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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Chapter 62:

"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."
Oh man. I'd forgotten that the conflict between the Company and the Empire went back that far. It really helps illustrate the kind of standstill that they're stuck in, and why they're so desperate to use Legendaries to get ahead.
"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!"
I love that literally no one else in the company knew that Lyn just decided to infiltrate the capitol on his own. xD Somehow I suspect it won't make them feel better about him, though.
"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."
Now that's some shutdown.
"Would that be the failure of your aspirations to have a companion parroting your decisions on the Board?"
Oh my godd. I love how Inler is just taking no **** from anyone, lmao.
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."
Aww. This was a cute moment between the two. I kinda found myself wondering the same thing--it almost feels like they'll never have any peace.

It was nice to see everyone enjoying each other's company! And the belching conetest was a much needed bit of silly fun between them. :p
"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.
I like how Guardia's the one to relay all this, heh. It also ties in nicely with the opening scene, and sets the stage for the plot focus for this arc.
"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…"
I'm already sold :p
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.
Was this meant to be unpleasant surprise? Since... getting charged out of the blue wouldn't be too pleasant. ^^;
"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."
Will I ever get tired of Wingull jokes? The answer is no. (Incidentally... are these the contacts ketu has? heheh...)
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.
NO GO AWAY. It was badass to see you wreaking havoc in the Empire capitol, but NO.
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.
it is called a SIESTA, you company toolboxes
Ellsberg fumed at Ketu's flippant response, beating his wings agitatedly as he filled the air with seethes and angry moth noises.
angry moth noises

(The bickering between these two is absolute gold.)
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.
Oh wow, it's really interesting to see a glimpse of common pokemon responding to all this protector fuss that so far has been pretty removed from everyday life.
"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.
Oh wow! That's fascinating that they picked up on that.
"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."
Ohohoho, she's going along with their theory that the coil trial drove him away. That's cunning~
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.
I'm always a fan of this portrayal of TMs not being instantly perfect. And it'll be fun to see them with new moves! They deserve it after that tournament.
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.
WELL THEN. I was NOT expecting that

Chapter 63:

"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…
Holy crap this would be huge if true... which is why I'm expecting it to not be. xD;
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
hmmmm I now have even more suspicion
"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!"
Honestly I'm with ander here. even though we know pleo is a cinnamon roll, they literally know nothing about 'Xerneas' and shouldn't assume that it's safe to approach.
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.
Ellsburg has Had Enough, and honestly, I'm here for it.
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.
i love him
"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 other Squiggly? :eyes:
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.
Considering how many times rumors have screwed them over, this is a very good move on her part
"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?"
Heh, I like that we're addressing this. So, Elty... what are your plans? >:3
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.
hmmmm not sure how I feel about them dismissing this...
"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…"
Aha, they are the Company spies, I knew it. x3
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.
Oh MAN, he's put a ton of thought into this. Hot damn. He's vicious.
"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!"
This is still just way too conspicuous for me to take seriously. It's gotta be a scam, a trap, something.


Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Um... how does a zygarde core smile with no mouth?

Moving facial features much like a closed-mouth smile, clearly. Even with a good chunk of your face covered, there’s certain “tells” for when someone is smiling that would apply to a Pokémon like a Zygarde Core.

0/10 grapploct isn't patrolling the shore of a body of water like it's supposed to.

To be fair, I’d think that being on a ship is decently close enough.

I mean, it's not inaccurate considering how much property damage you've managed to cause on your archipelago tour. :V

Shh… we don’t talk about that. o3o;;

Doesn't mean much coming from a former— oh, wait, the prose beat me to the joke.

Yeah, Tegu doesn’t take things quite as well as he dishes out.

Isn't Cabot supposed to be the wide-eyed optimist of this trio? :V

To be fair, Niilo tries sometimes. Not very well as you can see here.

I mean... she's not wrong.

Tegu and Niilo would probably contest that there.

I see Crom has learned the rules of PMD fan-fiction.

And game mechanics too!

Mostly a transitional chapter here, so I don't feel like there's all that much for me to say here. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bunsen choosing not to take his morning report on his ship as per usual will play a role in unraveling the plan that's going on here. And I guess something in the interim must've softened Kline up a bit because I was expecting him to make a harder push for ignoring Tromba to get the other half of the Ledger but, nope, he agreed with no resistance.

... now to wait for that to come back and bite him in his nonexistent behind. :p

Well, you’ll see how that plays out soon enough.

I wonder if Cabot had to spend at least one night in his Cranidos-sized bedding or not.

Given that his bed is either a lump of straw or a hammock, I’d imagine he dodged that bullet. Not that the idea wouldn’t be funny.

Reviewing the latest chapter, and much like what Amby said, there's surprisingly little for me to comment on that he hadn't already covered (including me briefly pausing to remember if Kline was doggo or not, because I don't think the bean form has a mouth to smile with.) He also seemed significantly more agreeable than before. Speaking of which, not sure if this was ever pointed out or asked or even hypothesized in-story, but what happens if a cell of Kline's is destroyed? Does he shed a new one? Being so thinly spread, I imagine at least one of those fifty (or hundred if you count the second ziggy) cells ran into trouble.

I’m personally of the school of thought that Zygarde cells regenerate when destroyed much like starfish arms.

Indeed, this is a transitional chapter that's setting everything up, and I'm not sure if it's just a matter of perception or not, but it felt like this chapter was made up of more numerous but overall smaller scenes to quickly get things rolling. I find that almost surprising since nearly everyone is closing in on the same location one way or the other for most of these scenes.

Yeah, you’ll be seeing more and more of that convergence as we get closer to the endgame of this story.

The scene that stood out to me the most in terms of being memorable was Cabot having some mealtime banter with his team. It didn't really advance all that much, but it did at least show a little more conflict with Cabot and his navy life. I can never shake the feeling that it doesn't really suit him and this came off as foreshadowing that, but I could be wrong. It's sort of a hard read. Granted, navy life for a Ground, Rock, and Fire trio is also silly on the face of it, so, who knows! I feel like that dynamic alone is showing that their career is a bit of an uphill battle on an inherent level.

The scene’s primary purpose was moreso to show how Nagant and the others are managing their little secret. For now, they’re managing, though every tightrope walk eventually comes to an end.

Regardless, I'm hoping that the fact that so many things are converging means that we'll get into the action quickly on the powers butting heads. My biggest curiosity: how they will drive away the Company forces while navigating the political weight at the same time.

Whelp, hopefully this coming arc helps to satisfy that curiosity a bit.

@Sike Saner
Wow, Kline certainly seems to have a chip on his largely figurative shoulder about Trizano's village, huh. But then, of course he does, and would probably feel the same if a certain bird were off somewhere fiddling around with the powers of mortality on a large scale, such as... oh, I don't know, making a bunch of zombies or something. Like how a rayquaza in this setting might take offense if they think a kyogre or groudon is overstepping their bounds. Being the third in a legendary trio doesn't guarantee having to mediate between the other two (in fact I think it only does to any extent between those two trios), but the possibility's present enough that, suffice it to say, I don't envy Kline his job. :p

Yeah, it’s not an easy job and while he’s older, Kline is still learning as he goes along himself. Also that whole “tried to take me hostage” moment from Darkwood Square probably wasn’t very endearing, I imagine most Pokémon in a similar situation would have a bit of a chip on their shoulder towards it.

Meanwhile, what the heck, Alice. That was such a silly gambit. And it actually worked! Guess it's a good thing she was on hand, but that sure could've gone pear-shaped, easily.

What can I say? Such gambits run in the blood for her.

And, of course, Cabot continues to be a precious beanasaur.

I’m sure he’d find that endearing even if he’s a bit rougher around the edges now.

@Chibi Pika
I love that literally no one else in the company knew that Lyn just decided to infiltrate the capitol on his own. xD Somehow I suspect it won't make them feel better about him, though.

Probably not, no.

Oh my godd. I love how Inler is just taking no **** from anyone, lmao.

There’s a reason he’s had a long tenure as a Director even after leaving his prime as a Pokémon.

Aww. This was a cute moment between the two. I kinda found myself wondering the same thing--it almost feels like they'll never have any peace.

It was nice to see everyone enjoying each other's company! And the belching conetest was a much needed bit of silly fun between them. :p

I’m glad you enjoyed the moment. Part of what makes Fledglings tick is having moments of levity and goofiness like this.

Was this meant to be unpleasant surprise? Since... getting charged out of the blue wouldn't be too pleasant. ^^;

It’s more a pleasant surprise that they’re allowed beyond the Visitors’ District at all, unlike their experience in Tidemill City.

Oh wow, it's really interesting to see a glimpse of common pokemon responding to all this protector fuss that so far has been pretty removed from everyday life.

Yeah, getting spurned by a deity figure won’t do wonders for your legitimacy.

Ohohoho, she's going along with their theory that the coil trial drove him away. That's cunning~

Yeah, Aleria might be a bit of an airhead, but she’s got more smarts than much of the court gives her credit for. Had she deferred to her advisors’ judgement on how to handle the mob, she would’ve very likely become an ex-Queen right there.

I'm always a fan of this portrayal of TMs not being instantly perfect. And it'll be fun to see them with new moves! They deserve it after that tournament.

I felt that it was a logical setup, since the story would be fairly broken otherwise if Pleo could instantly just Thunderbolt with abandon once getting exposed to the appropriate TM.

Heh, I like that we're addressing this. So, Elty... what are your plans? >:3

He hadn’t quite settled on that with himself at that point in time. You’ll see soon enough though.

Aha, they are the Company spies, I knew it. x3

Yup. You’ll see quite a bit more of those three later on.

Oh MAN, he's put a ton of thought into this. Hot damn. He's vicious.

Yeah, Darzin might functionally be a one-’mon show, but he is a Company Administrator and nothing to be scoffed at.

This is still just way too conspicuous for me to take seriously. It's gotta be a scam, a trap, something.

Well, you’ll see what happens there soon enough.

Also, it’s taken a few days longer than I’d have liked to get things together, but I’m back with a new chapter, and the follow-up to the much awaited return of Team Traveller onto Tromba. In addition, I’m happy to announce that there’s a couple new pieces of art for this story, one of Cabot and one of Nida, so be sure to take some time to check them out.

As always, this story owes its existence to the readers and reviewers that keep things humming along, with special thanks to Virgil134 and Venia Silente who helped with the process of composing and editing this chapter for primetime.

And without further ado, let’s check up again on how our favorite Rescue Team’s been faring back home.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

In the hills overlooking Bluewhorl Town, the wind carried along through the treetops and gently disturbed the mats and post boxes that were set out along a dirt lane. The normal rhythms of life in the neighborhood had seemingly gone quiet, as most of the inhabitants had either gone off to work for the day or remained huddled up in their burrows and nests to avoid the Company's underlings in town.

From behind the cover of a bush near the path, Kline closed his eye and went into a trance-like state, before opening it and looking back at his teammates with a quick nod. The bush rustled loudly as he, Nida, Pleo, and Dimitri exited out onto the path and followed it towards Nida's familial burrow. Nida hesitated as she neared the mat in front of the entrance, seeing the mailbox unopened and hearing nothing from deeper within. The Nidorina sat on her haunches and turned her ears towards the burrow's entrance as she wavered a moment, until she eventually stepped forward to call into it.

"Mamí? Papí? Are you there?"

Nida's words were answered by shifting from further down the burrow, as the forms of a Nidorino and Nidorina emerged warily, followed by three Nidoran. Marley and Teja blinked at the Nidorina before them, sizing her up when they noticed the form of a young Lugia standing behind her and their eyes widened in realization.

"Nida?!" Marley exclaimed. "Is that you?!"

"It's her! We had a lot of trouble getting back and she's bigger now!" Pleo insisted. "But it's really her!"

Marley stared at her daughter in surprise for a moment, before bounding ahead and pulling her into a firm embrace as the other members of the family gathered around. The mother Nidorina's voice hitched and began to sniffle as she let go, and looked back with a damp-eyed smile.

"My niñita, you've grown so much!"

"Yeah, whatever happened to being the fourth child, huh?" a blue Nidoran demanded. "How on earth did you evolve before anyone else?"

Nida's muzzle curled up in a teasing smirk, as she gave a dismissive wave of her paw back at her sister.

"Well, you know what they say about late bloomers, Ani," Nida jested. "Clearly that applies to hatching order too."

As Nida bantered with her siblings, Teja neared Pleo, giving a curious tilt of his head as he noticed Kline and Dimitri towards the back of his group.

"It's so good to see you again, Protector," the Nidorino said. "Are those two new friends of yours?"

"That's right!" Pleo insisted. "The big one's Dimitri and the small one's Kline! They helped us get back to Tromba!"

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Dimitri greeted, raising one of his scythes. "I'm from the Khranitel Rod and have been helping Pleo since we crossed paths at sea."

"And Kline's another Protector that we met!" Pleo added. "He's the Protector of Conntow and he can turn invisible!"

The Lugia's declaration drew surprised gasps from the gathered Pokémon, the Nidoran of the lot bounding up to crowd around the strange serpent in their midst.

"Wait, the Protector of Conntow?" Orino asked. "But how's that possible?"

"And what's this invisibility look like?" Nida's other brother wondered. "Can you show us?"

Kline let out a sharp huff in reply and hopped away from the Nidoran, before pivoting on his tail and shooting a stern frown at everyone.

"Ahem, not to cut your doting curiosity short, but we don't have time for this," the Zygarde harrumphed. "We'd heard that things had been coming to a boil out here and came to see if anything can be done about it."

Marley twitched her whiskers, as her face took on an increasingly serious, yet puzzled expression.

"… How did you even make it here?" she asked. "The Company sent a Commissioner out here to ambush you all."

"I guess you could say we received… a tip about what's going on here, even if it required some fast thinking to get the ship safely into port," Nida replied. "But we should be fine, at least for now. It's just that we don't really know where the best place to start is at the moment."

"Well, there's mamí's resettlement notice…." Dorin murmured.

A long silence fell over the group as the life seemed to drain from the rest of Nida's family. The younger Nidorina shuffled uneasily, before turning to her brother and waving a paw insistently.

"The Company can't enforce that if we kick them all out of the island, Dorin," Nida insisted. "Hasn't everyone been trying to make that happen?"

"With what? There's three ships full of Pokémon prowling around town, and that blasted Roserade has been handing out resettlement notices left and right," Ani replied. "How's anyone supposed to plan anything big enough to handle that?"

Nida bit her tongue in reply and folded her ears back, her eyes drifting to the ground as she realized that those circumstances did make it rather hard for the town to come up with something on its own. Orino hesitated a moment, before shifting his feet and raising his voice to speak up.

"Yeah, about that…" the Nidoran began. "There might be a start of a plan that could help, though admittedly it still needs quite a bit of work."

The others all turned over to Orino curiously, wondering to themselves just what sort of plan he could possibly have. Pleo opened his mouth to ask, only to trail off before he could say anything when he noticed Kline abruptly stiffening up and closing his eye. Nida's family looked at Kline and gave worried glances over at her and her teammates, Pleo blinking puzzledly before calling out to him.

"… Kline?"

The Zygarde snapped back to attention, turning his head up to the others with a stern expression.

"We don't have any time right now," Kline said. "Hide quick."

Marley and Teja hurried their children, Pleo, and Kline down the burrow to take cover. Dimitri attempted to join his teammates, only to find that his head and shoulders were too broad to fit down the winding burrow. After a few futile attempts to twist and contort his way down, he felt Teja paw at his leg, making him hastily pull his head back out in time to see Sicula approaching with a small party of underlings. The Kabutops quickly started up some idle chatter about the sea to Marley and Teja, trailing off as the Roserade neared and completely ignored his presence to beeline towards Marley.

"We've waited long enough, Nidorina," Sicula spat. "There's a spot on the boat out to Vollezee with your name on it."

"Qué diablos?!" Marley exclaimed. "We weren't supposed to move for several days!"

"Hmph, the Company has decided to expedite your relocation," the Grass-Type huffed. "Get the rest of your family and whatever belongings you wanted to bring along, since you're leaving now."

The Nidorina shot back a withering glare, visibly restraining herself from throwing herself at the Roserade before she turned and reluctantly made her way down the burrow, followed closely by Teja. As Sicula watched the two Poison-Types slip underground, she turned her attention to Dimitri, who had stood by awkwardly watching the proceedings.

"And who are you supposed to be?" the Roserade demanded.

"I was just passing through to talk to some of the locals," Dimitri insisted. "I'm from a traveling rod, so I like to do that whenever we pass by an island."

Sicula looked over the Kabutops carefully, noting that he bore no scarf, and instead wore a blue-and-red belt about his waist. The Grass-Type's eyes narrowed and Dimitri grimaced, thinking that perhaps the Roserade had found him out, when her voice disrupted his train of thought.

"In case you haven't noticed, this island isn't exactly open for tourists right now," she snapped. "I've seen your buddies in the harbor over the past few days, so stick with them until we're done here."

Dimitri's eyes widened at the revelation that his own rod had already made it into the waters around Tromba. The Kabutops reflexively opened his mouth to ask what Sicula knew, only to catch himself and swiftly clamp his mouth shut when she abruptly cut him off.

"And for the record, what happens on land is our problem, not yours," the Roserade growled. "We stick to affairs above water, you stick to them below. Are we clear?"

The Kabutops hesitated a moment, before nodding his head back with a low grunt.

"… Crystal."

Sicula huffed and turned away when the sound of footsteps rang out, revealing Marley and Teja emerging with two of their children and a small collection of bags. The Roserade scowled at Marley and Teja upon seeing the amount of Nidoran with them, prompting her to speak up with a sharp shout.

"Hey! There were supposed to be ten of you after your kid in our ranks and your missing brat were taken out," the Grass-Type barked. "Where are the rest?"

"The young ones are still at the Day Care right now," Teja insisted. "We weren't expecting to have to leave on such short notice, so-"

"Spare me the explanation," Sicula spat. "We'll go along with you there, and don't get any ideas about trying to stall us."

The Roserade and her underlings stepped forward and unceremoniously shoved the family of Poison-Types off, leaving the burrow to return to silence. After a few uneasy moments, Orino poked his head out before Nida and her teammates emerged in front of the hastily-vacated burrow, the group trading worried looks with each other.

"… What do we do now?" Pleo murmured.

"Like I was saying… Mosca and the rest of us have the start of a plan," Orino explained. "We hadn't made a whole lot of progress yet, but with you and another Protector here, maybe things can change for the better."

"Let's hear what she has to say, then," Nida replied. "Lead the way."

The purple Nidoran hopped ahead, leaving Nida and the rest of the team to follow along after his tracks, wondering all the while just what sort of plan the town's Dojo Maestra could have been working on.

On the grounds of Tromba's guild, the atmosphere had remained tense since the arrival of Commissioner Bunsen and his fleet. While the island's guild had attempted to carry on with some semblance of normalcy, Hatteras had remained under house arrest within the short lighthouse overlooking the grounds that doubled as his domicile. On that day, just like the three before it, a pair of guards had been posted at the lighthouse's door, the current shift consisting of a Lickilicky and a Dugtrio who fought against boredom and their own restlessness to stay alert at their posts.

"How much longer is our shift again?" the Lickilicky asked. "We've been watching this sheep's hut since the crack of dawn."

"Until after lunch," the Dugtrio answered. "Just stay focused, it's not as if it's been a hard task so far."

The Lickilicky frowned back when he caught the sight of movement in the skies in the background, watching as the forms of a Gliscor and a Talonflame landed just outside the guild complex a short distance away. The Lickilicky pawed at his counterpart, drawing the Dugtrio's attention as the two Flying-Types began to walk over.

"… Wait, I thought that 'Hatteras' 'mon wasn't supposed to have visitors," the Lickilicky said, prompting the Dugtrio to curl her mouths into a sharp frown.

"He wasn't."

The Lickilicky's features hardened into a harsh glare as Percy and Calidus neared, the Normal-Type stepping forward to cut the pair off with a sharp growl.

"Hold it! What are you two doing here?" the Lickilicky demanded.

"We're here to see the Guildmaster," Percy replied. "We were told that we could find him here."

"He's not accepting visitors right now," Dugtrio huffed. "Move along."

"Huh? But we were dispatched by our own guildmaster!" Calidus protested. "Her last three letters to him all went unanswered and she wanted a team to go and check up on him."

"Well, he's still alive," the Lickilicky insisted. "Go home and let her know that."

Percy and Calidus hesitantly looked at each other, before the Gliscor of the pair spoke up, raising out a claw to try and calm the guards' mood.

"Surely we can be reasonable here…" he began.

Percy and Calidus continued on with their attempts to hold the guards' attention, delving into one story after another of how Guildmaster Hatteras and their own guildmaster were old friends, how they had come to know each other, and why it was imperative for them to pass their message along. As the pair slowly whittled away at the guards' patience, a bush overlooking the lighthouse rustled and shifted as Kiran and Trizano poked their heads out

"It looks like the coast is clear right now," Kiran whispered.

"Go on before someone flies by," Trizano said. "I'll keep an eye on things from here."

Kiran crept out of the bush and flew up to the lighthouse's roof, sneaking along the back edge when he noticed the door on the lighthouse's balcony had been left ajar. After checking to ensure the Lickilicky and Dugtrio were still preoccupied with Percy and Calidus below, the Swellow flew down, hurriedly ducking past the doorway and down the stairs to a vacant second floor bedroom where he looked about the surroundings warily.

"Hatteras? Estás ahí?"

The Flying-Type was answered by creaking wood and the sound of hesitant footsteps climbing up from the ground floor. A short moment later, the Swellow was greeted by Hatteras' head poking up above the stairs, the elderly sheep climbing the last few steps up with a surprised gape.

"Kiran? How did you get here?"

"That can wait for later, Guildmaster," the bird answered, fanning out his wings. "We'd heard that there was trouble in town, so me and the others on the ship wanted to know if there was anything we could do to help."

Hatteras lowered his head with a deflated sigh, giving a shake back in response to the Swellow.

"I don't know how much I can help you there," the Ampharos replied. "Commissioner Bunsen's been keeping me penned up here without any visitors to pass word along to."

"Well, we have to try something," Kiran insisted. "This state of affairs is 100% unsustainable, and we already sent Nida to check up on Marley to see if they could organize a revolt. Surely there has to be someone else we can turn to…"

Hatteras blinked back at the Swellow's musings, giving a puzzled tilt of his head.

"I'm surprised it's you asking me that Kiran," the Electric-Type remarked as he pointed at the bird's breast. "Why, the answer is sitting pinned right on your scarf."

"My… scarf?"

Kiran turned his head down, when he saw the glinting form of his Rescue Team badge pinned to the scarf's fabric. The Swellow gave Hatteras a puzzled look, prompting the Ampharos to give a sagely nod back.

"The guild is one of the more organized groups in Bluewhorl, that's why as Mayor Hatteras, I always turned to them for help in times of trouble," the sheep explained. "Perhaps it also makes sense to start with them now."

"I'd thought of that, but with over sixty members just on the active roster and me not having a real clue as to what's been happening since the Company came back here, where would I even start?"

Hatteras paused and stroked his chin thoughtfully, before shaking his head and speaking back up.

"Try contacting Team Cloudburst, Team ESP, and Team Sawtooth," he said. "I think those three would be able to help wrangle everyone in short order."

"Their experience would certainly help out, so I suppose that's as good a place to begin as any…" Kiran mused. "I'll try starting from there then, Guildmaster Ha-"

"Oi, I'm going to say this one last time! There's no visitors, no letters, no nothing!" a Dugtrio's voice snapped. "Now buzz off if you know what's good for you!"

Kiran and Hatteras turned towards the window where they saw the guards outside starting to get visibly agitated with Percy and Calidus. Kiran bit his tongue and grimaced, wondering how much longer their distraction could hold when Hatteras raised his brow and looked back at the Swellow.

"Friends of yours?" the Ampharos asked.

"Recent ones, yes," Kiran answered. "Though I suppose that's my cue to take wing."

"Buena suerte," Hatteras said. "And may the gods smile on your efforts."

"Yours too, Guildmaster."

Hatteras followed Kiran up to the platform above, watching as the Swellow hastily took flight off towards the sea. The arguing from the entrance died down, the Ampharos turning his head to see Percy and Calidus falling back as the guards grumbled and returned to their posts. After watching the guards safely train their attention back to the entrance, Hatteras turned towards Kiran as he flew off, following the Swellow's course until he slipped out of view amid the tangle of sails in the harbor.

He had done what he could to aid them. Now, his fate, and that of the entire village lay in the paws of the Siglo Swellow and the rest of the townsfolk.

In Vollezee, the best and brightest of the Company's next generation were nurtured in Canalhouse City's great Academy. The school was built in a great complex of long, stone buildings centered around a square building set behind a courtyard that lay on both sides of a canal dividing two of the city's islets that were connected by a pair of arched bridges. The east and west wings of the building that bridged the two sides of the canal were built over a series of five arches, three above the water in the center to allow swimming Pokémon passage, and two on each side for more terrestrial Pokémon.

At the top of each hour, the courtyard and canal would teem with Pokémon departing from various courses and stopping to mingle with each other. On the south side of the building, the ground floor had been built out into a windowed walkway that carried on up and over the archways, with shops filling the spaces opposite of the windows that dutifully pried loose the Thalers from the students' pursestrings. Today was no different, as Inler walked into the courtyard, making his way over to his way over to the statue of the Company's first Director that he himself had commissioned as part of Canalhouse City's expansion, paying no mind to the gapes and whispers his presence drew from passing Pokémon as he keenly watched the doors ahead of him into the complex and the students filing out of them. There, among them, the Nidoking spotted the bounding forms of a trio of Nidoran in plain lavender scarves, the lot carrying on a brief ways before they turned and saw Inler waiting for them much to their delighted surprise.

"Oh! Opa!"

Inler craned his head down to see the three Nidoran scampering up and pawing at his legs as the nearby Company Pokémon stopped and watched as the little spike balls bounded about excitedly around the elderly Nidoking.

"What are you doing here?" a purple Nidoran asked. A small smile spread over Inler's muzzle, as he stooped to pet his grandson's head.

"I just wanted to check in," the Nidoking answered. "You have been learning well, haven't you?"

The Nidoran chimed in with cheerful affirmations one after the other, when their voices were stilled by the sound of a loud thump and growling voice.

"They've been learning fine. Thanks for your concern."

A Nidorina sauntered up, giving a sharp glance up at Inler as he and the Nidorina stared at each other in a tense, awkward silence. The three Nidoran shifted uneasily, when Inler broke the silence by speaking up in a flat, unenthusiastic tone.

"Hello Fritha, it's been a while since we last spoke," he said.

"Hmph, I think it's best we keep it that way," the Nidorina scoffed. "Come on kids, let's go. You have practice with your Baccer team today."

"But classes barely let out!" the blue Nidoran protested. "And Baccer doesn't start until-"

"No buts. Move it already."

The Nidoran let out a chorus of disappointed groans and began to file over towards the Nidorina. Inler curled his mouth down into a disappointed frown and raised his voice in a disapproving tone.

"Fritha, if the kids aren't feeling up for Baccer right now, perhaps it's best to give them a break," Inler insisted. "There's no reason to be so rigid with them."

The Nidorina narrowed her eyes into an acidic glare, before letting out a frustrated huff in reply.

"Somehow, I don't ever recall that being a problem for you."

Inler fell silent at Fritha's reply, shaking his head back with a low sigh.

"Some things you don't learn until you've come of age," he said. "It's too late for me to change the things I would've done differently, but there's no reason for you to do the same."

"You get chances every day to do things differently with your 'family'," she spat. "Why, you're wearing its scarf right now!"

The Nidorina turned away and hurried her children off, the three glumly glimpsing back as Inler stood and watched the lot depart. The Nidoking hung his head and pinched his brow, as Zorn swam past with a Magikarp in tow, the Gyarados stopping to crane his head down towards the Company Director with a puzzled look.

"Wasn't that your daughter, Director?" the Gyarados asked. "Why did you just let her get away with brushing you off like that?"

Inler narrowed his eyes into a sharp scowl, training a piercing glare back at the Gyarados that made him shrink back in the water.

"That's none of your concern," the Nidoking growled. "Have a nice afternoon, Administrator Zorn. I have other matters to tend to right now."

Inler turned and shuffled off from the chastened Gyarados, the Nidoking looking off as Fritha and his grandchildren slipped from view amidst the crowds in the hallway. The Poison-Type folded his ears back and continued off for his office in darker spirits than when he'd left it.

The highest point in all of Anyilla was the central peak of Gestirn Island, a towering mountain that pierced into the sky where the snow frosting it intermingled with the clouds above and a foggy veil that ran along its north face down to its base. The mountain cascaded down to the sea, terminating in gently rolling foothills wreathed in spruce trees that hosted its fields and its outpost of civilization: Starpeak Square.

"Kommt zurück, ihr Diebe!"

In normal times, Starpeak Square was a sleepy seaside town of painted-timber huts under the watchful gaze of the local Duke's castle in the hills above. That day, smoke curled up from the town as Wilhelm and Kichiro flitted away from a ransacked shop and into a square built around a fountain as a livid Drampa gave chase. A gout of blue dragonfire zipped overhead, prompting Wilhelm to wheel around with a yellow cloud of paralyzing spores, freezing the Dragon-Type in his tracks.

"Just try and stop us!" the Hoppip cried. "The crew of the Siglo Swellow takes as it pleases!"

Kichiro frowned and shook his head slightly at Wilhelm's theatrics, before taking out an orange-scaled seed from his bag.

"Here! Have a Tromban farewell!" the Ledian jeered.

The Bug-Type hurled the Blast Seed at the Drampa's shop, the orange missile finding its mark on a set of steps at the entrance before exploding into a ball of fire that swallowed up the shopfront. The Drampa looked on in stunned horror, as Wilhelm flitted up, jeering down at the hapless shopkeeper from above.

"Ha ha! Nothing can stop the mighty crew of the Siglo-!"

Wilhelm's boast was cut off by a hail of sharp stones zipping right past his fronds, making him wheel back with a frightened squeal. Kichiro turned his head and saw a party of guards led by a Krookodile charging ahead, prompting him to hastily yank Wilhelm and fly off back for the harbor. There, they saw Hess and a number of their crewmates taking cover behind upended crates, throwing attacks back at the town as Hess motioned with his claw for his underlings to hurry aboard the Mistral Marauder.

"Our job here's done!" the Aggron shouted. "Come on!"

Kichiro and Wilhelm hastily dove aboard the deck as one after the other, a frantic scramble of pirates made their way back onto the deck. The sails were lowered and the moorings were hastily cut as the Mistral Marauder lurched off under a hail of attacks. Hess grabbed onto the rope ladder up to the deck when a bolt of electricity zipped by and prompted him to wheel about towards the approaching guards with an angry snarl.

"Knock it off already!" he roared.

Hess jumped into the water from the rope ladder and churned up a large wave that he sent barrelling into the crowd of guards that drew a chorus of pained and confused shouts. Back on the Mistral Marauder, the ship jolted forward as the sea and air escorts whipped up a current and a tailwind, the crack of cannonfire and errant Apricorns zipping overhead ringing out as Kichiro barked out orders to the other fliers and Wilhelm hugged the deck for dear life. Slowly, the fire grew more sporadic and fainter, the pair looking up to see Gestirn starting to shrink into the distance as the lumbering form of the ship's Aggron captain climbed aboard dripping seawater with a relieved sigh.

"Well, mission accomplished," Hess said.

"'Mission accomplished?!'" a Charmeleon fumed. "I barely snagged a clawful of loot from that raid!"

"Yeah! How was any of that worth what we got out of it?" a Chingling chimed in. The pair's protests were quickly joined in with a chorus of displeased grumbles from the other pirates, prompting Hess to raise a claw and motion for silence.

"Hey, we were just asked to raise some hell out there," the Aggron insisted. "We did that, and we didn't lose anybody this time. That's good enough, isn't it?"

"But where's the loot?" a Wimpod demanded.

Hess grimaced as his underlings' complaints took on an increasingly testy air, when their grumbling was quickly silenced by the sound of wood rolling against the deck as Rodion brought a large keg to a stop with his foot.

"There was a brewery near the shoreline that I and some of the swimmers helped clean out," he chimed in. "We managed to get a dozen of these kegs full of Gestirn Pilsner, more than enough for all of us."

The Floatzel's reassurance was met with an annoyed buzz, as Kichiro flitted up and shot an unimpressed scowl over at the wooden keg.

"Oh come on, Rodion," the Ledian spat. "You can't seriously expect that we're all going to suddenly be satisfied by a little-"

"Wait, Pilsner? Isn't that beer?" a Drednaw asked.

"Yeah, Gestirn's supposed to make the best beer in Anyilla!" a Cherrim exclaimed.

"Send some this way!" a Litten cried.

The pirates eagerly crowded around the keg and began to help themselves to portions of frothy ale from within, their earlier mood having dissipated into a carnival atmosphere as Kichiro looked on with an annoyed frown and buried his face into an open hand.

"Ugh… why am I not surprised?"

Rodion watched the pirates' festivities with a moment's self-satisfied smile, before his features eased and he turned back to the ship's Aggron captain.

"We should start thinking of ways to get out of this 'arrangement' we're in and go back to our normal raids," the Floatzel said. "Something about that Commissioner just doesn't feel right, and we shouldn't wait to find out why."

"Hrmph, not that I don't agree, but we don't exactly have a lot of cards to play there," Kichiro grumbled. "What are we supposed to do? Just abandon our new spot on the Council and sail off from Anyilla?"

"Look, I don't like our situation either, but we'd be putting a huge target on our backs if we try ditching that Samurott," Hess insisted. "I don't think even sailing for other waters would get that off of us."

The Aggron shook his head, turning his attention towards the kegs as he tried to reassure his first mate and head flier.

"Just relax a bit, we'll have plenty of time to figure that out. Besides, I'm a bit thirsty right now."

Rodion and Kichiro watched as Hess joined his underlings, snatching a whole keg for himself and hoisting it to drink without a care in the world. The pair looked at each other a moment, before following after their captain. The solution to escaping their blackmail would still be around after a drink, and who knew? Perhaps Gestirn Pilsner would be just the thing to get their creative sparks flying.

Back in Bluewhorl Town, Elty and the others in his group quietly made their way further inland from the harbor along the town's lanes. While Bluewhorl had always been on the sleepy side, the streets that day were largely empty, enough so that the Growlithe and his teammates would occasionally slow their pace to check up on their surroundings whenever there didn't seem to be any watching guards present. As they went further into town, the lot found themselves near the main square, scouting about as they closed the last few streets on their way to Mirlia's juice bar.

"So… you're sure that your old friends are at Mirlia's?" Ander asked.

"They're still my friends, but yeah. One of my buddies works there, and it's usually pretty quiet there during the day, so we always tried to meet up there when we could," Elty replied, his answer drawing a puzzled raise of Crom's brow.

"Wait, but I thought you always went there during your break to order Shuca juice," the Druddigon said.

"Well yeah, that too," the Growlithe answered. "But you guys never would have let me go there in the middle of training if I told you I was splitting drinks with Pyry, Pekka, and the others."

Crom curled his maw into a disapproving frown, when the sound of sneering laughter made Alice motion for a pause and prompted the group to turn their heads down a nearby side street. The five peered around the corner, seeing the laughter was coming from a Politoed and a Carkol in lavender scarves cornering a Meowth, the Politoed of the pair knocking a crate filled with empty bottles out of the Meowth's paws.

"Hey, hick. Pick up those bottles."

The Meowth stammered and stooped down to pick up one of the bottles, only for the Carkoal to cut in and knock it back out of the Normal-Type's grasp. From their hiding place, Guardia tightened her grip on her club, stomping forward when Alice latched onto her shoulder and forcefully pulled her back.

"Not yet," the Sneasel insisted. "I don't like it any more than you do, but we've got one chance to get the drop on them and we can't use it up here."

Guardia paused before turning and grudgingly nodding back. As the guards continued to harass the Meowth, Elty shook his head and let out a low sigh, before shuffling along to continue on to Mirlia's bar.

"Let's just move along for now."

One after the other, Elty and his teammates pressed on, following the path until they found the familiar juice bar nestled beside the town's glassblower shop. The group made it up to the door and pushed it open to step inside, where they saw Mirlia and Minia behind the counter, along with Pyry, Pekka, and a number of their fellows at a few of the tables who turned and jolted out of their seats in surprise.

"Eltenios?! What are you doing here?!" Pyry cried.

"Yeah, weren't you supposed to be somewhere at sea right now?!" Pekka chittered. "How on earth did you get back?"

Mirlia stared at the door as she watched Crom and Ander enter, Minia clambering out of her mother's pouch and onto the bar as the barkeep Kangaskhan blinked in astonishment.

"Crom? Ander? How are you two here?" Mirlia asked. Her daughter tilted her head puzzledly for a moment, before her eyes lit up excitedly.

"Ah! You must've brought the Protector back!" Minia exclaimed. "So then you're here to kick those mean Company Pokémon out!"

"We are, but we're not ready to do it just yet," Crom explained. "We're gonna need some help first."

"That's where I come in!" Alice chimed in. "The name's Alice. I'm a new friend of theirs and have some experience fighting those square-necks."

"And I'm called 'Guardia'," the Cubone of their number added. "I'm a traveling lorekeeper gathering tales about your backwards, hut-dwelling lives."

Elty and Crom furrowed their brows with long frowns at Guardia's introduction, the pair unable to shake a sense of absurdity at the idea of a 'mon who'd lived in a cave her whole life up until a couple weeks ago calling them backwards. The Druddigon rolled his eyes, supposing that some habits took a bit longer for ferals to unlearn than others.

"Uhm… yeah, something like that," Crom murmured. "But we also came here to ask for your help."

Pyry, Pekka, and their peers traded skeptical looks with one another. A Sableye and Jigglypuff stepped up to the fore, the Sableye of the two giving a dubious frown back.

"… Eh? Just what are you expecting us to do?" he demanded.

"Yeah, last time your bird friend got wiped across the floor by Company 'mons just like the ones in port," the Jigglypuff insisted. "His whole 'surprise windstorm' thing didn't exactly come in to bail him out, so why would this time be any different?"

"Because Pleo has gotten stronger during his journey," Guardia piped. "So there's no reason to assume things will play out the same way this time."

"That said… we're not fully sure how much extra muscle we'll need if things turn out to be tougher than we expect," Elty said. "Which is where you come in."

"Wait, what?! Why on earth would we want anything to do with that?!" a Quilava cried.

"Yeah, if you guys can't handle it, what sort of difference do you expect us to make?" an Ekans demanded. "Those square-necks would probably punt us into the Wastes after they're through with us!"

"And even if they don't, we'd probably wish they did," a Zebstrika grumbled. "Don't think we haven't heard those stories about what goes on at that prison complex they run on Nagrobek."

"Well… yes, but it's not as if you'd get nothing out of it. After I stuck my neck out for Nida and Pleo when they got forced on the run, they started looking out for me," Elty explained. "If you do that, I'm sure that the town will at least think of you as more than just a bunch of deadbeats providing free labor."

The Growlithe's reply drew back skeptical murmurs and grumbles from the gathered pirates, none of whom showed much sign of being swayed by Elty's testimony.

"Yeah, well that'd be nice if things worked out," the Quilava harrumphed. "But even a Slowpoke could see the odds that we're up against here and tell that it's a bad bet."

"Pah, what sort of pirates are you all supposed to be?!"

The pirates looked about surprisedly as Alice hopped onto a table, folding her arms and looking down at the gathering with an impatient huff.

"Being a pirate's all about taking risks for glory and a payout! To tell all the naysayers wrong if you make it, and say that you at least took a chance even when things come up short!" the Sneasel exclaimed. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you lot were a bunch of scaredy Skitty content to just cower and grovel in the shadows while those square-necks stepped all over you!"

"Oi!" Mirlia snapped. "Watch who you accuse of cowering and groveling there-!"

Alice gave a shush back and winked before turning back to the pirates, leaving Mirlia to quiet down with a small frown as the Sneasel shot a challenging grin at the former brigands.

"So what's it going to be?" she insisted. "Are you going to just sit here drinking and waiting as things get worse, or are you going to take the leap when there's two Protectors here looking to help you out and grab at a brighter future?"

The Sneasel's remark made the bar's patrons jolt up with stunned stares, the silence being broken with an incredulous outcry from the Sableye.

"Two Protectors?"

"Why didn't you say anything about that earlier?!" Minia exclaimed.

"You never asked," Alice said, giving a teasing shrug in reply. Mirlia and Minia traded looks with each other before Elty shook his head and turned back to speak to his peers.

"Look, if you're really set on laying low, there's nothing that we can really do about it. But this is as good of a chance to get one over these Company dupki as we're all going to get in a very long time," the Growlithe added. "So won't you help out? For old times' sake?"

"… I'm in. It's high time my claws did something other than knead dough all day," Pyry grunted.

"Yeah, me too!" Pekka insisted. "Let's show those square-necks they're biting off more than they can chew!"

The other pirates chimed in with hoots and hollers of agreement, making Elty and his teammates trade contented grins with each other. As the lot basked in their turn of fortunes, Minia turned her head and looked about, before piping up with a start.

"Huh? Wasn't Ander just here?" she asked. "Where'd he go?"

Elty, Alice, Crom, and Guardia looked about the room, and noticed that sure enough, Ander really was nowhere to be found. Crom darted up to the doorway, pulling the door open only to see nothing but an empty lane outside. The Druddigon lingered a moment, he and his teammates wondering to themselves why Ander would leave so suddenly… and where he could have gone.

After a quick stop by the family field where Orino hastily appropriated a crate on a wheeled frame, Nida and the rest of her team made their way through town with Pleo and Kline hidden safely inside. The three carried along slowly, taking side streets and proceeding cautiously when they simply couldn't evade the attention of Bunsen's underlings, the five eventually finding themselves at Mosca's Dojo. There, Orino led the others around the back towards a small entrance and tapped a series of short and long beats on the door with a forepaw and looked up as a wooden slat clattered and slid rightward to reveal a pair of hawk eyes looking through. The door creaked open as the Dojo's Hawlucha master stepped out, sizing up the Orino and the unexpected company with him.

"Orino? And is that… Nida?" Mosca asked. "What are you two doing here? And who is your Kabutops friend with the crate?"

"His name is Dimitri and he's here to help," the purple Nidoran explained. "As for the crate… well, something came up."

Dimitri wedged the tip of his blade under the crate's lid and pried it up, drawing a rustle inside. Mosca raised a brow puzzledly and looked into the crate, coming face to face with Pleo looking back up at her. The Hawlucha let out a surprised gasp, prompting Nida to hastily shush the Flying-Type and motion for a pause.

"We're at risk of getting spotted out here," the Nidorina insisted. "Let's talk more inside."

The Hawlucha stared down in flustered silence, before nodding back and motioning with a claw for the group to follow.

"… Come on in."

Nida and her companions filed in, wheeling the crate into a drab room filled with crates where a number of Mosca's assistants began to gather around as the Hawlucha shut the door behind them. The Pokémon eyed the crate suspiciously, only for Mosca to pull the lid of the crate away and Pleo to poke his head out much to the helpers' gasping surprise.

"Protector?!" a Glaceon cried.

"Is that really you?!" a Zubat exclaimed.

"Uh-huh!" Pleo nodded. "I'm all here!"

As Mosca's assistants in the dojo stepped forward to behold their returned Protector, Kline hopped up onto the rim of the crate, the serpent catching Mosca's attention and making her turn her head with a puzzled tilt.

"And who is this with you?" the Hawlucha asked.

"Oh, that's Kline!" Pleo chirped. "He's another Protector called Zygarde!"

The gathered Pokémon murmured in awe, approaching one after the other towards the strange serpent when he narrowed his eye back in annoyance and sharply spoke up.

"Not that I'm one to turn down a little doting adoration, but I believe that you were working on some sort of plan for a revolt?" Kline chided. "Let's hear about that first."

Mosca caught herself, blinking a moment before straightening up and brushing at the plumage on her chest and awkwardly clearing her throat.

"Right. Come along."

Mosca bade Team Traveller, Orino, and Kline to follow her over to the Dojo's courtyards, where the mock dungeon had been set up on one of the battlefields. Nida and her companions watched as Mosca filed in, following after puzzledly until the Hawlucha eventually uncovered a hidden partition with a darkened space behind it. The group entered the chamber while Mosca uncovered a lamp with glowmoss, revealing that they were standing in a large room anchored by a central table with maps and papers strewn about. Pleo and his companions blinked in surprise at the hidden room, as Orino bounded up to Mosca's side behind the table.

"Welcome to the big war room, if you want to call it that," the Nidoran said. "Mosca's been meeting with us here to figure out who we can reach out to and what we can do to push back against Bunsen and his lackeys, but we hadn't gotten far enough yet to figure out how we'd pull it off. Now that you guys are here, this changes everything."

"… What exactly have you planned so far?" Nida asked.

"Well, first off, we're going to break out Osmund and hide him in the island's interior for a few days. He's a strong fighter and knows who can be trusted among the guards, both of which we'll need if we're going to drive out Bunsen," Mosca explained. "Plus if he escaped his cell, it would force the guards to waste time trying to track him down and give us a freer claw back in town."

"Getting him out shouldn't be too hard either," Orino offered. "I know where they're keeping the master key inside the Guardhouse and there's a secret entrance that Bunsen's lackeys don't know about. So we can use those to spring Osmund from there."

The Nidoran's explanation drew puzzled blinks back from Nida and her teammates, Dimitri stepping up with a surprised tilt of his head.

"Wait, there's a secret entrance inside of the cellblock?" the Kabutops asked.

"Well… not exactly. It goes to a storage room on the other side of the Guardhouse, and it's locked from the inside," Orino replied. "But it's still better than nothing!"

Orino's explanation made the other Pokémon trade dubious stares with one another and whisper to each other under their breaths. Kline hesitated a moment, before hopping up and training an insistent gaze up at Mosca.

"Assuming you manage to break him out, what would you do next?" the Zygarde questioned.

"We'd call up everyone able and willing to fight and attack different positions used by Bunsen's underlings all at once to force them to abandon the town," Mosca answered. "We're still figuring out what places we'd need to fight for to force them to retreat out to sea and keep them from forming a redoubt where they could wait for outside help, but we still have some time to work with. They're planning on shipping out the folks who got a relocation notice in five days, so our best time to strike will be before then."

"But we don't have five days!" Nida protested. "Mami just got taken!"

"Wait, what?!"

Mosca's beak hung open in shock, the Hawlucha whirling over to Orino with an alarmed look that made the purple Nidoran lower his ears and nod back glumly.

"… It's true," he sighed. "It seems like they're planning on shipping out everyone today."

Mosca stared ahead blankly for a moment, before hanging her head and pinching her brow with a claw.

"… I just don't know how we could make everything happen on such short notice," she muttered.

"Well… what would we need to start?" Pleo asked.

"Getting everyone together, for a start. I don't know how we'd figure out every place to attack to drive out Bunsen and his lackeys, but we'd have to at least begin with whatever staging area they're using to deport everyone," Mosca replied. "Some of the best fighters in town got served notices, and we'd really struggle without their help otherwise."

"I can help with sending word out," Kline offered. "We'd admittedly need to play the process of finding any strategic positions that Bunsen's underlings have taken over by ear, but if I can find your allies across an entire town, finding targets can't be that much harder."

"And I'll help with getting the 'mons the Company's trying to resettle into battle alongside us," Nida added. "Mami is there, and I'm not just letting her get shipped away if I can help it!"

"We might as well go for Osmund too at this point, Mosca," Orino suggested. "If it's really now or never, we're going to need his help, and keeping the guards distracted closer to the edge of town will give you the time you need to regroup to try and drive out Bunsen's lackeys."

Pleo paused and rubbed a wing against his chin deep in thought. Between getting everyone in town to fight, coming to Marley's aid, and freeing Osmund, there was no shortage of Pokémon who needed his help…

"I guess that means that I ought to go with-"

"Orino," Kline interrupted, prompting Pleo to turn his head back in surprise.

"Huh? But why wouldn't I go with Nida?"

"Because my skills are better used in an unpredictable battle like that, and if breaking out Osmund is going to serve as a distraction, it'd only be natural that Commissioner Bunsen would send more 'mons after it. You wouldn't want Orino and Osmund to handle that all on their own, would you?" the serpent asked. "Besides, if both of us fight on one team and we get overwhelmed, we risk both getting captured at once. At least if we separate, we can come to each other's aid if the worst comes to pass."

Pleo ruffled his feathers and hesitated a moment, before grudgingly realizing that the Zygarde had raised a fair point. Even so, something didn't sit well about the idea of going into harm's way while splitting up from his teammates along with a Pokemon he didn't know all that well, as much sense as it seemed to make.

"I mean, if you're sure about this…" he murmured. The young Lugia sidled up alongside Orino, Mosca quickly counting heads in the emerging groups before realizing that Dimitri hadn't yet been accounted for.

"What about you, Dimitri?" she wondered. "What team are you going with?"

The Kabutops paused and thought the matter over for a moment, before he spoke up to answer the Hawlucha.

"Actually… maybe neither of them," he replied, drawing puzzled blinks from the rest of the group.

"What do you mean by that?" Kline pressed. "You surely don't mean to just sit here with everything that's going on."

"Well, when that Roserade was leading Nida's mother off, she'd told me that my rod had been hanging out in the harbor," Dimitri said. "If we're starting this fight with this little preparation, wouldn't it make sense to try and get their help?"

"That's a fair point," Mosca responded. "You've certainly sold me on the idea."

"Right," Dimitri nodded back. "I'll go and find them right away."

The Kabutops gave a parting wave of his scythe before ducking out for the room's exit. Orino and Pleo watched as their teammate departed, starting off to exit themselves when Mosca's voice called after them.


Pleo stopped, turning his head back to see Mosca looking at him with a worried, but strangely hopeful look in her eyes.

"Good luck out there," the Hawlucha said. "We'll all be counting on you."

"Right," the Lugia replied. "We'll be back to help you soon, I promise!"

"I know you will," Nida insisted, giving a small smile back to her teammate. "We'll be waiting for you out there."

The Nidorina watched as Pleo and her brother headed off. Nida hesitated a moment, eventually shaking her head and turning to Mosca and Kline. All the while, she hoped to herself that in spite of how precarious things seemed, the stars would smile down on their efforts.

Author's Notes:

- Qué diablos?! - Spanish: "What the hell?" Literally "what (the) devils?"
- Estás ahí? - Spanish: "Are you there?"
- Buena suerte - Spanish: "Good luck"
- Kommt zurück, ihr Diebe! - German: "Come back, you thieves!"
- dupki - Polish: "jerks", "rude people". Can be used analogously to "аssholes"
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Winter can't come soon enough
Wow, a chapter that fit in a single post. When was the last time we had one of those? It certainly feels like a much shorter chapter, though there was still a great deal of headway made. I think that's because the fluff — or, rather, the stuff not taking place in Bluewhorl — was very brisk compared to the fic's usual non-sequitir scenes. Inler's conversation is wrapped up in the span of a handful of paragraphs, as is the pirates' escape from the island. I appreciate that. It'd be a good practice to keep up for future chapters.

As for the main plot, it's no Metal Gear Solid, but there was a fair bit of stealth going on. And I like that there was a clear contrast between the natives, who willingly agreed to go along with this plan, and the pirates, who needed a considerable amount of convincing. And even then, it basically took them being called cowards to agree. GGs, Alice. +10 negotiation points (not that it matters). It seems like breaking out Osmund will up the stealth game even further. Right now, I suspect Ander breaking off will be the most likely cause of things going belly-up for the team... whether it's intentional or not. Guess I'll have to wait and see.

"Well, you know what they say about late bloomers, Ani,"
No, I don't know what they say about late bloomers. Enlighten me. :V
"… Crystal."
I see Dimitri knows which Gen 2 game is the best one.
"Some things you don't learn until you've come of age," he said.
oh wow not-giovanni is actually softening in his old age. who'd've thunk it?

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
I gotta say, it's a good thing they've got Kline around. That's some top-notch surveillance there, as seen at Nida's place. And yeah, someone capable of being in so many places at once is ideal for scoping things out and pulling things together.

Speaking of zygarde and of pulling things together, I wonder if the Company's going to end up sensing the presence of many. :y

And once again Alice displays a talent for Making Things Happen by just going for it. She seems to be a very persuasive little ball of energy!

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Wow, a chapter that fit in a single post. When was the last time we had one of those? It certainly feels like a much shorter chapter, though there was still a great deal of headway made. I think that's because the fluff — or, rather, the stuff not taking place in Bluewhorl — was very brisk compared to the fic's usual non-sequitur scenes. Inler's conversation is wrapped up in the span of a handful of paragraphs, as is the pirates' escape from the island. I appreciate that. It'd be a good practice to keep up for future chapters.

Yeah, alas, not every chapter can fit that mold. But the expanded limits for Serebii after the forum migration helps a bit. I'm glad you like how we handled things here though.

As for the main plot, it's no Metal Gear Solid, but there was a fair bit of stealth going on. And I like that there was a clear contrast between the natives, who willingly agreed to go along with this plan, and the pirates, who needed a considerable amount of convincing. And even then, it basically took them being called cowards to agree. GGs, Alice. +10 negotiation points (not that it matters). It seems like breaking out Osmund will up the stealth game even further. Right now, I suspect Ander breaking off will be the most likely cause of things going belly-up for the team… whether it's intentional or not. Guess I'll have to wait and see.

Well, you'll get the answers to those questions in today's chapter.

No, I don't know what they say about late bloomers. Enlighten me. :V

Something something they catch up quickly.

I see Dimitri knows which Gen 2 game is the best one.

I mean, it does have the most content, so can you fault him?

oh wow not-giovanni is actually softening in his old age. who'd've thunk it?

Well, having mortality creeping nearer does throw your mistakes into sharper relief, but "softening" is probably an overstatement. He wouldn't have let Fritha off so lightly if she weren't family.

@Sike Saner
I gotta say, it's a good thing they've got Kline around. That's some top-notch surveillance there, as seen at Nida's place. And yeah, someone capable of being in so many places at once is ideal for scoping things out and pulling things together.

Yup, their task at hand would certainly be a lot more daunting without the living surveillance grid on their side.

Speaking of zygarde and of pulling things together, I wonder if the Company's going to end up sensing the presence of many. :y

Well, you'll see soon enough. ^^;

And once again Alice displays a talent for Making Things Happen by just going for it. She seems to be a very persuasive little ball of energy!

Well hey, they say a performance is all in the delivery. And Alice has that in spades.

Hey everyone, it's taken a bit longer than I'd have hoped for due to holidays being a bit more of a spanner in the works than planned for progressing in Fledglings, but I'm back with a fresh set of portraits starring Cabot after his evolution, and the first chapter of 2021. Today's update will be the second-to-last for this current arc, which I'm hoping to close out by March.

Special thanks as always goes to Virgil134 for helping to write and edit today's chapter, Venia Silente for translating some of the loanwords, as well as to the readers and reviewers who have been keeping this story bumped during the past hiatus. Much to my surprise, the story crossed 80k views quite a bit faster than I anticipated, so while I did create a new trivia section, it's a bit shorter since the plot is currently revisiting an old location which leaves less new content to cover.

Thanks again for your patience and support, and with that, let's get into the trivia section and then Chapter 82 of Fledglings:

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
How did you come up with Bunsen?

Bunsen owes his origins thanks to wanting to build off of a premise that had already been played around with Phyllis in the Mengir arc of a Marked serving in the Company to explore what one serving in a higher position might be like. From early on, it was decided that Bunsen personality-wise ought to be a foil to Lyn, which led to him being cast as a character with a lower bravery stat that would come out when the chips were down, as a counter to Lyn's perennial overconfidence.

Unlike most characters, Bunsen's name and species didn't go through any revisions and was a one-and-done reference to Bunsen burners that just happened to click with a creature that burns things as its central gimmick. From the beginning, Bunsen was intended to have a somewhat lighter shade of gray to him than Lyn, which is why he winds up roped into his role in the story by being effectively blackmailed, and the rest was history.

How did you come up with Sicula?

Sicula was developed in order to help flesh out Bunsen's crew by giving a representative for his underlings as a whole, so it was decided to cast a first mate character that served as a type and visual contrast to him as a Charizard. Sicula's name was chosen after considering a few other rose-related names, with hers originating from part of the scientific name of the Mediterranean Rose. Other names that were considered included Avon, Leda, Felicia, Heathcliff, and Harlow.

How did you come up with Nida's family?

Nida's family was developed fairly early on in the story, with her siblings being rearrangements and slight tweaks of 'Nidoran' syllables much as Nida's name is. Marley owes her name to being a homonym of the lapine word for a mother rabbit in Watership Down, with Teja's name being chosen thanks to its meaning in Spanish as a type of roof tile for motifs of shelter for Nida and her siblings. Originally, Nida's siblings were largely intended to remain largely throwaway characters, though due to the progression of the story, Orino wound up developing into a fuller character due to his established presence in Tromba's guards in Auld Lang Syne providing a convenient opening for him to serve as a confidant and sounding board to Osmund.

How did you come up with Mosca?

Mosca was developed as the proprietor of the local Dojo in Bluewhorl, and wound up evolving from her original role as a temporary teacher to a Pokémon who could help coordinate the townsfolk in times of need. Mosca was cast as a Hawlucha since it felt thematically appropriate for a Spanish-speaking island, and owes her name to the Spanish name for the flyweight wrestling category in lucha libre.

Was Team Traveller Always Supposed to Return to Tromba?

Team Traveller's return to Tromba was actually a plot point that was unsettled as late as the Giotto Arc, with the original plan being for them to bypass it en route to a new island. Back at the time, there was some thought put into the possibility of Tromba being harassed by another Commissioner from the Company as retribution for Team Traveller's antics. After getting more attached to the idea and deciding to move forward with it, there was some indecision as to whether to leave it as an unresolved plot point until the very end or to Bluewhorl Town's villagers overthrow their occupation themselves.

After playing around with some possibilities, it was decided that that particular subplot would be best resolved by Team Traveller since they already had it as a goal in-story to return to Tromba and would logically do everything in their power to try and aid their friends and family. One thing lead to another and here we are, in the current arc.

As for the original plans of heading onto the new island. They haven't exactly changed much, just been slightly delayed. Where they will go, you'll just have to keep reading to find out.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

About an hour after the meeting at Mosca's Dojo, Orino walked the last few steps over to Bluewhorl's Guardhouse and into its main foyer, where the normal sleepy atmosphere had given way to a lingering tension after the outpost had been restaffed at Bunsen's orders. Far from the familiar faces he was used to, the foyer that day was taken up by scowling lackeys from off-island shuffling between rooms or otherwise lazing about in idle chatter, with not a single Cintillo Trombense to be seen among the lot of them.

The Nidoran made his way up to the second floor, following the corridors until he found Osmund's office. The room had since been taken over by Sicula, who had unceremoniously thrown away of the Sceptile's personal effects, one of the few exceptions being a simple teapot and set of cups on a tray, and a flint set beside a heater for the teapot.

"… Tendrá que servir."

Orino checked the heater and saw that it had already been stocked with tinder and the teapot still had water in it, striking the flint to stoke a fire before he turned and began to paw through a chest in the back corner. He poked his head and shoulders in and felt around the edges of the chest's interior when he felt a patch that had been papered over, carefully peeling it back and retrieving a metal key. The Nidoran slipped the key into a small satchel at his waist and quickly pulled himself out as the teapot started to whistle, hurrying over to it where he took it off the burner and paused tensely as he heard footsteps in the hallway.

"Eh? What's that noise?" a voice asked.

"Meh, it's just Officer Sicula's teapot," another replied. "She must've put one of the hicks on drink duty again."

Orino waited for the unseen guards to walk off and breathed a sigh of relief, quickly grabbing a porcelain strainer and a few batches of tea leaves that he placed on a small dish. The Nidoran went off to fetch a pair of cups, before going back to pour the teapot's contents into them and setting the dish and strainer beside them. With the tea set in paw, Orino retraced his steps, passing back down the stairs and through the foyer for the northern wing of the building along the ground floor, eventually reaching and entering a storage room lined with battle items meant for the guards to use, with a door with a keyhole at the end of the room. The Nidoran approached the door and after casting a quick glance backwards to make sure nobody had followed after him, raised his voice softly to call out beyond the door.

"Pleo? Are you there?" Orino asked. "The coast is clear right now."

The Nidoran waited, only to be met with silence in reply. He shifted uneasily, before creeping up and moving an ear up against the door when he heard the faint sound of approaching footsteps. At once, the Poison-Type reared up, sliding the key into the door's keyhole and turning it to the right.


Orino pulled the door back, seeing a large wooden crate shifting just behind it, a quick glance at its base revealing Pleo's feet as he shuffled underneath impatiently. After waddling into the room, the young Lugia pulled the crate up, poking his head out warily to look down at his Nidoran guide.

"I am, but what do you have there?" Pleo wondered.

"It's something we'll need later," Orino answered. "Just follow my lead and I'll let you know when you need to duck."

The Nidoran went ahead, propping the door out of the storage room open for Pleo to follow along in his crate, the pair sneaking down a hallway lined with rooms towards the Guardhouse's main foyer. As the two neared the foyer, Orino pricked his ears at the sound of nearing footsteps, prompting him to tap sharply on the crate. At once, Pleo dropped down onto the floor, the Nidoran hastily setting his tray and teacups on top of the crate just as a Dubwool and Mandibuzz in Company scarves rounded the corner.

"Eh? What's with the crate, runt?" the Dubwool questioned.

"Oh, you know, just some supplies that needed to be moved around," Orino offered, prompting the two guards to stare in puzzled silence.

"And we're supposed to believe that you moved that on your own?" the Mandibuzz scoffed.

"… Yes?" the Poison-Type shot back with a sharp frown. "It's not the first time I've been asked to pull a crate out of a backroom before."

Orino's protests prompted the Dubwool and Mandibuzz trade skeptical glances with each other, the Normal-Type of the pair shaking his head with a gruff harrumph.

"Tch, suit yourself," the sheep grumbled.

The Nidoran nosed behind the box and pushed at it with his shoulder, seemingly budging it along in fits and starts. The Mandibuzz and Dubwool rolled their eyes and moved along, Orino continuing with his show until the two were safely out view when he hit the crate with his foot. At once, Pleo got up, hurrying forward with the crate as Orino carried along, the young Lugia following glimpses of the Nidoran's feet down a winding path to the Guardhouse's corridors when the Poison-Type suddenly tapped for a stop. Pleo at once dropped to the ground with his crate with a soft clatter, the Lugia peeked through a small hole in one of the crate's planks where he spotted a doorway up ahead as Orino looked about, before the Nidoran leaned back and cupped a paw to whisper.

"Alright, there's two guards posted at the beginning of the cellblock," Orino whispered. "I'll try to distract them by talking to them so you can sneak past."

Orino reared up and nabbed his tray off the crate's top, before setting off for the entrance to the cell block. The Nidoran shuffled along, opening the door and passing through before approaching a guarding Orbeetle and Thievul when he raised his drinks up in offering with an overeager smile.

"Hey, here's that tea that you two asked for."

The Orbeetle and Thievul looked at each other, before raising their brows back at the Nidoran in front of them.

"Huh? We didn't ask for any tea," the Orbeetle said.

"Yeah, well Jef said you two wanted some," Orino explained. "I figured that I'd make it quick before getting another earful."

"Hrmph, so go give it to Jef then," the Orbeetle snapped. "Since I don't want it."

"Oh come on, Emma, the runt is showing some initiative for a change," the Thievul insisted. "Besides, I could go for a drink right about now. Are you really going to turn down a free drink? I'll take yours if you don't want it."

The Orbeetle stiffened up and shot a sharp growl over at her counterpart, throwing a claw out to claim a cup in reply.

"I didn't say anything about that, you glutton!" the Orbeetle protested. "Give me that tea, I'll drink it- Huh?!"

The Orbeetle caught herself as she spotted a crate sneaking ahead with white feet poking out from under it. The Thievul let out a low snarl, prompting Pleo to drop down and let the crate clatter to the ground.

"Oi! What's going on here?!" the fox snapped.

The Orbeetle fluttered up and pulled the crate back, looking down in surprise to see the form of a silvery-white bird cradling a Petrify Orb in his wings. The Bug-Type reflexively jolted back, as Orino cried out.

"Pleo! Now!"

Pleo dashed the orb against the ground, sending a shower of sparks out that quickly swallowed up the Orbeetle and the Thievul, the pair's limbs stiffening from the Petrify Orb's effects.

"Agh! I can't move!" the Thievul shouted.

"You stupid bumpkin!" the Orbeetle snapped. "What do you think you're doin-?!"

Pleo bolted ahead as Orino followed suit, the pair running down the cell block as the guards' loud threats and bays of protests grew muddled from the distance.

"No nos queda mucho tiempo," Orino said. "Let's hurry up and get Osmund out of here."

The two ran ahead, passing cells as their occupants roused from slumber and stumbled up until they reached a cell on the left at the very end. There, Osmund was already standing and pawing at the bars, casting a wary glance off down the hallway.

"Guess it was too much to ask for a stealthy entrance, huh?" the Sceptile asked. "But it's good to see you again, Protector."

"Beggars can't be choosers, Captain," Orino piped back.

Orino hastily shoved the master key into the keyhole of Osmund's cell, turning it sharply right and twisting until the lock creaked open. At once, the Sceptile pushed the door open, hurrying out as Pleo and Orino turned to follow him, when a whining cry rang out from behind.

"Hey! A little help here?"

The three looked over to see a Machoke waving an arm out through the bars of the cell across the hall, as others gathered at their cell doors and looked over pleadingly. Orino looked about at the other prisoners, hesitating before turning back towards a sighing Osmund.

"Might as well," Osmund said. "We're going to need all the help we can get."

Orino hastily darted over to the Machoke's cell, opening the lock before quickly doing the same for the neighboring cells. After tending to a few of the nearby cells, the Nidoran threw the key over to a Quagsire and turned to hurry off with Pleo and Osmund as the sound of movement from the end of the hallway reached their ears.

"Hey! A little tap would've worked fine, you know!" the Thievul's voice cried.

Pleo and his companions reflexively grimaced, realizing that the guards from earlier must've finally broken free. One after the other, the three ran forward and tensed their bodies in anticipation of a fight.

Much as they expected, the Orbeetle and Thievul were free, but had since been joined by a Tangrowth and a small party of guards, who shot an icy glare back at the three.

"End of the line, hicks," the Tangrowth snarled. "If you know what's good for you you'll surrender here while you're ahead."

"Oh, stuff it, you stupid square-neck!" a Dodrio's voice bellowed.

The Dodrio zipped in from the cell block and knocked the Tangrowth back with a trio of harsh pecks, followed by a Machoke and a Mightyena joining in with blows as the newly-freed prisoners collided with the guards in a confusing whirlwind of attacks. Pleo and Orino hastily attempted to dodge the ensuing melee, as Osmund swiftly swatted aside the Thievul and called out to the two with a sharp bellow.

"This way, hurry!"

The three ran ahead, making their way into the main foyer as yelps and cries rang out behind them. As they ran out into the space of the foyer, they spotted guards massing the front entrance to the Guardhouse, standing under the direction of a livid Togekiss.

"Keep those entrances blocked off and don't let them get away!" the Togekiss barked.

The guards charged ahead and ran into the crowd of prisoners, the foyer devolving into a chaotic whirlwind of blows and attacks zipping by. Amidst the chaos, Orino hastily tugged Pleo along towards the right as Osmund hacked his way along to try and keep up, bolting for the corridor back to the storage room when a sharp cry rang out from above.

"Oh no you don't!"

Pleo looked up just in time to see the Togekiss flinging a cutting gust of wind at him and frantically darted ahead. In spite of his efforts, the young Lugia felt the wind slice across his back, making him trip with a pained squawk.


The Togekiss dove at Pleo with a swift tackle, when Orino hastily stepped in and threw a jabbing punch with a poison-slicked paw at the guard's face. The Fairy-Type recoiled, breaking her momentum when Osmund leapt up and uppercut her with an electrified fist, knocking her out of the air as Orino hastily drug Pleo back up to his feet.

"Come on!"

Pleo, Orino, and Osmund hastily ran off, the Togekiss stumbling back upright after them as she let out a threatening growl.

"Rrgh… where do you think you're goin-?"

The Togekiss turned just in time for the Quagsire to barge in with a swipe of a water-wreathed tail, knocking the Fairy-Type to the ground. Taking advantage of the distraction, Pleo and the others hastily bolted towards the right end of the foyer where they followed the hallways for the room with the secret entrance. Orino counted the doors they ran past to track their nearing escape route, when a cutting gust of wind suddenly flew in and sent the three skidding to a stop as the Dubwool and Mandibuzz from earlier blocked the path with harsh glares.

"Hrmph, I knew there was something fishy about you, runt," the Dubwool bleated. "Time to put you down!"

"Not if I have anything to say about it!" Osmund snapped.

The Sceptile ran forward, throwing forth a slash from one of his blades that struck the Dubwool's side. Much to Osmund's alarm, he felt his arm struggle against the Normal-Type's wool as the Dubwool stood firm, largely unfazed by his slash.

"Huh?! What the-?!"

"Take this, you lousy gecko!" the sheep shouted back.

The Dubwool knocked Osmund off his feet with a charging tackle, prompting Orino to try and come to his aid with another Poison Jab. Before the Nidoran could close the distance, he was struck by the Mandibuzz swooping in with a bone firmly in her talons. Orino crumpled to the ground, struggling to right himself in a daze as the Mandibuzz descended on him and struck him again and again with her Bone Rush when…


… a sudden bolt of electricity sailed into the air and forced her off with a pained squawk. Osmund looked over in astonishment as the vulture fought to stay in the air, seeing arcs of static crackling among Pleo's feathers as the young Protector glared back at the Mandibuzz.

"Heh, I see you've learned a few new tricks," Osmund said.

"Well a fat lot of good that'll do you," the Dubwool harrumphed. "The only trick you'll be playing when I'm through with you will be fitting in a four-piece suit!"

The Dubwool charged with a headlong tackle, when a swift kick at his throat stopped his progress. The sheep gagged when a second kick against his left foreleg swept him off his feet and brought him face-to-face with a glaring Nidoran, followed by a Thunderbolt striking him while he was down. As the Dubwool bleated in pain and writhed, a loud screech filled the air, Pleo and Orino turning to see the Mandibuzz swooping and diving at them. The pair flinched, when sharp footsteps and Osmund's voice rang out beside them.

"Not so fast!"

Pleo and Orino watched as Osmund latched onto one of the Dubwool's legs and flung the Normal-Type into the air with a swinging throw, sending the sheep forward with a startled bleat and square into the Mandibuzz's face.


The Mandibuzz and Dubwool hit the ground with an audible crash, coming to a stop in a groaning daze. Pleo looked on, panting tensely when he felt a paw tugging at his shoulder and looked down to see Orino looking up at him.

"They won't stay down for long," the Nidoran insisted. "Come on, let's go."

The three ducked into the secret passage, pulling the door shut behind them before they ran down it. Pleo felt his feet land upon uneven dirt flooring, stumbling up towards a light which revealed wooden supports along the sides of the tunnel until the group emerged out of a wooden trapdoor among a small patch of bushes. The young Lugia walked out panting for breath and saw they were back at the ledge overlooking the entire town, when he turned around and saw a number of Pokémon in Company scarves hurrying inside through the Guardhouse's entrance. The Lugia grimaced as his mind turned back towards the other Pokémon in the cell block, the young Protector looking up at Osmund with a worried glance.

"Are the Pokémon we left behind going to be alright?" he wondered. The Lugia waited for a reply, only to be met with an uneasy pause from Orino and Osmund, the Nidoran of the pair shaking his head back.

"Everyone's doing their part here, Pleo," Orino insisted. "They all knew the risks of trying to escape, and if all goes well they'll be free by the end of the day regardless."

Pleo turned his head back uneasily, when the sound of a door being thrown open followed by the sound of voices came from down the tunnel.

"Hey, was this this tunnel always here?" the Dubwool's voice asked.

"Ack! The runt and the others must've fled through it!" the Mandibuzz's voice replied.

Pleo and the others blanched, as Osmund hastily turned back to the Nidoran and young Lugia in his party.

"You said that everyone else was getting ready for a big fight in town, right?" the Sceptile asked. "Looks like we shouldn't keep them waiting too long."

Pleo and Orino nodded back as the three darted off, running off for the paths that led deeper into Bluewhorl. All the while, Pleo kept finding himself looking off towards the center of town, hoping his friends' fortunes hadn't run out.

Unbeknownst to Team Traveller, at the same time, Ander hurriedly darted up the forest path to his house, the Scyther passing the small burn piles and discarded Apricorn shells along the way until he found himself at the entrance of the family shop. The Bug-Type approached warily, tensing at the lack of sound coming from the shop when he pushed the door open and poked his head in warily.

"Cassie? Sandra? Are you there?"

The Scyther's buzzing cry was answered by the sound of rustling, as Sandra and Cassie clambered down the ladder up to the loft above the shop. The pair stood in blinking silence for a moment, unsure whether to trust their own eyes when the mother Scyther broke the silence.

"… Ander?"

Ander began to pace forward, before his mate and child cut him off by running up and embracing him in the store's showroom.

"How on earth did you make it back?" Sandra asked. "The harbor's been taken over by that awful Commissioner and his goons for the past week!"

"We managed to sneak into the harbor with false sails, but it doesn't matter now," Ander explained. "We need to pack our stuff and get out of here."

"Daddy, what do you mean?" Cassie wondered.

"The rest of Beatrix's crew is planning to start a revolt with Lugia to kick the Company out of Tromba," her father answered. "On top of it all, Zygarde is with them as well."

The color drained from Sandra and Cassie's faces at Ander's explanation, Sandra flaring her wings out sharply with a start.

"Zygarde is awake and here on the island?!" Sandra exclaimed.

"Yes, which is why we need to leave," Ander insisted. "I've seen the damage the two of them can do and I don't want you two to be anywhere close to them as they take on the Company."

"B-But where would we even go?" Cassie stammered.

"We'll hide out in the island's interior," Ander said. "Once things settle down it should be safe enough for us to return."

"Right," Sandra replied. "We have some provisions in a bag, we can take that and get going."

Sandra hastily clambered upstairs as Ander ducked into the backroom, making his way to a chest by the door where he hastily pulled out a few dried scraps of meat and berries, before hurrying back out to the shop's front where Sandra was busy coming down from the loft and stuffing some canvas and stakes for a tent into the bag. The pair quickly snatched a small doll they'd kept for Cassie and readied themselves to leave when the door flung open with a loud crash.

"Going somewhere?!"

The three flinched and turned towards the door, where they saw the form of a Marked Charizard in a Company scarf lumbering in with a sharp, piercing glare.

"That would really be a shame, since you haven't introduced me to your new companion here," Bunsen growled. "But I don't think that will be necessary, now would it, Ander."

Ander hastily pulled his scythes at his ready, turning over to Sandra with a sharp buzz.

"Sandra, take Cassie and go out the back entrance. Ya!"

The Charizard motioned for calm with his claw, before his features eased into a more neutral expression.

"Now hold on there, Scyther. As one Marked to another, there's no need for us to come to blows…" the Commissioner offered. "If you're willing to lend a helping claw."

Ander wavered a moment, before turning back towards the Charizard with a wary, defensive expression.

"… What do you want?" he asked.

"The ship you were with. You couldn't have made it back if they weren't here, and it's fallen afoul with the law," Bunsen answered. "Help me find it, and I'll see to it that your name is stricken from its roster."

Ander said nothing back, lowering his scythes as he took in the Fire-Type's offer. Bunsen eyed Ander carefully and, sensing that he was winning him over, carried on with his voice taking on a more friendly tone.

"My understanding was that you didn't even want to get roped in with that crew anyways and that they drug you off from the rest of your family, so this shouldn't exactly be a difficult decision," Bunsen said. "All that stands between you and going back to a normal life is that crew of devil-worshipping pirates. Hardly 'mons worth sticking your neck out for, right?"

The Charizard waited expectantly for a reply, only for Ander to pause and cast his eyes towards the floor of his shop with a shake of his head.

"… I'm afraid I can't do that. Devil-worshipping or not, they have stuck their necks out for me in the past, and I could hardly repay them in such a fashion," he responded. "Even with demons prowling about, I simply couldn't entrust them with your employers."

Bunsen's congeniality abruptly went up in smoke as hot, angry breaths came out from between his bared fangs.

"Fine, if you're going to lie to me as well then you'll suffer the consequences alongside them!" the Charizard snarled.

Bunsen spewed forth a column of fire, Sandra hastily dragging Cassie away for the backroom as Ander tried to dart out of the way and felt a searing flash over his right shoulder. The Scyther dug a scythe into the ground to steady himself, before lunging at Bunsen with a spread-wing tackle, which struck the Charizard across his belly and made him lurch back with a pained bellow.


Ander skidded to a stop as Bunsen recoiled in pain, the Scyther readying his blades for another blow when the Fire-Type abruptly leapt backwards. The Charizard beat his wings together, and threw a slicing gust of wind forward back at the opposing Scyther. Ander widened his eyes as the Air Slash barreled along, flinging aside baskets of dried meat in its wake before it struck him in his chest and sent him crashing to the ground in full view of his horrified mate and child.


Sandra hastily ran in, readying her scythe for a swing at the Commissioner to try and defend her fallen mate, only to be cut off mid-stride with a Flamethrower. The mother Scyther screeched in pain, before slumping over, weakly cracking her eyes open as she looked down to see a visible burn on the plates of her chest.



Sandra's condition prompted Cassie to cry out and run over to her mother, tugging desperately to try and help her up. The young Scyther turned at the sound of a heavy footsteps, seeing Bunsen turning towards them and stepping forward. With her waning strength, Sandra threw herself onto Cassie, shielding her from what she expected to be another fiery plume, only for it to never come.

The pair cracked their eyes open in response to the unexpected lull, looking up to see Bunsen finishing a knot before slinging Ander over his shoulder with his scythes tied behind his back at their wrists. The Charizard paused for a moment, before shooting a venomous glare down at the mother Scyther and her child.

"Hrmph, I tried to give you a way out," Bunsen growled. "But you've made your bed, now lie in it!"

The Fire-Type turned to leave, Sandra feebly trying to reach after him only to stumble onto the ground. Bunsen continued ahead, going through the still-open door for the path outside. As he made his way down, he heard Cassie's voice from inside the shack hitch and start to cry, the Commissioner pausing a moment before shaking his head and taking wing with Ander's unconscious body as the child's cries faded with the shack in the distance.

As Bunsen left the scavver's shop with its proprietor in his claws, the approach to Bluewhorl's main bridge over the town's river teemed with activity as Sicula waited impatiently with a large party of guards standing watch over a group of villagers. The Roserade looked over the gathered Pokémon, troublemakers who had been rounded up in order to fire a shot across the bow to Tromba's ever-rebellious residents. The Grass-Type gave a smug smirk to herself at the sight of Marley in the crowd, satisfied that even the blue terror herself had been brought to heel by her efforts, when the sound of approaching footsteps turned her attention towards one of the lanes joining the square. There, a Bronzong entered, leading forward a train of villagers being grudgingly pushed and jostled along by other guards. After counting heads with her blooms, Sicula stepped forward and looked up at the floating Steel-Type.

"Is that the last of them?" the Roserade asked.

"Yes, ma'am. All the villagers with a relocation notice have been accounted for," the Bronzong answered. "We're just waiting on that party to come back with the prisoners from the Guardhouse."

"Hrmph. Let's not beat around the bush any longer, then."

Unbeknownst to Sicula and the rest of the gathering, from the alleyways along the lane leading up to the square, shifting figures shot furtive glances out at the Company Pokémon and their unhappy captives. Among them was a Glaceon, who pulled back around the corner where Nida, Kline and a group of villagers were gathered, and gave a worried glance over to Mosca.

"Did anyone ever hear back from Orino?" the Ice-Type asked. "He and the Protector should've broken Osmund out by now!"

"Patience. Sometimes it takes time for word to travel," Mosca whispered back. "Just get ready to help Zygarde into position as soon as we make our move."

"Officer Sicula! Officer Sicula!"

Mosca and the others held their breaths as a party headed by a Tangrowth entered into the square in a wide-eyed hurry. Sicula raised a brow at the Tangrowth's distress as the Company grunt stopped to catch his breath and spoke up with a panting cry.

"There's been a jailbreak at the Guardhouse!" the Tangrowth cried. "The old Captain of the Guards managed to slip away in the confusion!"

The Tangrowth's report drew uneasy murmurs from Sicula's underlings. The Roserade paused to try and make sense of how to respond, when she noticed that some of the gathered villagers' expressions had noticeably brightened, and turned back with a sharp scowl.

"He won't last long on his own," Sicula growled. "Let's just focus on getting our task at hand wrapped up. We don't need this breakout to give the townsfolk any ideas."

From behind their cover, Nida and her companions grimaced as Sicula continued pushing along. Mildrew, who'd left his apple orchard to heed Mosca's call for aid, looked at the square in wide-eyed alarm, before turning over to the Hawlucha with a dismayed cry.

"Gah! They're not changing up their plans!" the Tropius exclaimed.

"We need to make our move now," Nida insisted. "Before they get away!"

"Have you lost it?" a Staryu hissed. "There's at least 20 Pokémon out there and only a dozen of us!"

"That didn't seem to stop you earlier, did it?"

The gathered Pokémon looked down as Kline hopped forward and turned his head up before raising his voice to speak.

"We all knew that we were facing uphill odds going into this, and yet we were sure we could pull through and win," Kline reminded. "Nothing has changed here as long as we seize the opportunities we've been given."

The villagers paused, small smiles breaking over their faces as the lot took comfort from the Zygarde's reassurance. The Hawlucha among them nodded back, before pawing at the feathers on her arms.

"… Claro, Protector," Mosca said. "Calino, do we have those Luminous Orbs ready?"

Everyone's attention turned towards the back of the group, where a visibly cagey Kecleon in a Merchantry scarf looked around before pulling out and handing over three Luminous Orbs to the Pokémon ahead of him.

"I still don't understand how you talked me into this," Calino complained. "My superiors would have my scales if they knew that I was putting my claws on the scale against a local Company outpost."

Nida took one of the glassy spheres, tossing it up and down slightly in her paw as she curled her muzzle up into a teasing smile back at the Kecleon.

"So… no real changes for you then, right?"

Calino shot back an unimpressed huff as Mosca motioned for silence and began to creep along, the villagers gathering around and readying their orbs as Sicula and her underlings began to set off.


One after the other, Mosca and the others threw their orbs, the spheres sailing up, before crashing to the ground with the sound of shattering glass. Nida looked away as a blinding flash came from the square followed by startled yelps. The lot charged ahead, Nida seeing her mother and father among the tottering Pokémon as Mosca sprang up before diving down at a Scrafty with a Company scarf with a spread-eagle body press.

"Help separate those grunts from the others!" the Hawlucha cried. "They won't stay stunned forever!"

Nida dashed in as Mosca's group set upon the guards who were trying to regain their bearings, a few blindly lashing out at perceived foes. After ducking an errant jet of water, Nida weaved and bobbed her way over to her parents and siblings, giving a tug at her mother's shoulder that was met by Marley reflexively jerking back and fanning out her barbs in confusion.

"Get off of me!"

"Mami, calm down!" Nida insisted. "It's me!"

Marley and Teja blinked, shaking their heads as they recovered from the effects of the Luminous Orbs, when they recoiled with startled surprise to see Nida at their sides.

"Nida?!" Teja asked. "What are you-?"

The Nidorino was cut off by an errant bolt of electricity flying in and sending the three diving to the ground. After seeing a Farfetch'd among the villagers felled by a watery burst and a Zubat by a Forretress' Heavy Slam, Nida turned and saw that the Company grunts had recovered and regrouped along the bridge, advancing under a cover of fire towards them with Sicula at their fore.

"Pin them down and wipe them out!" the Roserade shouted.

Sicula and her underlings cast out a large volley of attacks, forcing the villagers to fall back. The Company Pokémon began to advance when they saw bright, green lights zip in and settle behind the ridge of a nearby roof with a blinding flash. A Forretress at the head of the group looked up, watching as the form of a green-and-black hound sprang up and vaulted down in front of Sicula's party, crouching against the ground with a low snarl.

"What the-"

Kline stomped the earth with his forepaws, cracking the earth underfoot as green lights flashed from the fissures. The Forretress' eyes widened as the Bug-Type saw the cracks in the earth spreading towards him and attempted to move out of the way when the earth abruptly erupted in a plume of dust and dirt. The Forretress let out a pained scream as other cries rang out, the dust settling to reveal the guards frozen out of shock and Sicula staring ahead blankly as the Forretress lay flung aside unconscious along with five of her other underlings. After a moment to regain her bearings, the Roserade turned and barked impatiently at her stunned underlings.

"Snap out of it!" she yelled. "Focus your fire on that strange dog!"

A pink Oricorio darted forward and threw a cutting gust of air at her Zygarde foe. Kline jumped aside as the Air Slash barreled in, too late to avoid a graze to his shoulder, before landing on the ground and calling up a hail of rocks at the approaching grunts. The Rock Slide found its mark on the Oricorio alongside a few nearby underlings, knocking her aside with a pained squawk, while a Cinccino continued forward undeterred readying a Giga Impact. The Normal-Type dashed ahead towards Kline, only to get abruptly swatted aside with a Brick Break from one of Kline's forepaws. Sicula stared ahead blankly as the Oricorio limped back to her group, letting her mouth hang open in shock before finally collecting herself enough to exasperatedly shout back at the Zygarde.

"What kind of Pokémon are you?!"

"Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for us to explain after we've knocked you flat on your backs," Mosca shot back. "Everyone, attack!"

Mosca and the rest of her party resumed their offensive, colliding with the front line of Sicula's group in a whirling frenzy of traded blows. In the midst of it, Marley kicked aside a Greedent, turning to see Nida running up behind her. A shrill cry rang out as the pair turned to see Mildrew slumping over unconscious at Sicula's feet, the sight prompting Marley to narrow her eyes and grit her teeth.

"Mija, lend me a paw with this weed!" she cried.


Mother and daughter charged ahead, Marley leading by thrusting a poison-wreathed paw aimed square at Sicula's head. Marley threw her Poison Jab forward, only for Sicula to jump out of the way with a sharp hiss.

"Is that really the best you can do?!"

The Roserade formed a shadowy ball at the tips of her blooms, casting it at Marley and sending her falling to the ground with a yelp. The Grass-Type leapt ahead to try and press her advantage, when she was cut off by an angry swipe from Nida that struck her in the chest, and another, and another, before she wrenched away and stepped back with an angry huff.


Nida looked up at the sound of Sicula's shout, when she was abruptly struck in the face by rings of golden light. The Nidorina pinwheeled and flopped onto the ground in a daze from the Extrasensory, struggling up as the Roserade levelled her blooms with a growing shadowy sphere forming between them. Before Sicula could throw her attack forward, it was cut short by Marley charging in, biting at the Grass-Type and forcing her to jump away and leave her Shadow Ball to dissipate harmlessly. The mother Nidorina stooped down to help her daughter up, who panted and shot an exasperated glance over at Sicula.

"Gah! She just keeps slipping away every time we hit her!" Nida fumed.

The younger Nidorina's grumbles prompted Marley to look back at the Roserade and narrow her eyes, before turning over to her daughter.

"Let's fix that, then."

The pair braced themselves as Sicula approached, the Bouquet Pokémon's eyes glowing yellow as she prepared another psychic assault. As the Grass-Type was about to cast her Extrasensory at them, Marley opened her mouth and spewed an icy ray at Sicula's feet that froze her fast to the ground.


The Roserade's progress came to a screeching halt, her efforts accomplishing little other than a fruitless struggle against her icy bindings. Sensing her chance, Nida dashed up and hopped into the air, pulling her arm back as poison began to build along her paw before she threw it forward at Sicula's chest. The Nidorina felt her paw dig into the Roserade, before hearing a loud crack and seeing the ice at her feet give way, the Grass-Type tumbling back along the ground from her blow.

Sicula staggered up and lifted her head, when her eyes widened at the sight of Marley running in with her forepaw dripping venom. The Nidorina jumped up and lunged forward with a Poison Jab of her own, swinging it forward as Sicula hastily threw up a Protect, the force of Marley's blow sending her stumbling back. The Roserade fought to keep her Protect intact as Marley struck at it again and again, the Grass-Type turning and calling out to a few of her nearby underlings in an audibly agitated tone.

"Hey! Come and give me some aid, you useless louts!"

Sicula quickly stepped aside as a Tangrowth, Appletun, and Lopunny rushed forward. The Tangrowth barged in and called up a large stone from the ground before flinging it at Marley, knocking her back while a ray of dragonfire from the Appletun did much the same to Nida. The Lopunny ran up readying a forceful kick, only to hastily stumble back as an icy ray shot out scarcely a paw's length from her nose, sailing on and striking the Tangrowth in his stomach. The Appletun and Lopunny watched stunned as the Tangrowth toppled backwards and crashed limply to the ground, looking back expecting assistance only to see much to their horror that Sicula had backed away to the bridge leading out of the square and started to hurry off.

"Officer Sicula?!" the Appletun exclaimed. "Wh-What are you-?!"

The Appletun fell to the ground after Nida struck the side of his neck with a Poison Jab, sprawling out in a groaning daze. After seeing the rest of her still-able counterparts flee after Sicula, the Lopunny turned and bolted after them, desperately hopping across the bridge when an orange scaled seed sailed in from behind.


The middle of the bridge lit up with a fiery burst as the Lopunny was flung off and into the river below with an audible splash. Marley and a few villagers went over to the riverbank and braced themselves, only to see the Lopunny wash up on the other end in a groaning heap. The Nidorina flared her ears, letting out a scornful huff at the entire episode.

"What on earth is the Company teaching its Second-Ranks these days?" she grumbled.

"Hmph, well I've certainly met ones more impressive than that," Kline scoffed.

Teja folded an ear back quizzically, as he turned to Mosca and the other villagers, along with the Zygarde in their midst.

"I suppose we ought to thank you once this all settles down," the Nidorino said. "Though what exactly are you planning to do now?"

Nida hesitated a moment and closed her eyes, before cracking them open and giving a determined look back at her father.

"We've come this far, haven't we?" she replied. "Let's keep going after them. Until the last of these Company goons get off our island and back to the holes they crawled out from!"

The Nidorina was answered with a rousing cheer from the gathered villagers, as one after the other, they marched across the bridge, heading off towards the harbor with the wind at their backs.

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Around the same time, Pleo, Orino, and Osmund ran along the path that made its way from the Guardhouse to Bluewhorl's center. All the while, the three cast glances off in the distance at ships' masts in the town's harbor as the faint din of battle in the distance reached their ears.

"Are you sure we're supposed to go towards the harbor already?" Osmund asked.

"," Orino insisted. "Nida and the others were supposed to try and push the guards towards Bunsen's ships. We're be better off joining them there than trying to find where they-"

"Hold it right there!"

Orino jumped aside as an icy ray shot in and brushed Osmund's arm. The Sceptile winced from the strike, looking up to see a Vanillish, Crabominable, and Pignite in Company scarves rounding the corner. A gout of fire zipped forward and the Crabominable charged ahead winding up an ice-slicked punch, forcing Pleo and his teammates to dartt down a nearby alleyway for cover. The Lugia ran along, craning his head back to see the guards reaching the mouth of the alley when a scythe-like arc of pinkish light suddenly zipped in and struck the Crabominable from the side. The guards whirled about just as a flying bone flew in, followed by hail of other attacks and flung items that left the lot of them sprawled out on the ground much to Pleo's astonishment.

"H-Huh?! What was-?!"

The Lugia and his teammates emerged cautiously, when they were greeted by the sight of Alice stepping forward with her claws still trailing flecks of dissipating pinkish light along with Crom, Elty, and Guardia at the head of a larger group of Pokémon. A Gabite, a Trapinch… why these were the Pokémon that were left behind from the pirate raid! Pleo blinked in confusion, only for Guardia to give a stern prod at his wing.

"Try to be a bit more careful!" she piped. "You won't always have us to help you out!"

"Er… right," Pleo replied. Before he could continue, the Lugia was interrupted by the sound of clapping, as Alice batted her claws together and turned back to the former pirates with a smug grin.

"And here you all were worried you couldn't take these dweebs!" the Sneasel said. "I told you that if you stuck together, you could beat these guys with some help!"

Pyry and Pekka walked up to the felled guards and cast dismissive glances down, the Gabite giving an unimpressed scoff at the Vanillish.

"Tch, that's all it takes to throw those square-necks off their game?" he asked.

"Well, they're certainly not top percentage, that's for sure," Pekka added.

Osmund and Orino raised a brow at Elty's group, noting their scruffier companions. After a moment of blinking disbelief, Orino turned towards Elty with a wary tilt of his head.

"Are those… the former pirates?" he asked. "Though I don't think I've seen you before, Sneasel."

"She's new, but otherwise that's right," Elty replied. "We needed all the help we could get, so I thought I'd ask my old kumple."

Crom and his teammates reciprocated Osmund and Orino's curious glances, the Druddigon among them blinking as he realized that Pleo had returned with two fewer Pokémon than he'd expected.

"Where are Nida and Kline?" Crom asked. "Weren't they with you, Pleo?"

"They went ahead to rescue Nida's mom and some of the others!" Pleo exclaimed. "We were gonna meet them at the main square!"

"Well, sounds like we shouldn't waste any more time then," Alice said. "Those goons aren't going to leave the harbor on their own!"

Pleo and the others nodded back and carried on towards the town's square, when the booming and shouts of raging battle reached their ears. All of a sudden, a green flash erupted from the square's direction and the ground violently jolted, making the lot come to a stop as Orino, Osmund, and the former pirates looked ahead wide-eyed.

"What on earth was that?" Osmund asked.

"Well, let's just say that Pleo wasn't the only big gun we were able to bring for this fight," Alice replied.

The group ran ahead in time to see a number of Company grunts sprawled out groaning as others fell back in a haphazard rush for cover. Pleo and his companions turned their heads to see Kline in his dog-like form advancing at the head of a large mob of villagers, whose eyes lit up at the sight of Pleo's silvery plumes.

"Ah! He's here!" a Meowth cried out.

"That's him!" a Kingler chimed in. "That's our Protector!"

Bunsen's underlings looked on in stunned shock, before the townsfolk cast forward a hail of attacks and thrown missiles. The Company Pokémon withdrew as the lot hastily fell back from the square, leaving Mosca to hop up onto a crate and look back at the villagers.

"Now!" the Hawlucha shouted. "Keep pushing while they're off-balance!"

The villagers roared in approval and charged ahead, as others who had been sheltering in shops and abodes along the lanes came out to support their returned Protector. All the while, Nida darted to and fro among the proceeding crowd, when she caught a glimpse of Elty, Pyry, and Pekka, and hastily bounded over to them with an impatient harrumph.

"Took you all long enough!" Nida piped. "Though how'd you manage to talk your old friends into helping?"

"What can I say?" Elty chuckled. "We had someone with a way with words on the team."

"Yeah, yeah, save the chit-chat for later, Eltenios," Pekka grumbled. "We're not in the clear yet, you know!"

Nida and her companions ran along the street up to the waterfront, where Bunsen's underlings had dug in along the piers behind a set of hastily-constructed barricades. Behind it, the Company Pokémon threw attacks back at the villagers, and Bunsen's third ship had recently docked and begun fielding reinforcements into his ranks. As the lot bore down on the lavender-scarved grunts, Mosca called out to the townsfolk with her, their spirits high with a much-yearned victory in sight.

"Hah! We've got 'em backed against the sea!" she cried. "Come on, we can push 'em-!"

The Hawlucha was cut off mid-sentence by a shadowy orb striking her in her chest, sending her tumbling back against the ground. Mosca dug her claws in, hastily righting herself when a Blast Seed sailed in and detonated in front of her, flinging her back unconscious to the shock of the nearby villagers. An orb filled with greenish clouds abruptly shattered at the front of the group, spewing green smoke everywhere that spread among their numbers.

Nida watched as the eyes of the Pokémon who inhaled the smoke suddenly shrank to pins, the villagers turning and bolting in a blind panic from their foes. The front line collided with the Pokémon behind them, as Bunsen's underlings opened up a salvo of attacks and flung items that threw the townsfolk into disarray. One by one, the villagers fell back under the hail of attacks, Nida, Elty, Pyry, and Pekka doing much the same as a Gravelerock flew past them. The four saw other villagers nearby fall from incoming attacks and Kline get mobbed by a party of underlings as they tried to make their way to a nearby corner for cover, only for a hail of large stones to sail out in front of their path and the four to see a Carkol and a Politoed approaching them.

"Where are you all off to in such a hurry?" the Carkol snarled.

"Yeah, we were just getting started giving you hicks a piece of our mind!" the Politoed snapped.

The Carkoal threw himself forward with a Flame Charge as the Politoed covered him with a Hydro Pump, Elty and Pekka hastily skidding out of the way of the Carkol while Nida and Pyry focused on the Politoed. Nida and Pyry ran ahead, throwing forward Poison Jab and Dragon Claw that knocked the Politoed down. Before either could press their advantage, the Politoed spat up a watery orb, which fanned out into a Surf that swept up the pair and sent them tumbling back gagging and coughing up water. As Pyry struggled to find his footing, he looked up and froze at the sight of the Politoed readying an icy burst from his mouth. The Gabite flinched, watching as the Politoed formed the beginnings of an Ice Beam when the frog's eyes shot wide and he abruptly jerked up in pain, the budding Ice Beam fading away as a pained cry left his mouth.

"Argh! Something bit me!"

The Politoed whirled around, and saw Pekka clamped down tightly on his left leg, leaving him to snarl in frustration.

"Get off of me, you stupid bug!"

The frog jumped around and spat water at Pekka to try and free his leg from the Trapinch's grasp, striking the antlion in the head with a Water Gun that made him lose his grip. With a swift thrust of his leg, the Politoed sent his Trapinch assailant flying headfirst into the wall of a nearby shop where he struck it with a sharp yelp and crumpled to the ground, leaving Pyry to look on in alarm.


Pekka groaned and struggled back to his feet in a daze, when his body suddenly became shrouded in light and began to transform much to Pyry's slack-jawed astonishment.


"Oh no you don't!" the Carkol shouted. "Stay down, you-"

The Carkol was cut off by Nida storming ahead wreathed in the fading blue aura of a Helping Hand with a pair of spinning kicks. The first caught the Carkol in his side and kicked the Rock-Type over, the second kick landing in his chest that drew a pained cry before the Company grunt lapsed out of consciousness. After seeing Nida's success against the Carkol, Pyry turned his attention to the Politoed to come to his partner's defense. The Gabite ran ahead and let out a bellowing roar before spitting up an orb of blue dragonfire at the frog's chest. The Water-Type staggered and fought to keep his balance, when a humming drone of wingbeats zipped by, the Politoed looking up just in time to see a Vibrava dive at him and spit up the fiery stream of a Dragon Breath that struck the Water-Type and left him groaning on the ground. Pekka shot a dirty glare over the fainted Politoed, and turned with a sharp buzz when Pyry approached him, his eyes filled with an incredulous awe as he gave a careful poke at the chitinous plates of Pekka's new body.

"I was starting to think this day would never come," Pyry murmured.

"Heh, well it took long enough!" Pekka retorted.

"Aguanten! The cavalry's coming!"

Pyry, Pekka, and the others looked up as Kiran flew over the Company grunts' front line and a jet of water zipped past him, promptly felling a Solrock in Company colors, with an unfortunate Delcatty and Mismagius meeting much the same fate from an incoming Rock Slide shortly afterwards. Nida and her companions looked up, where they saw Percy, Calidus, and Trizano diving from the air and leading a charging group of Pokémon from the local guild, the sight making the Nidorina's eyes light up in realization.

"Ah! Kiran and the others are here!" she cried.

"About time that feather duster and those guild 'mons showed up!" Pekka harrumphed.

"That's as far as you go!"

A sharp bleat cut through the air followed by a loud crackle and the sound of pained cries as Hatteras felled a pair of Bunsen's underlings with a Discharge. Taking advantage of his opening, a team of guild members charged ahead casting covering attacks forward, Nida spotting a few faces from the Siglo Swellow mixed in among their ranks. Further away in the air, Percy and Calidus dove towards Pleo, Crom, and Alice as a Swoobat and a Carnivine attempted to ambush them, the Gliscor and Talonflame summarily cutting the pair down with a Night Slash and Flare Blitz as they came in for a landing.

"Is everyone alright?" Percy asked. "It looks like everything's coming together nicely, at least."

"We had a little trouble for a moment, but I think we're getting the hang of things," Crom replied. "These Company 'mons got pushed back to the water faster than I expected!"

"Well, Kline giving everyone a tailwind at their backs certainly didn't hurt," Alice chuckled.

As soon as the Sneasel finished speaking, a pained shout rang out as Kline leapt back from a Seismitoad slumping over unconscious. The dog-like Legendary looked at his defeated opponent before turning his attention back to his teammates with a low grunt.

"Just don't get too confident," Kline insisted. "A lot more Pokémon can fit on those ships than we've been fighting so far and we have yet to see any sign of Buns-"


A dark shadow zipped over the square just before a column of fire flew in from the sky and struck a few of the villagers at the front of the mob. The crowd broke back, the unfortunate victims of the Flamethrower bowling over writhing and screaming in pain as the flames clung to their bodies. A quick glance up revealed Bunsen circling overhead as fresh reinforcements joined in his wake and sent forth an overpowering hail of attacks that cut down Pokémon left and right, throwing the gathering into a panic that was encapsulated by a Loudred's stammering cry to the others.

"A-Ack! Fall back! Fall back!"

Pleo and Crom watched as the villagers began to flee while Kline and the rest of Team Zephyr attempted to hold the line for other villagers to slip away. The crash of shattering glass rang out, making Pleo flinch as a wave of sparks overcame him, Crom, and Team Zephyr that made their limbs lock in place from what he quickly realized to be the effects of a Petrify Orb.


Pleo struggled in vain against the Petrify Orb's effects as the square quickly emptied, with Pokémon scurrying for cover. The sound of loud wingbeats rang out in front of him as Bunsen landed on the ground leading up to the docks and sized up his opposition with a fierce glare.

"Am I some sort of joke to you?" the Charizard snapped. "Did you really think that you were going to get the better of a Company Commissioner and three fully-crewed ships by just walking up and throwing a tantrum like a bunch of unruly children?!"

Bunsen bared his fangs and turned his attention over to Kline with a sharp growl, the Fire-Type's words coming out with a fiery, indignant roar.

"And you," he snarled. "I don't know how you managed to give my subordinates such trouble, you mangy mutt, but there are consequences for such-"

The Charizard trailed off as he noticed the silvery, long-necked form of Pleo beside the strange hound. At once, Bunsen's eyes shrank to pins and the color drained from his face as he recoiled with a sharp yelp.


"Commissioner Bunsen? What's going on?" Sicula asked, taken back by her superior's visible panic.

As Bunsen stared ahead in shock, Pleo struggled against the effects of the petrification and craned his head up with a determined glare.

"I- I'm the Protector of this island," the Lugia said. "I won't just step aside and let you bully it!"

"And this 'mangy mutt' here is Zygarde, the Protector of Conntow," Kline hissed. "I'll fight with every ounce of my strength to aid my peer, you impudent lizard!"

A palpable sense of panic settled over the Charizard, as Pleo and Kline's replies and their superior's sudden loss of confidence set the other Company Pokémon visibly on edge.

"W-Wait," a Bronzong began. "So those two 'mons are really-"

The Bronzong was cut off by a spray of black orbs that knocked him to the ground. Pleo watched as the villagers let out a rousing cry and took the opportunity to charge Bunsen's still-stunned underlings. The Lugia got shoved from behind and felt his joints unfreeze and turned to see Calidus looking back at him.

"Come on, this is our chance!" the Talonflame shouted.

The battle raged back to a fever pitch as attacks and blows flew back and forth, villagers and grunts alike falling to the salvos of attacks. Up in the air, Bunsen wheeled about, wildly throwing gouts of fire at his attackers below. The Charizard's eyes widened as he saw a silvery figure flutter underneath him and rolled out of the way as a crackling Thunderbolt zipped past his belly, the Fire-Type's nerves quickly failing him as he realized the blow to be from none other than dread demon of this horrid rock.


Back on the ground, Pleo watched as Bunsen desperately fled from his Thunderbolts, making the Lugia chirp excitedly with newfound confidence.

"We're winning!" Pleo cried. "We're-!"

"That's enough from you, you overgrown gull!"

Sicula shot a poisonous glob that caught Pleo in his shoulder, sending the Lugia stumbling back with a pained squawk as he tried to shake the sludge off. Up in the air, Bunsen slowed and looked down at the flailing Protector, his features easing in dawning realization.

"He's still weak right now…"

Bunsen thought back to how Darzin strong-armed him into setting sail for Tromba, and why he'd sent him of all 'mons after this demon. Clearly the Administrator realized that if Tromba's Pokémon had begun actively turning to piracy and this fiend were allowed to remain in their care, that they would have the power to turn all of the Company's waters into a lawless maelstrom.

With how his own underlings had wavered, clearly Darzin didn't trust a 'mon without the Mark to not fall under the demon's spell. That said, the demon's powers had not fully developed, and even Zygarde seemed to struggle earlier from a simple Petrify Orb. Then… the best way, the only way to keep things from spiraling out of control was to send a message and snatch the demons while they were still weak, and to seal them away from the world they would prey on.

"Th-That's it!" Bunsen snapped. "Your little revolt is over!"

The Charizard dove down at Pleo and spat out a billowing stream of fire, striking the young Protector and sprawling him out stunned. The Lugia struggled up in a daze when he felt a scaly arm wrap around his neck and pull him upwards. Pleo let out a frightened yelp and beat his wings wildly, flapping and struggling as Bunsen carried the Lugia off towards his ship in full view of the horrified townsfolk as Crom cried out after him.

"A-Ah! Pleo!"

"You peasants want this little freak so badly?" the Fire-Type snarled. "Come and get him!"

The villagers tried to press on when a large volley of attacks from Bunsen's underlings sailed in and struck the townsfolk's front line. Pained cries rang out as villagers fell to the ground unconscious and stricken, others falling back in a blind panic as the hail of attacks intensified. Kline charged ahead to try and engage the attackers, only for a Eldegoss and a Noctowl to slip behind him, the Eldegoss spraying green dust into the air before the Noctowl blew it from behind at the Zygarde's head with a beat of her wings.

"Lights out, mutt!" the Noctowl jeered.

Kline coughed and darted away as he tried to brush away the Sleep Powder, his efforts failing to dispel it as his eyes flickered and his legs gave out.


The Zygarde slumped over asleep, leaving his teammates to quickly close ranks about him as Alice ran up and tugged at Kline to try and rouse him.

"Gah! Come on!" the Sneasel cried. "This is no time to be sleeping through a fight!"

Bunsen flew over to dock in front of his flagship's gangplank where he pinned Pleo down with a startled squawk and quickly tied him down. The Lugia thrashed and squirmed against his bindings as Bunsen dragged him back up, and pushed him towards a waiting Pangoro.

"Get him below deck," the Commissioner barked. "Once we take care of that other one, these hicks shouldn't last long."

The Pangoro latched onto Pleo, before dragging him along the gangplank as the young Protector kicked and flailed to resist in vain.

"No! Let go of me!"

The Company grunt continued to move Pleo towards the deck, when a Sludge Bomb zipped in and struck the Pangoro in the back of his head. The bear stumbled and fell off the gangplank into the water as Pleo tumbled back to the docks, making Bunsen wheel around with his fangs bared.

"Hey! What th- Agh!"

The Charizard was cut off by a Rock Slide sailing in and hitting him in his belly, bowling him over coughing. Bunsen raised his head when he saw the form of a Kabutops surfacing at the head of a group of sea Pokémon wearing blue-and-red bands about their bodies.

"Hang in there, Pleo!" Dimitri shouted. "We've got reinforcements!"

"And powerful friends to tip the scales."

Bunsen shifted his eyes towards the center of Dimitri's group and froze at the sight of a Manaphy leaping from the water and perching on Dimitri's head with a sharp glare.

"As the Protector of Vollezee, I, Manaphy, will not let you go forward a single stroke!" Nerea exclaimed. "Send that ship to the bottom of the harbor!"

Nerea spat up a scalding jet of water as the rest of the clan's members joined in with various attacks of their own. Bunsen hastily flew over the salvo, as a few unfortunate Company grunts on the docks were swept up in the torrent with pained shouts. The Charizard attempted to rally his underlings when a hail of attacks came in from land, the Commissioner looking over and seeing that the villagers were once again regaining their momentum against his ranks, with the sight of Nerea charging ahead from the water to the side making him yelp and cry out to his subordinates.

"F-Forget this stupid hamlet!" he cried. "We've gotten enough of what we needed to done! Let's move out!"

Bunsen cast a fierce, fiery wind at the crowd in a panic that threw the frontline of the villagers into an uproar before he dove for the deck. As the townsfolk attempted to regain their bearings, they saw Bunsen's underlings hurrying off and attempting to carry away any fallen members that they could, all while the Charizard Commissioner drug Pleo aboard onto this ship.

"A-Ack! They're trying to take the Protector again!" Minia cried.

"Rápido!" a Shiftry from the Guild shouted. "Don't let them get away!"

The villagers charged forward one after the other as Bunsen's support ships hastily started to unmoor. An orange Florges attempted to raise the gangplank to the flagship, only for a Rhyhorn to throw the Fairy-Type aside and a large mob to storm up the gangplank. Crom watched as the deck devolved into a melee as shouts and pained cries rang out, before he turned worriedly to Team Zephyr's members.

"C-Come on!" the Druddigon insisted. "We need to go and help!"

Alice braced herself as a Company Bibarel charged in bellowing for Kline with water wreathing his tail, the Sneasel cutting the beaver off with a shadowy slash at his chest before uppercutting him with a sharp yelp. She watched as the Bibarel toppled over, before turning her attention back to Crom.

"Not that we don't wanna help, but we can't leave Kline behind like this either!" Alice insisted.

Crom blanched and looked around indecisively as the din of battle raged around him when Percy turned his head and let out a sharp cry.

"Go!" the Gliscor said. "We'll try and cover you!"

Crom gave a 'Right' in reply and bolted ahead, hastily stepping around attacks zipping about him as Percy and Alice gave cover with a Stone Edge and Ice Shard from behind. The young Druddigon made it up to the pier, when a pink Shellos was thrown from the ship and limply crashed to the dock, forcing the Dragon-Type to hastily skid around the fainted villager when a Corvisquire swooped down from above readying a sharp jab with her beak. Crom's eyes shot wide as he jumped back from the Corvisquire's attack, the Druddigon letting out a startled yelp as he almost lost his balance.

"I'm gonna enjoy putting you down, you little runt!" the Corvisquire sneered.

"Over my dead body you will!"

A blue and red form came charging in, swatting the Corisquire out of the air with a pained squawk and into the water with a loud splash. Crom panted and looked up to see his rescuer, when he spotted the wings and ruddy crest of none other than…


"You didn't think I was just going to sit back and let you and your father do all the hard work, did you?" Gwenith asked. "Come on, we're almost there!"

Crom nodded back and ran along, darting up the gangplank with another party of villagers behind him who attempted to come to the aid of the prior boarding group. At the top, a Piloswine blocked the way, prompting Gwenith to growl and knock the Ground-Type away with a running tackle.

"And stay out of my way!"

Crom looked around the deck as the villagers filed out, when the Druddigon's attention was snapped to attention by a charging Watchog. The Dragon-Type hastily threw a Power-Up Punch at the Normal-Type, stunning the Company peon before he hurriedly darted away and saw Ander tied up and slumped over by the ship's center mast.

"Ah! Ander!"

The young Druddigon ran over, stooping down and shaking the unresponsive Scyther with a worried gaze.

"Ander, come on!" Crom pleaded. "You need to get up!"

Ander shifted and began to stir, the mantis opening his eyes and looking up with a confused groan.

"Whuh? Crom?"

"You… don't look so good," the Dragon-Type said. "Here."

Crom wedged his claws in between the turns of the knots binding Ander's scythes to his thorax, tugged the ropes away, and moved an Oran Berry by the Scyther's mouth. Ander bit down and slowly ate the berry, before ducking with a startled buzz as a bolt of electricity zipped by, the Bug-Type looking around incredulously to see the deck in a general state of chaos from Company Pokémon and villagers engaging with each other in pitched battle.

"What's going on?" he asked.

Ander turned and caught a glimpse of Bunsen further down the deck struggling to carry along a thrashing Pleo, the Charizard carrying on in fits and much as if the Protector were a large bundle of Blast Seeds. The Scyther rose to his feet, when Crom tugged at him, looking up with pleading eyes.

"We need to save Pleo!" Crom insisted. "We can't let Bunsen get away with him!"

"Right, let's hurry!"

The pair hurried over to cut off the Charizard captain, darting past errant attacks and missiles when Crom spat up a ball of blue dragonfire, which found its mark on Bunsen's shoulder and made him lose his grip on his Lugia captive.


Pleo fell from the Charizard's claws and hit the deck with a squawk as Ander zipped up and hastily cut Pleo's bindings. The Lugia flinched a moment, before getting up and looking over at his unexpected rescuer.


"I'll explain things later!" the Scyther cried. "Just stick close and-!"

A loud stomp rang out as Ander froze and the Bug-Type quickly fluttered back. Crom turned and saw a gout of fire quickly approaching, dragging Pleo back to the ground as his nerves failed him at the sight of Bunsen taking wing and glaring down at him.


The three desperately bolted from Charizard, only for them to be cut off by Bunsen veering left and spitting another gout of fire in their path. Pleo, Crom, and Ander wheeled around in the direction of the ship's stern, the lot running until they reached the railing where they grimaced and looked back as Bunsen landed before them with his fangs bared.

"Did you really think I'd be that easy to push around?! That all it'd take to keep me from locking up that demon would be a couple of peasants?!" the Charizard snarled. "If you're going to play with fire, don't come crying when you get burned!"

Crom froze out of fright, the Druddigon gulping and steeling his nerves as best as he could as he tensed his body and readied his claws for a pouncing slash.

"W-We're not playing with anything here!"

Crom pulled his claw back and threw it forward to swipe at the Charizard's chest, which much to his astonishment trailed flecks of whitish light. Wait, was that Slash?! Before he could think about what he was doing, Bunsen moved back and spat back a billowing gout of flame that swallowed up the Druddigon's arm. The Dragon-Type howled in pain and jerked away, wincing as he pawed at a fresh burn on his arm. Pleo and Ander hastily darted forward, trying to pull their friend to cover when a bellowing roar sounded out ahead of them.

"And where are you rushing off to?!"

Bunsen lunged at the group, Ander cutting the Commissioner off with a slash of his scythes that forced the Charizard back to dodge, before the Scyther jumped up and darted about in the air to distract him. Bunsen readied a gout of fire to shoot the Bug-Type out of the sky, when from the corner of his eye, he noticed electric sparks crackling on Pleo just before a large bolt of electricity zipped up and struck him.


Bunsen writhed and thrashed in pain from the Thunderbolt, Ander taking the opportunity to clip the Charizard with a spread-wing tackle, and Crom to bite down on his right wing. The Fire-Type hastily righted himself, throwing the Druddigon to the ground, prompting Pleo to focus as his eyes flashed yellow and he spat up a cone of golden rings. The rings of light found their mark on the Charizard, making him recoil with a sharp yelp as the young Lugia looked on, realizing that he'd finally mastered the 'Extrasensory' attack that he'd been struggling with.

"G-Get away from me!"

Pleo, Crom, and Ander were abruptly knocked down by an overpowering, fiery wind, sending the three falling to the deck from the assault. Ander writhed and screeched from the effects of the Heat Wave, struggling back onto his feet when his attention turned skyward from a loud snarl where he saw Bunsen sneering down at him.

"I warned you earlier," Bunsen snorted. "Let me make sure you don't forget it!"

Flames began to dance at the back of Bunsen's throat as Ander froze out of terror. The Bug-Type watched as the Charizard spat up a roaring Flamethrower, flinching as he saw a whitish figure move in the way and then heard a pained squawk. Ander's pupils shrank to pins in realization, as he turned to see Pleo tottering with singed plumes and flopping over onto the deck weakly, Bunsen looking down at the scene with stunned disbelief.

"Th-That downed him?" the Charizard stammered. "I mean, of course it did! I'm not afraid of some fledgling demon here!"

"I- I am not a demon… I am a Protector…"

The young Lugia staggered up, breathing in laboredly before his feathers suddenly lit up in silvery light. Bunsen recoiled, backing away while his eyes shrunk to pins as the Protector seemed to be filled with newfound energy and scowled back defiantly.

"Ah… A-Aah…"

"And it's my job to protect this island from Pokémon like you!" Pleo cried.

He brought his wings together, making Crom and Ander dig their feet in to keep their footing from their friend's overpowering gale. The pair saw Bunsen's body zip by and the surrounding sails get torn to ribbons, the overpowering howl of Pleo's winds ebbing as the sound of Bunsen's screams rose above them.


Crom and Ander looked off past the stern to see Bunsen's body pinwheeling out to sea, his cries growing fainter and fainter as his body shrank in the distance until there was naught to be seen but a brief glint of his tail-fire, before vanishing over the horizon. The two paused and realized the din of battle on the ship had been silenced, before looking back at the main deck to see both villagers and Company grunts alike staring up stunned and at a loss of how to press further.


The sound of splintering wood rang out, making Sicula and a number of her underlings look over the railing towards the back of the ship where they saw a chunk of wood floating in the water as well as Dimitri surface and wave at her. The Roserade's jaw dropped when she realized the Kabutops to be the very same one she'd met back at Marley's burrow as the wooden piece that had been broken off the ship came into fuller view and made most of the Company Pokémon aboard flush pale…

"Th-That's our rudder!" a Carbink cried.

"Officer Sicula, what do we do?!" a Bronzong exclaimed.

"Abandon ship!" the Roserade shouted. "We're getting out of here!"

The deck quickly devolved into chaos as Bunsen's underlings haphazardly fled the stricken flagship. The fliers and swimmers bolted away as others leapt into the sea to hastily clamber aboard their more seaworthy compatriots and the grunts onshore did much the same, the lot beelining for the other ships as they hurriedly pushed off. Crom looked on as the villagers threw a hail of attacks and missiles after the fleeing underlings while the Khranitel Rod gave chase in the water, before he ran up to the railing and blew a taunting raspberry after the Company Pokémon.

"Yeah, you'd better run!" Crom jeered. "This is Tromba! We don't take getting pushed around-"

"Uh… Crom?"

Pleo motioned back towards the deck, where a handful of straggling Pokémon in Company scarves gathered around each other at the center as villagers ringed them with low growls. Among them, Osmund stepped forward, shooting a piercing glare at the trapped underlings.

"I believe that this is the part where you all surrender," the Sceptile harrumphed.

"Oh sod off, you stupid hicks!"

Pleo and Crom looked down towards the shoreline where another small crowd of Company Pokémon had been stranded and encircled by the townsfolk much as their counterparts on Bunsen's ship had. At the fore, a Zweilous could be seen encroaching on Marley, both his heads giving a bare-fanged snarl.

"Grr… if you think that we're just going to roll over for you just cause we're in a pinch, then you've got another thing coming!" the right head started, before the left chimed in.

"Yeah, that's right! I'd like to see you try and take us-"

The Zweilous was cut off by Marley striking him square in his chest with an Ice Beam, the Dragon-Type attempting to recover and charge ahead when poison began to visibly slick Marley's forepaws. The Zweilous desperately lunged ahead when Marley threw her paws forward with sharp jabs at both of his throats. Crom flinched as the Dragon-Type staggered and crumpled up in pain wheezing and gagging for air from the blows, the Company underlings aboard reacting much the same to the Zweilous' crushing defeat when Osmund directed their attention back to him with a sharp harrumph.

"Peacefully if you know what's good for you," the Sceptile added.

A few gulps went about the grunts aboard Bunsen's flagship as they cast glances over the railing at the felled Zweilous. One after the other, the lot raised limbs and motioned for surrender. Osmund and the others began to march their new captives off the ship, when Pleo noticed Dimitri and his clan members returning from sea. Crom looked off and saw the outlines of Bunsen's other two ships sailing off, prompting him to put a claw over his brow and squint where he could just make out the form of a livid Sicula clambering aboard and visibly fuming to her nearby underlings, prompting the Druddigon to shake his head with a beaming grin.

"Heh! Looks like Dimitri's clan chased them off real good!" Crom chuckled.

Pleo turned and watched as the Khranitel Rod drew closer to the docks and became more clearly visible as the crowd of Company Pokémon thinned. Among their number, he saw Nerea swimming towards the shoreline just as Kline walked up to it. The two locked eyes for a moment and Kline said something that eluded Pleo's ears, before Nerea frowned and spoke something back in reply he similarly couldn't hear. The Zygarde furrowed his brow into a displeased scowl as the two parted ways, the Manaphy swimming further along the shore as Kline turned his snout up and walked away much to Pleo's puzzlement.

"Is something wrong between those two?" he asked.

"Don't worry about it too much right now," Ander insisted.

"Yeah! You're free, and you're finally home!" Crom cheered. "Isn't that what counts?"

Pleo paused and titled his head back, before allowing a small, tired smile to spread over his face.

"Yeah, it is."

Author's Notes:

- Tendrá que servir - Spanish: "It'll have to do"
- No nos queda mucho tiempo - Spanish: "We don't have much time"
- (¡)Ya! - Spanish: "Right now!" / "Already!"
- Claro - Spanish: "Of course" / "For sure"
- - Spanish: "Yes"
- kumple - Polish: "buddies" / "pals"
- (¡)Aguanten! - Spanish: "Hold it!" / "Keep it up!" (Plural)
- (¡)Rápido! - Spanish: "Quick!" / "Hurry!" (Imperative)
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Winter can't come soon enough
Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for us to explain after we've knocked you flat on your backs," Mosca shot back. "Everyone, attack!"
We interrupt this PMD fic to bring you Fire Emblem Three Houses. :V

At least, that's what this chapter's extended battle feels like. Volleys of ranged attacks separating intermittent close-quarters skirmishes. Reinforcements popping in from both sides to shift the tides of the fight until one side finally gets overwhelmed by Pleo's Hero's Relic avatar state super glowy god-birb mode. It certainly has the feel of a full-scale tactics war battle. The guerilla rebels fending off the enemy invaders with an improvised strategy. Your little trivia bit mentions this was sort of a "Throw it in!" kind of episode that might not've originally existed... except this battle honestly had a sense of scale and climax to it that may only be topped by what happened at the Empire's capital.

It's funny, because this is the kind of battle that could've signaled things may finally be winding down. But there are still a few islands that haven't been visited and quite a number of plot points not addressed. So things are going to have to continue. I'm just curious where things go from here. And what the actual last battle of this fic will be like. XP

ne of the few exceptions being a simple teapot and set of cups on a tray
Leave it to grass-types to like their tea leaves, hue hue hue hue

seeing a large wooden crate shifting just behind it, a quick glance at its base revealing Pleo's feet as he shuffled underneath impatiently.
"Otacon, there's a weird-looking bird waddling around in that crate."

Bunsen's Fury. Availble now on the Nintendo Switch family of products.

Well, they're certainly not top percentage
I don't think any of them were named Joey anyway...

And powerful friends to tip the scales
It really is a Fire Emblem chapter! 0_0

I'm not afraid of some fledgling
Roll credits! ... again.

Crom and Ander looked off past the stern to see Bunsen's body pinwheeling out to sea, his cries growing fainter and fainter as his body shrank in the distance until there was naught to be seen but a brief glint of his tail-fire, before vanishing over the horizon
Looks like Team Bunsen's blasting off agaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain. [ding]

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
We interrupt this PMD fic to bring you Fire Emblem Three Houses. :V

At least, that's what this chapter's extended battle feels like. Volleys of ranged attacks separating intermittent close-quarters skirmishes. Reinforcements popping in from both sides to shift the tides of the fight until one side finally gets overwhelmed by Pleo's Hero's Relic avatar state super glowy god-birb mode. It certainly has the feel of a full-scale tactics war battle. The guerilla rebels fending off the enemy invaders with an improvised strategy. Your little trivia bit mentions this was sort of a "Throw it in!" kind of episode that might not've originally existed... except this battle honestly had a sense of scale and climax to it that may only be topped by what happened at the Empire's capital.

It's funny, because this is the kind of battle that could've signaled things may finally be winding down. But there are still a few islands that haven't been visited and quite a number of plot points not addressed. So things are going to have to continue. I'm just curious where things go from here. And what the actual last battle of this fic will be like. XP

I can’t speak for FE3H, but I’m glad the sense of action came through in those fight scenes. While not everything in Fledglings was pre-planned from the start, hearing about how something that basically only existed for less than a year prior to publishing managed to leave such an impression is really heartening.

Leave it to grass-types to like their tea leaves, hue hue hue hue

I mean, I doubt Erika’s Pokémon were the only Grass-Types in the Pokémon multiverse who liked themselves some tea. o3o

Bunsen's Fury. Availble now on the Nintendo Switch family of products.

Too smol. Not imposing enough and not enough paint. 4/10

I don't think any of them were named Joey anyway…

To be fair, it’s Joey’s Rattata that was top percentage. Not the kid himself. o3o

It really is a Fire Emblem chapter! 0_0

Damn, you’re really trying hard to get me to get into FE3H, aren’t ya? o<o

Roll credits! ... again.

So what number of credit rolls are we at now anyways? ^^;

Looks like Team Bunsen's blasting off agaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain. [ding]

Yeah, that actually did inspire that moment. Even though I’m sure Bunsen wouldn’t be thrilled about the comparison.

And while I’m a few days later than I’d like to be, I’m back once again with a fresh chapter to close out the present arc, along with a new doodle of Cabot made by Cresselia92. And another less canon one. The next update after this one will be a special chapter before launching into a new and larger arc, as such it will take a bit longer to put together and push out due to length. The current targeted release date is the end of May, but as with everything, things come out when they’re finished.

I would like to extend my special thanks to Virgil134 for helping to take today's chapter from a draft to a finished product, and to Venia Silente for some much-needed translation work he provided. And I haven’t forgotten about you readers and reviewers, either! This story simply wouldn’t be what it is today without your attention and engagement.

And with that, let’s pick up where we left off with...


A couple hours after Bunsen's fleet fled from Tromba Island, Bluewhorl's townsfolk began gathering under the orange glow of the sunset in the main square. The buildings had been reduced to a tangled mess of charred timbers and rubble, much as they had after Hess' raid on the island, but in spite of it, a shared feeling of relief hung in the air.


Just outside the square, Ander pulled Sandra and Cassie into a tight embrace. Sandra looked over at Ander with misty eyes, the mother Scyther struggling to fight back tears as she spoke to her mate.

"We were so worried about you," she said. "After seeing that Charizard take you away, I-"

Ander raised a scythe and quietly nosed back at her with a reassuring smile.

"It's alright, dear," he insisted. "It all worked out and we managed to get the best of him."

"Huh? You mean that you fought that mean Charizard?" Cassie asked. "But how? He burned you in our own home!"

"Well, I had help, obviously," Ander explained. "Crom was there to help fight, and... so was Pleo."

Sandra and Cassie looked up with puzzled blinks as the young Scyther glanced up worriedly at her mother.

"'Pleo'? As in this island's demon?" Sandra asked. "Why on earth would it help you?"

Ander fell quiet and thought the matter over, only to find himself increasingly at a loss for answers.

"I... am not fully sure why myself, but he even took a Flamethrower from that Commissioner for me," he said. "If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be sleeping off some nasty burns in the medic's hut right now."

"Huh? But why wouldn't I help you? You're my teammate!"

Ander turned around to see Pleo waddling up, his mate's eyes shrinking to pins as Cassie nervously ducked behind the safety of her mother's legs and latched on tightly.


Pleo blanched at Cassie and Sandra's reaction, before shuffling back slightly and attempting to soothe the pair with a reassuring wave of his wing.

"It's alright! I'm not mad at you or anything!" the Lugia insisted. "I just saw you all together and was wondering if you were okay, so I came over to check up on you."

Sandra and Cassie glanced worriedly at Ander, prompting the father Scyther to look between them and Pleo before pausing and leaning in to his mate and child.

"Give us a few moments," Ander reassured. "I don't think there's any trouble."

The two Scyther looked back at Pleo for a moment, before quietly hurrying off. The Lugia watched as they slunk away, before drooping and turning back to Ander.

"They're still afraid of me, aren't they?"

"I know it might seem strange to you, but you are more imposing than you give yourself credit for," the Scyther said. "Please try to be patient with them."

The Lugia paused before ruffling his feathers uncomfortably in reply.

"I guess…" Pleo murmured. "Though are you happy to see your family again?"

"Of course," Ander replied. "It's been almost three weeks since I last saw them, and I'd been worried sick about them for most of it."

Pleo raised a brow and gave a puzzled tilt of his head back at the Scyther.

"Huh? But if you were so worried, why did you go and help Kiran and the others look for me?"

Ander shifted uneasily, and tapped his scythes together a couple moments before he spoke up.

"Well... before I left, Hatteras asked for one of us Marked to come along," Ander explained. "That way, everyone could know for sure whether or not you were a demon like the Scripture of Truth says."

Pleo blinked and craned his head back uneasily. Surely it was crazy for Ander to still doubt him like this, but… at the same time, he couldn't argue that there were still times that he'd hurt other Pokémon or left a trail of destruction by accident during his journey. He and the other Marked were the only Pokémon that expected something like that would even happen, so then… could it be…?

"You... really still think I am one?"

The Scyther flit his wings uncomfortably, before glancing away uneasily.

"I... I don't know," the Bug-Type admitted. "All I know is that if you really are a demon, you're more kindhearted and caring than any of us would've ever imagined a demon to be."

Pleo blinked back at Ander, unsure what to make of the Scyther's response. The Lugia thought the matter over briefly when his train of thought was disrupted by footsteps and the sound of chatter from passing villagers.

"Oh come on, I was in the middle of clearing the front of my shop!" a Magmar fumed.

"Meh, it can wait," a Spheal insisted. "The big trial's about to start!"

Pleo gave a blank look at the pair, before turning back to Ander and speaking up warily.

"The 'big trial'?"

"For the Company Pokémon that got stranded on the island," Ander explained. "We might as well go and see what's happening."

Pleo and Ander followed the pair into the main square, where a crowd of surly-faced villagers had gathered as a cohort of captured attackers were bound up at the center in front of a set of crates that had been gathered to form a crude podium. Their colors were different, and their ranks were larger in number, but beyond having a less offensive odor and being less outwardly frightened, the Company Pokémon held at the square seemed to scarcely differ from Hess' former underlings as they awaited their judgement.

As the pair reached the fringes of the crowd, Ander drifted off for his mate and child as Pleo continued on through the crowd, following a ruddy crest poking over the heads of some nearby spectators until he found himself next to Gwenith, who had been watching the proceedings with her family, and the rest of Team Traveller's members.

"It's good to see you again, Protector," Gwenith greeted.

"It's good to see you too," Pleo said. "Though did I miss anything?"

"Nah, the trial's just starting," Orino explained. "Everyone's waiting on Mayor Hatteras to show-"


The crowd fell silent as Hatteras made his way up to the makeshift podium, bedecked in his black-and-white judge's scarf on his head. The Ampharos paused a moment as Osmund made his way to the base of the podium and leaned against it. The sheep looked around, briefly surveying the captured Company grunts with a silent scowl before he turned his attention off to the ringing villagers.

"Sorry for the wait, I had some property damage to survey before coming here," the Ampharos said. "But I, Judge Hatteras, am now ready to call this court into session!"

"Is this some sort of joke?" a Tangrowth snarled, fighting against his bindings. "You can't charge us! We're the law here!"

"Hrmph, last I checked, being in law enforcement didn't exempt a 'mon from having charges pressed," the Ampharos chided.

A sharp creak rang out followed by a loud crash as a charred shopfront collapsed in the background. As the dust and ash from the toppled shop settled, Hatteras looked about the damaged buildings about the square before settling narrowed eyes back onto the Tangrowth and his fellows.

"I can already think of a few obvious property crimes to charge you all with," he continued. "But I admittedly hadn't gotten the chance to fully review them all."

"Well, there was the whole moment with them summarily dragging me off and throwing me in a cell without trial," Osmund huffed. "Oh, and also all those villagers sleeping off wounds in the medics' tent right now."

"Yes, right. So you all stand accused of Battery and Assaulting an Officer..." Hatteras mused.

"Those jerks forced me to give them free drinks!" Mirlia protested. "I've been losing money every day since they set foot on shore!"

"And Extortion..."

"And they bullied us out of her bar every day!" Pyry complained.

"And Intimidation..."

"And one of them kept knocking bottles out of my paws and making me pick them up!" a Meowth chimed in.

"And Serial Littering... And that's just the stuff we can think of offhand," Hatteras explained. "Why if you all were a pirate crew, that'd be more than sufficient grounds to send the lot of you off to the Wastes right now!"

Upset grumbles and growls came from the crowd of villagers, which began to fray the nerves of some of the Company peons as a few gulped and traded worried looks. A Zweilous was one of the exceptions, as he stomped the ground and bared his fangs back in defiance.

"Is this sham of a trial supposed to scare us?" one of the Zweilous' heads snapped, before the other spoke up. "Go ahead and dig your own graves! The Board will be sending reinforcements to retake this lousy ro-"

The Zweilous was cut off by an icy beam summarily freezing his right front foot to the ground. The Dragon-Type looked down in alarm as Marley stormed out from the crowd and grabbed onto the Zweilous' necks, jerking the dragon's heads up to face her.

"Oh trust me, we know that already," the Nidorina growled. "You should be worried about what we'll do to you before your friends get here."

Marley pulled a paw back which slicked over with a purple, venomous sheen, making the Zweilous yelp and flinch. The Dragon-Type cringed and pulled his heads in close to his body, as Marley let the poison dribble off, walking off with a disgusted huff as Hatteras turned his attention back to the now-chastened Company grunts.

"We're fully aware that we're constrained on what we can do with you right now," the Electric-Type replied. "But even so, we do still have some options at our disposal."

The Ampharos turned off towards the sea and raised a paw at Bunsen's stricken flagship.

"We're a small town, and in light of our limited jail space, we'll be repurposing your ship as overflow space," he said. "You will be doing tasks around the village in shifts as part of Community Service to help repair the damage you've done to this town until we can reach an understanding with your employers to let you go."

"Don't get too cocky about your friends storming the beaches to help you, either," Osmund chimed in. "We'll be moving the ship as a blockade to the harbor. If the Company comes in with cannons blazing against this town, you'll get a great view of their assault from the bottom of the harbor."

The pair's words drew quiet grumbles from the gathered underlings, their faces betraying annoyed indignance as well as hints of relief that worse had not come to pass.

"Is that all?" a Corvisquire scoffed. "If that's all you want, then we're ready to go back onto the ship to sleep."

"One last thing," Hatteras insisted.

The gathering fell silent as both villagers and Company grunts alike trained their attention on Hatteras, the Electric-Type swinging his tail back and forth as he sized up the village's captives and spoke up in a calm, serious tone.

"Since we don't have many of our normal fallback mechanisms to keep you in line should you abuse your Community Service, we will be tying your daily meals to your participation and effort," Hatteras explained. "Furthermore, you will all start with a probationary task before moving on to more normal duties."

Osmund raised a brow at the Ampharos' words, turning to him with a puzzled frown.

"Eh? They will?" he asked. "What task will that be, May- er... Judge Hatteras?"

"Cleaning out the local latrines in town, of course," the Electric-Type answered. "As for those of them that can swim well enough, there's always some ship hulls with scum buildup that needs to be scraped away. Some of the ones in port weren't damaged in today's battle and could stand to get a good cleaning."

Hatteras' pronouncement drew a chorus of angry bays and protests from the grunts, a few attempting to slip their bindings to give the blasted sheep a piece of their mind. From his perch beside the podium, Osmund got up with a sighing roll of his eyes before turning to his waiting subordinates at the other end of the crowd.

"Get them aboard the ship and move it out into position," the Sceptile grumbled. "It'll be a long night hearing these jokers otherwise."

The local guards grunted back in affirmation as they began to march the grunts off, a few quite literally kicking and screaming in resistance. Team Traveller's members watched as the underlings' numbers thinned and their cries of protest died down, Elty shaking his head and giving a sideways glance at Hatteras.

"Yeesh, that old baran really knows how to pour salt in a wound, doesn't he?" the Growlithe murmured.

"Well, he did become our leader for a reason, you know," Nida said. Pleo looked off as the last of Bunsen's underlings were marched off, before turning back to his companions.

"So what do we do now that we're all home?"

"Well, we'd been planning a big festival for when the Siglo Swellow brought you home," Teja replied. "Obviously, those plans have been messed up a bit, but I think we can still throw something together quickly enough!"

Pleo blinked at the Nidorino's explanation, giving a puzzled tilt of his head back.

"You can? Just what do you have in mind?"

Later that evening, the square was hastily tidied up to the best of the town's ability as stands and decorations normally kept tucked away for festive occasions were drug out and fireworks shells were shot into the air from the guild, forming a crude street party as food and drinks were handed out. Amid the booming of the shells in the background, Nida recounted the tale of her long journey through the Cradle to a gathering of her neighbors and family, who hung with baited breath on her every word. When the topic of conversation reached her and her teammates' triumph over Darzin on Haipheh Island, Marley's eyes lit up, the elder Nidorina stepping forward to her daughter beaming with pride.

"Ah, my niñita is all grown up now!"

Marley pulled Nida into a tight embrace, hugging her daughter tightly in full view of the circle of onlookers as the younger Nidorina squirmed and flattened her ears out flusteredly.

"Mamí! We're in public here!" Nida protested.

"Heh, even with that grand adventure, I see the apple really hasn't fallen far from the tree," a bandaged Mildew chuckled.

The other villagers broke out into bemused laughs as Marley let her daughter go and smiled back at her. Nida gave a pouting frown back, before shaking her head and starting to head off.

"I'll be back a bit later," she insisted. "I want to see how Crom is doing."

Nida waved farewell to the group and slipped off into the crowd as the sound of Lugia's Song whistling from an ocarina flitted through the air, the little spike ball looking about and sniffing at the air as she searched for any sign of her Druddigon teammate. Along the way, she spotted Gwenith and Patricia manning a stand passing out slices of apple pie to a long line of eager takers. A little further off, a raucous cheer rose up from a few of Elty's old pirate buddies as a visibly tipsy Sableye and Quilava chugged bottles in their midst, only for Osmund to step in and snatch them from the pair much to the lot's groaning disappointment.

Nida shook her head and turned right down an intersecting street, passing Albert, Charlie, and Marilyn gawking at a booth selling wearable accessories. A little further down the street, she saw Trizano entertaining Hariti and a small gathering of her charges with tales of his exploits as an Immortal much to their delight, leaving Nida to pause and furrow her brow as she wondered to herself where Crom could've gotten off to.

As she tried to think of where to look next, Nida saw Pleo and Alice pass further up the lane, the Sneasel talking to Pleo as the pair walked together. Nida flicked her ears and tried to listen in, only for the crosstalk of the carnival to muddy their words, leaving her with nothing to go on but the sight of Pleo happily nodding along with Alice as the pair continued up the lane.


Nida followed along after the Sneasel and the Lugia as the two made their way to a table set out near a stand handing out cups of berry juice where Crom, Cenn, Elty, Pyry, and Pekka were gathered standing about and trading laughing banter with each other. Pleo hastily darted up behind the elder Druddigon, beating his wings out wide as he called out to his Dragon-Type teammate.

"Crom! Crom! Let's have our rematch right now!" Pleo exclaimed.

Crom turned around and blinked in confusion, the others at the table giving Pleo puzzled looks. After a brief moment, they noticed he was staring at one of the still-full cups of berry juice on the counter. Elty looked between Pleo and the cup a moment, before his face curled up into a bemused smile when he realized what sort of 'rematch' the young Protector was requesting.

"Oh, so you want to give another go at a burping contest?" Elty asked, wagging his tail slightly. "Well, I'd certainly be down to watch you two chug a drink or two and see who comes out on top!"

"Ah! I wanna see it too, Crom!" Cenn chimed in. "Show off what dad taught us!"

Crom paused before grinning back at Pleo, tightening his grasp around his cup as he lifted it from the counter.

"Well, if you really want one, I certainly won't turn you down!" he insisted.

The Dragon-Type raised his cup of berry juice to his mouth, throwing his head back as he rapidly gulped down his drink. After finishing his serving, Crom wiped the edge of his mouth with the back of his claw, waiting briefly before he cracked his maw wide open.


Pleo flinched out of surprise from the deep burp that came from Crom's throat, the Druddigon's performance drawing laughs and cheers from his surrounding companions, with his younger brother throwing in a starry-eyed cry.

"That was amazing!" Cenn cheered. "Way to go Crom!"

Pleo began to visibly hesitate after the Druddigon's opening belch, something Crom picked up on as he shot the Lugia a teasing grin.

"What? I never said I was going to make things easy for you," he chuckled. "Go ahead and hit me with your best shot!"

Pleo looked at Alice uneasily, who shot back a determined grin and pulled a balled-up fist downwards. The young Lugia inhaled sharply before grabbing the cup before him and chugging its contents down. Pleo pulled the cup away as the taste of Nanab Berries lingered in his mouth, shifting a bit in place as he felt air rise in his stomach. He fought to keep it down, thinking back to advice that Alice had given him beforehand as he felt more and more air build up, before cracking his beak open wide and pushing it all up into his throat at once.


Pleo's burp came out as a strong wind that made the other Pokémon at the counter shield their eyes and stumble back, Crom cracking his eyes back open as the smell of Nanab Berries hung in the air. The Druddigon's mouth flopped open in astonishment as Cenn gave a small pout, their disappointment being drowned out by Elty, Pyry, and Pekka cheering on Pleo and crowding about the victorious Protector.

"Ha! Good job, feather duster!" Pyry exclaimed.

"Yeah, you'd give most pirates a run for their money with a burp like that!" Pekka chimed in. As the gathered Pokémon celebrated Pleo's performance, Crom let his jaw hang open in shock, the Dragon-Type stammering in surprise at his Lugia teammate.

"H-Huh?! But how did you learn to do that?!" the Druddigon cried, prompting Pleo to give back a teasing grin of his own before he glanced off at Alice.

"I just had a little help," he explained.

"Hey, don't sell yourself too short," the Sneasel replied. "You're a great student and learned things pretty quickly!"

"But you're a really great teacher!" the Lugia insisted as he beat out his wings. "I wouldn't have done so well if you hadn't shown off that super loud burp of yours for me to copy!"

The pair patted claw and wing together with one another, Pleo beaming with pride over his hard-earned victory when a disgusted growl cut through the air behind him.

"Ugh. Enough, you all."

Pleo and the others turned as Nida walked up, the Nidorina folding her ears back as she shot a sour frown at her teammates.

"You know, sailors have a reputation for having poor manners for a reason," she grumbled.

Pleo tilted his head back puzzledly, before looking over at Crom and seeing him give a sheepish, flustered smile back at Nida. Before the Lugia could question her any further, the moment was broken by Alice leaning back against the table and shooting a sly grin at Nida.

"And?" the Sneasel asked. "Who needs manners when you can have fun instead?"

"Someone who doesn't want to be gross?" Nida spat. "And why would you even help Pleo with that?"

"Well, Pleo told me about his contest, and how Crom's dad gave him some tips while no one was there to help him out," the Dark-Type offered. "Soooo, I figured I might as well put some of the tricks I picked up as a pirate to good use and give him a leg up."

Nida narrowed her eyes and let out a disgusted sigh, muttering to herself about why Team Zephyr needed a teammate who never seemed to miss a moment to indulge in some stupid or immature antic. The Nidorina opened her mouth to scold Alice, when she noticed Kline hopping along in the background, a quick glance revealing him to be making his way towards Nerea as she lounged in a small wooden tub of water. The Poison-Type blinked out of surprise, as she wondered aloud to herself...

"Eh? Haven't those two been avoiding each other all day?"

The others similarly turned their attention over to Kline, watching as he approached Nerea's tub. As the Zygarde made his last few hops forward, he sighed before raising his voice to speak up.

"Nerea, do you have a moment?" the serpent asked. The Manaphy said nothing back at first, before warily turning around and shooting a guarded glance back at him.

"What is it?" she demanded. Kline visibly hesitated at Nerea's curt reply, before shifting his body uncomfortably.

"I just... wanted to say you did great earlier," he said. "You and Dimitri's clan helped us a lot fighting off Bunsen's underlings."

"Uh... thanks, I guess," Nerea murmured.

Kline waited for the Manaphy to continue, only for her to remain quiet, resulting in an awkward silence between the two. After a moment, the serpent turned and started to hop off, when a sharp grumble cut through the air.


Kline looked up to see Percy peering down at him with a stern frown and disapproving shake of his head. The Zygarde rolled his eye, before turning back towards Nerea and speaking up.

"Look, I know the circumstances in which we parted ways last time was anything but ideal," he began. "I'm sure we've both said things that we regret, and looking back at it, maybe I should have handled things differently."

Nerea blinked in surprise at Kline's words, before slowly opening her mouth to reply.

"You... do?"

"Yes. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have gotten so mad at you over giving up so quickly after a bad scare like that," Kline insisted. "Because of that... I wanted to say I forgive you."

The Manaphy stared back blankly as Percy looked at Kline dumbfounded, before he buried his face in a claw. Nerea's befuddled reaction quickly dissipated, and was swiftly replaced with a deeply offended air that surrounded her.

"You... forgive me?!"

Nerea's face fell as her features hardened into seething scowl. Kline spoke up to try and continue on, only to be cut short by a heated tirade from the Manaphy.

"Kline, I've been hunted by the Company since I tried to get the volume of the Ledger on Vollezee!" Nerea fumed. "I've got nothing to apologize for over how things turned out, especially since you couldn't bother showing up in person to help!"

Nerea's rant served only to infuriate Kline in turn, the Zygarde glaring at the Water-Type as he angrily shot back at the Manaphy.

"I had my reasons, Nerea, and you know that!" Kline huffed. "I was also the one who gave you the reconnaissance that even allowed you to get as far as you did! I've been hunted as well, yet I didn't pretend Elilan suddenly stopped plotting to take over Anyilla to run away under the sea!"

The festivities around Kline and Nerea ground to a halt, as the nearby Pokémon stopped and stared at the feuding Protectors. With no mind to the state of her audience, Nerea jolted to the edge of her tub and leaned onto the edge before launching into an angry tirade at the Zygarde.

"Who do you think you are, Kline?! You haven't been in Anyilla for literal years before we met just now, so how dare you berate me like this?!" she cried. "Just because you have a vendetta with Elilan doesn't mean you can just dismiss every other problem that others need to deal with! How have you gotten anyone to go along with you with that selfish, arrogant mindset of yours?!"

"I am the Keeper of Balance and have more responsibilities to manage than you do!" Kline snapped. "And last I checked, I didn't spinelessly use my personal safety to pass up on multiple chances to chase after the Ledger! Or flatly refuse to help look for the volume that was on Pioppo! As soon as I saw an opening, I took it!"

Nerea grit her teeth and angrily hopped out of her tub as she spat out a fuming reply to the Zygarde.

"This conversation is over, Kline," the Manaphy said. "I'm not going to stand here and be hectored by a 'mon that sees everyone else as a pawn for him to manipulate!"

"Fine!" Kline shouted. "Go back to cowering at the bottom of the sea!"

Kline and Nerea turned from each other and stormed off with sharp huffs, Percy and Nerea's companions from the Khranitel Rod trading awkward looks with each other, before hurrying off after their respective Protectors. The festive mood in the square froze for a moment, until the lights and sounds of the rest of the festival slowly prompted the nearby villagers to return to their food and drinks. All the while, Nida gave a blank stare after Kline, before she too turned back to her teammates.

"What... just happened?"

"… Looks like Kline's plan to patch things up with Nerea didn't quite go as expected," Alice sighed. Pleo worriedly turned his head at the Sneasel's reply, the young Lugia giving an uncomfortable ruffle of his feathers.

"Is... everything going to be okay?"

Nobody answered Pleo's question, as Alice pawed at her elbow uneasily. After her initial hesitation, the Sneasel turned back to Pleo, forcing a small smile over her mouth.

"I'm sure it will be," Alice said. "But just to be safe, I probably oughta check up on Kline and see how he's doing. We'll touch base later."

Pleo watched as the Sneasel hurried along after her Zygarde teammate and slipped off into the crowd of revelers. As hard as he tried, the young Lugia just couldn't shake a lingering worry over Kline and Nerea's argument when he felt a scaly claw paw at his shoulder reassuringly and turned to see Crom looking at him.

"It'll be alright, Pleo. They're both Protectors, and we're all on the same team," the Druddigon insisted. "I'm sure they'll come around to each other."

The Lugia hesitated for a moment, before turning his attention towards Crom and his friends as they refilled their cups of berry juice. As much as he tried to immerse himself back into the festival, Pleo kept having lingering doubts over how easily Kline and Nerea would be able make amends after their shouting match earlier. All the while, he kept wondering to himself if there was anything he could do to help the two smooth things over.

Bluewhorl Town's festivities continued past midnight, when the less nocturnal residents began to retire for the night, including Team Traveller's members. Even with the festival in his honor and the comforts of sleeping at home, Pleo couldn't help but be nagged by a lingering unease over Kline and Nerea's argument that carried on into the following morning. The Lugia decided to follow up with the pair to try and make sense of what could've gone wrong between them, with a few questions to passersby in town eventually steering him up to the guild, where he came across Team Zephyr at the scenic bluff overlooking the sea.

As Pleo neared, he went up towards the party where he noticed Percy, Calidus, and Alice were there… though curiously, Kline wasn't. The Lugia opened his mouth to ask them where their friend had gotten off to, when his attention drifted off towards the cliff, where he saw Kline on his own staring silently out to sea. The young Protector blinked in surprise, before turning back towards Percy, Alice, and Calidus as he walked up to them with a puzzled look.

"Is Kline doing okay?" the Lugia asked. "He's just standing there."

"Don't worry, he's just talking with Micky," Percy reassured. "Kline said he needed some space."

Pleo tilted his head curiously at the Gliscor's reply. Kline was just standing there all alone, so how could Micky hear him when he was on a different island altogether? As peculiar as it was, perhaps he could ask Kline himself sometime when he was less busy.

"… Should I come back later?"

"I think it's fine, Pleo," Calidus replied. "After last night, Kline could probably use another Protector to talk to."

Pleo nodded back and waddled over towards Kline. The young Lugia watched as the Zygarde remained deeply entranced, prompting him to crane his head down.

"Hey Kline, is everything alright?"

Kline opened his eye, before pivoting on his tail and turning his head back up at the little Protector.

"Oh, hello Pleo," the Zygarde said. "I was just talking to Micky."

"I mean, Percy told me about it… but how are you two doing that?" he asked. "Isn't Micky all the way on Nagrobek?"

"We can communicate with each other from long distances through telepathy," Kline answered.
"It basically means we can talk to each other with just our minds."

"Oh, that's so cool!" Pleo exclaimed. "Can you teach me?"

Pleo's eager curiosity made Kline narrow his eye and curl his features into a dubious frown.

"… I don't think that's something you can learn."

The serpent closed his eye and paused briefly, before looking back at Pleo with a small smile.

"Also Micky says hello to you, in case you were wondering."

Pleo's eyes lit up, realizing that Micky and Kline must be able to pass the things they saw and sensed along to each other. The Lugia waved back at Kline, eagerly chirping back a greeting.

"Oh! Hi Micky!"

The Zygarde gave a bemused chuckle back, making Pleo reply with a happy chirp as he sidled up beside Kline and looked off towards the sea with him.

"So what were you two talking about anyways?" Pleo wondered.

Kline said nothing for a moment, before letting out an audible sigh as he shook his head

"The same thing why you most likely came to see me," the Zygarde said. "I assume you're here because of what happened between me and Nerea last night."

Pleo ruffled his feathers and sheepishly pawed at the back of his head with a wing.

"I mean… you two did seem pretty upset," the Lugia murmured.

"Well, I can't help it that she got so offended after all these years when I was trying to be nice to her," Kline muttered back, prompting the young Protector to tilt his head puzzledly.

"What happened between you two?" he asked.

Kline said nothing for a noticeable moment, before lowering his eye towards the ground.

"Years ago Nerea agreed to partner up with me to get the volumes of Knights' Ledger just like you did," he explained. "We both decided that she'd try to get the Company's volume on Vollezee, but that plan fell apart after she ran into Inler."

Pleo's eyes shot open wide at Kline's reply, realizing the Zygarde meant that Nerea had fought...

"You mean the Company's Director?!" he squawked. "She had to fight him?!"

"'Fight' is probably an overstatement. From what I've heard they briefly traded some attacks while she tried to get away, but yes," Kline replied. "Though given that Inler is Vollezee's ruler it's not that shocking she wound up encountering him while she was there."

Pleo fell quiet and shivered at the thought of having to fight whatever Pokémon would be strong enough to control the whole Company, only for Kline to disrupt his train of thought as the Zygarde continued on with his account.

"Anyway, after she got back she told me she didn't want to go after the Knights' Ledger any longer," Kline explained. "I tried to persuade her otherwise, but she quit our partnership and opted to hide with different ocean clans instead."

Pleo blinked and tilted his head back puzzledly.

"Huh, but why?"

"Hmph, she lost her nerve, of course," Kline scoffed. "And when it was time to regroup and continue on, she got scared and gave up."

"Is that what she told you?"

Kline fell silent at Pleo's question, the Zygarde giving a small shake of his head as he spoke up again.

"Well, no…" the serpent admitted. "But what else could it have been?"

"I mean, if you've never asked her... aren't you just assuming that she gave up because she was scared?" Pleo murmured. "If things happened differently from what you thought... maybe it'd explain why she kept getting so upset."

Kline paused and shifted uncomfortably at Pleo's prodding, as he lowered his gaze to the ground with a sigh.

"Micky did say that I was being too hard on her…" Kline said. "But what am I supposed to do? I can't just erase years of ill will between us!"

Pleo moved a wing to paw at his chin deep in thought. Surely it would be an impossible task for Kline to completely undo such a long and bitter misunderstanding with just an explanation… but...

"Well... what if you didn't need to do it on your own?"

In spite of no new ships coming into port on Tromba that day, Bluewhorl Town's harbor hummed with activity. There, the members of Viktor's clan gathered at the docks, trading chatter with the local harbor-dwellers and dock workers as they loaded up on supplies for the next leg of their wandering journey about the Cradle's sea. In the midst of the clan's reprovisioning, Nerea climbed onto a small rock near the shoreline, looking on quietly as she brooded to herself. The Manaphy heard the water behind her splash, turning to see Viktor and Dimitri swimming up to her.

"Are you feeling alright, Nerea?" Viktor asked.

"I'm fine, Viktor," the Manaphy insisted. "I was just doing my part to help ensure that your clan's ready to swim off by sundown today."

Dimitri and Viktor said nothing in reply and traded glances, before Dimitri looked back at Nerea with a dubious expression.

"... Ty uverena?" the Kabutops asked. "Since you've been kinda tense ever since that moment last night with Kline."

Nerea fell silent for a moment, raising a fin and waving the matter off.

"Don't worry so much about me, Dimitri," she huffed. "I just want to make sure that everyone's properly looked after, and right now that means getting our provisions together."

Dimitri and Viktor gave doubtful frowns in reply but held their tongue before starting to swim off. Nerea lowered herself into the water, preparing to follow after her guardians when a sudden chirp reached her ears from above.

"Huh? You're already leaving today?"

Nerea peered up as Dimitri and Viktor paused, the three turning to see Pleo waddling up on the pier and looking down at the Manaphy with a curious tilt.

"After how happy everyone was that you came, I would've thought that you'd stay around a bit longer."

Nerea said nothing at first, before shaking her head back with a quiet sigh.

"It's the nature of an ocean clan to drift along with the sea's currents," she said. "Besides, I'm a wanted Pokémon. It wouldn't do your island any good if I wound up bringing unwanted attention to it, would it?"

"Eh? But Kline's also got Pokémon chasing after him," Pleo replied. "And he's not in a rush to leave."

Nerea's face curled down into a sour frown at the young Protector's response, prompting him to uneasily shuffle his wings as he carefully weighed his next words.

"I mean... I'm not trying to force you to do something you don't want," the Lugia began. "But it just felt like if you hadn't gotten mad at Kline last night, you wouldn't be in such a hurry to leave. And I wanted to know what had happened between the two of you."

"Hrmph. A Protector's wishes are sufficient reason to swim off, chayka," Viktor cut in. "If Nerea wishes to leave today, we will guide her along."

"Maybe so, but perhaps it also makes sense to heed part of Pleo's wishes as well."

The Dragalge looked back at Nerea in surprise and opened his mouth to speak, only for the Manaphy to swim over to Pleo and motion for him to follow.

"Let's go someplace more private," she insisted. "If you really want to hear the full story, I can do my part to help with that."

Pleo hesitated a moment, before jumping down into the water. The Lugia ruffled his feathers as he surfaced, letting the seawater wash off his plumage as he swam up to Nerea.

"Okay... lead the way, I guess."

Nerea swam ahead of Viktor and Dimitri as Pleo followed suit after the pair out of the harbor and westward for some of Tromba's quieter beaches. The four made their way to a sandy stretch flecked with tide pools, Viktor and Dimitri waiting in the water near the shoreline as Nerea made her way into one of the pools and Pleo waddled out onto the sand. The pair took a moment to settle in their new surroundings, when the Manaphy shot a stern scowl back up at him.

"Okay, first off, what did Kline tell you?" she demanded. "Since he's clearly put you up to this."

Pleo bit his tongue, taken aback by Nerea's sudden change of mood, the young Lugia hemming and hawing uneasily as he tried to explain himself.

"Erm... well... he said that you had tried to get the Ledger from Vollezee after teaming up together. He also mentioned that while you were there, you ran into Inler, and things went wrong and that you didn't want to help anymore afterwards."

Nerea's face maintained its stony, displeased expression, making Pleo shrink back uneasily. The Manaphy moved her head to the side, turning her face up with a disgusted scoff.

"Of course he'd tell it like that," she grumbled, making Pleo shift in place awkwardly.

"Well... if his version of the story's missing some things, what did happen?" he asked.

"Well, context for one. When I went to Vollezee, it was with the help of four different clans, who helped me make my way into Company's main headquarters where the Ledger was being kept," Nerea harrumphed. "We'd managed to get it in our grasp thanks to a stroke of luck before Inler showed up with reinforcements and trapped us."

"Trapped you...?"

"The headquarters were blocked off in every direction after we made our way in, and Inler was there to meet us when we tried to escape," the Manaphy explained. "I'd hoped that we would have had some advantages against Inler as Water-Types since we knew in advance that he was a Ground-Type. Much to our shock, we discovered he'd mastered Thunder and was strong enough to overpower even our toughest fighters with just a few blows."

Pleo blanched and grimaced at Nerea's recollection of events. While it was only logical that Inler would be very strong as the leader of the Company, he never imagined that he'd be strong enough to come out victorious over so many Pokémon that held an advantage over him. But… if he really was that strong…

"How'd you get away then?"

"We fought our way out and had some good fortune, I suppose," Nerea said. "I along with a handful of allies were able to escape thanks to it. We left Vollezee that day with a third of the Pokémon we went there with and nothing to show for it."

Nerea lowered her head, setting her teeth on edge as her narrowed eyes betrayed a glowering bitterness.

"I... just can't stand it when Kline has the nerve to insist that I didn't do enough there," she muttered. "I wasn't the one safely on another island passing messages."

"But why didn't you try again?" Pleo asked.

"Because our attempt and my overconfidence almost destroyed the clans that helped!" she cried. "Even now, Viktor's clan still doesn't have as many Pokémon in it that it had at the time! What sort of Protector would I be if I casually endangered the Pokémon that sheltered and trusted me when what little success we had at first was essentially a fluke?"

"... This is the first I've heard you mention the losses the clans took in Vollezee, Nerea."

Pleo and Nerea turned to see Kline approaching, the Manaphy of the pair locking her eyes with Kline's and hardening them into an icy glare.

"Of course it is, Kline," she glowered. "You never asked. And you always assumed the worst when I refused to try going back to Vollezee!"

Kline stiffened up and scowled back indignantly. Pleo grimaced, thinking that the two were surely about to shout at each other once again, only to see Kline relax his posture and let out a low sigh.

"I... suppose that I did, yes," the Zygarde admitted. "And I apologize for that."

Nerea blinked and stared back incredulously at Kline, the serpent hopping up to the Manaphy and shaking his head apologetically.

"Nerea, it was never my intention to make you feel abandoned or that I used you as a pawn. I'm sorry for how I treated you and for last night, and I hope you can forgive me for it," he said. "Though, I wasn't making excuses for not going to Vollezee back then. Unlike now, circumstances genuinely didn't allow me to fight alongside you there."

Nerea said nothing in reply at first, turning aside to stare off at the docks. After a moment's pause, she shuffled her feet in the water a bit, before casting a sidelong glance back at Kline.

"So, you're also looking for those ledgers, then?" Nerea asked.

"Of course!" Kline piped back. "It's the only hope we all have of being able to live in lasting peace, so why wouldn't I?"

Nerea turned her head back at the serpent's question, shooting back a stern frown as she opened her mouth to speak.

"No, I mean are you looking for those ledgers," the Manaphy pressed. "No more feeding information to others on your behalf. Are you going yourself?"

Kline paused for a brief moment, before replying with a quiet sigh.

"I mean, I've taken this much of a risk by fighting the Company here, haven't I?" the Zygarde responded. "It'd be rather unseemly for me to just slink off right now."

Nerea gave no answer, leaving Pleo to think that perhaps the Manaphy had been unimpressed with Kline's offer, when he noticed that her face was no longer curled into her earlier scowl, but now softened into a small smile.

"Then perhaps we should plan our next move together then," Nerea offered.

"I think that's a great idea! Pleo chirped. "More help's always better, right Kline?"

The Zygarde nodded back in reply, letting out a small chuckle as his features eased and began to match those of his Manaphy counterpart's.

"Yeah, I'd love that, actually."

(Continued in next post.)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
In the days following his summons by Elilan, Ellsberg found himself shuffling back into his normal duties as a notary within the Company's Headquarters. There, he returned to a simple office overlooking the canals outside, furnished with the same wooden desk, shelving, and cushioned seat that a good dozen on his same hallway were. The defining features that set his office apart from the others were a small planter with flowers that Ellsberg kept in the windowsill for the aroma, a glass lantern he lit up with warm-colored candles on occasions where he had to work late into the night, and a stack of paperwork that had been piled up on his desk.

Ellsberg pawed through the papers, disinterestedly perusing through them before occasionally scribbling some runes on them or applying a stamp and shuffling the marked ones into a separate stack of notarized documents. The Mothim quietly repeated the process over and over until he heard his office door open, and spotted a Patrat entering with another stack of papers.

"Your invoices, sir," the Patrat said. "It took a little while to gather them together."

Ellsberg stared briefly at the Normal-Type, before sighing and pointing off at his current batch of documents he had yet to tend to.

"Just leave them there," the Mothim replied. "I'm a little busy right now."

The Patrat nodded back and quickly obliged, shuffling the invoices down next to Ellsberg's stack of unfinished paperwork before exiting the office. Ellsberg looked over at the twin stacks of papers and pinched his brow when the distant chime of clocktower bells reached his ears. The Mothim got up and went to the window as the chimes continued, glancing up towards the sun to see from its position that it was already noontime, right when the Pokémon in the complex started taking their leaves for midday meals.

"... Meh, it'll all still be here after lunch."

Ellsberg fetched his office keys off the table and after locking it up, carried down the hallway, shuffling past offices until he reached an open window next to a stairwell and fluttered out of it. The Mothim flew past the third-story window of his office in the southern wing of the Company's headquarters, occasionally peering down to see the intermingled waterway and terraces below between the complex's core building where the Administrators worked and the peripheral wings ringing it. The open space allowed seafaring members of the Company entrance to the complex, but also provided a favored space for its workers to escape from their duties for brief moments throughout the day.

As Ellsberg flew north along the complex, he spotted the stepped fishway that led up to the aqueduct that connected with the north side of the complex's core. Under an arch of the fishway, a small crowd of Pokémon could be seen going in and out of a set of open doors into the central building that had been built next to a moon pool. Ellsberg flitted down, coming to a stop in front of the entrance into the central building. There, the Mothim entered inside into a large, open hall with other entrances that connected to the rest of the central building that were packed with Pokémon in lavender scarves of all shapes and sizes. Ellsberg made his way towards the back of the hall passing along the edge of a pool to his left that ran the length of the windows where aquatic Pokémon such as a Brionne and a Toxapex who rested at the edge pecked at their food, while to his right Pokémon sat at table on stone stools about tables, a few Pokémon with body types that didn't fit the stools such as a pink and teal-maned Rapidash opting to stand in place by their tables.

When Ellsberg made it to the end of the hall, he took a plate and proceeded through a line where a small assortment of food had been set out as the day's offerings. Like any other mess hall run by the Company, much of it was gummis, though as the dining hall serving the Company's beating heart, extra niceties were made available such as a large spread of produce and baked goods that were set out for display at each meal. The Bug-Type made his way through, taking a few gummis and berries for himself along with a few pastries, filling up his plate as he looked out into the hall for a vacant seat when a Noivern's voice called out behind him.

"Oh, hey. I didn't expect to run into you here, Ellsberg."

The Mothim stopped and turned around, looking up to see Aldrich looming behind him holding a small tray bearing bread, a croissant, and some gummis. Ellsberg blinked out of surprise, before giving a puzzled tilt of his head.

"Aldrich? I didn't know you were now working here at headquarters."

"I'm not. I was just passing through and figured I'd take advantage of the free lunch," the Noivern replied. "Though why don't we take a seat so we can catch up properly?"

Ellsberg moved a tarsal to his chin and cast a glance about the mess hall, when he noticed an unclaimed table a little ways away to his right. While it wasn't exactly planned, it wouldn't hurt to have some company during his lunch break and Aldrich had always seemed pretty friendly. The Bug-Type turned back to the Noivern and gave a small shrug of his shoulders.

"Eh, I'm not in a hurry today. Why not?"

The pair made their way over to the free table, where they set down their trays and quickly settled in. Ellsberg made himself comfortable on his seat, before helping himself to a Green Gummi on his plate. As he made his way through the gummi, the moth glanced back curiously at Aldrich as he bit into a croissant.

"So if you're not working here, why'd you come anyways, Aldrich?" Ellsberg asked.

The Noivern set the remains of his croissant down a moment, before shifting his wings slightly.

"Administrator Elilan is looking for a gift for his daughter before he returns to Nagrobek next week," Aldrich explained. "I'm able to get around town quickly, so I figured I'd lend a wing to help."

"I see... I take it that means Sorge and Zelle are also still in the city?" the Mothim pressed.

"Yes, along with Ketu," the Noivern answered. "Lyn's current plan has allowed him to stay in Canalhouse a bit longer, so he's been using that time to hang out with Sorge. As for Zelle, she's spent a good portion of her time shopping on Afschaffingstraat to make the most out our little bonus we got from Buyeom."

Ellsberg paused at Aldrich's reply. While it was hardly surprising for Team Sentinel to need shore leave like any other Pokémon, the idea of a lot of veteran spies casually going out in the city felt strangely amusing to him.

"I see they're certainly not letting their spare time go to waste," the Mothim murmured.

Ellsberg fell silent, realizing that amid all the abrupt changes that had come since Lyn's mission was rebooted, he hadn't spent his share of the con artists' money yet. The Bug-Type wondered if perhaps he ought to spend some time accompanying Zelle and let some of the local shops liberate a few of his own coins, when his train of thought was disturbed by Aldrich raising his voice from across the table.

"So how have you been settling back into your daily routine?" he asked.

"Alright, I suppose. I can't say that things haven't been going back to normal lately," Ellsberg replied. "Or at least as normal as one can hope when Administrator Elilan or Lyn could upend everything at a moment's notice."

The moth trailed off for a moment, before continuing on with a grumbling shake of his head.

"Maybe I ought to have asked them for specifics," he sighed. "Since it feels at times like I'm just waiting to get blown along by a sudden wind."

"I suppose I don't blame you there," Aldrich said. "This certainly wasn't the homecoming I was expecting. A years-old cover got burned, and all so that Red could give us the slip yet again."

The Noivern ran a claw absent-mindedly around the rim of his cup, before raising it to drink and setting it aside with a brief closing of his eyes.

"Even so, I can't really complain about things," he continued. "I've had time to stretch my wings and take in the city. Won't get too many chances to do that anytime soon once the Intelligence Division hands us down our next assignment."

Ellsberg pulled his gaze up in the middle of a small sip from his drink, the Bug-Type setting it back down as he twitched his feelers puzzledly at Aldrich's reply.

"I'm surprised that you're in such good spirits after such a setback and not knowing where you'll be shipped off to," Ellsberg remarked. "Here I thought things had been rather frustrating for me lately, but I didn't have years of work ruined in a day."

"Well, it depends on how you look at it," Aldrich replied. "It's not the outcome I was hoping for, but at least Red surfaced again after we'd been in the dark about his whereabouts for years. Not to mention it is nice to get to spend some time with Ketu again."

"Hm, I suppose that's true..." Ellsberg mumbled, his sullen demeanor prompting Aldrich to tilt his head back puzzledly.

"Is something the matter?" the Noivern asked.

"Everything about this Protector chase has been an exercise in frustration, and I'm not exactly looking forward to going back to it," the Bug-Type grumbled. "It wasn't exactly fun getting shouted down and put upon by Lyn and his lackeys, much less the rest of the Board thinking that I'm just some pawn to be used at their whim. Becoming a subordinate on my own ship certainly wasn't my choice."

Aldrich listened intently for a moment, before closing his eyes and letting out a small sigh.

"Yeah, I know the feeling."

Ellsberg blinked back in surprise as Aldrich opened his eyes and glanced back across the table with a quiet frown.

"I wasn't always a Noivern, and as you may know, it takes a while for Noibat to evolve," the Dragon-Type explained. "Back then, I wasn't nearly as strong, and most Pokémon in the Company certainly didn't give me the same respect I get now."

The Noivern picked up a Royal Gummi off his tray and bit down into it, before turning his attention back to Ellsberg

"All I can tell you is to not give up and sell yourself short. Even if I wasn't there to see much of it, Ketu told me about how you fought on Buyeom," Aldrich said. "You've got potential, even if a lot of other Pokémon in the Company can't see it right now. Maybe that's even why Administrator Elilan reached out to recruit you."

Ellsberg pawed at a stray hunk of bread on his plate, before giving back a small smile to the Dragon-Type.

"Well, you certainly know how to flatter a 'mon," he replied. "Though thanks for the encouragement, it's helped a bit."

The Mothim nibbled at the bread and reflexively reached back onto his plate only to see he was down to a stray berry. Ellsberg took it and began to eat it when he glanced up at a water clock at the other end of the dining hall and noticed that somehow, it'd moved along by a full half an hour from when he'd left for lunch.

"Egh... I wasn't expecting time to go by so quickly. Guess it's time for me to head back to work," he sighed. The Mothim quickly scarfed down the remaining berry, when he took his tray and rose from the table just in time for Aldrich to interrupt him.

"Oh? Busy day?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm on a bit of a tight schedule," Ellsberg insisted. "And a crowded mess hall like this is a bit hard to hold a long conversation in."

"Touché, though maybe that's a reason for a change of scenery next time," the Noivern said, making Ellsberg twitch his feelers puzzledly before speaking up in reply.

"Hm? What do you have in mind?"

"There's a snackbar out at Hardenheuvel near the Academy," Aldrich said. "The frietjes they make there are pretty great, and there's a clock tower nearby that overlooks the entire district. If you can be there around noon, I'll get you lunch and a view to remember. My treat."

Ellsberg paused at the Dragon-Type's offer, before curling his mouthparts into a small smile and warmly nodding back at him.

"I'm a bit busy tomorrow, but I'll take you up on that the day after. See you then, Aldrich."

The Mothim carried off with his tray to put it away. All the while, he couldn't help but find himself in higher spirits, and quietly looking forward to this lunch and scenic view that Aldrich had to offer.

After the sun had crossed its midday high on Tromba, the local guild's grounds had fallen suspiciously quiet aside from the warehouse at its periphery. There, Kiran led Team Traveller's members in as a steady stream of Pokémon filed past the door. The Swellow and his companions looked about as their eyes adjusted to the dim light to see the seasonal decorations and fireworks that normally were kept here had been shoveled up against the walls in order to free up space for Hatteras and a small crowd of gathered Pokémon to stand in a rough circle.

Kline and the rest of Team Zephyr were already present at the front of the crowd. Osmund was there along with a few of the local guards, as were most team captains from the Guild. There were townsfolk who'd skipped work from their shops and fields, and even Beatrix and Vicente were there with a small number of sailors from the Siglo Swellow. A wet slosh at the doorway made Kiran turn back in time to see Nerea walking along with a Hariyama and a Machoke as they carried in a pair of water-filled barrels and set them down with tired pants, Nerea looking up at the rims of the barrels as Viktor and Kuda poked their heads up and glanced around, the two sea dragons grumbling and fuming to themselves over their awkward accommodations.

"Is this really necessary?" Kuda complained.

"Well, you did insist that you wanted to get involved with planning," Kiran said. "And unfortunately this is where the town meets for that."

"Hrmph, if I had known this was going to happen, I'd have just asked Dimitri to take notes!" Viktor huffed.

Eye rolls went about the gathering, as even Vicente couldn't help but join in finding the Dragalge's complaints to be a touch overblown. After a moment to gather his thoughts, the Hitmontop turned his attention over to the other Pokémon in the gathering and warily folded his arms.

"So now what?" Vicente began. "We've got this Ledger, right? Isn't it just a matter of tipping off the Company and Empire and then revealing we have it at this point?"

"You're getting several steps ahead of yourself," Kline replied, shaking his head back. "For one, we'd need the other two volumes before we could even begin considering forcing a confrontation."

"Huh? Wouldn't the Ledger from Pioppo enough?" Nida asked. "There's no shortage of bad things about both the Company and the Empire in there."

"The volumes interlock and complete each other," the Zygarde explained. "If you don't want the Company or the Empire to be able to twist things to their advantage, you'd need to have the full story to use against them."

Nida blinked in surprise and put a paw to her mouth. While it was to be expected that Kline would have an idea about the ledgers with how long he'd been chasing after them, he sure seemed to know an awful lot about them. The Nidorina's mind turned back to the passages she'd read when she remembered that it was written that three eggs were being researched on Conntow by the Company and the Empire… could one of them have been Kline's? The rabbit opened her mouth to speak, only to trail off, opting to press the matter some other time as Hatteras spoke up.

"So the Company obviously has one of the volumes…" the Guildmaster murmured. "But what about the third? If it's someplace less guarded, perhaps it makes sense for you to go there first."

Hatteras' question made Kline fall silent and shift uneasily, before reluctantly speaking up to answer the Ampharos.

"It's on my home island… Conntow. Which is currently the home of another Protector named Yveltal."

Startled gasps and incredulous cries went about the assembly. Elty seemed particularly surprised, as he went wide-eyed and bolted in front of the Zygarde with an insistent stare.

"Wait, Yveltal?"

Nida and her companions looked over at Elty puzzledly, wondering what about this Protector could have disturbed him so. Before they could pry further, Viktor splashed and shifted in his barrel, turning his snout with an incredulous scowl over to Kline.

"But how can that be?!" Viktor demanded. "Nothing's living on that blasted rock!"

"Not... exactly. It's a long story but the gist of it is that Yveltal is a counterpart to Cernun," Kline explained. "While Cernun's powers hold sway over life, Yveltal's by contrast command death."

The Zygarde fell into an uncomfortable silence, before he spoke up and continued on warily.

"She hatched on Conntow years ago and has been living there ever since. As time has gone by, she's developed somewhat of a command over her powers, but she's... not exactly calm or friendly to visitors," he said. "The area around the island isn't called the 'Dead Zone' these days for nothing, so it's not a matter of just sailing up and asking her for the volume."

Worried murmurs filtered through the crowd at the stark options Kline laid out to them. On the one hand, they could try and sneak into the Company capital and somehow pry a part of the Knights' Ledger out from under the noses of a city's worth of underlings there. On the other, they could sail through waters where ships' crews had repeatedly vanished without a trace since the Great Calamity to try much the same with an apparent death god. A death god that if Kline was right, probably had the power to make them all keel over at the bat of an eye. Why, this sort of choice was like asking a sailor to choose between drowning at sea or burning to death in a ship fire!

"... Where do we even start here?" Ander asked.

"I'd personally recommend Conntow. If we went there, we'd only need to worry about holding out against one Pokémon instead of a whole city of them," Kline insisted. "Besides, I assume I can protect everyone from her powers and I'm sure that with a little work, Yveltal will surely listen to reason..."

"You assume?" Kuda demanded. "You mean, you don't even know it will work?"

Kline grimaced at the Kingdra's question, before letting his eye's line of sight drift towards the ground with an audible hem and haw.

"Well, I know that my powers curbed Cernun's," Kline offered. "So if she's a counterpart to him, it'd only follow that they should work on hers too."

The Zygarde's words drew uneasy glances and worried whispers from the other Pokémon gathered about, Guardia being the first of the lot to articulate her misgivings.

"Eh? But even if your powers do work on her, isn't it the bigger risk to go there first?"

"I don't see why it would be. I clearly elaborated how it was the less dangerous route between the two," Kline harrumphed. "On top of everything that's already dangerous about Vollezee, remember that Team Sentinel went over there only a few days ago. There's a good chance they wouldn't have moved on yet if we went there straight away, and our mission would almost certainly be compromised if we did run into them."

"Yeah, but then we're going to have to take all of the other parts of the Ledger along into that big Company colony," the Cubone said.

The room fell silent and traded antsy looks with each other over the idea of bringing all Team Travellers' hard work directly into the Pyroar's Den of the Company. Kline faltered a moment, as he too began to realize the risk of his original plans as Dimitri spoke up to continue.

"If it really is that much more of a risk to go to Vollezee, then isn't it better to risk losing the one volume we have instead of all of them?" the Kabutops asked. "I'm sure the Company would like the chance to bury whatever dark secrets are written about them within the Knights' Ledger. If they have the whole thing, who will stop them?"

"No me da confianza..." Pladur replied. "It's a matter of time before the Company comes to Bluewhorl Town to try and punish everyone for what happened with Commissioner Bunsen. Shouldn't we be taking whatever route gets us the other parts of the Ledger faster?"

"We already knew that would be coming and started taking some preparations," Osmund reassured. "Don't worry too much about getting this done fast, worry about getting it done right."

Team Traveller's members stopped to think matters over following the Sceptile's reassurance, trying to weigh which of the two routes would be the less dangerous option. After a long pause, Pleo ruffled his feathers, and craned his head up to speak.

"I think Dimitri's got a point and we should go to Vollezee before Conntow. We had so much trouble escaping Giotto, so wouldn't the city on Vollezee be just as dangerous for us?" the Lugia mused. "And if we go to Conntow with all the other parts of the Ledger then maybe we could even have Yveltal help us make the Company and Empire back off!"

Crom and then Kiran murmured in agreement, their other teammates following suit as even some of the villagers were swayed. All the while, Kline narrowed his eye back skeptically, when Nerea stepped forward and spoke to him.

"Maybe it's my bias to my home island speaking, but I do think that it's worth trying, Kline," she said. "Besides, if there's anything you're unsure about regarding Conntow, it would give you a bit more time to try and find out about it in advance with your Cells."

Kline hesitated a moment, before shaking his head with a sigh.

"I suppose that I can't argue with that…" he admitted. "It's settled then, we'll set sail for-"


"Ack! Veikka! Stop jostling like that!"

The gathered Pokémon fell silent and looked around at the sound of a chittering hiss and quiet shuffling and creaking, their attention going up towards the roof as they realized the noises were coming from above.

"Chto za chërt?" Viktor started, only to be answered by a crack and a sharp yelp from above.


A patch of the roof abruptly gave way as Pyry and Pekka fell in, the Vibrava hastily attempted to flutter and stabilize himself, only for his Gabite partner to latch onto him in a panic and drag the two crashing to the ground with a sharp thud and pair of yelps. Pyry let his friend go, the pair getting up with woozy groans before they looked about to see the entire gathering staring at them.

"Uh... hey, just passing through?" Pyry offered.

The duo were answered by scattered growls and glares from the audience. Kuda fidgeted in his tub to get a better view of the intruders, only to narrow his eyes in scowling recognition as he realized them to be none other than the two beach bums who'd berated him from shore the other day.

"And what do you two think you're doing here?!" the Kingdra snapped. "This is supposed to be a private meeting!"

"We and our friends want to help, obviously!" Pekka insisted. "If you're sailing off and going to fight the Company, you're gonna need all the help you can get!"

Vicente frowned and shot a dubious scowl back at the two former pirates, folding his arms over each other with a sharp scoff.

"Yeah, and I'm sure your Community Service has nothing to do with that."

"Hey, we mean it!" the Gabite of the pair insisted. "And if Eltenios can be here, why can't we?"

The surrounding villagers let out dismissive scoffs and snorts in reply, a few mumbling under their breaths about the audacity of the two thieves, when the assembly gradually quieted down as Osmund shook his head and raised a claw to interject.

"They have been better sports about their Community Service sentences lately," he said. "I don't know if that's really an argument for bringing them all onto a crew though, but it is something to consider.."

The Sceptile's assessments drew murmuring debate and even a few scattered agreements from a few nearby Pokémon, only for Elty to sense it was a good time to press the argument and stepped forward to add his own thoughts.

"I mean, you can't argue that they didn't help out earlier with driving out Bunsen and his lackeys," the Growlithe insisted. "Isn't that enough of a reason to hear them out?"

The other Pokémon blinked and traded uncertain glances with one another, before Beatrix flitted forward and spoke up in reply.

"I'm willing to take them along if everyone else here is alright with it," she said. "Though if anyone's got any reason to object to this, I'm all ears."

"Well, I'm willing to give them a chance," Alice insisted.

"I mean, if we're sure they won't cause trouble," Philips murmured. "The extra fighters would always help."

"Yeah, and it's not as if they'd have many options if they tried to run off..." Natrix added.

Cross-chatter floated about the gathering as the lot grew more and more amenable to the idea of accepting the aid of Pyry and Pekka's companions. After a moment to read the room, Beatrix nodded her head and mused aloud to herself.

"I suppose that settles that," she said. "Though what exactly do we need to know before going into Vollezee?"

"Well, I know that after Nerea tried to go for the Ledger the Company moved it to a different location," Kline explained. "I've tried to figure out with my Cells where exactly they moved it to, but I've never had any success beyond some rough leads."

"It's one of those things where we'd probably have more luck after getting there in person. I grew up there, so I think that I'd be able to help get the lay of the land quickly," Percy added. "The plan would be that after we dock in Canalhouse we'll first try to find out where the Ledger is being kept. After that, we'd use our findings to plan out how to steal it and get out before anybody notices."

"Think of it like planning out a heist!" Alice exclaimed. Pyry and Pekka's eyes lit up and they traded excited glances with each other, the pair puffing their chests out proudly as they tried to reassure their new teammates.

"Well, you certainly could do worse than having us around!" Pyry insisted.

"Yeah, we're experts at stealing stuff!" Pekka added, prompting Kline to narrow his eye unamusedly at the pair.

"Somehow, I think this will require a bit more precision than storming in and pillaging," he grumbled.

Pyry and Pekka drooped at Kline's rebuttal, when Trizano cleared his throat and stepped forward to speak up.

"I think that plan can work, though are we sure it makes sense to bring the volume from Pioppo with us?" Trizano asked. "It's safer not to keep all your eggs in one basket, and if we got caught, the Company would just take everything we'd been working for."

"It's an obvious risk," Calidus admitted. "But if we leave it here on Tromba, we probably won't be able to get it back once the Company sends those reinforcements."

"Besides, it wouldn't be the first time we've smuggled along an important book," Beatrix insisted. "And I can think of a few things to try and keep it protected below deck."

"I suppose that settles it, then," Hatteras said. "Though you should push off before dawn tomorrow to make sure you're gone well before the Company shows up here."

Team Traveller and the other Pokémon present from the Siglo Swellow hemmed and hawed over the idea of setting off to Vollezee and Conntow with less than a day's preparations. While it was hard to argue Hatteras' point, were they perhaps getting too ahead of themselves with this mission?

"Are we sure about this?" Ander asked.

"I mean, it's not as if we're sending you out with nothing," Mosca piped. "We'll see to it that you're well-stocked before sailing out of port."

"And I've got my own contribution to add to make sure my niñita can hold her own," Marley said. Nida blinked back wordlessly at her mother's comment, giving a curious raise of her brow.

"You do?"

"You'll see," the mother Nidorina insisted, smirking back at her daughter. "Just be a little patient, mija."

Nida tilted her ear puzzledly, only for her attempts to puzzle out what her mother might be referring to to be cut short by Nerea clearing her throat and speaking up.

"I'd like to also add that you're certainly not in any worse of a position than when I made my attempt. And you won't be going alone, either," the Manaphy reassured. "Viktor's clan and I will be keeping an eye on you all from offshore, and if need be, we'll step in to help you get away."

"Yeah, and we should have some faith in ourselves! We just chased off a Company Commissioner yesterday!" Philips insisted. "If all goes well, maybe we can even end this without another fight!"

The mood in the room brightened and took on a more confident air as Nerea and the others' reassurances served to largely clear away Team Traveller and the sailors' earlier doubts. Elty continued to give an unconvinced frown afterwards, when his eyes drifted over to Pleo, prompting him to hesitate a moment before turning back to the others.

"What do we do about Pleo?" the Growlithe asked. "While it's true most 'mons only know Pleo from a description, he's got a fairly distinctive look. Even if we go in with Company scarves, I don't think it's safe to assume that he won't get recognized."

Elty's question made Hatteras crack a small smile as he glanced over Pleo and gave a knowing look back.

"Oh, I might have a way to get around that..."

The following morning, Nida carried on along at her mother's side as they, her father, and her siblings headed towards the Siglo Swellow at the town's docks. On the way over, she could see the pier humming with activity as the crew loaded provisions aboard the schooner and Viktor massed the members of the Khranitel Rod together. Marley watched as Nida built up ice in her mouth before blowing out frigid puffs, making her curl her muzzle up in a smile.

"Heh, you've been taking to that move like a natural, mija," Marley chuckled, prompting her daughter to blink and tilt and ear back

"Eh? But Melissa just taught it to me yesterday!" Nida protested. "And I didn't even aim it right the last time I tried using it!"

"You'll have plenty of time to get used to it. It's always the hardest part of using Ice Beam," her mother reassured. "But you're my niñita and if you could already get the better of that cheating Dragonite without it, I'm sure it'll serve you well against the Company once you do."

Nida raised a brow back and opened her mouth to reply when she saw Team Zephyr's members pass by. She noticed that Kline had opted to go along with his teammates in his dog-like form that day, which made her wonder if perhaps he sensed this mission would be dangerous from the jump. The younger Nidorina watched the Zygarde as he happily chatted and joked with his companions and thought to herself about how strange it was to see him doing so while in his battle-ready form.

"Take care of yourself out there, dear."

Nida turned her head at the sound of a buzzing voice, where she saw her teammates had gathered at the pier and Sandra and Cassie were embracing Ander in front of the gangplank just as Albert and his team made their way up onto the deck. Crom and his family were also present, Pladur giving a teasing poke at Cenn's belly when the family of Dragon-Types saw Marley approaching and the father and children blanched. Marley blinked and shook her head with a bemused shrug, opting to hang back a moment as Nida carried on and gave a puzzled tilt of her head to Crom.

"Oh? What did we miss?" she asked.

"Just saying our goodbyes," Crom said. "I mean, we're almost ready to start boarding the ship again."

"Tch, you're overselling it a bit," Elty scoffed. "We can't exactly go anywhere without Pleo, and Hatteras still hasn't come back with him and that 'disguise' he's been working on."

Nida blinked back puzzledly at Elty's reply, unsure what to make of the Fire-Type's comment.

"A disguise?" she asked. "What exactly could he be doing that'd take so long?"


Nida and her companions turned at the sound of Pleo's voice to see him running ahead of Hatteras, when much to their surprise they saw his feathers were now a dark purple and his belly, plates, and eye markings were a silvery gray instead of their normal blue. On top of it all, the Lugia's normal scarf was now replaced with a First-Rank Company scarf worn much as one of Lyn's goons would wear it. As he neared his dumbfounded teammates, a grin spread over Pleo's beak, the young Lugia batting out his wings in front of them, proudly showing off his wings' new feathering.

"I'm back!" the Protector chirped. "How do I look?"

Team Traveller's members stared back at a loss for words at Pleo's new appearance, with Ander and his family appearing visibly cagey at the sight. Whatever Hatteras had done to Pleo, he certainly looked different enough to throw off most others at first glance. Why, instead of the regal Guardian of the Seas that they expected, this new appearance looked downright menacing!

"Like you're ready to conquer Anyilla, especially with that Company scarf," Elty remarked. "So... good job, I guess?"

Pleo pawed at the back of his head with a sheepish smile as Guardia sized up Pleo's now-purple plumage warily and gave a puzzled tilt of her head at Hatteras.

"What did you do with his umo to turn that color?"

"We dyed them," Hatteras explained. "It's said that in the old world, there was a time when Lugia's heart closed and his plumes turned purple and silver, while his eyes turned completely blood red. We couldn't get anything to make the eyes match, but a little purple dye here for his feathers and some silver for the blue parts, and his appearance looks just like the legends!"

"And we did try to use the goggles Neil gave me at first for my eyes," Pleo added. "But we couldn't work out how to make the clear parts red and Hatteras said that it would be too obvious that it was just an accessory."

Nida blinked wordlessly for a moment, before giving an askew glance at the Ampharos.

"... Why is this the first that I've ever heard of this legend?" she asked.

"It's not a particularly popular tale," Hatteras replied. "Why, the last time I heard it told was back when Administrator Darzin still ran the island. But sometimes obscurity can work in our favor."

Ander stared at Pleo for a long moment, before the Bug-Type backed away and gave an uncomfortable pat at his shoulder with the flat of his right scythe.

"I mean, I wouldn't have recognized him if I hadn't seen him beforehand, so it can't be that bad of a disguise," the Marked Scyther murmured.

"Well, it does have limits," Hatteras insisted. "We tried to waterproof the dye and it should last if Pleo gets a little wet, but try to keep him from going on any long swims until you're out of Vollezee."

Kiran nodded back at the Electric-Type, giving a sharp chirp in reply.

"Right. I think that shouldn't be too hard."

"There's more, too," Pleo piped up. "I also got these for Dimitri, Pladur, Ander, and Trizano!"

Pleo nosed at Hatteras, prompting him to take out a quartet of blue scarves, before handing them over to Pleo. The Lugia stepped forward and proudly passed them along to the four as one after the other, they unfurled the scarves to reveal they had Team Traveller's white star pattern on them. The four gaped at their scarves, Pladur blinking before looking back surprisedly.

"Uhh... Pleo?" the Fraxure asked. "Not that I don't appreciate this, but aren't we going to be wearing Company scarves as part of our disguise on Vollezee?"

"Well... yes. But we've still got things to do after it too!" the Lugia insisted. "I just thought that if we work as a team it would make sense if we all had the same scarves!"

Dimitri took his scarf, and with Crom's help, proudly fastened it about his neck. The Kabutops took a moment to bask in his new colors, realizing that at long last, after years of poking in and out of various guilds, he'd managed to take his place on a Rescue Team on land after all.

"Heh, well you can't really argue with that," Dimitri chuckled. "Thanks, Pleo. I really appreciate it."

"Yeah, I'll happily wear mine alongside you once we get a chance," Trizano chimed in.

Ander looked down at his scarf and hesitated a moment over whether to don it. As the Scyther began to put it on, the silhouette of a Unfezant flew overhead, prompting the Bug-Type to look over and see Pat landing in front of him.

"Eh? Pat? What's going on?" the Scyther buzzed.

"Time to get going," the Unfezant explained. "Captain Beatrix sent me and a few others to go and wrangle up everybody. The sun's about to come up and we should be pushing off right now."

Gwenith looked over the gathered Pokémon, her gaze settling on her mate and oldest child briefly, before turning to the rest of the party.

"I suppose that makes sense," she murmured. "Good luck out there, everyone."

The mother Druddigon pulled Pladur and Crom into a quick embrace that Cenn joined in on, before letting the Fraxure and his son go to head off for the gangplank. The Dragon-Types were quickly followed one by one by the rest of Team Traveller's members, with Nida rounding off the group by following at the rear. As the Nidorina joined her teammates up the gangplank, her ears pricked up as her mother cried out from behind.

"Mija, wait!"

Nida turned and saw Marley and Teja bounding up after her, the mother Nidorina motioning for a pause as Teja reached for a bag slung over his shoulder.

"You left home without this last time," Marley said. "We wanted to make sure it was there for you before you set off again."

Teja shuffled the bag off and handed it over to Nida, who took it and after looking it over, realized that it was none other than the bag that they'd given her for New Year's just a few months earlier. Nida peered down at the bag and thought back to all the twists and turns her life had taken in those few months, before looking over at her parents, who smiled at their daughter's reaction to her reunited keepsake.

"Just bring it back home safe with you, alright?" Teja chuckled.

"I will," Nida insisted. "That's a promise!"

Nida hugged her parents, the three squeezing each other tightly and trading nuzzles before Marley and Teja let their daughter go. Nida hurried off and darted up the gangplank and onto the deck of the Siglo Swellow, going over to her teammates gathered at the railing as the last of the crew came aboard and the moorings were loosened. The ship jolted, the escorts churning up currents in the air and water to push the schooner forward as the townsfolk cheered them off with wishes of good luck and a safe return. Team Traveller's members waved and called back farewells while the Siglo Swellow set off northwards as the sun slowly came over the horizon, on towards the keys to the peaceful future they were fighting for.

Author's Notes:

- baran - Polish: "ram"
- Ty uverena? (Ты уверена?) - Russian: "(Are) You sure?" (BGN/PCGN Romanization.)
- Afschaffingstraat - Dutch: "Abolition Street"
- Hardenheuvel - Dutch: "Hardridge"
- frietjes - Dutch: "fries"
- No me da confianza - Spanish: "This doesn't give me confidence". Analogous in usage to "I don't know about this."
- Chto za chërt? (Что за чёрт?)" - Russian: "What on earth?" / "What the hell?" (BGN/PCGN Romanization.)
- umo (羽毛) - Japanese: "feathers", "plumage" (Hepburn Romanization)
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Winter can't come soon enough
Long transitional chapter is long. I honestly wonder if you could've split it into two separate parts, with one focused on the argument/make-up between Nerea and Kline and the second focusing on a plan for what comes next. I mean... it's a bit late to split them, obviously, but the party stuff felt like a wind down from last chapter's battle and the planning stuff was basically setting up the next episode. Anyway, since Kline and Nerea had a misunderstanding it's nice that it resolved quickly, since misunderstandings being prolonged by people refusing to talk things out can really annoy readers. I say having been guilty of writing it in the past. Though I do think it's funny the older Kline needed the young Pleo to get him to realize he done goofed.

Don't have much to say about the Ellsberg scene because it felt a bit out of place when the rest of the chapter was entirely focused on Bluewhorl. Maybe it's laying the seeds for something, like Ellsberg and Aldrich running into Team Traveller while going on their lunch datewalking through town. As for the plan, I'm not surprised Yveltal got brought up. I'm definitely starting to see the signs this was a fic that was planned and outlined during Gen VI, with the big trio getting more of a spotlight and Elilan looking like anime!Lysandre. Personally, I think it would've been smarter for them to try and recruit Yveltal, temperamental or not. It would've been more firepower for them. As it stands, I expect this plan to fail. Maybe Team Traveller gets captured. Maybe Kline does, too. Wouldn't be surprised if, somehow, it ends with them in Nagrobek.

"I know it might seem strange to you, but you are more imposing than you give yourself credit for," the Scyther said.
"N-No I'm not! I'm baby!"
We're the law here!

"Is this sham of a trial supposed to scare us?" one of the Zweilous' heads snapped, before the other spoke up. "Go ahead and dig your own graves! The Board will be sending reinforcements to retake this lousy ro-"
Miiiight make more sense to separate multi-headed characters' dialogue if each one has its own voice.
You will be doing tasks around the village in shifts as part of Community Service
See, if this were the ending, I could say we've come full circle. :p
"Cleaning out the local latrines in town, of course," the Electric-Type answered.
you broke the sacred rule of never bringing up bathrooms in PMD fics. now i have to think about this. ._.
Amid the booming of the shells in the background, Nida recounted the tale of her long journey through the Cradle to a gathering of her neighbors and family, who hung with baited breath on her every word.
That's a lot of words they need to hang on to. XP
"Yeah, you'd give most pirates a run for their money with a burp like that!"
Pirates don't have money. That's why they're always stealing.

"There's no shortage of bad things about both the Company and the Empire in there."
ohmygod this whole plot is about unearthing a gossip book to humiliate the high school administration.
"It's on my home island… Conntow. Which is currently the home of another Protector named Yveltal."
And thus, Conntow became the Bermuda Triangle.
The plan would be that after we dock in Canalhouse we'll first try to find out where the Ledger is being kept
Okay, so I know they've addressed Pleo's appearance but, like, wouldn't the Company know what the rest of the team looks like? And what kind of ship they sail?
"Think of it like planning out a heist!"
We interrupt this PMD fic to bring you Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen... and the entire Fast and the Furious movie franchise.
"Yeah, and we should have some faith in ourselves! We just chased off a Company Commissioner yesterday!" Philips insisted. "If all goes well, maybe we can even end this without another fight!"
You know what they say about overconfidence...
when much to their surprise they saw his feathers were now a dark purple and his belly, plates, and eye markings were a silvery gray instead of their normal blue
Is every PMD fic I follow going to shoehorn in Shadow Lugia?
"It's said that in the old world, there was a time when Lugia's heart closed and his plumes turned purple and silver, while his eyes turned completely blood red.
Gotta grab them Orre stans. Also, I feel like this could be foreshadowing something in the future...
"It's not a particularly popular tale," Hatteras replied. "Why, the last time I heard it told was back when Administrator Darzin still ran the island. But sometimes obscurity can work in our favor."
Likewise, I wouldn't be surprised if this foreshadows Darzin seeing through the team's ruse and messing up their plan.

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Though I do think it's funny the older Kline needed the young Pleo to get him to realize he done goofed.

I mean, Kline does have a bit of a stubborn and arrogant streak, as befitting a 'mon whose job is to uphold order in the world. Having someone with a different perspective and a more innocent mind can help out with realizing that you goofed.

As it stands, I expect this plan to fail. Maybe Team Traveller gets captured. Maybe Kline does, too. Wouldn't be surprised if, somehow, it ends with them in Nagrobek.

Ye of little faith! I suppose you'll just have to wait and see how things play out, since things will be escalating in each arc out from here following today's special chapter.

"N-No I'm not! I'm baby!"

Ander: "A very imposing, terrifying baby." ._.;

See, if this were the ending, I could say we've come full circle. :p

Well, they're not fully there yet. Though it is a bit of a parallel, yeah.

you broke the sacred rule of never bringing up bathrooms in PMD fics. now i have to think about this. ._.

That rule was broken a loooong time ago in-story. What did you think a "head" on a ship was considering how cleaning one was bandied around as a threat on multiple occasions?

That's a lot of words they need to hang on to. XP

I would assume Nida skimmed a few parts and didn't give all 900k+ of them. o3o;

Pirates don't have money. That's why they're always stealing.

Correction, they have other people's money. Then they run out of it by drinking and gambling it away and need more of it.

ohmygod this whole plot is about unearthing a gossip book to humiliate the high school administration.

To be fair, more torches and pitchforks would probably be involved after that humiliation, but otherwise that's not that far removed from the gambit they're attempting.

And thus, Conntow became the Bermuda Triangle.

Yup. They do call it the 'Dead Zone' now for a reason.

Okay, so I know they've addressed Pleo's appearance but, like, wouldn't the Company know what the rest of the team looks like? And what kind of ship they sail?

To be fair, they're presumably out of the loop on Nida. And the crew of the Siglo Swellow hasn't realized how much their reputation has preceded them by this point, otherwise they probably would have tried switching ships.

Is every PMD fic I follow going to shoehorn in Shadow Lugia?

But of course. :^)

Likewise, I wouldn't be surprised if this foreshadows Darzin seeing through the team's ruse and messing up their plan.

Well, you haven't seen the last of him. Though there's a few other dangers lurking in the water the team should be more mindful of.

And it took a little longer than I and Virgil had initially hoped, but we've finally gotten that Special Chapter we referred to last chapter together for your reading enjoyment along with some fresh awards from the 2020 Serebii Fanfiction Awards to boot. The next chapter will kick off a fresh arc, which is as of present targeting a release in the next calendar month. It might go by a bit faster since it's on the shorter side, but as always, things ship when finished in this story.

Special thanks for today's chapter goes to @Virgil134 who helped to put this special together, along with @Tangent128 who helped us put the header together. As always, we're eternally grateful for you readers and reviewers and your engagement, and hope you'll find today's Special Chapter worth the wait.

Speaking of it, let's get right into things, shall we?

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Before the Great Calamity upended Anyilla, Canalhouse City had always been a relatively modest settlement known as Canalhouse Town that existed in the shadow of the Imperial capital on Conntow Island. For centuries, the town's defining features had been its construction on a series of islets separated by canals in a lagoon, along with its role hosting the secondary offices for the Company under its Imperial charter.

Over 25 years had passed since then, and in that time, the Company had bitterly split with the crown that once gave it legitimacy, and turned its attention towards building up the city as a capital from which to rule a reunited Anyilla. New islets were dredged, while shorter canalhouses were torn down and replaced with newer ones with more floors. The Mystery Dungeon that sat in the east of the lagoon was cleared and converted into a training facility for the Company's underlings, while satellite communities sprang up on the shores of the lagoon like weeds and were settled with Pokémon from across the Company's territories.

Among the many changes that had come with direct Company administration had been a splurge on great works to grace the city. Some like the Company's headquarters had been put up for its own naked interests, while others like the expanded temple in Manaphy's honor were supposedly built for the public's benefit. Not all of these attempts to recapture the lost grandeur of Middleguard City had been completed, among them was a large arena built along the city's arterial canal, still ringed in scaffolding and surrounded with crude plank fencing plastered with posters bearing the date of an imminent grand opening. There in the dead of night, a pair of shadowy figures gathered just outside the fence around the perimeter, one with scales and a long, trailing head leaf while the other was a furry creature with a flat tail. The figure with the head leaf jumped up and clambered over the fencing, leaving its counterpart to walk up to the base of the fencing, which the light of the moon and stars revealed to be a Dewott, who looked around warily before peering towards the top of the fence.

"Osmund, are you sure this is the right place to be sneaking in?" the Dewott asked.

The fence's planks rattled, as an unseen presence could be heard finding its footing and scrabbling back up the fence. Lyn stepped back as the sound of jostling wood rang out, and a Grovyle's head poked over the fenceline with an outstretched claw.

"Crystal," the Grass-Type answered. "Now hurry up, Lyn!"

Lyn threw his paw up and jumped as Osmund pulled him over the fenceline, landing in a crouching stance on the other side. After a quick spot check of their surroundings, the pair hurried along, ducking into an archway lined with wooden scaffolding that took them in a circular path along the unfinished stadium's perimeter. Lyn and Osmund went forward, passing murals of Pokémon with triumphant poses that glistened from still-wet paint when they found a crossway leading to the left, the pair making their way down it towards dim light coming from the end of a tunnel. One after the other, Lyn and Osmund headed over to the passage's exit, where they found themselves in an empty amphitheater lit up by the stars and the moon above.

The two carried along in dumbstruck awe down the steps towards the arena's pit. Even with scaffolding still clinging to the upper rows of seats where the canvas awning was still being erected, the amphitheater had a sense of grandeur to it. Every stone for the steps and stands was neatly fitted in place, the perches for the Pokémon that kept the spectators safe with Protect barriers at the pit's ring had been freshly installed, and the pit itself looked like it was big and deep enough to host a mock naval battle in it! After a moment to soak in their surroundings Lyn and Osmund approached a patch of scaffolding leading down into the arena's battlefield, the two clambering down into the pitch as the pair walked out, Osmund looking about with a wistful stare.

"I can't believe it's only a month before this place opens up," he murmured. "Mom and dad would've loved to see this…"

Lyn continued on, walking under the stars towards the other end of the field when he turned back with a small scoff.

"A month? You won't need to wait that long," the Dewott retorted. "The Academy's hosting its annual tournament here in just four days!"

"Eh, it's not the same. The tournament's only attended by 'mons already in the Company," Osmund said, shaking his head. "They'll be lucky just to fill the bottom rung of the stands with an audience that size."

Lyn drew his scalchops from his waist, tensing his stance as he gave a small shake of his head back at the Grass-Type.

"Hrmph, I don't think it really matters," the Dewott replied. "I don't know about you, but I entered the tournament for a shot at the big prize."

Lyn flicked his right scalchop up and spun it about his knuckles, before catching it and sweeping it wide. The Dewott looked back at his Grovyle companion, his muzzle tightened into a devious grin.

"Besides," he added. "We didn't come out here tonight expecting a big audience, did we?"

Osmund's leaves on his arms tightened up into blades, the Grass-Type assuming an aggressive stance as he shot a teasing smirk back.

"Heh, well we didn't. Besides, I don't exactly need an audience to kick your tail before the big day!" Osmund shot back. "Show me what you've got!"

Lyn and Osmund lunged at each other, the Grovyle bringing an uppercutting slash from one of his leafy blades at his Dewott opponent that was caught by a timely swipe from Lyn's right scalchop. The Water-Type swung at Osmund with his left scalchop, which found its mark on the gecko's flank. The Grovyle retaliated by jumping back and moving his claws towards his chest, pulling in a greenish swirl of wind that stripped flecks of light from Lyn's body and over to his, making the otter recoil with a sharp yelp. Osmund charged forward with a lateral slash, Lyn hastily deflecting it with the back of his scalchop, before rolling past Osmund and turning back with his scalchops drawn.

"Hah, you're too predictable, Osmund!" Lyn taunted. "I could see your blows coming from clear across the field!"

Osmund looked back over his shoulder, giving a sly grin back.

"Really now?"

Lyn swung at Osmund, making the Grovyle dart for the wall of the battlefield where scaffolding had been set up around a chunk that was still partially plastered. Lyn ran after the Grovyle, when the gecko suddenly clambered up the scaffolding, leaving Lyn to hang his mouth open in frustrated surprise.

"Hey! What happened to sparring?!" the Dewott protested. Osmund peered down, sticking a tongue back at his foe below.

"You know the terrain gets changed up between rounds of the tournament, right?" the Grovyle chided. "You're not going to get a chance to fight on flat ground all the time anyways, so consider this practice!"

Lyn frowned sharply, before spitting up a jet of water at his sparring partner. Osmund darted out of the way, sticking his tongue out at the Dewott on the field below, only for another Water Gun to zip at him. Once again, the Grovyle jumped out of the way of the attack, and shot a taunting smile back down at his foe.

"You really need to get faster than that, Ly-!"

Before he could finish, the Grovyle was struck by a Water Gun that hit him in the face, knocking him back as he latched onto the scaffolding for support. As the Grass-Type fought to keep his balance, he accidentally knocked a nearby toolbox and bucket of plaster loose which fell to the ground with a loud crash, which was quickly joined in by a ghostly-sounding snarl from the other end of the stands.

"Hey! Wie is daar?! This is a restricted area!"

Lyn and Osmund blanched at the shout, turning around as they saw a Drakloak and a Flareon in Company lavenders hurrying over. Osmund hurriedly turned back to his Dewott partner, motioning at him to come over with a frantic wave of his claws.

"Gih! Sparring's over, time to go!"

Lyn quickly ran up to the scaffolding and let Osmund help pull him up before the two rushed into the stands. The pair looked back to see the guards making their way to their end of the stands, prompting them to duck down an archway into an unfinished corridor lined with scaffolding wrapping around the arena. After slipping into the corridor and hurriedly running down it, Osmund turned his head back over his shoulder, where much to his alarm he saw the guards had closed most of the earlier lead they'd had over them.

"Agh! Can't a 'mon get a break here?!"

Lyn turned around and spat up a Water Gun at a bucket on some nearby scaffolding that fell square in front of the pursuing Flareon, making her stumble back with a startled yelp.


The Flareon slowed and struggled to keep her balance, as Lyn and Osmund ran ahead and clambered up the scaffolding wrapping the exterior of the arena. The pair hurried along as their feet thudded against the planks underneath, when a rough, ghostly voice bayed ahead of them.

"Hold it right there!"

Osmund and Lyn looked up to see the Drakloak floating out into their way and blocking the scaffolding. The pair hastily tried to double back, when the Flareon from earlier caught up, cutting off their escape with a low snarl.

"Game's up, you little runts!" the Drakloak snapped.

The two grimaced at the sight of the Flareon and Drakloak cornering them, Lyn looking around frantically and finding nothing but an obstructed archway to his right, and the water of a canal far below him to his left. The otter froze as the guards encroached on him, when he felt a sharp yank at his paw and yelped as he tumbled off the scaffolding with his feet kicking in midair above him. The Dewott looked down, seeing the blackened water of the canal quickly approaching, and frantically straightened his body out into a dive and screwed his eyes shut just before his head hit the surface.


Lyn struck the water and felt himself submerge into it, the Dewott pulling his body up as he felt his feet brush silt underneath. Lyn cracked his eyes open, waiting for them to adjust to the dark around him when he saw the moon's glow from above. The Water-Type batted his tail and swam up, breaching the surface to see that he was in the middle of the canal and looking up at the unfinished arena. The Dewott let out a sharp sigh of relief and made his way over to the canal's edge, pulling himself out and onto the paved street and shaking brackish water out of his fur when he heard coughing come from behind him and saw Osmund's sopping form tiredly latched onto the wall of the canal.

"Hey! Whatever happened to helping a 'mon up?" the Grovyle piped. "You're not just going to let me flail around down here, are you?"

Lyn rolled his eyes, before giving a sharp frown down the Grass-Type in the water.

"Just saying, you should be able to manage this. And jumping from the scaffolding wasn't my idea," the Dewott muttered.

"Well it was either that or making you climb further up the scaffolding after me," Osmund insisted. "So cut me some slack here!"

Lyn stooped down and took Osmund's claws, pulling him up as the Grovyle stumbled onto his feet. Osmund brushed the canal's water off his scales, before the sound of shouts in the distance drew the pair's attention back to the darkened upper levels of the arena.

"… I guess that won't be the last we'll hear of them," Lyn murmured.

"Oh come on, we can't be the only Dewott and Grovyle from the Company in this city," Osmund snorted. "What are the odds they'll know it was us?"

"Of course it was you two…"


A pair of thick files fell against a low desk, reverberating off the walls in a small, windowed room overlooking passing Pokémon and watercraft in a canal outside. Lyn and Osmund flinched at the sound, looking down to see that each file carried their name, species, and a year label, before looking up to see a harsh glare coming from the Torterra who dropped the files in the first place from the other end of the desk.

"When I heard that a pair of our students had been caught trespassing in the new arena, why on earth was I expecting it'd be anything other than more of your childish antics?"

Lyn and Osmund shifted in their seats, the Dewott pawing at his shoulder as the Grovyle shot a teasing smirk back at the Torterra.

"Well, they didn't catch us this time," he insisted.

Lyn tried and largely failed to stifle a snicker at Osmund's retort, which made the Torterra lean in across the table and shoot over a harsh glare. The pair hastily bit their tongues as the elder Grass-Type said nothing for a long, scowling moment, before returning to a resting position with a sighing shake of her head.

"Look, I can yell at you until I'm out of breath, but that obviously won't accomplish much," the Torterra harrumphed. "So let's try a different tack… what sort of Pokémon do you two want to be after leaving the Academy?"

Lyn and Osmund traded askew glances with one another, before the Water-Type of the pair turned back to the teacher with a skeptical frown.

"… Is this some sort of trick question?" Lyn demanded.

"No trick," the Torterra insisted. "Just slow down, take a breath, and give me an honest answer."

"Look out for my sister, stomp a tail or two, and get paid nicely for it," Osmund scoffed. "Maybe not everybody's got a sister they need to watch over, but isn't the rest what everyone in this school wants once they're out?"

The Torterra said nothing in reply and stared back sternly, before turning her head over to Lyn.

"Perhaps. And what about you, Lyn?"

Lyn fell silent for a noticeable pause, before shaking his head, and warily speaking up in reply.

"I'd like for my family to have the life we used to have when my dad was still sailing for the Company."

Osmund gave an uneasy tilt of his head over at Lyn as the Torterra remained quiet, before rocking her shell slightly and raising her voice to speak.

"Alright, and how exactly will you two get that if you don't graduate from here?" she asked.

Lyn and Osmund froze, each tripping over their words as they each both tried to muster an answer that sounded convincing to themselves. Lyn was first to gather his thoughts, screwing up his face back into a defiant scowl.

"I'm sure we'd manage," he scoffed. "It wouldn't be the first time either of us have had to think on our feet."

The Torterra's frown deepened as she hardened her eyes back at the Dewott, with an expression that all but bored holes into his pelt.

"I remember your brother said something very similar back when he was in the Academy. He dropped out about a year later," the teacher replied. "You must keep in touch with Sevan, don't you? Just what has he been doing lately?"

Lyn twitched his whiskers and squirmed at the Torterra's question, the Dewott's earlier confidence melting into visible unease. The Water-Type shifted and gave an uncomfortable paw at his arm, his eyes darting away from her gaze.

"He… takes missions providing defense for different groups in the waters around the border regions," the Dewott muttered back. "I haven't seen him in a while, but he sends back money to help Mom and I get by."

"And do you really think he'd have to go so far off to earn a living if he'd stayed and graduated?" the Torterra asked, narrowing her eyes. "Is he better off for it? Are you and Marina better off for it?"

Lyn said nothing after his teacher's mention of his mother. While his older brother had always tried to lend a helping paw, it was hard to argue with a straight face that him drifting along the seas from one job to the next as a sellclaw was better for his family than if he'd just graduated from the Academy and gotten a normal job in the Company. The Torterra shifted in place behind the table, before closing her eyes with a tired sigh.

"Look, even if you two don't make it easy sometimes, the reason why I'm pulling you two aside like this is because I'm concerned for you," she explained. "Both of you don't exactly hail from well-to-do neighborhoods, and were we in Tidemill City right now, there wouldn't be an Academy to give you a chance to have a life outside of them. You two are both at a point in life where it's still relatively easy to come back from your mistakes, and to open doors for the future."

The Torterra opened her eyes again, looking over the two younger Pokémon on the other end of the table with a shake of her head.

"I assume that's why you're both listed on the roster of entrants for the annual tournament, since even you understand what placing well in it means for opportunities within the Company," the turtle said. "But even the most promising doors can get closed off from poor choices, and with the way you two have been acting at the Academy, it'd give 'mons pause even if you won the tournament outright. If you got that far…"

Osmund tilted his head back, giving a puzzled raise of his brow back at his teacher.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that the tournament starts in three days," the Torterra insisted. "If I have to deal with you two here again before it ends, I can't guarantee that you won't be pulled from the roster."

Lyn and Osmund gulped and fell silent, as the turtle leaned in across the table and continued on.

"Be mindful of that. If it was up to Professor Gerhard, the two of you would've been expelled ages ago," she warned. "Don't go giving others an excuse to follow through. Are we clear?"

One after the other, Lyn and Osmund grudgingly nodded back to the Torterra, giving a quiet reply that came out in rough unison.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good," the Torterra harrumphed. "Now go back to your classes."

Osmund and Lyn got up and drifted out the door sulking into a hallway lined with windows on the other end. The pair hung a right and walked down a ways, Lyn's eyes drifting out into the plaza in front of the Academy's outer entrance, anchored by a large statue of a Haxorus that faced off towards a canal at the other end of the square. After walking far enough to be confident they were out of earshot, Osmund let out a sour huff and shook his head with a grumbling frown.

"Pah, what a pill!" the Grass-Type complained. "Would it have killed her to lighten up a bit?"

Osmund grumbled and shifted the weight of his satchel on his shoulders, turning for the right as he peered off down the hallway.

"I've got economics courses right now, so I guess this is it for a while," he said. "Were we still meeting up after classes to hang out today?"

"Can't, I need to fill in at the shipyard this evening," the Dewott sighed, prompting his Grovyle companion to raise a brow in surprise.

"Eh? You're scraping hulls now?" Osmund asked. "I thought that was your mom's job."

Lyn pawed at his shoulder uneasily, letting his eyes drift away and down towards the floor.

"She's been getting sick again."

He trailed off and fell quiet as Osmund waited on the Dewott to say more, giving his friend a worried look before he hesitantly spoke up to press the matter.

"Again? But she had been sick only a few months ago," the Grovyle said. "Are you two doing alright?"

Lyn bit his tongue and gave no reply at first, before tightening his muzzle into a brave face and shaking his head back.

"Tch, you worry too much, Osmund," Lyn insisted. "The head of our family was a Company Commissioner for crying out loud! It takes more than a little illness to beat one of us down!"

The Dewott followed with his Grovyle companion until they reached a fork in the hallway where they parted ways, Osmund looking after him for a moment before opting not to press the matter further. All the while, the brave face Lyn had summoned faded away more and more with each step as a palpable unease settled about him.

After classes let out at the Academy, Lyn made his way over to the shipyards around Canalhouse City's public port in the west where he spent the evening much as he had for most of the past few days, scraping scum and gunk off of the hulls of docked ships in the water. In normal times, it was his mother who would fill the role, with her larger frame allowing her to get more work done and take home more pay than what the Dewott could manage, who had only managed to get through a caravel and a schooner with his cleaning crew that evening.

Lyn collected his meager earnings for the evening before swimming his way north and east, dutifully sticking to the water where the salty tang and the sound of waves, passing Pokémon, and their watercraft would drown out the sounds and smells of taverns and eateries along the canals, lest they tempt him into parting with his few tin coins. The Dewott's course took him into a patch of islands that had been dredged in more recent years and crammed with short, stone buildings- Drieboog, as the neighborhood was called.

After pulling himself out of the canal next to a rickety bridge, Lyn shook himself dry and made his way down a street lined with sorry-looking hovels with windows and doors fashioned from odds and ends with a couple of the shacks missing one or the other entirely. The Dewott eventually came upon one of stone houses that had a crude wooden door at the entrance and oiled papers for windows, before raising a paw and sharply knocking at it.

"Mom, I'm home!"

Lyn pried the door open and entered, blinking a few times as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. On the right side of the room was a fire pit over which he and his mother usually boiled their water and heated their meals, along with some clayware and meager foodstuffs. To the left was a mat and a wobbly low table with four tatty red cushions set out that in parts seemed to be little more than a mass of patches, and a small dresser in the corner in which an old sea scope had been left on top of it.

An undyed cloth covered an entrance to a room in the back, which slipped to the side as a visibly gaunt female Samurott emerged with prominent bags under her eyes, the mother otter looking down with a small smile.

"You look tired, Lyn," Marina said. "Work wasn't too hard today, I hope?"

Lyn shook his head, throwing his satchel next to one of the cushions before sitting down and pawing through its contents.

"Hrmph, it's nothing that I can't manage."

The Dewott pulled out a small pawful of tin coins and slid them onto the table. Marina looked down with an uneasy grimace as she sifted through the coins, prompting Lyn to paw at his shoulder and look away with his ears folded back.

"I was hoping to work later to make a bit more, but they said they didn't have anything else for me to do after the last ship I worked on," he sighed.

"It's alright, dear. There's no need to wear yourself out like that," Marina reassured. "Once things are back to normal, it'll be my duty to-"

Before Marina could finish, she broke out into a deep cough. The Samurott's coughing drug on, making Lyn jolt up from his seat wide-eyed in alarm.


Lyn ran up and patted at Marina's side, the Dewott's paw running across her hide when he noticed he could feel his mother's ribs, a sign that her illness was making her lose weight again. The Samurott's cough subsided, leaving her to gasp for air for a few moments as she shook her head.

"It's- It's alright, I think that I'm good now," Marina wheezed. "I just need a little water."

She started to make her way over to the other end of the common room where the clayware was kept, only for Lyn to dart ahead of her and snatch a pitcher and a cup from the shelf. The Dewott set the cup on the table and poured it out, staring back worriedly at his mother as she hesitated a moment, before going over and accepting her son's generosity. As the Samurott drank, Lyn hung his head, giving it a low, grumbling shake.

"I just don't understand why this is happening," the Dewott muttered. "You'd just gotten over this same sickness a few months ago, and now it's back and bad enough that you can't even work!"

"I beat it before, didn't I?" Marina insisted, smiling back at her child. "I'm sure this time will be no different with your help. And Sevan has been doing his part as well."

She took a satchel from a nearby drawer and pushed it onto the table. Lyn sighed in relief, recognizing it to be the money that his older brother sent back from his earnings as a mercenary to try and help out. With how tight things had become since their mother had fallen ill again, the money he sent back had been a veritable lifeline… except, when he picked up the satchel Sevan had sent this time, he immediately noted that it felt amiss in his paws.

"… Is it supposed to feel this light?"

Lyn loosened the strings about the bag and poured it out onto the table, where much to his alarm only a small pawful of Poké coins fell out. The Dewott blanched and counted up the gold-colored coins based off their value, before shaking the bag again and pulling it inside-out with a startled stammer.

"H-Huh?! There's supposed to be more than this!" Lyn cried. "Sevan sent almost double this amount last time!"

"… Sevan sent a letter explaining that he'd been having trouble finding work this month, and this was all that he could spare," Marina explained. "He said that he'll send out another parcel for us as soon as he can find another job to take."

Lyn grimaced and let his eyes fall towards the ground, the Dewott holding a paw to his forehead as his breaths came out anxious and shallow. The mother Samurott sidled up, pawing reassuringly at her son's shoulder .

"I'm sure we can make it work, dear," Marina insisted. "And I know your father is out there working hard, he's surely looking out for us right now."

Lyn's mood soured after Marina brought up his father, the Dewott getting up and pulling himself away from his mother's grasp as he shot back an annoyed scowl.

"I'm not holding my breath on him," he growled. Marina drew back with a worried look, before leaning in to try and reassure her child.

"Lyn, your father's always-"

"Dad literally left us in the middle of the night with a note and his stupid scope on the table saying he was taking an off-the-record mission for the Company," the Dewott snapped. "We haven't gotten so much as a letter from him in the two years since then! If that's his idea of trying to look out for us, then I never want to see him again!"

Lyn stormed off for the rear room, which was a spartan chamber that served as his and his mother's bedroom. Piles of straw bedding had been set out on the left and right sides, with a small chest crammed under a lone window in the middle of the back wall. Marina's bedding consisted of a heap that sat on the left near the window, with another smaller pile sitting on the opposite side of the room that her child used. A pair of seamitars hung on the wall above Marina's bed and a pair of scalchops over Lyn's, the smaller secondary blades their kind wielded in a pinch that both mother and child had dutifully grown after their evolutions by shelving their main blades one at a time. At the entrance, there was another pile about the size of Lyn's that had been set out for Sevan in the blue moons that he managed to return, along with another, larger pile on Marina's end that had gone unclaimed for what felt like an eternity in spite of being dutifully tended to.

Lyn stomped up to his straw bed to the right of the room's window and flopped down on it, curling up and looking away as he heard Marina follow him in. His mother hesitated for a moment, before sighing and settling down in her own bedding, the straw crunching underneath as she shifted and tried to make herself comfortable to sleep.

The Dewott's features eased a bit, as he stared off into the night out the window, where above the lights of Canalhouse City, he saw the Guardian of the Seas' Traveller beginning its ascent over the rooftops. Lyn had never paid much mind to the folklore of Protectors and the like after his father had been disgraced from the Company, but that night, he couldn't help but wonder if the old gods' spirits in the sky really did watch over the world below…

And if they really did, why did it feel like they were doing their best to ignore him and his family's plight?

Three days later, Lyn pulled himself out of the water just outside the Strandmeer Arena and ran in, the Dewott skipping his normal pause to brush himself dry as he hurried in still dripping brackish water. The fence around the arena had been removed since his last jaunt there, as had some of the scaffolding cluttering the hallways into the stands. Otherwise, little beyond added daylight had changed from the path the Dewott took to the arena last time. There was one audible exception, as the Water-Type's ears picked up a churning burble that grew louder and louder as he neared the exit of the corridor out into the stands.

When he emerged into the sunlight, the source of the hubbub became clear. There, the entire lower tier of the arena was packed full of Pokémon donning lavender scarves. Lyn stopped to catch his breath for a moment before he made his way about, noticing that most of the Pokémon present wore scarves bearing the unmarked design of students from the Academy, while some bore the ranked designs of those who already had positions in the Company.

The team of Protect users that was tasked for hemming attacks from the day's matches had already taken their places and begun practicing their barriers in preparation for the day's events. At the same time, a few Pokémon were going about the stands to poles with badges affixed to them that had been set up in strategic locations for the audience to better hear announcements in order to perform final sound tests. Down in the arena pit, a wooden podium had been set up with decorations bearing the Company's sigil when Lyn noticed Osmund up ahead seated in an emptier row, prompting the Dewott to approach and sit down beside him before flattening out his ears.

"Would it have killed them to make it clear that morning announcements weren't going to be on campus today?" Lyn grumbled.

"Eh? I thought it was obvious when they said that announcements were going to be held at the venue today," Osmund said. "The tournament's always been an all-day event for as long as it runs."

The Grovyle curled his mouth up into a teasing smirk, before giving a playful jab with one of his claws at Lyn's shoulder.

"But hey, you could've always hung around with the underclassmons and others who skipped the tournament," he teased. "You remember that card tournament that we entered last year while the school was busy with the normal one, don't ya? Not every 'mon gets another chance at the big prize there."

Lyn turned back to Osmund, narrowing his eyes into an unimpressed scowl.

"… Wasn't that just a foiled Charizard card?" the Dewott asked, prompting Osmund to fold his arms with a teasing smirk.

"Well, I didn't say it was a comparable prize, did I?"

Lyn rolled his eyes in reply and curled his mouth down into a pouting frown, when he noticed the audience had abruptly quieted and turned their attention to the podium in the arena pit. Lyn followed their gaze just in time to catch an Alakazam in a Third-Rank scarf ascending the podium and fiddling with a badge affixed to his scarf, before glancing about the audience and speaking up in a voice that carried out into the stands.

"Okay everyone, welcome to the annual tournament," the Alakazam said. "It should go without saying as to who I am, but in case anyone's been living under a rock, my name is Professor Gerhard."

Groans and grumbling murmurs went about the crowd as Lyn and Osmund too found themselves joining in. Rather than an instructor at the Academy that was actually liked by his students, the Academy opted to let its head - known for his ego, his intractable personality, and his tendency to publicly humiliate his students - open the ceremonies instead.

"Ugh, of course he had to give the opening speech," Osmund groaned.

"In the years that I've led the Academy I've seen two types of Pokémon graduate from here, who are much like Pokémon who try to climb the tallest mountains they can," the professor continued. "The first are the types that make it to the top of Mount Diadem on Shennow Island, the tallest mountain in the entire Cradle. These are the Pokémon that go on to become the Company's best and brightest."

Gerhard paused for a moment, waiting on his audience to speculate to themselves what the other type of graduate might be, before the Psychic-Type shook his head with a dismissive smirk.

"Don't even bother setting your sights that high," Gerhard harrumphed. "Most of you simply lack the strength and willpower to even get close to that level."

The professor's words drew quiet huffs and complaints from the students, as even Lyn and Osmund couldn't help but sulk at the Alakazam's unsupportive tone before he carried on with his speech.

"The second type of Pokémon, the ones that I see graduating from here more commonly, are the ones who make it to Mount Starfall on Gestirn Island, the tallest mountain here in Anyilla," the Psychic-Type said, nodding to himself. "Now that is something most of you can do. All it takes is the right motivation, the right knowledge, and the right guidance… from the right person…"

Gerhard puffed out his chest proudly and brushed the Third-Rank scarf about his neck, before looking expectantly at his audience. The Alakazam waited for a few brief moments when he realized that the students weren't reacting to his prompt. The professor stared wordlessly for a moment and let his features fall down into a sour frown, before continuing on in an audibly unimpressed and deflated tone.

"And of course there are those who fail to graduate because of their laziness or ineptitude," he scoffed. "We don't need hopeless cases like that here in the Company, so good riddance. Luckily that shouldn't be an issue for anyone present here."

Gerhard raised his left hand, pointing off at a glistening, golden cup with a prominent base and handles on each end that sat on a temporary display safely enclosed in a glass case. The audience's attention seemed to move along with the tip of the Psychic-Type's finger towards the tournament's trophy as enraptured stares and excited chatter broke out.

"As always, the winner of this tournament, the Pokémon who actually makes it to the top of Mount Diadem, will be guaranteed a promotion to a Second-Rank position after graduation," the Alakazam said. "However, this tournament is an opportunity for the rest of you as well. Prominent members of the Company will be watching you, including the Board's latest member, Administrator Farn."

Gerhard motioned off towards his right towards a large box stand built overlooking the dividing line of the battlefield. There, the form of a Luxray walked up and looked out over the stands with a stern frown, Lyn and Osmund looking up as the Grovyle blew a small raspberry and frowned.

"Yeesh, I can tell she's a real pill just by looking at her," he remarked. "Can't she put on a smile now of all times?"

"I dunno, don't Administrators need to come off as imposing to some extent?" Lyn asked. "She definitely isn't lacking on that front."

The pair's attention drifted back to Gerhard, who tapped at the badge on his scarf and looked back up at his audience.

"Anyway, does anyone have any questions?"

The Alakazam was answered with silence barring an occasional stray cough. The Psychic-Type scanned the seated students, and saw a few noticeably avert their gaze from him, prompting him to frown and shake his head with an unimpressed huff.

"Hmph, since everyone's in such a hurry, let's get started then," he harrumphed. "You can find the matchups on the board in the foyer."

Gerhard watched as the students in the audience began to make their way for the exits from the stands back out into the hallway, leaving him to brood and glance up at the box seat overlooking the center of the arena. The Psychic-Type closed his eyes and entered a state of focus, before vanishing in a flash of light. When Gerhard opened his eyes again, he found himself in a shaded area lined with low furniture set up with lavender cushions and matching curtains, where a Luxray reclined on a couch looking out over the stadium. The Alakazam approached, grumbling to himself all the while over his disappointment with how his opening speech had been received.

"The lack of initiative with these students," the Psychic-Type scoffed. "Nobody bothered to ask what mountain I made it to."

"Hmph, don't worry about such trivial things, Gerhard," Farn said. "There's more important things at hand."

The Luxray raised her head and turned her attention past the railing of the stadium box, peering out over the remaining students exiting the stands with an idle bat of her tail back and forth.

"I'm not helping to oversee this tournament just for my own amusement," the Electric-Type continued. "I'm still settling into my new position, and one of the things that I need to take care of is filling my newly-opened positions with fresh blood."

"Well unfortunately, this is the best we can offer this year, Administrator Farn," Gerhard sighed. "Perhaps you might have more luck asking for referrals from your old colleagues."

Farn glanced about the field, her vision briefly settling on a group of students that had gone up to check the listing of matches with Lyn and Osmund at their fore, leaving her muzzle to curl up into a small smirk.

"We'll see. Though I think there's some more promising candidates in this batch than you think."

"Have at you!"

An hour later on the pitch of the Strandmeer Arena, the field had been set up to be a marshy mire where water and muddy grass intermingled with each other. There, Osmund braced himself as a visibly worn-down black and white Linoone ran at him in a zigzagging pattern. The Grovyle tried to stay on his toes when the Dark-Type lunged at him with a slash trailing shadowy wisps, the Grass-Type attempting to duck out of the way only to feel the Linoone's claws rake his left arm.


Osmund quickly checked his arm to see a ruddy streak just above his leaves, the gecko gritting his teeth with a harsh glare as he quickly hopped back. The Linoone whirled about to give chase, when Osmund suddenly lunged at the Dark-Type and swung the blade of his right arm at the Linoone, catching her in her side.


The Linoone lost her footing and flopped into the marshy mud with a wet splash and pained groan to the roaring delight of the crowd. Osmund steadied himself for his foe to spring up, only to see the Dark-Type remain still beyond her chest weakly rising and falling. Cheers reverberated around the arena, making him fan the leaves on his right arm back out and look around as the spectators applauded him.

Osmund gave a bow, and watched as a Hattrem and Wigglytuff in red medics' scarves helped the Linoone start to limp off the field, before starting to make his way off for a corridor built into his end of the battlefield where a grate was being winched up. The gecko slipped into the shade as the roar of the crowd began to die down, and let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. There, Osmund saw Lyn leaning against a wall, waiting on him and giving a few sharp, slow claps with his paws. The Grovyle slowed his pace as his companion got up and walked forward, giving a skeptical tilt of his head back.

"Fight kinda dragged on a bit there, don't you think?" Lyn asked.

"Meh, it's a sign that the 'mon was actually trying," Osmund replied. "Though she should've known better than to try and mess with a Grovyle's leaves like that. It's not the sort of stunt we take lightly."

Lyn snatched his right scalchop with his paw, idly spinning it about his digits before grabbing onto it and stilling it, casting an aside glance back at Osmund.

"Eh, I wouldn't complain about my opponents here being easy to beat," he retorted. "It'd just move me along quicker to the real challenges."

The Dewott's ears twitched after hearing his name get called out from the arena and turned towards it, where even with his kind's nearsightedness, he could make out the Protect users at the edge of the pit practicing their barriers and spot the form of a Castform idling along the side of the battlefield. Lyn shook his head, before sheathing his scalchop and looking back at Osmund.

"I guess that's my cue," the Dewott said. "This next match is mine for this round."

Osmund leaned in and pat Lyn's shoulder, the Dewott seeing the Grovyle's face had curled up into a playful smile.

"Heh, knock 'em dead out there!"

Lyn smiled back before heading down the corridor towards the battlefield. He made his way along, hearing the grate shut behind him as he felt the marshy sedges and muck underfoot. The Dewott slowed his pace and looked about the field, where he saw neither hide nor hair of the opponent he was supposed to face.

"Eh? What's taking so lon- Ack!"

Lyn pratfell into the field's marshy water as he felt a warm jolt run up his left leg. The Dewott whirled and looked over to his left, where he saw a flat, brown fish with eyes on top of his head slip past with a taunting sneer.

"I didn't think it'd that easy to catch you off guard, Dewott," the Stunfisk sneered. "You might as well just give up now if that's all it takes to trip you up!"

Lyn glared, before getting up and walking forward to take his place at the battlefield, the Stunfisk doing much the same at the other half. The two Pokémon faced each other down, as the Castform referee approached from the right side of the battlefield, and after taking her place at the field's midpoint as the stadium began to chant a countdown.




The Castform fired a Weather Ball into the air with a sharp "Go!", kicking the match off much as she had many times earlier that day. At once, Lyn spat up a jet of water from the back of his throat and struck the Stunfisk square in the face. As the Ground-Type flopped to and fro stunned, Lyn ran forward, readying his scalchops to press his advantage when the Stunfisk abruptly jumped up and spat up a glob of mud at Lyn.


Lyn stumbled back and looked down to see mud coating his chest, the Dewott brushing his fur to flick some of it loose as he continued running forward. The Stunfisk slipped off and began to dart away in the water, making Lyn hurry after and raise a scalchop as he neared. The Dewott grit his teeth and readied his blade for a swing, when the Ground-Type suddenly dug his tail fins into the marshy earth.

"Hé, hou je ogen open!" the Stunfisk jeered.

The Stunfisk abruptly popped up into the air and flung a glob of mud back at Lyn's face. The Dewott raised a paw to try and shield himself, only for his defense to come too late as the mud struck him and got into his eyes.


Lyn reflexively reached for his eyes and attempted to brush the gunk away, when he suddenly heard a loud crack and felt the hot, painful sensation of an electrical current flow through his body. The otter fell over and thrashed, gasping as the Thundershock's effects subsided and feeling started to return to his limbs along with the Stunfisk's mocking laughter pricking his ears.

"You're really not helping your case here by falling for a simple trick like that!"

His vision still darkened, Lyn reflexively whirled around and swung his scalchop at where he thought he heard the Stunfisk, only to feel it sail through nothing but empty air. Another shock coursed through the Dewott's body as he cried out in pain, jolting back with a yelp as he heard splashing and the Ground-Type's taunts coming from beside him.

"But that's fine by me!" the Stunfisk sneered. "I'll be looking forward to wearing that Second-Rank scarf!"

Lyn shuffled and tensed up as he could hear the Stunfisk circling him in the marshy water. There was no way to even begin to tell where the fish would be next, and every swing he made was a shot in the dark with no clue as to whether the blasted Stunfisk was actually in front of him or not! Why, there was no way to hit the fish unless he swam straight up to him!

… Though the more Lyn thought about it, perhaps he could get the Stunfisk to do just that with the right ruse. Feeling his right foot submerge in water, Lyn pitched himself forward and gave out a forced cry from his throat.


Lyn flopped into the water, quickly washing out his eyes before squeezing them shut. He lay there, holding his breath as he felt the water around him begin to churn, and a burbling voice reach his ears through the water.

"Hah! Piece of ca-"

Lyn shot his eyes open and swung a scalchop at the Stunfisk with a Razor Shell, finding his mark on the Stunfisk's face just as the fish discharged another Thundershock. The two both yelped and stumbled back, Lyn falling onto his rump back on land as he noticed the Stunfisk laying stunned and struggling to open his eyes. Lyn sprang to his feet, readying his scalchops as he lunged forward at his foe. Water began to wreath their surfaces, and swung them out with all the strength he could muster in an overlapping cross-shaped slash.


The Stunfisk pinwheeled through the water before coming to a limp stop on his back in a muddy patch of grass. Lyn staggered up as static still arced on his fur, panting as he looked over at the fish for any sign of movement, only to see nothing but a few weak twitches from his foe's fins.

Roars of approval broke out in the stands as Lyn looked up to see the spectators cheering for him. The Dewott glanced around in a moment of disbelief, when he noticed the arena medics carrying the Stunfisk away. Lyn breathed out a sigh of relief and haggardly made his way back for the corridor out of the arena pit, the otter retracing his steps back into the hallways of the arena where there just past the doorway into the hall, a green set of claws with two fingers clasping an Oran Berry abruptly thrust out before his face. Lyn looked up, and saw Osmund to his side and shooting a wide grin over at him.

"Good show out there, even if it got a bit dicey towards the end," the Grovyle said. "Why don't you patch yourself up a bit?"

Lyn took the Oran Berry from Osmund's claws and tore away part of the skin, pressing it down against his wounds as he let the juices seep in. After a few wincing applications, the Dewott scarfed down the remains of the berry, and pawed at his shoulder.

"Thanks," Lyn replied. "Though I think I'd have managed fine just going over to the medic."

"Tch, and risk missing the afterparty from having to sit and wait on them for a little patch job?" Osmund chuckled. "What sort of host would I be to do that?"

Lyn stilled his paws and blinked back at the Grovyle, his whiskers twitching as he raised a brow back puzzledly.

"An afterparty? What did you have in mind?"

After the day's matches, Lyn found himself following Osmund's footsteps along a cramped waterway lined with dingy, older canalhouses, which a nearby bridge with small spires revealed to be in De Spitsen. The pair passed a ratty corner store selling assorted gummis and produce to the walk-up of a tatty beige four-floor building with a gabled roof. After entering, the pair made their way up dim hallways until Lyn arrived at an apartment on the third floor where a Sceptile bade him welcome before heading off to tend to a simple stovetop.

Somehow, Osmund's apartment had always seemed larger to Lyn than the little house his family had out in Drieboog, not that the presentation seemed to do it many favors. The domicile had been built with stone walls and wooden flooring that seemed worn enough to have been plucked straight from the sea as driftwood, with a common room upon entering and a shared bedroom laid out with straw bedding to the left. In the common room, a countertop served as a rough divider between a corner where the kitchen sat close to the hallway, and the rest of the room where a flat-topped chest surrounded by squat wooden stools served as a crude table and seating. Unlike his own home, Osmund's apartment, much like the others in the building, didn't even have a proper door to its name, with the entrance out into the hall being covered with cut-up strips of green cloth. Thick enough to block a view inside, but too thin to block out lingering chatter from louder neighbors down the hall.

Once they got settled in, the pair wiled away their time with glasses of berry juice and games of chance, as the smell of baking goods filled the air. After a while, the Sceptile bade Osmund over to come and help, leaving Lyn to look off through the windows, which had shutters instead glass or paper panes, and watched as sea Pokémon and small boats plied the canals below with a clock tower and the city center visible off in the distance. The otter's ears flicked at the sound of approaching footsteps, as he spotted Osmund setting a simple clay plate with golden-brown pieces of bread and a small bowl of sugar on the chest-table with a teasing smile.

"Hey, getting tired of seagazing on an empty stomach?" the Grovyle asked. "I've got some wentelteefjes right here."

Lyn flattened his ears as the Grass-Type pushed the plate over towards his end of the makeshift table, giving a small frown back at his host.

"Osmund, you know that I usually eat at home."

"Yeah, well you're a guest here," the gecko insisted. "And considering all the stuff going on around home lately, are you really going to turn down a little extra food?"

Lyn hesitated a moment and gawked down at the plate of sugared bread, reaching his paw out to take a larger piece at the center. The Dewott took the bread hunk to his mouth and bit down into it, chewing it slowly. Wentelteefjes were usually made with stale bread by Pokémon on Vollezee, not that one would be able to tell from the sweet taste and the texture of the piece he was gulping down. After working his way through the bread hunk, the Dewott brushed a few crumbs off his muzzle, and turned back to his Grovyle host with a small smile.

"Give my regards to the chef," he said. "Your uncle made this, right?"

Osmund stopped and fell silent, the Grovyle looking off into the room as he pawed uncomfortably at his shoulder.

"Yeah, though it's my dad's recipe," he replied. "If he were around, he'd be due some thanks as well."

Lyn followed Osmund's gaze, where there on the wall was a small, crude painting of a pair of Treecko standing together with a pair of Sceptile in lavender scarves. In spite of looking much as it did the day whenever it was brought back from the Day Care it was sketched in, the little doodle had been obviously cared for and clearly held great value for Osmund and his sister as a reminder of a world now gone.

Lyn pawed uncomfortably at his shoulder and he glanced about the room. Why, Osmund's life was every bit as meager as his, if not moreso in some respects, and yet in spite of it all, he had trouble remembering times when the Grovyle wasn't his usual happy-go-lucky self.

"Your parents died in the big raid, right?" Lyn asked. "How has your uncle managed to help you and your sister hold out like this? He's not exactly a spring Torchic himself."

Osmund sat down and grabbed a wentelteefje off the plate, sprinkling some sugar over the hunk of bread before gulping down a bite and speaking up in reply to the Dewott.

"Well… being able to lie in the sun for some of our food helps," he answered. "But it's mostly because he didn't have to do things alone and had others to lend a helping claw in times of trouble."

Lyn grabbed another wentelteefje from the plate and paused for a moment, before giving an uneasy twitch of his whiskers back at his host.

"Others to turn to-?" he started.


Lyn whirled after feeling something snatch his snack out of his paw. The otter heard footsteps darting back, seeing a Treecko looking back at him with his treat in her hands. After realizing what had happened, the Dewott shot up, baring his teeth with an annoyed bark.


The Treecko blew a raspberry and turned to run, making it a few steps across the room before Osmund caught up and snatched her by tail, letting the Treecko flail fruitlessly before looking back at the stern-faced Grovyle.

"Salvini, give it back," Osmund scolded, making the younger gecko give a pouting frown in reply.

"Osmund," the Treecko whined. "Why are you such a killjoy?"

"Because that's what big brothers are for," he insisted. "Just like they're also there for this."

Osmund pinned Salvini down and tickled his sister's sides and stomach, making her bowl over with protesting laughter. All the while, Lyn looked on, letting his eyes drift towards the wooden floor in uncomfortable silence.

Lyn's mind turned back to the time before Sevan left the Academy to go sellswording. In spite of how meager life had become after their father's alleged mission and subsequent vanishing, Sevan always had a playful, teasing streak much as Osmund did with his sister. Even amidst their hardship, Lyn still had fond memories from before he left. Taking him swimming through the canals, out in the sea, or to the quieter islands in the lagoon away from Canalhouse to gaze up at the stars.

The Dewott sighed as his attention drifted back towards the window, where he saw the orange evening sky had largely given way to dark blues as the sun barely lingered over the horizon. It wouldn't be long until the Lunar Healer's Traveller followed at this time of year, and it'd be well after normal dinner hours by the time he made it home again. Lyn's thoughts turned to his mother and her recent relapse with her illness. Surely it wouldn't do her health any favors to make her worry on top of everything. The Water-Type got up just as Osmund came back with a wentelteefje in his claw, the Grovyle giving a puzzled blink as his guest spoke up.

"I should get going, Osmund."

"Eh? So soon?" the Grass-Type asked. "But it's still light out!"

"Maybe, but we've got matches tomorrow, and it wouldn't do any good to go into them unrested," Lyn insisted.

"Great, more wentelteefjes for me!" Salvini cheered.

The Treecko hastily snatched the food back out of her brother's claw and darted out of the room. Osmund rolled his eyes with an annoyed sigh, before turning his attention back to Lyn with an insistent gaze.

"Are you sure there's nothing else going on, Lyn?" he pressed. "If something's wrong and it's something I can help with, I'm willing to lend a claw."

Lyn fell quiet for a moment, half-considering whether he should ask Osmund for food to take back to his mother, before dismissing the matter and shaking his head back stubbornly.

"I'm fine, really, though thanks for dinner, Osmund," the Dewott insisted, grabbing another wentelteefje off the plate. "I'll be looking forward to meeting you on the battlefield tomorrow."

"Hah, if you can make it that far!"

Lyn got up and made his way across the room, ducking out of the cloth door for the building's central hallway. After letting his eyes adjust to the dim light of jars set out with blue glow-moss, he made his way along the creaking floorboards to a stairwell at the end of the hall. The otter started down the steps, only to hesitate at the sound of footsteps behind him, making him look back to see Osmund and Salvini at the doorway. The Grovyle of the pair waved him farewell, prompting Lyn to smile and reciprocate, before sighing and grudgingly continuing down the stairs.

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
After a meandering swim through Canalhouse City's waterways, Lyn once again walked up to the entrance of his and his mother's shabby house, shaking water off his pelt as he approached the door. The Dewott pushed the ratty wooden door back where he found the common room empty, though still illuminated by a lantern that Marina had set out. Lyn tiredly threw his satchel into a corner, shaking his head before he called out into the back room.

"Mom! I'm home!"

No answer came back to Lyn's call, making him blink uneasily. It wasn't that late into the evening, and even though Marina had been ill lately, it wasn't like her to go to sleep this early. The Dewott lowered his ears, worriedly raising his voice to call out again for his mother.

"… Mom?"

Lyn headed for the cloth-covered entrance to the bedroom, when he heard the sound of labored breathing coming from behind it. Lyn's eyes shrank to pins and he hurriedly threw aside the cloth, where he saw his mother lying limply on the ground halfway on her bed.


Lyn ran up to Marina's side, tugging desperately at her arm as she weakly turned her head and looked up at her child's eyes.

"Lyn… my darling…"

Marina's words were abruptly cut off by her breaking down into harsh coughing. Lyn recoiled with a sharp grimace as his mother wheezed and gasped for air.

"W-We need to get you to a hospital," the Dewott stammered.

The Dewott wedged his paws under Marina's body, trying to help her to her feet, only to fail to accomplish more than to budge her slightly due to her greater weight and bulk. Marina lay on the ground breathing weakly as Lyn backed away, staring blankly before looking off towards the doorway.

"H-Hang on!" he insisted. "I'll go get help!"

Lyn darted through the common room and back outside, hurrying over to the house across the street where he pounded at the wooden door and cried out frantically.

"Piet! Piet!"

"Oh for crying out loud…" a voice from inside the house groaned. Stumbling footsteps came up as a dark-brown Farfetch'd with a bulky leek slung over his shoulder opened the door with his free wing, the duck's beaked face curled down into an annoyed frown.

"Lyn, what are you doing here?" the Farfetch'd grumbled. "Some of us are trying to put kids to bed right now!"

"I-It's my mom!" Lyn exclaimed. "She can't get up!"

Piet blinked puzzledly as other neighbors began to come out of their homes from the racket. The Farfetch'd noted that Lyn's face carried an unusually desperate expression, prompting him to drift into Lyn's house. The Dewott followed along as the other neighbors began to gather and murmur, when the Fighting-Type came back out visibly ashen-faced, before turning to a Quagsire in the crowd.

"Ingrid, bring your raft over!" the Farfetch'd shouted. "We need to get Marina to a doctor!"

Lyn hurried into the house as Piet and a few others went in. With the aid of his neighbors, Lyn pulled Marina up and helped her limp out of the bedroom and down the street over to the canal, carrying her onto a raft watched over by a Quagsire tugging a tow cable where Marina weakly flopped down. Lyn clambered aboard after her, cradling Marina's head as she struggled to breathe, stammering reassurances to his mother.

"J-Just take some deep breaths," Lyn insisted. "You're going to be okay. You're going to get better."

Lyn clung tightly to his mother as the raft floated along, the Dewott trying again and again to reassure her, and himself, that she would pull through this episode just as she had in the past. In spite of it all, amid the darkened night, Lyn kept finding his reassurances to sound hollow to his own ears, as he was able to do little more than to stay at his mother's side as the dimmed lights of the city passed by them.

About an hour later, Lyn found himself sitting in the waiting room of a district hospital alongside Osmund, who'd come as fast as his legs could carry him after being summoned by a Pelipper neighbor from Lyn's street. The room was built to the left side of a lobby facing the street, where low tables and mostly-backless chairs had been set up under the dim light of glow-moss in glass spheres hung from the ceiling. There was little company to be had for the two that night, barring a Mimikyu in a corner, a Bayleef dozing off at the other end of the room, and an Indeedee receptionist at the counter who lazily picked through a stack of papers, casting glances off at a pair of double doors every so often that the on-site medics had hurried Marina through when they'd first come. All the while, Lyn sat rigid and visibly tense, as Osmund looked over at him with a wary tilt of his head.

"You've been awfully quiet, Lyn," Osmund said. "Did something happen before I got here?"

"No. Nothing's happened since mom got brought in," Lyn answered. "I… just can't really think of anything to talk about right now."

"I mean, no news is good news, isn't it?" the Grass-Type asked. "And if your mom bounced back from this once, what's a second time, huh?"

The Grovyle smiled and nudged at the Dewott's shoulder, only for the otter to continue looking listlessly at the floor, making Osmund shift uncomfortably. Normally, Lyn never seemed to fail to find some glimmer of confidence even in grave circumstances. So whatever happened with Marina had to have been worse than he'd thought for his friend to be such spirits. The Grass-Type wondered to himself what better way there was to try and console Lyn when he spotted him pawing at his Academy scarf, which gave the gecko a small spark of inspiration.

"Hey, just remember you're not going through this alone," Osmund offered. "You're in the settlement with the best doctors this side of Anyilla, and if you need a helping claw, 'mons in the Company look out for each other on the job."

"Osmund, we haven't even gotten a rank yet," Lyn snapped. "Who's supposed to look out for 'mons like us?"

Osmund opened his mouth to answer, only to trail off as he found himself at a loss for words. It was true, the Academy didn't provide anything to its students beyond an education and a foot in the door for a future rank, and that was assuming they didn't fail one too many courses to graduate or push their luck too far in their antics and get expelled beforehand.

The Grovyle hemmed and hawed a bit when his vision trailed out the window and he saw a white star peeking up over the rooftops to the west with the moon hanging in the middle of the sky. He blanched, realizing that the moon was roughly about where it normally was around midnight, meaning that the moving star was…

"That's the Time Lord's Traveller," the Grass-Type murmured. "I hadn't realized it was already this late."

Lyn turned over to Osmund with a start, as the Dewott began to grow visibly cagey and his expression took on a tinge of barely-concealed alarm.

"S-So?" he stammered. "I mean, surely you've stayed up later in the past, and-"

"Lyn, my uncle gets up early to work before dawn, and I'm already not going to get much sleep by the time I make it back home," Osmund explained. "I'm the only 'mon in the house there to watch over Salvini before going to the Academy every day, and that tournament doesn't make things any easier."

"Osmund, come on…"

Lyn gave his friend a pleading look back. Osmund caught himself as the Dewott stared at him insistently, speaking up with palpable unease.

"Can't- Can't you at least stay a little longer?" the Water-Type asked. "Just this once?"

Osmund hesitated, before shaking his head back with a quiet sigh.

"I'm sorry, Lyn. If I could, I would."

Lyn's face fell, Osmund noting that his friend's eyes looked much as if he had just run the Dewott through with a Leaf Blade. Osmund remained silent, before giving a wary pat at the Dewott's shoulder.

"Just hang in there, alright?" he insisted. "I'll check up on you tomorrow at the tournament."

Lyn looked up, trying to muster some reassurance from his friend's words, only to manage little more than a listless mumble back.

"Y-Yeah. See you."

Osmund waved Lyn off, before leaving the waiting room and slipping out into the night, leaving the Dewott behind in the room with none other than the Indeedee receptionist, the dozing Bayleef, and the Mimikyu for company. Lyn stayed seated for a while, occasionally glancing out the window at the stars, and thought to himself a couple times over whether or not to try and strike up a conversation with the Indeedee only to find himself at a loss of words each time.

The Dewott wished quietly to himself that anyone could be there with him at that moment. Sevan… his teacher… Gods even his father being here would be better than this! The one time he could've made the most difference, and he was gone because of that stupid "mission" from years ago that never so much as had a scrap of paper to document its existence!

Lyn shook his head, trying to divert his thoughts to something more positive. Even if he couldn't be there at this moment, Sevan was at least trying to lend a helping paw. Whenever he got word, maybe he'd be able to take a break from sellclawing… maybe he could come back home… so things could be like they used to, even if just for a little while.

"Is that Dewott still here?"

Lyn looked over at the receptionists' counter, where he saw the Indeedee talk briefly with a Gardevoir before pointing at him. The Gardevoir turned her attention towards the Dewott, and motioned with her arm to follow along.

"You should come," she said. "It's serious."

Lyn got up from his seat, walking across the waiting room after the Psychic-Type who led him past a set of doors and into a hallway lined with rooms on either end. The Dewott looked up at the Psychic-Type's stern gaze, making him squirm uneasily.

"Wh-What's going on?" he asked.

"Your mother's sick with waterblight, it's a type of poisoning that comes from exposure to water tainted by algal blooms," the Gardevoir explained. "We usually see this from Pokémon around Vollezee that spend a lot of time in water too dirty to be flushed out by the tides or the intervention of Pokémon."

"But if you know what's wrong with her, you can treat her, can't you? She already got better once, didn't she?" Lyn pressed, prompting the doctor to shake her head in response.

"She's most likely been getting exposed for some time and never gotten a chance to properly recover from it," the Gardevoir answered. "In milder cases, waterblight can be fought off naturally by the body. There are some remedies that can also help, but their success rate is far from consistent."

"S-So give her one of them then!" Lyn exclaimed. "If you already know how to help her, why are we even having this conversation?!"

The doctor fell silent for a noticeable pause, before the Gardevoir sighed and pawed at her brow.

"Because none of those remedies would work in your mother's case."

Lyn stared back puzzledly as the Gardevoir inhaled sharply, and continued on with her explanation.

"In severe cases of waterblight, Pokémon like your mother have their ability to consume food impaired and the liver and other internal organs begin to take permanent damage," the doctor said. "With how far along the disease's effects on her body have come, there's nothing we can do for her at this point."

Lyn's jaw hung open limply, before the otter screwed his face up angrily and leaned in with a sharp growl, jabbing a paw against the Gardevoir's arm.

"S-So what am I supposed to do then?!" Lyn demanded. "Just take her home and wait for her to die?!"

"No," she replied. "Because you would be wasting precious time."

Lyn fell silent and blanched at the doctor's response, who shook her head with a low sigh.

"In her present state, it's doubtful your mother will last the night," the Gardevoir said. "I called you over to let you know that if there was anything you two needed to say to each other, that you shouldn't put it off any longer."

Lyn stared ahead in blank shock, the otter moving a paw to his face with shallow, anxious breaths as the Psychic-Type gave a guarded glance back at him.

"Do you need a moment with her alone, Dewott?" the Gardevoir asked.

"Y-Yes," Lyn croaked. "Where is she?"

"Take the stairs at the end of the hall. It's the first room to the right afterwards," the doctor answered. "She should still be awake."

Lyn nodded back glumly to the Psychic-Type and followed her instructions, making his way down the hall and up a coiling set of stone steps where he reached the second floor and another similarly-furnished hallway. The Dewott stepped forward, the floorboards creaking as he approached the first room to the right, when he pushed it open and froze.

There, Marina was resting on straw bedding that had been hastily gathered and spread out in front of a window overlooking a canal outside, with no sign of movement beyond her chest weakly rising and falling. The Samurott raised her head at the sound of Lyn's approaching footsteps, and glanced over, as a tired, mournful expression came over her face.

"Lyn… I'm sorry that I couldn't keep my promise."

Lyn looked back at his mother, tears welling up in his eyes as he made his way over and buried his face in her chest. The Dewott's voice hitched as his breaths came out sharp and intermixed with loud sniffles when he felt Marina paw at his head.

"Dear… please don't cry," the Samurott insisted. "You've got a big day ahead of you tomorrow."

Lyn pulled his head up, his face still wet from his tears as he saw Marina looking down tiredly at him. The Dewott tried to brush away some tears, before setting his teeth on edge with a frustrated snap.

"H-How can you be this calm?!" Lyn exclaimed. "You're dying and you're worrying about how I'm going to do tomorrow?!"

"I've lived my life looking out for you, to make sure that you could get far enough to care for yourself," Marina insisted. "If that's what my life accomplished, I'm happy for it."

"'Care for myself'? Mom, we barely kept a roof over our heads together with Sevan's help!" the Dewott cried. "Travellers Above, h-how am I supposed to go on like this?!"

"You'll find a way, I know you will," Marina reassured. "Because you never give up."

Lyn paused and turned away from his mother when he felt her paw touch his face, the Samurott attempting to wipe away his tears away as her child looked back up at her.

"It's why you're still at the Academy, aren't you?" Marina asked. "Because you were worried for me and wanted to help by graduating into a position in the Company."

"Wh-What good does any of that do now?" Lyn muttered.

"Just keep striving and never give in," the Samurott insisted. "I know that you'll make me proud, that you'll grow into a strong 'mon like your father."

Lyn fell quiet and bit his tongue. He fought with all his might to try and accept his mother's reassurance, only for the last three words to keep poisoning it. 'Like your father'. Running out on your own family was what a 'strong 'mon' did? Why he'd rather spend the rest of his life begging for scraps on the canals than be like that! Even when she was dying, why did mom insist on clinging to that good-for-nothing like this?!

Marina abruptly dropped her paw and struggled for breath for a moment. Lyn looked back at his mother in alarm as he watched her eyes close and the Samurott feebly gasp for breath, before she went silent, and her chest stopped moving.

"Mom? Mom?!"

The following morning, light trickled down through the window above Lyn's bedding, as he laid on his back and the sounds of Pokémon passing in the water and the lanes nearby filtered through. All the while, Lyn stared up blankly at the ceiling, his eyes ruddy and tired, and yet unable to do anything other than look ahead. The Dewott stirred, and sluggishly slouched up onto his feet, walking past his mother's bedding as he stopped and stared at it, the straw still deformed from where Marina had last laid on it.

Lyn forced himself ahead for the doorway to the common room, shuffling in with his head hung low. There, his mother's seamitars were still where he'd left them on the table next to a few cups, when his eyes fell on his father's scope on top of the dresser in the corner. The otter grit his teeth and with an angry shout, dashed it to the floor with a swipe of one of his scalchops. The twinkling of broken glass rang out as the Dewott wedged his paws behind the dresser and threw it out into the center of the room. The dresser struck the table in the center of the room, knocking the items left on top of it to the floor with a loud clatter, including his mother's seamitars.


The Water-Type hastily darted over and snatched the seamitars up, carefully checking each of them for chips or cracks. After a few moments looking over the blades, Lyn's paws wavered and his voice hitched, the Dewott pulling the hilts of his mother's blades into his chest as his eyes leaked tears and bitter cries came from the back of his throat.

Tak tak tak!

"Lyn? What are you doing in there?" a Grovyle's voice from the front door barked. "Open up!"

Lyn sniffled and looked up uneasily, the Dewott carefully taking his mother's seamitars over to the bedroom and laying them down on her bed beneath her secondaries. As Osmund's knocks continued to ring out, Lyn retraced his steps back into the common room, trying to wipe away the tears from his face the best the back of his paw allowed him to. He pulled the front door back, where Osmund was waiting for him on the doorstep with an agitated scowl.

"Why are you still here?!" the Grass-Type snapped. "We were supposed to meet up at the arena!"

"Mom's dead, Osmund."

Osmund blanched and let his mouth hang open in startled shock, as Lyn's face took on an increasingly bitter expression. The Grovyle tripped over his tongue, struggling to stammer out a reply.

"… W-Wha-"

"She passed not even an hour after you left me," Lyn spat. "Excuse me if I'm a bit out of it right now."

Osmund fell silent and hesitated a moment, the gecko's face easing as his earlier frustration evaporated and he reached out to pat at Lyn's shoulder.

"Hey… I'm sorry, I didn't realize that she was doing that badly. I understand if you're not doing well, but you really can't just stay cooped up at home right now, Lyn," he said. "The second round started an hour ago and you're running out of time to show up. If you don't show, the referee is going to disqualify you."

Lyn sharply brushed Osmund's claw aside, shooting back a fierce glare. Osmund said nothing at first, before shaking his head back and giving a quiet sigh.

"I'm not trying to minimize your loss or anything, but there's just no putting this off and you know it," the Grovyle insisted. "You wanted to be in this tournament, and I'm sure that your mother knew that too. Do you think she'd really be happy seeing you throw away your chances like this after all the work you put in?"

Lyn fell quiet for a noticeable pause, before pinning his ears back and looking away with a low growl.

"No. She wouldn't."

Lyn shook his head and brushed past Osmund without saying a word. Osmund pawed at his shoulder as Lyn slipped out the door, the Grovyle looking around at the upended common room, as a gnawing sense that something was deeply amiss with Lyn's attitude came over him. The gecko raised his voice to call off after the Water-Type, only to catch himself.

It was a mere half hour before Lyn's first match in the current round was due to start. Even if the Dewott was not in a healthy mood right now, it wouldn't do any good to make him later than he already was. Osmund shook his head and headed for the door himself, pulling it shut before ducking out into the lane after Lyn, his cries of 'Lyn, wait up!' filtering into the empty room before it was drowned out by the city's din.


Lyn skidded back along a rocky battlefield set out on the pitch of the Strandmeer Arena, the Dewott panting as he steadied himself and looked up at a Kricketune pulling his claw back from a Fury Cutter. The rounds had gone by in a blur ever since Lyn made it back to the tournament, the chaos in his life outside the battlefield crowded out from his mind as all he could think about right then and there was the Bug-Type at the other end of the field tauntingly motioning him to come with his right arm.

"You'll need to do better than that, Dewott!" the Kricketune jeered. "This is the Quarter-Finals! I dealt with stiffer fights than this in the earlier rounds!"

Lyn huffed and bared his teeth in reply, flashing his scalchops before he lunged at the Kricketune and struck him in his thorax with a crossing pair of water-wreathed slashes. The Dewott felt the cricket fall back under his blows, only for a sudden wind pulling small orbs of light off his body to overtake him.


Lyn recoiled from the Absorb, digging his feet in with a venomous glare before letting water build up in his throat. The otter spat up the water as a jet at the Kricketune's head, sending him toppling to the ground. The Bug-Type flailed and tried to scrabble back upright, when he saw Lyn leaping up, bringing his right scalchop down on his face.


The Kricketune abruptly collapsed to the ground and stopped moving, Lyn looking over his foe with tired pants. The sound of loud cheers from the stands made him sigh, sheathe his scalchop, and head off, wholly unaware that from the box above him, he was being closely watched by a Luxray and an Alakazam. The latter shifted his gaze to the Kricketune still on the ground, before shaking his head with an unimpressed scoff.

"Hrmph, clearly some of this year's students leave much to be desired," Gerhard grumbled.

Farn paid the Alakazam no heed as she remained focused on the battlefield, a small smirk spreading over her muzzle as she peered down at the battlefield below.

"You focus too much on the negative, Gerhard," the Luxray retorted. "I personally thought that Dewott put up a strong performance."

Gerhart gave a puzzled look over at Farn as a Hattrem and Wigglytuff helped carry the Kricketune off the field, the Luxray's yellow eyes moving along after Lyn as he slipped off the field for the grated exit from the pit.

"He's clearly approaching this tournament with a lot of vigor and has been cutting right to the chase for his fights," she said. "Do you happen to know who he is?"

Gerhard looked at Farn blankly for a moment, before shaking his head back with a small shrug.

"Nee, geen idee," the Alakazam answered. "I might have seen him around in my classes a few times, but I don't exactly have time to learn the name of every student."

Meanwhile in the access corridor, Lyn took an Oran Berry that had been set out on a ledge for the event that the challenger on his end of the field emerged victorious, and made his way back to the arena's hallways. There, Lyn stopped and began to apply the Oran Berry, when he heard sharp footsteps and looked up to see Osmund staring him down with an agitated glare.

"Lyn, what on earth was that?!" he demanded.

"What on earth was what?" Lyn asked.

"That finisher back there! Why would you hit your opponent in the head when he might not have even been able to get up and keep fighting?!" the Grovyle cried. "And this isn't the first time you've pulled something like that today either!"

Lyn shot back a pointed frown and got up, brushing past the Grovyle. Osmund looked after him with a harsh scowl, when Lyn turned his head back with an unimpressed scoff.

"Osmund, this is a competition," the Dewott harrumphed. "You can do things however you want in your battles, but I'm going to do whatever I need to to win."

Lyn carried on for the matchup board, which had been freshly updated during his battle to reflect the next round's matches. Osmund gave an incredulous glare after the Dewott, grumbling to himself as to what could've made him take such a vicious turn when his mind turned back to Marina. Ever since he came to the arena today, Lyn had left nothing on the table with his fights, as if he weren't fighting for a shot at an award, but to settle a score after being personally wronged.

"What's gotten into you, Lyn?"

The Grovyle hesitated, half-suspecting that he already knew the answer to his question, but hoping that his friend could still come back to his senses.

The semifinals of the tournament came and went, both Lyn and Osmund emerging victorious in their matches for a final battle between them, the fateful match being set on a battlefield mimicking a wooded forest. While a few days prior, the occasion would've been met with mutual joking and banter between the pair, that day as the two faced each other down, a palpable tension hung in the air. From Lyn's end, the Dewott's face remained locked up in a hardened scowl, while his Grovyle opponent eyed him warily in light of his conduct earlier in the tournament. Still, despite his misgivings, the two of them were friends, and the Grass-Type attempted to take some of the edge off their meeting by forcing a smile over his face and attempting to strike up friendly smalltalk.

"I don't think either of us could've asked for a better way to end this tournament, huh?" Osmund asked. "It'll be just another fight between us."

"Hrmph. Maybe for you," Lyn scoffed. "But I'm fighting to win here."

Osmund fell silent and gave a worried tilt of his head reply, the Grovyle extending a claw as he gave a reassuring wave back.

"Hey, lighten up a bit, will ya? It doesn't do you any good to be this tense."

Lyn dismissed the gesture with a small harrumph and drew his scalchops. Osmund blinked in surprise, as he heard the Castform referee starting to count down to the start of the match. The Grovyle eased into a fighting stance, the leaves on his arms folding against each other into a bladed arrangement as the Castform finished her count.


The Castform's Weather Ball sailed up into the air, as Osmund tore along the battlefield with his blades drawn. The Dewott attempted to run to the side, making his Grovyle opponent adjust course to chase him down. As he neared, the Grass-Type swung his arm in an uppercutting slash, only for Lyn to suddenly catch his blow with a Razor Shell from his right scalchop. The Dewott attempted to follow suit with another blow from his left blade, making Osmund jump back and give a teasing smirk.

"Heh, not bad," the gecko remarked. "But you should be a bit less predictable!"

Osmund pulled his claws in and whipped up a greenish vortex of wind that peeled orbs of light off Lyn's body. The Dewott recoiled, before steadying himself with gritted teeth and throwing an elbow forward that connected with Osmund's snout.


Osmund reeled and stumbled back from Lyn's blow, as the Dewott flashed his scalchops and attempted to follow up his Revenge with a hail of slashes. The otter bore down on the gecko, when at the last moment, Osmund jumped up and clambered onto a branch of an overhead tree, before bringing his arms in to use another Mega Drain.

Lyn recoiled from the draining attack with a sharp yelp and wobbled from his abrupt loss of vitality. Out of reflex, the Dewott spat a jet of water up at Osmund's branch, only for the Grovyle to casually leap to another branch and call back to his opponent.

"You didn't think I was going to make this easy, did you?" he chided.

Lyn blanched as Osmund taunted him from the next tree over, his thoughts immediately turning to all the trouble Osmund had given him from the scaffolding on the night they'd snuck into the arena together. Why, as long as Osmund stayed out of reach like this, just what could he do to beat him?

The Dewott looked around when he noticed that one of the trees that had been set out for the battlefield was noticeably thinner, enough so that a casual Cut ought to be able to hack it down. Lyn looked back up at Osmund as he readied another Mega Drain, and spat out another jet of water, forcing him to retreat to another branch, this one closer to the thin tree. With one eye on the target tree in the background and his paws tightly on his scalchops, Lyn repeated his sprays of water, driving Osmund from one tree to the next until at last the Grovyle leapt into the boughs of the thin tree, which made Lyn's eyes light up and rush forward.

"Got you!"

With a swift slash of his scalchop, Lyn hacked the tree down, sending it crashing to earth with Osmund still in its branches. The Grovyle hit the ground and tumbled along the grassy pitch, hurriedly getting up to attempt to scamper back to safety when a scalchop struck the side of his head.


Osmund toppled over in a stunned daze as he heard Lyn run for him, the Grovyle hastily rolling out of the way just as Lyn attempted to bring an overhead slash down on him. The Grass-Type threw himself back onto his feet and threw a bladed arm out, striking Lyn in his chest and making him stagger. The otter's left paw slackened for a moment, when he hastily tightened his grip on the scalchop and reflexively swiped forward just as Osmund started to pull his blade back.


Lyn felt his blade zip forward before running along a rough surface and saw a trio of green leaves fall to the ground, paying them no heed as a roar went up from the stands. The otter fell back and reflexively braced himself for Osmund's next blow, when he saw the Grovyle's eyes abruptly shoot wide and the Grass-Type recoiling and grabbing at his right arm much as if he'd been set aflame.


Lyn hesitated as Osmund howled in pain, the Dewott looking down to see the leaves from Osmund's right arm laying on the ground with small droplets of blood beside them. The Water-Type froze, turning back to his friend as Osmund's face contorted into a venomous glare. The Grovyle pulled his claw back from his stricken arm to reveal that the leaves on it had been cut to nubs and he was now sporting a bloodied blotch just past them.

"So you'd throw a low blow like that even against your own friend?!" Osmund shouted. "Fine, let's see how you like it!"

The Grovyle lunged forward in a rage, bringing the leaves on his uninjured arm together into a blade that he ran square into the Dewott's stomach. Lyn gagged and staggered from the blow, the world around him going fuzzy as Osmund started to fall back. Fighting against the searing pain in his stomach, the Dewott grit his teeth, thrusting the back of his right scalchop forward and striking Osmund between his eyes before the gecko could slip his grasp.


Osmund flopped back and hit the ground, coming to a hard stop on his back. Lyn stood over his opponent, clutching at his wounded stomach, his eyes still wide and his breaths coming out as tired, rattled pants as he half-expected Osmund to spring up at him in a slashing fury at any moment.

"Hah… Hah…"

As Lyn panted, a loud roar pricked his ears, making him look off past the treetops towards the stands. There, the Dewott saw a sea of Pokémon in the lower rung standing up, cheering and hollering their approval of the match. The Water-Type stood there blankly for a moment as things slowly sunk in for him. He'd won. In spite of everything that had happened to him since the tournament started, he'd actually won!

A low groan pricked his ears as the medics helped carry Osmund off the field. Lyn looked after his friend uneasily for a moment, before shaking his head, and limping off for the exit on his end of the battlefield, a relieved smile spreading over his muzzle.

"And the winner of this year's Academy Tournament is Lyn the Dewott!"

Roughly 30 minutes had passed since the end of the tournament, and a voice rang out from the arena's badge system that stirred the crowd up into a cheering frenzy. The field had been cleared as the sky began to flush orange with the hues of late evening. In the pit, the speaker's podium from the first day had been reassembled, and Lyn's wounds from battle were hastily treated and his fur groomed to make him more presentable as he mounted the stage from the right. There, waiting for him at the other end was Professor Gerhard, who frowned skeptically and stepped a few paces forward. The Alakazam paused about halfway to the center of the stage, the professor's eyes suddenly glowing blue as he held his right hand out to telekinetically float the trophy out to the center. Lyn frowned a bit at the Psychic-Type choosing to flaunt himself even here, before dismissing the Alakazam's behavior and going up to the floating cup, reaching his paws out to take it when a sharp growl reached his ears from the rear of the podium.

"Not so fast!"

Lyn jumped back as a black and blue blur suddenly rushed in and snatched the trophy out of the air. Lyn stumbled and fell back onto his rump, the otter looking up to see Farn latching onto the trophy with her mouth before setting it down at her feet. At the other end of the stage, Professor Gerhard looked on in slack-jawed astonishment, before calling out to the Luxray Administrator.

"Administrator Farn, what are you doing?!" Gerhard exclaimed. "The tournament is over!"

"Not if I have anything to say about it," the Luxray chided. "This tournament ended much faster than I expected, so, I would like to see a bit more from that Dewott before handing it over."

Lyn flinched and pinned his ears to his head at the sight of Farn's piercing eyes boring into him. The Dewott's gaze fell on the trophy sitting between her paws, when his thoughts turned back to his mother's dying reassurance that he'd make her proud, and everything that he'd endured to make it to the stage. Still shivering, the otter summoned the courage he could muster and balled his paws up into fists before raising his voice in an indignant, if still-stammering protest.

"H-How is that justified?! I fought my way to the finals and won the last match!" Lyn cried. "That's by definition the end of the tournament!"

"Yes, it's the end of that part of it," Farn huffed back. "Now you must fight me."

Lyn visibly blanched and felt the color drain out from his face, the Water-Type looking up at the Administrator with a quiet gulp.

"Fight… you?"

"Did I stutter?" the Luxray asked. "I want you to prove yourself, Dewott. To show me that you have what it really takes to become a Second-Rank so quickly."

Farn stepped forward, the Administrator lowering her head down towards the Dewott's with a taunting smile.

"So are you going to do it, or turn around and slink off?"

Lyn hesitated for a moment, before his eyes narrowed and his ears popped back up. With a still-wavering voice, the Dewott grabbed his scalchops off his waist and drew them at his ready.

"I-I'm not just walking away from the victory I fought for!" he protested. "I'll take your challenge!"

Farn's eyes remained fixed sternly at the Dewott, letting her tail bob back and forth as a small smirk crept over her face.

"Glad to hear it," she said. "Then let's move this along, there's a battlefield waiting for us."

Lyn and Farn walked off to the opposite ends of the battlefield in front of the podium and stared each other down. The Castform referee looked over the two, hesitating a moment, before she launched into her countdown. As the last seconds of quiet ticked off, Lyn inhaled sharply, seeing that there was nothing between him and Farn but his skills, his wits, and the battlefield between them.


Lyn sprang forward and darted along the battlefield, running at Farn in a zigzagging pattern in anticipation of a crackling bolt of electricity being thrown his way at any moment. As he closed in, Lyn tightened his grip on his shells while water began to wreath them. The Dewott threw his right paw forward, swinging his blade at Farn's head, when the Luxray abruptly jumped back and swung her tail at him. At once, Lyn saw the lioness' tail had taken on a metallic sheen, the otter going wide-eyed before the Iron Tail struck him in his face and knocked him back tumbling off his feet.

As Lyn rolled to a stop, he coughed and spat up dust as he steadied himself , the Dewott looking back at the Luxray Administrator to see her sporting an unimpressed scowl.

"Hmph, you didn't think that after becoming a Second-Rank you'd only fight others that were as seasoned as you, did you?" Farn scoffed. "As a Second-Rank, you'll wind up in situations where you'll be outmatched, and you'll need to do better than that to handle them."

Lyn got up and hastily re-entered a guarded stance. With how strong of a blow she'd dealt with a mere Iron Tail, trying to fight Farn at close quarters was sheer folly. In that case, perhaps he was better off attempting to keep his distance, prompting him to build up water in his throat and disgorge it at the Administrator in a pressurized jet.

The Water Gun sailed on as Farn ran ahead, striking her shoulder but much to Lyn's alarm, doing little beyond slowing her paces briefly. Lyn attempted to duck out of the way as the Luxray lunged at him, only to feel a stabbing pain shoot through his left arm. Lyn screamed in pain, looking over to see Farn's jaws wrapped about his arm and reflexively slashed at her face. His scalchop glanced off the Electric-Type's brow, making her lose her grip as Lyn ran back and cradled his stricken arm with a pained whine. The Dewott shook some feeling back into his bitten arm and struggled to keep his composure when he glanced back to see Farn pawing at a ruddy streak right above her eye, before shaking her head and letting out a sharp harrumph.

"How are you planning on handling situations like these out in the field, Dewott?" she questioned. "Pirates and Imperial lackeys certainly aren't going to go out of their way to give you a 'fair' fight."

Lyn grimaced as he saw sparks begin to dance on Farn's fur, the Luxray's face curling into a visible sneer.

"Like me, they're going to fight to win. By any means necessary."

Farn shot out a wide spread of blue electrical bolts, making Lyn hastily jump back and roll as the bolts passed overhead. The Dewott scrambled backwards, seeing an errant bolt still coming for him that he hastily blocked by raising his scalchops in an overlapping shield. The otter braced himself as the hail of sparks subsided, leaving him panting raggedly as he looked back up at the Company Administrator and saw what for once appeared to be a genuine smile.

"That's more like it," she said. "Though I wonder how you'll fare once I stop holding back?"

Lyn's eyes shot wide at the Luxray's question. After everything he'd been through, all this time Administrator Farn had been merely toying with him?!

"Wait, wha-?!"

Any doubts Lyn had about Farn's claim were quickly dashed when she barreled into him with a spark-wreathed tackle. The Dewott flew back, hitting the ground with a dull thud where he lay there panting for a moment. Lyn cracked open his eyes and saw errant static arc on his pelt, staring up into the sky with muddy and spotty vision.

His mind turned back to the trophy on the podium, and of everything that he'd endured just to lift his paws out to grab at it. Was… Was it really all for nothing?

No. It couldn't be. He wouldn't let it!

Lyn groped with his right paw at one of his scalchops on the battlefield's earth, tightening his grasp as he rolled over and struggled onto his feet. For a fleeting moment, he managed to stumble mostly upright, when his strength abruptly gave out and he flopped back down onto the ground on his belly.

The Dewott laid there breathing tiredly, as in spite of all of his determination, in spite of everything he'd done to try and pursue Marina's dying wish, his efforts proved to be for naught. And now, there would be no prize to the tournament, he'd gone through the matches, been chewed up, and even angered his best friend with nothing to show to his name for it all. The otter's voice hitched and tears began to well up in the corners of his eyes, when he saw an Oran Berry get pushed in front of his face, and looked up to see Farn staring down at him.

"Get up, Champion. You've earned your title."

Lyn stared up at the Luxray before hesitantly taking the Oran Berry and biting down on it. As the otter wiped the tears from his eyes, and began to feel the berry's healing effects begin to revitalize him, he heard cries go up from the stands, looking to see the entire audience standing and cheering on the scene. The Dewott turned to Farn with a confused glance and a twitch of his whiskers as she gave a knowing smile back.

"What's with that look? I just said you had to fight me," the Luxray said. "I wasn't daft enough to expect you to win."

Farn turned and began to leave as Lyn watched her stride off, the Luxray looking over her shoulder to call back to him.

"You have a bright future ahead of yourself, Dewott. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of each other soon enough."

Farn left the battlefield through the exit tunnel at the other end, the raucous cheers reverberating through the arena. For a moment, Lyn looked on blankly, as a tired smile spread over his muzzle and the Water-Type soaked in his hard-earned adulation.

Just after sunset, Lyn exited the arena's medbay back out into its corridors, making his way with his trophy in tow for the circular passageway that ran its outer rim. The Dewott winced slightly and set his prize down, looking down at a bandaged arm from where Farn had bitten him earlier. The medics had assured him that it would heal up within a day or two, not that that didn't mean he couldn't feel the wounds now, and pawed at it for a moment when he heard footsteps and a sharp huff from behind.


Lyn paused and turned around, seeing Osmund's yellow eyes boring into him with a fierce scowl. The Grovyle pawed at the cut leaves on his right arm, as he spoke up with a bitter huff.

"So you won the tournament like you wanted," the Grass-Type spat. "I hope you're happy with yourself."

Lyn narrowed his eyes in reply, the Dewott subconsciously digging his feet into the ground to brace himself before speaking up.

"… Is there a reason why I'm not supposed to be?" he scoffed, prompting Osmund to angrily flash his teeth back.

"Oh I dunno, because you won by cutting my leaves?! What on earth would make you think that was a good idea?!" the Grovyle cried. "How about we have a rematch where I start things off by smashing your scalchops to get an edge?! Let's see how good of a mood you're in when you lose from a low blow like that!"

Lyn folded his ears against his head and tensed his body, as he sharply frowned back with an exasperated grumble.

"Osmund, I didn't try to cut your leaves," the Dewott insisted. "My aim was off and my slash didn't go where I wanted it to."

"Yeah right. You've been throwing low blows all day during the tournament," Osmund growled. "I'm sure that the one you threw against me was the one time that it was really just an accident!"

"Yeah, well I'm sure you were really busy last night and just happened to leave me right as my mom was dying," Lyn snapped, glaring back at the Grovyle. "If that was really an accident, then so was this!"

Osmund reflexively shifted back, his expression wavering for a moment before he uneasily brushed at his uninjured arm.

"Lyn, be reasonable. I didn't know that your mom was gonna die, but I did know that my little sister would have been all alone if I had stayed with you," the Grass-Type insisted. "And I still came over to the hospital in the middle of the night right before the day when most of the tournament's rounds were happening. Doesn't that count for anything? Not every friend would have done something like that!"

Lyn's expression hardened as he shot a sharp glare back at Osmund.

"So you're not sorry at all about what happened," he growled. "Then why should I feel sorry over some leaves that will just grow back in a week or two anyways?"

Osmund stiffened up and his eyes lit up with livid indignation. The Grovyle's leaves on his uninjured arm began to close in on each other into a blade, only for him to sharply inhale and pause, the leaves unfurling as he shook his head and glared back bitterly.

"Goodbye, Lyn," he hissed. "Good luck with making Second-Rank, I hope it was worth it."

Osmund turned and stomped off, as Lyn looked after him with a sharp scowl. As the gecko drifted away, the Dewott's expression began to waver and grow uneasy. He'd never seen Osmund this angry before, and even with how upset he'd gotten with the Grass-Type following his mother's death, until now, he'd never really worried whether or not he was also losing Osmund as a friend. Lyn reflexively followed after the Grovyle, stopping to snatch up his trophy once he realized he'd started off without it, when he heard footsteps approaching behind him.

"Ah, you must be Lyn."

Lyn flicked his ears and turned around, where he spotted a Lombre in a First-Rank scarf waiting behind him.

"Administrator Farn wishes to speak with you," she said, prompting Lyn to blink and tilt his head back puzzledly.

"About what?"

"She was quite pleased with your performance during the tournament and would like to spend some time talking with you about what your future may hold," the Lombre messenger explained. "Will you be coming?"

Lyn looked back down at the trophy in his paws and thought back to his mother's last words… "Just keep striving and never give in. I know that you'll make me proud…" He'd- He'd done that today, and the trophy in his paws was proof of it. Surely after a day or two to calm down, Osmund would come around, wouldn't he? After all, 'mons said things off-the-cuff to each other all the time, and it wasn't as if the damage to his leaves was permanent.

Really, if Osmund would let their friendship get sunk over a temporary wound, just how good of a friend could he be? And Osmund would understand him responding to a summons from an Administrator, wouldn't he? With him now on his own aside from whatever Sevan could scrape together from sellclawing, he needed to look out for himself for a while. And the best way to do that was to not let the Second-Rank position he'd fought so hard for slip through his paws. With his mind made up, the Dewott smiled back and nodded to the Lombre, eager to take her up on her offer.

"Of course," the Dewott answered. "Where is she?"

"She's waiting at her box in the stands," the messenger replied. "Follow after me."

Lyn followed after the Lombre, setting off down the hallway with an excited smile towards a new life, one that would surely be happier than the one he was about to leave behind.

Author's Notes:

- Wie is daar?! - Dutch: "Who is there?"
- Drieboog - Dutch: "Three Arch(es)"
- Hé, hou je ogen open! - Dutch: "Hey, keep your eyes open!"
- De Spitsen - Dutch: "The Spires"
- wentelteefjes - Dutch: Dutch cuisine variant of "French toast"
- Nee, geen idee - Dutch: "No, (I have) no idea"
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Winter can't come soon enough
I can basically summarize this chapter in one image:


The first few paragraphs alone made it fairly clear to me what was going to happen: Lyn and Osmund would have a falling out and it would come with changes in both of their demeanors to be closer to what we see of them in the present. And, of course, that the two would meet in the finals and Lyn would win. As soon as there was mention of trouble with Lyn's family I imagined the mom dying and, well, that ended up happening. Though I do think by the end of the chapter Lyn seemed to have rebounded from the grief a bit quicker than I would expect.

All I can really take away from this is that this is sign Lyn's going to have an important part to play next episode. I mean, given the location, it seems obvious. But still...

"… Wasn't that just a foiled Charizard card?" the Dewott asked, prompting Osmund to fold his arms with a teasing smirk.
oh god no that's a thing here, too?
"Don't even bother setting your sights that high," Gerhard harrumphed. "Most of you simply lack the strength and willpower to even get close to that level."
Teacher of the year material.
"I dunno, don't Administrators need to come off as imposing to some extent?" Lyn asked. "She definitely isn't lacking on that front."
Good thing luxray can get Intimidate. :V
idly spinning it about his digits before grabbing onto it and stilling it,
Revolver OshawottDewott
when he suddenly heard a loud crack and felt the hot, painful sensation of an electrical current flow through his body
i think he should be dead then :p
"Salvini, give it back," Osmund scolded, making the younger gecko give a pouting frown in reply.
oh hey look they are related.
"I might have seen him around in my classes a few times, but I don't exactly have time to learn the name of every student."
Why go into education when you don't even seem interested in the job, buddy?

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
The first few paragraphs alone made it fairly clear to me what was going to happen: Lyn and Osmund would have a falling out and it would come with changes in both of their demeanors to be closer to what we see of them in the present. And, of course, that the two would meet in the finals and Lyn would win. As soon as there was mention of trouble with Lyn's family I imagined the mom dying and, well, that ended up happening. Though I do think by the end of the chapter Lyn seemed to have rebounded from the grief a bit quicker than I would expect.

Something something ‘it's about the journey and not the destination', since well, yesterday is gone with regard to what got Lyn to where he is today. Yes, I know that's a groaner of a title drop, no I don't care.

As for the grief rebound, I think that's more from Lyn having other things on his mind at the moment. Even if he ended the special on a high note, I doubt that Lyn stayed that composed every night coming home from school/work after the tournament for those first couple weeks.

All I can really take away from this is that this is sign Lyn's going to have an important part to play next episode. I mean, given the location, it seems obvious. But still…

He has that for the next couple, actually. It's a bit of a building-up process though.

oh god no that's a thing here, too?

Did you really expect it wouldn't be when Not!TCG has been a canonical thing in the Cradle for close to 6 years now? :V

Teacher of the year material.

Yeah, Gerhard's kinda like that.

Good thing luxray can get Intimidate. :V

To be fair, Rivalry on an electric lion with X-ray vision can still get pretty scary with the right opponent, ditto Guts when said electric lion comes back stronger from a status effect. But yeah, Farn is canonically an Intimidate Luxray.

Revolver OshawottDewott

I mean, you didn't think he didn't have the spinny blade trick down when he was younger when it was already established a while back that it ran in the family, did ya? o<o

i think he should be dead then :p

Shh… kinda need him for plot reasons. o3o;;

oh hey look they are related.

It was actually established a while ago in a blink-and-miss mention on a scene on Tromba, though this is the first time it's been laid out explicitly, yes.

Why go into education when you don't even seem interested in the job, buddy?

Prestige? While it's a pretty bad reason to become an educator, he is a Third-Rank thanks to his position, after all.

Whelp, it's a new month, and while it was a bit of a grind towards the end, @Virgil134 and I are back with a new chapter and a new arc to boot. It's a bit of a shorter installment this time around, though it'll hopefully still be enjoyable as it brinds place that's only been touched on in Special Chapters thus far into the main narrative.

The next installment is presently targeting a later August release, since I will have scheduling conflicts in the tail end of this month that will keep me away from the writer's desk for about a week.

The special thanks for today's chapter are about the same as last time, as once again @Virgil134 helped put the chapter and @Tangent128 helped us put the fresh header together. For you readers and reviewers, we're ever grateful for your engagement, and for sticking along for this sea yarn during all its twists and turns.

And with that, it's time to follow Team Traveller into the Pyroar's Den of Company waters:

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

The day after Commissioner Bunsen's fleet fled Tromba Island, the sound of hurried footsteps rang out in the halls of the top floor of the Company's headquarters in Canalhouse City. There, Lyn hurriedly rounded the corner for the final stretch to the Board's meeting room, still damp from having swum through the city's canals to the central office. He'd been summoned by a messenger sent by Administrator Farn, who had instructed him to arrive as soon as possible for a matter of life and death importance. With his fate as a Company Commissioner already precarious, Lyn didn't question the matter even while throwing the doors open and hurrying in, coming to a stop just past the doorway to catch his breath as the guards on duty closed the doors behind him.

"I came as soon as I received your summons, Administrator Farn," the Samurott said. "What's going on?"

Lyn looked up and paused after seeing that the entire Board had gathered together, all five of its members focused on a Roserade with a Second-Rank scarf that stood before their table and turned with a start at Lyn barging in. The Samurott's sudden arrival drew the attention of Inler and his Administrators, the Nidoking motioning for Lyn to come nearer as he spoke up.

"There's been a bit of a situation, Commissioner Lyn," Inler replied. "Officer Sicula just came back with what's left of the fleet dispatched to Tromba. Darzin brought the matter to our attention."

'What's left of it'?" Lyn asked. "What happened out there?"

"As I was mentioning earlier, Commissioner Bunsen received a summons from Administrator Farn," Sicula insisted. "She had dispatched us with a small fleet to go ambush a pirate crew and resettle some troublemakers from Tromba."

Lyn raised a brow at the Roserade's answer, before noticing that Farn's face had tightened into a deepening scowl that was leveled square at the Grass-Type.

"I'd like to remind you that I dispatched Commissioner Marsden for that purpose," the Luxray growled. "I still don't understand how it was Bunsen who wound up going in his stead."

The Roserade hesitated a moment, before casting a sidelong glance at Darzin over at his place at the Board's table. After biting her tongue, Sicula shook her head and spoke up with a grudging sigh.

"I… don't have an explanation for that, Administrator," she said. "All I know is that Commissioner Bunsen received those orders and relayed them to us accordingly."

Lyn approached Inler and the other Pokémon, twitching his whiskers irritably as he looked at Sicula with an unimpressed frown.

"Regardless of how that confusion happened, this should've been a straightforward mission," the Samurott huffed. "Why are you here, and why is Commissioner Bunsen not giving this report?"

"Because he was blown over the horizon," the Roserade insisted.

Alarmed looks went about the gathered Pokémon, as even Elilan and Inler seemed to tense up at Sicula's account. Zorn shifted in the water, before craning his head down to the Grass-Type with a disbelieving stare.

"I'm sorry, blown over the horizon?!" the Gyarados asked. "How on earth did that happen?!"

"Er… well, we were making good progress on our mission up until yesterday, when those three Protectors showed up with a small army and ruined everything," Sicula explained. "We did our best to hold the line, but were forced into a tactical retreat."

"You never did explain who those Pokémon were," Inler said, narrowing his eyes with a stern scowl. "Who exactly are we dealing with here, Officer Sicula?"

Sicula fell silent and uncomfortably pawed at her shoulder with one of her blooms, the Roserade hesitating briefly before speaking up again.

"Well for starters, there was Manaphy of all Pokémon, who attacked our ships in Tromba's harbor with an- er… several ocean clans," the Grass-Type answered. "There was also some sort of strange green dog that claimed to be the Protector of Conntow, and a long-necked bird with silvery-white feathers that said he was the Protector of Tromba."

The Board's members grimaced at Sicula's reply, with Lyn visibly freezing at the mention of 'Manaphy' and Elilan digging his claws into the table at the mention of the 'Protector of Conntow'. Inler paid keen attention to the latter's reaction, and was about to open his mouth to speak when Farn cut in with an incredulous outcry.

"Director, what's going on here?!" the Luxray demanded. "How did we suddenly go from one Protector to three?!"

"It appears that our little seabird's been searching for help," Inler sighed. The Nidoking shook his head a moment, before turning his attention to his peers with a serious tone.

"And it's imperative that he's brought back as soon as possible."

Sicula's eyes widened in surprise, as she looked at Inler and his subordinates in startled confusion.

"H-Huh?! What are you talking about?!" the Roserade cried. "You mean that you knew there'd be other Protectors out there?!"

"That's not relevant. What is relevant is Commissioner Bunsen's current location," Elilan snapped. "Even if Lugia used his powers against him, I highly doubt he just disappeared. If he survived, he'd have knowledge of how far Lugia and these new allies of his have progressed. Surely you would have found some sign of him by now."

Sicula blanched and hemmed and hawed for a brief moment, before grudgingly speaking up in reply.

"We… just didn't have any luck finding him afterwards," she insisted. "We're still assuming he's just missing in action for now, but it's almost as if he really did just vanish."

Darzin blinked at Sicula's explanation and moved a claw to his mouth in thought. Before any of his peers could press the matter, Farn interrupted the proceedings by getting up and shooting a sharp glare over at the Roserade.

"None of this explains why I'm not getting this report from someone on Commissioner Marsden's crew, though," she huffed. "Much less why my signature ended up on an order I never issued."

"Well, we did have an Imperial spy interfere with a mission we recently assigned," Zorn mused. "Perhaps this mixup was also his doing?"

Sicula cast a nervous glance over at Darzin briefly, before turning back to the Gyarados with an uneasy nod

"I… suppose that would be the simplest explanation for what happened," she said, prompting Inler to train his attention over to Lyn with a stern gaze.

"Now do you see why you were summoned here, Commissioner Lyn?" the Nidoking pressed.

"Yes," Lyn answered. "And I'm more than ready to go and confront the Guardian of the Seas and those new friends he's drawn out."

"Eh?! After we just got rout- er… forced to withdraw?!" Sicula exclaimed. "What could your crew do that we couldn't?"

"We'd see to it that a superior force is sent this time around," Inler retorted. "The only question that remains, is when you are ready to depart, Commissioner Lyn."

Lyn said nothing for a moment, before narrowing his eyes and nodding back to the Nidoking.


After leaving Tromba Island, Team Traveller's members spent their day rotating between duties on the Siglo Swellow, wiling away idle time with things like playing card games or seagazing, and taking turns reading the volume of the Knights' Ledger. In the later stretches of afternoon, as the sun began to drift further and further towards the horizon, Nida found herself back in the sleeping quarters where the Ledger had been stashed for safekeeping. There, much as she had on prior days, she spent her time poring over its contents, as her eyes darted back and forth over lines of runes written on weathered paper.

She had just reached a section that described how Cernun's egg had been brought to Conntow a little over 40 years ago, where it was spirited to the island's main Mystery Dungeon that had been converted into a military installation sometime before the passages were written. There, the egg underwent some sort of inspection alongside two others, before the three eggs began to be taken every now and then to a lab in Middleguard City. There were records of tests performed to try and draw a reaction from the eggs, subjecting them to changes in sound, temperature, and even weak exposures to Pokémon's elements such as with the likes of Pokémon's Static and Flame Body abilities. In spite of all their efforts, the researchers' activities seemingly failed to accomplish anything of note, until one of the passages in the tome caught Nida's eye, which she began to read aloud:

"We brought the Voice of Life's egg out of storage in the dungeon base and into the laboratory at Middleguard City today. I couldn't for the life of me understand at first why Queen Erna insisted on doing so on such short notice given how much of a hassle it is to move it securely, but after we probed it at the lab and stimulated it, we saw it.

Just like last time, the egg stirred. Much like one of ours might when the hatchling inside has begun to take form. We're not certain why the egg only has shown this activity outside of the Mystery Dungeon, but we presented our findings to Queen Erna along with our hypothesis that even after being cleared for military usage, the Distortion of the Mystery Dungeon may be inhibiting the eggs' development.

Queen Erna has insisted that we perform further experiments of this nature, especially on the other two eggs. The three awakening to take their rightful places guarding Anyilla is a matter of strategic importance, and if there is any way to coax them to awaken sooner, it could mean the difference between this realm standing strong as the world beyond this sea is restored, or being swallowed up as a vassal of Linglan or Garanza."

Nida lifted her paw and flipped the page, only to pause and double take after noticing the handwriting of the runes had abruptly changed. The Nidorina blinked for a moment, before furrowing her brow in confusion.

"… Qué?"

Nida looked down blankly at the page, and noticed just from a glance that the text on the subsequent ones had passing mentions of dates fifteen years after the last date she'd seen in the journal. The Nidorina leafed back to the prior page and noticed the two sets of writing were on opposite sides of the same page, with none missing or obviously torn out from the Ledger. She paused and twitched her whiskers puzzledly, wondering why there could've been such a large change, before she pinned her ears back and sighed to herself.

"… Maybe I should take a break," Nida murmured. "I've been at this longer than I thought."

The Nidorina closed the tome and pulled back a few loose floorboards to reveal the lid of a chest underneath. Nida opened the chest, before carefully putting the Ledger back into it and dutifully covering everything up again, taking a moment to stretch her limbs and head out of the sleeping quarters. She walked down the hallway, passing the glowmoss-lit jars that illuminated it as the timbers creaked from the Siglo Swellow bobbing along the waves. The Poison-Type's thoughts drifted off as she thought about being away from Tromba and her family once again, when she heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Kline in his dog-like Forme walking ahead.

"Oh, Kline!"

Nida bounded up behind the Zygarde as he turned back to face her. As she neared, the Nidorina tilted her head puzzledly at the Dragon-Type's appearance.

"You still haven't changed back?" she asked. "I thought that you normally preferred your smaller Forme that didn't require you to fuse with your Cells."

"I actually prefer the one that's made up of half of them, but it's fairly large and would draw too much attention," Kline replied. "This Forme here is actually the one that Micky was always the most fond of…"

The Zygarde trailed off wistfully a moment, before shaking his head to clear his mind and continuing on.

"Anyway, transforming between my Formes isn't exactly a subtle process," he explained. "Given that we're about to sneak into the Company's capital and poke around a few places that I'm not fully sure even have the Ledger, I figured that it was best to stay in this Forme in case we have to fight our way out."

"Hmm. I suppose that makes sense," Nida murmured, prompting Kline to tilt his head back puzzledly.

"You seem a bit lost in your thoughts, Nida," the Zygarde said. "Did you discover anything new during your readings this time?"

Nida shuffled her feet uneasily and pawed at the timbers, before speaking up in reply.

"Well, I came to this part in the Ledger where things just… changed suddenly," she said. "One moment, it was talking about moving Cernun's egg out of storage in Conntow's Mystery Dungeon to try and hatch it faster, but then all of a sudden it jumps ahead fifteen years. I… admittedly didn't look that closely, but I didn't see any mention of it again afterwards."

The Nidorina closed her eyes and flattened her ears, giving a low sigh to herself before turning back to Kline.

"I'm just having some trouble making sense of what happened there."

"Well, the Great Calamity did for starters, so it's only logical that the initial entries would end abruptly," Kline offered. "As for the sudden shift, we know that the Empire put the volume it recovered back into use for recording their findings. Given that you found this one with Cernun, I'd presume that it has details of the experiments he was put through."

"I suppose that makes sense, but… does that mean that the Company wrote stuff about you in their part of the Ledger after they got it?" the Nidorina asked, making Kline fall silent and blink for a moment before warily speaking up.

"… What makes you say that?"

"When I'd read through the Ledger earlier, I noticed some parts that mentioned that there were three eggs that were being researched," Nida explained. "If Cernun's egg was one of them and Yveltal is now on Conntow… then wouldn't the other two eggs be hers and yours, Kline? Especially since you're Conntow's Protector."

"That's correct, yes. But I doubt you'll find much about me in the Company's part of the Ledger since it was focused on Yveltal. Her egg was brought from Nagrobek to Conntow much as Cernun's was from Mengir," the Zygarde answered. "Frankly, you're fortunate that you never set foot on Nagrobek during your travels. Like Mengir, it's not a particularly pleasant place to visit."

"I guess that would explain things," she muttered, flattening out her ears. "Still, knowing that you got experimented on even before you were hatched must get to you sometimes."

"It is what it is, I suppose," Kline sighed. "I don't remember any of it and I'm more concerned about the present than the past. After all, the island I'm supposed to protect is a lifeless husk while Micky is captured and Elilan and his underlings are still trying to hunt me down."

"Ah! Nida!"

Nida and Kline turned around, where they saw Pleo approaching them as Charlie and Marilyn drifted past. The young Lugia was still dyed purple from their departure from Tromba, darting up with his wings spread wide for attention.

"We're almost ready to start serving dinner! Come and eat with us!" the Lugia chirped. "And you should come too, Kline! Even if you eat sunlight, it's always fun to gather around a table with friends!"

Pleo motioned for the two to follow, before pulling his wings back in and hurrying off. Kline and Nida glanced at each other, when the Zygarde curled his muzzle into a small smile and spoke up.

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to go along," he said. "Were you planning on having dinner when meal service starts or later on?"

Nida's mind turned back towards the Ledger and began to open her mouth to decline the Zygarde's offer, when she suddenly heard her stomach growl. The Nidorina looked down at her belly, before back up at Kline who stared at her, having obviously heard the growl just as well as she did. The Poison-Type paused, before sheepishly moving a paw to the back of her head.

"Ahehe… eating now's probably not that bad of an idea…" Nida replied. "Come on, let's go see what they've got."

As dawn broke the day after the Siglo Swellow departed Tromba Island, Team Traveller's members gathered at the bow and watched as rolling hills and a hulking set of walls made of dull-red bricks came over the horizon. The ramparts had been built along a line of barrier islands set back a ways from the shoreline, with warehouses and structures in the foreground coming into view as the ship neared.

Nida and her companions inhaled sharply as the Siglo Swellow approached the walls, a casual glance at the top of the ramparts revealing guards tending wooden cannons aimed out to sea and large cauldrons that they assumed to be filled with seafire much as the ones in Tidemill City were. Nerea and Dimitri's ocean clan had shadowed the ship at a distance to lend aid if needed, up until the final stretch where they broke off to lie in wait. While it had already been agreed that the Khranitel Rod would be of most use there to help them if the ship had to make a hasty escape, with what lay ahead of them, it made the lot wonder if for all their planning, there was anything the ocean clan could do if the worst came to pass.

A cloud of tension hung about the deck as a party led by a Milotic in Company garb sized up the ship, before waving them along. At Captain Beatrix's direction, the schooner continued on, sailing past Vollezee's coastal ramparts and into its famed lagoon, where the sight after clearing the walls drew a startled cry from Pleo.

"Ah! Look at all the buildings!"

There, on an array of islets was a veritable forest of spindly, gabled buildings painted in colors not unlike Mossaisle Town's buildings. While the lot stared forward, Pladur gave a quick explanation of some of the features of Canalhouse City, including a mention of how it was large enough to house all of Bluewhorl Town's Pokémon numerous times over. As the ship neared, the Fraxure raised a claw off into the distance and pointed out some of the features about the lagoon as they came into view.

There was the aqueduct and bridge over the ship channel between the shoreline and the city's islets, which afforded Pokémon both terrestrial and aquatic passage into the districts that had been built onshore as part of the city's expansion under the Company and the interior of the island. A little ways to the east of the city, the fog of a Mystery Dungeon bunched up into a column and spread out over a patch of lagoon water connected by a thin, sandy path that winded out from shore from a large base flying Company banners. Elsewhere in the lagoon, other islets scattered about were set back from the city's main cluster and had been less built-up, with some still unsettled with sedges and stray trees on them.

The Siglo Swellow made its way forward into a central canal that snaked through the city, wherever Team Traveller's members looked, whether in the skies above, in the water among passing watercraft, or on lanes along the canals, everyplace seemed to teem with Pokémon just as colorful as the mass of buildings all around them. The schooner followed the canal, passing monuments in the distance and a large arena built right along the water until they reached a keystone-shaped channel where a large number of ships with lavender sails had been docked. Beatrix leaned against the tiller and turned the ship to port, the escorts churning the water and air to push the ship into place at an open spot near the harbor's entrance.

After quickly tying down the ship and dropping the gangplank, Team Traveller and Team Zephyr's members made their way off, shuffling past the docks as Pleo ruffled his dyed feathers and gaped at the surrounding canalhouses that gave the city its name. Tidemill City had been large and imposing when he was present even from the little snatches he was able to see during his captivity and the team's hectic flight from it. But to actually be waddling along in a city like it at ground level, in the thick of this forest of buildings and Pokémon…

"It just keeps going on and on…"

"That's Canalhouse City for you. It's grown and been built up a lot since my dad was little, but just seeing it again really takes me back," Percy replied. "Why, I'm pretty sure that even Tidemill City isn't this big."

The Gliscor's eyes seemed to take on a wistful gleam briefly, as Ander peered off at the surrounding cityscape for a moment and fidgeted, uneasily tapping his scythes together with a quiet murmur.

"I sure hope we'll be able to pull this off…" he murmured. "Things got far too close for us in Tidemill for my liking."

"Älä huoli! The bigger they are, the harder they fall!" a Gabite's voice piped.

"Yeah, and with us covering your backs, you're sure to do better!" a Vibrava's joined in.

Team Traveller and their companions turned around, spotting Pyry and Pekka following along proudly puffing out their chests. Nida flattened her ears out, before turning over to Elty with a dubious frown.

"Did those two really have to come along?" the Nidorina grumbled.

"I mean, they have looked out for me since I was a pup," Elty replied. "And since when was having an extra set of helping paws a bad thing?"

"As long as they help and don't get us into trouble, it's fine," Kiran sighed. "Bueno, ahora qué? Where exactly do we go from here?"

Team Traveller's members traded blank stares with one another, before Crom pawed at the back of his head and started to speak up.

"Well, we have an idea of where the Ledger is don't we?" the Druddigon asked. "Kline mentioned a few places last night where he thought it might be, like that 'Academy' place. So let's go and get a feel for what those areas are like."

"Hold on," Alice interrupted. "There's something important we need to take care of first."

The gathered party raised their brows back at Alice, noting that her face had curled into a stern frown and the tone of her voice had turned deadly serious. Dimitri blinked and hesitated, wondering just what could have so suddenly changed the Sneasel's demeanor.

"Huh? But just what could that be?" the Kabutops wondered. "I thought we already went over our plans back on the ship."

"You'll see," Alice said. "It's one of those things that could make or break this mission."

A few worried glances went about the group as Percy and Calidus seemed visibly surprised. Kline looked at Alice and gave a skeptical tilt of his head as Kiran stepped forward.

"I mean, if you're sure about this, Alice…" the Swellow said, prompting Alice to nod back sharply.

"I am," the Sneasel insisted. "Just stick tight and follow me. I'll look around to see where it is…"

Alice moved forward and made her way for the harbor's exit, following the course of a nearby canal. After a moment's hesitation, Team Traveller and their companions followed along, curiously eyeing the Dark-Type and wondering to themselves what it was that was so important for her to drag them off into the middle of the city.

Alice's guidance took Team Traveller and their companions along a course following Canalhouse City's central canal, snaking over bridges between islets as the Sneasel led her companions forward. Every now and then, she'd stop to look at her surroundings, seemingly in search of whatever it was she'd led them off to find, only to pin her ears back annoyedly and continue on. All the while, Pleo found himself mesmerized and constantly gawking around at his surroundings.

The canal's water was a continuous churn of activity with swimming Pokémon, little rafts and narrow boats needling through it, and even a few that curiously seemed like little platforms for Pokémon to sit and stand on that were tugged by pulling swimmers. A few times, the little Protector wished he could hop into the water to join the colorful parade of passersby, only for a glance back at his purple-dyed plumage to remind him of Hatteras' warning to avoid getting wet for too long. He supposed there'd be plenty of time to go swimming once they were on an island that wasn't teeming with potential enemies…

For the city's part, there was no shortage of curiosities on land between all the shops and stalls crammed at street level along the canals and lanes. After Alice reached a tall, arched bridge over the central canal, the team crossed it where they saw a large building at the other end plastered with posters bearing curious titles such as My Fair Misdreavus and For a Few Boldores More. After asking, Percy explained that the building was some sort of 'theater' where Pokémon played pretend for the amusement of others, which made the young Protector wonder if someday they'd be able to go to one.

After turning down an overland lane, Alice led the group into a plaza where the sound of whistling music and jingling coins pricked Pleo's earholes, making him look off to his left to see a Golett turning a crank next to a colorful array of pipes decorated with figures of sea Pokémon and a Mr. Rime shaking a small cup that rattled with coins to the rhythm of the pipes' tune. Pleo waddled up to the pair, fishing a Poké coin from a pouch his teammates had given him and depositing it in the Mr. Rime's cup that drew a cheerful 'Dank je wel' in reply, before Elty rolled his eyes and came over to drag him back to the rest of the group. After rejoining his teammates, Pleo noticed the others had started growing restless from their journey, with Kline shooting an irritated scowl over to the leading Sneasel.

"Alice, just where are we going?" the Zygarde questioned.

"I already told you," Alice chided. "Somewhere important."

"Do you even know where this supposedly important thing is?" the Dragon-Type demanded. "Since it looks to me like you've just been wandering around aimlessly for the past fifteen minutes!"

"I'll know it when I see it," the Sneasel retorted, giving a dismissive wave of her claw back. "Just trust me."

Percy sighed and shook his head, before looking at Alice with an unimpressed frown.

"Look, whatever this is, maybe you should let me, Kline, or Calidus lead everyone around? You're the only one of us who has never been here before," the Gliscor said, prompting Alice to scoff back.

"Eh, don't worry abou- Oh! I think I found it!"

Alice lifted a claw and pointed off past a bridge ahead of them, where right next to the water was a small stand with a striped awning staffed by a Meganium. On the counter was a small pot, a press over a small fire, and a dull, ceramic knife that had been stained a golden brown that the Grass-Type was wiping off with a cloth in between her vines. Nida blinked and tilted an ear back puzzledly, before shooting a dubious glance at the Sneasel.

"Wait, isn't that just some food stand?" the Nidorina asked.

"It's not just some food stand," Alice insisted. "It's one that sells stroopwafels!"

The Sneasel eagerly darted up to the stand, drawing the attention of its Meganium proprietor with an eager wave. Team Traveller's members watched Alice excitedly chat up the Grass-Type, before trading confused glances with one another.

"What are 'stroopwafels'?" Guardia murmured.

The Cubone turned expectantly over to Team Zephyr's members, only to see that their moods had taken a turn for the worse. Percy had buried his face in a claw, while Calidus looked much as if someone had sprayed a Water Gun in his face. Kline seemed even more agitated, as he angrily grumbled under his breath before storming over to the stand. Team Traveller's members looked at each other before following along, the lot picking up on the smell of something resembling caramel, along with snippets of Alice's conversation with the shopkeeper right as the Sneasel was finishing her order.

"We'll take fifteen of them!" the Sneasel exclaimed.

"Oh! It smells really nice!" Pleo chirped, coming to a starry-eyed stop right beside the stand. Alice glanced over at the young Protector for a moment, before turning back to the Meganium proprietor with a small smile.

"And can you give the first one to my bird friend here?" she added. "It's his first time trying out a stroopwafel."

"Alice! What is the meaning of this?!" Kline snapped. "You said we had something important to take care of!"

"Well, you can't expect us to do a mission on an empty stomach, can you?" she teased, curling her mouth up into an impish smile. "Besides, with how much Percy went on about stroopwafels in the past, what better time to try them out then when things are still quiet?"

Percy let out a low grumble to himself about "I might as well go visit my family at this rate". Calidus was hardly impressed himself, though Kline was the most livid of the lot, as he narrowed his eyes into a sharp glare and grit his teeth in visible frustration.

"Alice, of all the immature, shortsighted, and stupid things you could've-"

"Mmm! It's so yummy!"

Kline blinked at Pleo's happy bird noises, turning to see him happily tearing into a disc-shaped set of wafers sandwiching a syrupy layer in between. The Zygarde turned back to Alice, who cracked a smug grin back at her teammate.

"Well someone likes it, at least," she said. "Maybe you should just be less jealous about not being able to eat any."

The Dragon-Type growled and turned his snout up with a sharp huff as Percy stepped forward towards the counter with a resigned sigh.

"Well, we're here anyway and the stroopwafels are already being made," he said. "So I guess we might as well take a moment to enjoy them."

The group made their way up where Alice slid a small bag of her team's coins across the counter to the Meganium, who counted them much to Kline's visible displeasure. After making change, the shopkeeper passed the rest of the stroopwafels off one by one to each of the party's members. As the Grass-type handed the snacks out, Guardia took one and eyed it curiously while the group made their way down the street and stopped at a stone-capped well in the center of a small square.

After taking a seat on the well's stone cap, Guardia sniffed at the snack's wafers, which sandwiched a central filling that had a texture and appearance like honey. After a moment's hesitation, she bit down into it and chewed over the piece. The Cubone's eyes lit up as a sweet taste filled her mouth, prompting her to greedily tear into it and happily gobble up the rest of the pastry when she noticed a Buizel looking at her as she passed, followed by a Sunflora that did much the same, and then a Drizzile that similarly stared while walking past. Guardia blinked puzzledly for a moment, wondering if she had perhaps made a mess while eating, when the Cubone paused and looked around. A quick glance about her surroundings made it apparent that she and her teammates were taking up a good amount of space around the well, and were fairly hard to miss for anyone passing by.

"Uhh… aren't we taking a bit of a risk gathering like this while we're searching for the Ledger?" Guardia asked.

"Eh, not like a 'mon here's never seen a group eating before," Elty replied.

"Maybe so, but Guardia might be onto something," Calidus said. "We don't exactly have a small area to search and sixteen Pokémon in Company scarves all together does draw quite a bit of attention…"

The group fell silent at the Talonflame's words, as Pleo uncomfortably gulped down another mouthful of his stroopwafel and shuffled his wings.

"I suppose that's a fair point…" the Lugia murmured. "Maybe it makes sense to split up into two groups?"

"Eh? Why only two?" Pladur asked. "We have more than two areas to search, don't we?"

"We do, but this is the Company's capital," Kiran said. "If we got into a pinch, the extra monpower could be the difference between making it back to the ship or being stuck on this island."

"Well, whatever the groups are, we want to be with Eltenios'," Pyry chimed in. "We've had each others' backs for years, so there's no reason to change things up now."

Nida blinked at the Gabite's insistence, before looking over at Crom and piping up adamantly.

"If we're picking teammates, then I want to be on Crom's team."

"Me too! Me too!" Pleo added.

"Simmer down already!"

The gathered Pokémon turned to see Kline giving a frustrated stomp of his feet, before shaking his head irritably.

"If we make this a free-for-all of joining friends, we'll wind up sorting ourselves into disorganized teams," he huffed. "So let's sit down and approach this in an orderly fashion."

Team Traveller's members fell silent, trading wary looks with one another after their initial sparks of inspiration were abruptly snuffed out. Pekka gave a dubious tilt of his head back, shooting an insistent stare back at the dog-like Protector.

"Well, how do you suggest we split up then?" the Vibrava pressed.

"For starters, me and Pleo should be on opposite teams for the same reason we split up at the dojo on Tromba," Kline insisted. "If one group runs into trouble, then they'll always have a Protector on their team."

"Well… can I be on a team with Nida and Crom?" Pleo asked. "I mean, we were just talking about it earlier and we do fight really well together."

Kline paused as Pleo stared back at him with wide eyes and a quivering beak, the Zygarde sighing before letting out a low grumble.

"… I suppose that's fine then," he said, as Elty began to pace over towards Pleo's side.

"I guess that means that I oughta join, too-"

"Hold it, Eltenios."

Elty felt a gentle prod at his shoulder, prompting him to turn and see Guardia poking at him with her club.

"I think that Kline would probably be better off with us on his team," the Cubone said. "Since he's not going to transform here, it wouldn't do him any good if he didn't have anyone small enough to squeeze into and search around tight places."

The Growlithe fell silent and blinked back, before shuffling back with his ears pinned back flusteredly.

"… Point."

"Well we still want to be on his team," Pyry said.

"Yeah, we really do work best as a group!" Pekka chittered.

Kline curled his muzzle down into a sour frown, before Alice slung her arm around the Zygarde and shot a teasing smile at him.

"Ah come on, Kline, they'll add plenty of color to your team," the Sneasel reassured. "Why I'll even help direct them!"

Kline looked away with an exasperated sigh, as Pladur stepped forward uneasily fidgeting with his claws.

"Well… I would like to keep an eye on my son," the Fraxure said. "Would that be alright, Pleo?"

"Of course!" the Lugia insisted. Pladur's expression grew more confident as he made his way over to Pleo's group. From the side, Kiran sized up the young Lugia's team, before following along and ruffling his feathers.

"I suppose I could also step in for Pleo's group as the team leader…" the Swellow murmured.

"And I as the guardian knight!" Trizano chimed in.

The Skarmory proudly strutted forward and fanned out his feathers with a beaming grin. Kiran frowned back at the Steel-Type, hoping that surely Pleo could be dissuaded after getting in a word, when he was abruptly cut off by an excited chirp.

"Oh! That's a great idea!" Pleo exclaimed. "Come along, Trizano!"

Kiran buried his face in a wing as Trizano stepped forward with a cheerful nod and went up to Pleo. On the side, Percy and Calidus turned back to Kline and stepped forward as the Gliscor of the pair spoke up.

"I suppose that we'd obviously be sticking with-"


The two Flying-Types blinked in confusion as Kline cut in. After a moment's pause, both Percy and Calidus traded hesitant looks with each other, right as Kline turned over to Pleo and began to explain himself.

"No offense, Pleo, but not all of us are as seasoned as each other," the Zygarde explained. "It's imperative that we don't put all of our veteran talent on one team while leaving the other to fend without it. Percy and Calidus would do the most good helping your team out there."

"… Are you alright with that, Pleo?" Calidus asked.

"Sure!" the Lugia insisted. "Though where will Dimitri and Ander go then?"

"Well, if we joined Kline's group, we should be evenly matched in numbers," Dimitri said. "Wouldn't that be the logical move there?"

Ander hesitated and tapped his scythes together uneasily before giving an askew glance back at the Kabutops.

"… Shouldn't we be asking him that, Dimitri?" he asked.

"I don't see why that is needed when it's the best decision tactically," Kline said. "Welcome aboard, you two. Though let's get moving, we've got a long search ahead of us."

Kiran raised a brow back at the Zygarde, the ends of his mouth settling into a puzzled frown.

"Where do we start, though?" the Swellow asked. "Since you said there were a few places you thought it might be at."

Kline paused for a moment and thought to himself, before turning in place and nosing off towards a clock tower off in the distance.

"I'll lead my team over to check around the Academy, while your group can check the Museum," he suggested. "The two of them are relatively close by, so we can regroup and share our findings afterwards. If there's anywhere in those places the Ledger could be hidden, I'm sure we'll notice something."

The others murmured in agreement as the few remaining stroopwafels among the group were finished off before the two teams split apart. Dimitri watched as Pleo and his teammates carried on up ahead, before the Kabutops shifted his attention and kept a close eye on their surroundings as both groups drifted away from each other and into the crowds among the city's islets.

About half an hour later, Kline's party found itself in the middle of a complex of long, stone buildings centered around a square central structure that straddled a pair of islets linked by two arched bridges. The place was a school used by the Company to train the new generations of its higher ranks, and one of the places where Kline suspected the red tome of the Knights' Ledger could've been moved to. After gathering in the shade of a Haxorus statue in the inner courtyard of the central building, the Zygarde and his team set off in a circular search pattern about the central building and the adjacent streets and canals.

The group began their search south of the central building, where on their way over they came across a bustling hallway crammed with stalls hawking books and Pokémon wearing lavender scarves, many of them curiously lacking any pattern on them at all. After looking around, the eight quickly realized that there was no sign of any obviously reinforced or set-back space that might hint at the location of a hiding place for the Ledger's tome, prompting them to move along and dutifully follow along the exterior of the building in a clockwise course. Along their search route, the lot passed watercraft and Pokémon swimming along in the canal, with stone bridges that linked the islet of the central structure with those of its satellite buildings, along with additional bridges in the air above them that zipped directly between the buildings like strands of a Spinarak's web… but with no sign of anything of interest from the building's brick walls, barring a window here or there that had been opened to let in a refreshing sea breeze.

By the time the group made it to the east of the building, they spotted a stairway going up to an entrance in the side of the structure… exactly like the one they'd seen earlier on the west side of the building. It was as clear a sign as any that they were running out of places to search about the central building. Elty began to grow impatient from their lack of progress, and looked up at Kline with with a tilt of his head.

"Didn't you already try to find the Ledger here with your Cells before, Kline?" the Growlithe asked. "Just what exactly are we supposed to be looking for here?"

"Something that doesn't add up with these buildings. I know I've overheard talk before that the Ledger is kept here," Kline replied. "That said, I can't for the life of me figure out where it is or if it's even still here. And I combed everywhere my Cells could reach in search of it."

Pyry and Pekka traded puzzled looks with one another, before turning back to the Zygarde with wary raises of their brows.

"… I mean, how would we know if what we're looking at doesn't add up?" Pyry questioned. "We've never been here before and it's not as if there'd just be a sign labeled 'Secret Room' or something."

"Yeah, and it's not as if we can just dig until we find something here," Pekka added. "Even if it wouldn't draw attention, this city's built on a bunch of glorified särkät and all of the lanes are paved. It'd literally be impossible for us to do that."

The group had no answer to the pair's question as they continued along their route and mulled to themselves over what they could do. After hearing vague snatches of talk of something about the 'Sigillating Wars' carry on the winds, Ander froze and tensed up before looking at a nearby window, where he could see an elderly Torterra inside in front of a blackboard, with Pokémon seated in front of her. Kline did mention that this place was a giant school… so if there really was a part of the Knights' Ledger here, with everything going on inside these buildings, would it really be sufficient just to look about their exteriors?

"… Maybe it makes sense to try looking around inside some of these buildings?" Ander proposed. "If we're not having any luck with our current strategy, maybe we should try a different tack."

Guardia raised a brow at the Scyther's words, moving her club close to her chest as she shook her head back.

"Eh? Won't we stick out like sore thumbs though?" the Cubone replied. "I mean, this is essentially a big grounds for lore-giving, isn't it? How can just poking around not draw-?"

"Everyone, fall back!" Kline hushed.

The group watched as Kline hastily ducked back behind the steps and hurried to join him, before they all looked warily around the corner. Kline pointed off at the entrance at their top, where much to everyone's surprise, they saw the form of a Dragonite in a Company Administrator's scarf storming out and fuming to himself.

"… Isn't that Administrator Darzin?" Dimitri asked. "What on earth is he doing here?"

"Administrator Darzin's had a bit of a… change of duties after he lost control of Tromba," Kline whispered. "I haven't seen him that much of him in the past, but the Board seems to use him often as their personal messenger."

Alice poked her head out further from behind her cover, watching as Darzin continued on grumbling under his breath. After noticing the Dragon-Type remained distracted from his surroundings, the Sneasel stepped forward slowly and whispered back to her teammates.

"… Only one way to find out."

Alice made her way from her hiding place, sneaking down the lane and up behind Darzin as she began to listen in. The Dragonite's audible complaining grew louder and louder as she neared, until she reached a few paces behind the tip of Darzin's tail and his words began to reach her ears clearly.

"The nerve of that blasted Alakazam! Who does he think he is making me wait like this?!" the Dragon-Type fumed. "He knew that I wouldn't come here unless it was something important enough to be put into the Vault, and here he's treating me like I'm passing off some student's love letter!"

Darzin froze as he thought he heard claws tapping against the lane's stones behind him. The Dragonite turned around, only to see nothing but an empty lane. The Dragon-Type paused a moment, before shaking his head and grumbling to himself about how it was likely his mind playing tricks on him. He jumped up and took to the air, none the wiser to a Sneasel emerging from behind a rounded signpost. The Dark-Type retraced the last few steps back to her teammates' hiding place behind the stairs, where Kline and the others watched Darzin fly off. The lot waited for the Dragonite's form to vanish off into the distance, as Alice approached the Zygarde in their midst and spoke up.

"Say, Kline… when you swept this place, did you happen to come across a 'Vault' by any chance?" she asked, prompting Kline to blink in response.

"… No, I didn't," he replied.

"That's probably a good place to start then," the Sneasel insisted. "I didn't get too many details from what I overheard, but Darzin made it sound like the Company keeps some important documents in there."

"… How would we even get inside in the first place?" Pekka asked. "And even if we did, how are we supposed to go nosing around in search of a hidden room without giving ourselves away?"

"I mean, not that we're not really used charging in and making a scene" Pyry chimed in. "But given that you said we couldn't just smash and grab our way to the Ledger, we're gonna need a bit more to work with here."

The group's members fell silent and mulled to themselves over what they could do, none of them sure just how they could go into the Academy to search for the Knight's Ledger without running into trouble.

It was then that Elty noticed a Toxtricity in a lavender scarf without squares stumble and drop a bag that spilled out some books, quickly scooping them up while grumbling to herself about "why do we need so many stupid textbooks anyway?". After a moment staring after the departing Poison-Type, the Growlithe blinked and turned to his teammates as a dawning realization came over him:

All during their investigation, they'd seen a number of other Pokémon in and around the building wearing those same unpatterned scarves. If the Toxtricity's comment about 'textbooks' was anything to go by, they were students, and there was a perfect way to get into the Academy and look around without arousing any suspicion.

"… I think I might have something, but let's run it by Pleo and the others first."

Author's Notes:

- (¿)Qué? - Spanish: "What?", "Huh?"
- Älä huoli! - Finnish: "Don't worry!"
- (¿)Bueno, ahora qué? - Spanish: "Then/Well what now?"
- Dank je wel - Dutch: "Thank you" (Informal)
- särkät - Finnish: "sandbanks"
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Winter can't come soon enough
Well, this is certainly an episode introduction chapter. I don't really feel like I have much to say about it because so far it's following some similar beats as the previous episode. The team is in an area under opposition control and is splitting up in the hopes of covering more ground. The big difference is there are fewer parties and more people in those two parties, leaving more chances for one of them to get caught. Which I don't expect to immediately happen until they try and go undercover at the academy. which begs the question what the rest of the crew is doing to make sure they're not recognized at all, since this doesn't sound like the type of problem that's solved in one afternoon.

I suppose it'd be ironic if Lyn misses them all because he sets out in pursuit when they're actually in the same city.
"How did we suddenly go from one Protector to three?!"
"Life, uh, finds a way."

but it's almost as if he really did just vanish.
Cue the X-Files theme.

This Forme here is actually the one that Micky was always the most fond of…
i would expect goofy or pluto to prefer that form most
Frankly, you're fortunate that you never set foot on Nagrobek during your travels.

"Alice, of all the immature, shortsighted, and stupid things you could've-"
I mean... he has a point...
"So let's sit down and approach this in an orderly fashion."
"Yeah, yeah, we get it. You're the Voice of Order. Doesn't mean you have to throw the word around."
"We've never been here before and it's not as if there'd just be a sign labeled 'Secret Room' or something."
Not with that attitude there isn't!
"… How would we even get inside in the first place?"
Hire Danny Ocean and his team?
"… I think I might have something, but let's run it by Pleo and the others first."
We interrupt this PMD fic to bring you Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Path of Valor. [beat] Wait a sec...