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Once a Thief

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Two years ago, Lyle left Outlaw life for what he hoped was forever. But when wartime hardship pulls him into one last job, a stroke of fate brings Lyle and his fellows across an Axew thief after a legendary treasure, along with the army nipping at her heels.

... But why would the army send troops after a treasure during a war? And will things really be as simple as snagging it first?

Hello everybody, some of you may have already seen this coming from other places where I lurk around, but I’m here with a fresh story that’s not a rewrite of old material. This time, featuring with a grand experiment in writing a longer serial work alongside my work with @Virgil134 on Fledglings.

Okay, so for some backstory. Back in 2019, I was bandying around some plot bunnies that had been chilling in the pile of things I wanted to do one day, but lacked the confidence to write alongside Fledglings. One of them happened to be the idea of writing a shorter story from the perspective of a PMD setting’s Outlaws without having to worry about tripping over continuity boundaries in the Cradle. One thing led to another and the next thing I know, three NaNoWriMos and 2 years of on-and-off work later, I found myself sitting on something on the order of 80k words of mostly-complete text plus an additional 50k words in script outline form, so I figured that even if I was still a bit worried, it was time to take the plunge and start throwing things out into the wild.

Once upon a time, this was going to have about 20 chapters, and my outlines are still structured under that assumption and accordingly were roughly 85% complete at the time of writing. Though during the actual process of putting prose in, most chapters turned out kinda… long. So yeah, I’m honestly expecting that final run length to be something closer to '40 to 45' chapters once the dust settles. Updates target a once per calendar month schedule, since as much as I’ve fallen in love with this story, it’s admittedly a bit of a sideshow to my other work that exists for three reasons:

1: To write about PMD Outlaws doing Outlaw things. (Well, alright, it’s more complicated than that, but I should really let you read the story for that instead of just blurting it out loud for you. :p)
2: To be a proof-of-concept to get a feel for how well I can manage a shorter but still longer-burn story alongside my other writing.
3: To indulge my inner derivative hack and make a boatload of references and homages along the way. For those of you who read Path of Valor (and you should because it’s great), this story has a relationship with Tetsuya Takahashi’s Xeno series similar to what PoV has going on with Final Fantasy. It’s just usually not quite as forward about it. :V

As such, things publish whenever they’re done and I have time to push them out the door. Now, I’m not a super fan of content warnings, but I’ll be upfront and say that this story isn’t targeting a Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe and I gave the FFN version of this story a T rating. The dialogue’s a bit coarser, the general themes and content a bit darker, but if you happened to play Xenoblade or another game from its broader franchise, exactly nothing in this story should faze you beyond it being written from a less heroic perspective (well, that and you might notice some details here and there that feel a bit familiar).

Special thanks goes to @Virgil134 from here on Serebii, along with Shadow of Antioch and TorchicBellow from FFN, and Torchic W. Pip from Bulbagarden Forums who provided assistance with beta reading and providing translation assistance for some bits in this story (yeah, I’m still doing multilang antics even if it’s not as broad of a net as in Fledglings, sue me). The multilang antics are a bit more integrated this time around, with every chapter starting off with a short snippet in German that talks a bit about the world of Wander and the things going on in it. They're intended to be read in natural order to the best of one's ability to understand them, with translations are provided at the end of each chapter as part of the Author's Notes. I won't say too much about them, other than that a keen eye might help you notice details that aren't necessarily played up in those provided translations. Though as such, there’s a Glossary this time around too, which can be found in the nitty gritty in the spoiler blocks right below:

And with that, let's begin the experiment. I’m ready to show off my work and throw you into the world of Wander, as seen from a few Pokémon on the other side of the Outlaw Mission board.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Vor einer langen Zeit haben die Pokémon, welche diese Welt bewohnen, mit Wesen die sie „Menschen“ nannten geteilt. Seltsame Kreaturen, welchen die Weisheit gegeben war, die Geheimnisse unserer Welt wie durch die Augen der Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen. Doch sie waren nicht in der Lage, diese Geheimnisse anzuwenden, nicht ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns.

Man sagte, dass Menschen wie Vermittler zwischen den verschiedenen Arten von Pokémon gehandelt haben. Sogar Sengo und Vipitis lebten friedlich nebeneinander und die Wilden konnten so leben, wie sie sich in ihrem unberechenbaren natürlichen Lebensraum niemals vorgestellt hätten.

Und dann kam was wir „Der Glühende Blitz“ nannten. Auf einmal umhüllte ein blendendes Licht unsere Welt, welches die gesamte Menschheit entfernt hat. Die Dimensionen wurden gestört und die ganzen Kontinenten schüttelten. In dessen Ebbe hat es eine entzweite Welt mit verzerrten Orten, welche wir „Mysteriöse Orte“ nannten, hinterlassen.

Auch mit solch einen großen Verlust, haben wir Pokémon mit der Weisheit, die die Menschen hinterlassen haben, unsere eigenen Gesellschaften entwickelt, welche dieser unserer Vermittler ähnelt. Um die Geheimnisse dieser veränderten Welt wenn auch flüchtig zu sehen. Und so bekam diese neue Welt, deren Geburt den Anfang unserer Zeitrechnung markiert, ihren Namen - „Wunder“.

- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«

The waning rays of the evening sun washed an Oran Berry field under warm orange tones, shining down on Pokémon going to and fro among rows of bushes. Here and there, the creatures would stop and gather up the blue fruits into small wooden baskets of varying sizes. Among the figures scurrying about was a tired-looking Quilava with a plain orange scarf tied about his neck, who paused to set down a basket that he lugged in his forepaws and dropped to all fours for a moment to catch his breath. The Fire-type felt the wind chill and blow over his fur, as it tended to during autumns in the north of Varhyde, which made him thankful for his body's natural warmth.

He looked down at his basket, the most recent he'd managed to fill with harvest season drawing to an end. With the bushes of the Oran field running increasingly barren, it was also likely the last he'd manage for the day. He let out a grumbling sigh and flattened his ears, before trudging off with it towards a small collection of huts off in the distance.

The Quilava gaped about his surroundings on the way over, seeing other Pokémon in similar garb still at work trying to glean the last stray Oran Berries off bushes with leaves that had long since turned red with the seasons—a sign that they'd be the last crop to be picked from them until winter. The Fire-type trudged along, until he reached the huts and came to a queue of Pokémon of different shapes and sizes. All of them waited with tubs of Oran berries at the ready, in front of a larger wood-and-sod shack with jars filled with luminous moss hung along its eaves.

There, a Crustle in a simple tan scarf stood behind a table with a set of scales on them. One by one, the Pokémon in line would pass a slip of paper over to the earthen-shelled crab, who would weigh their bucket's content before letting another Pokémon dump them onto a conveyor belt driven by Pokémon on running wheels in the background. Amidst the din of the conveyor belt's operation in the background, the Crustle would take the Pokémon's paper, scribble some marks onto it, before passing it back and moving onto the next Pokémon in the queue.

After what felt like an eternity, it came time for the Quilava to step forward. He passed his bag and a sheet of paper across the table, much as he had every day since the middle of the last summer month of Erntemond₁ almost a full moon ago. The Fire-type tapped his foot and fidgeted irritably as he watched the Crustle take his bag, look at the scale skeptically, and then narrow his eyes back with a small click of his claws.

"… You're light today, Lyle." the Crustle weigher said.

"It can't really be helped, there wasn't much to pick on the bushes today," the Quilava harrumphed back. "It's better to gather the stuff that's still reasonable to harvest for now and wait for the last of the Oran Berries on them to ripen."

The weigher tilted his head and gave a sharp scowl in response, curling his mouthparts into an unimpressed frown back at the stoat in the orange scarf.

"You shouldn't give in so easily. These berries help to go and support our royal troops bleeding for us on the frontline," the crab reminded. "Why, that Hoppip Bucky brought in more than you today, and he's just a little grub!"

The fire along the Quilava's back vents danced for a moment, the Fire-type glaring sharply back up at the Crustle.

"Look, it takes me four trips with this stupid bucket just to gather a single Scheffel₂ of berries, and my wages are tied to each one I bring in," the Fire-type snorted back. "I think I know how much is in a day's work, Trent. So just let me go get my pay for the day and get some rest."

The Crustle said nothing for a moment, before pressing a stamp down on a scrap of paper and giving a low grumble under his breath.

"… If you say so. I'm just glad that not everyone's as unmotivated as you," the Bug-type said. "If your parents' generation quit as easily as you during the last invasion, we never would've driven those dirty Edialeighers back across the sea, and we'd all be getting kicked around by them right now."

The Crustle slid the paper across the table towards the Quilava. Lyle rolled his eyes and snatched the receipt, all but crumpling it up in his paws before nipping at a corner and making his way on all fours over to a low-slung shack at the other end of the strip. The Quilava didn't bother unfurling the paper, only a complete idiot would fail to keep track of the number of buckets he'd brought in in a day, or the number of Scheffel they added up to in volume. Eighteen. Eighteen measly Scheffel of those gottverdammten₃ Oran Berries that this field grew, for which he could expect five Carolins each for his trouble to repeat the process again tomorrow. Just enough to put two meals' worth of food and a pint of stiff lager in his belly for a day or two… and precious little else.

The Fire-type drifted past the shacks along the strip, stopping by one with a set of chests where he fished out a tatty satchel that he'd brought and left for safekeeping prior to starting his day's work. He couldn't imagine there being much worth stealing from it, but you never knew these days. After collecting his belongings, the Quilava carried along down the strip, making his way forward on all four of his legs.

Along the way, he passed a dingy hall with crude tables and seats fashioned from wooden odds and ends that carried a strong scent of alcohol. The place was a dive that served the sorriest excuse for beer he'd ever tasted, but there never seemed to be an absence of pickers visiting it after a day's work. Among the customers today were a Gumshoos and Greedent, who sat outside the door with clay cups trading low whispers with one another.

"A friend of mine who hangs around the garrison at Moonturn Square says another levy's coming down for 'mons to fight in the army's ranks over the next few days," the Gumshoos murmured, prompting the Greedent pause and to pin his ears back back in reply.

"Again?" the squirrel asked. "Whatever happened to all those 'mons who were shipped out in the campaign back in spring?"

"I dunno, but I ran into one getting patched up after being sent back from getting a paw messed up out there," the Gumshoos explained. "He seemed pretty shook up over whatever happened, so it makes me wonder just how many of those 'mons from that last levy are still around."

Lyle paused and reared up, flicking his ears uncomfortably at the Gumshoos and Greedent's chatter. It was the third week of Herbstmond₄, well into autumn and around the time when the army would try and ship more fighters off for the front line. Their last opportunity for the year to shore up their offenses against Edialeigh, before winter weather made further ones in the intervening months into exercises in futility.

There had been much crowing among those close to the army about how things were different now. It'd been seven years since Edialeigh's last invasion into Varhyde had finally been broken and chased back across the sea. Now, the ravages of war were their problem and the homefront in Varhyde could know something approximating rest. There was no fear of raids by warbands of 'mons who spoke muddled Commontongue, or at least not for now. And at times, the war could almost be forgotten as some sort of faraway nightmare…

Except it'd been the fifth time that the theater of war had moved to Edialeigh in the more than seventy years the war had been dragging on, and meant there was little enthusiasm to go around for chances at glory and vengeance. Every year since then, there seemed to be little to show for the Kingdom's offenses on Edialeigh's territory but some new funerals and chewed-up 'mons limping back to their homes to look forward to a life of unstable employment and praying that the nearest town's food dole didn't fall short yet again.

Any hope of a decisive victory had died many years ago, much like the gods who'd once fought under the banners of those two lands and met their ends on the battlefield like so many others. Even with the promise of revenge and repaying old wounds, the endless grind had burned away much of the enthusiasm and fighting spirit of Varhyde's Pokémon, and the Gumshoos and Greedent trading worried looks with one another were hardly exceptions.

"… You don't suppose they'll start dragging out 'mons like us out there, do you?" the Greedent asked.

"I dunno… I heard that the Sheriff out there's been dragging his feet over it and holding out for some sort of workaround, but if there's really a levy going on, he's gotta send somebody," the Gumshoos murmured. "After all, when was the last time you heard of anyone volunteering to go to the frontlines who wasn't desperate, drunk, or both?"

Word was that even in the capital of Newangle City itself, the local guards had largely stopped bothering to arrest 'mons for airing such sentiments, even if on the books, such talk was tantamount to sympathizing with the enemy and grounds for conscription or worse. There were too many offenders, and morale within the ranks had been lacking even back when his father was a mere Cyndaquil.

But that was someone else's problem. For Lyle, his problem was scraping together enough food for the week, and his ticket to that was the Persian paymaster at the counter of the last shack at the end. The Normal-type had just finished counting out coins for a Hoppip under the dull blue glow of a cracked ring made of some sort of clear resin that was hung from a wooden pole. Stuffed with luminous moss if the color of the light was anything to go by. And if the ring-shaped light was really the human relic it appeared to be, it was likely the most valuable thing in the entire strip of buildings.

The Quilava made his way up, reared up onto his hind legs, and uncrumpled his paper, turning it in with a sigh and pinch of his brow. He watched the cream-furred cat look over the paper and count up the stamps on it, eighteen, just as he himself had counted, before reaching into a small box and pulling out a few gold-colored coins and clinking them against the counter. The Fire-type stared blankly at the coins for a moment and let his mouth flop open, before letting his body's fire flare up and spluttering back indignantly at the Normal-type.

"Hey, what the-?! This is 60 Carolins!" he exclaimed. "I got almost a third more than this for yesterday's pickings! I even brought in more buckets today!"

"Yeah, well that reflects the new price that the army passed onto us, and they get the first cut of everything grown here on top of it," the Persian explained. "Naturally, we can't afford to pay the same as we used to."

"And you'll just hike the prices for whatever you do get to keep at market, so how on earth is that fair?!" Lyle demanded. "How do you expect me to be able to buy food this week if I'm getting paid at this rate?!"

The Persian shot a dark glare back that made the Quilava reflexively flinch and tamp his fire down, half-expecting the cat to summarily yank his already meager pay off the table. While Lyle's fears ultimately proved to be unfounded, the paymaster's gaze remained firmly trained on him as she spat back a huffing reply.

"Lyle, everyone's getting squeezed here right now. I already know that you live in a burrow out in the fringes, so grow a berry bush of your own next to whatever hole you sleep in at night like everyone else does whenever things come up short!" the Normal-type growled. "I'm sure you've got someone who can take care of it while you're working out here, don't you?"

Lyle said nothing back to the paymaster for a long while, before pinning his ears back and snatching the coins off the counter. For most of the past two years, he lived alone, and barely knew his neighbors, so he wasn't exactly rich with options to act on the Persian's advice. So what else was he supposed to do?

Lyle sighed, and held his eyes to the ground. He'd thought of stealing the difference from the field while on the job before, but… he'd always found himself unable to muster the courage. Only a berry or two at the most. It just wasn't worth the risk of being kicked out of this job too.

He'd already struggled to find employment with an interrupted apprenticeship as a glassblower and a past that he deliberately kept opaque to others. Getting banned from what few potential sources of employment he'd been able to find was a complete non-starter of an idea.

… Perhaps he should've been thankful he even had this much. Considering what became of most of his old friends, getting stuck slaving away in a berry field was probably the best outcome he could've realistically hoped for. Lyle quickly deposited the coins into a small bag that he threw into the bottom of his satchel and shuffled off for a dirt path down a wooded slope with a low grumble. At the beginning of the slope, the Quilava suddenly heard the Persian call out after him and turned his head back to see her giving a stern gaze.

"By the way, you might wanna wait and see if the moon comes out before you head off," the Normal-type suggested. "The routes have been getting more dangerous on dark nights like these lately. Besides, a drink with your fellow pickers over at the canteen might take the edge off of you."

Lyle fanned the flames on his head and tail out annoyedly at the Normal-type's insistence. It was already getting dark, and he wasn't exactly deaf! He'd heard the Persian's warning plenty of times over the past moon, and were it a mere two years ago, that same warning would probably have been about him.

"I'm sure I'll manage somehow," Lyle harrumphed. "Not like I'd be able to afford the cheap swill that dive here sells with this pay anyways."

The Fire-type huffled and dropped to all fours along the ground, darting off down the path for the road where he turned left and made his way along it. Lyle slowed his pace after the entrance to the Oran field he worked at slipped from view. It was already twilight, and running or not, he'd never beat the night's dark back to his home burrow. The Quilava gaped about the tree-lined path, the last rays of light faintly illuminating the fields on either side of him.

There were the standard fields of berry bushes and fields planted with the likes of wheat and rye. Others had been planted with seeds that had been affected by the Distortion of Mystery Dungeons, yielding crops that had little use beyond being used as implements to fight with. There was at least one more field planted in such a manner than he remembered from last year, and they seemed to consume ever-increasing swaths of Varhyde's land. There were Totter Seeds to daze Pokémon, Blinker Seeds to impair their vision, and Blast Seeds to blow their ramparts to smithereens. Crops that grew without the influence of Mystery Dungeons that were similarly weaponizable also gobbled up land for the war effort, as the Apricorn field he was passing to his left evidenced. It was hard to think of any use for the damned things other than for grapeshot and mines to swallow Pokémon whole, condemning those who weren't freed from them in time to hungry, lonely deaths trapped inside.

Lyle shook his head as the skies darkened and he moved on to a more wooded patch of the trail, happy to leave the fields behind. The sun's last glimmers had given way to a gibbous moon and stars above, so there was little light left to guide him beyond the glow of the fire on his head and tail.

He supposed there was the small ribbon of blue-and-green light in the sky towards the west, but the aurora appeared to just be one of the ones that formed in the skies above Mystery Dungeons. Over Waterhead Cave from the looks of it. But it was hardly bright enough to light his way even without a bunch of treetops obscuring it. The stoat lowered his head a bit so as to let his fire better illuminate the path, when he felt a sticky glob suddenly strike his right flank from the treeline.

"Agh! What the-?!"

"I got something! I got something!" a voice chittered.

Lyle tensed up and flared out his body's fire, whirling to his right where he spotted a glob of silk attached to his flank's fur, along with a white strand that his eyes followed back up to a pair of Spinarak dangling from the trees. Unlike the Pokémon back at the Oran field, neither of them appeared to be wearing any garb. The leftmost of the two Bug-types looked on in startled alarm at his target, while his companion turned with an angry chitter.

"I told you to try and track away from the path, you moron!" the other Spinarak fumed. "You tracked some knot-neck!"

Lyle narrowed his eyes and angrily spat up a small gout of fire at the tree, making the two drop from it with frightened screeches as the patch of tree bark where they'd been resting smoldered. After striking the ground, the two Bug-types squealed and hurriedly scuttled off into the undergrowth, their cries ringing out in the darkness.

"Eyaah! Run for it!"

"J-Just consider yourself lucky you can hide behind the Vow, you furry jerk!"

Lyle looked down at the glob of silk on his fur and tugged it off, burning it with a small puff of fire on the dirt path. He could've done without the hostile Wilder run-in on the way home, but he supposed that all things considered, the encounter could've gone worse.

It was said that Spinarak and Ariados among the guards of Varhyde's settlements stalked their own prey on the job by tagging them with silk and letting them lead them back to their hiding places. Evidently, even if they killed each other off for their sustenance and petty squabbles instead of on behalf of some kingdom or for loot and plunder, the practice was much the same among their Wilder counterparts.

The comparison almost made that sort of harsh Wilder lifestyle in the hinterlands sound noble when he framed it like that. Almost. Not that it made having to get the Wilders' silk out of his fur any less annoying. Lyle flicked his ears as quiet returned to the path when he noticed the sound of flowing water coming from up ahead. It wasn't exactly the most comforting thing to hear, but it was a sign the bridge he needed to cross about halfway back to his home was just up ahead.

The Quilava sighed and carried on, when he heard splashing and his nose caught the scent of damp fur. The Fire-type froze and flared up in response as his mind returned to the Persian's warning, only to be snapped back to reality by a yipping voice calling out from under the bridge.

"I see that you're as popular as ever, Lyle."

Lyle screwed his eyes shut in frustration after he realized the voice was deeply familiar. It wasn't from an Outlaw, but he'd frankly have preferred it if it was. The Quilava looked ahead, watching as the form of a Floatzel clambered up onto the bridge and sauntered forward.

The Sea Weasel Pokémon bore a white scarf with a bold gray chevron on it, with his underbelly and back covered in overlapping green plates, with one on his head of similar design that functioned as a rough helmet. The attire wasn't exactly hard to miss, but the presence of a white triangle insignia with circles at its tips that pointed upwards along with his scarf's chevron made it unmistakeable. It was a set of the standard issue armor that was given out in Varhyde's army and among the town guards who were subordinate to them.

Each of the plates were fashioned out of tightly-banded linen that had been treated with fire retardant, then glued together in layers until they formed a segment thick and durable enough to stop the likes of an Iron Thorn. And from the Floatzel's demeanor, he clearly hadn't forgotten about his armor's protective qualities.

The Floatzel shook some water off his pelt, Lyle recoiling as some of the drops dashed against him much to his disgusted annoyance and shifted back with a grumbling sigh. After all, if nothing else, he knew who the accosting sea rat was all too well.

"What is it this time, Nils?" the Quilava demanded, prompting the Water-type to turn his muzzle up with an affected display of offense.

"Now what's that attitude all about?" the Floatzel scoffed. "I'm a soldier and here you are giving me the third degree like a common Outlaw!"

More like a 'Gendarm₅' who was unlikely to have seen any action outside of guarding towns or countryside roads and being a pest to peasants and travelers, but that was splitting hairs. Even if it was hard for him to imagine Nils lasting a moon in Edialeigh before deserting into some forest with his tails between his legs, Gendarmen like him were still technically part of the royal army and still Grünhäuter₆, as the green-clad bastards were sometimes mocked, through and through. Soldiers went off to the front lines across the sea and tore up battlefields and villages that were out of sight and out of mind for the homefront, while Varhyde's Pokémon had to live with the likes of Nils.

The Floatzel approached and brushed the fur on the exposed regions of his head back with some stray water that clung to it, the otter peering down at his shorter counterpart with a smug smirk.

"Really, I'm on your side here!" the Water-type insisted. "Edialeigh might not be able to throw a whole lot of 'mons into Varhyde proper right now, but that doesn't mean your old buddy Nils isn't putting his neck on the line for you!"

"Hrmph, thanks I suppose," Lyle said, as he attempted to brush past the armored pest in his way. "But it's getting late and I really should get moving on."

Nils quickly cut off Lyle's path and stepped into his way, making the Quilava fold his ears back and glance up with a quiet grimace. The Floatzel chuckled bemusedly to himself, shaking his head in reply as he stepped forward and leaned in over his captive audience of one.

"Lyle, Lyle, Lyle… you of all 'mons oughta know that we bust our tails to look out for the little guys," the Floatzel insisted. "And the army's had to cut back on stipends for us folk on the homefront over the 'mons going across the sea to keep the fight from coming back into Varhyde again…"

The Water-type reached out his right paw, and motioned towards his body with it a couple times with a small, almost taunting smile.

"So how about you help out a friend in need, huh? Consider it a friendly donation," the guard insisted.

Lyle narrowed his eyes in disgust and felt the fire on his body simmer. He didn't need to deal with this crap from Nils again. Not tonight of all times.

"Sorry, I've got my own problems this time," he insisted, prompting Nils to shoot back with an unimpressed scoff.

"And just what's that supposed to mean?" the guard demanded. "You're not getting back into trouble again, are you, Lyle?"

Lyle grimaced and pinned his ears back much as if the guard had just summoned a Surf to deluge him. Yes, Nils knew the Pokémon he shook down for his… 'donations' quite well. Well enough to know that even without his natural disadvantages, the Quilava before him was particularly ill-prepared to refuse his demands.

"I mean, I heard your ma and pa were those glassblowers out in Freeden Village, weren't they? But the last time I was passing through, they said that they didn't know any 'Lyle' other than some good-for-nothing thief they chased off from their shop," Nils explained. "And then there's that old wanted poster for a Quilava from some 'Foehn Gang' that was floating around last year with a description that matches up with everything but your name, Lyle Fremders. I mean, I'm sure that he's long been caught with how old that listing is. But… it'd be awkward for you if 'mons around here got you confused with either of those two characters, don't you think?"

Lyle bristled at the Floatzel's faux amity. Even close friends didn't bring up a 'mon's Vatername₇ in casual conversation, not that 'Fremders' was even his real one. It was a stupid idea he'd had to try and hide who he was when he tried to leave his past behind, to pretend that he was some recruited Wilder who didn't have a father to record.

At the time, he thought it'd surely draw less attention than just going around as 'Lyle Igelavars' like he had back when his parents still acknowledged his existence. But all it'd done was tip off more observant types like Nils that he had something to hide when they noticed his behavior didn't match up with his backstory. And it gave the guard all that he needed to skim off his pay without him being able to so much as raise a word in protest.

"Ugh… how much do you want?" Lyle grumbled. As soon as the words left his mouth, Nils' smile vanished from his face, and his expression hardened into an icy scowl.

"20 Carolins sounds about right for tonight. The straps for the back of my armor have worn out and I need to replace 'em, and I didn't really have the heart to go asking for money from folks like Oulen either," the Water-type said. "Ever since her joey came along, she's been struggling to get by, and not because she's got something to hide either."

Lyle muttered under his breath before loosening the pouch with his pay in it and grudgingly parted ways with a quartet of golden-colored coins from it. As steep as Nils' demanded bribe was, there wasn't much point in trying to dig his heels in. Even if Nils wasn't in a position to rat him out and have the book thrown at him, Nils' kind as Water-types held the upper paw over Quilava like him in battle. A straight fight right here and now would accomplish little other than getting him knocked out and giving the damned Grünhäuter a license to clean him out entirely. After palming the coins Lyle passed over, Nils threw them into a small bag that he stuffed back under his breastplate, and stepped aside with a smarmy smile and mocking wave of his paw.

"Have a good night! And do take care of yourself out there!" the guard said. "There's been a rash of robberies by Outlaws around these parts lately."

Lyle lowered his head and spat a few embers into the dirt as he trudged along over the bridge, growling under his breath over the indignity of having to let some sea rat help himself to his stuff. If he were still with his old gang, he'd have allies to make the Floatzel whimper out an apology and scurry off all the way back to his garrison at Moonturn Square. But yesterday was gone, and he'd left that game. He was just a berry picker now and there were no allies for him to call on, and no remedy for the third of the already-meager earnings he'd collected that day that Nils had just pocketed.

The Quilava paused and reared up, seeing that he'd gone far enough for the bridge to no longer be visible, and the trickling sounds of the stream no longer reached his ears. He had ended the day expecting to have earned 90 Carolins, and was now left with 40. Whatever thoughts of lager this week were sheer fantasy at this point, and he'd need to start thinking of what other meals to skip in it if this sort of pay was going to be his new norm. He supposed there was the food dole that was distributed in towns like Moonturn Square, but using it meant making yourself known to the local authorities… and for the army's levies for 'monpower for the front lines. Right when a fresh one was just about to go out and the garrison was already known to be short on volunteers.

Perhaps it was time to just give in and take from it. One of the last things that had happened in his former life as an Outlaw was that he'd begun to falteringly learn how to use Flame Charge. He hadn't exactly practiced it much since then, but the fact that he'd even gotten to that point was sign enough that his time as a Quilava was nearing an end. Whenever that happened, he'd need to afford the extra food to feed his new body somehow, and it sure as hell wasn't going to happen with his wages.

Lyle folded his ears back and dimmed his head and tail fire, staring down at the ground as the sense of solitude on the brisk autumn night sank in. Just then, he heard a branch crack in the undergrowth to the right of the path, and flared his ears and fire as he whirled over towards its direction.

"Huh? Who's there-?"

The Quilava was cut off by a black-and-red blur bursting out from the undergrowth and knocking him to the ground. Lyle curled up reflexively and flared out the fire on his body, before rolling over onto his feet and bracing for battle when he felt something catch at his throat. The stoat looked down and caught his breath, noticing a pair of long, white claws digging their points in at his throat.

"Heya, miss me, Lyle?"

Lyle followed the claws with his eyes up to their owner, and saw a Sneasel in a blue scarf with a lighter-shaded wind swirl design stooping down beside him with a wry smile. The Quilava panted tensely for a moment before calming after he recognized the features of the Dark-type, who pulled her claws back, brought them up behind her feathered head and stuck her tongue out teasingly. Lyle reared up, and after brushing at his throat a couple times, turned back to the familiar Sneasel with a sharp frown.

"Would it have killed you to give a normal greeting, Kate?" the Quilava fumed. "What are you even doing here?"

"Heh, so you do recognize me!" she exclaimed. "And here I thought this scarf from the Mistral Marauders would throw you off!"

"Hrmph, you're not exactly a character who's easy to forget," Lyle grumbled back, narrowing his eyes. "And you didn't answer my question about why you're here. There's a guard on the bridge not even a hundred paces down the path!"

The Sneasel unfolded her arms and circled around the Quilava, walking about him in an arcing path around his back from his left to his right.

"Well… I'd heard that you'd been having some money troubles," Kate said, giving a playful poke at the stoat's flank. "So I figured that I'd offer you a chance to scratch my back, and I'd do the same to yours."

Lyle stiffened up from the Sneasel's jab, which vaguely reminded him of the pokes he and his brother traded when they were younger to tease and roughhouse with each other, if a bit more uncomfortable on account of her claws. Kate really hadn't changed all that much from when they parted ways… or the times they'd met since then. Now, just as then, the Quilava gave a sharp shake of his head back, and repeated words that had become almost rote to him.

"Oh Blauflamme₈, this crap again?" he snorted. "I already told you last time, no more jobs. I left that game and I'm not planning on getting back in."

Kate folded her arms and blew a puff of chilly breath up at her ear feather, giving a sour frown in reply to her former comrade.

"You could've fooled me seeing how your current scarf's just missing that pattern our old crew's had. So you obviously don't have that many bad feelings about it," the Sneasel insisted. "Besides, I wouldn't have made the offer if I thought you'd have trouble with it! You pulled your weight every bit as much as I did back when we were on the Foehn Gang!"

"Yeah, well last I checked, the Foehn Gang doesn't exist anymore and the Charizard who used to run it got pushed into an Apricorn to starve to death," Lyle grumbled. "So there's not a whole lot I can do to help you there."

"Well the Pokémon from it are still around… or at least a few of 'em anyways," the Dark-type insisted. "Including your old buddy, Alvin."

Lyle hesitated for a moment at the Sneasel's words, who keenly watched his expression and posture in response. He never had heard of Alvin turning up among the Pokémon who'd been captured when the Foehn Gang was broken up. But at the same time, Kate had never mentioned him before the past times they'd met, so what was going on?

"Alvin?" the Fire-type asked. "Since when did you still work with him?"

"Well, it was more luck of the draw with the old bonehead, really," the Sneasel admitted. "His new crew and mine are teaming up to take on a caravan that's set to come through here tomorrow."

Kate raised a claw and prodded at Lyle's chest gently with one of her claws, curling her muzzle up into a knowing smile.

"The boss wanted some local muscle to help her and the gang out with the job," she explained. "When I mentioned that there was a former pyro from the Foehn Gang who had a mean Will-'O-Wisp and made a name for himself punching above his weight who was toiling away in a field right in the neighborhood… well, it kinda piqued her interest."

Lyle hesitated for a moment, before brushing the Sneasel's claw aside and starting off, sharply huffing in reply without bothering to look back at the Dark-type.

"I'm sure you can find someone else to help her," he insisted. "Outlaws aren't exactly hard to come by these days."

"Outlaws? Or 'mons short on coin?"

Lyle's ears pricked at the sound of jingling coins when he noticed that the flap of his satchel had been pried back. The Quilava whirled around and saw Kate holding his bag of coins, before opening it, eying its contents, and looking back with a disbelieving scoff.

"Lyle, can you even feed yourself properly with this sort of money? I've seen 'mons try their luck outside the law with more than this to show to their name!" she exclaimed. "And just how badly did that Floatzel clean you out earlier? I can smell his grubby mitts all over this thing!"

Lyle grit his teeth and let the flames on his body simmer in irritation. Kate must've been shadowing him for some time if she'd known about his run-in with Nils. He thought of raising his voice to ask her just how long she'd been following him, only for her to draw the bag of coins shut, and toss it up and down in her claw.

"Oh come on, what's with that look? You of all 'mons oughta know I don't rip off friends," she insisted. "And it's not as if I'm asking you for a commitment here either."

The Dark-type caught onto the satchel and tightened her grip around it, giving a stern look back.

"All I'm asking for is for you to lend your skills and help me and Alvin this one time, doing something that should be old hat to you: we go in, we pull a smash and grab, and get out afterwards," she said. "You'll get your share of the loot, we part ways again, and you leave better off from it. From what I've heard, the caravan we're targeting ought to have enough once everything's divided up properly for your cut to help you get a fresh start away from this dump."

Kate shook her head, before throwing the bag back at Lyle's feet. The Quilava reflexively stooped down to snatch the coins up, the Sneasel watching and letting her ears droop as she couldn't help but let an almost pitying look cross her face before speaking up again

"… Or you just say 'no' and I'll try and find some other talent from around here," she sighed. "I personally wouldn't find picking berries all day along with the occasional shakedown by a troll under a bridge to be rewarding, but hey. You do you."

Lyle stuffed his coin bag back into his satchel and clamped it shut. The Quilava turned to leave but found himself unable to just shrug off the Sneasel's offer as he had in the past.

Lyle bit his lip. Everything Kate had promised was secondhand, hardly a guarantee of any sort. But she was never the type to deliberately mislead him and wouldn't have pitched this as a one-time job if she didn't genuinely believe it was going to be one… so why did he have an awful feeling in his stomach about it?

Lyle heard the quiet grumble of his stomach and pinned his ears back. Right, he hadn't been eating well lately. And with his dwindling pay from the Oran field, he likely wouldn't be for the foreseeable future. There'd be nothing left to pick within a month, and the money he'd been able to save for winter this year had been… meager, to say the least. Maybe he'd be able to find an odd job to plug the gap, but if he didn't…

Wouldn't it just be a matter of time before he found himself back in this situation? And if it came to that, did he really want to face things without friends who could watch out for his back?

"… Those crews you're working with. Who are they? And what do they know about this caravan?"

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Erntemond - "August" (archaic), lit. "Harvest Moon".
2. Scheffel - Analogous measurement of dry weight to a "bushel" in German-speaking countries, never standardized prior to replacement by SI units. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
3. gottverdammt(en) - "god(s)damn(ed)" (+'en' for multiple subjects). In German, compound words involving a leading noun with an attached word that isn't a noun have the leading noun in rendered singular form for both singular and plural forms of said compound word. Thus this remains "gottverdammt" even when using it to say "godsdamn(ed)" and does not become "götterverdammt", as "verdammt" is not a noun in German.
4. Herbstmond - "September" (archaic), lit. "Autumn/Fall Moon"
5. Gendarm(en) - "gendarme(s)"
6. Grünhäuter - "greenhide(s)". Local insult/slur for law enforcement and military akin to "pig" in English. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
7. Vatername - "Patronym", lit. "Fathername". There are other ways of saying this in German in reality, but this way was specifically chosen since a Vatername in this setting is tightly coupled to filling the role of telling who your father was.
8. Blauflamme(n) - "Blue Flare", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting, especially by Fire-types. Note that the canonical move name is "Blauflammen" while its use as an exclamation has been modified to comply with German declension rules regarding compound words ending in nouns when directed at singular subjects.

Teaser Text

A long time ago, the Pokémon who dwell in this world had shared it with beings they called 'humans'. Strange creatures, who had been given the wisdom to see the secrets of this world as if through the eyes of the gods. But they were not able to apply those secrets, not without help from creatures like us

It was said that humans had acted like a mediator between the different kinds of Pokémon. Even Zangoose and Seviper were able to live together peacefully and the Wildersᵃ could live like they would never have imagined in their ever-changing natural environment.

And then came what we called 'The Great Flash'ᵇ. All of a sudden, a blinding light had enveloped our world, which removed the entire human race from our world. The dimensions were disturbed and whole continents shook. In its wake it had left behind a sundered world with distorted places which we called 'Mystery Dungeons'ᶜ.

Even with such a great loss, we Pokémon, with the wisdom those humans had left behind, were able to create our own societies which resembled those of our mediators. To get a glimpse of those mysteries of this changed world. And that’s how this new world, the birth of which marked the beginning of our era, got its name - 'Wander'ᵈ.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. "Wilden" in the original text is more properly translated as "Wilds", rendered as "Wilders" in Commontongue which covers the same concept of a category of Pokémon that live apart from civilization.
b. "Glühende" in the original text in a faithful translation would be "fierce" (in heat), "fiery", or "glowing", which was chosen since it still accurately describes the nature of the event and "Der Große Blitz" sounds a bit more awkward in German. This is what the event that created the setting's world is known as in Commontongue in-story.
c. A more faithful translation of this would be "Mysterious Places". Under the canonical German localization, this would be "Mysteriöse Dungeons", but it sounds a bit unnatural in German prose since "Dungeons" was imported wholesale from English for the localization name.
d. The name of the setting's planet in present-day Varhyde that has arisen by corruption/language drift. Its name in a more faithful translation would be "Wonder" or "Miracle".
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

In den frühen Jahren nach den glühenden Blitz, die Pokémon, welche mitsamt und unter Menschen gewohnt haben, hatten es schwierig. Ihr Aufschrei hat nach einiger Zeit den Mitleid der Götter unserer Welt hervorgerufen, welche uns den Segen des Gelöbnisses geschenkt haben. Das große Abkommen unter Pokémon, welches unsere Zivilisation untermauert, welches die unterschiedlichen Welten von den Städten, den Feldern, der Wildnis und den mysteriösen Orten voneinander säumt.

Anschließend haben sich die Pokémon von Wunder in zwei Gruppen unterteilt. In eine haben sich die Pokémon gesammelt, welche zur Zeiten der Menschen in der Wildernis gelebt haben wie es die Natur vorgeschrieben hatte. Als Gegenleistung, um ihre eigenen vorgeschriebenen Angelegenheiten durchzuführen, haben sie das Recht aufgegeben mit den Pokémon, welche in den Feldern und Städten leben, einzugreifen, und sind heute bekannt als „Wilde“.

Die Pokémon in der anderen Gruppe, welche in den Feldern und Städten lebten, sind geblieben um die Weisheit der verstorbenen Menschen under denen sie gelebt haben zu streben. Ihnen wurde Schutz von der strengen Natur von den Göttern geschenkt, solange sie auch ihre Zugehörigkeiten trugen. Als Gegenleistung haben sie ihr Recht aufgegeben, sich mit Zähnen und Klauen zu ernähren, und durften nur von den Ernten ihrer Feldfrüchte speisen, von den Gegangenen ergattern und den Gummis die sie herstellten sich ernähren. Diese Pokémon sind wir, die wir heute als „Zivile“ kennen und nennen.

Und wie auch mit allen was Ordnung hat, gibt es auch diese die danach streben, diesen Schutz und die Strukturen zu zerrütten. Die vielleicht abscheulichsten unter denen sind die Ganoven, Ungeziefer, welche in der Wildnis oder den mysteriösen Orten auf leichte Beute warten und manchmal auch Leben beenden, welche sich auch feige versuchen sich hinter den Schutz der Gelöbnis zu verstecken und sich in den Siedlungen der Zivilen untertauchen.

Solche Kreaturen haben schon seit unsere Geschichte geschrieben wurde existiert. Ihnen ist es egal wie schwer oder brutal sie dafür von den Königen und Herrschern unserer Gefilde bestraft werden, es wird immer solche geben, die ein solches Leben auswählen.

- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«

The next day, Lyle left work at the Oran field earlier than usual, under the pretense that his dinner from the prior night disagreed with him. He was met with disapproving frowns and accusations of slacking off, which was to be expected when effectively claiming to have come down with the world's best-timed stomachache. But with less pay to give out that day and his recent performance having been less-than-impressive, much to Lyle's relief, his overseers hardly attempted to stop him.

Within a couple hours, he found himself following Kate through the twists and turns of Waterhead Cave, one of the Mystery Dungeons within a day's journey of Moonturn Square. It was said that places like them were areas where the space and time of the world had been damaged and intermixed with other dimensions from the effects of the Great Flash. The legendary sundering that had spirited away the humans of yore, leaving only their ruins and fragments of their knowledge behind as proof they once lived in Wander...

Along with distorted spaces like this soggy cave of a Mystery Dungeon. Most of them had formed far back enough in history for their origins to be shrouded in myth and folklore, with Waterhead Cave being one of the exceptions. The place had been formed by a patch of Distortion settling around a waterlogged cave centuries ago, and true to its name, it fed water into a nearby river that passed by just outside of it.

A low growl echoed off the surrounding gray stone walls of a small chamber in between three passages. There, Lyle paused on all fours and looked about warily for any sign of a hostile Wilder nearing. After a moment seeing naught but Kate ahead of him, he realized that the sound was coming from his own stomach. … Right, moving through a Mystery Dungeon's Distortion was supposed to wear down Pokémon, and one of the ways that manifested was through hunger pangs.

Lyle sighed and reared upright to fish a Tiny Apple out of his satchel, and chewed at it to work it down to a discardable core. Whatever his thoughts, backing out from Kate's offer now would be an ordeal in and of itself. How would he even find his way out on his own?

… Why on earth had he ever agreed to come to this gottverdammten hole?

He felt his stomach rumble again, evidently not yet quieted by his meal. Right, that was why he'd agreed to this, and backing out wouldn't solve any of his problems back outside this Mystery Dungeon. If he was going to turn Kate's offer down, he should at least get a better feel for what he'd be getting into first.

Lyle stopped nibbling at his Tiny Apple for a moment, and looked about his surroundings where he saw a nearby stream of glowing blue water running past rounded stalagmites. The blue water was Waterhead Cave's defining feature, and the primary source of light for the Mystery Dungeon's floors beyond his body's fire.

He'd heard in the past that the water was supposedly filled with some sort of plankton that gave off light in the dark. But considering the strange and surreal nature of Mystery Dungeons, he'd just as easily have believed it if the light were an effect caused by its Distortion. After all, he only needed to look up above him for a reminder of its effects.

There, off in the distance, was the cave floor's ceiling. And on it, he could see the outlines of another floor of chambers and passages. There was even a set of falls filled with the same vibrant blue water that dumped out into a set of pools, except it all remained firmly over his head and stubbornly defied gravity like a roosting Zubat.

"Oi! Hurry up, princess!"

Lyle looked over at Kate, who was waiting on him with her arms folded impatiently. The Quilava sighed and hurriedly finished up what was left of his Tiny Apple. Whatever enigmas lay behind the inner workings of Mystery Dungeons, they weren't terribly relevant to him or Kate. The two of them were there because such places were easy terrain for Outlaws to cover their tracks. Though after six floors' worth of travel through the dank, distorted floors of Waterhead Cave with Kate constantly goading him to hurry up, Lyle was starting to wonder if these Mistral Marauders and their allies had overdone it a bit.

"Would it really have killed you all to just bribe a barkeep to look the other way and planned things out in a tavern?" he grumbled.

"Tch, come now, you're not that out of practice, are you?" Kate scoffed. "We're hitting up a caravan! Where else did you expect us to gather together before the big job?"

Lyle shot back a sour frown, casting the thinned core of his apple aside before drawing up to his guide. He watched as Kate turned her attention behind her and up towards the left, and followed her gaze to a passage in one of the stony walls of the chamber they were in where he saw fog spilling out. Their destination, he presumed.

"Hrmph, I'd think someone would've considered meeting in a place with some actual creature comforts," the Quilava huffed. "If I'd known you were going to drag me all the way to some Pocket in the middle of Waterhead Cave, I'd have thought twice about agreeing to this job."

"With over fifty 'mons in the mix? You'd get townsfolk asking questions," Kate scoffed back. "And if we tried to camp in the forest with a party that big, we'd get spotted or smelt out!"

The Sneasel stopped in order to tie a string around her right claw, and passed a loose end about the length of her body and over to her Quilava companion.

"Needed some help getting in?" she asked. "The Distortion in the Pockets here gets a bit thicker than what we went through at the entrance."

Lyle flattened his ears at the gesture, and let the fire on his body flicker with a sour frown.

"Kate, I might be out of practice, but I know how to get through a Mystery Dungeon's fog," he insisted. "I'm not some rookie Hunter who needs my paw held just to make it to the first set of stairs!"

The Sneasel said nothing in reply, before shrugging her shoulders and turning for the mist.

"Suit yourself. Just don't fall behind."

Kate stepped ahead into the fog as the string trailed after her, prompting to Lyle lower his head and follow along. Such fog cropped up as barriers between the distorted insides of Mystery Dungeons and their surroundings, both around their exteriors as a whole, and around the little islands of normality inside like the Pocket they were approaching. With each step forward, the mist around them thickened and less and less of the surrounding cave passage was visible.

About thirty paces in, the fog grew too thick for Lyle to make out his Sneasel guide, and the effects of the Distortion similarly diminished his ability to hear or smell her. As eerie as the experience was, none of it was surprising. He'd been through this song and dance before, including when he and Kate had first come into Waterhead Cave from its entrance.

The Quilava stepped forward, and yelped after feeling his forepaw stumble after stepping on a patch of loose earth that suddenly gave way and dropped into a foggy void. B-Blauflamme, that was way too close. He could've sworn he was still on the path, but if he was, that wouldn't have happened.

The Quilava stood paralyzed for a moment, unsure where to even start to retrace his steps amid the thick mist about him, when he felt Kate's string from earlier brush his hindlegs. Reflexively, Lyle jumped and pounced on it, seeing that he'd come across its end as he felt it run taut in his paws.

Guess the string was good for something after all. The Fire-type breathed a quiet sigh of relief before rearing up, and after feeling tugs at the string's other end, followed cautiously after his unseen guide. After making his way forward a few steps, Lyle watched as the fog thinned little by little, until he could just make out Kate looking back at him with an amused smirk.

"So you needed help after all," she snorted, prompting Lyle to flatten his ears out in embarrassment.

"… Shut up," he grumbled. "This isn't helping your argument earlier for not meeting in a more normal place."

"Well, it means that if someone comes after us, they're gonna have to work for it. Kinda hard to scent someone when the floors constantly reshuffle and occasionally blow away everything that's on 'em," she said. "Besides, it's not as if there aren't other benefits to coming out here."

"Like what?"

The sound of chatter filtered into the fog from up ahead, as Kate motioned to follow. Lyle stepped forward warily as the mist cleared, revealing an encampment consisting of an unruly mass of tents, hastily-assembled lean-tos, and mats spread out to sleep on where a small mob of Pokémon was milling about. Three particularly prominent tents anchored the Outlaw hideout, one in the center, one to the right, and one to the left. At once, the Quilava noticed that the center tent was teeming with Pokémon gathered together, with two tents anchoring the ends of the encampment on either side of it. On the left was one with a green banner with a lighter twin-peaked design set out in front of it, while on the right was one with a blue banner with a lighter wind swirl that matched Kate's scarf. The patterns of the Outlaw bands who were pulling this job off, he presumed.

"Well, I don't think that some bar would let us go all out with interior decorating like this!" the Sneasel chuckled. "Come on! Make yourself at home!"

Lyle wandered about the encampment with Kate following at his side, gawking at the center tent that had been set up with makeshift wooden tables spread out under it. There, a number of wooden barrels that smelt of beer had been rolled into place at the corners. And in between at the different tables, Lyle could overhear Pokémon in green and blue scarves talking with each other much as the customers at the Oran field's tavern might.

There was an Arbok and a Pinsir trading wartime gossip of how an entire Fähnlein₁ of soldiers from the army had been curiously wandering the countryside. A little further off, a Granbull and Furfrou played a game of cards with drawings of different Pokémon on them as the Granbull reminded her challenger 'You know how this works, draw seven cards and play a basic'.

The entire gathering almost reminded Lyle of a market day in a village, or the reveries of the Autumn Festival around the start of Weinmond₂ in just a couple weeks, except it was significantly less legal and it had a homeliness and warmth that he hadn't known in many, many moons. The Fire-type shook his head and let his muzzle curl up in a small smile and a contented sigh, when he felt a sharp prod at his shoulder.

"Well look what the Delcatty dragged in!" a low, rough voice cheered.

Lyle rubbed at his shoulder and turned with a frown, only to pause at the sight of a Marowak in a green scarf drawing back his bone. The Ground-type shot a cheerful grin back and wagged his tail, as Lyle couldn't help but be disarmed by the greeting and ease his features into a smile.


"'Once a thief, always a thief,' huh? Took you long enough to come back, Lyle!" the Marowak chuckled. "And here I was worried that you'd gotten caught after you tried to get out of the game!"

Lyle's smile faded almost as soon as the lizard's words left his mouth. No, this was a one-time affair, and for his own sake, it was best for Alvin to be clear about that. The Quilava inhaled sharply and shook his head back with a stern frown.

"Just… don't get too ahead of yourself, Alvin," he insisted. "I'm just here for this one job. If it weren't for me being in a bit of a tight spot, I'd still be doing my day job."

Alvin's expression visibly drooped at Lyle's reply, clearly disappointed with his erstwhile friend's lack of interest in returning to a life that just two years ago, they'd happily shared with one another. Before the Ground-type could stew on the matter, Kate stepped forward, and prodded at Lyle's shoulder with her claw and gave a teasing smirk.

"Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say," she scoffed. "I know you, Lyle. All you need is to dust off those skills a bit, and you'll be back to your old self again!"

"That's right! I mean, we're probably gonna have to lay low after this job anyways, so you can hang around for a little bit at least, can't ya?" Alvin insisted. "Why with how good the Terra Tyrants have been for me and the Mistral Marauders have been for Kate, you'll be in good paws afterwards."

Lyle said nothing for a moment. He probably should've been more annoyed at the prospect of having to ghost his job for multiple days since it likely meant having to scrape and bow to not get kicked off of it. And yet, something about the prospect of spending that time with old friends seemed to drain his misgivings away, prompting him to shake his head and smile back at his companions.

"Heh, I suppose it can't really be helped with you two dragging me back into trouble, can it?" he replied. The stoat opened his mouth to ask Alvin of his exploits from the past two years, only to be cut off by a sharp shout from behind. The three turned about, seeing a Seismitoad blocking a Thievul, garbed in the same colors at the entrance of a third tent in the same style as the Terra Tyrants' and the Mistral Marauders' tents that he hadn't noticed before.

"Oi! This tent's for Riparian Raiders only!" the Seismitoad barked, making the fox flinch and shrink back.

"But the boss just went in there earlier!" the Thievul protested. "It's even got our colors!"

"Hrmph, you aren't him and there's business going down," the Water-type shot back. "Don't you see the red? Your crew's green, so sod off and poke around your own tent!"

Lyle blinked and eyed the tent as the Thievul was run off. On closer examination, the banner in front of the tent had a design with a pair of wedge-like blades laid out in a rough chevron on it. Though 'red' … as in the color of an Apple? Alvin had explained to him in the past that its color looked different enough to Pokémon like him that they could pick it out from sight alone without needing smell or other senses to help them. So then all along, the 'mons in green scarves he'd spotted were really from two entirely different bands of Outlaws!

"Pah, I told those Riparian Raiders 'mons that they ought to change the shade of their scarves for this job!" Alvin scoffed. "That's the third guy who's bumbled in like that!"

Lyle paused and blinked at Alvin's grumbling. Kate had mentioned that their job would involve the Mistral Marauders and the Terra Tyrants, but…

"'Riparian Raiders'?" Lyle asked. "I thought that this was just a job between two crews."

"It was," a higher-pitched voice cut in. "Until your friends' bosses realized that it'd take more than mere greed to get the better of that caravan."

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin turned to their left, where they spotted a Heliolisk in a scarf with the tent's same bladed pattern and evidently red fabric sauntering up, folding his arms as he shot a sidelong glance with an unimpressed scoff.

"Really, we're the ones who pointed out the caravan would be passing by a common watering spot!" the Electric-type insisted. "If you went in without our guidance, you'd probably be marching yourself straight to being press-ganged into the army!"

Lyle paused and frowned back at the Heliolisk. Attitude aside, something felt… off about the 'mon's speech. It was said that Pokémon who came from walks of life where using Hightongue was more common had it reflect in their accent. And with an accent like his, the 'mon sounded like he'd be more at home sucking up to some noble family in their salon than out here in a Mystery Dungeon's Pocket rubbing shoulders with other Outlaws!

"… I'm sorry, who are you again?" he asked.

"The name's 'Dalton,'" the basilisk answered. "It's my job to help shock and awe the Riparian Raiders' enemies on land or on water. And I'd say I do a pretty damn good job at it."

Lyle cocked a brow puzzledly, when a chirping voice chimed in from behind.

"Easy there, Dalton. Go off making too many enemies around camp, and we'll be short on help before our job even starts!"

The Quilava turned his attention over to a Swellow in the same, blade-patterned garb approaching, who ruffled his feathers with a dismissive scoff.

"The name's 'Artem', and we're from a crew under the lead of Parker the Vanguard that operates on rivers for our jobs. Hence the name," the Swellow explained. "I mean, I guess it's a bit much for us to expect more sedentary gangs to be familiar with us, given we used to operate near Port Velhen. But your bosses wouldn't have pulled us in if they thought they had a good bead on their surroundings."

The Swellow's explanation drew a sharp frown from Kate, as Alvin shook his head with a low grumble and gave an aside glance at his Quilava companion.

"We… kinda wound up taking them on as extra help at the last moment," he sighed.

"And you're certainly very lucky for it. Boss Parker doesn't shy away from sticking it to a Grünhäuter or two with her blades!" Dalton piped. "It's always a treat to part those leeches from money they shook down from others. Serves the rotters right!"

Dalton brushed past the three as Lyle looked after the Electric-type with an exasperated scowl, the Riparian Raider's Swellow companion taking wing after him. The Quilava felt a nudge at his shoulder and turned to see Kate elbowing him, whispering out of the side of her mouth with the barest attempts of hiding her words from the departing Heliolisk.

"Don't worry, the Samurott running that scaly wannabe's gang doesn't have anywhere near as much of a pole up her butt as he does," she reassured.

Lyle blinked, but decided not to question the matter too deeply as he took in his surroundings. Now that he thought about it, where were the leaders of the Outlaw bands? This entire time, he'd seen plenty of their members, but no one who obviously stood out as leader material…

"Oi! Everybody simmer down a bit!" a sharp, avian voice cried out.

Lyle and his companions quieted along with the other gathered Outlaws, turning their attention to the right of the central tent where the forms of a Staraptor in a blue scarf, a Steelix donning a few battered segments of green armor with similarly-colored garb, and a Samurott in a red scarf with the patterns Lyle had spotted earlier could be seen gathered just outside. After seeing a few other Outlaws get up and leave their seats and his friends set off, Lyle followed along, gathering with a small crowd of other Pokémon at a wide, cleared space where lines had been sketched into the ground. A few Pokémon there at the edge were practicing erecting and dispelling arcing barriers of light, Protect from the looks of it. As the three leaders made their way out, it quickly occurred to Lyle that this space was a battlefield.

"We're about ready to give the briefing for the job tonight. But it's come to our attention that we've got some prospective help here in our midst," the Staraptor said. "So everyone who's looking to join up, make your way to the front."

Lyle watched as Pokémon about the gathering in scarves of different colors made their way to the front of the gathering, joining the procession himself towards the front of the crowd in full view of the three leaders. Kate and Alvin shadowed him to the row behind, but even with their close presence, the Quilava couldn't help but feel put on the spot as the leaders sized them up and the Steelix—Ford of those 'Terra Tyrants', he assumed—let out a sharp snort.

"Naturally, we're not just going to let you come aboard," the Steelix added. "If you want in, you're gonna need to impress us."

Right. Every Outlaw leader in all of Varhyde, and probably the whole world of Wander worth their salt made a point of first getting a feel for their prospective recruits' strength. And the fastest way of doing that was usually through a quick bout of sparring. Lyle's ears pricked at the sound of keratin scraping, as he spotted the Samurott of the three stepping forward with a drawn blade and sharp scowl.

"As such, we'll be testing the mettle of anyone who wishes to join us," she barked. "You will have one minute to hold out against your choice of one of us in the ring. Should you be overpowered, fail to impress any of us, or just don't have the guts to put your hide out on the line…"

Parker raised her blade and motioned off towards the edge of the crowd to Lyle's right. There, a Beheeyem floated forward, and gave a gruff wave back as the otter turned to the gathered Outlaws.

"Roswell here will show you the exit from this Mystery Dungeon," the Water-type said. "And you can try your luck stealing from marks more appropriate for your skills."

Myra paused and shook her plumage before looking about the group, her eyes going from one unfamiliar-scarved Pokémon to the other before stopping and shaking her head with a stern frown.

"You new faces in the crowd are being rather quiet right now," the Staraptor said. "Do we have any first takers?"

Lyle looked about and noticed a few other Pokémon like him in the crowd who weren't wearing any of the bands' garb. A few seemed to be uneasy about the challenge and traded worried murmurs and glances, and it was honestly hard to fault them.

All of the Outlaw leaders seemed like formidable sparring partners, and with his acceptance on the line, he honestly didn't know which of the three was best to challenge. Ford was the obvious choice, but it was unlikely he'd just lucked across those green armor plates. Either they were some sort of trophy, or he'd kept them as a memento from a prior life in the army. Myra was imposing, to say the least, and she'd be able to easily hound him from the air. And Parker… well, it was already obvious what the hurdles for sparring with her would be.

… Where would he even start? Lyle glanced at the others for inspiration, and noticed that even in the midst of his and the other Outlaws' uncertainty, some of the audience members seemed eager for the challenge. Foremost among them was a Lurantis who strode forward and shot an arrogant grin back at the three Outlaw leaders.

"Yeah, I'll take a shot at that Samurott!" the Grass-type insisted. "I could beat her with my eyes closed!"

Parker narrowed her eyes, before stepping onto the battlefield and giving a twirl of her unsheathed seamitar, tightening her grip about the hilt and holding it tense.

"Bold words, Lurantis," she snorted. "Let's see you back them up."

The Lurantis stepped onto the battlefield and the pair took their marks at opposite ends of the dividing line, both bracing for battle as the Protect users at the fringes took their positions. Myra and Ford made their way to opposite ends of the battlefield, the Staraptor grasping a small hourglass on the ground with her talons before she spoke up and launched into a countdown.

"Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los!₃" the hawk shouted.

In a flash, the Lurantis lunged forward at the Samurott, bracing his leafy claws for a slash that he aimed at the base of the otter's neck. The mantis' strike found its mark and drew a pained bellow, prompting him to hop back and click his mandibles with a self-satisfied chitter.

"Hah! Piece of cake-"

The Lurantis' confident mood promptly crashed to earth after Parker brought the flat of her seamitar down and clubbed him across his face, sending the mantis flying off his feet and crashing onto his back in the dirt. The Lurantis tried to get up, when an icy ray abruptly sailed in and froze one of his claws to the ground. The Grass-type went wide-eyed, desperately trying to pull himself free when he looked up at an incoming blue blur and saw the otter leaping up and bringing her blades down with an overhead slash and an audible crack.


Lyle and his companions flinched as they heard the Lurantis' screams as the blades dug into his thorax, the Water-type pulling them back trailing flecks of yellowish fluid. The Grass-Type's frozen claw had freed from the ground in the struggle, but his fighting spirit had been wholly depleted as he curled up and tried to shield his wounded thorax with a low whimper. Parker spat some water onto her blades and circled about the felled Lurantis, the hapless mantis desperately trying to scrabble away as she strode forward and threw a paw forward.

The Samurott pulled the Grass-type Outlaw up by the back of his neck, the frightened bug flinching and looking away as he braced for a finishing blow… which never came. Instead, the leader of the Riparian Raiders looked over her foe with disgust for a brief moment, before dropping him to the ground on his stomach and leaving him to look up at the three Outlaw leaders gathering about him.

"Hrmph, I expected as much," Parker spat. "The Riparian Raiders have no place for idle boasters on it."

"I'm out too," Myra scoffed. "You lost me at the whole 'whimpering on the ground' moment."

"Tch, what is this, a Day Care?" Ford growled. "Get up and take a hike already!"

Ford nipped at the back of the Lurantis' scarf and dragged the Grass-type up onto his feet, the still-shivering Outlaw hobbling off the field as fast as his condition let him for the Beheeyem teleporter at the crowd's edge. After a moment to roll his eyes at the Lurantis' now-depleted bravado, the Beheeyem grasped the Grass-type and the pair vanished in a flash, leaving the gathered Outlaws to look a moment at the blank space where the two were, and slowly turn their attention back to the battlefield where Myra shot a sour frown back.

"Any other takers?" the Staraptor demanded. "If you think that this is going to be easy, do yourself a favor and give up right now."

No immediate reply came and for a second, Lyle worried that the bosses would start forcing matches. Some nervous hems and haws floated about the would-be recruits at the front of the crowd. Some like a Pidgeotto studied the three leaders carefully, trying to gauge who their best sparring partner would be. Others like a visibly unnerved-looking Absol were unsettled by Parker's brutal opener, and debated with their peers if it was better to withdraw in advance. Lyle noticed Kate and Alvin looking at him uneasily, evidently worried he'd be scared off much the same. The Quilava shook his head and stepped forward as fire flickered to life from his body's vents.

He had to impress these three, didn't he? Even if he had to keep himself from shivering and part of him thought this was a terrible idea, fortune did favor the bold, and the boldest thing 'Lyle the Fleetfoot' could do right then and there was to dance circles around Parker for a minute.

"I would like a chance to challenge the Samurott."

Alvin went wide-eyed at his friend's request, and hurriedly forced his way through the front and up to Lyle's side. With widened eyes, he brought his free paw down to Lyle's shoulder and sharply tugged at it.

"Lyle, what are you doing?!" he hissed. "Didn't you just see what she-?!"

Parker raised a brow at the stoat's request and twitched her whiskers puzzledly, before shaking her head and narrowing her eyes in reply.

"I would encourage you to learn from others' mistakes, Quilava," she huffed. "There isn't anything you can do that that Lurantis couldn't."

… Honestly part of him was regretting this choice already, but the fastest way to make it onto a crew was by putting on an impressive display. And he didn't have to win against Parker, just hold out for a minute. And the bosses didn't say anything about how he needed to do that either. The Quilava glanced back at Alvin and gave a brief grunt in reply.

"Alvin, relax. I've got this," he insisted. "Though as for your concerns, Admurai₄…"

Lyle reared up and turned around, facing his back towards the Samurott. The Quilava forced the fire out of the vents on his head and tail, the flames coming out vigorously enough to distort the surrounding air before he looked over his shoulder with a determined scowl.

"Why not give me a chance to try and prove you wrong?" he insisted. "If I fail, then that's on me, isn't it?"

Low murmurs went about the gathered Outlaws, as mutters of 'he's crazy', 'whelp, he's a goner', and other doubts of the Quilava's odds and soundness of mind floated about that he tried his best to block out. Even Alvin and Kate seemed to be alarmed by Lyle's choice of challenger, as the Marowak attempted to speak up, only to be cut off by a sharp huff from the Samurott as she rolled her eyes and scowled down at her Quilava challenger.

"So be it," she spat. "But don't expect addressing me in a polite tone to earn you any leniency. Let's just hurry this along so we can test more serious candidates."

Lyle sucked in a sharp breath and stepped onto the battlefield as Parker took her place, as Alvin, looking around and sensing he was too late to make a difference, grudgingly slunk off back for into audience. Lyle felt the fire churn in his belly, his vents flickering anxious, impatient cinders as he sized his opponent up.

Myra and Ford took their places at opposing ends of the battlefield along with the Protect users, as Ford performed the countdown that time. As soon as the Steelix's rumbling "Los!" left his mouth and Myra flipped the hourglass timer over, the Quilava's fire sprang to life and he jumped onto his toes, darting side-to-side as the Samurott approached him with her blades drawn.

"I fail to see what you're doing differently here," she harrumphed.

Parker abruptly spat up a jet of water at Lyle's place on the battlefield, the Quilava somersaulting out of the way as he felt stray droplets cling to his pelt and heard a hiss ring out from water that had strayed into his fire. Lyle rolled onto his feet and returned to his rhythmic back and forth, a small smirk spreading over his muzzle as his unease began to dissipate. Beyond getting him a bit wet, the Samurott's attack had little to show for her effort.

Deep breaths. He might have been out of practice for two years, but he clearly still did a damn good job at living up to his reputation as 'Lyle the Fleetfoot'.

The otter narrowed her eyes and spat up another Water Pulse, only for Lyle to evade it again. She tried a third time, but the Quilava's swift feet proved to be his salvation once more as he unexpectedly bobbed and weaved aside from her attacks. The Samurott gave a sharp frown, as she realized that perhaps she'd underestimated her challenger, and barked out in reply.

"Hrmph, it's certainly a difference, but you won't land any blows just by running away all the time!"

Parker formed a large orb of water in her mouth, spitting it onto the ground as it fanned out into a spreading mass of water that she leapt onto. The mass churned forward, cresting into a wave that she rode straight towards the Quilava. Lyle froze for a moment as the wave approached, the Samurott coming closer and closer until at the last second, he jumped up, and latched onto her arm as she rode the Surf forward, feeling briny water splash against his pelt as he dug his paws into the Outlaw leader's hide.


Lyle hastily clambered up the Samurott's arm and onto her shoulder as bluish-white fire built in his mouth, the Quilava spitting it down on the otter's forward shoulders as she audibly winced and looked back to see him, along with a large burn on her back. The Quilava smiled at his handiwork, as the lingering pain from the burn was bound to throw Parker off her game while moving her limbs about, and make her safer for him to approach in close quarters. The Fire-type's satisfaction proved short-lived, as Parker abruptly bucked her body and attempted to shake her unwelcome passenger loose.

The stoat threw his paws onto the Water-type's scarf and clung on for dear life, as a few cheers and entertained laughs came from the gathering of Outlaws as in spite of her best efforts, the stoat stubbornly hung on. After a few fruitless attempts to shake him loose, Parker spoke up, her tone evidencing a grudging respect for her furry nuisance.

"Hmph, clever show, Quilava," she said. "But there's a vulnerability you've been overlooking."

Lyle felt Parker lurch and tightened his grasp on her scarf, only to look to his left and his eyes to shrink to pins as he saw the ground fast approaching. The next thing he knew, the world abruptly went dark as the Samurott rolled over, the full weight of her body pressing him into the dirt. Lyle yelped and wheezed for air, the light returning to his vision just as a blur of blue passed over him. The Quilava lay on the ground stunned for a moment trying to catch his breath, when he felt a slashing pain dig into his flank and send him airborne.


He sailed through the air, watching the ground shrink for about a second, before it rapidly drawing near again and he faceplanted into the dirt. The stoat's body pinwheeled over to the edge of the battlefield before he felt his back hit something warm and solid. Lyle lay there as his vision ran muddy, and looked up to see the dissipating flash of a Protect barrier and its Azumarill creator looking down at him before pushing him back onto the field. The Quilava let out a dazed groan, hearing the start of a count for time when he heard Alvin and Kate's voices calling out one after the other.


"Come on, get it together!"

Lyle staggered up just as he heard a "Zwei" leave Ford's mouth, followed by a few startled gasps in the crowd. His fur was still dripping water, and a glance at his right flank revealed ruddy droplets oozing from underneath his pelt. The Quilava panted hoarsely and tried to flare out his flames, only for them to sputter unevenly, a sure sign that Parker's attack had badly drained him. Enough that he wouldn't be able to weather a second blow of that sort. Just then, he flinched after a low growl filled his ears, making him turn his attention back down the field just in time to see Parker approach with her blades drawn.

"A better show than the last taker, but I'm afraid things are at their end here," the otter snorted. "Have at you!"

The Quilava felt his blood run cold as he heard Parker let out a piercing bellow and charge him with her seamitars at the ready. As the Samurott brought her blades down, Lyle spat up smoke from his throat. The Quilava spewed out a cloud of black haze around him and rolled aside just as Parker's left blade hit the ground with an audible chunk.

Lyle reflexively hopped back from the noise and glanced up to see Parker's silhouette in the smoke tug at her blade and struggle to free it from the battlefield's earth. She- She'd left herself open! This was as good of a chance to land a strike as he was going to get!

Without thinking, the Quilava dashed for Parker and lunged up as he neared. The stoat crouched and spat fire at the tip of his snout, leaping forward and diving into it with a wheeling somersault into the side of Parker's head.


Parker recoiled and lost her grip on her blade, whirling around to see Lyle having landed behind her panting tiredly. The Samurott shot a sharp glare and let water build up in her throat, ready to deluge her weakened opponent when a loud thud rang out and Ford cried out over the din of battle.


Parker abruptly spluttered, her water coming out inertly and doing little more than to splatter onto the ground. As the Samurott coughed from her fumbled attack, she glanced off at the sidelines to see Ford freeing his tail from the ground, having slammed it to mark the end of the battle. The Samurott stared incredulously, realizing that the full minute had come and gone, before turning back to see Lyle step forward, shooting up a proud, if visibly tired smile back up at her.

"Heh. Sounds like it's been a minute already, and here I am still standing," he said. "That proof enough for you that I can handle this job?"

Parker winced from her burn, before yanking her stuck seamitar from the ground and sheathing it with a loud rattle. The Water-type growled and made her way over to a bag waiting on the side of the battlefield, where she fetched a Rawst Berry and shot a sharp glare back in Lyle's direction.

"Hrmph, you won't be able to run the clock out like that in the field," the Water-type snapped. "Your ability to turn a couple gimmicks in your favor isn't good enough for me to make room for you."

Lyle blanched and pinned his ears back as his body's fire ebbed away. Gods, he was such an idiot. All this time, he'd been so focused on just making it through the entire minute against a foe he was disadvantaged against that he'd completely neglected whether or not he'd offend the very Leaders he needed to impress in the process!

The stoat let his eyes fall towards the ground, feeling a sick churn in his stomach when Myra's voice abruptly spoke up from the sidelines.

"Well, I've certainly got a spot for him," the Staraptor insisted. "The challenge was to last a minute, and he more than delivered."

Lyle looked up to see Parker turning with a raised brow as Myra stepped onto the battlefield and approached him. Lyle blinked incredulously as the Staraptor neared, the hawk giving a small, guarded smile as she sized him up.

"When Kate told me about you, she just said that you could punch above your weight. Not that you could also fight your way out of a corner," she said. "Being able to come back from a tough spot like when Parker nicked you there can mean the difference between coming back to camp with loot, or getting staring down the likes of hard labor or conscription."

"And you're a gutsy one. That Smokescreen of yours was timed so well that for a second, I thought you had military training," Ford added. "Here I was thinking you'd take the easy way out and spit some fire my way, but you took on long odds and you made something of 'em."

The Steelix also slithered out onto the battlefield, much to Parker's frowning displeasure. Undeterred, Ford looked down, paused a moment in thought, before giving a knowing smile.

"And that's exactly the sort of talent I need on my Terra Tyrants," he said. "So, what'll it be Quilava? Are you feeling like wearing my colors tonight or Myra's?"

Lyle stared up at the two Outlaws leaders, still somewhat incredulous at the turn of events where he'd gone from worrying if any of the bands would accept him, to having the fortune to choose between two who'd offered him a place in their ranks. The Quilava hesitated a moment, looking back at the crowd behind him where the other Outlaws were already trading impressed murmurs over his performance, when his eyes settled on Kate and Alvin and he mulled his choice.

After a moment's hesitation, he turned back and looked up at Myra and Ford, and opened his mouth to answer…

( Continued in next post )
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
After casting his lot in with the Terra Tyrants and leaving the battlefield, Lyle had his wounds from sparring treated with an Oran Berry. He'd reflexively frowned at the sight at first, as it looked just like the ones he picked day in and day out. Considering his company, might very well have been one of them. But healing was healing, and he made no protest beyond an occasional wince as the fruit was pressed up against his wound so that its juices could provide gauze and help it seal up. Once that was finished, he dutifully scarfed down its pulp, making sure to wring out the last bits of the berry's healing properties.

Within an hour, the field of would-be recruits had winnowed to about ten Pokémon of the gang leaders' liking who were taken on for the night's raid, with the three bosses sizing up a Golbat who'd successfully made it through a minute-long battle with Myra. Lyle had already given his orange berry picker scarf over to the Terra Tyrants for 'safekeeping' and donned one of their green scarves in its stead, still sporting creases in it from being kept folded in storage. The Quilava pawed at his garb from his place in the audience, as Kate shot a teasing grin over at him.

"Having regrets already, huh?" she asked. "After putting on a show dancing around like that, I'm surprised you opted to stick with the slow and plodding group tonight."

Lyle flattened his ears and turned his head up with a low snort.

"It was a hard choice, alright?" he retorted. "It's just that I haven't seen Alvin in two years, and…"

The Marowak shot a sideways glance over at Lyle, when a sharp bark rang out from the center of the encampment.

"Oi, gather round!" Ford bellowed. "We're starting the briefing!"

There, the bosses were making their way with the Golbat towards a mat with a paper map that had been spread out over it. Lyle and his companions made their way over with the other Outlaws, and as they neared, they saw that various glyphs and lines had been added to a rough map of a path running through grassy fields past a riverbend hemmed in by hills on the other end. The whole of the paper was marked up with colored dots and glyphs denoting each of the three Outlaw bands taking part in the raid that night, with sets of squares in the center denoting their marks and targets.

"Alright everyone," Myra said. "Tonight, we're pulling a job that's riskier than our normal fare, but fortune favors the bold. And if we play things right, we'll get a bigger payout than we could hope for in full a season of normal work."

The Staraptor pointed a wing down and followed it along the course of the path to where the squares were drawn on the map, giving it a firm poke before looking up at her audience.

"Tonight, the Roly-Poly Caravan will be sending eight wagons and forty 'mons southbound on the northern route from Moonturn Square," Myra explained. "We're going to pay them a little visit, and help ourselves to their merchandise!"

A few of the Outlaws blinked and traded puzzled frowns with one another at the mention of the 'Roly-Poly Caravan'. Lyle vaguely recalled hearing the name before, but whenever he did, the first thing he'd heard of the outfit didn't have anything to do with its members' strength, but…

"You mean that trading caravan with all the Togedemaru with speech impediments and thing for stupid-sounding names?" a Graveler asked. "That 'Roly-Poly Caravan'?"

"Psh. We're jumping through hoops for this big team-up over a bunch of fat rodents?" a Duraludon chimed in. "How tough could they be?"

"Plenty of others have said the same before and found themselves performing hard labor alongside Rothäuter₅ captured from Edialeigh and stripped of their red plates with that sort of attitude. Or else spent the rest of their miserable lives starving away in Apricorns or marched off as cannon fodder for the army," Parker growled. "I'd strongly encourage you not to be so glib, Duraludon. The Roly-Poly Caravan moves close to half of the material the army ships around here in Varhyde, and they're second only to those lizards from the Colorswap Consortium in their ability to put up a stiff fight."

Lyle blanched at the Samurott's mention of the Colorswap Consortium, and could see the color drain from the faces of a few of the newer recruits in the gathering. The Colorswap Consortium was a network of merchants built around a clan of Kecleon that operated throughout Wander's lands, and Varhyde was no exception. They were allegedly descended from a founder who lived in the same era as Shiren the Wanderer and other early, folkloric explorers of Mystery Dungeons. And more importantly for 'mons like him, they were brutally difficult to rob. Even on the rare occasions where a job successfully was pulled off against them, they had a reputation of having the last laugh against 'mons who wronged them one way or another.

If Parker was mentioning this Caravan in the same breath as them, just how were they supposed to succeed even with the benefit of numbers? Ford seemed to pick up on their misgivings, as he cut in with a sharp harrumph.

"Thankfully for us, those spike balls still have two things they can't match those Kecleon on," he insisted. "They aren't any good chasing down 'mons off the beaten path, and their fighting spirit crumples up when they get split up and forced to fight on their own."

"And that's where our team-up comes in," Myra said.

The Staraptor pointed off at the three clusters of dots that had been drawn on the map, and took a small hunk of charcoal in her beak, drawing faint lines going from their positions into the mass of squares in the center.

"If we come at them from three directions, we stand better odds at splitting their ranks off into more manageable chunks," she explained. "The Riparian Raiders will come in from the water, the Terra Tyrants from the hills, and I and my Mistral Marauders from the route behind them…"

As the leaders continued on laying out the battle plans for their impending raid, Lyle drifted off in his thoughts for a moment. He was prodded back to attention by Alvin poking at him with the tip of his bony club, as the Marowak shot an aside glance at him with a quiet frown.

"What was with you earlier, Lyle?" he demanded. "Parker was the hardest opponent you could've picked to prove yourself, and you almost lost your chance to take part in this job because of it!"

The Quilava said nothing for a noticeable pause, before flattening his ears and shaking his head back. He wasn't really sure he had an answer to his friend's question. But what did it matter anyways at this point?

"Well, I pulled it off," he scoffed back. "So it's a bit moot now."

"Since when were you the type to take risks just to showboat? That's the sort of thing you used to give Kate an earful about!" the Marowak pressed. "Kate said you wanted to come along, so why would you put yourself on a limb like that?"

Lyle looked away and fell into silent contemplation. … Did he want to be here? After all, he'd been lucky to slip away in the confusion on that fateful night when the Foehn Gang had their encampment raided by guards not far from his hometown of Freeden Village. Many of their compatriots hadn't been as fortunate.

His family had found out about his… part-time work not long beforehand and thrown him out of the house over it, with his father being particularly offended. The time since then had been a struggle just to eke out enough to get by on his own, even before Nils had found out about his past and started extorting him… and here he was taking the same old risks in the hope that just this once would make enough of a difference to give him a chance to start over again.

No. This wasn't the same. He'd come in with his back against a wall and with a clearer understanding of what he was getting into. The moment he got what he'd come for, he was out.

"Tch, everything's a risk, Alvin. Robbing 'mons out in the fringes isn't exactly a safe lifestyle, even with numbers to fall back on," the Fire-type retorted. "It just happened that the reward for this job was good enough to chase."

"Can't the same be said for being out on your own?"

Lyle looked up over at Alvin, as his Marowak companion pawed uncomfortably at his shoulder and looked towards the ground in a low voice.

"I mean… Kate said that you weren't really doing well on your own when she found you," he murmured. "And your family at least had to find out you were robbing 'mons on routes before they cut you off…"

Lyle quirked a brow back at the Ground-type. Alvin never liked talking much about his family life, but from what he'd been able to gather back in the Foehn Gang, he was the youngest child of three who'd grown up without his mother, and under the care of a father that didn't particularly care for him. He had… suspicions given Alvin's species for how that'd all came to pass, but he never had the heart to pry deeper. Tonight would be no different as whatever thoughts Lyle had to continue the topic were dispelled by Alvin shaking his head and looking back up at him with a small smile.

"But now that you're here, things don't have to be like that!" he insisted. "I mean, the Terra Tyrants aren't the Foehn Gang, but they still provide something to lean on. And we can watch each others' backs just like old times!"

Lyle looked back at his old friend and couldn't help but feel his features soften and find himself smiling back. Yes this was a giant risk, and part of him was still screaming that it was a stupid idea. But here in this Pocket, in this encampment here with Alvin and Kate and these other Outlaws, he found himself at ease again. He didn't need to worry about the Oran field, or Nils, or how to stretch his meager pay to make ends meet, or the world that was falling apart around him. It was just him, his friends, and their allies plotting together in search of a fresh score… just like those happier days gone by that he kept finding himself revisiting.

"Hey princess!" Ford's voice cried.


Lyle jolted up and let his vents flicker to life with a start. The Quilava looked over to see Alvin stiffen up and turn to attention, and followed suit to see Ford scowling down at him with an impatient glare.

"Try to pretend you're paying attention here!" the Steelix snapped, making Alvin bow apologetically and stammer back in affirmation.

"U-Understood, boss!"

The Steel-type turned back to the map on the mat, the three looking at each other for a moment before drifting away. Parker shook her head, and stepped forward to address the gathered Outlaws.

"Mrph, we'll cover more detailed strategies as part of your assignments," she said. "Before we split up to handle them, I think it's about time we set down a few ground rules."

Lyle remained tightly focused on the leaders as they approached. He'd been through such briefings during past team-ups with other crews. Times when the ringleaders would remind their subordinates of what their roles were and what was expected of them. Myra was the first to speak that night, as she strode to the forefront of her peers.

"First off, remember that we're in this to rob those 'mons. Focus on grabbing what you can fence or use for yourself, and don't waste time on stuff that'll raise questions or bog you down," the Staraptor said. "If you can't take it, break it so it can't be used against you."

Lyle thought nothing of the Staraptor's demand, as he'd heard it before many times in the past, and it made a sort of sense. A mark that limped back to town with naught but the hide on his body couldn't come back to bite a 'mon. In the background, Ford clamped onto an empty barrel and rolled it forward, stopping it in full view of the crowd as a dark, serious expression settled over his face.

"Second. It should go without saying, but don't double-cross us," he added. "The only reason we can even think about taking on those Togedemaru tonight is because we're all working together. And if anyone gets any cute ideas…"

The Steelix tensed his tail as a gleaming sheen glinted along its contours, before he brought it down on the barrel and dashed it into splinters. Chunks of wood flew by the feet of the front of the crowd as a few Outlaws who had more sensitive ears flinched from the noise. Ford pulled back his tail, and narrowed his eyes with a low, threatening growl.

"Trust me, it won't end well for them," he snarled. "This isn't the army. If we have to take someone apart, it's gonna happen nice and slow."

Lyle couldn't help but shiver at Ford's threat, but it was simple nature. A cornered 'mon would lash out, and one risking life and limb for a score was no exception. No matter what side of the law a 'mon was on, there were few creatures lower than a traitor, and Outlaws rewarded theirs in much the same fashion as their foes outside the underworld did, if not with greater viciousness. If someone in the crowd tonight was really prepared to sell the lot of them out, he had to admit he wouldn't lose that much sleep over sending the rotter to the Spirit World if it was his hide on the line.

Lyle shook his head to try and get off of the darker train of thought. A sharp huff turned his attention back to the leaders where Parker had taken center stage, and looked about the gathering before speaking up herself.

"Lastly, keep your eyes sharp on the job and look out for your partners… within reason. At the end of the day everyone here wants to get paid and not get caught," she added. "I'm not holding up the rest of my gang to save your sorry tail if we have to retreat and neither will anyone else. So don't sit around waiting to be helped and know when you're getting yourself in over your head."

Lyle bit his lip at the otter's words as the precarity of his situation was thrown back into sharp relief. They were bands of Outlaws, not a charity. They were here to make money, and in dirty, dangerous fashion. If the choice came down to helping a struggling comrade or getting away… well, an Outlaw couldn't spend ill-gotten gains if captured, and the guards didn't cut any breaks for altruism for the Outlaws they did catch. Lyle shook his head uncomfortably, breathing in quietly as Myra looked about the group, before pointing a wing out at the gathered brigands.

"So what do you all say?" Myra asked. "Everyone clear about how this is gonna work? And are you all ready to stick it to those rodents tonight?"

The Staraptor was met by a chorus of 'ayes' and bays of affirmation from the Outlaws, a few whipping themselves up with calls of 'those rats won't know what hit 'em' and similar jeers. The hawk shook her head, before giving a knowing smirk back at the surrounding thieves.

"That's just what we wanted to hear."

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Fähnlein - lit. "little banner". A traditional military unit of organization in German-speaking countries equivalent to a Company or Battalion in modern militaries, historically staffed by mercenaries called Landsknechte. Highly varied and non-standardized in headcount, though generally consisting of at least 300 members at full strength.
2. Weinmond - "October" (archaic), lit. "Wine Moon".
3. Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los! - "Three… Two… One… Go!"
4. Admurai - "Samurott"
5. Rothäuter - "redhide(s)". Local insult/slur for soldiers from Edialeigh, similar etymology to Grünhauter.

Teaser Text:

In the early years after the Great Flash, the Pokémon who lived among and with humans had a difficult time. Their outcry was eventually heard by the gods, who in their pity blessed and gifted us with the Vowᵃ. The grand contract among Pokémon that underpins our civilisation, that hems in the different worlds of our towns, fields, the wildernesses, and the Mystery Dungeons from each other.

Afterwards, the Pokémon of Wander divided themselves into two groups. In one were the Pokémon who had been living in the wild as they had during the time of the humans, and lived their lives as nature compelled them to. In return for being able to go about their affairs in their own way, they gave up their right to interfere with the Pokémon who were living in the fields and towns, and are known today as 'Wilders'.

The Pokémon in the other group lived on the fields and in towns, pursuing the knowledge of the departed humans whom they lived with. They had been given protection by the gods from the harsh ways of nature as long as they wore their affiliations on their bodies. In return they gave up their right to feed themselves with tooth and claws, and were to only feed themselves from the crops they grew, scavenge from the departed, and consume the Gummis they created. These Pokémon became Pokémon like us, that we know as and call 'Civils'ᵇ.

As with anything that had order, there were those that persued to subvert this protection and structures. The most odious are perhaps the Outlawsᶜ, verminᵈ that wait for easy prey in the wilderness or in Mystery Dungeons, and sometimes even end lives, who cowardly attempt to hide underneath the protection of the Vow and disappear into the settlements of Civils.

Such creatures have existed for as long as our history has been written. It does not matter how harshly they are punished by the kings and rulers of our realms, there will always be those who choose that life.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. The word used to render this concept in German, "Gelöbnis" is a more dated term in this usage that often carries religious connotations akin to "Covenant" in English.
b. "Zivile" is not a real word in German much in the same way "Civils" is not a real word in English, and derived from "Zivilisation" much in the same way that "Civils" is from "Civilization" as the German-language version of the term that refers to Pokémon that live in town society in this story.
c. "Ganove(n)" is the German-localization name for "Outlaw(s)" in PMD games. A more literal translation of the term depending on context would be something along the lines of "crook(s)", "criminal(s)", "bandit(s)" or "cheat(s)".
d. Unlike in English, there is not a singular term of "vermin" that is ambiguous between human and animal subjects in German. The word used here, "Ungeziefer" is specifically a term for "vermin as animals", so as to better track the depersoning nature of "vermin" in English and give a sense that the writer was very obviously not a fan of Outlaws..
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Munternplatz, 14. Herbstmond, 1027 nach dem Blitz

An Regionalleiter Baan der Pummel-Karawane,

Eure Majestät wünscht sich Ihren Service der Pummel-Karawane für eine dringende Bitte: einen gesicherten Waggon mit ihrer nächsten Karawane von Reinhafen nach Neuengelstadt unterzubringen. Eine Partie, die für Eure Majestät Siegmund wichtig ist, reist im davorgenannten gesicherten Wagen. Mitunter sollen die reisenden Mitglieder dieser besagten Partie unter allen Umständen geheim bleiben. Sollte auch nur etwas dieser Partie geschehen, wird es mitunter existentielle Konsequenzen für das Wohlsein des Gebietes und den Sieg des Krieges gegen das Königreich der Ideale geben.

Eure Majestät wünschte besonders für Ihre Karawane für ihre erfolgreichen Einträge in Ländern von ganz Wunder, spezifisch ihre Erfolge und Erfahrungsgeschichten von Diensten des Königreichs der Wahrheit, und ihre Kompetenz der Gruppe im Kampf. Als Rücksichtnahme der Geheimhaltung, ein Kommando der Gendarmen von Reinhafen und Munternplatz wird Ihrer Karawane direkte Unterstützung bieten, während meine Streitkräfte in einen fünfzehn Minütigen Abstand zu Fuß folgen. Sollten Sie trotz der vorderen Truppe zusätzliche Unterstützung benötigen, sollten Sie mit den von uns zur Verfügung gestellten Lichtsignalen meine Truppe informieren. Unsere zügigsten Mitglieder werden Ihnen schnellstmöglich mit aller Kraft zur Hilfe leisten.

Eure Majestät ist bereit 200.000 Karolin für Ihre Dienste der Karawane zu bieten. Die Hälfte vor der Abfahrt, und den Rest bei erfolgreicher Ankunft der transportierten Partie. Wer in dieser Partie ist hat Ihnen und Ihre Gruppe keinesfalls zu interessieren. Wäre diese Partie jemand, der ohne weiteres mit einem Träger einfach nach Neuengelstadt ohne ernsthaftes Risiko von Verlust gebracht werden könnte, würde ich sie selber dahin fliegen anstatt auf Ihre Dienste der Karawane durch diesen Brief zu bitten. Sie haben einen Tag nach Empfang dieses Briefes zeit, um sich zu entscheiden, und keine Antwort wird als Ablehnung des Auftrages angesehen.

Wägen Sie Ihre Entscheidungen mit Bedacht. Ich warte auf Ihre Antwort.

- Brief des Grafen von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragoransohn an Regionalleiter Baan Togedemarusohn

A little over an hour later, under the glow of the stars and galaxies in the night sky, Lyle crouched amid the tall grass of a hilltop overlooking the chosen site of their ambush just north of Moonturn Square.

The Quilava dutifully suppressed the flames from his vents to better conceal himself as he watched other Pokémon in green garb take their positions. Ford's Terra Tyrants had fielded its stronger members up to the position and flushed out the grasses between their vantage point and the riverside route of stray Wilders with a few well-placed Foe-Fear Orbs.

Much to Lyle's relief, their efforts proved largely unneeded as the lot made their way up to lie in wait, with Lyle having been posted alongside Alvin and a Mismagius and Scyther from his crew. The other two Terra Tyrants largely kept to themselves, leaving their Marowak and Quilava compatriots to pair up a short distance away and peer down intently at the darkened path below.

"Are you ready, Lyle?" Alvin whispered.

Lyle raised his unlit head and peered up at the night sky. The stars twinkled down as they always did, and a waning half moon hung in the sky, reflecting its glow off the water of a winding river in the background. A new moon would've been ideal for mounting the raid since the auroras over Waterhead Cave were weak tonight, but it was the caravan that set the schedule and not the night sky. The lights twinkling above were out of their paws to control, and the few ways they had of even attempting to obscure them through techniques such as Rain Dance were surely net negatives from the additional attention it'd draw.

"As ready as I'll ever be," the Fire-type replied.

"Good!" a Sneasel's voice suddenly piped up. "Cause that signal from Whiskers and her gang from the river down there means that the caravan's due to show up at any minute!"

Lyle and Alvin jolted up and turned around, seeing Kate in her blue Mistral Marauder scarf waving behind them. Lyle's fire flickered to life with a start for a brief moment, before he hastily smothered it much to the sharp displeasure of the nearby Mismagius and Scyther. The raid hadn't even started yet and here he was slipping up already. But that was getting beside the point, as the Quilava flattened his ears and raised his voice in a low, sharp hiss at his Sneasel companion.

"Kate?! What are you doing here?!"

"Yeah, your crew's supposed to be stalking the caravan and following them in!" Alvin added.

Kate said nothing in reply for a brief moment, before giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders and giving an impish grin back at her companions.

"Well, Boss Myra needed some scouts to go out," the Dark-type explained. "She never said they all had to come back…"

Lyle let his muzzle curl down into a sour frown and reared up to point a paw sharply at Kate's chest, the Quilava straining against his body to fight back irritated spurts of fire from the vents on his head and tail.

"Look, just do your job like everyone else, alright-?"

"Oi, get down and shut up for a moment, you three!" the Mismagius hissed. "That caravan just arrived!"

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin quickly hushed and sank into their cover in the tall grass, their eyes peeking just above the tips of the blades to see flecks of lanternlight and what appeared to be various Pokémon's natural illumination proceeding down the path. The lights carried on a way, before they slowed and began to pool along the riverbank in a large cluster. The meager light was evidently enough for some of the others with better farsight to make out the caravan, as Alvin raised a paw and quietly counted off the shapes of the caravan in the distance. Eight wagons, forty Pokemon… just as they'd been told. He couldn't get a solid headcount of how many of those forty Pokémon were guards and escorts, but everything seemed to align with the numbers that Myra and the other Outlaw leaders had presented in their briefing.

The lights drifted about in their space for a few minutes, before a fire pit sprang up in their midst and revealed that the wagons had stopped to rest but were not circled in a defensive arrangement. Even if the figures were a bit murky in Lyle's vision from the distance and the darkness, it was evident that the caravan's Pokémon were evidently planning on continuing further on that night—relatively soon if the way the wagons were lined up to roll back out onto the path was anything to go by.

Lyle couldn't help but find it strange that the caravan would be in such a hurry. Even in his father's days as a wee Cyndaquil, travel at night was dicey in much of Varhyde. But no matter, it would make the job of parting those rodents and their pack mules from their goods a bit easier.

"Come on," the Scyther said. "It's time to move into position."

The Mismagius and the Scyther set off down the hill, crouching to reduce their visible profile amidst the grass. Lyle and his companions followed suit, the grass rustling as they brushed past on their way down the hill, dutifully sticking to the darker patches to make use of the reduced light from the moon. On a couple occasions, one of the other Outlaws would quietly thump the ground with a foot to call for a stop after a guard with more dangerous vision was spotted, before doing so again twice to sound the all-clear. The three slowed their progress as the ground levelled out and the musk of Pokémon who'd been marching all day pricked their noses. With careful treads, Lyle and his companions crept forward, letting the canvas tops of the wagons poking over the grasses serve as their guide.

All the while, the Quilava fought back embers from his vents as he felt his stomach knot up. Part of him was quietly grateful that Kate had blown off her teammates to stick around. He should've expected he'd have pre-raid jitters coming back in from the cold after two whole years, and he could only imagine how bad it'd have been were he not skulking along with close companions. A series of sharp thuds pricked his ears and made Lyle freeze, and from the expressions on their faces, Kate and Alvin had heard it too. Thuds that kept repeating with a rhythm that revealed they were heavy footsteps from a bulky Pokémon, one headed straight for them.

"Guh," a lowing voice groaned. "Finally, some actual greens…"

Lyle breathed in sharply and grimaced at the sight of a tired-looking Gogoat in a gray scarf bearing a white circle ringed with yellow and brown triangles approaching. The goat shuffled over to the grass, and lowered his head to stoop down to graze scarcely a dozen paces away from them. The three blanched, realizing that they had made it much closer to the edge of the tall grass and the site of the caravan's temporary encampment than they initially assumed. One stray sound, one untimely sniff at the air, and they'd be discovered and their element of surprise would be lost before the Riparian Raiders had a chance to signal that they were in position. None of them dared to so much as breathe as the Gogoat started to drift in deeper, when a sharp squeak from behind rang out.

"Oi! Gogoat not wander away from caravan!" a high-pitched voice squeaked. "Dabohru say everybody go back on route once river drink over!"

The Gogoat paused and let out a low grumble, turning back and retracing his steps. There, at the edge of the grass, was an irked-looking Togedemaru in a matching scarf scowling up at the Grass-type. The ram lowered his head and gave it a vigorous shake, letting out an annoyed snort in response.

"Yeah, well we've already been pushing it long enough and we've been marching all day from Port Reyn!" the Gogoat huffed. "I was under the impression that these parts were supposed to have Outlaws come crawling out at night, so all the more reason to hunker down right now!"

"That all more reason to not wander off! Zazadan have no patience for this!" the Togedemaru shot back. "If Gogoat have problem with orders, Gogoat go tell Caravan Leader Dabohru by self!"

Back from their cover, Lyle, Kate, and Alvin crept to their left in the grass. Still close enough to hear the Togedemaru and the Gogoat's argument, but distant enough to not be found by a casual nose in the wrong direction by the Grass-type. Kate flattened her ears, and let out a quiet murmur about the proceedings to her friends.

"Tch, those dweeby spike balls seriously run the show here?" she whispered. "I'm really quaking in fear from that little squeaker right now."

Lyle and Alvin rolled their eyes, though it was hard to admit the Sneasel didn't have a point about the little spike balls having downright mockable speech patterns if this Togedemaru was remotely representative. Why it was almost as if the 'mon had gone out of his way to sound as unserious and unimposing as possible!

Even so, they knew better than to underestimate the rodent given the warning they'd received back in camp. And from the way wind blew along the argument between the Togedemaru and Gogoat, a peek through the grasses revealed the little squeaker to be adamantly standing his ground in front of the Gogoat. Far more than what any of them would've expected from a 'mon with a speech pattern that'd embarrass most hatchlings.

"Dabohru say caravan on strict schedule tonight!" the Togedemaru insisted. "So Dabohru take precautions to defend caravan better!"

The sphere-like rodent turned and sharply whistled, drawing sharp wingbeats and a low screech as a large, vaguely draconic gray creature with lavender wings donning a caravan scarf landed behind him. The Pokémon reared up, visible to the three Outlaws over the top of the grass where they could make out a pronged tail, and a horned head with a long, square snout full of teeth that looked almost like sawblades. Lyle, Kate, and Alvin held their breaths and felt their blood run cold at the sight of the imposing flyer, as the Gogoat all but jumped back with widened eyes and visibly trembled at the creature's presence. His voice coming out in something approximated a frightened squeak.

"G-Götterblut!₁" the Grass-type whined. "Wh-What is that thing?!"

The gray wyvern narrowed her eyes back at the cowering Gogoat, as she drew her wings in against her body with a sharp, offended huff.

"I'm an Aerodactyl. We aren't that special," she scoffed. "And I have a name, bub!"

The Togedemaru waddled over beside the Aerodactyl, pointing up at her with a proud smile in front of the still-quailing Gogoat.

"Reisenbach here is lead flyer tonight from headquarters!" the Electric-type answered. "Born and raised in Primordial Woods where the Pokémon are fierce dinobeasts! Dinobeasts that grow big and hungry enough to gobble up little Togedemaru in one bite!"

The Gogoat lost his nerve at the mention of the Togedemaru's mention of 'dinobeasts', much less the Aerodactyl hailing from a place where her kind ate others, making him bleat and jump back in an audible panic.


The Gogoat tore off for the rest of the caravan as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving the Aerodactyl and the Togedemaru to look after him briefly, before the pterosaur trained a sharp scowl down at the furry spike ball.

"Really classy there, Zazadan. I left Primordial Woods and have been living as a Civil since before I could even fly!" the Rock-type snarled. "For crying out loud, I even used to be an Air Marshal with the Gendarmen!"

"What?" the Togedemaru insisted. "Zazadan just try to prove point about the rest of the trip!"

"So why didn't you tell him about those guards that came along from the last town with us?" the Rock-type demanded, prompting her Electric-type colleague to shake his spherical body back with a disappointed huff.

"Pah, guards all a bunch of useless leeches that keep getting into berries," he spat. "Especially fat white ferret with them! Why Dabohru not protest order from Regional Leader to let them along, Zazadan never understand."

Lyle froze in the grass and breathed in sharply at the mention of 'guards', before turning to his teammates with a worried glance.

"What guards were they talking about there?" he asked.

"Does it matter?" Kate asked. "I'm sure it's just some lackeys from their caravan."

"Kate, nobody said anything about extra guards being here," the Quilava insisted. "How do we know that someone didn't tip them off about us?"

"Just keep it down!" Alvin hushed. "The signal's about to go up at any moment-"

The Marowak trailed off as he looked up, where a light in the sky winked rhythmic flashes. One short, three long, another short one, and one last, long flash before going dark. The three watched as a sphere flew into the air and crashed into the ground in the middle of the encampment, spewing yellowish spheres of light as the caravan erupted into a confused uproar.

"Agh! Somebody throw Totter Orb at us!" a Togedemaru's voice cried.

The roar of churning water and a sharp bellow rang out as Parker rode a Surf into the thick of the caravan with blades drawn, accompanied by a small party of fellow red-scarved Outlaws. The Water-type at once hacked into a hapless Hippowdon, keeling her over with an agonized bellow. Arcing beams and rays of different elements zipped in from the hills, picking off a few Pokémon near the edge of the caravan as its defenders hurriedly tried to assume battle positions. Among them, Lyle noticed a Magmar make a grab for a wooden cylinder and light it up with fiery breath, the cylinder suddenly erupting in a shower of light as it shot a flare up towards the sky.

Lyle froze, realizing that the caravan was signalling for help, when a sharp wind suddenly blew the flare off course just above the wagons and sent it crashing back down to the earth, with a cutting gust of air following shortly afterwards from above and sprawling the Fire-type out onto the ground. A quick glance along the wind's direction revealed Myra swooping in, riding a Tailwind at the head of a formation of incoming fliers off to their left that fanned out into small groups to cover the airspace over the encampment. Not far away, the ground rumbled, with Ford burrowing out of the ground to their right and calling out behind him.

"This is it!" the Steelix bayed. "Get 'em!"

Lyle and his companions sprang out of the brush, the Fire-type's head and tail erupting into flame as the three charged into the encampment. Lyle held his head low to the ground and let out a reflexive yelp as covering fire of attacks and missiles zipped in from the Terra Tyrants' rearguard still on the hill and shouts and cries rang out about him. His breaths came short and sharp as he ran forward. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

The defenders had been caught badly off-guard, as a few of their numbers fell to incoming attacks, and others bolted from their wagons in a blind panic. Myra and the fliers had split up in the skies over the encampment, weaving about large bolts of electricity and beams from the ground as Pokémon from the caravan hastily sortied into the air. The three Outlaws ran ahead with Myra's Tailwind at their backs, trying to make their way over to the line of wagons closest to the tall grass just as a passing Murkrow tore away the canvas on one with a spread-wing slash. Just as they neared, a trio of Togedemaru cut off their path and began to visibly spark.

"Outlaws responsible for this trouble!" the leader Togedemaru cried. "Assume formation for team Zing-Zap attack!"

Alvin ran ahead at the central Togedemaru of the trio as the three whirled and kicked up electrical bursts. Lyle and Kate reflexively flinched as they heard a deafening crackle, watching as overlapping waves of electricity shot out, and their Marowak raised his voice into a bellowing snarl.

"Oh, put a bone in it!"

The waves of electricity arced in on the Marowak and settled on his hide as inert static, doing little more than to slow his pace briefly. For a second, Lyle had worried that the sheer magnitude of the attacks would overwhelm it, but that was Alvin's Lightningrod at work. The three Electric-types froze and went wide-eyed with shock as the Marowak zeroed in on the leader Togedemaru. The lizard brought his bony club down in an upward swing and a sharp thwack followed, sending the rodent flying with a pained squeak into the side of a wagon, where he flopped down and hit the ground twitching. The color drained from the other two Togedemaru's faces, as they jolted back and squealed out of fright.

"A-Aah! Outlaws got Zazadan!" the left Togedemaru cried.

"R-Run for it!" the right yelped.

The two rodents turned and bolted from the three Outlaws, prompting Kate to let out a dismissive scoff as she flicked aside some ice that had built up on one of her claws for a now-unneeded attack. Lyle and his companions continued on, closing the distance to the wagon just ahead of them that had been abandoned in haste.

"Tch, they really do lose their cool when they're not fighting in groups," Kate remarked. "Though I'm surprised nobody's disabled this thing yet."

"Look, just don't get cocky here," Lyle chided. "Let's just get started by busting up the wheels so that way those rodents can't take this stuff with them if they cut and run."

Lyle ran up and spat a thick cone of embers at one of the wagon's front wheels, the heat blackening the wood behind it before Kate smothered it with a gust of icy air she blew out from her mouth. The pair quickly ducked around the other end and repeated the process on the other front wheel, charring the spokes when they heard the crack of splintering wood and saw the wagon sink forward, the blackened and damaged spokes on the wheel closest to them giving way as the entire front of the wagon crashed to the ground. The pair ducked into the front to peel back the damaged canvas, when they saw Alvin's attention turn off behind them as he motioned with his bone.

"Look, over there!"

Alvin pointed off at a wagon tipped onto its side not too far away from them with signs of being struck by a heavy, stony missile of some sort where the Mismagius and Scyther from earlier had already stripped away the canvas and begun to pick through upended crates and barrels. The three turned their attention from the wagon they were about to clamber aboard, realizing that the pair of Terra Tyrants had already done much of the hard work of sorting through the contents of their wagon, and that any money or pocketable loot would be easier to get to.

"Heh heh! Looks like we just found payday! It'll be much easier to root through that one-!" the Marowak began, when a loud screech suddenly pierced the air.

The three flinched as the air churned overhead and a lavender blur descended on the overturned wagon. The Mismagius was suddenly wrenched from her place and pinned to the ground by the Aerodactyl from earlier, who opened her jaws and bit down on the Mismagius' neck before she could turn incorporeal. A loud, bloodcurdling scream rang out as the Aerodactyl dug her teeth in and shook the Ghost-type much like a ragdoll, the Scyther flinching and cringing as his companion's cries died out and the Rock-type threw the Mismagius aside to flop limply into the dirt.


The Scyther froze out of terror and attempted to flee just as the Aerodactyl stomped the ground, tearing a hail of rocks out of the ground with a great dirt plume that struck the mantis from below. The Bug-type sailed into the air with the stones, before stalling and crashing back to earth headfirst with little signs of life beyond a weak twitch of his wings. Alvin and his companions felt the color drain from their faces, as they realized the Aerodactyl was scarcely twenty paces from them, and hastily ducked behind the disabled wagon just as she turned towards their direction.

"G-Gih! Never mind, let's let one of the bosses handle that one!" Alvin insisted. "Let's try our luck closer to the water!"

The three turned and ran from the scene deeper into the encampment, ducking from the cover of one wagon to another as the din of fierce battle raged around them. Mercifully, the Aerodactyl seemed to be driven away by a few beams zipping in from the grasses, which forced her back up towards friendlier airspace. A glance up revealed the Rock-type wasn't alone, as the defenders had gotten more of their own fliers into the air. All above them, the air in the sky rippled and churned with Pokémon overhead throwing attacks and pursuing after each other, with thick bolts of electricity periodically zipping up into the sky.

Every now and then, Lyle and his companions would throw an errant attack back at the defenders, as battle cries and the yelps of wounded and felled Pokémon rang out until they could see darkened water just ahead, along with Dalton and a Golduck flanking a Tauros laden with baggage that'd slipped off from a nearby wagon, with Artem circling above to provide aerial support. Even in spite of his outmatched circumstances, the bull stubbornly dug his hooves in and lowered his head, attempting to drive off his assailants with a bellowing charge as sparks danced on Dalton's hide.

"Clear!" Dalton cried.

The Swellow and the Golduck hastily fell back before the Heliolisk flared his frill and disgorged a wide hail of sparks at the Tauros, the bull seizing up with a pained bellow before flopping over unconscious. Lyle and his companions watched as the three descended on the fainted Tauros, pulling bags off of his faintly breathing body as the Heliolisk approached with a seeming spring in his step and let out a satisfied harrumph.

"Hah! It's not about how much power you have, but how you use i-"

"Dalton, watch out!" Artem squawked.

A spray of black orbs abruptly flew in, making Dalton hop back with a startled yelp as it shot past and tore up a patch of earth. Lyle and his companions watched as a Zangoose, a Morgrem, and a Venomoth in silver and white scarves with matching sets of green plated armor descended upon them. The Golduck crouched and glared back at the guards, lunging for the Zangoose only to be cut off with a slashing uppercut and sent sprawled out groaning.

Dalton and Artem grimaced, the Heliolisk hastily attempting to lead with another Parabolic Charge, only for the three armored Pokémon to resist his blow from their plates and took advantage of their respite to slip back out of his attack's range. The Venomoth was quick to retaliate, flying up and blowing a plume of purple, toxic powder into Artem's face that made him lose altitude, spluttering and hacking much to the Zangoose's sneering satisfaction.

"Hah, you thieving scum all crumple up from a little love tap!" the Normal-type sneered. Artem righted himself and pulled up, fighting against the effects of his fresh poisoning to glare back at the Zangoose ringleader.

"Grr… don't you have some travellers to shake down for drinks or something?" the Swellow growled.

"We did, but then we got stuck babysitting these dweeby rodents," the Zangoose spat back. "Getting to tan your hides will be a nice bonus!"

Lyle's eyes shrank to pins at the sight of the three attackers as they lunged again at Dalton and Artem. Armor of any composition wasn't exactly common among Pokémon from how much it cost to make, and with the lot of them sporting sets of the same banded-cloth composition and the same color as Nils', that meant…

"Th-Those are Grünhäuter!" Lyle yelped. "Why on earth would they be guarding a caravan like this?!"

"Don't question it too much," Alvin insisted. "This is way beyond what we were supposed to run into, just find something to snatch and let's get out of here!"

"What, so soon?" Kate asked. "We're not just leaving Scales here get worked over like that!"

Without a further word, the Sneasel darted off ahead for the beleaguered Outlaws in the middle of their battle. Lyle and Alvin's jaws flopped open, before they ran after her, the Quilava barking after her with a frantic shout.

"Kate! Get back here!"

Undeterred, Kate fished through her satchel and pulled out a Pecha Berry, tossing it up to Artem with a sharp cry.

"Here, take it, Swellow!" she insisted. "Don't just loaf around like that!"

The three guards turned around at the sight of the approaching Dark-type, just missing the Pecha Berry which zipped up at the Swellow's head with him catching it in his beak. With no time to apply it properly, the Flying-type bit down and consumed the berry. Artem flew up, weaving around a Dark Pulse from the Mogrem Gendarm and climbing into the air as his wingbeats grew more steady—and then dove back down, clipping his Mogrem foe from behind with a spread-wing tackle.

"Heh, thanks for the help, Sneasel!" Artem snickered.

Kate's generosity had not gone unnoticed, as she was forced to swiftly jump aside from a jagged ray of greenish-yellow light from the Venomoth of the trio of guards. The Mogrem opted to leave Dalton and Artem for his Zangoose comrade and tore at Lyle and Alvin, who braced themselves for battle. With their hopes of sneaking off dashed, there was only one way left out for the Outlaws, and it was through knocking these Gendarmen into next week.

"Hey, you stupid imp!" Alvin bellowed. "Let's see how you fare when you don't have numbers on your side!"

Alvin threw his bone forward in an arcing motion, sending it twirling through the air as it sailed along and clocked the Morgrem in his nose. The Dark-type yelped and instinctively cradled his face, getting clipped from behind by Alvin's club as it flew back to him. With the Morgrem still stunned, Lyle ran up and let smoke build up at the back of his throat, spewing a Smokescreen square up the Dark-type's head that made the guard lurch back with a disoriented totter and hack for air as Artem swooped in to throw in an attack of his own. The sound of a sharp yowl rang out, as Lyle and Alvin turned to see the Zangoose stumbling back from Dalton, static still dancing on his fur.

"Oh, so it's gonna be like that, huh?" the Zangoose snarled. "Have it your way!"

The Normal-type flashed his claws and swung at the Heliolisk, his first swing missing as Dalton jolted back and readied a weak arc of electricity, only for a second to connect with the Heliolisk's chin and knock him flat on his back with a sharp yelp. The Zangoose's ears swiveled as he heard Alvin run up with a bellowing cry, turning and giving a sharp jab at the Marowak's stomach that made him gag and wheeze for air, the Zangoose noting his foe's state with satisfaction as he readied a claw for a crushing downward swipe.

"Lights out, bonehea- Grah!"

The Cat Ferret Pokémon's taunt was cut short by a burning tackle striking him from his flank. The Normal-type wheeled back, beating out the flames that clung to his pelt and armor as he looked down to see Lyle blinking in surprise for a moment before glaring up at him, and flashed his claws with a taunting smirk.

"Aren't you a gutsy one? Do you really think you can take me on, Quilava?" the Zangoose sneered. "Then let me cut you down to size!"

The Zangoose lunged for Lyle, swinging at him once with a swipe that missed his right ear by a hair's breadth, and then a second time that forced the Quilava to roll out of the way of another that was meant for his flank. Lyle rolled onto his feet, when his luck ran out and his newfound swiftness after using Flame Charge on the Normal-type fell short, as he felt a sharp slash from a pair of claws run across his back and squealed in pain.


Lyle pinwheeled and flopped to the ground, struggling back onto his feet and paws just in time to look up and see the Zangoose darting at him on all fours to strike again with his claws drawn. At the last step, the Zangoose lunged at him for a slashing pounce, when Lyle's ears heard the Morgrem's voice snarl from behind.

"Gah, verdammtes Wiesel!₂" the Dark-type snarled. "Let's see how you like-!"

Without thinking, Lyle hastily rolled out of the way, leaving the Normal-type's slash to carry on and dig into the Morgrem, knocking him to the ground with a pained shriek. The Mogrem looked back up from the ground, his eyes flickering as he struggled to hold a furious glare.

"D-Dolch, you idiot."

The Dark-type's eyes rolled back into his head before he sprawled out. The Zangoose looked down, seeing that he'd dug his claws into a gap in the imp's armor, and pulled them back and got up, giving an exasperated huff down at the still-groaning Morgrem.

"Eh?! Fritz?!" the Zangoose exclaimed. "You're supposed to give me space while attacking! We've been over this before!"

Lyle blinked, realizing that the entire time, this 'Dolch' Zangoose had been focused on him and not the surrounding battle. The Quilava heard a sharp yelp and turned just in time to see Kate getting knocked away from Venomoth after trying to slice at the straps for her armor when an idea dawned on him. He wasn't sure if lightning would strike twice, but if this Zangoose Grünhäuter was as reckless and inattentive a fighter as he seemed to be, perhaps he could work his magic on his other friend as well.

"Hey ferret!" he snorted. "Let's see how well you can keep up!"

That taunt certainly got the Zangoose's attention, as his red eyes lit up with fiery anger. Lyle ran ahead towards the Venomoth, where he saw Artem had flown in and pinned her low near the ground to try and provide relief for Kate and he cried out to the pair.

"You two!" the Quilava cried. "Fall back a moment!"

Kate and Artem quickly obliged and darted away from the Poison-type. Just as the Venomoth attempted to give chase, Lyle ran up behind her and spewed out a cloud of smoke, ducking under the moth's body and popping out the other end just as the sound of blows and confused shouts from Dolch and the Venomoth rang out. Seeing his opening, Lyle flashed a knowing smirk, and called out to his compatriots.

"Now! While they're distracted!" the Fire-type cried. "Keep your distance and give them something to chew on!"

Lyle breathed out a cone of cinders into the cloud of smoke, Kate following with an Icy Wind, Alvin his Bonemerang, and Dalton and Artem a Thunderbolt and Air Slash respectively. The hail of attacks stripped the smoke away, revealing a pair of haggard guards with the Venomoth visibly struggling to stay airborne, until her Zangoose partner lobbed a punch blindly and sent her crumpling to the ground. The Zangoose paused and blinked at the sight of his Venomoth comrade lying limp at his feet, before flattening out his ears with an annoyed hiss.

"Nrrgh…" the Zangoose groaned. "Why do you two dorks always keep getting in my way-? Huh?"

Dolch trailed off as his eyes fell upon a boxy wagon made entirely of reinforced wood with a set of small grates with flip-down shutters on its sides where an Azumarill and Linoone were attempting to force their way into the back. The Zangoose's eyes widened in alarm, as he seemed to forget about the Outlaws around him entirely and bolted for the wagon.

"Ack! Get away from there, you little rats!" the Normal-type barked. "Where's that lousy aerial cover when you need it?!"

A quick glance revealed the bulk of the activity in the sky coming from the southern end of the encampment, with the flash of massed Protects revealing that the caravan's 'mons had been driven off from their wagons and were attempting to dig in and repulse their attackers. Lyle and Kate spat fire and ice after the Zangoose, only for him to pay them no mind and continue barreling off for the strange wagon.

What on earth had gotten into him anyways?

As Dalton and Artem turned their attention to their Golduck counterpart's injuries, Lyle looked off back at Dolch for a moment, before making their way over to Tauros' unconscious body. A quick search revealed the Tauros had a satchel, which turned up some some money and a small handful of healing items had been stowed, among them a Tiny Reviver Seed that Dalton took for the Golduck and a pair of Oran Berries that carried faint radial lines on their rinds indicating they'd been exposed and altered by the Distortion of a Mystery Dungeon.

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin snagged one of the Oran Berries and divided it amongst themselves, pressing them haphazardly against the wounds they could reach before popping their remains into their mouths. While the sting of their juices still lingered and they still chewed the Oran Berries' pulp, a moment of dawning realization settled over Lyle's eyes: that Grünhäuter wouldn't have cared so much about that wagon if there wasn't a reason for him to.

"Finish up those berries quick and let's move on," the Quilava insisted, motioning off at the reinforced wagon. "Let's hit up that wagon over there!"

"Eh? The boxy one the Zangoose is by?" Alvin asked. "Why do we want to fight him again?"

"Because whatever's in there, it was good enough for him to drop everything to try and defend it!" Lyle explained. "Do you think he'd have done that if it was just another merchant wagon?"

Lyle's companions traded glances with one another at his explanation, as a devious grin spread over Kate's face.

"Heh heh, you really are getting back into things, Lyle!" she chuckled. "Come on, let's go!"

He probably should've been a bit more concerned by that comment, but a part of Lyle couldn't help but feel a hint of pride over the Sneasel's praise. The Quilava and his companions ran along for the strange wagon, spotting the Zangoose engaged in battle near its front with the Azumarill and Linoone. The three ducked under the wagon and crawled to the rear, popping up behind it where they discovered that it had a reinforced door with a padlock over it. Lyle stopped and blinked out of surprise at the sight. Just what sort of cargo justified that sort of security?

"H-Hey!" a small, raspy voice cried. "Whoever's out there, get me out of this thing!"

Lyle's eyes widened in realization that the wagon was a prisoner transport. Breaching it would be a point of no return and be sure to draw the attention of the guards. But if whoever was in there was friendly, surely it wasn't right to just let them rot in the middle of a raid where they'd already been caught off-guard by the defenders' strength. If nothing else, they could use some extra helping paws at the moment.

"There's someone in there!" Kate exclaimed, before Alvin shot a skeptical glance back.

"But how do we know she's not with the Togedemaru though?"

"Do I sound like one of those spike balls to you?!" the voice inside cried. "Whoever you are, just hurry up and open this thing!"

Lyle hesitated for a moment, before his eyes fell on the padlock and a quick run of his paw over it revealed the metal was brittle and weak. Outlaws didn't get many opportunities to come to each other's aid, and for whatever 'mons were inside this thing, this was as good of one as the three would get to help out. With his mind made up, Lyle forced the fire on his head and tail out into a searing blaze, turning with a sharp bark to his Sneasel teammate.

"Kate, follow my lead and freeze that thing!" he insisted. "If we heat and cool it quickly, it ought to weaken enough for Alvin to bust it with a good swat afterwards!"

"Right!" the Sneasel piped. "Let's do it!"

Lyle breathed in deep and spewed a small cone of embers on the lock, breathing in to force more out in an almost sustained stream. The flames licked the surrounding wood and charred them as the padlock heated up and turned red under its glow. As soon as the Quilava's Ember subsided, Kate ran up and breathed out a frigid wind flecked with stray ice and snow that struck the still-smoldering back of the wagon, sizzling and dripping water on contact. The pair repeated the process again, leaving the lock visibly glowing with a noticeable crack that had sprouted along its top, which prompted Alvin to wind up his club and smash the lock.

A sharp chunk rang out, followed by the bottom of the padlock falling to the dirt in pieces. With the back of his paw, Lyle brushed away the remains of the red-hot lock still holding the door closed and threw the door open.

Contrary to their expectations, there was no immediate sign of Pokémon inside once the wagon's door swung open. Kate pinned her ears back and hesitated, looking about the seemingly empty interior.

"Is this some sort of trick?" she asked. "Sure looks awfully lonely inside for a prisoner transport-"

"I'm back here! Hurry!"

The three raised their brows when the small voice pricked their ears again, its sharp cry bidding them deeper inside the darkened wagon. Lyle hunched forward to allow his head's flames to better illuminate the back of the chamber. There at the end, they saw the form of an Axew in a cage with a wooden top and bottom with iron bars, donning a mussed gray scarf and bound up with silk webbing. The Dragon-type jostled desperately, looking up at the three Outlaws with frantic red eyes.

"D-Don't just stare at me!" she cried. "Help me already!"

The Quilava blanched, looking about the cage as a small door with an integrated lock could be seen. Far sturdier than the padlock they'd forced their way through, and without any sign of an obvious weak point to exploit. Why this was just some kid! What on earth did she do to earn this sort of treatment?

"Uh… where do we even-?" he started, when the sound of a sharp hiss reached his ears.


The three Outlaws whirled around and saw Dolch at the entrance of the wagon, evidently having fought his way through the Azumarill and Linoone. The Zangoose entered with a low snarl, flashing his claws as he forced his way into the wagon.

"Get your paws off that prisoner!"

Lyle froze as the Zangoose approached in, the Quilava hurriedly spitting up smoke at the Normal-type's face to stall him. As the Zangoose coughed and tried to brush away the smoke filling the wagon, Kate quickly looked back at the cage and grappled onto it before calling out to her Marowak teammate.

"Alvin! Grab the other end!" she shouted. "We're gonna throw this thing forward!"

Lyle hurriedly ducked out of the way as Alvin and Kate picked up the Axew's cage, the Dragon-type's eyes inside widening with a start as they lifted it up and swung it back just as the Zangoose reoriented himself.

"Wait!" the Axew cried. "Not like tha-!"

Kate and Alvin threw the cage forward, which sailed at the Zangoose's head. The Normal-type attempted to raise his claws to shield himself, only to get struck in the face and bowled over. The cage sailed up into the roof of the wagon, before falling back down and striking the floor at an angle, which splintered the wood of its base near the bars along the front and spilled the Axew out as the cage collapsed into pieces. The Dragon-type lay stunned for a moment, before stumbling up and whirling around with a furious glare.

"What is your problem, you stupid jerks?!" she fumed. "You threw me straight at an attacking Pokémon!"

"Yeah, well now you're out, Fräulein₃," Kate retorted. "So don't argue with results here!"

The Axew bristled a bit at Kate chiding her like a child, even if she arguably still was one. The three hurriedly shepherded the Axew out, Kate stopping to snatch a coin bag off the stunned Grünhäuter along with one of the dislodged bars lying on the floor of the wagon and made their way back outside with the newly-freed prisoner. There, just as Kate left the wagon, the Zangoose got up cradling his face, pulling a paw back from a snout dribbling blood when he saw the four standing outside, and narrowed his eyes into a livid glare.

"Hey!" he shouted. "I'm not finished with you-!"

Lyle quickly slammed the door shut, prompting Kate to slip the iron bar through the hoop where the padlock had been. As soon as the bar made it through, the Outlaws jumped back with a start at the sound of a heavy thump on the other end the door, as muffled snarls and curses rang out on the other end mixed in with the din of battle in the background.

The Outlaws looked about their surroundings, and after seeing that the back of the wagon and the others nearby were unattended, sighed with relief. The thick of battle must've moved deeper into the merchants' encampment, and the caravan's still-standing defenders were surely on the run by now.

Perhaps then it was safe for Lyle to indulge his curiosity. The Quilava shook his head and scowled down at the Axew.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "And what on earth were you doing being held prisoner in-?"

A blood-curdling screech suddenly filled the air, as the four looked back towards the front of the wagon and paled. Lyle looked off at the center of the encampment, where he saw a good half-dozen of their comrades running off frantically from a hail of attacks and thrown missiles. Thick bolts of electricity lit up the sky from above, a few figures crashing to earth as others desperately tore away with frightened squawks and shouts.

Among them, he and his companions noticed a Trumbeak frantically trying to fly away from a large, swift-approaching shadow, only for a hail of stones to overtake him from behind and send him crashing to earth. And just behind where the Trumbeak had been swatted out of the sky, he saw the screech's culprit: the same Aerodactyl from earlier, now staring down at them with a Togedemaru riding on her shoulders who visibly sparked and leveled a nubby paw down at them.

"Down there! Nobody make Dabohru look like fool!" the Togedemaru cried. "Reisenbach! Don't let Outlaws by priority wagon get away!"

Lyle felt the color drain from his face and his pupils shrank to pins, as he let out a startled squeak and tugged sharply at the Axew from the wagon.

"N-Never mind!" he yelped. "We can talk later!"

Lyle tore along and tried to bolt for the tall grass, turning back to see that Kate and Alvin were doing much the same, with Alvin lagging behind thanks to his kind’s natural slowness. The din of startled cries rang out among the Outlaws further in the encampment, and Lyle's ears pricked when he heard the earth churn behind him. The Quilava briefly saw stones getting launched into the air from the corner of his eye followed by a blinding electrical burst.

And then he felt it. Something heavy struck the back of his head and Lyle tumbled to the ground and watched the world roll about him as he came to a stop. He he heard his companions yelp out in pain, the Quilava wincing and letting out a low whine as he struggled back up to his feet. He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to feel this light headed, and a quick glance back revealed Kate, Alvin, and the Axew stumbling up groaning, evidently not much better off than him.

A bloodcurdling cry turned his attention skyward and he felt his fire come alight and he screamed out of fear. There above them was the Aerodactyl flying in a holding pattern with her Togedemaru rider, who shot a disgusted scowl down and called out to her in that squeaky voice of his.

"Now, Reisenbach! Finish Outlaws while they still down!"

The Rock-type screeched and swooped in, as Lyle found his body suddenly locking up as the Aerodactyl dove at him with her jaw opened wide, flashing her saw-like teeth. The Quilava flinched and curled up as the sound of churning air drew closer and closer, the Fire-type desperately flaring the fire on his body to try and drive off his attacker, screwing his eyes shut out of fright when a sharp cry pricked his ears.

"Not so fast!"

A deafening electrical crackle rang out, followed by pained screams. Lyle gasped and cracked his eyes open. There, standing between him and the Aerodactyl was Dalton, static still crackling on his and the Aerodactyl’s body from the aftereffects of a thick, crackling bolt of electricity.

The Rock-type desperately pulled up afterwards, when an overpowering whirlwind kicked up and knocked her off-balance. Lyle quickly glanced off above him as the Aerodactyl fought to stay airborne and her Togedemaru passenger clung on for dear life. Sure enough, it was Artem, the Heliolisk’s Swellow buddy from earlier.

Lyle uncurled himself and got back onto his feet after hearing his teammates approaching and barking at him to get up. The Quilava quickly looked up after where he’d last seen Reisenbach and spotted her trying to wheel around, her flight wobbly as her right wing appeared stiff and unresponsive. Blauflamme. After all that, she was still up in the air?!

Wait a minute, that was it! At once, the Fire-type's eyes lit up, and he called out to his companions and their newfound allies as a bout of dawning realization came over him.

"Quick!" Lyle shouted. "Go for her right wing joint!"

One after the other, the five threw attacks up into the night sky as their elements allowed, with Lyle leading with a cone of fire. He watched as the Aerodactyl frantically ducked and weaved around the incoming attacks: past his Ember, past a bolt of electricity, and a gout of dragonfire from Dalton and the Axew respectively. Lyle tensed up and began to gave chase as he spotted a whirling bone from Alvin miss its mark.


The Aerodactyl cried out when at last, a frigid gust of wind found its mark and encrusted her joint in ice. The Rock-type's right wing locked up, sending her spiraling and tumbling to earth with a dull crash. Lyle glanced back briefly to see Kate crack a satisfied smirk, before charging ahead. That Aerodactyl wasn’t going to stay down for long.

He and the others ran over to the wyvern's crash site, hoping that the impact would’ve finished her off only to freeze and flinch. There, they saw the Aerodactyl struggling to get up and Dabohru righting himself dazedly before shaking his head and sparking back in defiance.

"Th-This not over!" the Togedemaru snapped. "Dabohru will not be defeated by bunch of unwashed Outlaws-!"

Before the Electric-type could finish his words, a shrill cry pierced the air. Lyle looked up as the air rippled his fur, just in time to spot Myra swooping in at the Togedemaru's flying partner with a flurry of quick, circling tackles. The Staraptor's wings landing blows almost like punches before one final one struck the Aerodactyl in her chin. The Rock-type toppled over with a pained cry, hitting the ground flat on her back with a weak twitch of her wings.

That one was gonna leave a mark, but gottverdammt was it satisfying to watch. Especially with that dumb-looking expression the Togedemaru had right now.

The Togedemaru blanched as he looked over at his caravan's fallen aerial escort, when the sounds of shouts rang out from behind them. Lyle looked back at the center of the encampment where the emerging rout of the Outlaws had been intercepted by Parker charging in on a Surf's wave, breaking the defenders' formation as she cut down a Bisharp with a swift, retaliating bludgeon from the flat of one of her seamitars. A little ways away, Ford scattered a formation of Togedemaru behind a screen of Protects by abruptly surfacing from the ground with a Dig. All the while, Dabohru visibly quailed and trembled, when the rodent’s nerves finally failed as he let out a frightened squeal and darted off for the path.

"E-Eeeek! Run away! Run away!"

Lyle spat a few cinders after the caravan leader for good measure, as it seemed as if the departed gods smiled on them The front line of the defenders abruptly collapsed as their still-able members tore away for the path after their leader as fast as their limbs would carry them. A few parting blows were traded, the encampment fell to silence but for the sound of Lyle’s pants and racing heart. The groans of wounded Pokémon scattered about snapped him back to attention, with a quick look around revealing naught but disabled and abandoned wagons and cinders from a doused bonfire left behind as evidence of the Roly-Poly Caravan's earlier presence. Lyle and his companions looked up as Myra went over and snatched a satchel off of the Aerodactyl's shallowly-breathing body, going back over to Lyle and his expanded party with a smiling nod.

"Nice work out there," the Staraptor grunted. "Hurry up and grab what you can before these 'mons start waking up."

The order was echoed by calls elsewhere in the trashed encampment. Lyle looked about as the wagons teemed with activity with Outlaws going back to pick through them at their leisure. Others went about the fainted defenders left behind to snatch money and items off their persons, with the Quilava noticing a few felled guards that wore armor having their plates stripped as trophies. Still other Outlaws stopped to pull the wounded of their numbers aside to try and treat those who were well enough to walk or be roused, that they might have extra paws to help them cart off loot back to camp.

Dalton and Artem motioned for the others to follow, Kate and Alvin trailing along over to the wagon where they'd been ambushed by the Zangoose and his companions. Lyle started to set off after the four himself, when he noticed the Axew was no longer behind him.

The Fire-type reared up and glanced around, where he spotted the little Dragon-type attempting to slip off into the tall grass, prompting him to dash up behind her and snatch her by her arm. The Dragon-type reacted much as if she'd been suddenly burnt, whirling around and tugging at her arm with a fierce glare.

"Ow! Let go of me!" she hissed.

"Komm runter!₄"

Lyle shot a sharp scowl back after barking at the Axew to calm down and looked down, where for the first time got a good look at the scarf on her neck. The shade of gray reminded him of the shade of the stripes on Grünhäuter scarves, if darker. For its design, it had a pair of black and white swirls that curled in onto each other, with dots that made them appear almost like the eyes of serpents.

He didn't know what the story was behind those colors, even if something felt vaguely familiar about them. But with his and his companions' objective being to snag as much loot as possible and slip away, he didn't exactly have the time to ask for the kid's back story.

"Look, we just saved your hide back there, and you clearly have quite a few enemies," Lyle insisted. "The least you can do in return is to hang around us long enough to explain what's going on here."

The Axew sharply huffed back and tensed her neck and shoulders, seemingly for a swing of her tusks—only to hesitate. The Axew looked off at the Outlaws pillaging the remains of the encampment, and then back off at the tall grass, where after an uneasy silence, she turned back to Lyle with a low grumble.

"Fine. I guess I can't argue the point," she admitted. "But where are you taking me?"

"A safer place."

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Götterblut! - "Gods' blood!", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting.
2. verdammtes Wiesel - "damned weasel"
3. Fräulein - "Miss", traditional address for an unmarried woman in German. Has become disused for such purposes in modern German and is often seen as having condescending or sexist undertones, with usage in that context largely displaced by the more general "Frau". In this particular context, the use of the term would be most akin to scolding a young girl in English as "Missy".
4. Komm runter! - "Calm down!" (colloquial), lit. "Come down!" / "Descend!"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Squareᵃ, 14. Herbstmond, 1027ᵇ n. d. B.ᶜ​

To Regional Leader Baan of the Roly-Poly Caravanᵈ,

His Majesty wishes to contract the services of your Roly-Poly Caravan for an urgent request to accommodate a secure wagon as part of your next caravan from Port Reyn to Newangle City. A party of interest to His Majesty King Siegmund is riding in the secure wagon, and said party's presence is to be kept secret under all circumstances. Should any harm come to the party you are transporting, it would have potentially existential implications for the well-being of the realm and the success of its current war effort against the Kingdom of Edialeigh.

His Majesty wished for your caravan's services in particular for its record of success in lands across all of Wander, your branch's track record of service on behalf of the Kingdom of Varhyde specifically, and the competence in battle of the Pokémon in your outfit by civilian standards. Due to considerations of secrecy, a detachment drawn from the gendarmes of Port Reyn and Moonturn Square will provide your caravan direct assistance, while my forces will follow along from fifteen minutes' distance by walking. Should you require assistance beyond what the vanguard force can provide, you are to signal with flares we will provide, and we will hurry aid over from our swifter members and provide relief to the best of our ability.

His Majesty is prepared to offer 200,000 Carolinsᵉ for your Caravan's services, half delivered upfront as an advance, and half delivered upon the arrival of the transported party. Who is being transported concerns you and your outfit not, and were the party of interest someone who could merely be whisked to Newangle City on the back of a Carrier without serious risk of loss, I would be flying the party there myself instead of soliciting your caravan's services through this letter. A decision is to be relayed within one day of receipt, and a lack of one will be assumed to be a declination of this contract.

Weigh your choices carefully, I will be awaiting your response.

- Letter from Grafᶠ von Wellenhafenᵍʰ, Lacan Dragoransⁱ to Regional Leader Baan Togedemarus

a. Like a number of other place names in this story, this name is derived by corruption from one in German via in-setting language drift. For the sake of brevity, not all of the ones brought up in this header will be elaborated on in this chapter's notes, but this one in particular in a more faithful semantic translation would be "Cheerful Square/Plaza".
b. Traditional header format for a formal or business letter in the German-speaking world: "[Place of sending], [Day]. [Month], [Year]"
c. Abbreviation for "nach dem Blitz", or 'after the Flash'. Modeled after actual epoch abbreviations of this style in German, especially 'n. d. Z.': a way of styling the era covered by 'Anno Domini' in German that is an abbreviation for 'nach der Zeitrechnung' or 'nach der Zeitenwende'.
d. "Pummel" in the German name is derived from "pummelig", a cutesy way of calling something "tubby" or "chubby". Note that if doing a straight localization jump from Pokédex Category to Pokédex Category, this would be "Der Einigler-Karawane" but "the Defense Curl Caravan" sounds significantly less "cutesy and kinda stupid" thematically, so the story stuck with something a bit semantically closer to "Roly-Poly".
e. A type of golden coin that was used in parts of Scandinavia and German-speaking Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The spelling in German is the one used for the coins of this nature used in Bavaria and the Palatinate, while the spelling in English tracks the Swedish spelling.
f. A middling rank in German nobility. There is no direct analogue to a "Graf" in English nobility, though it is usually treated as the equivalent of a "Count" or an "Earl" and translated accordingly. e.x. "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and "Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin" being used interchangeably to refer to the same figure in English texts. In this story, the title of Graf is dealt with in an untranslated fashion.
g. Noble titles are left untranslated in this story as a flavor choice and to emphasize historical continuity. In German, a large swath of noble titles are constructed in the form of "[Title] of/from/at [Place]", and Varhyder nobility is no exception. In this particular case, the title semantically would be "Graf of/from Port Velhen".
h. The ordering of title before name is a signature convention for letters in the German-speaking world. The writer would not be referred to in this style in normal conversation, with "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and the many permutations thereof once again being a prime example.
i. Contracted patronym utilized for in-setting Commontongue, in this case for "Dragoransohn". Contracted patronyms in Varhyde are the the ones employed in most in-setting contexts.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Neuengelstadt, 13. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.
Sehr geehrter Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen,

es bringt uns große Freude zu hören, dass nach einem Jahr von Verfolgungen es endlich geschafft haben, die Dyade, welche wir einst fürchteten verloren zu haben, zu sichern. Nach mehr als sieben Jahrzehnten von Krieg mit dem Königreich der Ideale, der meinen Vater und dessen Vater überdauerte, der bis zurück in die Regierungszeit von König Sansa ging. Ein endgültiges und dauerhaftes Ende ist letztendlich zum greifen nahe.

Unser einziges Bedauern ist, dass der Verstand der Dyade vergiftet von korrupten Einflüssen sein wird. Sie würde flüchten, wenn du sie einsammeln kämst. Ich hatte gehofft, dass sie sicherlich vernünftig sein könnte, aber nach all den Geschichten die Sie über die Kreise in die sie im letzten Jahr geraten ist kennengelernt haben, ist es vielleicht das Beste, strenger mit ihr zu sein, bis diese kindische Unverschämtheit abgelegt ist.

Nach alledem wäre es zwar ideal, die Zusammenarbeit der Dyade vor der Operation Zündfunke zu sichern, aber sie ist für ihren Erfolg nicht unbedingt erforderlich. Wir und unser Reich können uns nicht den Luxus leisten, sie aus reinen Gefühlslagen zu entgleisen. Es war schon ein Schicksalswunder, dass die Dyade hier in unserem Reich zu finden war und nicht im Königreich der Ideale, wie die königlichen Seher befürchteten, und es ist ein Wunder, welches wir nicht verschwenden wollen.

Daher ist es dringend erforderlich, dass die Dyade mit allen notwendigen Mitteln für die Operation Zündfunke eingesetzt wird, auch wenn Sie und das Fähnlein unter Ihrem Kommando die Gesetze und Gebräuche unseres Reiches verletzen müssen. Sie und ich wissen beide, wie gravierend die möglichen Folgen eines Scheiterns für dieses Reich sind, aber in der Bilanz liegt die größte Hoffnung, die das Königreich der Wahrheit seit Generationen hatte:

Was wir endlich „Unser Friede“ nennen können, um dieses Königreich von seiner Herrschaft und den Kreislauf der Not zu befreien, der es durch die Jahrhunderte geplagt hat, und „Unsere Vergeltung“, um die Wunden dieses Landes und dessen Bewohner mit Feuer und Flamme zu vergelten.

- Brief des Königs von Wahrheit, Siegmund Wieshusohn an Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

"A toast! To a job well done, and to the generosity of the Roly-Poly Caravan!"

About an hour later, Myra's words boomed through the center tent of the bandit encampment in their little Pocket within Waterhead Cave as she nudged at a frothing mug of lager in full view of the gathered Outlaws inside. Cheers and laughs rang out as the Staraptor dipped her beak in and drank while the others joined in, a few scattered cries of 'Bottoms Up!' and the occasional 'Prost!' ringing out. The Outlaws had returned to the dungeon's modest Pocket flush with all sorts of ill-gotten gains: money in royal Carolins and Poké issued by the Colorswap Consortium, Orbs and Wands, lengths of cloth and metalware, a few stray discs that appeared to be 'tay-emms'—even some of the caravan's food and drink that they helped themselves to on simple wooden plates and mugs.

The caravan's Pokémon had had their own spirits, with Kate being particularly excited when a bottle of Glühwein turned up among the loot—somebody evidently had been impatient for winter to make a batch of mulled wine and bottle it before it was even Weinmond. There were the expected berries, dark bread, and the waxy Gummis that made up the bulk of the average meal for most Civils in Varhyde, and for all Lyle knew, Wander as a whole.

"Hey, Lyle, are you going to eat or what?"

Lyle blinked and shook his head just in time to catch Alvin finishing up a circular slice of a dark food flecked with lighter spots. Must've been from one of the dry sausages that turned up from among the loot.

While Lyle had to admit their smell made his stomach growl, he ultimately passed up on taking a portion while food was being distributed. Meat for Civils was made from the corpses of Wilders found dead in the hinterlands by Leichensammler like Alvin's family. Alvin had walked him through in the past over how his family processed their wares so that you couldn't tell what Pokémon the meat originally belonged to, and submitted to inspection by guards to ensure it was ethically sourced.

Still, nobody refused a bag of Carolins under the table these days. For all he knew, the meat in this sausage came from a Wilder that had been flatly hunted in violation of the Vow, or from someone who'd gotten knocked off in a town. With thoughts like those lurking at the back of his mind, he couldn't fully make himself comfortable with the idea of chowing down on literal mystery meat.

"Er… right, sorry. Just spaced out a bit," the Quilava replied, giving a bashful paw at the side of his head.

Lyle snagged a waxy orange morsel about the size of a Leppa Berry and bit into it instead. The Gummi wasn't anything to write home about, and from what he'd heard about what their base mix was composed of, he was sure he'd likely gag it up without the Tamato Berry flavoring it'd been made with. But Gummis had a consistent recipe that had been discovered just after human times in the early years after the Great Flash, one that didn't require the flesh of other Pokémon to make. They filled Pokémon up all the same regardless of species or diet, tasted tolerable from the berry flavorings they were made with, and didn't leave lingering queasy doubts over what on earth they just ate.

Though why was he even sweating all these details? There was a full plate of food right in front of him, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd had portions this generous. As soon as he finished his Gummi, he hastily went to work on another, and then the dark bread, eating loudly enough to draw the attention of the other Pokémon at his table: Kate, Alvin, and the Axew from the caravan. The Dragon-type seemed to recoil a bit at the Quilava's table manners, though his companions paid it no mind, with Kate cracking a knowing smile and giving a teasing poke of her claw.

"Well, somebody certainly doesn't have any regrets about coming along tonight," she teased. "Just don't fill yourself up too much yet. They're passing out the Lansat Berries."

Right, the main attraction that night were spiky orange berries carried off from among the loot that were currently being distributed among the tables. A few of them made their way to Lyle's table, the Outlaws' eyes lighting up from the rare treat with the visible exception of the Axew, who glanced about warily. Lyle took one of the berries from the center of his table, only to suddenly pause and examine it with a skeptical frown after he realized something was amiss.

"Wait a minute… what on earth would a merchant caravan need all these Lansat Berries for anyways?" he asked.

It was a fair question. Why between what they'd pulled from the caravan, they'd turned up enough Lansat Berries to plant an entire field, and not a small one either. Lyle had heard of 'mons who boiled berries into syrups for medicinal purposes… or recreational ones in the case of these Lansat Berries. But since when did merchant caravans get mixed up in illegal trades like those?

"Tch, don't sweat it," Kate scoffed. "It's got a great tang to it and it makes you feel great just holding it."

Kate probably had a point. They'd done good that night, and now was the time to enjoy the literal fruit of their efforts. The Sneasel bit into the berry, ruddy juice getting over her muzzle as she munched away to her heart's content. In between bites, she noticed that of all her teammates, the Axew was the only one who hadn't claimed a berry for herself, making the Sneasel tilt her head puzzledly at the Dragon-type.

"Aren't you going to take one, kid?" she asked. "I thought Axew like you were supposed to eat berries by nature, so I'd have thought you'd be all over these things."

The Dragon-type glanced over at the orange berry briefly, before turning away with a quiet frown.

"I'll pass. I'm more of a fan of Haban Berries anyways."

"Your loss, Axew," Alvin grunted. "I could go for seconds!"

The Marowak snatched the Axew's unclaimed Lansat Berry, greedily tearing into it as the Axew looked down and pawed uneasily at her scarf. With his plate now more thoroughly cleared and his own Lansat berry reduced to its inedible pedicel, Lyle turned his attention to his mug as Kate reached for another Lansat Berry for herself. The Quilava raised the wooden vessel to his mouth and paused as he watched the Dragon-type pull out a small, gray pendant around her neck that looked like some sort of dart or triangular top with black and white stripes running about it. Lyle put his drink aside for a moment and looked over curiously, shifting his eyes between the Axew and her pendant before he spoke up.

"So do we get a name to call you by?" he asked. "I mean, I suppose we can stick with 'Axew', or 'Milza' if you're the formal type, but I figured that'd be a bit cold given that we're eating at the same table together."

The Axew said nothing for a moment, before shaking her head back with a sharp frown.

"Call me 'Irune'," she said. "It's the name I'm most comfortable with."

Lyle quirked a brow at the Axew, as Kate and Alvin looked over. The Sneasel of the pair remarked to herself about how something felt strange about the name, and in a sense it was. After all, the dragon had only given one part of her name in reply.

"... Just a bare name?" he asked. "I mean, I'm not expecting you to blurt out your Vatername to me, but hearing your Beiname and what others know you for as a ‘mon would help-"

Lyle was cut off by a sharp snort and saw the Axew shooting an askew glance back at him.

"Don't get me wrong, Quilava. I'm thankful for your and your friends' help, but I don't exactly know if I can trust you yet," she harrumphed. "Pokémon don't share their full names with random strangers. I'd expect an Outlaw of all 'mons to understand that."

Lyle frowned back at Irune. He would've hoped that saving her hide would've counted for something for trust, but it was hard to fault the Dragon-type for wanting to keep things close to her chest. He'd done much the same since he first dipped his paws into banditry. Even so, she surely had something to talk about, didn't she?

"Fair enough, let's try a different topic then," the stoat offered. "That thing you're wearing around your neck. What's it for?"

Irune clutched at her pendant and hesitated for a noticeable moment, before looking back at the Quilava and speaking up in a guarded tone.

"... It's a memento," she replied. "To help me remember something important that I'm looking for."

Lyle flattened his ears out at the Axew. For a 'mon who owed them her freedom, she sure was tight-lipped about what she'd done to get into trouble—but no matter. If she insisted on playing coy with questions, there was more than one way to pull an answer out of a 'mon...

"And just what would that be-?"


Lyle caught himself at the sound of a Heliolisk's voice, turning along with his fellows at his table to see Dalton and Artem approach and take places at two vacant seats. The Heliolisk of the pair hesitated and pawed at the back of his head uneasily, before speaking up.

"It's Lyle, isn't it?" he asked, making the Quilava shoot a wary glance back across the table before replying.

"Yeah. Something up?"

Dalton kept a long, straight face at the four for a noticeable pause. The Heliolisk's features eased and he shook his head, speaking up with a click of his tongue and grudging sigh.

"I just wanted to say thanks for you and your friends' help in the raid earlier," the Electric-type said. "You really came in handy when those guards cornered us."

Artem ruffled his feathers and looked away uncomfortably for a moment. For all the attitude the Heliolisk and Swellow had towards them earlier that evening, they both clearly felt uneasy not giving credit where it was due.

"Yeah, if it wasn't for you three, we'd probably be stuck in the infirmary tent right now with those 'mons that got chewed up out there," the Swellow added. "Especially that Mismagius from your crew. That Aerodactyl from the caravan really did a number on her."

A chill came over the gathered Outlaws at the table. Their job had gone off without anyone getting captured, which was more than what most ambushes of this scale could hope for… but at the same time their victory hadn't come without cost. The Quilava thought back over the night's events, realizing that if not for a few strokes of fate, he and his friends would likely be too wounded to enjoy the food and drink set out before them. Or worse, left behind in the caravan if they'd failed to rout the defenders.

The Fire-type quietly breathed a quiet sigh of relief that luck had smiled on them, even with Varhyde's gods slain, perhaps there was still someone out there looking out for them. Just what he'd snatched for himself in his bag would be enough to get by into at least the onset of winter in Nebelmond, and if he hung around Alvin's friends on the Terra Tyrants for the few days it'd take to fence the rest of their takings, he'd surely get more. Why, with the amount of loot they took in tonight, his share would surely be enough to get him through to the start of next spring. Perhaps longer if he managed to stay frugal and avoid the vices of gaming and drink that his fellows on the Foehn Gang used to be fond of.

"So what is it that you're looking for anyways, kid?"

Lyle blinked as he noticed that Alvin had turned and was eyeing Irune warily. The Axew shrank back briefly, as the Marowak cradled his club and gave a small frown down at the Dragon-type.

"You never did answer Lyle's question earlier," the Marowak reminded. "I get that everyone needs to be able to keep secrets sometimes, but nobody needs to be that tight-lipped."

Alvin's eyes fell onto Irune's pendant, as she hurriedly tucked it back under her scarf. Whatever her attempts at trying to hide it from his attention, it had only made it more noticeable to him and made him tilt his head skeptically.

"And since when did anyone keep little stone spikes as a memento?" he asked. "Is that supposed to be a key of some sort?"

Lyle noticed that Irune seemed to stiffen up and pawed uneasily at her shoulder over Alvin's prodding. Why on earth was she this hesitant to give a straight answer anyways? He watched as the Axew fumbled with her words briefly, as a sharp voice from behind pricked his ears.

"Hey, Kate."

Lyle saw Dalton and Artem turn and look up, and followed their gazes along with Kate, as she paused and pinned her ears back. There, in full view of the entire encampment was the Mistral Marauders' leader Myra walking up to their table. The Staraptor turned her head and glanced over at the Axew sitting beside him, leveling a wingtip out at the Dragon-type.

"I didn't remember seeing your Axew buddy from earlier, and she's not wearing any of our colors," the Staraptor said. "Who is she and what is she doing here?"

Irune squirmed and shrank back from the hawk's obviously inhospitable demeanor. Kate looked at the Axew briefly, before turning back to her superior with a dismissive wave of her claw.

"Psh. We found her locked up in one of the wagons," the Sneasel said. "She was obviously no friend of anyone from that caravan, so I figured there wasn't any harm in letting her tag along."

"Is that why they also held onto a bag belonging to her instead of trashing or looting it?" Myra asked. "Can't say we found anything else from the caravan with Axew scales on it."

Kate set her teeth on edge as Myra held out a satchel on her wingtip, her Quilava and Marowak companions doing much the same. Irune's eyes abruptly widened at the sight of the bag, as she tried to jump over the table for it. Myra pulled the bag up with a muffled yet audible rattle, leaving the Tusk Pokémon to slip over the edge with a yelp and faceplant onto the ground.

… What on earth was in that bag to make Irune react like that? Did she have her soul stuck in a jar inside or something?

Evidently Lyle wasn't the only one who found the young dragon's reaction to be strange. The outcry put a damper over the festivities as Ford and Parker turned to stare at the table, along with what seemed like half of the three Outlaw bands' combined headcount. Lyle shot a sideways glance at Irune as the Axew got up and nursed her snout, all while Myra narrowed her eyes down at the little Dragon-type.

"Curb your enthusiasm there, kid," she said. "I'm not just giving this back until I'm sure we can trust you."

Irune looked up, and gave a pouting huff back at the Staraptor, at once seemingly unnerved by the much larger and imposing hawk while attempting to force a brave face over her features. Lyle couldn't tell if the kid was bold, or just plain stupid to try and pull this sort of attitude on an Outlaw of Myra's stature, and thought of getting up to pull her back only for the Axew to pipe up in protest.

"I- I really don't see why you're giving me such a cold welcome! Everyone here's an Outlaw, and I'm also one too!"

The entire tent fell silent as soon as Irune's words left her mouth, the Dragon-type suddenly finding herself at the center of attention of what must've been forty sets of eyes all about her. Lyle and his companions at the table traded puzzled glances at each other over the Axew's reaction. What on earth was Irune hoping to accomplish getting so lippy with one of the bosses? It wasn't as if she had superior strength or obvious experience going for her right then. Myra didn't seem particularly impressed with the Axew's outburst either, as the Staraptor stepped forward and leaned in with a sharp scowl.

"Then why don't you answer a few questions here in front of your fellow Outlaws," the Staraptor insisted. "Don't worry, we don't bite… often."

The Axew audibly gulped before following after the Flying-type into an open space at the center of the tent. Square in the line of sight of the entire encampment's worth of Pokémon… and their line of fire if their mood soured. Lyle couldn't help but feel a twinge of pity for the Dragon-type as she fidgeted uneasily for a moment, before she summoned her nerves and spoke up to the bandit leader.

"Wh-What do you want to know?" she asked.

"Who are you?" Myra questioned. "And whose pattern is that that you're wearing on your neck?"

"I'm Irune, from…" the Dragon-type began, before trailing off to herself and fumbling with her words.

"Well… admittedly it's a bit hard to keep track of places after moving from one encampment to the next…"

Irune paused and visibly blanked for a moment, before shaking her head and piping up in reply.

"But the scarf belongs to the Balance Bandits," the Axew insisted. "It was a smaller gang, but they were a bunch of up-and-comers around these parts before those blasted Grünhäuter caught up with us!"

Myra blinked a moment as a few stifled laughs and snorts came from the gathering of bandits, including from Lyle's own table as he looked and saw Kate snickering at the Dragon-type's reply.

"The 'Balance Bandits'?" the Sneasel said. "Gods, I don't blame her for being tight-lipped with a dweeby name like that!"

Myra gave a bemused smile, before stooping down and pressing on in an audibly disbelieving tone that sounded much like a mother Ambipom would right after catching her child with his tail still in the sweets jar .

"Mm-hmm, I'm sure you were," the Flying-type said. "And tell me, just what did you and the 'Balance Bandits' do to get in such trouble, hm?"

Irune opened her mouth and hesitated a moment, this time seemingly already having an answer in mind but unsure of whether or not to offer it. After a brief pause and a shake of her head, the young Dragon-type dug her feet into the ground beneath her and piped up adamantly.

"I... was working on a plan with them to clear out the treasure of the Divine Roost!" she insisted. "The army's taken an interest in… uh, things from there and they snatched me up over it!"

Raucous laughter broke out around the gathering, as even at his own table, Lyle noticed Kate laughing hard enough to be blinking tears back, and Alvin let out an unstifled laugh of his own. Back in the center of the tent, Irune looked about as the chorus of laughter washed over her, her cheeks flushing a deep, flustered red as Myra shook her head with a dismissive scoff.

"Yeah, okay then. Just sit down and shut up for a while, rookie," she scoffed. "You'll need to work on being able to tell a convincing fib if you're planning on impressing anyone with a story like that."

Myra shook her head and threw the bag at Irune's feet with an audible clatter before shuffling back off to the festivities' food and drink. The Axew gave a sour scowl after the Staraptor before hurriedly snatched up the satchel, beelining back to Lyle and his companions' table as she let her bag drop by her seat with a frustrated growl.

"I'm telling the truth!" she fumed. "Why doesn't anyone here believe me?!"

"It is a bit of a hard tale to swallow," Dalton cut in. "You might as well have said the army was after you because you're a human who can see visions of the future."

Irune seemed to flinch for a brief moment at the charge, before giving a sour frown in reply. Dalton gave a small shake of a half-finished pint, before shooting an unimpressed stare across the table at the Dragon-type.

"Really now, if the army really wanted anything from the Divine Roost, they could've just walked into it and helped themselves to it," the Electric-type insisted. "The deities that once made use of it died years ago in battle after the gods of Varhyde and Edialeigh took to the field to help with the war."

"I know that," Irune shot back. "But they don't know where everything is from that shrine. And from what I heard…"

She suddenly quieted down and glanced around warily. After being convinced that no one outside the table could hear her, she leaned in and spoke up.

"They think those gods that used to roost there recently came back from the dead!" the Axew whispered. "And the army's looking for ways to get them to fight on Varhyde's side."

Dalton and his Swellow partner looked over at the Axew with askew glances, before the Flying-type of the pair ruffled his feathers and let out a sharp, dismissive chirp.

"Pah, that whole 'reincarnation' yarn? For all we know, it'll be a thousand years before we get replacements for those dead gods," Artem scoffed. "If that's what the army's pinning their hopes on to turn the tide of the war for them, they're in deeper trouble than I thought."

A dark scowl seemed to settle over the Heliolisk's face briefly after his Swellow companion spoke. Even if Dalton had come off as a bit of a stuck-up from their first encounter, seeing his mood turn like that was still surprising.

Lyle blinked for a moment, wondering why the topic of the army's incompetence would've soured the Heliolisk's mood so. From the way he talked about Grünhäuter earlier, he'd have expected the Heliolisk to join in with his buddy to make some sort of quip or joke at their expense, but it was as if he was... bitter about something. Lyle debated for a moment whether to ask further, only for Dalton to make the matter moot by letting out a sharp scoff and grabbing his mug.

"Hrmph, we've got better things to do than pick apart some rookie's tall tales, anyways," Dalton remarked. "Come on, Artem."

The Heliolisk and Swellow finished their drinks and brusquely headed off from the table. Lyle and his companions looked after the pair, before the stoat took a deep drink from his mug and shook his head back to Irune with a low sigh.

"Look, whatever really happened, you don't need to make up some sort of story to impress us," the Quilava insisted. "We won't pry into things for now. After all, you're in the same boat as the rest of us anyways."

Irune frowned back at Lyle for a noticeable moment, before hanging her head in defeat. The Axew let her gaze drift towards the table with a low pout.

"I suppose I can't argue the point," she murmured. "But I really didn't make any of that up…"

"Just focus more on having a good time, alright?" the Quilava asked. "You just busted out of a prisoner transport, enjoy your freedom a bit-"

"Eyaah! Get away! Get away!"

Lyle, Kate, and Irune fell dead silent as they saw a Togedemaru in a Roly-Poly Caravan scarf run by. Behind him was a Thievul and a Duraludon in Terra Tyrant colors in hot pursuit. The pair caught up with the rodent, only for him to shock them with a startled squeak and continue running as Irune gaped at the fleeing Pokémon with a tense grimace

"Isn't that one of the Togedemaru from the caravan?" she asked, making Lyle stare blank-facedly at the fleeing Electric-type.

"What in the-?" he started, only for the Duraludon to look up at Alvin and give a sharp, baying shout.

"Alvin! Don't let him get away!" the Dragon-type snapped.

Alvin sprang off his seat just as the Togedemaru approached. The spike ball froze and tried to get around the Marowak only for him to swing his club and strike the Electric-type across his face. The Roly-Poly Pokémon crumpled to the ground with a pained moan, as the Duraludon and Thievul hastily bound up the Electric-type and drug the hapless creature off kicking and screaming

"Kidnapper! Kidnapper! H-Help!"

"Gah, where's that stupid rat's gag again?" the Thievul grumbled.

"'They're small and easy to keep penned up,' he said. 'Their patrons will pay their weight in Poké to free them!' he said," the Duraludon growled. "Cripes, what on earth was the Boss thinking when he said that? Why didn't he have us snatch those Pullers from the caravan instead?"

Lyle froze and felt his blood run cold. The- The Terra Tyrants were holding Pokémon for ransom?

That was a crime far riskier to be involved in than simple robbery, and one he wanted nothing to do with. The revelation had similarly alarmed Kate and Irune, and the festive atmosphere of the gathering had come to a screeching halt as Myra and Parker had recalled their underlings from their seats to pack up their shares of the loot and get moving. Alvin uneasily pawed at his shoulder and gave something approaching an apologetic look, as Lyle gave a disgusted snort, hopped off his seat, and snatched his bag up from the ground.

"Lyle?" the Marowak asked. "Where are you going?"

"I'm taking the cut I already have and getting out of here," the Fire-type huffed. "I didn't sign up with your crew for this, and I'm leaving before this all blows up in everyone's faces."

"Alvin, why didn't you say that Ford dabbled in snatching?" Kate questioned. "This is going to draw a lot more heat than a simple robbery!"

"I-I didn't know we were going to do that tonight, alright?!" the Ground-type insisted. "I thought that this was just going to be a normal smash and grab!"

"'Normal'?!" Lyle exclaimed. "You mean this isn't the first time the Terra Tyrants have done something like this?!"

The Marowak hemmed and hawed for a moment, before pawing at the back of his head.

"I mean… I didn't really keep track or ask too many questions, so... Maybe?"

From her end of the table, Irune slid off and grabbed her bag with a faint rattle, clearly shaken by the revelation. The Axew looked about uneasily, seemingly expecting the ceiling to cave in at any moment as she muttered nervously back to the other Outlaws.

"I- I should really leave right now," she stammered. "I was a fool to think that I'd somehow be able to hide with you-"

"Look, simmer down, everyone!"

Irune was cut off by the sound of Kate's voice crying out, as she and her compatriots about the table looked up to see that the Sneasel had hopped onto it and was waving her claws for attention. The hubbub about the Pocket died down for a moment, as some of the Outlaws stopped to hear out the Dark-type as she raised her voice to speak.

"Look, we're in the Pocket of a Mystery Dungeon a full six floors down!" she insisted. "Even if the Terra Tyrants are involved in riskier business than normal, it's gonna take time for anyone to just find this place!"

Just then, a startled yelp rang out from the front entrance of the Pocket, a Watchog running up wide-eyed, and gesturing in alarm at the fog-filled passage beyond.

"There's someone in the mist-!"

The lookout never finished his words, as a large plume of fire abruptly sailed in and sent him flying headfirst into a crude lean-to. A hulking blue figure with red wings, white segments of shell on his underbelly, a metal band with notches around his right foreleg, and segments of green armor plates along his body whose clatter evidenced they'd been built around a layer of mail rushed out, flying up near the ceiling of the Pocket before letting out a bellowing roar.

"This is the place! Mow down anyone you see!" the Salamence barked. "The Dyad is somewhere here among them!"

He dove down, striking the earth just in front of the tent and churning the ground with a violent tremor. The next thing Lyle knew, he and his fellow Outlaws about the table were thrown from their seats, pitching to earth with the remains of their food and drink as they heard the table and seats get thrown about along with yelps and shouts from all around.

Lyle righted himself with the wind knocked out of him and the table knocked over onto its side, seeing Kate and Alvin hurriedly helping Irune up as confused cries rang out in the background. Amid the din, he heard the sound of shattering glass ring out, and saw yellowish orbs raining out over the encampment, followed by another that kicked up a blinding flash that erupted from the other end of the table.

The next few moments went by in a muddy daze. As the light from the blinding flash cleared and their vision stabilized from his spinning head, he felt Alvin tugging at him.

“L-Lyle! Snap out of it already!”

Lyle blinked in a daze and looked past the table, where he immediately noticed that their makeshift gathering hall had all but been destroyed. The sight of a Corvisquire in green armor flying by revealed that even worse, more Pokémon had followed that Salamence out of the Pocket's fog-shrouded entrance. The lot of them snarling and throwing an overwhelming array of ranged attacks, orbs, and seeds deeper into the Pocket at their fellows in the encampment, many of whom were visibly tottering in confusion or fatigue from the sudden ambush. After peeking past the table, Irune shrank back, the Axew's face flushing pale as chaos erupted all about them.

"I-It's too late…"

Kate and Lyle stared blankly for a moment, before Alvin sharply prodded at them with his bone and motioned for them to follow.

"There's a second exit at the back of the Pocket!" the Marowak insisted. "Come on, hurry!"

Lyle needed no further prodding and immediately sprang onto his feet. The four bolted from behind their upended table just as a Blast Seed sailed in and reduced it into charred splinters. Lyle ducked and his vents flared to life in a panic as a splintered piece of wood zipped overhead, a quick glance over his shoulder revealing Myra and Ford rushing to the front with some of their stronger subordinates to try and stop the soldiers' advance.

G-Gods, that last night with the Foehn Gang, the worst-case scenario he'd been dreading since leaving his berry field for Waterhead Cave. All of it was happening again. H-How on earth did they even get found out like this?! Had these 'mons seen the flare after all and spotted a straggler from their group dipping back into the Mystery Dungeon?!

A glance back revealed a number of Outlaws converging together from the skirmishers, throwing up screens of light that they held up to block incoming attacks, with others massing behind them to lob Blast Seeds and Orbs from behind their cover. The impromptu shield wall was hardly an airtight defense, as Lyle hastily sidestepped an incoming Silver Spike, charging ahead with his head lowered as the din of battle rang out about them. The Fire-type turned back to Kate as they fled, shooting a sharp glare over at her.

"What was that about it taking time for someone to find this place?!" Lyle demanded.

"It was a bit shorter than I thought, okay?!" she exclaimed.

Lyle flinched after hearing the sounds of a scuffle and a pained scream ring out from ahead. He felt Kate grab onto him to pull him back as the two skidded to a stop after seeing Alvin and Irune freeze in front of them as a Pinsir was thrown across their path. The beetle hit the ground and sprawled out groaning incoherently with an ugly crack in her exoskeleton that dribbled yellow fluid. A quick glance to their left revealed a Heracross and Dusk Lycanroc in green army plates stepping out with low snarls, evidently having slipped past the defensive lines to flank them. The four braced themselves, when the pair of soldiers suddenly froze after their eyes fell upon Irune and they recoiled with a visible start.

"Ah! That's the Dyad!" the Heracross cried out. The Bug-type's Lycanroc partner narrowed her eyes, crouching against the ground with a low snarl.

"Mop up those Outlaws and grab her!"

Lyle dove out of the way as the Heracross lunged forward, throwing a sharp chop with a tarsus that found its mark on Kate's chest. The Quilava watched as she tumbled back with a yelp, as he fell back and bounded over to Alvin to try and close ranks. The Marowak charged ahead with a bellowing cry, swinging at the Bug-type's head with his club and Lyle pushed fierce fire out of his body’s vents. Deep breaths, the soldier was big, but he was a bug, and he’d burn just like any other one. Lyle felt build up at the back of his throat, and breathed out, only to feel a crushing blow from his side that knocked him off his feet.

Lyle coughed up smoke and stray cinders, reeling as his rattled mind gathered he’d been tackled. Except tackles weren’t supposed to hurt like that.

"Where do you think you're going, stoat?!" a growling voice shouted.

Lyle grimaced and rolled onto his feet—looking up just in time to see that his attacker had been the Lycanroc right before she struck him again with a second swift, dashing ram. Lyle abruptly crumpled to the ground wheezing and gagging from the blow. It felt as if he'd been hit by a sack of stones, and considering his attacker, maybe that wasn't too far from what had actually happened.

From his place on the ground, the Quilava tried to curl up his body defensively and flare out his fire to drive the wolf off, only to see Irune from the corner of his eyes run up and run a tusk into the Rock-type's foreleg. The Lycanroc yelped in pain before Irune flicked her head to the side and ran her other tusk into the same leg, the Rock-type wincing and tripping after losing her balance as Irune hopped back and motioned to Lyle to follow.

"C-Come on! Get up! We can make it to that other exit if we keep running!"

Lyle started forward, when he heard Alvin's voice yelp and turned to see the Heracross knocking him over and pinning the hapless Marowak. The Quilava went wide-eyed and reflexively dashed at the Heracross, striking the back of the Bug-type's head with a fiery tackle that made a rush of adrenaline shoot through his veins. His limbs grew looser, their movements swifter, as Lyle watched the impact of his Flame Charge force the beetle off with a sharp yelp as he cried out to his teammates.

"Now! Get him while he's down!"

They seemed to have heard him loud and clear. Alvin used his newfound freedom to tighten his grasp on his club and smash the underside of the Heracross's head. The Heracross flinched and attempted to curl and shield himself, when Kate ran in with a sharp slash of her claws across the beetle's face and made the Heracross slump over limply. The three panted disorientedly for a moment from their encounter, only to be snapped back to attention by the sound of Irune letting out a piercing scream.

"A-Aah! Let go of me!"

Lyle turned with his teammates and saw Irune's bag lying on the ground with the Axew being held aloft by the Lycanroc nipping at the knot of her scarf. The wolf began to carry her off as she flailed desperately to try and break the Rock-type's grasp, but to no avail.

"Rgh… Mission accomplished," the Lycanroc spat. "I'll let the others deal with you jerks-"

"Not so fast, Grünhäuter!" Dalton's voice cried out.

Lyle jumped back as a weak jolt of electricity zipped in and made the Lycanroc recoil and her limbs lock up, the Lycanroc freezing and stiffening up with a yelp. Sure enough, Artem swooped in shortly afterward, the bird barreling in with a spread-wing tackle that carried an almost metallic glint that struck the Lycanroc in her neck. The Swellow's blow made the Grünhäuter lose her grip on her Axew captive, who hit the ground and scurried to her feet as the Lycanroc tried to keep her footing. Lyle reflexively darted ahead to come to her aid, when he saw blue dragonfire built at the back of the Axew's throat. Before he could say anything, she disgorged it into the Lycanroc's face, sending her flopping to the ground unconscious as Irune spat disgustedly to her side.

"Pass that on to that awful Graf of yours!"

Lyle froze from his place behind Irune as she hastily recovered her bag. Graf? How the hell would she know these 'mons were bossed around by a noble, let alone his title? The only way would've been if she'd run into these army 'mons before. They had come because of her! The Quilava opened his mouth to speak, only for Artem to cut him off with an impatient squawk.

"Oi hurry it up! Those Grünhäuter just broke the defensive line!" Artem shouted. "Boss Parker's keeping the exit open, but she can't hold out forever!"

"Right!" Lyle called out. "We're coming!"

Lyle lowered his head and bolted forward as Irune ran along with Artem and Dalton. Kate quickly overtook his pace with her kind's natural swiftness, stopping briefly to snatch up a smaller bag of loot that had been dropped in a hurry, and Alvin tore along behind him. All the while, attacks flew about the encampment as the exit came into view, a few visibly panicked Outlaws managing to make it through the gauntlet and hurry past a small defensive line consisting of Parker and a few others in her garb who alternated forming walls of light and into the foggy beyond. A couple others stopped to try and help wounded and fainted stragglers through, while still others attempted to go back for some of their ill-gotten gains to carry off in their retreat.

A loud roar and the sound of churning air overhead turned his attention to Myra wheeling in the air above, with the Salamence's form barreling after her. The three blanched and dove behind an upended tent for cover, peeking out as they saw the Salamence circle the Staraptor. Now that they had a clearer view, they got a good look at the drake's scarf and blanched. It had the same white background as the one of any other Grünhäuter, but with two gray chevrons, with the top merged into a diamond enclosing a blue crystal that made Alvin flinch and tighten his grip around his club with a wide-eyed stammer.

"G-Götterblut! What sort of Grünhäuter is that?!" Alvin whined. "I thought only Stabsoffiziere had blue on their scarves!"

Why in the hell would someone that high-ranked from the army be here?! Lyle craned his head back in the direction of the Pocket's main entrance. There was no sign of the Pokémon from the shield wall barring a few panicked stragglers in hasty retreat below Myra and the Salamence, but neither of the two were focusing on anyone but each other, with the Dragon-type curling his maw up into a toothy sneer.

"You should know when you're beaten, Staraptor!" the drake roared. "That deserter of a Steelix may not have a bright future ahead of him, but if you yield here, perhaps I'll find it in my heart to vouch for you to receive a lesser sentence!"

It didn’t take long to gather that the Salamence's offer fell on deaf ears, as Myra glared and spat back with audible venom in her voice.

"Blow your hot air someplace else, you overgrown skink!"

Lyle and his fellows watched as the Staraptor dove for the Salamence with a blistering aerial tackle, her blow striking the joint of his left wing and making him bellow in pain. The Salamence faltered in the air for a moment and fought to stay airborne, baring his fangs and narrowing his eyes into a hateful glare.

"So sei es! Du hast dieses Schicksal ausgewählt, Ganovin!"ᴰ¹

The Salamence tore for the Staraptor as electrical sparks flared up and began to dance about his fangs. The Outlaw leader tried to wheel out of the way, only for the Salamence to swoop in and bite down on her left wing with an audible crunch that made the hawk scream in pain.


Lyle flinched and shivered as Myra's cries echoed through the pocket, the Quilava noticing his Sneasel teammate looking up in blank shock. Up in the air above them, they watched the Salamence wrench Myra's wing back before he knocked her out of the sky and sent her spiraling to the ground with a sickening thud. There, before the wounded Staraptor could attempt to get up, the drake pounced on her with a swipe from a set of claws trailing green flecks of dragonfire, sprawling the Staraptor out limply as Kate’s face took on a horrified grimace and she cried out in reflex.

"B-Boss Myra!"

G-Götterblut it was hard to hear Kate like that. Lyle felt Kate brush up against him as the Sneasel shot up and instinctively ran forward, Alvin hastily grabbing her claw and pulling her back with a stammering, wide-eyed stare.

"C-Come on!" Alvin insisted. "We need to go!"

"Hurry it up out there!"

A bellowing cry rang out as the three saw Parker running for the exit, spitting a torrent of water back at the advancing guards just as Dalton, Artem, and Irune slipped into the mist. One after the other, Kate, Lyle, and Alvin fled the upended tent, making a mad dash as attacks and missiles zipped around them.

Lyle yelped as a deafening crack of electricity rang out overhead and a Pidgeotto crashed to the ground just a few paces away from Kate. B-Blauflamme, he could already tell he was going to have trouble sleeping for a while. Just a little further ahead! That exit out of this damned Pocket couldn't come soon enough!

He watched as the Sneasel hastily sprung aside before running for dear life into the fog. From behind, he heard the screams of a Mightyena being pinned to the ground by something big-sounding that let out a loud snarl, along with a low shudder from his Marowak companion who'd evidently seen whatever happened. The Quilava glanced back over his shoulder, where he saw Alvin running for dear life after, but having visibly fallen behind by a good dozen paces.

"Hurry it up, Alvin!" the Fire-type cried. "We're almost there!"

"I-I'm trying!" the Marowak protested. "My kind's not as quick on our feet as yours-!"

Alvin never finished his words, as in the middle of his stride, a slicing gust of air zipped in from overhead from a passing Corvisquire. The Marowak lost his footing and flopped over onto his belly with a weak groan, making Lyle's pupils shrink to pins.


No no no. This couldn't be happening. Not now! The Quilava whirled around, running against the few Outlaws still fleeing for the exit as he stooped down beside the Ground-type, desperately trying to tug him onto his feet.

"C-Come on, Alvin! Please get back up!" the stoat pleaded. "The exit's right here!"

The Marowak managed to stumble dazedly onto his feet with Lyle's help, when a hail of pointed stones zipped in and the next thing that Lyle remembered was stabbing pain pockmarking his side. Lyle flopped to the ground with a yelp as his vision started to run muddy and he felt blood ooze from under his pelt. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the Stone Edge sending Alvin flying into a partially toppled tent nearby before the canvas collapsed over him in a heap. Lyle limped up and looked on blankly when he heard ugly laughter behind him, flaring his flames with a start and looking over to see an armored Rhydon sneering down at him.

"Hah, your friend doesn't look so good right now!" the soldier jeered, as he lowered his head and pawed the ground for a charge. "Why don't you join hi- AAAAAAAAGH!"

The Rhydon’s jeers were abruptly shut up a blue blur storming in, Lyle screwed his eyes shut and recoiled as something large and bulky stormed in. He flinched as he heard the Ground-type screaming in pain and the sound of something wrenching out of hide and flesh rang out. Lyle cracked his eyes open and saw Parker draw one of her seamitars back, before shoving the Rhydon aside limply to the ground as a dark, ugly red blotch formed around a large stab through the abdominal segment of the soldier's cloth armor. Lyle laid on his rump still panting and gasping for air as the Samurott spat water over her blade, flicking it to her side along with a spray of ruddy fluid before looking down at him.

"Move!" the Samurott barked. "We've been mining the entrance with Blast Seeds on the way out and I'm blowing the exit behind me!"

"B-But my friend's still-!"

Before Lyle could finish his protest, Parker was grazed in her shoulder by an incoming gout of bluish dragonfire, making her recoil as the pair looked off to see the soldiers' Salamence leader had risen up into the air of the Pocket. Other Grünhäuter had taken wing behind him above the ruined, smoldering encampment, and a veritable horde of Pokémon in green armor charged ahead of him. The few Pokémon still holding up the Protects at the exit had their nerves fail and bolted, Parker shaking feeling back into her forepaw as she shot an impatient glare back at the Quilava.

"There's nothing I can do for your friend!" the Water-type shouted. "Either come along or stay here and take your chances fighting it out with these Grünhäuter on your own!"

Parker spat up a large orb of water and fanned it out along the ground, kicking it forward into a wave that tore along the ground for the front lines of the advancing soldiers. Sensing a narrow opportunity, Lyle darted for the collapsed tent that Alvin had been knocked into, when a stony projectile zipped just past his face.

Lyle stumbled back and yelped, the roar of charging Pokémon reverberating in his mind and his blood ran cold. His breath tightened as suddenly all he could think about was the prospect of being all alone, getting picked apart by those soldiers once the exit was cut off.

The Quilava lowered his head before he turned and bolted for the exit of the Pocket. He felt a lump in his throat as the collapsed tent slipped from view, as a single thought kept reiterating in his mind and leaked shakily over into his mouth.

"I-I'm sorry."

Lyle screamed and his mind went blank as a spray of water zipped just past his left shoulder. The Quilava let out a low whimper and bounded ahead as fast as his legs could carry him, throwing himself forward with a lunge that made the surrounding world blur in his vision. The last of the destroyed encampment vanished as he plunged headfirst into the mist. Five paces. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. The world suddenly spun about him as a deafening blast rang out with a hot flash of heat that reminded him of when he was too slow to close the furnace in his parents’ shop hit him from behind, as a concussive wave knocked him off his feet.

Lyle pitched forward and fell to the ground with his ears ringing, instinctively curling up into a ball as his hearing slowly returned to pick up the sound of his breaths coming out in tired, frightened pants. He could hear fire on his body sputtered audibly from exhaustion, and now that the adrenaline was ebbing from his body, he could feel the accompanying aches of his battered frame. Heavy footsteps approached and a large shadow suddenly fell over him. The Fire-type flinched and screwed his eyes shut, bracing for the sharp blow that would perhaps be the last thing he remembered of the world about him.

"Get up."

Lyle warily cracked his eyes open, looking up to see Parker scowling down at him, visibly brushing at a singed patch of hide on her shoulder.

"It will take time for those Grünhäuter to dig out the exit," she harrumphed. "You should make the most of this respite while you can."

Parker shook her head and continued off along the path, the Samurott's shell-headed form melting into the mist. Lyle got up and wearily retraced his steps back towards the mouth leading into the Pocket, where there he found a wall of blasted rock, along with a few charred husks of spent Blast Seeds. The Quilava stood there wordlessly for a moment, pawing at the stones as he tried to blink back tears from the corners of his eyes. The stoat turned away and headed off into the mist, his voice hitching as he could muster but one word from the back of his throat:

"D-Dammit… Dammit!"

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Prost! - Drinking expression roughly equivalent to "Cheers!"
2. Glühwein - A type of mulled wine. Traditionally made and served in winter, especially around Christmas. Thus the joke about the bottle's prior owner being impatient for winter.
3. Leichensammler - Roughly "Corpse(s) gatherer". In-setting term for one who scavenges the bodies of dead Wilders for meat as a trade.
4. Milza - "Axew".
5. Beiname - "Byname", "Epithet".
6. Nebelmond - "November" (archaic), lit. "Fog Moon".
7. Stabsoffiziere - "Staff Officers". Analogous concept to "Senior Officers" in English military parlance.


D1. "So sei es! Du hast dieses Schicksal ausgewählt, Ganovin!" - "So be it! You chose this fate, Outlaw!" (Note, addressed to female, thus 'Ganovin' and not 'Ganove'.)

Teaser Text:

Newangle City, 13. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.
To Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen,

It brings us great pleasure to hear that after a year of pursuit, you have finally been able to secure the very Dyad we once had feared had been lost. After more than seven decades of war with the Kingdom of Edialeigh that outlasted my father and his father, going as far back to the reign of King Sansa, a decisive and lasting end is at long last within our reach.

Our only regret is that the Dyad's mind would be so poisoned by corrupting influences to the point of fleeing from you when you came to collect her. I had hoped that surely she could be reasoned with, but after all the tales you've passed of the circles she fell into over the past year, perhaps it is for the best to be sterner with her until that childish impudence is shed.

After all, while it would be ideal to secure the Dyad's cooperation prior to undertaking Operation Sparkᵃ, it is not strictly needed for its success. We and our realm do not have the luxury of derailing it over matters of mere states of the mind. It was already a miracle of fate that the Dyad would be found here in our realm and not in the Kingdom of Edialeigh as the royal seers feared, and it is a miracle we do not intend to squander.

As such, it is imperative that the Dyad be fielded for Operation Spark by any means necessary, even if it requires you and the Fähnlein under your command to transgress the laws and customs of our realm. You and I both know how grave the potential consequences of failure are for this realm, but in the balance lies the greatest hope the Kingdom of Varhyde has had in generations:

What we can finally call 'Our Peace' to break this kingdom free of its cycle of hardship that has plagued it through the ages, and 'Our Vengeance' to repay this land and its inhabitants' wounds with fireᶜ.

- Letter from König von Wahrheitᵈ, Siegmund Wieshusᵉ to Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

a. 'Zündfunke' in German, while commonly rendered as 'spark' in English, is more accurately an 'ignition / igniting spark', as in one that starts a fire or process of combustion.
b. 'Friede' is a very formal rendering of 'peace' in German, in more normal contexts, it would be 'Frieden'.
c. The original construction of "Feuer und Flamme" is more accurately "fire and flame", but carries an equivalent sentiment here.
d. Nobiliary title for "King of Varhyde" in this setting. Takes on some other meanings in a more literal translation, but that’s another story for another day.
e. This technically ought to be 'Wie-Shus(ohn)', but that looks fairly awkward written out, so nonstandard spellings it is.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Als das Licht des Glühenden Blitzes erlasch, ging die Sonne auf einer verwundeten Welt auf, ohne jegliches Zeichen der Menschen, die wir als Freunde bezeichneten und Vermittler über ihre Werke hinaus nannten. Im Kielwasser des Lichts wurden die Länder aufgewühlt, und das Meer, das jetzt zwischen den Ländern die wir jetzt „Wahrheit“ und „Ideale“ nennen steht, haben sich geöffnet.

Das Gewebe von Raum und Zeit selbst war von dem Tumult vernarbt, und an Orten, wo solche Wunden tief waren und dieses Gewebe die Dimensionen des großen Jenseits nicht länger zurückhalten konnte, legten sich seltsame Nebel über das Land und schnitten es vom Rest ab der Welt. Wir nannten sie „Mysteriöse Orte“.

Jene Orte haben schon von Anfang an Ehrfurcht bei den Pokémon dieser Welt erregt. Sie machen sich bemerkbar, ihr Nebel ergießt sich über das Land auf dem sie sich niederlassen, und erleuchten nachts den Himmel mit ihren Polarlichtern. Einige besonders spektakuläre Exemplare halten sogar kleine Teile unserer Welt mit ihrem Dunst in der Luft, ähnlich wie Driftlon, die wie Wolken am Himmel schweben.

Dieselben Merkwürdigen Orten haben auch diesen besagten Pokémon Angst eingeflößt. Die Räume darin sind verzerrte Echos der Orte, die sie einst waren. Labyrinthe, die die Sinne verwirren und die im Innern mit Hunger zermürben, welche von den Dimensionen aufgewühlt und neu geformt werden, sobald die scheuernden Winde der Verzerrung alles weggeblasen haben, was sich in ihrem Weg befindet.

Und doch, seit es sie gegeben hat, waren unsere Schicksale mit diesen Orten verflochten. Einige mutige Seelen unter den Wilden und sogar einige Zivilen nennen die Taschen – die Inseln der Stabilität innerhalb der Verzerrung – ihr Zuhause. Einige als Zufluchtsort, andere als Versteck, um andere zu jagen. Die Kugeln und andere Gegenstände, die von diesen Orten geformt oder verändert wurden, helfen unseren Verteidigern und Kriegern und sind für die unerschrockenen und vorbereiteten Reisenden ein Mittel, um unmögliche Entfernungen und unmögliche Orte bereisen zu können.

Sowohl Triumph als auch Tragödie erwarten diejenigen, die solche Orte betreten. Welcher der beiden den Eintretenden widerfährt, hängt von vorsichtiger Weisheit und erlernter Erfahrung ab. Zusammen mit ausreichender Kraft, um die inneren Prüfungen zu überstehen.

- Vorwort zu »Das Erkunderhandbuch zu Merkwürdigen Orten«

Past the other exit of the Pocket, the encampment's remaining Outlaws huddled together in a larger chamber on Waterhead Cave's ninth floor. Paths to and from Pockets had ways of skipping past floors, and from Kate and Irune had gathered from overhearing their fellow escapees, the one they'd fled the camp's Pocket with was no exception. There, Kate and Irune had settled down beside Dalton and Artem, tending to their wounds with the juice of Oran Berries as gauze. The four were among the lucky eighteen Pokémon, mostly from the Riparian Raiders, who had managed to escape back into the Mystery Dungeon. The lot uneasily settled into a chamber with a lower cave ceiling dimly lit up by a small stream of glowing blue water not far from their escape route's exit to try and regroup.

Every now and then, the four would look back towards the fogged-over path they'd used to flee into their present chamber, but it'd gone silent for the past five minutes. Just then, the Sneasel heard the sound of crunching footsteps, getting up as a few of the other Outlaws braced themselves for battle when the outline of a quadrupedal, shell-helmeted figure approached. The Outlaws settled down as they saw Parker slowly plodding into the chamber, stopping to paw at a burn on her left shoulder.

"Someone get an Oran Berry over here!" she snapped.

A blue-scarved Golisopod grunted and hastily obliged, leaving Kate to bite her lip worriedly to look off at the mist as a lower-slung figure trudged forward. There to her astonishment, was Lyle coming in with his head hung low and his fur matted and dirty, looking much as if the Samurott had rolled over onto him a second time on her way out.


The Sneasel sprang up and ran over to the Quilava, Irune tagging along as Dalton and Artem hesitated briefly before opting to check up on the straggling Fire-type. Kate stopped in front of her Quilava companion with an expression that was at once incredulous and relieved, shaking her head as she frowned and let out a sharp scold.

"Where have you been?!" Kate insisted. "Scaring us like that isn't funny, you know!"

"We thought for a moment that you didn't make it back there," Dalton said, shaking his head with a low sigh. "Glad to see you pulled through. A lot of good 'mons didn't tonight."

Kate watched as Lyle glumly hung his head in reply, the other four Outlaws wondering if he'd perhaps seen something that'd shaken him during his escape. The Sneasel froze briefly. She’d have expected Lyle to snap back in defense, or light up, or… something, but he looked downright defeated at the moment. It was then that Irune blinked, as the gathered Outlaws quickly realized that the Quilava was missing something—or rather someone who'd been with him almost the entire time she'd seen him that night.

"Where is your friend? The Marowak who was with you?" she asked. Lyle said nothing for a long while, before looking away and replying with a grudging croak.

"… He wasn't able to get away."

Kate stood there with her mouth hanging open in shock. Dalton and Artem quietly blanched at the stoat's words, Irune looking away with a quiet murmur. No, no gottverdammt he had to be wrong here! He had to be overlooking something! The Sneasel shook her head, before narrowing her eyes and stepping forward and prodding at the Quilava with an agitated cry.

"What do you mean he didn't make it?!" she demanded. "Alvin was right next to you!"

"Look—they picked him off and blew him into a tent like he was garbage, okay?!" Lyle shot back, his voice taking on a hurt, bitter tone. "How much clearer do I need to be-?!"


A bellowing cry came from the center of the room, as Parker got up still dripping Oran juice from her shoulder. Kate watched as the Samurott raised a paw and did a quick headcount of the remaining twenty Outlaws, and from her expression saw that she probably noticed the same thing she did: that there were fewer 'mons present than her Riparian Raiders had at the beginning of the night. The Water-type paused, taken aback briefly, before shook her head and addressing the sorry assembly about her.

"I understand that this isn't a good time for anyone," she sighed. "But for now, we need to focus on trying to ride things out until things settle down a bit."

"Well what are we supposed to do?" a Seismitoad from Parker's gang grumbled. "You saw those 'mons! It was like dealing with an entire Fähnlein!"

"They probably were from a Fähnlein," an Arbok in Mistral Marauder colors muttered. "There's been stories of one going about searching the countryside for some spies or something like that."

Kate brought a paw to her head and cradled it when she caught Lyle blinking and glancing over at Irune, who seemed to have gone stiff as a board at the Arbok's words. Spies didn't get their own prisoner transport that got snuck along with merchant caravans, they were paraded around in public to be jeered at before being dealt with. Often permanently.

The way she, Lyle, and Alvin found her, it was as if the Gendarmen with her were trying to hide her. From the look that Lyle was giving her, he must’ve realized the same thing. Even the Togedemaru didn't seem terribly privy to who they were transporting. Other things about the encounter didn't seem to add up, as a Linoone in Parker's colors cut in with a stammering whine.

"S-Since when were Fähnlein led by soldiers with colors like those?!" the Linoone exclaimed. "Who the hell was that guy?!"

Parker paused at the Normal-type's exclamation when the Samurott suddenly stiffened up. Had she realized something about the soldiers that attacked them? Lyle quirked a brow as he watched the otter seemingly weigh a matter over in her mind, so it wasn’t just her who found this weird. Kate thought of having Scales raise a question, only for the otter to make things moot when she lowered her head with a quiet grumble.

"… I knew something about that Salamence's face seemed familiar," the Samurott murmured. "That was Lacan von Wellenhafen, a Graf from the old territory my band and I used to ply around Port Velhen, and a serving Oberst₁ from the army."

Some of the remaining Riparian Raiders visibly blanched and cringed at the name, including both Dalton and Artem. Irune for her part seemed curiously unfazed, though she supposed that it would make sense if she knew the 'mon leading those soldiers. Kate bit her lip at the reaction and felt a chill run over her body. Obersten were supposed to push around entire regiments of soldiers at a time. She didn't know why one would be getting in the thick of a Mystery Dungeon, but from the way the others were reacting, it was clear the lot of them had been lucky to slip the Salamence's grasp at all.

A quick glance over at Lyle revealed that he looked visibly ill. It didn’t take too many wild guesses to get an idea of why. He’d probably realized that that gottverdammten Grünhäuter and his underlings now held Alvin's life in their claws. Lyle had always struggled a bit with not thinking too long when fate ran out for someone, and it was probably why he’d tried to leave two years ago in the first place.

She could see his eyes welling up. Something she hadn’t seen from Lyle since the night the Foehn Gang was taken apart. She didn’t know what was going through his mind, probably worry eating at him, or dark visions of that Salamence and his goons tormenting Alvin or whatever they had in mind for him.

Frankly she didn’t want to know what was going on. It wasn’t as if it was going to be easy to put this night behind them even if she got nice and plastered beforehand. Seeing Boss Myra crashing out of the air, the crew she’d known for the past two years collapsing, and now losing an old friend. Just how were they supposed to put that behind them? Would they even get the chance? It wasn’t as if that Fähnlein had stopped prowling around.

Kate and Lyle were suddenly snapped back to attention of their surroundings by Parker's voice speaking up, Kate turning alongside her fellow Outlaws just in time to see the Samurott shake her head and begin to turn off from the group.

"I have no idea why he would be here of all places instead of deployed again to Edialeigh, or why he'd be doing the job of a common Hauptmann₂ with his rank… but I don't intend to linger around and find out," she harrumphed. "We have other things to worry about at the moment."

The Samurott raised a forepaw and motioned off at another corridor left of the entrance they'd taken to their present floor.

"Namely getting out of here, and regrouping to ply our trade another day," Parker said, before unsheathing a seamitar with a rattling clatter.

"To that end, it's critical that we work together," she insisted. "I'm the last of the remaining leaders, and you're all that I have to work with for subordinates."

Kate supposed that the Samurott had a point. Between being grounds plied by Wilders and subject to being blown away by the winds of the local Distortion was hardly a safe haven. Even so, from the low grumbles filtering around, not everyone was taking getting orders literally barked in their face well.

"Oi! Who appointed you leader over us?!" a Graveller spat. "I'm not even in your crew!"

Parker got up and stomped over to the Graveler, leveling the tip of her unsheathed seamitar at the Rock-type's rounded chest. The Graveler's eyes shot wide as the otter leaned her head in with an overpowering glare.

"Hrmph, were the circumstances less dire, I'd have half a mind to run you through right here and now, Graveler," the Samurott growled. "You saw what that Salamence and his underlings are capable of. What do you even expect to do against them on your own? Suck up to him as 'HerrBrutalanda₄', grovel, and roll over in surrender? Is that what you want?"

The defiance in the Graveler melted away, both from Parker's imposing demeanor, and also the prospect of having to face a veritable living wall of Pokémon outfitted in military armor. The Rock Pokémon let out a quiet gulp, before timidly stammering back to his new self-appointed superior.


"I thought so," she scoffed.

Kate made a note to herself to not get on the Samurott’s bad side. She didn’t know how long she’d be stuck wearing her colors, but going from Boss Myra to her was going to be a… change to say the least. Parker made her way to the center of the floor and with a pair of swift slashes from her blade, cut a cross-shaped mark into the ground before addressing the assembled Outlaws.

"We can't take it for granted that our Escape Orbs won't take us straight into a waiting ambush of soldiers at the entrances we used to come back here, so everyone pack up your stuff and break up into teams of five. It'll give us just enough 'mons to form four search parties," she barked. "Start by finding the corners of each floor before working your way to the center. Whenever we make our way to a new floor, we'll mark the place by the stairs after they seal up and split up from there to find the next set."

The Sneasel watched as Parker took her blade and tucked it back into its scabbard with an audible rattle, seemingly sizing them up for a moment. With an impatient twitch of her whiskers, she leveled a sharp scowl about her new hodgepodge of a crew.

"Every fifteen minutes, we will regroup to see if anyone's found a lead before going back to continue searching. It may slow things down, but losing more of us to those Grünhäuter is the last thing anyone needs right now," she harrumphed. "Are we clear about that?"

The Outlaw leader was met with a chorus of affirmations from her subordinates, a few overhasty or stammering ones coming out from a couple of the Pokémon in Mistral Marauder and Terra Tyrant scarves. Kate flattened her ears and grudgingly threw in one of her own, the Samurottlet out a sharp harrumph shortly afterwards, before speaking up in a gruff bark.

"Good, then pair up with your teammates and let's move out."

Kate headed over to Lyle as he brushed droplets away from the corners of his eyes as one after the other. She thought of asking him if he was alright but hesitated. Some wounds just needed to be managed on one’s own. She knew that all too well from her own life.

The Sneasel watched as the remaining Outlaws began to sort themselves out, some opting to group up with their remaining friends, while others clamored to join up with stronger-looking allies. … Where were they even supposed to start for choosing a team? She and Lyle watched as Dalton and Artem set off for the rest of the Outlaws. Much to her surprise, Kate caught a glimpse of a green blur scampering behind the two Riparian Raiders, realizing it was Irune giving an insistent tug at Dalton's right arm as Lyle set out after her.

"Irune?" the Quilava asked. "What are you-?"

"It's Dalton, right?" the Axew asked. "Let us help you with your search."

Kate watched as Dalton and Artem stopped themselves and gave quizzical stares down at the Dragon-type. Why did it not surprise her in the least that Scales would have a pole up his butt now of times? The Heliolisk was the first to speak up, giving a shake of his head in reply.

"Eh? We were going to join our Boss' party, Axew," he insisted. "At least if she's still open-"

"But you saved us once already tonight," Irune insisted. "So let us repay the favor back!"

Kate flatten her ears at the suggestion. Oh hell no. Just because she stepped in to help Scales earlier that night and didn’t want to see him suffer didn’t mean that she wanted to be stuck with him! Kate hurriedly stepped forward with a wave of her claw as she tried to cut in and steer the Heliolisk back towards teammates she would find more suitable for him.

"Irune, that's really not necess-"

"I don't see a reason not to humor it, Dalton," the Swellow insisted. "We do need a few teammates to get into smaller nooks and crannies to look around anyways. And she and that Quilava would be able to do that for days!"

Kate reflexively opened her mouth to protest only for Lyle to swat at her with a sharp frown. Dalton paused, before glancing off at the rest of the gathering. Much to his chagrin, the other Outlaws seemed to have already sorted themselves out into filled teams, including none other than Parker who'd just filled her fourth and fifth slots with a Murkrow and a Trevenant.

… So they were really going to be stuck with these two huh? It surely wouldn’t be that hard to talk him and that Artem bird into trying to push out a less experienced or familiar Outlaw. But bickering and jostling over unwanted teammates in the midst of circumstances as dire as theirs wasn't likely to endear them to anyone, least of all their new leader.

Though then again, this was Scales. Maybe he’d find it in him to-

“Fine,” the Heliolisk said.

Dalton closed his eyes and let out a grumbling sigh, shooting a sideways glance back at the Axew and her companions.

“Just don't keep us waiting, okay?"

… Dammit, of course something like this would happen.

Kate shot a sour frown back at the turn of events, as Lyle and Irune stepped forward to join their new teammates. After waiting for the groups ahead of them to set off, the five started forward, Dalton taking the lead, as the lot slipped off deeper into the twists and turns of the Mystery Dungeon.

She could already tell this was going to be a long night.

( Continued in next post )
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Lyle wasn't sure how much time had passed afterwards, but before long, he and his companions made the trek through another five of Waterhead Cave's floors. It couldn't have been longer than an hour. Maybe two at most. It could be hard to keep track in Mystery Dungeons at times.

Each floor's properties shared little in common beyond feeling like they were taken from the same waterlogged cave, though each floor sported new unnatural features. On the present floor, one such feature was a knob-like plateau with glowing falls cascading over its sides in the unreachable distance. Along with it, was a cave ceiling that hung so far above them that only faint outlines of its largest stalactites could be seen. If it weren't for them and the lack of stars or auroras overhead, one could be forgiven for not remembering that they were in the domains of Waterhead Cave's Distortion.

Not that Lyle would've likely noticed. The whole time, his thoughts drifted back to the raid on the Pocket. He'd known that a raid on their encampment was always a possibility, he'd lived through it once with the Foehn Gang. But the growls, the screams, seeing friends snatched away in front of his very eyes… G-Gods, why did that have to happen again?

… And what was he supposed to do now?

He'd likely burned through his cover and would need to lie low again. Sure he had some loot to show for it, but it would take more than a night to shake this sort of heat, and even if picking season weren't about to end, he'd doubt he'd have a job to go back to after ghosting it for so long. His mind briefly considered trying to go back to his parents and the glassblowing shop, to plead for their forgiveness and for a chance to go back to apprenticing under his father… except he already tried that after the Foehn Gang was broken up and had been rebuffed. From what Nils had to say about them, he doubted his parents' response would be any different this time.

Blauflamme, so much for there being someone out there watching out for him…

Lyle snapped back to attention and looked about his surroundings. Right, they were on the thirteenth floor, and he, Kate, Irune and their new allies were carrying along in a group until they reached a chamber of the Mystery Dungeon with more than two exits. There, they split up as planned to try and cover more ground before retracing their steps. The five came across a narrow and long chamber during one of their recent searches, with Irune stepping out into it only to be met with a chiding huff from behind.

"That's a Gust Trap that you're about to step on," Lyle said. "If you don't feel like getting blown into a wall, I'd advise taking a step back."

Irune paused and took her foot back warily, looking down to see a faint outline of design that looked almost like a clover or a pinwheel in the ground. The Quilava brushed past her and sidestepped past the trap to carry down the chamber, Irune staring after the Quilava with a flabbergasted expression before shaking her head.

"You seem familiar with these places," Irune said. "Did you used to go through Mystery Dungeons as part of an Exploration Team?"

"Hrmph, you learn a few things after hiding out in them a bit," the Quilava retorted. "Though honestly, you got lucky there. Traps in Mystery Dungeons aren't always that easy to spot on the floor."

The Axew hurried along after her Quilava guide as he paused at the other end of the chamber where three exits split off and the pair heard the voices of Dalton and Artem coming down the leftmost one. All the while, Lyle couldn't help but find the Dragon-type's question to be a bit strange, and perhaps a sign of her inexperience.

After all, Exploration Teams and their ilk were more commonly referred to as Hunters among Outlaws. It was shorter, to the point, and accurately reflected what such Pokémon had to offer them. A long stint of penal labor, conscription into the army, or gods-knew-what else after getting drug in before the guards for a bounty that was usually no more than a month's wage for a field laborer. Probably less if the bounty was paid in Carolins with how quickly they tended to lose value.

… Was it even safe to be around her right now? He hadn't given it much thought earlier amid the confusion of everything, but that Salamence and his underlings had come specifically looking for her. If he'd just let her go off into the grass… if he'd just left her in that cage… would those Grünhäuter still have come after them? Would he still be in that Pocket celebrating their success with Alvin and everyone else?

Whatever could've been, it didn't make sense dwelling too much on it. It wasn't as if the kid could've known those soldiers would've been that close to her while she was locked up in a sealed wagon. And he and his fellow Outlaws weren't in a position to be turning away help at the present moment.

"So what exactly are we looking for, then?"

Lyle snapped back to attention as he looked down to see Irune pawing at him uneasily. She looked about her surroundings warily, but didn't seem to pick up on his skepticism.

"There's got to be some way of telling that the stairs are nearby, isn't there?"

Lyle cast a wary glance over at the Axew, before pinning his ears with a low harrumph and starting forward.

"The stairs to the next floor here in Waterhead Cave always open up downwards," the Quilava explained. "So listen for sounds or winds that seem to be coming suspiciously from the-"

"Ack! Lyle! Watch out!" Irune suddenly yelped.

The Quilava stopped, before feeling Irune tug sharply at his flank and motion off ahead of him wide-eyed at a battered, spherical white shell lying on the ground.

"You almost stepped on that Apricorn over there!" she exclaimed. "You didn't say anything about those also being in Mystery Dungeons!"

Lyle blinked a moment before warily approaching the shell, and noticed it was lying slightly ajar on a small pebble with a circular cutout on one end. The Quilava frowned, before sharply placing a paw on the white shell.

"That's because they're normally not, not that you'd need to be worried about half of one," he said. "Besides, how many of them look like this once you chop 'em up?"

The Fire-type flipped the shell over to reveal a strange, gray surface that had been pitted and scuffed. In it were a series of circles and four lines that looked almost like the pattern that the lenses of Lock-On Specs usually had. Along the sides about halfway up, there were three strips of something that looked like glass that had been broken and cracked, with some residue left behind in space that looked like there was room for a fourth. Irune tilted her head puzzledly, poking curiously at the strange contraption.

"What on earth is it?" she asked.

"It's a human relic. You can tell since it's made of ancient resin. And these little shells tend to be one of the more common ones that turn up," the Quilava explained. "Most places outside of Mystery Dungeons have been picked pretty clean of relics this small, but they still turn up every now and then inside places like these."

Irune stooped down and picked up the white shell, gawking at it curiously as she played around with it in her claws. She tried orienting it with the shell pointing up, and then pointing down, but seemed to be at a loss for what the little husk was supposed to be.

"… Was it meant to be used as a cup or something?" she asked. "I can't make heads or tails of this thing."

The shells supposedly came in pairs to form sphere-like contraptions when complete. Though nobody in all of Wander had been able to provide a definitive answer to the Axew's question, with many a theory proposed based off snippets of conflicting folklore here and there. Some had proposed the devices were shelters, other storage containers, others weapons…

But none of that was relevant right now, and Lyle sure as hell didn't feel like giving a lecture over what the little shell might or might not be. What was relevant was that they were being chased by a Fähnlein from the army. A Fähnlein that the Axew right next to him had apparently had run-ins with before.

"What am I, an archeologist?" the stoat scoffed. "Your guess is as good as mine. Just throw it in your bag if it interests you and let's keep mov-"

"Hey, I found it!"

Lyle flicked his ears at the sound of Kate's voice coming from up ahead. From the left, Dalton and Artem emerged into the chamber. The pair trading puzzled glances with each other along with Lyle and Irune before the four filed ahead one by one down the passage. The party exited into a small chamber pockmarked with small pools of water that formed an almost checkered pattern with a solitary exit to the right, and Kate standing in the center of the room.

"You found the entrance?" the Swellow asked, his eyes widened out of surprise. "Where is it?"

"Nah, I found a Slow Wand," the Sneasel insisted, pointing off towards a blue, forking branch with a glass knob at its end. "I'd been looking for one of those!"

Lyle flattened his ears out with an annoyed frown and felt his flames flicker, a quick look evidencing that everyone else in his search party was similarly displeased… other than Kate, of course. He didn't know whether the Sneasel was putting on a brave face after the raid, or had just been more jaded about the loss of compatriots than he remembered, but she seemed to barely register their combined annoyance.

The Sneasel shrugged off her teammates' displeasure and made her way over to Slow Wand lying at the mouth of the chamber's exit. Just as she stooped down to grab it, a sudden flash of red leapt in, revealing the hissing form of an ungarbed Corphish.

"Get out of my territory, you stupid ferret!"

Before the Corphish could react, Kate threw a sharp slash forward, knocking the Wilder off his feet and onto his chitinous back, clearly taken aback by his foe's strength. The Corphish attempted to roll over and get up, only to glance up and see his Sneasel assailant hovering over him with a sharp frown and a claw already drawn back for another swipe.

"How about you let me through, and I let you off with just a little dust-up?" Kate retorted. "Sound good, Wilder?"

The fight in the Wilder abruptly ebbed away, as the Corphish wheeled back with a panicked yelp and took off scuttling down the exit corridor. Kate pulled her claws back to her side, giving them a thorough shake as she flattened her ears out with an annoyed grunt.

"Tch, I thought Wilders thinned out whenever large parties passed through to avoid hopeless battles," the Dark-type scoffed. "That's the third time just on this floor we've had a run-in like that!"

"We're not exactly in a 'large party' right now," Dalton sighed, shaking his head back. "Though we should start heading for the meeting point. Parker said to show up there every fifteen minutes to share our findings, and we're already running late."

… Right, the lot of them were Riparian Raiders now, even if they didn't have the colors to show it yet. Lyle wasn't sure how the hell that was supposed to work for him in the longer term when Parker's gang specifically specialized in navigating and raiding from rivers, an idea that he couldn't help but involuntarily shudder over. But that was something to worry about later, when they weren't stuck in a Mystery Dungeon with a bunch of pursuing soldiers.

"Ugh… already? But we barely covered any ground so far," Lyle grumbled. "Let's just hurry this up, since we've got to be running out of places to search for those stairs at this rate.."

The five set off, retracing their steps back into the corridor and through the long chamber as they followed a series of scratches and scorch marks on the surrounding walls they'd left behind to guide their way back… even if Kate spent more time at first inspecting her new Slow Wand. From the layers on its glassy knob that had formed on it, it appeared to be good for three swings. After a few minutes of walking, they returned to the chamber where they'd first entered the current floor, only to discover a crumbled pile of stone in the center of the room.

Lyle cocked a brow at the sight. Those were the stairs they'd used to come to this floor, or what was left of them anyways. The very fact that they had crumbled into a pile of rubble was a sign that the Distortion had shifted the floor, specifically a telltale sign that another new set of stairs had opened somewhere else on the floor they were on.

… It was probably just from a Wilder wandering down the last one. After all, a party the size of the one that ambushed them would prefer to try and find passages linked to Pockets to hop between floors instead of risking splitting themselves up on stairs that would begin to seal up the moment pressure was applied past about its midpoint and then fully removed. But then, it raised the question of what had happened to everyone else when this was supposed to be their meeting place…

"Oi Dalton! Artem!"

The four Outlaws flinched at the sound of a bellowing voice calling out from the far end of the chamber. Dalton was particularly startled, as he flared out his frill and he looked up towards the direction of the shout.


Lyle and the others followed the Heliolisk's gaze, over to the other end of the chamber, where Parker had gathered with the other three search parties. The Samurott gave an impatient huff, motioning over with blade in paw towards an exiting passage.

"Hurry it up! We were beginning to think that something had happened to you!" she snapped. "One of the Mistral Marauders found our way out! It's by a pool in the northwest corner of this floor!"

Kate flattened her ears out at the Samurott's barking order, as Irune nervously pawed at the back of her head and Lyle quietly grimaced. Had they really been running that late in their search earlier? If Dalton and Artem had any misgivings with their leader's patience wearing thin, the two didn't show it, as Artem called out with a firm nod in reply.

"Right, let's move out!"

Parker slipped down the passage, the Outlaws filing in after the leader Samurott one by one as the tight corridor allowed. Lyle's party waited until the end, as Dalton and Artem went in first, with Lyle following after, then Irune, and Kate at the rear. After making their way down a few corridors, Kate noted that the dungeon had fallen silent beyond the sound of their footsteps and the quiet trickling of water from streams intersecting the floor, and took the opportunity to stretch her arms with a quiet sigh.

"This is more like it," Kate said. "Nice and quiet, no crabby Wilders getting in our way…"

"There'd be fewer of them accosting you if you wandered off less," Dalton harrumphed, looking back over his shoulder towards her place the end of their train of Pokémon. The Sneasel blinked for a moment, before giving a dismissive shrug back.

"Meh, it was worth the trade," she said. "After all, I wouldn't have gotten that Slow Wand if I didn't go off the beaten path a bit."

Lyle rolled his eyes as the Outlaws made their way through a large chamber, following along it for an exit on the far side. When Lyle's end of the train of Pokémon made it in, he noticed the smell of something vaguely burnt, when Irune looked off to her left and paled, tugging at the stoat frantically.

"Lyle, look!" she cried.

The Axew pointed off at a corner near the far end of the room. The Quilava at first couldn't make out what the Dragon-Type was pointing at with his vision. He took a few steps over, when the burnt smell grew noticeably stronger as the room started to fill in and paused. Part of it had been blasted away with scorch marks around a spot a few paces ahead. That would explain the burnt smell he noticed. It was a Blast Trap, or what was left of one anyways…

"Tch, whoever searched this area must've been a bit clumsy," he scoffed. "It happens."

"No," the Axew insisted. "Down there by the wall!"

Lyle looked towards the chunk of the wall that'd been blasted inwards, as the rest of his companions did likewise at Irune's insistence when their blood froze. There lying blackened on the ground was a shoulder segment of cloth armor, with a set of broken straps dangling off of it. And even in its damaged state, bits of a triangular insignia and what he assumed were patches of green still came through, revealing it to belong to a soldier just like the ones who'd raided their encampment earlier.

"We need to let the others know," Artem said. "We're not alone down here."

The Quilava and his teammates hurried over to warn the other Outlaws in the chamber, Dalton calling out for attention which made the others pause and look back. Just then, a Linoone abruptly froze and looked off to a passage left of him. The Normal-type's face suddenly flushing pale as he pointed off down it.

"Ah! To our left!" the Linoone cried. "There's a large party coming straight-!"

Lyle flinched as the Linoone was cut off by a slicing gust of wind that zipped in and flung him into the wall behind him. The Normal-type bounced off, flopping over limply as a Corvisquire in green military armor and a notched band about her right leg flew in with a sharp caw, prompting Parker to brace for battle.

"Steady yourselves!" the Samurott snarled. "We've got company!"

Things went by in a blur after the Corvisquire’s arrival. Parker spat an icy ray after the Corvisquire, only for her to roll and allow the beam to glance off her chest plate. From the entrance, Lyle saw a Toxicroak dart up a golden orb with white light shining in it before lobbing it up into the air. For a brief moment, Lyle froze, realizing the Toxicroak had thrown a Luminous Orb, prompting him to screw his eyes shut and cry out to his teammates.

"Cover your eyes!"

A blinding flash rang out that seemed to leak through even Lyle's eyelids. Baying cries and roars rang out, as the Fire-type reopened his eyes to see a swarm of Pokémon of various shapes and sizes pouring out of the left exit. Attacks and missiles flew about in a disorienting flurry as Parker and her underlings hastily attempted to form a defensive line to pen their attackers up around the passage's mouth. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed Kate shaking her head as her eyes regained focus, the Sneasel flattening her ears and started forward, motioning to her teammates with an impatient cry.

"Come on! We can take them long enough to sneak past-!"

Kate's words died in her mouth as a deafening roar reverberated through the chamber. Lyle felt his blood freeze when much to his and his companions' horror, the familiar form of the Salamence from the earlier raid barreled in, ramming square into Parker and sending her tumbling back as he punched a hole in their defensive line. The Samurott spat ice onto one of her seamitars and slashed at the drake's underside to force him off, but a rattle and glimpse of dull metal through a fresh gouge in the plates of the Salamence's armor as he righted himself revealed Parker's slash had stopped at their mail layer.

After a moment to steel their nerves, he and his companions bounded ahead to desperately try to help their fellow Outlaws reinforce their line, only for the wall between them and the bulk of the party to abruptly rend apart about a straight line in a cloud of dust. The five coughed and shielded their faces, staring up to see an Ursaring in army plates emerge and throw aside the splintered remains of an almost pick-shaped Tunnel Wand. Lyle stared blankly and frantically looked over at Kate, where he saw the Dark-type's face losing its color as she watched the Ursaring storm out and raise a claw at them.

"Over there!" the Ursaring exclaimed. "Their rearguard's got the Dyad!"

Lyle blanched as he watched a good half dozen other Pokémon in green armor exit the newly created passage and all turn towards them. Dreadnaw, Ferrothorn, Scolipede … any one of them appeared strong enough to be a difficult battle even without armor to absorb their blows. The five stood frozen in shock for a moment, before an errant jet of water zipped over Kate's head and made her spring back with a yelp.

"Gih! Screw that!" she cried. "We'll help out from the sidelines!"

Kate hurriedly fished out her Slow Wand and flicked it back at the approaching soldiers. Lyle didn't stop to see who she hit, instead dropping to his paws and bolting with his companions for the exit behind them. He saw the passage walls just beyond the entrance approach, with Kate and Irune hurriedly ducking down it.

Just as he reached the exit, he heard a bellowing roar over his shoulder and glanced behind to see the Ursaring charging him readying a claw swipe. Lyle spat up smoke in a panic, before a sharp crackle rang out along with a startled yelp. The Quilava wheeled around, watching as the smoke cleared enough to see the pursuing soldier stumbling back and struggling sluggishly at the mouth of the passage with static arcing on his body and Dalton and Artem hurriedly running past the stunned Ursaring to emerge in front of him.

"Don't just stand there!" Artem squawked. "Keep running!"

Lyle needed no further encouragement as he turned and ran after Kate and Irune's shadows up ahead. Gottverdammt, why had he ever let Kate talk him into coming here?!

Confused shouts of 'Watch where you're going!' and 'You tripped me!' rang out from behind them, making him realize that the Ursaring's stumble had bought them a reprieve, however short. Lyle, Dalton, and Artem hurried along the passage and followed it into a larger chamber that served as an intersection to three others splitting off to the left and right up, where they found Kate and Irune waiting for them glancing wide-eyed before they hurried along for the westerly exit.

"Oh come on, don't get slow and plodding on us now!" Kate snapped. "As if we haven't had enough problems from that tonight!"

"W-Where are we even supposed to run to?!" Irune cried. "There's no way we can take all of those soldiers once when they catch up!"

"We'll try and make it to the stairs!" Dalton insisted. "Parker and the others are bound to fight their way through. So when she makes it there, we'll go down them with whoever's still standing!"

"Stop right there, criminal scum!"

Lyle watched Kate and Irune jumped aside as a purple and green blur stormed out from the passage they'd headed towards. The stoat came to a skidding stop, as Dalton and Artem bumped into him from behind, Lyle involuntarily letting out a low whine after seeing the charging Pokémon was a Nidoking clad in army plates. The Poison-type jumped up and struck the ground with a sharp stomp, churning up forceful tremors that knocked everyone but Artem down with sharp yelps. Lyle hit the ground and lay stunned for a moment, wheezing from the blow of the Earthquake. The world seemed to spin around him as he briefly saw Dalton reeling from having the wind taken out of him. He doubted his other teammates were doing much better.

He rolled as the Nidoking’s footsteps approach when a flash of blue zipped overhead. He hurriedly threw himself onto his feet and looked up, where there was Artem diving at the enemy soldier with a sharp, defiant squawk.

"Get out of our way, Grünhäuter!"

Artem dove as cutting air wreathed his body and clipped the Nidoking's left leg with his talons, making the soldier bellow in pain from his Aerial Ace and stumble back off his feet. Lyle struggled to catch his breath and fought to conjure fire at the back of his throat, only for his teammates to beat him to the punch. From the left, Dalton spat up an orb of water and fanned it out into a cresting wave at the Poison-type that Lyle had to fall back from to avoid getting drenched. Along the way, he spotted Kate flicking her Slow Wand at the Nidoking, as one of the glassy layers shattered and silken strands erupted from its tip.

Lyle spun on his heels at the sound of a startled bellow, where he saw that the armored Nioking had been enveloped by the Slow Wand’s silk. While the Poison-type struggled against the effects of the Slow Wand, Kate hastily stashed her Wand and dashed in as her claws began to trail faint shadowy flecks, throwing a running slash aimed at the soldier's flank.

The soldier noticed Kate's approach and whirled about, leaving her claws to run onto a segment of armor on his back where it failed to accomplish much beyond leaving a deep cut into its interlocked fabric. Because of course they couldn’t catch a break right about now. Lyle lowered his head and bolted at the Nidoking as he attempted to focus his attention on Kate. He jumped up, fire erupting along his body in a fiery tackle when the Poison-type abruptly stopped and whirled around with his horn held low.

"Not so fast, you overgrown rat!"

It was too late to turn back. All he could do was charge ahead and hope for the best. Lyle carried on with his Flame Charge, jumping up and finding his mark with a glancing blow on the Nidoking's right leg. Before he could touch the ground, he glimpsed the Nidoking swinging a low sharp, poison-slicked jab from his claws that almost scraped the ground and suddenly felt a sharp pain shoot through his stomach. Lyle saw the world spin about him, sailing through the air before he crashed back to earth with a sharp yelp. Lyle laid on the ground in a daze, looking over to see the soldier pawing at the ground, lowering his horned head as he readied a ramming tackle when the Nidoking suddenly froze up in pain from a blow from behind.


Lyle gasped and wheezed, watching as the Nidoking turned around just in time for a second chop from Irune's tusks to strike his calf. The Poison-type stumbled back with a yelp and fought to stay on his feet as the Axew dug her feet in and glared up defiantly.

"You want me so badly? Then come and get me!"

Lyle moved his head and watched as afterimages of Irune ran for the western exit as the Nidoking growled and gave chase. Which was probably a sign that he wasn’t doing too well at the moment. It was then that he noticed that Dalton was building up an orb of water in his mouth just beside the Nidoking, with the Poison-type none the wiser. The soldier noticed Dalton's Surf at the last moment, before Dalton spat it up onto the ground and fanned it out into a cresting wave that overtook the Nidoking.

The Quilava hurriedly fell back as Dalton’s wave fanned out and stray water lapped at his paws, and couldn't help but wince in sympathy after hearing the Surf bear down on the Nidoking followed by a sharp yelp. He glanced back, and saw the soldier sprawled out in a sopping daze on the ground. Even with his armor, the wave had clearly been as painful as it looked. There in the soggy aftermath was the Poison-type struggling to get back up when Artem summarily dove in with a spread-wing tackle that knocked the soldier back down. The sound of a thwip pricked Lyle’s ears as an icy flechette zipped in shortly afterwards and struck the Nidoking in the face, keeling him over limply on the ground on his side.

Lyle rolled onto his feet, struggling to keep his footing as the world spun around him. From his left, he saw Kate's form enter his field of vision, the Sneasel looking down at him with a worried glance.

"You doing alright there, Lyle?" she asked.

Lyle could only answer with a weak groan in reply. He couldn't hear his fire sputter from weakness right then and there, so he had to have some strength within him left to fight, but the Nidoking must've done a number on him. Enough of one for both Irune and Dalton to eye him worriedly as Artem motioned for them to follow from the air.

"Patch him up when we're in the clear!" the Swellow insisted. "Those soldiers are catching up fast!"

The five hurried along, tracing their way along the passages until Lyle's nose picked up the scent of damp earth and noticed scratches left in the walls pointing off in rough arrows. Right, one of the other Outlaws already found the exit in the northwest corner of the floor, and this must've been the path he took!

"Follow those markings!" the Quilava cried. "Those stairs can't be far from here!"

The group ran ahead, dutifully chasing after the water's scent and following the crude markers in the walls until they found a chamber bisected by a channel of water. The Outlaws looked around frantically, when Lyle's eyes fell upon the far right corner of the chamber. There, much as Parker had told them, was a series of stony steps that slipped into the earth at the end, the tell-tale sign of stairs descending to the next floor.

"Ah! Th-That's it!" the stoat cried, prompting Dalton to nod back with a low grunt.

"Alright! We just need to hold out a little bit, and then-!"

"Going somewhere?!"

A harsh shout rang out from behind, Lyle freezing and turning just as an Inteleon stormed in and knocked Dalton back and to his left with a sharp, gliding tackle. The Heliolisk tumbled back, almost falling upon a faint impression of what looked almost like the rings of a target in the cave's floor. The Electric-type quickly righted himself, digging his paws into the dirt and throwing himself back onto his feet with a low hiss. A sharp huff drew Lyle’s attention back towards the entrance, he and the rest of his allies bracing themselves as he saw the Inteleon fanning out his skin flaps and tentatively curled his fingers in against his palms.

"Scurrying off when trouble comes your way, huh?" the soldier sneered. "I know Wimpod that have more backbone than you lot!"

"Let's see you back those words up, you overgrown newt!" Artem spat.

Lyle reflexively called out to the Swellow to wait a moment, only for the bird to fly up and fling a cutting gust of wind forward. The Air Slash found its mark by the white army insignia on the Inteleon's breastplate, and made the Water-type stumble back, except the ‘mon quickly righted himself and seemed about as fazed as if he'd been struck by a mere Gust!

Water began to wreath the skin of the lizard's right hand, Lyle flaring up with a start as the Water-Type raised it and leveled its digits square at him and Irune. Without thinking, he hastily tackled Irune aside with a yelp as a watery pulse disgorged from the lizard's fingertips.

Lyle flinched as water splattered over them—the soldier's Snipe Shot had missed them by mere hairs. Lyle stumbled up to his feet with ragged pants. He needed to get the hell away from that ‘mon, and fast! But before he could run, he ran back into his Axew teammate, who was panted startledly and turned wide, startled eyes back at him.

"I don't think this one's going to fall for the same trick as that Nidoking!" she cried.

The sound of crackling electricity pricked Lyle's ears as he saw Dalton attempt to lob a thick bolt of electricity on the Inteleon. Much like Artem's Air Slash, his blow hit the Inteleon's chest plate, which while visibly damaged, once again cushioned the Water-type from the blow as he stumbled back, before springing back onto his feet.

H-How were they supposed to manage fighting this 'mon when it was taking so many blows just to degrade his armor?! From his vantage point, Lyle watched as Kate used her Slow Wand once more as a crack rang out from it splintering after being exhausted, getting silken strands all over their Inteleon assailant.

The effects of the Slow Wand proved to be less respite than hoped, as barring a brief, startled moment, the Water-type remained nimble enough to rush Dalton with a sudden lunging punch. It was when Dalton sprang back to try and duck the soldier's Sucker Punch when Lyle saw it: There on the Inteleon's flank were gaps between the plates, the straps for his armor could be seen underneath. And if they were anything like the ones on Nils' armor, then all they needed to come apart was a well-placed slash to cut through them!

"Go for the straps of his armor!" the Quilava insisted. "If we peel some of those plates off, it'll open up a place on his body we can target!"

"Got it!" Kate called back, as she threw aside the broken stub of her Slow Wand. "Just give us some cover to work with!"

Lyle ran up and spat a plume of smoke at the Inteleon's feet, making him cough and stumble about blinded for a moment. He sprang back to elude the lizard’s grasp, watching Kate and Irune ran forward: the Sneasel from the left and the Axew from the right. Kate jumped up as her claws took on an almost metallic glint, using her body's weight to rake them downwards. Her swipe found its mark between the gaps of the Inteleon's armor and in spite of his fears, it seemed to have worked well enough to have cut through a pair of straps. Lyle couldn’t get a good view of the damage before Irune charged in and attempted to hack at the soldier's other flank with her tusks. The Quilava darted ahead and watched as her tusk chops veered off course from the Water-type as he recoiled from Kate's blow. The first struck too early on a segment of armor on the soldier's thigh, accomplishing little other than to leave a set of gouges in it, while the second hit empty air. Lyle reflexively tried to spit up fire, only for the Inteleon to suddenly jump up. Lyle blanched as his fire hit the ground inertly, the soldier spreading his skin flaps to glide back a safe distance and come to a crouching stop with a sharp snarl.

"Little pests!" he spat. "Try this on for size!"

The Inteleon flung another Snipe Shot at Kate, the Sneasel attempting to sidestep only for the blow to catch her in shoulder and send her flying into the wall. Kate hit the wall and bounced off it, falling to her knees and claws as she struggled to get back up dripping water. Lyle watched as the Inteleon attempted to charge Kate’s resting place as she reeled from the blow, when he hurriedly sucked in a sharp breath and spat up a spray of whitish fire right as the soldier passed. The Will-O-Wisp found its mark on an exposed length of the Grünhäuter’s arm. The Water-type froze with a wince and grabbed his fresh burn, the Quilava watching as the soldier whirled about with gritted teeth.

Lyle snorted out embers in defiance. If he could dance circles around Parker, he could sure as hell do the same to this twiggy-looking newt until the others finished taking his plates apart.

"What's the matter?" the stoat taunted. "Can't keep a Fire-type from showing you up?"

That definitely got his attention. Lyle bobbed and weaved back and forth in place as water built on the Inteleon's paws and the soldier tried to mow him down with a watery pulse, the Quilava side-stepping as the attack sailed just past his head. The Inteleon quickly tried to correct for his aim and brought his firing fingers down before his Quilava foe, prompting Lyle to dive between the lizard's legs and force the fire from his vents just as he passed under the soldier's tail. Lyle felt his fire deflect off of solid mass just above him and heard the Inteleon yelp shortly afterwards. Singing a ‘mon’s backside wasn’t the proudest thing he’d done to distract an opponent, but he sure as hell wasn’t complaining right now. Lyle whirled back and braced himself, watching as the Water-type cradled the base of his tail and lost focus for a moment when a sharp cry filled the chamber.


A blue-and-white blur sailed in as Artem latched onto the Inteleon and drove fierce pecks at the lizard's breastplate as the soldier thrashed about wildly. Lyle watched the two twist about, as the bird’s pecks broke the last few straps holding the plates over the lizard's white underbelly below in place and it fell to the ground with a dull thump. The soldier flailed, trying to throw off his attacker as Lyle moved in along with his teammates. He saw the Inteleon carry on, lurching in an erratic course that took him to the edge of the watery spit that ran through the chamber as he tried to throw the Swellow loose before he grit his teeth grabbed at a patch of scales along his tail.

"Argh! Get off of me!" the Water-type snapped.

The Inteleon forced water out of the skin around his fingertips and pulled what looked like a blade loose from the patch of scales, swinging it at his assailant wreathed in water. The Liquidation dug into Artem's breast and sent him flying away with a spray of feathers and a sharp squawk. The Swellow hit the ground a short distance away, and tumbled back towards the ring-like impressions in the dirt, where his left wing touched it and a flash of light abruptly lit up the chamber. When it subsided, Lyle’s eyes widened and he froze at the sight: there was no sign of the Flying-type to be seen but a now-disturbed patch of dirt. His teammates looked just as shocked, with Dalton in particular stammering as his mouth hung open, the Heliolisk staring slack-jawed at the now-vacant cave floor.


All this time, the chamber had a Warp Trap lying in plain sight. And Artem had been the unlucky soul to trigger it. Dalton seemed to linger in dumb shock at the spent trap, for a moment before gritting his teeth and whirling around for the water. There the Inteleon was struggling to get up as he attempted to retrieve his damaged armor plate and Lyle felt a sudden chill at the fierce glare that came over the Electric-type’s face.

It was the sort of look a ‘mon ready to kill.

A loud crackle filled the chamber as the Heliolisk threw a thick electric bolt at the Inteleon's exposed stomach, making him lock up, drop his knife, and slump over into the water. Dalton stomped up, still panting from exhaustion and his wounds, and threw the Inteleon's keratinous blade aside before he kicked the soldier over. The Water-type wheezed for air in the water, looking up just as Dalton raised his frill with a fierce glare and sparks began to dance on his scales.

"Where is he, you miserable Grünhäuter?!" he shouted. "What did you do to Artem?!"

Dalton sparked up and lit up the cave with yellow light as he threw another Thunderbolt at the soldier, drawing loud screams of pain that made Lyle flinch and look away. The Heliolisk waited a few moments, before striking the Water-type again with much the same effect.

Lyle pinned his ears back and stared ahead with a frightened grimace as the Heliolisk let sparks dance on him a third time. Just then, Irune shot forward, wide-eyed, running up and sharply tugging at the Heliolisk’s tail as she cried out in a frantic, stammering voice.

"S-Stop it!" the Axew pleaded. "He doesn't know any more than you do!"

Dalton hesitated a moment as the sparks on his hide died down and looked back down at the Inteleon. Far from the arrogant soldier proudly adorned in armor that had stormed in mocking their supposed lack of backbone, the Water-type was now weakly trying to nurse his burnt arm and curl around his exposed underbelly that now sported sets of ugly black blotches. Any shred of the Water-type's earlier confidence and swagger was now absent, as the creature lay shuddering in the water with his eyes screwed shut in fright and low whimpers escaping his throat.

The Heliolisk looked down and said nothing for a brief moment, seemingly startled and taken aback. After a moment to recompose himself, Dalton shook his head with a growling 'jämmerlich₅' under his breath and turned away from the felled soldier, starting off for the chamber's entrance as he called out to his teammates.

"We need to go and find Artem!" he insisted.

"You can't be serious!" Kate exclaimed. "We're not in any shape to be going on rescue missions here! Let's just hold the fort down and wait for him to come-!"

"Over there!" a voice from further down the passage suddenly cried. "I heard Karl shouting!"

The shining ray of a Psybeam zipped in, as Lyle and his fellows hit the ground as it zipped overhead. A Blast Seed followed, which hit the ground close enough to make him stumble up with a yelp as he felt its heat and flash from its detonation wash over his pelt. Oh screw this noise, they were getting out of here while they could!

Lyle got up and ran, Irune and Kate taking off when he saw Dalton get up and dig his feet in and spit up a Surf that he threw down the corridor at a number of armored figures he couldn't get a clear view of. Was this ‘mon trying to get himself captured?! The Quilava wheeled about and let out an exasperated hiss, crying out to the Heliolisk behind them.

"Dalton! We can't hold all of them off with just four of us!" he shouted. "Stop stalling!"

The Electric-type whirled around and shot back a fierce glare, the Heliolisk setting his teeth on edge as he snapped back with sparks dancing on his scales.

"No! Nobody else has made it here yet!" he insisted. "And Artem- !"

The Heliolisk was cut off by an Aura Sphere arcing and striking him in the side of his head, Lyle flinching as the lizard tumbled along the ground towards the steps. He didn’t stop after reaching them, as his body limply fell down them. At once, the earth shuddered and groaned with the sound of grinding stone. Lyle was sure that wasn’t a good sign, and a quick glance over at Irune amid the attacks zipping by revealed that she was raising a claw off at the mouth of the steps with a horrified expression, where he could see the earth around the steps beginning to seal up.

"A-Aah! The stairs!" the Axew cried. "They're closing in on themselves!"

"Time's up!" the Sneasel yelped. "It's now or never!"

Lyle bounded ahead as Kate and Irune hurriedly dashed down the steps as attacks and missiles zipped past them, the Quilava squeezing past a gap small enough for his body's flames to deflect off of hard stone as soldiers' cries rang out behind him, before they were overpowered by the grinding noise and a deep click. Lyle looked back and saw that not even a dozen paces behind him, the stairs had sealed up into an earthen overhang that served as a ceiling, the surrounding dirt churned up from an abrupt emergence.

The Quilava suppressed his fire, stumbling forward panting as he scanned his surroundings and noted that the cave ceiling was significantly lower on this new floor. There at the base of the stairs, he came across Kate and Irune tending to Dalton as he laid in an unmoving heap. After a couple fruitless attempts to rouse the lizard by tugging and prodding at him, the Sneasel sighed and reached for her bag, pulling out a Tiny Reviver Seed that she slipped into the Heliolisk's mouth. After a few moments, Dalton began to stir, coughing and gagging up the seed spent and shorn of its green sprout that hit the ground coated with spittle. The Heliolisk let out a low groan and cradled his head, when he noticed the three remaining members of his party and stared back at them with a quiet grimace.

"Did… Did anyone else make it?" he finally managed.

Lyle and Kate lowered their eyes and looked away glumly, Irune looking up at him with an expression that seemed almost guilty for a moment, before shaking her head and quietly answering.

"I'm sorry, Dalton," she said. "We were the only ones who made it."

The lizard's jaw hung open at the Dragon-type's reply, the Heliolisk instinctively darting back up the stairs where he reached at the layer of earth above and scratched desperately at it. Dalton watched as his swipes left little, shallow streaks in the earth. Lyle squeezed his eyes shut and reared up onto his hindlegs, calling out after the lizard with a sharp bark.

"Dalton, those stairs aren't going to open back up and you know it!" Lyle said. "Stairs between floors are one-way! Once they seal up, that's it until a new set opens!"

The Heliolisk peered down at him, Lyle heard footsteps and saw Kate and Irune tiredly shuffling up, still panting. The Heliolisk cast a glance between the sealed stairs, and the other Outlaws, before looking back to the others.

"Th-Then let's find somewhere to wait for Parker and the others to catch up!" he insisted. "Once the next stairs open up-!"

"Scales, give it a rest already. You saw what we were up against up there!" Kate grumbled. "If there were enough soldiers to spare to mob us like that at the end, do you really think that when the next stairs open up that a Grünhäuter isn't going to be the first 'mon down it?"

Lyle watched as Dalton's expression went blank and he hung his head in reply. Maybe Parker would somehow pull through, but when that 'Lacan' Salamence himself was leading the group they ran into, what were the odds the others from the encampment raid weren't right on his tail? The Heliolisk seemed to recognize it too from the gutted look on his face. In all likelihood, Dalton was the last remnant of Parker's proud Riparian Raiders, and they of the bands whose colors they wore about their necks.

The desperate rush that had carried him over to the stairs was beginning to wear off, Lyle could feel it in his burning limbs. Lyle took a moment to try to shake some feeling back into them, before turning towards a corridor that trailed off from the chamber square ahead. They were the last 'mons standing, and the one card they still had left to play against those soldiers was putting as much distance as possible between themselves and this gottverdammten hole.

"There's nothing else we can do right now but look out for ourselves," he muttered. "We won't have long before those soldiers figure out we're not there anymore."

The four set off, shuffling off deeper into the new floor of the Mystery Dungeon in the dim blue glow of Waterhead Cave's luminescence amid its stalactites and stalagmites. All the while, a crushing aura hung over the lot, as the reverie and sense of triumph they'd shared just a couple hours ago was long-dead. In its stead settled a heavy-hearted melancholy, alongside dread over what ordeal they'd face next.

Beyond brief moments to tend to their wounds, Lyle and his now-diminished circle of comrades stopped for nothing for the next four floors of the Mystery Dungeon. Their reduced numbers meant Wilders no longer shied away from them, as the four found themselves hurriedly darting from the sound of approaching steps as they attempted to avoid skirmishes and conserve what little strength they had left. After all, who could possibly know how far behind the Salamence's underlings were?

The strategy was only partly successful, but fortunately, none but other Wilders seemed to have overheard their scuffles, and a few stiff strikes were usually enough to either overpower them or break their fighting spirit and send them in panicked retreat.

The four found the stairs of the eighteenth floor, and filed down them. There, as the steps sealed up behind them, they came to a darkened, empty chamber. Lyle let his fire on his vents flicker to life, where he saw they'd come to an unremarkable stone chamber with a waterlogged path up ahead that drifted off into haze ahead. Lyle blinked before starting forward and pawed warily at the water. It lacked the glow the water elsewhere in the Mystery Dungeon had, and it didn't look terribly deep.

He didn't want to get his hopes up that they'd come across the main exit outside. But eighteen floors was about as deep as he remembered Waterhead Cave being from overheard conversations in the past. The very fact there was fog up ahead also evidenced that wherever the path led to, it went to a place beyond the effects of the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion…

"I don't suppose it'd have killed someone to leave a raft we could've used here," Lyle grumbled.

Lyle poked a paw into the water and much to his alarm, fell in deep enough to reach his eyes. As soon as his paws felt the bottom, Lyle jolted back out with his fire flaring with a sharp start, spluttering and coughing. While it was still shallow enough to cross, the water had proven deeper than expected. Too deep for him to cross without rearing up, and gods-knew-how long they'd have to go through it to reach their refuge. The Outlaws traded exhausted looks with one another, as Irune rubbed at her eyes wearily and let out a tired groan.

"Nrgh… H-How much further are we supposed to keep going?" she asked, prompting Kate to pin her ears back with an annoyed huff.

"Look, do you want to take your chances with those Grünhäuter chasing after us?" the Sneasel demanded. "If we sit and wait around, we'll risk getting discovered!"

Kate's reply made Dalton shoot a sharp frown back at her, as he folded his arms with a tired huff.

"And if we keep running until we're shambling half-asleep, we won't have any energy to fight back with if we do get discovered," Dalton retorted.

Lyle paused after the Electric-type's retort and looked down at his reflection in the water. He tried to force out his body's fire to see how he was faring, only to notice it smoke and sputter, with the light it provided revealing he tired bags under his eyes.

"… They've got a point, Kate," he said, shaking his head back. "I can see fog up ahead, let's just lay low in whatever Pocket's on the other end and rest for a bit. We can take turns keeping watch for whoever's coming."

"Tch, you can if you want to so badly," she scoffed. "I'll get some shuteye."

The stoat grumbled to himself about how Kate didn't even want to rest just a minute ago, before suppressing his body fire and inching into the water. Lyle heard the water hiss as it made contact with his still-hot vents on his tail and he walked out until the water came up to his chest, fighting against squirming discomfort from his cold, damp surroundings and carrying on a brief ways. After making it forward about twenty paces, Lyle noticed the water's depth remained constant before looking back at Kate and waving his paw.

"Hey Kate, you still have that guiding string from earlier?" the Quilava asked. "It looks like this water's shallow enough for us to ford."

Lyle was answered by Kate fishing through her bag and throwing the weighted end of the string out to him, the stoat jumping up to catch it, only to swiftly regret it as he fell into the water and got the upper half of his body drenched again for his trouble. The Quilava stood back up, shaking what he could dry and flattening out his ears as Kate made her way in, Irune attempted to follow, only to realize the water quickly deepened out to the point where she could barely keep her snout above the surface, when Dalton came up behind her and picked her up and set her on his shoulders.

"Just hold on tight, alright?" he insisted. "If you fall off while we're in the thicker portions of the fog, I can't guarantee I'll be able to find you afterwards."

Irune nodded back quietly, breathing a quiet thanks as Dalton shuffled off into the water. Lyle trudged forward, leading his teammates along into the fog where the world around them quickly faded away into the mist. With no ground to be their guide, the way of gauging if they were on the path was to stop and feel the direction of the water. The closer they were to the center of the path, the stiller the water would be, while the further from center they were, the more the water would flow towards the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion at the path's edge.

The net result was a faltering progression, which reminded Lyle of an episode back when he was still a wee Cyndaquil and the 'Igelavars' of his Vatername still accurately reflected his father's species. He'd managed to get himself stuck in the middle of the stream right outside of his home village while playing, and had been so afraid of the water that he could do little other than curl into a ball, light his back flames up, and cry. His father chanced to be nearby and rushed out, wading much as he was doing right now out to him and carrying him back to the safety of dry land.

Lyle let out a low sigh at the memory. He'd fortunately outgrown such behavior and developed a stronger set of nerves years ago, not that the little Cyndaquil back then would've ever imagined that a mere eight years later, the same father who came to his aid would kick him out of his house.

Lyle looked ahead as he started to see the fog thin, where he saw water and smooth walls about him, but most curiously, dim light up ahead.


The Quilava trudged forward, leading his teammates out of the fog and into a waterlogged tunnel with smooth walls that were chipped and pockmarked in places and looked to be made of some sort of concrete. From their color and texture, they looked very old. Old enough that he'd be wholly unsurprised if they were relics from the world before the Great Flash themselves. Perhaps he'd be more curious about them if he weren't miserable and standing up to his chest in frigid water. Thankfully, he could see an end up ahead, and that it was the sight of warm sunlight and the sound of faint chirps carrying on the wind.

"I… don't think that's a Pocket up ahead," the Fire-type said. "Let's see where this tunnel goes."

The three trudged out of the tunnel and found themselves next to a creek surrounded by trees with yellowed, and—from what Lyle presumed from the season—red leaves that occasionally drifted off with the wind. Up above them, the sky was beginning to turn blue with sunlight just starting to peek over the horizon from the west. One by one, Lyle and his companions stumbled around the mouth of the tunnel and onto a grassy bank of the stream, where the lot all but flopped over and lay there for a moment, panting exhaustedly.

"Urgh… So what now?" Kate asked.

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Oberst(en) - Equivalent rank to a "Colonel(s)" in militaries from the Germanosphere.
2. Hauptmann - Equivalent rank to a "Captain" in militaries from the Germanosphere, and the rank the leader of a Fähnlien traditionally held.
3. Herr- Male honorific and minor nobiliary title equivalent to "Lord". In this particular context, its usage would be analogous to addressing someone as "Mister" or "Sir" in English.
4. Brutalanda - "Salamence"
5. jämmerlich - "pathetic", "pitiful", "miserable". Can carry derogatory connotations depending on context of usage.

Teaser Text:

When the light of the Great Flash receded, the sun rose on a wounded world, one shorn of any sign of the humans we called friends and mediators beyond their works. In the light's wake, the lands churned, and the sea that now stands between the lands we now call 'Varhyde' and 'Edialeigh' opened up.

The very fabric of space and time itself was scarred from the tumult, and in places where such wounds ran deep and that fabric could no longer hold back the dimensions of the great beyond, strange fogs settled over the land and cut them off from the rest of the world. Forming what we call 'Mystery Dungeons'.

From their earliest days, Mystery Dungeons have long commanded awe from the Pokémon of this world. They make their presences known, their fog spilling over the lands they settle on and setting the skies alight at night with their auroras. A few particularly spectacular examples even hold small pieces of our world aloft with their haze, much like Drifloon floating like clouds in the sky.

Those same Mystery Dungeons have also commanded fear from those said Pokémon. The spaces within are distorted echoes of the places they once were. Mazes which confound the senses and wear away at those inside with weary hunger, subject to being churned and molded anew by the dimensions once the scouring winds of the Distortion blow away all that is in its path.

And yet, for as long as they have existed, our destinies have been intertwined with these places. Some brave souls among the Wilders, and even some Civils, call the Pocketsᵃ—the islands of stability within the Distortion, home. Some as a place of refuge, others as a lair from which to prey on others. The Orbs and other items formed or changed by these places aid our defenders and warriors, and for the intrepid and prepared travelers, a means to travel impossible distances and to impossible places.

Both triumph and tragedy await those that enter such places. Which of the two befalls those that enter is a function of cautious wisdom and learned experience. Along with strength sufficient to endure the trials faced within.

- Preface to 'The Explorer'sHandbook to Mystery Dungeonsᶜ'

a. While this is indeed what you would call 'Pocket(s)' in German, 'Tasche(n)' can also mean 'Bag(s)' or 'Purse(s)' depending upon context of use.
b. There are also other ways of saying 'Explorer' in German beyond 'Erkunder', though the term was chosen as a deliberate echo to the German localization term for 'Exploration Team', 'Erkundungsteam'
c. 'Merkwürdigen Orten' is an archaic / poetic term for 'Mystery Dungeons' in-setting that pops up on occasion. In a more faithful translation, this would be rendered as 'Strange / Inexplicable Places'
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

In den frühen Jahren nach dem glühenden Blitz und seinem großen Durcheinander der Welt gab es einen großen Aufruhr, um zu versuchen, das Wissen der vergangenen Menschen zu bewahren, so lange ihre Werke noch in Wunder verblieben. Aus dem Wissen, das sie retten konnten, entwarfen die Alten die ersten Rezepte für die Gummis, um unsere Bäuche zu füllen, und die ersten Skripte, die wir lasen und schrieben.

Während dieser Zeit wurden zwei Länder jenseits eines großen Meeres, das sich inmitten der Wirren des Glühenden Blitzes öffnete, unter der Führung von zwei Wanderern besiedelt, von denen niemand weiß, woher sie kamen. Nördlich und östlich des Meeres schlug Klaus der Erbauer sein Lager in einem Land auf, welches die Göttin, die wir „Wirklichkeit“ nennen, als Ort der Ruhe von ihren Wanderungen durch unsere unruhige Welt auswählte. Es wird gesagt, dass Klaus wünschte, dass die Pokémon, mit denen er lebte, immer das vollste Verständnis der Wirklichkeit der Welt suchen würde, und gründete ein Königreich zu Ehren der Schutzgöttin, der ihm zuerst Hilfe gewährte, das bis heute „Wahrheit“ heißt.

Südlich und westlich des Meeres schlug Galea die Maschinenschlosserin ihr Lager in einem Land auf, das der Gott, den wir „Wunsch“ nennen, als Ruheplatz von seinen Wanderungen inmitten der Welt, die wir Heimat nennen, auswählte. Es wird gesagt, dass sie wünschte, dass die Pokémon, mit denen sie lebte, immer von der Sehnsucht erfüllt würden, ihren Wünschen nachzugehen und um ihre umgebende Welt so umzugestalten, wie sie es für richtig hielten. Auch sie gründete ein Königreich zu Ehren des Gottes, der dort wohnte und ihr Hilferufe des Landes beherzigte, das zu Ehren des ersten Helfers noch heute „Ideale“ genannt wird.

Weder über König Klaus noch über Königin Galea ist wenig bekannt, da selbst die Arten von Pokémon, die sie waren, im Laufe der Zeit verloren gegangen sind, aber Aufzeichnungen über ihre Sprüche sind erhalten, zusammen mit ihren Namen, ihren Beinamen und dem Wissen, dass die beiden einst von einem gemeinsam stammenden Land herkamen. Es wird angenommen, dass die beiden irgendwann eingeschworene Feinde wurden, denn solange unsere Geschichte aufgezeichnet wurde, haben die von ihnen gegründeten Königreichen noch keinen Frieden miteinander geschlossen, der nicht von bitterer Feindschaft befleckt war.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

Kate's question lingered in the autumn air for a moment, and in his exhaustion, Lyle wasn't sure he had an answer. What were they supposed to do now?

They'd slogged through Waterhead Cave all night, and for all they knew they were the last 'mons standing from the army raid on their encampment. They were dripping wet. They were exhausted. And they were hungry on top of it all, no thanks to the effects of the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion. By some mercy, at least, they had shaken the soldiers pursuing them—but that was just about the only positive he could think of. They had nothing to their names but the little loot they could carry off and some depleted stores of berries and seeds.

Just trying to make sense of it all while lying on the grassy bank of the stream they were next to made his head spin. Götterblut, where were they even supposed to begin?

"Well we could start by taking stock of just what sort of situation we're in," Dalton harrumphed, propping himself upright. "We've been up all night, we're wanted with an entire Fähnlein pursuing us, and all of the potential allies we could turn to are likely captured if not worse. On top of it all, all we have to show for everything are a couple bagfuls of loot that will likely not last us more than a couple moons at most if we tried to lie low. Am I missing anything here?"

The Sneasel sat up after the Heliolisk's litany of trials they were staring down, pinning her ears against her head as she scrunched her face into a sharp frown.

"Well gee, since you're that much of a pill about it, guess we should just lay down and wait to die," she spat.

Lyle sat and looked out at the stream exiting Waterhead Cave blankly for a moment, before motioning to his partners with a shaky breath.

"C-Come on, we need to put some distance between us and that exit," he insisted. "We'll get some ideas later."

Nobody protested the idea. The exit they'd found would probably buy them some time to rest before that Salamence and his underlings caught up, but after a night as disastrous as the one they'd just endured, it was best to play things safe for now.

The four hurried off into the undergrowth, and kept going through it under a canopy of autumn leaves with the ground coated in fallen ones. The trek felt like an eternity, and with the crunching of leaves under their slow footsteps came the paranoia of someone following them. But nobody was. Eventually, they reached a shaded clearing, where Lyle slumped against a rock, panting as the adrenaline finally wore off.

… Lyle tried to take stock of his circumstances, only to keep finding himself at a loss of ideas of what to do. There was no band of fellows to turn to, and splitting up and attempting to each go to ground on their own meant having no one to come to their aid if they were spotted or identified. Besides, part of him was terrified at the thought of being alone right now. Especially with those damned soldiers surely still skulking about to hunt the lot of them down.

The Quilava folded his ears back and grimaced, when Irune plodded forward and gave him, Kate, and Dalton an askew glance.

"Do you believe me now when I told you the army wanted to use me to get a treasure from the Divine Roost?" she asked.

The three Outlaws traded looks with each other for a moment, before grudgingly agreeing that as fantastical as it all sounded, maybe the little axe-face really did have something going on with the place. Something important enough that soldiers would shake the heavens to try and snatch her over it.

"I mean, they kept calling you a 'Dyad'…" Dalton murmured. "Whatever they're after you for, it's not for simply stealing a couple things in the hinterlands."

"Look, you've established it's possible your story's isn't completely bunk," Lyle harrumphed. "But where are you going with this?"

Irune bit her tongue and hesitated briefly, looking over the three Outlaws before sucking in a sharp breath and sighing.

"Well… I need to still make it to the Divine Roost, and it's not exactly a journey I can make on my own," the Dragon-type began. "That's… why I was going to ask for your help to get there."

The Axew's offer made the three Outlaws' faces fall. The Divine Roost was an island floating in the air above the middle of the sea, only accessible by traversing to it through one of a handful of particularly harsh Mystery Dungeons about Varhyde, with the nearest ones being almost halfway across the kingdom from where they were. After everything the little scaly runt had brought on them, she expected them to stick with her on some journey across the entire kingdom?!

"No way," Kate retorted. "Those Grünhäuter kept singling you out every time we ran into them."

"And the approaches to the Divine Roost are all the way at the other ends of Varhyde from here!" Dalton added. "You can't be mad enough to think you can get there with that sort of force chasing after you!"

"Look kid, we were lucky just to get away from everything last night," Lyle huffed. "We're already in a deep hole right now, so why on earth do we need to get involved in your problems?"

The Axew squirmed briefly, her eyes shooting wide as Lyle and the others waited briefly. The Dragon-type gave no reply, prompting the three to already start to turn away. With an almost desperate air to her voice, Irune stammered and cried out to her fellow Outlaws.

"D-Do you really think those soldiers are just going to let you go if you abandon me?!"

Lyle and his teammates froze at the Axew's question. They weren't exactly notorious Outlaws. Why, the last time Lyle saw a bounty posted for him, it was worth about a thousand Carolins. About two weeks worth of pay for the sort of field work he did. … At the same time, after letting Irune free in the first place and everything that had happened since then, betting on that Salamence Graf not sparing a few soldiers to seek them out in the area and make examples of them was… an optimistic assumption, to say the least.

Irune seemed to notice the other Outlaws' hesitation and shook her head, hardening her features into a stern scowl.

"Look, I know that we've all been through a lot and this isn't exactly a good situation, but we're all in a boatload of trouble right now," she insisted. "The only way that we'll get through it is if we stick together!"

"Yeah? So then why the Divine Roost in particular, then?" Lyle asked. "As much as everyone wants to get paid, how lucky do you think we're going to get while taking on a whole Fähnlein?"

"The idea wouldn't be to take them on, it'd be to beat them there," the Axew said. "If we're going to need to get out of these parts anyways, what's a little extra distance?"

The Dragon-type looked at the other Outlaws, who gave wary glances back at her. She paused briefly, before sighing and shaking her head with a low grumble.

"Besides, I'm aware of how tough this journey is going to be, and I'm prepared to make it worth your while if you'll help me. When we get to the Divine Roost, we divide the treasure that I and the Balance Bandits were after. Evenly, four ways."

Was this 'mon nuts? After everything they had been through, how could this scaly runt still be thinking about treasure right now?!

Lyle reflexively opened his mouth to loudly reject her offer only to catch himself. As much as he just wanted to melt away and hide, it was hard to say with a straight face that he had much of a future if he did that. From the wavering looks on Kate and Dalton's faces, it seemed like they'd come to the same realization themselves.

The more the three brigands thought about it, the more they realized that maybe this kid was onto something about this 'treasure'. Graf Wellenhafen₁ wouldn't have gone around with an entire Fähnlein for the sake of a few baubles from the Divine Roost. So then, it begged the question…

"Just how much treasure are we talking here?" Kate asked.

"There's at least one chamber that hasn't been looted yet. Big enough for a Wailord to fit in!" Irune exclaimed, waving her claws out wide for emphasis. "From the stories I heard of it, it's supposed to be filled to the brim full of gold and jewels that were brought to the Divine Roost as offerings through the ages."

Kate and Dalton seemed to ease up tentatively at the idea, and even in his fatigued state, Lyle couldn't help but smile at the thought of the idea of a payday that would allow him to live like a literal king. He'd never have to worry about eating well again, he wouldn't have to work another day at a place like that damned berry field, and it'd keep its value even if the rest of Varhyde burned to the ground!

Seeing that she'd piqued the brigands' interest, the Dragon-type warily studied the three's expressions, and after a brief, hesitating quibble of her mouth, continued on.

"It's not just Mystery Dungeons from Varhyde that link there, either. There's ways of going to and from that place to other parts in Wander," the Axew insisted. "If you felt like it, you could vanish off to a distant land that might as well be a whole different planet."

Kate flattened her ears out at the Axew's appeal. After all, there were but two lands who had Mystery Dungeons that were said to directly link to the Divine Roost. Varhyde was one, and the other…

"Oh yeah, jump from Varhyde to Edialeigh. I wouldn't call running away to a warzone where our accents will give us away an upgrade," Kate scoffed.

"That's… only partly true," Dalton explained. "There's said to be connections in those Mystery Dungeons that radiate out throughout Wander. Granted, they're volatile enough to not be mapped, but…"

"With the sort of treasure at stake, it wouldn't matter," Irune said. "Assuming you didn't drink and gamble it all away, it would be enough to buy you a comfortable existence for the rest of your lives anywhere you wanted in all of Wander!."

Lyle… admittedly didn't know if he was ready to flatly leave Varhyde for parts unknown. He knew he wasn't on good terms with his family, but even if he was in trouble now, something about just giving up hope entirely of ever smoothing things over with them didn't sit well. But if this treasure was big enough that Irune was talking about buying a peaceful life anywhere on Wander… wouldn't it also be enough to pay off prying guards like Nils to just let him be?

It might not work in a bigger town, but maybe it would in a place like the frontiers near the Great Mist. That seemed like a good place to try and avoid the attention of prying Grünhäuter, and Edialeigh's troops were unlikely to ever come through and sack the place even if they outright conquered the Kingdom. He could at least pass letters to his family from a place like that. If they bothered to accept and read them.

… He didn't know whether he was crazy or desperate, but considering the alternative was waiting for poverty to overtake them again in the dead of winter, something about Irune's plan didn't sound half bad. Sure, stealing from a shrine to the gods, which included Varhyde's patron goddess among them, was… not the proudest idea he'd entertained. But they'd hardly be the first 'mons to do so since the gods last died, and there weren't any guards to it beyond the Wilders in the Mystery Dungeons that led up to the Divine Roost…

Besides, it wasn't as if the owners of that treasure were still alive to claim it.

If the four of them were any less desperate and they had not already seen the army send a Fähnlein after this kid, it'd be the sort of offer and story that even Kate would laugh off without a second thought. But Irune had been insistent that there was a treasure at the Divine Roost since they met, and they saw what that Lacan 'mon had done to try and get at her. Why else hunt down a little Axew so ferociously—in the middle of a war where their strength was being denied from the frontlines, no less?

It was about as good a break as they could hope for with the situation they were in.

Too good of one, actually. Which meant that there had to be something wrong with it.

"Okay—what's the catch to all of this?" Lyle scowled and crossed his arms. "I didn't start ripping off 'mons overnight, and I know when a deal sounds too good to be true."

Irune folded her arms in return and let out a quiet snort in reply.

"Aside from the dangerous journey, risk of death or capture, and all that? I guess there's one catch," she retorted. "When we find the treasure, I get to pick the first item when we divide it up. Not that big a deal, right?"

Kate flattened her ears and let out a grumbling murmur to her companions. It was hard for Lyle to blame her. From the way this kid was talking, he just knew they were going to regret agreeing to that condition down the road.

"Tch, she's probably going to pick some giant golden statue as her first thing, isn't she?" she scoffed.

"I dunno, she strikes me as the type to pick something she can actually carry off," Dalton whispered back. "Though admittedly it's a curious condition. Just what's in that chamber that she wants for herself so badly?"

"So, do we have a deal or not?"

Lyle and his companions looked over to Irune as she stared at them intently. The three whispered to each other, quietly debating over whether or not to humor her offer. The condition didn't seem that unmanageable, and if they actually got their paws on that treasure and things came to blows… well, they'd rather be them than her in a scuffle. With their minds made up one after the other, the three Outlaws each came to a common conclusion:

"Yeah, I'm in," Kate said.

"I suppose we are limited on options right now…" Dalton sighed.

Lyle sucked in a breath and hesitated. What else was he supposed to do with himself? Go back to his Oran Field? He winced internally at the idea of going back there, and quickly grew doubtful that it was a workable plan to begin with. If Irune was right, that Salamence and those Grünhäuter would be hunting for him for some time.

Blauflamme, there had to be more options than this. But where else was there? His parents?

Lyle bit his lip and looked away after the thought crossed his mind. It was better to shelve that one away. There was zero reason to believe that would go anywhere, and it carried just about all the same risks as trying to wait out Lacan and go back to his meager existence. In light of those bad options before him, if he had to choose one, then it was best to go with the one that had the most upside.

"Sounds we've got one," Lyle sighed, before letting the fire on his vents come out and narrowing his eyes.

"Though you'd best not cross us, kid," he growled. "We might not have gangs to push around, but we can sure take things out of your hide if we need to!"

The Axew gave an annoyed glare back and opened her mouth to shoot back a retort, only to catch herself and let out a sharp growl. "Hrmph, glad to hear. In that case, we should start moving before Lacan figures out we've made it out of the dungeon."

Kate rolled her eyes in reply. "Now hold on a moment. You can't expect us to just keep going on like this after spending an entire night running from soldiers in a Mystery Dungeon!"

"And why not?" the Axew demanded. "Are you planning on just dozing off in your Outlaw scarves while those soldiers catch up with us?"

Lyle was about to open his mouth to retort that they could just as easily ditch their scarves before getting some rest. Except… their original scarves had still been kept for 'safekeeping' before the raid. He supposed that pretending to be Wilders was an option, but they didn't know the first thing about how the local Wilders lived or staked their territory in the area.

Besides, Wilders dealt with each other according to the rules of nature. If they fell asleep without scarves, and a hungry one came across them…

From the sound of it, Kate didn't have any of that train of thought in mind, as she let out a sharp huff and narrowed her eyes back at the Axew.

"Versus walking aimlessly in said scarves, too exhausted to fight back?" the Sneasel retorted. "After everything that just went down, just how well do you think that's gonna end?"

Irune caught herself and looked down at her scarf, along with the other brigands' patterns. After a moment of realization, the Dragon-type bit her tongue with an awkward hem and haw as Kate let out an unimpressed snort.

"Thought so," the Sneasel replied. "Point is, we're gonna need a solution to that first, even if it's only a temporary one. So as long as we line one up, there shouldn't be any harm in getting shut-eye, right?"

"I… guess that would be fair?" Irune admitted. "Though just what are you suggesting?"

About half an hour later, the sun had fully poked over the horizon and lit up the sky in a calming blue. In a clearing a short ways off from a forest path, a Dewott in a red scarf with a silver three-pronged spike on it stirred on a reed mat. The Water-type lifted his head from a small satchel he was using as a pillow as smoke curled up from a spent fire pit, yawning and stretching as he rose to his feet. After shaking his head to rouse himself, he glanced over over at a similarly-garbed Grovyle who walked up.

"Eh? Did I oversleep? Sorry, got caught up in an epic nap," the Dewott said. "Guess you were right that I wouldn't need a blanket."

"You are the one with the thick coat of fur on you right now, Cruz," the Grovyle replied, giving a bemused shake of her head. "I get that autumns are supposed to get chilly around these parts, but when that pelt's made to get by sleeping in the middle of the sea, this should be child's play."

The Grovyle trailed off and said nothing back for a moment, before looking down towards the mat with a quiet sigh.

"I never imagined this is where life was going to take me," the gecko murmured to herself. "You think we'll ever have the run of the land here?"

Cruz paused a moment and glanced up at his teammate, before shaking his head back with a dismissive wave.

"Ah, it's nothing, Vilma. Just some jitters about the new neighborhood," the Water-type insisted. "Come on, let's hurry and wake Nellie and Bel up. Those missions aren't going to complete themselves today."

The Dewott and Grovyle set off, Cruz leaving his satchel behind as they headed for the other end of their humble encampment where an Eevee and Houndour were dozing on a similarly constructed mat.

As the two went to rouse their teammates, neither noticed a pair of red eyes peered out from the brush. Nor did they notice when the Sneasel popped out and snatched up the Dewott's satchel into her claws, before dashing back into the undergrowth.

Lyle watched the treeline from a small clearing in the forest, anxiously fidgeting alongside Dalton and Irune. They’d been prowling these woods for half an hour half-asleep, and after finally having a stroke of luck and coming across a mark that Kate insisted looked promising, she insisted on being allowed to handle things on her own.

Except that had been five minutes ago, and he and his new teammates were starting to get worried she’d bitten off more than she could chew. The Quilava turned to the others with a low shake of his head, sucking in a sharp breath as he approached the wooded hillside.

“Come on, let’s go and check up on her-”

“Hold on a moment, Lyle,” the Heliolisk insisted. “Look.”

The Heliolisk raised a finger and pointed off at the treeline. Lyle glanced off and at first struggled to make out anything from the distance—Quilava were always a bit nearsighted—but where after squinting a bit, Lyle caught a glimpse of a black blur with white claws knifing through the undergrowth. Thank gods, so she had made it back.

Kate darted along with her mouth curled up in a small smirk, sliding down a small embankment and sneaking along following rustling undergrowth and footsteps left in the dirt for about a minute when she made her way back onto the forest path. Lyle brushed off some stray leaves off his body and approached with Irune and Dalton. The Dark-type gave a passing wave as she walked up and set the bag on the ground, throwing its mouth open as she began to rummage through it with a low murmur.

"Come on, come on…"

Lyle watched as Kate hesitated a moment after her claws brushed up against something inside, her eyes light up. The Sneasel poked her head in, and pulled out a fistful of red cloth with hemmed fringes, taking one and unfurling it to reveal a red scarf with a silver three-pronged spike on it in front of her teammates.

"Heh, looks like those Hunters were planning on recruiting!" the Sneasel said. "This'll solve that scarf problem of ours real good!"

Kate returned her attention back to the bag's contents and after pawing through it, revealed to everyone that much to their fortune, the 'Hunters' she'd stolen from had four spares in the bag she nicked. Their sizes were not as nice a fit for them as they could be, but they'd do well enough. The Sneasel passed them around to Lyle and Dalton, who each took one and set to work replacing their colors, and offered one out to Irune, only for the Axew to pause and shoot back a disapproving frown.

"Are we seriously stealing scarves from some random Exploration Team?" Irune scoffed.

"Correction, we're stealing a bag from them," Kate retorted. "For us, the scarves just happen to be the most important thing in it right now."

A quick glance by the Outlaws revealed there was not much else in the bags. Some stray Poké and Carolins. A couple berries, some seeds, a Blowback Orb, an abridged copy of The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons. Why, there wasn't even a single Looplet in this thing! Just how new was this team? Dalton pawed over the contents and let out a low sigh, turning his attention back to the Axew in their number.

"We do need a disguise that won't draw attention, Irune," the Heliolisk reminded. "It seems like those Hunters Kate took this bag from seem… unaccomplished, to say the least, so I doubt we'll be drawing anyone's suspicions by using their team colors."

"But what about our scarves?" Irune asked. "What if someone roots through our bags and finds them?"

"Tch, the solution to that should go without saying," Lyle scoffed back.

Lyle took his Terra Tyrant scarf and draped it over his head. The Quilava's head and tail vents abruptly came alight and held it in place until he felt the fabric start to give way from its fire retardant burning off. The Quilava whipped the smoldering scarf off of him, throwing it to the ground and stamping on it before it could make smoke, and left a singed mess behind in the dirt that was barely recognizable as having once been a scarf. Irune stared wordlessly as Lyle reared up and tugged the pilfered red scarf about his neck to tighten it, glancing back to the Axew with a stern shake look.

"They won't do anything other than get us in trouble if we were found with them," he answered. "With the crews that wore them gone, they won't bring us shelter anywhere. It's best to just burn them and throw them away."

Kate had already changed into her new garb as Lyle torched his old scarf, and passed her blue Mistral Marauder colors for Lyle to disfigure and cast aside into the brush. Dalton visibly hesitated as he undid his Riparian Raider scarf, giving a wistful sigh before he too surrendered it for the Quilava to similarly ruin. All the while, Irune shrank back uneasily, before Lyle turned to her and motioned for her to come.

"You too, Irune," the stoat insisted. "I doubt that Lacan 'mon is magically going to forget about that scarf and pendant around your neck.

The Axew reflexively grabbed at her pendant and gave a sharp glare back at Lyle.

"No. Way. I have history with these!" she fumed. "You can't expect me to just burn them up like that!"

"Irune, was it? I understand the feeling, but we're on thin ice here," Dalton insisted. "You can't risk a passing guard happening to recognize you either wearing that scarf or keeping it in your belongings. And if it doesn't get damaged before throwing it away, someone could come across it and use your scent to find you."

Irune seemed to be wholly unmoved by the Heliolisk's appeal to empathy, turning away with a sharp huff. Lyle narrowed his eyes back at the young Dragon-type, as a sharp frown spread over his muzzle.

"Look, you either play by the same rules as everyone else, or our deal's off," the Quilava snorted. "We didn't sign up to get given away by some rookie's vanity!"

The Axew hesitated for a moment and pawed nervously at her scarf, before shaking her head and scowling back. "Fine, I'll let the scarf go. But I want it buried. And I'm keeping my pendant."

Lyle pinned his ears back at Irune's reply, as he tried and failed to stifle an annoyed growl back at the Axew.

"Oh, for crying out loud-"

"I mean it. Burying my scarf would mask the scent on it just as well, and I need this pendant for when we make it to the treasure," the Axew growled back. "Either you give me this, or else I'm calling the deal off right now and trying my luck getting to the Divine Roost on my own."

Lyle let his mouth hang open in frustrated astonishment. He'd heard that dragons were stubborn 'mons, but this kid was something else. He was about to take her up on her threat and stomp off to try and find a place to lie low on his own when Kate pawed at him and cupped a claw to his ear to whisper quietly.

"Come on, Lyle. I don't fully trust her myself, but she's clearly made her mind up," she scoffed. "Besides, it's a rock. If she keeps it hidden under her scarf, just who's gonna notice it?"

Lyle paused on the path and froze after he felt his stomach growl and his mind turned back to the idea of being all alone in winter with no pay and no job. He glanced at his teammates, and noticed that they weren't budging from beside the Axew. Clearly they didn't find her demand to be as much of a deal-breaker as he'd anticipated. Lyle bit his lip, before sighing and rolling his eyes. With a low grumble, he raised a paw out and gruffly huffed back to the Axew.

"Fine, but make it quick, alright? We should be finding a place to sleep anyways," the Quilava said, before sharply narrowing his eyes.

"Though I'm just going to say this upfront," he warned. "If that little spike of yours causes us trouble later on, I'll break it myself."

Irune tightly grasped onto her spike-like pendant, undoing her gray scarf and balling up her gray scarf in her claws with a disgusted snort as she passed Lyle for the brush.

"Hrmph, you tell yourself that."

Lyle waited as Irune ducked into the brush and tapped his foot impatiently. He glanced around warily for any sign of onlookers, but barring a dozing Wilder Starly in a nearby tree, there was no sign of any eavesdroppers. After a few moments, the Quilava grew impatient, and after trading some glances with his teammates, sighed and turned for the brush just as Irune came out much to his blinking surprise.

"What on earth took you so long out there?"

"I needed a moment to mark the tree I buried my scarf under," the Axew explained. "Just in case."

Lyle noticed a stray splinter clinging to the Axew's right tusk and frowned. He didn't like the extra risk involved, but remained silent and opted to move on. This kid was their only hope at the moment, and it didn't make sense to pick too much of a fight over a scrap of cloth they'd never see again.

Lyle sighed and tugged the Axew along retracing their steps under the red and yellow boughs of the treetops above as the four set off southward along the road. There was bound to be an encampment left behind along the path they could take over and play off as having slept in. They were taking a brave leap forward into the unknown for the dangerous journey ahead of them, and they were going to need every last advantage they could claw together.

About fifteen minutes down the path, the scent of smoke and cinders tipped Lyle and his fellow Outlaws off to the site of a small encampment in the brush.

Recently vacated, and built around a still-smoldering firepit with a tree trunk on one end that served as a crude table. There were Dodrio feathers left shed on the ground, with some rubbish left behind as a sign that the occupants had left in a hurry… or else just didn't care to clean up after themselves. An empty jug with a few drops of lager left in it evidenced that those 'mons had been drinking the night before. Nearby, a gag-inducing smell from the bushes suggested that that hadn't turned out too well.

The four settled down on the bare ground, curled up, and let sleep quickly overtake them.

As the world faded out, time seemed to drift by in a blur for Lyle. The smells and sounds of the woods about him faded away. And yet, in spite of the shade of the trees and the fatigue from the sleepless night dragging him off to slumber, Lyle kept finding his rest marred by fits and starts.

Instead of the sensations of his resting place and the forest about them disturbing his sleep, the Quilava kept finding himself returning the Outlaw encampment in his mind.

It was exactly as he had left it. The screams, the baying cries and roars of charging soldiers, the smell of burning wood and fabric. Time and time again, he helplessly watched Alvin slumping over to the ground and being flung into the remains of the tent by the back exit. The stoat squirmed in his sleep and pawed at the air as a low whine came from the back of his throat.

"No, no…"

"Hey," Kate's voice cut in. "Get up, Lyle."

Lyle's eyes shot wide, and the Quilava reflexively curled up as his head and tail flames came alive with a start.

The Fire-type panted tensely for a moment, the world about him running muddy and unfocused as he cracked his eyes open and discovered that he was back in their commandeered encampment surrounded by the red-leaved forest. Lyle sucked in a sharp breath and rolled onto his feet, before looking up to see Kate peering down at him, giving her right claw a shake as she hadn't been quick enough to draw it back.

"Götterblut! Would it kill ya to open your eyes before lighting up like that?" she grumbled. "Look I know a 'mon needs beauty sleep and all, but it's almost noon already. Scales found a map in that book those Hunters had, so we should settle on where we want to go and get moving while we can."

Lyle looked to see Dalton was already up and waiting on him at the tree trunk with a slim book spread out open on it, the Fire-type muttering back an apology before he stretched and yawned. The stoat put out his body's flames and grabbed his satchel, slinging it across his back before he shuffled over for the tree trunk with his teammates. Along the way, he spotted Irune picking up a few glassy spheres and putting them back into her bag, prompting him to stop and train a puzzled frown.

"Why are you just picking up that clutter anyways?" he asked.

"… I like my shiny baubles. They help me sleep better," the Axew insisted. "If I'm having a bad dream or the like and wake up from it, it helps calm me down a bit."

Lyle heard the Dragon-type's bag rattle slightly as she shifted it onto her shoulders when he realized that her bag must've been filled with similar clutter. He swore it was the most stereotypically 'dragon' thing he'd ever heard of a 'mon doing in his life… and yet after a night like the one they'd all been through, he couldn't say he'd begrudge anyone indulging their creature comforts. Who knew? If the firepit had still been going with warmth for him to curl up beside, maybe he'd have dreamt of something other than that damned raid.

"… Whatever," he harrumphed. "Let's just look through that map and get out of here."

Lyle, Kate, and Irune crowded about the tree trunk where they noticed Dalton had propped the book open to a page with a map of Varhyde on it. Land to the east, with sea to the other three cardinal directions. Except there weren't any maps of roads or the likes on it, just natural features, some dots to indicate settlements, and triangles on the paper seemingly scattered about at random.

"… The hell's wrong with this map?" Kate asked. "I'm pretty sure we could've found a better one rooting through a trash pile."

"That's because it's focused around the Mystery Dungeons of Varhyde," Dalton explained. "That's what all these triangles are."

Lyle blinked and looked down at the book as Dalton brought a claw over to a dot with runes neatly labeled 'Moonturn Square', with strange glyphs written directly above them, including some that looked vaguely like Unown. There was a triangle northwest of it, which he guessed must've been Waterhead Cave that similarly had the strange scribbles over its label. Kate glanced over the map, noting many of the triangles had faint lines drawn between them, and gave a puzzled frown at her companions.

"… I'm not sure if I follow here, how does this map help us again?" she asked.

"By helping us get a sense of where we want to go," Dalton explained.

Right, the approaches to the Divine Roost were Mystery Dungeons. So it was only logical that they'd pick one of those approaches, and then make their way towards it. Irune went up and pawed at the map, highlighting a few triangles near the eastern edge of the map where a few fog-wreathed hills and plains lay.

"The closest Mystery Dungeons that link to the Divine Roost from here are in the frontiers with the Great Mist," the Axew explained. "Those were the ones that I was trying to make my way to before I got caught."

Kate pinned her ears against her head and frowned over at the Axew. The frontiers that Irune spoke of rubbed up against a great mass of Mystery Dungeons that cut Varhyde off from the rest of Wander to the east and were sparsely populated by Civils. It wouldn't be a bad place to go to to try and lay low after shaking heat, but…

"You realize that almost nobody lives out that way, right? At least nobody that's not a Wilder," she said. "Just how are you planning on getting there?"

"It'd only be a few days' journey," Irune insisted. "We wouldn't need that many supplies just to get there."

"What, you really think it'll take a few days for a Salamence to catch up with you?" the Sneasel pressed. "That you're going to outrun him on foot? Traveling to a place you already tried going to once?"

Irune blinked and bit her tongue as Kate and Dalton paused for a moment. The Heliolisk looked back at the map, and saw that of the lines coming from the Mystery Dungeons that Irune pointed out, that none of them linked any others that were relatively close to the one marked 'Waterhead Cave'.

Irune faltered a moment, before shaking her head with a low sigh.

"I… suppose that'd be a good enough reason to want to keep other options open," she murmured. "But how are any of the other options better when they're even farther away?"

"Farther isn't necessarily a bad thing," Lyle said. "From experience, we've likely got at most a day to work with before wanted posters of us start going up around Moonturn Square, and begin circulating around to other guilds."

Kate blinked and raised a brow puzzledly at her Quilava teammate.

"Not that I'm super confident about those first couple options, but—how's going farther out gonna help us, huh?" the Sneasel asked.

"Because," Lyle explained, "depending on where these other Mystery Dungeons are, we could pay off a Carrier to let us hitch a ride and skip a few days' worth of walking. It'd put distance between us and that Fähnlein, except…"

"They follow trade routes, since there's not much sense for Carriers going where Pokémon don't live," Dalton finished. "Though you might be onto something there, Lyle…"

The Heliolisk brought a finger towards the eastern edge of the map and hovered over a treacherous-looking mountain range that seemed to spill out from the Great Mist and jab into the middle of Varhyde. He then moved it off towards an island not far from the western coast that bore the brunt of many a past invasion from Edialeigh, and finally brought his digit over an inland desert towards the mountainous southern coast of the map that Dalton seemed to linger over briefly before shaking his head.

"It certainly wouldn't be hard to get a Carrier to take us towards any of those Mystery Dungeons," Dalton remarked. "Not a direct flight, but close enough for the journey afterwards to be shorter than going towards the Great Mist from here overland. We'd just need to settle on where we wanted to go first…"

"How about that big dot there?" Kate asked. "It looks far enough to be a couple days' journey from here normally. If we went there, we could just go towards whichever of those Mystery Dungeons you spotted would be the least likely to get us in trouble."

Kate's companions fell deathly silent and stared at her wide-eyed for a moment, before Dalton narrowed his eyes with an annoyed growl.

"… Are you even bothering to read the labels before you speak?" the Heliolisk snapped. "That big dot's Newangle City, the royal capital. Why on earth would we want to go there as Outlaws?"

Lyle looked over at Kate as she seemed to recoil from the charge. Right, Kate's ability to read had always been shaky. There was some story behind it, about how she'd gone much of her childhood without schooling thanks to something about her parents' job requiring them to move around constantly.

"L-Look, I just overlooked it, alright?! It happens to everyone sometimes!" she insisted, prompting Lyle to shake his head.

"To some more often than others, clearly," he sighed.

The Sneasel shot a sour frown over at him. Kate was always tight-lipped about what exactly happened with her parents, and always got a bit defensive when her lack of literacy made a fool of herself like this.

But there was no need to dig out the truth behind all that here and now. Besides, after stopping to think it over, Kate might've been onto something.

"Though her plan's actually not all that bad, Dalton," Lyle spoke up. "After all, there's not exactly a shortage of Carriers going to Newangle City…"

Lyle pawed at the map just east of the large dot and rubbed a circle around it, before looking back up at his teammates.

"We just need to go towards it," he explained. "There's a bunch of trade routes that converge on the capital, and it shouldn't be that hard to convince a Carrier to make a stop at a smaller town along the way."

The other Outlaws paused and thought the matter over to themselves. The plan didn't seem unreasonable, and even Irune seemed to show signs of wavering over the idea. Even so, the little Dragon-type couldn't help but paw uneasily at herself as she couldn't think her way around one last problem.

"There's just one problem, Lyle," she said. "How are we supposed to come across a Carrier in the first place to make an offer after all the trouble we got into?"

Lyle paused and hesitated for a moment, before glancing down at the stolen scarf about his neck and turning to his fellows with a wary click of his tongue.

"There's a town nearby we can try, but we're really going to be counting on these disguises to carry us if we go there…"

Not even two minutes later, the Outlaws came to a shared decision to try their luck finding a Carrier as Lyle proposed, and made their way back onto the dirt path through the forest.

The four headed south along the path, stepping around occasional ruts left behind by wagons that had come through and brushing past red-leaved bushes and trees. Their destination, as Lyle explained, was a nearby trading town called Moonturn Square, and as a 'mon who lived in the area, one he was uniquely well-prepared to help them navigate around.

A quick glance up in the sky revealed that it was already past noon. While their rest had been much-needed, it was unlikely that Lacan hadn't already realized that they'd found a way out of Waterhead Cave. As they made their way forward, the group's eyes caught the sight of a tiny shingled rooftop poking out from a bend in the path ahead. The Quilava blinked briefly at the sight but otherwise paid it no heed, while Irune cocked her head curiously at the structure.

"Huh? I didn't think that anyone had a shop or a house all the way out here…" the Axew murmured. "I thought that Civils that lived this far out in the hinterlands usually kept nests or burrows."

"That's because it's not a house," Lyle said. "Though I think I have a pretty good idea of where we are right now."

As the four came around the bend, they came across a tall column made of white stone topped with a spindly enclosure made of whitewashed wood and light gray shingles. There inside, was a statue fashioned of white stone of a Pokémon with broad wings, a cone-like tail, and a wispy split mane that trailed off behind a head with lupine features. A glance at the column's surroundings revealed that it had been built slightly off-center of a space fashioned from gray tiles. Off to the left, in the direction the statue's head was facing off in, was a stub of a column formed of black stone. The wear on it seemed to indicate it'd been broken some time ago, but like so many things in Varhyde these days, it had simply never been repaired or replaced.

"Well, that'd be a half-truth, Lyle," Dalton remarked. "It's still a place for a Pokémon, but not a normal one."

The Heliolisk wasn't wrong. Lyle recognized the column as the Bildstock₂ on the western approach into Moonturn Square. A shrine built around a roadside pillar to the kingdom's patron goddess right before travelers would start encountering its ringing fields and earthier accommodations fringe-dwellers kept like the dingy burrow he'd called home for the past two years. The four neared the pillar, where they noted a triangular insignia with circles at its corners, the same Schild der Wirklichkeit₃ emblazoned on the armor of every Gendarm and soldier in the army… except it felt like it rightfully belonged here. As the three made their way up to the column, Dalton cocked his head puzzledly, before letting out a quiet murmur.

"Huh. Looks like it's not all that old either," the Heliolisk said. "If I had to guess, it couldn't possibly be older than King Sansa's reign."

Irune looked over with a stunned blink at her Electric-type companion, her mouth hanging slightly agape.

"… How were you able to tell that from just looking at it?"

"Well, I did learn a few things before I became an Outlaw. But the biggest tell is that the runes engraved on it are the same ones we use for everyday writing," he replied. "Older shrines of this sort usually have ones that look like footprints, and the really old ones that are still around use a different script that looks completely different."

Lyle blinked a moment at the Heliolisk's explanation, but it did seem to check out. Along the column were inscriptions on its different sides in neat rows of runes. Their orderings revealed segments that were clearly meant to be read in Commontongue and others meant to be read in Hightongue, a mark that whoever had commissioned the shrine up had been learned and likely had deep pockets.

There were notes wedged in between gaps in the stones, and one of them had chanced to have fallen out. Lyle couldn't help but let curiosity get the better of him as made his way up to the slip and stooped down to open it. The Fire-type darted his eyes back and forth along the paper, reading a string of muddy runes…

"… 'I have a crush on my cousin, Lime'?"

Lyle blinked, and flattened his ears out with a befuddled frown as he double-checked the slip to make sure he didn't misread it. As he gaped over it, he felt a scaly set of fingers brush at him, as he turned to see Dalton narrowing his eyes at him with an unimpressed frown.

"You shouldn't read through those, Lyle," the Heliolisk harrumphed. "Someone obviously felt deeply in over their head to be moved to appeal to this goddess for help like that."

"Well obviously if he had a crush on a 'mon named 'Lime' of all things," Kate scoffed, drawing a disapproving frown from her Axew counterpart.

Lyle glanced further down the paper, and instantly felt a pang of guilt over having read it. There, right below the confession of the author's feelings for his cousin, was a plea for protection from the rumored Army levy that was said to be about to go out in Moonturn Square.

… Right, it was said Reshiram was quickest to lend aid those who acknowledged reality and hid no truths from her, so Pokémon like whoever had written this thing aired their dirty little secrets in the hopes that they'd get divine aid… not that he had any idea how that was supposed to work with a goddess who was dead.

The Quilava slotted the paper back in between the stones as his attention turned to the offerings that less bold or desperate Pokémon brought to such places: a small pile of gummies, berries, and a few hunks of bread had been set out in front of the white column. Lyle felt his stomach growl at the sight of the food, and licked the corners of his mouth as Kate waltzed up beside the pile, waving to her teammates.

"Well look on the bright side," the Sneasel said. "We just found breakfast for ourselves."

Kate stooped down and snatched a red gummi from the pile of offerings and gingerly bit into it.

Her teammates visibly hesitated. Dalton turned his head with an askew glance as she ate, while Irune rolled her eyes with an unimpressed grumble. Sensing the frosty reception, Kate popped the rest of her gummi into her mouth and gulped down the remains, before turning and folding her arms with a sharp scoff.

"Oh come on, what's that look for?" she asked. "If I don't take this stuff, it'll just wind up in the belly of some Wilder!"

Dalton shot her an annoyed look. "That's the point. You leave an offering knowing that the gods will share it with passing Wilders in need—"

"Yes, and the gods are dead," Kate shot back, crossing her arms. "Besides, these offerings are also for needy travelers. See anyone else who fits the bill better than us right now?"

Lyle rolled his eyes with a small scoff. "Kate, that's not what you think that word means-"

"Oh, come off it already!" she snorted. "After everything we've gone through, are you really getting hung up over helping ourselves to a little food?"

The Sneasel stooped down and gathered up a few gummis and berries into her paws. All the while, Irune and Dalton both watched with disapproving frowns, as the Heliolisk shook his head with a low grumble.

"Kate, this is a shrine to the patron goddess of Varhyde," Dalton snapped. "I know that we're in a tough situation, but doing this isn't exactly going to make you popular if you get found out-"

"We're already unpopular, Scales. So are you going to eat, or what?"

Kate took her pawful of food and ducked off a few paces to eat as Dalton shook his head and slipped back out of the shrine with a low sigh. Irune opened her mouth to protest, only to think better of it and slip off muttering to herself under her breath. Lyle went up towards the statue to pull Kate along, when he felt his own stomach growl.

The Quilava reared up and pawed at his belly, realizing that he hadn't eaten anything since their merrymaking back at the Pocket in Waterhead Cave… and that a full nine floors of a Mystery Dungeon and half a day had passed since then. As if he'd been eating much even back on his job at the Oran Field..

… The offerings were supposed to be fair game for desperate travelers, weren't they?

The Fire-type sighed, before grabbing a hunk of dark bread from the offering pile as Kate shot him an aside glance with a quiet scoff.

"Hey, don't beat yourself up too much," Kate teased. "A 'mon's gotta eat."

Lyle flattened his ears in reply and bit down into the bread chunk, grudgingly consuming it. Beyond being a bit stale, there was nothing wrong with the bread. But even so, something didn't sit right with him about doing this.

Lyle didn't consider himself a superstitious type, after all, he was born and raised in Freeden Village. Growing up in a place where the largest shrine to a god was boarded up long before his father was born, one that 'mons who were more superstitiously-minded said was uniquely disfavored by the gods, had a way of inuring one to such sentiments.

… Was it those memories of home that made him uncomfortable? Was it the times Alvin had drug him along to shrines like these before jobs he was nervous about? Alvin had always put more stock in Latios shrines since the dragons were allegedly patron deities for thieves. But he'd always play along and leave a few berries or coins from his loot alongside the Marowak. 'Just in case', he'd reassure him…

… and every time, it would never fail to lift the Marowak's spirits or raise his confidence. Not that that his patron was there for him in the end.

"Hey, Princess."

Lyle shook his head back to attention and turned to see Kate prodding at him impatiently.

"We had a town to get to," she said. "Were we going, or what?"

Lyle turned back and blinked briefly, looking down at a half-eaten gummi in his paws. … Maybe it was just those raw doubts of last night lingering on him, and he was overthinking everything. The Quilava let out a low sigh, before turning his attention back to his food.

"Right, let's get going."

The stoat hastily finished up his meal, lowered his head, and returned back to the path with Kate, who downed the last of her pilfered breakfast on the way back, and made their way back towards Dalton and Irune just in time to hear them talking with one another.

"Er… actually, what are we supposed to do for food?" Irune murmured.

"There should be some wild berries we can forage along the way," the Heliolisk insisted. "It'll tide us over until we can snag a better meal. I hope."

Lyle could hear the pair's stomachs rumble as he neared, as Irune cast a glance back at the Bildstock and for a brief moment began to retrace her steps, only to stop herself before begrudgingly continuing on instead. The two sure were an unlikely couple when it came to being judging over taking shrine offerings meant for the needy. He hoped that wasn't a sign of something deeper about the two…

"Are these two going to be this picky about choosing out marks?" Lyle sighed.

Lyle picked up his pace, leading the group back down the path. After making their way along the path, the Heliolisk tilted his head and spoke up warily.

"You already know where we need to go, Lyle?" the Electric-type asked.

"Well, yeah. I've been through this path a few times," the stoat replied. "Based off the shrine back there, we should be about an hour's trek from Moonturn Plaza. We should be coming up on some landmarks that'll help point the way forward for us."

The other Outlaws blinked and traded puzzled glances with one another. Lyle was supposed to be from around these parts, but to know signs to find Moonturn Square? From all the way out here in the woods?

"Wait, we are?" Kate asked. "How on earth can you tell? Just what are we looking for?"

Lyle said nothing as the top made their way to the top of the hill. There, as they crested it, they could see a tall, vaguely triangular gray tower with missing rectangular patches on its surface off in the distance. It loomed over the surrounding fields and a large river bend that appeared to pass near its base. After moving their gaze towards the ground, they saw it: the stony ledges and earthen ramparts of a bastion fort, which barely hid the shingled and thatched rooftops that rose behind them. The Quilava shook his head in reply as his teammates gaped at the tower in the distance, before speaking up with a low harrumph.

"Signs of civilization. And it's not too much further ahead from the looks of it."

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Graf Wellenhafen - Alternative manner of rendering Graf von Wellenhafen. In German, Graf [Place], Graf von [Place], and permutations incorporating names such as Graf [Name] von [Place] are all equivalent and interchangeable ways of referring to a person holding that nobiliary title.
2. Bildstock - A type of religious wayside shrine found throughout the Germanosphere, the specific style of Bildstock depicted here is more technically a 'Tabernakelpfeiler'.
3. Schild der Wirklichkeit - "Shield of Reality"

Teaser Text:

In the early years after the Great Flash and its great churning of the world, there was a great commotion to try and preserve the knowledge of the bygone humans as long as their works still remained in Wander. From the knowledge they could save, the ancients fashioned the first recipes for the gummis that fill our bellies and the first scripts that we read and wrote.

During this time, two lands across a great sea that opened amidst the turmoil of the Great Flash were settled under the guidance of two wanderers that none know from where they came. North and east of the sea, Klaus the Founderᵃ pitched his camp in a land where the goddess we call 'Reality'ᵇ chose as a place of rest from her wanderings about our unsettled world. It is said Klaus wished that the Pokémon he dwelt with would always seek the fullest understanding of the reality of the world about them, and founded a kingdom in honor of the patron who first lent it aid, which is to this day called 'Varhyde'.

South and west of the sea, Galea the Machinistᶜ pitched her camp in a land where the god that we call 'Wish'ᵈ chose as a place of rest from his wanderings amidst the world we call home. It is said that she wished that the Pokémon she dwelt with would always be filled with the yearning to pursue their wishes to reshape their surrounding world as they found fit, and she too founded a kingdom in honor of the god that dwelt there and heeded her land's pleas for help, which in honor of the patron who helped it first is to this day called 'Edialeigh'.

Little is known either of King Klaus or Queen Galea as even the kinds of Pokémon they were have been lost to the ages, but records of their sayings remain, along with their names, their epithets, and knowledge that the two once hailed from a common land. It is believed the two at some point became sworn enemies, for as long as our history has been recorded, the kingdoms they founded have yet to know a peace with each other that was not stained with bitter enmity.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. The most common meaning of Erbauer is a 'builder', particularly a 'master builder' when used to refer to a singular party. Using it in the context of 'founder' like this is particularly flowery / poetic / glorifying in language. In more neutral prose, Klaus here would more likely be referred to as a 'Gründer' ('founder') or a 'Gündungsvater' ('founding father') with regard to his kingdom. 'Erbauer' was ultimately chosen for Klaus' epithet since the term fit his character in this setting under more than one meaning of the term.
b. German has two words that are commonly translated as 'reality', 'Wirklichkeit' and 'Realität'. While the two can be used interchangeably in some contexts, 'Realität' is used more for perceived reality while 'Wirklichkeit' carries connotations of actuality or objective reality.
c. Maschinenschlosser(in) specifically refers to a 'machinist' in the sense of someone who assembles large, complicated machines as a profession, and is most commonly utilized as a job title.
d. Wunsch is normally translated as 'wish' in English, particularly in the sense of a wish as a 'desire harbored or expressed by someone whose fulfillment is hoped for'. As such, in some contexts, it can function as 'desire' and be translated accordingly.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Die Zeit unmittelbar nach dem glühenden Blitz war eine Ära großer Umbrüche. Wie ohne die Menschen, die einst unsere Vermittler waren, wandten sich die Pokémon unserer Welt gegeneinander. Inmitten von Verwirrung und Gewalt zogen sich die Pokémon, die unter den Menschen lebten, in die Räume zurück, die ihre Vermittler gebaut hatten und die nach dem großen Aufruhr der Welt immer noch standen. Zu ihren Türmen, ihren Amphitheatern, ihren großen Märkten. Überall, der zu einer Schanze und einem Zufluchtsort ausgebaut werden konnte.

Diese chaotischen Zeiten ließen unter dem Schutz der Gelöbnis und der Führung von Klaus der Erbauer und der Göttin, die auf seine und unsere Bitten um Hilfe hörte, nach. Nach der Geburt der Ordnung, die unsere Welt untermauert, gab es eine kurze, glänzende Ära, in der es schien, als gäbe es Hoffnung, dass das Wissen der Menschheit gerettet und an unsere Zivilisationen weitergegeben werden könnte. Mit einen großen, strahlenden Glanz, von dem einige sagten, dass es das Potenzial hatte, das wiederherzustellen, was unsere Welt durch den Glühenden Blitz verloren hat. Während andere, der Erbauer selbst eingeschlossen, darauf bestanden, dass es riskierte, sie vollständig zu ruinieren.

Diese Hoffnungen wurden mit Blitz und Feuer in Schutt und Asche gelegt, als Wunsch und Wirklichkeit in Wunder zum ersten Mal zusammen mit den Ländern, die sie als Gönner begrüßten, aufeinander prallten. Da schnitten sich die beiden zum ersten Mal zusammen mit der Schwelle, die zwischen ihnen stand. Inmitten der zurückgelassenen Unordnung wurde jener strahlender Glanz zerschmettert und mit ihm verblasste das menschliche Wissen, welches wir uns noch nicht angeeignet hatten. Was auch immer vor diesem schicksalhaften Kampf der Götter geschrieben worden sein mag, nichts als bloße Fetzen blieben für uns übrig, über die wir uns danach hermachen konnten.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

The hour after Lyle and his companions reached the top of the hill and set off for Moonturn Square and its anchoring spire went by without incident. The expected scenery of the hinterlands was there, with fields and simple dwellings whose only markers to distinguish them from a Wilder's nest were the presence of mailposts and mats set out in front of them. A few particularly unenviable abodes of the style consisted of nothing more than such a mat and postbox, with naught but the bare sky above and a threadbare blanket or two for shelter.

Right about when Lyle had predicted they'd come across Moonturn Square, he and his fellow Outlaws approached a wooden bridge over a slender, swift-moving river, built over the stony stubs of something sturdier and more robust that used to stand there. After five prior invasions from Edialeigh, most newer bridges were built in such a fashion. As the four made their way onto the bridge and began to cross, their ears picked up the sound of loud buzzing that hung in the air much like the drone of an angry Beedrill. Kate and Dalton blinked a moment at the sound, as Irune shrank back, looking about nervously.

"What on earth is that noise? Is someone fighting up ahead?" she asked. Lyle quirked a brow briefly, before pinning his ears back in annoyance and rearing up to point off to his left.

"What? You've never heard a Schöpfrad₁ turning before?"

Irune turned her head and glanced off at a set of tall, wooden wheels upstream that rotated along with the water. The Axew watched as the wheels kept turning, bringing up buckets that transferred from one wheel to the next up to a stone aqueduct that towered high in the air. The Dragon-type followed the stone channel's path, seeing the stone was visibly mismatched in color in different places, but snaked off towards the top of a flattened hilltop with straight, steep ledges and almost triangular protrusions that poked out of them. After noticing that the gray spire they saw from afar jutted off into the sky from behind the ramparts, the Axew blinked, and belatedly realized that the wheels were merely supplying water to the town they'd seen off in the distance. She brought a claw up to the back of her head, biting her tongue and blushing a little from visible embarrassment.

"Er… I usually saw smaller and quieter ones," she replied. "I… didn't exactly get out of my village much before I became an Outlaw."

"Hrmph, consider this a lesson then. Just keep an eye out for a wagon we can hitch a ride on," Lyle said. "We have no idea how much trouble we're all in right now. Even with these Hunter scarves, I don't feel like blindly gambling on the Gendarmen at the gate not noticing us."

Dalton raised a brow back at Lyle, before folding his arms skeptically.

"So then why lead us here if you're not even confident we can enter the town safely?"

"Again, we're looking for a Carrier to get us out of here in a hurry. And as a trading hub, Moonturn Square is the closest place to find one," the Quilava insisted. "If we're really in enough trouble to the point where a scarf change wouldn't help us for more than a day or two, we ought to get things squared away for getting out of dodge before word really starts getting around."

The Heliolisk gave no rebuttal to Lyle's explanation. Evidently, even though he appeared skeptical, he couldn't think of a better alternative to propose. Lyle's other companions seemed more unbothered by his argument, as Kate chimed in with a shrug of her shoulders.

"Personally, I'd be fine with just walking up to the gate and booking it if it looked like the guards were onto us," she said, rolling her eyes theatrically. "Buuuuut you're the local here."

Lyle motioned for his fellow Outlaws to follow him under the bridge, where they crouched and waited. After a few moments, they heard heavy footsteps and rolling wheels approaching, prompting the four to poke their heads out and see a Mudsdale making her way over pulling a wagon laden with crates covered by a worn tarp alongside with a Gurdurr that kept watch with a scavenged metal beam at his ready that had visibly been flecked with patches of rust.

Lyle and the others shrank back into the shadows and waited for the wagon to cross over them, following after the sound of stomping hooves and wheels loudly clattering against its timbered span as the four crept along up the approach of the bridge. Lyle paused and waited for the Gurdurr to head up towards the front of the wagon to talk with the Puller as she stopped, before motioning to his teammates and letting out a low whisper.

"Come on, hurry!"

Lyle darted up to the open back of the wagon and hopped on, spotting a gap between a pair of crates just big enough for him to poke his shoulders into, which a quick glimpse revealed blocked off an empty space further inside. The stoat ducked up, and wedged his body between the crates, before curling in and pushing against the wood just enough to widen the gap just enough for Dalton's body to fit. The stoat rolled back onto his feet and darted in where he discovered the empty space he'd seen had come from other crates and barrels that had jostled about in transit.

The Quilava heard Dalton follow after him, then Irune, and finally Kate, who wedged her claws into the wood of the rightmost crate and pulled it to the left to make the gap less noticeable. Not a moment too soon, it sounded, as the Gurdurr's footsteps could be heard and for a brief moment, the Pokémon hesitated just past the freshly-closed gap. The Fighting-type hesitated and prodded at the crate with his beam with a few low thumps. Lyle and his companions held their breaths.

The scent of something that reminded him of seawater hung in the air, hopefully enough to mask their scents, though with how close their quarters were with the Fighting-type… either way, there was nothing for them to do but wait tensely, as worry that the Fighting-type would discover them at any moment burned at their stomachs. Except the feared discovery never came to pass, as they heard footsteps drifting away and a low, grumbling voice on the other end.

"Damn roads always jostle these things around," the Gurdurr's voice muttered. "We oughta invest in a better set of ties one of these days."

Lyle and his companions flinched from behind the crate hiding them from the Gurdurr's line of sight after hearing it creak against the wood of the cart, before the Gurdurr bodyguard carried on. The cart suddenly jostled forward, Kate losing her footing once and stepping on Dalton's tail as he struggled to stifle a pained yelp. After growing satisfied that they had not been overheard and attempting to spread out to the best of their ability in the cramped space, Kate slipped her claws between the crates and pulled their covering one rightward, allowing the Outlaws a glimpse of the world behind them.

The wagon rolled along as the bridge and aqueduct shrank into the background, the wagon lurching up along the road up the inclines that climbed the straight, star-like defensive lines. The same ones they'd seen from the hill that led up to the town's gates where cannons and dart-throwers to sling the likes of Apricorn shot and Blast Seed shells were meant to be wheeled out and dug in in times of trouble.

Lyle cast a wary glance at the surrounding crates and barrels, and shoved at them whenever they jostled too close to his body from a bump in the road. He stiffened up at the sound of chatter from the right side of the wagon, the Quilava wondering for a moment if they were passing a group of guards, only to notice mats and ragged tents pass their peephole along the right side of the road. A few Pokémon like a thin and scraggly-looking Mareep and Flaafy at the side of the road held their limbs out after the cart, only to turn away disappointedly as the cart rolled along.

"… There's still refugee camps all the way out here?" Kate whispered. "After what I heard about what happened to Port Reyn's, I'm surprised a place like this hasn't been cleared out."

It was a fair question. After all, it'd been seven years since the last Edialeighers from the last invasion had been driven from Varhyder soil or else taken prisoner, barring a few scattered groups that had turned to banditry. Most Pokémon who'd been displaced during the invasion had since drifted back to what was left of their homes, or else to new lives in their adoptive corners of Varhyde. Except, between much of the western coast having been sacked in the years before then, and Carolins seemingly losing their value by the moon, there were a large body of Pokémon that remained in limbo attempting to get by on odd jobs and the food dole outside larger settlements. Lyle could only guess that the refugees here hadn't become too much of a burden on the town quite yet. Because once they had… well, there were plenty of stories surrounding Port Reyn's clearances a couple years ago to give an idea of what would happen after that.

"What can I say?" the Quilava sighed. "Not every town is run by heartless bastards."

Lyle wasn't sure if he'd rather have preferred such types to have run Moonturn Square or not. The last time he willingly came here was when he'd gone to help recruit for the Foehn Gang about three years ago. Then, just as now, the camp had felt oppressive just approaching it. With how desperate some of the Pokémon they'd sized up as potential recruits were, the whole experience had left a bad taste in his mouth. Some part of him always felt guilty over the Pokémon they ultimately accepted, knowing they'd used those 'mons misfortune to win over their aid. Much as had been done to him when he first dipped his paws into banditry…

Not that the ones they turned down from the camp back then made him feel much better, especially how gutted some of them looked from being rejected.

It was the first and last time he helped scout for talent as an Outlaw outside of parties that he or a buddy personally knew, but he couldn't deny it was effective. Maybe some wiseguy among the local garrison figured out the math worked much the same for getting supposedly willful takers for army levies, and that was why the camp hadn't been cleared out yet.

The refugee camp mercifully slipped from view when the Outlaws suddenly felt the wagon lurch down and heard the clops of hooves and rattling of wheels striking wood. Kate looked back and realized that they were crossing another bridge similar in construction to the one over the earlier river, with ledges that dropped sharply into what looked like some manner of canal that turned abruptly like the points of a star. Kate blinked a moment, recognizing them to be…

"Wait, is that a moat?" she asked. "I thought we were going into a town, not a fort!"

"Larger towns tend to have them," Dalton remarked. "Still, I'm surprised Moonturn Square could build defenses like these. They couldn't possibly have been cheap to make."

Lyle didn't know the full story behind how Moonturn Square came to have its present defenses—only that they'd been built sometime before his father was born, when the town had been sacked early on in the war. The defenses had been the town's pride and joy since then, along with its great spire from the human era, and allowed it to endure the worst Edialeigh had thrown against it since then, even if some areas were more obviously patched up than others from past fighting.

Lyle's mind turned towards tales his father had passed along about the moat. He had allegedly been told stories by his own parents of a time when the moat was originally dry and lined with Apricorn and Blast Seed mines that occasionally messed up some unfortunate traveler that wandered too far off the paths leading up to the town gates at night. At some point since then, the moat was linked to the nearby river and flooded for aquatic Pokémon to live in, and if necessary, to help defend the town with tooth and claw. Lyle was quietly grateful that he could only see a tiny sliver of all the water all about them, lest the knot in his belly get any worse from having his mind remember that he was surrounded by deep water right now.

… Maybe that had something to do with why the local Gendarmen were always looking for 'donations'. If the defenses weren't cheap to build, then how much did they cost to maintain?

The cart abruptly jolted to a stop, knocking Lyle down with a stifled yelp as he briefly flared up, blackening the wood of the crate beside him, earning an annoyed glare from Dalton and tense grimaces from Irune and Kate for his trouble. Movement could be heard from outside, as a pair of voices that Lyle couldn't recognize spoke up.

"Hold it, Mudsdale," the first voice growled. "We're gonna need to pull you aside for an inspection."

Lyle and his companions gulped inside the cart, when the Gurdurr abruptly cut in from outside, giving a frustrated huff in protest.

"We come here every week with the same old Gummi mix from Port Reyn!" the Fighting-type exclaimed. "What on earth is there to inspect?!"

"That's not important, and I wouldn't recommend you picking fights you can't win, Gurdurr," the second voice buzzed. "Though if you really wanna try your luck, go ahead and take a swing."

The Fighting-type audibly quieted, and Lyle sucked in a sharp breath as his companions visibly tensed up. Blauflamme! Of all the possible turns of fate to be had, they were going to be discovered by a bunch of Grünhäuter because of their attempts to avoid trouble! The Quilava's head suddenly felt dizzy and fought hard against a nervous urge to light up, when he heard a neighing voice speak up from ahead of the cart.

"Herr Duodino₂, Herr Scherox₃. I assure you that nothing has changed from the last time we made a delivery," the Mudsdale's voice insisted. "Surely we could come to an understanding of some sort?"

… Or maybe they wouldn't. From the way the Mudsdale was schmoozing the guards and the faint sound of coins jingling from up ahead, it seemed that the Puller they'd hitched a ride with was intending to pay her way out of trouble. There was a tense silence, before Lyle heard the guards murmur amongst themselves, and then the first voice, 'Herr Duodino' from the sound of it, spoke up.

"We guess we can take 30 Carolins between the three of us to move things along."

"40," 'Herr Scherox' cut in. "Having two heads doesn't mean you suddenly get twice as much as me!"

There was a brief silence with the sound of movement in front of the cart, before it lurched forward and carried on. Lyle and his companions looked back as they passed through a stone gate, where much as everyone had gathered from the conversation, they spotted a Zweilous and a Scizor in Grünhäuter armor readying themselves to badger another wagon approaching in the distance. Through their narrow window, the four caught a glimpse of earthen lanes and stone-and-wood shacks with thatched and shingled roofing on either end.

Lyle let out a stifled yelp as he abruptly pitched into one of the crates, the cart suddenly hung a sharp turn and he lit up out of reflex and blackened the wood again. Good thing that wasn't his stuff there. The Quilava hastily smothered the errant cinders much to his teammates' frowning annoyance when a tall, broad structure entered their vision from around the corner and the cart suddenly stopped and lingered. After a moment waiting to pick out the Gurdurr's voice talking with the Mudsdale from the front, Kate wedged herself back between the crates, pushed them wide, before popping out onto the ground behind the wagon and motioning for her teammates to follow.

"Psst! This is our chance to bail!" she whispered. "Before that Gurdurr comes poking around!"

None of the Outlaws needed any further prompting. Irune hopped out first, followed by Dalton, who lost his footing and fell flat onto his stomach, dragging Lyle on top of him with a quiet yelp. The pair laid there and cringed, expecting the Mudsdale Puller or her bodyguard to whirl around at any moment, only to hear the cart's wheels rumbling and see that she was mercifully lumbering on none the wiser.

"Oi, are you two just going to lie there?" Kate scolded. "Get up already!"

After a moment to catch their breaths, Dalton and Lyle got up with a shared sigh of relief and hurried away from the cart. The four darted out of the lane, which they quickly discovered to be a back alley, and stepped out into the sunlight where their eyes drifted up to the tall gray spire at the center of town.

After noticing that they were still deep in the shade, they turned around and discovered the broad structure they'd spotted earlier: a tall mass of structures built up atop what seemed to be a large, gray concrete base. The whole jumble of buildings had been laid out almost like a ring with small windows and gaily-colored buildings made of wooden timbers and shingled roofs attached to it. Kate, Dalton, and Irune stared at the mass of structures in rapt amazement, only to see that their Quilava guide appeared unmoved beyond a shake of his head as he dropped onto his forepaws and started off for the mass of structures.

"I know where we are," Lyle said. "Follow me."

After a moment to regain their bearings, Lyle led his companions off towards the tall mass of structures that loomed over the surrounding shacks and huts' rooftops until the four came across a cobbled road that ran straight from the gate to a broad breach in the heaped-up buildings. Through the gap, they could see that there were really two layers of buildings built on top of some sort of foundational structure underneath with exposed passages at various levels that seemed to lead to other shopfronts and homes built directly among ancient halls and pillars. There was a long, tawny tarp hung from the right end to the left over the gap to provide shade, and the street in between the two sides of the breach was packed with Pokémon and carts making their way in and out of an open space beyond it.

"This is probably the best place to start looking around for a Carrier," the Quilava remarked. "Come on, there should be some places they hang out in up ahead."

Lyle's companions traded curious looks with one another, before the Quilava led his companions past the tarp, where they emerged into a large, almost bowl-like square filled with a bustling crowd of Pokémon of what seemed to be every imaginable form and color. Steps seemed to radiate in all directions around the square, going up some manner of hill that rings of the timbered buildings had been built up along. At the center was a plaza with a prominent pole with lights made of ancient resin hung from it, and colorful stalls and shops about it in all directions.

The four made their way deeper into the square. There was a Turtonator blacksmith working a red-hot lump of metal over an anvil in one of the shops around the ring, a shop displaying scarves from the awning staffed by a Leavanny tailor, and more stalls hawking produce and assorted bric-a-brac than they could count. Why, there was even one specializing in playing cards with illustrations of Pokémon on them that had both youngsters and grown 'mons alike gawking at its wares.

A few of the places had been obviously styled after various Pokémon, including one prominent, rounded shop modeled after a Kecleon's head wedged near a set of steps up the bowl-like hill that loomed over the nearby stalls.A number of the shops sported signs insisting on payment in Poké. There probably was some sort of sad comment to be made about how the Kingdom's own coinage was less trusted than what was essentially merchant scrip from the Colorswap Consortium, but that was hardly an Outlaw's problem beyond knowing which of the two was safe to hide away in a hole in the ground.

And of course, there were the Gendarmen and soldiers in their green plates loafing around that made the four reflexively stiffen up as they drifted by. Lyle didn't know if they were on-duty or not, but he doubted any of them had any interest in going over to find out. In spite of it, here in the market, one could almost forget that Varhyde was bleeding and reeling from a war being fought from across an entire sea. The Quilava noted that Irune seemed particularly impressed by the sight, as she blinked and eyed her surroundings with a sense of bewildered awe, before turning with a puzzled tilt of her head to her partners.

"Where are we?" the Axew murmured. "I thought you said we were just going to a trading town, Lyle."

"This is the trading town. More specifically its central marketplace," Lyle explained, cracking a small smile. "Long ago, Moonturn Square was founded in and on top of the human ruin underneath all these buildings here. The town obviously outgrew it, but you could pick worse places to build a settlement."

Lyle led the party over to the lightpole in the center of the plaza and hopped atop a small platform at the base as he raised a paw to scan his surroundings. Dalton stared up at the ancient pole and its wreathing lights, before giving a curious tilt of his head.

"You certainly don't come across too many ruins like these," the Heliolisk remarked. "Though do you come here often? You speak as if you're familiar with this place."

"I've been around enough to get a feel for the place," Lyle replied. "The field I worked at normally's about an hour's journey just west of here."

The Quilava trailed off and pinned his ears back nervously. He brought his paw back down to his side and glanced about his surroundings uneasily.

"I just hope that that doesn't work against us…"


The Outlaws froze and felt their blood chill as they saw a shadow fall over them and heard a low, rumbling voice bark at them from behind. The lot turned around, where, much to their horror, they saw an Aggron in green armor plates glaring sharply down at them.

"That's a historical landmark, not a bench!" the Aggron snapped. "What do you think you're doing clambering on it like some Wilder Mankey?!"

Kate, Dalton, and Irune felt the color drain from their faces as the Aggron lumbered forward. Just then, they noticed Lyle's features ease as he seemed to sigh out of relief, before hurriedly hopping off his perch and forcing a sheepish, apologetic smile over his face. The Aggron stopped briefly and eyed the four suspiciously, when his attention fell on the four's red-and-silver scarves as he gave a puzzled quirk of his brow.

"Eh? I've seen those patterns of yours before," the Aggron said. "You're with that traveling rescue team that pulled into the guild the other day. 'Team Wayfinder', I think."

"Heh heh, that's right, Oberwachtmeister Stolloss!" Lyle spoke up, giving a cheerful smile back. "Sorry, didn't realize you weren't supposed to climb up there. We just joined the team and were having a bit of trouble finding our new digs!"

Kate and Dalton quietly shot back befuddled stares at their Quilava teammate. Thankfully, the armored Aggron didn't seem to notice them, as he trained his attention back to Lyle with a toothy grin.

"'Oberwachtmeister Stolloss'? Please, you don't have to try that hard to get on my good side, Quilava," he remarked. "'Sheriff Mack' is fine. Rolls off the tongue a bit easier, too. Though I assume you were trying to find the lodgings at the Guild, right? Because that's easy."

The Aggron turned and pointed off at the gray tower poking high into the sky over the rim of the bowl-like mass of buildings, and then off at a path leading through another gouge in the walls of the central market off in its direction. Lyle and his companions blinked a moment, as mixed in with the traffic, groups of Pokémon in coordinated scarves could occasionally be spotted shuffling off to and from the tower's direction in pairs, trios, and occasionally in still larger groups. There was nothing to doubt the Aggron's insinuation that there was Guild for Hunters at the spire, and the Steel-type seemed to be proud of himself for being able to point it out so effortlessly.

"It's built right in the hollow of the Great Spire," Mack said. "Why even a Deino wouldn't be able to miss it!"

Lyle gave a cheerful smile back as his teammates traded nonplussed looks with one another. After flattening her ears out and pawing at her shoulder, Kate warily spoke up and began to pace forward.

"Er… thanks?" she said. "Though I think that we can handle it from here."

The Sneasel started off for the guild, with Dalton and Irune hesitantly following along. The lot hoped that pretending to head off for it for a minute or two would be enough to keep the guard's curiosity at bay, only for him to abruptly sidestep and cut off her path.

"Huh? What gives?" Kate asked, only to be met by Mack peering down and holding out an open claw.

"Well, it's been a bit of a long day on the beat," the Steel-type explained. "So I was just wondering if you four would be interested in helping a humble Gendarm beat the heat a bit."

Kate shot a frown back up to the Aggron, before attempting to brush past him with a quiet harrumph.

"… Have you considered just standing in the shade for a bit?" she asked. "I think that'd help you a lot more than anything we've got-"

The Sneasel was abruptly cut off by a low growl, Lyle shooting a wide-eyed stare back at her. Kate blinked, before looking back up at the Aggron, where any trace of his earlier friendly attitude was gone, and replaced with a sharp glare with his horns lowered threateningly towards her.
"You oughta not blow off 'mons so casually when they're being polite, Sneasel," Mack insisted. "The least you can do when someone gives you a helping claw is to show a little appreciation in return."

At once a realization came over the group, as Irune's features fell into an unimpressed scowl when she realized just why this 'Sheriff' wouldn't let them pass.

"Wait, are you seriously asking for a bribe for giving us basic directions?" the Axew scoffed. "That spire was literally impossible for any of us to miss!"

The Aggron's mood seemed to take a turn for the worse, as he stomped forward with bared fangs, the Steel-type held a claw out and pointed it accusingly as he snarled down at the little Dragon-type and her companions.

"Look, Fräulein. I bust my tail to help keep little runts like you safe," Mack snapped. "If you and your team want to have a good time here in town, I'd strongly suggest that you show some respect where it's due-"


Irune, Dalton, and Kate fell silent as they watched Lyle take an Oran Berry from his satchel and hold it up before the Aggron. The Quilava gave a visibly forced smile, as he spoke up with audibly overeager friendliness to the much bigger and stronger Steel-type.

"We really don't have a whole lot. Times aren't exactly easy," he insisted. "We don't exactly have any drinks on us, but hopefully this'll help, won't it, Sheriff?"

The Aggron took the Oran Berry, and after giving a sniff at it, popped it into his mouth and chewed it. The Steel-type's features eased, as he gave a knowing smile down at the Quilava and his companions.

"Heh, that stoat friend of yours has got a good head on his shoulders," Mack remarked. "The rest of you could stand to learn a thing or two from him."

The sound of a crash rang out as a Clefairy holding a jug staggered about in a daze after knocking over a clay pot off a market shelf, a quick glance revealing the Pokémon had dilated pupils and red stains leaking out the corner of his mouth. An angry, shouting Diggersby stormed out, shoving the Clefairy over as the jug fell to the ground and spilled a thick, red liquid onto the ground. The Sheriff and the Outlaws watched as the Clefairy noticed the spilled liquid and got into an angry scuffle with the Diggersby, Mack throwing a claw over his face with an exasperated growl.

"Gottverdammt, another syrup drinker?" the Aggron grumbled, before shooting a stern frown down at the four Outlaws.

"I've got my claws full at the moment," he harrumphed. "Don't let me catch you four getting into any trouble again, you hear?"

"Heh, wouldn't dream of it, Sheriff!"

Lyle forced a smile and waved the Sheriff off before hurriedly scurrying in the direction of the other exit to the marketplace, his companions keenly keeping pace after him. After putting a bit of distance between themselves and the Aggron, Dalton's face fell into a sharp frown, as he looked back at his Quilava guide with an unimpressed harrumph.

"Hrmph, I never pegged you as the type to grovel like that, Lyle," the lizard scoffed. "I do hope that's not going to become a habit for you."

Irritated fire danced from Lyle's vents, the Quilava turning his head back with his eyes narrowed into a sharp glare at the Heliolisk.

"That Aggron's in charge of the Gendarmen of the entire Grafschaft₆ that covers this town and everything within a day's walk from it, you dense skink," he huffed. "If you want to burn through these Hunter disguises even faster than normal over your pride and whatever passed for 'idealism' on your old crew, by all means, go ahead."

Dalton scowled back but said nothing in response, as the stoat led his teammates up a flight of steps going up the bowl-like hill. After all, this was familiar territory for Lyle, while he was the 'mon presently in uncharted waters. Even so, Kate seemed to find something puzzling about the encounter, as she tilted her head back at Lyle with a small frown.

"I thought you said that the 'mon in charge of the Gendarmen here in Moonturn Square was some bossy pill of a Stoutland," she said. "You never said anything about him shaking down 'mons for bribes."

"What, Sheriff Vandamme? He got deployed to Edialeigh over a year ago," Lyle replied. "Though that was just him that was clean, and that's about the best that could be said for him. Considering the sort of ship he used to run with the guards, I'm not holding my breath on him coming back from Edialeigh in one piece."

The Sneasel flattened her ears and let out a grumbling sigh. Even if it was relieving to know that the local garrison hadn't been tipped off about them just yet, the wound to their pride lingered with the four. Even Irune seemed bothered by the Aggron's casual extortion, as she pawed at her shoulder and shook her head with a low grumble.

"Are we going to have to do this for every guard we come across?" she asked.

"Hrmph, those Grünhäuter always give some sort of self-justification for extorting 'mons like that. Usually they like to pretend it's circumstance forcing their claws as if just about everyone else in Varhyde isn't also having troubles with that," Dalton scoffed. "If we keep our berth from them, we should be able to stay in the clear."

The Heliolisk's advice drew a low sigh back from his Sneasel teammate. While it was sound, it was a bit late for them to act on. Lyle watched as the Dark-type pinned her ears back briefly, folding her arms with a wary frown.

"… Weren't we supposed to be talking to some Carriers right now?" Kate pressed. "Heck, how are we supposed to get a lift without getting asked questions about why we want to get out of dodge so badly?"

Lyle raised a paw and motioned off to a low-slung building up a flight of steps straddling a ramp on two sides that went up to a ledge that stopped just above some rooftops. On it, was a pictorial sign hanging over the door with a merry-looking Tepig and a somewhat drunken-looking Delphox with a mug of beer on it. Completely unsurprisingly, the runes on it revealed the establishment's name to be the 'Laughing Delphox and Tepig', with the smell of stale beer wafting out evidencing if nothing else, there was a tavern onsite. Like most other businesses in Varhyde, the proprietor couldn't take it for granted that all his customers could read, and while it was a bit subtler than a giant Delphox head, the signboard made it hard to confuse itthe tavern with another shop or competing tavern.

The place looked decently trafficked as well. Up in front of the tavern, a Bouffalant could be seen being unhitched from an empty cart and leaving it behind in a small row of similar carts and wagons wedged between the steps and ramp. The Bouffalant shuffled in through an open entrance lined with pull-down shutters followed by a Pelipper that grumbled about needing a drink after a recent mail run.

… Didn't they all? Lyle lowered his head, before giving a quiet snort back to his teammates.

"They tend to have a few hangouts they like to gather at in town, and just about anyone will take a job without asking too many questions when the right amount of money is on the line," he said. "That tavern's one of their more popular ones in town, and as you can see, it's conveniently located for us. Come on, there's bound to be someone inside who'll take a few passengers."

The four shuffled up the approach of the ramp and steps and past the eave of the tavern into an open doorway. There inside, they found a musky space that smelt of cheap beer set out with round, wooden tables. On the right side of the room, there was a long counter on one wall manned by an Emboar sporting a few prominent battle scars on his right arm. On the wall behind him was a display of bottles and jugs of various shapes and colors, with a dog-eared set of green army plates proudly hung just to its left. All about, the space was packed with patrons, many of them, like a Rhyhorn standing at a table opposite a seated Ambipom were burly Pokémon well-suited to pulling the carts and wagons up, while others like a Skarmory and a Talonflame preoccupied in a game of chance had wings.

A quick sniff of the air by Lyle revealed it smelled strongly of alcohol and the musk of patrons' sweat and other markers of a long, hard morning's work… or at least he hoped that was what he was smelling. Given the likes of an audibly slurring Spinda the four passed by, one could never tell in taverns like these. Sometimes it was better to remain blissfully ignorant. Over the hubbub of the chattering Pokémon, the sound of instrumented music floated over the air carrying a peppy tune.

The Outlaws turned and spotted a small band in the corner on a makeshift stage. A Rillaboom behind a wooden stump of a drum, a Kricketune whistling and chirping, and a Toxtricity with a frill of yellow sparks strumming his chest. Most curiously, there was a Pikachu seated at a row of orbs, rubbing at them to make them chime according to their kinds. Allegedly such arrays of orbs were used by musicians to try and recreate sounds from instruments where the knowledge of how to make them had been lost in the wake of the Great Flash. From the noises that were coming out—some of them that reminding him of a Porygon's chirps and drones—he guessed that the band was attempting to do much the same. At the fore of the musicians, a second Toxtricity with a frill of blue sparks and matching markings tapped her foot to the tune, before crowing out a small ditty over her gathered audience.

♫ Don't worry about the future, it's alright
Because a better picture we can't find
Just like our dreams, they've gotta be free, so
Anyway, let's move on~ ♫

Lyle pinned his ears back and moved along with a sour frown in reaction to the lyrics of the Electric-type's song as she continued on with her peppy tune that he was pretty sure had something to do about flying. Even if they weren't Outlaws who'd had their world collapse around them last night, Varhyde was in its… what, seventieth of war with Edialeigh now?

On top of that, there was the kingdom's Carolins losing value by the month, the on-and-off food shortages, and the threat of impressment by military levies. Worst of all, there was the lingering specter of the war's tides turning once again, to the point that the frontlines would come back home from across the sea along with a tide of baying soldiers in red plates.

How could one not worry about the future? Why, the only reason Lyle could think of was if one just concluded there was no future worth worrying about in the first place.

"… Catchy tune, it almost makes you feel like you're flying."

Lyle turned his head over to Irune and blinked for a moment, before shaking it back with a low sigh.

"Just don't get too used to it," the stoat remarked. "The sooner we get out of this place, the better."

Lyle shuffled forward as the other Outlaws watched him keenly, noting that as he went about, his attention stopped and lingered over Pokémon seated about the tavern who had wings. Irune looked about and took in her surroundings uneasily, before pawing again at the Quilava with a curious tilt of her head.

"Do you know any of these Pokémon, Lyle?" she asked. "Otherwise how do we know who it's safe to approach?"

"By looking for someone big who can get into the air and take us along with no questions asked," he explained. "Even if it'd potentially mean trouble for him."

Kate and Dalton raised a brow before the three's attention fell on a Dragonite seated on his own at a corner table with a trio of empty seats. The Dragon-type wore a teal scarf with three white bands forming an inverted triangle intersected with a stroke for a pattern, with a harness meant to be worn along his back with empty bags attached to it that had been dumped unceremoniously on the floor beside him. There, the drake pushed a frothing mug forward, before taking a small flask and pouring a red, syrupy liquid into it. The Dragon-type shook the mug around slightly, before drinking deeply and smacking his mouth, the three Outlaws staring at the sight with quiet blinks.

"Someone like that guy?" Kate asked. "Just how many questions is someone drinking Lansat Syrup gonna ask?"

"Yeah, he'll do," Lyle said, nodding back, prompting Irune to turn to him with a dubious frown.

"Will a 'mon with a substance habit like that even be able to get us out of here in one piece?" she asked.

"We'll figure out pretty quick after asking a couple questions," the stoat insisted. "Come on. He's not going to get any more lucid at this rate."

The four made their way up to the Dragonite's table, Lyle, Dalton, and Kate shuffling up the free seats and claiming them as Irune leaned onto her tiptoes to peer over the top. Lyle tapped his paw against the table for attention, prompting the Dragonite to look up from his drink with a start and shoot him a distrustful scowl. Had they really caught this 'mon that off-guard? One would think that a 'mon with as good of eyesight as Dragonite were supposed to would've seen them heading over well before they made it to his table. Lyle bit his lip and sucked in a breath quietly, before he raised his voice just loud enough to speak over the background chatter.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself," the Fire-type said. "Been on a long flight recently?"

"It comes with the territory," the Dragonite replied. "I'm set to run a batch of parcels out to Newangle City tomorrow morning, so I'm taking some time to unwind before then."

Lyle tensed up at the mention of the Dragonite's mention that he was headed off to Newangle City. Why, that was exactly the sort of Carrier they'd need to convince! From his end of the table, Dalton shot a wary glance from the side of his eye at the Dragonite's flask, before giving a small frown.

"By spiking your drinks with Lansat Syrup?" he asked. "You do know that that's not supposed to be a healthy mixture, right? Aren't you worried that anyone will notice?"

The Dragonite pinned his antennae back and shot a sharp glare across the table, clearly not thinking much of the Heliolisk's line of questioning.

"Hrmph, so I need a little more than some cheap swill to put myself in a good mood and forget about the world around me? So what?" the drake snapped back. "Odsent doesn't mind as long as he doesn't have to explain anything that happens in his bar to the Gendarmen, and a little dash like that will just put a 'mon my size into a minor buzz."

Lyle hesitated briefly. He'd heard stories of the army tolerating soldiers drinking some berry syrups at least as far back as his father's own stint in the army. Enough so that some of the merchants that orbited army encampments and garrisons were bold enough to ply flasks under euphemistic names like 'Drive'. Allegedly there were even some 'mons among the Trosse₇, the entourages that trailed after army units in the field, that had gotten into the act themselves.

There were syrups that went around among them made from the likes of Chesto Berries to stay alert and the likes of Kasib Berries to dull feelings of fear and anxiety, but never Lansat Berries. Whatever its effects for putting Pokémon into good moods, not even the most incompetent Hauptmann would tolerate his underlings going off to fight with their senses distorted as badly as what Lansat Syrup was capable of.

Gods, they had gotten lucky here. They'd found a Carrier who was already headed towards Newangle City, had reason to be tight-lipped around the guards, and was even making his next leg at just the right time they needed…

So naturally with the way the stars were lining up, there had to be a catch to fortune this good. Though there was only one way to find out what that would be, and it'd do them good to get a better feel for this 'mon anyways.

"That's actually about what we were hoping to hear from you, Dragonite," Lyle said. "Got a name by any chance? We were wondering what your rate would be to take four passengers out towards Newangle City as part of your next run."

The Dragonite paused, before shaking his head and lifting his mug again with a sharp frown.

"It's 'Hermes'," the Dragonite replied. "And sorry, I don't do passengers. I can't fly as fast while carrying 'em, and they're too much of a liability to keep safe on my runs."

"Too much of a liability for a Dragonite to keep safe?" Kate asked, raising a brow. "That shouldn't be a hard feat for a 'mon of your sort. Though it makes me wonder how on earth a tough guy like you managed to dodge conscription all this time-"

Hermes seemed to reflexively stiffen up at Kate's 'tough guy' comment and quietly bared his teeth. Maybe Hermes wasn't as tough as he looked. Lyle supposed he'd heard of stories before of Wilders that had evolved unnaturally early from exposure to the Distortion of Mystery Dungeons… had something similar happened to him in the past?

Whatever the story behind it was, the comment seemed to have hit a nerve. Given the turn in the 'mon's mood, it was probably for the best not to press the matter further.

"Look, having flights that go wrong on your record isn't good for business for a Carrier. Especially ones with passengers," he spat. "I already have my claws full keeping parcels safe from Outlaws and crabby Wilders taking pot shots at me during my runs."

Kate, Dalton, and Irune traded wary glances with one another. The Sneasel of the group pawed at Lyle and quietly mouthed 'let's just try someone else', only for him to brush her off and harrumph back at the Dragonite.

"Everybody's got a price at which they're willing to make an exception," the stoat insisted. "So what would be yours?"

Hermes drank from his mug, before folding his arms and scowling. The drake reflexively opened his mouth to speak, before pausing and easing his features with a skeptical tilt of his head.

"And what's got you in such a hurry, huh?"

"That's not any more important than us knowing why you've got illicit substances on you," the Quilava retorted. "The point is that we need a lift in the direction of the Capital."

The Dragonite said nothing at first, before narrowing his eyes back at the four across the table.

"Maybe, but you can't expect me to accept a job from a 'mon that can't give me any details to work with. Why, you haven't even told me your names," the Dragon-type scoffed. "What's gotten you so tight-lipped? Did you four kill someone or something?"

Kate and Dalton shifted uneasily, as Lyle paused with his features kept in a firmly neutral expression, before he spoke up with an impatient huff.

"… You don't need to worry about it, just like we don't need to worry about the things you do to keep yourself going in the day," the Fire-type replied. "Though the name's 'Igel'. My pals and I together are 'Team Forager', the Exploration Team we put together."

Hermes raised a brow at the Quilava and curled his mouth into a frown.

"Your parents seriously named you 'Igel' when you hatched? As in the same 'Igel' from 'Feurigel'? Talk about being unimaginative," he scoffed. "What, do you have a brother named 'Quil' or something?"

"Look, you asked for a name and I gave you one, alright?" Lyle snapped. "So just what'll the cost to persuade you be?"

"Where specifically do you need to go?" the Dragonite asked. "I'm running an express flight tomorrow and the only stop I was planning on making was at Toya Square to rest my wings a bit before making the final push into Newangle City."

"Toya Square would be fine," Dalton cut in. "We were planning on doing some missions on our way into the capital to work towards our team rank, and Toya Square's a couple days' journey from there on foot at most. Works out fine for us. Just give us a number to work with."

Hermes moved a claw to his chin as he mulled things over for a moment. The drake still didn't seem particularly enthused with the proposition, but from how long he was wavering, he clearly had thought of a price he'd be willing to entertain. The Dragon-type lowered his head, before letting out a gruff harrumph in reply.

"If you really want to come along, I'll do 25,000 Poké for the four of you. Bring it an hour after sunrise, since that's when I'm leaving," Hermes said. "Carolins have been inflating a bit more than normal this month, so might as well get paid in something with a bit more security."

Lyle couldn't help but have his body's fire flicker to life with a brief start, as his companions visibly blanched. 25,000 Poké?! Lyle knew that air travel got expensive, but he didn't know it got that expensive!

Why, even if they exchanged everything they had to their name from the caravan raid into Poké, it still wouldn't have been enough. In fact, it was probably worth more than what their combined bounties were at the moment!

The other Outlaws stared back blankly at the Dragonite, as Irune spluttered, before waving her claws with an indignant huff.

"How's any 'mon supposed to come up with that in a day?!" she demanded.

"Look, last-minute flights in general aren't cheap, buddy. Especially since I'd need to get a set of loops made in a day to carry you safely," Hermes snapped back. "You asked me how much it'd take for me to make an exception for carrying passengers? Well that's my price. If that's too rich for your blood, find some other Carrier to take you out to Toya Square!"

The four Outlaws traded uneasy looks with one another. Would it make sense to just approach another Carrier? They'd known that Carolins didn't buy what they used to in Poké, but 25,000 Poké for a flight for four that didn't even make it all the way to Newangle City was little better than extortion!

… But then again… were they actually in a position to consider other options? There weren't many Pokémon that worked as Carriers that could carry a party of four at once. Or who were willing to take last-minute passengers at all. Would anyone else really offer them a cheaper price? Bright and early the next morning? For no questions asked?

Lyle traded glances with his teammates. He couldn't tell if this 'mon had quoted them such a high price to try and get them to buzz off, or else if he'd somehow put two and two together that they were stuck between a rock and a hard place and was trying to wring them dry. But it was hard to argue they had many other options. The money they did have would at least get them most of the way to Hermes' price, wouldn't it? After a noticeable pause, Lyle noticed Dalton shake his head back from the corner of his eye, and let out a low sigh in response.

"We'll see what we can do, alright?" the Heliolisk sighed. "But you're definitely not making this easy."

The four got up and retraced their steps out of the tavern for the lane. All the while, Irune stared blankly at the ground, wracking her mind as to how they could even begin to get that sort of money in a mere day. The Dragon-type looked up at her teammates to ask them for ideas, where much to her surprise, none of them seemed particularly worried about the matter and more concerned with the name Lyle had offered up as their team moniker.

"'Team Forager'? Seriously, Lyle?" Dalton scoffed. "Why didn't you just go ahead and introduce us as 'Team Bandit'?"

"Yeah, if you were going to be cheeky with names with hidden meanings, you should've gone with something like 'Team Raider'," Kate chimed in. "At least that one sounds impressive."

The Quilava let out a defensive huff, the flames on his vents flaring up in annoyance.

"Look, when a 'mon talks about a 'forager' the first thing that comes to mind's some peasant picking berries in the woods and not someone lurking in said woods waiting to jump them," the Fire-type shot back. "Double entendre or not, it's not that bad of a name."

Irune blinked at her teammates' seeming nonchalance, before giving an impatient stomp of her foot and crying out to them incredulously.

"Will you three just shut up about the names for a moment?! How can you all be so calm?!" she demanded. "25,000 Poké would be almost enough for the four of us to each learn Outrage from a move tutor!"

Lyle, Kate, and Dalton traded glances with one another, before the Quilava looked back at the Axew with a shake of his head and low murmur.

"It's not such an impossible figure. For one, I'm pretty sure the loot we've got between us will get us about two thirds of the way there after we convert it," Lyle said, before pawing at the back of his neck with a quiet wince.

"The last third's… a bit of a lift, yes, but we've got ways of scraping that much together in a day. One that should be right up our alleys," the stoat insisted.

Irune blinked back puzzledly at him. "Wait a minute… we do?"

Lyle cast a glance around, before leaning in with a low whisper.

"We steal it, of course. What else were you expecting?"

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Schöpfrad - A water wheel with attached buckets, used to raise and deposit water, lit. "scoop wheel". Of similar style and construction as ones referred to as "norias" in English.
2. Duodino - "Zweilous"
3. Scherox - "Scizor"
4. Oberwachtmeister - A rank between "sergeant" and "staff sergeant" that pops up historically in Germanosphere militaries, and more relevantly in the modern day, in police forces. This term is used as the analogue to "Sheriff" in German PMD localizations, with Sheriff Magnezone's Officers in that localization holding the title of "Wachtmeister"
5. Stolloss - "Aggron"
6. Grafschaft - A historically analogous unit of administration in purpose and function to a "county" or "earldom" in the Germanosphere, especially in regions that were once part of the Holy Roman Empire. lit. "Grafship". In most of the modern Germanosphere, the analogous unit of administration in the present day is a "Kreis" or some permutation of it such as "Landkreis", most commonly translated in English as a "District".
7. Tross(e) - a contingent of camp followers, particularly associated with historical formations composed of Landsknechte. Usually translated as "support staff", "baggage train", or "unit train" when used in such a capacity. In non-military contexts, the word can be used as a term for a generic entourage or group of followers.
8. Feurigel - "Cyndaquil"

Teaser Text:

The time immediately following the Great Flash was an era of great upheaval. As without the humans who were once our mediators, the Pokémon of our world turned upon each other. Amid confusion and violence, the Pokémon that lived among humans withdrew to the spacesᵃ their mediators built that still stood after the great churning of the world. To their towers, their amphitheaters, their great markets. Anywhere that could be fortified into a redoubt and place of refuge.

Those chaotic times subsided under the protection of the Vow, and with the guidance of Klaus the Founder, and the goddess who listened to his and our pleas for aid. After the birth of the order that underpins our world, there was a brief, shining era in which it seemed that there was hope for mankind's knowledge to be saved and passed down onto our civilizations. With a great radianceᵇ that some said had the potential to restore what our world lost to the Great Flash, while others, who some say included the Founder himself, insisted that it risked bringing it to ruin entirely.

Those hopes were reduced to rubbleᶜ with lightning and fire as Wish and Reality first clashed with each other in Wander, alongside the lands that hailed them as patrons. It was then that the two first cut each other down along with the Threshold that stood between them. Amid the disorder left behind, that radiance was shattered and faded away, and with it, the human knowledge we had not yet learned for ourselves. As whatever may have been written before that fateful clash of the gods, naught but mere scraps remained for us to pick over afterwards.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. Raum/Räume in German can take on a number of meanings depending on context, with one of the more common ones being "room(s)".
b. A more faithful translation of strahlenden Glanz would be "radiant splendor", the phrase is sometimes glossed as "radiance" in translations into English, as is done here.
c. The original construction of "Schutt und Asche" is more literally "rubble and ashes". It is commonly glossed as "rubble" in English translations.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Moonturn Square, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.


Ich hatte nicht erwartet, Ihnen so bald nach Ihrer Entsendung zu schreiben, um mich mit den Gendarmen vom Münsterplatz zu koordinieren, aber aufgrund meiner Erkenntnisse glaube ich, dass unsere derzeitige Vorgehensweise unsere Mission gefährden könnte. Ich habe Grund zur Annahme, dass sich die Dyade möglicherweise nicht im Hinterland der Gegend versteckt, wie Sie es ursprünglich vermutet haben, sondern Zuflucht in einem weiter entfernten Teil des Königreichs sucht.

Nicht lange nachdem ich die örtliche Garnison über die Dyade und den Ganoven informiert hatte, mit denen sie zuletzt gesehen wurde, hörte ich zufällig einen Bericht über eine Gruppe, die nach Treueplatz suchte. Eine Partei, deren Spezies denen der Raufbolde entspricht, die uns letzte Nacht entwischt ist. Ich habe nach weiteren Informationen über diese Partei und ihren Träger gesucht, obwohl ich zu diesem Zeitpunkt keine Erkenntnisse zu berichten habe. Mir ist durchaus bewusst, dass dies eine weitere Finte der Dyade sein könnte, aber nach dem letzten Jahr, das wir damit verbracht haben, sie zu verfolgen, wäre es nachlässig von mir als Ihrem Oberstleutnant, diese Möglichkeit nicht zur Sprache zu bringen.

Ich werde mein Möglichstes tun, um mehr über die gesichtete Partei herauszufinden, aber es könnte für Sie relevant sein, in der Zwischenzeit mögliche Routen von Norden und Osten zum Treueplatz zu überprüfen. Und wenn ich den Standort der Dyade bis heute Abend nicht bestimmen kann, erwäge ich, einen Teil der Stärke unseres Fähnleins zu entsenden, um einen Abfang entlang einer dieser Routen durchzuführen. Vorausgesetzt, wir haben die Kapazität dazu.

Ich verstehe immer noch nicht ganz, wie die Dyade in der 'Operation Zündfunke' eingesetzt werden soll. Aber wenn sie wirklich das Potenzial hat, diesen Krieg so entscheidend zu beenden, könnte eine solche Präsenz weiter südwestlich von uns den Unterschied zwischen ihrer Bergung und dem wochenlangen Verlieren ihrer Spur ausmachen.

Wochen, die wir vielleicht nicht haben. Und wenn unsere schlimmsten Befürchtungen über die Dyade zutreffen, könnten jene Wochen den Unterschied ausmachen, ob die Operation Zündfunke wie geplant fortgesetzt werden kann, oder das Königreich dieselbe Spirale aus Zerstörung und Elend wiederholen, die es in den Anfangsjahren dieses Krieges durchgemacht hat.

- Dringende Depesche von Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmorstochter an Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragoransohn

A little over half an hour later, Irune found herself just outside of the hustle and bustle of Moonturn Square's central marketplace alongside the newly-named 'Team Forager'. There, the Outlaws peered out from an alleyway towards a small collection of stalls just north of its outer wall, keenly eyeing passers-by who drifted to and fro between them. All the while, Irune kept fidgeting and giving nervous gapes about her surroundings, before she turned back to her three teammates with an exasperated hiss. After all the trouble they'd gone through just to get into Moonturn Square, their plan for making up the ten thousand Poké they needed was…

"We're seriously stealing again after we just went through the trouble of getting new scarves?" she demanded.

… not at all what she'd been hoping to hear. The Dragon-type watched as her Outlaw companions traded glances with one another before collectively shrugging back in reply.

"Hey, when you've got a skill, you might as well use it," Kate said. "How else did you think we were going to get that much Poké in a day?"

Irune narrowed her eyes, and frowned sharply back at the Sneasel. Sure that sort of money was a tall lift, but they hadn't even tried to think of alternatives!

She turned her head as she heard faint clattering, turning to see Dalton grabbing an empty coinpurse made of brown cloth, probably one he'd snatched from last night’s raid, as he carefully slipped a few rocks from the ground into it. The Axew cocked her head and wondered to herself what the Heliolisk was up to, watching as he felt the bag's weight for a moment, before he tugged its drawstrings shut and looked down at her, bobbing the purse up and down in his right hand.

"Calm down, we're in a well-trafficked place, so we can afford to be a bit picky about our marks," he insisted. "Besides, we're not going to be doing anything crazy here. Just a bit of simple opportunism."

Irune frowned and tilted her head back at the Heliolisk with a dubious raise of her brow.

"What do you mean 'opportunism'?" she demanded.

Dalton said nothing back before he stepped out into the crowd, watching the passers-by as his eyes fell on a blue Meowstic stopping to inspect a bolt of silk at a tailor's stall. Irune followed the Heliolisk's gaze and noticed the cat had a purse of similar coloration. Before she could ask, the lizard lowered his head and slipped forward into the crowd. Dalton lingered as the Meowstic set the silk down and unwittingly approached him, when just as the Psychic-type passed by, Dalton batted his tail out in front of the Meowstic, who pitched forward and fell to the ground with a yelp.


Dalton stooped down, forcing an alarmed look over his face as he held out his left hand to help the Meowstic up, all while keenly eyeing the Meowstic's coin purse that had flopped onto the ground and quickly switching it with his.

"I'm so sorry!" Dalton insisted. "I'd just been distracted by the rest of the market for a couple moments, and-"

"So pay less attention to it and learn to watch where you're going, jerk!" the Psychic-type snapped.

The Meowstic scooped up the bag on the ground and stomped off hissing under his breath. After seeing the cat vanish off into the crowds of the outer market, Dalton quickly scurried back to the mouth of the alleyway, as Irune stared at him with her mouth hanging agape.

Why, the 'mon had nicked that Meowstic's money almost as naturally as a Magikarp would take to swimming in a river! Irune stared at Dalton as he retreated back into the alleyway's shade, watching as he opened the mouth of the bag in his hands in front of her and her fellow Outlaws. At once, Irune stiffened up and gaped down in astonishment, as she saw from top to bottom, the purse filled with metal coins of varying colors.

"I'd say a bag of stones is a pretty good trade for this one, don't you think?" he asked. "It's not all in Poké, but it shouldn't be too hard to find a merchant willing to make a trade for the rest."

Irune stepped forward and gave a mesmerized paw at the coins in the bag. Why some of them were even in good enough condition to visibly gleam under the light! She… didn't know what to make of the Heliolisk's gambit at first, but as she looked down at the purse's contents, she couldn't help but feel a quiet awe at how effortlessly Dalton had purloined it.

"I… I suppose that is kinda impressive…" she murmured.

Lyle and Kate raised their brows back at the Axew's remark, prompting her to bite her tongue. Was… Dalton's snatching not as impressive as she'd thought? After all, the two were looking at her as if she'd just said something strange and unexpected.

"Huh? There's no need to flatter him like that over some simple pickpocketing," Lyle insisted. "The bag's probably not even worth a thousand Poké all together."

Irune blinked with a start as the Quilava took a tarnished, silvery coin from the bag and immediately noticed the coin's edges seemed unusually smooth, before flipping it over to reveal a worn, hollow triangle with circles on each tip. A Schild der Wirklichkeit, as most Carolin coins of its sort had. Except the circles weren't supposed to be abruptly cut off like they were on this one.

"… Probably less if there's coins clipped this badly in it," he remarked. "But pickpocketing like that's a fairly simple two-step. Even little runts who've never set foot into a Mystery Dungeon can get pretty good at it."

"Yeah, it's just simple situational awareness and having quick paws," Kate chimed in. "Why don't you go ahead and show us what your old crew taught you?"

Irune felt the color drain from her face and her jaw hung open briefly at the Sneasel's challenge. … She knew that this moment was going to come, but even then, she hadn't worked out how she'd get around it. The Axew hemmed and hawed for a moment, before clearing her throat and trying to suppress a nervous titter in reply.

"Er… I- I never did get the hang of doing things in and around towns," she said. "I kinda stuck to sneaking around in more backwoods areas."

The Axew forced an awkward smile over her face back at her fellow Outlaws, and at once saw the others leveling unamused frowns back at her. Lyle turned his head up suspiciously for a moment, before having his eyes notice something in the market and pointing at it.

"Then we'll keep things simple for you," the Quilava said. "I… personally wouldn't have picked the mark myself, but there's a 'mon shopping over there with a hole in her purse, you shouldn't have any trouble with her."

Irune turned and followed Lyle's forepaw, and immediately froze after noticing that he was pointing off at a Kangaskhan looking over a stand selling sundry pieces of cloth for patchwork. The Axew froze, as she noticed with a joey dozing in the pouch, and a small golden glint coming from the fabric of a small bag about her waist. Irune blanched. Whatever her thoughts of the idea of stealing from a mother, they paled in comparison to the idea of stealing from a 'mon that had to be at least ten times her size. The Dragon-type stammered in place briefly, before whirling back to Lyle with a startled squeak.

"Y-You can't seriously expect me to try and fight her!" she protested, making the Quilava raise a brow back skeptically.

"No? I'm expecting you to just snatch her purse while she's not looking and leg it," he insisted. "It should be right up your alley."

Kate sized up the Axew as she visibly shuffled her feet and squirmed, the Sneasel flattening her ears out with an unimpressed frown at the Dragon-type's visible reluctance.

"You did actually help these 'Balance Bandits' you used to be part of, didn't you?"

"O-Of course I helped them!" Irune spat. "Just give me a moment!"

Irune stomped out of the alley and made her way darting past the legs of passing Pokémon over towards the Kangaskhan. As she neared, the Axew hesitated and slowed her pace, looking up at the distracted Kangaskhan with a quiet gulp.

Irune's eyes turned towards the metallic glint coming from the Kangaskhan's purse as she stopped and breathed in. She lingered a moment and closed her eyes with a small shiver.

Here went nothing…

Irune threw her claws forward at the purse, and felt the strap give way with the sound of jingling metal.


Irune flinched from the shout and lost her grip on the purse, which fell to the ground with an audible clatter. Her eyes immediately shot wide, and she looked up to see the purse's owner snatching it off the ground and leveling a piercing glare down at her.

The Dragon-type paled and reflexively turned to bolt and run, when she felt a sharp, stomping pain shoot through her tail and pitched face first into the earthen lane. The Axew groaned and spat some dirt out of her mouth, when she heard a low growl and looked up to see the Kangaskhan hovering over her.

Just the sight that she needed to upend her nerves and make her to let out a sharp scream.


"What is your problem, you little brat?!" the Kangaskhan snapped. "Is trying to steal from a working mother your idea of a fun time?!"

Irune sucked in sharp, panicked breaths and froze up. A quick glance about her revealed that other passers-by in the market were starting to stop and stare at her. Irune yelped as a sharp pain shot through her tail as she felt the Kangaskhan grind it harder into the dirt.

Why had she ever agreed to this? She'd surely be beaten to an inch of her life, and then Lacan would catch up with her, and-

"Answer me already!"

Irune flinched and let out a low whine, looking back up to see that the angry Kangaskhan hadn't gone anywhere. The Axew trembled, and she was pretty sure that her scales weren't supposed to look this pale, as she gaped up and stammered nervously at the glowering Normal-type.

"I… I…"

The joey in the Kangaskhan's pouch began to cry from the racket, the Normal-type flinching and hesitating as she reflexively lifted up her child and attempted to soothe her with a cooing reassurance.

"W-Weine nicht, Liebling.₁ It's okay, it's okay."

Irune drew panting, frightened breaths as the Kangaskhan seemed to loosen her grip on her tail and have her attention diverted. Now was her chance! If she could just sneak away, she could run off back to safety!

Irune desperately tried to pull herself free, only for the Kangaskhan to push her foot back down again. The Axew tried to blink back a few tears of pain, looking up to see the Normal-type glaring down at her from past her still-sniffling joey.

"If I didn't have a baby to calm down right now, I'd break your tusks, you little thief!" the Kangaskhan snarled. "Get out of my sight before I change my mind about it!"

Irune felt the Kangaskhan let go, and scrabbled forward onto her feet with a frightened yelp. She didn't dare try the 'mon's patience any further and took off as fast as her legs could carry her. On her way off, she could just barely overhear the shopkeeper attempting to calm the Kangaskhan with a wary 'easy there, Oulen, she's gone', before the sounds of confused onlookers rang out about her. The Axew ran back to the alleyway for dear life, running clear to the other end of it where she stopped and gasped for breath. She could still feel her tail smart from being stomped on earlier, and nursed it with a low whine, when a sharp scoff filled the air behind her.

"… What exactly was the last thing you stole as part of your old crew?"

Irune turned back to see Kate stepping forward from behind the cover of a small stack of broken-up crates with Lyle and Dalton flanking her. Based on the Sneasel's furrowed brow, the Dark-type was thoroughly unimpressed with her performance. From a quick glance at the way Lyle's flames were kindling in visible irritation from his vents, and the way Dalton was folding his arms, those two didn't think much of it either.

Honestly, it was kinda hard to fault them. After all, she knew the answer to Kate's question, and she had a pretty good idea of how her teammates would react to finding out.

Perhaps she ought to have tried to make an excuse, but from past experience, Irune doubted she'd be able to lie about what happened back there even if her life depended on it. She’d always had much better luck just keeping quiet about things she didn't want others to know about.

And besides, she was counting on these three to bring her to the Divine Roost. If they were just going to figure out the truth eventually, perhaps it was best to just be out with it.

"I… uh… technically was still going through initiation?" Irune replied, nervously shuffling her feet. "So nothing yet?"

The Axew watched as Lyle threw a paw over his face, with Dalton screwing his eyes shut in frustration at her reply, and Kate rolling her eyes at the answer. Yeah, she figured that was about how they’d react.

Irune thought to cut in and try to offer some sort of explanation of how she got to her present state, only for Kate to make the matter moot by shaking her head with a low sigh and leveling a sharp frown down at her.

"Look, if you expect this partnership to work out, let alone actually get you to the Divine Roost, you're going to need to brush up on some skills first!" she exclaimed.

Irune said nothing for a long while afterwards, before awkwardly pawing at the back of her head. As embarrassing as her debacle with the Kangaskhan had been, it was hard to admit the others didn't have a point… After all, the four of them were going to the Divine Roost as Outlaws, and just what sort of Outlaw couldn't steal something to get by?

"I… suppose that's fair?" she murmured. "But… where do I even start?"

The marketplace was unusually trafficked by Grünhäuter after Irune's bungled attempt at pickpocketing. Lyle wouldn't have thought that that would've caused so much trouble, but he guessed that Moonturn Square was just full of surprises. Per his insistence, the four loitered about a quieter residential neighborhood to pass the time, and drilled in a few primers into Irune's head about the importance of staying alert and to keep her wits about her.

A little over an hour later, after a moment to test the waters to ensure that they hadn't stirred up enough trouble to be summarily run off, Team Forager slipped back into the central bowl of the main marketplace and found that it had largely simmered down. It was time for Irune to put her lessons into practice, and a crowded marketplace was as good a place as any to find easy marks suitable for a novice like her.

There, Lyle and his companions made their way down a line of colorful stalls hawking odds and ends. Some offered produce or street food, others sold small knick-knacks such as books or decorations to place in and around Pokémon's houses, burrows, and other places they called home. There was even one stall that hawked cards with pictures of Pokémon on them which turned Kate's head briefly…

Right next to one staffed by a Sableye hawking colorful and supposedly protective charms, which was being perused by a visibly antsy-looking Quilladin in army plates. Thankfully the 'mon didn't seem to have any buddies with him, and whatever had gotten the guards so worked up earlier had passed. After giving the apparent soldier a suitable berth, Lyle nudged at Irune for attention.

"The first thing to know about stealing from a mark is being aware of your surroundings," the Quilava explained. "Fighting draws attention, and as such, you need to have a nose for situations where you can get what you want without picking one."

The Fire-type reared up onto his hind legs and walked forward down the path. Up ahead to the right was a Slurpuff chattering with a Appletun behind the counter of a stand serving donuts. The stoat eyed the pair closely before looking around, casually darting up and snatching one of the donuts off the counter, then walking on.

He probably should've been a bit more worried about how naturally swiping the donut came to him given that it was Kate who had 'Quickpaw' as her Beiname. But Irune needed a primer, and besides, it was just a donut.

Lyle carried along with his teammates, greedily tearing into his ill-gotten snack as he glanced back at Irune with his mouth still full of sweet bread.

"Working on building up a sticky paw is an easy way to practice that," he explained. "All you need is to find the right shop and the right moment, and you'll be rewarded handsomely for it."

The Quilava watched as Irune looked about the surrounding stalls and their attending riot of colors, sounds, and smells, before she turned back and stared at him blankly. Lyle tilted an ear back puzzledly and raised a brow.

"Something the matter?" he asked.

The Axew looked around and pawed nervously at the back of her head. Was Irune still shaken-up from her encounter with the Kangaskhan? It was hard to understand why she'd be this nervous over a little shoplifting…

"How… am I supposed to figure out what that 'right shop' is?" she asked. "With all these stalls around us, where would I even start looking for it?"

Unless of course, it was something like that.

Lyle flared up and threw a paw over his face with an exasperated sigh, before shaking his head and curling his muzzle into a sharp frown.

"It's not that hard, kid," he scoffed. "You had to have nicked something as part of that collection of shiny junk in your bag, right?"

Irune fumbled with her words for a moment, making the Quilava blink briefly. He looked over just in time to spot Kate and Dalton making their way back from a round of picking over the crowd when they stopped. They’d apparently overheard his line of conversation, and seemed to think about as much of it as he did. Kate was visibly flabbergasted with the Dragon-type's lack of response, while the latter pinched his brow, before stepping forward with a low sigh.

"Look, the point of this is for you to practice your skills," the Heliolisk insisted. "This is around the time when most towns are preparing for the Autumn Festival, so you're not exactly wanting for opportunities here."

"Yeah, just nick a glass bead for that collection of yours or something," Kate chimed in. "It's small and shiny. You probably wouldn't need any more motivation than that to nick it."

Lyle looked down at the Axew as she continued to waver and narrowed his eyes. He could already tell that this journey to the Divine Roost was going to be quite the ordeal even if they survived it.

"Look, you learn by making mistakes sometimes, and this is about as safe an opportunity you'll get to make some while being an Outlaw. Just go around and look for a stall that looks nice with an absentminded shopkeep, then just take it and get out before someone spots you," the Quilava insisted. "It could be an Apple for all I care, the point is for you to just take something. With how much trouble you've already gotten yourself in, are you really dragging your feet this much over something where you could just pretend you forgot to pay if you get caught?"

Irune gulped and glanced around her surroundings, before taking a sharp breath and steeling herself.

"O… kay?" she replied. "Absentminded shopkeep. I can do this…"

Lyle watched as the Axew set off into the crowd and Dalton and Kate peered after her for a moment, the Dragon-type slipping away amid the sea of Pokémon and vanishing from their line of sight after about a dozen paces. Dalton turned and gave a wary side-eye back at his Quilava partner, giving an uneasy tug at his frill.

"Are you sure you shouldn't be assisting her, Lyle?" he asked. "She did manage to fumble a simple pickpocketing earlier…"

"Oh c'mon, it's shoplifting," Kate scoffed. "Worst case scenario, we just play 'er off as a newly-recruited Wilder who doesn't understand the concept of personal property yet. Sure we'll get an earful from it, but hey. Could be worse."

"Hey! Get back here!"

Team Forager's members flinched at the sound of a harsh, barking voice calling through the crowd. The three looked up just in time to see Pokémon darting out of the way of an approaching figure, and saw Irune run up panting and wide-eyed holding an Apple. Lyle flattened his ears out at the sound of shouts from further down the street, before narrowing his eyes at the Axew with an exasperated frown

"Irune, what did you do?!" he exclaimed. "How'd you manage to stir up this much trouble over an Apple?!"

"I-I tried that 'sticky paw' thing on a shop where the shopkeeper was asleep!" the Dragon-type protested. "You didn't say anything about these shops being watched by guards!"

Dalton and Kate blanched at the Axew's explanation, as Lyle caught himself and found himself starting to get worried. Sure, shops usually weren't one-mon affairs, but they usually didn't have the resources to hire standing guards like Irune was saying…

"Wait a minute, just where did you try and shoplift that was watched in such a fashion?" Dalton asked.

The Pokémon ahead in the crowd shuffled aside, and the color quickly drained from Lyle and his teammates' faces as a trio of glaring Kecleon stomped forward donning red scarves that each had a golden circle and four arcing lines surrounding it. Lyle's eyes shrank to pins, the stoat rearing up as his body's fire came alight with a start. The Quilava felt his heart race in a panic and began to feel lightheaded as he stared at the approaching lizards.

"Y-You took something from a Consortium shop?!" he squeaked. "Wh-Why would you even-?!"

Before Lyle could finish pressing Irune about what in the gods' names made her think it was a good idea to steal from the most dreaded marks in all of Varhyde- no, of all of Wander, the leader of the Kecleon trio held out a claw pointing at the Axew in front of Team Forager's members.

"You there! With the Apple!"

Lyle stood there dumbly for a moment, his breaths coming out shallow and panicked as Kate pinned her tail feathers tightly against her body and forced an uneven, stammering grin over her face.

"Er, s-sorry about that!" the Sneasel insisted. "She's a new teammate of ours we recruited from the hinterlands and-"

"Oh gods, just take it!" the Quilava cried.

Lyle snatched the Apple out of Irune's hands and threw it back at the Kecleon, turning and bolting for dear life along with his teammates down a back alley. The four carried on as they heard shouts coming from behind, ducking down twists and turns before they realized that they no longer heard anything other than their own tense breaths coming in and out of their lungs. Lyle slowed to a stop and shivered a little from the encounter, when he felt a sharp prod at his shoulder and heard Dalton speak up.


Lyle blinked and glanced over his shoulder towards Dalton's voice, where Kate was folding her arms with her ears pinned back looking much as if she'd just been soaked in the face. Dalton entered his field of view right afterwards, Lyle spotting him just in time to see him shoot a sideways glance at a visibly sheepish-looking Irune, before narrowing his eyes back at him with a sharp glare.

"I think you should let me take over the teaching duties here."

Half an hour after Irune's bungled attempt at shoplifting, Team Forager opted to move deeper into Moonturn Square. They'd need to let things simmer down in the marketplace again, after all. The four ultimately found themselves in an alleyway overlooking the town's Great Spire—an ancient human ruin consisting of a tapered tower that had been built on three giant legs, that broke off abruptly at its top.

Its surface was gray with mottled stains from the elements over the years since the Great Flash, with a few missing chunks that revealed a hollow within. According to Lyle, he'd heard while growing up that it was the last, lingering reminder of a still-taller portion of the tower that used to be there. One that had collapsed long, long ago and was vaguely remembered as having once been a popular haunt for flying Pokémon in the town. The towering structure bathed a square built underneath its three legs in shade from the sun, where stone steps into the ancient structure had been built along them and were trafficked by a steady stream of Pokémon that followed them up and down.

All things considered, Irune would've seen how it’d have been a decent place to look for a mark, except for one problem…

"Um… Dalton?" she began. "This- This is where the town's Exploration Guild is."

And one that a casual glance revealed was staffed by no shortage of Hunters. Enemies to Outlaws that could get every bit as fearsome for an one as a Grünhäuter. Hell, there was even supposed to be a decent amount of overlap at times. The Army apparently had a long history of drawing off such types as to become rangers in hinterland areas, and of course as Jäger₂, skirmishers and patrollers that exploited their knowledge of how to move about the land to chip away at enemy fighters in small groups.

… Maybe that had something to do with why they came to be known as 'Hunters' among Pokémon like them in the first place… even if one never would've guessed from looking at the bored-looking Torterra and Exploud in green plates at the plaza’s northern approach halfheartedly attempting to draw recruits. From how the pair gathered less attention than the beggars they spotted near the outskirts of the marketplace, there evidently wasn't much appetite among Hunters for willful stints in the army these days.

"Scales, why the hell are we here?" Kate asked, shooting a sharp frown over at her Heliolisk teammate. "This is a guild for Hunters. How on earth is this going to be any easier than starting Irune off with shoplifting?"

So it wasn't just her who had misgivings about coming here. Irune watched as Lyle and Kate turned their attention to the steps that led into the lower levels of the spire's hollow that the Hunters at this Guild occupied with their meeting halls, dorms, and… whatever else it was that they needed with that sort of space. In his chatter about the town, Lyle hadn’t said anything about having ever gotten a good look inside of it… or another Guild of its sort for that matter. And if any of them did so now as Outlaws, it might very well be the last thing they ever tried.

"Remember that we're assuming the identity of a team of Hunters," Dalton reminded. "Everyone's guards will be down here, and if Irune does get into trouble, we can get her out of it with about the same excuse had she shoplifted from a normal shop in the marketplace."

Irune blushed a bit and screwed her eyes shut at the Heliolisk's comment. Was her mistake really that clumsy of her? She heard the lizard tap his foot briefly and glanced back to see the Electric-type fold his arms and click his tongue.

"Besides, the practice I wanted to put you up to doesn't involve doing anything too risky like going into the Guild’s building itself…"

The Heliolisk pointed at the square, where much like the central marketplace, it was packed with Pokémon milling to and fro.

"Squares like these next to Guilds tend to be popular places where you can get lost in a crowd easily," he explained. "As long as everyone thinks you belong here, you'd be able to find a mark without having to set foot into the Guild itself."

Irune blinked and watched the crowds go by for a brief moment, and just from a cursory glance, it was hard to argue Dalton's point. There, Pokémon in matching scarves moved about in groups, some congregating in front of a bulletin board with posted missions by the northmost leg. The place also looked like it was also a popular gathering spot for Pokémon who passed through town, as a few Pokémon tending to carts and bags on their person stopped to ask for directions or chat with locals from the area. After sizing up the crowd, Dalton ducked back into the shade of their alley between the back of a Storage Shop styled after a Swalot's head and a strip of timbered shacks, looking down at Irune with a stern gaze.

"While being aware of your surroundings is important, something every bit as much as that is being able to coordinate with your teammates," he explained. "After all, they'll be there to help correct you if you're slipping up or getting into trouble. As such, you need to be able to pick up on subtle cues in the heat of the moment that will tell you if it's safe or not to make your move."

Irune blinked and gave a puzzled tilt of her head back in reply. Hadn't she already fought alongside these three? Even if she wasn't exactly a professional thief, she didn't think that her ability to work with others was that bad.

"… What does that have to do with me here?" Irune asked. "I wasn't exactly dead weight in the battles we got into, was I?"

"You weren't, but now you need to apply those skills in some other circumstances."

Dalton shook his head and pointed off beside one of the steps leading to one of the stairways into the Guild's entrance. There, next to the leg of the ancient tower and the steps beside it, were an Arcanine and Rapidash in olive-colored scarves laden with bags that hung at rest along their flanks, who were visibly resting and loudly trading banter.

"Tch, you so did not make the run between Errberk Village and Port Velhen in a day!" the Arcanine scoffed.

"My timesheet speaks for itself, doesn't it?" the Rapidash shot back. "If you're having so much trouble believing it, perhaps that's a sign you need to get into shape and slim down a bit!"

Irune blinked a bit as the Arcanine shot back with a huffing insistence that his bulk was fur and not fat. Given how unstable food prices were, the courier was probably being earnest… even if he did look a bit more rounded than she would've expected an Arcanine to be. Irune turned up with a puzzled frown at the Heliolisk, as he stared off at the pair and spoke up.

"Those two couriers have been running their mouths off at each other since we came here, and they haven't been paying much attention to their surroundings either," the Electric-type explained. "While they're distracted, you should be able to help yourself to some of the money and parcels they keep on those bags on their flanks."

Irune's jaw flopped open at the sight of the two Fire-types at by the steps. After the trouble she'd gotten into with the Kangaskhan, and then the shop in the marketplace that turned out to be run by Colorswap Consortium, she'd have thought Dalton would pick an easy mark for her. Did he seriously expect her to steal from those two?"

"Th-They look even stronger than that Kangaskhan that stomped my tail earlier!" Irune squeaked. "How on earth is this supposed to end well?!"

"Because, this time you won't be attempting to steal from them on your own. I'll tell you when you should make your move by signaling you," Dalton insisted. "Just make your way over to them and keep an eye on me. I'll give you a sign when it looks like the coast is clear."

Irune stared up at the Heliolisk and attempted to duck back into the alleyway only for Lyle and Kate to cut her off and shove her out. Some teammates they were! The Axew shot a dirty glare back at the pair, before audibly gulping. Here went nothing…

The Dragon-type shuffled over on pins and needles, creeping up towards the Arcanine and Rapidash. Fortunately for her, much as Dalton had said, the pair really were distracted by bickering with one another, which from brief eavesdropping seemed to be about their past performances as couriers.

"Pah, straightaways don't really count anyways," the Arcanine scoffed. "I seem to remember beating you easily going across Newangle City from the western gate to the eastern one just last month!"

"I got caught up in traffic for that run and you didn't!" the Rapidash exclaimed. "How is that a fair comparison?!"

Irune crept up next to the Arcanine's side, where sure enough, he had bags on him that seemed bulky enough to be filled with mail and small parcels, with the faint sound of jingling coins coming from somewhere inside of it. The Axew paused, and looked back at the mouth of the alley, where she saw Dalton motioning with his paws to his right. The Axew blinked puzzledly, unsure if the Heliolisk meant it was safe for her to start sifting through the dog's bag or to stop and wait, when he stared blankly and motioned again. Irune cocked her head puzzledly for a moment as she noticed the Arcanine's body shift, and her attention darted back up to the Fire-types' bickering.

"Nice excuse there. Do I detect a hint of jealousy that you're getting shown up by a big old Arcanine on twisty and winding streets?" the Arcanine said, shooting a smug smirk back. "Why, they were even cobbled. That was as perfect a layup for you as you could get and I still beat you on that run!"

The Rapidash let out an unimpressed huff, and stomped at the ground as he snorted out a few stray embers.

"Don't go imagining things there," the horse shot back. "You got lucky there and you know it."

Irune looked back at the Arcanine's bag, and then back at Dalton, who was now jerking his head along with his paw's movements, and apparently beginning to spark out of frustration. Irune quirked a brow back and gave a puzzled shrug in reply, watching as Dalton buried his face in an open palm as the Rapidash began to speak again.

"And another thing-"

The Rapidash trailed off mid-sentence as his eyes happened to drift towards the other end of the square. Irune followed after the Fire-type’s head where she noticed Dalton at the mouth of the alleyway behind the Storage Shop flaring his frill and pulling it back in in a repeating cycle. A quick glance back up revealed the horse was blinking puzzledly and staring at Dalton with a flabbergasted murmur.

"… What on earth is that Heliolisk doing?"

Irune shrank back as the Arcanine shifted and turned to follow his rival's gaze and similarly spotted the Heliolisk, who saw the pair staring at him and froze, flattening his frill with an embarrassed cringe. The hound squinted at the sight with a befuddled frown, before he glanced over his shoulder and spotted Irune standing by his bags, the Dragon-type squeaking as the Arcanine courier got up and turned to face her with a wary scowl.

"Wait a minute, who are you and when did you get here?" the Arcanine asked.

Irune shrank back, tripping over her words as she backpedaled. She tried to calm herself and suck in deep breaths. She was pretending to be a member of an Exploration Team, so it shouldn't be that hard to give them a reason other than that she had been trying to rob them.

… Except she kept coming up blank for excuses to offer. How on earth did other Pokémon manage to tell convincing lies on the spot?! The Dragon-type increasingly lost her nerve as she watched the much stronger and larger Fire-types staring down at her.

"I- I- Uh… A-Aah!"

The Axew took off running and fled from the couriers, bolting for the safety of the alleyway where the rest of Team Forager had shrunk further back along its length to avoid being seen. Irune ran past them into the safety of the shadows and hung her head panting, when she glanced up and spotted the three staring down incredulously at her.

Why on earth were they so upset with her? Irune scowled back up, narrowing her eyes with a frustrated wave of her arms.

"I kept waiting for Dalton to tell me if it was safe or not!" she fumed. "How come he didn't say anything?!"

Lyle just stood there with his mouth hanging open for a moment, as he flattened his ears and threw a paw over his face.

"Blauflamme," he groaned. "Seriously?"

Dalton's mood was little better, as the Heliolisk screwed his eyes shut and sported a frustrated scowl that looked much as if a Mud Shot had just splattered over him. From the back of the group, Kate stepped forward and gave a wave of her claws as she made her way to the front of the group, giving a disapproving click of her tongue to her teammates.

"Tch, you two are going about this all wrong!" she exclaimed. "If you're going to show Irune the ropes at being an Outlaw from scratch, you've got to start her off simple. With something not even a hatchling could mess up."

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
About an hour later, Kate had led the rest of Team Forager to a sleepy corner of Moonturn Square away from the bustle of the crowds, where simple timbered and earthened huts were set back from each other with small yards that had berry bushes and other garden crops planted. Probably for their owners if they found themselves coming up short for their food budgets.

After nicking a few berries and fruits from the yards, and giving Dalton and Irune a much-delayed meal for the day, Irune followed after Kate to what she insisted would be a great chance to put her skills into practice. The four came across a tree with red autumn leaves that drifted off with the wind, which stood outside a small complex of low wooden shacks with stump desks arranged in neat grids in front of simple blackboards.

Irune recognized the place as a school. It probably wasn't the most impressive one Varhyde had to offer, but it looked more impressive than the one she remembered her home village having before Lacan started chasing after her. And it was surely a sufficient place for little tykes to be taught their runes, along with enough Hightongue to flatter their elders and authority figures. Except… Irune wasn't sure how this was supposed to help her.

"Kate, how is going to school supposed to help me become an Outlaw?" she asked.

"By giving you an easy mark to practice on," the Sneasel insisted.

Irune cocked a brow dubiously as Kate raised a claw and pointed off at the tree. Irune looked along, wondering just what the Sneasel could've seen when the street sounded deathly quiet. Between the lack of noise and the westward position of the sun in the sky, she was sure that school had let out for the day already. After training her gaze towards the base of the trunk, she saw him.,

A lonely Shinx who sat against the base of the tree. One of the few youngsters who normally buzzed about the complex with their teachers who was still around. The young Electric-type pawed at some paper set on a tatty green notebook in the shade, unaware that the whole time, he was being watched. Irune at once realized what the Sneasel was getting at, and shot a worried look back at her.

"You… You want me to rob him?" she asked.

"No, I want you to go up to him and give him a smooch," Kate scoffed. "Of course I want you to rob him!"

From further in the alley, Lyle and Dalton both grimaced briefly, before the two shot uncomfortable glances at their Sneasel teammate, with the Heliolisk of the pair narrowing his eyes with a judging scowl.

"Is this really necessary, Kate?" Dalton whispered.

"Well, you're the ones who think she needs a mark that’s easy to practice with!" she shot back. "After how well your attempts have been going, it's only logical to start her off with baby steps!"

Irune watched as Lyle pawed at his shoulder. She hadn't expected it, but even he looked genuinely uneasy about the Sneasel's proposal.

"Yeah, but taking some ankle-biter's milk money?" Lyle murmured. "The 'mon looks like he's barely left a Day Care!"

"Which is exactly the best place to start!" Kate insisted. "All she needs to do is walk up, get his guard down, and then that milk money's hers for the taking!"

Irune grimaced and turned up to the Sneasel, poking her fingers together with a nervous murmur.

"Um… Kate? Isn't there someone else I could practice on?" she asked.

"Look, do you want a mark that can't beat you up if you get caught, or not?" the Sneasel shot back, giving an impatient snort. "Just hurry up and get out there!"

Irune paused as her thoughts turned back to Kangaskhan stomping her tail, and then running for dear life from the Kecleon guards from the Consortium shop in the marketplace. Even the two couriers she failed to rob earlier would've been… painful to fight with if they’d realized what she was up to. In light of all that, it was hard to argue the truth of Kate's point that she was better off picking a weaker mark to practice on.

Why did it have to be one that made her feel this guilty, though?

The Axew sucked in a sharp breath and shook her head before exiting the alleyway and walking over towards the Shinx. As she neared, he flattened his ears, his attention fixed on his notebook as he pulled a paw back from his paper, shaking his head with a low growl.

"No, no, no. That doesn't work either…" he murmured to himself. Irune narrowed her eyes and cupped her claws, calling out to the Electric-type as she neared.


"Huh?" the Shinx asked, looking over with a puzzled blink. "Is something the matter?"

"Those papers by your feet," Irune began. "What are they and what are you doing with them?"

Irune noted that the Shinx had a bag sitting at his side to the left, whose contents had all but spilling out as he'd grown immersed in what was probably just some schoolwork. If she could just distract him for long enough, she could go through his belongings, take any coins he might have had, and then get out and leave this whole sorry business behind her.

The Dragon-type began to make her way towards the satchel, when the Shinx turned to her and piped up in reply.

"Oh these? I'm trying to write a story to impress my teacher," he explained. "But I keep getting stuck with it."

Irune abruptly froze and stared back at the Shinx, quietly setting her teeth on edge before steeling herself and shaking her head.

"A… story?"

"Yeah, it's about this Luxio and her sister that are growing up as Wilders on some plains in the wilderness," the Shinx explained. "And in the story, their pride is in a big fight with a pack of Manectric that neither side can seem to find a way to end."

The Electric-type sighed, crumpling up his piece of paper and batting it away with his forepaws. Irune watched as the Electric-type grew distracted with his lack of progress, and drug his bag over.

… Of course she wasn't be able to just get away with stealing from him while his back was turned.

Irune braced herself and narrowed her eyes, readying her tusks to strike. The Shinx didn't seem to pick up on her intent, so if she could just stall him a little longer, she'd surely be able to get his bag and let him off with just a little nick.

"Uh huh…" the Axew said. "Tell me a bit more about it."

"Well, I wanted the Luxio to leave her pride and get some ideas of how to end it by meeting other Pokémon in a nearby town that would help her," the cub explained. "But I can't settle on who from there could give those ideas to her or how she'd learn anything for how to bring peace. After all, the town's soldiers would be going off to a fight they can't seem to end either… that's what they do, right?"

Irune froze and squirmed as soon as the Shinx's words left his mouth. Gods, of all the Pokémon in this town she had to rob, why did it have to be one that would make her feel this guilty? As the Axew wavered, the Shinx shook his head, and turned his eyes to look square into hers with a bashful rub of his forepaws together.

"Do you have any ideas, Fräulein Milza?" he asked. "You look a bit older than me, so maybe you've heard a story that got around this problem before."

Irune froze and bit her tongue, remaining deathly silent as the Shinx tilted his head back puzzledly. The Axew turned around, avoiding eye contact as she croaked out an audibly guilty-sounding reply.

"I- I need to go," she said.

Irune lowered her head and much as she had earlier in the day, ran back for the alleyway where the rest of Team Forager was lurking. Lyle and Dalton were there, and closed their eyes with defeated sighs, as Kate stepped forward with her eye twitching in exasperation.

"What the hell was that?!" she exclaimed. "You had him dead to rights and then you just let him go!"

"Oh come on, Kate," Lyle scoffed. "If I felt iffy about it, how do you expect someone who's as much of a rookie at thieving as she is would feel?"

Dalton shook his head and pinched his brow at the turn of events. Irune noted that he looked almost happy about how things had ended. Part of him must've been glad she didn't have the heart to mug the little cub. But with nothing but a few stray berries to her name as a thief thus far, how were they supposed to get the Poké they needed this late into the day?

"I suppose we'll just have to go back to the drawing board-"

"Fräulein Milza?"

Irune and her fellows on Team Forager stiffened up, turning to see that there at the mouth of the alley was the Shinx from under the tree. The lion cub gave a puzzled tilt of his head at the sight of the other three Pokémon and shied away for a moment, before shaking his head and speaking up.

"Are you alright?" he asked. "You were behaving really strange earlier."

Lyle, Kate, and Dalton shifted back and quietly tugged at Irune to follow, only for the Axew to linger and look back at the Shinx. The Dragon-type pawed at her shoulder briefly, before speaking up in a halting tone.

"I'm… surviving, I guess," she said. "I've just been going through a lot recently."

The Shinx hemmed and hawed for a brief moment, before raising a forepaw and pointing off behind Irune.

"I… was just going to say that if you weren't feeling well, maybe you should ask your teammates for help," he suggested.

The four Outlaws blinked puzzledly for a moment, as the young Electric-type carried on.

"I mean, my mom says that's what teammates on an Exploration Team like yours are for. That they're friends who are there to look out for you when you're having trouble," he explained. "Maybe I was reading into things a bit much, but you just seemed like there was something that was bothering you a lot."

The Shinx brought his forepaw back to his side with a wordless blink. After an awkward silence, the lion cub lowered his head, rubbing his forepaws against each other with an uneasy glance back.

"Sorry if that didn't help much. Though, I guess maybe I should ask my mom for help myself," he said. "I mean, she's kinda my teammate…"

Dalton sighed and hastily piped up in reply.

"That would probably be wise, Herrlein₃ Sheinux₄. You probably shouldn't be lingering off on your own like this," the Heliolisk said. "If you got back home too late, you'd worry your mother sick. Even if the war's far away right now, there's a lot of Pokémon causing trouble around these days."

Kate quietly shot an annoyed frown up at the Heliolisk as the Shinx nodded back and began to shuffle off.

"Right, I guess that makes sense," he remarked. "And I guess it is getting kinda late…"

As the lion cub paced forward, he looked back over his shoulder, and shot a small smile towards Irune.

"Thanks for trying to help me, though, Fräulein Milza!" he insisted. "If we meet again, I'll let you know how my story's going!"

The Shinx darted off down the lane, quickly slipping from view as Team Forager's members stared after him wordlessly. Kate was the first to break the silence, blowing her ear feather back with a puff of icy breath as she blew an annoyed raspberry.

"Pfft, well that was a waste of time," the Sneasel grumbled. "Was that comment at the end really necessary though, Dalton?"

"Actually… maybe that Shinx was onto something," Irune said.

The Axew's insistence made the rest of her teammates look back down at her. It'd taken her a while, but at last, she thought that she understood what her teammates had been getting at with their lessons. She watched as they stared at her, with Dalton blinking a moment, before giving a puzzled tilt of his head down in reply.

"Hm? Just what do you mean by that?"

As the sun began to drift over the horizon in the west and the skies flushed with the burnt orange tones of the early evening, Team Forager found themselves once again skulking the alleys about Moonturn Square's central marketplace.

They needed the better part of ten thousand Poké before sunrise, and thanks to Irune's struggles with the basics of thieving, they'd be lucky to get two or three from what little they'd pulled in. There, the three more senior members peered down at their Axew junior, with Lyle flaring up and shooting a skeptical frown at the young Dragon-type.

"Remind me why we're humoring this again when you've made complete hash of every practice run we've given you so far?" he demanded. "And wasted time we could've spent actually getting the Poké we need?"

"Because the best way to learn is from experience!" Irune insisted. "If we all work together, I'm sure that I'll learn what I need to about being a thief faster than trying to flail around from scratch!"

Kate rolled her eyes, folding her arms over each other before she tersely scoffed back at the Axew's reply.

"So in other words, you need us to do all the actual work for you," she harrumphed. Irune stomped her foot in reply, and screwed her eyes shut with an indignant cry of protest.

"I didn't say that!" she piped. "Look, we've only got this evening to get that Poké, so let's just take it from the top… What do you all look out for in a mark aside from him looking weak?"

Lyle pinned his ears back and spotted Kate and Dalton trading dubious looks with one another. He couldn't fault a 'mon for wanting others at one's back, but this was a bit much coming from Irune. A 'mon that had been struggling at basic thieving as much as this little pipsqueak worrying about what mark to pick out was by definition getting ahead of herself.

… On the other paw, it was already sunset, and they weren't exactly close to filling the gap with Hermes' money. Answering an idle question like this surely couldn't hurt, at least…

"Tch, opportunity, of course," Kate spoke up. "There's no sense holding up a 'mon if she doesn't have anything but her scarf to her name."

"I would think that where your mark's headed off to is a bit more important. It's easier to go after a mark if you know where he'll be instead of having to constantly shadow him," Dalton countered. "Why if it wasn't for those Grünhäuter, our best bet would've been putting up a mission up at the local guild to try and lure someone into Waterhead Cave or some other Mystery Dungeon to ambush them."

Lyle sighed and rolled his eyes in reply. Were there really Hunters dumb enough to fall for setups like that who had more than a thousand Poké or some equivalent to their name? What, was Dalton expecting that they'd find some bulliable rookie like a Bidoof just strutting around with anywhere close to seven or eight thousand Poké? One that'd both be gullible enough to take the bait on such a mission and dumb enough to bring that sort of money along into a Mystery Dungeon? What were the odds of that ever happening? Especially with the way things were in Varhyde these days?

But all of that was irrelevant when he couldn't even take it for granted that Irune wouldn't struggle with an ideal layup like that. Just what was he supposed to say as advice to a 'mon that failed at mugging a schoolkid for his spare change?

If they just sat around waiting for a mark that fit both molds and wouldn't be overly challenging for Irune to handle, they'd likely be sitting about Moonturn Square for a full month! Unless Lacan was magically hit by a bout of amnesia sometime over the past day, they certainly didn't have that sort of time to work with, so perhaps it was best to remind her to be realistic…

"Look, just… use a bit of common sense, alright? It's not often that you'll get a mark that'll check off all the boxes," the Quilava said. "With all the Pokémon around here, we'll probably be here well into the evening just trying to figure out which tree we're best barking up."

Lyle shook his head before lowering himself to all fours with a low grumble, and made his way out of the alley and into the marketplace. Gottverdammt, at this rate they would need to start asking other Carriers for prices, since they sure as hell weren't going to make up the rest of that money Hermes demanded in an evening like this.

"Just look around a bit. It's a big marketplace, so I'm sure you can find someone who looks-"

"… And you haven't seen anyone at all matching that description?"

Lyle trailed off after hearing a cawing voice, and looked ahead to see a Floatzel in green armor plates standing ahead in the marketplace. The voice from the Water-type's hem and haw in reply quickly made it apparent that it was none other than… Nils. Because of course that blighter would also be here!

He'd evidently been running late for his evening assignment in the hinterlands, and was impatiently eyeing the gate, as he shook his head back and shuffled aside to reveal a sight that made Lyle and his companions' blood run cold.

There, in front of him, was the same Corvisquire from Lacan's Fähnlein. The same one who'd wounded Alvin and held him back long enough to be picked off while retreating. Whatever doubts he had of her identity were settled by him seeing Irune suddenly turning stiff as a board and watching the color drain from her face.

"I mean, I know a Quilava, but he doesn't have any friends like those. And he doesn't normally come around these parts," Nils explained. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt for you to ask around the garrison or something, but why would you expect Pokémon who've gotten into as much trouble as what you're saying to come here, Frau₅ Kranoviz₆? Wouldn't they have been more likely to try and hide in the woods?"

For a moment, Lyle wondered why Nils was sucking up so hard to the crow when he saw the reason: her white army scarf had a gray chevron merged with a diamond enclosing a patch of Stabsoffizier blue on her scarf. He didn't know how he hadn't noticed that the night before, but the Corvisquire clearly wasn't some common grunt.

Lyle snapped back to attention at the sound of running footsteps and saw Irune and the others bolting down a nearby alleyway going up the bowl-like incline. He quickly followed suit, sprinting for dear life until they reached a shaded intersection between alleyways where they stopped to catch their breath.

"Götterblut," Kate wheezed. "That was way too close."

Lyle sucked in sharp breaths as he tried to calm himself and tamp down startled fire pouring out his vents as a sinking feeling settled in his stomach. So the marketplace hadn't been crawling with Grünhäuter earlier over the trouble Irune had gotten into. Someone must've tipped off that damn Graf off that they were here!

Then that meant they really didn't have any other options than Hermes at this point. It'd already be risky just to wait until the morning to leave Moonturn Square behind. And with Lacan's underlings asking around the town, it was too dangerous to ask more Carriers for offers when that Corvisquire would surely get the idea to question them.

Lyle hung his head blankly, and for a moment, he wished there was a Latios shrine nearby so that way he could plead with their ghosts or however that was supposed to work for good fortune. Just then, the sound of clattering from around the bend pricked the four's ears, making them freeze as a voice called out from further down it.

"Gah! Why does Scrafty insist on meeting in a dingy alley like this?!" a squeaking voice complained. "Dabohru almost stub toe on trash heap!"

Team Forager's members warily poked their heads around the intersection and past an upended and battered crate with a cloth draped over it and froze. There, they spotted the same Togedemaru who'd fought alongside the Roly-Poly Caravan's Aerodactyl the other night entering the intersecting alleyway. The Electric-type brushed past some rubbish that had piled up—the same old dregs that had already been picked through for anything worth eating or salvaging. Behind him was a tall, gangly lizard with an orange hide, a rounded head with a red crest, and shed skin that hung about his lower body almost like a pair of pants. The Pokémon was visibly agitated, gritting his teeth and shaking a fist at the Togedemaru with a low, threatening growl.

"Listen, you stupid furry volleyball," the Scrafty snarled. "Me and my associates paid good money for those Lansat Berries, and our business is on the line without them!"

The four quickly ducked behind the corner, panting as for a moment, worried that those two might have seen them. After a moment's quiet, Lyle crept forward and noticed that the cloth over the crate covered an entire side that had been largely missing, with a broken board on the other end providing a peephole. Lyle and Irune slunk in while Dalton and Kate opted to crouch and listen, as the Quilava and Axew watched the Togedemaru fan his spikes out and wave his nubby arms with an indignant squeak.

"Look, Dabohru and rest of Roly-Poly Caravan try to ensure customers happy, but sometimes incidents happen," the Electric-type spat. "Dabohru sure clever 'mon like Scrafty insured shipment. So Scrafty either wait for the next caravan to come in, or Scrafty pay for it to be expedited and pass costs onto customers."

The Scrafty grew visibly angered by the rodent's reply, and cracked his knuckles as he stepped forward and attempted to loom threateningly over the Electric-type.

"It's 'Iro'. And you've got some nerve to think that you're in any position to give me the run-around, you damn rat!" the Dark-type snarled. "I'll knock you into next-!"

A weak jolt of electricity suddenly jumped from the Togedemaru's barbs and struck the Scrafty in his stomach. The Dark-type let out a sharp yelp as his body went numb and his limbs locked up, before the Togedemaru knocked him over onto his back and hopped onto his stomach visibly sparking in anger.

"Dabohru and Roly-Poly Caravan don't care what customers do with the wares they ship with us. Not mean all Pokémon feel same way," the Togedemaru piped. "If Scrafty have such an issue with Caravan employees having run of bad luck from attack by Outlaws, Scrafty more than welcome to get Sheriff and guards involved. Dabohru sure that Scrafty have perfectly innocent reason for needing forty Scheffel of Lansat Berries all at once, right?"

The Scrafty blanched and his earlier belligerence quickly departed him. The Dark-type stiffly raised his arms, struggling against the effects of his paralysis to wave for calm.

"H-Hey, no need to get hasty there!" the Scrafty stammered. "We're not thrilled about it, but I'm sure that we can work around a one-time expense."

"Hrmph, it will take Dabohru time to see whether Caravan have any quicker Pullers who can move that sort of volume. Much of talent from last caravan is sleeping off wounds," the spike ball said. "Advance is 15,000 Poké, bring to Restful Square at midnight on the dot."

Irune blinked from her party's hiding place, the Axew murmuring to herself as she repeated the Togedemaru's words under her breath.

"15,000 Poké…?"

Lyle's eyes widened and he stifled a startled yelp at the amount of money involved. The guy wasn't exactly a Bidoof that'd just joined the local Guild, but 15,000 Poké was more than enough to make up the difference they needed to cover their flight. Why it would even give him, Kate, and Dalton back a chunk of the money they'd started off with!

Further down the alley, the Togedemaru hopped off his uncooperative customer, the Scrafty rolling over and hesitantly getting back onto his feet. The Dark-type gave the rodent a healthy berth, as he attempted to summon a brave face and snap back at the surprisingly strong pipsqueak.

"… Fine. But you'd better be able to-"

"Oh, Dabohru have one more condition," the mouse insisted. "Scrafty come to meeting alone."

Lyle watched as the Dark-type blinked for a moment, before getting back up and shaking some feelings into his limbs with a sharp glare.

"That wasn't part of the deal," the Scrafty huffed. "I'm not handing over that sort of money without some associates at my side."

"Well then Scrafty can go and find some other caravan to get those Lansat Berries!" the Electric-type piped. "After how rude welcome was earlier, dealing with just Scrafty enough of a headache! So come alone, or else Dabohru see to it that Scrafty and associates never get so much as Plain Seed delivered through Roly-Poly Caravan again!"

Dabohru turned his snout up and waddled out of the alleyway. The Scrafty glared after the Electric-type for a moment, before also taking his leave, visibly limping from the lingering effects of the Togedemaru's earlier Thunder Wave and growling muffled invectives under his breath. After the pair slipped off, Team Forager's members crept back out, Lyle, Kate, and Dalton breathing quiet sighs of relief as Irune stared off at the other end of the alleyway for a moment and shook her head.

"I think that we just found our mark," she said.

Lyle let his mouth flop open in reply, as Kate and Dalton stiffened up in response. For all of a moment, the three of them stood there stunned, before the Heliolisk piped up with a sparking huff.

"Did you hit your head earlier today?" Dalton scoffed. "That was a 'mon from the Roly-Poly Caravan."

"Tch, first you're too good for snagging a kid's milk money and now you want a grudge match with those Togedemaru?" Kate grumbled. "Seriously, get your priorities in order!"

"Irune, we're not getting involved with those furballs again. We don't even know how many friends that rat's going to show up with!" Lyle growled. "In case you forgot, but we didn't turn out too good from the last job we had involving them!"

The Axew turned back and gave a puzzled tilt of her head back at her fellow Outlaws.

"Eh? I didn't say anything about getting involved with the Caravan again. We'd be getting involved with the Scrafty," she insisted. "Didn't you hear the deal he just made? The deal that he's going alone for? It's the kind of mark we've been praying for!"

The three blinked a moment at the Dragon-type's reply, as Lyle turned his head to the side and warily glanced back at the thief-in-training.

"… Keep going with that thought a bit," he said, prompting Irune to paw idly at her left tusk in thought.

"Well, if we can run into the Scrafty on his own before he meets the Togedemaru, there'll be four of us and one of him," the Axew explained. "If those Togedemaru are really all that, he wouldn't dare try to double cross them and he’d have more than enough money to pay off Hermes. Isn't that already everything that you all said an ideal mark ought to have?"

Dalton and Kate stopped and visibly pondered Irune's suggestion. For a 'mon who wasn't any good at robbing Pokémon herself, it was hard to argue that she had a nose for promising marks…

"Yeah, and I doubt he's going to be reporting anything to the Gendarmen either if he gets ripped off," Kate mused. "The only 'mons that deal with that many Lansat Berries at once are farmers and 'mons pushing syrup to get others high. And since when did farmers have 'associates'?"

"So we've got a time, a place, and a Pokémon," Dalton said to himself. "The only thing we don't have is familiarity with the surroundings."

Kate and Irune fell silent at Dalton's words. Yes, that… would admittedly be an issue. Why if they didn't know the first thing about where the Scrafty was going to close his deal, then he could just take advantage of his surroundings to slip away, or worse, turn the tables on them. The Outlaws hung their head, when they noticed Lyle remained pensive and was pawing at his chin in thought.

"Lyle?" Irune asked. "Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all. It's just that I realized that Scrafty said he was going to meet that Togedemaru at 'Restful Square', right?" Lyle mused to himself, before shaking his head and glancing back with a small nod.

"Well if it's the same 'Restful Square' I know of here in this town, it's a little park out in a residential neighborhood on the east side of town. One that gets really quiet after dusk," Lyle explained. "We'll need to figure out a way of how to get those Togedemaru out of the picture first, but I think that I might know a couple areas around there to hide out…"

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Weine nicht, Liebling. - "Don't cry, darling."
2. Jäger - "Hunter", "Fighter". Also a term for light infantry in Germanosphere armies, used here in a more old-timey sense to describe the likes of skirmishers, scouts, sharpshooters and runners.
3. Herrlein - Diminutive of "Herr" with similar origins and function to "Fräulein", outdated in modern German. Note that "Herrchen" can also be used as a diminutive to "Herr", but was passed over by the story thanks to it most commonly being used in modern German as a term for dog owners.
4. Sheinux - "Shinx"
5. Frau - Female honorific and address for a woman of higher social stature roughly equivalent to "Lady" or "Mistress". Can be used as a general term for a woman or a wife. In this particular context, its usage would be analogous to addressing someone as "Miss/Ms./Mrs." or "Madam" in English.
6. Kranoviz - "Corvisquire"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Square, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​


I was not expecting to write to you so soon after you dispatched me to coordinate with the Gendarmen of Moonturn Square, but based on my findings, I believe our present course of action may be endangering our mission. I have reason to believe that the Dyad may not be hiding in the local hinterlands as you initially suspected, but seeking refuge in a portion of the Kingdom further afield.

Not long after briefing the local garrison about the Dyad and the Outlaws she was last seen with, I chanced to overhear an account of a party seeking passage to Toya Squareᵃ. A party whose species matches those of the band of ruffians who eluded us last night. I have been searching for any further information regarding this party and their Carrier though I do not have any findings to report at this time. I'm well aware that this could be yet another feint by the Dyad, but after the past year we have spent in pursuing her, it would be remiss of me as your Oberstleutnantᵇ to not bring up this possibility.

I will do my utmost to try and find out more about the party that was sighted, but you may find it relevant to review likely routes into Toya Square from the north and east in the interim. And if I cannot determine the Dyad's location by this evening, to consider dispatching some portion of our Fähnlein's strength to mount an interception along one of those routes, assuming we have the capacity to do so.

I still don't fully understand how the Dyad is meant to be used in 'Operation Spark'. But if it truly has the potential to so decisively end this war, such a presence further southwest from us could mean the difference between recovering her and losing her trail for weeks.

Weeks that we might not have. And if our worst fears about the Dyad are right, weeks that could mean the difference between Operation Spark being able to proceed as planned, and the Kingdom repeating the same spiral of destruction and misery it endured in the early years of this war.

- Urgent dispatch from Ritterinᶜ von Herbergauᵈ, Sophia Krarmors to Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

a. Derived by phonetic corruption. In a more faithful semantic translation, this would be "Loyalty Square/Plaza".
b. A senior field officer rank encountered in Germanosphere armies, equivalent to a 'Lieutenant colonel'. It is employed here along the lines of its more historical usage of a title specifically for an Oberst/Colonel's deputy.
c. A title roughly analogous to "Knightess". In reality, this title would most commonly be held by the wife of a knight or a "Ritter", but it is used here in the sense of a "female knight", as is common in German translations of the likes of fantasy media.
d. In reality, most titles involving "Ritter(in)" are built around the holder's surname. e.x. 'Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp'. Sophia's is modeled after a few historically older knightly titles that are built around locations such as 'Ritter von Lösnich'.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Munternplatz, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.


Ich habe Ihren neuesten Bericht studiert und glaube, dass ich eine fundierte Vermutung über Ihre Trägers-Route anstellen kann. Er wird höchstwahrscheinlich die Route nach Osten zum Treueplatz nehmen. Es gibt nur eine begrenzte Anzahl von Pokémon, die als einzelner Träger eine Gruppe von vier Personen tragen könnten, und ihre Physiologie würde wärmere Flugrouten stark begünstigen.

Dort gibt es einen mysteriösen Orte, der aus einer Reihe überwucherter menschlicher Ruinen in der Nähe einer Reihe von Wasserfällen besteht – Sie müssen Ihre Einheiten im lokalen Dschungel stationieren und auf die Ankunft der Gruppe warten. Ich habe bereits Furier Strachey und Gemeinwebel Frantz zusammen mit einer kleinen Anzahl unserer Abzeichen-Dispatcher und allen Einheiten, die in der Lage sind, die Strecke bis zum Treueplatz über Nacht zurückzulegen, entsandt, um Ihnen zu diesem Zweck zu helfen.

Was mich betrifft, ich werde mit einer kleinen Formation von Fliegern und einem Illusionisten zurückbleiben, um Deckung zu bieten, und Feldwebel Helmholtz damit beauftragen, den Rest des Fähnleins nach uns zu mobilisieren. Sollten die örtlichen Gendarmen die Dyades-Partei nicht festnehmen können, werden wir ihre Träger vom Münsterplatz aus beschatten, bis sie sich Ihrer Position nähern. Sobald wir in Reichweite der Abzeichenkommunikation sind, melden Sie Ihre Position und die Ihrer Einheiten, und es sollte eine einfache Sache sein, die Dyade und ihre Gruppe entsprechend zu Ihnen zu treiben.

Wären die Angelegenheiten weniger heikel und die möglichen Folgen einer Kompromittierung weniger schlimm, würde ich gerne hochfliegen und diesen Träger aus der Luft schlagen, sobald er die Stadtmauern verlassen hat. Aber wir haben nicht den Luxus, unsere Mission im Freien durchzuführen, und daher ist es besser, geduldig zu bleiben, damit wir dieses Abfangen in sicherer Entfernung von neugierigen Blicken durchführen können.

Seien Sie tapfer. Die Dyade ist fast in unserer Reichweite. Und durch sie Unsere Ägide. Unsere Vergeltung. Wer dieses Land, das wir „Wahrheit“ nennen, zum dauerhaften Sieg über seine Peiniger führt.

- Dringende Depesche von Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragoransohn an Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmorstochter

From his hiding place in the sleepy residential alley, Dalton and Kate peered out at the 'Restful Plaza' Lyle had spoken of. The Heliolisk tried to fight off fatigue as he thought over the past few hours' events in his mind.

After a brief huddle to talk through their strategy, Team Forager concluded they were best off exchanging the money that they had already snatched into Poké. From there, they would then find a hiding place to bide their time for when the deal between the Togedemaru and Scrafty would go down, to avoid the attention of the Gendarmen. Fortunately, after a bit of searching, they came across a home on the north side of town that had burned in a fire, whose charred husk showed signs it been left barren for some time. Nobody other than Lyle was particularly keen on, in Kate's words: "sleeping in a glorified fireplace", but in the end, they agreed that an ash heap was a better bed than a holding cell.

Besides, they had other things to worry about. Their plan was simple: show up, meet that Dabohru 'mon and any of his fellows present from the Roly-Poly Caravan to blow up the deal before that Scrafty from the alley arrived, and then lie in wait to part the syrup-pusher of his 15,000 Poké as he approached the square. After that, it was just a matter of slinking back to their hiding place to avoid the prying eyes of the local Gendarmen and biding their time for sunrise.

"Should we be worried right now?"

Dalton shot an uneasy glance over at Kate. His partner for their part of the job to blow up the deal with Dabohru. It was night now, well after the moon and the stars had replaced the sun in the sky, and Moonturn Square had since shifted into a sleepier cadence. The town hadn't fully fallen asleep, as much like everywhere else in Varhyde, the end of the day for the town's diurnal residents was merely the start of a new one for its more nocturnal ones. Their ranks in Moonturn Square were noticeably thinner, and as a result, like other places where that held true, the night would be a harsh mistress whose darkness was used as a cloak by scoundrels.

And that was perfectly fine by him, since as far as most 'mons were concerned, they were scoundrels. Dalton glanced up over his shoulder, seeing that past the wall of the timbered building they were hiding behind and out the mouth of the alleyway, was Restful Plaza. It was a small square by an overlooking bluff on the eastern side of town, with a simple wooden railing along the edge. There were some diamond-shaped pinwheels mounted in between larger gaps that spun with the wind in some stretches, while others were visibly falling apart. Off in the distance, the town's Great Spire could be seen towering over its center and jabbing a darkened wedge against the stars and the glow of Waterhead Cave's auroras from further south. The only illumination around the structure at all was a dim glow at its base, along with a few small red lights near its tip to help fliers spot it at night.

Everything had been going smoothly… except it was almost midnight and there was neither hide nor scale to be seen of that 'Dabohru' or any of the others from his caravan.

"Lyle's sure this is the same 'Restful Plaza' that Togedemaru was talking about?" Dalton asked. "I didn't see any sign of him coming in and this place looks deserted."

"Lyle is the 'mon who lives around here," Kate reminded. "If he says this is Restful Plaza, I'm inclined to believe him."

The Sneasel suddenly trailed off and turned her head with a flick of her ears. Dalton blinked and tensed up at the sight. He'd heard that most warmbloods had better hearing than 'mons like him, but whatever Kate had heard, he'd been wholly deaf to it. The Heliolisk reached out to tug at his partner and ask what was happening, only for her to raise a paw and motion for a stop.

"Someone's coming," she murmured. "Keep quiet and stay still for a bit."

Dalton raised a brow, when just past the tree anchoring the center of the square, he saw a trio of Togedemaru walking in and coming to a stop by its trunk. The lot were led by the same 'Dabohru' 'mon who'd met with the Scrafty in the alleyway… and the same one who confronted them alongside his Aerodactyl partner the night before.

Dalton reflexively gulped at the sight of the three Togedemaru. He was hoping that Dabohru would've sent a middleman to handle the exchange, but considering the Roly-Poly Caravan's reputation for being cutthroats in their business dealings, perhaps he should've known better. If they were going to blow up this deal to more safely ambush that 'Iro' 'mon, they'd need to approach those Pokémon directly…

"… I sure hope none of them got a good look at us back at the raid," Dalton gulped.

"Since when do little squeakers like them have good vision?" Kate scoffed. "And we've got different patterns, so just don't get too close and we should be fine. The soak we took on our way out of Waterhead Cave oughta have helped us smell different from last night…"

As loath as he was to admit it, Kate did raise some solid points. If nothing else, they'd be able to flee those three reasonably quickly… or at least in theory. Even if he didn't think much of her lack of education, the Sneasel was quick-witted if nothing else. Kate got up and motioned for Dalton to follow, prompting him to suck in a sharp breath and get up from his hiding place.

"Here goes nothing," he murmured. "I hope we don't have to get them out of here by being chased off."

The pair made over to the plaza by the outlook, the Togedemaru turning to face them as they neared. Dalton faltered a bit as the three rodents stared at him and Kate, the Sneasel continuing on with an unbothered saunter as the Heliolisk reflexively stiffened up while approaching.

He didn't like rubbing shoulders with these three like this. The thought occurred to him that if he tried to pretend to conduct business with these Pokémon in Hightongue, that perhaps it'd throw them from recognizing him from his speech. But he didn't know how that would play out with a party expecting to do business with a bunch of thugs, and if Kate's Hightongue was as bad as her literacy…

Fortunately, none of the Togedemaru seemed to recognize them, so at least they had that much to work with. Dabohru and his subordinates traded puzzled glances with one another, while the leader Togedemaru studied Dalton and his partner. Dalton watched carefully as the Togedemaru lingered for a moment, before the rodent narrowed his eyes.

"Who are Sneasel and Heliolisk supposed to be and what are two doing here at this hour?" he demanded.

"We're here to pay the advance on our next delivery of Lansat Berries for our associates. Duh," Kate snorted, giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders. "What? Did you walk into a pole on the way over here or something?"

The Togedemaru shot a sharp, frowning glare at Kate over the remark. Dalton knew that their job was to blow up this deal, but Kate had to be trying too hard there. The Heliolisk shot a sideways glance at her, before cutting in with a sharp grunt.

"Ignore her. I believe it was 15,000 Poké as an advance for our Lansat Berries?" Dalton asked. "We're ready to pay it to secure our next shipment, insured this time, I hope."

Dalton reached for his satchel and grabbed for the coin purse inside it. Even if they had all their money together right then and there, he wasn't sure they had 15,000 Poké. But that was beside the point. Their job was to sabotage a business transaction, and from the sound of crackling sparks and the sight of the piercing scowl that Dabohru was shooting the two of them, he and Kate were succeeding faster than they'd expected.

"Your colors different from earlier. And I made deal with Scrafty."

"Yeah, and? You didn't expect one 'mon to turn forty Scheffel of Lansat Berries into syrup on his own, did ya?" Kate retorted, folding her arms over each other. "As for the colors, we didn't feel like risking getting spotted by Grünhäuter in our normal ones. We just yanked some dweebs' scarves for the occasion. Just in case."

Dalton reflexively grimaced and shot a sharp frown at the Sneasel over her casual admission of them having stolen another 'mon's colors. Was she trying to get them in trouble? Fortunately, Dabohru didn't seem particularly fazed by her remark, as he fanned his steely barbs out and raised his voice with a squeaking pipe.

"Hmph. Heliolisk and Sneasel very clever," he huffed. "Yet stupid enough to forget most important detail!"

Even Kate seemed taken aback by the caravan leader's sharp berating, making her trade wary glances between Dalton and the trio of Togedemaru as Dabohru's subordinates took their places flanking him with a pair of stony frowns. Dalton bit his tongue and tensed himself, as he hesitantly spoke up to try and ask his fellow Electric-type what he was getting at.

"I'm… not sure if I know what you're talking about- Ack!"

The three Togedemaru abruptly fanned their barbs and spun, flinging thick bolts of electricity at Kate and Dalton's feet. The pair stumbled back with a shared yelp and fell to the ground, looking up to see Dabohru waddling away with a disgusted scowl.

"I tell Heliolisk's friend to come alone!" the Togedemaru snapped. "You two can tell Scrafty to find some other caravan to do business with!"

The caravan leader turned to the other Togedemaru, turning his nose up in the air with a displeased huff.

"We leave now! Dabohru not getting paid enough to deal with midwits like this!"

Kate and Dalton watched as the three Togedemaru tromped off down the path running by the bluff's fenceline. The Heliolisk laid on the ground panting in disbelief for a moment as Kate got up, dusted herself off, and held out a claw to him with an impish smirk.

"You'd think a 'mon like him would be better at remembering faces," she remarked. "I can't say I ever expected to perform a civil service as an Outlaw, but hey. I don't think those syrup-makers will be pushing their wares around here for a while."

Dalton blinked a moment before taking Kate's claw and letting her pull him up. The Electric-type after the Togedemaru as they rounded the corner and disappeared into the night, before sighing and shaking his head. Thank goodness they weren't planning to stick around for long. This stunt alone was bound to make them unpopular with those syrup-makers the Scrafty was in league with. He didn't want to think too hard about what would happen if they somehow caught up with them.

"Good thing we're leaving this town first thing in the morning," the Heliolisk grumbled. "As if we needed more enemies to deal with right now."

Dalton turned off towards the overlook, where beyond scattered lights in more trafficked districts, the warning lights on the tips of the Great Spire, and flickers of lanternlight from errant windows from huts and shacks in the mass of buildings below, all of Moonturn Square was darkened. It should've hardly been surprising; his own hometown and most of Varhyde's settlements similarly went dark at night by force of habit. Light provided direction to the likes of aerial squadrons mounting hit-and-run raids. Even if the frontlines were presently far across the sea, seventy years of war bred routines among Varhyde's Civils that were hard to break.

Except, he wasn't sure if it was necessarily a good thing for them. After all, they needed to be able to spot that Scrafty coming.

"How do you think Lyle and Irune are doing?" he asked. "I know that we found that safe house, but I'd like to not spend the whole night crouched in this alleyway.."

"Dalton, it's a burnt-out house. It's not exactly going to roll away on us like a wagon," Kate scoffed. "Though as for those two, let's see…"

The Sneasel turned her head out over the mass of rooftops, where after a brief moment studying the darkened scene, she stopped and stared off at a strip of houses. Dalton followed after her, and noticed a pair of fires flicker in and out of existence from an alleyway. The two waited a moment and watched, when they saw it again: three flashes in rapid succession. The same signal that they'd agreed on with Lyle for him to give once he started tailing the Scrafty.

"Looks like he just spotted our mark," Kate said. "Come on, I think I saw another way to get down to that alley earlier."

Down amid the mass of simple huts and shacks under Moonturn Square's eastern bluff, Lyle crept along with Irune in the shadows, following after the same 'Iro' he and the rest of Team Forager overheard talking with Dabohru earlier that evening. The pair watched as the Scrafty, garbed in a tan scarf that Lyle somehow hadn't noticed earlier, skulked down a back alley wedged between crude fencelines. They waited patiently before Lyle gave a nudge forward at Irune's back, prompting her to look back with a puzzled stare.


"I can't signal Dalton and Kate if I'm right behind the guy," Lyle explained. "Go on ahead and keep an eye on him. I'll come in if you get into trouble."

Irune grimaced briefly, trading a glance between Lyle and then off at the Scrafty as he stopped to pull up his shed skin about his waist and kicked aside a pebble in the path. She gulped and squirmed briefly, before sucking in a sharp breath and stepping forward down the alleyway warily.

"Alright, just… please don't leave me hanging out there, okay?"

"I won't," the Quilava insisted.

Maybe he should've been slower to let the words come out of his mouth. After all, a promise among thieves didn't apply when one's neck was on the line. But after how much she'd struggled earlier in the day, Lyle couldn't help but feel a pang of unease at the idea of just leaving her to twist in the wind.

… Things wouldn't come to that, anyways. There was too much money on the line and too much at stake. Lyle hung back and snuck behind a gap in the fence as Irune made her way forward. He stopped to flash his flames from behind the cover of a set of planks through a yard that had been planted with an anemic-looking berry patch, creeping forward to make sure he wasn't falling too far behind his Dark-type mark to signal his position from the other end. Whenever the Scrafty sounded particularly close, he'd stop and wait a moment to let him drift ahead a bit, much as he did after hearing the Scrafty loudly fuming to himself.

"'Come alone, or else I'll see to it that you never get so much as a Plain Seed through us again!'" the lizard grumbled. "Who does that useless rat think he is? And how hard is it to get my name right? It's two syllables!"

Lyle carried along before he bumped into something hard and wooden and cradled his snout, stifling a yelp as he looked up and saw that he run face-first into another fence. Guess this was the end of this yard. He spotted a nearby barrel propped up alongside it and clambered up, peeking over the fenceline just in time to spot the Dark-type slow his pace and gape about the surrounding alley. The Scrafty looked up at the overlook where Restful Plaza was, when Lyle noticed that the next yard just across the fence stretched past the Scrafty's position in the alley, with another barrel similarly propped up against the far corner.

Lyle vaulted over the fenceline and hit the ground with a quiet crunch of grass, and at once immediately regretted it. In the moonlight, he could see the Scrafty's head crest whirl around, making him tear along and crouch behind a red-leaved Pecha bush for cover just as the Dark-type poked his head over to look for the sound of the scurrying footsteps.

The Scrafty lingered for a moment, before ducking back across the fence and grumbling under his breath how it was 'probably some refugee brat stealing berries'. Lyle breathed out a sigh of relief as he crept for the barrel, when he heard the Dark-type continuing to glower to himself from just across the fenceline.

"Would it have killed that furball to leave a sign of some sort up so that I could tell if he was even there or not?" he fumed. "Like a flag or a rope-"

"Or a lantern, maybe?"

Lyle saw the Scrafty pause and stiffen up, and did much the same after realizing that he was hearing Irune's voice. Gottverdammt, she was giving herself away too fast! The stoat hurriedly climbed up the barrel and peeked over the fence, just in time to see the Scrafty whirling around and staring down his Axew teammate. The Dark-type paused a moment, before crouching and baring his teeth with an audible snarl.

"Who asked you, brat?" he spat. "And what are you even doing here? I'm pretty sure it's well past your bedtime right now!"

Irune hesitated and glanced around briefly, before she shook her head and gave an idle kick against the dirt path underfoot.

"I just was curious, that's all," the Dragon-type replied. "It seemed like you needed an idea or two, and I thought it'd help if I suggested one."

What the hell had gotten into her? Lyle looked down the other end of the alley, where after spotting a pair of scurrying figures, he got his answer: there, Kate and Dalton were hastily ducking behind a makeshift trash bin and looking like they were on pins and needles. So Irune had been covering for them all this time.

Lyle blinked and turned back in the direction of the Axew as she gave an overeager smile back at the Scrafty, which he answered with a sharp glare. The Hoodlum Pokémon stepped forward, audibly cracking his knuckles as he approached and leaned in over the shorter dragon with a sharp snarl.

"Yeah? Well, how about I give you an idea?" he spat. "It's called 'you turn tail and go home if you know what's good for ya'!"

Lyle watched as Irune blanched at the Scrafty's menacing display, recoiling much as if she'd been suddenly jabbed by an Ice Shard. Things weren't going anywhere good, and fast. The Quilava braced himself, fighting back fire along his vents as he heard the Axew gulp and dig her feet in, as she stammered back to the encroaching syrup-pusher.

"That's… an awfully convincing-sounding idea, I'll admit," she replied. "B-But-"

"But what?"

Lyle watched as the Scrafty wound up a punch. That was far enough, they could make do with this. The Quilava hopped over the fence as his vents came alight, coming to a crouch in the alleyway as he raised his voice with a sharp huff.

"But you should try turning around for a moment."

The Scarfty whirled around with a start. As soon as Lyle saw the whites of the Dark-type's eyes, he spewed out a plume of smoke into the lizard's face. Lyle hopped back as their mark coughed and gagged from the Smokescreen's effects, fire dancing on the Quilava's pelt as he arched his back and cried out behind him.

"Get him!"

Dalton and Kate rushed in from behind the Quilava, the Sneasel blowing past him with a slash of her claws at their mark's legs that made him pratfall. Dalton followed, sparks jumping on his hide as he attempted to pass a Thunder Wave off onto the Scrafty.

Lyle ran in to harry the Dark-type further, when just then, the Scrafty sprang back up and knocked the Heliolisk off his feet with a low kick at his flank. The Electric-type yelped and shot back from the blow, tumbling stunned against a wooden fence as the Scrafty cracked his knuckles with a low growl.

"Oh a setup, huh?" the Scrafty snarled. "Well you two-bit thieves picked the wrong 'mon to mess with! Nobody pulls a fast one on 'Iro the Crusher' like this!"

A quick glance at Dalton wincing as he got up revealed that the Scrafty had hit him hard. Hard enough that the 'mon would give them trouble in a fight like this. But Lyle had ways of dealing with that, a burn would surely help throw him off his game. Lyle built up a searing Will-O-Wisp in his throat, only for the Scrafty to spot him and attempt to cut him off.

A frigid gust interrupted the syrup-pusher, Lyle seeing Kate spitting up the tail end of an Icy Wind. The Sneasel turned to fall back, but even with his stiffened limbs, the Scrafty's reach proved to be too much. He brought a hand down in a Brick Break that threw Kate back against a discarded crate and left her gasping for air.

The Scrafty made his way for Kate, winding up a stiff punch as a gout of dragonfire zipped in and struck him from behind. That had to be Irune's doing, and from the stagger it dealt, it was just the opening he needed.

He leapt forward and spat up a spray of bluish-white cinders that hit the Dark-type's arm from behind. The Scrafty reflexively jerked it away and nursed his arm as a burn began to spread over its scales. A brief glimpse past him revealed Kate quickly scurrying off in the background, with the sound of footsteps and a seething growl turning the stoat's attention back to the Scrafty as he turned to face him.

Lyle spat up a few stray cinders with a dismissive huff. If this was the best the 'mon could do, he should just save himself the beating and cough up his money while he was still ahead.

"You're not going to win this one, Scrafty. So make things easier for the both of us and-"

Lyle never finished his words. The Scrafty abruptly lunged at him as dark flecks trailed off his body and caught the Quilava in his side with a tackle.

The stoat rolled to a stop and felt his head hit hard wood, laying there sprawled out wheezing for air. G-Gottverdammt, how?! How was this Scrafty smacking him around this hard with a fresh burn?!

Lyle watched the darkened world around him swirl in his vision a moment, when he felt a scaly hand wrap around his throat to the point where he couldn't wheeze out words. He felt himself get dragged up, his feet feeling empty air underfoot as he gaped up in time to see the Scrafty grit his teeth and ready a crushing bite.

"Lights out, you furry worm!" the Dark-type sneered.


A sharp cry from a smaller voice rang out from behind, as Irune charged in and spat up a gout of blue dragonfire. This one caught the Scrafty in the side of his head, and at once Lyle felt the Scrafty lurch and lose his grip on his neck.. The Fire-type fell to the ground and rolled over wheezing as a crackling burst of electricity sailed in in a parabolic arc and knocked the Dark-type off his feet with a pained yelp. Lyle could still feel himself shaking from his encounter and quickly forced himself up, when he saw Dalton still sparking and scowling down at him impatiently.

"Look alive there, Lyle!" the Heliolisk snapped. "Pin him while he's toppled!"

He certainly didn't need to be prompted twice there. That choke hold from the Dark-type stung, and he was all too ready to repay the favor.

"Right! Everybody, get him!"

"Way ahead of ya!" Kate called back.

Lyle dove at the Scrafty with a fiery tackle that loosened his limbs and got his blood flowing. He bounded past the Dark-type, getting a safe distance away just in time for Dalton to throw in a hail of sparks, followed a chopping blow from one of Kate's claws. Brick Break judging from the way the Scrafty recoiled from it—Kate must've picked it up sometime after the Foehn Gang was broken up. The syrup-pusher frantically tried to regain his bearings and attempted to shield himself with his arms, which left him open for Irune charged in with a pair of chops from her tusks at his legs.

The Scrafty jolted up much as if someone had lit a fire under his tail, springing back visibly fatigued and startled from the ambush. He was visibly weak at the moment. Maybe now he was in the mood for giving in and they could wrap things quickly.

"We know you're carrying money on you," Lyle harrumphed, scowling up at the syrup-pusher. "Your partner's gone for the night. Fork it over and nobody needs to get hurt any worse right now."

Much to Lyle's dismay, his demand seemed to have the opposite effect on the Hoodlum Pokémon. The Scrafty shook his head, and in spite of his wounds and audible panting, forced a fierce glare over his face.

"N-Nrgh… I'm not letting you walk over me that easily!" he spat. "Let's see how you handle this!"

The Scrafty sprang forward with a lunging kick aimed square at Dalton, only for Irune to hurriedly shove Heliolisk aside. The Heliolisk stumbled and fought to keep his balance, but the Axew's shove had its intended effect: the Scrafty's High Jump Kick had missed its target entirely and hit empty air. The Scrafty's eyes widened briefly before he slammed face-first into the wall of a nearby shophouse with a crash that made Lyle wince.

… That one had to have left a mark.

The Hoodlum Pokémon stumbled back tottering, cradling his face. Lyle hesitated a moment as the Scrafty groaned in pain and turned away, exposing the back of his head. There wasn't a point in waiting to see if he was still going to fight it out or not, they'd already given him a chance.

Lyle lunged forward with a swift tackle that made the world around him blur in his vision and struck the back of the Scrafty's head. For a brief moment, the Dark-type jerked up and froze, before slumping over onto his belly with a low groan.

The Quilava panted and drew near as his body's flames died down, smoke still curling up from his vents. He and his compatriots warily approached the felled Scrafty, Irune scampering forward to prod at the unconscious Pokémon's body. So they'd actually done it. They'd overpowered their mark, and it wouldn't have happened without the help of the young amateur in their ranks. He walked up, and prodded at the Axew's shoulder with a tired smile.

"Hey, thanks for covering for us back there."

Much to Lyle's surprise, the Dragon-type's expression remained muted and guarded. Shouldn't she be happier right now? All the money they needed to get out of this town and into a safer part of Kingdom on their way to the Divine Roost was now just at their pawtips!

Except… Lyle couldn't see anywhere where the 'mon would keep that sort of money, and from Irune's increasingly alarmed expression, she hadn't found anything in her inspection either.

"Wait, but I don't see any sort of bag," she said. "Wasn't this 'mon supposed to bring 15,000 Poké with him?"

"Of course, and he did" Dalton said.

The Heliolisk kicked the Scrafty over onto his side, before giving a sharp tug at the forward hem of the Dark-type's shed skin. A brown bag flopped out onto the ground with an audible jingle, Dalton picking it up and pulling its drawstrings back to reveal it was filled with gold-colored coins inside.

"He is a Scrafty, so there'd only be one logical place left for him to keep it."

Lyle pinned his ears back after Dalton's discovery of the Scrafty's hiding place. He… didn't need to know that. Irune didn't seem any more enthused about the Heliolisk's findings herself, as she screwed her eyes shut and stuck her tongue out with a disgusted shake of her head.

"Blargh, I hope he bathed recently…" she grumbled. "Though what are we going to do about his 'associates'? I doubt they're just going to let this go unanswered when they find out we robbed him."

"Hermes said he was leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow," Lyle insisted.

He turned a wary glance back at the Hoodlum Pokémon. There was little sign of life to the creature beyond his chest weakly rising and falling. It didn't look like they'd hurt him that badly, but he wasn't exactly a doctor, and it wasn't his job to stick around and check on the well-being of his marks.

"Considering how he's out cold, I think we should be in the clear by the time they find him and put things together," the Quilava said.

Lyle watched as Dalton slipped the bag of coins into his satchel and shook his head, pawing at a deepening bruise on his flank. The Outlaw in him probably should have objected more to the 'mon deciding to hold onto their loot himself, but he needed the same flight tomorrow as the rest of them did. And after seeing where Dalton found the bag… yeah, he was fine letting the Heliolisk hold onto it for a while.

Dalton turned down the alleyway as a few nearby windows began to brighten up with lantern light, prompting the four to crouch and hide against the fenceline. Lyle stayed there and held his breath, where after a few tense moments, the lights eventually faded from view in the windows one by one. Lyle noticed Kate turn her head back briefly, before shuffling out warily. He and the others took it as their cue that the coast was clear. And one after the other, the four brigands emerged from their cover, before the Heliolisk pawed carefully at his satchel and shook his head.

"We should get moving. Our work here's done and it looks like some of the neighbors overheard us-" he started, only to be cut off by a sharp huff of protest.

"Not so fast," Kate interrupted.

Lyle and the others on Team Forager blinked and looked over at the Sneasel. He watched as she walked over to the fainted Scrafty and flashed her claws. He wondered to himself as to what she was up to when her gaze drifted down at the shed skin about the lizard's lower body, and an impish smile spread over her face.

"That punch from earlier hurt," she said. "I'm gonna need a little extra from this joker to even things out…"

(Continued in next post.)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
The rest of the night after the robbery went by in a tired blur for Irune. She remembered her and her fellow Outlaws sneaking their way back under cloak of darkness for their hideout, where they made their way through the house's scoured yard and climbed up to the precarious remains of a charred loft.

Sleep overtook them not long after that, as the four dozed off underneath the shelter of a listing beam next to a shattered window facing south that overlooked a tree outside, along with Waterhead Cave's auroras in the distance.


As she regained consciousness, Irune wondered how on earth she'd managed to fall asleep last night even with the comfort of part of her treasures beside her. She could feel her joints aching from having curled up on the hard loft floor, and her scales smelled like a firepit. Sunlight pricked her eyelids and she cracked them open to reveal the shade of the timbers overhead, and crawled out from under it to reveal blackened walls and a twilight sky overhead where a roof once was. The wind picked up suddenly and made the Dragon-type flinch, shivering a bit from the autumnal chill when a loud cheer cut through the air and burrowed into her earholes.

"Rise and shine, princess!" a Sneasel's voice piped. "We've got a flight to make!"

Irune stiffened up with a startled grunt, and rubbed at her eyes before she looking up and blinking. There in front of her was Kate, standing beaming by the loft's window with the shed skin of their Scrafty mark slung over her shoulder… and Dalton standing in the background with a hand thrown over his face alongside Lyle sourly frowning and flattening out his ears in annoyance.

"Kate, why do you still have that?" the Quilava fumed. "I could smell that thing from across the loft last night!"

Irune reflexively furrowed her brow in disgust. She must've been more tired than she remembered last night if she forgot about Kate carrying off her… 'memento' during their escape.

"Hey, after getting smacked around the way we did last night, we needed some sort of trophy." the Sneasel answered. "Besides, I doubt that Scrafty's gonna want too many mons seeing him walking around without 'em-"

"Oh for crying out loud!" Dalton snapped.

The Heliolisk snatched the shed skin out of Kate's claws and threw them out the vacant windowsill. The Scrafty's skin sailed up and snagged onto the branches of the tree outside about an Aggron's height above the ground. Irune stared over and blinked at the skin dangling in the branches, when she noticed Kate was also looking over at them. The Sneasel folded her arms and piped back at the Electric-type with an unimpressed frown.

"You do know I can just climb up there and get them back, right?" Kate said. "It's not exactly hard for a Sneasel to get up a tree."

… Gods, the 'mon really needed to get her priorities in order. They didn't need more hurdles for making their way back to Hermes. A quick glance by Irune at her other teammates and the displeased expressions on their faces revealed they must've been thinking about the same, but there was no reason to bicker over this.

Just from the morning twilight in the sky above, it was already painfully obvious they didn't have time for it.

"We're supposed to be going over to Hermes right now since he said he was leaving at dawn," Irune scolded. "Maybe let's not get him asking any awkward questions before we even leave town, huh?"
Her words made Kate pin her ears back. The Dark-type looked about at her other teammates, and after finding no purchase among them, rolled her eyes with a sour pout.

"Tch, you're all no fun."

Irune could already tell this was going to be quite the journey to the Divine Roost. She stooped down and gathered up a small handful of glass beads she'd set out beside herself before falling asleep last night, and hurriedly tucked them away into her bag.

She picked her bag up and stretched before slinging it over her shoulder. Audible rattle from her treasure hoard? Check. The familiar prod of a book cover against her back through the fabric? Check. Her pendant…?

Irune stiffened up and patted down her scarf, before feeling the pendant's tip poke at her chest's scales. She breathed a sigh of relief and cursed herself for being careless enough to leave it on while knowingly walking into a fight. It was her key to finding the treasure she was braving Lacan and his Fähnlein for at the Divine Roost.

She didn't know what she'd do if she had lost it. What was she to do, stop the brigands she was traveling with and insist "let's find the key we've lost" and that if they didn't find it, then trying to make it to the Divine Roost was close to pointless?

… No, the less they knew about the treasure she was after, the better. It wasn't something that Outlaws needed to worry about, and if they understood what it was, who was to say they wouldn't just sell it off?

Or sell her out to Lacan or gods-knew-who-else along with it?

"Hey, are you coming or what?"

Irune snapped back to attention and saw her teammates staring at her from the bottom of the loft where part of it had collapsed into a makeshift ramp. Kate was there, tapping her foot impatiently, as she frowned back up at her.

"For a 'mon who was in a rush to leave, you sure have a thing for staring off into space!" she chided.

"Sorry, I'm… just not fully awake right now."

It wasn't a lie. Even if it wasn't necessarily the whole truth either. Irune made her way down the collapsed end of the loft and down to the ground level, as the four retraced their footsteps in the ash pile on the ground. This house had once been someone's home, maybe many someones', and yet all that remained was this shell that had yet to have anyone rebuild it.

Perhaps it was a fitting portrait for Varhyde as a land, especially if the stories of the more scarred regions near the coasts were anything to go by.

"… Shouldn't we split up the money before we leave for Hermes?"

Irune blinked as Dalton stepped in front of the group's path. Kate abruptly tensed up and pinned her ears back, letting out a sharp harrumph.

"Scales, I can add numbers," she scoffed. "Let's worry about that once we actually make it to the 'mon."

"Bold of you to assume that we'll get a chance to do that," the Heliolisk said. "Considering how there were guards looking around for us yesterday, we should assume that we'll need to pay Hermes off in a hurry."

"Sounds more like you're looking for a way to keep more loot for yourself," Kate scoffed.

Irune looked between Kate and Dalton as the pair traded sharp scowls with one another. Gods, were the 'mons she was counting on to take her to the Divine Roost seriously having a dispute over money now of all times? After all, the solution to this problem seemed straightforward enough…

"Wait, weren't we just going to pool the loot we had from before last night, and then split the remainder afterwards?" the Axew asked.

The other Outlaws blinked and turned over to Irune. She stiffened up briefly, before giving an unimpressed snort and folding her arms with an unamused frown.

"We were ready to pool all our money together before we robbed the Scrafty last night when we were still at least seven thousand Poké short," the Axew reminded. "We all worked together for that job, so isn't splitting whatever's leftover evenly four ways the fairest way of handling things?"

"Technically, I could make an argument for getting a bigger share," Kate interjected. "Since I was the one who got kicked around the hardest…"

Irune had to fight the urge to bury her face in a set of claws and growl in displeasure. From the sharp frowns Lyle and Dalton were shooting the Sneasel, they didn't think much of her argument either. The Dark-type caught herself and trailed off, before folding her arms and flattening her ears with a low grumble.

"… Ugh, fine. We'll do it your way."

The four gathered together by some raised stones that looked like they might have once been part of a counter, when they took their purses with coins out and poured out the Poké they'd exchanged their money into from the prior day. Irune couldn't help but wince a little after noticing that her addition was the smallest of the lot, and by a large margin, but it was best not to dwell on it too much.

The Heliolisk quietly counted up the coins in each pile, going up to what Irune assumed was the nearest thousand. The whole time, she was mesmerized by the gleaming coins. If only she'd had a chance to sleep on a hoard like that for a night…

"Vierundzwanzig… Fünfundzwanzig.₁"

Irune snapped out of her thoughts as Dalton finished up his count of the coins and began dividing them up. The Electric-type's hands rifled through them effortlessly, almost as effortlessly as a shopkeeper might have.

Even so, something was weird about the whole incident. Dalton had been counting to himself in Hightongue. Irune couldn't say that she remembered running into too many Pokémon that reflexively did that before… or spoke with an accent like Dalton's at all. Most Pokémon that did were highly educated, or else occasional Wilders from particularly remote corners of Varhyde.

And the Pokémon she'd heard the most that spoke with an accent like Dalton's over the past year was Lacan. It was probably nothing, but she just hoped that it wasn't a bad omen of some sort.

An audible clink jolted the Axew back to attention. She looked down and much to her astonishment, and saw her share of the loot in a purse by her feet. The Heliolisk took his own share and stuffed it away in the satchel, before turning his attention to the purse with their flight fare in it.

"I suppose that all that's left at this point is picking someone to carry Hermes' money, and-"

"That shouldn't be an issue, Dalton. I'll do it."

Irune blinked and glanced over at Lyle as made his way over to Hermes' money. Dalton raised his snout and narrowed his eyes dubiously at the Quilava, as the stoat noticed his stare and began to smolder in irritation only to catch himself with a blink. Was Lyle really expecting anything different? Perhaps Kate trusted him since the two seemed to have history with each other, but she and Dalton had known him for all of two days. Even if they had a shared interest right now, he had to understand their hesitance… right?

"Look, I know these surroundings better than anyone," the stoat sighed, shaking his head. "And if I get cornered, I've got a way of buying time to slip away so that way we're not left handing empty air to Hermes. That's as good an argument as any for me to do the honors, right?"

"Yeah, Lyle and I go way back," Kate chimed in, leaning up against the Quilava. "And hey, he got us around town in one piece, didn't he? Besides, if you really trust him that little, just hold onto his share until we're airborne or something like that."

Lyle's eyes widened briefly and his vents came alive, but before he could protest, Dalton snatched his purse out of his paws and narrowed his eyes in reply.

"I suppose I can live with that."

… Looked like that issue resolved itself, even if Lyle was shooting a scowl at Kate that looked much as if he'd been suddenly soaked by a bucket of water. All of a sudden, the Quilava tensed up, and hurriedly ducked against the charred remains of the counter with a quiet hiss.

"Quick, get down!"

Irune's heart skipped a beat and she dove for cover with her teammates when creaking and groaning rang out from the direction of the front entrance. The four watched, where through the remains of the front door, they watched a wagon laden with hay pulled by a Meganium drift by. Team Forager froze briefly, Irune feeling her heart race in her chest as she heard Lyle suck in a sharp breath beside her and grumble under his breath.

"Blauflamme. I thought it'd be less active this early in the morning," he remarked. "Guess I should've known better when the town's starting preparations for the Autumn Festival."

Irune tensed up and shot a worried glance over. After the way they'd overheard Lacan's Oberstleutnant talking with the local guards the other day, was it even safe to move around openly in Moonturn Square? Who knew what on earth her or some other 'mon from it had told the guards by now?

"… How are we supposed to make it to Hermes, then?" the Axew gulped.

Lyle cast a glance through a gutted side window and off at a tattered fence. Irune turned to follow his line of sight, where she noticed there was a gap where one of the planks was missing. Behind it, there was an alleyway on the other side not unlike the one they'd ambushed the Scrafty in the prior night. The Quilava hesitated a minute and visibly drifted in his thoughts, before shaking his head back.

"… There's more than one way to the marketplace from here. Come on, we'll take a route off the beaten path."

A quick sneak out through the yard of the gutted house and a hop over the fenceline later, and Team Forager found themselves in the backstreets of Moonturn Plaza. Their journey down them took them along cramped lanes and alleyways as the town's nightly rhythms increasingly gave way to their morning ones. On their way, the four caught glimpses of the town's life through peeks out into more public parts. There was the Drakloak they spotted nudging an anxious-looking Dreepy at the entrance of the local school with a "Keine Angst, Schatzi.₂ You'll do great today, I know it", the Miccino sweeping the front of a bakery with her tail in anticipation of a new day's worth of customers to tend to, and the less-than-sober Noctowl stumbling out of a bar grumbling over how on earth Pokémon could stand going about at 'this unholy hour'.

The four came across a crossroads in front of a dusty Dojo run by a Crabominable that looked like it was barely trafficked, where Lyle's ears suddenly pricked up at the sound of approaching chatter, and prompted him to hurriedly motion his teammates for a stop.

"Wait, someone's coming."

The four hastily pinned up against the wall in a small alcove at the back of a timbered building. There, crossing the mouth of the alleyway were the same Zweilous and Scizor guards from the day before, the Zweilous' left head let out a yawning grumble as he shuffled along.

"Cripes, how'd we get stuck with a shift this early?"

"Genug jetzt!₃ Here I thought that yappy Floatzel back at the garrison was an earful, but you're sure giving him a run for his money!" the Scizor hissed. "We always start earlier on this day, maybe you shouldn't have been hitting the bar last night if you didn't want to be miserable."

"Oh sod off! We wasted our evening questioning some Exploration Team!" the Zweilous' right head protested. "Some team of red-scarved dweebs called 'Team Trailblazer' or something like that!"

Lyle blinked a moment, and fidgeted nervously as the pair of guards drifted past, and stopped to peek after them briefly as they rounded the corner. The Exploration Team they'd nicked their scarves from were here yesterday? Gods, they had gotten lucky that they hadn't run into each other. The Quilava caught a shock of black fur from the corner of his eye, where he saw Kate tensed up behind him. She stood with Irune hiding behind her, her claws firmly clasped around a whitish Blowback Orb.

"Thank gods they didn't stop and look around," the Sneasel sighed. "For a sec, I thought I was going to have to chuck this thing at those two and that we'd have to run for it."

Surely they weren't in that much danger back there, were they? Though with all the close calls they'd already had yesterday, Lyle didn't want to gamble on whether or not random Grünhäuter in town recognized them or not from the likes of a wanted poster. Just then, Dalton pawed at the stoat's shoulder, motioning off towards an alleyway that led off towards the mass of buildings around the central marketplace.

"Looks like this alley's a shortcut back to the marketplace, Lyle," he said. "If we're that tight on time, we shouldn't pass it up. The extra minutes could mean the difference between making our flight or not."

Lyle stared and blinked at the alleyway. He hadn't come by Moonturn Plaza that often in the past, but this still felt like a shortcut he'd ought to have used before. And yet for whatever reason, he didn't have any memories of doing so.

"Not sure how I never used this one before," the Fire-type said. "Though good eye, I guess."

Team Forager darted down the alley, making their way ahead when Lyle noticed something amiss. Up ahead, to the left there was a long stretch of reinforced walls, with a taller building with green-and-white banners poking up from behind and shorter attached buildings at its left and right ends. The Quilava and his companions slowed their paces uneasily, when they noticed that emblazoned on the banners was the same triangular sigil of the army.

Lyle bristled and felt fire prick up nervously along his head and rump. No wonder why he didn't remember taking this shortcut! It went right past the garrison where the local Gendarmen were stationed!

"H-Hey! Give that back!"

Lyle froze and watched as his teammates seemed to stiffen up as they heard a familiar, rough voice come around the corner. The four crept forward and peered past a drop-down gate that had been raised up and peered into a large courtyard. There, the Outlaws glimpsed a flatbed cart loaded down with metal tubes and wooden contraptions with springs and levers at their ends wheeling out of the way and felt their blood run cold at the sight behind it.

There behind where the cart had been was a small line of reinforced, boxy wagons, with battered, miserable-looking Pokémon in the colors of their bands from the night before queued up and being marched into them by various Grünhäuter. At the wagon at the very end closest to them, the four spotted a Ledian and Zangoose in green armor plates, the Normal-type of the pair dangling a bony club above the head of a Marowak with his arms tied behind his back with Ariados silk bindings.

That was that Dolch 'mon from the caravan! And that was Alvin he was bullying around!

"What's the matter, tough guy?" the Zangoose sneered. "I seemed to remember you being a bit braver that night out at the caravan!"

The Normal-type's taunts drew an unimpressed buzz back from the Ledian, who flitted up and waved his arms with an impatient hiss.

"Dolch, stop holding everything up!" the Bug-Type grumbled. "Get the prisoner onboard so we can keep processing!"

"Tch, relax, we're not in any rush right now," the Zangoose scoffed back. "So why not have a little fun first?"

Lyle felt his blood boil and heat simmer off his vents. The Quilava ducked back behind the entrance, struggling to fight back angry fire when he felt someone prod at his shoulder. A quick glance over revealed Irune looking up, and staring with worried eyes.

"Lyle?" she whispered. "Isn't that the Marowak that was with you earlier?"

He said nothing in reply, as did Kate and Dalton, when a sharp tak reached their ears. Lyle peeked past the gate and saw that it came from Dolch batting the knobbed end of Alvin's club against his head. The Ledian shot an exasperated frown over to his counterpart, who dutifully ignored the Bug-type's displeasure to lean in and further taunt his captive.

"So what changed? Do you stupid lizards really just curl up in a ball whenever you're parted from your bones?" Dolch scoffed. "Or maybe you're like this because you don't have anybody to hide behind!"

"W-Why don't you untie me and we'll see who's curling up in a ball, huh?!" Alvin snapped. "Let's see how tough you talk then!"

The armored Zangoose rolled his eyes, and gave a dismissive scoff before delivering a stiff jab at the Marowak's belly with his club.

"Oh yeah, you're really intimidating," Dolch snorted. "All your ringleaders are having a nice, long tour inside an Apricorn right now for what's left of their short, sorry lives."

The Ledian twitched his antennae before interrupting the Zangoose with a sharp buzz.

"Actually, I could've sworn the Staraptor with them got a different sentence. Though with that wing of hers and how badly she got messed up, I'm not sure it'd make much of a difference…" he started, before trailing off and hastily correcting himself.

"Wait a minute, why am I even arguing with you about this?! Focus on getting these 'mons loaded up and-"

"Look, will you shut up for a moment? I'm in the middle of something here!" the Zangoose snapped. "I was just telling this dweeb how I seem to remember that Steelix in charge of his merry little band of scum selling out his own lieutenants to try and to save his own hide! Sure worked out great for the lot of 'em!"

Lyle watched as Alvin's eyes widened for a brief moment, before he hung his head glumly. What little defiance the Marowak had earlier had been swiftly stripped away. It took every ounce of willpower in Lyle's body to not just charge ahead and set that bastard's fur alight. Dolch curled his muzzle into a cruel smile afterwards, as the Ledian let out a sharp sigh and loud harrumph.

"Some truly remarkable honor among thieves there," the Bug-type buzzed. "Perhaps that tour in that penal unit you and your buddies are set to take will fix that. Assuming you last more than a week after arriving in Edialeigh. But hey, better you than someone 'mons will actually miss."

"Face it, Marowak. You're alone," Dolch sneered. "And as long as that's true, there's nothing you can do to get the drop on me!"

Lyle pinned his ears back and felt his head spin at the Zangoose's words. They- They were sending Alvin to Edialeigh? As part of the levy that was going around? The Quilava grit his teeth and felt hot, angry flames from his vents and reflexively took a few steps forward when he saw Alvin abruptly perk up

The Marowak tilted his head just enough for the corner of his eye to line up with Lyle's, only to stay in place and go rigid. Lyle watched as Alvin opened his mouth, only to remain silent and gulp down his words. He- He could see them, but the Marowak stayed quiet. He had to know that calling out for would give them away, and so he just sat there, silently glancing back until his Zangoose captor snapped him to attention with a loud snarl.

"And what are you looking at, Outlaw?" Dolch demanded, prompting Alvin to jerk his head back to attention with a startled stammer.

"N-Nothing!" he insisted. "I just thought I-! Ack!"

Lyle felt his blood boil with rage as the Zangoose delivered a stiff kick at Alvin's gut, sending him slumping over coughing and gasping for air. The guard scowled down, tightening his red eyes into a sharp glare down at the Marowak below.

"Then pay attention to some important 'mons here!" he snapped.

Dolch kicked Alvin again, which drew a pained yelp. His Ledian partner flitted back with an unimpressed buzz, though otherwise did nothing to intervene. Lyle stormed forward, only to feel Dalton pull at his ear and throw a paw over his mouth. Irune stared on in startled shock only for Kate to grab her shoulder and do much the same.

"C-Come on," she said. "We're leaving."

Lyle thrashed and tried to spit up fire, only for the Heliolisk's grip over his mouth to remain firm when halfway back into the alley, the cold realization won out against his temper: they were four 'mons, with a stolen bag from a bunch of rookie Hunters. There was nothing they could do.

Lyle felt his mind go blank and his body go limp as he flopped back into the alley and fought back bitter tears. He could see Irune wrench herself free, looking back at her fellow Outlaws with a disgusted glare.

"That's your friend! He's about to be conscripted!" she cried. "How can you just leave him behind like that?!"

Kate shook her head back, flattening her ears and pawing at her arm with a low mutter.

"You think that I like seeing Alvin like that?" she spat "Irune, there's nothing we can do right now!"

"That's nonsense!" Irune spat. "You all fought your way through some of those same guards just two nights ago, and-"

"And we had help for that, which all got caught," Dalton finished. "Seriously, what the hell do you expect us the four of us to do against a garrison like that? Are you seriously telling me that you never had to do this for your 'Balance Bandits'?!"

Irune froze and bit her tongue, as a flash of guilt seemed to come over her face. Lyle couldn't make out more past that, as his eyes misted over with bitter droplets. He pawed at his eyes and looked away, gulping back a lump in his throat.

They were lucky they weren't in that courtyard themselves at the moment. The four of them were on borrowed time, living off the good name of complete strangers until somebody noticed they didn't belong. Even the most romantically-inclined idealist would have to admit that fighting their way through a garrison to come to a friend's aid was a fantasy to say the least. Lyle turned his head at the sound of pattering footsteps and saw Dalton lower his head and shuffled forward towards Irune, patting at the Axew's shoulder with a low sigh.

"I know where you're coming from, and I wish things could be different, but this is just life for Pokémon like us. Surely you know from experience," he said. "And you would know as well as any of us that this just isn't a battle we can win right now"

Irune said nothing back and let her gaze fall towards the ground. Lyle wiped at his eyes and brushed past his teammates. If he never saw this gottverdammten hole again in his life, it'd be too soon. He made his way down the alleyway for the mass of buildings of the central marketplace, turning back to his teammates with a bitter, shaky huff.

"W-We promised Hermes we'd have his money by now," he said. "Let's just get going and get out of here."

The Quilava shuffled forward, his teammates following along one by one in sullen, deflated moods. The buildings seemed to blur together as they made their way down the alley, for the ring of ruins about the central marketplace. They saw the sunlight again after exiting back out into the main square along the back wall of a bank run by a Garchomp who was arguing with a Pyukumuku trying to make a deposit in Carolins and walked out into the morning crowds, when a sharp cry pricked their ears.


Lyle stiffened up as he heard a distinctly angry, yipping voice call out from among the crowd. The Quilava hastily reared up and looked around with a start as he tried to find its source.

"Huh-? Gah!"

A jet of water abruptly zipped in and struck him in his face. Lyle yelped and hit the ground, rolling onto his feet and pawing at his drenched facial fur as his teammates braced themselves. Just in time to see a quartet of a Dewott, a Grovyle, an Eevee, and a Houndour storming up. The lot of them sported livid glares, and much to Lyle's blanching realization, the exact same red-and-silver scarves Kate nicked on the route leading into town.

"B-Blauflamme. Just when this day couldn't be going any worse."

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Vierundzwanzig… Fünfundzwanzig. - "Twenty-four… Twenty-five."
2. Keine Angst, Schatzi. - "Don't worry, sweetie." lit. "No fear, little treasure." Usable in a context of between lovers, or as in this case, towards a child by a parent or grandparent.
3. Genug jetzt! - "Enough already!"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Square, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​


I have studied your latest report, and believe I can make an educated guess as to your Carrier's route. He is most likely to take the route heading east into Toya Square. There are only so many Pokémon that could carry a party of four as a single Carrier, and their physiologies would strongly favor warmer flight paths.

There is a Mystery Dungeon there consisting of a set of overgrown human ruins near a set of falls—you are to station your units in the localized jungle and await the group's arrival. I have already dispatched Furierᵃ Strachey and Gemeinwebelᵇ Frantz along with a small number of our badge dispatchers and all units capable of covering the distance to Toya Square overnight to aid you to that end.

As for me, I will be staying behind with a small formation of fliers and an Illusionist to provide cover and tasking Feldwebelᶜ Helmholtz to mobilize the rest of the rest of the Fähnlein after us. Should the local Gendarmen fail to apprehend the Dyad's party, we will tail their Carrier from Moonturn Square until they draw closer to your position. Once we come in range of badge communications, report your and your units' positions, and it should be a simple matter of herding the Dyad and her party to you as appropriate.

Were matters less sensitive and the potential consequences of being compromised less dire, I would gladly fly up and strike this Carrier out of the air the moment he left the town's walls. But we do not have the luxury of conducting our mission out in the open, and as such, it is better to remain patient so that way we can conduct this interception a safer distance away from prying eyes.

Take heart. The Dyad is almost within our grasp. And through her, Our Aegis. Our Vengeance. Who will bring this land we call "Varhyde" to lasting victory over her tormentors.

- Urgent dispatch from Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans to Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmors

a. Furier - More commonly rendered "Fourier", a spelling of French origin. A military rank in Germanosphere militaries given to people who handle logistics commonly rendered as "Quartermaster Sergeant" in English. Historically, every Fähnlein had one Furier/Fourier in its ranks.
b. Gemeinwebel - lit. "common usher". A historical rank in Germanosphere militaries, which in a Fähnlein were elected in pairs from the ranks of its mercenaries to act as mediators between the Captain/Hauptmann and the lower ranks. Sometimes rendered in English as "Common Sergeant".
c. Feldwebel - lit. "field usher". A rank in Germanosphere militaries analogous to a "Sergeant", presently still in use in Germany and Switzerland.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Die Welt, die der Glühende Blitz hinterlassen hat, war eine Welt, die von Geheimnissen und Wundern geprägt war, zusammen mit den Echos der Großen, die in unserer Mitte zurückgelassen wurden. Die wir "Menschen" nennen.

Und doch gab es in unserer gesamten aufgezeichneten Geschichte jene, die behaupteten, Menschen zu sein. Manchen fehlt die Erinnerung, kennen nichts als ihre Namen. Aber sie tragen immer unsere Formen und behaupten, seltsame Kreaturen zu sein, die in fremden Körpern gefangen sind.

Die meisten dieser Pokémon entpuppen sich später als Scharlatane, die die Hoffnungen und Neugierde anderer ausnutzen. Und doch weisen manch andere Qualitäten auf, die sich jeder Erklärung entziehen. Kenntnisse längst vergangener Schriften und Weisheiten, unmögliche Kräfte wie Hellsehen über ihren natürlichen Fähigkeiten, einige sollen sogar die Gunst der Götter gewonnen haben.

Bei solchen Figuren ist schwer zu unterscheiden, wo die Folklore aufhört und die Fakten beginnen. Niemand weiß, woher sie kommen. Manche sagen, sie kommen von jenseits der Sterne. Andere sagen, sie kommen aus Löchern im Himmel von anderen Welten. Andere sagen, sie stammen von namenlosen Orten jenseits von Zeit und Raum, wo die Dimensionen aufeinandertreffen.

Noch weniger wissen, warum sie kommen. Einige sagen, solche Erscheinungen seien nur kosmische Unfälle, andere Nachhall, der vom Glühenden Blitz zurückbleibt. Und wieder andere behaupten, sie seien Helden, die vom Stöhnen unserer unruhigen Welt angezogen werden.

Andere haben vorgeschlagen, dass es ihre Anwesenheit selbst ist, die dazu beiträgt, unsere Welt zu beunruhigen, und argumentieren, dass sie vielleicht zu gut in die Form der meisten Helden dieser Welt passen. Große und kleine Pokémon, die in einem Land als Retter gejubelt und gefeiert und in einem anderen als Geißel verachtet und gefürchtet werden.

- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«

"Yeah, you better be scared! Those are our scarves you stole!"

Kate flinched at the sound of the Dewott's sharp, accusatory cry. The otter glared at her, pointing his scalchop at her and her teammates. Around his neck was a red scarf with a silver, three-pronged spike, the same pattern and colors as the scarves they were wearing. The same ones she'd stolen on the way into Moonturn Square.

The Dewott's teammates were similarly in a surly mood. There was the Houndour towards the rear, flashing his teeth with a low growl. The Eevee wearing what appeared to be some sort of clip over her left ear that looked like some kind of gray cross with shortened arms who was doing much the same… if looking more silly than intimidating. And of course, the Grovyle of the group, who was currently tightening up the leaves on her arms into blades and letting out a sharp hiss, as she held out Irune's old, now dirt-caked scarf out in front of them.

"I believe that this is yours, we found it after following your footprints around from our campsite," the Grovyle piped. "Must say I was expecting a bit more from the ne'er-do-wells that've been running our name through the mud, but if you think we're just going to sit and take this, you're sorely mistaken!"

… Gottverdammt, she hated when Lyle was right. Fortunately, these Hunters were just a bunch of rookies and surely wouldn't be too hard to shake on their way to Hermes. But boy, did they know how to pick the world's worst timing.

A quick glance up ahead revealed Lyle and Irune shrinking back from the quartet of strangers, while off to her left, Dalton was bracing himself for battle. All the while, Kate cocked a brow and flattened her ears out, wholly unimpressed with the team of Hunters accosting them.

"I'm sorry, but who are you dorks again?" she asked.

"My name's-" the Dewott started, only to catch himself and trail off. "Eh, what do you care? Don't try and change the subject!"
"Our name's Bel, and we're Team Pathfinder!" the Houndour of the lot chimed in, striking a determined pose. "The rising stars of Varhyde who bravely march on to protect the world from devastation!"

Oh yeah, that sounded really impressive… not. Also, 'we'? Was this guy passing himself off as some royal, or was he a nut? … Probably a nut. The Dark-type's teammates looked similarly unimpressed, the Grovyle of the bunch taking a moment to sidle up and give an unamused paw at the Houndour's shoulder.

"Uh, Bel?" she said. "I think that we can spare the dramatic introductions here."

The Eevee was similarly unenthused, as she shot an aside glance over to her Dewott teammate, speaking to him from the corner of her mouth with a barely-concealed whisper that Kate's ears could pick up as clear as day.

"You and Vilma really need to hurry up and come up with a different catchphrase, Cruz," she sighed. "I know Bel's still getting used to things since we recruited him, but this is ridiculous."

"We weren't expecting him to actually go off blurting that out loud when he said it was a work in progress, Nellie!" the Dewott whispered back. "Why, that catchphrase makes us sound like a bunch of common criminals!"

"More like a bunch of dweebs," Kate scoffed. "What sort of band of criminals would be taken seriously with a motto like that?"

Kate snapped back to attention after the sound of a low growl, as she spotted the Grovyle of the lot nearing with a sharp scowl and gesturing ahead at her and the rest of Team Forager.

"The point is, we've been hearing about all the trouble you've been starting around town, going around and trying to steal things in our colors," the Grass-type piped. "We might have an escort mission to make later today, but we've got plenty of time to teach you a lesson beforehand!"

Kate rolled her eyes and began to walk off, when she noticed that the nearby bystanders were beginning to shuffle back a safe distance, and the members of this Team Pathfinder were bracing themselves for battle.

Seriously? Now? Right when they were about to take a flight out of this dump?!

Kate noted that the rest of her teammates looked visibly unnerved. While the team of Hunters that accosted them didn't seem that hard to manage, a few passersby had stopped to stare at them. Which was probably a bad sign for how quickly they were wearing through their disguises. Lyle stepped forward, forcing a nervous smile over his face, waving to the watching townsfolk as he attempted to explain away their hostile encounter.

"J-Just a little disagreement among teammates!" the Quilava insisted. "Nothing to worry abou-"

"Disagree your way out of this!" Cruz cried.

The Dewott drew his Scalchop as water wreathed it from his paw, the otter lunging for Lyle with a slash that ran across his belly. The Quilava stumbled back with a yelp and lit up his vents out of reflex.

The otter's other teammates then lunged forward, Kate hurriedly sidestepping a spray of embers from the Houndour while Dalton stepped ahead with a low, annoyed grumble as sparks began to dance on his hide.

"So much for a diplomatic solution…" he sighed. "Have at you!"

Dalton darted ahead and threw a wide, arcing burst of electricity that shot out and struck their assailants before zipping back towards himself. A Parabolic Charge from the looks of it, and from the sound of it, one that had stung. Kate breathed out an Icy Wind afterwards for good measure to throw the Hunters off balance, and turned to run, only to notice much to her astonishment that the team's Grovyle and Dewott had swung around to cut them off.

Gottverdammt, seriously?! Couldn't these dorks have picked a fight sometime when they weren't about to miss a flight?! The Sneasel crouched and braced herself, motioning to her teammates with a sharp cry.

"Hit 'em with everything you've got and let's get out of here!"

Kate, Lyle, and Irune darted forward into the fray, Kate lobbing a spray of icy flechettes at that 'Vilma' Grovyle from a distance while, Lyle followed up by barrelling into her with a Flame Charge. Good to see that even when he was a couple of years out of practice, Lyle could still use his head. Literally in this case.

The hiss of dragonfire and a sharp yelp turned Kate's attention off to her left, where she saw bluish embers dissipating from in front of Irune, and further back, Cruz skidding along the ground. The Dewott brushed at a chunk of singed fur and grit his teeth, before Kate noticed that Irune was completely undefended, and from the look of it, the Dewott had seen it too.

"Vilma! The Axew's open now!" the Water-type cried. "Help me take her!"

Kate whirled her head leftwards and right on cue, a blur of green and red zipped in and struck Irune along her left flank, knocking her to the ground. Kate hissed and grit her teeth, readying an Ice Shard in her claw as she beelined for Irune, only to suddenly feel burning pain rake her body.

Kate thrashed and yowled as she was swept up in an Ember, tumbling to the ground and entering a quick roll to put out stray cinders when she saw Bel running at her with fangs bared.

"Send us a telegram from hell, evildoers!"

"Back off, mutt!"

Kate braced her right claw, throwing a Brick Break forward the caught Bel in his throat. The Houndour reeled and bowled over gagging and wheezing for air. Bel never got a chance to recover, as Dalton stomped at the ground and threw chunks of stone and rock at the Dark-type, the Heliolisk's Bulldoze upending a stand of protective amulets as the Houndour went still with a sharp yelp.

On the sidelines, a few onlookers were starting to get unnerved, as a couple remarks of "someone get the Gendarmen" went around, but otherwise the rest were content to look on, a few like a Geodude taking the opportunity to actively egg the two sides on to fight.

One down, they just needed to throw the other three off-balance long enough in order to slip away-


A sharp cry of pain turned Kate's attention back to Irune, as she stumbled away from a watery slash run across her back. Because of course those Hunters would gang up on the one Pokémon they absolutely couldn't afford to leave behind for their flight. The Axew cried out in pain as she bolted forward, just as Cruz pulled his scalchop back and Vilma gave chase after her.

"Hah! I don't know why they even bother!" the Grovyle scoffed. "Just a little more-!"

"Paws off, you little runts!"

A fiery blur sailed in, driving the Dewott and Grovyle back as Lyle stepped in between Irune and her attackers as the fire from a fresh Flame Charge dissipated from his pelt. That was as good a sign as any to step in. It wasn't like Lyle was going to be able to handle that Dewott on his own. Kate bounded forward, readying an ambushing lunge, when she suddenly felt her limbs lock up and pitched forward with a yelp. She hit the ground and quickly discovered that she couldn't move her limbs, looking up just in time to see that 'Nellie' Eevee with a purple-banded Petrify Wand in her mouth giving a taunting harrumph.

"Neutralized. Stick around, Sneasel," she said. "We'll deal with you later."

Kate snarled after the Eevee and bayed after her to turn and fight, but the Normal-type was too busy beelining for her teammates as they harried Lyle and Irune. From her place on the ground, Kate watched helplessly as Lyle and Irune were mobbed, the Quilava's swift feet proving to be of no use after he was cornered up against the wall and cried out in pain from the hacking blow of a Razor Shell.

Then Kate felt the sharp tug dragging her up from the ground, and her limbs loosen as a sharp pipe reached her ears.

"Don't just lay there! Get up!"

Kate looked back to see Dalton, sporting fresh nicks and scuffs on his scales. The Sneasel stared at him briefly, before she blinked in confusion and flattened her ears out with a disgusted huff.

"Ugh, I'm supposed to be the one using dungeon items like that," Kate growled. "Though where the hell were you all this time?!"

"Doubling back to come to your aid!" he snapped. "We don't have time for this! Let's stun those Hunters and get out of here!"

Kate looked over at Lyle, who was pulling Irune free from their ringing opponents, the Quilava's ears pinned low as he ran along visibly dripping and shivering. Irune lost her footing and stumbled, as Kate watched the other Hunters descend on her and reflexively cried out to her Fire-type teammate.

"Lyle, whip up some cover for her!"

The Quilava crouched and spat up a cloud of smoke at Cruz and his still-standing teammates, which also swallowed up Irune in the process. Coughs and yelps rang out, as the Eevee of the lot stumbled out of the smoke cloud, prompting Kate to point out the Normal-type with a sharp cry.

"Get her, she's the Hunter with all of her team's items!"

Dalton needed no further encouragement, and shot a Thunderbolt at the Eevee that made her lock up with a pained screech. While Nellie reeled, Kate rushed at her, and clocked her across the face with a Brick Break that threw her aside and into the front of a nearby card stand, kicking up a flurry of slips of colored paper as the Normal-type struggled to get back up.

"A-Agh! How is this even remotely fair?!"

A spray of cinders from Lyle put her down for the count. Kate let out a scoff and turned her attention back towards Lyle's still-lingering cloud of smoke as she saw it clear enough to see Irune trying to flee from a Grovyle and Dewott's figures amidst the haze.

"Lyle! Grab Irune and let's go-!"

The cloud of haze suddenly lit up from a brilliant ball of fire, before Vilma was abruptly ejected from it screeching in pain. The Grovyle hit the ground visibly singed and rolled about, hurriedly running off for dear life with her tails pinned against her body as the smoke cleared. There, left behind was Irune panting wide-eyed as smoke trailed up from the corners of her mouth, and Cruz frozen and staring at her visibly spooked.

"Wh-What the-? Wh-What did you do to Vilma-?"

The Dewott was cut off by a Thunderbolt zipping in, which dropped him to his knees wincing and panting. Lyle ducked in and hurriedly pulled Irune along, the lot turning to leave when a hissing shout cut through the air.

"Oi! You're paying for those wares you broke!"

The four glanced over and saw a Sableye at the head of a group of Pokémon making their way over from the crowd of onlookers. Kate sucked in a sharp breath and grimaced, as Cruz got up from the ground and shot a dirty glare back at her.

"Oh, way to go! You broke it!"

It was then only she saw that the imp was pointing off at Cruz, which prompted Kate to blink before shooting a smarmy smirk off at the Dewott.

"Whelp, looks like you've got your paws full with Command Responsibility, Hunter," the Sneasel taunted. "We'll just leave and let you get right to sorting that out-"

"Not so fast!"

Kate's smile abruptly vanished and grimaces began to form on her teammates' faces as a Grovyle sporting singe marks and chewing a Heal Seed stepped out from beside the Sableye. The Grass-type narrowed her eyes, before raising a claw to point at her and the others on Team Forager.

"That's them," she said. "Those are the thieves you want."

The Ghost-type paused briefly, before adjusting his own claws accordingly. Her Houndour teammate was also up again with a weary "our head is spinning", spitting up a seed onto the ground as he hurriedly made his way over to his Eevee teammate and slipped a one with a small sprout into her mouth that made her start to stir.

This was bad. And judging from the toothy smirk on her face, Vilma knew it all too well.

"Reviver Seeds, gotta love 'em. Just saying, it didn't have to be like this," the Grovyle taunted. "I'll admit, I should've expected a surprise like that Fire Blast or whatever it was your Axew friend hit me with, but you should've expected that we'd have a few of our own."

Kate pinned her ears back and let out an irritated hiss, as Lyle's vents flared to life and he tugged Irune to take off in the other direction, only for the pair to freeze and look like they'd seen a ghost.

"Over there, Officers!"

Kate herself froze after she felt the ground tremble from heavy footsteps and watched as Dalton turned and let his mouth flop open in startled fright. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed what had spooked her teammates so badly: there, right on the heels of a Yamper pointing them out, was none other than the green-armored form of Sheriff Mack from the day before!

"This had better be good," the Aggron snapped. "I was in the middle of getting a Lemonade and- huh?!"

Kate flinched and stiffened up, her feathers and fur standing on end as the Steel-type followed the Yamper's paw down to Team Forager's members. Cruz folded his arms with an impatient scoff, before piping up with an audible harrumph.

"About time. Where have you been?"

The Aggron guard blinked and traded glances between the Pokémon in red and silver scarves, when he noticed Kate and her companions, and narrowed his eyes into an incredulous scowl.

"You're those cheapskates from yesterday!" he exclaimed. "Just what have you been doing around town to stir everyone up like this, huh?!"

The color rapidly drained from the Team Forager's faces as they saw other Pokémon in green armor emerge from the crowd with similarly inhospitable demeanors. Kate looked on as Team Pathfinder's members shot smug grins back and seemed to relish her and her teammates visible squirming. The Dark-type set her teeth on edge, looking around for any sign of an escape route as she hemmed and hawed back to the encroaching guards.

"We were… uh…"

Kate glanced up and noticed that the shop just behind Mack at the front of his entourage had been built styled after a Kecleon's head. That was the Consortium Shop that Irune had tried to rip off yesterday! The Kecleon proprietor was once again dozing off behind the counter, while the shelf behind him was lined with wares for the day, including one lined with a row of Wonder Orbs… just like the Blowback Orb in the bag they'd nicked from Team Pathfinder the other day.

"Just getting out of here!" she answered. "See ya!"

The Sneasel reached into her bag and hastily pulled the Blowback Orb out, smashing it against the ground right in front of Mack. A sudden gust of wind whipped up, sending the Aggron flying back into the counter with a crunch of splintering wood as the Kecleon woke up with a yelp.

The shelves on the display suddenly gave way, as a Blast Seed detonated and kicked up a sudden, fiery blast from behind it and ejected much of the shelves' contents out into the street. At once, the nearby onlookers hurriedly ducked for cover as Seeds, Wands, and Orbs flew about in a chaotic hail. A Sunny Orb refracting the sun's light to make it harsh, a Totter Seed striking a hapless Masquerain and making her lurch about in a daze. Team Forager watched briefly as the lane devolved into a chaotic mess from the effects of various dungeon items activating, when Kate whirled around and motioned frantically with her claws.

"Go go go!" the Sneasel cried.

Lyle took off running with his head held low after Kate launched Sheriff Mack into the front of Moonturn Square's Consortium shop, bolting for a nearby alleyway as a rain of Orbs and Seeds laid waste to a good chunk of the marketplace behind him. There were startled yelps, mixed with the roaring bellow of a livid Aggron, cries of "Thief! Thief!", and even a "Komm wieder her!₁" thrown in for good measure. It was as clear a sign as any that they needed to get the hell out of town, and fast.

A thousand thoughts raced through Lyle's mind along with his breath and the pounding throbs of his heart. But of all of them, one forced its way to the surface first and foremost:

"Reshiram's Fur, how'd we even get into this mess?!"

Team Forager's members heard a bellowing roar and hastily ducked down an intersecting alley right as a hail of rocks zipped past. Lyle ran alongside his fellows down the other end of the intersection, ducking around bends and turns as they heard shouts ring out behind them. A slicing gust of air from above snapped a clothesline, dropping a set of sheets into the alleyway that cut Lyle off from the rest of his teammates.


The Quilava wheeled back and desperately tried to rejoin his teammates, only for an errant hail of stones to send him charging blindly for cover. He hurried down a back alley and heard footsteps charging past the other end, prompting him to hide behind a stack of crates and barrels that he noticed carried a faint whiff of something that smelled like seawater. When he looked up, Lyle noticed the roof of the Laughing Delphox and Tepig up near the edge of the bowl. Just a couple streets away from the looks of it.

Except, he was all alone, and he couldn't see hide nor hair of any of his fellows from their 'Team Forager'.

Lyle felt fire dance on his vents in a panic and sucked in light, rapid breaths. No, no, no! Damn it, this wasn't supposed to be happening! They were right here and Hermes would be flying off from this damned hole any minute now!

"Oh, for gods' sake, trouble this early already? Of all the days to get stuck with back to back morning shift and night shifts-"

Lyle abruptly froze at the sound of a yipping voice hurrying in from the mouth of the alley ahead. An uncomfortably familiar yipping voice. The Quilava turned to run when he lost his footing and stumbled, Hermes' money flopping out onto the ground with a loud clatter just as a blur of orange and cream came in and pinned him on his side, the Quilava looking up to see Nils staring down at him with a start.

"Lyle?!" the Floatzel exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

Lyle panted and looked up blankly at the Gendarm, trying to form words in his mouth only to come up with nothing. The Quilava saw the Floatzel narrow his eyes briefly, before giving a quiet scoff and letting him go. Lyle got up and hastily dusted himself, gasping for breath as the Floatzel peered down at him with his arms folded

"So you have been getting into trouble again," Nils scoffed. "What'd you do this time? Knock off that Gummi Fab there?"

Gummi Fab? He supposed the crates did smell like the same gummi mix that the Mudsdale Puller the other day was transporting. Thank gods Nils wasn't aware of how much trouble he was in right now. All he needed to do was to get him off his back at the moment, maybe pass him a few Carolins—hell, a few hundred Carolins—and get the hell out of here.

"Nils, I don't have time for this-"

"No time for your old buddy to get you out of trouble again?" the Floatzel pressed.

Lyle heard the sound of jingling coins and felt his blood run cold. He whirled over to Nils and froze, the Floatzel had discovered the bag with Hermes' money, and he was tossing it up and down with a smug smile.

"Look, times are hard and so's changing habits, I get it. 'Once a thief, always a thief' and all that," the Floatzel insisted. "Naturally, I can't let you keep this. But hey, nobody said that shopkeep you lifted this off of had to get everything back."

Hateful, livid fire poured out of Lyle's vents and he bared his teeth. No. He was a minute from making it to Hermes. For all he knew, Kate and the others were already there with him right now. He was not about to let Nils of all damn Pokémon ruin everything!

"Now what's with that look?" the guard asked. "You think I don't know that you're having trouble too? With this sort of money, I think I could afford to cut you a little charity this time-"

"Gottverdammter Grünhäuter, give it back!"

Lyle dove forward as fire wreathed his pelt, ramming Nils in his legs and making him lose his footing. The Floatzel yelped and tripped, losing his grip on the bag and sending it falling to the ground with a loud clatter. Lyle darted over and reflexively snatched it up, when he felt a sharp pain shoot through his flank as a watery burst broke over him and knocked him to the ground. The sound of a low growl filled his ears as he turned and saw Nils getting up with bared fangs and an overpowering glare.

"Ungrateful bastard!" the Floatzel spat. "Fine! Starve in an Apricorn for all I care!"

Lyle reflexively bobbed and weaved on his toes and spat up a plume of smoke at the Floatzel, attempting to bolt past him. The Quilava made it to the open back door of the Gummi Fab when he felt a torrent of water overtake him. The Fire-type flopped belly first onto the ground and struggled up in a daze, noticing the entire alleyway was drenched. Had- Had Nils used Surf?! When the hell had Nils learned that?!

Lyle wheeled around as the Floatzel charged him, only for Nils to yelp and hit the ground from a sudden bolt of electricity.

"A-Agh! Wh-What the-?!"

Nils tried to get back onto his feet when a yellow-and-black blur cut in and shoved him to the ground, the otter yelping as a gout of blue dragonfire sailed in and struck his face. There, Dalton and Irune hurried in, Kate darting over to the Floatzel as he attempted to scurry away and knocking him flat on his back with a swipe of her claws that trailed white flecks of light. As Lyle picked himself up, he saw Nils readying a jet of water, only to freeze up as Kate stepped onto his chest plate and pinned him with her other claw drawn for a second Slash at his throat. The Sneasel scowled down at the cornered Grünhäuter briefly, before looking back at Lyle with an annoyed huff.

"Hey! Give us a warning if you're going to duck off like that next time, Lyle!" she exclaimed. "If we didn't hear that racket you two made, we'd never have found you!"

Nils' eyes shrank to pins and he coughed up his water, which did little more than to splatter over his armor plates inertly. His breaths came shallow and panicked as he tried to thrash free, only to accomplish little more than an ineffectual squirm as Dalton and Irune came over and helped pin him down. Lyle heard the Floatzel whine and watched as his air sac reflexively puffed up, the Water-type looking over at him with a pleading expression.

"L-Lyle! I-It was just an argument!" the Floatzel begged. "W-We're friends! W-We can talk it out!"

Gods, Nils really was as pathetic as he thought. Lyle couldn't help but feel some sense of satisfaction at seeing the leech squirm like this, and normally, he'd have half a mind to make Nils grovel a bit over all the crap he had to put up with from him over the last two years.

"Oi! Over there!" a voice barked. "I heard a scuffle!"

Except things weren't normal right now, and they certainly weren't going to be welcome in this town again anytime soon after this. Why, for all they knew, Hermes was about to spring in the air without them. The Quilava glanced back over at the open doorway and motioned at his fellow Outlaws to follow along.

"Quick, this way!" the stoat insisted. "We can cut through this Gummi Fab!"

Dalton shot a parting Thunder Wave at the Floatzel as Lyle and the others hastily ducked through the opened back door and into a darkened space full of vats and conveyer belts with the hum of crude machinery driven by Pokémon on running wheels. The group tore along, brushing past workers like a startled Togetic as they tried to follow the lines of contraptions, running past a one that deposited a stream of what appeared to be white, sea-smelling powder when they reached a wall.

"Gah! The exit's not this way!" Kate yelped.


The four whirled around and much to their alarm, saw that they'd been cornered by an armored Zangoose. The same armored Zangoose from the caravan raid and from the garrison. From the way his red eyes narrowed, he clearly hadn't forgotten about them either.

"You're those damned Outlaws from that caravan the other day!" he hissed. "Nobody makes a fool out of Dolch the Cutter and gets away with-!"

The Zangoose was cut off by a plume of white as Kate abruptly flung some of the powder off the conveyer belt and into the Normal-type's face, Irune throwing in a pair of stiff chops with her tusks at the guard's shins that keeled him over with a pained wince as the four ran along, retracing their steps. Along the way, Lyle noticed Kate licking some stray powder off her claws, and her face scrunching up with a disgusted frown.

"Gods, that crap they make gummis out of really does taste awful before they add the flavoring," she grumbled.

"Kate, stay focused on finding a way out of here!" Dalton snapped.

They heard the voices of other guards in the room now when they spotted daylight peeking out through a doorway up a flight of stairs to their right across a conveyer belt. One by one, Team Forager's members ducked and slid under it, popping out out the other end, up the stairs, and out a front entrance into a lobby being watched by an incredulous-looking Indeedee from behind a crude wooden counter.

"Hey! You're not supposed to be-!"

The Psychic-type's protests were cut off as the four popped out onto the street outside, which much to their relief, was the same street running up the bowl of the human ruin that the Laughing Delphox and Tepig was built on.

After a brief run up, they could already make the sign out hanging over the doorway, along with Hermes. The Dragonite was shuffling out, laden with a harness with lengths of rope draped over his back and baggage slung over his flanks, grumbling to himself with a clay flask in his claws. Thank gods, looked like he was ready to take wing, and with not a moment to spare.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Hermes!" the Quilava squeaked. "We've got your money, so let's get flying!"

Lyle stuffed a paw into his satchel and pulled out their pilfered purse, throwing it at Hermes' feet. The bag landed with a loud jingle, making the Dragonite look down, before he shot an exasperated scowl back at his would-be passengers.

"Well that's great that you finally came through, but it can wait a bit given how you four obviously weren't in a rush," Hermes snorted, before snatching up the bag of coins. "I wanted a drink before hitting my route."

"We don't have time for that!" Irune cried. "Just take the money and get us out of here!"

Hermes stomped the ground and stepped forward, leveling an accusatory claw back out at Team Forager.

"Well if you're gonna give me an attitude that, maybe you can go and find another-"

"There they are!"

A sharp shout came from the group's left as they saw Mack now sporting a few burns, scuffs, and stray splinters clinging to his hide, charging ahead at the front of a mob of other guards and disgruntled townsfolk, with Team Pathfinder's members near the front. Hermes's jaw slackened, as his grip on his flask slipped and it fell and shattered against the ground, splattering red syrup by his feet. The Dragonite looked down at his spilled Lansat Syrup, then back at Team Forager's members before crouching and motioning back with his head.

"Nevermind, flying now sounds good!" Hermes yelped. "Get on or forever hold your peace!"

Lyle hastily clambered aboard, latching onto the Dragonite's bags and rope loops for grip as he made his way onto his back, Kate and Dalton swiftly following as the latter hastily pulled Irune from the ground and onto Hermes' back when the Dragonite ran up along the path leading to the edge of the bowl and sprang up.

The Quilava yelped and wrapped his paws about the rope loop nearest him as his body pinned against Hermes' harness and he felt air rush through his fur. He looked back and saw a wooden railing zip past as Hermes dived briefly, flinching as he heard the sound of it splintering, and looked to see stones and dirt cascading over the edge with Mack stomping and shouting at them from the ledge. Hermes frantically pulled up as beams and missiles sailed by, the Dragon-type hurriedly tearing southwards past the town walls. Team Forager and their companions breathed sighs of relief as they watched the attacks whizzing by grow more and more sporadic as trees and fields passed below them and Moonturn Plaza faded further and further off into the distance behind them.

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
The wind was chilly that day, as it usually was this late in Herbstmond. Even so, Lyle had never realized just how cold it got at this time of year until he was on dragonback and feeling it whip against his fur.

Two hours later, Hermes' course had taken Team Forager southwards. Lyle's heart had stopped racing after Moonturn Square slipped over the horizon without any sign of pursuing Air Marshals, which allowed Lyle to turn his attention to his surroundings. They went by in a patchwork of fields and forests, with the occasional spire or some other human ruin jutting up here or there. Occasionally, a few regions showed abrupt changes in foliage anchored by Mystery Dungeons, a couple of which were already visibly frosted in snow that Hermes dutifully steered away from. Lyle noted that the Dragonite flew close enough to the ground that he could still faintly make out wagons with his nearsighted vision, yet high enough for much of his surroundings to go by in blurs. He wasn't complaining, but he could've sworn that Dragonite normally flew at higher altitudes.

A gust of frigid wind and a shuddering shake from Hermes made the stoat clutch tighter to the length of rope serving as a grip before him as he fought back nervous fire. Maybe that had something to do with why Hermes was flying relatively close to the ground. Lyle supposed these "loops" were safer than riding barebacked, but from this high up, he felt almost as vulnerable as when he was out in the middle of deep water.

"Hopefully we don't need to fly long-distance again anytime soon," he murmured..

"Blaugh, I can't wait until we hit the final stretch before Toya Square. I'm not buzzed enough to deal with these temperatures," the Dragonite grumbled. "It shouldn't be much longer now before you start feeling the difference."

'Feeling the difference', huh? Lyle supposed that meant that Toya Square wasn't far from a Mystery Dungeon. The only way a 'mon was beating the autumn chill short of starting a fire or wearing oneself out by constantly using Sunny Day was if they were around a Mystery Dungeon that affected its surroundings.

Lyle shifted in place from his spot on Hermes' harness and fought back a yawn. He hadn't slept well again last night, not that having to get up at the crack of dawn helped. Even if there was at least half of Varhyde to go after Toya Square before reaching the Divine Roost, he honestly wouldn't have minded if Hermes had opted to stop and rest his wings a bit. It'd be a chance to stretch and get his paws back on solid earth again.

It didn't help that there weren't many things to do for amusement other than sightseeing right then. Attempting to play cards would've been a non-starter even if they had them. That left listening in on his teammates' conversations, which when he'd been able to hear them at all over the wind or when Kate wasn't dozing off, had been guarded and stiff ever since they'd left Moonturn Square… for obvious reasons of not giving their much stronger Carrier any ideas of turning them in.

♫ You said you'd love me many days ago
"Don't worry about those things"
It's not your fault- ♫

And then there was Irune at the head of the group.

The whole trip, she'd gaped about her surroundings in awed wonder, and sometimes amused herself by flapping one of her arms, or trying to hum or sing parts of that dippy song from the other day at the tavern. Or at least she was when the chill and the air currents didn't catch up with her and make her flinch and shiver, much like they'd done just now.

The younger Dragon-type trailed off and scooted back to press up against Lyle for warmth. He blinked briefly, but couldn't begrudge her too much for doing so. Alvin had done likewise in colder months from time to time.

Even so, the Quilava couldn't help but find it curious at how Irune seemed to be wholly unbothered at being stuck zipping along in midair. Or at least when she wasn't freezing her scales off. Had she flown with a Carrier some other time in the past?

"Just what were you four doing in town to get the guards so riled up like that?"

As for casual conversation during their flight… well, Lyle supposed Hermes was turning his head back to face them just now, but from the exasperated scowl on his face, it was highly unlikely he had anything to say that they'd want to talk about.

He and his fellows traded wary glances with one another at the Dragonite's question, before Kate broke the silence with a quiet shrug of her shoulders.

"Eh, just some business."

Hermes turned his head back with a sharp frown. Lyle held his breath for a moment, worrying that perhaps Hermes had gotten wise to them, before the Dragonite snapped him back to attention with a distrustful growl.

"Are you going to be any more specific?" he demanded. "Since as far as I know, there's not too much business that'll get a 'mon into hot water like that."

"Look, we had an agreement to ride with you to Newangle City with no questions asked," Dalton huffed, narrowing his eyes back. "If you're really that worried, wouldn't it be in your best interests to stay in the dark as well?"

Boy did Dalton sure know how to pick his battles… this was the sort of lack of tact Lyle would've expected from Kate. The stoat eyed Hermes carefully as the Dragonite turned his head and shot an askew glance from the corner of his eyes for a moment, before training his attention back towards his flight path with a low grumble.

"Egh, maybe it's just the cold getting to me. It's just that a couple of times, I could've sworn I was being tailed," he muttered. " I guess it's nothing that I couldn't smooth over with a gift of a little tea to the guards next time, but you four are really not making this easy right now."

Lyle sighed out of relief before he noticed that the air suddenly felt damper and warmer than he remembered. He let his eyes drift out over his surroundings again. The ground below had given way to thick forests, and every now and then, there'd be a prominent patch of fog that clung to the landscape here or there. The telltale sign of a Mystery Dungeon's presence.

As luck had it, Hermes' route took them directly past one in the far distance. The fog wreathed the sides of a table-like plateau over the horizon much like an affixed cloud, and below it were a small pawful of spindly stone chimneys seemingly rising from the forests below. That was Raptor Rock, about a day's journey overland from the royal capital of Newangle City, and half a week's journey had they chosen to walk that sort of distance.

It was one thing to hear stories about such places, but it was another to see one of them in the flesh. It was said that places like Raptor Rock were formed from the churning of the earth the Great Flash inflicted on Wander, in which entire chunks of stone and earth had been raised aloft into the sky and kept in place in defiance of gravity by Mystery Dungeons anchoring them. Nobody knew whether such places would stay aloft if their anchoring Mystery Dungeons dissipated, but Lyle didn't want to think too hard about that right now.

The topic got Lyle thinking about their final destination at the Divine Roost. It was supposed to be an island which hung over the sea between Varhyde and Edialeigh, one only normally only reachable by traversing one of the Mystery Dungeons it served as a nexus to.

Except… Raptor Rock was supposed to be a Mystery Dungeon that Hunters went into for missions on a regular basis. The ones that led into the Divine Roost… weren't, to say the least. The only alternative was to brave the treacherous skies about it that few other than the gods could manage, hence its name.

He still wasn't sure what that was going to look like for them when they got there. If they got there.

Lyle felt Irune shiver and press up against him from the chill of the winds blowing past them on Hermes' back.

The Quilava froze and started to pull himself back before reminding himself that Irune was a reptile. Without a pelt to keep her warm or an element to counter the effects of the chill, it was only logical she'd find these temperatures uncomfortable. Lyle frowned and looked down, when he glimpsed Irune tugging her dart-like pendant with its white, gray, and black bands out from under her scarf.

The Fire-type tilted his ear puzzledly. What was that thing? And why the Axew had felt a compulsion to wear it while riding a flier as swift as Hermes?

He quietly reached a paw out for it, only for Irune's eyes to suddenly widen and her to clutch onto the bauble with a fierce glare and low growl from the back of her throat.

"Paws off, Quilava," she spat. "You don't see me rooting through your stuff, do you?"

Well, she certainly had her guard up as an Outlaw. A bit too up, if he said so himself. Lyle frowned and flattened his ears, giving a low harrumph in reply to the Dragon-type.

"If you're not going to let me get a closer look at it, would you at least tell me what that thing is?" he asked.

"I already told you," she huffed, stuffing the pendant back under her garb. "I need it for when we get to the Divine Roost!"

"That's not an answer and you know it," the Quilava scoffed. "Seriously, what is that thing? A key? A weight? What on earth would a stone wedge like that have to do with a treasure?"

The Axew fell silent and seemed to falter a moment, as if she were unsure of what to say next. After a long hesitation, she shook her head, before narrowing her eyes back sharply.

"That's not a matter that concerns a thief like you."

Lyle blinked for a moment, noticing Hermes' shadow falling over the treetops below briefly, before he snapped back to attention and narrowed his eyes with a quiet scoff.

"'A thief like me'?" he muttered. "Just what's that supposed to mea…"

Lyle abruptly trailed off, as the Quilava's eyes drifted off to the right and noticed that there, on the treetops behind them, were the shadows of a good dozen shapes closing in on their position. Dalton similarly spotted it, and clung tightly to his loop, pointing with his mouth hung open in shock off behind them and crying out something that he couldn't make out over the wind.

Lyle looked back past Hermes' tail and saw nothing but empty air, when his ears suddenly pricked at the sound of strong wingbeats. He at first thought it was his ears playing tricks on him, when he noticed Kate stiffen up with her fur tensed up and her ears pinned out. She'd heard it too.

The Quilava flushed pale as a dawning realization came over him: they weren't alone right now. He felt Irune paw at him, her earlier scowl now gone and replaced with a visibly nervous grimace.

"Wh-What's going on?" she asked. "What did you three see out-?"

As if on cue, a blue gout of dragonfire zipped past, just missing Hermes' wings. Lyle threw his paws onto his loop as Hermes abruptly pulled his right claw back from the passing Dragon Pulse and jolted his body in midair, sending the Quilava lurched over the side. Lyle felt his hind legs dangle in midair and held on for dear life. He clung tightly and felt Kate and Irune help pull himself up onto Hermes' back. The Dragonite's eyes were now shrunk to pins as he wheeled sharply to the left with a startled yelp.

"Ack! Götterblut! I went out of my way to avoid the Outlaw hotspots this time!"

Lyle and the rest of Team Forager's members looked back along with their Dragonite Carrier as Dalton threw a crackling wave of electricity back at the air behind them. The air abruptly shimmered with magenta light as a number of flying Pokémon suddenly came into view, including a Zoroark clinging wide-eyed to a Pidgeot that was pulling up from an uncontrolled dive with static still crackling on her plumage.

It took all of a few seconds for Lyle to notice that the lot of them were clad in green army plates and taking on a chevron-shaped formation. Much to their horror, there, making his way to the front of it, was none other than Lacan in his cloth and mail armor.

"You've got bigger problems than a few Outlaws back there!" Dalton cried.

Lyle flattened his body against Hermes and his vents came alight with a start as a hail of beams and missiles zipped past the drake's body: lightning, ice, fire, and a few others that the Quilava struggled to make out in the confusion. Gods, were they in over their head right now! Another Dragon Pulse zipped past when an angry growl rang out, which much to Lyle and his companions' alarm, came from ahead of them. The stoat gulped and pinned his ears back, looking up to see Hermes looking back at them with a furious glare.

"I knew I shouldn't have let you off for whatever you did back in town!" the Carrier fumed. "What did you little runts do?!"

"Oi! Easy! Easy!" Kate yelped. "We didn't have any more idea than you that this would happen!"

Lyle wasn't sure what the right thing would've been to say back to Hermes, but from the Dragonite's expression, he was sure as hell it wasn't that. The Carrier's face contorted into a bared-fanged snarl at the Sneasel's protests, before he launched into a bellowing tirade that rang in their ears.

"Sure you didn't! That's why I've got a dozen soldiers on my ass right now, huh?!" Hermes shouted. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't throw you off my back right here and now and just let gravity sort you out!"

Lyle bit his lip and glanced down at the treetops below with panicked breaths. H-Hermes was just bluffing, right? He had a record to keep as a Carrier, and he wouldn't just dump them off his back, would he? The Quilava snapped back to attention after seeing Irune wave at Hermes in protest as she raised her voice.

"Look, those soldiers obviously aren't going to let you off if you try something like that right now!" the Axew cried. "Just do what you can to not to get hit and we'll try to cover for you!"

"Spinnst du?!₂ Did you all hit your heads this morning?!" Hermes exclaimed. "How long do you expect me to hold out against all those 'mons?!"

Lyle and his fellow Outlaws looked about frantically, when his eyes fell on a sudden drop in a plateau up ahead. There, mixed in with the midst of a wide set of cascading waterfalls, was the telltale fog shroud of a Mystery Dungeon. If they skimmed it, it'd force Lacan and his cronies to either back off or else risk getting knocked into its Distortion by the likes of a stiff crosswind!

"That Mystery Dungeon up there!" the Quilava exclaimed. "If you can hold out long enough for us to cut right past it, we can force those guys to back off from us!"

Lyle watched as Hermes looked off ahead at the Mystery Dungeon. For a second, the Dragonite visibly blanched. He looked anxious. Scared, even. Before the Quilava could ask, an arc of lightning struck Hermes' hindquarters and made him lurch and lose altitude. Lyle screamed and he heard his teammates do much the same.

The Quilava screwed his eyes shut as the Dragonite pitched forward, only to get pushed down against the harness on his back as he hastily evened out. Lyle felt his heart pound in his chest and cracked his eyes open with a low whine. There, he saw Hermes panting for air, glimpsing briefly back over his shoulders at his passengers, before shaking his head with a sharp bellow.

"Alright, hold on to those loops!" he cried. "This is going to get bumpy!"

Lyle clung onto the rope in his paws for dear life and felt his body leave Hermes' harness as the Carrier dove down, picking up speed as he approached the forest canopy below. Lyle jolted against the harness' fabric as the Dragonite sharply leveled out about halfway to the ground. Or at least he assumed it was halfway to the ground from how much larger the treetops looked right now.

Their leaves were still an emerald green and Lyle felt beads of liquid roll off his brow. He didn't know it was physically possible for Quilava to sweat. It shouldn't have been, but then what on earth was…?

It then dawned on Lyle that the air itself felt warm and humid. Why, it had more in common with the wet heat of the midsummer days of Heumond₃ than the autumnal chill around Moonturn Plaza. Was that really what the weather around Toya Square was like?

A band of wind whipping over his face snapped Lyle back to attention. To his left was a wall of mist close enough for Hermes' claws to just skim it. Back above and behind them in the air, Lacan and his soldiers were headed in a diagonal path going behind the Mystery Dungeon. Hermes for his part seemed to be putting his boost of speed to good use, as Lacan and his lackeys' attacks kept veering off further and further away from them as they attempted to change course.

"Got you!"

A cawing sneer followed by a startled yelp from Kate turned Lyle's attention towards a Skarmory that was beelining straight for them. He must've flown in the draft from Hermes' wake and caught up with them! The Quilava instinctively spat up a spray of burning, bluish-white cinders in the Skarmory's face and the bird lost his balance. He heard a startled squawk as he clung to his loop for dear life where he could see Kate following up with an icy gust of wind from her mouth from the corner of his vision. The Steel-type began to fall behind and struggled briefly from the blows, when a weak spark zipped in from Dalton and settled on the Skarmory's left wing.

The Steel-type soldier abruptly went rigid with a startled screech, plummeting out of the air and into the boughs of the trees below. Lyle couldn't help but wince at the Skarmory's crash landing, and pulled himself back into a riding stance with a panting shiver. Hermes for his part didn't dare look back to examine Team Forager's handiwork, though from the abrupt loss of the Skarmory's presence, Lyle could already hear the Carrier's voice adopting an increasingly confident tone.

"Whatever you're doing back there, keep it up!" he cried. "We're almost at-! Agh!"

Just then, a blue-and-green blur zipped in. Lyle looked up and immediately grimaced. It was that damned Corvisquire from Lacan's Fähnlein in her Grünhäuter armor, with a length of rope in her talons. Lyle reflexively spat up a spray of cinders and heard her squawk with a start, his teammates shouting themselves as they tried to strike her when they suddenly felt Hermes' body lurch.

A quick glance revealed that the crow was banking and hurriedly flying off in the distance, while there in front of them, was her rope. Wrapped up and tangled around Hermes' wings. The Dragonite glanced back at the Corvisquire's work and went wide-eyed, the drake frantically trying to break free as he lurched and began to pitch forward.

A spray of stony flechettes sailed up from the ground followed by a sharp yelp. A quick glance revealed Hermes' flight was wobbling, as he pawed at his chest and wheezed for air. Team Forager's members held on for dear life to their loops as the Dragonite's balance wavered and they lost altitude. So there was a reason why Lacan's attacks kept veering off in one direction. He'd been herding them into an ambush!

"H-Hurry! Get Hermes' wings free!" Lyle cried. "We need to get out of here!"

Nobody needed any further prompting after that. Lyle made his way over to the length of rope between Hermes' wings and spewed fire along a section further away from his hide. The rope thinned and frayed, which Kate made short work of with a Slash. At once, Hermes' wings freed up, and while still encumbered, he beat them for dear life. He must've realized the soldiers' intentions himself.

Lyle clung to one of the loops on the Hermes' back as the drake hurriedly pulled up. The stoat felt himself get knocked against Hermes' back and heard his teammates cry out as the Dragonite started ascending sharply, flying past a stony ledge at the rim of the plateau as the treetops started shrinking below them. All of a sudden, Irune's eyes widened after she noticed something below, and she cried out in a loud voice.

"A-Aah! Hermes! Watch out-!"

The Axew never finished her words as Lyle watched an icy ray abruptly shoot up from among the treetops towards the edge of the plateau. The Ice Beam struck Hermes' right wing mid-beat, as he bellowed in pain and frantically tried to beat it to flee. Much to Lyle's shock, the wing visibly crusted over with ice, and for a fleeting second, everyone, even Hermes, looked at it with horrified stares.

And then the Dragonite's body rolled rightward and his smooth flight turned into a flailing tumble towards the rapidly approaching treetops below.

The next thing Lyle knew, the air filled with his and his teammates' screams as it whistled past them and their bodies began to drift away from the Dragonite's harness.

Gazing emptily, Lyle started to see glimpses of his past flash before his eyes:.

His parents playing with him when they were still Quilava and he was still a Cyndaquil, pointing out the stars in the sky and explaining that they were great fires far, far away in the distance much like the ones they wielded.

A night from when he was so young that he could only hazily remember anything beyond cowering with his parents and his brother's egg in the shop's cellar. All while the roar of marauding Rothäuter and their attacks rained down from the sky.

His father as a Quilava in front of a damaged shopfront littered with broken glass, hugging him and his mother goodbye before his deployment during Edialeigh's last invasion of Varhyde.

A night where he went hungry with his brother about a month after his hatching while his mother cried in the next room over.

The day the Pokémon deployed from his village came back from the last frontlines in Varhyde near Port Velhen thinned in number. And how his father returned as a Typhlosion but seemed wholly unable to get into the festive mood.

The day his mother evolved, and the dread she and his father had over how on earth they would afford the extra food she needed.

The day he was given his first glassblowing pipe by his father as an apprentice. And how happy and eager he was to follow in his footsteps.

The sleepless nights from his father waking from nightmares. Or from his parents worrying how they were going to keep the shop during leaner months.

And of course, the day when his mother was served that damned draft notice. The one he'd dipped his paws into banditry to afford bribing the soldiers garrisoned nearby to make disappear from the records.

Lyle felt his body jolt against Hermes' harness and snap back to attention. The Dragonite had managed to flatten himself out and pulled up just above the treetops. All of a sudden, Lyle launched forward as Hermes hit something. He watched the Dragon-type fall from view with his teammates and briefly heard their cries as he spun head over heels into the treetops below.

The Quilava felt damp foliage lash his body, and then hit a bough on his side that flexed under his weight. Lyle wrapped his paws around the branch, as it whipsawed back and forth while his vision ran muddy and he heard his vents pouring sputtering fire.


And then it gave way and he fell, his body tumbling against one branch or set of vines after another before he hit a large fern and came to a hard stop against the ground on his back. Lyle lay there stunned for a moment, trying to roll over onto his feet as ferns and vines nestled among tall, shaded trunks danced in his vision.

The last thing he remembered before his strength gave out and the world went dark was keeling over and feeling the side of his head hit the damp earth.

"Lyle! Lyle!"

The first thing Lyle remembered after passing out was Kate's voice and a sharp prick at his side. The Quilava tried to curl and flare up, only to hear his fire sputter and his Sneasel teammate cry out 'Hey! Watch it!' in reply, probably from being too close to his vents again. The Fire-type felt frantic pawing at his belly, and woozily cracked his eyes open with a low groan as his paws brushed at wet dirt underfoot and the sound of rushing water in the background pricked his ears.


"Get up, Lyle!" Irune pleaded. "We don't have much time!"

Lyle's eyes jolted open as he felt a set of claws latch onto his forepaws and drag him up, coming face to face with Dalton and Kate. The two of them were visibly winded, with Kate's feathers frayed and mussed from a clumsy fall, and Dalton's hide missing scales on a few patches.

"Wh-What's going on…?" the Quilava stammered. "How long have I been out? Did we shake Lacan?"

"You fell off Hermes about fifteen minutes ago, and we'll be meeting Lacan real soon if we just stick around here!" Dalton insisted. "That Salamence and his goons are coming right this way!"

Lyle looked around his surroundings and noted that the trees were tall and dark-colored, with verdant undergrowth that continued unimpeded aside from a rough path that his teammates had evidently stomped through to get to him. The canopy overhead was thick enough to make it impossible to see the sky outside of small patches, and the trees looked closely spaced. Guess that would explain why Lacan's fliers hadn't found him yet. Distant buzzes and calls of local Wilders rang out in the distance, and the air was hot and sticky, not at all like the weather Varhyder autumns were supposed to have.

"Dalton, where the hell we are right now?! Where's Hermes?! Wh-Where do you expect us to go?!" Lyle exclaimed. "We've just crash-landed!"

"The Grünhäuter got to him," the Heliolisk snapped. "Look, just get up and get moving before they catch up with us too!"

"We already found a place to escape to!" Irune insisted. "Come on!"

Lyle watched as the other members of Team Forager hurried back along their hastily cleared path, and darted after them as he saw them approach the ledge of the plateau they saw from the air. In an arcing line, they could see the contents of a wide river spill over waterfalls in the background, into churning fog that clung at its base. The Quilava followed the fog and saw that it crept up along the cliff faces in some places, including right below them. The stoat's eyes widened and he pinned his ears back with a sharp grimace.

"Oh no. You can't be serious," he demanded. "We just got chewed up in the air and now you want to jump head-first into gods-knows-where in a Mystery Dungeon?"

Kate rolled her eyes and picked up a rock from the ledge before dropping it. The stone fell from sight before roughly a second later, the faint clatter of it crashing against something hard filtered back up to the team's ears.

"There's solid ground down there in the fog, so we're not jumping straight into it," she said. "And someone's come through here before."

Lyle followed the Sneasel's claws as she motioned at a set of vines that hung over the ledge and dangled into the fog. Along them were claw marks of a creature that had climbed them. The Quilava looked back at the forest warily, before turning back to his teammates.

"Look, for all we know, that ledge leads straight to some Pocket with a Wilder's den in it!" he exclaimed. "Don't we have any way of getting better bearings on where we are right now-?"

Before he could finish speaking, Lyle heard sharp rustling from the forest's undergrowth, and spotted dark shapes flying amongst the treetops. The four braced themselves, when a rough, barking voice called out to an unseen presence deeper within.

"I hear them! They're up ahead!"

Lyle felt the blood drain from his face, when Irune tugged sharply at his flank, looking up with pleading eyes.

"There's no time!" Irune whispered. "Come on Lyle! You three know how to get around these places, and it's our only hope!"

The Quilava looked back towards the undergrowth as the approaching rustling grew louder and louder, before looking back at the vines. Reflexively, Lyle latched onto them and slid down into the fog, jumping down and feeling his feet land on damp stone. The stoat crouched and hastily rolled out of the way, his feet brushing against the edge of the ledge and feeling empty air for a brief moment. He heard the sound of Dalton and Irune following after him and could see their forms, pinning himself against the cliff's ledge and lighting up his fire to draw their attention.

Lyle felt his Heliolisk and Axew teammates sidle up against him, when a sharp hacking noise rang out as the vines gave way and Kate landed in a crouch, hastily jumping over the vines and rejoining her teammates as they whipped past her and slid off into the foggy abyss. The four held their breaths and looked up at the obscured ledge of the plateau as voices rang out overhead.

"Eh?! You said they were right here!" a buzzing voice cried.

"I mean, they were…" the first voice insisted. "I don't know what could've happened."

The four darted up against the stone wall when Lyle noted that instead of the stone of a cliff face, they were entering a darkening space. The Quilava continued on until the light behind them shrank to a rough circle, when he flared up and revealed that they were in a fog-filled tunnel.

"Keep it down and stick close," he whispered. "I don't know what's waiting for us on the other side, but I doubt it's anything good."

And with that, the four Outlaws pressed on, leaving the distant sounds of chatter beyond the cave's mouth to filter through the mist as they marched on into the dark passage ahead of them.

Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Komm wieder her! - "Come/Get back here!"
2. Spinnst du?! - "(Are) you crazy?!" lit. "(Are) you spinning?!"
3. Heumond - "July" (archaic)

Teaser Text:

The world left behind by the Great Flash has been a world characterized by mysteries and wonders, along with the echoes of great ones left behind in our midst. Those we call 'humans'.

And yet, throughout our recorded history, there have been those that have claimed to be human. Some come shorn of memory, knowing naught but their names. But they come always bearing our forms, claiming to be strange creatures trapped in alien bodies.

Most such Pokémon go on to be revealed to be charlatans, preying off the hopes and curiosities of others. And yet, others exhibit qualities that defy explanation. Knowledge of long-dead scripts and wisdom, impossible powers such as clairvoyance beyond their natural abilities, some are said to have even won the favor of gods.

It is difficult to distinguish where folklore ends and facts begin for such figures. None know from whence they come. Some say they hail from beyond the stars. Others say they come from holes in the sky from other worlds. Others say they come from nameless places beyond time and space where the dimensions meet one another.

Fewer still know why they come. Some say such appearances are but cosmic accidents, others reverberations that linger from the Great Flash. And still others claim they are heroes drawn by the groanings of our unsettled world.

Others have proposed that it is their presence itself that helps unsettle our world, reasoning that they perhaps fit the mold of most heroes of this world too well. Pokémon great and small who are hailed and celebrated as saviorsᵃ in one land, and reviled and feared as scourgesᵇ in another.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. Retter can also function in some contexts as "Rescuer", and is translated accordingly in such usages.
b. Geißel carries the same literal and figurative meaning as "scourge" in English. Unlike its English counterpart, it is significantly more elevated in language. In more normal German prose, one would use "Plage" (lit. "Plague") in this context.
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Unsere Welt ist eine, die auch Jahrhunderte nach der Abwesenheit der Menschen noch immer von deren hinterlassenen Spuren geprägt ist. Ihre erhaltenen Werke sind überall auf der Oberfläche von Wunder und damit auch seine Mysteriöse Orte verstreut. Unter ihnen ist der Großurwald einzigartig unter seinen Gegenstücke im Land der Wahrheit.

Während die meisten mysteriösen Orte, die menschliche Ruinen absorbiert haben, Teile vergangener Gebäude und Strukturen zwischen ihren Böden produzieren können, sollen die Wildes, die in und unter den wärmenden Effekten dieses Ortes wohnen, zuerst durch menschliches Eingreifen in diese Ruinen gebracht worden sein. Einige sagen, dass die Ruinen dort, die von der Verzerrung verschlungen wurden, ein Ort waren, an dem die Vorfahren derer, die heute dort leben, aus den Gräbern zurückgebracht wurden.

Was auch immer die Wahrheit hinter solchen Geschichten ist, ein Entdecker in den Großurwald muss große Vorsicht walten lassen. Es ist ein Ort mit Geschichten aus sagenumwobenen Zeitaltern, die behaupten, dass die Vorfahren der Pokémon, die derzeit dort leben, Armeen verkrüppelt haben, die versuchten, ihn zu durchqueren. Nachdem man die Wildes gesehen hat, die diesen Dschungel ihr Zuhause nennt, könnte man sich verzeihen, wenn man solche Geschichten für bare Münze nimmt. Die Pokémon dieses Ortes sind uralte Kreaturen, die stark und mit wilden Veranlagungen zu gewaltigen Höhen wachsen, besonders wenn ihre inneren Rhythmen aus dem Gleichgewicht geraten.

Wenn die Menschen, die diesen Ort geschaffen haben, solche Kreaturen wirklich zum Leben erweckt haben, kann man sich nur vorstellen, dass sie, was auch immer ihre Beweggründe in der Vergangenheit waren, verstummen würden, nachdem sie das Labyrinth aus Gefahren und Schrecken gesehen haben, zu dem es geworden ist.

- Auszug aus »Das Erkunderhandbuch zu Merkwürdigen Orten«

Step by step, Team Forager carefully crept their way through the fog-shrouded cave passage from the jungle-shrouded bluff they entered. Lyle stayed at the group's head, attempting to give off what little light he could by venting fire from his body as he latched firmly onto Kate's guiding string in his paws. As he and his teammates made their way forward, Lyle noticed that the mist began to turn a visible white, a sign of light filtering in from up ahead. The stoat made his way forward, giving a tug at the team's guiding string as he stepped forward, the mist melting away to reveal an overgrown forest much like the one near the top of the falls that they'd fled from.

The Quilava stopped, waiting for his teammates to catch up with him as he noticed that the air was hot and somehow even more uncomfortably damp than it had been back on the plateau. When the rest of Team Forager came in, they looked up and noticed a spindly lattice of impossibly large branches overhead, interlinking with each other much like a strands of a Spinarak's web. Lyle couldn't say he'd ever seen a lattice of branches like that on the surface world before, and from the way the others were blinking and staring up blankly, he supposed none of his teammates had either.

"Where are we?" Irune murmured.

"Well, a Mystery Dungeon, obviously," Kate scoffed. "I can't remember the last normal place that had tree branches all tangled up in a web like that."

Lyle looked over to Dalton, who seemed visibly tense and on-edge for a moment. Had he been here before? From the way he was reacting, it almost seemed as if he recognized the place.

"Did you come here once with the Riparian Raiders?" the Quilava asked.

"No," the Heliolisk replied, as he started reaching for his satchel. "It's just… I think we should take a moment to get our bearings and figure out what Mystery Dungeon we're in. We didn't get a sighting of the Lesser Mist before Hermes crashed, so it'd likely help us narrow things down a bit."

The 'Lesser Mist'? The arc of Mystery Dungeons further west of Newangle City that served as its shield from the western coast? Lyle wouldn't have thought they'd have seen it from such a distance, but if he could see Raptor Rock from Hermes' back…

"Scales, it can wait until after we've put a few floors between us and this entrance," Kate huffed. "For all we know, those Grünhäuter found our ledge and are already starting to make their way in!"

Dalton paused, with his hands halfway through pulling out that handbook about Mystery Dungeons they'd lifted off those Team Pathfinder Hunters. From the way he reflexively peeked back at the entrance, the Sneasel's remark must've unnerved him.

But at the same time Lyle couldn't really argue with her point. He shook his head, before turning deeper into the jungle maze. The ledge they entered from hadn't been that well-disguised.

"She's right. Try to figure out where we are during some slower moments, but it's not safe to just be waiting here like this."

Dalton studied his surroundings carefully, before pushing the team's handbook back into his satchel and shaking his head with a sigh.

"Alright, just… stay on your guard as you go ahead," he insisted. "I can't place it, but something about this Mystery Dungeon makes me feel like I've heard about it before."

Everyone nodded back afterwards, before pressing on ahead into the gouges in the undergrowth. All the while, Lyle kept his fire burning strong and his ears pricked at attention. Maybe it was just the humidity getting to him, but something about this place made him feel like he was being watched.

This should've been a satisfying moment for Lacan. His sense that his soldiers would struggle to find the Dyad in time before she fled Moonturn Square had been on the mark, as had his instincts about the route her Carrier would take. The interception had gone smoothly enough, and from the chatter through his badge, he'd learned that said Carrier had been successfully taken into custody mere minutes after his shootdown…

Except, nobody had been able to find any of his passengers. Including the Dyad.

It'd been a tense hour since then, with naught but the unseasonal tropical heat surrounding the Mystery Dungeon, his own wingbeats, and the occasional broadcast from his badge from his Fähnlein's Psychic dispatchers to keep him company. He heard the brief hum of a badge on his line flicker to life, and then Sophia's cawing voice speaking over the line.

"All units, this is 'Rakete₁'. One of the search parties found the Dyad's footprints near the falls. We followed them to a ledge overlooking the Mystery Dungeon."

Lacan cast his glance towards the falls, and sure enough, noticed a number of figures gathered at a bluff in front of the treeline a little ways off from the river's edge. The Salamence wheeled, flying along the plateau's edge until his eyes came upon Sophia standing at the fore of a small party of soldiers in green plates gathered by a ledge overlooking a thick layer of fog. Lacan swooped down, landing in a patch of open grass near the edge as he trotted to a stop and trained a stern gaze at his Corvisquire subordinate as she saluted at attention with a wing over her heart—as was custom for those in His Majesty's army physically capable of making the gesture.

"Oberstleutnant Sophia, what exactly is going on here?" the Salamence asked. "Why would you fire off your signal right after finding the Dyad's trail?"

"Because we also found where her trail ended."

Lacan blinked as Sophia raised a wing and motioned off for the ledge, a quick glance down revealing footsteps heading over it. The Salamence reflexively froze and felt his blood chill. He knew the Dyad had been growing increasingly desperate over the past year and surely was starting to become more cognizant of her nature, but surely she wouldn't have done anything as rash as trying to harm herself, would she?

… No, it wasn't like her. And there was no reason to believe that she'd learned anything specific about her nature or what His Majesty's army intended to use it for that would plant such an idea in her head. The way that the footsteps turned back near the ledge all but confirmed it. They were a clear indication that she and her fellow Outlaws had stopped to climb down something. Lacan paced over and craned his head down to see a sea of fog beneath him, along with a set of mangled vines that flowed over the edge and abruptly stopped.

The Salamence peered down and stopped to fish a golden, faintly glowing orb from a satchel slung about the back of his neck. The Dragon-type gave it a small kick over the ledge, the glassy sphere vanishing into the mist before bouncing off a small outcropping in the cliff that launched it out about about his neck's length before it vanished entirely. Lacan watched intently after the Luminous Orb, waiting for it to burst and flash its light, only for no sight or sound to come from it.

"So nah und doch so fern…"ᴰ¹

Lacan looked up and turned back to his underlings with a grumbling shake of his head. The Dyad and her companions had fallen into the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion, so it was unlikely they'd die outright from their landing inside of it. With the way that space wrapped in on itself in such places, by the time it spat them up onto a floor, they'd likely fare much as if they'd fallen through a Pitfall Trap from one floor to the next. To top it off, from what he knew about this particular Mystery Dungeon, there would be dense thickets of foliage much like the surrounding forests to break their fall.

At the same time, sending a party to search this place of all Mystery Dungeons…

Lacan noticed his Corvisquire lieutenant staring at him worriedly, and he stopped to suck in a sharp breath before turning to a waiting Houndoom at the front of the group.

"It would seem the Dyad and those ruffians opted to try and shelter in Primordial Woods and got in over their heads in the process," he remarked. "I'll notify the others. Put up some markers around the perimeter for them to find and then report back."

The Houndoom grunted and obliged, heading off towards a waiting Medicham before the pair disappeared into the brush. A few moments later, the Salamence sighed and pinched a wing at the left side of his scarf, briefly leaving behind an impression of a badge that had been pinned against its inner surface.

"All units, this is 'Sucher₂'. Stay on the line for new search assignments and converge on our signal, our targets fled into Primordial Woods and appear to have bitten off more than they could chew."

The drake let his wing linger as affirmations came through the badge, before letting the hidden metal lump go and furrowing his brow with a low sigh.

Prior to this mission, it had been years since he'd used that callsign on Varhyder soil, and he couldn't say he ever imagined this was how he'd use it again. Chasing after a little whelp who'd spent the past year slipping through his claws from one improbable escape after another.

A whelp who was at once Varhyde's aegis and her bane. Who had feints waged on Edialeigher soil for her sake lest their spies learn that the key for one of either Varhyde or Edialeigh forcing the other to its knees was already on their hated enemy's soil.

"So what are we waiting for? Let's find an entrance and start canvassing the place!"

Lacan snapped back to attention at the sharp pipe of a nearby Talonflame in green plates. The nearby soldiers visibly lacked the hawk's enthusiasm, and audibly hemmed and hawed in reply. A Yanmega among their number was particularly taken aback, the Bug-type casting a glance at the swirling fog before she shrank back nervously.

"Wait, you mean to actually go in there? Herr Gemeinwebel, have you been drinking Drive again?" she protested. "That Mystery Dungeon down there's Primordial Woods, for crying out loud!"

… Drive 'again'? Sophia clearly needed to have a conversation with Frantz about his habits sometime later. Even if Lacan didn't think much of the Bug-type and her fellow soldiers' visible display of nerves, it was hard to fault them.

"Yeah? So?" the Talonflame scoffed. "It's just another Mystery Dungeon, isn't it?"

"You'd be wise not to jump to conclusions so swiftly."

Lacan loomed over the Talonflame with a sharp glare that promptly shut him up after he noticed it. The Dragon-type glanced off to his left, where almost at once, he found just the sign he needed to disabuse the Talonflame of his undue confidence:

There in the brush was a group of trees that had been obviously disturbed by some sort of large creature with dark stains on it and clawed, three-toed footprints leading up to it in the dirt. The Talonflame blinked at the sight, as Lacan narrowed his eyes at him with a sharp huff.

"Go and inspect that damaged foliage there, Gemeinwebel Frantz," the Salamence instructed. "I will accompany you so you can make your argument about how this is 'just another Mystery Dungeon' to my face."

The Talonflame inched forward to inspect the site as Lacan shadowed him, only for the bird to freeze halfway there. He must've noticed the same thing that Lacan could already pick up on his nostrils from the ledge: the scent of blood in the brush. The Fire-type made his way over to the damaged foliage, and at once recoiled with a startled squawk. Clearly whatever Frantz found didn't sit well with him. Lacan thought to press the Talonflame for a report, but opted to defer as Sophia flitted over and shook her head.

"I suppose that you've gathered by now, Gemeinwebel, but Primordial Woods is well-known to be a challenging Mystery Dungeon to pass through even in the best of times. Its Wilders have become more and more agitated in recent years," the Corvisquire explained. "I'm sure that the Graf and I could traverse it if we had to, but even with our armor, I wouldn't be confident that we wouldn't incur casualties were we to search it thoroughly."

"So unless you'd care to volunteer to take the lead, I'd strongly encourage you to be less glib about venturing into it," Lacan added. "After all, I won't be the one struggling to make it through there."

The Talonflame gulped and nodded back overhastily when Lacan turned his head at the sound of crunching brush. The Salamence peered off towards the treeline, where he caught the sight of a haggard-looking Dragonite with a visible cut on his belly being marched along with his claws bound behind his back with a small party led by a Lucario. As they neared, the Lucario kicked the Dragonite's shins to trip him forward and sent him flopping onto his belly in the dirt. A Scolipede from the party came up alongside the captive, throwing some of the Carrier's tattered bags onto the ground before saluting his superior.

"Oberst Lacan, this is the Carrier that was transporting the Dyad and the others," the Lucario said. "What shall we do with him?"

"I say we break those wings of his and then see how well he flies off that ledge here afterwards," the Scolipede huffed. "That bastard and his buddies messed up Zig!"

Lacan growled for silence, before turning his head and frowning at his captive. The Salamence paced over and glared down at the Dragonite, who visibly froze and quivered as he neared. Even if the Carrier had lived to tell the tale, hiss landing hadn't been kind to him, as his orange hide was visibly covered in scrapes and cuts and his right wing was held out stiff and wounded.

It was hard to believe that the pathetic wretch in front of him was of a species spoken of highly for its prowess and strength. Let alone the same one as his departed father. He leaned his head in and after noticing a strange smell, gave a wary sniff, and narrowed his eyes after he recognized it carried a distinctive sweet and spicy odor.

"You certainly have a way of courting trouble, Dragonite. I can smell that Lansat Syrup on your breath," Lacan snarled. "State your full name and purpose."

On the ground, the Dragonite quivered and shrank back, trying to scoot away from the Salamence with a low, frightened whine.

"H-Hermes Dragonirs the Swift," the Dragonite gulped. "Wh-Whatever's going on here, I don't know anything about it! I-I was just trying to run some parcels out to the Capital!"

Lacan narrowed his eyes and turned his head aside with an unimpressed scoff at the Dragonite's explanation.

"Hrmph, I hope your service as a Carrier's better than your ability to tell a convincing lie," the Graf snapped. "If you truly were just trying to deliver your goods, you would have yielded to us after our first warning shot."

Something about the comment seemed to hit a nerve with Hermes. In spite of his bindings, the Dragonite suddenly fought against them, gritting his teeth and glaring with a palpable sense of indignation.

"Warning shot, my ass!" he fumed. "You ambushed me and were trying to shoot me out of the sky from the start-!"

Lacan lowered his head into Hermes' face and let out a low snarl, flashing his fangs with hot, irritated breath. The color abruptly drained from the Dragonite's face along with his defiance as he pinned his antennae back against his head with an audible squeak.

"I- I suppose there's always room for it to have just been a misunderstanding," he gulped.

Pathetic. And from the reactions of the nearby soldiers, Lacan gathered that his subordinates weren't any more impressed than he was. A few of them gave unimpressed scoffs at the quailing Dragonite, while others cut in with churlish voices and threw taunting sneers at the captured Carrier.

"Aren't you a brave one, Fettwanst₃."

"What's the matter, Outlaw? Not so tough when you don't have numbers on your side?"

"Ten Carolins says he craps himself during interrogation."

Lacan silenced the chatter with a low snarl and turned his attention to the Dragonite. He probably wouldn't have taken that bet against Hermes' cowardice himself, but that was fine by him.

After all, in both Varhyde and Edialeigh, his type were always the quickest to run their mouths off about all sorts of topics. Especially when given appropriate motivation.

"Is that also your excuse for aiding and abetting Pokémon committing seditious acts against His Majesty's realm?" the Salamence spat.

Hermes' eyes widened briefly as Lacan threw a foreleg forward and kicked his captive over. The Graf bared his fangs, watching as the Carrier screwed his eyes shut out of fright, and threw his mouth forward at the Dragonite's neck. Lacan felt the fabric of Hermes' scarf brush against his teeth, and for a brief moment, the Dragonite's neck scales.

But there was no need to go that far—not yet, anyways. He still needed this waste of flesh well enough to tell him what he needed. And he hadn't decided yet what he'd do with him afterwards.

Lacan bit down on the hem of Hermes' scarf as the Dragonite let out a sharp squeal. The Salamence briefly heard the wounded drake audibly whimper and felt his scales tremble, before giving a sharp tug at the hem. The sound of tearing fabric rang out as Lacan wrenched the teal and white cloth from the Dragonite's neck and pulled it off in a mangled strip. It took a moment for the Carrier to register he could no longer feel the Salamence's breath against his scales as he let panicked breaths in and out on the ground. Lacan watched Hermes tremble and squirm, when sure enough the Dragonite cracked his eyes open warily to see what Lacan could feel in his mouth.

The teal-and-white colors that had been on his neck just moments prior.

"A-Ack! Wh-What are you doing?!" Hermes yelped. "That's my scarf!"

"Hrmph, aren't you an observant one?" Lacan scoffed. "I noticed that your colors didn't seem quite right."

The Salamence spat the torn cloth into the dirt with a dirty glare. "Perhaps you should ask your Outlaw companions for a matching replacement after you rejoin them."

Lacan's remark drew a moment's hesitation from his Corvisquire companion, before the Graf turned his attention to the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl standing guard over the Dragonite.

"I have no more use for this wretch," he harrumphed. "Push him in with the rest of those Outlaw scum!"

The pair nodded before they hoisted the bulky Dragon-type up by his bindings and began to shove him forward. It was a gamble, but if the Dragonite knew anything about the Dyad or her companions, putting the fear of the gods into him was the fastest way of getting it. And if he clammed up or genuinely didn't know anything… well it'd save him the trouble of having to use an Apricorn to dispose of him.

Lacan watched as the color visibly drained from Hermes' face after seeing the approaching ledge. He fought against his restraints and wrenched his head back, crying out in an audibly panicked tone.

"Y-You can't push me in there like this!" Hermes yelped. "That's Primordial Woods! Those Pokémon inside will tear me up if they think I'm a Wilder!"

Lacan scowled wordlessly after the Dragonite when he heard rustling feathers. He cast a glance from the side of his eye and noticed Sophia seemed to be wavering after hearing the Dragonite's protest. The crow briefly saw him staring at her, before hardening her gaze back at Hermes and shaking her head with an unimpressed scoff.

"You're a Dragonite," she said. "Show a little self-respect."

"I-I used to be on an Exploration Team when I was younger and evolved early from Distortion exposure in the past!" Hermes insisted. "Pl-Please, I'm not really as tough as I look!"

Sophia looked away with a low mutter. "Then you'll have the skills to take care of yourself. I'm sure you'll last until you can be rescued by an Exploration Team."

Lacan briefly cocked a brow, as something about Sophia's voice felt like she was trying to convince herself of her own words. The Scolipede and Grimmsnarl shoved Hermes forward towards the ledge, and he was now but a few paces from pitching over it. The Dragonite tried to dig his feet in, only for his attempts to fight against his guards to come to naught as he drew closer and closer to the plateau's edge and the foggy abyss below. About five paces out, Hermes visibly bowled over and pulled his tail in towards his body and his head into his chest, much like he might've if his stomach had grown upset. And still, he kept begging, his voice beginning to come out audibly hitching and whining.

"Pl-Please! I'm a loyal subject of King Siegmund!" the Dragonite pleaded. "Th-The only reason why I'm not serving in the army like you is because I failed my vision test!"

"Well, that's not my problem, now is it?" Lacan scoffed. "Though I would be more inclined to listen to your groveling if I knew you weren't from among those Outlaws' numbers."

"Th-Those three paid me for a ride out to Toya Square! The Axew with them mentioned she wanted to go to the Divine Roost! I s-swear! Th-That's all I know! Th-That's all I-"

Lacan looked on wordlessly as the Dragonite began to choke back frightened sobs. He watched with a hardened scowl as the Carrier went up to the ledge, when he felt feathers prodding at his leg, and saw Sophia sidling up against him with an uneasy look.

"Graf Wellenhafen, I think he's being earnest," the crow insisted.

The Salamence barked out to the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl to halt. The pair stopped with puzzled frowns, as Lacan turned his head over to his Corvisquire subordinate.

"Sophia, what are you getting at?"

"He did cooperate with us, Graf. And last I heard, Soldat₄ Zig's injuries ultimately weren't life-threatening," Sophia explained. "Aside from this Carrier's possession of contraband, the offenses he committed were a result of being duped."

Lacan said nothing and frowned down at the Corvisquire for a moment. She hesitated briefly, before ruffling her feathers and speaking up.

"I'm aware that our mission is a sensitive matter, but considering this Carrier's substance habit, it would likely raise fewer questions to just let him go," she insisted. "After all, how many Pokémon are going to believe a syrup-drinker if he says he was set upon by soldiers from His Majesty's army?"

Lacan looked back at the still-trembling and sniffling Dragonite, and made his way over. The Grimmsnarl and Scolipede soldier traded glances, when Lacan stamped the ground impatiently. He hadn't decided what to do with his captive just yet, but either way, the march to the ledge had given him what he wanted. Now it was time to settle this wretch's fate with his own claws.

"Turn him around."

Lacan watched as the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl did as ordered and turned the Dragonite to face him. Hermes' eyes were screwed tightly shut and visibly damp, and the Dragon-type was quietly gagging. Lacan had heard that serpentine Pokemon often grew nauseous when frightened, somehow he didn't realize that the whimpering wreck in front of him would be much the same.

The Graf sized up his quivering captive and the foggy abyss below. He turned and noted Sophia looking and hesitated a moment, before he made his mind up.

"Unbind this commoner and send him on his way with what's left of his scarf and his cargo," he growled. "I've gotten what I need from him."

The Scolipede and Grimmsnarl blinked briefly, as Sophia flitted in with a sharp glare, with a set of Hermes' bags in her claws.

"That wasn't a suggestion," she snapped. "You heard Graf Wellenhafen, now heed his orders!"

The soldiers hastily stammered back affirmations as the Grimmsnarl hurriedly undid the knots of the Dragonite's bindings. Hermes slumped forward, trembling on the ground as Sophia threw his bags in front of him.

"The nearest route is about five minutes walking north of here through the forest. You'll surely find it from the paths our more ground-bound members had to tread in order to get to you," Sophia chimed in. "Begone and do make a point of keeping better company in the future, Dragonite."

Lacan watched as Hermes whimpered and nodded back before hastily scooping up his belongings and limping away through the brush. A few of the nearby soldiers floated snide remarks about how unbecoming the Dragonite's display was for a Pokemon of his kind, along with a passing exchange to "pay up those ten Carolins". Somebody had evidently won his bet on the Dragonite keeping some scrap of his dignity. Barely.

Lacan shook his head and nosed at Sophia and motioned for her to follow the plateau's ledge towards the falls in the distance. The pair drifted off from the other soldiers, before Lacan narrowed his eyes with a low harrumph.

He knew that Sophia had had a sense of chivalry drilled into her from her knightly order, but moments like these always worried him…

"Du bist zu nett zu deinem eigenen Besten, Sophia. Dieses Zögern von dir wird eines Tages dein Ende als Ritterin bedeuten."ᴰ²

Hermes wasn't the first Pokémon he'd relented from for the sake of his Corvisquire companion, and Lacan doubted the Dragonite be the last. Sophia had been the first Pokémon there for him since that awful day when he'd had to flee his home, and a stalwart companion in the years since then who'd been at his side during most of his lowest moments. The one he'd passed the Eviolite that King Siegmund had originally gifted him precisely because of a time when he wasn't able to do the same for her.

Perhaps he ought to have been less surprised that he still didn't have the heart to challenge her over it.

Lacan didn't know how much of that Sophia was aware of, but she didn't seem to be thinking about it right then. The Corvisquire turned her head back up to him and hesitated a moment. After a brief pause, she ruffled her feathers uncomfortably and cast a glance past her superior's wings with a shake of her head.

"Lacan, we're still in earshot," she whispered back in protest. "If there was something you wanted to talk about-"

Lacan cut her off with a beat of his wings, which prompted her to bite her tongue. He cast a glance back off at the other soldiers as they settled in and broke off into small groups, before opening his mouth to chide her.

"Aus diesem Grund wurden die restlichen Soldaten dieses Fähnleins aus Alltagsleuten mit schlechten Kenntnissen der Hochsprache gezogen, Sophia. Genau deshalb können wir Gespräche über eine so heikle Mission ohne Angst vor Abhörungen führen."ᴰ³

The roar of the falls' water had grown louder, with a quick glance up ahead revealing they were approaching the edge of the river where the water ran over the falls and into the Mystery Dungeon's fog below. From how loud their roar was, Lacan figured this was probably as good an opportunity as they were going to get to converse openly, and he opted to take it.

"It sounded as if you had something of your own you wished to say, Sophia," he said. "What is it? Though do be mindful if it's something you want the others to also hear."

The Corvisquire raised a wing and opened her beak to answer, only to catch herself. After a brief pause, she shook her head and cast a glance back at the other soldiers behind them in the distance, before speaking up again in a guarded tone.

"Ich … weiß nicht, wie wir diese Situation retten können, Lacan. Diese Ganoven sind jetzt wahrscheinlich tief im Mysteriösen Ort und die Dyade wird in den Klauen dieser Wilden im Inneren sicherlich in Gefahr sein."ᴰ⁴

The Salamence batted his tail and gave a low snort in reply to the Corvisquire, all but rolling his eyes in response. While it was a fair worry, after how much the Dyad had kept exceeding their expectations, he was surprised that Sophia kept thinking of her as some helpless child. The Generalstab₅ wouldn't have pulled out years-old war plans for Operation Spark if that was all she were.

Nor would they have tasked him and Sophia with combing the kingdom for her for the past year or changed their campaign strategies in Edialeigh in preparation for her deployment onto the frontlines over that same time when Varhyde needed every claw it could to press down on her ancient nemesis' throat.

"Oh come now, you don't need to try and disguise a matter like that from prying ears, Sophia," Lacan chided. "It's not exactly a crown secret that exits out of Primordial Woods are fairly well-mapped, so it's just a matter of posting forces where the Dyad and those Outlaws would pass nearby to intercept them."

The Salamence looked out over the expanse below the fog, and motioned with a foreleg off at rolling plains near a large lake in the distance.

"We'd do well to review what other Mystery Dungeons link to this one and try and dispatch units there as well. Or at least send notice to any local garrisons to be on the lookout for the Dyad and her companions," he mused. "I know offhand that Raptor Rock is one of them, and it has exits that open up not far from Newangle City."

Lacan's expression hardened as he remained firmly fixed out at the dungeon fog at the base of the falls, letting out a low growl from the back of his throat. The Corvisquire's worry didn't shift much, and it was honestly hard to fault her. They had already run their forces and themselves hard just to make it to this ambush and were waiting on a good three quarters of their Fähnlein to catch up from Moonturn Square. If they pushed on immediately without rest and making contact with the rest of their forces, they ran the risk of whatever forces they could marshal out towards search areas further afield would arrive exhausted and overstretched.

"We'll be cutting it close," he murmured. "If they have a run of good luck, they could be in an entirely different Provinz₆ by the morning."

Except, that wasn't the matter that worried him the most about their current circumstances. No, that had to do with the Dyad's present state. Something that he supposed had to be addressed sooner or later…

"Was Angelegenheiten betrifft, die zwischen uns sollten, zeigte die Dyade kurz vor ihrer Flucht Anzeichen eines Wiedererwachens. Bei so viel Kummer, den sie uns bereitet, sollten wir davon ausgehen, dass sie stark genug geworden ist, um durch den Großurwald in Sicherheit zu gelangen."ᴰ⁵

Sophia gave a concerned tilt of her head back, and after a brief moment of cawing hesitation, spoke up warily in reply.

"Kann man überhaupt davon ausgehen, dass sie immer noch eine Dyade sein wird, wenn sie am anderen Ende auftaucht? Wenn sie wieder erwachte, bevor sie an die Frontlinie gebracht werden kann…"ᴰ⁶

Lacan stiffened up and turned back from the view off in the distance. Time had been ticking against them since when they first came across the Dyad in that riverside hamlet they initially found her in. Likely for much longer than that. And if that time ran out before she could be moved in place as part of Operation Spark…

No. There was no point in worrying about such dark possibilities. Things weren't that dire. Not yet, anyways. From the state the Dyad was in at the time they caught her, they could at least take that for granted right now.

"Zu der Zeit, als wir sie verloren haben, war nicht bekannt, dass sie ihre ganze Macht offenbarte. Ich möchte nicht annehmen, dass wir einen großen Spielraum für Fehler haben, aber die Situation ist noch nicht so kritisch, dass dies Anlass zur Sorge geben würde."ᴰ⁷

The Dragon-type said nothing for a moment, as a cruel, knowing smile spread over his mouth.

"Besides, I assume she'll have more immediate worries on her mind once she makes it back to the outside world. She'll likely be looking for someplace to patch up what's left of her new friends. It'll help us narrow down our search area considerably."

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Dalton flinched after hearing the earthen stairs seal behind him. They climbed upwards between floors in this Mystery Dungeon, into rock ledges and mats of vegetation that formed ceilings, not that the misty sky ringed by stone outcroppings in the impossible distance above would've made one think that at first.

It'd been three floors since they first entered this place, two of them fortunately having gone by quickly from finding the stairs in short order, the first of which they'd found had quite fortuitously taken them into a chamber with another set of stairs at the other end. Their current floor had been less fortunate, and they'd been combing along paths in thickets and undergrowth long enough that Lyle was beginning to grow increasingly paranoid over anything that sounded like it might be Dungeon Winds.

"Wait a minute, are those ruins? Just what sort of dungeon did we jump into that'd have those?"

Dalton blinked and watched as Lyle stepped forward warily, crouched low and sniffing at the ground. A little ways forward, Dalton noticed Lyle come across something like hard stone underfoot, and stepped onto it with his teammates and found that it felt much the same. A quick glance at the pits and cracks at the slab they were on gave away its composition—concrete.

After scanning their surroundings, they realized they were in the remains of some sort of chamber. One of them had a faded, red sigil that looked like two comets swirling in on each other nestled among the jungle's overgrowth, making the Heliolisk stop with a startled blink.

"What in the-? What's that doing here?" he asked.

Irune looked back at Dalton, before giving a puzzled tilt of her head.

"Huh? Is there something wrong, Dalton?"

The sigil was one that some human relics and ruins in Varhyde sported, including on some of the tallest ruins still standing in Newangle City. It was the sigil of a mysterious human institution predating the Great Flash called 'Vector Ah-ghee'. Dalton remembered from his studies back in better times of his life that all the Kingdom's historians couldn't agree what on earth it even was, and all manner of competing theories as to what purpose it served for humans had cropped up: a royal house, a merchant guild, an institute of learning. Only a few things were definitively known about it, among them that the founding King of Varhyde apparently had some sort of tie with it.

But a Mystery Dungeon with human ruins inside near Toya Square? He'd only heard about it in stories from some of his fellows from the Riparian Raiders, but… surely they didn't have the misfortune to wander into there

Dalton looked down and noticed that near the edge of the concrete, there was a footprint with three prominent claws stamped down into it. He froze and grimaced. That left no confusion as to where they were.

"I… know where we are right now," Dalton said. "We're in Primordial Woods."

"Primordial Woods?" Irune asked, tilting her head puzzledly.

"It's a Mystery Dungeon that formed around a set of human ruins that have since become overgrown. According to legend, it used to be a place where humans brought dead Pokemon back to life," the Heliolisk explained. "Nobody knows how true those stories are, but the place is full of Pokémon that are rarely encountered as Wilders elsewhere in Varhyde."

A low scoff followed almost immediately after Dalton's explanation. A quick glance to his right revealed the culprit was Kate, who was in the middle of rolling her eyes and blowing a puff of frigid breath up at her ear feather.

"I think we could've done without the folklore lesson there, Scales. And I haven't heard a whole lot about why we're supposed to treat this place any different than another Mystery Dungeon," she harrumphed. "Go through, give the occasional Wilder a scare, and duck out the exit once we find it. Crappy weather and weird 'mons aside, how's this any different from going through a place like Waterhead Cave?"

"Stick around and find out, Invader scum!"

Dalton and his teammates froze as they heard a sharp snarl. Kate turned her head and her eyes instantly shrank to pins at the sight of something off in the distance. Dalton followed her gaze and immediately felt his blood run cold as the ground trembled underfoot. There, a hulking red beast with white feathers about its neck sprang out from the brush with a mob of other Pokémon all around the chamber. Strange Pokémon that he'd only run into as Civils in towns or on roads between them: a Tyrantrum, a trio of Tyrunt, an Aurorus, an Archen, a Cranidos…

If the stories he'd heard about this place were anything to go by, Dalton was sure he was going to wish things had stayed that way. The Tyrantrum from their number stepped forward, giving a low snarl as she rounded onto the four Outlaws.

"We don't take kindly to your type around here," the Rock-type growled. "So it's about time we got it through those thick heads of yours!"

They'd blundered into a Wilders' ambush. What did Hunters call these things again? Monster-Räume₇? Monster Houses? Whatever the term, it was all the same: a swarm of angry Wilders itching for a fight. Just like the ones in front of them, because of course they would run into one in a place like this.

"As I was going to say," Dalton piped. "Primorial Woods is also infamous for being a treacherous place to travel through! One where Civils that pass through it are commonly attacked!"

"So you've heard of this place," one of the Tyrunt snarled. "Then let us teach you to listen to your warnings!"

The Tyrunt lunged at Irune, only for Kate to cut in with a sideways chop of her claws. The Sneasel's Brick Break struck the Tyrunt in the side of her head and launched her back, sending the Wilder flopping onto the ground with a low, pained whimper as she weakly twitched her limbs.

"Get them!"

Any hopes that the Tyrunt's defeat would cow the other Wilders swiftly died as the Tyrantrum charged in with jaws bared. Dalton hurriedly threw a bolt of electricity at the Rock-type and scampered back, seeing his teammates doing much the same as the other Wilders charged them snarling and throwing attacks forward. A yelp from his right turned his attention to Lyle hurriedly rolling out of the way just as a Cranidos charged in with his head lowered. The Quilava hastily spat up a Will-O-Wisp and turned and bolted after his teammates as startled fire poured out his vents.

"Gah! K-Keep your guard up!" Lyle cried. "We're gonna need to dig in at a better place than this!"

Dalton hurriedly scanned his surroundings: undergrowth, concrete walls, tree trunks, when his eyes noticed a path sprouting off towards the left between a gap of ruined concrete segments. It wasn't as foolproof as hunkering down between cavern walls like in Waterhead Cave, but…

"Over there on the left!" the Heliolisk cried. "We can use the mouth of that path as a choke point!"

"Dalton! Look out!"

Dalton blinked after hearing Irune cry out and yelped as he suddenly felt something lift him by his bag. He felt hot breath against his scales, then looked up and screamed. There right above him, was the Tyrantrum sinking her teeth into his bag, her teeth just barely missing his scales.

Dalton reflexively threw his frill wide in a hail of sparks and a deafening crackle. The attack worked well enough, as the Tyrantrum let him go with a startled shout along with other cries filling the clearing and left him to tumble to the ground in a panting daze alongside a mix of items and coins that had spilled from his bag.

The Heliolisk blindly scrabbled to his feet. As he regained his bearings, he saw his Discharge had left an Archen and a Kabuto slumped over limply, and that the Tyrantrum herself was reeling with a pained whine about "he's not supposed to hit that hard".

Before the Electric-type could say anything, he watched as Kate blew an Icy Wind at some of the other Wilders in the group. Irune was also there, darting in and swiftly scooping a blue object off the ground that she flung at the Tyrantrum.

The object struck the dinosaur's snout with an audible pop and then she vanished in a flash of light. A Warp Seed? Perhaps those Hunters they ripped off weren't as poorly equipped as he originally thought.

"Dalton! Help us out here!"

Dalton stumbled up after a sharp tug from Irune, before she took off after Kate for the path's entrance. Just behind him, a bellowing roar turned Dalton's attention over to Lyle pinwheeling through the air after being hit by a spray of rocks from an Aurorus. The Quilava hit the ground and yelped in pain, Dalton narrowing his eyes as he ran at harrying Wilder.

"Oh no you don't!"

Dalton stomped the ground and sent a shockwave along its surface that churned the earth around the towering Rock-type, who recoiled with a pained bellow. From the ground, Lyle hurriedly righted himself and threw himself forward with a fiery somersault square into the sauropod's chest. The Aurorus jolted up with a pained scream, before wavering and flopping over onto his side with a dazed groan.

Dalton supposed the stories about evolved Wilders in Mystery Dungeons sometimes evolving unnaturally early really were true. He'd certainly have expected an Aurorus to put up more of a fight than that.

"You! I'll chew your tusks when I'm done with you!"

A sharp snarl turned the pair's attention over towards a blue Tyrunt pouncing on Irune and snapping at her, with a Shieldon and an Amaura running in seemingly to aid their fellow Wilder. Irune dug her feet into the dirt, trashing her head wildly as Lyle's eyes shot wide.

"Get off of her, you little runt!"

Lyle spat up a spray of cinders at the blue Tyrunt's back, which stunned him briefly. Long enough for Irune to force him off with a pair of chopping slashes with her tusks. Dalton began to build up electricity to dispatch the lot of Irune's attackers when the Tyrunt of the group got up with a low growl.

"Hrmph, have fun fighting these Invaders on your own, sharptooth!"

"Yeah! Go take it up with your leader that just got warped away!

Except this time, the Shieldon and Amaura didn't come back to his aid, and blew raspberries before darting away. The Tyrunt glanced over his shoulder and flopped his jaw open as the pair fled, his earlier confidence abruptly vanishing.

"H-Huh?! Hey what the-?!" the Tyrunt yelped. "You two are supposed to be helping me-!"

Dalton didn't wait for the Tyrunt to finish his words and threw a Thunderbolt at him that made the Rock-type thrash and squeal in pain. The dinosaur keeled over with a low whimper, struggling to get up when a blue gout of dragonfire sailed in and struck him in the face. The Tyrunt crumpled up limply, as Irune panted and narrowed her eyes back at her Heliolisk and Quilava teammates.

"I-I was handling myself fine, you know!" she insisted.

"Well excuse me for assuming his buddies weren't going to run off!" Lyle snapped back.

A pained howl rang out from the opposite end of the path's entrance, the three looking over to see a third Tyrunt staggering and flopping over wreathed in frost. There, Kate was braced for battle, turning her attention to a nearby Tirtouga and Archen, but as soon as the pair saw the Tyrunt hit the ground, they looked back at their comrades deeper in the chamber.

It was then that Dalton saw it. The rest of the Wilders were turning and fleeing. There was a brief moment of hesitation, when the Tirtouga and Archen's will to fight seemingly evaporated in front of Team Forager's eyes as the pair backed off and shot dirty glares at the fainted Tyrunt.

"H-Have fun dealing with those Invaders, jerks!" the Archen spat. "We're out of here!"

"Yeah, serves you sharptooths right!" the Tirtouga huffed.

The Archen and Tirtouga hastily darted off, joined by the Shieldon and Amaura, and then the rest of the still-standing Wilders. Team Forager looked on blankly at the emptied chamber and the seven fainted Pokemon littering it.

The Wilders that organized Monster Houses were supposed to generally be more aggressive types. They'd fought their way through less than half of their ranks, without properly defeating their ringleader and here the rest of them had just abruptly given up and turned tail!

"What on earth?" Lyle murmured.

"Tch, so they scare easily once the tough guys among them get taken out," Kate said, shaking her head with a dismissive snort. "Figures."

Dalton looked about the fainted Pokemon, and noted that of them, three were Tyrunt and the Tyrantrum they assumed was their ringleader was currently gods-knew-where on the floor from the Warp Seed.

Why, the way that the fleeing Wilders had behaved at the corridor entrance felt… familiar. Uncomfortably so. It almost reminded Dalton of stories he'd heard of mutinous conscripts turning tail after seeing their superiors fall in combat.

"I don't think that's it, Kate," he insisted. "It's almost as if they… abandoned them."

Dalton and his teammates shuffled uncomfortably for a moment, before they turned to move along. Whatever was going on was a problem for those Wilders to figure out amongst themselves, and not for them to get tangled up in. Not while that Tyrantrum was still out there prowling the floor. The Heliolisk turned at the head of the group and began to make his way for the left corridor with his fellows, when pattering footsteps and a wary voice reached their ears.

"Uh… H-Hi?"

Dalton and the rest of Team Forager whirled around, just in time to see the Cranidos from the Monster House darting at them. Dalton braced himself alongside his teammates, the Heliolisk stepping forward as electricity crackled on his hide.

"Gah! Looks like our battle isn't over!"

And then much to Dalton's surprise, the Cranidos' eyes shot wide as the Rock-type jumped back with a startled yelp. Dalton blinked a moment as he watched the dinosaur shrink back, doing his best to make himself look small as he stammered out a hasty explanation.

"A-Ack! It's not like that at all!" the Cranidos yelped. "It's just that… you're scarf-wearers and you're supposed to take Pokémon that want to come with you, right?"

Dalton eased up as the sparks on his hide dissipated and looked over at his teammates to see them trading wary glances with one another. None of them were quite sure what to make of the Cranidos' words, when Dalton spotted a brief flash of realization coming over Lyle's face. The stoat took a brief moment to shake his head, before narrowing his eyes and pinning his ears back with a sharp scoff.

"Are you asking us to recruit you?" the Quilava pressed. "You sure have a funny way of showing interest from the way you tried to jump us with your buddies a couple moments ago!"

"W-Well you can't expect me to just join someone who isn't strong enough to look out for me!" Cranidos shot back, lowering his head with a defensive huff. "The world's big and dangerous, so of course I want to go along with someone tough who will have my back!"

Dalton frowned, but he supposed it was a hard point to argue from a Wilder's perspective. After all, losing a battle as a Wilder often had consequences as dire as falling on a battlefield, if not moreso. Perhaps it'd also explain why the Cranidos was so on-edge. The dinosaur glanced about his surroundings nervously, before turning back to Team Forager's members with an uneasy fidget of his claws.

"Look, the point is, I… I want to get away from here, and you don't really seem to know how to get around, so we'd be able to help each other," the Cranidos explained. "So then… if I help show you the way out, can I be a part of your team?"

Dalton traded glances with Lyle and Kate at the Cranidos' offer as they weighed the Rock-type's proposal. He… wasn't sure how he felt about the idea, really. The Cranidos looked young, enough so that were he a Civil, Dalton wasn't sure the army would even accept him into a Tross as a camp follower. Was it really a good idea to get someone like him sucked up into their problems?

… At the same time, the Cranidos clearly had problems of his own, and they were in a unique position to help each other. Not to mention, they couldn't make it to the Divine Roost if they didn't make it out of Primordial Woods in one piece in the first place.

Dalton hemmed and hawed to himself briefly and was about to open his mouth to speak just as a small smile crossed Kate's muzzle and she folded her arms in reply.

"Heh, I don't see anything wrong with it," she chuckled. "We've already got one ankle-biter on our team. What's the harm in having another that hits like a charging Rhyhorn?"

Dalton wasn't sure how he felt that he was agreeing with the loose cannon of his team and he probably ought to have been more worried about it. He wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of having to introduce a Wilder to civilization, but the four of them weren't exactly super welcome to it themselves anyways…

"Having a guide would help us here considering this is Primordial Woods," he mused to himself. "What do you think, Lyle?"

Dalton watched as Lyle sized up the Cranidos and hesitated for a moment. Lyle seemed to visibly waver briefly, before he pawed at the back of his head with a small smile.

"Well… I guess it would help if we had another set of paws on the team-" the Fire-type started, only to be cut off by a sharp growl.

"Where is the closest exit from here?"

Dalton turned his eyes downward alongside Lyle and Kate just in time to see Irune stomping forward. She stormed ahead, encroaching on the Cranidos with a sharp scowl that made the Rock-type visibly squirm and shrink back uneasily.


"The fastest way out of here," the Axew demanded. "Where is it?"

… What on earth was she doing? The Cranidos was all but ready to join them and now Irune was deciding she didn't trust him? A flash of alarm came over the dinosaur's face as he seemed to suspect that his chance for coming along was slipping away, as he began to uneasily stammer in reply.

"I-I mean, th-there's a passage ten floors up that links to another place like this beyond the mist," he explained. "But there's better places to- Agh!"

And then the clearing came alive with a flash of blue light as Irune spat up a gout of dragonfire at the Cranidos, striking him in his right arm. Dalton and his teammates' jaws dropped at the sight, the Cranidos doing much the same as he recoiled with a loud yelp and shrank back wide-eyed as the Axew rounded on him with a sharp snarl.

"Good. Now turn around and leave!" she shouted. "This team isn't capable of doing anything for you, and the quicker you get that through your head, the better!"

That was enough from her, really. Dalton hurried over and sharply pulled the Axew back, but it was too late. The Cranidos scrabbled out of the chamber as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving Kate to run after waving after the fleeing Rock-type.

"Wait! Come back!"

Kate stared blankly after the Wilder as he disappeared into the brush. Lyle approached Irune with his vents visibly smoldering in frustration and Kate looked little better when she turned around. For a second, Dalton raised his voice to try and urge the pair to calm down, but Kate was already upon Irune, latching onto the Axew's scarf and hoisting her off the ground wide-eyed.

"What is your problem, you little brat?!" the Sneasel hissed. "We had a guide get us out of this miserable hole!"

Dalton honestly couldn't say he wasn't wondering the same that himself at that moment. The Axew looked down at Kate's claws near her neck and her mouth briefly flopped open with a start. She fought back a stammer, as her eyes narrowed and her voice came out thick with angry defiance.

"A-And after that, then what?! Were you seriously planning on dragging a young 'mon like that along all the way across Varhyde?!" Irune demanded.

Kate tightened her grip and bared her fangs in reply, her red eyes glaring daggers into the Dragon-type in her grasp.

"And so what if we were?!" he spat. "We could've looked out for each other since we would've had another teammate!"

"You mean another Pokémon you can use as a distraction and abandon once the going gets tough like you did with the rest of your friends?!" Irune retorted. "Some teammate that is!"

Kate's expression faltered for a moment, as Dalton grit his teeth as sparks began to dance on his hide. Artem… and everyone else from the Riparian Raiders a distraction? When he was the one who wanted to hold out for them? How dare she?

The Heliolisk made his way over, only for Lyle to cut in with a swift dash and knock Irune out of Kate's claws. The Axew fell to the ground with a quiet yelp, as the Quilava stood between her and his teammates with his vents blazing, shooting a sharp glare between his fellow Outlaws.

"Alright, that's enough! All of you!" Lyle barked. "I'd like to remind everyone that we still need her to make it to the Divine Roost."

… Lyle was right, even if the shrine seemed no closer now in their present situation. Dalton backed off with a begrudging growl, as the Quilava turned his attention over at the Axew and leveled a piercing glare at her.

"And you've already caused enough trouble for one day," the Fire-type snapped. "Do you have anything else you want to get out? At this rate, we'll be lucky to make it off this floor with you blowing things up on us like that!"

Irune faltered and stared back up into the Quilava's eyes. She shook her head briefly, and after digging her feet into the dirt, grit her teeth and spat back in reply.

"Y-Yes, I do! It's called 'stop being such repulsive leeches and think about something other than your next payday for once'!" the Axew shouted. "You were ready to put a 'mon who was blindly looking for a way to leave this place into danger just so that way you could find your way out faster!"

… The story with the Balance Bandits was all some stupid act, wasn't it? Even if becoming an Outlaw himself had been a jarring experience at first, Dalton would never speak of his comrades-in-arms like that. Dalton snapped to attention from a sharp huff as Irune stomped down the leftward corridor, turning a disgusted glare back at him and his fellows.

"A-At least try to give me a reason to not have to look over my shoulder all the way out to the Divine Roost!" she snapped.

Dalton shot a venomous scowl after the Axew as she continued down the passage. What the hell would she know about what he'd been through? About the years he'd spent trying to get back some of what those damned Grünhäuter had taken from him and his family when there were no other options left?

Dalton's turned his head at the sound of a sharp, unimpressed hiss. After a quick glance to his side, he saw Kate glaring daggers after the Dragon-type before turning to him with a low mutter.

"Hrmph, was she ever an Outlaw to begin with?" she harrumphed. "Or has she been lying to us this entire time?"

… She couldn't have lied about everything. She'd done something to get the army to pursue her. But it didn't make sense to get to the bottom of that right here and now. Especially when it didn't sound like Irune particularly wanted their help.

"I don't know why she even bothered asking to work with us with an attitude like that," Dalton huffed. "Perhaps we're better off just letting her walk and taking our chances getting to the Divine Roost on our own."


Dalton blinked as he turned with Kate to see Lyle pacing forward and shaking his head insistently. The Quilava stared after the Axew drifting off and let out a grumbling sigh.

"I don't like it either, but we don't have any other options right now. She knows what's out there in the Divine Roost better than any of us," the Quilava said.

There was a moment of silence, as Lyle closed his eyes and shook his head with a low sigh.

"Whatever's going on between her and the army, we've seen too much for them to just let it go," the Quilava said. "We go along with her, get our share, and go our separate ways. Until then, just try and ignore her when she runs her mouth off like that."

Dalton heard a low growl and froze after he felt trembling footsteps. He and his teammates peeked around the cormer and turned their attention back to the far end of the chamber where they glimpsed the Tyrantrum from earlier returning into the clearing.

"Oi! You all just let yourself get wiped by those Invaders?! Get up!"

Dalton grimaced before looking around the rest of the chamber. The other Wilders from the Monster House were groaning and already starting to regain lucidity—as good a sign as any that it was time to leave.

"Not to be a nag, but we should get out of here. Now," Dalton said. "I don't exactly feel like fighting them all those Wilders off a second time."

"Hrmph, music to my ears," Kate grumbled. "Besides, even if I'm not thrilled about it, it wouldn't do any good to lose our little treasure guide in the middle of a Mystery Dungeon like this one."

One by one, Dalton and his fellow Outlaws hurriedly ducked down the corridor after their Axew counterpart. All the while, as the jungle and the ancient ruins flecking it drifted past around him, Dalton couldn't help but bristle at Irune's earlier tirade. He had endured all manner of abuse and invective hurled his way as an Outlaw, but something about the Axew's tone sounded almost like an angered parent.

His parents had never learned about his present… employment, and with how long ago since he'd heard from them at all, he wondered if they were still around to judge him. Even so, he'd spent many a night quietly terrified about what they'd think if they ever found out. That their remaining son they'd invested their hopes in was now some bandit prowling the hinterlands.

The Electric-type drifted in his thoughts for a moment, before shaking his head sharply. It was probably just idle yearnings that the past could've been different rearing their head again. After all, what would Irune know of any of that? And he and the others had more immediate things to worry about at hand.

Like not getting torn apart by this strange, primeval world all about them.

Author's Notes

Words and Phrases:

1. Rakete - "Rocket", "Missile"
2. Sucher - "Finder", "Seeker". Most commonly used in modern German for camera viewfinders.
3. Fettwanst - "Fatass", "Lardo". lit. "fat paunch/belly"
4. Soldat - Rank in contemporary Germanosphere armies equivalent to "Private", lit. "Soldier"
5. Generalstab - "General Staff"
6. Provinz - "Province"
7. Monster-Räume - German localization term for "Monster Houses", lit. "Monster Rooms / Spaces"


D1. "So nah und doch so fern…" - "So close and yet so far…"
D2. "Du bist zu nett zu deinem eigenen Besten, Sophia. Dieses Zögern von dir wird eines Tages dein Ende als Ritterin bedeuten." - "You're too kind for your own good, Sophia. That hesitance of yours will be the end of you as a Ritterin one day."
D3. "Aus diesem Grund wurden die restlichen Soldaten dieses Fähnleins aus Alltagsleuten mit schlechten Kenntnissen der Hochsprache gezogen, Sophia. Genau deshalb könnten wir Gespräche über eine so heikle Mission ohne Angst vor Abhörungen führen." - "Which is why the rest of this Fähnlein's soldiers were drawn from commoners with poor grasp of Hightongue, Sophia. Precisely so we could have conversations regarding a mission this sensitive without fear of eavesdropping."
D4. "Ich … weiß nicht, wie wir diese Situation retten können, Lacan. Diese Ganoven sind jetzt wahrscheinlich tief im Mysteriösen Ort und die Dyade wird in den Klauen dieser Wilden im Inneren sicherlich in Gefahr sein." - "I… just don't know how we can salvage this situation, Lacan. Those Outlaws are likely deep within the dungeon by now and the Dyad will surely be in danger in the clutches of those Wilders inside."
D5. "Was Angelegenheiten betrifft, die zwischen uns sollten, zeigte die Dyade kurz vor ihrer Flucht Anzeichen eines Wiedererwachens. Bei so viel Kummer, den sie uns bereitet, sollten wir davon ausgehen, dass sie stark genug geworden ist, um durch den Großurwald und in Sicherheit zu gelangen." - "As for matters that should remain between us, the Dyad was exhibiting signs of reawakening soon prior to her escape. With how much grief she's given us, we should anticipate that she's become strong enough to make it through Primordial Woods to safety."
D6. "Kann man überhaupt davon ausgehen, dass sie immer noch eine Dyade sein wird, wenn sie am anderen Ende auftaucht? Wenn sie wieder erwachte, bevor sie an die Frontlinie gebracht werden kann…" - "Is it even safe to assume that she will still be a Dyad when she emerges from the other end? If she reawakened before she could be moved into place onto the front lines…"
D7. "Zu der Zeit, als wir sie verloren haben, war nicht bekannt, dass sie ihre ganze Macht offenbarte. Ich möchte nicht annehmen, dass wir einen großen Spielraum für Fehler haben, aber die Situation ist noch nicht so kritisch, dass dies Anlass zur Sorge geben würde." - "She was not known to manifest her full range of power at the time we lost her. I don't mean to presume that we have a large margin for error, but things have not yet reached as critical a situation for that to be a concern."

Teaser Text:

Our world is one that even centuries after the absence of humans, continues to be characterized by the imprints left behind. Their surviving works litter the surface of Wander, and so too its Mystery Dungeons. Among them, Primordial Woodsᵃ stands unique among its counterparts in the land of Varhyde.

While most Mystery Dungeons that have absorbed human ruins may produce chunks of bygone buildings and structures amongst their floors, the Wilders that dwell in and among the warming effects of this place are said to have been first brought to these ruins by human intervention. Some say that the ruins there swallowed up by the Distortion were a place where the ancestors of those that dwell there in the present day were brought back from the grave.

Whatever the truth behind such stories, an Explorer in Primordial Woods must exercise great caution. It is a place with tales from myth-shrouded ages alleging that the forebears of the Pokémon that presently dwell there crippled armies that attempted to make passage through it. After seeing the Wilders that call this jungle home, one could be forgiven for taking such stories at face value. The Pokémon of this place are ancient creatures that grow strong and to towering heights with fierce dispositions, especially when their internal rhythms become unsettled.

If the humans that created this place really did bring such creatures to life, one can only imagine that whatever their motivations in the past, that they would fall silent after seeing the maze of dangers and terrors that it became.

- Excerpt from 'The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons'

a. This name is flatly different from the one given in Hightongue. A more proper translation would be "Great Jungle" or "Great Primeval Forest".
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter

Es wird gesagt, dass die Menschen, als sie auf der Erde lebten, Kreaturen waren, die nach Wissen suchten. Sowohl als Mittel zur persönlichen Erleuchtung als auch zur Information über ständig fortschreitende Errungenschaften und Heldentaten. Sie erschufen Türme und Bauwerke, die unsere Ingenieurskunst nicht nachbilden konnte, und erschufen komplizierte Maschinen und Geräte mit Funktionen, die fast wie Magie wirkten.

Leistungen und Heldentaten, auf die viele von ihnen stolz waren. Genug damit, dass Klaus der Erbauer die Menschen in dessen damaliger Welt mit hochmütigen Worten wie "Einst war ein solches Wunder Göttern vorbehalten," prahlen hörte. "Aber heute geht die Menschheit einen Schritt auf das Göttliche zu!", als sie ihre großartigen Werke betrachteten.

Und dann, während des schicksalhaften Jahres, welches den Beginn unserer Ära markierte, kam der Glühende Blitz während der Mittsommertage von Heumond. In einem Augenblick hat es unsere Welt umgestaltet und dabei unzählige, noch unbekannte Wunder und das Wissen, sie im Handumdrehen neu zu erschaffen, weggefegt.

Als Pokémon in den folgenden Jahren versuchten, die Scherben aufzusammeln, soll sich der Erbauer Sorgen um einiges Wissen gemacht haben, das Pokémon bewahren wollte. Dass die Dämmerung der Menschheit von großer Hybris und Zwietracht geprägt war, auch unter denen, die einst die Macht hatten, das Schicksal der Menschheit zu ändern.

Er bestand darauf, dass ein Teil des Wissens am besten mit der Menschheit verblassen sollte, und er befürchtete, dass wir als Erben dieser Welt die gleichen Fehler erben würden, die dazu führten, dass die Menschen von der Teilung unserer Welt überrascht würden. Was dieses Wissen, das er so fürchtete, ist mit der Zeit verloren gegangen und kann nur erraten werden: Einige vermuten, dass es mit jenem strahlenden Glanz zusammenhängen könnte, der Wunsch und Wirklichkeit in dieser Welt zum ersten Mal in den Krieg gezogen hat.

Andere sagen, dass sich der Erbauer mehr Sorgen um die Denkweise von Pokémon wie uns gemacht hat. Dass wir, wenn wir uns zu sehr an die Lebensweise der Menschen klammern, dazu verdammt wären, ihre Fehler zu wiederholen. So ernüchternd die Prämisse auch ist, beim Blick auf die Geschichte unserer Zivilisationen kommt man nicht umhin, sich zu fragen, ob seine Befürchtungen gerechtfertigt waren.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«

The next six floors after the Monster House went in a tangled blur of towering trees and paths and chambers wedged amongst nigh-impenetrable undergrowth. True to the stories, Primordial Woods' Wilders really were strange types. Most were little runts, but occasionally Lyle and the rest of Team Forager would run into bigger and stronger Pokémon like an Armaldo and a Bastiodon, with even a Kabutops making an appearance after emerging from a stream.

As with the Tyrantrum and Aurorus, such Wilders weren't as strong as their imposing appearances made them look. But with each passing floor, the gap between perception and reality shrank further and further. By the time they'd made it to past the fifth floor down from their ambush, when they encountered an Aerodactyl, they opted to just lob a Stun Seed and hurriedly leg it away from the creature. With how quickly the Wilders they'd been encountering had been toughening up, they were not particularly eager to see how his strength compared to the Aerodactyl they'd fought from the caravan raid.

On the sixth floor down, under the shade of cascading falls that fell overhead from right to left into a seemingly endless abyss, Dalton chanced to spot a Pocket where they found a carved message from a prior traveler that marked it as the seventeenth floor of the dungeon as a whole. A quick consultation with their abridged copy of The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons revealed that, much to their relief, they were but a few floors away from where a Link to Raptor Rock that connected the two Mystery Dungeons in spite of their vast distances apart from each other in the outside world was known to appear. A state of affairs which matched up with the guidance the Cranidos provided.

There were some things from the handbook that gave them pause, such as a worrying description of the Wilders that dwelled in Primordial Woods, as was a mention that some of the exits from Raptor Rock itself were within a day's journey of Newangle City. In spite of it, just knowing that there was an escape in sight from this miserable, damp weather was enough to lift Lyle's spirits somewhat.

"Let's try searching to the east. We've searched the entire western side of this floor, and I doubt we're going to find any more of a lead to the next set of stairs here."

Lyle blinked back to attention as Dalton pointed down a dirt path that headed off between one side lined with dense undergrowth, and fragments of a wall formed of what looked like concrete with pieces of rusted metal poking out along the top in parts. The Quilava waited for Dalton and Kate to set off, and followed after with Irune trailing behind him.

All the while, a lingering cloud seemed to hover over the group from the Axew's earlier outburst. Lyle supposed that he shouldn't have been surprised that Irune wouldn't have been cut from the same cloth as him, but something about her comments stung more than he expected. As he made his way forward trodding the damp earth underfoot, he cast a glance back at the Dragon-type from the corner of his eye, and noted that her gaze seemed to have drifted towards the ground below.

"Something the matter? You haven't said anything since that Monster House earlier," Lyle remarked. "You didn't exactly strike me as the quiet type."

Irune gave no answer for a brief moment, before turning up her gaze with a quiet scowl.

"Hrmph, we're in a Mystery Dungeon," she scoffed back. "The more noise we make, the more we'll give our position away to the Wilders that live here."

Lyle narrowed his eyes and flattened his ears out. However much the Axew was genuinely concerned about attracting Wilders, she obviously wasn't worried enough to not give that snippy retort.

"I think that our footsteps are making about as much of a racket," the Quilava harrumphed. "Besides, there was something that I wanted to know…"


Lyle stopped, turning around and rearing up onto his hindquarters as Irune paused behind him. He folded his arms and looked down at the Axew, peering into her red eyes with a stern frown.

"Why us? There's a bunch of Pokémon out there in the world who could've helped you get out to the Divine Roost," he asked. "You obviously don't like being around us, so why didn't you ditch us back in Moonturn Square?"

Lyle waited for a reply as Irune stared back wordlessly. There was a brief, awkward silence between the two, before the Dragon-type shook her head and let out a quiet grumble.

"You don't have to like someone in order to work with them," she said. "You three were there, you all had the skills that I need for traveling partners, and I know how to get to the treasure that you want. Our interests just happened to align and we all didn't have other options."

Lyle honestly wasn't sure what to make of this kid. With how judgmental she'd been towards them, he was pretty sure she wasn't an Outlaw. At the same time, she sure knew a thing or two about keeping a 'mon at arm's length.

The Quilava frowned and let out a small huff in reply, before he turned back for his teammates and darted forward to try and make up for lost progress. When he and Irune caught up, they found that the lot of them had gathered in a chamber lined by a deep pool on their right, with two passages that branched off on opposite sides of a set of concrete pylons: one going forward, and one that turned off to their left.

Dalton eyed the pool and noted a narrow path that ran along its length towards the east, the Heliolisk taking a moment to brace himself before running at the water. Much to Lyle's astonishment, the lizard managed to run along the top of the water's surface for about half the length of the pool, before sinking into it and swimming the rest of the way over. Clearly the 'mon was a better fit for a band of river raiders than he'd given him credit for.

The Heliolisk pulled himself out of the pool, before he turned left and slipped out of view behind trees and ferns following a hidden path. After a few moments, the sound of dripping footsteps rang out, as Lyle, Kate, and Irune looked ahead to see Dalton approaching them from further down the forward path ahead of them, shaking his head.

"Alles klar.₁ This path's a straight shot, if a roundabout one," Dalton said. "It winds around past this patch of undergrowth here until it turns back towards the pond."

"Well, it narrows down our options at least," Irune grunted. "Though are we better off seeing what lies further down that path you found, or trying the left one?"

Lyle opened his mouth to answer, when he felt a sharp thump and watched as the nearby plants shook. His vents came alight with a start, the stoat feeling his muscles tense up as he turned warily to his teammates.

"What was that?"

Another thump shook the ground, and then another, and another. Kate flared her ears, when she turned towards the left entrance and listened in, before pinning them back and looking at her teammates with a tense grimace.

"Quick, go down the passage Dalton's in!" the Sneasel hissed. "Someone's coming from the left, and they don't exactly sound like bulliable runts!"

Lyle needed no further encouragement and scampered ahead on all fours after the Sneasel with Irune at his heels. The three hurriedly ducked down the path Dalton came from and tucked themselves up against a small, overgrown mound of concrete. The Fire-type looked back and felt his blood run cold as an Archeops and a Rampardos entered the chamber. He sucked in a sharp breath and hurriedly smothered his body's fire as he and his fellows went silent, just in time to see the two Rock-types warily eye their surroundings before turning to each other with sullen frowns.

"So why has everyone been in such a terrible mood today?" the Rampardos grumbled.

It's the lower levels," the Archeops harrumphed. "They've been in a panic since the Grazers haven't been bringing in enough berries as tribute to please Rankar."

Lyle twitched his ears and blinked at the Archeops' reply. "Tribute"? Wilders offered that to each other? That was the sort of thing that kings among Civils demanded of Pokémon who were their vassals. Conquered ones, at that.

"Still? Hasn't that useless glutton had his fill yet?" the Rampardos growled. "The hunting grounds outside have become increasingly barren ever since he developed that sweet tooth of his and even the Grazers are starting to complain about there not being enough food to forage! How could he possibly want more?"

Team Forager's members blinked from their hiding place, Kate giving a puzzled tilt of her ear as Lyle saw her glance over with a puzzled frown.

"Wait, are we listening to Wilders here?" Kate asked. "Or a pair of asshole nobles-?"

Lyle quietly shushed the Sneasel back and motioned for silence, as the Quilava and his companions continued to eavesdrop on the Wilders. The Archeops in the clearing ruffled his feathers briefly, before replying to the Rampardos with a low huff.

"Hrmph, well it sure seems like that old fossil is dead set on going out tearing apart this Mystery Dungeon and the alliances that have held its Pokemon together since time immemorial," the bird scoffed. "Though perhaps there's an opportunity amidst this madness for Pokémon like us…"

The Rampardos hesitated a moment, glancing about warily before he continued on in a low voice.

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is all of the stub-arms left in this dungeon are either a bunch of unevolved runts, or have evolved early and weak from the Distortion's influence. After the way Rankar forced out the last High Chief, everyone else would be relieved to have a change of leadership," the Archeops explained. "Once he's gone, it'd be easy for the Chiefs of the other kinds of Pokémon like you or me to fill his place. Why simply backing off the Grazers' food and toning down the threats would get a good chunk of them on our side!"

The Archeops tented his wings, before shooting a knowing smirk at his counterpart.

"And if the stub-arms have an issue with it…" the bird mused. "Well, after Rankar's rule as High Chief, there'd be no shortage of the others inclined to banish the lot of them and let them try their fates outside these woods."

"You're getting ahead of yourself there, Rankar first needs to be dealt with first," the Rampardos harrumphed. "All of the old tricks that've been tried won't work on him. The 'mon holes up in his den and doesn't so much as eat without making someone else taste his food first!"

The Outlaws traded wary looks with one another, as Dalton shuffled his feet uneasily. From the mention of a 'High Chief' and the way the two Wilders were being so furtive, it was evident they were talking of some sort of leader of theirs. And more specifically how to dispose of him.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think we were overhearing members of the Hofstaat₂ scheming against King Siegmund with talk like that," the Heliolisk murmured.

"Look," Irune whispered back. "Let's just turn around and try and find another way-"

The Archeops frowned back and looked out over the pool with a grumbling shake of his head.

"There must be a faster way… there has to be," the bird muttered.

"Wait," the Rampardos said.

All of a sudden, the Rampardos paused and raised his head, the dinosaur tensing up with narrowed eyes as he sniffed at the air.

"… I smell smoke," the Rampardos said. "Smoke like a fire was just burning here."

Lyle felt the color drain from his face and turned to see his teammates glancing at him wide-eyed. He hadn't thought the scent of his body's fire would've lingered that long, but whatever had stuck around on his pelt was enough for the Archeops to already make his way down the corridor in search. The four Outlaws hastily ducked back around the corner and darted for the path passing the pool, when they heard a sharp cry and turned to see the Archeops flying over its waters with bared teeth.

"Ah! There's Invaders here!" the bird snarled. "Get them!"

Lyle froze as the Archeops barreled forward, screeching and flashing his clawed wings for a lunging slash. The Quilava yelped and hastily dug through his bag, his paws settling on a glassy sphere that he pulled out that a parting glimpse revealed to be a Luminous Orb.

It'd have to do right now.

"Close your eyes!"

The stoat dashed the Orb against the ground, exploding it into a hail of glass shards and a blinding light that leaked through his eyelids just as the Rampardos rounded the corner. As the flash dissipated, Lyle heard a pair of sharp yelps, and opened his eyes to see the Archeops struggling to stay airborne as the Rampardos cradled his face and complained about "My eyes!"

They could work with that, Lyle hurriedly whirled around to his teammates, crying out the one word that crossed his rattled mind.


Lyle lowered his head and bounded forward, throwing himself forward with a Quick Attack down the corridor that made the surrounding jungle blur around him. When his vision settled, he looked back, seeing his fellows from Team Forager running after him for dear life. They caught up after a short while, as the four followed the winding course of the corridor around the bends and turns of a thickly-vegetated path all as bloodcurdling roars and heavy thumps rang out behind them.

He supposed that was as clear a sign as any that those Wilders weren't going to be content with just running them off. Dalton was at the middle of the group, while Kate was at the rear and dragging Irune ran along. The whole time, the Axew stole frantic glances behind her. A quick glimpse by Lyle to see what she'd seen revealed the silhouette of the Rampardos just falling on a ruined wall behind them.

"I don't suppose any of you picked up on some sort of hint to where the stairs were, did you?!" the Axew panted. "That Rampardos is catching up with us fast!"

"Just keep running!" Dalton cried. "We haven't checked the eastern side yet, so it must be somewhere there!"

That was all the motivation Lyle needed. He bounded ahead, coming out into a chamber ringed with walls of shattered concrete just as the others caught up with him. One that a quick scan revealed was overgrown with trees and vines and paths that branched off in three directions. Instinctively, Kate started off for the path branching rightward when a loud screech sliced through the air. Lyle turned his head and at once, his eyes shrink to pins. There was the Archeops, flying at them with fangs bared for Kate and Irune.

"Gah!" Kate yelped. "Not that way!"

The Sneasel hastily breathed frigid breath over her claws and flung a spray of icy flechettes, stopping the Archeops briefly before bolting for the corridor opposite their entrance. Lyle spat a Smokescreen at the Archeops for good measure before he and Dalton hurried after their Sneasel teammate. Lyle ducked as the sound of stones crashing into tree trunks rang out behind him and splinters zipped past his ears. Probably something like a Rock Slide, which was a sign that the Archeops wouldn't be bogged down by that Smokescreen for long.

The Quilava began to feel a burning pit in his stomach as he hurried after Kate and Irune down their present corridor. Gottverdammt, hadn't they been chased around enough for one day?! It was then that he noticed Irune turn her head, and as he snapped back to attention, Lyle heard it himself: the sound of grinding and creaking stone.

"Ah! That noise!" Irune exclaimed. "It's coming from the north!"

Lyle blinked a moment, when he realized that the creaking and groaning sounded just like a set of stairs forming on the floor. Not far away, from the sound of it, and with nary a moment to spare!

…Then again, it could've just as easily been the sound of a set of stairs sealing, but it was the only lead they had to work with. And with that Archeops and Rampardos nipping at their heels…

"Paws crossed that that's a way out…" the Quilava muttered. "Though come on! It sounded close!"

Lyle and his teammates cast a glance northwards, and while it didn't have ruined walls blocking the way, the thick undergrowth and densely spaced trees would've made attempting to move through it a fool's errand even without the Archeops hot on their tails.

"Fat lot of good that's going to do us here when we can't go that way!" Kate cried.

"We've got a Tunnel Wand somewhere in the bag!" the Quilava cried. "Just hang in there and cover me for a moment!"

A loud hiss rang out as the Archeops finally caught up with them, snarling with his wings spread and ready for a lunge.

"Got you!"

"I think not!" Dalton cried.

Lyle flinched as a loud crackle followed by a sharp screech rang out, glancing over his shoulder briefly as Dalton just finished up a Thunderbolt that stunning the ancient bird. Lyle briefly glimpsed Kate following up with an Ice Shard and Irune whigging a Totter Seed at the Archeops when he hurriedly turned his attention back to his bag. The Quilava hastily rooted through his bag, feeling a stick that a quick glance revealed to be the white, branched form of a Surround Wand, then the crook of a Switcher Wand… Gottverdammt, didn't those Hunters have any Wands that would actually help them out here?!

At last, his paws felt a pick-like shape, and a wave of relief came over him as he pulled it out and saw that sure enough, it was the Tunnel Wand he'd seen earlier. With one last glassy nub at its end marking it had a final use left in it.

"Get ready to run!" he cried. "We're going to need to make this count!"

The Quilava reflexively brought the wand down and heard the glassy layer around it shatter, followed by the wood of the Wand splintering. In a flash, the roar of rending dirt and trees joined in as the air distorted in front of them. The undergrowth and foliage in front of them abruptly parted left and right much as if a giant wedge had plowed them aside, as a gouge of cleared dirt formed directly in front of them.

Lyle didn't wait for the dust to settle and charged down the clearing, turning back and calling after his teammates.

"There's our exit! Come on!"

The rest of Team Forager's members didn't bother to protest and hurriedly ducked down the newly-opened corridor. For a brief moment, Lyle saw the Archeops stumble past it in a daze, before his teammates' bodies cut the bird off from view. Kate's ears swiveled briefly from a sound on the wind, when her eyes suddenly lit up in realization.

"Ah! Those stairs are close!" she said. "Come on, let's find them and get out of here!"

Lyle bounded ahead and out into a clearing ringed by overgrown ruins. He flinched briefly from the sudden change in light, though before he could make sense of their surroundings, he suddenly felt stones dig into his pelt and heard his teammates cry out. Lyle rolled along the ground, coming to a winded, wheezing stop on his flank as he weakly got up to his feet and saw his teammates doing likewise from being freshly sprawled out. Lyle panted as fire poured out of his vents, when his blood ran cold after a low snarl rang out from further ahead.

"Going somewhere?!"

Lyle and his companions turned towards the voice and he watched the color drain from their faces… and supposed the same was happening to him from the chill coming over his body. There, right in front of them were the steps onto the next floor, along with the Wilder Rampardos from earlier standing square in the way with his head lowered and ready to charge.

"Well I think not," the Rampardos growled back. "Since the only thing you Invaders will be seeing is the backs of your eyelids after you keel over!"

How the hell had he beaten them here?! Lyle and his teammates stood dumbfounded for a brief moment as the ground shook and the Rampardos began to charge. After a moment to shake his head, Lyle braced himself, and threw himself forward as he heard Irune cry out in alarm behind him.

"Lyle! What are you-?!"

"Just follow my lead and get to the stairs!" he shouted.

They just had to make it down the stairs before either of the Wilders, and even if the Rampardos packed a punch, if Lyle could run circles around Parker, he was sure as hell he could do the same to this Wilder. The Quilava ran at the Rock-type as fire wreathed his body, clipping him with a Flame Charge before he hurriedly sprang away. The Rampardos stumbled back slightly, before lowering his head with a menacing growl.

"Was that supposed to hurt?" the Rampardos sneered. "Your fire barely singed me!"

The dinosaur let out a loud roar and plowed ahead with another running charge. The Rampardos was right, that Flame Charge really hadn't done much to him. But that wasn't what Lyle was counting on right there.

Lyle waited as the Rampardos dashed at him, steeling himself as the ground trembled and he could hear his teammates' cries indistinctly in the background. He briefly saw the dome of the Rampardos' head, and right as the Rock-type was about to bear down on him…


He sprang out of the way. The Rampardos dashed past, Lyle watching the dinosaur's head ram empty air and the Rock-type's red eyes widen just as he slipped behind him. Fire danced on Lyle's vents and white-hot cinders built up in his mouth just as the Rampardos turned his head back and noticed him.


Lyle spewed out a cone of whitish cinders, which found its mark on the Rampardos' rump. The dinosaur stiffened up with a sharp yelp, glancing back to see a fresh, reddening burn spreading over his scales. As the Wilder locked eyes with him, Lyle felt his heart pounding, mixed with a flash of confidence. Enough so that he turned his back towards the Rampardos and flared out fire from his vents, looked over his shoulder with a taunting smirk.

"Bet that one really burned your ass!" the stoat jeered. "For someone who wants to be king of this dump, you sure are a bad shot!"

From the bellowing roar the Rampardos replied with, it'd gotten under the 'mon's hide. And that was exactly what he was counting on. Lyle darted aside and sprang back and forth on his toes as the Wilder stomped the ground, calling up large stones from the ground that abruptly sailed at him. Lyle dropped and rolled out of the way as the stones zipped overhead, missing his body by mere hairs.

The Quilava sucked in a sharp breath. A bit close, but nothing he couldn't manage. Lyle got back onto his feet and bobbed around on his toes, weaving around a second hail of rocks. A glimpse back at the Rampardos revealed he was visibly fuming, the dinosaur losing his patience and then attempting to charge him, which proved even easier to weave about.

Hah! This Wilder made Parker look like an Accelgor with how easy it was to dance around him. A flash of confidence came over Lyle's face, as he stuck his tongue out at the now huffing and puffing Rampardos opposite him.

"Is that really the best you can do?!" Lyle sneered. "Hope that 'High Chief Rankar' you were going on about earlier's a slow fart like you!"

The Rampardos visibly grit his teeth in reply and glared back daggers. Lyle supposed he would have done the same himself if he had to deal with a foe that kept bouncing and weaving about just a few hairs out of his grasp.

"Stay still and fight, you cowardly furry!" the dinosaur snarled. "You'll never defeat me by just running away!"

The Rampardos was right. Even the items in Lyle's satchel wouldn't have been likely to turn this matchup around in a one-on-one fight. Except there was something the dinosaur didn't know about this matchup that Lyle did…

"You're right, I won't beat ya," the Quilava said. "But I don't need to!"

Footfalls pattering against stone rang out as the Rampardos turned his head and went wide-eyed. That was the cue that the jig was up and it was time to run. Lyle glanced over his shoulder, glimpsing Dalton and Irune running up a set of steps and into an overhanging earthen ledge as Kate followed closely behind. The Rampardos let out an exasperated cry, which Lyle quickly cut off by blowing smoke in his face. He turned and bolted as the dinosaur broke into hacking coughs afterwards, bounding ahead for the stairs when a sharp screech rang out.

"Not so fast!"

It lasted all but a few moments. First came the sound of wingbeats, then came the crushing tackle into Lyle's right flank. Lyle squealed as agony shot through his body, tumbling along the ground as he struck something sharp and sprawled out. The Quilava gasped for air as his vision went muddy, when he glanced up and saw the Archeops above him, diving in.

Lyle curled up and forced fire out of his vents, screwing his eyes shut with a low whine as he braced for the Wilder's blow. Except it never came. A pained squawk rang out and Lyle cracked his eyes open just in time to see the Flying-type reel from an Icy Wind. The Quilava panted hoarsely, when his body suddenly lurched off the ground and he stumbled to his feet after a rough tug, coming face to face with a wide-eyed Kate.

"Lyle, hurry it up already!" the Sneasel cried. "The stairs are starting to seal up!"

Lyle tore off along with Kate, pain shooting through the right side of his body as he limped after his Sneasel teammate. The Quilava looked up and to his horror saw the stairs began to seal off with earth sliding along the overhang's ceiling with a gods-awful grinding noise, the Fire-type lowered his head and lunged forward with a dash that made his surroundings blur even more around him. Not a moment too soon from the way the Archeops and the Rampardos were bellowing behind him. The stoat staggered up the steps as they quaked and groaned underfoot, when he suddenly felt small clawtips dig into his forepaws. The Fire-type's eyes widened as he was pulled sharply forward just as flying rocks struck the steps behind, sending stone fragments and dirt flying before he pitched forward face-first into damp, dark earth.

Lyle lay there as his heart pounded and his head spun as the grinding racket continued in the background. He let out a weak groan at the back of his throat and looked over to see Irune staring back at him wide-eyed. Had- Had she been the one who pulled him up the steps?

The Quilava watched as Dalton and Kate ran up and stared off at the steps, and for a second, he flinched, thinking that the Wilders had successfully followed them up the steps. And then the grinding noise stopped with a quiet click, and the floor fell silent beyond the sound of their hoarse breathing.

Lyle blinked and looked at the spot the stairs had sealed themselves off from the floor below, still gasping for air as he saw what had once been a passage sealed by dirt and rock. B-Blauflamme, that was way too close…

"L-Lyle! Are you alright?!"

Lyle looked over to see Irune running up and pawing at him. The Axew's eyes were visibly wide and startled. Was… she worried about him? The Quilava Outlaw dismissed her reaction as merely just being shaken from a close call. He was sure she'd be right back to harping on the lot of them for being thieving scum before he knew it. Lyle shook his head and staggered up, trying to project confidence in his voice, only for it to come out as a wavering stammer.

"Y-Yeah, just got nicked a bit by that bird back- Nrgh!"

Lyle flinched as he felt a sharp pain flash through the right side of his body. The Quilava looking back and saw just past his forearm, there was an oozing streak under his pelt where he'd struck the concrete outcropping. Lyle's breaths quickened and he felt his fire come alive in a panic at the sight. G-Gods, how badly had he gotten hurt back there?!

"Easy, Lyle. I don't think it's as bad as it looks."

Dalton came up to the Fire-type and eyed the wound with a quiet grimace, before shaking his head with a low sigh.

"I suppose this was to be expected, but at least it's nothing we can't patch up for now," the Heliolisk sighed. "Hang on, I think that we've got some berries that'll be able to seal this cut."

A few minutes later, Dalton had finished mashing the third piece of a quartered Oran Berry just above the wound on Lyle's flank and letting the juices seep in. Even if the topical application of healing berries could be skipped in a pinch in favor of just scarfing them down, after how harrowing the past floor had been, none of Team Forager's members were in the mood to try and make Lyle walk things off until his body metabolized the berry.

Irune looked on worriedly as Lyle lay on his side and Dalton pulled the Oran wedge back to examine the cut. A quick glance over revealed that Lyle's wound seemed to have coagulated enough for the last wedge to be applied directly onto it. Everything had worked out in the end…

… so why was she feeling this guilty about things?

"Dig in your paws and brace yourself, Lyle," Dalton instructed. "This last part's going to sting a bit."

The three of them were Outlaws, bandit scum who preyed on the weak for their pay. A part of her told her she ought to have felt coldly indifferent to their plight. They plied a dangerous trade and the only reason why they were on common ground to begin with was because of Lacan and his Fähnlein.

Except, as she watched Lyle fight against curling up into a fiery ball by reflex, those thoughts rang increasingly hollow. The more she saw the three like this, the more it gave her an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

And it made her think of others she'd let herself grow close to over the past year against her better judgment, and thoughts of what ultimately became of them. A sharp wince turned the Axew's attention back to Lyle and Dalton, just in time to see the Heliolisk pawing aside Oran-stained fur on Lyle's flank and pressing the final Oran wedge square into his wound. Irune cringed from her place on the side as the stoat audibly winced and fire danced from his vents with sharp flickers. She neared as Lyle panted from Dalton's treatment, focusing on the Quilava and then up at her other teammates with an alarmed stammer.

"Wh-Where did those two Wilders come from?!" the Axew cried. "We didn't run into any Pokémon that could do something like this on the earlier floors!"

"We've been going deeper into the Mystery Dungeon, it quite literally comes with the territory for just about any Mystery Dungeon," Dalton explained. "The Wilders that live in Mystery Dungeons like this usually like to make their homes in the Pockets further away from the entrance where they won't be disturbed. Their tougher members usually patrol closer to them to drive off would-be threats."

That… made a decent amount of sense, really. Irune herself had seen similar dynamics in other Mystery Dungeons over the past year, just… not anywhere as dramatic as this. Kate pinned her ears back at Dalton's reply and turned a sharp scowl over at Irune. The Axew braced herself as the Sneasel exhaled a puff of icy breath out and folded her with a sharp huff.

"Just saying, but that's something we could have known if we had someone to guide us," the Sneasel grumbled.

Irune raised her mouth to protest indignantly, only to fall quiet and let her gaze drift to the ground. She… still didn't think much of the idea of them recruiting the Cranidos, especially knowing what the odds were for this 'Team Forager' all making it to the Divine Roost. But even then, it was hard to argue that things would've gone worse without his help.

Had she been too rash in making her decision? Even if the odds for her present teammates weren't favorable… had her choices made things worse for them? Had they made them worse for herself?

No answer came to those questions for her as Dalton finished applying the last Oran wedge. The Quilava let out a quiet wince, before snatching the pulp of the spent quarter out of the lizard's hand with a low grumble as low, irked flames simmered on his head and tail.

"Ngah… Dalton, what on earth did you do to that cut?" the Quilava demanded. "Press salt into it?"

"Oran juice carries a sting when it's applied to damaged hide," the Heliolisk harrumphed back, folding his arms. "You didn't strike me as being new to Mystery Dungeons, Lyle. You of all Pokémon should know that."

Irune told herself that it didn't make sense to dwell on things too much. After what became of the Balance Bandits, it was probably for the best to keep her present teammates at arm's length. She turned her head as Lyle bit into the pulp of his berry wedge and warily gaped about her surroundings. There weren't any ruins on this floor, and the towering, unnaturally tall and thick trees blotting out the sky weren't something they'd seen on the last floor either.

Even so, time was a luxury with the likes of Lacan and his underlings hounding their tails, and the longer they spent in Primordial Woods, the more likely he or his underlings would catch up with them. From the looks of it, Kate had realized it too with the way she uneasily shuffled and pawed at her shoulders.

"So now what?" the Sneasel asked. "Are we supposed to just hop right back into delving and hope we don't draw the short stick for run-ins again?"

Irune noticed Lyle glance over at her from the corner of her eyes. She thought of speaking up and saying something, but let her eyes drift towards the ground. Wh-What was she supposed to say to him? That she should've kept her mouth shut after the Monster House? Thankfully, the stoat didn't linger long on her before looking over at Dalton, who brought a hand up to his chin in thought before speaking up.

"We should find a Pocket and rest for a while," the Heliolisk said.

At once, Irune jolted up and stared wide-eyed at the Electric-type. Lyle and Kate looked similarly alarmed right now. W-Was Dalton even listening to himself right now?! They hadn't gone that deep into the Mystery Dungeon since they first entered it!

"B-But we're just six floors from that exit the Cranidos told us about!" Irune spluttered. "If we linger here, Lacan will-!"

"Be highly unlikely to catch up with us without us knowing it," Dalton answered. "After how much trouble the local Wilders have been giving us, do you really think entire squads of soldiers are going to be able to just march through here without us hearing them getting into fights?"

Irune blinked a few times. Now that Dalton mentioned it, with how fiercely the local Wilders had defended their territory, and how big their stronger Pokémon were… would Lacan and his underlings have been able to cow the Wilders into backing down from them? It certainly didn't seem like a safe bet.

Irune paused in thought, before she heard Dalton's tail brush the ground, and looked up to see the Heliolisk frowning down at her.

"Look, you already made it clear that you're not exactly fond about working with us, but charging ahead with Lyle in this state isn't exactly a safe gamble," Dalton harrumphed. "We should at least give him time for the berry's healing effects to kick in before we continue on again in earnest."

Irune quietly bit her tongue. She knew she'd gotten pointed after the Monster House, but she didn't go so far that she'd scared her teammates off… had she? The Axew quietly grimaced and looked away, just as she heard Lyle sigh to her right. The stoat looked down at his now-treated wound, which still sported juice stains from the Oran Berry that had been applied, before shaking his head back.

"Sounds like music to my ears," he grumbled. "Let's just hurry up and find that Pocket. There's no sense in worrying about that treasure if we can't make it off this floor in one piece."

So they were still ready to work with her. Or at least until they made it to that treasure that awaited them in the Divine Roost.

One by one, Team Forager's members set off. Lyle opted to take the rear just after Irune this time. It was hard to blame him given how he surely wouldn't fare well if he stumbled headfirst into another skirmish. A part of Irune was quietly grateful that he'd done so. Even if it wasn't as noticeable in a jungle like this versus in more normal climates for this time of year, she could swear that the air felt ever so slightly warmer around him.

Somehow, it made a little part of her feel more at peace.

Irune followed along after her Heliolisk and Sneasel teammates, as quiet doubts began to swirl in her mind. Was… she doing the right thing? She knew she didn't have many choices, and even if she hadn't fully gathered what Lacan planned on using her for, it was surely for nothing good. But if her teammates fully knew what they were facing, would the Divine Roost's treasure still be enough to motivate them? She supposed she hadn't lied to them at any point about it, but…

Irune snapped back to attention after feeling something furry and warm prod at her back. The Axew turned her head, and saw Lyle frowning over at her.

"Hey, stay focused for now," he insisted. "We're not exactly in a safe place here."

No. Even if everything she'd been told about herself really was true, those three didn't need to know about it. And if she told them everything and they ran off from her afterwards, Lacan would likely just hunt them down for leads to her and then do gods-knew-what to them. They had shared interests at the moment, and until that was no longer the case, it made sense to stick together.

…Even if it made her uncomfortable. Even if it meant that the past repeated itself.

(Continued in next post)
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
About twenty minutes later, Team Forager came across a vine-shrouded gap between the thick roots of a tree that towered unnaturally high up into the Distortion—enough so that for a second, Kate thought they'd found a cave entrance of some sort. There, the familiar presence of Dungeon Fog spilled out, tipping them off that they were approaching a space where the Distortion's effects ended and some manner of stability began.

One quick retrieval of her guiding string from her bag and a march through later, Kate and her teammates found themselves in the hollow of a giant tree that wrapped up a stony cave at its base, with the wood growing in on each other to form what looked like a solid wall ringing the entire space. That was as clear a sign as any that they were in a Pocket and not truly back out on the surface.

That didn't worry her. What did was the presence of large, three-toed footprints in the cave's earth, along with red scales, stray white feathers, and the broken remains of brown eggshells. It was a sign that the den in the Pocket they were in belonged to a Tyrantrum.

… Or at least it had at some point. None of them could catch the scent of any Pokémon that had been in the Pocket lately, and the feathers and scales similarly lacked odor—a sign they'd been shed some time ago. Faint gouges here and there in the den's stone and healed scars in the wood gave the impression that there'd been a fierce battle here once… one that made her doubt the Wilder Tyrantrum that once lived here would ever come back to claim this place again. That should've been the end of that line of curiosity and to let her rest easy like she was supposed to, but after overhearing that Rampardos and Archeops, something kept making her wonder just what on earth happened here.

Team Forager had kept shifts since then, taking turns posting one of their number in the foggy passage back out onto the floor before coming back and trading places. Kate's turn had ended some time ago, and it had mercifully been uneventful…


Aside from how it'd been pouring buckets since about five minutes after they arrived into their Pocket and how the trip in and out of their shelter had gotten her soaked. As the sound pricking her ears reminded her, those rains hadn't gone anywhere. The sound of cascading water and a faint drip on her snout prompted Kate to sit up and turn her head towards the cave entrance. That would explain why she was thinking about Wilders' affairs. It took her mind off of having to think about that.

Dalton said that book about Mystery Dungeons they'd stolen said something about this place having midday downpours as part of its local climate. They must've lucked out while going through the past few floors, since Kate could only imagine how miserable the experience would've been if they had to go through them drenched on top of everything else.

The Sneasel laid her head down and tried to close her eyes, when she noticed a dim glow of orange fire on the walls. She turned her head and saw Lyle curled up, staring at the ground as small flames flickered on his head and tail vents.

Kate got up and made her way over beside her Quilava teammate, giving him a quiet nudge at his shoulder with her claws.

"…Can't sleep?" she asked. "You are the one who needs rest the most, you know."

The Quilava looked up at her briefly with a small frown, before turning away with a grumbling huff.

"After everything that happened back at Waterhead Cave?" he grumbled. "Were you expecting me to?"

… She should've expected that, really. Losing friends on the job was something that stung even if you got used to it. Going two years out of practice and then coming back into the Outlaw life like that

Kate thought to say something, only for the Quilava to turn away and slump his chin against his forepaws with a sullen grumble.

"I should never have agreed to go with you."

Kate stiffened up and at once narrowed her eyes down at the Quilava. Was he blaming her for the army raid? Kate folded her arms and scowled in reply. Lyle was supposed to be the grounded one between the two of them. Surely he'd know better than that.

"Oh come on, what's with that attitude?" the Sneasel demanded. "Weather getting to you-?"

Lyle got up and whirled about as his body's fire came to life. Kate watched as a harsh glare came over his face and his voice came out in a bitter huff.

"Kate, I'm stuck in the middle of this gottverdammten jungle!" he snapped. "I had to relive one of the worst nights of my life, and my best friend's getting shipped off to die in some field gods-knows-where across the sea!"

… He was definitely a different 'mon than Kate remembered from the Foehn Gang. Laughing and making jokes alongside Alvin and their friends. Adamantly insisting that it didn't matter if his family cut him loose so long as they were there at each other's backs.

She'd held out hope that that 'mon in him would come back out once he was in good company again. From the way he was shaking his head and looking away, she was starting to doubt that that part of him would ever return.

"Really, why did I expect anything different?" Lyle muttered. "Of course a 'mon from a cursed town would have my luck."

Kate blinked at the Quilava's remark. Right, Lyle was from Freeden Village. It was a place that supposedly had incurred the disfavor of the gods sometime at the end of the last war between Varhyde and Edialeigh before the current one. As a result of that, all sorts of stories had sprung up about that disfavor carrying over to Pokémon that hailed from there.

Except, she didn't put stock in that "curse" crap. And when he was in more normal moods, Lyle didn't either. Maybe he just needed a little reminder to snap him out of that mood of his.

"And would any of that have changed if you didn't come?" Kate demanded. "Do you really think the rest of us wouldn't have still run into that Graf and his goons?"

She watched as Lyle froze and blinked back at her. It was a bit sobering to think about it, but the more that she thought about it…

"Really, the only difference would've been that you'd still be stuck in that Oran field waiting to go hungry in the winter and wouldn't have known about any of that," the Sneasel scoffed. "Would you really be happier if you found out we got raided by the army a season later on an empty stomach?"

Kate trailed off and looked away, hanging her head.

"… There's a good chance none of us would've made it out of Waterhead Cave that night if that happened," she muttered. "You're the reason why we're not getting pushed into a penal unit with Alvin right now."

Lyle bit his lip and pinned his ears back as the fire died down from his vents. His face took on a regretful twinge as the Quilava audibly tripped over his words while trying to speak up in reply.

"Th-That's not what I was trying to say-"

"Yeah, I know," Kate sighed. "And I don't blame you for looking out for yourself. It's not as if I was expecting everything to play out the way it did."

Kate shuffled up against Lyle, giving him a small poke against his side with her claw. The Quilava squirmed and recoiled in discomfort briefly and shuffled back. Glad to see that trick still worked on him, at least.

"But we've got a chance to put this all behind us don't we?" Kate insisted. "So why not take it? It's what Alvin would've wanted."

Lyle hesitated briefly, before turning aside and glumly casting a glance off at the gray, stony walls of their den.

"Maybe, but it's not like the universe really gave a crap about what he wanted," he muttered.

"N-Ngh… no… stop…"

Kate and Lyle turned their heads at the sound of Irune murmuring. There, off in a corner atop a small pile of her "treasure", the Axew was stirring in her sleep and pawing at empty air. The Sneasel blinked, before trading looks with her Quilava partner.

"… Looks like you're not the only one who's been having trouble sleeping," Kate murmured.

A flash of worry seemed to cross Lyle's eyes briefly. It was a little strange he felt so bothered by the problems of a 'mon that didn't like them all that much, but Kate supposed this must've been hitting home for him a bit. Lyle shuffled up as Irune tossed and turned in her sleep, the stoat hesitating briefly before he put a paw out and prodded at her gently.


Kate watched Irune's eyes shoot wide as the Axew abruptly jolted up, prompting Lyle to jump back with a start as his vents came alight. From the way she was gasping for air and visibly quivering, she must've had one hell of a nightmare.

… Kate supposed she could see why Lyle was getting a bit worried about her. Sorta. The Sneasel sidled over as the Axew looked up at her and her Quilava teammate and shot a wary frown down.

"You doing alright?" Kate asked. "You were thrashing about in your sleep."

Irune sucked in a few sharp breaths and let her eyes drift towards the ground. She got up and pawed at her shoulder. Kate waited for the Axew's reply, only for the Dragon-type to audibly hesitate and turn her glance to avoid making eye contact.

"I've… just been through a lot lately," the Axew replied. "It's kinda been getting to me."

"Story of our lives, really."

Kate's ears pricked up at the sound of wet footsteps and dripping water, where she saw Dalton entering the cave visibly drenched. The Heliolisk fanned out his frill briefly, stopping to brush some water off his scales as he walked up, only to stop and catch himself in front of Lyle.

"Oh, by the way, it slipped my mind earlier in between the chaos of us skipping town…" Dalton began.

The Heliolisk dug through his satchel and fetched out a cloth purse, dropping it in front of the Quilava with an audible clink. Kate blinked at the sight and Lyle seemed similarly at a loss before Dalton narrowed his eyes with a small sigh.

"It's your share of the loot from this morning. You didn't forget, did you?" he asked. "I was hoping to do this someplace in Toya Square, but now's probably as good a time and place as any."

Right, Dalton had held onto Lyle's share of their loot from last night as part of being trusted to handle the goods for Hermes. Kate noted to herself that she probably should have remembered that better given that she was the one who suggested Dalton do that in the first place.

Lyle eyed the purse and quietly pawed through its contents, counting under his breath. After a brief moment, he sealed it and stuffed it into his satchel. That was as good a sign as any that Dalton had been honest in his dealings. Even if it was cold comfort at the moment, at least they could take it for granted they could trust the 'mon. Probably, anyways.

Kate watched the cave briefly come aglow as Lyle stretched and a spurt of fire came from his vents. Looked like the rest in the cave had done him some good given that he wasn't moving as stiffly as when they stopped to patch him up earlier.

"…Thanks. Though what are you doing back so soon?" Lyle asked. "I thought that it was your turn to keep watch."

"There's no point right now," Dalton said, shaking his head. "The Dungeon Winds caught up with the entrance outside and are currently scouring the floor."

Right, that was a thing in Mystery Dungeons and why any Pokémon, Wilder or Civil, sought out Pockets if they were going to stay on one floor for any length of time. Every so often, the Distortion would shift and wipe floors clean so that way they could form anew, through howling winds that came along and blew away everything in their path into gods-knew-where else in its confines. Sometimes, a 'mon would get lucky and get dumped by such winds at an entrance, but more normally it meant getting thrown to some floor with no idea of where one was, much like if one fell into the Distortion from venturing too far off a path.

… Probably worse than that, since she'd heard stories of Pokémon who'd suffered both fates. Pokémon that fell through the Distortion usually were able to get up and tell the tale afterwards, there were definitely fewer who got swept up by those winds who could say the same. A 'mon would also need to contend with flying debris or getting blown into things, a recipe for disaster in just about any Mystery Dungeon, but in one with Wilders as aggressive as this one…

"Well, I suppose that's one way to tell us that we won't need to worry about Grünhäuter for a while," Kate murmured, shaking her head.

"Actually… that gets into the point that I was going to get at," Dalton replied. "Namely that we probably don't need to worry about Grünhäuter while we're in this Mystery Dungeon."

Kate blinked at Dalton's explanation, and noted Irune looking similarly surprised. The Axew tilted her head at the Electric-type, giving a wary frown in reply.

"What makes you so sure, Dalton?"

"Because Lacan's goons were in earshot when we entered and it's been half a day since then," the Electric-type answered.

… Had it really been that long? Kate knew that they'd gotten a run of good luck with the first few floors, but now that Scales mentioned it, it did seem a little suspicious that they hadn't even overheard the Wilders going on about 'Invaders'. One would think that a Fähnlein wouldn't exactly be subtle while barging through a Mystery Dungeon.

Even so, something about this wasn't adding up for Kate. Lyle seemed to think similarly, judging from the way that the Quilava was pinning his ears back and frowning.

"Not that I'm complaining, but why would that Salamence do that?" Lyle asked. "He's not exactly a pushover, and he wouldn't be able to get Irune any faster just sitting and waiting outside."

Irune suddenly blanched and her jaw flopped open. The Axew's eyes visibly shrank to pins, as she turned to her teammates and waved her arms in alarm.

"Th-That's exactly what he's doing right now! He's probably sent his soldiers to try and wait near the exits to ambush us!" Irune exclaimed. "It's not the first time that he's done that to me, either!"

… As counter-intuitive as it sounded at first, maybe Lacan really could get at Irune just by sitting and waiting outside. If he had some sort of book about Mystery Dungeons like them, he almost certainly knew that between the Wilders and the gods-awful weather, that this place was wearing them down. Then for all they knew, there wasn't a safe place to leave this gottverdammten hole.

Kate bit her lip and pinned her ears back, before looking over to her teammates.

"So just what are we supposed to do now?"

Dalton and Lyle both remained silent. The Heliolisk raised his voice to say something, only for him to trail off and quietly grimace. Whatever idea he'd had, he'd clearly realized it wouldn't work. Lyle was visibly on-edge as his vents were flickering with nervous fire, staring down at the cave floor with a blank expression much like if Lacan's soldiers had just barged into their Pocket.

A great sign for their odds, really. Curiously, Irune seemed to pause and catch herself. The Axew raised a claw to her mouth and mused a bit, before she looked back at the rest of them and murmured to herself.

"That Cranidos…" she said. "He said there was a Link to a 'place like this' four floors from here."

Kate thought back to the encounter with the Cranidos, and tried to keep herself from being too bitter over the way that Irune had blown up their chance at getting a guide out of this place. A starry-eyed kid like him full of fight would've done them a lot of good right now. If Irune was talking about what Kate thought the Axew was, the Cranidos had mentioned 'a passage that links to another place like this beyond the mist'. Kate turned her head over to Lyle, as a light seemed to go off in his eyes and he stiffened up.

"The copy of the handbook we've got did say there was a Link to Raptor Rock not far from where we were," Lyle mused. "That must be what he was talking about. But didn't we already know this? How's that change anything?"

"Wouldn't the exits from that Mystery Dungeon be harder for him to get to?" Irune asked. "It looked far away on the map in the handbook."

Right, Raptor Rock was just barely visible over the horizon before they crashed on Hermes. A Fähnlein usually had around 400 'mons on it, and there weren't 400 'mons there back at the ambush. Even if Lacan knew about the way Primordial Woods and Raptor Rock linked with each other, he only had so many 'mons to go around, and it meant they had decent odds of beating his goons out of there. Or at least coming across a party that was small and likely winded enough from a long journey that they'd have better odds fighting their way past them.

Kate supposed the plan sounded like it could work on paper, but…

"Hold on just a minute. Raptor Rock's a day's journey from Newangle City!" Dalton protested. "Why would we want to be going there again when there's tons of soldiers garrisoned in the Royal Capital?!"

That actually wasn't the problem Kate was thinking of, but now Scales brought it up, that was another risk of trying to sneak out from there.

"Because we're having trouble holding up now, so we should logically try to get out of this Mystery Dungeon while we can?" Irune said. "Also, coming out onto the surface someplace away from Primordial Woods' normal exits isn't exactly a bad thing. It'd give us time to make ourselves scarce before Lacan could catch up or otherwise tip off the local Grünhäuter about us."

Kate admitted that that was a decent argument. After all, if Newangle City really was as treacherous for Outlaws as Dalton implied the other day, would Lacan really expect them to flee towards it? Surely that'd throw him off their trail at least for a little bit.

It was all fine and great, except it didn't take care of the problem the Sneasel had had with this idea all along.

"Yeah, but the Cranidos also made it sound like something was wrong with that exit."

A moment of tense silence hung in the den's air afterwards, and Kate noted that her teammates were trading worried looks. She initially hadn't thought much of the Cranidos' words, but after how much of a slog the past few floors had been, it didn't exactly inspire confidence about what could be going on with the entrance to that Link.

Lyle bit his lip and hesitated a moment, before shaking his head in reply and stepping forward.

"… We'll try and prepare for a fight beforehand and do what we can to dodge it," Lyle said. "We can try laying low in quieter places on the next floors until it gets later in the day. We'd be most likely to have smooth sailing towards the evening when the Wilders that are awake by day are starting to tire out and the ones that are awake by night are just starting to get up."

Kate opened her mouth to reflexively protest. Before she could get a word out, the Quilava spotted her and motioned for silence, before looking around at the others.

"… I know it's not a good option," the Fire-type murmured. "But if Irune's right about what Lacan's up to, I'm not sure if we have a whole lot of better ones."

Kate paused and inhaled sharply. She didn't like this idea, but it was hard to argue that Lyle didn't have a point. Between what would likely boil down to fighting their way through strong, angry Wilders and strong, angry Grünhäuter fresh from the army… it was hard to argue with a straight face that fighting the Wilders wasn't the lesser evil.

The Sneasel cast a glance over towards her teammates. Irune for obvious reasons had made her peace with the idea, while Dalton seemed visibly hesitant. The Heliolisk stared off towards the mouth of the cave, before shaking his head with a low sigh.

"It's as good a hope as any, though it'd be best not to pass up the Dungeon Winds on this floor," he said. "If we want to avoid the local Wilders leaving this place, we should set off out of this Pocket as soon as things settle down outside the fog."

…Wait, as in right now? Kate peeked out at the still-pouring rain outside and grimaced. She wasn't looking forward to getting drenched again. Irune seemed visibly uneasy about the idea herself, while Lyle was stiff and staring out blankly much as if Lacan himself had entered their pocket.

Kate watched her Quilava teammate pin his ears back as a disgusted shudder briefly went down his back. He turned over to Dalton and traded glances between him and the rain with an uneasy paw at the back of his head.

"… Dungeon Winds usually last a decent while, right?" the Quilava asked. "Let's… try to wait for the rain to settle down a bit more first before we go and check."

Yeah, that was an idea she could definitely get behind.

Author's Notes

Words and Phrases

1. Alles klar - "All clear"
2. Hofstaat - "court", in the sense of a sovereign's household or entourage.

Teaser Text

It is said that when humans walked the earth, they were creatures that sought out knowledge. Both as a means for personal enlightenment and to inform ever-advancing accomplishments and feats. They fashioned towers and structures beyond the ability of our engineering to replicate, and created intricate machines and devices with functionalities that seemed much like magic.

Accomplishments and feats that many of them grew proud of. Enough so that it is said that Klaus the Founder heard humans in the world-that-was boast with haughty words such as "Such a wonder was once reserved for gods. But today, humanity takes a step towards the divine!"ᵃ as they beheld their great works.

And then, during the fateful year that marked the beginning of our era, the Great Flash came during the midsummer days of Heumond. In an instant, it reshaped our world, and in the process, swept away untold wonders and the knowledge to recreate them in the twinkling of an eye.

As Pokémon attempted to pick up the pieces in the years that followed, it is said that the Founder worried over some of the knowledge that Pokémon strove to preserve. That the twilight of humanity had been marked with great hubris and dissension, including among those who once held the power to change humanity's fate.

He insisted that some knowledge was best left to fade with humanity, and he feared that we as inheritors of this world would inherit the same flaws that left humans to be caught unawares by our world's sundering. What that knowledge he so feared has been lost to time and can only be guessed at: some theorize it might relate to that radiant splendor which first drew Wish and Reality to war in this world.

Others say that the Founder worried more over the mindset of Pokémon like us. That by clinging too tightly to the ways of humans, we would be doomed to repeat their mistakes. As sobering as the premise is, when looking over the sweep of our civilizations' histories, one cannot help but wonder if his fears were justified.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. This quote is delivered in two parts in the original German due to grammatical rules. The combined form here is a roughly equivalent gloss.