Early Game Encounter
Yeah, she’s the sort of Pokémon who doesn’t take running headaches well, no matter who it’s from.Alright, new arc!
And yep, Elty’s reaction to being grabbed by Pleo is pretty much exactly what I was expecting. I can’t really fault anyone for reacting the way they did in that moment, although I was particularly fond of Guardia getting fed up with everyone’s crap.
It did, yeah. Went back and dropped the ‘the’.Guessing this originally read “the Samurott” and you forgot to remove the “the.”
Yeah, carrying as much of your weight as Pleo does probably limits your ability to get really high up. But yeah, he tends to have bad luck with low-altitude flights.Pleo needs to stop flying so low! Flying can outspeed swimming any day of the week, but only with altitude! It makes it easier to avoid being shot down too. But then I reread that bit and he was on his way down to check out the island, so I can't scold him too much. Plus, he had three passengers and that kind of restricts mobility a little. Poor little guy can’t catch a break. :<
Hrm, the ‘repetitive’ part is a bit concerning, though things will certainly be going in a different direction than normal over the course of this arc. I hope that the final product will help dislodge some of those more conventional expectations.Aaaaand it’s time for another dungeon! At least this time they’ve had a bit of a rest so they’re not totally running on fumes like they were with the last one. This is, admittedly, the next in a long line of arcs that begin with them fleeing from an island, having no choice but to enter a dungeon to escape capture, and then making their way out and lying low in town for a while before having to flee yet again. The pattern is a tad repetitive, so I’m hoping that this arc will shake things up a bit with some unexpected developments.
I’m glad to hear that. One of the things that I’ve spent a lot of time and thought about is how to keep all of the plot threads feeling integrated to the cat and mouse between Team Traveller and their various foes as they search for a way home.Eff yeah, finally caught up again. 8D This story just keeps getting better and better. I'm legitimately in awe of how well you keep track of so many characters and so many storylines. It never feels like a pileup, and it never feels like we're being sidebarred away from the real story. It's all one great big rich cohesive picture and I love it.
Aha, you have a sharp eye. But seeing how Nagant’s always been a hotheaded shooter since her initial development, it seemed like a fitting enough homage to make.I'm especially liking the fact that now the Empire's well and truly on-stage. Partly because I've been curious about that faction for a while, and partly because omg Nagant. VERY happy that she's become such a major player in all this. Badass old ladies rock. (And I loved her little Undyne moment a chapter back. For real, I had Spear of Justice playing in my head for the remainder of the chapter. And then some.)
Am glad to hear that, and I hope the future installments will be similarly gripping for you.Hopefully I'll be able to keep tabs on this a little better from here on out. I'm well and truly hooked.
Let’s just hope his normal wares taste a bit better than that. o3o;Oh, and one more thing. Your scyther dude apparently sells shoes on the side. :B
So this installment took a bit longer to get out the door than I’d hoped due to a busier-than-normal June meta, but I’m back with the second chapter from this arc. I will be gunning for 2 chapter releases in July, with the first currently shooting for an early July release.
My special thanks goes to Virgil134 and sugoitsu from ff.net for helping to sand off some rougher edges off of today’s chapter, along with the feedback and support that you all have been providing during this story. And with that, let’s end that wait I’ve been leaving you on and continue on with Team Traveller’s saga.
The sun beat down over Sormus' desert as a Grumpig in a white scarf with a blue sun pattern hopped along on the sea of sand dunes. He went along the ridge of a dune, scanning his surroundings near the fog of the local Mystery Dungeon in the distance. As the pig carried on, he put more and more distance between himself and the forms of a Hitmonchan and Nuzleaf at the base of the dune, carrying on alone in his search. The Psychic-Type panted, finding himself wishing for a nice cool mud puddle or even just a plain old pool of tidewater to plop into and stave off the sweltering heat.
"Grah… how's anyone supposed to search in this weather?" the Grumpig whined.
The pig's ears twitched at the sound of rustling sand nearby. The Manipulate Pokémon looked around uneasily, only to be startled by a cloud of sand being thrown up. The Grumpig jumped back with a start as the upper half of a Krokorok donning a scarf of the porker's same color and design poked out of the ground.
"Eh? What are you talking about, Hooke?" the Krokorok asked. "This weather's fine!"
"Well of course you find this okay, Ken!" the Psychic-Type huffed. "You're like a fish in the water right now!"
Ken pulled himself out of the sand and dusted himself off. The Dark-Type sneered at his Grumpig companion and snorted in response.
"I'm not sure if I see your poi- Huh?"
The Krokorok trailed off as he noticed a small depression in the next dune over. The Desert Croc squinted, and noticed that the small crater continued into a trail, dotted with little silver objects that swirled here and there with the wind
"There's something up ahead over there," the Krokorok murmured.
The pair made their way over to the disturbed sand, the mysterious objects revealed to be dropped feathers as they neared. Could it be...? Hooke hopped over to the edge of the trail, where some hasty footprints had crowded around. Bending over to investigate, he sniffed out the familiar musk of a Nidoran, joined by the distinct sooty scent of Growlithe fur.
"That's them alright," the Grumpig murmured. "But just where would those brats run off to in a place like this?"
Humming in thought, Hooke followed the footprints along with his eyes, scanning the horizon for any little crevices the brats could've hidden themselves in. He spotted a rocky outcropping in the distance that seemed like a likely spot, or perhaps they went to that valley between some of the larger dunes... or, he realized, perhaps they went within the foggy veil of the Mystery Dungeon which loomed in the distance. Wait a minute... if he had to shake off some pursuers in a hurry, what better way was there to do so than to go there? If they went for the Dungeon, they'd be cutting through a place where the ground would shift away any tracks that would be left behind. The pig opened his mouth to speak, only for his watching Krokorok companion to complete his thought.
"I think that we've got our answer with that Dungeon," Ken said, before turning off and calling at a pair of figures in the distance. "Oi, Jan! Locke! Get over here! We've found a lead!"
In the distance, the fuzzy forms of a Hitmonchan and a Nuzleaf glanced over as the Ground-Type summoned them and they hurried to regroup, walking over as briskly as the loose desert sands would allow. The pair crested the ridge of the sand dune and clambered down, impatiently pressing the two for details.
"Eh?" the Fighting-Type asked. "What did you find?"
"Yeah, let's hurry it up!" the Grass-Type fumed. "I think my leaf's starting to wilt!"
"We found the twerps' tracks!" the Grumpig exclaimed. "If we follow them, it'll take us straight to-!"
A call rang out from above, interrupting Hooke's briefing. The four Pokemon turned their eyes skyward, where a familiar Fearow looked down at them as he circled around to land. Settling awkwardly in the unsteady sand, he beat his wings impatiently, kicking up a light cloud of dust from the ground.
"Eh?! Maurier?!" Ken cried. "What are you doing here?"
"Captain Lyn wants all of us at the beach!" the Fearow squawked. "He says he found out where those kids went to."
His message delivered, the bird flapped his wings for takeoff before the others could begin to respond, and hurried away back towards the coast. As Maurier disappeared into the heat-hazed horizon, Jan traded glances with his Nuzleaf partner, before shooting an unamused scowl at the Grumpig.
"You called us all the way out here for something the Captain already figured out?" the Hitmonchan fumed, only to be answered with a disgusted snort from Hooke.
"Oh shut up. Let's just get back to the beach."
The Grumpig set off, hopping across the dunes as the other three Company Pokémon followed along. The group carefully went forth, retracing their footsteps through a circuitous set of dunes and over to a ruddy-sanded beach where a number of Pokémon in Lyn's adopted Blue Sun pattern had gathered. The four crept along, hoping to slip into the back of the crowd, only for a loud Samurott's growl to reach their ears.
"Hmrph, about time you four got back."
The four laggards shifted uncomfortably, giving sheepish smiles at their counterparts that quickly dissipated under a harsh glare from Lyn. The Samurott twitched his whiskers and cleared his throat to speak, still in a surly mood from the whole episode.
"Now that everyone's here, I'll start my debriefing," Lyn said. "Listen up, because I'm not going to repeat myself."
Lyn's glare lingered on the four a moment longer before he broke away, taking a deep breath and straightening his posture as he prepared to more formally address his crew.
"While we were searching for the Sea Guardian's crash site earlier, I found his and his friends' tracks heading for the Mystery Dungeon," the Samurott explained. "Needless to say, it's a safe assumption that they've moved in there to try and elude us."
An uneasy pause flecked with awkward 'uhm's and 'er's followed the Samurott's words. The crew hadn't been expecting to go into a Mystery Dungeon en masse, and they didn't have a friendly port to give them support like they had in Kenobi… Just how were they supposed to square this circle?
"The Board and I anticipated something like this might happen after our meeting on Mengir," the Samurott continued. "So we prepared a contingency plan."
Lyn motioned with his seamitar to a Xatu to the side of him, who opened a container filled with glinting metal badges. The Samurott pulled his blade back and sheathed it, giving a stern scowl at the gathered Pokémon.
"Everyone who isn't here watching the ship or physically unable to move inland is heading in. I want all of you in groups of two so we'll cover more ground," the Samurott captain barked. "The sooner we get those Pokémon, the sooner you'll all be rewarded for this mission."
The crew's murmuring rose to an excited chatter as they dreamt up the size of the bounty on the Protector's head. Lyn motioned for silence, and harrumphed with a satisfied nod as the commotion died down.
"Glad to hear we're all on the same page, then," he grumbled. "Come and get your equipment and get out there."
Lyn eyed his grunts closely, making sure each of them grabbed a badge for him or herself before leaving. His attention was drawn away by the approach of Ketu and Ellsberg, the two shooting each other a brief glare as they came closer. The Samurott shrugged the matter off as the duo came to a stop before him, Ellsberg turning his attention back to Lyn and clearing his throat to speak.
"I presume you needed me to stay aboard, Lyn?" Ellsberg asked.
"No, Ketu can handle that," the Samurott answered. "I need a flier who can cover my bases in the dungeon, and I want you for that."
"Eh?!" the Bug-Type exclaimed. "But-!"
"You heard him, Elmer," Ketu sneered. "Leave the ship-watching to an actual first mate."
Ellsberg balled up his tarsi and beat his wings forcefully, shooting a burning glare at the flippant Dark-Type.
The Mothim flinched as a low growl rumbled through the air. Lyn peered down and glared at them, wordlessly demanding silence, and brought the dispute to an abrupt halt.
"Now that you two are done, is there anything left to be said before Ellsberg and I take our leave?" the Samurott demanded.
"Good luck out there," Ketu cheered. "I'll be looking forward to you bringing back that bird."
"... Save the well-wishing for after that bird's bound and below deck," the Water-Type snorted.
Ketu scoffed dismissively and responded only with a casual shrug of his shoulders, more than accustomed to dealing with his captain's overbearing adamance. The Dark-Type brushed away some sand out of his head feathers, before giving a languid glance up at his otter superior.
"Well, when he is, he'll be in good claws," the Weavile replied.
Lyn and Ellsberg turned around and started their trek towards the Mystery Dungeon, leaving Ketu behind alone on the beach. As the two drifted away and comfortably out of earshot, a small smirk began to creep over the Weavile's face.
"Just not necessarily in the ones you want him to be."
Team Traveller tore along into the dungeon for cover and, after double-checking everyone was present, began the long and arduous process of climbing up its floors. The lower levels were covered in a thick layer of sand just like the desert terrain outside, while further up the sandy floors grew riddled with stones that forced a slower pace to avoid injuries. They found themselves now on a floor which impressively managed to feel intensely claustrophobic despite its tall walls. Even though gargantuan pillars of orange-red stone arced out from the massive walls, the passages of this floor proved rather a tight fit even for the quartet of diminutively-sized adventurers.
On top of the gloomy cloud which hung over the group, the small solace in being able to explore a dungeon together again was stifled by a palpable tension between the four. Their moods were far from bright, but each of them trudged on without complaint, dutifully checking each branching path they encountered for any lurking ferals. However, their measured procedure was suddenly interrupted as they reached a spacious chamber, with three paths stemming from the room and carrying on beyond their line of sight. Pleo's pace slowed and he paused in the middle of the room, unsure of which path to take first. He glanced behind him, looking back to his friends for guidance, only for his heart to sink as he realized they all seemed more focused on glaring at one another than solving their conundrum. After one moment of tense silence too many, the young Lugia couldn't help but to break it by piping up with a question.
"Uh… where do we go next?" Pleo asked. His teammates paused and looked at him, before offering up their suggested routes.
"Left," Nida said.
"Right," Guardia insisted.
"Straight ahead," Elty yipped.
A tense, angry silence fell over the room as the three blurted out their preferred paths in unison. Nidoran, Cubone and Growlithe alike once more glared at one another, each of them sure that their way was the best and having little patience to humor alternatives.
"Spike ball, you don't have to be contrarian just because you're mad at me," Elty huffed. "Checking what's ahead of us is the easiest place to start and you know it!"
"Go ahead and look for yourself then," Nida hissed. "The left is opposite of the side where the stairs took us and that's where I'm going."
"Ugh… you know what? Let's just split up," Guardia muttered. "We'll go down our respective paths just far enough to see if they lead anywhere, and then come back. Nothing can go too wrong in that little bit of time, right?"
"Eh? But-" Pleo began, only to be cut off by a simultaneous answer from his other teammates.
The three Pokémon each harrumphed and turned their backs on one another to leave down their chosen paths. Pleo stammered for a moment as they each walked away, threatening even to leave him behind completely. With no time to think, he simply stumbled after Nida, rushing to catch up to her as she stormed towards her path.
Nida froze as she felt a pressure plate give way under her feet, and a sharp hiss rang in her ears as a sweet-smelling cloud of pink mist billowed out around her. Coughing, Pleo began to beat his wings in an attempt to disperse the fog, but it seemed it had already done its work; Nida's ears twitched and she felt her heart rate pick up as she looked around for any sign of trouble approaching.
"Spike ball, what did you do?!" Elty snapped.
"I stepped on a trap, alright ?" Nida huffed. "Just brace yourself!"
Wrapped up in a heated squabble regarding the trap Nida had sprung, the trio didn't seem to notice that the strange pink mist had already cleared up. Pleo blinked a couple times, peering around the room for any sign of a change... He hadn't felt any weaker, and Nida didn't look hurt, so why were they still so worried about the trap?
"Huh?" the young Lugia murmured. "But nothing happened."
Guardia turned up her nose and took a deep whiff of the area. Then she seemed to catch scent of something, her eyes snapping open as she tightened her grip on her club and took a fighting stance.
"Don't be so sure about that, Guardian."
Nida and Elty seemed to smell whatever it was too, but all Pleo could smell was the faint sweetness that lingered from the mist. However, whatever they smelled that he didn't, it put them on edge just as much, each of them similarly bracing themselves for battle and glancing around the room warily.
"Why?" Pleo stammered. "Wh-What's happening-?"
Team Traveller looked around uneasily as the ground's shaking continued, before being interrupted by a trio of plumes of sand and dirt. The four shielded their eyes and coughed up some sand, seeing the forms of a lost-looking Drillbur, Diglett, and Bunnelby before them.
"Aha! That's where that smell is coming from!" a Drillbur cried.
"Eh?! What are these hut-dwellers doing here?!" a Diglett yelped.
"What they're doing here is unimportant," Bunnelby growled. "Let's get them out!"
The three ferals assumed tense and combative stances, Team Traveller hastily bracing themselves to for battle. Before any of the four could move, the Drilbur honed its claws for a series of furious swipes and lunged for Pleo as his Digglet partner began building up a glob of mud in his mouth and zipped behind Nida.
"Take this!" the Drillbur snarled.
"Yeah, eat mud!" the Diglett spat.
Pleo hastily flew up with a startled squawk, shedding feathers as he darted out of the way of the Drilbur's swipes. Nida rolled as the glob of mud sailed towards her, ducking just in time for it to pass overhead, only to feel a crushing blow on the side of her head.
From above, Pleo heard Nida's shrieks, seeing her flop forward stunned with Guardia's bone lying beside her. A startled whine from behind prompted Pleo to crane his neck around, just in time to see Elty hastily turning tail from the Bunnelby after a kick in his gut and Diglett harrying a now-defenseless Guardia. The young Protector stopped in the air, struggling to determine who to aid, only to feel a sharp pain shoot through his wing.
Pleo yanked his wing back, knocking a blue and black blur down to the ground. Pleo watched as the mole got up and reared up for another slash, prompting the bird to dive down, bluish light gathering on his feathers as he bore down on the Ground-Type. The mole yelped and went sliding back, panting from the sudden blow, trying to regain his bearings.
The Drilbur dug his claws into the sand and staggered up as the cry of a beleaguered Diglett rang out. The mole looked over, and saw both the Nidoran was pinning him down with blows, the Cubone making a swift dash for her club before joining in. The Ground-Type panted and struggled to maintain his footing, his presumptions of an easy fight thoroughly dashed and filled with a strong desire to be anywhere but there at that moment.
"Gah! Vetäytykää! Vetäytykää!"
Unnerved, the mole hastily dove under the sand and burrowed away, followed closely by the Diglett. Back above the surface, Elty yelped and tripped after being knocked over by the Bunnelby, blowing Embers at the rabbit's face to buy precious seconds to slip away yet again, much to the Normal-Type's frustration.
"Why won't you go down-?! Huh?"
The Bunnelby paused and looked over his shoulder, hopping up with a start after discovering his teammates were missing. The Normal-Type bolted along for the hole, calling out after his unseen companions.
"Hey! Wait up! Don't run off without me!"
The rabbit bolted off in a hasty exit, leaving behind Team Traveller to flop down and lick their wounds from the surprise encounter. Disquieted grumbles filtered through the air, Nida in particular giving a scowl at her Cubone teammate in between runs at her throbbing head.
"Argh…" the Nidoran groaned. "Thanks a lot for hitting my head with that bone, Guardia."
"Why are you complaining? Accidents happen," Guardia fumed. "And you're the one who tripped the trap in the first place!"
Nida and Guardia scowled at one another, seething wordlessly, their furious silence broken only by an equally-irate yip from Elty.
"Way to abandon me, you jerks!" Elty growled.
"Oh, you're one to whine about abandonment!" Nida hissed.
Pleo looked on disheartened as his friends sank back into their infighting, further complicated now with the latest dispute between Nida and Guardia. The young legendary began to droop as a sense of crushing failure set in. How could it be that he'd failed so much at being a Protector? He'd hurt others with his powers, and he was unable to keep even the Pokémon he cherished the most from going at each other's throats. The Lugia began to sulk, only to flinch at the sound of approaching footsteps and jolt up with a start.
"Wait!" Pleo squawked. "Someone's coming!"
The others abruptly silenced themselves and turned their ears to the corridors beyond. Sure enough, each of them was able to clearly hear footsteps echoing from down the hall to the left, coupled with distant conversation about the sounds of a scuffle and that syrupy-sweet smell that the wind carried through the dungeon.
"Let's get out of here before they find this place," Guardia whispered.
The team obliged Guardia, quickly shuffling off into the winding maze ahead of them on Elty's chosen path. Although their temperaments were hardly calmed, their arguments would mean precious little if they were overpowered in the dungeon. For now, the best plan of action would simply be to focus on getting through this maze.
Back on Tromba, Osmund's condition had improved to the point where he was ready to resume his duties as the captain of the guard. The only sign of his encounter with Lyn's blade two weeks prior being a faint scar on his stomach that had yet to fade away.
The Sceptile made his way down the paths of Bluewhorl's southern end, meandering past domiciles and shops, and the sounds of sparring emanating of a freshly-busy Dojo for the familiar earthen lodge that served as the guards' headquarters. There at the front were a group of Pokémon in lavender headbands; a Mawile, a Granbull, and a purple Nidoran parted ways, the littlest of the bunch staying behind to slick his whiskers. The gecko gave a bemused shake of his head and walked up, eager to strike a conversation
"Heh, been learning those ropes well while I was out, Orino?" the Sceptile cheered.
"Eh? Captain Osmund?" the Nidoran asked. "I thought you were still recovering."
"Nah, we Sceptile bounce back from a little cut faster than your average tree in the forest," Osmund chuckled. "I was actually just on my way to pass your mom the news."
"Ah, she's been looking forward to getting back to the field," Orino murmured. "But did everything go alright while you were out? Dealing with mamí on the force was… well, it wasn't nearly as easy as with you."
"Meh, it was a chance to take things a little slower," the gecko insisted. "Spent some time brushing up on my card skills, spent a few nights helping Hatteras out with his lighthouse duties, and I spent some time catching up with my sister."
The Nidoran blinked, taken somewhat aback by his captain's casual mention of a new family member.
"Wait, you have a sister?" the Poison-Type asked.
"Younger, yeah," the Grass-Type replied. "We got assignments to different islands a few years back from the capital, though it sounds like she's going through some sort of shake-up on her end."
Osmund trailed off, his gaze drifting to nothing in particular as he stared off into space for a moment. He brought a claw to his chin as his mind turned to his days watching over his sister back at the Academy. She'd been rather vague in her last letter, was she still doing alright? The Sceptile caught himself and shook his head as he brought his thoughts back to the Nidoran before him.
"But that can wait," he insisted. "What did I miss on the job?"
"Oh not much. There were a couple bar fights when the pirates got too much to drink, a Meowth got stuck in a tree the other day, Mildrew asked a few of us to help stake out whatever feral's been stealing his apples..." the spike ball answered. "Also, mamí got a bounty issued on her."
Osmund's eyes widened, and his jaw fell slack in shock at his subordinate's offhanded remark. Marley had a bounty issued against her?!
"Yeah, take a look," the Nidoran prodded. The purple spike lump dug into his bag and fished out a stack of papers, unfurling them to reveal a collection of bounty posters with crude depictions of Pokémon. Osmund saw that one of the bounties was for a Hydreigon, thinking nothing of it until he noticed the other posters. There was Marley in her swirl-patterned scarf, and a Growlithe and a Nidoran in blue scarves with star patterns.
"Guess that's one way of telling that chiquita is still kicking around out there," he murmured.
"… Aren't you more worried about your mother and this bounty?" Osmund asked. "She's leaving the force, and there's no shortage of hunters out there who'd take a shot at this bounty."
Osmund and Orino turned as a Donphan sailed through a shuttered window on the guard hut's first floor, faceplanting on the ground with splintered pieces of wood. A distressed Honchkrow quickly flew out and took off in a hurry, prompting the elephant to hastily right himself and roll off away from the guards' hut. Osmund stared, flummoxed at what had just happened, only for a Nidorina's head to poke out of the now-destroyed frame.
"… Shoot. Lost them," Marley grumbled.
After turning her head, the forms of a slack-jawed Osmund and nonchalant Orino came into the Nidorina's view. The Poison-Type shook her head, giving a cheerful afternoon wave as if nothing had happened.
"Oh, buenas tardes, Osmund," the Nidorina cheered. "Here to take your old job back?"
Osmund blinked and stared ahead speechless at the Nidorina's nonchalance. Bemused at his superior's flummoxed demeanor, Orino shook his head and gave a dismissive wave of his paw.
"Nah, she'll be fine," the Nidoran insisted.
"Er… I can explain?"
Once again, Hess' words echoed about the darkened chamber that the Council gathered to meet in, fidgeting anxiously before an audience of four sour-faced observers. A quick glance evidenced that even the Council's members had not eluded the chaos surrounding Team Traveller's exit. Ingela was covered in welts from Jellicent stings, while Dirk and Tarquin were sporting fresh scrapes on their body. Of course, there was Sibich, who was battered and bruised from his impact, and all the more agitated for it.
"Explain? Explain? What is there to explain?!" the Ghost-Type spluttered. "You destroyed half the town chasing after that bird!"
"B-But it was that Imp and those jellyfish that did most of the damage!" the Steel-Type whined. "And I didn't know that that Lugia would be in town!"
"Then why didn't you come to us?!" Ingela demanded.
"I… er… uh…" Hess stammered. "I didn't think you'd believe me?"
"Well, that wouldn't have been an issue for me," Sibich sighed. "My suspicions were confirmed with this little episode."
"Ugh… I suppose miracles do happen after all. Of a sort," Dirk growled. The Bisharp sprang up and thrust the tip of his blade at Hess' neck, stopping a hair's breadth from the hide as the Steel-Type squeaked and his eyes dilated.
"Unfortunately for you, that doesn't get you off the hook," the Bisharp snarled, moving his blade-tip up against the throat of his petrified audience. "And there will be consequences for this debacle."
The Aggron quailed, tucking his tail in as he felt his blood turn to ice. Hess desperately tried to raise a protest, only for his words to come out as a panicked stammer.
"I- I- N-Noooo…"
The Bisharp pulled his arm back, raising it in the air for a downward blow. Hess froze, whimpering as light glinted off the edge of Dirk's blade.
"On account of your complete and utter incompetence , we sentence you to…"
The Steel-Type screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself for a piercing stab into his neck. In its place, he felt a stiff slap on the side of his maw, sending him falling down onto his rump with a yelp. Hess moved a claw up to paw at his now-numbed cheek, opening his eyes uneasily to see Dirk walking back for his seat.
"Forced labor," the Dark-Type growled. "Namely, you'll be hunting down and bringing that bird back here."
Jaws dropped around the rest of the table, all eyes trained incredulously on Dirk at the leniency of his punishment. Most expected Hess to be lying stone dead on the floor by now, or at least thrown to the Imps or Square-necks for them to have their way with him. Yet here he was, let off with a slap and reassigned to the job they all coveted?! What sort of madness was this?
"Wh-Wha?" the Aggron stammered. Before Hess could receive his answer, Ingela gave the floor a stiff slap with her tail, shooting a hardened scowl at her Bisharp compatriot as he retook his seat.
"Um… Dirk, could we have a word together?" the Primarina demanded.
"H-Huh?" Hess asked. "What are you going to talk abou-?"
"Not you!" Tarquin snarled. "Get out and wait outside outside the room!"
Hess hastily stumbled back to his feet and bolted past the doors at the front. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the lizard loudly slammed the doors shut, leaving Ingela, Sibich, and Tarquin to trade furious scowls with their first among equals.
"Dirk, what sort of punishment is that?!" Ingela exclaimed.
"Yeah, hunting down that bird's something that we should be doing!" Sibich huffed. "Not that metal-jacketed buffoon!"
"Because, whenever crews from this town do something to majorly disturb order in Anyilla, it always draws the full attention of the Company and the Empire," Dirk explained.
"Tch, so we'd have to deal with some more heat than normal," Tarquin scoffed. "Nothing that wouldn't blow over eventually."
"Just like it did for Beatrice?" Dirk countered. The Tyrantrum paused and shifted uneasily before giving a dismissive snort and attempting to wave the matter off.
"Okay, that Garchomp wasn't a normal case and you know it-"
"Or for Amaro after that raid on Nagrobek, or what happened to the town after Charles kidnapped an Imperial Governor's kid?" the Dark-Type interrupted, shooting a piercing glare up at the Tyrantrum. "Or how about when Kafavian stole sea fire recipes from the Company and got his crew and half the harbor burned up after the Square-necks tracked him back here? And do I even need to get into how Jack got his ship dragged to the bottom of the sea?"
The others paused and traded glances with each other. Each of the Pokémon the Bisharp mentioned had met… inglorious ends, to say the least, but all of them had taken needless risks. How was that related to the topic at hand?
"… What are you getting at, Dirk?" Tarquin harrumphed.
"Tch… I shouldn't have to explain this to you, Tarquin. You used to be part of the Company for crying out loud!" the Bisharp spat. "This mission is bound to rile up the Company and the Empire, and it's in our interest that whoever brings that Protector back takes a quick bow off the stage afterwards to keep our base of operations from being razed to the ground."
Tarquin and Ingela paused, mulling over Dirk's plan. The two entertained thoughts of scenarios where they, or perhaps some other agent would chase around the Protector, only to begrudgingly realize that the Bisharp was onto something.
"… I'll admit, I think I can see your point there," Ingela sighed.
"But you're trusting the Iron Fleet to bring the Protector back?!" Sibich exclaimed. "Surely you of all 'mons must realize that-"
"That even though they're clearly bottom percentage material, the Iron Fleet is also the only crew in port that has any idea of what to expect from that Protector," the Bisharp countered. "Or do you know of any others, Sibich?"
The Ghost-Type gritted his teeth as smoky shadows billowed around him. That was his bird for the taking and here Dirk was just giving him away? Even so, the Cofagrigus knew better than to challenge a peer with an advantage, and there were surely other ways to get what he wanted. So for now, at least, the best option seemed to be to relent.
"Urgh… fine," the Cofagrigus sulked.
"C-Can I come back in yet?"
The Council members looked back at the doors, which had opened conspicuously wide to allow Hess to poke his huge head back inside. Dirk groaned with a shake of his head and beckoned the Steel-Type over.
"Yeah, yeah," Dirk growled. "Hurry up already."
Hesitantly, Hess pushed the doors open the rest of the way and paced back into the room. He glanced this way and that, staying wary that perhaps Dirk had been joking when he spared his life, but thankfully that didn't seem to be the case. The Bisharp eyed him amusedly before clearing his throat to speak again.
"As I was saying, it will be on you to bring that Protector back," Dirk barked. "And starting after sundown tomorrow, you will be persona non grata in port until you come back with him."
"E-Eh?!" the Steel-Type whined. "But-!"
"Besides, you have the most experience out of all of us with regard to that bird," the Bisharp pressed. "So you would be best-suited to track it down."
Hess blanched as Dirk's words echoed in the room, realizing that the Dark-Type had left him with two deeply unpalatable decisions. On the one claw, if he accepted - with Rodion and a chunk of the crew gone - it would be next to impossible just to get out of port, much less keep the remaining Pokémon from mutinying. On the other, if he refused... it would be hard to see any outcome where he didn't leave the room in pieces.
"I- I mean, I don't have much of a choice-"
The gathered Pokémon looked back at the doors as a black-and-white figure with a large bill pushed them open and flitted over to the Council members' table. As the bird slowed and settled to a stop, he took the clearer shape of a Toucannon wearing Tarquin's colors. The Council members narrowed their eyes and scowled, none the more pleased by the Flying-Type's interruption.
Do you mind?" Ingela snarled. "We're in the middle of something here!"
"Er… apologies, but it's urgent!" the toucan insisted. "It's from the Imp who trashed the port! She wants to do a prisoner exchange!"
A chorus of disdainful groans followed the bird's words. That Imperial lackey had the temerity to assume that she could get her lost underlings back so easily?
"A prisoner exchange? Pah!" Tarquin spat. "I wouldn't give them so much as a scale unless I got those Imp sods' weight in alumi-"
"We'll do it!" Hess cried. The Aggron paused, realizing that he had spoken out of turn and growing acutely aware of the harsh glares boring through his hide from the Council members. Even so, this was his opportunity to patch up his crippled crew… perhaps he should just be candid about it?
"Uh… er… I… would kinda need the members of my crew who were captured back to have the best odds at getting that Lugia?" Hess offered, forcing a smile over his metal maw. Dirk glared harshly, only to see that the Armor Pokémon, while visibly unnerved, wasn't budging on his demand. It would be easy enough to kill him here on the spot… but then again, how else would the Council get another patsy this well-suited to the job?
"Ugh… fine," the Dark-Type sighed. "Where and when does she want the exchange?"
(Continued in next post)