbeak with torn feathers and a Whirlipede hurrying along in a mad dash.

    "F-Fall back!" the Trumbeak yelped. "We'll regroup on the fringes and try to re-enter the town!"

    "When's that stupid garrison going to help us-! Ah!"

    Sirmia skidded to a stop as the two Pokémon hastily braced themselves and assumed battle stances. The Trumbeak let out a low, somewhat overeager sounding growl, clearly intended to try and intimidate the interlopers ahead.

    "What do you think you're doing-?! Eyaaaagh!"

    The injured bird was cut off by a plume of fire that swallowed her up, leaving the hapless creature flailing and screaming before slumping over. The Whirlipede braced himself with a visible quiver, readying a Rollout, only for a fierce howl from Sirmia to fray the Bug-Type's nerves and send him fleeing blindly for an alley as the Arcanine charged ahead down the lane.

    "Do you have any plans of how to get around here?" Sirmia demanded. "I doubt every one of those lavender knot-necks is going to be so easy to drive off!"

    The Arcanine ran along as Pyry and Pekka scanned their surroundings. The sound of rapid footfalls from a street at the end of a nearby alleyway caught their attention, prompting them to see a group being led by a white Ninetales, Exploud, and a Gogoat.

    "Ah! It's the moles from the prison!" Pyry cried. "If we stick with them, then we're sure to be-!"

    Suddenly, the mood on the other street changed as the moles stopped and hastily tended themselves. The Exploud grimaced and dug his feet in, readying himself for a piercing shout that reflected in a sharp cry back to the other prisoners.

    "Brace yourselves!" the Exploud shouted. "We've got-!"

    The Exploud and Gogoat were suddenly swept up in an abrupt downburst of icy air, the pair struggling to get up as an icy layer built up over their bodies and pinned them to the ground. The form of a Weavile darted in, prompting the Chandelure to ready a gout of ghostly flames only to be cut off with a shriek by a fiery, bluish ray from a Noivern. The Ninetales snarled and disgorged a frigid wind at an approaching Sylveon, only to be knocked to the side by a Fire Punch from a Kommo-o. Pyry, Pekka, and Sirmia watched as the fox lay panting on the ground and struggled with all her might to get back on her feet, the Ice-Type's efforts being abruptly cut short by a glowing orb of moon-like light from the Sylveon that sent her limply toppling over. The two Ground-Types stared with slackened jaws as the sound of frightened shouts and fleeing footsteps reached their ears, before Sirmia wrenched them back and took off running away from the alleyway.

    "Wh-What was that?!" Pyry squealed. "I thought there was a raid going on!"

    "I- I don't know!" Pekka stammered. "Maybe they're some local Rescue Team that dug in to fight!"

    "What sort of random hicks can do that?!"

    "Get it together and give me some directions for where you want to go here!" Sirmia snapped. "Or else the two of you are coming to my den!"

    Pyry and Pekka cringed a bit at the idea of being drug off to a feral den, before scanning their surroundings. Their eyes darted from one damaged lane to another, the local hip-roofed buildings sporting fresh scars from recent battle, when their eyes settled on a downhill lane that ended with a deep pool of blue, white froth revealing itself to be the foam of breaking waves in the distance.

    "There!" Pekka cried. "That one should take us right to the harbor!"

    Sirmia lowered her head and took off running down the lane, flying past the shadows of wood and stone buildings as she charged along with her passengers for the sea. The three Pokémon carried on, when they noticed the path ahead spilled out into an open space where trampling footprints had been left behind.

    "Gah!"

    "Huh?! What's-?!"

    "Ack!"

    The Arcanine ran ahead where much to her alarm, she saw that she was now in an open square, with a roaring Samurott rushing along at the other end. The Fire-Type skidded to a stop, leaving Pyry and Pekka to tumble off with a yelp, picking themselves off the ground and looking up to see the otter's form lunging for a wide-eyed Pyroar.

    The three watched as the tip of his blade caught the sun's light, before sinking deep into the Pyroar's abdomen. A loud, agonized scream filled the air, followed by a horrid gurgling noise that made Pyry and Pekka screw their eyes shut out of fright.

    The pair cracked their eyes open to see Lyn yanking his seamitar free, spewing a watery jet at his blade that came off with a bloody spray. The Pyroar tottered a moment, his eyes flickering before he toppled over onto his side, a growing pool of dark, crimson liquid forming underneath the fallen Pokémon's body in front of a horrified-looking Feraligatr in a blue scarf.

    "K-Kapitein Amaro!"

    Further behind in the alleyways, a host of Pokémon in blue scarves stared dumbly, their eyes widened and faces flushing ever paler out of fright as the scene before them sunk in.

    "Th-They got the Captain!" a Pupitar cried.

    "What do we do?!" a Bibarel whimpered.

    "Retreat! Retreat!" a Crustle shouted. "Every 'mon for themselves!"

    The blue-garbed Pokémon turned and scattered, the wounded Feraligatr stumbling back with a whine before bolting out of the square. Lyn sheathed his newly-cleaned blade and growled as he readied to spring forward, only to suddenly whirl his head back and prompt Pyry and Pekka to scream in fright.

    "You! Don't think you can escape that easily!"

    The Samurott spat up a pressurized orb of water, prompting the pair to dive for cover behind a crate. The two Ground-Types felt the crate splinter beside them, running off for an alleyway as another Water Pulse chased Sirmia off. Pyry and Pekka ran as fast as their legs could carry them, only realizing after running through a blind intersection that the attacks had ceased following them… and that the two of them were alone.

    "Wh-Where's Sirmia?!"

    "Forget about her right now!" Pekka insisted. "We need to make it to those ships!"

    The Trapinch bolted ahead down the back alleys for the blue seas in the distance, prompting Pyry to dart after him in a hurried attempt to keep up. The duo charged on past ramshackle wooden huts towards a sunlit space, rushing out into an open street only to go wide-eyed at the sight of a lavender-scarved Lycanroc and Golbat that whirled their heads at their sudden appearances and lowered themselves into attack stances.

    "Over there!" the orange-furred Lycanroc shouted. "Those two brats are trying to make a break for it!"

    "Well let's see them shrug this off!" the Golbat snarled.

    The bat sent forth a cutting gust of wind, prompting Pyry and Pekka to dive for cover in an alleyway behind them. The pair ran ahead, weaving amidst the mazelike alleys in a wild zig-zagging pattern between awnings and clumps of rubble as errant attacks zipped past them, the baying sounds of the pursuing Golbat and Lycanroc remaining stubbornly at their heels.

    "Agh! We can't shake 'em!" Pyry whined.

    Pekka noticed the soil underfoot felt sandy and loose, along with a slumping awning held up by a small row of upended barrels up ahead. At once, the Trapinch cut the Gible off, kicking his feet up widely as he nipped one of his teammate's claws and pulled it onto the edge of his thorax.

    "Hold onto me tight and close your eyes, Pyry!" the Trapinch shouted.

    "Huh? What's going-?"

    Pekka suddenly sprang down and tore into the earth, dragging Pekka along as the sun faded away and the Gible was surrounded by dirt on all sides of his forward vision. The young land-shark screwed his eyes shut, an attempt to cry out of surprise cut off by a freshly dislodged clod of dirt as the Trapinch burrowed along until coming to a sudden stop.

    Creeeeeeak

    A wooden creak filled the air, followed by the sound of a loud crash that jolted dirt loose from the roof of Pekka's impromptu tunnel. The two heard the pursuers shouts ring out along with the feeling of running footsteps approaching. The steps came heavier and heavier, prompting the two to freeze and screw their eyes shut expecting to be torn out of the ground at any moment… only for the tremors to weaken, and the shouts to grow fainter and fainter until the two could hear naught but the sound of their own panting and racing heartbeats.

    The pair retraced their steps along Pekka's tunnel, discovering it to be dark until the Gible felt cloth against his paw. The land shark pushed the cloth up and warily poked his head out, discovering it to be the awning they'd seen earlier, the lot of it and the barrels covering the hole and trail Pekka had left behind. One after the other, the Ground-Types pulled themselves out, noticing fresh footprints left behind by the Lycanroc. Pyry panted for a moment as his eyes adjusted back to the sunlight, until he noticed a strange taste in his mouth and the feeling of mud on his tongue that prompted him to gag and suddenly spit its contents up.

    "Pah! Pah! I got dirt in my mouth!"

    "Oh boo hoo for you," Pekka grumbled. "I do all of this work digging that tunnel and- Huh?!"

    The Trapinch cried out of alarm, realizing that the sea looked far more distant than he last remembered and that the rolling fields near the outskirts could be seen at the other end of his vision. The Ground-Type stammered, realizing that in their haste to flee, they'd run in the complete opposite direction of their escape route!

    "Th-They chased us inland!" Pekka yelped. "We need to hurry up and get back before-!"

    The antlion looked back at the sea, only for the rest of his exclamation to die in his mouth and his jaw to hang agape. There, out in the harbor was the form of a lone ship with blue sails, slipping out of the port in a hurry with Pokémon following it by air and sea, off for the deep blue beyond Nagrobek Island… and them.

    "… they sail off…"

    The Trapinch stared blankly, when he noticed the sound of struggling breaths coming beside him, seeing Pyry curling up in a ball. The Gible's face was riven with shock, his breaths coming one after the other hyperventilating as he appeared to slip deeper and deeper into despair.

    "Wh-Why didn't äippä come and help?" the Gible whimpered. "She was supposed to be at the prison… She was- She was-"

    WHAP!

    Pyry yelped in pain and rubbed a claw up against the side of his maw he watched Pekka pull a leg away, chittering frustratedly back at the Gible.

    "Get ahold of yourself, Pyry!" the Trapinch hissed. "Look, we'll just lie low in the Mystery Dungeon a little and try to find our way off! It's what we were told to do if we ever got stranded!"

    "But-"

    "Now, Pyry!"

    The Gible gulped, running along after his partner as the two bolted for the open outskirts. Along the way, Pekka noticed a chain of hills lined with trees to the west, prompting the two to rush past tattered shacks until they reached fields of berries, cutting through them until the tree line was in their sights just across a slightly raised earthen path.

    "There's two of the escapees!"

    Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at the sound of a loud bellow behind them, dashing ahead only for a blast of icy air to slick the ground in front of them. One after the other, the Ground-Type stumbled and fell face-first onto the ground, lying there groaning a moment only to feel vines and hooves shoving them over and pinning them down, where a frantic look back over their shoulders revealed the forms of an Abomasnow and a shiny Zebstrika glaring down at them.

    "A-Aah!"

    "Hah! Nice going with your little escape attempt there, brats," the Abomasnow sneered.

    "Yeah, with your friends retreating, you've got nowhere to run," Zebstrika growled.

    Pyry and Pekka quailed, the world around them spinning as their limbs began to go numb and their heads light out of fear, the sound of ugly laughter and a pair of forceful squeezes against the ground snapping them back to their present circumstances.

    "I'm sure the 'mons in The Pit will put you two clowns to good use," the Abomasnow jeered. "There's going to be a lot of examples that need to be made after today to get everything back in-"

    The Abomasnow's jeers were cut off by a sudden burning wind blowing in a spray of fire that struck the Ice-Type and his partner, sending them tumbling back with pained screams. Pyry and Pekka lay on the ground and curled up, screwing their eyes shut when they heard the sound of panting and felt a warm, furry creature brush up against them, prompting them to crack their eyes open and see that their rescuer was none other than...

    "S-Sirmia?!"

    "You shouldn't have kept me waiting," the dog murmured.

    "Wh-What are you doing here?!" Pyry cried.

    "Yeah, we thought you ditched us!" Pekka added.

    Sirmia shook her head back, only to lower and crouch at the sound of a low growl from behind the two Ground-Types. The pair darted behind the Fire-Type, peering back to see Abomasnow and Zebstrika rising to their feet ready for battle when the Arcanine looked back over her shoulder and barked sharply.

    "There's no time!" she insisted. "Run for the Mystery Dungeon and don't look back! I will rejoin you!"

    "B-But what if you don't?!" Pekka insisted. "There's other guards lurking on the way over there!"

    The Trapinch's question drew a pained look over the Fire-Type, who looked back at her approaching foes, hanging her head low as a string of hesitant words came out.

    "… Then… I want you to take care of my child."

    Sirmia's words sent a sudden chill down Pyry's scales. What… What did she mean by-

    "Huh?!"

    "He's still young and needs a defender," the Arcanine said. "I don't know if you two can do it alone, but you're the only hope he and I have right now."

    A blank look came over the two, their minds turning back to sea tales they'd heard bandied about Rosequartz's taverns about the words spoken by Pokémon who knew they were about to die. Of the forlornness and acceptance they had of fate being sealed, with nothing left but to face it bravely.

    "Sirmia, I-"

    The sound of a bloodcurdling cry rang out as the Zebstrika ran forward, followed by the Abomasnow. Sirmia grit her teeth, before hastily turning her head back and shouting at her two passengers.

    "Just go!"

    Pyry and Pekka watched as Sirmia sprang ahead for the attacking guards, before they turned and bolted for a patch of undergrowth to the left. The pair ran along as the sound of shouts and blows rang out behind them, punctuated by the woosh of expelled fire as they clambered through bushes and shrubs up the steep hillside.

    The two continued on, forcing their way past brambles and stones when they reached a path high up that continued on along the winding contours of seaside hills for a plume of fog in the distance. A loud shrieking yelp suddenly pierced the air, prompting the pair to jump up, and look back down the hill below.

    "Sirmia?"

    The duo looked and saw naught but the unmoving tops of trees from further below them. The pair waited tensely for any sound or movement of Sirmia coming up the hill after them, only for nothing to come but the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Pyry stared down blankly for what seemed like an eternity, his eyes beginning to run damp as he felt one faint hope after another ebb away. The Gible began to sniffle, when a nip at his tail turned his attention back, seeing a shaken-looking Pekka behind him.

    "C-Come on," the Trapinch insisted waveringly. "We need to hurry up before they start tailing us."

    The two shuffled on, picking up their speed on the path as they ran for the column of fog in the distance. All the while, scattered about the trampled dirt on the way over, little tears were left splattered amidst the dust, as the sound of hitching voices and sniffling came off the hillside path.




    The winding path eventually led to a deep, foggy wood, marking the entrance into Nagrobek's Mystery Dungeon. Pyry and Pekka made their way in, dutifully inching along the path into the Distortion. In it, they'd found the floors of the Mystery Dungeon to consist of thickly wooded spaces, with dense undergrowth making all but a few spindly paths and clearings impossible to traverse quickly. All the while, floor by floor, the two noted that the trees around them seemed to be shorn of leaves, flowers, and any sign of life at all... much as if they were making their way through a forest of skeletons.

    "Blegh, this place gives me the creeps," Pyry muttered. "What's with all these dead trees? It looks just like that illusion back in the prison."

    "Beats me," Pekka harrumphed. "Maybe there's something wrong with the soil, or the water, or…"

    A faint wooshing noise filled the air, followed by the sound of the surrounding earth creaking. Pyry and Pekka's eyes shot open wide at the sound, recalling from tales they'd heard at sea that the floors of Mystery Dungeons were periodically swept clean by the Distortion by an all-consuming wind. Pekka looked around anxiously, every further second without hearing any sign of life seeming to confirm his suspicions that the wind was far from a good omen.

    "Er, actually I think we got other things to worry about," the Trapinch gulped.

    "Th-That doesn't sound good at all…" Pyry whined. "Weren't Pokémon that stuck around when the wind blew like that supposed to get hurt and hopelessly lost?"

    "Let's- Let's just stay calm and take things one step at a time," the antlion insisted. "We can do this. We can find a way out…"

    Pekka looked around, seeing nothing but boggy water and impassable walls around the clearing. After hearing the sound of shifting branches, his glance shifted to a small passage where a pathway split off for a large collection of dead-looking trees.

    "Like there!" he cried. "Those groves are bound to have something!"

    Pyry and Pekka darted ahead, hurrying down the passage to a small chamber covered by the branches of dead-looking trees overhead. The shaded space seemed to be bare of anything of note, with the exception of a clump of shriveled leaves, along with a curious orange lump that poked out from it.

    "Huh?"

    The two Ground-Types inched forward where they saw that the orange lump was the form of a Growlithe lying limply in the dirt. Pyry tilted his head and eyed the dog, noticing that its eyes were closed and that no sound or sign of movement came from its body.

    "I think it's dead," Pekka grumbled. "Just leave it and let the Distortion take care of it."

    "I mean, it doesn't really smell dead…"

    Pyry waddled over to the Growlithe, eying the sprawled-out Fire-Type closely as he settled down by it. He reached a claw out and moved it towards the dog's hindquarters, only to catch the sight of its bushy tail and curiosity to get the better of him. The land shark tugged at it when the sound of a loud, high shriek rang out, prompting him to tumble back with a start as its very much alive owner jolted upright and wheeled around wide-eyed in a panic.

    "Eyaaah! Idź stąd! Idź stąd!"

    "E-Easy there! We- We don't want any trouble!" the Gible yelped. "We were just looking for a way out!"

    "H-Huh-?"

    Wooosh

    The sound of the wind returned with renewed force as the three Pokémon felt the gust nip at their bodies and hear the surrounding trees groan and shudder from it. Pyry and Pekka watched as the color flushed out of the face of the newly-awakened feral, prompting their blood to chill and the Trapinch of the pair to look nervously about his surroundings

    "Uh… veikka?" Pekka gulped. "We should really get out of here right now."

    "I know that, alright!" Pyry snapped. "Do you see anywhere to-?!"

    Elty began to shrink back with a frightened whine, only to pause and raise his ears. Pyry and Pekka trailed off as they noticed the dog raise his head and sniff at the air, before looking off down a passage amongst the stone-like trunks and take off running much to Pyry's alarm.

    "Hey!" the Gible cried. "Wait up!"

    The two Ground-Types chased after the Growlithe as they heard the wind come back once again. The whistling winds had transformed into a howling gale, as the pair found themselves having to shield their eyes to keep pressing forward. When the wind cleared, Pyry looked around in alarm to see that the Growlithe had vanished, with naught but footprints left behind, prompting him and hit teammate to follow them, where they saw the Growlithe clambering up the base of a set of stony stairs. Pekka's eyes widened, realizing that the feral must have sensed a way to escape, and here he was about to run off and leave the stairs to seal up and leave them behind!

    "Wait!" the Trapinch pleaded. "Stop!"

    The Fire-Type carried on a few more steps, before slowing and looking back down at the two scarved strangers. Pyry and Pekka watched as the Growlithe waited on them, the newfound ray of hope giving them the strength to dash for the stairs as the winds kicked up again. The pair tore up the steps, dragging the Growlithe along as the sound of rending trees rang out and the wind prompted them to lose their footing and stumble onto the next floor. A blast of wind came out, prompting the three to shrink back and close their eyes, as the sound of creaking and groaning stone gradually sealed it away with an audible click that left the three panting and gasping for air on the ground.

    "That was way too close," Pekka wheezed.

    "Yeah, thanks for waiting for us, feral,"Pyry murmured. "You just saved our hides back there."

    "You're welcome… I guess…"

    Pyry and Pekka righted themselves and looked over at their Growlithe guide. The feral seemed to lack any joy in his escape, or for that matter fear from his encounter or their presence, or much of anything other than an oppressive sense of moroseness. The two pirates traded looks with one another, wondering what to make of this new stranger.

    "Well isn't he the little pill?" the Trapinch harrumphed.

    "Maybe something's up with him."

    The Gible began to pace forward, leaving Elty to tense up a moment, only to drift back into his depressed, deflated mood after the land shark stopped and began to eye him curiously.

    "What was going on with you anyways?" Pyry questioned. "You were just lying there earlier even though the Distortion was acting up!"

    "… I wasn't really thinking about it," Elty answered. "It just didn't seem like there was any point."

    "Um, not getting blown around to gods-knows-where by the Distortion?" Pekka demanded. "Sounds like a really good reason to me!"

    "Yeah, you're a feral here!" Pyry added. "You oughta know this place like the back of your paw!"

    "You're wrong! Mama was always there to help me along!" the Growlithe insisted. "To look out for me and help me find my way! Then- Then-"

    The dog's voice hitched, his eyes dribbling tears as he began to dissolve into sobs in front of the pirate duo. Pyry and Pekka shrank back uneasily at their guide's sudden outburst, prompting the Trapinch to scuttle up and try to nose at the dog's shoulder to calm him.

    "T-Take it easy there! It's alright!" Pekka insisted. "You're okay right now!"

    Pyry watched as Pekka's attempt at comfort fell on deaf ears and the Puppy Pokémon continued to bawl. The land shark blinked incredulously a moment, his mind turning back to Sirmia at the wooded path. She said that she had a child… could this be…?

    "Wait… this 'mama'…" the Gible began. "Would she be Sirmia?"

    Elty sniffled a moment, only to blink and raise his head out of surprise. The Growlithe's face was a mess, stained with tears and matted fur, but in the midst of it all, a strange befuddlement had settled over his eyes, much as if the Gible had proclaimed that the sky was a vibrant scarlet.

    "H-Huh? How do you know that name?" Fire-Type stammered. "Pokémon like us never tell them to others we're not close to."

    "I mean, we just spent most of the day in a cell with her," Pyry began "And-"

    "You saw her?! Wh-Where is she?!" the Growlithe asked. "Please, you need to take me to her!"

    "I… I… think that we need to sit and talk this through a moment…" Pekka said.

    The Trapinch began to recount their tale, telling about how they had been members of a crew of pirates that had been ambushed by a Company ship at sea and then captured and transported to this island. As the Travellers above would've willed it, they had spent their time in captivity in the same cell as the young pup's mother, and had escaped from the prison with her. They then told of how they made it to town in the hopes of escaping, only to be forced to flee inland and forced to split off from Sirmia before making their way into the Mystery Dungeon...

    "And that's how we got here," Pekka concluded.

    "But… where is she now?" Elty pressed. "You said that she was with you, right?"

    Pyry and Pekka stiffened up and grimaced at the Fire-Type's question. The Growlithe plodded over, nosing insistently as Pyry stammered, struggling over his words of how to share what they knew of his mother's fate...

    "I… I mean she… Uh…"

    "I hear them!" a whinnying voice cried. "They're on this floor!"

    The three froze, the blood draining from their faces as they realized the voice to be none other than that of the violet Zebstrika. Further hammering in the realization was the brusque, rough sound of an Abomasnow's voice calling out after the Electric-Type.

    "Come out, come out wherever you are!" the Ice-Type jeered. "The rest of the guards are gonna sweep this dungeon top to bottom anyway, so there's no point in hiding!"

    "Who knows, maybe if you come out now you won't have to work as hard at The Pit with the rest of the scum!" the Zebstrika added.

    Pekka grimaced, looking around anxiously before tugging frantically at his Gible partner's fin and pulling him back.

    "We need to get out of here, now."

    "Wait."

    The two looked up and saw their feral guide looking back at them. Far from the panic they expected from the Puppy Pokémon, the Growlithe carried a peculiar sense of determination about him, as if he had been expecting this moment to come all along.

    "Let me help you," Elty insisted.

    "This really isn't a battle you want to pick, little guy," Pyry murmured.

    "Yeah, we had to run off the last time we encountered them!" Pekka exclaimed. "You coming along isn't going to magically tip the scales in our favor!"

    "I'm not planning on fighting them," the Puppy Pokémon insisted. "Just take that path over there and trust me on this."

    Pyry and Pekka traded looks before following uneasily after the Growlithe. The Fire-Type led them down a path that ran along a rocky gully, before coming to a pool in a clearing hemmed by trees where the path split left and right. The dog faltered a moment, lowering his head to sniff at the ground when he headed off left, before his ears suddenly perked up and he turned back at the following Ground-Types.

    "Go to your right and wait a moment," Elty instructed, prompting an incredulous scowl back from Pyry.

    "Shouldn't we not be just sitting around here when there's those square-necks hunting for us?"

    The Growlithe didn't answer back, taking a few steps forward before sitting a few paces from the left passageway's entrance. Pyry furrowed his brow confusedly and raised a claw after the Fire-Type, only to hear the sound of a low growl and feel his blood chill as he spotted the lavender-scarved forms of the Abomasnow and Zebstrika duo from earlier rounding the corner sporting fresh-looking scuffs and burns.

    "There you are!" the Abomasnow growled. "Should've turned yourselves in when you had the-"

    "Hey!"

    The two guards blinked and peered down at the sound of a yipping growl. There before them was a scruffy Growlithe with no scarf about his neck, with his body crouched and his teeth bared in fierce hostility.

    "This isn't your territory! It's mama's! And it's mine!" the Growlithe snarled. "So go back to your stupid village and leave us alone!"

    The Growlithe's snarl drew back dismissive scoffs, with the Zebstrika among the guards shooting an aside glance to his partner.

    "Have we run into this yappy little ankle-biter before?" the Zebstrika grumbled.

    The Abomasnow frowned, training an insistent stare on the Growlithe that deepened into a growing glare as he began to realize that the pup seemed familiar… and for good reason.

    "Grr… we have," Ice-Type growled. "You're that little brat who spat fire in my face last week!"

    "Well come closer and get some more, cepy!" Elty barked.

    "Rrr! Come on, let's crush these twerps!" the Abomasnow shouted. "After what that lousy Arcanine earlier put us through, she could use a few extra cellmates anyways!"

    The Ice-Type let out a deafening bellow before he and the Zebstrika charged forward. Pyry and Pekka turned and began to bolt off, only to look back and see the Growlithe still sitting, unmoving in the face of the quickly-nearing Company underlings.

    "H-Hey! What are you doing?!" Pyry cried.

    "You can't just stand there like that!" Pekka added. "You'll-!"

    "Yah!"

    The Growlithe stood his ground until the guards were but a few paces from him, when he sprang back and bolted. The Abomasnow lunged ahead, swinging at the Puppy Pokémon only to feel his hand strike empty air and feel the ground shift underfoot.

    Click!

    "Hey, what the-?!"

    BOOM!

    In the blink of an eye, a deafening, fiery blast filled the clearing, strewing chunks of dirt and wood into the air. Pyry and Pekka shielded their eyes as dirt and dashed fragments of trees rained about them, cracking them open warily to look back and feel their jaws drop at the sight of the two guards strewn about fainted in the middle of a smoldering crater with the Growlithe walking up with a proud wag of his tail.

    "Like I said. I wasn't going to fight them," Elty insisted. "I sniffed out that Blast Trap earlier and figured it would take care of those two."

    "… Good dog," Pyry murmured. "I wouldn't have expected you to come up with that."

    The Trapinch and Gible made their way over to the guards, where Pyry noticed a shredded bag by the Abomasnow's feet and an intact one around the Zebstrika's shoulder. The two wrenched the bag free, taking it for themselves as the Zebstrika let out a loud groan, prompting Pyry to deliver a stiff kick that shuffled the Thunderbolt Pokémon back off into unconsciousness. The pair craned down, collecting the contents of the Abomasnow's destroyed bag when they spotted the Growlithe coming up behind them, peering curiously.

    "Where are you going after this?" Elty asked.

    "Towards the sea," Pekka answered. "Laying low in the Dungeon obviously isn't going to work if those guards are searching it. So if we have any hope left of getting off this island, it's through there."

    The Fire-Type paused a moment, before lowering his head and tail, giving a deflated shake of his head.

    "I… I guess that's reasonable," the Puppy Pokémon murmured. "You're sea-walkers. That's your home and you don't have anyone waiting for you here…"

    "What would you do if you didn't?" Pyry asked. The Gible's question prompted the young Growlithe to fold his ears back, as he hemmed and hawed over what to say back in response.

    "I… I mean, I hadn't thought about that, and…"

    "Don't force a decision, Pyry," Pekka murmured, before turning his attention back to the fire dog.

    "Look, I don't really know what you want, but we certainly can't stay here and you're a lot more familiar with this island than us…" the Trapinch offered. "If there was anything that you could do to help us get to the sea…"

    "I think I know how to get there. I mean, I never went there myself, but…"

    Another groan came from the Zebstrika, followed by a second one from the Abomasnow. The three flinched, turning around as they watched the two guards beside them begin to shift and woozily start to right themselves in the charred crater.

    "Agh… what happened?" the Zebstrika groaned.

    "Ungh…" the Abomasnow wheezed. "Why does everything smell like smoke?"

    "Come on," Pyry insisted. "Let's get going before they get up."

    The three turned and rushed off, slipping off into the maze of dead wood as they left the site of the Blast Trap behind. All the while, Pyry and Pekka quietly watched after the young Growlithe, wondering what to do with the news about Sirmia when he was in such high spirits...




    (Continued in next post)
     
  2. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    "Ah! I think that's it!"

    The young Growlithe's course led him and his followers through a winding path through the Mystery Dungeon's levels, though by the late afternoon the three had made their way through the surrounding mist of the Distortion and onto a high bluff under the light of a westward-drifting sun. Before them, Pyry and Pekka looked down at rolling green hills that cascaded down to a gray-sanded beach, the two staring in disbelief at the deep blue of the ocean in the distance.

    "Well, it's certainly one way of getting back to the sea," Pyry murmured. "I just dunno where we should go from here…"

    The Gible trailed off as he heard Elty barking excitedly before bounding off into the grass ahead. Pyry and Pekka went wide-eyed at their guide's sudden departure, darting ahead, only for the Growlithe to suddenly come bounding back and run circles around the pair as they tried to keep their eyes up with the Puppy Pokémon.

    "Oi! What are you doing?!" Pekka cried.

    "Running around!" the Growlithe yipped back. "The dungeon never has anywhere as open and free as this!"

    Pyry and Pekka narrowed their eyes and traded dubious looks at one another, before turning back to their overly enthusiastic guide.

    "Uh, yeah… we can see that…" Pyry grumbled.

    The young land shark raised a claw to his brow and peered off towards the sea, scanning the shoreline until he saw a shock of gold. The Gible paused, squinting his eyes until he could make out that the gold color was coming from sails swaying in the wind, attached to a caravel that had been run aground on the beach next to what appeared to be signs of movement.

    "Ah! There's a ship down there!" Pyry cried. "How fast do you think you can run down there?"

    "Heh! Just you watch!"

    Elty wagged his tail and bounded off ahead down the hill, tearing through the grass barking happily as Pyry watched blankly. Pekka gaped open-mawed at the hills and the rapidly-departing Fire-Type, before flailing with spluttering indignation.

    "Pyry, why didn't you ask him to lead us?!" the Trapinch snapped.

    "I… uh… thought he'd be slower?" the Gible answered, before raising his head to call after his departing guide. "Hey Growlithe, wait up!"

    The two darted after the Puppy Pokémon, pushing their way through tall grass as fast as their stubby feet allowed. Fortunately, the Growlithe's course took him on a zig-zagging path as he stopped to romp and run around among the hills, allowing Pyry and Pekka to catch up near a path leading down a seaside bluff, when a shadowy ball suddenly zipped in and sliced through the air overhead, making the lot jump up in a panic.

    "A-Aaah!"

    "I see them!" a voice from behind cried. "We've got escapees dead ahead!"

    Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, turned and watched as a Linoone, Monferno, and Butterfree in lavender scarves came over the ridge of the hill above. The dog and his companions lowered their heads and ran as fast as their legs could carry them as the Linoone pursued them, the Monferno and Butterfree swinging around onto the beach below.

    "Cut them off and don't let them slip past you!" the Monferno shouted.

    "Hey wait a minute," the Butterfree said. "What's that ship- Agh!"

    A hail of stones suddenly sailed through the air, slamming into the Butterfree and his teammates. The Bug-Type groaned, twitching from under a small pile of stones as the Linoone staggered up along with the Monferno and eased back into a battle stance.

    "We've got incoming hosti- Eyaaah!"

    The Linoone yelped as a red blur swooped in a buzz, a stiff punch knocking him to the ground. The ferret staggered up trying to regain his breath, only for another punch to hit him, and another, the Normal-Type looking up in a panic to see a Ledian zipping over him and trying to pin him to the ground.

    "Get it away, get it away!"

    The Linoone lowered his head and charged ahead in a panic, weaving around another punch from the harrying beetle. The Normal-Type tore ahead, making a break up the hillside when a watery jet caught him from behind, sending him tumbling limply down as a Floatzel watched with a harrumph of approval. Keenly aware that he was now alone and outnumbered, the Monferno ringleader flew into a wide-eyed panic, backpedaling and looking wildly for any sign of nearby allies.

    "A-Agh! Where's that backup?!" the Monferno whined. "We need-!"

    The monkey froze and looked up as a hulking, steel-headed form of an Aggron charged in with his head held low, which slammed into the ape's face. The Fire-Type pinwheeled back, coughing as he tried to stagger back up, leaving the Steel-Type to bring a heavy slam of his arm against the Pokémon's back. The Monferno shrieked before slamming against the ground with a thud and lying there, leaving Pyry, Pekka, and Elty panting as they watched the Aggron motion back over towards the Floatzel and Ledian.

    "Rodion, Kichiro. Bring these square-necks down to the beach and keep them tied down," Hess ordered. "We don't need them getting reinforcements."

    "It's Keiichiro, and you didn't have to tell me," the Ledian answered. "I vote we ransom these sad sacks to make up for this fiasco of a raid."

    "I doubt it would be worth our effort. The last time we tried to ransom square-necks, the Company didn't pay a single thaler and it was the local selyane who paid up," the Floatzel chided. "If it wasn't for the fact they did puppet shows back in their town that the kids liked, we'd probably have taken a net loss on that raid from the provisions we had to waste on them."

    "It could still work!" Kichiro insisted, drawing a roll from the Sea Weasel Pokémon's eyes.

    "Tell me, who here in this dump is going to vouch for a bunch of imported thugs?" Rodion scoffed. "They'd eat more than we'd be able to get for them, and why should I have to deal with them if we press-ganged them?"

    The Floatzel shook his head, before he raised a paw to his muzzle and whistled, bidding a small party of scruffy Pokémon in gold-and-silver scarves to arrive and help drag off the fallen guards. The three youngsters watched as the golden-scarved Pokémon set off back towards the ship, only to cringe as the air behind them filled with a low growl.

    "You three," Hess growled. "You're coming with me."

    The three shrank back, before pulling their heads in and follow the Aggron for the beach. There, they saw the gray sand teeming with Pokémon in golden scarves, setting to work haphazardly fitting planks against the hull of a caravel beached in shallow waters as a bucket of pitch was heated over a makeshift fire. The three guards from earlier were drug along to a stone outcropping where the Linoone and Butterfree were tied down to the rock, with a Purrloin and Jigglypuff working on binding up the remaining Monferno when his eyes suddenly shot open wide.

    "Eyagh!" the Fire-Type cried. "Let go! Let-!"

    The Monferno thrashed and knocked back the pirates with a spinning, burning somersault, only to run up the beach and Hess to slam his fist down on the monkey's head. The creature groaned and tottered, pitching facefirst into the sand as the Purrloin and Jigglypuff came back and drug off the fainted guard. As the ape was carried off, a small crowd of golden-scarved Pokémons drew near to form a rough circle around Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, with the Aggron captain at its head.

    "Who are you three and what do you think you're doing leading those square-necks to my ship?"

    Pyry and Pekka gulped and inched back from the glowering Aggron, the Growlithe with them shrinking back and trying in vain to hide behind the Ground-Type pair at the sight of the hulking creature's fangs. Pyry quailed, waving his claws desperately to try and persuade the surrounding pirates that he wasn't a threat.

    "Y-You've got it all wrong! We're from the Devastating Drakes!" the Gible yelped. "These 'mons ambushed us!"

    "Yeah! We were escaping from the prison!" Pekka insisted. "We're not with them at all!"

    Hess' scowl eased and was replaced with a curious glance as murmuring went about the gathered pirates. The three youngsters peered around uneasily, only for the Floatzel from earlier to approach and look off at smoke curling over the hills in the distance.

    "So some 'mons did manage to get out after all," Rodion murmured. "Were there any others with you?"

    From his place beside Pyry and Pekka, the Growlithe shifted and hid from the Sea Weasel Pokémon behind his companions. The Fire-Type's ears were pinned firmly back, as he stammered back a response to the taller stranger.

    "N-No? These were the only two sea-walkers I ran into," the Growlithe said. "And they said that the others they ran into were scattered when the lavender-scarved Pokémon sent reinforcements into the town by the sea."

    A deathly quiet came over the gathering, as somber, glum looks settled over the golden-scarved Pokémon. The Ledian peered down at the sand of the beach, shaking his head with a low murmur.

    "Then if they can't fly or swim their way off the island, they won't last that long on their own," Kichiro said.

    "So… it's just us, then?" Pekka asked.

    "Unless anyone else comes from down the hill in the next few minutes, it looks it," Rodion grunted back. "We've already pushed our luck enough making these repairs. So if there's any reason for you to not come with us, you need to make a decision here and now."

    The gathering cleared out as the golden-scarved Pokémon made their way back for the ship and returned to the process of repairing the damaged caravel. Pyry and Pekka began to follow along after the group, only to peer back and see the Growlithe looking down at the ground, shifting uncomfortably.

    "Hey… little guy. Are you coming?" Pekka asked.

    "I… I just don't know," Elty murmured. "I mean, I know I'm having trouble back in the dungeon, but if I leave, then…"

    Pyry paused, his mouth hanging open as he struggled with how to explain things to the Fire-Type. Here, the dog had been so convinced that his mother would return for him, that she'd be able to watch over him again… much the way he'd felt about his own mother. If he told the Puppy Pokémon about what he and Pekka had heard… how would he react to it?

    Perhaps… it was best to not to deal with the full story just now. They'd made a promise to Sirmia before they separated… After all that had happened, maybe this was the time to bring that up.

    "Hey… Growlithe. Uh, about what happened to your mother…" the Gible began. "Well, we don't know what exactly what went down, but we do know there's something she asked us to do."

    "What's that?"

    "She said that if she ever had trouble getting back to you, that she wanted us to look out for you until you could get on your feet," he explained.

    "Obviously, we can't exactly pass as ferals like you," Pekka added. "So if you're having trouble, we're not going to do any better."

    "So… I guess what we're saying is... if you wanted us to look out for you, the only way we could do it is if you came to the sea with us," Pyry said.

    Elty looked up and stared blankly at the Gible. Sensing that he'd unloaded a bit more on the Growlithe than he was ready to deal with, Pyry stammered, waving his claws to try as he tried to reframe his words.

    "I-It doesn't have to be for that long if you don't want it!" the land shark insisted. "I mean, if you really wanted to, you could go back after you were tougher and… uh… sleep in leaves, mark trees, and… what exactly do feral Growlithe do again?"

    A crash rang out as a beam of light zipped by and kicked up a plume of sand on the beach. The three yelped and dove towards the sand, when a loud bellow rang out in the air.

    "There! Down on the beach!"

    The three looked up and watched as a mob of Pokémon in lavender scarves rounded the top of the hill and began hurling attacks down towards the beach. The pirates around the caravel grimaced, their captain darting to his ship's hull and pushing it along as he turned back to the three youngsters.

    "Time to go!" Hess shouted. "Hurry it up or we're leaving you on the beach!"

    The Steel-Type's cry prompted the pirates to rush towards the ship, wildly clambering aboard rope ladders and gangplanks as the ship was pushed out onto the water. Pyry and Pekka ran along, charging into the shallow water and latching onto a lowered gangplank and pulling themselves up towards the deck. The two reached the deck's wood and laid there as the gangplank began to get pulled up by the golden-scarved pirates when the sound of a sharp yip reached their ears from below.

    "W-Wait!"

    There, in the water was the form of the Growlithe. The Fire-Type lurched over to a nearby rock, where he peered up at the passing gangplank and leapt up, only to go wide-eyed as he felt his teeth and paws miss its tip

    "Ow!"

    Elty felt a sharp pain shoot through his forepaw, looking up to see Pekka clamping down and trying to pull him up with Pyry tugging at his hindlegs. The ship lurched forward, prompting the three to pitch forward when they suddenly felt a Charmander latch onto them from behind, and drag them onto the deck.

    The three lay there panting as shouts and attacks flew by, thinning out as the beach faded further and further in the distance. As calm began to return to the deck, the three picked themselves up, Pyry and Pekka breathing a passing thanks to the Charmander as Elty shook his forepaw and shot a dirty glare at his Trapinch companion.

    "You bit me!"

    "Well, yeah. But you're onboard," Pekka retorted. "Wasn't that what you wanted?"

    The Growlithe looked around the caravel's deck, seeing the golden-scarved pirates settle down as a relief came across the ship. The puppy looked off at Nagrobek in the distance, before turning back to the Trapinch and Gible before him, a small smile coming over his muzzle.

    "Yeah… Yeah, it was."




    On the waters south-west of Nagrobek, the battered form of a solitary ship in tattered blue sails limped along in the water. There, a silent Feraligatr paced the unusually crowded deck, passing wounded Pokémon who were laid out for treatment and gloomy deckhands setting about making meager repairs to the damaged hull and torn-up sails. The Water-Type turned away, hanging his head as a Kangaskhan with an empty pouch came up from behind him, uneasily plodding forward and pawing at the reptile's arm.

    "Captain Laurens?" the Kangaskhan murmured. "What do we do now?"

    The Feraligatr said nothing, giving a glum shake of his head before continuing on with his plodding course down the deck. The reptile propped himself up against the railing when he noticed the waters churning and looked up to see a carrack with dark red sails barreling towards his ship.

    "Huh? That's Dirk's-"

    WHAP!

    The clatter of a freshly-lowered gangplank rang out, as the form of a Bisharp stormed aboard. A few Pokémon in Dirk's path shrank out of the way as Laurens looked up, and saw the Dark-Type running up with a fierce kick.

    Laurens gagged as he felt Dirk's clawed foot dig into his stomach and kick him off balance, sending him tumbling to the ground on his back. The Feraligatr coughed on a mouthful of spittle, his eyes shrinking to pins at the sight of a glinting blade lowered at his throat, with its livid owner glaring down at him.

    "What the hell was that?!" Dirk seethed. "You said that you had 'mons in there that would distract the guards enough for us to have our way with that blasted sea rock!"

    "Th-They did what they were supposed to, Captain Dirk!" Laurens insisted. "We were just caught off-guard by those square-necks and- AUGH!"

    The Feraligatr howled in agony as he felt a searing pain run across his stomach, prompting him to clutch at it and feel a lukewarm, sticky fluid oozing down it. The Water-Type fought against his spinning head, trying to suppress a whimper as Dirk flicked a few drops of blood from his blade onto the alligator in disgust and stamped down on his tail.

    "Just caught off-guard?! Half of the ships that were with me are rotting on the seafloor right now!" the Bisharp shouted. "Where is Captain Amaro?! I'm getting an answer for this even if I have to cut it out from him!"

    Laurens grimaced, lowering his head and turning his gaze away from the Dark-Type. He struggled with his words, swallowing back a bitter lump to finally answer Dirk's question.

    "He's… He's dead…"

    The alligator felt Dirk's foot leave his tail and watched as the Bisharp backed away with a stunned stare. Laurens coughed and rolled over, uneasily pushing himself onto his knees as he tried to get back up to face the Bisharp.

    "Th-They got him while we were onshore! We just need to fall back for now and regroup!" the Water-Type insisted. "I swear on my tail, we can avenge him-!"

    "Save your breath, you miserable feral!"

    Laurens abruptly froze as the sight of Dirk's right blade glinting and stopped just below his chin, the Feraligatr's breath dying in his mouth and his blood running cold at its sight. He felt his muscles quiver, their wounds and his mortal danger weighing on them as he looked up to see Dirk seethe in disgust.

    "We were set up! Those Imps told us that Beatrice was on Nagrobek because they expected us to just sail in like this!" he hissed. "They probably didn't even have a scale to show that she was even there!"

    The Feraligatr's eyes widened as he noticed Dirk's left blade jerk back, the Bisharp raising it up in the air for a downward slice as its owner narrowed his eyes at him.

    "Something that your moles should've been able to tell!" Dirk growled. "And you never saw anything wrong with that!"

    Laurens heard a woosh as the Bisharp's blade fell, prompting him to screw his eyes shut as his scarf tugged at his neck and the sound of ripping fabric reached his ears. The Feraligatr felt the point of Dirk's right blade leave his throat and fell forward limply, his eyes shooting wide as he gasped for air on the ground.

    The alligator ran a claw for his neck, where in spite of his fears, his scales had remained unbroken, only to realize the scarf over them had been reduced to a frayed strip. The Water-Type pulled his tail in close to his body, looking up to see Dirk glaring down at him, the remainder of his scarf impaled on his blade.

    "We've taken enough pointless risks for one day. Go do whatever you want with what's left of Amaro's crew," the Bisharp spat. "Mine's heading back for Rosequartz where we'll lay low and I'll need to break the news about Amaro to the others."

    "Captain Dirk, I-I'm sure that I can-"

    "Go and sail into a sandbar for all I care," the Dark-Type interjected. "I'm the Council member with most seniority now, and it'll be snowing in summer before I promote the 'mon who got Amaro killed to be my peer!"

    The Bisharp stormed off for the gangplank, leaving Laurens to rise wobbily to his feet as he continued to pant, a few crewmembers gathering around uneasily. The alligator looked over to the gangplank, where he saw Dirk throw the blue scrap of cloth into the sea, and lower his blade to point back at the Water-Type.

    "One more thing," Dirk spat. "Get some new sails before you return back to Rosequartz."

    "H-Huh? But the damage is nothing that we can't patch up-"

    "They're Amaro's colors, for his Phlogiston Raiders," he interrupted, glaring back at the alligator. "And if I see you show your face in Rosequartz again with them, I'll gut you where you stand so that way Amaro can deal with you himself in the Spirit World!"

    The Bisharp turned and made his way over the gangplank for his ship, leaving Laurens to backpedal and run off with his head held low and his tail pulled in towards his body as Dirk's carrack pushed off. The Feraligatr bolted for the stern, his earholes picking up the fading sounds of uneasy chatter behind him

    "… Do you think that Captain Dirk would do the same to us if we kept our scarves?" a Beartic gulped.

    "It won't matter to me, I'm finding another crew once we get back to port. After a disaster like this, the Phlogiston Raiders are through," a Crustle harrumphed. "But do let me know how that works out."

    Laurens continued on until he reached the railing of the stern and leaned over it. The alligator let his jaw slump onto the railing, staring blankly out at the sea. The sound of nearing footsteps caught his ears, prompting him to look back and see the Kangaskhan from earlier making her way over, an uneasy grimace settled over the creature's face.

    "Captain Laurens…" the Normal-Type murmured. "Are you alright?"

    A long silence followed as the Feraligatr and Kangaskhan stared at each other. The Water-Type lowered his head, shaking it before turning back towards the sea.

    "I'm... fine," Laurens muttered. "I just need some time alone to think."

    The Kangaskhan shifted back uneasily, before turning and shuffling off. There, in his newfound solitude, Laurens trained misty eyes back at the fading form of Nagrobek Island, carrying on with his craft as lone tears dribbled into the sea as the sound of sobs floated over the churning waves.




    Back in Elilan's office, the Zoroark Administrator sat at the front of his desk, idly picking at his claws as a tense silence filled the room. The Dark-Type waited a moment, the sound of the door opening and uncooperative bodies being drug along catching his ears and prompting him to turn and see a Ninetales, Exploud, and Chandelure bound before him with Betulo and a party of guards lead by an umber Marowak following along. The guards marched the prisoners in before unceremoniously throwing them to the ground, leaving Betulo to carry on over to the desk and glare down at the trio. Elilan flicked his ears and pulled his claws back to his side, a smile spreading over his face as he sneered at his new captives.

    "When I was told I'd be able to interrogate some of the pests who ruined my afternoon, I was expecting more than you three," the Zoroark scoffed. "I suppose I should give credit where it's due though. Your stunt's been more of a headache than any past episode pirates have managed to accomplish, so congratulations."

    "Spare your breath, Zoroark," the Chandelure snarled. "You lucked out and you know it."

    The wraith's hiss was met with silence, followed by the sound of a derisive laugh. The three Pokémon blinked, watching as the Zoroark Administrator shook his head, before shooting back a cruel grin.

    "'Luck out'? You're more delusional than I thought you'd be! This is Nagrobek! The island's defenses have been reorganized entirely around keeping this prison operational!" Elilan sneered. "Did you seriously think that we hadn't come up with ways to counter little insurrections like these?"

    "We've flushed out most of your friends from the other cell blocks," Betulo added. "The rest are bound to get hunted down in time from the wilderness."

    The moles' eyes suddenly widened and their expressions developed a blank, stupefied look about them. Elilan paced up, smirking down at his captives as their expressions sank and grimaces spread over their faces.

    "I'm obviously going to be busy figuring out how many examples need to be made from your lot today, though I can guarantee that you three will be among them," the fox said. "Do you have any words for me to pass along?"

    The Zoroark took a moment to relish the brigands' helplessness, only to watch the three's eyes harden into fierce glares. Somehow, in spite of the direness of their situation, the three seemed as full of defiance as when they'd first entered the room.

    "Go walk a plank," the Ninetales spat.

    The Ice-Type's impudence was met by a sudden flash of red claws, sending her slumping limply to the ground with a yelp. The Exploud and Chandelure recoiled at the shout as Elilan drew his claws back, shooting a dirty glare at the fallen Ninetales before relaxing his features as a small, cruel smirk crept over the ends of his muzzle.

    "Really now, was that all you could think of?" he sneered, before turning to the guards in the room.

    "Get these wastes of air out of my sight, and tell the other guards to have them processed and sent out to Torn Outpost by sundown."

    "Understood, Administrator," the Marowak answered, as he turned to the three prisoners. "As for you! Since you all like snooping around so much, time for you to see what The Pit is really like!"

    The guards at once latched onto the three Pokémon, the Exploud and Chandelure struggling only to be stilled by a sudden weak, crackling arc of electricity from a Magneton among them. Elilan watched as the three were drug away, drifting back for his seat as an Alakazam walked past the departing group and cleared his throat.

    "Administrator, the Officer who came to Dulefield Town's relief during the raid is here to see you."

    A long silence followed from the other end of the room, Elilan folding his ears back as his gaze settled into a firm, unamused stare before Betulo finally shook his head with a sigh.

    "Send him in."

    The Alakazam nodded back and went up to open the doors to the chamber, where the form of a Samurott covered in lacerations and bruises walked in with a contented smile. Elilan scanned his scruffy guest, noticing a worse-for-wear Second-Rank scarf adorning the Water-Type's neck. The Zoroark frowned a moment and narrowed his eyes at the sight of the otter. Just what could this Second-Rank have done that his own guards wouldn't have been able to manage eventually?

    "And just who might you be?" Elilan demanded.

    "Officer Lyn, Administrator," the Samurott answered. "I received word of a pirate raid being plotted against this island by Orleigh's so-called Council."

    The Water-Type fished through a tattered satchel, where he unfurled a blue scarf with white flames, its lower half stained a deep red color. Lyn twitched his whiskers and gave a gruff, proud grunt as he showed off his bloodied scrap.

    "I doubt you'll have any more problems with that in the future," he said. "Especially with that Captain Amaro."

    Betulo stared blankly for a moment at the sullied scarf. Did this lackey mean to insinuate that he slew Captain Amaro? Betulo fumbled with his words a moment, dumbfounded at the Second-Rank's surprise accomplishment, only for Elilan to interrupt with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.

    "Hrmph, I'm sure it's something that we could've handled on our own," the Dark-Type harrumphed. "Thank you for your concern, Officer."

    Lyn blinked and tilted his head at the Zoroark, the otter grumbling a little under his breath at his surprisingly unfriendly reception. The Trevenant Commander joined by crossing his branch-like arms, narrowing his solitary ruddy eye with a visibly skeptical gaze at the Water-Type.

    "How did you come across this intelligence, Officer Lyn?" the Ghost-Type demanded. "It's a bit more than I would've expected from a member of your rank."

    "I met a team of scouts while probing the waters near Giotto," the otter answered. "They came across some pirates who were a part of this conspiracy during their reconnaissance."

    Elilan paused and raised a brow at Lyn's words. The Zoroark shifted quietly, shooting a wary, intent gaze at the Samurott in front of him.

    "… Some scouts?"

    As soon as the words left the Dark-Type's mouth, the door at the other end of the office creaked open and footsteps rang out. Elilan watched as Betulo shifted back surprisedly, seeing the forms of a Kommo-o, a Weavile, a Sylveon, and a Noivern approaching. The Trevenant's eye lit up as he gave a small wave to the Weavile in the group and was answered by a nod back. His superior's demeanor took a sour turn, a deepening frown spreading over the Administrator's face as Lyn turned and gestured with a paw at the newcomers.

    "Yes, Sorge and his team here. It was their intelligence that enabled me to come to your island's aid," the Second-Rank insisted. "They held up far better than I expected battling in town, so perhaps it's a sign that they're being underutilized in their current positions."

    Elilan grit his teeth and furrowed his brow into an unamused scowl, shifting his attention towards the Kommo-o and his companions. Lyn blinked a moment at the Administrator's tangible displeasure, watching as the Dark-Type growled and shook his head.

    "… Perhaps," Elilan muttered. "Would you kindly give me a few moments alone with these scouts, Officer Lyn?"

    Lyn gave a surprised look at the sudden request for his departure. Surely Administrators were supposed to spend more time going over reports of their despised enemies being laid low, were they not?

    "Hrm? What's the matter?"

    "I… want to get a chance to speak with them and learn how they came across their intelligence," Elilan insisted, drawing a puzzled frown back from the Samurott.

    "… But I don't understand why I can't be present for tha-"

    "Because these are sensitive matters, Officer!" the Zoroark snapped. "So listen to your superiors already!"

    Lyn scowled and grumbled under his breath over his superior's blatant hostility. Keenly noting that the otter's body was tense and wound up, Betulo cleared his throat and attempted to dispel the unseemly cloud of hostility in the room.

    "You have a crew back in town, do you not? Perhaps you should make sure they're feeling alright for now since you look a bit haggard yourself," the Trevenant offered. "I'm sure the Administrator can catch up with you later on when he needs to make a damage assessment."

    "… Very well, some rest could do us good," Lyn replied. "And it would be nice to focus on something else while waiting for the rest of the Board to respond to my message."

    The Samurott's words narrowed Elilan's eyes into glaring slits, prompting him to ball his claws up into clenched fists as he fought to keep his voice from betraying seething frustration lurking underneath.

    "You what?"

    "I notified the other members of the Board of the events here today," Lyn insisted. "With the mess in town and at the local garrison, it seemed like something to make them privy to sooner rather than later."

    The Samurott shook his head, before stretching against his wounds and turning to the waiting Kommo-o behind him.

    "But I will take my leave here, Sorge," the otter said. "Let me know if you need any further assistance from my crew."

    "Gladly."

    Lyn turned and began to make his way for the exit, leaving Elilan to train an increasingly harsh glare at the four 'scouts'. The fox waited until the door closed, before springing up and storming over to the waiting Kommo-o and his team.

    "Why are you all here?!" Elilan hissed. "You said your last lead steered you further away from Anyilla's waters!"

    "It did, but as we attempted to track Subject Red, we found signs that he'd been trying to return to Anyilla," Sorge explained.

    "While we were out there, we discovered that pirates from Orleigh's council were planning on raiding Nagrobek," the Weavile added. "There wasn't enough time for us to send a message out, so we hailed a Company ship to get you reinforcements. Nothing wrong with that."

    The weasel's explanation was met with an impatient stamp against the ground from the Zoroark, who kept giving a piercing glare back at the party. At once the four Pokémon quieted down as a seething growl came out from under Elilan's breath.

    "I assigned you first and foremost to focus on recovering Subject Red, not to abandon your mission because you felt a need to look out for my welfare!" the Dark-Type snapped. "In the future, you will leave me to deal with what happens on my island. Understood?"

    The members of Team Sentinel quietly traded uneasy looks with each other, before Sorge turned back to his superior and responded in a reluctant voice.

    "… Yes, Administrator."

    "Good. I want you to reprovision and return to the mission I gave you by tomorrow," Elilan ordered. "The longer we wait, the harder it will be for you to find Subject Red's trail again."

    "Yes, Administrator!"

    One by one, the four Pokémon darted out of the room, leaving the Alakazam outside to shut the door after them. In his newfound solitude, the Zoroark Administrator flopped back into his seat and buried his face in a palm, growling under his breath as his Trevenant Commander scuttled up.

    "Is something the matter, Administrator?" Betulo asked.

    "This was a crisis that we could have handled on our own!" the Administrator fumed as he slammed his desk. "And one that would've been able to give you the recognition you finally needed for me to make my case to the Board!"

    Betulo paused in thought in moment, before shaking his head back. Elilan tilted his head puzzledly, opening his mouth to speak, only for his subordinate to explain his seeming lack of concern.

    "The actions of the lower ranks tend to get lost in the haze whenever large events like these happen, Administrator," the Trevenant reassured. "That Samurott's just a Second-Rank, so what are the odds we'll ever hear from him again?"




    The skies southwest of Nagrobek flushed a burnt orange as the sun began to slip over the horizon, bathing the deck of a battered caravel with golden sails with its waning light. There, on the port side of the deck, the form of a young Growlithe in front of a Gible and a Trapinch stared out excitedly at the sea, his tail wagging as he gestured out to a bobbing pink buoy in the water.

    "What's that over there?"

    "That's a beacon, one of the Crystal Beacons to be more specific," Pyry answered. "It helps let passing ships know where they're going and if there's anything they need to avoid in the water."

    "Oh? And what about that stone on the rope down there?" Elty asked.

    "That's the ship's anchor: it keeps the ship from moving around when its captain wants it to stop," the Gible explained.

    "And those pieces of cloth above us?"

    The Growlithe's yip drew an annoyed groan from Pekka, who reared up and waved his stubby forelegs irritatedly.

    "Bah, give it a rest already! We've been at sea for less than half an hour!" the Trapinch hissed. "There'll be plenty of other times we can explain this stuff to you!"

    "Aherm."

    The three looked up and saw the forms of the Aggron captain and his first mate approaching with a trio of golden cloths dangling from Rodion's paw. Elty watched as the pair walked up, giving a curious tilt of his head at the cloths as he noticed that they were emblazoned with silver teardrop-like designs.

    "Huh? What are those?"

    "They're the scarves that Pokémon from our crew wear," the Floatzel explained. "If I remember right, you two are from the Devastating Drakes, right?"

    "Er… yes? But why do we need new scarves?" Pekka asked.

    "Well, we're a few deckclaws short from that last raid, and we need to start filling places where we can," the Water-Type explained.

    "Right," Hess added. "So we're a bit open to recruits right now for the Iron Fleet."

    The Aggron's explanation drew a frown from a Ledian sitting on the rigging of the mast overhead. The Bug-Type shook his head before a mischievous smirk began to spread over his face.

    "You know," Kichiro sneered. "You can just be honest and say we'll press-gang them if they refu-"

    The Bug-Type's words were cut off by a loud thwack from the Aggron captain batting his tail forcefully against the mast. The Ledian lost his balance, tumbling through the air with a yelp before hastily evening himself out just above the deck. Kichiro chittered angrily and shot a dirty glare at his captain who rolled his eyes in response, before the beetle flitted off and left Elty tilting his head puzzledly at the whole episode.

    "What are 'recruits'?" the Growlithe asked. "And what's the 'Iron Fleet'?"

    Hess' eyes lit up and his maw cracked open into a toothy grin at the Growlithe's question. Pyry and Pekka traded curious looks with one another, as the metal lizard wagged his tail.

    "The only crew in all of the Cradle with the means to fly silver and gold from its masts!" Hess cheered. "Not even Beatrice the Swift could do that back in her day!"

    The Aggron beamed and puffed his stony chest out proudly, drawing an excited wag of the Elty's tail. Further behind, a Sableye looked up from untangling some knotted ropes with a puzzled tilt of his head.

    "Isn't that just because the other crews say it makes them stand out too much- Gah!"

    The Sableye was swiftly silenced by a swat from Rodion's paw and an icy glare, prompting the Ghost-Type to slink off with a grumble. Hess blinked, a sheepish grimace coming over his face as he turned back to his fledgling audience.

    "So yeah, if you need a new crew to call home, you can't really do worse than us!" the Steel-Type insisted.

    Pekka tilted his head and cracked his maw open slightly, lowering his head and giving it an unimpressed shake.

    "I… was expecting a bit more from a recruiting speech ," Pekka murmured.

    "Aherm. I would like to add that Hess as a captain does have some of the best fortune of any crew in Orleigh," Rodion offered.

    "That's right! Ever since I got my lucky charm, I've always been able to get back to port safely!" the Aggron offered. "So as long as you're with us, you'll never have to worry about not having a place to turn to!"

    Pyry blinked and traded a dubious look with his partner over the Aggron's mention of a 'lucky charm'. Most crews usually tried to emphasize their accomplishments when trying to wow new recruits, not that they were always able to get away. And something about this crew's name felt vaguely familiar...

    "The 'Iron Fleet'? Aren't they the guys who keep making lame excuses for whenever their raids go bad?" Pyry whispered. "Pretty sure I heard them say once that they couldn't get loot because of a single Skarmory."

    "I thought they were the crew with the captain that bought and then abandoned a bunch of cannons because he kept getting trapped in their Apricorns," his Trapinch teammate whispered back.

    "So… what do we need to do as 'recruits'?"

    Pyry and Pekka looked ahead and watched as the Growlithe stepped forward, sitting and staring up intently at the pirate captain and his first mate. Rodion took the chance to take a step forward himself, as he cleared his throat and began to speak up.

    "Help keep this ship afloat and pitch in during our raids," the Floatzel answered. "In return, we'll split our shares of the loot, make sure there's always something to eat and drink, and that whenever we have to cut and run, we'll do our best to make sure we can get you out."

    "Heh, I'm great at running!" the Growlithe yipped. "I'll do it!"

    "That's great! Though… what do you want us to call you for a name?" the Steel-Type asked. "I do need something to call you in case another Growlithe joins the crew."

    Elty shifted shyly, seemingly wavering in his response a moment before replying back.

    "Uh… well… my mama would always call me 'Eltenios'," the Fire-Type answered. "I guess you can call me that."

    The Puppy Pokémon's response drew a brow raise from the Aggron pirate. Pokémon in the Cradle's various islands and waters always seemed to have a penchant for coming up with the darndest names, but this name was almost as much of a mouthful as Kichiro's!

    "Well that's certainly quite the long name," the captain murmured.

    "'Eltenios' is fine," the Floatzel insisted. "But just out of curiosity... does it mean anything?"

    "My mama always said it's a special word that Growlithe and Arcanine used from a long, long time ago," the pup explained. "And that it meant that I'd never, ever give up."

    The Aggron captain smiled at the name's explanation, and knelt down to extend a claw and pet the top of the young Puppy Pokémon's head. Of all the Pokémon to pick up as a new recruit, he certainly could've done worse than choosing someone with fire in his belly like this pup!

    "Well I think it suits you," he said. "So what about you two? What's your names? And you going to join with your friend?"

    Pyry and Pekka traded hesitant looks with one another, before looking over at the Growlithe and how content he seemed to be here amongst Hess' company. Even if the Iron Fleet was far from their first pick, they could do worse for a crew to be on while watching out for Eltenios… right?

    "I'm Pekka. And… I mean, he is going to need someone to show him the ropes…" the Trapinch murmured.

    "Pyry, and we do have some experience…" the Gible added. The pudgy land shark peered down at the satchel slung over his arm, prompting him to sidle up to Elty and slip it onto the dog's shoulder, leaving the Fire-Type to gawk back puzzledly.

    "Huh?"

    "It's for you," the land shark explained. "If you're going to be working with us, we've gotta do something to make sure you can pull your weight."

    Yeah, with your feet, I'm sure that you can get stuff around in that bag faster than we ever could," Pekka said.

    "Heh! Sounds like you're all settling in good enough!" Hess chortled. Sensing the time was appropriate, Rodion stepped forward and passed the golden cloths over to the three Pokémon, revealing them to be pre-tied scarves ready to be slipped on and worn.

    "Put these on," the Floatzel said "And with that, welcome to the crew. I'll come by to give you your first assignments later."

    The Aggron and Floatzel turned and made their way down the deck, leaving their newly-inducted members to slip their scarves over their necks. Pyry and Pekka toyed with their new garments, attempting to adjust the knots to allow a better fit when the sound of excited yips prompted them to look over and see Elty bounding in circles on the deck. Pekka tilted his head skeptically a moment, before turning to his Gible partner.

    "… Veikka, was this really a good idea?" the Trapinch murmured. "I mean, we basically drug a 'mon that's been living under a rock his whole life along with us out to sea. And how are we supposed to break the news about his mother?"

    Pyry looked at the Growlithe, watching as the Fire-Type darted around with a fiery spark in his eyes. After a long pause, the land shark shook his head as a small smile crept up over his face.

    "… We already came this far together, didn't we? I think we can work things out," he replied. "Give it a few weeks. We'll figure a way to tell him… For now, let's just let him have his moment and give him a chance to learn the ropes a bit."




    Author's Notes:

    - mama - Polish: "mom"
    - äippä - Finnish: "mom"
    - Kapitein - Dutch: "Captain"
    - kundel - Polish: "mutt"
    - szaleńczy - Polish: "insane", with nuance closer to "stupid" or "foolish"
    - Idź stąd! - Polish: "Go away!"
    - selyane (селяне) - Russian: "peasants", "hicks" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
     
    Venia Silente likes this.
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Stuck in Alola?

    Alright. This is the first review I'm giving here in my new style... that being just giving my thoughts after reading the whole chapter rather than reviewing as I go. That... may mean I don't have a lot to talk about as far as nitty-gritty details. I still hope I can offer something.

    So, the way I see it, this is both a glimpse into the past and a set-up for things to come. I'm gonna talk about the set-up stuff first since it did catch my eye. Project Red and Project Blue are pretty decent dead-ringers for Squishy and Z2... the Zygarde Cores. Meaning that the Company has the Blue Core under its control. Will we see Zydoge? 50%? Even 100%? It's certainly something to get excited over. And it suggests that, out of all the different factions we've met so far... Elilan really isn't someone to be trifled with. On top of that, we see these friends of Ketu's that are probably lurking on the next island. It appears that they're pretty strong compared to the other mooks we've seen. More like elite mooks, then. and don't think i didn't see them hurt a ninetales... i'll remember that one down the road, buster. Should be interesting to see what happens when Ketu meets up with them.

    Nagrobek itself is... it's seen better days, to be sure. I initially thought we'd be getting a glimpse of it pre-Company, but I guess that's for another time, isn't it? Likewise, the prison is quite intimidating and I've got a sneaking suspicion that we may just be revisiting that locale in the story proper. Them prison breakers never stood a chance with Elilan's illusions... good grief. I don't actually remember if Elty mentioned hailing from Nagrobek, so I was still surprised by the revelation. I think it seemed like his mom was simply taken back to prison and is either still there or getting hauled off to this outpost Elilan mentioned. If she IS there, I get the feeling Elty might end up coming for her at some point. Would certainly be nice to see. With that said... my one gripe about this episode comes from Sirmia and Elty. I get that the theme of this chapter was Elty's start of piracy but... well... that really doesn't come into play until the later scenes. I guess what I'm saying is that I think you could've done with showing more of the relationship b/w Sirmia and Elty, rather than having her carted off to the prison in the opening scene and dedicating an immense amount of time to the failed escape.

    The battle itself was quite a spectacle and it showed both how effective Ketu's mercenary buddies are and how intimidating Lyn can be (BTW you definitely have to bump your age rating to T after this one :p)... but it does feel like they all stole the proverbial spotlight away from Elty. It was nice to see how the pirate council got shaken up, I guess. I think that ties it into the Rosenquartz episode, but I'm not sure. That said, Elty was adorable. I... can't quite pin his age though. He's acting much more puppy-like compared to his current iteration, which leads me to think years have passed, but I didn't have the best sense of timing in this situation. Also, you give Hess a nice guy moment when Elty first comes aboard. It's interesting to see him so cheerful, given Nagant and Lyn are perpetual Debbie Downers, so to speak.

    That's all I've got to say here. Glad the story's back, of course. I look forward to more swashbuckling in the future. Oh, wait, one last thing...

    Oh, look, it's Lyn's soon-to-be ex-first mate. RIP in spahgetti, never forgetti. *sniffle*
     
  4. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Well, you certainly seemed to have picked up on that foreshadowing well. Though I think that things will be most impactful if you see them play out in real time.

    As for the Ninetales, that was actually completely coincidental in choice and not intended to have any special meaning whatsoever. Besides, I highly doubt you could figure out my favorite Pokémon and subject them to a horrible fate that easily. :^)

    Admittedly, the difference in how things played out is due to the fact that Pyry and Pekka are central characters to the special to the same extent as Elty. In some earlier planning, I had actually considered bookending the special with a beginning and ending showing Pyry and Pekka in the present day reminiscing about how as little (open) love as they have for their current circumstances, they’ve been through far worse.

    Elty at the time of this special would’ve been about Nida’s age during Fledglings’ prologue, if not a little younger, so yes, him coming off as very child-like was deliberate.

    To be fair, he had at least five more years of life after his appearance here. Not sure what that is in human years for an Absol, but it’s certainly long enough not to be “soon”.

    And while I’m a couple days late, I’m back, and ready to get back into the thick of the main narrative, along with a brand-new banner courtesy of Umbramatic and Chibi Pika that I will be forever grateful for. Special thanks for this chapter goes to Virgil134, Tangent128, and sugoitsu from ff.net, with additional thanks to the readers and reviewers who help keep this story going. With that, let’s dust off that sea yarn we were spinning about Team Traveller, and pick up a short time after where we left off...

    [​IMG]

    A palpable cloud of tension hung in the air over Canalhouse City after word of Pleo's capture reached the Company's capital on Vollezee. In the following hours, the guards were kept busy with sudden reassignments as the four operational ironclads of the Board gathered in the city's harbor, with buildings around the Directorate's Quarter being patrolled more rigorously than normal. At the center, the hulking central office of the Company had remained unnaturally quiet and subdued in activity in spite of its normal churn of Company employees. The most prominent exception to the unusual lull were the stern-faced guards who dutifully watched the entrances at the ground and at the above-ground aqueduct built to service aquatic guests. Ever since the arrival of the Administrators, they had proven to be less-than-accommodating to any would-be entrants into the complex other than its uneasy employees. Were one to slip past the guards down the aqueduct, they would be taken to a pool that wrapped along the northern edge of the building that allowed swimming Pokémon access to the higher levels of the head office, with a marbled passage splitting off into a passageway that snaked to the grand hall that served as the Board's main meeting chamber.

    The hall to the chamber had been graced with paintings and sculptures depicting the past Directors of the Company and the firm's exploits, split between one half taken up by a pool and another by stone flooring. In the center sat a carved table where the Board's members met, lined with stone seats set for a time when the Company's reach was not constrained to a mere half of Anyilla. On either side, two of the seats had been occupied: two just below the waterline by Zorn along with Darzin cramped next to him in a far corner, Elilan and Farn sitting opposite respectively, and Inler sitting at the head facing back towards a pair of dark, wooden doors. There, the gathered Pokémon shifted restlessly under an insistent gaze from the Nidoking Director. Farn swished her tail back and forth, Elilan tapped a claw impatiently against the table, while Darzin flicked his antennae and Zorn sulked from the water on the other end. The quiet chorus of tense agitation continued a few moments longer, before Zorn raised his head and looked around at his peers blankly.

    "… Is there anything else to consider?" Zorn murmured.

    "What do you mean 'Is there anything else to consider?!'" Farn snapped. "The Empire caught the Protector and made him the centerpiece of a tournament! 'Consider' something to fix that!"

    "Yes, I understand that the present situation is… dire, to say the least," Inler muttered. "That's why I've brought you all here so that we can respond to this crisis."

    "Hmph, the solution seems simple enough," Zorn grumbled. "We launch a pre-emptive strike on Giotto and get that bird back before they can use him against us."

    "Are you mad? Not every situation requires charging headfirst into danger!" Farn rebutted. "We still have our portion of the Knights' Ledger in the archives, do we not? It holds plenty of information about the true story behind the Great Calamity, and it would certainly cause an uproar among their denizens."

    "May I remind you, Farn, that the Imps also have their own part of the Knights' Ledger?" Elilan countered. "If we leak secrets about them, they'd have every reason to respond in kind about the Company's involvement around that time."

    The fox stood up from his seat, giving a shake of his head before casting a piercing glance across the table back at the elderly Nidoking.

    "No, the smart solution would be to handle this covertly, and send in a team of spies to extract the Lugia," the Zoroark offered. "Last I heard, the Intelligence Division had a more than capable team currently stationed on Buyeom Island, Director."

    Inler buried his face in his right claw, giving a quiet, exasperated groan through his digits. Like other members of the Company from his generation, the younger blood in the organization had always come off as more restless and reckless types. But Travellers above, was he really hearing this sort of talk from his own Administrators when the Company's fate was in the balance?!

    "Are you three trying to save this Company, or destroy it?" the Nidoking growled. "Every one of those plans would potentially spell the end of this enterprise if it went wrong!"

    The Poison-Type's protests were answered by an annoyed huff and pound of the table from the far left end, where Darzin narrowed his eyes back at the Nidoking.

    "Well, it's not as if you're going to be listening to me anyways, but what do you propose then, Director?" Darzin demanded. "Last I checked, the outcome of this crisis could potentially hand control of all Anyilla to the Empire"

    The Nidoking blanched and fell silent, looking down and pinching his brow between his claws. As unpalatable as the options were, inaction would merely guarantee the end of the Company and their attempts at life without the Crown. The Director agonized quietly a moment, only for the sound the sound of sharp squawking to ring out.

    "Director Inler! Director Inler!"

    Inler pulled his head up, and looked up as the door at the end of the room was thrown open, revealing the forms of a Oranguru and Pidgeot carrying letter-stuffed satchels. The Nidoking frowned and glared at the First-Ranks, wondering under his breath how on earth the guards had deigned to let the blasted creatures through in the first place.

    "What do you want?" the Poison-Type snapped. "We're in the middle of something important right now!"

    "It's from Commissioner Lyn! The Protector the Empire captured fled from them!" the Pidgeot cried. "The Commissioner's trailing him right now in Captain Ellsberg's ship on a southward path!"

    "It's true! Our contacts in Tidemill can confirm that the Protector broke away and fled!" the Oranguru exclaimed. "He and his friends have sparked riots in the Imperial capital!"

    Gasps and incredulous stares went about the gathered Pokémon in the room as Inler stood dumbfounded at the messengers' words. The Nidoking fumbled a moment with his words, before giving a low, impatient growl back at the two.

    "Explain yourself. Now."

    The Pidgeot spoke first, telling how Commissioner Lyn had followed the Protector to Giotto and sent his first mate to infiltrate the tournament held to publicly debut him before the Empire's masses. His efforts had been cut short by the intervention of a crew of Tromban smugglers, who had drawn the attention of the local guards and waiting pirates in a haphazard escape towards Buyeom that Lyn had detected during the Protector's retreat.

    The Board blinked in astonishment, shocked at how the Empire managed to bungle their victory at the last moment. The Oranguru picked up where his counterpart had left off, relaying word from spies in Tidemill who told of unrest that had started up thanks to the Protector's perceived abandonment and Admiral Coil having been exposed for egg trafficking at much the same time. All the while, smirks and grins began to spread over the Board's faces, with Darzin being the sole exception as he stared with a stone-faced scowl at the Oranguru's recollection.

    "So the vaunted defender of the Empire is the one to thrust it into chaos," Farn sneered. "I see the gods truly do smile with favor sometimes."

    "Hah, I'll say!" Zorn added. "With Coil falling from grace like this, I'd like to see those Imps hold a marching band together after word got out about a Protector snubbing them!"

    "With the Empire's claws full with dealing with their little insurrection, it certainly leaves us in a more favorable position in dealing with them," Elilan mulled. "That said, even with this lucky break, I don't think we should just gloss over everything that has happened so far."

    Inler turned his head and raised a brow puzzledly at the Zoroark. As fortunate as they had been right now, what was there to complicate the matter?

    "What do you mean, Administrator Elilan?" Inler pressed.

    "It's been more than clear that Commissioner Lyn has been struggling throughout this mission with keeping the Protector in his paws," the Dark-Type explained. "Why, if you ask me, he's long overdue for a replacement."

    "Elilan, why would you suggest that when he's actively tailing the Protector right now?" Darzin snorted. "Who on earth would even be able to fill his place on such short notice?"

    "Simple. He'd be swapped out with a competent operative who would be able to make up for lost ground quickly," the fox offered. "Someone like, say… Commander Betulo."

    Inler's mood visibly soured as soon as Elilan mentioned 'Commander Betulo'. The Nidoking pounded the table and glared at the Zoroark while letting out a low, angry growl from the back of his throat.

    "Now is not the time to be switching up the mission when things are finally going back on track," the Poison-Type harrumphed. "And if I recall correctly, I already made my feelings clear about the idea of nominating your own Commander as a candidate for the Board."

    Elilan's ears folded back as a disgusted look settled over his face. The Dark-Type raised his voice to retort, his words dripping with obvious frustration.

    "Director, surely you have to see that-"

    "At this time, we are best off letting Commissioner Lyn continue his present mission and doing our part to deny the Guardian of the Seas a port to take refuge in," Inler finished.

    "Right!" Zorn exclaimed. "Sounds reasonable to me."

    "Hrmph, it does seem workable on paper," Farn answered. "But I'm going to need to hear some specifics first."

    "It's simple. Farn, you will assign a Commissioner to maintain a presence at Tromba until further notice," the Nidoking instructed. "Give this Commissioner the barest minimum debriefing in order to intercept the Protector if needed."

    "Hrmph. That should be simple enough," Farn grunted. Satisfied with the Luxray's answer, Inler turned his attention over to the left side of the table, his gaze settling on his Gyarados subordinate.

    "Zorn, I want you to raise some crews to patrol the fringes of Linglan's waters," the Poison-Type continued. "We don't need any backdoors through which the Protector can sneak back undetected."

    "Understood," the Gyarados answered. "You can count on me, Director!"

    Inler paused a moment, his gaze drifting over to Elilan, before turning to Darzin, idly batting his claws as he mentally mulled his next words over.

    "Darzin… you… distribute communications for this whole operation," the Director muttered. "That should be a sufficiently productive application of your skills."

    "That's hardly any different from the indignities you force on me regularly," the Dragonite snorted back, drawing a roll from Inler's eyes.

    "Glad to hear, and with that, I think this meeting can be-"

    "Hold it!"

    All eyes around the table turned over to Elilan as he got up from his seat, putting his claws down on the table and staring insistently over at Inler.

    "Director, you seem to be neglecting to give me an assignment," the Zoroark said. "I do have better things to do than sit and lounge around in the middle of a crisis, don't I?"

    A long, pregnant silence followed the fox's response, Zorn and Farn shuffling awkwardly as Inler's face twisted into a frown and his eyes narrowed.

    "The leads you were able to provide the Intelligence Division are more than sufficient as a contribution, Elilan," he replied. "That will be all. I want you all to tend to your duties effective immediately!"

    One after the other, Farn, Zorn, and Darzin got up and began to drift out of the room into the hallway. Satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, Inler paced off to follow suit, only for the sound of hurried footsteps to follow as Elilan cut him off from behind.

    "Inler, you know that I'm capable of assisting right now!" the Zoroark demanded. "What's with this deliberate attempt to pass me over?"

    "Assignments are given out based on the amount of trust that I as the Company's Director can place in an individual," Inler retorted. "A Pokémon blatantly attempting to engage in self-advancement in a time of crisis simply doesn't merit the same level of trust as one who sits and evaluates the facts at hand first."

    Inler's reply drew a low growl in response from Elilan, his eyes glaring daggers at the Nidoking Director. The Dark-Type gave a shake of his mane, before letting out a seething protest.

    "Director, I gave my suggestion because I evaluated the facts at hand! And last I checked, knowing who to trust can make the difference between success and failure!" the Zoroark snapped. "Your asinine insistence on continuing to invest in Commissioner Lyn is charting a course for failure!"

    "Would that be the failure of your aspirations to have a companion parroting your decisions on the Board?"

    Inler's response prompted Elilan to ball up his claws, the Administrator all but failing in preventing an angry flash of his teeth from spreading over his muzzle as he attempted to swat away the accusation.

    "I have no idea what you're talking about, Director," the fox spat. "And I'd rather not waste my time with this claptrap."

    Inler gave a forceful sigh, before turning and glancing out a nearby window, looking out over the gabled roofs of Canalhouse City's sprawl. The Nidoking batted his tail back and forth idly, before answering in a nonchalant tone.

    "I'm sure you don't. But I know you have your wife and daughter settled here in the city in accordance with the Settlement Protocol for a 'mon of your rank," Inler replied. "Given the… unfortunate circumstances that Pokémon under such protocols would find themselves in should their contacts within the Company be disgraced, I would encourage you to dispel your fantasies about Betulo and to make your peace with the fact that he simply will never sit together on the Board with you. End of story."

    The Nidoking shook his head, curtly brushing past his Zoroark subordinate as he made his way towards the exit. The Director pushed the doors open, slamming them behind him with a loud thud, leaving Elilan to glare after him and glower under his breath.

    "We shall see about that," the fox snarled.

    Elilan's seething failed to reach the Nidoking's ears, who carried along from the dark-wooded doors under a sunlit hallway. From down the hallway, the slamming of the door pricked Farn's ears, prompting her to look back and watch Inler slink off. The Luxray carried on, unaware all the while that further behind her, the form of a Dragonite in an Administrator's scarf slipped out from a side room and quietly followed after her tracks.




    Earlier that day, the Siglo Swellow carried on its course from Tidemill City that morning, having sailed along overnight from dusk through the crack of dawn away from the Imperial island for calmer waters. As the sun's rays poked over the horizon, the deck still had a placid air about it as the bulk of the crew remained occupied in the mess hall; even those above deck finding themselves more concerned with breakfast than their jobs as deckhands as the ship drifted along. Among their number was Nida, who finished up the last of her gummis before basking under the morning light. Off further down the ship, she saw Crom and Pleo setting aside their plates before moving onto clay jugs of berry juice, the Nidoran picking up faint snatches of cheery, indistinct chatter before the splash of churning waves and passing ferals in the distance prompted her to look out at the sea wistfully.

    "Oh? Is something the matter?"

    The Nidoran blinked and perked her ears up, turning around just in time to see Kiran flapping to a stop on the deck behind her.

    "Are you feeling alright?" he asked. "You went off on your own."

    Nida paused a moment, before giving a nod back to the Swellow in reply.

    "I'm fine, Kiran," she answered. "It's just that I needed a moment to catch up with everything."

    "How so?"

    The Nidoran shifted a moment, casting a quiet glance over at Crom as he drank from his jug with Pleo further along the deck. It had only been a couple of weeks, but it was still sometimes hard for her to believe that she wasn't in a dream and that her teammates were once again alongside her.

    "It's so… different for the whole team to be back together again…" the Nidoran murmured. "We've all been through so much and there were moments where I honestly thought I'd never see Crom or Pleo again."

    "The fates work themselves out in strange ways sometimes," the bird answered. "Though was there something troubling you still?"

    Nida paused, before shaking her head, and casting a serious glance back up.

    "No… but I sometimes wonder just whether or not it will last."

    "Worry about things as they come," her Swellow captain reassured. "We're all here now and I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to get used to it again."

    The Nidoran flicked her ears, pulling them back as a small smile spread over her muzzle.

    "Nah, with us finally back together, I'm sure we won't need all that time," Nida insisted. "It would take an awful lot to spoil this moment."

    Buuuuuuurp

    The sound of a loud belch from behind made Nida and her teacher flinch, prompting them to whirl around and see Crom and Pleo with their clay jugs, bowling over beside themselves with laughter. Nida furrowed her brow in disbelief, watching as Elty darted up with an amused chortle as Guardia followed after visibly puzzled by Pleo and Crom's demeanor.

    "Hah, good one Crom!" Elty yipped.

    "Oh! Oh! My turn now!" Pleo cried. At once, the young Protector craned his head down, tilting the bottle back as he lapped up juice within his beak before pushing it back upright and swallowing. The seabird smacked his mouth, giving a beat of his wings before his beak suddenly cracked open wide...

    Buuuuuuuuuurp

    The air filled once again with the sound of a loud belch, which was quickly followed by chortling cheers from Crom and Elty, while Guardia looked on with a baffled expression. From their spot by the railing, Kiran sighed, ruffling his feathers as Nida closed her eyes and stuck her tongue out with displeasure.

    "Ew…"

    "… We've all been through a lot lately and they are still young," Kiran offered. "Maybe it's better to let them have their fun."

    BUUUUUUUUUUURP

    The pair paused, before looking back to see Pleo staring dumbfounded at Crom as a beaming grin spread over his face. The young Lugia stammered, before beating his wings flusteredly and staring curiously down at Crom's bottle and then back up to him again.

    "How did you do that?" Pleo demanded.

    "Heh heh! You can't beat a sailor's kid that easily!" Crom teased, sticking a tongue out playfully. "You'll just have to practice a bit!"

    Nida sighed and rolled her eyes at her partner's response, grumbling under her breath as she hopped over, Kiran walking along after her. The pair carried on, the young Protector so wrapped up in his childish competition that he paid no heed to the pair's approach.

    "Aw… well, I guess I'll just have to do that…" Pleo murmured, before perking up with a forceful point of his wing. "Just you wait, Crom! I'll practice tons and beat you fair and square!"

    "Yes, yes, Pleo that's grea- Wait, no, that's disgusting!" Nida snapped. "We don't need to hear you burping all the time! And por el amor de los dioses, Crom! Pleo's learned enough bad habits already while we were travelling out there!"

    Crom pulled his wings back as his ruddy head seemed to flush a deeper shade of red, scratching behind his head with a flustered, sheepish stammer. From his side, Elty rolled his eyes, turning to the Nidoran with an annoyed scoff.

    "Lighten up a bit, spike ball," Elty chided. "It's just a little fun."

    "You hut-dwellers sure are a peculiar lot if this is what you do for entertainment…" Guardia sighed, only for a chittering voice to call out.

    "Hoy!"

    Crom lifted his head at the sound of footsteps and looked over his shoulder where he saw the forms of a Kabutops and Marked Scyther approaching. The Druddigon turned to face the pair, recognizing them to be...

    "Oh! Dimitri! Ander!" Crom cried. "What are you doing here?"

    "We were checking up on your father below deck," the Scyther answered.

    As soon as the words left his mouth, Ander's reminder of Pladur's wounded state sucked the life out of the group as the lot fell silent. Crom hung his head as his wings began to droop in shame, realizing that while he'd been wiling away his time with Pleo and his teammates, he hadn't even bothered to go down and check up on his father since he woke up!

    "I'd- I'd forgotten about that while I was having fun…" he murmured. "Is… he alright?"

    "He's still a bit weak, but at least he's lucid now," Ander replied.

    "I don't think you've got anything to worry about, Crom," Dimitri insisted. "If he's anything like you, I'm sure he'll be up and at 'em sooner rather than later."

    The mantis and crab's reassurance failed to take root with the young Druddigon, as his head sank glumly. The dragon looked down, only to feel a pawing at his leg and see Nida looking up at him.

    "And I'm sure your dad doesn't want you to be constantly feeling miserable while he's healing, Crom," the Nidoran offered.

    Crom moved a claw to his mouth, the reassurance seemingly moving him somewhat, if unable to dispel a thick, tangible air of doubt about the young Druddigon.

    "I guess…" the Dragon-Type murmured. "But what do we do now?"

    "That's what I'd like to know, actually."

    The sound of buzzing wings and following footsteps announced the arrival of the Siglo Swellow's Illumise captain from Ander and Dimitri's direction, her Hitmontop first mate following closely. Kiran tilted his head, wondering what would compel the two to seek them out together as the ship continued on its course away from Giotto.

    "Oh? What brings you here, Beatrix?" the Swellow asked.

    "A little crab mentioned earlier that you and the kids were trying to get to Pioppo Island," she answered.

    The group blinked puzzledly, before their attention drifted slowly over towards Dimitri. Freshly put on the spot, the Kabutops hemmed and hawed, tapping his scythes together sheepishly.

    "Heh, well they did need leads for trying to track you down," Dimitri said. "So I didn't see the harm in bringing it up."

    "What's going on at that dump?" Beatrix demanded. "And why do you want to get there?"

    Crom cast a blank gaze at Nida and his other teammates. Dimitri never did mention why they wanted him to bring them to that island anyways. Nida began to shift uncomfortably, clearing her throat as she tried to puzzle out a way to explain the matter to the Illumise captain.

    "Er… well…" the Poison-Type began, only to be interrupted by Guardia raising a claw and motioning for attention.

    "Make yourselves comfortable," she said. "It'll take a while to recite all this lore…"

    The Cubone began to recount of their meeting with Nerea, Nida and Elty chiming in to explain how the Company and the Empire had created a record of the events surrounding the Great Calamity that was so compromising to the two that the pair had moved heaven and earth to keep its volumes secret, with Pioppo being the site of of one of those volumes. All the while, Beatrix and Vicente listened quietly, with unmoving, skeptical faces as Nida ended their recap.

    "So if we can just find that ledger, we should be able to force the Company and the Empire to back off and leave us and Pleo alone," the Nidoran explained. "It'd be just what we needed to be able to go home while keeping Bluewhorl safe!"

    The little spike ball's insistence drew a sharp frown from the Hitmontop first mate, who tapped a foot impatiently against the wood of the ship's deck.

    "… I'm not feeling terribly confident charting a trip to Pioppo over hearsay…" Vicente grumbled.

    "Oi, we know what we heard! And besides, what other options do we have right now?" Elty demanded. "Are you going to build your own navy to keep those Imps and square-necks at bay?"

    A sharp buzz cut through the air as Beatrix shook her head and shot an unamused scowl back at the young Growlithe.

    "Ideally we would have options that don't involve poking around an island where Pokémon are known to go missing and never be heard from again," she piped.

    Team Traveller grimaced uneasily at the Illumise's response. Yes, it would be a dangerous mission, but doing nothing would be no solution at all for getting Pleo back home! She had to understand that…

    Didn't she...?

    "I'll think it over and see what we can do for logistics," the firefly offered. "We'd need some downtime in Buyeom to reprovision and patch up a few parts of the ship anyways."

    "Hrmph. Hopefully a downtime that's short and to the point," the Hitmontop first mate huffed.

    "In the meantime, stay focused on pitching in with the crew," the captain instructed. "There should be some time for you to rest a bit when we're in port."

    Beatrix and Vicente turned and drifted off down the deck, leaving Team Traveller to trade dubious looks with one another over how well they'd pleaded their case to the pair.

    "I… don't think that they're going to take us there," Pleo murmured.

    "I'm sure that they'll come around, pollito," Kiran reassured. "It's not a decision to be made lightly, but if it's really the only way, I'm sure that Beatrix and Vicente will recognize that."

    "Besides, you've got better things to do than get your wings in a twist right now," Dimitri added. "With the mess we left Tidemill's harbor in, I'm sure it'll take some time for the Company and the Empire to catch up, and you'll have no shortage of ways to unwind in Buyeom."

    "… What do you mean?" Guardia replied. "Isn't it just another island?"

    "You're selling it more than a little short. Magmapool Town is famous for being built right next to a volcano that heats the place up," the Kabutops explained. "Why, there's a bunch of hot springs dotted across the island, then there's the black-sanded beaches, the fire shows…"

    The horseshoe crab's description brightened his teammates' eyes, Elty taking particular relish as he perked his ears up at the mention of 'fire shows' and darted around happily.

    "Heh, I can get behind spending some time there!" he exclaimed. The Puppy Pokémon batted his tail back and forth eagerly, prompting Pleo to pause and mull, moving a wingtip over his beak.

    "I mean, it does sound fun…" he mulled. "But… what does the island look like?"




    After the Siglo Swellow put down anchor in port, Team Traveller quickly made their way down the gangplank and onto the docks of Magmapool Town. The settlement was built along rolling hills under the shadow of a tall black-rocked mountain, a tower of steam rising from its pinnacle in the distance, and a shroud of fog accumulated at its base. The town itself seemed to be a mishmash of features that at once felt similar to prior ports, yet combined in an alien fashion. The settlement was built by the sea along black-sanded beaches and a row of wharves and dry docks, the districts inland filled with cramped whitewashed buildings with arced, slate roofs filling the skyline. Between their gaps, thick, protecting walls of blackened stone poked through, a careful examination revealing that they formed vaguely concentric rings about the town's quarters. All the while, glints of light would catch Pleo's eye, drawing his attention to a window or a decoration perched on a rooftop, the young Lugia beating his wings excitedly.

    "Oh! It looks kinda like Aisle Town!" Pleo exclaimed. "Except it's got a lot more shiny things in it like the windows in Tidemill's palace!"

    "That would be glass, Pleo," Nida replied. "And... I'm not really sure if it feels like Aisle Town to me. The buildings are a lot drabber, there's walls like in Tidemill, and I didn't remember Kenobi Island looking this rocky when we were there."

    "Heh, well they do call it 'Magmapool Town' for a reason," Elty explained. "Most of the rock you see here's lava that hardened into rock since the Cradle was put together!"

    Guardia frowned skeptically at the Growlithe's explanation. An island that had grown since the Original One had placed it in the Cradle? What sort of nonsense was that? Even so, the terrain seemed homely, much like the crags of the mountains and the Mystery Dungeon back in Kenobi… if with a good chunk of it in oppressive black tones. The Cubone mused to herself, wondering if a few paintings scattered here and there would help make the stony island feel more agreeable, only to hear a squawk from behind. She turned around and saw Pat taking wing from the Siglo Swellow's deck, flying off towards the sea.

    "Huh? Isn't that Kenhallow one of ours?" Guardia wondered. "Where is he off to in such a hurry?"

    "Probably headed back to Tromba to pass on the news of our arrival," a voice behind them chittered.

    The five youngsters turned back, a quick glance revealing that the speaker was none other than a Kabutops still dripping seawater off his plates… followed closely by a visibly soaked and unamused Swellow and Scyther.

    "Eh? Dimitri?" Crom asked. "Where have you been?"

    "I was passing on a message of my own here to send back to my rod," the Water-Type explained. "Turns out another one's passing through here right now!"

    Dimitri's burble drew a deep frown from the Swellow behind him, who shook his head and beat his wings, spraying droplets of seawater onto the wharf underfoot.

    "I still say the cannonball into the water was uncalled for," Kiran grumbled.

    Dimitri looked at Kiran and Ander, and after noting their long faces, scratched the back of his head sheepishly with the flat of his left blade. The Scyther among the group let out a chittering sigh, awkwardly shifting his wings uncomfortably as he tried to extend them out to dry under the sun.

    "Well, we should have a little time before we move along anyways," Ander said. "We might as well take a look around town and relax for a bit."

    Team Traveller carried on along a tight street past a warren of crude, tile-roofed shacks with a surfeit of glass windows and decorations, coming to a stone gate underneath a slate-roofed pavilion. There, the lot discovered much to their pleasant surprise that the local guards appeared to be in the business of charging 'tolls' for entry into the rest of the town and its hot springs. Whether it was the visitors or the promise of coin in their pouches that was the real motivator for the guards' openness, a few Poké coins apiece proved sufficient to grant each of Team Traveller's members entry through the black-stone gate.

    The party's passage through the gate brought them into a busy town perched at the top of a hill with plumes of steam and smoke rising up from various points. Opting to try and get a view from above, Team Traveller set up along a wide path lined with shops up a shallow incline, their progress taking them past a red-and-blue pavilion in front of a curved body of bubbling water that Pokémon were resting in, some background chatter revealing that it seemed to be a shrine dedicated in honor to a 'Volcanion', evidently the local Protector. A little ways along, the group passed a pair of large buildings spewing smoke from brick chimneys, one adorned with banners in the Empire's indigo and the other in the red-and-gold of the Merchantry. There in the street, a Kecleon and a Darmanitan were in a heated argument in front of a bewildered-looking black Hippowdon laden with heavy, oblong cargo. The objects of dispute were evidently 'dies' for pressing coins, with neither of the two agreeing who was entitled to take their share of the cargo first. Pleo blinked to himself a moment as he left, wondering to himself why the two were so insistent on going ahead of each other when he looked up and discovered that he and his peers were passing a long wall in front of a broad complex of short buildings with steam rising from behind them. The Lugia recognized the steam to be much like that from the pool surrounding the shrine, puzzling over what its purpose was, only to spot a small crowd of Pokemon gathered around a bulletin board up ahead pulling papers off of it.

    Why this was a guild! But… if that was really what this place was, there was just one thing that he couldn't figure out.

    "Huh? Why does this Guild have all these steam clouds coming up from it?" Pleo asked.

    "Well, Magmapool Town is known for its hot springs," Kiran answered. "I guess the local guild decided they wanted one of their own for their members."

    "Heh, well I'd certainly sign up for a guild like that!" Crom exclaimed, giving a playful bat of his tail at the thought of a hot spring waiting for him after a long day in the dungeon. His enthusiasm failed to be matched by all of his teammates, as his exclamation was met by a pouting frown from his Growlithe teammate.

    "Meh, speak for yoursel-"

    "Ack! Nae sure!" a bellowing voice cried.

    The group flinched at the sound of a loud crack and deep rumble, whirling to see a trio of barrels rolling off the back of a cart drawn by a wide-eyed Bouffalant up the hill and tumbling straight for them. One after the other, the members of Team Traveller hastily bolted out of the way, leaving Pleo to stare frozen out of fright as the barrels raced towards him.

    "Look out!"

    A flash of gray came in as a fist flew forward and sent the barrel headed for Pleo flying into a wall where it dashed itself into a pile of splinters and water. A cutting gust of air tore one of the barrels further behind in two, while the last was dispatched by a moon-like orb of pink light, leaving their contents to stream down the lane and dribble up against Pleo's feet. The Lugia stood there panting and stunned a moment, looking up to see that his rescuers were a large, gray dragon with a head and tail lined with yellow scales, a large black and purple bat, and a pink fox-like creature. The lot approached in red scarves, each sporting a white seven-pointed star as they inspected the mess left behind by their attacks. After the Bouffalant ran up and tried to take stock of his lost cargo, the Kommo-o of the group turned his attention to Pleo, craning his head down as he held a claw out for reassurance.

    "Are you alright?" he asked. "Seems like whoever tied those barrels to that cart did a poor job at it."

    "I-I think I'm alright…" Pleo stammered. The young Protector's companions hastily ran up, Nida and Crom tending to the shaken seabird as Guardia turned warily to the three strangers with a puzzled tilt of her head.

    "… Who are you?" the Cubone wondered.

    "We're Team Sentinel," the Kommo-o answered. "I'm the team's leader, Sorge."

    "My name is Zelle," the Sylveon added. "I take care of any threats before they get too close."

    "And I'm Aldrich," the Noivern chimed in. "I cover the skies while Sorge and Zelle take the ground."

    Team Traveller eased themselves, breathing thankful sighs at the intervention of the strong strangers. The group wondered to themselves as to what this Team Sentinel's history could be for its members to become so strong, as the Kommo-o of the group turned his attention over to Pleo.

    "So who are you and your friends, little one?" Sorge pried. "I have to say, our team travels around different islands quite a bit, but I've never seen a Pokémon like you before."

    A tense silence fell over the group, as Pleo fidgeted uneasily. These Pokémon had helped protect him from those barrels... but with powerful foes chasing after him at every turn, was it really safe to tell them anything about his true nature?

    "Er... well I'm Pleo," the seabird began. "And... I'm uh…"

    "A Wingull!" Crom interjected. The young Druddigon's exclamation drew raised brows among the members of Team Sentinel, followed by dubious looks back at the strange bird before them. Kiran ruffled his feathers uneasily, realizing that his pupil's explanation surely hadn't sounded convincing… perhaps feigning ignorance would be more believable?

    "Or at least we think so! We found him as a feral among a group of other Wingull," Kiran offered. "My student's probably just a bit overweight, really."

    Sorge and his teammates looked at the Swellow, before their eyes drifted over to Ander in the back of the group and settled with a quiet, intent stare. The Scyther shifted uneasily, before the trio's expressions suddenly lighted up as Sorge shook his head to brush away the matter.

    "Well, that would certainly make a lot of sense," the Kommo-o chuckled.

    The Dragon-Type's reply drew quiet sighs of relief from the members of Team Traveller. Eager to find out a bit more about the inquisitive strangers, Dimitri piped up with a curious glance, hemming and hawing slightly as he tried to tease out more about their business at the guild.

    "So… you're a Rescue Team, right?" the Kabutops wondered.

    "That's right," the dragon answered. "Platinum ranked by the Anyilla Rescue and Exploration Networking Association and here to help in these troubled times."

    Sorge's mention of 'Platinum ranked' at once made Kiran perk up, putting a newfound vigor in the bird that made his feathers bristle with excitement. The Flying-Type warbled, hopping over as he puffed his chest out with a beaming smile.

    "Well, you're certainly giving my pupils a lot to strive for!" the Swellow chirped. "Who knows, maybe we could trade pointers sometime!"

    "Hm? So you lead a Rescue Team as well?" Sorge asked. "Who are you?"

    "It's Kiran, captain of Team Traveller and Silver-ranked by ARENA," the Flying-Type beamed. "The finest fledger of dungeoneers in all of Tromba!"

    The Swellow held his head up and ruffled his plumage proudly as an unimpressed silence lingered over Team Sentinel. From behind Sorge, Zelle rolled her eyes before turning her head to Aldrich and bringing a feeler next to her mouth to whisper to the bat's sensitive ears with a barely-concealed smirk.

    "Sounds like someone's presumptuous."

    "Certainly seems like a case of 'student teaching the teacher' to me," Aldrich snickered.

    Kiran's mood ebbed at the sight of Zelle and Aldrich's reactions, prompting Sorge to clear his throat and hastily force a grin, giving a disarming wave as he tried to brush the matter aside.

    "I'll keep it in mind if we ever take on an apprentice, but I think we'll manage," Sorge replied. "We were just on our way to the dungeon for a mission, but it was a pleasure to meet you all."

    The Kommo-o trudged off up the hill for the volcanic peak in the distance, followed closely by his Sylveon and Noivern teammates. As the trio started to slip out of view into the crowds, Crom peered after the red-scarved Pokémon, before shifting his glance back to a Nidoran waiting beside him.

    "… Do you think we'll ever make our own team as good as theirs, Nida?" he asked.

    Nida flicked her ears back flusteredly. All this time, she'd been wrapped up in getting Pleo home that she'd completely forgotten about her own plans with Crom to push their team forward! But how were they supposed to manage to get anywhere near as far as Team Sentinel when they'd barely just earned their Normal Ranking?

    "I mean… it would take a lot of time, and practice… but maybe?" the Nidoran answered. "After all, never say never."

    "Step right up and grow your battle prowess with just one quick session! After just a few moments at Alcon's Move Tutoring, you'll be well on your way to unlocking your full potential!"

    The rabbit perked her ears up and looked off further up the path to see a crude stall set up with a Porygon flitting about eagerly. Nida tilted her head a moment, before having her memory turn back to their time in Braveshoal. Why, it was the very same Move Tutor they'd run into there!

    The last time they'd met, Alcon had driven them off thanks to not having anything to trade for tutoring. But now, with a pouch full of money from Cardino's detective work in Tidemill… perhaps he'd have more of a reason to teach them after all!

    "Actually… maybe there's something that can help us out right now."




    (Continued in next post)
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2019
  5. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    As Team Traveller made their way over to peruse Alcon's wares, they were blissfully unaware of a brigantine flying white sails with a blue sun pattern pulling into Magmapool Town's port. Aboard it, the Pokémon were tense and wound up, casting wary glances about their surroundings. Above, the form of a small party of flying Pokémon led by a Crobat returned, the Poison-Type flitting down to a Samurott waiting at the bridge.

    "That's it. That ship docked over there by the wharf on the far left," Kane said. "Should we move in for the attack, Captain?"

    Lyn turned his head off to the left, fishing out his scope and pacing over to the railing. Sure enough, through his spyglass he could see the familiar waterspout-patterned sails of the Siglo Swellow, with its same Illumise captain and Hitmontop first mate distracted by some manner of ongoing debate. The lot of the crew seemed to be lethargic, perhaps taking one of Tromba's fabled midday rests that seemed to have little utility other than to provide excuses for their yearly tribute coming up short yet again. Hardly anything even his diminished crew couldn't handle… if only they were in friendlier waters.

    A quick turn of the scope beyond the harbor revealed drydocks filled with ships flying indigo sails, with others prowling the waters and the piers speckled with Imperial underlings as one would expect from the largest settlement of the Empire outside of Tidemill. Lyn pulled the scope back with an irked grunt, with such an environment, there was only serious answer to Kane's question:

    "… No. Our odds of succeeding would be slim to none," the Samurott answered.

    The Crobat blanched a moment at the otter's reply. The Board back in Vollezee was counting on them to return back with this Guardian of the Seas. If attempting to wrestle him away from port here was out of the question, then...

    "… What do we do then?"

    "We sail in and dock," Lyn barked. "We're going to need to be patient about this mission."

    The Samurott looked over to a Weavile hanging with a claw among the rigging, who shifted slightly and cupped his free claw to bid the sailors to bring the ship in. The Nektar Weide lurched forward, being pulled along by its sails while its escorts in the water and sky pushed it along to a free set of moorings on the right side of the harbor as the Commissioner stamped the deck for attention.

    "All of you, stay on alert," the Water-Type snapped. "I'm not expecting us to stay here for too long, and as soon as that schooner leaves, we follow and ambush them outside of port."

    The gathered sailors at once darted off, clearing the deck to ready the brigantine for mooring. As the Pokémon moved about tying down the ship, Lyn looked about the passing underlings, his sight settling on a Fearow and a Swanna making their way for a length of rope to help hoist the sails.

    "You two. Set that rigging aside and go surveil the ship," he ordered. "If that glorified catboat so much as turns its rudder, I want to hear about it!"

    "Aye, Captain!" the pair answered.

    Lyn watched as the birds slipped off, prompting him to shake his head and clamber onto the railing. The Commissioner steadied himself, looking down at the harbor water below as the sound of Ellsberg's wingbeats came up from behind him, their rapid pace and his pants evidencing that he'd been in a hurry to catch up.

    "Lyn? Just what am I supposed to do here?" the Mothim demanded. "You've only provided assignments for a pair of scouts!"

    "You're watching the ship with Ketu and making sure that it can sail off at the drop of a pin," the Samurott snorted back. "I'm going off to scout the seabed outside the harbor to search for places where our escorts can lie in wait to ambush that schooner."

    "But-"

    The otter leapt off, diving into the blue water below with a loud splash. Ellsberg peered over, watching bubbles and brine trail after Lyn's body before he surfaced and made his way back for the mouth of the harbor as Ellsberg alighted on the railing, scoffing bitterly.

    "'You're watching the ship with Ketu and making sure that it can sail off at the drop of a pin'," the Mothim spat. "Travellers above, does he really think that I don't know my own ship?"

    "Tch, beats me," a Weavile's voice answered. "But Lyn's finally gone, and we've got some business to get to for grabbing that Lugia."

    Ellsberg turned around and frowned when he saw Ketu lazing against a nearby mast. The Mothim buzzed annoyedly, the Weavile's unwelcome voice drawing his attention as raptly as a warm lantern's light did at night.

    "And just what would that involve?" Ellsberg demanded. "You haven't said as much of a thing about your plan ever since we left Tidemill!"

    Ketu answered with a scoff and dismissive shake of his head, flashing out a set of claws and turning his attention from the Bug-Type as he picked at them disinterestedly with his other set.

    "Like I told you earlier, I've got some old friends here in port," Ketu explained. "All I need to do is to touch base with them, and we'll lure the Protector out to someplace secluded where we can ambush him."

    "And just who are these 'friends' and how do you know them?"

    The Weavile paid the question no heed and continued to pick at his claws. Ellsberg glared impatiently, prompting Ketu to belatedly step away from the mast with a shrug.

    "They're with the Company. Everything else is beyond your pay grade I'm afraid."

    Ellsberg fumed at Ketu's flippant response, beating his wings agitatedly as he filled the air with seethes and angry moth noises.

    "What sort of answer is that?!" Ellsberg snapped.

    "One that's good enough," the Dark-Type retorted. "Just know that they're familiar with this town while those hicks aren't, and they've got a lot of experience in carting Pokémon off from places without drawing too much attention."

    "Why should I agree to any of this?" the moth hissed. "We're supposed to work as a team and here you are throwing me aside to work with some random strangers!"

    "Look, you want your promotion, and I've got my own things I want out of this mission," Ketu answered. "Just stay out of the way and let the professionals do their job, and we'll both get what we want."

    The Mothim flapped his wings a moment, before setting aside his frustration for a moment as his curiosity got the better of him.

    "Hrmph. And what do I do if I play along with your little scheme?" Ellsberg pressed.

    "You cover for me with Lyn if he comes back and asks why I'm not around. If you keep Lyn from getting suspicious, I tell Administrator Elilan about all the hard work you totally did capturing the Protector when this all settles down," the Weavile replied. "I don't mind if you become a third-rank easily or not, so fair deal, right?"

    "What am I even supposed to tell him?!" the Mothim demanded. "We're waiting for those hicks to leave port and you shouldn't even have a reason to leave the ship!"

    "Just tell him I went to the hot springs," the Dark-Type said with a shrug.

    Ketu paused and waited on a reply, only to be met by the sound of Ellsberg fluttering his wings and a quiet, unimpressed stare.

    "'Hot springs'? Really?" Ellsberg groaned. "Do you honestly expect him to believe that coming from an Ice-Type?"

    "Yes?" Ketu scoffed. "It wouldn't be the first time that I've visited one. They may be a little too hot at first, but they're very soothing once you get used to-"

    "Ugh, whatever! Just hurry it up!" the Bug-Type spat. "Not like you actually do any work with me anyways."

    "Kinda hard to work with a doormat who doesn't stand his ground."

    Ellsberg spluttered furiously and glared as Ketu slipped away, clambering down the gangplank for the docks. The nerve of that good-for-nothing furball! He could pull his weight just fine if Ketu just stopped belittling him and gave him all the information needed for the mission! The Mothim turned away, looking towards the sea with a harrumph as he tried to assuage his wounded pride. If Ketu wanted to take on all the risk of the operation on himself, then so be it. He was getting his promotion, so what was a little bit of extra spare time?




    While the Siglo Swellow and the Nektar Weide sat in port at Magmapool Town, the Mistral Marauder continued to lurk at its spot in Tidemill City's harbor. Ever since Alba had overlooked them, the crew had collectively chosen to keep to themselves aboard the ship and wait for the harbor to re-open, opting not to endanger their run of good luck. With their claws idled, the pirates found themselves trying to scrounge together various distractions aboard the ship, some turning to cards, some to rest, and others to impromptu contests between each other, with the deck thick with spectators ringing the current attraction as a loud belch filled the air.

    There, Alvise stood glaring down a smug-faced Charmeleon wiping the edge of his mouth, the Manectric making his way over to a sudsy jug set out on a crate in the middle. The Electric-Type let a crackle of electricity dance among his fur, before seizing the jug by its neck and throwing his head back, letting the beer inside slide down his throat with glugging gulps as chatter floated around the gathered Pokémon.

    "Ha! No way he's gonna pull this off!" the Charmeleon snickered, with a nearby Sealeo joining in with a jeer.

    "I bet he can't even finish the bottle!"

    Alvise narrowed his eyes at the jeers, letting the last drops of the jug's ale run down his throat before he let it drop to the deck with a clatter. The Manectric smacked his mouth, relishing the taste of beer on his tongue, before cracking his jaws open.

    BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP

    A chorus of cheers followed the wolf's massive belch, some of the pirates giddy that they'd put their money on the right 'mon, while others were simply impressed by Alvise's performance, including a starry-eyed Hoppip who compared it favorably to Hess' own burps. Even so, flecks of unhappiness stained the gathering, including the Charmeleon and Sealeo, who stared incredulously back at the proud Manectric.

    "How the hell did you burp like that?!" the Charmeleon demanded. "You said you grew up as some rich city slicker!"

    "Yeah! There's no way you should've been able to do that!" the Sealeo exclaimed. A smug grin crept up over Alvise's muzzle, as he turned up his nose with a tangible air of self-satisfiedness.

    "Well, you learn something new every day, huh?" the wolf retorted.

    "Alright dorks, you lost your bets," Valatos smirked. "Now cough up the money."

    "Yeah, time for us winners to benefit here!" Nori sneered.

    A mixture of laughter and grumbling went around, as the Charmeleon and Sealeo begrudgingly passed over a few misshapen coins to Alvise and his companions, while other bettors traded their wins and losses in the background. All the while, Kichiro and Rodion watched from the railing, the Ledian burying his face into a fist with an audible groan.

    "Ugh… now I remember why I hate long port stays," the Ledian grumbled

    "They were the recruits you found, Kichiro," Rodion reminded. "Besides, it's not as if we've got anything else we can do right now. A pirate's just gotta let a good burp out sometimes."

    Kichiro gave a disgusted scoff at the Floatzel's retort, his displeasure with the burping contest only deepening from having his name mangled yet again by a peer. As the Bug-Type fumed, the deck of the ship rocked with heavy footsteps, as Hess lumbered over, stopping by the railing as he looked out over at the mouth of the harbor and the pile of charred wreckage that continued to clog the entrance

    "Bah… what's taking those useless Imps so long?!" Hess complained. "That Protector's getting further away by the minute and we're still stuck here!"

    "You know how these Imperial types are with their paper pushers," Rodion sighed. "It takes a while for anything to get done."

    "Then they should just move out of the way and let me handle it already!" the Aggron captain snapped.

    "And take a chance with the guards from earlier noticing you?" Kichiro retorted.

    Hess grimaced at the Ledian's retort. No, going out and being recognized by the guards while the harbor was blocked off was about the last thing that he or the crew needed right now. At the same time, they couldn't just loaf around here! Every moment they waited meant that the Protector would become harder to track down...

    "Er… well…"

    "Just bide your time a bit, Captain," Rodion insisted. "This certainly isn't what any of us asked for, but we could do worse than having to wait a little in a peaceful port."

    "They drove away the Protector!" a voice shouted. "It's their fault we've been abandoned!"

    "To the palace! Make the crown answer for these injustices!"

    The three pirates flinched and peered over the railing, where in the distance between the gaps of the buildings, they saw a large mob of Pokémon marching along a street. The rioting crowd had a livid, barely constrained air to it as the sound of smashing wood and glass faintly carried on the air and glimpses of posters and banners being torn down echoed across the streets. Kichiro flew back uneasily, giving a skeptical glance back at Rodion as the mob's cries filled the background.

    "What was that about it being a peaceful port?" he demanded.

    "I don't like the looks of this, Rodion," Hess murmured. "The last time we saw a port this riled up was during the last turf war back in Rosequartz."

    "Well, last I checked, common landlubbers didn't fight turf wars for much of anything," Rodion replied. "Whatever's going on out there, it doesn't involve us."

    The Aggron uneasily looked out over the sea of buildings as the shouts began to ebb and fade away, with distant crashes and scattered plumes of smoke curling up further off in the distance. The Steel-Type turned away, as nagging doubts of his first mate's reassurance tugged at him, along with an uncomfortable realization that there was little they could do in their present circumstances.

    "… Let's hope you're right," Hess said. "But I'd still rather get out of here sooner than later. We've already pushed our luck enough for a day."




    At the gates of the Royal Citadel, the distant signs of tumult from the deck of the Mistral Marauder were all but inescapable. There, at the mouth of tightly shuttered gates, a throng of Pokémon of every conceivable stripe had gathered, baying out angry growls and shouts up to the walls of the fortified compound.

    "We know the Protector abandoned us because of what Coil did!" a Glaceon shouted.

    "No more secrets!" a Shiinotic snarled. "Tell us what other things you're hiding from us!"

    The jeers and cries went on, the only thing separating their owners from the Royal Citadel being its stone walls and iron gates, along with a group of uneasy Pokémon in indigo peering down from the top of the wall. Among them was Nagant, who looked out warily at the crowd, giving a dispirited shake of her head as the sound of an Archeops' angry hissing caught her ears and prompted her to see Chancellor Osborn glaring down a wide-eyed Decidueye.

    "You said that things were under control!" he spat. "This crowd's doubled in size in the last thirty minutes!"

    "We've been trying!" Alba protested. "But they just keep coming!"

    "Can you really blame them? We've all found out so much today…" Nagant muttered. The shrimp gazed at the crowd, looking out as a quiet, worn expression settled over her face.

    "It only makes sense that not everyone would take it so well."

    "Oh for crying out loud," Osborn snapped. "I'll handle this!"

    The Archeops stomped over to the edge of the wall, alighting on a ledge as he beat his wings and gave a sharp caw out over the crowd. The shouts and cries ebbed a moment, as the mob below looked up puzzledly at the Chancellor, who cleared his throat to speak.

    "Attention loyal subjects of the Empire! Desist and return to your homes at once!" the bird proclaimed. "Your Majesty is keenly aware of the present crisis and her forces are doing their best to pursue the pirates who stole the Protector!"

    "What sort of garbage is that?!" a Mandibuzz squawked. "The Protector blew seafire out into the harbor and away from the ship that took him!"

    "Yeah! What sort of kidnapped Pokémon helps their kidnappers?!" a Klang yelled.

    A hail of boos followed the Steel-Type's cry, as a Tamato Berry flew past Osborn's head, and an apple dashed against his wing. The Archeops dove for cover with a squawk as more missiles and attacks came for his position, an errant Gravelerock sailing along and catching an Emboar in the face.

    "Augh!"

    The guard staggered and lurched, almost tumbling headfirst over the edge only for a Herdier and Araquanid to hastily drag her back to safety. The three retreated from the ledge, their peers following likewise as the air grew thicker with flying objects and the crowd's shouts crested into a deafening roar.

    "Chancellor, that didn't help!" Nagant hissed.

    "Well, what was I supposed to do?!" Osborn huffed. "They weren't just going to clear out by themselves!"

    PAM! PAM! PAM!

    "Smash those gates open!" the Mandibuzz cried. "We'll get justice ourselves!"

    The color flushed from the faces of the Pokémon gathered on the walls at the sound of the pounding below, realizing it to be blows upon the iron gates. The guards looked out at the trails of smoke curling up from spots of the city around them, before looking back and realizing that they'd be fortunate if such a fate was the only thing the mob wished for the citadel. As the urgency of the situation sank in, Osborn beat his wings impatiently and shot a glare over to Alba before barking out an order.

    "This has gone on long enough!" the Archeops snapped. "Get your command together and clear out the gates!"

    One after the other, the Decidueye and his subordinates took their position, Nagant similarly leveling a claw out for the crowd as she breathed in, hesitating with her aim as an Electivire ran up to Osborn and waved his arms wildly in protest.

    "Ch-Chancellor! These are just commoners from the city!" the Electric-Type squeaked. "There'll be a full revolt if we attack them like that!"

    PAM! PAM! PAM!

    "They're already revolting" Osborn growled. "There's no sense in letting this insurrection fester any more!"

    The gathered Pokémon prepared themselves, as they readied attacks to be lobbed out into the crowd below. Nagant similarly joined, feeling water pool at the tip of her large claw as she breathed in and closed one of her eyes to ready her aim.

    "Stop!"

    The Clawitzer's eye abruptly shot open as the water in her claws suddenly spilled inertly onto the bricks below. The shrimp and the other Pokémon looked up and went wide-eyed at the sight of none other than Queen Aleria flying in, landing on the ledge of the wall before them. At once, Osborn got up, running after the Altaria with his voice thick with panic.

    "Your Majesty! Get away from that wall!" the Chancellor cried. "It's not safe-!"

    "Everyone just listen to me a moment!"

    With that, the Altaria spread her wings, letting out a loud warble that brought a minor lull to mob's unrest.

    "You're my subjects!" the Altaria piped "With everything that's been going on, I wanted to talk about what's been happening!"

    "What's there to talk about?!" a Shiinotic hissed.

    "Yeah! What we need is justice!" a Glaceon roared.

    "I know that… and I'm sorry that I've failed you so."

    The crowd abruptly grew quiet, the angered shouts and cries giving way to the quiet burble of confused murmuring. Aleria ruffled her cloud-like plumage uneasily, before speaking up over the gathered mob below.

    "When daddy became king, he always told me that we were in a dangerous world," the Altaria began. "One where we'd have to worry about threats to the Empire and Pokémon like you who stuck with it in its hardest times..."

    The bird queen trailed off, hanging her head in shame as her voice took on a mournful tone.

    "I never considered that there could be something threatening the Empire from within like this," she murmured. "Let alone someone from a family my own's trusted for generations, and here it's now driven away our greatest hope."

    The Pokémon in front of the gates began to shift and mumble uncomfortably, with a few of their number looking up at the torn Altaria above. Aleria struggled with her words a moment, before shaking her head and craning her neck back up with earnest, pleading eyes.

    "So please! As your Queen, let me do what I can to try and make things right!" the Queen pleaded. "To bring back the Protector that should be watching over us right now!"

    The mob below murmured quietly, a few Pokémon at the edge shuffling uneasily before drifting off. Others deeper within followed along, the crowd visibly thinning before the guards' eyes as an awed Nagant turned to the watching Altaria.

    "… Your Majesty…" the Clawitzer said. "I… I think you might have just saved your realm."

    "Hrmph, I would encourage you not to get too comfortable," Osborn chided. "Mobs are fickle beasts, and with the spirit of insurrection loose among them, I doubt we've heard the last of this."

    "Then let's figure out what we can do, Osborn," Aleria cried. "I gave those Pokémon my word that I'd do something about this, and I don't want to be made a liar if I can help it!"

    The Archeops frowned, casting a glance out at the still partly-crowded square below, before looking back slowly at the Altaria queen, letting out a sigh as he gave his feathers an uncomfortable ruffle.

    "… Very well, I'll send word out for a meeting," he answered. "But we should make haste while we can."

    The Fossil Pokémon turned and began to pace off, only to turn his head as he passed Nagant and stop with a stern glance.

    "We will need your presence as well, Captain Nagant," Osborn said. "Please follow along."

    Nagant chittered flusteredly, the Clawitzer moving her little claw up to try and press for more details, only for Osborn to continue on, followed by Aleria. The shrimp stood there a moment, before hopping after them uneasily. The two surely wished for her to help give chase to the Protector, otherwise they would've never asked for her presence…

    But just what could those two be planning with the situation as dire as it was?




    After going up to Alcon and assuring him that they had the means to make his time worth the while, Team Traveller set about parting with their earnings from Cardino and booking a tutoring session for each of their younger members. The Porygon's tee-yems were a strange mishmash of numbers, though once Alcon walked them through, their decision-making was made a bit clearer. Nida took a fancy to Poison Jab, while Elty chose to learn the ghostly art of Will-O-Wisp for the promise of being able to burn foes as he wished. Crom waffled a bit in his choice, initially choosing to be tutored Bulldoze, only for a pointed reminder from Nida of its effects on the rest of the team to sway him to Power-Up Punch.

    Other choices… seemed more impulsive than they needed to be. Guardia took a shine to Swords Dance, much to Elty's displeasure that the Cubone would now be able to able to bat him around harder. Pleo upon hearing Alcon discover his 'compatibility' with Thunderbolt was at once smitten with the idea of being able to churn up a 'glowy beam attack' that would form thunderclaps on command… only to be sorely disappointed along with his peers to discover that their moves, both mundane and exotic, had merely been implanted as a spark and not given them instant knowledge.

    With a freshly lightened coin purse and the taste of mild disappointment in their mouths, Kiran opted to lift his charges' spirits by hurrying into their planned excursion about the town. Team Traveller went around, going from street to street where they noticed a small eatery built around a hot spring and heated black sands, giving the lot a chance to brush away their worries over a lunch of noodles and small buns with a sweet, ruddy filling before entering the springs. The party stayed a while in the heated water and sand, where they whiled away their time before leaving and retracing their steps back to the Siglo Swellow. As they exited the gate leading back to the harbor's docks, the group carried on in warm, high spirits from their refreshing detour.

    "Well, at least something went right today," Crom piped. "Those hot springs were amazing!"

    "I know! Maybe we should try and make one back in Bluewhorl when we get back!" Pleo chirped. The Lugia's cheerful warbling drew frowns and shifty glances from Elty and Guardia, neither seeming to think much of the young seabird's fondness of the water.

    "… Eh, I was fine staying in the sand," Elty harrumphed. Pleo tilted his head puzzledly, wondering what possessed the dog to be so negative about the water, before noting his displeasure seemed to bleed over into Guardia.

    "Hrmph, it would've been better if Alcon's lore actually taught us moves like he said said they would," the Cubone grumbled.

    "Well, even with tee-yems, you don't become a master at moves overnight," Kiran explained. "Give it some practice, and I'm sure that things will come together."

    "I mean I suppose it did take a little before Pleo could fly after he got tutored by Melissa," Nida murmured. "It's just that for that price-"

    "Seodulleo! You gotta see this!"

    The Nidoran trailed off and looked up to see a Darumaka tugging along a Marill across the street. An air of ecstatic enthusiasm filtered off of the Darumaka, which was met with an impatient glare back from his hapless fellow-traveller.

    "This better not be some sort of joke…" the Marill growled.

    "No, I'm serious! There really is a Protector at the harbor!" the Darumaka exclaimed. "And humans too!"

    The Fire-Type's words at once made Ander jolt up in alarm, looking around with wide-eyed anxiety. His teammates looked at the startled Scyther a moment, before looking off at the quickly-departing pair with puzzled frowns.

    "… A Protector… and humans in the harbor?" Guardia asked.

    "Pah," Elty snorted. "It's probably just some rumo-"

    The Growlithe bit his tongue as the sound of footsteps and wingbeats reached his ears. Elty quickly glanced over and went wide-eyed at the sight of Pleo running along at the end of the street, flapping to try and to take off into the air after the Darumaka and Marill.

    "Hey! Pleo!" the Growlithe yipped. "Wait up!"

    The Lugia darted ahead for the docks, his companions hurriedly following after him until they came to the edge of a large, excited crowd in a square near the water's edge. Pleo stopped, craning his head to see a crude platform had been set up in the middle of the square, with a Riolu, Eevee, and Nuzleaf gathered proudly, Pleo tilting his head puzzledly as the Riolu of the lot gave an adoring wave to the surrounding Pokémon.

    "… But… they look just like normal Pokémon…" the Lugia murmured.

    As soon as the words left his mouth, the ground clattered with the sharp clop of blade-like hooves as a great, blue stag leapt up onto the platform from behind. The creature bowed his head, revealing a large rack of rainbow, tree-like antlers, before throwing them back in front of the wide-eyed audience with a forceful stomp of the ground. The crowd at once erupted into thrilled applause and cheers, the deer prancing around proudly as Pleo stared ahead wide-eyed. Evidently satisfied with the response, the Nuzleaf cracked a wide grin before darting up and moving a hand out to gesture to the mysterious Pokémon.

    "Behold! The Voice of Life!" the Nuzleaf declared. "The rainbow stag that breathes life into the lifeless, Xerneas!"

    The crowd roared in approval as the deer made himself at home on the makeshift stage, soaking in the adulation of the gathered Pokémon. From their places at the edge of the crowd, Team Traveller stared ahead puzzledly, noticing Ander shrinking back with a fearful look in his eyes.

    "And here I thought it would just be a few relaxing hours in port…" the Scyther gulped, as Nida formed the name of the strange deer on her tongue.

    "Xer… neas?"




    Author's Notes:

    - por el amor de los dioses - Spanish: "for gods' sake", lit. "for the love of the gods"
    - Kenhallow (ケンホロウ) - Japanese: "Unfezant" (Official Romanization)
    - Nae sure! (내 수레!) - Korean: "My cart!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
    - Seodulleo!(서둘러!) - Korean: "Hurry!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
     
  6. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Stuck in Alola?

    Fair enough, Mr. Druddigon Cuddlepile. But who said Ninetales was my favorite? That's just my main character. :p

    Anyway, onto the show!

    Now, let me preface by saying I'd really like to think the Empire would be sidelined here, given everything that happened last time. And, well, after the generally zany tone of the last episode shifted to the sprawling battle and a special that was considerably darker than the story thus far, I'd like to think that, for the sake of pacing, it might be good to greatly minimize the Empire (and the pirates, for that matter) and focus squarely on the Company. That's not to say the scenes back in Tidemill City were bad, by any means. I think the business with the mob is wrapped up a bit too quickly for my tastes, but at least you showed some of the fallout. Similarly, it looks like Aleria is (somewhat) dropping her airhead routine and might be making a turn toward the more serious side of things. She doesn't hold a candle to the Company at this point, but I could see it happening. That said, I do think the rest of the episode should play up Team Traveller and the Company, rather than throwing all these factions at one another yet again. I think you're going to have to build up to another confontation like that.

    Now, I think the board meeting is a good way to set a darker tone. There's nothing really funny about the scene. No jokes... no goofier antics like with some of the Empire's lower-ranks. It's a bunch of 'mons scowling at each other and Inler barking orders, complete with a hint at that MacGuffin that I totally didn't forget about, nope, no sir. And it's punctuated by a description that really makes the Company's headquarters out to be one part lavish office building and another part incredibly imposing evil tower that would serve as the backdrop for, like, the final dungeon. Aside from the intensifying patrols, though, you've got Elilan who really looks like he intends to make a play to take Inler out of the picture and put himself on top. Fitting for a Zoroark, I suppose, but Inler's not taking any of Elilan's bait. With Blue under his direct supervision, though, I imagine if Elilan gets Squishy, then he could feasibly make a power play.

    This new island is quite the hotspot, I see. *ba-dum-tsssssh*

    In all seriousness, the biggest thing for me is Team Sentinel's debut. Which, well, we kind of knew would be coming. I wasn't expecting things to be this quick and for the heroes to be the ones to run into them first. Here I expected the Ketu rendezvous to start things over. Surely, this unexpected sequence can only end wonderfully for our heroes. :V Ketu and Ellsberg continue to argue like the oldest of married couples, I see. Each one only wants a promotion and nothing else. Frankly, they fit in perfectly under Elilan's supervision... if you can really call it supervision at this point.

    I have no idea what to make of the last scene. I'm tempted to think it's a hoax and part of the episode will go toward proving that. Otherwise, what's stopping Team Sentinal from trying to snag a two for one special, huh? Guess I'll have to wait and see. But first, some snark!

    We interrupt this Pokémon Mystery Dungeon fic to bring you Final Fantasy XIII.
    ... oy.

    Ah, yes, Mutually Assured Destruction... the only way to have yourselves a Cold War. Da, is good work, comrades! Oh, wait, Nagant's the Soviet here.

    Elilan's pushing that A G E N D A

    MILLIONS ARE DEAD i mean is it really a good idea to challenge a lugia to a burping contest... even a baby one?

    Wow, Kiran, way to be a buzzkill.

    Wait... in what universe is anyone happy to learn they need to pay a toll to pass through somewhere?

    Pffffft... okay, this is hilarious, to me, because Sigma Aldrich is a prominent chemical manufacturing company whose products I use regularly at work. Hence, this Noivern is now Chemo-Bat. :p

    [​IMG]

    Fledger's close enough, so I'm counting it. Roll credits! *ding*

    Considering who sponsors those guys, you'd better hope not.

    Ketu's taking type-defying lessons from Shane, I see. :p

    I see Pleo is taking naming lessons from ASGORE.

    dafuq you talking about? That's the ugliest-ass Hydreigon I've ever seen. 7.8/10 too much FABULOUS. Also, the irony of a Riolu and a Nuzleaf together is not lost on me. But for max effect, you should've swapped out Eevee for an elemental starter to play up the Super reference.
     
  7. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Lots has gone down! Happy to see Team Traveler reunited at last, and getting a nice chunk of backstory on Elty was a nice surprise. And yay for crossovers. :D

    I'm impressed with how well the tournament arc and the courtroom sections wove together. Neither got in each other's way, and I think having them run concurrently added a nice bit of variety to those chapters.

    Speaking of all that, Pleo getting the decoder where it needed to be in a completely unwitting manner was kind of adorable.

    Pladur fought like a beast and thereby impressed me. What a good dad. I wonder if he'll be all right.

    Curious about who subjects red and blue might be. I have three separate guesses as to who they are and almost no luck deciding which is likeliest. Almost. At the present moment my suspicions are leaning toward feathery siblings.

    Also been thinking about old King Aquila. Wondering if he was always a pokémon, to be more precise. Hmm.

    Meanwhile yeah, uh, kind of really not very inclined at all to believe that's a legit xerneas there at the end.

    Oh yeah, and I like the fact that "angry moth noises" had a reason to come up. :p
     
    Virgil134 likes this.
  8. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    We’re not quite at the point where things will narrow down to one faction to rule them all, and probably won’t be for a few more episodes. That said, the confrontations for the next few episodes will each be focusing on one of the villainous factions in particular, so it’ll be awhile before we get to the next battle royale with cheese.

    Well, all will be revealed in due time. Though I will say that making a power play on the Director is an awful lot like taking a swing at a king.

    You’d best not miss.

    I would think that Ketu would hotly contest that point, since while he does have a promotion on the line, it’s a rather specific one and he has other motivations for his actions and has far more of an emotional stake in Elilan’s gambit than Ellsberg ever will.

    Nah, not enough motorcycles.

    She’d technically be closer to a White Russian if we’re playing Russian political archetypes, but the spirit remains the same.

    And getting it promptly smacked down in public. Good times, right? :3

    Crom: “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”

    The one where the alternative is getting stuck on the docks until you either get paperwork issued to you or can forge sufficiently real-looking substitutes to get past the guards. Coughing a few coins up is by far the less painful alternative.

    Funny, though ‘cloak and dagger’ was a bit more on the mind while coming up with Aldrich’s name than ‘big pharma’.

    Are you telling me that becoming operatives for Team Evil isn’t a suitable tradeoff for more power? It is a growth industry.

    Alas, the epithet has a bit of a different meaning for most Pokémon in setting than in Gate to Infinity. Emphasis on most. Though you’ll have to wait until the next episode to find out more about that one, I’m afraid.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve been enjoying them all. ^^

    This part of the review was heartening to read, as I had been conflicted as to whether or not the jumps were detracting too much from each other. I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the execution.

    His story’s not quite done yet, though he’ll be off his feet for a while.

    All shall be revealed in due time.

    There’s a very clear subtext to Aquila’s description. Moreso if you happen to know what his name got his origins from. Once you notice it, the answer will be crystal clear.

    Well, it is a bit convenient. But why not see how things play out? :)

    Yeah, I’m always keeping an eye out for chances to slip in little gags and references into the story where they just fit. This was one of them.

    And with that, while it’s taken me a bit longer than I’d have liked to get this update together, it’s here and ready to pick up from last time. Special thanks goes to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net for helping to prepare this chapter for release, and to the readers and reviewers who have stuck with this story even when it’s taken awhile to get going. The next update is presently targeting a release date in early December, as I will have limited time to work on writing next week on account of Thankgiving holidays.

    With that, let’s pick up where we left off last time.
     
  9. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    [​IMG]

    Excited cheers rolled off the dockyards of Magmapool Town like waves on the beach, their source being a crowd rallied around a blue stag with rainbow antlers. Xerneas looked around proudly at the large gathering of Pokemon, every now and then settling his gaze on one particular creature or another, drawing enraptured attention from the lucky Pokemon. And so it was that when the deer's attention came upon Crom, the young Druddigon stared into the Protector's gray eyes in the short moment they made contact, being overwhelmed with awe that he was seeing none other than Mengir's lost guardian.

    "Wow!" Crom exclaimed. "He really does look like those paintings from Mengir!"

    Pleo looked at the blue deer, watching mesmerized as the stag peered out over the crowd with his head held high. Could this 'Xerneas' really be…

    "From Mengir…?"

    The Lugia's thoughts drifted back towards the green island and its stony spires, reluctantly returning to the time they discovered the Beautifly's nest… and from what he remembered, those carvings really did look like this stranger before him. The tree-like antlers, the tapered legs and graceful gait… why, if this 'Xerneas' been around at the time, they could've sidestepped the Company's trap just by drawing pictures of him!

    But… how could he be standing right here all the way on the other side of Anyilla? Pleo beat his wings with a squawking start: if Xerneas could just get home for a moment… maybe he'd be able to make the ferals there settle down! Maybe he could even rally them into helping to keep the Company in line!

    "Wait! Wait!" the young seabird cried. "But if you're Mengir's Protector, why are you here? Everyone misses you back there!"

    The Riolu and Eevee on the stage shifted uncomfortably at the question, before giving an expectant look over to their Nuzleaf teammate. The Grass-Type hemmed and hawed, only for Xerneas to step forward and clear his throat in reply.

    "I'm afraid I wouldn't know what you're talking about," the deer answered. "I've only known the islands that I've seen since my friends found my egg and took me along with them."

    "That's right! It was Charlie and Marilyn who found him!" the Nuzleaf piped. "Perhaps it was none other than the Voice of Life's presence that called them back to this world!"

    "But they look just like normal Pokémon!" a Marill complained, drawing a shake of the Riolu in response.

    "That's because we were transformed into Pokémon!"

    Puzzled murmurs floated among the crowd at the Fighting-Type's exclamation. It did seem a little overly convenient that a human would just turn into a Pokémon… but hadn't the old tales been riddled with similar stories in the past? Sensing the crowd's unease, the Eevee stepped up, eager nip the crowd's growing doubts in the bud.

    "Charlie's right! Even though we've already been started to be called back to this world, it still has a curse around it that keeps us from assuming our true forms!" the Normal-Type insisted. "Xerneas took note of how we were trapped in these bodies and offered to help us break this curse!"

    "But to do that, we're on a journey to try and restore the world to the way it was," the Nuzleaf said. "A grand adventure where the Voice of Life will beat back the decay and bring about an age of new gods and humans to help make things right…"

    Nida thought back to the tales mami would tell her when she was younger, how once the gods began awakening, the humans would begin to return as the world was restored to what it once was. Could it be that some humans would come alongside the Legendaries as they returned? The Nidoran's idle wonderings were disrupted by a stiff clearing of the Nuzleaf's throat.

    "Buuut… we need a little help with that," the Grass-Type said. "So what do you say? How about giving a little help to his lordship and us in our quest?"

    The Nuzleaf fished out a drawstring bag, and with a flourish set it down on the stage before Xerneas' feet. The crowd peered curiously, before a Darumaka came up and deposited a small pawful of copper coins, followed by a Magmortar, and even a flopping Goldeen that had hopped out of the water for the momentous occasion, as the crowd surged forward depositing coins enthusiastically. From his spot on the docks, Crom watched as the bag quickly filled with coins, the Druddigon giving a curious tug at his team leader's feathers.

    "Kiran, do we give something too?" the dragon asked. "I mean, this is a Protector…"

    The Swellow paused and moved a wing to his chin, mulling the matter over before casting a glance at the bag and then back at Xerneas and his companions.

    "Well… I don't suppose that it would hurt-"

    "No!"

    The crowd fell silent and turned around to the sight of a Marked Scyther shrinking back, holding out the tip of his blades defensively with a shaking stammer.

    "G-Go away and leave us be!" Ander cried. "You've already taken enough as is!"

    Xerneas and his teammates cringed at the outburst, as the crowd's silenced shock gave way to angry grumbles and shouts.

    "Ib dagchyeo! No one asked you for your opinion, blotch-head!" a Whimsicott hissed.

    "Yeah!" the Magmortar spat. "If you want attention so badly, why don't you bring your ugly mug to the front for some judgement!"

    A few Pokémon began to advance on Ander, prompting Nida and Crom to hastily run in, waving their arms for attention.

    "H-Hold on a minute! It was just an outburst!" Nida exclaimed. "He's not doing anything wrong!"

    "Yeah! Just let him get to know the Protector a bit more!" Crom insisted. "I'm sure that he'll see that Xerneas is a nice-"

    The young Druddigon was cut off by the sound of a panicked buzz, and turned to see Ander running away in a mad dash, flitting his wings to add a hasty spring to his step.

    "Huh?! Ander, wait!"

    Crom, Nida, and their teammates quickly ran after the fleeing mantis, following him down winding alleyways lined with cramped shops and shacks until they caught up with him under the shade of a black stone wall. The group slowed their gait, as the Growlithe among them shook his head with a disgusted snort.

    "What on earth was that?!" Elty snapped. "We were supposed to try and lay low before pulling out of port, not cause a giant scene!"

    "I- I- How can you be so calm around that thing?!" Ander buzzed. "You know nothing about its intentions or what it's capable of beyond a few paintings back at Mengir!"

    Guardia shot a disgusted frown, before pausing and blinking puzzledly at the Scyther's exclamation. A few paintings on Mengir? Like the ones they'd gone to the Beautifly's nest to try and get references of? But, when they had gone to that place…

    "Wait. The majū from that island said that their god was stolen as an egg," Guardia murmured. "Didn't Xerneas' companions say that they found him as an egg?"

    "They… did," Kiran murmured.

    A silence fell over the other members of Team Traveller. If this was truly Xerneas and the Company had stolen his egg, than why would that Nuzleaf make such a contradictory statement…? The group retraced their steps, making their way through the alleys and back into the square at the docks, where they watched as Pokémon drifted away.

    "Hrmph, fine damper that bug put on things," a Darumaka grumbled.

    "Well, the Protector said he'd go further into town to ask for more support with his human friends," a Marill offered. "Maybe we can still spot them today!"

    Team Traveller blinked at the mention of 'go further into town', prompting them to look up and off into the square. There in the center, the makeshift platform that Xerneas had pranced upon was being dismantled by some local shopkeepers, with no sign of the deer or the humans with him to be found nearby.

    "Ack! They're gone!" Pleo cried.

    "They couldn't have gotten that far so quickly, could they?" Dimitri said. "If we look around town, I'm sure we'll find them again."

    "Hrm… right," Kiran murmured. The Swellow looked around and thought to himself. The team would certainly cover more ground if they went their separate ways in search of Xerneas… but with both Lyn and Nagant on their tails, surely it was safest to remain in groups. There were eight 'mons between the lot of them right now, so then…

    "Let's split into two teams to cover more ground," he offered. "We'll both search different halves of town and meet up back at the Siglo Swellow."

    Nida folded her ears back and shifted uneasily, casting a sidelong glance at Crom. If they were splitting up again, there was one condition that she simply had to put her foot down about.

    "Well if we're splitting up, I'm going with Crom," Nida piped. "We've been separated for long enough to just split up now."

    "Oh! I wanna stay with Nida too, Kiran!" Pleo exclaimed.

    Ander shifted uneasily as Nida's forming group brushed by and his gaze to fell on Pleo. The Scyther paused and squirmed a moment at the thought of searching for one Legendary alongside another, prompting him to quietly backpedal towards Kirans side.

    "Er… I'll go with you, Kiran."

    "Huh? But someone's gotta look after the kids!" the Swellow insisted. "It would be wise to give them a stronger partner to lean on if they got into trouble…"

    "I'll handle that, Kiran," Dimitri offered. "If I could do it before underwater, doing it on land can't be that much harder."

    The Kabutops made his way over to Nida's team, leaving Elty to trade a look with Guardia as the two realized they hadn't yet been sorted into a team, and that Nida's had twice as many as Kiran's.

    "Looks like it's you and me on Kiran's team, bonehead."

    "Hrmph, move your legs and not your mouth, Gardie," Guardia growled back.

    "That should be good enough," Kiran piped. "Let's get going. We'll take the east side, you start on the west."

    The group traded nods with each other, Nida and her companions veering west off towards a set of lowland neighborhoods, Pleo looking behind as Kiran and his teammates went east for the town's main hilltop. As Kiran's group melted into the crowds of Magmapool Town, the young Protector couldn't help but wonder why in the middle of Xerneas' grand mission he'd never bothered to go back home to where he was most needed.




    Back on the Nektar Weide, the sun shined down on the docked ship, as Pokémon set about moving provisions onto the ship. Amidst the quiet drift of footsteps and chatter, Ellsberg sat behind a crude table on the ship's bridge, moving a charcoal nub as he drabbled out a letter updating the Board about their present circumstances after pulling into Buyeom… only to find himself at a loss again and again as to how to justify continuing Lyn's single-vessel mission.

    Given the situation that the Protector was in, it was only logical that the Board would want to expand the mission beyond just entrusting Lyn to recover the Protector… and yet his and Ketu's mission would only be harder and harder to complete as soon as other crews entered the mix. The moth sighed, moving the nub back down to the paper and sliding it, only for the sound of a loud chorus of blathering and chattering from the piers to prompt him to jerk it awry and see a messy scrawl under his tarsal.

    "Grr! Is it really so hard for Imperial peasants to keep quiet for a moment?!" Ellsberg hissed.

    The Mothim slid a stone onto the paper and left his nub beside it before flitting up to the railing. There, he could see a crowd of Pokémon from further down the docks disperse along the waterfront, its cohorts milling out into the piers as various Pokémon returned to their work. The Bug-Type looked down the docks and noticed a lack of taverns and eateries by the water, dashing his initial assumptions of the crowd coming in from a lunch break. The moth twitched his antennae puzzledly, wondering what could have compelled the locals to be so excited earlier, before the words of a passing Whimsicott and Spinda filtered up from down below.

    "Aww, things were just getting good!" the Whimsicott complained. "Why'd the show have to end so quickly?"

    "Eh, don't worry about it," the Spinda reassured. "We got to meet a Protector and actual humans! Even some party pooper like that Srak can't ruin an experience like that."

    Ellsberg shifted and felt his grip on the railing slacken, prompting him to hastily beat his wings to keep his balance. Surely he had misheard something, had that Spinda really claimed he'd seen…

    "… A Protector and… humans?!"

    Ellsberg blinked and fluttered in place wordlessly. Could the two Pokémon have been referring to Lugia? His companions passing themselves off as humans would be… unexpected given their behavior in past ports, but just what alternatives could there be? It wasn't as if there could be a second Protector here, or real living, breathing humans…

    Or considering all the strange things that had happened so far on Lyn's journey, could such a fantastical possibility be the truth?

    "Hah! That prize card's mine!"

    The Mothim's train of thought was jarred by the sound of a throaty cheer from back on deck, prompting him to notice a Krokorok and Grumpig playing cards on a pair of overturned buckets from the corner of his vision. The Bug-Type left the railing, and stormed over huffing, flitting up to the two before letting out a sharp, annoyed buzz.

    "Hey! What do you two think you're doing?!"

    The pair looked up in surprise, before giving a shrug of their shoulders and turning away to fix their attention back to their card game.

    "What's it look like?" the Grumpig scoffed. "We're taking a break."

    "You were ordered to do an afternoon swab of the deck!" Ellsberg yelled.

    "Yeah? Well the Captain isn't here right now and neither's his real first mate," the Krokorok retorted. "Last I checked they were the one who made us swab the deck and not you."

    "Get back to work, you lazy oafs!"

    Ellsberg's shout drew fierce glares from the truant sailors, prompting the Grumpig of the pair to hop over and stomp his feet against the deck's wood, leaning in with a belligerent scowl.

    "Yeah? Well what are you going to do about it, Elmer?" the Psychic-Type demanded.

    The Mothim seethed and readied a gust of silvery dust and scales in his wings, only to notice that the sailors all around him were shooting hostile glares. The Bug-Type shrank back uneasily, as smirks began spreading on a few of the sailors' faces, and jeering laughs came from others. Ellsberg flit his wings in place, quietly fluttering and looking down at the planks as a voice kept repeating in his head.

    "Kinda hard to work with a doormat who doesn't stand his ground."

    The Bug-Type's attention drifted a moment as he remembered Ketu's jeering words, before the sound of a mocking snort from the Grumpig reached his ears, who now shot a sneering grin down at the silenced moth.

    "Hah, I thought so!" Hooke jeered. "You really can't do anything without someone to hide behind-!"

    With that, the pig was launched back by a sudden Silver Wind, sending him pinwheeling into a mast with a startled squeal. With a hateful glare, Ellsberg dove and pursued after the Grumpig, only for the sound of running footsteps and a low snarl to draw his attention to Ken lunging from the side.

    "You lousy little turd! Let's see you deal with this!" the Krokorok roared.

    The Ground-Type leapt at the Mothim with his jaws opened wide, only for Ellsberg to fly up and leave his foe snapping at air. Ken yelped in surprise, looking up to see Ellsberg hovering over him before summarily flinging forth an overpowering buzz that churned the air up into a shockwave, sweeping up the crocodile with a pained scream and sending him sprawled out limply onto the deck. The moth hissed angrily, glaring daggers at the fallen reptile, only to notice a hexagonal glint of light from the corner of his eye and see Hooke readying a Power Gem with livid rage.

    "I'll send you crawling back to your hideous bag of a mother, you lousy paper-pusher!"

    The Power Gem shot out and struck Ellsberg, drawing a pained cry as he flopped out of the sky and to the deck with a crash. The Grumpig, satisfied with his work, bounded in readying a second blow to finish off the accursed paper-pusher, only to see the Mothim's eyes abruptly light up with a violet sheen and see him thrust his arm out.

    Creeeeak

    "Hey, what the-?!"

    A thud rang out as a nearby crate suddenly fell on the Grumpig's head, knocking him to the deck with a loud crash. The nearby sailors stood stunned, watching Hooke's legs weakly twitch from under the crate as a lingering silence hung in the air, broken only by the churn of the waves and the haggard pants of a Mothim pulling himself back up to his feet.

    "Don't just stand there!" Ellsberg snapped. "Get back to work!"

    The defiant, mocking attitude of the sailors quickly dissipated as the lot quickly hurried back to work, whether real or concocted on the spot so as to avoid trouble. The moth wheezed, limping over to a seat where he fetched a small Oran Berry and tore into it. As the lumps of fruit flesh slid down his throat, Ellsberg thought back to his last encounter with the pesky Grumpig and Krokorok, how he'd felt so alone and overwhelmed without knowing he'd had allies behind him. Why, after taking a stand, the others fell in line quicker than those lippy flunkies from Tromba did in his last visit! As loath as he was to admit it, perhaps heeding Ketu's words here had paid its dividends…

    The Mothim's musings were interrupted by the sound of water splashing and wet splatters hitting the deck, prompting him to look over and see Lyn pulling himself up a batch of netting that had been dangled over the side. The Samurott shook some seawater off his pelt, before noticing Ken and Hooke sprawled out on the deck with splintered wood lying around, casting a frowning glance at the pair before turning his attention over to Ellsberg and his perch.

    "Apologies about the deck," the Mothim sighed. "Those two you assigned to clean it won't be able to finish their tasks for a while."

    As soon as Ellsberg finished speaking, the sound of movements and groans rang out, which made the two look over and see Hooke uneasily groping to try and regain his footing with his head still lodged inside the crate.

    "Ungh… lousy bug! This isn't ov-"

    A low, dangerous growl filled the air, followed by the clack of chitinous blades being unsheathed. At once, the fight seemed to drain out of the winded Grumpig as a shiver went down his spine at the realization that he was far from alone, and had angered the worst possible member of the crew.

    "v-ver- Ergh…"

    Hooke slumped back over and relapsed into unconsciousness, leaving Lyn to sheathe his blades and size up the deck's condition with an annoyed shake of his head. Barring the seawater he'd tracked in and a damp spot by the Grumpig's legs, there was not a drop of water on the deck even though he'd ordered the two to swab it even before pulling into port. To top it off, its timbers now were flecked with fresh dents and scuffs from battle, prompting him to look over at Ellsberg and note that he appeared to be slightly battered.

    "Hrmph, I can see that. I'll deal with these two later, but where's Ketu?" the Samurott demanded. "I would've expected him to not let things get so out of hand."

    "He said that he needed a moment to go to the hot springs and left me to handle his duties," Ellsberg replied. "Not that I needed it."

    Lyn pinched his brow as he looked down towards the deck underfoot with an irritated groan. While it was hardly unexpected for his first mate to slip off for a moment of amusement onshore, he had hoped that after he'd ordered Ketu to enter the tournament in Tidemill, that the Weavile would've kept his newfound sense of gravity towards the mission longer than their arrival at the next port.

    "I can't imagine what would compel an Ice-Type to take a dip in warm water, but whatever," Lyn muttered. "As long as that schooner's been under watch and we've been ready to sail, everything that's needed has been accomplished. Besides, I've found some sites that could be useful for our ends-"

    "Hoy!"

    The pair turned and looked further down the deck, where they saw Maurier fluttering in and coming to a stop before them. The Fearow quickly gave a salute with a wing, before piping up.

    "Captain, during surveillance we overheard the locals talking about a party with a blue deer collecting money from the Pokémon in town," the Flying-Type reported. "The locals say the strange stag is a Protector called 'Xerneas' and that a pair of humans are among his companions!"

    Lyn blinked a moment, before turning his muzzle down into a frown and twitching his whiskers dubiously at Maurier's assertion. As improbable as their current mission had been, what were the odds that a second Protector would reveal itself now, let alone with multiple humans to boot? The Samurott turned, beginning to pace off for his cabin as he gave a dismissive wave back to the Fearow.

    "… That sounds improbable to say the least. We already know of one Protector here," Lyn harrumphed. "If he wouldn't want to attract attention to himself, why would another Protector want to do so?"

    "To be fair, I did hear some locals talking about a Protector and humans earlier," Ellsberg piped. "Even if it sounds hard to believe, doesn't it make sense to get to the bottom of what's going on, Lyn? These are strange times, and it wouldn't do any good to dismiss things out-of-hand."

    The Samurott stopped in his tracks, looking over at the form of the Siglo Swellow docked at the other end of the harbor, before looking back at the stone walls around Magmapool Town. The otter paused a moment, until he turned back and cast an expectant glance at Ellsberg.

    "… Keep an eye on that schooner and update me if anything happens to it," he ordered. "I'll go in and investigate a bit to see what's going on."

    Lyn shuffled off, making his way down the gangplank and slipping out into the bustle onshore. Back on deck, Ellsberg watched as Lyn disappeared into the crowd, before the moth made his way back to his table where he picked up his stone paperweight and took the charcoal nub back into his tarsi. The moth beat his digits against the nub a moment, before looking over and seeing Ken and Hooke still sprawled out on deck. The Bug-Type paused, before shuffling and grabbing a clipboard, attaching his letter to it and fluttering down, settling down atop the crate still attached to Hooke's head. There, the Mothim rested, giving a beat of his wings and turning his attention back to his letter as a satisfied smile crept over his face.

    "Now, where was I…?"




    Back in the corridors of Aleria's palace, the queen Altaria and her Archeops Chancellor made their way stone-faced down a hallway lined with portraits lit by sunlight poking in from windows in the ceiling. All the while, their passage was followed by a a series of thumps against the ground as Nagant followed from behind, coming to a stop in front of the doors leading to the royal chamber. The shrimp watched as Osborn moved a claw to a pull latch, twitching her barbels uncomfortably as the Chancellor pulled the door back.

    "Your Highness," the Clawitzer protested. "A matter this important to the Empire is just going to be handled between the three of us?"

    "No," Aleria answered. "Osborn sent for some others to come along, I know Walpole and Thalez will definitely be present as they're both potential Prime Ministers…"

    Osborn's mouth curled down into a frown at the mention of 'Thalez', prompting him to shake his head and mutter under his breath.

    "We can wait on them inside," the Archeops grumbled. "We'll start by going over what we know-"

    The Chancellor pulled the door open, letting Aleria and Nagant through where they discovered a Venusaur, Lucario, and Haxorus with red armbands in place of scarves, waiting inside impatiently much to their surprise. The Venusaur scowled, tapping a foot irritably against the ground.

    "All due respect, Your Highness, but where have you been?" the Grass-Type demanded. "I was scheduled for an audience three hours ago!"

    The Venusaur's frustration made Aleria shuffle uneasily for the throne, as both Osborn and Nagant followed after and trained unamused glares back at the armband-wearing party.

    "… Have you really not bothered to look out a window at all for the last three hours?" Nagant scoffed.

    A harsh crack split the air as the Venusaur shot out a whip-like vine and slammed the ground, baring his teeth as an indignant scowl settled over his eyes.

    "Well of course! Why do you think I asked for an audience in the first place?! The word is that Her Highness' Empire has been abandoned by an awakened Protector!" the Venusaur huffed. "As the Ambassador of Garanza, your ally, I need something to pass back to the Bureau about what's going on here-!"

    "And over here, we've got the best digs in all of Anyilla! Her Majesty's throne room!"

    The lot turned at the sound of the door creaking open at the end of the chamber, where a Rotom zipped in followed by a team consisting of a Gallade, a Blastoise and a Goodra. The interrupting strangers stared blankly for a moment, as Thalez pointed ahead at the throne, before blinking and looking back and forth uneasily.

    "Uh… did we walk in on something important?" the Rotom asked.

    Nagant hissed, twitching her barbels irritably as she pointed with her large claw at the three strangers in the room. Weren't these contestants from the tournament earlier…?

    "Why are they here?!"

    "We were supposed to have our audience with the Protector for winning the tournament," the Goodra growled.

    "Yeah, but that's obviously not happening," the Blastoise harrumphed. "So we were promised to get an audience with the Queen instead."

    The turtle's comment drew an irritated squawk from the Archeops Chancellor, as he glared and extended out a claw at the Water-Type.

    "That's a privilege for Her Majesty to bestow!" Osborn snapped. "Not some random performer!"

    "But Osborn, I told Thalez to bring them here!" Aleria insisted, much to the Archeops' spluttering dismay.

    "Your Majesty, this is a moment of Imperial crisis!" he cried. "We don't have time for such nonsense right now!"

    The bird's squawks of protest prompted the Gallade to fold his arms over each other, before giving a harrumphing shake of his head.

    "Yeah, yeah, we get the point. I was saying it was a bad deal myself, coming from the 'mons who drove away our prize," the Gallade grumbled. "Especially since we couldn't even get a private audience! Come on guys, let's get out of here."

    One after the other, the members of Team Surveyor drifted out the door, leaving the room to fall back into an awkward silence. The Venusaur raised a brow, before shaking his head and shooting a scowl back at Osborn.

    "… I see that you obviously have a lot going on," the Ambassador harrumphed. "But as for that explanation-"

    "It can wait another time," the Archeops interrupted. "Please leave Her Highness' quarters at once."

    "But you can't just-"

    "Guards!"

    At the Chancellor's shout, a small band of Pokémon in indigo hurried over, ringing the three Pokémon. The Venusaur spluttered in protest, as the guards brusquely shoved him and his two bodyguards off for the door from behind, prompting him to wheel his head back and shout back for Aleria's throne.

    "Gah! This insult will not be the end of things!" the Venusaur fumed. "This conduct towards a diplomat coming from an ally will be reported to the Bureau!"

    WHAM!

    Aleria watched wordlessly and moved a wing over her face after the guards slammed the chamber door behind them. With everything that had happened over the past day, having to sort out a diplomatic incident with one of the Empire's only allies was about the last thing she needed to think about. But despite that, strained alliances would mean precious little if the crisis that the fleeing Protector had thrown the Empire into wasn't resolved! But…

    "… Where do we even start?" Aleria murmured.

    "This would be easier were we not missing a major figure from the court," Osborn sighed. "To say less of the chaos that any inquiry into how far Coil's conspiracy extended will inevitably dredge up…"

    "I knew that the Admiralty had a mole since that escort mission to Buyeom two years ago, but I never imagined that the mole would be someone as esteemed as Admiral Coil…" Nagant muttered. "What is going to happen to him anyways?"

    "He's been implicated in treason against Her Highness' realm and will be rewarded as a traitor deserves," the Archeops harrumphed. "I doubt the Cradle will pine for his absence much."

    "Really, I'm surprised that Her Highness didn't decide to make more of a show out of it!" Thalez crackled.

    Aleria hung her head, her wings and feelers drooping and serving to quickly silence the Archeops and Rotom. Evidently, even with everything that had happened, the Flying-Type still couldn't fully reconcile how the guardian of her family had been undermining her realm all this time…

    "But then what can we do?" Aleria asked. "Coil was always so reliable for taking daring missions such as these."

    "We don't have the time to dwell on that, Your Highness," Nagant insisted. "The same Company crew that was searching for the Protector in the first place was there at the tournament and attempted to snatch the Protector during those ruffians' escape."

    Thalez threw out his arms and let a blue jolt of electricity escape his body, his eyes widened in stunned surprised.

    "Bzzt?! There was a team of Company spies in the tournament?!" the Rotom crackled. "Who?!"

    "I believe they called themselves 'Team Blue Sun'," the shrimp replied. "They went around in white scarves with a blue sun design, and I saw Commissioner Lyn in the same attire when I fought him."

    "I'll pass word onto the other islands about their pattern, and of those kidnappers as well," Osborn said. "But for now, focus on what you can do to get the Protector back. Whatever you need, whatever means it takes, Her Majesty and I will support it wholeheartedly if it means returning with the Protector."

    "Da, Chancellor," Nagant remarked, giving an impatient twitch of her barbels. "But just how are we supposed to accomplish that?"

    Creeeeeak

    "Uh… hi?"

    The Queen and her audience turned to the throne room's entrance and saw Cabot, Berecien, and Niilo warily peeking past the the door. The Cranidos in their ranks gave an uneasy wave, before a Kecleon sporting a red cravat walked in, prompting the three to follow as he made his way to Aleria and gave a humble bow.

    "Apologies for my tardiness, Your Highness," Walpole said. "It took me a while to track down your tutors in the midst of the unrest outside the Citadel."

    "Hrmph, I suppose there's nothing that can be done about that," Osborn said. "Though I wish things could have moved along quicker. Those three tutors may hold the key for the Empire to recover the Protector, so the sooner they can help us piece things together the better."

    Nagant blinked and clicked her claws out of surprise. Cabot and his friends had a history of proving full of surprises, but surely being 'key' to recovering a Protector was aggressively overselling things…

    "… I'm not sure if I follow, Chancellor," Nagant said. "How are a few of my subordinates supposed help us recover the Protector?"

    "Because, they spent the most time with him," the Archeops answered. "As such, they'd be the most likely to know where he would've sought to flee to."

    Osborn turned and stared insistently at the three sailors, prompting them to fidget and squirm uncomfortably a moment before Niilo leaned over towards his companions.

    "Uh… are we getting paid more for this?" the Sandslash whispered. "Since I honestly don't know what sort of lead that bird could've given us."

    Berecien shot a sharp frown at his sellclaw teammate's preoccupation with pay at a time like this. Even so, as crudely as he'd gotten his point across, there wasn't much he could say against it.

    "Admittedly, Niilo is in the right here… for once," the Ponyta sighed. "The Protector was homesick for much of the time we were together, but he didn't really say anything about what his and those Trombans' original plans were."

    "Maybe… he went back to his home."

    All eyes settled on Cabot, making the Cranidos shift uneasily a moment as the Queen craned her head down, giving a puzzled tilt.

    "Huh? What do you mean, Cranidos?" Aleria asked.

    "Well, Pleo did seem to talk a bit about Tromba and how he missed it," Cabot murmured. "Wouldn't it make sense that once he had the chance, that he'd try and go back to it?"

    The Altaria paused, raising a cloudy wing up to her beak in thought. Of course! If both kings and peasants were prone to feel attachment to their hatching spots, wouldn't a Protector feel similar impulses as well?

    "It does seem to make sense," the Queen mulled. "So then… we should be trying to find him on the ways that he'd take back to Tromba."

    "Sounds like this is where you would come in, Captain Nagant," Osborn added. "You'll be the tip of the spear for the interception mission."

    Nagant raised her voice in protest, tripping up over one word after another. 'Interception mission'?! Meaning she was supposed to try and beat the Protector back to Tromba without a single hint about his course?!

    "H-How am I supposed to search every possible route those buyany could have taken on my own?!" she demanded.

    "You're not."

    The gathered Pokémon looked up at the sound of wind rushing through the doors and watched as a Salamence flew in, coming to a trotting stop and brimming with determined confidence. Osborn gave a passing glance at the dragon, before ruffling his plumage and turning his attention back to the Clawitzer Captain.

    "Ah yes, I forgot to mention. Given the sensitive nature of this mission, I requested Commodore Valan to help you cover ground," Osborn explained. "That way searching will not be a matter of choosing one direction or another."

    The Salamence drew near beside Nagant, batting his wings and kicking up a small gust in the Clawitzer's face as he addressed the waiting Queen and Chancellor.

    "Hmph, with how long we've known each other, I certainly wasn't expecting Coil of all Pokémon to be working against Her Majesty, but I think that I should manage just fine with Captain Nugget here," the dragon said. "I may be of younger stock than her, but I'm sure that she'll find that I've learned a few tricks since climbing the ladder that will be useful to her as a subordinate."

    Nagant bristled her barbels and hardened her gaze into a harsh glare back at the Salamence. She'd heard that Commodore Valan could be hard to work with, but Travellers above, the last time she'd been treated this disrespectfully, she'd promptly laid into the offender with a Water Pulse! Alas, the dragon was her superior, and before Her Highness, all that could be done for now was to sit and bear with the arrogant whelp's behavior.

    "I'm… sure they'll be something to see, yes," she growled.

    "Then we have no time to lose! From what I've heard, the Company's already searching for him in our waters!" Valan cried. "Let's hit the seas now and start pursuing those smugglers to get our Protector back!"

    Osborn motioned with a wing for a stop at the Salamence's reply, before raising his voice to address the Commodore.

    "That's something that you and Captain Nagant will need to coordinate between the two of you," he insisted. "Her new vessel hasn't been fully provisioned yet."

    The Commodore frowned back a moment, leaving Nagant to grumble under her breath, only to catch herself and twitch her barbels as she realized something strange with Chancellor Osborn's order.

    "… My new vessel?"

    "Well, I'm sure you're aware that Admiral Coil had his own ship in the navy," Walpole began, only for Thalez to cut in with a buzz.

    "He's not going to be using it again anytime soon, so…"




    Nida and her companions carried on into the flatlands of Magmapool Town, hugging the contours of the town's black walls. The four fruitlessly flagged down one Pokémon after another for any sign of Xerneas, only to find that while word had filtered out, none of the Pokémon had seen the blue deer yet. After a failed attempt questioning a Magcargo guard, the four trudged along, rounding the corner as they made their way into a market lined with noisy stalls. Nida and Crom led the way, carrying on deeper where they noted one stall riddled with colorful glassware set out for display, and then another further along by a tailor's shop, and yet another that had been set up near a busy-sounding tavern.

    "Strange that there'd be so many Pokémon selling glass all in one place," Nida said. "Aren't they worried at all about a drunk accidentally breaking their stuff?"

    "Well, maybe they're all together here because it's safer," Crom suggested. "And with all the Fire-Types around, there'd bound to be more glassblowers anyways."

    "Ahem."

    Nida and Crom blinked and looked to the side where they saw a stern-faced Furret scowling at them, gesturing over at their Lugia teammate over by a display of mirrors of various sizes. There, the seabird was poking his tongue out and making faces in them, giggling amusedly at their distorted appearances. The pair gave sheepish smiles back to the Furret, watching as Dimitri quietly sidled over to Pleo to tap his shoulder, prompting him to turn and hurry back to the rest of the group.

    "Oh? Aren't you also going to look at the glass?" Pleo asked. "I thought that all markets basically did the same thing as each other, but this one feels a bit different!"

    "I mean, wouldn't that be expected?" Nida replied. "Not every island is the same, so why should every market be?"

    "I suppose… but why are they different in the first place?" the Lugia wondered. "Aren't markets places you get things like food and drinks from? Or scarves from a tailor? They had that back in Bluewhorl…"

    "Well, yes…" the Nidoran began. "But different markets usually have different things they specialize in. For instance back home around el Año Nuevo, the market in town sells…"

    Nida trailed off as the sound of sharp sniffs pricked her ears, prompting her to look up. There, Crom had stopped, sniffing at the air and moving his claw over his brow, seemingly searching for something.

    "Eh?" Dimitri asked. "Did you notice something, Crom?"

    The Druddigon failed to reply, who instead wandered off towards a corner shop with a yellow awning and windows of colored decorative glass on its second level. Nida hopped along, clambering up Crom's back sniffing at the air above, where the familiar scent of baked flour reached her nostrils.

    "That's bread!" Nida cried. "And it smells fresh too!"

    The pair continued on, Pleo and Dimitri following them out to the corner shop where they found a bakery built into a small shopfront. There behind a counter, a Delphox churned up fire along a wooden wand, throwing it at the base of an oven that smelled of bread, with the displays lined with loaves and a small assortment of donuts. The group glanced over the shop's wares, Crom's attention drifting from one clump of baked goods to another, until his eyes settled on a small platter of loaves shaped after its proprietor's head in the corner.

    "Oh! They make bread shaped like Pokémon just like my mom does!" the Druddigon exclaimed.

    Crom trailed off, staring down at the Delphox-shaped loaves as his expression dimmed and his wings drooped, a wistful look coming over his eyes.

    "Something the matter, Crom?" Dimitri asked.

    "It's just… it's been a while since I last saw her," the dragon murmured. "Do you think we're worrying everyone back home by being away for this long?"

    "But isn't that why we're going to Pioppo?" Pleo insisted. "To get that book thing so that way we can see everyone again and let them know we're all okay?"

    "Yeah, it can't possibly take us long to get back," Nida added. "Anyilla may be big, but Beatrix didn't make it feel like it was that big. We'll be sharing bread from your mom's bakery before you know it!"

    Crom lifted his head, his eyes brightening as he gave a small wag of his tail back.

    "I… I guess when you put it that way…"

    "Just take in the town while you can," the Nidoran reassured. "The sooner we find Xerneas and find out what's going on with him, the sooner we can go to Pioppo to get that ledger and go ho-"

    Nida abruptly trailed of as she spotted a Vaporeon walking by in the background in a red scarf with a white pattern depicting an opened book with a horizontally divided circle on it. She turned her head and followed, recognizing the design to be familiar… but from where?

    "Nida? What's the matter?" Crom asked.

    "Yeah," Dimitri added. "You're awfully quiet all of a sudden."

    "It's that Vaporeon's scarf…" Nida answered back. "I've seen it somewhere before, but I can't place it."

    The Vaporeon carried on, flicking his ears uncomfortably at the sound of chatter before looking back and noticing Team Traveller staring. The Water-Type shifted a moment, before shaking his head and approaching the party, raising a paw curiously.

    "Hé daar, have any of you seen a group of Pokémon in red scarves like mine?" the Vaporeon asked. "I'm supposed to meet up with a group of teammates around here."

    Nida, Crom, Pleo, and Dimitri traded puzzled looks with one another. Pokémon in red scarves like his? Although the design looked vaguely familiar to Nida, she'd never seen this Vaporeon before in their life! It wouldn't be as if she'd run into his teammates before… would it?

    "We haven't, sorry," Dimitri answered. The Kabutops' answer drew a disappointed sigh back from the Water-Type, who grumbled under his breath with a shake of his head.

    "When I said I'd stay behind to help with some unfinished field work, I didn't expect the others to be gone for this long," the water fox muttered. "Why, I wound up studying a strange Pokémon that was completely unrelated while I was waiting on them!"

    "A strange Pokémon?" Pleo asked. "What was so strange about it?"

    "It wouldn't have happened to be a blue deer, would it?" Nida pressed, prompting the Vaporeon to raise an ear puzzledly back in response.

    "Blue deer? No, it was a small, green snake of some sort. I found him traveling with a Gliscor, a Talonflame, and a Sneasel," he explained. "At first when I saw him, I thought he was some variation of Dunsparce, but none of the field notes I had seemed to match up. I was actually thinking of going back to the fringes further west to try and find him again since that's where I last ran into them, but…"

    The Vaporeon trailed off, as he spotted Pleo sticking his beak under a wing to preen at his feather. The Water-Type's eyes lit up and his tail wagged excitedly a moment, before turning back curiously to the Nidoran.

    "Though since you're here… perhaps I should introduce myself! The name's Opdahl and I go around helping to document Pokémon and the way they live. That's why I couldn't help but notice your friend," the Water-Type said. "I think I might have seen a Pokémon like him in a book before and I was wondering if he'd let me ask a few questions."

    Nida shifted uncomfortably, thinking back to the earlier encounter with Team Sentinel. She already felt uneasy when they questioned the team about Pleo earlier, and with him already being revealed in Tidemill, in all likelihood someone on this island had already heard of him… and the more he was talked about, the more likely it was that such a Pokémon would discover that none other than the same Protector was in their midst! With Nagant and Lyn both after them, it was perhaps for the best to err on the side of silence, including to this stranger.

    "We're a bit busy right now," Nida piped back. "Maybe another time?"

    "Aw… I suppose it can't be helped," the Vaporeon murmured. "Good luck with your errand, though!"

    The Water-Type turned and carried on down the lane, quickly slipping from view as a cart drawn by a Meganium passed by, prompting Nida and her companions to hastily move along and breathe a sigh of relief once the stranger departed.

    "… Where do we go now?" Pleo questioned. "That Pokémon didn't know the first thing about where Xerneas went!"

    "I dunno, he did seem insistent it was a 'strange' Pokémon," Crom insisted. "Could the two really be unrelated to each other?"

    "There's only one way to find out," Dimitri replied. "Let's stop by the fringes and see if we can find that Pokémon. We haven't found any sign of Xerneas so far, and maybe by doing this we'll find him along the way."

    "Alright, but let's try and hurry it up," Nida said.

    "Huh?" Pleo asked. "But why would we need to hurry?"

    "I'm worried that the Pokémon here are finding out more about us than we'd like."

    A quiet silence fell over the group as Nida's words sank in with an uncomfortable realization. If the way things had gone on Tidemill was anything to go by, time really wasn't on their side. The youngsters of the group looked around anxiously, set on edge by the thought, prompting Dimitri to nod his head with a sigh.

    "Right, then let's make the most of the time we have."

    The group set off, making their way towards the fringes. That was right, they still had time to work with before Beatrix would be ready to sail on. So then, for now at least, it made sense to make the most of the temporary calm and try to get to the bottom of this strange Pokémon lurking around, and see if he could help at all with their hunt for Xerneas.




    (Continued in the next post)
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  10. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    While Pleo and his friends made their way towards Magmapool's fringes, Kiran and his teammates spent the bulk of their time searching around the town's central hilltop. There, the four scoured the streets and alleys for any sign of Xerneas and his companions, though failed to encounter anything they hadn't already seen in their prior visit…

    Fwoooosh!

    … with the marked exception of a troupe of an Infernape, a Monferno, and a Chimchar who gave an impromptu show of their firebreathing prowess in front of a small row of Juice Bars near the hill's summit. The monkeys' performance drew impressed cheers from a small crowd of observing Pokémon, with Elty among their number wagging his tail excitedly at the show from beside Kiran as Guardia and Ander stared at him puzzledly from behind.

    "Heh, looks like backtracking to this part of town was totally worth it!" Elty piped.

    "How so?" Guardia asked. "Aren't you already a fire-breather?"

    "Well, there's something to be said about the form…" Kiran murmured, before turning his attention back to his Growlithe pupil. "Though surely you've already seen your share of islands before, haven't you? You've never seen anything like this before?"

    "Well yeah, but the places I saw were usually on fire and had attacks zipping around," the dog answered. "Kinda hard to catch a show that way."

    The Growlithe's reply made Kiran frown and furrow his brow distastefully, Ander giving a roll of his eyes at Elty's… most particular reasons for having not been able to see the islands he'd been to in the past.

    "I suppose we certainly can't argue that point," Ander grumbled. Kiran ruffled his feathers nonplussedly, prompting him to shake his head as he reminded himself of just how far his new charge had come.

    "Thankfully you've since come to your senses and decided to leave your life of crime behind to enjoy a more respectful life…" the bird sighed.

    "Eh? What makes you say I did?"

    A pregnant silence fell over the group as Guardia, Ander, and Kiran stared at their Growlithe companion. Aware of the overly keen attention placed on him, Elty shuffled his paws before raising his voice to speak up.

    "I mean, I am on Community Service right now," the Puppy Pokémon insisted. "I didn't choose to leave the Iron Fleet to be with you guys."

    "Weren't you the one who tricked the Bossgodora though?" Guardia retorted. "If you really wanted to be a sea-walker again, why would you go through all that trouble?"

    The Growlithe blinked and paused a moment, pulling his ears back and fidgeting as his voice came out in a flustered hem and haw.

    "Er… I… uh… well…"

    The Puppy Pokémon shrank back uneasily, taking a few faltering steps backwards along with the crowd. Ever since Tidemill, Elty had decided that he wanted to be there for Team Traveller to get that ledger to hold back the Company and Empire… but hadn't thought of what would come afterwards. He'd just assumed that things would fade out and that with their future secured, there wouldn't be much for him other than to drift back to his old role out at sea. The freedom of a pirate's life still tugged at him, so why did he now have doubts about seizing it when his temporary companions wouldn't be caught up in the process?

    Elty zoned out a moment, only to notice a blue shape in the crowd down the street behind them. The Growlithe paused and felt his blood run cold as he noticed the shape was a Samurott checking around the nearby buildings, with the exact same features of none other than…

    "A-Aah! Psiakrew! That's Lyn!" he yelped. Guardia, Kiran, and Ander froze at the Growlithe's cry, whirling around to see Lyn perk his head up, before hurriedly huddling together and speaking in low voices.

    "Wh-Why's he here?!" Guardia demanded.

    "Quick!" Kiran whispered. "Find some cover!"

    The four hurried along, brushing past passing Pokémon who grumbled and complained about their erratic flight. Ander looked behind him and spotted Lyn turning his attention towards the Pokemon they brushed aside and pick up his pace.The Scyther hurriedly pushed his teammates along into an alleyway where the lot broke into an open sprint, weaving between doorstops and clutter as they charged down the lane.

    "Where are we supposed to go?!" Ander cried. "If Lyn spots us, we don't have anywhere we could turn to hide!"

    Kiran bobbed his head over the eaves of the surrounding rooftops, only for the guild complex to catch his eye in the distance. Realizing that their safety lied in numbers, the Flying-Type's eyes lit up, as he cried out to his teammates.

    "Oh yes we do. Come on!"

    The Swellow led the way, leading his teammates in a mad dash through the gates of the guild where they came upon a wide courtyard surrounded by covered hallways built in the shadow of a wide, short pagoda. The four looked around, spotting teams milling about when they caught the sight of a Kommo-o's head crest at the far left end, where they saw Team Sentinel waving off a Dhelmise that drifted off in high spirits. The lot exhaled in relief, hurrying over to Sorge and his teammates as they waved for attention.

    "Oh thank goodness, it's you again!" Kiran said. From their places, Team Sentinel traded looks with one another, before Sorge stepped forward with a puzzled raise of his brow.

    "Hm? Team Traveller, right? Or at least half of you," the Kommo-o murmured. "Is something the matter?"

    "There's an emergency here in the town!" the Swellow squawked. "You must inform the rest of the guild about it at once!"

    "An emergency?" Aldrich pressed. "What's going on?"

    "There's a Samurott going around town stirring up trouble!" Elty yipped.

    "What is he?" Sorge demanded. "An outlaw? A pirate?"

    "He's a Company spy! He's right in the middle of the street just down the hill!" Ander exclaimed, pointing off for the gates with a scythe.

    The Scyther waited to hear some response, only to be met with silence. The Bug-Type turned back, seeing the three members of Team Sentinel shifting idly with increasingly skeptical frowns settling over their faces, seemingly unconvinced about the notion of there really being a spy just around the corner.

    "Uh… are you sure? It'd have to be a pretty bad spy if any Rescue Team could just recognize him," Zelle replied.

    "We've seen him before," Guardia insisted. "He's caused trouble for us no matter where he's been!"

    The Cubone was answered with a clattering rattle as Sorge batted his scaly tail back and forth, who looked down at the young Ground-Type with a small, reassuring smile.

    "Look, if that 'mon's really a spy, he's not going to be causing any trouble here in town," the Kommo-o said. "Or at least nothing that would catch anyone's eye."

    "Huh? What makes you so sure?" Ander wondered.

    "Well, this is the second-most fortified settlement in the Empire after Tidemill City," the dragon explained. "Would you want to cause a scene here in broad daylight when you can set up an ambush right outside of town?"

    Kiran and his teammates fell silent and traded looks with one another. Lyn was a reckless 'mon, but after everything that they'd been through in Tidemill… would he really want to push his luck again so soon?

    "Well… no…" Elty admitted.

    "Then you've got nothing to worry about while you're in here," Aldrich insisted.

    "We'll pass things on to the guards and try to make sure that Samurott doesn't slip off," Sorge added. "In the interim, just keep your distance and don't stir up any trouble."

    "I… suppose that's fair enough," Guardia murmured. "Though with him prowling around, what'll happen to that Protector and those humans we saw earlier?"

    The Cubone's words visibly made Team Sentinel's members shift as they fell silent. Sorge and Aldrich paced forward, as Zelle shot a piercing look forward at the group.

    "… Protector and humans?" Zelle asked.

    The four fell quiet as Ander shifted uneasily, tapping his scythes together before finally speaking up in response.

    "Xerneas came into town and seemed to be making a show of himself with a pair of Pokémon who claimed to be transformed humans…" he murmured. "These three wanted to seek them out, but we haven't had any luck so far."

    A noticeable, awkward hesitance fell over Team Sentinel after the Scyther's response, Aldrich giving a bat of his tail before offering up a reply.

    "Well, I don't know about any such Pokémon passing by here…" he began. "But if they're looking for attention, maybe try the plaza near the southern gate. It's a popular gathering spot around these parts."

    The four breathed a sigh of relief, their spirits lifting as the threat of Lyn pursuing them ebbed away. Now that they'd finally found a lead for Xerneas, they could at least ensure they weren't wandering around town mindlessly searching the wrong places.

    "Thank you," Kiran replied. "We'll be sure to check."

    Kiran and his teammates shuffled off, Team Sentinel giving a friendly wave as the four slipped off into the crowd. After losing sight of the blue-scarved team, the three's demeanor instantly took a more serious turn, their cheerful smiles being replaced with suspicious scowls.

    "Sorge, I wasn't aware we had company around these parts," Aldrich said. "But if it's really a Samurott, I doubt that could be a coincidence…"

    The Kommo-o paused a moment, giving a shake of his head before casting a dangerous look out down the street where Kiran and the others had headed off.

    "We can check it out later," the Dragon-Type answered. "First, let's see what's going on with this 'Protector' and these 'humans' those four found."




    From the fifth floor of the Company's Head Office in Vollezee, Farn sat at a desk with a view of a square outside the window, anchored by a fountain built around a Manaphy statue. Inside, the clicking of a set of metal balls on wire served to bring a small sliver of her home environs to her office in the capital. The Luxray moved her paw over a sheet of paper, leaving black runes behind on it with a charcoal writing pad before setting it aside, dipping a paw into a pad of black ink, and stamping the bottom.

    The lion drew her paw back, wiping it clean as she slid a candle under a small basin of wax. The Electric-Type set about folding up the letter, and slid it into an envelope as the door creaked and a Togedemaru entered warily, prompting Farn to look up for a moment, before turning back the basin and its now molten wax. The Luxray poured a small glob onto the cover of the envelope, taking a metal seal and stamping a set of Administrator's Squares overlaid by a thunderbolt into it, before sliding it across her desk to the waiting Togedemaru.

    "Have this sent over to Parcel Processing and have it sent to Commissioner Marsden's post in Mossaisle," Farn ordered. "It's top priority."

    "Yes, Administrator," the Togedemaru answered.

    The notary hurried down the hall, passing the letter onto a blue Meowstic, who went down the stairwell and gave it to a Garbodor in an office below. The letter continued bouncing along from paw to paw under the note that it was for "Commissioner Marsden, top priority" carrying along to Skiploom, a Lilligant, until it finally reached a Purugly in the office's underlevels where a space dimly lit by basement windows had been set aside as a mail room. The Normal-Type unceremoniously threw the letter through a mail slot in a ratty door, before a rumbling of the creature's stomach prompted her to get up and drift out the room for a meal.

    On the other side of the mail slot, the letter sat on the floor of a cramped room, where a large shadow with a pair of antennae and small wings fell over it. A Dragonite's claw scooped it up, its owner returning with the letter to a desk fashioned from a beaten crate, where he brought it up to the glow of a moss lantern and peered down at Farn's seal.

    "Hrmph, let's see what we're dealing with here."

    Darzin lifted the letter up, carefully breathing an ember of fire onto the wax before wedging a claw under one end. The dragon carefully peeled it up, emptying out its contents to see a letter crammed with freshly inked runes. The Dragonite's eyes bobbed back and forth, reading the paper's lines, before reaching the end with a harsh scowl.

    With Commissioner Marsden as Farn's chosen emissary to Tromba, there was little hope of simply exploiting mistakes or ineptitude to snatch Lugia out from under him to trade with the Empire. All that remained would be to somehow transfer the assignment onto a more controllable Commissioner, and to do it somehow without making the Board all the wiser. Darzin looked over the letter again trying to piece together how he would even begin to make a forgery, only to pause and realize its author had made a serious oversight. Unlike the envelope, the letterhead merely sported the design of Administrators' Squares without the thunderbolt marking of Farn's personal letterhead, prompting a devious smirk to spread over his face.

    "Tch, she's getting too lazy at writing these."

    The Administrator set the letter onto his desk, grabbing a sheet of matching paper and a charcoal nub along with a trio of paper files from a dingy cupboard in the back. Darzin slid a sheet of paper over it, carefully tracing runes over while dutifully omitting the ones addressing Commissioner Marsden and replacing the names of the Board members Marsden was to relay news to with his own. Eventually, the Dragonite reached the end of the letter while transcribing, leaving him to carefully paint in a cover of Farn's footprint and leave his forgery out to dry as he turned his attention to the files.

    "Hrm… who to pick?"

    The Dragonite fanned out the files, revealing them to be personnel files for a Breloom, an Aegislash, and a Charizard,… along with some evidence of past indiscretions that could suitably blackmail them.

    On the left was Commissioner Konrad, who'd had developed a taste for Lansat syrup after poking about Andaku closer than he should've some years ago. The Dragonite mulled the Breloom over, realizing his weakness against Flying-Types would bring certain failure to any attempt to stop the Protector in Tromba… but in spite of his taste for contraband, the Breloom had always been a staunch partisan for the Company, and with him developing his addiction on Farn's island of all places, was it really safe to assume that Konrad wouldn't just approach her about attempted blackmail?

    Darzin frowned, and shook his head, before turning his attention to the center file, for Commissioner Seax. As one of the few Marked Commissioners within the Company, the Aegislash had… obvious handicaps to her ability to remain calm and collected were the Protector to appear, and with the 'mon engaged in taking bribes from smugglers, she wouldn't have the luxury of a potentially forgiving member of the Board to turn to. But then again… as both a Steel and a Ghost-Type with years of experience in battle, would it be safe to assume that fear would get the best of Seax to the point where she would lose to a fledgling Lugia?

    Even with the Protector having spurts of strength every now and then, it felt like far too much of a gamble. Darzin harrumphed, before turning his attention to the last file, for Commissioner Bunsen, who from what he'd gathered from the harbormaster's latest batch of records, should've pulled into port just past noon. Like Seax, he was a fellow Marked, and had been flouting Company law by quietly violating the Settlement Protocol that employees of a Third-Rank and higher were to adhere to. In his earlier years, Bunsen had apparently accumulated scattered notes from his superiors of being particularly yellow-bellied. Although his belly was now a shade of cream and he'd since grown stronger, if he was still the ingratiating tail-kisser he'd remembered him to be towards Administrators at past Company gatherings, just how much resistance could be expected from him towards one of his much-feared "demons"?

    "Commissioner Bunsen. He's the one for this mission."

    Darzin moved his charcoal nub, carefully piecing together Bunsen's name through copying pieces of other runes done in Farn's handwriting before folding the letter up and slipping it back into the envelope. The Dragonite carefully reheated the wax seal and pressed it shut, before breathing out a small burst of fire that swallowed up the original letter and reduced it to ash. Satisfied with his work, Darzin threw the tampered letter into his satchel before lumbering up for the door. The Administrator made his way up the corridors of the office, passing a few guards who shot dismissive scowls before he reached a balcony on the third floor, where he leapt up and took to the air headed west.

    Darzin's flight took him over gabled rooftops of tall, spindly houses, crammed canal-streets where swimming Pokémon and crude watercraft jostled for space, and over a square where a sprawling market had been set out. The Dragonite continued for the sea, where a complex of docks filled with ships bearing lavender sails came into view. Darzin carried on, glancing from one pier to the next until his eyes caught the sight of a Charizard resting near a galleon, glaring over at an agitated looking Ursaring and Frogadier as they accosted an unmoved Munna.

    "Two weeks. Two weeks!" the Ursaring fumed. "Do you know how much scum those lousy bugs made us scrape off while we were waiting on you lousy paper pushers to bail us out?!"

    "Where's Commissioner Lyn?" the Frogadier huffed. "We're going back to our posts and making sure that he hears about this!"

    The Munna rolled her eyes before looking down at a paper on a clipboard held aloft in the air. The creature's eyes darted back and forth as she scanned it, before turning back to the pair.

    "Uh… according to this, you two were both taken off the roster after you got caught as 'combat losses'. So… yeah, good luck with that," the Munna said, as the Company grunts' jaws flopped open in shock.

    "What?!"

    The pair flew into a storm of protest, loudly whining to the Munna as Bunsen tapped a nearby crate with his claws, shaking his head with an unimpressed snort

    "Pah, what a bunch of ingrates!" the Charizard growled. "Next time I'll let that Lyn handle his own diplomatic missions!"

    "Commissioner Bunsen!"

    The Fire-Type heard the woosh of an approaching flier, prompting him to turn his gaze up just in time to see a Dragonite in an Administrator's scarf swoop down and come to a stop before him. The Charizard jumped back a moment, taken aback at the drake's sudden appearance.

    "Darzi- Er… Administrator Darzin?" Bunsen asked. "What's the occasion?"

    "I have a mission for you," the Dragonite answered. "Top priority."

    "… Wait, Administrator Darzin still hands out missions?" a nearby Roserade asked. "I thought he lost that when he- Agh!"

    The Grass-Type was cut off by Darzin sidestepping and shoving her aside with his hip, sending the Roserade pitching off the dock and into the harbor's water. The Dragonite glared back at the bubbling patch of water with a low growl, before turning back to Bunsen with a stern scowl.

    "Administrator Farn asked me to forward it to you," he harrumphed. "We'll discuss the details someplace quieter."

    A flash of unease came across Bunsen's face, before the Charizard shook his head and warily replied to his Dragonite superior.

    "Alright…? I suppose that I've got a moment or two."

    Darzin marched along, leading Bunsen past the harbor's teeming piers and stacks of barrels and crates until he reached a warehouse with an office door left ajar. The Dragonite clambered up, pulling the door open to let Bunsen in before following his guest inside. The pair made their way to opposite sides of a cluttered table in the center, which Darzin cleared and set pair of stump-seats around, opting to sit nearer to the door. On the other end, Bunsen looked about anxiously and pulled his wings in tight, appearing unnaturally cagey from the summons. The Charizard, realizing that Darzin was watching him intently, hastily threw his wings out and shook his head before growling back with hastily-summoned impatience and irritation.

    "I was under the impression that I was getting time for some shore leave," the Fire-Type huffed. "So what's this about me suddenly getting a mission out of the blue?"

    "Something's come up," Darzin answered. "Administrator Farn's summons will explain."

    Bunsen warily reached out for the letter, peeling away the seal with a claw and pulling out a sheet of paper. The Charizard's eyes darted back and forth as he skimmed the letter, apparently an order to set sail for Tromba to lie in wait for a crew of pirates. Immediately, the Commissioner's tail fire danced with visible irritation, as he threw the letter back onto the table with a sharp glare.

    "Hrmph. I don't see anything here that can't be handled by another Commissioner," Bunsen growled. "And I specifically scheduled to have shore leave after that run out to Boisocéan."

    "Well, the Company needs you," Darzin said. "I'd encourage you to do your duty and put that leave on hold."

    WHAM!

    Bunsen slammed his claws against the table and shot up from his seat, craning his head across the table with his teeth bared in a fierce snarl.

    "Listen, buddy! I've got plans here!" the Charizard roared. "And if you think I'm letting some fat newt that sits around the Records Department all day mess them up, you've got another thing coming!"

    "Oh? And just what plans would those be, Commissioner Bunsen?"

    As soon as Darzin's words left his mouth, Bunsen abruptly bit his tongue, his bellicose attitude quickly melting away into wide-eyed stammering.

    "I- Uh… you know, just some time at the local taverns, a chance to sunbathe… some time to recuperate?"

    "With your family, I presume," the Dragonite finished. Bunsen visibly cringed, tripping over his tongue as he hastily spluttered out a denial.

    "I- I don't know what you're talking about!" the Charizard insisted. "I've only had a few shore flings so far in my life! Nothing to get me settled down!"

    Darzin fell silent, giving no response other than a small raise of his brow followed by a disbelieving snort.

    "Shore flings, you say?"

    The Dragonite reached into his satchel and unceremoniously threw out Bunsen paper file, spilling out a small collection of letters including a few with colorful drawings of a pair of Charizard alongside three Charmander. Darzin watched as the color drained from Bunsen's face, a small smirk creeping over the Administrator's face.

    "I was beginning to wonder why you kept getting mail from youngsters," Darzin said. "Turns out that having a mate and three children out on Gestirn Island leaves a bit of a paper trail, especially when you don't teach them to be careful about their correspondence."

    Bunsen grimaced as a frightened, bewildered look came over his face, prompting Darzin to lean in with a smug, knowing sneer.

    "I believe that the Settlement Protocol dictates that all employees of the Company above Second-Rank are to house their families here on Vollezee," the Dragonite reminded. "Would you care to recount to me what the consequences for violating that would be?"

    Darzin was answered by a cutting gust of wind, sending him tumbling to the floor with a pained howl. The Dragon-Type growled, moving a claw over a ruddy scrape on his shoulder as he looked up and saw Bunsen readying a gout of fire in his maw over the now-unguarded table.

    "Why you-!"

    The Dragonite sprang up, raking the Charizard with a ferocious swipe of his claws that sent him into a pratfall and sent his fire up into the ceiling with a pained yelp. Darzin looked up quickly to see that the fire had singed the timbers above and put out the embers with a hasty gust, when a loud roar alerted him to Bunsen lunging for him. The Administrator hastily weaved out of the way, before giving an uppercut crackling with sparks to the Charizard that sent him flying headfirst into the wall. Bunsen lay there stunned a moment, groaning as he tried to regain his bearings when he heard a low snarl above him, before feeling pointed claws dig into his neck and yank his head up.

    "E-Eyaaah!"

    The Charizard watched as Darzin's livid face filled his vision and screwed his eyes shut trembling in anticipation of the coming blow, only to feel the grip on his neck slacken and collapse onto the ground. Bunsen shot his eyes open, panting and gasping for air when he raised his head up at the sound of the door being thrown open, looking up to see Darzin at the doorway with the file firmly in his claws.

    "I was hoping we could come to an understanding and I could help bend the rules for you a little," the Dragonite snarled. "But since you insist on being uncooperative like this, I have no other choice but to stick to protocol."

    The Dragon-Type began to step through the door, putting a claw on the pull latch to slam it after him when a pleading whine came from behind him.

    "W-Wait! Please! Me and my mate were barely getting by when I joined the Company because almost nobody would give us work!" Bunsen cried. "And then after I got promoted to Second-Rank we evolved, so we had to rework our food budget- a-and the kids came along, and-"

    "Tell it to someone who cares!" Darzin bellowed. The Dragonite paused a moment, before looking back to see Bunsen scrambling behind him, propping his body up on his foreclaws and knees.

    "I-I'll do whatever you want! Just don't tell anyone about my mate and the kids!" Bunsen begged. "They'd be ruined if I lost my position!"

    The Charizard hung his head, grovelling and pleading in weak, incoherent tones as Darzin peered down. After a moment's pause the Administrator stepped away from the door, closing it as his eyes hardened into a serious glare.

    "Then get up for your debriefing," the Dragonite snapped. "And don't try my patience any further."

    Bunsen hastily threw himself up, pulling in his wings tight against his body and craning his head downwards, the creature doing all within his power to make himself appear small and unthreatening to the stockier dragon who held his livelihood in his claws.

    "I- I can do that! I'm a great listener!" Bunsen insisted. "Even when I was still a First-Rank!"

    Darzin threw the files back into his bag and rolled his eyes, walking up to the Fire-Type and leaning in with a bellicose snarl.

    "Wonderful. In that case I'll give you the basics and let you read over the details," Darzin harrumphed. "There was a serious disturbance in Tromba just under three weeks ago while collecting tribute, serious enough for the Board to re-evaluate the present state of affairs on the island."

    "B-But then why am I the only Commissioner being sent out there?" Bunsen asked.

    "Because, the Board has decided to keep things limited to a tit for tat for now. You will be with two smaller ships to apprehend a local smuggling crew that's turned to piracy on their return to port," the Dragonite explained. "While you're there, you will also arrest a few troublemakers and serve some resettlement notices to set an example to the locals. The Captain of the Guards is among those who are set to be detained, so you will be responsible for restaffing the garrison as needed to ensure the local leader becomes a bit more… compliant in his duties."

    "I… I guess I can do that?" Bunsen murmured. "I'd need some time to get everything together before sailing out, but-"

    "Tonight. You have until tonight to leave port," the Dragon-Type interrupted. "This is a time-sensitive operation and Administrator Farn will not be pleased to be kept waiting. Are we clear?"

    Bunsen eagerly nodded his head back, a bit much so for Darzin's liking. But, as distasteful as it was, blatantly sucking up was far from a bad thing in these circumstances, and a sign that this Commissioner would be suitably controllable for his scheme to interfere with the Board's plans.

    "Good," Darzin harrumphed. "Neither of us has an interest in letting what happened in here become known. I would strongly suggest you forward all reports to me first if you intend to keep things that way."

    "Huh? But isn't this Administrator Farn's mission-" Bunsen began, only to be cut off by the sound of a loud stomp and snort.

    "Administrator Farn isn't the one who knows about your private affairs," Darzin interrupted. "It'd be better to keep it that way, wouldn't it?"

    "R-Right!" the Charizard stammered. "No sense dragging anyone else in!"

    Bunsen forced a nervous laugh out, hoping to play into the Administrator's graces, only for the Dragonite's scowl to prove as unyielding as ever. The Dragon-Type harrumphed with an unimpressed frown, before turning his body for the door.

    "That's about all from me, since I have a meeting off-island to make in a few hours," Darzin said. "Though there was one last thing I wanted to say before I left."

    "What was tha-?"

    Before he could finish, Bunsen was abruptly cut off by Darzin wheeling on his heels, sending a beam of fiery, bluish light square at his face.

    "A-AAH!"

    The Charizard jerked his head down, screwing his eyes shut and quivering as he felt the Dragon Pulse woosh overhead. The Fire-Type quailed a moment, expecting another blow, only to look up uneasily at the sound of departing footsteps and see Darzin at the doorway, baring his fangs threateningly.

    "Try and pretend to be imposing when you're on Tromba," he sneered. "Knowing the islanders, you'll need it."

    Darzin slammed the door behind him, leaving Bunsen alone in the room panting. The Charizard drooped his wings with a sigh, grumbling bitterly over how his visit to his mate and children had been snatched away by a fat newt that spent the bulk of his day shuffling papers. Even so, it was one mission, so a delay couldn't be that bad could it? It was just a matter of setting sail to Tromba and putting his foot down for a week or two…

    On the island of unruly peasants that had driven Darzin out…

    With only his crew and a pair of brigantines for support…

    "Ulp… why me?"




    True to Sorge's prediction, Xerneas and his companions had drifted over to the plaza in the shadow of the southern gate. There, they had once again put on a performance in front of the townsfolk, drawing a large crowd of eager Pokémon and less attentive guards from the wall above, that the lot plied with tales of a grand journey to save the Cradle. Unbeknownst to the blue deer, on the other side of the plaza, Team Sentinel looked on from the front of a small shop styled after a purple Meowth's head. Sorge tapped his claws idly as he watched Xerneas' antlers pop in and out from among the top of the crowd, while the shop's proprietor added a pair of Slumber Orbs onto a counter riddled with seeds and wands.

    "And finally, two Slumber Orbs," the Meowth said. "Heading back into the Mystery Dungeon already?"

    "No, not today," Sorge answered. "Just getting a few items out of storage for a mission tomorrow morning."

    The Kommo-o put the items in a bag and slung it over his shoulder and began to drift off for the gathering with his companions. As they neared, they came upon a thick throng of Pokémon of every size and shape, crowded around a makeshift platform as Xerneas pranced around, with a number of guards in indigo scarves watching from the sidelines, their presence catching Aldrich's eye and making him pause skeptically.

    "So what's the best way to go about this?" the Noivern asked. "We obviously can't do anything directly in front of an Imperial garrison."

    "We'll scout for now and make our move once we're certain what we're dealing with and there's fewer prying eyes around," Sorge insisted, when a voice abruptly spoke up from behind.

    "And what move would that be?"

    Team Sentinel's members stiffened up, bracing for battle, only to realize that the voice felt strangely familiar. The three turned around, where behind them was a Weavile smiling from under the awning of a shuttered shopfront, whom they all recognized as…

    "Ketu!"

    At once, the three crowded around the Dark-Type, the world around them melting away as their eyes lit up at the sight of their unexpected company. Sorge stepped forward, pulling Ketu's claw in for a shake as he gave a playful sway of his tail before speaking up.

    "Heh, it's been a while!" Sorge chortled. "Still getting your work done, I hope?"

    "Don't I always?" Ketu answered with a smirk.

    Further behind, Aldrich gave a bemused shake of his head. In all the years since Ketu had transferred off their team, it seemed that he hadn't lost his spark for taking his tasks on at his own, lackadaisical pace.

    "Pretty sure that's a 'no', just saying," the Noivern snickered.

    "So what are you doing here?" Zelle asked. "Last I was aware of, Lyn didn't have any reason to be this deep in Imperial waters."

    "His current mission led us to make a call in port. That's actually why I'm here," Ketu explained. "I could use some help with the mission Administrator Elilan gave me."

    "We'll be more than happy to help," Sorge replied. "But let's go someplace quieter where we can talk more openly."

    The Dragon-Type looked off over his shoulder, where he noticed a shaded alley and bade his fellows to come after. One after the other, the Kommo-o and his companions made their way down, stopping by the awning of a shuttered shop where Aldrich looked around and listened closely for any following Pokémon. After a moment's pause that convinced the bat they were alone, he turned back satisfied to Ketu, giving an impatient beat of his wings.

    "So what do you need help with exactly?" Aldrich said.

    "Yeah, what sort of mission could Lyn have in Imperial waters?" Zelle piped.

    "Four weeks ago, Lugia woke up, the Protector of Tromba Island. The Board activated their contingency plan for such an event and as expected, assigned Lyn to nab and deliver it to them," Ketu explained. "Obviously, the Administrator doesn't want anything like that happening without getting his claws on it first. Which is where I need your help."

    "'Lugia'? We didn't do a mythological study for our cover like you did," the Sylveon scoffed. "What sort of Protector are we talking about?"

    "A bird with silvery white feathers and blue plates on its back and head," the Weavile answered. "Looks kinda like a spawn of something between a Swanna and a Wingull if you didn't know any better."

    Sorge's eyes widened at Ketu's description. A silvery white bird that looked like a cross between a Swanna and a Wingull? That sounded exactly like Pleo from that Team Traveller they ran into back at the guild!

    "Come again?! We encountered a group of 'mons with a bird just like that a few hours ago!" Sorge exclaimed, taking Ketu aback with a surprised blink.

    "… Well that's… unexpected… I suppose it really is a small world," the Weavile murmured, before giving a shake of head. "Whatever's going on, let's not waste any time. I was gonna ask you for help ambushing those kids so we could capture that Lugia, but if you've already encountered them then that should make things a bit easier."

    "Hold on, Ketu," Aldrich insisted. "We might have found another Protector stomping around this island. That's why we were headed over to that crowd in the first place."

    "Yeah, and that Team Traveller was looking for it as well," Zelle added.

    Ketu gave a puzzled tilt of his head at his teammates' replies and thought of who Aldrich and Zelle could be referring to. He knew that the Protector of Vollezee had vanished years ago, but nothing had come of her beyond sporadic sightings. The Weavile's mind turned to his previous assignment for Administrator Elilan… It seemed like a daft coincidence but could the Protector be…

    "… Subject Red?" Ketu asked. "But after all those years with his trail gone cold, why would he draw attention to himself like this now?"

    "It's not him, Ketu," Sorge answered.

    Ketu raised a brow, since aside from that Lugia, the only Protectors in Anyilla that were awake could be counted on one claw. If the Protector his friends ran into wasn't any of them…

    "Eh? Then who are you all talking about-"

    "And that's just some of the stuff this Protector can do, folks!" a Nuzleaf's voice interrupted. "The Voice of Life! The Rainbow Stag who brings new beginnings! Xerneas!"

    A rousing cheer came from the end of the alleyway, prompting Ketu to poke his head out as Team Sentinel followed along. Sorge pointed off with a claw at the stage, where the crowd grew excited and animated over something the Weavile failed to see from his shorter height.

    Ketu frowned as he attempted to stand on his toes, only to find his line of sight still thwarted by the crowd. The Weavile gave an irritated grumble, before clambering up Sorge's shoulder and peering out into the crowd, discovering much to his surprise, the form of a blue stag with rainbow horns strutting around at the center of the crowd.

    "… What…"

    "We were honestly a bit surprised ourselves," the Kommo-o explained. "To top it off, two of the Pokémon with him claim to be humans transformed into Pokémon."

    The Weavile dropped back down to the ground, exiting the alleyway as Sorge and his teammates followed along carefully. Ketu paced forward, hopping atop a barrel near the edge of the crowd, where he stood on the tips of his toes just in time to catch a glimpse of a Nuzleaf bowing with a flourish in front of the surrounding Pokémon.

    "And with just a little bit of help, your newfound Protector will be able to carry on with his journey!" the Nuzleaf cheered. "To help restore the world-that-was and hasten the return of the humans!"

    On cue, an Eevee on the stage bounded up with a drawstring bag, and set it out at the front of the stage. Ketu folded an ear back puzzledly as he watched Pokémon from the crowd leave money in the bag. The Weavile paused, wondering to himself why Xerneas seemed to be more insistent on demanding a tribute of Bezants and Poké as opposed to the bows, prayers, and other nonsense Pokémon who put stock in Protectors made a big deal over. The Dark-Type raised a claw over his brow, watching Xerneas lower his head to address a young Sunkern before pulling it back up, which gave Ketu a clear look at the deer's face, where the sight of a gray eye with a rounded pupil caught his attention, leaving his muzzle to curl downwards with a disgusted frown.

    "Hrmph, you're wasting your time," Ketu harrumped. "I can't say anything about those 'humans', but if this 'Protector' is anything to go by, they're a pair of frauds."

    "Huh?" Aldrich said. "What makes you so sure?"

    "Aside from how unlikely it would be that Xerneas would reappear like this after its egg fell off the face of the earth in the Great Calamity, based on what we've seen, Protectors don't mature fast enough in that amount of time to already be fully grown," the Weavile explained. "Besides, Xerneas has blue eyes with cross-shaped pupils, not gray ones that look like a Deerling's."

    Team Sentinel paused a moment, blinking before looking off at the blue deer and his companions in the distance. Now Ketu mentioned it, Xerneas' eyes did look a bit strange compared to the rest of his body. Sorge looked on, before turning back down to Ketu slowly with a puzzled raise of his brow.

    "… Then what are we dealing with here?" Sorge asked.

    "… I'm not sure, but I think I might have an idea," Ketu answered. "Either way, this changes the plans I had. Especially if those kids are also looking for this fake Xerneas."

    "How do you suggest we approach this then?" Zelle pressed.

    "We need a little pre-planning," Ketu replied. "Come on, I've got a place back at the ship, we'll talk on the way back."

    The Weavile set off, slipping off from the crowd as Sorge and his companions followed along, pacing along the stone and dirt lanes for the harbor by the blue sea in the distance.




    Author's Notes:

    - Ib dagchyeo! (입 닥쳐!) - Korean: "Shut up!" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
    - Srak (스라크) - Korean: "Scyther" (Official Romanization)
    - Hé daar - Dutch: "Hey there"
    - Bossgodora (ボスゴドラ) - Japanese: "Aggron" (Official Romanization)
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2018
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Stuck in Alola?

    Gah, why must these be posted while I'm busy with work? DX

    Hmm. I don't know what I expected Toothpaste Deer and her friends to do, but begging for money oddly didn't strike me as an idea. It was a nice opportunity for Team Traveller to show that their thinking caps on here, with their scrutiny of Toothpaste Deer's story. I'm not sure if I buy it, myself, but it would certainly be an intriguing ripple to introduce at this juncture. Humans reappearing along with gods. Not sure either the Company or the Empire would take kindly to such developments. *reads to the end* Aaaaaaand it looks like I might've been right. Not entirely sure how this trick is being pulled off. My temptation is to think there's a Zoroark or Ditto involved, but we already have Elilan, so...

    Oooh, Ellsberg finally gets to do something aggressive! In this fic, anyway. *nervous laugh* It's clear Ketu's rubbing off on him somehow and it makes me wonder if he's going to continue to get more aggressive... and possibly go a bit too far and end up in serious trouble because of it. Seems like something he could do. On the other side of the coin, whoo-boy more Empire-related people being introduced because I wasn't having enough trouble keeping track of them already. My memory is not helping me remember what this "ally" of the Empire is... assuming it's been mentioned. Does this mean they're a free state of sorts? In any case, the Commodore's introduction had a nice juxtaposition later in the chapter with Bunsen's introduction. Nagant and the Commodore can at least act professionally while Darzin just immediately resorts to blackmail after Bunsen tries to blow him off. Yeesh. But interesting... especially since both these parties are under the misguided assumption that Team Traveller is heading home. That might blow back in their faces.

    And was that Vaporeon a Team Taxonomy (or some equivalent) member? That's the one thing that came to mind after I initially drew a blank. The part with the "bizarre snake" raised all the alarm bells, though. Sounds to me like that might be the Project Red we've heard about... aka Zygarde/Squishy/Whatever I feel like calling it.

    And there are a few instances of characters putting their feet in their mouths, so to speak. Makes it easy for Team Sentinel to set up shop and plan on a little ambush of sorts. My guess is Ketu's got an idea to use Toothpaste Deer to lure Team Traveller into a trap. The irony is that Project Red seems to be on this very island, but this Red (heh) Herring may wind up costing Ketu an opportunity to get it. And that's all I've got. Well, sorta...

    I see that, despite her objections to the way things work in Tidemill, Nico rubbed off on her. :V

    Damn it, Kiran, if Scooby Doo's taught me one thing it's that disaster is a guarantee when you split up the gang.

    I... I'm trying to imagine what a Mothim would look like sitting down, but I'm drawing a total blank.

    My 'mon Lyn out here saying the right stuff. Good on ya.

    Ah, good. I was starting to think Lyn would just be able to move about freely without fear of raising any suspicions. Like... just how many Samurotts are there in Anyilla that captain there own ships? I would think he'd stick out and attract unwanted attention.

    And how many of those fires did you contribute to, mister?

    "Don't get any ideas. It's not like I like you idiots or anything." y-you bakas...

    I rescind my earlier comment. Guardia, you fool, how you could grip the idiot ball like that! D:

    Oh, come on, you can't snap at me for making a chemistry joke about Aldrich when you put in a literal Bunsen Burner one chapter later. That's just mean. :p
     
    Virgil134 likes this.
  12. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    That's bagworm to you, you silly grumpig! :p It was kind of satisfying, really, to see those guys pay for stepping all over Mr. Moth.

    !

    Is that a li'l zygarde core? :eek: Those are so cute...

    Wow, four weeks... It's incredible to think about, really. So much has gone down that it feels like it's been much longer. I imagine it feels that way for a lot of the characters, too. They've had quite the month!

    Fake xerneas indeed. Makes me wonder what he could actually be instead. Maybe the eyes are a specific clue--what has eyes like that and can pass (almost) flawlessly for other pokémon--or maybe they're not. Maybe they're just something a ditto picked at random because said ditto couldn't remember what xerneas eyes look like. I suppose we shall see...
     
  13. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    To be fair, that sure didn’t stop Saéta from having a Zoroark underling. Though all will be revealed in due time.

    To be fair, being in front of the most powerful airhead of your faction is a good motivator for suppressing urges for spontaneous violence. I would presume that Nagant’s reaction to Valan would be very different if she didn’t think or care about the consequences of her acting upon her feelings.

    He was, yes. You’ll be seeing him from time to time with the others in the future.

    Well, you’ll see how things play out, though I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at where the dust settles.

    In their defense, not splitting up also carries its own risks. They just judged the risk of disaster while split up to be the lesser evil.

    I would imagine resting on the hind surface of its legs with wings jutting out over the edge of a stool-like seat

    To be fair, no one is forcing Lyn to claim that he’s the captain when he’s got dozens of bodies around him that he can pass off as the ship’s captain if he ever thought that he was in earshot.

    Oh you, though while Aldrich’s chemistry connections were unplanned, this one was. ^^;

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, it’s been a moment that’s a long time coming.

    Well, I certainly know it’s felt like ages just as the writer. I would imagine that going through a month of constant surprises and danger would also feel much longer than just a month.

    The answer to that question will be coming soon, though it won’t be shown onscreen today. You should still get a solid idea from the dialogue that comes up, though.

    And I’m a little late this time, but I’ve gotten a lovely commission of everyone’s favorite rough and tumble Growlithe and finally gotten my update together for what should be the second-to-last chapter of the year, with one more to go that is planned for before the New Year. I am forever grateful to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net for helping behind the scenes for this past chapter, and to all of you readers and followers who’ve been sticking with this story amidst its ups and downs.

    With that, let’s continue on, and peel back a few layers of the mysteries that Team Traveller uncovered in the prior chapter.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
  14. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    [​IMG]

    An hour after Nagant's audience with Queen Aleria, the sun shone down on Tidemill's naval harbor as the hubbub of working dockhands and passing Wingull carried on the air, with much of the activity coming from around a freshly-drained drydock. Behind the site's icy flash locks, a large four-masted ship lined with metal plates on its hull and 'Lichtkanone' painted on the side had been rested on a set of wooden supports as Pokémon in the pit scampered around examining the hull for defects and barking out for supplies and repairs. On the ship's deck, the sound of dull thumps rang out as the Clawitzer bounded around with barely-constrained excitement followed behind by Jun, giving disbelieving stares at the ship's nooks and crannies.

    "Four masts, cast-iron cladding from stern to bow…" she murmured to herself. "Jun, tell me I'm not dreaming here."

    "You're not, Captain."

    The Beedrill's answer was met by an enthusiastic squeal, the wizened old shrimp waving her claws happily before peering back up to her first mate.

    "I've waited so long for this day!" Nagant burbled. "Oh, what's the first thing to do to break it in? Maybe I'll take her around the island! Or to Haipheh! Or-"

    "Pffft! She's like a giant hatchling over this thing!"

    Nagant stiffened up at the sound of Niilo's voice behind her, screwing her eyes shut out of embarrassment and cursing under her breath that she'd brought Niilo and his companions along from the throne room. The shrimp whirled around to see the Sandslash guffawing as Cabot and Berecien tried and failed to stifle laughs of their own. The Clawitzer stared mortified a moment, before the three Pokémon realized their supervisor was glaring at them, prompting them to quickly swallow their laughter after being put on the spot.

    "Oh! Er…" Berecien stammered. "Uh… Captain Nagant! We were just wondering what our current assignments were!"

    "I was… just about to pass these tee-yem vouchers onto you," the Water-Type insisted. "You'd best use them to hone your skills before we leave port. I won't accept failure again next time we encounter the Protector."

    "Oh, thanks Captain!" Cabot cheered. "It's been a while since we last learned-"

    "Honing your skills involves leaving this ship," Nagant huffed. "Immediately."

    "Huh?! But I was just saying tha-!"

    "Now, Cabot."

    The Cranidos gulped and hastily grabbed the paper slips, before shuffling off with his companions for the gangplank and off the ship's deck. Nagant scowled after the three, watching as the lot slipped off for a set of stairs back up to the piers before she let out an annoyed sigh, leaving Jun to awkwardly clear his throat for attention.

    "Is there anything else we still need to tend to, Captain?" the Beedrill asked.

    "Well, the ship still needs its inspection," Nagant mulled. "And I believe we're about fifty heads short before we can leave port."

    "Oh? That surely shouldn't be an issue," the Bug-Type replied. "Couldn't we just draw from the former crew of the Lichtkanone?"

    The Clawitzer paused a moment at her first mate's question, before shaking her head back in reply.

    "I have neither the time nor the patience to sift through the background of Coil's crew to filter the good eggs from bad," she harrumphed. "I need recruits that I can be confident dealing with."

    Jun shifted uneasily, twitching his antennae as he gave a buzzing grimace back in reply.

    "… I can understand your hesitation Captain, but… I don't think there's enough graduating cadets right now to even fill half of those slots, and I doubt there's too many Rescue Teams that would volunteer for a sudden mission to retrieve the Protector given the rumors swirling around right now," the wasp sighed. "If we're going to leave port anytime soon, it's inevitable that you'll need to accept at least some less-than-sterling recruits."

    "Pah! So scrounge some taverns for sellclaws and raid one of the local jails or something!" Nagant insisted. "As long as I know what I'm getting, I can keep some malcontents in line just fine."

    "That's… a fair enough point," Jun admitted. "Though what will you be doing during all of this?"

    "I'll be trying to piece together what that blasted rabbit and her companions were up to before they fled with the Protector," Nagant chittered. "It's no coincidence that they conveniently stole Lugia away while Coil was being apprehended, and I want to know who helped those Trombans with their plot."

    "Right. Then I suppose that I will-"

    Woosh

    "Huh?! What was-?!"

    A loud wham suddenly rang out as the wood of the deck creaked and groaned, leaving Nagant to jolt upright with a start. The shrimp reflexively readied her large claw, when the Clawitzer heard a low growl from behind, turning to none other than Darzin in an ill-fitting indigo scarf with claw marks on its hem, and a fierce glare over his eyes.

    "Captain Nagant?" the Dragon-Type demanded. "We need to have a talk…"

    Nagant and Jun traded uneasy looks with each other, noting the sails were blocking the piers from view and that the Dragonite had failed to draw the attention of any potential onlookers on his way in. Nagant wavered a moment, before hopping up slowly, giving a small twitch of her barbels as she reluctantly spoke in reply.

    "About what, Administrator Darzin?"

    "About you keeping me in the dark about your mission!" the Dragonite fumed. "I spent the last few hours working my tail off to throw together a trap in case the Protector returned to Tromba, thanks to hearing that you'd captured the Protector a full four days ago and lost him again!"

    Nagant hissed, bristling at Darzin's suggestion as she dug in and piped up to defend herself.

    "I was following an evolving situation to the best of my ability!" the Clawitzer snapped. "Excuse me for not having the time to keep constant correspondence!"

    "Sounds more like you're trying to shut me out!" Darzin yelled. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't expose you to the Board the moment I return to Vollezee!"

    Jun fidgeted, flitting back and casting a wary glance up at the edges of the drydock above. After a moment's pause, he leaned back in, giving a sharp buzz to draw his superior's attention.

    "Ah… Captain, your contact is getting fairly agitated," the Beedrill whispered. "We should try and tamp things down before someone overhears-"

    The Bug-Type's insistence was silenced by the back of Nagant's small claw. After a moment of uneasy silence, Jun backed down, leaving the shrimp to continue on with a gruff harrumph.

    "Because, as we agreed in our partnership, I have need of your aid, Administrator Darzin," the Clawitzer retorted, before moving her large claw about the surrounding ship.

    "As you can see, I've been given powerful new tools to capture the Protector," she explained. "But I don't have a lead for where to use them. That's something you would be able to contribute."

    Nagant's insistence was met by a fierce glare, leaving Darzin to stare at the Clawitzer wordlessly. After a moment's pause, the Dragonite shook his head with a snort, speaking up in a low, grumbing tone.

    "Lyn's messenger said he'd tracked the Protector to Buyeom," the dragon answered. "I don't know whether or not that information is still accurate, but it's what was presented to the Board earlier today."

    "Hrmph. I think that I can work with that."

    "Glad to hear," Darzin growled. "I'll be taking my leave, and don't give me reason to think you're trying to operate outside of our agreement, Nagant."

    "Hmph, really now! If you're so dissatisfied with our progress, you ought to stay and contribute!" Jun buzzed. "You even have the scarf!"

    "Pah," the Dragonite spat. "Just stay out of my way-"

    "You there!"

    Nagant, Jun, and Darzin whirled as the sound of heavy footfalls hit the gangplank, prompting the three to freeze as a Avalugg in a twin-leaved scarf stormed up and jabbed a foot at Darzin's belly.

    "This ship's closed off for cleaning!" the Avalugg snapped. "The only 'mons of your rank that are supposed to be here are cleaners to swab the deck!"

    Behind the Ice-Type, a small train of Pokémon in single-leaved scarves began to file aboard. Darzin blanched, stammering blankly as he hastily tried to offer up an explanation back to the Avalugg.

    "I- Er… Uh…"

    "Arrived a little earlier than his peers, that's all," Jun finished. "Isn't that right?"

    "Huh?! What are you-?!"

    Nagant's face mandibles curled up into a smug smirk, the Clawitzer hopping along with Jun towards the gangplank before calling back towards the hapless Dragonite.

    "Well, we have other matters to tend to," the shrimp insisted, barely stifling a snicker through her mandibles. "But good luck with the deck, sailor!"

    Darzin glared and bared his fangs, only for a sharp jab at his stomach to prompt him to look down at the Avalugg, leaving him to begrudgingly grab a bucket and mop as he slipped out of view while Nagant and her first mate reached the gangplank.

    "Was there anything you needed me to tend to while you were out, Captain?"

    "Just get this ship readied and crewed," Nagant ordered. "I'll be back once I've found out more about what really happened with the Protector."

    The Clawitzer set off, slipping down the wooden gangplank for the bottom of the drydock. Jun followed his superior's course as she made her way up the stairs for the piers, the Beedrill giving a small beat of his wings as he set off. All the while, a thought kept coming back over and over again to his mind…

    What exactly could Nagant piece together about the Protector's abductors that they didn't already know?




    After their encounter with Team Sentinel, Elty, Guardia, Kiran, and Ander drifted southwards down Magmapool Town's central hill in search of the square in front of the town's gate. Time and again, Kiran would pop up to sight the gate in the distance and wait for the others to catch up… only for them to turn down a dead end or wind up following an alley down the completely wrong direction. The process continued on past crowded shacks and shopfronts, with the latest attempt seeming to accomplish little other than going in a large loop much to Elty's frustration.

    "Bah… we've been chasing our tail for over an hour now!" the Growlithe fumed. "How are we having this much trouble?!"

    "I mean, I haven't had much luck spotting a path to the plaza with all those walls and buildings and Ander's not as strong as a flyer himself," Kiran sighed. "Perhaps we should've talked with Alcon to see if he could've tutored you how to fly…"

    Guardia grumbled and rolled her eyes at her teammates' arguing. Whatever it was that fueled the fire in Elty's belly, it evidently generated more than its fair share of hot air. The bone lizard directed her attention to the nearby alleyways in search of a path to the square, only to notice Ander's steps behind her came faltering and erratically. Guardia paused and turned back to see Ander slinking from end to end of the lane, casting timid glances around at his surroundings. The Ground-Type raised a brow for a moment, before frowning, realizing that his demeanor must surely be from the prospect of encountering one of his 'demons'.

    "Hrmph. Isn't it a bit much to be worried so much about the gods?" Guardia huffed. "If this 'Voice of Life' really wanted to smite you he could've easily done so already."

    "B-But you don't understand!" Ander protested. "That's no 'Voice of Life' and you have no idea what that thing is or what it's capable of!"

    "It's a Protector who watches over the world and other Pokémon. Besides, were there not humans traveling with him?" the Cubone retorted. "If the gods didn't care about this world or making it better, why would they want to bring them back?"

    "Eh? But they looked just like-"

    The Scyther's insistence was cut off by the tak of a bone striking the ground, followed by a forceful harrumph as Guardia shot an impatient scowl back up at the Bug-Type.

    "Really, I think that you're the one who doesn't have an idea of what that Protector's like," the bone lizard insisted. "The last time we saw him he was just collecting some of your hut baubles, not hurting anyone."

    Ander paused, turning his head away uneasily without a reply as Kiran and Elty began to backtrack for him and Guardia. The Scyther brooded, evidently at a loss of what else he could say, when he looked up and saw a few Pokémon pass them from a side street. There, off in the distance, Ander noticed the Pokémon were peeling off a curious crowd from among stands and shopfronts further ahead.

    "Huh? There's so many Pokémon here," the mantis said to himself. "It's all as if they just came from-"

    The Bug-Type abruptly trailed off as he noticed that the Pokémon had come from a square in the shadow of a gate… which appeared exactly like the plaza Team Sentinel described back at the guild. Ander hesitated a moment, only for his teammates to continue on for the square and the Scyther to grudgingly follow, where they saw Xerneas hopping off a makeshift platform, his companions waving off a few straggling Pokémon.

    "Ah! Talk about a stroke of good luck!" Kiran chirped. "He even seems to be a bit less busy than normal!"

    "Then what are we waiting for?" Guardia chimed in. "Hayaku ikō yo! Let's have an audience with him!"

    The Cubone and her companions hurried over for the podium where Xerneas and his teammates preoccupied themselves chattering about something to do with their 'take' from the crowd. The four continued engrossed in their conversation even as Kiran and the others neared, prompting the Swellow to give a chirp to draw their attention.

    "Excuse me, would you happen to have a moment?"

    Hm? It's a bit late," the Nuzleaf began. "But if you're here for another donation, we'd be happy to-"

    The Grass-Type trailed off at the sight of a blotch-headed Scyther among the new arrivals, prompting him and his companions to sharply frown and their demeanors to take on an irritable tone.

    "Oh, it's you again," the Nuzleaf grumbled. "Haven't you caused enough trouble already for us?"

    "Er… well, we won't cause any trouble now!" Elty insisted. "We can let that be water under the bridge, right?"

    "I'll be the judge of that, and I certainly don't need any Marked around me from what I've seen of them," Xerneas harrumphed.

    "Perhaps you could reconsider if we told you why we came?" Guardia offered.

    "Try me."

    Kiran paused, craning his head to peer around his surroundings. After finding that the remaining Pokémon in the square appeared to out of earshot, the Swellow breathed in and stretched out a wing before whispering over to the deer and his companions.

    "We actually know of a Protector who's been separated from his home himself," the Flying-Type said. "And we'd like to know if you'd be interested in joining forces with us."

    Xerneas and his companions paused a moment, trading blank looks with each other, before bowling over and dissolving into peals of derisive laughter.

    "Oh yeah. Sure you've got a Protector traveling with you!" the Riolu of the group jeered.

    "But we do!" Guardia cried. "He's a white bird who's in need of tutoring in the ways of the gods!"

    "And where is this Protector then?" his Eevee teammate demanded.

    Kiran and the others grimaced, realizing that by splitting up the team, Pleo and the rest were off on their own in a different part of Magmapool and highly unlikely to make it here in time to persuade Xerneas. It was hard to believe that these four could be moved without seeing so much as a feather of their own Protector, but… perhaps they could be convinced to hear them out?

    "Er… well we separated from him in order to look for you and cover more ground in town," Kiran murmured. "But he was one of the Pokémon who asked you a question at your last appearance! And we have a ship where we could arrange a meeting!"

    "Listen, we're busy with our own journey," Xerneas harrumphed. "So if you're not going to help it, move along and stop wasting our time with stories about your pretend Protector!"

    "But-" Guardia began, only to be cut off by an impatient stomp against the ground.

    "Begone!"

    The Cubone went wide-eyed at the sight of Xerneas lowering his antlers menacingly at her, prompting her to bolt back with a yelp and reflexively shelter behind a nearby leg. Guardia peered up and noticed the green chitin of Ander's exoskeleton, the Scyther standing transfixed in terrified shock at the glaring blue deer and his companions. Kiran and Elty grimaced, trading wary looks with each other before the Swellow hesitantly spoke up, sensing that for now, they'd plead their case as best as they could and there was nothing else they could do.

    "… If you change your mind, our ship is at the third dock to the right of the harbor's lighthouse."

    The four inched away, before hurrying out of the square briskly. As the lot made their way into into the surrounding streets, they slackened their pace, letting out a quartet of sighs.

    "Well splitting into two groups sure turned out to be a great idea," Elty grumbled.

    "At least we found them," Kiran insisted. "Two groups have 100% greater odds of success than one!"

    The Swellow's reassurance failed to lift the mood, leaving his teammates in deflated silence. As he shifted his wings uncomfortably, Ander paused and noticed Guardia looking back blankly in the direction of the square.

    "Is something the matter?" the Scyther asked. "You seem a bit adrift."

    Guardia looked up uneasily, before shaking her head and casting her gaze downwards with disappointment visibly poking through the holes in her helmet.

    "I… was just expecting something different from that Protector…"

    Elty and Kiran shuffled quietly as a palpable cloud of disappointment settled over the group. The Growlithe of the lot folded his ears back, giving a mutter under his breath about the unfairness of their current predicament before turning back to his teammates.

    "So what do we do now?" Elty asked.

    "Go back to the ship and let everyone know what we found, I suppose," Kiran replied. "Even if we can't count on Xerneas to help us, we do have an ambush we need to warn them about."

    "Right…" Ander murmured. "It would be a good place to start… And I… I suppose we could try again with Pleo tomorrow…"

    The four carried on, trudging back for the ship in low spirits. All the while, the lot couldn't help but wonder if there was something that they could've done differently, and whether or not Pleo and his companions were feeling similarly disheartened by a search that was bound to have been even less fruitful…




    After their encounter with Opdahl, Pleo and his friends continued going further into Magmapool Town towards the fringes. There, the town's shacks began to space out further and further, the group's outward drift occasionally interrupted by a stop to ask a local Pokémon for further directions. As the town's buildings thinned out, the four came to a fork in the road between an empty street to their left and a few shops to their right, leaving Pleo to turn his head uneasily between the two.

    "Which way do we go now?" the Lugia asked.

    "Well, if I remember those directions we got correctly, we can take either direction to get to the fringes, so it's really a matter of preference," Dimitri explained. "What do you all say? Do you kids prefer to go left or right?"

    "I say we go to the left," Nida offered. "It looks like the most quiet route, and wouldn't a Protector logically want its resting place to be calmer and quieter?"

    "But Nida, the right side looks nicer!" Crom exclaimed. "If all these paths go to the fringes, wouldn't we have time to stop and enjoy the scenery a bit?"

    Pleo paused indecisively before turning back, hoping that either Nida or Crom would've been swayed, only to find them both staring off insistently in their chosen directions. From behind, Dimitri blinked wordlessly at the youngsters' impasse, before giving an exasperated shake of his head.

    "… You two aren't making this any easier…" the Kabutops sighed.

    "Hey, you!"

    Team Traveller turned around and saw a Sneasel in a yellow scarf adorned with a black hexagonal outline waiting behind them, sizing the four up before the creature's gaze settled on Pleo with a curious state.

    "You're Team Traveller, aren't ya?"

    Pleo and his companions blinked at the sight of the Sneasel. They hadn't run into her in town earlier… or on any other island for that matter, so… why did she know about them?

    "Yes? And you are?" Nida demanded.

    "The name's Alice," the Sneasel offered. "I'm here to take you to the 'mon you've been looking for."

    "Wait… you are?" Pleo asked.

    "Yup. He's been expecting you and waiting at a cottage on the outskirts we've been renting a room at!" Alice replied. "Just follow me!"

    The four paused, Crom casting a wary eye at the creature as her red ear feather bobbed with a passing breeze. Why, she was of the same sort of Pokemon as that horrid Weavile from the tournament! With all the luck they'd been having, who was to say that she wasn't in league with him somehow? Alice waited expectantly, before shifting awkwardly a moment and brushing at the back of her head.

    "Look, we're no longer staying at the fringes anyway and you're not gonna find that Xerneas there either," the Sneasel insisted. "So are you going to follow me or not?"

    Team Traveller blanched after realizing that the stranger knew of their search for Xerneas, only for Alice to turn on her heels and saunter. The four hesitated, trading uneasy looks with one another, before Dimitri broke the tense silence with a sigh.

    "… I guess we should go after her," the Kabutops said.

    "Yeah, come on," Crom suggested. "Let's see where she's heading off to."

    The Druddigon and his teammates followed along, trailing after the jet-furred weasel down winding paths until they reached a simple wooden cottage with two floors at the end of a lane. The four watched as Alice pulled aside a sliding door at the house's front, before heading in and darting up a flight of stairs to knock at a door to the right in a hallway. The Sneasel tapped her foot impatiently for a moment, before the door opened up with a creak and she slipped inside. One after the other, Crom and his companions followed her in, coming to a dingy room where Alice settled beside a waiting a Gliscor and Talonflame.

    "Is that them, Alice?" the Gliscor asked.

    "Yup, that 'Team Traveller' Kline told us about," the Sneasel replied. "And here you and Calidus were doubting I could find 'em easily!"

    "Well, you've certainly got the timing right," the Talonflame said. "Percy and I were about to go out and look for you!"

    "Good thing Kline's still as omniscient as ever," the Gliscor murmured, before turning to Team Traveller. "Anyway, welcome to our room. I'm Pierce, though most of my friends tend to call me Percy, and I'm the leader of our team here."

    Pleo blinked at the Gliscor's welcome, though noticed that there was neither hide nor hair to be seen of a fourth Pokémon. Then, where was this…

    "Kline?"

    "That would be me," a squeaky voice piped. "And you know it's not omniscience, Pierce."

    Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri tilted their heads and squinted as they noticed movement towards the back of the room, where a strange green Pokémon hopped forward balanced on his tail. The creature bore a single eye, with a red, hexagonal marking on his belly, Team Traveller's eyes widening as they realized that this must've been none other than the Pokémon Opdahl encountered. The serpent narrowed his eye, peering up sternly at the young Lugia in front of him.

    "I've simply been keeping an eye on Pleo," he said.

    "Huh?! Hold on a minute!" Nida cried. "How do you know his name?"

    "Or anything about us, for that matter," Dimitri demanded. "We've never seen a 'mon like you before."

    "I wouldn't have expected you to," the green serpent scoffed. "My name is Kline, or if you're one to insist on formalities: Zygarde, the Keeper of Balance."

    The four frowned, trading dubious looks with one another. This squeaky little serpent before them looked like a wingless Dunsparce! What did he mean by his insistence that he was…

    "The Keeper of Balance?" Crom asked. "Like some sort of Protector?"

    "I am a Protector, you impudent skink!" Kline snapped back.

    Crom uneasily shifted back and put a claw to his mouth flusteredly at the Zygarde's response. Pleo stared in awe, his eyes lighting up before giving an excited beat of his wings. If this little snake was like him, then…

    "Wait! But that's great!" the Lugia cried. "If you're a Protector, then you can help me with-"

    "No."

    Pleo raised a wing and opened his beak to continue, only for his words to abruptly die in his mouth. Team Traveller stood there a moment in stunned silence, trying to process their abrupt rejection, when Nida fanned her pins out, the Nidoran being filled with a sudden, indignant vigor.

    "Eh?! What sort of response is that?!" Nida snapped. "If you're really a Protector, why wouldn't you want to help out another one?!"

    "Because I have a mission of my own that I've been working towards," Kline retorted. "I don't know what Nerea sees in your friend, but based off what I've seen of him and the rest of you lot so far, I simply don't think he'd be able to help."

    The Zygarde harrumphed and hardened his eye into an unimpressed scowl, leaving Team Traveller to stare back at the strange creature with stunned silence. Percy, sensing that his friend's explanation had been more than a little uncharitable, cleared his throat as he tried to rephrase things on behalf of him.

    "I think what Kline was trying to say was… well," the Gliscor began. "He's worried you'd have trouble on the mission we've been trying to carry out."

    "Huh? Why not? We've been doing great as a team, and I've even started figuring out how to use my powers!" Pleo insisted.

    "How'd that work out for that Ribombee and Flygon innkeeper you met back in Orleigh?" Kline asked.

    Nida and Pleo blanched, the pair's minds abruptly shifting back to their chaotic escape from Rosequartz Town… and of a wounded Rasp fleeing in fright while carrying his unconscious father. Pleo fell silent, lowering his head in a low mood as Kline shook his head with an unimpressed harrumph.

    "Really, if it was just a matter of throwing aside a couple bugs on accident, perhaps I'd be less hesitant," the Zygarde scoffed. "But after the mess you left on Giotto, excuse me for being skeptical about joining forces."

    "What? How could we have done anything wrong there?" Dimitri demanded. "We were being chased by a city of guards, a Company Commissioner, and a pirate crew!"

    "You seem to be forgetting the part where you disgraced Admiral Coil on your way out and threw the city into turmoil," Kline huffed.

    One by one, Team Traveller's faces broke out into excited smiles at Kline's response. Why, if Admiral Coil was disgraced, then that meant that Nico and Rita had won their case! They managed to prove against all odds that he was the Coordinator that had been plaguing Tidemill City!

    … But, if they'd managed to take down an awful Pokémon like that, why was Kline treating this like something bad?

    "Wait, but that's a good thing!" Crom insisted. "If the Empire's chasing after Pleo, why is it bad for us if they have a few problems?"

    "Because, you've made both them and the Company more dangerous to challenge!" the serpent snapped.

    "How… so?" Pleo asked.

    "Well, a weakened Empire can't keep the Company in check as much as it would normally," Percy murmured. "It wouldn't be an issue if you'd moved in on the Company right away, but… you obviously didn't do that."

    "Not that the four of you and a single ship would have great odds of pulling that off," Alice chimed in. "Why, if the Royal Navy's focused on trouble at home, that's basically an invitation for Company ships to poke around the Empire's waters as much as they want!"

    "Yeah, and haven't you ever heard about a 'mon being most dangerous when it's cornered?" Calidus added. "With angry 'mons pounding at the Queen's gates, those Imperials will be willing to do anything and everything to try and get you back."

    Team Traveller's expressions sank at the explanation. Here they'd been worrying about convincing Beatrix to take them to Pioppo, but now with the revelation that weakening one foe had just strengthened the other… what were they to do?!

    "W-Well what about Xerneas? Maybe we can work with him to help fix this!" Crom insisted.

    "That blue deer that's been prancing around the town begging for money? From what I've seen of him, you'd be better off going alone," Kline harrumphed. "I was sorely disappointed by what I found after following him into these waters."

    "Seriously?" Nida demanded. "Just what sort of mission do you have where you can't work with any Protector on an island with two of them?"

    "Getting a close friend of mine out of captivity from the Company," he spat. "I already took a big risk just coming here, and I can't exactly free my friend with a glorified beggar or someone who actively tilted the balance of power in their favor!"

    Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri fell silent, the four shrinking back and casting guilty glances low towards the ground.

    "I'm… sorry, I had no idea that you were going through something like that," Nida murmured.

    "I suppose it can't be helped," the Zygarde sighed. "But that's why I can't afford to just pair up with anyone who comes to me, Protector or not."

    "But… is that really all you're going to tell them, Kline? Just that you don't want to work with them?" Alice asked. "I mean, I went out of my way to find them, and they did come all the way out to see you."

    "… I'd also like to pass on a warning to them," he said, prompting Pleo to raise his head uneasily.

    "Huh?"

    "Be careful when using your powers. There's more dangerous Pokémon out there beyond that Samurott pursuing you, and a few are on this very island," the Zygarde said. "If you are careless about bringing out your powers, you could very well deliver yourself into their claws."

    Team Traveller fell silent at Kline's warning and wondered to themselves who could be lurking nearby that would be more of a danger to them than Lyn. Everyone else they'd fought in their journey seemed to not fit with Kline's warning for one reason or another. Nagant seemed about as strong as Lyn, but at least she felt like a Pokémon that could be reasoned with. And Hess… well, there were any number of reasons why it would be absurd for Kline to be referring to him, but…

    If it wasn't one of those two lurking in wait for them, then who was it?

    "I have nothing else to say. Just try not to cause any more problems during the rest of your journey," Kline finished. "Good luck with your travels home."

    The four shifted uneasily before they shuffled out of the room one after the other, making their way back into the hallway and down the stairs for the cottage's exit. Nida and her teammates paced away from the building, continuing on a ways until it had slipped from their view, where Nida shook her head with a growl and forcefully thumped one of her hindlegs against the ground.

    "Blugh, this was all a giant waste of time!" the Nidoran snapped. "What should we even do now?"

    "I guess let's go back to the ship?" Crom suggested. "We should tell everyone about what happened, right?"

    The Nidoran and Druddigon paused a moment, before carrying on with a sigh, leaving Dimitri to shake his head and follow, only to notice Pleo lagging behind, his head and wings drooped low and completely bereft of energy. The Kabutops paused, turning back uneasily to the seabird as he called off to him.

    "Are you alright, Pleo?" Dimitri asked. "You're looking a bit down."

    The Lugia craned his head up, his eyes distraught as his beak moved and his tongue lolled about trying and failing to sound out words.

    "It's just…"

    Pleo struggled a moment, before lowering his head back down and pulling his wings in, turning his glance aside.

    "Nothing. It's nothing," he murmured. "I'm… fine, really."

    "Are you sure?"

    "Yeah…"

    Dimitri stood silent, knowing full well that Pleo's answer felt less than honest. Even so, it was evident that the bird was in no mood to try and give a full explanation, leaving the Kabutops to sigh and opt to humor him for now.

    "Well, if you say so. Just try not to let what Kline said bother you too much?" the crab insisted. "I know you've been trying hard and never did anything wrong on purpose."

    "I mean, I suppose, but… let's just go back for now."

    Dimitri waited, letting Pleo trudge ahead of him before following from behind. The pair carried on in the shadow of their friends as they made their way back for the Siglo Swellow, the world feeling far larger and more intimidating than it had just that morning.




    Back on the Nektar Weide, Ellsberg flitted above the deck, passing a freshly-completed letter onto a Gligar, who nodded before catching a gust of sea wind and taking off for the horizon. The Mothim fluttered back down towards the ground, watching contently as a groaning and tottering Ken and Hooke were drug off below deck for the brig by a Heracross and a Graveler. The lot carried on, passing by the gangplank just in time for Ketu to come up and turn his head incredulously as Ken and Hooke were marched away.

    "… What exactly did I miss here?" the Weavile asked.

    "Nothing of note," Ellsberg said. "Those two gave me some lip earlier, and I made sure they learned a lesson from it."

    Ketu folded his arms over, narrowing his eyes back at the moth with a scoff.

    "Oh, so you finally developed the backbone to stand up to a couple of idiots," the Dark-Type harrumphed. "What do you want, a medal?"

    Ellsberg buzzed back in annoyance, his eyes hardening into a fierce glare as he beat his wings agitatedly.

    "Well, what did you wind up doing then?!" the Mothim spat. "I don't see the Protector anywhere with you!"

    "This is certainly smaller than what I was expecting…"

    Ellsberg looked over to the gangplank where a Kommo-o walked up onto the deck, followed by a Sylveon and a Noivern. The Mothim flitted in place, scanning the three strangers in their red scarves and rescue badges, before shooting a puzzled frown over to Ketu.

    "I presume these are your friends you mentioned earlier?" Ellsberg asked. "Are they actually going to do anything useful? Or just stand and loaf on my ship like you do?"

    The Mothim tilted his head back in confusion, only for the sound of heavy footsteps from below deck to ring out as a sharp bellow carried through the air.

    "Ellsberg!" Lyn barked. "How's that update coming alo-!"

    The Samurott trailed off at the sight of Sorge and his companions, leaving the otter to blink out of surprise and the scowl on his face to ease as a warm smile began to spread over his muzzle.

    "Sorge? What are you doing here?!" Lyn exclaimed. "I haven't seen you since the Director's 50th birthday!"

    "Working a present assignment," the Kommo-o grunted back. "I heard the same could be said about you."

    Ellsberg blinked and stared blankly at Team Sentinel. Lyn knew these Pokémon too? Did anyone bother debriefing him about anything anymore?! The moth spluttered to try and speak up, only to be cut off by Ketu walking up to the red-scarved party, turning to Lyn with a proud smile.

    "I found them while taking some time off in town," the Weavile explained. "It was certainly a nice surprise to run into my old friends."

    "We were in town following the lead of a strange Pokémon," Zelle said. "It's a blue deer who claims to be-"

    "Xerneas, the Voice of Life," Lyn finished, drawing surprised stares back from Ketu and his friends.

    "You… were also tracking him?" Aldrich asked.

    "More like initially investigating. One of my scouts informed me of strange talk among the locals about an alleged 'Protector with humans', but I wasn't able to spot them myself and didn't want to go too far inland on a sudden mission," the Samurott explained. "Since you've seen this 'Xerneas' for yourself, perhaps we could take a moment to touch base about-"

    The Water-Type was cut off by the sound of his first mate abruptly clearing his throat, prompting the otter to turn and frown at the Weavile. Sensing his captain's displeasure, Ketu brushed his head feathers back with a claw, before speaking up in a friendly, disarming tone.

    "If I may, Captain, but if we all know about Xerneas, talking over details can wait a while," Ketu said. "I wanted to give Sorge and the others a tour around the ship. Elmer's brigantine here is a bit different from the Argent Aviso after all."

    The Samurott blinked a moment, before casting a glance over at Team Sentinel who pawed at the ground before sheepishly speaking up.

    "It's been a long day, Lyn," Sorge said. "Surely it couldn't hurt to unwind a bit before catching up with each other?"

    "It would be nice to have a moment to stretch our wings," Aldrich added.

    "Yeah, Ketu said that Elmer over there there would help make it go faster seeing as it's his ship," Zelle insisted. The Sylveon extended a ribbon out, pointing off at Ellsberg much to Lyn's puzzlement as he twitched his whiskers.

    "Hm? I wouldn't have expected him to be so eager to do that himself," the Samurott mulled. "But I suppose there's no harm in waiting a little."

    "We'll try to keep this quick then," Ketu nodded back. "Come on, Elmer."

    Sorge and his companions set off, making their way down the deck with Ketu and Ellsberg following. The Weavile made his way past the door's frame and paced along, only to hear Ellsberg's wingbeats grow fainter and fainter. Ketu paused, turning back to see Ellsberg waiting near the entrance with a piercing glare.

    "Hey! Hurry it up, fuzz brain!" Ketu snapped. "This is an important meeting here!"

    "If it's such an important meeting, you can at least be bothered to get my name right," Ellsberg huffed. "And don't think I'm showing up to others if I have to put up with this insult!"

    "What?"

    "It's 'Ellsberg'," the Mothim growled. "Not 'Elmer', not 'fuzz brain', or whatever inane name is on the tip of your tongue. Ellsberg. Got it?"

    A moment of silence followed the moth's barb, Ketu staring back silently before a small smile crept over the ends of his muzzle.

    "Well that's certainly a different attitude," the Dark-Type teased. "How's that new spine of yours working out?"

    Ellsberg glared and buzzed angrily at Ketu's reply, turning to leave in disgust only for the Weavile's voice to reach his ears from behind.

    "But fine, I'll play along assuming you do your part and follow my orders," he continued. "I'm the one with the operational knowledge, and if we're going to actually swipe that bird, we don't have time to wait on you to reinvent the wheel. Capiche?"

    "… Fine," Ellsberg sighed. "Let's just hurry up and rejoin your friends to figure out our plan of attack."

    The pair carried on below deck, where the sun's rays faded and was replaced by the dim glow of lanternlight. Ketu carried along down the hallway, pausing when he heard a repeated tapping, pressing on to see that it was none other than Zelle stamping her foot impatiently in front of her teammates.

    "Where have you two been?" the Sylveon demanded. "We were right ahead of you!"

    "I just needed a moment to run some details by Ellsberg before we talked things through," Ketu explained. "That's all."

    Team Sentinel blinked out of confusion at the Weavile's reply, realizing that the way Ketu addressed the Mothim had changed. Zelle gave a shake of her feelers, before prodding curiously at her Dark-Type companion.

    "Wait, but wasn't his name Elmer?" the Sylveon asked. "That's how you introduced him."

    "Nah, just misspoke a bit," Ketu insisted. "You know how it is with 'mons with long names."

    Ellsberg grumbled under his breath about how his name was perfectly long enough, leaving Sorge and Zelle to trade puzzled looks with one another while an unimpressed frown settled over Aldrich's face. Ketu brushed the matter off, leading the group off down the hallway, where Ellsberg pulled the group aside into an empty room lit up by a lantern hung from the rafters. One after the other, Sorge and his companions entered and eased themselves, leaving the Kommo-o to rattle his scales and clear his throat to speak.

    "Well, I can't say that I know you, but if Administrator Elilan trusts you, then I'm sure that we can work together quite nicely," the Dragon-Type said, thrusting out a claw. "I'm Sorge, and this is Zelle and Aldrich. You can say that we go a ways back with Ketu."

    "It's a pleasure to meet you," Ellsberg replied, shaking Sorge's claw before flitting back puzzledly. "Though, what exactly happened out there with you and that Lugia?"

    "Before we ran into Ketu, we encountered him outside our guild as a member of an inexperienced-looking Rescue Team called 'Team Traveller'," Aldrich explained. "We noticed he was a strange Pokémon from the looks, but there was a Marked with him who seemed perfectly calm, so we figured it was probably just some sort of subspecies from elsewhere in the Cradle."

    "A… Marked?" Ellsberg murmured. "That would certainly be a change from the team we've been tracking…"

    "It's a Scyther that was at the tournament in Giotto," Ketu explained. "Seems like he was with the schooner that chased the Protector from Tromba and got him out of Tidemill."

    "We don't really know the details of what's been going on between Lyn and Team Traveller, but we ran into about half their team in a panic later on saying they spotted him in town," Sorge added, prompting Ketu to give a grumbling shake of his head.

    "Tch, of course a 'mon that always charges in swinging would be sloppy like that."

    "At least his mistake worked out for us. If it wasn't for us running into them again, they'd probably have tried to cut and run from port by now," Zelle replied. "We simply explained that the conditions here in Magmapool are such that the only way Lyn could get at them would be through an ambush outside of town, and it calmed the lot right down."

    "They were also searching around for that Xerneas beforehand, and they almost certainly kept at it after we parted ways," Aldrich said. "It's quite fortunate, really. Thanks to that, you've got the best opportunity you could hope for for grabbing that Lugia."

    Ellsberg twitched his antennae, flitting up to the Noivern's face with a puzzled frown. How was one Protector looking for another supposed to help them at all?

    "How on earth do you figure that?" Ellsberg demanded. "Wouldn't two Protectors be harder to deal with than one?"

    "Because, that Xerneas is a phony. Last I checked from the lore I've read, Xerneas, and Protectors in general didn't have gray Deerling eyes," Ketu chimed in. "However, I wouldn't put it past a Ditto impersonating one."

    "Huh? But how would a Ditto even find one to impersonate?" the Mothim asked.

    "He wouldn't. No Protector on record that's ever awakened has grown as large as him yet, and I'm sure if we got a chance to look closer, we'd probably notice more things wrong with that 'Protector' prancing around," Sorge answered. "If anything, he and his buddies probably tried to cobble together that disguise from a bunch of drawings and the like and fill in the rest with other Pokémon they saw, hence the eyes."

    "It would certainly explain a lot about his actions as well," Zelle added. "Since when would a Protector ever be so obsessive about collecting money from random peasants?"

    "So, all we need to do is twist those con artists' arms a bit," Ketu smirked. "They keep up their act long enough to lure that Lugia to us, and then we pounce."

    Ellsberg fluttered with a pondering silence, before giving a muttering nod of his head. He certainly hadn't expected much from Ketu's friends on such short notice, but even he had to concede that this idea might be onto something.

    "That's… actually not half bad," the Mothim admitted. "But you're missing one thing. How do we get to 'Xerneas' and his friends without drawing attention from the townsfolk?"

    "Leave that to me. I'll find out where their resting place is by listening in on them. All you have to do for now is wait until tonight when the town is less active," Aldrich insisted, as a malevolent grin came over his face.

    "After all, those townsfolk have to be awake to come to anyone's aid."

    "Hm, that does seem like a fairly solid plan…" Ellsberg mulled.

    "Good. In that case we should go see Lyn now," Sorge said. "I want to know what he found out about this fake Xerneas and see what we can do to keep him out of the loop."

    The Kommo-o and his companions took his leave, shuffling along for the hall as Ketu and Ellsberg stayed behind in the dim chamber. As the three's footsteps fell away, the room returned to silence barring the occasional creak of the ship and churn of waves outside, leaving Ketu to cross his arms and shoot an insistent look over at his Mothim partner.

    "Now do you see why I said we had better odds on this island?" he said.

    "I admit it sounds better than going along with Lyn's course of action here…" Ellsberg murmured. "But there's one thing I still don't understand."

    Ketu tilted his head, giving Ellsberg a puzzled, yet curious look before the Mothim continued.

    "Why are you doing this anyway? Simply sticking close to Lyn as he gets promoted would make it much easier for you to become a Third-Rank than doing all of this," the Bug-Type said. "He never seemed to mistreat you or take you for granted. What did Administrator Elilan promise you that you'd pass all that up? A seat on the Board?"

    The Weavile frowned back at the moth's question, giving an irritable shake of his head as his eyes hardened into a sharp glare.

    "Really? That's who you think I am?" Ketu scoffed. "Some cliché rank-chaser who only cares about getting promoted?"

    The Dark-Type gave a disgusted scoff before making his way for the door. Ketu pushed it open only to pause a moment before turning over his shoulder with a pointed scowl.

    "But to answer your question, no. I wouldn't be interested in becoming an Administrator even if they asked," he retorted. "I'm fine topping out as a Commander. Having to deal with a whole island is more of a headache than I'd care to put up with."

    "Then why are you doing this?"

    Ketu and Ellsberg stared at each other silently, the Mothim waiting insistently for an answer only for the Weavile to remain stone-faced. Ellsberg fidgeted impatiently, preparing to speak when a small smirk crept over Ketu's face as followed by a singular reply.

    "… Wouldn't you like to know?" the Weavile answered.

    The Dark-Type slunk off, leaving Ellsberg alone in the room to huff annoyedly. Why the furball couldn't be bothered to answer such an honest question, he'd never know. But that was hardly his problem, and after their mission was complete, it would be unlikely they'd ever cross paths with each other again. Brushing the matter aside, Ellsberg set off, opting to prepare for the mission ahead of him tonight. No matter what Ketu's real motivations were, that was his promotion on the line, and it was nigh time to seize it.




    (Continued in the next scene)
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2019
  15. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    As the sun carried on its westerly course over Tidemill's skies, the wreckage in the harbor of the Visitors' District cleared away little by little until a passage reopened through its gates. One by one, the entrance grew thick with ships and groups of swimmers queueing up for departing inspections at the wall, forming a snaking line in the water that included a golden-sailed caravel where a Ledian and a Floatzel watched as their ship bobbed slowly along, the beetle giving a disgusted hiss and click of his mandibles.

    "Ugh, can those Imps take any longer checking these ships?" Kichiro grumbled. "It's like they're all doing this for the first time!"

    Rodion shook his head, giving a bemused chuckle in response as he prodded at the Bug-Type's shoulder with a teasing jab.

    "Sounds like you've been taking after Hess a bit while we've been waiting in port," the Floatzel snarked.

    "Oi, what's that supposed to mean?!" Kichiro buzzed back. "I'm nothing like-!"

    WHUMP!

    Kichiro flitted up and Rodion latched onto the railing as they felt the ship's deck lurch underfoot. The pair turned to their right, where further down, Hess was stomping the deck impatiently, leaning out over the railing and cupping a claw with a loud bellow.

    "Hurry it up, you lousy peons!" Hess roared. "Some of us have places to get to!"

    The Ledian stared wordlessly at the Aggron's fuming, before looking up and seeing the Floatzel first mate looking down at him with a smarmy, knowing smile that prompted him to shake his wings uncomfortably.

    "… That doesn't count," the Bug-Type huffed. "Purely coincidence."

    Hess snorted and stepped away from the railing with a low grumble, lumbering along the deck before he looked up and noted Rodion and Kichiro before him, prompting him to tilt his head in surprise.

    "Huh? You two are still here?" the Aggron asked. "I thought there was work to be done taking us out of port."

    "Well, there's only so much that can be done while we're inching forward like this…" Rodion sighed.

    The Floatzel motioned around the deck, where from a passing glance, Valatos, Alvise, and Nori could be seen gathered around a crate playing a game of cards, with little sign of any actual work being done on the deck. A quick glance at the rigging and surrounding waters revealed the escorts to be little better: a Noibat and a Chingling perched among the netting poking up at the clouds above, with a few of the crew's swimmers in the water busying themselves with a splash fight, leaving Kichiro to shake his head with an irritated mutter.

    "Blugh… we're never leaving this island, are we?" the Ledian grumbled.

    "I wouldn't worry about it," Hess retorted. "As long as I've got my lucky charm, this ship's bound to make it back home in one piece!"

    Kichiro shot a sour frown at the Aggron, who rolled his eyes before walking off to fish through a chest under the shade and fetch a clay flask. The Ledian watched as Hess stood up and took a swig from the flask before plodding back, leaving the Bug-type to turn to Rodion with an unamused stare.

    "Am I supposed to seriously be soothed by that lousy rock around his neck?" he muttered.

    "Eh, whatever helps him keep his confidence," Rodion answered. "Keeping morale up in battle counts for more than you think."

    "Next!"

    The sound of a Slaking's cry made Hess sputter and spit up his current mouthful of rum, prompting him to turn and note that the line ahead had emptied out and other ships were beginning to pass them. The Aggron hastily called out to his underlings, snapping the escorts back to attention as they pushed the Mistral Marauder ahead to the front of the line in a hurry, while faint curses and growls rang out from the freshly-delayed crews behind them. The caravel eased its pace, slowing as it approached a small wooden platform built along the harbor's wall, where a Venomoth kept watch and a Slaking lazily leafed through a clipboard with a crude checklist attached.

    "Do you have any cargo to declare?" the Slaking asked.

    "Nothing that we didn't already submit while in line," Rodion replied.

    "Any 'mons that have come down with an illness?"

    "You're supposed to ask that when we pull into port!" Kichiro snapped. "And do we look sick right now?"

    "Well you lot certainly smell the part…" the Slaking muttered to himself, before tapping his checklist idly. "And… any tea by chance? Me and the other guards have been getting a bit thirsty up here."

    A loud thump filled the air as Hess stomped the deck, glaring up at the Slaking above over the sloth's sudden craving for tea.

    "Look bub, we've been waiting in line for two hours!" the Aggron growled. "We're not getting turned around because you decided that you were thirsty!"

    "Come on, Bruno. Just hurry up and get this over with," the Venomoth on the platform groaned. "Would you really want tea from that nasty-looking caravel? Why if I didn't know any better, I'd say it was a pirate ship!"

    A collective grimace settled over the crew at the Venomoth's words, Hess and his underlings watching breathlessly as the Slaking looked at the ship sternly. After a pause for what felt like an eternity, the Normal-Type turned back to his checklist, before summarily marking a few points on the top paper and turning his attention back down to the Aggron captain.

    "Well, I don't see anything out of the ordinary," the Slaking said. "You're all free to go."

    The crew of the Mistral Marauder breathed a collective sigh of relief, at once hurrying to their stations to help ease the ship through the passage past the walls. From his place, Kichiro flitted over to the ship's railing, when the sound of churning water and loud complaining carried along the air.

    "And I was saying that if we'd been waiting to ambush them in the harbor instead of chasing them through the canals, the Protector wouldn't have slipped away from Captain Nugget," a Tentacruel's burbling voice scoffed.

    "Snova? Seriously, give it a rest Cyanea!" a Sharpedo's voice shot back. "It's not as if we'd get another chance to redo everything to prove your point!"

    The Ledian froze, realizing that the voices sounded like ones he had heard back during the chase through the canals… and not for a good reason either.

    "… Wasn't 'Captain Nugget' that Clawitzer we ran into?" the beetle gulped.

    Hess, Rodion, and Kichiro peered over the railing where they caught sight of none other than Cyanea and Katyusha swimming by. The Tentacruel and Sharpedo carried on, before noticing the three and the golden sails above them, prompting them to stop dead in the water and point ahead with slackened, incredulous jaws.

    "You! You're those pirates who were chasing around the Protector earlier!" Cyanea cried.

    "W-We were just leaving!" Hess stammered. "Thank you Officer, we'll move along now-!"

    "Oh no you don't, pirate scum! You should've learned from your run-in with us on your cesspit island and stayed there!" Katyusha snarled. "Surrender and turn yourselves in here and now if you know what's good for you!"

    From the platform, the Slaking and Venomoth's mood had taken a turn for the worse, the moth calling out and drawing the forms of other indigo-scarved Pokémon hurrying up along the wall while swimmers closed in from every direction behind him. Realizing that he was between a rock and a hard place, Hess hemmed and hawed a response back to the glaring guards.

    "Uhm… yeah, about that surrender… er…" the Aggron began. "I've put some thought into it and I think the only logical thing to do is-"

    The pirate captain swung his arms up, calling up large stones from the bottom of the harbor that churned the water and sailed up into the air where they struck the base of the wooden platform with a loud crash. The Venomoth and Slaking pitched into the water with a pair of screams as a cloud of dust from a fresh crater in the wall settled, Hess hastily whirling to his wide-eyed underlings with an impatient stamp of his foot.

    "Go go go!"

    The escorts in the sea and air hastily whipped up a current that shoved the Mistral Marauder along, as beams and projectiles sailed through the air. Ducking a passing glob of toxic sludge, Rodion scampered along the deck for the stern, shouting out to the deckhands below from the railing's edge.

    "All hands, keep suppressive fire on the water behind the stern!" the Floatzel ordered. "We've only got one shot at this!"

    The caravel lurched ahead as the air thickened with attacks zipping to and from the deck, as pained yelps and shrieks rang out from unfortunate Pokémon caught in the crossfire, such as Wilhelm who was struck by an untimely Flamethrower and sent pitching unconscious to the deck. Seeing her foes were beginning to slip away, Cyanea slapped the water irritably, before barking out to the guards following along behind her.

    "Focus your fire on their rudder!" the Tentacruel cried. "Let's see how well those pirate scum hold up when they can't steer!"

    The hail of incoming attacks onto the Mistral Marauder's deck thinned, though any relief was short-lived as the sound of splintering wood rang out, prompting Hess to look over and see that a set of holes had been punched in the stern just above the waterline, the rudder having barely been spared by a Seadra's desperate Protect. The Aggron blanched at the sight of Cyanea, Katyusha, and their peers readying themselves for another salvo, prompting Rodion to desperately shout to the escorts to hurry the vessel along. When the shadow of a Magmar and a Skuntank at the top of the wall fell onto Hess, he quickly looked up and saw them pushing up a cauldron. The Magmar of the pair breathed fire on the vat, setting its contents ablaze when the Steel-Type realized to his horror that it was a batch of seafire, the Magmar and the Skuntank reaching for the cauldron's base when a Simisear ran in waving frantically.

    "Agh! What are you doing?!" the monkey cried.

    "Burning that pirate ship of course!" the Magmar shot back.

    "We just spent over a day cleaning out the harbor from last time!" the Simisear snapped. "Don't dump that here! Get some bellows instead for when they pass the walls!"

    "There's no time!" the Skuntank insisted. "They're getting away!"

    The Magmar and the Skuntank pitched the cauldron's contents over the ledge of the wall, sending it spilling out below… directly behind the Mistral Marauder. The pursuing swimmers craned their heads up, some lurching back while others dove under the water's surface in a yelping panic just as the burning glop hit the water and spread over the surface, kicking up thick plumes of smoke as the sound of irritated voices carried on through the haze.

    "Gah! Give us some warning, you almost burnt me there!" Katyusha complained.

    "I can't see anything in this smoke!" Cyanea cried. "Did they get the ship?!"

    The Mistral Marauder moved along, clearing the walls and hitting the deepening blue of the open sea. The crew looked back, seeing smoke trailing up from the harbor gate as Pokémon all about the ship flopped to the deck breathing sighs of relief, leaving Hess to fish a round silvery, marbled stone from under his scarf and give it a relieved rub between his claws before turning to Kichiro and Rodion.

    "See? Nothing to worry about," Hess proclaimed. "We're all good!"

    Kichiro stared wordlessly, before burying his face into one of his fists. From beside him, Rodion sighed and shook his head, opting to brush the matter aside and focus more on the next portion of their voyage that laid ahead of them.

    "Where do we go now, Captain?" the Floatzel first mate pressed. "If we're going to find that bird again, we'd need to get an idea of where those hicks were going to, since it's too late to chase after them on their course."

    "Well, we've got plenty of time to take it easy and try and put things together now," Hess answered. "What place did Eltenios say they were heading to again…?"

    "Ack! There's three ships closing in on us from hard to port!" a Staravia from the crow's nest cried. The Aggron captain quickly raised a scope noticed that sure enough, a trio of ships were now swiftly closing in, with cannons being moved to their bows in preparation to fire after them. The Steel-Type grimaced, realizing that with the way those Tromban hicks had trashed the harbor on their way out of Tidemill, of course the Imps wouldn't just let someone use the same trick twice!

    "Agh! We'll worry about that later!" Hess yelped. "Get this ship moving already, Rodion!"

    "But where are we supposed to-?"

    "Anywhere but here! Just lose those ships!"

    Rodion hastily ran up to the tiller, leaning hard to the left against it and turning the Mistral Marauder sharply to the right. The pirate caravel carried on, zig-zagging to and fro over the horizon as the deep boom of cannonfire and errant attacks rang out following behind it all the while.




    At the Guards' Headquarters in Tidemill City, the air was thick with tension that day. Guards milled in and out, some chattering in hushed tones about how long the city's relative calm from the riots' ebbing into scattered and more peaceable protests would last, others heading back out in larger groups than normal, and a few others limping into the infirmary with wounds from the earlier disturbances. At a bulletin board hung up in the central hall, a quiet lull lingered as a Fletchinder and a Misdreavus watched as a Pikachu put up a set of missing person posters bearing the images of a Nidoran, a Growlithe, and a Cubone.

    "Are you sure we're not jumping the gun here, Cardino?" Nico asked. "It's only been a day and a half."

    "I'm sure that something happened. They told me to my face they'd be at that courtroom, and then after everything blew up there's not a trace of them!" Cardino insisted. "If that's not a sign of something wrong, I don't know what is, pal."

    "Well, we did our part earlier hanging up those posters around the city," Rita said. "Let's just hope that the other guards here actually take some time to check up on these posters-"

    "You there!"

    The three's ears pricked up at the sound of chitinous thud, prompting them to turn and see the form of a Clawitzer hopping along blowing past a Glalie and a violet Persian in indigo garb who hastily ducked out of the way. The shrimp carried along, coming to a stop in front of Cardino and his companions, when she pointed her larger claw accusingly with a harsh glare.

    "Your supervisor told me that you're the one who has been putting up these posters of these missing children, Pikachu," Nagant demanded. "Who are you and how do you know those Pokémon?"

    "Er… well, I'm Detective Cardino and up until a day and a half ago, those three were my assistants that I'd contracted for investigating a case related to some captured pirates," the Pikachu explained.

    "What case was that?"

    "Well…"

    Cardino cleared his throat, recounting how he'd recruited Team Traveller to help with his case involving an accusation of egg theft being leveled against the aforementioned pirates. During the twists and turns of the investigation, the youngsters had helped Nico and Rita clear their clients of the charge, while uncovering Sibich's dealings with Admiral Coil just before they parted ways at the stadium when Coil was summoned to testify…

    "And that's everything that happened before they vanished."

    "Well that's a cute story, but it's wrong," Nagant harrumphed. "Those same Pokémon you left at the stadium were the ones that stole the Protector and sailed off with him!"

    The Clawitzer's charge made the three Pokémon jump up with a start. Had- Had they misheard the shrimp?

    "E-Eh?! You're kidding!" Nico cried.

    "How can that be possible?!" Rita exclaimed.

    "Yeah pal, they were literally helping to get to the bottom of a major case!" Cardino piped.

    "Maybe so, but they did that in order to further their own ends, and you abetted it," Nagant fumed, giving an impatient click of her claws.

    "So now, I have to track them down, and part of that is trying to find any possible leads at all to those children and where they might be."

    The three shuffled uneasily at the Clawitzer's reply, none eager to put the youngsters in potential trouble when the official explanation sounded as far fetched as it did. The sound of shifting chitin pricked the three's ears as they saw the shrimp holding out her large claw, leveling it at them impatiently with a demanding glare, prompting Rita to grimace before hesitantly offering up an answer.

    "Er… well those pirates we represented did seem to find them familiar…" the Misdreavus said, casting her gaze off further down the hall as she left Nagant to narrow her eyes with a testy hiss.

    "And where are they now?" Nagant pressed.

    "Ow! Hey watch it!"

    The lot turned and looked further down the hallway where they saw the forms of a Scraggy, a Combusken, and a Grotle being shoved along roughly by a Swalot and a Bastiodon, the three shooting dirty glares back as they plodded forward.

    "I presume those would be them?" Nagant asked, prompting Cardino to paw at the back of his head uneasily.

    "Er… well, yes."

    "Would it kill you to be patient?!" Eric snapped. "We can walk just fine without you pushing us!"

    "Yeah! I thought we were supposed to get better treatment since we got cleared of that egg-nabbing charge!" Hanuna whined.

    "Shut it, you lousy sea vermin!" the Swalot snarled. "Or I'll-"

    "Change your course and transport them to the Lichtkanone at the naval drydocks at once," Nagant ordered. The guards paused, staring incredulously as Eric and his companions blinked blankly, before Sela tilted her head with a scoff.

    "… Who is this joker supposed to be?" she demanded.

    Nagant glared back, before shooting a pressurized pulse of water at the Combusken's stomach, sending her pitching back with a pained squawk. Cardino and his companions jumped back as the wet hen spluttered and gagged on the ground, Eric and Hanuna backpedaling with a blanch and audibly nervous stuttering.

    "B-But we were supposed to get sentenced to cleaning up trash or something like that!" Hanuna stammered.

    "Not anymore you're not! Effective immediately, you are impressed into Her Majesty's navy," Nagant harrumphed. "Before your capture, you encountered a Nidoran, a Growlithe, and a Cubone that I found consorting with a Protector!"

    "W-Wait, what's that got anything to do with us?" the Grotle asked.

    "Because it means you also encountered the Protector with them!" the Clawitzer snapped. "And you're going to help me find it!"

    Sela began to right herself, when the three froze at the mention of finding a Protector, their faces beginning to flush an unhealthy pale as Eric stammered back uneasily.

    "F-Find it? Y-You mean chase after that demon bird we saw?" the Scraggy gulped. "Look, if this is some sort of joke to try and get us to be quiet-"

    "March!" Nagant hissed.

    The guards traded askew looks with one another, before shrugging and shoving the three former pirates along, leaving them to cry out and protest in panic. Cardino, Nico, and Rita stared after the sorry group as they slipped past the door, before turning away uneasily.

    "Uh… I don't know how much help a bunch of Marked will be for your quest, but… good luck?" Cardino said. "The rest of us will certainly be rooting for-"

    "You're coming too, Detective," Nagant barked, prompting Cardino to perk his ears up and stare back in shock.

    "C-Come again?!" he cried. "You must be joking, pal! I'm a detective, not a sailor! The only boats I've ever set foot on just took me across the harbor!"

    "I'm completely serious," the Clawitzer scoffed. "The City Guard are subordinate to Her Majesty's navy and Her Highness has granted me the authority to bring any resource necessary to bring the Protector back."

    "I still have a pile of casework to get through!" the Pikachu protested.

    "Which will be reassigned," the shrimp finished. "I already requested your superiors to dismiss you from your role if it turned out you knew something about this Protector that could help me, and this more than suffices."

    "But-"

    Cardino's protests were quickly cut off by Nagant levelling her firing claw, shoving its still-dripping tip into the stunned mouse's face.

    "Zatknis'! I don't want to hear it! This whole debacle is partially your fault for letting a band of children exploit you!" Nagant hissed. "The least you can do for your queen is to try and help clean up some of the mess!"

    "Whoa! Val! Val!" the Pikachu cried. "Just… simmer down, and give me a chance to pack-"

    The Clawitzer rolled her eyes at Cardino's insistence, before summarily moving her large claw to his scarf and clamping down. The Electric Mouse Pokémon yelped, before Nagant began to hop along, dragging the hapless detective off along with her.

    "Agh! Hey! Slacken those claws a bit!"

    As the freshly press-ganged detective carried along with his passage down the hall, Rita bobbed uneasily in the air, shooting a worried look over to her Fletchinder partner.

    "… Should we be worried about this?" Rita murmured.

    "I mean… Cardino's a tough 'mon, so… he should be fine…?" Nico responded, only for a loud slam to ring out, and leave him looking off at the freshly-closed doors to the main hall with an uneasy stare.

    "… I think."




    The two halves of Team Traveller drifted back towards each other at the docks, each sharing their tale with the other of how their search through Magmapool had found promising leads that ultimately led to dead ends. The lot relayed their findings to Beatrix, who upon hearing of Lyn's impending ambush, opted to postpone her plans of setting sail to try and scheme a contingency plan, leaving Team Traveller to drift down to the galley for a simple meal of gummis, bread, and unappreciated Nomel Berries.

    With the evening still young after dinner, the team's restless youngsters eventually opted to attempt to practice the moves that Alcon had tutored them, leading them to set up crude straw dolls on the beach and make fruitless attempts of attacking them.

    "Yah!"

    The process continued on well after the sky had turned orange and the sun began to slip over the horizon, where Elty charged up to a straw dummy on the sand. The Growlithe lunged ahead, smoke curling from his nostrils as he neared, when he blew out a spray of bluish-white embers that brushed over the doll, leaving it black and smoldering. The Puppy Pokémon stood wordlessly for a moment, before realizing the fiery spray was none other than…

    "I think I've finally got it!" Elty yipped. "That's Will-O-Wisp!"

    "Wow! You even got it to land right on the doll's head!" Crom cheered.

    "Hmph, not bad," Guardia added. "Looks like quite a burn from how charred the straw is."

    "Yeah, yeah, whatever," Nida grumbled.

    Elty's eyes narrowed, prompting Nida to fold her ears fold back in annoyance as a smug smirk spread over the ends of her teammate's muzzle.

    "What's wrong spike ball?" the Growlithe teased. "Do I detect a hint of jealousy in your voice?"

    From his place near the edge of the group, Crom watched as his companions bantered and jested with each other, figuring that a spark of competition couldn't hurt them learning faster. All the while, the Dragon-Type noticed that Pleo seemed to be absent, prompting him to look around and spot him nestled off by a log of driftwood, staring morosely down at the black sand underfoot.

    "Huh? Is something the matter, Pleo?" Crom asked.

    "Have… Have I really been making everything worse?"

    Crom fidgeted his wings uneasily at the young Lugia's question. Everything… worse? Since when had Pleo gotten into a mood like this?

    "No…?" the Druddigon answered. "Why do you say that?"

    "Privet!"

    Crom and Pleo looked up, spotting Kiran, Dimitri, and Ander heading down the beach for them. The Kabutops of the group hurried along, calling out ahead at the sight of Pleo on the beach.

    "I just wanted to check up on you since you seemed a bit down earlier," Dimitri said. "How's the practice coming alo-?"

    Dimitri trailed off as Pleo suddenly hung his head, just in time for Nida, Elty, and Guardia to turn and see their teammate in depressed spirits. The Kabutops shifted uneasily a moment, overcome with a sudden uncertainty of how to best continue on.

    "Er… was there something you wanted to tell us, Pleo?"

    Kiran shook his head and fluttered along, settling down beside his pupil with a nudge at the Lugia's wing with his beak.

    "Pollito, what's wrong?" Kiran asked.

    "I…"

    Pleo bit his tongue, unsure whether he should speak up about what Kline had told him. After everything his friends had been through to try and get him home, how could he just tell them that it'd made things worse? The Lugia shifted away, thinking to keep quiet and let the matter be, before shaking his head and deciding that for better or worse, his friends had to hear about what was bothering him.

    "It's just what Kline said about how we're making things worse… I already felt awful about Rasp and Bech… but now I can't even escape without messing something up?" he murmured. "I didn't know that just running away would make the Company stronger! If that's already going on, then what's going to happen if I get home? Is something terrible going to happen there too?"

    Kiran fell silent for a moment, before answering by spreading a wing and settling it on the seabird's shoulder. Pleo looked up puzzled for a moment, as Kiran looked back at him with firm, insistent eyes.

    "Pleo, nothing is gonna happen when we get home, okay? You're still a pollito so you're bound to make a few mistakes, but every 'mon does," the Swellow said. "We're a team, and we look out for each other, it's nothing we can't overcome together."

    "… Yeah," Elty muttered. "Hopefully I'll be a good distance away from those mista- Ow!"

    The Growlithe yelped and leapt forward, pulling his tail between his legs as Guardia pulled her bone back from the back of his head. The pair traded dirty looks with each other for a moment, before the Cubone shook her head and turned her attention over to the Lugia.

    "Don't listen to that 'Zygarde' too much," Guardia insisted. "I'm sure you'll be a great Protector, Pleo."

    "Yeah! What's a little snoop like him know about protecting seas anyways?" Dimitri piped.

    Pleo lifted his head, his mood improving slightly, only for him to notice Ander uneasily fidgeting at the back of the group. The Scyther hemmed and hawed a moment, before warily raising his voice to speak up to the young Protector.

    "About that 'Zygarde' you met earlier… Are you sure it was the Zygarde?" Ander asked. "As in the demon of Conntow?"

    "Wait a minute, he's from Conntow?" Nida questioned.

    "Assuming it's the real one, yes," the mantis answered. "A great green-and-black serpent that rends the earth much as my scythes would do to paper."

    "Huh? But the Pokémon we saw looked like a little green Dunsparce with a red spot on his stomach!" the Nidoran exclaimed. "Not anything like that."

    Kiran, Ander, Elty, and Guardia traded puzzled looks with one another. Claiming to be a Protector wasn't something Pokémon did glibly, and for a Pokémon that didn't look anything like what it was said to in the myths? Something just wasn't adding up here…

    "… You don't suppose it's one of Lyn's dirty tricks, do you?" Crom asked.

    "I mean, we did see him walking around." Guardia insisted. "If he was able to, he does seem like the type to try and fake a Protector being here if it helped him catch us off guard, especially since he can't attack us directly while we're in town."

    "It's certainly something we'll need to think through and be careful about," Dimitri murmured. "But given how the sun's already set, I don't know if there's anything we can do about it right now. Maybe we're better off calling it a day."

    The Kabutops motioned with his scythe over at the horizon, where the form of what appeared to be a star slipped over the horizon. The Moon Caller's Traveller if the darkness of the sky and the moon's position were anything to go by.

    "It's getting late, and between Lyn waiting for us to leave and the guards getting closer by the hour to figuring out who we are, we only have so many options right now," he said. "We should go back to Xerneas with Pleo tomorrow to see if we can sway him, and I don't think shambling over half-asleep in the morning will help our odds"

    "Brzmi dobrze! I could use a break about now," Elty piped. "Who knows, maybe the galley still has seconds for a pre-bed snack!"

    The Growlithe tromped off, followed closely behind by his teammates as Kiran remained on the beach with Pleo. The Swellow ruffled his feathers, beginning to pace ahead when he heard a chirp from behind, prompting him to turn back and see Pleo staring insistently at him.

    "Kiran? Did you really mean what you said earlier?" Pleo asked. "About being able to get past mistakes?"

    "It's what a team is for, pollito," Kiran replied. "Surely you've seen that yourself by now."

    The young Lugia paused a moment, before a small smile settled over his beak.

    "… Right, I think I know what you're talking about, Kiran," he replied. "But… what do we do now?"

    "Why don't you lead the way back to the ship?" the Swellow asked. "Your flight feathers are looking full again, and it never hurts to practice the old wing muscles."

    The young Protector shifted a moment, before waddling ahead with short, flying hops along the beach, occasionally stopping by a curious stone or piece of driftwood to peck at it. All the while, Kiran dutifully followed after his charge, the two making their way back for the Siglo Swellow as the cool darkness of twilight sank in and stars began to shine in the skies above.




    Author's Notes:

    - Hayaku ikō yo! (早く行こうよ!) - Japanese: "Let's go quickly!" (Hepburn Romanization)
    - Snova? (Снова?) - Russian: "Again?" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
    - Zatknis'! (Заткнись!) - Russian: "Shut up!" (expression is much ruder in Russian culture than Anglophone analogue) (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
    - Val! - Venetian: "Alright!"
    - Brzmi dobrze! - Polish: "Sounds good!"
     
  16. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Stuck in Alola?

    *sees chapter title* Is... is that a cheesy play on words with how tiny Zygarde cores are? I'm so proud of you! *sniffle*

    Oh, look at Nagant fawn over her new ship. I think this is the happiest we've ever seen her. And it's not that creepy, unsettling type of happy you sometimes see in cartoons when it comes to continually-grumpy characters, so props to you for actually making it seem genuine. And this first scene answers my question of how exactly Nagant's going to know where Team Traveler is. Well, that's certainly convenient. Though it doesn't do very much for my overall perception of the size/distance ratios of these islands. Darzin just flew from Vollezee to Giotto when it seemed like it took our heroes quite a long time to get there by ship? Unless a certain amount of time has passed since the stuff with Darzin and Bunsen? Dang it, I really need a map of this place. *insert psyduck holding head here*

    Okay, on to Kiran's half of the team. Following Ketu's revelation at the end of the last chapter I was expecting "Xerneas" to put up a more convincing act, but he went straight into full jerkass mode. I mean, I suppose I'd be worried about random strangers soliciting me, but this has the telltale signs of a group turning nasty b/c their ruse is (perhaps unintentionally) being exposed. At the very least, we continue to see Ander's struggles... and it's interesting he's juxtapositioned with Guardia, who's having her wild-eyed idealism spat on at the moment.

    Next, we get to the big reveal: it's Squishy! Or, in thise case, Kine— sorry, Kline. And, wow, the sass in the first line made me think we were looking at a grumpy ol' mentor for Pleo, but the guy just drags the poor bird. Maybe he's not actually that old himself? I'd think he'd at least be able to offer some understanding since Pleo's just a little kid. Instead, he takes him to task and paints everything as a failure. Oof. Luckily, Kiran's there in a later scene to say much the same things, especially since Pleo's youthful naivete seemed to keep him from asking things he should've asked Kline (about the gods... why the Company and Empire want them so badly, etc.). At least, knowing what Kline's quest is doesn't make him totally unlikeable. He's basically missing his twin (other half? i dunno). But that hinting at a more dangerous enemy... wonder if this means Elilan's the biggest threat? ;P

    Aw man... Ellsberg's newfound confidence actually continues... he stands up to Ketu! Congratulations, li'l guy, now don't let it go to your head. I do have to admit that, in contrast to the rather bombastic craziness with the previous few islands, this plan is a lot more brains in nature than brawn. Though coersion is a pretty typical strategy from the Company's playbook. Still, looks like this Xerneas is apparently a Ditto. The explanation for how it happened made sense. And curse you... I just want to know Ketu's motivations.

    I have... admittedly nothing to really say about the pirates b/c they're just sort of... there. Like, their scene seems like something that could've just been summarized at some point in the future when they become relevant to the plot. I don't necessarily think we need to see everything that every faction is up to, especially with the number of parties swelling up very large. That might have more to do with the fact that it feels like Xerneas and Kline are supposed to be central to the episode, but thus far it feels like they've actually been peripheral to all the events happening to the groups that aren't Team Traveller. It's admittedly a tough juggling act to do, but perhaps it's something to keep in mind for your future episodes so that you don't drive yourself absolutely crazy? Since it only seems like we'll be coming out of this episode with even more factions that need following.

    Oh dear, Nagant's conscripted Cardino and his clients. This can only end spectacularly.

    Nagant is capable of fangirling. Who knew?

    If I were Nagant, I'd check the tabloids. Gossip columns know everything! :V

    [​IMG]

    See, Kiran? This is exactly why you don't go, "Let's split up, gang!" smh

    Good to know at least someone's on the same page with me, here. XP

    ugh, out of all the dream friends to wind up in this pmd world, it had to be the damn fishZygarde, keeper of balance... constantly balancing on his slimy little tail. I see what you did there. ;P

    that moment when a god is telling you who's sitting atop the giant jenga tower of villains in this fic...

    Of course not, Elmer, you're a notary for a reason.

    Damn it, Ketu, quit being such a tease!

    Oh my god this universe has its own DMV equivalent I'm done. XD

    I see Kiran is a firm believer in the REAL SUPER POWER OF TEAMWORK!

    Y'know, for a guy who gets upset about weight-related comments, he's not exactly being proactive in trying to fix that... :p
     
  17. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Heh. Well, I'm quite sure Kiran and co. are just mistaken about Kline on account of being unfamiliar with Zygarde's other forms and constituents, but hey, it's a useful sort of wrong, in their case. Now they know to watch out for Lyn and the lot trying to draw them out with fake Protectors. Granted, they'd probably be better off still if they had their sights correctly trained toward "Xerneas", but the suspicion should still server them well, I'd imagine.

    Speaking of said "Xerneas", yeah, I'm in almost 100% agreement at this point that this is probably a ditto we're dealing with. Gosh, imagine if said ditto had tried to replicate a legendary with an even more complex design. Like, oh, Zekrom. I wonder how many goofups there'd be in that case. :p
     
  18. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    That actually wasn’t the intent, but rather a happy accident that it could be read in that fashion.

    I’m going to plead “the Pokédex says Dragonite can fly stupidly fast while sailing ships top out at less than 30 miles an hour” here. Even if that entry’s exaggerated and Darzin flies for example at a mere twice the speed of the Siglo Swellow, that still cuts his travel time from one day to a half-day.

    I mean, this is the group that had their tribute session derailed by Team Traveller. I can’t imagine they’d be all smiles to see them again. As for Ander and Guardia, the pairing was a bit deliberate since they were intended to be played off of each other in this scene.

    My lips are sealed there, but he’s certainly a bigger one than his fellow Administrator peers. That tends to happen when you’re consciously pulling Starscream gambits.

    All in due time, good sir.

    While I can kinda get where you’re going with the pirate thing, I feel that it’s kinda unavoidable since they won’t always remain out of focus in the story. Conversely, a number of the factions that are currently having their day in the limelight will be less central in terms of focus over the next couple of episodes.

    The problem is that ‘everything’ is buried under a layer of disinformation that’s about twice as large as the ‘everything’ that is known there.

    They’re moreso the equivalent of those jerk guards in Kanto that refuse to let you through until you bribe them with soda/tea/$BEVERAGE for reasons only known to them.

    To be fair, it comes with the territory of running a Rescue Team

    But that’s hard and complaining about it is easier.

    Well, you should have an answer to your theorizing this chapter, though you’re mostly on the right track there.

    And in light of the freshly-passed milestone, we will interrupt today’s programming to first have a short trivia section to celebrate 50K views and pry the curtain back a bit as to where different things in Fledglings came from:

    How did you come up with the Queen and her Chancellor?

    Aleria was developed around the idea of making a young and well-meaning, but ultimately clueless and out-of-touch leader to helm a crown that had obviously seen its better days, which led to her current depiction. In keeping with a naming theme for all of Anyilla's reigning monarchs, Aleria's name was consciously chosen as one meaning 'eagle', with her species chosen due to carrying both regal and goofy qualities. Aleria's species was settled fairly early on in development, with 'Alegria' being a name that was at one time considered for her.

    Osborn was developed later as a counterweight to Aleria, serving as the 'adult in the room' who keeps her grounded as an advisor, though still lacks vision and is just as out of touch with the Empire’s subjects. Archeops was ultimately chosen as Osborn's species due to being a fellow bird for Aleria to confide in, and for the colorful and regal appearance of Archeops’ plumes. Osborn's role underwent a great deal of evolution in early decision-making, with potential species that were considered at one point or another including Toucannon, Chatot, Serperior, Sigilyph, and Braviary, with one name that didn't make the cut being 'Fairfield', owing its same roots as 'Osborn' to prominent paleontologists who studied velociraptors.

    How did you come up with the three Prime Minister candidates?

    Of the three contenders to be Aleria’s Prime Minister, Coil is the oldest conceptually, with the ever-so-creative working name “Shady Prime Minister Candidate”. From the get-go, Coil conceptually was intended to be a law enforcement figure who dabbled in crime much in the vein of Jonathan Wild from early-1700s London. Coil’s species was chosen as a deliberate irony since Magnezone is a recurring species of police officers in mainline PMD, with his name being a bit less inspired than most as it is merely the Japanese name for Magnemite, which happened to roll off the tongue smoothly as a name.

    Walpole as a character was developed shortly after Coil, who was envisioned as being a figure that could act as an ‘inside man’ on behalf of the local incarnation of PMD’s omnipresent Kecleon shopkeeper cartel. Walpole was developed as a neutral if amoral figure, who isn’t afraid to bend the law if it advances his or the Merchantry’s interests. Walpole owes much of his character inspiration, including his name from Robert Walpole, who is largely seen to be the first Prime Minister in British history and received his position from climbing the ranks of power in the midst of a politically sensitive economic crisis.

    Thalez is the most recent creation of the three candidates, and is essentially an expanded reference to Mettaton from Undertale that exists as a comedic foil to the other candidates to show off Aleria’s more questionable parts of her decision-making process. The decision to make Thalez a Rotom came from how it possesses objects as host bodies, which seemed to gel well with his source of inspiration. As for his name, it owes its origins to a more fancy and Rotom-esque reading of “Thales”, the name of a researcher of electricity from Ancient Greece who is the first known member of his field.

    How did you come up with the Saéta Family?

    The Saéta Family was developed as an outfit of mobsters that was part of Alvise's backstory and then later used to interact with Team Traveller during the course of their investigation of Admiral Coil after it was realized they could be worked into becoming a crucial information source fairly easily. As you might have been able to tell, they draw inspiration from archetypical mafia depictions with a dash of Team Rocket for their scarf design. The mafia vibes in turn influenced their naming as a "Family", if with the title going to the name of its current head as opposed to a familial surname as is more common in real life.

    Saéta was envisioned as an elder, if still cutthroat figure that could play the role of a disappointed father to Alvise and his poor life choices, and was designed to be someone that would be approachable, yet thoroughly unheroic at the same time. In light of a father role, Saéta’s species was decided from the get-go to be a Manectric, though his name, Venetian for "thunderbolt", underwent a few evolutions during development. The alternatives that were considered were Saetta, the Italian analogue to Saéta and component for the Italian localization for Amp Plains, 'Pianure Saetta' (which ultimately inspired his current name choice), and Sita (which was dropped due to sounding a touch too feminine).

    Luca came later in development and was envisioned as a bullying older brother to Alvise who would constantly overshadow him, and follow closer in his father’s footsteps in maintaining the family “business”. His name owes its origins due to a Venetian reading of ‘Luke’ and it sounding similar to 'Sal Deluca', a character of a mobster-themed map from Call of Duty Zombies. When thinking of a name for Luca, a number of alternatives were thrown around, including Marco, Magno, and Valerio, the last of which was reused as a throwaway name for the Zebstrika that pulled the cart Luca used to abduct Alvise and his pals in Chapter 59.

    How did you come up with Sirmia?

    Sirmia was developed to fill the role of Elty’s mother after it was decided that The Deepest Wounds would focus on Nagrobek, which served as a particularly opportune time for incorporating the story of how Elty became a pirate. Sirmia, like Elty, owes her name to a splice of Esperanto verbs, specifically the past (ŝirmis) and present (ŝirmas) forms of ‘to protect’ or ‘to shield’ with an omitted ‘s’ at the end, indicating her intended role as someone who would always try and protect her loved ones both past and present.

    How did you come up with Captain Amaro?

    Amaro conceptually was developed in the process of creating The Deepest Wounds, and was envisioned as a more noble and star-crossed colleague of Dirk from the era when the much fabled in-story Captain Beatrice plied the seas, who could give some context behind Dirk’s vicious and cynical temperament. He was chosen as a Pyroar to play to off of cultural tropes surrounding lions to make him fierce figure with an air of nobility. At one point in development it was considered to make him a Krookodile in order to give him parallelism to Laurens, which was ultimately decided against on the grounds it would make the two feel too samey.

    Amaro owes his name origins to the fabled Spanish pirate Amaro Pargo, who was known for passing portions of his loot onto the poor, and mainly attacked Dutch and British ships, both of which seemed fitting for a more idealistic pirate who would go toe to toe with the Company. Other names that were left on the cutting floor include Brenton, Aaden, and Bren.

    How did you come up with Laurens?

    Laurens was originally developed as a former feral from Vollezee and a no-name has-been who retired from piracy after being scared out of the business and deciding to get out while he could, who was later revisited an adapted into a one-time rising star who quite dramatically fell from grace and never recovered when The Deepest Wounds was being planned out. Much like Amaro, Laurens owes his name to a pirate of historical note, specifically the Dutch captain Laurens de Graaf.

    How did you come up with Buyeom?

    Buyeom was designed to be a fire-themed island that would occupy roughly the same role that Kenobi did to the Company in terms of a strategically important island with a mid-sized settlement on it. While batting around different ideas, Lavaridge Town came to mind, which ultimately influenced the decision to make Buyeom a volcanic island characterized by hot springs. Buyeom’s name similarly carries influence from Lavaridge, being a Korean reading of the component words of the Japanese name. The nature of the island helped inform the decision of making the island’s Protector Volcanion, which you may have noticed in the passing description of the local shrine.

    How did you come up with Magmapool Town?

    Magmapool Town was built around the idea of being a town that filled a niche akin to Aisle Town for the Empire, though making a consciously different choice in how to attempt to defend it, which led to the town being designed to have particularly strong walls financed by high levies on the local population. Due to being on a fire-themed island, the town was also developed into a glassblowing and smithing center, which is why the local buildings feature glass more prominently than even Tidemill City did, with the presence of hot springs leading to the name Magmapool fairly early on in development. In keeping with the Korean motifs, the local buildings commonly feature some high-level details of traditional Korean architecture such as slate roofs and sliding doors.

    What has changed with Fledglings’ concept since you started writing?

    First and foremost, the scope. Fledglings originally was structured around the equivalent of a three-season TV show, which after quickly realizing it would wind up grinding to a halt under its own weight was cut back to the events roughly corresponding with the first and most developed third of the initial concept. The sequence of events in this story was also a bit different, with some locations such as Otvaga appearing much later in the original draft than they did in the final work, and a couple locations since being inserted into the sequence of events. As explained in a prior answer regarding the Siglo Swellow, a number of characters that were originally intended to have minor or one-off roles wound up becoming more recurring and plot-important characters. All of the special episode chapters were not planned during the original draft, and the concept only came into being after Auld Lang Syne was entered into the third issue of the FanFiction Quarterly.

    What was originally gonna happen in both this episode and the previous one?

    The episode on Giotto originally was structured entirely around the Ace Attorney homage subplot, with no tournament at all factoring in the mix. The grunt work of attorneying was originally to be done by Nida, Guardia, and Elty who would be tapped to become amateur attorneys overnight, but through some sleuthing and careful deduction, arrive at much the same place as what happened in the final product. Pleo's breakout was originally set to occur at the courtroom, with him and the team breaking out after he was called to testify. These plans were reworked into the tournament structure to address some meta regarding the team's strength by giving them an experience dump and due to repeated troubles making Team Traveller’s newfound attorney positions feel logical, which led to the premise being retooled into becoming detective’s assistants.

    The concept of the current episode set on Buyeom was created around 3 years ago, with there originally being a plot on an ice-themed island in which Team Traveller would face off against a feral Froslass as the main antagonist that caught them off-guard thanks to being reminded of Hariti. In this original concept the Company would also not appear during the episode. The plot was ultimately replaced with the current incarnation of episode 12 due to overlapping too much with Mengir’s arc in terms of a “blundering into a dangerous feral” dynamic, and it feeling too much like filler. The original arc’s relevance to the plot beyond some worldbuilding regarding the nature of the world would have been that it taught Team Traveller a lesson that two Pokémon of the same species can be very different, but since this was a lesson the team logically ought to have already known, it was decided to scrap it in the end.

    And it took a bit longer into the new year than I’d like, but I’m back with a new installment along with a doodle from Chibi Pika of Valatos, Alvise, and Nori that was commissioned over the holidays. As of right now, I’m hoping to push out the next installment by the end of the month, but as with everything release dates are subject to meatspace constraints. I’d like to take a moment to extend my thanks to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net for helping to edit this chapter for release amidst the holiday craziness, and to you readers and reviewers for the feedback you provide.

    And with that, let’s continue on from last time…
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
  19. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    [​IMG]

    In the chambers that served as the Siglo Swellow's sleeping quarters, day and night knew the same darkness, disturbed only by the faint bluish light of glow-moss gathered in glass jars hung from the rafters. From the sleeping room that lay closest to the stern, the sounds of the ship gently creaking and rocking rang out, mixed with muffled footsteps and chatter from sailors wrapping up their last shifts of work for the day, a sign that the night was still young enough that the deckhands hadn't retired for rest.

    A tired sigh cut through the air, revealing the lone occupant of the room to be a haggard Fraxure lying on his side with a stomach bandaged with dirty, ruddy linens. Pladur cast a glance over at a plate set with a small portion of gummis and Nomel Berries that had still gone untouched, his appetite having shriveled with the lack of company to partake it with.

    Perhaps it wouldn't have made much of a difference anyways… At every turn since he'd remembered waking up, the hapless Fraxure had found himself plagued by stubborn memories of his defeat in the arena. Time and time again, he heard the Weavile's sneering voice, felt the chill of his icy wind, and the slashing pain of his claws as he sat helplessly in bed. The Dragon-Type stirred restlessly, groping his red claws under his bedding where they latched onto a smooth stone, which he brought up to his tusks and began to rub along their edges much as he had numerous times earlier that day, sharpening it little by little in a futile attempt to bring some reassurance, when a sharp pain shot through his abdomen.

    "Agh!"

    Pladur winced and his grip slackened, letting the stone drop against the wood of the ship with a loud clatter. The dragon grimaced and whined before flopping back down into the straw, laying there attempting to catch his breath, and feeling all the more alone and impotent than he had before.

    "… Dad?"

    The Fraxure turned his head at the sound of a familiar voice from the door, where the ruddy crest of a young Druddigon caught the light of the room's lanterns. Pladur's expression eased, a small smile settling over his mouth as he carefully propped his body up, sitting upright to address his child the best his injured frame would allow.

    "Ah… hola, mijo," the Fraxure said. "Did you eat well at dinner tonight?"

    "I… wasn't that hungry earlier, and I wanted to check up on how you were doing," Crom answered, drawing an uneasy tilt of his father's head in reply.

    "I… er… uh… think I'm doing fine?" Pladur insisted. "A few aches, but nothing your papí can't handle with a little rest!"

    The Fraxure forced a toothy smile over his face, giving a weak wag of his tail hoping to cheer Crom up, only to see his son droop his head and the Axe Jaw Pokémon's forced smile to melt away.

    "… Did something happen while you were out today?" he asked.

    "Well…"

    The Druddigon started off explaining how they'd encountered Xerneas at the docks interacting with a local crowd, only for the deer to vanish on them after Ander had made a scene. He continued on, telling how the team had split up to find him, and of what Kiran had told him about how the encounter with Xerneas had gone and of his plans to try and meet up tomorrow alongside Pleo to salvage their initial impressions.

    On top of that disappointment, he and Nida had gone off with Dimitri and Pleo into the fringes where by a stroke of fate they'd encountered another Protector who proclaimed himself to be 'Zygarde: the Keeper of Balance'. He didn't know what to think of the green serpent, but whatever the truth of the matter was, they had gotten little from their meeting with the snake other than a pointed berating that left Pleo in a poor mood for most of the day. At that portion of the Crom's tale, Pladur blinked in astonishment, as he quickly raised his voice to inquire further on the topic.

    "Two Protectors? Natrix and Philips told me about the venado, but the other one sure sounds strange… Perhaps they're related?" Pladur mulled. "Why, if there's really two other Protectors here and you could get them to work together, we'd be able to turn things around with those Company rotters in no time!"

    "But they rejected us! They didn't think that we were worth helping!" Crom protested. "If we're really that insignificant, how are we supposed to manage to get Pleo home?"

    "I… mean, hasn't that been what we've all been doing all this time?" the Fraxure reassured. "It can't be that much harder-"

    "Also the guards are going to discover who we are eventually," the Druddigon added. "And to top it all off, Lyn's waiting to ambush us outside of town!"

    Pladur's eyes widened and his body went rigid at Crom's words, the Fraxure's confident demeanor fading as he stammered back for a clarification.

    "Wh-What was that last part?"

    "Lyn was looking for us in town earlier," the Druddigon said. "A Rescue Team we ran into pointed out that there's too many guards here for him to attack us directly, so he's most likely waiting to attack us right as we sail out."

    Pladur's face flushed pale at his child's explanation and wobbled as he began to feel faint. He knew that the Siglo Swellow would need to hurry to beat the news of their escape with the Protector from Tidemill, and he'd heard from the other sailors who'd come to see him earlier in the day that Lyn was also in port plotting against them, but this was far worse than anything he'd imagined! H-How was he supposed to deal with the guards, let alone stand up to Lyn or his horrid first mate in this state?! And if Captain Beatrix leaned on him for hitting hard, what were the others supposed to do?!

    "I… I just don't know what we can do anymore," Crom muttered.

    The Fraxure wavered a moment, before noticing his son's glum and defeated expression. The dragon gulped, forcing back his worries as he put on a brave face and rested a claw on his child's shoulder.

    "… We're all looking out for each other, aren't we?" Pladur asked. "No matter what happens, we'll all be together for it and do our best to try and work something out."

    Crom fell silent, raising his head and peering intently back into his father's red eyes. As faltering and uncertain as it was, the Fraxure smiled back, hopeful that somehow, the Travellers above would help turn the tide… only for Pladur's moment of serenity to abruptly go ajar as he pulled his arm back and cringed in pain from his stomach.

    "Ngh!"

    "Dad!"

    Pladur slouched over, gasping for air before peering up and shaking his head back to his son.

    "It's alright! It's alright! I… I just need some time to rest," the Fraxure reassured. "You should do the same, mijo. You've got a big day ahead of you finding that 'Xerneas' again-"

    "Actually, I wanted to stay here tonight," Crom insisted, prompting Pladur to trail off and blink in surprise.

    "… Huh?"

    "You said that we're all looking out for each other, right?" the Druddigon began. "Well, that includes you, and I think that you need it a bit more than Nida does right now."

    Pladur paused, before a warm smile crept over his face, the dragon breathing a quiet thanks for his son's presence.

    "… Alright, but be warned that we'll have to share a space," the Fraxure replied. "And I am a little smaller than you…"

    "I wouldn't want it any other way."

    Crom shuffled over, stretching his arms and wings with a yawn before he laid down on the straw. Crom arced his body, curling up beside his father as he shifted his wings to find a comfortable resting experience until he settled down, letting the sound of distant chatter and waves carry on as his eyelids drooped and the Dragon-Types drifted off into slumber.




    As Crom and his father dozed off below the deck, the rhythms of life in Magmapool Town similarly ebbed as Pokémon went to sleep, what little life in the town remaining being kept up by more nocturnal locals who carried on amidst the thinned lanternlight. Among the remaining lanterns were a set of paper lanterns hung from poles leading up to a spacious villa built overlooking the sea at the edge of town, where Xerneas and his companions had gathered at the front. The Nuzleaf among them put his hands on the frame of a sliding door, pulling it aside to reveal a chamber lit up by candles, occupied by wooden furniture and silken cushions that ringed a table with a bottle of champagne in an icy bucket set out for them. The Eevee and Riolu's eyes lit up, prompting them to dash in excitedly and marvel at the furnishings as their teammates followed.

    "This place is amazing!" the Eevee yipped. "I can't believe we've got it all to ourselves!"

    "It sure is nice that the Duke let us stay here for free for the night," the Riolu added. "I don't think we've ever stayed somewhere like this before!"

    "But of course! Only the best for the Voice of Life and his entourage!" Xerneas exclaimed, prompting the Nuzleaf to blink before giving a dismissive scoff.

    "Ha, ha, very funny," the Grass-Type said. "You're not gonna keep up that form all night, are you David?"

    "… What do you think?"

    Xerneas snickered as his body and horns suddenly began to flare with a pinkish light, the deer's body collapsing in on itself into a smaller and smaller blob. The light dissipated, revealing the beady-eyed form of a Ditto, who gave a proud bow back to his Nuzleaf partner.

    "Would I really be the type to pass up having a bed big enough to roll around in?" David asked.

    "Heh! Let's jump around in it!" the Riolu exclaimed. "Even if they make us pay for it afterwards, we'd have the money to buy a new one!"

    "Pah, you're so boring, Charlie!" the Eevee giggled. "I say let's sleep on all the coins we collected instead! Just like a Garchomp on a treasure pile!"

    The Nuzleaf of the group smiled, giving the drawstring bag on his shoulder a satisfying, clinking shake before pacing over to the table and grabbing the champagne bottle by its neck just above a label reading 'Moët du Boisocéan'. He popped the cork, pouring out portions for himself and his teammates into a quartet of glazed cups with twine holders wrapped around them. One by one, the four each took their cups up from the table in high spirits, as the Grass-Type held his cup out for a toast.

    "To Buyeom!" the Nuzleaf cheered. "And all the gullible idiots who made this night possible!"

    The four dissolved into laughter, clinking their cups together before they gulped down their helpings of champagne. As the drink warmed her body, Marilyn swished her tail satisfiedly, turning to her teammates with a curious tilt of her head.

    "So… what do we do when we wake up?" the Eevee wondered. "We've played this 'Voice of Life' thing up quite a bit already."

    "We get out while the going is good and move onto the next place," her Nuzleaf teammate responded. "We might need to do something a bit lower key once the locals figured out that this Xerneas was a fake, but we've made enough to get us by for a while."

    "Pah! You're leaving money on the table, Albert!" David scoffed. "Let's at least visit the Rescue Guild first! The Pokémon in those places are all a bunch of gullible losers who think they're gonna save the world."

    "Are you sure about that?"

    The four at once jumped up with a start at the sound of an unknown voice, whirling around as they realized it was coming from the front door to the villa. There, the lot saw the form of a Weavile leaning against the wall, picking at his claws in seeming disinterest of the four's visible alarm.

    "W-Who are you?!" Charlie yelped. "And how did you even get in here?!"

    "Through a window upstairs. Really, most Pokémon are so careless by leaving those open," Ketu answered, stepping away from the wall with a sneering grin. "Anyway, I'm just someone who couldn't help but overhear that you wanted to meet up with teams from the guild. So how about I give you a private meeting with the best of the best?"

    The Weavile threw his claws onto the frame of the front door and slid it open, prompting Team Sentinel to storm in with Ellsberg following on their heels. The four came to a stop in the room, glaring daggers at the wide-eyed tricksters as they shrank back uneasily.

    "Uh… er… hi? We're the Voice of Life's entourage," the Nuzleaf began. "This Ditto here's… well, he's a friend we chanced to run into and-"

    "Save it!" Sorge snapped. "Do you really think that we're dense enough that we can't see an obvious scam when it's right in front of us?!"

    "That's right! You've got a lot to answer for to this town over this game you've been pulling!" Aldrich snarled.

    "So… are you going to come quietly?" Zelle growled. "Or do we need to get forceful to bring you in?"

    "Albert, Charlie, Marilyn!" David shouted. "Time to go!"

    The Ditto transformed into an Eevee and zipped ahead, his teammates each bolting for the windows and side exits of the villa. From the corner of his eye, David caught sight of Sorge knocking Albert over, pinning him down with a startled cry, as the Ditto dashed madly for the opened window in his new Eevee form. The changeling heard Marilyn, and then Charlie scream out of fright, prompting him to desperately scrabble up a shelf by the window and leap for it, only for a cutting gust to knock him down to the ground. David's form melted back to his normal pink lump, leaving him fidgeting on the floor in a daze as he saw his bag lying aside on the ground, making a desperate grab as Ketu scooped it up and Ellsberg cut him off, holding the Ditto aloft with a telekinetic lift of his tarsi.

    "Hrmph, I was expecting more resistance from Pokémon impersonating a Protector," the Mothim scoffed.

    Ketu fumbled with his claws through David's bag, throwing out one useless bauble after the next onto the floor. The Weavile felt his claws brush up against something soft and light, prompting him to fish out a brilliant red-and white feather with a green bottom. The Dark-Type paused, giving a raise of his brow as he inspected the feather closely, only to notice that there were uneven patches of white showing all along the feather's quill much like the edge of a stain on a cloth, prompting him to shoot a mocking gaze at David and his companions.

    "Hah! Considering the quality of their work, that's not that surprising," Ketu snickered. "Seriously, you four had trouble choosing which disguise to pick?"

    The Weavile flicked away the feather and David's bag, before he and his teammates helped themselves to Albert's drawstring bag of coins and hemmed in David and his companions. Charlie and Marilyn quivered, their voices coming out in low, frightened whimpers as they tried to hide behind their Nuzleaf teammate. In a panic, the Ditto of the group hastily waved his nubby hands, hoping to prevent whatever designs Team Sentinel had for him and his companions.

    "L-Look! This is all just a big misunderstanding!" David stammered. "What do you want? A cut of our take?"

    "Pah! Do you think we're interested in your dirty money?" Aldrich spat. "Your act is through!"

    "Just think of all those poor, innocent Pokémon that you swindled!" Zelle exclaimed as she moved a feeler to her forehead with a swooning motion. The Fairy-Type threw her head back dramatically before flicking her feeler aside and letting her face harden into a cruel sneer. "And what they'll do to you when they find out they've been deceived like this!"

    The Sylveon's jeer brought a cringing pause from David and his team, followed by a cold shudder. Pokémon that engaged in confidence tricks already had a tendency to be suffered poorly when discovered by their marks over simple things like shell games and fake fur growth tonics. If their imaginations were anything to go by, what the townsfolk would do over discovering they were taken in by false gods would be far, far worse. The four were called back to the situation at hand when Ketu cleared his throat and spoke up with a predatory smirk.

    "That said… if you were willing to do us a little favor, we might be willing to change our minds," he said.

    "A… favor?" Marilyn asked.

    "W-What would that be?" Albert stammered.

    "There's another group of criminals on this island who have been going around pretending they have a Protector among them just like you have," Sorge replied. "We need you to lure them out for us."

    The Kommo-o's answer made the four blink and trade hesitant looks with each other. Who among all the Pokémon they'd met so far could possibly be attempting their same gambit? Unless…

    "You mean… that group with the Marked Scyther…?" Charlie asked.

    "Sounds like you've already met them," Ketu harrumphed. "Now, out with it. What do you know about them?"

    "I mean… we didn't think much of them since it didn't seem like they were putting on that good of an act," the Riolu explained. "But we saw them near the docks this afternoon after they asked why David wasn't in Mengir, and they wound up following us around town and invited us to visit their ship they came in on."

    "And you accepted?" Aldrich pressed, drawing an uneasy squirm back from the Eevee of the group.

    "Well… no," Marilyn answered. "But it was an open invitation so-"

    "It's good enough for what we need," the Noivern finished. "You're going down to their ship first thing tomorrow, and you'll tell them to meet you someplace outside of town. Once they agree to that, we'll take over things."

    "They're far more dangerous than they let on, so I doubt you'd want to get your claws involved in the matter anyways," Sorge said. "If everything goes to plan, we'll repay you by giving back your belongings and a chance to get out of town before the guards find out."

    "S-Sounds fair to me!" David exclaimed. "What do you all say?"

    Albert, Charlie, and Marilyn hastily chimed in with forced, overeager agreement, breathing sighs of relief as Team Sentinel seemed to back off afterwards. Albert dusted himself off, warily raising his voice to ask what they were to do next, when Zelle raised a feeler to interrupt him.

    "Good! Now, there's just one other part of the favor we need you to do," the Sylveon added.

    "W-What do you mean?" the Nuzleaf demanded. "You just gave us an open and shut task here!"

    "That's because it's a second task," Zelle answered. "Your leader's a shapeshifter, and there's a Company ship chasing after those other scammers."

    The Fairy-Type neared with a relaxed trot, curling her feeler around Albert's chin and pulling his head up to face her.

    "He's gonna take the identity of the 'Legendary' with them, and trick those Company 'mons into capturing him while we get the real one," Zelle said, giving the Nuzleaf a wink. "'Kay?"

    The Sylveon drew her feeler back, leaving the Nuzleaf and his companions to splutter stunned at this sudden surprise demand forced upon them, before they managed to squeak out their protests.

    "N-Now hold on a minute!" Albert stammered. "That wasn't part of the deal!"

    "Yeah, David's the backbone of our team!" Marilyn cried. "How are we supposed to do anything without him?!"

    Charlie paused, quietly closing his eyes and fanning out the feelers on his head, before turning nervously to his Ditto teammate.

    "I… I really don't like what I'm sensing from their auras, David," the Riolu gulped. "What if this is some sort of trap?"

    "Tch, do you honestly think that we don't have a way of helping him escape?" Ketu scoffed. "Just do as you're instructed and everything will work out fine… unless you prefer the alternative…"

    "No! No! That's fine! I just need to hang tight and you'll spring me!" David insisted. "I can deal with that!"

    Zelle smiled, walking up to David and circling him with a predatory gaze. The Ditto followed her movements back and forth, before she suddenly gave a sharp jab with a feeler that made him shrink back uneasily.

    "But I'm warning you…" she sneered. "We can't afford any complications from you wanting to play games with us. If you do, things will not end well for you. Are we clear?"

    "Perfectly," the Ditto gulped.

    "Excellent! Then let's go over this in plan in detail," Zelle said. "We wouldn't want your big day tomorrow running into a hitch, now would we?"

    Zelle and Aldrich neared, starting to spell out the indistinct beginnings of the plan for the next day from just outside of Ellsberg's range of hearing. The Mothim watched the pair as their new recruits overeagerly nodded back, before noticing Sorge and Ketu drifting off for the villa's entrance remarking disgustedly over the fraudsters' 'human' impersonations, and deciding to follow along from behind.

    "Ketu, shouldn't we be pressing them to do something now?" Ellsberg insisted. "Our scarf patterns are wanted back in Tidemill and it takes at most a day for word to travel from there to Buyeom."

    Ketu furrowed his brow at the Mothim's question, before frowning and shaking his head back.

    "Look, I'm all for getting results quickly, but there's just some things you can't rush, Ellsberg." Ketu said. "If those bums ask Team Traveller in the dead of night to meet them outside of town, they're bound to suspect something's amiss."

    "But then what are we supposed to do?" the moth buzzed. "We're already on borrowed time in this town and getting the Protector means precious little if we're mobbed the moment we set foot back into Magmapool!"

    "My team and I will do something about it," Sorge offered. "The Pokémon that carry in messages usually pass over the gate at the harbor on their way in, so we'll see if we can intercept those notices, or at least slip in some disinfo to buy you some time."

    Ellsberg paused, flitting in place quietly. Sorge and his team clearly weren't amateurs, but this plan felt… improvised to him, to say the least. Though, with the sort of situation they were dealing with, it surely wasn't realistic to expect carefully planned contingencies either.

    "If you're sure about this…" he murmured.

    "The alternatives aren't any less risky. As long as we all do what's needed tomorrow, we should be able to get that Protector en route to Administrator Elilan, and Lyn out of port with his bogey," Sorge reassured. "Just set up that ambush with Ketu and don't let that Lugia get away."

    "Wait… just me and Ketu?!"

    "I can already tell it's going to be a long night," Ketu sighed, as a tired smile spread over his mouth. "Come on, Ellsberg. We've got only one shot at this, so we better talk through some battle strategies after briefing those scammers."

    The Weavile began to pace off back for Zelle and Aldrich, turning back for the Mothim as his smile hardened into a devious smirk.

    "After all, there's not going to be any consolation prizes for tomorrow," he said. "So let's make sure we get this right."




    The next morning, Team Traveller woke up on the Siglo Swellow as the Sun Chaser's traveller crossed the sky. With Pladur still injured, the duty of preparing breakfast for the Siglo Swellow's crew fell to Crom after their leftovers were depleted and Natrix and Philip's attempts the day before had been found to be roundly inadequate by the crew. The Druddigon's initial anxieties of his task ebbed after his teammates eagerly volunteered to lend helping paws, leaving the Dragon-Type to teach his friends on the job how to prepare gummi mix and keep the galley just clean and free enough to ready the crew's portions.

    The youngsters' efforts carried on with a few mishaps and false starts, along with an occasional swat by Guardia at Elty to thwart his attempts at stealing food before it even left the galley. In the end, after what felt like an eternity of work, the group managed to put out a passable meal for their hungry audience in the mess hall. Team Traveller sat and ate before hastily tidying the galley and dining area. Upon finishing, the lot shuffled up above the deck, where they could smell the salty air, and the sound of Pokémon at work in the harbor reached their ears as they stretched their limbs from their hard work.

    "Those Gummis were great, Crom!" Pleo chirped. "I didn't know you knew so much about cooking!"

    "I mean… my dad taught me," the Druddigon answered, rubbing the back of his head bashfully. "And if I was bad at cooking, I don't think mom would want me helping back in the shop."

    "You all certainly did a great job helping him as well," Kiran added. "It takes a lot to learn on the fly like that."

    "Eh, I was perfectly content with those provisions the other day," Guardia said. "But your fellows seemed to appreciate the difference."

    Nida flicked her ears uncomfortably, her attention drifting out towards the collection of unassuming buildings among the black stone walls back on shore. She heard a buzzing shout come from behind, seeing Ander and Dimitri arriving with a wave as she mulled a moment before turning back to her companions.

    "So… how are we gonna do this?" Nida asked. "It was a huge pain in the butt to just find Xerneas yesterday, and I don't know what we'd do if he still refuses to help us…"

    "Well we'd better figure out something fast," Elty grumbled. "Those guards are eventually going to figure out that we're from the same crew that trashed Tidemill's harbor on the way out, and I doubt they'll just let us loaf around port after that."

    The others on the team hemmed and hawed, evidently all short on ideas of what other options they had that could be used to sway Xerneas' opinion. After a moment of awkward silence, the group heard the sound of nearing footsteps, turning to see Natrix and Philips approaching and waving for attention.

    "Oi! Kiran!" Natrix cried.

    "Hrm?"

    "There's a Nuzleaf at the docks who says he's been looking for you," the Servine said.

    "Yeah, you two apparently ran into each other yesterday?" Philips murmured. "He says he wanted to talk a moment."

    A… Nuzleaf they'd met yesterday? Why that must've been the Nuzleaf that was with Xerneas! Sensing opportunity in the air, Kiran gave a ruffle of his feathers followed by a thankful bow, as he beat his wings to start making his way off the ship.

    "Thanks for the tip," the Swellow said. "We'll be right over."

    The Flying-Type flitted off, settling down in front of the gangplank where his teammates hurried over to rejoin him. There, they made their way down to the pier, where the Nuzleaf was waiting for them at the bottom, shifting uneasily.

    "Well, I certainly didn't expect you to just come over after what I heard yesterday," Dimitri remarked. "What's going on and what did you want from us?"

    "I… think we kinda got off on the wrong foot earlier. The name's Albert, and I wanted to apologize for yesterday, we were a bit ruder than we ought to have been," the Nuzleaf said. "We've… been going through a lot lately, and Xerneas felt that it was for the best to meet up with you anyways in spite of our misgivings."

    A stunned silence fell over Team Traveller, as each member traded disbelieving stares with each other. Guardia stood mystified for a moment, tripping over her tongue before spluttering back incredulously at the Grass-Type.

    "Huh?!" she exclaimed. "But you completely blew us off yesterday!"

    "What made you suddenly change your mind?" Kiran pressed. "You didn't sound like you believed us at all yesterday."

    Albert paused, moving his left hand over his right arm and giving an uneasy rub. The Nuzleaf looked away a moment, before giving a shake of his head and answering in a low tone.

    "We just had to be careful and make sure we weren't being deceived," Albert insisted. "You see, our own journey hasn't been going as smoothly as we let on."

    "What do you mean?" Nida asked, lifting an ear curiously.

    "Well, after we came into Anyilla, we passed through Mengir and Xerneas wound up catching the attention of the Company there," the Nuzleaf insisted. "They've been chasing after us ever since, and one of their ships is even in town with its Samurott captain looking for us."

    The Nidoran and her companions jumped back with a start at the Grass-Type's answer. A Company Samurott? But that could only mean that…

    "E-Eh?! Lyn's chasing you too?!" Pleo cried.

    Albert glumly nodded back, lowering his head-leaf apologetically as he continued on.

    "I see you know him as well, Protector. But that's why Xerneas wanted to meet you," the Grass-Type said. "That Samurott's set up an ambush in the waters outside town, and we wanted to work with you to see what could be done to get past it. The fate of the world depends on it!"

    "Well, I mean, we're right here," Elty replied. "Just have Xerneas come over and-"

    "No!"

    Team Traveller jolted up with a start at Albert's outburst as his eyes widened and his body tensed up. The Grass-Type looked around anxiously at his surroundings, before breathing in deeply and leaning in towards the team.

    "There's too many eyes that could be watching us here," he insisted. "We'll meet you at noon in the midpoint of the Mystery Dungeon. Time is of the essence, so don't come late."

    "Right, we'll be sure to do that," Kiran answered. "Good luck?"

    "… Yeah, you too."

    With that, the Nuzleaf turned and hurried off down the pier, leaving Team Traveller to trade glances with each other.

    "… Is this really a good idea?" Ander asked. "Being all alone with that thing in a dungeon?"

    "Ander, we don't have any other options," Nida said. "And if Xerneas is in as much trouble as that, we shouldn't assume that he can remain here for too long."

    Kiran paused, looking down the pier where Albert had departed, before up at the veil of fog near the base of the volcano in the distance. After a moment's silence, the bird shook his head and beat his wings, speaking up in a low voice.

    "… Let's back on the ship and get packed," he said. "We're pressed for time, and this might be the only chance we have to deal with Xerneas before we're forced to leave."




    Shortly after Albert left, Team Traveller set about preparing for their trip into Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon. They quickly threw together their remaining items from their stints in Sormus and Tidemill, only to discover they were a bit short, prompting a quick visit to the local Kecleon Shop for some healing berries, and the all-important Escape Orb to get back out without the help of the local guild. The team carried on, leaving the black-walled city and following a course inland, where the vegetation thinned and gave way to rocky landscapes of red and black stone, punctuated by an occasional column of steam or ashy smoke. The party followed their winding path all the way up to the shadow of a tall peak trailing clouds above where thick fog swirled out the entrance to a yawning cave. In spite of the fog, an uncomfortably hot wind came out from the cave's mouth, with a pungent, sulfurous odor that made Nida wrinkle her nose in displeasure.

    "I'm not sure if I'm really liking this volcano," the Nidoran murmured. "Is it even safe to go in there?"

    "Looks perfectly fine to me!" Elty yipped. "If every Mystery Dungeon we were in was hot and toasty like this, I'd be right at home taking missions inside!"

    Elty's teammates groaned and rolled their eyes at the Growlithe's comment, clearly lacking the same enthusiasm for their scorched surroundings. Dimitri shook his head before looking off ahead into the fog in front of him, casting glances around the other parts of the volcano before reluctantly turning back to his peers.

    "Well, I don't see tuman anywhere else on this volcano," the Kabutops sighed. "Given that there's is eight of us, how do we want to handle going in?"

    "I say we stick together," Guardia replied. "There's strength in numbers and we know that Lyn is waiting for us to slip up."

    "Eh? But don't we need to get to the midpoint as fast as possible?" Crom asked. "If we take too long, the guards might catch on to Captain Beatrix!"

    The Cubone and Druddigon's conflicting suggestions drew hems and haws from their teammates, each struggling to decide between the two options. If Pleo were caught off-guard by Lyn without enough strength to defend him, their mission to find the Knights' Ledger would be as good as lost… and yet, the same would be true if they couldn't get off Buyeom in the first place thanks to the Empire! The group agonized over the two unpalatable choices, until Kiran cleared his throat and raised a wing in suggestion.

    "Why don't we split off into our same groups from yesterday? We can each cover half of the floor, and regroup back in the middle to report what we found," Kiran said. "That way we can find the stairs quicker, while we'd also be able to get to each other soon enough if either of our groups wound up in over their heads."

    "I suppose I could see the advantages of that…" Ander mulled.

    The group debated with one another, quickly settling around the consensus that Kiran's plan represented the best hedge against both sets of risks. All the while, Pleo drifted away from the group, shifting uneasily as a nagging doubt kept creeping back into his mind:

    After all the trouble they'd had with Xerneas yesterday, why did it feel like his change of heart had been too sudden? To persuade a Pokémon that had laughed them off just by waiting a night on the Siglo Swellow felt unusually easy… only for a sharp rap of Guardia's club against the ground to make him raise his head back to attention.

    "Hrm, I guess that works for me," the Cubone grunted. "The sooner we can get to Xerneas, the sooner we can get the lore we need and work with him to get past that ambush!"

    Guardia slung her club over her shoulder, sauntering over towards Kiran, Elty, and Ander, leaving Pleo to ponder before shaking his head and opting to brush the matter off. As Kiran and his teammates gathered, the Swellow ruffled his feathers, before giving a cheery wave of his wing.

    "Alright, we'll see you all inside," Kiran replied.

    The Swellow paced ahead, Elty, Guardia, and Ander latching onto each other as they marched into the swirling fog, leaving Pleo to stare afterwards. The young Lugia felt a prod at his leg, looking down to see Nida peering up at him with a curious look on her face.

    "Are you ready, Pleo?"

    The Lugia paused, gazing uneasily into the fog before turning his head back, giving his tail a reassuring shake.

    "Yeah," the young Protector answered back. "I think so."

    Pleo watched as Nida clambered atop Crom's crest, before grabbing hold of the Druddigon's tail with his wings as Crom latched onto Dimitri's shoulder. One by one, the four made their way into the fog, the blue skies above fading away as they stepped into the Distortion's haze, and on towards the help they'd so desperately needed in their mission.




    (Continued in the next post)
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
  20. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    In the Company's headquarters on Vollezee, the thick aura of tension had dissipated as workers and guards went back to their business and the passing streets were filled with their normal crowds of hawkers and passerbys. From the top level, a Nidoking peered down at the scene below from a covered hallway, his hide nicked with fresh scuffs from a recent sparring session as he passed down the hall, which wrapped around the perimeter of a rooftop garden planted with trees and Berry plants. The Poison-Type's course took him to one of the roof's corners, where an enclosed office had been built, leaving him to walk up and push the door open where he was promptly greeted by a wooden desk with a large stack of paperwork waiting for him.

    "… Of course," he sighed.

    Inler shook his head with an annoyed grumble, sitting on a padded ottoman as he pawed through the papers, including an already-opened letter from Ellsberg outlining the Nektar Weide's latest update from infiltrating Buyeom. His thoughts turning back to unwelcome memories of the meeting from the prior day and the confrontation with Elilan. The Nidoking's mouth curled down sourly for a moment, prompting him to push the papers he had taken back into the pile and his eyes to drift off into the garden towards its flora when the sound of his office's doors creaking open pricked his ears.

    "Opa, we zijn er!"

    The Director peered over, seeing the form of a female Nidoran bounding in, followed by two males. The trio hopped up to the front of the desk expectantly as Inler shuffled up from his seat and gave a pleased wag of his tail at the youngsters' presence.

    "Ahh, I wasn't expecting you all to come here," the Nidoking smiled back. "But no 'dyado'? I would've thought your parents would've finally gotten around to teaching you a bit of Mengirski by now."

    The Nidoran trio shifted awkwardly a moment, and folded back their ears as they pawed at the ground uneasily. One of the purple Nidoran gave a soft kick at a chink in the floor, before hemming and hawing out a reply.

    "I mean… they say that we should talk more like the Pokémon around us," he said. "And they don't really speak it other than when they used to talk with you."

    A disappointed frown crept over Inler's face, prompting him to look away and shake his head bitterly at his grandson's explanation.

    "Hrmph, so nothing's changed. As usual," he grumbled. "I'm surprised they even let you come here."

    "I mean, we're in the Academy now, so we're able to do more of what we want," the female Nidoran declared proudly. "But… did you ever try to fix things after that fight with them, opa?"

    "Tsk. I don't see how that's really possible when they can't be bothered to respond to any letters I send them, but there's no sense in worrying about it right now," Inler answered. "What about you? How have you been doing at the Academy?"

    The Nidoking's question drew a reaction much like suddenly splattering the suds of a BubbleBeam atop the Nidoran, the lot's moods souring as their eyes hardened into annoyed glares. One of the purple Nidoran grumbled under his breath alongside his sister, while the other stomped the floor and spoke up to voice their shared complaints.

    "That lousy Professor Gerhard made me look like an idiot in front of the whole class!" he fumed. "I came into the room slightly late and he then asked me a bunch of questions that weren't even related to what we were supposed to study the night before!"

    Inler blinked a moment at his grandson's outburst, before sighing and craning down to pat the back of the youngster's head.

    "I know that must not have been fun, but you have to understand that Professor Gerhard's job is to help raise Pokémon like you to be tough enough to take over the Company when you're older," the Nidoking explained. "If he never makes things a little hard on you, how will you handle tough moments in your life?"

    "Hrmph, then why aren't we allowed to work together to give that Professor Gerhard a good Poison Jab without getting expelled?" the female Nidoran harrumphed. "The 'mons who graduated from the Academy never let a single 'mon humiliate them like Gerhart does! So why does he get to hide behind some lame rank he probably tail-kissed to get anyways?"

    The suggestion prompted Inler to furrow his brow and throw a claw over his face in dismay, letting it set there a moment before he breathed out and slowly brought it back to his side.

    "… Let's change the subject a bit. I don't think now's the time to explain why there's ranks in the Company," he sighed. "Was there anything you wanted to ask me?"

    "Well… how did your day go, opa?" one of the purple Nidoran asked. "You seemed a bit frustrated when we came in earlier."

    The Nidoking paused a moment, before folding back his ears and shaking his head with a low grumble.

    "I've… had to deal with a lot more lately than I'd would've liked," Inler said. "Lots of sudden changes coming up, and not all of my subordinates seem to be handling things the way they need to be."

    "Oh…? Well, I know that we're still going through the Academy and all… but is there anything we can do to help?" his other grandson wondered.

    The spike ball's insistence drew a puzzled tilt of Inler's head, before he shook his head back 'no'.

    "Don't get too ahead of yourself. Part of running the Company is knowing knowing what problem needs to be dealt with first," the elderly Nidoking replied. "If that weren't the case, the Company wouldn't be what it is today, and there probably wouldn't be an Academy for you to attend."

    "Wait," one of the male Nidoran began. "That's a bad thing-? Ow!"

    The purple spike ball was cut off by a stomp on his toes by his sister, prompting the pair to trade glares with each other as their brother shifted uneasily.

    "I… guess," he murmured. "But is there really nothing we can do?"

    Inler paused, swishing his tail back and forth until a small smile crept over his mouth, the Nidoking feeling a sense of contentment that had eluded him for much of the past few weeks.

    "Just stay here awhile and put a smile on your old dyado's face," he replied. "It's taking a while, but everything's finally starting to work out the way that we need it to."




    The Mistral Marauder's flight from Giotto had taken it on a wild, zigzagging path to and fro in the open sea, the pursuing ships peeling off one by one as the caravel skimmed a current here, swept past a sandbar there, until their foes had been sufficiently bogged down for Hess and his crew to lose sight of them the following day. Once the dust had settled, the Aggron captain found him and his ship adrift in the open sea in choppy waters sporting fresh pockmarks from their escape from Tidemill and its vessels. Out there, he peered through his scope with nary a sea rock around or anything else to orient him beyond a wave of dark, tall clouds poking over the horizon to the west that drew a worried stare from his first mate.

    "Any luck, Captain?" Rodion asked. "I'm not liking the look of those clouds on the horizon."

    Hess lowered his scope and fidgeted, hemming and hawing at the Floatzel's words. The standard operating procedure in a storm was to try and find a safe port or breakwater to put down anchor and wait it out, but…

    "Uhm… well…"

    "You know, you can just say that we're lost!" Kichiro snapped.

    Woosh!

    The three pirates squinted and shielded their faces as a stormy gust kicked up and whistled past. The sails rippled from the gust, joined by startled yelps from several crewmembers, along with the sound of a piercing scream that cut above everything else. Hess and his companions braced themselves, whirling around to see the racket was coming from a flailing Wilhelm being blown out to sea.

    "Aaaaah! Help! Help! It's carrying me overboard!" the Hoppip shouted, his cries fading as the winds carried him off for the horizon, leaving Hess to throw a claw over his face with a low grumble.

    "Again?" the Aggron groaned. "Kichiro, go after him and bring him back."

    "… Do I really have to?" the Ledian grumbled. "This is the fourth time this has happened already!"

    "You're the one in charge of bringing him up to speed with the rest of the fliers," Rodion snapped. "You're getting him back."

    Kichiro gave a fuming buzz, before hopping up and taking wing, flying off after the fast-disappearing Hoppip. As the beetle departed, Hess raised his scope again, scanning the horizon when he noted a patch of foam in the distance to his left. The Steel-Type's eyes lit up, hopeful that he'd finally found some sign of land nearby… only to discover the bream was coming from a gyre of seaweed, prompting him to pound the railing in frustration.

    "Bah! I don't get it!" the Aggron fumed. "There's no beacons, no land, not even a clump of sea rocks in sight! How am I supposed to work with this?"

    The pirate captain gave a disgusted snort, when the sound of buzzing wingbeats prompted him to look over his shoulder. There, flying up was an audibly displeased Kichiro, with Wilhelm held firmly in his arms breathing a sigh of relief. The beetle settled down, before letting the Grass-Type flit up, who circled happily around his rescuer.

    "Thank you, Keiichiro!" the Hoppip cheered. "You're a lifesaver!"

    "Yeah, yeah, just get it together already!" the Ledian hissed. "If I have to fly after you again, I'm tying you to the mast with a rope!"

    "Eh? But if it wasn't for the wind, I'd be able to stick around fine!" Wilhelm insisted. "Why I would've even been able to see those reefs from the ship if I could make it to the crow's nest without getting blown away!"

    Kichiro grumbled under his breath as Hess shook his head with an unamused sigh at Wilhelm's perpetual struggles to stay grounded, only for the two to notice Rodion pausing and tilting his head curiously at the Hoppip.

    "Those reefs?"

    Wilhelm nodded back insistently, prompting Rodion to go over towards the stern and paw through a chest left near an entrance below deck, where he fished out a rolled up sheet of parchment. Hess and Kichiro gave the Floatzel a curious look as he cast a quick glance back out to sea and walked over to a crude table and spread out the parchment, revealing it to be a large map of Anyilla. The two walked over as the Sea Weasel Pokémon set down several small stones at the edges, and picked up a small jar of needles fashioned from Iron Thorns. One after the other, Rodion pinned the barbs to various patches of water on the map, before stepping back and turning to his onlooking companions.

    "Well, it's not much to work with, but if that's really what Wilhelm saw, I think that based on the direction of the potok we're on, that we're in one of these places," the Floatzel said.

    "And how do we actually get back to land based off of that?" Kichiro demanded. "We didn't reprovision in Tidemill the whole time we were in port, and if this voyage takes too long, we'll be eating our own scarves to get by!"

    Hess paused and glanced over the map, agonizing over which of the pins could possibly be their own, before noting that one of them seemed to be near a labeled current that carried on past a small island, as did the pin immediately above it, and the one above that. The Aggron paused and pawed at the parchment, realizing that all of the pins seemed to be within spitting distance of one sea current or another, and that so long as one went along with their course, they were bound to pass by some manner of anchorable land…

    "Looks like we just need to find the current near here and follow it. No matter what spot on the map we're on right now, as long as we follow it, we'll find someplace to take shelter," the Aggron said, prompting Kichiro to let out an annoyed hiss and click his elytra.

    "Are we seriously just sailing blindly until we hit something? One of those currents goes directly into the Dead Zone!" the Ledian cried. "What are we supposed to do if that's the current we find?"

    "All of the more dangerous routes have unsettled islands on the way we can stop at first," Hess retorted. "And if you have such a problem with it, do you have any alternatives?"

    Hess and Rodion cast intent, impatient stares, joined in by a curious Wilhelm as Kichiro opened his mandibles to speak… only to hang wordlessly and look down at the deck as he found himself struggling to think of any other alternatives that were less asinine he could offer.

    "… Katte ni shiro," Kichiro groaned, before looking back up. "But for the record this still isn't a good solution!"

    Hess rolled his eyes at the Ledian's retort, before lumbering up to the bridge and giving a stomp of the deck that drew the attention of the various deckclaws lazing about on deck.

    "Take us to the west!" Hess bellowed. "It's going to be a stormy voyage and the sooner we find land, the better!"

    At once, the pirate crew swung into action, the escorts whipping up currents to guide the ship as their counterparts on deck tugged the sails to catch the new tailwind. Hess hurried back to the stern, leaning hard against the tiller and sending the ship off westward, sailing off for the horizon as the black clouds rolled in from ahead.




    Beyond the fog of Buyeom's Mystery Dungeon, Team Traveller had methodically worked their way up one floor after another of the Distortion's maze, splitting into two groups and rejoining at the stairs before moving onto the next. The floors were composed of reddish-black stone, wedged in between craggy walls and pools of molten rock that made the air above them waver from the heat. On their current floor, Pleo, Nida, Crom, and Dimitri carried along a passageway snaking between two patches of lava as a sheet of magma flowed overhead in the far distance, leaving the young Protector to pant from the air's oppressive temperature.

    "Agh… it's so hot in here!" Pleo complained. "I thought that the island just made things warm and comfortable like the springs!"

    "It's coming from the lava around us," Nida explained. "If you stay towards the middle, the air will already feel a bit cooler."

    "You shouldn't be getting too close to that anyways," Dimitri said. "Touch it, and you're bound to get a nasty burn for your trouble."

    "Huh? But how hot could it be?" Pleo asked. "Didn't we see Elty running across it just a bit earlier?"

    "I mean, he is a Fire-Type," Crom offered. "Though I thought he said something earlier about not wanting to stand still in i-"

    The Druddigon's answer was cut off by an audible thump and sharp tremor that shook the quartet and forced them to fight to maintain their balance. The four looked around when Pleo chanced to catch a glassy glint, spotting a blue orb with swirling bubbles inside roll down an incline and hit a patch of lava, where it wavered a moment before sprouting black along its surface, catching fire and melting. The Lugia grimaced, mentally substituting himself for the former Cleanse Orb and shuddering a moment at the imagined outcome.

    "… Meep."

    "Thankfully whatever sorcery leads to these 'upside-down' floors in Mystery Dungeons is keeping the lava overhead stuck up there," Dimitri murmured. "If it started falling down on us, I think the local medics would have their work cut out for them patching us up."

    "Let's… think about more positive things," Crom muttered. "Though… that Cleanse Orb… Where exactly did that come from?"

    The young dragon crept along, carefully keeping his distance from the lava as he clambered up a small outcropping. After cresting it, he saw a wooden stick lying out in an opening, with a glassy knob swirling with yellowish balls of light at one end.

    "Ah! A Confuse Wand!" he cried. "We could always use another one of those!"

    Crom shuffled off, going over and craning down to scoop up the wand as his teammates followed along into the opening. As the others neared, Nida suddenly paused and tensed up as an uneasy realization dawned on her.

    "… We hadn't felt a thump like that on any of the earlier floors," Nida said. "Then, what could've caused-?"

    "RAAAAAAGH!"

    A stream of fire suddenly zipped in and swept up Crom from the left, sending the Druddigon tumbling back with a pained yelp. Trails of smoke curled up from the left as a Turtonator and Heatmor stared each other down with a snarl, before noticing a wide-eyed Team Traveller staring at them.

    "Nice going, babo," the Heatmor growled. "You led a bunch of hut-dwellers straight to my den!"

    "Your den?!" the Turtonator spat. "After I smack you and those meddling knot-necks aside, I'll be resting in my den!"

    The two ferals crouched and sprang in with fierce bellows, leaving Crom to flinch as the Heatmor beelined for him, readying a gout of fire, only for a hail of rocks to abruptly cut her off. Crom hastily bolted away from the anteater, looking up in a panic and seeing Dimitri running for him.

    "Hang in there Crom, I'm comi- Augh!"

    A stream of fire zipped by, settling on the crab's exoskeleton and leaving a patch charred. The Turtonator culprit let a little trail of smoke wisp up from the ends of his snout, giving a taunting jeer back at the interloping Kabutops.

    "Hah! Try that on for size, crab!"

    The Turtonator charged after the stricken Water-Type as Nida and Pleo ran in, hastily taking positions alongside Crom when a low growl cut through the air and chilled their blood. The three grimaced, looking over to see the Heatmor righting herself and glaring at them.

    "You!" the Heatmor snarled. "Time to teach you to keep your snouts out from where they don't belong!"

    "W-We'll just see about that!" Crom piped. The Druddigon steeled himself and ran forward, pulling an arm back for a punch and throwing it forward, only for it to land with an inert thud as the Heatmor brushed it aside.

    "H-Huh?!"

    "Get out of my face, you little pest!"

    Crom went wide-eyed realizing that he was face-to-face with his foe, as Nida and Pleo frantically ran after him readying a Poison Sting and a Weather Ball. The Dragon-Type desperately swung with his claws for the Heatmor's belly, only for the creature to spit up a spray of fireballs, one finding its mark on his chest, leaving him to yelp in pain as another fireball pegged Nida in the face, and a third found its mark on the joint of Pleo's right wing.

    "That's right!" the anteater snorted. "By time I'm through with you, you'll all- gah!"

    The Heatmor's jeer was cut off by Pleo sending forth a swirling gust of wind that swept the anteater up, sending her tumbling head over heels for a rocky wall where the Fire-Type crashed against it with a yelp. From the other end, Pleo called out to his teammates as he flapped his wings, flying for the stunned anteater.

    "Quick!" the Lugia squawked. "Before she gets back up!"

    Crom lunged, raking his claws over the anteater's exposed belly as Nida quickly dashed in, poisonous drops building up along her right forepaw, before forcefully running it into the Fire-Type's flank with a sharp jab. The Heatmor bellowed in pain as Nida dashed away, leaving the anteater to stagger from the wall weakly in a feeble attempt to give chase, only for her feet to wobble and then abruptly lose their footing.

    "N-Nrgk…"

    The Heatmor slumped over and tumbled against the stony floor with a limp thud, the air cut by sharp pants from a winded Nida and Crom when a pained cry rang out. There, behind them, Dimitri shoved the Turtonator back with a watery tackle, toppling the tortoise onto the back of his shell unconscious. The pair paused a moment, before watching Pleo shuffle over for Dimitri. Nida started to follow along after him, when she looked down and widened her eyes out of excitement after poison dribbling down her right forepaw, the one part of her attempts to learn Poison Jab that had eluded her again and again the day before.

    "I… I did it! I finally got my tutored move together!" she cried. "Ha! Just wait until Elty hears about how I learned my move when it actually mattered!"

    Crom and Pleo looked over at their Nidoran friend as she threw her head back proudly, before turning back to each other with dubious frowns.

    "Was it really so bad that Elty learned his move before her?" Pleo murmured.

    "Just let her have her moment," Crom insisted, only for a pained wince to prick his ears as Dimitri stumbled forward with an exhausted sigh.

    "Gah… I wasn't expecting a Fire-Type to give me so much trouble," the Kabutops grumbled. "Are you all doing alright? I could use a Rawst Berry right about now."

    "I think we're fine-" Nida began, only to notice Crom had brought his left wing close against his body, where she spotted a ruddy burn near its carpal joint.

    "… Er… right. The berries."

    The Nidoran rifled through the team bag, quickly fishing out a pawful of berries that were promptly divided up, the fruits peeled and pressed against their wounds before consuming the remaining pulp. As Dimitri tore at the pulpy remains of his Rawst Berry, he peered over and noticed Pleo looking down and pecking uneasily at a barely-touched wedge of an Oran Berry.

    "Eh? Something the matter, Pleo?" Dimitri asked. "I don't know of too many Pokemon who would pass up an Oran Berry after being scuffed."

    The Lugia craned his head up, shifting his wings uneasily a moment as he began to speak up hesitantly.

    "No. I'm fine, it's just…"

    Pleo trailed off, seemingly overcome with indecision over whether to continue or stay silent. Dimitri tilted his head puzzledly, waiting as the bird began to hem and haw under his breath, when he suddenly shook his head and piped up.

    "I'm not really feeling good about this," the young Protector said. "What if we're making a big mistake by coming here?"

    "Huh? What do you mean?" Crom asked.

    "It's just that things seemed so bad yesterday after we found out that Lyn was waiting for us just outside the harbor, and both Xerneas and Kline rejected us afterwards," Pleo began. "But then this morning Xerneas suddenly changed his mind and wants to meet up with us to help fight Lyn, when Kiran said he laughed him off just yesterday…"

    "I mean… it wouldn't be unexpected that Xerneas would be trying to figure out if it's safe to move on," Nida replied. "And sometimes things just unexpectedly change for the better."

    "I know, but… Kline said Xerneas only seemed to care about money and that there are Pokémon on this island more dangerous than Lyn," he murmured. "What if Xerneas is helping those Pokemon for money, and we're walking into a trap right now…?"

    Nida, Crom, and Dimitri shifted uncomfortably at Pleo's question. A Legendary working with the Company?! It was unimaginable! No Protector would willfully reduce itself to a mere tool like that!

    Though on the other hand… Kline had warned them there were other dangerous Pokémon they had to be wary of, and Xerneas' sudden change of heart did seem suspiciously well-timed. After all the unexpected twists and turns of their current journey, was there really any possibility that was safe to dismiss out of hand…?

    "Oi!"

    The four turned off towards the lava where they saw the form of a pudgy Growlithe darting ahead, dashing over the lava patch for the clearing. Elty stepped up onto the stony earth, giving his feet a shaking pat against the ground before giving a sharp wag of his tail.

    "We found the stairs! It looks like the midpoint is only a few floors ahead!" he yipped. "Meet us over at the end of the corridor at the second left from here and we'll head up!"

    The Growlithe turned and left much the way he came, leaving Pleo and his companions to look amongst themselves. With everything they'd realized, could they really just carry on deeper into the dungeon? But… if they didn't…

    "… What do we do now?" Pleo asked.

    "… We press on, and keep our eyes open," Dimitri said. "We'll never get anything if we don't take risks, but after everything you've brought up, it can't hurt to be careful."

    The rest of the team mulled a moment before nodding back in agreement, only for the sound of shifting bodies to reach their ears. The group froze and looked back, seeing that the Turtonator and Heatmor from earlier had begun to stir, groping clumsily against the ground.

    "Oww… my head…" the Heatmor groaned.

    "Urgh… why are you still here?" the Turtonator demanded. "I thought those knot-necks kicked you around!"

    "Er… if we're being careful, I say we get out of here before those two fully wake up," Crom offered.

    "Agreed," Nida piped. "Come on, let's get going."

    The Nidoran hurried off in Elty's direction, followed by Crom, Pleo, and Dimitri as the four took a more circuitous path away from the burning lava. All the while, a lingering unease clung about them, each of the lot wondering whether Xerneas really did have some manner of unpleasant surprise for them…

    And if he did, what was it?




    Author's Notes:

    - venado - Spanish (Latin American): "deer"
    - tuman (туман) - Russian: "fog" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
    - Opa, we zijn er! - Dutch: "Grandpa, we're here!"
    - dyado (дядо) - Bulgarian: "grandfather" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
    - Mengirski (Менгирски) - Bulgarian: "Mengirese" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
    - potok (поток) - Russian: "current" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
    - Katte ni shiro (勝手にしろ) - Japanese: "Whatever", "Have it your way" (Hepburn Romanization)
    - babo (바보) - Korean: "idiot" (South Korean Revised Romanization)
     

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