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Once a Thief

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
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 '30' to '35' 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 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). As such, there’s a Glossary this time around too, which can be found in the nitty gritty in the spoiler blocks right below:


Introduced in Prologue:

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. which were given the wisdom to see and understand our world by the gods, but weren't able to use it by themselves without the help of 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'.

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 as such, in the years according to our era, our world came to be known as 'Wander'ᶜ.

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. 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".

Introduced in Chapter 1:

Words and Phrases

1. Weinmond - "October" (archaic), lit. "Wine Moon".
2. Fähnlein - lit. "little banner". A traditional military unit of organization in German-speaking countries equivalent to a Company or Battalion in modern militaries. Highly varied and non-standardized in headcount, though generally consisting of at least 300 soldiers and mercenaries at full strength.
3. Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los! - "Three… Two… One… Ready? 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.

Introduced in Chapter 2:

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.

Signed and stamped by Grafᶠ von Wellenhafenᵍʰ, Lacan Dragoransⁱ

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.

Introduced in Chapter 3:

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.

Dialogue:

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.

Signed and stamped by König von Wahrheitᵈ, Siegmund Wieshusᵉ

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.

And with that, 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
Prologue - Once



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. As 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, alright? 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 be 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 irkely fanned the flames on his head and tail out 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 to yield crops that had little use beyond being used as implements to fight with that 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. 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 gray scarf with a bold white 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 arego 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 he should 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
Chapter 1 - Thief



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 itsl 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 a bemused 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.

"Alvin…"

"'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 Ford 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 army armor plates. Either they were some sort of trophy, or he'd kept them as a momento from a prior life. 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.

"AAAAAAAGH!"

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.

"Gah!"

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.

Lyle 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.

"A-AAAAH!"

Lyle 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.

"Lyle!"

"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!"

Lyle 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.

"Grah!"

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.

"Time!"

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 there you 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, and 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…



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.

"Huh?!"

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 fell quiet 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. Weinmond - "October" (archaic), lit. "Wine Moon".
2. Fähnlein - lit. "little banner". A traditional military unit of organization in German-speaking countries equivalent to a Company or Battalion in modern militaries. Highly varied and non-standardized in headcount, though generally consisting of at least 300 soldiers and mercenaries at full strength.
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
Chapter 2 - Fate



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.

Unterschrift und Stempel des Grafs von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragoransohn




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.

"E-Eek!"

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.

"A-Aah…"

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 they 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.

"A-Aagh!"

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 an 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.

"You!"

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. But that was an argument for another time. 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. There, coming from the center of the encampment, were 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, Lyle 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. There, just behind where the Trumbeak had been swatted out of the sky, was 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!"

The color drained from Lyle's 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 and the others tore along and tried to bolt for the tall grass, startled cries ringing out among the Outlaws further in the encampment. Lyle's ears pricked when he heard the earth churn behind him and stones falling followed by an electrical burst, the Quilava felt something heavy strike the back of his head and tumbled to the ground as he heard his companions yelp out in pain. Lyle winced and let out a low whine, staggering up in a daze as he watched Kate, Alvin, and the Axew stumble up groaning. He looked up, where 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.

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

The Rock-type screeched and swooped in, Lyle staring up frozen in fear as the Aerodactyl dove at him with her jaw opened wide to flash 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 when a sharp cry pricked his ears.

"Not so fast!"

A deafening electrical crackle rang out, followed by pained screams as Lyle cracked open his eyes and saw that Dalton had stepped between him and the Aerodactyl to cast a thick, crackling bolt of electricity. The Rock-type desperately pulled up, an overpowering whirlwind from Artem knocking her off-balance and forcing her to fight to stay airborne as her Togedemaru passenger clung on for dear life. As Lyle uncurled himself and got back onto his feet, he looked up and saw Reisenbach trying to wheel around, her flight wobbly as her right wing appeared stiff and unresponsive. At once, the Fire-type's eyes lit up, and he called out to his companions and their newfound allies.

"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. The Aerodactyl frantically ducked and weaved around the incoming attacks: a cone of fire, a bolt of electricity, a gout of dragonfire, a whirling bone, 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 and the others ran over to the wyvern's crash site, where 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, Myra swooped 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.

The Togedemaru blanched as he looked over at his caravan's fallen aerial escort, when the sounds of shouts rang out from behind them. There, 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, making Dabohru's nerves fail as he let out a frightened squeal and darted off for the path.

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

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. After a few parting blows were traded, the encampment fell to silence but for the groans of wounded Pokémon scattered about, with naught but disabled and abandoned wagons and cinders from a doused bonfire left to evidence 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 platesstripped 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 Axew's neck. The shade of gray reminded him of the shade 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.

Signed and stamped by Grafᶠ von Wellenhafenᵍʰ, Lacan Dragoransⁱ

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
Chapter 3 - Collision


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.

Unterschrift und Stempel des Königs von Wahrheit, Siegmund Wieshusohn




"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 momento," 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-?"

"Hey."

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 momento?" 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," a Heliolisk's voice 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 for Lyle and his companions. As the light from the blinding flash cleared and their vision stabilized from their spinning heads, they immediately noticed that their makeshift gathering hall had all but been destroyed. The sight of a Corvisquire in army 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!"

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.

The pair heard the sounds of a scuffle and a pained scream ring out from ahead. 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 army armor stepping out with low snarls, evidently having slipped past the defensive lines to flank them. The four braced themselves, when they noticed the pair of soldiers suddenly freeze 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!"

The Heracross was the first to lunge forward, throwing a sharp chop with a tarsus that found its mark on Kate's chest and made her tumble back with a yelp. Alvin and Lyle reflexively attempted to close ranks, the Marowak swinging at the Bug-type's head with his club and Lyle readying fire at the back of his throat to spit up as he pushed fierce fire out his body's vents, only to get hit by a crushing tackle from the side and get knocked off his feet.

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

Lyle rolled onto his feet—just as the Lycanroc struck him again with a second swift, dashing ram that knocked him to the ground. Lyle wheezed and gagged for air, feeling 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, only to hear Alvin's voice yelp and turn 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!"

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, Kate, and Alvin turned 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 beginning 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.

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 when Artem swooped 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. Blue dragonfire built at the back of the Axew's throat, before 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 gray background as the one of any other Grünhäuter, but with two white 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!"

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!"

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.

"A-AAAGH!"

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 much to Kate's horror.

"B-Boss Myra!"

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 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!

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.

"Alvin!"

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. The Stone Edge knocked Lyle back with a yelp, and sent 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 was cut off by a blue blur storming in, the Ground-type screaming in pain as the sound of something wrenching out of hide and flesh rang out. Lyle looked to see 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 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-!"

Lyle's protest was cut off after 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.

The Quilava stumbled back and yelped, the roar of charging Pokémon making his nerves fail as 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, the last of the destroyed encampment vanishing as he plunged headfirst into the mist, making it about twenty paces when a deafening blast rang out and 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.

Dialogue:

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.

Signed and stamped by König von Wahrheitᵈ, Siegmund Wieshusᵉ

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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