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Fledglings

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
I must say, that Gabite and Trapinch seem familiar. I do dearly wonder where you got the idea for them from?

But good to see Pleo finally getting to kick some butt.
I think we both know the answer to that question. :p

Might've benefitted from another sentence saying what they did have to lose.
Added along with some additional touch-up details.

Ah, finally. Someone's patience runs thin. I wonder how this will play out in the long-run, if at all.
I will leave that up to your speculation, though I will make a point of saying that impatience is not exactly a virtue, and isn't considered a character flaw for nothing.

Hooray! Pleo character development! He does know a bit of what's going on, and his important role in everything.
A teeny, tiny, abstract bit, but still a bit, yes.

That piece of dialogue made me lol.
Every so often, there is a scene where an oft-repeated phrase just seems to fit. This struck me as one of them. Glad it was amusing.

Looks like Crom got a bit carried away there, huh. ;P
Just a bit, yes. :p

Really liking the balance between dialogue and description in this battle. It's certainly no easy feat, balancing all these characters at once. Particularly like this quoted bit. :p
That actually is really heartening to hear, since battle flow is one of the elements that I'm less confident about as a writer.

Nida's certainly determined and adept to fighting under pressure.
Having some experience and (two out of three) opponents that aren't massively larger than you helps a bit with that.

The whole chapter was obviously leading up to something like this, and you didn't disappoint. I'm really rooting for Pleo, you know. :p
Glad to hear that you enjoyed how it played out.

So, last time, we left off with Pleo helping to bail out Bluewhorl Town in a moment of truth, and then succumbing to a little annoyance called 'unconsciousness' thanks to an ill-placed mailbox. This chapter will be the last to sport the ship design you all have gotten used to seeing over the past few installments, have a few less objects flying around in the air and more fallout to grapple with, and act as a denouement of sorts for the past few chapters.

Special thanks for making this chapter a possibility once again goes to Tangent128, solovino, and the kind folks who have been reading and reviewing. As per usual, reviews are both desired and encouraged.

Last but not least, the publishing schedule for the next set of chapters with shipless headers is presently being targeted at 10-14 days from now. And with that, let's catch up a bit with our favorite Rescue Team, shall we?:



The first thing that came back to Pleo was the pain: a dull, throbbing ache all over his body, that flared whenever he bumped or brushed up against something too hard. The next thing that came to him was that he was in some sort of tight, confined space that was round and soft like Nida's bedding… wait a minute, it smelled like Nida's bedding too! So this was… straw? But then why did the things he brush up against feel like his scarf?

"Ow," Pleo groaned, as his eyes wearily opened. Little by little, the sights and sounds around him became less of an amorphous blur. He began to make out partitions, the cloth-covered straw nest his body was resting in, and a ceiling made of canvas around him, illuminated by bioluminescent algae in jars, and soon heard voices coming from behind.

"He's waking up!" a young, but deep and rough voice cried out.

"Pleo, are you okay?" a smaller and softer voice asked.

"Huh? Who's-"

The Lugia uneasily shifted in this strange nest. He could make out the forms of a Swellow and young Druddigon in the periphery of his vision, but by and large, it was dominated by the face of a little blue spike-lump.

"Nida!" Pleo cried, as the young Protector all but pounced on the Nidoran to wrap his wings around her.

"Ow! Hey! I'm still sore from getting floored earlier!" the Nidoran protested, which made Pleo recoil from the noise. When he drew his wings back from his partner, he noticed that his teammates seemed to be sporting white bands over parts of their bodies.

Nida had some on her flank, where the Growlithe had burned her, and on a few of her legs... Crom had some around his belly and his arm, where the pirates they had fought had bit and clawed him... Kiran had some over a wing that must have been the one he shoved Pleo out of the way of those rocks with earlier…

Why, as Pleo inspected himself, he discovered that he too had some of the white bands, primarily over his tail and along some places on his side where he had been glanced by the rocks that knocked Kiran out.

"E-Eh?!"

"Oh, they're just bandages, Protector," a passing Chimecho explained. "Why you'll probably be able to get rid of them after a few days, an Oran Berry or two, and a lot of rest."

Pleo looked about his surroundings, and realized that the canvas roof went on for quite a ways, terminating at walls fashioned from wooden panels in the four directions around him. Everywhere he looked, there were other Pokémon running to and fro tending to other Pokémon that had white bands over parts of their body on similar straw beds. Pleo noticed that, like the Chimecho, the attending Pokémon wore white scarves bearing the outline of a red circle divided in two with a smaller circle overlying the center.

"Where are we? And why are all these other Pokémon here?"

"We're in the medics' tent," Nida said. "Mami brought us here after we got knocked out. We... weren't the only Pokémon to get thrown around a bit earlier."

As Pleo paid closer attention to the other Pokémon in the room, he noticed that with the exception of the Pokémon in white scarves, they all seemed to be aching, much like his teammates were. Some of the Pokémon seemed to be well enough to talk with these 'medics', others were groaning from their aches and lingering wounds, and a few truly pitiful-sounding voices could be heard whimpering.

All of these Pokémon had gotten hurt by the pirates? After Pleo's thoughts shifted to the golden scarved Pokémon, he was then hit by a nagging, dreadful realization that the ne'er-do-wells might still be in the town hurting others.

"But the pirates!" Pleo cried out of alarm, "They're-!"

"Gone, thanks to you!" Crom cheered.

Why, they still needed to be-! Wait, did… Did Crom just say they were gone? But how?

"Thanks to… Me?" Pleo asked, giving an incredulous chirp.

"Yeah, after you blew their captain into their ship, the rest of them high-tailed it off the island!" Nida exclaimed.

"Well… It was a shock when we heard about it after waking up, but everything really is safe now," Kiran said, as he gave a reassuring pat to the Lugia. It was a moment that would have ended with a content if weary night resting… Were it not for the fact that at that very moment, a Mawile, Pinsir, and a Girafarig wearing the town guards' lavender headbands marched past Pleo's bedding, and dragged a bandaged and hogtied Trapinch up from another cloth-covered straw mat.

"Alright, you!" the Mawile snarled. "You've got a sentencing at the main square to attend!"

The Pinsir grabbed the antlion by his bindings and unceremoniously dragged the poor creature along, the Girafarig shoving the pirate from behind every now and then.

"H-Hey! Ow! E-Ei niin kovaa! These ropes chafe and the ground's rough!" the Trapinch protested, kicking futilely against his bonds all the while as the guards drug the Pokémon out of the tent.

"E-Eh?! I thought you just said all the pirates were gone!" Pleo squawked, hopping up from his bed and retreating back towards a corner at the sight of the Trapinch. Why, that was even one of the same pirates the group had fought earlier!

"Uh… Well, some of them weren't able to get away with their ship," Kiran ruffled his feathers in discomfort as he began to explain, "So they wound up getting captured."

"And it's not like they could go anywhere fast," Nida added, "They're being guarded closely, why Mami and Papi even took some time off to-"

"They're still here?!" the Lugia exclaimed, growing wide-eyed at the thought that the pirates were still in Bluewhorl Town menacing its residents. The rest of Team Traveler couldn't help but groan and trade some looks with each other as Kiran attempted to explain just what 'captured' meant.

"Er. Pleo, that's not what-"

"We have to stop them!" Pleo cried out, as he darted off past the group for one of the tent's exits, tripping up a passing Meditite carrying a small bundle of berries on his way out.

"Kiran! He's not supposed to leave observation this soon!" the Chimecho exclaimed, before she floated briskly off to help the Meditite pick up the scattered berries.

"Pleo? Pleo! Wait!" Kiran called after the little Guardian as he and his teammates attempted to keep pace as much as their wounds would let them.




Moving around Bluewhorl Town at night was so much more confusing than it was during the day, even before taking the damage to the local landmarks into account. Pleo still had an idea of where the pirates would be, and after a few wrong turns and dead ends, the little Lugia found himself nearing Bluewhorl's main square by the sea...

Or as Pleo made out from fires burning in the centers of hastily-cleared and lined pits, he had more accurately arrived where the square was earlier in the day. Whatever damage the square sustained was from last week's storm rendered irrelevant by its present state as a mass of rubble and trashed structures. A crowd of Pokémon from around town, including numerous glowering guards, were forming a cordon.

Aha, so that's where those pirates would be, Pleo thought to himself as he worked his way through the mass of bodies.

"I'm here! I'm here! Where's the pirates to stop-?" he panted, fatigued from his journey from the medics' tent in his present state. After he popped out at the front of the crowd, he saw that the pirates were indeed there, if not the way he expected them to be. Much to Pleo's surprise, the pirates of the Iron Fleet had all been bound and dumped around a long wooden post with cross-beams and tattered, sopping ropes and canvas attached to it that had splintered towards its base end.

Perhaps it was because they were bandaged much like the Pokémon in the medic's tent, perhaps it was the fact they were ringed by a much larger hostile group, but the creatures seemed to have their aggression largely drained from them… Well, sort of, judging by some familiar faces that Pleo quickly picked out from the sorry assembly.

"Some 'path back to the sea' you chose, Eltenios!" a Trapinch tipped onto his back with bound feet pointing in the air and a bandaged jaw grumbled.

"Grr… And to top it off, you called me fat when you're the one that pigs out every meal!" a Gabite with a bruised nose and bandages around his belly tied to a cross beam growled.

"It's fur, not fat!" a hogtied Growlithe with bandaged flank, evidently 'Eltenios,' huffed back at his companions. The three continued bickering with each other as Pleo continued to stare puzzled at the ineffectual pirates, when he heard Kiran's voice calling out from behind him.

"Pleo!"

Pleo turned around, and saw that his teammates had also made their way through the crowd, trading relieved, if exasperated, looks as they caught their breath.

"Don't run off like that!" Kiran admonished.

"Erinomaista... just when life couldn't get any worse," the Gabite moaned, as he and his companions finally noticed some most unwelcome foes from earlier.

"Why are they all tied up?" Pleo asked.

"That's because they were captured," Nida sighed. "The ropes are to keep them from getting away and hurting anyone else."

"Must say that when I heard that the pirates lost a mast off their ship, I didn't expect it to come in handy like this," Crom mulled, as some uneasy murmurs came from the captured gold scarved Pokémon bound to and around the broken ship mast.

"Aw man… This is totally not gonna end well, is it?" a defeated and battered-looking Quilava groaned.

"I thought that lucky charm Hess wore under his scarf was supposed to deliver Pokémon safely back home!" a Sableye bound with some loose mast rigging grumbled.

"Well, it did… for him," a Jigglypuff that had been bound and gagged (lest any song from her be too audible) with strips cut from the mast's sails replied, screwing her eyes shut in frustration.

"Th-This wasn't supposed to happen! It w-was supposed to be a simple hit-and-run!" a trembling Zebstrika whined.

"Well now it's a simple one-way ticket for you patéticos parásitos out into the Wastes!" a Granbull with a lavender headband growled back.

"Yeah! See how you like having your day ruined!" a Wingull jeered from the sidelines.

"Enough!"

After the commanding voice cried out, the crowd grew silent. Some Pokémon near where one of the juice bars used to be cleared the way for an Ampharos with a red scarf with white dots holding a square scarf that was diagonally divided into a black and a white portion with one of his hands to come through to the front.

"Silence in the court! I, er-"

The Ampharos nipped the scarf he was holding, undid and tossed his Guildmaster's Scarf into the air, letting it fall and drape over his tail as he took his new scarf and draped it over his head much like a wig.

"Aha, now I'm ready! I, Judge Hatteras now call this court into session!"

"Psst! How many of those scarf changes does he do anyways?" Pleo quietly asked Kiran as Hatteras finished tightening up his judge's attire. The Ampharos then turned to a waiting Sceptile with a guard's headband and questioned the arboreal reptile.

"Osmund, you're the Captain of the Guard are you not? What are the charges against this lot?"

"Um… Guildmaster Hattera-?" the Sceptile asked incredulously as he stood blinking, before the Ampharos quickly interrupted.

"Judge Hatteras, Osmund."

"Right… anyhow, just take a look around for yourself!" Osmund exclaimed, making a slow, sweeping arc with the blade on his right arm. Hatteras took a moment to survey the swath of destruction all around the gathered crowd. The docks were missing chunks of the piers and other parts had collapsed into the water. The boats moored at them were similarly filled with holes, some half-sunken and resting on the harbor's floor. Not a single shop along the docks or around the square was undamaged- many of them utterly erased from existence by the events of the raid.

"Aha… so Destruction of Property and Public Disorder..." Hatteras mused.

"One of them knocked me out for being in the way!" a Skrelp with a bandaged snout huffed from the harbor's water.

"And Battery…"

"One of them set my shop on fire! I was going to upgrade it!" Calino shouted, hopping up and down, his scales flushing a most irate-looking shade of red.

"And Arson…"

"They stole from my bakery like a bunch of ill-mannered ferals!" Gwenith's voice roared from the crowd, the Druddigon shaking a fist in the air.

"And Grand Theft Pastry…"

"They murdered my bubble!" an upset Wooper from the end opposite Pleo cried out. "It was my best friend!"

"And Bubblecide..." Hatteras concluded before he turned to the bound Pokémon in the center of the gathering. "How do the accused respond?"

"I-It's not like we stole eggs or anything like that!" an Ekans that had been bound into a hoop nervously stammered.

"And... Uh… We didn't kill anyone? I think?" a Carvahna weighed down by a rock tied to her tail offered.

"My bubble was someone!" the Wooper angrily retorted.

"Grr… The bubble aside, this sorry lot did at least manage those two things, even if a number of us are presently sleeping off some wounds tonight," Osmund growled as he cast a glare at the captured pirates. "Though given their shameful display, I suspect it was because of our luck and their incompetence rather than any goodness from their hearts."

"Duly noted," Hatteras replied, before he raised his voice to ask the assembled Pokémon, "Now then, I ask the humble jury, just what should be the sentence for these ruffians?"

"The Wastes!" a Kingler shouted.

"Yeah, let's see them try to rob their way out of that!" a Pinsir from the town's guard hissed.

"Our world doesn't need Pokémon like them around!" a glaring Mightyena added.

The suggestions were joined by others of their kind, which caused the brigands to begin to pale and quake out of fear after the crowd pronounced its verdict. Exile. To the uninhabitable grave that ringed the Cradle and filled the rest of the world. To an unknown future where the few that managed to return spoke of it offering nothing but desperation and a slow demise to those who couldn't escape.

Hatteras took a moment to pause with a paw to his chin, and then turned to question the captured Pokémon.

"Do the defendants have any commentary about the suggested sentence?"

"W-Wait! D-Don't do that! Pl-Please!" the Zebstrika begged.

"There's nothing out there but distortions and ash!" the Carvahna whimpered, trembling after finding her attempts to flop away frustrated by the rock tied to her tail.

"We'll starve!" the Quilava whined, flattening out his ears.

"J-Just let us go! We won't come back to this island again! E-Ever!" the Ekans cried out as the serpent curled tighter against his bindings into a rough ball.

The desperate pleading went on for a little before Hatteras cleared his throat, and barring some sniffling from one of the unfortunates who had begun to cry out of fright, he managed to secure the silence of the crowd.

"Now I ask the jury… Is this really what we want as a town?"

Some quiet murmurs went around the gathering. Some were dismissive of the Ampharos' words, others wondered aloud why Hatteras didn't just zap the creatures to shut them up. It was then that the mumbling was broken by the sound of a familiar Nidorina's voice.

"Well what are we supposed to do, Hatteras?" Marley asked as she came along with her mate to the forefront of the mass of Pokémon. "They come into our town and leave a gaping scar on it… They try and steal the things we store away for our young, for the next year, and for making peace with the Company… And their leader was planning on desecrating the town ánima!"

"And they don't give us a lot of options, either!" Teja grumbled in agreement as he flicked his ears and shot a dirty look at the captured brigands. "We've got their damage to patch up! How's that supposed to get done if we still have to deal with them?"

"With all due respect, Guildmaster-" Bluewhorl's Sceptile captain of the guard interjected.

"Judge Hatteras."

"Judge Hatteras," Osmund hastily corrected, rolling his eyes. "But we wouldn't have enough cells to hold over a dozen miscreants like these even if we gave them over to the Company later! Those cells are meant for Pokémon that have made fools of themselves at a Juice Bar!"

"And all that pirates know how to do anyways is to steal and to ruin things!" a Hoothoot from the guild shouted from the crowd.

"Then... Perhaps it's time that they learned some different skills," the Ampharos proposed, which drew some curious questions from the gathered residents.

"Huh?"

"What's he going on about?"

"As you and I can all agree, this lot has caused more than its fair share of trouble to our town and has a debt to society to repay," Hatteras said, gesturing at the still-shaken looking group of pirates in the center of the gathering.

"So given that the Pokémon that have wronged you are still inexperienced… would it not be a bit more sensible to put them to work healing the scars they've left behind so that they might make something of themselves in the long run beyond being petty thugs and thieves?"

"It sounds good to me!" a voice called out, before all eyes in the gathering turned towards the direction of a certain white and blue Protector, whose teammates were visibly burying appendages into their faces.

"Pleo!" Nida scolded.

"What? It did seem to make sense," Pleo replied. Some more murmurs went about the crowd- after all, if the Protector thought it was an idea worth trying… Maybe this 'making the pirates fix the mess they made' suggestion did have some sense to it…

"As it so happens, we do have a means of exacting justice along those lines. One that this town has used before in the past…" Hatteras trailed off before finishing his thought in a dramatically lower and louder tone, such as one that one might utter a prophecy of doom with: "Community Service."

Some of the younger Pokémon in the audience turned to their parents to ask questions such as "what's a 'Community Service'?" as some of the elder Pokémon murmured among themselves approvingly and hastily explained that they knew that 'Community Service' was sensible all along. The pirates, sensing that there was an alternative for them to look forward to other than the Wastes, began to calm down, but even then, there was still a nagging matter that prevented them from being completely at ease...

"Why did he just suddenly say that in a super-ominous voice?" the Sableye among the pirates asked worriedly.

"Hmm? I don't believe it was ominous, Community Service is just the term," Hatteras replied, once again enunciating the term with particular stress to it. "You will be pacting to a Pokémon that will guide you through life here in Tromba much like we would treat a feral seeking to join our ranks. When you are deemed to have reformed and paid your debt to the island, you will be accorded the rights and privileges of a normal resident."

"Hrmph, cute euphemism you have there for forced labor. Well, what if we don't want this 'Community Ser-'?" the muffled Jigglypuff huffed defiantly, before she noticed a wall of glares coming from the surrounding Pokémon… As well as from her companions.

"Oh... Right," she muttered.

"Whelp, that's my verdict. Those of you who wish to go to the Wastes anyways are more than welcome to ask Osmund here to make arrangements with one of his teleporters if you so insist," Hatteras declared. "Alternatively, for those who would prefer an equivalent sentence closer to town, there are some Apricorn thickets on the far side of the-"

"Okay! Okay! We get it!" the Gabite cried. "Just… What exactly are you gonna make us do?"

"I have a proposal!" a Druddigon's voice called, as a certain 'old maid' stormed out from the crowd, stomping directly towards a Gabite that had helped himself to her bread earlier.

"Erk!" the Gabite gulped, as he frantically tried to break free of his bonds only to feel a coarse-hided claw grab his neck.

"It's called 'You're repaying me for that bread you stole!'" Gwenith snarled at the Gabite, as she tightened her grip on the dragon's neck and dug the points of her claws in between his scales.

"O-Ow! Let go! Your hide's hurting me!" he whined.

"Wait. Mom? If you're putting him to work, does this mean that I can get off a little early from the bakery for a while?" Crom asked from the sidelines.

"Proposal approved," Hatteras proclaimed, and motioned for some guards to undo the Gabite's bindings. As Gwenith dragged her still-flailing new baker back into the crowd, the Ampharos turned back to the assembly.

"Any others?"

"Hmm, I mean, it didn't suffer any damage directly… But I could use that Trapinch there to dig a few ditches for my field," Mildrew called out from a few rows behind the front. "I have been meaning to plant a few more apple trees..."

"What?!" the Trapinch chittered in exasperation.

"Approved," Hatteras replied, as the guards came to unbind the newly-minted apprentice horticulturalist for Mildrew to claim. An icy and airy tone then called out from another part of the crowd.

"I'll take the Quilava, I could use him for more… Ahem. Intractable babysitting cases," she said, which caused a few of the parents in the crowd to begin to trade nervous looks with each other.

"Hariti," a Lombre protested, "You can't honestly be suggesting-"

The Quilava was quick to toss in a loud protest of his own at the idea of being stuck with the Day Care worker.

"You beat me unconscious and then froze me over into an ice block! As if I'm doing anything for you!" he spat, which caused Hariti to receive a few incredulous and impressed looks.

"Oh trust me, I'll survive him. I've wrangled my fair share of Fire types before. And I'm sure he'll learn how to find his softer side for younglings… Or else learn to like being a lawn ornament for a few hours at a time," she replied, shooting a frosty glare at the Quilava.

"Approved," Hatteras announced as the Quilava too was untied and reluctantly led off groaning under his breath, taking care to not be heard by the ice sprite.

Pleo, not really picking up the gravity of the situation at hand, couldn't help but find these 'Community Service' sentences to be a little amusing. When an idea struck him… Perhaps he could help out with this sentencing, too...

"Oh! Oh! I want a Community Service! I want a Community Service!" Pleo cried out, waving his wings for attention.

"Pleo!" Nida admonished, flattening out her ears. The Nidoran grumbled a little and wondered why the little Guardian couldn't have a less-outsized mouth to run off.

"With all due respect, Pleo, but I'm not exactly convinced this is a good idea," Kiran sighed, putting a wing over his face. Pleo paused for a moment, taken aback- it was all in good spirits and helping the town, wasn't it? So why were his teammates so reluctant to get into this 'Community Service' thing, too?

After he mulled things over, he thought there might be a way for him to still help out in sentencing after all...

"The Community Service can be helping me train?" he suggested.

"What?! Why should one of these thugs get that honor?!" a bandaged Rhyhorn loudly protested from the the crowd, before being joined by a number of other protesting voices… Until Hatteras cleared his throat to speak.

"Now, now, there is some sense in the Protector's words… Recall how he blew their captain across town earlier?"

"Yeah! It's not easy to spar with this!" Pleo declared, happily playing along as he beat his wings together to try and whirl away some heaps of shop rubble near the sea to show off… Only to find that the winds that came from his wings, barring a few odds and ends, completely failed to dislodge anything from the rubble heaps.

"I dunno, I'm pretty sure I could spar with that," Scout's voice volunteered from the crowd.

Pleo squawked in shock and his beak fell agape. Didn't everyone say that he had blown the mean Aggron across town earlier? But he had just given the toughest beat of his wings he could muster... he could even feel them aching a bit from overexertion! And it didn't look anything out of the ordinary!

"Eh?!" Pleo cried. "That was just like-!"

"That's quite enough, Pleo," Hatteras hastily spoke. "Let me rephrase the question… With the knowledge that the Protector will eventually replicate today's feat sometime down the road, which of you would care to take up the offer for sparring?"

The question elicited some coughing and nervous laughter from the crowd, the Rhyhorn and a few of the more vocal protesters earlier quickly concocting various excuses for why they couldn't volunteer such as 'chronic stomachaches'.

Even Pleo's teammates had to concede, it would be nice if someone else could do the work of sparring with Pleo. He seemed to be back to normal now… But just in case he wound up stumbling into whatever had allowed him to rout Hess earlier once again, it would probably be for the best if they weren't the ones getting blown across Tromba.

"Well, if there are no takers, I think that it's fair to let Pleo make his choice," the Ampharos said, as he motioned for Pleo to step forward.

"Hrm… I pick…"

Who should he pick? The Zebstrika still in the group? No… He looked too big and intimidating. The Jigglypuff? But the pink puffball seemed too hostile and angry earlier. If only he could convince Hatteras to let him borrow the Trapinch or Gabite from earlier… Wait a minute! There was one more Pokémon with them, and no one had given him community service yet!

"The doggy! I already beat him once with Nida and Crom, so if I have to do it a second time, it shouldn't be that hard, right?" Pleo chirped cheerily, proud that he was helping with this 'Community Service'. His teammates on the other hand...

"Uh… Pleo," Crom groaned as he screwed his eyes shut and buried his face in an open claw.

"Can we maybe pick a different-?" Nida suggested, before Hatteras' voice interrupted her.

"Approved."

"Grr," Nida grumbled. Of all of the pirates to get stuck with, it just had to be the lippy fatty who burned her earlier. She watched with a scowl as the guards undid the orange dog's ropes; before any of Nida's teammates could come over, the Growlithe exhaled what seemed to be a sigh of relief and bounded off over their surprised objections… towards her position.

"Well, I suppose that's one way to get a new recruit," Kiran murmured as the little dog approached the team. The Growlithe was quick to pick up on the misgivings of some of his teammates, and huffed back accusingly.

"Hrmph! With the way you're acting, you'd think I was diseased or something! I thought that pacting was supposed to be a fresh break!"

"Unfortunately, he does have a point," Crom sighed.

Nida flattened her ears, not really understanding why Pleo, who was still in his giddy own world about being able to help with 'Community Service', had thought this was a good idea. But since they were going to be stuck with this mutt for a while...

"Fine, tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have a name?" she sighed.

"The name's Eltenios!" the Growlithe barked proudly. "It means I don't ever, ever give up and-"

"Okay, first rule of your community service," the Nidoran interrupted while raising her barbs in frustration. "We're not saying all of that."

"Eh?!" the Growlithe yipped. "But it's my-!"

"Why not 'Elty'?" Pleo cheerily suggested.

"Actually, it does has a ring to it and it is more concise," Kiran mulled. "I'll let Nida's rule stand."

"I like 'Elty' too!" Crom added.

"Daj spokój! I don't even get to be called by my full name?!" the Growlithe exclaimed, folding his ears back in annoyance.

"I thought you said that 'pacting was supposed to be a fresh break' earlier," Nida chided the now grumbling Growlithe that would from now on be 'Elty'. "Who said anything about names being exempt?"

"Grr..." Eltenios- er… Elty fumed, glaring daggers all the while at Nida.

"This is going to be an interesting season for training, isn't it?" Kiran sighed.




Author's Notes:

- Ei niin kovaa! - Finnish: "Not so hard!"
- Erinomaista - Finnish: "Excellent". Used here as a sarcastic interjection.
- patéticos parásitos - Spanish: "awful parasites"
- Daj spokój! - Polish: "Come on!"
 
Last edited:

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
The first thing that came back to Pleo was the pain: a dull, throbbing ache all over his body, that flared whenever he bumped or brushed his surroundings too hard. Wherever he was, it felt soft and like Nida's bedding, except there seemed to be something underneath that thinned out the straw. Cloth?
You say "the first thing" but then you neglect to point out anything else that comes back to him, if anything at all. Overall the opening paragraph is a bit bare, and I would consider adding more to it!

Pleo looked around his surroundings, and realized that the canvas roof went on for quite a ways, terminating at walls fashioned from wooden panels in the four directions around him. All around, there were other Pokémon running about tending to other Pokémon that had white bands over parts of their body on similar straw beds. Pleo noticed that, like the Chimeco, the attending Pokémon wore white scarves bearing the outline of a red circle divided in two with a smaller circle overlying the center.
You used "around" 3 times in the first 2 sentences. Maybe mess around with structure/word choice? Chimeco is spelled wrong the second time too.

I do like you calling the bandages "white bands" - it reinforces Pleo's naivety in a way. It's also nice to see him being observant and trying to figure out what's going on for himself rather than relying on others.

"Where are we? And why are all these other Pokémon here?"
Andd he couldn't figure it out on his own, but that's okay. XD

It was a moment that would have ended with a content if weary night resting… Were it not for the fact that at that very moment, a Mawile, Pinsir, and a Girafarig wearing the town guards' lavender headbands marched past Pleo's bedding, and dragged a bandaged and hogtied Trapinch up from another cloth-covered straw mat.
Their adventures are never quite over, are they?

"They're still here?!" the Lugia exclaimed, growing wide-eyed at the thought that the pirates were still in Bluewhorl Town menacing its residents. The rest of Team Traveler couldn't help but groan and trade some looks with each other as Kiran attempted to explain just what 'captured' meant.
It makes sense to me, with Pleo's childish demeanor, that he'd still feel unsafe in this situation. Nice touch, there.

"Grr… And to top it off, you called me fat when you're the one that pigs out every meal!" a Gabite with a bruised nose and bandages around his belly tied to a cross beam growled.
Hah, still mad about that, of all things?

"Well, it did… for him," a Jigglypuff that had been bound and gagged (lest any song from her be too audible) with strips cut from the mast's sails replied, screwing her eyes shut in frustration.
I like that little bit of detail about keeping the jigglypuff from singing.

"And Grand Theft Pastry…"
I think I see what you did there...

"And Bubblecide..." Hatteras concluded before he turned to the bound Pokémon in the center of the gathering. "How do the accused respond?"
Bubblecide - you're killin' me here

"Now I ask the jury… Is this really what we want as a town?"
Hatteras asks the right questions.

"What? It did seem to make sense," Pleo replied. Some more murmurs went about the crowd- after all, if the Protector thought it was an idea worth trying… Maybe this 'making the pirates fix the mess they made' suggestion did have some sense to it…
Pleo will either come to regret this quite a bit, or it'll turn out well. I'm not sure which I would predict yet.

"The Community Service can be helping me train?" he suggested.

"What?! Why should one of these thugs get that honor?!" a bandaged Rhyhorn loudly protested from the the crowd, before being joined by a number of other protesting voices… Until Hatteras cleared his throat to speak.
Ah, now the stakes are being raised. Pleo is still so cute. ;o; I wanna hug him.

"Grr," Nida grumbled. Of all of the pirates to get stuck with, it just had to be the lippy fatty who burned her earlier.
It's just like Nida to get mad over this. :p

"Okay, first rule of your community service," the Nidoran interrupted while raising her barbs in frustration. "We're not saying all of that."
Really loving the characterization for her in this chapter, even though there isn't much of it.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
You say "the first thing" but then you neglect to point out anything else that comes back to him, if anything at all. Overall the opening paragraph is a bit bare, and I would consider adding more to it!
You used "around" 3 times in the first 2 sentences. Maybe mess around with structure/word choice? Chimeco is spelled wrong the second time too.
I changed the parts in question. Thank you for drawing them to my attention.

I do like you calling the bandages "white bands" - it reinforces Pleo's naivety in a way. It's also nice to see him being observant and trying to figure out what's going on for himself rather than relying on others.
Andd he couldn't figure it out on his own, but that's okay. XD
To be fair on Pleo, that is some admirable deduction from someone who's roughly a week old.

Their adventures are never quite over, are they?
Well, there eventually comes a point in a story where things simmer down enough that you can call it an 'ending', but nah. Life's an adventure up all the way to the very end, even if it's not always a fun or exciting one.

Hah, still mad about that, of all things?
Injury doesn't quite take the sting out of insult, even if it ought to.

I think I see what you did there...
Bubblecide - you're killin' me here
Hatteras asks the right questions.
Glad you seem to be enjoying Hatteras. He's intended to be one of those 'goofy, with flashes of seriousness' types.

Pleo will either come to regret this quite a bit, or it'll turn out well. I'm not sure which I would predict yet.
This is the accurate prediction. Which should be somewhat evident from this chapter.

It's just like Nida to get mad over this. :p
Hey now, that fire hurt, you know...

Really loving the characterization for her in this chapter, even though there isn't much of it.
Glad that you liked it, even if it was a little sparse on my part.

So as some of you might have noticed, there were a few more revisions to a few in the ongoing trend of "things that I should have caught/thought of the first time around". Nothing exactly plot-alteringly important, but the Finnish blurbs did get a rework based off of some feedback that I chanced to get from a native speaker, and there is a worldbuilding blurb regarding language in the setting that was formerly left up to implication, chat notes, and wild guessing that is now explicitly laid out in the fourth chapter.

Last week, Team Traveler finally got its first honest-to-goodness starter on the team... if you played the Japanese-only WiiWare PMD games. Now obviously, the circumstances of that recruitment were just a little unusual, and as such, their fallout will show up for a good deal of today's chapter.

This chapter will be kinda like chapter 4, in the sense that it'll be a little longer than the average if not as action-deprived. I thought of cutting it a bit short and moving some of the later bits onto a next installment, but I came to the decision that the parts of tonight's chapter simply flowed best when they were grouped together.

Special thanks (at least to people with stable internet presences) goes to Tangent128, solovino, and diamondpearl876 for helping with the beta reading, image manipulation, and other little things that helped to make this chapter exist.

Publishing of the next chapter is currently aiming for a 7-10 day window so I can iron out a swarm of bugs in it, but as usual, I will warn in advance that targets are targets and not hard commitments. As per usual, feedback, criticism, and commentary is both welcome and desired.

Anyhow, let's get back to that not-so-normal group of rookies... in the next post since this pre-amble sends the chapter over the post character limit.
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter


It was another balmy afternoon in Tromba, with blue cloudless skies above, and sunlight beaming down on the tropical island and its little town by the sea. A quaint backdrop to the sight of a young Lugia darting about a courtyard in between the roofed corridors of Mosca's Dojo...

"A-Ack!"

… who was trying his hardest to dodge clumps of burning cinders being spat out at him by a strafing Growlithe.

"What, you expected me to just bark and roll over for you today?"

As the days passed after the pirate raid on Bluewhorl, things settled little by little into some sense of equilibrium. Bandages were removed, aches and pains faded away, and Pokémon became healthy again. Even if the repairs to the damaged and obliterated shacks and tents in town didn't keep pace, the residents of Bluewhorl went back to their livelihoods. As for Pleo, he too returned to his routine of daily training, resuming his sessions in Mosca's Dojo under Team Traveler's guidance as if the raid never happened...

"Come on, Protector!"

"Yeah! Kick that pirate's butt!"

"You should try to fly! Do a barrel roll!"

... except his routine back then didn't involve Nida's three older siblings cheering him on. Or being on the battlefield at the far end of the Dojo that deliberately built away from any nearby shacks. Or getting burning hot embers being blown at him. Or sparring with a former pirate the team had dubbed 'Elty' (or 'Eltenios' as the Growlithe occasionally insisted) who was blowing said embers at him. They also most certainly didn't involve said Growlithe running circles around the young Protector of Tromba Island. Perhaps it wasn't such a normal routine, Pleo thought as he whirled around after Elty and spat up a glowing ball from his mouth.

"Just because you're sparring alone now doesn't mean that I'm going to be going any easier!" the Growlithe barked. The orange dog sidestepped the glowing ball, which sailed on until it struck an barely-visible barrier of light being held in place by a Golduck.

The ball imploded with a flash of light and the barrier dissipated, the Golduck muttered something under her breath about "Mosca oughta help him with his accuracy." The creature then swiftly switched places with a Staryu, who formed a barrier to replace the one that Pleo had broken.

As the young sea guardian and his sparring partner continued their fray, a certain Druddigon and Nidoran cast wary glances at the Hawlucha overseeing this match. The two noting and growing a bit concerned at the raptor's visible nonchalance towards the events on the field.

"Erm… Mosca? Are you sure this is a good idea?" Crom asked as he gave a subconscious beat to his wings. Pleo did seem like he was taking a harsher beating on the field than was healthy for the young Lugia.

"Now, now, one-on-one sparring is an important skill to develop," the Dojo Maestra replied to the young Druddigon.

"Yeah, but against Elty?" Nida protested. The Nidoran hopped up and down and waved her arms to try and grab the Dojo leader's attention.

"Oh?"

"Kiran's off running an errand! I'm just saying, I'd be more comfortable if we were in there to help smack him around again," Nida piped. Which for a short moment caused the Growlithe on the field to stop and wheel around towards the direction of his spectating teammates.

"Oi! Just because your leader's making me serve as a punching bag here doesn't mean I'm not on your team, you know!" he growled indignantly. "Why, I'm even wearing your same dippy blue scarf now!"

"Oh trust me, this old bird can keep him in check if it comes to that," Mosca quietly reassured. "No Pokémon walks away unfazed from Mosca's Plancha Voladora!"

"And we're here, too!" a purple spike ball proudly declared, puffing his spikes out.

"Yeah, if we have to, we'll make that mutt see stars!" another blue Nidoran added.

"Dorin? Ani? Don't you have work right now?" Nida grumbled, frowning and flattening out her ears.

"We're all en recreo!" another male Nidoran cheered.

The chatter among the Nidoran was quickly interrupted by a cry from Pleo on the other end of the field, as he once again cast a glowing ball from the back of his throat.

"Hah!"

Only for the Growlithe to weave around the orb again, if narrowly enough for the ball to graze his pelt. It was an experience that couldn't help but frustrate Pleo. Elty hadn't been this slippery when in earlier fights with Nida and Crom's help, so why was he suddenly so much better at avoiding things when it was just against himself?

"H-Hey! Stop moving around like that!" Pleo squawked.

"For you to land a free hit? As if!" Elty taunted, taking a moment to wave his tail at Pleo's face.

"You want a piece of this? Chodź i weź to!"

"Alright, fine then!" Pleo snapped as he took off running for his sparring partner. The Growlithe rolled his eyes and exhaled another red-hot clump of cinders at the approaching bird, only to be stunned to see the bird rise above the glint of fire into the air.

Which was quickly followed by Pleo beginning to wobble and then come tumbling down with a crash… on top of the little orange dog.

Nida and Crom winced as the sound of a loud yelp reverberated across the battlefield. Pleo for his part seemed to have his wind sucked out of him; he caught his breath from on top of his mostly-obscured opponent as Nida's siblings chattered excitedly.

"Nice one!"

"Yeah, you flattened him!"

"Ooh! Why that's just like mi Plancha Voladora! Well done, Pleo!" Mosca cheered. The Dojo's Maestra was pleasantly surprised. Why the Protector seemed to have a shared fancy for how to pin annoying opponents! … if with some rather visible weaknesses in his form.

"Try and put more oomph into it next time, though!" she called out.

"Uhm… But-" Pleo stammered sheepishly. "I meant to fly down and do that glowing ball thing, tho-"

Before Pleo could finish explaining what his awkward tackle was meant to be, his ears were suddenly filled with a harsh, snarling roar from beneath him.

"GET OFF OF ME!" the Growlithe bellowed. The ear-splitting racket making Pleo flinch and calmly and quietly get off of his opponent.

"A-Aaah!"

Oh who are we kidding? Pleo couldn't think of many things at that moment other that he desperately wanted to be anywhere but where that dreadful-sounding voice was coming from. He broke away, running as fast as his legs could carry him… Straight into an unseen wall.

"Gwark!"

Pleo recoiled and rubbed his head to find that he had struck one of the barriers maintained by the Pokémon manning the fringes of the battlefield. Its owner, a Glaceon, immediately responded with "I'm so sorry, Protector!" and a litany of profuse apologies before he abruptly recoiled and jumped back.

Before Pleo could ask what was wrong, he was cut off by a burning pain along his back. He looked behind himself and saw that a large blotch of his feathers along his spine had been singed. As Pleo flailed around, beating out cinders that stubbornly clung to life, he indignantly called out to their maker.

"Aagh! H-Hey! You can't just breathe fire on me like that! You roared in my ears!"

"Sure I can," Elty retorted, scoffing at the young Lugia. "I scared you off. You let your guard down. I burned you. Simple as that."

"What?!" Pleo shouted, growing rather cross with this sparrer who seemed to take every chance to attack him while he was down. Frustrations which the extra Nidoran on the side were keen to echo.

"Boo!" the purple Nidoran known as 'Dorin' hissed, fanning his barbs out.

The faint sound of a pebble glancing off the backside of one of the barriers reverberated, followed closely by a growling "Way to be cheap!" from the blue Nidoran called 'Ani'.

"Pleo! You need to play at his own game!" Crom called out from the side and over the voices of the Nidoran. Pleo stopped on the field to tilt his head towards the Druddigon, what did Crom mean by 'playing at his own game'?

"Huh-? Hey-YEOW!"

Pleo saw Elty coming with teeth bared from the corner of his vision, and reflexively tried to pull his wing away from him. But alas, he was not fast enough to prevent Elty from clamping his jaws down onto a mouthful of his wing.

"Hey! I was explaining something to him!" Crom fumed, before Elty unclamped his jaw to respond… and spit out a few feathers from his mouth.

"Not my problem!"

"There!" Nida cried. "While his guard's down, Pleo!"

"While my-?"

As soon as Elty began, he found himself sailing headlong towards one of the sidelines on a stiff, unrelenting gust of wind which took him off of his feet. He bonked his head on a translucent panel erected by a Gloom and fell to the ground with a yelp.

"A-agh! What was-?!" the Growlithe cried out. His yelps were then answered by a voice that, while tired and fatigued, sounded rather frustrated.

"Stop being mean!"

Elty heard some Pokémon from behind him moving away. As he stumbled to his feet, he immediately understood why when he saw a quickly moving glowing ball headed directly for him.

"Aw kurczę-"

In the blink of an eye, the ball struck the hapless Growlithe, flinging him through the vacated gap where the Gloom and her partner had been. The hapless dog sailed across a roofed walkway and into the wall of a hut with a thud. Gravity then took over and dropped Elty to the ground along his flank, leaving him to moan stunned for a moment...

"O-ow…"

… as the audience of Nidoran on the sidelines continued to trade commentary.

"Ooh, harsh."

"That's gonna leave a mark."

"I think that we've gone far enough and damaged enough property for one day to declare a victor," Mosca hastily interjected. Between the winded and scowling Lugia on the field, the Growlithe groaning next to the Dojo hut, and the visible dent hut's wall, it was hard to argue with the Hawlucha.

Or at least it was until Elty took a moment for the Maestra's words to register.

"H-Huh?!" the Growlithe exclaimed, springing to his feet swiftly but uneasily. "But I'm still able to-!"

"As cathartic as it is to watch you get blown around the room, Elty... you can't exactly carry out your community service if you're passed out for half the day," Nida chided. If nothing else, she had to quietly concede that the former pirate was candid about something. Even when it wasn't sensible, he really didn't ever give up.

"Besides, if you're conscious, you'll be able to work on getting a little less tubby!" Crom added.

"Grr… I could've turned things around though!" the Growlithe fumed, flattening out his ears as made his way back towards Pleo onto the battlefield. "And it's fur, not fat!"

"Enough. The match is over," Mosca scolded. "Shake claws and then let's get you both healed up."

Pleo didn't really want to shake with Elty, and judging from the glare the Growlithe had on his face as the two walked to each other, it seemed like Elty didn't particularly want to either. But this was just sparring, and if it was right to give one to Gwenith after a heated fight… maybe it was right to give Elty one too, he guessed.

After the two gave each other a begrudging shake, they made their way back towards Mosca and their waiting teammates. The Pokémon that kept the barriers up around the battlefield headed off for a break from work and Nida's siblings darted off for the exit back to their work with a shared refrain of "Whelp, show's over." Mosca quickly summoned Pleo over to her side where she had set out a bowl of water for him to drink from as she inspected him for wounds. Elty went towards another bowl laid out a short distance away and began to lap up its contents when he noticed a blue spike ball approaching him with an Oran Berry.

"Oi. What do you think you're doing?" he growled.

"Um... Hello? Treating the wounds you picked up?" Nida replied, dropping her Oran Berry by her paws and nudging it forward to emphasize her intentions.

"Look, I might not be a smart Pokémon, but I'm pretty sure that a poisonous little spike ball like you is the last thing that I need around my wounds!"

"Do you want to be miserable and wait your turn for healing?" Nida grumbled, the Nidoran rolling her eyes a bit at her new teammate's intransigence.

"It's alright, Nida," Crom offered. "I actually need some first aid practice myself!"

"See? Someone more qualified is here already!" Elty declared, taking the opportunity to stick his tongue out. Nida looked at Elty, then over at Crom, and then back to Elty. She supposed Crom might have gotten better at healing since the last time that Kiran had him care for someone on the team, but...

"Um… Crom..."

"I think I've seen Kiran do this enough times to know how it works now," Crom replied with a cheery grin.

"Ow!"

Aha, Mosca must have found some wounds to use that Oran Berry from the team bag on after all. The clamor of Pleo's cries out from a little ways down the hall couldn't help but make Nida turn her head towards the sound. She caught sight of Pleo just in time to wince and shift his wings a bit from the aftereffects of the berry's juice, and to see Mosca set the blue fruit's pulp before him.

"You heard him," Elty barked. "Go and talk with the feather duster or something."

"Whatever, it's your body, Elty," Nida sighed. She hopped off over to Pleo's side just as he started to pick at the leftover Oran pulp and Mosca went over to inspect the damage from Elty's rough landing.

"Hey, the Oran Berry wasn't too hard on you, was it?" the Nidoran asked.

"It feels much better when it's going into my tummy than onto me."

"Heh, they're weird like that, yeah," Nida replied, before she was abruptly interrupted by a certain Growlithe's voice crying out.

"Gah! What are you doing to me?!"

"I'm trying to find your wounds!" a young Druddigon-turned-impromptu-healer reassured. Sounded like Crom hadn't improved that much from last time based off of that start.

"Is Elty okay?" Pleo asked, his earlier frustrations with the Growlithe subsiding a bit as he flinched at the sound of the dog's yelps.

"Eh, he asked for it. I'm sure that he'll be happy enough with his choice of a healer."

Nida sighed at the Growlithe's stubbornness. Perhaps in the future he'd be a little less hesitant to trust his teammates' advice.

"Elty wasn't too hard on you out there, was he?"

"He kept on attacking me even when I wasn't ready!" Pleo chirped indignantly, pouting a bit at how Elty had so persistently dogged him throughout the entire session.

"Well, I won't say anything about his attitude," Mosca interrupted as she returned from surveying the damage from the match. "But he wasn't doing anything wrong in helping you train."

"He… wasn't?" Pleo asked, tilting his head as Elty continued being preoccupied with his, erm… First aid?

"Argh! You're scraping me!"

"Stop squirming!" Crom huffed as he attempted to pin the wriggling Growlithe in place on the dog's flank. "I need to apply the berry!"

"Oh boy… Looks like I'll have someone else to tend to," Mosca muttered under her breath. The Hawlucha stared a moment at Crom's fumbling attempts at treating wounds, before she turned back to address the young Protector. "Well, remember when you first fought him? Were any of you really worrying about if the other side was ready or not?"

"I... don't remember anyone worrying about it," Pleo replied. Though really, who was supposed to worry about that when the 'other side' was trashing the town?

"Recall that the whole point of sparring is to prepare you for battles where you can't retreat," Mosca explained. "Part of that is also preparing for things you might encounter in those battles. Even if they aren't necessarily very fair."

"I guess I understand… But he seemed like he was enjoying it too much!" Pleo squawked as Elty's voice rang out again.

"Why are you holding a clawful of my fur?!" he cried out, turning his head up from the ground.

And true enough, Crom was holding a clump of Elty's fur, which he set aside.

"Well, I couldn't get the berry to touch your hide, so I just needed get some of your fur out of the way. Look, I'm almost done. I think there's just a couple more scrapes for me to get to-"

"Get away from me!" the orange dog yelped as he sprang to his feet.

"I think the universe might have agreed with you a little there, but even so, be gracious," Mosca replied as Elty bolted away from his 'healer'. Nida tried and mostly failed to stifle a giggle as this former brigand was put on the run by an attempt at healing of all things.

"Crom? Maybe you should let me take over," the Hawlucha instructed.

"Yes, please!" Elty cried out.

"Oh? But I just started!" Crom protested as Mosca started tending to the Growlithe who was all too eager to sidle up and wait on her assistance. On the other hand, it wouldn't make sense to protest too much... It was one less task to do, he guessed. Meanwhile, Nida observed that Pleo continued to be troubled.

"Hmm," he sighed.

"Is something else bugging you, Pleo?" the Nidoran asked. After all, he seemed satisfied enough with Mosca's explanation earlier… So then what could be bothering him now?

"It's not something that Elty did, it's just that- Well... Kiran says that I need to practice flying… but I also need to practice sparring. So I tried to do both today, and-"

"Hey! I'm back!" a chirping voice interrupted.

Its owner swooped in in a blue and red blur. After circling around the courtyard to slow a bit, the speaker alighted on a railing along the corridor, revealing himself to be the Swellow leader of Team Traveler. After taking a moment to shake out his plumage, Kiran bent his neck down to talk with his younger teammates from his perch.

"How'd sparring go?" he asked.

"Harrumph! Elty needs to learn how to make up his mind!" Crom growled, shooting a dirty look at the Growlithe. "First he tells me that he wants me to heal him, and then he takes off on me before I even got started!"

"Well excuse me for expecting someone who could treat my wounds without putting me through agony!" the Growlithe replied, incensed that the creature that hurt him had the gall to be the one to complain first.

"Er… Crom... you did mention to him that you're still going through first aid training beforehand, right?" Kiran sighed after hearing the argument between the Druddigon and the Growlithe.

"Wait, what?!" Elty cried, as his expression hardened into an exasperated scowl that seemed to be doing its hardest to all but bore through Crom's hide.

"Why are you looking at me like that? You never asked!" the Druddigon protested.

"You really didn't, Elty," Nida added.

As Elty grumbled a little under his breath, Kiran then turned to the only Pokémon on his team who hadn't said a word to him so far about sparring.

"What about you, Pleo?"

"Well, I guess it wasn't too bad, but..." Pleo said as he shuffled his wings uneasily. "Kiran? Why is flying so hard?"

The question took Kiran aback as he all but fell off of his perch on the railing. "Eh?! Mosca already moved you onto airborne sparring?!" he squawked in surprise.

"Wait, she did? But I thought I was just sparring with Elty," Pleo mumbled, now rather confused. Mosca was supposed to teach him flying while he was sparring too?

"He tried to get airborne in the middle of today's match," Nida explained. "And… Well, he didn't quite stay off the ground too long."

"Hey, it's not all bad! He pinned Elty nicely once he came down!" Crom added as he mimed Pleo's earlier dropping tackle onto the Growlithe, who rolled his eyes out of annoyance.

"I see," Kiran mulled to himself as he hopped down to hallway's floor.

"Wait, what were you doing away from the Dojo today anyways?" Pleo asked with a curious tilt to his head.

"Oh, I told Hatteras about the trouble you've been having flying, Pleo, and you're not going to believe this!"

"Huh? What did he say?" Pleo asked.

"He pulled a few strings to get you on your wings faster with Melissa's help! Why, you just might be flying by sundown!" Kiran exclaimed, beating out his wings excitedly. It was a revelation that made Pleo hop into the air and mimic his team's leader in celebration.

"Yay! That's awesome! But… Who's Melissa?"


Kiran answered the question quickly enough as the team made their way out of the Dojo and through the town, even if it was one that Pleo couldn't quite wrap his head around. Apparently 'Melissa' was an odd little bird who had a talent for helping other Pokémon to learn moves.

Melissa's shop was surprisingly easy to find; part of it was because the shop was one of the few buildings on its path that wasn't in dire need of repairs. The other part of it was that the shop was... in a word, strange.

Unlike any of the other structures Pleo saw in Bluewhorl so far, the walls of Melissa's shop were composed entirely of mismatched and various-sized stone cubes. The stone blocks were fitted haphazardly here and there, glued together with something that looked like silt. Along the top of the walls, bits of undyed canvas poked out horizontally from in between stone, apparently the building's roof. The doorway and windows, if they could be called that, were empty spaces with erratic fringes as the cubes jutted in and out of where a straight-ish contour would usually be. The only remotely normal features of the doors and windows were the plain, drab pieces of canvas that covered them from the inside, listing with the movement of the wind.

It made the younger Pokémon on Team Traveler wonder… Just what was Melissa going to do to Pleo?

"So… Melissa's a 'move tutor'?" Pleo asked. The Lugia couldn't help bob his head side to side scanning along the peculiar building, mesmerized with the stone cubes in the wall.

"Uh huh! Uh huh! She's supposed to help Pokémon learn moves they normally couldn't with the help of tee-yems!" Crom replied, before he put a claw to his mouth and continued on in a more puzzled tone. "Although... some of them are called eych-ehms for some reason or another."

"'Tee-yems'?"

"I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be magical plates that were created back in the days of the old gods," Nida added as she took a moment to scratch an ear with a paw. "Or at least I'm pretty sure they're magic since I don't know what 'dee-yenay baioh-dehta' is supposed to be otherwise."

A 'dee-'? A what now? Pleo thought to himself that for the first time, this 'dee-ehn'... Whatever thingy seemed to be a word that Nida didn't know for herself, which only made him more confused and left him staring blankly at his partner.

"Huh?"

"It's what Melissa says they're made out of," Kiran explained. "The plates are supposed to be made of a material containing the essence of life and have some sort of spell for learning a move that was written on them."

"Wait, so this place… Is full of tee-yems?" Elty asked, as a devious grin began to creep over his muzzle. They were peculiar things and supposedly useless in the paws of most Pokémon. But, in his former line of work, they would reward anyone who was lucky enough to nab one with a princely sum. And from the sound of it, his old compatriots had somehow missed this veritable treasure trove!

"They wouldn't by chance miss one, would they?"

"Hey, hey, hey! Don't think that I can't see that smirk on your mug!" a chittering voice from within cried out.

The voice's owner quickly stormed out, revealing himself to be a glowering Corphish. The red and white crustacean was quickly joined by a young Tropius- the daughter of a certain Tropius apple farmer out on the fringes, the more seasoned members of Team Traveler guessed.

"For the record, all of the discs in here are labeled already," she huffed. "If you tried to walk off with one, everyone else in Bluewhorl would know it came from here!"

"And we would get your sorry pirate bum punted off to the Wastes afterwards if you stole from here like your buddies tried to!" the Corphish hissed as he clicked and flailed his claws angrily.

"Alright! Alright! I get it!" Elty hastily corrected as he bounded back behind Crom. "It was just a question!"

As Nida and Crom rolled their eyes at Elty's transparent excuse, Pleo blinked back at the two other creatures with confusion.

"Wait, which of you is 'Melissa'?"

"Neither of them are," a strange, droning voice from within chirped. "Those are my assistants, Bracket and Patricia."

The droning voice came out and revealed itself to be a bird quite unlike any others the gathered Pokémon could think of. She was a pink creature with a teal beak, tail, underbelly, and a pink body. In lieu of the more expected limbs a bird might have, Melissa had nubby triangular things in place of wings and moved about by floating to and fro above the ground. The creature's flesh, if it could be called that, was firm and angular, as if she was a giant lantern folded from some curious type of paper.

"I am Melissa. Move Tutor and- DOGGY!"

The Porygon abruptly chirped and gestured excitedly at Elty with her beak, much to the Growlithe's surprise.

"Eh?! What's with you?!" he cried out, as the Porygon floated back and attempted to recompose herself.

"Apologies, residual subroutines… As I was saying, I am Melissa, Move Tutor and Sentient Advanced Variable Virtual Interface. Bracket, Patricia, please be dear moderators and lead our guests in," the creature chimed, as she returned to the inside of the stone building.

The Corphish and Tropius began to follow after the creature and beckoned Team Traveler to follow. The house seemed every bit as unusual inside as out. The roof was composed of canvas partitions that laid on a cross-hatched grid of rope, such that they could be taken down whenever Melissa desired. The receiving room was furnished with naught but some canvas on the floor and some stone cubes of different sizes. Crom and Nida couldn't immediately tell what any of the furnishings were for; perhaps the agglomeration was supposed to be some sort of rug paired with stools or small tables?

"My internal subconscious processes are being regulated by SilphOS version 1.1.4.3. Though not for much longer if Team Sawtooth finds me an Up-Grade soon," the creature carried on in a peculiar if recognizably congenial tone. The strange bird bobbed up and down off the ground giving her "wings" a small twist before she turned her attention to the Swellow in the group.

"So what brings you here today, Kiran?"

"Yeah, I can't remember the last time you ever came by here," Patricia added.

"Hatteras said you would be able to teach Pleo a move to help him learn how to fly?" the Swellow asked, as he dug out a slip of folded paper from his bag, uncreased it on the ground, and presented to the Porygon with his beak. "He even gave me a voucher for one of your lessons to use it on."

Pleo stared at the slip of paper as Melissa sized it up. He still couldn't fully understand what the runes on it, this 'writing', were supposed to mean. Pleo was sure it was just there to be pretty and decorative when he first saw it, but everyone else was adamant that it was a form of talking for the eyes. Why, none of the patterns on the slip of paper looked anything like the ones that Nida and Crom had shown him earlier.

"Hmm… Yes, the organization is a bit sloppy, but my image processing routine can confirm that this is indeed a valid voucher. As for a move to fly… Let me run a quick internal query," the Move Tutor said as her eyes seemed to wander.

"I detected four potential results excluding duplicates. Information from prior queries suggests that the most requested result for this query was HM02," the pink and blue bird answered, bobbing her tail in triumph. "The most common associated applications for HM02's use are battle and endurance flight."

"That sounds perfect!" Kiran chirped, all but taking to the air out of excitement. "We'll take that one!"

"So… You're going to teach me to read 'dee-yenay baioh-dehta'?" Pleo asked the young Tropius, tilting his head.

"Oh no, silly. You wouldn't be doing the reading," the Tropius explained as her shorter counterpart ducked into a back room.

"Yeah!" Bracket added before darting out, holding the edges of some tablet with his claws. "Good luck trying to make sense of this!"

The Corphish presented the contents of his claws to Pleo, which Nida, Crom, and Elty quietly walked over to snoop in on for themselves. The tablet was a clear substance that looked like some sort of glass, though felt less smooth and cold to the touch. The tablet appeared to have two hinges or bindings, almost as if it were a book bound on both sides, and had apparently developed some cracks on its "covers" through the ages. In spite of all of that, the fragile little volume seemed to do its part in protecting a reflective circle with a hole in it that was there in lieu of pages.

"It's a mirror?" Pleo asked.

"Nope," the Corphish answered he as moved the translucent tablet nearer. "Look closer."

The four looked and looked, and after a while, Crom, always the team member with one of the keener visions, blinked as he noticed something amiss with this 'tee-yem'.

"Eh? Why there's rings on the outer and inner edges!" the young Druddigon cried out. "So that's what the spell is written on?"

"Er… sorta," Bracket burbled as he handed the disc off to Patricia, who clamped gently down on a corner of the volume. "Most of the writing is supposed to be on teeny little dots that are too small for any of us to see, or at least that's what Melissa says."

"Yeah, and on top of that, the writing needs to be interpreted properly," Patricia added as she beat out her wings, the case muffling her words. " If it isn't done just right, it's downright useless!"

"But then how on earth is anyone supposed to read writing on tiny invisible dots?" Elty barked, giving a puzzled frown to the Tropius and Corphish.

"That is where I come in," Melissa droned. "Every properly-functioning Porygon instance contains data IO capabilities, including an interface for biodata mass storage."

"Basically, she'll read the disc for you, and teach you how to get started," Patricia explained in a cheery tone. "All you need to do is follow instructions."

"Please come in to the tutoring chamber so we can get started, Protector," Melissa instructed. The Porygon began to float off into a chamber next to a window with a canvas shutter before gesturing with her beak at Elty. "Bracket, please ensure the extraneous variable in the group doesn't cause any problems coming into the room."

"What's that supposed to- Gack!" the Growlithe cried out, as he found his head being drug towards the ground by Bracket, who had clamped on firmly onto his scarf.

"Way ahead of you, Melissa," the Corphish chirped in response as the group headed into the chamber. As the crustacean dragged him along, Elty grumbled quietly all the while at the indignity of having to be led around like a troublesome pup.

"Ugh… Is this really necessary?"

Team Traveler entered a chamber dominated by two cube-shaped seats, each directly opposite the other. Melissa settled down next to the one further from the door, coming to a rest on her side as Kiran and his teammates traded blank looks with each other.

"Please take the other seat while my attendants prepare me for the reading, Protector," Melissa instructed.

"Prepare you?" Nida asked, tilting her head at just what a teacher would need to prepare for reading some words.

"She goes into a bit of a trance while teaching," Patricia explained as she trotted over to Melissa, still holding the tablet Bracket showed off to Team Traveler earlier.

"Yeah, so she needs help both getting into it and out of it," Bracket explained as he drug Elty over to Kiran's side by the Growlithe's scarf. The Corphish then let go and skittered over to Melissa. When he reached the Porygon, he felt along her underbelly, seemingly in search of something.

"While I am in Data Read Mode, please sit in the designated space and do not leave it until I return to normal operations," Melissa droned.

"O- kay..." Pleo answered. The little Lugia settled down and tried his hardest to stifle the urge to move about, to look around, to preen himself, or to do any of the things that a young bird normally would.

"And don't interrupt him!" Bracket added in an adamant tone. "Move Tutoring only works on one Pokémon at a time! If you butt in, it could ruin the session!"

"Understood. But…" Crom trailed off in a curious tone. "What exactly is Melissa going to do?"

"Yeah, sounds like one heck of a trance," Nida murmured, as she began to grow concerned. Elty on the other hand gave an unamused huff, still annoyed about being drug along into the room by a little mud bug shorter than he was.

"Pbbt, as if we'd want to interrupt! Just how far do you expect any of us to fly?"

There was then the sound of a faint click after Patricia made a motion along Melissa's underside, and of something whining inorganically as what seemed to be a hatch opened. Bracket then grabbed the tablet, fiddled a little with its orientation a little… And slid it into the hatch with a click before Patricia closed it.

"Eh?! You put the tee-yem in her!" Pleo cried out, as the pupils on Melissa's eyes faded and she began to drone in a monotone.

"External Disc detected. Entering Data Read Mode. Detecting External Disc encoding."

"Oh, that's not creepy at all," Elty yipped, his fur beginning to stand on end. Nida too, couldn't help but be unnerved by this sudden change in demeanor in what, just moments ago, was the cheery Move Tutor.

"M-Melissa?" she stammered, as the Nidoran fanned out her barbs… Just in case.

"Are you okay-?" Crom asked, before Bracket interrupted.

"That's her trance. It'll start getting into the good stuff shortly, so just stay still, Protector," the Corphish chittered. Bracket and his Tropius partner eased Melissa up onto the vacant stone cube and righted her, pointing Melissa's beak at Pleo. The vacant look persisted in her eyes as the Porygon continued her monotone.

"Hidden Machine detected. Biodata is unlearnable by this Porygon instance. Do you wish to tutor another Pokémon?"

"Yes," Bracket chirped.

"Command accepted. Booting Move Tutor Routine. Starting Biocompatibility Analysis."

A light shot out from it and moved up and down the young Protector, who was at once mesmerized and mildly intimidated by the experience. It was then that a voice called from the doorway.

"Ahem. Kiran?"

"Hmm-? Oh!" the Swellow turned and discovered that, much to his surprise, it was none other than Guildmaster Hatteras. Or Mayor, or Judge, or Lighthouse Keeper, as the time and scarf dictated. The wizened Ampharos of many trades was a steadfast shepherd for Bluewhorl Town through its trials and tribulations, but what had brought him here?

"While Pleo's being tutored, might I see you for a moment?" he asked. He quickly qualified his request after seeing Nida, Crom, and Elty creeping for the door. "In private, that is."

"Um… Sure?" the Swellow replied. Kiran's words caused a disappointed look pass over the faces of his teammates. There would be no escape from watching this most peculiar and chilling magic that Melissa was practicing in the room, it seemed. The three sighed and resigned themselves to sitting through the rest of Melissa's session close to the door. Just in case, they figured, so that Kiran could come to their aid quicker if something went amiss with the Porygon's magic.

As Kiran followed the Ampharos out of the room, he could hear Melissa droning "Biocompatibility Analysis Complete. Target compatible." She then asked some sort of question that Kiran couldn't make out that the Corphish affirmed. A few more mechanical-sounding words resounded from the next room, including what Kiran swore was "Beginning biodata transfer." For a fleeting moment before he crossed the doorway, Kiran saw an arcing and waving blue light shoot from Melissa's beak and connect with Pleo.

Kiran took a moment to collect himself and involuntarily ruffle his feathers. Safe as it was, he was unable to dispel the nagging sensation that he shouldn't be leaving his younger charges all alone in the room as Melissa's eerie rite droned on.

"You had something you wanted to do out here?" the Swellow chirped reluctantly.

"Well, I did overhear that Pleo received a little keepsake a few days ago… A King's Rock, I think?" the Ampharos cheerily asked.

"Hmm? You mean this?" Kiran asked, before he dug into his bag with his beak and pulled out a stone, crown-like ring.

"Yep! I was hoping to make it into something for Pleo… a lucky charm, you might call it," Hatteras replied. The Ampharos took the stone ring from Kiran, untied some cord he had fastened about the knot on his scarf, and began to thread the cord through the stone ring. As the Ampharos closed the loop little by little, motions of his paws progressively betrayed an uneasy tenseness in the creature.

"Guildmaster Hatteras… You didn't really call me out here just to watch you make a fashion accessory, did you?" Kiran asked.

"No, I can't say that I did," the Ampharos bleated as he peeked over at Pleo in the next room and adjusted the cord in between his paws. The Ampharos hesitated a moment before he began to speak again.

"In terms of things on the island, things are going well… Or at least as well as we could have hoped with recent events," he said as he formed a knot with the cord and tightened it. "And Pleo has been making admirable progress for someone starting from a total vacuum of experience."

Kiran gave a perplexed tilt to his head. Why, everything that Hatteras had said so far sounded like good news!

"Then what is the problem?" he asked.

"I'm afraid that as fast as Pleo has been progressing towards awakening his true power... That he might be running out of time," the Ampharos sighed, as he rubbed his brow with a free paw.

"Running out of time?" Kiran squawked and beat his wings out of surprise. "How? It's not as if he'd need to worry about keeling over overnight!"

The Swellow quickly became mum after he saw Hatteras motion for quiet. It would defeat the purpose of a private conversation if the kids could just overhear it all, but… What was the electric sheep getting at?

"On his own, time surely would not be an issue. But what with that Aggron, or one of his better-prepared friends..." Hatteras said as he slipped the newly crafted necklace into Kiran's bag. The Ampharos shook his head, and the expression on his old face became increasingly serious.

"On top of all that, we have at most a matter of months before the Company comes after the next harvest. And that's assuming that they don't come beforehand for whatever pretext their overseers have thought of."

"But Guildmaster, Pleo fought off a pirate captain!" Kiran replied in a hushed tone, spreading his wings to convey his surprise in lieu of running his beak off. "I don't understand what the problem you're getting at is!"

"The problem is, Kiran. Pleo fought that pirate captain off using his true power. We don't know if Pleo will be able to draw out that power if we wind up in such straits again. And worse, if he finds himself in such straits."

Kiran caught himself and froze. That… was a rather good point that Hatteras made. Why, if Pleo's power hadn't been awakened as it was during the raid, he would have been knocked out just as easily as his teammates were. And, if the Aggron were a little less foolishly preoccupied with that shrine bell…

Why, he could have kidnapped Tromba's Protector! And gods know where Pleo might have ended up after that.

Kiran shook his head, hoping to dispel that dark fantasy from his mind.

"What do you propose then, Guildmaster?" he asked.

"To discover whether there's some way that Pleo can draw out his true power reliably. Or at least reliably in the circumstances where he would most need it," Hatteras replied. It was a suggestion that immediately took Kiran aback with a cry.

"Eh?! You're not suggesting that I put him in harm's-!"

"I'm suggesting that we need to find a way push up against the boundaries as much as it's safe," Hatteras interrupted. The Ampharos' serious expression held firm and now began to show shades of adamance as he continued on. "To see if whether or not our strategy should be to put Pleo at the vanguard of the town in troublesome times…

"Or if our strategy should be to make ourselves his vanguard in such times for the foreseeable future."

"But how can we do that?" Kiran demanded. "I mean, if we organized a mock pirate raid… If we succeeded at drawing out Pleo's power, wouldn't we put the volunteers in danger?"

"You think a little too grand in scale, Kiran. There's something that's more controllable that we could use to test him. Something that two rookies of yours have been waiting for a while now."

Something that two rookies of his had been waiting for? The Swellow scratched his head blankly for a moment, just what could Nida and Crom be looking forward to that could possibly-? Wait! Surely Hatteras wasn't referring to...

"Eh?! You want to send Pleo into the Mystery Dungeon?!" he whispered back, shocked.

"Along with your rookies on a solo run, yes," the Guildmaster replied. "You would obviously be shadowing them with some help in case anything went wrong, and the teleporters would be monitoring their presence closely."

"But he's younger than most of the kids at Hariti's!" Kiran protested, flapping his wings.

"And in spite of that, he has already delivered this town once," Hatteras quietly reminded the team leader. "Surely that's grounds for making an exception, yes?"

"I mean," the Swellow mumbled, trailing off a bit. Hatteras did have a point. Even if Pleo was young enough to be in the Day Care, he definitely had contributed more to its defense than anyone else from it had at his age. "I guess it would have been a matter of time for Nida and Crom but... Surely there's another way this could be done, isn't there?"

Hatteras sighed and gave his head a slow, sad shake as he found himself looking at the floor.

"It is the best that I can think of, Kiran. For all these generations, we've been taught that the gods were bigger than us. That they knew more, that they were stronger, that all that they needed in order to protect and bless this island were a few gifts and adoring words every so often… we never realized that there would be a time when they would need to be protected by Pokémon like us.

"If there is some better way of doing this, it's not in the books," the Ampharos said, as he shifted his head to meet Kiran's gaze. "I won't blame you if you refuse to undertake this, but... The stakes are both high and real here, and waiting only will raise them."

There was a long, dead silence in the room, punctuated only by Melissa's continued droning and some indistinct chatter from the rest of Team Traveler in the background. Eventually, Kiran made up his mind, and spoke.

"I'll do it. On the condition that Pleo's made aware that he's being sent into the Mystery Dungeon to test himself."

"I see. I'll let you get back to your little lambs… and your muzzled wolf for the time being," Hatteras replied. The Ampharos gave a passing nod, and then quietly walked out the door of the peculiar hut composed of stone cubes and back out into Bluewhorl.

As the Ampharos' footsteps faded away, Kiran headed back for the room where the rest of the team was, just in time to see the arcing light between Pleo and Melissa vanish.

"Biodata transfer complete. Terminating Move Tutor Routine. Please eject disc to exit Data Read Mode," the Porygon continued in her monotone. As Bracket and Patricia quickly went over to fetch their employer from her seat and set her on the ground on her side again, Pleo gave his wings a thorough series of beats. To get his blood flowing, Kiran surmised, as he and his teammates went up to see just what had Melissa's handicraft had done.

"Wait, Pleo… Do you feel any different?" Crom asked. The question prompted the young Protector to inspect his body and pat himself down… Nope, he felt just like same old him from a few minutes ago.

"I don't see or feel anything that's different," Pleo responded

"Well of course he wouldn't, it's a move!" Elty barked.

"Heh, so tutoring went well, I take it?" Kiran questioned in a cheerful, if slightly forced, tone.

"Mmm hmm! Mmm hmm!" Patricia insisted, as she looked up from Melissa while holding the disc from earlier. The pink bird was now moving her appendages again and the vacant stare left the Porygon's eyes. The sight made the Swellow's expectations soar as he turned to the white and blue Protector.

"Well, let's see it!" he cried excitedly to Pleo as Melissa floated over, seemingly unfazed by her strange episode earlier.

"Jump after taking a moment to breathe in and focus, Protector," she instructed.

Pleo hunched down, tensed his legs, and after a short wait, sprung up… Finding that he could now reach the canvas roof with his hop.

"Whoa!" he cried. He was finally so high in the air, he began to flap his wings, and… This was it! He was flying!

"Wow! I'm flying! I'm fly-!"

Or at least that's what he thought for the few seconds before he fell to the ground with a dull thud, much as a stone thrown into the air does, flapping his wings fruitlessly.

"Oof!"

As Pleo rubbed his head a bit from the fall and dusted himself off, Kiran turned to Melissa with an ever-so-unsubtle hint of concern in his eyes.

"Uh… Melissa, I thought you said that your tutoring would teach him how to fly…"

"My tutoring awakens the potential for using a move and gives a small foundation," the Porygon corrected. "The Protector will need to practice in order to make the most of those jumps… Let alone to be able to leverage them into flying."

"Then what was the point of all of that?!" the Swellow cried, screwing his eyes shut in frustration and beating his wings.

"Everything takes practice, Kiran," Melissa chirped. "Surely you of all Pokémon would understand that."

"Aw… So I still can't fly?" Pleo asked, disappointed.

"Not exactly," Bracket replied. "But! It should help you learn a lot faster!"

"Yeah, Pokémon that get tutored by Melissa always get the hang of their moves a lot sooner!" Patricia added.

"Let's hope." Nida sighed.

"What were you and Guildmaster Hatteras talking about out there anyways, Kiran?" Crom asked.

"Oh, he made this for you, Pleo!" Kiran cheered as he dug out the stone necklace that Hatteras fashioned out in the hallway and slipped it over Pleo's head.

"Oh! It's the 'offering' that ziggy-zaggy thingy gave me!" the young Lugia cheered.

"Uh huh! Just remember to slip it under your scarf later! It'll keep it a bit safer from the elements," Kiran chirped back, as the other Pokémon on Team Traveler scrutinized their leader.

"The sheep seriously spent all that time talking with you about a rock on a string?" Elty asked, lowering his eyelids skeptically.

"Er," the Swellow hesitated. "Well, not exactly..."

"Then what was he going on about then?" Nida pressed.


A few moments later, from the path outside, the din of daily life found itself abruptly pierced by a chorus of overjoyed cries from inside Melissa's stone hut.

"Woo hoo!"

Yes… This was going to be quite the transition. In more ways than one if the Sentret holding his ears in pain from the shout was any indication.

"Gah… I didn't know 'blowing around hot air' needed a Move Tutor to learn!"



Author's Notes:

- en recreo - Spanish: "on break"
- Chodź i weź to! - Polish: "Come and take it!"
- kurczę - Polish: lit. "chicken", general use euphemistic interjection. Analogous to saying "darn" or "crud".
 
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Congratulations on making the Fan Fiction Quarterly!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Congratulations on making the Fan Fiction Quarterly!
Thanks, it was honestly a genuine shock to discover that this fic had somehow made Editor's Choice for the most recent Fan Fiction Quarterly.

So last time, Nida and Crom got the news that they'd be dungeon crawling in order to try and test Pleo's strength... and to take the training wheels off of their status as Rescue Team members, so to speak. This week is more or less exactly what it says on the tin for the title, and as such will be a slower chapter focusing more on bringing some facets of the world and characters to light along with some more fallout exploration. It is shorter than the last chapter, though, as my ongoing battle against my nemesis as a writer - lack of conciseness - continues to drag on.

Special thanks for this chapter goes to Tangent128 and solovino for the header and beta reading. While I can't say that they exactly did anything for this chapter, I still feel somewhat indebted to the proud writers of the Fan Fiction Quarterly for giving this fic a little moment in the spotlight, so once again, many thanks for that too.

Publishing is targeting another 7-10 day window, though might need to wind up pushing that back a little depending on how some incoming real life stuff plays out over this next week. As always, feedback, critiques, and commentary are welcome and kindly requested.

So, let's pick up the story back up a little after Scout's earache from last time...



After the session at Melissa's, Kiran left his charges to themselves to prepare for their excursion in the morning. The team of four made their way towards the harbor, as Pleo eagerly practiced the skill he had picked up at Melissa's. That is, hopping up high into the air every so often above the eaves of the wooden, canvas, and thatch roofs that covered most of Bluewhorl Town's buildings. Every time the white bird went up, he would almost as quickly come back down only to repeat the process again, hoping his latest launch might be the one to finally give him flight. The passerbyers on the path would turn their head time to time to watch Pleo pass... if not as frequently as they had a couple weeks ago. After all, the sea god had become more and more a fixture of their mundane routines.

As the group carried along their way, Crom began to get a little ahead of himself over what Kiran had told him about tomorrow's mission in the Mystery Dungeon.

"I don't believe it, we're finally going to graduate to Normal Rank!" Crom cried.

Ah yes, the moment that Crom and Nida had been waiting for all these moons was finally upon them at last. That said, the importance was a bit lost on Pleo, who came down from his most recent leap into the air and gave a puzzled tilt of his head to the Druddigon and Nidoran.

"Hrm? 'Normal Rank'?" Pleo asked. Didn't the two go on missions all the time with Kiran? So why was 'graduating' so important?

"It means we're gonna be able to do more as Rescuers!" Crom declared, puffing his chest in triumph. "Why, we'd even be allowed to start our own team if we wanted to!" He continued proudly… until Elty promptly knocked his little moment back down to earth.

"What are you going on about? You're being tested! If you don't impress your leader, he's not gonna pass you!" the Growlithe barked, flattening out his ears. "And frankly, I'm not exactly convinced that 'ganging up on the Growlithe' is gonna get you through a dungeon without handholding."

The Growlithe's words immediately dampened Crom and Nida's high spirits, and the two shot annoyed glares at the Fire type who so rudely dragged them back to reality.

"Elty, couldn't you have just let us have our moment?" Nida snapped, fanning her barbs a bit at the little dog's tone. Pleo, blissfully ignorant to why this 'moment' couldn't go on, cheerily tried to reassure the team.

"Aw, don't worry! I'm sure they'll pass with your help, Elty!" he chirped as he hopped up onto an awning of a shop that had been left intact during the raid. "Why, you can just dance around the ferals like you did on the battlefield!"

"Wait, what?" Elty spluttered. "Why on earth would I help you pass your ranking test when you've been using me as a sparring dummy for the last week?"

"Because Kiran said that the entire team was getting tested?" Crom said, giving a piercing glare at the Growlithe.

"Because you're supposed to help me?" Pleo replied, tilting his head before he jumped across the lane onto another shack's roof.

"Because it's a break from getting pounded on at the Dojo?" Nida asked, flattening out her ears in annoyance. "Besides if we don't pass, just what do you think we're going to be doing afterwards to toughen up?"

The former pirate opened his mouth to speak only to catch his tongue and blink. Elty had to admit, while he didn't exactly like the rationale, these 'teammates' of his made a decently convincing argument for helping them tomorrow.

"Grr… What on earth do they teach amatorzy at your guild anyways?" the orange and cream dog frowned.

"How to stand up for ourselves," Nida responded, sticking out a tongue. During this, Pleo hopped up once again. Although he flapped his wings hard enough to shake a few loose feathers free, he still couldn't seem to get the hang of staying airborne. This time he landed a bit less gracefully than normal on his breast, the 'lucky charm' that Guildmaster Hatteras fashioned from his stone ring jabbing him a little.

"Oof! What do we need to do to prepare for tomorrow anyways?" the young guardian asked as he dusted himself and his new charm off, ruffled his feathers, and took a moment to preen himself after his landing.

"Well, there's supplies, which we'll take care of as soon as we get to Calino's," Crom replied. "And we oughta check things with our parents to see if we have to do anything before we leave."

"Um… Yeah," Elty muttered as he flattened out his ears. "I'm just going to head back to-"

"You're sticking with us during this, thanks," Nida huffed. "Teams are responsible for their members' behavior and I don't trust you on your own."

"Are you supposed to be 'teammates' or 'babysitters'?" Elty growled under his breath, his words failing to elude Nida's hearing.

"Most teams don't have members that tried to rob other Pokémon just a week ago. Just saying," she retorted, narrowing her eyes at the Growlithe.

"Aww, come on! It'll be fun!" Pleo insisted. "And Calino's is right there anyways!"

Sure enough, Calino's little shack was right there, just across the main square by the harbor… If it was appropriate to call it that. Yes, it was busy with Pokémon again and not quite the moonscape of rubble and trashed shops that it was after the raid, but most of the businesses were still shuttered for repairs- or, as in the case of a few juice bars and sundry shops, had simply stubbornly continued their business in what was left of their tents and shacks as and slowly rebuilt around their customers.

Calino's store fell into the latter category. It was scorched, blackened, and had hasty canvas patchwork thrown up over gaping holes in the walls and roof. Even so, its Kecleon proprietor could still be seen dutifully shuffling merchandise around in the back.

Some things just didn't change, Nida guessed, as she hopped up onto the counter and called into the back of the shop.

"Hey! Calino!"

"Coming! Coming!" the shopkeeper's reply came as he hurried out, if a bit slower and more haggardly than normal. As soon as he saw that his customers included a certain town guardian once again, the Kecleon's face momentarily slipped into an expression of despair. The chameleon shook his head a moment and steeled himself before he addressed his customers.

"Before you ask, I really can't give any discounts this time," he said. The poor creature appeared sleep-deprived, the green scales on his body having developed a dull and dingy color to them.

"Eh?! But why not?!" Pleo cried, batting his wings out. Hadn't Calino given the party that 'buy one get one free' last time? By chance, Pleo happened to brush part of the shack, which shook, and with a groan, dropped a chunk of burnt timber from the awning onto his head.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Pleo groaned, nursing his head.

"Pleo, are you alright?!" Nida cried.

"Yeah, I think I'm okay," the young Lugia replied as he shook his head. "But-"

"Sorry about that, Protector. I can't exactly keep a hut up when it's dropping pieces of itself on customers. Even if it is a placeholder." Calino sighed, his scales starting to flush an apologetic teal. "Between this and that storm earlier, I'm never gonna get a replacement for my old tent at this rate… You understand, right?"

"It does look like Calino's shop took the raid kinda hard," Crom said to himself while looking around.

"Yeah, by the way, thanks for that, mutt," Calino growled at Elty, glaring from behind the counter.

"Hey! Hey! I didn't torch this shop!" Elty protested before he stopped himself to try and jog his memory. "… I'm pretty sure I didn't… I think. Kinda hard to remember with the whole 'getting beaten unconscious' thing."

"It's fine, Calino. We'll pay full price... This time," Nida answered with a sigh as she hopped off the counter.

"The usual, I take it?" Calino asked. The Kecleon's scales returned to their default green along with the congenial if business-like attitude he tried to greet all his customers with. That is, at least as much as several straight nights' worth of poor sleep allowed him to.

"Actually, I know it'll cost more, but can we get the same as last time?" Crom asked. "I'm sure Kiran will understand, we're exploring with a bigger team now and all!"

"So you... do want to help my renovation fund!" the Kecleon chuckled, turning a rosy pink as his expected burden on business transformed into a surprise boon. "Hrm… Lemme see what I can do."

Nida opened her mouth to object, but after sizing up the even sorrier appearance of Calino's already normally sorry-looking wooden shack, she held her tongue. Calino then ducked into the back of his shop and spent a short while rummaging behind some crates. Sure enough, when he returned, Calino brought over a tray full of the same berries and seeds that Team Traveler had ordered at their last visit to his shop. The Kecleon stuffed the goods into Nida's satchel and dutifully ignored Elty's protests that he also had a perfectly good satchel to hold stuff as well. After Calino gave his customary thanks for the team's patronage, Nida and Crom lead the team off and up towards the hills. On the way up, Pleo couldn't help but wonder...

"I don't understand, Nida. Why did we let Crom give Calino more of those shinies for the same stuff you got last time?"

"Well, Calino's kinda mean with his sense of humor sometimes," Nida answered. "But it just seemed wrong to press him when his shop was in the shape it was in."

"Huh? How come?" Pleo asked.

"Well, when a Pokémon is having a tough time, it's generally nice to not give them extra things to worry about on top of it," she replied.

Elty was quick to butt in. "So… That means that you'll go easier on me during sparring-" Only to be just as quickly cut off by Nida, too.

"Hey! I said 'tough' time, not 'deserved'!"

Soon enough, Team Traveler's younger members found themselves approaching a hut that smelled strongly of toasted grain. Barring a stray gouge into a wall here or there that had been hastily filled in with some manner of mismatching-colored resin, there was hardly any sign that this little shack had been visited by hostile company just a few days ago.

Crom was the first to enter the hut, calling in to the shop as he crossed the doorway.

"Mom? Are you in there-? Oof!"

Only to trip and fall down against one of the display tables that for some reason or another had a small pile of apples on it. Looking down at his feet, Crom saw a Trapinch that had been loitering in the doorway, looking around the inside.

"Yeargh! Watch where you're going, you abrasive clod!" the Trapinch squealed in pain, as he quickly scuttled into a corner to try and nurse his injury.

"Sorry! Sorry!" Crom replied as he rubbed his head from the fall and the effects of a few falling apples conking him afterwards. As his teammates entered the room, a realization dawned on him about his victim and the Druddigon's tone became less apologetic and more gruff. "Wait a minute-"

As Nida entered the room and saw the Trapinch, she lowered her ears, recognizing him as being one of Elty's former… erm... companions.

"Shouldn't you be digging ditches at Mildrew's field or something?" she asked in a biting tone.

"Psst! Managed to sneak one past your slave driver, eh?" Elty whispered to the Trapinch in a hushed tone from behind the Nidoran. "And got any tips?"

"Mrph. I wish, Eltenios," the little antlion chittered in a grumbling tone. "I only got allowed to come down here because I said I'd drop off some apples during my break!"

Aha. So that explained the pile of apples on the table. In spite of all of that, something still bothered Pleo about the Trapinch's actions.

"Why would you go through all that trouble, though-?"

"Veikka, is that you?" a voice cried out from the backroom.

"Pyry!" the Trapinch eagerly responded, as the voice's owner, a haggard-looking Gabite coated in flour, burst out into the room and scooped up the Trapinch in his claws.

"Pekka, please! Tell me there's an open spot to dig ditches!" the Gabite pleaded, staring into the Trapinch's eyes with a desperate gaze that seemed to all but bore into the creature.

"Um… Veikka? You're kinda scaring me," the Trapinch squeaked.

"I can't take it anymore with these weirdos! Stuck here all alone with nothing but flour, dough, and an oven all day! And they make me help with dinner, too! I go to bed each night looking like I fell into chalk dust!"

"Oh yes, poor you," Nida grumbled. Why, aside from all of the spilled flour on his scales, the Gabite just described exactly what Crom and his brother did on a normal day when not doing guild work!

"Hrmph! Maybe you shouldn't have stolen from here, then!" Crom snarled at the Gabite.

"Oh for crying out loud! Why are you going on about it as if you're being made to burn out waste pits? You're working in a bakery!" Elty groaned as he put a paw over his face. "Some of us would punt hatchlings for a chance to make food for this 'Community Service!'"

"Um… Pyry," Pekka said as he flailed his legs in the air. "I'm not saying that I don't feel your pain. But-"

"And worst of all, there's that whiny little ipana and his mother I have to put up wi-!" the Gabite continued, before a young Druddigon smaller than Crom stormed in from the backroom with a growl.

"Oi! Thief! Get back to work!" Cenn shouted.

The Gabite snarled indignantly back at the shorter Druddigon, upset that this little whelp was pushing him around. He dropped his Trapinch companion, who cried out a little after hitting the ground, and whirled around and advanced on Cenn.

"Okay, listen up you yappy little ru-!" only to yelp after he felt a claw digging into his shoulder from behind, as the voice of a much larger Druddigon who had just come in from outside with a sack of flour began to speak.

"Grr… For someone who complains as much as you do about honest work, you sure seem eager put your mouth to use!" Gwenith growled, giving an overpowering glare that seemed to all but say "Go ahead, make my day" at this Gabite that had the temerity to threaten one of her children.

The Gabite's aggression quickly evaporated with a blanch at the thought of having to stand his ground against the elder Druddigon.

"Erk! S-Sorry! I'll get back to work right away!" he squeaked, as he quickly ran back into the backroom to help with the next day's loaves. Cenn stuck out his tongue behind him as he followed Pyry into the backroom. Crom couldn't help but roll his eyes at the Gabite still not understanding who the biggest and meanest dragon in this house was.

"... I think I'm gonna get out of here before she gets ideas," Pekka said to himself. The orange antlion quickly bolted out of the bakery, leaving Gwenith to push the sack of flour into a corner and turn to her elder child.

"Something come up, Crom?" she asked.

"Uhm… Well-" Crom began, shifting a bit uneasily.

"We're getting tested to graduate into Normal Rank!" Pleo interrupted. Crom flinched out of surprise, hoping that his mother wouldn't be upset over his sudden testing getting in the way of baking. However, Crom quickly found that his apprehensions to be unfounded, as the very next words from his mother's mouth were...

"Oh! That's wonderful to hear!" Gwenith cried. "Why, with the way you're growing up, you'll be big and as strong as your father in no time! Here, let me get some things for your adventure!"

Crom's mother ducked into the backroom, her presence accompanied by sounds of rummaging and Pyry continuing to bellyache on the job. The backroom's sounds eventually died down after a Druddigon's growl, and Gwenith returned with a satchel filled with loaves fresh from the oven and handed it off to Crom.

"Just make sure to rest up well tonight," she instructed. "You've got a big day tomorrow!"

"Eh?" Crom asked. This had seemed to go over rather- Well, wasn't there supposed to be some sort of catch? "You don't need my help at the bakery tonight?"

"I'm sure that I can make my extra set of claws fill in," Gwenith replied. "It is a special occasion for you, after all. And it sounds like you'll already have yours full with some extra heads to keep track of."

"Ahehe, well when you put it that way-" Crom began before his mother interrupted him.

"Crom… One more thing."

"Huh?" the Druddigon asked, only to abruptly find himself being pulled into an embrace by his mother, who gave him a nuzzle with her snout.

"Be careful out there."

"Moooom! You're embarrassing me!" Crom protested, squirming a little to try and break free.

"Not to interrupt the moment, but doesn't the spike ball here also have her parents to check with, too?" Elty asked, rolling his eyes at Crom's struggle with his mother.

"Ack! That's right! If we dawdle here, I won't be able to catch Mami at the Day Care!" Nida cried, hopping up off the ground, and then bolting out the door.

"See you, mom!" Crom waved as he followed after his teammate.

"Bye, Gwenith!" Pleo chirped, as he and his Growlithe teammate followed after Crom and Nida.

By the time the two made it out, Pleo had to hop up into the air to see where Nida had gone off to. Seeing that she was making her way towards the creek that ran through Bluewhorl Town, he quickly darted off after her, Elty in tow behind him.

By the time the two caught up, they found themselves approaching one of the bridges over the creek, with a certain Froslass' tent visible on the other side.

"Nida? Why are we going to the Day Care and not your home?" Pleo asked, putting a wing to his mouth.

"Mami usually leads my siblings home from there at this time of day. So if we catch her there, we can explain things on the way to the guild hall-!" Nida explained, only to have her words interrupted by a protesting voice from the direction of the Day Care.

"What?! You said that I didn't have to worry about twerps that had parents after dark!"

As Team Traveler continued on, the protesting figure revealed himself to be the Quilava that Hariti had taken under her wing. The cream and teal stoat stared down a scowling Nidorina that Crom recognized as Marley, prompting the Druddigon to shuffle behind Nida to keep a healthy distance.

"First off, it's 'youngsters'," Hariti admonished. The Froslass floated to and fro at the entrance of her tent, occasionally glancing over her shoulder to make sure the rowdy children inside weren't getting too out of hand. "Second of all, I said that you didn't have to worry about most of them after dark. Specifically, you'll be dealing with-"

Suddenly, six purple and blue spike balls burst out of the tent entrance, hopping gleefully past Hariti and towards the Nidorina. The Nidoran sprinted towards their mother, prompting the Quilava to yelp and dart out of the way lest the lumps of fluff run him over.

"Whee!" a female Nidoran cheered.

"Mami! Mami!" a purple spike lump called out.

"You're back!" a blue ball cried.

"Who's watching us tonight?" a male Nidoran from the group asked.

"You'll be able to stay right here with your normal playmates until I'm done in the field with Papi tonight," Marley cheerily explained. "Auntie Hariti and I found someone to watch over you…"

It was then that the Quilava became aware that Hariti, the Nidorina, and all six of the Nidoran with her… Were staring at him.

"Those little dweebs?! N-No way! I've been picking their spikes out of my pelt all week!" he cried out. From the sidelines, Nida quietly sighed, somewhat relieved that she wasn't going to have to babysit her younger siblings tonight. As for the predicament that this former brigand found himself in… she couldn't tell if she felt sorry or amused about it.

"I heard you talking the other day, you've got a ton of kids of your own! Have some of them help you out!" the stoat protested.

"They're all grown and busy with their own lives. Also, need I remind you that I do have an alternate use for you if you don't pull your weight babysitting?" Hariti glowered at the Quilava as the little Nidoran began to draw near to him. "Besides, it is just six Pokémon. I'm sure a former pirate like you can handle them and keep them away from my Pomeg bushes."

"This is cruel and unethical punishment and you know it!" the Quilava whined as he started darting this way and that to keep the little poisonous pests away from him.

"Aww, stay still Mr. Fireplace!"

"We want to nuzzle you!"

The Quilava found himself running head-on into the Nidorina, and then felt his body getting lifted up by something pointy that was faintly jabbing his stomach.

"Oh yes, poor you. Now do your Community Service and get back to babysitting," Marley growled, the horn on her head resting on the Quilava's belly.

"And do be aware what I'll do to you if anything happens to the kits," she warned. The Nidorina jabbed her horn a bit more firmly into the creature's stomach before letting him drop to the ground. All just in time for her cheering children to swarm him as she began to head off.

"H-Help… Me…" the poor creature feebly whimpered as the six little Nidoran began to press up against him.

"Well, I guess that's one way to get a reliable babysitter for your siblings," Elty murmured. The little dog sighed out of relief, now quietly thankful that the Froslass hadn't taken a fancy to him on the night that Community Service sentences were handed down.

"It's an unorthodox solution, yes… But anyways- Mami!" Nida called after her mother, hopping off after her as the rest of her team followed her tracks.

"Eh?" the Nidorina asked, as she turned around just in time to see Team Traveler passing the Day Care and heading for her.

"Hey wait, they have older siblings?!" the Quilava cried out, hopping up and away from the Nidoran around him with a start as Team Traveler passed. "Why don't they just-!"

The Quilava suddenly yelped, and stumbled forward as a shard of ice promptly struck his rear. As the Nidoran caught up with him, the creature nursed his rump and hastily tried to mollify a glaring Hariti at the tent's entrance.

"Gah! Okay! Okay!" his voice trailed off as the team moved further up the path.

Nida came face to face with her mother, who waited with an impatient scowl for her daughter to say something.

"Um, well… I was just going to say-" Nida began. Had- Had she gone about trying to get her mother's attention the wrong way? "That I'm going to the guild hall tonight, and testing to graduate from-"

"It's alright, mija," her mother interrupted. "I knew this day was coming."

"You're... not worried at all?" Nida asked, a bit taken aback at her mother's apparent lack of concern.

"Of course not! Why, not every team has the Protector helping it!" the Nidorina chuckled to herself as she pointed out Pleo waiting with Crom and Elty a few paces away.

"This way, me and your papi can count on you wrapping up your service and coming to help work in the field again a bit sooner!" the Nidorina cheered.

"Uhm… Mami…" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears a bit.

"Now, now, it's a part of growing up and becoming a responsible Pokémon!" she admonished.

"Mami…" Nida groaned. Why, Mami was treating this as if it was just another day's update from her elder siblings! Of all the nights to be just another face in her crowd of brothers and sisters, did Marley really have to be this way on this one-?

"Enough with the attitude already, Nida!" the Nidorina huffed, which abruptly caused Nida to hop back and brace herself. Only to find that the next words from her mother's mouth were softer than she anticipated.

"You'll want to save it for inside the dungeon, won't you? After all, tomorrow's the big opportunity to impress your team captain!"

"Heh, well I guess I can't argue with that-" Nida began, only to be cut off by her mother drawing forwards and nuzzling her snout.

"Good luck, mija. Your papi and I will be wishing you the best," Marley said. The Nidorina gave her daughter a pat on the head before she headed down a side lane.

Team Traveler turned and continued up the path, past some less damaged huts and tents. Slowly but surely, the team drew near to the entrance of the Guild Hall's complex of tents and buildings.

"Oi!"

As the team approached the Mission Board, freshly repopulated with listings since the trials and tribulations from last week, they found Kiran there waiting for them. The Swellow flew over, and cheerily greeted his charges.

"I was wondering when you all were going to show up!"

"Well, we're here," Nida answered.

"So, did you find out who's going to be our shadowing team tomorrow?" Crom questioned.

"That would be us," a voice answered. When the Pokémon of Team Traveler turned, they found that the speaker was a Shiftry accompanied by a Croconaw and Loudred.

"Wait… Team Sawtooth is shadowing us?" Crom asked, surprised at their team's company.

"Team 'Sawtooth'?" Pleo asked, tilting his head.

"Yup! Don't be fooled by these dainty-looking things here!" the Shiftry proudly answered, showing off the fans on her arms. "They'll cut through wood like cloth!"

"That's where the 'saw' comes from!" the Loudred cheerily explained.

"Yup, and Alto and I here have got the teeth!" the Croconaw added, proudly opening his stout jaws and showing off the fishhook-like teeth that lined them.

"I… guess that makes sense?" Pleo chirped, blinking a bit at the enthusiastic trio.

"Eh?! I thought that you were busy looking for an 'ahp-gredh'!" Nida cried out.

"Eh, I think we can put that on hold for a little," the Croconaw replied with a shrug.

"Who are these Pokémon, Kiran?" Pleo whispered over to his team's leader.

"The Shiftry is Pitys, the Loudred is Alto, and the Croconaw is Cardellini. They're one of the tougher teams at the guild. When Hatteras told them that you were going to be tested tomorrow… Why they practically begged to come along!" Kiran cheered.

"After all, someone's gotta make sure that the Protector goes through his test safely," Pitys proudly declared.

"And to keep fat little thugs like that Growlithe there from causing you too much trouble," the Loudred loudly chortled.

"Har har har-" Elty groaned, screwing his eyes shut in frustration before he abruptly flicked his ears. "Wait-"

The Growlithe whirled around, and saw a short green bug sketching on some paper a ways back on the side of the path, occasionally looking at the group further ahead.

"Was that Scyther sketching us earlier?" Elty asked the other Pokémon in the group.

"Scyther?" Kiran asked, as Team Traveler and their companions turned around. It was then that Pleo saw that the little bug was the artist with the blotched head from the Day Care he met last week.

"Oh! Hi!" he called out, waving. When the Scyther saw that she had been spotted by the white bird, she gave a startled buzz.

"A-Ah!" she cried out, before taking off down the path back in the direction of the Day Care, abandoning the piece of paper she had been drawing on.

"Hey! Wait!" Pleo cried out as he darted to where the Scyther was, and picked up her doodle. "You dropped your picture!"

Pleo then inspected the picture. It was a sketch of the Guild Hall's entrance, with Pleo and his teammates facing towards it. While the doodle was still a little basic, it had a remarkable resemblance to reality, the buildings and objects really looked like they were further back, and there was even some simple shadowing on it! As the others drew near, they too saw the picture, the elder Pokémon finding themselves commenting on the Scyther's work.

"Huh… Ander's kid really does have some talent with art," the wood sprite murmured to herself.

"Bah, Cassie shouldn't be sneaking out of the Day Care on her own anyways," Cardellini muttered.

"I'm sure she can just draw another one if she doesn't feel like coming by," Alto chimed in.

Pleo looked down at the picture, and then off in the direction that this 'Cassie' fled down. She seemed to have put an awful lot of work into the little image, and Pleo couldn't dislodge an uneasy feeling that surely Cassie would be in low spirits without her handi- uh… scythework.

"We can always stop by to give it back to her later, Pleo," Kiran reassured.

"I… Guess that's true," Pleo said to himself. Still, he couldn't help but wish that the Scyther hadn't run off before he could compliment her.

"Let's head on in, dinner should have just started being set a couple minutes ago," the Croconaw beckoned. It was getting late in the day, and Pleo could hear his stomach growling… As well as those of a few of his teammates.

After taking a moment to look out in the direction where Cassie had run off to, Pleo turned around, and followed the others towards the Guild Hall. After all, it was no use worrying about these things on an empty stomach.




Eating at the Guild Hall was always a rather raucous occasion in Bluewhorl Town. Every day- morning, noon, and night- food was served in a long, wooden hall full of rude tables and stools illuminated by candles and bioluminescent moss stashed in jars. The cost of admission was merely showing off a Rescue Team's scarf and badge at the door. It was an amenity that led the guild's Pokémon to tend to spend their free time frequenting the guild's grounds when missions and other obligations did not keep them away.

That is not to say that the mess hall was only good for the free food. It acted as a convenient place to find and interact with peers from other teams, to trade gossip, tips, and general enjoyment between errands and missions. A Persian's off-color joke at the expense of some past incompetent from the Company here, a Hoothoot's request for advice for finding a mate on another team there...

And of course, there were also a few scattered whispers and murmurs about the white and blue bird that was greedily inhaling a spread alongside a pair of teams.

"Liking the food, Pleo?" Nida asked as she looked up from her own dinner seated in her customary place right beside Crom.

The spreads were always simple, but filling, servings that were provided by the town. Meals were apportioned by species based off of the recommendations of a well-worn tome with messy notes and records of trials and errors that had been passed down through the years among the Pokémon that worked at the mess hall. The typical result was some mix of berries, leafy greens, grains or lentils, a salt or a sugar cube depending on the time of day, and of course- gummis.

The little morsels were about the size of small berries and about as colorful, but had a tough but edible exterior. Their insides had a pasty-textured filling and a savory flavor. Depending on how they were prepared, the filling would leave sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, or astringent aftertastes in the mouth. Nida couldn't remember what exactly went into them, but she was pretty sure that she remembered hearing 'seaweed' being involved once. All in all, it probably didn't matter so much what was in their recipes that had supposedly been passed down since the beginnings of the Cradle (and was probably better for keeping one's appetite). Whatever the diner's species or what their teeth looked like, gummis kept the conversation about dinner at the guild limited to what as opposed to who would be on the table.

It was all fine and dandy, but more importantly for Pleo...

"Mmm hmm! It's pretty and tasty!" the Lugia chirped in between mouthfuls of his dinner. That is not to say the gummi-laden servings at the guild were perfect meals. After all, a food that was equal before all also had the net effect of being equally odd before all, which Elty couldn't help but grumble about.

"Eh… Could use some meat, in my opinion," Elty mumbled as he scarfed down a few grains along with a half-bitten gummi.

"Not saying that I don't agree, but you know the rules, bub," the Shiftry lectured with an unamused scowl. "Pokémon that specifically want meat need to go out and buy it for themselves through a registered and inspected scavver like Ander."

"Yeah, 'whine' isn't on the menu here!" Cardellini snapped.

"Mrph, I know what a scavver is and how they work. We had them where I'm from," Elty grumbled, rolling his eyes. "All I'm saying is that if I'm expected to be buying stuff, then why'd my bag get cleaned out for 'reparations' then?"

"Well look at it this way... a full stomach, even if it's not your favorite food, will improve your alertness in the dungeon!" Kiran said while fanning out a wing. "Why, from my own observations, it helps raise your alertness by 150%!"

"Hmm? What will that do?" Pleo asked.

"Well for one, it'll help you sniff out traps easier so you don't trip over them," Nida replied, as she helped herself to another gummi from her spread.

"And tomorrow's mission is a simulated rescue! Why, sensitivity is key for finding stranded Pokémon in a Mystery Dungeon!" Kiran chirped. "After all, a Pokémon that's lost or damaged their badge in there can't communicate with the Psychics at all."

Ah yes, that was why the team and anyone else who entered a Mystery Dungeon always made sure to carry some paper and envelopes with them. If they ever somehow got completely stuck and deprived of working badges, they could write a distress note. From there, the winds that reshaped floors in the Distortion would catch them up, the note's light weight allowing the winds to carry them out of the Mystery Dungeon.

It was said that any self-respecting settlement always made sure to reward the discoverers of such notes, whether a resident, a visitor, or a feral. It was an erratic method to be sure, but as long as a team could tough it out, hide in stable zones in between the Distortion's wiping of floors, and didn't move around too much, an attentive team could find them. Except… that seemed a bit overly-detailed for this 'simulated rescue' to Crom. After all...

"Aren't we just tracking down a Substitute, though?" he asked. "I mean, I guess it's still important to be able to pick out entrances to stable zones hidden in alcoves and the like, but… It's not like it would up and run anywhere, right?

"Well, training mission or not, you never can be too careful. After all, a migrating feral getting blown in or stranded in the Mystery Dungeon sea una posiblidad real," the Loudred said as he snarfed down a fruit from before him

"Blown in? Stranded?" Pleo asked, as he stopped himself from grabbing another morsel with his beak.

"Yup, you never know with those cases. Sometimes they'll come up to a team they run into crying for help, and we'll bail them like we would a lost Pokémon from town. It's the ones that don't want your help out of there that are trouble," Alto said as he polished off his fruit. "Those ones are usually just itching for a fight. Sometimes they're about as tough as normal, other times they're a lot stronger and more dangerous. Why, Nida there got into a close shave with a feral like that that was out of her league just last year."

"Huh?!" Pleo cried out, knocking the table with a start with a wing. "What happened?!"

"It's really not-" Nida muttered. She usually appreciated others remembering her name as something besides 'Marley's girl', but this occasion was an exception. The Nidoran's ears folded back more and more, as the big-mouth at the table prattled on.

"She got ambushed and worked over by a Skarmory that blew in during a storm," he answered. "Big and fierce as ferals, hunt for food, too. Left her jittery about going back in those caves for weeks. Why, if Kiran hadn't been around to blow the metal fiend away, that feral probably would have made a meal of-!"

"Can we not, Alto?!" the Nidoran shouted, causing a dead silence to fall over the table and a couple nearby ones. Pairs upon pairs of eyes found themselves staring at a Nidoran half-up a table, barbs raised, giving a glare at a surprised Loudred that seemed to all but drill through his purple hide.

"Did... I say something that I wasn't supposed to?" he meekly asked in as quiet a voice his natural boisterousness could allow.

"You really do need to master the art of thinking before you speak," Pitys sighed as she buried her face in a leafy fan.

"It's just that… That was a really rough moment for us as a team," Crom replied. "And it's not one we like to dwell upon."

"Er… Hey, so about that 'ahp-gredh' you were looking for earlier!" Kiran hastily interjected in a cheery tone to shift the topic of conversation. Little by little, all signs of the outburst faded away as Team Sawtooth began to regale Kiran and his companions with their elusive quarry for Melissa. The snooping teams at the other tables similarly returned to their own discussions.

All signs but two, that is, as Nida scowled through the rest of dinner. The little Protector of Tromba similarly didn't return to his prior buoyancy, as he lost his appetite at the table and grew more and more apprehensive as the hours passed by about this test that was going to come tomorrow.




After dinner, the skies turned dark as the sun dipped over the horizon and the moon and stars began their customary ascendance into the sky for the night. The Guild's Pokémon traded goodnights among each other, some of them heading off to various abodes around Bluewhorl and its surroundings for the night. Many others, including Team Traveler that night, had lodging a bit closer to the watchful gaze of Hatteras' hut and signaling platform.

Much as with meals, the guild's members could claim a free space overnight in a rude, if roomy, hut with not much to much to speak of in the way of privacy. Dozens of Pokémon were assigned to each hut, their only furnishings being mats on the floor to square off spots for straw and twig bedding or hammocks hung from the rafters. In spite of that, the price and convenient location for checking the mission board bright and early in the morning provided some degree of compensation. As such, there was no shortage of Pokémon that chose this humble lodging, as Team Traveler's members did for this night.

In one hut, Pleo lay on a small heap of straw on a reed mat, Crom lay on another, half-curled around Nida and Elty, and Kiran was perched on an overhead rafter. Beside the Swellow, the team had hung their scarves and other personal effects for the night. All were now in the deep embrace of sleep...

All except Pleo, that is, who was wide awake, staring up at the wall. He fidgeted, trying this position and that to try and fall asleep, only to be kept up by the Loudred's words. Nida had really run into such a scary-sounding Pokémon in the Mystery Dungeon? The one where his old cave pond was? What would have happened if such a Pokémon found him before Kiran and Crom and Nida did? What if there was one waiting for him to come in tomorrow? As the questions continued to plague the young guardian's mind, he eventually found himself turning to look out the window. In the window, light winked intermittently from the top floor of Hatteras' hut and the sea of stars glimmered brightly in the sky.

"Can't sleep, Pleo? Or were you trying see one of the Travelers come out from behind the moon?" a voice asked.

"Eh?!"

As Pleo turned around towards the source of the voice, he found himself coming face to face with a blue Nidoran, who had gotten up from her straw bedding.

"What? I've got good ears and I've been hearing you toss around all night," Nida said, pawing at one of her ears. "And the Travelers are supposed to be the spirits of the-"

"Nida, I don't wanna go in the dungeon!" Pleo squawked, getting up and beating his wings. The racket caused some of the nearby Pokémon to shift about; Crom muttered something about "Yay, flour!" as Elty grumbled about some cards or some other manner of game he played with his old companions in the past, apparently not very well.

"Not so loud! Everyone's trying to sleep!" Nida scolded quietly, thankful that everyone else nearby seemed to be deeper sleepers than she was. "And it's the middle of the night! Of course you don't want to go right-"

"I don't wanna go in the morning, either though!" Pleo whispered back.

"Eh? But you were so excited earlier today!" Nida replied in a hushed tone, stepping back in surprise. "What-?"

Nida then noticed that Pleo looked, well... scared. Or at least she was pretty sure he looked scared, since the only other times she had seen Pleo like this were on the day that Captain Hess had raided the town. The Nidoran quickly put together just what could be making her teammate so antsy.

"Oh, this is about what Alto brought up at dinner today, wasn't it?"

"What if the Skarmory comes back?!" Pleo asked, as he looked about the hut anxiously. The matter made Nida screw her eyes shut and shake her head.

"That bird was taken care of ages ago and now is a long, long ways away from everyone else in a place where he won't hurt anyone," she replied, pawing at the mat. The truth was a bit less simplistic than that, but for Pleo's sake (and Elty's were he awake, she supposed), the Nidoran decided to leave the explanation at that.

"But what about the other ferals?!" the young Lugia insisted.

"They will only try to do what they think they can get away with. A scarf tells ferals that if they mess with us too severely, they'll be in big trouble afterwards," Nida replied, pointing up at the blue pieces of cloth that hung by their team leader's feet. "Besides, we've got badges to escape with, and an entire extra team watching our backs tomorrow. And…"

Pleo then felt a soft sensation, and saw that Nida had walked up and was nuzzling him under his chin.

"You won't be alone in there. We'll all be there right alongside you."

"You… Promise?" Pleo asked warily.

"I promise, Pleo. Now come on, go to sleep," Nida pleaded.

"... Can I have a bedtime story first?"

"How about a part of one?" Nida countered, sighing. Were the old gods also this demanding when they were little too? "I'll pick up on where we last left from the 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies'... If you can remind me where I left off."

"The Prince Nidorino got scared after hearing about his enemies coming and about the old gods being upset with him. So the Prince began to dig a hole for his children to hide in," Pleo replied as he slowly sank back down onto his straw. "Then the old gods passed by him as he was still digging saying they were looking to give the Prince a gift. The Prince then pretended to be someone else and they offered him the gift they were gonna give the Prince instead."

"Ah, right," Nida replied as she cleared her throat and shook her head to try and jog her memory. "So anyhow… 'I'm busy! My enemies are coming for me and my children!' the Prince insisted, before he spoke back to the old gods. 'If you want to give me a gift, then give it to my bottom! It's poking out of my hole!' The old gods then grew impressed with the Prince. Even as his thousand enemies approached, even as his children were in danger, even after the old gods found him after he angered them, he did not despair and give up."

Nida noticed that Pleo's eyes were beginning to droop, and he started to curl up on his pile of straw. All that sleeplessness must have been tiring, she thought to herself with a yawn.

"They murmured among themselves before they decided to humor the Prince, and so, the old god of the skies spoke on behalf of them all and said: 'Let it be so! Bottom, give your master strength and protection and character forever!' Just then, the Prince's hind legs grew strong and sprouted poisonous spikes that spread forward over his body. As the Prince continued to dig, his strengthened legs thumped and thumped, and shook even the very top of the skies, shaking bits and pieces of the moon off that fell to the earth-"

Nida then saw that Pleo's eyes were firmly shut. That was a good enough place to stop, she guessed. The Nidoran looked back at her space and saw that Elty had tossed about in his sleep and drifted over it. Nida grumbled to herself, and were it not for all the sleeping Pokémon around her, she'd have had half a mind to ram the little fatty and make him give her spot back.

But… She supposed that it wasn't unmanageable. After all, there seemed to be space enough for her next to where Pleo had curled up. She quietly crept over Pleo's feet and shuffled into the straw by his belly, settling down and drooping her eyes.

She then felt a feathery sensation brush up past her. Nida looked up for a moment and saw that Pleo had spread a wing over her, before she became too tired to care anymore and let her eyes close entirely as a soft voice spoke.

"Good night, Nida."




Author's Notes:

- amatorzy - Polish: "amateurs"
- ipana - Finnish: "brat"
- sea una posiblidad real - Spanish: "is a real possibility"
 
Last edited:

Virgil134

PMD Writer
A review as promised!

"What are you going on about? You're being tested! If you don't impress your leader, he's not gonna pass you!" the Growlithe barked, flattening out his ears. "And frankly, I'm not exactly convinced that 'ganging up on the Growlithe' is gonna get you through a dungeon without handholding."
Oh Elty, don't be such a buzzkill. Though I gotta say, he has grown on me. I didn't think too much of him when he first debuted with the other pirates, but ever since he joined the team I've really started to appreciate him. Most of his scenes and dialogue are funny and he's a nice opposite to Pleo, who is always honest and innocent. I'm glad he joined the team.

"Because it's a break from getting pounded on at the Dojo?" Nida asked, flattening out her ears in annoyance. "Besides if we don't pass, just what do you think we're going to be doing afterwards to toughen up?"
That's one way to handle stubborn pirates lol

"Before you ask, I really can't give any discounts this time," he said. The poor creature appeared sleep-deprived, the green scales on his body having developed a dull and dingy color to them.
I feel kinda bad for Calino. First he gets bullied into giving discounts and now his shop is torched and he has to work overtime.

"Well, when a Pokémon is having a tough time, it's generally nice to not give them extra things to worry about on top of it," she replied.

Elty was quick to butt in. "So… That means that you'll go easier on me during sparring-" Only to be just as quickly cut off by Nida, too.

"Hey! I said 'tough' time, not 'deserved'!"
It are moments like these that make me appreciate Elty.

"Veikka, is that you?" a voice cried out from the backroom.

"Pyry!" the Trapinch eagerly responded, as the voice's owner, a haggard-looking Gabite coated in flour, burst out into the room and scooped up the Trapinch in his claws.

"Pekka, please! Tell me there's an open spot to dig ditches!" the Gabite pleaded, staring into the Trapinch's eyes with a desperate gaze that seemed to all but bore into the creature.

"Um… Veikka? You're kinda scaring me," the Trapinch squeaked.
You know, even the interactions of the other two pirates are quite enjoyable. I hope we'll see more of them

"You'll be able to stay right here with your normal playmates until I'm done in the field with Papi tonight," Marley cheerily explained. "Auntie Hariti and I found someone to watch over you…"
It was then that the Quilava became aware that Hariti, the Nidorina, and all six of the Nidoran with her… Were staring at him.
Pirate or not, that's just cruel lol. I guess working in a bakery or even being a Lugia's punching bag doesn't sound so bad all of a sudden haha

"This way, me and your papi can count on you wrapping up your service and coming to help work in the field again a bit sooner!" the Nidorina cheered.
Doesn't seem like Nida's mother is fully aware of what her daughter really wants. I'm interested to see how this will play out.

"Eh?! I thought that you were busy looking for an 'ahp-gredh'!" Nida cried out.
It's funny, before Melissa mentioned it in chapter 9 I didn't know they were talking about an Up-Grade

Pleo looked down at the picture, and then off in the direction that this 'Cass' fled down. She seemed to have put an awful lot of work into the little image, and Pleo couldn't dislodge an uneasy feeling that surely Cass would be in low spirits without her handi- uh… scythework.
So how does she draw on paper with two scythes?

The little morsels were about the size of small berries and about as colorful, but had a tough but edible exterior. Their insides had a pasty-textured filling and a savory flavor. Depending on how they were prepared, the filling would leave sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, or astringent aftertastes in the mouth
I really like how detailed you described gummis here, well done

"Not saying that I don't agree, but you know the rules, bub," the Shiftry lectured with an unamused leer. "Pokémon that specifically want meat need to go out and buy it for themselves through a registered and inspected scavver like Ander."
I thought only ferals ate meat?

"Well for one, it'll help you sniff out traps easier so you don't trip over them," Nida replied, as she helped herself to another gummi from her spread.
Wait so they can literally smell traps? How does that work?

Ah yes, that was why the team and anyone else who entered a Mystery Dungeon always made sure to carry some paper and envelopes with them. If they ever somehow got completely stuck and deprived of working badges, they could write a distress note. From there, the winds that reshaped floors in the Distortion would catch them up, the note's light weight allowing the winds to carry them out of the Mystery Dungeon.
So far I really like how you have explained different mechanics from the PMD universe. Definitely one of the strong points of your fic.

"She got ambushed and worked over by a Skarmory that blew in during a storm," he answered. "Big and fierce as ferals, hunt for food, too. Left her jittery about going back in those caves for weeks. Why, if Kiran hadn't been around to blow the metal fiend away, that feral probably would have made a meal of-!"
I'll be honest here, I'm personally not a huge fan of the whole concept of Pokemon eating each other. It's not the central topic of your fic so it doesn't bother me that much, but I figured I'd at least give you my two cents on it

Much as with meals, the guild's members could claim a free space overnight in a rude, if roomy, hut with not much to much to speak of in the way of privacy. Dozens of Pokémon were assigned to each hut, their only furnishings being mats on the floor to square off spots for straw and twig bedding or hammocks hung from the rafters. In spite of that, the price and convenient location for checking the mission board bright and early in the morning provided some degree of compensation. As such, there was no shortage of Pokémon that chose this humble lodging, as Team Traveler's members did for this night.
So I take it that unlike PMD Explorers, Pokemon don't always eat and sleep at the guild?

Crom muttered something about "Yay, flour!" as Elty grumbled about some cards or some other manner of game he played with his old companions in the past, apparently not very well.
These dreams just seem so fitting for both characters lol

I think this was a pretty good chapter overall. It didn't really progress the story all that much, but that's fine since the main purpose of this chapter is to set things up for Team Traveler's test anyway. Aside from the comments I made, I don't really have any major complaints. Just keep doing what you're doing!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Oh Elty, don't be such a buzzkill. Though I gotta say, he has grown on me. I didn't think too much of him when he first debuted with the other pirates, but ever since he joined the team I've really started to appreciate him. Most of his scenes and dialogue are funny and he's a nice opposite to Pleo, who is always honest and innocent. I'm glad he joined the team.
I'm glad that you're enjoying how he's developing so far. And the clash against a naive and innocent character was a big reason why Elty wound up getting put into the team during planning, yes.

That's one way to handle stubborn pirates lol
You know, even the interactions of the other two pirates are quite enjoyable. I hope we'll see more of them
Pirate or not, that's just cruel lol. I guess working in a bakery or even being a Lugia's punching bag doesn't sound so bad all of a sudden haha
Well, debts to society aren't always fun to pay off, even if they're specifically designed to have you live to tell the tale afterwards. And Bluewhorl happens to subscribe to a rather particular school of thought for building character. I'll have to see what I can do to bring those guys and their hapless compatriots up again every now and then during the story.

Doesn't seem like Nida's mother is fully aware of what her daughter really wants. I'm interested to see how this will play out.
Well, all I will say is that both wants and expectations have a way of changing with time.

So how does she draw on paper with two scythes?
Poking softly with some dabbled paint/ink/pigments on her scythes and making small and precise motions. Kinda like performing a dry run for surgery, really.

I thought only ferals ate meat?
It's actually alluded to earlier all the way back in the chapter when the pirate raid starts up, but the technical answer is 'not quite'.

"That's because Pokémon that live in town eat Gummis like the ones you've been eating for the past few days and aren't allowed to eat other Pokémon. Other Pokémon aren't allowed to eat them in return," Nida said as she hopped up a ledge, prompting Crom to mull a moment and interrupt.

"Doesn't the guild allow that 'scavenging' thing that Ander's involved with, thou-"

"Crom. Stop. Talking," Nida hissed, "This is already a confusing enough thing to explain!"
Meat-eating is something that's tolerated, but not encouraged in communities like Bluewhorl much as smoking is tolerated but not encouraged in most of our modern societies. This is primarily since regardless of what source of meat chosen, a number of locals in a PMD-esque society would be wired instinctively to feel hungry if they see a smaller creature with a limp walk by. As such, given that food in this fic's setting operates on the presumption of "life for a life" that pops up in a number of eastern cultures and philosophies (whether all at once, or through sacrificing time from your life through labor), towns like Bluewhorl do what they can to try and accommodate that for Pokemon that can't fully unlearn that part of themselves without breaking the understanding they have with ferals that keeps their young safe from predation, which would involve exactly what the label says on the tin.

Wait so they can literally smell traps? How does that work?
It was more metaphorical, but given some IQ skills in T/D/S, it honestly would not shock me if some Pokemon that were particularly seasoned at going through Mystery Dungeons were able to smell at least some of them.

So I take it that unlike PMD Explorers, Pokemon don't always eat and sleep at the guild?
Nope, unlike in the Explorers games, most Pokemon in Tromba have actual lives outside of the guild, and getting one's entire livelihood from dungeon crawls is uncommon. Most Pokemon in Nida and Crom's shoes similarly juggle obligations outside Bluewhorl's guild and will wind up leaving the guild later on to tend to focus entirely on more mundane work like say... Tending to a berry field up on the hills, or running a bakery.

I think this was a pretty good chapter overall. It didn't really progress the story all that much, but that's fine since the main purpose of this chapter is to set things up for Team Traveler's test anyway. Aside from the comments I made, I don't really have any major complaints. Just keep doing what you're doing!
Glad to hear, the lack of progression is a little concerning, though I think this chapter and the rest in this current block should be a little better at progression... I hope.

So, yeah... I wound up sorta late on my target publishing window thanks to some stuff going on in meta over the last week, but it's finally here. So last week was primarily a setup chapter, whereas today will focus more on actually getting the team into the proverbial door in Tromba's Mystery Dungeon.

My special thanks for this past chapter goes to usual suspects Tangent128 and Solovino for the help they provided beta reading and with the banner, as well as to all the readers and reviewers that have been keeping up with this fic and pointing out weaknesses and things that caught their attention.

Publishing is targeting the same 7-10 day window as last time, if hopefully one that I'll be a bit less late on this time around since I'll have a 3-day weekend in this next window. Per usual, I'd be deeply appreciative of any feedback, critiques, or commentary for this chapter.

Now, let's speed things up in the story back into some daylight hours:



The following morning, the sun broke over the horizon and its light began to filter through the treetops along the path from Bluewhorl Town to Tromba's Mystery Dungeon. Along with daylight and the blue sky, signs of diurnal life returned to the woods along the path. There was the sound of ferals yawning and moseying themselves awake from further off in the undergrowth. In the distance down the hill, the faint smoke and din from the town in the distance evidenced that the skeleton crew that served Bluewhorl's more nocturnal residents had traded places with the normal Pokémon that helped keep the town running by day.

Tromp tromp tromp

And there was also the sound of two Rescue Teams trudging up the path for the fog. At the rear was a seasoned team with scarves that consisted of a green and a white field forming a sawtooth pattern, separated by a tan divider. Their ranks consisted of a Shiftry, a Croconaw, a Loudred, and their temporary Swellow addition for the day, Kiran. Up ahead of them on the path was Team Traveler, the band of rookies who were going to prove themselves today…

That they were ready to break into Normal Rank…

That the sea god among them would discover just what it would take to serve as Tromba's Protector and how to draw out his true power...

Or at least that was the hope.

"Are we there yet?" the team's Growlithe whined as he hopped over a root, a rude satchel slung over his back, which did not escape Nida's notice.

"We have a bag for the team, you know, so you don't need that," Nida growled, pointing to the Growlithe's bag.

"Relax, Elty," Crom admonished. The Druddigon perched on a stump at the rear of the group, his wings spread out to catch some warming rays from the sun. The ruddy lizard then gave his wings a lively beat and glided along with a leaping start to catch up with his teammates. "We just started going up the path a few minutes ago!"

"And why are you suddenly so hesitant to go someplace where you can pick fights with other Pokémon, anyways?" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears.

"Because I'm not getting anything out of this!"

Of course. Nida sighed to herself and rolled her eyes. The complaint did make a kind of sense, albeit the kind that made her want to give the ex-pirate a stiff headbutt to knock some respect into him. Mercifully for Elty, her train of thought was interrupted after Pleo hopped up from the path onto a tree branch high above, clambering onto it on his way down.

"Kiran? Aren't you guys supposed to be shadowing us while we rescue that Substitute today?" he called behind him to the path below, where Kiran and Team Sawtooth dutifully followed along behind their younger charges.

"Hmm?" the Swellow asked. The blue and red bird tilted his head at Pleo curiously, as the young Lugia carefully inched along the branch, spreading his wings out for balance.

"Well, your shadow's not touching any of us," Pleo replied as he paced tottering towards the end of the branch he was on.

"Uh… 'Shadowing' means that we'll follow you around," Pitys corrected, the Shiftry sighing at this little Protector's rather… erm, literal train of thought.

"Yeah, and that's what we're doing now," Cardellini, her Croconaw teammate assured, calling up to the little white bird who was perched at the end of a now sagging-branch.

"Hmm. I guess that makes sense," Pleo mused to himself, drawing a wing to his mouth as he looked around. "But… then why call it-? Oh! Look! Look!"

Pleo noticed something off in the direction of the sea and began to gesture wildly at it. His companions hastily tried to make out what Pleo saw between the tree trunks along the path, just in case it was another pirate ship like the day up at Marley and Teja's field. Kiran flew up over the treetops and saw that from Pleo's vantage point, one could see a simple wooden pavilion on a seaside ledge.

"Heh, that's your ánima!" Kiran cheerily squawked. "Come on, we'll stop by it!"

Pleo eagerly leapt off his branch, catapulting himself into the air and flapping all the way down to the earth. After stumbling to a stop on the ground, he dusted himself off and dashed on ahead, his companions quickly following suit with a chorus of "Pleo! Wait up!" and other pleas for the little sea guardian to be a bit more patient and run a little more slowly.

Before long, Pleo found the fork in the path that led to the shrine and darted up to it, staring at this rude little structure with a strange upside-down cup thingy in it. Oh, so that must be a bell! Except Pleo couldn't understand for the life of him why that Aggron that attacked them back in the raid would think it would've been tasty at all.

As Pleo poked his head into the little structure and began to gawk at the paintings that were plastered on undersides of the roof panels, he heard footsteps running up. The young Protector turned around to see his teammates approaching the shrine as he began to wonder...

"I don't understand, why is this here?" he asked.

"Well..." Nida began. "Mom says that when the Cradle was being put together, Arceus left behind eggs of new gods based on the hopes of the Pokémon that lived there. The Pokémon here hoped for someone who could use the very sea and winds to protect them, and we got your egg from it."

"Uh huh! Uh huh!" Crom replied. "And as you protect us, and other Protectors start to wake up around the Cradle, the world around the Wastes will start to go back to normal!"

"It… will? Just from me being a Protector?" Pleo chirped.

"Yep!" the Druddigon cheered, wagging his tail a bit. "Your presence will help restore balance to the world, or at least that's how the stories go! That's why the Pokémon on this island built this shrine, so that we could always give thanks to you!"

Nida and Crom seemed sunny and to be enjoying themselves as they explained the purpose of the shrine and began to look around at the surrounding seascape.

Elty on the other hand, looked, well...

"That pathetic little rudera is supposed to be a gesture of thanks?"

Judging from the exasperated scowl that crept over his face and how quickly his ears folded back, 'unimpressed' probably was a generous way of putting it.

"Eh? But I think it looks pretty!" Pleo protested, as he felt his foot brush up against something that fell against a rock with a faint thud. Pleo craned his head down, and discovered that the object that made the noise was a little red berry, apparently frozen over.

"Eh? Isn't this one of Hariti's berries?" he asked as he inspected the little fruit.

"Huh. Looks like she must have left it as an offering earlier," Nida said to herself.

"Hrm? But why would she do that?" Pleo questioned, as he tilted his head at the Nidoran.

"It's an offering," Crom explained, beating his wings a little as he stretched a bit on the sun-drenched pathway. "Pokémon in town leave food there for you!"

"Oh! I see!" Pleo chirped, as he brought his head down to peck at the frosty red-colored little morsel, only to suddenly hear a cry.

"Hey!"

"Huh?!" Pleo squawked. He whirled around to the source of the voice, and saw a little yellow rodent with black ears and brown stripes hastily burst out of some bushes. Pleo wasn't sure what this little creature wanted, but noticed that much like the Zigzagoon who had caused a ruckus through Mildrew's field just before the Iron Fleet's raid on Bluewhorl, she wasn't wearing a scarf.

Pleo looked back at his teammates and saw that all of them had tensed up and had adopted defensive positions. Nida had her barbs fanned out, Crom had his claws bared and opened his maw a little, and Elty had steadied his legs in order to pounce at a moment's notice.

"I was going to eat that!" the Pikachu huffed, electricity dancing on the hairs of its pelt.

Oh, this must have been another one of those 'ferals', and based off of his teammates, it seemed to Pleo as if he wasn't supposed to trust her. The little Lugia braced himself, and beat its wings in protest.

"But it's mine! It's my 'anime'-thingy!"

"Er… Pollito," Kiran's voice admonished. Pleo looked up and saw the Swellow swoop in and perch on one of the eaves of the shrine. Team Sawtooth, with their jagged-patterned scarves, ran in behind the younger Pokémon with blue scarves with white stars.

The sight of all these much stronger Pokémon appearing made the sparks on the Pikachu's pelt abruptly die, and the little mouse folded its ears back and began to try and make itself look small. As the younger Pokémon began to pick up on the yellow rodent's unease, they eased themselves and traded awkward looks with each other, leaving Pleo to ask uneasily...

"Isn't it? Nida and Crom even said so..."

"Well, isn't that what everyone in town says?" Crom murmured.

"So shouldn't whatever gets left there be his?" Nida asked.

"Well, kids... over the years," Kiran began. "The town's let the ferals have the food."

"Yeah, we assumed giving Pokémon that live lean lives a helping fan was what you would have wanted. Being a 'Protector' and all," the Shiftry added.

"How… come?" Pleo asked.

"Because it's my first meal since yesterday!" the Pikachu squeaked, which made Pleo stare at the creature, and then up to Kiran.

"Pleo," he explained, flapping down and coming to a rest next to his white and blue charge. "Part of being a Protector is looking out for Pokémon that don't have it as well as you, even if they're strange to you."

'Looking out for'? Pleo thought to himself. How was skipping out on his food supposed to be protecting another Pokémon? As Pleo looked from his berry and over at the Pikachu, he noticed that the creature seemed lean and its fur seemed scraggly and unkempt, as if she had a busy and weary day, without time even to stop and eat… all while it was still morning.

Maybe… maybe 'protecting' Pokémon meant more than simply keeping mean Pokémon like Hess from hurting them... things like making sure the Pokémon next to you didn't go hungry.

"I mean, I guess," the Pikachu mumbled as she looked at the ground. "If you really need it, I could skip it…"

"It's alright, you haven't eaten for longer than me," Pleo replied. The Pikachu then eyed the frozen berry cautiously, and as she cautiously eyed the surrounding Pokémon, she scooped it up, gave a bow to the little guardian present, and then scurried back off into the bushes.

"I guess we should get going, too," Crom murmured as the Pikachu vanished into the undergrowth. "I'll make up the berry to you. After all, we've got loaves from mom's bakery!"

The Druddigon fished out two golden loaves from Kiran's bag. As was his custom, he left one at the base of the shrine, and began to tear up the other and share it with his companions. One for Pleo, one for himself, and of course, one for Nida...

"Ready to get going, Pleo?" Nida asked as she took her portion of bread loaf. The question made Pleo pause for a moment as he helped himself to his piece.

"You'll be there beside me, right?" he asked through a beakful of bread.

"Uh huh! Uh huh!" Crom cheerfully replied as he tore off a chunk for his newest teammate.

"Hrmph… I don't have much of a choice," Elty grumbled as he snatched up his piece of Crom's loaf, occasionally shooting dissatisfied looks at the loaf the dragon had just left there on the shrine's base.

"Of course we will," Nida reassured in between nibbles of her portion. "We're a team, remember?"

"Then… I think that I am," Pleo replied, ruffling his feathers as he drew near to his teammates. Crom was the first to lead the charge, marching on past Team Sawtooth. One by one, his teammates and the shadowing team followed suit, returning to the path in between the trees that wound its way up Tromba's mountains… on towards that strange, thick fog that hung from the peaks.




Before too long, Nida, Crom, Elty, Pleo, and their shadowing team found themselves in a foggy portion of forest, standing in front of a yawning cave entrance that acted as the last barrier between Tromba and the distorted floors within the Mystery Dungeon just ahead.

"Do we all know the rules for going in?" Kiran asked, keenly eyeing his charges who today would have to trawl through the floors on their own. Nida and Crom couldn't help but give each other exasperated looks, as usual.

"Um," Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears.

"Kiran," Crom added, as he slapped a claw over his snout. It was something that they had been through many times before, and judging from Elty's unamused scowl, he was certainly in their same camp.

"Look, I might not be from your island, but what kind of moron doesn't know how to safely enter a Mystery-?" he snapped, before he noticed that Pleo was staring blankly at the Swellow.

"Oh, right," the Growlithe grumbled to himself. Nida and Crom did say that this would be the feather duster's first time in a Mystery Dungeon, so of course he wouldn't know!

"What are they, Kiran?" Pleo asked.

"Why don't you explain this time, kids?" Kiran asked as he gestured to Crom and Nida with a wing.

"Stay together in the fog, don't wander off the path, and don't run into the dungeon," they dutifully recited, this time not groaning at this routine reminder since one of their companions actually needed it this time.

"Yeah, what they said!" Elty added hastily as Kiran quickly talked some matters over with Team Sawtooth that the younger Pokémon couldn't make out before Pitys spoke up.

"We'll be letting you guys lead the way in today, you know how to get in, right?"

"I sure do!" Crom answered. "All you've gotta do is make sure your feet are always on the path!"

"And when the fog gets all espesa?" Alto asked, the Loudred's booming voice carrying off into the distance.

"Keep your head close to the ground to check!" Crom dutifully replied.

"Seems like they've got the hang of it, Kiran," Cardellini said. "And if you kids run into any trouble, we'll take over for you."

"I'll follow whichever one of you will be at the end, so feel free to organize the team, Crom," Kiran replied as he turned to quickly preen some shoulder feathers. Crom stopped and eyed his teammates, before he bent down to address the Nidoran.

"You hitching a ride again this time, Nida?" he asked, his jagged maw giving the closest approximation to a smile a Druddigon could muster.

"Actually… I think I'll pass this time, Crom," Nida said, putting a paw to her mouth as she looked aside.

"Eh?!" the young Druddigon cried out of surprise. "But you always-!"

He then noticed that Nida was glancing at Pleo, who was busy preening some flight feathers on his wing.

"Someone probably needs the company a bit more," she explained. "It'll be his first time going through the fog, remember?"

"Ah, right. Good catch," Crom replied. "Pleo! Hold on tight to my tail as we go in-! Ow!"

Crom then felt Pleo latching onto the end of his tail with his beak, as he cheerily replied in a muffled tone.

"Likth dath?" he asked.

"Um… Pleo, let's try using your wings," Nida said, sighing. The Nidoran then hopped up onto Pleo's shoulders and sat at the base of his neck and after a little prodding, the Lugia let go of Crom's tail and gave the dragon a moment to wag some sensation back into it. After Crom seemed to be ready, Pleo again latched onto the Druddigon's tail, this time by pressing it firmly between his wings. Yep, everyone was now accounted for, except...

"Alright," declared the Growlithe's voice. "So I'll just go at the very end of the- Gark!"

The former pirate yelped as felt himself being lifted off the ground by the scruff of his neck, then drawn into a tight clutch of two arms coated in rough scales as Crom looked down at him with those piercing eyes of his.

"Yeah, nice try, Elty," he said. "But you'll be sticking with me today."

"Hey! I can handle myself fine! And your scales chafe!" Elty whined as Kiran grabbed Pleo's tail with his own wings and Team Sawtooth latched onto each other, grasping tails, arms, or shoulders to finish their chain.

"Alright, I think we're good here. Lead the way, Crom!" Kiran called out.

"I'm on it!" Crom cheered, as he began trudging past the lip of the cave, deeper and deeper into the mist.

As the Druddigon lead the group deeper and deeper into the haze, Pleo keenly eyed his young guide. Crom always trudged forth slowly and carefully, sometimes stopping and bending down to eye and sniff at the ground to make sure he hadn't strayed off the path. Even as his form became more and more indistinct from the haze, it was a process the young Druddigon dutifully kept up. With each step forward, less and less of the world stayed visible to the Lugia. The feeling of Nida on his shoulders, Crom's tail before him, and Kiran's wings behind him being the only sensations that seemed to not grow more muddled as he went along.

"Why do we have to go through this fog thing?" Pleo asked the riding Nidoran on his shoulders.

"That's just how the barrier to the Distortion works," Nida replied. "It apparently was that way even back in the days of humans."

"Yeah, there's stories about the different ways humans would try to mark paths through them back when they were around," Crom called off from ahead. "In one of them, they tried building pillars along the path as a guide!"

"Not that we'd ever know for sure," Kiran explained as Pleo watched the Swellow's face became harder and harder to make out in the fog. "All of those Distortions, if they're even around anymore, would be somewhere out in the Wastes."

As they kept walking along, more and more of the world around Pleo vanished. Team Sawtooth's Pokémon were the first to vanish, blotted out from Pleo's view by the fog. Kiran was next, and soon enough Pleo couldn't even make out his own tail. Then came Crom and Nida, as the fog enveloped more and more of Pleo, to the point where he couldn't even see past the end of his snout.

All the while, everything seemed to become… wrong. The chatter of his teammates, the smell of the path's surroundings, even the very feel of the air surrounding him and the path under his feet... all of it became murky, heavy, and strange, as if Crom had lead everyone into the clutch of some strange and awful snare that was closing in on him… leaving him all alone.

Pleo stopped trudging forward, not daring to move his wings or take another step, and began to call out, frightened.

"N-Nida?! Nida!"

He tried to look about, but all there was around him was this thick, oppressive haze. Pleo's heart sank and he began to wish that he was back in the town, back where he could see the sun and the sky, where everyone seemed happy and content. All of a sudden, Pleo felt something soft on his back, and heard a small voice from the haze.

"-eep going...! alm... -ough!" it called. Wait a minute, that voice… It was Nida's!

"Nida! Where are you?!" he cried, before he began to hear other voices.

"Don… -ive up!"

"So -ose!"

"-oin… grea…!"

"-ollow… -om!"

Pleo stopped and shuffled his feet… Were these sounds his teammates? Or was it all just a trick? He stood there, torn at what to do, before a voice murmured through the haze.

"right here... -side you."

It was then that Pleo shook his head and the fog suddenly seemed less overwhelming. Even if he couldn't see them, his friends really were still right beside him. He felt a tug ahead, and decided that as disorienting as everything seemed, it was safe to press on. So he went, trudging step by step, letting the scraping tug before him be his guide.

Little by little, the air felt lighter and lighter and the sound of flowing water became clearer and clearer along with an increasingly strong smell of salt as the haze began to recede. Nida, Crom, Kiran… One by one, the different Pokémon that had gone along with Pleo through the mist returned to the guardian's vision, until they were all there again.

As last wisps of fog cleared away, Pleo saw that Crom led everyone into a simple sea cave with a pool of water that stretched along the wall to the right and a narrow corridor at the end.

"Make it through alright, pollito?" Kiran asked as he sidled up to Pleo. "You seemed like you took the trip through a little hard."

"I think so," Pleo murmured uneasily as he looked about the stone chamber. "But why does the fog get so scary?"

"You'll get used to it with time, Pleo," Nida explained. "It always seems scary the first time around."

"Alright, so this is as far as we'll lead you today," Pitys declared as she brushed her fans together and shook some life into them.

"Wait, it… is?" Pleo asked. "But I thought we were exploring!"

"Emphasis on 'we'," Crom replied as he stretched his limbs. "We'll be leading the way for the practice rescue, Kiran and the others will be following. Think of it as kinda being like our times going through Maestra Mosca's maze."

"I guess that makes sense," Pleo said to himself.

"And if you guys ever find yourself in need of a speedy exit, you've got an easy way to make that happen!" Kiran cheered before he pressed his badge with a wing, which quickly caused a familiar Kirlia's voice to flood the minds of the present Pokémon.

"Yeah, what is it, Kiran? I'm juggling stuff!"

"Oh, hi wall-talker!" Pleo cheered as he waved ahead, and then blinked and looked around sheepishly as he remembered that the Guild's psychics didn't have to be anywhere nearby to speak with him.

"It's Pataki, Pleo," Crom corrected. The voice, realizing who was in the party, suddenly adopted a much more congenial demeanor.

"Oh! Right! It's the Protector's big day! Ahehe, I'm sure that I can manage if he needs some help. Or maybe someone to keep that lordly mind of his company in that dreary sea cave~"

"You know, I'm pretty sure that you just made the whole 'being stuck alone in a dreary sea cave that shifts around' sound a lot more appealing right now," Elty said, rolling his eyes at the Kirlia's broadcast thoughts.

"Shut it, mutt!"

Kiran let go of his badge- no sense in getting into an argument with Pataki this early into the mission. He then motioned for his teammates to draw near, and embraced them all with his wings, even Elty.

"Good luck, kids," he said, giving a tight squeeze before letting the group free. "We'll be rooting for you!"

They all quietly nodded, before Crom turned around and began to trudge for the corridor in the back. His companions followed after the young dragon one by one as Kiran waited at the entrance with Team Sawtooth, watching his pupils vanish deeper into the maze.

"Where you go here is all up to you," he chirped to himself.




After finding each floor's stairs, Team Traveler would wait on Kiran and Team Sawtooth to come along. Then they would all go down the stairs together, the Distortion sealing up the path behind them as the Pokémon made their way deeper into the Mystery Dungeon. Once they reached the next floor, the young rookies would then once again trudge on ahead as the others sat and once again waited for them to slip out of their line of sight.

The first two floors of the dungeon were quiet ones that day, with the only real encounters in the routine the two teams established being Pataki's gushing whenever Pleo happened to brush his badge, much to the annoyance of his teammates. Still, they couldn't complain too much about things, the Substitute that the team was to 'rescue' was supposed to be somewhere between the fifth and seventh floors that day, and here they were, still on the third.

The third floor that day had been created by the Distortion as a simple collection of large chambers, mostly bereft of the spindly and narrow passageways that the team had trained in back at the Dojo. The trappings of this floor were mostly what one would expect from a sea cave: stony ceilings, floors, and walls, a few shallow pools and streams of sea water…

With one rather obvious exception.

"Look! The water's going up!" Pleo cried out.

The young Lugia pointed at a wall in their cave passageway covered with cascading seawater. Except the direction the water flowed in went from bottom to top.

"Er… Well, it seems to be, yeah," Nida murmured. She had to admit, watching that curious fascination that Guild members often felt their first time in the Mystery Dungeon was cute, but…

Was Pleo going to do this for everything out of the ordinary he ran across?

"That's so cool!" Pleo chirped. "Can we make a wall of water like this back home?"

"Tch. Not likely, they call the thing that makes these Mystery Dungeons the 'Distortion' for a reason!" a voice called out.

Pleo and Nida looked behind them and saw a Growlithe hopping between stones over the stream of water which emptied up the wall. The little dog keenly eyed each rock, tensing up before each leap.

Splash!

Only to slip on his final jump and fall into the stream. The Growlithe slipped under the surface for a moment, before he bolted back up to his feet and quickly climbed out of the stream, coughing up some water.

"Bah… At least it's shallow," the Growlithe grumbled to himself. The little dog crept up the edge of the pool, dripping all the while before he stopped and vigorously shook himself to try and dry his pelt.

"Heey! Come on! We can't find that Substitute if we're just sitting around here looking at the cave!" Crom cried from further down the passageway.

"Come on, Pleo, we should get going," Nida said as she turned and began to carefully trudge forward to Crom's position.

"And if we take too long here, we might get caught up when the Distortion blows away the floor," Elty chimed in as he darted off towards Crom.

"'Blows away the floor'?" Pleo asked nervously as he followed his Nidoran teammate.

Nida flattened out her ears. Why did Elty have to bring that up right now? This was Pleo's first time in the Mystery Dungeon, and the last thing anyone on the team needed was a jittery and panicky teammate in such an unstable environment.

"It's something that happens occasionally. No te preocupes! We'd be able to get enough warning to get to safety if the floor was about to get shifted up," Nida reassured.

It seemed to be good enough for the young Protector; his momentary unease wavered and then melted away as he went back to following along after Nida, occasionally casting glances back at the inverted waterfall.

The two followed Crom deeper into the maze, down a path which led the group through a broad pool that came up to Nida's knees. There were portions of the pool that gave way to darker shades of blue; presumably the deep ends. But as long as the team stayed where it was shallow-

"Ow!"

A voice cried out from ahead, and was quickly joined by Crom's.

"Gyaaah!"

Much to the shock of everyone present, Crom abruptly fell backwards into the water. He narrowly missed Nida and Elty, who sidestepped the Druddigon's body at the last minute. After the minor panic, everyone's eyes quickly settled upon a pink, wraith-like jellyfish that burst out from the water ahead of the Druddigon.

"That's my tentacle you stepped on, jerk!" the Frillish hissed as she glared at the blue and red intruder.

"Ack! Sorry! Sorry! We didn't see you!" Crom stammered.

"Yeah, do you think we just hopped into this pool for laughs or something?" Elty barked.

"Look, we're sorry about the trouble-" Nida began, before the pink creature cut her off.

"I'm sure you are!" she shouted as a red and black aura began to form around her body. "Get out!"

"Wait!" Pleo cried, waving his wings desperately at the jellyfish. "You can't attack them! I'm the Protector!"

"E-Eh?!" the creature cried out of surprise. Her aura abruptly vanished and the jellyfish began to eye the white bird skeptically. "I mean… I guess you kinda do look like how the Protector's supposed to, but…"

The Frillish paused for a moment, and then shook her head before gesturing at Nida, Elty, and Crom.

"If you're really the Protector, have your friends perform your secret ritual dance!" she cried.

"Wh-What?!" Pleo squawked.

"What dance?!" Nida cried

"My mother told me that back in the days of humans, a secret dance was used to summon the Protector in caves like this one! If that bird's really the Protector, he must have taught you it!"

Nida, Crom, and Elty stared at each other blankly as they realized that they hadn't had the foggiest idea of what sort of dance was supposed to summon a bird that had trouble paying attention half the time. On top of all of that, even if they did somehow know the dance...

"Yeah… I'm not going to dance," Elty grumbled, folding back his ears.

It didn't look like they were going to have any luck performing it.

"We're doomed, aren't we?" Crom groaned, throwing a claw over his face.

"Yes, you are," the Frillish hissed, her reddish-black aura thickening and re-emerging. "That bird's an imposter!"

Before Pleo could speak back, the aura around the Frillish coalesced and focused itself into a black beam that struck Pleo in his chest and threw him backwards.

"Aah!"

As Pleo struggled back to his feet and tried to shake some sensation back into his chest (and some water off himself), the others quickly slipped into battle poses.

"We'll try diplomacy another time!" Nida cried. "Let's just fight this creepy jerk jellyfish off already!"

"Right!" Elty grunted.

"Leave us alone!" Crom roared at the Frillish, before he charged the creature and clamped down on one of her tentacles with his jaws.

"Yeargh!" the jellyfish shrieked, flailing around desperately trying to break free. As she pulled at her tentacle, an indigo aura spread over the Druddigon. As he noticed the eerie aura passing onto him along with a sudden overbearing and draining feeling, the young dragon cried out in surprise, allowing the Frillish to pull her tentacle free. Just in time for the aura to coalesce in bands that wrapped themselves around Crom's snout, clamping it shut.

"Mrrph!"

Crom began to panic, clawing at the binds around his mouth. But as hard as he tried, the strange violet binds didn't show any appreciable damage and simply refused to budge.

"Not so tough without your jaws, are ya?" the Frillish taunted as the blackish aura returned to her body. "Enjoy your curse!"

And much as she had done with Pleo, the creature's aura focused itself into a black beam which zipped forward and bowled the Druddigon over in the water.

"Mrrrrgh!"

As the Frillish darted forward to strike the Druddigon, she suddenly recoiled from a flying spike that narrowly missed her head, and a little gout of fire that passed close enough to her tentacles to singe one. The two attacks belonged to a certain Nidoran and Growlithe, who were staring down the Frillish that was now turning their direction. Nida stood much closer than Elty, who kept a healthy distance at the back.

"Elty, you can help in ways beyond sticking around in the back, you know!" she huffed to her teammate.

"Don't rush me, battling's not a science!" Elty growled back. His words were… unencouraging to say the least, as the Frillish began to close the gap with Nida, causing her to tense her barbs once more.

"Take this!"

She flicked another of her spikes from her body at the advancing jellyfish and watched it sail straight at her assailant, only for the Frillish to catch sight of the approaching spike and then abruptly fade just before it struck, leaving the projectile to pass through entirely.

Eh?! They can do that with moving objects, too-?!" Nida cried out, slack-jawed. The Frillish abruptly reappeared facing up towards the ceiling, shook her tentacles and gave a relieved sigh before turning and charging at the Nidoran. Before she could fire off another spike at the advancing Ghost-Type, she felt the familiar stream of scalding bursts and accompanying glop of a BubbleBeam.

"Ack!"

As Nida tumbled back through the water and stumbled back to her feet, she heard the sound of something bolting through the water in the direction of the Frillish, along with Pleo's voice.

"W-Wait! Leave her alone!"

Nida cleared her eyes enough to catch the Frillish whirling towards Pleo, beginning to build a dark aura around herself again as Pleo froze in his tracks.

"Eep!"

"Don't think I've forgotten about you, imposter!" the Frillish shouted at the petrified young Lugia.

Much to Nida's horror, the creature's aura coalesced again, and disgorged itself as a black beam that tore towards Pleo, making Nida flinch. Only… there were no cries of pain this time. Just the sounds of surprise from the Frillish.

"Huh?! Where'd it go?!"

When Nida's eyes opened again, she saw that Pleo had vanished from his spot. Nida gave a surprised squeak, it was then that she chanced to glance up and saw that Pleo was sailing in the air with a wobble.

"I'm flying!" he chirped, ecstatic that he was in the air, high above everyone, just barely skimming the surface of the cave's roof. "I'm fly- Whoa- Whoa!"

He then lost his balance and entered a steep dive, the Lugia plummeting like a stone back to the pool below with a splash… directly on top of the Frillish. The Frillish flopped weakly, stunned for a moment. Dazed by being landed on by a much larger creature, the jellyfish then feebly began to pull herself free.

"O-Ow- EYAAAAAH!"

The Frillish suddenly gave a shrill cry of pain intermingled with the sound of frantic splashing after Elty bit down upon her bell. Her voice wavered and her motions grew weaker until they were but occasional twitches as she slipped out of consciousness and drifted back down into the water from where she came.

"Hrmph, that far enough from the back for you, spike ball?" he asked, spitting up the taste of Frillish from his mouth.

"It's an improvement," Nida grunted, as she saw Crom stumbling over to help Pleo up onto his feet. The bands muzzling his snout began to evaporate, allowing the Druddigon to finally tear the accursed binds off.

"Is everyone alright?" the Druddigon panted, still feeling the effects of the Frillish's attack.

"My body aches a little, but I think I'm-" Pleo began, but before he could finish, the young Lugia had his attention diverted to the sight of an olive, glassy sphere that looked like it was filled with grayish, silky cords in the water. "Look!"

"Eh?" Crom began, before he too saw the sphere in the water. "Oh! Good eye! That's a Slow Orb!"

"An… 'Orb'?" the young Lugia asked as Nida bounded into the pool to fish out the Slow Orb.

"It's said that unlike things like Blast Seeds, orbs are pure crystallizations of the essence of the Distortion," Nida explained, as she nudged the orb over to Pleo. "And that depending on the orb, once they're broken, they'll either affect everyone close enough who's touched it… Or for orbs like this one, everyone close enough who hasn't touched it."

"They're supposed to be best used inside Mystery Dungeons," Crom added. "If you try using them outside, the ones that do work aren't nearly as effective out there."

Pleo stared into the strange, greenish orb, and pecked at it gently. It felt smooth and cold like one of the glass jars in town that Pokémon put moss or candles in for light, and even made a similar plinking noise. The Lugia then pushed the bauble forward with his beak, but couldn't help but feel uneasy about something.

"Wait… but isn't this 'orb' thingy the Frillish's? It was in her pool of water, wasn't it?"

"Meh, who cares?" Elty grunted. "Finder's keepers!"

"We did just get jumped for no good reason by her. And she covered me in that asquerosa bubbly glop!" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears as she brought the Slow Orb over to the bag Crom was holding. "I'm pretty sure that's grounds for demanding something in return- Oh."

"We don't have any space left in the bag, Crom," she sighed.

"Well, I've got plenty of space in mine!" Elty offered, nosing at the bag he was still carrying from the evening he came to Tromba. "Put it here!"

There was a pause as the other three Pokémon present traded skeptical looks with each other before Nida tersely broke the silence.

"Yeah, I think we'll heal to make room, thanks."

"Daj mi spokój! I bailed you out!" the Growlithe complained. "Can't I get a little bit of trust here?!"

"It would get more confusing with two bags to have to juggle, Elty," Crom said as he began trudging through the water towards the shore. "Come on, we should get out of this pool and get patched up anyways."


The team trudged on wearily to the other side of the pool and came to a rest on the rocks. It was decided that Nida would tend to Crom, and she could also tend to Pleo… as for Nida...

"Er… How are we going to heal you, Nida?" Pleo asked.

"Uh," Nida mumbled, mouth agape. She couldn't say that she was terribly confident in letting Crom try to treat her given his… Erm, need for understudy. But the team was supposed to take care of itself…

"I'll do it," Elty volunteered.

"You what?" Nida asked, her ears beginning to droop.

"What? Basic healing isn't that uncommon of a skill, is it?" the Growlithe scoffed, before giving an askew glance at Crom. "Besides, considering your alternatives…"

"Grr… Fine, but I'm going last so that way Crom and Pleo can beat the snot out of you if you get any ideas!" Nida huffed.

Well, that settled that. Nida sidled over to Crom, who had sprawled out on the ground, and began to tend to his wounds. All the while, Pleo couldn't help but feel troubled about something. He was supposed to be the Protector of Tromba Island, and not just of the Pokémon that lived in town either. So why did the Frillish get mad at him and call him an imposter when he didn't do what she wanted? Pleo thought, and thought, but couldn't come to a satisfying answer before Nida's voice interrupted his train of thought.

"Hey, it's your turn, Pleo," she said, inspecting Pleo under his feathers. "Lemme see what I can do for you about your chest. I don't think attacks like those break hide, but it should still be treated."

"Hmm? Oh, I guess that's alright," Pleo murmured, not really paying attention as Nida brought over a peeled Oran Berry and began to inspect his chest.

"Nida?" Pleo asked.

"Hmm?"

"Why did-? Nnngh!" Pleo looked down and saw that Nida had begun to apply the berry's juice to his chest. He steeled himself a bit from the pain before he returned to his train of thought. "Why did the thing you called a 'Frillish' not believe me?"

"I don't know Pleo," Nida sighed as she brushed away some more feathers from another site on Pleo's chest. "Maybe, she was just expecting something different from a Protector."

"Am I supposed to be different as a Protector though-? Ow!"

As Pleo winced from the last of the juice, Nida stopped and thought a moment as she passed the pulp up to Pleo to chew. While the white creature bit into and swallowed the Oran pulp in bits, Nida realized that she didn't really know if Pleo was supposed to be different as a Protector or not. The only thing she had to work with was folklore and what everyone said a Protector ought to be, and… well, the town had seen for themselves that not all of them seemed to come to pass. And apparently the ferals had stories and expectations of their own that she had never heard before!

"Well, I can't say that I know for sure," the Nidoran murmured. "I'm pretty sure that you're more than just a Pokémon that's supposed to show up whenever other Pokémon do some special dance, like that Frillish thought."

"Yeah, I thought that was strange too," Pleo answered. Well, that seemed to clear one thing up: even if he was supposed to be different as a Protector, it wasn't necessarily supposed to be in the way that the Frillish wanted. The realization helped to bring some relief to Pleo as Elty drew over to Nida.

"Alright, it's your turn, spike ball," the Growlithe said as he went over to grab an Oran Berry, only for the sound of the Frillish stirring to reverberate from the pool of water.

"Nnngah."

"Er," Elty groaned, biting his tongue.

"Come on, we should get going before she wakes all the way up," Nida said. "I can get healed while we wait at the stairs."

"Sounds like music to my ears," Elty sighed as the group hurriedly went further on down the chamber, the Frillish and the pool slowly slipping out of sight.




Author's Notes:

- rudera - Polish: "hovel"
- espesa - Spanish: "thick, dense"
- (¡)No te preocupes! - Spanish: "Don't worry!"
- asquerosa - Spanish: "disgusting"
- Daj mi spokój! - Polish: Interjection, roughly "Give me a break!"
 
Last edited:

Virgil134

PMD Writer
The following morning, the sun broke over the horizon and its light began to filter through the treetops along the path from Bluewhorl Town to Tromba's Mystery Dungeon. Along with daylight and the blue sky, signs of diurnal life returned to the woods along the path. There was the sound of "ferals" yawning and moseying themselves awake from further off in the undergrowth. In the distance down the hill, the faint smoke and din from the town in the distance evidenced that the skeleton crew that served Bluewhorl's more nocturnal residents had traded places with the normal Pokémon that helped keep the town running by day.
I really like how you described this here. So far good description is something that has not been lacking in your fic.

"Are we there yet?" the team's Growlithe whined as he hopped over a root, a rude satchel slung over his back, which did not escape Nida's notice.

"We have a bag for the team, you know, so you don't need that," Nida growled, pointing to the Growlithe's bag.
Seems like there is still a lot of mistrust between Elty and the rest of the team. I feel like it might take a while before things get better between them.

"And why are you suddenly so hesitant to go someplace where you can pick fights with other Pokémon, anyways?" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears.

"Because I'm not getting anything out of this!"

Of course. Nida sighed to herself and rolled her eyes. The complaint did make a kind of sense, albeit the kind that made her want to give the ex-pirate a stiff headbutt to knock some respect into him.
This just perfectly sums up both their characters lol

"But it's mine! It's my 'anime'-thingy!"
I see what you did there haha

"Yeah, we assumed giving Pokémon that live lean lives a helping fan was what you would have wanted. Being a 'Protector' and all," the Shiftry added.

"How… Come?" Pleo asked.

"Because it's my first meal since yesterday!" the Pikachu squeaked, which made Pleo stare at the creature, and then up to Kiran.

"Pleo," he explained, flapping down and coming to a rest next to his white and blue charge. "Part of being a Protector is looking out for Pokémon that don't have it as well as you, even if they're strange to you."
Though one can argue that ferals choose this life for themselves, it's still really noble of Pleo and the other Pokemon to give them some of their food. Especially since most ferals either attack them, or are scared of them.

As they kept walking along, more and more of the world around Pleo vanished. Team Sawtooth's Pokémon were the first to vanish, blotted out from Pleo's view by the fog. Kiran was next, and soon enough Pleo couldn't even make out his own tail. Then came Crom and Nida, as the fog enveloped more and more of Pleo, to the point where he couldn't even see past the end of his snout.

All the while, everything seemed to become… wrong. The chatter of his teammates, the smell of the path's surroundings, even the very feel of the air surrounding him and the path under his feet... all of it became murky, heavy, and strange, as if Crom had lead everyone into the clutch of some strange and awful snare that was closing in on him… leaving him all alone.
Sounds like a terrifying experience, that must freak out a lot of Pokemon

Pleo and Nida looked behind them and saw a Growlithe hopping between stones over the stream of water which emptied up the wall. The little dog keenly eyed each rock, tensing up before each leap.

Splash!

Only to slip on his final jump and fall into the stream. The Growlithe slipped under the surface for a moment, before he bolted back up to his feet and quickly climbed out of the stream, coughing up some water.
Doing that as a fire type is just asking for trouble lol

If you're really the Protector, have your friends perform your secret ritual dance!" she cried.

"Wh-What?!" Pleo squawked.

"What dance?!" Nida cried

"My mother told me that back in the days of humans, a secret dance was used to summon the Protector in caves like this one!
Nice reference to HG/SS

She flicked another of her spikes from her body at the advancing jellyfish and watched it sail straight at her assailant, only for the Frillish to catch sight of the approaching spike and then abruptly fade just before it struck, leaving the projectile to pass through entirely.

"Eh?! They can do that with moving objects, too-?!" Nida cried out, slack-jawed.
Wait wouldn't this technically be a poison type move? How come it had no effect?

"Hrmph, [I[that[/I] far enough from the back for you, spike ball?" he asked, spitting up the taste of Frillish from his mouth.

"It's an improvement," Nida grunted, as she saw Crom stumbling over to help Pleo up onto his feet.
This kind of bickering will probably never get old lol

"Eh?" Crom began, before he too saw the sphere in the water. "Oh! Good eye! That's a Slow Orb!"

"An… 'Orb'?" the young Lugia asked as Nida bounded into the pool to fish out the Slow Orb.

"It's said that unlike things like Blast Seeds, orbs are pure crystallizations of the essence of the Distortion," Nida explained, as she nudged the orb over to Pleo. "And that depending on the orb, once they're broken, they'll either affect everyone close enough who's touched it… Or for orbs like this one, everyone close enough who hasn't touched it."

"They're supposed to be best used inside Mystery Dungeons," Crom added. "If you try using them outside, the ones that do work aren't nearly as effective out there."
I really like this explanation. Like with many things, the games are usually very vague about most of it's mechanics. I may have said this before, but the way you elaborate PMD mechanics continues to please me.

"I'll do it," Elty volunteered.

"You what?" Nida asked, her ears beginning to droop.

"What? Basic healing isn't that uncommon of a skill, is it?" the Growlithe scoffed, before giving an askew glance at Crom. "Besides, considering your alternatives…"
An untrustworthy ex-pirate or a dragon with some very rough scales. Seems like finding a good medic could be quite the task for Nida lol

"Yeah, I thought that was strange too," Pleo answered. Well, that seemed to clear one thing up: even if he was supposed to be different as a Protector, it wasn't necessarily supposed to be in the way that the Frillish wanted. The realization helped to bring some relief to Pleo as Elty drew over to Nida.
Nice bit of character development for Pleo. It's good to see that he chooses his own path instead of doing exactly what some religious Pokemon expect him to do.

A quite satisfying chapter in my opinion. The change of pace was quite refreshing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the past few chapters as well, but things went a little slow after the pirate raid so it's nice to see some action again. Besides that I don't really have any major complaints or issues. It was an all around good chapter and I'm looking forward to reading the next one!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Seems like there is still a lot of mistrust between Elty and the rest of the team. I feel like it might take a while before things get better between them.
That's more or less an accurate assessment. There's still a pretty big gulf between them right now that both sides will need to take steps to close, if obviously more being needed from Elty's side of things.

Though one can argue that ferals choose this life for themselves, it's still really noble of Pleo and the other Pokemon to give them some of their food. Especially since most ferals either attack them, or are scared of them.
Well, looking out for others, even if you don't get an immediate reward from it, is a trait that lends itself to a non-dog-eat-dog society. The fact that many of Tromba's residents can trace their heritage back to 'feral' settings probably helps as well. After all, today's 'feral' might one day become tomorrow's 'recruit'.

Sounds like a terrifying experience, that must freak out a lot of Pokemon
It is accomplishing its intended effect, then. Nida likes sticking close to Crom when she can going through the dungeon fog for more than just a chance to rest her feet, after all.

Wait wouldn't this technically be a poison type move? How come it had no effect?
It's actually this same old Ghost-type parlor trick back in Chapter 6.

The ice wraith briefly ducked back into her tent, phasing through one of its walls. Pleo squawked out of startled surprise, "Sh-She disappeared!"

"Eh? She always does that though," a young Bidoof nonchalantly responded.

"It's something that Pokémon like her can do with practice," Crom explained as Hariti returned to the group through another wall, this time clutching some small, frosted, thick-skinned, red fruits in between her digits.
Except used with a dash of good luck (well, not-so-good for Nida) for the more practical benefit of a timely dodge.

I really like this explanation. Like with many things, the games are usually very vague about most of it's mechanics. I may have said this before, but the way you elaborate PMD mechanics continues to please me.
Well, that's the nature of fanfiction for you. It wouldn't do much good to tell a story that didn't fill in a few gaps along the way, now would it?

An untrustworthy ex-pirate or a dragon with some very rough scales. Seems like finding a good medic could be quite the task for Nida lol
Well, with those poisonous barbs of hers, I'm not sure if she's in too much of a position to complain about limited options for healers. :p

A quite satisfying chapter in my opinion. The change of pace was quite refreshing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the past few chapters as well, but things went a little slow after the pirate raid so it's nice to see some action again. Besides that I don't really have any major complaints or issues. It was an all around good chapter and I'm looking forward to reading the next one!
Hope you like the next few chapters then, assuming they don't massively change from their present forms as they make the transition from draft to published product, they'll be moving quite a bit faster than those slower installments.

So I'm just a little late on my target release window, but at least it's a bit more punctual and less punctuated by meta stress than the last installment. This new chapter will be a bit shorter than the last few, not so much out of any laziness than the fact that it was the best block that I could think of to encapsulate the events that happen in it.

Special thanks for this chapter goes to Tangent128 and solovino, with some additional help from Virgil134 and The Great Butler based off of a conversation we had while this chapter was coming together. And of course, the readers that have been pushing up the viewcount a bit faster than I anticipated.

Publishing for the chapter after this is targeting a 10-12 day window, mostly because I've fallen a little behind with some pre-writing and might need a little extra time to catch up. As usual, thoughts, commentary, and good old-fashioned tough love in text is encouraged and desired.

Now that that rambling's done with, let's pick up where we left off last time... If with some different scenery:



As Team Traveller treated their wounds from their battle with the Frillish, Hatteras was walking about the main square back in town. He had shelved his red and white Guildmaster scarf that day in favor of something a bit more mayoral while he surveyed repairs that were going on.

A Togetic tailor was operating under an awning. As Pokémon carted in pieces of lumber to slowly rebuild the interior of a freshly constructed frame, he engaged in an idle conversation with the Starmie that owned the similarly-obliterated Appraisal Shop on the docks, wondering if hiding discount vouchers in chests in the Mystery Dungeon might encourage more business from the guild.

Over at Calino's stall, the Kecleon was engaged in a heated negotiation with the Honchkrow that owned the local bank. Apparently Hess's underlings had made off with a sizable quantity of Poké- or "merchants' scrip" as the Honchkrow called it, to Calino's annoyance- from the vaults. Calino's off-island associates reimbursed a healthy part of such losses in return for Pokémon like the banker maintaining reserves in Poké, and the crow felt it proper for that portion to cover most of the purloined money. Hatteras privately hoped that the two could come to an agreement without requiring his adjudication. Economics was always such a dry subject, and had a worrisome tendency to bring out unfavorable sides of Pokémon.

A little further up, Hatteras saw a familiar Sceptile with a lavender headband seated on a stool in a wood-floored juice bar. The wooden hut that housed it sat beside a glassblowing shop run by a Magmar that insisted that the strong drinks served just next door were an aid to his craft and not just a fire hazard. The town's arboreal captain of the guard lazily toyed with a chewing twig in the shade, taking a break from guarding, it seemed. The Ampharos turned and entered the establishment, rebuilt recently enough to not to have the sights and accompanying smells of many rowdy and well-used nights yet.

"Oh? Not loafing around on the job are you now, Osmund?" Hatteras asked as his eyes adjusted to the shade of the juice bar.

"Heh, heh, as the Pokémon who gave me this job you oughta know me better than that, Hatteras!" Osmund answered. "I might play a little loose according to the Company's standards, but even I've got better things to do than while my time away in an empty juice bar."

As the Sceptile observed, there really were no customers at the low tables around the establishment. Before Hatteras could ask what his captain of the guard was doing here, Osmund spoke up.

"I'm doing rounds, checking up on the Pokémon you had fill those community service positions," he explained. The green lizard then gestured at a Sableye who was lazily cleaning the floor with a brush and crude wooden pan by some empty tables. "Hoy, tenderfoot! I hope you don't keep the barkeep waiting like this! It's a slow day, there's juice on the counter, and I've been waiting ten minutes for it!"

"Hey, cool it!" the imp snapped back. "The old windbag's picking up inventory right now and I'm juggling her brat's clea-!"

Before the Sableye could continue, though, he became acutely aware just who the two customers in the juice bar were and flushed pale.

"G-Gih!" the creature squeaked, dropping the brush and pan. "I mean- I guess I could-!"

"Actually, make it two," Hatteras added. "I'll take one of whatever he's having."

The Sableye darted over to the counter, hastily poured juice from a pitcher into a second cup, and rushed back to the table.

"Two Rawsts with honey! S-Sorry about the wait! I'm still getting used to this, h-honest!" he stammered, before darting away from the table and returning to his work cleaning. The Sableye's motions had a bit more vigor to them now, in what was an obvious and transparent attempt to secure some peace. Even so, Hatteras found some small positive sign from the purple creature's behavior.

"Well, you can't say they haven't been learning their manners towards authority figures, can you?" Hatteras chuckled as he took a sip from his cup.

"Mmph, Mirlia needs to get him to put some more work into that ‘service with a smile' part… but that's not new," the Sceptile replied.

"So, I take it reconstruction's been going well? With all the Pokémon going about the square today, you'd think that all of the shops have already reopened!" Hatteras cheered.

"Well… well enough to be able to get a drink," Osmund sighed before taking a swig from his cup. "Mirlia and Minia got this place open up quickly enough, but my preferred haunt's still out from fire damage at the moment."

"So, has there been any word about when they'll-?"

"Mrph. I'm afraid I can't help you there, Hatteras," the Sceptile said, shaking his head. "If there was word, I'd have heard it. I'm supposed to be the ‘mon who hears things first through the Grepa bush from the rest of the Company, hierarchal structure and all. What I have been able to get from them about how on earth this raid even happened was that they'd 'come to make an assessment soon'."

"I was afraid of that, actually," Hatteras said, putting a paw over his brow. "Did they at least give any ideas as to how soon-?"

"E-Eh?!" a Kangaskhan's voice from outside cried out.

"M-Mom? Why are they here already?" a younger voice added, its softer tone full of apprehension and dread.

"Mirlia sure came back soon, but I wonder what's going-?" Hatteras began to ask as jewel-eyed creature went up to the juice bar's entrance. The Pokémon carried on past an apprehensive Kangaskhan attempting to reassure her child and looked towards the harbor...

And promptly went slack-jawed.

"Oh great, just what I needed to get stuck here on this island in time for," he muttered.

Hatteras and Osmund got up from their table at once and walked over to the gawking barkeep and her help. To their dismay, they, along with everyone else on the path, saw a ship sidling up to one of the harbor's docks. A ship that flew lavender sails bearing an emblem made of violet squares.

"Sooner than I expected, it looks like," Osmund muttered.




A bit later, Team Sawtooth found themselves pacing down a narrow, winding passage on the third floor of Tromba's Mystery Dungeon. The group was lead by Alto, who every so often stopped and listened for something further down the path.

"I'm telling you guys, I heard them this way!" the Loudred insisted.

"Ugh, couldn't you have picked a less cramped way to get there?" Cardellini grumbled. Croconaw weren't meant to have their tails rub up against cave walls with every turn in a corridor, after all.

"It would be nice to be able to fly without running into something right now," Kiran added.

"If we get ambushed, you won't be doing us any favors for being able to fight effectively," Pitys sighed. As the Shiftry kept watch over the portion of the corridor behind her, Kiran stopped and pressed his badge with his wing.

"Pataki, you're sure this passage leads to the stairs and the kids, right?" the Swellow spoke to the bauble.

"Do you want to try to scan the floor in my place?" Pataki's voice snapped back in the four Pokémon's minds.

"Ya, ya! Entiendo!" Kiran squawked, before he gave an apologetic sigh. "I'm… just a little on-edge. You said earlier the kids got into a scuffle, and I'm concerned that they're not taking care of them-"

"-a ha! And you said I couldn't be a good healer!" a voice carried on from down the passage.

"-f you're so great, why'd you ask for Crom to heal you back at the Dojo, then?"

"-selves," Kiran murmured before dropping his wing from his badge.

"They sound pretty healthy to me," Alto said as he rounded a corner. "And I think this must be their chamber!"

Kiran and his temporary teammates carefully followed Alto, plumbing down another narrow corridor into an unremarkable, straightforward chamber. The stairs lay directly in front of them, and the four other members of Team Traveler were resting on the other side..

"Hey!" Kiran cried out, immediately drawing the attention of the four rookies.

"Took you long enough!" Elty barked. Now that he had some more room, Kiran took wing and flapped over to the four younger Pokémon. The Swellow settled down and ruffled his feathers, his calm similarly perturbed as he anxiously asked his teammates:

"The floor wasn't too hard on you, was it?"

"Yeah, we ran into this really upset ‘Frillish' thing earlier!" Pleo chirped. "But we defeated her! We even found a ‘Slow Orb' afterwards!"

"Yeah! Check it out!" Crom cried. The Druddigon thrust his claws into the team bag and, after a little rummaging, fished out an olive sphere and proudly showed it off. The Swellow stopped and blinked at the group.

Perhaps it was the effects of the Oran Berries they used coming in, but Team Traveller seemed far less beleaguered than Kiran had dreaded. Yes, they still had a few obvious scuffs and nicks here and there, but there seemed to be a confidence and determination that etched itself across the team's faces. Why, even Elty seemed to have a little bit of the same spark in him!

No, there was something more to this than some temporary berry effect, and the Pokémon from Team Sawtooth seemed to notice it, too.

"It looks like they've been taking care of themselves pretty good for rookies, Kiran," Pitys reassured.

"Yeah, they take after their captain pretty good, it seems!" Alto chimed in.

The Swellow paused and, after puffing out his feathers a bit with a hint of pride, finally spoke up.

"Well, what can I say?" he chirped in satisfaction. "Why, when you get your fundamentals down, everything else just follows!"




Back in Bluewhorl, the atmosphere was far less cheery as the Company ship docked. Hatteras breathed a quiet sigh of gratitude to the gods for the ship being smaller and less imposing than he had dreaded- and more importantly, for Pleo being far away right now. Far from the eyes of the Pokémon accompanying the unwelcome ship that day.

"At least it's one of their smaller ships this time. I don't think they'll be able to take much from this town today."

"How much they'd take wasn't my biggest concern," Hatteras replied. "Get some of your subordinates handy, they'll need a welcoming committee to keep them in line."

Osmund gave a nod and ducked off down the path after hastily leaving some Poké on the counter, leaving Hatteras to walk towards the docks on his own. As he drew nearer, he saw some of the Pokémon at the harbor dart away after seeing the ship dock. Some sea Pokémon and fliers perched around their chosen docks, all of them wearing lavender scarves bearing a violet square pattern simpler than the ship's sails. The creatures maintained gruff and inhospitable attitudes with any locals unfortunate enough to be near them; every low growl and snarl was aimed to consciously remind the hapless residents that this was their town as long as they were in port. As Hatteras drew near he heard apprehensive whispers circulate among the townsfolk.

"The Company's already come?"

"But they're not supposed to be here until after the next wet season!"

"Mommy, are the mean Pokémon going to root through our stuff again?"

He walked up the dock, towards some Pokémon that had disembarked from the ship and were waiting around a Mothim with. Hatteras looked back just in time to see Osmund making his way up along with some hastily called-up guards, and then turned back to the Mothim. The Bug-type wore a lavender scarf with a purple design consisting of four small squares that laid on top of the corners of a larger square that connected them all

"I was expecting bit more from a collection agent," Hatteras murmured.

"I'm a notary thank you very much," the Mothim snapped back with an icy leer.

"Then note this," a Granbull among the guards Osmund called up growled. "We don't want you around here any more than you have to be!"

"Yeah, take your boat and push off already!" snapped a Mawile that Team Traveler might have recognized were they there. The outbursts drew growls and glares from the Pokémon with lavender scarves, but strangely enough, the Mothim seemed unmoved.

"Really now... ‘Osmund', is it? You ought to do more to keep your ranks in check," the bug lectured as he flitted about nonchalantly, before his eyes glowed and he flicked one of his arms down. The gesture pulled the Mawile's headband over his face with an unseen force. The strip of cloth unfurled, revealing itself to be a scrunched-up lavender scarf with a violet square much like the ones the Mothim's lackeys wore.

"Ah!" the Mawile cried out, as he hastily tried to redo his headband, backpedaling nervously from this moth that was far less frail than appearances indicated.

"It's so unbecoming to air private disputes in public, don't you think?" the fluttering moth asked the Sceptile. "Especially when such disputes involve insubordination by upstarts who don't know their place in the hierarchy."

"Grr… You're new to this circuit," Osmund glowered back. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"The name is Ellsberg. As for why I'm here..." the Mothim replied. "I believe that it was you that shot those distress flares off. You needed help to fend off an assault, yes? A ship captained by an Aggron, I believe?"

"That was a week ago!" the Sceptile blurted out in frustration.

"And the closest spotters had a bit of ship trouble a week ago. Really now," Ellsberg chided. "As much as we dislike the present arrangement here, we don't stoop that-"

"Ahem, but given the… delicacy of these details, might I suggest that we continue this over something more relaxed?" Hatteras proposed. "Osmund and I were just in the middle of drinks when you pulled into port."

"That's fine by me," the Mothim replied, as he began to motion to the lavender-scarved Pokémon with him to come along. "After all, I did not come to this hamlet thinking there would be much that worth bothering with to begin with."

"Keep your lackeys on the docks," Osmund brusquely interrupted. Which caused the Pokémon that had come with the ship to trade skeptical looks with each other and mumble snide comments about ‘these bumpkins' and the like. The Mothim however, called for quiet before he turned back to the Sceptile.

"Hrmph, I see that you're as eager as I heard to kowtow to native sensibilities, Osmund," the creature sneered. "But very well, I'm sure that you know as well as I do what ramifications there will be for your position in the Company and this town's arrangement if any harm comes to me."

"We're both aware, yes," Hatteras replied. "Now, I believe we had drinks to get to?"

The Ampharos led the Mothim back along the path, Osmund following close behind the flitting bug all the way back to the juice bar. The Mothim for his part seemed utterly unconcerned with the hostile and apprehensive stares from the locals, or, if anything, pleased by them.

As soon as the Mothim came into the juice bar, which now had Mirlia and her daughter Minia working behind the counter, a pall instantly fell over the three Pokémon in the room. The Sableye, keenly aware of the additional customer who had come into the shop, quietly busied himself with cleaning and avoided eye contact.

"Uhm… Guildmaster Hatteras-?" the Kangaskhan asked, as she uneasily eyed the flitting bug while her child ducked behind her for shelter.

"You there! You juice berries don't you?" the Mothim barked. "I'll take a Charti smoothie with a hint of mint."

"R-Right away!" Mirlia stammered, as she hastily set about juicing Charti Berries for the Mothim's drink. All the while, her daughter nervously scanned some shelves for the mint the Mothim had requested, ultimately producing some green leaves. Before too long, the berries were reduced into a yellow, pulpy fluid in a cup with the mint crushed into a fine crumble along the top. With the drink done, Mirlia brought the juice over to the Mothim's table, her eyes betraying an uneasy reluctance and Minia shivering in her pouch all the while. Osmund mouthed some words of encouragement to the younger Kangaskhan and gave a few misshapen coins to cover the drink, which was met with an unimpressed buzz.

"You shouldn't be so charitable, Osmund!" the Mothim admonished as he extended a proboscis down into his drink. "I was merely asking for a mere pittance in return for what the Company does for this town."

"Hrmph, really now?" Hatteras asked gruffly. "Over the past week, I can't say that anyone in this town has been satisfied with these… ‘Services'."

"Ellsberg, these Pokémon work themselves to the bone to pay for their town's defense after every harvest!" Osmund huffed. "If we guards can't so much as count on the rest of the Company to help stop a few boats, then what on earth is that take that gets sent off of the island being used for?"

"Resources are scarcer in our age, Osmund. I suppose back in the days when the capital and the rest of Conntow wasn't a barren ruin... Before the throne had the gall to try and end our emergency regency after everything happened... To think that they also demanded direct administration of the Colonies on top of that! After the calamity they caused!" the Mothim lectured in between sips of his drink. "I suppose back then, we might be able to do more."

"But that was then. The Company has a third of the former realm to work with right now. The rest is under the control of the so-called 'rightful heirs' to the Empire. And then there's those places that are now ungovernable due to strategic difficulties," the bug continued, pushing aside his drink for a moment. "Is it really so unreasonable to think that a couple pirates might slip through the cracks? They were also a problem in the olden days, you know."

"This town paid less after each harvest in those days and got more in return! And pirates in those days laid in wait for travelers in out in far corners of the sea! They didn't storm into port!" Hatteras fumed back indignantly. "Don't lecture me on history you weren't alive for!"

"And back in those days, the residents of this hamlet didn't suddenly become experts in the tax code with each revision! And we had an Administrator that lived here instead of performing his duties in absentia! Or do you not remember that your island maintains a particular 'understanding' with the Company?" the Mothim asked the Ampharos accusingly. "One that a certain Dragonite would love to see reversed were it not for you, a couple of your friends, and one 'Dragon Buster'?"

"I fail to see how that relates to us not getting our tribute's worth!" Hatteras snapped.

"You're evading the question," Osmund growled.

"Please, Osmund, interrupting is so rude. Look, Guildmaster… Hatterby, was it?" the Mothim asked as he finished off his drink, retracted his proboscis and began fluttering about. "We in the Company are in a delicate position; there is only so much that we can do for all of our holdings. But you should be mindful that you are in a position that even we don't envy."

"Tell me, where would this island be without our help? Would it stop those boats that give you such grief any better? Would it make your ability to rule this island as you see fit any stronger in the long run?" the Mothim asked as he flew about, getting closer and closer to Hatteras with each question. "And most importantly, do you think that it would keep us from taking this rock back?"

"Yes it would!" a voice from the counter protested. "Pleo would protect us!"

All heads in the juice bar turned, and trained themselves on Minia, who was now shrinking back after becoming ever more aware that everyone was now staring at her.

"Who now?" the Mothim asked, his eyes boring into an increasingly unnerved-looking Minia who was shrinking back into her mother's pouch.

"Aherm… Never mind her," Mirlia hastily tried to excuse her child. "She must have helped herself to some of my mixes while I wasn't looking."

"I don't suppose that you would know anything about this, Hatterby?" the Mothim demanded as he turned back to the Ampharos.

"It's Hatteras, and what can I say? Children these days are easily impressionable," Hatteras answered flatly. "She must have remembered a particularly memorable traveler that passed through."

"Hmm… Is that so, Osmund?" Ellsberg asked, turning to the Sceptile. "I do hope you know better than to conceal the truth from someone whose job is to verify it."

There was a long, tense pause. The Sceptile couldn't risk giving a straight fabrication to the Mothim. Perhaps his command over psychic abilities was limited to party tricks such as pulling down his subordinates' headbands as he did earlier, but if it wasn't

Tromba would quickly find itself with a new captain of the guard- one that might not be anywhere near as concerned with its welfare as he was.

Then… perhaps it was best to just tell the truth.

"Pleo is a stranger to this town who fought tooth and nail to defend it in last week's raid," Osmund answered. "He was brought here by chance, and he's since gone out of town."

In a manner of speaking, of course.

"Hm… So a traveling warrior, like a few of the so-called 'Immortals'. How quaint," Ellsberg murmured as he began to flit towards the door. "Well, I think I've seen enough. And I don't see any need to change the quota for the next collection."

"What?!" Hatteras cried out.

"Are you blind?!" Osmund exclaimed. "Did you not see all of the damage on your way in?!"

"I saw plenty of damage… To the town. The tribute we collect from this island is primarily crops, there should be no problem in meeting the quota that we need specifically. As for me, my business here is done. I'll be returning to my ship and resting my wings a bit as it sets sail," Ellsberg answered, giving a cold, unmoving stare back at the Ampharos and the Sceptile.

"We'll keep an eye out for that Aggron though. I'm sure that such a big Pokémon will turn up eventually."

The Mothim flitted towards the door, but before he left, he turned to the counter, where he addressed Mirlia and her daughter.

"I would encourage you to keep your child's fantasies in line," the moth lectured sternly, gesturing at Minia. "This is the real world, where strength talks and lofty idealism makes Pokémon into prey for others."

The Mothim then left, leaving the young Kangaskhan to duck and shiver in her mother's pouch as Mirlia tried to reassure the poor creature.

"It's okay, he's gone now," she said, patting her daughter to try and comfort her as much as she was trying to comfort herself.

"What a creep," the Sableye spat, looking up from his overeager busywork and breathing a sigh of relief.

"I'll send him off, Hatteras," Osmund sighed. "I'm sure you have some work to be getting back to, especially after hearing that. I just hope that I can last the rest of the day without a stiff drink after this."

The two bade their farewells and parted, Hatteras heading back up the path in the direction of the Guild Hall, and Osmund towards the dock. Along the way, the Sceptile saw Ellsberg paused in the path, looking down at something that he had picked up off of the well-trodden ground.

"Oi! What's taking you so long?" Osmund barked. The noise prompted Ellsberg to quickly slip away whatever it was he had found in the square- probably some dropped Poké considering Company types- before he turned back.

"Hrmph! I just needed a moment to rest!" the Mothim fumed, before he swiftly flew on towards the lavender-sailed ship and barked at his subordinates..

"Get everyone aboard and raise the plank, we don't have any more business here!"

The Pokémon murmured among themselves, some of the locals making disparaging comments wishing the Company ship a stormy travel home. As the others got distracted by the boat preparing to set off, the Mothim fished out the little article he was so keen to hide from Osmund. One that he was surprised that none of the local rubes had seen him take.

It was a silvery-white feather that had split at its top, and it proved that in spite of his doubts, this hamlet indeed had something worth bothering with for the Company.




"You know, you actually fought pretty well back there. Aside from the whole ‘waiting behind without telling us about it' part," Nida's voice rang out in the maze under Tromba's peaks, with nothing echoing back.

Not that there was anything that could echo back. The distortion had wrapped the fourth floor into a concave sphere and stripped away where the ceiling would be on most floors. In its place, was a space composed of pools, stone paths and towering walls. Thanks to the dim light of the glowing algae that grew in clumps here and there in the dungeon, one could see the entire other half of the floor from any one location.

The team had stopped seeing the stairs overhead three chambers ago, and were currently resting in a spacious open-topped chamber. Every now and then, they would look back up as they tried to make sense of a rude map of streaks from a piece of charcoal on a scrap of paper (the backside being kept clean, just in case they needed to scribble a distress message on it) that Crom had doodled after first coming down the stairs. The flight to the next floor was somewhere in this one, all that was left was to find it. And wait.

"What? I'm not that bad at fighting!" Elty objected as he trotted along.

"But we were able to defeat you once!" Pleo insisted, as he looked about for the surprisingly elusive stairs.

"That's because you ganged up on me!" Elty growled.

That was to be expected, Pleo guessed. Every time he pressed about how the Growlithe never seemed to hold up against the team, ‘ganging up' or some variation thereof was usually the excuse. But even so, Elty seemed to have some talent… which beggared the question...

"Wait, what did you use to do back when you were a pirate, Elty?" he asked.

"Oh, me?" Elty asked. "I was a ship-burner."

The admission brought the procession to a sudden, dead halt, as Crom turned and whirled towards the Growlithe.

"You were a what?!" the Druddigon cried out, his eyes widening in shock.

"You know, set ships on fire. Keep the other crew busy putting it out," Elty nonchalantly replied. "Normal stuff."

"Wait… That's normal?" Pleo asked, putting a wing to his beak as he took keen note of Crom and Nida's startled expressions.

In a matter of speaking, it was indeed ‘normal' stuff… except for the fact that putting out a fire on a ship was a dangerous, convoluted ordeal for any crew unfortunate enough suffer through one. Too little water spent fighting it off or simply not applying it in time to keep particularly flammable cargo from burning would doom the ship to becoming a collection of cinders… and too much would weigh down the craft and send it below the waves.

"That's awful!" Crom roared, his mind turning to his own father and the ship that he worked on. "Setting a fire's one of the worst things you can do to a ship!"

"Elty, seriously, how do you sleep at night?" Nida spat in disgust as she bristled her barbs.

"Hey! Get off my case! It wasn't that bad!" Elty huffed defensively. "The only ship that ever got sunk thanks to our fire was a hulk full of fajerwerki at a dock!"

There was a long, blinking silence. Ship-burning was supposed to put other Pokémon in mortal danger, but that explanation... just didn't quite fit expectations.

"Wait… What?" Crom asked.

"Um… Maybe you're overstating ship-burner a bit much?" Nida sighed.

"I mean, it doesn't sound like you did that good of a job," Pleo added.

"Oh come on, at least we got the other boats on fire more often than our own!" Elty protested, which left the three other Pokémon of Team Traveler trading looks with each other.

"Wouldn't you be expected to do that anyways, though?" Pleo asked.

"How on earth did you guys never get captured until you raided our island?" Crom groaned, as he put a claw to his face.

"Better question, how are you still alive, Elty?" Nida asked as she furrowed her brow.

The Growlithe opened his mouth to speak, and then paused and thought about the Nidoran's question for a short moment.

"I dunno," he shrugged. "I never really questioned it before."

Nida rolled her eyes. Elty suddenly seemed much less out of place on a rookie team than she had thought. As she continued to trek forward and heard her teammates' footsteps alongside her, their thoughts returned to the search for the exit.

"Bah, where are those stairs?" Crom complained as he eyed his scribbles on his beaten piece of paper. "The map I made says they should be right here, and all I see is some dumb wall!"

"I mean, they could have shifted since you drew the picture, Crom," Nida explained as she carried on around a corner. "The Distortion can shift stairs around a few times before it clears out the floor-"

Nida found her foot dropping further than she expected, which lead her to yank it back out of instinct- and see that the stairs to the next floor sat around a blind alcove in the wall.

"Or it could be right in front of me," she hastily corrected. The others soon came over, and saw that the Nidoran had indeed found the stairs. So now all that would be left was...

"So we wait for Kiran now?" Pleo asked.

"That would be the smart thing to do, yeah," Crom answered. "Besides, we could use a bit of a rest."

"Pbbt. Is that seriously what you're going to do until you find that Substitute?" Elty admonished as he began to sniff the air. "Seriously, look around a little! You might just find something interesting. Something like… that!"

The Growlithe gestured down a corridor that ran in the opposite direction of the alcove, where Nida could make out the faint sight of what looked like a chest sitting at its end.

"Heh heh, a treasure chest and it's all mine!" Elty proudly declared.

"Um, Elty," Crom groaned. "Those are usually used to store gummis or berries in here to try and get the Distortion to change them."

"Yeah, and who do you think's gets first dibs on them? The finder!" he cried as he bounded down the corridor.

"Elty! Be careful," Crom called out after the Growlithe. "There might be a-!"

Click

"Huh-? Eeyargh!"

Immediately after he heard the trap being sprung, a sudden gust of wind threw Elty back into his teammates. The Growlithe's body knocked the lot back and sent them tumbling down the stairs, yelping and crying out before coming to a rest at the bottom.

"Are treasure chests supposed to do that?" Pleo groaned as stars filled his vision.

"Urgh, no they aren't-" Nida began, just as the sound of scraping and rock groaning from above reverberated.

"Oh no, the stairs!" she cried out. "They're closing!"

"Guh-?" Crom asked as he came to his senses from his fall down the passage, only to recognize the sound of the stairs above being sealed. "What?! Wait!"

But it was too late. The groaning continued, and subsided with a loud, dull thud.

"Blargh… I take those dibs back," a Growlithe's voice weakly groaned a short way from the steps.

"Elty!" Nida fumed.

"Yeah, don't worry about me," Elty continued rambling on in his daze. "Just ate a little dir- Oof!"

The Growlithe then crumpled up and fell to the ground after the Nidoran gave a stiff kick to the orange dog's gut.

"Tonto! What were you thinking?!" she hissed, her ears flared and barbs raised.

"Yeah, you could have gotten hurt!" Pleo admonished, flapping his wings to try and emphasize how scary things could have been.

"And thanks to you, Kiran and the others will have to wait for the Distortion to expose a new set of stairs for them to catch up!" Crom snarled.

"Hey! At least we stuck together, right? How bad could this floor be?" Elty asked as he stumbled back to his feet, just as Crom's snarl was suddenly followed by others.

"Grr…"

"Intruders…"

The team turned and looked across the chamber, and paled after they saw a Buizel, a Corsola, a Frillish, a Finneon, and a pair of Zubat...

Who were advancing on the group as they watched.

"Me and my big mouth," Elty gulped.




Author's Notes:

- (¡)Ya, ya! (¡)Entiendo! - Spanish: "Alright, alright! I get it!"
- fajerwerki - Polish: "fireworks"
- (¡)Tonto! - Spanish: "Idiot!"
 
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diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
It was another balmy afternoon in Tromba, with blue cloudless skies above, and sunlight beaming down on the tropical island and its little town by the sea. A quaint backdrop to the sight of a young Lugia darting about a courtyard in between the roofed corridors of Mosca's Dojo...

"A-Ack!"

… who was trying his hardest to dodge clumps of burning cinders being spat out at him by a strafing Growlithe.
The contrast between the before-dialogue section and after-dialogue section is quite hilarious. The small bit of dialogue only adds to that.

As the days passed after the pirate raid on Bluewhorl, things settled little by little into some sense of equilibrium. Bandages were removed, aches and pains faded away, and Pokémon became healthy again. Even if the repairs to the damaged and obliterated shacks and tents in town didn't keep pace, the residents of Bluewhorl went back to their livelihoods. As for Pleo, he too returned to his routine of daily training, resuming his sessions in Mosca's Dojo under Team Traveler's guidance as if the raid never happened...
I think it was appropriate to name all the damages, then add Pleo, who just is completely oblivious to everything. Very in-tune with his cahracter.

As a side note while I'm reading here, I wonder how Elty's anger might grow and whether he'll actually lash out at the team for treating him so negatively.

"As cathartic as it is to watch you get blown around the room, Elty... you can't exactly carry out your community service if you're passed out for half the day," Nida chided. If nothing else, she had to quietly concede that the former pirate was candid about something. Even when it wasn't sensible, he really didn't ever give up.
Ah, so someone does have a bit of compassion for him.

"Wait, so this place… Is full of tee-yems?" Elty asked, as a devious grin began to creep over his muzzle. They were peculiar things and supposedly useless in the paws of most Pokémon. But, in his former line of work, they would reward anyone who was lucky enough to nab one with a princely sum. And from the sound of it, his old compatriots had somehow missed this veritable treasure trove!
I'm glad we get a bit of Elty's POV at some point - there wasn't much of it at the beginning. I'm particularly a fan of him so far.

"I am Melissa. Move Tutor and- DOGGY!"

The Porygon abruptly chirped and gestured excitedly at Elty with her beak, much to the Growlithe's surprise.
I laughed out loud.

"Yeah!" Bracket added before darting out, holding the edges of some tablet with his claws. "Good luck trying to make sense of this!"
Pleo's gonna need all the help he can get, yes. XD

The passerbyers on the path would turn their head time to time to watch Pleo pass... if not as frequently as they had a couple weeks ago. After all, the sea god had become more and more a fixture of their mundane routines.
There's not something you see in every fic, huh?

Oh, and I forgot to mention this:

That they knew more, that they were stronger, that all that they needed in order to protect and bless this island were a few gifts and adoring words every so often… we never realized that there would be a time when they would need to be protected by Pokémon like us.
This was really a powerful bit that I liked coming from Hatteras. You expect him to say wise things like this, and though he's talking about something unexpected, you still get the tone of "I'm going to do what I can to remedy this" coming across in his dialogue. Nicely done.

"Aww, stay still Mr. Fireplace!"

"We want to nuzzle you!"
MAKE THE CUTENESS STOP, I SWEAR

the band of rookies who were going to prove themselves today…

That they were ready to break into Normal Rank…

That the sea god among them would discover just what it would take to serve as Tromba's Protector and how to draw out his true power...

Or at least that was the hope.
Something about this bit is ominous... I wonder what'll happen. :p

"Because it's my first meal since yesterday!" the Pikachu squeaked, which made Pleo stare at the creature, and then up to Kiran.
Pleo's not gonna take this well, is he? It seems like a humorous situation overall, but clearly there's some sad undertones to it like this. You have knack for balancing the two, I must say.

"Look, I might not be from your island, but what kind of moron doesn't know how to safely enter a Mystery-?" he snapped, before he noticed that Pleo was staring blankly at the Swellow.

"Oh, right," the Growlithe grumbled to himself. Nida and Crom did say that this would be the feather duster's first time in a Mystery Dungeon, so of course he wouldn't know!
I love Elty so much. XD Calling Pleo a 'feather duster' is hilarious.

All the while, everything seemed to become… wrong. The chatter of his teammates, the smell of the path's surroundings, even the very feel of the air surrounding him and the path under his feet... all of it became murky, heavy, and strange, as if Crom had lead everyone into the clutch of some strange and awful snare that was closing in on him… leaving him all alone.
More ominous description. I like it a lot.

A little further up, Hatteras saw a familiar Sceptile with a lavender headband seated on a stool in a wood-floored juice bar. The wooden hut that housed it sat beside a glassblowing shop run by a Magmar that insisted that the strong drinks served just next door were an aid to his craft and not just a fire hazard.
I love the little bits of worldbuilding you're putting into this chapter already. EDIT: Just finished this chapter and it sounds like you're building up to something big, albeit a bit slowly. Looking forwad to it.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
A Togetic tailor was operating under an awning. As Pokémon carted in pieces of lumber to slowly rebuild the interior of a freshly constructed frame, he engaged in an idle conversation with the Starmie that owned the similarly-obliterated Appraisal Shop on the docks, wondering if hiding discount vouchers in chests in the Mystery Dungeon might encourage more business from the guild.

Over at Calino's stall, the Kecleon was engaged in a heated negotiation with the Honchkrow that owned the local bank. Apparently Hess's underlings had made off with a sizable quantity of Poké- or "merchants' scrip" as the Honchkrow called it, to Calino's annoyance- from the vaults. Calino's off-island associates reimbursed a healthy part of such losses in return for Pokémon like the banker maintaining reserves in Poké, and the crow felt it proper for that portion to cover most of the purloined money. Hatteras privately hoped that the two could come to an agreement without requiring his adjudication. Numismatics was always such a dry subject, and had a worrisome tendency to bring out unfavorable sides of Pokémon.
I like this. Showing what the other residents are doing, even if it's not always relevant to the storyline, makes your world feel more alive and dynamic,

Perhaps it was the effects of the Oran Berries they used coming in, but Team Traveller seemed far less beleaguered than Kiran had dreaded. Yes, they still had a few obvious scuffs and nicks here and there, but there seemed to be a confidence and determination that etched itself across the team's faces. Why, even Elty seemed to have a little bit of the same spark in him!

No, there was something more to this than some temporary berry effect, and the Pokémon from Team Sawtooth seemed to notice it, too.
It's good to see that Kiran recognizes the team's progress. Since the beginning of the story Nida wanted to graduate and be taken more serious by other Pokemon. I'm glad she's close to having what she wants

He walked up the dock, towards some Pokémon that had disembarked from the ship and were waiting around a Mothim with. Hatteras looked back just in time to see Osmund making his way up along with some hastily called-up guards, and then turned back to the Mothim. The Bug-type wore a lavender scarf with a purple design consisting of four small squares that laid on top of the corners of a larger square that connected them all
Mothim sure is an interesting choice. It's not exactly the first species that pops into your head when you think of an evil Pokemon. Either way, in this case it worked out great. Ellsberg made quite the impression and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future

"Really now... ‘Osmund', is it? You ought to do more to keep your ranks in check," the bug lectured as he flitted about nonchalantly, before his eyes glowed and he flicked one of his arms down. The gesture pulled the Mawile's headband over his face with an unseen force. The strip of cloth unfurled, revealing itself to be a scrunched-up lavender scarf with a violet square much like the ones the Mothim's lackeys wore.

"Ah!" the Mawile cried out, as he hastily tried to redo his headband, backpedaling nervously from this moth that was far less frail than appearances indicated.

"It's so unbecoming to air private disputes in public, don't you think?" the fluttering moth asked the Sceptile. "Especially when such disputes involve insubordination by upstarts who don't know their place in the hierarchy."
So are Bluewhorl's guards forced to work for the Company? Osmund's speech and Mawile's headband seem to indicate that they do work for them, yet they're not exactly pleased with Ellsberg's visit.

"And back in those days, the residents of this hamlet didn't suddenly become experts in the tax code with each revision! And we had an Administrator that lived here instead of performing his duties in absentia! Or do you not remember that your island maintains a particular ‘understanding' with the Company?" the Mothim asked the Ampharos accusingly. "One that a certain Dragonite would love to see reversed were it not for you, a couple of your friends, and one ‘Dragon Buster'?"
Tax avoidance, kicking out an unlikable administrator, seems like Bluewhorl's residents aren't gonna roll over that easily :p

As the others got distracted by the boat preparing to set off, the Mothim fished out the little article he was so keen to hide from Osmund. One that he was surprised that none of the local rubes had seen him take.

It was a silvery-white feather that had split at its top, and it proved that in spite of his doubts, this hamlet indeed had something worth bothering with for the Company.
I think we all know what's coming next. The next couple of chapters should be good!

Not that there was anything that could echo back. The distortion had wrapped the fourth floor into a concave sphere and stripped away where the ceiling would be on most floors. In its place, was a space composed of pools, stone paths and towering walls. Thanks to the dim light of the glowing algae that grew in clumps here and there in the dungeon, one could see the entire other half of the floor from any one location.
Interesting description. Seems like the mystery dungeons in your fic are more than just randomized floors. I like it.

The team had stopped seeing the stairs overhead three chambers ago, and were currently resting in a spacious open-topped chamber. Every now and then, they would look back up as they tried to make sense of a rude map that Crom had doodled after first coming down the stairs.The flight to the next floor was somewhere in this one, all that was left was to find it. And wait.
Wait how did Crom draw the map? Did he first explore the floor on his own and then returned to his teammates just to explore it all again?

"Hey! Get off my case! It wasn't that bad!" Elty huffed defensively. "The only ship that ever got sunk thanks to our fire was a hulk full of fajerwerki at a dock!"

There was a long, blinking silence. Ship-burning was supposed to put other Pokémon in mortal danger, but that explanation... just didn't quite fit expectations.

"Wait… What?" Crom asked.

"Um… Maybe you're overstating ship-burner a bit much?" Nida sighed.

"I mean, it doesn't sound like you did that good of a job," Pleo added.
This part probably made me laugh more than it should lol

"Hey! At least we stuck together, right? How bad could this floor be?" Elty asked as he stumbled back to his feet, just as Crom's snarl was suddenly followed by others.

"Grr…"

"Intruders…"

The team turned and looked across the chamber, and paled after they saw a Buizel, a Corsola, a Frillish, a Finneon, and a pair of Zubat...
And now Elty's antics got the group stuck inside a Monster house. I have the feeling this won't be the last time he gets his teammates in trouble.

A small, but overall good chapter. I think you did a great job at introducing the Company as villains, I'm already looking forward to their next appearance. I'd also like to see how Team Traveler gets out of this situation, though I might have an idea...
They're gonna use the Slow Orb they found, aren't they?
 
wondering if hiding discount vouchers in chests in the Mystery Dungeon might encourage more business from the guild.
Just hope you don't need to get rescued by the guild while you are hiding said vouchers. :p

"This town paid less after each harvest in those days and got more in return! And pirates in those days laid in wait for travelers in out in far corners of the sea! They didn't storm into port!" Hatteras fumed back indignantly. "Don't lecture me on history you weren't alive for!"
Nice reminder that Hatteras does have a lot of experience behind him; his quirkiness is a liberated maturity, not naivety.

"Hm… So a traveling warrior, like a few of the so-called ‘Immortals'. How quaint,"
Cue Big Hero 6 soundtrack?

"Better question, how are you still alive, Elty?" Nida asked as she furrowed her brow.

The Growlithe opened his mouth to speak, and then paused and thought about the Nidoran's question for a short moment.

"I dunno," he shrugged. "I never really questioned it before."
I do love underdog characters. And Elty makes an adorable one, even in spite of having a bit of a horrible former profession.



Wait how did Crom draw the map? Did he first explore the floor on his own and then returned to his teammates just to explore it all again?
The floor's a sphere, so he could probably see most of the rooms by just looking up?
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
As a side note while I'm reading here, I wonder how Elty's anger might grow and whether he'll actually lash out at the team for treating him so negatively.
Well, it's still a ways off before things between the team get the chance to hit a nadir. And not much sense in lashing out right at the moment while on such thin ice, people that live in glass houses and all...

MAKE THE CUTENESS STOP, I SWEAR
Let me put some thought into it...

I'm glad we get a bit of Elty's POV at some point - there wasn't much of it at the beginning. I'm particularly a fan of him so far.
While this chapter unfortunately shook out as being light on Elty's POV, it is something that I've been playing around with a bit in the chapters on the current editing queue. So hope you'll enjoy those bits too when they roll around.

I laughed out loud.
I must confess that I actually got the idea for that gag from a recurring one in Freefall, a nice webcomic for slow days and pretty fun hard(er) sci-fi tale. But glad that you found it amusing.

Pleo's gonna need all the help he can get, yes. XD
I'm pretty sure just about anyone without a disc drive would need help reading optical discs, yes. :p

Pleo's not gonna take this well, is he? It seems like a humorous situation overall, but clearly there's some sad undertones to it like this. You have knack for balancing the two, I must say.
I'm actually a huge sucker for cute and endearing stories that deal with not-so-cute or endearing undertones, so this was rather heartening to hear.

Just finished this chapter and it sounds like you're building up to something big, albeit a bit slowly. Looking forwad to it.
Well, I suppose that it depends on how you slice 'slowly', but the story's heading up to something that I've been alluding to and building at for a while now, yes. And I'll be looking forward to those reactions.

Mothim sure is an interesting choice. It's not exactly the first species that pops into your head when you think of an evil Pokemon. Either way, in this case it worked out great. Ellsberg made quite the impression and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future
Ellsberg from the initial phases of his design has been one of those characters that bullies others to get what he wants in spite of his relative weakness, and hides in the shadow of bigger fish to deflect retribution. In this case, the shadow of the rest of the Company.

So are Bluewhorl's guards forced to work for the Company? Osmund's speech and Mawile's headband seem to indicate that they do work for them, yet they're not exactly pleased with Ellsberg's visit.
As Ellsberg alludes to, they have an 'understanding'. One that both sides tolerate because it happened to be the least bad option (or at least from their respective perspectives) of several others.

Tax avoidance, kicking out an unlikable administrator, seems like Bluewhorl's residents aren't gonna roll over that easily :p
That is a big part of the reason why Tromba was even in a position to be able to push for an 'understanding' to begin with, yes.

They're gonna use the Slow Orb they found, aren't they?

I do love underdog characters. And Elty makes an adorable one, even in spite of having a bit of a horrible former profession.
Well, he'll be sticking around, so it's heartening to hear that he's fun to root for even in spite of a shady background.

So yeah, I unfortunately wound up a little behind my publishing target due to work being a bigger timesink than normal this week, but the last of the chapters with Badge headers (yes, that means that the next one will have something different!) is here. This chapter is on the longer side again, though is a good deal more action-heavy than the last few chapters that have been about this size, so hopefully that makes up for it a bit. I also rolled in some edits to some earlier chapters along with publishing tonight, the most major ones being in Ch. 5 courtesy of Sugoitsu from ff.net, but there was a minor clarification along with a few small scene tweaks in Ch. 6 + 12 thanks to a conversation I had with Virgil134 as well.

Special thanks for this chapter goes to Tangent128, solovino, and Virgil134, with additional thanks to all you readers and reviewers who have spent your time following this story along so far. I suppose that I should start thinking about some cute trivia to throw around whenever this thing crosses a big milestone or two. ^^;

Publishing for the next chapter is targeting the weekend of 8/7-8/9, not so much because I'm out of editable material as the fact that inter-block transitions are usually fairly time-intensive since a lot of the time that gets amortized over the block (i.e. starting the next drafts, helping Tangent out with next headers, etc.) needs to be paid up front to an extent. As per usual, I reserve the right to be a little late since it's a target and not a hard commitment, but I don't anticipate missing a deadline that badly short of something truly dire happening.

And now that that rambling's done, let's resolve that cliffhanger that I left you off on 2 weeks ago, eh? Well, in the next post, that is, since this pre-amble sends me over the character limit.
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter


The floor that Team Traveler had stumbled into was a spacious cavern with a ceiling that carried on beyond the range of even Crom's vision. The ground was largely devoid of obstacles, much as the courtyards in Mosca's Dojo were. The primary exceptions were a few glowing moss beds and a network of what, depending on one's perspective, were either rather shallow pools or particularly deep puddles on the ground.

On one end of the floor's first chamber was the team, the now-sealed stairs that they had taken to get there, and some dead ends further behind them. On the other end were three corridors. One, a water-filled channel leading to a deeper pool. The other two, a pair of passages that trailed off deeper into the Mystery Dungeon…

But more importantly, the Buizel, Corsola, Frillish, Finneon, and two Zubat from earlier were also at the other end. Angered, aggressive, and worst of all, standing in between Team Traveler and any exit.

"Er… Hi there?" Elty gulped. Step by step, the Growlithe backpedaled away nervously- not that it made much of a difference. For each step Elty and the others took backwards, the six ferals took one forwards as they continued their growling march towards the group.

"We were just looking for the stairs!" Crom cried out to the advancing Pokémon. The young Druddigon's voice had a gruff, grumbling tone to it, albeit one tinged with anxious unease. "Let us through and we'll get out of here right away!"

"Oh, you'll be going places, alright!" a Zubat from the approaching group screeched.

"Hope you like seeing stars!" the Buizel hissed back at the young dragon. The creature kept her back arched and her paws dug into the ground, ready to throw her body forward at a moment's notice. The other Pokémon's postures were no less inviting, all of them also ready for sudden lunges.

Those… were not exactly the results of fruitful diplomacy. Worse still, as the group continued falling further and further back, they noticed they were running out of open ground between themselves and the chamber's stony walls to retreat to.

"Wait!" Nida squeaked to the approaching ferals. As the Nidoran continued her plea, hoping desperately as she kept her barbs spread wide and tensed that the situation could be defused peacefully against such numerous foes. "We just stepped down here!"

"Yeah! We haven't swiped anything yet!" Elty protested. As his barks reverberated in the chamber, the Growlithe's eyes darted nervously here in there for in search of something- anything that might help him give the approaching assailants the slip.

Nida screwed her eyes shut in frustration. Of all of the things for that pudgy mutt to say to a Monster House, why did he have to say that? They needed to give these Pokémon a reason not to beat the poison out of them! Something… something like…

She noticed Pleo out of the corner of her eye. Wait a minute! That could work! ... Maybe... It hadn't worked a few floors earlier, but if nothing else, it could at least buy some time to fall back. Nida shook her head, dug in her feet to stand her ground, and opened her mouth to speak...

"And you wouldn't hurt a group of Pokémon escorting the Protector, would you?" she asked the approaching ferals accusingly. Immediately, the Pokémon stopped and traded uneasy looks with each other.

"The… Protector?" the blue jellyfish asked warily as he sized up the white bird among the intruders.

"That's me!" Pleo cried. Now that the Pokémon weren't growling at him and their scowls had been displaced with stunned glances, it became much easier to muster the strength to stand firm. The Lugia spread his wings, and bellowed out in the largest voice the little bird could muster. "If you really care about me… then you'll leave them alone!"

There was a lingering, uncomfortable silence, Nida, Elty, and Crom taking the time to quietly inch back away from the mass of other Pokémon as the ferals traded uneasy looks with one another. All of a sudden, there was a splash from a nearby pool as the Finneon ahead shook his head and cleared his throat.

"Oh, yeah?" he asked, the shock slipping from his face as his expression slowly drifted back into a mistrusting glare. "Pruébamelo! You can't just say you're the Protector!"

The Finneon's skepticism seemed to rub off onto the other ferals, as hostile expressions one by one began to return to their faces. Pleo's boldness started to evaporate as his mind raced to try and think of a way to placate his audience.

"Um… Er... I'm me? I mean, I have these pretty fea-"

His uneasy words only served to make the unfriendly looks on the ferals' faces harden as they traded skeptical whispers. Suddenly, the Corsola stepped forward and demanded...

"Show us your power!"

Nida blanched after she heard the Corsola, and sinking expressions spread over her teammates' faces. All this time in the Mystery Dungeon, Pleo hadn't done anything that would really prove he was the Protector. How could he suddenly pull something from out his wings now? And if he did… would everyone wind up buried under a wall of rocks? She still remembered how that empty passage was collapsed on the day she first met the little bird.

"Er... W-Well," Pleo stammered before he shook his head and spread his wings. "Hyah!"

With all of his might, Pleo brought his wings together and sent a swirling gust of wind above the heads of the waiting ferals. Everyone flinched for a moment, and then, after the wind subsided, everyone looked around… and saw that the only change Pleo had effected was some disturbed dust and pebbles on the ground and tousled fur on one of the Zubat, whose expression was hardening into hostility once again.

"Um… C-Can I try again?" Pleo weakly groan.

"We've seen enough!" the Finneon yelled as he burst out of the pool. "Time to tan your hides!"

The creature spat a jet of water out at Pleo, which struck him in the face, sending him tumbling back with a startled squawk. Without missing a beat, the Lugia hastily picked himself up and dashed off, retreating behind the rest of the team. After shaking his head to regain his wits and recover from the sting of the jet of water, Pleo saw that his teammates, while still wide-eyed and anxious much as he was, were all poised in battle stances.

"Brace yourselves!" Nida cried. "We're gonna have to fight our way out of this!"

Pleo hastily tensed and drew his neck and wings close to his body, the last beads of water from the fish's attack rolling off his plumes. Meanwhile, Crom ran towards the Finneon that lead the charge, and dug out a round, scaled, orange-ish seed.

"Grr! You just won't listen, will you?!" he growled back at the Finneon before he popped the seed into his mouth.

"Take this!" Crom cried, biting down on the orange seed. A brilliant gout of fire erupted out of his maw and onto the Finneon, who had unwisely charged on ahead into terrain that was out of his element. The flames swallowed up the hapless fish and sent him tumbling along the ground shrieking in pain. Ultimately, the creature came to rest in a pool, floating upside-down on the surface, groaning and unable to muster the strength to right his body.

Unfortunately for the young Druddigon, his victory came at a price. He had defeated one foe… only to notice the others were already closing the distance to him, completely unimpeded.

Before Crom could so much as swipe a claw in his defense, he was shoved to the side by a tackle from the Corsola. The dragon tumbled along through a puddle and back onto dry-ish ground, uneasily trying to regain his footing on a patch of cave stone with a spiral design he didn't think much of at the time. That was, until the Druddigon clearly heard a soft click amid the cries of his teammates and the baying of his assailants.

"Huh-? Agh!"

The ground beneath Crom abruptly whirled around repeatedly before coming to an equally abrupt stop, leaving the the poor dragon to totter about disoriented with little white-and-blue birds circling in his vision.

"Gaaah, what is-?"

Except, much to his rude surprise, those birds spoke like the other ferals. And all of a sudden, sharp pains shot through his body as the 'birds' began hitting and dousing him from every direction he turned to.

"A-Aah! H-Help!" he cried. Crom thrashed this way and that under the barrage of attacks, desperately trying to swipe back at his assailants with his claws.

From Nida's vantage point, she could clearly see the direness of the situation. The ferals had surrounded the Spin Trap they had shoved Crom onto. Her partner's dazed swipes struck nothing but empty air over and over again as the creatures did everything in their power to pummel the poor dragon into next week.

"Crom!" Pleo squawked. At that moment, the Lugia's anxieties were pushed from his mind, and the bird took off running towards his embattled teammate, Nida hot on his tail.

"Hang in there-!" she cried, before Elty's voice chimed in from behind.

"Oi, you salt-suckers! Pick a fairer fight!"

The next thing Nida and Pleo felt was Elty tagging them from behind before falling back, leaving a bluish, sparking aura to envelop the two before settling down.

"Elty?!" Pleo squawked. "What did you do to-?!"

"Don't worry about it!" the Growlithe snapped. No sense in explaining the ins-and-outs of a Helping Hand at a time like this, after all. "Just hit them before the boost wears off!"

"Right!" Nida huffed. The Nidoran dashed up to the Buizel and gave a stiff kick at her flank. The creature froze in pain, but when Nida brought her leg out for another kick, the mustelid ran on ahead, leaving Nida kicking nothing but air.

"Grr, let's see you do that twice, spike ball!" the Buizel spat before she lunged for the Nidoran, only for the little blue creature to hop over her shoulder and behind the sea weasel.

"Huh? Where'd she-? Eargh!"

The creature abruptly pitched forward and slumped onto the ground. Embedded into her back was a Nidoran's barb... further behind, was the barb's previous owner, astonished with her achievement.

"Wait, that was a sting!" she cried, her voice beginning to grow giddy as she realized... "I finally stung a-! Gah!"

Nida's elation was promptly brought back to earth by a stiff, watery smack which sent her rolling along the floor. As she lay stunned on the ground, catching her breath, she could hear the sound of a Frillish angrily burbling and drawing near…

"Pay attention, Księżniczka!"

Elty's voice rang out and was quickly joined by the sound of the Frillish screeching, followed by a faint thud and groaning. When Nida righted herself and turned towards the direction of the commotion, she saw her assailant sprawled out on the floor with bite marks on his bell and Elty approaching her, brimming with confidence.

"See, you've gotta be smart about picking your-"

Before Elty could finish his thought, he was abruptly bowled over, then sent tumbling into one of the pools by a stream of scalding bubbles that burst along his side. Nida only dodged the attack by abruptly hopping out of the way. When she turned back, she saw Elty coughing up water as he weakly limped back to drier ground.

"Gyaah! You ferals aren't supposed to be smart about picking fights with me!" he whined, before he turned to see the Corsola responsible for the Bubble Beam drawing near to him in the pool.

The Growlithe bolted out of the water and ran off in open retreat, the Corsola chasing after him, consciously sticking near to the pools. No sense getting lured out onto the ground and routed, after all. Crom was a little further back from Elty's current trajectory, clutching his head, tottering. And there was the sound of a Zubat's flapping wings rapidly drawing on Nida's position...

Yes, things weren't going well at all.

"N-Nida! Keep them off our tails for a moment!" Crom shouted. The Druddigon dug out an object from the team bag and sent it rolling along a spit of stone towards, whirling around to make a break for cover with Elty. Without thinking, the Nidoran darted for the tumbling object before it could come to a stop, scooped it up, and flung it as hard as she could in the direction of the angry screeches from the Zubat.

As the object left her paws, she saw that she had thrown the Slow Orb from the floor before… except she had arced her throw for a bed of soft moss, far too soft to make the orb break. Meaning that it would be of little help against the Zubat who was swooping straight for her.

"Ack!"

As Nida fanned out her barbs and braced herself, she heard and felt a whoosh of wind. Much to her astonishment, Nida saw the Slow Orb abruptly change direction in midair, getting sent into a wall before exploding in a shower of green shards. Suddenly, a torrent of white threads shot out from the broken orb, worming wildly about the room. Nida looked back at the Zubat just in time to see the creature fall to the floor and struggle against white, silky bands that clung to her body. As the bat groaned and struggled to lift her body back in the air, Nida quickly ran up and kicked the downed creature in the head, and then once again for good measure. The second kick sent the Pokémon sailing limply through the air before crashing back down to the ground twitching and groaning.

Immediately after that, the young Protector of Tromba ran up panting to the Nidoran from the direction of the gust.

"Nida?! Are you alright?!"

It was then that Nida realized how her botched throw managed to hit her foe. Pleo's gust had redirected her Slow Orb! The Nidoran looked down at herself, over at Pleo, and then at Crom and Elty further away, and saw that none of them had been gummed up by the threads!

This was their big chance!

"Crom! Elty! We'll cover-! Gah!"

Nida pulled her head in to narrowly duck and dodge a column of disturbed air that accompanied a loud shriek, the attack carrying on into the wall of the chamber. Nida and Pleo shook their heads to dispel some momentary light-headedness from the racket, and whirled around to see the remaining Pokémon. Of the group that had ambushed them, only the remaining Zubat and the Corsola, having given up his pursuit of Elty, still stared them down. Their bodies were covered in white silk, but the two had visibly managed to adjust to the strands gumming up their movement, the bat enough to even get falteringly airborne again. Both of them were much closer than either Nida or Pleo had expected. The ferals' expressions were still hostile, but now intermingled with fear.

"Wh-Who do you even think you are?!" the Corsola cried out.

"Y-Yeah! Barging in on our home like this!" the Zubat fumed.

"We just wanted to get through!" Pleo protested. "What's so-?"

"Pleo!" Nida's voice suddenly admonished. "Don't just stand there!"

Pleo looked back and saw that Nida had retreated towards the direction Crom and Elty fell back towards. He suddenly felt a stabbing pain on his neck as something latched onto it. Pleo beat his wings wildly, and ran about shouting in a panic. The pain dulled with a sudden slap against his head, which made Pleo stop to regain his bearings. When he looked up, he caught sight of the remaining Zubat glowering at him in the air, his mouth dribbling some red fluid that looked like the scrapes he had seen on his teammates after battles. On the ground off to the side was the Corsola, who had flanked him together with the flying Pokémon.

"A-Aah!" Pleo squawked, his eyes going wide as he began to realize what a predicament he was now in. "You snuck up on me!"

"So what? You fought dirty!" the Corsola growled. "So we'll fight back dirty!"

"Have some pain, you imposter!" the Zubat shouted before he lunged for the young Lugia, the Corsola joining in. Pleo hopped up in a blind panic as the two Pokémon descended on his position, sailing high off the ground as the Zubat carried on with his swoop into the cave floor with a yelp. As he began to stall in the air, he heard his attackers' confusion below.

"Huh?!"

"Ow! Where'd he go-?!"

And then gravity took over and the young Protector started falling back to earth again, flailing desperately.

"A-Aack!"

Pleo's tumbles and rolls through the air became slower, and his body began to straighten out into a straight dive towards the ground as he spread his wings. The cave floor was now rapidly approaching, which made Pleo cry out and pull his wings back, cringing in anticipation of the impact.

Except… He felt… Air underneath him?

"Argh!"

And then the stiff smack of his left wing clipping something, followed by the feeling of air again. Pleo opened his eyes, he saw the other Zubat groaning on the ground below him, feebly twitching her wings. The Lugia blinked, although it was beginning to stall and slow, his body was sailing up into the air again!

He gave another beat of his wings- and instead of falling to the ground again, he stayed in his place and spun a little. Why, this meant... He was flying!

"I'm- I'm flying! I'm really flying this time!" he cried, his voice drawing Nida's awed attention from the ground, before it was interrupted by the panicked-sounding voice of the Corsola.

"A-Ahh… Stay back! St-Stay back! None of this would have happened if you never came!" he cried.

"Just stand down and let us through!" Nida barked. "Haven't we fought long enough?"

"Leave me alone!" the creature shrieked, before he opened his mouth and prepared to breathe out a stream of gloppy bubbles at the Nidoran. "Just go awa-!"

The creature then flinched after catching a barb in his face, which sent him reeling backwards. The barb was followed up by a glowing ball that sent him tumbling across the floor. As the creature staggered up, his last sensation before lapsing out of consciousness was being pounced on and pinned to the ground by something gliding in from the air with a hide that felt like sandpaper.

"Aaack," the Corsola groaned, his legs going limp as his eyes slipped shut.

"And stay down!" Crom growled to the creature before getting up, his maw stained with Oran juice.

"Daj spokoj!" Elty protested, quickly coming up from behind with a similarly stained muzzle. "I could have finished him-"

Before Elty could finish, he was interrupted by the sound of a faint splashing thud.

"Ow!"

Everyone turned towards the sound of the yelp, seeing Pleo getting up from a crash-landing in one of the cave pools and lurching about in a daze.

"Attacking while flying's hard," he groaned, as he tottered disorientedly back over to Nida. "Are- Are there any more mean Pokémon?"

"No- I- I think that's all of them," she replied to Pleo in between ragged pants. The Nidoran drew her barbs back against her hide, and went over to steady the bird's unstable gait, sighing out of relief that the battle was finally over, even if the Oran stains on her other companions evidenced that its after-effects were still around to be grappled with.

"You really are terrible at healing, Crom," she chuckled, shooting a tired smirk at a Druddigon who instantly grew flustered with the charge.

"H-Hey!" he protested. "Kiran said that if you're ever in a pinch, you can just eat the berries and they'll still work! ... Kinda."

"Ugh… This is just great," Elty grumbled. "We still need to find the stairs Kiran took and-"

The Growlithe looked back in the direction of the stairs, only to see that they had vanished! The only evidence of them ever existing was a small mound of broken stone on the ground, seemingly dropped from above.

"Wait a minute, there were stairs there just a minute ago!"

"Huh?!" Pleo cried out. The dog was right, there definitely were stairs there earlier. But… where did they go?

"They must've shifted while we were battling," Crom explained. "Why, that means that Kiran-"

"Están bien?!"

Would have already made it to their floor?

Everyone turned and watched Team Traveller's leader fly in from the leftmost of the three passages that exited the chamber, Team Sawtooth following after closely. The Swellow rushed up and landed near Team Traveler, who quickly drew up to him.

"Yeah, we're fine... Well-" Nida stopped to frown and shake her head, flattening out her ears. "Okay, we're not. But you get the idea, Kiran."

"Why on earth did you all go on ahead without us?!" Kiran cried, beating his wings out with an admonishing squawk.

"You all just blundered right into a Monster House!" Alto exclaimed.

There was a long and lingering silence, as Crom, Nida, and Pleo one-by-one began to give unamused glares at Elty.

"Er… Something came up?" the Growlithe sheepishly offered.

"We had some bad luck with a trap near the stairs," Crom grunted. "We weren't exactly expecting to-"

"Oi, look alive, everyone," Pitys suddenly interrupted. Sure enough, the Pokémon scattered about the floor were once again beginning to stir.

"Nrgh," the Finneon groaned as he falteringly righted himself and weakly splashed in his pool, the defiance returning to his voice. "This isn't-!"

Only to be replaced by startled shock when he and the other ferals saw the four much larger and intimidating Pokémon that had since joined the 'intruders' they had fought with.

"Gih!"

"E-Eep!"

"I'd encourage you all to not pick another fight," Kiran replied, scowling at the Pokémon. "We're just passing through, and we'd like to go through without any trouble."

The weakened ferals traded nervous glances with each other as they tried to decide what to do about these new Pokémon. On the one hand, they were violating their territory… on the other hand, they looked much tougher and meaner than the four worn-out and battered intruders from earlier.

"That- That- Th-This isn't fair!" the Finneon whined.

"D-Don't argue with the monsters!" one of the Zubat admonished. "Let's get out of here!"

The six hastily retreated as quickly as their condition allowed them to down the other two exits. Their voices fading as they vanished deeper into the maze as the gathered Pokémon watched.

"Well, all's well that ends well," Nida said to herself with a tired sigh.

"Do you all need any help getting healed up?" Kiran asked, as he inspected his charges. Their fight surely must have been one grueling ordeal. Crom was covered in lacerations and bruises, and had clearly seen more than his due share of punishment.

Pokémon like Nida and Elty were always somewhat hard to get a bead on, what with fur in the way, but he could clearly see they too had been fairly roughed up. There were scrapes on their body here and there, and the Growlithe still had glop from the Frillish caught in his pelt.

Even Pleo was not spared, Kiran noticed that Pleo would occasionally rub his face into his wing- apparently it must have smarted from being hit by something. The Swellow then noticed with a shudder that some feathers on the backside of Pleo's neck that had been sullied from some darkening reddish fluid. Blood, if thankfully not fresh, he presumed.

"Thanks for the offer," Crom replied. "But… I think we can handle it."

"E-Eh?!" Kiran protested, ruffling his feathers uneasily. "But you're all-!"

"We made it this far on our own, Kiran," Nida replied softly. Kiran blinked and saw the Nidoran's face was filled with a determined look that shone even through her body's tired gait. "I think we can manage the rest."

There was a long silence as the four elder Pokémon puzzled themselves as to the right thing to do in this situation. Yes, they were still kids, but...

"They do have a point," Cardellini murmured.

"Yeah, if they can hold their own in a Monster House, I think that they can patch themselves up fine," Alto added.

"Heh… Let's get cracking, then!" Kiran chirped, beating his wings and taking back to the air. "I wanna find that Substitute and get outta here as much as you do! So let's get this show on the road!"



Crom got a chance to practice his healing skills once again… with the aid of Kiran's dutiful supervision and instructions to keep him on task, that is. Before long, the team patched themselves up and carried on, as their wounds recovered with the help of the Oran Berries they had packed for that day.

The trek to the next floor was much quieter, after which Pataki gleefully informed "The decoy to rescue is somewhere on this floor!", leading to a mostly uneventful search through the corridors and bends of the Mystery Dungeon.

That was, until Team Traveler found the much-awaited Substitute, and presented it to Kiran and the others.

"Wait, this was their objective?" Cardellini asked, burying his face into an open claw.

"Uh, well," Kiran trailed off as he too took in the sight of the training decoy. "The psychics would be the Pokémon best suited to getting a decoy in here, so…"

Substitutes were doppelgangers born of the essence of life in Pokémon. Just similar enough to their makers to trick opponents into focusing on them in the heat of battle, or so the explanation went. In a pinch, the mimicries made for serviceable dolls. For guards to use as sparring dummies... for younger Pokémon to use as playthings... and of course, for the guild to use in training missions. So logically, it should have been much less of a surprise to everyone that the Substitute that the team stumbled on that day…

"Kiran," Pleo began. "Why does our decoy look like-?"

Would be a crude doll-like figure of a Kirlia, the Pokémon who had clearly gone through far more trouble than necessary to put it there.

"Do you like it, Protector?" Pataki's voice rang out in the minds of the gathered Pokémon. "I even made it myself!"

"Oh no…" Nida groaned, flattening out her ears.

"Who's pressing their badge?" Crom asked. As the Druddigon screwed his eyes shut in frustration, Pleo ruffled his feathers and awkwardly tried to think of something to say back to the enamored wall-talker.

"Um, it looks... cute?"

"I know right?" Pataki's voice gushed. "It only took me three tries and wearing myself down a little to make a substitute of myself that looked as good as-"

"Um, as lovely as your paw-work is… Can we get out of here?!" Elty barked.

"It would be nice to get back home about now, Pataki," Kiran sighed.

"Yeah, it's not like some of us don't have other missions to get back to, you know!" Cardellini snapped at the unseen voice.

"Hrmph! I was getting to that!"

After a short pause, there was a blip of light further down the room. As Team Traveler turned to face Pataki, they saw that much to their surprise, the Natu from the teleportation pad had accompanied her that day.

"Wait, there's two of them this time?" Pleo asked.

"Two teleporters for two groups!" the Natu chirped. "I'll take Kiran and the others in the first one, and then when we get the clearing all ready, it'll be safe for Pataki to take the rest of you over."

"Music to my ears," Pataki crooned, her expression brightening after hearing that she would have another chance to be close to the Protector. An announcement that came much to the groaning dismay of Team Traveler.

"Please just hurry this up," Elty grumbled, moving a paw over his snout.

The Natu hopped over onto the Shiftry's head and clung to her hair, who in turn provided her arms for Kiran and her teammates to latch onto. After all of the older Pokémon found partners to hold onto, the group vanished with a blip of light much as before, leaving Team Traveler… and one rather giddy Kirlia.

"You know, Protector," the Kirlia babbled cheerily. "The best way to keep a chain of Pokémon together is to have a bigger Pokémon holding on directly to the teleporter."

"Oh?" Pleo asked. Pataki needed a strong Pokémon, huh? Pleo thought and thought about the Kirlia's suggestion, then, after an epiphany, chirped back triumphantly at the Psychic. "Oh! So Crom, then!"

"What?!" Pataki exclaimed, her face giving way to mortified shock. "No! I was talking about-!"

"Oi! Pataki! The clearing's open! Go ahead and bring them over!" a Kadabra's voice reverberated.

"I think I'll take up the 'bigger' conduit role today, thanks," Crom answered, rolling his eyes as he grasped one of Pataki's arms.

"But- But-" the Kirlia protested, the rest of the team dutifully ignoring her as they formed a chain around Crom's free arm and his wings.

"It would be nice if we could get home sometime today, Pataki," Nida grumbled, glaring at the green and white sprite.

"And Crom probably is still tougher than me right now," Pleo answered as he grabbed the Kirlia decoy with his beak. "Maybe it would make more sense to be your conduit another time?"

"And you heard the nice Pokémon! The clearing's open, idźmy dalej!" Elty snapped.

"Ugh… Fine," the Kirlia grumbled, before the team vanished from the cave.



With a blip, the team arrived back at the guild's receiving field, where Hatteras was awaiting them on the sidelines. After Team Traveler and Pataki let go of each other, Pleo set down Pataki's Substitute and nosed it forward towards the now somewhat sour-looking Kirlia.

"Um… So I guess we should give this back to you since this was supposed to be a rescue mission?" he asked, the question immediately clearing up the Psychic type's demeanor.

"Oh no, that's fine! You can keep it!" she cheerfully replied. "Why, I was honestly expecting you to!"

"Um…" Crom groaned.

"Can we not keep that thing in our section of the sleeping hall?" Nida hissed under her breath.

"Er… I guess it would make my shrine look a little less lonely?" Pleo volunteered, moving a wing behind his head sheepishly.

"Of course it would!" Pataki exclaimed before she turned to leave the field, gushing aloud to herself all the while about how the Protector was going to put her handiwork on show at his shrine. Team Sawtooth also left the clearing, excusing themselves with the words: "That ahp-gredh isn't going to find itself for Melissa." The team sighed quietly in relief, and turned to make their way to Hatteras.

"Psst, nice save there," Elty whispered.

"Yeah, I was afraid that I was going to have to make my siblings dispose of that thing," Nida murmured as the group walked up to an Ampharos waiting expectantly alongside a Swellow.

"Hey! So how'd it go in there?" Hatteras cheerily asked the team.

"It was really tough!" Pleo chirped.

"Yeah, we really had to work to get our mission done that time," Nida sighed.

"Oh?" Hatteras asked, his eyes adopting a keen look to them. "Did… Anything peculiar happen with Pleo in there?"

"Uh huh! Uh huh!" Pleo exclaimed, before he hopped up into the air and soared forward.

"I can fly now!" he cried. Pleo soared on, his young frame still having some of that majesty that the old Lugia must surely have had back when it flew above the seas. Well… had it. Just a moment later, a sudden breeze blew Pleo off course and into a tree branch, causing the young Protector to tumble back to earth.

"Oof! Er… Kinda?" the Lugia said sheepishly, ruffling his feathers as he got back up to his feet and waddled back to the group.

"Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, mewa," Elty muttered under his breath.

"I'm sure it'll work itself out with practice," Crom added. "But he really did fly in there, Hatteras."

"I… see," Hatteras murmured as he stroked his chin, before turning back to the young sea god. "Was there anything else that happened in there that was strange, Pleo?"

"Um… Well, we got into some fights," Pleo said, drawing a wing to his beak. "It was just like training, except the Pokémon I was fighting with were meaner."

"Meh, I didn't see him do anything that some Pidgey couldn't do," Elty said.

"Yeah... fighting and flying aside, we didn't see anything out of the ordinary from him today," Nida added.

"I… understand," Hatteras replied. The Ampharos still wore a smile in front of the young Pokémon, but for a second, Nida and Crom swore that they had seen his expression droop a bit.

"Well, Kiran? What do you think?" he asked, turning to the Swellow beside him.

"Oh! Well..." Kiran murmured to himself. "I must say that I can't really think of anything holding Nida and Crom back, so…"

"Wait, we've finally graduated?" Crom asked, his eyes lighting up.

"We're now in Normal Rank?" Nida prodded excitedly, her ears perking up expectantly..

"Heh, yeah. You are," Kiran chuckled. "Congratulations, you two! Welcome to Normal Rank!"

"Woo hoo!" Crom roared in triumph, beating his wings excitedly.

"We can finally move on now!" Nida cheered, bouncing up and down as she leapt into Crom's arms. The Druddigon, still high off of the euphoric mood, lifted her up and eagerly spun her around in front of the others.

"Why, we could even set up our own team together!" he cried, before a disappointed chirp suddenly pierced the festive atmosphere.

"Aw… You're- You're gonna leave?"

Crom and Nida abruptly stopped and saw that Pleo was staring at them, his head lowered and his spirits downcast. After trading looks with each other, the two prodded their team leader.

"Wait... Kiran? Pleo's not graduating with us?" Nida asked.

"Yeah, he went through the test just like we did," Crom added.

"Er… Well, he is still rather inexperienced," Kiran explained. "And Elty here needs to stay wherever Pleo is, so…"

"Seriously?" Elty grumbled. "Just graduate him with the others!"

"It is part of your community service, Elty," Hatteras sternly admonished, as Pleo looked down at the ground and began to mutter quietly.

"But… I thought we were gonna stay and play together..."

"Erm, well… I mean, just because we graduated doesn't mean we have to move on right away," Crom replied. "I guess I could still learn a few things from Kiran about healing."

"And it would be nice to get some time to look around at the other teams before I suddenly jump off to another one," Nida added as she hopped down from Crom's arms.

"So… You'll stay with me?" Pleo asked, his demeanor beginning to brighten a bit.

"Heh, I think we can do that for a little while," Nida said, before she sidled up and give a nuzzle to the Lugia.

"Yeah, why if we could get you onto our team once you graduate… Why, we'd be able to get all the missions we wanted!" Crom cheered. "Not many Pokémon would turn down help from the Protector, you know!"

"And, well… we did make a promise, after all," Nida replied, flattening out her ears sheepishly.

"Yay! We're still together! We're still together!" Pleo exclaimed, giddily hopping about to and fro.

"Fantastic," Elty growled, rolling his eyes.

"Heh, why don't you kids take the rest of the day off?" Kiran chirped to the four. "You've earned it."

"Yay! Free day!" Pleo cheered as he beat his wings excitedly. "Come on! Let's go to the beach!"

Kiran watched as Pleo flew down from the ledge to the beach below, his teammates joining him after clambering down the path (Elty a bit more begrudgingly than the others). As the four reached the sand below, Kiran noticed in the corner of his eye that Hatteras' expression had sunk, his ears drooping down, and the Ampharos was tirely rubbing his brow with one of his paws.

"Is something wrong, Guildmaster?" the Swellow asked, turning to face the Ampharos.

"This… wasn't supposed to happen, Kiran," Hatteras sighed.

"What wasn't?"

"We weren't supposed to still be clueless about Pleo's power even after he went through the Mystery Dungeon!" the Ampharos exclaimed.

"Guildmaster, I'm certain he'll figure it out soon enough," Kiran reassured. He turned back to see Team Traveler on the beach below and babbling about their little distractions.

There was Pleo's giddy bobbing in the surf... Crom and Nida following after the little bird into the water... Elty furrowing his brow and trying to offer the team help with building a sand castle instead because hadn't they "been in water enough for one day already?"

"Just let the kids have their moment," the Swellow chirped. "Getting Pleo all worried about how to draw out his power won't make him learn how to do it any faster, right? Why, if my experiences with trying to force things are anything to go by… it might slow down his learning by over 50%!"

The Ampharos looked out at the four young Pokémon, and after a long pause, he shook his head and sighed.

"Let's hope you're right, Kiran," Hatteras murmured to himself. "And hope that he learns how to bring it out before he truly needs it."



As the afternoon gave way to sunset, and the sunset in turn gave way to nightfall, Ellsberg and his crew put a fair distance between themselves and the sleepy island of Tromba just as the Time Lord's Traveller began its arc across the sky. As Ellsberg yawned and beat his wings on the railing of the deck, a Pidgeot from among the ship's escorts squawked her sighting of land ahead to the west lit by the moon and stars.

Above the horizon rose a chain of long, narrow reefs that formed an atoll ringing an island. On it were two sets of peaks with scraggly trees, a valley in between them that was covered in fog, and a collection of shacks with smoke trailing up from small fires that comprised a town on a seaside bluff markedly busier and more populated than Bluewhorl… that was Kenobi Island, alright. Or as some of the locals would occasionally insist, Tennobi Island.

But Ellsberg's ship had no need to go that far to pull into port. Instead, the craft slowly turned and bobbed towards a complex of docks, rudely-constructed warehouses, and yards filled with wooden crates, all under the shadow of a sturdy stone fortress on the atoll in the foreground .

"Pull her up beside the closest dock to the storehouse you can get," Ellsberg barked to the Gligar. "I'll catch up after I run some briefings."

The Gligar chittered back an affirmation before Ellsberg hopped up onto a railing of his ship, and took to the air with a fluttering leap. The Mothim carried on past the churning waves below, above some docks with a variety of ships, past gruff lavender-scarved Company grunts watching Pokémon milling about moving cargo to and fro, and on towards a complex of buildings arranged around some square courtyards next to the fort.

In the yards, the Mothim could see colleagues with lavender scarves sparring, with Pokémon lining the sides of the battlefields with carefully-maintained barriers of light. One fielded a match on a clearing covered with craggy rocks between an Eelektross, a Chesnaught and a Houndoom against an opposing squad consisting of a Vigoroth, Arbok, and an Aerodactyl. Another hosted a Staraptor and Crobat diving and weaving around each other's attacks in a pitched aerial battle. One to the south was occupied by some weaker Company initiates who were bashing in some straw dummies on poles topped with Watmel Berries for heads.

But the one courtyard that stood out most was the one occupied by a Samurott with a lavender scarf bearing a purple square, with two more layers of smaller squares overlaid at the corners in a repeating pattern. The mustelid was in the middle of a dash toward a standing figure of a Nidorina that, after a moment's hesitation, Ellsberg deduced was a Substitute.

"Aha… There you are," the Mothim buzzed to himself, and flitted down to the sidelines just in time to see the Samurott punt the mock Nidorina up into the air with one of his forelimbs. With one smooth motion, the massive otter then drew a blade with his still moving paw from a keratinous scabbard along his other arm…

Gashunk!

And cleaved the Substitute's head from its shoulders as it fell back to earth, sending it rolling along the field as it and the now headless body began to dissipate into blue mist.

"You're late, Ellsberg," the Samurott chided, giving the Mothim a passing glance before sheathing his blade. The blue otter then ambled over to a wooden bin next to a satchel, with an abacus dangling out of the bag's mouth. As the moth flitted up, he saw that the bin was full of Substitutes, the rough mimicries of various species heaped upon each other into a pile that just crested the top.

"Apologies, some things just can't be helped," the Mothim replied. "I wasn't exactly expecting you to pull into port at a hive of scum and villainy like Kenobi, Lyn."

"Mrph, the hive is on the island in Mossaisle Town, not the atoll around it," the Samurott snapped, turning from the bin a moment. "Besides, my ship needed a patch job, and these are our only yards outside the capital."

"Looks more like you're bored and wasting Substitutes," Ellsberg buzzed. "The Ditto that make them for us don't work that cheaply, you know!"

"Well, you could tell me what you've found out about those rumors instead of haranguing someone above your rank," the Samurott growled, glaring at the moth as he dug out a Substitute that was fashioned in the shape of a Sceptile. Ellsberg blanched a moment, and then shook his head and cleared his throat to quickly recompose himself.

"Er… right. Well, whatever fought off the so-called 'Iron Fleet' was a Pokémon by the name of 'Pleo', and…" the Mothim prattled on, fluttering to and fro as Lyn set up the Sceptile decoy. "While I don't have any conclusive evidence... I could sense that the locals were most evasive about the Pokémon's identity, and I believe that I know why."

"Enlighten me, then," Lyn replied as he sauntered back from his training doll over to Ellsberg. The Mothim duly dug through a satchel he brought along, before his arms stopped moving and he produced the silvery-white feather he had taken from Bluewhorl Town.

"Well now, does this remind you of anything you might have heard of in one of your debriefings?" Ellsberg asked. The Samurott paused and blinked out of surprise at the sight of the peculiar feather. After running a digit along the plume of the feather, brought up a paw to stroke his whiskers as he stared intently at Ellsberg's keepsake...

"So, the 'Guardian of the Seas' has finally awakened," he murmured.

"All signs seem to indicate that, yes," the Mothim said. "So, I take it that that's your main priority after chasing down that Aggron and his sea rabble."

There was a long pause between the two Pokémon as they looked each other in the eye, and then both burst out laughing.

"Pffahaha! Oh, Ellsberg, you really do know how to tell a good joke," Lyn snickered as he turned his attention back to the waiting surrogate Sceptile on the field.

"Heh heh heh," the Mothim chortled as he came to a rest on the ground to catch his breath. "I suppose it would be a little unreasonable to focus on a sideshow that's better known even among his peers for bungled raids and empty bluster, wouldn't it?"

"Well, he's certainly not the first item on my checklist once that hull's done getting touched up!"

The Samurott then gave a deep bellow, and charged the Substitute, spitting up a freezing beam that caked the decoy in ice. When he reached the encrusted mimic, he drove a blade into its belly before throwing the unfortunate, ice-encrusted decoy backwards. The Sceptile doll came to a tumbling stop at the feet of the Mothim, now with a gaping hole under its chest, and began to decompose into green mist around its wound in front of the Mothim.

"Eugh... you sure know how to leave an impression," Ellsberg muttered, flinching at the sight of the mutilated decoy.

The Mothim leapt into the air and fluttered uneasily to distance himself from the decomposing Substitute. It was truly a blessing that Arceus had made it such that nobody in their world could get cut to pieces as easily as Lyn's unfortunate Substitutes. Ellsberg shook his head, and then attempted to change the subject with his higher-ranked peer.

"I still don't understand why the Board is already putting their contingency plan into action for this god, though. Shouldn’t they wait until the Intelligence Division can find out more about him?"

"What can I say? They need a champion," Lyn said as he made his way back to the bin of Substitutes. "One that they can use to help smooth over some lasting thorns in the Company's side. To soothe and charm those loose ends that helped to put an end to the old order all those years ago."

"And you need that promotion to becoming an Administrator," the Mothim added.

"It would be nice, yes," Lyn replied as he dragged out an Ampharos substitute from the bin, placed it in the middle of the courtyard, and then paced away from his next victim of training towards Ellsberg. "Being the teeth for the Company in collecting tribute and enforcing the peace as a Commissioner is fun and all, but I could use some different Pokémon to order around. It's not like Darzin's doing much with his Administratorship anyways."

"There's just one problem, Lyn," the Mothim rebutted as the Samurott turned his attention back to the mock Ampharos. "What if your would-be champion doesn't play along?"

"That's why the board wants me going after this god- both its mind and its body are still young and weak." the Samurott answered, waving a paw dismissively. "And weak Pokémon are quite pliable creatures. If they don't want to play along, who cares?"

The creature then reared up with a hunch onto his hind legs, quickly drew his blades from his arms, and after spitting up a freezing beam at the Ampharos decoy's head, lunged for it.

The doll immediately fell victim to a torrent of slashes, to its neck, to its chest, to its left leg, a stab to its stomach that flung it into the air…

Splutch!

And an impaling stab into its back as it struck the ground, the poor Ampharos Substitute beginning to melt away into yellow and black mist around the embedded blade before Lyn turned back to Ellsberg.

"You can make them," he sneered.




Author's Notes:

- (¡)Pruébamelo! - Spanish: "Prove it to me!"
- Księżniczka - Polish: "Princess"
- (¡¿)Están bien?! - Spanish: "Are you (all) okay/alright?!"
- idźmy dalej! - Polish: "let's move on!"
 
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Virgil134

PMD Writer
"Oh, yeah?" he asked, the shock slipping from his face as his expression slowly drifted back into a mistrusting leer. "Pruébamelo! You can't just say you're the Protector!"

The Finneon's skepticism seemed to rub off onto the other ferals, as hostile expressions one by one began to return to their faces. Pleo's boldness started to evaporate as his mind raced to try and think of a way to placate his audience.

"Um… Er... I'm me? I mean, I have these pretty fea-"
I wonder if this trick will ever pay off. I feel like a lot of Pokemon are gonna be skeptical when you claim to be a god right before battle.

The next thing Nida and Pleo felt was Elty tagging them from behind before falling back, leaving a bluish, sparking aura to envelop the two before settling down.

"Elty?!" Pleo squawked. "What did you do to-?!"

"Don't worry about it!" the Growlithe snapped. No sense in explaining the ins-and-outs of a Helping Hand at a time like this, after all. "Just hit them before the boost wears off!"
Interesting move choice considering Elty's personality. Maybe he's not so selfish as he appears to be on the surface?

Nida looked back at the Zubat just in time to see the creature fall to the floor and struggle against white, silky bands that clung to her body
That's certainly a unique of portraying the effects. Not the first thing that would have come to my mind

And then the stiff smack of his left wing clipping something, followed by the feeling of air again. Pleo opened his eyes, he saw the other Zubat groaning on the ground below him, feebly twitching her wings. The Lugia blinked, although it was beginning to stall and slow, his body was sailing up into the air again!

He gave another beat of his wings- and instead of falling to the ground again, he stayed in his place and spun a little. Why, this meant... He was flying!
Hey looks like Pleo finally learned how to fly!

Before Elty could finish, he was interrupted by the sound of a faint splashing thud.

"Ow!"

Everyone turned towards the sound of the yelp, seeing Pleo getting up from a crash-landing in one of the cave pools and lurching about in a daze.

"Attacking while flying's hard," he groaned, as he tottered disorientedly back over to Nida. "Are- Are there any more mean Pokémon?"
Somewhat at least... But in all seriousness, I'm glad he's making progress. Pleo is one of my favorite characters, so seeing a character I feel so invested in grow is always a pleasure to read.

even if the Oran stains on her other companions evidenced that its after-effects were still around to be grappled with.

"You really are terrible at healing, Crom," she chuckled, shooting a tired smirk at a Druddigon who instantly grew flustered with the charge.

"H-Hey!" he protested. "Kiran said that if you're ever in a pinch, you can just eat the berries and they'll still work! ... Kinda."
I think like it's gonna take a while for Crom to master something this 'precise'. Him being a Gentle Giant type character and all.

There was a long and lingering silence, as Crom, Nida, and Pleo one-by-one began to give unamused leers towards Elty.

"Er… Something came up?" the Growlithe sheepishly offered.
Oh Elty...

The weakened ferals traded nervous glances with each other as they tried to decide what to do about these new Pokémon. On the one hand, they were violating their territory… on the other hand, they looked much tougher and meaner than the four worn-out and battered intruders from earlier.

"That- That- Th-This isn't fair!" the Finneon whined.

"D-Don't argue with the monsters!" one of the Zubat admonished. "Let's get out of here!"
It's interesting how both parties see each other as monsters because of their different live styles.

Substitutes were doppelgangers born of the essence of life in Pokémon. Just similar enough to their makers to trick opponents into focusing on them in the heat of battle, or so the explanation went. In a pinch, the mimicries made for serviceable dolls. For guards to use as sparring dummies... for younger Pokémon to use as playthings... and of course, for the guild to use in training missions. So logically, it should have been much less of a surprise to everyone that the Substitute that the team stumbled on that day…
I know I keep making these kind of comments, but I really like this explanation of substitutes. Explaining game mechanics remains one of your strong suits

"You know, Protector…" the Kirlia babbled dreamily. "The best way to keep a chain of Pokémon together is to have a big and strong Pokémon holding on directly to the teleporter."

"Oh?" Pleo asked. Pataki needed a strong Pokémon, huh? Pleo thought and thought about the Kirlia's suggestion, then, after an epiphany, chirped back triumphantly at the Psychic. "Oh! So Crom, then!"

"What?!" Pataki exclaimed, her face giving way to mortified shock. "Ew! No! I was talking about-!"
Seems like Pataki admires her Protector a bit more than Tromba's other residents lol

"Meh, I didn't see him do anything that some Pidgey couldn't do," Elty said.
Come on Elty, you gotta give Pleo some credit :p

"But… I thought we were gonna stay and play together..."

"Erm, well… I mean, just because we graduated doesn't mean we have to move on right away," Crom replied. "I guess I could still learn a few things from Kiran about healing."

"And it would be nice to get some time to look around at the other teams before I suddenly jump off to another one," Nida added as she hopped down from Crom's arms.

"So… You'll stay with me?" Pleo asked, his demeanor beginning to brighten a bit.

"Heh, I think we can do that for a little while," Nida said, before she sidled up and give a nuzzle to the Lugia.

"Yeah, why if we could get you onto our team once you graduate… Why, we'd be able to get all the missions we wanted!" Crom cheered. "Not many Pokémon would turn down help from the Protector, you know!"

"And, well… we did make a promise, after all," Nida replied, flattening out her ears sheepishly.

"Yay! We're still together! We're still together!" Pleo exclaimed, giddily hopping about to and fro.

"Fantastic," Elty growled, rolling his eyes.
This was heartwarming to read. I'm glad that Nida and Crom are staying with Pleo, even if that means postponing their dream of creating their own rescue team

"Just let the kids have their moment, Guildmaster," the Swellow chirped. "Getting Pleo all worried about how to draw out his power won't make him learn how to do it any faster, right? Why, if my experiences with trying to force things are anything to go by… it might slow down his learning by over 50%!"
I wonder, does Kiran make those percentages up or does he genuinely believe in them? lol

The Mothim carried on past the churning waves below, above some docks with a variety of ships, past gruff lavender-scarved Company grunts watching Pokémon milling about moving cargo to and fro, and on towards a complex of buildings arranged around some square courtyards next to the fort.
Are the grunts forcing those other Pokemon (which I assume are either locals and/or captured 'criminals') to do all the shitty jobs? No surprise there.

"Aha… There you are," the Mothim buzzed to himself, and flitted down to the sidelines just in time to see the Samurott punt the mock Kirlia up into the air with one of his forelimbs. With one smooth motion, the massive otter then drew a blade with his still moving paw from a keratinous scabbard along his other arm…

Gashunk!

And cleaved the Substitute's head from its shoulders as it fell back to earth, sending it rolling along the field as it and the now headless body began to dissipate into white and green mist.
I think this part right here sums up Lyn's personality perfectly. He seems like an interesting villain and definitely someone to watch out for

Another great chapter. Had some action, some character development and foreshadowed what's about to come the next few chapters. I know it's something I'll definitely enjoy reading. No real criticism besides the things we already talked about during beta reading. Just keep up the good work!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
I wonder if this trick will ever pay off. I feel like a lot of Pokemon are gonna be skeptical when you claim to be a god right before battle.
Rule of plot drama dictates that it'll pay off at exactly the point in time when it is least convenient/desired for it to pay off. But then again, that's hardly 'paying off', now is it?

Interesting move choice considering Elty's personality. Maybe he's not so selfish as he appears to be on the surface?
That's actually a really basic move in Growlithe's natural learnset. As for why Elty uses it, sometimes you need to help others in order to help yourself, especially when it comes to mounting smash-and-grab raids on hostile territory.

That's certainly a unique of portraying the effects. Not the first thing that would have come to my mind
The mental process behind it was more or less "String Shot in a can". Granted PSMD might joss it, but it seemed like a valid enough way to bog down a bunch of enemies at once.

Hey looks like Pleo finally learned how to fly!
Somewhat at least... But in all seriousness, I'm glad he's making progress. Pleo is one of my favorite characters, so seeing a character I feel so invested in grow is always a pleasure to read.
Well it was kinda inevitable that a bird would need to learn how to fly, but glad you're enjoying Pleo's development so far.

I think like it's gonna take a while for Crom to master something this 'precise'. Him being a Gentle Giant type character and all.
Naw, Gentle Giants can be plenty precise, Crom just is in need of more practice. :p

It's interesting how both parties see each other as monsters because of their different live styles.
Perceived alienness likely plays a part in that, also differences in expectations. 'Losing' is potentially incredibly dangerous for ferals, and it's generally safer to assume the worst about foes' intentions than bumble into a life-ending trap.

Conversely, the way many ferals live in their native environments is more than a little at odds with the shared assumptions that allow life in places like Bluewhorl to tick, and the ones that just don't care about their "contract" with settlement-dwellers that have the strength to back up such impunity are genuinely dangerous and scary things to run into, as Nida had the misfortune to.

It's a dichotomy that while likely not as pronounced, I imagine also manifests itself in the way Pokemon that have lived their whole lives under trainers or have become particularly "domesticated" parse wild encounters.

Seems like Pataki admires her Protector a bit more than Tromba's other residents lol
Just a little, yes.

This was heartwarming to read. I'm glad that Nida and Crom are staying with Pleo, even if that means postponing their dream of creating their own rescue team
Well, keeping a promise when you're able to is generally nice, yes. But glad you found it heartwarming.

I wonder, does Kiran make those percentages up or does he genuinely believe in them? lol
Time to break out that gif again.

Are the grunts forcing those other Pokemon (which I assume are either locals and/or captured 'criminals') to do all the shitty jobs? No surprise there.
Considering how there's both Pokemon that would probably find shuffling crates around to be a fun job assuming they're treated well, and the fact that the Pokemon that you use to keep the commoners in line should ideally be fairly amortized and "divide and conquer" is a very serviceable administration strategy, I see this as a "yes" and "no" situation.

On the one hand "Community Service" arrangements most assuredly exist outside of Tromba, and the average Company Pokemon most likely has a much lower emphasis than Hatteras on them actually using such sentences as a means of reform. On the other hand, being able to pit Pokemon that have a vested interest in not letting a bunch of surly ex-"criminals" wreck their current livelihoods would almost certainly help to keep them in line, and also undermine any potential headaches that would arise from a united front... such as negotiations for pay raises.

I think this part right here sums up Lyn's personality perfectly. He seems like an interesting villain and definitely someone to watch out for
Yeah, he's certainly a bit more on the ball as a threat than Hess is.

Anyhow, given that this fic has finally crossed the minor milestone of 3,000 views, I decided to throw a little something together and give a little trivia section of some of the fic's features that popped up over the past chunks of chapters. It's not quite the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but it's a bit early to be blurting that from the rooftops anyways. So, without further ado, a somewhat meta Q&A:

What's the story behind those chapter headers?

As I recall mentioning once or twice in prior pre-ambles, I took a healthy bit of influence from television structures when still in the planning stages, which lead to me tackling this fic's chapters in batches roughly corresponding to "episodes" (I will think of proper names for them… Someday). The actual idea for putting them up came from Tangent128, who fairly adamantly suggested presenting the fic in something beyond straight text from fairly early on in the planning process. While it's not nearly as fancy as some of the original proposals we bandied around, the headers act as a means to subtly touch on important elements for a given block (i.e. the first and its eggshells, the second and its ship, the third and its team badge) and act as an eyecatch.

How do you come up with that release schedule anyways?

It's a series of guesstimates based off of the progress of my "drafting" and "editing" queues. Once I get a block of chapters fully drafted, I spend some time along with my beta readers to chop them up into initial chapters that will both be less intimidating to polish and intimidating for readers to parse (currently I aim to keep things between 12 and 20 pages each, though have tripped above the latter limit on a couple occasions).

After splitting, each chapter is then polished from the trainwreck-tier writing it is into something that is hopefully readable and absent of plot holes (granted, I could be failing at that, but if so, I haven't seen it yet) and titles thrown around, any further splitting (as in the end of the second block) is done, little touchups such as accenting the 'e' in 'Pokémon' happen, and then things actually get published.

Drafting and editing are done in more or less rotating blocks, and on good stretches I can get one cycle out in about 10 days (granted, lately with all the late deadlines it's probably been skewing closer to 14), with the presence of the editing queue (usually about 4-5 chapters long) helping to provide a safety buffer for the drafting queue for busy or otherwise creatively dry spells.

How did you come up with Pleo?

As mentioned in an earlier chapter preamble, Pleo owes his name and a good deal of the core of his character premise to an old off-site friend of mine. The decision to make Pleo a "mutant Wingull" was done after I realized that whoever I chose to fill the role of a cosmically important underpowered midget with lots and lots of room to grow should be someone who should more or less embody the sort of setting that this story takes place in, namely "7.8 - Too Much Water" and a few sea rocks.

The decision also has influenced a few of the titles that have popped up for this fic. For one, I probably would not have called it 'Fledglings' if Pleo was say… a Kyogre.

How did you come up with Kiran?

Kiran's species has more or less been constant from his initial envisioning as a character somewhere in between a "Little League coach" and "apprentices' master" whose primary role in the guild would be to help graduate young Pokémon into being able to function on their own at the guild. Kiran is also the character that has gone through the most name changes of any of the more major characters in the story, his initial working name being "Mikoyan", and then later "Anastas" all the way up until about half a week before the first chapter got published. After a bout of dissatisfaction with his name, I chanced to browse a list of training aircraft, and thus "Kiran" came to be, named after an airplane used by India's Air Force to train its pilots.

How did you come up with Nida?

So a lot of you are probably wondering, "why a Nidoran?" Well, once upon a time, during a late night session when I stuffing placeholders into slots for the rough characters in the fic. One of those roles was to be someone who had a tendency to chomp at the bit and be a touch self-anxious about standing out in a crowd. After going down the Bunnelby hole about using a Numel for a while, I thought to myself "Hmm, why not use a Pokémon from the original set of PMD games that readers would easily recognize… Like Nidoran!" Once I had about 8 hours of sleep afterwards and grew a bit more lucid, I remembered that Nidoran wasn't exactly a starter, but... It fit everything else that I wanted from the character role just perfectly, and so the Pokémon that would become Nida came into being.

I am actually indebted to Tangent128 for coming up with Nida's name, originally as a throwaway placeholder. After a while, I decided that given Nida was intended to have a crowd of siblings, that it might make sense for her parents to tend to name their kids after lame simple, cute rearrangements of 'Nido' phonemes, and thus 'Nida' stuck.

How did you come up with Crom?

As readers who also pecked through some of my other writing might have guessed, Crom and the rest of his family are a reference to the narrator's family in the first fic that I published here, Dragonspiral's Children. His name owes its origin to Crom Cruach, an Irish fertility/harvest deity that was allegedly served with human sacrifices. For obvious reasons, the name for our favorite baker's child was chosen moreso for the ties to grain and harvest, though he would probably be a-OK with eating bread effigies of other Pokémon and the occasional purchase from a 'scavver'.

If you're wondering why he's part of a baker's family of all things, I must confess that back in the original spitballing stages, he carried some non-trivial influences from another yellow-eyed childish dragon from a different series, one with a bit more red and white on his hide. A few of those influences lingered and carried on into the little Dragon-Type that we know today.

How did you come up with Elty?

The process of filling Elty's role of "formerly shady and less-than-innocent teammate" was actually the one that went through the most species of any of the main characters. Offhand, Pokémon that were considered for the role included Pancham, Scraggy, Litwick, and a few fire starters, before Growlithe was finally settled on. As with Crom, Elty too also owes a good deal of his existence to being an homage. In this particular case, Elty gets a lot of his character's broad strokes (and his proper name) from a recurring character concept that my good friend Solovino plays with, the first appearance that I know of being in the on-site fic Playfield.

The "tongue" that Elty uses was originally going to Esperanto, as a nod to some meta surrounding his inspirations (his "proper" name being a splice between the present and future forms of the Esperanto verb for "to endure", making his explanation for his name back in Ch. 8 not too far off from the mark). After spending some time thinking it over, Esperanto wound up seeming a little too "inorganic" for the setting I wanted, so I decided to go with a linguistic nod to Esperanto's origins instead for his source of little loanwords and phrases.

Why the languages?

A few reasons, actually. The first and most important reason, which those of you who read my Freshman effort at fic-writing probably picked up on, is that I simply don't interpret "Pokémon speech" as being unified or universal, but rather a mixture of mutually unintelligible languages. As such, "Charmander" and "Hitokage" would both be accurate, but not understandable by local Pokémon outside of rather specific geographical ranges. The second reason for going down the route is that it provided a relatively easy way to distinguish fairly divergent cultures from their speech alone.

As mentioned in passing by Nida in Ch. 4, the main reason why "English" (or more accurately and more probably, some manner of pidgin rendered as English) predominates is due to the relative proximity of Pokémon in the Cradle, which lead to the emergence of a "common tongue". Well, that and the fact that as much as I'd like it, I'm not quite an omniglot and most of the loanwords/phrases that pop up in the story are either vetted by native speakers such as solovino or are "best guesses" thanks to brushing up on some phrasebooks and basic grammar. (As such, if you happen to speak Polish and see me doing something egregiously wrong, please do tell me about it.)

What's with those Protect users?

They are just putting their skills to use for the mundane purpose of helping to cut down on some property damage, which was influenced by a nifty little one-shot that solovino wrote a while back about the workings of a stadium complex in the Pokémon world. Unfortunately in the Pokémon universe, it seems to be a recurring trend that Pokémon are significantly tougher than a number of things around them: simple buildings, air balloons, ketchup bottles…

As such, when surrounded by things that are much frailer than you and need to keep things you value dry from water either falling from the skies above, or as Hess' crew demonstrated in Ch. 6, the seas beneath, making an attempt at keeping that object from getting shredded by a stray beam attack becomes a decently high priority.

Why do you always have those special thanks in your preambles?

Because as much as I'd like to hog all the credit for myself, Fledglings would simply not exist as the fic that you know (and hopefully enjoy reading) today if it weren't for the shoulders of others to stand on. As such, I just felt it was appropriate to spend a little time to give credit where credit was due, this week to Tangent128, solovino, and Virgil134 in particular, along with the people that read and review this thing.

And now that that more rambling than normal preamble is done, onto the actual chapter. In the life of any fledgling comes the point where the little bird needs to be shoved from the nest and made to take wing. As you all have probably pieced together, that will more or less be the primary chain of events this block revolves around. I don't anticipate needing to make any rating changes, but naturally things will be reading ever so slightly tenser than they have in the last three blocks.

Today's chapter is actually getting the Ch. 7/8 treatment since the original version wound up ballooning well past a size I was comfortable publishing during revision. As such, the rough first half and second half will be spun off into their own chapters, with the next chapter getting punted out in a 4-5 day timeframe to make up for it. Per usual, any thoughts, commentaries, or scathing critiques are both welcome and desired.

And now, without further ado, it is now time for some...
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter


Life for Pokémon in the Cradle was in many ways similar to the lives their forebears led in the old world. Lives which would go on for long stretches with few major changes, only to suddenly be upended and sent in a new direction thanks to an unexpected event. Even on a Rescue Team, the same held true for Team Traveler. There was the first mission, the first reward, the first serious brush with danger, the first new teammates.

Most recently, there was making the first rank, Normal Rank, needed to become fully fledged rescuers. In each of these cases, these watershed events would wind up giving way to strange new days...

"Yip!"

That wound up becoming suspiciously similar to the days in the past, or at least it seemed as such to Elty as he leapt out of the way of an incoming glowing ball with a yelp. Battles were not new to the Growlithe, and neither were the glowing balls that his opponent spat up at him. He had encountered both before many moons ago in places far, far away from Tromba. Unlike all those prior occasions, the primary thing that hung in the balance of this battle's outcome was pride, the venue was a courtyard in a dojo with paper lanterns hung on strings above in a criss-crossing pattern, and the opponent...

"Elty?! How do you keep moving out of the way?!"

Was a 'Protector' that up until a few days ago, would've done as well staying in the air with the Nidoran currently perched on his back as a Rhyhorn would've done surfing across Bluewhorl's harbor with her.

The other thing askew with this new normal on that day was Kiran's presence, or more accurately the lack of it. He had instructed Elty's recently graduated teammates to care for their companions during today's training. "To prepare supplies for a team mission the day after tomorrow," he told Nida and Crom.

"Let's see how good you do under fire!" the Growlithe barked at the Lugia passing behind him. Elty whirled about after the bird to track the creature's awkward, arcing flight path, and inhaled deeply before he spat out some clumps of burning cinders into the air.

The little flecks of fire sailed towards the white bird, only for Nida to notice them and cry out "Look out, Pleo!" Her partner, catching sight of the approaching embers, abruptly pitched forward and let the flames coast past him along with Elty's self-assured confidence into a barrier of light held up by a Glaceon.

"Eh?! But that totally should've-!"

Too late, the mewa was already making a dive for him. While Pleo's awkward and jerky flying made it easy enough to weave about the Lugia's body, the Growlithe's smooth dodge was suddenly interrupted by a sudden pricking jab on his flank.

"Ow!"

Along with some cheers from some similarly prickly Druddigon who were spectating from the sidelines.

"Nice one, Nida!" Crom called out. His younger brother was also there clambered up a railing, his chores at the bakery out of mind and Pyry's problem to grapple with during this short break from work to cheer on his brother's companions.

"Yeah, dale duro!"

"Blurgh, about time," a Nidoran's voice added from further down the field. Elty looked and saw Nida perched on the Lugia in the air above the other end of the battlefield, her ears flat and her expression marked with impatient exasperation…

Wait. Was she expecting something to-?

Elty felt his stomach churn a little and gagged. The Growlithe cast a glance at his flank and saw a barb had sunk into his side. He nipped at the spike and pulled it out with his mouth, spitting it up onto the ground. Had the barb gotten poison into his body? Or was it just the shock of getting hit near his stomach by a fast-moving object that was making him feel so disagreeable? One way or another, he had to avoid moving around until he knew for certain. If he was poisoned, movement would just make it spread in his body. Simple enough...

"Oof! Nida! He's not chasing after us!" Pleo cried out. The Lugia's errant path steered one of his wings into one of the paper lanterns, sending it to the ground with a faint crumpling sound as Nida's voice cried back.

"Then take the fight to hi-! Aaaah!"

That is, it would've been simple enough if Pleo wasn't suddenly diving towards him again. The only small respite in this situation was that Nida was still a little stunned and defocused from Pleo's sudden loss of altitude as he dove towards Elty.

"Pleo! Sudden diving hurts the Nidoran!" she cried, the spike ball hastily trying to regain her wits and break free of her stunned cling to Pleo's plumage.

Make that very stunned and defocused. The Lugia was now bringing his wings together, to attempt another attack and then slip away, no doubt. In just a few more moments, Elty would be left with no option but to try and run after him just to get a shot at him.

Wait a minute...

Maybe he didn't need to move much to keep up with Pleo at all!

"Yeah, and so does this!" he growled. The orange dog leaped into the air over Pleo's head, drawing a sudden, surprised squawk from the young Protector as the Growlithe vanished from his field of view. Pleo then felt himself suddenly drop and just almost hit the ground as something much heavier landed on him. The seabird suddenly pulled himself back into the air in a panic, his body shooting up towards the paper lanterns above and suddenly feeling much lighter.

Smack

"ARGH!"

For a split second, no one on the field was really sure what just happened. Pleo was up in the air as he ought to be, all of the Pokémon who protected the edges of the battlefield were still in their places, Elty's voice was a little loud but could be heard behind him as expected, and Nida was… falling towards the ground? Suddenly, the startled voices of two Druddigon came from the sidelines.

"Pleo, look out!" Crom shouted, the Druddigon waving his arms at the young Protector desperately as his brother added a cry of his own.

"He's on top of you!"

Pleo's eyes widened realized that Elty's voice behind him was too loud and the load on his back too heavy. As Pleo looked back over his shoulder, sure enough, his opponent was perched squarely on the white bird's back where Nida was just a few moments ago.

The Growlithe watched as the spike ball hit the courtyard with a dull thud, and twitched stunned on the ground. The Lugia's body was a tight fit: a little further farther to the left or the right and Elty would have missed Pleo entirely. A little further behind, and he would have lost his footing and fallen back to earth with the Nidoran.

"You're not the only Pokémon that can hitch a ride, you know!" the dog taunted, taking a moment to stick his tongue out at the disoriented Nidoran on the ground below.

"Ack! Nida!" Pleo cried out. The bird's body wobbled wildly in the air and lurched here and there, barely missing wires and paper lanterns as he tried desperately to adjust himself with the sudden extra weight his new passenger brought along.

Tight fit or not, as Elty clung to Pleo's back, he had the Lugia exactly where he wanted him. The Growlithe inhaled deeply, and then spat a gout of small flames out… all over his opponent's back.

"A-Aah! Get off! Get off!"

Pleo pitched upwards wildly, crying out in pain from the burning embers all the while when suddenly Elty's luck ran out. First he felt their paws' grip against Pleo's back waver, then the vanes of Pleo's feathers, and then empty air as the dog fell flailing and yelping back to earth.

"W-Whoa!"

Then came the feeling of the ground slamming against his chin, and the sundry dull pains that pinwheeling along a courtyard was wont to do to a Pokémon. After a few tumbles, the Growlithe came to a groaning stop on his side.

"Ugh, okay, I should've used my jaws instea-"

"Here, have another!" Nida's voice huffed.

Before Elty could get back up, he felt a sharp pain on his stomach. The dog quickly threw himself onto his feet, just in time to see a Nidoran leg come straight for his head.

Thwack

"Agh!"

Elty cried out and recoiled from the little spike ball's still surprisingly tough kicks. When the Growlithe shook some sense back into his head, he found himself locking eyes with a glowering Nida for a fleeting moment.

"Hey!" he growled. The Growlithe lunged after the Nidoran to try and nip back at her, but the blue Pokémon managed to hop out of his way and sprint down the field as the orange dog continued fuming. "Were you just sitting there waiting for me to-?!"

Before Elty could finish his train of thought, he heard frantic squawking from above...

"H-Help!" the young Protector cried out. "This move's not as easy as I thought it wou-!"

And looked up just in time to watch Pleo get tangled in the wires above. The cords shuddered a moment and then snapped, sending the bird falling spread-winged along with a couple chains of paper lanterns onto the hapless Growlithe.

Wham

The sound of Pleo's crash into his opponent drew a chorus of winces from the Pokémon that were maintaining the customary barriers on the sidelines, as well as from a certain pair of observing Druddigon.

"Ooh…" Cenn shuddered.

"That fall looked like it hurt," Crom murmured, putting a claw to his mouth.

"Pollito!" Mosca squawked, her voice tinged with panic. "Are you alright?!"

"Is Plancha… Whatever it is supposed to hurt this much?" Pleo groaned as he tottered up and stumbled off of Elty, dragging some detached cords and paper lanterns along with him. Nida dashed over, expecting Elty to spring up at any second to continue harrying her dazed partner...

Except after a few moments, she noticed that Elty was still on the ground and not moving.

"I think that we should probably stop there for the day," Mosca hastily interjected, shaking her head.

The Hawlucha sprang up and vaulted over the barriers and onto the field, making her way towards Elty's prone body. As the Dojo's Maestra drew near to Elty's body, the Pokémon that maintained the barriers for the sparring session broke ranks and scattered along the Dojo's hallways for their customary breaks. Cenn also headed back for his mother's bakery with a cheery farewell and "Make sure that Gabite works his due!" between the two.

Nida harrumphed in the direction of the sprawled-out Growlithe as Pleo began to weakly waddle back over to the sidelines to get healed… and his wings untangled from their new 'accessories'. As the Nidoran followed after and reached the edge of the field, she hesitated a moment and turned her head back to Elty. The Growlithe still spread out on the ground as Mosca sidled up against the dog and prodded his unresponsive body.

"Figures you would overdo it," she sighed, before turning back to head over to the Growlithe's side. Before she reached her opponent, he finally opened his eyes, and stumbled to his feet in front of the Hawlucha.

"Urgh, can the room stop spinning a moment before we continue?" he groaned. The Pokémon then noticing the Nidoran beside him, and a scowling frown spread over his muzzle. "Why are you here anyways?"

"I'm not saying that you didn't deserve your beating for that stunt you pulled," Nida growled. "But you seemed like you could use a little help."

"I'm fine," Elty huffed, the Fire-Type consciously inching away from Mosca's claws. He could get back to the sidelines by himself, and certainly didn't need to be carried around like a tired pup. "And I could've turned things around if I'd noticed the feather duster above me sooner!"

Nida sighed and shook her head as the Growlithe limped off the field ahead of the Hawlucha, the magenta bird occasionally stopping to help ease the dog along back to the sidelines in spite of his audible insistence that he was fine. As Nida followed along after the two, she decided to stay mum about her frustrations from the battle. If she was going to chew Elty out, it would make more sense to do so when they were all feeling a bit better.

Perhaps it was the abundance of headaches between the three of them, or the fact that Crom was able to help a bit more than normal with some careful guidance from Mosca, but the process of treating Pleo, Nida, and Elty's wounds that day seemed to go by quicker than normal. The customary Oran berries were peeled, applied, and their remains devoured. Some Pecha juice was dabbed on Elty's flank just in case if Nida's poison was lingering in his body, the fruit that made it meeting a fate much the same as the Oran berries shortly afterwards. Before long, the three were drinking up water side-by-side from bowls set out before them, the strain and aches of battle having largely left their bodies.

"Good work out there, you two," Mosca congratulated. "And I must admit that you seem to be improving a bit yourself, Elty."

The Hawlucha gave a cheerful pat to the Growlithe's head before she carried on down the hallway. After she left, the Fire-Type shook his head and grumbled under his breath.

"I'd improve faster if you'd give me more to work with in these lopsided matches!"

"Elty, relax. It's not that bad as Community Service," Nida admonished, looking up from her bowl of water. "The more Pleo improves here, the sooner you can pull your weight doing something other than being a punching bag."

"Yeah, Kiran was talking about taking up a mission for after the training session tomorrow," Crom added. As Elty rolled his eyes at the suggestion, the Druddigon took a moment to shift and sun himself along the edge of the corridor before he continued on. "We should head back to get a look the mission board-"

"Wait!"

All eyes turned suddenly to Pleo, in awkward silence. After a pause, the young Protector shook his head as he began to explain to the group...

"Before that… there was one thing that I wanted to do first."




Pleo's 'one thing' soon lead the party out of the Dojo and along a path into the hillsides surrounding the town. The scenery was not particularly out of the ordinary from the walk towards Nida's burrow. There were the same reed mats spread out here and there with mailboxes sitting nearby, the same nests and burrows mixed with the occasional solitary shack, the same town by the sea could be seen below through the sparse treetops. Despite all of that, the team was still uneasy the entire time through the trek when they came to a fork to the left and to the right in the path.

"Look, I know you're trying to be nice to Cassie and all, but..." Crom murmured as he hopped over a root growing across the path. "Couldn't you just have Hariti give Cassie her picture back at the Day Care? It's been three days since we've been back from the testing mission!"

"Hariti said that she was sick with 'cold'!" Pleo answered. It had seemed strange to him, that being this 'cold' would make a Pokémon unable to come to the Day Care when Hariti was cold enough to freeze berries. Hariti insisted that despite that, she was perfectly healthy, even though she was by far the coldest Pokémon Pleo knew on Tromba.

"And I tried looking around for Ander's house to give it to her that way, but I didn't know where it was until last night."

"How on earth did you find out where Ander's house is anyways?" Nida asked.

"Oh, I asked the purple Pokémon with the belt and the black doggy at dinner! They said that if I went there and had them 'meet their makers,' I'd be doing the world a service!" Pleo chirped happily as he flew along the path and down the left fork.

Pleo's words immediately made Nida and Crom go silent and trade looks with each other. If Pleo was talking about that Machoke and Mightyena who intervened when he met Hatteras for the first time… then that meant...

"Except… I don't understand why they said 'makers.' They were talking about Cassie, right? She was the one who made the pictures... So couldn't they just meet her whenever they saw her? And does 'makers' mean that she has siblings like you, Nida?"

"Um… Pleo," Nida replied. As she followed along the left fork, the Nidoran flattened out her ears. No matter how that meeting went over, it couldn't possibly end well.

"Pleo?" Crom began, his voice uneasy and faltering. "I don't think that- that Pokémon-"

Before he could finish, he was interrupted by the sound of Pleo coming to a running stop along the ground.

"But if I give it back," he continued, turning back to the group. "Then she has to think I'm not mean anymore! Right?"

As Nida and Crom stammered and struggled to think of how to respond to Pleo, they were beaten to the punch by the Growlithe accompanying them.

"Look, I'd never say 'give up', but I honestly think you're throwing good effort after bad here," Elty sighed as he trotted along the path. The other two seemed to be having trouble explaining the Machoke and Mightyena's ill will to the little Pokémon, so maybe it was best to head things off by sending Pleo down a different Nidoran hole. "Marked are really klanowy types, and you can't ever count on them being too open with normal Pokémon."

"Hmm?" Pleo asked. "What do you mean by-?"

Before the little Lugia could finish his question, he felt a round and hard object brushing up against his foot. Which made him look down and see a round green nut stuck in the ground.

"Huh?"

One which immediately made Nida and Crom recoil its sight.

"Ack!" Nida squeaked.

"Pleo, get away from that!" Crom shouted. The Druddigon ran up and suddenly pulled Pleo back by his tail, staring wide-eyed at the seed on the ground. "It's dangerous!"

"Eh?!" Pleo cried out. After Crom's grip slipped on his tail, the Lugia flew up into a tree branch, staring down back at the nut anxiously from above. "What is it?!"

"Oh, please. It's harmless," Elty scoffed, rolling his eyes as he went up to the nut. Without bothering to so much as inspect the seed, he picked it up with his mouth and revealed it to be half of a nut that had been cleaved down the middle.

"I've never heard of half an Apricorn ever hurting anyone," he said, before spitting the green seed fragment out in front of him.

"'Apricorn'?" Pleo asked before fluttering back down to the ground. "What are they and why are they not dangerous when there's only half of one?"

"Some of the Pokémon in town call them Bonguris. They're big, colorful nuts that grow on short trees," Nida explained. "None on this side of the island, but if you ever see one, you should stay away from them. They aren't nicknamed breanueces for nothing."

"'Brea-' wha...?"

"They have a curse attached to them that will trap Pokémon that disturb them inside," Crom replied. "If you don't cleanly break them apart or if you're not tough enough to break out of them right away... You'll be stuck there without anything to eat or drink until someone finds the Apricorn and breaks you out of there!"

"But why is that so dangerous?" Pleo insisted as Crom kicked the chunk of Apricorn into the bushes.

"You know that 'meet your makers' thing those Pokémon told you about? That's what happens," Elty replied. "What on earth do you think happens if you don't get food or water for a long time?"

Pleo blanched and stared at the Growlithe. 'Meeting one's makers' was sounding less inviting than Pleo thought. Would one's 'makers' only come to you if you were miserable and extremely hungry and thirsty? Did those Pokémon want Pleo trap Ander and his family in tiny nuts? And what of the Pokémon that helped Ander make meat? He overheard at an earlier dinner that they too were supposed to also have 'met their makers'... So the help Ander got required Pokémon to also get trapped themselves?

Pleo shook his head. Whatever this phrase meant, it was clearly not something that was good at all.

"Oh…"

"On the other hand," Elty said as the group continued on down the path. "If you grind them up after you bust 'em, Apricorns apparently make for some really good shakes."

Maybe Elty was telling the truth, maybe he was leading them on in hopes that they might foolishly try to make these 'shakes' for themselves… But one thing was for certain in the minds of the other three Pokémon: they would much rather play it safe than try these 'shakes' out.

"We'll take your word for it, Elty," Nida mumbled.

As the group continued along the path, they noticed that their surroundings began to look a little strange. The path was still clearly marked, but there were no mats or mailboxes to be seen around them. Little patches here and there had undergrowth growing instead of being cleared out. And on top of all of that...

"Wait a minute, if there's no Apricorn trees on this side of the island," Pleo murmured. "Why would there be part of an Apricorn-?"

It was then that the team rounded a bend in the path. The form of a high-roofed hut with a small door, and wide but short windows near the eaves came into view. Some smoke puffed lazily from a hole in the back and along the side there was a mound of charred rubbish.

"Oh! I think that's the house!"

So this was a place where 'meat' was sold? He had gathered through bits and pieces of conversation that the 'meat' that 'scavvers' like Ander sold actually needed to be treated specially beforehand. It needed to be cleaned, dried, and preserved in order to make it look and smell different so that everyone in town would find it agreeable. On top of that, this meat had to specifically be made by scavvers finding Pokémon that had been found to 'already met their makers' to maintain peace with the ferals outside town.

As the team continued up the entrance to the house, the contents of the rubbish heap became clearer and sent a chill down Pleo's back. Although much of the heap's contents had been blackened beyond recognition, little bits and pieces could still be made out. Chunks of Apricorns that had been hacked to pieces, loose feathers, scales, clumps of fur, and broken discolored objects that looked like pieces of burnt, white wood. Were these things left by the Pokémon Ander had found?

Pleo shuddered as he began wondering what sort of dreadful thing must happen to Pokémon that 'met their makers.' Why the 'meeting' must surely be something painful and frightening if the Pokémon left behind bits of the things that covered their bodies! That was what the doggy and the purple Pokémon wanted him to do to Ander and his family? Before Pleo could think longer about what else those Pokémon must have left in the pile or what the whitish things that looked like wood were, he heard Elty's voice calling out.

"Hey, buddy! You're a scavver, right? How much for your wares?"

The team turned and saw that Elty had spotted a Scyther with a blotch in the shape of a five-tailed comet on his head at the door, who cautiously answered the Growlithe...

"Hmm? It's-"

Until he spotted the white bird following along.

"I-It's not for sale!" Ander buzzed in a panic. "We're closed!"

The Scyther hopped back and slammed the door to the hut shut with a terrific crash. As the team recoiled from the din, they then heard the sound of a faint creaking, and then a second, softer crash. When they looked back at the doorway, they saw that the door to Ander's hut had fallen off of its hinges and toppled over...

"A-Aaaah!"

... much to the horror of the mantis, who was now fleeing deeper into the hut as fast as his legs and wings could carry him.

"How hard did he slam that thing?" Elty asked as he eyed the fallen door with a quizzical tilt.

"I'm not here to be mean!" Pleo squawked after the Bug-Type. "I'm not here to make you meet your makers!"

The rest of Team Traveller threw paws and claws over their faces. Of all of the ways Pleo could have tried to soothe Ander...

"Just listen to me a moment!" he insisted.

Much to everyone's astonishment, Pleo then suddenly flew up. The little Protector beating his wings and sailing into the hut, calling after the Scyther all the while as sounds of a racket and furniture upending began to break out.

"Pleo, wait!" Crom cried. "What are you-?!"

"Come back here!" Nida shouted. The Nidoran hopped bounded in after the young Lugia, her teammates rushing after her to keep up.

The inside of Ander's hut was a mess. In his rush to try and escape the Lugia, the mantis had upturned tables and scattered various shades of tan and reddish-brown dried matter, presumably meat, all over the ground. The Scyther flew up to one of the high windows to try and exit the house that way, only to lose his balance after brushing up against the wall and tumble to the ground, Pleo standing over him and in the way of any escape.

"Pl-Please!" the Scyther begged, the creature beginning to curl up and tremble. "T-Take anything you want! Just go away!"

"Wait, really?" the Growlithe asked excitedly from the side, as he began to sniff at the hunks of meat littering the hut's floor. "Because I could actually go for some-"

"Elty!" Nida scolded. She biffed the back of the dog's head and her eyes narrowed into a venomous glare, one that was joined by a similarly disapproving scowl by Crom. The Growlithe shook his head and huffed back defensively.

"What? He offered it!"

Pleo chirped insistently to the quailing Scyther, beating his wings to try and grab his attention. Couldn't he see that he was just trying to be helpful? Maybe if he just explained why he came...

"I wanted to give Cassie something!" he blurted out.

The Scyther stared up at the young bird blankly, stuttering as he began to repeat Pleo's words.

"You- You wanted to give-"

A horrified expression suddenly washed over his face… Pleo was here, for his daughter. The Scyther immediately propped himself up on the ground with his scythes and hissed back at Pleo.

"N-No! You leave her out of this!"

"B-But I-" Pleo stammered. While Ander's voice was clearly still frightened, it had suddenly developed a worrisome fierceness to it. Team Traveller's blood went cold as they realized that Ander was now advancing on Pleo, his blades drawn and pointed directly at him.

"Ander, wait!" Crom cried desperately. "It's not what you thi-!"

But before the Druddigon could finish, Ander interrupted him with a shriek as he swung a scythe at Pleo's breast.

"G-Get out!"

The Lugia hopped back with a cry, the scythe just barely missing him before it carried on into an upended table and dug itself into the wood. As Ander hastily tried to free his arm from the table, Pleo's nerves failed him.

"Aaaaah!"

The young Protector darted behind his also wide-eyed teammates, trying to hide behind them from this much bigger and erratic creature that had just slashed at him.

"Um, yeah. 'Running' would be a good option right about now!" Elty yelped, his fur standing wildly on end. Nida's pelt was in similar straits, flecked with upright barbs that made her look like a small, terrified, blue pincushion.

"C-Come on, let's get out of here!" she cried. Nida turned and bolted for the door, her teammates swiftly fleeing after her in a mad dash past the damaged doorway...

Directly into the path of a startled-looking mother Scyther and her accompanying child.

"A-Ack!" she buzzed. The Scyther hopped back and drew her blades, her startled voice joined by the frightened hiss of a young Scyther who quickly hid behind her mother for shelter.

"M-Mom?! What is the demon doing at our house?!"

"Why are you here?!" the mother shrieked, waving her scythes at the group. "And why did you bring that thing with you?!"

This was bad. The team could already hear Ander pulling himself free of the table he had gotten his blade stuck in, and here was his mate, in every bit as tense a mood, blocking their escape route.

"Oookay, on second thought, you can keep the jerky!" Elty whined, the color beginning to drain from his muzzle at the sight of the other Scyther.

"S-Sandra, please! It's us!" Crom pleaded, his wings folded back to make himself look small. "We're just other Pokémon from town! Mom buys things from you from time to time!"

"This is all just a misunderstanding!" Nida added, her ears lowered, her limbs stiff and unresponsive, and her heart racing as she hoped that the Bug-Types ahead would relent.

But no luck, this 'Sandra' was not budging. Worse still, she too was advancing on the group with blades drawn just as the team heard Ander finally pulling himself free inside the shop and rushing buzzing for the door. How had this even happened? Pleo had come to do something nice, and here these strange creatures were ready to attack him!

Pleo watched helplessly as Sandra lifted one of her blades into the air. Why did she have to attack him?! If only- If only they could just understand...

"I-I just wanted to give Cassie her picture back!" he cried out, screwing his eyes shut.

Nothing came afterwards. A long, uneasy, silent nothing. Pleo opened his eyes and saw Sandra had lowered her blade to her side, and was trading wary and hesitant looks with Ander and her daughter. Every now and then, their gaze would shift back to stare at the rest of the Team Traveller, the poor creatures still shivering from fright from their ordeal.

"Th-That's right! We've got it right here!" Crom cried. The Druddigon hastily dug out Cassie's drawing from a small satchel that Nida brought along and threw picture over, his claws still shaking as the paper fluttered to Cassie's feet.

The Scyther scooped up the paper in between the flats of her blades and quickly drew her drawing back to her chest, hiding behind her mother and avoiding eye contact with Pleo all the while.

"You dropped it the day before we went into the dungeon… I-I thought that you might want it back," he said in a small and quiet voice. "Wh-Why did you think that I came here?"

"T-To hurt us for knowing the truth about Pokémon like you!" the little Scyther suddenly buzzed back, causing expressions of panic to start to spread over her parents' faces.

"Huh?!" Pleo squawked in shock. "What truth?!"

"Cassie, wait!" Ander pleaded, waving his arms to the younger Scyther desperately to keep her from saying anything further. But it was too late, his child had already begun to bare her fears to the group.

"You're a demon! A nightmare from the Abyss that was brought to life! A-And after long enough, you'll just wind up bullying and destroying everything around you!" she cried from behind her mother. "A-And if we try and do anything about it, you'll try and end our world like the old demons!"

What? 'Demon'? 'Abyss'?

"I-I- Th-That's not true at all!" Pleo protested, beating his wings out. Nida and Crom immediately butted in, Pleo was supposed to be Tromba Island's Protector! How could the evil creature that Cassie was describing possibly be the same Pleo that Team Traveller had befriended and come to know over the last few weeks?

"Travellers Above! It's insane, that's what!" the Nidoran interjected.

"He's the Protector! He defends us!" the Druddigon cried.

"Is that why the town's been in such rough shape since you came, then?" Sandra asked. "The storm? The raid?"

The storm? The raid? Well- Yes, the second happened while he was around, and the first was supposed to have happened the night before he came to Bluewhorl, Pleo thought to himself. But they couldn't be his fault! It was impossible! … Wasn't it? He… He hadn't done anything directly to cause them… The young Protector opened his mouth to try and say something back, but every time, the words died as they came up.

Could it really be that somehow… he had made all those bad things happen without knowing about it?

"I- I-"

Pleo continued to stammer and his mind returned over and over to the dark possibilities that Cassie had raised when he felt a tug at his wing. Without thinking, he followed along, and slipped out of the cordon Ander and Sandra had formed with the rest of the group. Sandra and Cassie had went up beside Ander next to the broken door to their hut, the little one among them hiding behind their parents. In the other direction, the path was open, with no one left to block it.

"Pleo, Cassie's got her picture back," the Nidoran said, turning down the path. "Let's just get out of here."

"Maybe it would be better if we just parted ways here," Crom added uneasily. The dragon began to trudge on ahead when a panicked voice suddenly called out from behind, the group turning back to see Ander waving desperately.

"Wait!" the Bug-Type interrupted, his face carrying the same sort of look one develops after a sudden, sinking realization. "Before you go- Can we- Can we please keep what happened just between us?"

Elty's eyes narrowed into a venomous glare. After everything that happened, the bug had the gall to ask them to keep quiet?

"Eh?! Between us?!" the dog snarled back at the Scyther. "We're the weaker Pokémon here and you were the one who took a swing at us and flanked us with your mate! Why on earth should we shut up about that?!"

The mantis looked back at the group, his eyes becoming more and more despairing until Cassie spoke up.

"D-Daddy? Are they going to get us in trouble?"

Elty blinked and his glare softened. The young mantis had raised a good point. Even among pirates, going around trying to attack other Pokémon for no reason was a fast way to make enemies. (Granted, if they had something you wanted and you were tougher, that was usually a good enough reason to make them enemies anyways.) Did this family of Pokémon really need more of them?

"Because this is all we have," Ander finally replied, lowering his gaze to the ground. "And it only takes a few upset Pokémon to lose everything."

The other Pokémon on Team Traveler began look at each other uneasily. Yes, Ander and Sandra had accosted them... but if others knew about this incident, what would they think? The Marked were supposed to have been descended from the same Pokémon that put the world in its current state long, long ago…

Considering how Pleo even found out how to find this place, would everyone understand that Ander trying to attack Pleo was all due to a misunderstanding?

Would everyone even want to understand?

The question lingered in the minds of the team, and as much as they wanted to give a confident, reassuring answer back to Ander and his family... they simply couldn't.

"Please, just forget that today happened," Sandra said. Her voice carried a less timorous tone than her mate's but still had a worn, defeated air to it. "All we want is to be left alone and allowed to live in peace."

"Pokémon like us have already accepted there's nothing we can do to stop your kind," Ander buzzed glumly to Pleo. "Not anymore."

No one on Team Traveler said anything after that, they simply kept quiet and turned away, setting off on the path back towards town. As the shack faded away behind them, the four decided that it would be best to heed the scavenger family's pleas and not tell anyone else about the events that transpired on that little path in the hills. Little by little, they trudged down the path, away from that lonely hut surrounded by undergrowth, and back towards the Rescue Guild.

All the while, Pleo couldn't help but think to himself over and over again…

Could all of the bad things that happened to the town lately…

Could they all really have happened because of him?




Author's Notes:

- (¡)dale duro! - Spanish: roughly, "hit him hard!"
- klanowy - Polish: "clannish"
- Bonguris - Spanish: Localization name for "Apricorns", derived from name in Japanese language media. In Latin American dub of anime, "Apricorn" is used instead.
- breanueces - Spanish: "tarnuts"
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Whelp, as promised, here I am. So last time, I left you off with Pleo's personal world getting a bit of a nasty jolt and some seeds of doubt getting sown. Today's chapter will continue along that path, if expanding the scope of those jolts a tad.

Special thanks for help bringing this chapter to life goes to Virgil134, Tangent128, solovino, and of course, the readers and reviewers. Feedback, whether glowing or properly scathing is always welcome, and given that it helps me to pick apart weaknesses in my writing to try and tackle in later chapters, kindly requested.

I'm currently targeting the release of the next chapter in 10-14 days in order to try and get a bit of a drop on the drafting process over the next two weekends. I don't exactly intend to go full webcomic time on you all, but still, if I overshoot my target in a couple weeks, be aware that the most likely culprit is work or meta business.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, perhaps it would be good to start the actual chapter, eh?:



That night, Kiran noticed that the team seemed to be in low spirits when they came back to the Guild Hall. Most likely due to some tougher-than-normal training at the Dojo, he presumed. Perhaps he should make a point of going to their session tomorrow, and move his meeting with Hatteras about Pleo to tomorrow night, during Hatteras's customary tending of the town lighthouse. Dinner seemed to dispel some of whatever cloud was hanging over the team, especially when the subject of using apples as a Gravelerock substitute came up at the dinner table again, and the rest that lingered seemed as if it would melt away with a good night's sleep.

And so it was that Kiran made a point to slip a note under Hatteras' door explaining his intentions to bring the team to take first picks (or as close as they could get to it) from the Guild's mission board bright and early in the morning.

Perhaps a little too early, even… The sun was still rising, the moon and the last stars stubbornly clinging to light even as the sky around turned blue, and Hatteras' tail was still winking out light as he dozed from the top of his domicile that doubled as the town lighthouse. Oh well, a quien madruga, los dioses ayudan, or at least as much as they could as departed spirits, Team Traveller's captain thought to himself as the team sized up the rune-covered postings in front of the main tent.

The format was simple enough: a picture for Pokémon with weaker literacy, a description in text underneath of the objectives. At the bottom, there was the signature of the poster, and an empty space left for a second signature from the requester when the mission was completed. It was all part of some system the guild's bookkeepers used it in their calculations of team ranks, but more importantly, it was also the mark of a job well done. On the other hand, the difficult part of picking a mission still remained...

"Hrm… See anything that looks interesting, guys?" the Swellow asked with a yawn.

"Uh… Are they all supposed to be finding things?" Nida sighed, hopping up onto a small empty crate to get a better view of the listings.

"That's not true! What about the new bounties posted on the Iron Fleet?" Crom protested. The Druddigon waved his right claw and pointed out some recent postings near the top. Sure enough, there were crude sketches of the Pokemon that had slipped away from last week's raid, little blurbs jotted in runes underneath detailing rewards and known information about the villainous characters.

"Let me rephrase that, Crom," the Nidoran said, flattening out her ears. "Are all of the jobs that we can reasonably do supposed to be finding things?"

"Now, now, that's the sign of a good day!" Kiran chirped. "When there's not trouble brewing, it's customary for rescue requests from lost and stranded Pokemon to be 100% less frequent!"

Yes, while perhaps a little drowsier than he planned, everyone seemed to have gotten over that curious funk they were in the night before...

With one exception.

"What about you, Pleo?" Kiran warbled. "Do you have any opinions?"

"Is... There something that will help someone the most?" the young Lugia asked uneasily.

"Hrm… What about this one to find one of the exposure chests?" Kiran offered, pointing at a listing just above the middle of the board. That would surely be one of the more helpful requests! Even if they weren't bulky and heavy, many of the merchants in town would struggle to simply get the seeds, berries, and other wares they left in them for the Distortion to alter out of the Mystery Dungeon quick enough keep their stores stocked. The arrangement benefitted the rest of the town, too. A healthy stock of found chests meant full shelves at shops like Calino's for the Pokemon that lived in Bluewhorl.

"Why, if we find one of those, it'll help the owner make a living!"

"Sounds good to me!" Nida exclaimed.

"Yeah, and we'll get some of the items inside as part of the reward!" Crom added.

"Meh," Elty huffed in an unimpressed tone. "You'd get more if you kept it for yourself!"

It did seem like a good enough job… "Eh, why not?" Kiran said to himself, plucking the listing from the board with his beak and stuffing it into the team bag. He then lead his teammates off down the path for the Dojo, flying high above in the air to give Pleo a model to try and mimic as the young Protector continued to refine his flight skills. Every so often, he would stop with the Lugia to let Nida, Crom, and Elty catch up as the three continued to argue among themselves about whether it was right to keep a few extra items from the exposure chests for themselves.

So the process went on the way to the Dojo. En route, the team passed simple houses in town as some of the residents moseyed out for morning exercises. A little further on, there was Calino preparing his inventory for the day and hastily replacing a few burnt-up timbers here and there while his customers were still few and sparse. After that, there was a tired-looking Ninjask resting its wings in the sun who looked up at the group a moment, shook his head, and then flew off for the sea with a loud buzz, apparently in a hurry. Then the group went on past a few sea Pokemon that lived in the Bluewhorl's harbor engaged in a petty argument with some visiting sailors at the docks. Their argument of the hour revolved around the necessity for the harbor's sea creatures to wear scarves when in other places the belts and cords that they used to hold them in place were proof enough to show they weren't ferals in communities further offshore...

In the midst of all of that, Pleo had not said a peep. Why if Kiran didn't know better, he'd have guessed Pleo hadn't seen or heard anything at all on his way over to the Dojo!

Eventually, as the team caught up to the two birds on the team after a stop on the roof of one of the town's huts, the Swellow couldn't help but mention...

"You've been awfully quiet this morning, Pleo."

"Yeah, what's the matter?" Elty asked as he bounded up, and scratched a bit at the fur behind his left ear with a hind foot. "Skitty got your tongue?"

Pleo stared blankly at his teammates, the Lugia's gaze wavering before he drooped his neck down towards the ground below.

"Kiran," he murmured. "Is everything bad that's happened to the town lately… Is it really my fault?"

Immediately, some cries went up from down the path as Pleo's words filtered to the rest of the team.

"Eh?!"

"What do you mean 'your fault'?!"

Which were followed by the sounds of swift footfalls, the team rushing in as Kiran beat out his wings in surprise.

"Why on earth would you say that?!" Kiran squawked. "Of course it isn't!"

Pleo suddenly raised his head and tilted it at the Swellow.

"It… isn't?" Pleo asked. What was it that made him so sure?

"Why would it be?" Nida called out, the Nidoran finally catching up to Elty along with Crom and stopping to look up at Pleo and Kiran. "Bad things have happened to the town before you came here, too! It's just a little bad luck!"

"Yeah, and we didn't have a Protector awake to help make them better then!" Crom added.

"Well, you stranding me here is your fault," Elty groaned, rolling his eyes. "But that's not exactly a bad thing for the town…"

"Uh, no. I'm pretty sure that it is," Nida growled, giving a scowl at the Growlithe. "But that's your fault for getting involved in piracy-"

"If you ask me, Pleo," Kiran hastily interrupted Nida's budding argument, the swift-winged Flying-type beating out his wings. "It seems like a coincidence."

"Huh?"

"Bad things sometimes happen in life, and you just have to make the most of them when they come," he explained. "It's not healthy to instantly assume that everything that goes wrong is your fault because you were there for it!"

Pleo turned his head away, his gaze shifting from Kiran. What Kiran was saying sounded nice enough… But… somehow it just didn't seem terribly convincing when there were battered and scarred buildings everywhere he looked in town.

"I guess…"

"Besides," he reassured, patting Pleo with a wing. "There's things that have gone right since you came, too."

"Yeah, we graduated to Normal Rank with your help!" Nida said.

"And you helped keep the town shrine from becoming Aggron food!" Crom added.

"And you seem to be making a lot of friends," Kiran chirped. "Those aren't also bad things, are they?"

Pleo looked back at Team Traveller's captain and gave a small smile (inasmuch as any creature with a beak can smile) back, which Kiran for a moment thought looked a little forced. After a moment, as Pleo visibly drifted in thought, the smile grew and began to seem more earnest and a hopeful brightness returned to his eyes.

"I… I guess they aren't," Pleo said to himself, his voice beginning to grow a bit more cheerful.

"Have some confidence in yourself, pollito. Life's about advancing beat by beat to a better tomorrow, even if there's a little turbulence along the way," Kiran said, the blue bird turning to point out a complex of buildings and courtyards across a bridge with a wing.

"Like, say… Flight practice, eh?"

"Oh joy," Elty grumbled. Yes, perpetually getting put into mismatched fights was totally a way to get to a better tomorrow… Though one would be forgiven if a watching stranger believed that from Crom's sickeningly cheery demeanor.

"Yeah! Why, if you keep it up," the young Druddigon mulled. "Maybe you'll fly better than Kiran someday!"

Pleo's mind wandered after Crom's words, as he began to daydream of one day being able to fly swifter and stronger than his teacher. Why, maybe he'd even be able to lead Kiran around when that day eventually came along!

"I guess when you say it that way, it makes sense..."

"It's settled, then!" Kiran chirped. "Let's all do our best today!"

The Swellow then hopped up and took flight, leading his teammates forward down the last stretch to the Dojo, beat by beat to what everyone was sure would be that better tomorrow.




As Team Traveler busied themselves with another day of flight and sparring practice, the Ninjask that flew for the sea was zipping out of the harbor with the wind's course. As the bug sailed along through the air, the wind whipped an ivory-colored scarf marked with a blue sun to and fro around his neck and a wooden ship began to come into view.

The ship was an imposing vessel, larger than the Iron "Fleet's" craft with three-masts flying lavender sails with purple squares that attached to notched cross-shaped piers dyed on them. As he zipped over, different features of the ship came into view. There were the two wooden grates over the cargo hold that let square blotches of sunlight into the orlop deck below.

Reaching the ship, the cicada passed over a tube made of planks bound together by metal hoops on the deck, the entire contraption resting atop a wooden block on crude wheels. The device was one of eight aboard the vessel. One end of the tube was reinforced by a metal cap, and had a small hole where Blast Seeds were meant to be thrown in. At the other end, there was a much larger hole that a Graveler was pouring Apricorns into from a thickly-padded bag into that was meant for… persuasion.

But most important of all the features on the deck was the helm, or more specifically, the Samurott beside it who was casually sharpening one of the blades he kept with his arms against a whetstone.

The bug chirped to himself and flew down to the wooden craft's deck, hovering in front of the great otter with a loud buzz, drawing the Pokemon's gaze up from his busywork.

"You found a lead, I take it?" the Samurott asked. The creature pulled the blade away from the sharpening stone and carefully ran his free paw's digits along the sides of its edge… Sharp and not a single crack or imperfection, just the way it was meant to be before a day's work.

"They're headed to practice at the Dojo!" the Ninjask buzzed as he flipped his scarf. Opposite of the ivory and blue design on the cloth, there was a lavender underside with a single purple square on it. "It's the long complex along the creek!"

Hiding one's true colors like a bunch of stranded pirates trying to evade capture was a bit of a dirty trick, yes… but it was hard to argue with results. And the results the scout delivered were more than good enough for Lyn. Keeping the peasants he was tasked to collect from in line and in their rightful places was hard work, even for a Pokemon who loomed large over his fellow Company Commissioners and other Third-Ranks.

"Hmm hmm… Excellent," he replied. The Samurott grabbed his sharpened blade and smoothly slid it into the keratinous sheave on his right arm that served as its scabbard. The Water-Type then turned to a Tauros and a Electabuzz with disguising designs matching the one on the Ninjask's scarf hastily dyed over the front of their Company scarves, and drew near as the two fidgeted impatiently beside a railing on the edge of the ship's deck.

"You'll be able to work with that, right?" the Samurott asked.

"Shouldn't be a problem, sir," the Tauros dutifully answered.

"Good. Secure the package and have it brought aboard my ship during re-provisioning," Lyn replied, looking down at the bull with a hardened and serious gaze. "Do try to keep this mum, though."

"Pbbt, what for?" a Electabuzz asked, the creature giving a flippant shrug. "You're not seriously scared of some has-beens that chased off a flabby lizard once with a rig like this, are you?"

Almost immediately, the Electric-Type saw Lyn reared up and towering over him, shooting a piercing glare into the hapless creature's eyes. The Electabuzz froze and blanched a moment before he hastily attempted to excuse his poor choice of words.

"Uh… I-It's not like I was expecting you to be-!"

"I'm perfectly content going in hacking and slashing, thank you," the Samurott growled, maintaining his petrifying gaze all the while. "I'm simply acting on a request from my superiors in the Board that the rabble be kept as ignorant of our dealings as possible."

"Y-Yes, sir!" the creature squeaked.

"Good!" Lyn barked. "Now get out of my sight and do your job!"

The Tauros in the group hopped the side of the ship into the water with a splash, coming up paddling the water furiously and waiting for his partner to clamber down a rope ladder onto his back. After the Electabuzz reached the Tauros in the water, the brown Pokemon swam off at a surprisingly brisk pace for one of the quieter shores near the edge of the harbor, fading away little by little. As Lyn saw the two get up onto shore and slip into some brush, he turned his attention back to his ship.

"All hands on deck!" he bellowed out. "We're going in!" The deck immediately became abuzz with action as the deck hands set about this way and that and around the wooden ship. The stones that served as the anchors were raised and a few of the accompanying fliers sent gusts of wind at the sails to give the ship a jolt forward into Tromba's harbor as Lyn walked up to the bow.

"We've got a show to put on until those two get back," he said, giving a self-assured grin as he looked out at the pitiful little town ahead. The Samurott then leapt from the bow and into harbor's water, diving under before returning to the surface to tear along through the water towards shore, as was his custom whenever it was time to collect tribute on behalf of the Company.

The sea Pokemon that dwelled in the harbors of such towns were always the first to run into the Samurott, usually scattering in startled surprise much as a harried school of their feral counterparts would. But the real fun always came at the docks, where there was always some local with an overinflated sense of self-importance to humble.

And as it so happened as Lyn clambered up one of the docks in the harbor… There were a Granbull and a Mawile in lavender scarves that had been scrunched up into headbands, as was custom among this hamlet's guards. When Lyn came upon the two, he found the pair loafing around and playing a game with cards depicting various Pokemon and some pebbles that were placed on top of them.

"You there!"

The Granbull initially swiped his paw lazily at the interrupting Pokemon, attempting to wave off the distraction from his card game.

"Yeah, yeah, cool it. We're on brea-"

Only to suddenly realize that the Pokemon looming over the card game was none other than the dreaded Comissioner assigned to Tromba, much to his and his partner's unpleasant surprise.

"A-Aaaah!"

The racket immediately caught the attention of the other Pokemon on the docks and in the adjoining square, some freezing in startled fright, others taking off from the sight of the Samurott at the docks and the lavender-sailed ship entering the harbor in the background as fast as their limbs would carry them.

"L-Lyn?!" the Mawile cried out, upending the cards in his panic. The creature stammered and flailed before taking a moment to try and hastily recompose himself. "Wha-?! Er... Wh-What are you doing here?"

"Tribute payments! And that's Commissioner Lyn to you!" he barked, his tone sending a shiver down the Mawile's spine. "Where's the negotiating party?!"

Immediately, a litany of protests went up from some nearby townsfolk who had the misfortune to hear Lyn's bellowing voice.

"H-Huh?!"

"Tribute?!"

"B-But the crops aren't even half-ripened yet!"

The unfortunate guards on the docks gulped. As if Lyn coming out of nowhere with his ship full of thugs wasn't bad enough! He wanted tribute? Now? Of all of the times for Osmund not to show up snapping at them to get back to work...

"E-Eh?!" the Granbull whined. "B-But those aren't supposed to come until a-after the harvest!"

"Yeah, well your defenders need a little extra right now!" the Samurott demanded, leaning in towards the hapless duo and quite literally breathing down their necks. "So have these peasants cough it up!"

"What's going on here?!" a voice suddenly rang out.

The three Pokemon looked up, and saw a Sceptile with a lavender headband glowering at Lyn, the blades on his own arms extended and tensed. The Granbull and Mawile hastily darted behind the green lizard, eager to have someone else standing between them and the Samurott.

"Oh, hello Osmund. I see half of the negotiators are punctual, at least. And that lowering your standards by going native and discarding the customary dress code has impaired your subordinates' skills," Lyn greeted the Sceptile, the forced amity in his expression belying a sneering gaze. The Samurott smirked and fished out a blade from one of his arms and twirled it about his knuckles. "You ought to be more cautious! Why, if I were say... a pirate... I could freeze you to the ground right now! Or since we're talking hypotheticals, perhaps I'd just get direct and swamp you with a wave to trip you up! Both of which would leave me free to hack away at you at my pleasure..."

The Granbull and Mawile flinched and shuddered, praying quietly to their Protector and the spirits of the departed gods above that Lyn's veiled threats were mere bluster. The Sceptile remained unmoved, narrowing his eyes back at the Samurott.

"Grr… That's lovely, Lyn," Osmund harrumphed. "I thought that this was supposed to be a negotiation, not a time to waste our breaths!"

"Well then, I suppose you ought to hurry that other negotiator along, don't you think?" Lyn asked smugly, his blade coming to a sudden stop in his paw. The Samurott had caught it by the handle, gripping it firmly as he shot a look at the Sceptile that seemed to dare him, or anyone in Bluewhorl at all, to come and try his patience.

"Ugh," Osmund groaned. The Grass-Type shook his head out of disgust before he turned and murmured to his subordinates. "Get Hatteras down here. Tell him that it's urgent."

"Y-Yes, sir!" they cried. The two darted off down the docks and towards the direction of Bluewhorl's guild hall, eager to be free of Lyn's presence.

"Oh, I'm in no rush, Osmund. Feel free to let your subordinates take all the time they need," the Samurott taunted. As the guards ran off, the Water-Type smirked as he heard the sound of his ship finally sidling up against the docks beside him. "I can wait."




A short time after Lyn arrived in town, Team Traveler got through their day's practice. The session was more exhausting than normal that day, which after a little discussion, prompted the group to take a moment to rest at the front of the complex as they made their way out Mosca's Dojo.

"Whew… Battles are a lot harder and confusing once you get items involved," Pleo sighed, the bird turning to tiredly preen a few feathers along his back.

"You mean they're a lot more fair," Elty corrected. "Nothing like a good old-fashioned X-Eye Seed to bring a bird back down to earth!"

"Yes," Nida grumbled, rolling her eyes at the Growlithe's adamant insinuations. "Because you care so much about fairness, Elty."

"Enough, you two," Kiran admonished. The Swellow hopped down the steps and beat his wings to get his blood flowing, then turned back with a bob of his head. "Let's just take the rest of the day easy and prepare a bit for tomorrow."

"Uh huh! We've got a big mission!" Crom cheered, getting up from his place under a patch of sun. "And Pleo's gonna need a little extra help getting the hang of things, right?"

The team happily traded agreements with each other, until suddenly an unexpected voice chimed in.

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that."

"Huh?" Crom asked. "Who said-?"

Just then, the young Druddigon heard something whizz by his head and flinched as a round, peach-colored sphere that seemed to have clouds swirling about in it sailed past from the direction of the creek and shattered along the ground beside him.

"Ack!"

Before anyone could respond, a peach-colored cloud of smoke suddenly enveloped the group. As the cloud blotted out the sight of the blue sky above and the dojo behind them, the team's members all felt themselves becoming drowsy and their eyes growing heavy, their vision beginning to waver...

Whump

The smoke lingered a little before it dissipated and melted away, revealing the forms of five Pokemon slumped over onto the ground, asleep. A Tauros and Electabuzz then poked their heads past the corner of the dojo and walked up the creek. The two gave quick, furtive glances to verify no one else was around, before they walked up past Pleo's dozing teammates and circled around his sleeping form.

"Ungh..."

"Got him!" the Electabuzz cried as he quickly dumped a ratty red blanket out of a canvas bag he had brought along and then grabbed and stuffed Pleo's dozing body into the vacated sack. The Tauros that rounded the bend quickly looked about as his partner slung the bag onto his back, tied it down, and quickly threw the dingy blanket over the top. After the ropes were tightened and the two saw that the coast was clear, the bull turned back to his partner.

"Alright, let's move!"

The two Pokemon then took off, darting down the path, leaving the rest of Team Traveler behind asleep and sprawled-out on the Dojo's steps.

Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap!

Only for their slumber to be broken not too long afterwards by a series of stiff slaps. After some yelps and startled recoiling from the stinging smacks, the various Pokemon on the team turned and saw that the culprit who woke them was none other than the Dojo's Maestra.

"Oi! No se duerme en mis peldaños!" she scolded.

"Urgh," Kiran groaned. What just happened? Someone was waiting nearby and had thrown something at them... Orb shards? Wait a minute! The Swellow looked around wildly and saw that much to his horror, Pleo wasn't with the group. "Ack! They took Pleo!"

"Aaah!" Crom cried out. The Druddigon ran about looking frantically this way and that, but there was no sign of Pleo at all. He caught the scent of something musky and grassy along with something smelling vaguely of electric burns mixed with saltwater, but it was all still so fresh that he couldn't tell which way the Pokemon came or went relative to it! "Who were they?! Where'd they go?!"

"What on earth are you talking about? You were the only Pokemon here!" Mosca exclaimed.

"That's impossible! We got ambushed!" Elty yipped. "The creeps must have run off with the feather duster while we were asleep!"

"Eh?!" Mosca squawked. "But where would they go?!"

"Look!" Crom cried out, pointing at a white feather blowing about on the path. "They dropped one of Pleo's feathers!"

The team saw the feather, and then some footprints through a puddle of water that carried on a ways down the path before fading. As all eyes followed the footsteps, they lead to the direction of the harbor, where the sight of a tall, three-masted ship with lavender sails could be seen at the docks. The team's heart sank for a moment- the Company was in town, and of all of the possible places the kidnappers could have come from, it would surely be from them.

"No…" Nida murmured softly, lowering her head in defeat.

"Kiran? Isn't there anything that we can do to get him back?" Crom asked, his eyes pleading with the Swellow for some sort of positive response.

"From the Company?" Elty muttered. "Just how do you expect any of us to pull that off?"

"I- I don't know, kids…" the Swellow finally admitted, his head and wings drooping."

"Don't give up so easily!" a voice cried out.

The team whirled around, and saw Mosca gesturing excitedly at the ship in the harbor.

"E-Eh?! I'm not giving up!" Elty huffed, taken aback by the Hawlucha's words. "I'm just saying, there's not any realistic ways to get out of this mess!"

"Oh yes there is!" the Hawlucha adamantly rebutted. "You know those kidnappers are still on the island! They ran on foot towards the harbor! That means that they didn't have a faster way of getting Pleo away from here!"

Wait a minute… that meant the ambushers were going to bring Pleo aboard the ship from the docks? That meant still had to get to that ship first and find something to sneak him aboard first!

"Ah! Of course!" Kiran squawked. "So we just need to make it there before they can sneak Pleo aboard!"

"I'll get reinforcements!" Mosca squawked. "Just go on ahead and make sure Pleo doesn't get on that ship!"

"Right!" Nida cried. "They can't be that far ahead of us!"

Without bothering to dust themselves off from the ambush, the team took off flying and running for the harbor, desperately hoping that they would not be too late to rescue Tromba's little Protector.




Back at the harbor, Osmund continued to uneasily stare Lyn down on a rickety wooden dock. The Samurott outranked him in the Company's hierarchy, and had the strength to make the design on his lavender scarf mean something- a fact that Lyn seemed to be aware of given the predatory gaze and smirk on his face.

A small crowd of locals had formed near the end of the dock as they all continued to watch the standoff uneasily. Nervous chattering floated about the gathering and occasionally some Pokemon towards the front would inch away deeper into the crowd. While the glowers and occasional growls and menacing gestures from the Pokemon in Lyn's entourage on the ship and the water around hadn't been acted upon yet, one could never be too careful with the Commissioner and his clique. The murmurs died off as the sound of a Pokemon tromping up the docks suddenly reverberated. Much to Osmund's relief, it came from the footsteps of an elderly Ampharos making his way up the docks.

"Hmph… About time the so-called 'mayor' of Tromba showed up!" the Samurott barked, shifting his piercing gaze over to the wizened sheep. "Just what kind of show are you running here?"

"One that doesn't lend itself well to unannounced interruptions. I'm sure you would know the feeling, Lyn," Hatteras replied, his words coming out firmly and unflinchingly to the Company tough. "What do your superiors want? And by when?"

"A third of the normal allotment, by sundown."

Gasps and panicked yelps went about the crowd. He wanted a third of the harvest this early? How on earth was the town supposed to deliver that? Let alone it in a day?

"Lyn, be reasonable," Osmund protested. "Harvest isn't for another two months! Just what can the Company expect us to give right now?"

"Hrmph, you get three of them per year," the Samurott scoffed before casting an aside glance. "Give some of your surplus from the last one! We know that the Pokemon here were unusually adept at filling out tax forms last time!"

"Is there a problem with humble Pokemon being a little well-read?" Osmund growled back. The Sceptile's voice betrayed hints of defensiveness to Lyn's ears, which prompted him to narrow his eyes at the impetuous Second-Rank.

"Well, it's certainly suspicious coming from a bunch of bumpkins like these," Lyn retorted. "Why, if any misconduct was at hand, the Board might need to re-evaluate this town's little absentee arrangement with Administrator Darzin-"

Before the Samurott could continue, he felt something stiff and pointed strike his nose and bounce off. The otter recoiled, and after rubbing some feeling back into his face, he looked back at the negotiating duo just in time to see Hatteras pull his arm back to his side.

"Ow!" the Samurott seethed. "Why you-!"

As Lyn grabbed at one of the blades along his arms, he was interrupted by an adamant voice from the electric sheep.

"I believe that you're supposed to inspect the tribute that you take off this island, are you not?"

Lyn looked down and upon closer inspection, saw that the object which struck him was a green, unripened Wiki Berry. From the looks of it, not useful for much else than to be thrown at other Pokemon.

"Do you see that berry? That's what the town's fields can offer for your hold right now, Lyn," Osmund insisted, as the Samurott refocused his gaze on the troublesome 'mayor' and Second-Rank. "We're not exactly swimming in excess out here!"

"We have enough left over right now to provision your ship, and no more," Hatteras added, narrowing his eyes back at the glaring Samurott. "And if you would like to suggest that I, Bluewhorl's shepherd, steal food from the mouths of the townsfolk in order to do so…"

"Need I remind you of how Darzin and this town came to our current arrangement?"

Lyn's ears picked up a faint, crackling sound. When he looked closer at the old Ampharos, he saw that the sheep's hide was coursing with small electric sparks that danced on its surface, far too close for his liking. The Samurott grit his teeth and tightened his grip on his seamitar ready to charge forward into battle… only to see a Electabuzz and a Tauros with a bundle on his back covered by a red blanket tied quietly sneaking into the back of the crowd.

Good enough, this charade had lasted as long as it needed to. It was now time to steer things into an acceptable endgame and just wait for his target to be snuck aboard as part of the provisions.

"Hrmph. Calm your sparks, sheep. I don't see your 'Dragon Buster' in the crowd to help you out this time," Lyn chided. The Samurott shook his head and brought his paw on his now-sheathed blade back to the wooden planks beneath him, his gaze returning to its piercing norm.

"We at the Company do understand the importance of healthy communities, and I have better things to do than to sail around with a cargo full of inedible berries," the creature carried on in a forced cheeriness, the momentary lapse in his confident demeanor having smoothed over as he turned his head back to bellow at the lavender-sailed ship at the docks.

"Oi! Get out there on the dock and start helping with the reprovisioning!"

Immediately, some cries went about the Pokemon on and around the ship, as planks were lowered, and a few creatures in lavender scarves shouted out orders to get ready to disembark. Osmund gave a puzzled, skeptical look at the Commissioner and his crew before he begrudgingly motioned for a few of the local guards to come and, after a brief moment chattering among themselves about how best to disperse the burden of provisioning Lyn's ship on the town, sent them off about Bluewhorl.

"I'm glad that you have a reasonable head on your shoulders, Lyn," Hatteras said, the sparks on his hide dying down and fading away.

"Oh trust me, in my experience on the job… you know when to adjust priorities," the Samurott replied, casting a brief glance at the two infiltrators in the crowd as they slipped in deeper between the mass of bodies.




Meanwhile, Team Traveler continued bounding up the path to the main square attached to the harbor. All the way over, the surrounding huts and fixtures of town and the occasional cry of protest from a resident the group narrowly avoided running over all seemed to be an indistinct blur to Nida, until the group neared the edge of the crowd at the docks. It was then that everyone noticed that down at the end of the dock where the lavender-sailed ship had docked...

"Wait, Lyn's here?!" Crom cried, his eyes widening at the sight of the Samurott standing at the end of the pier.

"Who now?" Elty asked, lowering his body in a tensed position at the sight of the large Water-Type and the chilling effect he had on all the nearby Pokemon.

"The Company Commissioner who collects tribute from here!" Nida exclaimed, fanning her barbs out. "He's a total jerk!"

"No co ty nie powiesz!" Elty growled. "Since when was a Company Pokemon ever not a jerk?"

"Um, Elty," Crom groaned, screwing his eyes shut. "You realize that the guards are technically also part of the Company too, right?"

"Your point being?"

Nida and Crom traded scowls with Elty and then shifted their attention back to the ship. Rude or not, this wasn't the time to head down that Nidoran hole. It would have to wait until they got their friend back safe and sound beside them.

"Kiran, what are we waiting for?" Nida cried, hopping up and down in front of Kiran. "Let's tell everyone Lyn has Pleo!"

The Swellow paused, deep in thought, moving a bit too slowly for any of the three Pokemon's liking. The bird then shook his head and craned down to his younger counterparts and began to speak.

"If we don't catch him at the right time, he could hide Pleo and then just sneak him aboard later. Or say that he had nothing to do with it and come back later," Kiran said. "We need to get Pleo out here in a way that Lyn can't deny."

"But..." Crom murmured. "How do we even find them…?"

"Start looking around for someone that smells of musk and grass who's carrying something that would drop lint."

"Eh? What do you mean, Elty?" the Swellow asked.

"It's not much of a lead to go off of, and I don't know why I'm telling you this, but…" the Growlithe trailed off, rolling his eyes.

"Remember how one of the scents by the Dojo was that one that smelled kinda bad but had a hint of grass to it?" Elty asked. "Well, on the way over I noticed that there was some red lint lying along their scent trail… Why it looked just like this piece-"

The Growlithe's voice died off as he looked down and shook his head to make sure he wasn't seeing things. Sure enough, there it was, a piece of red lint, sitting at the edge of the crowd.

"Right. Here," he murmured. The Growlithe stopped to sniff at the piece of lint and quickly discovered that the smell he had noticed on the way over was all over the little lump. Elty turned and looked down at the docks. The Pokémon he saw were a bit hazy for his sight at that distance, but he could tell that the movement was all coming from the boat and not towards it, and still all concentrated on the dock… For now.

"He has to be nearby, and it looks like no one's gone on the boat yet. Find him, and you might just find your mewa."

The team looked over the crowd and blanched. It was on the smaller side, sure, but a decent portion of Pokemon in the harbor at any given time were from off the island. Worse still, the crowd would surely muddle the kidnapper's scent and the only Pokemon among them that could do a visual check from above was also the Pokemon with the sense of smell that barely functioned!

"A slim lead, but it's the best we have at the moment," Kiran murmured before turning to the team. "Crom! You and Nida go together and take this end of the crowd! Elty and I will take the far end! Raise some hackles if you find him!"

"Right!" the Nidoran and Druddigon cried. The team broke up and darted into the crowd, frantically searching about for any sign of Pleo or his kidnappers. As she weaved between legs and bodies in the crowd, Nida whispered to herself over and over again.

"Please still be here, please still be here..."




Author's Notes:

- a quien madruga, los dioses ayudan - Spanish: "The early, the gods help." Play off of "a quien madruga, Dios ayuda", a Spanish-language idiom roughly analogous to "the early bird gets the worm"
- (¡)No se duerme en mis peldaños! - Spanish: "No sleeping on my steps!"
- No co ty nie powiesz! - Polish: Idiom, roughly "Well, you don't say!"
 
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