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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Heya everyone, it’s been a bit of a wait, so let’s get right into things with a few review responses:

Instead, I’ll just say that the hint you gave here on how it will develop in the future is interesting. To be clear, I mean Team Taxonomy presentation on how various myths have their origins with the humans. To me, Team Taxonomy’s main purpose in the story is to act like a sign post or smoking gun to the reader. When they openly talk about the divergence of myths, the reader is tipped off to have the divergence of other cultural elements in mind. Since they are now attributing the origins of myths to humans, the implications is that some aspect(s) of Cradle society also have their origins with humans. There is one huge divide that I reasoned was due to humans way back when I read some of the earliest chapters, so it would be interesting to see if it turns out to be true. The last time I made a big prediction I was completely off mark though, so I’ll keep my theories to myself for now.

Hold onto those thoughts, really. Since you are correct that it’s not just a bunch of bedtime stories that the locals picked up from humans.

The weakest part of this chapter was the reintroduction of Darzin. The problem with this part is that his character is basically non-existent. You could have anyone else be spying on Team Traveler and almost nothing would be different. The only part that would have to change is Darzin remembering the Tromba myth of Lugia “losing his heart” and changing colors, but this one bit of characterization you gave him in this scene works against you. If a character is knowledgeable about the local traditions of Tromba that even some of the local residents are not familiar with, the implication is that the character deeply respects and cares for those locals. A great example of this is an Ampharos the gang meet underwater very early in their journey (I forget his name) who was able to identify Pleo as a protector by sight. However, Darzin has previously been characterized as uncaring toward the locals of Tromba to such an extent that a full scale rebellion was waged against the Company. Reintroducing Darzin in this way pushes the plot forward, but fails does not develop his character in a meaningful way.

Yeah, as you’ve seen in the chapter after this, this sort of moment of characterization with Darzin was basically just waiting for the right moment.

I think, and this is just a suggestion that you are free to ignore, that a better option is to have Darzin misidentify Nida as her mother, the Cazadragones herself. You have already established that Nida has an uncanny resemblance to her, so the mistake would be reasonable enough to make. More importantly, it would allow you to show a side of Darzin that you haven’t gotten to yet. Pretty much however he react to seeing ‘Marley’ will inform the readers of Darzin’s view on the rebellion. Personally, I think the best response to see would be stone-cold fear. I mean Darzin gets a passing glace at Nida, misidentifies her, and then books it out of there in pure terror, never even realizing he made a mistake. Then whatever plan he cooks up will be to catch Marley and not Nida with Pleo for back-up. I just want to reiterate that my intention is more so you can keep things like this (making sure that plot developments always happen with characterization) in mind for the future chapters, rather than demanding that you edit past chapters to make them better.

We’ll keep that suggestion involving Nida in mind in the future, even if we roll in something on that front, it’ll probably be a bit more muted.

P.S. Is ‘I Want to be Your Bird’ a reference to ‘I Want to be Your Canary’, a play from Final Fantasy IX? If so, then the fact Sophie was looking for it implies some pretty interesting stuff is going to happen.

It is indeed. ‘I Want to be Your Bird’ is the semantic translation of ‘I Want to be Your Canary’s name in the original Japanese, ‘Kimi no Kotori ni Naritai’. Here, it’s more likely to be a novelization of something that we would recognize as FF9, just with some details translated to fit a Pokemon setting a bit better. It’s just a fun little reference though, so I wouldn’t look too much into it.

P.P.S. Do you know what nerd-snipping is? Well the line, "No scratches… no cracks… no discolorations… why it's like it suddenly fell from the sky brand-new!" lead me down a rabbit hole of complicated material science that I will spare you. I can confidently say that unlike glass, which can remain stable for millenia, plastic will degrade after only a few decades. This is because the melting point of glass is in the thousands of degrees while the melting point of plastic is in the hundreds (true for F, C, or K). This has absolutely no baring on the story in any way, shape, or form. I just wanted someone to know I spent hours reading technical articles in trying to figure out if a plastic artifact could really be that well preserved, and the answer is no.

No, that’s very deliberate. You should be asking yourself in light of that how it was that such a perfect set of plastic got into the Cradle and think back about how it was picked up in the first place since there’s some implications that stem from it.

My favorite part of this chapter is easily the ending fight scene for one line alone:

That one line reinforces Darzin's characterization so perfectly, reflecting everything that motivates him and his character flaw that keep holding him back. Darzin is so desperate to win back is former position of glory, that he latches onto any and every faint hope that passes by. He consistently makes plans because he sees how they could lead to his return to power, but never even considers how these actions could backfire. Being a turncoat for the Empire could lead to Darzin being instilled in a high ranking position, so he never considered how Nagant clearly does not desire his partnership and would betray him as soon as a better deal comes along. Sending Bunsen to capture Tromba could lead to a massively confusing mess where Darzin could show up and capture Pleo himself, so he never considered how much more resourceful Team Traveler would be if the successfully kicked out Bunsen and managed to regroup on a friendly island with plentiful supplies. Closing the distance on an opponent and going for a close range attack could lead to him defeating this Noivern, so he never considered that this ambush could involve more than one opponent. This is the type of subtle characterization that I criticized you for messing up in Chapter 87.

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that for Darzin’s motivations, but we’re glad to hear that the characterization came through for you. Since yeah, he’s a bit stubborn and haughty and has a way of not thinking things through all the way, as I’m sure you saw in that final scene there.

As for what I disliked... nothing was really big enough for me to comment on. That isn't to say that this chapter is the perfect in every way, the absolute pinicle of creative endevors. Just that the things I disliked could end up being redeemed in latter chapters, or something I dislike but I know other readers enjoy. For example, twice in the last two chapters you referenced Final Fantasy IX and Ambyssin's Path of Valor, which I found annoying since they are references that don't add anything to the story. If a later chapter does something interesting with those works [e.g. during Team Travel's escape from the island they accidentally interrupt the a performance of I Want to Be Your Bird by the cast of Path of Valor and they have to act their way off stage], then these earlier references would have gone from being annoying distractions to absolutely hilarious foreshadowing. Alternatively, it is completely valid for you to ignore my opinion. There are many other readers who like references like those, so either they are I would be upset by their inclusion/exclusion. No work of art can please everybody, so me complaining about everything that even slightly annoys me isn't going to help you write a better story.

Alas, the PoV cameos won’t be getting too integrated into the plot this time around, unlike some of the ones in past episodes. They’re meant to be little bonuses for those who spot them and recognize who they are. You are the first reader to explicitly spot and point them out. So kudos for that.

We’ll keep the feedback in mind, since the amount of cameos were admittedly already dialed back compared to the early drafts of this Episode. Clearly it’s something we need to be a bit more careful for future easter eggs of this sort.

That went... better than I was expecting it to for the heroes. Which makes me think I underestimated how many chapters the fic has left. [nervous laugh]

We’ve always been open that depending on how the endgame is divided up, there are 3 (or 4 if we split up the final one) Episodes remaining including this new one that is starting up today. Make what you will of that.

Though glad to hear that we could still catch you off-guard a bit for where this Episode wound up going.

I guess ships in this setting are remarkably fortified because I would have expected a Hyper Beam to sink it but somehow it's still floating after that attack and manages to get away. And with Kiran as the only captive (as far as characters we actually have been following, anyway).

I think that a part of that is a difference in headcanons on power levels. Also, large wooden ships are decently tanky even in reality, especially when you have a natural way to plug holes in their hulls to an extent.

That's my take, at least, because it feels like this late into the fic we really need to see a major status quo shift with the Company to sell a rising threat level. Since this was there home base that was just escaped from. Isn't really much else that's going to outrank that in terms of threat level. XD

Hold onto that thought, really. Though all I will say is that the threat matrix for all parties involved in this story ramps up in short order for every Episode going into the endgame.

Jesus, just what's the range on Lightning Rod supposed to be?

The equivalent of a large chamber in a Mystery Dungeon. In this case, hanging out in relative proximity to Zorn is enough to keep him safe from getting zapped.

Have you tried calling her a butt face? Petty insults have worked quite well in this fic. :V

Elty: “Darn, we should’ve tried that, really.”


I mean, even all these years later, it is woven pretty deeply into this story’s DNA, so… :V

Ah, yes, the Power of Friendship™

I mean, it’s only part and parcel with Pokemon and a huge number of the sources of inspiration this story takes after. Wouldn’t be Fledglings without it. ^^

100% Lance approved battle! no but seriously just how durable are these ships?!

Pladur: “Not durable enough.”

@Venia Silente
Honestly, I can understand them at this point. I mean, *I* want paid vacation time!

Kiran's team get to the decision that the best thing to do is to just go back out there with their GPSes on to hand the responsibility of retrieving them to Kelly.

Yeah, the crew probably could stand to get a nice, long shore leave after all this is over. ^^;

I mean, it's not a bad idea, until things go more wrong.

The important thing is that everyone gets along and rescues Crom before Pladur realizes there's ANYTHING wrong.


At least they seem to be alive. Frankly it's been years since I last watched Yu-Gi-Oh (let alone the very first seasons) so I don't recall what the exact mechanics of the Shadow Realm were like, so I'm gonna assume it's just something that is like, both‑alive‑and‑dead at the same time like the Book of Omens in the Thundercats 2011 remake and that way everyone can be happy.

Nida: “This is a lot less impressive than I was expecting, really.”

Anyway, someone wakes Ander up and when he comes back to his senses he finds out none other than his best friend and most likable person ever: Pleo!

Uh, yeah, about tha-

Four heart attacks later, Ander relaxs a little and discovers the Shadow Realm looks more or less like a prison cell. I wouldn't be able to tell at a first glance but it does have general Mayincatec Temple vibes.

… He gets better eventually? (Also the little skit that you wrote was gold there.) ^^

Now now now, Elty is a very good doggo with a very good coverup! I'm p sure Hess, the Captain, is pretty okay with this!

Elty: “

Paws crossed.”

Yet this Aggron is *not* Hess. I mean... not every Aggron in the Cradle has to be Hess, right? hmmm.... now what would that be like...

Now that’d be a sight to behold, but nah, this guy is-

The new Aggron introduces themself as Malik Roteck, here to introduce the prisoners to the Shadow Realm!

...starting with Pleo's team.

Yeah, that. Not enough jugs of rum and various spirits going around to be a Hess.

(No, really, I'm almost expecting a Grovyle hero to show up all of a sudden. Plus, it'd be a nice Explorers ref!)

Darth Valter seems to realize this rebel alliance is special, and decided to shortcircuit the whole plot by bringing them to the "patron", presumably Palpatine, directly!

I mean, helps that Valter fills a different role narratively than Explorers!Dusknoir, even if he gets in a couple nods here and there. Though who knows? We might just have an opening to give him a moment with a Grovyle of his own down the pipe.

omg Are we about to take the whole crapquels idea of giving Palpatine clon—ooooh wait wait wait!

It's a Xerneas!

(...I guess that explains the crosshair pupils?)

Yup, that is indeed where the X-shaped pupils on the Immortals come from. As for why Valter doesn’t have one of his own… hold onto that thought.

The Voice of Life (1) is busy enough to care about such fickle issues as trademark law, so the Voice of Life (a) is safe. Tho, we should be asking perhaps, is it even the *real* Voice of Life (a)?

It’s more of a mythology nod than anything else. While nothing is final until it is written out, it’s unlikely a Gates-style Voice of Life exists in this continuity outside the realm of folklore and mythology.

Apparently Cernun is not very keen on letting anyone ever leave the island. I'd say Ander is right on the mark about the creepiness thing. I wonder if this marks the crosshairs-eyes mons as either Naruto-style thralls, or Pokémon that have been captured and forced to stay.

I’m assuming that the Naruto-style thralls are brainwashed people, but the answer is closer to the second of those options, even if Trizano and most of the Pokémon you’ve seen thus far fit neither description.

Speaking of Kline…

Kline: “Oh, like you’ve never had a moment where you could’ve done something better when you were younger!” >///<
Ander: “You tore a gouge through the middle of a village!

Kline: “Yes, and? I didn’t say I was weak when I was younger.”

So with that, Cernum leaves it extra clear that they're not letting the protags leave, let alone with the Ledger.


Eh, what are you going to do if they lazy about? Kick them out? (hehehe...)

… In a manner of speaking, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, there was a scene I skipped so far of locality, which is the one of the GLORIOUS DAY when Lyn hands over the Protector of Tromba, and thus can restore his family0s name. And of course, everything goes peachy!

I mean, it’d be a pretty short story if he did, so…

There's certainly no lost love there and that helps a lot for the mood during the scene, and it has the added effect of makig Farn's vote the more valuable since he has to try and more visibly differentiate from the bickering going on in the room.

(But I'm still feeling Farn's vote is somewhat sus)

Yeah, thar be shenanigans for the Company’s internal office politics. Glad to hear that they were fun for you to watch.

One of the funniest parts of the scene, definitively, was the guards outside having to come in and scrape the Ditto off the wall. I was half-expecting them to end up pouring the Ditto into a bottle.

One of the benefits of having a story that vibes after a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Lets you get away with moments like these. :V

Anyway, a quite entertaining chapter so far and while it's a shame it's not time for the Shadow Realm games as of yet, I trust Kiran and team will be able to rescue the others by trusting Kiran's statistics the Heart of the Cards, and that Cabot will also find enough heart with his team so that they make the switch sides to Pleo.

I mean, it's worked for Kichiro so far! :p

Hold onto that thought really. Though glad to hear you had fun with the chapter. ^^

Alright, so since the last update, we’ve got a decently large batch of fresh art to share, including a landscape with Nida and Crom towards the end of Episode 15’s events won as a prize art from an offsite review challenge, a portrait of Alice from Team Zephyr, and a portrait of Ketu from Team Sentinel.

Today’s chapter marks the beginning of a new episode, as attentive readers likely will notice from the table of contents. Originally, it was one part of a larger chapter that was… uh… a bit longer than we figured would be readable in one setting. As such, the next update will probably get out the door a bit faster than the past few have been, but as always, our commitment is to ship chapters when they’re done to ensure the final product is at its best for quality.

Special thanks for this chapter goes to my co-writer @Virgil134 , who is uploading today’s chapter, and to @Tangent128, who helped us put together a new set of Episode icons for this chapters and the rest of the ones that will pop up in this episode. It’d also be remiss to not give my thanks to you readers and reviewers out there for sticking with this story in what will soon be the eighth year of its run.

So let’s reward you for your patience a bit, and jump straight into an all-new chapter picking up the pieces from Team Traveller’s chaotic exit from Vollezee Island:


PMD Writer

Nida leaned her forearms against a battered chunk of railing on the Siglo Swellow's rear deck, looking off towards the east as the wind and the waves pricked her ears. It had only been a few minutes since Vollezee Island and its ramparts finally slipped over the horizon, but even so, the Nidorina couldn't bring herself to look away.

Shouting and the pounding of mallets on wood rang out from towards the bow. Maybe it was from the crew trying to somehow patch the front mast's yards back together well enough to sail with it. Or them trying to fix any of the thousand other things with the ship that needed repairs after Lyn, Zorn, and their underlings tore them up on their way out of Vollezee's lagoon.

Nida looked at the waves below. Normally Crom would be at her side at a moment like this and they'd try to cheer each other up, but he'd been beside himself and dissolved into tears not long after they cleared the sea walls, with Pladur having spent much of the time since then trying to console him.

… She couldn't imagine the rest of her teammates felt much better right now either. Not when she herself had found herself blinking back tears at times since then.

They'd gone into Vollezee with high hopes—of getting the second piece of the Ledger they needed to force the Company and the Empire to leave Pleo alone. To leave them alone. And all they'd managed was simply to trade one volume for the other, and get Kiran and a bunch of their allies captured for their trouble. All the while, one question just kept lingering and gnawing at her mind:

… Was there anything they could have done differently?

Nida hung her head and closed her eyes, brushing at them as she started to feel droplets well up once more, when something hard and metallic brush up against her hide.


The Nidorina stiffened up and hopped aside out of reflex, whirling around to see Trizano looking at her. The Skarmory hesitated briefly, before he motioned off with a wing towards the center of the deck.

"Captain Beatrix called for an all-hands meeting," he insisted. "I don't think you should miss this."

Nida pulled herself away from the railing and dropped to all fours, pinning her ears and shaking her head back with a quiet, glum sigh.

"Right, sorry to keep you waiting."

Trizano paced along the deck with Nida in tow for the gathering place, the Skarmory stopping every now and then after almost bumping into a passing sailor. Trizano's problems with his vision were less severe than she'd remembered Kiran and Pladur mentioning from prior days, but evidently his eyesight had yet to fully recover from the injuries Aldrich had inflicted on him.

The pair made their way down to the center deck, where the ship's various scars came back into view: the damaged front mast, the hole in the deck that had been hastily covered by makeshift grating being wedged in place, and various gouges and burn marks left behind on different chunks of wood.

At much the same time, she could also see the crew… or rather, what was left of it. A sorry, still-soaked group of dazed and frightened-looking Pokémon gathered around Beatrix and Vicente under the shadow of the main mast. The rest of Team Traveller was already there, and while some like Dimitri tried to keep on a brave face, they clearly weren't in high spirits. Pleo, Elty, and Guardia all looked visibly downcast, while Crom had his head buried into his father's shoulder as the Fraxure tried to comfort him. Ander had avoided the rest of the group entirely, opting to stay at the opposite edge of the crowd as he occasionally cast nervous glances at Pleo.

Nida stood there dumbly for a moment as she took her place alongside her teammates with Trizano. Among the sailors, a Golduck looked up at the damaged front mast and lingered on it. After a moment of hesitation, the Water-Type turned over at Beatrix and raised a question that had clearly been on much of the gathering's mind.

"… What do we even do right now?" the Golduck asked.

Beatrix had no response as her eyes drifted down towards the deck in thought. Her Hitmontop first mate was less reserved, as he glanced around at the Siglo Swellow's damage, before he spoke up with a sharp harrumph.

"We turn around and sail back to Tromba, that's what," Vicente scoffed.

Nida and her companions stared slack-jawed at the Fighting-Type. After everything that had happened, the ship's first mate was seriously suggesting they just give up? An annoyed buzz cut through the air, as Beatrix flitted up, glaring daggers at the Hitmontop.


"Captain, I'm serious," Vicente insisted. "You saw what we had to deal with back there! We're lucky to still be afloat right now!"

The Illumise stared at her Hitmontop first mate visibly taken aback. She gave a brief, flustered bat of her wings, before raising a tarsus to motion for calm.

"Vicente, cálmate un poco…"

The Bug-Type's appeal was interrupted by a stammering protest from the crowd, as Pladur cut into the conversation, visibly quailing.

"C-Captain, isn't there any other way for us to do all of this?" he pleaded.

The Fraxure was clinging tight to his child, who still let out occasional sniffles and wiped at his eyes. Pladur looked over at Beatrix, his red eyes sporting a pleading expression.

"I-I don't think that I can take much more of this," he said. "I don't want to see mi hijo get hurt."

Beatrix looked at the ship's cook and blanched. Pladur had never been a braveheart, but seeing him so rattled still took her aback. The Illumise weighed her words carefully, before flitting over and leaning in to speak up.

"Pladur, I understand that you're scared. We all are," she explained. "But we all need to take a step backwards for a moment and-"

"B-But we can't give up now!" Nida insisted. "We just got the Company's Ledger and-!"

"Yeah, and lost the one we had," a Sliggoo shot back. "Just how easily do you think we're going to get it back again from the likes of that Ketu 'mon?"

"And we left a full fifth of the crew behind on the way out!" a Dwebble added. "We don't even have a proper Tailwind team right now!"

A few of the former pirates on the crew grumbled in agreement, a Quilava muttering about how even Alice wasn't able to get away in their retreat. Crom wiped away a few tears as he looked up from his father's scales, the young Druddigon's voice coming out choking and haltingly as he too raised his voice in objection.

"A-And Kiran got taken too, and…"

Crom hitched and he began to cry again. Nida went up to him and nuzzled at him with an insistent "S-Saldrá bien. T-Todo saldrá bien." that from her tone of voice, she didn't fully believe herself. Guardia looked on and hesitated a moment, before shaking her head and batting her club against the deck for attention as she tried to appeal to her fellows on the ship.

"Look, if we just slink off here, then everything that we've done will have been for nothing-"

"Everything we've done might've already been for nothing."

Guardia bit her tongue and turned to see a Bayleef looking away with a defeated-sounding murmur.

"We have no idea of where Kline or Nerea are or if they're even alright. Or if anyone with them is alright," the Grass-Type said. "We're on a damaged ship in the middle of the sea. Just what on earth did we accomplish back there?!"

Pleo turned as Nida objected with a sharp "But it wasn't for nothing!". A Nosepass interjected back in protest, as the nearby Pokémon sorted themselves into camps between the arguing sides and the gathering devolved into a confused mass of conflicting arguments and shouts over each other. Pleo raised a wing and cried for attention, only to be drowned out and for him to pause and droop his head.

… Just what could he say right now? They'd gone into Vollezee, and like Nerea so many years before, had arguably left it worse off for their trouble. How was he supposed to reassure his friends and allies when he, as their Protector, hadn't been able to give them the aid they needed even with his powers?

"Everyone, just simmer down!"

A loud buzz cut through the air as the gathered Pokémon looked up and saw Beatrix had flit up and was training an impatient scowl down at them. Slowly but surely, the murmurs and arguing died down, as Beatrix descended back down to the ship's deck, and pinched at her brow with an audible, sharp breath.

"Look, I know that we're not in a good situation right now, but dwelling on everything that went wrong like this isn't helping," the Illumise began. "It's best to just take a few wingbeats back and examine the situation soberly."

She glanced over at the patched hole in the deck not far from the crowd's edge and then up at the burned and tattered sails attached to the forward mast above. The Bug-Type let her gaze linger for a moment, before lowering her head with an audible sigh.

"We… obviously need to make repairs soon, and we didn't get a chance to reprovision properly," Beatrix continued. "But Kline and Nerea aren't pushovers, and neither is that ocean clan with them. They could've very well helped our friends who got stranded get away."

A few low mutters went about the assembled Pokémon. The former pirates present didn't think much of the Illumise's reassurance… though neither did much of her more regular subordinates for that matter. A Dwebble from the crowd clicked his claws, giving a sharp, skeptical frown in reply.

"Or knowing our luck, they got captured," the Dwebble grumbled. "For all we know they're rotting in a cell right now. Or about to be put to work picking Apricorns, or to get shipped out to some hellhole like Nagrobek."

Beatrix looked back but didn't say anything in response. It… was hard to argue her subordinate's point, but there was precious little they could do to come to their friends' aid in their current condition. The Dwebble's words seemed to make much of the gathered Pokémon hesitate, including Vicente, who shot a doubtful glance at Beatrix before speaking up.

"Captain, I… understand you're trying to lift the mood, and I appreciate it, but… I just don't see what hope we have to go on right now."

Team Traveller's members froze as Beatrix seemed to have no counter to her first mate's remarks. There was no hope for Pleo to finally have peace and be able to return to Tromba without the Knight's Ledger, to say nothing about Elilan's schemes or anything else the Company or Empire might do in the future to the next Protector to hatch in Anyilla. But… if the Siglo Swellow's crew just genuinely had no further appetite for their present mission, just what were they to do?

Crom glanced aside with a glum hang of his head, when suddenly, on the front mast, he spotted movement. The Druddigon turned his head up and saw that there, latched against the wood was a green, serpentine figure moving down—one which a quick examination revealed was one of Kline's Cells.

"Ah! Kline!"

Team Traveller reflexively bolted over for the mast as the Cell inched down towards them. The other sailors gaped at it curiously and murmured over whether or not it was a good omen. Pleo didn't wait to try and puzzle out a meaning, and walked up to the Cell just as it settled at about his eye level and he raised his voice with breathless surprise.

"Are you okay?" the Lugia asked. "Did you guys make it out alright?"

The Zygarde Cell squirmed and inched around on the mast in reply. Pleo and his companions blinked and traded worried looks with one another. Were the movements there supposed to mean anything? Elty clicked his tongue and pinned his ears back briefly, before raising a paw and speaking up to the Cell on the mast.

"… Try wiggling to say 'yes', and staying still to say 'no'," he said. "But you're okay, right? You and your teammates?"

The Cell wiggled back and forth at the Growlithe's question, stopping briefly before repeating the same process to answer the second, which drew a collective sigh of relief. Travellers Above, at least something had gone right from their entire mission. If Kline and the rest of Team Zephyr had managed to slip Team Sentinel's grasp, then they still had a hope of getting the last part of Knights' Ledger from Conntow, and however difficult, still had a hope for recovering the one that had been stolen from them. Crom stepped forward towards the Cell, giving an anxious glance as he spoke up with a stammering query.

"W-Wait, but what about the others?" the Druddigon asked. "Are they alright? Is Kiran with you right now?"

Kline's Cell remained still. After a few seconds, Crom grimaced, realizing that Kline was telling them Kiran wasn't with him. The Druddigon hesitated a moment, as he tried to find some ray of hope.

"Or the sailors…? Or anyone from Dimitri's clan…? Or anyone else?"

Again, no response came to any of the questions. Team Traveller's members hung their heads, their spirits dampened at the realization that as far as Kline knew, he and his teammates were the only ones to escape. Perhaps there were others Kline hadn't been able to see through one of his Cells, but…

"That… wasn't what we were hoping to hear," Nida murmured. "But are you safe right now? Can you still move around?"

At last, the Zygarde Cell shook back in reply—to both questions, even—bringing a faint sense of relief to Team Traveller's members. They didn't have much to go on, but once they got their present predicament sorted out and Kline was there to help them…

Then there was still hope. Trizano sucked in a sharp breath, before looking over at Beatrix with a pleading expression.

"Captain Beatrix, I… know that this is a lot to ask of you and everyone else right now, but I don't think that all is lost right now," the Skarmory said. "We needed Kline's help in order to go to Conntow anyways to protect us from Yveltal's powers, and he's still able to help us."

The Illumise Captain turned and brought a tarsus up to her mouth in thought. Vicente cocked a brow at his superior for a moment, before shooting a dubious frown at Team Traveller's members.

"… How does that solve the issue of a third of the Ledger being stuck in the hands of a 'mon that you had to cut and run from?" the Hitmontop asked.

"We might have a workaround to it. Duke Valter and the others in Darkwood Square made a copy of the volume that Coil left behind," Trizano explained. "It's not the same as having the original, but the volumes of the Ledger are supposed to interconnect with one another. I can't guarantee it will work, but if we find the others, it might turn out that there's enough in them to make it obvious that our copy's contents weren't changed around."

Beatrix visibly hesitated for a moment and inhaled sharply as she warily answered the Skarmory.

"I suppose it'd make sense as long as we get the last ledger," she murmured.

A few sailors' eyes at once widened with alarm. After everything that they'd been through, was she seriously suggesting that they go off to…

"C-Captain Beatrix?! W-We're not seriously sailing to Conntow like this, are we?!" a Sliggoo exclaimed.

"Por todos los cielos! There's a hole in the middle of the deck right now!" a Nosepass protested. "How long do you expect this ship to last out in the Dead Zone in this state?!"

Beatrix looked back, before giving a sharp buzz and giving a stern glance in reply.

"I wouldn't dream of it in our present circumstances, especially without Kline here to help protect us," the Illumise insisted. "And… it's honestly a decision that I'd need time to think things through even if we were in a position to press on."

Team Traveller's members stiffened up as Beatrix mentioned she needed time to think things through. She had to understand what would happen if they all gave up, didn't she?

Pleo and Guardia stepped up to try and protest, only to be cut off as the Illumise captain raised her tarsus for silence, and shook her head.

"Look, as it stands, we can't make it to Conntow like this, but we can't make it home either," she said. "A good portion of the crew is on bedrest, and with the state the ship's in we'll be lucky to make it home in two days. We only have enough supplies right now for one."

Beatrix fell silent with a noticeable pause, before looking away and pawing at her shoulder with a low, tired buzz.

"To be clear, it's not so much the food I'm worried about. While going hungry for a couple days would be unpleasant, we could survive it," the Illumise explained. "However, going one day without water to drink would already be brutal on the crew. If we then got held up for whatever reason at sea…"

Beatrix didn't finish the sentence, but the sailors already began to whisper and trade alarmed glances with each other, including Elty, who set his teeth on edge with a quiet gulp. Even a crew like the Iron Fleet knew how dangerous it was to be stuck at sea without drinking water. After all, a ship could have all the Cradle's treasures in its hull, and it'd all be for naught if its crew died of thirst before they could enjoy it.

The Growlithe looked around at the other Pokémon on the deck and pinned his ears back. Between their species, he'd be shocked if there was a skeleton crew left to man this schooner after three days without water. Less if the sun was particularly harsh. It wasn't terribly hard to imagine scenarios where a trip back to Tromba would take longer from the state the ship was in. If the winds were sufficiently unfavorable or they hit an unmarked sandbar…

Beatrix obviously understood those risks herself, as the Illumise cleared her throat and continued on.

"That's why we should be focusing on making it to any port we can and lick our wounds there," she said. "Valter's sails should hopefully buy us enough time to reprovision and make spot repairs."

"To Otvaga?" Vicente asked.

"When it's neutral waters and in spitting distance to Vollezee?" the Illumise asked. "I wouldn't count on it being a safe harbor for us. We'll need to look further afield."

Vicente blanched and visibly recoiled at his Captain's orders. The Hitmontop reflexively opened his mouth to protest, only to catch himself. The Fighting-Type hesitated and visibly seemed to be weighing his words, before he broke the silence and spoke up.

"… Captain, you are aware that the nearest islands after Otvaga are Conntow, Nagrobek, and Orleigh, right?"

"Followed by Gestirn and Giotto," Beatrix replied. "Of those, Gestirn is the only one I'd feel like trying my luck with since we need a place to lay low outside of Company waters where we're not already known. If Team Zephyr is able to, they should be able to catch up with us while we're there and we can make a firmer decision then on how to handle the last Ledger."

The gathered Pokémon on deck traded hesitant glances with each other. Trying to sneak back into Imperial waters was… a gamble, to say the least. It was hard to argue Beatrix's point about them being stuck between a rock and a hard place, but the proposal was hardly reassuring…

"Is it safe for us to go there?" a Bergmite asked. "I'm pretty sure that we didn't stop being wanted in Imperial waters, and we already got into trouble once while flying Valter's colors…"

A lingering pause filled the air among Team Traveller's members, before Nida broke the silence by raising her voice.

"No, but if Nagant kept her word… she might've not passed on a description of Valter's colors to other islands?" Nida offered. "It's a risk as to whether or not she did, but…"

The Nidorina trailed off mid-sentence and motioned about the ship, pointing at the damage left behind. She sighed, flattening her ears back at the Bergmite.

"I'm not sure if we have a choice right now."

The sailors glanced about the stricken ship and one by one grudgingly murmured in agreement. Even Elty's former crewmates, who'd had the fight sucked out of them from the hostile encounter, seemed convinced that Gestirn represented their best of several bad options. Beatrix paused briefly, before shaking her head and turning back to Nida and her companions.

"Seems like we're all in agreement then," she said, prompting Pleo to turn his head over towards Kline's Cell clinging to the mast.

"Did you get all of that, Kline? Would you be able to make your way over to Gestirn?"

The Cell once again wiggled back twice in response, an affirmation to each of Pleo's questions. After taking a moment to glance up at the tattered sails on the masts, Beatrix turned back to her crew, taking a quiet, but serious tone with her crew.

"Go and fetch Valter's sails from storage and hoist them onto the masts and chart a course southwest for Gestirn," the Bug-Type ordered. "I'll check the barometer with Vicente to get an idea of what we're facing ahead of us, since we don't have many other options to work with right now."

The gathered Pokémon lingered a moment, before one by one, the sailors dispersed, uneasily returning to their stations. As the crowd thinned, Nida began to drift off back for the stern, when she noticed Pleo waddling off with patches of his back showing silvery white and a trail of purple liquid dribbling off of him in his wake.

"Pleo? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, or at least as much as everyone else," the Lugia murmured. "But these colors keep coming off my feathers."

The Nidorina blinked and ran a paw over Pleo's plumage, only for her digits to at once get stained with purple dye and reveal silvery-white plumes underneath. Nida looked down at her paw, before shaking her head and giving a reassuring pat at his shoulder.

"Right. Hatteras said to not get your disguise too wet…" Nida said. "I… don't think there's a lot we can do to fix it, so let's just try and get you cleaned up."

Pleo held out his wings and looked down at them, before turning to Nida with a worried murmur.

"… How do we do that though?"

"Well, the fastest place to start would be by getting your feathers wet," the Nidorina explained. "Why don't you swim along with the boat for a bit? I need to get some equipment to help clean you off, and a few dives ought to help make things easier for when I'm back."

The Lugia nodded and hopped up onto the railing with a beat of his wings, steadying himself briefly before diving off into the sea. It'd surely be enough to take care of most of the dye, but even so, there were bound to be some stubborn spots that would need a more thorough scrubbing to get out once he got back on deck. There were some buckets and some rags the crew kept around for cleaning purposes, Nida supposed that now was as good a time as any to fetch them.

The Nidorina made her way off below the Siglo Swellow's deck, the sunlight giving way to the interior dimly lit up by glowmoss lanterns as the waves and chatter from the deck faded away into the creaking of the timbers. She made it a few paces, only to hang her head and pinch her brow with a low sigh.

… Just how were they supposed to go on after all of this?

"… and that's what happened after the schooner sailed away."

A thick, tense silence hung in the Board's chamber on top of the Company's Headquarters. The Director and all four Administrators had hastily gathered for the occasion about their stone meeting table, even Zorn and Darzin, who'd come in with freshly-applied bandages and still-lingering bruises from their recent battles.

At the other end of the table, Sorge, Zelle, and Aldrich waited by the door, sporting stray scrapes and scuffs themselves. Meanwhile, at the front of the table was the speaker: Lyn. The Samurott sucked in a sharp breath, looking about worriedly as he tried to read any hint of the Director or his Administrators' thoughts from their expressions. He'd already been warned once not to come back empty handed, and depending on what they made of his attempted ambush with Administrator Zorn, he'd arguably fallen short already.

After a long silence, Zorn spoke up with a low growl, giving a grumbling shake of his head as he continued on from the Samurott's account.

"The ocean clan with Manaphy tried to come to their stragglers' aid," the Gyarados explained. "We attempted to encircle them and were able to cut their efforts short, but Manaphy and most of their numbers were able to successfully elude us."

Zorn sank deeper into the water, lowering his head with a sulking frown as he turned over to the Nidoking Director seated at the head of the table.

"I was hoping that we would have been able to pre-empt the Protector's powers and just shoot out his hull from under him," he muttered. "But even after Lugia used his powers, I wasn't expecting that there'd be two other Protectors along with him who would both do the same right afterwards."

"I assure you, that if it weren't for that, I'd have the Guardian here before you right now," Lyn added. "Even so, in spite of Lugia and Manaphy eluding us, we managed to take some of their allies prisoner. Perhaps we could use them to lure Lugia or the other Protectors to try and rescue them."

The Samurott glanced across the table nervously, seeing Inler level a gaze at him that seemed to bore into his hide. He fought the urge to visibly squirm under the Nidoking's stare, when he saw the Director flatten his ears and with a low sigh.

"We'll consider it. You should focus on your mission and make any adjustments you need to in light of this whole episode," Inler huffed. "After all, based off the reports of what happened during the attempt to accost the Guardian's ship in the military harbor, we should seriously consider whether or not we're worrying too much about conducting this mission quietly…"

Lyn looked away and quietly breathed a sigh of relief, as he felt his heart still pounding in his chest. So the Director wouldn't hold that debacle in the lagoon against him. It wasn't much of a reprieve, but still enough of one to mean that he'd still hold his job to sail and hunt for the Guardian of the Seas. The Samurott hastily composed himself, looking back across the table as a firm, unyielding scowl came over Inler's face, and the Nidoking turned his attention over to his Dragonite peer to his left, who seemed to be nervously fidgeting in his seat.

"Though what is your explanation for all of this, Darzin?" Inler asked. "It's not every day that I receive reports from a dozen guards of you being overpowered and thrown from the deck of a ship."

The Dragonite stiffened up slightly and visibly hesitated for a moment, before shaking his head and narrowing his eyes in reply.

"I had come across a chance lead on the Protector's ship and was forced to act on it on the spot before they could slip away," Darzin harrumphed. "I merely underestimated how prepared they'd be for my attempt to intervene."

The Dragonite's held his breath for a moment as his explanation drew dismissive scoffs from the others at the table, as even Team Sentinel couldn't help but quietly narrow their eyes at the Dragon-Type. Darzin briefly glimpsed at them out of the corner of his eye, when a sharp huff turned his attention back to the seat across from his, where Elilan folded his arms.

"Still, it's truly remarkable that Lugia managed to elude us yet again," the Zoroark said. "One can't help but wonder how he managed to escape when four members of the Board had a chance to stop him, including its own Director."

Elilan's remark at once prompted Zorn to grit his teeth, as the water from the pool he rested in churned as he shifted in place and craned his head across the table with an offended scowl.

"And where were you during all of this, huh?" the Gyarados snarled. "Easy for you to criticize us when you were off doing paperwork! Like you'd have done a better job!"

Elilan unfolded his arms and rested his chin against the back of his left claw, as a faint smile crept up from the corners of his muzzle.

"Why, are you proposing to everyone that I take over this mission, Zorn?" the Zoroark asked. "If so, I'd be more than happy to oblige."

A sharp thump rang out in the room, as Elilan turned his head towards Inler's place at the table. There, the Nidoking pulled his tail back from a slap against the marbled floor, as he fixed a sharp, piercing glare at the Zoroark Administrator.

"I have no interest in making any reassignments at this point, Administrator Elilan, and especially not to you or any candidates you may have in mind," Inler growled. "Kindly drop the topic."

Elilan curled his muzzle into a visible frown, but said nothing further about the matter. Inler flicked his ears briefly and turned his attention over to Team Sentinel with a low grunt.

"Besides, I was under the impression that our operatives from the Intelligence Division had additional information to share with us."

The Nidoking motioned for the three to come forward and Team Sentinel approached, with Sorge at the head. Lyn quietly stepped aside as the three took his place at the table, with the Company Director eyeing them carefully.

"I've already taken the liberty of looking over your dossiers, so let's get straight down to business," he insisted. What exactly happened out there?"

Team Sentinel's members traded glances with one another briefly, before Sorge spoke up before the gathered Pokémon.

"A lucky break, really," the Kommo-o answered. "We were on shore leave and happened to encounter Lugia's companions while Aldrich was visiting some places about the city for old times' sake. We tried digging in deeper to get a better feel for what they were up to to help the guards apprehend them, but they caught us off-guard."

From the left of Sorge, a low growl and faint electrical crackle rang out. The Kommo-o looked over and saw Farn narrowing her eyes in frustration.

"I'll say," the Luxray snapped. "It just makes my fur bristle knowing that they were using my own son as part of a plotted heist!"

"And it was a mistake on our part to allow things to get to such a point," Zelle apologized. "If we knew your children were in such danger, we'd have notified the guards immediately even if it meant risking a more difficult apprehension."

"Or Lyn if we'd known sooner that he came back into port," Sorge added. "It might have kept the Vault from being breached if we had."

"We… were sabotaged by an unknown party who appears to have misled Administrator Darzin and prompted him to call in a raid on us. It led to us getting into a fight with some lower-ranked guards," Aldrich explained. "We're sorry about the whole incident. Our understanding was that those guards are presently on bedrest from the whole episode."

The Noivern and his companions' eyes drifted over towards Darzin, the Dragonite quietly blinking in confusion as they shot brief glares at him, before the Administrator responded in kind. Lyn cleared his throat from off to the side, prompting Team Sentinel to turn to him as the Samurott began to speak up.

"But where does Zygarde come into all of this?" Lyn asked. "You three, Ketu, and Ellsberg were seen engaging him. How did you know he would be there?"

"We didn't, actually," Aldrich explained. "We went in well-prepared for an encounter with Lugia, which allowed us to hold up against Zygarde reasonably well, even if it took us some time to get myself and Ellsberg treated afterwards."

"We'd like to think that we put him and his companions up against the wall, but they escaped us after Zygarde unleashed his full powers," Sorge sighed. "His blow left us reeling and it was hard to see anything from the amount of dust and debris in the air. By the time things settled down, they were gone and we'd lost their trail."

Lyn tilted his head. Just from the deck of his ship, Zygarde's power had looked overwhelming from a distance. The swim over to Headquarters had taken him past some of the damage, with the canals choked with Pokémon seeking shelter in a panic and entire lengths of streets scarred with torn-up chunks of earth and mangled buildings. Considering how they'd been there right in front of Zygarde during such an attack, it was a small miracle they were well enough to stand and report right now.

From the head of the table, Inler grunted and turned to Team Sentinel with a firm nod.

"I understand," the Nidoking Director said. "Thank you for your briefing, you are dismissed."

Sorge, Aldrich, and Zelle bowed, before taking their leave for the chamber's double-doors, where the honor guards showed them out. As the doors creaked shut, Lyn took his place back at the speaker's end of the stone table, right as Inler pinched his brow with a sigh and turned to his Administrators.

"We're fortunate that in spite of such damage that there don't appear to be any casualties that can't be treated," he said, as his expression took on a dark tinge. "I've received reports of unrest already starting in some sectors of the city. I passed word out for a pre-emptive curfew to be enforced after dusk tonight, but we don't have much time to work with."

Inler turned his attention back to Lyn, and brought his claws together before speaking up.

"That's why I gathered everyone here," the Nidoking insisted. "To decide if anything with our present course of action needs to change."

There was a noticeable silence that lingered in the air after the Director's words, as nobody had any suggestions to volunteer. After a moment of visible hesitation, Lyn opened his mouth to reply.

"Beyond some greater urgency, I'm… not sure there's that much that needs to change," the Samurott said. "The smugglers' ship was last spotted on a course for Imperial waters. One possibility is that they're attempting to fake us out by changing course to Otvaga some distance away from shore. I already took the liberty of dispatching the fleet that went with me to Tromba out to Otvaga… just in case."

Lyn brought a paw to his chin briefly, before continuing on with a low grunt.

"That's not to say I staked everything on them going there, especially when they've had such a long streak of feints in the past month," he added. "If those smugglers continued on into Imperial waters proper, they're bound to stumble across one of the traps my contact within Orleigh's Council has set up. If they tripped one of them, it'd be a simple manner of extracting Lugia afterwards."

Lyn paused and weighed his words for a moment as he thought over how to best continue on. With how precarious the Company's position in their race for Lugia was, if there was a time to press the Board for further support, it was now.

"I was planning to set sail and coordinate with my contact to prepare for that extraction, since it'd need force of numbers to be effective."

And he knew exactly what he needed to ask for. He just didn't know how the members of the Board would react to it. The Samurott steeled himself, looking the Director and gathered Administrators square in the eyes as he spoke up to raise his appeal.

"Which is why I wish to make one final request for requisitioning resources."

Inler stared back unmoved at Lyn as the Administrators traded dubious glances with one another. Elilan was particularly unimpressed with the appeal, as he folded his arms and shot a sharp frown back.

"Tch, weren't you just at the head of a fleet of five ships just last week?" the Zoroark harrumphed. "What on earth could you possibly still need at this stage?

There was no turning back here. No time to question his moves, to just stick to the path that he chose. With the request that in all likelihood would make or break his mission.

"I need an ironclad, enough 'monpower to staff both it and my Argent Aviso with at least a skeleton crew, and enough Poké to staff a galleon for a month," Lyn insisted. "For my trap to work, my contact needs to be a bit better equipped than the solitary caravel he captains."

The Administrators stared back in stunned silence. Elilan narrowed his eyes and let out an incredulous scoff, only to hesitate after seeing Inler keep a stony, unmoving face. The Director kept his gaze focused on Lyn for a noticeable moment, before the Nidoking closed his eyes with a low huff.

"Granted," Inler said. "Darzin's should still be in drydock right now. It will be assigned to you with appropriate reinforcements for your mission."

Farn and Zorn blinked at the Nidoking's answer as Elilan looked at Inler with a raise of his brow. Loud spluttering followed from Darzin's end of the table, as the Dragonite got up with a frustrated growl.

"What?! Inler, that's my ship!" he exclaimed. "You can't just give that away to some Third-!"

A loud stomp rang out as Inler rose from his seat. Darzin abruptly bit his tongue and fell quiet as the Nidoking turned to him, baring his fangs with a piercing glare.

"I'm entitled to allocate resources as I see fit in a time of crisis, Darzin," Inler snarled. "Am I to just let that ship sit unused in the docks if it could tip the balance of our efforts to secure a Protector?"

The Nidoking turned his attention back across the far end of the table and hardened his features into a sharp frown.

"It should go without reminding, Commissioner Lyn," Inler began "But you don't have any further margin for error with this mission. Don't come back to us empty-handed."

That time, Lyn didn't flinch at the charge. He'd understood the stakes of his request, and at least for now, it had paid off. All that was left was to press on and plunge ahead with his gamble, and let the cards fall where they may. The Samurott nodded his head in reply, answering with a determined growl.

"Understood, Director. And I won't."

(Continued in next post)
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PMD Writer
The process of cleaning Pleo's plumage proved to be a more stubborn task than Nida had expected. Scrubbing the dye out of his feathers' vanes was simple enough when they were easy to reach, but there would always be a patch or corner here or there that the two would find they overlooked. Eventually it was time to dry off Pleo's down feathers, which had grown soaked from the thorough cleaning, and then help preen his feathers' vanes back into shape. Nida wasn't sure how Pleo and Kiran made it look so easy, but even if her paws weren't built for it, in the end she managed to help get his plumage looking as good as new.

That had been a few hours ago, with the time since then taken up by Nida changing back into her normal colors along with the rest of the crew, with Nida taking a small hint of pride after seeing Ander, Trizano, Pladur, and Dimitri wear her same blue-and-whites for the first time. That moment came and went quickly, as Nida was kept busy with helping her teammates tend to the battered ship or their injured comrades. Every now and then, a part of their team would split off to go and document part of the volume of the Knights' Ledger they'd recovered from Vollezee. After all, in the wake of losing the blue volume to Ketu, nobody was particularly keen on taking the possession of the volume they did have for granted.

Tap tap tap…

Not least of all Nida, as she heard her own footsteps fall against the timbers of the ship's corridors. She followed the dimly lit lanterns along the walls for the sleeping quarters where they kept the Ledger for readings and where she was due to take over from Elty and Guardia for the next shift documenting it.

Nida was a bit uneasy about how Beatrix and the others had yet to find a new hiding place for the Ledger, but she supposed that with the crew worried about simply making it to another port to lick their wounds, they could be forgiven for not settling on another location for it just yet. After all, it wasn't as if Team Sentinel was going to ambush them at sea for their current volume…


She decided that she didn't want to think too hard about that possibility and brushed her way past the room's door. There, she saw the bluish light of a glowmoss lantern on the floor, with Elty and Guardia resting on the ground in front of a book laying open on its spine, the pair looking at the tome's pages in rapt attention.

"Hey, how's the reading been going?" Nida asked.

Elty and Guardia glanced up from their book and spotted Nida at the doorway, the Growlithe of the pair pinning his ears back and shaking his head with a low sigh.

"Dobrze. Even if it's been me doing all the reading," Elty answered. "Guardia just insisted that she wanted to be there to hear things this time."

"I think that I'm actually starting to recognize some of your hut runes," the Cubone remarked. "Now I can make out your numbers, at least."

Nida looked over at Guardia and blinked for a moment. It'd been less than a month since they'd left Kenobi, and Guardia had already noticeably changed from the fight-seeking 'mon who never seemed to miss an opportunity to put down civilization. She wasn't sure if Guardia's opinion on it had changed enough to not want to go back to her colony, but the Cubone definitely felt more open and appreciative of it than she remembered.

It was hard to imagine that back on Kenobi, Guardia had been firmly skeptical of being able to work with Pokémon like them… even if it still felt like Guardia was looking from the outside in on their way of life at times. Was her change in attitude because she'd seen signs that civilization could be different? Or was it because she'd grown attached to them?

… Nida didn't have an answer to those questions. Though she supposed that Guardia would give them of her own accord whenever she felt she was ready to. Besides, there were some other questions that were more relevant for them to worry about right then and there…

"Well at least you two have been managing to get through things," the Nidorina said. "What did you read on your turn anyways?"

Elty and Guardia traded uneasy looks with one another, as the Growlithe of the pair shifted his body against the timbered floor.

"There… wasn't much that was different from the blue ledger, really. Or at least not yet," Elty replied. "The beginning's pretty similar to it."

Guardia turned her head at her Growlithe companion and cocked a brow puzzledly. At once, Nida wondered whether Elty had said something wrong, but before she could press the matter, the Cubone cut her off and spoke up.

"Eh? There were still some things that were different," she insisted. "What about the bits about all the Windie from your island?"

Elty pinned his ears back and abruptly fell silent, looking off towards the floor with an uncomfortable grimace. Nida blinked a moment and quirked an ear. Just what had Guardia meant with her remark about…

"… 'Windie'?"

"It's what she calls 'Arcanine'," Elty explained. "There were a few passages talking about ferals on Nagrobek attacking Pokémon after Yveltal's egg was taken."

"I'd imagine it was probably for the same reasons why others like them did on Mengir, or what my colony sometimes does with defilers at home," Guardia added, shaking her head. "There were a lot of mentions of packs of Gardie and Windie being frequent attackers."

Nida fell silent as a cloud seemed to settle over the Growlithe's mood. Right, Elty had mentioned during an earlier day at sea that he'd grown up with his mother on Nagrobek Island and lived as ferals until the local guards snatched her and took her away. He hadn't gone into much detail about what had happened other than that they were separated shortly before he ran into the Iron Fleet and left the wilds, but between Guardia's comments and the way he was reacting right now…

"… So it stirred up some bad memories, huh?" she asked.

Elty squirmed a moment, as he avoided Nida's glance and answered with a low, glum, murmur.

"You could say that, yeah," the Growlithe said.

Elty shook his head and looked back at Nida and Guardia. After a moment's hesitation, he continued, giving a nervous glance at the door as if expecting an attacker to barge in at a moment's notice.

"When I was growing up, Arcanine and Growlithe like me on Nagrobek usually lived alone or in small groups. Normally just rodzice and their pups," he explained. "My mom used to tell me stories of packs of them that would run the plains together and how she grew up in one, but…"

The Growlithe trailed off and pinned his ears back. He sucked in a sharp breath, before speaking up with a low whine, apparently struggling with the topic of conversation.

"She never told me what happened to them. The topic always made her uncomfortable," Elty said. "The furthest she'd go would be to tell me that they just weren't around anymore and to not get too close to knot-necks. For a time, I thought they were just stories, but…"

A long silence followed as Nida wondered what on earth could've happened. Elty wasn't that old, while this Ledger had been written before the time of the Great Calamity. Then… did this mean that the Company had done something to those packs? Relatively recently at that?

Nida flicked her ears and shook her head. She wasn't sure if she liked the implications of that train of thought, but perhaps it was best not to dig up old wounds with Elty right here and now. Not after a day like today, and especially not when they already had their paws full with other things to worry about.

"It's getting a bit late and the weather's picking up," Nida said. "Why don't you two get some rest and let me take over before going to sleep?"

Elty and Guardia traded looks with each other, when the Cubone of the pair moved a hand over her mouth as a yawn came over her. Guardia blinked out of realization of her present tiredness and let out a quiet sigh in reply.

"… I suppose that we have been doing this for a while," she admitted.

"Yeah, after a day like today, I could get behind conking out for a while," Elty sighed.

"Rest well," Nida said. "Just take care of yourselves, alright?"

Elty and Guardia drifted out the door as Nida scooped up the Ledger and the lantern on the floor, before making her way over to a desk fashioned from an old wooden crate set up near one of the walls. The Nidorina set the lantern on the desk and sat down. She paused to let her eyes adjust to the lighting and after finding her place in the ledger and setting aside a slip of paper and charcoal nub for note-taking, began to read from the book's pages.

The text was dense with tightly-packed runes, some of it filled with details that didn't seem to matter at first glance, though a few details stood out as the pages went by. The Pokémon from the Company who had kept this volume had noted that the journey with Yveltal's egg at sea had gone by smoothly, with said egg being taken to the Empire's secure site built into Conntow's Mystery Dungeon. Then, not long after all three of the eggs began showing signs of activity, they were transferred out to a facility not far from the outskirts of Middleguard City—the Imperial capital back then.

The Nidorina turned the page, when her eyes drifted to a passage on it that made her blink as she stopped and read it aloud to herself:

"Yveltal's egg moved again today. All of the eggs have been responding well to the new experimental regimens, but its development in particular has been truly remarkable. When the eggs were first brought to this facility, it was Zygarde's egg that had shown the most potential, but in a scant few weeks, this one has surpassed them all.

Queen Erna was pleased to hear the news, and requested that we reprioritize our testing schedules accordingly. She is of the opinion that Yveltal's egg holds the most promise for meeting the needs of the realm, and as the Protector presently closest to hatching, she concluded that it was all the more reason to focus on awakening it.

I relayed this news to the research team at the site. Most of the staff approved of the new direction and were ready to proceed with it, though there were a few particularly outspoken dissenters, a couple of whom have even threatened to tender their resignations. The specifics of their objections vary, but the general commonality between them was that they felt the requested regimen was progressing too far too fast, with insufficient time to fully confirm the results of their research.

The Queen ordered us to find replacements for those objectors should they be unable to make their peace with her requests, and I for one cannot say that I don't agree with her rationale. The most pressing need for the realm at the moment is to have a living Protector to call our own and stand guard on its behalf.

What Protector would be more effective at that role than one with the power to lay waste to Anyilla's enemies and those who would do her harm?"

Nida felt a shiver run up her spine as she read the passage about 'the power to lay waste to Anyilla's enemies'. Were these Pokémon trying to hatch a Protector, or a weapon? On top of it all, the whole time she noticed that the volume of the Ledger had been evasive about just what these experiments with Yveltal's egg entailed. Had the writer known that there was something wrong with them? That they were doing something dangerous?

She frankly didn't know whether or not she wanted to know the answer.

"… Nida?"

Nida's ears flicked and she perked up to attention at the sound of Pleo's voice to the side. She turned to her right, where there at the doorway was her teammate shuffling in.

"Huh? Pleo? What are you doing up right now?" she asked. "And how come Crom's not with you?"

"He went to bed about half an hour ago, but…"

The Lugia fell silent, his head and wings drooping as he looked down at the floor with a low murmur.

"I can't sleep right now."

Nida tilted her head, when she noticed whistling noises coming through the ship's timbers. Those… didn't sound good. Beatrix and Vicente had passed along word about an hour ago that their readings of the ship's barometer portended choppy sailing overnight, but she hadn't expected the weather outside to be this loud.

No wonder why Pleo had had trouble falling asleep. She just hoped that wasn't an omen of things to come.

"… Because of the wind?" the Nidorina asked. "I guess that's understandable, it's just that I wouldn't have expected you to-"

"It's because of Kiran."

Pleo glanced away as soon as the words left his mouth, making Nida stand up with a worried look. The Nidorina made her way forward, seeing Pleo raise his head as small droplets began to bead up at the corner of his eyes.

"I… just wish he was here with us right now," the Lugia said. "Are- Are we ever going to see him again?"

Nida paused, before going up and slinging a forepaw around Pleo's back and nuzzling at the top of his beak with a small sigh.

"… I'm sure we will, Pleo. And I know how much you want to see him again. All of us feel that way," she reassured. "But you need to at least try to get some rest."

Pleo stood there for a moment, before looking away again with his head held heavy and low.

"… But how?"

Nida bit her tongue as she looked over Pleo. Why, she hadn't seen him look this miserable since the Empire kept him penned up in that stadium on Giotto! The Nidorina glanced back at the Ledger still laying open on its spine, before shaking her head and turning back to Pleo.

Right here, right now, her friend needed a helping paw. Perhaps it was best to just take a break for a while and focus on getting Pleo to bed. The Ledger would still be there for her afterwards.

"How about I tell you a bedtime story to help you fall asleep?" Nida offered. "That journal's not going anywhere fast."

Nida motioned for Pleo to follow after her as she snagged the lantern off her crate-desk and made her way over towards a set of bedding under the rafters. She heard Pleo rustle his feathers as she neared, and looked over her shoulder to see him settling on the straw, craning his head up expectantly.

"… What story are you going to tell me?" he asked.

Nida paused and brought a paw to her mouth. It'd make the most sense to try and tell Pleo something that would lift his spirits a bit, and there were certainly no shortage of stories she'd heard that could do that. She mulled a few options over her mind, before seeing Pleo start to fidget restlessly. Perhaps it made sense just to stick to something they both already knew he'd like.

"Well, I could tell you one about the Prince of a Thousand Enemies again," the Nidorina said. "His stories always help you fall asleep, and it feels like it's been a while since I've told you one."

Nida stretched her limbs in place before making herself comfortable in her bedding. She opened her mouth to tell the tale of the Prince and his blessing from the old gods, only to catch herself. She'd told that particular story from beginning to end a couple times now for Pleo, including times when Kiran was present alongside them.

The Nidorina hesitated a moment as her mind drifted to her Swellow teammate. She hoped he was doing alright right now. Though if she started thinking of him from that one story, wouldn't Pleo be bound to do the same…?

… That was probably a sign that it was best to tell him a different story tonight. There were supposed to be a number of stories of the Prince of a Thousand Enemies outsmarting various foes through his cunning, though there was always one in particular that Mami was fond of since she said it reminded her of how she herself was able to get the better of Darzin so many years ago…

"How about I tell you the story of the Prince of a Thousand Enemies and the King's Lettuce?" Nida offered.

"'The King's… Lettuce'?" Pleo wondered, tilting his head. "How does that one go?"

"Well, once upon a time, after the Prince received his blessing from the old gods, he began to go on adventures with a partner," the Nidorina began. "A partner who was so brave and loyal that he even would have given his life for the Prince."

A brief flash came over Pleo's eyes at Nida's mention of the Prince's partner, and she couldn't help but feel a pang of sorrow come over herself. That… was more like Kiran than she cared to admit, but for the sake of Pleo's mood, it was perhaps best to give him some reassurance and move along.

"Pleo, don't worry, it'll be a happy story, I promise," she insisted. "… Even if the beginning isn't all that happy."

"Oh? Why isn't it happy?" he asked.

"Well, as it had happened, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies had offended the old gods with one of his tricks, and in punishment they penned him and his children up in unfavorable lands," Nida explained. "Lands where food was scarce and it was hard for his children to have children of their own."

Pleo stiffened up and had his eyes widen with a start.

"Ah, that's awful!" the Lugia cried.

"Indeed, not least of all because the Prince and his partner had grown known among the old gods for being wily and cunning," Nida said, nodding her head back. "So they assigned a messenger from their ranks, Lord Rainbow with his seven-colored wings, to enforce that punishment and keep a close eye on the Prince and his partner."

Pleo blinked and raised a brow with a puzzled frown.

"… But aren't rainbows good things, Nida?" he questioned. "This 'Lord Rainbow' sounds mean and scary!"

Nida paused and pawed at the back of her head with a sheepish smile.

"I mean, 'Lord Rainbow' is just a name, and just about any Pokémon can get a bit scary if they're annoyed with you," Nida answered. "But even so, that didn't stop the Prince of a Thousand Enemies. He saw the plight of his children, and with flared ears and upturned head, went with his partner before Lord Rainbow to try and bargain for his children's sake to end the old gods' punishment…"

"Nida? Was the Prince of a Thousand Enemies like Inler?" Pleo asked.

At once, Nida blanched and contorted her face into an incredulous frown. The Prince of a Thousand Enemies? Like Inler of all 'mons?

"What?! No!" she exclaimed. "What on earth would make you think that?!"

Pleo fidgeted his wings and pulled his head in against his body with an uneasy murmur.

"Well, Inler is a Nidoking, and the Prince of a Thousand Enemies was supposed to be a champion for Nidoran…" the Lugia mused. "So wouldn't he have been a Nidoking too?"

Nida stiffened up and grimaced. Now that Pleo mentioned it, she supposed that even in the stories that Mami and Papi had told her, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies was said to have become a Nidoking at some point during his adventures…

"I… suppose that's true, but…"

Nida trailed off, when it dawned on her. There was no reason for her to be worried at all even if the Prince of a Thousand Enemies were a Nidoking. Why, they'd even seen the proof she needed during their travels!

"But that doesn't mean anything. It's what a Pokémon does that makes him who he is, not what sort of body he has," the Nidorina insisted. "Just think of how different Roteck and Hess are despite both being Aggron. Even if the Prince of a Thousand Enemies was definitely a Nidoking, I can't imagine a hero like him would be anything like Inler."

Pleo remained quiet for a moment, as he brought a wing up to his mouth with a quiet murmur.

"I… suppose that makes sense…"

Nida smiled back, expecting to see the Lugia perk up and eagerly await her continued storytelling, only for him to remain as listless and deflated as he'd been since he first entered the room.

Clearly he had more on his mind than just who the Prince of a Thousand Enemies was as a Pokémon. In that case… maybe it was best to just try and get his mind off of his present worries. The Nidorina leaned in, raising a paw as she patted Pleo's head, looking up with a pleading expression.

"Pleo, it's okay to be worried and upset over what happened today," she said. "But right now, just try to put that behind you. We're friends. We'll get through it together, like we always do."

Pleo paused and thought back to everything that had happened since he'd met Nida, along with the moments they'd spent together alongside their other friends. There were more times than he could count when things seemed scary or impossible, but every time, he and his friends had dug in spite of them and managed to still pull through.

With how much Nida and everyone else trusted him to be their Protector… wasn't it only fair to trust her reassurances in return?

"Well, alright. If you're sure everything will work out…" Pleo said. "Though what was this bargain that the Prince of a Thousand Enemies made?"

The Nidorina smiled for a moment, before leaning in against Pleo and continuing on.

"Well, Lord Rainbow naturally didn't want the Prince or his partner to succeed, so he gave them the hardest task he could think of," Nida explained. "There had been a king that had displeased Lord Rainbow, one who kept a garden planted with the freshest and most delicious lettuce in all the land, watched over by fearsome guards that wouldn't hesitate to strike thieves down. And so, confident that they'd never succeed, Lord Rainbow declared he would remove the punishment over the Prince and his children if he and his partner could bring him the king's lettuce."

Pleo listened as Nida continued on with her story and how even in spite of being given an impossible task, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies and his friend didn't back down from it. A story that as Nida went on with it, seemed to remind him of themselves in a way.

The young Lugia craned his head against his storyteller and gave a small, tired smile. Even if he was still sad about Kiran and the others… even if he wasn't fully sure how they would make things right…

There was still a chance to help them, and he'd move the sea and skies for it.

Author's Notes:

- cálmate un poco - Spanish: "calm down a moment", lit. "calm down a bit/little"
- mi hijo - Spanish: "my son"
- Saldrá bien. Todo saldrá bien. - Spanish: "It'll be alright. Everything will work out."
- Dobrze - Polish: "Alright", "Good". Used here as an interjection.
- Windie (ウインディ) - Japanese: "Arcanine" (Official Romanization)
- rodzice - Polish: "parents"


Winter can't come soon enough
Definitely feels like a slower transitional chapter than some of the previous episodes. It reminds me of the earlier episodes, actually, when Team Traveler didn't have the clearest sense of direction and were just trying to find a way off their island. I mean, yeah, they do eventually figure out what they want to do, but the part with the Company makes me firmly expect there'll be pirate interceptions and they will not reach their destination safely. It'd be interesting if, say, they chose to strike up a deal with the pirates against the Company as an enemy mine of sorts. I can't see the pirates necessarily agreeing to it, but it would make for an interesting turnaround after their allied groups got shoved to the side again. Presumably they'll reunite before the endgame, but that may take an episode or three.

I suspect the rough waters in the second scene are an ominous sign of things to come in the next chapter.

and get Kiran and a bunch of their allies captured for their trouble
Ah, yes, the most important Team Traveler member: Bunch'o Allies.

"Right, sorry to keep you waiting."
[sad Pit noises]

"I don't want to see mi hijo get hurt."
I think you're about [checks watch] 80-something chapters too late there, bud.

examine the situation soberly
[angry ex-pirate noises]

The Cell wiggled back and forth at the Growlithe's question, stopping briefly before repeating the same process to answer the second, which drew a collective sigh of relief.
Everything went better than expected.jpg

Then there was still hope.
Makoto Naegi would like to know your location.

We might have a workaround to it. Duke Valter and the others in Darkwood Square made a copy of the volume that Coil left behind
"Boy, I sure wish we had taken a copy with us instead of the real part that we lost."

but Manaphy and most of their numbers were able to successfully elude us
Everything went even better than expected.jpg

So the Director wouldn't hold that debacle in the lagoon against him
"I know I told you this is your last chance, like, three last chances ago, but this is your lastest chance!" ~Inler, probably

But you don't have any further margin for error with this mission. Don't come back to us empty-handed
Narrator: Lyn will come back emptyhanded possibly because another Company party beats him to the punch

a couple of whom have even threatened to tender their resignations. The specifics of their objections vary, but the general commonality between them was that they felt the requested regimen was progressing too far too fast, with insufficient time to fully confirm the results of their research
Ah, yes, the age old scientist adage of resigning in protest rather than going out fighting and pleading with the research sponsor(s) to see reason.

Are- Are we ever going to see him again?
"This isn't a grimdark PMD fic, so yes."


PMD Writer
It'd be interesting if, say, they chose to strike up a deal with the pirates against the Company as an enemy mine of sorts. I can't see the pirates necessarily agreeing to it, but it would make for an interesting turnaround after their allied groups got shoved to the side again. Presumably they'll reunite before the endgame, but that may take an episode or three.

Well, never say never, even if right now the pirates are working for Lyn as they agreed upon a few episodes ago. But regardless of what happens, it’s not gonna take that long given that there’s only three episodes left, including the current one that just started.

I suspect the rough waters in the second scene are an ominous sign of things to come in the next chapter.

Wouldn’t be a high seas adventure without a storm or two!

"Boy, I sure wish we had taken a copy with us instead of the real part that we lost."

In their defense, Darkwood Square isn’t all that safe either after the Iron Fleet discovered it. Pirates can be pretty loose-lipped and the Empire would definitely be interested in revisiting Pioppo once they find out about it.

"I know I told you this is your last chance, like, three last chances ago, but this is your lastest chance!" ~Inler, probably


Narrator: Lyn will come back emptyhanded possibly because another Company party beats him to the punch

Maaaaaaybe. You’ll just have to wait and see what happens. o3o

Ah, yes, the age old scientist adage of resigning in protest rather than going out fighting and pleading with the research sponsor(s) to see reason.

To be fair it’s not just the sponsor. The head scientist also feels this way.

Happy new year everyone! Me and Spiteful Murkrow are here with the first new chapter of 2023.

Before we get into things, we’d like to extend our thanks to Ambyssin for commissioning this lovely sketch of Pleo for Spiteful Murkrow’s birthday! Go check it out.

Last chapter we ended with Nida telling Pleo a bedtime story as the Siglo Swellow was sailing along, so let’s go see how the ship is doing, shall we?

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

After Nida wrapped up the tale of the King's Lettuce, Pleo retired back to his sleeping quarters as Nida carried on with her readings of the Knights' Ledger. She continued on for a time when the hour began to wear on her and she herself made her way to her bedding the next room over and flopped down to sleep. The Nidorina drifted off to an uneasy slumber, as even as the world faded from her eyes, she kept having unpleasant dreams about their escape from Vollezee.

The din of battle, the ship lurching and almost capsizing after Zorn rammed it from below, the Gyarados brutally sinking his fangs into Kiran and then throwing him aside limply… moments which just kept replaying over and over in her mind.


Nida heard a distant boom and felt her bedding lurch. The Nidorina rolled in her sleep and flicked her ears, wearily cracking her eyes open as the sound of howling winds and confused shouts began to reach her.



Nida jolted upright after a loud noise that sounded like a cannon going off came from outside, and at once saw that the sleeping quarters were in a state of general disorder. All around her, she saw sailors hastily running about to and fro, some with stray straw still clinging to their bodies. A few like a Golduck darted for the door and hurried out into the hallway, as others stopped to frantically shake their teammates awake. Here and there, she could see more injured sailors shrink into their bedding as they stared up at the ceiling with low whines, as if they expected the deck above to cave in on them at any moment.

Nida glanced over at Pleo, who was still sound asleep, when she saw Pladur run up with widened eyes and panting frantically. The Nidorina sprang up and bounded out into the Fraxure's path, pinning her ears back in alarm as she tripped over her words and tried to make sense of the chaos.

"Pl-Pladur?! Wh-What's going on?!"

"T-The storm outside's getting really bad!" the Dragon-Type cried. "Captain Beatrix is asking everyone who's able to get up onto deck to help batten down the hatches! Rapido! The rest of the team's already out there!"

The Fraxure hurriedly brushed past her and beelined for the exit, with other sailors following suit in his wake. Another deafening burst of thunder rang out, and after feeling wet droplets hit her from above, Nida glanced up and noticed that much to her alarm, there was water dripping through the timbers overhead. Travellers Above, if this storm was doing that, then how was the hull holding up right now? At this rate, Beatrix really would need every helping paw she could get!

Without thinking, the Nidorina hurried over to Pleo, tugging frantically at his wing to try and rouse him.

"Pleo! Pleo! Despiértate!"

Pleo stirred and craned his head up with a tired groan, only to freeze after he realized that he could hear shouting. There were scattered voices in the darkened sleeping quarters and the hallway, muffled shouts from the decks above, and the howl of raging winds which mixed together with the general cacophony. The Lugia sprang up with a start and turned to his Poison-Type teammate with an alarmed squawk.

"H-Huh?! What's happening?!

"The ship's in trouble!" Nida insisted. "We need to go help the others!"

Nida turned and hurried out of the sleeping quarters for the hall outside, prompting Pleo to stumble after her. They made their way down the corridors as the ship's timbers audibly creaked and groaned. The lanterns swayed wildly all the while, casting shadows that danced erratically across the ceiling and walls. Along the way, the floor pitched and bucked, forcing Nida and Pleo occasionally to stop to keep their footing as shouts rang out. Every now and then, they'd come across sailors hurrying to and from the ship's compartments similarly struggling with the rocking vessel, a couple badly enough that they lost their footing—like a Bergmite they came across who fell down the last few steps leading up to the deck.

Pleo and Nida hurriedly went over to help the Bergmite up as the poor sailor winced in pain. The whole time, Pleo couldn't help but be filled with a gnawing sense of confusion.

"N-Nida, what's going on?!" Pleo exclaimed. "Why's the ship reacting like this to the storm?! I-Isn't it just like the ones I flew through near Mengir?!"

Nida opened her mouth to try and explain to Pleo that ships had to deal with waves in a storm that weren't there while flying in the air. Before she could get more than the first couple of words out, the Nidorina was cut off by sharp cries up ahead that were just audible over the storm outside.

"Gah! One of the ice plugs is loose!"

"Someone take care of that rigging!"

The pair looked up the steps to exit onto the deck, the whole stairwell slick with water that had poured in from outside. Pleo stared blankly at the drenched floor for a moment, before Nida hurriedly tugged at him. The Lugia looked up and saw Nida hurrying further up the stairs before stopping to glance back, her eyes wide and frantic as she motioned ahead with one of her paws.

"There's no time!" she insisted. "Come on!"

Pleo rushed up the stairs with Nida and was promptly greeted by a thick deluge of rain from the sky, followed by a flash of lightning breaking overhead that made him freeze in place. As his eyes adjusted to the night's darkness, he found the deck of the Siglo Swellow in chaos, with Pokémon darting to and fro in a hurried panic fighting with errant lines of rope and a deck that had been slicked with seawater from bow to stern.

The young Protector stared in blank shock for a moment when he heard a sharp yip, looking over to see Elty tromping up drenched to the bone as water dripped off the ends of his scarf.

"Najwyższa pora!" the Growlithe barked. "We were starting to wonder if you were just going to sleep through all of this!"

The Lugia gaped about the confusion all about him, before shaking his head with a startled stammer. This was a storm! He'd flown through them just fine on Mengir! How could something so soothing and peaceful be causing all of this?!

"B-But why's all of this happening?!" he cried. "It's just a storm!"

A sharp crack rang out, as Pleo looked up to see a chunk of the front mast's yards sailing at him from the direction of the bow. He screamed and hurriedly jumped aside, beating his wings out in a panic as the yard hit the deck with an audible crash. Pleo looked over to see his teammates had darted back to him wide-eyed, when he looked up and saw Valter's gray sails fluttering in the wind visibly torn and frayed.

"It's not 'just' one for this ship!" Elty exclaimed. "If this keeps up, we'll be swimming our way to Gestirn! Come on!"

Elty bounded off for a piece of rope sliding around the deck and sank his teeth into it, prompting Nida and Pleo to hurry over. The three tugged at the line and fought against it as they pulled it over to a cleat embedded on the deck for tying down ropes, struggling to keep it steady as Nida began to wrap the tip of the rope around it.

"Almost… there!"

Pleo tugged at the line's loose end after Nida slipped it through a knot around the cleat and pulled with all his might, his teammates joining in until they stopped feeling the rope budging. The three let go and looked down at the line, when they saw it stayed firmly attached to the fastener. At once, Pleo and his companions let out a sigh of relief as the pouring rain came down on them. At least there was one less thing to worry about for the ship.

"Everyone! Look out!" an Unfezant cried. "There's a wave coming at us from starboa-!"

Pleo turned towards the starboard side of the ship, just as a wall of water broke over the railing. The next thing the Lugia knew, he lost his footing and felt seawater wash over his body and sent him to a tumbling stop along the deck. The Lugia lay there with his wings sprawled out, coughing up water he'd accidentally swallowed as he watched seawater and rain roll off his plumes.

"Help! Heeeeelp!"

Then he heard them. Frantic cries coming from the port side of the ship. The Lugia darted up to the railing and looked over, where there in the water, he could see a Sliggoo thrashing and struggling to keep his head above water as the ship drifted past and the sea escorts attempted to make their way to him. There were other figures further out in the water who'd evidently met much the same fate, while others hung precariously over the side of the ship, such as a Timburr who was clinging to the railing.

Pleo stared in dazed shock for a moment, as he tried to make sense of the confusion on deck. Wh-Where were his teammates right now? Were they alright?

"H-Hang in there, Guardia!" Crom voice shouted. "We're coming to get you!"

Pleo looked on as Guardia flailed from a rope dangling over the ship as Crom and the nearby sailors hurried to lend her aid. The Lugia froze and stood there blankly when he looked up at the sky, just in time to see a flash of lightning light up the stormy night.

Pleo didn't understand why the storm was hurting his friends like this, but after looking back all across the deck, the scene was much the same. Sailors all around him hurried about in a chaotic mass as they frantically tried to pull others aboard or fought to keep the ship together with visible fear and dread on their faces. Fear and dread that was just like the sort they'd had while fighting their way out of Vollezee.

Moments from the battle flashed back in Pleo's mind: the ship listing and Pokémon falling overboard crying out in fright and for aid that didn't come in time, Kiran plummeting into the sea before their eyes, the sheer helplessness that everyone felt when he called forth his powers, only to not have them come to him again later when his friends needed them most.

Pleo looked up at the sky as the cries in the background and the howl of the surrounding storm blurred together in his ears. He grit his teeth and spread his wings, as one singular thought came over his mind:

He wouldn't let his friends get hurt a second time today.

"N-No! Stop it!"

Pleo's feathers suddenly came aglow in silvery light, the sailors around the deck turning and staring in awe as he sprang up and flew into the sky overhead. All the while, Ander's eyes shrank to pins and a frightened whine came from the back of his throat, the Marked Scyther watching as the Lugia climbed and then stalled in the air, bringing his wings in close to his body mid-beat. Ander's nerves soon failed him, and he raised a scythe as he called out in fright.

"P-Pleo! Please!" the Scyther begged. "D-Don't do that now! Not here!"

Pleo threw his wings wide as a faint, blue glow washed over the clouds above. Blue shockwaves radiated out as the clouds overhead shuddered and visibly began to peel back all around him. Ander looked up, blinking as the clouds drifted further and further away. The rain began to lighten while the sea's waves shrank and grew less choppy. The deck and its surroundings grew calmer and calmer, as before he or anyone else knew it, they were all looking up at the constellations again, with a Traveller drifting just to the right of the moon.

The light from around Pleo faded afterwards, the Lugia wobbily returning back to the deck and coming to a pacing stop before he slumped over panting from exhaustion. Pleo laid there for a moment, when he felt a paw tugging at him, and looked up to see Nida staring at him with her eyes widened in awe.


An audible splat reached Nida's ears, as she and Pleo turned their heads to see Guardia slumping onto the deck's timbers onto her belly, gasping for breath. Crom and a number of sailors crowded around her as the Druddigon helped her up.

Elty breathed out a sigh of relief and drifted off a short distance to shake himself dry as Pleo fought against his tired limbs to sit up. Nida and the others around Pleo paused for a moment to catch their breaths from the whole ordeal, brushing off rain and seawater from their bodies as they stared stunned at the young Protector's approach.

"A-Are you all okay?" Pleo stammered. "Nobody's hurt, right?"

Nida and the others looked off back at the port side's railing, just in time to see a Nosepass being pulled up over the railing. A quick glance revealed other sailors similarly being brought back aboard, all soaked, with a few like the Timburr visibly shivering from their ordeal. Nida quickly glanced back at the sea, noticing that it was empty of Pokémon aside from their escorts. Thankfully, a quick headcount afterwards indicated that everyone seemed to be accounted for. The Nidorina tensely breathed in and out for a moment, before letting out an exhausted, relieved sigh.

"I… I think that we're all fine, yeah."

From the rear of the group, Ander warily approached Pleo, holding out his wings as he attempted to dry them in the sea air. All the while, the Scyther stared at the Lugia with a dumbfounded expression, before holding out a scythe and pointing at him with an incredulous stammer.

"B-But… you were channeling those powers," Ander said. "And-"

"Lugia is said to be able to dispel storms too, Ander," Nida replied. "I'm guessing that's what Pleo did there."

Nida watched as Ander seemed to hesitate for a moment. Evidently, even if he was convinced that the gods were demons, his stories must've also said that Lugia had the power to dispel storms. She supposed she should have been relieved at the turn of events, only to blink in realization and look at Pleo with a puzzled tilt of her head.

"… How did you know how to do that, Pleo?" Nida asked. "Whenever your powers came to you in the past, it's always been to attack things."

Pleo stared back blankly for a moment and shuffled his wings. The Lugia opened his mouth, only to trail off and look away uneasily.

"I… don't know," he murmured. "I just know that I saw everyone doing so awful from something that I liked and how scared everyone was, and I just couldn't bear to see it."

Nida raised a brow puzzledly as Pleo looked back at her.

"I just wanted the storm to stop, and… it just went away."

Nida blinked and flicked her ears at Pleo's explanation. Had it been something about their feelings that had drawn out Pleo's powers? Now that she thought about it, Pleo's powers did have a way of coming out whenever Pokémon felt overwhelmed or wished he could be there to help them.

Their escape from Buyeom… the night where they were cornered on Lyn's ship… even the first time he'd used his powers on Tromba if Mami's story was anything to go by. All of them fit that mold. It couldn't just be a coincidence, could it?

Nida flinched after hearing something drag against the deck and turned to see Vicente holding up a length of mangled rigging, before dropping it with a sighing shake of his head.

"Travellers Above, what a mess."

Nida watched the Hitmontop prod at a set of broken rigging with a foot as a tense grimace settled on his face. The Nidorina hesitated briefly at Vicente's reaction, before looking up along the masts and feeling a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach.

There above them, where Valter's sails had been, were naught but a bunch of soaked, gray ribbons of cloth dangling from the cross-masts. The other sailors noticed them too, as Vicente brought a hand to his face and pinched his brow.

"We certainly aren't getting to Gestirn with these," the Hitmontop muttered. "I don't know if this sort of damage could even be patched up."

Gulps and uneasy whispers went about the sailors on the deck as Beatrix walked up towards the remains of the sails, her wings too wet to fly. The Illumise pawed at a few of the damp rags lying on the deck, before throwing them aside with a wet splutch and shaking her head.

"… Even if these were salvageable, we wouldn't have the materials to repair them," she sighed. "And we'd never get them stitched back together before our water ran out."

Beatrix hesitated for a moment and sucked in a sharp breath, before turning to address the sailors around her.

"We've got one other set of sails left to work with that aren't those Company lavenders," the Illumise reminded. "Looks like we'll have to use those to continue on."

Another set of sails to work with? … Beatrix wasn't suggesting using the same ones they'd flown while being chased out of port from Giotto and Buyeom, was she? Worried glances and murmurs went about the gathered deckhands, as Pladur audibly gulped and spoke up in reply.

"You mean… our normal sails?" the Fraxure asked. "But how will those not get us in trouble the moment we pull into port?"

Beatrix turned to Pladur and noticed he and many of her gathered sailors were visibly on-edge from the proposal. After a long pause, she shook her head and let out a quiet sigh.

"… We'll do what we can to disguise the patterns, and try to come up with a cover story to give if anyone asks," Beatrix said. "But I don't think that flying parts of Company lavenders will exactly make us less likely to get into trouble."

A moment of lingering silence hung in the air, with nothing but the sea's waves breaking it. The sailors turned and one by one began to drift off about the ship, some setting to work clearing the debris and wreckage off the deck, while others made their way below it for their replacement sails. All the while, Nida and Pleo noticed the sailors seemed visibly tense and on edge, and looked around blankly. Neither of them were sure just what they were supposed to do when Pladur approached them with a low sigh.

"Maybe it'd be best if you just focused on getting some rest for now," the Fraxure insisted. "You all helped us more than we could've asked for tonight."

Nida glanced towards the stairs and saw Crom, Elty, and Guardia were already taking their leave, and with her and Pleo in their present state… it was hard not to agree that the Fraxure had a point.

"Thanks, Pladur," she replied. "I think that we'll do that."

Nida led her Lugia teammate along, following after him as he tiredly waddled back below the deck. Along the way, she noticed Pleo hanging his head as he walked. Perhaps he was just tired, but after Pleo's downcast mood earlier in the evening… it didn't hurt to give him a bit of reassurance.

The Nidorina hurried up, nosing at his wing for attention. After getting the young Protector to turn his head, Nida nuzzled at him and looked up into his eyes.

"Thank you, Pleo," she said. "For everything."

Pleo staredback wordlessly for a moment, before giving a small smile and leaning in to nuzzle Nida back, before continuing on for the entrance below deck. His movements were still tired and sluggish, but now they had a faint hopefulness to them that he'd lacked just moments earlier. All the while, Nida tried to keep her head up and to brush aside her worries. Whatever tomorrow would bring, she'd face it along with Pleo and her other teammates. Together.

Early that following morning, under calmer skies where the moon and stars were just beginning to give way to dawn, Hess had gathered with the rest of Orleigh's Pirate Council just as a galleon in Company colors pulled into port at Rosequartz Town. He and his fellow captains had come with a throng of pirates drawn from their crews for the occasion, as tension thick enough to cut with a knife hung in the air.

Dirk, Tarquin, and Ingela all steeled themselves for battle, though even with their firm countenance, some of their lackeys were still visibly on-edge as the Company ship approached. Hess grimaced and sucked in a sharp breath, a quick glance over his shoulder revealing that his underlings were just as rattled as him. He turned back to the galleon and sized up its deck, when he noticed that strangely enough, it seemed lightly crewed. There didn't seem to be many escorts in the water or air either, with Lyn evidently opting to come with a smaller number of bulky Pokémon this time, such as a Lapras and a Wailmer.

Perhaps that was a good sign. If something went wrong, it surely wouldn't be harder to fight a smaller crew of square-necks, would it?


Hess flinched as a wooden gangplank struck against the pier, prompting him to look over to see Lyn clambering down and storming straight for him. The Aggron reflexively let out a startled squeak, and a number of pirates in the throng behind him reflexively froze at the Samurott's approach, including much of his own crew.

The Aggron pirate raised his arms to shield his face and braced himself… except, much to his relief, the Commissioner came to a stop in front of him. Hess lowered his arms, when he noticed the others on the Council were unfazed by Lyn's approach and stared back at him with unamused scowls. After a moment to register that he wasn't in agonizing pain, Hess looked back as Lyn's whiskers twitched and the Samurott's muzzle curled down into an impatient, unimpressed frown.

"I'm on a tight schedule right now, so let's get down to business," Lyn growled. "How have those raids been going?"

Hess squirmed and tried to suppress a nervous titter, seeing the scowls on Dirk and the other Council captains' faces deepen. For his own sake, he needed to make it look like Lyn couldn't just walk all over him, and fast. The Aggron raised his head to try and show off his full height, which probably would've been more impressive had the Steel-Type's body not been visibly trembling and his voice come out with a startled stammer.

"W-We've hit up every island in Anyilla outside of Company waters by now, so we kept our end of the bargain," he insisted. "Magmapool was kinda dicey, but we at least got in a good strafing while flying those Trombans' sails before we got chased off."

Lyn gave a disinterested tilt of his head at the Aggron's attempts to puff himself up, before bringing a paw to his whiskers and turning his snout up with narrowed eyes.

"Including Tidemill?" Lyn pressed.

Hess' pupils shrank briefly and his jaw flopped open with an alarmed sputter.

"Look, we said every island, alright? Tidemill City wasn't part of the deal!" the Steel-Type protested. "They were already wanted by the guards there and we raided one of the fringe towns for good measure! That's good enough to make the average 'mon think they're pirates, isn't it?"

A sharp scoff rang out further up the pier, as Dirk stepped forward with a disapproving sneer at Hess that made him cringe. After a moment to cow his unwanted peer on the Council, the Bisharp turned his attention to Lyn and narrowed his eyes with a piercing glare.

"You should keep your expectations in check, Commissioner," Dirk harrumphed. "Mounting a raid on Tidemill City would be as difficult as mounting one on Canalhouse City. You've gotten your raids, and between the four of us, we now have scouts posted on every island in Anyilla outside of Company waters."

The Bisharp crossed his arms, making an effort to show his displeasure at the square-neck's presence before continuing on.

"So the question is, how long do you intend to keep us sitting around here waiting for something to happen?" he demanded.

Lyn gave no answer at first, before shaking his head and glancing off at the open water in the distance.

"Not long at all," he insisted. "Lugia and his friends were last spotted heading for Imperial waters after causing a disturbance on Vollezee. The entire reason why I'm here right now is to make sure that your so-called 'Council' is ready to make good on your end of our deal."

A pair of audible huffs rang out as Ingela and Tarquin leveled icy stares over at the Samurott, the Primarina of the pair not even bothering to hide her disdain of the Company pest before her.

"Hrmph, it would hardly take long to gather the support of the smaller crews in port," Ingela scoffed. "Especially with the promise of a town's worth of loot. We'll be ready to sail as soon as we hear of Lugia's presence from one of our scouts."

"Well, most of us will, anyways," Tarquin harrumphed, shaking his head. "I can't speak for how the fleet of one ship you're pinning your hopes on will fare."

"Actually, about that…"

Lyn drew a seamitar with a quiet scraping noise and turned to gesture in view of his ship with a barking order to 'Move out'. Much to Hess' astonishment, ship's escorts in the air immediately flew off for the open sea, as the swimmers queued up alongside the ship and the ship's diminished crew made their way onto them.

Hess and the other Council members blinked as they watched the escorts in the water begin to drift off, passengers in tow. The Aggron turned back to Lyn just in time to spot a Hitmonchan and a Heracross bringing over a large chest that they set down in front of the Samurott, before taking their leave for a waiting Wailmer. Lyn took a moment to fiddle around with the chest, before he pushed the hefty container forward with its opening latch facing towards Hess.

"Considering the stakes of this mission, I figured my associate needed more than a mere solitary caravel to work with," the Samurott said. "You'll be fielding my Argent Aviso for this raid, which I've taken the liberty of already provisioning for your use."

Lyn motioned with his blade off at the gangplank as a Krokorok and Grumpig were pushed along by a Heatmor and an orange Lycanroc, the former pair visibly dragging their heels before they were shoved over to the Samurott's side. The otter scowled down at the pair briefly, prompting the two to stiffen up and force sheepish, overeager smiles over their faces before glancing over at Hess and the gathered pirates. The Aggron cocked a brow at the two square-necks and their Samurott superior, as the otter slipped the flat of his blade behind the pair with a quiet harrumph.

"I've also arranged for two of my deckhands to stay behind to help walk you through how to operate my galleon," Lyn added. "Ken and Hooke here were… particularly interested in seeing that this mission was successful and volunteered for the role."

With a pair of swats from the flat of his blade, the Samurott shooed the duo ahead of him. At once, Ken and Hooke looked up at Hess, and after a moment of squirming, hastily nodded and chimed in at their captain's prodding.

"Th-That's right! Nothing like turning over a new leaf, Captain!" the Krokorok stammered.

"Yeah! W-We're great at following orders!" the Grumpig chimed in. "Wouldn't get any ideas like taking a swing at a superior or anything like that!"

Hess noted that for all of their outward eagerness, the pair seemed to be visibly on-edge. He supposed he couldn't fault a pair of Company First-Ranks for being nervous about being left behind to go embedded within a pirate crew, but something about the two's mannerisms made him question just how much they had 'volunteered' for their mission. Why, with the way the two were acting, it felt more like the Samurott was ready to keelhaul the pair if they voiced their objections!

The other Council members sized up the two square-necks warily, before letting out unimpressed scoffs and shakes of their heads, with Dirk letting a wary scowl linger on the Iron Fleet's captain and his benefactor.

"Hrmph. I don't believe that we need to be around to watch you and your… associate, conduct business," the Bisharp huffed. "Is there anything that we need to know?"

"No," Lyn said. "By all means, take your leave."

Dirk, Tarquin, and Ingela proceeded to do just that, and after barking out orders, their underlings in the crowd cleared out, leaving Hess' golden-scarved lackeys to fill the gap. Rodion and Kichiro kept their ranks ready to spring forward at a moment's notice, even as a few visibly cast nervous glances off at escape routes behind them or through the water as they neared. Lyn didn't think terribly much of the display, as undeterred, he leaned in on the Aggron captain, the Steel-type quivering slightly as he felt the Samurott's hot, irritated breaths against his scales and inched back as the Company Commissioner glared daggers back up at him.

"I've gone out on quite a limb for you, Aggron," Lyn barked. "There's a lot riding on your ability to capture Lugia long enough for us to take the matter over ourselves. Don't make me regret this."

Hess quietly gulped, as he cast a wary glance up at the galleon by the pier, and then back at his underlings behind him on the docks.

"B-But how do you expect me to crew two ships on this sort of notice?" the Aggron protested. "My own ship was already understaffed before all this!"

The Samurott curled his muzzle into a sharp frown and reared up, folding his forelimbs against each other with an unimpressed scoff.

"Just what do you think the supplies I brought with me are for?"

Lyn ran his paws over the front of the chest and popped the latches open. He pulled the chest's lid back, the morning twilight above revealing that it was filled up to its brim with gold-colored Poké coins. Freshly minted, from the way they gleamed.

Hess and his underlings' eyes lit up at the sight, as excited murmurs began to swirl about their ranks and a few of their bolder members started to drift ahead to get a better look. As quickly as they came, Lyn sharply clamped the chest shut and flashed his blade at the nearing pirates, making them shrink back with yelps and startled squeaks as they hurriedly retreated behind their superiors.

Lyn gave a disgusted growl at the display, before turning his attention back to Hess with a sharp scowl.

"You'd do well not to gamble and drink it all away, Aggron," the Samurott scoffed. "Or at least not until after you've secured a crew for yourself. After all, if this mission succeeds, I won't exactly need the galleon back."

Hess blinked a moment, turning his head to gape at the Argent Aviso, and then back at its captain. He hadn't misheard things, had he? Since for a second, he could've sworn that Lyn had just told him…

"Wait, so then this ship's mine?" Hess asked. "For keeps?"

Lyn hesitated for a moment, seemingly wavering with himself over whether or not he really wanted to commit to the offer. After a lingering pause, he shook his head and let out an unimpressed scoff.

"If you can hold on to it," he said. "If there's one thing I've learned from my duties, it's that pirates' dealings always end in some manner of dirty trick or betrayal."

The Samurott turned and began to pace off for the sea, hesitating briefly to look back over his shoulder and shoot a sharp scowl at Hess and his mob of golden-scarved pirates.

"Though that's a problem for you to figure out once it becomes relevant in the future," Lyn said. "For now, focus on delivering on your end of our bargain. For your own sake."

Lyn sprang up and dove into a free patch of water on the right side of the pier, kicking up a plume that splashed onto the Hess' face and chest. The Aggron screwed his eyes shut, and disgustedly brushed the seawater off himself. After cracking his eyes open, he saw that Lyn had already knifed off in the water for the open sea, forming a flotilla along with the last straggling swimmers from his crew.

Hess looked off after the Samurott as the Commissioner slipped off into the morning twilight, and gave an indignant grumble once he was sure that the otter was safely out of earshot. After a moment to sulk over his wounded pride, the Steel-Type heard approaching footsteps, a quick glance behind revealing Rodion and Kichiro were walking up. The two stared at the open sea and the vanishing flotilla of Company Pokémon, before Rodion turned his head up to Hess with an uncomfortable paw at the back of his neck.

"… It's not too late to consider other options, Hess," Rodion murmured. "I doubt that Samurott's given us all of this out of a sense of charity."

Kichiro kept his eyes trained after Lyn for a moment, before folding both sets of his arms and turning to Hess and Rodion with a buzzing scoff.

"Look, I don't know about you, but I'm not in the mood to pull a double-cross on just a leap of faith," Kichiro piped. "If Lyn's got a galleon to spare, I'm sure he's got plenty of other ships behind him ready to go after us if we cut and run."

The two weren't wrong. As Rodion said, there was exactly zero reason to trust that square-neck. And Kichiro's point about Lyn being a formidable foe they would ill-afford to cross was every bit as true.

Hess subconsciously pawed at his lucky charm under his scarf. It'd gotten him out of tight pinches in the past, but something about this one felt different. It was only logical that they ought to get out from under that blasted Samurott as soon as they could… except it wasn't immediately obvious how they were supposed to do that.

Hess plodded forward when he turned his attention back down to the chest, and hesitated after seeing the Poké inside. He didn't like the idea of knowing that Lyn was holding one over him, but with this treasure, he'd surely be able to put himself and his crew in a better place for when it inevitably came time to cut the Samurott loose.

More pirates at his beck and call, better equipment for their raids… Why, there'd even be enough to stock both ships with rum and spirits to smooth things over with his underlings if they hit a snag or two for a couple seasons.

It wasn't as if the job they were about to pull wouldn't put them on the map as a crew either. Why, they were about to capture a Protector! It'd be just the thing the Iron Fleet needed to finally be taken as a serious force by their peers!

Hess shook his head. In light of that, it was only obvious what the way forward for them entailed.

"Sounds like a reason to stay the course until something changes about what we know."

The Aggron turned back and noticed that Ken and Hooke were standing awkwardly by the galleon's gangplank, only to freeze and turn back with overeager smiles after seeing the pirate captain's attention fall on them. Hess narrowed his eyes a moment, before reaching down for the chest on the pier and latching it shut with a low huff.

"If you two have got nothing better to do, you might as well make yourselves useful."

The Aggron strained and picked up the chest, before lumbering it over and tossing it at the Krokorok and Grumpig. The pair's eyes widened as the two threw their arms out to try and catch the chest, only for its momentum to carry them backwards and knock them flat on their backs onto the pier's planks with a pair of yelps.

"A-Agh! My tail!" the Krokorok whined.

"W-What on earth was that for?!" the Grumpig spluttered.

Ken and Hooke hastily pulled themselves out from under the chest with annoyed glares, only to freeze after feeling a sharp thump reverberate through the pier's timbers. The pair looked up at the sound of a low growl, and blanched with a pair of low squeaks after seeing their new Aggron superior had lowered his head with his horns leveled threateningly at them.

"To give you two square-necks a chance to show that we can trust you," Hess spat. "You can start by getting out of those ugly scarves of yours and pulling your weight a bit by helping us move this chest."

Rodion gave an annoyed scowl, before unceremoniously fishing out a pair of gold-and-silver scarves from a satchel and throwing it at the pair's feet. Hess shoved his way past the duo and made his way for the gangplank, clambering his way up until he made it to the Argent Aviso's deck.

"After all, we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Morning came faster than anyone on Team Traveller expected after their stormy night at sea, with much of the crew's night shift being spent filling in the bands of their sails' and scarves' waterspout pattern to form solid triangles—the best disguise they could manage with the little dye they were able to find in the ship's storeroom. Before they knew it, they were gathered at the railing of the Siglo Swellow, watching a tall peak with mist running down the length of its northern face come poking over the horizon.

Crom's eyes and keen vision helped him pick out details sooner than much of his friends did. Forests filled with spruce trees that grew along the coast, with a short, yellowish tower with a tented, shingled roof standing out in their midst. A little ways away from the curious structure, there was a town of painted timbered buildings built on lowlands by the sea, with a stone castle overlooking the sprawl from the foothills nearby.

But as the Siglo Swellow neared, Crom found his attention drifting back to the mountain that anchored the entire island. It stood out when it first came over the horizon, but it quickly became apparent that the peak stretched up much higher than he first thought. So high that part way up the slope, the green trees gave way to a white band… was that snow up there?

The Druddigon gaped up at the peak of the mountain, as the closer the ship approached the island, the further and further it seemed to shoot up into the sky. High enough that he began to wonder if a Pokémon could touch the clouds from its top.

"Wow. I didn't know that mountains could get that tall…" Crom murmured.

"That's Mount Starfall for you," Pladur chuckled. "It's the tallest one in all of Anyilla."

Off at the Dragon-Types' side, Pleo stared up at the towering mountain as the Siglo Swellow neared Gestirn Island, only to pause and hang his head and with a low sigh. It was a sight that should've filled him with wonder and excitement at the idea of flying and taking in the scenery or trying to climb up along the mountain's height… except, they would be lucky to set foot off the ship just to reprovision. After what happened on Haipheh, he doubted anyone felt bold enough to go exploring a second time. Not if it meant risking the local guards catching on to them again.

… Except, he wasn't sure that he would've been in the mood to do so even if it weren't for the risk of being discovered. Not while knowing that Kiran and a good chunk of their allies had been captured and were going through heavens-knows-what at the moment.

Pleo felt the ship bob along with the waves and turned towards the approaching shoreline. He craned his head up, where he began to make out rooftops and individual buildings in the town on land. The settlement grew closer and closer as the ship neared, until Pleo could just make out the forms of individual Pokémon milling about the town's piers and on the beaches nearby, like a Lechonk curiously digging a hole in the sand right on the outskirts. The young Lugia tilted his head and wondered to himself what the pig could be doing, when the sound of someone sharply inhaling turned his attention to his right. There, Ander glanced out at the approaching town, resting his scythes tensely against the railing for a moment, before looking uneasily over his shoulder and back at the rest of the crew.

"Here goes nothing," the Marked Scyther said. "Hopefully the initial inspection won't take long."

Beatrix flitted over to the tiller and leaned against it, steering the Siglo Swellow on a course for the village's docks. Along the way, Pleo noticed the figures onshore abruptly stop, and he could've sworn that he saw a few pointing off at them, with a Staravia among their number keenly observing them. The bird remained in place even after the nearby Pokémon took off running and ducked from building to building in the square. Other Pokémon in the throng hurried inland, while Pleo watched as a number made their way towards the water with others in tow.

Much to the crew's confusion, the Pokémon approaching the pier all seemed visibly agitated, while a number of them were wearing indigo scarves. Nida blinked and grimaced briefly at the sight, as she quickly realized that something was seriously amiss with the Pokémon onshore.

"Wh-What's going on?" the Nidorina asked. "Why are the guards running towards us with all of these other-?"

A giant torrent of water abruptly sailed in, striking against the mast. At once, yelps and cries went about the crew as other errant attacks sailed in after the Hydro Pump, and the color quickly drained from everyone's faces. After a moment of stunned, slack-jawed silence, Beatrix shook her head, before piping up to her crew with a sharp cry.

"Gah! So much for being a safe harbor!" she buzzed. "Take us hard to starboard! We're getting out of here!"

"Like hell you are!" a voice shouted from the sea.

The incoming attacks quickly turned into an overwhelming hail as more beams and missiles sailed in from the ship's port side, a bolt of electricity felling a Mantine in the water, and a glob of poison sending an Unfezant crashing to the deck. Much to everyone's alarm, the figures of various sea-dwellers abruptly surfaced in the water, as Pokémon massed on the dock and a group formed a screen of overlapping Protects while others lobbed attacks from behind them.

Pleo ducked a Shadow Ball that missed his head by scarcely a feather's length and scurried along to the other side of the Siglo Swellow as a few sailors attempted to return fire of their own. The sky above them quickly grew thick with fliers from ashore picking dogfights with the aerial escorts. After a hurried scrabble from port to starboard, Pleo discovered to his horror that there were Pokémon already there in the water harrying their escorts and casting waves and jets of water at the ship. A few bulkier swimmers were charging at the Siglo Swellow with Pokémon clinging to their backs, some of them lobbing seeds and the likes of Iron Thorns at the ship. Curiously, the scarves of their attackers on the starboard side were of all sorts of different colors, with Pleo not able to make out any indigo among them.

W-Wait a minute! Then that meant-!

"H-Huh?! These Pokémon aren't guards!" Pleo cried. "Why are they attacking-?!"

"Das ist es! Brace for contact!"

A sharp shout came out from the port side, as the voice continued to call from below and an Ivysaur clambered up and tried to mount the railing with his vines. A Vulpix from the crew ran in and spat up a cone of embers, sending the Ivysaur tumbling back overboard with a yelp and a loud splash. A Pachirisu attempted to board in much the same fashion a little ways off towards the bow, only for a Dwebble to push her back overboard with a startled cry.


Just then, a snarling Krookodile in a indigo scarf with a twinleaf pattern vaulted over the railing and came to a crouching stop. A Greedent noticed the new attacker and charged in with a body-slamming tackle, only for the Krookodile to bite down on her with a sickening crunch. The Greedent screamed out in pain, her cries wavering before ultimately going silent as the Krookodile shook the squirrel in his jaws and threw her limply to the deck.

A nearby Dwebble and Vulpix froze up as the Greedent tumbled to a stop before them, when the Dwebble lunged ahead with a sharp hiss and threw a flurry of slashing swipes forward with his claws. His blows landed one after the other against the Krookodile's hide, forcing the crocodile back briefly, only for the Ground-Type's tail to abruptly take on a metallic sheen. The Imperial swung it around, swatting the hapless sailor backwards and sending him flying over the railing.

A shrill yelp and loud splash followed, which made the Vulpix pin his tail and ears against his body as his will to fight drained out of him. The fox yipped and turned to flee, when a hail of sharp rocks from the marauding Krookodile knocked him to the deck. By then, others on the crew had taken notice of the crocodile just as a veritable crowd of snarling Pokémon in indigo garb forced their way onto the deck from the port side of the ship and collided straight into their defensive positions.

Shouts and blows rang out amidst a confusing melee as Pokémon and their attacks zipped about in the chaos. In the midst of it, Pladur hurriedly smacked a Thwackey out of the way with a swipe of a set of claws still trailing dragonfire, the Fraxure briefly spotting his teammates in the confusion as he raised his voice with a stammering cry.

"C-Come on!" the dragon shouted. "We need to get them off the deck-!"


The sailors on deck collectively flinched at the sound of rending wood coming from the starboard side, as a final few attacks zipped through the air before reaching a tense pause. The Siglo Swellow's defenders collectively blanched, as a few gestured off to the starboard side with startled cries. Pleo turned his attention alongside his companions towards where the sound had come from, where they noticed a gaping hole in the hull that had been patched up earlier, with the ice plug having fallen out in shattered chunks and the hole's edge just barely avoiding the waterline.

Pleo watched Crom and Pladur's faces visibly contort into frightened grimaces, with the rest of the sailors present doing much the same. He knew that ship hulls weren't supposed to have holes in them like that, but from the way that everyone was reacting, he was guessing they were in deep trouble.

Other Pokémon in indigo scarves climbed up to the deck, while the Siglo Swellow's escorts in the air and sea were being mobbed and surrounded by their attackers. Pleo heard a few frightened whines and murmurs go around the ship's defenders, as jeers and taunts rang out from Pokémon onshore who'd gathered to observe them. Others gaped from a distance, including a Staravia who lingered briefly while passing in the air before flying off for the northeast.

Pleo heard the ship's timbers thump and a low growl fill the air, as he turned back to see the Krookodile from earlier. The crocodile bared his teeth and flashed his claws, sizing up the Pokémon about him on deck before he spoke up with a throaty snarl.

"Do you really think we're too stupid to see that you just filled in the bands on your sails?! You've got some nerve coming back here after raiding us just last week, pirate scum!" the Krookodile barked. "You can either know when you're beat, or we sink you right here and now and sort out anyone who hasn't drowned afterwards!"

A few more frightened-looking sailors like a visibly trembling Nosepass threw their limbs up or rolled over in surrender, Beatrix and Vicente blanched for a moment, before they too did the same. The crew's fighting spirit seemed to visibly vanish after that, as Pleo and his teammates watched one Pokémon after another yield to the approaching guards.

Th-This couldn't be how things ended! They couldn't seriously have their journey end with being captured as pirates on an island they had never even docked at!

… Hold on a moment.

"W-Wait!" Pleo cried. "But we've never been here be-!"

Pleo heard the sound of shattering glass and looked down to see a cloud of peach-colored mist abruptly fill his vision. T-That was a Slumber Orb! The Lugia coughed and frantically tried to blow away the mist, as he heard yelps ring out and saw the silhouettes of figures being shoved to the ground through the haze. Pleo squawked in protest, but he couldn't get his words out of his throat, as a wave of drowsiness suddenly overtook him and he pitched forward.

The last thing Pleo remembered was feeling the side of his head hit the deck of the Siglo Swellow, and the world going black as muddled, indistinct cries rang out in the background.

Author's Notes:

- Despiértate! - Spanish: "Wake up!" (directed at singular informal subject, imperative)
- Najwyższa pora! - Polish: "It's about time!" (interjection)
- Das ist es! - German: "This is it!"
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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Chapter 66

So, after a quick refresher, we left off with Team Traveller trying to make a getaway out of Magmapool with Zygarde's team in tow, after they gave Ketu, Ellsberg and Team Sentinel the slip back in the dungeon with that fake Zygarde gambit. Meanwhile Lyn got into a mess chasing Pleo (actually the Ditto, rip) and it looks like both the heroes and the Company need to get out sharpish before the Imperials gather their forces. Oh, and Ketu backstabbed the conartists because of course he did.

And they've got a pretty decent plan of escape, good ol' classic rooftop hopping. At least until they're spotted by the guards whoops. Gotta say, the diversity of Pokemon species on display is always interesting. I probably never would have thought to have a Minior as part of the aerial crew. It means that there's never any one tactic that'll work against their enemies.

Aaand we meet the conartists again, and they're coming with us! But Lyn still has David... Thaaaat's kind of a problem for them.

Pleo decides to take a stand, powers or no! And he manages to pull it off! Shredding the enemy sails was both clever and very reasonable for his power level, well done to him.

Looks like the navy has gotta be desperate if they're filling their ranks with criminals. Still interesting that Cardino of all mon is there. Possibly because if they really are that pressed for help, they need someone in a watchful role? Good to see Cabot's growing doubts. I knew we'd be getting that eventually, especially after all the time he spent with Pleo.

Nice to get some level-setting on the Company after all the moving parts to keep track of for the past few arcs. And now they know that Ketu is working against Lyn! Maybe there's some way they could take advantage of that info.

It felt like cutting to dinner after their escape was a pretty satisfying note to end on, so I'm a little surprised the chapter is still going!

The fact that the Trombans have only been away from home for two weeks is absolutely wild to me. It felt like they spent well over a week on Giotto alone! Add a few days on each of how many islands, not to mention all the travel time...

Ah ****, and now the Company's sending ships back to Tromba. They've got to know that Pleo isn't there, though... There's gotta be some blackmail in store for the Siglo Swellow the next time they cross paths with the Company.

Still, new allies, and a way forward! And we have a plan that isn't just running away from the Company/Empire! Nice to bring together a long list of separate threads and move the plot forward, and it'll be interesting to see how their meeting with Xerneas goes (hopefully better than it did for Kline...?)

Til next time~


Winter can't come soon enough
There's a storm a-brewing...

Not quite BOOM BASSA BOOM, though.
to help batten down the hatches

then how was the hull holding up right now?
A wing and several prayers? or it's made of literal plot armor.
and was promptly greeted by a thick deluge of rain from the sky, followed by a flash of lightning breaking overhead that made him freeze in place
Y'know, one has to wonder if pokémon with Cloud Nine make for good crew members for explicitly these sorts of scenarios. :V
I just wanted the storm to stop, and… it just went away.
Pleo bribed the storm confirmed. Slipped it tree fiddy.
You've gotten your raids, and between the four of us, we now have scouts posted on every island in Anyilla outside of Company waters.
Turning their own crew members into landlubbers? The horror.
You'll be fielding my Argent Aviso for this raid
I don't think Lyn's ship is making it out of this episode.
Wait, so then this ship's mine?" Hess asked. "For keeps?"
I really don't think Lyn's ship is making it out of this episode.
"If you can hold on to it,
Correction: Lyn's ship will make it out of this episode... as the new Siglo Swellow. Only conceivable solution to how wrecked the good guys' ship is is to commandeer this one.
That's Mount Starfall for you
Ah, yes, a mountain named after the fairy max move. Surely nothing ominous about that. it's probably coincidence but shhhhh.
them lobbing seeds and the likes of Iron Thorns at the ship
Speaking of coincidences... oh no this item needs a rename or else I'm imagining them throwing mecha godzilla. actually wait iron thorns is an ability too isn't it? damn it, chunsoft.
"Do you really think we're too stupid to see that you just filled in the bands on your sails?! You've got some nerve coming back here after raiding us just last week, pirate scum!"
Wow the raids with fake sails actually worked. It's amazing how much people are able to get away with in this setting by making fake sails.

Not much to say about this chapter overall. Very transitional on the whole. Pleo seems as though as he's getting better at calling on special powers. This time it's basically Discount Air Lock. Now if he can do the opposite and learn to weaponize the weather beyond some wind then perhaps he can actually scare some folks off. >:V Though after some extra battering from the storm and then people mistaking the good guys for pirates and attacking, I truly don't see how they get anywhere using that ship. They could still get captured and carted off to prison, but I think some folks are going to escape and get themselves a new ship. Maybe there's some sentimentality behind the thing, but they gotta think with their heads and not their hearts.

Though if a bunch of them just got put to sleep with a slumber orb, doesn't that mean their half of the ledger is ripe to be taken... again? XP

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Hey everybody, it’s @Virgil134 turn to post the actual chapter today. As such, I’ll be taking point with the review responses:

@Chibi Pika
And they've got a pretty decent plan of escape, good ol' classic rooftop hopping. At least until they're spotted by the guards whoops. Gotta say, the diversity of Pokemon species on display is always interesting. I probably never would have thought to have a Minior as part of the aerial crew. It means that there's never any one tactic that'll work against their enemies.

To be fair, on more type-biased islands, there’s probably some tactics that would get you further than others, but otherwise, yeah. Civilization in the Cradle is very diverse across types, abilities, and bodyplans. Comes in handy for avoiding the likes of “Six Charizards” problems in hostile encounters.

Aaand we meet the conartists again, and they're coming with us! But Lyn still has David... Thaaaat's kind of a problem for them.

Just a bit, yes.

Pleo decides to take a stand, powers or no! And he manages to pull it off! Shredding the enemy sails was both clever and very reasonable for his power level, well done to him.

He’s learning! :V

Looks like the navy has gotta be desperate if they're filling their ranks with criminals. Still interesting that Cardino of all mon is there. Possibly because if they really are that pressed for help, they need someone in a watchful role?

While they are in a bit of a “beggars can’t be choosers” position, this isn’t exactly new for either the Empire or the Company. Nor for navies in the Age of Sail in real life. They probably would’ve been a bit lighter on the out-and-out criminals under more normal circumstances for a flagship vessel, but the Empire isn’t exactly in normal times right now.

Nice to get some level-setting on the Company after all the moving parts to keep track of for the past few arcs. And now they know that Ketu is working against Lyn! Maybe there's some way they could take advantage of that info.

Hold onto that thought, really.

The fact that the Trombans have only been away from home for two weeks is absolutely wild to me. It felt like they spent well over a week on Giotto alone! Add a few days on each of how many islands, not to mention all the travel time…

What can I say? Time flies. Both inside and outside of a story. ^^;

Ah ****, and now the Company's sending ships back to Tromba. They've got to know that Pleo isn't there, though... There's gotta be some blackmail in store for the Siglo Swellow the next time they cross paths with the Company.

Well, it’ll be blackmail for someone, alright.

Still, new allies, and a way forward! And we have a plan that isn't just running away from the Company/Empire! Nice to bring together a long list of separate threads and move the plot forward, and it'll be interesting to see how their meeting with Xerneas goes (hopefully better than it did for Kline...?)

Til next time~

Thanks for the review, and glad to hear you had fun with the chapter. The Buyeom episode was the first one after the big reunion for the cast, so it’s glad to hear that the new routine and new conflicts coming to the fore are entertaining you like this. We’ll be looking forward to what you have to say about the chapters after this whenever you get to them. ^^


That obvious, huh?

Not quite BOOM BASSA BOOM, though.

Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing considering how Flavio of BOOM BASSA BOOM fame was quite the handful in TTYD. ^^;

A wing and several prayers? or it's made of literal plot armor.

And copious amounts of bland-name pykrete, but “a wing and several prayers” is putting in quite a bit of work, yes.

Y'know, one has to wonder if pokémon with Cloud Nine make for good crew members for explicitly these sorts of scenarios. :V

It might help for a time, but attempting weather manipulation effects against natural weather sounds like a losing battle.

… Unless if you had enough Pokémon working in unison, since that’s not exactly a foreign concept from the anime. Though that will remain a thought exercise, since the Siglo Swellow almost certainly doesn’t have any Pokémon with Cloud Nine as an ability other than maybe that one Golduck.

Turning their own crew members into landlubbers? The horror.

Yeah, having an angry Samurott extort you into doing his bidding leads you to do things that would normally be beneath your dignity. Who knew?

I don't think Lyn's ship is making it out of this episode.

Oh ye of little faith, though I suppose that’s a bridge to be crossed when we get there.

Correction: Lyn's ship will make it out of this episode... as the new Siglo Swellow. Only conceivable solution to how wrecked the good guys' ship is is to commandeer this one.

The only conceivable solution, huh? Though I must say that Beatrix having a galleon to push around would give her a moment not unlike Nagant’s when she got her present ironclad.

Ah, yes, a mountain named after the fairy max move. Surely nothing ominous about that. it's probably coincidence but shhhhh.

And the SV plotline, too. Though happy accident, really. We were thinking more “shooting stars” there. Make what you will of that.

Speaking of coincidences... oh no this item needs a rename or else I'm imagining them throwing mecha godzilla. actually wait iron thorns is an ability too isn't it? damn it, chunsoft.

Yup. Perhaps one day we’ll write a Ferrothorn with Iron Thorns chunking Iron Thorns at an Iron Thorns, but that day is not now.

Wow the raids with fake sails actually worked. It's amazing how much people are able to get away with in this setting by making fake sails.

It helps that they’re a few centuries behind on putting together a decent surveillance state and the quality of the guards in just about every faction in Anyilla can be a bit touch-and-go.

Not much to say about this chapter overall. Very transitional on the whole. Pleo seems as though as he's getting better at calling on special powers. This time it's basically Discount Air Lock. Now if he can do the opposite and learn to weaponize the weather beyond some wind then perhaps he can actually scare some folks off. >:V Though after some extra battering from the storm and then people mistaking the good guys for pirates and attacking, I truly don't see how they get anywhere using that ship. They could still get captured and carted off to prison, but I think some folks are going to escape and get themselves a new ship. Maybe there's some sentimentality behind the thing, but they gotta think with their heads and not their hearts.


But you’re onto something about this episode being a bit of a paradigm shift. Since we’re currently only planning for there to be 3 more Episodes, so there’s not a lot of room left for things not to get shaken up after each episode between now and then.

What that’ll look like, we’ll leave for you to see as we start getting there.

Thanks again for the review. Even if it might not have been quite as active as you expected, we’re glad to hear that you still had fun with it.

This last chapter took a while to get together, though we’re proud to finally have it here ready for release. Along with it, we’ve also got a number of art pieces to show off, including some various prize arts from review events that I took part in earlier this year, and a portrait of Ellsberg by Chibi Pika that Virgil134 commissioned.

Special thanks goes to Virgil134 for his contributions as a cowriter, and to all the readers and reviewers who’ve stuck with this story through the years. Though what better way to reward your patience than by just getting straight into the thick of things with today’s chapter, hm?


PMD Writer

The afternoon after Lyn's arrival, the Iron Fleet's base was the most raucous that anyone could remember. The closest it'd ever been to this was the time when Hess bought one of those tatty treasure maps from the market made to swindle more gullible pirates and managed to turn up a chest of Poké abandoned on a sandbar. The whole day, a steady stream of pirates had shown up at the base's entrance where Hess and Rodion sat and waited to size up potential deckhands for their new ship, much like the Farigiraf who was currently present. As he had many times earlier that day, Hess got up after a brief interview ensuring that the would-be recruit at least had her sea legs about her, and after growing satisfied, puffed his chest out with a toothy grin.

"Heh, welcome aboard!" Hess chortled. "You could do worse than joining aboard the gold-threaded crew with fists of-!"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," the Farigiraf grumbled. "Just give me my money already."

Hess blinked as the Farigiraf pawed at the ground impatiently, before his face fell. Rodion gave a disapproving sigh, before tossing a gold-and-silver scarf wrapped around a jingling lump. The Farigiraf caught the scarf with her mouth and unfurled it, spotting a sizable bag of Poké in it from Lyn's stash as Rodion narrowed his eyes at her with a sharp huff.

"You'll get half now and half after the mission's done," the Floatzel said. "If you try and skip out on us, we'll be taking it back. With interest."

The Psychic-Type rolled her eyes with a scoffing "sure you will" under her breath. After a brief moment to count off her pay by telekinetically levitating the bag's contents, the Farigiraf collected her coins and garb before drifting off into the base with a harrumph. Hess watched after the departing Psychic-Type briefly and turned to greet the next prospective member of the Iron Fleet, only to see an empty lane ahead of him.

Snippy attitudes from some of the new blood aside, things had been going pretty well. The Iron Fleet had more than doubled its ranks in barely half a day, and for once, they weren't short on talent to pick from. Besides, the leftover funds could go to rum and entertainment. With how rowdy life could get among Orleigh's corsairs, it was wise to always have ways handy for putting a crew into a good mood.

Hess felt a tug at his arm, looking down to see Rodion staring up at him. The Floatzel briefly cast a worried look past the entrance of the crew's base, before turning back to his captain.

"Hess? Got a moment?" Rodion asked. "We should have a talk at the bar."

Hess blinked a moment at Rodion's reaction. Whenever his first mate was in a mood like that, it was usually a sign of trouble. But just what was he seeing when just about everything had been going right for once?

"Sure?" the Aggron replied. "Don't suppose it'd hurt."

Hess and Rodion made their way back through the entrance of their half-finished base and into its now-crowded bar. The place was definitely more packed than it normally would be. Drapion, Haxorus, Barbaracle… those new deckclaws were definitely stronger pirates, if a bit more ornery than normal for their ranks if a freshly-recruited Granbull's boasts of having 'never handed out a black spot he never made good on' was anything to go by.

After retracing their steps through their base, Hess stopped by the Oricorio barkeep and snagged a bottle of rum alongside Rodion. They drifted off together to his usual table by the base's rock garden, where Kichiro was already there waiting for them. The pair took their normal seats about the table, Hess already throwing his bottle back and drinking as Kichiro eyed some of the newer faces in the base, before shaking his head with a low grunt.

"Wonder how long these guys are gonna stick around," the Ledian scoffed. "We're basically just bribing them to join with that money Lyn gave us."

"Oh come on, they're not that bad, Kichiro," Hess said. "Our recruits all have prior experience with sailing! It's not like we needed to go out onto the outskirts to bribe a bunch of Ferals with food."

The Ledian reflexively buzzed out a huffing "It's Keiichiro", only for Hess to wholly ignore his protests. The Aggron took another swig from his bottle before he set it against the table with a sharp tak.

"Besides, once we pull this raid off, that galleon will be ours for keeps," Hess insisted. "After a start like that, at least some of these 'mons are going to be motivated to stick around. Not to mention that word of a big success like that is bound to motivate other pirates to join us!"

A yowl of protest rang out in the background, Hess and the others turning their heads just in time to see black-and-white Linoone and a Garbodor snatching a cup away from a Litten a few tables over. The Litten tried to get up, only for the Garbodor to casually shove the Fire-Type off his seat and send him pitching to the ground with a yelp.

"Gods, what a dweeb!" the Garbodor snickered. "Try staying on your feet, ki-!"

A steaming jet of water zipped in and struck the Garbodor at the back of his neck. The Linoone whirled around as dark wisps began to build around his right forepaw, only to see a blade of pressurized water being held at his throat, its owner glaring down at him with a bared-fang growl.

"Keep starting trouble with your crewmates like that, and you two will make the trip over to our next raid tied to the bow as living figureheads," Rodion snapped. "Got it?"

The Linoone hastily shrank back, the Garbodor following suit as he scurried off grumbling under his breath and pawing at an emerging burn on the back of his neck. Rodion dispelled his Liquidation and took a moment to fetch a new cup for the Litten. After seeing the Fire-Type settle back in, the Floatzel uneasily drifted off from the table and made his way back to his own. He plopped back into his seat, turning to Hess with a sighing shake of his head.

"I'm not so sure that's a good thing, Hess. The existing crew's already a handful at times, and I don't like the attitude of most of these new guys," Rodion said. "Especially those two square-necks that came along with us. I don't think you're going to get most of those 'mons to back off with a few drinks if you upset them."

"Is that last part such a bad thing though?" Kichiro muttered to himself, before taking a sip from his drink and speaking up with a sharp buzz.

"Look, even with these new deckhands, we haven't even had a day to work with to properly recruit and fill out the ranks," the Ledian reminded. "If we sail out like this, both the Mistral Marauder and the Argent Aviso-"

"The Starfall Striker."

Kichiro's mouth hung open briefly, before it curled into a skeptical frown and one of his eyes almost seemed to narrow. Hess blinked at his Bug-Type subordinate's reaction, before giving a puzzled tilt of his head.

"What? If we're going to keep it, I don't want to call my new ship something stuffy like the 'Argent Aviso'. It'll be the 'Starfall Striker'," the Aggron insisted. "It's got a ring to it, doesn't it?"

Kichiro pushed his cup back onto the table and folded both sets of his arms with a dubious shake of his head.

"'Starfall Striker'? Seriously?" the Ledian scoffed. "You spend all your time worrying about some stupid name and you couldn't even come up with something catchy like 'Starfall Shogun' or something like that?"

Hess paused a moment, before raising a claw to his mouth in thought.

"Actually, now that you mention it, that does have a bit of a ring to it…"

The Ledian hesitated briefly, before a self-contented smirk came over his face.

"Of course it has a ring to it, I came up with it!" Kichiro said proudly. "A shogun's a-!"

The Ledian caught himself after noticing Rodion raising a brow. The Bug-Type shook his head again and flusteredly tried to move on.

"Anyway that's beside the point here!" Kichiro insisted. "My point is that if we have to sail off like this, both of our ships are going to be understaffed. Are we really going to manage a raid being so spread-out?"

Hess narrowed his eyes in response, before folding his arms with a low huff.

"Of course we will, Kichiro! Do you think I'm stupid?"

Kichiro stared at Hess for a second, and once again quirked a brow with a dubious frown. After a noticeable silence, the Ledian opened his mouth to speak, only for Hess to cut him off with a sullen scowl and rumbling growl.

"Don't answer that," the Aggron grumbled. "But my point is, that we'll manage."

Hess pointed off at Rodion as the Floatzel sipped at his bottle of rum and a knowing smile settled over his steely maw.

"I mean, the Mistral Marauder could be in worse claws than having Rodion captaining it," Hess insisted. "You'll be sticking with me on the Starfall Shogun to whip these new 'mons into shape, Kichiro."

Much to Hess' dismayed surprise, a tense quiet hung over the table. Rather than the excited reaction he'd expected from his first mate over having a chance to be a proper captain himself, the Floatzel seemed visibly uneasy, and Kichiro was as skeptical as ever.

… Were things really as amiss as those two were making it seem? He'd been over the moon over how far the Iron Fleet had come in half a day and was already looking towards the future, but with reactions like theirs…

"Captain Hess! Captain Hess!"

A sharp squawk cut through the air, as a gray-and-white blur flew in through the entrance and landed. The sound of clawed feet pattering against the wooden floor rang out, as a Staravia from their crew hurried over to their table. The Flying-Type was visibly winded from a long flight, but still musted the energy to raise a wing in salute.

"I just got back from watching Gestirn Island like you ordered!" she exclaimed. "That ship from Tromba is there and was being raided by the local Imps right before I left!"

Hess, Rodion, and Kichiro stiffened up at the Staravia's account, as nearby Pokémon trailed off and turned to look over. After a moment of stunned incredulity, the Aggron's underlings around the base, new and old alike, began to trade quiet murmurs with one another.

This was it. The moment they'd been preparing all day for was really happening so soon. Hess shook his head and narrowed his eyes insistently.

"What exactly went down out there, Myra?"

"Well, the trap went off just as expected. The guards and townsfolk both got riled up and took everyone prisoner," the Staravia said. "I didn't hang around to see where they took the crew, but they had Lugia with them, so he should still be there!"

Overlapping chatter filtered about the crowded pirate base, some of it worried whispers of whether they were really prepared enough to chase after a Protector, while others gave low grumbles about having had their much awaited shore leave cut short. Still others eagerly insisted on being out on the water as soon as possible from the promise of loot both on Gestirn and after handing off the Protector. Hess traded glances with the other Pokémon about his table, and from the Aggron's own expression, he was firmly in the last camp.

"Then we don't have any time to waste," Hess insisted. "Go and tell the other Council members, we'll get everyone together and in the water as soon as we can."

Hess got up from his seat and forcefully stomped the floor to quell a growing wave of chatter. The few pirates who hadn't yet focused on him turned from their games and drinks, as the Aggron cried out over the room with a sharp bellow.

"Oi! Party's over, everyone!" Hess barked. "Get off your tails and get your gear together, we're casting off by sunset!"

At once, the room sprang to life at Hess' order. One after the other, Pokémon hurriedly got up from their seats and ducked off around the base to prepare their items, while others made their way for the door to go and tend to the Iron Fleet's ships alongside Rodion and Kichiro. With two ships that needed to be made sailworthy, they were going to have their paws full for the next few hours. On their way over to the door, Rodion lingered as Kichiro zipped out the entrance, the Floatzel stopping at the doorframe to size up the old faces of the crew he knew, along with the new ones he and Hess were entrusting the fate of their mission to.

"I sure hope this goes well…"

And they needed it to. For their own sake.

Everything went by in a dark blur after the Slumber Orb hit the Siglo Swellow's deck. From time to time, Pleo thought he could hear voices or feel his body brush up against something, but the first thing he definitely remembered was the feeling of cold stone against the side of his body.

Pleo shifted, hearing worried, overlapping voices and smelling stale, musky air. He cracked his eyes open wearily and saw that he was someplace dark, with blue lights hanging from the walls outside.

"Nnrgh… Whuh?" Pleo asked. "Where are-?"

As Pleo came to, he saw that he was in a stone cell with iron bars and the blue light of glow-moss was coming from the hall outside of it. He glanced down and noticed that the tips of his right wing's flight feathers were missing, just like they had been after he was caught by Nagant. The young Protector's eyes widened as he sprang up with a panicked squawk.

"H-Huh?!" the Lugia cried. "Wh-What happened to-?!"

"We got boarded and taken prisoner, remember?" Ander's voice answered.

Pleo turned towards the back of the cell, where he saw dim light coming from a small, barred window. He squinted as the sound of shuffling footsteps approached and saw other Pokémon with him in the cell. There was Ander, alongside Crom and Trizano, the latter displaying metal wingtips that had been cut down. Guardia was there as well, visibly on-edge and eyeing her surroundings without her club with Dimitri beside her, who attempted to reassure her that nothing would happen to her, 'or at least not yet'. The lot of them showed signs of having been roughed up earlier, with most of them sporting scuffs and bruises. Trizano stepped forward from alongside the others and let out a low sigh.

"Thankfully you fell asleep from that Slumber Orb," the Skarmory said. "The guards were rough on a lot of the crew while bringing them in."

Pleo stiffened up and turned back to the bars, walking over and staring blankly at them. As he gaped along the length of the cell block, he began to see the bars of other cells across the hall. He then noticed square lanterns made of wood and oiled paper hung overhead in a narrow hall which went on a ways to the left, while just to his cell's right, the hallway abruptly stopped at a thick, sturdy-looking wooden door.

The sound of murmuring voices turned his attention back to the cells across the hall as he noticed the shapes of various Pokémon in the ship's garb. A few like a Greedent were slumped over on the ground, while others were visibly on-edge like an Ekans who kept quivering and sucking in anxious breaths—one of Elty's old friends if he remembered correctly. In the cell directly across, he spotted an Unfezant who noticed him before motioning at others in the cell. The other figures shifted in the dim light and made their way forward, including Vicente who got up and approached the bars with an uneasy paw at his shoulder.

"I see you're up, Pleo," he said. "Are you doing alright?"

Pleo grimaced and tried to squeeze his head past the bars only to find that they were too narrowly spaced for more than his beak to slip past them. Vicente seemed to pick up on his worries, as the Fighting-Type shook his head.

"We'll be fine. We're just sorry that you got into this mess," the Hitmontop murmured. "The ship was in really bad shape when the guards came aboard about two hours ago. We… didn't have many options other than surrendering."

Pleo turned his head to the side and tried to peek past the bars to try and spot Nida and his other teammates. Except between the dim lighting and the angle, he couldn't see her… She was here with the others, wasn't she?

"Where's Nida?" Pleo asked. "And everyone else?"

"They're alright. Just scattered around a bit," the Unfezant reassured. "Nida's three cells over from us. We figured that out after Crom asked us to pass a message along to her earlier."

A moment of blinking silence followed from Pleo's cell, as Crom sheepishly pawed at the back of his head.

"I mean… it's kinda hard not to be worried about her right now, Pat," the Druddigon said.

Pat hesitated, before giving a puzzled tilt of his head back at Pleo and his companions.

"I take it that you had something you wanted to tell her, then?" the Unfezant asked.

Pleo hesitated for a moment. Just what could he say right now when they were in as big of trouble as they were? Was there anything he could do to try and make things better?

… Even if it wasn't much, he supposed there was one thing he could pass on to her, at least.

"… Just that I'm awake and okay right now, I guess."

Pat drifted off for the far end of his cell, speaking to an unseen Pokémon on the other end. After a moment's pause, another voice spoke up and called for attention to a cell to his left followed by chatter as another group of sailors gathered along the wall and listened in. So that was how they were planning on telling Nida about him. At least he could be confident that she'd find out he was okay…

Pleo turned back to his teammates and sank back on the stone floor as he hung his head. It just felt like one thing after another had been going wrong lately. Even if they had known before going into Gestirn that it wasn't a safe harbor, he hadn't expected them to be attacked before they even pulled into port

"I just don't understand why this is happening," the Lugia muttered.

"I guess our colors must've gotten passed along after everything that happened in Tidemill City," Ander sighed. "If news reached Haipheh when we were there, it would've been more than long enough for it to reach here as well."

Trizano raised his head and paused in thought for a moment, before turning back to the Scyther with a wary murmur.

"I… don't think that it's that simple, Ander," the Skarmory remarked. "When we pulled in, even the townsfolk were upset and attacked us. And I definitely remember that Krookodile from those guards saying that we 'raided' them."

Pleo blinked back at Trizano and cocked his head with a puzzled frown. Now that Trizano mentioned it, he remembered that the Krookodile who led the attack on their ship said something about that, but…

"Wait, but why would they think-?"

A loud pound rang out on the bars right behind Pleo's head, making the Lugia jump forward with a yelp.

"Halt den Mund, pirate scum!"

Pleo whirled around and saw the hall was much better-lit now, with the Krookodile from earlier standing just outside his cell and pulling a balled-up set of claws back from the iron bars. A Heliolisk and a Mabosstiff walked up to his side, the former holding a lantern filled with blue glow-moss aloft.

He supposed that would explain the extra light. And thanks to it, he became keenly aware of the piercing glares the three guards were leveling down at them.

"This isn't some Juice Bar for you to collaborate with each other as you please!" the Krookodile snarled. "Keep running your mouths off and we'll gag you until it's time for your trial!"

Pleo and his cellmates shrank back and stared in stunned confusion for a moment. After a moment to gather his nerves, Crom batted his wings and waved his claws with a protesting stammer.

"B-But that's insane!" Crom cried. "We're just a normal merchant crew!"

"Suuuuure you are, Shardrago," the Heliolisk scoffed. "That's why half our town square is still being repaired from you sacking and looting it, huh?"

"Yeah, you know what you did! Don't play dumb with us!" the Mabosstiff spat. "We even got word straight from the Capital about your colors belonging to a pirate crew wanted for high crimes against the crown!"

'A pirate crew wanted for high crimes against the crown'? Just what sorts of things had the Imperials been saying about them after they left Giotto? The six grimaced a moment, wondering if they could even begin to say anything that could potentially explain the full truth to the guards, only for the Heliolisk of the lot to turn his attention over to Pleo. The Electric-Type paused briefly, before turning his snout up and bringing a hand to his chin as he narrowed his eyes at the young Protector.

"Now that you mention it, I could've sworn there was someone mentioned in the report from Giotto just like that overgrown Wingull there."

Pleo and the others grimaced, and from what they could see of the Pokémon in the other cells, they were similarly on-edge about the guards recognizing him. Did that mean they already knew he was a Protector as well?

Trizano hastily stepped forward and batted out his wings. They needed to change the direction this conversation was going, and fast.

"Look, this is all just a big misunderstanding," the Skarmory insisted. "I'm sure if we had a chance to explain ourselves, Sheriff-"

"'Robbie'. And a likely story there, Panzaeron," the Krookodile scoffed. "I suppose you also mean to tell me that your ship's not the Siglo Swellow and the lot of you aren't from Tromba?"

Trizano paused and let his mouth hang open briefly in indecision. On the one hand, while it seemed like the Krookodile didn't know about Pleo's identity after all, being honest about it could just as easily backfire. For all they knew, they'd be playing right into whatever story the Empire had cooked up about him.

On the other hand, they hadn't had a chance to prepare a cover story for if they got caught in Imperial waters, and getting caught in a lie was a sure way to get these guards to assume the worst about them. The Skarmory hesitated and saw a number of others do much the same, when a Sableye from one of the cells across the hall broke the silence.

"Er… well, the 'lot of us' is kinda a broad statement there-" the Sableye began.

"That's the name of our ship! And we did come from Tromba!"

The Sableye trailed off before he and the others in the nearby cells stared at Pleo, before promptly groaning and burying their faces in frustration. Well, so much for being able to tease out how much the Krookodile knew or not about Tromba. Robbie studied them for a moment, before folding his arms and turning away with a sharp huff.

"I suppose that's what you get for dragging in a bunch of youngsters into your dirty work," the Krookodile huffed. "Since everything you've said so far matches up exactly with the pirate crew that sailed in and raided our town last week!"

Robbie cocked his head back slightly, his eyes narrowed into a withering glare. Whatever hopes the team had had of being able to talk their way out of their situation, it seemed like the Sheriff wasn't having any of it.

"Really, how did you expect us to forget it when you lousy pirates wouldn't shut up about it during your last raid?" the Krookodile demanded. "If you think that I'm just going to sit back while a bunch of unwashed thugs try to use my island to make a name for themselves, then you're sorely mistaken!"

Pleo blinked at the mention of there being a raid last week. But they hadn't been anywhere close to Gestirn at the time! The young Lugia let out a startled squawk, before clinging to the bars with a sharp cry of protest.

"B-But that couldn't have been us!" Pleo insisted. "We were still on Tromba when you were being raided!"

Robbie gave no reply other than to roll his eyes and turn for the door with an audible scoff. Pleo poked his beak past the bars, desperately pleading for the Krookodile and the other guards to stop and just listen to him for a moment. His pleas fell on deaf ears as the Sheriff put a set of claws on the door, hesitated briefly, and turned back to face the length of the cell block with a sharp harrumph.

"Save it for the trial," Robbie snapped. "The judge is convening urgent hearings for the lot of you tomorrow. It won't be long before you all get your just rewards."

The guards made their way past the door and out of the cell block one by one, Robbie pulling the door shut behind him with an audible slam that made Pleo and his teammates flinch. The lot traded nervous glances with one another, as worried cries and murmurs went about the rest of the cells. Pleo let his gaze linger on the door out of the cell block for a moment, before he looked over to Crom with a quiet gulp.

"… What are we supposed to do now?"

Crom grimaced and pulled his wings tight against his body. He glanced up at the barred window in the wall and stared blankly as his voice came out in an uneasy murmur.

"I… wish that I knew, Pleo."

Elilan thumped his claws against his study's desk and frowned at his guests on the other side. Their meeting had been arranged on relatively short notice, but Sorge was there as usual. Aldrich in spite of still sporting visible bandages over parts of his left wing had also made it, and Ketu had finally secured enough time away from Lyn's ship to meet in person. Why, even Ellsberg had managed to excuse himself from his duties for the day!

And of course Zelle was there too for the second time since yesterday. She'd stopped by once already to arrange their present meeting at the earliest possible time that wouldn't raise any questions. That, and to drop off some "interesting reading material" as she'd told the guards at the gate. To her credit, she wasn't wrong. It just wasn't enough to soothe the Zoroark's mood right then.

From the ashen expressions of the five Pokémon on the other end of the table, the cause of the Administrator's displeased mood was on everybody's mind: Subject Red. The Pokémon who was the missing linchpin for their goals for Anyilla, for the Cradle, who had all but slithered up to their front steps.

And here, yet again, he'd eluded their capture. Worse still, they hadn't even managed to capture a single one of the two other Protectors who had joined forces with him as a consolation. Elilan's posture was stiff and visibly agitated that day, as he brought a claw up to pinch his brow and lingered a moment with a low sigh.

"How on earth did this happen?" he grumbled.

Ellsberg and the members of Team Sentinel traded hesitant looks with one another. After quietly sucking in his breath, Ellsberg shook his head and composed himself.

"There isn't a good explanation, I'm afraid," the Mothim admitted. "Our initial plans fell through and we were forced to improvise. Not long after that, we were caught off guard and the Protectors got away from us. Simple as that."

Aldrich glanced away and curled his wings in on himself. He hated the idea of coming back empty-handed again, but there wasn't much to be said about what had happened beyond the truth, as unpleasant as it was.

"… None of us were expecting Subject Red to blow his cover and change into one of his stronger Formes, much less in the middle of the capital," the Noivern added. "We had to make a split-second decision over what target to prioritize in a public battle that would be impossible to keep under wraps. In light of how paramount he is to our goals, we decided to cut Lugia and the Ledger his friends stole loose for the sake of our mission."

Elilan's eyes narrowed briefly, as his muzzle retained its stern, neutral expression. Even so, even a Zubat could've seen the sense of disappointment coming off the Zoroark, as his voice carried a hint of impatience as he spoke again.

"That doesn't explain how he managed to elude you," Elilan said. "Since this isn't the first time you've engaged Subject Red while he was in that Forme."

There was a moment of silence from Team Sentinel's end of the table, as the four stared ahead unmovingly. Ellsberg was the sole, visible exception, as he nervously studied the glances of the others to try and gauge if the lot of them were in any trouble. After a brief pause, Sorge began to speak in a low, grudging tone.

"We pinned him and his teammates down when Subject Red hit us with a hail of light arrows. His true power awakened while we were recovering and he hit us with Land's Wrath while in that state," the Kommo-o explained, before looking out the window towards a line of damaged buildings in the distance.

"I… don't think I need to remind anyone just how powerful it was. Most of us were able to get to cover, but Ellsberg and Aldrich were caught out in the open and put down for the count," the Dragon-Type insisted. "By the time the dust was settling from the surrounding rubble, he'd transformed back into his Core Forme and was too high and far away in the air with his teammates for the rest of us to do anything on the ground."

"If he hadn't bogged us down with those ground waves right beforehand and slowed our movements, I still think we could've caught him there," Zelle said.

The Sylveon grit her teeth, before shaking her head with a sharp frown.

"What does that snake think he's going to accomplish, revealing himself to the public like this after so many years?" she huffed. "The rest of the Company knows about him now and the Empire almost certainly does as well. And for what? To be able to escape from us once?"

Elilan paused in thought for a moment as a visible scowl settled over his face and he tightened his claws. It wasn't as angry as Ellsberg had initially feared, but it was still there. A clear sign that the Administrator had been displeased with the turn of events.

"Well, it certainly doesn't make things any easier for us," Elilan harrumphed. "That said, I would much rather have our hand to play than his right now."

The Zoroark reached under his table and pulled out a blue object that he set onto its surface. Ellsberg peered down and saw that it was a worn blue tome with a cross-shaped marking on the cover: the volume of the Knights' Ledger that Ketu had stolen from Team Traveller.

A glance back up revealed that Elilan's mood had improved a bit. It wasn't happy, but he seemed more at peace with the outcome of their attempt at capturing the Protectors than the Mothim had expected.

"Now that neither the Company nor the Empire currently have a portion of the Knights' Ledger of their own to threaten the other with, it gives us a few options for reeling things in if things don't go according to plan," the Zoroark explained. "Even if one of them captures Subject Red before us, at least we'll have an insurance policy we can use to twist their arms and get him back."

Elilan shook his head and looked down at the Ledger, before leveling his eyes back across the table with a small smile.

"While I haven't gotten a chance to look through much of this volume since you brought it in, but I've seen enough from an initial skim to know that Inler is mentioned by name," he remarked. "Its contents will be more than useful for providing us leverage to work with."

The smile curled down into another frown as Elilan's eyes trailed off for a moment. The Zoroark turned his head up and gave a fixed stare across the table, one with a visible sense of immediacy and urgency that quickly rubbed off onto the others.

"Even so, it's better to prevent this contingency plan from being needed in the first place," the Dark-Type said. "We should review what our options are at the moment and plan accordingly."

Sorge and the others on Team Sentinel traded glances with one another. They didn't like the extra layer of difficulty that Kline's stunt had brought them, but it wasn't as if they had no options to work with. After all, they still had one of their own embedded in the middle of the Company's efforts to seize a Protector.

"Ketu does still have his position as Lyn's first mate," the Kommo-o offered. "Lyn is still chasing after Lugia and it wouldn't be hard to work that to our advantage. After all, I can't imagine Subject Red wouldn't try to meet up with Lugia again."

Elilan turned his attention over to the Weavile. Ketu pinned his ears back for a moment, before letting out a low sigh. It wasn't a secret that he'd hoped to have washed his claws of Lyn and his mission by now, but…

"Lyn's current strategy involves letting pirates do his dirty work for him. It'll definitely be harder, but there might still be an opening to snatch Lugia out from under him," the Weavile explained. "Since the two are obviously working together now, we could always use Lugia to lure Subject Red back out into the open. And considering Lyn's track record, who knows? Maybe he'll flame out and make our job a bit easier."

"And what do you intend to do about Lyn still suspecting that there's a spy among his crew?" Elilan asked, folding his arms with a quiet frown. "That's hardly a trivial threat to your operations, Ketu."

The Zoroark turned to the Weavile's peers, studying them for a moment before he continued on in a wary tone.

"Are you all certain you'll still be able to mount an extraction operation for Lugia in these present circumstances?"

Zelle stepped ahead of her peers, flicking her feelers briefly as she shot a small smile at her superior.

"Oh, you don't need to worry about that. We have a way of turning Lyn's suspicions to our advantage," she insisted. "After all, if he's so adamant on trying to find an Imperial spy, we can always just give him one."

The Zoroark fell silent for a moment, before raising his brow back at the Sylveon.

"… Elaborate?"

"It's Administrator Darzin," Zelle began. "Our initial plans fell through because he sabotaged our mission. We did some research into his recent activities afterwards and we have reason to believe he may be spying for the Imperials in earnest."

Zelle fished through a satchel and threw out an indigo cloth onto the table. Elilan raised it and smoothed it out, where the single-leaved pattern of an Imperial sailor could be seen as clear as day.

The Zoroark inspected the scarf briefly before letting it fall back onto the table, pinning his ears with a frown.

"… Why didn't you bring this up at the Board meeting?" he demanded.

"We didn't have a solid story to work with yet. After all, mere hearsay won't take Darzin off the board as a competitor," Ketu replied, crossing his arms. "We didn't want to go around slinging accusations without knowing first if he had an alibi."

Aldrich folded his arms as a knowing smirk settled over his face. The Noivern clearly had something in mind for Darzin, though before Elilan could ask further, the Dragon-Type spoke up on his own.

"That's why we were planning on fixing that," Aldrich said. "To give that fat lump the reward that he deserves. And it might even give us an opening to get more directly involved in Lyn's mission."

The Zoroark said nothing for a moment, before sinking into his seat and resting his muzzle onto the back of his right claw. Elilan trained his eyes and ears on the Noivern and his companions, before speaking up with a small, expectant smile.

"What is it that you all have in mind?" he asked.

"We find out the full story of what Darzin has been up to and then inform Olivia about it. With a few appropriate additions, of course," Sorge replied. "From there, we'd use our free time as agents of the Intelligence Division presently on leave to open an investigation into him."

"One that much to everyone's shock, will wind up being the end of Darzin's career after we discover that he was actively spying for the Imperials," Zelle explained. "It shouldn't be too hard to get what we need to put that story together, and I already have a few ideas of how we can use it to our advantage."

Elilan paused briefly at the Sylveon's words. After a moment's quiet, he brought his claws onto his desk and leaned in with a small smirk.

"… Go on, Zelle. I'm listening."

(Continued in next post)


PMD Writer
"All rise!"

Guardia stiffened up to attention as footsteps rang out further ahead of her. Things over the past night had gone by in a blur, but somehow she never imagined that she'd be back in an Imperial courtroom. The one she, Pleo, Crom, Dimitri, Trizano and Ander had been brought to was built in a long, hall-like structure with wooden walls and a timbered roof. The accommodations were rougher than they had been on Giotto, and a few other things seemed to be different as well. There weren't any lawyers present yet, and the audience was seated behind them with a curious box of seats over to the left.

Even so, there were some things that still felt much the same. Up ahead was the Gardevoir judge settling in behind her podium, with the Lairon bailiff clearing her throat to the judge's left. A sharp tug up forced Guardia to her feet, where she glanced over to see Robbie scowling down at her briefly before heading off to a table opposite of theirs. The Cubone took a moment to glance back towards the box of seats as an Empoleon came in with a blue scarf and a gold design depicting the prongs of a trident. Guardia blinked briefly as the Water-Type sat down, when she saw guards in plates of cerulean armor come in alongside him. She hesitated and sucked in a sharp breath, before turning a worried gape over at her teammates.

"Just how high up is that Imperial?" Guardia whispered. "Just look at all those Pokémon guarding him!"

Trizano tilted his head and studied the Empoleon briefly, and after spotting the penguin's garb, turned back to Guardia with a low whisper.

"Pretty sure that that's the local Duke," the Skarmory explained. "I don't know what has happened here exactly, but it must've been pretty serious to get him invol-"

"Silence in the court!"

Guardia and her teammates flinched as the sharp rap of a gavel pounding against wood rang out and they looked up to see the Gardevoir behind the podium staring them down with an exhausted, exasperated expression. The Psychic-Type sorted a small stack of notes beside her, and pinched her brow with a tired sigh.

"This is going to be a long day," the judge grumbled. "Since you are the first lot of…"

The Gardevoir trailed off briefly, before glancing down at a set of notes on her desk. After a moment to read over the runes to herself, the judge turned her attention back over at Team Traveller with a sharp scowl.

"Ten groups due for trial and sentencing today, so let's try to make this quick," she scoffed. "In light of the normal Prosecutor being unable to carry out his duties thanks to injuries from last week's raid, Sheriff Robbie will fill his role today."

"Hrmph, not that I'd have expected it to be hard even if there had been someone willing to serve as their public defender," Robbie remarked, shaking his head. "Just look at their rap sheet!"

The judge hissed for the sheriff to remain quiet and held her gavel out accusingly, which prompted the Krookodile stiffen up and clamp his jaws shut. As the courtroom returned to silence, the Gardevoir trained a steely glare over at Pleo and his companions and folded her arms.

"I highly doubt anyone present needs any reminders, but you six stand accused of a number of crimes against Her Majesty's realm, not least from when you pulled into port and raided the town square last week," the Gardevoir said. "We're still repairing damage from that whole episode. Among them, you are facing charges of arson, battery, grand theft lager…"

The Psychic-Type droned along with a list of crimes that seemed to go on and on, as Guardia began to squirm and grow restless. The Cubone turned a glance over towards the evidence table, where there among the evidence were various belongings from their ship. Her bone club, scarves and sailcloth with Company and Valter's patterns, Orbs and Seeds…

But the thing among them most that set her on edge was the red volume of the Knights' Ledger they'd stolen along from Vollezee. Looked like those secret compartments weren't as well-hidden as Beatrix and Vicente had hoped.

Guardia growled under her breath, fuming to herself that if only she had her club, she could give their captors a stiff swat. She hadn't thought far enough about what she'd do afterwards, but it'd surely be better than just waiting around tied up like this!

The Cubone was jolted back to attention by a sharp thump against wood, which made her flinch with a start. Guardia whirled and looked up with a dirty scowl, only to freeze as she saw Robbie glaring over at her from the Prosecutor's table with bared fangs.

"Oi! At least try to pretend you're paying attention here!" he growled. "Just because you don't have a public defender doesn't mean your charges magically go away!"

Guardia followed the Krookodile's claw back towards the judge's podium, where she spotted the Gardevoir giving a scowl sharp enough that it looked like it could break hide. The judge let her withering glare linger for a brief moment, before continuing on with a forceful huff.

"And worst of all, kidnapping a Protector," the Gardevoir finished. "How do you all plead?"

The courtroom fell silent for a moment, before uneasy chatter began to float around. Guardia looked about and saw that the spectators in the audience were trading puzzled looks with one another. Even Robbie seemed taken aback, as he glanced at the Cubone and her teammates and then back at the judge with a quirked brow.

"… 'Kidnapping a Protector'?" the Krookodile murmured. "Wait, those were the high crimes against the crown they committed?"

"I realize you've had your claws full lately, but it was in the report submitted from Giotto, Sheriff Robbie," the judge explained. "A crew from Tromba with white sails and a blue waterspout pattern…"

The Gardevoir trailed off and let her mouth hang open as her gavel slipped from her hand. She stared at Pleo for a lingering moment, when her eyes widened in visible shock.

"Who had abducted a bird with features resembling a Wingull or a Swanna, with a long neck and silvery white feathers…"

Guardia noticed that the courtroom had fallen deathly quiet as the color also seemed to have drained from Robbie's face. A glance back at the audience in the courtroom revealed that everyone was focused on Pleo in a moment of stunned silence, which was at last broken by the Lairon Bailiff raising a forepaw with a startled stammer.

"W-Why, that description is exactly the same as that strange bird among them!" she cried.

The courtroom at once burst into an uproar, with some members of the audience wondering aloud how poorly the guards must've read that report to not realize one of the "pirates" had a description matching a kidnapped Protector, while others questioned if the strange bird could truly be a Protector. A voice loudly dismissed the idea as ridiculous since: "when had anyone ever heard of a 'pirate Protector?'" The harsh pound of a gavel against wood rang out, as the judge cleared her throat and cried out over the din.

"Order! Order in the court!"

Pleo glanced over at Robbie, who as impossible as it seemed, appeared to have turned an even deeper shade of red, as he set his teeth on edge in an embarrassed grimace. The Krookodile shook his head and hurriedly made his way towards Pleo and quickly began to undo his bindings.

"I… think that I'm just going to leave this part out of the official report," the sheriff remarked. "Let's just hurry and get you out of that defendant's box and pretend this never-"

"B-But I wasn't kidnapped!" Pleo exclaimed "These are my friends!"

A stunned silence lingered in the air as everyone in the room, guard and spectator alike, stared at the young Protector. From the side, Ander and Crom traded uneasy glances with one another, as the Druddigon pinned his wings behind his back with a low murmur.

"I don't get it, how could this have happened?" Crom wondered. "It's like someone knew our sail patterns and went out of their way to cause trouble in them!"

Ander blinked when it dawned on them. The Iron Fleet had raided the Siglo Swellow not long after it had left port from Kenobi and made off with a good chunk of the supplies they had.

In that case…

"Now that you mention it, is that really so implausible?" Ander asked. "Since we did have a set of sails stolen a while back, and the Iron Fleet was even wearing our colors on Gio-"

"To answer your earlier question, but we plead not guilty, of course!"

Ander and his teammates peered over and saw Trizano taking to the stand. The Skarmory attempted to bat his wings out for dramatic effect, only to find that their bindings kept them firmly at his sides. After a brief moment of flustered embarrassment, Trizano composed himself, and settled for turning his beak up dramatically.

"As you can see, the truth of the matter's a bit more complicated than what you've heard! You have our deepest sympathies for the raid your town endured, but there's been a case of mistaken identity!" he insisted. "After all, Trizano the Immortal may be a dashing wanderer, but a pirate? Perish the thought! It'd sully the wings of a defender of the weak such as myself!"

The Pokémon in the audience murmured, most of them shooting unimpressed glances and scoffs back, with even the Krookodile sheriff grumbling about how Trizano was trying too hard. But there among the crowd, a Graveler with black crystals and a Naclstack in matching scarves and glinting badges pinned to them blinked briefly. The pair studied the Skarmory closer for a moment, before the Graveler had a flash of realization and stood up, pointing off at the Immortal with a startled cry.

"Hey wait a minute, we had a Panzaeron just like that come by our guild a few months ago!" the Graveler exclaimed.

"Yeah, one with the same theatrical streak and everything!" the Naclstack added. "And he was nothing but nice the last time he was around!"

The other Pokémon in the audience stared at the pair and then at each other, a few voices beginning to wonder aloud whether or not the strange, theatrical bird on the stand might actually be telling the truth. Others remained unimpressed, including the town's Krookodile sheriff, who shook his head and folded his arms in reply.

"Hrmph, you're all acting as if a pirate crew's never fielded a scout before!" Robbie scoffed. "For all we knew, that Panzaeron there was out there chumming it up with you before flying right back to his friends with tips of where to strike!"

"… That's right, actually," the judge remarked. "It wouldn't be too difficult to dispatch a flying scout from that caravel of theirs."

Crom blinked for a moment. A 'caravel'? He didn't think that one would look that similar to the Siglo Swellow, since its sails were shaped differently from a caravel's, but even so, that couldn't possibly be right.

"Wait, hold on. We sailed in on a schooner!" the Dragon-Type protested. "So what's this about a caravel?"

This time, it was the guards that found the Druddigon's remark strange. The Mabosstiff with Robbie wondered aloud whether or not 'those pirates last week had come on a caravel, right?', which his Heliolisk peer insistently affirmed. Robbie himself seemed to waver a bit over the testimony, but even so, the judge remained unmoved, as she idly bandied about her gavel and clicked her tongue.

"That's hardly proof of your innocence there," the Gardevoir scoffed. "After all, it's not unheard of for different pirate ships to share colors and the Pokémon that raided us were very adamant that they hailed from Tromba."

Dimitri tilted his head skeptically at the judge's comment, only to pause as he realized something about her argument wasn't adding up. At once, the Kabutops shot up from his seat and opened his mouth in protest.

"Because they're obviously trying to frame us!" Dimitri insisted. "If that was really us who raided you, why would we come back so soon? With a damaged ship, no less? What sort of pirates would take that sort of risk?"

The judge seemed to hesitate after that argument, and Robbie didn't have any quick rebuttal to it either. In the meantime, the audience remained silent afterwards beyond a few puzzled whispers, the bulk of it unsure what to make of the odd discrepancy. Sensing that he and his teammates had gotten a chance to plead their case, Ander stepped forward and joined his teammate.

"And what kind of Pokémon were even part of the raiding crew, anyways?" Ander asked. "If we're from the same band of pirates, surely there'd some Pokémon from last time present with us, right?"

"I'm sure that a deeper comparison would turn up some matches, but I'll humor your request," the judge scoffed. "That ship was captained by an Aggron, and there were reports of a Floatzel leading a team that raided the brewery…"

The Gardevoir carried on with a list of other Pokémon that had been spotted wearing their colors during the raid by various locals: Charmeleon and Vileplume, Sealeo and Noibat, Ledian and Hoppip… Crom's mouth flopped open in disbelief as the judge continued on. He was pretty sure he knew who the culprit was from just 'Aggron and Floatzel', but the others left no room for doubt:

"Wait a minute, that really is the Iron Fleet!" Crom exclaimed. "How on earth would they have gotten the idea to frame us?!"

Trizano bit his tongue and wavered briefly. Yes, everything about the explanation made sense, except for the fact that it depended on the Iron Fleet to come up with the scheme. The same crew that had managed to bumble onto Pioppo from getting themselves lost in the Cradle. He didn't have an explanation for how on earth they'd had the sudden flash of brilliance, but every contradiction they'd turned up, everything that they'd learned, it all pointed towards them being the culprit.

And the Skarmory thought that he knew exactly what sort of argument to plead their innocence with in light of it.

"Your Honor, don't you find it strange that there is so little overlap in species between our two crews?" Trizano asked. "I mean, if we were from the same crew of pirates who attacked you, why would we want our teammates to get all the loot and not have any for ourselves?"

"And more importantly, if we didn't bring a Protector we allegedly kidnapped then, why would we do it now?" Guardia insisted.

Hushed whispers went about the courtroom as the Pokémon in the audience began to comment over the trial's unexpected turn with each other:

"Sounds like Robbie won't have to do a lot of work cross-examining today."

"The Tragosso does have a point…"

"Sounds too convenient. What if it's all an elaborate ruse?"

The Gardevoir judge paused and set down her gavel as she pinched her brow and seemed to waver briefly. She put her hand back down before staring back at Team Traveller's members in genuine confusion.

"But if those pirates weren't you or allies of yours…" the Psychic-Type said. "Then who-?"

A distant boom, almost like thunder suddenly rang out. And then another, and another. A few members of the audience got up, trading worried glances and chatter when the courtroom filled with the sharp slam of the chamber's doors being thrown open. There at the entrance was a Yanma in indigo garb flying up wide-eyed and in a visible panic. She flitted in place briefly, fighting against tired pants as she motioned to the judge and stammered out in alarm.

"Y-Your Honor! The pirates are back!" the Yanma exclaimed. "And they've brought reinforcements this time!"

Startled yelps and cries went about, Team Traveller's members freezing and feeling their blood run cold as the audience hastily cleared out of the room. The judge stared on in shock for a moment, before hastily banging her gavel against the podium and turning to Robbie with a visibly unnerved grimace.

"Court is adjourned!" the Gardevoir ordered. "Sheriff Robbie, get these Pokémon back to their cells and report to the harbor immediately!"

The Krookodile hurried over and pushed Pleo along out of the defendant's box as a small party of guards hastily dragged off his companions. The young Protector squawked in protest, only to see the Heliolisk from earlier gather up the trial evidence and hastily shove it into a satchel. He couldn't just let the guards take that! Or treat his friends like this! Or-!

"Come on! We don't have all day here!"

Pleo yelped and squirmed after feeling a set of claws hurriedly prodding at him. The Lugia craned his head over his shoulder, where he saw the Krookodile sheriff behind him scowling down impatiently.

"We'll sort this out sometime when I don't have a bunch of smelly raiders to push back into the sea!" Robbie barked.

The guards hurried Pleo and his companions along, with Robbie staying at the Lugia's side to personally escort him. Things seemed to go by in a blur as Pleo and his companions were whisked amid alarmed shouts through a back entrance past the judge's podium. A set of wooden hallways and stairs flew by in his vision before Pleo found himself in a stone room on the ground floor in front of a door that led to outside. One after the other, the lot made their way past the exit, where they stopped to try and gather their bearings.

Behind them was the stone base of the courthouse, with its timbered upper levels and gabled wooden roof above it. The rest of the town filled in front of them, the sound of distant booms prompting Pleo to turn his head towards the sea when he abruptly froze.

There, past the pointed rooftops and the occasional structure styled after a Pokémon's head, he saw trails of smoke curling up in the distance and heard crashes and faraway shouts. Sounds much like when Hess and the Iron Fleet had come to Tromba for the first time, except they were much louder and more frequent. He couldn't get a clear view of the ships or their sails past the rooftops, but just from the number of masts poking over them, it didn't seem like the pirates had only come with one ship this time…

Pleo snapped back to attention after feeling claws roughly drag him along. He fought to keep his footing and looked up to see Robbie tugging him, his teammates similarly getting pulled along by other guards. A quick glance revealed they still hadn't been unbound all this time, prompting Pleo to squawk and bat his wings out in protest as he turned to the Krookodile sheriff with a startled stammer.

"W-Wait! But we're on the same side here!" the Lugia insisted. "If you untie my friends, we can help you fight!"

"I just said we'd sort this out after this was over," the Krookodile huffed. "Raid or no raid, I'm not about to blindly trust a bunch of wanted 'mons with-!"

"There they are!"

Before Robbie could finish his words, a jet of water abruptly zipped in and struck the ground before them, sending the lot diving out of the way. From the ground, Pleo looked skywards, where at once he noticed a Bombirdier in a teal, swirl-patterned scarf pass overhead—one who was clinging to a feathery apron with a similarly-garbed Azumarill latched onto her back. The bird let her chest feathers droop, revealing a peach-colored sphere that fell loose and towards the ground much to Pleo's horror, as he quickly realized that the orb was…

"Ack! Th-That's a Slumber Orb!"

Pleo hurriedly beat his wings together and blew a gust of wind at the Slumber Orb, sending it veering off course just enough for it to shatter against the side of a building further down the street. Robbie's underlings noticed the emerging peach haze, and hurriedly withdrew, dragging the others along with them as they fell back from the sleep-inducing clouds spreading in front of them.

Much to Pleo's relief, the peach clouds stalled and began to dissipate, only for the sound of wingbeats all around him to alert him to the return of the Bombirdier… along with a number of others who'd joined in: a Toucannon with a riding blue Meowstic in orange garb, and a Braviary with a Perrserker and Morpeko riding wearing red. The three Flying-Types stopped briefly on the ground to each let their riders off as Team Traveller braced themselves. The pirates collectively approached, all of them snarling and visibly ready for battle, with the Braviary spreading his wings menacingly.

"Hrmph, so much for the element of surprise," the Braviary harrumphed. "Though no matter. This shouldn't take too long to deal with."

"Mop up those Imps!" the Perrserker shouted. "If we nab that bird, this mission's over with!"

The Perrserker brought his claws together into dagger-like blades and lunged ahead with a frenzied cry. Pleo hurriedly jumped back as Robbie stepped in with a sideways chop of his claw and threw the pirate to the ground. Any respite proved short-lived as the other pirates swiftly descended on him, prompting the other guards to rush in to try and stop them. From the side, Ander attempted to scrabble away towards a nearby shopfront as a Mabosstiff from the guards tumbled along the ground in front of him. The Mabosstiff quickly rolled back onto his feet and charged off as Ander backed into something stony. The Marked Scyther flinched briefly and looked over to see Dimitri was behind him, the Kabutops bringing his wrists up against the tips of his blades.

"Dimitri? What are you-?"

"Just hold still for a moment!" the Kabutops insisted.

"Leave our friend alone!"

Ander and Dimitri looked further down the street to see the Bombirdier and Azumarill being bogged down by Crom and Guardia desperately trying to interfere in spite of their bindings. Crom attempted to spit up a Dragon Rage, only for the Bombirdier to jump away while Guardia rammed into the Azumarill with a Headbutt that threw him off balance.

"Gah! Annoying little runt!" the Water-Type snarled. "Clearly I'm going to need to beat a message through that thick head of yours!"

The Azumarill summarily threw Guardia to the ground with a yelp. Dimitri and Ander blanched as the Azumarill pinned Guardia and readied a jet of water in his mouth, when a sharp squawk rang out from further to the left.

"Stop it! Get away from them!"

A brilliant yellow bolt sailed across the lane and knocked the Azumarill off, stray sparks settling on Guardia's scales as she hurriedly scrabbled away to safety. Pleo ran in, beating his wings in a vain attempt to try and get airborne when the Bombirdier abruptly dropped down with a tackle that trailed dark flecks in its wake. The blow sent the young Protector stumbling back as the pirate snatched the Lugia's King's Rock from under his scarf. Ander watched as Pleo cried out in alarm, when the Scyther was snapped back to attention by weight tugging against his scythes. A glance back revealed and frantically tried to snatch his lucky sharp back, when the Scyther was snapped back to attention by weight tugging against his scythes. A glance back revealed Dimitri continuing to try and free himself as the ropes started to visibly fray.

"Come on… come on…"

Dimitri gave a pair of stiff tugs against the tips of Ander's scythes, only for the Kabutops' bindings to hold. At last, with the third tug, the ropes gave way, flinging aside lengths of cut rope as his scythes freed up.

"Alright, lemme get those ropes off of you!" the Kabutops insisted "Hang in there for a second!"

Dimitri brought his scythes down over the top of Ander's bindings, giving a pair of forceful hacks before they too gave way and freed the Scyther. Ander shook feeling back into his limbs with a low grunt, as Dimitri motioned off at Trizano ducking and weaving a small ways away.

"Focus on untying everyone else! We need to get out of-!"

Dimitri cut himself off after a flash of purple light came from the direction of the guards' battle. The Kabutops hastily pulled Ander to the ground just as an errant Psybeam punched a fresh mark into the plaster of the wall behind them.

"H-Help! Help!"

A squawking cry came from further up the street, where they saw the Bombirdier dropping rocks onto Pleo from a passing flyby. The young Lugia recoiled and fell to the ground, when the pirate swooped down after him. The Bombirdier descended onto the young Lugia, pinning him as he squawked and thrashed to try and break free. An indignant glint came over Dimitri's eyes, the Kabutops brandished his scythes as he cast a brief glance to Ander over his shoulder.

"Free up Trizano and anyone else you can!" he insisted. "I'll handle this one!"

Dimitri shot forward and beelined for the Bombirdier just as she readied her beak to try and jab at Pleo with a sharp peck. Water began to wreath Dimitri's scythes and he let out a loud hiss as he closed the distance with the Flying-Type.

"Not so fast, pirate!"

The Kabutops threw his scythe forward and caught the Bombirdier in her chest. The pirate flew back, hitting a nearby wall with spluttering chokes as she struggled to get up. A Rock Slide swiftly cut off her attempts, knocking her back onto the ground amidst a wall now pockmarked with stray stones.

Dimitri panted as skidding footsteps against the path's gravel rang out, prompting him to turn alongside his companions over to the Azumarill. The Water-Type pirate stiffened up and went wide-eyed after seeing he was now outnumbered, looking back at his peers fighting in the background with a frantic wave.

"H-Hey! Guys!" the Azumarill whined. "H-Help me out over-!"

A sudden flash of green cut the pirate off mid-cry as Ander shot forward with a cross-shaped slash of his scythes. The Azumarill yelped and rolled along the ground, the Water-Type uneasily righting himself and attempting to struggle up as Trizano dropped down from a jumping Aerial Ace from above. The pirate crumpled to the ground and went limp under the Skarmory's talons, letting out a weak groan as the Steel-Type stepped off of him and glanced at his teammates where he saw Crom and Guardia rubbing at their newly freed wrists.

"That ought to buy us a little time," Trizano said. "Quick! Let's get to cover before the others notice!"

Ander and Dimitri hurried off with Crom and Guardia for the shelter of a corner alley, Pleo taking a moment to hurriedly snatch his King's Rock back from the ground before following suit alongside Trizano. The six hurriedly hunkered down behind the wall as the sounds of raging battle and the occasional crack of splintering wood rang out from the street outside. A pall came over the group as Crom leaned against the wall to catch his breath, the Druddigon turning with startled, widened eyes over to his teammates.

"Wh-What do we do now?" he gulped.

"Yeah! My bone and our Ledger's just sitting in the middle of that battle!" Guardia cried. "We need those if we're going to get out of here!"

Trizano attempted to peek about the corner, only to hurriedly pull his head back as a bolt of electricity zipped in and struck the wall just above him. The Skarmory clenched his beak briefly, before glancing at his teammates with an emphatic beat of his clipped wings.

"We need to cause a distraction of some sort!" he insisted. "If we can buy some time to free our friends back at that prison, we can dig in against these pirates!"

Pleo sucked in tired, startled breaths as he tried to size up the battlefield. There were pirates and guards fighting just ahead of them, and pirates and guards fighting to the left. A low groan turned his attention rightwards, where just a few steps from their hiding place, he spotted the Bombirdier twitching weakly from beneath the remains of Dimitri's Rock Slide. Just next to her was a bag with its contents spilling out, which included the familiar golden shine of a Luminous Orb. Pleo hurriedly darted out and snatched the Orb in his wings, before calling out to his companions further behind.

"Everyone, close your eyes!"

Pleo screwed his eyes shut and dashed the Luminous Orb to the ground, as a brilliant light erupted. Yelps and a couple startled cries of 'My eyes!' rang out, and as the light subsided, Pleo warily cracked his own open. At once, he discovered that both pirate and guard alike were stunned and lurching about in a daze—including the Heliolisk with the evidence from earlier, who'd tripped and dropped his bag into the street.

It was just the opportunity Pleo and his companions needed. At once, Crom tore out into the street and hurriedly snatched the Heliolisk's evidence bag before the group took off running. From the corner of his eyes, Pleo saw a Morpeko in red garb coming to as they ran off, the pirate shaking his head and pointing after them.

"Hey! They're getting away!" the Morpeko cried.

A hail of pointed stones shot forward and sent the Electric-Type flying back in its wake. Pleo briefly glimpsed back and saw Robbie taking the pirate's place as the roar of renewed battle rang out. The young Lugia flinched from the sound of shouts and splintering wood, before he opted not to stay and see what happened, hurriedly lowering his head and running forward.

The surroundings flew by in a blur afterwards, with the streets and buildings blending together outside of brief moments to stop and reorient themselves when Trizano or one of their older teammates would point them off towards the stone walls of the garrison where the others were being held prisoner. All the while, everyone couldn't help but notice that the shouts and growls of battling Pokémon kept growing louder in the background.

"Hold on! That's it up there!"

Dimitri motioned for a stop with a scythe as the six reached a lane approaching the garrison, which was now sporting fresh patches of missing shingles on its roof but otherwise much to their relief, appeared to still be standing in one piece. The group hurriedly took cover beside an alcove, as Guardia warily studied the garrison and then turned back to her teammates.

"So what's the plan for getting everyone out?" she asked. "Last I checked, there were a bunch of metal doors in the way inside!"

"There should be keys for the cells in there!" Trizano explained. "If we can get to them, it should just be a matter of letting everyone out and-!"

"Ack! Watch out!" Crom shouted.

A sudden, brilliant beam of white light zipped in and sliced into the wall behind Pleo, kicking up a spray of dust and plaster as he and his companions dove for cover. The Lugia yelped and blindly ran off for the mouth of a nearby alleyway to the left with his head held low. He crossed the threshold just as several large stones smashed into the corner and its surroundings. Pleo panted a moment under a set of cloth awnings and tried to regain his bearings, looking to his left to see Crom, Trizano and Ander similarly winded and gasping for air.

He looked back towards the mouth of the alleyway as a violet, toxic-looking glob sailed past the exit. The Lugia recoiled and shivered as the poison dripped down the wall at the alley's exit, but couldn't make out any sign of someone being in the street beyond feeling a few thumps coming from the distance. He looked towards his teammates to ask if they knew what was going on, when his eyes shrank to pins and his beak flopped open with a moment of startled realization:

They were missing two of their teammates.

"A-Ah! Where's Guardia and Dimitri?!" Pleo cried. "We need to go back for them!"

"You can hide all you want, but you're just prolonging the inevitable!"

Pleo turned from his friends and back to the mouth of the alleyway to see a hulking Tyrantrum and a Seviper leading a host of other Pokémon in orange garb prowling forward and already passing the first of the alley's awnings. Without thinking, the Lugia brought his wings together and threw a churning Whirlwind at the pirates, knocking Tarquin his feet and into some of his underlings behind. The Seviper next to him spat up another glob of poison, only for Trizano to step in front of Pleo and block it with his wing. Crom hurriedly breathed out a Dragon Rage over the Seviper's head, only for her to duck out of the way. The Seviper let out a dismissive scoff in reply, brandishing her bladed tail with a mocking sneer.

"Hah! Work on your aim, you little-!"

The Seviper's jeer was suddenly cut off by the cloth awning from above creaking and falling onto her, the snake groping about underneath the cloth and thrashing her tail with a furious hiss. Pleo and his companions didn't bother to wait to see what became of her or Tarquin and took off running as cries of "They're over there!" rang out from behind them. Pleo's heart sank as the shouts just kept coming and coming. How many pirates were they even dealing with here?!

"Up there!" Ander exclaimed. "To the right!"

Pleo and his companions rounded a corner around an upcoming intersection, coming across another alley with empty boxes heaped up against a fence. The four hurriedly clambered up the containers and vaulted over, Ander kicking the boxes over before making his way up himself. From there, the four ran down twisting alleys that went by one after the other as they climbed up away from the sea and towards trees in the distance that grew taller as they neared. All the while, the only life to be seen around them consisted of the occasional glimpse of Pokémon timidly peeking out of their windows.

After what felt like an eternity, the four spotted a sunlit path up ahead and came across a road that headed out into hilly fields and forests further inland. The dull boom of cannonfire rang out in the background, prompting the lot to turn back towards the sea as their jaws slackened at what they saw:

Plumes of smoke curled up from Starpeak Square's harbor as the distant din of battle continued to ring in their ears. The skies were choked with indistinct shapes pursuing each other, and brilliant beams occasionally streaked through the air and between rooftops. The state of the harbor was just as unsettling. The little bay was choked with so many ships that for a second Pleo thought that all of Rosequartz Town had come over: the brilliant gold-and-silvers of the Iron Fleet, red sails, blue ones, oranges like the scarves the Tyrantrum and Seviper had, and others he'd never seen before…

They just kept going on and on. Pleo stared out blankly at the chaos in the distance, where his friends and a whole town of Pokémon they had just started to proving their innocence to were. Except they were at the edge of everything, unable to make a difference to help them again.

The Lugia felt a nudge at his shoulder and saw Trizano looking down at him. The Skarmory lingered briefly, before glancing up towards the sea himself and then turning back to Pleo with a low sigh.

"As much as I hate to say this, there's nothing we can do for them right now, Pleo," Trizano said. "We're better off finding someplace to hide and regroup so we can try to fight these pirates off when we're better prepared."

The four flinched as a loud boom rang out and a plume of dust rose from a cluster of buildings about halfway between them and the coastline. Just how deep into town were those pirates getting by now? Ander turned his head up as he briefly glimpsed scattered Pokémon flying overhead for the edges of town, and even a few fleeting figures further up the road hurriedly darting from one back road to the next for the fields and forests.

On the one hand, that was a sign that the pirates hadn't encircled the town if others were fleeing into the hinterlands. But the very fact that others were doing that and not opting to stay in their homes…

"I don't like the looks of our odds trying to hide here," Ander gulped. "Come on, we should be able to lie low in those forests outside of town!"

Nobody argued Ander's point as he hurried along the path and slipped off into a quieter back road. Pleo darted after him with his head hung low, briefly glimpsing back down towards the sea as he fought back a lump in his throat.

He was supposed to be a Protector. To be there for his friends when they needed him most. So why were his powers not there to help him make a difference? Would his powers even be enough after they weren't on Vollezee?

And why did he find himself having to leave his friends behind yet again?

Author's Notes:

- Halt den Mund! - German: "Shut your mouth!" / "Shut up!"
- Shardrago - German: "Druddigon"
- Panzaeron - German: "Skarmory"
- Tragosso - German: "Cubone"


Winter can't come soon enough
Oh, hey, look, the pirates got here [checks watch] at least 1.5 chapters earlier than I expected. To be honest, I thought Team Traveler would get a chance to try and legitimately prove themselves to the town through, say, helping with repairs or what have you. But I guess we're just leaping straight into the action already. And I'm sure Lyn won't be too far behind. I guess it's good things are zipping along, though it does give me the impression there'll be a lot more fighting for at least next chapter, when we're already coming off a lot of battling at the end of the last episode. So, y'know, just be careful for action fatigue and whatnot. Because it's a thing and I'm not sure little breakaways to, say, Team Sentinel trying to frame Darzin will be enough to overcome it. XD

The closest it'd ever been to this was the time when Hess bought one of those tatty treasure maps from the market made to swindle more gullible pirates and managed to turn up a chest of Poké abandoned on a sandbar.
It was probably one of those maps from the back of a cereal box. And the treasure was actual coupons for more cereal.
at least had her sea legs about her
Have you seen the size of dem legs?
"Besides, once we pull this raid off, that galleon will be ours for keeps," Hess insisted.
"I hear it's got a sweet gangplank!"
"The Starfall Striker."
[Penny screeches in the distance]
"What? If we're going to keep it, I don't want to call my new ship something stuffy like the 'Argent Aviso'. It'll be the 'Starfall Striker',"
Yeah, they're not keeping this ship.
Do you think I'm stupid?
Everyone: Yes.
Kichiro stared at Hess for a second, and once again quirked a brow with a dubious frown.
He glanced down and noticed that the tips of his right wing's flight feathers were missing
RIP the power of flight. Where's Palutena when you need her?
"This isn't some Juice Bar for you to collaborate with each other as you please!"
"Yeah, we know. That was last scene."
"I'm sure if we had a chance to explain ourselves, Sheriff-"

"'Robbie'. And a likely story there, Panzaeron," the Krookodile scoffed. "I suppose you also mean to tell me that your ship's not the Siglo Swellow and the lot of you aren't from Tromba?"
"Actually, that explains it pretty well. Carry on."
"That's the name of our ship! And we did come from Tromba!"
Are we sure Pleo wasn't going to be a baby reshiram at some point? He's too honest.
"Really, how did you expect us to forget it when you lousy pirates wouldn't shut up about it during your last raid?"
"But were they speaking in gratuitous Spanish?"
It won't be long before you all get your just rewards."
"Can we have our just desserts instead?"
"How on earth did this happen?" he grumbled.
Plot armor.
"There isn't a good explanation, I'm afraid," the Mothim admitted.
You brought your dog-catching equipment to a snake fight. I don't know what y'all expected.
Maybe he'll flame out and make our job a bit easier.
"But he's a water-type?"
In light of the normal Prosecutor being unable to carry out his duties thanks to injuries from last week's raid
RIP that person. o7
But the thing among them most that set her on edge was the red volume of the Knights' Ledger they'd stolen along from Vollezee. Looked like those secret compartments weren't as well-hidden as Beatrix and Vicente had hoped.
[deadpan] oh no who could have possibly seen this coming?
What sort of pirates would take that sort of risk?
Hess sneezes from the harbor.
"Y-Your Honor! The pirates are back!" the Yanma exclaimed. "And they've brought reinforcements this time!"
Right on cue...
where they saw the Bombirdier dropping rocks onto Pleo from a passing flyby
Hey, look, it's the thing from their dex entry.
Yelps and a couple startled cries of 'My eyes!' rang out
I imagine that has a similar vibe of Fred shouting "My leg!" in SpongeBob.
So why were his powers not there to help him make a difference?
because you are baby you no have power

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Chapter 68

On to a new arc! We left off with the gang reunited after a well-played escape and the first chance they've had in a long while to actually pursue the plot after all the running for their lives! And we open with Bunsen terrorizing the locals back on Tromba. Welp, so much for feeling good about things. I dunno how the Company expects this to help with getting a Protector since Pleo and crew are nowhere near Tromba and don't currently have any way of learning, but who am I kidding--the Company barely needs an excuse to make problems for Tromba.

Big oof that the locals jump to dishing out a bunch of slurs at Bunsen when they've got a fair number of Marked living on the island. That can't be good for neighborly relations.

Gotta admit it's a bit amusing that Bunsen immediately starts doomspiraling about fighting a Protector on Tromba when Hatteras literally just said that the Protector was nowhere near Tromba. :V Looks like someone isn't on the need-to-know basis with Company goings on. I almost forgot that Lyn's mission was still fairly hush, all things considered!

And here we are with Lyn thinking they caught Pleo. Hoo boy, I wouldn't wanna be near him when he finds out...

Ketu being nice sure is wild to see. And that was a pretty interesting convo that he had with Ellsberg there; the first hints of any larger agenda for anyone other than "Get Protectors, ???, Profit."

That was a cute scene between between Pleo and Pladur, with the latter getting flustered by being hugged by a Protector. x3

And I'm sure nothing at all strange or spooky is about to happen on this perfectly ordinary island they've found themselves on. :copyka2: Should be fun to see where this goes! Until next time~


PMD Writer
though it does give me the impression there'll be a lot more fighting for at least next chapter, when we're already coming off a lot of battling at the end of the last episode. So, y'know, just be careful for action fatigue and whatnot. Because it's a thing and I'm not sure little breakaways to, say, Team Sentinel trying to frame Darzin will be enough to overcome it. XD

Yeah, we definitely hear you. Since we’re in the final few episodes of the story, some big action sequences are unavoidable, but we understand that battle fatigue can be a problem and will keep it in mind as we execute things. Hopefully you’ll be positively surprised to hear that the chapter we’re posting today won’t have any battles.

Yeah, they're not keeping this ship.

What did the Iron Fleet ever do to deserve this little faith? :p

Everyone: Yes.

I mean, you’re not wrong.

Are we sure Pleo wasn't going to be a baby reshiram at some point? He's too honest.

Well hey, they’re both white and fluffy :V

because you are baby you no have power

Hey, being cute also counts a power! o3o

Anyway, thanks for the review! Me and Fobbie will look forward to the next one.

@Chibi Pika
Gotta admit it's a bit amusing that Bunsen immediately starts doomspiraling about fighting a Protector on Tromba when Hatteras literally just said that the Protector was nowhere near Tromba. :V Looks like someone isn't on the need-to-know basis with Company goings on. I almost forgot that Lyn's mission was still fairly hush, all things considered!

Yep, the poor guy definitely did not sign up for this. You’d almost feel bad for Bunsen getting strongarmed by Darzin like this if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re both villains.

And here we are with Lyn thinking they caught Pleo. Hoo boy, I wouldn't wanna be near him when he finds out…

Yeah… Lyn’s definitely not gonna be happy when he finds out ^^;

Ketu being nice sure is wild to see. And that was a pretty interesting convo that he had with Ellsberg there; the first hints of any larger agenda for anyone other than "Get Protectors, ???, Profit."

Ah, I’m glad you liked this moment! There’s definitely more to Ketu than meets the eye and I look forward to exploring it, even if it’s gonna take a while.

That was a cute scene between between Pleo and Pladur, with the latter getting flustered by being hugged by a Protector. x3

That’s good! It was a fun scene to write <3

And I'm sure nothing at all strange or spooky is about to happen on this perfectly ordinary island they've found themselves on. :copyka2: Should be fun to see where this goes! Until next time~

It’s just a haunted forest, what’s the worst that could happen?

Until next time!

Whelp, it took a while, but here we are with another chapter. We had initially hoped to publish this in April, but due to me and Fobbie both taking a vacation at the same time, things took a bit longer. At least chapter 96 won’t be as long of a wait, but for now, let’s see what chapter 95 has to offer:

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Pleo shuffled his wings and blinked tiredly, brushing stray bits of dirt off his plumage. He hadn't remembered being this drowsy and wondered why he and the others hadn't found a more comfortable place to rest. He craned his head up, where he saw branches of spruce trees overhead, and then looked back down towards the undergrowth.

It all felt a world away from Starpeak Square as it was being raided. With the way that they'd stopped hearing or seeing things from the town, if it weren't for most of his friends' absence, he could almost imagine that they were on a peaceful island. Far, far away from the Company or the Empire or anyone else who was chasing after him…


The Lugia felt a prodding tug, and turned his head up to see Crom looking down at him worriedly.

"We should get going. It's not safe to rest in one place for too long," he said. "Ferals live in hinterlands like these and those pirates might already be going around looking for us."

Pleo looked past Crom and off of the other end of the little clearing they were in, where Trizano and Ander were standing guard. The Skarmory of the pair raised a wing and peered through a set of bushes tensely, before lowering it and turning back to his teammates with a relieved sigh.

"Looks like the coast is clear," Trizano said. "It's been a few hours by now, and we haven't seen any sign of other Pokémon out here aside from a Feral here or there. I think that we have a little bit of time to breathe easy."

One by one, the four shuffled out of the brush, where they stepped out onto a dirt path pockmarked with footprints and ruts from wagons. From how faded and scarce such impressions were, it really did seem like anybody had come by here lately. Pleo took a moment to stretch himself as Trizano pointed off at the island's tall mountain in the distance and began to set off down the path that led further inland towards it. The Lugia carried along with his companions down the dirt road, when he curled his head in with an uneasy murmur.

"… Ander? Trizano?" Pleo asked. "What on earth are we even supposed to do right now?"

Ander hesitated and looked back off in the direction of Starpeak Square for a moment, before slowly turning his head back and hanging it with a low buzz.

"I suppose the best place to start is just to take stock of where things stand at the moment."

Crom squirmed at the Scyther's insistence. Just where were they supposed to start? Starpeak Square was overrun by pirates, they were cut off from their ship, and for all they knew, Guardia and Dimitri were captured along with the rest of their friends who were still trapped in town.

The Druddigon shifted the bag on his shoulder and glanced back at it briefly. After swinging it around in front of him, he peeked down past its mouth and saw the red volume of the Knights' Ledger they had grabbed in their escape.

"Well, we have the Ledger, at least… even if we don't have anyone else along with us," Crom said. "The pirates that overran the town probably would just reuse places in it to hold any prisoners, so they're probably still stuck in that garrison right now."

"I think that's a fairly safe assumption," Ander sighed. "Though considering how we saw the Iron Fleet's ship in town, I'm starting to wonder if all of this was planned because of us."

Trizano frowned and gave a puzzled tilt of his head.

"What makes you say that, Ander?" the Skarmory asked. "I've crossed paths with the Iron Fleet before on numerous occasions and… they aren't exactly the types who would put together an elaborate ambush. Let alone one that would work."

… Right, Trizano had apparently picked fights with the Iron Fleet in the past. From what Elty had told, enough so that they recognized him when they'd fought each other back on Pioppo. Though even without knowing that, it was admittedly a bit hard to imagine Hess being the mastermind behind such a big and complicated raid when he'd seemed downright amateurish at times.

Even so, Ander remained unwavering, as he glanced back and brushed his blades together with an insistent shake of his head.

"Because those pirates knew that there'd be a… 'Protector' for them to come and snatch," the Bug-Type explained. "And Hess and the Iron Fleet raided this island once before while flying our colors even though they never had an issue using their own in the past. That can't possibly have been an accident."

"Yeah, and there were a whole bunch of pirates who weren't wearing Iron Fleet scarves," Crom insisted. "Isn't the easiest explanation just that they remembered how much trouble they had fighting us on Pioppo and worked with some other crews for help? It'd explain why there were so many of them in Starpeak Square…"

Pleo grimaced briefly as his mind drifted back to his time on Orleigh and how it felt like all of Rosequartz Town had tried to capture him right before they left it. Had all of those Pokémon come here to try and catch him again? If so, how were they supposed to shake them? Especially with everything that was needed to escape last time…

The Lugia caught himself after uncomfortable memories of Rasp running away from him in a panic came to his mind. He hung his head, as doubts began to swirl inside it. He knew that Beatrix said that it was risky to try and sail to an island further away than Gestirn, but with the way things had turned out…

Had they really made the right choice?

"Maybe we should've tried going to a different island even if it'd have been further…" Pleo murmured. "Though how did the Iron Fleet know we would be on this one anyways?"

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, as nobody seemed to have an answer to that question. Eventually, Crom sighed and turned back to the young Protector as he uneasily pawed at his own shoulder.

"I'm… not sure," he said. "But I think we have bigger problems to worry about right now. How on earth are we supposed to leave Gestirn like this?"

Ander fell quiet and moved the back of one of his blades to his mouth, as he uneasily glanced off in the direction of Starpeak Square. There in between gaps in the trees, he could still faintly make out the colored masts in its harbor.

"I would say that we ought to free the crew and just make a break for the Siglo Swellow and sail off…"

Ander was abruptly cut off by a sound much like clattering metal, which a quick glance towards Trizano revealed to be him rustling his feathers, and shooting an irritated scowl back at the Marked Scyther.

"And just abandon the town in its time of need? Perish the thought!" the Skarmory protested. "Why, if we made our way back in and freed our companions, we could help fight those pirates off with the rest of the townsfolk! Surely it'd prove our innocence to those Pokémon as well!"

Ander frowned and crossed his scythes reply, before following with a defensive huff.

"… Well I was going to say that I had no idea how we'd do that between the four of us, but that's even more of a challenge," he grumbled. "What are we supposed to do against an entire town that for all we know has been completely taken over by hundreds of pirates?"

Trizano raised a wing in protest, only to trail off and fall silent. Pleo and Crom saw the way that the Skarmory's determination flagged and traded worried looks with one another. Just what were they to do even if they did choose to flee? Could the four of them even make it off the island in their present circumstances? With Pleo and Trizano's wings clipped, no supplies, and no Diver like Dimitri to take them to the Subway? Even that idea seemed unworkable.

The four stood there at a loss of what to do, when suddenly, the sound of rustling came from the treeline further ahead on the left of their path. The group abruptly froze as Trizano motioned for a stop and peered over warily at the bushes.

"Careful," he whispered. "It's probably just a Feral, but with the way we ran into those pirates earlier, we should be cautious."

Crom, Pleo, and Ander nodded back, and braced themselves for battle. One by one, they approached the bushes, fanning out in a semicircle as their breaths came guarded and shallow. After getting about a dozen paces out, Trizano paused and turned his attention back to the bush with a sharp cry.

"Whoever's out there, show yourself!" the Skarmory demanded.

The bush jolted again, this time more forcefully and from a presence much larger than any of the four had initially assumed. Pleo steadied himself alongside his friends for whatever foe could be waiting for them beyond the treeline, when a familiar, rough voice answered from deeper within.

"What in the-?"

The bushes parted, as the red-and-white-scaled form of Sheriff Robbie emerged. The Krookodile jolted back with a start at the sight of the four, as Pleo raised a wing, pointing at him with a stammering cry.

"Ah! I-It's that Krookodile!" Pleo squawked.

Robbie stood there slack-jawed for a moment, before narrowing his eyes and gritting his teeth. A low growl came from the sheriff's throat, as he raised a claw back accusingly.

"You again! Give me one good reason why I ought to not knock the four of you into next week!" the Krookodile demanded. "Those filthy pirates almost overpowered us earlier after you flashed us with that Luminous Orb!"

Pleo and his companions froze for a moment. Now that Robbie had mentioned it, even if it sounded like things worked out in the end, the way they'd escaped from him and his fellow guards had been a bit thoughtless.

Perhaps an apology was in order on their part. Pleo sighed and shook his head, before pawing at the back of it with a flustered grimace.

"… Sorry, we should've called out a warning or something," he murmured. "But do you at least believe now that we're not pirates?"

Robbie hesitated a moment and studied the Lugia and his teammates carefully, before pinching his brow with a low grumble.

"I'd feel better about you if you hadn't cut and run or made that battle such a headache for us," the Krookodile harrumphed. "But those pirates certainly weren't acting like they were friends of yours. If nothing else, it makes us allies of convenience right now."

"Well, I suppose that's a start at least," Ander said. "But what are you doing out here anyways?"

Robbie looked away, and let his eyes fall towards the ground with a grudging mutter.

"We've lost control of Starpeak Square, and most of my subordinates were captured," he explained. "Me and a few of them managed to slip away and we've been establishing a redoubt out here to try and take back the town."

The Krookodile turned his eyes back up with a determined gaze, and folded his arms with a low huff.

"That's why I'm moving around the edge of town," he continued. "To try and see if anyone else successfully made it out so that way we can see what we have to work with for driving those pirates back into the sea."

Trizano traded glances with his teammates briefly. He'd never been comfortable with the idea of leaving Starpeak Square behind to its fate, and driving the pirates off would give them a chance to get back to the Siglo Swellow. For now, at least, their interests were aligned with Robbie's, so perhaps it made sense to try and make something of it.

"I don't suppose you have room for four helpers?" the Skarmory asked, raising a wing for attention. "Regardless of our earlier disagreements, it's clear that we won't be going anywhere fast until those pirates are dealt with. You're going to need 'monpower to help retake that town, so why not let us help you?"

Robbie frowned and scowled back for a noticeable pause. After a moment of hesitation, he turned away and let out a quiet grunt, grudgingly looking back over his shoulder.

"… I don't suppose I'm in any position to turn down a helping hand," he said. "And some of the others said they spotted fliers going around, so it wouldn't do any good to just linger around up here."

Robbie raised a claw, before motioning at the others to follow along.

"This way. Our place is not far from here."

Meanwhile, in the cell block of Gestirn's guardhouse, the air had been thick with tension the entire day. Much to Nida's surprise, Pladur and the Golduck sailor they shared the cell with weren't the ones of their group who took being penned up in a cell the hardest. Elty was constantly on his toes listening for any sign of movement, while Pyry and Pekka seemed particularly shaken by their surroundings. Did being locked up like this bring back bad memories for them?

Throughout the day, smoke curled up from across scattered parts of Starpeak Square. Things had started with a chorus of blasts and shouts signaling fierce fighting, only for the sounds to taper off more and more before the town went eerily quiet. Nida and her cellmates would occasionally catch a glimpse of a figure flying about in the air or going down the street, but if it weren't for the sun hanging just past its midday position, Nida would have expected the town's residents were primarily nocturnal and had gone to sleep for the day.

The Golduck in the cell traded an uneasy look with Pladur, before wondering aloud what the strange silence could possibly mean.

"Do you think the guards fought off those pirates?" the Golduck asked. "Things have been awfully quiet for a while now."

Nida turned and glanced out of the barred window. After angling her head to get a view of the harbor, she saw that while the smoke from earlier had died down into a few stubborn wisps that continued to climb into the sky, the harbor's water was still choked with ships with various patterns.

Including two that the Nidorina recognized as the Iron Fleet's, meaning that those were pirate ships they were seeing.

"I… don't think they did," Nida replied. "Their ships are still in the harbor. Wouldn't the pirates have sailed off if the guards fought them off and things had calmed down?"

Nida's cellmates quietly grimaced. It wasn't like pirates to linger even if they'd gained the upper paw in a raid. They were Pokémon who were normally more than content to sack whatever they could and move along when they were done.

Between the fact that they hadn't and that there were so many of them… it was as clear of an ill omen as any of them could get right now.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Pladur murmured. "I just hope that Pleo and the others are okay…"

Just then, the sound of a large number of approaching footsteps and voices rang out. Elty's ears pricked at the nearing racket, as he propped himself onto his hindlegs just under the window and motioned over at it.

"Hey, someone's coming towards the front of the building."

Elty and his companions gathered to the best of their ability around the cell's window, where much to their alarm, they saw a stream of Pokémon in Imperial indigoes bound up in ropes and webbing being shoved along by rough-looking Pokémon—ones whose scarves matched the colors and patterns of the sails of some of the ships in port.

The six gulped as it dawned on them that the local defenders had been overwhelmed by the pirates, and the pirates were clearly taking the opportunity to remind their captives of it. Mocking laughs and jeers floated through the air, a few hapless guards receiving shoves or glancing blows as they passed along and were gathered at the entrance to the garrison. There, a Bisharp in red garb walked up the steps in front of the guardhouse's entrance. He sized up the captives for a moment, before turning his head down the lane towards the sea.

Behind the guards, a crowd of terrified-looking Pokémon were marched forward surrounded by pirates. Their limbs were free, but they were kept in line all the same with sharp snarls and glares as a few younger-looking faces in the group started to cry out of fright from the ordeal. From the back of the crowd, an Empoleon and Quaquaval were dragged forward by a small group of pirates, bound and visibly struggling. Their attempts to fight back proved in vain, and before Nida and the others in her cell knew it, they were brought before the Bisharp and forced to kneel.

Dirk looked down at the pair, before curling his mouth up into a mocking smirk.

"Ah yes, Duke Franz of Gestirn Island, I presume. Can't say that I ever expected to meet you like this," he sneered. "Nor your wife, for that matter. She's certainly lovely… it'd be a shame if anything happened to her."

Malicious laughter and taunts from nearby pirates filled the air following the Bisharp's greeting. The Empoleon grit his beak and shot back a piercing glare, as his words came out in a seething growl.

"If you expect that I, Duke Franz, will cower in front of a bunch of unwashed thugs like you-"

"I'm afraid that little title of yours doesn't mean much at the moment," Dirk scoffed. "After all, the balance of power has tilted out of your favor."

The Bisharp looked up and sized up the villagers and guards in the audience as a few of them visibly flinched under his gaze. After a moment to make his way down the steps, he raised his voice and began to speak up to the gathered Pokémon.

"Effective today, I, Captain Dirk, will be taking over temporary administration of Starpeak Square along with the rest of the Council of Orleigh," he declared. "We don't anticipate this to be a long-term arrangement. Just until we finish up some business on this island."

Dirk made his way past the bound guards at the front, glancing them over until his eyes fell on a Hakamo-o and stopped. The Dragon-Type flinched and began to visibly squirm, as a malicious smirk came over the Bisharp's face.

"Ah yes, you again. I remember you running your mouth off earlier in battle," Dirk said. "Let's see just how brave you really are."

The Bisharp stopped and grabbed the Hakamo-o by his scarf, dragging him flailing up the steps, before stopping a blade just under his throat. The Hakamo-o went wide-eyed and let out a frightened squeal, as Dirk shot a glance from the corner of his eyes back at his gathered audience.

"You all made our goals a lot more difficult for us than it needed to be thus far," the pirate captain harrumphed. "The sort of difficulty that I and the others on the Council would normally be inclined to send a message over."

The Hakamo-o whimpered and pulled his tail in towards his body as his innards sickened out of fright. The guard screwed his eyes shut, bracing for a killing blow as Dirk drew his blade back, only to swing the back of his hand and strike the Hakamo-o's cheek with an audible smack.

Nida and the others watched as the Hakamo-o yelped and fell down the steps to the garrison. After coming to a stop, the Dragon-Type looked up from the ground visibly quaking as mocking laughter and jeers about the guard's lack of dignity rang out. Dirk glanced down at the stunned and shaken guard from the top of the steps with a disgusted scoff, before turning out to the crowd as a small smile came over his face.

"But I'm a reasonable 'mon, and I believe in second chances," the Bisharp captain insisted. "All you need to do to receive yours is to do as you're told and hand over whatever you're asked to. Simple conditions, no?"

Duke Franz fought against his bindings, turning his head up with a defiant squawk.

"You're insane! You've occupied a town of her Majesty's Realm!" the Empoleon snarled. "Do you really think the Royal Navy won't hear of this?! That they won't come to take back this island and make examples of you and your lackeys?! How do you expect this to end other than with you and most of your crew being banished to the Wa-?!"

Team Traveller flinched as Dirk slashed Franz across his chest, his arm-blade trailing shadowy flecks in its wake. The duke crumpled forward in pain, trying to curl up around a trickle of blood leaking from a fresh cut. The Quaquaval went wide-eyed, staring at her injured husband with a sharp cry.


The Quaquaval reflexively tried to hurry to her spouse's side, only for the surrounding pirates to wrestle her to the ground. The duchess thrashed and let out protesting cries as Franz fought against his pain, white-hot anger filling his eyes as he propped himself up, only to abruptly freeze after seeing Dirk's blade at his throat again.

"I'm feeling pretty good about my odds, Imp." Dirk spat. "If you'd like to feel good about yours, I'd strongly suggest you do as you're told. Next time, I won't let you off with just a little nick like that."

Franz visibly hesitated and grudgingly lowered his head afterwards. Satisfied, Dirk turned his attention to the crowd of villagers behind the guards, hardening his features into an overpowering glare.

"As for the rest of you, get lost and tell the others what you saw here," the Bisharp barked. "And if you know what's good for you, don't get in our way!"

Dirk swept his arm out over the villagers, prompting his underlings to throw a hail of beams and missiles just over their heads that struck the buildings opposite the street. Cries rang out as the crowd hastily turned and fled, a few pirates throwing attacks at the heels of stragglers as they retreated into various lanes and buildings nearby. After the street emptied, the pirates closed ranks around the captured guards and began to shove and drag them along for the entrance to the garrison. All the while, Pladur couldn't help but wince at the way the hapless Pokémon were being bullied along, when it dawned on him that of all of the prisoners that were still present, none of their friends were among them.

"Ay, menos mal," Pladur said. "They didn't catch any of the others."

"Well, not yet, anyways," Elty remarked. "Though I wonder if catching Pleo was that 'business' they were talking about."

Nida quirked a brow at the Growlithe's theory, when she realized that it seemed to make sense. Sibich had plans of his own to try and capture Pleo, so was it really that unreasonable that other pirates would also have ones of their own, too?

But what had motivated all of them to go after Pleo now? And all working together like this-?


Nida and the others flinched from the sound of a loud racket, as the Pokémon in the other cells darted up to the bars and looked out worriedly. Elty went over and peered past the bars, only to stiffen up. There at the door was a Conkeldurr wearing the same red scarf as Dirk's, grabbing onto the Hakamo-o from earlier by the back of his neck.

The Conkeldurr shoved the Hakamo-o to the ground with a yelp, before he raised one of his stony pillars and looked over the cell block's hall with a malicious sneer.

"Special delivery!" the Conkeldurr taunted. "You runts are getting new cellmates!"

A Golisopod with a teal scarf accompanied by a Seviper in orange garb entered, dragging the Hakamo-o back up as other pirates followed in pushing and shoving their captives along in a sorry procession past the cells. Nida shrank back as both jeers and yelps rang out, when the Seviper chanced to see her while passing and paused. She flicked her tongue out briefly, letting out a huffing scoff as she locked eyes and leveled her tail at the Nidorina.

"Hrmph, didn't think I'd run into you here of all places."

Elty blinked at the Seviper's comment and traded looks between her and Nida. He was pretty sure that was Captain Tarquin's first mate… had these two somehow met before? Even if the Seviper seemed to recognize Nida, the Nidorina for her part didn't seem to recognize her back.

Elty's attention turned back to the hall after hearing a sharp hiss, where he saw the Golisopod dragging the Hakamo-o along towards their cell. The Dragon-Type dug his feet in and turned, flashing his fangs briefly in defiance. His display was swiftly brought to an end by a sharp jab to his stomach from the Golisopod's claws that made him fall backwards with a yelp. Before the Dragon-Type could get back up, the Seviper moved her bladed tail to the guard's throat, as the Growlithe and his cellmates watched the fight drain out of the hapless dragon's body. The Hakamo-o screwed his eyes shut with a low whimper, before the Seviper shot a dangerous glare back into the cell.

"Though that can wait for later," she said. "Sit tight. You're not going anywhere."

The Golisopod opened the cell door and threw the Hakamo-o in as Elty and his teammates hurriedly ducked out of the way. An unfortunate Lairon followed, with cries of protest ringing out up and down the cell block as others were being crammed into the nearby cells. The Golisopod and Seviper moved onto a yowling Torracat as Elty looked away from the rest of the cells and pinned his ears back with a low grimace.

"That sure isn't a good sign for how they're dealing with the town right now," Elty gulped. "Is there even going to be anything of it left standing after this?"

Almost as soon as the fighting had died down in Starpeak Square, many of the raiding pirates took the time to celebrate their good fortune throughout town. Some of them crowed in triumph for the defeated defenders to hear, and some helped themselves to ill-gotten gains from shops and storehouses. Meanwhile, others like the crew of the Iron Fleet, had opted to celebrate their good fortune over drinks and joined in with peers from other crews in taking over the local taverns where their spirits were freely distributed amongst their ranks as the day began to stretch into the afternoon.

A few differences in architectural style and the locals' preference for beer over rice wine aside, the wooden furnishings and its atmosphere of the tavern Hess entered could've easily passed for their hangout in Andaku. Though without a gruff Throh barkeep to keep order, the Iron Fleet's ranks, new and old, were free to amuse themselves over drinking games with curiously large wooden tankards, much as a Haxorus and a Sealeo did as they sat at a table surrounded by a crowd of their fellows cheering them on.

"Chug! Chug! Chug!"

The Haxorus and the Sealeo threw their mugs back, guzzling the frothing liquid inside. The Sealeo loudly gulped down a few mouthfuls of the beer, before wavering as his eyes abruptly widened. The Sealeo sharply jerked his head down, still grasping the mug between his flippers as he set it on the table and panted for air. A few disappointed groans went about the gathered pirates, along with a chiding "seriously, Pieter?" as the Haxorus continued drinking. The last few gulps of the Dragon-Type's beer went down slower and slower, before she brought her tankard down onto the table and hit it with an audible tak, revealing to the Sealeo and the watching pirates that it was empty.

The surrounding corsairs broke out into cheers as the Sealeo shrank back with a sour frown. Not to be outdone, the Haxorus picked up her mug, waving it at the Sealeo with a smug smile.

"For a 'mon with such a big mouth, you sure suck at holding your beer!"

Some laughter went about as bets were exchanged in the background, the Haxorus' supporters gleefully taking coins and loot from grumbling counterparts whose gamble on the Sealeo hadn't paid off. The Sealeo was the most displeased of all, as he sullenly pushed away his unfinished tankard with a flipper, just as Hess walked by with a small wooden barrel tucked under his arm. The Aggron captain looked over at the moping Sealeo briefly, before letting out an unimpressed scoff.

"Oi, Pieter, you're letting yourself get beat by a little mug like that?" Hess chided. "Here, lemme show you how it's done!"

The Aggron raised his keg, when a Ledian talking with a Grumpig and a Krokorok seated at a nearby table looked up briefly. Kichiro left the two and paced forward with a dubious scowl, folding his arms as he reached Hess.

"Captain, that's a keg," he buzzed. "Don't tell me you're thinking of drinking all of that."

"Of course I am!" Hess beamed back. "It's just a little keg. A 'mon like me can make short work of it!"

The gathered brigands turned to each other as the room began to fill with conflicting murmurs.

"Wait, can he actually chug a keg?"

"Oh come on, how hard could it be? It's Hess of all Pokémon."

"Fifty Poké says he won't make it halfway through."

All the while, Kichiro's features hardened into an unamused frown as he let out a low harrumph.

"Yeah, okay there. I'm pretty sure that you couldn't even get through that keg if you tried," the Ledian said. "Don't make yourself look like an idiot."

And yet, his words had little effect other than to seemingly put a fire in Hess' eyes. The Aggron cracked a determined grin back and slapped his claw against the keg.

"Wanna bet? Three shares of the loot says I can chug it!"

Surprised murmurs went about the crowd, some doubting that even an Aggron could chug an entire keg, while others insisted that if anyone could do it, it'd be their captain. Kichiro opened his mouth to speak, only to catch himself. Sure, it was one of Hess' boneheaded attempts to show off, but if the Aggron was dead set on making a fool of himself trying to do the impossible… why shouldn't he take advantage of his overconfidence and pick up some easy winnings?

"… Make it six," Kichiro replied. "And remember you're betting on chugging it. So that means no breaks between drinking."

Hess raised the keg again, tightening his claws around the cork along its side. He pulled it out with an audible pop, before he shot back a knowing grin.

"Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you!"

Hess brought the barrel up to his mouth and threw his head back, beginning to drink with loud gulps. The other pirates gawked, as a few began to cheer and egg him on. Even so, Hess didn't seem to be drinking that quickly, which prompted his Ledian head flier to crack a smug smirk in reply.

"Pacing yourself already?" Kichiro sneered. "I can already feel those six shares in my hands."

The Aggron narrowed his eyes and began to drink faster, much to the roaring delight of his underlings. Kichiro crossed his arms with an unimpressed scoff before turning and drifting off. He briefly passed the Grumpig and Krokorok talking to each other in hushed tones and made his way over to a table where Rodion was already seated. The Floatzel looked over with a giant tankard of his own as Kichiro flitted up. The Bug-Type claimed an empty seat next to Rodion and settled in, before turning to him with a grumbling sigh.

"Hrmph, I think that Hess must be letting that bigger crew of his get to his head."

Rodion raised a brow, before leaning back in his seat and cracking a small smile as he brought his tankard up to his mouth.

"You sure about that, Kichiro?" the Floatzel asked. "I think he actually has a shot at this."

Kichiro frowned as Rodion drank from his mug, piping up with an annoyed buzz.

"It's 'Keiichiro'," the Ledian huffed. "And come on, Rodion. He's obviously just trying to show off."

Rodion tilted his head briefly, before setting his mug back on the table with a click of his tongue.

"I don't know, Hess did go through a keg of rum about this size around New Year's before he blacked out," he remarked. "Are you really gonna bet against him getting through the same amount of a weaker drink?"

"That's not the same as drinking it all at once," Kichiro scoffed, before leaning back in his own seat. "It took him all night to get through all that rum, anyway. He's probably struggling to keep things down right no-"

A chorus of loud, raucous cheers turned Kichiro's attention back towards Hess. Much to his astonishment, Hess was still drinking from his keg. His gulps were coming audibly slower again, but from the way the surrounding pirates were urging him to keep going, some way, somehow, he had been chugging it this entire time. The Ledian gave an uneasy twitch of his antennae, gaping with a blank stare up at his captain.

"… Wait, you're still going?" he asked. "Hess, how on earth is your stomach not killing you right now?"

Hess gave no reply other than to gulp louder. The other pirates were getting increasingly excited, with a Hoppip mentioning that he was beginning to hear the remaining beer slosh around inside.

… Hess wasn't seriously close to finishing that keg, was he?

"Eh… y-you can stop now!" Kichiro insisted. "We can even call off the bet so you don't have to force yourself to keep going and embarrass yourself!"

The Aggron ignored him and kept on drinking. Eventually, Hess raised the keg even higher and shook it briefly, before lowering it from his mouth. He seemed visibly fatigued, but all the while he sported a satisfied grin. Hess lurched over by a table and flopped onto his rump on the ground, letting the keg drop from his claws. It hit the wooden floor with a hollow thump and rolled forward, as Kichiro's mouth flopped open after he realized that it was completely empty.

"N-Nanda?! You actually finished it?!"

Hess looked at Kichiro as the Ledian stared at him dumbfounded, before cracking his jaws wide open and giving a deafening response:


The air visibly reverberated as Hess let out a gigantic belch, making Kichiro and a few other pirates, mostly ones with more sensitive ears, recoil from the racket. For a brief moment, there was silence throughout the tavern, as all the other pirates in the room stared at the Iron Fleet's captain.

And then the tavern broke out into roaring laughter and cheers.

"Hah! So you can lead by example!" the Haxorus exclaimed.

"Of course he can!" the Sealeo chimed in. "He's our captain! Who do you take him for?"

The pirates' cheering continued on, a few Pokémon like a Charmeleon speaking up to congratulate the Aggron. All the while, Kichiro stared in stunned shock, only for his expression to suddenly change he let out a disgusted hiss.

"Ew! That's so gross!"

The Ledian's protests drew little more than laughs and taunting chides from the surrounding pirates. Meanwhile, Hess leaned his head back against the table and shot Kichiro a sly grin, before opening his jaws again:


Kichiro spluttered angrily after the second burp, as all the while, Hess looked at him with an innocent smile.

"Still had a bit of air left in me."

"You did that on purpose!" the Ledian snapped.

"Yeah, and?" Hess replied, giving a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders as his smirk widened. "You could try being less mad about losing a bet."

Kichiro let out an exasperated buzz, shaking his head as he looked up with a sharp glare at his captain.

"That has nothing to do with it! I can handle losing just fine!" the Ledian insisted. "It was just really gross, that's all! You're supposed to be setting an example here as the captain!"

"I am setting an example here," Hess teased. "Since when did you ever hear of a pirate that couldn't let out a good burp?"

"Plenty of times! Being a pirate has nothing to do with being so rude, gross, immature-!"


Kichiro flinched as a loud burp split the air right beside him. He turned around and saw Rodion cradling an empty tankard as he leaned back with his feet on the table… all while sporting the most shameless grin he'd remembered seeing the Floatzel having in some time. The Ledian stared wordlessly for a moment, before bellowing laughter turned his attention back to Hess, who was shooting a toothy smile back at his first mate.

"Ha! Nice one, Rodion!"

"Yeah, that's definitely nicer to listen to than a bunch of annoying buzzing noises!" a Charmeleon chimed in.

Kichiro hissed angrily as the surrounding pirates broke out into raucous laughter, with even the Grumpig and Krokorok from Lyn's crew joining in. He got up and stomped the ground with a furious huff as he glared daggers at his crewmates.

"Stop being such a bunch of disgusting jerks and grow up already!"

Rodion looked on as the Ledian sat back down and loudly fumed to himself. Clearly Kichiro was taking the crew's banter more personally than he ought to. Even so, nothing good would come from leaving the ship's lead flier and second mate to stew in such a foul mood, much less one he counted as a close friend. The Floatzel sat up straight, before leaning in and patting Kichiro's shoulder with a sigh.

"Come on, lighten up a bit. Everyone's just having a bit of fun."

Kichiro grumbled under his breath, before looking away with an exaggerated harrumph. A bit theatrical, but from lived experience after being friends with Kichiro for years, Rodion supposed that was one way to tell the Ledian appreciated the reassurance… even if he was trying his hardest to act otherwise.

"Everyone could at least try to act professional while having fun," Kichiro complained. "We're on the Council now, and you don't see any of them doing stuff like-"

The pair was cut off by a deafening belch that shook the room briefly as a shock of red and white flew across its length and hit the wall with a loud thud. The pirates stared as a Zangoose slumped to the ground and let out a low groan.

A Flareon and Banette hurriedly drug the Zangoose off as a few bystanders in orange scarves broke out into jeering laughs and a Seviper flicked her tongue with a "serves you right, you stupid ferret!". There was a lingering pause at Kichiro's table, as the pair traded looks with each other and the Bug-Type piped up in protest.

"… That doesn't count. Belch is a move, and of course a Zangoose and a Seviper would-"


The chatter abruptly fell quiet after a low growl and heavy footsteps rang out. Kichiro watched as his peers' eyes widened briefly and they hurriedly scurried out of the way. The Ledian twitched his antennae, turning around just as Tarquin brushed past him, flanked by scowling, orange-scarved underlings.

A growling summons bade the Seviper to join the Tyrantrum's party, as the party of Strongjaw Gang pirates made their way over to Hess. Somehow, in spite of going through a keg of beer, the Aggron seemed to visibly sober up as the Tyrantrum stopped in front of him with a sharp frown.

"Can it with the fun and games, Hess," Tarquin growled. "Dirk wants all the members of the Council to assemble in ten minutes."

The Aggron stared up flummoxed for a moment, before casting a worried glance over at his Floatzel first mate. Rodion sighed as he stood up from his seat as Hess traded glances between the Floatzel and the Tyrantrum before him. Dirk? Calling a meeting of the Council on such short notice?

"Wait, what? But why?" Hess asked. "I thought the raid went well today."

"Yeah, it went well, except for the fact that we didn't capture the 'mon who was the entire reason why we mounted this raid in the first place!" Tarquin scoffed. "Dirk wants everyone to draw up members to form search parties to comb the hinterlands. Those Imps would've cut that bird's flight feathers while taking him prisoner, so he couldn't have gotten far. He's most likely lying low somewhere in those woods outside of town."

The Tyrantrum shot a sidelong glance at Hess' underlings, who visibly shrank back. Beside the table, the shock of Tarquin's arrival had started to wear off for Hess, especially after Rodion and Kichiro made their way forward. The Aggron hastily threw himself to his feet, trying to steel himself and force a determined scowl back up at the Tyrantrum, only for his words to come out as a jumbled stammer.

"N-Now hold on a moment! We also need to make sure we have 'mons here to post around town to remind these locals of who's boss!" Hess protested. "Maybe you've got 'monpower to spare, but I don't have that much at the moment! Who on earth would I even send out there?"

"… You could send some of the new recruits, Captain. They can hold their own in battle, so that'd be as good a use as any for their strength," Rodion suggested. "Besides, we might be able to plug the gap a bit with some extra recruits here on Gestirn. I can already think of an easy place where we'd be able to pick up a few helping paws."

The Aggron trailed off and blinked, before turning his head over to his first mate with a puzzled tilt of his head.

"… Wait, you do, Rodion?" he asked. "Just what place are you talking about?"

( Continued in next post )
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
About half an hour after their encounter on the hinterland path, Robbie brought Crom and his companions deeper into the forest until they reached a tree with a set of scratches left in its bark. The Krookodile hesitated and checked his surroundings carefully before rapping out a series of knocks against the wood with his knuckles. They waited, and a few silent moments followed, when a set of faint taps came in reply from the ground just past the bushes. Robbie seemed to be expecting that and pushed on, pulling back the bushes ahead to reveal a tunnel that had been dug into the earth.

"Alles klar," the sheriff said. "Go on ahead."

Crom paced forward warily and crouched to enter the tunnel. While it was big enough for even a Pokémon like Robbie to make it through, whoever made it clearly didn't want anyone coming through too quickly. The Druddigon continued on when he heard voices lingering in the air and caught glimpses of lanternlight coming from the tunnel's exit, along with what looked like the top of a large burrow dug into a rocky wall. Crom blinked briefly, before turning over to Robbie with a puzzled frown.

"Wait… did you steal some feral's den to use as your hideout?" he asked.

"I don't think the local Rangers would appreciate hearing you talk about their station like that. Besides, we wouldn't have the space for so many Pokémon if we had," Robbie scoffed from behind. "This place was dug out to resemble one from a passing glance, so that way if our island was ever invaded, we could fall back here and use it as a base to mount resistance."

The Dragon-Type and his companions gave askew looks at the Krookodile before carrying on, when they came across what looked like an earthen chamber. It was almost like Nida's burrow or the part of the guardhouse back home that had been built underneath the hill it was attached to. Except it was visibly bigger on the inside than either of them.

It took only a quick glance to understand why the place was so large. All around, there were Pokémon of various shapes and sizes going about the Ranger station, some clad in Imperial indigoes while others sported completely unrelated colors. A few were visibly laid out and being treated for wounds, while others were chattering nervously with one another. As soon as Crom and his companions entered the chamber, the chatter stopped, and everyone's attention fell upon them. A few of the Pokémon visibly tensed up and braced themselves, as a Makuhita with an Imperial scarf gestured with a startled cry.

"Ack! Sheriff Robbie! Those are-!

"New allies of ours. As long as they act the part," Robbie grunted. "We don't need more enemies to deal with right now."

The Makuhita guard and his peers paused and traded puzzled glances with each other, before they slowly eased out of their fighting stances. Crom stepped ahead into the hideout and looked around, sizing up the small assortment of Pokémon inside, before he cocked a brow puzzledly.

"But how are we supposed to help when everyone's just hiding underground like this?" the Druddigon asked.

"Haven't you ever heard of things taking time to prepare, kid?" a Heliolisk huffed, folding his arms in reply. "We're trying to put together a relief force to take our town back!"

Ander gave a dubious tilt of his head. He looked over the meager gathering for a quiet moment, before letting out a low sigh.

"With all due respect, but this relief force of yours seems… lacking."

"Oh sod off, Sichlor, we've barely had any time to work with!" a Mabosstiff snapped. "Do you expect us to wrangle together every Ranger and Hunter out in the field within a couple hours?"

Ander and his teammates turned at the sound of a sharp wince, and saw a Donphan recoiling from having an Oran Berry applied to an ugly-looking scrape. The lot grimaced for a moment, realizing that Robbie's would-be relief force was in worse shape than they initially assumed, as Trizano shook his head with a low murmur.

"… I suppose we were just hoping to see something a bit more confidence-inspiring."

"Don't sell us short, Panzaeron," Robbie harrumphed. "If there's nothing else about us Gestirners, we don't give up easily in a fight. I'm sure that there'll be plenty of Bauern willing to set their fields aside for a bit in light of everything that's going on."

"And it's not as if we're not already getting things done now! We even caught a prisoner who was aiding those dirty pirates while Sheriff Robbie was out!" the Mabosstiff insisted. "He gave us quite a bit of trouble taking him down, but between our numbers and a Slumber Wand, we eventually got the better of him. Tied him up and everything!"

"We should've known those blotch-heads from Starbreak Square had something to do with this," the Heliolisk added. "Since when do pirates launch raids this coordinated without someone from the inside helping them?"

Ander reflexively tensed up at the Heliolisk's mention of 'Starbreak Square', which made Pleo and the others blink. Curiously enough, Robbie looked just as confused as them, as the Krookodile raised a brow back at the two guards.

"… That's news to me," the Ground-Type said. "Friedrich, Hans, just who is this prisoner that you caught?"

The two shuffled off into a tunnel connecting to the chamber where the clatter of doors opening rang out. A brief moment later, there was the sound of a yelp and the silhouette of a large body struggling amid wildly shifting light coming from further down. Pleo froze briefly as he realized that the light seemed to be given off by fire, when the Mabostiff and Heliolisk returned back into the chamber, dragging out a Charizard who was tied up and visibly muzzled.

… One that had a Mark on his forehead. Whose eyes instantly shrank to pins after seeing them. W-Wait, this was-?!


The Charizard let out a muffled scream as Pleo and his teammates' own eyes shrank to pins and they braced themselves for battle. The Pokémon's scarf was different and he sported bruises and patches of damaged scales they didn't remember being there last time, but there was no mistaking it: that Marked Charizard in front of them was Commissioner Bunsen!

"What on earth are you doing here?!" Pleo cried.

Bunsen whirled and attempted to flee, only for the Mabosstiff to lunge and knock him to the ground mid-stride. The Heliolisk ran over to help pin the thrashing Charizard down as Pleo and his companions neared with their mouths still open in shock. Bunsen briefly saw Pleo approaching and curled his neck and tail in towards his body, his wings visibly trembling as low whimpers came from his throat much to the Heliolisk and Mabosstiff's confusion.

"Wait a minute, you all have met before?"

"What on earth happened between you all to make him react like that?" the Mabosstiff questioned. "I know Marked have that whole 'demon' thing going on, but you'd think that he'd wouldn't be as scared of a Protector that wasn't even half his size."

Robbie stared in slack-jawed astonishment, trading glances between Team Traveller and the cowering Charizard on the ground. The Krookodile stomped over and dug his claws into Bunsen's shoulder, dragging him up with an impatient snarl.

"Speak, Glurak," he demanded. "How on earth do you and these four know each other?"

Robbie dragged Bunsen along and brought him before Team Traveller. He loosened the muzzle around Bunsen's mouth, the Charizard visibly quailing and squirming as he tried to shield his face and his voice came out in a frightened squeal.

"Eeek! Pl-Please don't kill me!" Bunsen pleaded. "I-I didn't want to go to your island in the first place! A-Administrator Darzin tricked me! I-If I knew, I w-wouldn't have-! I-I'd never-!"

"You were serving relocation notices when you occupied our island!" Ander hissed, leveling a scythe at Bunsen. "Excuse me if I don't believe a single word coming from the mouth of a Company Commissioner."

Robbie's eyes widened briefly, before he grit his teeth and shoved Bunsen off his feet. The Charizard hit the ground with a yelp, prompting Robbie to sharply plant a foot down on his neck and glare daggers at him.

"Oh, you're a square-neck, huh? So then it's the Company who helped those pirates!" Robbie spat. "After what's happened to our town because of you, I've got half a mind to leave you alone for a few minutes so that bird 'friend' of yours can take you apart."

Bunsen stared up wide-eyed at the Krookodile as Pleo hesitantly drew near. The Marked Charizard shrieked, desperately thrashing and fighting against his bindings and his muzzle, only for his efforts to fail as he saw the shadow of his dreaded 'demon' looming over him.

"N-Noooo… I-I didn't have anything to do with that, I swear!" the Fire-Type cried. "I'm not a Commissioner anymore! I deserted after Tromba! I-I-!"

Pleo stooped down and reached out with a wing as Bunsen flinched and screwed his eyes shut. The Lugia noticed the Charizard's tail fire lost its earlier vigor and visible tremors ran down his body. The young Protector began to hear low whines and sniffles, when he stopped as it dawned on him that Bunsen was crying.

It was hard to believe that this was the same Pokémon who'd bullied his friends on Tromba, or seemed scary and overwhelming as a Company Commissioner when they'd fought on his ship. His companions seemed to have also lost their fear of Bunsen from the last time they met, with Ander in particular glaring daggers at the quivering wreck in front of him.

Pleo pulled his wing back and stared down at the former Commissioner with a judging frown. The young Lugia narrowed his eyes as he briefly lingered on the Charizard, before shaking his head and speaking up.

"… I wouldn't do something like that, because I'm not a bully like you."

Bunsen laid on the ground and sniffled for a few moments, before he warily cracked his eyes open and stared up in confused disbelief. The Charizard sucked in sharp breaths as he tried to calm himself, before Robbie pulled him back up onto his feet with a disgusted snarl.

"Get up, you worm," Robbie growled. "Why should we trust you? Do you seriously expect us to believe that a Commissioner would just desert the Company out of the blue?"

Bunsen reflexively shrank back behind the Krookodile, motioning off at Pleo with his snout as he protested with an audible stammer.

"It's because they tricked me into fighting a demon without any warning at all! I-I didn't sign up for that!" Bunsen insisted. "And I d-don't know anything about what's going on in your town right now! I was just gathering berries and wood in the forest!"

Pleo and his companions stared blankly at the Charizard. He'd… really been in the dark all this time about how Pleo had hatched on Tromba? There had to be some sort of story behind how that had happened, not that Bunsen looked like he was in much of a mood to tell them right then and there with the way he was visibly trembling

"Pl-Please! I have a mate and three children!" the Fire-Type whined. "I went back to them in Starbreak Square to try and hide from the disasters that little monster would bring!"

Crom narrowed his eyes at Bunsen's shameful display, only to catch himself after hearing the mention of 'Starbreak Square'. The name seemed to have brought a dark cloud over the conversation with the guards earlier… but why?

"Wait, what is Starbreak Square anyways?" the Druddigon asked. "And why does it sound so much like Starpeak Square?"

"It's the biggest haven in Anyilla for Marked like me," Ander explained. "A place of refuge in Gestirn's Mystery Dungeon that we made during the days of King Adler's purges centuries ago."

"Well that's a selective telling of history if I ever heard one. Especially for a town whose Pokémon literally chose their name out of spite towards our own," Robbie scoffed, folding his arms with a sharp scowl. "That town's been nothing but trouble in all the years it's been on this island. The Pokémon that live there steal from our fields and snatch Rescue Teams from the Mystery Dungeon on the flimsiest of excuses. Why, you blotch-heads would probably sack our town yourselves if you thought you could get away with it!"

Pleo fell quiet at Robbie's explanation. Whatever the truth behind this Starbreak Square was, it was obvious that they were capable of causing trouble for Gestirn's Pokémon if they felt like it, and certainly had the strength to do so.

Wait a minute… if they had the strength to pick fights for centuries here on Gestirn…

"So… the Pokémon there are good at fighting, then?" Pleo asked.

"Some of them are, yes," Ander said, nodding back. "As a haven with a long history of having to fend off threats from the surrounding Dungeon and from outside, one would need strength. Though where are you…?"

The Scyther trailed off and fell quiet, as a moment of blinking silence fell over the group. Before Pleo knew it, he was at the center of at least a dozen incredulous stares, as everyone began to put together what Lugia was suggesting…

"Wait, you're not seriously thinking of asking them for help, are you?" Robbie demanded.

"Well, why not?" Pleo asked. "You need fighters to help you drive the pirates out of town. Does it really matter if they're Marked?"

The Krookodile gave an annoyed grunt and turned his head aside in reply.

"Don't hold your breath there, kid," Robbie scoffed. "If they somehow know about what just happened to us, they're probably celebrating it right now."

Robbie trailed off when he noticed that Bunsen was no longer next to him aside from a length of rope that trailed after him. The Krookodile rolled his eyes and yanked the rope with his claws. A sharp yelp and loud thud rang out, as everyone's eyes turned to see Bunsen over a short ways away, having freshly faceplanted onto the ground. The Heliolisk next to Robbie clicked his tongue with a disapproving "jämmerlich", before turning back to Team Traveller with a skeptical frown.

"If this guy turned into such a wreck after just seeing a Protector, are you really expecting anyone to listen to you in Starbreak Square?" the Heliolisk asked. "Good luck getting a friendly audience from those blotch-heads."

Crom stared as Robbie marched Bunsen back, head held low and visibly quaking. He gathered that Bunsen… didn't have the strongest of nerves, but the Heliolisk had a point. Would the other Pokémon in Starbreak Square really be that different themselves in the presence of a "demon"?

Crom snapped back to attention at the rattle of metallic feathers and noticed Trizano stepping forward. The Skarmory raised a wing for attention before speaking up to the gathered guards.

"Sheriff Robbie, I realize that it might not come naturally to you, and perhaps there are normally reasons for you not to consider seeking help from Starbreak Square," the Skarmory began. "But as it stands, it's an open question as to if you'll be able to find enough strength on this island to relieve your town. We're going to need all the help we can get."

Ander traded wary glances between Trizano and Pleo for a moment, and tapped his blades against each other uneasily. He clearly didn't seem enthusiastic about the idea of going to Starbreak Square himself, but after glancing off at the entrance tunnel, he looked at the guards and began to speak up with an insistent buzz.

"I… can't speak of how they'll react at first, or how eager they'll be to help you," Ander murmured. "But no Marked would want the likes of pirates getting their paws on a de- er… a Pokémon like Pleo."

Pleo blinked and turned his head over to the Marked Scyther. Ander looked at him for a moment with visible hesitation, before he sucked in a sharp breath and continued on.

"I… trust Pleo. Or at least more than anyone else of his kind," the Scyther insisted. "Whatever he really is, his personality certainly isn't what I was fearing it would be. But if the pirates had some way of getting around that, or if they put him in the paws of someone else who did, it'd be a disaster for the entire Cradle!"

Pleo tilted his head and stared at Ander in surprise. He… trusted him? In spite of believing that he was some sort of demon and being so afraid of him just a month ago that he'd chased him out of his shop at scythe-point?

He wasn't sure what to make of that, but before he could say anything, Crom stepped forward, clearing his throat before speaking up to Robbie and the other guards.

"With how organized those pirates were earlier. Is it really safe to try and bide your time?" the Druddigon asked. "If they've taken over the town, for all we know they'll just keep sending in reinforcements until they do capture Pleo!"

Robbie narrowed his eyes at Crom and his companions, and carefully scanned the four with a visible frown. After a tense, palpable silence, he shook his head, and glanced towards the ground with a grudging sigh.

"… I'm not convinced that this is going to work, but I suppose we don't have much to lose right now," the Krookodile admitted.

A moment of dumbfounded silence came over the guards, as a couple of their number grumbled to themselves about how things must've been more dire than they thought to be reduced to "a plan like this". Curiously, Bunsen himself seemed startled, as he craned his neck and cut in with a stammering protest.

"B-But you can't just go to Starbreak Square!" he cried. "Its entrances are constantly shifting around in the Mystery Dungeon and they're always very well guarded!"

"Well, I suppose it's a good thing we have a workaround for that, huh?" Robbie harrumphed.

The Charizard blinked in confusion, before he noticed that the Krookodile Sheriff was staring very insistently at him.

"Wait, you… do?" Bunsen gulped.

"It's simple, Glurak. You're gonna take them there."

Robbie threw an arm out and latched onto Bunsen's neck, digging the points of his claws into his hide and pulling him forward with a sharp yelp. The Charizard flinched, and cracked his eyes open to see the sheriff leaning in, snout pressed up against his with a low growl.

"As it stands, you're going to be a prisoner one way or another," Robbie said. "You can either be ours, and we'll hand you over to Imperial authorities as a Company asset operating behind enemy lines."

The Krookodile then jerked the Charizard's head to the right, turning him to face Team Traveller's members as they watched in startled confusion. Before either side could say anything, Robbie raised a claw, and settled it on Pleo and his companions.

"Or, you agree to be theirs, and they'll decide what to do with you after you take them back to that gods-forsaken village of yours," he continued. "I frankly don't care what they do to you, but they seem like they'd be more interested in letting you see that mate and kids of yours than we would be. As such, I'd strongly encourage that you make yourself useful to them."

The color drained from Bunsen's face after the Krookodile's words left his mouth and the Fire-Type began to visibly quiver. From their place opposite of the Charizard, Pleo traded an askew glance with Crom, speaking out the side of his mouth in a hushed whisper.

"Crom? Do you think going with Bunsen is really gonna work?" Pleo asked.

"Y-You're- You're g-gonna force me to go with that monster?" Bunsen stammered. "I- I- U-Ungh…"

Bunsen's tail flame abruptly dimmed as his eyes rolled back into his head. Crom watched as the Charizard pitched forward and hit the ground with a dull thud. The Druddigon blinked a moment, as Pleo waddled over and poked at the Charizard with his beak, before giving a worried glance up at Robbie and the other guards wondering if the Fire-Type was okay. The Lugia was answered by a low groan from the bound Charizard on the ground. From the side, Crom bit his tongue, before looking back at Pleo with a sighing shake of his head.

"It'll have to."

Author's Notes:

- Ay, menos mal - Spanish: "Oh, thank goodness"
- Alles klar - German: "All clear"
- Sichlor - German: "Scyther"
- Bauern - German: "farmers"
- Glurak - German: "Charizard"
- jämmerlich - German: "pathetic", "pitiful", "miserable". Can carry derogatory connotations depending on context of usage.
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Winter can't come soon enough
Ah, a mid-episode chapter free of battling. Makes for a nice change of pace, even though it is laying the foundations for a big old ball of violence to erupt about [checks watch] two or three parts down the line. Bunsen's reappearance comes out of left field for me. I think I recall some very vague allusions to his home life and family, but I don't know if that place was actually namedropped. It's also a bit surprising that after all this time traveling with Ander in tow, this is the first we're hearing of any big Marked settlement. At least, I don't think he ever brought it up before. Yeah, it sounds a bit secretive, but I feel like it could've gotten an allusion made to it here or there so the ✨foreshadowing ✨could all come together in this episode. Maybe it did and I just forgot because of how long it's been. The perils of 6-8+ weeks between updates.

Though it is noteworthy this will be the first trek back into a mystery dungeon since, well, the last time the team was in Imperial territory. Even if it has been a while, I'm hoping the chase gets cut to. Only real dungeon crawling purpose I could see is conversing more with Bunsen, but I'm not sure we'll get anything out of him besides more stuttering.

wondered why he and the others hadn't found a more comfortable place to rest
Have you looked at your trend in sleeping locales over the course of the fic? This is par for the course.
take stock of where things stand at the moment.
"Nothing stands. Everything's on fire."
How on earth are we supposed to leave Gestirn like this?

"I'd feel better about you if you hadn't cut and run or made that battle such a headache for us,"
"In our defense, we've done that for the past 90-plus chapters. Our team ability is Run Away!"
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Pladur murmured.
Pladur have you been asleep the last several episodes?
Dirk scoffed
Miiiiiight've wanted to actually remind the readers that bisharp is on the Pirate Council and has a name since it's been long enough that I forgot.
before stopping a blade just under his throat
Nice to see Guillotine maintains its 30% accuracy.
"Is there even going to be anything of it left standing after this?"

taking over the local taverns where their spirits were freely distributed amongst their ranks
Cue the music!
"For a 'mon with such a big mouth, you sure suck at holding your beer!"
"You try holding a mug with ****ing flippers!"
"Of course I am!"
"Steel's immune to poison, dumbass!"
"It's 'Keiichiro',"
Might wanna tell the narrator that.
"Plenty of times! Being a pirate has nothing to do with being so rude, gross, immature-!"
He do be spitting facts, though. You think pirates wanted to give themselves scurvy?
"Yeah, it went well, except for the fact that we didn't capture the 'mon who was the entire reason why we mounted this raid in the first place!"
"Mission failed, we'll get 'em next time."
"This place was dug out to resemble one from a passing glance, so that way if our island was ever invaded, we could fall back here and use it as a base to mount resistance."
"Wow, what an oddly specific and convenient plan!"
"Haven't you ever heard of things taking time to prepare, kid?"
I prefer "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
I was just gathering berries and wood in the forest!
Ah, yes, a foraging charizard.
"Wait, you're not seriously thinking of asking them for help, are you?"
Did you not hear the uncomfortable, awkward silence in the previous paragraph?
"But no Marked would want the likes of pirates getting their paws on a de- er… a Pokémon like Pleo."
"Are you sure? If they're demons, couldn't they just destroy the pirates?"
"Whatever he really is, his personality certainly isn't what I was fearing it would be.
"He is baby he doesn't want power."
but I suppose we don't have much to lose right now,
Well, there are your lives, but this isn't that kind of fic. Whopping bupkis on the death counter. Surprising by PMD fic standards.
Bunsen's tail flame abruptly dimmed as his eyes rolled back into his head. Crom watched as the Charizard pitched forward and hit the ground with a dull thud.
It's super effective! Foe's CHARIZARD fainted!

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Heya, it took a little longer than we’d originally hoped, but we’re back with a fresh update of Fledglings, and have got some fresh feedback to reply to from the looks of it:

Bunsen's reappearance comes out of left field for me. I think I recall some very vague allusions to his home life and family, but I don't know if that place was actually namedropped. It's also a bit surprising that after all this time traveling with Ander in tow, this is the first we're hearing of any big Marked settlement. At least, I don't think he ever brought it up before. Yeah, it sounds a bit secretive, but I feel like it could've gotten an allusion made to it here or there so the ✨foreshadowing ✨could all come together in this episode. Maybe it did and I just forgot because of how long it's been. The perils of 6-8+ weeks between updates.

Hrm. A bit unfortunate to hear that things didn’t quite hit the mark with you. Bunsen still being out there actually had been foreshadowed as far back as the Vollezee episode, but it is what it is, I suppose.

Though it is noteworthy this will be the first trek back into a mystery dungeon since, well, the last time the team was in Imperial territory. Even if it has been a while, I'm hoping the chase gets cut to. Only real dungeon crawling purpose I could see is conversing more with Bunsen, but I'm not sure we'll get anything out of him besides more stuttering.

I don’t think that should be an issue based off how this chapter plays out.

Have you looked at your trend in sleeping locales over the course of the fic? This is par for the course.

Pleo: “Yeah, and that’s the problem.” XvX

"Nothing stands. Everything's on fire."

Crom: “There’s some things that aren’t on fire! … Probably.”

Oh ye of little faith.

Pladur have you been asleep the last several episodes?

Pladur: “No, but I kinda wish that I was.” [cabotscared]

Nice to see Guillotine maintains its 30% accuracy.

That’s less Guillotine and more Dirk intentionally messing with the Hakamo-o.

Elty: “Oh yay, what a positive sign there.” [eltyscared]

Well, you can’t say it isn’t fitting. :V

"You try holding a mug with ****ing flippers!"

Pieter: [coping and seething intensifies]

"Steel's immune to poison, dumbass!"

Meh, if Corrosion can mess with a Steel-type, I’ll take the over on their ability to get drunk. Especially after that much booze is in play.

Might wanna tell the narrator that.

Kichiro: “Trust me, I’ve tried.” :|

"Mission failed, we'll get 'em next time."


"Wow, what an oddly specific and convenient plan!"

I mean, contingency plans for stuff like stay-behind units are things in military planning throughout history. It’s less convenient and more that it happened to fit the ongoing circumstances.

I prefer "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Robbie: [annoyed Krookodile noises]

Ah, yes, a foraging charizard.

I mean, they do it in the canon games with the right party. And Starbreak Square is a Mystery Dungeon-bound town that can’t source everything it needs entirely from within its confines, so… [joltyshrug]

"Are you sure? If they're demons, couldn't they just destroy the pirates?"

Sounds more like a “loose cannon” situation. Yes things could play out that way, but if the pirates successfully weaponized a Protector on their own… [copyka2]

"He is baby he doesn't want power."

Probably for the best, tbh.

Well, there are your lives, but this isn't that kind of fic. Whopping bupkis on the death counter. Surprising by PMD fic standards.

Technically, we’ve had three explicitly depicted ones, even if none of those were protagonists and one was undone, but still.

It's super effective! Foe's CHARIZARD fainted!

Pleo: “... I sure hope this isn’t going to be an issue while trying to find Starbreak Square…” [lugiyikes]

Though thanks for your patience, everybody. Special thanks to today’s chapter goes to my cowriter @Virgil134 and the various readers and reviewers that have stuck with this sea yarn through the years. And with that, let’s jump right into today’s update:


PMD Writer

"I wasn't scared, okay?!"

Elty flicked his ears after hearing a voice cry out in protest for what felt like the thousandth time. He jostled his legs, prodding up against Pladur with a grunt before squeezing his eyes shut. Right, their cell had about half as much space to go around per Pokémon ever since the pirates dragged those guards in. Elty shifted and rolled onto his feet with a low sigh. He wasn't exactly a stranger to sleeping in crowded quarters, but never with this much background noise. A casual glance revealed the culprit: a Hakamo-o defensively snapping to an unamused-looking Torracat and Lairon beside him… much as the Dragon-Type had done more times than anyone could count.

"Travellers above, this again?" the Torracat grumbled, throwing a paw over her face. "You were shaking like a leaf out there!"

"Lutz, just give it a rest," the Lairon sighed. "Everyone panics sometimes, okay?"

"It was just a little chilly, alright?!" the Hakamo-o protested, raising his fists with a sour huff. "I got caught off-guard, that's all! If I'd just been able to get free, I could've turned things around!"

Elty flattened his ears as annoyed groans went about the cell from both sailor and guard alike. If nothing else, this Hakamo-o was certainly persistent, even if he sure didn't show much of that while Dirk had a blade at his throat. The cell's air suddenly filled with a sharp harrumph as Pyry stared alongside with Pekka at the Dragon-Type guard with an unamused frown, folding his arms over each other.

"Against 'Dirk the Despoiler'? Really?" the Gabite pressed.

"More like if you tried, you'd have left a mess on the ground one way or another," the Vibrava scoffed.

The Hakamo-o growled and promptly stomped over, looming over the Vibrava with bared fangs and rattling scales. Elty blinked and reflexively made his way over to intervene, when a sharp shout suddenly rang out from the cell directly opposite theirs.

"Das reicht jetzt!"

The Hakamo-o abruptly froze, as did Elty, Pyry and Pekka, along with the rest of their compatriots wedged in the cramped cell as they collectively turned towards the hall. There, visible through the cell bars, was a Quaquaval looking up from an Empoleon stirring in a heap of stale straw. The other Imperials in her cell swiftly hushed up and backed out of the Quaquaval's way, as she walked up to her cell's door and with an irritated scowl.

"As if my poor husband needed more to worry about after that chest wound that horrid pirate gave him earlier today!" the Quaquaval snapped. "Give him some peace and quiet so he can rest!"

Lutz and the other guards reacted much like scolded hatchlings and slunk away quietly, the Hakamo-o mumbling a grudging "Sorry, Your Grace" before settling back down to his place in the cell. Nida blinked at the sight and twitched her ears in surprise. 'Your Grace'? The same thing that Pokémon were calling Valter on Pioppo?

… Wait a minute, there was an Empoleon and Quaquaval among the Pokémon that Dirk had paraded around outside the garrison earlier. A similar flash of realization came over Pladur's eyes, the Fraxure tilting of his head as he spoke up to the Quaquaval.

"Oh, so you're the Duke and Duchess we saw on the steps earlier…"

"That's right," the Empoleon replied. "Duke Franz and Duchess Augusta of Gestirn Island."

Nida watched as the Empoleon shifted and started to sit up. For a 'Duke' and 'Dutchess', these two looked very different from Valter. She supposed that meant the Imperials had Pokémon of all sorts in their nobility. Partway through rising, Franz abruptly froze and winced, moving a flipper over a still-raw cut across his chest. Augusta's eyes briefly widened as she went over and pawed warily at her husband, before lowering her head with a tired sigh.

"Though I can't say that I ever saw ourselves winding up in a situation like this," the Quaquaval murmured.

"Story of our lives really," Nida said, shaking her head. "But at least now you believe we're not pirates, right?"

Elty reflexively raised a paw to protest, only for Nida to summarily shut him up with a sharp elbow. The pair traded dirty glares with one another, though thankfully the Duke and Duchess didn't seem to notice, as Franz sized up them and their companions in their cell, before shaking his head with a low sigh.

"I suppose I'd be more open to the idea, yes," he replied. "And the Protector in the courtroom claimed as much when he said he went willingly with you."

"I suppose pirates wouldn't be pursued by an entire fleet of their peers…" Augusta mused to herself, before glancing down at Nida and her companions.

"Though what are your names?"

Nida stepped forward and introduced herself, as one by one, her fellows from the Siglo Swellow did likewise. After completing their introductions, Franz visibly paused, before he turned his head and shot a skeptical glance out the corner of his eyes.

"And just how did you all convince Her Highness that you're such a villainous lot, then?" the Empoleon asked. "Since regardless of who raided us last week, we received a bounty for you that was issued by Queen Aleria's court itself."

Elty blew a puff of breath up at his face and pinned his ears back with an unimpressed harrumph.

"Tch, in case you haven't heard, but 'Her Highness' doesn't exactly have a reputation for being fully there- Ow!"

Nida swiftly checked Elty with a stiff smack from the back of her paw, before clearing her throat to try and speak up. In what she hoped would be more diplomatic and inoffensive terms.

"I'm afraid you would know more about what's going on there than we would, really," Nida replied. "We haven't done anything like piracy or the like. We've just been trying to help Pleo return home and be able to live at peace with us."

Franz and Augusta paused at the Nidorina's explanation and didn't make eye contact. Did… they not believe what she had to say? Nida thought to herself whether she should try to explain their circumstances more to try and win the pair over, when Augusta let out a sigh and shook her head with a quiet frown.

"… Even if what you say is true, I'm not sure what we're supposed to be able to do about things right now," the Duchess murmured.

Nida hesitated and looked around at the bars of her cell. It… was admittedly hard to think of how they would get out of their present situation right now. Though at the same time, the pirate ships in the harbor hadn't gone anywhere, and pirates still came into the cell block every now and then to check up on them…

So that meant that those pirates still hadn't caught Pleo yet, and with their attention focused elsewhere, this would be the time when they were most likely to slip up and make mistakes. If they could just find a way to get one of the pirates to open one of these cell doors…

"… We might have a few ideas," Nida began. "But it'd require a lot of things to go our way."

Franz and Augusta along with a small crowd of Imperials and sailors across both cells traded curious looks and murmurs with one another. The Empoleon Duke glanced about his surroundings warily, before leaning in against the bars to listen more closely.

"Go on…?"

Nida opened her mouth to speak, only to abruptly catch herself as dull thumps rang out from the hall, which seemed to grow stronger as it quickly became apparent that they were nearing footsteps—heavy ones. The lock to the door in front of the cell block abruptly clattered and the door flew open with a sharp crash that made Nida and her companions recoil.

Nearing voices rang out, as Elty looked down the hall to see Hess approaching with a small party of golden-scarved pirates. The Aggron keenly eyed the entrances to the cells as he made his way down, a few of the more timorous Pokemon in them hurriedly slinking away. Others from among the former pirates on the Siglo Swellow looked over with surprised gapes, which Hess returned with a moment of blinking disbelief, as a grin began to curl over the ends of his mouth.

"Well now, I didn't think I'd see any of you in here."

Hess carried on until he eventually reached the door to Elty's cell, where the Aggron turned and peered through the bars. His eyes first went to Pyry and Pekka, who stiffened up with a pair of nervous squeaks, before settling on Elty with a firm, piercing scowl. The Growlithe cringed with a low whine, expecting to be hit by a hail of rocks at any moment.

Except, it never came. The Aggron pirate folded his arms and batted his tail back and forth, before letting out a sharp, dismissive scoff.

"Well aren't you all just sitting pretty right now?"

Nida and most of her cellmates duly returned the question with piercing glares of their own, but even so, a number of them like Pladur couldn't help but shrink back from the Aggron's imposing form. The Fraxure paced back warily, and after sucking in a breath to steel himself, tried to muster what courage he could to face down the pirate captain.

"Wh-What do you want?" he demanded.

"I'm here to pass along an offer," Hess harrumphed. "One that you don't need to worry about."

The Aggron turned his gaze towards his former underlings in the surrounding cells, and after a moment, his features eased as a small smile came over his steely face.

"… You've all come a long way since we last saw each other," he said. "Aren't you tired of sitting in these cells?"

Elty blinked at Hess' question, not expecting him to take on such a friendly demeanor. The Growlithe trotted up as a wary smile began to spread over his face, before he sat down and wagged his tail with a sheepish grin.

"Well it would be nice to get out and stretch a bit-"

"Not you," the Aggron growled.

Elty flinched as Hess' smile faded as soon as it came. The Aggron turned away from his cell and let his attention drift back to various figures standing behind the bars. He looked at a Jigglypuff, then a Zebstrika, a Quilava, and still others who met his gaze. One by one, the former pirates warily peered through their cell bars and watched the Steel-Type captain as he made his way towards the middle of the cell block. After a few paces, Hess stopped and looked around both ends of the corridor, before he raised his voice again.

"It's for the rest of you who've got something against these Imps that shoved you in here, especially those of you here who got caught on Tromba originally. I don't know the stories behind why you're all here, or for those of you who used to be on my crew, how those hicks put you up to this… but frankly it doesn't matter," the Steel-Type said. "I'm a gracious 'mon and understand that sometimes a 'mon's gotta do what he has to to get by. And this is a prime opportunity for you all to get back into business."

The Aggron cracked a warm smile, holding out both claws in welcome to any who would hear him.

"So what do you say?" Hess asked. "Up for joining up with some friends looking to bust you out?"

Scattered murmurs went about the different cells as a few of the former pirates like an Ekans traded hushed whispers of "Wait, we can do that?" with each other. Elty sucked in a sharp breath at the sight and started to grow nervous, when he looked back at Pyry and Pekka and saw much to his astonishment that the pair had dug their feet in and were sporting a pair of sharp scowls that they leveled back at their former captain.

"Sorry, we're not interested," Pyry scoffed.

Hess blinked at the Gabite's sharp rejection, and made his way over to the front of Elty's cell and stopped with a puzzled cock of his brow.

"Pyry, you're not in trouble if that's what you're afraid of," the Aggron insisted. "We need some extra 'monpower, and we've got all the beer a 'mon could wish for right now to offer in return. Sounds like as good a reason for ditching these landlubbers, doesn't it?"

"We're not interested, alright?" Pekka buzzed. "And if you really cared that much, you could've come back to get us over a month ago!"

Hess' face curled into a sharp frown at the pair's protests. He turned around and eyed the rest of the cells in the block, before letting out a loud harrumph.

"And all of you agree with this? Really?"

Elty expected to hear others chime in alongside Pyry and Pekka, only to be met with silence beyond some uneasy chatter. The Growlithe looked over at the cells opposite his, where a few of the Pokémon he'd once counted as comrades were visibly faltering and seeing what their companions would do. Eventually, the silence was broken by a Quilava making his way up to a set of bars at a cell further to the right, who after a brief moment of hesitation, let out a low huff.

"I don't," the Quilava said. "Count me in, Captain."

At once, other Pokémon in the cell block broke out into startled gasps and outcries. The Golduck from Nida's cell stared wide-eyed as the Water-Type spluttered in incredulous shock.

"Huh?!" the Golduck cried. "What are you-?!"

"Look, you all can't even keep your own teammates safe!" the Quilava spat. "Alice gave us a chance with your crew to begin with, and for what? For you to leave her behind in the Company capital to fend for herself?"

The Quilava reared up by the bars as his vents came to life with irritated fire, looking back with a sharp, defensive scowl that made Elty grimace. He knew that Kenny had been close with some of the Pokémon still on the Iron Fleet, b-but he just didn't think that he'd actually…

"You already pushed me around for a month and stuck me with those stupid Nidoran," Kenny scoffed. "I've put my hide out there for you more than most others would, so why should I have to go down along with your ship?!"

Hess folded his arms at the Quilava's turn of heart, as a small smirk spread over his face.

"Heh, figured you'd come around, Kenny. You always were a clever one," Hess remarked. "Rodion, go ahead and let him out."

Rodion went up to Kenny's cell, with a keyring in paw. After undoing the lock, the Floatzel opened the door just enough for the Quilava to squeeze out before clamping it shut, leaving the pirate to all but pounce on the Floatzel with an affectionate nuzzle, who stooped down and gave a pat behind the stoat's ears.

"Wasn't sure if we were ever gonna see you again just a moon ago," Rodion said. "Glad to have you back, Kenny."

Elty looked on as the Quilava reared up and pawed at the back of his head with a bashful smile, when he noticed the rest of his old comrades traded looks with one another as something seemed to come over their moods. The Growlithe pinned his ears back and blanched, when the moment he was dreading came to pass.

"Oi! I want in too!" a Jigglypuff cried.

"Me too! Me too!" an Ekans chimed in. "I want some of that beer!"

One after the other, his former companions began to voice their desire to rejoin the Iron Fleet, every one striking him like a Water Gun to the face. Some Pokémon he didn't recognize also joined in, while a few of the more stubborn former pirates yielded after they saw they were increasingly alone, and a look back at Pyry and Pekka revealed that they were staring blankly into space. So even they were wavering about rejoining…

Elty wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it wasn't this. The others from the Siglo Swellow didn't seem to be taking things much better as their once-allies left them behind one after the other. A few sported hurt expressions, while others like the Golduck were visibly livid.

"Y-You backstabbing little weasels!"

"Hey, I'm a stoat!" Kenny shot back. "Big difference there."

"Hrmph, can you really blame us for wanting to be on the side of the winners here?" a Zebstrika asked. "What's your side got to offer us, huh? Being a Gyarados' chew toy?"

There was a moment of dead silence afterwards, as Elty stared at the ground with an empty feeling in his stomach. What on earth was he supposed to say back to that? A glance over at Nida revealed that the Nidorina was similarly tongue-tied, even if her red eyes were visibly smoldering. Pyry and Pekka appeared little better, and were both visibly uneasy and looking away.

Elty's ears pricked from a set of heavy thumps and looked up to see Hess returning towards his cell. The Aggron shot a smug grin down at the Growlithe and the rest of the cell's occupants, before the Steel-Type spoke up with a chiding scoff.

"Looks like I know my crew a bit better than you, brats," Hess said. "So, Pyry, Pekka. What about you two? How come you're dragging your feet so much? You can't honestly say you prefer getting pushed around by a bunch of hicks, do you?"

The Gabite and Vibrava both squirmed a bit at the question, when their eyes briefly moved elsewhere in the cell. Hess followed their gazes, and found himself looking at Elty, staring at the floor visibly defeated and downcast. The Steel-Type let his gaze linger for a moment, only for his expression to ease slightly.

"Ah… this is about Eltenios, isn't it?" Hess began. "I get that you like him, but that doesn't mean you need to chain yourself to him."

The Aggron stooped down, holding out a claw just past the bars with a reassuring smile.

"I'm a reasonable 'mon. If you're that worried about him, I'll let him off easy. He can even go back to that podunk island to be a punching bag again if that's what he really wants," Hess insisted. "It's better than what a backstabbing ingrate like him deserves, but hey. I know how to look out for my crew."

Pyry and Pekka remained silent, and the Vibrava of the pair gave an uneasy beat of his wings. After a moment to kick at the floor uneasily, Pyry sucked in a sharp breath, and looked back up at the pirate captain with a shake of head.

"Then good luck with that, Captain," the Gabite replied. "Since we won't be a part of it."

Pekka stiffened up and let out a startled buzz, giving a surprised gape at his Gabite companion.

"Wait, Veikka, we won't-?" the Vibrava began, only to catch himself. "I mean of course we won't! Even if we did want to go back, we wouldn't just turn on a 'mon that's like a brother to us!"

Hess' eyes narrowed in reply and let out a low, displeased growl, before he bared his teeth and glared at the pair through the cell's bars.

"Have it your way then," Hess spat. "You can stay here and wait for the Company to deal with you!"

At once, the entire cell block seemed to jolt up with a start—even including Hess' newly joined underlings. From his place in his cell, Pladur darted up to the bars and shot the Aggron captain an alarmed look.

"Wait, the Company?!" Pladur exclaimed. "You mean they're behind this raid?!"

Hess' eyes widened and his mouth hung open, before he bit his tongue with a startled grimace. The Aggron fumbled with his words briefly, only for his Floatzel first mate to step in front of him and scowl over at the Fraxure with a sharp frown.

"That's not anything you need to worry about," Rodion harrumphed. "Just sit down and don't cause any trouble if you know what's good for you."

A few other cries of protest rang out from the cell block, only for Hess to silence them with a sharp snarl. There was a tense, lingering quiet afterwards, as Hess turned back to his rejoined crew members and noticed that they seemed to have grown uneasy. The Aggron pirate hesitated for a moment, before a flash of inspiration came over his eyes. The Steel-Type suddenly clapped his claws together and spoke up with a cheery grin.

"So, who wants some of that Gestirner beer?" Hess asked. "There's an entire brewery's worth back at the tavern!"

That seemed to do the trick. At once, the pirates' newfound ranks seemed to forget about the mention of the Company entirely and let out whoops and hollers as they hurried along after Rodion at the group's head. Hess followed up from the rear, pulling the door to the cell block shut after him with a slam loud enough to make Pyry and Pekka flinch. The pair watched the closed door wordlessly, before a sharp scoff turned their attention over to the Torracat in their cell as she narrowed her eyes at them with an unamused scowl.

"Nice crewmates you've got there," the Torracat spat.

Pyry and Pekka said nothing in reply, as they let their eyes drift glumly towards the ground. Pyry paused after feeling a warm and furry weight lean up against his legs, looking down to see Elty there and patting at Pekka's head with a paw.

"… You didn't have to do that for us earlier, you know."

The pair turned their heads up as Nida and his other teammates joined in and drew near, giving grateful smiles.

"Yeah, thanks for staying on our side," Nida said. "It really means a lot to us."

Pyry and Pekka gave smiles of their own back, even if they seemed visibly wavering and forced. A general pall had settled over the Pokémon of the surrounding cells as worried murmurs went about and Duke Franz gave an uneasy glimpse off at the cell block's exit.

"The Company is involved in all of this?" the Empoleon asked. "Just what on earth is going on?"

There was a moment of silence as Pladur uneasily fidgeted his claws and glimpsed back towards the door at the end of the hall with a quiet gulp.

"… I don't know, but it can't be anything good."

Ellsberg's office was more cramped than he'd remembered it being for a long time, not with visitors or colleagues, but with box after box full of paper files stacked atop each other on the floor around his desk. The Mothim tiredly leafed through a set of files at his seat, occasionally shifting his wings as the warm tones of a late afternoon's sunlight filtered in.

He'd been going through these files all day since Sorge managed to get his request with the records department approved through Commander Olivia. And yet, somehow, after all these hours, it'd felt like he'd gotten no closer to finding a suitable candidate for their plans.

"… I know that we were supposed to cast a wide net for leads, but this is ridiculous."

Ellsberg pushed away his present file and put a tarsus to his brow with a low sigh, resigning himself to a long night with the surrounding paperwork. He moved his tarsus away and started to let his eyes return to his papers when at the corner of his vision, he noticed that the candle in his room's lantern was spent. Ellsberg supposed that at this rate, things would be getting dark well before he was even close to a lead. It would surely be best to have a candle ready to light for when that time came, and being able to double as a break from looking at his files couldn't hurt either.

The Mothim got up to fetch a spare from a set of drawers against the wall, when a knock at the door rang out. Ellsberg blinked briefly, before making his way over and pulling it open, where he found Aldrich waiting in the hall.
"Hey there, I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" the Noivern asked.

"No, not at all," Ellsberg replied. "Please, come in."

Aldrich entered as Ellsberg pulled the door shut behind him, the Noivern pacing ahead and spreading his still-bandaged wings slightly after he made it into the room's more open center. He turned towards Ellsberg's desk and stopped after he noticed the stacks of boxes. The Dragon-Type let his gaze linger on them briefly, before he turned his attention back to Ellsberg.

"I see you've been busy," Aldrich said. "How have things been going?"

Ellsberg rummaged through a drawer to fetch a fresh candle, before making his way over to his lantern with a low sigh.

"Slow. I've been going through boxes of records all day and I still haven't found anything that stands out as something we can use."

The Mothim glanced off at the boxes briefly as he switched the candles, before looking up at Aldrich with a puzzled tilt of his head.

"Though I wasn't expecting this much material to work with," he remarked. "How on earth did you and the others convince Commander Olivia to give us access to all these files? Let alone so quickly?"

"We told her the truth…" the Noivern began, before giving a small smirk in reply. "Or at least, mostly anyways. After telling Olivia that Darzin interfered with an attempt of ours to apprehend the Vault thieves and how he falsely accused us of being Imperial Spies, it wasn't hard to convince her."

Ellsberg pushed the spent candle aside as the Noivern shifted his wings and continued on.

"As for getting these so fast, while Olivia's very firmly in Director Inler's camp, she doesn't like Darzin any more than we do," the Dragon-Type insisted. "She wants to see that newt pushed out for good, just like us, so it wasn't hard to convince her of the value of trying to find out if Team Traveller had any inside help. Especially if Darzin had anything to do with it after his stunt with that Imperial scarf."

Aldrich glanced at the files strewn about on the Mothim's desk next to the opened box, and then to the ones piled up at the sides of the desk. The Noivern quickly noticed that one side visibly had more boxes stacked up than the other. He supposed that those were the ones that Ellsberg hadn't gotten a chance to go through yet.

"Anyway, did you need some help with these?" Aldrich offered. "With this many boxes, it'll probably take the rest of the evening even if we go through these together."

Ellsberg beat his wings in place with and bobbed his feelers in surprise, before glancing up with a grateful buzz.

"Oh! I mean, it'd be helpful," he said. "But you don't have to if you have something else to do."

"No, it's quite alright, Ellsberg. After all, two sets of claws will make this work go by a lot faster," the Noivern replied. "I just hope that there's something we can use for dealing with Darzin amid all of this."

Ellsberg fell quiet, before turning an uneasy glance over to the larger pile of boxes by his desk.

"… What do we do if there isn't anything?"

Aldrich paused and looked back at the boxes himself, before slowly speaking up in reply.

"Then we'd need to find another way, obviously," the Noivern said. "Sorge and Zelle are reviewing his record to try and find unexplained absences, so that should help a bit."

Aldrich trailed off, as he raised a claw and tapped it against a nearby box with a quiet click of his tongue.

"Fortunately, I think these files will come in handy either way," the Noivern insisted. "If they help us turn up a patsy to pass off as a spy or else another lead for where Kline or Team Traveller could've gone, it'd still be a net positive for us."

Ellsberg blinked and drifted off in thought. Aldrich certainly raised a good point. Darzin wasn't their only target, and the chances of someone on the inside having helped Team Traveller was pretty high. The way that Lugia's friends had evaded them around the Academy after being ambushed, the way they were able to slip in and out of the Academy's Vault… all of it would've been more feasible for them were someone there on the ground to help guide them in and out of it.

"Anyway, I'm sure going through these files will be worth the trouble," Aldrich said, giving a small smile back. "Come on, let's get started. I doubt a dimwit like Darzin covered his tracks too carefully."

The Noivern made his way over to the boxes, wrapping his claws around the topmost one as he tugged it off the stack. The Dragon-Type carried the box a few paces towards a small set of drawers, only to stiffen up and sharply wince before he hurriedly set the box down on it. Ellsberg turned his head up as the box hit the drawers with a sharp thud, watching as Aldrich pawed at a set of bandages along the top of his wing. The Mothim shot the Noivern a worried glance, before fluttering over to his side.

"Aldrich, are you alright?"

"I'm okay," the Dragon-Type replied. "It's nothing I haven't slept off before after a day or two of rest-"

"No, no, I insist!" Ellsberg protested. "I can use Psychic and easily move any boxes you need! It's part of my job as a notary, and-"

"You'd wear yourself out after moving not even a dozen boxes."

Aldrich turned from the dresser and wrapped his wings around his body, looking at the Mothim with a small frown.

"Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do, Ellsberg, but it's not that hard for me to move a few boxes around. Just getting through all these files will take a while and the process will go by quicker if we stick to what we're good at."

Ellsberg fluttered in place briefly after Aldrich's response, staring back at the Noivern in confused silence. After a brief hesitation, the Mothim gave a puzzled tilt of his head and began to speak up warily.

"I'm… not sure if I follow you, Aldrich."

A lingering quiet hung in the air, before Aldrich shook his head in reply.

"Different Pokémon have different things they're inherently advantaged in," the Noivern explained. "It doesn't make sense to overexert yourself trying to match other Pokémon's abilities and skills all the time."

The Noivern turned aside briefly, before lowering his head with a quiet sigh.

"Like you trying to intimidate a party of guards into doing your bidding," he chided. "Don't take things the wrong way, but as a Mothim you're lacking a certain… stature that Sorge and I have. And I'm not sure if we would have successfully scared that Grimmsnarl and his lackeys into line with how determined they were."

Ellsberg paused, before thinking back to the run-in with the Grimmsnarl just before they ambushed Team Traveller and Team Zephyr. The Mothim beat his wings with a flustered buzz. He… supposed that it hadn't really gone the way he wanted, but Lyn always seemed to have no problem throwing his rank around. Had he really done that poorly while trying to handle things?

"B-But I couldn't just stand back and let them badger us like that!"

"And you didn't have to," Aldrich said. "But if you'd played to your strengths as a Mothim instead of trying to copy someone else's, those four probably would've taken you more seriously. Even if it meant they underestimated you at first."

The Noivern pawed at his shoulder briefly, before giving a quiet shake of his head.

"It's how our team's been able to be as successful as it is," he insisted. "All of us have different talents which we make the most of. We become stronger by bringing them together to cover each other's weaknesses, not by trying to do everything by ourselves."

Ellsberg fluttered in place and let his gaze drift down towards the ground. He knew that he wasn't the strongest Pokémon in the Company, but was he really that off-base with the way he used his strength? The Mothim felt a pat on his head and looked up to see Aldrich giving a reassuring smile.

"But don't beat yourself up too much about it. That moment's in the past, and you can always learn from it," the Noivern reassured. "We're a team now, meaning we look out for each other."

The Mothim hesitated and fluttered in place for a moment. His mind turned back to Ketu's admonishment back on Buyeom to stand up for himself more. Even if he'd been a bit hesitant to take advice from him at first, Ellsberg couldn't say that it didn't turn out well.

… Perhaps Aldrich's advice was something to think about. Or at least, sometime when they didn't have a room's worth of files to worry about.

"I'll try to remember that… thank you, Aldrich," Ellsberg said, before his eyes drifted off back for the nearby boxes.

"Though I suppose that we should get back to those files. After all, there's no shortage of them to get through."

Aldrich and Ellsberg went back to their respective boxes and began to comb through the files. The sheaves of paper passing their eyes one by one blurred together in a sea of First-Ranks who all didn't work for one reason or another. There was the Corvisquire from Bunsen's crew who'd never returned from her mission to Tromba, a Pawmo that worked in Accounting but had been on paid leave for the past two weeks, a Grovyle who recently had transferred in to serve as part of the Academy's security detail…

Ellsberg paused and took out the Grovyle's file for a closer look, letting his eyes go back and forth over the paper's runes. He skimmed through the various sections until he reached the part about her job history within the Company. He read it over for a moment, before a flash of recognition came over his face. He hurriedly turned over to Aldrich, sharply buzzing for attention.

"Hey, Aldrich, we've met this Pokémon before."

Aldrich looked up from a file in his claws, before setting it down and making his way over to Ellsberg's desk with a curious raise of his brow.

"Hrm? Who did you find, Ellsberg?"

"See for yourself," the Mothim said.

Ellsberg passed the file along to Aldrich as the Noivern's eyes turned down to rows of runes along with an illustration that had been attached for a Grovyle named 'Salvini'. She was a few years younger than himself and born on Vollezee, with multiple family members who had served in the Company: her parents, who had been killed in action during the great pirate raid on Canalhouse City, and a brother who was a Second-Rank stationed on Tromba.

Aldrich slowly blinked as his mind turned back to what Ketu had to say about his time embedded on Lyn's crew. The Weavile had mentioned that the Captain of the Guards on that island was a Sceptile, one who apparently had a slew of demerits on his record and attempted to aid Pleo when Lyn first came along.

The Noivern supposed that this all sounded promising as a lead, but why did this all sound vaguely familiar?

The bat's attention drifted down towards the end of the file as he continued skimming along, where newer sheaves of paper had been added. A few weeks ago, this 'Salvini' had been demerited by none other than Administrator Zorn himself, and then flagged for observation before being reassigned to Vollezee. His grip on the paper tightened as he made it to the last line and read it aloud to himself:

"'Reassigned to security detail at the Academy'? Wait, this is the same Grovyle that we ran into on the day we were at the Tintoren!"

"It doesn't stop there," Ellsberg insisted. "This Grovyle was also present on Mengir the same night Darzin broke into the room where the Guardian of the Seas was being held. That's the entire reason why she has that recent demerit on her record."

Aldrich paused briefly, before his eyes narrowed in realization and he looked over the file more closely with a quiet click of his tongue.

"Sounds like we found that help on the ground we were looking for," he said. "Or else the Cradle's most credulous patsy if she was really kept in the dark and used in such a fashion. Let alone twice."

"Neither would really surprise me, honestly," Ellsberg remarked, crossing his arms. "Though, can we still make things work if she was just being used as a patsy?"

"It doesn't matter if she was or not," Aldrich answered. "We'd be able to put her to use either way."

Ellsberg blinked at Aldrich's reply and glanced up puzzledly at the Noivern. The Dragon-Type shook his head, before flashing his teeth with a devious smile.

"At the end of the day, what we need is a storyteller to get a narrative straight that doesn't reflect well on Darzin," he explained. "What better candidate is there for that than a Pokémon who has already encountered him before? One that based off what happened on Mengir, likely has reasons to personally resent him?"

Aldrich stared down at Salvini's file for a lingering moment, before taking it into his claws. Ellsberg looked after the Noivern briefly, as he tucked the file away into his satchel.

"I'll ask Zelle to go find her. The sooner we can get ahold of this Grovyle, the sooner we can get things moving."

The beaches on Gestirn Island's southern shores were quiet that day, as waves lapped up against tawny sand and spruce forests sprang up from behind a set of dunes. There among them, the undergrowth shook as a tall figure pushed a few shrubs out of the way. A chitinous scythe parted the branches, revealing a Kabutops in a blue-and-white scarf with a Cubone following close behind. Dimitri stepped forward and panted briefly, before shaking his head and looking down at his companion.

"I think we're safe for now," he said. "Let's take a moment to check things from those dunes up ahead and figure out our next step."

Guardia nodded and started to make her way out of the brush and up the side of the nearest dune. The past few hours had been a whirlwind for her and Dimitri. The escape from town had been a chaotic ordeal where Dimitri had only managed to elude the pirates chasing them through a timely swim carrying her across a river just past the outskirts. Since then, the pair had been going as far away through the forest as they could from sounds of fighting, until they'd run into the sea again. They'd hoped that they would have found some sign of the others along the way, but no luck.

Guardia made it to the top of the dune with Dimitri and looked off at Starpeak Square in the distance. The plumes of smoke had largely died down, but even with the day nearing sunset, the pirate ships in the harbor were still flying their masts proudly over their surroundings.

So those pirates hadn't gone anywhere just yet.

The Cubone sighed and let her eyes drift towards the beach, when she blinked after noticing a curious sight. All about the beach, there were pits dug into the sand with berms around them… just like the one near Starpeak Square they saw while arriving on the Siglo Swellow.

"Nani…? Why are there so many holes here on the beach?"

"I'm not sure, actually," Dimitri replied. "I think it's just a habit some Pokémon on this island have."

Guardia blinked in surprise. She supposed she couldn't grudge a Pokémon for wanting to dig around a bit, but doing it on a beach where things would inevitably get uncomfortably damp the further one dug was downright strange.

The Cubone clicked her tongue and sighed to herself. It was a shame that the pirates couldn't have come through here during their raid earlier. Why some of the holes looked easy to fall into if one wasn't paying attention!

Were they traps to slow down enemies? She supposed that would make sense, even if it didn't explain their location. Then again, it could've just been some sort of peculiarity of 'civilization' on this island to build perfectly good defenses so far away from their actual colony. There was probably some sort of lore behind that, but none of it mattered when they were stuck on an island with hostile Pokémon all on their own.

"What do we do now?" Guardia asked. "Are we supposed to just swim out to the Subway again?"

Dimitri paused and raised a scythe to his mouth in thought, eyeing the water briefly before he shook his head in reply.

"I don't think things are that dire, Guardia," the Kabutops responded. "We know the pirates were looking for Pleo, and they usually aren't the type to linger around for long after a successful raid. If they haven't sailed off yet, they probably don't have him."

Guardia raised her head and slung her bone over her shoulder. So then Pleo was still out there somewhere on this island. If they could just get back to him before the pirates did, they'd have a fighting chance against them. After all, he'd literally blown Bunsen over the horizon before, and Nida and the others said he'd fought off the Iron Fleet on Tromba with his powers… What were a few extra pirate ships compared to that?

"Then we don't have any time to lose!" she exclaimed. "Let's find our teammates and get out of here!"

"Easier said than done."

Dimitri motioned off eastward along the beach, towards Starpeak Square in the distance. Guardia turned her head back towards the harbor which was still choked with pirate ships.

Right. The Siglo Swellow was probably still stuck there. And from the way that the ships' masts were all upright and lacking signs of being torn or broken, she supposed it was a bad sign for how the guards had fared in their fight. But what were they supposed to do now? For all they knew, everyone other than Pleo had been captured in town. With just her and Dimitri, how on earth were they supposed to make a difference against an enemy like that?

A faint crack from the treeline made Guardia jolt her head up, as the sounds of rustling brush and footsteps followed. The Cubone reflexively tightened her grip around her club and started forward, only for Dimitri to block her path with a scythe and look down with a hushed whisper.

"… Let's find a place to hide," he said. "We should see who we're dealing with before picking a fight."

Guardia and Dimitri hurriedly scurried behind their sand dune, lying low as they watched a party of Pokémon in matching scarves walk past along the beach's treeline. A Garbodor, a Beautifly, a Grafaiai, and a black-and-white Linoone, all wearing gold-and-silver scarves. They didn't remember seeing any of those Pokémon from the Iron Fleet before. The pair sucked in a sharp breath as a Beautifly from the group stopped and looked around the surroundings, before narrowing her eyes with a grumbling frown.

"Why on earth do we have to go out and look around the island for that bird?" the Beautifly huffed. "You'd think that we'd be better suited to actually defending our positions in town while those incompetent dweebs who were on the crew before us could handle poking around a few trees."

"If you ask me, the Captain's just trying to stiff us on drinks," the Garbodor growled.

The pirates carried along, with the Grafaiai of their lot moving off slowly at the rear and stopping to look over the beach one last time before he too headed off after his compatriots. After seeing the Grafaiai drift off into the brush, Guardia and Dimitri warily emerged from behind their dune. The Cubone glanced after the direction where the pirates had headed off to, before turning to Dimitri with a tilt of her head.

"Do you think they're searching for Pleo everywhere on the island?"

Dimitri looked off towards the woods and paused briefly. After a moment's silence, the Kabutops turned his head down to his Cubone teammate with a quiet murmur.

"Sounds like it. Though we're probably not going to get many better chances to figure out where they went," Dimitri said, before he motioned with his scythe for her to follow along.

"Come on, let's see what those pirates are up to."

(Continued in next post)
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PMD Writer
The black Linoone and his party continued to prowl up the coast, stalking along the treeline and occasionally going up the dunes to scout for any sign of Pleo or his companions. The Linoone motioned off at the latest dune they came across for the Beautifly and Garbodor to go and check, and began to make his way towards it himself, only to look back towards the treeline and see his Grafaiai teammate was lagging behind a ways.

"Oi! Mike! Stop dragging your feet already!" the Linoone snapped.

The Grafaiai glared back and flicked some paint from his fingers in reply, before piping up with a sharp huff in protest.

"Oh screw off, you're the ones who keep zipping off ahead without me!" the Grafaiai yelled. "We're supposed to be searching carefully here!"

The Linoone and the others grumbled under their breaths about how the Grafaiai was drawing out their duties. Or worse still, cheating them out of time that could be spent celebrating their fortune over pilfered beer and spirits. The other pirates eventually continued on with their search, leaving the Grafaiai to once again round out the group from the rear and scan his surroundings carefully.

… And not even a minute later, the others were already drifting off again.

The Poison-Type let out an exasperated sigh and turned with a sharp scowl off towards the treeline. He wasn't really being slow with his search, was he? No, it was surely the others who were wrong and being careless.

A quiet rustle rang out from behind and the Grafaiai froze for a moment, whirling around just in time to catch a set of bushes shaking. He paused for a moment, before reminding himself that he was in an unsettled forest. The shaking was probably just a local Feral. The Poison-Type started to turn away when he noticed what looked like a bone poking out of the bush, prompting him to blink and warily shuffle forward as he reached out to grab it.

"Hey, what the-?"

The bone suddenly jerked back as a flash of scythes could be seen briefly, before the Grafaiai vanished into the brush. A few muffled yelps and blows rang out afterwards, when the path returned to silence. From the beach, the commotion carried along enough for the Linoone to twitch his ears and abruptly perk to attention. He called out to his peers, as the pirates turned around, and much to their surprise, saw that their Grafaiai teammate was nowhere to be seen.

"Hey, Mike? Where'd you go?" the Garbodor asked.

The Linoone flattened his ears with a sharp scowl, as the Dark-Type made his way down the path shaking his head while grumbling under his breath.

"I swear to the gods, that Grafaiai."

As the Linoone neared the bush, he paused briefly after noticing footsteps abruptly stop by a bush at the treeline. The Dark-Type crept forward towards the bush, and narrowed his eyes as dark wisps began to gather on his front paws. The Linoone approached, ready to pounce with a Night Slash on a moment's notice when, all of a sudden, a dark shape burst out of the bush and struck the Linoone in his face.


The Linoone pitched backwards and fell to the ground with a yelp as his peers hurriedly rushed in. The Linoone looked over and saw that much to his alarm, the missing Grafaiai was there slumped over his back, now lying unconscious with cuts and bruises showing through his pelt.

"Wh-What in the-?"

A peach-colored sphere sailed out of the brush and smashed against the ground next to the Linoone's shoulders, spewing mist all in between the pirates. The three devolved into coughing fits, their eyes shooting wide as they recognized the peach haze was the telltale mist of a Slumber Orb.

"Ack! It's a trap!" the Garbodor cried.

The Beautifly vainly attempted to displace the mist with frantic beats of her wings as the Garbodor turned to try and flee. In spite of the Bug-Type's efforts, the Orb's mist made its way forward barely impeded, as the Beautifly's limbs grew stiff and her wingbeats grew slow and heavy.

"Someone call for… help…"

The Beautifly slumped over asleep, the Garbodor following suit not long afterwards. Before long, the pirates were fast asleep, with the Linoone snoring from underneath the Grafaiai still lying on him. The bushes rustled again as Dimitri and Guardia emerged, the Cubone of the pair walking up and prodding the Linoone with her foot.

"Hrmph, I'd rather have clubbed the lot of them," Guardia huffed. "But this works, too."

"Given that that Grafaiai didn't have any berries on him, it was better to just use his orb and avoid risking a drawn-out fight where one of us could get hurt," Dimitri insisted. "Let's just get their bags and get out of here, since they won't stay asleep forever."

The pair went from one Pokémon to the next in the clearing, rifling through their belongings and taking whatever they could until they finally made their way last to the Garbodor. Dimitri stepped forward, rolling him over onto his back as Guardia reached for the pirate's bag, when the clearing suddenly came alive with a barking voice.

"Oi! Everyone who's on this channel, we might've found something! We're just south of the mountain and there's footprints heading straight for the Mystery Dungeon!"

Guardia jumped back from the Garbodor's body, before seeing a glinting badge pinned under his body against the ground. The Cubone and her Kabutops teammate turned towards the north, where there was the mountain looming high into the sky, with visible patches of fog that looked like they might come from entrances to a Mystery Dungeon nearby. The sound of shuffling prompted the pair to brace themselves and look back at the Garbodor, who shifted and batted a hand in his sleep.

"Ngh, five more minutes…"

Guardia blinked after realizing that this pirate was using a badge just like a Rescue Team. Just how much planning had the pirates put into this raid? The Cubone looked on warily with her club raised at the ready, when there was another brief crackle from the badge as the dispatcher's voice came through it once again.

"… Wait a minute, Oscar? Is that you? What happened to you and why do you sound half-asleep right now?"

Dimitri reflexively snatched the badge from the dozing Garbodor. He cradled it in the tips of his scythes as he clamped down on it and raised it to speak into it.

"Sorry, Oscar can't talk right now," the Kabutops answered. "If you want to take Lugia from us, send someone who can actually put up a fight against a Protector!"

Guardia shot an askew glance at the Kabutops, as a few cries of surprise came through the badge. She briefly heard voices talking over each other in the background, when the first voice spoke up again with a noticeably wary tone.

"How on earth did you get this badge? Who's speaking right no-?"

The voice abruptly cut out after Dimitri hurriedly threw the Badge aside into the bushes. The Kabutops hurriedly moved towards the Garbodor's bag and started shoving their pilfered gear into it as Guardia traded glances between him and the undergrowth, before raising a brow skeptically.

"Not that I don't mind a good fight, but why did you tell them that Pleo's with us?" she asked. "It will draw all those pirates right to us!"

Dimitri finished transferring items into the Garbodor's bag before snatching it up and throwing it onto his shoulders, taking a few paces off towards the Mystery Dungeon in the distance before turning back.

"That's the point. The idea is that we'll get out of here before they catch up," the Kabutops insisted. "Better that they waste time trying to find us here instead of all going straight to the Mystery Dungeon where Pleo really is."

The pair stared at each other for a moment, before Guardia glanced off at the Mystery Dungeon in the background. She looked at it briefly, only to give a sheepish tug at her helmet.

"Okay, fair enough. Let's get going then."

Pleo wasn't sure what he was expecting from the inside of Gestirn's Mystery Dungeon, but it definitely wasn't this. Inside, the space overhead was tall and without an apparent ceiling, with layers of fog and stony ridges jutting out at impossible angles in the far distance. In place of solid walls, the paths in the Mystery Dungeon often had steep drops into fog-filled abysses—which looked like they would've been easy to fly across… if only his flight feathers hadn't been cut.

It certainly would've made their travels easier. The ground underfoot was stony, and on the more recent floors like the one they were on, the air carried a nipping chill and some places were even flecked with hints of frost. All of which resulted in Crom and Ander becoming sluggish like they'd been on Haipheh, making them occasionally draw closer to their companions for warmth.

"Can we please just get this over with?"

And of course, there was Bunsen, who was now standing at the bottom of the next set of stairs headed up. Still muzzled and with his arms and wings tied behind his back from when Robbie sent him off. The whole time, the Charizard had tried to keep his distance from the young Lugia and would squirm whenever Pleo got too close. But aside from a couple moments where it looked like he was about to sneak off, he largely kept quiet and hadn't made a fuss.

Pleo wasn't sure whether or not he preferred it that way.

"Well, we're at least another floor closer to Starbreak Square," Ander sighed. "Let's head up and see what we're dealing with."

The five made their way up the stony steps, the earth groaning and grinding behind them as the steps sealed in their wake. The group came out into a chamber ringed by stony bluffs with mist hugging the ground that made it difficult to see too far ahead. After a brief moment to check the surrounding passages, Crom turned his attention over to Bunsen and warily tilted his head at their Charizard guide.

"It's been twelve floors, the entrance to Starbreak Square should be here, right?"

Bunsen hesitated and uneasily shifted in place, before turning his head away with a low murmur.

"It was on the twelfth floor when I left, and we already checked the earlier floors for stable zones," the Charizard said. "But the floors in Mystery Dungeons are always shifting. If it moved, we could still have one or two floors ahead of us."

Pleo and his companions traded wary looks with one another. They didn't like how evasive Bunsen was being at the moment. He'd made no secret of the fact that he never wanted to go along with them and the "demon" in their midst in the first place, and part of them wondered if they'd really made the right choice to let a Pokémon who'd been bullying their friends and families just a week ago to serve as their guide.

Ander hesitated, before shaking his head. No, they knew this was a risk, but they didn't have better options to work with. Whatever their feelings about the former Commissioner were, they had to trust that keeping Bunsen on a tight leash would keep his guidance reliable enough to successfully find an entrance to Starbreak Square.

"It's a good enough start, at least," the Scyther sighed. "Let's start by checking the left passage."

Ander prodded at Bunsen as the Charizard begrudgingly set off down the leftward passage, the group making their way down a path between two stony bluffs that rose up above them, until they entered a large chamber. A moment to study it revealed that the chamber carried around a bend, and had cliffs dropping into the Distortion's fog off to the left.

Trizano could've sworn he heard something moving in the distance, and cast a wary glance off at the cliffsides. It was then that he noticed that Bunsen was doing much the same and keeping particularly close attention to them.

The Skarmory narrowed his eyes at the Charizard skeptically. He had gotten the feeling that Bunsen had been trying to slip away from them for some time, but surely he wasn't desperate enough to do that by leaping into the Distortion, was he?

"Aspetta, what exactly are we looking for?" Trizano asked. "You mentioned earlier that the entrances to Starbreak Square were easy to miss."

Bunsen stiffened up and curled his tail, limbs, and neck in towards his body as much as his bindings allowed. All the while, he keenly eyed Pleo and visibly squirmed with an audible hem and haw in reply.

"I… er… uh.. I-It's hard to say, really," the Charizard stammered. "With the way that dungeons shift around, and fog kicking up like this… it makes it easy for details to get obscured and-"

… So he was dragging his feet. Crom folded his arms, shooting Bunsen a sharp frown in response.

"Look, you clearly know what to search for if you went out to go gathering in the forest," the Druddigon harrumphed. "And you're not going to get back to your family any faster if we don't know where to go."

Bunsen backpedaled, briefly glancing over his shoulder as he seemed to get visibly nervous and flighty. … Travellers above, he really was going to try and run away from them, wasn't he? Crom sighed and began to make a move for the Charizard, who drifted back faster, raising his voice in stammering protest.

"L-Look, just take a minute to check things more closely! I'll go ahead and start on this side a-and-!"

Bunsen hastily swung his tail into the Druddigon and knocked the young Dragon-Type to the ground. He lowered his head and dashed ahead for the ledge as the others cried out and attempted to give chase, only for Bunsen's foot to brush against a patch of dirt with the faint impression of an arrow-like barb on it. By the time he noticed it, the faint click of a trap triggering rang out, followed by a series of pin-like barbs shooting up from the ground and digging into his scales.


The Charizard yelped and fell forward after losing his footing, before hitting the ground face first. He lay on his stomach with a pained wince and rolled over to see the barbs were lodged firmly firmly into his hide. His head began to feel faint, a chill coming over his body as he sat up, only to see Pleo walking up with a Pecha Berry in his wing.

"Here, take this," the Lugia insisted. "You stepped on a Poison Trap, but this berry will make you feel better."

Bunsen looked up at the young Protector and his Pecha Berry as blank confusion spread over his face. He stared at the berry dumbfounded as the others of Team Traveller caught up and gathered around him, before speaking up with a wary stammer.

"Wh-Why are you doing this for me?"

"Because you're our guide right now? We can't exactly get help from you if you're passed out on the ground," Ander replied, rolling his eyes. "And just because you've done bad things before doesn't mean we want to see you suffer."

The Charizard gave a tug at his bindings, before giving a small wag of his tail and forcing an overeager smile over his snout.

"I mean… you could undo these bindings and let me go-"

"And we will," Ander harrumphed. "Once we get these barbs out of you and you lead us to Starbreak Square."

Bunsen's tail immediately went still and his wings and head visibly dropped as a brief twinge of disappointment came over his face. The Charizard got up and shuffled forward and took the Pecha Berry as Crom and Trizano set to work plucking barbs. All the while, Pleo tilted his head up with a curious chirp.

"… But why is your family here anyways?" he asked. "The Company doesn't hire Commissioners from islands run by the Empire, do they?"

Bunsen winced from a barb being pulled from a more tender spot on his hide and squirmed briefly, as the Marked Charizard seemed to visibly be fighting for courage to speak up. After a brief moment, the Fire-Type's tension eased as a glum look came over his face, and he turned his head aside with a low mutter.

"… Brigid and I aren't from here, we're from Vollezee," he replied. "She and the kids moved out here after I became a Commissioner."

Trizano and Crom stopped from pulling barbs and blinked at the Charizard's explanation. Since when were Company Commissioners allowed to move their families out to Imperial territory? Or away from Vollezee for that matter? Why there was a whole Settlement Protocol that should've kept Bunsen from doing anything of the sort!

And then, a dawning realization came over Trizano as he realized that the move surely was because of the Settlement Protocol. Or rather, an attempt to evade it.

"Right, the Settlement Protocol applies to every Pokémon holding a Third-Rank or higher in the Company," the Skarmory mused. "Still, why hide them away in the first place if you were at worst just moving from one end of the island to another? Surely with your mate pitching in, it couldn't have been hard to feed a family with a salary as generous as a Commissioner's."

Bunsen turned away and closed his eyes with a bitter shake of his head.

"You're acting like it's the easiest thing in the world for 'mons like us," he huffed.

The Charizard's audience stared at him puzzledly, aside from Ander, whose face remained fixed in a sharp frown. After a moment's hesitation, the former Commissioner bit his lip, before his tail fire visibly dimmed and he continued on in a guarded tone.

"… We lived out in one of the island's fringe towns. A couple years before my promotion to Commissioner, Brigid and I had our youngest child and we were having trouble getting by. She always had a hard time finding work because we're Marked, even within the Company because she's not a fighter," Bunsen explained. "Rents in Canalhouse City are significantly higher, and a lot of the time, my pay was the only one coming in to get us by. If we went along with the Settlement Protocol, it'd mean the kids having to grow up with others ready to ruin their lives at a moment's notice and constantly living one missed paycheck away from having to skip meals."

Ander narrowed his eyes at Bunsen, the Marked Scyther leveling a blade at him with an accusing scowl.

"I'm not exactly a stranger to those struggles myself, Charizard," he spat. "Somehow I never went around bullying others and threatening to rip up families to get by."

Even from his bindings, Bunsen seemed visibly offended by the charge. His tail fire briefly flared, as he shot a piercing glare back over at his fellow Marked.

"Hrmph, and somehow I never went around cutting up dead bodies for meat. And yet, you don't hear me judging you for that, Scyther," the Charizard growled. "We all do what we need to to get by."

Ander and Bunsen stared each other down with piercing glares. Fortunately for Ander, Bunsen was restrained at the moment, since he seemed like he was upset enough to spit fire at him if he weren't muzzled.

"You're acting like it'd be the simplest thing in the world for me to not follow orders. Like there weren't others in the Company constantly looking for reasons to get rid of 'mons like me if it looked like we were slipping up," he fumed. "For crying out loud, I couldn't even consistently get Brigid a janitorial position!"

There was a long, uneasy silence afterwards, before Bunsen glanced off at his surroundings.

"That was what gave us the idea to send them out to this place. Brigid and I decided to hide that we were related while I'd pass money along to someplace where things weren't as expensive. And if they were already going to have to leave Company waters to avoid being found out, they might as well go someplace where there were others like us around them," Bunsen explained. "At least in Starbreak Square, the kids could grow up without anyone questioning them or judging them for their background…"

Bunsen trailed off mid-sentence, before hanging his head with a low, deflated murmur.

"Not that I'm really sure how that's supposed to work out this month. I wasn't able to send out my usual portion of my pay before I got sent to your island, and I don't know if it's even possible to make it up with the sorts of jobs around Starbreak Square."

Crom hesitated after seeing the Charizard droop. For a second, one could almost forget that this was the same Commissioner that had stormed into Bluewhorl Town and bullied its Pokémon for almost a week. That said, even if he and the others had seen another side of Bunsen, it didn't change the things that Bunsen had done, and Crom couldn't say with a straight face that he was ready to forgive him for it.

But they still needed the Fire-Type's help. So for now, at least, it made sense to at least try to leave things be…

"I guess I can understand why you're so eager to see them again," the Druddigon sighed. "I don't know how I'd handle having to try and hide my family like that."

The Charizard gave an askew glance that made Crom and his companions falter. Even if Bunsen's motivations weren't completely unsympathetic, he was at best an ally of convenience at the moment. At worst, he was a prisoner who was only being kept in line by Sheriff Robbie's threat of punishment. Was it really safe to trust him?

Trizano gave an uneasy ruffle of his wings, before warily eying the Marked Charizard.

"Which, you know, would be easier if you gave us something to work with for how to find Starbreak Square and not try to run off on your own."

The Charizard looked off at the foggy abyss for a lingering moment, before turning back and turning his snout up with a skeptical harrumph.

"Why are you so interested anyways?" Bunsen demanded. "It's not as if this is going to turn out well with that demon you hang out with."

Ander visibly tensed up after Bunsen's remarks and cast an aside glance at Pleo. The Scyther remained quiet as the Lugia looked back with an uneasy blink, before Ander turned his attention back to Bunsen with a sighing shake of his head.

"… That's just a risk we'll have to take," Ander remarked. "So are you going to stay and help us? If so, what exactly are we looking for?"

Bunsen visibly hesitated as the Scyther eyed him. Was Bunsen thinking of his family? Whatever his motivations, the Charizard eased up afterward, before speaking up in reply.

"… The entrances are normally pointed out with waypoint markers written in Unown Runes," he explained. "The floor doesn't sound like it's about to be cleared, so if it didn't shift while I was out, it should still be there."

"… 'Unown Runes'?" Crom asked.

"It's writing that we use to record things like the Scripture of Truth," Ander explained. "Long ago, when Marked like us were more common, it was the writing our ancestors used in everyday life."

Crom's mind turned back to when he snuck a peek at the mysterious book in Ander's bag. So they just had to look out for lines of Unown on the walls? It didn't sound too difficult. Except, Bunsen still looked visibly on-edge and glanced about his surroundings worriedly before turning back to the rest of the group.

"It's just that… I don't think that getting there is going to be as easy as just finding it."

"We'll worry about that when we cross that bridge," Trizano said. "Let's just keep an eye out for Unown Runes for now."

Trizano and the others made their way down the chamber and carried on through winding corridors and chambers surrounded by sudden drops. All the while, the floor remained curiously quiet and went by without the expected Feral encounters. If nothing else, it made traversing the floor straightforward, even if on a couple occasions, Crom swore that he overheard movement or faint chatter in the distance.

After what felt like an eternity that was probably no more than five minutes, Trizano came across a line of glyphs that looked like Unown. He paused, before turning to Ander with a wary quirk of his brow.

"Does it say anything, Ander?"

The Marked Scyther approached the line of glyphs painted on the stone, and ran his eyes along their length.

"… 'Sixty paces right, then forty paces left'."

Trizano had no idea why it would take so many symbols to say something so short. Why, in normal runes, that message would've needed around a quarter as many glyphs. Did Unown Runes not each have meaning on their own?

A casual glance at Bunsen revealed that he didn't seem fazed by the reading, so Ander must have been onto something. The five pressed on rightwards where sure enough, about sixty paces away, they found an intersection branching left and right. Forty more to the left, they entered a room surrounded by cliffs dropping into the fog on three ends, with passages surrounded by sheer drops leading away. One of them on the left appeared to stop abruptly in empty space, which made Pleo raise a brow as he neared. He looked more closely at the end of passage when his eyes lit up in realization that it didn't stop at all, but instead went straight ahead into a bank of fog.

"Ah! That must be it!"

One after the other, Pleo and his teammates made their way towards the passage's entrance. All the while, Crom couldn't help but think back to Bunsen's warning from earlier, and turned his head towards the Charizard with a puzzled tilt.

"Wait, why'd you say this wouldn't be easy again?"

"Hold it right there!"

A sharp snarl rang out as a Golbat suddenly swooped down from the air above and green scales abruptly appeared from beside a small pile of stones as a Kecleon revealed herself. Pleo jumped back with a startled cry, when a Dugtrio with steely golden hair popped up from the ground from behind with a growl. Pleo shrank back along with his teammates, as they noticed the strangers were all sporting orange scarves along with the telltale Mark on their heads. The young Lugia sucked in a tense breath, before hearing Bunsen gulp. He turned his head and looked over towards the Charizard, who stared at the approaching Pokémon with a startled grimace.

"Th-That's why not."

Author's Notes:

- Das reicht jetzt! - German: That's enough already!"
- Aspetta - Italian: "Wait" / "Hold it"