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Winter can't come soon enough
Ah, hmm. Yes, it appears that much of this chapter didn't involve dungeon trekking at all! Though perhaps this is a case of "careful what you wish for," since, outside of the ending scene, it didn't feel to me like this chapter made much forward progress in the episode as a whole. :madness:

It's peppered with some nice character moments, though. Mainly for some of the secondary folks, like Pekka and Pyry. IIRC, they had moments in the past where they were tempted back toward the path of skullduggery, but here it seems like they (more or less) firmly cemented themselves as wanting to do the right thing. Good for them. It also mirrors Elty in some respects, as he similarly was tempted back toward the darkpirate side a few times before he firmly settled into the "totally trustworthy" camp. And there are random folks who defect back to Hess in order to sell the change. I think the bigger takeaway from the scene was to supposed to be Hess' tongue slip spurning a temporary alliance amongst these prisoners, but it took a while to reach that point.

And then we have Ellsberg basically being told "Respectfully, you can't git gud the traditional way so you gotta git gud the mothim way." Which is funny to see after all these chapters where he was definitely not doing bureaucratic notary stuff and somehow didn't end up completely overwhelmed. Guess it didn't occur to him at the time to point that out? Again, the character moment got more focus than the scene's eventual goal (Salvini established as a good coercion target), so the question for me is more what Ellsberg will do with this new outlook.

since the pirates drug those guards in.
Pretty sure this would be a "dragged," unless you're implying the pirates slipped the guards some wild shrooms to get them inside those cells. :V
"I wasn't scared, okay?!"

Elty flicked his ears and jostled his legs
Even with the new paragraph, this make it sounds like Elty's saying that.
Dirk the Despoiler
So, he got his bad cred by figuring out where people who spoil new media online live, going to their houses, and beating them up? Seems legit.
She supposed that meant the Imperials had Pokémon of all sorts in their nobility.
Stiiiiiiiiiiiiiill birds, though! OvO
"Story of our lives really," Nida said, shaking her head.
Actually, yes! I'm reading it right now, in fact!
The Aggron keenly eyed
I can't believe you genned an illegal ability onto Hess. Smh my head.
"… I know that we were supposed to cast a wide net for leads, but this is ridiculous."
"There isn't a single fish in these boxes!"
Or at least, mostly anyways
"We used the power of '**** Darzin, all my homies hate Darzin.'"
two sets of claws will make this work go by a lot faster,
"We can shred through this stuff twice as-- wait, what do you mean I have to read them?"
Don't take things the wrong way, but as a Mothim you're lacking a certain… stature that Sorge and I have.
Aldrich, buddy, you're one to talk. Noivern are in the bottom half of the franchise's "Reptillian ferocity" listing. Also you've got, like, a twig body and twiggy wings. Sorge could use you as a backscratcher.
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?
Yes. True mothim strength is dying quickly to rock-type moves.
along with an illustration that had been attached
With how big the Company is, this implies there's a department solely dedicated to this. It's probably staffed entirely by smeargle.
"It doesn't matter if she was or not," Aldrich answered. "We'd be able to put her to use either way."
Get your Fs ready, chat.
"Nani…? Why are there so many holes here on the beach?"
Missed wiglett opportunity.
about how the Grafaiai was drawing out their duties
Get it? Drawing out? :V
"Ack! It's a trap!" the Garbodor cried.
I bet their name is Ackbar.
"Let's just get their bags and get out of here, since they won't stay asleep forever.
"Isn't that, y'know, stealing?"
"Yeah, but it's stealing from pirates, so we're off the hook."
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.
I can't believe they're climbing the Aggro Crag! This fic has everything!
It was on the twelfth floor when I left, and we already checked the earlier floors for stable zones
Imagine going about your day and suddenly everything is five hundred meters higher or lower than it was before. Including you.

The Charizard yelped and fell forward after losing his footing, before hitting the ground face first.
Get wrecked.


PMD Writer
Ah, hmm. Yes, it appears that much of this chapter didn't involve dungeon trekking at all! Though perhaps this is a case of "careful what you wish for," since, outside of the ending scene, it didn't feel to me like this chapter made much forward progress in the episode as a whole. :madness:

A bit unfortunate to hear, though I suppose chapters that tee up future events sometimes can come off that way. Everything in that chapter happened for a reason, which should hopefully be a bit clearer as to where things are going after today’s.

It's peppered with some nice character moments, though. Mainly for some of the secondary folks, like Pekka and Pyry. IIRC, they had moments in the past where they were tempted back toward the path of skullduggery, but here it seems like they (more or less) firmly cemented themselves as wanting to do the right thing. Good for them. It also mirrors Elty in some respects, as he similarly was tempted back toward the darkpirate side a few times before he firmly settled into the "totally trustworthy" camp.

I’m glad you liked it. There were a few potential scenarios me and @Spiteful Murkrow were weighing for what to do with the pirates that joined the Siglo Swellow, and we figured that something like this would be the most meaningful for the audience. Sounds like things paid off.

And then we have Ellsberg basically being told "Respectfully, you can't git gud the traditional way so you gotta git gud the mothim way." Which is funny to see after all these chapters where he was definitely not doing bureaucratic notary stuff and somehow didn't end up completely overwhelmed. Guess it didn't occur to him at the time to point that out?

I mean, given that Ellsberg had moments like getting bullied by First Ranks from Lyn’s crew or not being taken seriously at Boisocéan, I’d say Aldrich is definitely onto something. And Aldrich never said to do bureaucratic notary stuff, just to play to his own strengths instead of for example trying to copy Lyn’s style.

Pretty sure this would be a "dragged," unless you're implying the pirates slipped the guards some wild shrooms to get them inside those cells. :V

Good catch, we went back and tweaked this.

Even with the new paragraph, this make it sounds like Elty's saying that.

We added a couple words here to make it obvious that that was a third party speaking.

I can't believe you genned an illegal ability onto Hess. Smh my head.

I mean, hey, we already have a Dragonite with an illegal move, so why stop there? :p

Aldrich, buddy, you're one to talk. Noivern are in the bottom half of the franchise's "Reptillian ferocity" listing. Also you've got, like, a twig body and twiggy wings. Sorge could use you as a backscratcher.

I mean, he’s still quite a bit more ferocious than a Mothim, at least. And he never claimed to look more intimidating than Sorge.

Get your Fs ready, chat.

Oh ye of little faith. Things could work out for her… potentially.

Missed wiglett opportunity.

Nah man, this beach has a much bigger problem than Wiglett: German speaking inhabitants. Google a few pictures of ‘strandburgen’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Imagine going about your day and suddenly everything is five hundred meters higher or lower than it was before. Including you.

Ditto stepping out into surroundings that looked completely different from what they did earlier in the day. Such is life in a Mystery Dungeon.

And tomorrow’s actually my birthday, so let’s celebrate it with a new Fledglings chapter!

We’ve also got some new artwork today, featuring Rodion, but as a Buizel! The first artwork I commissioned as part of his presence in an offsite RP. It’s not necessarily a canon portrayal (depending on whether he was already evolved when the Iron Fleet was founded), but hey, knowing our favorite pirate Floatzel, it’s likely not that far from the mark from how he was when he was younger. The second artwork was commissioned by none other than Ambyssin for my birthday, which I am very grateful for. It’s like Rodion found a Halloween costume of a stereotypical pirate!

But with that, let’s pick up again back where we cliffhangered last time:

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Crom's breaths came tense and shallow as he watched the approaching Marked near them from all directions. He began to backpedal when he felt warm scales brush against his tail, and looked over to see that he'd walked into Bunsen. His teammates had similarly closed ranks, with Ander hurriedly hiding Pleo behind him and Bunsen. Right. It was probably for the best if these Marked didn't think they'd brought a 'demon' to hurt them or something like that. Or at least not right away. Crom scooted to try and block off the remaining gap with Pleo, before he cast a glance over at Trizano and tucked his wings in tight with a nervous stammer.

"W-What do we do now?" the Druddigon gulped.

Trizano braced himself, carefully sizing up the encroaching guards much like a Pokémon might do to a line of small text on a paper. The Skarmory batted out his wings and braced himself with a determined scowl, before speaking up loud enough for the approaching Marked to hear him.

"We stand our ground," he insisted. "We didn't come this far just to be chased off by a bad first impression."

The three didn't seem to care for Trizano's gesture and continued to near them, only to abruptly stop at the sight of the five-tailed comet on Ander's head as the Kecleon from the group motioned for her peers to stop. The other guards paused briefly, and gave puzzled blinks as the Kecleon stared at Ander with a puzzled frown, before she turned and noticed Bunsen beside him, bound and visibly trying to avoid being seen.

"Wait a minute… you're that Charizard that came in last week," the Kecleon said. "This is a sanctuary for Pokémon that have seen the truth of this world. Why did you not call for help instead of leading Pokémon blinded to it here?"

Trizano and his teammates couldn't help but trade befuddled stares with each other. Sounded like Bunsen had been settling in quite fast. Even so, the Charizard seemed visibly uncomfortable, as he grimaced and squirmed in his bindings before stammering nervously in reply.

"I-I mean, I was muzzled and tied up and-"

"But we're not blind at all!" a voice squawked in protest. "We can see you just fine!"

Ander and his companions blanched at the outcry as the Kecleon and her fellow guards turned back towards the Scyther, just in time to spot a long-necked creature with silvery-white feathers poking his head out from behind. The three Marked collectively stiffened up as their eyes shrank to pins as Ander hurriedly stepped in front of the Lugia. A tense silence followed, as the Marked Scyther grimaced and glanced over his shoulder with a tense whisper.

"You really should've kept quiet there, Pleo."

The Dugtrio was the first to snap out of his startled trance, recoiling and motioning off with his heads at Pleo with a stammering cry.

"Th-That bird with them's a demon!"

The other guards flinched and recoiled from Team Traveller's group. After flitting back a wingbeat, the Golbat among them flashed her fangs, and whirled over towards the Charizard of the group with an angry hiss.

"Treacherous escíncid!" the Golbat snarled. "You'd bring a monster like that here?! To bring doom on the place your own family shelters in?!"

The color visibly drained out of Bunsen's face at the Golbat's words. He began to quiver and pulled his tail in tight against his body, as his voice came out in a spluttering whine.

"I-It's not what it looks like, I swear!" the Charizard insisted. "The guards from Starpeak Square caught me while I was gathering berries and they forced me to bring them along! I-I was trying to shake them in the Mystery Dungeon, but-!"

Bunsen's protests were cut off by the Kecleon summarily shattering a Petrify Orb in front of his feet. At once a shower of sparks erupted, as Team Traveller's members froze in their steps, rigid and unmoving. Pleo struggled and tried to move his numb limbs as the Marked guards approached. They all seemed to still be on edge, with the Dugtrio nervously trying to reassure himself that "they're not so tough now".

No, no, no. This wasn't supposed to be happening! They were supposed to be asking these Pokémon for help! Not getting beaten up by them like this! Pleo tried to break free again, only to find his legs and wings wouldn't respond to him. He and his teammates raised their voices, desperately trying to talk sense into the surrounding guards.

"Please, you're making a mistake!" the Lugia begged. "I don't want to hurt you!"

"L-Look, I know that this is all hard to believe, but he really is different from what the ancients told us to expect of him!" Ander insisted.

"A likely story!" the Golbat snapped. "That's why you came straight to us, right?"

The Golbat and her peers kept a careful berth from Pleo as they sized up the rest of the party on the ground. The Dugtrio looked about, before turning to his peers with an uneasy stammer.

"Wh-What do we do with them now?" the Dugtrio asked. "That Petrify Orb won't hold the demon forever."

"I say we kill 'em while we can and push their bodies into the Distortion," the Golbat suggested. "It's not like anyone will ever find them afterwards."

Pleo sucked in a sharp breath as his friends frantically tried to protest and Bunsen began to whine and beg for mercy in the background again. Everything became an indistinct blur as Pleo's his mind went blank. These- These Pokémon were going to kill his friends? The Lugia tried to thrash free, only for his eyes to tear up as his body still refused to budge.

"I'd encourage you to not make decisions without thinking them through first, Nosferalto."

Pleo heard a low, rough voice, followed by strong wingbeats coming in from the same passage they had come from earlier. The wingbeats grew louder and louder as the Pokémon making them drew near. Pleo suddenly saw a large figure with black feathers from the corner of his eyes, prompting the young Lugia to screw his eyes shut in fright.

Then, he felt a shoving prod and stumbled forward. Pleo blinked away his tears and after cracking open his eyes, he realized he could move his limbs again. The Lugia hurriedly bat his wings out as he whirled to face the guards who'd thrown the orb only to feel a light nip at his shoulder. He froze after seeing one of the side heads of a Marked Hydreigon holding him firm, and further up was its owner, who stared down at him, before turning back to the Golbat with a piercing glare.

Pleo let his beak flop open and blinked a moment in disbelief at the Hydreigon. Whatever doubts he had of the Dragon-Type's identity were dispelled when he heard her speak:


Pleo's words lingered in the air, but beyond a passing glance, the Hydreigon didn't acknowledge him. Her attention remained fixed on the other guards, who she addressed with a set of sharp scowls.

"Do recall that when our ancestors slew the demons of old, they never imagined the consequences that would follow. Even if this demon is still young and weak, how can we be so sure we know what would happen afterwards if he died?" the Hydreigon demanded. "Or that nobody would find out about us disposing of them? Do you really think that Starpeak Square would just let things go unanswered if they learned we harmed a creature that they see as a god?"

The Golbat sharply grimaced in reply as the Kecleon and Dugtrio traded looks with each other before the latter quietly admitted "I think she's got a point". The Marked Hydriegon frowned at the pair, before looking back off towards the passage where a tense-looking Sandaconda and Orthworm remained firmly at its entrance.

"Free the others from their petrification and we'll question them in a dignified manner," she ordered. "They can't do much against us right now even if they wanted to. Keep another Petrify Orb handy if you don't trust them to comply."

The Marked Kecleon and Dugtrio faltered, before grudgingly making their way over as they and the other guards went about to give light shoves to free Crom and his companions. Crom tried to shake feeling back into his arms after the Orthworm shoved him free with his tendrils, and looked over to see the Hydreigon still firmly holding onto Pleo.

"Hrmph, you're certainly a long ways from the last time we met."

Crom and Ander's eyes widened after the Marked Hydriegon spoke again and they got a better view of her. They didn't know how on earth she'd gotten here, but they could recognize her as clear as day from when they first met on Boisocéan…

"Margi?!" Crom cried. "What are you doing here?!"

The Hydreigon let Pleo go before turning her heads over to the young Druddigon. There was a moment of disbelieving silence between them before a sharp frown crossed Margi's face.

"I said that I was seeking shelter with my child the last time we met," she replied. "This is the place we fled to after we parted ways on Boisocéan."

Margi trailed off afterwards, and looked away with a low mutter, glancing at Pleo from the corner of her eyes.

"I just never would've imagined that you would come here, too…" she said. "Especially with him."

The other Marked traded looks with one another, before giving bewildered stares at their Hydreigon counterpart. The Kecleon among them cocked a brow in disbelief, trading glances between Margi and the 'demon' at her side.

"'The last time we met'?" the Kecleon asked. "Margi, you actually know this lot?"

"Most of them. The Skarmory is new to me," Margi explained. "And I did indeed encounter the demon with them. I saw firsthand how the Company tried to capture him in order to use him as a weapon."

Pleo stiffened up as Margi called him a 'demon'. Uncomfortable memories of her saying that as she snarled and encroached on him with her fangs bared on Boisocéan filtered through his mind. From the way they left last time, he'd hoped she wouldn't look at him that way anymore…

Although… Margi didn't seem to mean calling him a 'demon' from the way she was visibly unbothered and just beating her wings in place beside him. Or at least not in the same way she had last time. Pleo snapped to attention after feeling a nudge at his wing, when he noticed Margi was motioning off ahead.

"You and your friends should sit down for a while, Pleo," she said. "You're… not necessarily in trouble, but the best thing you can do right now is to show these Pokémon that you don't mean any harm."

Pleo hesitated briefly, before following along with Margi towards his friends and settling on the ground. The others followed suit as the guards sized them up, before their attention fell on Bunsen at the edge of the group with a set of piercing glares.

"And you just knew about this whole 'using a demon as a weapon' plan the whole time and said nothing about it?" the Golbat growled.

"I-I just found out about it barely a week ago!" Bunsen protested, pulling his head in towards his chest with a low whine. "Th-That's why I deserted the Company in the first place! I don't want to have anything to do with a disaster in the making like that!"

Margi narrowed her eyes back at Bunsen, and muttered something under her breath about a "likely story", before turning her attention back to Team Traveller's members.

"I suppose that now things have calmed down a bit, I ought to ask you a few questions of my own," she said. "Why are you here?"

As soon as the words left her mouth, Margi focused onto the Marked Scyther in the five's midst, narrowing her eyes into a piercing scowl.

"And why would you bring Pleo here when you knew full well how he'd be received?"

Ander hemmed and hawed briefly with a nervous tap of his scythes, noticing that the other guards were starting to train displeased stares at him.

"I… uh… w-well, you see…"

After a few faltering attempts at beginning to explain himself, Trizano shook his head and interrupted the Scyther, batting out a wing to draw his audience's attention.

"We were aware of the risks," the Skarmory said. "But we didn't have many options to choose from."

"And just what's that supposed to mean?" the Golbat demanded.

"Starpeak Square was overrun by pirates this morning," Crom explained. "Their ships are still anchored in the harbor right as we speak!"

"We came here because we wanted your help to chase them off!" Pleo insisted. "Those pirates will just bully those Pokémon around if we don't do something!"

The other Marked in the chamber traded blinks and stares with one another. The Golbat let out a dismissive scoff before rolling her eyes.

"Oh no! Anyway…"

"Yeah, if there's nothing else going on right now, just make them use their Escape Orb if they've got one," the Dugtrio added. "The further away that demon is from us, the better."

Pleo's beak flopped open in startled shock. These Pokémon had just heard that the town right outside on their same island was being raided by pirates. And here they were just completely unfazed by it!

"H-Huh?! Why are you just okay with this?!" the Lugia cried.

"Because that town and its Pokémon have tormented us since the days their 'King Adler' chased our ancestors into this place and left them to die," the Golbat spat. "Why should we care about whatever happens to them? Especially enough to let a demon like you into our sanctuary where for all we know, you're just waiting for a chance to kill us all in our sleep."

"He wouldn't do that."

The Golbat turned and was met by Margi glaring daggers into her. The Poison-type flinched and visibly shrank back, the Hydreigon letting her scowl linger over the Golbat for a moment before turning to the rest of her peers.

"He came to my neighborhood in Seahive Square before I fled," she explained. "He had plenty of opportunities to lay it to waste, yet he did no such thing."

Margi turned towards Pleo and stared wordlessly for a moment, before shaking her central head with a low sigh.

"… I know what the Scripture of Truth says about his kind, but he came here seeking help. From what I've seen of him, I don't think it's just a ruse," she said. "He at least doesn't intend to harm us. So long as that's true, we should hear out what he has to say."

The guards traded wary murmurs Hydreigon's argument, as the Golbat muttered under her breath with a low grumble.

"Are you trying to doom us all, Margi?" she demanded. "Just how is letting a world-ender into our haven a good idea?"

"Do you mean to imply that violently agitating him would be less likely to end the world?" Margi shot back.

There was a moment of silent hesitation among the guards, before the Sandaconda that first arrived with Margi shook his head with a low grunt.

"Maybe, but that would be something for the Elders to decide, not us," the snake insisted.

The Dugtrio's eyes shrank to pins, as he shook his heads vigorously and whirled to the Sandaconda in stammering protest.

"B-But we can't just let these Pokémon walk freely through town!" the Dugtrio exclaimed. "What if they really do turn against us?!"

"Then bring us there as your prisoners."

For a moment, there was a blinking silence afterwards as everyone, both from among the Marked, and from Team Traveller's party turned and stared puzzledly at Trizano. The Skarmory stepped forward and turned his attention towards Margi.

"My home's not exactly a stranger itself to needing to hide from a hostile world," Trizano said. "Bring us in with whatever guards and restraints you find necessary and give us a chance to plead our case before these 'Elders' of yours. We're willing to take the gamble."

Pleo briefly hesitated, looking between the guards and his companions. He didn't know how he felt about being a prisoner again, but they needed help to free Starpeak Square and the rest of their friends. And if it would really convince these Pokémon…

"… I'll go too if you'll give us a chance to try and convince you," Pleo added. "Just… don't be mean to my friends. They've never done anything to hurt anyone."

The Marked guards turned to each other and huddled with quiet murmurs, the Kecleon being among the first to break away as she neared Team Traveller.

"We accept your terms, Skarmory," the Kecleon said. "Just don't complain to us if this gets uncomfortable for you."

The Kecleon made her way over to Trizano with a small group, the Skarmory pinning his wings back as the guards took his badge and tied them up. Pleo watched and squirmed as the other Marked went about repeating the same process on his teammates. Pleo was the last Pokémon the Marked made their way to over when they abruptly paused. There was a moment of quiet hesitation when the Kecleon glanced over at Margi and quietly sucked in a breath before motioning over at Pleo.

"Margi, you stick with the demon," the Kecleon insisted. "If anything goes wrong, you've got the best chance of any of us at dealing with him."

Margi flew over to Pleo and nudged at him with a low grunt. For a moment, Pleo looked up with a worried stare, as Margi tried to crack a reassuring smile.

"The others need you to hold your wings against your body," she explained. "Don't worry, it will just be for a little while."

Pleo hesitated, before holding his wings against his body as Margi stayed in front of him and the other Marked grudgingly neared him. The Lugia fidgeted as he felt rough ropes encircle his wings, and trembling hands working them into knots. As soon as they were done, the Kecleon and her fellows were all too eager to leave him.

Pleo looked over at Margi as she stared back and craned her central head in towards him with a low whisper.

"I sure hope you and your friends know what you're doing, Pleo…"

The Lugia looked over towards his teammates as the guards separated them and marched them off, bound up in small groups for the fog one-by-one. Pleo gulped and looked back up at the Marked Hydreigon as the other guards around him prepared to do much the same, if at a safer distance. He hung his head briefly, letting his eyes drift towards the ground with an uneasy murmur.

"I… hope so too."

Pleo wasn't sure what he was expecting from the stable zone that Starbreak Square was in, but it definitely wasn't a cave tunnel like this. They'd exited out into a shaft made of gray stone, with the only indication that it wasn't a feral's den being a set of glowmoss lanterns which were set up along a path for illumination…

"D-Does he really just need to stand there menacingly like that?"

… and of course the giant, sturdy-looking gate just beyond them. The structure had an upper level with stone-hewn windows that sealed off the tunnel ahead, and was staffed by other Marked standing guard. Some, like a Sawsbuck, visibly cringed and shrank away at Pleo's sight from behind a set of wooden grates that were set up one after the other. Others, like a yellow Florges, managed to keep their composure, and stood on edge and ready to attack. The guards on the upper level seemed to be in similar straits, with a couple visibly holding Wands and Seeds at the ready. Pleo traded glances back at his teammates, wondering what they were supposed to do next, when Margi flew up to the grates with an annoyed sigh.

"You didn't mean to make us wait in the fog this whole time, did you?" she harrumphed.

"I-In the actual dungeon would've been better, really," the Sawsbuck insisted. "Safer for everyone else here."

The guards alongside Pleo and his companions shot back unamused scowls. The Sandaconda at the front narrowed his eyes and flicked his tongue back at his Sawsbuck counterpart.

"Look, if anything went wrong, at least this way we'll have more 'monpower to deal with him," the Sandaconda harrumphed.

Pleo fidgeted uncomfortably against the ropes over his wings. He supposed things could be going worse, but were they supposed to just be waiting here for this long? Crom, Ander, and Trizano looked visibly uncomfortable from their bindings themselves, and Bunsen in particular seemed to be taking things hard. From the way the Marked Charizard kept squirming and glancing nervously over at him, Pleo got the suspicion that it had been a deliberate choice by their captors.

"C-Can't I at least get these bindings off and go home now?" Bunsen protested. "I-I didn't want any part of this in the first pla-!"


Bunsen stiffened up and fell silent after the Golbat in their party glared at him with a low growl, prompting Pleo to let his eyes drift towards the stony cave floor. He could understand Bunsen being afraid of him since he'd blown him over the horizon once, but being treated like some sort of dangerous monster by all these other Pokémon when he'd never done anything to them was starting to wear him down. Maybe it was just best to give them what they wanted and leave.

… No. The rest of his friends and Starpeak Square, were counting on them to find strong Pokémon to help fight off the pirates who'd taken over. Starbreak Square was supposed to have no shortage of them, so even if it made him uncomfortable, he'd just need to bear things for a little longer with Crom and the others.

Pleo lifted his head after hearing wingbeats. There, at the gate, a Murkrow approached. The Murkrow visibly stiffened up after seeing Pleo, and hurriedly shuffled off to the side towards Margi with a flustered caw.

"The High Elder said to bring him in, just…"

The Marked Murkrow trailed off and looked back at the young Lugia. After a noticeable pause, the Murkrow breathed in sharply, before turning back to Margi worriedly.

"Be careful. You never know what a demon like him might try to do."

A set of creaks and groans rang out as the grates were winched up, before one by one the guards started leading them forward. Pleo shifted uncomfortably against his bindings as Bunsen was the first to be brought in, when Margi gently nudged at his shoulder and guided him forward.

"Come along," she said. "Just stay quiet while we're going through."

Pleo wasn't sure what to make of the request, but set off anyways, noticing that the other guards were getting in his way and making it hard to see what was going on. They passed through a tunnel in the gate, when out on the other side, they came out into a chamber of some sort which reminded him of the more cave-like Mystery Dungeons they'd gone through.

Except there was an entire village built in it. There were lanterns hung on strings near the roof, with balconies of some sort that ran along the chamber's walls. Here and there, he'd spot tunnels that would go off into parts unknown, a few entrances that seemed to have wooden awnings built over them. Off towards the middle of the chamber, there was some sort of spring or well in the center with figures moving about it.

And of course, there were other Pokémon going around in the chamber from the glimpses he could see. A lot of other Pokémon.


A Deino bounded up excitedly all of a sudden, rearing up onto his hindlegs as he nuddled against Margi's chest. Pleo's eyes lit up. That was Daraen! The same 'mon he played with on Boisocéan Island! The young Lugia reflexively cracked his beak open to greet him, only to catch himself after a glance back at the guards flanking him reminded him that they were still on pins and needles.

… Right. He'd probably cause a scene if the others in the square noticed him. Even if it bothered him, it was probably best to just keep quiet for now. In spite of it all, it was nice to see that Daraen was the same cheerful Pokémon he remembered from Boisocéan. The Deino let out a small giggle as his mother nuzzled him, prompting Daraen to turn his head up to her and wag his tail excitedly.

"You're back early today!"

Margi glanced around at her surroundings briefly, before forcing an awkward smile back at her child. Her demeanor was stiff and on-edge, as if she was in a hurry to wrap up her conversation quickly.

"Yes, well… something came up in the Dungeon that brought me back a bit sooner than expec-"


Pleo and his companions whirled their heads at the sound of a piercing shriek. There, just ahead in the middle of the square was a panicked Cufant stumbling back and pointing him out with a quaking trunk. The commotion attracted the attention of the other Marked nearby, who turned and similarly froze at his sight.

And then came the screams.


That would probably explain why Margi wanted to wrap up the conversation quickly. At once, the square erupted into chaos as Pokémon of all shapes and sizes took off fleeing for the various tunnels and entrances in the square, much as if a cannon had just been fired. Even Daraen seemed to get swept up in things as he froze for a moment at the commotion, before diving for the safety of his mother's grasp.


Or he tried, at least. The Deino's path took him square into Pleo and knocked him down with a squawk. Daraen hastily picked himself up and panted tensely when he caught himself, and realized that he was hearing and smelling someone much more familiar than he assumed.

"Huh?! P-Pleo?!"

Daraen darted up in front of Pleo. He gave a poke with a forelimb at Pleo's breast and after feeling his feathers, he tilted his head, and gave an excited wag of his tail.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. "I thought you had to fly away from home after those mean Company Pokémon came after you!"

Pleo ruffled his feathers, and looked down with a sheepish smile. For some reason, he had the strangest urge to paw at the back of his head, even if it was a bit hard to manage with his bindings.

"It's… a long story."

"The short version of it is that we caught up with each other and got into a bit of trouble since then."

Daraen stiffened up in surprise at the sound of Ander's voice. Even with his blindness, the Deino's senses were sharp enough to turn his attention off towards the Marked Scyther in the group. The Dragon-Type let out a surprised cry, as his jaw dropped in astonishment.

"Whuh?! Ander?!" Daraen exclaimed. "You're here too?! And so's that Druddigon that was with you…"

From beside Ander, Crom raised his head and gave a small smile over to Daraen. Pleo blinked for a moment, when he reminded himself of the stories the others told him on journeys between islands. Crom had mentioned that he and the others had come across Margi and Daraen on Boisocéan. From the way his eyes lit up, he must've had fond memories of their encounter.

"That's right, it's 'Crom'!" the Druddigon said.

And Daraen must've had good memories himself from the way he was wagging his tail. Pleo guessed that Daraen couldn't see that they were all tied up since he'd hadn't said anything about it. But even so, from the way he was stopping and trailing off, he must've noticed something was amiss about their presence.

"Wait, but where's everyone else?"

Crom fell quiet and turned his head aside, letting his eyes fall towards the ground with a glum murmur.

"They're kinda in a bit of trouble right now," he explained. "That's… why we came here in the first place."

"As are you at the moment," the Kecleon among the guards scoffed. "Need I remind you that the only reason why you're here in town at all was because you gave yourselves up as prisoners?"

Pleo and his companions bit their tongues after the Kecleon's reminder. Right. It probably would be a bit much to convince Pokémon who genuinely believed Pleo was some sort of world-ending demon to let them go about freely. The Golbat from the group turned and stared at Pleo, before screwing her eyes shut with a grumbling sigh.

"I can already tell we're never going to hear the end of this one from the Elders…"

Team Traveller looked back out to the square after hearing low whimpers coming from it, which had been deserted aside a few stragglers who'd been unable to flee. Some like a family of Maushold attempted to hide themselves behind obstructions like an overturned basket, while others like a Squirtle who had tipped over onto her back and retreated into her shell braced for the end. Trizano set his beak on edge and lowered his head with a low murmur.

"I sure hope that won't be a recurring trend here."

"As do I, Skarmory."

Trizano and the others looked up as they saw a Marked Typhlosion making her way across the emptied square. The Typhlosion stopped briefly to right the Squirtle and let her hastily scamper away before she continued walking up. Unlike the other Marked, the Fire-Type was unflinching the entire time, shooting glaring daggers over that made the guards at their sides visibly blanch, and made even Margi stiffen up and grow uncomfortable.

The Typhlosion approached, going directly up to Pleo as she looked down at the young Lugia with a hostile scowl whose meaning was unmistakable:

She didn't want them here.

Pleo squirmed against his bindings and backpedaled slightly, the guards behind him dutifully minding their distance as the young Protector gulped and looked back up at the Typhlosion.

"Uh… wh-who are you?"

"I'm Nina," the Marked Typhlosion replied. "High Elder of Starbreak Square."

The Typhlosion looked about the emptied square for a moment, and after a long pause, she pinned her ears back and turned back to Pleo with a grumbling sigh.

"And I can already see that we have much to discuss."

Salvini raised a cup from the counter and brought it up to her mouth with a shaky breath. It was the same bar her and her friends had used as a hangout since coming to Vollezee, and she was drinking the same jenever that was always available, but everything in the past couple days had seemed like the world had turned upside down.

They had known that they were taking a risk letting Pleo go the other day, but they hadn't expected that it would lead to this. The Vault from the Academy being raided, the military harbor and lagoon thrown into a mess from a ship fighting its way past the sea walls…

And of course, the chunks of the city that had been damaged during the whole episode, with rumors swirling about that it had been the doings of a serpent-like Protector. The entire city had been on edge since then, with pockets of unrest breaking out almost as quickly as they could be dispersed. Worse still, the nights since then had been short on sleep with worry that someone up the chain of command would put two and two together.

She drank the jenever from her cup before pinching her brow. Travellers above, she needed that drink. So did her friends from the oppressive aura all around the counter. Both Hertsog and Payak had been light on conversation tonight, while Phyllis was visibly stressed and working through yet another cup of jenever—quickly enough to make their Mienshao teammate turn to her with a worried stare.

"Slow down there, Phyllis. Jenever's a stronger drink than the rakia back home," Hertsog reminded, reaching a paw for the Leafeon. "I know it's been a stressful day, but you should take a moment to calm yourse-"


Salvini flinched at the sound of a clay cup harshly slamming against the wood of the bar, hard enough that she was surprised it hadn't broken from the impact. A glance down it revealed Phyllis whirling about in her seat and leveling a forepaw accusingly at the Mienshao.

"How do you expect me to just stay calm, Hertsog?!" the Leafeon demanded. "A demon just tore up chunks of the city the other day!"

Hertsog just sat there wordlessly as an uneasy silence filled the air. Just what was there even to say at the moment? Everyone had seen the handiwork of that… 'demon' almost right after Kiran and the others left the Vault. Only a fool would think that they weren't related somehow.

Salvini bit her lip. She knew that she'd come to the conclusion that it wasn't right to let Pleo be taken away back on Mengir, but… how were her teammates supposed to trust her after this? Especially with the way that Payak was glowering and looking away.

"That bird had something to do with this, didn't he?" the Ariados muttered. "Did we really do the right thing by not intervening with Kiran when we cou-?"

The Bug-Type was cut off with an audible shush, along with a sharp scowl as Hertsog shook his head.

"You shouldn't discuss work matters off-hours, Payak," the Mienshao grunted as he raised his cup back to his mouth. "Loose lips sink ships."

… Right, including their ship. So on top of everything else, they couldn't even air out their thoughts openly right now. Salvini wasn't sure how she felt about that. Perhaps everything would make a bit more sense after the shock of those events faded and there'd be some time to try and get to the bottom of what had happened for Team Traveller's escape to turn into… that. But for all she knew, things were just going to quietly fester beneath the surface the entire time.

The Grovyle turned for her own drink with a low murmur, when the clinking of glass from behind the counter turned her head up. It was the Gothorita barkeep, tucking away odds and ends on the shelves in a visible hurry, as she turned back to Salvini and her companions.

"If you four have any additional orders, get 'em in quick. I'm closing up in fifteen minutes."

Salvini blinked and raised a brow at the Psychic-Type's remarks, a quick glance revealing Hertsog setting his cup back on the counter as Payak and Phyllis shot back puzzled glances themselves. Since when did this place ever close at this hour?

"While it's still light out?" Salvini asked. "Why would you shutter your bar so early?"

"There's a curfew after dusk, remember?" the Gothorita explained, shaking her head. "If I stay open for you much longer, I'll be sleeping behind the counter tonight."

There was a moment of collective silence afterwards, as Salvini let her eyes drift down at the bar's countertop. Gods, everything had turned into such a mess. All she wanted was to keep those kids out of trouble, but after everything that'd happened since they ran into Team Traveller again and how it was now putting Hertsog and the others at risk…

Was Hertsog mad at her about the way things had turned out? She knew that he respected Kiran for helping him fix up Fensedge Village's shrine to Xerneas before they left Mengir, but… she couldn't imagine he expected something like this to happen from looking the other way for his sake.

All of it made her wonder… had this really all been worth it?

The Grovyle raised her head after hearing shuffling from Hertsog's end of the bar. She turned just in time to catch him picking up his cup again, and raising it in front of the barkeep.

"I suppose we'll take a final round of drinks, in that case. Though don't worry, Gothorita," the Mienshao insisted. "It's been a long day and we understand if it's been getting to you too. If we run past curfew, we'll walk you back home. Our pleasure."

Salvini looked on as Hertsog shot a reassuring smile back at the Gothorita. The one and the same smile that he'd give to townsfolk in Fensedge Village to try and reassure them that he understood their frustrations whenever taxes were raised or when he had to stop outsiders who joined the guards that tried to bully or extort them.

Even here, so far away from home, he was looking out for others as a guard.

She eased up a bit at the sight. Whatever was going on in the Mienshao's head right now, she was sure that Hertsog would deal with it as he'd always done. Calmly and eager to find solutions rather than going and pointing fingers accusingly. She turned her attention back to her cup as the barkeep made the rounds, and refilled everyone's drinks.

With a fresh helping of jenever in hers, Salvini was content to just push her worries from her mind. Or at least she would've been, until she heard the sound of the bar's entrance door creaking open in the background.

"Oh, glad to see you're still open."

Salvini turned for the door along with her teammates just as a Sylveon in a Second-Rank scarf came sauntering in. The Fairy-Type casually walked over to the bar, stopping at a seat beside Salvini as she hopped up and called out to the barkeep behind the counter.

"I'll take a cup of water," Zelle said. "I'm still on the job right now."

Everyone blinked at the Sylveon as she settled in. Was she a coworker of theirs from the Academy? The barkeep hesitated briefly from the sudden silence that had come over the counter before going off to fetch a pitcher. Salvini traded glances with her teammates, before opting to turn back to her drink. All the while, Hertsog hesitated with his own cup as he shot an aside glance at the newly-arrived Second-Rank and raised his brow.

"… On the job? And yet you're visiting a bar?"

Zelle didn't answer right away as she waited for the Gothorita barkeep to bring over her cup of water. She picked it up with a feeler, before raising it to her mouth and glancing back at the Mienshao.

"What can I say? My work takes me to all kinds of places," the Sylveon replied. "The name's 'Zelle'. I'm from the Intelligence Division and here to investigate a case of treason against the Company."

Salvini spat up her drink onto the counter after the Fairy-Type stopped speaking, coughing and hacking as stray drops of jenever got into her sinuses. She gasped for air and noticed that her teammates were collectively blanching at the Sylveon, the three staring wordlessly until a sharp bark snapped them back to attention.

"Again, Grovyle?!"

Salvini turned her head as the Gothorita stomped up with a damp rag. The Psychic-Type shook her head with a frustrated grumble, placing it on the remnants of Salvini's drink on the counter as she shot a dirty glare across the bar.

"Order liquor you can actually hold next time!" the barkeep hissed.

Salvini grimaced, partly from embarrassment as the barkeep got to work cleaning up her mess, and partly because the Sylveon had to have found the way she reacted suspicious. Salvini steeled herself as she turned back towards Zelle, who had a strangely self-satisfied expression on her face.

"Oh, there's no need for any of you to worry. None of you four are the Pokémon I'm investigating," the Sylveon reassured. "Though it is someone that you might know. That's why I came here: I wanted to ask for your help."

Salvini and her companions traded stares with one another. Had they run into this 'mon sometime while they were on duty after coming to Vollezee? Phyllis was particularly puzzled by the remark, as the Leafeon motioned towards herself with a disbelieving blink.

"Wait… our help?"

"No, no, not yours, Leafeon," Zelle explained. "Your Grovyle friend's."

Salvini watched as Zelle raised and pointed a feeler at her. At once, the Grovyle felt a pit in her stomach and tried to fight back a small tremor over her body and keep her mouth from flopping open out of fright.

This 'mon knew, didn't she? About Kiran, and Pleo, and… w-well everything. But if she did, why had she come alone? And why was she beating around the bush like this instead of having the lot of them detained right here and now?

Whatever the reason, the Sylveon kept up her amiable appearance the entire time, as she leaned in with a knowing smile.

"Why don't we go someplace more private to talk?" Zelle asked. "That table at the end of the bar should suffice."

Salvini froze at Zelle's offer, assuming it was an offer to begin with. Between the Sylveon's rank and her stated reason for coming here, Salvini doubted that she would accept 'no' for an answer… or her attempting to claim that something had come up and that she had to leave early.

The Grovyle stiffly got up from her seat. She noted her teammates staring worriedly at her, and gave a weak smile back before she turned back to Zelle.

"I… suppose it couldn't hurt," she said. "It'll take the barkeep a bit to replace my drink anyways."

Zelle nonchalantly slipped off her seat and started to guide Salvini off for a table towards the back corner, following closely behind the Grass-Type with every step. All the while, Salvini started to feel lightheaded and had to struggle not to scream. She cast a brief, uncomfortable glance back at her teammates as she walked off, wondering if she should speak up and call for their help.

But it was too late. Before she knew it, Salvini was at the table with Zelle, with the Sylveon hopping up onto a seat and waiting expectantly for her. The Grovyle faltered, before sucking in a sharp breath and sitting down at the opposite end. She raised her eyes and looked back across the table, struggling to fight back a nervous stammer.

"Wh-What can I help you with?" the Grovyle asked.

"I wanted to talk a bit about your recent history," Zelle explained. "During my investigation, I couldn't help but notice that you had some disciplinary actions recently added to your record."

The Sylveon went through the satchel hugging her shoulders with one of her feelers and pulled out a paper file that she slid out onto the table. Salvini blinked and looked down, freezing up as she saw the runes on the label. Her name, her byname, along with a rune followed by a series of numbers that had been assigned to her after first joining the Company. The Grovyle stiffened up, shooting a wary glance back across the table.

"… I thought that you said that your investigation wasn't about me," Salvini said.

"It's not," Zelle replied. "It's about the other Pokémon mentioned in the incident report from your file."

The Sylveon pulled the cover of the file open, leafing through a few loose pages before turning it around to face Salvini. The Grovyle hesitated briefly before reading the runes on the page. The first thing that caught her attention was a line with a date. It was the date of the night Pleo had escaped from Mengir, with Commander Briggs' signature at the bottom and a mass of densely-packed runes in between. Salvini pawed at the page, only to have her eyes dart back towards Zelle as the Sylveon began to speak again.

"The report's a bit long, so I'll save you the time and tell you a summary of it. It says that towards the end of your assignment on Mengir Island, there was an incident in which a number of wanted pirates escaped and Darzin was injured thanks to your incompetence," Zelle said. "From the specific language used in the report, it seemed almost as if whoever wrote it up was implying that you betrayed the Company and attacked an Administrator, but got off easy due to a lack of evidence."

Salvini followed the runes along with her eyes under the light of a nearby lantern. Sure enough, the message more or less said exactly what the Sylveon had said, just with more legalese involved. Because of course Briggs would go out of his way to try and screw her over on the way out. The Grovyle felt a flash of hot anger come over her and jolted up from her seat and looked across the table with a bitter glare.


"Complete nonsense, I know."

Salvini paused at the Sylveon's response. This 'mon from the Intelligence Division… was taking her side?


Zelle clamped the file shut with her feelers and fell silent, her blue eyes studying the Grovyle briefly before she spoke up.

"I doubt you were informed by your prior superiors, but one of those pirates that night happened to be a Protector," the Sylveon explained. "I'm aware that it probably sounds a bit fantastical, but I've seen the evidence behind those events, and it speaks for itself."

Zelle raised her cup to her mouth and took a quiet sip. Her eyes met Salvini's briefly, before the Fairy-Type set the cup down and continued on with a serious frown.

"Our current theory is that Darzin came barging in and attempted to seize the Protector for himself and then bungled things when you encountered him in the act," she said. "From there, you and your companions were thrown under the ship in the cover up to avoid embarrassing the Board."

Salvini blinked wordlessly in reply. Was- Was she actually hearing a Second-Rank say these things? Zelle flicked her ears briefly, as she brought her feelers together before her chest with a small smirk.

"It sounds crazy, I know. But that is more or less what happened… right?"

Salvini let her mouth hang open briefly, before she sank back into her seat and brushed at her forehead with a sigh of relief. Gods, after how much of a saga everything had been since Mengir, she didn't think something like this would ever happen. Someone up the chain had actually noticed the way that she'd been thrown under the ship? And cared enough to try and do something about it?

"Th-That's the first time someone above my rank other than Hertsog's believed me…" Salvini murmured.

Salvini hesitated briefly after she noticed that Zelle was sizing her up. The Grass-Type opened her mouth to try and explain herself further when Zelle pre-empted her with a puzzled tilt of her head.

"So you were set up, huh?"

"O-Of course!" the Grovyle insisted. "I… just… was a bit surprised to hear someone believe me for once…"

Zelle nonchalantly took the file back into her feelers and stuffed it back into the satchel sitting on the seat beside her. She turned back, giving an amiable smile as she absent-mindedly brushed a feeler against the wood of the table.

"There's been a few other incidents since yours that make us suspect that Darzin has become a spy for the Empire, including the events that happened the other day at the Academy," Zelle said. "That's why the Intelligence Division has opened an investigation into him."

Salvini had to fight to keep herself from double-taking upon hearing the Sylveon's explanation. She knew that Darzin had more or less been shunted aside as an Administrator and that he supposedly nursed quite a bit of bitterness over it, but somehow it never occurred to her that he would turn to colluding with the enemy over it. The Grovyle snapped out of her train of thought after hearing Zelle move in her seat, looking up to see the Sylveon pointing square at her with an outstretched feeler.

"That's where you come in. I'd like you to help me with our case against Darzin. All we'd need is your testimony in front of the Board," the Fairy-Type explained. "In return, I can help you and your friends' records get cleared. There'd be compensation for your troubles of course, including for the pay your Mienshao friend lost from the loss of his position until a suitable surrogate role can be arranged for him. You four could even go back to Mengir if you wanted to."

Salvini's eyes lit up as she couldn't help but let a grin spread over her face. Going back to Mengir? With her old job and her name cleared? She had to be dreaming!

Salvini caught herself and her smile faded. She wasn't dreaming, the wood of her seat brushing against her scales reminded her of that. Was there some sort of catch to this offer? Everything the Sylveon had told her almost sounded too good to be true.

She paused for a moment before stealing a glance at her teammates. Mengir was Hertsog and the others' home island, and while they'd put on a brave face since coming here, was it really fair to deny them a way back because of a few nagging doubts? The Grovyle shook her head, before pawing at her scarf and forcing a smile over her face.

"I'd be happy to help," the Grass-Type insisted. "You don't have any idea how much this would mean to us all."

"I'm glad to hear," Zelle chuckled. "All that we still need to do is for us to go over what to bring up in your testimony."

Salvini faltered at the Fairy-Type's response. 'Go over what to bring up in her testimony'? Aside from the fact that she couldn't tell the whole truth as a witness, weren't things straightforward enough that Zelle should already know what to expect?

"Wouldn't I just tell the Board what I remembered happening?" Salvini asked. "That I caught Darzin breaking into the room I was tasked to watch and tried to stop, only to take a Fire Punch to the head for the trouble and get used as a scapegoat afterwards?"

"You should mention that, yes," Zelle said. "But there's also a few extra details that you should mention in your testimony."

Salvini fell quiet, before giving a wary tilt of her head in reply.

"What… other things?"

"Oh, that you ran into Darzin earlier that day and saw him stash a pouch full of Imperial Bezants into his bag. Or how you've seen him talk to a suspicious Clawitzer, whose description just happens to match up with an Imperial Captain the Board already knows about," the Sylveon mused. "You know, minor details like those."

Salvini blinked at the Sylveon in confusion, before letting her face fall into a quiet frown.

"… But I didn't see any of that."

"I'm well aware. But that's just an inconvenience that we'll need to work around," Zelle said. "Darzin's status on the Board may be… precarious, to say the least. But what happened to you on Mengir isn't sufficient grounds to prove his ties to the Empire."

Salvini tensed up. She wasn't sure where Zelle was going with this, but she could already tell she wasn't going to like it. The Sylveon seemed to pick up on her unease, as she smiled and gave a small wave of her feeler in reassurance.

"As I mentioned earlier, some other things happened that made my superiors suspect Darzin, but it takes a lot of time to gather enough evidence for those sorts of accusations. Time that we don't have, and time that Darzin is using to undermine the Company from its highest echelons," Zelle insisted. "By just adding a few details to your account and a little tweak here or there, we can get around those obstacles and nip this problem in the bud before it's too late."

Salvini's eyes shrank to pins as she hurriedly scanned her surroundings to make sure no one was listening in on them, before whirling around with her mouth still hanging open. Travellers above, this 'mon said that she wanted to help her, not to make her incriminate herself further!

"Y-You're asking me to commit perjury in front of the Board!"

"What I'm asking you to do is to speed up the process of us gathering evidence," Zelle harrumphed. "We both know Darzin is guilty already, but the Board just needs a little extra push to see that. Does it really matter how we get there when the Company's best interests are on the line?"

Salvini looked away briefly. Words did not begin to describe how dangerous of an idea this all was. This wasn't just selectively bringing up bits and pieces of the truth and saying Darzin's Fire Punch to her head made her memory of events a bit hazy, this was going out on a limb and making false statements in front of the most important Pokémon in the Company!

The Grovyle narrowed her eyes and turned back with a sharp scowl. No. She'd taken enough risks lately, and she sure wasn't going to do it on behalf of a 'mon she'd met just five minutes ago.

"… You should've asked another 'mon for the job. If I got caught perjuring myself like that, I'd be lucky to merely be blacklisted from further employment with the Company afterwards," Salvini huffed. "The stories I'd heard about perjury cases at that level involved harsh penal sentences, and those weren't in front of the entire Board."

"So? You sure didn't have any issues perjuring yourself in front Administrator Zorn before you left Mengir."

Salvini's eyes widened and her jaw slackened as she felt the color drain out of her face. She grimaced, and tried to back away as Zelle leaned in towards her, with a smug sneer settling over her face.

"Yeah, I found out quite a bit about what you were up to on Mengir before you left," she sneered. "Though you don't need to worry about what happened out there. That's water under the bridge. But, if my friends and I have trouble tying Darzin to what happened at the Academy earlier today, we'll have to start looking for other potential traitors in our midst."

Salvini felt a lump grow in her throat as Zelle bared her fangs under her smile.

"Since if Darzin wasn't involved with the events at the Academy, the next most logical place to search would be the Pokémon that were around it earlier that day," the Sylveon continued. "Especially the first responders to the scene, which would include you and your friends."

Salvini's breath tightened as she felt herself pin up against the wall. Her friends were right there in the room with her, and yet if she said anything or called for help, this Sylveon would just ruin them all.

Somehow, even back in that boarded-up room in the Medic's Hut back on Mengir facing down Darzin himself, she hadn't felt this trapped. What was she even supposed to say back to Zelle?


"Would have nothing to fear then in that case, right?" Zelle asked. "After all, the reaction that you all had when I mentioned I was investigating a case of treason was totally how a group of 'mons with nothing to hide would have, right?"

Salvini gulped, letting her eyes drift towards the table's wood as the lightheaded feeling from earlier started to come back. She heard a tap, and looked up to see Zelle pulling a paw back from rapping against the table and staring expectantly at her.

"Or, you know. You could just do as you're told and there'd be nothing to worry about."

Salvini didn't like this. Not one bit. This Second-Rank was effectively extorting her, and she didn't even have a guarantee that the 'mon would keep any of those earlier promises. At the same time, both of them knew that she couldn't just walk away from this table…

The Grovyle raised her eyes off at the bar and glanced over Hertsog, Payak, and Phyllis as they tried to make smalltalk, the Mienshao occasionally casting glances out the corner of his eye.

It was then that Salvini realized that she didn't have much of a choice. For her friends' sake, she couldn't afford to turn the Sylveon down. She'd have to find some way of riding things out, and try and think of something to do if the Fairy-Type tried to throw her under the ship later.

Salvini noticed the Gothorita barkeeper was putting things away while her teammates headed behind the counter to help her. If nothing else, it was a chance to get the Sylveon out of her scales for now. She grudgingly looked back at the Second-Rank watching her across the table before raising her voice in a low murmur.

"I… I know that we're a bit tight on time right now since the bar's about to close, but what exactly is it that you need me to say?"

(Continued in next post)

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
The trek through Starbreak Square was a tense affair for Team Traveller. Much to Pleo's disappointment, it was hard to make out the surroundings at times from the guards huddled around him. From what he could see, he gathered that the entire town seemed to be built along tunnels with various chambers dug into them… ones which always seemed to have Pokémon who hurriedly ducked away for their safety with yelps and whines. A few of them brought their children with them, like a Marked Meganium and Bayleef, who hurriedly pulled aside a young-looking Chikorita who curiously didn't seem to have a Mark on her head.

Pleo hung his head with a low sigh. He would've hoped that Nina would've told the others that he wasn't mean or scary… though from the scowl that had been on her face the entire time, she clearly thought that he was a demon herself. The one consolation had been that the entire time, Daraen was allowed to stay at his side. Pleo quickly glanced about the nearby guards, before turning back over his shoulder towards Daraen with a hushed whisper.

"Daraen, are we in trouble right now?"

"I don't think you are?" Daraen replied. "It's just… well…"

The Deino trailed off a moment and bit his tongue, before hesitantly continuing on.

"You're kinda scary-looking," he said. "Or at least everyone who can see better than me says so, anyways."

Pleo looked to his side and watched his surroundings as they continued on. Almost immediately, he noticed how many of the Marked were watching him while hidden inside their homes. It was only after they'd gone on a ways when they would emerge again and trade worried murmurs in his wake. Others visibly cringed as he passed by, including a Charizard stooped at a doorway with her wings spread wide to shelter a trio of Charmander nervously hiding behind her legs and tail. Pleo didn't think much of them at first and turned away with a quiet sigh, when a sharp cry rang out and he saw Bunsen turn his head for the Charizard and her children with a splutter of protest.

"A-Ah! That's my mate!"

Bunsen reflexively started to head for his mate and children, only to be cut off by the Golbat at his side flying in front of him with a flash of her fangs and a piercing glare.

"Quiet down, you!" the Golbat snapped.

Bunsen grit his teeth and attempted to brush past the Poison-Type, prompting the Golbat fly up in his face with a sharp hiss. The Charizard fought against his restraints and muzzle briefly, before headbutting the Golbat and knocking her to the ground, which prompted the nearby guards to shove and pin him as he thrashed and cried out in protest.

Pleo and the others stared at the outburst, a quick glance back at the entrance revealing Bunsen's children shrinking back fearfully. The other Charizard had her teeth set on edge, as her tail fire visibly brightened and she began to stomp over towards the guards audibly growling.

Except, halfway over, she abruptly froze and pulled her head and wings in. Bunsen continued to try and pull himself free as Pleo turned his head to see Nina approaching Bunsen and his captors with a withering glare.

"What's going on here?" the Typhlosion demanded.

Bunsen stopped at the sound of Nina's voice and looked up, the color abruptly draining from his face. The Marked Charizard pulled his neck and wing in tight against his body as his earlier combativeness melted away, and was replaced with an audible, squeaking stammer.

"High Elder, I s-swear I didn't mean for any of this to happen!" Bunsen insisted. "A-At least let me defend my family from this beast!"

The Charizard from the doorway turned to the Typhlosion with a pleading expression. She seemed visibly on-edge and hesitated as she seemed to struggle with what to say over the grunts of the guards keeping Bunsen pinned to the ground, before lowering her head in a bow and speaking up.

"High Elder, my mate would never try to hurt our town deliberately," she insisted. "Please, can't we settle this somewhere away from our children?"

Nina said nothing, before looking back at the Charizard on the ground. Bunsen wavered a moment as the Typhlosion narrowed her eyes. A visible tremor came over Bunsen afterwards, the Charizard screwing his eyes shut before the High Elder looked over at the guards and waved a paw at them.

"Let him go," Nina ordered. "Though you should hope that nothing comes from this demon's presence, Charizard. For your own sake"

The guards blinked for a moment, before the Kecleon among them undid Bunsen's ropes and backed away from him. The Charizard hesitated for a moment, before hastily darting for his family. Bunsen's mate hurried over to meet him, nuzzling and hugging her mate with a faint "It's okay, dear. You're alright now" carrying along on the air.

Team Traveller stared at the two for a moment, before deciding to move on when they saw Nina beginning to leave. As they walked, Pleo turned his head over to Margi with an uneasy ruffle of his wings.

"… Are we going to get let go, too?" the Lugia asked. "Or…?"

At once, Nina and the surrounding guards narrowed their eyes into sharp scowls that made Pleo shrink back and struggle to fight back a startled squawk. Margi hesitated briefly, before leaning in and whispering into Pleo's ears.

"Soon," the Hydreigon insisted. "The other Elders are just up ahead."

Pleo looked back at the other guards who surrounded him and his teammates. They… didn't look like the expressions of Pokémon who had any intention of letting them go soon. Or in a lifetime for that matter. Margi craned her head down Pleo uneasily and gave him a pleading grimace.

"Just… please try to make a good impression, okay?"

There was a moment of lingering silence, before a few paces behind, Ander hung his head with a sighing buzz.

"… Easier said than done," the Scyther said.

The group carried along, when up ahead, they saw a two-story structure that had been hewn from the surrounding rock. Two doors stood side-by-side in a stone archway, with a Rillaboom and an Alcremie standing watch. Above, there was a stone balcony, while the tunnel they passed through widened out as they continued on, as if it was meant to be used to speak to others who'd gathered there.

The Rillaboom and the Alcremie tensed up at the sight of Pleo when Nina said something just out of earshot to the two and motioned at the central doors. There was a moment of hesitation before they opened the doors and the Typhlosion headed in, with Team Traveller and their guards following suit. The light briefly grew dim as they went down a hallway, when they saw the blue light of glowmoss through a pair of open doors up ahead. They kept walking and stepped out into a tall, simple chamber where a raised table sat at the other end with four Pokémon waiting behind it: Rotom, Espeon, Spidops, and a Chatot—all Marked. The Marked recoiled and tensed up as Team Traveller made their way into the center of the chamber, before they trained skeptical frowns down at them and Nina.

"So the stories are true," the Rotom murmured. "There really is a demon in our midst."

"This is a rare lapse in judgment on your part, High Elder," the Espeon harrumphed. "I never thought I'd see the day when you of all Pokémon would knowingly bring a danger like this into our home."

Crom reflexively batted his wings out and tugged at his bindings at the Espeon's charge. He stopped fidgeting against them after reminding himself that they needed these Pokémon's help, and with a grudging sigh, he spoke up with an annoyed frown.

"Look, we don't want to hurt anyone, okay?!" the Druddigon snapped. "And that's my island's Protector! Not some 'demon'!"

The Elders for their part swiftly answered the young Druddigon's protest with a quintet of glares. The Spidops and the Chatot traded glances with each other, the latter wondering aloud why they were wasting time prattling with a demon, when Ander hastily stepped to the fore of the group and spoke up, bowing his head as the Elders' attention fell on him.

"Esteemed Elders, forgive the outburst. Perhaps it'd be better for us to start off with a mutual introduction?" the Marked Scyther offered. "We genuinely mean no harm to anybody here."

The five Elders fell silent for a moment, before Nina stepped forward and sized the group up. After a moment's pause, the Typhlosion folded her arms and let out a quiet scoff in reply.

"I believe you already know who I am. The Spidops is Elder Ramon, the Espeon is Elder Siana, the Chatot is Elder Ernest, and the Rotom is Elder Roderic," Nina said. "Now, who are you and where are you from?"

Pleo and their companions gave their introductions just like they had done many times this past month. After being further prompted, they gave a brief account of the ordeals they'd been through, Pleo making a point to avoid bringing up the few moments that he was sure wouldn't sit well with the Elders, like how his powers had hurt Rasp and Bech on Orleigh. Much to everyone's relief, the Elders nodded along with their tale, and for a second, it looked as if they were willing to hear them out…

When, much to their disappointment, the Spidops raised a foreleg and pointed square at Pleo with a piercing scowl.

"You all are a long way from Tromba right now," the Spidops said. "Why on earth does that require you to come here? Let alone with that?"

Team Traveller grimaced as the Spidops' hostility seemed to ripple out among his fellow Elders. Just how on earth were they supposed to persuade them like this? A metallic rattle filled the air as Trizano ruffled his feathers, raising his head with a stern expression.

"Because we mean to seek a helping wing," the Skarmory explained. "To join forces to drive off the pirates who have taken over Starpeak Square!"

The Elders stared back at Trizano as deepening frowns spread over their faces. The Espeon visibly tightened her eyes into a sharp glare, while the Chatot let out a sharp, derisive scoff in reply.

"Starpeak Square, what nonsense!" the Chatot squawked.

"Why don't you just go ahead and ask a feral Durant to come to the aid of a Heatmor den while you're at it?" the Rotom scoffed.

Trizano and his companions grimaced at the Elders' replies. Both Ander and Robbie had mentioned that Starbreak Square had a history of not getting along with Starpeak Square… to say the very least if either side's stories held even a kernel of truth. The Skarmory had hoped that the threat of roving marauders would've made the Elders open to set things aside for at least a little while, but with that dirty look that Nina was giving them…

"I do hope you intended to sway us with more than mere sentiment," the Typhlosion chided. "Many of the Pokémon that live in this village see Starpeak Square's troubles as its just reward, and I can't say that I disagree with them."

Ander seemed to falter for a moment, letting his gaze settle on Pleo briefly before he turned back to Nina and raised his voice to speak up.

"High Elder, I… understand if you've been wronged in the past by Pokémon from that town. I and the Marked from my own island aren't any stranger to such experiences ourselves," Ander began. "B-But we can't just turn a blind eye here! Those pirates intend to use Pleo as a weapon!"

"And if so, it's better they do so away from our refuge," Nina retorted. "If this is all you had to say to us, we will send you back outside now and let you take your chances."

Crom and his companions grimaced at the Typhlosion's retort. Travellers above, things were getting out of hand quickly. They'd come here to get their help to fight pirates, and now they were on the verge of getting kicked out not even five minutes after they'd started talking.

It wasn't fair! Didn't these Pokémon understand what those pirates would do with Pleo if they got their claws on him? They couldn't seriously be okay with letting that happen, could they?

"L-Listen to yourselves right now!" Crom cried. "If you're really so afraid of Pleo, then that's the last thing any of you should want!"

Crom's outburst did little to improve the Elders' mood, with Siana reacting particularly icily as she arched her back and let her eyes take on a visible glow.

"Still your tongue, whelp," the Espeon snarled.

"Yeah, what would a devil-worshipper like you know about our hardships?!" the Chatot exclaimed.

"… Maybe more than you think."

The Marked in the room, both Elder and guard alike fell dead silent, as their gazes turned to Pleo. Even Margi was not immune, as the Hydreigon turned about in place, craning down to the young Lugia in blinking surprise.

"Pleo? What do you mean by that?" the Hydreigon asked. "I know that I told you about our stories back on Boisocéan, but that's hardly something that you-"

"It's more than that," Pleo insisted. "We found out about all the bad things the Empire was doing right before the Great Calamity. When they and the Company were still on the same side as each other. We even have a book all about it with us right now!"

Nina and her peers fell silent after Pleo's explanation and traded hushed murmurs with one another, Crom just making out the Chatot wondering aloud to himself "do they actually have such a book?". The Typhlosion hesitated a moment, before turning over to Margi and the other guards in the room and motioned at Pleo and his companions.

"You seized their belongings earlier, did you not, Hydreigon?" she asked. "Search them for this book of theirs."

Margi hastily grunted back in affirmation before she and the other guards set out the belongings they'd taken from Team Traveller and unceremoniously dumped them out. When the guards got to Crom's bag, sure enough, flopping out with the rest of its contents, was the red cover of the Company's part of the Knights' Ledger.

A moment of stunned silence followed, as Margi moved over and nosed at the book, before turning to the young Lugia incredulously.

"Pleo, is… is this it?" she asked.

"Yes. Though there's more to it beyond that one book," Pleo said. "We were trying to use it to force the Company and the Empire to leave us alone, but…"

Pleo trailed off briefly, before lowering his head with a low sigh.

"Considering what happened to the other Ledger, maybe we're better off not keeping all of them to ourselves."

Nina made her way over, stooping down to pick up the red tome as she flipped through it briefly. The other Elders gathered about, gaping at the book and trading surprised glances with one another, before turning their attention back to Pleo as he looked up at them with a pleading gaze.

"Look, isn't it possible to try working together?" the Lugia asked. "And if you really feel that it's impossible to help Starpeak Square's Pokémon, can't you at least tell us more about what exactly happened between you two?"

Nina said nothing for a moment, before drifting off and motioning for her peers to come towards her. The five huddled in together for a brief moment, before trailing off and looking back at Pleo with a long, wavering silence. Roderic bobbed in place with a guarded frown, before he warily turned over to Nina.

"… I don't think we know enough to make a decision yet, High Elder. Especially before I have a chance to transcribe that book as the town historian," the Rotom said. "But if you wish to share our history with them, we'll support it."

Nina visibly paused, before shaking her head and turning away. Pleo sucked in a breath and was about to speak up, only for Nina to motion at Roderic. The Rotom zipped forward, taking his side alongside Nina before the Typhlosion looked back at the guards about Team Traveller and beckoned them forward.

Pleo watched as the guards led his friends forward, the ones near him visibly squirming before they quietly pleaded with Margi to handle him in their stead. The young Lugia shot a confused look at Nina as she turned off towards a hallway with an impatient harrumph.

"This way. We have much to discuss."

Author's Notes:

- Nosferalto - French: "Golbat"
- escíncid - Catalan: "skink"


Winter can't come soon enough
Another unexpected development. I genuinely thought they'd go in and get the help they needed this chapter and the next two or three chapters would deal with liberating the place from the pirates. Guess that won't be the case. I suppose, for the sake of completionism, there really is no time like the present to delved into all the Marked stuff. It's not like you'll have the time after this arc ends. It's basically now or never after having occasional characters pop up on various islands throughout the fic. Though it sounds like it will have more to do with the relation to the island's inhabitants than just their culture and how the place came to exist in the first place. Hopefully the latter stuff is a good chunk of the ensuing lore dump. Since, while I'm sure Marked characters will still show up (Ander at a minimum), this is really feeling like the swan song for the Marked as a cultural group. They're in the home city, after all. Can't go much further beyond that. I am glad most of the focus is on this stuff. I'm engrossed enough that I'd rather not "check in" on the groups left in the Square. Let's get our history lesson. B)

I see Zelle is doing her best impression of a Law & Order ADA. "Cooperate with our prosecution or we'll go after you instead" is a textbook ADA maneuver from any police or law procedural TV show. And, yes, they pull legally dubious stunts like this on TV all the time, too.

And, of course, with how often the term is thrown around, I must give this chapter a "More demons than a Devil May Cry game/10."

"But we're not blind at all!" a voice squawked in protest. "We can see you just fine!"
The return of Literal Genie Pleo!
"You really should've kept quiet there, Pleo."
Pleo's persuasion stat isn't very high.
with the Dugtrio nervously trying to reassure himself that "they're not so tough now".
I like to imagine it's one of the dugtrio heads saying that to the other two.
They were supposed to be asking these Pokémon for help! Not getting beaten up by them like this!
Uhh... it's kind of been the pattern for how many chapters now?
"That's why you came straight to us, right?"
"B-But you just mentioned we could've been given a shortcut and didn't take it!"
Oh, hey, look! It's this... character. That I don't remember. Because it has been literal years since I've seen her. XD
"This is the place we fled to after we parted ways on Boisocéan."
"Margi that was almost a million words ago."
"I-I just found out about it barely a week ago!" Bunsen protested
A likely story.
Margi narrowed her eyes back at Bunsen, and muttered something under her breath about a "likely story"
"Oh no! Anyway…"

We're willing to take the gamble."
Trizano banking on that high charisma roll.
He didn't know how he felt about being a prisoner again
It's okay, Pleo. You get taken prisoner one more time and you get enough stamps on your card for a free smoothie! :D
Even if it bothered him, it was probably best to just keep quiet for now.
Pleo gained +2 wisdom! (Not that it matters...)
No, it's like Beetlejuice. You have to say it three times to make the thing happen.
"It's… a long story."
"Like over a million words."
"Loose lips sink ships."
"Both literal and romantic!"
"I'll take a cup of water," Zelle said. "I'm still on the job right now."
Zelle's been watching her police procedurals.
"During my investigation, I couldn't help but notice that you had some disciplinary actions recently added to your record."
Zelle was definitely a hall monitor as a student.
All we'd need is your testimony in front of the Board,
Ah, yes, classic TV prosecution. Coerce witness testimony for your case.
"But there's also a few extra details that you should mention in your testimony."
... And subtly suggest they perjure themselves.
"Or, you know. You could just do as you're told and there'd be nothing to worry about."
... While threatening them with legal action if they don't comply.
"Just… please try to make a good impression, okay?"
Narrator: He will not make a good impression.
Elder Ramon
Ah, yes, Spidops Ramen. The most delicious ramen.
After being further prompted, they gave a brief account of the ordeals they'd been through,
How does one make a million words of adventures brief?
"Many of the Pokémon that live in this village see Starpeak Square's troubles as its just reward, and I can't say that I disagree with them."
See, this would be a good spot to bring up the fact that if they don't take a stand, the pirates could decide to raid the mystery dungeon and ransack their village for everything they own. But that would end the chapter too quickly. :V

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Hey, everybody. It’s been a while, but @Virgil134 and I are back with a fresh update, and a review response to boot.

Another unexpected development. I genuinely thought they'd go in and get the help they needed this chapter and the next two or three chapters would deal with liberating the place from the pirates. Guess that won't be the case. I suppose, for the sake of completionism, there really is no time like the present to delved into all the Marked stuff. It's not like you'll have the time after this arc ends. It's basically now or never after having occasional characters pop up on various islands throughout the fic. Though it sounds like it will have more to do with the relation to the island's inhabitants than just their culture and how the place came to exist in the first place. Hopefully the latter stuff is a good chunk of the ensuing lore dump. Since, while I'm sure Marked characters will still show up (Ander at a minimum), this is really feeling like the swan song for the Marked as a cultural group. They're in the home city, after all. Can't go much further beyond that. I am glad most of the focus is on this stuff. I'm engrossed enough that I'd rather not "check in" on the groups left in the Square. Let's get our history lesson. B)

Well, you’re not too far off there. Though there will be plenty for you to chew on on that front today, so it’ll be interesting to see what you make of it.

I see Zelle is doing her best impression of a Law & Order ADA. "Cooperate with our prosecution or we'll go after you instead" is a textbook ADA maneuver from any police or law procedural TV show. And, yes, they pull legally dubious stunts like this on TV all the time, too.

>legally dubious stunts

I mean, the legal system in Company waters basically runs off of:


So I think that she’s good there. Or at least by local standards. :V

And, of course, with how often the term is thrown around, I must give this chapter a "More demons than a Devil May Cry game/10."

Pleo: “B-But I’m not a demon…”

The return of Literal Genie Pleo!

One of the better Pleos in this story, really. o<o

Pleo's persuasion stat isn't very high.

What if he just rolled poorly on his persuasion check?

I like to imagine it's one of the dugtrio heads saying that to the other two.

I actually hadn’t considered that, but it’s a pretty funny mental image to have, yes.

Uhh... it's kind of been the pattern for how many chapters now?

Pleo: “Too many.”

"B-But you just mentioned we could've been given a shortcut and didn't take it!"

Marked Guard: “Straight enough!”

"Margi that was almost a million words ago."

Margi: “Has it really been that long?”

A likely story.

Bunsen: “Look, I’m trying not to die here!

No, the Quantum Entanglement Device from CoD Zombies isn’t in this story, unfortunately. >:V

Yeah, we’re not above slipping in a bit of meme humor here and there in this story. It’s a very old tradition.

Trizano banking on that high charisma roll.

I mean, he is a character with a high charisma stat canonically, so… :p

It's okay, Pleo. You get taken prisoner one more time and you get enough stamps on your card for a free smoothie! :D

Pleo: “Wait, really?”
Margi: “Obviously not. Just come along quietly.” -_-; -_-; -_-;

Pleo gained +2 wisdom! (Not that it matters...)

Don’t be so sure about that…

No, it's like Beetlejuice. You have to say it three times to make the thing happen.

Ander: “That sounds like an absolutely terrible idea, since I’d really really like for Pleo to not go full ‘demon of destruction’ mode right about now.”

"Like over a million words."


"Both literal and romantic!"

So… that means we’re going to see a romantic relationship get sunk in PoV sometime in such a fashion? :V

Zelle's been watching her police procedurals.

Zelle: “What can I say? They make for great entertainment.”

Zelle was definitely a hall monitor as a student.

I… could buy that, actually.

Ah, yes, classic TV prosecution. Coerce witness testimony for your case.

... And subtly suggest they perjure themselves.

... While threatening them with legal action if they don't comply.

Zelle: “Again, let’s review how the legal system works in these waters:

All good? Yeah, we’re all good.”

Narrator: He will not make a good impression.

Crom: “Look, can we at least have a little optimism on our behalf?” >.<

Ah, yes, Spidops Ramen. The most delicious ramen.


How does one make a million words of adventures brief?

With lots and lots of summarizing and ignoring all the parts written from villainous perspectives. ^^

See, this would be a good spot to bring up the fact that if they don't take a stand, the pirates could decide to raid the mystery dungeon and ransack their village for everything they own. But that would end the chapter too quickly. :V

Well, that and there’d be a serious chance of them going:


Which wouldn’t exactly get Pleo and the gang any closer to busting the rest of the gang out.

Though, thanks for your patience, everybody. Along with a new chapter, we’ve got some new art of Pladur to show off.

We’ll be aiming to grind out one more update for 2023, give or take a couple weeks given past precedent. Kudos once again to those reading and reviewing, especially here on Serebii.

Though let’s pick up right where we left off, with a dash of storytime this chapter:


PMD Writer

Tak tak tak!

Lyn pulled the flat of his blade back from tapping a set of metal plates in front of him and ran his paw over them, before looking up at a set of four masts with lavender sails towering overhead. It was definitely Darzin's ironclad, even if he'd hardly imagined that he'd already be captaining it.

The Samurott watched as the ship's deck and gangplanks hummed with activity, and then off at the surrounding piers which were filled with Pokémon going about. It was hard to believe that the military harbor had already been cleared up after that whole episode with the Siglo Swellow just a couple days ago. Even if a few docks were still unusable from damaged ships, it was already bustling and back to something approaching normalcy again.

Lyn climbed up one of the ship's gangplank, as Pokémon, many of whom he didn't recognize, went about tending to rigging or crates of supplies in a hurry. As they should, since the Director expected them to hit the high seas as soon as the ship was fully crewed and stocked. Everyone seemed to be doing something towards that end… well, except Ketu, who was leaning on his arm against the railing a few paces away from the frontmost gangplank, and idly watching Lyn as he passed by.

"Had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren't dreaming, huh?" the Weavile teased.

"Hrmph, the ship's not mine yet," Lyn reminded. "I just wanted to make sure that we knew the ins and outs of this 'Wyrmwind' before we took it out to sea."

Ketu tilted his head, before pinning his ears back with a quirk of his brow.

"'Wyrmwind'? You're seriously going with that?" he questioned. "You don't exactly scream 'dragony' to me as a captain."

"It's what the name on the hull says, doesn't it?" Lyn replied. "We have bigger issues to worry about right now than whether or not the ship's name suits me."

The Samurott's eyes took on a steely gaze, as he walked up and peered down with a stern frown at his Weavile first mate.

"Though that actually reminds me, Ketu," Lyn said. "There was something I needed to have a word with you about."

"Yeah?" the Weavile asked. "What's up?"

The otter's expression remained every bit as serious in reply. While Lyn had never been one for jokes, Ketu took it that there was something that'd been bothering him.

"You never did give me an explanation for why you weren't with the crew when we pushed off to intercept Lugia in the lagoon a few days ago," Lyn said. "Where were you?"

Ketu's face fell into a frown, before rolling his eyes with a quiet sigh.

"I thought that we already went over this, Captain," he answered. "I was with Sorge and the others and lost track of time when we ran into Lugia and Zygarde in the city. Things got out of control, Lugia escaped, and I wound up missing the boat because of it."

"Then why was Ellsberg there as well?" Lyn pressed, cocking a brow in reply. "You two haven't exactly been particularly close to each other, and I can't imagine he knows Team Sentinel himself."

The Samurott narrowed his eyes briefly, before continuing on in a low, wary tone.

"Is there something going on that I should know about, Ketu?"

Ketu blinked back wordlessly for a moment, before closing his eyes and answering with a dismissive shrug.

"Yeah, I'm actually the spy you're looking for," the Weavile replied. "We all decided to get together and plan out the best way to stab you in the back."

A tense silence lingered in the air afterwards as a smug grin came over Ketu's face. Lyn's frown deepened, before Ketu burst out into laughter. Lyn let out an annoyed groan, and grit his teeth with a sharp growl.

"Ketu, can you take things seriously for once?!"

The Weavile wiped away a tear as he finished laughing. After a moment to breathe in, Ketu composed himself, and his features quickly took on a more serious demeanor.

"Alright, alright… to answer your question for real: Ellsberg was there because he wanted to get to know Team Sentinel better," the Dark-Type explained. "They got along well on the trip back from Buyeom, especially him and Aldrich. We figured it'd be nice to try and spend some time together when we weren't worried about missions or getting our hull shot out from under us."

Ketu eyed Lyn carefully. He didn't think Lyn had gotten wise to his actual assignment on his crew, but with the way the Samurott kept asking questions about what he'd up to lately… maybe it was best to give him a bit more misdirection than just a "joke".

"Though you're definitely more high strung than normal," Ketu remarked. "What's gotten you so on edge?"

Lyn fell silent and lowered his head as his eyes drifted towards the deck's timbers. There was a brief pause, before the Samurott let out a low sigh.

"I… suppose that it's just work stress getting to me," he murmured. "It's my last chance to complete my mission for the Board, and just knowing that the spy on Buyeom is still lurking out there…"

Lyn trailed off briefly, before shaking his head and giving a low grunt to clear his thoughts.

"I'll just rest easier once we get the Guardian of the Seas back from those pirates," the Samurott said. "It'll be nice to finally put this saga behind us and start thinking about the future again."

Ketu raised a brow. 'Thinking about the future'? That was certainly new coming from Lyn. Knowing him, it'd probably just be lording over his new seat as an Administrator or something about buying back that place in Canalhouse City his family once owned, but…

What could he already be thinking ahead towards when he didn't even know yet what his first assignment as an Administrator was going to entail?

Ketu paused after feeling a heavy paw nudge at his shoulder, looking up to see Lyn looking at him from the corner of his eyes with a stern frown.

"Just make sure you're there this time when we go to collect Lugia," Lyn insisted. "There's not a lot of margin for error for our mission, so I can't afford to have you go missing again."

Ketu pinned back his ears and stifled a groan of his own. Right, he was still here because he hadn't managed to take Lyn out of the picture yet. At least it would surely be straightforward to snatch Lugia out from under him once Sorge and the others managed to talk their way aboard Lyn's expedition. They just needed to get Lyn's guard down first by finding his "spy" for him.

After they were done, he'd finally no longer have to play a fool in front of Lyn to preserve his cover, and it couldn't come a moment too soon. Just a couple more days, the Weavile reassured himself. And his role in this farce would finally be over.

"Yeah, I get it," Ketu grumbled. "I'll be there, don't worry."

The Weavile drifted off further down the deck while Lyn turned around and began to make his way towards the stern. Along the way, he spotted a pair of deckhands stumbling briefly with a crate and dropping it on the deck, the lid jostling off to reveal it was packed with Apricorns. The deckhands briefly bickered with one another over who was at fault, only to abruptly silence themselves and stiffen up at Lyn's approach.

"I see all the shot I asked for came on time," Lyn said. "Try and at least pretend that you're handling it carefully."

Lyn watched as the deckhands hastily saluted before gathering up the crate and drifting off into the crowd. The Samurott continued along with a satisfied huff as a knowing smirk came over his muzzle.

"After all, we'll need it."

The journey from the Elders' meeting chamber took Team Traveller down a hallway to a flight of stairs watched over by a pair of guards clad in segments of cloth and mail. Pleo blinked at the sight of the armored guards as Margi and the rest of their entourage shuffled them along down the steps that seemed to just keep going and going. Occasionally, there'd be heavy doors blocking the way with another pair of similarly armored guards standing watch. Every time, the guards would tense up at the sight of the young Protector, only for Nina to talk them down and have them open the door, before they'd continue on deeper into the earth.


Except this time, there were no further stairs, but a long hallway lined with torches. There were painted images on the walls, while off in the distance was some sort of dead-end. Pleo and his teammates stared blankly as Nina and Roderic made their way in, the Lugia blinking and gaping about as Margi and the other guards started to lead them down the strange hall.

"Where are we?" Pleo wondered.

"I'm… actually not sure," Margi replied. "I admittedly didn't know that this place even existed."

"Our town's Hall of Remembrance," Roderic answered. "It is a place where we remember the past and ensure this town's survival for the future."

Pleo and his companions traded confused glances with one another. Crom brought a claw up to his mouth uneasily, and he turned his attention back to Nina and Roderic.

"What… does that mean, exactly?" Crom asked. "How would any of this help you survive?"

"See for yourself."

Nina motioned down the hall at the strange door, prompting Pleo and his companions to squint and try and make it out. After studying it a bit, they realized that the door they were looking at looked almost like the one in the Vault, just with more rust coating its surface.

"It's… a door?" Pleo asked.

"It's a seal. Over the place where the egg of this island's demon rests," Roderic explained. "A lesser demon, called 'Jirachi' who maliciously tempts others with the promise of granting wishes."

The four froze and had their jaws fall agape at the Rotom's explanation. Even Margi and Ander seemed visibly taken aback as their eyes widened and they reflexively shrank away from the sealed door. Trizano stared at the door blankly for a moment, before he tried and failed to beat his wings out, spluttering in indignant protest as he fought against his ropes.

"B-But you can't do that!" Trizano squawked. "Whatever you think of Jirachi, no good could come from harming a Protector like this!"

"… We know that," Nina said. "That's why it remains sealed away."

The Typhlosion turned, and leveled a paw down at Pleo with a piercing scowl

"It's also why we brought you here," she continued. "So that way you could understand why there is no hope for us to make cause with you."

Pleo sucked in a sharp breath and began to backpedal nervously. Had Nina and Roderic had brought them down to push him behind that 'seal' as well? A brief shadow fell over him as he saw Ander in front of him, holding out a scythe between him and Nina as he seemed to be visibly weighing his words.

"High Elder, with all due respect, but these are unprecedented circumstances," the Scyther began. "I… know that it's a risk to accept the help of a being like Lugia, but he very genuinely doesn't seem to mean anyone harm. Just what exactly is this argument you have against him?"

Nina gave no reply to Ander and stepped forward, brushing his scythe aside with an unimpressed scowl.

"Hrmph, have you not read the Scripture of Truth, Scyther?" the Typhlosion scoffed. "Though if you are really so unversed in the dangers of such creatures in spite of being one who sees the truth, just take a look around you."

Nina raised a paw and motioned off at the walls of the chamber. Crom followed after her paw as it quickly became apparent that the colors and shapes along the walls were various pictures with lines of what looked like Unown just beneath them. They appeared to depict Pokémon of all shapes and sizes on them, many of them in the backdrop of chaotic-looking scenes.

The Druddigon tensed up at the sight of the pictures, before warily turning back at Nina and Roderic.

"What is all of this?" he murmured.

"The story of how Starbreak Square came to be," Roderic said.

The Rotom floated up towards the leftmost mural and settled on it as Nina pushed fire out of her body's vents for illumination. As Crom and his companions approached the painting, they noticed that it was a scene of a simple-looking village by a river. All sorts of Pokémon were present in it, intermixed alongside hazy figures with bodies that looked vaguely like a Machoke's. Why, it didn't feel that different from everyday life back in Bluewhorl Town. Everywhere he looked in the scene, there were Pokémon and those strange creatures just working together much as he and the townsfolk would back home.

"Long ago, our world had vast continents and seas which spanned the whole planet. A world where untold multitudes of Pokémon lived, one which they shared with creatures that didn't wield powers like we do," Roderic began. "Crafty creatures who thought in ways that you and I would find alien, and who were able to work miracles because of it. It was a world where even Pokémon who were weak and ones that didn't belong could make cause with those creatures and lift each other up."

Crom and his teammates carried along past the mural of the village, when the Druddigon stiffened up after seeing the next picture. It was a mural of a burning landscape showing a white, hooved quadruped with some sort of golden ring around its waist emerging from a rift pouring out pink mist in the background. Large creatures of various shapes could be seen in the foreground in front of it, laying waste to the surroundings. At the center of attention, there was a ruined village with those humanoid figures and Pokémon looking up in a panic as a black and red bird with sinister, dull blue eyes descended upon them.

Crom blinked at the sight of the creatures. He recognized the white figure as Arceus, but most of the others were unrecognizable. Or at least they were until the Druddigon noticed that there in the background, amongst lighting and stormclouds, one of the figures was a white, long-necked bird with blue spikes.

It dawned on him afterwards what the different figures were: they were the Old World's Protectors. Or at least, the way the Marked remembered them.

"But our ancestors' world had a fatal weakness. It had a weakened boundary with the Abyss, a place where thoughts and dreams become flesh and blood," Roderic continued. "And so it was that during a time of great turmoil, the Abyss spawned the great Archdemon, who came from that fell place and fashioned servants with which he subjugated our world."

Pleo shifted uncomfortably at the picture before Margi prodded him to continue on. He shuffled along and soon enough, he and his companions came to the next mural. It was a scene depicting a red and gold bird with green wingtips, standing in the midst of a shattered village. A throng of humans and Pokémon were gathered around the strange bird bowing and prostrating themselves. At the fore was a small group of humans and Pokémon, bearing offerings of food while visibly frightened, all while the creature sneered down at them with an almost predatory gaze.

… The Old Gods couldn't possibly have been like that, could they? He wasn't really some 'demon', was he? He certainly didn't feel like one…

And yet, after thinking back to their own experiences on Boisocean, it was clear that something had happened long ago to make the Marked think that.

"Yes… Margi told me a story like that," Pleo replied. "She said that humans discovered magic and that they discovered that Arceus and other Pokémon like me were demons. Then afterwards, they got into a fight where the Old Protectors destroyed the world while the humans tried to fight them off…"

The others turned and stared at the Hydreigon as she uneasily cleared her throat, before speaking up in an audibly flustered tone.

"I- I suppose that I did tell him that, yes," she said. "Though aren't we just seeing things that are already recorded in the Scripture of Truth? I was under the impression that this was the story of Starbreak Square in particular."

"Our history comes from that same history recorded in those scriptures, Hydreigon," Nina answered. "We'll get to the details that are more particular to us in time."

Margi fell quiet with an expression that looked much as if she'd just been scolded. For a brief moment, Pleo couldn't help but worry about whether or not he'd gotten her into trouble, only for them to start moving along again. He and his teammates continued down the hall until they reached another mural a little further down. In the center of it, high above everything, was a brilliant red star with a ray of light coming out of it amidst a burning landscape. When he and his companions followed the beam's path with their eyes, they noticed that it ended by running through a green and black serpent that looked much like Kline did back on Vollezee. One who appeared to be recoiling in stunned pain. There were other figures they didn't recognize that laid strewn about the ground, all in poses that suggested they'd been suddenly struck down.

Pleo stared at the picture uncomfortably for a moment, before turning back to Nina. He supposed that if Nina and the other villagers genuinely thought that he and the other Protectors were demons that this awful scene would be a good thing to them, but…

"I… don't know if I believe that the old Protectors were really awful like you say they were," the Lugia said. "But I know that you do and that Ander does. Though even if they were, I just don't understand why it means that we can't work with each other…"

"It's because of what came after," Nina remarked. "After what remained of life in the Old World retreated to the Cradle."

Nina raised a paw as another mural came into view: there was Arceus again, but this time reared up as pillars of light rained down from the heavens. All around, the surroundings seemed to be in disorder: mountains crumbled, the skies were choked with ash and storms, and the fog of Mystery Dungeons spilled out here and there. In the foreground, there were Pokémon fleeing a village, a few looking back as their surrounding world collapsed.

Pleo felt a chill run down his back at the mural, and was quietly thankful that Nina didn't stop to explain the picture before she and Roderic moved on.

The next mural depicted a group of weary-looking Pokémon at a beach with gray and dusty land behind them and towering storms in the background that stretched on across the horizon in a seeming wall. In the foreground, the Pokémon were shown gathering on the backs of swimmers and onto simple rafts pulled with tow cables. Pleo thought to ask what was going on in this scene, only for Nina to keep walking on to the next one, which depicted the same Pokémon from before warily looking out at their surroundings at sea under blue skies. Right next to it, there was another mural in which the rafts and swimmers had arrived at a beach with their passengers stepping off in awe. Other Pokémon were present in the background, who seemed to be at work putting together half-finished huts and piers.

Nina and Roderic paused briefly, before the Rotom of the pair motioned at the mural and began to speak up to explain it.

"After the Archdemon put an end to the presence of humans in our world, small bands of Pokémon braved their way through untold trials and hardship from the chaos the demons foisted on us in their dying rage," Roderic said. "It should've been a time when their true nature was laid bare for all to see."

Nina looked away, and let her eyes fall to the ground as her voice came out in a bitter, faltering murmur.

"And yet… so many didn't."

The next mural was a picture of an island with a towering mountain on it partly wreathed in snow. On it, Arceus stood on a bluff watching as ships gathered on the shore below where groups of Pokémon gathered around eggs, some of which were fairly large. A few of the eggs were being shown in the process of being brought aboard different ships, and one, with an egg on its deck, was even sailing off into the water. Like with the strange bird in the mural with the ruined village, the Pokémon seemed to cringe and shrink away when they were under Arceus' gaze. But elsewhere in the same mural, some of the Pokémon were paying reverence to the eggs with them.

Crom blinked at the scene. He vaguely remembered stories that some of the first ships that had been built in the Cradle were used to bring Protectors' eggs to the islands where they incubated, except… he didn't recognize this island in the mural at all.

"… Wait, what is this place?" Crom asked.

"Shennow Island. The island that is located in the center of the Cradle," Roderic answered. "It was said to have been formed from a throne of the Archdemon in the Old World, and it was the place where he created the eggs of all the demons that slumber in this world."

"And of the ones who have already awakened and currently walk in our midst," Nina growled, training a piercing scowl over at the young Lugia in the group.

Trizano blinked back at the Typhlosion and narrowed his eyes with a bewildered tilt of his head.

"Wait, but Shennow isn't even in Anyilla," the Skarmory protested. "What does this have to do with your situation here?"

"Because this place was founded in the wake of the Sigillating Wars," Ander explained, shifting his wings in place uneasily. "It affected all of the Cradle. Not just Anyilla."

"That's correct," Roderic remarked. "It was because at the time, the truth managed to endure and become known by a large body of Pokémon across this little sliver of the Old World which we live in."

Crom looked on as the murals seemed to change as they continued walking along. There was a mural depicting a banner being raised over the now-finished town with a design that looked similar to the ones on the scarves of Starbreak Square's guards. In the next one down, a Charizard stood up before a crowd of onlooking Pokémon in the town's square and seemed to be giving some sort of impassioned speech. The mural after that had Pokémon from the town boarding ships, some wearing armor bearing the same design from the banner, which also flew from their sails.

Crom blinked at the sight and turned towards Nina and Roderic as they stopped. They were at the 'seal' now, and the pair had serious expressions. He thought to ask what was going on, when Roderic raised a tendril and pointed off at the opposite side of the hallway.

"Despite the Archdemon's attempts at manipulating our civilization in infancy to mold meek and obedient servants, he was unable to fully smother the truth. In spite of it all, those among our forebears who remembered the truth of what happened during the end of the Old World recorded it and passed it along to their descendents," the historian explained. "It is their efforts that allowed us to understand just how much those demons who exalted themselves as 'gods' had wounded our world."

Team Traveller started to retrace their steps and noticed that the first murals on the return path from the door all carried a disquieting, oppressive air to them: masses of Pokémon locked in fierce battle, Pokémon being wounded and others laying strewn about limply on the ground on beaches. Others had scenes of burning fields, ruined towns, or ships in battle with each other at sea with Pokémon falling overboard and others struggling to cling to floating wreckage. The scenes grew troubling enough that Pleo wound up turning his head away from them entirely with a cold shiver. He peered up afterwards, and saw Roderic looking down at him with a small frown.

"Our ancestors were fiercely opposed by the Archdemon's acolytes, both Civilized and Feral," the Rotom explained. "And yet we prevailed, enduring and discovering that in his arrogance, the Archdemon sought to recreate the order he had in the Old World. An order in which he had inner circles of particularly high servants."

"One which if cut down, would leave him vulnerable and unable to exert his influence," Nina finished. "It was our last, best chance to finally be free of the Archdemon's influence. To destroy him and try and pick up the pieces of our world."

Nina trailed off, the Typhlosion's gaze drifting towards the ground as a tired, deflated mood seemed to settle over her.

"Was, anyways."

Crom wasn't sure what to make of Nina's reaction, when he noticed that they'd reached another mural set on a towering mountain. On it, two armies were locked in a fierce battle, one with that same sigil he saw in the earlier murals depicting that seaside village, while the other was made up of Pokémon with different colors or symbols that fought beneath Arceus' gaze. There were five others beside Arceus, all armored figures that had a sinister air about them, with one of whom Crom recognized to be a Staraptor.

… Was that supposed to be King Aquila?

"Shennow Island has a particularly treacherous Mystery Dungeon on it," Roderic said. "One where the Archdemon had formed and kept the eggs of a trio of particularly powerful demons."

The Rotom floated and turned his head over at the mural, before looking away with a buzzing sigh.

"Our ancestors marshaled a great force on that island to destroy them, and were opposed by the five Champions of Corruption that the Archdemon conjured from the sky. Including the one you call 'King Aquila'."

Crom didn't know what to say back to Roderic after that, only to stop after reaching the next mural. It was a painting of a ruined temple with white pillars surrounded by fog in all directions. The Charizard from the earlier murals was there again, breathing out fire onto a trio of eggs set out onto an altar, with King Aquila looking on in shock from the ground and raising a wing.

What… on earth were they looking at? The Druddigon turned over to Nina and Roderic and noticed the two were deathly quiet, and looked away with bitter frowns.

"In spite of it all, our heroes made it to the cusp of victory," Roderic said. "And against all odds, they found and destroyed the demon eggs they set out for."

Pleo, Crom, and Trizano's eyes all shrank to pins at the Rotom's words and they collectively turned to Ander with alarmed grimaces. The eggs had been destroyed? How was that not a disaster in and of itself?!

Strangely, Margi and Ander both seemed entirely unmoved. And something wasn't adding up. For the Marked, wouldn't slaying their 'demons' be something they were proud of? Shouldn't Nina and Roderic be gloating or rubbing things in right now? Crom looked over at Nina, who motioned ahead off at an upcoming mural and shook her head with a low murmur.

"Except… our ancestors didn't realize that for all of their strength and valor, they were badly outmatched."

Crom continued on to the mural Nina was pointing at, but froze up with a startled yelp when he saw it. The painting depicted a calamitous scene of Arceus in the sky as pillars of light rained down from the heavens. In the foreground, the Pokémon flying the strange banners from the earlier murals were in a state of disorder. Their ships lay burning and sinking, some of them were being engulfed in light pillars, others were being set upon by their enemies, still others lay strewn about the ground. Those that remained on their feet were fleeing, with terror on their faces and in their gaits. In a few places of the mural, there were Pokémon who were trapped and vainly attempted to shield themselves and others as they braced for their ends.

Just looking at the painting made Crom's blood run cold and his stomach knot up in stress. He wouldn't have expected a fight with the gods to have ended well, but something about seeing its aftermath depicted like this was downright chilling.

Crom turned over to Roderic and Nina, and saw that the pair looked visibly defeated. The Rotom of the pair sighed, before motioning off at the mural with a low buzz.

"The Archdemon himself intervened and made war against our ancestors, felling most of our strongest warriors on that rock and scattering those who survived his onslaught," Roderic said. "Even so, he grew afraid, realizing that those who knew the truth in the Cradle were still great in number and strong enough to be dangerous to him."

When Pleo and the others reached the next mural, they found a peculiar scene. One that showed a village full of Marked who all seem bewildered. Some pointed off at each other, some stared into mirrors, while others pawed at their heads. In the foreground, an Oshawott could be seen stooping down beside a pool of water, looking down bewilderedly at her reflection as she examined what looked like a five-tailed comet on her forehead.

It was then that Pleo realized that up until now, none of the Pokémon in the earlier murals had had Marks, but they did now. He turned back to Roderic to ask what the meaning of the change was, only for the Rotom to seemingly anticipate his curiosity and let out a low sigh.

"And so, after the Sigillating Wars, the Archdemon changed the fabric of reality so that it would brand those who knew the truth. The truth that your kind are demons who have come to subjugate us," Roderic muttered. "Once a Pokémon in this world comes to know and understand that truth, the Mark manifests on him or her so that way no they cannot hide from those who remain trapped in ignorance."

Pleo stiffened up. Then… the Mark wasn't something that Pokémon were born with? He supposed it would explain the Chikorita that he saw earlier, but… why hadn't they ever run into any other Pokémon who'd become Marked without being born to Marked parents?

… Maybe they had. His mind turned back to Sibich and how his pirates would steal eggs from Pokémon, and how his crew had a curiously large number of Marked on it. Nida had told him that the Cofagrigus basically treated his Marked underlings as disposable tools…

Had… he had a role in making them in the first place?

Even so, if that was really what had happened, then something wasn't adding up…

"Wait, but then shouldn't it be possible for grown Pokémon to also become Marked, too?" the Lugia asked. "If that's really the case, how come these Marks only form when Pokémon are young children?"

"They don't just form when Pokémon are young children."

Pleo turned back and saw Margi pawing uneasily at her shoulder.

"I mean, I've never seen it for myself, but there's definitely records of the Mark forming on grown Pokémon," she insisted. "There just haven't been many events that have happened since the Sigillating Wars that can awaken grown Pokémon to the truth."

"Oh, it's happened a lot more recently than that," Nina replied. "This very town has witnessed it."

That one took Margi aback. She looked back stunned at the Typhlosion when Roderic bobbled in the air with what looked like a flash of discomfort, before cutting in with a sharp buzz.

"We saw it happen firsthand among the survivors from the Great Calamity," the Rotom said. "A number of them saw the truth after Conntow was laid to waste."

"And for their trouble, they were shunned by both the Empire and Company," Nina sighed. "There were no records surviving to prove their identities, so they were dismissed as charlatans with few willing to believe them and the horrors they'd witnessed. So, it fell to Pokémon like us to take them into our numbers."

Pleo stared blankly at the Typhlosion, when she let out a low scoff and looked away with a dismissive scowl.

"But really, what should we have expected from the descendants of Aquila and Adler?"

Pleo and his teammates paused and turned back to Nina in confusion. Trizano furrowed his brow, and turned his beak up with a defensive harrumph.

"And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Come and see, Skarmory," Nina said.

Trizano trailed off as he and his group passed the next panel, coming to a scene depicting a Marked Tyranitar at a table reluctantly reaching out for a paper. On the other end of the table was a Staraptor with a crown, who leveled a cold, cruel stare in reply. There were other Pokémon on each end of the table. On the Tyranitar's side, there were other Marked who looked visibly defeated and frightened, and on the Staraptor's side, guards in indigo scarves and cerulean armor plates who shot back sneers and predatory looks.

Pleo lingered over the mural as he walked past it. It took him a moment to piece things together, but he realized that even if the details were a little different, that he'd seen a picture like this before.

"Wait, what is this picture?" Pleo asked. "I saw one like it back on Giotto, except the Staraptor and the other Pokémon with him didn't look so mean."

Nina raised a brow briefly at the Lugia's remark, as Roderic spoke up with a flat, emotionless tone.

"It's a mural of the day that our ancestors in Anyilla no longer had the strength to keep fighting after the Archdemon cut down their heroes," the Rotom explained. "The day that they were forced to yield to Aquila and become his vassals."

Pleo blinked uneasily and continued on with his companions onto the next mural, which showed a village with timbered buildings by the seaside and a tall mountain in the background. In it, there were Pokémon going about its lanes, both ones with and without Marks.

… Wait a minute, that shape of the mountain looked just like the one here on Gestirn. Was that village supposed to be Starpeak Square? Pleo would've never guessed that Marked once lived there from the way that they and the villagers talked about each other. Except, the Pokémon in the painting were already largely separate from each other, and the few places that they weren't and were interacting with each other didn't seem like particularly happy ones.

It all felt uncomfortably familiar for some reason. Probably because those interactions seemed a lot like the whole episode with Ander and the other Pokémon who wanted him to 'meet his maker.

From the way Ander and Margi were looking away, Pleo supposed that he must've been onto something.

"It was Aquila who left us to be humiliated and shut out afterwards," Roderic said bitterly. "Treating us as a conquered people to be trodden and spat on."

Pleo didn't need any prompting before he continued on and reached the next mural, of a younger Staraptor arriving to Starpeak Square with a menacing air about him. Ahead of him, Pokémon in Imperial garb amassed along the beach as smoke curled up from the town's fringes. There were more points where the Marked and other Pokémon met each other, but somehow those meetings were even worse than in the last mural. Marked being set upon by attacking Pokémon, Marked turning and fleeing from buildings that were being set aflame, cannons at the end of streets with puffs of smoke coming from their barrels and small dots in the air…

The Lugia felt an uncomfortable chill settle over his body. Cabot and his friends had spoken of Aquila like he was a great hero, and they certainly didn't say anything about him doing things like this.

"And it was his son who attempted to destroy us entirely, the one who drove our ancestors into this place to die."

Pleo turned his head and noticed the next mural over. It was a scene of Marked Pokémon frantically fleeing into an approach of a fog-shrouded mountain as pursuers in indigo garb and trails of smoke loomed in the background behind him. There had been a painting not all that different from this one in that library he'd been in in Tidemill City. Except, in that one, the Marked Pokémon had been further in the background, and he didn't remember them looking this hurt or scared in it.

He opened his mouth to ask what on earth was happening, only to realize that they were almost back at the entrance of the hallway. The last few murals seemed to go by quickly: one of a Glaceon speaking to a crowd of frightened and defeated-looking Marked in a cave chamber, another depicting tunnels being dug and earth and stone being cleared away, and still another showing the Glaceon watching as armored guards were putting together the rusted door at the end of the hallway, with an egg visible further on in the background.

Pleo's ears perked to attention as he noticed the sound of Nina's footsteps were different. He looked up and saw that she and Roderic had already climbed the first few steps and were looking down at them.

"But we defied the fate he intended for us, and made a haven out of this place which Adler intended to be our grave," Roderic said. "And so we endure to this day, and give shelter to those who also know the truth and come to us."

The Rotom trailed off and looked away with a wistful expression.

"… It's all that we can do at this point."

Pleo gave a puzzled tilt of his head at the pair. Nina sighed and shook her head, raising a paw as she spoke up again to explain.

"It is said that the Archdemon created another set of eggs to replace the one that our ancestors destroyed on Shennow Island," Nina said. "Just finding it once with a grand army required multiple strokes of fate in our favor. Ones which would be unlikely to repeat even if we had that sort of strength again."

A sharp frown came over Typhlosion's face as she turned away, and looked off up the stairwell with a bitter scoff.

"… That's why working with you is impossible, demon."

"B-But it's not!"

Nina looked back at the sound of squawking protest, turning to see Pleo craning his head up as Margi attempted to hold him back. The Typhlosion reflexively tensed up, as did Roderic and the other Marked present, only for them to ease after noticing that the young Lugia's face carried a pleading expression to it.

"None of us had anything to do with that! I didn't have anything to do with that!" Pleo protested. "I… don't know if your story about the Mark is really all true, but I wouldn't have just been okay with things if that was really what happened!"

Pleo trailed off and looked aside, as a few of the Marked guards traded surprised looks with one another. The young Protector paused and weighed his words, before turning back to Nina and speaking up with an uneasy murmur.

"I've seen how Pokémon use it as an excuse to be mean and awful to Pokémon like you," Pleo said. "However the Mark started, whatever it was supposed to do, it didn't turn out good in the end. And every Protector I know would feel the same about it!"

Nina and Roderic remained silent, leveling wordless stares back. Some of the guards seemed taken aback and began to wonder aloud to themselves with questions like "Is this some sort of trick?" and "Why on earth would a demon say such things?" Trizano turned his attention around at their guides, and sensing an opportunity to press their argument, he made his way out in front of Nina and Roderic with a visible frown.

"You also didn't need to bring up Aquila and Adler. We ourselves know that the Empire has been up to its share of dark deeds, ones a lot more recently than a few centuries ago," Trizano explained. "The Pokémon in Starpeak Square didn't know anything about it, and they were surprised to find out that the Empire was pursuing a Protector."

The pair didn't say anything back, when Trizano realized that Nina and Roderic's expressions were still unyielding. The Skarmory grimaced and flusteredly backed away, as he shot a pleading gaze over to the pair.

"I don't expect you to forgive the Pokémon that live there for everything you've had to endure, but we're facing a shared threat right now that threatens you almost as much as the Pokémon of Starpeak Square," he insisted. "Please, won't you help us?"

The other guards were visibly hesitant now, a couple seemed to be wavering and looking over at Nina and Roderic for guidance. Margi opened her mouth to speak, only to catch herself after seeing the Typhlosion and Rotom trade looks with one another. There was a lingering pause, before Nina turned back to face Pleo and his companions. The Typhlosion studied them over for a moment, when she broke the silence with a quiet sigh.

"… I'll think about it," Nina said. "It's not my choice alone to make."

"I tant," Roderic remarked. "But there's other matters we should take care of before then."

Team Traveller quirked their brows as Roderic went through a bag on Nina's shoulder. Much to their surprise, he pulled out the red volume of the Knights' Ledger and levitated it in the air just above one of his tendrils. He moved it slightly, before turning aside and eying the stairs back up.

"To start with, let me take a closer look at that 'Ledger' of yours."

(Continued in next post)


PMD Writer
Finding the southern entrance into Gestirn Island's Mystery Dungeon proved easier than expected for Guardia and Dimitri. The forests thinned out into a rocky and craggy rise as they went along, and the path they shadowed eventually reached a pass flanked by stony bluffs, leading into a veil of fog.

The pirates that they found there after first arriving left no room for doubt. Off at the entrance, they came across a party of Pokémon wearing the same red scarves as some of the pirates that attacked them in Starpeak Square. A Conkeldurr, a Toxapex, a Castorm, a Dipplin, and a bluish-white Sandslash with what looked like icy spikes on her back.

They had managed to keep themselves hidden in the minutes since then to observe them and prepare for a skirmish, half expecting them to make a move or have reinforcements come. Except, this entire time, they'd just been waiting. There was an impatient air that hung around the lot of them that'd gotten more noticeable as time had gone on, as the Toxapex parted the two legs in front of her face and turned her gaze up at her companions.

"Shouldn't we have heard more from the others by now?" the Toxapex asked.

"Tch, they've probably got their paws full with how big the forest is," the icy Sandslash scoffed. "I still don't understand why they're putting so much stock into that badge message. That search party was from the Iron Fleet. They honestly seem like the types who would have trouble with angry ferals, so would it be that impossible for some villagers to ambush them to cause a distraction?"

Guardia held her breath as she finished knotting up a linen bundle at the tip of Dimitri's scythe and the fluttering feeling in her stomach grew stronger. On the one hand, she supposed it was reassuring that the pirates took the bait. On the other… would they really be able to stay ahead of them the entire time?

It looked like they weren't going to be able to stay in hiding for much longer, which was as good a sign as any that it was time to prepare to charge into battle. She stepped back from the bushes and started up a frenetic dance, and briefly glimpsed past the bushes as she moved around. The Dipplin among the pirates was faltering now, and scanned his surroundings warily before speaking up with a worried murmur.

"Even so, are we sure we shouldn't be helping them?" the Dipplin asked. "I mean, we could always come back here once those ambushers are definitely taken care of…"

A loud thud rang out, as the pirates looked back to see the Conkeldurr pulling one of his pillars up from slamming the ground. The Fighting-Type narrowed his eyes, before raising his voice with an impatient huff.

"Enough, Mui is onto something," the Conkeldurr snapped, gesturing at the Sandslash. "We found our own lead earlier and there's no shortage of others dealing with those ambushers. I'm tired of waiting, so I say we investigate the dungeon in case that bird really is there."

The other pirates nodded to each other and started to form a line with each other to enter into the fog. Guardia's heart pounded in her chest as she did the final motions of her thrashing dance—Tsurugi no Mai, always helpful for getting energized for fights. As her dance wound down, she looked over towards Dimitri, who was holding a bundle of linen dangling from the tip of his right scythe.

She guessed that was a sign that the knot Dimitri guided her through tying had turned out well enough. Beneath the strips of linen holding everything together, there was a tan orb with a dark vortex swirling around in it that they'd taken from the earlier pirates' belongings… along with the Blast Seeds that they'd wedged around it at the sides. Dimitri pulled the bundled orb up, holding it carefully aloft with his scythe-tip as he snuck a quick peek out past the bushes.

Their breaths tightened as they spotted the pirates gathering together and starting to set off. It was now or never for them to make a move to stop them. There was a brief silence, as Dimitri glanced back at Guardia from the corner of his eyes.

"I sure hope this knot will hold…" he murmured. "Are you ready, Guardia?"

Guardia turned her own gaze out past the bushes towards the Conkeldurr and his fellow pirates as her thoughts turned back to her teammates. Pleo and the others didn't have the option to slink off to fight another day, so they either stopped these pirates here and now, or they and gods-knew-how-many of their friends would find their way to Pleo.

… With that in mind, there was only one answer to give back to Dimitri:

"As ready as I'll ever be."

Dimitri nodded back and tensed himself as he balanced the bundle resting between his scythes, when he stood up and flung it free. Before the pirates could register his presence, the bundle had already sailed off and struck the ground next to the Toxapex.

The bundled Orb and Blast Seeds erupted in a large explosion, flinging the Toxapex aside and throwing the others backwards with pained cries. Swirling winds laden with sand and grit erupted from the Sandy Orb and swept them up the other pirates as they tried to regain their balance. The Castform among them attempted to blink sand out of her eyes, floating over the body of her singed and unconscious Toxapex comrade as she hacked and looked about wildly for her assailant.

"Agh! What the-?!"

The Castform was swiftly cut off by a watery tackle, sending her tumbling to the ground unconscious as Dimitri found his footing and reared up. Even with the reduced visibility, the other pirates were able to make out his profile, the nearby Dipplin attempting to attack the Kabutops by spitting up a glob of syrup, when a whirling sound rang out above the winds.


The Dipplin seized up as a white projectile struck him in the face. He stumbled in a daze as the missile arced around and struck him a second time from behind, knocking the Dragon-Type to the ground. The bone carried on on its way back to its thrower, as Guardia hopped up as her club neared and snagged it out of the air. She tightened her grip back around her club, and checked the Dipplin, seeing much to her relief that he wasn't getting back up.

Her satisfaction proved short-lived as a low growl rang out followed by heavy thumps. Dimitri and Guardia whirled around and brace themselves as they saw the Conkeldurr start to approach them with his pillars raised for a strike.

"You're gonna wish you never showed your ugly mug, crab," the Conkeldurr snarled. "Do you have any idea who I am?"

"Da! Someone who's running his mouth off and leaving himself wide open!"

The Kabutops lunged ahead at the Conkeldurr, his scythes drawn for a slash. Dimitri's right blade found its mark on the Conkeldurr's flank, but much to the Water-Type's alarm, the Conkeldurr took the hit without flinching and then brought a crushing blow down on him in return.


Dimitri lost his footing and fell backwards, landing in the dirt with a breathless wheeze. The Conkeldurr noticed his position after a moment to squint against the Sandstorm, and raised his voice over the howl of the winds.

"Everyone who's still standing, get over here and help me crush this weakling!"

The Fighting-Type began to dart forward, raising his pillars as Dimitri tried to scrabble back onto his feet. The pirate leader readied another downward smash as he neared, when a sharp cry rang out from his right.

"Not so fast!"

A seed abruptly zipped in with a blur and struck near the top of Conkeldurr's pillar with an audible pop. The Seed's shell splintered to pieces, as a puff of dust shot out and enveloped the Fighting-Type's head. The Conkeldurr hurriedly attempted to fall back, but the seed's effects quickly overtook him. His eyes began to glaze over and he rubbed at them with an unsteady gait as the Sandstorm kept raging, as good a sign as any that the X-Eye Seed had done its job.

Guardia briefly caught a glimpse of a white blur from the corner of her eye and jumped aside with a sharp yelp as clawtips just missed her scales. She looked up, where the icy Sandslash was growling and drawing a claw back for a swipe.

"Lights out, bonehea-!"

Before the icy Sandslash could finish her words, she was cut off by one of the Conkeldurr's pillars slamming into her with an audible crunch. The Sandslash went flying off until she struck a tree trunk with a loud thud, the pirate sliding down before toppling forward limply. Guardia couldn't help but wince at the sight. Good thing that that Roubushin didn't have great aim right now, since a blow like that might have taken her out of this battle entirely.

Off to her left, Dimitri got back on his feet, panting from stress and exhaustion. A quick glance around revealed that the Sandstorm was slowly starting to thin out, but the Conkeldurr was still groping about from the effects of the X-Eye Seed. The Fighting-Type pirate would surely be a dangerous foe once his impediments subsided, so that meant they had to put him down for the count. Fast.

The Kabutops braced himself, seeing Guardia's silhouette amidst the swirling sands as he called out to her and planted his feet firmly into the ground.

"Quick!" Dimitri cried. "Follow my lead while he's open!"

The Kabutops took off running in a rough circle about the Conkeldurr as the pirate continued swinging about blindly. All the while, steaming water built up in Dimitri's throat, the Kabutops biding his time for the Conkeldurr to leave himself open. He waited for the Fighting-Type's latest swing to miss wide and spewed his Scald out before falling back for distance. The Conkeldurr winced as the scalding water washed over his arm, and reflexively grabbed it to nurse a growing burn on it. From the side, Guardia watched as the Fighting-Type reeled, and took the opening to lunge at him with her club drawn.

The Cubone sprang up as she approached, bringing her club down with an overhead smash onto the Conkeldurr's back. A satisfying thwack rang out, but before Guardia could hit the ground, gray abruptly filled her vision and she felt a crushing blow land all over her torso.


The Conkeldurr's pillar launched Guardia and sent her flying towards a nearby tree trunk. She crashed into it headfirst, before falling to the ground as her club slipped from her grasp. The Cubone lay there briefly as her vision grew muddy, weakly righting herself as she grabbed for her club ahead of her.

A tan foot stomped it into the dirt and a shadow fell over her. Guardia turned her head up with shaky breaths as she saw the Conkeldurr looming above, his left pillar raised as a faint, red aura seemed to settle around it and his lower arm.

"Anything you wanna say before I crush you, brat?" the Conkeldurr snarled.

Guardia's mind went blank in a panic, when she suddenly noticed movement from the treeline. She glanced off at its direction, and much to the Conkeldurr's surprise her expression eased and her face screwed up into a determined smirk.

"Yes, actually. Stick around for a while."

A sharp crack and the sound of groaning wood rang out, Guardia hurriedly turning and darting to the side as the Conkeldurr looked up to see a tree falling overhead. The tree landed on him with a loud crash, with a glance at its trunk revealing deep, hacking cuts in its wood. Guardia scooted back as dust swirled to see the Conkeldurr's arms groping about weakly from underneath as he attempted to pull himself free, only to lose consciousness and them to go still.

The Cubone sat there panting as silence descended onto the forest path beyond the occasional faint whine or groan. She went and collected her club from the ground, when Dimitri emerged from the treeline, shaking some bark loose from the blade of his scythe.

"That ought to buy Pleo and the others some time," the Kabutops said.

Guardia breathed out a sigh of relief, before she turned her attention to the pirates laying sprawled out around them, all in no shape to do anything other than just lie in place… for now. She made her way over to the Sandslash against the tree, and after giving an exploratory poke with her club and discovering the pirate was still safely unconscious, turned her head back to Dimitri.

"… What are we supposed to do with all of them anyways?" Guardia asked.

"We could push them into the Distortion without their items or badges," Dimitri said. "But considering that these pirates went out prepared to try and catch someone, I don't think we'll need to do anything so drastic."

The Kabutops came over to her and lowered one of his scythes to tug at a bag around the Sandslash's shoulder. After fishing around in it, his eyes briefly lit up as he looped his scythe around something and pulled it out, revealing a set of ropes dangling from its tip.

"Assuming you can tie more knots, anyways."

… Right, these pirates were here to try and capture Pleo, so it was only natural that they'd have brought restraints of various sorts with them. She had to admit, there was a certain poetic justice in them being caught up in their own snares. It also made their lives easier.

The pair started off by binding up the Sandslash against the tree she struck, Dimitri helping to pin her arms behind her while instructing Guardia how to loop the ropes to form knots to hold them in place… even if it took a couple attempts. The pair then repeated the process on the other pirates with the Conkeldurr's pillars one after the other, until all that was left was the Conkeldurr still half-buried under the tree. The pair approached it uneasily, trading glances at the pinned Fighting-Type and then at each other.

"I… think that we can skip trying to pull him free, really," Dimitri said. "Let's just tie his arms to the tree trunk so he can't lift it off of him, and call it a day."

That… seemed more than reasonable to Guardia considering how the 'mon had tried to crush her in battle. She nodded back in affirmation, prompting Dimitri to go and start coiling the rope around the Conkeldurr's arms and the felled tree's trunk. Guardia went around the other side of the Conkeldurr's body and threw the loose end of the rope over, before stooping to grab at the remaining end by her feet, only to see Dimitri catch himself and pause briefly.

"I think we need him a bit further out so we can pull his arms back against the trunk," he said. "Help me pull him free a bit."

Guardia tugged at the Conkeldurr's body along with Dimitri as his head and shoulders gradually came back into view. She turned her attention back to the ropes afterwards and resumed coiling them around the Conkeldurr's arms and the tree trunk. Soon enough, she was at work tying the finishing knots, when she caught a glint from the side of the Conkeldurr's neck.


Guardia and Dimitri traded glances with each other, before Dimitri turned the scarf inside out and revealed a glinting badge underneath.

"Another one of them," Dimitri murmured. "I suppose it only would make sense if even the Iron Fleet was using them."

Guardia eyed the badge carefully, before giving it an exploratory poke with her bone. At once, it crackled to life as a buzzing voice came through it.

"Oi, Reg! Give us a status report already! Just because you're high up on Crimson Corsairs doesn't mean you just get to ghost us! What on earth was that racket earlier-?"

Guardia hurriedly pulled her bone away from the badge as the voice cut out. She looked over to Dimitri as he sucked in a sharp breath. He backed away a couple paces from the Conkeldurr and quietly murmured to himself.

"Guess that would explain why that Conkeldurr hit us so hard," Dimitri murmured. "That crew sounds like they'd be significantly more dangerous opponents than the Iron Fleet. We should get going before his buddies catch up with us."

Dimitri reached out his scythes to cut the badge free and fling it off into the bushes, but before their tips could find their mark, he felt a tak against his right blade. The Kabutops looked down, seeing Guardia motioning for a stop, as she approached the badge and raised her free hand out to grab it.

"Wait just a moment, Dimitri," the Cubone insisted. "I wanna say something first."

The Kabutops shot an askew glance at the Cubone.

"Guardia, if you grab that for too long, the pirates on the other end will figure out our location."

"Maybe, but I don't think we have a choice, Dimitri," she said. "These pirates' friends are expecting them to say something. If we don't get them to think we headed back into the forest, they'll come here and find them, and then go straight into the Mystery Dungeon."

She hovered her hand over the badge and shook her head in reply.

"All the more reason to try and make them think we took Pleo somewhere else, even if it's just for a little bit."

Duke Franz's throne room was in a stony chamber in the keep of Gestirn's castle, with tall windows that let in light from outside, and rugs and tapestries that added color to its gray environs. Much to Ingela's dismay, the Council had overruled her and chosen to repurpose it as their meeting room while they were here on Gestirn, instead of a site closer to the water. The Primarina thumped her tail impatiently against the floor, as evening sunlight filtered through, and cast a glance off at the throne, where Dirk was idly amusing himself. The Bisharp sat sideways on the throne with his feet kicked up and his Eviolite necklace poking out from under his scarf, inspecting a black and gold orb.

"Remind me, why did we opt to hold our meetings so far from the water again?" Ingela scoffed. "You do realize that such a site would've made it easier to go to and from our ships?"

Dirk didn't bother adjusting his posture on the throne. He glanced at the Primarina from the corner of his eye, before balancing the black-and-gold orb on the tip of his blade, and idly spinning it on top of its tip.

"What can I say? I've always had a bit of a refined taste," the Bisharp said. "And the best things in life sometimes require a bit of a journey to get them."

Ingela folded her flippers over each other, and turned her snout up with a quiet frown.

"I sure hope that that Sheriff and those guards who weren't accounted for after the raid don't have similar ideas."

"Never heard of the value of picking your battles, Ingela?" Dirk questioned. "Our objective isn't related to them."

"I do pick my battles, Dirk. That's how I built my reputation carrying on my mate's fleet," Ingela huffed. "By putting the fear of the gods into those who took him from me."

Dirk stopped the orb and set it aside on the throne. He got up and approached Ingela from his seat, curling his mouth into a serious frown.

"You know what I mean. As long as they stay out of the way of that bird and our plunder, we have nothing to lose from letting them hide in their little holes until we're gone."

Ingela turned aside with a quiet harrumph and continued batting her tail back and forth with a series of agitated thumps against the floor.

"You sure could have fooled me with the amount of 'monpower you were sending to try and find those Pokémon that ambushed that scouting party from the Iron Fleet."

A noticeable pause followed between the two, as Dirk watched the Primarina narrow her eyes at him.

"How do you even know that those ambushers really have Lugia?" she asked. "One of your own crew's parties said that they found signs that Lugia entered the Mystery Dungeon. Shouldn't we be focusing some of our attention on the dungeon, as well?"

Was Ingela taking him for some sort of amateur like Hess? Even if they didn't see eye to eye as members of the Council all the time, the Primarina surely ought to have known better considering how he was the most senior member of the Council. The Bisharp hardened his features into a sharp scowl, before shaking his head in reply.

"No, because even if whoever ambushed them doesn't really have Lugia, they weren't content to hide away in their little hole and are going around actively sabotaging us," he explained. "We shouldn't assume that they're not already planning on making another move, or that it will stay in the realm of overpowering scouts. And that means not leaving it to just the Iron Fleet to get to the bottom of just who those Pokémon are. Especially if those ambushers do have Lugia or are friends of his."

Ingela let out an unamused huff and crossed her flippers at the explanation, a reaction that Dirk supposed shouldn't have surprised him. Ingela always had been one of the more combative members of the Council, after all.

"Oh come now, Dirk. Lugia and his companions couldn't have evaded capture this long without some degree of cleverness," Ingela said. "Am I really to assume that they'd have just given away his location without doing something to throw us off their-?"

"Hey! Captain! Are you there?"

The doors to the room creaked open, as Dirk and Ingela whirled around to see a Rabsca floating in in a hurry. Dirk stepped forward and stepped in front of the Rabsca's path, staring down with a fierce, overpowering glare.

"What is it now?" the Bisharp growled. "You do know that I don't need an update over every little thing you overhear!"

The Rabsca broke his pose with a startled buzz and jolted his limbs as his ball and badge wavered in the air briefly. After a moment to steady his psychic hold on his belongings and regain his composure, the Rabsca pushed the badge towards Dirk with an unseen force and gave an apologetic chitter.

"Uhh… sorry," the Rabsca said. "But you really want to hear this one. It's a message for you from those ambushers that picked off those Iron Fleet scouts."

Dirk paused and eased his expression as he and Ingela traded surprised stares with one another. After a moment's hesitation, he turned over to an Emboar by the room's entrance and motioned at the door with an impatient grunt.

"Go get Tarquin and Hess," the Bisharp barked. "Tell them that if they're planning on getting full shares of loot when we divide everything up, that they'll show up as soon as they can."

The Emboar hurriedly saluted in reply before darting out of the room. Dirk watched the Emboar drift off, before stepping forward and snatching the badge out of the air. The Bisharp made his way back to the throne and sat down on it. He kicked his legs up, and pressed down on the metal lump, raising it to his mouth to speak.

"This is Captain Dirk of the Crimson Corsairs. Who is this?"

"The Pokémon who just bested one of your stronger warriors, that's who!" a Cubone's voice crackled back. "For goons as tough as yours, they sure are dumb at fighting!"

Ingela tensed up, and reflexively opened her mouth to protest back, only for Dirk to cut her off by raising a hand and motioning for a stop. The Primarina quietly seethed, as the Bisharp cocked his brow at the voice's comments.

"'Warrior', huh? So you must be one of those guards that slipped away after the raid," Dirk said. "I was under the impression you Gestirners were more no-nonsense types and less… theatrical."

"Hrmph, you wish I was a guard!" the voice piped back. "Sounds like you're just mad that your underlings got their tails handed to them!"

The Bisharp's face fell in response. He tightened his grip around the badge and raised it to his mouth before he continued on.

"No, I'm more annoyed that you're wasting my time when I have business with a client to tend to," Dirk retorted. "Most Pokémon that annoy me wind up swiftly regretting it."

A moment of silence followed, one long enough that a flash of confusion came over Ingela's face and even the Bisharp himself couldn't help but raise a brow. Had something happened to the speaker? He wouldn't have expected a headstrong type to suddenly lose her nerve, but perhaps this 'mon of mystery had a better gauge for dangerous situations than he thought—

"Wait, 'business with a client'?" the voice asked. "But you're pirates. Since when did you do anything for anyone else?"

… Or not. Dirk narrowed his eyes, as he got up out of his throne and began walking off. He made his way along and passed one of the tapestries on the wall. He glanced at it briefly, before raising the badge back to his mouth to speak into it.

"That doesn't concern you," Dirk scoffed. "Though if you want to make things easier, put your bird friend on the line. I believe that we have some companions of his he'd be eager to hear from."

There was a long silence from the badge afterwards. When the voice came through again, Dirk couldn't help but notice that it sounded audibly flustered.

"He's… uh, not interested in negotiating! We'll free them ourselves! The hard way if we have to!"

Dirk paused, as a small smirk came over his face. He'd heard everything that he needed to. So Ingela was right and it really was a feint, and he was pretty sure he had a decent idea of what he was dealing with for a foe.

"You're obviously quite young and inexperienced," he said. "One of those overenthusiastic types that thinks they're prepared to take on the world after reading Hard to Kill a few too many times."

"Read what, now?"

Dirk quirked a brow. Hard to Kill was a tale at least as old as the Cradle itself and its many variations all had a fairly predictable formula… would the type of Pokémon that went around picking fights with pirates really never have heard of it?

"Story about a lone guard on Christmas that fights on his own through a crystal tower to rescue his mate?" the Bisharp asked. "Ring any bells?"

"Nope. Never heard of it."

Dirk frowned, before raising the badge back to his mouth with a sharp scoff.

"You're certainly full of surprises, but I'll cut to the chase. This isn't some old heroic fantasy, kid," Dirk said. "You're not going to magically save the day and free all these villagers on your own and waltz off into the sunrise with your sweetheart."

Dirk walked along as he neared one of the tapestries on the wall. He briefly flexed his right arm, before once again pressing down onto his badge and continuing to speak.

"And when Pokémon under such delusions cross paths with me, I have a tendency to snap them out of them."


The Bisharp summarily ran his blade along the tapestry and sliced through it from one end to the next. Its bottom fell to the ground with a thumping clatter, which made the Rabsca involuntarily flinch. Dirk raised the badge back up to his mouth and enunciated his words for the listener on the other end to hear him loud and clear.

"Permanently," he snarled. "I'm here along with the full force of Orleigh Island's Pirate Council and a good half of the crews that berth there. Just what do you think you can do against us?"

"Stop you from getting to Pleo, that's what!" the voice piped back.

'Pleo', huh? So then this scamp really was one of Lugia's companions. Though that sounded like something he could use to his advantage…

After all, there were several reasons presently sitting behind bars in the village garrison that he could give this Cubone to change her tune. Probably quite a few of them if they'd come in on an entire ship.

"Fat lot of good all that strength of yours will do if he's gone before you-!"

The voice abruptly cut itself off as the sound of rustling came through the badge and a sharp cry came from the other end.

"N-Nani?!" the Cubone's voice cried. "Who are-?!"

The Badge abruptly went silent midsentence. Her patience worn thin, Ingela grabbed at the badge and snatched it out of Dirk's hand, thrusting it in front of the Rabsca with a sharp bark.

"Who's holding that badge right now?!" the Primarina demanded.

The Rabsca paused and held onto the badge in focus. After a moment seemingly in a trance, the Bug-Type bobbled the ball levitating overhead as he turned to Ingela uneasily.

"Nobody," he explained. "I think the speaker just threw it aside."

Dirk and Ingela traded glances after the Rabsca's reply, the Primarina growling under her breath in frustration.

"Ugh, what a waste of time this all was," Ingela fumed. "They don't even have Lugia with them!

"Hardly," Dirk explained. "Even if it wasn't their intention, they've let us know exactly where we should be looking."

Ingela's face contorted in confusion as her mouth hung open for a moment in bewildered annoyance. The Primarina's expression eased as she let out a low, grudging sigh. Clearly she'd picked up on how Lugia's friends had been trying to throw them off the trail, and if they'd gone through the trouble of trying to interfere with his crew prying deeper into the Mystery Dungeon…

Well, he could think of some pretty straightforward reasons why they'd want that.

"What's going on here?"

The sound of loud, heavy footsteps coming from the hall prompted Dirk and Ingela to turn for the door as Hess and Tarquin made their way into the room. The pair entered and made their way up alongside Ingela, as Dirk walked up and pointed up at Hess with a sharp harrumph.

"Gather your crew, Hess," Dirk barked. "You're going dungeoneering."

Hess blinked incredulously as the Bisharp's words sank in a moment. At once, the Aggron's eyes shot wide in alarm, as he stammered in confusion back at the Crimson Corsairs' captain.

"H-Huh?! What's going on?!" Hess cried. "I thought that there was someone going around ambushing-!"

"Plans have changed, obviously," Dirk scoffed. "Some bigger priorities have come up."

"We've been able to confirm that Lugia is hiding in the Mystery Dungeon," Ingela added. "I'm sure that even an oaf like you can manage to comb a dungeon properly."

Tarquin stiffened up and held his head up as a brief flash of unease came over his eyes. The other pirate captains noticed the Tyrantrum's misgivings, before he shook his head with a low harrumph.

"I… think that's going to be a bit easier said than done, Ingela," the dinosaur said.

"And what's just what that supposed to mean?" the Primarina demanded.

"There's apparently some sort of settlement deep inside there called 'Starbreak Square," Tarquin said. "The Marked in our ranks have apparently been dragging their feet about going inland since they didn't want to get mixed up with it."

The Tyrantrum turned his head aside as his peers looked on. He narrowed his eyes before letting out a low harrumph and continuing on.

"I first thought it was another one of their fairy tales, but I overheard some of the townsfolk talking about the place themselves while making the rounds," Tarquin explained. "When was the last time you ever heard normal Pokémon agree with a Marked story?"

Dirk paused, when a moment of dawning realization came over his eyes. If there was an entire settlement of Marked in Gestirn's Mystery Dungeon, then it'd likely just be a matter of time before they came across Lugia.

And that meant, that with a bit of time, that if there was no sign of Lugia ever leaving the Mystery Dungeon, that the most logical place he would've wound up would be with the Marked. After all, they knew that dungeon better than anyone other than maybe some ferals that also lived inside. Once Lugia entered it, it would just be a matter of time before they ran into each other.

And once that happened, it was hardly believable that they'd just let a 'demon' roam loose. They'd want to keep him penned up someplace secure, and what place would they be more likely to choose than a cell in that settlement of theirs?

The Bisharp shook his head, before folding his arms and looking over at Hess with a sharp harrumph.

"Actually, scratch that. I'll be going with my crew alongside you, Hess. And Ingela will, too," Dirk said. "Tarquin and the other crews should be able to keep the peasants in line and checking the forests to mop up the rest of Lugia's friends while we're out, and you frankly need all the help you can get."

Ingela's face fell into an unamused frown with a quiet grumble. Hess stared blankly as his jaw flopped open in shock, as he raised a claw and began to stammer in protest.

"B-But you just asked me to-!"

"That was before I found out there was an entire town of Marked down there. One that will almost certainly get their claws on that 'demon' given enough time," Dirk harrumphed, folding his arms. "Really, you should be thanking me for lending you some help and not leaving you to get in over your head."

Hess spluttered in indignation and stomped his foot with a low growl, only for a pair of louder ones to ring out. The Aggron looked over at Tarquin and Ingela as the pair shot piercing glares at him, and abruptly flinched and shrank back much as if he'd been thrown into the middle of a mob of Marowak.

Dirk trailed off briefly, before turning his gaze up to his Tyrantrum counterpart.

"Though I'll need your crew to help out with a few things involving Lugia's friends, Tarquin," he mused. "After all, that bird will be more motivated to come quietly if he thinks he's got something to lose."

Tarquin gave a nodding grunt in reply as Dirk continued on, idly inspecting his blades as he made his way to the doors. When he reached them, he swung them wide with an audible creak, and looked back with a dangerous smirk.

"So let's do them all a favor and take that bird off their hands, huh?"

Author's Notes:

- I tant - Catalan: "Indeed"
- Tsurugi no Mai (つるぎのまい) - Japanese: "Swords Dance" (Official Romanization)
- Roubushin (ローブシン) - Japanese: "Conkeldurr" (Official Romanization)

Venia Silente

[](int x){return x;}
This is part of a review trade, which this time technically will have the format of a two-parter. So this post will cover Ch.72 an then will come Ch.73.

Most importantly, it means more adventures in the Shadow Realm!

Chapter is #72 Out of the Bag.

Since we are into a new chapter in this adventure, why not a recap?

It is a dark time for the Cradle. Although the
tournament has ended with the rescue
of PLEO, the Empire and the Company are not far
behind and now strengthen their grip over
various lands, pursuing TEAM TRAVELLER
across the Cradle.

Evading the Imperial Fleet, Pleo and his
friends follow clues into the Jungle in search
of a Xerneas, and once there they are
captured within the Shadow Realm by DARTH VALTER.

The evil commissioner LYN, obsessed with the capture
of the birb, takes off in his last chance mission
for his capture now aware of sabotage in his ranks –
an agent part of an engine of corruption and betrayal
led by the very seat of ELILAN among the COMPANY heads…

I swear, the day I can post these reviews in AO3 they're gonna look so cool with the CSS formatting...

After what has been a first attempt to talk their way out of the situation, Team Elty has been taken to their new accommodations in the Shadow Realm; they wake up to see that they are quite obviously in the "X marks the spot" neighbourhood.

Guardia: "Everyone has x_x eyes!"
Elty: "Not me, for the last 4 chapters I've had ¬_¬ eyes."

Frankly, I can understand him.

As they gather their senses, DARTH VA— ahem, sorry, Darth Valter approaches and demands some explanations because surely, this place that is supposed to remain HIDDEN is suddenly getting lots of visitors (like, 20 in 2 chapters!) and thus getting a lot of SCREENTIME.

And as we all know, screentime spells doom for the plot un-wise.

Valter's attitude doesn't help matters either.

Vince: "We're doing our part to keep this place hidden!"
-Ghost dance party!-
Darth Valter: "Much as I like you guys, your little ghostly ruses pale before the power of the Force."
Guardia: "Wait wait wait waaaait..."
Everyone: -looks at Guardia-
Guardia: "...Ruse?"
Everyone: -facepalms-

I mean it's not obvious at a first try, "recruitment quota" notwithstanding, but once they started getting more encounters it should have been obvious for Team Traveler Extended that *something* was going on.

(The question then becomes if the teams still outside will figure it out)

Elty tries to make the explanations in order, but is quickly interrupted by none other than Pleo! Who is still alive captured in the Shadow Realm as well!

Elty: "Guuuuuysss!"
Nida and Crom: "Hey, y'all are alive?"
Guardia: "I thought y'all were spirit food by now!"
Everyone: -hugs and celebrates-
Darth Valter: "...Guys? Guys? What is even this?"
Alder: "Oh it's just they're so happy to be alive."
Darth Valter: "No!!! This a HIDDEN LOCATION not a party! Please!"
Background mon: "Wow! We just got a review on Yelp! They gave us a star! We're so cool!"
Darth Valter: "DO NOT WAAAAANT!"
Emperor Cernum: -disappointed- "Much to learn about crowd control, you have."

And with this, Team Traveller Plus+ Max finally gets a chance to explain to Cernum about what are they looking for, and perhaps we can get some more explaining of this in turn, as well!

Emperor Cernum: "...No wait, wrong impersonation, this is..."

Scene transition wipe!

We arrive at our next scene in the temple of Yavin IV New Blackmoon, more or less. As it turns out, the Pokémon who were at Old Blackmoon had to literally move the place about after an incident. Of the "Legendary oopsies the world" SpitefulMurkrow™ flavored kind of incidents.

Furthermore, this is a temple not for Cernum but for *their* Protector.

So basically there's now three (3) (tres) Protectors here in any shape or form! (And a potential fourth)

Pleo: "Wait, they've got a temple?" ;_;

One day, Pleo. One day...

Ander: "Three? 3? Tres? Of those monsters?"
Pleo: "Hey!"
Lord Cernum: "Hey!"
Ander: "If you excuse me I'll go over there to have three tachicardias."

Cernum proceeds to tell his tale, which begins with when he was a...



Cernum was a lil kid deer when he was found by the locals, along with a LOT of cute Pokémon statues. After that, they decided that the best way to uuuuh.... celebrate, this, was for Cernum to grant everlasting life.

Kid Cernum: "Eternal life for you! And for you! And for you! EVERYONE gets eternal life!"

( @Spiteful Murkrow this does mean you now get enough time to get to finish Juvenals and its sequel too, yes? o3o)

Cernum: "See, I'm very handy!"
Nida: "So wait you just doling out immortality like that?"
Cernum: "That way y'all get to enjoy me for longer."
Ander: "That's horrible!"
Guardia: "I have to concur! How can we have Dead Judgments if there are no Dead?!"
Crom: "You know what, 'grant immortality' sounds so much cooler that our Protector."
Nida: "Bad Crom!" -slaps Crom.
Pleo: "..." >_>
Crom: "...No offense."

Pleo just found himself useful a few chapters ago! Don't be mean to him!

Also, Ander and Guardia are understandably not very pleased at all this, each for their own reasons; and neither are the locals themselves as they admit: they explain that trying to delve into what had gone on back then eventually caused more trouble in the long run.

Like, it basically caused The Plot.

Dimitri pressed. "You didn't dig up a bunch of graves and have him try to make Immortals from them, did you?"
Hopefully no? Now that would have been A Day.

"It wasn't anything like that! It was the shipwreck that Cernun was discovered on!" Valter insisted.
Oh great, now it's not just zombies it's pirate zombies! Ander will sure be happy.

As the tale goes, they explain that after the incident, word got out that there was a free dealing of Eternal Life here at Blackmoon, and Cpt. Coil was assigned to the zone.

Nida: "...What, Coil?"
Guardia: "Him again?"
Crom: "What's this about?"
Guardia: "That moron is a lot of trouble. Ultimately it's because of him that we wasted half of the Tournament Arc doing errands and without earning EXP instead of, like, actually trying to rescue Pleo."
Nida: -scratches head: "Yet, well, going on those errands *did* allow us to get rid of Sibich along the way..."
Darth Valter: "Coil was the one who got involved when news about Cernum broke out."
Crom: "...Sounds like that would have best been avoided."
Darth Valter: "It was foretold, that that day would have come."

After that, we get the expository flashback to the early days of Cernum, Valter and Coil. And since we go to a flashback, one could say we get to the...


Prequels trilogy, of Fledglings.

(See I'm still on board with Fledglings being a full Original Trilogy, then there can be a Prequel Trilogy and a Sequel Trilogy)

Oh and since it's a prequels flashback:

Turmoil has engulfed the Cradle. The EMPIRE
and the COMPANY dispute territorial control.

Hoping to resolve the matter with an ultimate weapon,
the Empire blockades Blackmoon and ready their forces to
capture and experiment on the CERNUM inside.

The locals grow uneasy with the situation at hand, and
ultimately this forces DARTH VALTER to secretly reach
up to the imprisoned Cernum...

Flashback wipe!

We don't get much from that that we couldn't already glean from the discussion beforehand, other than the fact that a townsfolk revolt ended up happening...

DARTH VALTER: "Just as I had foretold."

At about the same time Darth Valter was trying to check up on the imprisoned Cernum, too. We do get some nifty combat screentime between Valter and Coil, which is defo more than Sibich ever got! Also we get some mentions to the chain of succession at the Emprire, which were hopefully inherited down reasonably and not via, say, a Tournament Arc.

Queen Aleria: "Awww...."


Screen wipe transition!

Back to THE PRESENT, the various characters discuss the eventual results of the situation. The point is made that after those fateful days Coil was basically trying to do the raids on his own, subcontracting for the plot to happen, because the Navy wouldn't otherwise want to continue the search.

They also discuss the point that Darth Valter was an immortal.

Darth Valter: "...And that's the story of how we came to be around here."
Pleo: "Okay, so you died, but you are an immortal, because you have x_x eyes, but you don't... did I get that right?"
Darth Valter: "...Most of that is correct, yes."
Crom: "Wait, 'most'?"
Emperor Cernum: "It seems in his return to life, the immortality was spent."
Nida: "So... you aren't an immortal anymore?"
Cernum: "And it seems I can't brand him grant him eternal life again."
Crom and Nida: -look at each other-
Ander: "So... you can only revivify someone once?"
Cernum: "Uuuuh..." - :(
Guardia: "Honestly, your powers aren't looking that cool right now."
Crom: "Ya know, maybe Pleo is not that bad after all."
Pleo: "Yay!"
Cernum: "Okay listen–"
Alder: "At least Pleo's not gonna zombify me to prolong my torment."
Nida: "Pleo we will always like you, you are our Living McGuffin."
-Everyone hugs Pleo-
Cernum: "....Hey! Come on! At least I'm still better than Kline!"

Not only that but I'm sure Ho-Oh's powers are also better than Xerneas's. Because the G2 birbs are better, hands down.

So, now that the history of these silly ghosts has been cleared up, it's time for these ghosts to cough up the Ledger so that Pleo and his adoptive family can rejoice and return to Tromba! And Pleo can win Fledglings! Right?

[insert Anakin and Padme "you're gonna do the X, right?" meme ^_^ ]

Cernum: "You fools, only now, in your imprisonment, do you realize."

Well.... no, even with the news that Coil and his fall from grace, Cernum and Valter are not really into the mood for letting out the protagonists back to *their* realm.

And apparently it's all Kline's fault. Because why not.

Darth Valter: "Nah, you are going to stay here indefinitively, as in, forever."
Pleo: "B-b-but we are a happy adoptive family! And I still have two more books of plot to grow up into!"
Ander: "Man, I just got to this island and I was starting to feel I could build up some confidence into Main Character status..."
Darth Valter: "Enough! You are going to stay here for eeeeternityyyy!!!"
The accompanying ghost mons: "In the Spirit Realm..."
Crom: "You guys suck."
Guardia: "You are even more backwards than the other loons we've dealt with so far in this plot."
Nida: "And that's saying a lot considering we've had to deal with people like Sibich."
Darth Valter: "Whatever, you are stuck here now. I'm not altering the deal. Pray I don't not alter it any further."
Pleo: "..." <_<

And with that, Darth Valter has Roteck send the prisoners back to their chambers. Much to Trizano's disappointment.

This is certainly sad.

Now... Who would possibly be able to save our heroes now?

Alvise: -sniffs around the grass: "Woof woof!" ^_^

See, we left second best doggo (because Luca isn't around and Elty's cool screentime was short-circuited) behind during their own exploration of the islands in search of water. They had managed to find trace of Elty, all on their own and absolutely not because of luck, I swear.

Alvise: "Come on guys! It's time to capture those dweebs and show the boss who's the boss around 'ere!"
Valatos: "Hey look can you wait? Let's at least strategize..." -searches the team bag, finds an [Escape Orb]-
Nori: "It seems we are still a bit off the script."
Valatos: "Yeah he forgot about the ghosts pretty fast."
Alvise ahead: "What's that? I still can hear you complaining from here!"
Nori: -sighs. "Oh well. As the script says, 'I'm sold, let's go grab us a Protector.'"

After that totally boost of confidence, the three make it all the way to the guards around Darkwood Square and sneak past, and they manage to spy their way into a few conversations regarding what is actually going on at the islands.

????: "We are going pretty well with the recruitment quota, we already captured two teams!"
Alvise: -ears point on- "It seems it's time for more screentime."
Nori: "owo wat's this, a plot-relevant convbersation?"
Lisa: "I hope you keep good tally of the captures. We now have one more doggo as a prisoner."
Cantone: "They are sent to the Shadow Realm, too. All that remains is the bunch of losers we're trolling."
Valatos: "'bunch of losers'...?"
Nori: "...!"
Alise: "...!"
Valatos: "Guys! These ghosts must have tracked down Team Traveler!"

Oh you wish. Keep listening...

Vince: "Oh yeah that's so fun I'm willing to wait out the quota just to troll them for longer lol. 'We're elite pirates' my ass, assuming I even have one!"
Vince and Cantone: "BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" ^_^
Nori: "..." ¬_¬
Alvise: "..." ¬_¬
Valatos: "Those bastards, now I'm gonna–" ¬_¬
Alvise: "Not yet!" -drags Valatos back into offscreen.

As the ghost trio laught their potentially ethereal asses away, Valatos and his team are left to ruminate on their humiliation, and plan their revenge.

Alvise: "Guys, it's settled."
Valatos: "Let's nab the Lugia and rub it on their faces. We're going to get even in every way."
Alvise: "And afterward we send them to sleep with the fishes. Let's see how those ghosts like that..."

He's becoming more like Luca... :p

And with that, Valatos and Co. head on inspecting the surroundings for clues on the birb, until they eventually find at least *someone* to rescue. After finding a hut with prisoners and distracting the ghost guards, Valatos and company make it inside to see if they can nab themselves a birb.

Which in this case, is not birb but more of their crew who have been also captured in previous scenes.

Alvise: "Well well well, if it is the non-elite noob pirates!"
Noibat: "Come on guys really? Just get us OUTTA HERE."
Valatos: "Sure, babies. Geez, we gotta have to report to the ship how we saved all your asses."
Spiritomb Guard: "Actually that's gonna have to wait."

The guards have returned and found out the extra intruders. What will Alvise, Nori and Valatos do?

Nori: "Uuuh hang on I have a completely valid excuse..."
Amoonguss Guard: "If you wish you can think it over inside the cells."
Alvise: "Now now let's not start on the wrong paw. May we introduce ourselves?"
Spiritomb Guard: "...Oh?"
Alvise: "I'm currently best doggo." -offers paw for a handshake-
Amoonguss Guard: "Oh! A pleasure I'm–"
Alvise: -zaps the guards over the handshake-
Luca: -waves paws asking for screentime-

And once again, Alvise shines as Best Doggo on the grounds. He (and his pals) leads the Revolution Prison Break and they head out with full intent on getting back to Hess, leaving some obstacles on their way.

Then they and their dweebs-in-tow turn around a corner and, true to the trope...

Nori, Alvise and Valatos: "...! It's YOU!"
Pleo, Nida and Elty: "...! It's YOU!"

They find themselves surrounded by Team Traveler being also prisoners, and *their* captors!

Dun dun duuun!

And that's how the chapter ends. Certainly a pretty good adventure so far and now the current arc's deuteragonists of Valatos and friends find themselves about to be dragged off into the Shadow Realm as well.

Valatos: "...Hey! It's not our end yet!"

Oh wait?! There's still a little piece of plot yet!

Valatos: "Actually no, we just want to safely abscond from here. Hold on, dweebs!" ^_^
Alvise: "We'll get you next time, birb."
Nori: "And you useless ghosts will have what's coming to you in due time, too!"

Valatos then uses the team's Escape Orb and... boom.

Villain exit stage left.

Credits transition wipe aaaaaand...


Now that's more of a thematic cliffhanger!

All in all a pretty entertaining chapter, with lots more good doggo screentime! (I still miss Luca tho). It was fun reading how a few gags and cues from the previous chapters basically came back to bite just about everyone here as well, such as getting the explanation on DARTH VALTER's normal eyes, how Coil still screws things up for everyone, and Valatosteam getting back for being trolled.

And now that the jig is out, who knows what's gonna happen to Cernum's current hideout!

inb4 Cernum has a battery of clones somewhere for the Sequel Trilogy